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Power of collective action

Power of collective action

Why I changed my mind on Britain and EU

by Andrew Large in London

Thu 16 Jun 2016

Three years ago, I was fed up with the European Union. Brussels policies were frustrating in their own right, seemingly taking us inexorably towards an ever closer union. The British people did not want that. Nor did I. People who set out to negotiate with Brussels were at their wits’ end. Brussels suffered from a democratic deficit and the EU was the source of unconstrained migration.

So, in 2013, I signed the launch letter for Business for Britain, hoping to campaign for real EU change. I did not expect this transformation to be quick. But I wanted all the issues on the table. So I was unhappy when, following the UK renegotiation earlier this year, Business for Britain changed into Vote Leave.

The fundamental changes we demanded were never going to occur before a referendum. Embracing an impossible deadline turned Business for Britain from a project to secure change from within into a campaign to get Britain out of Europe. And so I am supporting the Remain campaign.

Historic moments of this sort come rarely. Our heritage is belittled if, instead of trying to improve an imperfect EU, we take a decision that undermines it. To abandon the cause of constructive change from within seems irresponsible when the EU faces threats from fundamentalism, migration, Russian aggrandisement and climate change.

The economic arguments point conclusively toward Remain. The British negotiating position on trade would be weaker after departure. With our ability to gold-plate EU rules, replacing European rules with UK-made regulations is hardly likely to lighten the burden on business. Besides, free movement of labour will be a precondition for any half-satisfactory trade deal with the EU. Nor will leaving materially improve the net fiscal cost of British membership.

I ask myself: What will we feel after 23 June – whatever the result? Where will be the inspiration? Brexiteers say it will re-energise us. But we are already free to grasp opportunities to ‘go beyond Europe’ – for example, to Asia. And the supposed benefits from regaining full sovereignty would soon prove meaningless in today’s interdependent world. Punishing ourselves economically, with wholesale renegotiation of our relationships after a hostile divorce, seems an odd way to generate a new dynamism.

And will our national pride really respond positively to the damage we will have inflicted on Europe, or the pleasure we will be giving to Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front, and Vladimir Putin? How will we feel if the Scots decide to leave the UK and the Irish peace process is compromised by a hardened, migrant-proof border? What if we encourage nationalistic parties elsewhere in Europe to follow our lead towards fragmentation? Surely two world wars have taught us to fear that?

In contrast, what will it feel like if we remain? Less immediately exciting, perhaps. But at least we would still have today’s undoubted benefits. And inspiring too because we would have bought ourselves a chance to help lead the EU to a more coherent future. Britain’s new exemption from the obligation of working towards an ever closer union has freed us to play a leading role here.

If we stay in, Britain will have the legitimacy to lead Europe’s thinking on a properly two-dimensional EU. Britain should seek deeper continental recognition of the needs of non-euro states. The UK should lead the reform agenda with the aim of completing the common market which we originally thought we had joined. In return, Britain should support the necessary deeper integration of the euro area.

In today’s world we can advance only through collective action. Despite its imperfections, the EU has been a force for virtuous collaboration. We should embrace the opportunity to make it better.

Andrew Large is a former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England and Member of the Monetary Policy Committee. This is No.94 in the series – the 100th article will appear on 23 June.

OMFIF’s series on the UK EU referendum presents a wide variety of perspectives from Britain and around the world ahead of the 23 June poll. We are assuring a balance between many different points of view, in line with OMFIF’s overall neutral stance on the issue.

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