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A battle over government and identity

A battle over government and identity

Puncturing the myths over Britain leaving the EU

by Norman Lamont in London

Tue 17 May 2016

Britain’s European Union referendum is partly about economics, but it also involves big issues of security, accountability and democracy. It’s part of a long-running unresolved constitutional debate about the government and identity of the UK. Many deeply flawed arguments are put forward for Britain to stay in. On 23 June, I shall be voting for 'Brexit'.

The UK’s security depends above all on factors beyond EU influence. Nato, a military alliance between sovereign countries, was created to meet the challenge of a Europe at war. It’s a myth that the EU, rather than Nato, has brought peace to our continent since 1945. Moreover, most of the hundreds of thousands of British citizens who gave their lives in the second world war believed they were fighting for their own country and its sovereignty.

Some argue that leaving the EU would imperil Britain’s ability to co-operate over intelligence and terrorism. Beyond the differing opinions, the truth is irrefutable: Britain’s counter-terrorism machine is the envy of the world, well beyond what the EU can offer.

The reasons behind President Barack Obama’s campaign to keep the UK inside are simple. Britain is America’s best friend in the EU. On most economic questions such as free trade or dealing with the financial crisis, Britain’s views largely accord with Washington’s. If the UK left, that would weaken America.

Many people say Britain must voice its views within the EU to help shape Europe’s development. Prime Minister David Cameron probably got as good an EU deal as anyone could. But whatever barriers Britain erects against integration, the EU will always find ways around them. Look how the European Court of Justice undermined the UK opt-out from the charter of fundamental rights.

EU supporters say you have to be in the EU to trade with it. That argument is wrong. There isn’t a high tariff around the single market. Switzerland is not in the EU and it exports more per capita to the EU than the UK does. US exports to the EU, since 2011, have been higher than Britain’s.

The G20 communiqué suggesting Brexit could lead to a world economic ‘shock’ may have worried voters. Yet any effect on confidence will be short term. And remember that the G20 includes not just four EU members but also the EU itself. After the long crisis over the euro – an undertaking that has caused Europe immeasurable economic and now political damage – it is presumptuous for the EU to talk about ‘shocks’ to the world economy.

I was appalled at the way the euro area treated Greece. This is not to excuse past Greek mistakes, but the counterproductive austerity imposed on Greece ignored the vote of the Greek public in an election and in a referendum.

In important areas, EU membership has seriously compromised the UK’s parliamentary democracy too. The campaign group ‘Business for Britain’ concluded that, out of 20 directives imposed on the City’s financial markets, the UK on its own would not have adopted 10 of them. There are many other drawbacks to the EU’s influence: restrictions on Britain’s VAT legislation, the European Arrest Warrant, and the European External Action Service, a gigantic bureaucracy with embassies around the world, even though Europe can’t agree a foreign policy.

Britain hasn’t had a referendum for 40 years. During that time the EU has profoundly changed. I have found it extremely painful deciding which way to vote, not least out of respect for the prime minister. But I have come to the view that, in this once in a generation opportunity, Britain should vote to leave.

Lord Lamont, a former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, is a Senior Adviser to OMFIF. This is No.59 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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