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Chance of a lifetime

Chance of a lifetime

Why Britain must leave a centralising EU

by Kate Hoey in London

Tue 3 May 2016

For the British, the European Union has always been at best an awkward fit. The UK has long-established and stable institutions, an admirable representative democracy, and a history and geography which give us a different cultural outlook from many on the Continent.

The EU’s ambitions to become a state in its own right undermine the sovereignty and sense of identity that UK citizens share. Even those who deny the EU has such an ambition cannot deny the direction in which it is heading. Each of the long succession of problems thrown up by the EU’s evolution tends to lead to a ‘solution’ involving further integration. The latest examples are the migration crisis and calls for a common external border force.

The EU’s direction of travel damages our society. For that reason I believe we must take the opportunity of departing.

We have limited the damage so far by staying clear of the most dangerous of the EU’s nation-building policies. Despite the urging of starry-eyed europhiles, including many large businesses, we remained outside the euro and the Schengen passport-free zone. Fortunately, we have kept our own currency and border controls. No one now would advocate joining either the euro or Schengen.

Europhiles with sentimental attitudes in favour of togetherness, together with short-sighted businesses, have got it wrong in the past. In my view they are wrong today. The EU is too large and diverse to be able to respond quickly and sensitively to the problems of a fast-changing world. The migration crisis has highlighted the difficulties.

Moreover, the EU is wedded to austerity policies. This impairs the interests of many in Europe. As a Labour MP, I value the way in which the UK supports its disadvantaged citizens and lagging regions. The Greek crisis demonstrated the unwillingness of richer member states to support the poor of Greece, where more than half of younger adults are now out of work.

The calamities associated with euro area austerity have led to a rise of far-right parties across much of Europe, just as similar policies did in the 1930s. The argument that we should stay in and lead a campaign for reform is naïve. The EU’s thrust and direction leads the continent towards a debilitating centralisation inimical to Britain’s history and interests. We have little choice but to leave.

‘Leavers’, like myself, wish to restore UK sovereignty and regain control over our labour markets. ‘Stayers’ warn that leaving will be too disruptive and costly. But they rely on speculative assumptions that our trade partners will be petulant, rather than acting with rational self-interest towards what is, for the EU, one of the largest export markets.

The UK will still have much to offer the EU from the outside, not least our still formidable defence and intelligence capability, as well as the world’s fifth largest market. Since the EU will remain our nearest neighbour and largest trade partner, both the UK and the EU will retain major common needs for close co-operation, for instance in fighting crime and terrorism. We should strive to maintain the most cordial of relations.

The EU market for UK exports has declined over the last four years. In or out, we will need to look elsewhere for growth. Our pre-accession Commonwealth markets have grown faster than the EU since the UK joined the then Community in 1973. In 30 years, India alone is likely to be a larger market than the entire EU.

Changing course is never easy. But this is a nettle we should grasp. We may not have another chance in our lifetime.

Kate Hoey is the Labour Member of Parliament for Vauxhall. This is No.47 in the series.

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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