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Friday 12 February 2016

Don’t Menshn Brexit

Few newspapers can claim to be the equal of the New York Times, especially on objectivity of journalism, clarity of style, thoroughness of research, and above all detachment from partisanship. But the paper also provides opportunities for pundits to vent their opinions via Op-Ed columns, and so have, for reasons best known to themselves, given a platform to (thankfully) former Tory MP Louise Mensch.
Ms Mensch, who has made a name for herself by getting her facts wrong while being unable to admit it, has declared herself to be opposed to Britain’s continuing membership of the European Union. Titled simply “Britain, better-off out of Europe”, the former MP’s thoughts are deserving of attention. They are also deserving of sufficient analysis to demonstrate that much in the article ranges from the debatable to the simply untrue.

After considering David Cameron’s renegotiation - by doing so, Ms Mensch at least suggests that any preference to remain in the EU hinges on this, which as I’ve previously said, is seriously misleading - the sleight of hand enters. “After these terms were announced, the pro-exit camp’s lead in polls soared to nine points”. Wrong. One poll showed a nine-point lead. ICM showed a one-point lead.

One recent survey of Conservative Party members found that more than 70 percent supported Brexit”. As the party’s membership was around 150,000 in 2013, and has declined significantly since then, this is hardly relevant. The Labour Party has put on more new members since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader than the Conservatives’ entire membership numbers.

Brexit offers Britons more money, more control, free trade and planned immigration”. Pure speculation, no citation in support, and nor will there be one. Then we see “Britain sends about £55 million, or about $80 million, per day to Brussels. To place that in context, Daniel Hannan, a Conservative member of the European Parliament, calculated that …”. Citing Hannan is not a wise move: the nominally Conservative MEP told Fox News Channel that the US Healthcare Reforms were “A Government takeover of health care” and would mean “death panels”. Both claims are totally untrue. Hannan is not a reliable source.

In 2015, Britain’s net contribution was £8.5 billion; in 2016, it is forecast to top £11 billion. If we ended these payments, we could end our austerity measures”. Firstly, the estimated £11.1 billion would be followed by £7.9 billion for 2017. Secondly, this assumes there would be no cost in maintaining membership of the Single European Market. There certainly would be a cost, as Governments in Norway and Switzerland can attest.

On the question of refugees, where Ms Mensch used that term and “migrants” interchangeably, she tells “the recent sexual assaults on women in Cologne, Germany, by marauding groups of migrants have confirmed the fears of many in Britain”. Few of the Cologne attacks were carried out by refugees. Ms Mensch does not cite reliable figures.

With no curbs on the free movement of migrants under Europe’s Schengen Agreement, British voters expect a wave of unwanted immigration once these migrants are given asylum elsewhere in Europe”. Britain is not a signatory to Schengen.

Brexit was never a left-right issue. In the 1970s and ’80s, it was supported by both Margaret Thatcher and the left-wing politician Tony Benn”. Right on Benn, totally wrong on Thatcher. Mrs T campaigned for aYes” vote in 1975. She signed the Single European Act in 1986. She was Prime Minister when Britain joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, precursor to the Single Currency.

We are pro-free trade, and as the European Union’s chief export market, we will not need to pay for access to its markets; and we want more freedom to trade with India, China and the rest of the world”. The idea that Britain would be allowed free access to the EU single market is sheer fantasy. And trade with India and China would be subject to negotiation, something that would be time-consuming - and costly.

The pro-European camp used to tell us that joining the euro was a good idea, and that to stay outside presaged disaster; instead, we’ve seen a meltdown in Greece”. This presupposes that Britain’s economy is similar to that of Greece, which it is not.

We do not plan to cut off our European allies. Britain’s treaty with Portugal is the oldest formal alliance in the world”. One of the last times that treaty was invoked was when the Portuguese asked for Britain’s help after India made to annex Goa. No help was forthcoming. I doubt very much whether the authorities in Lisbon would lose much sleep over Britain leaving the EU. The treaty would not overrule any EU treaties or laws.

Post-Brexit, we would continue to trade with our European friends as we have for a thousand years”. Yes - by negotiating the terms under which that trade takes place. And the idea that other EU member states would stand by and let Britain remain a Single Market player for free is, once again, fantasy. If we want access, we will have to pay.

Finally, Ms Mensch once again treats NYT readers to her famously shaky research: “The European Union, however, is a relic of the ’70s - about as relevant as bell-bottom jeans”. The European Union did not exist until after the Treaty of Maastricht was signed in 1992. And its precursor organisation, the European Economic Community, dates from the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Neither is a product of the 1970s.

I would add one consideration which neither Ms Mensch, nor many of those supporting “Brexit”, have considered. English is the de facto universal language of the EU, and is spoken by more than half of its citizens. A post-“Brexit” EU would be in a strong position to pick off institutions like banking and finance by offering an English speaking workforce.

One could go on. All the likes of Ms Mensch can offer is some ill-defined concept of “freedom”. But the reality is that this would be freedom to ask if Britain could enter into negotiations, or otherwise pay to access the EU’s market in the same way Norway does now. Her idea that we would merely say “You need us more that we need you” would not move any minds. That is the reality here in Britain.

Many right-leaning pundits have spoken favourably of Ms Mensch’s effort. That, I would submit, says rather more about their judgment than the quality of her analysis.


Rivo said...

I am not an economist, but I can't help but think that a large portion of Britain's trade with the rest of the EU is a result of our membership of that organisation, rather than in spite of it. Should we leave we may find that such trade will become somewhat more disadvantageous than it currently is, especially since we have little to offer in return.

I'm also confused by this oft-thrown about argument that upon leaving the EU we "will be free to trade with the rest of the world". I'm not aware that EU membership prohibits trading with non-EU nations so would love to know where this idea comes from?

pete c said...

Ending EU payments would not end any austerity measures at all.

'Austerity' is the "look over there" under which our current rulers are dismantling much of our social state.

Said EU contributions are consistently over-stated. Of course.

And where are the analyses of the actual costs of coming out. You can't just fill a few extra Eurostars, pack everyone's luggage, and blow a few goodbye kisses.

Always interesting how the outers always seem to imply that cutting these costs would mean we all got a pro-rata personal rebate. As if!

And if not China, India, and the rest of the world, who does the silly tart think is sending all those huge container ships to Felixstowe and the other ports. They aint loading in Rotterdam and Hamburg for an amble across the channel.