Let’s fight Brexit on the big issues

by Hugo Dixon | 20.02.2016


David Cameron says that this is the people’s referendum, not his. We should, therefore, fight Brexit on the big issues – geopolitics and economics – not because of some fantastic prime ministerial deal to restructure Britain’s relationship with the EU. In fact, the deal Cameron has negotiated is useful rather than transformational – and he has had to spend a lot of political capital to gain even that.

Be that it as it may, the case for Britain staying in the EU is compelling. The geopolitical question is whether we want to be at the table helping stabilise our troubled continent – or merely add to the instability.

It’s not just that quitting might irritate our neighbours when they’ve got a lot else on their plate, from the refugee crisis to jihadi terrorism. It could further destabilise our neighbourhood if it leads to other countries holding referendums to peel off from the EU. Instability wouldn’t be good for us.

The only person rubbing his hands would be Vladimir Putin, as disarray would give him the chance to create more mischief. EU countries would be bickering and even less able to work together to solve problems in their back yard – whether it is the Syrian crisis, Russia flexing its muscles in Ukraine, or turmoil in north Africa.

There’s also the opposite risk that, without us, some of the other countries (led by Germany) would form a superstate, with its own army. Such a superstate would be less aligned to our interests than the current EU. It would probably allow us to tag along with its foreign and security policies. But that’s very different from what we can be, if we stay in.

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The economic argument is similar. If we quit, we will at best be allowed to tag along with associate membership of the single market. But we will be a rule taker, not a rule maker. We will be dealing with a less liberal EU that won’t be trying to advance our interests. Some countries may even try to fix the rules of the market such that they work against Britain – for example, to entice business from the City of London to Frankfurt or Paris.

And, indeed, associate membership is the best we can expect. The Leave campaign is divided about what sort of economic deal it wants post-Brexit, so quitting really is a leap in the dark. On the other hand, if we stay in, we can be one of the leaders in the single market along with Germany – just as we could be one of the leaders in foreign policy along with France. We can fight to fulfil the single market promise: completing it in areas where Britain does well such as the internet, services and capital markets; hacking back red tape; and signing free trade deals with America, Japan and China.

In summary, we have a choice between leading the pack or tagging along. I know which I prefer.

Edited by Jack Schickler

Hugo Dixon is the author of The In/Out Question: Why Britain should stay in the EU and fight to make it better. Available here for £5 (paperback), £2.50 (e-book)

One Response to “Let’s fight Brexit on the big issues”

  • I am a former founding correspondent of The European. You now need to argue with Boris. Why not invite Rory Watson in Brussels to write a piece?
    Why not carry the excellent Sunday Times News Review piece alongside the Boris diatribe in today’s Telegraph? It is the ideal antidote to his ranting….