Strictly come dreaming

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes | 17.03.2016

In a not-so-shocking twist, former Tory MP and current Express columnist Ann Widdecombe has cast her lot in with the Brexit crowd. While she makes a good argument against leaving the EU – “there is a blank space where the plan should be” – her case for quitting falls short.

EU trade

Widdecombe doesn’t think the EU would insist on the UK accepting EU regulations in any post-Brexit trade deal, because “we are its single largest importer”.

Not so. The EU would make this demand if we wanted full access to the single market. That is because the single market has at its core one principle: I will remove regulatory barriers to your exports if you do the same. We would have to accept EU rules without a vote if we wanted to retain our financial services passport, for instance.

If we chose to go without full access to the single market, we could cut a deal where we don’t accept EU rules. But the price would be greater barriers to trade. And the wider the divergence between UK and EU rules, the more costly trade becomes. We could well leave so we can make our own rules, only to find we would be better off imitating EU legislation.

Trade deals

Widdecombe says that if we go, “We can fix up trade agreements with the rest of the world without having to worry about the terms of EU membership.”

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That’s perfectly true. We would not, however, enjoy the same bargaining power we have as part of a bloc of 500 million consumers. We would lose most of our existing trade deals with non-EU states. And we would not benefit from the trade pacts the EU is now negotiating with the likes of China and Japan; we would have to restart talks from scratch.

Perhaps most importantly, we would also lose our existing trade arrangements with the EU. For all its faults, the bloc is still our largest trading partner.  We would have to renegotiate our trading arrangements after a possibly acrimonious split, with a bargaining disadvantage.

Ever closer union

If we stay, Widdecombe says, “We condemn our children and grandchildren to an ever-increasing absorption into a foreign power.”

This is also untrue. The EU has stated that the treaty clause calling for “ever closer union among the peoples of Europe” won’t apply to the UK. We will not be dragged into a United States of Europe if we stay.

Edited by Alan Wheatley