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Press Centre

Edward Douglas on the case for remain

23rd May 2016

The below is an English translation of an article which appeared in Naftemporiki – Greece’s biggest financial newspaper

The most likely outcome on 23 June – Britain’s first vote on its EU membership since 1975 – is a vote for the status quo. Most polls show voters want to stay in – the Remain camp has a healthy lead. So although the prospects for the European project look bleak if Britain chose to leave, this is a significant opportunity for the EU to move from a narrative of near permanent crisis to one of economic and social renewal. It can only do this if we start to think about Britain’s role post-referendum in a renewed and revitalised political settlement for Europe.

Domestically, the debate has been dominated by arguments about the economic and security risks of leaving or staying. This makes sense – fear wins votes, hence the comfortable lead for Remain. And the economic risk of Brexit is, after all, very real – 44 per cent of the UK’s exports are to the rest of the EU. Hopes of an export-led rebalancing of the British economy would be dashed by reducing cooperation with the rest of the continent, the result of which would be an estimated net cost of £2,660 to each household.

But this focus means that we have no vision for Britain’s role in Europe post-23 June. The vote comes at a crucial time, with an unprecedented set of challenges in front of us. A weakening Eurozone, the humanitarian disaster of the migration crisis, the security challenge we face from Islamic State, and the rising tide of political populism across the continent.

Britain has the second largest economy in the EU (and will be the largest by 2050), and the largest defence resources and diplomatic network. So instead of rehearsing the relative costs and benefits of Britain’s EU membership, we instead need to look at what an active, engaged Britain pushing on economic and security reform in Europe could achieve for all member states. How can this be realised?

Greater prosperity across Europe can only be secured through trade, and free trade deals such as TTIP are crucial in boosting our export performance. That’s why TTIP is forecast to be worth up to £100 billion to the European economy – so Britain should push for negotiations to be completed more quickly.

But we need to better compensate those working in sectors that suffer as a result of greater economic cooperation, whether Romanian farmers or British steel workers. That means using some of the financial gains from greater trade to fund pan-European training initiatives. Giving people the means to move into high growth areas of the economy will help quell the rising tide of nationalist sentiment that feeds on the costs of globalisation.

But securing mass prosperity across Europe requires bolder thinking beyond trade deals. We can do this through tackling financial crime and tax avoidance; and by giving all citizens the means to share the benefits of the next wave of technological innovation. Both must be addressed at the European level but Britain has unique capabilities to lead in these areas.

Finally, the EU needs to take a leading role in stabilising failing states in North Africa and the Middle East to address the twin challenges of the migration crisis and the rising terrorist threat over the long-term. But Europe’s inertia as a regional security actor is preventing this. The fundamental problem remains the lack of a core group of states committed to furthering European security and defence. Britain’s defence budget is double that of Germany, and our international development spending is the highest in the EU. And with its unparalleled diplomatic network, Britain should push for an EU diplomatic framework to support nation-building and reconstruction in North Africa and the Middle East.

So when we ask why Britain should stay in the EU, we need to think positively about the role Britain can play in helping Europe as a whole meet the major economic and security challenges all member states face now and in the decades to come.





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