By David Seymour
Some hasty new lines had to be written into the speech which Nick Clegg delivered at Chatham House on the morning after the Government’s Commons defeat on the EU budget. They were the ones which naturally grabbed the headlines.
But the Deputy Prime Minister used the occasion to set out the commercial, economic and strategic advantages of the UK’s membership of the European Union. These should be listened to by those MPs who believe getting out of Europe would be in the national interest.
Mr Clegg said: “It’s long been the case that the UK stands tall in Washington because we stand tall in Brussels, Paris and Berlin. There is a great deal to our enduring special relationship but, for the Americans, the UK’s leverage on the continent has always been part of our appeal. That will remain the case no matter who’s in the White House after next week.
And while it is, of course, important that we form new alliances in the world – in Asia, India, Latin America – the idea that we can float off into the mid-Atlantic, bobbing around in a new network of relationships without a strong anchor in Europe while countries around the world, incidentally, are working more and more in regional blocks, is clearly not a sound strategy in a fast-moving, fluid and insecure world.
Those who advocate turning our back on our neighbours seem to think we have a ready-made web of alternative alliances, a set of international agreements with other countries that could readily sustain us. But that isn’t how it works.
The Commission has just confirmed, for example, that if the UK suddenly left the EU, we would instantly lose access to every EU trade agreement with a third party.
Agreements with 46 countries are in place, and agreements with a further 78 are under negotiation. Our membership of the EU gives us access to all of them, and that includes almost every Commonwealth country.
The EU is looking at opening negotiations with nine more countries, two of which, Japan and the USA, would be very significant.
Do we really want to leave the EU, lose these free trade arrangements for UK exporters, which go above and beyond WTO rules, and potentially have to negotiate that all from scratch? The UK government would spend a decade doing that and nothing else.
And can anyone seriously suggest that Japan, or South Korea, or Brazil would cut us a better deal as an island of 60m people than as a continent of 500 million?”