Intelligence Squared brought out the big guns for our debate on what a post-referendum deal between Britain and the EU should look like. Douglas Carswell, Patrick Minford, Anna Soubry and Alexander Stubb battled over this all-important decision, and star BBC World News presenter Zeinab Badawi was in the chair.
So-called ‘hard Brexiters’ like Douglas Carswell are adamant that Britain must regain its status as a sovereign nation with full control of its borders, laws, money and trade. Anything less would be a betrayal of the majority who voted Leave in the referendum last June. If that means severe restrictions on Britain’s access to the single market, so be it. We don’t have to heed the warnings of the doom-mongerers: Britain is the world’s fifth largest economy and other countries, whether in or out of the EU, are going to want to do business with us. What’s more, Europe is beginning to look like a ticking time bomb. The eurozone is in crisis and Britain’s relatively healthy growth and unemployment figures show what a wise move it was not to sign up to the euro in 2002. And now things are looking decidedly scary, with Angela Merkel’s rashly generous immigration policies fuelling voter discontent across the continent, and populist parties on the rise in every member state. The response from EU leaders such as Jean-Claude Juncker to this disgruntlement? Ever closer integration, the very thing that the voters are rejecting. If the EU implodes, we’ll be grateful to have put ourselves at a safe distance.
This is rubbish, according to those who think the Leave vote was a mistake. If we have to go through with Brexit, then the UK should do everything it can to salvage our current relationship with our EU partners – and that means keeping access to the single market. Withdrawing from it would do untold damage to British jobs and prosperity, especially in our car industry and financial services. Countries such as Norway show that it is perfectly possible to be inside the single market but outside the EU, even if there is a price to pay in terms of membership dues and some compromise over freedom of movement from the member states. And let’s not kid ourselves that keeping out foreign workers will provide more jobs for British citizens. Our economy depends heavily on migrant workers, and if we don’t bring them in from outside we risk exporting many of our manufacturing jobs to foreign countries with cheaper labour.
This is the case that Anna Soubry and Alexander Stubb made. As Britain redefines its place in the world, major decisions will have to be made on what our priority should be – controlling our borders with Europe or keeping our markets open to it.