Britain must ignore the siren call of an EU exit


The idea that one of the most influential countries in Europe could live in a Norway-style halfway house is the stuff of sheer fantasy

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The UK is tying itself in knots over Europe. The pro- and anti- camps come up with increasingly outrageous statements: “If we leave, the UK will float in a sea of isolation comparable to North Korea’s” versus “the EU costs up to £10 million per head of population and is responsible for the death of all puppies.”

The numbers can be added up in honest or creative ways to make the case for staying in, or leaving. Even those of us who believe it is key for the UK’s future to remain in the club are disgusted by the incompetence, waste and corruption in the EU, making it difficult to argue against the appealing image of an island utopia, as propounded by Brexit supporters. But let me, as an immigrant and an adopted Brit who holds the UK dear, give it a try:

1. Stop fantasizing about the UK (population 63.5m) accessing a ‘favourable deal’ in the manner of Norway (5 million) or Switzerland (8 million). Both countries have similar agreements with the EU that give them access to the single market, but no say over regulation, to which they have to sign up, nor over product standards. The Swiss do not have unimpeded access to the financial and other services markets in the EU, which would be a major blow for the City of London and its services sector. Both countries must also abide by free movement of labour rules.

2. Stop blaming the EU. It is a classic excuse in the lexicon of all British governments. Much of the excessive regulation is due to the British civil service’s love of gold-plating EU directives when they turn them into UK legislation.

3. Drop the outmoded argument that the EU is seeking ever-closer union and we don’t want to be part of it. The Schengen Agreement, which created a borderless continental EU for a time, is dead. The migrant-cum-refugee crisis has triggered a return to barbed wire and border controls. Meanwhile, the former Eastern Bloc countries are not joining the Euro. A number are becoming evermore hostile to the EU itself. These include Poland, which is following in the steps of Hungary’s autocratic government.

4. Get over the inescapable loss of sovereignty. Even giants such as the US and China have to balance their national interests with those of their allies and the world economy. Global integration is a fact. The world is coalescing into blocs and the UK wants to be included in treaties like the US-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

5. Britain must become a leading protagonist in the EU, alongside Germany. There are EU meetings at which no UK official turns up because its direct interests are not affected, an unspoken policy that apparently started with Gordon Brown’s government. All meetings are a way of cultivating colleagues for future coalitions. A proactive policy will yield results – not least because the world views of the UK and Germany are much more alike than that of Germany and France, with whom Germany is forced to partner due to the UK’s disengagement.

6. The more ties that bind us to allies in a dangerous world, the better. Sir John Scarlett, former head of spy service MI6, recently wrote in the Times that “British agencies…collaborate intimately with their European partners and benefit greatly from their capabilities”. President Obama has called for the UK to remain in Europe as it gives the US more confidence about the strength of the transatlantic union, which has made the world a safer, more prosperous place

Brexit is a siren call. Let’s not crash on the rocks, but sail on to those meetings, guns blazing, charm switched on.


Karina Robinson is chief executive of Robinson Hambro