The pressure to decide whether or not we should leave the European Union grows. The rise of UKIP, apparently supported by at least 10% of voters, makes the other parties, especially the Conservatives, highly jittery.
The European Parliamentary elections in May will show how real the support for the exit option is but ninety-five Conservative MPs are demanding a parliamentary veto on all past and future actions of the EU. This is unrealistic. Moreover the perception of party disunity it engenders could damage the electoral prospects of their party in 2015 elections as it did in 1997. That they are willing to take this risk demonstrates how hostile to the EU they are.
Article 50 of the EU Constitution allows a member to leave and Greenland did in 1982 but it was an overseas territory of Denmark not a sovereign state. No full member has done so yet. The case for Britain doing so is more emotional than rational. The EU is far from perfect. It has a serious democratic deficit and its policies come mostly from the unelected Commission. They propose lots of rules that burden business with red tape and UKIP says they cost us £65.7 billion a year. On the other hand, they offer Europe a means of peacefully addressing conflicts between members. Given that 44 million Europeans were killed in European wars in the 20th Century alone, that is a positive.
Though its opponents will not agree, the case against leaving is rationally stronger. Withdrawing would involve lengthy and complex negotiations and it is nonsense to suggest that an amicable divorce is possible, especially if we want to continue trading with EU members as we must. They are our largest export market, though common market tariffs could change that. This could persuade multi-national companies to move to Europe, with significant job losses here.
Advocates of leaving point to Norway and Switzerland as nations that manage well outside the EU but they overlook the fact that these countries pay a lot to trade within the European Economic Area and have no influence over the EU production standards they have to meet to sell to EU members. Norway’s population is 8% of ours whilst its natural resources give it a GDP one and a half times bigger than ours. Switzerland is also wealthier than the UK and better able to afford being outside.
Supporters of EU membership say it gives us access to a market of 500 million people and major non-European economies such as the USA, China and Japan see the UK as the doorway to that market. That is why the US Government has urged us to stay in. If we left would Japanese car manufacturers relocate production to Europe?
If and when the referendum happens we will all have an opportunity to express our choices. Do we leave and live with the consequences or stay and work for reform. Let this be a matter for prayer and rational analysis, not emotional prejudices.