Don’t buy the myths – staying in the EEA is vital for Britain

As MPs prepare to vote on whether to keep Britain in the European Economic Area, Labour MP Ian Murray takes down the four key arguments for leaving.

Pic: A customs union on its own won’t prevent a hard border in Ireland, writes Ian Murray MP.

There is a reason the advocates of hard Brexit – a Britain outside the Customs Union and Europe’s economic area – are so averse to experts: beyond a tiny number of eccentrics, the consensus opinion is clear, leaving one or both of these will be bad news for the economy.

Cambridge Econometrics, working for the Greater London Authority, were able to put a price on the cost of what is currently Labour’s policy of staying in the Customs Union and leaving the EEA – £29 billion a year by 2030.

Assuming even a relatively low overall tax rate of just 35% of GDP that means Labour are committed to a policy that would diminish public spending by £195 million a week.

They also said it would leave us with 300,000 fewer jobs than if we stayed in both.

Opponents of the EEA say “the Norway model” would not be right for the UK. And they are correct: but then no one is advocating a Norwegian solution to a British problem. Here are four rebuttals to the doubters.

1. The UK isn’t like Norway. 

First of all there is the obvious point that Norway is not in the Customs Union, but probably more importantly there is simple fact that the UK’s economy is seven times bigger than that of Norway – it is inevitable that the UK’s membership of the EEA would transform the relationship between the EU and the wider EEA.

2. We need freedom of movement.

A principal objection to EEA membership from the Labour frontbench is that it requires the UK to agree to continued freedom of movement. Yet that same frontbench refuses to say anything of substance about what would change in immigration policy after Brexit with them in charge.

The reason seems obvious: nothing would. Better then to be honest about the UK’s economic need for high levels of migration, skilled and otherwise, to keep our economy growing.

3. The ‘state aid’ myth.

Another reason given to reject EEA membership is the claim that either it requires privatisation or bans state aid. Neither is true. There is nothing that appeared in Labour’s 2017 manifesto that would be made difficult, never mind impossible, by EEA membership.

If there are other, unstated, plans for state aid that would fall foul of the EEA treaties they would also fall foul of WTO agreements – and so are complete non-starters unless Britain is to retreat from the world.

4. Ireland.

There is another, extremely important, reason why Parliament should back EEA membership: Ireland. Customs Union membership alone will not stop a hard border in Ireland, and it is disappointing that some have dishonestly suggested that it will. They ought to know better.

To remove the threat of a hard border we need to be in the Single Market – and the EEA is way to ensure that option remains open.

The Good Friday Agreement was a precious achievement of the last Labour government – we play political games with it at our peril.

Ian Murray is Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South and a leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign.

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