What if I told you that we could leave the European Union with little risk to our economy? That we could regain control of our borders without any risk to trade? What if I told you that we could reclaim democracy and the sovereignty of our parliament without withdrawing from Europe? Sound like fantastic nonsense?
There is a Safe Way to Leave the EU
Beneath the shouted exchanges of the Leave and Remain Campaigns, a number of determined people have been quietly outlining exactly how the UK can have the best of both worlds. I have watched people like Simon Barnett engage others on Twitter and calmly present his arguments with almost relentless patience.
Simon is a fan of Roland Smith, fellow of the Adam Smith Institute, and I must give thanks up front to Roland for outlining in a series of excellent articles exactly how we can safely leave the European Union. The EU is a political construct, and, while a centralised political union might be right for some of our European neighbours, it does not sit well with the British, who have a long tradition of individual freedom. Indeed, if manufactured fears over the economy weren't trumping that tradition of freedom, Leave would be even further ahead in the polls. Well, despite what fear mongers would have you believe, there is no need to be afraid of a leave vote, our economy is not at risk.
Britain originally signed up to the Common Market, an economic association that enabled us to trade freely. Few campaigning for the UK to leave the European Union have a problem with the idea of Britain accessing Europe's market or with the continent accessing ours. The concerns of those who want to leave centre around democracy, sovereignty and a chaotic immigration policy that puts pressure on public services and discriminates against the rest of the world.
Those who want to remain in the EU value the UK's access to a market-place of 500 million people, our employment rights, and the freedom to travel. All of those things were available to the UK prior to political union, and, despite what some would have us believe, they will be available to us if we chose to leave the EU in the right way.
If the government had engaged in an impartial public education program prior to the start of the referendum campaign, we could have avoided so much harmful uncertainty. Instead of trying to use fear to coerce the population into remaining in an unpopular political union, the government could have listened to people's concerns and presented a practical way to address them. One way that is growing in popularity is commonly known as the EEA Option. It is outlined by Roland Smith in this great article for Public Finance. I strongly advise anyone who is planning to vote in the referendum to read it. Once you understand the EEA Option, voting to leave becomes the obvious, safe choice.
We'd retain access to the single market, and regain the sovereignty of the British Parliament. We'd be able to travel freely across Europe, but would have an emergency brake on immigration that we could activate when we felt it necessary - we would not need permission from Brussels. Our financial contributions to the EU would be reduced and we would be freed from much EU red tape. The EEA Option would not just suit the UK, it would suit Brussels, which needs further integration if the Euro is to stand any chance of long-term success.
Those who argue that we should remain in the EU in order to reform it are utterly misguided. That would only sow the seeds of future discontent. Even under the threat of Brexit, the EU refused any real reform. When confronted with the possibility that it might lose one of its biggest contributors, the EU could only offer David Cameron the most meagre concessions. If we remain in the EU, there is no chance of any real reform, particularly once we give away our only negotiating chip - the threat that we will leave.
We don't need anyone's permission to reform the EU. We can do it ourselves. We can do it by voting to leave. A number of MPs have already signalled that a vote to leave the EU would result in the EEA Option, a trade-only relationship. The UK would withdraw from the EU and activate its membership of the EEA. We would not turn our back on Europe, simply redefine how we engage with it, and recover control of our political institutions and processes.
If the Prime Minister had presented Britain with the EEA Option, I believe that the result of the referendum would have been a foregone conclusion. Instead, the campaign has been defined by wild rhetoric from both sides, but with Leave surging ahead in the polls and momentum likely to carry it further still, instead of campaigning to the bitter end as though this was a vicious General Election, David Cameron needs to recognise the responsibilities he has to the country as Prime Minister.
He keeps asking the Leave Campaign to present plans for a future outside the EU, but that's his job, and, as Prime Minister, he should now recognise that Brexit is likely and tell the British people what his practical plans are. He and his government need to admit that the EEA Option is viable, that it would be the government's default position in the event of a Leave vote, that it is our best chance of a reformed relationship with Europe, and that it would entail very little risk.
Regardless of whether the Prime Minister has the courage to take such a bold step, we, the people, have no reason to fear a Leave vote on June 23rd. I recommend any undecided voters read Roland Smith's excellent articles, The Liberal Case for Leave and The Case for the EEA Option.
They will leave you in no doubt that we have very little to lose and everything to gain by voting Leave.