THE BLOG

Britain Only Loses Outside the EU

13/02/2014 09:49 GMT | Updated 14/04/2014 10:59 BST

We've now had it confirmed. Not only do many of Britain's business chiefs, Barack Obama and other world leaders think Britain would lose out if we left the EU, so too does the head of the World Trade Organisation, Roberto Azevêdo.

When visiting the European Parliament this week, I put to him the simple question: "What impact would leaving the EU have on the UK?"

His reply was what I believe the great, but largely silent, majority of people in the UK are thinking: in an increasingly globalised world the more we work together with our neighbours the more we can defend and press on with our own agenda.

But what is Mr Azevêdo talking about? Let's have a look at why he thinks Britain should stay in the EU, focussing on that central part of his answer to my question and a foundational principle of the EU: working together will achieve the best results for its members.

Let's take for example the 45 existent EU trade agreements already in place with the rest of the world, and that's not to mention the most recent, with South Korea, worth an estimated £500 million to the UK economy. I believe the head of the WTO is asking why Britain would choose to put all of these years of working collaboratively to waste by turning our back on the EU.

Three million British jobs depend on our continued relationship with the EU. Some say we could initiate our own trade agreements with emerging economies which would be of greater benefit at home.

Let's look at this from the other side. Why would other countries, those emerging economic juggernauts like China or the more established economies like the USA, look to negotiate trade deals with the UK, which has 65 million consumers, over a huge trading bloc like the EU with its 450 million consumers? It's a no brainer really and who is going to have more clout in negotiating deals and regulations for the benefit of all parties involved?

What about smaller businesses in the UK? There's certainly a steep mountain to climb before they can make headway in these far-flung economies. They lack financial and human resources to overcome many of the hurdles they face including language and legal barriers and transportation costs. The single-market system in the EU acts as a training ground for smaller businesses. It allows them to expend more easily with less paperwork. By working with our neighbours, the EU provides an initial stimulant for growth and we have to ask ourselves where many of our smaller businesses would be when facing the rest of the world without the EU acting as a springboard.

Many argue we could still benefit from the single market without being subject to all the red tape like our non-member neighbour Norway? Wrong. As part of the European Economic Area, Norway are subject to all EU regulations without any of the influence, so we'd still have all of the regulation imposed on us without any voice to sway it whatsoever, even their prime Minister, Erna Solberg, has come out recently and said Britain would be foolish to leave the EU but remain part of the EEA.

When Mr Azevêdo talks about working collaboratively to press on with our own agenda I cannot think of a finer example than the USA. The UK has always relied on a strong relationship with our American cousins, but as the possibility of a British exit mounts they are becoming more and more aloof. We have to continue working with our European partners to ensure we can defend our relationship with America. In January of 2013 Barack Obama couldn't have been more explicit that the US wanted the UK to stay in the EU, saying he valued: "a strong UK in a strong European Union." The EU is currently negotiating even better trading agreements with the US - do you think if we made for the exit sign and pulled up the draw bridge America would be banging on our door to start the process over again? I don't think so.

I believe Mr Azevêdo was referring to this. In a truly global world, with greater uncertainties, the UK can't afford to be launching its little dinghy onto such a choppy sea. It is crucial that Britain remains at the helm of the EU cruise ship, playing a leading role in steering it in a direction which most benefits its people back home.