THE BLOG

Dunkirk Spirit Can't Blind Us to the Consequences of Leaving the EU

07/03/2016 09:05 GMT | Updated 07/03/2017 10:12 GMT

It didn't take long for the debate on Britain's future in or out of Europe to reach the beaches of Dunkirk. French politicians are warning that if the UK votes to leave the EU, then migrants currently living in makeshift camps outside of Calais and Dunkirk will be moved across the Channel. This isn't scaremongering, it's what they believe. Even President Hollande has warned that there will be consequences if Britain walks away from the EU.

The refugees in the camps want to come to England, and people living in northern France want them to leave. They are only there because of the agreement that UK Border Force officers can enforce our frontier controls in France. Currently both governments work closely to provide strong security measures on our borders. We also share EU intelligence systems which provide information on wanted criminals, missing persons and people who have already made asylum claims in other countries. If Britain decided to go its own way, we would risk losing access to this information. France may also decide that if we want to create new border controls for the UK outside of the EU, then we can enforce them in our country rather than theirs.

The truth is that the UK can vote to leave the EU, but we can't abolish it. We would still have to work with Europe on a whole range of matters. Outside of the EU, the idea that Britain would have taken back control would be an illusion. We could have less secure borders, and in return for full access to the EU's free-trade single market, would have to accept the free movement of people, pay into the EU and comply with its rules and regulations.

For example, the net contribution paid by Norway for access to the single market is approximately the same per head of population as the UK's. According to an independent report commissioned by the Norwegian government, even though it is outside of the EU, 75% of its legislation is derived from Brussels. Another independent report in 2014 looking at Iceland's accession negotiations for membership of the EU showed that it already transposed into its own laws approximately two thirds of all EU legislation.

If the UK opted to stay outside of the single market, then we would most probably have to accept that services would be excluded from any free trade agreement, and tariffs might be applied to certain goods. If the UK left the EU without negotiating an alternative trade arrangement, World Trade Organisation rules would require the EU to impose the same external tariffs on us that it applies to other non members, except those with which it has preferential arrangements. This would mean tariffs being applied to a range of UK goods, for instance there is a 10 per cent tariff on car imports and 36% on dairy products. In such circumstances, the EU would have no choice but to apply these to the UK. Canada has negotiated a free trade agreement with the EU, but it has taken seven years and excludes financial services, an area that would be vital to the UK.

If we stay in Europe, we can have the best of both worlds. Free trade, access to vital information that helps to keep us safe, the influence to shape the EU's rules, and protection in law from being drawn into further economic and political union. No other country in the world would have that opportunity.