The attempt by self-interested corporatism in the Independent claiming that "the benefits of EU membership overwhelmingly outweigh the costs, and to suggest otherwise is putting politics before economics" rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of our relationship with the EU and the world economy, and gives capitalism a bad name.
As pointed out by those excellent campaigners, The Freedom Association, it claimed that the EU may deliver £92 billion of benefits to the UK but did not mention the costs of membership. Indeed, estimates from economists including Ian Milne, Tim Congdon CBE - one of Thatcher's 'wise men' - and Professor Patrick Minford CBE all put those costs at being higher than the stated benefit.
All of the above economists contend that British business could be free of many of the costs if it left the EU. This regulation alone is estimated by Tim Congdon CBE to potentially cost the UK 5 per cent of GDP - or £75 billion - a year. With other costs including costs from direct fiscal transfers and waste, fraud and corruption, the potential total cost European Union membership to the UK comes to £150 billion - £68 billion more than the benefit claimed in today's letter.
As I pointed out in a debate with the IPPR on Radio5Live last week, since we joined the EEC in 1973 we have been in surplus with every other continent except the EU, with a trade loss of £30m per day.
Outside of the EU Britain would be free to negotiate much a more much liberal trade agreement with third countries than is possible under the Common External Tariff. The countries with the highest GDP per capital in Europe are Norway and Switzerland. Both export more, proportionally, to the EU tan Britain does.
For example, in 2011 the UK exported more to the rest of the world than it did to the EU (£388 billion vs £311 billion). The marked difference between trade was also that the UK had a surplus with the rest of the world of £17.1 billion, according to Global Britain, in contrast to its £46 billion deficit with the EU. This contrast in growth patterns has increased over the past few years and shows that the UK is becoming more global in its focus.
According to the Freedom Association, a true free trade deal with the USA would be in the UK's best interest. According to the Pink Book, the record of the UK's balance of trade produced by the Treasury, the UK's surplus with the United States remained over £20 billion (Table 4, & Table 9.2 on page 154 of the Pink Book 2012). This trade primarily concerns trade in financial, legal and accounting services as well as some high-tech goods. However, the trade deal currently under discussion concerns a number of areas that the UK might not be interested in dealing in.
And it's not only about trade. It's about sovereignty - roughly 84% of our laws come directly from Europe, undermining our Parliament, who just rubber-stamp new directives because their hands are tied. And it's about the cost of living. It is estimated that with reform of the Common Agricultural Policy Britain's families would be better off by £1200 per annum in lower food costs, £200 pa better off by ditching green energy taxes and businesses could be freed of the £5k burden of red tape and bureaucracy that they have suffered since we joined the EEC.
So Messrs Branson et al, go back and do your sums. Your signatories to this letter are fighting their self-interested corporatist corner. The big energy companies are well-represented in your letter, along with others who have contracts with government or are taxpayer bailed out companies.
The world has been moving even more towards globalisation and centralisation with greater (red tape) regulation and controls, favouring the larger multi-corporate entity. We have experienced cartels and monopolies discouraging growth to the many. Encouraging growth in our economies is vital but while most politicians around the world speak of supporting small businesses, few rarely do and the corporatism machine rolls on donating and influencing decision making around the world, as demonstrated by this letter.