Nearly 50 per cent of the UK’s trade is conducted with it. Membership has created over two million jobs. It allows British people to live, study, work, or travel anywhere within its borders. Given these benefits, the natural question to ask John Redwood is why on Earth he believes Britain should leave the European Union?
“I think we are too embroiled under European power and control when the British people and their elected politicians have made it very clear that we will not be joining the Euro. As we are not part of the central federalising scheme – the creation of a full currency, banking, and in due course, fiscal union – I think it is very important that we have a different kind of relationship. That relationship should be based on free trade and political cooperation but it should not be based on centralised government.”
It is evident from the outset that Redwood is an intelligent man. His views are clear and consistent and he argues that his feelings towards the EU are similar to those of most British people. “I wish to trade with it and I wish to be friends with the other countries in Europe. We should have a range of agreements with them, but I object very strongly to the idea that we should be part of the ‘United States of Europe’ under a Brussels government which is not properly accountable to the British people.”
I suggest to Redwood that free trade with Europe and political integration go hand-in-hand. He insists, however, that were the UK to make known its intention to leave the European Union, the remaining EU nations would be “desperate to agree” to free trade agreements.
“Germany, for example, has already made it very clear to myself and others, publicly and privately, that were Britain to decide to leave, Germany would obviously want good free trade agreements with Britain because we are one of her main export markets.”
Beyond the borders of Europe, Redwood suggests that leaving the European Union would also “allow us to decide to have free trade agreements with parts of the world which the European Union has not bothered to negotiate with.” Other economic benefits, he argues, relate to the reduced levels of regulation that we might see as a consequence of leaving the EU. Redwood reasons that outside of the EU, “we could have exactly the regulatory system we liked.”
There’s a sense of utopia to life outside of the European Union as described by Redwood. But surely it is all too good to be true? In order to continue free trade relationships with countries in the EU, many argue that the UK would still have to abide by European laws, except it would no longer have a seat around the policy table.
Redwood dismisses this point by using the example of Norway: a member of the European Economic Area. This means it benefits from free trade with EU countries, but only “has only implemented ten per cent of the EU directives that the UK has had to implement”. He adds: “Of course, Norway has to implement things if she wants to sell into the EU, just as if you want to sell to America then you have to accept its rules. And we sell a lot to America and we do not have any seat around the table to settle the rules about the conduct of the American market… so it is a complete myth that we need to be ‘round the table’.”
Having mentioned America, I ask Redwood whether the UK would lose sway with the US as a consequence of leaving the European Union. The EU is a powerful international actor. Does the UK need a seat at the table in order to preserve its standing both within Europe and in an international context? Redwood evidently doesn’t think so. Were the UK to leave the EU, he explains, it “would then have a seat at all the international tables that we are currently barred from belonging to because the European Union takes precedence.
“The UK would be in a much stronger position because we would be negotiating our own trade and environmental agreements, for example. We would get our voice and our vote back, which has been stifled and overwhelmed by EU representation.”
Much of the debate in the run-up to the General Election concerns Britain’s membership of the European Union. I ask Redwood, however, whether Britain’s relationship is really the primary cause of concern for the average voter?
Redwood tells me, “You cannot look at it as a single issue. If you ask people whether they are mesmerised by or most interested by Europe then no, they are not. But if you say to them, ‘Are you worried about higher energy prices?’, then they say yes, they are very worried about that. And that is directly as a result of a series of bungled EU policies. If you ask them, ‘Are you interested in the UK controlling its own borders and deciding who should come here or not?’, they say, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what we want, that’s a very important issue to us.’ And that, again, is an EU issue. So yes, I think people are desperately worried about the consequences of Europe.”
Redwood’s argument makes it evident that the European issue is not as clear-cut as some people think. Redwood’s opinion, however, is very clear. “I’d far rather we made our own mistakes than have people impose big mistakes on us from Brussels.”