Friday, 24 April 2015

After Withdrawal

One little discussed aspect of Britain's withdrawal from the European Union is how an independent British foreign policy would view the bloc after we leave it. It is a vexed question because on the one hand the rest of the EU is by far our largest single trading partner and it would make sense to maintain strong relationships with our close neighbours. On the other hand in slamming it as an anti-democratic, inward looking organisation it would be somewhat hypocritical to then treat is as a friendly ally once we were outside. And in a very practical sense having our geographically and culturally closest neighbours subsumed into an undemocratic bloc in economic decline, and social unrest is definitely not in our interests.

Remaining in the European Free Trade Agreement as Norway or Switzerland do would give none of the advantages of free trade with the rest of the world, and would perpetuate our dependence on trading with Europe for years to come. 

The most logically consistent position seems to be to develop a completely independent trade policy with good terms, but maintain a position of open scepticism in a political sense, while encouraging other members to leave. However this would surely present major political problems with the institutions of the European Union.

However there are dangers with this - the first being that a smaller EU, minus perhaps Ireland and the Nordic countries, would push integration even farther and faster, hence accentuating the negative consequences for us. The second being that this would antagonise the institutions of the EU to the extent that they would implement damaging restrictions on trade and travel between Britain and the remaining EU countries.

As the case for withdrawal gathers pace it is a question that we need to start to answer, because our eventual policy will guide the process of extracting the country from the European project, and the groundwork should begin well before any referendum is even held.