Nick Clegg: Don’t let Boris ‘whoppers’ cloud EU choice

Nick Clegg is backing the Remain campaign.
Nick Clegg is backing the Remain campaign.
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THE choice you make on June 23 is hugely important. It’s not like a general election or a council election, where you can make another choice in a few years’ time if you are not happy with what you get. If we leave the European Union the consequences will be felt for decades to come, not just by us but by our children and our grandchildren.

That’s why it is so important that the decision you make is based on facts. Unfortunately, that’s not what you’ve been getting from those determined to pull us out of Europe. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage and their fellow Brexit campaigners are trying to fib their way over the finishing line.

Take, for example, their claim that the cost of EU membership is £55m a day: it is an effective line, but also a classic Boris whopper. It takes no account of the money we receive back from the European Union, for example from the rebate that their heroine Margaret Thatcher negotiated many years ago.

In 2015, the net cost was in fact £17m a day, or around 30p per person. That’s still a lot of money, but in return we get full access to the world’s most lucrative single market which the CBI reckons is worth £3,000 to every British household. So we all get back much more than what we pay in.

The second whopper the Brexiteers tell is that when it comes to trade the EU needs us more than we need it. Again, this doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Our exports to the rest of the EU represent around 12 per cent of our GDP but the EU’s exports to us are just three per cent of its GDP. Of course, if we choose to leave neither side will want a trade war, but the brutal fact remains that we rely on trade with the EU much more than any individual EU country does with us. If we left, we should be under no illusions that the EU will have a much stronger hand to play than we will in any negotiations.

The third fib is that EU “red tape” costs British businesses £600m a year. But this figure is based on the cost of applying regulations not just to business but to the public sector too, and it takes no account of our return, either in cleaner air or access to the world’s biggest marketplace.

But the fourth is probably the most pernicious. It is that if we withdraw from Europe we can “reclaim our borders”. Brexiteers suggest that if we were not part of the EU fewer desperate refugees fleeing war in Syria and elsewhere would make their way here. What cynical nonsense. We are not part of the borderless Schengen area and desperate people just want sanctuary: they won’t stop trying to come just because we are out of the EU.

What’s more, if we want to trade with Europe in future as we do now, free movement will undoubtedly be part of the deal. That’s what Norway and Switzerland, which Brexiteers love to cite as models, have found.

Listening to Eurosceptics, you would think Britain was some impotent basket case, its businesses drowning in bureaucracy, being bossed by grouchy Germans and untrustworthy Frenchmen.

But it isn’t. We are the world’s fifth-largest economy. We are a senior player in the G8, Nato and the UN. We are world leaders in everything from green technologies to gaming, television drama to top-flight football. All these things are enabled by our membership of the EU, not diminished by it.

Here in Yorkshire and the Humber, our membership of the European Union has helped our businesses to flourish. In 2014, companies in our region exported £8.4bn worth of goods to EU countries. Four of our top five export destinations are in the EU.

Take Pricecheck Toiletries, from Sheffield, which employs at least 75 staff, whose top three markets are the Netherlands, worth over £1.1m, Poland, worth over £665,000, and Sweden, worth £620,000.

The Brexiteers cannot tell you on what terms they or any other company will be able to trade with our European neighbours, or anyone else for that matter. They cannot tell you what that will mean for the jobs that rely on that trade. They cannot tell you how we as a country will rise to the biggest challenges – from economic globalisation to climate change to terrorism and cross-border crime – when we cannot work with our neighbours in the same way. They cannot tell you how Britain will influence the rest of the world when we have ceded our influence in our own back yard.

Constant misinformation will not help us make a balanced choice. The Brexiteers need to stop trying to fib their way to victory. Instead, let us base our decision on facts.

Nick Clegg is the Sheffield Hallam MP. He is the former Lib Dem leader and was Deputy Prime Minister from 2010-15.