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88 of 93 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars well written, fair, informative and timely book, 7 Feb 2013
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This review is from: Au Revoir, Europe: What If Britain Left The EU? (Paperback)
A well written, fair, informative and timely book, franker than most politicians on either side of the debate. It leaves each reader to decide. I shall try to do the same, giving points first for one side, then the other:

Things 'Pro-EU' politicians do not tell us:

-It is now almost impossible to deny that for decades British politicians supporting EU membership from Heath to Blair concealed from the public how much further European integration would go. Consequently, especially now that the EU's most important project of recent years, the Euro single currency, is not the success they expected, most leading pro-EU British politicians are now almost embarrassed in speaking up for the EU and are not trusted when they do.

-Statistics used by supporters of EU membership suggesting that e.g. "three and a half million British jobs depend on EU membership" are often not based on much hard evidence. They often assume that all trade between Britain and the EU countries would cease if Britain left the EU; an assertion so unlikely as to be almost dishonest.

-Because of inadequate education in foreign languages in Britain, few British applicants land jobs in EU institutions, in which entrance exams have to be taken in one's second language and speaking 3 or more European languages is desirable. Consequently there are so few British officials in the EU bureaucracy that British concerns are often not understood. (How could former Primeminister Edward Heath, who enthusiastically led Britain into what is now the European Union in 1973, not see the need to improve education in European languages at the same time?)

-Rightly or wrongly the majority of the EU countries are profoundly committed to the apparent safety and stability of regulation and redistribution over messy and unfair but dynamic free market economics. Partly in consequence more ruthlessly competitive but economically dynamic areas of the world are catching up or overtaking Europe in prosperity. Europe's low economic growth rates compare unfavourably to North America & Australia, never mind the Far East. Britain's trade with Europe will therefore continue to decline in relative importance.

-There are an increasing number of successful bilateral and regional free trade agreements in the world, which a truly independent Britain may be able to join. Under EU rules Britain is currently forbidden even to open negotiations about joining them.

Things 'anti-EU' politicians don't tell us:

-We could not quickly make up for the disruption to trade of leaving the EU by joining other Free Trade agreements. Experience shows that even between willing partners, such agreements take many years to negotiate and implement.

-Politicians who say we could free ourselves from the EU and its `red tape' and meddling, but retain a free trade agreement with the other members, seriously misunderstand the attitude of other EU countries. Many of the latter see adoption of EU regulations as the essential condition of membership of the European single market. Otherwise, they believe, we would win an unfair advantage in European markets over Continental companies who have to abide by EU employment and other legislation. Perhaps some compromise could be found, but the debate could become so emotive on both sides that compromise is difficult.

-Politicians who suggest that, as an alternative to withdrawal, Britain could re-negotiate its EU treaties to gain various additional opt-outs and freedoms from regulation are either not telling the truth or do not understand how near impossible it would be to obtain the agreement of all the other EU members, and how strongly some of them are opposed to re-opening such questions. After all, if Britain can change the rules when it likes, why should not all the other (at time of writing) 25 countries do likewise, and how then could 26 countries ever reach agreement?

-Even if we would like to rebuild or expand our trading links to the Comomnwealth, USA, China or anywhere else as an alternative to the EU, these countries are thousands of miles away. For obvious geographical reasons, trade with our nearest neighbours in Europe will always be important. We shall never truly "leave Europe"; hence the title of the book, 'Au Revoir Europe' ('Au Revoir' being the French for 'until we see each other again'), not 'Goodbye'.

-EU membership is more popular in other parts of the UK, especially Scotland, than in England. In a referendum there could well be an overall majority for withdrawal composed largely of English votes, with the smaller countries of the UK voting in favour of staying in the EU. Would Scotland (if it has not left already in its 2014 referendum) then leave the UK? If it did, would Wales want to stay, and where would that leave Northern Ireland? If the UK broke up, what would happen to UK dependencies like Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, the UK's seat on the UN Security Council, international treaties to which the UK was a party etc.? Why is there almost no debate in England about these questions?

Conclusion: There is no easy answer to the question of the UK's future relationship with the EU. However, we are going to have to choose, as much of the rest of the EU, spurred by the need to make the Euro work as well as ideological and emotional commitment, moves towards further integration. Eventually we may either have to join them, or leave. Unfortunately our politicians are often not preparing us for either option, but hoping or pretending we can somehow have our cake and eat it.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 23 Feb 2013 14:13:47 GMT
Peter Davies says:
This is a fantastic and thought provoking summary. One thing I would say about your first point on the "anti EU" point of view. Any withdrawal would have to be carried out in an organized manner so that for example EFTA/EEA terms and complied with and agreed prior to any withdrawal.

Given that the UK has a circa 40BN + PA trade deficit any Free Trade Agreement would be in the likes of Germany's interest as much if not more than the UK.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Feb 2013 13:56:38 GMT
Last edited by the author on 27 Mar 2013 13:43:14 GMT
Gosh! Thank you Peter.

I agree with you that, although the recent fall in the pound may narrow the trade deficit a little, as Continental countries export far more to us than vice versa, companies in Germany & elsewhere who export to the UK will lobby for an agreement to keep trade with the UK as open as possible even if we leave the EU.

However, a new treaty between the UK and EU will need the agreement of all the EU countries, so a difficult minority could scupper a free trade deal even if most want one. There will be resistance to such an agreement from:

-Continental companies for whom the UK is a potential competitor. They will not want UK businesses to gain a competitive advantage by being able to pick and choose which EU social welfare, health and safety and tax rules we wish to follow when they are subject to them all

-The political left and centre in France and elsewhere who see British and American free market economics as a threat to their high tax, high welfare spend, high bureaucracy model that they see as safeguarding their citizens from the excesses of the free market

-Quite a few on the Continent who would resent UK withdrawal as a betrayal of the European ideal/ not want to set a precedent that would encourage others to think they could leave too easily or are just fed up with the UK complaining about the EU. Some may think an unhappy and impoverished future outside it would serve us right. (The book we are reviewing quotes a German newspaper calling the UK the `Statler & Waldorf' of Europe, after the two grumpy old spectators on the Muppet Show).

In reply to an earlier post on 6 May 2013 06:47:45 BDT
F Henwood says:
If only the debate on Europe in this country could be as balanced and informed as this review.

The rise of UKIP ought to provoke a debate but it hasn't. Most commentary has been a sterile discussion about the numbers game, about the distribution of votes and what it might or might not mean for the coalition's prospects at the next election. This is just gossip and bean counting. What has not happened is a discussion for or against our staying or leaving the EU. The recent media coverage of UKIP's success and potential has left me totally unenlightened on this point.

It sounds like that this book can provide some fodder for anti EU camp but it should provide them with some food for thought. The messianic anti-EU stance of people like Farrage seems to suggest that if we pull out of the EU, all our problems will be solved. It surely cannot be simple as that. Your review has set out that whether we opt to stay in or to get out, the decision is not going to be an easy one. This a mature insight which both pro and anti EU politicians seem to lack.

Posted on 22 Jun 2013 10:26:18 BDT
Dr. H. Baron says:
Thank you for this enlightening review. It has made me decide to read the book to get beyond my current ignorance on the issues and the Punch and Judy of much of the debate in the media.

Posted on 9 Jul 2013 17:51:09 BDT
Excellent review, thoughtful comments.
You rightly say, "There are an increasing number of successful bilateral and regional free trade agreements in the world, which a truly independent Britain may be able to join. Under EU rules Britain is currently forbidden even to open negotiations about joining them."

Britain is currently forbidden to open negotiations, yes; but please don't think that various think-tanks and university economists are prevented by that from eagerly and unofficially dialoguing with their opposite numbers in other countries to put together workable draft agreements ready to drop in the pipeline as soon as a referendum might sound "The long withdrawing roar" from the EU.

England is not yet such a no-hoper that we don't have a few proactive clever-clogs ready behind-the-scenes for when the UK exits the EU.

Any one of you canny posters here might well start noising this idea elsewhere on the internet, just to stir the pot. . . .
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