My Column – The idea goes that the EU would punish us for leaving is nonsense

As the Brexit debate hots up, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told a ‘divorce’ from the European Union would be messy.

The idea goes that the EU would punish us for leaving, like someone unhappy at the break-up of their marriage.

It’s one of the biggest pieces of nonsense I’ve ever heard. I mean, seriously. Pull the other one. You’ve only got to look at the treaties. Article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty is perfectly clear: “The Union shall develop a special relationship with neighbouring countries, aiming to establish an area of prosperity and good neighbourliness.”

That sounds nothing like a vindictive ex trying to hurt us. Frankly, if the EU were going to be that nasty, petty and vindictive, it would prove my point: if our continental neighbours did treat us with that level of contempt we’d be best to run a mile and get out whilst we can.

The European Union doesn’t want to cut off its own nose to spite its face. The big car manufacturers in Germany wouldn’t let it, nor would all the other big exporters who sell far more to the UK than we sell to them. Yes, three million British jobs depend on EU trade. But five million EU jobs depend on trade with the UK They don’t want to lose five million jobs, we don’t want to lose three million, and that’s that. Sometimes when you’re not arguing with your ex on a daily basis over nonsense, you might get on with them better after a divorce.

EU apologists just love to tell us that the North East is the only region which exports more to the EU than we import, as though that proves their point. It doesn’t; it puts the North East in a uniquely good position – our deal with the EU isn’t going to be negotiated by the North East. It’s long to be negotiated by the UK, the EU’s best customer. Because five million is more than three million we can negotiate a great deal. The North East, whose figures are the other way around, will benefit.

Of course, the North East is a net exporter to non-EU countries too – but you don’t hear so much about that. You also don’t hear much about the fact that the figures are distorted more here than anywhere else by the ‘Rotterdam effect’. This is where goods are shipped via EU ports (usually Rotterdam) to non-EU countries like the United States, but for official figures it’s recorded as trade with Holland. That impacts the trade figures by a few percent – no-one can say exactly how much.

Twice in debate recently, I’ve been told that the North East exports more to Ireland than it does to India and China put together, as if that’s an argument for staying in the European Union.

Actually it’s completely the opposite: India and China are emerging markets, which we should be tapping into. Together they account for one-third of the world’s population. We’re not trading much with them at the moment? Then there’s far, far more to be gained from a British trade deal with them.

Iceland – yes, Iceland, with a population similar to that of Newcastle – has a free trade deal with China. We don’t. We’re throwing away masses of untapped potential, and then the Europhiles try to tell us that our failure to tap it whilst shackled to the EU is a reason to stay in the EU.

Don’t tell me that Norway and Switzerland have bad deals either. Their people consistently vote against the EU in referendums, and 70%+ according to opinion polls in Norway don’t want to join.

Why do we think they’re happier outside despite such a poor deal? Wouldn’t Britain, the world’s fifth largest economy, have much more clout to negotiate a better one?

I’m fed up of hearing political opponents talking down the United Kingdom and talking down the North East. They just don’t believe we, with all our advantages, are capable of standing on our own two feet. Going back to the divorce analogy, I’m sure many people stay in a terrible marriage because they lack the confidence to leave.

In one way though, the marriage analogy breaks down: a marriage is a solemn promise to someone intended for the rest of your life; our political relationship with the EU held no such promise. In 2016 we don’t need to be locked in a 1950s solution to a 1950s problem.

This article was originally published in The Journal.  You can view it online here.

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