Scroll to the bottom of the main article for Ronald Stewart-Brown's response to comments
Ronald Stewart-Brown is Director of the Trade Policy Research Centre which is examining how the UK might leave the Common Commercial Policy/Single Market trading framework of the EU with a view to strengthening its negotiating position within the EU.
The UK Independence Party’s flagship policy sounds so simple. Britain should “withdraw from the political EU Superstate, and maintain a trade-based relationship with our European neighbours using a Swiss-style free trade agreement as the EU’s largest single trading partner”. Or as Lord Pearson of Rannoch, its new leader, more succinctly put it in his letter to the Daily Telegraph on 10th November last year: “The only way out remains the door.”
But if it’s so simple why have UKIP failed to persuade leading business opinion formers such as the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the Financial Times and The Economist to take them seriously? Few UK-based businesses dispute the heavy cost implicit in the Temporary Agency Workers Directive and the Working Time Directive (not to mention the likely near term loss of the UK’s valuable current individual opt-out from it). Few in the City favour the dirigiste Brussels approach to financial markets manifest in the proposed Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive and the planned new EU supervisory agencies for banking, insurance and securities. Yet, in these areas at least, British liberal values seem to be perpetually on the retreat. So the trade case for continuing full EU membership rests implicitly on the premise that there is no realistic alternative.
To attack this premise UKIP need to answer two questions. First, could the UK leave the EU unilaterally on terms that businesses involved in UK-EU trade would find acceptable? Secondly, could any free trade agreement the UK might negotiate with the EU be satisfactory to businesses involved in UK-EU trade? Unfortunately for UKIP the answer to the first question is a definite No whilst that to the second is far from clear.
Like it or not, the UK is bound by the Lisbon Treaty under the international law of treaties. However politically illegitimate it was for Gordon Brown’s government to force its ratification through Parliament without the referendum it had promised on the almost identical European Constitution Treaty, international law trumps individual states’ ideas of right and wrong. Think of the revanchist can of worms that could otherwise be opened up over borders around the world. For the UK to seek to leave the EU in breach of the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty would be an extremely serious matter.