We can leave the European Union - and stay in the European single market

Journal columnist Peter Troy says the stakes surrounding a British exit from the EU may not be as high as some say

David Parry/PA Wire Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan
Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan

The Journal’s front page headline on Monday added to the uncertainty of what a full withdrawal from the European Union (EU) would mean; exclaiming the “EU exit would hit us hardest of all”.

What the article does not refer to is the four well-documented and researched options as to how we can withdraw from the EU which all claim the UK’s economy would not be adversely affected.

A paper published last week by think tank Global Britain outlines four alternatives to EU membership; additionally Global Britain combined resources with The Democracy Movement to produce a credible research paper detailing why jobs will not in fact be lost if we leave the EU.

The supposed threat to the UK economy if the UK were to leave the EU has also been extensively researched and presented as an easy-to-source work by political scientist Dr Richard North entitled Flexcit, which discusses the mechanisms provided under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to exit the EU.

At the very least these works by individuals with established specialist knowledge deserve recognition – to avoid panic – on what is an increasingly polarised subject.

In short, it is critical for people and business leaders especially to understand, not so much that the UK should leave the EU, as that the EU is leaving us and why.

It is particularly critical to comprehend that the economic Single Market and the political EU (often wrongly referred to as “Europe”) are not one and the same thing.

The Single Market is an arrangement called the European Economic Area (EEA). It is an agreement between EU member states and three of the four members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) comprising of Norway, Iceland, and Lichtenstein, minus Switzerland which has separate arrangements.

By switching our membership to the EEA only, as a member of EFTA the UK can pursue participation in the Single Market without being strapped in the EU’s political straightjacket; this is often described as the Norway Option.

Thus, we would remain a member of the fourth largest trade bloc in the world, hence clearly there is no threat to jobs. Confusing membership of the Single Market with membership of the EU is a common error, which both business organisations and corporate business bosses far too often repeat.

To argue that leaving the EU would damage Britain’s ability to continue its trade with our European neighbours – thereby damaging the economy and reducing present and future jobs in our region is to massively misunderstand the realistic and well-considered options that are available.

As stated in the article on Monday Nissan’s chief executive, Carlos Ghosn, is the boss is one of the North East’s most important foreign investors.

As reported, he has stated that Britain’s membership of the European Union is very important and that, indeed, his international corporate company wants to see the UK remain part of the Single Market, otherwise the threat of import tariffs between the UK and the rest of the EU could be an “obstacle” to the car-maker.

Undoubtedly, Mr Ghosn is a very clever man, he knows an awful lot about making cars. However, clearly, he doesn’t know a lot about the Single Market, or else he would know that a country does not have to belong to the EU in order to participate in it.

Mr Ghosn understandably wants the UK to be members of the Single Market, in order to protect the trading position of their business and indeed Nissan executives have previously commented that Britain remaining in the EU makes life simpler as matters such as vehicle safety regulation, emissions regulations and import duties are the same.

“A lot of regulations are under the EU,” they argue. “If the UK – after departing from the EU – is making unique regulations, unique standards, this would become an obstacle.”

This is curious since it must be assumed that Nissan executives know the source of the regulations which cover their products and the standards-setting body is UNECE, a UN agency, not the EU.

Out of the EU, the UK would remain members of UNECE and actually take a greater part in standards-setting, since the UK’s voice would actually be fully represented and not be one of 28 voices represented by the EU.

Nissan leave themselves open to the charge of playing games and capitalising on the ignorance of complex issues in order to make what are essentially political points.

They are entitled to concern themselves with making their cars, but influencing public opinion by being economical with the facts and creating fear, uncertainty and doubt is to ignore their corporate social responsibility.

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