David Cameron’s position on Brexit can be boiled down to five words: “a leap in the dark”. Leaving the EU is a risk we cannot take, he argues, because we can’t be certain that any new arrangements we may secure will be better for Britain than what we have today. For financial services, in particular, this argument has some merit.
There has been a deafening silence from the Leave campaign on the position of the City outside the EU – and the new pro-Brexit City for Britain campaign, which launches today, will have its work cut out if it wants City workers to accept the claim made yesterday by Iain Duncan Smith that leaving the EU will, in fact, represent a stride into the light.
Will banks be able to retain access to the Single Market; will domestic regulators be able to rescind some of the more egregious EU regulations; what measures can be taken to stop rival financial centres in Europe from undermining London?
Yet in calling Brexit a leap in the dark, Cameron and Remain campaigners are also being disingenuous, for a vote to stay in the EU is certainly not risk-free.
Over the next 10 years, the EU’s euro member states will seek to deepen integration in order to resolve the systemic flaws at the heart of the single currency. The Five Presidents’ Report, published in June last year, outlines a radical plan to complete economic and monetary union, including a euro-area treasury and eventually political union.
An increasingly integrated and powerful Eurozone will only magnify existing tensions between those countries that are in and those that, like Britain, opt to remain outside the euro.
What influence will British MEPs and Commissioners have in Brussels if its institutions are increasingly devoted to Eurozone-only business? Will UK priorities – like completing the Single Market in services – get a look in? Will we find ourselves outvoted again and again, as the interests of a semi-detached member are brushed to one side for the greater good of European unity?
These are all questions the Remain campaign needs to answer – and urgently. Otherwise, as UBS Wealth Management’s Bill O’Neill has pointed out, this referendum will become a Neverendum: a problem that just won’t go away. A few years down the line, we may come to find that EU membership isn’t as risk-free as we were told.