Now that the United Kingdom is on its way out of the EU, perhaps it’s time for a bit of positive thinking.
Remain has yet to let up on “Project Fear”. The Leave camp hasn’t dropped its “doom and gloom” preaching around the future of the European Union. But regardless of which side you took, the decision has been made, Article 50 has been triggered, and the UK will no longer be subject to laws that cannot be repealed, replaced, or changed by its own Parliament.
And now, for the first time in a long time, we can all be positive about Europe again.
Not about the Union, or the Eurocrats – but about the remarkable countries that play neighbour to the UK, from which we have a lot to learn, notably when it comes to the future of tax reform and public services.
Take Switzerland – a country cited by Leave campaigners frequently as a successful European nation operating outside of EU jurisdiction. The multi-linguistic state serves as an excellent reminder to May’s government to stick to its guns on corporate tax reform, and to get rates down to more competitive levels as soon as possible. Switzerland’s corporate tax rate sits around 18 per cent, and it has had no trouble attracting business and trade to its shores, despite being separate from the EU around it.
Furthermore, EU member states like Germany and Belgium have achieved impressive efficiencies in healthcare that the UK needs to seriously examine if it is to make any headway on improving the NHS.
Embracing market mechanisms – but still providing universal coverage regardless of ability to pay – has improved healthcare in a vast number of European countries that aren’t so irrationally committed to a Beveridge-style system. If UK patients with the five most common forms of cancer were treated in Germany instead of in the NHS, more than 13,000 extra lives could saved each year; in Belgium, more than 14,000.
But most importantly, the UK must remain open to the most valuable thing Europe has to offer: its people. In a truly shocking manner, the UK government has not granted leave-to-remain status to EU nationals yet, even though their sudden departure from the UK, were it to happen, would be disastrous for the UK economy.
EU migrants contribute far more in tax than they take out in welfare or benefits. Despite frustratingly successful attempts to label immigrants – especially from Eastern Europe – as health and benefit tourists, the facts put such myths to bed. According to 2014 research by Christian Dustmann and Tommaso Frattini of UCL, between 2001 and 2011, recent immigrants from the Central and Eastern European countries that joined the EU since 2004 made a net fiscal contribution of about £5bn. Over the same period, native Britons made a negative contribution of an enormous £617bn.
But granting EU nationals permanent leave-to-remain status isn’t just the right decision economically – it is the right decision morally, and represents the commitment to openness promised by the Leave campaign during the referendum. Some argue that to grant leave before the EU agrees to do the same for UK nationals is ceding ground too early – but this is a decision the UK must make, regardless of how the EU rules.
Indeed, if the UK were to grant leave, but the EU were to turn around and not do the same, I would expect even the likes of Nick Clegg and Tim Farron to change their tune on the outcome of the referendum: that it is certainly not a union any of us would want to affiliate with.
Europe was never the opposition in the referendum, and it shouldn’t be treated as such now that the UK is leaving the Union. Remaining open to their ideas and their people is key to a successful Brexit and prosperous future outside of the EU.
A United Kingdom without friendly neighbours will be much worse off indeed.