We are finally starting to get a more grown-up debate on the EU

Allister Heath

AT SOME point over the next few years, the UK will have to decide once and for all what it wants

Its relationship with the European Union to be. This is a crucial debate, albeit one where intelligent and well-meaning people who broadly share the same outlook on many other issues will still find it possible to disagree fundamentally.

But for the discussion to progress beyond name-calling and scare-mongering, it is vital for both sides – and all shades of opinion in between – to invest a lot more time in fleshing out their vision for Britain and Europe. The Eurosceptics in particular need to do much more to show what their various alternatives would look like, and how they would extricate themselves from the current set-up without making matters worse.

The Institute of Economic Affairs is to be congratulated on its own efforts in seeking to inject greater rationality and rigour into the Eurosceptic alternative; it announced the result of its €100,000 competition to identify the best blueprint for a post-EU Britain last night.

Perhaps ironically given the Foreign Office’s commitment to the UK’s EU membership, the winner of the prize was Iain Mansfield, a brilliant 30-year- old diplomat (and part-time novelist) based at the British embassy in Manila. He said that he doesn’t have a view on whether or not the UK should leave – but that if the public were to vote to go, then his plan would be the best way forward to maximise growth, free trade and globalisation.

Mansfield’s winning entry calls for the UK to join the European Free Trade Association, while remaining outside the European Economic Area, as well as for the introduction of a Great Repeal Bill to bring about a comprehensive review and, in some cases, the abolition, of EU red tape and the cutting of corporation tax to 15 per cent to reassure and attract foreign investors.

Mansfield believes that the net effect on economic growth would be small (thus disagreeing with those who believe Brexit would in of itself destroy or turbo-charge the economy) – he thinks that the most likely outcome is a very small annual boost.

For this debate to progress, those pro-EU organisations and companies who are interested in a serious, thoughtful discussion of the issues should pen detailed responses. They need to show why they disagree with the author, or why he has missed some key point which would mean that the costs of Brexit would turn out to be much greater than he believes. City firms in particular have a number of fears when it comes to trade in financial services – which isn’t protected by World Trade Organisation rules – or the free movement of people; they owe it to the rest of us to express them in the context of Mansfield’s arguments. Ditto carmakers.

The political debate on Europe is bound to be dominated by populism. But for those who are genuinely interested in examining alternative institutional arrangements that preserve and enhance globalisation and openness, the IEA’s prize-winning essay is a great place to start.

Andrew Sentance, the former member of the monetary policy committee who now works for PwC, has uncovered a great fact. If the IMF’s latest forecasts are correct and the UK grows by 2.9 per cent this year, compared with 2.8 per cent for the US, 1.4 per cent for the Eurozone and 1.4 per cent for Japan, 2014 will be the ninth year since 1980 when the UK has led the G7 growth table. Britain will have equalled America’s record. Japan has been ahead seven times, Canada six, Germany four – but France and Italy zero times.

Of course, a country with very severe booms and busts would actually score well on this metric. But it is still a fascinating observation and provides much food for thought.

Follow me on Twitter: @allisterheath

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