The financial argument for remaining in the EU is never a simple one. Britain receives benefits in countless ways, many of which are unquantifiable. The UK contribution to the EU is around £10bn a year. However, it receives money back from the EU, in the form of grants and funds. The structural fund will pay out over £9bn over the next five years. The Common Agricultural Policy also paid £4bn to UK farmers in 2009.
The free trade agreement that the EU provides is also a huge benefit to the UK. Over 50% of the UK’s exports go to Europe and the free trade zone helps firms avoid paying import taxes and having to adhere to quotas. Firms such as Nissan have built plants in the UK to benefit from the avoidance of quotas with Europe. If this was removed, firms would leave.
The free-movement of workers is also good for business. The creation of a fluid body of workers helps firms get the expertise they require. And equally if workers get a better offer, they can also move. This drives competitiveness and helps the best firms succeed.
In its infancy, the principle of free trade lay at the heart of the European project. This original commitment appears to have been abandoned; it is now arguable that the EU has transformed into an excessively bureaucratic regulatory body, adopting protectionist measures as a means by which to stifle emerging markets. Take for example the lunacy of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. Various subsidies and market interventions have been widely criticised for artificially inflating food prices throughout the EU, imposing high import tariffs, estimated to be in the region of 18-28 per cent, in order to restrict competition from non-EU producers. It is conceivable that the soaring costs of living may have something to do with these misguided policies. Moreover, proponents of EU- lead economic directives continually stress the high proportion of trade conducted with European member states. Yet a recent report published by Civitas showed that levels of trade with our European neighbours has not increased since joining the EU in 1973, suggesting that the effects of withdrawal may be less disruptive than are frequently portrayed. Lifting the burden of red tape would also boost employment, and allow British businesses to fully embrace the opportunities presented to them outside the confines of Europe. It may therefore be wise to fundamentally revise our existing relationship with the EU.