We are a European country

by Jonathan Todd

The wealth of the UK depends much more on European trade than with any other export market. Our prosperity, much more interwoven with continental prosperity than with prosperity over any other geography, is used to finance public services that are discernibly European in their scope and coverage. Popular support for such public services rests upon values that are more akin to those held elsewhere in Europe than beyond.

We are, in other words, a European country. Europe is not the EU. But the EU is the key organising unit for the advance of shared economic and political interests within Europe.

The challenge for the UK, outside of this organisation, is to sufficiently maintain the GDP growth that we have enjoyed within this organisation to continue to fund public services to the extent that public opinion requires. While the UK is exiting the EU, trade with other European countries is so vital to British economic performance that relations with the rest of Europe will continue to be key to this challenge.

It has long been said that the UK wants Scandinavian public services on American taxes. It has never been said that we want Singaporean public services on Singaporean taxes – with much more limited Singaporean regulation to boot. Yet the prime minister – with zero democratic mandate for this position – places this threat above both our EU partners and the British people.

“Go ahead, make our century,” the EU might say. On 23 June 2016, we choose to go our own way. They’d shed no tears for UK gutting of public services and regulations, both in workplaces and for consumers. Or for British loss of favourable trading terms, within the single market and the customs union.

It is a myth that an easy alternative to national wealth significantly based upon trade with Europe exists. Duncan Bell demolishes the notion of CANZUK (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom) in the current Prospect magazine. Alice in Wonderland stuff, as Ken Clarke’s powerful speech put it. With due cynicism, he noted:

“Nice men like President Trump and President Erdogan are impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access.”

Singaporean regulation and public services would give these “nice men” more to get their teeth into. That destination suits them, even if it is unlikely to be to the taste of the British public. The pulling apart of the EU is also something that they do not mourn, though little else has ever produced durable peace on the European continent.

European trade accounts for such a large proportion of UK GDP that any diminishment of such trade, which is likely outside the single market and the customs union, is unlikely to be fully compensated by increased trade with other jurisdictions. In any case, strength in near export markets is also generally a complement to, rather than a substitute for, strength in more distant markets.

Membership of the customs union is incompatible with the trade deals that Liam Fox seeks – outside this union, tariffs on goods moving from the UK to the EU are inevitable. Perhaps even more damagingly, the UK has opened the door to the sometimes corrupt and rarely efficient ways of trade within Europe that were the norm prior to the single market, which the UK was so integral to bringing about.

Reflecting on his time as a business minister in the 1980s, Ken Clarke’s memoirs give a sense of what this will be like:

“One particularly protectionist rule stated that when a British lorry took goods to, say, Italy, it was not allowed to carry any goods from Italy to France on its way back. This, it was believed, ensured that British lorry drivers would not take Italian lorry drivers’ jobs. I spent a day arguing that this was contrary to the principles of the common market, and negotiating permits for British lorries. All the ministers were terrified of their domestic vested interests and gave no ground, so that by the end of a log day, I had achieved six permits. Of course we subsequently put in place much more sensible arrangements through the single market, which, lamentably, we now look set to leave.”

Brexit again puts domestic vested interests at the vanguard. They are as eager to be vultures upon the UK as Trump is. All EU regulation will now seek to serve the interests of the club members that remain, not that which has exited. An army of lobbyists in Brussels, advocating for every possible vested interest, will ensure that it is so. We can expect this to drive much behaviour that may seem petty, or even vexatious, from a British perspective. But a British action – Brexit – has put in place a dynamic in which such actions are unavoidable.

Many of these issues – the difficulty of the UK compensating for the likely fall in exports to the EU caused by tariffs on UK goods and EU regulatory change against UK interests, and the implications for UK public services of deterioration in the UK economy – are quite subtle and their real-world consequences, while profound, will only slowly play out.

One way or another, the more we can reconcile ourselves to being a European country, the less painful this process is likely to be. Everything else is a distraction, especially those “nice men”.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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18 Responses to “We are a European country”

  1. john P Reid says:

    so we’re not a country that’s part of the world
    NATO is the EU
    and countries in based in Europe who aren’t part of the EU, aren’t really in Europe

  2. Mr Akira Origami says:

    “Europe is not the EU. But the EU is the key organising unit for the advance of shared economic and political interests within Europe”.

    ….and that key organiser is Germany……. Germany benefits from the Euro while countries like Greece, Italy,Portugal Spain and France (who are also European countries) suffer.

    Was Kenneth Clarke in the Bilderber Group? I can’t remember……


    …..and you shouldn’t believe everything Kenneth Clarke says….


  3. Heidstaethefire says:

    I don’t know if you realise it, but what you’ve just produced is a very argument for Scotland to be independent.

  4. Mr Akira Origami says:


    If we include the Barnett formula money and take a look at Scotland’s export market….I think the argument for Scottish independence would diminish.


  5. John.p Reid says:

    Heidstaethefire Frank Field wanted Scottish independence and further devotion is a way of getting g ex SNP voters back to labour, I dint think Jonathin Todd, wrote this wanting Scittish independence ,but it might actually supporting be it, work in our da our if we want SNP votes following what he said but for Scotland

  6. Adam says:

    Very true! We are a European country. Just a shame the Labour Party doesn’t seem to have got the memo. If you need a laugh (and who doesn’t right now) I really recommend this piece on Corbyn trying to understand what Brexit actually is http://www.thesparkmagazine.co.uk/uk/jeremy-corbyn-starts-wondering-what-brexit-is/

  7. Tafia says:

    We were a European country, we are a European country and we will remain a European country for a few millions of years yet until the tectonic plates have shifted enough.

    Europe is not the EU and the EU is not europe and to even attempt to mix the two is the mark of a moron.

    But – and this is the big but, we have few cultural ties with mainland europe (other than giving them a good slapping from time to time). We have more in common with the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, most of the Caribean nations, a large chunk of Africa and large chunks of the far east than we do with any mainland european country including the nearest one – France.

  8. The EU is more than just a trading area, and the reference to NATO flags up wider issues which are part of the Trump agenda which is very much part of the New Right strategy as Farage has grasped very well.

    The Labour Party uunderstands nothing of what is going on, which is why the rebellion of 52 MPs is very good and needs to be the start of a fight back against Corbyn and those who embraced the May proposals. Sadly, Keir Starmer thought he got a concession against the thrust of what May devised. Not a hope in hell, as was made clear in the debate. The choice before parliament, if it ever gets that far, is take it or leave it.

    The whole Brexit process has to be challenged and the second referendum brought on. That May does not want this makes it essential. Sadly, Jonathan is accepting the false choice of taking the referendum as unquestionable, and once wrote to me that 52% of the voters had voted for BRexit. No the figure was 52% of the 72% of those who cast a ballot. Gave May a mandate to go for Article 50. But if the parliamentary pantomime this week actually made anything clear, it is that a deal has to be struck and what happens to that will be decisive.

    It is all to play for. Corbyn did say the fight starts now. Sadly, he does not indeed understand that it is the fight to stay in the EU and keep Trump from demolishing it.

    Trevor FIsher.

  9. Mr Akira Origami says:

    “The Labour Party understands nothing of what is going on”

    Well, we had a referendum where the British people were asked…..

    Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

    That seems simple to understand.

    Are 52 MPs now calling for a second referendum?.. with the question…..

    Shall we fight to stay in the European Union and keep Trump from demolishing it or leave the European Union?

    Now..that’s confusing!

  10. Working class Labour says:

    There’s an assumption every ex Labour voter who now backs UKIP is a 70 year old Permatan Robert Kilroy Silk, joined the Labour party in the 60’s when Jim Callaghan said Politics is a place that no Woman should be at, and Shirley Williams was skeptical of the Permissive society, when Labour became more interested in ‘Save the Whale’ in the late 70’s than a trade unions, stuck with the party and left when Gordon Brown said that Bigoted Woman.

    There are 40 year old ex Labour Party members in UKIP ,who are radical Feminists,intrested in Lesbian Gay and Trans rights,Luke Harriet Yeo, Ann Marie Waters, Peter Shores Daughter, or Nikki Sinclair, there are former Punk Rock journalists like Tony parsons Rod Liddle backing UKIP who are still proud of their previous Anti racist ,and pro feminist views.

    Some of the Socially Conservative Blue labour types due to their religion Be It Catholicism,or Islam, wouldn’t buy into some of the Socially liberal ideas such as Sadiq Khans view Straight people should have civil partnerships, take another view such as labour putting up candidates in Northern Ireland,this would instantly mean labour was at Odds with the DUP and ironically the SDLP,s anti abortion views, but labour should stand and should support abortion in northern Ireland and making it easier in the Mainland, again something a Socially Conservative type might not like..but a Ex labour person who now votes libdem,may like, baring in mind we got many moderate Ex Libdems who have accepted Brexit and conceded and moved on,who now back Labour despite Corbyn

    I appreciate the Women in the Supermarket/Man in the street, don’t have these as top priorities,

    Labour needs to get back both these groups of votes ,while getting the EX labour voter who will now vote libdems

  11. Tafia says:

    trevor fisher No the figure was 52% of the 72% of those who cast a ballot.

    A farcical answer that ridicules and disenfranchises the voters in and result of every single election on any matter whatsoever that has ever been held anywhere in the UK over any issue from politics to parents committees to social clubs.

    The truth is that the only people that count are the ones that bother to vote. The Referendum was announced with plenty of time as were the rules.

  12. the result of the referendum gives the government a mandate to trigger Article 50. But not to commit national suicide. Apart from the consequences which will be severe, the result was not a UK result as Scotland and Northern Ireland voted against. So if you want to keep the UK together, that demands a second referendum on the deal May is trying to achieve.

    What the 52 MPs are planning I do not know, but the official Labour position, was to seek amendments to the TOry bill and then if it was improved, vote for it. If there were no amendments, the Party had to vote against the unamended bill. This was stated clearly by Corbyn supporter Manuel Cortes in the Guardian on Ferbruary 6th.

    All Labour’s official amendments were defeated. It then had to vote against the unamended bill. It voted in favour, and now has no negotiating position in relation to the negotiations. The 52 do, as do the other MPs who voted against.

    Labour did not understand the elementary point that you cannot vote for a reactionary Tory proposal. Article 50 triggers a negotiating process. If the result is to split the UK, as Scotland is making it clear that it will leave, and make the rump a poor and xenophobic country, there is no mandate to leave the UK.

    As I said, no country can vote its own suicide.

    In case this seems an abstract point, remember 1938. Parliament voted for the Munich agreement. When It became clear this meant handing over Czechoslovakia and the European balance of power to Hitler, it abandoned its own vote and went to war to defend the status quo on central Europe prior to the Munich agreement.

    If there is to be an effective counter to the trump plan to demolish both the EU and NATO, both are on his agenda, yes we stay in.

    Is that confusing or not? If the battle to destroy Brexit and the EU referendum result of last June, it should be called the 1938 committee. However I will not go to the wall on the name.

    Only on smashing Brexit and the folly of voting for a reactionary tory bill when you have just lost all the amendments which alone would have allowed you to vote for it.

    Labour could not logically oppose May and then vote for an unamended bill. It did. And its official position is now in tatters.

    Trevor Fisher.

  13. John Swan says:

    The supposed desire of the PM being parroted now across the left (without any supporting evidence) is that she wishes to turn the UK into a Singapore. Worth noting that Singapore outperforms the UK in both GDP per capita AND in human development index based on the HDI rank. singapore isn’t competitive because it exploits workers, but because it is a strategic entrepôt for the whole continent of Asia. It’s immediate geography in relation to Malaysia is not its primary success factor. The left, typically, has lagging thinking: after decades disawving the Common Market, as a late convert it now claims we cannot survive outside of it.

  14. Mr Akira Origami says:

    “If there is to be an effective counter to the trump plan to demolish both the EU and NATO, both are on his agenda, yes we stay in.”…..What feeble propaganda!




    “As I said, no country can vote its own suicide.”…..but we were committing suicide buy handing over our country to the EU dictatorship.

  15. Mr Akira Origami says:

    Mogg’s speech against Anti-Democrats…..


  16. John says:

    I’m interested in your assertion that Theresa May has no democratic mandate for her policies, because I seem to remember a 2015 General Election where Labour were utterly thumped at the polls, followed by a EU referendum in 2016 where the same electorate voted (with an even greater turnout) to leave the EU.

    Perhaps you might want to explain why you say she has no mandate?

  17. Tafia says:

    I’ll have a pint of what ever Trevor Fisher had – it’s better than LSD for warping reality.

    By the end of March, any political party that doesn’t have a post-BREXIT agenda along with outline policies is no longer relevant and dead in the water and will be seen to be so very very quickly.

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