As I See It

Voters can do without apocalyptic Brexit warnings

Terry portrait with tieGiven the risks of being accused of playing politics, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney’s warning that a Brexit could cause a technical recession was arguably the boldest statement yet on EU membership.

It also topped a week of declarations in which business has made it clear where it stands on the issue. The old saying that ‘businesses do not have a vote’ misses the point that businesses are run by people who do have the right to make a decision. And the views so far expressed have been overwhelmingly in favour of Britain remaining in the EU.

The Scottish Council for Development and Industry and the Scottish Chambers of Commerce have polled their members and, while the gap between Leave and Remain has narrowed, there is a decisive preference for the status quo.

From financial services to food and drink, business and industry favour Britain remaining in the EU and with just six weeks until the referendum it would take something cataclysmic for that to change.

The week has ended not just with Mr Carney’s intervention but with a warning that Scotland’s financial services sector would be decimated by withdrawal. This on top of even more apocalytic forecasts that the UK’s farming and car industries could follow coal mining into oblivion.

Are such claims justified? Can the UK Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin really believe that all the cows, sheep and cornfields, together with a thriving car manufacturing industry will disappear because we no longer belong to the EU club?

According to the government’s own little booklet which popped through letter boxes this week, 44% of Britain’s exports go to the EU, while less than 8% of products flow the other way. That is presented as an example of British industry’s dependency on the EU. Some might argue that it shows the EU’s dependency on Britain. If we build the cars and financial products that Europe so keenly demands it is surely inconceivable that such trade would dry up because of a change in Britain’s status.

While some of the wilder claims should be treated with some scepticism, there is a justified fear that re-writing the rules of trade would be a long and torturous process. The EU is often criticised for being bureaucratic, but the regulations that created a single market do create a single set of rules, a single access point and a level playing field – of sorts – among 28 nations.

If Britain leaves, it would have to renegotiate with each of these nations across every industry. This blows a big hole in one of the biggest arguments of the Brexiteers who claim that severing ties with the EU would rid Britain of regulatory burdens.

The Remain camp, however, must not resort to tactics designed to scare us into rejecting the Brexit option. Those who campaigned for the union in the Scottish independence referendum were accused of lacking a vision for Scotland remaining in the UK, and for running a campaign based on fear. The EU Remain campaigners are doing much the same thing, with the Prime Minister kicking off the week with a warning of war in Europe. In the weeks of campaigning that remain, the country deserves a more reasoned debate.

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