May I contribute to the EU Referendum debate?
I worked in Paris on trade promotion from 1968 to 1970.
At that time the UK was not a member of the European Community and all manufactured goods had to be sold into France over a substantial tariff barrier.
The big news at the time was the success of the Kennedy Round of negotiations within GATT which halved most tariffs.
I did in essence the same job in Paris some 20 years later. It was easier.
The UK was a member of the European Union. All tariffs had gone and national standards had largely been harmonised.
The percentage value of UK exports to the EU will change over time as the global economy develops.
But translate that percentage into cash terms and it seems to me clear why the UK should remain in a position to influence the regulation of the market that generates it.
In the 80s I worked on loan for a major British company.
It sold its manufactured goods successfully throughout the world.
Membership of the EU did not act as a brake on its ability to do so, including to Commonwealth countries.
In the late 90s I worked in Chicago on trade promotion and inward investment. I was struck by how American mid-Westerners rarely mentioned the ‘special relationship’.
I am not sure how many even knew that there was one.
They spoke of Europe. If they were thinking of investing in Europe, many companies were of course attracted by the UK.
Our labour market regulation was relatively benign (definitely not entirely prescribed by Brussels) and, apart from anything else, Brits spoke English.
But our membership of the EU was a significant factor.
Investing in the UK gave access to a large market.
The UK market alone was relatively small and, by itself, not always enough to justify the investment.
In the early 00s, I was Chairman of the Battle Memorial Hall Management Committee. We completed an extension project which produced the Wynne Room among many other things.
Part of this was funded with EU money. So the economic arguments for staying in seem strong to me even if, to provide the proverbial level playing field, the UK sometimes has to make political compromises.
There are less easily quantifiable political advantages too.
The roots of the EU lie in the rapprochement between France and Germany following the Second World War. In my lifetime Britain was at war with Germany and France was occupied.
Indeed it had been invaded from the East three times in less than 100 years.
The consequences for Britain need no retelling.
The EU, where Britain is a major player, has provided stability and interdependence thereby helping to keep Europe largely at peace for more than 70 years.
The arguments are complex. The EU is certainly not perfect. But the UK has kept out of policies that it really doesn’t like such as the Euro and Schengen.
There is no doubt which way I shall be voting in the referendum.
HM Diplomatic Service 1962-99
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