Wednesday 26 October 2016

'The euro will implode, so I'm backing Brexit'

I'm backing Brexit, says Liam Halligan

Published 05/06/2016 | 02:30

'The EU suits big UK corporates, banks and professional firms, as Brussels-based lobbying and red tape keeps smaller challengers at bay' Photo: PA
'The EU suits big UK corporates, banks and professional firms, as Brussels-based lobbying and red tape keeps smaller challengers at bay' Photo: PA

Why am I voting for Brexit? Why, as a citizen of both the UK and the Republic of Ireland, do I think Britain should leave the European Union?

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I'm certainly not backing Brexit to be popular. While British voters as a whole remain evenly split, most of my London-based media colleagues staunchly back Remain. "Only the old, racist or stupid want Brexit," is the basic view of the British media class.

It strikes me this bien pensant consensus is wrong. It was wrong when "most economists" and media-types wanted the UK to join the euro in the late 1990s - which I strongly opposed. It was wrong, also, ahead of the Iraq war - which I also opposed.

I'm backing Brexit because, as an economist who's studied the EU for years, doing so is common sense. I back Brexit because, while it's a shame people in both the UK and Ireland ridicule me for wanting Britain to leave, that's not a good enough reason to stay silent.

The EU accounts for 45pc of all UK trade and falling, down from 55pc five years ago. Europe is the world's slowest-growing continent, apart from Antarctica. The Treasury claims British households will be £4,300 a year worse off by 2030 with the OECD's 'Brexit shockwave' casting us into penury. These ridiculous rigged 'studies' are all part of Project Fear - designed to scare voters.

Economists at the Treasury and EU-funded OECD do whatever their political masters tell them. And right now David Cameron's premiership, and the 'European project' in its current form, would be upended by the Brexit.

The UK, free from onerous EU regulations and the common tariff on non-EU imports, could well grow faster outside. A Brexited Britain would focus more on trade with fast-growing and populous emerging markets in Asia and elsewhere - nations set to dominate the global economy.

The EU suits big UK corporates, banks and professional firms, as Brussels-based lobbying and red tape keeps smaller challengers at bay. A large majority of small- and medium-sized firms, though, accounting for much of Britain's creativity and innovation and two-thirds of all employment, want Brexit.

Europe simply isn't working. The central pillar of "ever closer union" - the euro - is doing untold damage. Locked in a high-currency straitjacket, Greece and Spain are suffering 40-50pc youth unemployment. Italy, having barely grown since the euro's 1999 launch, is on the brink of a major banking crisis. Unable to depreciate their currencies, such economies are being sacrificed on the altar of "more Europe". When the euro implodes, as it will, the big EU economies will pick up the tab. Britain is better off out.

"Free movement of people", meanwhile, sounds good in theory - but is naive. Massive wage differentials between member-states have driven record migration. UK net immigration rose above 330,000 last year - more than twice that if gauged by new national insurance numbers. Just last year, Cameron was re-elected on a pledge to bring the figure below 100,000 - impossible as long as we remain in the EU.

Hailing from a long line of Irish builders who came to London, I always back immigration. But when the pace is as fast as it is now, big firms prosper while economically vulnerable working people see their wages flattened. That's why, across Europe, nasty parties opposing all immigration are rapidly attracting voters. Unless "freedom of movement" is modified, restoring public trust in immigration, British and European politics will get ugly - and dangerous.

Irish people needn't fear Brexit. While I understand concerns among Border communities, Anglo-Irish relations are better than they've perhaps ever been. These are issues we can solve. And while the UK accounts for a fifth of Irish trade - €1bn a week - that will continue. Ireland has no trade deal with America, which generates a similar share of Irish commerce.

Britain and Ireland have traded for centuries, through thick and thin, due to mutual benefit. These two great peoples, entwined by culture, history and blood, don't need the permission of Brussels to maintain the two-way flow of goods, services and people across the Irish Sea.

Liam Halligan writes his weekly 'Economics Agenda' column in the Sunday Telegraph

The evidence says 'stay in' - Stick with the EU, says Ronan Dunne

In just three weeks, British citizens across the UK and Ireland will decide whether or not Britain should remain in the European Union.

If you listen to the breadth of voices in the preceding debate, there is one point that is consistently raised: this is without doubt the most important decision the UK has faced in a generation.

I moved to the UK from Ireland in 1987. As an Irishman, running a British business, owned by a Spanish company, I'm personally pro-European. I believe that Europe would be a poorer place without Britain and Britain would be a poorer place without the ability to help lead Europe.

I also think Ireland has greatly benefited from its EU membership. Ireland today is very different to the Ireland I left 30 years ago. Relationships have improved, the economic environment is stronger and there is a growing sense of a greatly maturing society. While a lot of this is down to the great work of our nation, it has also happened within a context set by the European Union.

I believe that the development of the Good Friday Agreement and the broader peace process has been supported by access to the European market and the resulting improvement of economic circumstances for people, both north and south.

The truth is, Britain in Europe is a more attractive investment opportunity for European and international businesses. It is undeniable that being part of the European family promises far greater prosperity for UK industry. That said, I'm not naive enough to think everything is working as it should, and I certainly don't think it's for businesses to tell people how to vote.

Instead, my wish is for business leaders to actively contribute to the 'fact pack', so there is a properly informed debate on the issues.

It should be the depth of insight and evidence in this fact-pack that helps people draw conclusions and make a final decision.

For my part, I believe there are two key areas where I can offer a view: firstly, in addressing the broader economic benefits and, secondly, by contributing to the specific business case for the UK.

Earlier this year I put my name to a letter published in the London Times alongside hundreds of other business leaders. We said: "Britain will be stronger, safer and better off remaining a member of the EU" - and my primary reason for doing so was the economy.

Britain needs unrestricted access to the European market in order to compete effectively. Without this, we risk serious harm to our economy. The threat to jobs, house prices and welfare cannot be overlooked.

But don't just take my word for it. This economic assessment is being made by an increasing list of stakeholders including Britain's previous four prime ministers (of varying political hues), the Bank of England, the IMF, and a healthy coalition of British businesses owners and leaders.

As a UK business leader, I regularly witness the benefits of being part of the free-trade single market. In addition, my business profits greatly from the wealth of talent this country so keenly needs.

To put that in some context, in order to capitalise on the opportunity promised by the digital economy, UK businesses need an additional 2.3 million digitally skilled workers by 2020 - a tough ask of a Britain on the outside.

If Britain were to exit, British business simply wouldn't get access to the same hi-tech European skills as its competitors. This would put us at a competitive disadvantage and in turn affect thousands of domestic businesses and exporters alike.

Granted, there is still a significant amount of work to do within the EU, not least in further reducing red tape and bureaucracy. But my hope is that the UK will have a guiding influence in that restorative process.

So my view is clear and grounded in the evidence from my motherland, homeland and the business I lead.

But it is for each individual to decide where Britain's future lies. I hope people take time to understand the issues at play and ensure their vote is registered and voice is heard on what will be a truly landmark day for the Republic of Ireland, Britain, Europe and indeed, the world.

Ronan Dunne is the CEO of Telefonica UK and you can follow him on Twitter @RonanDunneO2


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