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EU referendum: Cable boring us all to death

2014-03-07 06:53:05

000a Independent-006 Cable.jpg

Vince Cable, the Lib-Dem business secretary, has intervened in David Cameron's game, branding the Conservatives "seriously irresponsible" for promising a 2017 referendum.

Ignoring the growing clamour of voices that says a 2017 plebiscite is impossible, Cable, is talking to the The Independent, whence he chooses to make an issue over the "blight" on foreign investment in Britain. He thus warns of the "chilling effect" of the in/out referendum promise, saying it is delaying the economic recovery and putting 3.5 million jobs at risk.

He claims businessmen are now warning him on a daily basis that they would invest elsewhere to ensure they retained access to the EU's single market. "They say 'we are here because of Europe; we are not just here because of Britain'", he asserts.

Asked to name names, Cable comes up with the usual suspects, car-makers Vauxhall, BMW Mini, Ford and Nissan, adding that the same concerns were being expressed in the aerospace industry and City. British, Japanese, American, Indian and German firms had all voiced fears, he says.

This tedious little game, though, rest on three suppositions. Firstly, one has to assume that there will be that referendum, which Cable should know is impossible. Then, secondly, he must assume that the "outers" would win, which is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Thirdly, and crucially, Cable must assume that the end result would be that the UK outside the EU would no longer had access to the EU's Internal Market. Necessarily, we would be excluded from the trading arrangements that we currently enjoy. Nothing like the "Norway option" would be on offer. 

On the other hand, the EU has been willing to agree a deep and comprehensive free trade area (DCFTA) with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, which encompasses full participation in the Internal Market, without there being any immediate question of EU membership.

It does seem, therefore, beyond the realm of probability that the UK would not be able to negotiate something similar on its departure from the EU. On that basis, the most likely outcome of a "Brexit" is that trading arrangements continue unchecked.

By now, in what should be a mature debate, we should be past the low-grade FUD that Cable has on offer. We really should be able to address the arguments for staying in and departing from the EU on a more adult level, without having to put up with the tedious repetitions that Cable is resuscitating.

Sometime, one wonders whether the game is about boring us all to death, with the same mindless scare stories, forcing us into the position of ending the debate rather than suffer the tedium of yet another dire warning about losing our ability to trade with the rest of the EU.

The trouble is that Mr Cameron and his merry men are not much better, which means we have to suffer this endless round of tedium, instead of addressing the real issues attendant on our membership of the EU.

But then, one might surmise that if the pro-EU faction cannot come up with some more interesting and imaginative arguments for remaining in the EU, that itself tells its own story. A construct which relies on endless repetition of the same tedious FUD can't have very much to offer.