Much has been said recently regarding the prospects of the British economy if we were to leave the EU. Unsurprisingly the sceptics tend to make the lowest estimates of jobs dependent upon EU membership, as well as make the largest estimates of the costs. Similarly, Europhiles use the oft quoted 3.5 million jobs as a mantra without serious question. In reality, the number of jobs at risk if we leave the EU is uncertain, but significant.
Focusing solely on job numbers also misses the political arguments for and benefits of EU membership, which are at least as potent as the economic ones. There are also real risks to the integrity of the United Kingdom if we leave.
However, let us first look at the economic arguments. The Daily Express this week opined that we could easily pay our way outside of the EU, pointing to our export performance to non EU countries as evidence. They seem to have missed, however, the rather obvious point that this export performance is achieved as an EU member state, so it could just as well be cited as evidence that EU membership does not hamper our export potential to third countries. Large UK companies such as Jaguar Land Rover, with whom I have regular meetings, agree entirely with this view.
Other businesses I speak to in the West Midlands give a similar view. Exporting into Europe is easy; shipping goods to Germany is no different than shipping them to Scotland.
Around 600 US-owned companies operate in the West Midlands alone. If we add on other foreign-owned businesses, we can see that this sector is vital in delivering jobs across my Constituency and most likely the rest of the UK. Indeed, the UK has been the most effective EU member state at attracting inward investment for a number of years, although we have just been overtaken by Germany. Why do so many companies locate here? Mainly because they wish to trade within the EU's Single Market; the largest market place in the world.
And what about the other numerous advantages of EU membership we have grown used to? We have easy access and rights of free movement across European borders, even from outside of the Schengen zone. One has only to get caught in the "All Passports" queue at an airport to realise how slow they move. Around 1 million Brits have retired to other member states. They have been able to do this as of right for four decades. Imagine this right being removed.
We must also take into account the political advantages of EU membership. The UK and France are the two big players in Europe as far as international issues are concerned; they both enjoy the leverage of EU membership by jointly speaking for Europe. Outside of the EU, we will lose influence on the World stage and would almost certainly hasten the end of our UN Security Council seat and confine us to an inward looking future.
The special relationship with the USA would also be lost for good. The US have made it more than clear that the UK is of little importance to them outside of the EU, especially now, at the start of the EU-US free trade negotiations. The UKIP dream of an alliance of the English Speaking world is just an unrealistic dream. I speak regularly to senior politicians and ambassadors from the South Asian countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. They are aghast at the possibility of the UK leaving Europe. We are their conduit to the single Market and our long term relationship has evolved into a beneficial relationship between the EU and the Commonwealth countries. They do not want to go back.
Finally, we should consider the future of the United Kingdom. I believe that the Scottish referendum will endorse the continuation of the Union, unless, on the day of the vote, it looks likely that the UK will leave Europe. If we do have a referendum on EU membership, and England votes out, but the other parts of the UK vote to stay in, then the UK will be doomed. First the Scots will hold a second referendum and leave the UK to rejoin the EU. The Northern Ireland question will be reopened, as border controls will have to be re-established. Wales will become increasingly resentful of the English decision to drag them out of Europe and nationalism will be resurgent there too. The end result will not be a proud UK going it alone, but Little England, inward looking, impoverished and alone.