Belfast Telegraph

I love Europe but we just don't get value for our money in the EU

By Jeff Peel (pro-Brexit)

Sometimes people who are in favour of the UK leaving the European Union are said to be in favour of 'leaving Europe'. Sometimes they are called 'Eurosceptic'. The assumption on the part of EU advocates is that the EU and Europe are one and the same. They are not.

I have traded with companies in just about every European country (and many countries outside of Europe). I have also holidayed in just about every nation in southern Europe. Having most of continental Europe so accessible is fabulous. But having the world accessible and ready for business is even better.

Therefore, I don't want to 'leave Europe'. That's geographically impossible, anyway, if I continue to live and work in Northern Ireland. Rather, I want to leave the EU. Nor am I sceptical about Europe or suspicious of other European cultures. Rather, I am sceptical about the EU as an administration. That's why I think the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland would be better out of it.

It is my view that the EU undermines what is good about Europe. Europe is a collection of countries that are different. They compete with each other. They trade with each other. They traded before even the EEC came into existence.

But the fact is that Europe is no longer what it once was. Yes, we trade with Europe but Europe as a whole is not as important as it used to be.

When the UK joined the EEC in 1973 the bloc of nations that make up the EU accounted for some 37% of global GDP. That has now shrunk to just 22% or so - reflecting the growing economic importance of China and the Asia Pacific region and other emerging nations like India.

People who campaign for the UK to stay in Europe say we would be walking away from the single market. Clearly we wouldn't. It's not in the EU member countries' interest to walk away from the trade that they do with Britain.

In 2013 Germany exported €16bn worth of cars to us and France exported €1.3bn worth of wine to the UK (and quite a few of those cars and a lot of that wine came to Northern Ireland).

The UK is the EU's single largest market. We import substantially more than we export to the EU. But we export substantially more to the rest of the world than we import.

But, meanwhile, the EU nations have become bloated and expensive. The EU's budget of €135bn is grotesque. Most of the EU's member countries are also laden with massive debt and some are crippled by it.

The Euro is part of the problem. The refugee crisis merely adds to it by pushing up public spending on creaking public services.

The biggest part of the EU budget is the common agricultural policy that distorts markets and makes food more expensive. Meanwhile, hordes of civil servants spew out regulations by the bucket-load.

Some 3,500 new directives and regulations have been introduced since 2010. And many of these laws are not in the UK's national interest.

According to Business for Britain, between 2009 and 2014 British MEPs voted against 576 EU proposals but 485 still passed and became law. Therefore the EU, most of the time, acts against our interests and foists laws upon us that we simply don't want.

And the cost to the UK is vast.

The net contribution to the EU by the UK is now around £9bn (that's the difference between what we put in and what we get back).

That's just a little under Northern Ireland's annual fiscal deficit, or, looked at another way, it's equivalent to the cost of building around 30 major state-of-the art hospitals.

But for this level of spending the UK doesn't get value for money.

By being part of the EU we don't have our own direct representation on major global trade bodies like the World Trade Organisation. Despite the fact that we're the fifth largest economy on earth we depend on unelected commissioners - who don't have the UK's (or Northern Ireland's) interests at heart - to represent us.

And, frankly, the EU does an appalling job. Other nations outside the EU - even tiny ones like Iceland and Switzerland - can negotiate comprehensive trade deals with China, while the EU fails to do so, scared that the EU might be flooded by cheap Chinese imports of things like solar panels.

This, indeed, sums up the EU. It's a manifestation of the ultimate nanny state - one that makes decisions, often, that reflect the wishes of the administrators more that the citizens of the EU.

Run by commissioners who often failed to get elected in their own countries they are appointed to make decisions for us - decisions that affect us in very material ways. More expensive goods, higher taxes, more state borrowing and debt.

I love Europe, but I believe the EU is no longer fit for purpose and no longer has our interests at heart.

We should leave it.

Jeffrey Peel is a businessman and economic commentator. He's @jeffreypeel on Twitter.

Belfast Telegraph