This article was first published on Huffington Post.
With the referendum really heating up in recent weeks, there has been a surplus of outlandish claims coming from both sides. With plenty of column inches already dedicated to the Prime Minister’s scaremongering about the dangers of World War 3 if we Leave the EU, the ordinary voter can understandably come to the conclusion the whole referendum issue is a bit of a storm in a teacup. It is vital therefore for both campaigns to address issues which directly impact on voters. One of the more interesting, yet rather under-reported remarks came from the former Liberal Democrat Leader Paddy Ashdown, suggesting food prices would decrease post-Brexit. The prospect of a cheaper weekly shopping bill is clearly something of significant interest to many ordinary voters, so it is worth examining his claim in greater depth.
Following a speech by the pro-Brexit Justice Secretary Michael Gove on the 19th May, Ashdown tweeted “Gove: Brexit means opening the door to cheap food world-wide, Goodbye UK Agriculture. Been nice knowing you.” The implications being that Ashdown favours Remain – partly because the EU is artificially keeping prices high in order to protect British agriculture. I am not sure if Ashdown’s foresight has improved over the last year. His last major prediction during the coverage of the 2015 General Election resulted in him having to eat a chocolate replica of his own hat! Quite how Paddy Ashdown calculates high food prices – which disproportionately hit the poorest – are a fair price to pay to subsidise a landed elite is anyone’s guess. However the major problem with Ashdown’s claim is the suggestion it’s an either or scenario, in which we have a choice between high food prices or the collapse of British agriculture. As with many claims coming out of the BSE campaign, this is deliberate scaremongering with little truth or reality.
The BSE campaign has since stepped back from Ashdown’s remarks, claiming instead the EU delivers “lower prices”. This is a textbook case of “political spin”, which the BSE campaign is rather good at doing whenever its leading figures accidentally admit there will be significant benefits from Brexit! After all, if you remember, their own Chairman Lord Rose admitted wages would rise following Brexit – this being another example of how well off we will be after we Leave. The reality is the EU’s very nature ensures higher prices for all its citizens. The EU is a customs union, a block of trading nations which utilise protectionist measures – a system of imposing tariffs and excessive regulations to protect domestic industries – not necessarily of benefit to individual Member States. It erects a wall around the Single Market, making it harder and more expensive for non-EU producers and manufacturers to sell and export their goods to the United Kingdom. This in turn raises prices for UK consumers. Research by the Institute of Economic Affairs has revealed EU policies result in 36% higher costs for beef. Similarly chicken costs around 22% more as a result of our membership of the EU. Overall, an average UK family (2 adults and 2 children) would save around £45 per month on their food bills following Brexit – a significant amount for many hard-pressed families.
Leaving the EU would enable the UK to remove many of these tariffs, allowing producers from outside the Union to compete with European famers – and in particular the militant French farmers. This competition will, as the law of supply and demand tells us, result in lower food prices for British households. Farmers would also benefit, as the UK would negotiate trade deals with growing markets in Asia and South America to reduce tariffs on British producers – instead of being subservient to the militant French farmers. It is daft for farmers to restrict themselves to the Continent, which is both in economic and demographic stagnation. Instead they could be expanding into booming foreign markets where there are literally many more mouths to feed. A further bonus would be the removal of damaging EU policies such as the CAP, which stifles UK agriculture with its excessive regulation – and masses of paperwork to complete. This would not only make life easier for our farmers, but would also make them more competitive as well.
It is clear Paddy Ashdown and the BSE campaign do not have the Great British Public’s interests at heart. They neither care for British farmers who would benefit from leaving the CAP, nor for British consumers who would benefit from lower prices. The EU is an outdated customs union which, in the long run, is detrimental to both producers and consumers. Leaving the EU would enable the UK to re-establish the free-trade principles which played such a vital role in developing in the first place. The Remain side dismiss such suggestions as an inability to get over the loss of the British Empire, but none of us are advocating a return to imperialism. Instead we want to re-adopt the economic policies which made us the wealthiest and most prosperous nation in the world. This was ultimately due to free-trade not imperialism. For farmers who want and need their industry to thrive long into the future, and for consumers who want lower prices in their weekly shopping trolley, there is only one option – and this is to vote to Get Britain Out of the EU on June 23rd.