There was a debate hosted by the Evening Standard a month ago in London about whether the City would survive a British exit from the EU. GBO joined the audience to watch what the ‘other side’ would say.
Sitting in the London Guildhall, you are immediately struck by Vince Cable’s opening statements. According to the arch-champion of Brussels, leaving the EU would force foreign firms to flee to mainland Europe – because the inward investment enjoyed by Britain is “given on the very clear premise that those companies have access to the European single market.”
This would not be the first time a Europhile tried to pretend that membership of the EU is a prerequisite for access to the single market and it will not be the last, but to see this feeble argument paraded by the more credible end of the Europhile spectrum illustrates how far the level of debate has deteriorated. What is even more outrageous is that Vince Cable made the same claims more than a decade ago…about joining the monetary union. His entire argument is basically the same line he was spinning to the public in the 90s, recycled for 2013 with barely any revision.
Moreover, what makes Britain an attractive place for investment has little to do with our position with the EU, at least according to an Ernst & Young survey from 2011 which emphasised Britain’s corporate links to the US. English is the language of finance and as such, Frankfurt will not be able to replace the City due to the historical links enjoyed by the Square Mile.
The Europhile half of the panel was quick to point out that Germany is performing very well under the same conditions and the same regulatory burden as Britain. Indeed, Germany is exporting more than the UK. What the EU-enthusiasts omitted is that Germany is reaping the benefits of an artificially weakened euro. Essentially, the fact that Germany is in a good shape is at the expense of the periphery. This is growth springing from the impoverishment of other nations and it is an inappropriate comparison to make.
The debate was generally lightweight in both arguments to stay and in counterarguments, it rarely scratched the surface though enjoyable and illuminating. Three respectable cheerleaders for the EU project: Vince Cable, Vicky Pryce and Martin Sorrell, all did their best to assure a gathering in the heart of the Square Mile that Britain’s prosperity and future is tied to the EU. Witnessing the spectacle of cliché and tired arguments, you get a sense that even their cheerleaders know this is not true.