Over the past few years the UK has experienced a growing economy and reductions in unemployment but, still, the Government saddles Brits with an annual deficit of over £90 billion and an official government debt of over £1.5 trillion. These numbers are extraordinary. They are massive. For an economy that is growing, the UK should be mending the roof when the sun is shining. Instead, in the recent Budget, the Chancellor announced that he would be pushing back his desired date for a surplus for another year. I’d like to help him meet that target (and sooner).
In an effort to support the Chancellor’s deficit reduction programme, I’d like to suggest one way of saving billions: leave the European Union. What we know is that while the UK remains a member of the EU, the taxpayer is forced to pay a membership fee - and a large one at that. According to the OBR, Our gross contribution to the EU Budget for 2015-16 alone is forecast to run at £14.5 billion – or £39.7 million each and every day. The cost has meant that from 2010 - 2015, the total cost (as estimated by Government) is £50 billion. That’s right: £50,000,000,000,000.
If the Government is keen to cut public expenditure, why not focus in on the EU? As Mark Wallace pointed out in ConservativeHome last week, “In this age of austerity, every penny counts.” George Osborne is looking for savings at almost every turn: departments have been asked to draw up 40% cuts, there is the planned “Great British Sell Off” of state assets and the Chancellor has been pushing through measures to cut welfare spending. If there is spending to be saved, the EU is an obvious target.
Nonetheless, Europhiles would say that our contribution is a drop in the ocean compared to the benefit accrued through the UK’s access to the Single Market as a result of its membership. Well, do we need to be members of the European Union to trade with businesses within the EU? No. Does Switzerland, a country that trades five times more with the EU than the UK does, need to be a member of the EU to trade with it? No. Does Canada, an English speaking country, need to be part of a political union with the EU to have signed trade agreements with the EU? No. In fact, there is no need for a political union to have economic connections with the EU at all. If it were necessary, the EU wouldn’t have all the free trade agreements that it has with countries around the world.
The fact is the UK has a £56 billion annual trade deficit with the European Union. We buy more from them than they do from us. Despite this, British taxpayers have to pay billions of pounds per year just for the pleasure of being part of a club that is not balanced in our favour. The pleasure of having the EU spend taxpayer cash on £2 million banquets for EU officials; the pleasure of having EU officials spend taxpayers money on countries that are not even in the EU through development aid; the pleasure of having 100% of trade regulations from the EU whilst only 5% of UK businesses trade with the EU.
As pointed out in a question asked by Lord Vinson in the House of Lords this week, the Prime Minister isn’t even asking for a reduction in our membership fee in his ongoing EU negotiations. He should. It could free up its businesses, help the Government to invest in its infrastructure or, as Mark Wallace suggests, potentially give the British people a tax cut. However, it could also help to pay down the deficit - and help the Chancellor meet his targets sooner.
Rory Broomfield is Director of The Freedom Association and the Better Off Out campaign.
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