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When it comes to the EU, we shouldn't kid ourselves: all forms of out are as bad as each other

October 29, 2015 12:34 PM
By Nick Clegg MP in The Independent

European flagsThe Outers want us to believe we can have our cake and eat it

Those who want Britain to leave the EU often cite Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and even Iceland as models for a utopian future where we are free from the suffocating strictures of the European club.

But what do these countries have in common?

They all abide by the EU's rules and regulations, but with no way of influencing them.

The Norwegians call it 'fax democracy'. They get access to the single market, but have to wait by the fax machine for Brussels to send them the rules. And they pay a high price for the privilege - Norway's citizens each paid £115 in to the EU last year, making it the 10th largest contributor to the EU budget despite not being among its 28 member states.

The other countries are just as powerless. The Swiss and the Icelanders pay but have no say. In the case of the Swiss, their deal gets them only limited access to the single market. It excludes services, which make up 75 per cent of our economy. Turkey cedes control of its trade policy to the EU. All must accept EU regulations with no power to change them.

As members of the Schengen agreement, the borders of Norway, Switzerland and Iceland are even more open to EU citizens than ours.

The Out campaign say they want to take back control. Are these countries a model for taking back sovereignty over their laws? No. Their terms of trade? Nope. Their borders? Not at all.

Is that really the future we want for the UK?

The Outers want us to believe we can have our cake and eat it, effortlessly freeing ourselves from the shackles of Brussels while continuing to trade on equal terms with our neighbours across the Channel.

They argue that Britain can simultaneously abandon the EU, end free movement of people, end all EU budget contributions, repatriate control over employment regulations and retain full access to the European single market. It sounds lovely, but it's a deception.

And that last point is the most deceptive of all. There is no access to the single market without adherence to its rules and regulations.

Out campaigners respond by talking misleadingly of a 'free trade deal' with our European neighbours - but a free trade agreement is a very different thing to accessing the single market.

A free trade deal means removing the taxes and tariffs that would apply to the import and export of British goods. But a single market is about much more than this. It is about adhering to common standards. A free trade only arrangement would leave British companies discriminated against in a market governed by strict rules designed to level the playing field of cross-border trade. Margaret Thatcher knew this, which is why she signed us up to the single market in the first place by signing the Single European Act.

What's more, we would be excluded from the free trade deals the EU has with over 50 countries around the world, disadvantaging British businesses for years as the Government sets about renegotiating them all one by one.

The European Union is far from perfect, but I believe we are unambiguously better off in than out. By remaining in, we can continue to lead in Europe and shape our own destiny.

By leaving the European Union we would not 'regain control', we would lose it. We would be left powerless and voiceless, waiting, like the Norwegians, by the fax machine.