Next month will be very busy for Europe. Theresa May will be hoping to be able to trigger Article 50 and the official Brexit process then, while Europe’s leaders plan to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community. These celebrations won’t matter for Britain too much, as it wasn’t part of the signing and joined later in 1973.
As Europe looks back, it’s tempting to wonder what would have happened if Britain had joined from the beginning. Although Philip Johnston has pondered a bolder scenario – what if it had not joined at all in 1973 and remained an independent neighbour? “The received wisdom is that we would now be an economic basket case on the fringes of a prosperous superpower,” he writes in today’s paper. “Yet there is no certainty of this.”
Mr Johnston suggests that Britain would have saved billions of pounds in membership fees, and have enjoyed the freedom to strike trade deals with emerging economies around the world. “This might have been to our considerable advantage: in the years since we joined the accumulated trade deficit with EU member states is about £500 billion.”
Eschewing membership of the political bloc could have boosted Britain’s international standing, he suggests. “Being part of a supranational body, especially after the Maastricht treaty forged much closer economic and political ties, diminished our sense of independence. It was intended to, of course; but while other EU countries were content with that, the British never were. So had we stayed out we would probably have had a very good relationship with the EU – certainly better than the one we are likely to end up with when the bruising Brexit negotiations are concluded.”
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