'Britain isolated, like the Swiss'. If only

Lord Oakeshott, if the worst scenario for Britain is to become a "super Switzerland", then all I can say is: yes please!

Ever get the feeling you're being ignored?
Anthony Pickles
On 12 December 2011 12:29

In the early hours of Friday morning, media outlets all over the EU reported that the almost near mythical British veto had been applied at an EU Council summit.

Almost instantly, the chorus of commentators claiming that Britain was now isolated from the rest of Europe sounded. One EU Commission official threatened, "This is going to cost Britain dearly." Another commented that David Cameron was in the position of a man who was attending a wife swapping party without his wife.

This was topped off for me though when the Lib Dem peer, Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay was interviewed on BBC News 24 and said, "It is a black day for Britain and Europe... Britain now risks ending up like a super Switzerland."

If I didn't know any better I would have been terrified. Listening to this vast array of experienced punditry, one would have assumed that the UK had been kicked out of the EU. "Isolated and alone."

However none of this is true of course, it is just scare mongering of the worst proportions. The UK remains firmly inside the EU. The Commission is still the 'guardian of the treaties' of which the UK is signed up to all, apart from Schengen and monetary union, because of our opt out in the Treaty of Maastricht.

I am not for one minute suggesting that the EU is the same; I have long argued in other articles on this site that the EU will not be the same this time next year. But the sheer hysteria formed by a British veto at Thursday's summit is absurd and facile. The Prime Minister was right to apply the veto for many reasons that are already apparent.

The EU is not, under anybody's estimation a Union of strength at the moment. It has a currency which is in grave danger of collapse, and it is yet to find the leadership and action that is needed to save it. It is in heavy need of reform; still designed in the bureaucratic style of a Napoleonic pen pusher, and with questionable democratic legitimacy. 

But what struck me most from some of the more venomous remarks made over the weekend was the notion that the UK was going to end up like Switzerland. What a bizarre attack to make.

Let's for a minute look at what Switzerland is and what it isn't. Switzerland is not a member of the EU, nor the EEA (Norway is). It is a member of Schengen (Britain is not). It has full access to the single market and over 160 bilateral deals with the EU, remaining firmly on the outside.

Yet, for this confusing and complex relationship, Switzerland exports twice as much per capita to the EU as Britain does. The Swiss are consistently in the top three richest countries in the world, and retain a financial sector, the same size, in relative terms as the UK. A demonstration of their success is that in the worst year of the economic downturn, 2008, Switzerland maintained growth figures of 3.1 percent. Their strength and success cannot be praised highly enough.

Lord Oakeshott, if this is the worst scenario for Britain, then all I can say is: yes please! To get into this argument is in itself pointless and hypothetical.

The UK is a fully signed up member to the European Union. We have access to the largest single market and keep all the same rights as before.

The Government was right to veto; it was right to protect the City of London. Over 1.9 million jobs in the UK are linked to our financial sector, which is the largest in the world. In context, more euros are traded in the City everyday than every other European city combined. This has been protected, and thank goodness for that.

My favourite French daily this weekend wrote, "ces anglais qui haïssent l'Europe." (these English who hate Europe). We don't; we admire it, we speak its languages, but above all, we understand it, and that is why David Cameron, in the words of Boris Johnson, "played a blinder."

Anthony Pickles is a Parliamentary researcher and a Conservative activist. He tweets at @antpickles

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