Leav­ing Europe would be a ter­ri­ble in­vest­ment

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - David Harding

THE count­down to Bri­tain's EU ref­er­en­dum has started. Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron has se­cured some im­por­tant con­ces­sions from his Euro­pean coun­ter­parts. This is all very wel­come, but deal or no deal I would have ar­gued for Bri­tain to stay in Europe.

I be­came in­volved in the Bri­tain Stronger in Europe cam­paign -- com­prised of or­ga­ni­za­tions and in­di­vid­u­als that favour Bri­tain re­main­ing within the Euro­pean Union -- not be­cause I am a zeal­ous pro-Euro­pean, but rather be­cause I am a prag­ma­tist whose decades of work­ing in Europe (as founder and CEO of a ma­jor in­vest­ment man­age­ment com­pany), have led me to be­lieve that we are bet­ter off re­main­ing for five rea­sons.

First, it can be hard to ap­pre­ci­ate the sta­tus quo, but Bri­tain has it pretty good al­ready. Con­sider the at­mos­phere in which Bri­tish busi­nesses op­er­ate: within the Euro­pean Union, a bloc of 500 mil­lion peo­ple; friendly with Amer­ica; tied by his­tory and loy­alty to the Com­mon­wealth. It's not scare­mon­ger­ing to point out that, in eco­nomic terms, there is a cer­tain safety in num­bers. It would be folly to dis­re­gard the enor­mous prac­ti­cal ben­e­fit of be­ing part of an eco­nomic bloc this size.

Se­cond, when it comes to our se­cu­rity and to sci­en­tific progress, transna­tional projects are in­creas­ingly im­por­tant. We would never dream of pulling out of NATO, on the grounds that we are bet­ter able to de­fend our­selves if al­lied with oth­ers. This prin­ci­ple should be ap­plied else­where. Take, for ex­am­ple, space tech­nol­ogy. It has al­ways been dis­ap­point­ing that Bri­tain lacks its own space pro­gramme, but there is some con­so­la­tion in the fact that we have a hand in the Euro­pean Space Agency. This may seem pe­riph­eral to the ref­er­en­dum de­bate. But a new space race is un­der­way, and this has im­pli­ca­tions for our se­cu­rity. If Bri­tain is far-sighted it will con­sider how to de­fend it­self in space as much as on the sea and on the ground -- and for that we need the sol­i­dar­ity of the EU as much as we need the sol­i­dar­ity of NATO.

Third, many of the com­plaints against the EU are overblown. We hear much about over­reg­u­la­tion, loss of con­trol and the "dead hand" of Euro­pean bu­reau­cracy on Bri­tish busi­nesses. The per­cep­tion is much worse than the re­al­ity. Most busi­nesses are not "suf­fo­cated" by red tape from Brus­sels. To give an ex­am­ple from my own in­dus­try, hedge funds were ter­ri­fied of the im­pact of the EU's Al­ter­na­tive In­vest­ment Fund Man­agers Di­rec­tive; in fact the Aifmd did not prove the reg­u­la­tory bur­den they feared.

Fourth, we should not over­look Bri­tain's cul­tural sim­i­lar­ity to the rest of Europe. The needling of the French or Ger­mans can blind us to just how alike we are. Much as I love the United States, there are wide cul­tural dif­fer­ences with the U.K. -- the mil­lions who flock to mega-churches housed in sta­di­ums, the shop­ping-mall towns, the re­li­gios­ity of pub­lic life, the na­tional ex­tro­ver­sion, the guns. When I travel in Europe the sen­sa­tion is the op­po­site. We are linked by a cer­tain cau­tious sen­si­bil­ity, cul­tural lean­ings from clas­si­cal mu­sic to Euro­pean foot­ball, re­spected and re­served monar­chies. We have our lan­guage in com­mon with the U.S. and our cul­ture in com­mon with Europe.

Fi­nally, given our sim­i­lar­i­ties, our his­tory and our ge­o­graph­i­cal prox­im­ity, for Bri­tain to leave the EU would be seen as pro­foundly un­friendly and ar­ro­gant. This is not unim­por­tant. The per­cep­tion among the peo­ple of Europe mat­ters greatly to our fu­ture pros­per­ity. The var­i­ous out cam­paigns pro­fess to love Europe the con­ti­nent and not Europe the in­sti­tu­tion -- and they ar­gue we can have the friend­ship and trad­ing links with­out be­ing tied to the EU con­trac­tu­ally. But this un­der­es­ti­mates the im­por­tance of good­will; and the se­vere hit to that good­will if Bri­tain were to leave Europe.

For decades I have done busi­ness with se­nior fig­ures in French and Ger­man busi­nesses. They would re­gard Bri­tain leav­ing as a mix­ture of fool­ish­ness and ar­ro­gance. It would be per­ceived as an out­right re­jec­tion - and quite baf­fling, con­sid­er­ing that now Bri­tain has the most flex­i­ble and spe­cial ar­range­ment of any EU mem­ber.

We have suc­cess­fully opted out of the euro, the bor­der-free Schen­gen area, and now - with the Prime Min­is­ter's re­forms - from "ever closer union." Given just how much we have asked for as a mem­ber, what is it that makes "leave" cam­paign­ers so sure we would be likely to get an even bet­ter deal out­side? All this does not sug­gest that it would be im­pos­si­ble for Bri­tain to make it on its own. Of course we could sur­vive. But would we thrive? All other al­ter­na­tives out­side the EU leave coun­tries with a worse deal than the U.K. has now.

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