EU Membership (Audit of Costs and Benefits) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:05 pm on 26th February 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 12:05 pm, 26th February 2016

We are impotent; it is not a question of cosying up to the Chinese, as we have no control over this. Whether we like it or not, China will be the greatest, biggest and most important economy in the world within the next 10 or 20 years. Whatever the Minister’s views, the fact that we are part of the EU means that he could do nothing to defend Scunthorpe. I accept that the Government may argue that we get other advantages, perhaps in steel, but let us have an analysis of what it all means.

Open Europe is not some sort of purely ideological campaigning group; it produces fine studies, some of the most voluminous available, and it attempts in a reasonably intellectual way to work out what staying in and leaving the EU involves. Open Europe says that according to the UK Government impact assessments,

“these regulations also provide a total benefit of £58.6bn a year.”

Open Europe is trying to be fair. It goes on to say:

“However, £46bn of this benefit stems from just three items, which are vastly over-stated. For example, the stated benefit of the EU’s climate targets (£20.8bn) was dependent on a global deal to reduce carbon emissions that was never struck…Open Europe estimates that up to 95% of the benefits envisaged in the impact assessment have failed to materialise.”

Where is the Government’s response to that?

Open Europe continued by saying:

“Taking the regulations individually, the impact assessments show that Ministers signed off at least 26 of the top 100 EU-derived regulations, despite the IAs explicitly stating that the costs outweigh the estimated benefits. These regulations include the UK Temporary Agency Workers Directive and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.

A further 31 of the costliest EU-derived regulations have not been quantified. Between the over-stated benefits, the regulations that come with a net cost and the ones with unquantified benefits, it remains unclear how many of these EU-derived rules actually come with a net benefit in reality, showing that there is plenty of scope to cut regulatory cost to business and the public sector.”

I would echo that. I may be wrong and if the Government want to argue these points in detail, I, for one, would be delighted.

Open Europe went on to say:

“Although the cost of EU regulation too high in proportion to the benefits it generates, it is important to note that these rules can bring benefits including by facilitating trade across the single market, for example in the case of financial services”.

That is an argument in favour. I fully accept that and Open Europe accepts it, but we need a genuine impact assessment of the costs and benefits of all these regulations. Where does this leave us in the total picture? My view is—[Interruption.] I would be grateful if the Whip would not speak too loudly while I am speaking. She is not supposed to be heard, unlike me. She has the real power; I can just speak.

My contention is that people are worrying too much about this decision in terms of the impact on the economy. Again, there have been many studies on this, but I do not believe that the impact on the economy of whether we stay or leave will be as dramatic as has been made out. That is project fear—that we are all going to lose our jobs and so on. According to Open Europe,

“In a worst case scenario, where the UK fails to strike a trade deal with the rest of the EU”— thereby having to fall back on the World Trade Organisation rules—

“and does not pursue a free trade agenda”— fairly unlikely, I would have thought, but this is the worst case scenario—

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would be 2.2% lower than if the UK had remained inside the EU.”

So 2.2% lower, which is quite significant, but I am not sure that we would all suddenly lose our jobs.