As you pointed out, we don’t need to be in the EU to trade with the EU. Obviously, it’s very important for our economy that we can trade with European countries, but equally it’s very important for their economies that they can trade with us. If we were to leave the EU, it is impossible to believe that anyone would want us to stop or even seriously restrict trade with Europe. We could join the EEA, as you suggested, but equally we could negotiate our own bi-lateral agreement with the EU. There are a number of countries around the world, including Chile, Peru, Croatia, Egypt, South Africa and Tunisia (see here under EFTA and EU for a full list) that have trade agreements with the EU - I’m sure they are not subject to anything like the list of Directives and Regulations we are here in the UK. Remember that as one of the world’s largest economies, we would have massive weight in negotiations and would likely be able to get an extremely favourable agreement.
Secondly, on the “fax democracy” point. Yes, if we left the EU, they would probably still want us to comply with some of their laws and regulations, but significantly less than we currently have to. OK, so we wouldn’t have any influence in the passing of new Directives - but then how much influence do we currently have in the passing of Directives? We are one of 27 countries in the EU. In the past, we had a veto on many areas and therefore yes, you have an argument that it was beneficial to stay in the EU to block Directives that we didn’t like. But now most Directives are passed using Qualified Majority Voting. In many cases, therefore, we can vote against a Directive and it can still be passed, and we will still have to comply with it.
What I am saying is - how much influence do we currently have over blocking measures we don’t like? Not that much, and increasingly less, especially once the Constitution/Lisbon Treaty enters into effect. On how many Directives does our vote actually make a difference? Probably not that many. So while it sounds good that currently we have an influence on what Directives are introduced, in reality on most Directives our vote makes no difference - they are either imposed on us anyway, just as they may be if we leave the EU, or they fail without our contribution, just as they would do if we were not in the EU. If we could avoid a significant proportion of Directives that we currently have to implement, I think we could put up with the odd Directive that we could otherwise have changed.
Thirdly on the trade with the Commonwealth/rest of the world point. EUrophiles love to call those who oppose EU membership “little Englanders” and suggest that we want to close the doors and avoid trading with anyone else. The truth is the absolute opposite. The EU is one of the most protectionist trading entities there is. It is known around the world as “Fortress Europe” as it is so hard to get anything inside it. When we joined the EU (and I think that this point is made in The Great Deception) we had to cut the Commonwealth loose. We had to sacrifice the Commonwealth to join our new “friends” within the EU (or EEC as it was then). We can currently not negotiate our own arrangements with countries around the world. We have no seat at the WTO. Look at economies such as India, China and other countries in that area of the world, some of whom (such as India) are members of the Commonwealth. These are massively growing economies, providing massive opportunities for trade for our country. Also look at other countries like the US, Canada, Brazil - massive economies that we could negotiate beneficial trading deals with if we left the EU. There are a massive range of trading opportunities out there, and we could negotiate bilateral treaties with these countries that benefit our mutual interests, rather than having to rely on treaties that may or may not have been negotiated by the EU for the benefit of the trade-bloc as a whole.
I see your point regarding trading with “unstable” parts of the world, but I don’t think that it’s an either/or issue. I think it’s an issue of if we stay in the EU, we can only trade with Europe. If we leave the EU, we can trade with Europe and the rest of the world. To me it is a “no brainer”. Why restrict yourself to trading with only one continent when you could trade with the entire world, including that continent. Plus you can do it without paying billions to be members of the club. Plus you can do it without the constant political interference from the EU.
Fourthly, EU regulation currently strangles our economy. It is estimated that EU over-regulation costs our economy £26 billion a year (source). If we were freed from even half of this regulation, then, we would save £13 billion a year. Add in the savings from not having to contribute to EU funds (£16 billion) and savings from not having to take part in the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common FIsheries Policy (£18.1 billion), and the extra money retained in the British economy and not wasted or paid to the EU (or are those two the same things?!) and this would mean a massive boost to the UK economy.
I think that there are two aspects to the whole debate - economic and political. The EU is now very much a political entity. Most of the arguments regarding staying in the EU are focussed on the economic benefits. Indeed, many people see the political element as a “sacrifice” that we have to make to get the political benefits. If you ask most people in the UK whether they would like to leave the political element of the EU if they could retain all the economic benefits, I think that you’d get an overwhelming “yes”.
From your initial post, this thread seems to be mainly about the economic side, but to just go into the other side of the equation for a minute. 80% of our laws are now made in Brussels. When the Constitution/Lisbon Treaty comes into effect, as it will in time, the EU will have a separate legal personality. It will be a state, a nation. The EU is already forming an army and a police force. It wants a foreign minister and President. Also, the more countries that join the EU, the less and less control you have. In the 2009 European Parliamentary elections, the amount of MEPs the UK has will be cut. The amount of influence in terms of percentage of votes the UK has on the Council of Ministers diminishes each time a new state joins. Once the Constitution/Lisbon Treaty comes into effect, the UK will lose its Commissioner. This means that the amount of influence you and I have over the making of decisions which affect our every day lives is continuously diminishing as the EU grows, and as more power is transferred to it.
So if we could retain the economic benefits while doing away with the political elements, then this would be the perfect solution. And if we withdrew from the EU, wouldn’t that be exactly what would happen? As I said above, we are the fifth largest economy in the world - it is incredible - in the literal sense of the world - to suggest that if we withdrew then we would suddenly cease to trade with the EU. They need us as much, if not more, than we need them.
We would sit down with them and negotiate a new bilateral agreement that would be to our mutual benefit. It would not be an option for either party to refuse to do so - it would be disasterous for either party to decline. Having negotiated a new settlement, a settlement hopefully more favourable to us than the current one, a settlement that would be an economic one and not a political one, we would then proceed to make bilateral agreements with the rest of the world. The result would be that not only would we be free of the political monster of the EU, not only would decisions about our every day lives all be made here in the UK, but we would also quite probably be better off economically too.
P.S. Have you see the Remote Control video about EU membership? Click here to watch it if you haven’t. It’s an excellent video that everyone in the UK should watch. Also have a look at the document “How Much Does the EU cost Britain?” (here) which I’m sure sets out the argument much better than I did.