Leaving EU would make UK the North Korea of Europe, warns Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown At WEF

Britain faces a friendless future as the North Korea of Europe if it leaves the European Union and seeks to forge a role in “Anglospheric” parts of the world such as Hong Kong, Gordon Brown has warned.

As a leading EU pro-reform thinktank warned that Britain could face uncertainty and disruption outside the EU, the former prime minister said that an exit would leave Britain out in the cold with few friends and no influence.

In a Guardian article before a House of Commons debate on the EU on Tuesday, in which he signals that he is prepared to speak out if a referendum is held on Britain’s EU membership, Brown writes: “We must tell the truth about the 3m jobs, 25,000 companies, £200bn of annual exports and the £450bn of inward investment linked to Europe; and how the ‘Britzerland’ or Norwegian alternatives (even Norwegians oppose the Norwegian option) leave us subject to EU rules, but denied a vote in shaping them. And we must talk about how the Hong Kong option – ‘leaving Europe to join the world’ – is really the North Korea option, out in the cold with few friends, no influence, little new trade and even less new investment.”

The intervention by the former prime minister comes as the Open Europe thinktank, which campaigns for a reformed EU, warned that Britain would face an uncertain future outside the EU.

In the first of a series of reports examining the implications of a British exit, known as “Brexit”, the thinktank said that Britain would be able to negotiate trade deals with the EU on manufactured goods such as cars. But it warned that financial services could be damaged by “barriers to entering European markets [which] could be increased by new EU regulations over which the UK [would have] no votes”.

Brown makes a similar argument in stronger terms in his Guardian article as he warns that a British exit would amount to “sheer defeatism” just as Britain is in course over the next few decades to overtake Germany as the EU’s largest economy as its population declines.

He writes: “It would be sheer defeatism to cast ourselves, as sceptics do, as helpless victim, impotent bystanders unable to influence events. Our destiny is not a bit player on someone else’s stage, or a spectator hectoring from the wings, but always setting the agenda, bringing people together, and championing change.”

The former prime minister indicates that the current government has already left Britain isolated as it flirts with an EU exit. “Being half-in half-out, a Britain that is semi-detached and disengaged – the Britain of the empty chair even when we are in the room – has made us weaker than ever: irrelevant on Greece, fringe player on climate change, mere spectator in the debate that could have shaped a European pro-growth policy, marginal on Ukraine, with ministers sounding ludicrous as simultaneously they say: ‘Russia must be confronted with a more united Europe’, and: ’By the way, we are thinking of leaving.’”

The main intellectual thrust of Brown’s article is a warning that pro-Europeans risk giving the impression that the EU is an elitist project through their “London establishment-led corporate-financed fact-based campaign of ‘the great and the good’”.

He feels the pro-Europeans are in danger of allowing the anti-Europeans to repeat the same trick that the SNP pulled off in the Scottish independence referendum in which Alex Salmond framed the argument as a choice between Scotland and Britain.

Brown believes the pro-UK side needs to frame the referendum as a contest about a “patriotic vision” of Scotland’s future – in or out of the UK.

He writes: “Anti-Europeans are slowly, and with surprisingly little public acknowledgment, pulling off the same trick by framing Europe – the subject of what could be the next referendum – in the same way. What should be a choice between two patriotic futures for Britain – one as part of Europe and one outside it – is already descending into a more basic emotional choice: are you for Britain, or are you for Europe?”

The former prime minister is prepared to take a prominent public role campaigning in favour of the EU if a referendum is held. He would seek to work in a collegiate way with other pro-Europeans and would not seek to dominate the campaign.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Nicholas Watt Chief political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Monday 9th March 2015 19.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010