Hague: Leaving the EU would be “downright irresponsible” and would damage Britain’s economy

  • William Hague to say that it is a “total fantasy” to believe leaving the EU would not damage Britain’s economy in major speech today.
  • Former Conservative leader and Foreign Secretary to give a eurosceptic case for remaining in the European Union.
  • Will say a vote to leave would damage the economy, British influence in the world and the future of the UK.

In a speech on Wednesday afternoon in Central London, former Conservative leader and Foreign Secretary William Hague will give a major speech saying that it is a “total fantasy” to believe that a vote to leave the European Union would not damage the UK economy.
He will say that the serious “economic risks” of leaving have been set out by all economic experts, and will condemn the “bland assurance” of Leave campaigners that Britain would negotiate a satisfactory deal with the EU after leaving.
And he will reference his past as an outspoken eurosceptic, who opposed the euro, the Lisbon Treaty and an EU military headquarters, to say that: “There are important reasons why even those of us with critical and sceptical views of Europe should cast our votes to remain”.
In his speech, William Hague will say:
“The idea that we can leave the EU without any serious economic consequences for jobs and businesses in Britain, and somehow have more money to spend on the NHS and other services at the same time, is a total fantasy, and people need to know that before they vote.
“I'm the first to say Europe isn't perfect. I've spent my political life standing up to it. But for all its imperfections, it protects jobs and boosts our standing and power in the world. Let me tell you straight, as someone who's an outright eurosceptic, leaving the European Union would be downright irresponsible.”
On his eurosceptic background, he will say:
“I am not known as a great supporter of the European Union. Many of my views were formed during the searing experience of our departure from the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992.
“As the leader of the Conservative party in the late 1990s I was at the forefront of the campaign to keep Britain out of the euro… As shadow foreign secretary under David Cameron's leadership, I strongly opposed the Lisbon Treaty and called for a referendum on it. As Foreign Secretary in the coalition government I vetoed the proposed establishment of an EU military headquarters. And as a further brake on future integration, I introduced into our Parliament a bill which became the European Union Act 2011, requiring a referendum of the British people – yes, another referendum – if any further powers or competences are transferred from the nation state to EU institutions.
“None of my views on these subjects have changed. I remain a critic of many aspects of the way in which European institutions work. My four years as Foreign Secretary did nothing to diminish my euro scepticism. But holding these views as I do, I have never believed it would be right for Britain to leave the European Union…
“And everything I saw of the world in my time as Foreign Secretary leads me to believe that there are important reasons why even those of us with critical and sceptical views of Europe should cast our votes to remain in the EU on 23 June.”
On the economic case for remaining in Europe, he will say:
“I believe the risks, to jobs and prosperity, and to the structure of the UK itself, to be considerable. We are entering an age in which the world is subject to greater political and economic risk than we have experienced in recent decades. To add to those risks at a time of uncertainty without any clear idea as to what the alternative plan might be, is irresponsible and potentially dangerous. It is not sensible to do that unless it is, for some other reason, essential to do so…
“The economic risks have been thoroughly set out by a wide range of respected organisations. And in addition to the sheer weight and near-unanimity of these warnings, we should be able to use our own good sense and knowledge of the business world…
“There are two things that such investors hate most: a prolonged period of uncertainty and definitely losing an advantage they have long enjoyed. Leaving the European single market would produce exactly those two things. With fifteen days to go to the referendum, there is no sign of any agreement, consensus, worked-up proposal, clear scenario or even coherent idea about what we would try to negotiate if we left the EU, let alone how we would succeed in it.”
On the Leave campaign’s casual attitude to post-Leave negotiations, he will say:
“Leave campaigners have tried to reassure people that all of this would end in a satisfactory negotiation: Germans, they say, would have no interest in imposing vengeful tariffs on the UK when they sell even more to us than we do to them. However, this bland assurance overlooks three crucial points.
“The first is that the main problem for many businesses once we were outside the single market would not just be tariffs but all the bureaucracy of customs and the uncertainty of future tariffs.
“The second is that Germany and the rest of the EU would have no incentive to strike an easy trade deal with any nation leaving the union because of the attraction it might hold for others. And some countries would have every interest in using the opportunity to persuade international businesses located in Britain, such as in financial services, to move their operations or headquarters. 
“The third point is that once the UK has served notice under article 50 of our intention to leave the union, the treaties provide for two years to negotiate the arrangements for withdrawal, extendable only by unanimous agreement. There would be far greater pressure on the UK, because of all the uncertainties surrounding investment decisions, to conclude the negotiations within the two years than there would be on the rest of the EU. As everybody knows, even from buying a house or a car, the side under the greatest time pressure is in the weakest negotiating position.
“So there would be no confidence among businesses that their ability to trade and operate across Europe would be anything other than considerably disadvantaged by leaving the European Union. Indeed, the arrangements by which they trade with much of the rest of the world would be thrown into doubt at the same time because we would also be withdrawing from nearly sixty free trade agreements, that Britain helped to bring about, with countries around the globe.”
He will conclude:
“Precise forecasts of the damage that would be done will vary greatly. But economics is more of an art than a science and a successful economy rests above all on confidence. The greatest risk is that confidence in the future would be seriously undermined. This is not something that can be laughed off by talking of Canada one moment and Albania the next. This concerns the job prospects of millions of young people across Britain, and it is not responsible, sensible, or rational to jeopardise those – and particularly to do so without any clear plan at all as to what the alternative to the current arrangements might be.”