Branson’s EU pickle

The government has demonised the status quo in Europe without advancing an alternative.

Britain “could be an island completely adrift in 20 years”. This stark warning comes from Richard Branson, whose New Year message on his blog suggests that the silent majority of UK business opinion is rousing itself over what, until now, has been a politicos’ debate about Britain’s place in Europe. As Branson points out, the world will need its regional blocs to do its business. And, as he pointed out in his interview with me in the New Statesman in July, the European Union is an asset for Britain, not a hindrance.

The UK has never lost a vote on financial-market regulation in the EU. We pay about £1 per person per week for membership and we don’t just get access to the world’s largest single market; we can shape its rules and get the benefits of EU clout on global trade (trade agreements with 46 other countries).

The tragedy of government rhetoric over the past two years is that it has demonised the status quo in Europe without advancing an alternative. The fantasy island occupied by Boris Johnson of a club that is all single market and no social, environmental or judicial cooperation doesn’t exist.

I hope the irony was not lost on anyone that the Prime Minister’s announcement of his big idea for his G8 presidency – an EU-US trade deal – depends on, yes, the agreement of the EU operating by qualified majority.

Regional associations such as the EU will become more important in the modern world. If it looks as though Britain has forgotten that the rest of Europe will say, “Shut up or get out.” We should do neither: we should be advancing serious ideas to set an agenda appropriate for all 27 members, including Britain.

David Miliband is the MP for South Shields (Labour) and a former foreign secretary