'Brexit would be a disaster for British publishing'

Over a book-writing career of more than three decades I have produced a number of well received books with very modest sales mainly on European and international political themes.

But never have I had a book - Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe (I.B.Tauris) - go through two editions in just one year. So I owe a huge debt to Prime Minister for calling his Brexit referendum to decide if we stay in or leave the European Union.

Brexit of course would be a disaster for British publishing. One of the big changes of my life is to go all over the continent to high-end bookshops, railway bookstalls, supermarkets and hotel bookshelves, where I see any number of British authors on sale both in English and in translation.

I make a point of emailing a picture of any book by a friend I see on display in German translation at Vienna Airport or in French at the Gare du Nord bookstall.

To put it politely the traffic seems to be mainly one way, with British publishers using their right to sell anywhere without let or hindrance to the single market of 500million educated customers who have been brought up to respect books. Outside the single market, with Brits losing their European citizenship with the right to live, travel and work anywhere in Europe, the easy unfettered access for anything produced or marketed from the UK would meet new obstacles.

On the whole, rules on copyright and payments are stricter elsewhere in the EU than chez nous.  France’s Prix du Livre and the German-speaking world’s Preisbindung system may not be to the taste of ultra free-market fanatics, but I am prepared to sacrifice a little neo-liberal ideology in exchange for having good recently published books on sale in small towns, even villages, across the Channel.

My friend, Martin Schulz, the social democratic president of the European Parliament, started life running a bookshop in Germany and as long as he is around I don’t think the EU will let down publishers and booksellers.

I take pride in having urged a French publisher friend to buy Boris Johnson’s biography of Churchill even though the London Mayor’s description of Churchill as a prolific writer, drinker, rebel, or rumbustious speaker seems more an auto-portrait of Boris than a true account of Winston.

But I have a soft spot for Boris as I do for other leaders of the Brexit campaign like Michael Gove, a fine writer ,and Daniel Hannam, the Tory MEP whose anti-EU polemics are in the finest tradition of English political writing.

I also enjoy the company of Nigel Farage and the plain fact is that the Brexit camp has some great political characters.  However they are wrong and I hope Britain will not opt for a new era of isolation. There are far too many people without decent jobs to add Nigel Farage and Daniel Hannam to the list. Even if Brexit is defeated Boris can spend the rest of his life rumbling against Europe and hoping that one day his Brexit dream comes true.

Denis MacShane was Europe minister under Tony Blair, and is an author.