To begin with some context: the European Union was set up following the Second World War to promote peace within Europe. A laudable idea, though it is questionable as to what extent the project also fitted the circumstances of its members losing their empires at around the same time, considering such rhetoric as Churchill’s “home of all the great parent races of the Western world...fountain of Christian faith and Christian ethics...origin of most of the culture, the arts, philosophy and science both of ancient and modern time” (Zurich, 1949).
Whatever the original intentions, these imperialist notions have certainly endured, with the EU morphing into an unwieldy behemoth which openly flies in the face of democracy, kowtowing to big corporations while crippling the growth of developing regions such as Africa with its protectionist common agricultural policy. Worryingly, the recent letter from members of the creative industries to the Guardian in support of remaining does not seem to have moved on from Churchill’s 1940s rhetoric of European superiority, warning that the UK would become “an outsider shouting from the wings” if it were to vote to leave. Outside what exactly? Can they really be so arrogant as to think the world turns around Europe?
As former education secretary Michael Gove puts it, the EU is an analogue union in a digital age, built to keep power within the élites. A regional customs union protected by tariff walls is a concept which belongs in the 1950s, not in a globalised world.
The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, boasting the only universities in Europe to make the world top 20 lists, more Nobel Prize-winners than any other EU country and 15% of the world’s most highly cited scientific papers. Europe, on the other hand, has the slowest growing economy of any continent other than Antarctica.
Speaking my language
These circumstances are pertinent to an industry which produces an English-language product and for which educational materials make up a significant amount of business. In a world where the international language of business is English, our market potential is enormous. Nevertheless, recent figures from the Publishers Association show that 45% of our exports are to the EU, a region which does not even use English on a day to day basis. One has to question whether we are reaching our full export potential and, if not, what is stopping us from doing so.
In so far as trade agreements will be relevant at all in a connected world, our own seat at the World Trade Organisation would enable us to negotiate deals appropriate to us. The UK enjoys a unique position: our language, history and law, and London’s position as the world’s biggest foreign-exchange trading route, orientates us towards bits of the world that are prosperous, negating the need to embroil ourselves with a geographically defined regime which clings to the past. Crucial skills for the UK publishing industry are fluent English and technology, neither of which are most likely to be found in the EU. We should prioritise immigrants with appropriate skill-sets, not those from countries which are geographically adjacent to us. Furthermore, publishers say that they want to recruit from the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community, yet are backing a project with which the many British people with family origins outside of Europe find it difficult to feel any allegiance.
A rate of one’s own
The EU’s obsession with legislation is already a bone of contention with respect to copyright and the digital single market. The PA is of the view that legislation cannot improve researchers’ ability to data mine. Solutions are already being found in publisher-led and supported services (Publishers Weekly, 14th April), so a vote to leave the EU in this context is a moot point. Membership of the EU means that we have to charge VAT on e-books. Of course we can’t guarantee that this would change, but flexibility to set our own sales taxes can only be positive. Finally, “Brexit” would have no discernible effect on the sale of translation rights. Such transactions are already frustrated by the individual tax agreements with each member country, so there will be nothing new there.
The publishing industry is known for being outward-looking, innovative, inclusive and liberal. This is not about Axel Scheffler meeting Julia Donaldson. This is about a fundamental threat to democracy, endorsing an imperialist, unelected regime stuck in the 1950s, in bed with monopolistic corporations and run by unelected bureaucrats, an alarming number of whom pay themselves more than the UK prime minister. A vote to stay in the EU is a vote to look backwards, to condone a regime which actively prejudices the developing world through its common agricultural policy, and to eschew the opportunity to participate fully on a global platform premised on 21st-century concepts.
In her incisive book Exotic England (Portobello), Yasmin Alibhai-Brown observes that “England can never become parochial and insular. It was, is and will be fascinated and constantly altered by its encounters with the ‘Other’.” As the fifth largest economy in the world, blessed with enormous cultural capital, the English language and excellent relationships on the world stage, we do not need to shackle ourselves to an insular, dictatorial sinking ship which clings to a previous age.
Both as an industry and a nation, we are more outward-looking, inclusive and liberal than that.
Diane Banks is the founder of Diane Banks Associates Literary & Talent Agency and a business supporter of the Vote Leave campaign.