25th Oct 2016

UK diplomat scoops EU 'brexit' prize

A UK diplomat whose day job involves promoting British business in Asia's emerging market economies has scooped a €100,000 prize on the country's best economic prospects if it left the EU.

Iain Mansfield, a 30-year-old director of trade and investment at the UK embassy in the Philippines won the €100,000 Brexit Prize on Tuesday (8 April). His paper - A Blueprint for Britain: Openness not Isolation - argues that leaving the bloc in favour of joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) could net the UK economy a £1.3 billion increase in GDP per year.

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The Brexit prize, was organised by British right-wing think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, and presented by former finance minister and veteran eurosceptic Nigel Lawson.

Alongside membership of EFTA, which currently includes the likes of Norway and Switzerland, the paper calls for the introduction of a Great Repeal Bill to review and bin burdensome EU regulations.

The most important economic priority for a post-EU UK would be to ensure the maintenance of zero tariffs on trade between the UK and the EU in all areas apart from agriculture, says Mansfield. It also strongly makes the case for the importance of an exit from the single market and taking an a la carte approach to which regulations to sign up to.

However, Mansfield, who stresses that the UK's fate vis a vis the EU is a political rather than an economic decision, does not take a side on whether it should stay in or leave the bloc.

"This paper does not … address the question of whether or not the UK should leave, or advocate for or against such a course of action. What it does do is demonstrate that, in the event of such an exit, there exists a scenario for an open, prosperous and globally engaged UK that is eminently achievable."

But his position as a UK diplomat will raise eyebrows.

The plan argues that the UK could pursue free trade agreements with China and the US and develop new ties with emerging powers in Asia and Latin America.

"Exiting from the EU should be used as an opportunity to embrace openness,” argues the paper.

"The outcome would be to accelerate the shifting pattern of UK's exports and total trade away from the EU to the emerging markets, where the majority of the world's growth is located.”

It also moots the creation of a formal "EU out-group" of European countries outside the EU but with close trading arrangements, to give them more negotiating clout with the EU.

But eurosceptics may be disappointed by the relatively meagre projected economic benefits from leaving the 28-country bloc. Mansfield's paper indicates that a "worst case scenario" could see a 2.6 percent drop in economic output following a Brexit.

Critics say that membership of EFTA would still require the UK to adopt all of the EU's single market legislation but without having any influence over their design. The UK would also have to make a substantial contribution to the EU's annual budget.

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