UK

Greenland's PM talks of 'positive' results from EU exit

Kuupik Kleist Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kuupik Kleist says his country of Greenland has benefitted from exiting the European Union

Imagine it's 2025. In a long-awaited referendum, Britain's voting public has voted itself right out of the European Union - and we're standing alone.

No single market, no budget contributions, no directives, no regulations.

It's unlikely the public will be offered a direct in/out choice in a referendum any time soon, but we might well ask ourselves - is Britain better off out, or in?

We can look to Greenland, the only country ever to leave the EU.

Although it remains part of the kingdom of Denmark, with whom it joined what was then the EC in 1973, by the early 1980s it had successfully negotiated an exit strategy.

It was a successful negotiation, one that left it significantly better off, thanks to new payments linked to fishing that outweighed the structural funds that it relied on as a member.

Prime Minister Kuupik Kleist says life is good outside the EU. He has free access to the European markets for his exports of fish, he says. But what about other exported goods?

He pauses, then laughs. "We don't export anything else but the fish."

"We have regular meetings with the Parliament and the European Union is one of our international partners - an important partner, and important for trade.

"But at the moment there's no serious consideration for rejoining the European Union."

Regulation growth

It's easy to see his point. But back home in the UK, in Bedford, Paul Wells isn't so sure.

Chief executive of Wells and Young's brewery, he says he's up against tough competition from the global giants of the brewing world; the big names that supply eight out of 10 pints in the UK.

These days, he does 15% of his business abroad, exporting both to the EU and other countries like Russia. He looks at the conveyor belts buzzing with cans of high-strength lager, destined, this time, for Italy.

"I can remember, before we were able to do free-trade, which was really complicated," he says. "We had to get a different sanitary certificate with each lorry-load of kegs we sent to Italy. It was hard to do.

"A European regulation arrives on our shores, and then it becomes enhanced and made more of when it's introduced here.

"Yes, it's been overdone, but that's a question of beating back regulation - not finding our way out of Europe completely, because I don't think that solves anything."

It's a widely held view across British business. John Lockworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce says that 80% of the companies he represents wouldn't want to be outside the EU.

But that's not to say they can't see the positive sides of a post-EU Britain.

Changing demand

"There are lots of opportunities to trade across the world," he says. "There would be all sorts of pros and cons.

"Food could be cheaper, for example - therefore that could affect the trade deficit positively."

On the other hand, though, "there would be tariffs erected around the European Union, which might prevent us from trading in".

For the Eurosceptic faction of the Conservative party, not to mention the growing ranks of UK Independence Party voters, the fact that demand for British goods in Europe is on the wane makes it the perfect time to strike out alone.

The backbench MP Douglas Carswell says it's "time to realign ourselves" citing the example of Honda, due to make redundant 800 people - a quarter of its Swindon car manufacturing plant workforce - thanks to a slump in sales.

"It was a car plant that produced almost exclusively for the European market," says Mr Carswell. "Yet the same week, we heard from other car manufacturers, saying they were actually expanding.

"But the car manufacturers that were expanding... were producing for the non-EU market."

'Prosperity and wealth'

A post-EU Britain, he says, would be "open to the world in a way that perhaps would surprise us".

He added: "We're so used to the idea that the free movement of goods and services comes from Europe - I think we could pleasantly surprise ourselves at how much prosperity and wealth is being produced out there.

"We could open ourselves up to the world in a way we haven't done for generations."

Back on the front line, though, Mr Wells remains unconvinced.

"At this stage, I think it's probably better that we keep engaged with Europe," he says.

"But let's try and keep a lid on the regulation."

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