It is fairly unusual for nation states to comment on domestic decision making in other countries, but for the second time in recent history, external powers seem keen to voice their opinion on what the British people (or part of them, in the case of the referendum on Scottish independence) should decide in a referendum. The decision in question, of course, is whether the British people should vote to remain in the European Union on the 23rd of June 2016, or chose the dreaded “Brexit”.

The “voices off” this time were quite an influential group: no less than the G20; the grouping of the world’s 20 largest economies. Finance ministers of the G20 have held a 2-day meeting in China and their opinion that should the UK decide to leave the EU it would cause a “shock” to the global economy (the UK is a member of the G20 and the official governmental position is to commend continued membership of the EU following renegotiation on four key points – but individual ministers and MPs will be allowed to vote with their consciences).

It seems that the “in/out” referendum will be based on visceral opinions rather than fact. One could forgive the public for imagining that such a declaration from the G20 is clear evidence that they would be playing with fire should they vote to leave. However, no lesser a figure than former (Conservative) chancellor Nigel Lawson opined that the G20 position was “absurd”, noting that: “The British people will not take kindly to being told by the G20 what they should do. And the notion that the UK leaving the EU would cause an economic shock is absurd. Fifteen of the members of the G20 are outside the EU, and that hasn’t caused an economic shock. Indeed, most of them are doing better than most of the members of the European Union.”

Lord Lawson is being a tad disingenuous, here. The fifteen members of the G20 that do not belong to the EU do not benefit from the close trading relationship that Britain currently enjoys. If they were to do so, how keen would they be to walk away from that relationship and trust to the idea that it would be “business as usual” the day after? America and Canada, after all are hoping to forge closer trading ties with the EU via TTIP. If business were as easy as some would have you believe, then much less effort would go into negotiating regional trade deals and seeking international agreements designed to lower the barriers to trade between nations. Whist it would be lovely to have an informed and impartial debate on the benefits of the UK’s membership of the EU and the risks or opportunities that would stem from its severing ties, it looks like rhetoric will (as usual) carry the day.

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