Past leader, past claims: Blair's speech on the EU

Published: 9th Apr 2015

Earlier this week, Tony Blair gave a speech that laid out his arguments against a referendum on Britain leaving the European Union.

Mr Blair claimed that businesses "came to the UK to access the European market" and "there are millions of jobs dependent on that access". He also said that "over half our trade is with the EU".

We've previously factchecked research regarding the estimated number of jobs linked in some sense to the EU.

The most recent attempts estimate that between 3.3 million and 4.2 million jobs in the UK are linked to trade with EU countries. The estimates rely on several assumptions, including that the number of jobs supported by the value of exports from a particular industry is proportional to the average value created by a job in that industry.

These figures have frequently—though not here—been misunderstood as identifying jobs that are dependent on EU membership.

Our previous factcheck in March concluded that: "even though the jobs identified in the studies are being linked to EU trade rather than membership, there's still a possibility that leaving the EU could have an effect on the trading figures at some point. At the same time, it's difficult if not impossible to quantify this".

As for the EU market as a proportion of UK trade, Mr Blair is correct: the EU accounted for just over half our imports and exports in 2014.

Mr Blair also alluded to the situation following a vote to leave the EU, during which he says "there would be a raft of different Treaties, association agreements and partnerships to be dis-entangled and re-negotiated".

It's certainly likely that this scenario would lead to extensive negotiations. The relevant EU Treaty envisages a "withdrawal agreement" to be negotiated between the EU and any departing member.

This is an untested process, which means there's some uncertainty about how it would work in practice.

But the Treaty also says that even without a withdrawal agreement, the longest that a member state will remain in the EU after it gives notice that it wants to leave is two years (unless there is unanimous agreement to extend the cut-off point). This provides an assurance that the UK could "dis-entangle" itself from the EU within a fixed period of time, even if it hasn't worked out what the post-membership relationship looks like.


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