Hats off to the BBC for their more in-depth analysis of the issues around the EU referendum. Yes, we are going to be talking about this a lot over the next few weeks. Monday night's Newsnight discussion was interesting, with Evan Davis smacking down silliness on both sides.
One thing which we keep hearing from Remain boils down to "no, we won't be able to", in the context of negotiating trade deals outside the EU. We can discuss hypotheticals like whether a free trade agreement between the EU and Australia, for example, is being held back by Romania, and whether the UK could sort something out more quickly unencumbered, until we are blue in the eyes; the simple fact is that we do not know until we try. Would we have to press the Article 50 button until we have sorted some of this stuff out? Again, that rather depends on who is in government.
Tim Worstall has an interesting article on Forbes about whether trade deals matter at all. He points out that in the long term, economic strength and dynamism come from productivity and specialisation.
The basic point here is that we enjoy high living standards if we produce high-value goods and services. Tim says that the best way to encourage people and firms to produce the valuable stuff is to expose them to stiff competition. That means breaking up monopolies, not subsidising and mollycoddling inefficient industries, stopping restrictive practices, and by opening ourselves to importing stuff if it makes more sense to do so.
And the beauty of this is that we can do this ourselves and without reference to the Romanians, Australians, or French farm lobby.
After Brexit, there is nothing to stop the UK from opening itself up to full international competition. If we choose to reduce import duties to nothing, then we boost competition and thus encourage our firms to do better. Once we are producing better stuff, people overseas will want to buy it - and if it is of good enough quality then tariffs won't matter. We gave up the widget trade a long time ago.
If we want to unleash the UK's potential we must (also) undertake lots of reforms whichever way the referendum goes. We must open ourselves up to more investment, from wherever it comes. We must restructure our public services and welfare systems, opening them up to red-blooded competition and making them ruthlessly efficient. We must privatise the railways and roads, making users pay for the actual services and in turn making the firms accountable to their customers. We must concentrate public spending on the essentials and root out the nice-to-haves with zeal. We must simplify the tax system and slash its burden. We must make people more responsible for saving for their old age.
This will all need a leadership which does not care all that much for short-term popularity or an image of niceness. It will require a seriousness and sense of purpose which we haven't seen since at least the Omnishambles budget. But it will have to be done carefully, so as to not irritate the people who need to implement it - see the latest Academy policy for details.
Most of all, what is needed is public support for the direction of travel. Does the UK (in or out of the EU) want to muddle through and sit comfortably as a middle-ranking European economy or does it want to be a world leader, to set examples, to be copied, to be envied?