My interview with NPR on the EU referendum, 22 June 2016

ROBERT SIEGEL (NPR): Ed Balls is a leading voice for the remain camp in the Brexit referendum. He’s a former senior member of Parliament for the opposition Labour Party, and he was influential in shaping Labour’s economic policies for 20 years. Thanks for joining us.

ED BALLS: Good to be here.

SIEGEL: Let’s say the remain camp wins and wins easily. Let’s say it’s 55 percent of the vote. Why would it be in that case that 45 percent of British voters, after all these years, still find something fundamentally wrong with Britain’s basic economic orientation belonging to the EU?

BALLS: Well, Britain’s always been equivocal about our relationship with Europe. We didn’t join the European Union in the early period in the 1950s. We’ve always struggled about it. I think two things – for older people, they worry the world is changing too fast around them, and the EU is a symbol of that change.

And then for working people on lower incomes who’ve seen their wages stagnate and migration from other parts of Europe accelerate over the last decade – they think, well, it’s not working, and maybe a change will make things better.

The reality is the status quo isn’t good enough in our relationship with but Europe. The question is – do you walk away, or do you stay and fight your corner? And I’m one of those on the remain side who says, we can make this better, and you pay a huge price for leaving.

SIEGEL: Some years ago, your voice was critical in Britain deciding not to join the eurozone – to keep the pound sterling, not to adopt the euro as currency. In those days, people like you said this isn’t a country. This isn’t the kind of unit that should have its own currency.

One can take the same wisdom from you from 20 years ago and say the EU has gone – it is integrated too deeply. We’re in over our heads. We can live without these terms of integration. Why not? What’s wrong with inferring from your very wisdom about the currency that membership itself is too much?

BALLS: Well, I think we can be part of Europe and the European Union without being in the single currency. Back then, 15 years ago, people used to say, if we don’t join the single currency, we will lose influence. We will lose our place in the world.

SIEGEL: Isn’t that the very argument that’s being made now about leaving, right? If you leave, you won’t be at the table, you’ll lose influence, you’ll lose your place in the world.

BALLS: But I took the opposite view, which is if you make a decision which is economically catastrophic for your country – in that case to join the single currency – the lack of prosperity, the economic damage would be the thing which loses you influence and standing in the world, whereas I think here we don’t face that choice. We can be in the European Union – outside the single currency, but inside the European Union – and be prosperous, and that will bring us influence. If we leave the European Union now, we would lose prosperity, jobs, investment. Our influence would be damaged.

SIEGEL: Can you imagine a European Union that abandons the free right of people to move, work and live in any country in the EU?

BALLS: Well, I have argued that free movement, which made sense when Europe had seven countries in the ’50s and when we really only expected the elites and students to move – that keeping that principle in a world of 28 countries and at a time when globalization has led to much, much more economic movement than we expected – that is a real challenge.

I’m not persuaded the free movement is going to last. I think that in order to make this politically cohesive and economically successful, we may need to have more control over migration. That’s because I think migration’s important, and I want to manage it better. I think the reason why the outcome (unintelligible) some traction at the moment is when they say, let’s take control, as if the alternative is a free-for-all. People don’t want a free-for-all. They want it to be managed.

SIEGEL: Ed Balls, thank you very much for talking with us tonight.

BALLS: Thank you.

Listen to my interview here

Posted June 22nd, 2016 by Ed's team