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Brexit Prize: UK contest seeks no strings attached EU affair

Britain’s departure from the EU is “quite plausible”, so formulating an exit plan ensuring free trade links with Europe remain intact while business suffocating “red tape” falls by the wayside will be vital, economist Richard Wellings argues.

A competition launched this week by a British think-tank – the right-leaning Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) – promises €100,000 cash prize for an individual, group or institution that comes up with the best roadmap for the UK to leave the European Union.

The contest appears to have been spurred by Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU in an attempt to repatriate some powers from Brussels and even hold a referendum on Britain's EU membership. All of this hinges on hopes that his Conservative Party is re-elected in 2017.

The judges announced for the competition include former British Finance Minister Nigel Lawson and the historian and television broadcaster David Starkey, both members of the Conservative Party.

“Now that we have been promised an in-out referendum on Britain and the EU in 2017, it is essential that this momentous decision is preceded by a well-informed debate,” Lawson said while announcing the ‘Brexit Prize’. He also said that an often passionate debate on the issue had generated “more heat than light” and the time has come to “look into the policy framework that would be needed if Britain decides to leave the EU.”

The Brexit Prize seeks to find the least disruptive way for the UK to exit the EU. However, many experts insist that leaving the EU would be detrimental to the UK economy, no matter how departure is ultimately orchestrated.

Dr Richard Wellings, Deputy Editorial Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, explained to RT that what Britain really needs is to escape from “the very bad EU regulations on jobs, climate change and so on, all the red tapes that are suffocating business.”

“Obviously, the key to this is whether we retain very strong free trade links with the rest of Europe. That is absolutely essential, that we have free trade links with Europe and the rest of the world. That would be a key to the UK’s success in the future,” Wellings told RT's Polly Boiko.

While the Conservative Party won’t have another chance to pedal the issue of leaving the EU for another four years, the competition was launched with the intention of giving economists time to “start thinking about the consequences of Britain potentially leaving the EU,” Wellings said.

While Brits might ultimately vote to stay in the EU, Wellings insists that preparing an exit strategy in good time is an “essentially important issue”.

“Given so much euroskepticism among the British public, it is quite plausible that in a few years’ time Britain will be leaving. So it is absolutely essential that we have some ideas what to do next,” he said.

Apart from the €100,000 trophy, the Brexit Prize also promises second and third prizes of €10,000 and €5,000 respectively, with a separate special prize of €5,000 for the best young author under the age of 30. And the IEA believes that the winning strategy to be put forward to the British government in case of an EU exit will contain not just one concept, but many ideas from various authors.

“We’re going to publish the winning strategy along with some other better entries as well so that there are plenty of ideas for the government to look at and hopefully could work out a very sound plan,” Wellings believes. 

Philip Booth, editorial and program director of the IEA, told AFP that while Britain is not a member of the 17-nation euro single currency, "The choice of currency for the prize is symbolic of the fact that the judges believe that exit from the EU should lead to an outward-looking, freely-trading Britain and not an inward-looking Britain trying to shore up its own domestic markets and vested interests," Booth said.