According to the Brexiteers, US President Barack Obama’s declaration that a Britain out of the EU would go to the “back of the queue” of countries seeking trade deals with America was a not just a crude and solely political stratagem to boost David Cameron, but was also nonsense.
America would jump at the chance to do a deal with Britain, just as it has done, inside two years, with Canada and Australia, claimed Chris Grayling, a firmly out-er UK cabinet minister.
Is this really right? Or as absurd as his cabinet colleague and fellow out-er Michael Gove’s claim that Albania should be a role model for Britons?
There is indeed an alphabet soup of a queue, and it is mostly focused on big deals.
The TransPacific Partnership (TPP) between the US and 11 Pacific Rim countries is now in the final stages of ratification by the signatories.
US negotiators say this frees them to focus more on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal with the EU. They hope to get it done before President Obama leaves office in January 2017.
Then there is the World Trade Organisation’s Information Technology Agreement (ITA), which covers about 97 percent of world IT trade; the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA), accounting for 86 percent of international commerce in green goods; and the 24-party Trade in International Services Agreement (ISA), which involves three-quarters of the United States’ gross domestic product and two-thirds of the world’s services, such as banking and communications.
Maybe the controversies over TTIP, and the declining popularity of the concept on both sides of the Atlantic, mean it won’t happen.
But if it were to happen, it would be the biggest trade deal in history, covering countries with around 46 per cent of world GDP.
In comparison, a US-UK deal covers about 27 per cent of world GDP. It is attractive, but not as big a prize as TTIP.
In any case, TTIP has two big advantages for the US. The first is that its sheer size would make it a template for world trade. Any other country wanting to do trade deals with the EU and the US to gain access to the richest markets in the world would inevitably find itself having to agree a deal where at least the framework, and probably rather a lot of the detail, was set by TTIP.
TTIP, in other words, is the forerunner of future global terms of trade. And as Britain depends for its prosperity on trade, surely we need to be at that particular party.
If that is the economic advantage, then there is also a political attention. One particular world leader would cheer if Britain were to vote out – Vladimir Putin.
Let’s remember that the whole reason he decided to intervene in the Ukraine and dismember the country was because Ukraine was making overtures to join the EU, and EU leaders were happy to respond.
Now, as events in Syria have demonstrated, Mr Putin is much more powerful.
US strategic interest is in stopping his rise, and making the EU a more powerful counterweight to Russia, both militarily and economically. TTIP is about achieving the latter, so making the former more feasible.
But Michael Gove, quite apart from his arcane Albanian fantasies, has let a big cat out of the Brexit bag.
Brexit is all about encouraging a democratic revolution across the EU, he says, so other countries also leave. And if the EU collapsed, the Kremlin would be awash with champagne. Why would Mr Obama, indeed any US president, want to encourage that?
Peter Jones is a freelance journalist, based in Edinburgh, and writing mainly for The Times and The Economist.