The reasons why they want us to stay are the same reasons why we should leave

The prospects of “Brexit” are worrying the leaders of some of the other 27 member states. Benoît Cœuré, a senior official at the European Central Bank, said that UK withdrawal would create an “enormous shock” to the bloc that would be “very difficult to manage” and David Cameron’s nemesis, Jean-Claude Juncker, stated that he does “not want the EU without Britain”.

Why do they want us to stay? After all, we’ve been throwing spanner after spanner in the federalist works for some 40 years now. No UK government has ever been enthusiastic about either a common EU defence policy or harmonising tax rates across the member states. We opted out of the euro, Schengen and imposing VAT on food, among other things. In fact, most of the population really just want a trading relationship. Sharing our sovereignty does not appeal. Wouldn’t the other member states really be better off if they pursued their federalist dream without us?

Well, for starters the EU budget would suffer if we left. We have been net contributors to the budget in every year bar one since joining the EEC in 1973. The EU-funded reconstruction of Eastern Europe’s infrastructure would not be able to proceed so quickly without the contribution of UK taxpayers – in other words, people like you and me.

It’s not only our money they want – it’s our fish. Our coastal waters, especially the North Sea, were among the best fishing grounds in Europe. No wonder that the Spanish, with the largest fishing fleet in the EU, were keen to take advantage of the Common Fisheries Policy when they joined the EU in January 1986.

Then there’s the role that the UK has played in reducing trade barriers and encouraging financial discipline. We are also seen as a counterbalance to the historical dominance of the Franco-German axis. The open economies of Eastern Europe view us as an ally against the more protectionist nations such as France. Were we to leave, there are fears that the EU would retreat into inward-looking protectionism. Jens Weidmann, the president of Germany’s Bundesbank, recently said, “If Britain continues to make its voice heard in Europe, I am confident that the union will become more outward-looking, open and prosperous for that.”

But these very same reasons the other members want us to stay are precisely why we should leave. Our current direct contribution to EU funds may only amount to £750 per household for the year, but how many hard-pressed families would not rather have an extra £15 in their pockets to help with their ever-increasing food and energy bills? Then, there’s the damaging effects of the Common Fisheries Policy both on the UK fishing industry, which shrank in size by one third in the decade to 2005 alone, and on the viability of fish stocks in our territorial waters, which have suffered considerably thanks to over-fishing by the Spanish in particular and the damaging policy of quotas, which has resulted in many fish being dumped dead back into the waters.

Turning to the checks and balances between the various member states, maybe the EU would become more protectionist if we left. Maybe Club Med would be more likely to rise up against German-imposed austerity. However, the bottom line of trying to reach consensus among such a diverse group of nations is that what you end up with in reality is compromise. Free from having to agree a common position with the rest of the EU, our leaders could once again make decisions that were in the interest of the British people who, after all, are the people who elect them to office in the first place.

If our departure precipitates a collapse of the EU, it will be messy but in the longer term, a blessing for the entire continent. The whole project is fatally flawed and, like other enforced political unions in the past, may well end in tears. On the other hand, if, against the odds the EU is still in existence in fifty years’ time, it will have advanced into the federal superstate that has always been the dream of its staunchest supporters. For all the supposed benefits of having the UK on board, we would have continued to remain a formidable obstacle to this federalist agenda.

So whatever the future of the European project, it will be better for the rest of the EU as well as for us if we go our separate ways.

The single market – not as wonderful as we thought

The Bertelsmann Foundation has just published a report to mark twenty years of the single market and interesting reading it makes. It found that, between 1992 and 2012, Germany’s GDP increased by €37.1bn per year as a result of its membership of the EU’s single market – equivalent to €450 per inhabitant. By contrast, UK GDP only benefited by an additional €1bn per year, equivalent to €10 (or just over £8.50) per inhabitant.

Denmark has benefitted even more than Germany. Its GDP increased by €500 per inhabitant per year. However, Southern European nations have not done so well. The per capita figures for Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal are €80, €70, €70 and €20 respectively. It is unsurprising that these countries have fared badly relative to Germany. Tied to the single currency, their exports to Germany have become progressively more expensive while Germany has been able to grow its exports across the Eurozone after making significant gains in productivity a decade or so ago.

However, even Greece and Portugal, hamstrung by a currency that has not worked in their favour, have gained more from the Single Market than our country. As the debate about EU membership hots up, one of the concerns frequently expressed by figures from the business world is that it would be a calamity to be excluded from the Single Market. It has been taken as read that any trading arrangement with the EU for a newly-independent UK should include access to the Single Market and there is no question that this remains the cases. However, the size of the benefit to the UK economy has not proved nearly as significant as we were led to believe.

Call for ‘New Magna Carta’

The Commons Political Reform Committee think that the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta next year is the right time for a fresh debate on the pros and cons of a written constitution. According to the MPs, the UK was currently governed by a “sprawling mass” of laws, treaty obligations and unwritten conventions.
The idea of a written constitution was one of three possible options that could form the basis of a “new settlement.”
Magna Carta sealed in 1215 has enshrined basic freedoms and limited monarchical power. Unfortunately it did not foresee the uprising of the European Union, which, unlike our monarchy, seeks total control over our laws, culture and freedoms that were intended to be preserved by the British Parliament.
A written constitution is of no use if the law used for the interpretation of such a constitution has been given over to a foreign entity like the EU.

A Foreign Secretary who supports withdrawal from the EU?

David Cameron’s recent reshuffle saw Philip Hammond replace William Hague as Foreign Secretary. Since resigning as party leader following the disastrous flop of the half-heartedly eurosceptic Conservative General Election campaign in 2001, Hague has given up all pretentions at euroscepticism. He has appeared in print on a number of occasions supporting Turkish EU membership – a disastrous move that would allow over 80 million people the right to come to the UK – and was quick to snuff out as “unrealistic” the demands of 94 Conservative backbenchers for our Parliament to have the power to reject EU legislation.

Hammond, then, is a definite improvement on his predecessor, for last year, he stated that if presented with a choice between withdrawal and EU membership on its current terms, he would vote to leave. Following his recent appointment, he was asked if his views had changed since then. He replied that the current relationship between our country and the EU is “simply not acceptable” and that he would still vote to leave if there was no significant return of powers to Westminster.

So this all sounds like good news, especially as it is inconceivable that he made this statement without clearance from No. 10. However, before we get too excited, there are a couple of very serious caveats. Firstly, this reshuffle comes less than a year before the General election. If the Conservatives win, will Mr Hammond remain in his post? It is widely believed that George Osborne would like to take over as Foreign Secretary – a man who has yet to make a statement that he would ever support withdrawal. Could it therefore be that Hammond’s appointment is mere window dressing? – a confidence trick to lure UKIP voters back to the Tories next year? Given “Cast Iron Dave’s” slippery reputation, this cannot be ruled out, especially given that the reshuffle also saw the removal of two convinced eurosceptics – the Environment Secretary Owen Patterson and Welsh Secretary David Jones.

Secondly, even if Mr Hammond did continue in his post in the event of a Conservative election victory next year, would the scope of renegotiations required to satisfy him be the same as those demanded by the many voters who backed UKIP in last May’s European Parliamentary elections? Where does he stand on restricting free movement of people, for example? Or the total repatriation of justice and home affairs to our judiciary? Did he tacitly support the 94 backbenchers who wanted our parliament to regain power to block EU legislation which was damaging to the UK’s interests? We need to know the answers to these questions before getting too excited.

De Gaulle and a possible “Norway Option” in 1963?

Many Independence Campaigners will remember Reg Simmerson. He was untiring in his campaigning and very well informed in his frequent letters to the press

Here is one of his letters to the editor of the Sunday Telegraph, dated 29 August 1990

“Dear Sir,

Although I agree with most things written by Peregrine Worsthorne it appears necessary to pick him up on one point.

De Gaulle was certainly not “insulting” when he vetoed Britain’s application to join the EEC in 1963; in fact he made a suggestion which coincides almost exactly with that of Reginald Maudling a few years before and also coincided exactly with the offer accepted by the other EFTA countries when Britain and Denmark joined the EEC in 1973.

The suggestion was that each EFTA country should have free trade in manufactured goods with the EEC, that each EFTA country should be able to fix its own tariffs with third countries and that the Common Agricultural Policy should not apply to EFTA countries.

The arrangement would have been ideal for Britain as we could have continued with our cheap food policy whereas we are now paying three or four times world prices for food which is produced by nauseous, intensive farming methods; we should not have needed to subsidise food mountains or sales of food to Russia at give-away prices.

No, de Gaulle did not insult us but Harold MacMillan and Ted Heath asserted that we had been insulted because they wanted to get into the politics of the EEC and, although de Gaulle’s proposal would have been ideal economically, the arrangement did not satisfy the ambitions of those two extremely ambitious British politicians.

The two British politicians therefore asserted that de Gaulle was offering Britain associated status just like that of some French ex-colony when, in fact, he was offering something very different indeed.

No one managed to make an effective challenge to their assertion at the time so they got away with it; the cost to Britain has been immense in trade with the rest of the world; we should have been able to import cheap, wholesome food from Canada, Australia etc. and sell them our manufactured goods; we should not have paid huge sums of money to the EEC; North Sea Oil would have made us rich.

What a pity that such an opportunity was thrown away but let us get one thing straight; de Gaulle certainly did not insult us; MacMillan’s and Heath’s assertions caused the trouble.

Sincerely,

R.E.G. Simmerson BSc (Econ) FCA “

FIGHTER FOR BRITAIN’S FREEDOM – Letters to the Press 1971 -98 by Reg Simmerson
A selection from some 600 letters, edited by Martin Page, is available (Price £5 including postage) from Sovereignty Publications, Worcester Park, Surrey KT4 7HZ

The futility of renegotiation

What we were fobbed off with 39 years ago? Harold Wilson pledge to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EEC when he won the second of two general elections held in 1974. A deal was secured at the Head of Government meeting in Dublin on 11th March 1975 which, in Wilson’s words, “substantially though not completely achieved” the renegotiation objectives.

We were allowed to exempt foods from VAT, to strike a better deal with imports from the Commonwealth while securing a reduction in our contribution to the EU budget. We “also maintained our freedom to pursue our own policies on taxation and on industry, and to develop Scotland and Wales and the Regions where unemployment is high” according to the leaflet sent out by the Government. No earth-shattering concessions here; after all, we are still some way from a common EU taxation policy 39 years later, but with the “in” campaign far better funded than the “out” and considerable ignorance on the part of the electorate as to the true nature of the EU project, these changes were sufficient to secure a 2 to 1 majority in favour of staying in,

No one can expect that a few cosmetic tweaks to our relationship with the EU will secure a two-thirds majority to remain within the EU in 2017. Far more of us are now aware of what the EU is about and we don’t like it. Given the choice between remaining in the EU on present terms and withdrawing, an opinion poll carried out by Opinium or the Observer newspaper last month suggests that 48% of voters would choose to leave while only 37% would wish to remain. However, poll after poll indicates that the balance would swing in favour of continued membership if we could renegotiate our relationship. However, these polls rarely, if ever, go into detail as to exactly what should be renegotiated.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that any renegotiations involving a significant return of powers to our parliament are not going to happen. Jean-Claude Juncker, the incoming Commission President, made it clear in a speech to the European Parliament that any hopes of ending the free movement of people would be doomed to failure. In January 2014, a group of 94 Conservative MPs signed a letter stating that national parliaments should to be given the power unilaterally to veto EU regulations that are felt to be unhelpful. William Hague, Foreign Secretary at the time, said that such hopes were “unrealistic”. This point was underscored recently by Manfred Weber, the new leader of the centre-right EPP faction in the European Parliament, who said that, “For us this, is non-negotiable. We cannot sell Europe’s soul… If we grant each national parliament a veto right, Europe would come to a virtual standstill.”

When it comes to Justice and Home Affairs, there is little sign that a future Conservative government is even going to try to repatriate powers. While some Conservative MPs are arguing for UK withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights, this is a smokescreen. The ECHR is not linked to the EU but to the Council of Europe. Furthermore, if the EU becomes a signatory to the ECHR in its own right, the member states – including, of course the UK – will de facto have to abide by it. What is far more worrying is the opting back in to 33 measures enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty, including the European Arrest Warrant. Theresa May is quite happy to allow UK citizens to be extradited to countries with a far less robust system of justice than the UK and is considering further measures including signing us up to a Europe-wide DNA database.

On top of all this, the confrontation between David Cameron and other EU leaders over Juncker’s appointment has severely diluted the very limited reserves of goodwill left towards our country in Brussels. While there have been some conciliatory remarks by other perceived “reformers” like Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, it would require the support of a majority of Heads of State to allow a special relationship for the UK within the EU and the recent leaked tapes of conversations between senior ministerial figures in the Polish government illustrate just how hard it will be to secure such a majority. Then there is the European Parliament, where the main centre-right and socialist groups have closed ranks to ensure their Eurosceptic colleagues are kept at bay. The arch-federalist Martin Schulz has been reappointed President of the European Parliament, a man who is no friend of this country and whose past form suggests he will prove a formidable obstacle to any serious return of sovereignty to the UK.

Following his debates with UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage in which he came off second best, Nick Clegg admitted that he had been foolish to say that in ten years’ time, the EU would be “about the same” but for once, he was telling the truth. There will be no substantive renegotiation. The long march to ever-closer unity will carry on regardless. Wolfgang Schäuble, the German Finance minister claimed that we in the UK “don’t actually want that much. {we} want some flexibility” but his definition of “not that much” or indeed David Cameron’s may prove rather wide of the aspirations of the UK electorate. Ultimately, we have only two choices – staying on board shouting from the sidelines as the doom-laden EU edges ever closer to the rocks or leaving the fools to their folly.