I am delighted that Peter Bone, MP for Wellingborough (where I was married twenty years ago!), and a good friend and colleague, has signed up to The Freedom Association’s “Better Off Out” (BOO) campaign (www.betteroffout.co.uk). I salute his principled decision.
There are those in our Party who still believe that we should “win the arguments in Brussels”, and create an EU in a Thatcherite image. After all, are not our politicians and civil servants a match for those continentals? But after eight years in the European parliament, I have come to realise that we may win the arguments, but we shall lose the votes. The European project has an objective and a momentum all its own. It is not merely that it is unaccountable. It is designed precisely so that it shall be unaccountable, so that the process of integration, and the creation of a European state, should continue despite the misgivings and outright resistance of the people.
Over and over again, we have seen the express will of the people rejected — in Denmark in 1992, over Maastricht; in Ireland, in 2001, over Nice; and now most conspicuously in France and Holland after the rejection of the Constitution in 2005. There is no Plan B. They will keep bludgeoning away with Plan A until they get it. Despite the Labour-dominated European Scrutiny Committee at Westminster finding that the “Reform Treaty” is essentially the same as the failed Constitution, Brown continues to refuse the promised referendum.
When I was elected in 1999, I took the view that with all its faults, with all the need for reform, the EU was still justified by the economic benefits of the Single Market. I now recognise that that view was mistaken. By the EU Commission’s own admission, the regulatory costs of the Single Market outweigh the trade benefits by a factor of nearly four times. That’s before we count the cost of our budget contributions, the vast cost and damage of the CAP and the CFP; and above all the undermining of our independence and democracy. Dan Hannan is right to say that the EU is making us poorer, and less democratic, and less free.
Conservative Party policy is to take back control over social and employment policy, and to withdraw from all or part of the ECHR. These are good plans as far as they go, but not sufficient. We have now been members of the EU (and its precursors) for 35 years. The idea that we can reform it, or take back sufficient powers to make it tolerable, surely represents the triumph of hope over experience. For 35 years we have (in Tolkien’s moving phrase) “Fought the long defeat”. We have seen the ratchet of integration tighten. We have seen more and more powers passed to Brussels, and none ever coming back. We have seen deceit, and undue influence brought to bear on our political leaders. We have seen the views of the people contemptuously set aside, most recently on the renamed Constitution.
The EU is rotten to the core. It is anti-democratic by design. It is beyond reform, and deserves to be put out of its misery.
I spend a lot of time talking to Conservatives in the East Midlands and across the country, and I find a growing groundswell of opinion that supports the view that the EU experiment has failed, and that we should now call time on the project. Better we should be good neighbours than bad tenants. We need a new relationship with our European friends based solely on free trade and voluntary intergovernmental cooperation. We are the internationalists, but we cannot be good internationalists if we allow ourselves to become an off-shore province in a country called Europe.