The EU: Will they never learn?

Last night I was listening to the BBC Radio 4 Ten O’Clock News, when I heard a contribution from Don Foster MP.  Now I am not particularly familiar with Mr. Foster, and I assumed he might be a Conservative (he was up against Nigel Farage).  I was alarmed by his comments on Britain’s EU membership.  And I was only partly mollified later to find that he is in fact the Lib-Dem Member for Bath.  In the context, he was speaking (or would be taken to be speaking) for the Coalition, and therefore, by extension, for me.
 
He asserted that the net cost of Britain’s EU membership is “only” around £4 billion, and that this “was good value for all we get in exchange”.  This is just plain wrong on so many levels that it’s difficult to know where to start.
 
For a start, even our net contribution to the EU budget is well over £4 billion, and set to increase rapidly as a result of Tony Blair’s ill-advised deal on the rebate.  Secondly, as my colleague Dan Hannan has cogently argued, we don’t think of our income tax in net terms (after all the benefits we get back from government) — we think of what we have to pay.  The funds we get back from the EU are hedged about with restrictions, often require matched funding, and are often spent inefficiently on things we might not have chosen to do.  The EU gives us back a little of our own money, they tell us what to do with it, and they expect us to be grateful.  On a gross basis our contribution is around £13 billion, and rapidly escalating.
 
But the direct contributions to the EU Budget are not the half of it.  The greatest cost by far of our EU membership is the huge and unsustainable burden of regulation, which is strangling our economy, and (despite assurances to the contrary) getting worse by the day.  Various analyses of regulatory costs have been prepared, not least by Commissioner Verheugen, who estimated the cost of regulation at around 5.5% of GDP (compared to the benefits of trade in the Single Market, estimated at 1.8%).  The British Chambers of Commerce have done extensive analyses.  One of the most credible estimates of the total net costs of Britain’s EU membership, from the Taxpayers’ Alliance, puts it at well over £100 billion a year.
 
Then Mr. Foster talks of “the benefits of EU membership”, which we get in exchange for this vast expenditure.  I’ve said it so many times before, but it can’t be said too often: There are no benefits of EU membership that could not be obtained through a simple Free Trade Agreement.  We could have the benefits without the huge costs to our economy and our democracy and independence.
 
No doubt Mr. Foster will disagree with me, but in that case I hope that he will at least support the demand, from myself and others, for a White Paper on Costs “benefits” of Britain’s EU membership.  Previous governments have refused on the grounds that “the benefits are self-evident”.  Yet when the Swiss government undertook a very thorough and professional analysis of the costs and benefits of Switzerland’s proposed membership of the EU, the answer was that the costs overwhelmingly outweighed the benefits.  Switzerland concluded that it was Better Off Out.  And so should we be.

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5 Responses to The EU: Will they never learn?

  1. Cliff Williams says:

    The question is whether the UK can ever get out? My second question is whether the EU Bill will provide adequate protection?
    It seems that when elected officials are afraid to make a decision that might be unpopular they place the referenda before the populace. In this case government may not be able to stand up to the EU so #10 can just say that “the people voted against it”. How long will it be before the EU has a regulation against your regulation?

    • We can get out if and when we have the political will — and the common sense! The Referendum lock is useless, because the Lisbon Treaty has a “passerelle clause”. So they can take forward any new measures without a new treaty. My guess is that the Referendum Lock will never be invoked.

  2. dunn says:

    I used to be an ardent supporter, arguing the benefits of Britain´s European membership.
    Having resided in Spain for the last ten years, watching the Spanish laughing their heads of at the British tax payers tightening their belts while outrageously and extravantly persuing multy million euro projects in almost ever small town and village, mainly funded by a gullible European Community, now feel Britaian should once again seek independece.

    • Steve says:

      @dunn

      And so it has been for years. Spain is one of the biggest net beneficiaries of the EU. It is the main reason our taxes are so high.

      In 2006, the EU was paying Ireland (per capita) exactly what every British taxpayer was paying in – £876 per year.

      The BBC – partly EU funded – will only ever put out the pro-EU case. Brussels Broadcasting Corporation.

  3. Spot on Roger!

    Don Foster should be asked for a list of the benefits of our EU membership. I’ve never seen one – has he?

    For the money we spend the list should be a long, hefty one.

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