I have written and video’d and podcasted at some length on the Coalition’s riotously silly EU Bill. That’s the one which promises us a referendum on EU power-grabs whenever ministers think it appropriate to do so, or which in other words promises us nothing, since Ministers can always call a referendum when they think it appropriate, without any help from an EU Bill.
I have watched Europe Minister David Lidington apparently squirming with embarrassment in his YouTube video as he seeks to defend the indefensible, and I have felt my own toes curling with embarrassment as I watched. Clearly as a Conservative MEP I cannot possibly seek to defend the Bill, which is why I am obliged to repudiate it immediately, rather than waiting to be challenged on it by our critics. I have now also received a letter from David Lidington, which also seeks to defend the policy.
He repeats the tired old canard that we want to “Use the collective weight of the EU’s members to attain our common interests”, seemingly forgetting that it is the lack of consensus among member-states that makes the EU a barrier to effective international negotiation. Perhaps he has forgotten how French protectionism was substantially responsible for the failure to reach agreement on the Doha Round in Hong Kong in December 2005. Or how similar EU disagreements were at least partly responsible for the failure (thank Heaven!) of the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December 2009. Larger groups exercise more clout only if they are internally coherent.
But the point that really stuck in my throat was his sentence: “The Government strongly believes that Britain’s membership of the European Union is in our national interest”.
How can a Conservative Europe Minister be so out-of-touch, both with reality and with the views of Party members and activists? And how long will members and activists go on working for a Party whose leadership is so out-of-touch?
This morning I was out canvassing for a District Council by-election. It was a damp and drizzly November day, and as I contemplated the fact that I was campaigning for a Party that purports to believe that EU membership is in our national interest, it was (in Hermann Melville’s phrase) damp and drizzly November in my soul.
As Dan Hannan has famously said, “The EU is making us poorer, and less democratic, and less free”. Estimates not from rabid sceptics, but from European Commissioners, suggest that the regulatory costs imposed by the EU exceed the trade benefits of the Single Market by as much as three times (and if we left the EU but negotiated a Free Trade Agreement, we could have most of the benefits with few of the regulatory costs). We have seen democracy undermined by daft EU laws imposed in defiance both of common sense and of our elected government. We have seen the views of voters in successive referenda rejected with contempt. This is the reality. Is this in our national interest? I don’t think so.
David Lidington surely has a solution to hand. If he believes that EU membership is in our national interest, let him call for the Treasury to publish a cost/benefit analysis of our membership. Then let those on either side of the EU debate look line-by-line at the analysis, and see if we, or the media, can reach a consensus.
The Swiss government did such an analysis. It looked at the economic implications if Switzerland were (A) to join EFTA; (B) to join the EU. Option A left it worse off. Option B left it very much worse off. There’s a lesson there, and if the Party won’t listen to its members, it might at least listen to a European government that had the courage to answer the question.
Oh, and by the way, Switzerland exports more to the EU (on a per capita basis) than the UK does, and has a higher per-capita GDP.
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