On Saturday night, again, I did the midnight paper review on BBC Radio 5 Live. There were some great stories in the Sunday papers. Shell CEO Peter Voser says we have gas for 250 years — how’s that for a good news story? And another one: the Observer, no eurosceptic rag, reports that 56% of Brits would vote to leave the EU. Ah! The wisdom of crowds. But the programme was hi-jacked by an on-going debate on the Police Commissioner elections, followed by live reportage from Gaza, and we scarcely got to mention the papers at all.
One headline from the Sunday Telegraph caught my eye. “Miliband: Eurosceptics are sometimes right”. How’s that for a grudging and belated (partial) admission of the bleedin’ obvious? Does he think it will catch the zeitgeist of the moment? Does he now expect battalions of British voters to rally behind the Miliband banner? Sorry, Ed, but you’ll have to do better than that.
The article itself is riddled with all the old EU errors of the old parties. He wants “reform” of the EU, and says that Britain should “build alliances with other countries to obtain change”. Does he know nothing of recent history? Has he been asleep for forty years? Doesn’t he know that British politicians have been talking about reforming the EU from within for decades? And have uniformly and consistently failed, under both Labour and Tory administrations? Can’t he get it into his head that the other members of the EU actually believe in “Ever Closer Union”? Does he think it’s there in the Treaty of Rome just for fun?
Ed is like a man who joins a golf club, then says he really prefers tennis, so why not put a tennis court out there on that nice lawn in front of the Clubhouse (even though it’s the 18th green)? He’s like a man who gets on the bus to Edinburgh and then tries to persuade the driver and the passengers that it would really be a much better idea to go to Cardiff. Get real, Ed. The other guys bought tickets to Edinburgh because they want to go to Edinburgh. Face it: you’re on the wrong bus, and the only solution is to get off the bus and find a different one.
“We must remain in the EU to make sure our voice is heard in the rest of the world”. But Ed, it has exactly the reverse effect. On so many issues, we are simply lost in the belly of the Brussels Beast, adding the weight of our numbers to policy positions we profoundly disagree with. Like France’s knee-jerk protectionism. Perfect example: in the Doha Round talks in Hong Kong in 2005, British Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson found his free trade instincts overturned by French resistance. And then there’s the EU energy policy that will mortgage our children and bankrupt our grandchildren.
We’re told that the UK is “too small” to survive in a rough and tough world as an independent nation. But let’s make a comparison with, say, Canada. Canada has a population around half of ours, and despite its resource base, a smaller GDP than the UK. Does anyone think that Canada is lost and alone in a dangerous world? That it has difficulty in maintaining a separate currency, or in surviving and prospering alongside its much larger southern neighbour, the USA? Of course not. So why can the rather larger UK not do just as well as Canada?
EU apologists fear that the UK would be “isolated” outside the EU. But we are one of the most internationally-connected countries in the world. We’re a great global trading nation. We’re on the UN Security Council. We’re with NATO and the OECD and the IMF and the World Bank. Outside the EU, we’d be represented on the WTO, and we’d be part of a European free trade area. We’re in the G8 and the G20. We’re the leading member of the Commonwealth (which we have shamefully neglected, while its GDP has risen and now exceeds that of the €urozone). We would be more engaged with the real world, not less, if our influence were no longer strained through the Brussels blanket.
Ed’s speech is clearly an opportunist attempt to embarrass the Tories, and perhaps to appeal to the soft underbelly of British euroscepticism. It is also clearly doomed to failure. It’ll take more than that, Ed, to get people who believe in British independence to salute the Red Flag. You could start with an In/Out referendum. And a commitment to campaign for independence.