In Strasbourg, I often attend meetings of the Kangaroo Group. I admire their commitment to free trade, while rejecting their passion for European integration (they don’t seem to see the contradiction between the two objectives). I get to learn a lot about current developments, while enjoying the opportunity to wind them up on issues close to the UKIP agenda. In fact I think they rather appreciate having the occasional contrarian intervention, to add a little spice to their usual bland diet of consensus.
Yesterday (Wednesday) we heard about the Commission’s plans to harmonise the protection of trade secrets across the EU, and for once the approach was incremental, using established practice from many member-states and recognising that some areas which might be difficult to harmonise (like criminal sanctions) were best left to national governments. For once, it didn’t look like a power-grab. I commended the Commission on its unusually modest and reasonable approach, and suggested that on these terms, a future British government after Independence Day might even wish to cooperate, although on strictly voluntary and inter-governmental terms.
This, of course, was a deliberate wind-up. The idea that the UK may well leave the EU is slowly gaining ground in Brussels, and naturally I do all I can to promote it. My intervention was greeted with a certain amount of nervous laughter.
But of course the idea that Britain might leave the EU is anathema to most British MEPs, and especially to the Lib-Dems. The noble Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP reacted with fury. Ignoring protocol – in such events we all speak through the Chair – she burst out “And why do you think they would talk to us at all?”. Normally I too stick to the protocol, but this was too much. I responded: “If you don’t know that, Lady, you have no business to be here at all”. (The use of the term “Lady” in this context was neither ironic nor discourteous – she is, after all, a Baroness). I immediately Tweeted: “Memo to Sarah Ludford: The reason the remnant-EU will still talk to us after Independence Day? We shall be their largest export customer!”
And I sent her an e-mail: “You ask why the EU would want to discuss trade issues with the UK after Independence Day. I suspect you know the answer perfectly well – at least you ought to. But let me spell it out. The UK is, and will remain, the largest export customer of the remnant-EU, bar none. The largest in the world. So they will have no alternative but to cooperate with us. Don’t you worry. Those smart guys in Munich will still want us to buy their BMWs”.
Consider for a moment. The EU already has in place a Free Trade Agreement with Korea (I had dinner with a delegation from the Korean National Assembly yesterday, and will be meeting them again today). Korea’s GDP is $1,130 billion. The EU is negotiating a free trade deal with Canada (GDP $1,820 billion). The UK economy is bigger than either ($2,435 billion). And it’s a lot closer. And, as I said to the Baroness, the UK is both the EU’s largest customer, and its largest net customer, in the world. Bar none. The idea that after we leave, the remnant-EU would turn its collective back on its biggest export customer is simply absurd.
Baroness Ludford stands as an example of the way that Europhiles in general, and Lib-Dems in particular, allow their passionate obsession with the European dream to stand in the way of common sense. In a previous life, I spent a number of years running businesses in Korea, and I am happy to be a member of the European parliament’s interparliamentary delegation to Korea (which is why I met last night’s visitors). But I look forward to the day when an interparliamentary delegation from the European parliament comes to Westminster, to visit a neighbouring but independent Britain. Maybe Baroness Ludford (wearing her House of Lords hat, and no longer her MEP hat) will be there in Westminster Hall to greet them.