On Wednesday in Strasbourg I appeared live on the BBC News Channel alongside Labour MEP Richard Howitt from Eastern Region. He is (as he pointed out) my neighbour, across the East Midlands border. We’d been promised around four minutes, but in the end it seemed much shorter – I was very frustrated at the inadequate time I had to respond to his points. But he managed in about two minutes to come up with two whoppers on EU-related issues.
First there was the old chestnut that “3½ million British jobs depend on EU membership”. Howitt knows, or ought to know, that this is plain not true. Yet he and other EU apologists trot it out on a daily basis. It’s one of those wrong numbers (like the “97% of scientists who agree on man-made global warming) that have become part of the furniture on Planet Media, even though they have no basis in fact.
I dealt with this claim in detail on my blog in 2012, but to summarise: the figure is based on a report from the highly respected think tank NIESR, from as long ago as 1999, which estimated that 3.2 million UK jobs might depend on exports of goods and services in the EU. This was immediately seized upon by EU apologists, but subtly changed: the jobs no longer depended on exports, or trade, but on membership of the EU.
The then Director of NIESR, Dr. Martin Weale, angrily rebutted this travesty of his findings within twenty-four hours of it appearing, describing it as “pure Goebbels” (please note, Richard). Yet Howitt and others will be repeating it confidently throughout the current euro-election campaign, knowing it to be false: we must be ready to shoot it down in flames whenever it raises its head.
Their misrepresentation depends on the implicit, but false, assumption that trade in the EU depends on membership. Yet non-member states like the USA, China, Japan and Korea seem to have little difficulty in accessing the EU market. Ford have just moved their van manufacturing out of the EU to Turkey, which gives the lie to the myth that you must be in a member-state to trade. When we leave the EU we will of course have a free trade deal, and essentially much the same market access as we enjoy today. We can have the penny and the bun – all the trade without the onerous expense and regulation that goes with membership.
As I put it to Richard afterwards, the only jobs at risk when we leave the EU are his and mine (and 70 other UK MEPs).
Howitt’s second myth was to deny the link between the recent UK flooding and the EU (which Christopher Booker has described in detail). Howitt greeted my point with hoots of derision – “So now you’re saying that the EU caused the rain?!”. No Richard. That’s not what I said at all. But I thought it was what you believed, as an article of faith – that our wet winter was caused by Global Warming, which in turn is caused by CO2 emissions from industrialised countries like the EU.
Of course I never said that the EU caused the rain. I said that the flooding was caused by deliberate decisions taken by our Environment Agency, but in conformity with EU Directives, like the Water Framework Directive and the Habitats Directive, which deliberately prioritise wildlife, wilderness and wetlands ahead of people and homes and orderly agriculture. Directives like the Waste Directive, which prevents farmers from spreading dredged silt on their land as a useful, natural fertiliser, and requires instead that this valuable resource be disposed of as “waste” at great expense. So dredging becomes unaffordable, and homes get flooded. No, Richard, the EU didn’t cause the rain. But it did cause the flooding.
I can’t conclude without a reference to Baroness Young, who was Chief Executive of the Environment Agency from 2000 to 2008, after seven years as head of the RSPB. She was so keen to put wildlife ahead of people that she made what must rank as the most outrageous and irresponsible remark of the last decade. “Instant wildlife. Just add water”. So she did. And look where it got us.