The first thing to say about Cameron’s promise of a Brexit referendum is that he would never have offered it without UKIP’s stunning success in the 2014 euro-elections, where we became the leading party in terms of vote share and number of MEPs. Of course Cameron was also under pressure within his own party, but it is clear that the rise and rise of UKIP focused his mind on the issue.
So he has promised to seek “reform” of the EU. He seems unaware of (or unconcerned about) the fact that for forty years, British politicians have argued that “we should stay in the EU and fight for reform”, and yet have abysmally failed to achieve any meaningful reform. Harold Wilson in 1975 claimed to have a new deal, but his few cosmetic changes are long forgotten: the dogs have barked, and the EU juggernaut has moved on. The EU simply doesn’t do reform.
Nor have there been meaningful reforms in recent years. Instead, an ever-rising tide of regulation and red tape which is trammelling industry and economic growth.
Those who study the Heritage Foundation’s annual “Index of Economic Freedom” will noted the strong correlation between economic freedom, and growth and prosperity. The EU is moving in the opposite direction, and its long-term relative economic decline speaks volumes about policy failure.
Indeed, the EU has developed a narrative of failure. The Common Fisheries policy – always about to be reformed – has decimated fish stocks and destroyed the British fishing industry, both on the water, and land-based processing. The euro currency has been (as Lord Lawson has said) “the most disastrous political adventure of the post-war era”, spreading poverty and despair over large parts of Southern Europe. And today we see the debacle of the immigration crisis, exacerbated by the EU’s inept response: Angela Merkel said “Let ‘em all come”, but in weeks the high-flown rhetoric had collapsed into razor wire and holding camps.
Those still clinging to the European dream seek to frighten us. Leaving the EU would be “a leap in the dark” – despite the fact that most countries for most of history have been independent, and that countries like Canada and Norway and Singapore and Korea do very nicely without abandoning their independence.
“Three and a half million jobs are at risk”. This canard has been repeatedly debunked, not least by the NIESR which originally produced the figure. The jobs depend on trade, not membership, and trade will continue.
“We need to be in the Single Market”. But the Single Market is merely an old-fashioned Customs Union overlaid by a mountain of excessive regulation. Countries like China, Russia, and the USA have no difficulty exporting into the EU (and they don’t even have preferential trade agreements). Neither does Korea (which does have an FTA, as the UK will have when we leave).
“We won’t be part of TTIP”. Indeed, not. But outside the EU we should have had a UK/US trade deal decades ago. And if Switzerland and even little Iceland can reach trade deals with China, the UK as a top-ten economy can certainly do so.
So, to the negotiations. I believe that David Cameron has backed himself into a corner. In the UK, he’s raised expectations of a new deal. In Brussels and across the EU, he’s finding that there is no appetite for treaty change, which anyway could not be delivered within his 2017 time-scale. So he’s asked for more than Brussels will offer, but it’s still far short of what the country and his critics expect.
UKIP (and many other eurosceptics) want a relationship based solely on free trade and voluntary intergovernmental negotiation. We want to be good neighbours, not bad tenants. That is more than Cameron is prepared to ask. But he should at least ask for reinstatement of the Maastricht opt-outs that Major negotiated and Blair gave away – especially on employment law. We also want national control back on energy, environment, and Health & Safety. He must insist on border control, for a nation which cannot control its borders is no nation at all. He must demand a full and unequivocal Westminster veto on EU legislative proposals. And we need our fisheries back.
Cameron will not demand these things, and Brussels could not countenance them. That is why we must leave.
What will be the outcome of the referendum? The euro crisis, nightly on our television screens like some malign soap-opera, certainly helps the out case, as does the immigration crisis – immigration is at the top of the list of voter concerns. But the out side has another ace-in-the-hole, and that’s differential turnout. To paraphrase Yeats, “The ins lack all conviction, while the outs are filled with passionate intensity”.
Those who support EU membership do so mostly on the basis that “I suppose we have to”, whereas the eurosceptics believe passionately in the independence and self-determination of our country – and in the economic benefits of freedom.
Six months ago, I feared we would lose the referendum. But today, I’m increasingly optimistic that we shall win.
This article appears at www.endeavourpublicaffairs.co.uk/the-brexit-referendum