It is hard to understand why our political leaders in the 1950s and 1960s came to the conclusion that Britain’s future lay in shackling itself to the European ‘project’. Some may have believed the post-war rhetoric about laying the foundations for lasting peace in Europe; others may have felt that entry to the Common Market, at the time apparently dynamic and growing, was the answer to Britain’s chronic economic under-performance. But this will not do. The leaders of the time were advised explicitly that entry to the EEC (as it was) implied significant and progressive loss of sovereignty and eventually the extinction of parliamentary democracy. Instead of confronting these facts, they chose to dissimulate and deceive. Edward Heath perhaps carries the primary guilt and shame; but he was one of many.
Why did they abdicate their responsibilities so cravenly? — responsibilities to the British people, to their history and to future generations? (of course neither Arthur Salter nor Edward Heath had children.) It is difficult for those of us born after the war to reconstruct their frame of mind. There was clearly, after Suez especially, a collective failure of confidence and of nerve in Britain. They were tired and diminished. Dean Acherson’s 1962 assertion that “Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role” perhaps cut deep; and the United States exerted significant influence, both overtly and behind the scenes: Monnet’s Action Committee for the United States of Europe was, as we now know, one of the vehicles by which the USA sought to brigade independent European nation states into a structure which mirrored their own federal constitution. (The USA continues to promote its own Great Power agenda in this direction today.) But these considerations do not greatly illuminate their deepest thoughts.
If those who took Britain into the EU were not, at heart, ashamed of their betrayal, why did they go to such lengths to conceal the real nature of what they were doing?
Critics complain about regulation emerging from ‘Brussels’: excessive ‘red tape’, limiting competitiveness and imposing pointless constraints. In fact, much of it is simply the result of the European Commission transposing into Community law regulation handed down to it from global bodies. A current example is the developing action on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS). This is an arcane subject, but instructive.
Governments in the developed world are increasingly concerned about companies shifting operations, revenues and profits between jurisdictions to minimize tax. Instead of reducing overall corporate tax burdens, they aim to limit companies’ ability to exploit favourable regimes and provisions. The G20 have taken the lead in this, asking the OECD to develop relevant proposals.
In early October 2015, the OECD presented its final proposals for “Reforms to the international tax system for curbing avoidance by multinational enterprises”. European Commisioner Pierre Moscovici welcomed these measures. He said, “We must now ensure that these measures are implemented consistently and coherently, to ensure a level playing field for all businesses and countries involved… I will continue to work with Member States to ensure that BEPS is implemented in a coordinated way within the EU, in order to enshrine fairness in our tax systems, protect governments’ revenues and safeguard EU competitiveness.”
When the UK government eventually implements these BEPS regulations, it may be presented as a UK initiative. Behind this, however, lies an EU initiative for consistent and coherent implementation. And behind this, it is the G20 which has told the EU what to do. This is increasingly the nature of regulation and legislation in a globalized world.
With one bound…
…Britain would be free.
Well, not exactly.
There is an instinctive, and understandable, belief among many who wish for Britain’s exit from the EU that if only we could leave then all our problems would be solved. Free trade: tick. Control of borders: tick. Parliamentary sovereignty restored: tick. Unfortunately (perhaps) the world is not as simple as that.
Most forces changing the world with which we are familiar are outside the control of politicians. They include technology, demographics and the cluster of developments largely built on these called globalisation. These mean that world trade is increasingly borderless; that consumers across the world are uninterested in national borders and boundaries; and increasingly that economic migrants from the third world are unwilling to accept their exclusion from the perceived good life in the west.
Britain’s exit from the EU would do nothing of itself to confront or manage these issues. We would still face all the challenges they bring. However, and this is the crucial point, exit would mean control, and accountabilty to the British people, of decisions taken to respond to these forces.
The European Union has kept the peace in Europe, especially as between Germany and France, for 70 years since the end of the Second World War. This is untrue. It’s the other way round.
Peace in Europe has allowed the European Union to set down roots, thrive and expand. And the source of this peace? One: the Marshall Plan, which from 1948-52 pumped hundreds of billions of dollars in current prices into Europe in order to “rebuild war-devastated regions, remove trade barriers, modernize industry, make Europe prosperous again, and prevent the spread of communism” (Wikipedia). Two: NATO. It’s probably unfashionable to admit, but the American commitment to NATO protected Europe, guaranteed security and eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet empire.
The EU today is the beneficiary, not the cause, of this dispensation.
Britain’s exit from the European Union would imply exclusion from the Single Market.
It’s a myth, and it seems to be one of the most powerful myths in the whole debate. The EU is not the Single Market, and the Single Market is not the EU. It is perfectly possible to participate in the Single Market without membership of the political construct which is the European Union, designed to progress to a United States of Europe.
Norway succeeds very well.
There is a febrile atmosphere around the broad pro-Leave constituency. Different groups and spokesmen are jockeying for position and announcing their ‘campaigns’. This is all rather predictable.
Under PPERA 2000, the Electoral Commission will in due course designate lead campaign organisation(s) for the referendum. The successful groupings will receive many benefits: public (ie taxpayer) funding; personal profile and publicity for their leaders; the opportunity to parlay formal designation into future commercial profit.
It is frustrating to see these distractions. They do not impact on what matters.
In the real world, the majority of the electorate are ignorant of the true nature of the EU, and at present seem largely indifferent to the issues involved in the referendum. The coming two years will require calm, consistent and determined work: to bypass the political froth, present the true nature of our membership of the EU, elaborate the argument for leaving, and mobilise a broad and irresistible constituency in favour of a positive, outward-looking and independent Britain.
The European ‘project’ has been built on deception for more than 70 years. From the beginning (long before the Second World War), Jean Monnet, Arthur Salter and others aimed to create a new form of government for a united Europe: one which transcended national legislatures and which would progressively suck the power from nation states, which they believed were outmoded, and eventually destroy them. This new European government would be technocratic, elitist and non-democratic. It would not need to be responsive to the wishes of its ‘citizens’; nor would it be accountable to them: they believed that ‘popular democracy’ was one of the main causes of the crises of the first half of the 20th century.
These founders of the European Union ran into some major setbacks later, as people began to realize the implications of their policies. Consequently they decided to proceed by deception: first, by proceeding step-wise, denying any fundamental unitary goal; second, by pretending that they were simply creating a ‘Common Market’, a free-trade area of sovereign cooperating states. This was a lie.
Edward Heath was guilty of the deception of the British people in two respects. His election manifesto in 1970 promised, in respect of the ‘Common Market’, “Our sole commitment is to negotiate; no more, no less”. But in 1972, without further consultation of the British people, Heath’s government passed the European Communities Act 1972 which paved the way for British entry into the EC. In the subsequent February 1974 General Election he continued to argue that Britain had joined what was simply a free-trade economic arrangement. This was despite the fact that henceforth all UK legislation, including primary legislation (Acts of Parliament) would have effect “subject to” directly applicable EU Law.
The European Union is built on deception and on contempt for the people and the peoples of Europe.
As we can see, EU leaders are preparing to push ahead with significant new moves toward political and economic union, including a single central bank, a unified fiscal regime, debt mutualisation and permanent, continuous fiscal transfers from the North to the South. These moves may be opposed in certain quarters — in particular by the Bundesbank and by German public opinion; but in the end they will be necessary steps towards a United States of Europe if the core eurozone is to survive.
In parallel will come formal recognition of ‘Associate Membership’, as foreshadowed in the Spinelli Group ‘Fundamental Law’ report. Associate Membership will be offered to the United Kingdom and Denmark, who have opt-outs from compulsory euro membership; and could also be offered to the members of the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland), in a move to ‘rationalise’ European political structures. These changes will require basic treaty change, the groundwork for which is already being prepared.
There are basically two ways of interpreting and implementing Associate Membership. In the first, the UK and others would be condemned to permanent second class status, subject to all the present disadvantages of EU membership but with increasingly little influence on EU decision-making in the future. In the second model, that of a ‘two-speed’ EU, Associate Members would be expected or required eventually to join the central core, including adoption of the euro. However, the precise implications of Associate Membership will not be clear until the treaty process is concluded.
This will take five years or more, taking us beyond the next UK General Election and beyond the point, probably in mid-2019, when Cameron has indicated he will stand down. So when Cameron offers the UK electorate Associate Membership as the outcome of his ‘renegotiation’ in 2017 (a) we will have no way of understanding its precise implications (b) there will be no basis for trusting that Cameron can deliver it, whatever it is.
Second class status or slow lane membership: both are unacceptable in principle.