Eurosceptics are often accused of “banging on about Europe.” But the debate about Britain’s EU membership is about far more than some arcane disagreement carried on by ageing right wingers.
A Business for Britain study revealed last week that 65 per cent of UK law comes from the European Union. Anyone who cares about democracy should be very angry about that.
Because the EU debate is fundamentally about democracy. It is about who makes our laws. It is about whether unelected functionaries have the right to overrule elected governments.
Ultimately it is about competing visions of what Britain means: Are we to be a proud sovereign nation capable of making our own way in the world, or a mere province of a great European federation?
EU law overrules British law. In the Costa case of 1964, the European Court of Justice declared that members of the EU forfeit their sovereignty when there is a conflict with EU law:
“By creating a Community of unlimited duration, having its own institutions, its own personality, its own legal capacity and capacity of representation on the international plane and, more particularly, real powers stemming from a limitation of sovereignty or a transfer of powers from the states to the Community, the Member States have limited their sovereign rights, albeit within limited fields, and have thus created a body of law which binds both their nationals and themselves.”
In the EU we cannot control our borders. It makes no odds whether you are generally pro or anti immigration, your opinion simply doesn’t matter. The UK is bound by the EU’s ‘four freedoms’ (goods, services, capital and labour). No deviation is possible whilst we remain in the club.
We have no right to set our own trade policy. The Single Market is often called a Free Trade area. It is not. It is a customs union, which forces its members to adopt a common trade policy. Before we joined the Community in 1973, Britain had thriving trade links with the Commonwealth nations. When we joined the Single Market we put up huge tariffs against their goods, and much of this trade dried up.
Britain pays a net £12 billion a year to the EU. We pay around £20 million in total into the EU budget, customs duties and agricultural levies. The Commission memorably demanded an extra £1.7 billion last year when it changed it’s GDP measure to include black market activities like drugs and prostitution.
The EU pays us back a £3.3 billion rebate, a figure that would be far higher if Tony Blair had not cut it in exchange for reforms that never materialised. The EU also funds various programmes in the UK, effectively taking our money and spending it on things we didn’t ask for.
Democracy requires a demos, a people with a common identity. There is no common European identity. Those in Britain who think of themselves as ‘European’ first are a curious minority. Without a common ‘people’ to speak of, there can be no popular will and no democracy.
The Prime Minister hopes to renegotiate our relationship with the EU. Nothing less than a total rewriting of our relationship to Brussels will do.
Parliament must be sovereign, able to strike down EU law if it conflicts with British law, and not the other way around. Britain must be free to trade with any country it pleases, and to control it’s own borders. It is hard to see how Britain can remain a full member of the EU on these terms.
We cannot take back our democracy whilst Brussels dictates our laws to us and makes us pay for the privilege. If you care about freedom and democracy you should be “banging on about Europe” as loudly as you can. If enough people listen, perhaps we can have our country back.