The EU renegotiations have begun and I am as cynical as I have always been. I have always maintained that the referendum will be effectively rigged, the debate will be dominated by myth and fear mongering and the whole renegotiation exercise is a smoke screen designed to fool the public in a re-run of 1975. Now I think it is becoming clear that my suspicions are correct.
David Cameron has been on a tour of Europe and found resistance to the incredibly modest ideas he has put forward, even though nothing he is apparently striving to achieve will do anything to alter our relationship with the EU. Therein lies the problem, this renegotiation is spectacularly un-ambitious and half-hearted.
It was inevitably so, the Prime Minister is an ardent europhile, more so than any of his predecessors since Edward Heath. He has a vision of an expansive empire stretching to the Urals and has repeatedly called for Turkey to be accepted as a full member. He has already made it clear that he intends to campaign for Britain to remain a member and is set to ask for very little in return.
The diplomatic resistance towards the negotiations is all part of the phoney war. David Cameron now seems to be facing adversity, even with the piffling concessions he is looking for. Within a year or so, we will make some gains on welfare and other measures. Then victory will be declared and the concessions will be inflated in the media to appear as if they are a real coup, even though they were incredibly minor from the very beginning.
The Government already spurned the chance to preserve the independence of our legal system by opting back into a string of measures including the European Arrest Warrant. There seems to be no genuine desire to oppose integration beyond the superficial measure of opting out of the commitment to ‘ever closer union.’
What would please me and other sceptics? A loose association between the UK and the EU based on trade and cooperation would be acceptable terms of membership. I want Britain to be able to trade freely with countries around the world, to have an independent legal system, to be free of much of the regulatory burden, to be an independent diplomatic powerhouse with an independent foreign policy. I believe this is what most people want, because it would be better for Britain.
If the renegotiation concluded with the UK opted out of the diplomatic corps giving us diplomatic independence; having an autonomous trade policy; opted out of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy; with fiscal independence allowing us to keep the City free from EU regulation and be exempt from all common tax measures; opted out of the EU’s Area of Freedom Security and Justice (including the EAW) and with the sovereignty and supremacy of our parliament restored, then I would be totally satisfied.
That is, however, pure fantasy. Not one of these things is on the negotiating table and so for a sceptic there is simply no room for optimism. If we are not able to trade freely and enjoy economic freedom, if the Common Law is submissive to EU law, if we are still part of common policies which directly harm British interests, if Parliament is still a shell manipulated by the ‘invisible hand’ of EU power then this country is still, whatever superficialities designed to conceal the truth are in place, a province of a larger state.
Whether we are signed up to ‘ever closer union’ on paper or not, the direction of travel is still the same. Sceptics therefore must focus on putting forward their case and preparing for the great debate. The odds are stacked against us in every way imaginable.
The EU referendum campaign will be heavily weighted towards ‘in.’ David Cameron has confirmed that the referendum question is framed with a europhile bias because they have the positive sounding ‘yes’ vote. In a signal of intent, he has also lifted the election time purdah meaning that the whole power of the civil service will be making the case for continued EU membership. The ‘in’ camp also has a number of other factors in their favour.
They have the status-quo factor, all the major political parties back the EU and the full weight of the mass media will swing in favour of staying in too. Even the sceptic papers will surprise you by creating a fanfare over whatever concessions are made and backing an “in” vote. Watch this space; sceptics will be left awkwardly associated with the Daily Express.
Financially there will be absolutely no fair play; all the big money and vested interests will be on the side of the ‘in’ campaign. Sceptics hoping for a fair fight should stop fooling themselves, it is not forthcoming. Sceptics will be marginalised, ridiculed and caricatured as mad, eccentric or regressive. This is going to be a dirty fight which, I am sorry to say, sceptics are likely to lose, but in order to give ourselves a fighting chance we have to argue our point robustly and offer a positive alternative vision.
Those who place their faith in the negotiations do not realise that the new relationship they seek can only be achieved by leaving. Those who want a ‘reformed’ EU are mostly concerned with retaining access to the single market, but we do not need to be in a political union to maintain access. A major pre-occupation of the ‘in’ campaign will be to suppress knowledge of the European Free Trade Association, which Britain actually founded, and could easily become a member once again. We would then, along with the rest of the EFTA members (except Switzerland) become EEA members.
The main complaint that constitutes the ‘in’ camp’s only real argument against EFTA and EEA membership is that these countries have to follow all the EU’s rules without having any say in how they are made. This argument is overblown and must be combated.
Increasingly it is global bodies higher than the EU that are making the rules and regulations that the single market follows. On most of these global bodies, EFTA members sit as independent nations and represent themselves. They are able to argue their own case according their own national interests. They have direct influence while Britain does not have a seat at the negotiation table; it is merely one voice among 28.
Overall, by sitting independently on the global bodies that are increasingly regulating international trade, as well as being able to independently negotiate trade deals with countries across the world, Britain will increase its economic power and influence as an independent nation. Furthermore, our domestic economy will be free to repeal internal regulations imposed by the EU if we so wished, allowing us to liberate our economy.
If this sounds to you like an attractive future for Britain, that’s because it is, hence why the ‘in’ campaigners will try and keep that option out of the public imagination and cloud it in falsehoods. It is an option that allows us to maintain the free movement of goods, services and people while gaining economic and political independence.
The British people are too cautious to countenance losing access to the single market. The warnings and threats being sounded in the business world have brought me to this conclusion. Similar threats were made in the campaign to scrap the pound, but this time the uncertainty and fear factor is attached to the side that are arguing for change. EFTA membership is one of the strongest alternative futures that sceptics can offer people who are fearful of the risk of secession
This is a steep uphill struggle, a rigged game that we seem destined to lose; but we must not forget that, potentially, our argument is very strong. For it isn’t just economic, diplomatic and legal freedoms we are fighting for, it is our democracy itself!
A vote for ‘in’ is a vote for the post-democracy age. The EU is an empire set upon the dissolution of national democracy. We have witnessed unelected governments being imposed on Italy and Greece, referenda being bypassed in Ireland and France and increasingly the economic policies of nations being dictated from Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin. Is this really the future Britain wants for itself?
The ordinary voter in Europe has no influence whatsoever on EU policies, legislation or governance. The political system of the EU is specifically designed to centralise power and minimise the influence of the electorate.
The EU parliament is an illusion of a democratic legislature. MEPs are selected by their party and have little incentive to do anything other than what their party tells them. Even if the electorate could actually choose the candidate they wish to be their MEP, like the whole EU parliament, is impotent because they cannot appoint commissioners and they merely ‘suggest’ laws.
The real power is within the unelected commission and with the plethora of unelected officials and bureaucrats that are appointed and are in no way accountable to the people they govern. They are not accountable to the people and cannot be removed by the people. This, I believe, is a message that the British people must hear loud and clear if we are to win.
Do we want to be a dynamic, independent, free trading nation-state, or a province? Do we still believe in democracy, that those who rule in our name should be elected by us, accountable to us and ousted at will by us? Or are we happy to surrender our democracy and elect glorified governors and administrators in meaningless elections? Do want to conserve our customs and the elements of our political and legal culture that make us distinct, or be part of a homogeneity? These are the questions that must be put to the British people.
I have a great belief in Britain. We are not a nation of defeatists willing to be governed by defeatists. We are not, I sincerely hope, a nation that has terminally lost faith in itself and is ready to be subsumed and become a mere vassal. We are a great, proud nation and still, I firmly believe, an outward looking independent minded nation that can shape a bright future for itself.