Dr Lee Rotherham is an author, historian and political campaigner, who has served as a TA reservist on three overseas deployments.
“The purpose of electing a government is for it to govern. It is manifestly clear that no elected British government is now in control of its own house. Far too much governance has been conceded over the years to an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels.”
So writes Sir Bernard Ingham in the foreword to my latest publication for the excellent Freedom Association – Manning the Pumps – and in so doing demonstrating how egregiously he was overlooked for David Cameron’s accolade of “greatest living Yorkshireman”.
What else may Downing Street have missed? On the Europe issue over the past several years, evidently much. UKIP’s rise has been neither unpredicted nor unexpected, while the Conservative Party has developed a reputation for managing expectations over EU integration, rather than forthrightly wedging wooden footwear into the spinning cogs.
A central problem is there are inherent practical limits to what can be achieved inside the European system. The EU no longer works on veto terms, as John Major painfully found out over BSE, and there have been three EU treaties since. Bad decisions reached at Brussels reflect poorly on ministers no longer able to block them, and increasingly obliged either to try to ferry them unapologetically through Parliament or, more cynically, to adopt them as Whitehall’s own (and which partly explains much of the gold plating).
Furthermore, Conservative successes themselves have been tempered. For each key JHA item opted out of under the Stockholm Process, there’s a counterpart being opted back into. For the achievement of setting up the referendum trigger, there’s the senselessness of a minister officially endorsing the Europe for Citizens programme. For all the significance of a commitment to holding a referendum on a renegotiation settlement, there is scarcely a whiff of what might prove to be a matter for discussion, let alone what change might generate acceptable terms.
Staying in communion with the Cult of Ever-Closer Union continues to implicate you in the Original Sin. Are we surprised then that voters interpret ambiguity as indifference, and plump to punt on an alternative party with plainer pledges and guarantees that are apparently rust-free?
So what is to be done? In my paper, I look at 20 approaches for the Party to adapt; and I also suggest some new models to help us reconsider rethink the essentials of European association and advantage – the maths behind our national interest.
The 20 points can here be covered swiftly, as they are essentially about injecting steroids into the Party’s manifesto, and applying common sense to the way it manages itself. Cigarette packs may have more space on them now due to plain packaging, but that’s no reason to use them to write policies on. EU-related policies (as over immigration/employment) have to be composite, coordinated, and with solutions that run across departments.
We also need to correct a massive omission in the Division of Competences Review, and commission a flash cost-benefit analysis of EU membership – and with it, of alternative forms of association. It should be quick, fair, and admit known gaps. We need to establish a base threshold for what Conservative negotiators want to achieve, to demonstrate that a Conservative Government would not step into Harold Wilson’s pantoufles and settle for a couple of tweaks à la 1975. The problem is circular: the renegotiation engine currently has no steam in it, and isn’t being coaled by the FCO because it doesn’t have any minister stoking it.
This this takes us to the key element: admitting what is possible if we don’t simply look at tweaking the current treaties, but address our wider national and trading interest. The question is not about BREXIT, but BRENTRY – British entry once again into the truly global market and diplomatic scene.
So the second part of the paper contains some new material on assessing treaty value.
The image I use comes from astronomy. There is a small section of orbit distance around a star that suits life on a planet. It’s called the “Goldilocks Zone”. Too close to the sun and the seas boil away; too far, and they freeze. But there is a habitable zone where the temperature is just right and life can flourish. Similarly, there is a small range of treaty terms that is where the UK is best in orbit around Brussels. We’re not in that Goldilocks Zone with our current terms. We need to identify that bandwidth then aim for it.
How might this be achieved? Firstly, I raise a formula to review if national interests mean full EU membership suits any given state. In some cases, it clearly doesn’t.
Then I look at the extent to which given countries benefit or lose from EU bureaucracy. Here we contrast individual national levels of red-tapery with the amount of their trade that goes to their EU neighbours. A country with less GDP arising from EU trade, and with a tradition of light-touch regulation, loses more competitiveness for less gain compared with a highly regulated economy surrounded by larger EU states. The UK, as it happens, scores very low in both these tables: its interests are badly met at present, and will get worse.
Then I explore the 15 existing forms and models of EU Association. These set out the variety of types of treaty association already possible when trading with the EU, and prove why our current one isn’t the only option even without asking for something bespoke.
With that list in mind, we then start to look at benefits and losses from changing from one sort of trade deal with the EU to another. From this, I hypothesize a “Freedom Curve” – a graph of optimal affiliation, as economic gains from closer integration start to be lost from administrative burdens and other social and political costs. In turn, we can then suggest what types of trade agreement form a “Goldilocks Zone” range for the UK. After this, we touch on transition, and getting there.
The long and the short of it is that the treaty changes we should be aiming for ought to be fundamental and broad in scope, looking across the entire list of treaty titles, and not adjusting a couple of unpopular directives. The changes need to take us out of our current heated “orbit” and much further away from the integrationist core. That current orbit in any event is decaying with every passing year.
Graphs and tables may seem like fairly dry and dusty stuff. In fact, though, it’s just some of the necessary foundation work for understanding what we want and what we are talking about achieving as a Party.
To return however to Sir Bernard in his foreword, “Clarity of purpose, and an unmistakeable determination not to take ‘Non’ for an answer are the minimum required.” The Conservative leadership needs to pioneer on the EU issue, not to follow in Whitehall’s 40 year old ruts.
Britain is the only country that can lead Europe’s Eurosceptics. The Conservatives are the only party that can take the UK Government down the path. Mr Cameron has the chance to be the man of the hour. But the clock is ticking, and British Summer Time ends tonight.