Dr Lee Rotherham is an author, historian and political campaigner, who has served as a TA reservist on three overseas deployments. He is on the Approved EU Candidates List.
A recent poll offers some intriguing
statistics on where the public may currently stand on the UK’s relationship
with the EU. Open Europe, which
commissioned the study, interpreted it as backing a policy of renegotiation over
an immediate exit.
Looking at the polling data in the annex, it seems to me that
the results are more nuanced. It does suggest the mood leans more towards
backing the “significant return of powers to Westminster” over outright
withdrawal. But notably, though, around two thirds of those questioned either
wanted straight out, or a major shift in the terms of the deal (without
exploring in treaty parlance if that amounts to the same); only one in four
either appear happy as things stand or want more basting in the EU sauce.
But then, quite remarkably and rather less flagged up as a
detail, the responses also show that six in ten of those questioned also believe
it unlikely that the UK will get the changes it wants. So it appears to indicate
a pessimistic majority might be prepared to give it a go and see what happens,
but stoically expect that after being reasonable, gentlemanly and very British
about it all we’ll have to quit anyhow. The destination along either route
would then be identical; a new deal and a positive end result whose rationale
is set out for instance in this paper by David
Bounded by such a backdrop, here today is where the
Government’s review of the balance of EU competences is so critical. Given the
importance of the initiative it’s quite remarkable that more credit hasn’t been
given for what amounts to a potentially revolutionary Whitehall study.
According to past newspaper reporting, there have been two official
attempts to try to quantify costs and benefits arising from EU membership, both
undertaken from within the Treasury, once in Ken Clarke’s day and once during
Gordon Brown’s. On both occasions they were reportedly quashed as soon as they
were uncovered, a detail that of itself commends the initiative and makes you
wonder in which windowless bunkers and stationary cupboards those forlorn and
heroic staff now are.
A new phase in this Government’s review has just been announced. You
can find for instance DEFRA’s call for submissions here, and
that page also links across to the other departments. I wholeheartedly
recommend to ConservativeHome readers that they consider contributing.
I don’t mean firing off a text the size of War and Peace, containing the testy diatribes
that occasionally blast across the comments sections like a Siberian gale. By
contrast, many readers will know from firsthand experience what EU regulations
have meant to them personally and have something precise and actionable to
contribute. It may be that red tape has blighted their business, their charity,
community or church group. Perhaps some legislative burden or VAT surcharge has
hindered their expansion or stopped their activities. A single page contributed
here and there, explaining in detail how the man in Brussels really doesn’t
know best, will start to add up. From that, ministers will be able to draw up a
more coherent list of the tangible damaging effects of EU membership, and begin
to work out what competences (as the poll question puts it) are “significant”
and need to be brought back. The spreadsheet, I predict, will be immense.
It might of course be the case that readers identify some
area where EU legislation has helped. Let’s have that too. The audit should
contain both sides of the ledger so that the appraisal can be full and true.
The question before us is one of balance, and where it tips. No Eurosceptic has
anything to fear from a frank review of the national interest, since we do not
need to be tethered to a federal Europe to occasionally cooperate with our
It’s in this spirit of positivity that I’ll be sending in a
study by the European Commission. In late 2012, DG Enterprise and Industry
conducted a consultation
exercise with small businesses to try to identify which regulations they
found most irksome. This appears not to have received the attention it merits,
and can be extended to identify equally well which EU competences are of
concern to SMEs at least.
The top ten troubles as it turned out were regulations on chemicals;
customs controls and formalities; direct taxation issues; Health and Safety at
work; organisation of working time; product
safety including labelling; public procurement rules; recognition of
professional qualifications; rules on the transport of goods; VAT; and waste
legislation. Some are those are very surprising given the purported benefits of
EU membership. The wider list, and extended across all those affected by EU
activities, is of course far bigger.
ConHome readers might find the four pages of the
questionnaire, prompting possible red tape nightmares the small businessman
might identify, a useful starting point for working out how the EU has impacted
on their own lives. A sensible measure though may be to follow the telling
advice of the Commission official, anticipating the torrent about to be
unleashed; “Please indicate the areas
where EU regulation is the most burdensome (MAX 10!)”
Can we guarantee change will follow the audit, that full
sentence will follow judgement of our EU woes? Of course not. But inertia is a
given if people affected by directives and regulations don’t share their
expertise and experience, and speak out. Here’s a chance to put the problems
fully on record and display. Let’s not waste it.