John Redwood is a former Secretary of State for Wales, and is MP for Wokingham.
Our principal partners in the EU think they have been generous in granting some limited opt outs to the UK. They resent the “special” deal the UK has over the size of our financial contribution. They want us to pay even more than the large sums we currently pay. Many of them think in due course the UK should join the Euro. They would like us in the Schengen common frontier area. Meanwhile they ensure the freedom of movement rules operate in such a way that we do in effect share common borders with the rest. They do not like the UK’s island approach, seeking to keep some clear water between us and the continent on a range of matters.
Worse still, if we voted to stay the EU would make two constant claims. They would firstly portray the renegotiation deal as another special set of favours, and would expect favours back once the vote was won. Secondly, they would presume that because the UK had voted to stay in they could now make us do as they wished, because we no longer have a realistic chance of leaving. Now so much proceeds by qualified majority it will be difficult to avoid new impositions. As the Treaties afford such wide ranging powers, the UK can look forward to more bad losses of case in the European Court of Justice.
We know what the EU has in mind. It has all been set out in the Five Presidents’ Report, published on the official EU website last summer. They want to complete a banking, capital markets, social and political union. The seek a Euro Treasury, will want larger common budgets, and will move to sending more money from the richer parts of the union to the poorer parts. The UK is seeking an architecture of the new EU that leaves all the centralising measures, the Treasury and the full banking union as a matter for the Euro countries. There is, however, no strong formal separation of the Euro group from the rest in the Treaties, and all too often matters that are properly for Euro members are considered by all 28. The most recent unfortunate example was the insistence that the UK contributed to a short term loan to Greece when we had been promised we would not be part of any Euro country bail out. Instead of recognising that only Euro member states should be part of that discussion and part of the loan, the rest of the EU agreed to indemnify the UK against loss on its share of the loan as a one-off. In future will the EU be so obliging?
Daily we lose powers to the EU as they regulate and issue new Directives. Every new law of the EU takes away part of our capacity to make our own laws and decisions. Worse still, we can only change or improve these laws if we get the agreement of a weighted majority of all other member states. This is not available for repeal or for reducing the burden of unhelpful or unsuccessful laws in any important case.
Our parliamentary democracy has thrived on the important principle that one parliament cannot bind a successor parliament. This means that the pressure of public opinion and the power of the public to remove MPs from office at elections ensures that UK voters can change laws and policies they do not like. A new government formed after an election critical of the status quo can set about righting the wrongs the public wish to see altered. Now that many of the policies we do not like come from Brussels we can no longer change them in an election. A new government is simply informed that these matters are under EU control and the EU does not plan to alter them. So for years we suffered with a Common Fishing Policy that damaged our fishing grounds and was condemned on all sides in the UK. We presently live with a migration and borders policy that most people wish to alter but cannot thanks to the EU. Parliament wishes to remove VAT from tampons. Even in this central area of taxation the UK Parliament is not allowed to do so.
There are only two ways to prevent the EU taking more power and demanding more compliance to the centralising tendencies. The simplest and best is to leave. The second is to negotiate a series of opt outs from the existing treaties. Simply waiving the phrase “ever closer union” without formally changing the treaty does little. If you wish to genuinely exempt the UK from ever closer union it requires a major rewrite of the UK’s version of the treaty, as the whole consolidated treaty of the EU is a centralising charter delivering huge powers to EU institutions. The UK would need a watertight treaty-based opt out from the many powers that enable the EU to choose some of our taxes, require us to accept freedom of movement, control our fishing and farming, direct our flooding and water management policies and much else besides.
The original EU membership was sold as membership of a trading club, designed to lower barriers and help us buy and sell. It was never just that. Over the years the extent of the ambition has become clearer. The main continental countries do want a United States of Europe, with a single currency, banking system, a flag, anthem, president, political union and much else besides. The British people have never bought into that vision. They are now hearing from the Remain side that there is nothing to fear from remaining in the EU. The Remain side poses in moderate Eurosceptic dress, saying they don’t want the Euro and don’t like Schengen either. They try to imply it is still just a trading club. They need to answer how the UK could protect what is left of its democracy if we stay in, and how we could respond to the wild ride to political union.
The irony is that were we to stay in we would shortly afterwards be plunged into new major rows about the direction of the EU. They say they want treaty change later this decade to complete the political union. To stay true to the mythical vision of a trade club the UK would have to veto that treaty, throwing the EU into confusion and annoying our partners. Were we to accept parts of the political union agenda that would trigger another referendum in the UK. That would likely result in Out, as people saw just how misleading the comments of the Remain side had proved from the previous vote.
It’s better to spare us and them the anguish of a reluctant UK trying to hold up the direction of travel of the rest of the EU. Leaving now would be good for us, but it would also be good for them. Then they can get on with completing their ever closer union without the UK trying to slow it down.