Dr Lee Rotherham is Director of the Red Cell, and is Executive Director of Veterans for Britain,
The Brexit result was not the consequence of a referendum campaign. It was the progeny of failure over many years – the failure of those seeking to make the EU suitable for our national needs. But also, the failure of those who identified its structural failures and attempted to fix them.
The Convention on the Future of Europe proved that the EU was collectively unreformable, only capable of giving birth to Frankenstein Federalism. In turn, the Cameron renegotiation then proved that the arrangement was also bilaterally unreformable. That left just one logical option for any voter unhappy with the status quo. And so, andiamo!
This does not mean to say as we ply our new independent route that we should now commit those lessons to the forgetful waters of Lethe. So in a new paper out for the Red Cell, we explore a key issue that has long gripped the public imagination – that of EU fraud, and what we need to remember as we plan for Brexit.
Four key points emerge. The first arises from the nature of EU fraud itself, and of its cousin, EU spending waste. In large part its cause can be attributed to a lack of psychological ownership of the money. What is seen as a donative comes from that collective anonymity known as ‘Brussels’. There is no such thing (quite yet) as an EU citizen, and thus no such individual as the fellow EU taxpayer who is being filleted. Since there is no obvious victim, it is psychologically easier for the culprit to snaffle the funds.
It is unlikely that the EU will see a seismic shift in such attitudes after Brexit, though one might hope otherwise. A deal that saw a rapid and major cut in UK money being funnelled into the system would certainly be a major incentive for more radical reformers to act, particularly from the major donor countries (the ones that get their own mini-rebates based on the UK one).
Of itself, that provides a strong moral and practical incentive for the UK to reduce its capital risk by slashing – indeed ending – what it contributes to any collective pot, especially to those cauldrons that feed leakier states. Or to put it another way, the more we are still paying in after Brexit, the bigger mugs we should feel for losing it in the future to waste.
This is not, secondly, to put all the blame on the EU institutions. As our paper explores through dipping into some quite extraordinary past audits and the Commission’s internal disciplinary reports, the EU bodies themselves have been rather problematic. That said, by far the majority of money gets spent through national systems rather than by the Commission. And here the UK is better than most, but is not an entirely unblemished paragon.
UK taxpayer money that cuts out the costly EU middleman after Brexit will need to be properly accounted for. That needs good management, but we should aspire to more. This quickly starts to fall into the marshland of whether we have a government that is yet capable of exploiting Brexit rather than simply administering it. On Whitehall’s current limitations and its glass ceiling on aspiration, some fundamental and salient points have been made of late by Francis Maude and by Dominic Cummings. Over the next five to ten years we need to remember that Brexit is not an end point but an opportunity – and we need the people in post to seize it, at the very least to shunt the tiller. Though where to find the Guderians capable of outflanking Maginot attitudes is a matter for other papers.
There is a third reason for reducing our exposure to these common funding mechanisms. It relates to its future policing. The fundamental problem with fixing the fraud is its predestined political baggage. Distrusting the willingness and/or ability of a number of states to address the problem, the Commission has been angling for two decades now for the introduction of a supranational entity to chase it. The European Public Prosecutor is already now written into the treaties. EPPO is a genuine ambition (the Commission has even set aside its own web page) and with its introduction will come the first element of a true supranational police service, turning the handle on the institutional and legal ‘FBI’ door for every other existing EU entity, starting with Europol. Which is all the more reason over the long term it would be a strategic error to pay into common EU budgets post-Brexit (not to mention remaining signed up to slices of Justice and Home Affairs).
Finally, we need to consider the EU whistleblowers themselves as a matter of profound human justice. As our paper explores, lifting the lid on EU fraud and scandal is not something done lightly. Indeed, it seems the handful of the more known cases are merely those individuals who are filmed doing the extra stadium lap at the end of the marathon. I have long been struck both by their sense of public duty, but also by the incredible stresses placed upon them by a system that is meticulous in its oppression across so many of the EU institutions. People like Robert McCoy (whose case formed a part of our study, as its key elements are all in the public domain) have been pummelled simply for speaking out over for what is right, ironically despite actually being supporters of the EU itself.
I believe the UK Government has a duty of care to EU whistleblowers, in particular those who are UK nationals, who stood up and paid a high price for defending the interests of the taxpayer. Whether you are pro-Brexit or pro-Remain, it is a matter of honour. And finally settling those accounts may leave some small legacy and hope for fraud battlers still cloistered deep inside the EU institutions, even after the UK has departed.