The BBC reports that David Cameron has recieved the “backing” of the European Commission President Jose Manuel Borroso to “limit the number of new regulations coming out of Brussels”. Well whoopie doo. The snag is that some of us feel there is too much EU regulation already and that simply slowing the rate at which it increases is too modest an ambition.
If the Conservatives win the next election then surely the big story of Cameron’s second term will be his renegotiation of the terms of our EU membership, and whether or not it is enough to persuade the British people to vote to continue with our membership in the resulting referendum. At present, the polls suggest that most of us would vote to withdraw from the EU on the current terms. However, enough expect to be satisfied with the concessions offered to Mr Cameron that it is expected we will vote to continue our membership if that is something Mr Cameron recommends.
However, the scale of the changes that would be required for our EU membership to be in our national interest are immense. Vanity makes it hard for British politicians to concede how impotent they are in the face of EU rules. A referendum campaign would put all that under scrutiny.
This week the think tank Open Europe said that the 100 most expensive EU regulations cost the UK £27.4 billion. That is more that the the total revenue from Council Tax. Remember that is only the top 100 out of thousands. Also, this is from a think tank that favours continued EU membership and which used the rather cautious method of Whitehall impact assessment to estimate the costs. Business for Britain estimates that the cost of EU red tape has risen by £5 billion since 2011. Back in 2009 the annual price tag for our membership was put at £118 billion by Matthew Elliot.
If the only deal is that this huge cost will rise a bit more slowly, that will not inspire confidence. If part of the cost of new regulatiion will be offset by old regulation being eased that is not inspiring.
There is much talk about the “retail offer” the Conservatives will make to the electorate at the next election. A topical example is on energy prices. If the Conservatives wanted to scrap VAT on domestic energy bills (imposed when John Major was Prime Minister) they would not be able to under existing EU rules. The Labour Government reduced it from eight per cent to five per cent but that was as far as our EU masters would allow.
Part of the “retail offer” should be to scrap VAT on energy bills. If the EU doesn’t allow this, then we should leave the EU.
That is just one example of the concessions that would have to be achieved for our EU membership to be compatible with us becoming a self governing nation.
I have a high regard for David Cameron and he is more Eurosceptic than is generally appreciated. But the odds seem stacked against him securing a deal for our continued EU membership that either he, or the rest of us, could be happy with.