It will come as no surprise to regular readers that your scribe is firmly in the “Leave” camp. As a twenty something in 1975 I voted for the UK to join what was then the European Economic Community. At that referendum the vote was two to one in favour and the EEC was seen in Blighty as more of a trading bloc than the full blown “Union” that it has attempted to become. Few people remember that our first application to join the club in 1963 was vetoed by Charles de Gaulle, who said, prophetically, “that the British government lacks commitment to European integration.”
In 1979 we had the beginnings of the march (down the slippery slope) towards a single currency with the establishment of the European Monetary System (EMS), the introduction of the European currency unit (Ecu) and the exchange rate mechanism (ERM). The Ecu was a unit for the community’s internal budget and also took on some of the features of a real currency; it was used for travellers’ cheques and bank deposits. The ERM gave national currencies an exchange rate band denominated in Ecus. All EC members joined except the UK.
In 1981, before even Spain and Portugal, Greece joined the EC and then in 1985 Jacques Delors, who along with Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellor, was the driving force behind the euro and a rabid campaigner for political integration, became President of the European Commission. In 1987 the Single European Act abolished national vetoes and in 1990 the UK joined the ERM only to leave unceremoniously in 1992. It was clear to anyone paying attention at the time that a one size fits all currency union could never work…
In between we had the signing of the controversial Maastricht Treaty. It paved the way for monetary union and included a chapter on social policy. The UK negotiated an opt out on both, as well as on the 1995 Schengen treaty on border controls, which was at the core of EU values in allowing freedom of movement across Europe; another example of generating significant unintended consequences as we are now witnessing.
In 1999 there was something of a crisis of confidence as Jacques Santer, the President, and all 20 commissioners resigned after revelations of fraud, nepotism and mismanagement. Romano Prodi became President promising radical change in the way the EU is run. It would be safe to say that he didn’t make much progress on that front as it is now over 20 years since any firm of accountants has been willing to sign off the Commission’s accounts. It was also in 1999 that the euro became the official currency, but it was not until 2002 that euro notes and coins were introduced. Since then the debate over closer fiscal and political union has raged and we have had some very close encounters with disaster although the Greeks and Cypriots will tell you that “disaster” would have been preferable…
Now the debate focusses on the UK. Does the EU need us and do we need the EU? It would be a huge blow for the EU were we to leave, but they will no doubt continue on their cozy (crazy?) undemocratically elected path to eventual currency oblivion and the UK will do very well thank you very much, watching from the other side of the Channel. Woodford Investment Management commissioned Capital Economics to produce a report detailing the pros and cons of in or out. Their conclusion, which you can read about here, is that it makes little difference to the UK economy, but to my mind the choice matters a great deal. The following passage (my emphases) taken from a statement by Michael Gove, making his reasons for going against his cabinet colleagues and voting to leave the EU, is an excellent summation of the reasons for us to go our own way.
The EU is an institution rooted in the past and is proving incapable of reforming to meet the big technological, demographic and economic challenges of our time. It was developed in the 1950s and 1960s and like other institutions which seemed modern then, from tower blocks to telexes, it is now hopelessly out of date. The EU tries to standardise and regulate rather than encourage diversity and innovation. It is an analogue union in a digital age.
The EU is built to keep power and control with the elites rather than the people. Even though we are outside the euro we are still subject to an unelected EU commission which is generating new laws every day and an unaccountable European Court in Luxembourg which is extending its reach every week, increasingly using the Charter of Fundamental Rights which in many ways gives the EU more power and reach than ever before. This growing EU bureaucracy holds us back in every area. EU rules dictate everything from the maximum size of containers in which olive oil may be sold (five litres) to the distance houses have to be from heathland to prevent cats chasing birds (five kilometres)…
Individually these rules may be comical. Collectively, and there are tens of thousands of them, they are inimical to creativity, growth and progress. As a minister I’ve seen hundreds of new EU rules cross my desk, none of which were requested by the UK Parliament, none of which I or any other British politician could alter in any way and none of which made us freer, better off or fairer.
It is hard to overstate the degree to which the EU is a constraint on ministers’ ability to do the things they were elected to do. I have long had concerns about our membership of the EU, but the experience of Government has only deepened my conviction that we need change. Every single day, every single minister is told: ‘Yes Minister, I understand, but I’m afraid that’s against EU rules’. I know it. My colleagues in government know it. And the British people ought to know it too: your government is not, ultimately, in control in hundreds of areas that matter.
We are the world’s fifth largest economy; an economy that is more dynamic than the Eurozone, we have the most attractive capital city on the globe, the greatest “soft power” and global influence of any state and a leadership role in NATO and the UN. Are we really too small, too weak and too powerless to make a success of self-rule? On the contrary, the reason the EU’s bureaucrats oppose us leaving is they fear that our success outside will only underline the scale of their failure.
Does this matter to you? I do hope so. I’ll be “leaving” on the bus on June 23rd; will you come and join me?
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