The UK government booklet claims that Britain has “secured a special status in a reformed EU”. Two questions immediately leap to mind: 1) What is “special” about Britain’s EU status? 2) In what sense has the EU been “reformed”?
Does anybody believe that Britain can maintain its membership in the “ever closer union” club without participating in “ever closer union”? If you think that Britain’s government should be subordinate to a supreme government for Europe that is not accountable to any national electorate then remaining in the EU is the choice for you.
But the British government should be clear about the fact that remaining in the EU means that British institutions will be subordinate to the supranational EU—in which the European Commission has the sole right of initiation; the UK has 12.6 percent of the vote in the Council of the EU; around nine percent of the vote in the European Parliament; roughly nine percent of the vote in the European Council; and the European Court of Justice is the highest court in the land.
The assertions that follow are either meaningless or misleading. First, “we will not join the euro”, says the UK government booklet. The only way to be sure of that of course is to leave the EU. While Britain remains an EU Member State, euro membership will continue to exert a peculiar pull on Britain’s political class—and almost nobody else. Poke the more serious remainers hard enough (not even that hard) and they will concede that they foresee Britain one day giving up its own currency. Who can forget the prior statements from politicians and corporate bosses about the “need” for Britain to abandon centuries of monetary and fiscal independence? What would protect the currency from the europhile claque right at the top of British politics once emboldened by a vote to remain?
Second, “we will keep our own border controls”. It is a peculiar myth that has been allowed to assume totemic status that Britain does not have its own border controls. Indeed, one of the key reasons why Britain should leave the EU is to shift the focus of attention away from the idea that mass immigration was imposed on the UK by the EU. It was not. British politicians should account to the British electorate for the decisions that they make and if people do not like the policies that the government pursues we should have the power to turf out the old lot and elect politicians who will address peoples’ legitimate concerns.
Third, “the UK will not be part of further European political integration”. This will not be in the power of the British government to prevent should Britain remain an EU Member State. Decisions taken by the avowedly political European Court of Justice confer ever more power upon EU institutions. Legislation passed by the European Parliament and the European Council defines the policy-framework within which the British government is able to act domestically and on the world stage. Not a single policy area was reclaimed for Britain as part of Mr Cameron’s faux renegotiation. Trade, agriculture, fisheries and competition policy remain exclusive EU competencies, while other important policy areas such as energy and the environment remain so-called shared competencies. The reach of the EU institutions is far greater than most people realise, and the UK government leaflet does nothing to educate people about these important facts.
The last two claims in the leaftlet can be dealt with together—“there will be tough new restrictions on access to our welfare system for new EU migrants” and “we have a commitment to reduce EU red tape”—as both are equally silly. I mean, seriously, is this the best that the government can do?
Even by David Cameron’s own standard, this is remarkably weak stuff. Even as somebody with an unshakeable commitment to Britain’s EU exit, I expected better.