Britain should leave the EU to make our politics more democratic and our government more accountable. Everything else is a sideshow. Whatever the short-term costs may be, there is nothing that could not be managed better by bringing decision-making power closer to the people and through more active engagement at the global level.
To that end, this post seeks to address many of the points that are often raised with respect to the idea of accepting an EFTA/EEA type of trading relationship as part of a post-exit transition to a longer-term settlement.
Let’s be serious for a moment. Leaving the EU may not result in any immediate cost-savings. The money that we presently pay into the EU budget would be deferred rather than saved and there is every likelihood that the EU would insist upon budget contributions continuing at the current level at least until the start of the next funding round. The UK government has made commitments and it is because of our respect for the rule of law and the sanctity of contract that Britain heads the world soft power index.
In other words, an independent UK would continue to support British agriculture and provide regional development funds to the underdeveloped parts of our own country as well as to post-Communist Eastern Europe. We would also continue to participate in science and social programmes in collaboration with our EU partners.
There may be savings to be made through more efficient administration and reduced bureaucracy, but cost reduction is not a key reason to leave the EU. I’m not sure it would even make my personal top ten “reasons to leave” list. Even if EU membership cost the country only £9.99 a year, I would still want to leave. It is sacrificing self-governance for supranational subordination that I find objectionable, not the membership fee.
With regard to immigration, there is much more that the UK government could and should be doing to reduce the “pull factors” that attract such large numbers of people to this country. Properly enforcing occupancy rules at the local level is just one example of a measure that would help to increase the cost of living for migrants to something like the normal level.
These enforcement issues are as much a matter of political will as anything else. A vote to leave the EU would send a strong signal to the UK government to pay serious attention to people’s legitimate concerns. Leaving the EU also places the responsibility for the current policy squarely where it belongs—at the feet of Parliament and the UK government. Politicians would no longer be able to fob voters off with the bogus notion that the EU “makes us” do such and such. EU membership is an active policy choice made by Parliament, something that MPs impose on us, not something that is imposed upon them.
Free of the EU, Britain would also be empowered to take an independent stance in global forums and to table proposals to reform the conventions that are driving mass migration to unsustainable levels. Immigration is a global concern and should be dealt with at that level as well as at the local, national and regional level. The EU’s “common position” restrains the ability of the UK government to act in the British interest and for the common good.
The claim that EFTA/EEA member states have “no say” over what are sometimes called “EU rules” is one of the most egregious lies told by the Remain campaign. It would be true to say that Norway, for instance, has “no vote in EU institutions” but that is not the same as having “no say”.
The EEA agreement has a two-pillar structure in which EU and EFTA members participate. EFTA members also play a full role in joint committees and are equal participants in a process known as “decision-shaping”.
In addition, the EEA acquis is one quarter the size of the EU acquis. Upon leaving the EU, Britain would regain policy control over crucial areas such as trade, aid, agriculture, fisheries, energy and the environment. We would also be free to determine our own level of foreign affairs and defence co-operation.
The so-called “emergency measures” contained in the EEA agreement also allow EFTA members to unilaterally suspend any of the four freedoms for a period. This is akin to the “emergency brake” that David Cameron failed to bring back as part of his “renegotiation”—and it does not require the assent of EU institutions in order to use it.
Taking the point about having a say several stages further, the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade has changed everything with respect to regulation. Article 2.4 says: “Where technical regulations are required and relevant international standards exist or their completion is imminent, Members shall use them, or the relevant parts of them, as a basis for their technical regulations”. That little word “shall” transforms the relationship between global bodies and the EU, placing independent nation-states at the forefront of the regulatory agenda.
In his Bloomberg speech, David Cameron said: “Our participation in the Single Market, and our ability to help set its rules is the principal reason for our membership of the EU.” The Prime Minister would do well to read my previous post explaining that the EU is not the Single Market. Even more important however is the WTO TBT Agreement and the combined effect of the Vienna and Dresden Agreements which increasingly render the EU obsolete as a vehicle for making our voices heard.
The standards that are translated into Single Market regulations increasingly originate at the global level in bodies such as UNECE, Codex, the ILO, the IMO and the ITU. Independent nation-states have more power in these forums than any EU Member State—all of which are treaty-bound to adopt the EU’s “common position”. The real ‘top tables’ are at the global level and that is where Britain needs to be in order to ensure that British ideas are represented.
Remaining in the EU means sacrificing global power and self-representation in intergovernmental bodies where every vote is respected in return for so-called “influence” in the supranational EU where decisions are taken under a system of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) in which, if you are in the minority, you can be overruled. That really would be resiling from the world and I fear for what would happen to our much diminished political discourse when it is understood that the politicians lied to us in order to hand policy-making power to people who are not accountable to any electorate.
After Brexit the power to make our own trade, aid, agricultural, fisheries, energy and environmental policies would be returned to Parliament. The greater autonomy and agility of our domestic institutions would force British governance to become more adaptable and accountable to the needs of the people. Indeed, with the ability to sack the government back in British hands, we would have a proper say in setting the agenda at both national and local level, and the politicians would have to listen to us. Moreover, we would have no choice but to get real, focusing on policies and not personalities, changing for the better the culture of debate and deliberation that plays such a crucial part in any self-governing democracy.