Monday, 15 February 2016

On Balance, Better Off Out, by Roger Godsiff MP

I do not take a hard line position either in favour of the UK’s leaving the European Union, or in favour of the UK’s remaining in the European Union.

The last time the British people were asked whether Britain should stay or leave was back in 1975 when the European Union was then a ‘Common Market’, which Britain had entered under the Heath Government in the early 1970s. 

The Common Market was essentially a free trade area and in the 1975 referendum I voted for Britain to remain as a member of the Common Market. 

Since 1975 the Common Market has evolved, radically, into a European Union, and this was cemented when Mrs. Thatcher signed the ‘Single European Act’ around 1986. 

According to her memoirs, and according to her political advisor at the time, John Whittingdale, who is now the Secretary of State for Culture, she was told by Foreign Office officials and European Commissioners that this was merely a tidying up exercise to bring to a conclusion the creation of the Single Market and had no other significance. 

Subsequently, once again according  to her memoirs, she realised that what she had done had much more significance and she openly admitted that she bitterly resented having allowed the legislation to go through the UK Parliament. 

At the same time, in the mid-1980s, the Trade Union movement and Labour Party, which had, until then, been sceptical about the whole concept of a European Union also signed up to it after the European Commission President, Jacques Delors, went to the TUC and told the Trade Union movement that the only way they could protect themselves against the ravages of Thatcherism, and her attacks on working people, was to seek the protection of the European Union.

Almost overnight, the majority of Trade Unions switched from being sceptical or anti-EU to being supportive of the institution. 

The coming into being of the European Union was a massive step away from the Common Market.

From being just a free trade area, this was a huge step towards the creation of a United States of Europe, modelled on the way America was governed, which was always the intention of the founding fathers of the European Coal and Steel Community which was a precursor to the Common Market. 

The two most prominent advocates of the setting up of the European Coal and Steel Community were called Monet and Schumann, and they knew, as their biographical histories acknowledge, exactly what they had in mind which was, eventually, a United States of Europe modelled on America.

But they were also aware that this would take time and could only be done step by step. Most importantly they were aware that it had to be achieved by stealth, because if the people of Europe were asked, on a regular basis, whether they wished to be part of a European superstate, then it was highly likely that the proposal would have been rejected.

This principle of never, unless in the most extreme circumstances, consulting the people of Europe, has been something that the Federalists have stood by ever since.

Whenever a new treaty has been signed by Governments and there have been objections amongst the electorates of member-states, the whole paraphernalia of the Brussels bureaucracy has then been mobilised to ‘rubbish’ such criticism, and vehemently to deny that what was being proposed was in any way a movement towards the creation of a European superstate modelled on America. 

Because any criticism of the direction that Europe has been going has always been belittled by the Federalists, a massive amount of resentment has been built up and what we are seeing now in various parts of Europe.

What I think will happen in the UK, is that a lot of people will vote against the European Union because they have never been told the truth about what the real intentions were and, to put it bluntly, they feel that they have been conned. 

If this did happen in the referendum in the UK, then the only people to blame would be the Federalists fanatics who had deliberately not made the arguments for why they believed that a European superstate, modelled on America, should be created, with most political power residing at the centre in Brussels and with the individual member-states relegated to being component parts of the superstate like American states.

Turning back now to the specific arguments which will arise in the referendum, I think that the first thing that needs to be said is that what the Prime Minister ‘achieves’ in his negotiations will have very little relevance to the debate that takes place.

From day one, he set out with minimalist agenda because he had very little flexibility, and what he will finally ‘achieve’ will hardly figure in the referendum debate at all.

The argument as to whether we should stay or leave is going to centre around whether we were economically better off in or out.

And around whether having control over who we allowed into this country – and how many people we allowed into this country – was preferable to the current situation whereby any of the 503 million people living in the 28 countries of the European Union have an absolute right to move to any country within the Union, and to settle and work there without the national government’s being able to place any restriction on them. 

The question of the mass migration of populations from Syria should not be part of the debate, because these are genuine political refugees fleeing for their lives. But I suspect that it will figure in the thoughts of many people who do not favour unrestricted movement of people within the 28 countries of the EU.

As I said right at the beginning, I do not have a hard and fast position and I have a great deal of respect for people such as Ted Heath and Denis Healey who, as serving soldiers in the Second World War, saw the destruction of Europe and dedicated their political careers to ensuring that such a thing did not happen again.

They considered that if that involved binding the countries of Europe so closely together, then that was as a price worth paying.

This idealistic argument has never been properly articulated by the Federalists who, as I have said, have tried to achieve the establishment of an United States of Europe by stealth and, in doing so, have denied what the so-called ‘project’ was all about.

People are not stupid, and many people have become increasingly angry – aided and abetted, it needs to be said, by elements in the press This anger has simmered below the surface for a long time.

The European Union has all the basic ingredients of a superstate – a flag, an anthem, European citizenship, and its own currency, the Euro, as well as its own Parliament to which people in this country, and in many other parts of Europe, do not relate at all.

Nevertheless, to have the basic building blocks of a state, but to deny the real intention of the European Union, is just disingenuous, and causes cynicism and frustration in many people. I suspect that this is going to show itself in the referendum.

On balance, therefore, I believe that the United Kingdom would be better off out of the European Union.

The UK is the second largest contributor to the EU budget, giving £50 million every day, which amounts to £19 billion every year. 

Less than half this money comes back to us, and when it does, it is Brussels that determines what it can be spent on, and not the Westminster Parliament. 

The Common Agricultural Policy swallows £43 billion a year, 40% of the entire EU budget. Yet agriculture is just 1.6% of the EU economy, and the £3 billion a year in subsidy that goes to British farmers is heavily targeted towards the richest land owners, including multinational agrobusinesses. 

Our fishing industry, which used to be a major source of employment and sustained communities along the shores of the United Kingdom, has been destroyed by the EU’s Fishing Policy.

Furthermore, I am totally opposed to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which is a secret agreement being drawn up between the US Government and the European Commission, driven by the American Chamber of Commerce.

TTIP will not only open up our public services, such as the NHS, to encroachment by US corporations, but will also allow those corporations to sue governments. Such as ours, if a future Labour Government were to reacquire public assets such as the railways into a form of public ownership which resulted in a loss of ongoing profits by the corporations owning them. 

There is one other factor which needs to be considered.

The European Union is huge organisation, with six thousand people employed in Brussels alone. Its budget is over £100 billion a year, but its accounts have not been signed off by the Commission's own auditors for over 15 years. 

No other organisation with such a huge budget – whether governmental or private – could operate in this way and not have its accounts audited yearly and signed off by their auditors.

I hope that the referendum will allow plenty of time for these important issues to be discussed and for people to make up their own minds.

I think that the Government will be making a great mistake if it thinks that by rushing through a referendum in a couple of month’s time, it will necessarily get the result it wants.

If the decision of the British people is to remain as part of the European Union, then such a decision will of course be respected by me.

But if the decision of the people is to leave the European Union, then I don’t think it will be the end of the civilisation, as some people are predicting.

Roger Godsiff is the Member of Parliament for Birmingham Hall Green.

1 comment:

  1. When we joined the Common Market in 1975 we accepted the free movement of workers as part and parcel of the package. It is this element of the agreement that most people are against. And even if we leave, we may still have to accept the free movement of workers as part of a trade deal with the rest of the EU.

    It's a nonsense: we should be in there driving the reformation of the EU. We need to be there.