Ken Worthy is Deputy Chairman, Political of Esher and Walton Conservative Association.
For years the Tories, far from “banging on about Europe”, have shrunk from using the E-word. “Don’t rock the boat” is the cry. Don’t reopen party splits on Europe - concentrate on what voters are interested in. There is some legitimacy to this call. Without office, we can do nothing, and to gain office we must address what concerns voters now. But this need not be all we do. We should also have the courage to address serious political issues, and develop ideas on resolving them. This is leadership.
Few voters realise how much the EU is increasing its control over our lives, without any democratic debate, or effective opposition. It is not enough to say we oppose further integration. What will we do about it? Already EU law overrules British law, and over 60% of our business regulations come from Brussels, gold-plated courtesy of our civil service. Continental leaders make no secret of their aim for the EU to become a federal state. Only in Britain do the politicians pretend otherwise.
Those drafting the EU constitution compared themselves with the Founding Fathers of the USA at their Philadelphia Convention. The contrast could not be greater. The Convention recommended a form of Government which eventually became the US Constitution. But it was not adopted without extensive public debate between the rival advocates of states’ rights and federal power. The debate raged at all levels, the highest being the Federalist Papers, a series of in-depth political analyses written by members of the Convention and widely published and discussed before the Constitution was finally ratified.
Contrast this with the EU constitution, largely written by Giscard D’Estaing, an elderly and patrician Frenchman with a well-documented contempt for public opinion. Both Labour and Conservative representatives on Giscard’s panel complained that their opposing views were simply ignored. There was no public debate on alternative approaches. The draft was simply presented – take it or leave it. No Government was willing to challenge anything, for fear that carefully crafted compromises would fall apart. The Governments approved, but French and Dutch voters gave it a resounding “No”.
That should have been the end of it. But EU leaders showed their usual contempt for democracy. Ignoring the voters, they are quietly proceeding to implement most of the constitution, including:
- A European Defence Agency and command structure to supplant NATO
- An EU diplomatic service
- A common asylum and immigration policy
- An External Borders Agency
- A Fundamental Rights Agency, to police enforcement of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which we were once told had no more legal force than the Beano.
- An EU police force and public prosecutor.
Governments, already signed up to it, will not object. No-one has the political courage to demand respect for the views of voters. Now the Germans aim to bring in the rest as soon as they can. There is even talk of asking French and Dutch voters to vote again, until they get the answer right. You can be sure that Spanish voters, who voted Yes, won’t be asked to vote again.
The Conservatives have not dared to oppose these ominous developments. Opposition to the EU is stigmatised as right-wing, which is nonsense. Strong anti-EU groupings in both the Labour Party and the trade unions include that well-known right-winger Tony Benn. Still the label persists, and is used to restrict debate.
Conservatives should welcome debate. We should commission an authoritative survey of the pros and cons of EU membership. The Government has always refused to do this, claiming that the benefits are self-evident. We need to know the key factors affecting the balance of advantage, so we can focus on them in trying to reform the EU, and back our demands with evidence. The balance of advantage is far from clear. The EU Commission itself has estimated that EU regulation costs businesses 600 billion Euros a year, while the savings from the free market amount to only 180 billion euros. Some of the issues are discussed at www.openeurope.org.uk.
Once the survey is published, we should have a referendum on our relationship with the EU. If net benefits and public support are confirmed, our EU relationship will have a democratic legitimacy and a degree of public consent it has so far lacked. However, if the survey concludes that we would be better off out, we should have the political courage to consider leaving the EU. We have the fifth largest economy in the world – not much smaller than China’s. We should not be afraid to stand alone and maintain our own trading relationships with the world, as most countries do – we have done so with great success for centuries. Only if we are seen as willing to leave, if necessary, will the EU take our demands seriously. Without such leverage, they will not be deflected from their own agenda. That agenda is wanted by the politicians of Europe, but not its people.