Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Yurp

Ah Europe. Don't you just wish it would go away? Other, less important, stories continue to dominate the headlines, but all the time the elephant sits in the room, sucking out the oxygen and squashing the life out of the economy. It's the great black hole, into which everything is destined sooner or later to collapse, from which no light can escape. Of course, there is news, of a sort, coming out of Brussels; but it's drearily repetitive. Another debt crisis. Another meeting to agree a last-minute bail-out. Briefly, the markets rally as it looks like there might be a Deal. Whereupon the whole sorry cycle starts over again.

This affects us, whether we are in or out; and the argument is that, being in, we (that is to say, spineless civil service surrender monkeys and, to a lesser extent, distracted, compromised politicians drowning in the daily sea of trivia) can at least do something to "influence" what happens. I suppose that must be sort-of true. Yet being "in" seems somehow strangely worse, like being locked in a slowly-burning building in the full knowledge that your inevitable death will be slow, protracted, painful and will leave behind a charred corpse and bloody scratchmarks all over the door.

As a sop the the pseudo-democracy of the e-petitions, the subject of Britain's EU membership is to be debated in the House of Commons; and the Tory front bench, it appears, wants to impose a three line whip. The vote will be entirely symbolic, but the prospect of a large number of Conservative MPs demanding the people be given an "In-Out" referendum is just too embarrassing to contemplate. Not everyone is happy. Here, for example, is David Campbell Bannerman, a Tory MEP who until quite recently represented UKIP.


Let’s have an open debate in Parliament where MPs are free to discuss the merits and practicalities of leaving the EU and not err on the side of caution under the gaze of the Whips. This whole Referendum exercise is, after all, meant to be about bolstering democracy. It is, frankly, what the people want to hear – too often the people believe Westminster to be behind the curve on issues that the public feel strongly about: the Human Rights Act, Immigration and even Europe. Now is the time for bold, open minded leadership, to let MPs speak freely on the EU and let them debate the merits, mechanisms and practicalities of leaving the European Union and engaging with the wider world. Freedom of speech is after all one freedom we all believe in.


Silly man. Campbell Bannerman left a party committed to British withdrawal from the EU and joined one committed to Britain's continued membership. Did he not realise this at the time? Whether a dispassionate view of the political scene convinced him that UKIP was going nowhere or whether he just fell out with the imperious Nigel Farage isn't the point. His continued presence in Strasbourg, though, depends on his gamble paying off: if UKIP replicates its success in the next Euro-elections he will be out on his ear. Hence, I suppose, his tone of desperation; but he really has brought this on himself.

The mainstream Conservative position is one of fingers-in-ears delusion, summed up in William Hague's fatuous soundbite "In Europe but not run by Europe." You cannot be "in Europe but not run by Europe". It's an impossibility, a contradiction. The whole point of being in Europe IS to be run by Europe, as the Irish and the Greeks recently discovered. And it's certainly an impossibility to be in Europe and not run by Europe if, like the British state, you insist robotically on implementing in full each and every EU regulation, however inimical to national interests, however ill thought-through, and however little every other country is implementing it.

Of course, the EU is awful: over-bureaucratic, sclerotic, anti-democratic, elitist in the worst sense, loved only by its feather-bedded servants, who will of course defend it with all the ferocity of people fighting for their livelihoods. The best that can be said for it is that its notional unity counts for something in trade negotiations; which is not nothing, but is a cause not advanced one iota by harmonised extradition policies or standardised passports and driving tests. It is, however, the system we live under; and it could well be that unravelling it would be even more deleterious to our national wellbeing than staying put. That, at any rate, is the Conservative case; and it is the platform that, like it or not, Tory MPs were elected on.

What's the alternative? The Euro is not going to collapse, and if the price of saving it is the death of democracy and national identity in Europe then that price will be paid. Indeed, George Osborne has been urging it, for other countries if not, yet, for Britain. Like some other Tory Euro-sceptics he purports to care about British sovereignty and democracy but isn't too bothered about anyone else's. The problem is that at Eurozone solution would not work on its own because the necessary harmonisation would encompass those aspects of economic policy which are already EU competences, subject in most cases to majority voting.

As for renegotiation of our terms of membership, touted as a solution or even an inevitable consequence of full Eurozone integration, that isn't going to happen, mainly because it's in no-one's national interest but our own. Least of all that of the French or the Germans. By allowing Britain to break free of the constraints of the Union the other member states would be handing it a priceless advantage: all the benefits of membership but none of the costs. They know it and they won't tolerate it.

No, after a few more years of depressing stagnation and rising prices we'll end up joining the Euro and pay our taxes directly to Brussels. Probably on the recommendation of a Conservative prime minister. That is my dismal prophecy. Either that or the whole thing will have collapsed and, free and independent as may be, we'll have gone back to living in caves.