Civitas Meeting – The trouble with Europe 19 May 2014 (Robert Henderson)
The sole speaker was Roger Bootle of the Daily Telegraph and Capital Economics
Bootle was promoting his book The trouble with Europe. The main thrusts of his argument were
– Europe is a declining political and economic power.
– The growth rate within first the EEC and then the EU has been poor overall compared with economies outside the EU.
– The EU has undermined European economic performance through promoting too generous welfare states.
– That much of the regulation comes not from the EU but national governments within the EU.
– That the EU has smothered competition between nation states and this has hindered innovation and enterprise.
– That Europe’s period of greatest world dominance was a time of intense competition between European powers.
– That EU countries have suffered a loss of identity through mass immigration and those with empires had a further blow to their national self-confidence through their loss.
– That European elites have had their energies eaten up with trying to create uniformity within the EU to the detriment of such things as investment and productivity.
– That the Euro is the biggest economic disaster the EU has suffered, dwarfing the Common Agricultural Policy.
– The EU as it is presently constituted is obsolete.
Bootle laid down his terms for Britain remaining within the EU: an end to ever closer union, a guarantee of no second class status for the UK if she remains a member, a reduced EU budget, repatriation of powers to EU member states. National governments to be empowered to reject EU legislation and restrictions on the free movement of labour.
These conditions are so improbable that it is reasonable to conclude that Bootle in reality wants Britain out of the EU. If Britain does leave the EU, Bootle is in favour of what he called the WTONLY option if a good free trade agreement with the EU cannot be arranged. The WTONLY option is to simply leave the EU and then rely on World Trade Organisation rules to give Britain access to EU markets.
During questions it was heartening to see how many of the questioners were utterly hostile to the EU, despite the fact that many of those there came under the heading of the great and the good, the sort of people who would normally be considered unvarnished Europhiles. Most promisingly, voices were raised against the wholesale takeover by foreigners of British business and the ill effects of multinationals.
I raised the question of how Britain should deal with the mechanics of leaving bearing in mind that the entire British political elite were Europhiles who would do everything to subvert the wishes of the British electorate by stitching Britain back into the EU through an agreement which included the four so-called EU freedoms, the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour within the EU. I suggested to Bootle that Article 50 was a poisoned chalice which would enable British politicians to do just that. Rather surprisingly Bootle said that he did not think that the mechanics of leaving were important. I was not able to question him further because of the number of people wanting to ask questions. However, I have addressed the subject and others in the email I sent to Bootle after the meeting. If I receive a reply I will add it to this blog post.
E mail sent to Roger Bootle 31 5 2014
Dear Mr Bootle,
A few points I was unable to put to you at the Civitas meeting of 19 May.
1. How much do you think the status of the Euro as the second largest reserve currency has contributed to the survival of the Euro? I enclose a note on this at the bottom of the email.
2. You advocate giving both sides of the story, of admitting that leaving the EU will not be without costs both material and moral. The problem with that is twofold.
a) political knowledge and understanding amongst the electorate as a whole is minute. Most will respond to the fear factor points not the reassuring points simply because they do not know enough to assess the situation rationally.
b) all the STAY IN camp will be peddling is the fear factor. Hence, the electorate will be hearing the fear factor language from both YES and NO camps but only the reassuring points from those who wish Britain to leave.
3. How the UK leaves the EU is not a trivial matter as you suggested. The danger is that regardless of the wishes of the electorate , the British political elite will stitch us back firmly into the EU if they are given a free hand over the negotiation. This is so because we have a political class – especially the leading members of the class – which is overwhelmingly prepared to act as Quislings (Quislings in the service of the EU in particular and internationalism in general) to ensure that Britain does not escape the tentacles of the EU.
Of course such a betrayal could apply regardless of whether article 50 is activated or a simple repeal made of the various Acts binding us into the EU, but Article 50 carries far more dangers for those who want us out of the EU than a simple repeal of the Acts would do. If Britain accepted the legality of Article 50 we would have to put up with any amount of prevarication and dirty tricks for two years. Worse, the time to reach any agreement between Britain and the EU under article 50 can be extended if both parties agree.
As those negotiating on behalf of Britain would inevitably be politicians who have sold their souls to the “European Project”, the odds are that they would use any obstruction and delay by the EU to justify making an agreement which would practically speaking nullify the vote to leave. As sure as eggs are eggs, the agreement would place us firmly back into the EU’s clutches by signing Britain up to the four EU “freedoms” (freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and labour) and all the rules regulating the single market. If the break with the EU is done simply by repealing the various Acts which bind us in, our politicians will not be able to use the restrictions and difficulties raised by Article 50 as an excuse for selling the voters down the river with an agreement such as I have described. Instead, they would have to take full responsibility for whatever they agree to. Article 50 is a particularly toxic poisoned chalice. Don’t drink from it.
It is essential that before any referendum takes place that all mainstream UK parties make it clear that whatever agreement is reached by those negotiating on behalf of Britain this should only be ratified if the British people vote for it in a second referendum. Unless this happens the political class will give us something which binds us back into the EU.
5. It is a dangerous argument to claim that competition between governments is a good thing if you are relying on the historical example. In your Telegraph article Europe’s politicians must embrace competition or face slide into obscurity (19 May) you write:
It is very striking that Europe’s golden age, when European countries bestrode the world and European influence was at its height, was an era of competition between nation states. Admittedly at times this competition went too far and spilled over into war …
The reality of European history is that it has been primarily a history of war as far as you care to go back. War not peace has been the norm. The period of European ascendency was no exception to this and because of technological developments became more and more efficiently brutal. Use the European historical example and you are simply inviting the Europhiles to say “Told you so. Nation states can’t be trusted to behave”.
6. At present I also have a problem with all political discussions and especially those referring to the economy. We are within striking distance of the production of general purpose robots which will be able to do not only most of the jobs humans now do but most of any new ones which arise. The implications of this are so profound that they bid fair to render any political solutions or policies currently in play obsolete. Politicians should be planning for such developments but they are simply ignoring them. If you read these two pieces you will see where I am coming from: