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Westminster Reflections 2016 May/June

Despite having different forms of affiliation to the EU, Norway’s Ambassador Mona Juul says her country shares many priorities and principles with the UK

by Bernard Jenkin MP

Normal Politics has ground to a halt at Westminster as we enter the official referendum before the great EU vote on 23 June.  The government has become accident-prone – on welfare cuts, on the state of the steel industry, and on the Panama Papers – as the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer find themselves doing battle with some of their most respected fellow ministers.

I declare my interest.  I am a board director of Vote Leave, the official campaign to leave the EU, so here is why we think we may win.  You won’t hear this from your usual contacts in Whitehall.

Vote Leave is independent and has to raise most of its money from private sources.  It is focusing on the costs of EU membership and the need for the UK to take back control over our own laws and borders. The campaign,s view is that the safer option is to vote ‘leave.’  Former Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King points out the real risks of a ‘remain’ vote in his book, The End of Alchemy.  He says: 1) there IS a eurozone crisis; 2) the euro WILL collapse; 3) UNLESS a new country called ‘Europe’ is created.  Remaining as a satellite member of the EU in either scenario 2) or 3) does not have much appeal.  The UK has never subscribed to the political direction of the EU (i.e. integration), nor can the UK save the euro if we remain, so why continue to bear the cost and loss of control?

The official Remain campaign is less independent and, until the last 28 days, has been managed from a war room in the Cabinet Office, with as many as 50 civil servants and political advisers. Whitehall is running a lavish pro-EU website and has published a series of less-than-objective government papers.  £9.3 million has already been spent on a government pro-EU booklet to all UK households.  This alone costs more than the entire maximum legal expenditure of the Leave campaign (£7 million), which Vote Leave must raise almost entirely from private sources.  Respected authorities are saying that this referendum will be less fair than even the 1975 referendum, before there was any law on the conduct of fair referendums.  The public do not like this.

One of the most tendentious claims from the government is that the UK has gained ‘special status’ in a ‘reformed EU.’  This has echoes of the denials of the reality of EU membership down the ages.  Edward Heath promised there would be “no erosion of national sovereignty.”  John Major promised “the very centralising tendency that many are so worried about was addressed and corrected at Maastricht.”  Opinions may still be in the balance about the referendum, but the government has all but given up promoting the Tusk deal, which polls show some 68 per cent of voters have already dismissed as irrelevant.

The government is coordinating statements of warnings of economic disaster from key business figures and foreign leaders, even if they contradict what they said previously.  For example, Fabrice Bregier, Chief Executive of Airbus originally said he had “no intention” of pulling manufacturing out of the UK if the country votes to leave the EU.  The French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, dismissed the idea of removing British border checks from the French side of the English Channel, saying, “calling for the border with the English to be opened is not a responsible solution,” before the more ambitious Economics Minister Emmanuel Macron ran the scare that the camps would be moved to Dover.

The intervention of President Obama will have limited impact.  Most believe he reflects his narrow idea of the US national interest.  And the idea that the UK can save the EU from itself, only if we stay in, flies in the face of experience.  The UK has been attempting to divert the EU from its self-proclaimed ‘destiny’ ever since we joined.  Voting to leave will have far more effect than endorsing the treaties that are the source of Europe’s crises today.

The present governor of the Bank of England told the Commons Treasury Committee that non-domestic economic risks far outweigh any domestic risks arising from Brexit, so it is the Chancellor who warns that interest rates will rise if we leave, not the Bank of England.  The CBI commissioned a report from PWC to show there will be fewer jobs, but it showed the UK economy will continue to grow outside the EU, and even faster after 2020.  This fear campaign is not proving successful, not least because these same fears of investment flight and instability were run by those who wanted the UK to join the euro.  We did not join and the UK economy has flourished.

But what would ‘Leave’ look like?  The Prime Minister has said that he would invoke Article 50 of Lisbon immediately, but this is just another scare tactic and the Cabinet and Parliament would prevent it. No process will be triggered until there has been calm and sober discussion, both within the UK and with our European partners.  ‘Leave’ is based on the premise that the UK is better off deciding its own laws, coordinating its own trade policy, having more control over immigration, and cancelling the £19.1 billion per year membership subscription.  This is not ‘leaving Europe’ but only leaving the EU, in favour of a new bilateral relationship based on trade and cooperation with our European partners that is in Europe’s best interests, rather than the constitutional and economic absorption of the UK.

Like the US, as our trade is increasingly global and less and less EU, the UK will ‘pivot’ from merely EU towards the whole world. As the fifth-largest global trading nation, we will take back our own seat at the WTO.  We retain our role of the UN P5 as the leading European power in Nato and a crucial member of the US-led ‘Five Eyes’ security alliance. Independence from the EU will enhance the UK’s global role and status.


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