The United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union is the question, but what should the answer be?
Three months ago I was certain. I would be voting remain. Economically it made sense, and with China heading for a recession and a shaky world economy, Britain couldn’t afford any further risks to the economy.
But as things stand I will be voting for Britain to leave the European Union on June 23rd, and the insufferable arrogance of the Remain camp has much to do with that.
The impression that the Remain camp have given me is that they hold the voters in contempt. They seem to believe that anyone pro-Brexit is either a rabid right-winger or an ignoramus. How on earth can’t the Brexiteers see the ‘right answer’? How presumptuous are they that they assume they do not need to put forward positive reasons to be members of the European Union?
I spoke to a prominent advocate for the Remain camp back in March about the way the campaign was going to be run. I stressed that the one thing that would switch voters off faster than anything would be a repeat of the Scottish referendum’s Project Fear. I was assured that the positive reasons to remain in the EU would be at the fore of the campaign, that economic and national security would be the wedge issues, aimed at women in their forties, the group who Stronger In believe will be key to the election.
Yet here we are in May, and the Prime Minister’s renegotiation from Europe has been all but forgotten. The suggestion that we could survive perfectly well outside the EU, made in November last year by the Prime Minister, is now dismissed as pure speculation by Stronger In.
Yet just because the people in the Remain camp are insufferably arrogant, that is not a good reason to vote to come out of the European Union. Unlike most people in the Vote Leave campaign, I do believe the Treasury when they say, as they will today, that there could be a recession if we vote for Brexit.
For me this decision comes down not to economics, but to a more fundamental question: what do we think of Britain. Do we think Britain is essentially a small country, without much influence in the world, unable to cope on its own? Or do we agree with the Prime Minister, when he said “I am not saying for one moment that Britain couldn’t survive outside the European Union. Of course we could.
“We are a great country. The fifth largest economy in the world. The fastest growing economy in the G7 last year. The biggest destination for foreign direct investment in the EU. Our capital city a global icon. The world, literally, speaks our language.”
When the Prime Minister said that, in his key note speech at Chatham House in November last year, I agreed with every word of that statement. Yet just six months later he appears to have repudiated every word of it. This weekend his Chancellor suggested that the economic shock from Brexit would see house prices drop by 18%; no doubt I will address the benefits of a big drop in house prices at another juncture, but for now I merely point out that such rhetoric was specifically ruled out by the PM just a few months ago. The lower they stoop in their desperation to bully the electorate into doing what they want, the more I want to vote the other way.
So what do I think of Britain? I think we’re one of the strongest countries in the world. We have a permanent seat on the Security Council of the United Nations. We’re have the fifth highest spending on the military and we’re a central plank of NATO. We’ve got the fifth largest economy on the planet. We are not Norway and we are not Switzerland. We’re Britain.
I am also a democrat. I believe that the vote I cast in the polling booth should have an impact on the laws that regulate our society. But the European Union don’t believe in democracy. The laws that emanate from Brussels are written by the European Commission. Only the Commission has legislative initiative. Only the Commission can make formal proposals for legislation. Yet the Commission bears little relationship to democratic institutions. The President of the Commission is nominated by the Council of Ministers, and approved by the European Parliament, and the Commissioners are appointed by a similar process. Each of the 28 member states has a European Commissioner.
So the laws of the European Union are written by unelected bureaucrats. But opinions vary on how many of OUR laws are written by these bureaucrats, so that’s ok, right? The Stronger In campaign claim that only a minority of UK law is written by the Commission, and that when you are a member of a club you have to play by mutually agreed laws.
The problem for me with that argument is that the European Union doesn’t quite see it like that. Where there is a conflict between a law decided upon by our democratically elected and supposedly sovereign Parliament and European Law, the European Courts of Justice, and now our own courts, insist that European Law takes precedence.
I am told that one Suffolk MP challenged a prominent Vote Leave campaigner for a single example of the law being overridden by the European Union. She wasn’t able to answer, but I can. The example is the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, which was disapplied by the European Courts of Justice in the series of cases known as Factortame.
The Merchant Shipping Act was a piece of legislation which was passed by both Houses of Parliament, and signed into law by the Queen. In a thousand years of British history, that has been sufficient to create a law. But the European bureaucracy couldn’t have that. This law was “repugnant” said the European Courts of Justice. The House of Lords ruled that European Law has precedence and disapplied an Act of Parliament.
The MPs we elect are no longer free to pass any laws demanded by the voters of Britain, because the EU will demand that any law which conflicts with European Law is merely ignored. Yet the campaigners for Stronger In insist that we have not handed over Sovereignty to the EU.
There are, of course, always other reasons to vote to leave the European Union. The Common Fisheries Policy, an abomination of a process which sees the UK quote for Irish Sea cod limited to 834 tonnes, while France gets 5,500 tonnes, has led to the devastation of an entire industry. Residents of Lowestoft tell me that they can remember when you could cross from one side of the harbour to the other by stepping from trawler to trawler. No longer.
This article here in the Spectator, a Brexit supporting publication, talks about the damage to St Ives caused by the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy. For St Ives read Lowestoft. Or any seaside town which once had a substantial fishing fleet. We once had the largest fishing fleet in Europe. We fished 80% of British territorial waters. Now we fish just 13% and a fifth of our quota is landed in Holland by just one trawler. One former fisheries minister (a solid supporter of Stronger In) once called this deal a “good deal” for our fishermen. It’s a disgrace.
It also talks about the Common Agricultural Policy and its top down imposition on farmers. This is a subject I know a little about. My first political interaction was as a precocious and irritating 8 year-old, asking then Agriculture Minister John Gummer about the CAP. While he never answered the question then, I doubt he would argue now that the CAP was a shining example of the benefits of the EU.
Farmers want to farm. They want the freedom to use their knowledge and experience to do the best for their business; to grow the crops the market wants, to grow the crops that work best on their land, but also to remain the custodians of the rural countryside. I should know, given the land around my village has been farmed by my Great Granddad, my Granddad, my Uncle and now my cousin.
But the CAP doesn’t allow farmers to farm. Despite the fact that this country is a net importer of food, the EU still pays farmers not to farm. It pays farms to grow the crops that the EU wants. It encourages the use of damaging pesticides and fertilizers, putting further pressure on our environment. It artificially inflates the price of food, which in turn contributes to obesity as fresh food and vegetables cost more than the bland processed food which are full of sugar and salt and fat. It is also morally indefensible to
The irony is that even back in 1972 everyone knew that the CAP would be a bad deal for British farmers. The experts at the IMF were very aware that CAP was designed to help French peasant farmers while penalising the British. It wasn’t in British interests then, and it isn’t in British interests now. But with 47% of the European budget dedicated to CAP, the sheer scale of subsidies dominates much of the EU’s decision making.
So there we have it. On June 23rd I will be voting leave, because of the insufferable arrogance of the Stronger In campaign; because I believe that our democratically elected MPs should write the laws that we as a society allow ourselves to be governed by; because the CFP and CAP are highly damaging socialist inventions which have destroyed communities and industries.
No doubt some who believe we should remain will want to tear this column down. I welcome that challenge. I really hope that they engage with the arguments, rather than merely engaging their headless Project Fear.