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22 March 2014

In or Out?

Tag(s): Foreign Affairs, People, Politics & Economics
David Campbell Bannerman MEP has been a member of the Conservative party for most of his adult life but convinced that Britain’s interests are best served outside the European Union he left the Party to join the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in 2004. In 2005 he was appointed as its Chairman. In 2009 he was elected to the European Parliament after UKIP won 19.6% of the vote in the East of England region. Campbell Bannerman was the main author of UKIP’s 2010 General Election manifesto but in 2011 he returned to the Conservative Party and now sits as a Conservative MEP in the European Parliament. He it is who was recently described as an idiot by Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, who said the 2010 manifesto was written by an idiot, was as long as War and Peace and he, Nigel Farage, hadn’t read it. Mr Farage has a gift for music hall comedy but if this last point is true it reveals his own lack of responsibility. The manifesto was actually just 16 pages.

I did not read it either but I have read Campbell Bannerman’s 46 page pamphlet [i] The Ultimate Plan B – a Positive View for Britain in which he sets out cogently the argument how Britain can safely leave the EU and prosper outside it. He has since expanded that into a full book[ii] Time to Jump. Campbell Bannerman has not changed his views one iota during this period despite changing parties twice in seven years. He left the Conservatives because he is not just Eurosceptic as many in that party are, but genuinely believes we would be better off outside. However, while all of UKIP members believe that and their public pronouncements leave no doubt on the subject, once inside the party he saw it was just a party of protest with no clear policies as to how it could deliver what it wanted. To leave the EU would require a vote in Parliament to amend or repeal Ted Heath’s European Communities Act of 1972 and today UKIP, while often coming second in by-elections, still has no representation in the House of Commons.

I had the opportunity recently to learn more about all this at a public meeting in my local town. I had met David before on a trip to the European Parliament two years ago but it was good to hear his views as we approach the European Election. (see my blog The European Project 12th May, 2012 tags Foreign Affairs, Politics & Economics) He thinks a vote for UKIP is wasted as their MEPs contribute little to the process of the European Parliament. By contrast the Conservative group had worked exceptionally hard to get reform of the catastrophic Fishery Policies following the TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s successful Fish Fight campaign to end discards. Hugh had generated public pressure on the European Commissioner but it was Tory MEPs who forced it through Parliament with 3,000 amendments. While fishing nations outside the EU like Iceland and Norway had long fished without discards inside the level could be as high as 70%, i.e. 70% of fish caught by EU boats had to be dumped back in the sea because quotas of particular species had already been landed. Such is the insanity of the EU.

There is little doubt that the majority of people in Britain are disillusioned with the EU; a poll conducted by Eurobarometer in November 2013 showed that only 19% of Britons trust the European Union. While trust in many institutions is generally low this is a particularly dismal statistic. Only people over the age of 56 have had the opportunity to vote on the subject in the 1975 referendum and back then most people thought they were voting for a common market based on free trade, not an institution dedicated to ever closer political and economic union as the Treaty of Lisbon clearly states. Only David Cameron of the major party leaders is offering such a referendum and so Campbell Bannerman would ask you to support that.

However, on closer scrutiny the policy is not without problems. It first of all is predicated on the Conservative Party winning an overall majority at the next General Election in May 2015. Fair enough, one might say, any policy is based on that premise. Yes, but, as it looks today that is an unlikely prospect. The boundaries have still not been redrawn so the Tories have to get a much larger share of the overall vote than Labour by much more than Labour has to outdo the Tories to win a majority. Other EU leaders know this so they don’t have to give anything away in negotiation until Cameron actually has that overall majority.

Then Cameron promises he will renegotiate the terms and bring an improved package back to the British people to vote in a referendum by the end of 2017. The Economist recently described this as “nonsense.”[iii] The problem is that these negotiations have to take place with all the other 27 states. Few of these are likely to want to see the UK gaining concessions unless they also receive the same or other concessions and the federalists will firmly resist this. It may be true that some other states recognise the need for reform, particularly in the Eurozone, but that will take many years not just two.

The policy only makes sense to me as either a cynical ploy to keep the Tory party united during the next critical year running up to the General Election, no doubt what most people will believe, or rather a more cunning plan to come up with a limited set of concessions, scraps off the table, that actually persuade the British people to vote for the exit door. In the meeting I asked the more general question about the difficulty of achieving a negotiation in such a short time. Campbell Bannerman insisted it was doable and quoted Angela Merkel who on her recent visit to London had said “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”. But Mrs Merkel is a consensus politician who does not want Britain to leave. She respects our position as the only other country to make a net positive financial contribution in every year of our membership.

The problems lie much deeper than that in our differing histories and cultures. We in Britain have a thousand years of history of respecting the rights of individuals. Magna Carta in 1215 defined the institution that the king acts under the Law. When the Stewart kings, imported from a separate Scotland with no such tradition, challenged that institution it resulted in one of them losing his head. Meanwhile in France the Bourbons believed they were the State and the repression and frustration that resulted finished in one of them also losing his head. But instead of that leading to the development of democracy it collapsed in chaos. All the original leaders of that revolution also lost their heads and an Emperor emerged to replace a King. Since then the French have had numerous interruptions to their constitution and are presently on their Fifth Republic in just two hundred years. Invaded three times by the Germans their solution was to bind themselves so tightly to Germany that there could be no repeat of such disasters. The Germans, afraid of their own demons, have gone along with this while always ensuring that they come out on top economically.

We British have been fortunate to avoid invasion for centuries. Most of Europe underwent some trauma in the twentieth century, either subjugation by the Nazis or the Soviets or repression by their home grown dictators. Some experienced calamitous civil wars. Thus we see the European project in entirely different ways. Campbell Bannerman also thinks there can be confusion in the minds of some people who equate the European Union as similar in status to the United Nations. He said  “It is vital to stress the difference between the United Nations, which is intergovernmental, i.e., agreements are made between governments, and the European Union which is Supra or Transitional i.e. it cuts above or across nation states.”

He added: “ The official UN brochure says ‘The UN is not a Superstate nor is it a World Government. The state members of the UN remain sovereign and equal, and have no intention of delegating this sovereignty to any supranational entity.’
“That’s pretty much the complete opposite of what the EU is trying and sadly succeeding doing.”

Campbell Bannerman doesn’t compare the EU with the former Soviet Union but it more resembles the USSR than the UN or the USA. The UN is not a Superstate. The USA is a single nation. The founders of the USSR had a serious problem with nationalism which in some ways competed with Marxist-Leninism. They therefore worked hard to establish a new national identity above the individual nations. And in order to control the nations repression and persecution were rife for most of its history. When the Communist state collapsed the USSR immediately broke up into those original 15 nations. The EU is trying to establish its own single state with a flag, anthem and other nationalist symbols. It wants its own army, its own embassies etc.  But within the EU there are 28 separate countries with even more languages and regions and even nations within nations like Belgium, Spain and the UK.

David Campbell Bannerman said:
“When it comes to deciding the future of our involvement in the EU, voters must not allow themselves to be hoodwinked by those claiming it’s a European version of the UN, it isn’t, it doesn’t want to be, and it never will be. Whilst the UN seeks agreement among nation states, the EU seeks control over them.”

But we’ve been hoodwinked before.

[iii] “Wooing Mrs Merkel” Bagehot The Economist March 1st 2014.
Copyright David C Pearson 2014 All rights reserved

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