Published: 18 February, 2016~
by JOHN MILLS
PERHAPS as soon as June this year, the UK electorate is going to have to take a momentous decision.
Are we going to stay in the European Union or are we going to strike out on our own?
I have always thought that the EU has done some things well, so I am not a die-hard “outer”, but unfortunately, I have never thought that our terms of membership were right.
The EU has been incredibly expensive for us because we pay far more in than we get back – £11.4billion in 2014 alone according to the Office for National Statistics, and on an ever-rising trend.
We have always had a huge trade deficit with the other member states so the Single Market has not done us much good.
Many of the major EU policies, particularly the Common Agricultural Policy which still takes up about 40 per cent of the EU budget, do not suit the UK.
Everyone agrees that the EU has a “democratic deficit”, with much too much power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats, central bankers and judges and too much interference in decisions which would be much better taken at Westminster than on a “one size fits all” basis in Brussels.
Immigration is always a difficult issue but it really makes no sense to have tens of thousands of relatively unskilled people coming to the UK from poor East European countries while we are turning away Indian IT programmers, Chinese students and Californian PhD students.
Free movement of people worked really well when there were the original member states all with roughly the same standard of living.
It doesn’t work when there is the huge economic gradient there is between western and eastern Europe.
Perhaps most seriously, the EU is heading towards becoming a federal unified state, although this is not what most people in the EU want and certainly not what most people in the UK would like to have as their future.
This is partly because “More Europe” has always been the goal of most of the EU’s political class but – more pressingly now – because the only way of saving the euro is for all the Eurozone countries to move towards banking, then monetary then fiscal and then finally political union.
If this is not what the UK electorate wants, what would they like their future to be? This is not a difficult question to answer.
The vast majority of the electorate would like to see us maintaining free trade with the other EU countries while co-operating with them on everything which makes sense but doing so on an inter-governmental basis, not while being part of an over-arching political union.
How are we going to get there?
The Prime Minister has been trying to renegotiate our terms of membership – originally on these sorts of lines.
You can see for yourself how little progress he has made. Despite the fact that the EU is in grave danger of losing its second or third largest member and a huge net contributor to its total budget, almost no change is in the offing.
A “reformed EU” is not really on the agenda.
This is why the only realistic way of moving our relations with the other EU countries to where we would like them to be is to vote to leave and then to forge a new relationship along the lines which the vast majority of people in the UK would like.
Would this be easy? Not particularly. Would it be possible – of course it would be.
The UK is the fifth largest economy in the world with ties to every continent.
The idea that the UK could not exist without being part of an emerging federal state is absurd.
In nowhere else in the world are countries merging as those in Europe are planning to do.
We need to take control of our future – and we could do it!
• John Mills is chairman of consumer goods group JML, and secretary of the Labour Euro-Safeguards Campaign. He represented Labour on Camden Council between 1971 and 2006.