“The construction of European Unity is a bold far sighted endeavour” The Rome declaration

Now we know what the EU wants without the UK. The Rome Declaration signed last week-end sets out the full scheme for the Union. It is as Eurosceptics described. It is certainly not the minimalist EU based around a single market of Mr Blair and Mr Brown’s imagining.

As the Declaration says, “We have built a unique Union with common institutions and strong  values….Unity is b0th a necessity and our free choice….Our Union is undivided and indivisible.”  “We will make the European Union stronger and more resilient through ever greater unity and solidarity amongst us and the respect of common rules”

The document sets out four large areas where the Union is manifest and will now be strengthened.  The first is freedom of movement of people, combined with promises of new border arrangements and an EU wide policy towards external migrants. The second is the single currency which will be “stable and further strengthened”. There is no mention of countries opting out.  The third is a social Europe, with EU wide benefit and social policies. The fourth is “a stronger Europe in the global scene” “committed to strengthening its common security and defence” with a common defence supply industry.

This upbeat and centralising document looks forward to further increases in Union powers. It does acknowledge that “The EU is facing unprecedented challenges both global and domestic: regional conflicts, terrorism, growing migratory pressures, protectionism and social and economic inequalities”. All this points them in the direction of doing more in the Brussels to counter these unwelcome trends.

So there we have it. It was the creation of a large new state after all. The irony seems to be missed that this declaration is published  to the world when the UK sends in its resignation and as many  voters around the EU seek to show their disapproval of the vision. The declaration points to the EU having much more influence in world affairs  without explaining how it will build up its military forces to back up its wish to intervene and its pursuit of  influence in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Surely now, no-one can doubt that the EU is so much more than a set of laws regulating trade and commerce?  Why did so many UK politicians try and pretend this was just a business or commercial arrangement? As this declaration reminds us in a timely way, at the heart of the EU is the strong desire to create a single country. It will have common borders, one currency, one foreign policy and one social policy. It will have its own energy policy, its own transport policy. Indeed, it has much of that already. It is only those who refuse to read EU documents who can think otherwise.

 

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Retail sales and inflation

The official forecasters and many commercial economic forecasters have now joined me in expecting around 2% growth in 2016 and 2017. They took their forecasts on a wild big dipper which I avoided,  plunging their estimates  to low growth or no growth. They thought both investment confidence and consumer confidence would bomb after the Brexit vote, but they now admit they were wrong.

Today  our disagreements are a bit more technical and limited. I have agreed with them that inflation would pick up from the very low levels of last summer. It is doing so and may rise a bit more. I disagree with them that this is mainly owing to the fall in the value of the pound. It has been mainly owing to the surge in oil and other commodity prices, and some domestic wage drift in hotels and catering in particular as the living wage comes in. The rising inflation is an advanced  world phenomenon where there is reasonable growth, not a Brexit one. German inflation has risen in lock step with ours, and US inflation has risen more.

I also disagree with them that the fall in the pound is the sole result of Brexit. There was a large fall in sterling from July 2015 to April 2016 before the vote, when most market participants and the polls were confident Remain would win. The yen and the Euro have also been weak against a strong dollar over much of this period. Interest rate differentials are the main factor likely to be affecting these cross rates. The US signalled early its wish to put up rates, has now put rates up to 1%, and intends to take them higher again this year. All the time the Bank of England and the ECB keep their rates on the floor the dollar is likely to be more favoured by those with footloose cash.

My other disagreement has been over retail sales. I saw no likelihood of a big fall in consumer confidence and retail sales after the vote. Even I was surprised by the acceleration, to reach an unsustainable growth rate of over 7%. The latest retail sales for the year to February show a solid 3.7% growth. If you take out motor fuels, hit by the oil price hike, volumes are up 4.1%. Many have been saying that rising inflation will wipe out real income gains, throttling back spending. We already have an inflation rate around the level of wage rate growth, yet retail sales growth sails on.

How can this be? People are working more hours, getting more bonus and overtime, more are joining the workforce. More are now willing to borrow to buy a car or a new home because there is more confidence about employment levels and employment prospects.

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Happy Birthday to the EU

I wish the EU well on its 60th birthday. The exit of the UK gives the EU a real chance to complete its currency union, and its borders union, two central features of the EU project that the UK under all parties in government was unwilling to accept. Freed of UK scepticism and reluctance, maybe the EU can now press on with building its vision of an integrated continent with a single economic policy, a single budget and more powerful Treasury at federal level, and common citizenship with external policed borders. Or maybe they will discover that the people of the other countries of Europe do not buy into that wider vision either.

It should also be time for the EU to reflect on why the UK left, why many parties on the continent are now pressing for their countries to leave the currency or even the whole Union, and why there are persistent and intense problems including high unemployment, migrations, a lack of agreement on the next steps in the Union, and a lack of proper opposition to EU policies within an EU level democratic framework.

Why, for example, has someone like me been such a critic of the EU?  After all, I belong to many of the groups that are meant to be believers in the project. I am a globalist. I believe in an outward going foreign policy, freer trade where possible, democracy and tolerance, and the pursuit of peace. These are meant to be the values of the EU leaderships as well, so why didn’t they carry me with them?

The answer is two fold. I watched their actions, and saw that so often they did not follow their own stated aims. I also saw that where they thought they were following their aims, they often chose policies which achieved the opposite of their stated ambition.

The biggest disappointment was their wish to  build a large one size fits all bureaucracy seeking to control every aspect of life. This was never compatible with the wider ideals of liberty and democracy. It made creating a single demos even more difficult than it was going to be. With so many different languages and levels of economic development it was never going to be easy to get people to believe in a new European state.

They never followed the aim of building democracy into the EU properly. The Parliament was added, but it does not provide the government nor control the government. Too much power rests in the unelected and often unaccountable Commission. These full time officials can manipulate the member states and play them off against the Parliament. There is no organised opposition to the EU government suggesting an alternative programme or approach, or ready to take over when people have had enough a particular EU government. In practice all the new laws are usually Commission ideas brokered with fluctuating factions of member states and the Parliament. The whole development is a ratchet to greater Union, even where past steps have demonstrably failed or proved unpopular.

They never followed the aim of promoting prosperity. Their currency scheme was bound to produce wild booms and busts in differing member states economies, as Ireland, Spain, Greece and others found to their cost. It was all entirely predictable – as I wrote often. After all we had seen the damage the European Exchange Rate Mechanism did. The Euro was just the version of that you could not easily get out of.

Their austerity policies which followed the boom bust entry of the Euro into many economies has created resentments and confined a whole generation of southern young people to unemployment.

They never worked out how to decide who could be a European citizen, and how to run orderly borders. Instead of the tolerance they wanted, they have created hostile attitudes to new arrivals in many parts of the continent.

Their birthday party should be a meeting for reappraisal. Do less, and do it better. Or get consent to the grand vision. Above all, try being democratic for a change. I saw from the beginning that the EU would not be to our liking. I read the Treaty of Rome which was never a Treaty for a free trade area as advertised. It was always a country in the making, where ambition far outran practicality.

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Reassurance to all EU citizens living and working in the Wokingham constituency

I have always said to those worried that I am sure all EU citizens living and working legally in Wokingham now will be free to stay if they wish after Brexit. The UK government has always indicated that is it wish, but pointed out we need the same assurance for our citizens living on the continent. At last Mr Juncker, the President of the Commission, seems to have said as much. He regards, he says, such a matter as one of “respecting human dignity”. He said “This is not about bargaining”. Exactly.

 

I will continue to press the EU to do the right thing, as I want all to be reassured that there will  be no forced evictions of people following Brexit. I know we all in Wokingham want those full reassurances. We seem to be much closer to them today.

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The President of the Commission gets it right at last

Mr Juncker in his recent interview at last acknowledges that granting the right to stay and to work on the continent for all those UK citizens who currently do so is “about respecting human dignity.” He now says  “This is not about bargaining”.

I have been a sustained critic of the EU’s refusal to live up to decent values and reassure all UK citizens living in the EU that they are free to stay if they wish. I am therefore glad The Commission has now shifted its position. I have long been reassuring all EU citizens in the UK who ask that they will be welcome to stay and work here if they wish, as I assumed the EU would not in the end throw UK citizens out. It is just bizarre that it has taken them so long to say so, and strange that even now it is  not a formal statement by the rest of the EU as a whole.

If anyone in the UK remains worried about the EU’s intentions then they should write and lobby the Commission and their MEPs. The UK government has always been clear it does not intend to threaten EU citizens living in the UK.

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What should be the age to receive your State pension?

We have received a couple of reports this week discussing the age at which people should be entitled to a State pension based on their NI contributions.

Current policy is to raise the age from 65 to 66 in 2020, and to 67 in 2028. As people live longer, so the cost of their pensions rises without a proportionate increase in their contributions over their working lives. Whilst the state retirement scheme is a pay as you go one, where each generation pays for its parents generation out of current NI payments, individual pension entitlement is still based on your past contribution record.

The Cridland report suggests raising the age to 69 between 2037 and 2039 and going higher thereafter. The Government Actuary suggests 69 by 2053-5, with another variant bringing in 69 as early as 2040.

The Report also raises the issue of whether after the end of this Parliament there should be some change to the triple lock. Currently the government is pledged to increase pensions each year by the highest of earnings, prices (CPI)  or 2.5%. Dropping one or two of these requirements could make progressive savings to the total cost. In recent years the 2.5% minimum has meant pensioner incomes rising faster than incomes in work.

I would be interested in your thoughts on all this. There does seem to be a good case to say that as longevity rises there should be a proportionate rise in the pension age to keep some balance between an individual’s contributions when working and their pension receipts. Allowing the triple lock has helped narrow the gap between pensioner incomes and working incomes. There is an issue in how much further people think that should go.

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The events at Westminster yesterday

I send my condolences to the family members of those killed by the assailant yesterday and my best wishes for a speedy recovery to all those injured. The death of a policeman  is especially sad. It reminds us of the risks some state employees run in the course of duty, and strengthens public gratitude for their service.

It is right that Parliament resumes its work today. The Prime Minister spoke well on how we should respond.

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The Brexit opportunity – a new fishing policy

It is time for us to consider how the UK should use its new won powers of self government once the notification has been sent that we are leaving.  The Repeal Bill should more properly be called the Great Continuity Bill, as it will simply confirm all current EU laws and policies as good UK laws and policies. As soon as it is through the UK Parliament can then get to work amending and improving the inherited law. The most obvious place to start is fishing.

The UK as a sovereign country again can establish its territorial waters out to 200 miles from our coast or to the media line with another country’s seaside. The UK can decide what regulations to impose on fishing in these waters. Out must go the idea of quotas with discards of dead fish. The first new rule should be that the fisherman lands all his catch, rather than waste dead fish by putting them back.  With modern technology the Regulator could see what is being caught and could if damage is being done to our fishing grounds require the fisherman to move on or amend his fishing practice. A local regulator should be able help fishermen choose the right net mesh and find the best locations to take more of the fish we want to catch and avoid more damage by catching too many of the wrong size and kind of fish.

The UK will of course need to discuss its new arrangements with neighbouring countries, including Iceland and Norway outside the EU, and France and  the Netherlands inside the EU. There is also the issue of current rights to quota held by Spanish and other fishing interests. Do you think there should be some kind of transitional arrangement for those who have bought businesses and quota? What rights will these fishing businesses have when we decide to change our approach and are no longer under the control of the Common Fishery policy?

 

The UK will be a full member again of the world bodies for fishing.

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The extreme Centre

I see Mr Blair and others are out and about complaining that the centre is not strong enough. He thinks the centre ground needs reinforcing, as he dislikes the way it is assailed by Brexiteers of all persuasions, and by the Corbyn tendency in the Labour party. He still sees new Labour as ideal, as the perfect balance between “the extremes”. It is high time this piece of self serving nonsense was exposed to some criticism.

The problems with New Labour were their three main extremisms.

They took an extreme view about UK intervention in Middle Eastern wars, believing we could use military force to create liberal democracies in various Middle Eastern countries. The public disagreed, and the results of their military actions despite much bravery and heroic effort by our forces were disappointing. They did not understand or manage the politics of the MIddle Eastern countries well, relying too much on force.

They took an extreme view about the ability of the economy to withstand a huge build up in public and private debt and credit, before making an even more extreme judgement to bring some banks crashing down for no good reason. They told us they had abolished the boom-bust cycle, only to preside over the biggest boom-bust since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

They took an extreme view about EU integration and government. Whilst telling us each Treaty was a mild tidying up exercise with all the potency of the Beano, they signed the UK up to a comprehensive cradle of laws and controls making democratic government in the UK difficult. They always denied the public a referendum vote on their centralising tendencies, always denied their significance, and always claimed when challenged that EU laws were for the best regardless of what they said. Their EU actions led directly to the referendum which they helped lose.

Mr Blair needs to grasp that the world has moved on from New Labour. We now know their economic claims were false, as their era ended with major recession and banking crash. We know their EU policy was based on the lie that the EU was only of interest to Conservatives, and that nothing important was happening. We know their policy of favouring large corporations and encouraging cheap labour from the continent to take the low paid jobs they created was not popular with many voters.

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UK inflation lags behind US and Spain and is close to Germany’s

The countries experiencing some reasonable recovery in demand are all experiencing an upturn in inflation of a similar magnitude. Slow growth economies have also experienced a rise thanks to oil and commodity prices, but less so than the faster growing ones.

Spain leads the pack with 3% inflation, followed by the US with 2.7%. The UK at 2.3% is close to Germany at 2.2%.

This is not some Brexit related phenomenon!

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  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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