The people who like our current membership of the EU or want more involvement in EU matters rely on just two arguments. The first is that we have to stay in on the current basis because so much of our trade is with the EU. The second is we need to be in to have a seat at the table to influence all the rules and regulations.
I have dealt recently with the misleading figures they use, looking at just the trade in goods and ignoring the big interest the rest of the EU has in exporting to us. Today I wish to look at the strange EU idea that you need to have lots of common laws and regulations in order to trade with each other.
This was the Foreign Office and EU argument I first encountered when acting as The Prime Minister’s Chief Policy Adviser in the 1980s. The EU wanted UK consent to the Single European Act. This proposed the aboltion of our right to veto proposals, substituting qualified majority voting for a range of measures to do with trade, industry and commerce.
I argued that there was no need to give away our veto over new laws in order to create a genuinely free market in the EU. All you needed was the simple rule, that if a product was of merchandisable quality in country A, meeting the rules in that country, it should be allowed for sale in the other countries of the EU. It does not mean people had to buy it, but why not trust each country to winnow out the dangerous or the false product, and let the market do the rest.
The EU insisted that it needed 272 new laws to make a single market. This was to be the “Single market programme”. Having lost the argument to keep our veto, I tried the compromise position with the UK government, that they should say they would only remove the veto for the 272 measures deemed to be necessary. Even that was thought too tough by the Foreign office. The government decided to back the Single European Act and the loss of veto on a permanent basis.
The problem with this approach is the EU can use the excuse of the Single market to push through all sorts of legislation that is not strictly necessary in order to trade. Subsquently Labour gave away many more rights to veto in Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon, leaving the UK vulnerable to an avalanche of laws we did not seek or want.
Having the seat at the table has not succeeded in preventing too much law, or in getting poor or needless regulations removed. All UK governments have said they are pushing for deregulation in the EU, and for leaving more matters to national and local determination. Despite this, the body of EU law has risen at a very rapid rate.
Meanwhile China, the USA, Switzerland and many other non EU countries trade quite happily with the EU. They have no seat at the table. They do not find their goods excluded because they are not members of the club. The Single market concept has been made into a Trojan horse for more EU government and law making. The City is about to fall almost completely under massive EU regulation. There is little evidence that it will be drafted or deployed in a way that is helpful to protecting and enlarging London’s success in financial services.