My time as Single Market Minister turned me into a strong critic of the single market we were meant to be creating. I had accepted the verdict of the 1975 referendum where people voted to stay in a common market, and did my best to help bring it about. The more involved I became, the more I realised the EU model was more bureaucracy and government than market. The Single market programme was used to extend EU power and control over more and more areas of business and life, often without helping business to compete or succeed.
Practically every item we were asked to negotiate caused problems to UK businesses. I was regularly lobbied to put off, amend or water down the proposals by large companies. A good week’s work was successfully lobbying other member states and the Commission to make sure something adverse did not happen. Various proposals were kept in limbo for many years, as lots of member states agreed with us they were not desirable. Other proposals were more difficult to arrest, as a majority of member states would go along with them. The careful construction of a blocking minority took time and effort.
The whole structure was based on the misleading idea that you need a comprehensive set of law codes regulating so many facets of life to be able to trade with each other. As far as I was concerned all I wanted to complete the common market others had voted for was the acceptance that if a product was of merchandisable quality in one country, the home country, it could be offered for sale in the other countries in the Union. Customers would make up their own minds as to its quality, desirability and value for money. Instead the EU wanted to control in minute detail not just the products, but also the workforces, environments, transport systems and much else vaguely related to producing the goods. Soon the Union also wanted a defence policy, a security policy, a foreign policy and all matters that a state undertakes.
When negotiating there was an assumption shared by most that the EU did want an agreement. The Commission had hundreds of ideas of things it wanted to control and regulate, and it kept pushing them forwards to get them ticked off its list of things to do and powers to assume. It exploited the weakness of member states in the structure. Only the Commission could make and draft a proposal. The Commission could use the rotating Presidencies to push different draft laws, depending on the preferences of each Presidency country. It was one way traffic towards ever more EU power.
The Commission was not interested in repeal or amendment of past laws that did not work well. When pressed for repeals, they usually came up with the idea of creating a large portmanteau Directive in place of lots of more limited ones, so it could both announce various repeals and still end up with more power overall. As the figures show, there was no increase in the UK growth rate in the years after we joined the EEC, and no improvement in the growth rate after they completed the Single market in 1992. Indeed, the longer term UK growth rate fell after 1972 and again after 1992. That was not surprising given the nature of the law making programme they jokingly called a market. Common EU policies like the Fishing and Agriculture policy were damaging to us, and the dear energy policy has made the EU less competitive. The European Exchange Rate Mechanism and the Euro of course conspired to depress growth for many member states.