Restoring our democracy
The historic 2015 Parliament has as its prime task the restoration of the powers of the British people. We need to change our relationship with the EU so that when the people speak in elections, their elected representatives can carry out their will.
Today we can say confidently “It’s our democracy, stupid”, that lies at the heart of our political debate.
The renegotiation is about who makes the ultimate decision. If we wish to decide who comes to our country, or who receives welfare benefits, can we have a relationship with the EU that allows the UK Parliament to do so?
We see growing unrest on the continent as countries locked into the Euro seek change to economic policy at the ballot box only to find their new governments cannot make the changes they want owing to Euro area rules. The UK wisely kept out of the Euro so we could remain self governing.
It comes as a shock to many voters to discover that their wishes on issues as wide ranging as welfare, border controls, energy and justice may be against EU law and beyond the power of their Parliament to remedy. Today there are all too many areas where the UK has lost its right to self government.
The renegotiations are about the growing gulf between what a once sovereign people want, and what their EU controlled Parliament can now achieve. Throughout the EU now, it’s not so much a democratic deficit, as a democratic disaster.
The Prime Minister rightly identified this damage to our democracy in his Bloomberg speech, and called for a new settlement. He is happy to negotiate a restoration of national democracy for all members, or just for the UK as a non Euro member of the EU. He has pointed out that as a non Euro member it is vital the UK is protected from creeping EU government power which they may need to run the Eurozone but which should not apply to us.
Some say this cannot be negotiated. I say it must be negotiated or we should leave. The EU prides itself in the long democratic traditions of some of its members, and the shorter though no less prized democratic histories of the rest. Each country fought to achieve its own freedoms. It is vital these treasures are not damaged in a rush to support the Euro or to give in to the bureaucratic consensus, which may be wrong and is often unpopular.
Other states may agree that there are many matters that should ultimately be settled by national Parliaments. They may agree that a member state should have the ability to override EU law or policy where the public and parliament so wish. They may accept that the UK has a case for a range of special opt outs, building on its large opt out from the Euro.
The collision between the popular will and the EU consensus policy is at its most intense today in Greece. This may spread to Spain and Italy, as opinion polls show. It lies behind the growing strength of the National Front in France. The UK’s disagreement is contained within a mainstream party recently elected to govern with a majority. Whilst the EU would be wise not to underestimate the power of UK feelings about borders and welfare as expressed in our recent election, it allows an easier solution for the rest of the EU than the concerted forces now ranged against the Euro scheme in the southern states. With the UK the EU has the option of simply solving the UK problem as a non Euro member by opts out and treaty changes for the UK alone, or solving the problem more generally for all states. For its part the UK has a realistic solution of leaving the EU if no relief is forthcoming, whereas Eurozone members have better grounded fears about simply leaving as they are so dependent on each other within the zone.
Isn’t demanding more rights to veto and opt out tantamount to leaving the EU?
The EU used to work with a large number of vetoes for individual countries. In more recent years these vetoes have been removed by treaty or eroded by legal and administrative practice.
It all depends what type of Union other countries want. If all the rest wish to become part of a United States of Europe with a wide range of centralised policies and controls, then it would indeed be best for the UK to leave. If, as they say, they want trade and co-operation but not a single state, then there could be ways of reconciling member state sovereignty with mutual agreements. Now is a good time to sort out which it is to be, as the Euro area contemplates what more it needs to do to achieve growth and harmony within the currency zone.
Does this risk our EU trade?
The good news is our trade with the rest of the EU is not at risk. The German government has made clear they would want a free trade agreement with the UK if we left the EU. As the EU sells us so much more than we sell them, they have every interest in continuing with what we have on the same or similar terms.
The common external tariff is now very low if by any chance we ended up having to pay it. The 10% tax on cars is unattractive, but I am sure Germany would have no wish to have to pay 10% on every car exported to the UK so it would be simple to agree for neither side to impose it.
The UK has no intention of taking its trade deficit elsewhere. UK consumers will still want to buy German cars and French wine, and will be able to do so on good terms. In return anyone making things in the UK for sale to the continent will enjoy similar terms.
Our trade is not at risk, but our freedoms are if we stay inside the present EU. The joy of a new deal or exit is they offer us the continuation of our trade and the restoration of our freedoms. The 2015 Parliament will be the Home Rule Parliament. Just as Scotland and England deserve and need more self government, so our United Kingdom needs to restore the sovereignty of the British people and the strength of its once mighty Parliament.