Even Ukip has no idea how to get us out of the EU trap
Our politicians are stumbling around in the dark when it comes to EU rules. There is only one way we can renegotiate our position with Europe to our advantage
Fears over trade are forcing us into a frustrating ‘consensus’ position with Europe Photo: Alamy
There is virtually no political issue that generates more ill-informed nonsense than whether or not Britain should stay in the EU. We have those 304 MPs voting for David Cameron’s wish to renegotiate our relationship with the EU and put the results to a referendum no later than 2017. We have Theresa May announcing that she is going to demand a British opt-out from 133 EU regulations on law and order, but then apply to opt in again on 35 of them. We have John Cridland, head of the CBI, repeating yet again the old canard that it would be disastrous for us to think of emulating Norway and Switzerland, the two richest countries in Europe, because although they trade freely with the EU’s single market, they have no say in shaping its rules. On and on goes such grandstanding, not touching reality at any point.
The essence of the problem is that, while the British like some aspects of the EU, other aspects make them deeply resentful, without them ever really understanding the rules or how it works. Thus, for many years, as the EU surges towards “ever closer union”, Britain has, in the words of the late Roy Jenkins, become an ever more “foot-dragging and complaining member”. On one hand, the pollsters report that up to half or more of British voters want us to leave. On the other, we have an establishment “consensus” between most of our politicians, media and big business, claiming that, although the EU in its present form is unsatisfactory and needs drastic “reform”, we must stay in for all the benefits we gain from trading with it, and because it gives us “influence”.
It is this “consensus” position that is so riddled with contradictions that it amounts to no more than multiple wishful thinking. There is no way Mr Cameron could obtain the kind of “à la carte” relationship he hints at, let alone that he could do so if re-elected, in time for a referendum in 2017. First, the rules would necessitate a new treaty, requiring procedures so lengthy that it could not possibly be completed by 2017. Second, the return of powers he claims to want would breach that most sacred principle of EU law, that national powers once surrendered can never be given back.
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