The EU: Options for Britain
Douglas Carswell MP
To be clear, ladies and gentleman, I believe that the United Kingdom should withdraw from the European Union and I believe that with a passion. We are here today to consider the options for Britain. I say the only way is out.
There are logically three views that you can have about Britain and our membership of the European Union. One position that you could adopt – and it is not a position that I share, but it is an honourable position to believe – is that the United Kingdom should belong to the European Union and all that goes with it. That is not my view, but it is an honourable view. The other point of view, the view I believe in, is that we should withdraw from the European Union. I hope that those who think we should remain members of the European superstate would give me the courtesy of seeing my position as honourable and coherent. Then there are those people in the middle who seem to believe that we should remain in but somehow reform the EU. What I want to do today is to put it to you that we cannot reform the EU to become a club that most people in this country would wish to remain a part of.
It has been the objective of every government, both Labour and Conservative, to reform the EU common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy since they went in. They have not done so. Membership has been a political and economic disaster and I believe that if we do not leave sooner than later it will be a catastrophe. As the centre right, as a Conservative movement, we need to start to consider our options for a managed exit.
There has been a delusion in British politics for the past 40 years, that somehow the European Union, the common market, call it what you will, is coming our way. It was Conservative ministers in the 1970s who talked about the need to go in for economic reasons. We used to say it was coming our way for the single market. It was a Conservative who said it was Maastricht that represented the high watermark of further integration. I believe we need to be realistic about what being a member of the European Union entails. And we need to be realistic about the fact that, if we remain in, what membership entails, what it does actually entail rather than what we would like it to entail.
It is a strange time to tie yourself to Europe. Europe is growing weaker by almost every criteria. Economically, the European economy accounts for less of the world economy than at any time since the 1600s. Of the G6 most industrialised countries in the world today, not one EU country is likely to be in the G6 by 2050. If you look at things like the outflows of direct investment, in France in 2004 alone there was an outflow of £50 billion, in Germany of £39 billion. People, shareholders, money – they are voting with their feet.
Europe is not only economically weak, it is also demographically weak. By 2010 I understand the absolute population of Europe will be declining. Europe has what some commentators have called ‘deathbed’ demographics. Europe already has to import large numbers of people from abroad, and this raises questions of cultural continuity on our continent that few politicians are yet willing to discuss. Militarily too, the European Union is profoundly weak. I would argue that, with the exception of France and the UK, Europe is a political pygmy that has been allowed to remain in that weak state because of its defacto defence subsidy from North America. It is because of this defacto subsidy that the body politic in Germany, Spain and Italy has been allowed to remain unrealistic about what it really requires in terms of a commitment to increase its defence spending.
Europe is getting weak. Some people would say that that is a reason why Europe needs to integrate. Indeed there is case for saying that, post World War II, one of the founding reasons for integration was a response to the weakness of Western Europe, and it was a way of working together to overcome this weakness that the founding fathers envisaged. I would argue the opposite. I would say that harmonisation and integration have actually created Europe’s weakness. I am passionately in favour of Europe doing well; that is why I am opposed to us remaining in the EU. Totting up the combined Gross Domestic Products of the European economies may make the standing of a country called Europe in the international league tables. It doesn’t make the member states’ economies more dynamic. Calling everyone living in the member states a European citizen doesn’t actually create more Europeans and solve the demographic time bomb that we face. Creating a Euro-Corps, merging our armies into a Euro-Corps does not actually create the military incentive to convince member states to make the necessary commitment to investment in their militaries. In diplomatic terms Europe may be very good at annoying the United States of America. It can do it together or it can do it alone. It is still not taken seriously in Beijing or Tehran.
Integration I think has been counter productive, and I want to try and explain why. And I am borrowing very heavily from Andrew Neil, when he gave the Hayek lecture a year ago. He talked about the difference between what Hayek termed ‘constructive rationalism’ and ‘evolutionary rationalism’. Andrew Neil’s Hayek lecture pointed very strongly to the European Union as being a product of constructive rationalism, the idea that all social institutions should be made by deliberate design, that somebody knows best what is good for you and good for the member states. I believe that it is a fatal conceit of the European Union and it explains why it is not as good at making decisions for the member states as different member states acting in their own interests would be better able to make for themselves. Evolutionary rationalism, I believe, is the guiding conservative principle that believes that there exist orderly structures that are the products of many men acting in the interests of many member states, in their own interests, not of a single design, not of a single commission trying to harmonise us.
Harmonisation has actually created weaknesses. I want to show you why the attempts at post war integration have been so catastrophic, given the challenge and opportunity we face from the industrial revolution happening in China and India. Since 1978, China, after many centuries essentially started to devolve control from the centre – localism, direct democracy (well perhaps not direct democracy). In 1978 it started to give control over the state owned enterprises to the local or provincial heads, no longer to Beijing, creating special economic zones. Hong Kong has one, Shanghai has one. The eastern sea board is littered with them. It started to devolve control over different systems and different structures. Since 1978 China’s trajectory has been upwards and further upwards.
Europe on the other hand, since about 1400, had suffered from no political centralisation and no political elite which could stifle innovation and enterprise. When they tried to ban the printing press in one European territory, they simply moved it to another. When high taxation prevented one group of merchants from trading, trade simply moved elsewhere. There was no central or political authority that could stagnate Europe until the Treaty of Rome. China’s trajectory and India’s trajectory has been upwards because they have believed in localism and devolved decision making. Europe has centralised and stagnated as a result. The secret to Europe’s success, the reason why this windswept, godforsaken, not very blessed corner of the world dominated human history for the last 400 years, is its lack of political centralisation of political authority, which has been replaced by a system where the politician and the unelected commissioner have been able to prevent, stifle and stagnate innovation.
For the sake of everyone in Europe, I believe that we should leave. I believe that we should save our exertions and save Europe by example. It is time we had the guts to say this. I believe in progressive politics and it is progressive to say it. I want internationalism, I want to be global in my outlook, I want my country to be able to do something about what is happening in Darfur. I want my country to be able to ensure that there is fair and free trade in Africa. It is an inward looking European Union that prevents that. It is an inward looking European Union that is the enemy of internationalism.
I’m going to talk rubbish this afternoon. And I do want to talk about the Conservative Party. But if I also mention booster seats in cars or our new size-based system of postal charges, then any of you who happen to read my column in the Sunday Telegraph might know where I’m coming from.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve been writing about the recent spate of controversial new laws which have made plenty of headlines, but which the media seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge as originating from the European Union.
In the past few days we have seen yet another superb example in this new law which came into force on Sunday outlawing discrimination in the workplace on grounds of age. It is quite clear that this is going to create a horrendous new legal minefield (or paradise for lawyers, if you prefer it) Anyway, according to Personnel Today, it is going to ‘create havoc’. Even according to the government itself, it is going to add hundreds of millions of pounds a year to the costs for businesses, as they face a massive escalation in the number of appeals going before employment tribunals. In other words, badly and ambiguously drafted, this is a very bad law.
But why are we only hearing all this now? Do we remember all these points being made when this law was being debated by Parliament? Do we remember thundering editorials making these points as it reached its Second Reading? Of course we don’t, because this law wasn’t debated by Parliament. The reason why it seemed suddenly to appear as the law of the land was that had been slipped through under the European Communities Act to implement a six-year old Brussels directive. But when this law suddenly became the focus of excitable attention from the media – including no fewer than three long items on last Friday’s Today programme - the very last thing the BBC or most of the rest of the media wanted to tell us was where this controversial law had come from.
It was the same with the new law making it a criminal offence to drive a car with a child under ‘135 centimentres’ tall, whatever that may be, unless the child is placed in a booster seat. Despite all the avalanche of media coverage this received, including stories of policemen waiting mob-handed round school gates ready to swoop on any mum who was breaking the law, it took Boris Johnson in the Daily Telegraph to come forward to explain the simple fact that this was yet another law imposed by Brussels which our elected MPs had been given no opportunity to discuss or to vote on.
One of the most glaring recent example of this strange blindness to the way we are now governed has been the way we get rid of our rubbish. In the past few months this has become a major national talking point. The mass of different bins we all now have to put out in the name of ‘ recycling’. Then the revelations of how much of what is collected for recycling is not in fact being recycled at all, because there simply aren’t the arrangements in place to make that possible, so that much of it is still either having to be landfilled, or it is being shipped out to the East or Africa to be disposed of in ways which do immense damage both to their environment and to their workers.
Our waste policy is a shambles. As it becomes ever harder to dispose of items such as fridges or old motor cars or old batteries or asbestos cement roof slates, we predictably have an unprecedented epidemic of fly tipping. All this gets plenty of coverage in the national and local press. But hardly ever does anyone ever explain why this is all happening. It is happening for the simple reason that our waste disposal policy is now almost entirely dictated by a series of EC directives which bear remarkably little relation to economic and environmental reality, particularly in this country, which is why we have been landed in such an unholy mess.
What is true of our waste policy is also true of far too much else about the way we are now governed. An ever greater proportion of the way our laws are now made and our national policies decided is now being handed over to a mysterious new form of government which bears no relation to parliamentary democracy. Far too many of the policies and laws it produces turn out to be horribly expensive, hopelessly misconceived and don’t work. What is more, when this becomes apparent, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it, because it is a system which is wholly unaccountable.
Yet the most astonishing thing of all is the way in which all this is kept out of view. We had yet another striking example yesterday when the main story on the front page of the Telegraph Business section carried the headline ‘Labour’s rights for workers cost economy £37 billion’. The CBI had produced a report stating that, based on the government’s own figures, this has been the cumulative cost to British business of 35 new rights granted to workers under employment regulations since 1998. The obvious message was that this was all somehow the fault of the Labour government. Not a hint anywhere in the story that almost every one of these new regulations originated from the EU. Was the Telegraph not aware that the making of employment law is now a Brussels competence, which means we no longer have the power to make employment law ourselves?
Just consider some of the other areas of national policy we have handed over to this mysterious system. Obviously, the way we run our agriculture and the laws which govern our fishing waters.. The way we run every aspect of our environment policy, from how we get rid of our rubbish to the way we are about to cover our countryside with thousands of useless wind turbines. The way we run our competition rules, our immigration rules, our overseas trade, our food safety, our road safety, the regulation of our aviation and shipping, most of our laws on terrorism. And increasingly this is becoming true also of the way we have to run our tax system, not to mention large parts of our foreign and defence policies - very much including the increasingly disastrous way in which we organise and equip our beleaguered armed forces, which has become one of the really shocking scandals of our time.
All these things used to be at the heart of our national political debate. They were the subject of proper discussion in Parliament, They were the very stuff of party political conferences, like this one here in Bournemouth. Yet, bit by bit, all these crucial themes of what our politics used to be about have been allowed to slip away, barely noticed, into that mysterious twilight zone where we can no longer have any significant influence on them.
It is hardly surprising that most people these days no longer have any real idea how most of our laws and policies are decided. The media certainly don’t bother to tell us. Any more than do the politicians themselves. They just carry on as if none of this had happened. Until all we are left with is the soap opera of politics. The ‘Tony and Gordon Show’. Will Harriet Harman be our next deputy prime minister? Will Charles Kennedy make a come back? How many acres of newsprint have been devoted to all this kind of rubbish in the past few weeks? Perhaps it is the only kind of rubbish which definitely does get recycled. Again and again and again. But this is just as relevant, I’m afraid, to what is going on here in Bournemouth this week.
A peculiar myth has grown up with the new leadership of the Tory Party that one of the reasons why the party has done so badly in the era of Tony Blair is that it has been too ‘right wing’. And the supreme example of this, we are told, is that the party has been too obsessed with what they call ‘ Europe’.
Part of the new deal laid down by Mr Cameron and his friends is that their new Conservative Party must stop talking about anything that can be construed as ‘right wing’, which therefore means, as Mr Cameron puts it that it must stop ‘banging on about Europe’. What was it he said on Sunday?
While parents worried about childcare, getting the kids to school, balancing work and family life - we were banging on about Europe.
His friend George Osborne was saying the same thing again yesterday. ‘Don’t mention Europe’ has become the modern version of ‘don’t mention the war’.
But those of us who don’t live in the Westminster bubble find this rather puzzling. And one reason for this is that we are old enough to remember what the Tory Party has actually been up to over the past decade.
John Major, as we recall, did get in a fearful mess over ‘Europe’. It is perhaps the supreme irony of modern British politics that nothing did more to destroy the credibility of the Tory Party than ‘Black Wednesday’, our collapse out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992. From that moment on, the Tories were never again ahead in the polls for 14 years. It was a triple irony, firstly because the Labour Party and the Liberals were even keener on our joining the ERM than the Tory Party. Secondly because our escape from the ERM was, as we know, the best thing that could possibly have happened to our economy, ushering in that decade or more of unbroken growth which really stemmed from the revolution brought about in our economy in the 1980s under Mrs Thatcher. And thirdly it was an irony because it was precisely that strength in our economy, inherited by Labour, which has been the chief underpinning of all Labour’s pretensions to have been a successful government ever since 1997.
It is true that when William Hague took over in1997, he did for a while ‘bang on about Europe’ quite a bit. When he made a Eurosceptic speech to the CBI later that year he won a genuine standing ovation. In 1998 at Fontainebleau he gave the most intelligently argued speech made about the future of the European Union by any British politician for years – since. dare one say it, that speech from which the organisation holding this meeting today took its name.
But in those days, of course, the great ‘European’ issue of the moment was whether Britain should sign up to that successor of the ERM, economic and monetary union. And one of the biggest problems facing Mr Hague was that, as soon as he made it clear that he was no more keen for Britain to join than Gordon Brown, he was set upon in the most bizarre way by some of the most senior members of the Party. Day after day on the BBC we heard Kenneth Clarke, Heseltine, Howe, Hurd and Leon Brittan calling for Britain to join the euro. This provoked Mr Hague into such a retreat that by the 2001 election Tory policy on ‘Europe’ had dwindled away into little more than just two slogans. ‘Save the Pound’, ‘In Europe but not run by Europe’. If you were a Tory spokesman, you were allowed to utter those two little mantras but nothing more - and woe betide you if you stepped an inch off message.
Then came Iain Duncan Smith. The bizarre thing with IDS was that, although the main reason why he won such overwhelming support from the Tory grass roots in the leadership election was that he had a reputation for being a keen Eurosceptic, no sooner did he get into office than we heard almost nothing from him about it ever again. Although it was the very reason why he had been elected, it just seemed to vanish from his agenda - just as he was soon to vanish himself. The very last thing one could say about the IDS interregnum was that the reason why he became so unpopular was his obsession with ‘Europe’.
Then we had the next interregnum, under Mr Howard. A man who was occasionally prepared to flirt with Euroscepticism when it seemed opportune, as when he belatedly called for a referendum on the EU constitution, but who on the whole was as keen to keep ‘Europe’ stuffed away out of sight as his predecessors. Do you remember that revealing moment when, shortly before the 2005 election, he made headlines by calling for more curbs on immigration, only for it to be rather embarrassingly pointed out that what he was asking for would be illegal under European rules? It made us wonder just how much he was actually aware of how far we were no longer able to govern ourselves. But again one could scarcely have argued that the main reason why Howard put off the voters was that he was ‘obsessed with Europe’.
And so we come to that moment a year ago when, thanks largely to a single speech when he showed that he could address conference without notes, the Tory Party came to pick as its leader the man who thinks that one of the biggest mistakes made by his predecessors was to keep going on about ‘Europe’.
The chief principle guiding Mr Cameron in his first year in office, it has appeared, is that he wants to seem as unlike a Conservative as possible. List all the principles traditionally identified with being a Tory, and the rule is now, it seems, that the Tory Party should no longer be seen to stand for them. One result of this, as the latest polls have borne out, is that it has now become a major puzzle for most people to know just what the Tory party is meant to stand for on anything these days.
Much better, the thinking seems to have been, to divert attention from policies by going overboard for saving the planet. If ties are worn at all, they should at all times be green. The important thing is flying off to watch glaciers melt (while being careful to avoid those which are still advancing). Cycling to work (while the chauffeur purrs discreetly behind, and out of shot, with a clean shirt). Putting a mini-wind turbine on one’s roof (which even that great turbine fanatic George Monbiot has realised is a total waste of time and money).
But quite apart from the naïve vacuity of all these gestures, back in the real world there is something else that is very odd about Dave’s enthusiasm for ‘the environment’. Not that he has ever given us the slightest hint that he is aware of it, but any power we might once have had to make policy on the environment has long since been handed over to the EU. So there is remarkably little the Tory Party could actually do about the environment unless we could get the Latvians, the Slovaks., the Slovenes and all the rest to agree with us.
Meanwhile, in the real world, we are still left with our rubbish disposal system in chaos, for the very reason that this is something all those same partners of ours have already agreed on. This chaos is being brought about by precisely the same system Mr Cameron would need to help him save the planet. But about the EU’s waste policy, which is already a very real environmental issue for millions of people, it seems Mr Cameron has nothing to say whatever.
All of which brings us back to where we started, to where a great deal of the way our country is now run has been handed over to a peculiar form of government which is beyond any democratic control. And almost the first rule of politics these days, whether one is Tory, Labour or Lib Dem, is that we mustn’t talk about it. Even if in practice that system is demonstrably failing us, and failing us very badly. Because there is nothing we can do about it. Don’t mention ‘Europe’. It has become the massive great ‘elephant in the room’ of our politics.
There is just one issue related to Europe, however, on which Mr Cameron has acted very decisively. And it is worth looking at for a moment because I think it tells us quite a bit about his attitude to Europe and about his style as a leader.
If there is one policy produced by the European Community which more than anything else has been recognised as an unmitigated failure it is the Common Fisheries Policy, hastily and illegally botched up in 1970 as a way of grabbing Community control over the richest fishing waters in the world. I know a little about this because for years I used to report on what a total disaster this had led to – not just a catastrophe for the British fishing industry but an environmental catastrophe of world significance.
The one thing I always found frustrating was that, although everyone in the end was prepared to agree that the CFP was a disaster, no one seemed to have the faintest practical idea as to what to do about it. Tony Blair promised he would do something about it before he was elected in 1997, even if it meant renegotiating the treaty. But he then just rolled over. Three successive Tory leaders, Hague, IDS and Howard, all in turn gave personal pledges that if elected they would pull Britain out of the CFP. But what no one seemed prepared to focus on was the practical question of how our fishing waters could be managed more responsibly; in such a way that fish stocks could recover, while the fishermen themselves might once again be able to earn an honest living.
The one person who finally got round to looking into this was the man appointed by Michael Howard to be his fisheries spokesman, Owen Paterson, MP for North Shropshire. Mr Paterson not only talked to fishermen the length and breadth of Britain. He also visited all the significant fishing nations round the North Atlantic, he went to Norway, the Faroes, Iceland, Canada, the USA, even down to the Falklands. He spoke to fishermen, scientists and politicians in all those countries, and what he found was an eyeopener. He found that in every case they had developed modern fisheries management techniques which have enabled fish stocks not just to survive but to grow. While the fishermen themselves have never been so prosperous. The contrast to the utterly dismal situation here in Europe, particularly here in Britain, could not have been more startling.
What this enabled Mr Paterson to do was to produce a Tory policy for fishing which might at last give some genuine meaning to all those pledges that Britain would pull out of the CFP: a practical strategy which might not just halt an ecological disaster and restore the fortunes of the British fishing industry, but also make it possible for our continental partners to continue fishing in UK waters on a properly sustainable basis. This was the policy, eventually backed by Michael Howard, on which the Tory party won back a good deal of the support it had long since lost from our fishing communities. And this was the policy on which the party fought the last election, when it was noted that in more than one fishing constituency the Tory vote went up enough to win back the seat.
So what was the one European policy which Mr Cameron couldn’t wait to drop when he became leader? It was this fishing policy. Instead, as the man put in charge of drawing up a new policy to replace it, he appointed John Gummer, a fanatical admirer of the EU and the man who 14 years ago was more hated by Britain’s fishermen than any other fisheries minister we’ve ever had, because of the zeal with which he set about complying with Brussels’s orders to close down a fifth of our fishing fleet.
Three things were particularly striking about this decision. The first was that Mr Cameron didn’t make any public announcement about it. He just let it trickle out that the policy had been dropped, in a roundabout way which could not have gone down worse in all those fishing communities which felt that once again the Tories had betrayed them.
Then there was the apparent reasoning behind the decision: to pull out of the CFP was politically impossible because it would mean a treaty change. But at the same time Mr Cameron and his friends have been quite happy to make noises about how they would pull Britain out of the Social Chapter, which would be just as much in breach of the treaty as opting out of the CFP. The very fact that they can be so woolly and inconsistent about this sort of thing makes one wonder yet again just how much these people really understand how the European Union works.
The third virtue of that abandoned fisheries policy was that it was the only serious proposal yet made by anyone to do something to halt the environmental disaster which the CFP has made inevitable, not least through its policy of discarding, which every year forces fishermen to destroy countless billions of fish to no purpose. So, by rushing back to support the CFP. It seems Mr Cam eron is apparently quite happy to see that ecological catastrophe continue. Making one again wonder just how much he actually knows or cares about the environment he claims to be so keen on.
So where does this all leave us?
We can sum up by saying that many of the policies and laws which rule our lives are now produced by a weird form of government which is not only wholly undemocratic but also astonishingly inefficient. But no one is meant to talk about it.
We live under a national government which in the past nine years has shown itself to be not only the least efficient but also the most dishonest and corrupt we can remember. In every direction it has inflicted the most appalling damage on our country, from our policing to our private pensions, from our farming to the mess it has made of our local democracy, from the debauching of our honours system to the the largest expansion we have ever seen in the public payroll, from the mass closure of local hospitals to the scarcely believable damage it is doing to our country’s defences.
All these, and many more, are issues which cry out for a response based on robust, democratic, common sense Conservative principles. But what do have instead? We have a ‘Not The Conservative’ Party’, led by a man who would prefer not to talk about any of these things. A man who would rather be seen on the internet washing up porridge bowls in his kitchen than talk about the truly horrifying and tragic mess facing our troops in Afghanistan.
I’m sorry to say this, but I really do hope that what we are looking at here is just another interregnum. It’s time the politics of our country got back to the real world.
Question & Answer Session
There is a book by Professor Patrick Minford, where he analysed the balance sheet of our membership of the European Union. He says the negative effect on the Gross National Product is five percent of GDP. How has this been covered up? Why isn’t it on sale at the conference and other bookstores?
Answer Douglas Carswell:
I don’t think there is. The conventional wisdom that has been put about by politicians and the BBC, the idea that there is an economic rationale, that it is the common market, and that it’s worth playing a political price – I think it’s fictional. If you look at the balance sheet you have to take into account the fact that before we went into the common market we had an economic surplus with the member states. We’ve had a deficit every year since. There are two continents on earth with which we have a trade deficit, Antarctica and Europe. We have to have a massive trade surplus to make up for it. It’s not actually any good for our economy. Look at the regulatory impact of the over-regulation. I think these arguments do need to be made, but they have to be made sensibly. The federalists would love us to talk in a way that makes people concerned about their economic wellbeing. So I think we have to make the argument sensibly, rationally and progressively. One often hears people say that we couldn’t possibly survive outside the common market. Switzerland can do it, but they’ve got banking. Iceland can do it because they’ve got fish. Norway can do it because they’ve got oil. Well, what is the city of London? What is that stuff that we have coming out of those pipes in the sea? Oil. What are those things that we used to have swimming in our waters? Fish. We are the fifth largest economy on the world, we have three times as many people as they have in Australia. I think economically we can survive very well outside the EU. I do think we need to make the argument in sensible terms which means that the core vote that we need to appeal to is attracted by our argument, not repelled by it.
Answer Christopher Booker:
I’ve maintained for many years the two preconditions of achieving that end, of Britain somehow finding a way out of this extraordinary political construct, something quite unprecedented in the history of the world. There are two stages one has to have: to develop a proper understanding of the problem, and then to develop the political will to set about it in a grown up way. Without that there is no way we can huff out. There is no way we can see any of our political parties wanting this to happen. It is unfortunately an accumulative process. What we are paying the price for is the massive act of deception of the British people, which has been going on for 45 years, since Harold Macmillan first applied to join the common market as it was then called.
When I was writing on the history of the European Union with Richard North, writing the history of the European Union, almost every episode of that history, when looking at the original memoirs and documents, came out differently when we looked at the primary evidence when it had been filtered through predominantly Europhile authors, such as Hugo Young, who got it hopelessly wrong. When Macmillan was applying with Heath at his side in 1961, they were told – not only from Brussels; they were also told in no uncertain terms by President Kennedy’s advisor, George Ball, in charge of what we would call America’s policy on Europe and the EU – they were told the aim of this thing is political unity, you must not go in assuming it is just to do with economics, that it is just a common market, it is only a staging post on the way to eventual and total political integration. That was made clear to them. What did Macmillan and Heath say? They said we accept that and we understand that. But when Macmillan discussed it round the cabinet table he made it clear that if they put that to the British people he would never get it through. The aim was right from that moment, as it had been when the common market was founded. Let’s pretend this is just about economics, about trade and jobs, then once we’ve got our foot in the door we can work up to our real aim which is total political integration. Everything that has happened since then hangs on that fundamental deliberate deceit of the British people.
There are hundreds of studies. Patrick Minford, a very respected man, but there have also been other respected men and women, Ruth lea among them, who have worked out that if we were not hamstrung by this thing in every possible constraints, we could be a more prosperous country than we are, and we could be a happier country than we are. But we are still labouring under the political class that have accepted this culture of deceit which began back there in the 50s and 60s; since then integration has rolled on like a great fog, where we have one hell a battle to get the truth out from all the lies and all the fog.
It is not possible to have a moral case for staying in what we know to be a moral shambles. Thomas Paine once said, “The world belongs to the living not to the dead”. What he means by that is that it is the most preposterous of all propositions that we, the generations who live now, can make rules that future generations in years to come have to obey. It is simply wrong. In Britain we have always had the principle that no parliament can bind its successor. Parliament has always known that we have no right and cannot forecast for and bind future parliaments. Most of all we have no moral right to make laws binding upon future generations. But that is precisely what the EU is, everything is unchangeable and irreversible. That is the acquis communitaire. The EU is a prison not just for the people but the mind, and we have no right to inflict that on our children, even if it is an economic success.
Answer Douglas Carswell:
Answer Christopher Booker:
I wonder how many people can remember who was the first person to say we should have a referendum if we join the single currency? It was Prime Minister Thatcher who said, “It would be quite wrong for this house to agree to something which binds the generations yet to come to something irreversible without consulting the British people and allowing their will to prevail”.
The next general election is very likely to happen in 2009; we are also likely to have county council elections on that day and European elections in that year. How on earth is the party going to get around the situation that we need to talk about Europe while being told not to talk about Europe?
Answer Douglas Carswell:
I am talking about Europe now. I will carry on talking about Europe and meaning what I say. The people of Harwich elected me to parliament and I will carry on meaning what I say and saying what I think is in their best interests until they decide otherwise. And I think that’s the attitude in our parliamentary democracy that we should take. You say that there may be general and European elections at the same time. I think that if that were to happen (and it’s a big if) it may focus a few minds, open a few minds. There is an anti-politics mood across this country, there is a feeling that the political classes and elite are no longer addressing the concerns of the local people. And I have long feared that in this country we may be in danger of seeing what in Holland we could call the Pim Fortuyn moment, where disgust with the political parties is so strong that people look elsewhere to other less mainstream candidates. And I think the danger of that happening is exacerbated if you have a European election and a general election taking place on the same day. It is something that concerns me and bothers me. I would hate to see some good decent people vote for some very indecent candidates. I think the way to counter that is to be open and honest. I stood for election saying I wanted out. I told my selection committee that on the night I was selected. I carried on saying that in a measured way. I’ve made a point of not attacking my fellow Conservatives who disagree with me. I think I can win the argument not on points but intellectually with the support of the people. And I think that is the way to do it. Let us not be what we’ve been in the past, too centralist in our outlook. Let us be like the centre right in America, Australia or Canada, let us actually regard ourselves as a broader movement; we make the case, we argue our point, we make it civilly, we make it properly. Truth will win in the end. Let’s not worry if what interests us today happens to chime in with this statement or that statement from the top. That’s not the way to do it. Let’s make this argument as a movement, because the truth will out. I will carry on speaking up about Europe no matter what.
At the beginning you seem to have labelled yourself centre right. The European Peoples Party are the most disgusting Europhile lot that you could wish to meet and they describe themselves as centre right. Are you really comfortable with that label?
Answer Douglas Carswell:
I call myself centre right. I don’t think centre right is extreme or radical. I think the label; centre right is a way of showing ordinary people up and down the country, that feel the way we do, that it is perfectly OK, reasonable and decent to think as we do. I call myself centre right very deliberately. It is the left who would like to characterise what I say as hard-line, radical or extreme. What I think about direct democracy and self determination for countries is very middle of the road. I think we should leave the EPP. I support Dan Hannan and the other MEPs who want the conservatives to leave the EPP. I’m disappointed that we have not left the EPP already. It’s important that we leave for the sake of credibility. I’ve very rarely met a lot of people on the doorstep who talk about the EPP to me, but I did meet a lot of people who said to me: ‘Mr. Carswell, its all very well what you are saying, but look at what your lot are doing in Brussels.’ There is that feeling that we say one thing here and do another thing in Brussels. We have to come out of the EPP. It will happen in 2009. I wish it would happen sooner, but it’s a step in the right direction. I totally support and supported from the outset the current leader of the Conservative Party. And I don’t regret doing so. My reason is because Cameron unlike any previous leader, has given me the freedom to campaign for withdrawal. It’s not a negative. It’s not something that we are denied, it’s a freedom that we are given, that we are allowed to exercise. I believe that the truth will out, that it will prevail in the end. Provided I’m allowed to say what I believe as part of a broader conservative movement, I believe it will one day become the policy of the government of this country. Let’s not be too obsessed over what we would like to see and the central office press releases. Let us focus on the real battle worth fighting for and that’s for the hearts and minds of the people who have begun to think like us but haven’t actually crystallised their thoughts. Let’s do what we can to bring the country and the broader conservative interest with us and not get too hung up upon the Westminster village transported to Bournemouth this week.
Answer Robert Oulds:
Douglas isn’t alone in the conservative parliamentary party in advocating getting out of the European Union, there are approximately a dozen Conservative MPs who are that way inclined in advocating getting out of the European Union openly and publicly; Phillip Davies, Bob Spink and Phillip Hollobone. And of course there are many others as well who think that way but haven’t spoken out as yet. So Douglas and his Euro sceptic colleagues are slowly winning the battle within the Conservative Party. Long way to go but he is getting there.
Answer Christopher Booker:
I do applaud this ‘Better off Out’ initiative. It does seem to me admirable that we now have a flag planted somewhere in the battle field. Where people from different parties or no parties can rally round and just say; ‘Yep to that’ and ‘Boo! to the lot we will say’, and that seems to me to be a good step in the process that we are all hoping for and that will be that the truth will broaden out as things get worse from Brussels. Do remember that some of the keenest federalists, the keenest integrationists - Federalist is the incorrect word - The people who are promoting this project most keenly are sitting in Whitehall in large parts of the British government machine. I’m not talking about the politicians; I'm talking about the officials. One of the cleverest things that this whole project did, was right from the start, it’s all there in a book written in the 1960’s by a very important figure in the whole of it: Spinnelli. He wrote a book called ‘The Eurocrats’. In it he said; ‘…that the key to getting this project to the goal that we are all after is to make sure that the officials in Brussels and all the national governments are singing from the same hymn sheet, working towards the same end.’ Every week through my work in my column, I see the products of that. How very often it is the British officials who have taken the initiatives. A lot of the European defence integration came from British MOD officials. So let’s not ever think that this is something foreigners are doing to Brits. It is being done by the political class that includes a lot of our own people.
We all know what our aim is. Wouldn’t it be better for our marketing to advocate a new relationship with the European Union, a new relationship that only involves trade cooperation and intergovernmental cooperation? This is the same stance as Mexico, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland have got. Don’t use the word: ‘out’, which some people will fear though lack of knowledge.
Answer Douglas Carswell:
I used to think that, and I can’t emphasise enough how I admire the appreciation of the importance of bringing the country with us. Of bringing the sort of people who don’t come to party political conferences with us. I used to think that using the word ‘out’ or ‘withdrawal’, would frighten people and until quite recently, I used to have long conversations with an MEP friend of mine and I have to say that until quite recently I have changed my mind. Actually tactically the way we have to do it is to argue for out. To come out and then to establish that sort of relationship based on free trade. I do think that the central point that you make that we must not frighten the people and our allies is absolutely vital.
Having heard David Cameron’s opening speech and his vision of where he would like to take the Party and by inference, where he would like to take the country. Will he honestly be able to do that without renegotiating our powers with Europe?
Answer Douglas Carswell:
I came to be a Euro sceptic because I believe in direct democracy. That is devolving power away from the centre, to the town hall or individuals where possible. And my Euro scepticism comes from a belief in democracy. We cannot on the one hand believe in democracy and on the other hand be subjected to the greatest quango of the lot; namely the European Commission in Brussels. It’s part and parcel of this direct democracy agenda. I push very hard for direct democracy; I push very hard for open primary selection of candidates with a group of 27 other MPs, it’s now being practised; directly elected police chiefs, its now being practised; reform of Crown Prerogative which allows civil servants to exercise authority without democratic scrutiny. These things are becoming party policy. Anyone who reads Christopher’s comments on things like waste disposal will know you cannot devolve to the town hall decision making power on waste disposal when it’s an EU directive that’s forcing them to do it. At some point, if you’re a true localist and democrat you need to come back to this.
Is David Cameron then misguided or disingenuous in saying those are his aspirations?
Answer Douglas Carswell:
I don’t believe either; I think David Cameron is doing precisely what in this stage of the electoral cycle I would do if I was ever party leader (God forbid). Ask yourself this question; “What do you think Margaret Thatcher would do if she was the age to be leading the Tory party at the moment?” I think what she would do is to talk about things other than Europe, to recognise it, but also to try to get support for this broader democracy agenda. Frame the language of Euro scepticism as direct democracy and local accountability. I don’t claim to speak for either Margaret Thatcher or David Cameron, but I think that is the sensible way. I think we are doing it the right way. We need to focus on building a broader movement on focusing on things outside the Westminster village.
Answer Christopher Booker:
One of the reasons why I so admired what Irwin Patterson was doing on the fishing issue was that for years people have been saying quite rightly, this is a catastrophe and we have got to pull out of the CFP and quite rightly to save Britain’s fish. It all sounded up in the air and totally abstract, until Patterson did the homework and showed absolutely clearly how it could be done and it gave us an alternative vision. We’ve actually for the last thirty years, certainly where Europe has cast its shadow, have stopped thinking. I’ve often said that one of the problems of telling people not to talk about Europe is that you are telling them not to think about Europe. And you are therefore telling them not to go away and do their homework and find out what it is all about. Then you should say; "If we can run this country, in the way it should be run with all its resources more fairly and efficiently, what is the alternative vision?” and then start checking that out and saying if we had a fisheries policy that was run more like the Canadians, and the Icelanders obviously it would be a huge benefit to everybody including the fisherman. Can we do it in the context of our being locked in to the CFP? Can we therefore do it by pulling out of the CFP which implies breaking the treaty? Go on building blocks like this. This is the way that conservative principles, liberal principles in the old sense, can lead us to see this is how we can improve the world and the way our country is run, and then start checking if we could do that and if it’s a good idea, but that particular treaty is a ball and chain around our ankles.
There is no solution just sitting still, the solution is doing something about it. In order to get to the public, this is what we have to do to get them to understand what it is all about: why don’t we paint them a little picture of the future, and the threat it means if we stay in the common market, the EU; what it means when the constitution comes into being again, which is already threatened with Germany taking over the next presidency; what it means when eventually we become a superstate on the way to becoming world government, when we’ll have no freedom, no sovereignty, nothing left at all.
Answer Christopher Booker:
Part of me welcomes the fact that there is Angela Merkel and her CDU in Germany itching to get the constitution back on track, as indeed is Mr Barroso, as are great many people in Brussels and right across the continent. Even possibly one or two people in this country, whose names mainly begin with H. Now the reason why I welcome that is because we have been told – and the great leader next door says, “No more banging on about Europe” – it’s a dead issue. Of course it isn’t a dead issue, as I tried to illustrate in my speech. And I have to say I’m the only person here, and I’ll say it again, who is going to slag off the media who have totally betrayed this country, especially the BBC, by not doing their homework, by not being professional, by not being honest. I have spent 15 years of my life trying to work out this beastly thing that we’re all part of now, because, rather belatedly, having gone along with it and thinking it was a bit of a joke for a long time, I suddenly cottoned on in the early 1990s to the fact that we are dealing with something very, very serious. And that’s why I sort of changed tack and became an obsessive, and written off as a lunatic and all the things that have been thrown at me, because I thought this is the most important thing that is happening to us in this country. Not just the EU but also the takeover from our elected representatives, our politicians, the takeover by officials, by bureaucracy, by layers and layers of bureaucracy; they are who govern our country nowadays. We have passed into the beginnings of what Jean Monnet dreamed of, which was a world run by technocrats. Forget about elections and politicians – Plato’s guardians, that’s what Monnet dreamed of 60 years ago. These technocrats, these great experts sitting up at the top, the commissioners, that what they are, they are Plato’s guardians. And lower down, layer upon layer of bureaucracy right down to our town halls. I mean look at what’s happened to our local government. 30 to 40 years ago, a counsellor was a man of some considerable significance and substance, and the officials in the town hall – my friend Richard North, he was one of those, he was environmental health officer, he was in big fear and trembling of the counsellors in the big Yorkshire boroughs where he worked, because the counsellors still could walk into the environmental health department and say, “What’s going on here lad?” They wouldn’t dream of doing it now. The counsellors are absolutely pushed to the margin. Every town hall, just like our national government, just like Brussels, is run by rank upon rank of very self-important officials. Some of them are very clever, a lot of them are very stupid, most of them are very blind. Forgive me if there are any present. In my life I do come across quite a lot of officials, and occasionally I come across a person who I think is a really good person, who if he or she wasn’t working for government would be someone I would be very happy to spend some time with. But the fact is we have been through an amazing revolution in the way we are governed, with Europe obviously the most important part. I can’t even remember what the question was. Hats off to that speaker, it was a very good contribution. You stood for things all through your life, which I suspect a lot of people in this room have every sympathy with and stand for. We have been sidelined for too long by the takeover by the political class, who are officials plus certain politicians. Douglas is not such a politician.
Answer Christopher Booker:
Common purpose, whatever you call it. I know what you’re talking about with common purpose, but I won’t go down that route. What Douglas is saying, and his colleagues like Dan Hannan and others are saying, is that it’s time we got back to the locality, to real contact between politicians and the real world, with the people who elect them, instead of the whole thing now being run by some mysterious system that nobody understands, which behaves very, very badly.
Answer Robert Oulds:
Harry of course was a great hero in the war, one of the experts who worked at Bletchley Park cracking the enigma codes. Thank you for the wonderful things you’ve done.
How will the EU and our relationship with the EU get on with the energy wars coming up?
Answer Christopher Booker:
We’ve got a whole mass of huge problems. The EU is the elephant in the room within the context in which I was talking: why won’t anyone tell us that all these laws come out of Brussels? But of course you’re right. What’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan is another elephant in the room. It is beginning to be talked about. I think people are beginning to cotton onto the fact that we’ve got a potential massive tragedy on our hands. Not just for the guys who are out there fighting these wars, totally ill-equipped, without resources either in men or in materials, which would enable them to do a job which frankly they shouldn’t be doing in the first place in Afghanistan – it’s a hopeless miscalculation, we completely misread the political situation. Let’s not go down that track, because what really concerns me about what we are really asking our armed forces to do in the name of Mr. Blair’s world vision, is the way in which for the last few years we have been diverting huge, huge sums of money in our defence budget to all sorts of projects which we would not be getting into if it wasn’t for the fact that we committed ourselves seven years ago to play a key part, along with our partners, in the European rapid reaction force. That’s the hidden agenda behind what’s happening in our defence world. It’s coming unstuck in all sorts of ways, but the fact is, it’s not that we haven’t got enough money to equip our chaps in Afghanistan, or to give them enough helicopters, or to give them proper mine-protected vehicles, or when they get wounded which they do distressingly often that we haven’t got any proper military dedicated hospitals left to put them in – all this is a massive scandal. But the explanation for this is not that Gordon Brown hasn’t given enough money to the MoD to do all these things, it is the fact that we have actually been spending huge sums on projects like destroyers, missiles, the Eurofighter above all – a total, total obsolete, talk about elephants in the room, this is a white elephant in the room. Unfortunately it is in the room. £20 billion we’re going to be paying for that Eurofighter. That is money that should have been going to equipping our armed forces to carry out the tasks which they actually have to carry out in the real world. Whether or not it’s a good idea, the fact is that Iraq and Afghanistan are modern kinds of war. We are up against road side bombs, guys with RPGs and all sorts of things which are nothing to do with fighting the Cold War against the Soviet Union any more. They are low grade but very nasty guerrilla wars against totally ruthless opponents. And if we are going to send our men and women in our name to fight those sorts of wars, they ought to have the proper equipment and the backup that they deserve. And one of the reasons why they are not doing that is because we’ve been diverting huge sums of money towards not fighting real wars but fantasy wars of the future, with a force that will probably never exist and which frankly one cannot imagine any context in which it would serve any purpose whatsoever. This is the most serious issue that has come up today I think.