Bruges Group exclusive
RO Lord Tebbit were you always a Eurosceptic?
LT Not at all. In my earlier days I believed that the European project would work. And I was in fact a very strong Europhile, not only did I think Britain should join the Community but it should develop in much the same way sort of way which people like Giscard d’Estaing are now suggesting.
I of course learnt differently, particularly after having become a Minister and going very regularly back and forth to Brussels and discovering two things which I had not been sufficiently aware before. One was the essentially corrupt nature of Europe, the way it worked, the scheming and the backbiting and the backscratching which went on there. That I found very unattractive.
I also discovered that the gap between the way in which we in the UK have been governed and the way in which people on the continent are ruled was far wider than I had ever realised. The basic assumptions about the role of the state and the individual are extraordinarily different on the continent than those within the United Kingdom and I began to realise that it simply would not work for us. I ask myself sometimes, “how-on-earth did I believe such a load of nonsense in my earlier years”!
RO And you believed that until the mid-1980s?
LT Until the early 80s. And of course that is quite important. When I was an airline pilot I was a member of an international elite that spent more time out of the country than in the country. I had an enormous amount in common with members of that elite whether they were Americans, French, Germans or Scandinavians. Many of us had gone through the similar NATO training as military pilots, we all used English and that was and still is the international language of aviation and indeed on some foreign aircraft the flight deck language is English.
We stayed in the same hotels we all had a standard of living above most of the people in our countries. The things we talked about together were the problems and the opportunities which we all shared, whether it was air traffic control over Africa or the prospect of the next generation of aircraft. We were virtually interchangeable and sometimes airlines did recruit large numbers of foreign crews who and they fitted in perfectly.
In fact we were rather like international businessmen or international civil servants. We had lost touch with our own countries and we were moving in amongst a select group of people who were becoming increasingly detached from their own kind. Going to Brussels as a Minister and representing my own country soon sorted me out!
RO What are the precise problems that you see with the European Union, you mentioned the democratic deficit and the threat to individual freedom what other aspects are wrong with the EU?
LT Well I think there are quite a few things which have been wrong over the years and at times right about it. If one goes back to when we joined in the 70s there were still quite high tariffs in many places around the world and the European Community’s role in reducing those tariff barriers was really quite important. It also had a fine ambition in seeking to end the practice of the subsidising of industry, a beggar my neighbour policy if ever there was one. And that again was very attractive so the opening of borders and the ending of subsidies did appear to offer some great opportunities.
The European Union could never be democratic because there is no European demos. There is not a sufficient commonality of understanding between shall we say the Finns and the Greeks, or the Portuguese and the Germans, let alone the British and some of the other members
Of course what we have seen is that the policies towards industry have got rather more like the agricultural policy than the reverse. But I still hold my view that the principle objections are constitutional. It was Enoch Powell who said that the European Union could never be democratic because there is no European demos. There is not a sufficient commonality of understanding between shall we say the Finns and the Greeks, or the Portuguese and the Germans, let alone the British and some of the other members. And as we are so radically different from them in our history and our way of doing things we couldn’t be a full-hearted member.
I think also on the economic front there is a great difficulty which is that if the euro is to become a long established and effective currency it can not avoid, or we can not avoid, handing our primary powers of taxation towards a central European government. No currency can have more than one chancellor of the Exchequer and no Chancellor of the Exchequer can be worthy of that name if he does not have a currency of his own. And so we have to make a decision: Are we going to enter the euro and allow authority over tax to be taken from us, are we going to enter a euro resisting that which would mean the euro would fail or are we going to stay clear?
RO In one sense we have already won the battle on the euro it looks increasingly unlikely that there will be a referendum so isn’t it time we pushed forward the debate to include the problems with the Single Market, over regulation, the billions each year we pay to Brussels?
LT I think there is first of all the need to maintain our vigilance. The Government dare not propose a euro referendum at the moment but as long as we remain members of the European Union in any form there will always be the possibility of a referendum. When for some reason or another it is thought that they might get a ‘yes’ vote, perhaps when we are having more economic problems than some peoples on the continent (these things do change around from time-to-time) so we have to be on our guard against that.
They all believe that the appropriate way to manage a country’s economy is by stitching up deals in private between politicians, trade union leaders and the bosses of big companies. That is not our way.
But what we are also seeing is the essentially corporatist nature of Europe. There is not in Europe, on the continent of Europe, a Conservative Party like there is here in Britain. They may call themselves right-wing but they are all at heart corporatists. They all believe that the appropriate way to manage a country’s economy is by stitching up deals in private between politicians, trade union leaders and the bosses of big companies. That is not our way.
There is another fundamental difference. We in Britain have a long history of having established that governments must obey the law. Even as far back as Tudor days Henry VIII had to change the law in order to get what he wanted legally. He could change the law but he saw it as necessary that the law should legalise what he wanted. From there we have grown to the position today where it is assumed that the government has to obey the law.
On the continent and in the European Union there is no such pretence. The law is what the state creates and forces its citizens to obey. The idea that that a citizen could seek judicial review and force the state to obey the law is foreign to them. That is why the European Community doesn’t bother to obey the law.
RO In relation to the Convention on the Future of Europe how do you see the European Union evolving, and what are the EU’s prospects?
LT First of all lets look at what is fundamentally good that has come out of the European adventure. The easing of tensions particularly between Germany and France and the greater understanding of each others countries that the EU has brought has been very important. It is not true that the European Union has preserved the peace in Europe since the end of the Second World War. It was NATO that did that but the European Union has had a role in it and we should not pretend otherwise.
The European Union is expanding to include the central European countries, and I hope one day to include the Russians up to the Urals, for they are Europeans and they inherit the same culture based upon Judeo-Christian values as we do. As that happens can the EU operate in anything like the way it does now? The answer is no.
The constitutional structure of the European Union was designed for six and it worked reasonably well for the six. It does not work for the ten, or twelve, or fifteen and it could not conceivably work for 27 or 28 or anything of that kind. So there has to be a decision whether Europe is going to develop as a single state, a huge state governed centrally with tax powers and everything else operated centrally, which I do not think would be possible in the long run even without us in it. Or whether it has got to be fundamentally redesigned in to something much more like the North American Free Trade Association or the old EFTA. Now that does not mean that the countries that wish to consolidate into a single republic should be stopped from doing so. If the Germans and the French and perhaps the Belgians and the Dutch wish to create a single European republic and that republic were to be a member of a European organisation of some kind that would be fine. It might even be that the United Kingdom could have some relationship by Treaty with that organisation. That might appeal to the Scandinavians as well, so there are a number of possibilities.
…Sooner or later the United Kingdom would have to get out of the federal manger
My own belief is that sooner or later the United Kingdom would have to get out of the federal manger. We are a dog in the manger at the moment always objecting to what the others want to do. And we have either got to surrender to their will or persuade them to change the nature of the community entirely or to face the fact that there is not really a place in their kind of Europe for us.
RO At what point would we have to make that decision, we are already greatly controlled by Brussels?
LT I think that the decision has to be made first of all on the euro since if we say ‘yes’ to the euro we have essentially agreed to enter the European republic. And either after or before that we have to consider our attitude towards the proposals that come out of the present European Convention. It looks as though that is being steered towards a country called Europe.
Not only will it have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own currency, its own foreign policy, its own internal justice policy, its own security policy, its own borders with no internal borders and probably its own armed forces which virtually makes it a state. But it seems likely that the Convention will recommend that it has its own constitution and something which looks increasing like a federal police force. And of course a federal judicial system. Now at the point that comes up in 2004 to be welded into a treaty for 2005 I think we have to ask ourselves, is that the sort of Europe in which we can comfortably live?
RO So we may have to withdraw at that point?
LT I think that it would be a case of not so much us withdrawing as saying to our partners, ”Look that’s not a kind of Europe with which we could go along. Either we veto it, which would disrupt the whole of Europe, or you may feel its better and we may feel its better that there is a friendly parting of the ways.” We would wish them well we would certainly continue to trade with them and them with us. The idea that if we were to leave the French would sulk so much that they would not send us any cheese or wine is rather absurd. And if they wanted to sell us their cheese and their wine then we would want to sell them products from our own country. And of course since the balance of trade is heavily against us to strike down that trade would do more damage to our European friends than it would do to us.
The idea that if we were to leave the French would sulk so much that they would not send us any cheese or wine is rather absurd… Since the balance of trade is heavily against us to strike down that trade would do more damage to our European friends than it would do to us
RO You mentioned your positive vision of how Europe should be, how would we achieve that, would the crunch time of 2004-2005 give us the opportunity to form a new and better relationship with those that do not want to follow the federalist path.
LT Well I wouldn’t start it from here is the classic response to that. At the time of Maastricht, before the Maastricht negotiations really began I made it plain that I thought the United Kingdom should have an agenda of its own for those negotiations. That we should come forward and say these are the subjects that we wish to deal with. And if we can’t deal with those then we can’t deal with any of the matters which other parties put on the table. My agenda would of course have included a proper reform of the Common Agricultural Policy which even the Government admits puts up the cost of food for the average English family by £1,200 per year.
The Common Agricultural Policy which even the Government admits puts up the cost of food for the average English family by £1,200 per year
Now even if we at the end of the day could only get half of that value, because we would have to take measures to help our own agriculture, a pay rise of £600 across the board for every family in the country is significant and most significant of course for the poorest people. The man on £100,000 a year wouldn’t really notice it but the OAP certainly would, the low-paid certainly would. It would give an enormous filip to us by taking pressure for higher wages for people who are in inherently low productivity jobs.
We should have put on the table a demand that the Common Fisheries Policy should be abandoned and that the countries bordering on Europe’s fishing grounds should regain their right to manage those in the way they thought fit. We have seen the rape of our fish stocks under the control of the European Community. We should also have put on the table plans to limit the judicial adventurism of the judges of the European Court.
The European Court should deal with matters of external trade and it should deal with matters of unfair competition by virtue of state aids and such things between states. It shouldn’t be involved in matters of discipline and order in our armed forces for example nor in matters of whether or not a willing customer and willing supplier should be able to bargain in pounds and ounces as opposed to kilos. So there are clear things that we could do but didn’t do. That makes it all the more difficult now to put down our agenda or our vision, the vision which I have expressed of how the European Community – the European family – could be brought to embrace even the Russians to our economic advantage whilst leaving us politically free. If they could not agree to that then of course we should have to consider our position.
RO Will it take a Conservative government to do that?
LT I think it probably would take a Conservative government to do that but of course the next step in integration which is envisaged will be such a serious step that I believe under any government there would be a strong case and a strong demand for a referendum on the treaty as it finally emerges. I think that might concentrate the mind of the Government as well.
Lord Tebbit thank you very much.