Panelists: Barry Legg (Chair), Lord Dodds of Duncairn, Sir Bernard Jenkin MP, James Webber
Barry Legg, Chairman of the Bruges Group:
Our next speaker is Bernard Jenkin. Bernard is Chairman of the House of Commons Liaison Committee, on which all select committee chairmen sit. Previously, he was Chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee, and Shadow Secretary of State for Defence. For 30 years, Bernard has been a prominent and articulate critic of our relationship with the European Union. At Bruges in 1989, Margaret Thatcher set out a vision for Britain as an independent, sovereign state, cooperating with its European neighbours. 3 years later, Bernard and I, as new members of the House of Commons, we were faced with the reality of Maastricht - a power grab by the EU at the expense of independent states. Today, nothing has changed from the EU. The NI protocol, as we have just heard from Nigel, represents a power grab from the EU, again Britain's emergence, once again, as a truly independent, sovereign state. Ladies and gentlemen, Bernard Jenkin.
Sir Bernard Jenkin MP, Chairman of the Commons Liaison Committee:
Thank you very much Barry. Once again, it's a great pleasure to be under your chairmanship at one of your meetings - there haven't been nearly enough of them in recent months, but I think the pace is plotting up once again, and well I remember those days where you showed incredible strength and principle during the days of Maastricht, and how the days got darker as we went on. It's a great privilege to be on the same platform as Nigel Dodds. I don't think we can really imagine the agonies that NI is going through, and the real tragedy that so much that's been gained in the peace process, through the Good Friday Agreement, is now being put at risk by a combination of British incompetence and EU intransigence - there can be no other way of looking at it - though I've got great faith in Lord Frost that we are now approaching this in a principled and pragmatic way, and with a majority of 80, there's no excuse for not doing that, but I think we'll start to see the benefits of doing that. Maybe, the EU is starting to fact-check a little bit, they don't seem ready to confront the notion that we will be suspending the ending of grace periods for another 3 months. I think we're beginning to see that if we elevate the NI protocol to titanic significance that it is more important than the Good Friday Agreement, the world will begin to judge them differently, with the way they're behaving.
I just want to look at the 'exam question' you set about Brexit and the Union, and look at the Scottish context - though equally it applies to Wales and the way the debate is framing in Northern Ireland. Is Brexit the foremost cause of tensions that threaten to break up the United Kingdom? Well, you'd think so from the media, but what tensions have arisen from Brexit are merely tensions arising from transition - they're not permanent. Had we remained a permanent member of the European Union, that would've represented a much greater and permanent threat, had we not voted to leave.
In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Tom Devine, a famous Scottish historian and independence supporter, said "I have always thought that England would destroy the Union, the history of European multinational states shows that rot tends to start from within.". Now Tom's a great historian, among his many achievements, his rehabilitating the legacy of Thatcher in Scotland. However, in this case, I fear he's making a gross simplification - separatist movements in Britain have a long history, and in the 20th century this history cannot be separated from the EU. Though people forget, we were only in the EU for under 50 years, which is not much out of a thousand years of constitutional continuity, but it is an awful lot in the lifetimes of most people, and it is the entire lifetimes of many people.
So, let's talk about the concept of ethno-federalism, the writings of Guy Héraud, a 20th century French politician and lawyer, actually remain influential in continental Europe, but not being available in English, are less well known here. He was a European federalist writing in the 60s and 70s and he painted a vision of a future of Europe by linking federalist theories to the movement for regional self-determination. In 'L'Europe des ethnies' - 'The Europe of Ethnicities', Héraud lays down the principles of ethnic federalism. The basic principle is the right of every ethnic group to self-determination. Cultural affairs, the media, and education, with a language separate, and elected representative of each ethnic group. Economic affairs will be managed directly by a federal Europe - Europe des Regions.
In the short section on Europe, Héraud acknowledges that objectively, the Scots are not a nation - it's quite a controversial thing to say these days. Linguistically, the evidence for nationhood is poor, he said. I respect Scotland as a nation, let me just clarify. Subjectively however, he notes, Scottish nationalism is more advanced than many other regions, Scotland does not figure among the 17 regions in 'Contre les états les régions du Europe', Héraud's last book. Héraud advocated an upward and downward devolution of power from the national governments: up from the level of a nation-state to a European federation, down to what he called 'the natural regions' within nation-states. Sovereignty, he held, was what enabled nation-states to evade their responsibilities in European affairs. He therefore opposed some nationalist movements within Europe, lacking a clear federalist agenda, namely they wanted to retain sovereignty for themselves - I thought that's what nationalism was all about.
The Treaty of Rome echoed some of that federalist rhetoric. The European Community would work towards "harmonious development by reducing the differences existing between the various regions and the backwardness of the less-favoured regions". Not much was achieved in practice until the first enlargement. The European Regional Development Fund was established in 1975, which is usually seen as a budgetary trade-off between large CAP recipients and the new net contributor, Britain, but the size of the fund increased significantly during its first years of operation. The growth rates were between 32% and 62% each year until 1982. Then we have the Single European Act in 1988, which brought in the structural funds, the European Regional Development Fund, and the European Social Fund, and the guidance section of the European Agriculture Guarantee, which I'll read in a moment to you. This reform involved the doubling of the funds spent on regional policy over the next five years and the establishment of new procedural links in the commission between running of sectoral and regional policies. Subsequent new developments, especially those leading up to the signing go the Maastricht Treaty in February 1992, have reinforced the relationship between region and Europe, and just to cut a long story short, it was the Treaty on the European Union, in the Maastricht Treaty, which established the Committee of the Regions - Article 198 of the Treaty of the European Union, where sub-state actors can participate in the Council, reinforcing the direct relationship between the EU and the regions, completely bypassing the national parliaments.
The regionalisation of Europe was only ever partial, but significant. The budgets that remained a national, nation-by-nation negotiation, but regionalism created legitimacy for nationalist movements, and an illusion of an EU safe haven, outside the region's host state. It's commonly argued in Scotland that the battle for Scottish nationalism cannot be won by hard economic facts. They alone will not win, but they are crucial, and as we leave the EU, they become much more crucial. Leaving the EU, I would submit, actually reinforces the strength and unity of the UK, the interdependence of the parts of the United Kingdom. The think-tank These Islands, wrote that 57% of Scottish independence supporters agreed with the statement "The figures used to calculate Scotland's deficit are made up by Westminster to hide Scotland's true wealth", and 90% of them considered the statement to be very important. Now, if the SNP is basing their support for independence on such false notions, there is work to be done to correct these misapprehensions. Where, actually, Scotland's deficit position is, is shown in the Government Expenditure Review of Scotland, known as GERS, and the figures are published by the Scottish Government. These figures qualify as national statistics and are compiled by the Scottish Government's own statisticians.
Scottish nationalists understate the importance of trade with the rest of the UK and overstate trade with the EU. In 2017, 18% of Scottish exports went to the EU, 22% to the rest of the world - interestingly - but 60% to the rest of the UK, so the myth that economics don't matter, in part can be traced back to the flawed devolution settlement. However, the role of the EU structural funds and the influence they've had over the debate in Scotland cannot be understated. Scotland is not a particularly poor region in European terms. In fact, Scotland would be a net contributor to the EU budget, were it an independent member state, something they probably haven't considered. It's GDP per capita is only slightly lower than the average of the EU 27. Ironically, due to the continued prominence of national governments in allocation of EU budgets, Scotland receives a lot of money from the structural funds, the European Social Funds, and the European Regional Development Fund, but they would still have to contribute more than they put in as the UK did as a whole.
Under the EU's 2014/2020 budget framework, Scotland was allocated some 944 million euros in structural funding to be used. EU funds needed to be matched up with domestic budgets. Structural funds are EU wide and under the managing authority of the Scottish Government, which played a key role in directing funding to Scotland, so it was able to take the credit for it. Pt. 6 of the UK Internal Market Act 2020 allows UK ministers to operate what will become the UK's Shared Prosperity Fund in Scotland, and will be administered by UK ministers, with no formal role for the Scottish Government. The SPF does not define a management role for any devolved administration - it is designed to recreate the direct relationship between the citizens of all the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom Government, wherever they live. In fact, not a whimper did we hear an objection did we hear to the city deals announced in Scotland by George Osborne, in the first half of the last decade, when he was Chancellor, because how can the SNP possibly object to the UK government giving them money?
An independent Scotland would still be a net contributor to the EU, as said before, Brexit and the UK Internal Market Act can make this calculation clearer, so the relationship between Europe and the SNP is understudied. Until the 1980s, the SNP was Eurosceptic, because Jim Sillars first adopted the position of 'independence in Europe', the arch prosperity rhetoric, where Scotland looks to Norway and Iceland as inspiration for post-independence Scotland is still politically powerful, if economically spurious, but it must be challenged. Jim Sillars actually voted for Brexit in 2016 - I think he's one of those nationalists that M. Héraud did not like. "I think the EU is a profoundly undemocratic organisation which has shown a callous disregard for people. In Portugal, Spain, and Greece, for example, they've been willing to make people destitute, beggar nations in pursuit of a single currency, to create a United States of Europe, irrespective of whether the people want it" - Hear, hear to that.
Now, I could say more about the NI protocol, but I think you've probably heard enough from Lord Dodds and his perspective on that. I would just say that the European Research Group, the steering committee of which I chair every weekend, have worked up a perfectly reasonable alternative, which doesn't require the EU to exercise sovereignty in NI over the regulation of goods, which is a system of mutual enforcement. All that means is the UK government will guarantee there will not be a flood of non-compliant goods crossing the border into the Republic of Ireland, to compromise the integrity of the EU Single Market, but what's more, we will guarantee to do that without erecting any infrastructure on the border between the North and the South of Ireland. These were proposals that we tabled in a different form while Theresa May was Prime Minister. No sooner had we published our document, within seconds, it was being denounced, when they couldn't possibly have had the opportunity to read what it said. The fact is that the government was locked onto one course and Boris Johnson, for all his faults in this, can be excused for finding himself boxed in with no majority in the autumn of 2019.
It's the protocol that actually goes against the Good Friday Agreement, as Nigel Dodds points out, and as I've been suggesting to European diplomats in London over the last couple of days - which is more important? Sticking to the NI protocol as it is or recognising that the Good Friday Agreement is actually more important? If we can find something better than the protocol to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom, the integrity of the Single Market, and the Good Friday Agreement, than we should be looking to those alternatives. They were actually presaged, if I may say so, in the original withdrawal agreement. We were going to look at alternative systems - there was the prospect of the NI protocol being superseded. The EU was meant to negotiate all this in good faith - I leave it for you to judge whether they will do so. Thank you.