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Analysis
Britain's global future

Britain's global future

Liberation from a non-democratic European Union

by Nigel Lawson in London

Mon 4 Apr 2016

In his new book The End of Alchemy, Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England, devotes a chapter to the European Union.

In it, he points out that ‘the crisis of monetary union will drag on, and it cannot be resolved without confronting either the supranational ambitions of the European Union or the democratic nature of sovereign national governments. One or the other will have to give way. Muddling through may continue for some while, but eventually the choice between a return to national monies and democratic control, or a clear and abrupt transfer of political sovereignty to a European government cannot be avoided.’

He concludes that ‘the tragedy of monetary union in Europe is not that it might collapse but that, given the degree of political commitment among the leaders of Europe, it might continue, bringing economic stagnation to the largest currency bloc in the world.’

Supporters have presented EU membership to the British people as an economic proposition. It is nothing of the sort. It is a political enterprise – the creation of a full-blooded political union, albeit of a federal nature: the United States of Europe. The means of securing this are largely economic but, if there were to be any economic benefit, that would be the merest coincidence. And, as we see from the lamentable economic performance of the EU as a whole and most of its member states, there is no economic benefit, only a high economic cost.

This overriding political objective is not in itself disreputable. It is, however, distinctly unattractive that it is being imposed by the European political elites even though there is no evidence it has the support of most of the peoples of Europe. A fundamental contempt for democracy is one of the so-called European movement's least attractive aspects.

But for the UK to remain in the EU would be particularly perverse, since not even our political elite wish to see this country absorbed into a United States of Europe. To be part of a political project whose objective we emphatically do not share cannot possibly make sense.

The British prime minister argues that he has secured a British ‘opt-out’ from the political union. But this is meaningless. We remain fully subject to the ever-growing corpus of EU legislation and regulation, all of it directed towards full political union.

‘But’, comes the inevitable question, ‘what is your alternative to membership of the European Union?’

A more absurd question would be hard to envisage. The alternative to being in the EU is not being in the EU. It may come as a shock to the little Europeans in our midst that most of the world is not in the EU – and that most of these countries are doing better economically than most EU member states.

Moreover, out of the EU we would no longer have to pay our annual subscription of some £10bn a year for nothing in return – yes, nothing, for the figure is calculated after netting off everything our farmers and scientists and others receive from the EU. Nor would our business and industry have to carry the burden of excessive European regulation, which bears down particularly hard on the SME sector.

Yes, we would have to conform to EU regulation when exporting to the EU, just as we have to conform to US regulation when exporting to the US. But exports to the EU represent only some 13% of UK GDP, and the proportion is declining as the emerging world continues to emerge. The liberation of the remaining 87% of the UK economy from a bureaucratic Brussels that believes more Europe is always a good thing, and that more Europe means more EU regulation, is greatly to be desired.

To suppose that being within the so-called single market confers a great economic benefit is nonsensical. If it did, our European partners would not be in the mess they are today.

What we have in our grasp is nothing less than a genuinely global future as a self-governing democracy. We must seize it.

Nigel Lawson is a former Chancellor of the Exchequer. This is No.24 in the series.

OMFIF’s series on the UK EU referendum presents a wide variety of perspectives from Britain and around the world ahead of the 23 June poll. We are assuring a balance between many different points of view, in line with OMFIF’s overall neutral stance on the issue.

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