Europhile turns sceptical
Why Britons must run Britain
by David Potter in London
Tue 15 Mar 2016
In March 1961, when I won an undergraduate place at Oxford, my idealism and belief in Europe and the Common Market knew no bounds. I was particularly driven by ‘the end to war in Europe’ arguments. I spent a month hitchhiking round France, taking a copy of the Treaty of Rome in my rucksack. I have now become a supporter of British departure from the EU – a 50-year journey from europhile to ‘leaver’.
As the Common Market took wing and Britain eventually joined in 1973, all seemed well. After the 1991 Maastricht conference decided the path to a single currency, doubts crept in. With the transformation of the Community into the EU came an increased political dimension.
Having spent my early career in the eurobond market (a classic example of London’s innovation and opportunism) I saw practical problems. Surely political union should precede a common currency? Were Europe's economies not too diverse? Where was the mechanism for resource transfer between regions?
When the euro started, in 1999, many of the elite – bankers, businessmen, journalists and politicians – believed it would work. By 2005 it was clear that they got it wrong. A decade later, over the more fundamental question of Britain's EU membership, they are wrong again.
The British people distrust an arrogant elite’s pronouncements backing the status quo. The natural order of life, from the family upwards, is to associate in smaller rather than larger groups. The trend is clear, from the Soviet Union’s break-up to the demand for regional devolution. Huge organisations like the EU are too big to run and too distant from ordinary citizens. The same is true of the National Health Service, big banks and big companies.
The fundamental choice is about UK sovereignty versus EU sovereignty. The pro-EU camp chooses to obscure the issue by talking of Britain’s opt-out from ever closer political union. In fact, Europe will resolve its economic and political problems only by closer and faster union. Britain’s opt-out may help the EU to politicise faster. Another reason to steer clear.
Europe has wasted a year as the Schengen agreement breaks down. There are only two ways to contain the migrant crisis. Either the EU will have to implement an absolutely centralised and directed response, or individual countries will have to make their own decisions. In fact, the people would rather their own countries take control, as Sunday’s regional elections in Germany showed.
The market for goods and services in Europe is stagnant. The rest of the world is expanding. Europe will not recover soon from its economic ills. Europe needs our market for its exports. Businessmen seek out markets not because of regulation but in spite of it. If the ground rules change post-Brexit, businesses will adapt quickly.
There are three months left for this journey. Sadly, the ‘remain’ campaign is provoking fear of the unknown and concern about security. The latter is a sideshow; security comes from being part of Nato and the UN. The security argument could backfire if there is another terrorist atrocity in Europe.
Leaving the EU would be an opportunity to regain control of our law, our economy and our frontiers. We have far more to fear from self-serving elites benefiting from the status quo.
Britons have done rather well running their country for centuries. We have shown ourselves able to adapt to changing circumstances. I hope we do so again.
David Potter was Chief Executive of the Guinness Mahon Group. This is No.12 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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