Disappointing deal: David Cameron (seen here with Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker) failed to deliver on his Bloomberg speech (© Yves Herman / AP/Press Association Images)
I’m a reformer. I’m in politics to change things for the better rather than accept a status quo which suits the establishment.
This Government is a reforming administration. The Prime Minister is personally leading work to integrate excluded minorities into our national life and promoting important reforms to social work, prisons and mental health. The Chancellor’s reforms have helped incentivise growth and supported job creation, and are helping the poorest through the introduction of a national living wage.
But, despite the Prime Minister’s best efforts, there’s one area where we have failed to bring reform. The European Union.
The scale of the problem with the EU was powerfully laid out by the Prime Minister in his Bloomberg Speech three years ago. It’s worth quoting from at length to appreciate the force and urgency — as well as the clarity — of his critique:
“Taken as a whole, Europe’s share of world output is projected to fall by almost a third in the next two decades. This is the competitiveness challenge — and much of our weakness in meeting it is self-inflicted.
“Complex rules restricting our labour markets are not some naturally occurring phenomenon. Just as excessive regulation is not some external plague that’s been visited on our businesses.
“These problems have been around too long. And the progress in dealing with them, far too slow.
“As Chancellor Merkel has said — if Europe today accounts for just over 7 per cent of the world’s population, produces around 25 per cent of global GDP and has to finance 50 per cent of global social spending, then it’s obvious that it will have to work very hard to maintain its prosperity and way of life.
“The biggest danger to the European Union comes not from those who advocate change, but from those who denounce new thinking as heresy. In its long history Europe has experience of heretics who turned out to have a point.”
David Cameron’s words were heart-felt and impassioned. He pressed for reasonable reforms. But Europe didn’t change.
We must be clear. The Prime Minister’s deal does nothing to change the way the EU works, it doesn’t shift its direction of travel and it does nothing to address its enormous economic problems.
After the deal we still have no effective opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights. We have no new limits on the power of the European Court of Justice — described by the In campaigner and former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, as having “predatory” qualities. We did not manage to alter the “excessive” social and employment legislation, which David Cameron had hoped to see addressed at national levels. We couldn’t stop what the Prime Minister has rightly called the “absurdly wasteful” practice of ferrying the European Parliament backwards and forwards between Strasbourg and Brussels. We had no reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy or the EU Structural Funds. And we had no safe “proper full-on” treaty change.
The opening line of the summary of the deal summed it all up. The EU President Donald Tusk confessed that everything was “in conformity with the Treaties”. He couldn’t have been clearer that the deal would alter nothing about how the EU actually works.
And as for the hope there may be change in the future, the French President, François Hollande, has made clear there’s no chance, declaring “no revision of the Treaties is planned”.
We have to be honest about the lack of reform. The deal with other EU nations doesn’t return a single power from Brussels to nation states, doesn’t reduce wasteful EU spending by a penny, doesn’t get rid of a single job-destroying regulation or display even a glimmer of a scintilla of a recognition that the EU might be anything other than a Garden of Eden from which no one should wish to be excluded.
But what makes the deal particularly problematic for us in Britain is not just failure to reform the EU this time round, but the surrender of our veto over future changes.
The deal specifies that countries such as Britain which may not want to see further integration will give up their ability to stop others; they “will not create obstacles to but [will] facilitate such further deepening”.
It has always been critical to the defence of our interests in Europe that we can block other countries at critical moments and make sure our needs are met before others can make new arrangements. The PM made good use of that power in 2011 when he vetoed plans for further integration that didn’t take account of Britain’s needs. Under the new Brussels deal, that power would be lost.
But if we reject the deal in the forthcoming referendum, we will regain our old advantage and retain the veto. Our negotiating hand with the EU will actually be strengthened. In any discussion of new arrangements between Britain and the EU after we leave, the other countries will know that because we retain a veto over their plans until we’re happy with our future they must move swiftly to meet our needs.
Perhaps for the reasons explained above, there has been very little discussion of the deal by those who support remaining in the EU. The deal has become like the first Mrs Rochester, an early mistake, kept out of sight, and never spoken of in case it causes too much upset.
But we need to talk about the deal.
We need to talk about the deal because the PM made clear that the EU had to change radically if it was to succeed and it hasn’t. With youth unemployment at more than 40 per cent in Spain and more than 50 per cent in Greece, and Eurozone growth still anaemic, we could be on the hook for more bailouts and subsidies to prop up this failing system.
We need to talk about the deal because the failure of the EU to acknowledge the need for reform means it will respond to the challenges of the future as it has to the crises of the past — by doubling down on deeper integration. Now, in another example of the failure of bureaucrats to learn from experience, the EU’s response to the mass unemployment created by the euro is a Five Presidents Report urging more Brussels control of banks and taxes. In the same vein, the EU response to the migration crisis exacerbated by Schengen is to press ahead with an invitation to Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania and Turkey to join the Union. Because anyone given EU citizenship has the right to come into our country there’s every chance many more people will want to come to the UK in the future, putting pressure on public services, increasing demand for scarce housing and, in particular, asking more of our NHS.
And we need to talk about the deal, because by giving up our veto we give up our power to stop these developments and insulate ourselves from their effects.
The only way now to show we think the deal is not enough, the only way now to secure effective reform of the EU, the only way now to reinvigorate democracy across Europe, is to Vote to Leave on June 23.
From a British point of view, we would regain control of our borders, regain control of the £350 million of gross public expenditure which the EU supervises every week, regain control of trade so we could forge agreements with the rising nations of the East and the developing nations of the South, regain control of security so we could lead in the fight against extremism and regain control over our politicians by making them genuinely accountable once more for their actions.
But while voting to Leave would benefit British voters by giving us back control of our own destiny, it would bring even greater benefits for the EU, by energising, at last, a drive for proper reform.
At different points In campaigners like to argue either that Brexit would lead to EU nations using their massive muscle to punish us, or that Brexit would lead to contagion and the collapse of Europe — just as Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union collapsed following secession from those unions. Manifestly both cannot be true. An EU without the UK cannot simultaneously be a supercharged leviathan bent on revenge and a crumbling Tower of Babel riven by conflict. But both points have a grain of truth. There will be anger among some European elites. Not because the UK is destined for a bleak, impoverished future on the outside. No, quite the opposite.
What will enrage, and disorientate, EU elites is the UK’s success outside the Union. Regaining control over our laws, taxes and borders and forging new trade deals while also shedding unnecessary regulation will enhance our competitive advantage over other EU nations. Our superior growth rate, and better growth prospects, will only strengthen. Our attractiveness to inward investors and our influence on the world stage will only grow.
But while this might provoke both angst and even resentment among EU elites, the UK’s success will send a very different message to the EU’s peoples. They will see that a different Europe is possible. It is possible to regain democratic control of your own country and currency, to trade and cooperate with other EU nations without surrendering fundamental sovereignty to a remote and unelected bureaucracy. And, by following that path, your people are richer, your influence for good greater, your future brighter.
So — yes there will be “contagion” if Britain leaves the EU. But what will be catching is democracy. There will be a new demand for more effective institutions to enable the more flexible kind of international cooperation we will need as technological and economic forces transform the world.
We know — from repeated referenda on the continent and in Ireland — that the peoples of the EU are profoundly unhappy with the European project. We also know that the framers of that project — Monnet and Schuman — hoped to advance integration by getting round democracy and never submitting their full vision to the verdict of voters. That approach has characterised the behaviour of EU leaders ever since. But that approach could not, and will not, survive the assertion of deep democratic principle that would be the British people voting to leave.
Our vote to Leave will liberate and strengthen those voices across the EU calling for a different future — those demanding the devolution of powers back from Brussels and desperate for a progressive alternative.
If we vote to leave we will have — in the words of Pitt the Younger — saved our country by our exertions and Europe by our example.
We will have confirmed that we believe our best days lie ahead, that we believe our children can build a better future, that this country’s instincts and institutions, its people and its principles, are capable not just of making our society freer, fairer and richer but also once more of setting an inspirational example to the world.