EU membership: Is it really ‘Time to Jump’ to a worse alternative?

EU membership: Is it really ‘Time to Jump’ to a worse alternative?

Opinion piece (British Influence)
Stephen Tindale
24 February 2015
I spent a whole afternoon last week at David Campbell Bannerman MEP’s conference on ‘Alternatives to EU membership’. I’m a Europhile member of the ‘green blob’ (trademark: Rt Hon. Owen Paterson MP), so this was not my natural habitat. But it was certainly educational. The most striking and - for me - encouraging point was that the anti-EU side does not have an agreed alternative plan, not yet at least.

Ruth Lea, representing Economists for Britain, Heming Olaussen who led the anti-membership campaign in Norway in 1994, Thomas Aeschi of the Swiss People’s Party, and Bill Cash MP all said that the European Economic Area (EEA) is not a good option (democracy by fax, against national sovereignty and so on). Paterson’s pre-recorded video – he wasn’t there in person, clearly too busy setting up another climate-denying think tank – said that the EEA is the best option for the UK posts-Brexit.

Campbell Bannerman condemned the excessive red tape from Brussels, giving three examples: Working Time Directive, Large Combustion Plants Directive; REACH. I asked him whether he agreed with Ed Davey that REACH has some strengths, including the banning of toxic, flammable pyjamas for children. In reply he said that the UK parliament could ban these. So his true objection is not the regulation, but the fact that it comes from the EU. Westminster could indeed ban flammable pyjamas after Brexit, but wouldn’t necessarily do so. Even if it did, legislation would take time. Children might get burnt as the bill wended its way through the Commons and the Lords. But, hell, that’s a price worth paying for national sovereignty.

Campbell Bannerman has proposed an EEA-lite in his book 'Time to Jump'. He said that this would not be subject to European Court of Justice rulings, but didn't say what it would involve. I’m sure the book does, and he said he’d sign copies for anyone who bought one. I’m afraid I didn’t take up the offer – dedication to the cause only goes so far.

Ruth Lea and several other speakers said that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is the UK’s best option post-Brexit, because world trade rules have made good progress. The phrase “WTO-plus” was widely used by speakers and audience members, but not defined. There was no support for having a Turkish-style Customs Union, as this would mean not getting a UK seat at the WTO, which many speakers regarded as a significant prize.

Aeschi said that the bilateral deals between Switzerland and the EU are not on offer from EU any more. He is right, as this CER pamphlet shows. Nevertheless, some speakers said that the UK should follow the Swiss approach.

John Wormald, a car manufacturing expert, said that EU membership is good for motor manufacturing as it avoids having lots of different sets of regulations. He also said that regulations on safety and pollution are necessary. He received much less enthusiastic applause than other speakers did.

Several speakers condemned “ideological” Europhiles. Their opinions are clearly based only on hard-headed analysis and evidence-based policy making. Several of them also condemned the fact that the UK has given up our veto. None of them, not even the director of the Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Centre for Freedom, thought it worth mentioning the date of the Single European Act.

Only one of the 14 speakers was a woman. The fact that I noticed this suggests that I am suffering from a bout of ‘political correctness gone mad’ – probably picked up from some Eurocrat during one of my visits to Brussels. Amid all the attacks on the evils of the EU, there was specific condemnation of Jean Monnet Fellowships. This in the Monnet Room of Europe House, in front of a picture of the man himself. EU institutions are evil, except when they offer a free venue.

Stephen Tindale is a research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.