Lord William Wallace writes…Evidence shows EU serves Britain well

European FlagIf you’re interested in the evidence about UK interests at stake in EU membership, it’s now available: over 2000 submissions, to 32 government reports.  And the overwhelming evidence, from small business and large, from legal bodies and service providers, is that the EU serves British interests well, above all in the regulations that underpin the Single Market, but also in fighting cross-border crime and providing a multilateral framework for UK foreign policy.

Eurosceptic Conservatives hoped that this exercise would demonstrate how Brussels regulations cramped British enterprise and undermined English common law.  Four rounds of consultation over two years, on topics as diverse as fisheries policy and police and criminal justice, have concluded that the current balance fits British companies and public services well.

There are, of course, some criticisms – of the European Commission’s habit of proposing new initiatives without paying enough attention to the implementation of existing regulations, and to the European Court of Justice’s tendency to interpret the Treaties expansively.  But the Bar Council, the National Farmers’ Union, the Local Government Association, the Royal College of Midwives, the National Federation of Hairdressers, and a great many other bodies agreed that we are far better served in the EU than out.  Easyjet’s evidence began with the blunt statement that their airline would not exist without the creation of the Single Market.

So we have beaten the Eurosceptics in the battle of evidence.  It will be hard even for the most ideologically obtuse to argue that economic and social interests across the UK do not benefit from the EU framework.  So hardened Eurosceptics have attacked those engaged in this massive consultation exercise.  John Redwood denounced the whole thing as a plot led by ‘Eurofederalsit’ officials; the Daily Telegraph stated that William Hague should have stopped the reports coming out without a Eurosceptic spin.

However, one lesson of the Euro-election debates between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage is that evidence alone is not enough to sway public opinion. Clegg threw fact after fact at Farage, to see them bounce off him with his cheery scepticism unscathed.  The European argument is also about deep emotional issues: about British identity and perceived threats to it, about national self-confidence, about nostalgia for the great power status – and the manufacturing economy – we have lost.  To persuade the wider electorate we have to make the case that Britain’s past and future lie with our neighbours across the Channel.

Some Eurosceptics conjure up an English-speaking ‘Anglo-Saxon world’ as the alternative framework, looking to a white, small-government, free market USA and Canada without understanding how much those countries have been transformed by immigration and economic transformation over the past 50 years.  Others look to China and Russia as preferred partners – even supporting Putin against Ukraine, and blaming the Germans and the European Union for the Ukrainian crisis.

All across the UK, schools and local history societies are rediscovering how closely British troops fought with French and Belgian regiments, how many Belgian refugees were scattered throughout the country, and how the war represented a Europe-wide disaster fed by competing imperial and nationalist ambitions.  Britain tried to disengage after 1918, only to be drawn back in 20 years later.  Europe is our backyard, as well as our largest market.  British history has been bound up with that of France, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Italy since Roman times.  Around two million British citizens now live and work, or have retired, to other parts of Europe, almost as many as citizens from other EU states now living here.

After 50 years of cold war confrontation, with a third of the British army stationed in Germany, we have extended democratic values successfully across Eastern Europe.  Young British people today travel without thinking to Warsaw, Prague and Bucharest.  People in Ukraine are struggling for the freedoms and prosperity we, and other Europeans, have successfully embedded in other former soviet states.  This is our neighbourhood, with open societies, clear rule of law, a market to which half our exports flow, and democratic governments with whom we cooperate.  And the Eurosceptics want to throw all this away, to draw closer to Putin’s Russia, to try on our own to persuade authoritarian China to offer us a better trade deal, and to follow wherever a right-wing Republican US Congress might want to take us.  That’s not only absurd, it’s unpatriotic, and we need to reinforce our use of evidence with gut arguments like this.

* Lord Wallace of Saltaire is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords. He has taught at Manchester and Oxford Universities and at the LSE.

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19 Comments

  • William (good to read you on these pages), you summarise the position succinctly and accurately. Perhaps it is just me, but between the lines I detect a note of pessimism in the face of continually increasing momentum heading for the impending crash.

    On the Tory benches as well as Farage and UKIP, there are those who now opine that separation is desirable irrespective of the consequences. By the way Eurosceptic is a misnomer, scepticism is the mark of a serious mind, these people are ‘Europhobes’.

    The war generation, amongst whom there were many who instinctively understood the idealism that underpinned the impetus behind the Treaty of Rome have largely passed away, yet a lingering anti German, anti continental post war xenophobia continues to maintain its corrosive traction; it can be seen day by day in the tabloid press.

    With the country teetering on the edge of a Brexit it seems that to appreciate the EU, the country needs to experience free fall by taking the extra step.

    For the reasons and sentiment you offer, I find it inconceivable that we Lib Dems could form a coalition government that is responsible for taking the UK out of the EU. As one who has slightly known you, I cannot imagine that you would want to continue in a government that would implicate yourself in such folly. – best wishes, Martin Bennett

  • I feel sure you knew when you wrote your article not all would think everything is great. As a normal person I feel politicians just decide to ignore that however many times you tell us you think you got it correct for the EU and its benefits all that was required was put it to us in a referendum. Many times I hear about polls I am 61 and have never taken part in a political poll so how dare you or any party decide in the halls of power that this is what I wish for. I do understand I go every election and vote at polling stations perhaps you think this is a mandate but just because all main parties says in the manifesto that the EU is good long live the EU that is not a choice, choice is when we at least have an alternative what is our alternative don’t vote! Look at HS2 as an example three main parties all support it would the parties say I never voted so therefore you don’t have a mandate for HS2. Maybe this is the long eluding fact that you all miss why we have such terrible turnout it’s not people can not be bothered it’s that the manifesto is not supported.

  • It was always clear that the Civil Service which is now well integrated with its EU colleagues would see nothing but benefits.

    Small businesses are worried about leaving the EU because they hear from Mr Clegg and others that 3 million jobs would be lost. Of course leaving the EU does not necessarily mean leaving the single market so the loss of 3 million jobs is just scaremongering.

    Large businesses do like the EU. The masses of regulation and red tape means that smaller competitors do not have the resources to compete. The free movement laws allow large corporations to move their profits to the low tax regions thus avoiding tax in the market where the sales were made. We lose billions this way.

    If we were an independent nation we could enter into legal arrangements of our own choosing. The EU seeks to have a single EU legal system which is far inferior to our own. This will be a further step towards full integration and loss of sovereignty for the UK.

    Giving up control of our foreign policy would be one of the last remnants of our nationhood gone for ever.

    You mention the wars. Millions of our countrymen died to for our freedom, democracy and independence. Today’s class of politicians see fit to give all of that away in return for a political dream of a ruling elite unfettered by sordid public elections.

    You neglect to mention the complete lack of democracy, the loss of national identity. It is an objective of the EU to destroy national identity. This is why unfettered immigration is so important to them. They want one nation of Europeans ruled without democratic process by a central elite.

    Many Lib Dems are ideologically suited to this bizarre utopia. The majority of UK citizens view it with horror.

    The businesses will adjust to whatever market they operate in. They may squeal and protest because they do not like change. They will cope, that is their job. Matters such as who makes our legislation, controls our border are for the citizens of the UK, not for businesses or multinationals who care not about such arrangements.

    Democracy and nationhood are for the people to decide. That is something that lib Dems do not seem to understand.

    As the EU marches relentlessly towards the Country of Europe, it is clear that Lib Dems look forward to being part of the Federation.

    Why do you never admit it?

  • You mention Russia.

    Russia regards the former Soviet states along its border as a buffer region between Russia and the West. This is not unreasonable since about 50% of the population of these states regard themselves as Russian and the system has worked reasonably well for years. Putin does not object to growing the commercial relationship between these states and the EU, after all, it would help to diversify and grow the Russian economy.

    The EU foreign policy you admire so much caused the current crisis. The EU, blindly blundered along in its expansionist role, pouring 350 million Euros into Ukraine civil projects. This is the standard EU method of attracting poor nations. “Join the EU and we will pave your streets with gold.”

    It works every time, creating a huge desire to join the EU, until the state joins up and then boom leads to bust.

    The Ukraine is more complex. Putin knows that the EU is 80% of the way towards a country. It has a foreign policy, it will soon have its own defence strategy, it is currently involved with NATO. Putin does not want a very large foreign power that he distrusts placing military might, including missile bases all along its borders, not to mention having full political, legislative and economic control over all the former soviet states.

    I dislike Putin and regard him as unstable. But I understand his concerns and I blame the EU with its intensely stupid, irresponsible, cack handed, foreign expansionist policy. They have poked the Russian bear with a very sharp stick and now they adopt the higher moral ground bringing sanctions against Putin for doing exactly what they should have predicted. As Russia’s economy starts to collapse due to low oil prices the EU will pile on sanctions leading to further deterioration of the German economy and more suffering for 350 million EU citizens.

    This is the EU foreign Policy in action. It is much admired by many Lib Dems. It makes me despair.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Dec '14 - 7:40pm

    Politician 1:

    Britain could be great again. We could re-build the commonwealth and create a world-wide network based on free trade, equality and human rights. We could also stay in the EU, or we could not.

    Politician 2:

    Britain is a mid tier power and should just stay in the EU regardless. The evidence says it is good for us.

    Which politician would the public choose?

  • “Four rounds of consultation over two years, on topics as diverse as fisheries policy and police and criminal justice, have concluded that the current balance fits British companies and public services well. ”

    I’ve just copied this from the pre-thread introduction.

    How can giving up our own fishing rights covering all the waters surrounding our once proud nation be inferior to giving them all away?

    This assessment is pure fantasy.

  • It is clear in his article, William Wallace is confusing ‘Europe’ and the ‘EU’, they are different. Like many, I’m for the UK being part of Europe but believe the EU is in need of reform.

  • Roland, you are being too kind. He means the EU all right, from the title to the end of his article.

    As you can tell, I am passionate about this subject. Many UK citizens are. The Lib Dems seem to be passionate too, on the other side of the argument. I strongly disagree with their position on this but I respect their right to believe what they like.

    As we head towards ever closer integration, I just wish that all parties who support continued membership of the EU, would be honest with the electorate regarding the end point which is a country of Europe. The electorate has been lied to for five decades in order to conceal this objective. Is it not time for politicians to be honest?

  • Gwynfor Tyley 18th Dec '14 - 11:36pm

    To those anti EU commenting here about loss of national identity etc, you should consider the current advert for google’s android system

    “Be together: Not the same”

    Get your heads round how that could be the motto for the EU and you might see that the EU is not the evil empire you so wish it to be.

  • “Four rounds of consultation over two years, on topics as diverse as fisheries policy and police and criminal justice, have concluded that the current balance fits British companies and public services well. ”

    Naturally this consultation was completed before January 2015… when the new EU VAT rules come into force. From small business forums it is clear neither the EU or Vince et al. have any idea about just how far reaching these new rules will be, especially when the second tranche come into effect in January 2016 and the extra administrative overhead they will be placing on businesses.

  • “To those anti EU commenting here about loss of national identity etc, you should consider the current advert for google’s android system

    “Be together: Not the same”

    Get your heads round how that could be the motto for the EU and you might see that the EU is not the evil empire you so wish it to be.”

    I truly feel you must stop thinking people who speak out about membership of the EU all think it’s bad, in my case it’s very simple I feel that parties libdem included feel that only politicians should have say on if we merge our identity and laws. Politics in the UK are well and truly broken it’s only the top perctile that have any say in the countries direction but when their decision goes wrong it is a huge bill for the entire country. We have a bill of £1.5 trillion the wealthy are not happy they pay more in tax just imagine how the less wealthy feel paying this huge bill when we don’t have any real choice. It is not about Evil EU it’s about if we are going to contribute to the bill we have a say. Where I sit it feels like the people in power have a huge party it incurs a huge bill and I like millions others are forced to contribute to the bill when one at the party gets an allergy to something we all pay for that as well.

    Stop ruling without caring one jot what the normal electorate wish for or need I say Need not want

  • Richard Dean 19th Dec '14 - 7:55am

    It’s certainly good that he evidence confirms common sense. Indeed, being in the Eurozone would increase our chances for a better future, increasing our prosperity, strengthening and stabilizing our currency, which would indeed be okay as the Euro, and reducing our risks going forward, in my opinion.

    It would surely be unwise to say the least to refuse to participate in the decision-making process that affects 40% of our export and import markets, and is right on our doorstep. We need to be in there fighting, not only for our own immediate best interests, but for the interests of others there so that our markets can thrive and keep us thriving.

    So, the politicians need to get off their high horses and connect with the voters for once. The absence of any real attempt to do so is one reason why disenchantment flourishes. Even the scapegoating of the EU by some trying to cover their own failures. An open, honest, grown up conversation needs to take place, for once.

  • “After 50 years of cold war confrontation, with a third of the British army stationed in Germany, we have extended democratic values successfully across Eastern Europe.  Young British people today travel without thinking to Warsaw, Prague and Bucharest.  ”

    I grew up at a time when free travel to the other side of “The Iron Curtain” was almost impossible. In fact the first time I went abroad travel anywhere was difficult because we were restricted to taking no more than £50 out of the UK. Even in 1970 that amount of money did not stretch very far.
    People in their twenties and thirties nowadays have no concept of the magnitude of the change.
    My father’s generation only went abroad courtesy of our armed forces to fight amd kill “the enemy”.

    If politics in the UK was a sane, intelligent and well organised activity William Wallace would be in a far more important role than being merely one of the most impressive people in the House of Lords.
    But if politics in the UK was a sane, intelligent and well organised activity I would never have come across the name of Nick Clegg in a Liberal Democrat context.

  • Tsar Nicolas 19th Dec '14 - 10:56pm

    @Peter.

    “As Russia’s economy starts to collapse due to low oil prices.”

    This sort of thinking – the idea that possession of real resources is somehow not relevant – shows how out of touch we in the western nations are.

    Oil, like other fossil fuels, is a declining resource, and production has been stuck on a plateau since 2005. No matter how high the price goes, production can’t be ramped up further. Virtually every oil province on the planet is in decline. a rational approach to economics would dictate that politicians and economists would welcome the slowing down of the consumption of a scarce resource which is the foundation of our economy. Without energy, there is no transport, no production, only back-breaking labour and poverty.

    I have come to the conclusion that there is no economic justification for the collapse in oil prices beyond a western attempt to bring down Putin. It is already impacting on the economics of oil production elsewhere, including our own sadly depleted (and wasted) north Sea oil.

  • Tsar, whilst I am sure there are those in certain parts of ‘Western world’ (that oh so real and not in anyway outdated concept) who feel no sorrow over any pain Russia will feel in relation to oil prices, to say that there is some conspiracy to bring down oil prices to ‘get Russia’ is not wrong because it is a conspiracy theory, but because it both overestimates the influence of the Western world (again, such a real thing) and completely underestimates how complex energy prices are.

    Besides, if there were some conspiracy to hit Russia, targeting their gas would be far more problematic for them than their Oil.

  • This is a fantastic piece: especially as it actually understands that the debate on the European Union is more to do with identity than economics. Just as with immigration, those against it may sometimes try to make economic arguments because they feel they have to (as they know it matters to the mainstream discourse), but they actually do not really care about the economics, they care about the social affects.

    To them, Britain integrating more into Europe through the EU and having a more ‘European’ outlook are both innately negatives thing in of themselves.

    Therefore, the debate needs to look at:

    One – how Britain is changing socially by being in a union with other European countries.

    Two – why those who support the EU not do not think this is not a negative (accepting that negative points may exist and need dealing with), but also that this a positive thing, which offers a better future for both Britain and the EU.

  • The claim that the EU is good for us was tested in the Clegg-Farage debates. Clegg’s ‘facts’ were transparent nonsense.

  • Tsar Nicolas 20th Dec '14 - 1:24pm

    Liberal Al

    The price of oil and gas are linked so if one goes up in price, so does the other, and vice-versa.

    If there is no conspiracy, then why is the price of oil plummeting when all the indicators suggest that suppliers are having a difficult time meeting demand? Markets everywhere are manipulated, so why not oil?

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