Stephen Knight writes… Boris marginalises debate on Europe

boris and cameronBy making a Europe speech at Bloomberg, just like the Prime Minister did over a year ago, it was clear that the Mayor of London was sabotaging the launch of his Chief Economic Adviser’s report on our place in the EU as a (re)launch pad for his political career. What a good use of £36,400 of taxpayers’ money!

Predictably, the headlines are about Boris Johnson’s plans to return to the Commons. Once again, the debate about our role in the EU gets swept under the carpet and reduced to meaningless sound bites.

The Tories have now made ‘EU reform’ another such sound bite. Reform of what? And how? And when?

Threatening to leave has so far been the Tories’ strategy for reform. If they get a majority at the General Election, we’ll have another three years of it. This uncertainty is damaging for British investment, jobs and businesses. Forty per cent of the world’s largest 250 companies have chosen London for their European or global headquarters – and half of them cite our EU membership as the core reason for investing. The Mayor says he wants to ‘protect the City from Brussels’ and yet the message from the City is loud and clear. Citigroup and the British Bankers Association have actually called for closer ties with the EU.

The Europe report claims it wouldn’t be so bad if we left the EU and that we’d keep the economic benefits of belonging to the world’s largest single market. In fact, the Swiss and Norwegians still have to accept EU regulations but have no say in influencing them. Advocates of a ‘Brexit’ say we can simply trade with the rest of the world. We could – but 64 million Brits would not wield the same leverage in (re-)negotiating free trade agreements all over again with 319 million Americans or 1 billion Indians.

The report makes no mention of the £680 million of European taxpayers’ money which will be spent in London between now and 2020 on skills, research and SMEs. Something tells me advocates of a ‘Brexit’ would not stump up the same amount of cash for similar projects.

The report calls for the completion of the single market, and a curb on the free movement of people. This is contradictory. The UK is in itself a single market – but no one is advocating a curb on the free movement of Londoners or Liverpudlians.

The report also calls for the completion of the digital services market and the creation of a European Commissioner for the task. Well Boris, the European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda is called Neelie Kroes and has had the job for the past four years. And wouldn’t the completion of the digital services market require further integration and regulation – precisely what the report argues against?

The report also wants to ‘halt unnecessary legislation’, without specifying which legislation, or who will deem which legislation is unnecessary.

The report is vague, contradictory and solely written for the purpose of furthering the Mayor’s political career. And you paid for it.

* Cllr Stephen Knight is a member of the London Assembly and a councillor in Richmond.

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  • Agreed. And it is typical of Boris Johnson that (knowing the audience he stood before) he commenced with a pretty good summary of some of the main benefits and achievements of the EU. Here is an extract –

    “……. for 15 years after the fall of the wall, it was the EU that served as a beacon and an objective for Poland and other former communist countries. It was the EU’s insistence on market reforms that has transformed those economies, and helped provide the British speedway fan with the friendly cafes and prompt service, ice cream and all the stuff that you would not have expected under communism.

    And as we, this week, mark a century since the outbreak of the First World War, we should reflect that for 70 or almost 70, of those 100 years, there has now been peace in western Europe, probably the longest uninterrupted absence of war since the days of the Antonine emperors; and of course there are probably all sorts of reasons for that peace –
    the simple horror of the memory of the last war; you might cite the role of Nato, the triumph of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, I’m sure that will be top in your minds Bloomberg folk here this morning in facing down communist aggression; but somewhere in the mix we should surely give credit to Brussels for being a force for stability and economic integration… ”

    Presumably he thinks that, having set out this stuff it is perfectly OK to completely ignore it in mouthing his breezy assurances that it is equally acceptable whether or not the UK continues to be a crucial and hopefully leading member of what he himself has acknowledged as a ground-breaking and historically beneficial organisation. He was – just as in making his completely self-serving and hypocritical announcement about his political ambitions – looking over the heads of his audience and speaking to the people at large. He knew what part of his remarks would be reported.

  • paul barker 7th Aug '14 - 2:11pm

    From the hints hes been dropping I think its now clear that Boris is willing to split his own Party & take The UK out of Europe in his lust for Power. Come 2017, if The Tories get a majority, Boris will be campaigning for Brexit whatever Cameron decides. The real Boris is more like Enoch Powell than the giant Teddy bear he portrays himself as. he wants Power at any cost.

  • Paul In Wokingham 8th Aug '14 - 6:49am

    @Denis – I was in Bydgoszcz at the time of the Speedway World Cup, and Boris Johnson’s comments about “friendly cafes and prompt service, ice cream and all the stuff that you would not have expected under communism” is 100% correct. Oddly enough my partner (a speedway fan) bumped into Boris while having lunch at one of those friendly cafes.

    I took away a few thoughts myself from my trip there: firstly, the extraordinary ordinariness of it all: the shopping area of Bydgoszcz might have been Bromley.

    Secondly, the ubiquity with which English and German were spoken (the latter perhaps less surprising given the historical connections of Bydgoszcz/Bromberg with Germany).

    And thirdly, I have a lasting memory of an open-air film screening in a town square after dark on a Friday evening. There were deck chairs arranged in front of the screen, which was showing Chinatown dubbed into German with Polish subtitles.

    Poland is looking west, and Boris is simply acknowledging that fact.

  • Don’t take Boris seriously. It was aimed at making headlines. Furthermore, he hasn’t got any idea about the EU or how to leave it.

    I predict that the Tory government formed in the post Cameron era (the election after next) will be the one that seriously plans to leave the EU. That will not be soon enough.

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