Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of Vote Leave, argues that the need for ‘one size fits all’ regulations to cover all of Europe makes it impossible for the EU to pursue the best interests of all its members. This piece is part of the UCL European Institute’s first guest editor week on openDemocracy.
In less than four months’ time, the British people will make the most historic political decision of a generation. The choice we face is clear. A vote to stay in will mean a permanent loss of control to Brussels and confirm the supremacy of EU law forever. A vote to leave returns control to the British people, giving us the power to make our own laws and hold the people who make them to account. We take back the power to set our own policies on trade, migration and human rights, and the power to spend our own money on our own priorities.
There are three key reasons why I think the British people will choose the safer option and vote to leave. Firstly, as long as the UK remains a member of the EU, we lack the power to decide who makes our laws or to sign our own free trade deals with our friends and partners around the world. This undermines both our democracy and our economy. Secondly, the EU’s control of our borders prevents us from adopting a humane and non-discriminatory immigration policy, which forces us to turn away some of the best talent from around the world whilst taking away our power to keep dangerous criminals out. Finally, the abject failure of Prime Minister David Cameron’s renegotiation with EU leaders in February blows apart the myth once and for all that it is possible to achieve any meaningful reform of the EU from within.
A vote to leave takes back control and stops the EU undermining our democracy and our economy
All across the UK, people have seen how we have lost control over so many areas of key national importance. Whether it is our trade, our borders, or who actually makes our laws, voters recognise that we have lost the power to make decisions on any of these matters ourselves, and that there is no way to get this back unless we vote to leave.
Those backing the in-at-all-costs campaign like to talk about the ‘influence’ Britain has in the EU, but this is nothing more than an illusion. We have tried to stop damaging laws coming from Brussels 72 times, and been voted down every single time. Eurozone countries now have a permanent qualified majority on the Council of Ministers, so we have no way of protecting ourselves from harmful laws as the EU resorts to increasingly desperate measures to attempt to stave off some of the damage inflicted by the failings of its ideologically-driven monetary union.
We have been forced to give up our seat on key international bodies like the World Trade Organisation and have had our global voice greatly diminished as a result. Instead of being able to negotiate our own free trade deals to suit the unique strengths of the British economy, we are forced to accept one-size-fits-all compromises cobbled together after long delays by EU negotiators. Far from being an advantage, the vast size of the EU is actually a major hindrance to the EU being able to secure the best deals.
It is no coincidence that the cumbersome EU has failed to secure free trade deals with many of the world’s major emerging economies – including India, China and Brazil – while Switzerland and Iceland, negotiating on their own behalf, have secured free trade deals with China with a minimum of fuss. Even when the EU does finally manage to scrape together a patchwork agreement, it will inevitably be a poor compromise which won’t be the best deal for any of its members. It is inconceivable that the one single agreement forced on the whole EU can genuinely represent the best deal for economies as diverse as Germany and Greece, or Britain and Bulgaria.
The EU costs too much and forces us to unfairly discriminate over who can come to Britain, making us less safe and worse off
One of voters’ biggest concerns is unrestricted migration from the EU. Thanks to our membership of the EU, we have lost control over our borders, and lost our ability to set a rational and humane immigration policy for ourselves. We are left increasingly out of step with the internationalised, globalised world, as the strain placed on our public services by unrestricted EU migration forces us to discriminate against the best and brightest talent from the rest of the world.
After we leave, we will take back the power to set a coherent and non-discriminatory immigration policy, suited to our place at the heart of the globalised and decentralised world economy of today. We will no longer have to turn away highly skilled workers and wealth creators from the wider world, providing a long-term boost to the strength of our economy. Furthermore, we will no longer be frustrated by the European courts in our attempts to deport dangerous criminals, whilst preventing those already convicted of crimes elsewhere from entering our country in the first place.
Another major concern for voters is the huge cost of the EU. It is no surprise that British voters are deeply concerned about the £350 million we are sending a week to Brussels, money which could be much better spent on our own priorities like the NHS, education, and medical research. The EU loses billions of pounds a year to corruption and waste, with the EU’s own auditors having failed to give its accounts a clean bill of health for two decades running.
Four decades on from when we first joined, our total contributions to the EU recently topped a staggering £500 billion. We know that this doesn’t represent anything like value for money for the British people, before even considering the indirect costs of EU regulation on top of this. The top 100 most costly EU regulations alone cost British businesses £33.3 billion a year. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are the lifeblood of the British economy, overwhelmingly feel that the costs of complying with single market regulations greatly outweigh the benefits of remaining in the EU.
The failure of Cameron’s renegotiation proves that the EU is fundamentally unreformable from within
When we look back on the biggest turning points of the campaign, perhaps the biggest will be the day in February when David Cameron came home from Brussels, having asked for almost nothing, and yet somehow managing to return with even less than that. The prime minister used to talk about “fundamental, far-reaching change” in our relationship with the EU. Instead, we saw Eurocrats and our own politicians desperately trying to play up manufactured rows about utterly trivial changes to technicalities on migrant benefits and empty declarations which can be ripped up by EU judges the day after the referendum.
Other EU leaders have made it clear what they thought Cameron actually got. Chancellor Merkel was confident that she “[didn’t] think we gave the UK too much”. President Hollande was even less charitable when he said “just because it lasted a long time, does not mean much happened… [there is] no exception to the rules of the single market, no right to veto EU rules and no treaty change”. He was more than happy to confirm that “there is not a planned revision of the treaties and no right of veto with regards to the eurozone”.
This has finally put to bed the notion that it is possible to achieve any sort of meaningful reform of the EU from within. Eight out of 10 of the so-called reforms secured by the prime minister were simply restatements of the status quo. The agreement reaffirms the supremacy of the unelected and unaccountable European Commission and European Court of Justice, and does precisely nothing to address the deep-rooted problems of the EU that are making life worse for ordinary people across the continent.
The prime minister famously promised to deliver “full-on treaty change” before the referendum. He has completely gone back on this promise and left British voters with a deal that has no more legal weight than an unsigned contract. The former Director General of the EU Council’s legal service, Jean-Claude Piris, said there is “no possibility to make a promise that would be legally binding to change the treaty later”. Michael Gove, the UK Justice Minister, was clear that “the facts are that the European Court of Justice is not bound by this agreement until treaties are changed… the whole point about the European Court of Justice is that it stands above the nation states.”
The deal can be ripped up by EU politicians and judges the moment the referendum is over. The European Parliament will not be taking a vote on whether to approve the deal until after the referendum, while the European Court of Justice will also be free to tear up the agreement at the first opportunity. A range of pro-EU politicians have been wheeled out to try to convince the British people of the opposite, but history is replete with stark warnings for those gullible enough to believe that an EU promise carries the same weight as an EU treaty in the eyes of the ECJ.
As much as we would love to be able to take the EU’s promises at face value, the EU has shown time and time again that it cannot be trusted to uphold agreements it makes with member states. In a move described by Cameron himself as “absolutely extraordinary”, Tony Blair gave away a large portion of the UK’s rebate from the EU in 2005 in return for an EU promise to reform the Common Agricultural Policy. A decade on and British taxpayers are over £10 billion worse off, with the EU’s promised reforms having vanished along with our money.
The experience of Denmark provides an even starker warning, with Cameron’s claim to have secured a ‘special status’ for the UK within the EU setting alarm bells ringing from Carlisle to Copenhagen. In 1992, the Danish people were conned into thinking they had secured legally-binding reforms which granted Denmark ‘special status’ in return for signing up to the Maastricht Treaty. The ECJ has since broken this agreement with Denmark 80 times.
The British people will not be duped into believing empty promises from the EU this time round. While the government may be confused about the legal status of the deal, the European Court of Justice certainly is not. In fact, the only uncertainty we still face over the deal is whether the ECJ will break it more times than they already broke their agreement with Denmark.
British voters will not be fooled by ‘project fear’
We have no illusions about the scale of the challenge facing us. From the giant multinationals desperate to protect their vested interests and lobbying operations in Brussels to the government machine which has already been gearing up to throw its full weight behind the ‘in’ campaign, we know that there will be a vast array of establishment voices lined up to drown out those fighting for the best interests of ordinary British people.
And we know what tactic they will use, because they have only got one to fall back on: ‘project fear’. Those who want to stay in at all costs can’t make the positive case for staying in the EU because they know that the EU is damaging British business, restricting British trade, and holding back British growth. They know that the EU has created record youth unemployment in many of its member states, contributed to the rise of political extremism not seen in Europe since the 1930s, and is structurally unable to respond effectively to the range of geopolitical crises it now faces. They know that the safer option is for the British people to take back control and vote leave.
The ‘in’ campaign’s scaremongering has already started in earnest, but they have made clear that they do not even believe the scare stories themselves. Cameron has repeatedly stated that Britain would continue to prosper outside the EU, and Lord Rose, leader of the EU-funded BSE campaign, was even of the view that “nothing is going to happen if we come out… there will be absolutely no change … It’s not going to be a step change or somebody’s going to turn the lights out.”
The fact that they still persist with their doom-mongering in spite of this ultimately betrays the ‘in’ campaign’s lack of respect for British voters. They are not prepared to have a rational and reasoned debate on the issues which actually matter to voters about the EU, like the fact that we send £19 billion a year to the EU and have no say on how it is spent, or the fact that we have no choice but to accept the supremacy of EU laws made by unelected bureaucrats and judges who we cannot hold accountable for their decisions.
However, while it is disappointing, it is not at all surprising: we heard exactly the same arguments being wheeled out by more or less exactly the same people when they told us that the British economy would collapse if we did not join the euro. If we had listened to them then, we would have been sucked into one of the worst economic catastrophes of modern history. British voters will not be fooled into thinking these prophecies of doom have any more validity today – they were wrong then and they are wrong now.
The British people have been presented with a historic opportunity to take back control, restore our democracy, and return us to being a truly global and outward-looking nation. I am confident we will not waste it.
Matthew Elliott is Chief Executive of Vote Leave.
This piece is co-published with openDemocracy.
Note: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and not of the UCL European Institute, nor of UCL.