Dr Liam Fox is a former Defence Secretary and is MP for North Somerset.
In the end we asked for little and were made to settle for less. This was not the mouse that roared but the lion that whimpered. Most, if not all, of the other EU leaders were convinced that David Cameron would never recommend a “Leave” vote in the UK referendum, so they knew they would never have to make any great adjustment to the trajectory of the “European project” – the term they still use but is never uttered from the lips of the Remain camp in the UK.
The whole process was a wasted opportunity of truly historic proportions. The Germans fear the loss of British votes on economic issues and the possibility of becoming the greatest ATM of all time if the British counterbalance to the spendthrift southern Europeans is lost. The smaller states, by contrast, see the UK as a counterweight to the might of Germany which has become the overwhelmingly powerful continental state, especially with the continued decline of France.
Neither of these powerful levers were deployed in the negotiation or their potential influence exploited. What we had instead was part charade, part artificially-hyped drama and part pantomime. I do not doubt that the Prime Minister genuinely had to persuade other leaders to accept his unbelievably modest demands but he had no option having given away his best negotiating tool at the outset – a credible threat to campaign for Brexit.
It would be disingenuous of me to claim that the outcome of the negotiation affects my intention to campaign to leave – I set that out clearly some months ago. Part of my reason for doing so at the time was that the process itself had become part of the narrative. Watching the British Prime Minister taking the equivalent of a political begging bowl round some much smaller and poorer states, asking permission to change our own benefit rules, is the clearest possible example of how we have lost control of our own affairs.
The so-called “renegotiation” was beautifully taken apart yesterday by Christopher Howarth on this site and I will not repeat all his points. Suffice to say that the British press seem to have bought much of the spin attached, and I suspect will be less than thrilled when they see the actual truth. It is not a “renegotiation” at all, since there is no treaty reform – a point President Hollande was quick to make yesterday. Changes agreed are not enforceable in the ECJ and so are neither “legally binding” nor “irreversible”.
As for giving up the British veto on blocking Eurozone integration, all that we received was a promise to “discuss” the issues at stake and bring them to a European Council. Our partners should also understand that, since there is no treaty change on this and, as British governments do not bind their successors, a different British Prime Minister might take a different view. The so-called “red card” is so unlikely to be useable as to be completely irrelevant.
Finally, the benefit changes are so watered down that they will be likely to lose the very small ability they might ever have had to affect EU economic migration. We never asked for any restriction on the free movement of people nor received any. It now seems that, should we remain in the EU, it will be impossible to meet the Conservative Party’s election pledge on immigration as a result of EU migration alone.
My objections to continued membership of the EU are that if we cannot make our own laws and determine our own borders then we are no longer a free and independent country. Nothing in this whole process has ever had any possibility of changing that position. The whole so-called “renegotiation” has been at best a well-intentioned fiasco and at worst clear proof, if any were needed, of the bizarre, wasteful and time-consuming way the EU does business.
I am not a Europhobe and I can see the good things that the EU has achieved. It was able to help bring Spain, Portugal and Greece from military dictatorships to democratic states in a short time scale. More importantly, I believe, it was able to act as a democratic beacon to the states in central and eastern Europe under Soviet oppression.
The EU leaders and the cosy cabal of ex-politicians and political elite who earn great sums from the Commission and the EU institutions have never, however, adapted to the changes brought by the fall of the Berlin wall, the era of globalisation or the implications of the creation of the euro. The fall of the Soviet Union sent a warning signal about the dangers of any supranational project, the subjugation of national identity under the umbrella of an artificial political construct.
That is not to compare the Soviet-imposed tyranny with freely chosen membership of the EU, but the results of recent elections across the continent have seen the continued rise of parties on the political extremes. I believe that the current direction of travel of the EU is potentially fanning the flames of nationalism, creating the very tensions it was created to diminish. If those in charge break it is because they will not bend.
The emergence of the single currency has also fundamentally altered the landscape. Ill conceived and badly executed, it has wreaked economic havoc , created a source of global financial instability and consigned millions of young Europeans to long term unemployment. It has put off the choice of political and economic union or breakup. Although the UK is not part of the Eurozone, we still pay for its failures. Our economy is subject to the instability it creates, the “headwinds” referred to by the Chancellor and our taxpayers pay directly through our contribution to the buget. As we are assessed to pay on the basis of our GNI, itself a weird measure, the more successful we are economically compared to the rest of the stalling EU economies, the more we pay.
Many of those who proclaimed themselves Eurosceptic have been unable to see their objections through to their logical conclusions, for whatever reasons. The British people must show more resolve. If you don’t like the destination on the front of the bus, get off. The bus says ever-closer union, whatever the conductor pretends. Time to take control. Time to leave.