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The sobering truth about Britain and the EU

_89084621_gettyimages-89784185It is a well-known fact that membership of the EU has mired us in a quagmire of regulation created by faceless bureaucrats who impose their unelected agenda on poor British people, inhibiting our lives and business with absurd rules. The classic example comes in this analysis of the words in various documents:

Lord’s Prayer – 66 words
10 Commandments – 179 words
Gettysburg address – 286 words
EU regulations on the sale of cabbage – 26,911 words.

There you have it. We would clearly be better off if we were out of Europe and could decide for ourselves on our own cabbage-growing requirements.

Except that it isn’t true. As the BBC’s More or Less demonstrated this week, this example is a complete fabrication—and, bizarrely, the number 26,911 goes back to a statistic quoted in 1945, before the EU even existed! There used to be some regulations on vegetable sizes and forms, but the EU sensibly decided to abolish them. In fact there are some regulations about the growing of cabbages, and they run to 23,510 words—and they are written in Britain by a British farmer as part of the British Red Tractor assurance scheme.


This illustrates a worrying reality about the debates on the EU in the run-up to the referendum: not many voters will be making a well-informed decision based on the facts, not least because they are often so complex and speculative. The Economist highlights the dangers:

…Voters will be influenced not by a cool calculation of costs and benefits but by their general view of Europe. And in the midst of a huge refugee crisis and stuck in the economic doldrums, Europe does not look inviting. Referendums are always unpredictable: a sudden shock in the markets, or even a terrorist incident, could swing voters. There is all to play for.

This is the disturbing conclusion to an article that focuses on the serious dangers around possible Brexit in a whole raft or areas—free trade deals, which are unlikely to include services so vital to our economy, freedom from regulation, which likely won’t materialise, immigration, which cannot be controlled without sacrificing trading arrangements, security, diplomacy and sovereignty. In purely economic terms, it doesn’t look good.

The immediate effects of a Brexit vote are likely to be bad. Prolonged uncertainty over Britain’s new relationship with the EU will discourage investment, especially foreign direct investment, of which Britain is the biggest net recipient in the EU. This is particularly worrying for a country with a large current-account deficit that must be financed by capital inflows…

The longer-term effects of Brexit are also likely to be adverse.

It has been argued that the EU will want to give a post-Brexit UK good terms for trade. But that looks wildly optimistic.

The incentive for other EU countries is not to act with generosity. A decision to leave will be seen by many as a hostile and destabilising act for a union that is already in deep trouble. Voters across Europe are disillusioned with Brussels. Populist parties in France, the Netherlands, Italy and elsewhere are watching the Brexit debate closely. The EU will be desperate to show that a decision to leave does not have a painless outcome…

The idea that we will have leverage in future trade deals ignores the fact that the relative importance of trade to the UK and to the EU is completely asymmetric.

…[It is] asserted that both sides have a strong interest in a free-trade deal. This is true but any deal is unlikely to cover services. The second is to claim that, because Britain runs a big trade deficit with other EU countries, they need the British market more than Britain needs theirs. This is a fallacy: Britain accounts for only 10% of EU exports, while the EU takes almost half of Britain’s. Moreover, most of the British trade deficit with the EU is with just two countries, Germany and Spain—yet a trade agreement must be endorsed by the other 25 members too.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) develops the case for remaining in the EU on the basis of trade deals. Being in the EU gives us easier access to global markets, includes us in more comprehensive deals, to more other countries, and on more favourable terms, with lower tariffs, and in a shorter time, and thus boosting the economy, than any deals we could strike on our own. The final paragraph looks to the future.

Priority must be given to completing the deals with Japan and the US – giving UK business easier access to 2/3 of the world’s markets by value. The EU-US deal (TTIP) could add £10bn to the UK economy by attracting more investment, cutting red tape and increasing consumer choice. The deal would also set the bar for regulatory standards around the world.

Have you heard of TTIP? That’s right, it is the trade agreement which it is claimed will fundamentally undermine our services, jobs and even our democracy.

As a bi-lateral trade agreement, TTIP is about reducing the regulatory barriers to trade for big business, things like food safety law, environmental legislation, banking regulations and the sovereign powers of individual nations. It is, as John Hilary, Executive Director of campaign group War on Want, said: “An assault on European and US societies by transnational corporations.”

TTIP is the end point of the logic unleashed by Margaret Thatcher’s embracing of Friedman-style free market economics, the thing responsible for our rapid growth in wealth, growing inequality, and the destruction of much of our common life as a nation.

The coffee and the restaurants are better – but the essentials of life are harder to find than ever: a good life and an honest place; a solid, modest home big enough to house a small family in a peaceful, orderly landscape; good local schools open to all who need them; reasonably paid secure work for this generation and the next; competent government and wise laws. These have become luxuries, unattainable for millions who once took them for granted.

And ‘because we’re all still worshipping that free-market dogma that captivated us 30 years ago’, we have seen the end of our coal industry and are now witnessing the end of our steel industry, which the Government could perfectly easily rescue if it wanted to. It is the reason that the NHS is being bled dry by private companies through the PFI process—which Jeremy Corbyn admits was Labour’s mistake. And it is the reason why indigenous white boys perform measurably worse at the end of their schooling than they did at the beginning—free market economics and individualism have destroyed the culture and communities on which previous generations depended.

In this sense, important though it is, the debate about membership in the EU feels like rearranging the trade deal chairs on the deck of the Titanic of free market economics. The much bigger question, which isn’t really being addressed, is what our free trade fixation is doing to our lives and our world.


Unveiling EmpireIt should not completely surprise us when commentators like Anthony Gwyther and Wes Howard-Brooke draw parallels between the beast in the Book of Revelation and global capital. In Unveiling Empire, they identify the depiction of Roman imperial power in Revelation and the claims it makes—to be the true source of prosperity, the end of chaos, the controller of financial, the true victor in the struggles of the world and the one that will last for ever. Onto that they map the similar claims made by the ideology of global capitalism, which therefore commands our unquestioning allegiance. (What is the political response to any party which questions free market economics? They are irresponsible and unelectable!) And they highlight the way that the kingdom of God and its looking-as-though-he-was-slain king unmask such claims for what they really are—a deceptive counterfeit that tramples the people of God, comes under judgement and ultimately destroys itself.

To remain in Europe or to leave might well be a choice between the devil you know and the devil you don’t. But in the end, without more fundamental questioning of the situation we are in, I suspect it will turn out to be the same old devil.


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9 Responses to The sobering truth about Britain and the EU

  1. Gordon Burgess-Parker April 7, 2016 at 9:11 am #

    And of course TTIP in it’s current form has a) been negotiated in almost complete secrecy, and b) still contains provisions for multi-national corporations to sue governments if legislation is passed (on environment and health for example) that could be seen to damage their profits. Madness.

    • Ian Paul April 7, 2016 at 1:55 pm #

      Yes, and worrying…though I had heard that the negotiations had stalled…

  2. paintingman April 7, 2016 at 2:08 pm #

    Looks like we are totally stuffed. We have to pay loads into the EU now. If we “leave” we will still have to pay almost as much (maybe more?) in order to preserve “fairness” in trade agreements. There now seems no hope of making the European Commission accountable to the European people. Will they ever produce any properly audited accounts?

    • Ian Paul April 7, 2016 at 5:21 pm #

      Alan, yes, at one level I agree with your analysis. But in fact the answer then might be to stay in and press properly for democratic reform.

      I was just put onto this long article by the former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/05/yanis-varoufakis-why-we-must-save-the-eu

      These are I think the most important quotations from it.

      ‘Coming into the highest level of European decision-making from the academic world, where argument and reason are the norm, the most striking realisation was the absence of any meaningful debate’

      ‘Here is why: if Britain and Greece were not already in the EU, they should most certainly stay out. But, once inside, it is crucial to consider the consequences of a decision to leave. Whether we like it or not, the European Union is our environment – and it has become a terribly unstable environment, which will disintegrate even if a small, depressed country like Greece leaves, let alone a major economy like Britain. ‘

      ‘It is a major error to assume, whether you are a remain or a leave supporter, that the EU is something constant “out there” that you may or may not want to be part of. The EU’s very existence depends on Britain staying in. ‘

      ‘Just like in the early 1930s, Britain and Greece cannot escape Europe by building a mental or legislative wall behind which to hide. Either we band together to democratise – or we suffer the consequences of a pan-European nightmare that no border can keep out.’

  3. Dr Robin Rowles April 7, 2016 at 5:43 pm #

    TTIP would be a disaster because of the clauses that allow firms to sue governments on the grounds of legislation being enacted that they don’t like. This is already happening in the Americas. The problem with the EU is the media, who lie about the EU on a daily basis, because they believe they are at risk if we stay in. They lie daily about Jeremy Corbyn for the same reason. The media is owned by very rich tax exiles who donate to the Conservative Party. The question is, how do we stop them?

  4. Clive April 8, 2016 at 8:45 am #

    Dear Ian,

    You wrote: “This is the disturbing conclusion to an article that focuses on the serious dangers around possible Brexit in a whole raft or areas—free trade deals,…”

    You have followed many who are regularly talking about FREE TRADE … only it is fake.

    ATEX is an EU directive that every country in the EU has put into law. It comes from the french: Atmospheres Explosif. It sensibly gives rules that avoids putting anything that could cause a spark into a flammable, explosive atmosphere. Therefore I can buy an ATEX certified device anywhere in the EU.

    So the FREE TRADE claim is that I can buy an ATEX certified device anywhere in the EU and use it anywhere in the EU. …. except in Britain. The UK is the only country in the EU that didn’t put ATEX into law as the EAR (Explosive Atmospheres Regulations) we instead put into law DSEAR … the DANGEROUS SUBSTANCES AND Explosive Atmospheres Regulations. This means that I can buy an ATEX certified device anywhere in the EU but I cannot use it in the UK unless I do another risk assessment unique to the UK. So it is NOT free trade.

    The real problem with the EU isn’t the EU – it’s that British Politicians cannot handle the EU, they behave like pharisees and almost always extend what the EU directive says to make sure that british people don’t infringe the EU directive but in doing so destroy free trade.

    The COMAH regulations (COMAH = Control of Major Accidents and Hazards) are a good example. In the guidance COMAH reports in the UK are written in 7 volumes so big businesses have to write about 2000 words for the UK. The reality however is that it is so bad that even nobody else in the EU, apart from Britain, has volume 7. Even the Germans don’t write volume 7 and they take EU directives very seriously. The Italians only ask for volume 6 which is all that the EU directive ever asked for … plan the emergency services, hence the Italians don’t have volumes 1,2,3,4,5 or 7. The Spanish have the attitude that whatever your processes are then that is how you make money and you shouldn’t have to describe the processes in a public document as you do in the UK. The Spanish only have volume 3 (what are the major hazards), volume 5 (what are the barriers preventing the major hazard) and volume 6 (plans for the emergency response). So the Spanish don’t have volumes 1,2,4 and 7 … the Spanish only have volumes 3,5 and 6. This all shows how anti-industry British politicians have become. If you read the HSE guidance on how to fill in the COMAH reports you find that they constantly (and I mean more than 70% of the time) refer not to COMAH at all but to DSEAR … which is itself unique to the UK.

    This vote ought to actually be about how British Politicians handle the EU … but it isn’t.

  5. Clive April 8, 2016 at 8:46 am #

    Dear Ian,

    You wrote about free trade and said: “This is the disturbing conclusion to an article that focuses on the serious dangers around possible Brexit in a whole raft or areas—free trade deals,…”

    You have followed many who are regularly talking about FREE TRADE … only it is fake.

    ATEX is an EU directive that every country in the EU has put into law. It comes from the french: Atmospheres Explosif. It sensibly gives rules that avoids putting anything that could cause a spark into a flammable, explosive atmosphere. Therefore I can buy an ATEX certified device anywhere in the EU.

    So the FREE TRADE claim is that I can buy an ATEX certified device anywhere in the EU and use it anywhere in the EU. …. except in Britain. The UK is the only country in the EU that didn’t put ATEX into law as the EAR (Explosive Atmospheres Regulations) we instead put into law DSEAR … the DANGEROUS SUBSTANCES AND Explosive Atmospheres Regulations. This means that I can buy an ATEX certified device anywhere in the EU but I cannot use it in the UK unless I do another risk assessment unique to the UK. So it is NOT free trade.

    The real problem with the EU isn’t the EU – it’s that British Politicians cannot handle the EU, they behave like pharisees and almost always extend what the EU directive says to make sure that british people don’t infringe the EU directive but in doing so destroy free trade.

    The COMAH regulations (COMAH = Control of Major Accidents and Hazards) are a good example. In the guidance COMAH reports in the UK are written in 7 volumes so big businesses have to write about 2000 words for the UK. The reality however is that it is so bad that even nobody else in the EU, apart from Britain, has volume 7. Even the Germans don’t write volume 7 and they take EU directives very seriously. The Italians only ask for volume 6 which is all that the EU directive ever asked for … plan the emergency services, hence the Italians don’t have volumes 1,2,3,4,5 or 7. The Spanish have the attitude that whatever your processes are then that is how you make money and you shouldn’t have to describe the processes in a public document as you do in the UK. The Spanish only have volume 3 (what are the major hazards), volume 5 (what are the barriers preventing the major hazard) and volume 6 (plans for the emergency response). So the Spanish don’t have volumes 1,2,4 and 7 … the Spanish only have volumes 3,5 and 6. This all shows how anti-industry British politicians have become. If you read the HSE guidance on how to fill in the COMAH reports you find that they constantly (and I mean more than 70% of the time) refer not to COMAH at all but to DSEAR … which is itself unique to the UK.

    This vote ought to actually be about how British Politicians handle the EU … but it isn’t.

  6. Graham Charkham April 8, 2016 at 9:01 am #

    Some of the reasons it is so hard to decide which way to vote in the referendum are i) because it is difficult to formulate the questions about Europe (and our future in it/out of it) it is wise to ask and ii) it is difficult to answer them and iii) it is harder still to work out how much weight to give to each answer.

    For example, one’s list of questions might include:-
    -Do the EU countries have sufficient in common to make a meaningful union or are their histories, cultures, aspirations and temperaments so different that an attempt to bind them together in a union is bound to fail?
    -If the EU is not about ever closer political union, exactly what is it? (It is more than a series of trade agreements)
    -Do I believe that the UK’s ability to control her own laws and to hold those who make the laws accountable is significantly weakened by membership of the EU? If so, is there any realistic chance that this will change if we remain in?
    -Is the UK’s ability to control immigration affected by membership of the EU? If so, does this matter?
    – Would the UK’s economy benefit in the long term by staying in or leaving? What are the consequences of each?
    These are just some of the questions, it would be very helpful if you or your readers could suggest what other questions should matter and how much they should matter. I attempted this at http://www.howshouldibegin.com/10-reasons-to-vote-for-brexit/ but didn’t find it easy.

    Thus far the political debate seems to consist of little more than speculation as to whether our economic interest is best served by leaving or staying.

  7. Clive April 9, 2016 at 6:03 am #

    Sorry for the type but the COMAH report I have done is 2000 pages, not 2000 words!

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