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PETER LILLEY – A RELUCTANT CONVERT TO LEAVING THE EU?

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PETER LILLEY – A RELUCTANT CONVERT TO LEAVING THE EU?

Peter_LilleyThis piece appeared as an op-ed in Friday’s Daily Telegraph.  We may not agreee wit hMr Llley’s assessment of David Cameron, but his testimony of a seeingly reluctant conversion to a pro-withdrawal position is well worth reading.When David Cameron invites you into No 10 to discuss your concerns he  can be immensely persuasive. His courtesy and frankness are disarming;  his grasp of detail, impressive. Last time I visited, he persuaded me  to shift my position on bombing Syria. I hoped that this time, on  Tuesday, he would overcome my concerns about remaining in a largely  unreformed EU.

In 1975, I campaigned to remain in. I love Europe: I did an apprenticeship in France, have a holiday home there, chaired a small  German company, worked in the Netherlands and Belgium, and speak French. But I’m not so fond of the EU – not without fundamental reform.

Some have suggested the largely inconsequential outcome of Mr  Cameron’s negotiations means he is a closet Europhile or a weak negotiator. He convinced me that neither accusation is true. He is our most euro-sceptic Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher’s last term and a determined negotiator. The insubstantial outcome reveals all the more powerfully the intransigence of the EU establishment.

I am a gradualist by temperament – not one of those content with nothing less than immediate and complete restoration of sovereignty.  Given that Britain lost its powers in a series of salami slices, I accepted that we could only hope to get powers back bit by bit. I wanted the PM to start that process but knew it would be difficult. It  would mean abrogating the doctrine that once a power has been transferred to the EU it can never return to a member state. That  doctrine (not “ever closer union”) has driven the process of European  integration and is held tenaciously by the European Commission.

To reverse that ratchet required two things. First, create a precedent by getting some modest powers back. Sadly, the PM was unable to get back a single power conceded to the EU. Secondly, whenever the process of integrating the eurozone involves directives or treaty changes requiring our consent, use that leverage to insist on devolving more powers to the UK. Unfortunately, the draft agreement pledges that the UK “shall not impede the implementation of legal acts directly linked to the functioning of the euro area”. That would mean throwing away our trump cards.

I understand that wording may be watered down. But without a single precedent for returning powers and with our leverage in doubt, Britain remains vulnerable to the ratchet. Each new directive, regulation and court ruling will leach power irrevocably from Britain to Europe.

What would Britain’s position be if the UK electorate decides to remain in the EU on these slightly modified terms? Clearly we have abandoned the “heart of Europe” strategy. If that meant paying enthusiastic lip service on the continent to the European Project, so much the better. Supporting measures we did not want so as to win influence to prevent them happening was never a credible strategy. We have voted against 72 EU measures and lost every time.

Instead, we would be adopting the “appendix of Europe” strategy. The appendix is the one bit of the anatomy, left over from evolution, which serves no function. Likewise, our membership no longer serves
any function in a body whose primary purpose (political union) we reject, whose main projects (the euro; Schengen) we are not part of, whose laws we find onerous and whose economic attractions have turned into costs. The alternative is to leave.

That was not my initial position. I was concerned it might involve  disruption. But closer study convinces me that it can be done smoothly. There are plenty of precedents for countries leaving far closer unions than the EU. First we should adopt existing EU law into UK law: we would then be free to amend them in due course.

Next, under the “principle of continuity”, we would accede to most EU trade and other treaties on existing terms. In the unlikely event the EU refused a trade agreement, we could ensure our export trade was unaffected by using the savings on our EU contribution to reimburse the tariffs exporters would otherwise face, still leaving £4 billion to spare. We could make our own trade deals. As the minister who
implemented the Single Market, I believe membership brings little further benefit but exposes us to ever more regulation.

I respect Mr Cameron’s views as I believe he does mine. Maybe he failed to convince me because I have heard too many assurances that European political integration has peaked or that Britain has erected barriers to it – only to see the tide flood in and the barriers washed away. Only if we leave can we regain control of our laws, our money and our borders.

Peter Lilley – a reluctant convert to leaving the EU?

 

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