EU Referendum

‘Reform? No, we’ve achieved NOTHING!’ Iain Duncan Smith feels a sense of deja vu about this EU debate

Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, arriving at No 10 Downing Street on Saturday
Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, arriving at No 10 Downing Street on Saturday

For me, there is a great sense of déjà vu about this debate. Some 24 years ago, I was part of a Conservative government which battled against many of its own MPs to implement the Maastricht Treaty.

I had only just been elected to Parliament and, within days, I chose to oppose the treaty because it was clear to me that the huge extension of powers being granted to the institutions of the EU would take away our power to govern ourselves.

Yet at the time, John Major and his Cabinet proclaimed it to be ‘game, set and match’ to the UK. For we were assured that his ‘incredible’ deal, with its opt-outs for Britain, had turned the tide and this country’s new influence in the EU would end the process of ever closer union.

The EU, we were repeatedly told had reached the high water of European federalism.

Does all this – with those words and sentiments – seem familiar?

They certainly should! For over the past few days, we have heard very similar arguments and even many of the same words used by members of this government to describe the recent negotiation with the EU.

Indeed, I even heard one of my colleagues say that last week’s agreement meant that Britain should now be able to ‘drive Europe in our direction’.

I hope I will be forgiven for a nostalgic shake of my head, for that was exactly what we were assured would happen 24 years ago.

However, since the Maastricht Treaty was passed, and with all those reassurances, it’s just got worse and worse.

Over the past 24 years, we have witnessed three more major treaties which have brought a vast slew of new powers for the unelected Brussels Commission and the European Court of Justice.

Again and again, Britain has been outvoted on new laws demanded by the EU Commission despite ministers in Westminster being well aware that they would damage the UK’s competitiveness.

Even Tony Blair’s last-minute opt-out of the charter of fundamental rights has been ignored by the European Court of Justice and Britain has been sucked into its embrace against our will. From financial services to transport policy – and even welfare – it is the Commission which calls the shots and the UK suffers the consequences.

For example, take financial services, one of our biggest exporters. Just in the last few years, the UK has been outvoted on three new damaging sets of regulations which will impose a cost of billions of pounds and make the City less competitive with our global rivals.

To compound matters, when the British government challenged the decision, it was defeated in the Court of Justice, Thus, we had the addition of a national humiliation.

Take, also, the issue of national sovereignty. This isn’t some vague notion – it is the foundation of all accountable democracy.

According to the dictionary definition: ‘Sovereignty is understood in jurisprudence as the full right and power of a governing body to govern itself without any interference from outside.’

Of course, countries can cooperate and pool their capabilities, for example in Nato, but it is vital to recognise that they do so on the basis that they retain ultimate control of their own right to govern.

But the reason why it doesn’t work with the EU is that we aren’t sharing sovereignty – we have given it away.

As a result, this country is now subject to an international body of law that is supreme over our domestic laws. Britain is forced to comply with rulings of the ECJ – meaning that, in effect, it is the court that is sovereign, not our own parliament.

And now, despite all the efforts of this government, the European Commission is not prepared to see those powers rolled back.

The truth is that there is nothing proposed in last Friday’s agreement that reduces or returns the enormous powers that the Commission and the Court of Justice have over our national government.

Crucially, there is also the vexed matter of who controls our borders.

We have seen during the last decade a vast number of people move to the UK for work. The scale of this migration has been overwhelming for many towns and villages around the country – yet we have been powerless to stop or restrict it.

(Left to right) John Whittingdale, Theresa Villiers, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Iain Duncan Smith and Priti Patel attend the launch of the Vote Leave campaign at the group's headquarters in central London

Prime Minister David Cameron appears on The Andrew Marr Show yesterday morning to discuss the issues

 Under EU freedom of movement rules, the UK government is not allowed to interfere with people’s right to come here.

No matter what has been negotiated in Brussels this last week, Britain’s border remains open to all those resident in the countries of the EU.

This has had a devastating effect on many British workers who have found themselves priced out of their own jobs market.

It is vital that we should be concerned about those who want to work hard and play by the rules but have found it difficult because of the results of this open border.

Worrying as that is, there is an even greater concern. With the borderless Shengen area in meltdown following mass migration from Turkey and Libya, security experts have raised concerns that in the near future there will be little to stop some of those migrants from such non-EU countries coming into the UK.

For, as they are fast-tracked into naturalisation in some other EU countries, there is a very real concern that they will then be able to travel to the UK under these very same freedom of movement rules.

We have already seen how the Islamic extremists who planned and carried out November’s terror attacks on Paris exploited borderless Europe. Well, in the future, they could just as easily gain access to the UK.

London mayor Boris Johnson on February 21 said he would support a vote for Britain to leave the European Union in a blow for Prime Minister David Cameron ahead of the membership referendum in June

This is another reason why we must regain control over our own borders. As Europol has pointed out recently, 5,000 jihadists are said to be at large in the EU.

So, whether it is our right to set our own laws or control our own borders, Britain remains at the mercy of the EU. What’s more, we don’t control our own trade arrangements.

Outside the EU, we would regain that control – and be able to make our own arrangements with Japan, the US and India, nations we have strong and historic ties with.

We are told that our future now lies in a ‘reformed’ Europe. Sadly, history tells us that every time British governments have claimed to have changed the culture of the EU, the opposite is the case – as the Maastricht Treaty proved.

Too often, as I listen to those who want to stay in the EU, I am struck by their peculiar sense of pessimism and fear about what would happen if Britain pulled out.

Their whole case is based on the belief that this country cannot prosper and will be too weak to survive outside the EU. Even worse, I have heard some refer to the world beyond the EU as ‘the dark’.

You can’t think much of your country if your only reason to stay in is, ‘hang on to nurse for fear of something worse.’

Yet I am an optimist about the British people. I believe passionately that this country has shown over the centuries that we write our own rules.

Surely the UK, the fifth largest economy in the world, the third largest trading partner of Germany and the second biggest investor in the USA, with the fourth largest defence capability, has the capacity to shape its own destiny and once again be free from the shackles of a moribund European Union. That time has arrived.

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