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well written, fair, informative and timely book
on 7 February 2013
A well written, fair, informative and timely book, franker than most politicians on either side of the debate. It leaves each reader to decide. I shall try to do the same, giving points first for one side, then the other:
Things 'Pro-EU' politicians do not tell us:
-It is now almost impossible to deny that for decades British politicians supporting EU membership from Heath to Blair concealed from the public how much further European integration would go. Consequently, especially now that the EU's most important project of recent years, the Euro single currency, is not the success they expected, most leading pro-EU British politicians are now almost embarrassed in speaking up for the EU and are not trusted when they do.
-Statistics used by supporters of EU membership suggesting that e.g. "three and a half million British jobs depend on EU membership" are often not based on much hard evidence. They often assume that all trade between Britain and the EU countries would cease if Britain left the EU; an assertion so unlikely as to be almost dishonest.
-Because of inadequate education in foreign languages in Britain, few British applicants land jobs in EU institutions, in which entrance exams have to be taken in one's second language and speaking 3 or more European languages is desirable. Consequently there are so few British officials in the EU bureaucracy that British concerns are often not understood. (How could former Primeminister Edward Heath, who enthusiastically led Britain into what is now the European Union in 1973, not see the need to improve education in European languages at the same time?)
-Rightly or wrongly, the majority of the EU countries are profoundly committed to the apparent safety and stability of regulation and redistribution over messy and unfair but dynamic free market economics. Partly in consequence more ruthlessly competitive but economically dynamic areas of the world are catching up or overtaking Europe in prosperity. Europe's low economic growth rates compare unfavourably to North America & Australia, never mind the Far East. Britain's trade with Europe will therefore continue to decline in relative importance.
-Politicians who suggest that, as an alternative to withdrawal, Britain could re-negotiate its EU treaties to gain various additional opt-outs and freedoms from regulation are either not telling the truth or do not understand how near impossible it would be to obtain the agreement of all the other EU members, and how strongly some of them are opposed to re-opening such questions. After all, if Britain can change the rules when it likes, why should not all the other (at time of writing) 25 countries do likewise, and how then could 26 countries ever reach agreement?
-There are an increasing number of successful bilateral and regional free trade agreements in the world, which a truly independent Britain may be able to join. Under EU rules Britain is currently forbidden even to open negotiations about joining them.
Things 'anti-EU' politicians don't tell us:
-We could not quickly make up for the disruption to trade of leaving the EU by joining other Free Trade agreements. Experience shows that even between willing partners, such agreements take many years to negotiate and implement.
-Politicians who say we could free ourselves from the EU and its `red tape' and meddling, but retain a free trade agreement with the other members, seriously misunderstand the attitude of other EU countries. Many of the latter see adoption of EU regulations as the essential condition of membership of the European single market. Otherwise, they believe, we would win an unfair advantage in European markets over Continental companies who have to abide by EU employment and other legislation. Perhaps some compromise could be found, but the debate could become so emotive on both sides that compromise is difficult.
-EU membership is more popular in other parts of the UK, especially Scotland, than in England. In a referendum there could well be an overall majority for withdrawal composed largely of English votes, with the smaller countries of the UK voting in favour of staying in the EU. Would Scotland (if it has not left already in its 2014 referendum) then leave the UK? If it did, would Wales want to stay, and where would that leave Northern Ireland? If the UK broke up, what would happen to UK dependencies like Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, the UK's seat on the UN Security Council, international treaties to which the UK was a party etc.? Why is there almost no debate in England about these questions?
-Even if we would like to rebuild or expand our trading links to the Comomnwealth, USA, China or anywhere else as an alternative to the EU, these countries are thousands of miles away. For obvious geographical reasons, trade with our nearest neighbours in Europe will always be important. We shall never truly "leave Europe"; hence the title of the book, 'Au Revoir Europe' ('Au Revoir' being the French for 'until we see each other again'), not 'Goodbye'.
Conclusion: There is no easy answer to the question of the UK's future relationship with the EU. However, we are going to have to choose, as much of the rest of the EU, spurred by the need to make the Euro work as well as ideological and emotional commitment, moves towards further integration. Eventually we may either have to join them, or leave. Unfortunately our politicians are often not preparing us for either option, but hoping or pretending we can somehow have our cake and eat it.