Marr asked Hammond to comment on the recent apocalyptic comments on the EU by Donald Tusk (President of the EU Council) that "the whole house of cards could come down". Hammond's own remarks hardly inspired confidence in the EU:
Well, what I think I fear and many people in Europe fear is that without Britain, Europe would lurch in very much the wrong direction. Britain has been an enormously important influence in Europe, an influence for open markets, for free trade, for a less dirigiste approach to running the economy.
We would be dealing with a Europe that looked very much less in our image. And I think the thing we have to remember is that there’s a real fear in Europe that if Britain leaves the contagion will spread,Several questions come to mind. If Britain is so central to the survival of the EU project, how is it we are regularly isolated, denigrated as non-communitaire and labelled as the awkward member ? How is it all our requests for reform are ignored, with Cameron's reform package amounting to literally nothing ?
The suggestion that without Britain, the EU would lurch toward protectionism and against open markets poses further questions: should Britain really be inside a union so at odds with its own values ? Is this not just another way of saying that the EU is holding back a free-trading, open-market Britain ? (a perennial euro-sceptic argument)
However, the eye-catching suggestion that a number of other states would be ready to follow Britain really does open pandora's box. Are there a whole series of nations unhappily locked inside the EU ? Why should Britain remain just to prolong such an unhappy arrangement ? Should Britain lead the way out for nations seeking a free-trading, open-market alternative to this stultifying political union ?
Above all else, the question I would pose is : Why do we need the EU ?
Security & DefenceDavid Cameron recently tried to suggest that we needed to remain in the EU in order to be secure against threats such as ISIL, Russia & North Korea. This claim does not stand up to any scrutiny:
- Many non-EU countries are involved in actions against ISIL (Norway, Commonwealth allies Australia & Canada, USA of course etc.). Many EU countries are not involved.
- The stand-off with Russia over Ukraine was sparked when the EU offered Ukraine an association agreement. More than a trade deal, it included political association that amounted to choosing Brussels over Moscow - effectively "poking the Russian bear". The EU's imperial ambitions are a threat to all our security.
- North Korea ? I doubt that Kim Il Jong gives the EU a moment's thought.
Add to that the UK's partnerships with Commonwealth allies (Canada, Australia and New Zealand) in military co-operation and intelligence sharing (as part of the "Five Eyes" alliance that also includes the USA), and we can say that defence & security is pretty well covered - with no need for the EU to exist at all.
International RelationsThe UK, by dint of its history and outward-looking nature, is possibly the most internationally connected nation on the planet: permanent member of the UN security council; leading member of the Commonwealth; together with the USA founded the majority of inter-governmental organisations after World War 2.
Most interestingly, in 1946 Winston Churchill proposed the Council of Europe (CoE) as a forum for international relations and co-operation for the European region. Today there are 47 members encompassing all European states (including Russia) except Belarus. The CoE was established by the 1949 Treaty of London, i.e. pre-dating the organisations that evolved into the EU.
So why was the EU created ? It wasn't needed for regional international relations. The Father of the EU, Jean Monnet, rejected the Council of Europe (and inter-governmental organisations in general) because they would not lead to political union. The EU is and always has been a vehicle for European political union.
Human rightsThe best known body of the Council of Europe is the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights. The Convention was created by the Council of Europe after World War 2. British MP and lawyer Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, chaired the Committee on Legal and Administrative Questions and guided the drafting of the Convention. So you thought the EU invented human rights ? In fact it was another example of Britain taking a leading international role.
In recent years, Human Rights judgements have come in for criticism. But it is also worth noting that Britain's influence in the Council of Europe and ECHR is now constrained by the EU. The Lisbon Treaty Charter of Fundamental Rights, binds the UK to obey all ECHR judgements, or face judgements and fines via the EU's Court of Justice. Article 34 of the Lisbon treaty binds the UK to follow the common EU position within the Council of Europe . With control over 28 states within the 47 member Council of Europe, the EU very much drives the agenda. The UK cannot independently challenge, influence or withdraw from any ECHR decisions - we require EU agreement.
Free MovementWould we have visa-free travel across Europe and opportunities to work/study/retire across Europe without the EU ? Well, yes actually. As explained by EU Referendum in this blog post, the UK agreed a treaty with France for visa-free travel as early as 1946, followed by a raft of treaties in 1947 establishing similar arrangements across Europe. 1961 saw the establishment of the British Visitor Passport which allowed travel to France without a passport.
No-one can honestly claim it was impossible for UK citizens to work or live abroad on the continent before 1973. It is also clear that east europeans arrived to live & work in the UK in the period between the fall of the Berlin wall and the accession of east european states to the EU in 2004. It seems likely that even without the EU, a continent-wide free movement would have been established.
But a free movement established without the EU would have respected the right of states to exercise national controls on immigration, residency and citizenship rights. The current EU free movement is specifically designed to eliminate national self-government, the core reason why the current EU free movement provokes distrust and anger.
Trade & Single MarketReaders of this blog (or associated, generally superior blogs) will already know that the Single Market extends beyond the EU. So there is no reason in principle why a European Single Market cannot exist without the EU.
We would need an organisation or forum where we could co-ordinate European trade affairs, preferably run on an inter-governmental basis (i.e. nation states co-operating as partners and equals) rather than the EU's supra-national basis (where an over-arching organisation subordinates and replaces nation states). It should focus on extending free trade - perhaps a "European Free Trade Association" ? Oh wait ! That's EFTA - the free trade association created by Britain with 6 other European states in 1960, which currently includes the 2 richest and most successful economies in Europe: Norway & Switzerland.
Of course, the single market needs a single set of trading regulations / standards, so surely we need the EU for that ? As readers of this blog will also know, the vast majority of these regulations / standards are now made in international organisations and passed down to the EU. The EU's only role here is to delay, gold-plate and mangle these global regulations. Removing the EU from the process would actually lead to better regulation fit for a global single market and less delay in seeing the benefits (for example, the EU boasts of providing lower mobile roaming charges - in fact this was a global initiative and Africa had lowered roaming charges before the EU got around to it).
European single market rules and disputes are currently adjudicated by the EU's Court of Justice - which is unsatisfactory since the same court also rules on political matters and is notorious for pursuing a political integration and federalist agenda. If the EU didn't exist, how would the Single Market be adjudicated ? Well one option would be to use the EFTA court which adjudicates Single Market rules for EFTA states.
Another alternative would be one of the more important international organisations governing trade regulations, i.e. UNECE, which already has all European states as members and has an inter-governmental decision making structure. UNECE could form a regional body for administering the European Single Market. It was in fact the purpose intended for UNECE by Winston Churchill - another inter-governmental organisation founded by Britain before the EEC/EU existed.
Who needs the EU ?
There is a common theme in all the above topics. The UK leading in founding inter-governmental organisations, which the EU has sought to replicate or usurp. This contradicts the myth the UK was insular and obsessed with empire following World War 2 - nothing could be farther from the truth.
So what is the purpose of the EU ? It is based on ideas developed following the horrors of the first world war. In order to prevent franco-german wars in europe, a supra-national organisation to sub-ordinate and ultimately replace nation states was envisaged, run by technocrats. It is of course now redundant in this purpose, but still it carries on following the outdated 1931 blueprint.
That the UK chose to surrender an advantageous position with global influence, and abandon its trading & friendly relations with EFTA & Commonwealth allies to be absorbed into this doomed political project will eventually be seen as one of the greatest acts of folly in our national history. Membership of the EU has sapped UK inter-national engagement and national democracy. Leaving the EU is the only choice for those who would revitalise democracy and want a globally engaged Britain.
That other states feel unhappy shackled within the outdated political project is becoming clear. So perhaps Britain's ultimate opportunity to lead in Europe is to show the way out for other states who wish to regain national self-government and democracy - a group of nations I shall henceforth refer to as "Hammond's contagion". For the UK to be a self-governing nation, it must leave the EU - and provide an example and encouragement to other nations who also wish to be free.
Those european states that genuinely wish to be absorbed into a federal political union could then proceed without the reluctant UK. The only proviso I would state is that such a move must be achieved by democratic consent. There should be a wave of referenda across europe before full federal union is realised - but as we've seen, the EU doesn't really care for democratic consent.