August 28, 2005


The EU can work for Britain - if we quit (Daniel Hannan, 28/08/2005)

The idea that the EU might abandon its founding ideology in order to humour Britain is one of our more enduring self-deceits. It lay behind Harold Macmillan's original application in 1961, which was launched on the basis that "the effects of any eventual loss of sovereignty would be mitigated if resistance to Federalism on the part of some of the governments continues, which our membership might be expected to encourage".

Even in Macmillan's day, this was wishful thinking - although, with the EU not yet five years old, it was perhaps excusable. It is less excusable today, when we have half a century of evidence to the effect that the Treaty of Rome means what it says about "ever-closer union". Yet still we delude ourselves, imagining that the other members are on the verge of coming round to our point of view. [...]

My sense is that most British people want to retain our trade links with the EU, and to accompany them with close inter-governmental co-operation, but not with political assimilation. Is it feasible to have our cake and eat it? Absolutely.

Consider, as an example, the members of the European Free Trade Area (Efta): Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Lichtenstein. Each of these countries has struck its own particular deal with Brussels, but the main elements are the same. They participate fully in the four freedoms of the single market - free movement of goods, services, people and capital. But they are outside the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies, they control their own borders and human rights questions, they are free to negotiate trade accords with non-EU countries and they pay only a token sum to the EU budget.

Unsurprisingly, they are much richer than the EU members. According to the OECD, per capita GDP in the four Efta countries is double that in the EU. Euro-apologists are, naturally, quick with their explanations. "You can't compare us to Iceland," they say, "Iceland has fish." So, of course would Britain, but for the ecological calamity of the CFP. "We're nothing like Norway," they go on, "Norway has oil." Indeed; and Britain is the only net exporter of oil in the EU. Then my particular favourite: "But Switzerland has all those banks." Yes. And London is the world's premier financial centre - although it is, admittedly, being slowly asphyxiated by EU financial regulation.

I am not arguing that Britain should precisely replicate the terms struck by these Efta nations. On the contrary, we could do far better. We are a larger country for one thing, and, unlike the Efta states, we run a massive trade deficit with the EU. Indeed, the easiest way to answer Tony Blair's claim about the millions of jobs that depend on the EU is to point to the astonishing fact that the Efta nations export more per head to the EU from outside than does Britain from the inside. Efta stands as a living, thriving refutation of the assertion that we must choose between assimilation and isolation.

No man may be, but some nations actually are islands.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 28, 2005 11:33 PM

Thanks for the tip. (Is this where I admit I hadn't understood about Efta before this? Very interesting, the idea of having ties but not membership...) I've linked to the commentary and given you a hat tip.

Posted by: Kathryn Judson at August 29, 2005 12:38 AM