Haunted by nighttime images of europhobic ‘bastards’, Sir John is still fighting the battles of yesteryear.
With an in-out referendum wafting through the air, Sir John doesn’t like the smell of it. Britain, he warns, would pay a “severe price” for leaving.
Well, Britain is used to paying through the nose, not least thanks to the Black Wednesday fiasco of 1992 engineered by Mr Major (as he then was) when he led HMG.
Then his passionate affection for pan-European bureaucracy dragged Britain into the Exchange Rate Mechanism, as a prelude to joining the single currency. Money markets, however, wouldn’t wear it and Britain had to retreat, tail between her legs, shedding pounds every step of the way.
These days even the likes of Vince Cable realise what all sane people knew in 1992, that joining the single currency would have been catastrophic. We have money markets to thank for yanking Britain away from the precipice into which her PM was trying to push her.
The cost of Sir John’s panoramic vision is variously estimated at between £3.2 and £27 billion, with the actual number probably splitting the difference. Hence no one can question his expertise when it comes to paying a “severe price”.
In this instance the price wouldn’t just be denominated in currency, explains Sir John. Britain would be relegated to the lower leagues because “no nation can be great if it is inward looking and small minded”.
This is true, provided we don’t define such abominable traits the way Sir John seems to define them, as the desire to keep, or in this case regain, national sovereignty. Otherwise we run the risk of saying that Britain was “inward-looking and small-minded” when refusing to join continental Europe in 1940 and replace the pound with the single-currency Reichsmark. The RAF Fighter Command must have been full of eurosceptic “bastards”.
If Britain takes the suicidal step out of the EU, she’ll suffer the fate of Norway, something that according to Sir John would presumably be even worse than Black Wednesday. He calculates that, though refusing full membership, Norway is still paying 80 percent of its cost – without being able to influence EU decisions.
Sir John forgot to mention that Norway is subject to just one third of the regulations imposed on full EU members, but a man no longer in his first flush of youth can’t be expected to remember such trivial details.
By joining the EU, rather than merely the European Economic Area (EEA) she did join, Norway would no doubt be able to pull herself out of her present economic mire. As it is, she’s languishing at a per capita GDP of merely twice the EU average – who’s to say it couldn’t be higher still? Certainly not Sir John.
Norway’s GDP is growing at 2.75 percent a year (0.1 percent in the eurozone) – no doubt the growth would accelerate. Her unemployment stands at a whopping 3.25 percent (12.1 percent in the eurozone) – it would definitely go down to zero.
If I were Sir John, I wouldn’t mention Norway too insistently – this doesn’t conspicuously strengthen his case. However it’s true that Britain can’t follow Norway’s example blindly.
Even if we did do so and joined the EEA, our membership fee would go down to about $2 billion a year, from the current whole hog of £11 billion plus, not counting the cost of complying with asinine EU regulations. But Britain wouldn’t have to pay the EU a penny if she stayed out of the EEA altogether.
Instead, we could negotiate separate bilateral trade agreements with each EU member state – or with the EU at large when it finally becomes a single state de jure and not just de facto.
“In a world of seven billion people, our island would be moving further apart from our closest and largest trading partners, at the very time when they, themselves, are drawing closer together,” laments Sir John.
First, contrary to what Sir John may think, it’s possible to trade with other states without joining them in a political, or indeed economic, union. The wheels of trade ought to be greased not by ideology but by mutual benefit.
Considering that the EU enjoys a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your perspective) trade surplus with Britain, her interests would be ill-served by taking a bolshie anti-British stance. And even if it did so, we could retaliate by countering their protectionism with our own, hurting them more than they could hurt us.
It could be made clear in no uncertain terms that, for example, any aggressive legislation aimed against the City of London would lead to countermeasures against German cars and French agricultural products (and I’m man enough to admit that I drive the former and drink the latter). I’m sure that Frau Merkel can do the sums, even if Sir John can’t.
Second, when trade in services is taken into account, over half of UK exports already go outside the EU, and the trend is towards an accelerating growth in this area.
Sales of British goods to the world’s fast-growing countries increased by more than 11 per cent over the last year. At the same time, British exports to the 26 European Union nations fell by 1.5 per cent. This even though our Asia-bound goods are counted as EU trade if they have an en route stopover at Rotterdam or Hamburg.
Even assuming that Germany and France can keep the EU afloat by continuing to trump economics with politics (and this is an unsafe assumption), the EU is not nearly as attractive a trade partner as, say, China, India, the USA and the Commonwealth.
As Prime Minister, Sir John has had his 15 minutes of fame or, to be more precise, infamy. As a private subject of Her Majesty, he should retreat into dignified silence – even if this means keeping to himself his yearning to become an EU citizen instead.