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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

The People’s Pledge campaign: More lies, irrelevancies and distortions from the British EU referendum campaign

Alerted by a rather simplistic, often factually inaccurate article over on Liberal Conspiracy, I’ve ended up checking out the new British campaign for a referendum on continued British membership of the EU, The People’s Pledge. More to the point, I’ve had a quick look at its five key arguments:

The choice concerning our relationship with the EU is now clear: either we accept being primarily and increasingly governed from Brussels or we decide to abandon membership and negotiate a new relationship with the EU based on trade and, where this makes sense, voluntary co-operation.

*sigh*

Herewith, a very quick and dirty demolition of their “5 key reasons why we must have a referendum on Britain and the EU”, originally written as a comment under that Liberal Conspiracy piece:

Update: The People’s Pledge campaign has responded to this post. Needless to say, they aren’t overly impressed with my responses to their claims – and I’m not overly impressed with their attempts to counter my arguments. I’ve started responding to their (long) response in the comments – and will add in links to the relevant comments below, as and when I finish replying to each point.

1) No one under 54 has had the chance to vote on our relationship with Brussels.

- And no one – full-stop – has had the chance to vote on the role of the House of Commons, House of Lords, Cabinet, Prime Minister, Civil Service, etc. etc. etc. On pretty much any aspect of the British constitution, in fact, since the Acts of Union 300+ years ago.

Update:Response to People’s Pledge objections to this point.

2) The European Union now makes a majority of the laws we must obey

- This is simply bollocks. See, for example, the recent House of Commons Library paper (PDF) on the issue, or my old What percentage of laws come from the EU post. The true figure is more like 10-20% of laws, with regulations coming in at around 20-30%. Both figures are declining year on year.

Update: Response to the People’s Pledge objections to this point, plus part 2 (on EU regulations) and part 3 (on UK Statutory Instruments).

3) The UK has less than 10% of the votes in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament

- Our representation is (approximately) in line with our population size – with population taken into account on many votes in the Council, giving the UK a very strong position. Would anything other than that be fair on the other member states with whom we are cooperating? And how much relative say do we have in the WTO, NATO or the UN?

Update: Response to the People’s Pledge objections to this point and part 2

4) The EU is costing Britain more and more money

- This is justified by the classic £48m a day claim (it used to be £40m, but the exchange rate’s got worse), which is abject nonsense, based on gross rather than net, and rounded up, as shown in this old post – and is backed up by some nonsense about the cost of the Greek bailout (ignoring the British investment money that would be lost if Greece/Ireland/Portugal had been allowed to go bankrupt), and in any case ignores the wider impact of EU membership on the economy as a whole. Simplistic tosh.

5) The EU wants to give itself new powers of “economic governance”

- Erm… For the Eurozone. Of which Britain is not a member. Britain would only benefit by her neighbours (and major trading partners) being economically more stable and prosperous.

Utter rubbish, all five of them.

46 Comments

  1. - And no one – full-stop – has had the chance to vote on the role of the House of Commons, House of Lords, Cabinet, Prime Minister, Civil Service, etc. etc. etc. On pretty much any aspect of the British constitution, in fact, since the Acts of Union 300+ years ago.

    This is the nub of the matter isn`t it.Here you implicitly see no difference between our being hood winked into assenting to French and German imposing laws on us and the system of governance our own country has evolved over centuries.We have had no vote on the language we speak either, a sad omission no doubt.

  2. You say that the system of governance in the UK has evolved over centuries. Very true.

    The EEC/EU has also evolved since we joined, and since the 1975 referendum – that’s precisely why pro-referendum types are calling for a vote.

    If an evolution of just 35 years’ duration is enough to warrant asking the people for their opinion, surely an evolution that’s taken several centuries is even more overdue for a referndum? Especially when you consider that this longer evolution has *never* had the people’s explicit consent, unlike our membership of the EEC/EU.

    On the French/German input into laws thing – I live in London. By the same logic, why should someone in Northumbria, Cornwall or Norfolk have any say in the laws I have to live by? The *only* reason is historical accident. There’s no practical reason whatsoever.

  3. Clive,

    Completely agree – the People’s Pledge campaign makes little to no sense, least of all tactically (there are now at least two separate pledge-based referendum campaigns floating around). Their claim to be a “cross-party” campaign with both pro and anti-EU types taking part is, for the most part, bollocks. I’m unhappy with them as a pro-European / eurorealist / europhile / whatever-I-am, and I’d be unhappy with them as a eurosceptic. Like the last (and still nominally ongoing) EU referendum campaign, this one will fizzle out in year or two without success.

    As you know, I do support a referendum on the EU. I tend to feel:

    1) It’s the right thing to do. We had a referendum on AV and we’re likely to have a referendum on Scottish independence in the next few years. I accept all the problems that purists have with referendums – they are deeply flawed. However, realistically, they’re still the best tool for conferring legitimacy on constitutional change. They’re the worst possible method for making constitutional choices, apart from everything else that’s been tried.

    2) It’s the sensible thing to do from a tactical point of view. Sooner or later, chances are we’ll get a Conservative party leadership that is genuinely anti-EU. Today, all three major political parties would campaign for an “In” vote. Ten years down the line, however, we could have either an indifferent Tory party or one that might actively want us out. The chances of the “In” camp winning a referendum are good right now. Who knows what they’ll be like down the line.

  4. P.S. You couldn’t add a “Subscribe to comments by email” plugin like you used to have, could you? Makes following the comments thread much easier.

  5. Joe – bugger – didn’t realise the comments subscription thing had gone… All sorts of problems with this template – the categories up top are screwed as well. But I’ve lost my FTP login details so can’t add/tweak anything at the moment.

    As for referendums, I disagree with your first point. They only confer legitimacy for a limited time, if that. The first Irish Lisbon Treaty referendum counted as valid for a bit over a year. The 1975 UK EEC membership referendum has counted as valid for 35 years and counting. If you allow people a vote once, the next generation will *also* want a vote. Which, having allowed the precedent of one referendum is fair enough – but where do you stop? The danger is that we end up like California, utterly screwed by too much direct democracy. Even Switzerland, held up by referendophiles as a shining beacon of wonderfulness, has plenty of problems.

    Supplementary to that, what they confer legitimacy on depends on your point of view anyway – e.g. was it AV that was rejected, or voting reform in general? Did France reject the EU Constitution or the Chirac government? The sheer ambiguity of referendums renders them both pointless and effectively unbinding – because people can always claim that they were misled / the people weren’t voting on the question / whatever.

    On your second point, I can see your thinking – but again, how long would *any* referendum be valid for? Have one now, what’s to stop a more anti-EU party taking office down the line and holding another one?

    The EU membership question’s not going to go away. A decisive loss in a referendum still wouldn’t shut up the anti-EU crowd.

    The only thing that *might* end the argument once and for all is if we actually *did* leave the EU – and their rose-tinted view of a newly “independent” United Kingdom turned out to be very far from the truth. It’s something I have, from time to time, pondered advocating. I’d emigrate to avoid the worst, Britain would sink to its true place in the world, and soon come crawling back, begging for membership, and ending up on a par only with Spain or Italy in the power stakes (very much a second-stringer rather than one of the Big Three), and in the interim the EU might have the chance to press ahead with something a little more ambitious. (Of course, they’d probably have to get rid of Denmark, the Czech Republic, Poland and the Netherlands as well, but still…)

  6. Just a few hundred yards from the house in which I am typing (wearing M and S pants and a patronising smile since you ask ), Simon De Montfort won a crucial battle against continental despotism. It being in the 13th century ,his rag bag army was a mix of warrior power play, socially restive shire gentleman and national assertion, against the overly popish king
    De Montfort lost of course but Lewes could not be undone any more than Naseby.From that time the ‘King in Parliament was the seat of power albeit an institution unlike its modern equivalent.
    Its one place to start, 1688 would be another, the civil war yet another all of which feeds into our Parliament, Common Law and identity.
    Much of it is specifically defined in resistance to Europe in a spirit of accountable democracy as conceived through the ages, often in terms of anti Catholicism. Currently these echoes are loud as the 20th century showed the Continent that democracy produced dangerous extremism( thats why they like to avoid it ). Our experience has been that it provides stability but then it was not unnaturally grafted ….hint hint .
    The imagined community of England goes back further to the dark ages and the true separateness of the North ended with the Harrying (ie genocide) of William the Conk .You call this story of a people and nation ,”just historical accident”.
    Oh dear…I partly relish the idea of you and more of your managerialist kind attempting to convince the country that what it thought made its sinews and soul ,is no more than a sort of chronological waste product. I `d get Eddie Izzard in… .

    We do not have to vote on who we are. We know who we are and our institutions are part of that. If and when we choose ( under threat of being excluded from a cartel) to sacrifice some of that precious “we” then we do need a vote especially as we were never really asked in the first place .

    Having said that I do not favour doing anything suddenly and would not want a referendum. Its a bit like being lead up a mountain path by a lascivious scoundrel who when you finally decide you must go back asks you to jump of the cliff if you are so fed up. This is why the arch European Liberals were in favour of a referendum thereby forcing conservative opinion into choosing between two entirely unpleasant options
    No far better to simply build the pressure through the usual means and let it wither on the vine. A referendum would be a gross tactical error and in any case I am not so worried as all that . It’s a project.

    Incidentally I`nm curious as to why do you really dislike your own country so much. There has to be a reason ,plenty of the British do; the Celtic fringe of course, those who feel alienated for one reason or another .No-one devotes themselves so assiduously to trying to consign us to history without at some level resenting “ England “ .Many who consider themselves ‘intellectuals’ find the amused contempt in which we hold them rather irritating, Is that it? That’s my gues

    Prithee tell …

  7. I don’t dislike my country in the slightest – why else would I spend four years studying its history and constitution at university, and my entire working life writing about its workings?

    My entire support for the British EU membership is because I believe that to be the best way currently available for us to maintain the country’s economic strength, which in turn will enable its culture and traditions to continue.

    And while I have nothing but respect for the myth of the British parliament (I remained in awe of the place throughout my time working there), I cannot see it as a sensible or viable method of governance for everything to be run out of Westminster. Most things are far better dealt with at a local level, and what remains (largely trade-related, some defence/security, civil rights and environmental standards – I take a minimalist view of what should be an EU competence) needs to be dealt with at a level above the national (ideally above the continental, but we make do with what we have).

    I’ve written on this several times, so perhaps it’s best to direct you to a few previous posts. For example, Nation states, regionalism and the EU or British citizenship vs European citizenship.

    Perhaps, if you decide to read them, you could have a pint of Harvey’s for me, seeing as you’re in Lewes?

  8. Good post, I just wish LC had given the same prominence to this as to the Peoples Pledge article. Sadly the only benefit LC offers now is as a tool to find blogs like this. At the risk of sounding condescending “keep up the good work”

  9. Paul,

    That’s a rather long-winded way of saying lawmaking should be done at the national level. By-and-large, I’d agree with you (though it’s interesting you only speak of England – not Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland or, indeed, the Republic of Ireland). As much as possible, lawmaking should be done at the national level. That’s basically the principle of subsidiarity – and it’s a good principle. However, practically speaking, without the EU we are a second-rate former colonial power with (despite recent adventures) a rapidly declining influence over global affairs. We can’t go it alone, and we can’t seal ourselves off from the outside world in splendid isolation. Both of those options would be worse than the EU. You’re kicking against the EU, but only because you’re not considering the alternatives.

    On your question about disliking the UK – I can’t speak for Nosemonkey, but I love Britain. It’s because I love it that I want it to stay in the EU and “punch above its weight”.

    Clive,

    True – but Switzerland and California are examples of referendums being used to make policy decisions. That’s the worst reason to hold a referendum – we elect representatives to make policy. However, referendums can and should be used to make decisions of a constitutional nature. How else could the French Fifth Republic have been constituted if it wasn’t for the 1958 referendum? By parliament, you might argue – but one of the points of representatives is that they aren’t supposed to delegate their authority without the permission of the people. Otherwise, what’s to stop parliament voting to abolish voting (as the Algerian Islamists threatened during the civil war)?

    How else could Southern Sudan have obtained independence but through a referendum? And if / when Scotland votes for independence, it has to be by referendum. If it was done through Westminster (where Scottish MPs are a minority) then it would be seen as grossly illegitimate if independence were blocked. Yes, they’re crap. No, there isn’t a better alternative.

    Finally, about every generation wanting a vote – that’s not always the case (see France with the Fifth Republic, for example). Also, a referendum on voting reform is now firmly off the agenda after the AV vote. A successful “In” vote in a referendum on the EU would inject a bit of much-needed legitimacy into the debate in Britain.

  10. JOE
    In your Hemingwayesque paragraph you agree that no EU is a rather better arrangement than its reverse. Like another go or do we leave it there?
    I was describing what a Nation is, why it has the institutions it does and why there is a difference between “we” and the French, for example. If it has to be spoon fed as if to a child then blame a chortlesome ” Germany is like Luton basically, “argument ” as proposed by Nose Monkey
    What you say, is the reason the right, on the continent,is pro EU whereas here it is opposed outside the small “Progressive ” camp. A resentment of the US, a longing for pre war prestige and a wish to impose top down progressive socialism without electoral support.
    The EU cannot export power into its own back yard and our punching above our weight owes everything to our expenditure on arms and nothing to our compromised sovereignty.What good does it do anyone required to pay for it anyway ?
    People like Nose monkey want to pretend we are involved in some medieval style clerkly tidying exercise but that has never been what the EU is. It is a wide movement covering many institutions aimed at unifying Europe.

    On the position of Scotland etc. not sure what the relevance is ?

  11. JOE
    In your Hemingwayesque paragraph you agree that no EU is a rather better arrangement than its reverse. Like another go or do we leave it there?
    I was describing what a Nation is, why it has the institutions it does and why there is a difference between “we” and the French, for example. If it has to be spoon fed as if to a child then blame a chortlesome ” Germany is like Luton basically, “argument ” as proposed by Nose Monkey
    What you say, is the reason the right, on the continent,is pro EU whereas here it is opposed outside the small “Progressive ” camp. A resentment of the US, a longing for pre war prestige and a wish to impose top down progressive socialism without electoral support.
    The EU cannot export power into its own back yard and our punching above our weight owes everything to our expenditure on arms and nothing to our compromised sovereignty.What good does it do anyone required to pay for it anyway ?
    People like Nose monkey want to pretend we are involved in some medieval style clerkly tidying exercise but that has never been what the EU is. It is a wide movement covering many institutions aimed at unifying Europe.

    On the position of Scotland etc. not sure what the relevance is ?

  12. I have read a bit of your blog NM,it is rather diverting and employs the usual strategies for undermining the concept and integrity of the country to my great entertainment and occasional rage so well done on that. These are, broadly, accentuating regions and mutability over time.
    The problem with all this, and many of these arguments would be wisely hidden in a real referendum, is that they are bollocks.
    Does the fact that a house was once bricks and stuff make it not a house ? Duh..
    Does the endlessly complex history of the English language mean we should speak “European”? Does the question even make sense ? Answer – no
    Is there an alternative ? Conceive for as second what I could do to the “Europe”. Beyond a geographical expression there is virtually nothing to it and what there is excludes England. In other words you are are not reasonably comparing and you justification of the unity of European ‘people’ is utterly and completely absent
    No surprise there as close as you get to it is to say it might happen some time in the future like Star Trek.Star Trek is America. For this we sacrifice the country?
    I think the other glaring omission is any sense of why England is peculiarly unfitted for subordination to a modern clerkly empire. This is to do with its history of cohering against the continent and long struggle to escape the domination of its larger neighbours
    We hear little of Napoleon ,Phillip of Spain Hitler or of the cultural struggle between Channel empire and English Nation and so on.
    Mean while, lest you suppose its all school masterly supposings there is nothing about the real life disaster of the CAP the Freedom of Provision of Services Act.
    Services and the rest of the meddling diktats .No comment ? Happy its all been tickety boo are we? Thats sweet.

    If I had to sum it up I`d say K Paxian but fun to read

    ta

  13. Pingback: What You Can Get Away With (Nick Barlow's blog) » Blog Archive » Worth Reading 41: Lords, MPs and Elder Gods

  14. A lengthy response to this post received via email. No idea if this is Mike Hanlon the sometime Daily Mail writer or someone else entirely:

    Hello Nosemonkey,

    I saw your recent ‘critique’ of the People’s Pledge campaign. Have to say I thought it was the lowest grade piece of political comment I’ve seen in a long time. You did say it was going to be “quick and dirty”, but “*sigh*”? Honestly, is that really the best the pro-EU lobby can do towards answering the case for an EU referendum? That’s embarrassing. I thought that, in particular, was very revealing about your attitude – and so typical of the EU enthusiast. Thought you might like to take a look at my response (below) to your own points. If, that is, you’re interested in an elevating debate, which I think is probably needed on this issue more than most others. Will keep a look out with interest on your blog, should you care to answer any of them.

    cheers,
    Mike

    ——————————————————————————-

    [Nosemonkey says] Alerted by a rather simplistic, often factually inaccurate article over on Liberal Conspiracy, I’ve ended up checking out the new British campaign for a referendum on continued British membership of the EU, The People’s Pledge. More to the point, I’ve had a quick look at its five key arguments:

    “The choice concerning our relationship with the EU is now clear: either we accept being primarily and increasingly governed from Brussels or we decide to abandon membership and negotiate a new relationship with the EU based on trade and, where this makes sense, voluntary co-operation.”

    *sigh*

    [MH says] Note the snotty, elitist tone. What does “sigh” in this context actually mean? By all means disagree with the assertion being made, but have the courage to give a meaningful and coherent reply instead of a cynical, sour student-sounding type of riposte. Why not, instead, as an advocate of EU membership, take the argument head on that Britain would prosper were it to become politically independent of Brussels? Or, why not argue that there are other viable choices available to the British people other than the two put forward above by the People’s Pledge? Again, easier to try and close down the exchange of ideas with smart-arse non-responses than to deal with the actual content of your opponent’s arguments. Perhaps, Nosemonkey is simply intellectually not equipped to do so.

    [Nosemonkey says] Herewith, a very quick and dirty demolition of their “5 key reasons why we must have a referendum on Britain and the EU”, originally written as a comment under that Liberal Conspiracy piece:

    “No one under 54 has had the chance to vote on our relationship with Brussels.”
    - And no one – full-stop – has had the chance to vote on the role of the House of Commons, House of Lords, Cabinet, Prime Minister, Civil Service, etc. etc. etc. On pretty much any aspect of the British constitution, in fact, since the Acts of Union 300+ years ago.

    [MH says] So, does Nosemonkey believe we should or should not have the chance to vote on EU membership, and if not, why not? He doesn’t have the courage to come out straight and say why those of us outside of the political class should not be consulted democratically about this issue. Instead, he hides in a passive-aggressive way behind the fact that we haven’t had the chance to vote on a whole range of other constitutional issues. The implication here – conveniently putting to one side the recent AV referendum – is that because we have not had a chance to vote on numerous other matters, then nor are voters entitled to have a say about the EU. Where’s the logic in that?

    Perhaps, as I suspect, Nosemonkey doesn’t really like the idea of the people having the chance to vote about anything directly – scared, like a nineteenth century High Tory or a feudal-era elitist, that the great unwashed will decide to support policies he subjectively doesn’t approve of. If, contrary to my expectations, Nosemonkey does in fact believe that there should be referenda on the powers of the PM, becoming a republic, the electoral system, the composition of the second chamber and other matters – all legitimate potential questions for the electorate en masse to determine – why not then a referendum also on the EU? Why should this key constitutional issue be excluded, especially as Brussels now accounts for a majority of the laws we have to obey?

    Does Nosemonkey think it was legitimate for us to have been consulted first about the Alternative Vote system, or is he one of those Lib Dem types that really wanted the coalition to just impose it on us? Does he support the idea of voters being able to initiate referenda, as happens in Switzerland and some American states? If not, why not?

    I might be entirely wrong, but my suspicion is that Nosemonkey doesn’t believe – together, of course, with the whole EU political class – that ordinary voters in Britain and the member states should ever be allowed to vote on whether or not they approve of EU treaties. Presumably the French, Dutch and Irish electorates should not have been given the chance to voice their opinions in referenda on the European Constitution/Lisbon treaty. Far better that only the Euro neo-feudalists should be able to determine what the powers of the EU are and never, ever should the peoples of Europe be asked their opinions first. Systems of government, according to the EU political class, are the private preserve of the elite, not the people. This is why they are fundamentally out of sorts with the progressive revolutionary ideals of the British, French and American revolutions or the European Enlightenment, which were about collectivising the concept of sovereignty; making entire communities of people the ultimate political arbiters, not the aristocratic elite.

    [Nosemonkey says] “The European Union now makes a majority of the laws we must obey”
    - This is simply bollocks. See, for example, the recent House of Commons Library paper (PDF) on the issue, or my old What percentage of laws come from the EU post. The true figure is more like 10-20% of laws, with regulations coming in at around 20-30%. Both figures are declining year on year.

    [MH says] Again, note the aggressive tone to compensate for the lack of intellectual rigour. So it’s “bollocks”, is it, that the EU initiates most UK domestic legislation? Really? In October 2010 the House of Commons Library produced a report (Research Paper 10/62) contradicting an earlier paper published 5 years previously by the same body stating that only 9% of laws were EU derived. Incredibly, the earlier study had failed to take into account EU regulations (far more numerous than directives and which, once passed in Brussels, automatically become enforced within the member states) and only totted up the number of Statutory Instruments (SIs) introduced through the European Communities Act 1972 (ECA) to transpose EU laws. Therefore, it also failed to take into account the SIs used to do this under other acts of parliament. Nor did the 2005 report include other non-legislative ways, such as changes to the internal policy regimes of organisations such as the police and quangos, by which measures determined centrally in Brussels are enacted.

    The House of Commons report from last year stated that, because of a variety of logistical reasons, “it is possible to justify any measure [of EU impact on UK legislation] between 15% and 50% or whereabouts.” (page 24). However, it also produced a table on the same page showing the percentage of EU laws affecting UK legislation, which showed that in 2009 53% of domestic law was Brussels derived.

    The Nosemonkeys of this world can only sustain the myth that the EU accounts for considerably less than half of domestic legislation if they persist with the self-evident fantasy that EU regulations and non-ECA SIs derived from EU directives have absolutely no impact whatsoever on UK legislation. Self-evidently a ridiculous position to adhere to.

    The new House of Commons study was obviously conducted before the full force of the Lisbon treaty has been felt. This has removed the national veto in 60 new areas and so it can be confidently predicted that the percentage of EU derived law will rise in the forthcoming years as the new powers Brussels has gained kick-in. So, the People’s Pledge assertion that a majority of our laws are EU derived is clearly not “bollocks”.

    Famously, the German government carried out another pre-Lisbon audit in 2005 and concluded that 84% of national legislation post 1998 was derived from EU directives and regulations. Given that Germany is a federal system and Britain a unitary state it is fair to assume that the percentage figure for Britain would be less. But 50-60% less, as Nosemonkey claims?

    Regardless of what the actual percentage is for national laws derived from EU regulations, directives and decisions, it cannot be denied that Brussels now imposes hugely significant laws on us and the peoples of the other EU member countries. Even if it were the case that only somewhere between 10-30% of the laws we have to obey are EU derived, this degree of control over the lives of the British people cannot be justified because the EU lacks democratic legitimacy. We have not explicitly consented in referenda to have EU officials pass measures that are of huge significance; laws that have broken up our railway system (directive 91/440), privatised the most profitable parts of our postal service (directive 2008/06/EC), imposed the European Arrest Warrant that results in citizens being extradited without any evidence having to be submitted in court, introduced greater state electronic surveillance (directive 2006/24/EC), restricted access to 300 alternative health medicines, among numerous other measures.

    [Nosemonkey says] “The UK has less than 10% of the votes in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament”
    - Our representation is (approximately) in line with our population size – with population taken into account on many votes in the Council, giving the UK a very strong position. Would anything other than that be fair on the other member states with whom we are cooperating? And how much relative say do we have in the WTO, NATO or the UN?

    [MH says] The main point here is that even if the number of votes Britain has within the EU is proportionate to our population relative to the whole, the British people have not consented democratically in referenda to have politicians and civil servants from other jurisdictions decide laws that the UK citizens must then obey (and the same principle applies equally to the German and other European peoples who have also been made subject to Brussels rule without their explicit consent). The last 5 EU treaties have not been subject to a referendum and in the case of the 1975 referendum this was held after Britain had been taken in to the ‘Common Market’ by Edward Heath in 1972 without any public consultation.

    So, according to Nosemonkey’s logic, it would be quite OK for our politicians to sign a treaty – without a prior referendum – handing over extensive control over our lives to, say, a new Sino-Indian-UK Union within which Britain had, say, 0.1% of the votes as this would be proportional to our population compared to the whole.

    Nosemonkey asks how much representation we enjoy in the WTO, NATO and the UN. There is certainly a case for Britain’s membership of these bodies to be put to a referendum as well. However, a major difference between the EU and these other bodies is that they do not account for approximately half of all domestic legislation in this country, nor do they aspire to become our government – or to use the term favoured by the EU commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, an ‘empire’ (EUobserver.com, July 11, 2007). While the WTO and the other bodies should also be subject to democratic consent, they exist to enhance voluntary international co-operation in very specific areas and do not claim to have legal supremacy over Britain and the other member countries.

    [Nosemonkey says] “The EU is costing Britain more and more money”
    - This is justified by the classic £48m a day claim (it used to be £40m, but the exchange rate’s got worse), which is abject nonsense, based on gross rather than net, and rounded up, as shown in this old post – and is backed up by some nonsense about the cost of the Greek bailout (ignoring the British investment money that would be lost if Greece/Ireland/Portugal had been allowed to go bankrupt), and in any case ignores the wider impact of EU membership on the economy as a whole. Simplistic tosh.]

    [MH says] It is a matter of empirical fact that we pay £48 million a day to the audit-failing and evidently fraud-ridden accounts of the EU. Gross, that’s £17.5 billion a year, or about £9.2 billion net. Focusing on the gross figure is entirely justified because much of the money Britain gets back from Brussels is spent in ways that as a self-governing democracy we might not choose to. Would we choose freely to hand over to rich cereal barons in East Anglia the current level of handouts they get via the CAP, for example?

    We may or may not think that handing over these sums of money to Brussels is a good use of taxpayers’ dosh. But what can’t be said while retaining any credibility is that it is ‘nonsense’ to state this fact. I understand that it is inconvenient and upsetting for Little Europeanists for the scale of Britain’s eurozone bailout liability – totalling, for the present, £12.5 billion (another fact; £500 per family) – to be made public, but again it is hardly ‘nonsense’.

    The implication of Nosemonkey’s response is that there should be no limit whatsoever to the amount UK taxpayers should be obliged under Article 122 of the Lisbon Treaty to hand over to help prop up the disintegrating eurozone, because under no circumstances should Greece, Ireland and Portugal (and, if needs be, Spain, Italy, Belgium and possibly others) be allowed to go bankrupt. Nosemonkey should tell us where he would draw the line, if anywhere? £20 billion? £60 billion? £100 billion? £150 billion? He does not tell us. Perhaps he literally doesn’t think there is any limit to the amount we should hand over to Brussels.

    It might be that it would indeed be a better option to encourage these countries to default and pull out of the euro, letting private lenders take most of the hit, rather than force UK taxpayers to become a bottomless cash cow for the eurozone. If, on the other hand, it does make sense for Britain to help bail-out collapsing eurozone economies, this should be a matter that is debated democratically and that an accountable government should undertake of its own volition, in much the same way the current government chose to lend additional money to Ireland on top of the EU-IMF bail-out. Does Nosemonkey believe or not believe that the electorate and their elected representatives should have any say about having to prop up the disintegrating euro?

    Regarding the inference that EU membership is of benefit to the UK economy, let’s have a forensic debate about this concerning the cost to small and medium sized businesses of the EU regulatory burden, the opportunity cost of our annual budget contribution, the EU’s restrictions on global trade and the fact that the European Single Market is of declining significance to us given Europe’s falling share of World GDP and ageing populations. Nosemonkey must be aware that Britain now exports more to the fast-growing non-EU world than to the sclerotic economies within the EU empire. We need a more internationalist, more outward, less Little European, outlook if we are to prosper in the years to come.

    [Nosemonkey says] “The EU wants to give itself new powers of “economic governance”
    - Erm… For the Eurozone. Of which Britain is not a member. Britain would only benefit by her neighbours (and major trading partners) being economically more stable and prosperous

    [MH says] Let’s put to one side, for one moment, the democratic implications and efficacy for the eurozone countries of having their economic and social policies dictated centrally from Brussels and Berlin (not something that Nosemonkey seems too concerned about, perhaps not surprisingly). Given that Britain, Denmark and Sweden have been forced to risk huge sums with respect to the bailouts through a disingenuous interpretation of Article 122 (that the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee has questioned the legality of), it is naive to say the least to argue that the next proposed centralisation of power by the EU elite will have no implications whatsoever for the countries that so wisely decided to stay outside of the eurozone. The EU wants, for example, all EU member countries to show their budgets to the unelected commission for approval before they can be shown to national parliaments. Herman van Rompuy says he wants to see “fiscal federalism” and the EU wants to be able to tax Europe’s citizens directly, individually (taxation without representation).

    Given that German, Dutch, French, Finnish and other taxpayers are not going to be prepared to continue picking up the tab for endlessly bailing out the rest of the eurozone for years to come, it is very likely that the ECJ will find another pretext to force British taxpayers to continue handing over huge sums of cash post 2013.

    • There are many points above – to tackle them all in one post would be mad, so I’ll break any responses down into smaller chunks.

      I’m also going to ignoring the many ad hom attacks that appear to show that this is Mike’s first time reading my stuff, so isn’t aware of the back catalogue or the “be civil” comment policy. We’ll let it slide.

      “What does “sigh” in this context actually mean?”

      It means “oh no, not again – I’ve been covering these same points for eight sodding years…”

      “So, does Nosemonkey believe we should or should not have the chance to vote on EU membership, and if not, why not?”

      No I don’t. Purely because – due to how the British constitution works – I don’t think such a vote would have any binding effect.

      We had a referendum on membership in 1975, now the losing side want another one (in fact, the losing side’s been calling for one consistently ever since – its voice has just been getting louder in the last 20 years or so). How long until the losing side in that new vote forces *another* one? No parliament can bind another – the same principle applies to referenda. Could we have a referendum denying the people in 5, 10 years’ time from holding another, if they wished?

      The danger is we end up with perpetual referendum campaigns, mired in a political stalemate that does no one any good whatsoever – much like the referndum-happy California. (And I am consistent in my opposition to referenda – I opposed the idea of a referendum on AV as well – not the same as supporing the No campaign, please note – despite being in favour of voting reform.)

      So before you introduce referenda as an integral part of the British system, you need to make their constitutional position *very* clear. And to do that, considering the nature of the British constitution, is *very* difficult. As no one parliament can bind another, all it takes is a general election, and the constitutional position of referenda can be revised again. We’d need to entirely reform the entire British political system for them to have any meaningful role.

      I fully believe that the people should have a say in the EU. I have consistently argued for *years* that the lack of proper consultation with and involvement of the people is the EU’s single biggest flaw. I simply don’t think that referenda have any constitutional position within the British system.

      They do have a constitutional role in *other* EU countries, however, which is why I called for the Lisbon Treaty to be scrapped after the first Irish referendum: http://www.jcm.org.uk/blog/2008/06/the-lisbon-treaty-is-dead/ – even though, as I went on to argue, there was no logic in opposing a second referendum: http://www.jcm.org.uk/blog/2009/10/irelands-undemocratic-second-lisbon-treaty-referendum/ – if you approve of referenda, you approve of the people having a say. Why should the people be prevented from being given the opportunity to change their minds?

      Likewise, ahead of the French EU Constitutional referendum, I argued that France voting No could prove a good thing: http://www.jcm.org.uk/blog/2005/04/new-eu-blog-and-thoughts-on-the-french-referendum/ – and called for the constitution to be scrapped as soon as the No vote became apparent. I then went on to discuss in detail the problems of asking the people to vote Yes/No on such an insanely complex issue – taking into account all those problems of how and why the EU has less democratic involvement than many would like: http://www.jcm.org.uk/blog/2005/06/the-eu-constitution-and-democracy/

      And the point about the *other* things we haven’t had a vote on is entirely valid. Why have a vote just on *one* aspect of how we are ruled? My whole argument about the EU is that we need to be consistent in our approach to it, and hold Westminster to the same standards to which we would hold Brussels. If we’re complaining because we don’t get to elect Commissioners, we should also be complaining that we don’t get to elect Cabinet ministers, or (perhaps more directly comparably) the Permanent Secretaries of government departments.

    • Carrying on…

      “In October 2010 the House of Commons Library produced a report (Research Paper 10/62) contradicting an earlier paper published 5 years previously”

      I know – not only is that the very same research paper I link to in the post, but they even cite *me* in it for research that I’d done on this blog (footnote, page 17, if I recall).

      “which showed that in 2009 53% of domestic law was Brussels derived.”

      Erm… Look again, old chap – you’re reading the table wrong. That 53% figure is actually “% of regs plus all SIs” – not “domestic law”, but Statutory Instruments and regulations. Regulations, of course, not being laws.

      A quibble? Perhaps. But if you’re accusing me of being wrong about the percentage by misreading a table from a report that *actually* agrees with my estimates, you might at least quote it properly.

      Want my working on the percentage figures? Here you go: http://www.jcm.org.uk/blog/2009/06/what-percentage-of-laws-come-from-the-eu/ – you’ll note that the House of Commons Library report makes quite a bit of use of my research.

      “Famously, the German government carried out another pre-Lisbon audit in 2005 and concluded that 84% of national legislation post 1998 was derived from EU directives and regulations.”

      Indeed – read the House of Commons Library report you’ve misquoted from above, and you’ll see that the 84% figure has been comprehensively demolished. It’s even been demolished by eurosceptic pressure group Open Europe.

      As for the unbelievability of the figures being 50-60% out – how do you account for studies from other EU countries that put their estimates even lower? The Swedish parliement has claimed just 6.3%, Finland has claimed 12%, while Lithuania has claimed 12-17%. Those are all far lower estimates than mine.

      Even if it were the case that only somewhere between 10-30% of the laws we have to obey are EU derived, this degree of control over the lives of the British people cannot be justified because the EU lacks democratic legitimacy.

      That depends on how high your standards of democratic legitimacy are:

      - The European Parliament is directly elected, and has oversight on pretty much all EU laws and regulations.

      - The Council of the European Union is made up of the ministers of the democratically-elected governments of the member states.

      - The European Council is made up of the leaders of those democratically elected governments.

      - The Commissioners are appointed by those leaders of those democratically elected governments, and are then allowed to assume office only after being quizzed and voted on by the democratically elected European Parliament.

      In the British system, only the House of Commons is directly elected. The House of Lords is partially hereditary, partially appointed – and appointed for life, unlike the Commissioners with their 5-year terms.

      The Prime Minister ends up in that position by default, but is not directly elected to the job – instead he is appointed by the unelected monarch. He then, in turn, appoints his Cabinet and ministers – and the House of Commons has *zero* ability to quiz or reject any of them. The unelected Prime Minister can even make someone a peer to get past having to choose his ministers from among the democratically-elected ranks of the Commons.

      And the unelected Prime Minister and his unelected Ministers are in turn supported and guided in all that they do by the unelected Permanent Secretaries to the government departments – positions that far more closely tally to those of the European Commissioners than do Cabinet positions in any case.

      “Even if it were the case that only somewhere between 10-30% of the laws we have to obey are EU derived, this degree of control over the lives of the British people cannot be justified because the EU lacks democratic legitimacy.”

      And yet the House of Lords has a say in 100% of the laws we have to obey – yet we have *zero* democratic say in its makeup.

      As I say, I simply want Westminster to be held to the same standards as we’d like to hold Brussels. Is the EU perfectly democratically accountable? No – but neither is the British system. Let’s get our own house in order first.

      • Just realised I accidentally sidestepped an important issue.

        First, simply taking the gross figures for Statutory Instruments and Regulations with some EU element to them risks overinflating the number – because Statutory Instruments are frequently used to implement EU Regulations. Without knowing how many of those Regulations are derived from how many Statutory Instruments, you risk double-counting. So the 53% figure is suspect.

        Second, there have been numerous studies on Regulations as well as laws stemming from the EU. Again, estimates vary as to number and impact. Open Europe puts the *cost* of EU-originated regulations at 72% of the total – counting back over more than a decade with a lot of complex maths, much of which has been questioned. The British Chambers of Commerce, meanwhile, puts the *annual* cost of EU-originated regulations at just 0.1% of the total.

        The British Chambers of Commerce likewise estimate that, numerically, the EU accounts for c.20-30% of regulations introduced each year. But what this *doesn’t* take into account is how many of these regulations would have been passed – at least in some form – even if Britain were not part of the EU.

        The whole point of the EU is to introduce common standards to lower costs and increase economic efficiency – if a regulation is passed at EU level, it applies to all EU member states (plus all EFTA/EEA member states) – so rather than having 27+ different regulations to cope with, we have one. If it’s agreed that regulations are necessary in that area – and by definition this has been agreed by at least a qualified majority of EU member states for it to be passed at EU level – it’s an instant efficiency saving to regulate from Brussels rather than multiple times on a national level.

        Plus, of course, to chuck EU Regulations into the mix when the proposal is to leave the EU and join EFTA is utterly ridiculous – because EFTA members all have to abide by EU Regulations anyway…

        (I’ll try and tackle the rest of the points raised by Mike later today, or over the weekend.)

        • Oh – and even *that* is to ignore the fact that your objection to EU legislation is that there’s insufficient democratic oversight.

          Yet Statutory Instruments are passed with *zero* democratic oversight. They can be passed by ministers with no involvement from Parliament – and in most cases, the ministerial involvement extends to little more than a rubber-stamping exercise. These laws are effectively being written up and passed by unelected UK Civil Servants. All 2,000+ of them per year: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2010

          As I say, let’s get our own house in order.

    • Carrying on (sorry – have been busy the last few days…)

      “even if the number of votes Britain has within the EU is proportionate to our population relative to the whole, the British people have not consented democratically in referenda to have politicians and civil servants from other jurisdictions decide laws that the UK citizens must then obey”

      In referenda? No – well, except for the 1975 referendum… Despite what many may think, this *did* sign us up to consent to having decisions in a number of policy areas decided at EEC level, as well as to the principle of the supremacy of EU law (a principle established in 1964 – 8 years before the UK joined: see Costa v ENEL [1964] ECR 585).

      Although the EU legal supremacy issue was sidestepped in the run-up to the 1975 referendum, this was because it was not – and still isn’t – in practical terms an important issue.

      Why? This situation was made clear in the pamphlet the government sent to every household in Britain ahead of the referendum: http://www.harvard-digital.co.uk/euro/pamphlet.htm :

      “No important new policy can be decided in Brussels or anywhere else without the consent of a British Minister answerable to a British Government and British Parliament.

      “The top decision-making body in the Market is the Council of Ministers, which is composed of senior Ministers representing each of the nine member governments.

      “It is the Council of Ministers, and not the market’s officials, who take the important decisions. These decisions can be taken only if all the members of the Council agree. The Minister representing Britain can veto any proposal for a new law or a new tax if he considers it to be against British interests. Ministers from the other Governments have the same right to veto.

      Has the right of veto been replaced by Qualified Majority Voting in some areas? Yes. But the vast majority of decisions can still be vetoed – including in *all* substantial areas (such as granting the EU more powers). Plus Britain’s population size means that for the UK to be outvoted via QMV is *very* difficult.

      Simple practical politics/diplomacy also means that it is *highly* unlikely that anything will ever go to a vote if Britain is strongly opposed, for fear of causing a major crisis.

      I’m sure you won’t think that’s good enough – but the entire EU system is still packed full of checks and balances to ensure that nothing major will go through without the consent of the governments of the member states.

    • And more…

      “So, according to Nosemonkey’s logic, it would be quite OK for our politicians to sign a treaty – without a prior referendum – handing over extensive control over our lives to, say, a new Sino-Indian-UK Union within which Britain had, say, 0.1% of the votes as this would be proportional to our population compared to the whole.”

      Erm… Yes. That’s the whole point of representative democracy. Diplomatic relations have long be the preserve of the sovereign power – it’s an established principle that’s so old it predates even Parliament.

      In the UK, the sovereign power lies not with the people, but with the Crown in Parliament, as personified by the government of the day. (This is precisely why there was no constitutional need for parliament to vote before we went to war with Iraq – the right to make treaties and declare war remains part of the royal prerogative, now exercised on the crown’s behalf by the Prime Minister/government of the day.)

      “a major difference between the EU and these other bodies is that they do not account for approximately half of all domestic legislation in this country, nor do they aspire to become our government”

      And as outlined above, the EU does not account for half of all domestic legislation – unless you misread tables and confuse regulations with legislation.

      The idea that “they” aspire to become our government, is based on:

      a) a complete lack of understanding of what is meant by “they” in the context of the EU, that assumes that “the EU” is a monolithic institution rather than the sum of numerous institutional and 27 constituent national governments, and

      b) a complete lack of any compelling evidence of any such intention, bar a few random (usually out-of-context or made-up) quotes from various individual europhile politicians, usually from several decades ago. Certainly the stagnation and lack of any significant progress that has been the primary hallmark of the European Union ever since the Maastricht Treaty the best part of two decades ago is a strong indication that an EU superstate is a *very* long way off. There’s simply not enough agreement on the direction that’s required – and for a European “government” to be formed you’d *still* need *unanimous* consent from all 27 member states. Yes, even after the introduction of Qualified Majority Voting.

  15. Um NoseMonkey, you quoted the British Chamber of Commerce as giving a low cost of EU-derived laws – A) Have you stumbled across their 2009 European Burdens Barometer publication from Eurochambres? B/c in it you would see the insanely high estimate they put, both in total annually AND as a percentage of [EU] GDP…which when worked out gives about 12% of the UK’s GDP…and I have spoken to Tim Ambler, one of the co-authors behind it from the London Business School and he stands by those estimates. http://www.britishchambers.org.uk/zones/policy/press-releases_1/european-burdens-barometer-reveals-staggering-cost-of-red-tape-on-business.html

    B) Open Europe actually put the cost and percentage of UK laws deriving from Brussels at a MUCH lower figure than 72%. Perhaps you’re looking at an old publication. I would interested to see what you’re referencing this from. And them mentioning other estimates does not count as their own.

    Otherwise it would seem to me as if you’ve switched your sources without realising it.

    • Both sources are linked in this post, linked above: http://www.jcm.org.uk/blog/2009/06/what-percentage-of-laws-come-from-the-eu/ – it is, however, two years out of date, so it’s entirely possible they have been superceded.

      The British Chambers of Commerce report I mention can be found here (WARNING: PDF): http://www.britishchambers.org.uk/6798219243077818908/BCC_report_Worlds_Apart.pdf

      I’ll have a look at the new one – thanks for the link. It certainly sounds worth looking into, and I’d evidently missed it.

      But the key thing will, nonetheless, be to place such figures in context. EU regulations may well cost £x – but how much do national regulations cost, and are such costs directly comparable in any case (after all, the EU may be regulating on very costly things, while national regulations are all in cheaper areas – this would, after all, make sense, considering that EU regulations are meant to increase regulatory efficiency; if that’s the aim, you should concentrate on the most costly areas).

      The Open Europe piece I originally referenced was this blog post of theirs, which mentioned a report to which, at the time, I didn’t find a link: http://openeuropeblog.blogspot.com/2009/04/how-many-of-our-laws-are-made-in.html – they don’t link to their research either, and their website’s not giving me many clues at the moment, but Mats Persson, the Director of Open Europe, stuck by the 72% figure when I asked him about it last December.

  16. Most comprehenders of Thomas More’s “Utopia” would conclude that the fictitious world he created ended becoming “Dystopia”. Are you and the EU in similar danger?
    I support the People’s Pledge because I believe the “ever-closer union” project of the EU will inevitably reach a point whereby the UK will become like one of the 50 states in the United States of America.
    It is blindingly obvious that that is where membership of the EU is taking us, i.e. into a federalised United States of Europe.
    If that is what the people of the UK want, then so be it. However, they have never been consulted on this proposal (not even in 1975) and I believe it is only right that they are asked if that is what they actually want.
    This is a most important issue; much more important than cosmetic changes to our Second Chamber (which, I think, should just be abolished, anyway).
    The British electorate should be allowed a once-and-for-all-time voice on this issue, especially when we see such a yawning democratic deficit at the heart of the European Project.
    What is so terrible about letting the people decide on an important issue?
    Incidentally, I tend to agree with you about the weight of EU regulations in the event of our re-joining EFTA and attaining European Economic Area member status.
    However, it will be our choice as to whether or not we want to go down that road. It will not be forced on to us through the loss of direct sovereignty to the EU.

    • Certainly. But within the British electoral system.

      That means having political parties that explicitly take a stand for that question of further integration (or full/partial exit) and having them voted in/down on that.

      A referendum will not help any side to legitimately answer that question, because it’s just one notch up an opinion poll.
      Only regular electoral voting can provide legitimacy (and political pressure) for parties to abide by the results.

      Let the British voter be consistent and responsible : if the EU and British sovereignty is of such paramount concerns, make it THE question on whether to vote Labour, Tory, LibDem …

      • Thierry: the principal purpose of the People’s Pledge campaign is to get individual parliamentary candidates to sign up to a pledge to hold a referendum in the event that they are elected to serve as MPs.
        Of course, in the event of a coalition government, we have seen how little respect MPs have for their pre-election pledges.
        Hopefully, however, if we can impress upon all parliamentary candidates that signing up to – and keeping – their pledges to hold a once-and-for-all-time referendum on continuing UK membership of the EU will be absolutely critical to their retaining their seats and political power, then we should be reasonably confident that – just for once – MPs and government ministers will keep their promises.

        • But that’s exactly the problems of referenda.

          A populist question can never be settled. Just like there was a vote in 1975 because a governement reeled under conflicting pressures, any new votes on the same question could always be re-asked when the popular mood or condition changes.
          Therefore, why going through a referendum, and not instead incorporating the party’s position on European integration in their manifesto ?

          Doesn’t matter if they go into coalition or not. From the very moment they campaigned, they can only look for partners that are sympathetic to their positions.
          I mean, if the Tory campaign for tax cuts and Labour for tax increases, you don’t expect them to go into coalition, right ?
          So why would you a Tory EU-exit party be crowned onto power by a LibDem more-EU party ?

          And if they actually renege on their campaign manifesto, betraying their promises, all the while with no popular insurrection, what is there to prevent groups to SPLINTER and uphold their promises ?

          really, that’s the core of the issue : which of referendum or electoral vote is the best way to represent popular decision ?

          the People’s Pledge is a populist scheme to get the tabloid press busy (ie: selling trash to the readership) while exerting pressure on politicians(ie: to grant them peeping rights).
          If it was truly about a matter of sovereignty, it’d on the floor of Parliament everyday until a general election is called for.

          • Thierry: The problem with the 1975 referendum (I was out of the country, in Africa, at the time) was that the people were deliberately misled into believing that the EEC (as it then was) was merely a common market trading group.
            No one told the people the truth, i.e. that the EEC was destined to become the EU through ever closer union.
            As far back as Macmillan and de Gaulle’s “Non” response in the 1960s, the UK political elite has consistently misrepresented the true nature of the European Project.
            The point has now been reached where not even they – or the rubbish media in this country – can any longer disguise the true nature of the European Project.
            It could be argued that UK involvement in an ever closer EU is a good thing. Let the argument be put – on both sides – and let the British people decide where they want the UK to go in the future: in or out of the EU.
            Part of the rationale behind the People’s Pledge is to make it clear to parliamentary candidates that we – the people – want our say on this matter. If they prevaricate or dissemble on the issue, we will organise against them and try to ensure that other candidates who support a referendum will be elected instead of them. It’s a straightforward matter of political power.
            Of course, some parts of the media will no doubt issue misleading reports on both sides of the issue but this is no reason to exclude the people of Britain from having a decisive voice on the matter.
            I think the 2010 General Election result shows quite clearly that the people of Britain were not taken in by any of the main parties sufficiently to give any one of them a clear mandate to govern.
            It has also revealed the Liberal Democrats for what they have always been. As the main pro-EU party in Britain, they are now a busted flush and are unlikely to be given any credence in future.
            I think the next general election will be a straight fight for power between the Tories and Labour. It is our hope, the People’s Pledge hope, that we will be able to pressurise one or the other of them into entering into a binding manifesto commitment to hold a referendum on continuing EU membership within 12 months of the general election.
            As a democrat, I have full confidence in the people of Britain to arrive at a sensible decision, regardless of our media.

            • “the people were deliberately misled”

              “No one told the people the truth”

              And here we have, succinctly demonstrated, one of the fundamental problems of referenda on complex issues.

              If we were to have a referendum on EU membership now, would it really be any different? Just look at the AV referendum campaign – both sides were distorting the truth, oversimplifying and lying to the people – and the AV system is *infinitely* less complicated than the EU.

              You end with

              “As a democrat, I have full confidence in the people of Britain to arrive at a sensible decision, regardless of our media.”

              But your whole argument rests on the claim that the people were successfully misled in 1975!

            • Hi John,

              I’m not going to argue about your reasons for wanting the UK to exit the EU. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.
              But if you think that there is such a denial of democracy within the British political system, why do you think that a referendum will have any more legitimacy ?

              That’s really the critical point.

              If you think that the political establishment is so enthralled into the EU and oblivious to the people calls, then no amount of referenda will change that.

              A referendum has less legitimacy than an election in any representative democracy. Why else do you have so few of them in Britain, by itself and compared to general elections ?

              To advance your point about debating the future of Britain in Europe, you need to go the route of the electoral vote.
              I understand that Tory supporters don’t want it because it might actually get them out of power, if in/out EU was the central premise of their manifesto, and would definitely weaken Britain position in the world if they won nonetheless.

              But that’s not a democratic reason to call for a referendum : that’s just an alibi to pressure MPs on a narrowly-defined question by an interest group.
              That’s exactly the conundrum Californians find themselves in.

              I’m saying it again. If you are looking for a truly legitimate and democratic action to debate the place of Britain in Europe, then pressure MPs to add their position in the party electoral manifesto, for the genereal election.
              Not to hold a referendum on it.

              Best regards,

              • Thierry,
                My principal objective is that the British people should have a referendum on membership of the EU, simply because it is a most important point of political power which they have never previously had a proper say over.
                I do not mind if the popular vote is to stay in or to come out. My main concern is that we should have a once-and-for-all-time decision on the matter.
                If nothing else, it will bring the grumbling debate over UK membership to an end, one way or another.
                I do not think a decision of such importance can be made by the political elite alone.
                When you refer to representative democracy, do you mean that MPs would vote on the basis of representing their voter’s intentions on the matter or would they vote in line with a strict party whip?
                Which do you think would really apply?
                No, this decision is far too important to be left to the vagaries of Parliament. What if the Second Chamber were to decide to obstruct the will of the Commons?
                Only if there were a clear outcome in a referendum could a Commons-based Government insist on the passage of any necessary legislation.
                People’s Pledge are not suggesting a continuing programme of referenda or popular initiatives.
                All we seek is final clarity on this one important matter by the people of our country.
                We are not advocating Swiss or Californian practices.

    • Quickly, here’s one quick response to the “we’re heading to a United States of Europe” idea: http://www.jcm.org.uk/blog/2009/03/why-eu-superstate-conspiracy-theories-are-nonsense/

      Here’s a follow up (as that first post mentioned “conspiracy theories”, which made a few sound like I was mocking – which I’m not), with a few questions for those who think it’s going to happen: http://www.jcm.org.uk/blog/2009/03/four-points-and-a-question-for-eurosceptics-who-believe-in-the-advancing-eu-superstate/

      And another, looking more at the practicalities: http://www.jcm.org.uk/blog/2009/04/eu-competence-creep-the-spectre-of-the-superstate-and-how-governments-actually-work/

      It’s also worth reading the comments to all those posts, as a number of interesting discussions sprang up with numerous eurosceptics.

      Hopefully those posts and the discussions that follow them should answer most of your concerns.

      But to be explicitly clear – I firmly believe that the people, not just of this country but of *every* EU member state, should be consulted *much* more than they have been on the direction the EU is heading. For example: http://www.jcm.org.uk/blog/2008/08/what-is-the-eu-for-part-2/

      I do think the people should be consulted. I just a) don’t think referenda have a place in the British constitution (because they don’t), and b) don’t think that yes/no referenda on complex issues like this are a sensible way of deciding such *incredibly* important issues.

      • All I see, going right the way back to the Iron, Coal and Steel Community, is a never-ending, never-retreating ratchet effect.
        Most recently, the EU has aggrandised itself by trying to establish a President and a Foreign Minister. It is presently on its way to creating an EU armed forces component. The current euro problems are helping institutions like the ECB to exercise direct control over the economies of the euro member-states (together with a requirement that they must submit future budgets to the ECB/EU for approval).
        What part of creeping europeanisation don’t you get?
        You can argue that all this is done in the perceived best interests of the people of Europe but you cannot take away the elitist way in which it is steadily being done. Do we – you – really want this?

        • A president and a foreign minister with no powers.

          An armed forces component (originally proposed by one Winston Churchill, incidentally) with no common foreign policy, and no sign of one any time soon.

          Drives for direct control over economies because that’s the only way for a common currency (something I’m still not convinced about) to work in practice.

          I don’t deny for a second that the entire EU project has been elitist. I’ve *always* argued for the people to have more say.

          But just because something is elitist doesn’t mean it’s wrong, any more than something being populist means it’s right.

          All I’m interested in is the truth of the matter. Which is why I’ve spent 8+ years reading and writing about this stuff.

          In all that time, I’ve not been convinced that the EU is working in a sensible way – it’s hugely flawed. But I *have* been convinced that the EU’s opponents consistently misrepresent (deliberately or not) what is *actually* going on.

          More importantly, however, I’ve yet to be convinced that most of the proposed alternatives are more desirable. Superficially? Certainly. In practice, though? When you look at the details? They’re all flawed.

          The EU has many, many problems in the way it currently works. The Common Agricultural and Common Fisheries policies are just the most obvious examples. But the alternatives are far, far worse.

          • A president and a foreign minister with no powers. YET.

            An armed forces component (originally proposed by one Winston Churchill, incidentally) with no common foreign policy, and no sign of one any time soon. YET.

            As I said before, there is a clear ratchet effect to these developments. Given time, they will acquire real powers and have real effects.

            It is, of course, possible to be sanguine about these developments. You could argue “What is so wrong about sleepwalking our way into a future where all the main decisions affecting us are made in Brussells?

            There is a difference between something being popular and populist. If the people really want something and if we really live in a true democracy, then the poeople should decide – not self-interested, self-appointed and arrogating elites. Power to the People – the People’s Pledge!!

            • And yet the people voted yes in 1975 – something you maintain was a mistake.

              What makes you think that you – and they – are not equally mistaken now?

              • The people voted on the basis of misleading information they were given by a lying media and a deceitful political elite. To now see old video footage of people like Roy Jenkins lying his head off about what UK membership of the EEC meant is, quite literally, stomach-turning. We all know where he went on to feather his nest in Brussells very nicely.
                To witness him extolling the virtues of socialism within Europe, only to see him reneging on the party that had made his entire political career possible was utterly disgusting. Yet another corrupt Eurocrat.
                Heath – another utter Eurocrat liar.
                However, I think people today are far more aware than they were in the past. No one will be able to get away with the lies they fed people in the past any more.
                So – YES – I do trust today’s electorate far more than the one in 1975 which was lied to and bamboozled by the media and political elite then.
                Not any more. People no longer trust or respect the media or politicans like they did in 1975.
                Today, I believe a referendum would have a very different result – one way or another.

                • And the point of this post is that I maintain that the people calling for an in-our referendum are *also* deceitfully putting forward misleading information.

                  Unlike Mike above you haven’t really tackled any of the fact-based arguments I put forward (though, of course, Mike and others may dispute the facts as I see them).

                  Are you sure that your disatisfaction with the result of a battle from almost 40 years ago isn’t distorting your current perception? Are you sure that what the anti-EU groups tell you is actually the case? Have you looked into the source material yourself?

                  Because I had much the same views as you until I did. Then I came to realise that *this* time, it is the anti-EU lobby that is lying to the people. And doing a worryingly good job of convincing the people too…

                  Basing *any* significant decision on either misinformation or lies is hugely dangerous.

                  So sy all means, think I’m an EU stooge and don’t trust what I say – not trusting what you’re told is precisely the attitude I’m trying to foster.

                  Just please – go away and do the research for yourself, for your own sake. I’m confident that, if you research with an open mind, you’ll find – as I did, when I was anti-EU – that the eurosceptic lobby in the UK is lying to you.

                  • As I have repeatedly said, my main concern is that there is a properly informed referendum.
                    I think we agree on that.
                    I think some of the anti-EU people do not always fully understand the facts of the situation, particularly those who support parties like UKIP and the BNP.
                    For example, many seem to believe that UK tax payers money has been sent to Europe to shore-up the euro. The fact is that what is being given is contingency guarantees – not actual money.
                    Of course, what may happen down the road (I see Greece’s debt is now only rated as 50% sound) could mean we would have to honour those pledges.
                    So, while their short-term understanding of the issues may not be as good as it ight be, they may well have a reasonably better medium- to long-term grasp of the current situation than either you or I possess.
                    A little humility may be no bad thing.
                    My understanding is still being informed by Lord Denning (former Master of the Rolls) and his analysis of the eventual superiority of all EU law over UK law eventually.
                    You mentioned earlier on the CFP. Have you studied the Factortame case judgments?

          • So what are the far, far worse alternatives to The Common Agricultural and Common Fisheries policies?
            Do you see any problem with the EU/India free trade deal with Inia getting “mode 4″ access,trade concession that allows transnational corporations to bring temporary workers from outside the EU into the EU on lower rates of pay?

            • On the CAP, protectionism on a state-by-state basis is one bad alternative, as various countries replace the CAP with their own version of farm subsidies to counter cheaper sources of food from developing countries. This would hurt not only international trade, driving up prices on non-domestic goods, but also farmers in those developing countries (as, despite there being many flaws with the CAP, the EU does have numerous agreements in place with third world countries to allow their farmers access to the Common Market – if the EU/CAP were to be scrapped, these may need to be replaced with multiple unilateral agreements instead).

              Sticking to the CAP, another worse alternative is the widespread bankruptcy of small farms Europe-wide followed by increased industrialisation as the industry attempts to become more competitive in a non-subsidised, post-CAP world. This may well make food cheaper and food production more efficient – but also risks massive change to our rural regions. The CAP is, after all, primarily a recognition that European farming is no longer competitive, and an attempt to preserve unprofitable ways of life. But these are ways of life that keep the countryside looking the way it does – without them, the rural world could change beyond recognition.

              On the CFP, the current situation is abysmal, with hundreds of thousands of fish being thrown back dead every day. But at least there are restrictions on over-fishing, efforts to reduce the use of habitat-destroying trawlers, and Europe-wide efforts to manage fish-stocks. The worse alternative is a free-for all outside territorial waters (something fish tend not to care about). This worked fine before industrial-style fishing was introduce during the 20th century, but with modern methods and modern demand (the population of the world has increased significantly in the last few decades after all), we risk the total extinction of entire species – not just the utter waste of millions of fish every year.

              Re: your India question – I see no problem at all with the free movement of labour. In fact, I see it as integral to some form of free trade. The negative potential impact of Mode 4 agreements lies only where the workers in question are being poorly treated, exploited or under-paid. All of these can be rectified by better regulation.

  17. very informative. great job.

    reading through the dailies (mail, express, telegraph), I can’t help to see how much information is misrepresented in the British press.
    The fact that many of them are also owner of sister papers in Ireland (where I live) is scaring me. Why ? because they use the same artcles and scaring tactics to rile the Irish against other Europeans.

    there was this funny story in the Express : http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/250263/European-comment
    Weh googling it, I got something similar (31M+ articles), except that the first ones to come pout were about Waste management, and nothing similar to waste taxpayer.

    reading through the Telegraph business section, there isn’t a single day without a negative story to be brought about the Euro or the EU. Even if the news is not negative in itself, it is written in a way to mock or denigrate anything EU-related.

    I don’t mind it when it’s about comment section, but shouldn’t papers have a respect for information objectivity ? at least that’s what I have been educated to believe in : that the 5th estate had a duty to report the news, not to influence the readership into a set of beliefs.

    Instead that’s actually more akin to propaganda, than newsreporting.

    Bagehot has a very interesting take in The Economist about the double standards of the British press here http://www.economist.com/blogs/bagehot/2011/05/britains_press, and here http://www.economist.com/blogs/bagehot/2011/03/euro_crisis,

    I apologize if it looks like I’m rooting for other authors ^^
    it’s just that I truly appreciate Rennie’s writings when at Charlemagne, and even more so at Bagehot.
    Just as I did with Mardell when Brussel Editor. He had a way of starting a blog from an everyday life issue, to gradually explain its compklexities at regional, national and european levels. Not only very informative, but also very refreshing.

  18. Apologies – some comments were held in the moderation queue – including one of mine from a few days back, it seems…

  19. Listening to Radio 4 yesterday evening, it seems a further Greek bailout is being canvassed again. Presumably, we in the UK will be expected to contribute towards the bailout in some way? It also became apparent that – yet again – this situation is being exploited to achieve “ever-closer-union” by Eurocrats, who want to use this situation to “harmonise” fiscal policies among all EU member-states.
    These people never waste an opportunity to turn a crisis to their advantage, do they? Yet again, their good old ratchet effect is being pursued, is it not?
    Quite simply, I believe the EU is becoming an unaffordable luxury for the UK to have to support, especially at a time when long-cherished institutions like our NHS and social care are coming increasingly under threat. Is this what we really want?

  20. In regards to a fear by many Eurosceptics that the EU is evolving towards a superstate, there has been much cries when the Commission and the Ecofin (European Council of Finance Ministers) suggested that EU countries should present their budget plans for review last year, in a bid to better harmonize the policies and ensure that no countries try to “free-ride” on the others’s prosperity.

    Today, the Commission presented its review : http://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/tools/monitoring/recommendations_2011/index_en.htm

    Short of a public shaming, it isn’t very intrusive into national sovereignty. But it does facilitate peer pressure and public debate.
    Too bad this doesn’t get much more press coverage (yet, I hope).

  21. It’s always interesting to re-read past entries with the benefit of hindsight.
    Here is a take on the French referendum before the final vote : http://www.moonofalabama.org/2005/04/european_votes.html

    Anyone clamouring for a referendum should be honest about the flaws of the method. That is unless, they want to benefit from such flaws to degrade the democratic debates.

    PS : Nosemonkey, isn’t it possible to post on 1+ year old entries ?

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