Sub Editor of Naked Politics
Future documentaries recounting the rise and fall of a once great nation will include a sentimental segment depicting the origins of the industrial revolution through to the final death knoll of Britain’s Steel industry, nostalgically underscored by Dvorak’s ‘New World’ symphony. Viewers may be disappointed to find that the government de jour, and go-to scapegoat for everything from the global economic meltdown to the weather, is shielded by an even bigger patsy: the European Union.
The fact that EU state aid rules are powerful enough to prevent our democratically elected government from supporting thousands of UK jobs, disarms their critics by absolving them from the responsibility. They don’t even have to dirty their hands by making that case for themselves. Cross-party Brexiteers are more than happy to highlight that Brussels gelds Westminster at every turn. The comfort of this protection, when combined with corporatist sponsorship, has proven to be enough for David Cameron to slither from Backbench Sceptic to Head EU Cheerleader.
Perhaps the more confusing volte-face is that of Cameron’s opposite number, and once principled anti-establishmentarian, Jeremy Corbyn. Surely Jezza the Populist couldn’t be lured by the corruptible EU apparatchiks? Logic dictates that those on the left should be fundamentally opposed to any institution that stands in the way of a publicly-funded intervention; but such is the Labour Party’s ingrained Europhilia, that the rank and file have managed to convince their enigmatic new “leader” that the EU is their best chance of achieving his Fabian objectives. Sadly for Jeremy, the implication there is that they have no confidence that he is capable of ousting the Tories, so it is safer for our sovereignty to reside elsewhere. Apparently, the British public can’t be trusted with their own votes and the suffragettes were wasting their time!
For obvious reasons, this cannot be openly admitted. So questions on the constraining influence of EU rules must be deflected. Stephen Kinnock MP, speaking on behalf of his constituents and Tata Steel (Port Talbot) employees, skilfully dodges that line of inquiry, by pointing out that George Osbourne had recently “rolled out the red carpet for Beijing” at a time that Chinese Steel Dumping is the principal cause of our inability to compete in global markets. This glosses over the fact that while no self-respecting laissez-faire promoting government would use tax payers’ money to interfere with the market anyway, had his own Labour Party won the General Election last year, EU rules would render them powerless to prevent the same result.
Kinnock’s point does raise an interesting question around the true motivation behind the government’s official position on the EU, though. Perhaps the principal consideration is actually that leaving the EU could jeopardise the relationship that Osbourne is attempting to foster with the Chinese Premier, Xi Jinping. It is suspiciously plausible that access to Chinese funding may be contingent upon our continued support in promoting Jinping’s interests within the EU. We know that a similar ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ applies to our ‘special relationship’ with America, with Barack Obama hypocritically encouraging British voters to resign themselves to a liberty-restricting political union that he would never inflict upon his own countrymen.
Access to EU trade is a major prize for both the US and China, with the UK seen as an aide to achieving that goal. The widely condemned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could be derailed by Brexit, and it would appear that we are playing a similar role in negotiating a trade deal with China. Perhaps abandoning this process now is why Cameron is so worried that he could be treated as some sort of international pariah, particularly if he and his government were to campaign in favour of that outcome. The issue disappears if we, the people, vote to leave “against his recommendation” though. Corbyn may be more motivated by his own party unity than by attempting to feather his own nest, but his leadership election speeches suggest that he would be OK with it too.
Ultimately we will have to assess whether the EU is heading in the right direction for us. The previous referendum on the subject was based on a cordial agreement with nine culturally and economically similar neighbours. Now, there are more than three times as many members, and more likely to be added in the future. The few remaining net contributors are outnumbered by poorer member states. Add to that our peripheral relationship with the Eurozone voting bloc, and our position is uniquely marginalised. Every Treaty since the 1950s has given Brussels more power, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that the trend will continue. So as our sovereignty is surrendered, our influence over laws that directly affect us declines, and the financial burden continues to outgrow the benefits, is it now time to say “tata” to the EU?