By Nigel Lawson at The Telegraph
For Britain, the issue in the coming European referendum is not Europe, with its great history, incomparable culture, and diverse peoples, but the European Union.
To confuse the two is both geographically and historically obtuse. European civilisation existed long before the coming of the EU, and will continue long after this episode in Europe’s history is, hopefully, over.
On the European mainland it has always been well understood that the whole purpose of European integration was political, and that economic integration was simply a means to a political end.
In Britain, and perhaps also in the US, that has been much less well understood, particularly within the business community, who sometimes find it hard to grasp that politics can trump economics.
The fact that the objective has always been political does not mean that it is in any way disreputable. Indeed, the most compelling original objective was highly commendable.
It was, bluntly, to eliminate the threat to Europe and the wider world from a recrudescence of German militarism, by placing the German tiger in a European cage.
Whether or not membership of the EU has had much to do with it, that objective has been achieved: there is no longer a threat from German militarism.
But in the background there has always been another political objective behind European economic integration, one which is now firmly in the foreground.
That is the creation of a federal European superstate, a United States of Europe. Despite the resonance of the phrase, not one of the conditions that contributed to making a success of the United States of America exists in the case of the EU.
But that is what the EU is all about. That is its sole raison d’être. And, unlike the first objective, it is profoundly misguided. For the United Kingdom to remain in the EU would be particularly perverse, since not even our political elites wish to see this country absorbed into a United States of Europe.
To be part of a political project whose objective we emphatically do not share cannot possibly make sense. It is true that our present Prime Minister argues that he has secured a British “opt-out” from the political union, but this is completely meaningless.
“But,” comes the inevitable question, “what is your alternative to membership of the EU?” A more absurd question it would be hard to envisage.
The alternative to being in the EU is not being in the EU. And it may come as a shock to the little Europeans that most of the world is not in the EU – and that most of these countries are doing better economically than most of the EU.
Moreover, once out of the EU the UK would no longer have to pay its annual EU subscription of some £10 billion a year and rising for nothing in return – yes, nothing, for the figure is calculated after netting off everything British farmers and scientists and others at present receive from the EU. Nor would UK business and industry have to carry the burden of excessive European regulation, which bears down particularly hard on the small and medium-sized enterprises sector.
Yes, British businesses would have to conform to EU regulation when exporting to the EU, just as they have to conform to US regulations when exporting to the United States.
But exports to the EU represent only some 13 per cent of UK GDP, and the proportion is declining.
The liberation of the remaining 87 per cent of the UK economy from a bureaucratic Brussels which believes that more Europe is always a good thing, and that more Europe means more EU regulation, is greatly to be desired.
We are told that EU membership is necessary for our security in a dangerous world. We do indeed live in a dangerous world, and security is certainly of the first importance. But this has nothing whatever to do with either the EU or Britain’s membership of it.
What it has got to do with is Nato, of which the UK is a leading member and the only major EU country with a commitment to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence, plus our special intelligence relationship with the US, and the wider “Five Eyes” intelligence agreement, which also includes Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which is crucial for our ability to defend our people against terrorists. None of these countries were members of the EU when I last checked.
The wider point is this. In today’s globalised world, more than ever before, not only is international cooperation vital, but it has to be on a global scale.
To take just three areas, this is true for defence, for the defeat of terrorism and (to take a topical example) to combat money laundering and tax evasion. An obsession with the European perspective is worse than useless.
Membership of the EU is, therefore, on balance both harmful economically to Britain and no help to its security. But at the end of the day the issue before the British people is a much more fundamental one. The EU suffers not only from a bureaucratic surplus: it also has, as is widely accepted, a serious democratic deficit.
Those who are committed to the European project, the creation of a full-blooded political union, see this as simply a transitional phase: once the United States of Europe has been achieved, it will of course be a democracy.
But it is abundantly clear is that the EU as we know it now is profoundly undemocratic. This is a matter of concern to many people throughout the EU.
It is a matter of particular concern in the UK, with our addiction to freedom and democracy. And it is intimately connected with something even older and even more fundamental: self-government.
Self-government importantly includes control of our own borders, which we cannot achieve so long as we remain within the EU. Membership of the EU, however well-intentioned, is an affront to self-government; and it offers nothing that remotely compensates for this.
What the British people want, and what we now have in our grasp, is a genuinely global future as a self‑governing democracy.