On the day that Cameron finally capitulated to the little Englanders, xenophobes and closet racists of the anti-EU movement (within and without the Tory Party), and promised them the “in-out” referendum that they believe will take Britain out once and for all, we examine his stated position – achieving some sort of semi-autonomous EU membership.
The incoherence and sheer pointlessness of Cameron’s stance was excellently explained in a recent Times article by Matthew Parris. Now I am well aware that Parris is a former Tory MP and no friend of the working class. His article is written from a bourgeois perspective that Shiraz Socialist self-evidently does not share. Neverthelss, it’s a brilliant demolition of Cameron’s position and might just give pause for thought to some of those on the “left” who think there’s something “progressive” about campaigning against the EU. The article has been edited by me – JD:
As a hard light shines on the Eurosceptics’ glib prospectus of an association with the EU from which we get all the benefits but none of the costs, the conjecture will be revealed as the Never Never Land it always was.
Consider how easily the case against second-tier membership is made: “I don’t think it’s right”‘ David Cameron said earlier this month, “to aim for a status like Norway or Switzerland, where basically you have to obay the rules of the single market but you don’t have a say over what they are.” This is a strong argument and — just as important — it sounds like a strong argument…
…British Euosceptics believe that our present EU membership imposes big burdens on British business. If that’s true, then seeking a new kind of membership would involve lifting those burdens. And if that’s true, then British business would acquire a significant advantage over its continental competitors. And if that’s what we demand, why won’t the rest of Europe reply that a single market means a level playing field, so we must accept the same rules for our businesses as they impose on theirs?
Ask any fair-minded person to assess the following request: “We British want unimpeded and tariff-free access for our widget exports to your widget-buying customers — but, oh, by the way, we’re not going to impose on our employers the employment laws, the product specifications, the limited working week, the workers’ rights, that you impose on yours.”
We’re on to a loser here. How well I remember, from when I was an MP, the fury of British producers and unions at what they felt was “unfair competition” from abroad. We’d be mad to think that the French (for example) woud resist behaving similarly.
There’s only one possible Eurosceptic answer to this. “In logic,” they could say (and do), “you may be right. But Europe needs access to our market even more than we do theirs. We’d have them over a barrel.”
I don’t quite share that confidence: one should never underestimate people’s propensity to cut off noses to spite faces. But let’s say it’s true, and we really do have continental Europe over a barrel. In which case why mess about with any kind of EU membership at all? We could quit completely and say: “Right: give us access to your market in return for access to ours.”
The problem with the case for joining a European Economic Area-style “second tier” is that it is too strong. If we really do have the clout to name our terms of trade with our European neighbours, we don’t need to be in any club. The case for second-class membership (with burdens and costs) becomes, a fortiori, the case for quitting.
It was instructive to follow online responses recently to a Times report on “second class” EU status. A great many readers took the view that despite that pejorative terminology, associate membership sounded like a helpful suggestion. So, I notice, did the arch-Eurosceptic Tory MP John Redwood in his blog: a response I think he’ll come to revise. The balance of The Daily Telegraph‘s online response was more hostile, a common view being that Britain shouldn’t waste time with second-tier membership, but simply quit. I predict that the bulk of British Eurosceptic opinion will in time swing behind the Telegraph readers’ view.
For that, I predict, will be the final effect of proposals for the middle way of a “trade only” second-class membership. Examined in detail, it will lose its allure. Before the next geneal electon, therefore, the debate will polarise towards a simple choice between staying as a full member and leaving.
The new deal that Mr Cameron negotiates will be prety thin and won’t satisfy or evn calm his anti-European critics. Nevertheless, when e holds his referendum he will win it, so long as Labour, too, recommends acceptance. I honestly don’t know which way I would vote in an in-out referendum.
But Eurosceptics will not accept the result and will switch from having urged the PM to stop ducking a referendum to complaining that he held it too early while the eurozone was in the middle of vast internal changes; and so the referendum result won’t count; it will be only interim.
Which of course will be true. But so long as Germany wants us, we’ll carry on as a full member, grumbling and dragging our feet; and old Eurosceptics will die and new ones will be born. And only this is certain — Mr Cameron’s speech will settle nothing. Hey ho.
-Matthew Parris, The Times, Jan 5, 2012.