For the first time in 41 years, the British people will have a say on continued European Union membership. What are the British people really being asked?
Going back to the referendum 41 years ago the question was: “Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain part of the European Community (the Common Market)?” The word “Economic” appears to have been left out.
A lot has changed sine 1975. The European Economic Community has evolved into the European Union (2009), expanding from 9 member states to become the 28 state organisation that it is today.
David Cameron claims a victory in four fronts:
A brake on migrants claiming in work benefits for 7 years.
Restrictions on child benefit for offspring of migrant workers not resident in the UK until 2020.
Protection of the city of London from some Eurozone regulations, yet to be clarified.UK exemption from the principle of “ever closer union”.
The achievements have yet to be ratified by other EU member states. A referendum will be carried out before such ratification.
The first two of these so called achievements highlight a particular point. After those 7 years of benefit restrictions, nothing has been decided. The UK is powerless to decide who does not receive taxpayer benefits for the next 4 years.
Taking a different perspective, other areas remain untouched. Britain has not regained any control over how other expenditure is allocated. Agricultural and fisheries policies are still subject to EU treaties and regulations.
The UK can still not reduce VAT below 15%, should a government decide on supply side policies to stimulate the British economy. Although some migrant social welfare benefits are marginally curbed, the UK can still not restrict migration from member states.
The United Kingdom can, however, curb immigration from Commonwealth countries. A part of British history includes the colonisation of Australia. Criminals were subject to “transportation” for a range of offences including the theft of a rabbit or cutting down a tree.
Although the United Kingdom can stop the descendents of British tree fellers or rabbit thieves from migrating back to their ancestral home, we seem incapable of stopping Eastern European rapists, paedophiles or murderers from settling here and claiming benefits.
David Cameron is not the first British Prime Minister to claim a victory in negotiations with the European Union. In 1992, John Major appeared to have won over the principle of `subsidiarity’, which he defined as “the principle that the EU should act only where a nation state cannot”.
Subsidiarity in practice is subject to definition by the EU. The EU decides where the nation state cannot act. If a decision affects activity across borders, then the EU decides that subsidiarity does not apply. This also only affects bringing in new laws and regulations, not repealing other EU laws.
An illustration of EU powers can be seen in Red Meat Directive 91/497. A sight that is no longer seen in butchers’ shops is pork chop with a kidney attached and a peculiarly British phenomenon.
The directive stated that when slaughtered, an animal’s kidney had to be detached from its perirenal fat and be examined by a vet. Apparently, slicing through the kidney for internal inspection was not sufficient.
Although local traditions were to be preserved, the EU has decided that consumer protection makes this a cross border issue, therefore, a British tradition has died a death. Similarly, the Pound of British sausages has been downgraded from 454g to 400g in our supermarkets.
The removal of `acquis communautaire’ or “ever closer union” might be argued to be a formal extension of subsidiarity. In practice, if it means anything, the abandonment of the principle for Britain is that we do not have to opt in to future measures agreed by the rest of Europe. It does not mean that we can reclaim powers already conceded. It does not stop the European courts from using this as a guiding principle in disputes.
Despite all of Cameron’s so called victories, there are several areas that remain untouched, agriculture, fisheries, consumer, employment, labour, health and safety, commerce, justice, social policy, energy, transport, foreign and security policies to name a few.
Britain’s society has historically developed through free trade and taking a global perspective. Far from being “Little Englanders”, the British maritime location has facilitated exploration and development around the world.
By comparison, mainland Europe can be argued to have become introspective and protectionist. As members of the EU, Britain has effectively being forced to support restrictions on our global associations, with North America, the Commonwealth and byond, rather than act in her own interests.
On 23rd June, Britain is to be given the opportunity to commit to a stay in the European Union for another indefinite period. The package which has been sold as “reform” is nothing more than a little tinkering around some short term popular measures that merely scrape the surface of the EU’s powers over Britain.
The EU is a body, remember, that has not been able to sign off its accounts for more than a decade. Is that demonstrative of a competent body that we should choose to decide on key issues of domestic policy?
On this occasion, David Cameron has aligned himself with politicians who he labelled as recently as 2nd December 2015 as “terrorist sympathisers. On this occasion, we are invited to join him with them. Are we voting to remain a part of a reformed EU, or simply the EU?