This is part two of our report on the Bruges Group’s “Which Way Out?” international conference, selecting some of the key points raised.
The evening session opened with Sunday Telegraph columnist (and founding Private Eye editor) Christopher Booker. He started by saying that the problem with the proposal to renegotiate our EU relationship is that it goes against a basic principle of the EU: that powers given to Brussels are never returned. It is meant to be a one-way process.
Warning the audience that some of them may not like what he was about to say, Booker said that people tend to fall into one of four camps in their response to a referendum:
- Europhiles, who simply think it’s an absurd idea and we shouldn’t have one.
- Cameron-ites, who say that the EU has gone too far and needs reform, but that we must stay in Single Market.
- What he dubbed “the Magic Wand Party”, who believe that we don’t need to do anything more than repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and all will be right with the world. He likened this to “…and with one bound he was free”.
- Finally, there was “the Let’s-do-it-now Party” who want a referendum straight away, but he warned that in his view the debate has been so trivialised that a referendum held tomorrow, next week or even next year would be won by the europhiles.
According to Booker, we should be aiming for the Norway option, and activating the Lisbon Treaty’s Article 50 is the way to get there.
Mary Ellen Synon, who has just finished five years living in Brussels as a correspondent for the Irish Daily Mail and columnist for the Daily & Sunday Mail, gave us some disturbing insights into the Brussels mindset. Apparently you will almost never hear the word ‘country’ uttered. Instead the approved term is ‘member state’. This needs to be understood as the word ‘member’ qualifying ‘state’, she said, “like ‘wooden leg!'” Shockingly, we heard too that EU Commissioners are trained never to refer to their ‘home country’, but rather to put the whole concept of nation states behind them by talking of “the country I know best”.
Synon also gave a disturbing account of how the Irish people saw their ‘No’ vote to the Lisbon Treaty overturned. The Irish government first declared that they needed to “understand what the Irish people really meant by this vote” before conducting a survey. This survey identifying completely spurious concerns that were principally the result of prompting by the interviewers. The supposed concerns of the Irish people were then addressed before the referendum was re-run to get the ‘right’ result.
Lastly, author and anti-EU blogger Dr Richard North returned to the issues of Article 50 and Norway’s example, saying that the greatest failing of the anti-EU movement was that we haven’t developed an actual exit plan. However, he first pointed out that a renegotiation would require a new treaty which, according to EU processes, would be hard to complete before 2018-19.
Taking the recent ‘EU jam regulations’ story, North explained that this was an good example of how the press, Government and population simply don’t know where these regulations really come from. He explained that this was not ultimately an EU regulation, but derived from a regulation authored by an organisation called Codex Alimentarius. No, we’d never heard of them either! There are many such international bodies setting global regulation standards, with the EU merely being the regional implementor of the regulations. “Brussels is merely the wholesaler regulations, but not the manufacturer.”
Of course this is hugely significant for the EU debate in Britain. Pro-EU politicians love to tell us how important it is that we have a seat at the ‘top table’ in Brussels. However, as North detailed, the truth is there are dozens of such tables … none of which are in Brussels! Countries like Norway have their own seats on regulatory bodies like Codex, whereas the UK has to rely on the EU to represent our interests.
Finally we came to Article 50. Dr North drew the conference’s attention to an opinion given at the time the EU Constitution was being drafted, saying that there was a pre-existing right to leave the EU under international treaty law. Therefore our right to leave does not depend on Article 50, but it does have the advantage of requiring that the remaining EU member states negotiate a new relationship with the United Kingdom.
Many thanks to the Bruges Group and all the contributors for organising such a fascinating conference. There was new information, challenging ideas and, yes, hard truths — all of which are essential if we are going to win this battle.
James Harvard, Campaign Manager