The UK and the EU: time to cut the knot


‘The UK must seek a new and different relationship with the EU, and here is a plan’, says David Heathcoat-Amory in The UK and the EU: time to cut the knot.

David Heathcoat-Amory, a member of the Convention on the Future of Europe (the organisation which drafted the European Constitution) argues that the current UK position on the euro crisis looks both unprincipled and misguided. It assumes that the policy of endless bail-outs will save the euro, even if Germany can be persuaded to take on this obligation.

“While the damage to the British economy from a euro collapse would of course be considerable, the longer term consequences of the EU becoming a fiscal state would be worse. And it will entail untold hardship to the citizens of the nations involved.”

The alternative is to use the present crisis to construct a radically different relationship between the UK and the EU, which would also serve as a model for the future of the EU itself.

The EU already has groups of countries moving at different speeds, but the present system of occasional opt-outs is not guaranteed or secure, and is vulnerable to the centralising bias of the European Court of Justice; (and he recalls how the European Commission circumvented the UK opt-out from Social Chapter by bringing forward the Working Time Directive as a health and safety measure, which the government was powerless to block).

Therefore an “opt-in principle” is needed, to enable the UK to decide on a case by case basis whether to adopt EU laws, directives and regulations. This principle already applies in the area of Justice and Home Affairs.

He recommends that this opt-in principle should extend to every policy area with the single exception of the single market. He recognises that, as a single market needs common rules, the opt-in principle would not be applicable in this area. It would be necessary to define and limit the rules essential for a single market. Financial services would be regulated on the same opt-in basis advocated for other policy areas, but with a core of regulations identified as essential for EU-wide trade in financial services.

Is this politically feasible? David Heathcoat-Amory shows that the UK is now in a position of negotiating strength. Several major EU initiatives need our consent: the extension of the jurisdiction of the ECJ, the European Fiscal Pact; the EU budget and President Barroso’s recent call for substantial Treaty revisions all provide opportunities for renegotiation.

To strengthen its negotiating position further, a governing party needs a clear electoral mandate, followed by a national referendum:

“The matter can only be settled by a mainstream party of government obtaining an electoral mandate and taking the matter to a conclusion, with the endorsement of the people in a referendum.”

David Heathcoat-Amory does not underestimate the political difficulties. He concludes:

“Yes, it will also be fanatically resisted by the EU establishment. Yes, it will require huge determination and the expenditure of massive diplomatic and political effort. But the Prime Minister must decide if he wants to be a manager of decline, or in the warrior tradition of some of his predecessors who moved forward to solve problems, took on the opponents of reform, and always put the rights of parliament and people first. If the Conservative Party wants to recover its sense of purpose and mission, this is the issue and here are the means.

The final arbiters must be the people in a referendum. They should be asked to accept or reject a comprehensive reform treaty which put the UK-EU relationship on to a new footing. Those who deliver this would earn the gratitude of the country and a permanent place in the history of the nation.”

Media Impact:

“There is a way to end the drift of political events, the squabbling over trivia and the loss of purpose and drive: and that is to take on the great unresolved question of Britain’s relationship with the EU. There is now an opportunity, and here is a plan.

The stock of the EU has never been lower. According to Eurobarometer, only 16 per cent of the UK population has a positive opinion of the EU. Centralised and inefficient, it cannot cope with the demands of world competition, or even manage its own budget properly. The euro was launched in defiance of warnings that the EU was an impossible place for a single currency – too diverse, too rigid, and with no central budget to bail out the losers.”

David Heathcoat-Amory - Friday, 5th October, 2012