A bit off

Andrea Leadsom MP, coordinator of the Fresh Start group (picture Andrea Leadsom)

Andrea Leadsom MP, coordinator of the Fresh Start group (picture Andrea Leadsom)

If a future British government wants to renegotiate membership of the EU, the Fresh Start group of Tory MPs has published its view of what that renegotiation should achieve.  The central claim is that the EU does too much, so there are policies that should be discontinued at European level and picked up again nationally (or not, as each national government should decide).  The budget should be cut, some agencies and institutions closed down, and national vetoes should be exercised more.  (You can read the plan here http://www.eufreshstart.org/downloads/manifestoforchange.pdf)

This blog is not going to write a detailed criticism of the plans (CBIE has published such a document here http://www.britishinfluence.org/images/stories/PDFs/fscritique.doc) but there is a bigger, more fundamental point that needs to be made.

The opening demand in the Fresh Start plan is the call for “An emergency brake for any Member State regarding future EU legislation that affects financial services.”  Financial services are important to the UK and so the British should have a veto.  This is not special pleading on behalf of the UK, oh no, because everyone else should have a veto too.

But what’s this?  Financial services are picked out for this treatment because they are important to the UK, “just as the automotive industry is critical to Germany, agriculture is to France, and fishing is to Spain.”  So, policies relating to cars, food and fish should be subject to unanimity too.  That’s where this unpicking of the European Union is going.

So when the Fresh Start manifesto claims

We must maintain and expand the benefits offered by the single market, safeguarding what we already have, and developing further opportunities within and outside the EU.

it does not mean it.  The idea of trade free of tariff and non-tariff barriers is long-standing, inherent in the very idea of European integration in the first place.  It took the Single European Act to make that idea a reality because it depended on Qualified majority Voting rather than unanimity among the member states in order to make agreement on the abolition of non-tariff barriers possible.

Fresh Start also claims that

This Manifesto for Change is not about ‘cherry picking’; its goal is rather to articulate the necessary reforms that would lead to a more sustainable relationship for the UK in the EU.

which of course means that it is about cherry picking.  There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but if the authors cannot even persuade themselves, they are going to have a hard time persuading others.

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