Discussion on 18 Doughty Street this evening ranged far and wide, but I kept trying to get a European angle into the debate. (18 Doughty Street is an internet TV station for discussing politics and I am invited on as the token pro-European, so I think it only right that I try to stick up for international ways of thinking. It’s not always possible, however, when the subject is who should be the Tory candidate for mayor of London, for example. You can watch the programme here: it was Vox Politix on 16 July.)
Three subjects came up where there is a strong pro-European story. First, there is the question of tax havens. When I criticised them for being devices by which the super-rich could avoid paying their fair share of tax, another panellist leapt to the defence of the UK which, these days, plays a similar role. Non-UK national who live here can get a fantastically beneficial tax treatment because they are assumed to have the threat of leaving and living elsewhere. Having these people spending their millions in London is thought to be worth so much to the economy that the vast unfairnesses that this tax system represents are tolerated.
And, on a purely national basis, there may be something in this. But my case is not against individual tax havens as such but against the whole notion of tax havens at all. They can exist because tax is collected on a national basis. That is quite an absurd way of managing financial regulation given that wealth flows around the world so easily. The retention of the concept of national sovereignty in this field is good only for the super-rich. No wonder so many of them turn out to be anti-European.
Next, there is Russia. Britain is finding itself in a diplomatic dispute with Russia over the murder of Alexander Litvinenko and the extradition request made for Andrei Lugovoi. The Russians say that Mr Lugovoi cannot be extradited because he is a Russian citizen and the Russian constitution forbids it. As with the idea that foreign citizens are exempt from tax in London, it is morally scandalous that they are in effect exempt from the criminal law, too. It is outrageous that a British citizen can be murdered in London and that his alleged killer escapes trial. Again, the reason is national sovereignty.
I suggested that Britain should make a point of banding together with its European partners – Poland is in a dispute with Russia over meat exports, Lithuania over energy, Estonia over history – to form a united front. A common European policy is much more likely to get results than a purely national one. It was put to me that this would never work and that nothing will get Mr Lugovoi to trial and that we should effectively forget all about it. I cannot accept that the rule of law in this country should be optional for a foreign government. National sovereignty is not more important than the criminal law.
And the third example is that of drugs policy, and specifically combating the spread of illegal drugs. The existing suite of policies to fight heroin and cocaine are hardly very successful, but what else can be done? The idea of legalisation was mooted, but that cannot be done on a unilateral basis. The consequences for our neighbours would be serious, and the consequences for the countries that produce these drugs would be disastrous. Already, the power of the cocaine gangs in Colombia, for example, is too great: legalising the use of cocaine in Britain would make them only stronger. Whatever is done, and something needs to be done, cannot be done by a single country alone.
We also discussed the problems of London Underground briefly, but you can read what I think about that, here.