The debate on Britain’s EU membership is hotting-up. The Conservative Party has offered a referendum in 2017, after renegotiating the terms of our EU membership. But in Brussels, where I spend much of my time as an MEP, you’ll find very few people who think that special terms for the UK are likely to be on offer.
After all, if Britain can get a better deal, everyone will want one, and the whole project will unravel. Yet Cameron has said he will “fight tooth and nail to stay in the EU”, regardless of the outcome of the renegotiation – so he’s given away his only negotiating card before he starts. And on his present showing, he may well not be Prime Minister in 2017 anyway.
A few days ago I was on the BBC’s Daily Politics Show, with Simon Hart MP from the Conservatives, Bridget Phillipson (Labour), and Lib-Dem Martin Horwood (Liberal Democrat). Horwood kept repeating the mantra “We need to stay in the EU for jobs, and to tackle cross-border crime and environmental issues.”
Back in 1975, in the only EU referendum we’ve ever had in this country, I voted “Yes”, because I thought the Common Market (as we called it in those days) was about trade and jobs. But in the years since then, I’ve realised that far from promoting jobs, the EU is damaging growth, prosperity and job prospects.
Membership of the EU is hugely expensive, and it’s a deadweight cost on the economy. Two very respected British economists, Tim Congdon and Patrick Minford, have independently set out to estimate the total costs of EU membership. They both come out with similar figures – ten or eleven per cent of GDP. That’s around £160 billion a year – an enormous sum. It’s not just the £20 billion or so that we pay as direct contributions. The costs of EU regulation are widely estimated at 4% of GDP. Former EU Industry Commissioner Gunther Verheugen estimated a figure as high as 5½%. The misallocation of resources and protectionism comes to 3¼%, with smaller amounts for job losses (as a result of migration from the continent); waste, fraud and corruption; and contingent liabilities.
The open-door immigration policy imposed by EU membership means that we open our borders in just a few weeks’ time – January 1st– to 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians. We can expect tens of thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands, to arrive. They will be largely unskilled, and will be competing for lower-paid jobs, many right here in Lincolnshire. That means that for our own lower-paid workers, jobs will be harder to come by, and wages will be depressed. Thank you Brussels.
These are costs that offer little or no benefit. Advocates of the EU point to the trade benefits of membership. But these benefits would be available under a simple free trade deal, without accepting the costs of membership to our economy and our democracy. In any case the trade benefits, once estimated by then Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, were much less than the regulatory costs, at only 1.9%. EU employment regulation is destroying jobs and making employers afraid to hire. In the NHS, it is disrupting the training of junior doctors and putting patients at risk on the wards.
When we hear about all the good that EU funding has done for projects in Lincolnshire, let’s remember that every pound we get back from Brussels costs the British economy around £3. And we don’t get to spend it on our priorities, but on their priorities. We’d do much better to keep the money at home and do it ourselves.
In addition to all this, there’s the huge damage that EU climate and energy policies are doing to our energy bills, as every reader will have seen when they open their utility bills. It’s driving households and pensioners into fuel poverty. Without being too alarmist, I’m afraid it will cause excess deaths in Lincolnshire this winter, as families struggle to keep warm. And energy prices are doing massive damage to the competitiveness of our industry.
This is not just my view. EU Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani has said that European economies face “an industrial massacre” as a result of energy prices. Businesses are leaving the EU altogether, taking their jobs and their investment with them. In the meantime China is powering its economy with cheap coal, and America with cheap shale gas. It’s increasingly difficult for the UK, and the EU, to compete. And that costs jobs.
We hear about the importance of EU membership for the car industry, like Toyota in the East Midlands. Let’s remember that these same voices, ten years ago, were warning us that foreign car manufacturers would leave the UK unless we joined the €uro. They were wrong, and the €uro has been the disaster that sceptics predicted. Meanwhile Ford are closing their van operations in Britain, and moving them to Turkey — outside the EU.
If Ford can manufacture vans for Europe in a non-EU country, so can Toyota. Former CBI President Digby Jones has said that from day one when Britain leaves the EU, we will have a free trade agreement. The EU already has such agreements with dozens of countries around the world. When we leave the EU, the UK will be the EU’s largest export market, bar none. Brussels will be biting our hand off for a free trade deal.
So when we leave the EU, we will save tens of billions of pounds in direct and indirect costs, leaving room in the budget for better services and lower taxes. We shall have lower energy prices. More flexible labour markets. That means more growth, more jobs, more prosperity. More inward investment. And instead of being ruled by foreign bureaucrats, we can be an independent, self-governing nation again.