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Well, I listened to it

Posted by Helen Tuesday, November 17, 2009 ,

Having written at length about many things stirring in the European debate (and no thanks to the main parties or their outriders) over on Your Freedom and Ours, I felt duty-bound to listne to the BBC programme. As it was Analysis, the only things that is even remotely rational and balanced on the Beeb, it was not bad at all.

Of course, it was still unbalanced, with four europhiliacs a.k.a. people who supported the idea of Britain staying in the EU against two eurosceptics, who wanted to come out. These were Lord Pearson of Rannoch and Daniel Hannan MEP. In all fairness, both put up a credible performance with Lord Pearson specifically demolishing the Common Fisheries Policy as a method of conservation.

It was all very civilized, which is a good thing, as we want to make it clear that this debate needs to be conducted. The two outlined several scenarios that involved gradual withdrawal and subsequent agreements and friendly relations. The other four, specifically Sir Stephen Wall, an arch-europhiliac admitted that nothing disastrous will happen if Britain withdraws though they all worried that people might not realize that somewhere down the line there might be bad consequences, such as loss of influence in the world. How anyone can still say that with a straight face, I do not know. As Daniel Hannan pointed out, tiny Norway has more influence in the world than good-sized, rich and militarily quite strong Britain does as long as the latter remains in the EU.

The stupidest comments came from Professor Simon Hix of the London School of Economics, who appeared to think that once Britain was outside the EU all goodies will disappear from supermarkets and we shall be back to boiled mutton and cabbage with no cheap flights anywhere. Just to state that, as Daniel Hannan said, shows how risible that argument is.

As it was not a debate in the real sense of that word, nobody pulled up Gisela Stuart MP as she produced the usual canard about Norway having to obey those "faxed" directives. The amount of EU legislation that Norway has had to accept is minute compared to the amount Britain has had to accept and much of that is because Norway's trade with the other European countries is proportionately far greater than Britain's.

The Norwegians do not have to accept EU legislation about fish, agriculture or oil; they pass their own legislation on most issues and are in control of their foreign and defence policy though they have always been stalwart members of NATO.

There will be two points that, I suspect, many listeners will remember.

The first is that the arguments against withdrawal have now turned almost entirely into threats. Will the other EU member states punish Britain? Sir Stephen Wall and Gisela Stuart thought probably not, Simon Dix thought probably yes and the Lib-Dim MEP could not make up her mind and just droned on about the beauties of having MEPs, Commissioners and other suchlike personages. In principle, she was in favour of people making decisions about the exact nature of the relationship as it happens in Switzerland but in practice, she did not think it was applicable to Britain. Of course not. Democracy is always for other people.

The second is the particularly important one. The BBC, in the shape of the interviewer, has now formally acknowledged that the debate is not going to go away; that despite no main party and no main publication supporting it 55 per cent of the population is in favour of withdrawal; and that the concept is no longer unthinkable. Though they still prefer to think that the people will come to their senses.

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