Tuesday, May 07, 2013

UK politics: Lawson - better late than never

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One is tempted to respond with the immortal words, "no shit, Sherlock", to former chancellor Nigel Lawson's discovery that, "the EU has become a bureaucratic monstrosity". But, we can only welcome his message, as he tells us that the UK should break free. "The case for exit is clear", he says.

Originally told to The Times, the paywall was not enough to contain the words of the Great Man, which have now spread to sundry other media outlets, including the loss-making Guardian and its partner in crime, the BBC.

Lawson, like so many Tory grandees, would have it that, "the very nature of the European Union, and of this country's relationship with it, has fundamentally changed after the coming into being of the European monetary union and the creation of the eurozone". Thus does the noble Lord justify having voted "in" in 1975, but will now be voting "out" in 2017 – if we have a referendum, that is. 

This is the same Lawson, incidentally, who resigned as chancellor over the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, which he favoured. But there is nothing so good as a convert to the cause. 

Rather stuffing Business for Britain, and little Matthew Elliott, who seems to have backed the wrong horse, Lawson now knocks on the head Mr Cameron's attempts to renegotiate improved terms for the UK within the EU, which he describes as "pointless".

"We have been here before. He is following faithfully in the footsteps of Harold Wilson almost 40 years ago", says Lawson. "The changes that Wilson was able to negotiate were so trivial that I doubt if anyone today can remember what they were". He then goes on to says: "I have no doubt that any changes that Mr Cameron — or, for that matter, Ed Miliband — is able to secure will be equally inconsequential".

Interestingly, the state broadcaster rushes to provide "balance" to the story, airing the views of a Downing Street spokesman, who dutifully intones: "The PM has always been clear: we need a Europe that is more open, more competitive, and more flexible; a Europe that wakes up to the modern world of competition. In short, Europe has to reform".

According to this same source, though, "our continued membership must have the consent of the British people", which is why, we are told, "the PM has set out a clear timetable on this issue".

This sense of surreal detachment is reinforced by Nick Clegg, who says that leaving the European Union would "make us less safe because we cooperate in the European Union to go after criminal gangs that cross borders". 

And, never being one to surrender what he thinks is a good line, no matter how many times it has been discredited, he tells us that leaving could put three million jobs at risk and make it difficult to deal with cross border threats like climate change. It would also see Britain "taken less seriously in Washington, Beijing, Tokyo".

To an extent. Lawson has already pre-empted the Cleggy droning, telling us that there would be advantages in the UK leaving the EU. He tells us: "You do not need to be within the single market to be able to export to the European Union, as we see from the wide range of goods on our shelves every day". 

Warming to his theme, he then tells us: "The statistics are eloquent. Over the past decade, UK exports to the EU have risen in cash terms by some 40 percent. Over the same period, exports to the EU from those outside it have risen by 75 percent. The heart of the matter is that the relevant economic context nowadays is not Europe but globalisation, including global free trade, with the World Trade Organisation as its monitor".

What is particularly useful though, are the following Lawsonian comments, where he says, "Too much of British business and industry feels similarly secure in the warm embrace of the European single market and is failing to recognise that today's great export opportunities lie in the developing world, particularly in Asia".

Thus, he concludes: "Just as entry into the Common Market half a century ago provided a much-needed change of focus, so might leaving the EU, an institution that has achieved its historic purpose and is now past its sell-by date, provide a much-needed change of focus today".

Nevertheless, one is no at all sure that the EU has achieved its "historic purpose", as that is "ever closer union", the end game being the establishment of a United States of Europe. But, for the sake of the propaganda value of having Thatcher's former ERM-loving chancellor telling us to get out of the EU, I suppose we can humour the man.