Bill Emmott on the European Union

July’s Wheelie Bin Award for a Daft Article

For Bill Emmott (Times, 9th July 2012) it is “tosh” that being “inside the EU we are not a fully sovereign democracy” and it is also, according to Emmott, “tosh” that in the Referendum of 1975 the British people were conned into believing that they were being asked to approve their joining a “Common Market [in 1972]”.

Emmott’s views of what constitutes “tosh” are evidently themselves plain daft.

Whether you approve of the arrangement or not, repeated estimates show that about 75% of British laws originate with the Brussels Commission in the form of regulations and directives deriving from various enabling Acts, nearly all unscrutinised, let alone approved by the British Parliament.  The transfer of virtually all of Britain’s fishing industry to the EU was never approved by Parliament and is deeply resented by practically every British person.  Attempts to restrict the plunder of British fishing grounds by the Merchant Shipping Act which was passed nem con in both the Commons and Lords in 1989 was effectively overturned by unelected Law Lords citing the alleged prior authority of Section 2 of the European Communities Act, an outrageously undemocratic exercise of power in flat contravention of the ancient democratic principle that no parliament can bind a successor.  Similarly the Weights and Measures Act, 1985, was overturned by a succession of unelected judges[1].  And so on, and so on.

As for “conning” the British people, Emmott’s view of this claim as “tosh” is just as eccentric and daft.  He can easily get hold of the 1971 16-page booklet which was delivered to every house in the land as a condensed version of the Heath government’s White Paper (cmnd 4715) entitled “The United Kingdom and the European Communities” on which the 1975 pro EEC government leaflet was largely based.  This claimed among many other dubious claims that “There is no question of Britain losing essential national sovereignty”.  This parody was put to the British people in 1971 after umpteen redrafts to make the proposal to join the (then) European Economic Community (EEC) as attractive as possible with unquantified claims as to: “positive and substantial gains for British industry”; “enabling Britain to achieve a higher standard of living”; “better security and prosperity”.

At the same time Prime Minister Edward Heath and his immediate entourage were in possession of two internal government documents which were revealed to the general public under the “30 year rule” in 2001.  One of these documents (PRO/FCO/30/1048) concluded that (contrary to the leaflet and the White Paper) signing up to the EEC (now EU) treaty would “involve an immense diminution of Britain’s sovereignty” and “very substantial restrains on Britain’s powers of self-government”, and that “over the years this would become ever more obvious . . . with ever more decisions being taken in Brussels and unprecedented power being exercised by unelected officials”.  The other, Treasury, document concluded that the “financial implications of signing the proposed Treaty of Accession” were “so adverse that they should not be published”.  The four-part 1996 BBC film “Poisoned Chalice” disclosed the deceptions and arm-twisting applied to MPs to get the constitution-changing 1972 European Communities Act through the House of Commons by the slenderest of margins (8 votes on the second reading, 17 votes on the third reading).  True to its normal form as a parliamentary theme park, the House of Lords was an almost completely tame creature of the Executive in this matter.  When questioned in “Poisoned Chalice” about the undisclosed commitment to Economic and Monetary Union, i.e. a Single Currency and fiscal policy, Heath said, “That’s what it was all about”.

If these actions and the contemporary documents referred to above (which were not of course available to MPs voting on them, or even to the whole Cabinet in 1972, or to the public in the Referendum in 1975) do not constitute deception on a simply massive and calculated scale, what does in Mr Emmott’s eyes?[2]

Mr Emmott seems bizarrely to believe that being part of the European Union, with all its hundreds of thousands of pages of dependent Law and regulations touching on every nook and cranny of our national life from Asylum (Regulation (EU) no.439/2010) to Zoos (EC directive 199/22EC) is akin to belonging to NATO, the International Monetary Fund or “even FIFA”.  None of these or any other international organisation Britain belongs to can promulgate a legally binding regulation on the UK any day of the week without our people or their representatives in their parliaments and councils having discretion in obeying them.

In the United Nations however Britain, along with four other countries has an absolute veto on any proposed action by the UN.  The scope for a veto that Britain has in EU affairs is now limited virtually to foreign and defence matters.

If Mr Emmott as a self-professed “international expert” believes all these issues of sovereignty are “matters of degree not kind” he should try discussing them with politicians in countries outside Europe – Australia, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Singapore – for example.  Or, if still not convinced, he could recall the 1990 words of a fellow economist, Karl Otto Pohl, then head of the Bundes Bank, on the BBC Today Programme during the Maastricht Treaty negotiations which led to the Single Currency process – “Of course a country which merges its currency completely, cannot remain independent politically.”[3]


[1] This enshrined rights to trade in imperial units.  This was suppressed in effect by European Commission directive 89/617/EEC.  In 2000, Steve Thorburn was taken to court for selling a pound of bananas and found guilty by a succession of courts.  He died of a heart attack in 2001, leaving a widow and two young children.

[2] Far from being the exception, “conning” and deceit are the very hallmarks of the British government’s dealings with the EU.  At the second reading of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty Bill, the British government had not provided MPs with an English language version of the Treaty.  This was provided by Stephen and Gill Bush, summarised in their pamphlet “The Meaning of the Maastricht Treaty” laid before the House by Austin Mitchell MP, and distributed free to every Member, courtesy of David Hill.

[3] See “No Middle Way” on this site.


Wheelie Bin Rubbish Award


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