Britain must go it alone — and shun the EU’s one-way road to integration

Writing in the Sunday Times on Sunday 20th December 2015, Dr Fox explains why he thinks it is in Britain's National Interest to leave the European Union.


Britain must go it alone — and shun the EU’s one-way road to integration


Ever since I entered parliament 23 years ago, I have been told that “Europe is coming in our direction”. It is time to end the pretence. It is not.

Last week’s plan to create a Europe-wide border force, which can be deployed by the unelected commission even against the wishes of sovereign governments, is categorical proof of this, if any were needed. The talk at the recent summit may have been about accommodating Britain’s reservations about the over-centralising of powers, but the action is going in the opposite direction. It always has and it always will.

Whatever the merits of the current British negotiation proposals, two things are becoming increasingly clear. The first is that there will be no change in the fundamental direction of the European Union and that ever-closer union remains the destination of choice of its political leaders. The second is that there will be no substantive change in Britain’s relationship with an institution that has an unacceptable ability to impose laws upon us.

There are those who say the prime minister’s renegotiating position is worthless. I disagree. The changes that the government is seeking are worthwhile in themselves, as far as they go, if we are going to remain in the EU. But I do not believe they are a reason to stay in an organisation whose direction of travel is, in my view, against Britain’s national interest.

The renegotiation itself reinforces this view. What we have seen is the process becoming the narrative. The fact that a British prime minister has been in effect forced to take the political begging bowl around European capitals in order to make the laws he believes are necessary for Britain is the best possible demonstration of the problem.

The EU remains in a state of near-permanent crisis entirely of its own making. The two great iconic integrationist projects are teetering on the brink of failure. The flawed process by which the euro was created and the way in which economics has played second fiddle to politics have created dangerous financial instability.

The recurrent Greek crisis is a sign of the price that those committed to ever-closer union are willing to pay, even if it means sacrificing a generation of unemployed young Europeans on the altar of the single currency.

The second project, the Schengen agreement, designed to produce a borderless Europe, has resulted in an uncontrollable migration crisis that has the potential to worsen the ever-present risk of Islamist terrorism in Europe. As the huge numbers of migrants are gradually given citizenship of other EU states, they will all potentially have the right to come to the UK. As we are unable to control our borders while we are members of the EU, there is nothing we will be able to do about it.

When we decided to stay in the Common Market in 1975 it was being driven by Germany’s economic success while Britain was the sick man of Europe. Today the position is largely reversed. UK exports of goods and services to the EU are under 45% and falling. Taking into account exports that are re-routed through Rotterdam and Antwerp — known as the “Rotterdam effect” — the figure may be closer to 40%. In fact, the UK was the second-lowest goods exporter of any member state to the EU in 2013, only slightly above Malta. In terms of trade, the EU depends more on Britain for exports than Britain does on the EU.

Last year the EU exported £226.5bn worth of goods to Britain, while we exported only £147.6bn to the EU. The countries where Britain’s exports are growing fastest are America, China, India and South Korea.

The UK has always had a different relationship with the EU from most members and these differences are becoming increasingly apparent. The British people are deeply embedded in their historical and geographical lineage. As an island nation with a long trading heritage and historical experience of the gain and loss of empire, we have never perceived the southern border of Greece as the end of the world, only the beginning. We are no better suited to the role of “Little European” than that of “Little Englander”.

Our close relationship with America, both in economic and military matters, means we occupy a unique position. Moreover, unlike so many of our European friends, we have never felt the need to bury our 20th-century history in a pan-European project in which the integration of nation states is designed to sap them of their unique identity in order to minimise the risk they might pose to one another.

The rise of those on the political fringes shows how the failure of the European institutions to understand the people is fanning the flames of nationalism.

Of course, the referendum will be a challenge for the Conservatives too. It is true that passions will be aroused but there is no reason to believe that the Tory party will tear itself apart. In the end, there is the ultimate pressure valve of every UK citizen having a say in the final decision at a referendum.

Whether the vote is in 2016 or 2017 we will still have at least three years to govern this country as a single party. How easy or how difficult that task is will largely depend on how well we treat one another in the run-up to the poll. Those who wish to remain in the EU are not “unpatriotic” and those who wish to leave are not “idiots”. Treating the views of others with respect, important in itself, will be key to our ability to govern effectively for the rest of the decade.

It is important, however, for people to understand that there will be no risk-free option at the referendum. The choice will be either to remain tied to an EU that is intent on ever-closer union (a process that will be accelerated by the need to de-risk the eurozone) or to seek out a new destiny over which we have greater control, one that will unavoidably contain uncertainties.

What will not be on offer is the status quo. The British public will have to decide which of these two futures they see as most compatible with the national interest. I am clear that the greater risk lies in being increasingly closely tied to an economically failing, socially tense and politically unstable project.

Ultimately, for me, it boils down to a simple question of sovereignty. It is time for the people of Britain to have the same ability to shape our laws as they do in Canada, America or Australia.

Britain’s laws should be made by those who are accountable to the British people, and by no others. It is time for us to recover our birthright. That is why I’ll be campaigning to leave.

Liam Fox is MP for North Somerset and former secretary of state for defence