Our EU exit spares us an ever-closer union
Amid the confusion and controversy surrounding Britain’s future relationship with the EU, one crucial factor is too easily forgotten. Down the years, it is not trade that has been the problem with our membership, but the EU’S political aggrandisement. We joined the old Common Market imagining that the UK would be part of a trading bloc with harmonised rules and no internal tariffs. Had it stayed that way, there would be no parting of the ways today.
But other EU countries have been keen to pursue the concept of ever-closer union enshrined in the Treaty of Rome, something we had hoped would not be taken seriously. Indeed, we were consistently told by Europhiles in Britain that it was not going to happen; and yet, bit by bit, their assurances crumbled with the creation of EU citizenship under the Maastricht treaty and the establishment of a single currency. Many of the trappings of a federal Europe are now in place.
At some point, the UK would have had to confront this drive towards a super-state. That much became clear with the speech of Jean-claude Juncker to the European Parliament in September. Again, this was dismissed by those seeking to reverse Brexit as the unilateral maunderings of a Eurocrat. Not for the first time, this was untrue. The prospectus that Mr Juncker outlined is gaining traction in the mainstream of European politics.
Martin Schulz, leader of the German Social Democratic Party, yesterday called for EU member states to commit to a “United States of Europe” by 2025 – and he made it a condition that Angela Merkel should change her EU policy if his party is to consider forming a new “grand coalition” to end the political crisis in Germany.
Mr Schulz said EU member states should agree a new “constitutional treaty” to establish a federal union, and countries that did not sign up would have to leave the bloc. Mrs Merkel is also being pressed by President Macron of France to embark on an ambitious programme of EU reform, and the Chancellor’s political weakness makes it hard for her to resist.
This has long been the direction of travel in the EU and is the inevitable corollary of monetary union. Had the UK voted to stay in the EU, the pressure to sign up would have been enormous, not least from those now trying to undo Brexit. Since we could never have agreed to that, it is better that we get out now.