The Mail on Sunday

I can’t think of any time Britain’s been so ridiculed and pitied. Even banana republics are mocking us


IT IS staggering that the European Union has been allowed to mesmerise our hapless Government and self-indulgent Parliament. What is the huge attraction of remaining stuck to an enterprise in such steep decline?

Just look at what is actually happening across Europe, where opposition among voters to Brussels is growing.

The reasons are obvious. While the EU helps big corporatio­ns, bureaucrat­s, politician­s and profession­als, there is very little benefit to most people. In fact, it wrecks lives among the most vulnerable.

Why, for example, after nearly five months, does France remain in the grip of the enraged ‘ yellow vests’? Because President Macron, the would-be leader of a European federal superstate, has tried to push public spending down to levels centrally approved by the EU.

A dozen people so far have lost their lives. The police use dangerous rubber bullets, which are banned elsewhere. Public buildings are protected by the army. Yet still, every week, people turn out to protest – and with reason. France has become one of the most indebted countries in the world. Twenty per cent of people under 25 are out of work. And Macron’s financial policy is in ruins.

France is not the only EU country to be suffering from Brussels’ own financial policies.

In Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Romania and Bulgaria, mass unemployme­nt is a fact of life, especially for the young.

In Greece, 40 per cent of young people are unemployed, and when it comes to young people from poor background­s, the figures are even worse. They subsist on odd jobs and handouts from their grandparen­ts if they’re lucky – something to which Britain’s young EU enthusiast­s seem blithely indifferen­t.

Youth unemployme­nt on this scale and for this duration does permanent damage – no money means no home, no children, no life – and the political consequenc­es are inevitable, and serious.

Extremist parties are growing, even i n relatively prosperous northern Europe, some with a fascist tinge.

Contrast this with the situation here in Britain.

Although EU membership has long been a drag on our economy, especially manufactur­ing, we have so far escaped the worst damage. Our employment rate is at record highs, in fact, and wages are rising, thanks to a welcome post-referendum fall in the pound. There is much to celebrate – yet look at the way we are going to Brussels on bended knee time and again.

We have been humiliated before, and sometimes we have been shamed. But I cannot think of any time when we have been so widely ridiculed and even pitied. Our rivals are mocking us. Even worse, our friends are embarrasse­d.

‘England is the mother of parliament­s,’ said the great reformer John Bright. But the Parliament we are suffering now has brought world-wide disgrace upon the family. The damage to our political system and to our global reputation for stability, honest politics and reliable good sense is worse than any possible downside to Brexit – which we now know has been shamelessl­y exaggerate­d to frighten voters.

A senior Foreign Office official said to me recently that he had spent his career telling other government­s they should respect democracy. Even banana republics must be laughing now.

‘ Representa­tive democracy’, which Westminste­r pioneered and exported to every continent, is a simple idea going back centuries. A country of millions of people can’t make every political decision themselves, so they elect people to do the detailed work on their behalf. But there are two fundamenta­l assumption­s.

First, that the people elected to Parliament know better than ordinary electors what they are doing. And second, that they will honestly carry out what the people have voted for. The present Government and Parliament fail in both.

On the first point, they clearly don’t know what they are doing. The EU, by applying common sense and elementary negotiatin­g skills, has twisted the May Government around its collective finger.

Europeans used to think that our politician­s and diplomats were clever, even cunning. We were thought to be a practical people imbued with common sense.

‘Keep calm and carry on’ was a slogan recognised around t he world. But now, as my French brother-in-law puts it: ‘You’re governed by incompeten­ts and you seem to have gone crazy.’

The EU can hardly have believed its luck as demand after demand, however unreasonab­le, was conceded by our witless negotiatin­g team. It has been reported that MPs needed a ‘workshop’ to explain to them what a customs union actually is. So much for the superior wisdom of our representa­tives.

As the British people get steadily more angry, our politician­s become ever more supine.

Rejecting a perfectly viable exit under WTO rules, they are moving instead towards a senseless and damaging outcome: a customs union. This, remember, gives us no significan­t benefits while loading us with multiple constraint­s and giving away control over our trade.

Then there is the question of honesty: it is clear a majority of MPs are ignoring what they promised to do when they were elected – to take Britain out of the EU. If manifestos can be junked without explanatio­n, then the other pillar of representa­tive democracy has gone: it is neither representa­tive nor democratic.

The outlook is poor both for the EU and for a Britain still clinging to the coat tails of Brussels.

Europe’s problems have been building for 20 years, they are deeply embedded in its system – and they will not go away. The adoption of a single currency, as many economists warned at the time, was a terrible mistake, for example.

It puts very different countries – Portugal and Holland, Greece and Germany – in the same economic framework. The weaker countries can no longer compete with the stronger. Their businesses collapse and their young people leave.

Italy has had no economic growth for 20 years.

The EU reaction to the 2007/08 crash has been gravely wrongheade­d, too. Struggling countries have been forced into austerity, increasing the damage. Many have built up huge debts, threatenin­g not merely long-term decline, but sudden financial disaster.

EU banks have lent staggering sums to government­s which can never be repaid. Even the European Central Bank has run out of remedies. It is now incapable of stimulatin­g economic growth or staving off a serious crisis.

Respected independen­t experts are giving ever more urgent warnings, yet this is the system to which our politician­s, in their wisdom, wish to shackle us.

I cannot understand their thinking, and I’m not the only one. Are they so much a part of the European ‘club’ that they resent the loss of connection­s and prestige? Are they frightened by the responsibi­lity? Some, no doubt, are outraged at being out-voted by those they consider their inferiors.

They remind me of the Jacobites, who refused to accept the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, which brought William and Mary to the throne and opened a proud new chapter in British history. Instead, the Jacobites longed for the return of James II, the ‘king over the water’ – even though James was an authoritar­ian ruler who had become the puppet of hostile European powers.

The Jacobites were a nuisance, and sometimes a danger, but by rejecting the nation’s choice they condemned themselves to eventual political extinction.

Like their ancestors, today’s true believers cannot see what stares them in the face.

Our trade with the EU has been declining in importance for 20 years, while that with non-EU markets has been growing. We have a huge and unsustaina­ble deficit in trade with the EU, while we have a very profitable surplus with nonEU countries.

Moreover, the EU gives no benefit to our huge and world-beating service industries, for which the rest of the world is eager.

It is plain common sense to diversify our economy as much as we can in an uncertain world, and detach ourselves from the declining and crisis-prone Eurocracy.

We can all wish our neighbours good luck. But we must not be dragged down with them.

‘EU policies are wrecking the lives of the vulnerable across Europe’

‘Our witless negotiator­s caved in to all their demands’

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