Johnson vs Johnson: The great EU debate
Boris Johnson: Why we should leave the EU
Boris Johnson is the Conservative MP
It’s now 41 years since Britain last had the chance to vote on our position in Europe. Anyone who took part may remember that the ballot paper helpfully included the words “Common Market”.
It’s no wonder that so many people who voted Yes 41 years ago now feel so conned. The idea then sold to the British—that Europe was a free-trade area—is long gone. Instead, we have an ever-more powerful political entity that’s nibbled away at our democracy chunk by chunk.
There’s nothing safe or secure about voting again to stay in, because the EU doesn’t stand still. It steers in only one direction—towards a European superstate that would turn its nations into museum pieces. Let’s be absolutely clear here. Voting to remain is not a vote for the status quo—it’s a vote for a federalist superstate with no possible future reprieve.
By leaving, we will be taking back control over our borders, over our laws and the future of our trade with the world, the motor that has always driven Britain’s prosperity.
We’ll also be taking back control of the £350m a week that Brussels demands from us. It’s an eye-watering subscription for a club that bosses its members around, gives them such a raw deal and takes such shambolic care of its finances.
The accounts in Brussels have not been given a clean bill of health for 20 years, because of the scale of waste and fiddling in all the dubious schemes at which the EU squirts money—not least the grotesquely inefficient Common Agricultural Policy.
If we left, we could afford to keep paying just as much as we do now in support to poor regions and to farmers, but without recycling it through the wasteful Brussels bureaucracy. We would still have billions a year to spare for our own priorities in the NHS, the latest world-changing science or badly needed new roads and public transport.
There’s nothing small-minded about wanting to get out of the EU. It is about Britain striking out into the world.
Currently, we rely on Brussels to do our striking out for us as it occupies our seat at the World Trade Organisation. If we want to open up markets in countries outside Europe, we have to move at the speed of the slowest ship in the euro-convoy. The EU is notoriously sluggish at reaching free-trade deals because it has to cobble together a lowest-common-denominator negotiating position to please all 28 countries.
When we leave, we will remain close friends with our European neighbours. I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s the civilisation that has given birth to the greatest culture in the world. I lived for many years in Brussels, and beyond the hideous glass euro-palaces it’s a beautiful old place that it is easy to fall in love with. We are not voting to leave Europe; we are voting to leave the European Union.
There’s no reason for our free trade with our European friends to suffer when we vote leave, and it won’t. The Europeans sell £68bn more to us than we export to them. They aren’t going to tell such a good customer for their cars and their wine to push off. They are also not going to deny their companies access to the world’s biggest financial markets in London. EU leaders may be madly federalist, but they aren’t plain mad.
The ever-gloomy europhiles believe the continent would want to strangle trade with an independent Britain. But these are the same people who warned us in the 1990s that it would be a disaster if we left the Exchange Rate Mechanism.
These are the very same people, led as ever by the Confederation of British Industry, who warned us that if we didn’t join the euro, British industry and the City of London would be finished and foreign investors would stampede for the doors.
They were wrong then and they are wrong now. We ignored them, we left the Exchange Rate Mechanism and it brought us the longest period of economic growth in at least 200 years. We ignored them, we stayed out of the euro, and since the financial crisis we have recovered faster and created more jobs than any of our continental competitors
If we stayed, we would be agreeing to this ratchet system that drives ever more power to the EU. Already, between a half and two-thirds of our laws are sent down from Brussels. We cannot alter or repeal them, and our parliament risks becoming a rubber stamp or, as Ken Clarke [the former chancellor and pro-European MP] once cheerfully forecast, “just a council chamber in Europe”.
We can do little about the ever-extending thicket of EU rules that stifle so many of our entrepreneurs. The EU even tells us how to run our homes. Recently, it banned high-powered vacuum cleaners and there was nothing we could do to stop them. It was about to do the same to kettles and toasters until it occurred to someone in Brussels that vandalising British kitchens may not be the best way to pile up Yes votes in Britain. No doubt they will revive this plan if we vote yes.
All we need is the self-confidence to take back control from the bureaucrats and judges of Brussels, so we can hold our elected representatives accountable for the laws they pass and boot them out for their failures.
Democracy, freedom and prosperity—those are the prizes for voting to leave on June 23.
Alan Johnson: Why we should stay in the EU
Alan Johnson is the Labour MP
For me, any analysis of the benefits of being in the EU begins with the Zec cartoon published in the Daily Mirror on VE Day. It shows a wounded soldier coming off the battlefield to hand the reader a laurel depicting peace in Europe. The soldier says, “Here you are—don’t lose it again.”
Twice in the first half of the 20th century, and repeatedly for a thousand years before, Europeans slaughtered one another in bloody conflict. After the Second World War, the European countries came together to do what Zec’s soldier had asked and created a peace that’s lasted to this day—by far the longest period of calm in the history of this continent.
Of course Nato has played its part, but its main role is to protect against external aggression. The great visionaries Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman saw that the way to make war between the old adversaries inconceivable was to ensure that structures existed through which, to paraphrase Churchill, “jaw jaw” could replace “war war”.
That vision of a Europe at peace was at the fore-front of the argument on the last occasion we had a European referendum in 1975. It was just 30 years after the war had ended—many of the men I worked beside as a 25-year-old postman had fought in it. They were among the overwhelming majority who voted to remain in a European Economic Community of nine countries, of which Britain had only been a member for 17 months.
In the ensuing 41 years, we’ve grown so used to peace that those in favour of leaving say the issue is immaterial because war in Europe is now inconceivable—thus expressing the aim of the EU’s founders without any sense of irony. They also display a worrying complacency given what’s happened close to European borders in Kosovo and Ukraine.
Since 1975, Britain has been instrumental in two of the most significant developments on the European stage.
The first is enlargement, which brought countries emerging from totalitarian rule into the EU. Each admission required approval by all existing member states. When our parliament voted on the issue, it was the only occasion I can remember when every MP walked through the “Aye” lobby. Thanks to the EU’s commitment to free speech, elections and the rule of law, oligarchies converted to democracies overnight without a shot being fired.
The second is the creation of the single market, removing all non-tariff barriers to trade and creating today’s market of over 500 million people—the biggest commercial market in the world, but one with rules to protect workers and consumers. No EU country can compete unfairly by short-changing customers or by denying paid holidays to their staff; or by paying part-timers less than full-timers; or refusing to provide maternity leave.
And contrary to popular belief, the EU actually reduces red tape. Prior to its creation, a driver transporting goods from, say, Sunderland to Salzburg would need around 40 papers. Now they need one. Tariffs that applied to goods such as cars (14 per cent), ceramics (37 per cent) and clothing (20 per cent for gloves, 13 per cent for socks) have been replaced by one single tariff—zero. This is why trade has increased and prices decreased since our membership.
We are told by “leave” campaigners that outside the EU we’d be able to trade more successfully with China or the Commonwealth. Leaving aside the fact that we export more to Germany alone than to China, and more to Ireland than we do to all 52 Commonwealth countries put together, there’s nothing stopping us exporting to those countries now without risking our £250bn of trade (half our exports) to the single market.
Critics say the EU is undemocratic, with everything decided by bureaucrats. I’d like to improve things about the EU (and we can, if we stay), just as I’d like to change aspects of our parliament, such as the unelected second chamber. But the EU “bureaucrats” propose legislation in the same way that civil servants often do in Whitehall. The actual decisions are made by ministers from the elected governments and, in most cases, co-decided by the elected EU Parliament.
Those decisions are only on the narrow range of issues where member states have agreed that the EU should have exclusive competence (such as trade, competition rules and the preservation of fish stocks). There is shared competency on agriculture, the environment, transport and consumer protection. In all other areas, such as health, policing, education and the economy, Europe has no role to play at all. The mantra is Europe where necessary, national where possible.
Leaving the EU will lead to at least two years of uncertainty while we go through the process of extraction while simultaneously trying to negotiate 53 separate trade deals to match the terms we already enjoy. Jobs would be at risk. As the governor of the Bank of England has warned, Britain’s sky-high current account deficit would leave us at the mercy of overseas currencies.
As for the biggest trade deal of all—our access to the single market—we’d give it up if we threw away our membership. We could, like Norway, end up continuing to pay in and accepting practically all the rules and regulations of the EU, including free movement, without having any influence in their formulation.