So, after years of handwringing, it has finally happened: the EU Constitution Lisbon Treaty has been fully ratified and will now come into force. The Tories say there is no point in Britain holding a post-facto referendum, because it wouldn’t make any difference anyway. The position is that when they’re in government, they will seek to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU and repatriate certain powers from Brussels. The opt-out from the Social Chapter will be restored, and so on.
Well, I’ll believe it when I see it. As Fraser Nelson has written on the Spectator’s CoffeeHouse blog, it is more than likely that the EU will be kicked into the long grass as a political issue and that superficially attractive measures like the proposed Sovereignty Bill will be largely symbolic. Meanwhile the Lisbon Treaty will have created a federal superstate without any real constraints on its growth. Brussels will accrue more powers, British sovereignty will continue to ebb away, and the regulations and directives will keep piling up.
That, sadly, is the reality of the situation. But it doesn’t have to be that way. What we need is a completely different set of tactics for dealing with the EU. Polite negotiation will get us nowhere. We should simply repatriate powers unilaterally. We don’t want the Common Agricultural Policy? Fine, scrap it in Britain and withhold the part of our EU contribution that would have gone towards it. Want a real opt-out from the social chapter? OK, just state that no EU measure related to social and employment policy will have any effect in Britain.
The EU won’t like it. They’ll make a fuss and snub British politicians at gravy-train summits. The European Court of Justice will hold that we are acting illegally. But at the end of the day, who cares? The EU only has legitimacy in so far as we acknowledge its legitimacy. Like all matters of international law, the EU depends entirely on the consent of those bound by it, or the willingness/ability of some to impose their will on others by force.
To restate my case plainly: if the Tories want renegotiation, they must present their desired relationship with the EU as a fait accompli. Doing things the traditional way will get them nowhere.