The EU: It’s not too late

David Cameron rightly claims successes, Free Schools and Gay Marriage for example, but posterity will regard the main outcome, the EU, as a failure. Cameron began with a switch to an EU political party with no clout; potential allies were not cultivated; the UK was isolated in the wrong fights and lost in European courts.  The EU’s lack of accountability, both financial and democratic, was not exploited. The pre-referendum “re-negotiation” was John Cleese in the Specsavers advertisement.

The UK civil service, notably the FCO, and EU ministers exacerbated his difficulties, acting as a Brussels Fifth Column.  Even the House of Commons EU Scrutiny Committee under that notable EU sceptic, Sir William Cash, failed to have a single EU Regulation or Directive rejected by Parliament.

The new EU minister, David Davis, will, on past form, show more vision, backbone and imagination. Or let us hope so.  The key weapon is “subsidiarity”.  Sir John Major deserves more credit than ever received for the Maastricht Treaty which, confirmed by Lisbon, stated that all legislation should be left to member states unless there was a really compelling reason , such removing trade barriers, why the legislation must be pan-EU.  The Commission did not like that one little bit and has ignored it ever since but it remains EU law.

Subsidiarity is equally ignored in Whitehall which prompts legislation at the EU level - less work for them and Brussels gets the blame.  But Cameron should have been better briefed:  much of the sovereignty he was demanding is already on the EU statute book, even though Tony Blair, perhaps in a bid to be EU President gave away the social part of the Maastricht Treaty and increased the UK’s share of the budget without any improvement in Brussels’ financial control.

To secure a favourable Brexit, Davis needs a stronger bargaining position.  Saying the UK buys more from the EU than it sells to the EU is negated by the argument that we are only a small share of EU trade, i.e. they can afford to do without us more easily than vice versa.  The EU strategy for dealing with Brexit (they had one; Cameron did not) is to insist of Article 50 being triggered and a list of UK “demands” before negotiations begin.  Then those demands can be treated as Cameron’s were and we depart with the worst possible deal.

If the UK insists, however, that subsidiarity is put into effect, as we are entitled to do, before Article 50 is triggered, we play to Germany’s worst fear: indefinite delay.  Thousands of directives and regulations would have to be amended or Brussels would have to show the EU courts, for each one, why their pan-EU status is justified.  The alternative would be a quick and dirty deal satisfactory to the UK.

A common market, as has been shown in other parts of the world, no more requires free movement of people than equalising wages or taxes. Only gross distortion of competition should require EU intervention. Subsidiarity and a truly common market, still not achieved forty years on, are the keys to prosperity for for the EU and the UK.