Lord Pearson's brilliant Bill and speech on examining the cost of EU membership to Britain
European Union Membership (Economic Implications) Bill [HL]
UPDATE:The Express reported that Lord Pearson’s European Union Membership (Economic Implications) Bill, which would require the Chancellor to set up an impartial inquiry into the economic costs and benefits arising from Britain’s EU membership, was voted through on its second reading in the House of Lords.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch (UKIP) speaking on behalf of his Bill in the House of Lords:
My Lords, I am truly grateful to all noble Lords who are to speak today. This is not the first time that your Lordships have debated this or a similar Bill at Second Reading. We did so last some four and a half years ago, on 8 June 2007, and we had similar debates on 11 February 2004, 27 June 2003 and 17 March 2000. The series would not be complete without mentioning 31 January 1997, when your Lordships' House voted at Second Reading for a Bill that would have taken us out of the European Union altogether.
For more than 30 years, our political class has done its best not to talk about our membership of the EU. But the wheel of history turns and the question as to whether we should leave the European Union is now firmly back on the national agenda. But this Bill does not deal with that question-it is an altogether milder and more innocent little creature. It merely requires the Chancellor of the Exchequer to set up an impartial inquiry into the economic costs and benefits arising from our membership of the EU.
. . .I dare to hope that the Government will support the Bill and that the Minister will not repeat the misconceptions that all Governments have steadfastly repeated in all our debates so far. Perhaps I could sum them up now and warn the Minister that I shall press him to justify them if he intones them yet again today.
The first [misconception] is that a cost-benefit analysis is unnecessary because the advantages of our EU membership are so obvious that it would be a waste of time and money. On the money point, I note that the Stern report on climate change cost a little over £1 million. Surely that is a rather more complicated subject than the simple economic facts of our EU membership. So we are not talking about an expensive inquiry, especially when set against the colossal costs of our membership, to which I shall return.
The second misconception is to suggest that the 40 per cent of our exports that go to clients in the European Union, supporting some 3 million of our jobs, would all somehow be jeopardised if we left the political construct of the European Union. I can only assume that the bureaucrats who invented that one did so because they simply do not know how international business actually works. I repeat that nobody trades with the European Union, except perhaps the Mafia. We have hundreds of businesses exporting to clients who happen to be in EU countries, and there are hundreds of businesses in those countries exporting to us. This two-way traffic benefits from free trade, but none of it needs to be affected if we resile from the treaties of Rome. There are good commercial reasons for this.
First, we have some 3 million jobs exporting to customers in EU countries, but there are 4.5 million jobs in those countries exporting to us. So collectively they need us more than we need them. We are, in fact, their largest client. So not even the Martians in Brussels would attempt any retaliation if we left the EU as such, and the Martians would face other realities if they tried anything so silly. The World Trade Organisation has brought the EU's average external tariff down to below 1 per cent and would also prevent any retaliation. The EU has free trade agreements with 63 countries worldwide and is negotiating a further 63-some 80 per cent of the countries in the world. So we, as its largest client, could have one too, as good or better than the one enjoyed by Switzerland, which is not in either the EU or the European Economic Area.
Switzerland is, of course, smaller than us, but its economy is very similar to ours and it exports three times more per capita to clients in the EU than we do. Looking at it the other way round, would the French stop selling us their wine or the Germans their cars just because we were no longer being bossed around by Brussels? Of course not.
The Government do not have to take my word for it. "Channel 4 News", in its "FactCheck" programme on 1 November, revealed that economists at Southbank University, who first estimated that 3 million jobs depended on our trade with Europe, never said that any would be lost if we left the EU. The programme ended with the following quote:
"According to the people who did the research, talk of mass redundancies if Mr Cameron goes for a European exit strategy is just scaremongering".
So please can we hear no more about 40 per cent of our trade and 3 million jobs being a reason to stay in the EU and not to have the inquiry proposed by this Bill?
The third misconception is that if we were no longer in the European Union our exporters to European markets would still have to obey all its rules and our Government would not take part in their making-and that this is somehow a frightening prospect. Those who peddle this one assume that we would stay in the European Economic Area, like Norway, which we would not. Our position would be like that of Switzerland, or better; we would have our own arrangements for free trade, free movement and so on. Our exporters to clients in the EU would of course have to meets its requirements, as do exporters from every other country on the planet which exports to the EU. That is really no big deal. But only 9 per cent of our GDP goes in exports to clients in the EU, while 11 per cent goes in trade with the rest of the world and 80 per cent stays right here in our domestic economy. So the 91 per cent or so of our economy which at the moment does not go in exports to clients to the EU would be set free from the heavy burdens imposed by Brussels. That begins to sound like quite a good deal to me. I will come to what those burdens might be, but conclude the third misconception by saying that I hope that the Minister will not repeat it today.
A fourth misconception was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, at Questions last Tuesday at col. 942, when he claimed that our influence in international trade bargaining is greater from within the EU than it would be if we had our own seat at the WTO. To answer this, I can do no better than to quote from a brilliant new publication by Civitas of Mr Ian Milne's Time to Say No. On page 15, he says:
"British influence at the WTO is sometimes claimed to be stronger as part of the EU Single Market than it would be if the UK spoke and negotiated for itself in WTO councils. That claim has validity only in so far as British commercial and geostrategical interests coincide with all or a majority of its EU partners-all 26 of them. When British interests do not so coincide-for example in the regulation of the City, or in agriculture and fishing-it follows that British influence is weaker than it would be if the UK were outside the EU and able to make its own decisions at the WTO. Since the structure and pattern of UK global trade is quite different from that of its EU partners, there is no a priori reason to suppose that, on balance, British interests and those of its EU partners coincide more often than they diverge".
The proposed inquiry would have to examine what I have called the four fundamental misconceptions about our economic relationship with Brussels and form its own opinion. I hope that it would also look at a number of very short briefing notes by Mr Ian Milne on the www.globalbritain.org website, which I have extolled before to your Lordships. I declare an interest as a founder and supporter of Global Britain. For instance, I hope that it would read briefing note No. 70, which shows how customs unions such as the EU have become redundant in the modern world; No. 68, which analyses The Non-existent "Benefits" of Belonging to the EU Single Market; No. 36, entitled Cherry-Picking, which analyses in two pages the differences between the European Free Trade Association, the European Economic Area and the Swiss-EU trading relationship; and No. 69, The Coming EU Demographic Winter. The last of those is rather like being shown the film "Titanic" before you had got on it, and gives another reason why so many of us want to get off. Dare I ask the Minister if he or any of his officials have read these and other briefing notes on the Global Britain website; and if not, whether they will do so, and meet with Mr Milne if they disagree with any of them? I am of course happy to offer them lunch.
The inquiry will also have to examine the range of figures put forward by our Eurosceptic movement of the annual cost of our EU membership, mostly from EU overregulation. These, as summarised in Global Britain briefing note No. 65, average around 6 per cent of GDP, or £90 billion per annum-equivalent to £1,500 per person in this country. It is interesting that a similar figure was put forward by the European Commission in 2006 and that the highest estimate came from the Treasury itself in 2005, under the signature of a Mr Gordon Brown, entitled Global Europe: Full-employment Europe. The Treasury estimated the cost of our EU membership as follows: EU protectionism, 7 per cent of GDP; competition gap with the United States of America, 12 per cent of GDP; EU overregulation, 6 per cent of GDP-broadly in line with our Eurosceptic studies-and transatlantic barriers to trade, 3 per cent of GDP. Those four categories add up to 28 per cent of GDP. Mr Brown did not say whether there might be some degree of overlap in that but even if we are generous and divide it by four we still come to about 7 per cent of GDP, or around £100 billion a year today. Anyway, I suppose that the inquiry will want to interview Mr Brown and the officials who wrote this report.
There are other areas which I hope it will examine. What, for instance, is the cost to our economy of the decimation of our fishing industry? Would it not be useful to have an accurate figure for the extra amount that each family in this country pays for the cost of food? That has been widely put at about £1,000 per annum per family, but the world price of sugar is now apparently higher than the EU cost. So there is no doubt that this figure fluctuates, but it would be useful to be clear about it.
By the time the inquiry reports we will have a better idea of whether we are going to get back the £12 billion that we have borrowed to bail out the euro-I fear not, but time will tell. Then there is a big one, and talk about being flogged by a dead horse: by the time the inquiry reports, the damage done to the City of London and our financial services elsewhere by Monsieur Barnier and his cronies in Brussels will be clearer than it is today. Is it not simply grotesque that an organisation which has not had its own accounts signed off by its internal auditors for 17 years, there being no external audit of how our funds are wasted, should now be telling us how to order our financial affairs? I think "grotesque" is accurate.
Finally, there is one area in which there is no room for doubt: the amount of cash that we send to Brussels every year. Please remember that our expenditure cuts last year came to some £6.2 billion. The Pink Book came out this week, revealing that we sent £18.5 billion gross to Brussels last year, of which it was pleased to give us back some £8 billion for projects designed to improve its image, such as agriculture and regional aid. That leaves a net cash contribution of some £10 billion-£10,340,000,000 to be precise-which comes to £28 million net cash every day, never to be seen again, with perhaps none of it spent in our national interest.
To put that figure into perspective, £28 million pays for the salaries of 940 nurses at £30,000 per annum each. So every day we throw away, thanks to our EU membership, 940 nurses-or policemen, or soldiers, or any other public servant you care to mention.
Yesterday in your Lordships' House we had a well-informed and moving debate on the latest report into the future of social care in this country: the care of our elderly, infirm and dying, and of our learning disabled. The report suggests that we should spend another £1.5 billion to meet our obligations to these most vulnerable people in our society, but the Government are not sure that we can afford it. Yet we are sending £10 billion in net cash to Brussels. It is against that sort of background that I suggest the inquiry envisaged by this Bill should be set, and I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.