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Brexit

Once Britain is free of the EU’s shackles, there’s nothing it cannot achieve

Grenville Cross says what the UK gets back from the EU does not justify the money spent on a bloated union, or the control that it is forced to cede

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 June, 2016, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 June, 2016, 12:00pm

In 1973, when Britain joined the European Economic Community, it was a six-nation trading group, but no longer. It has morphed into the 28-nation European Union, a fledgling superstate with grandiose political designs and a sprawling bureaucracy, and many people want out.

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In 1975, when Britain voted on the economic community, “Yes” campaigners promised parliamentary sovereignty was safe. However, as qualified majority voting escalated in key areas, the ability of Britain’s veto to prevent unwanted legislation diminished, with many laws now being directly imposed. The EU website shows 19,532 laws currently in force. About 2,500 new regulations are issued annually by the EU, and these, at a cost to business of £22 billion (HK$242 billion) in 2014, apply in the UK, even without parliamentary approval.

The EU, moreover, is committed to “ever closer union”, code for political amalgamation, and its mandate even includes national borders. Britain is a small country, with a proud record of welcoming people in need, but it simply cannot absorb huge influxes of new migrants. The population of England alone is predicted to rise by four million over the next decade, and an open-door policy is a recipe for disaster. However, under EU free movement rules, vast numbers of people move to the UK each year, many ignorant of its language or culture, and the strain on public services is intolerable.

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In 2015, net migration into the UK rose to 333,000. This, coupled with indigenous growth, is taking a huge toll on housing, education and health, which are creaking at the seams. Class sizes in schools are rising, with eastern European countries like Latvia, Poland and Slovakia accounting for large numbers of pupils, and 300,000 additional school places will be needed by 2020. Hospital waiting lists are increasing, with housing becoming inaccessible to ordinary families, who, unlike their leaders, cannot afford private health care, top-end accommodation or fee-paying schools. Although Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to reduce immigration to under 100,000 a year (“no ifs or buts”), the EU has blocked him at every turn, insisting on freedom of movement, regardless of the consequences.

As the problems of the euro zone proliferate, more and more people are moving to the UK, but this is only the start. Many of the hundreds of thousands of migrants travelling to Europe could eventually gain EU passports, and then they, also, will be able to settle in Britain.

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Moreover, countries like Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey are all lining up to join the EU, and many of their citizens have reportedly set their sights on the UK. In Turkey, for example, a recent survey found that, if it were possible, 12 million people would move there. As a matter of basic self-preservation, therefore, Britain has no choice but to regain control of its borders, and the only way to achieve this is by voting to leave the EU on June 23.

Mass immigration, however, is also about security. Governments should defend their citizens, yet EU rules allow people with criminal records to enter the UK, along with suspected terrorists. EU law does not even require member states to inform Britain of the criminal records of their citizens, and free movement makes the nation more vulnerable by the day. At a time of terrorist outrages in France and Belgium, it is sheer folly for the UK to be deprived of its ability to check those who enter the country, and to turn away undesirables.

If people wish to move to the UK, they must be properly vetted and have appropriate skills, and also understand English, yet this is impossible inside the EU. Much is said about the risks of leaving the EU, but it is the risks of remaining that are really alarming.

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The EU, with its bloated bureaucracy and offices around the world, is centralised, resistant to reform, expansionist, and hugely expensive. Not content with establishing a foreign service, EU ideologues now envision a European army, which would undermine Nato, and for which Europe’s long-suffering taxpayers would again have to fork out. EU finances, moreover, are poorly managed, and the European Court of Auditors, the independent fiscal watchdog, has refused to give the EU’s accounts a clean bill of health, for the 21st year running. For the EU, however, this is water off a duck’s back, as Britain has found to its cost.

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In 2015, the UK contributed about 12 per cent of the EU budget, and has to pay the EU £19 billion gross a year (enough for a new hospital every week), much of which, despite rebates, it never sees again. According to the Office for National Statistics, Britain has contributed over £500 billion to the EU budget since 1973, and will have to pay a further £96 billion over the next five years. If Britain leaves the EU, it will have £350 million a week to spend on things that actually matter, including the National Health Service, and on promoting areas necessary for prosperity, such as science, skills and infrastructure.

Although the EU’s single market has brought benefits, not everything is rosy, as Britain’s £23.9 billion trade gap with its EU partners in the first quarter of 2016 demonstrates. Britain is the only EU state that sells more outside the EU than to other members, yet can no longer negotiate bilateral trade deals with growing economies, such as China, India or Australia. The UK has to wait until Brussels reaches agreements that satisfy all 28 member states, which is not easy, as some members are primarily concerned with, for example, protecting their farmers from extra competition. This hampers free trade and affects jobs, and a recently leaked Whitehall memo indicates how the UK is losing out on £2.5 billion a year because of delays to a proposed trade deal between the EU and Latin America.

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Of course, after Brexit, there will be adjustment difficulties, just as there were when Britain first joined. Once outside, however, the UK will be able to act independently in the World Trade Organisation and, like Switzerland, which has been more successful than the EU in achieving free trade agreements, to negotiate trade deals in its own best interests. By joining Norway and other members of the European Free Trade Area, the UK would, moreover, participate directly in the European Economic Area, with continued access to the single market.

Although Remain’s Little Englanders claim that the UK cannot go it alone, and must accept its reduced status, this is rank defeatism. The UK, which possesses powerful institutions, strong armed forces and acclaimed entrepreneurial skills, has the world’s fifth-largest economy, enjoys permanent membership of the UN Security Council, and has global links and friends on every continent. The very people who said it would be disastrous if Britain stayed out of the euro are now claiming Armageddon will follow Brexit, but they underestimate the British people. Once Britain’s potential is unleashed and sovereignty is restored, there is nothing they cannot achieve, and the world will benefit.

As Britons prepare to vote, let June 23, 2016 be forever remembered as Independence Day.

Grenville Cross SC is a backer of Vote Leave

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