What to do about UKIP

The biggest danger to the Conservative Party’s chances of winning the general election due in 2015 is unquestionably UKIP. We lost the Corby by-election to Labour, the Conservative candidate only received 9,476 votes, compared with Labour’s 17,267. But the third party was UKIP, with 5,108. That, of course, is less than the Labour majority of 7,791, so UKIP did not cost us the seat. It is, nevertheless, almost 15% of the total vote. This demonstrates the seriousness of the threat to us that UKIP poses and the risk that it could cost us sufficient seats for us to lose the election in 2015.

So what do we do about them?

My own view is clear. We must fight them resolutely. Conservative Party policy on Europe is specific: “We are committed to playing a leading role in the EU”. So we stay a member of the EU. UKIP’s policy is quite different: “withdrawal from the European Union (EU) is central to UKIP’s message”. But there are those who take a different view, that is that to avoid UKIP appealing to Conservative Party voters, the Party must become more Eurosceptic. I have two problems with that. One is that the two positions are incompatible. One cannot be in favour of being “committed to playing a leading role in the EU” and also of withdrawing. So the Conservative Party needs to convince the electorate that our policies on the EU are in the best interest of the country and that UKIP’s policy would be a catastrophe. My second problem is the risk that those members of the Conservative Party arguing for UKIP’s position are simply going to persuade potential Conservative voters to vote for UKIP instead of for us.

Those in favour of UKIP’s policy publish their arguments for it widely. These arguments need to be refuted. Here are some by leading Conservatives taken from the Better Off Out Group website:

The European Union is too diverse, too bureaucratic, too corporatist and too centralist to be a functioning democracy. We are happy to trade with our European friends and the rest of the world – but we would prefer to govern ourselves. Lord Tebbit, senior cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher and former Chairman of the Conservative Party.

Of course the European Union has become more diverse, it has done so by admitting new member states, a policy strongly advocated by Britain under both Conservative and Labour Governments. The Conservative Party support Turkey’s candidature for membership, i.e. we are seeking to make it even more diverse.

That the EU is too bureaucratic is a common criticism, and one that is very easy to make, particularly if one doesn’t bother to check the details first. In fact the Commission has a staff of 30,000. Other European institutions, i.e. the Parliament and the European Court of Justice (n.b. this is nothing to do with the European Court of Human Rights which was established by the Council of Europe before the EEC was created; this EU court ensures that EU institutions and EU member states respect their obligations under the Treaties), employ a further 18,000 and there are 8,000 in agencies all over Europe. So, a grand total of 50,000. That, by coincidence, is the same number as employed by Birmingham City Council. The number of civil servants employed by the UK Government is 479,000 (out of the 4.4 million total in the public sector costing 23% of total government expenditure). In France, civil servants number 2 million; the Commission only has three quarters of the staff employed by the City of Paris. What is remarkable is that this is achieved despite the fact that the EU has to work in 23 official languages and provide for interpretation between them, which obviously increases staff numbers. But, despite that, it spends only about 6% of its budget on staff, administration and building maintenance.

That it is too corporatist is an extraordinary criticism, particularly from a Conservative. The Commission’s Competition Directorate is highly effective and its work in preventing anti-competitive practices greatly benefits consumers in the EU (perhaps Lord Tebbit should ask Microsoft about that).

That it is too centralist as an argument commonly used by those who do not understand, or who perhaps are not prepared to admit, that a free trade area must have rules to prevent non-tariff barriers to trade being erected as protectionist measures. This has been known from our entry to the then EEC; in the debate on entry on the House of Commons in 1972 the Attorney General (the then Sir Geoffrey Howe) said: “The concept of a common system of Community law, uniformly expressed, operating and enforced throughout the Community, is integral to the community system. If this country became a Member of the European Communities it would be accepting Community Law”. That was the position when we joined the EEC, it has never been concealed, it has never been in any doubt, and it remains the position now as that is the only way a common market can work. It has worked effectively in Britain’s interest, for example Germany excluded chocolate imports from the UK by an internal regulation on what could be sold as chocolate in Germany which British manufacturers did not meet. That German regulation was struck down by the Commission.

I believe in an independent Britain, Britain would be better off out of the failing European Union. It’s time to campaign for an independent Britain. Douglas Carswell, Conservative MP for Clacton.

To use the term “failing” without any justification or even specifying in which sense he considers it failing is a very cheap rhetorical trick and, frankly, a dishonest one that insults the intelligence of Mr Carswell’s audience. In my view, a reasonable way of measuring success or failure in such a context is growth in GDP. The figures for percentage annual growth over the last three years (total 2012 is obviously a forecast at present) are:

…………………2010………………..2011………………….2012
EU………………2.1…………………..1.5…………………..-0.3
Euro zone….2.0…………………..1.4…………………..-0.4
UK………………1.8…………………..0.9…………………..-.03

Where is the EU failing Mr Carswell, particularly in comparison with the UK?

I believe we should leave the European Union and instead have free trade agreements with EU countries just as we do with many non-EU countries. David Nuttall, Conservative MP for Bury North.

That statement betrays an astonishing degree of ignorance. The UK has no free trade agreements with non-EU countries, apart from those that have been negotiated and agreed by the EU as a whole. Under the original Treaty of Rome there is a common external tariff for each non-EU country that all EU member states have to apply. Clearly a single market cannot operate without a common external tariff. So no EU member state could negotiate a free trade agreement with us were we to leave the EU. By staying as a member of the European Economic Area we could have such an agreement with the EU as a whole, but there are disadvantages in that explained below. However it is unthinkable that the EU would agree to a free trade area with us were we to refuse to remain in the EEA, because that would permit us to erect non-tariff barriers to EU imports.

Our country built our prosperity as world traders. Our future prosperity depends on us trading with China, India and the rest of the Commonwealth. It does not depend on being tied up in a backward-looking, inward facing, protection racket designed to prop up inefficient continental farmers and businesses. We want free trade with the EU, but we do not need to be members of it to have that. Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley.

Mr. Davies is correct in saying that we do not have to be members of the EU to have free trade with them. But, for the reasons already given, he would be being rather more honest were he to say that we do have to be members of the European Economic Area. The non EU countries who are EEA members (Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway), together with Switzerland that has a similar agreement with the EU, participate in the EU single market. To do that they have agreed to enact all EU legislation (except agriculture and fisheries) adopted by the EU, without any participation in the decision making process. They also make a substantial financial contribution to social and economic cohesion in the Internal Market but they receive no finance from EU funds. In Norway, this agreement is known as being a fax democracy, because it is said that the latest legislation that their parliament has to adopt is faxed to them by the European Commission. Is that what Mr. Davies wants for the UK?

Of course we would not have to be a member of the EEA. But were we not a member we would face the common external tariff being applied to what in the first three quarters of 2012 amounted to 51% of our exports. I would be interested to know how long Mr Davies thinks it would take us to increase exports to China and India (both of which the UK individually and the EU collectively are trying to do anyway) sufficiently to make up the trade that this would cost us.

Millions of British people have never had the chance to vote on whether or not to be in the EU. Philip Hollobone, Conservative MP for Kettering.

No, they have not. But neither have they had had the chance to vote on whether or not to be in NATO which, for example, commits us to going to war should another NATO partner be attacked, nor whether or not to be in the United Nations, nor the World Trade Organisation, nor the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development or the International Energy Agency, both of these last two imposing important obligations on the UK. Why does not Mr Hollobone point out that, of all the 97 international organisations of which the UK is a member, the EU is the only one where our membership has been subject to a referendum and that, in that referendum, 67% of the votes were in favour of membership?

I agree with Margaret Thatcher on referenda. She approvingly quoted Clement Attlee as saying that they are “a device of demagogues and dictators”. I am proud of the British tradition of parliamentary democracy; I think it the best way to be governed. And that has traditionally been the view of the Conservative Party. Those espousing referenda only do so because they know that they cannot get what they want any other way.

I am particularly opposed to referenda in relationship to membership of international organisations. Such organisations are a key part of the way in which relationships between different nation states function. For most of them, membership is thought of as permanent within the foreseeable future. To make the continuation of membership subject to periodical referenda would be a grave disruption of the current pattern of international relationships. Further, there is no provision in the Treaty of Rome for a member state to leave the organisation and, were we to do so, we would be in breach of the international treaty we signed in 1972. Does anyone really believe that the then members would have agreed to our entry had we told them that we would have occasional referenda to determine whether or not we stayed as members? Has the Conservative Party sunk so low that it has adopted the view of the Kaiser and regards an international treaty as nothing but a scrap of paper?

The politicians I have quoted above are persuading voters to support the policy of a political party that, as I have pointed out, is the Conservative Party’s enemy and a major threat to us at the next general election. They are totally wrong to think that this will make potential UKIP voters vote for us; those voters who are convinced by them will vote for UKIP.

Conservatives Abroad have recently asked their branches to adopt a rule to the effect that their members may only be members of a sister party, even in the country where that member lives, provided that that party has been approved by the Party Board but even if it is so approved, such members may not hold office. How is that compatible with prominent Conservatives holding public office being members of the Better Off Out Group?

So I have two conclusions. The first is that we must fight UKIP by explaining why Britain needs to remain in the EU:

1. We are an important part of a major trading block with a GDP exceeding that of the USA. That enables us and all EU member states to punch well above our weight in international trade negotiations.
2. Within that we are part of a single European market, largely created by the initiative of a British Commissioner in Brussels with Margaret Thatcher’s backing, in which British companies can trade freely without the disadvantages of tariff or non-tariff barriers.
3. That access to that single European market is particularly valuable for the UK because of the importance of our financial sector. It enables us to play a leading role and earn a leading share of financial sector profitability, a benefit that our European partners look at with envy. As a result, the financial sector contributes over 11% of UK Government tax receipts.
4. We are part of a group of countries with a common cultural and historical heritage co-operating together for the greater benefit of all.
5. Co-operation within the EU covers areas where action by individual nations within the limits of their national boundaries would be at best ineffective and at worst meaningless. An obvious example is environmental protection. Competition policy applied across the EU is another example giving wide benefits.
6. As citizens of the European Union we entitled to move freely, to live and to be employed anywhere within the Union. Also we can hold and transfer funds freely within the Union.
7. Citizens of the European Union living in a member state other than their own, are protected against discrimination against them by their own government in relation to social benefits. For example, British state pensioners living outside the EU have their pensions frozen, despite having paid the same contribution as those living in the UK whose pensions are increased to allow for inflation. Pensions of Britons resident in the EU cannot be frozen.

All these are real benefits, but we are allowing the case for them to go by default. We must trumpet them to defend Conservative Party policy.

Secondly we must take steps to prevent Party members prominent in public life giving public support to the policies of UKIP. The Better Off Out Group is a tool of UKIP, its purpose is to advance UKIP’s policy. UKIP is the enemy of the Conservative Party. So the Party must make membership of the Better Off Out Group incompatible with Conservative Party membership. Any MP, member of the Lords, MEP, member of the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly or local councillor who is and remains a Better Off Out Group member must have the Party whip withdrawn, be expelled from the Conservative Party and their constituency association or equivalent must be told that they are not eligible for re-selection.

That is how we must fight UKIP and increase our chances of winning the next election.

Robin Baker