Thursday, 5 May 2016

Is 2016’s referendum a re-run of 1988-1997 and the Maastricht Treaty?

Source: BBC Radio 4, The Reunion: Maastricht Treaty, 29Apr2015 0902-1000, 45mins (“the Programme”).


The Programme invited four participants to reminisce about their experiences.  The Programme was clearly not intended to resolve the European issue within British politics, but the timing of the programme was clearly intended to contribute to the current debate about Brexit.

The Programme was a 45-minute discussion and narrative of how the ruling Conservative Party between 1988-1997 managed - somehow - to undermine itself, and take the country’s interest with it.  The issue at hand was the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty, and how UKGov sought to promote its interests within the European Union.  Or, as it turns out, how the UKGov sought to impose its views about the European Union’s interest onto the British Parliament.  As a consequence, party loyalty ultimately triumphed over a rational and open decision-making process that alone could have served the national interest.

In the Programme, the participants set out their base positions (8m40s minutes in).
  • Norman Lamont was rightfully keen to avoid joining the Single Currency.  He could see the damage that it was ultimately destined to do.
  • Bill Cash described Maastricht of “giving far more control to Germany than is a good idea” and claimed that much of his beliefs then had subsequently come true (which, on the face of it, his fears have come true: for example, we do have a rise of the far right in Europe, amongst others).
  • Kenneth Clarke stated his belief that the “Single European Act had given us potential for a fully-functioning economic relationship with our trading partners” and that “Maastricht Treaty could give us a properly functioning decision-making process for a multi-national organisation of this kind.”  Clarke singled out the social charter as a problem: “I’m all in favour of workers’ rights, but the sort of thing they [Europeans] wished to include were deeply interventionist, very restrictive labour-market policies”, resulting in an outcome akin to the damaging policy choices of France.

By 12m40s, the Programme analyses - nearly forensically - every procedural step of the Maastricht Treaty’s passage through Parliament, including notes (19m40s) towards referenda in other European countries (the Danish “no” and the badly timed and deliberately flawed French “petit oui” (25m04s) - it was actually a "non") and towards the political symbolism of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.  The Programme’s participants agreed that the ERM crisis had no effect on ordinary people, in spite of 15% base rates (21m14s and 21m38s).  At 23m05, the Programme acknowledge the impact that a then-recent attack by the Irish Republican Army had on security measures such that UKGov’s operation was rather more dysfunctional than usual.

Ultimately, the then Prime Minister John Major sought to uphold a “promise” he made to European governments, found too little support for it within his own political party, then realised belatedly that calling a general election - forcibly aligning individual MPs’ self-interest with the party’s collective interest in keeping power (a virtual gun-to-the-head) - was the only way to kill debate about what kind of Europe the British Parliament might have wanted.  Thus, Parliament abandoned a rational and open debate of policy choices - and their impacts upon ordinary people - that the Single European Act was set to import into UK law, in favour of short-term interests of both Conservative and Labour Parties.

In their concluding remarks:
  • Ken Clarke (36m40s) describe the expansion of the European Union following the Cold War, co-incident with the choice of those Eastern European countries to abandon socialism and adopt a reasonable form of liberal democracy with comparatively free trade.
  • David Davies (39m30) widened Clarke’s point, stating that that many European nations associate the European Union with democracy.  Having left the Second World War 1939-1945, Western Europeans quite reasonably don’t want a recurrence.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989-90, and German re-unification shortly thereafter, Eastern Europeans see the European Union as their safeguard for democracy (and, necessarily, against arbitrary government) and a form of defence against a belligerent Russia.  But Britain has no such comparable history.  In substance, Britain would lose democracy as a by-product of European integration.
  • Bill Cash (40m09) adds that the European issue therefore remains “What kind of democracy do you want?  Do you want to govern yourself, or do you want to be governed by majority vote, which quite often isn’t a majority vote, but a consensus behind closed doors?”


  • The extent to which the demos controlled government was the key Eurosceptic issue.
  • The extent to which UKGov saw itself as relevant within an integrated Europe was then, and remains, immeasurable.  It’s almost as if UKGov is in denial about the implications of the integration project.
  • The opposition - the Labour Party - chose partisan expediency instead of proper opposition to UKGov’s European policy.
  • Parliamentary chicanery triumphed over rational and open decision-making.
  • Double-standards by the Europhiles & UKGov?  To achieve “a properly functioning decision-making process”, UKGov used a general election (!) as a threat (!!) against its Eurosceptic members, to manipulate them to toe the line. (And the Eurosceptics fell for it…!)
  • If a pro-European wants to opt-out of damaging, neo-socialist regulations that exterminate a functioning labour market, then why would he feel happy to integrate politically with an organisation that makes those same damaging, neo-socialist regulations mandatory for all new applicants to the European Union, but which cannot be usefully enforced outside of Europe?
  • If we want to hold our government to account, then we need democracy in some useful form and no imposition from bodies whom we don’t elect (foreign or domestic).  But how then to resolve the conflict of democracy problem?  Case 1: for Greece v Germany, whose democracy should have the final say for bailing out Greece?  Case 2: for Switzerland v the European Commission re immigration, the Swiss voted in favour of restrictions on immigration from the European Union, but who has the greater claim to legitimacy, and why?
  • The Programme was not the forum to discuss the relevance of the European Union to global governance.  Even so, none of the contributors pointed to the unnecessary middleman that the European Union is in respect of global governance.  But global governance was happening in 1992, so why the apparent oversight at the time?
  • Déjà vu… déjà vu.

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