Why on earth shouldn’t we have British ski instructors freely touting for hire, on the snows of the alps, and speaking English? Can you think of any sector of UK business or industry that imposes such restrictions? Come to that, is there any equivalent over here of the “guilds system” they have in Germany, which means they are able to restrict the number of Polish plumbers? Of course there isn’t.
I hope we give Angela Merkel a red-carpet welcome this week, when she addresses both Houses of Parliament. The German leader is a remarkable politician – she is proof that centre-Right parties can win elections, and arguably the most powerful voice in Europe. If we are going to get anywhere in our plans to reform the EU, in advance of a referendum, then we need her on our side.
So she is, in many ways, or should be – given Germany’s interest in free markets and sound budgets. But we will get absolutely nowhere in these talks if we persist in the view – peddled by the EU Commission, and picked up by certain UK newspapers and broadcasters – that Britain is somehow the problem child of the European family.
I don’t want to hear anyone bleating on about how we are always the “awkward squad” or the “backmarker” or a “bad European”. Any such assertion is demonstrable tripe. We are in a fantastic moral position to call for a better EU, to insist on a better EU, and indeed to bang our shoe on the table until they all shut up and listen – because we are the Good European. In fact, we are just about the politest, the most enthusiastic and the most law-abiding Europeans of all – and it is about time we pointed it out.
It is not just that we have coughed up for the whole malarkey – one of only two countries to be net contributors for the entire period of our membership. There is no other country that has tried so faithfully to follow the logic of the Common Market – the principles to which we signed up in 1972. We have opened up our energy markets and our water market and our transport market with a Hayekian rigour that has been imitated nowhere else.
Look at the signs on the side of those London buses: there’s Abellio from Holland, and there’s something called RATP. Do you know what that stands for? Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens. Now screw up your eyes and imagine the French agreeing to something like that – British buses on the streets of Paris! Can you see it? I thought not.
And then there was the final and most extraordinary way in which we demonstrated our European credentials – when most countries insisted on quotas and delays, the Labour government opened our borders in 2005 to millions of Eastern Europeans; which was groovy for corporate Britain, but less easy for the low-paid who happened to be here already. Germany didn’t do it. France didn’t do it. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that policy, you have to admit that it put this country in the absolute vanguard of “European integration”. Even the Belgians have just kicked out 2,700 EU nationals for failing to find work. Can you imagine our courts doing the same?
It is therefore as the best and most committed Europeans that we can now demand reform: axe the crazed Common Agricultural Policy, scrap the appalling social chapter, get rid of the EU Court’s jurisdiction on borders, police, home affairs and human rights – and above all tell the EU Commission to wake up and do what it is damn well supposed to do: make it easier for people to live, work and enjoy themselves in other EU countries.
What kind of a system is it that allows French buses on the streets of London, but forbids English ski instructors on the slopes of the French alps? I will tell you: a system that is morally bankrupt. We want reform; and if we don’t get it, and we have to leave – well, it won’t be because we couldn’t obey the club rules. On the contrary – we complied, and they didn’t.