There are 28 countries now, not nine, and the customs union has evolved into a gigantic dysfunctional superstate with its own currency, its own directly elected parliament and its own (mysterious and mainly useless) foreign policy. The institutions of the European Union regulate everything from the hours we can work to the price of our food to the width of our condoms; not forgetting whether or not we can expunge our misdemeanours from the databanks of Google (we can, says the European Court, in what may be the prelude – who knows – to a wholesale removal of all the embarrassing bits from 20th-century European history).
The so-called acquis communautaire now bulks up to 150,000 pages of law. The EU institutions have vastly increased in power since we joined in the mid-Seventies, with more and more votes taken by a majority, and with Britain now accounting for only 8 per cent of the weighted voting system.
Ours is a country that prides itself on being the home of democracy and the mother of parliaments. It is incredible that our leaders have never once had the guts to put these changes to the people – despite the many opportunities to do so. We have had the treaties of Maastricht, Nice, Amsterdam, Lisbon – and while plenty of other European countries have invited their electorates to ratify these pacts, the British people have been deemed to be somehow too rude and undisciplined to have a say.
So I find it utterly amazing that we are now approaching the climax of this so-called Euro-election campaign, yet there has been hardly a mention of this central question: the democratic question, the only question worth asking. After almost four decades as members of this club, do you want to stay in? Do you want reform? Or do you want to come out?
There is only one party that is seriously offering you any options at all. The Labour party makes no mention of a referendum in its leaflets, because it would only allow the British people to speak if there were to be “further transfers” of sovereignty – as if there had not been enough already. That means there will be no referendum under Labour.
The Lib Dems are total federalists, and think that everything emanating from Brussels is basically terrific. There will be no referendum if the Lib Dems have anything to do with it. I am not sure of the Green position, but I think it is roughly the same and is in any case irrelevant. Then there is Ukip, and their general demand that we leave the EU yesterday – a stipulation that they have absolutely no hope of turning into reality.
There is only one party with any hope of both forming the government of this country and giving the people the debate and the vote we are crying out for – and that is David Cameron’s Conservative Party. There is a chance now for the British Government to lead the reform of the EU, and to capture the support of millions of people around the entire continent.
Why is it that we are seeing this upsurge of anti-European parties across the EU? Because the euro has been a disaster, of course; but the problem is not only a function of the euro. Growth and employment in Europe is now consistently lower than in the US and in Asia; and indeed, growth in the heart of the EU is consistently lower than in Britain. Over the years 1980 to 2012, the six original signatories of the Treaty of Rome grew at a mere 1.6 per cent, while even the UK grew at 2 per cent.
We should go into those renegotiations with a clear agenda: to root out the nonsense of the social chapter – the working time directive and the atypical work directive and other job-destroying regulations. We should kill the remainder of the Common Agricultural Policy and the external tariffs. We should insist on a proper free market in services of the kind in which this country excels, not just in our own interests, but in the interests of the whole EU. If we fail to get what we want, then we should recognise that the cost of leaving – political and economic – is much lower now than it was 40 years ago.
It is only the Conservatives who are offering this real prospect of change; and so I say to all those toying with another self-styled Euro-sceptic party, whose MEPs notoriously slumber and snore through Strasbourg debates: You kip if you want to – the Tories are giving us the first chance to vote on Europe in my adult lifetime. That matters a great deal, and it would be an utter disaster if we were to miss this chance by inadvertently ushering Miliband into power.
Say no to no say!