Boris Johnson: Americans would never accept EU restrictions – so why should we?

The American view is very clear. Whether in code or en clair, the President will tell us all that UK membership of the EU is right for Britain, right for Europe, and right for America. And why? Because that – or so we will be told – is the only way we can have “influence” in the counsels of the nations.

It is an important argument, and deserves to be taken seriously. I also think it is wholly fallacious – and coming from Uncle Sam, it is a piece of outrageous and exorbitant hypocrisy.

There is no country in the world that defends its own sovereignty with such hysterical vigilance as the United States of America. This is a nation born from its glorious refusal to accept overseas control. Almost two and a half centuries ago the American colonists rose up and violently asserted the principle that they – and they alone – should determine the government of America, and not George III or his ministers. To this day the Americans refuse to kneel to almost any kind of international jurisdiction. Alone of Western nations, the US declines to accept that its citizens can be subject to the rulings of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. They have not even signed up to the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Can you imagine the Americans submitting their democracy to the kind of regime that we have in the EU?

Think of Nafta – the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement – that links the US with Canada and Mexico. Suppose it were constituted on the lines of the EU, with a commission and a parliament and a court of justice. Would the Americans knuckle under – to a Nafta commission and parliament generating about half their domestic law? Would they submit to a Nafta court of justice – supreme over all US institutions – and largely staffed by Mexicans and Canadians whom the people of the US could neither appoint nor remove? No way. The idea is laughable, and completely alien to American traditions. So why is it essential for Britain to comply with a system that the Americans would themselves reject out of hand? Is it not a blatant case of “Do as I say, but not as I do”?

Of course it is. As for this precious “influence”, so dearly bought, I am not sure that it is all it is cracked up to be – or that Britain’s EU membership is really so valuable to Washington. Since the very foundation of the Common Market, the Washington establishment has supported the idea of European integration. The notable state department figure George W Ball worked on drafting the Schuman plan in 1950. He was a pallbearer at the funeral of Jean Monnet, the architect of the European project.

The Americans see the EU as a way of tidying up a continent whose conflicts have claimed huge numbers of American lives; as a bulwark against Russia, and they have always conceived it to be in American interests for the UK – their number one henchperson, their fidus Achates – to be deeply engaged. Symmetrically, it has been a Foreign Office superstition that we are more important to Washington if we can plausibly claim to have “influence” in Brussels. But with every year that passes that influence diminishes.

It is not just that we are being ever more frequently outvoted in the council of ministers, and our officials ever more heavily outnumbered in the Commission. The whole concept of “pooling sovereignty” is a fraud and a cheat. We are not really sharing control with other EU governments: the problem is rather that all governments have lost control to the unelected federal machine. We don’t know who they are, or what language they speak, and we certainly don’t know what we can do to remove them at an election.

"There is a profound difference between the US and the EU, and one that will never disappear"

When Americans look at the process of European integration, they make a fundamental category error. With a forgivable narcissism, they assume that we Europeans are evolving – rather haltingly – so as to become just like them: a United States of Europe, a single federal polity. That is indeed what the eurozone countries are trying to build; but it is not right for many EU countries, and it certainly isn’t right for Britain.

There is a profound difference between the US and the EU, and one that will never disappear. The US has a single culture, a single language, a single and powerful global brand, and a single government that commands national allegiance. It has a national history, a national myth, a demos that is the foundation of their democracy. The EU has nothing of the kind. In urging us to embed ourselves more deeply in the EU’s federalising structures, the Americans are urging us down a course they would never dream of going themselves. That is because they are a nation conceived in liberty. They sometimes seem to forget that we are quite fond of liberty, too.

There is no conspiracy. The EU is completely open about its superstate plan

Now EU chiefs are struggling to remedy the defects in that project, and they have produced a report explaining what they want to do. It is called the “Five Presidents’ Report”, and it came out last year and got rather buried in the aftermath of the general election. History teaches us that we would be mad to ignore this text. The five presidents in question are those of the European Commission, the Council, the European Parliament, the European Central Bank and a body called the “European Stability Mechanism”. They want to prop up the euro by creating an all-out economic government of Europe.

The EU referendum - in numbers

They want a euro-area treasury, with further pooling of tax and budgetary policy. They want to harmonise insolvency law, company law, property rights, social security systems – and there is no way the UK can be unaffected by this process. As the Five Presidents put it: “Much can be already achieved through a deepening of the Single Market, which is important for all 28 EU member states.” So even though Britain is out of the euro, there is nothing we can do to stop our friends from using “single market” legislation to push forward centralising measures that will help prop up the euro (or so they imagine), by aligning EU economic, social and fiscal policies.

Insofar as the recent “UK Agreement” has any force, it expressly allows these measures to be pursued, and agrees the UK will not attempt to exercise a veto. In other words we will find ourselves dragged along willy-nilly, in spite of all protestations to the contrary. So-called “Single Market” measures affect us as much as they affect the eurozone – and the question therefore is what we mean by “Single Market”. The answer is a mystery – because the single market has changed beyond recognition.

Twenty years ago there was a clear conceptual difference in the EEC between things that were done at an intergovernmental level – between member states, without the Commission, the Euro-parliament and the Court of Justice – and things that were part of the “single market”. Foreign and defence co-operation was done intergovernmentally, and so was anything to do with police, or justice, or borders, or home affairs, or asylum, or immigration, or anything to do with human rights. Then there were all the fields of EEC competence: the common trade policies, the common agricultural policy, the competition policy, environment policy, and so on.

Since Maastricht, that has all changed. Successive treaties have vastly expanded the areas in which the EU bodies operate so that there is virtually no aspect of public policy that is untouched. The EU now takes an interest in energy policy, in humanitarian aid, in education, in health, and in human rights of all kinds. There is a common European space policy. All of these policy areas involve the European Commission, the parliament, and above all the European Court of Justice. And remember – as soon as something enters within the EU’s field of competence, the Luxembourg Court of Justice becomes the supreme judicial body; and every time that happens, power is sucked away from this country.

We have seen recently how the Home Secretary has lost the power to deport murderers, or to conduct surveillance of would-be terrorists, because that might put the UK in breach of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. What has that got to do with the “Single Market”, you may ask, and the answer is nothing at all. But any clever lawyer can easily blur the boundaries: it is a short hop from a common policy on free movement of workers to a common policy on deporting terrorists.

The idea of the Single Market has become so capacious that it is a cloak for full-scale political and economic union. We now have up to half our law coming from the EU (some say two thirds); and if the Five Presidents get their way, the process of centralisation will simply continue – much of it in the name of the “Single Market”. It’s time we learnt the lesson. The federalists do mean it when they sketch out these programmes. The ratchet is clicking forwards. When you come to vote, the status quo is not on offer.