DCB’s letter in the FT – Read it in full here

14th December 2012 – In a published letter to The Financial Times. David Campbell Bannerman MEP responds to Jonathan Powell’s article.

Britain may be revitalised outside the EU

From David Campbell Bannerman MEP.

Sir, In querying alternatives to EU membership, Jonathan Powell (“Out of Europe, Britain would be a weak tax haven”, December 12), contradicts his old boss, Tony Blair, who accepted that: “Of course Britain could survive outside the EU … [and] probably get access to the single market as Norway and Switzerland do.”

Mr Powell grossly exaggerates the “power and influence” we have in the EU. If Norway had a commissioner and a few MEPs it would hardly outweigh its influence as a self-governing sovereign entity.

Norway is the richest country per head in the world, partly because it didn’t join the European Economic Community when Britain did and put its resources into a £200bn sovereign wealth fund, not EU coffers. It may groan about EU sausage machine legislation, but it’s doing well. Three-quarters of Norwegians want to stay outside the EU, and Swiss support for joining is a derisory 15 per cent.

Nor is Switzerland having major EU difficulties – it remains the EU’s fourth-largest trading partner despite its size.

Why, too, does Mr Powell scoff at the Commonwealth when India’s middle class alone will be 600m in 2050 – larger than the EU – and when the Commonwealth’s gross domestic product today outstrips the EU’s? Tata’s Jaguar Land Rover is a harbinger of the future not the past, exporting globally.

What Mr Powell overlooks is that Britain is the EU26’s largest single trading partner. We import £3bn per month more than we export to the EU: they need us more than we need them. What a shame someone so senior is so disparaging about his own country. We now export more to the rest of the world than to the EU. Only 9 per cent of our economy is dependent on EU trade – in contrast to Norway’s 30 per cent and Denmark’s 37 per cent. Yet the other 91 per cent of our economy is increasingly overregulated – helping to take the EU from 36 per cent of world GDP in 1980 to a projected 15 per cent, worse case 12 per cent, by 2020. Much acquis legislation – costing Britain £118bn annually – could be stripped out to revitalise our economy.

I, as an MEP, cannot much “influence” the system: I cannot introduce any legislation myself, I am constantly outvoted by compromising power blocks, and real power resides with the commission. The UK has just 8.4 per cent of EU voting power. Meanwhile, the council is fast losing veto powers: 63 vetoes went under Lisbon, 133 vetoes since Labour gained power in 1997.

I deal with EU free trade agreements on the International Trade Committee: we, too, could have an acceptable FTA as the EU’s largest customer, while negotiating better UK trade deals via the European Free Trade Association.

I fear polished technocrats such as Mr Powell favour the EU because it’s run by fellow technocrats at our democratic expense: unelected commissioners put two EU placemen in to run Italy and Greece. It avoids all that messy election stuff.

No, it’s time to trust the British people, give them all the facts and let them decide. I fully support the prime minister in offering a referendum, one which includes the option of leaving the fast-emerging EU political union.

David Campbell Bannerman, Conservative, East of England