Tuesday 25 September 2007

On the rocks

Why was there a run on Northern Rock? Because the Bank of England announced that it was providing it with emergency support. Predictably enough, this had the same calming effect as a pilot telling his passengers that the engines have failed.

Why could Governor Mervyn King not sort the problem out quietly behind the scenes? Because, he says, the European Union’s Market Abuse Directive forbad him from doing so.

What happened when Chancellor Alistair Darling first urged calm? The rush for the emergency exits turned into a stampede. Most commentators attributed this to our loss of trust in politicians, so that we are inclined to believe the opposite of anything they say.

This is a desperate state of affairs. But our leaders have brought it upon themselves by lying to us. Frankly, I don’t know how any of them can keep a straight face when they trot out that line about the EU Reform Treaty being a completely different document from the Constitution, and therefore not requiring the referendum every major party promised at the last election.

They lied about Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, though that could have been a spectacular failure of intelligence rather than a deliberate attempt to deceive. What is certain is that they have been lying about Europe for more than 30 years, since Ted Heath first proclaimed that there would be “no essential loss of sovereignty” in joining the then Common Market.

In every headline issue of the last few weeks, from Northern Rock to foot and mouth disease, we find that real authority rests not with our elected Government but with Brussels. Our only contribution seems to be taking absurd rules and regulations and making them even worse.

The prime example usually cited here is the spectacular mishandling of the farm payments scheme in England, but I think an even better illustration is Home Information Packs (HIPs). These are required to comply with yet another EU Directive on Energy Performance Certificates. As usual, we have managed to make this even more complicated than the EU prescribed.

It was only in May that then Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly was forced to make the humiliating announcement to Parliament that the introduction of HIPs was not going ahead as planned. The word “fiasco” was widely used, and many pundits pronounced the scheme dead. Yet it is already in place for properties with three or more bedrooms.

That’s how anything driven by the EU works. It has no reverse gear. No matter how unpopular or unnecessary a proposal may be, it will be brought back endlessly until resistance is worn down.

Why won’t our political leaders come clean with us on why are tied up in this corrupt, anti-democratic and unaccountable Union? They talk about prosperity and jobs, which had some credibility when the British economy was on its knees in the 1970s, but won’t wash today.

Whenever I’ve argued Euro-enthusiasts into a corner, they usually admit that the economic arguments are bogus and that it’s really all about peace. They say that the EU has preserved it for 50 years. (Untrue: NATO did that.)

It seems to me to take an excessively gloomy view of the German character to believe that the only way to stop the Panzers once again rolling into Poland and France is to allow them to throw their weight around as the biggest player in a new country called Europe, which incidentally fulfils many of Hitler’s most cherished dreams.

But if that really is the reason, and if our acceptance of it is based on an assessment that Britain cannot hope to defend itself against a united Continent, then for heaven’s sake just tell us that. We are grown-ups. We can take it.

Though we might question the wisdom of spending billions on updating our nuclear deterrent, when all essential aspects of our independence have already been surrendered.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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