On last week’s BBC Question Time UKIP’s deputy leader, Paul Nuttall, presented a fantasy vision of Britain outside the European Union.
It was supposed to be his leader, Nigel Farage, to appear once again on the weekly discussion show, but apparently he got stuck in traffic (no doubt he’ll blame that on foreigners, or foreign cars, or an EU directive, or something).
So, last week it was his deputy, Paul Nuttall, who appeared on Question Time instead.
(But last night, UKIP leader Nigel Farage was on Question Time – that means that UKIP’s leader and deputy leader have been on the programme two weeks in a row. Doesn’t that seem disproportionate?)
I want to pick up on four comments Mr Nuttall, a Member of the European Parliament, said in answers to questions from the audience last week.
When someone asked him, “What will happen to the EU migrants already living in Britain if we leave the EU?” he replied:
“People who are already here will not be asked to leave. We have a heart!”
Well, UKIP may have a heart, but the thing is, they’re not in charge.
Pre or post Brexit, they will still only have one Member of Parliament. Hardly enough to form a government, let alone to dictate what will happen if Britain leaves the EU.
The former attorney general, Dominic Grieve, commented last year that if Britain leaves the EU, around two million Britons living in the rest of Europe would become “illegal immigrants overnight”.
And in today’s Telegraph, Alex Taylor, a Briton living in France, wrote that, “If Britain does withdraw from the EU, two million of us will be stranded and no longer have equal rights as the citizens of the countries we live in – overnight” (See: Expats are being frozen out on Europe)
The fact is that nobody can really say, let alone promise, what will happen with the EU migrants living in Britain, and the British migrants living in the rest of the EU, if Brexit should happen.
No EU member state has ever before left the EU, so it would be uncharted territory.
On ‘Question Time’ Mr Nuttall spoke as if his party would have a say in Britain’s Brexit terms if the referendum resulted in Britain’s departure from the European Union.
But actually, he is in no position to promise anything.
Mr Nuttall also told the Question Time audience in Bradford:
“Peace was kept by NATO, not the European Union.”
For sure NATO has helped to keep the peace from external threats. But peace among and between European nations came about primarily because of the European Union.
Above all economic considerations, no countries during their membership of the European Union have warred with one another; we’ve found peace. That’s quite an achievement, I believe, when one considers that the planet’s only, and hopefully last, two world wars originated right here, in Europe.
Furthermore, not all EU member states are even members of NATO.
Commented EU law expert, Professor Steve Peers, “The founders of the EU, when they signed the original Coal and Steel Community Treaty, said explicitly that their aim was to develop the EU in order to avoid wars between them.
“The USA has always supported the EU from the outset, as a parallel body to NATO, realising that both organisations contributed to securing peace between EU nations.”
Mr Nuttall also claimed:
“The simple fact of the matter is you don’t have to be a member of the EU to have access to the Single Market…”
Well, of course, countries throughout the world trade with the European Union. The EU is the world’s biggest exporter, and the world’s biggest importer, of manufactured goods and services.
But having full and complete free access to the lucrative internal market of the European Union – the world’s richest, biggest, most successful trading block – that’s a rather different matter.
The EU is Britain’s single most important export market – that’s unlikely to change if Britain exits the EU. However, as a member of the EU, we have free access to the single internal market of Europe. That, according to many economists, is worth considerably more than our annual EU membership fee.
It’s true that non-EU member, Norway (often referred to as ‘the Norway model’), has free access to the internal market of the EU, but in exchange, they have to make an annual contribution to the EU, and they have to accept all the rules of the Single Market.
And yet they have no voting rights and very little say in those rules.
Commented Professor Steve Peers this evening, “The EU has indeed been willing to let non-EU States sign up to the internal market, but in the form of the EEA treaty, which includes obligations to contribute to EU programmes, to apply many EU laws without having a say, and to accept the free movement of people, which UKIP dislikes.
“But UKIP’s manifesto says that they oppose the EEA – so how exactly do they think the EU will agree to internal market access without those conditions?”
Finally, Mr Nuttall claimed:
“We can have a bespoke UK deal with the European Union, we have a huge trading deficit, they need us more than we need them.”
It’s a rather arrogant stance. After all, why would the other 27 members of the EU allow Britain to enjoy membership benefits without having to pay the EU annual membership fee, or agreeing to the rules of the Single Market?
If that was to be permitted, the European Union may as well close shop tomorrow – and we all know that’s not going to happen.
I have membership to a local gym, but I think it’s highly unlikely that they would let me continue attending if I stopped paying the monthly fee. Why should it be any different with the EU?
Of the 28 EU members, only Britain is considering leaving. The other members obviously consider that the cost of EU membership is modest compared to the huge advantages. In other words, the benefits far outweigh the costs.
Also, if the other members of the European Union were so keen to keep us onside, why are they not agreeing to all of UK Prime Minister, David Cameron’s, reform agenda?
Commented Professor Peers, “Critics of the EU say that it has offered us a poor renegotiation deal. If the EU were so desperate to retain trade with Britain, why wouldn’t it have offered us a fantastic deal to stay in the EU, and retain all that trade the easy way?
“The Leave side assumes that the EU will be mean to us as long as we’re members, but nice to us as soon as we leave. That’s just not plausible.”
He added, “The EU might well be willing to do a bespoke deal with the UK in the interests of trade, but it’s unrealistic to imagine that it will be anything like the fantasy deal which UKIP imagines: with full internal market access, no financial contribution, veto of all relevant EU legislation, and no free movement of people.
“The UK will likely have to give up on at least one and probably more of those objectives. And the obvious questions are: why would the EU agree to a deal so generous that it would encourage other countries to leave?”
In summary, UKIP seems to have a fantasy, fairy-tale vision of the deal that might be available to Britain if we vote to leave the European Union. But the most important point is that, whatever UKIP might wish or hope for, they don’t have any power to deliver.
In my view, leaving the EU would be a walk into the dark. The ‘Leavers’ can’t agree on what deal might be available if we left. Even if they could agree, they can promise anything they like, but they can’t implement.
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Other stories by Jon Danzig:
- What does Brexit look like? Nobody knows
- Wrong answers on Question Time
- What Nigel Farage told British expats in Spain
- List of the latest articles by Jon Danzig
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