One final post before I put this blog to rest for a week or two – I’ll be on a retreat and, I trust, out of touch with the world!
My starting point this time: Bronwen Maddox’s interview (before an audience of 250 within the Foreign Office) with Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, in the March edition of Prospect. Richard Dawkins was, curiously, in the audience. Not always a favourite – his views on religion aren’t mine (though I read his books!) but on this occasion he pinned Hammond beautifully.
Dawkins: “On something as important as Europe why hand it over to the British people.’ (How tongue in cheek that was I don’t know.)
Hammond: ‘There speaks a true democrat – too important for the people to decide.’
Dawkins: ‘We have a representative democracy – we want politicians to make judgements on our behalf.’
And that is indeed how we avoid the excesses of populism, and rule by the popular press and an unaccountable media. Referenda are dangerous instruments: the ‘popular will’ is a fickle thing, easily roused by rabble-rousers, and the damage once done hard to put right.
Hammond, justifying his position on Europe, then commented: “What’s gone wrong is very simple. The economic benefits haven’t been materialising for Britain, so many people feel that the dynamism and entrepreneurialism of our economy has been held back by the dead hand of Brussels bureaucracy.”
Does he really believe this? To quote an article elsewhere in Prospect (by Springford and Tilford), “there is next to no evidence that EU membership is a significant constraint on the supply-side of the UK economy. For example, according to the OECD, Britain’s markets for goods and services are the second least regulated in the world.”
If we’re not reaching markets – and that is especially true compared to our European neighbours in countries outside the EU – it isn’t the EU’s fault.
Look elsewhere, Philip, and you might begin to do your job encouraging British firms to get stuck into markets round the world.
(It’s interesting to speculate on why British firms do underperform outside Europe. Two related suggestions: the size of our domestic market, and more broadly the English-language market, so there isn’t the same urgency there is for others; and a certain discomfort dealing with other countries and other languages. The world dominance of English may actually count against us.)