Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Writing in the Daily Telegraph Peter Lilley explains why, despite his respect for David Cameron, he has decided that it would be safer for Britain to leave than to remain in a European Union which has resisted all serious reform and is on the path to creating a full Political Union of which we do not wish to be part. His decision was taken after discussion with the Prime Minister and considering the views of constituents and supporters.


    Only by quitting the European Union can we regain full control of our laws, money and borders

    Peter Lilley – Telegraph article 12 February 2016

    When David Cameron invites you into No 10 to discuss your concerns he can be immensely persuasive. His courtesy and frankness are disarming; his grasp of detail, impressive. Last time he persuaded me to shift my position on bombing Syria.  I hoped on Tuesday he would overcome my concerns about remaining in a largely unreformed EU.

    In 1975 I campaigned to remain in – and made the beautiful Secretary of ‘Keep Britain in Europe’ my wife! I did an apprenticeship in France, have a holiday home there, chaired a small German company, worked in the Netherlands and Belgium, and speak French.  So I love Europe – but not the EU, without fundamental reform.

    Some have suggested the largely inconsequential outcome of David Cameron’s negotiations means he is a closet Europhile or a weak negotiator. He convinced me that neither accusation is true. He is our most euro-sceptic Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher’s last term and a determined negotiator. The insubstantial outcome reveals all the more powerfully the intransigence of the EU establishment.

    I am a gradualist by temperament – not one of those content with nothing less than immediate and complete restoration of sovereignty.

    Britain lost powers, way beyond those needed to run a common trading area, in a series of salami slices. So I accepted that from within the EU we could only hope to get powers back bit by bit.

    I hoped the PM could start that process but knew it would be difficult. It would mean abrogating the doctrine that once a power has been transferred to the EU it can never return to a member state.  That doctrine (not “ever closer union”) has driven the process of European integration. So it is held tenaciously by the European Commission.

    To reverse that ratchet required two things. First, create a precedent by getting some modest powers back. Sadly, the Prime Minister was unable to get back a single power previously conceded to the EU – nothing from the Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon Treaties – against which we voted. 

    Second, whenever the process of integrating the Eurozone involves directives or treaty changes requiring British consent, use the leverage that gives us to insist on devolving more powers to the UK. Unfortunately, the draft agreement pledges that the UK “shall not impede the implementation of legal acts directly linked to the functioning of the euro area”.  That would mean throwing away our trump cards.

    I understand that wording may be watered down. But without a single precedent for returning powers and with our leverage in doubt, Britain remains vulnerable to the ratchet. Each new directive, regulation and Court ruling will leach power irrevocably from Britain to Europe.

    Viewed overall, what would Britain’s position be if the UK electorate decides to remain in the EU on these slightly modified terms? Clearly we have abandoned the “heart of Europe” strategy. If that meant paying enthusiastic lip service on the continent to the European Project, the very existence of which we denied at home – so much the better.  Supporting measures we did not want so as to win influence to prevent them happening was never a credible strategy.   We have voted against 72 EU measures and lost every time.

    Instead we would be adopting the “appendix of Europe” strategy. The appendix is the one bit of the anatomy, left over from evolution, which serves no function. Likewise, our membership no longer serves any function in a body whose primary purpose (political union) we reject, whose main projects (the Euro and the Schengen Area) we are not part of, whose laws we find onerous and whose economic attractions have turned into economic costs.

    The alternative is to leave. That was not my initial position. Given my preference for gradualism, I was concerned whether it might involve disruption. But closer study convinces me that it can be done smoothly. There are plenty of precedents for countries leaving far closer unions than the EU – Ireland leaving the UK, Dominions like Australia, Canada and India acquiring independence. I asked President Klaus whether splitting Czechoslovakia in two was long and difficult.  He replied “simpler than you think – dividing our monetary union took a weekend, separating our countries, a bit longer”. 

    First we should adopt existing EU law into UK law: we would then be free to amend them in due course. Next, under the ‘principle of continuity’ in international law, we would accede to most EU trade and other treaties on existing terms.  In the unlikely event the EU refused a trade agreement, we could ensure our export trade was unaffected by using the savings on our EU contribution to reimburse the tariffs exporters would otherwise face, still leaving £4billion to spare. We could make our own trade deals – far easier to negotiate bilaterally than for all 28 EU member states to agree which is why the EU has negotiated fewer than Chile. As the Minister who implemented the Single Market, I believe membership brings little further benefit but exposes us to ever more regulation.

    I respect David Cameron’s views and sincerity as I believe he does mine. Maybe he failed to convince me because I have heard too many assurances that European political integration has peaked or that Britain has erected barriers to it – only to see the tide flood in and the barriers washed away. Only if we leave can we regain control of our laws, our money and our borders.