Comment Comment and Features

Brexit debate: We’ll be better neighbours outside a superstate

Iain Duncan Smith (PA)

I’m always a little anxious about making a Christian case for a political cause because, while our faith gives us incredibly important moral and spiritual guidance, it does not provide the kind of detailed policy prescriptions that are at the heart of election debates. And on the issue of Britain’s membership of the European Union, I know that many Catholics take a different view from me and I fully respect their sincerity. Nonetheless, within that context I’m grateful for this opportunity to explain to Catholic Herald readers why I believe that the common good would be best served by voting Leave on June 23.

First of all, leaving will recharge our democracy. At the moment a general election in Britain cannot be used to change the level of immigration, nationalise the railways, impose steel tariffs or change the way we run and regulate our farms. I wouldn’t want to pursue some of those policies, but that’s not the point. They are just illustrations of the many policy levers that are no longer in the control of the British voter because of our membership of the EU. When an increasing number of decisions are taken by central bankers, judges and bureaucrats that voters can never get rid of, it’s not surprising if faith in democracy withers and extremism grows.

And, sadly, extremism has been growing across Europe because of the retreat of democracy. When countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal gave up their currencies they handed over huge power to Frankfurt’s European Central Bank. The ECB, heavily influenced by Germany’s experience of hyperinflation in the early part of the last century, has a bias towards preventing price rises rather than stagnation. The result has been that, although Greece repeatedly voted for less austerity, the Frankfurt bank was immovable. Massive youth unemployment, unnecessarily deep spending cuts and the implosion of mainstream political parties have been the consequence.

Greece is not, of course, the only country affected by the eurozone. Forty-five per cent of young Spaniards and 37 per cent of young Italians are unemployed, and all in the name of a project that was never economically justified but European leaders saw as part of their grand ambition to form a United States of Europe. That’s not an allegation; it’s a fact. Please read what European leaders say. Matteo Renzi, Italy’s PM, could hardly have been clearer, stating: “I dream, think and work for the United States of Europe.” This is Tower of Babel grandiosity and very dangerous.

As well as abolishing national currencies, EU leaders have also sought to abolish national borders with their passport-free Schengen zone. The former head of Interpol has described the zone as a gift to terrorists, human traffickers, drug-dealers and other criminals.

Britain may not be part of the single currency area or the Schengen zone, but we are tied to an institution that will, by choice rather than necessity, devote much of its time, energy and resources over the coming years to making both work, and to finding other ways of pulling the continent towards the European founders’ dream of one political entity. The EU won’t have time, therefore, to reform its agricultural policies, which discriminate against African farmers, or its aid policies, which often support the interests of EU businesses rather than the development of poor countries.

An inward-looking EU won’t have the capacity or inclination to sign trade treaties with the fast-growing countries of the world. Even if the EU finds that inclination there’s always likely to be one of the 28 member states that will veto such an initiative. The European Economic Community only ever worked when it had a few member states. It has become too unwieldy to make decisions as quickly as world events often require.

By moving from a European Economic Community to a European Union and eventually, it hopes, to a United States of Europe, it has also moved away from the model that helped it build peace across the continent. When nations trade with each other they are less likely to fight each other, and the European project, when it was focused on being a common market, did work with Nato to bring stability in the post-war decades.

Now, however, the eurozone and borderless Schengen zone are increasing tensions between nations, rather than reducing them. I want Britain to leave the EU so that we can spend our rising membership fee on the NHS and abolishing VAT on fuel. I want us to leave so that we can control immigration. I hope that Parliament would vote for more refugees from troubled parts of the world if we also had the power to reduce the inward flow of low-skilled labour. I want us to build trading relationships with the parts of the world that are growing and therefore build long-term prosperity for every community in Britain.

Overall, I want us to be good neighbours with our European allies – I just don’t want to be unhappy tenants of the politically dysfunctional and economically declining EU. And, moreover, I hope that Brexit might even shock the EU into reforming. There is so much evidence that the voters of Europe’s great nations – if not the politicians – are as unhappy with Europe’s direction as most Britons are. If we have the courage to say no to European grandiosity, we might encourage them to do the same.

Iain Duncan Smith MP is the former secretary of state for work and pensions.

This article first appeared in the June 17 2016 issue of The Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here.