Tim Congdon (?The Dawning of a New Europe?, The Spectator 19th April 2003) rightly points out that there is a pressing need ?for the UK to reassess the economic case for European involvement?. And by ?European involvement? he means membership of the European Union.
A couple of weeks back, Minister for Europe Dennis MacShane revealed in an answer to me in the Commons Chamber that no analysis of costs and benefits of membership of the E.U. has been undertaken since 1997. Even that analysis was restricted to the economic effects on Britain of European enlargement.
But a more recent analysis performed by the U.S. Government rather backs up Tim Congdon?s assertion that we would have lost nothing had we not joined the European Union. Indeed, they go further. They claim that given Britain?s membership of the World Trade Organisation which gives us access to European markets anyway, far from benefiting us, our membership of the E.U. actually costs Britain $45 billion annually. Or to put it another way, taking all the direct and indirect benefits into account, the cost is equivalent to our Government opening and staffing 100 brand new district hospitals each year! Waiting lists would be a thing of the past.
Can this be true? We just don?t know. Back in the 19th century, Oscar Wilde revealed there is a love that dare not speak its name. I can now reveal an even greater secret: the cost that dare not speak its name. The cost ? or benefit – of our membership of the E.U. Surely we have a duty to analyse this? What plc would join an association or contract to an organisation such as a bank and then utterly refuse to revisit this decision from time to time by analysing the associated costs and benefits? Yet UK Governments do just that. They adamantly refuse to assess the overall effect of E.U. membership in a fast changing world.
Nothing is for ever. Alliances come and go. It is anachronistic to claim at a time when phone calls to America are cheaper than to France, an email to Sydney is free, and UK companies are the biggest investors in the United States and vice versa that geography alone should dictate our economic destiny. By the end of the 20th Century, compatibility in language, law and heritage was already determining trading patterns in free markets: not political or mere geographical considerations.
A future Conservative Government ? if not this Labour one ? should pledge itself to undertake a full economic analysis of our E.U. membership and publish the results. Europhiles convinced of the rightness of E.U. membership should have nothing to fear from this. If it turns out that the U.S. have got it wrong and we do benefit from our membership, I shall be both surprised and delighted. I welcome European enlargement with the eastern European’s pro U.S. stance; it counters French and German hostility. But at a time when the 10 new members of the E.U. will be draining still more British taxpayer?s money for agricultural support and the Convention on Europe is threatening a pan-European foreign policy and army, such an economic analysis won?t come a moment too soon.