I have no doubt about the noble Lord’s enthusiasm for the European Union; it has been plain over many years.
Fourthly, we are indebted to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for an immensely powerful speech. It is for all of us to reflect long and hard on an intervention which redeemed an otherwise rather sad day.
Of the many facets of the EU debate, nothing has driven me so much as the conviction that failures of accountability are a principal cause of much of humanity’s wretchedness and pain. I have long feared that our centuries-old settlement, under which government is conducted with the consent of the people, is under threat and is in total conflict with the EU’s direction of travel. As I enter old age, I was stirred into action these last few weeks to protect my children and grandchildren from the possibility of arbitrary rule, perhaps even tyranny, if an unreformed European Union persists in turning its back on the democratic process.
Many motives have been ascribed to those who voted to leave. It would be a mistake to underestimate the sense of anger British people feel about the undermining of their democracy. I found it to be an ever-present theme during the campaign. The perception of national identity being stolen was also identified and articulated in various ways.
That brings me to the more prosaic fears I encountered. Of the many civilised, but often passionate, exchanges, I suppose the most common anxiety I met with had to do with our alleged access to the ineptly named single market. After so many years, I find it deeply shocking how many barriers there still are to trade and how damaging they are, especially to our national interest. What has become known as the single market should more accurately, I am told, be called the single regulatory zone. I continue to think of it as a customs union. Whatever it is called, it is protectionist in character and morally questionable in its impact on the poor of EU countries and even poorer citizens of countries outside the European Union.
Brussels plays host to tens of thousands of lobbyists, more than in Washington. Large multinational companies effectively purchase laws and regulations, first, to benefit themselves and, secondly, to disadvantage their smaller, often more innovative, rivals. This horrible kind of venality seems to be comfortably at home in Brussels. Perhaps a product of globalisation so much talked about is the appearance of giant organisations, whether institutions or corporations, whose very size destroys any semblance of a morality. It is a problem that we need to address, as has been said today and yesterday.
In the matter of trade, it becomes daily clearer that non-EU countries export more successfully to the EU than we do. The reason is not hard to find. The WTO tariff averages out at 3%, which compares with the cost of our membership equivalent to a 7% tariff. Our trade deficit with the EU has risen in recent months and now runs at a record £100 billion. It really is hard to see how it would be in the EU’s interest to damage this, its most important market.
Looking ahead, rather than obsessing about trade deals, why do we not just quietly and politely walk away? We might or might not have to pay the modest tariffs permitted under WTO rules until free trade agreements are in place. Or might we not explore the proposal that we unilaterally declare ourselves a free trade country? Those putting up barriers against us will soon discover that they are harming themselves more than they harm us. Surely a nation with its independence and democratic integrity restored, its identity recovered, its tradition of free trade renewed, truly internationalist in character, amounts to a vision that can inspire and unite us all.