Blog 24th July 2002
Did I Really Want to be Here?
Way back when we were all struggling with pounds, shillings and pence, wondering what a foreign holiday would be like, repaying the wartime American loans, and enjoying a nice simple trading relationship with some of our continental friends – a group known as ‘The Outer Seven’ – along came a nice man called Edward Heath. Mr Heath smiled a lot, shook his shoulders when he laughed, enjoyed sailing, and was a talented organist. Mr Heath also became Prime Minister.
We still had a bit of an empire, a large army and the most effective navy the world had known. Rationing had ended, a lot of wartime rubble was being turned back into buildings, but we were still significantly short of cash – broke, in fact. For some reason, Britain, the essential ally that had enabled the Americans to claim to have won the war, was denied access to the Marshall Plan, a big multi-dollar hand-out, mostly given to countries who had lost the war but killed a lot of American and British soldiers in the process. But there was to be nothing for the Brits! They could just get by on warm beer, Woodbines and cheap sausages.
But plucky Edward was not going to put up with that, and he became interested in joining a big continental club called ‘The Common Market’. This seemed to be run by a tall French General called General Charles de Gaulle
‘Please can we join your Common Market? Said Edward.
Charles looked down his long nose and said ‘Non’.
Edward tried again, mentioning important events like Agincourt, Crecy, Poitier Trafalgar, and Waterloo, forgetting that these were all contests where Charlie’s chaps had come second.
Charles remained unimpressed. ‘NON!’ he shouted, and something like ‘buggeroff!’ but in classical French of course.
Edward tried again and again. He was determined that we should join because, among other things, it seemed that the Common Market was in the habit of giving money to their member countries. Charles was pretty pissed off because Mr Churchill, Britain’s wartime leader, who had snatched Charles and the remains of his defeated army from annihilation, and had given them all rent free board and lodging for the rest of the war,
before driving out their enemies and giving them back their country, had forgotten to say ‘thank you’ to Charles as he went home.
Eventually, after a great deal of begging, whinging, pleading and promising to be good, Charles agreed to allow Edward, and his new non-friend Harold Wilson, to join the club.
In fact, being a bit distracted by the need to constantly simper and beg to Charles, Edward rather lost the plot – and an election, so Harold , who had become quite excited by the prospect, kept up the pressure, and eventually Charles said ‘Oui’, and we joined.
Then a lot of interesting things began to happen. The Common Market got bigger and bigger, started changing its name and eventually, many years, and many Prime Ministers later, it became ‘The European Community (EU).’
In the sidelines, other things were happening. Harold explained that because poor French farmers needed a lot of money we would all have to pay more for our food. Twenty per cent more was bandied about but many would say the increase was much more.
‘Okay’ we said.
Then we learnt that there was a minor modification of the rules just for us – and a few Germans – whilst everybody else would get cash hand-outs, the cash had to come from somewhere, so our role was to pay it in.
‘Okay’ we said.
Then we learnt about The Common Fisheries Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy. Fundamentally, the Common Fisheries Policy meant that every other EU country could come and fish in our waters, even if they didn’t have a coastline, which meant that our waters became over-fished, and barren. There were two easy solutions to this. Firstly we had to drastically reduce the amount of fish we caught in our own waters, even if that meant scrapping most of the national fishing fleet, unemployment and disaster for coastal communities. ‘Well, it’s only fair isn’t it?’ said the EU. And then they introduced the second easy solution; they said that our fishermen were only allowed to catch certain types of fish, and if some different types of fish jumped into the nets, then they were to be taken out, shot if not already dead, and thrown back into the sea. The fishermen were then to be fined enormous amounts of money to encourage them to train their fish to do the proper thing in future. The big fines meant that they would have to sell or lay up the trawlers so they wouldn’t be able to go back to sea. Problem solved!
Meanwhile, on land the Common Agricultural Policy was off and running. This meant that French farmers, and some German ones, had to be encouraged to grow more crops and animals, so they were attracted with huge bundles of cash, which meant that big farmers got rich, and tiny ones could sit and chat all day to their two goats and a chicken whilst remaining certain of a comfortable income.
There was a small problem with this system. It meant that, in fairness, other farmers would have to have subsidies and handouts. So the EU experts went to work with their little slide rules which came up with a series of rules that meant British farmers would get some free cash – but not very much.
All this free cash served to encourage continental farmers to produce more and more. The normal rules of supply and demand mean that surpluses of any commodity would result in lower prices until the commodity became unprofitable to produce and the system then levelled itself out.
Clearly this would not do for the French farm industry, so the wise mandarins of the EU decided that the state – the EU (as it became) would buy everything at a generous fixed price. The farmers rejoiced and glugged another litre of cheap plonk to celebrate. But the buying public couldn’t afford such expensive products so they didn’t buy them. Enter a new phenomenon – butter mountains, beef mountains. wine lakes, whole tomato crops being turned into fertilizer, and other daft things. The butter mountains and possibly the beef mountains were sold to the Soviet Union for one tenth of the cost of production.
Lots of other things happened along the way. We were told that bananas had to be straight (bananas from the British West Indies were notoriously bendy.) vacuum cleaner motors were to be made less powerful so they wouldn’t work properly, French farmers introduced a new sport of burning British lorries carrying lamb carcasses through France to other destinations. French fishermen, not to be outdone, decided to blockade ports and, to make it more exciting, fire some flares at British yachties.
A lot of people in Britain were getting a bit fed up at picking up all the bills and then getting the finger if we asked for anything, so nice Mr Cameron, a Prime Minister who liked the EU a lot decided to smile benignly, and hold a referendum to ask the people whether they wanted to stay or leave the EU. He knew the chaps wouldn’t let him down, but – shock! Horror! They did! The mean-minded little swines actually voted to leave the sainted and blessed EU. Now the normal EU procedure when an election or referendum gives the wrong answer, is to hold another and another, and another, until the silly people get it right.
For some reason we didn’t do that so it is understandable that Mr Barnier, and Mr Junker and all the other important Euro-chaps are so cross. And of course we mustn’t forget
Mr Major – oh yes – who understands the proper system and is very cross that we don’t (wasn’t he a Prime Minister or something once?)
Well there we are! Nobody can really understand why we want to give up the excitement of seeing all those new rules and regulations each week, why we can happily lose the fun of paying out billions of pounds for nothing, and why we won’t miss being lectured by five presidents, dozens of commissioners, six hundred euro-MPs, thousands of officials and twenty seven governments. (which raises a question – is Luxembourg really the smallest and most insignificant country in the world?)
Silly Brits! Can’t even see where their own interests lie – and we don’t even understand the tremendous advantages of moving the whole Commission, Parliament, uncle Tom Cobley and all back and forth between Brussels and Strasbourg every few months.
Did we really invent Belgium? Oh dear.