All these wish lists and demands about what Britain must secure from EU negotiations are very interesting. But hand-in-hand with negotiations on specific issues and items must go a much deeper ‘stream’ of argumentation aimed at reinterpreting the principles on which the whole EU project is, or now ought to be, based. The 20th century demanded solidarity and centralisation. The 21st century demands flexibility and decentralisation. Most forward thinking and younger generation Europeans know this perfectly well. It is not an exclusively British viewpoint by any means, although many Europeans have been looking hopefully at British circles for an intellectual lead – which so far they have notably failed to get. Negotiations without the vigorous promotion of underlying debate about the changed needs of a modern Europe in a totally transformed global and trading landscape, are going to batter up in vain against old shibboleths and stale preconceptions form a past age which themselves ought to be have been cleared away and replaced. To put it in orchestral terms, the string section may scrape away loudly but we need the deeper tones of the wind section as well to bring the symphony of European reform together and make it work.
Lord Howell, London, UK
John Mc Grath, Dublin, Ireland
It’s laughable that the Tories think ordinary British people from the provinces don’t understand how desperate they are to make sure their chums in the City never suffer the kind of oversight from Brussels that might have prevented the banks taking the UK taxpayer for a ride in 2008. The idea that a few migrants getting slightly more in benefits than they might be entitled to (in return for their contributions to the UK’s national Insurance Scheme) could possibly inflict as much damage as “the City” on your average UK taxpayer is risible.
I’m British and have worked mostly in Norway since 1989. My right to freedom of movement within the EAA has enabled me to work after the UK’s industrial base collapsed. That life for many in the UK has improved at all has far more to do with EU laws (often opposed by Tories) on things like food additives and air and water quality than anything Westminster has done spontaneously. It’s quite simple: if the UK comes out of the EU, Scotland will vote for independence, leave the UK and re-join the EU. Then large parts of the rest of the UK will seek to follow suit. What will that do to the City, when alternative financial centres are set up in competition for administering the pension, insurance and banking needs of the UK apart from the south-east?
I spent some time in Dover in 2014 and was shocked at the state of the town, that more of the “fairy dust” from the not-too-distant capital had failed to add some sparkle to the town. Speaking to some locals, I was surprised at the amount of antipathy there was towards London and wouldn’t count on the areas adjacent to London wanting to be part of a “former-UK-enclave” outside of the EU.
Jonathan Sumpton, Norway
Bill Emmott is quite correct when he says that EU-philes should stick to positive arguments and avoid spurious claims and bogus figures. Such a pity he didn’t heed his own advice in his Great European Disaster Movie. It is annoying, for example, that advocates of the EU claim its formation has prevented a third World War but never mention NATO. Or that they talk about European trade without acknowledging the effect of EU expansion on those figures.
I would like to learn which of the five candidate nations – Iceland, Macedonai, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey – will actually join the EU and which nations come next. The fiasco over Ukraine suggests the advocates of the European Project have a master plan for EU expansion whilst having no intention of sharing that plan with the people.
Leo Waldock, Cheltenham, UK
Missing the global picture
In the aftermath of Britain’s considerable commitments to Iraq and then Afghanistan, the national mood became ambivalent towards further engagements that seemingly only deliver chaos. The latest venture to have turned sour being Libya, where half-hearted interference induced chaos. David Cameron’s attitude reflects this disenchantment, he being aware that there is much more focus here on the economy and the imagined magnificence of its nationalised health service. In short, modern Britons struggle to see the world, blinkered behaviours that also lets them believe they can happily bash its productive financial sector, as if these people cannot go somewhere else. As a nation, Britain has become enfeebled by the rise of its supposed all-knowing government. It is right then that our allies should expose the British government to increasing criticism about this, all the more so because the money is there, it is just misdirected towards international aid that achieves little.
Barry Sheridan, Hampshire, UK
A nudge towards a living wage
The UK government could implement a national living wage without imposing controls on business by using its buying power to direct the market. It should stipulate that everyone (whether an employee or subcontractor) working for national and local government organisations or government-funded agencies and quangos should receive the living wage. Any company hoping to win a government contract would have to ensure that everyone working on the project and all support staff would receive this living wage, or risk losing the contract.
The UK should not be riding on the backs of the poorest in society – nor should we be subsidising businesses that win lucrative government business by topping up the earnings of their lowest paid employees with tax credits. As the biggest employer in the country responsible for billions of pounds worth of contracts, the government could effectively drive up the earnings of the lowest paid by out-competing other employers for labour.
At the same time, it should insist that all companies with government funded contracts should pay all their suppliers within 30 days. This would increase the speed with which money circulates through the economy, so stimulating growth. It would also prevent many small companies getting into financial difficulties caused by poor cash flow (the biggest killer of businesses).
Huw Sayer, Norwich, UK