Michael Gove

Why Michael Gove is wrong on Europe

It’s too long for a tweet, so here are some comments on Michael Gove’s statement on why he’s voting Leave. It’s full of half-truths and exaggerations and I’m amazed it’s been seen as a “flying start for leave”.

My starting point is simple. I believe that the decisions which govern all our lives, the laws we must all obey and the taxes we must all pay should be decided by people we choose and who we can throw out if we want change. If power is to be used wisely, if we are to avoid corruption and complacency in high office, then the public must have the right to change laws and Governments at election time.

EU decisions are taken by ministers of member states and the European Parliament, both of whom can be thrown out by their voters. Sure, they can’t be thrown out by British voters alone, but then the voters of Liverpool can’t throw out the UK Government on their own either.

Compare the fact that both decision making bodies at EU level can be thrown out with the role of the House of Lords in the UK.

Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out.

Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided for the most part by our politicians — only 13% of laws come from EU level. And even those that do are agreed jointly between member states. There are very few — in fact I can’t think of any — UK laws that are the result of the UK being outvoted at EU level.

In Britain we established trial by jury in the modern world, we set up the first free parliament, we ensured no-one could be arbitrarily detained at the behest of the Government, we forced our rulers to recognise they ruled by consent not by right, we led the world in abolishing slavery, we established free education for all, national insurance, the National Health Service and a national broadcaster respected across the world.
By way of contrast, the European Union, despite the undoubted idealism of its founders and the good intentions of so many leaders, has proved a failure on so many fronts. The euro has created economic misery for Europe’s poorest people. European Union regulation has entrenched mass unemployment. EU immigration policies have encouraged people traffickers and brought desperate refugee camps to our borders.

No-one is prouder of Britain’s constitutional achievements than me, but comparing constitutional reform over three hundred years to the EU’s policies in the last decade is comparing apples and oranges. You could equally say “the EU brought the former Eastern bloc into stable democratic government and entrenched free markets and open politics when states were at risk of failure. It created the largest single market in the world, and the most powerful transnational Parliament. By contrast the UK has created and is still suffering from the consequences of an outgrown financial sector, has wasted the dividend from North Sea oil and still hasn’t made significant inroads into urban poverty”.

Moreover, the accusations Gove points at the EU are less than accurate.

EU regulation has entrenched mass unemployment a lot less than national regulation — or we would be suffering from mass unemployment too, since we’re already in the EU. It’s French, Greek and Italian labour laws that do that, not EU ones.

The Euro has exacerbated those differences and caused serious economic problems in southern Europe but they are as much the consequence of poor governance and austerity policies as they are the existence of the Euro itself.

Finally, the idea that a French plumber moving to the UK (or a Brit retiring to Spain) has brought desperate refugee camps to our borders is just grotesque. The EU’s free movement is nothing to do with refugees, although we can be sure that the nastier sort of xenophobe will be deliberately confusing them over the next 120 days. I didn’t think Michael Gove would be doing it, though.

Razor wire once more criss-crosses the continent, historic tensions between nations such as Greece and Germany have resurfaced in ugly ways and the EU is proving incapable of dealing with the current crises in Libya and Syria.

These are accusing the EU of the very faults of UK isolationism. Brexit means more razor wire, the argument against the very existence of the EU (which is what Gove is making) would mean more borders not fewer. And as for Libya and Syria, perhaps the UK Government is capable of dealing with the crises, but it hasn’t shown itself to be so far.

The EU is an institution rooted in the past and is proving incapable of reforming to meet the big technological, demographic and economic challenges of our time.The EU tries to standardise and regulate rather than encourage diversity and innovation.

The EU is reforming all the time — it’s a totally different beast from the 1960s or 1980s, as is the UK Government. Is it a lean startup? No, but neither is the DWP. As for innovation, well ask Scientists for EU if the EU encourages innovation or not.

The regulation point is even more interesting. Standardisation, such as with GSM phones, can support markets and innovation by giving a common platform and preventing the creation of mutually incompatible standards. Most EU standards are developed with the industry rather than in a dark room populated only by those evil “unelected bureaucrats”, which means that they have wide support. Perhaps there are some businesses who are campaigning against the GSM standard, but I don’t see them.

Moreover, safety and other regulations are necessary no matter what level of government you are in. Gove gives examples later on of what he thinks of as comical regulations, but what is he seeking as an alternative? A Britain with no regulations? Well, “EU red tape” such as health and safety and emissions regulations might well prove quite popular with workers and voters. Many of the thousands of regulations he talks about are discussed and agreed at EU level because the alternative is discussing and agreeing them in slightly different ways in 28 member states.

we are still subject to an unelected EU commission which is generating new laws every day and an unaccountable European Court in Luxembourg which is extending its reach every week, increasingly using the Charter of Fundamental Rights which in many ways gives the EU more power and reach than ever before.

The EU Commission has the right to propose laws (and yes, this should be with the Parliament and Council as well) but they are only unelected in the way every bureaucrat in Whitehall is unelected, and no law passes without going through Council (elected ministers) and Parliament (elected MEPs). As for the Court — the point of judges is that they are unaccountable, or at least unelected.

As a minister I’ve seen hundreds of new EU rules cross my desk, none of which were requested by the UK Parliament, none of which I or any other British politician could alter in any way

Not true. Every EU law he saw could have been altered by a British minister or a British MEP.

Are we really too small, too weak and too powerless to make a success of self-rule?

This is part of his closing peroration to the glories of the UK and how successful we would be outside the EU. But this is where the whole argument falls down hardest. Being outside the EU does not mean being a success on the international stage. As people from Obama to Merkel to Turnbull are telling us from overseas, we are more internationalist in Europe, we are more powerful internationally as part of a strong Europe.

And if Gove doubts that, he should look at the people standing next to him on the Out platform. Nigel Farage, George Galloway, Roger Helmer. Are these people who want to create an open and optimistic UK; or are they not rather people who want to put up barriers, close down immigration, turn back the clock to some imagined fifties heyday?

Gove is arguing for an optimistic and outward looking Britain, proud of its heritage and making its mark in the world. I want to see the same, but it won’t happen by leaving the EU. The tragedy of Gove is that he’s arguing for a change that would make his own vision of the future impossible.

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