Brexit was the culmination of a decades-long struggle against European political integration

Brexit was the culmination of a decades-long struggle against European political integration

How things have changed so dramatically. Back in the mid-1990s when I was Public Affairs Officer at the Eurosceptic think-tank, the European Foundation, the serious political ramifications of Britain having ratified the Maastricht Treaty two years earlier were causing deep tensions inside the Conservative Party and across the nation.

Leading Eurosceptic, Sir Bill Cash, European Foundation Chairman and Chair of the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, alongside Russell Lewis, former Director of the Foundation and the Institute of Economic Affairs, argued and warned against the massive loss of sovereignty that the Maastricht Treaty presented.

Maastricht was the engine designed to drive a faster pace of EU integration – establishing the European Union, its citizenship and amongst other centralising factors, a timetable for European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), the first phase towards the creation of a Common Defence Policy and the “common provision” of “social cohesion” by which the European Court could force Britain to accept a host of regulations that the Commission defines as “social” – despite our opt-out from the treaty’s “social chapter” – which was later signed up to and formally inflicted on British businesses by Tony Blair’s Government anyway. Unlike France and Denmark, we British were unfortunately not granted a referendum on that Treaty.

Blinkered EU officials seemed content to pursue their political project at all costs – however much it was so obviously flying recklessly in the face of economic reality and logic. Maastricht built on the political integrationist aspects of the Single European Act (SEA) that established a politically driven Single Market and Customs Union – with qualified majority voting (QMV) diminishing the veto and supranational power structures established for the unelected European Court and Commission.

The SEA had in turn given sharper teeth to the Treaty of Rome’s political union agenda. The British public had been told in the 1970s that joining the European Economic Community would incur no significant loss of sovereignty as Britain was purely joining a common market. But the politically motivated drive towards economic integration was always there, embedded in the clauses, couched alongside the obvious allure of free trade. European federalism fast emerged as code for centralisation. Brussels determines what decisions are made at the EU level – handing down what’s left to national, regional and local authorities.

Following Maastricht, despite being told by the then Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, an EU enthusiast, that we would face “Maastricht and no more”, the integrationist juggernaut continued apace with the Labour Government’s ratification of the Amsterdam Treaty. Amongst other measures, Amsterdam took power over immigration legislation, the adoption of criminal and civil laws and enacting the CFSP away from national governments, transferring it to the European Parliament.

Then came the Nice Treaty which further weakened the power of national governments by continuing to dilute the veto – extending QMV in decision-making at the Council of Ministers and removing national vetoes in 39 new areas. Moreover, Nice took the construction of the CFSP to a new level – creating special representatives and enshrining into Treaty law the idea that the Council should negotiate on behalf of all members at international meetings. The Treaty was also in part designed to make sure that all British courts were subservient to the ultimate jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice – bolstering the supremacy of European law.

And, as if all that came before wasn’t enough, the Lisbon (EU Constitution) Treaty was enacted – taking the concept of ever-closer union (subtle cover for EU centralisation) to a new level. True to form, its federalist architects decided not to call Lisbon’s “constitution” a constitution, following rejection by the French and Dutch – using their deception to secure ratification and re-run referendum approval. This Treaty further weakened the powers of national governments in the Council of Ministers by yet more dilution of the veto with QMV extended to at least another 45 policy areas.

Moreover, the EU made the QMV voting threshold especially toxic by adopting a “double” simple majority system. This device made it easier for the Commission to have its measures passed by the Council of Ministers – doing so over the heads of individual governments such as that of the UK with deep concerns about specific regulatory/legislative proposals – in situations where a simple majority of members support it, if that majority also happens to reflect a simple majority of the populations of the EU. Lisbon had also established a “legal personality” for the European Union, a President of the European Council and a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. It was full speed ahead towards the construction of a European Republic.

We eurosceptics highlighted how the EU project was politically, not economically driven and how opposing it actually made us practical euro-realists. We positively argued for European cooperation, enhanced inward and outward trade and for the EU to change direction. But the eurocrats continued to build a political superstate – a single quasi-state structure – dismissing economic reality if it stood in the way of their single minded EU integrationist agenda. They hijacked the Single Market – creating a bureaucratic machine that constantly churns out excessive streams of regulations. This served to reinforce and bolster their political influence and hasten the eventual construct of fortress EU. It did not matter to them if their overly burdensome interference made the EU globally uncompetitive – trade and commerce was always a secondary goal to their political one.

And what was supposed to be “free movement of goods, services, capital and labour” in the Single Market became the free movement of “people” instead – proof again of the superstate objective. When the European Exchange Rate Mechanism – the precursor to the single currency – collapsed, the eurocrats, instead of learning obvious economic lessons, pressed on regardless with EMU – dogmatically pursuing their political goal. The EU’s dictatorial imposition of technocratic rule on Greece was even more alarming – doing so in the name of financial discipline whilst wasting billions on so-called bail-outs to keep states locked inside the failing EMU construct. The EU’s political project was put first. The cost – vast numbers of people and economies suffering – was a price eurocrats were willing to inflict to keep their flawed single currency alive.

All seemed lost for us – the project’s fanatics kept trampling over reasoned voices. The march towards a potential implosion kept pace. The EU was looking inward – increasingly shutting itself off from the interconnected, expanding and increasingly competitive global market place outside. It was becoming more and more distant from European people – dangerously out of step with feelings of national identity and faith in close national government. The concept of nation state democracy was constantly being weakened and diluted. Britain was trapped inside an emerging European superstate that was set to become a single European country in all but name.

Then something changed. We euro-realists succeeded in securing that In/Out EU referendum – and then, against a ferocious barrage of EU propaganda and pressure, the Leave campaign won – 17.4 million British citizens and a majority in the 2016 referendum voted to take back democratic control and make Britain a self-governing nation state again. In terms of the campaign, even the IMF’s boss, Christine Lagarde, admitted that the ‘In’ campaign’s outrageous scare stories were in fact false.

So now we have an historic opportunity. Article 50 has been triggered. Britain must leave the EU. The Brexit negotiations have started. It is essential that, from this moment on, we stand firm against attempts by EU integrationist officials to try and make Brexit as difficult for Britain as they can. Political negotiations are always tough – the art is to hold your ground resolutely so that the EU comes to accept and respect your position. We must stick by the red lines that are still in place and let the EU know that they can’t undermine them through ruthless negotiation tactics.

This is a high stakes political poker game that requires Britain to be just as steadfast and determined as the EU if it is to gain ground and achieve its objectives. The European Union’s negotiators need to appreciate that we can play just as ruthlessly as they can whilst positively seeking the end goal of a great trade deal. The EU thinks that Britain will blink first – we must show that when it comes to the crunch, we won’t.