Richard North, 18/02/2014  

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A singular lie, perpetrated by EU Commissioner Viviane Reding yesterday in Cambridge, is that there is an "independent-minded" debating culture in this country. We don't debate issues here. Mainly, we indulge in a series of "man-in-pub" shout-ups, where the dissenting voices are cowed into silence and the bovine, herd view prevails.

It is either pretence on the part of the Commissioner, therefore, or a reflection of her profound ignorance, that she professes to be astounded that "the most important questions we are faced with in Europe are debated so very differently in this country". "As soon as the issue of the United Kingdom's relationship with the European Union is raised", she says, "a strange reflex seems to kick in, pushing the public debate away from the facts".

There should be no surprise, therefore, that her speech, highlighted by Witterings from Witney goes on then to offer a fact-free perspective of the UK's membership of the EU, tinged with lies and distortions.

Reding starts by asserting that she believes the UK should be "a central part of the European Union", something we are not and never will be. The institutions occupy that space and, where there is a national interest, it will always be dominated by the Franco-German "motor of integration".

Nevertheless, she tells us that, "we have been seeing over the last couple of years, is a sense that the UK is gradually, inexorably drifting away". As other countries, in particular the members of the Eurozone, have integrated much more strongly, she says, "the UK has remained apart".

Now, if we are to believe the commissioner, the UK "is preparing to loosen its ties to the rest of Europe in a number of policy areas". "Will it sever them in the coming years?", she asks, adding, "I sincerely hope not ... It is not inevitable". 

The heart sinks, though, as the Commissioner goes on to recite "the hard facts" as to why "it is in the UK's national interest to remain part of the EU".

"The UK benefits enormously from EU membership, both economically and politically", she says. "The CBI estimates that 4 to 5 percent of British Gross Domestic Product (GDP) can be attributed to the fact that it is a member of the European Union. And that each British household would be £3,000 worse off each year if the UK was outside the EU. This country conducts half of its trade with the EU".

So there we are. The Commissioner's idea of "hard facts" is to recite a tendentious propaganda exercise carried out by the CBI, full of false assumptions and questionable arguments. Goebbels could not have done better.

Then follows the big lie. "EU membership brings British companies the biggest prize: unfettered access to the single market of more than 500 million people … yada, yada, yada". The EU's clout allows it to negotiate valuable trade deals with other trading partners around the world – opening up a plethora of further markets for British businesses.

Never mind EFTA/EEA and quietly forget that both Iceland and Switzerland have been able to sign a trade deal with China, a feat that has eluded the EU. Because, as President Barroso also rightly said, "size matters", we must throw in our lot with the EU.

Now comes the money quote, for the news agencies, to be repeated mindlessly as a space-filler by hundreds of local papers up and down the country.

"Leaving our powerful trading bloc would severely restrict British companies' access to this goldmine – and make the UK a much less attractive trading partner for third countries. The example of the financial services sector demonstrates this very clearly".

As this point, the technique is to throw in a few statistics, so Reding obligingly tells us that the sector employs more than one million people and provided over 10 percent of the government's tax receipts. And the City would most definitely lose its unhindered access to the single market in the case of an exit.

Because EU member states would obviously have no interest in supporting what would then be an offshore financial centre competing with their own financial firms. And companies from third countries would find London a much less attractive location to do business, since it would no longer be a gateway to the EU's single market.

So much for the boiler-plate, but no speech would be complete without a reference to the Norwegians. Says Reding: "It's difficult to see why the other Member States would grant the UK unfettered access to their markets without requiring it to apply the EU’s rules. The equation would be simple – the more EU rules you apply, the more access to its market you will get".

This is the hard truth, Reding says. Some Eurosceptics argue that the UK would be leaner and meaner on the outside, rid of all that alleged red tape imposed by the EU. After Britain's exit, access to the EU Single Market would be negotiated, this time at an advantage. Focus could shift to trade with other parts of the world. Maybe the Commonwealth could be revived.

So many ideas, so many lazy assumptions that are more often than not "fatally flawed", to use the words of the think tank, the Centre for European Reform. First, to get access to the Single Market, you have to apply its rules.

And that, in terms of debate, is as far as you get. It really doesn't matter how much the little people write on the source of regulation, and the dynamics of global trading rules, or the effects of globalisation. The little people are not allowed any part in the debate. Their role is to listen to their betters spouting their mantras.

Yards of extruded verbal material then follow, before Reding delivers the ultimate insult to our intelligence, such that it is, telling us, "the debate in this country about the UK's place in the EU is distorted". "All that talk about opt-outs, renegotiations and referenda distracts from the real issue", she declares.

"Unfortunately, the debate is distracting from the real challenge in the relationship between the UK and the EU. And it is even inflicting wider damage by holding back our Union as a whole. We don't need this".

"What we need", she says, "are great ideas and solid arguments about how we can strengthen the EU and make it more competitive on the world stage. What we need is to push for valuable policies: creating a real single market in services, strengthening small and medium sized enterprises, boosting free trade with other parts of the world".

That is the really chilling part of the speech. This woman, representative of the ruling class in Brussels, is coming over here to tell us to put up and shut up. There is no concealment here. Forget talking about whether we should be in the EU, she is saying. We should be talking about how to make the EU "greater".

Here also are revealed the tactics of the Commission. They complain bitterly that the "debate" is "distorted" and then ladle in their own distortions, represented as the "hard truth". This is followed by an attempt focus the discussion elsewhere. No one else is entitled to argue the point. 

The media and the bovine herd will comply, and the truth flies out the window. It has no place in the Commission's scheme of things.

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