Robert Oulds’ book, Everything You Wanted to Know About the EU, published in 2013, is still timely and much more applicable than when first printed; I doubt whether some of its central contentions have been subsequently disproved, and we all have to welcome are some updates on the data that are probably likely to further confirm his central contentions. In fact a number of the events since 2013, especially the Syrian immigration crisis, must add more weight to his or her position. Yes, but being partisan does not disqualify you from having an informed opinion, or further from being right. The purpose of criticism is to see the object for what it is and to do that one has to understand one’s own subjectivity initially and build that into the equation. This I think Robert Oulds has admirably done; and for the integrity of the review I ought to disclose that I have known Robert for several years and respect him as a buddy.
The book contains a brief introduction and then has 7 meaty chapters covering in greater detail than most people would prefer the economic, legal, political, historic workings of the EU, especially as they relate to the UK. The names of these chapters are: A Snapshot of the EU, The Trouble with the EU, A Question of Influence, The Alternatives for Britain, Which Way Out, The Implications of Withdrawal, Alternatives to the EU, and these are followed by a Concluding chapter and a couple of useful appendices. There has been much criticism lately of the quality of the debate: that it lacks real information, real analysis, and is all about’bullet-points’ every side fires in the other. Well, if you feel that is the case, read this book. Instead of bullet points, Oulds provides chapter, verse and data on all the critical issues; farther, he also provides a balanced comment. To put this in perspective: in which the EU does benefit the UK he’s not slow in admitting it. However, with Oulds, the crucial issue is always the balance of arguments: the cost-benefit analysis Quite simply, so that in reading the book one increasingly feels that although there are a few great things about being in the EU, yet there are so many negatives too the position of staying there to any rational mind is untenable.
What, then, of some of his arguments? What have I found particularly compelling in reading this work? First, I really do like his general observations about how things operate. This is like discussing first principles. A good example occurs in chapter 2, The Trouble with the EU, when he sees:”Political unions aren’t needed for commerce; in reality from enhancing trade politics and politicians really create barriers to trade.” Are not we guilty in the UK of a double-think here? All of us know that political interference in business is catastrophic, thus the need during the past 40 years to de-nationalise numerous chronically underperforming industries; knowing that, how then is it consistent for Britain’s corporate leaders to claim business would be better in the EU, which is just not’state-run-regulated’ but’supra-state run’? When you think of this, it’s foolish: FOOTSIE 100 Chiefs asking the UK Government for less red-tape and regulation and then implying the only hope for our company and market is being in the EU. To put that in perspective, chapter 7, Alternatives to the EU, makes a telling point. Switzerland isn’t a member of the EU, but still trades with it under two bilateral arrangements. It therefore must accept – on its terms – some limitations, but as Oulds notes:”Since the beginning of 1993, when the Single Market came into being, the Swiss have adapted their legal code to bring it into line with only approximately two thousand EU legislative instruments. The U.K., along with other EU members, has however had more than 20,000 enforced from above”. If we then look at the expenses of the, as Oulds does in enormous detail, the Bilateral agreements enabled them to have access to the market at a cost to them of 550 million Swiss France’s a year; whereas if they were to have full EU membership the cost would increase to 4.9 Billion Swiss Francs – a nine fold increase. And this”excludes the expense of the inevitable growth in EU legislation”! In other words, the 18,000 legislative acts they missed since 1993 – and more because 2013!!! These figures, incidentally, aren’t made up by Oulds but according to the Swiss Federal Council’s own study included within their Europe Report.
More important than any of the foregoing, however, important as those points are, is the more general proof that belonging to the EU is a recipe for terminal economic decline. Citing the work of Professor Jean-Jacques Rosa, a French economist,”It [the EU] enforces and enhances the rents of large, older business firms and bureaucracies and freezes the hierarchical structure of both industry and political production in a moment when invention, new smaller firms, and lighter government are required. It is a recipe for accelerated decline.” Certainly, this should resonate with us? We know that entrepreneurialism depends on flexibility, innovation and vision – the exact reverse of what the EU provides us by being members.
Robert Oulds provides many more examples of where the EU works against our interests as Brits, and I’ve barely mentioned the significant sovereignty and democracy arguments. Space prohibits my outlining here, suffice to say, as one significant point that Oulds explores: the growth of the political right wing in Europe, which the EU likes to characterise itself as the champion against, is almost certainly (and especially in the 3 years since his book was published) a result of the EU: the’democratic deficit’ is being felt everywhere across Europe, and instead of creating stability and security the EU is fomenting widespread resistance to its imperialist and non-democrat diktats, resulting in extremism.
But to return the economic problem, it would be best to end on a positive note, for if we leave the EU, what choices do we have? As Oulds describes: quite a lot! He goes into fine detail the situation appertaining to various international organisations and scenarios, two of those organisations, one obscure to most of us, and one well known, hold out massive expectation for our progress and success in the wider world should we opt to leave the EU. These two businesses are EFTA, the less well known, and the Commonwealth of Nations itself. Briefly, on the former, it’s noticeable, if somewhat inconvenient to the EU, that the four European countries that are now members – Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein – have some of the highest standards of living for their populations of any countries anywhere in the world. So much for suffering by not really being in the EU. One significant statistic that Oulds cites is that in 2011 EFTA exported $189.2B value of good to the EU; the USA itself only managed $90B. This is pretty phenomenal stuff, but if we believe the Commonwealth, and also the option of re-activating that option, then what’s possible could truly amaze us.
John Cridland, former Director General of the Confederation of British Industries, said in 2001:”We have concentrated too much on Europe – we need to get out and build export markets in the rest of the world”. Currently, of course, the”UK is prevented from creating its own unique bilateral investment treaties on its own terms with Commonwealth nations, but also the EU prevents the UK from reaching trade agreements with these tigers [economies within the Commonwealth]”. Lest we forget the Commonwealth comprises”54 countries stretching across every inhabited continent on the planet; even Europe in which the UK isn’t the only member. Both Malta and Cyprus are members of the Commonwealth.” More impressively still:”The inhabitants of the Commonwealth is nearly two and a quarter billion people, approaching a third of the planet’s population, living on more than eleven and a half million square miles; nearly a quarter of the earth’s land mass. What is more, this territory is full of natural resources, which not only provide the global market with the commodities that enable growth but can also give its member states real potential.” Since Oulds goes on to observe:”Currently, the Chinese are forging links with these resource rich states; the UK’s Eurocentric orientation is making Britain lose out on the abundant opportunities overseas.” If it goes on like this, it certainly will make sorry reading in 20 years from now for the UK.
There’s much more to say about this wonderful book, but space prohibits. It is an essential book for those who genuinely wish to reach out to some of the facts underpinning this debate and to move away from fear and slander: the idea that just nutters and Little-Englanders could possibly wish to move away from our lovely Big Brother, the EU.
But I have to end on one crucial note about this book, good as it is: given the caliber of research and the citations used, the lack of an index is a major flaw; maybe a new, updated edition – timely today – will correct this otherwise amazing read.
If you would like to find out more about what motivates you, go