“Let’s opt-out of everything except the single market” say some Tories:

  • Why?
  • What are these things?
  • Why on earth should we opt out?

Leave aside the fact that most EU legislation is actually about common rules for the common market (and includes most of what the eurosceptics least like, but never mind), what are the other things that the EU does?

Police & Justice cooperation

The police, the legal profession, the CPS, the security services and European allies all think this is mad. Opt-out would make cross border justice slower and more expensive. It would mean leaving Europol and Eurojust, which are led by the UK, and the European Police Training college, which is in the UK. It would give gangsters an incentive to locate in Britain if we were the one country from which extradition could be avoided. We could no longer get back terrorist suspects in the same prompt way as we got back the London bomber.   If there are problems (eg Polish courts using the European Arrest Warrant for trivial cases), better to reform the particular piece of legislation than to walk out entirely.

Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

There is just one thing that would be more expensive than a common agricultural policy:  – 27 separate agricultural policies in a single market!  France would give its farmers even greater subsidies, others would be forced to match it to keep their farmers in business, there would be huge wrangles about state aids and unfair competition….. far better to keep on reforming the CAP: it has already declined from over 70% of the EU budget towards 30%, the wine lake and the butter mountain have gone, environmental objectives are being built into it. More needs to be done, but we will achieve more by helping a Europe-wide reform than we can achieve by leaving.

Fishing policy

Fish have an unfortunate habit of swimming from one country’s waters to another.  Any attempt to avoid over-fishing (which is the main problem) by unilateral action is doomed to failure. It could make things worse as, without the UK, the others could increase quotas for juvenile fish in their waters before they swim into UK waters (which is the case for some species).  This is a clear example of where multilateral reform within the EU can produce far better results than unilateral opting-out.

The Social Chapter

This is considered by other countries to be part and parcel of the common rules for the common market. It involves some minimum standards (not very many, and very few recent ones) in the field of employment law and social affairs. Other Member States are not going to allow Britain to compete in the single market according to a different set of rules on such matters.

The single piece of legislation that has caused the most controversy is the working time directive. This is not actually part of the social chapter. It was adopted during the John Major government with Britain abstaining in the Council of ministers.  In any case not a matter of Britain against the rest: rather, it is a political division with voices for and against it within countries. In Britain, most trade unions, much of the medical profession, some women’s organisations and the Labour Party support it. It is a classic political division, not Britain versus everybody else, and can be changed if political majorities change (it does not need unanimity)!

Regional Policy

Part of the deal in creating a Europe-wide market was to help those regions that benefit less. Britain’s poorer regions are also supported through the European structural funds. Proposing that Britain unilaterally opt out of this and finance its own regional policy would simply mean we do not get any share of the European funding in this field – unless we are to persuade everybody else to abandon this policy or change it completely.

Erasmus Student Exchange Scheme

making it possible for students to study at universities in other member states as part of their main studies in one member-state is one of the most popular things that the EU does. Leave everything except the single market would make British students and universities ineligible. Again, why? What on earth is wrong with this?


Also part and parcel of having a common market with no internal tariffs.  It also gives us extra clout when negotiating with third countries: China, USA, Japan, India, Brazil, Korea, etc.  The EU as a whole has the leverage to open these markets for our benefit.

Foreign Policy Cooperation

For years this is something that Britain championed. With France, the only other permanent member of the UN Security Council, we have led this policy. A Briton heads the EU’s External Action Service. It gives us extra diplomatic leverage across the world.


co-operating on defence and security issues, especially in a time of tight budgets, is considered important by all member countries. Even the Eurosceptic “Fresh Star” group of Tory MPs think it would be wrong to leave defence policy cooperation and the European defence Agency.

“Deepening of the Eurozone must be balanced by a shallowing of the rest”

The most ludicrous argument is the one that says that, because the Eurozone is deepening its integration, Britain should therefore loosen its ties in other areas.

Because those countries sharing common currency have decided that they need to do more together to manage that currency, why on earth should it mean that Britain should cooperate less in, say, police cooperation?



Even announcing a referendum could jeopardize inward investment into Britain.  So what arguments are used to justify it?

“No-one under 55 has ever had a say on belonging to the EU”

If the only way to have a say on an issue is to have a national referendum on it, then none of us have had a say on anything much!  We have never had national referendums on joining NATO, WTO, the UN or any international structure, nor on any domestic policy issue, because we have a parliamentary system providing for detailed scrutiny by our elected representatives.

Such questions are rarely a simple yes/no, but to do with terms and conditions which are constantly renegotiated and change.

The main political parties have always had different views on the EU since we joined and this has featured in general election campaigns, just as other issues do.

And we also have specific elections on Europe every 5 years when we elect our MEPs.

“We were told that we were only joining a free trade zone”

Not true. We left a free trade zone (EFTA) to join, because we felt free trade was not enough.

The Wilson government, setting out its reasons for applying in 1967, stressed that:

“Europe is now faced with the opportunity of a great move forward in political unity and that we can – and indeed we must – play our full part in it”

The Wilson Government White Paper pointed out that membership involved European law


“direct internal effect … designed to take precedence over the domestic law of the Member States”.

The Heath Government’s 1971 White Paper on joining spoke of the aims of:

“an ever closer union among European peoples”, and said: “If the political implications of joining Europe are at present clearest in the economic field, it is because the Community is primarily concerned with economic policy. But it is inevitable that the scope …. should broaden as member countries interests become harmonised. That is the Community’s clear intention… But we shall be joining at a moment when we will be able to influence the process of development. This will also be true of progress towards economic and monetary union”.

It underlined that:

“what is proposed is a sharing and an enlargement of individual national sovereignties in the general interest,” and “a Europe united would have the means of recovering the position in the world which Europe divided has lost”.

More specifically on Economic and Monetary Union, this was fixed as a target for “completion not later than December 31st 1980” at the Hague Summit in 1972 – before we joined, but with the then UK Government participating in the summit and agreeing to it. Of course, it took somewhat longer than anticipated, which shows that moves to monetary union were not a sudden decision, but long considered.

Finally, it is worth looking at the statements sent to every household prior to the referendum on membership in 1975.

  • The Government’s statement explained that this was “probably the most important choice that the British people have ever been asked to make”. No small trading matter, then!
  • The main thrust of the “No” campaign statement was that this was about “the right to rule ourselves”.


So, how did we get to this point?

(“An organised minority is a political majority” – a leading Eurosceptic MEP)


In every general election, parties with a manifesto hostile to the EU have failed to win majorities.

So Euroscepticism may not be as deep as some people think.  None the less, superficial scepticism is spread by the media and by certain politicians.

From the Levenson Inquiry:

(Volume II, Part F, Chapter 6 (

.”.. At various times, readers of these and other newspapers may have read that ’Europe’ or ’Brussels” or ’the EU superstate’ has banned, or is intending to ban kilts, curries, mushy peas, paper rounds, Caerphilly cheese, charity shops, bulldogs, bent sausages and cucumbers, the British Army, lollipop ladies, British loaves, British made lavatories, the passport crest, lorry drivers who wear glasses, and many more. In addition, if the Eurosceptic press is to be believed, Britain is going to-be forced to unite as a single country with France, Church schools are being forced to hire atheist teachers, Scotch whisky is being-classified as an inflammable liquid, British soldiers must take orders in French, the price of chips is being raised by Brussels, Europe is insisting on one size fits all condoms, new laws are being proposed on how to climb, a ladder, it will be a criminal offence to criticise Europe, Number 10 must fly the European flag, and finally, Europe is brainwashing our children with pro-European propaganda!”

Believing any single one of these myths would be enough to put people off the EU!

But more serious myths are also regularly propagated. The Eurosceptic narrative is based on repeating lies and half-truths until they become accepted as given.  Here are some examples:

 “The EU is becoming a centralised super-state”

The EU can only deal with the subjects laid down in the Treaties. These can only be extended

with the unanimous consent of each and every national parliament, including our own.

Even within these limited areas, any EU legislation must be approved by the Council of ministers. This is composed of members of all national governments, accountable to national parliaments. As an additional safeguard, EU legislation is also scrutinised and amended by the European Parliament, whose members are directly elected.

The system is not centralised, nor is there any danger of that happening. The key gut issues of

politics (the health service, education, social security, pensions, housing, income tax, local

government, most aspects of crime and punishment, devolution, and so on) remain national

issues, settled in national elections and subject to legislation by our national parliament.

The facts prove it. The EU budget is a mere 2% of public expenditure – the remaining 98% is

national or local. The central administration – the EU Commission – is tiny, with fewer employees than Leeds City Council.   Some superstate!

“The EU is drowning us in red tape by adopting too much legislation”

Common rules for the common market can be an exercise in simplification, cutting red tape.

For businesses, replacing 27 sets of disparate and often conflicting national regulations with one common European-wide approach has been a huge exercise in cutting costs.

Example: a small company can now register a trade mark once, valid across Europe, instead of going through 27 national procedures with different forms, fees and bureaucracies.

Lorries taking British exports to Italy used to have to take over twenty different forms to be examined and stamped at each frontier, with hours of queuing. Now a single form (and not needing systematic checks at every border) is enough.

And remember – EU legislation is not “imposed by Brussels”, but adopted by ministers from national governments in the Council of ministers. It is not out of the blue, but normally to harmonise existing national legislation where it is contradictory or divergent.

“The EU is undemocratic and is run by bureaucrats”

No, the European Commission only has the power to propose, and to carry out what has been

agreed. All decisions on policy and European legislation are taken by the Council – composed of

the elected governments of the Member States – and the European Parliament – composed of

directly elected MEPs. All legislation must first be sent to national parliaments, who have an eight week period to mandate their minister before the Council starts work on it. No other international organisation has this level of scrutiny.

“The European Court imposes laws on us”

No, it doesn’t. European Court judges are appointed by the governments of the Member States

(not by the Commission). They rule on disputes referred to them concerning the interpretation of existing European laws, but they have no law-making powers.

As one former (British) President of the Court said: “the judges do not take political decisions, but they must sometimes remind politicians of what they have agreed”.

In fact, the Court is essential for ensuring that everybody abides by what they have signed up to. If a country fails to stick to its agreements, like France did over British beef, it can be taken to court – something that does not exist in most international organisations and makes the EU special.  It is indeed this legal system that has ensured that EU countries now accept British beef whereas, for instance, the overwhelming majority of Commonwealth countries do not – but in the latter case there is nothing whatsoever we can do about it.

[And the EU Court is not the same thing as the European Court of Human Rights: separate organisation, different Member States, other rules. Not the EU.]

“Across Europe, the EU has ignored referendum results and pressed ahead regardless”

There have been 33 referendums in EU Member States on accession or on new treaties: 28 have been in favour and 5 against.  Those in favour have usually been by large majorities (19 out of the 28 with more than 60% in favour, of which 9 with more 70% or more, 5 with over 80%). Of those against, only 2 were defeated by more than 54%.

Two of the rejections caused the treaty concerned to be abandoned.  In the other three cases, as only one Member State had rejected, the country concerned asked to clarify or adjust the package and put it to a second vote where it was approved by large majorities. Not to have done so would have thwarted the democratic approval by every other Member State.

In the case of the European Constitution, over two-thirds of Member States ratified (two by referendum), but when France & Netherlands rejected it, it was abandoned and Member States reverted to amending the pre-existing treaties, rather than replacing them with a constitution. In the four referendums held on it, overall more people voted for than against.

Every treaty has needed unanimous ratification by each and every one of the democratic countries that comprise the Union.

“Trade is all we need”

A common market needs some common rules. Otherwise it is, at best, fragmented, at worst, unfair and with countries setting different rules to squeeze out British products.

That is why the EU has common regulatory standards on issues such as consumer rights, environmental standards, the health & safety rules, drug testing, food safety, packaging, waste

disposal etc, under which goods can be made and services offered across the whole of the world’s largest single market.

It also involves  a common Competition policy, to ensure that our common market is not dominated by monopolies or a few multinational companies, or by firms given unfair subsidies by their governments.

And, yes, some (few)  minimum social standards, to avoid “social dumping” whereby companies shift to the country with the lowest health & safety protection and weakest workers rights. or the lowest environmental or consumer protection standards.

Two things are clear:

  • We would not be granted access to that market without playing by the same rules
  • We need to be around the table where those common rules are agreed, because they will in any case effect us.