9 May 2013

Lord Lawson of Blaby (and Gers)

Thirty years ago Margaret Thatcher appointed Nigel Lawson as Chancellor of the Exchequer, not such a tricky job when more and more revenue from North Sea oil was rolling in. After six years they fell out because of his enthusiasm for the UK joining the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, a precursor to the euro. Now Lord Lawson of Blaby, he is probably best-known among the general public as the father of the TV cook, Nigella Lawson. In recent years Lord Lawson has gained a reputation as a climate change sceptic.

On 7 May The Times published an article by Lawson, I’ll be voting to quit the EU, which has led to a debate in the UK media sharpened by the rise in UKIP’s popularity over recent months. He anticipates an in-out referendum in 2017:
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has already embarked on a series of preliminary talks with our EU partners, hoping in due course to be able to renegotiate improved terms for the UK within the Union … He is following faithfully in the footsteps of Harold Wilson almost 40 years ago. The changes that Wilson was able to negotiate were so trivial that I doubt if anyone today can remember what they were. … I have no doubt that any changes that Mr Cameron — or, for that matter, Ed Miliband — is able to secure will be equally inconsequential.
It’s the euro, stupid:
The heart of the matter is that the very nature of the European Union, and of this country’s relationship with it, has fundamentally changed after the coming into being of the European monetary union and the creation of the eurozone, of which — quite rightly — we are not a part. That is why, while I voted “in” in 1975, I shall be voting “out” in 2017. This has nothing to do with being “anti-European”, a particularly bizarre suggestion in my own case, given that my home nowadays is, by choice, in France — indeed, in la France profonde — from where I commute weekly to work in England.  
… the coming into being of monetary union — and there can be no doubt of the determination of the leaders of Europe to persist with it at all costs — has fundamentally changed the nature of the European Union and of non- eurozone Britain’s relationship with it.  
… So the case for exit is clear. But would there be a heavy economic cost, making this unwise? There would indeed be some economic cost, partly transitional and partly as a result of the loss of the modest advantages of being within the single market. But in my judgment the economic gains would substantially outweigh the costs. The only gain that can be clearly quantified is that we would no longer pay our annual membership fee of some £8 billion.
And there is the City:
Moreover, there is one area of regulation of particular importance to the UK, where the EU regulatory cost threatens to be even greater than it is already, and that is the area of banking and financial services more generally. Despite the banking disasters of 2007-08, London remains a far more important financial centre than the rest of Europe put together. It is one of the few major industries, with substantial growth prospects, where this country is indisputably a world-class player.  
However, after the recent banking meltdown, the EU is currently engaged in a frenzy of regulatory activism, of which the foolish and damaging financial transactions tax, imposed against strong UK opposition, is only one example. In part this is motivated by a jealous desire to cut London down to size, in part by well-intentioned ignorance.  
… Those who claim that to leave the EU would damage the City are the very same as those who in the past confidently predicted, with a classic failure of understanding, that the City would be gravely damaged if the UK failed to adopt the Euro as its currency.
You do not need to be within the single market to be able to export to the European Union, as we see from the wide range of goods on our shelves every day. The statistics are eloquent. Over the past decade, UK exports to the EU have risen in cash terms by some 40 per cent. Over the same period, exports to the EU from those outside it have risen by 75 per cent.  
… Today too much of British business and industry feels similarly secure in the warm embrace of the European single market and is failing to recognise that today’s great export opportunities lie in the developing world, particularly in Asia. Just as entry into the Common Market half a century ago provided a much needed change of focus, so might leaving the EU, an institution that has achieved its historic purpose and is now past its sell-by date, provide a much-needed change of focus today.
Two days later (9 May) The Times ran an opinion piece, We don’t share Europe’s vision. So I want out, by another former Cabinet Minister, Micheal Portillo, Defence Secretary 20 years ago but now best-known as a presenter of television documentaries, many about train journeys. He had a different view of the outcome of the 2015 election:
Nigel Lawson says that he would vote in a referendum for Britain to leave the European Union. So would I. But I am much less confident than he is that we will get the opportunity to express our will.  
… I don’t agree with Lord Lawson that Labour will feel obliged to pledge a referendum in its [2015] manifesto. ... Mr Miliband would be foolish to promise a referendum, which might turn out badly, costing him his authority mid-term in his first period of office and saddling him with having to withdraw from the EU, a policy that he would neither propose nor support.
Again, it’s the euro:
The euro is a disaster. It has created hardship, unemployment and division on a dangerous scale.  
… The eurozone will be intellectually absorbed by its currency for 20 years. Either the euro will gradually collapse or member states will enter economic and political union. Either way, Britain should be nowhere near, and as the eurozone expends its energy on integration, it will slip further behind the competition from outside Europe.
He concludes:
It’s disingenuous to suggest that this fundamental mismatch [between the UK and Europe] can be resolved by a little renegotiation. It can be settled only when Britain departs the Union or is absorbed. I have no doubt where my vote would go.
Portillo’s article added little to Lawson’s and was even shorter on analysis of the consequences of the UK leaving the EU. As yet I have not seen any of the following being addressed in any depth:

How can the UK “be nowhere near” (a geographic impossibility) if the euro, despite “the determination of the leaders of Europe to persist with it at all costs” is abandoned?

Lawson, according to an article in the London Evening Standard, has a house in the Gers d├ępartement in SW France. It isn’t clear from his article whether he is a resident of France for tax purposes or, less profoundly, just owns a house there and pays state taxes in the UK where he says he works. If the UK leaves the EU, how would the position of Britons resident in the EU change? What would be the effect on non-resident house-owners with regard to the equivalents of council tax (a question of interest to perhaps 800,000 people)? Would EHIC cards still ensure access to health treatment for visitors to EU countries?

What would be the position of EU nationals currently working (or alternatively, and according to UKIP quite possibly, drawing benefits) in the UK?

One explanation for this flurry of anti-Europeanism from former household names is obvious – the rise of UKIP. That party’s particular appeal seems to be to the over-65s who otherwise might be voting Conservative as they did in the days when Lawson, Portillo and others were prominent Tory politicians.

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