A debate this evening with Gerard Batten, a UKIP MEP for London. On the whole it went quite well (you can read my opening remarks here). One thing that was raised and which I didn’t get a chance to respond to (lack of time) was a statement about the sheer cost of EU membership. £11.5 billion a year at the moment in cash, plus a further £30-40 billion in indirect costs.
What do these numbers represent? The first number might represent the gross payment to the EU, not the net figure (i.e. only the money paid to the EU and not the money the EU pays back). So receipts by UK farmers, for example, are disregarded, which might surprise the farmers themselves. Similarly, structural funds provided by the EU to the poorest regions such as Cornwall and South Yorkshire also disappear. And all the grants for training and innovation, energy efficiency and organic conversion. In the opinion of UKIP, all that stops.
I can write that with confidence because their election manifesto in the general election last year said so. They wanted to take all the money and spend it on increasing pensions. Now, that’s a fine way to use public money, I’m sure, but they ought to be more honest about what they would cut. That’s what comes of using the gross figure and not the net.
The indirect costs are also worth identifying, too. The figure comes from an estimate published in the Netherlands that EU regulation “cost” about 2 per cent of national GDP (about £20 billion), plus the supposed increased cost of food under the CAP (another £10 billion or so) and some other extra expenses. (Philippe Legrain, when he was working for the Britain in Europe campaign, produced an excellent analysis of the claim: I’ll see if I can find it posted on the web somewhere.)
The cost of regulation is a stark one. What are those regulations that are costing us £20 billion a year from which UKIP would save us? One is the regulation that requires food companies to maintain hygienic premises. Another is the requirement to put an ingredients list on the label so the consumer can know what he or she is eating. A third means that restaurants and food manufacturers have to keep records of where they bought their ingredients from so that, if there is a contamination or a scare of some sort, the source of it can be traced and other restaurants and food manufacturers can be warned if necessary. If UKIP’s promises are to be kept, all that regulation has to be scrapped. The bad old days of food poisoning and adulteration could be on the way back. That’s not my preferred vision of the future.
Another example – I’ll stop with this one – is the equal right to pensions that women enjoy in the UK. That wasn’t a decision taken in Westminster, but a decision imposed by the European Court. The Treaty of Rome, the signature on which was a decision taken in Westminster, included a provision for the equal treatment of men and women at work, which the ECJ interpreted as a commitment to equal pension rights. Female readers of this blog might stop to think that their equality in the workplace is, in the eyes of UKIP, an excessive burden from which we should be liberated. It shows that what goes on in the EU is not merely an international issue but of local and immediate significance, too.