I took part in a debate with leading anti-European John Redwood on Thursday evening in his parliamentary constituency, Wokingham. (You can read my speech here.)
We started off a little at cross-purposes. He turned up expecting a debate on the regionalisation of England; I had been given the title “The future of Britain – are the European Union plans for Britain the best way forward?”
The reason for the confusion was that the organisers of the debate, the local branch of the UK Independence Party, had assumed that regionalisation was an EU plan. Of course, that’s nonsense. There is a programme of regionalisation in the UK and within England, but it is a British decision, not an EU one.
The evidence for European Union involvement in this process is a map published by the EU which shows the English regions but not England as such. The fact that the EU has printed a document showing the regions is cited as proof that the EU created them. That same map shows the river Rhine. Are we to believe that the EU created that, too? That Brussels hired some industrial diggers and dug a trench from Switzerland, along the Franco-German border to the sea? The idea is preposterous, but that’s what we are supposed to believe.
The European Commission famously published a book with Wales missing from the map on the front cover. God knows how the graphic designers did that but it’s surely not evidence of a plan to dig up the entire country and extend the Irish Sea.
One could enquire a bit further and ask, in response to the points raised about regional funding, which are the regions that receive this money? The Objective 1 regions are places like South Yorkshire and Merseyside, which may be recent creations but which are Whitehall creations, not Brussels ones, or Cornwall, which is as old as England itself (and probably older).
The fact is that there are good reasons for setting up regional government in England. In many ways, it would make for better administration of policies. However, politics isn’t just about better administration of policies, it is also about the public identification with that better administration, and in England right now there seems to be no demand for regional government. The failed referendum in the north east of England saw to that. I suppose that regional government is one of those things that might in principle be good to have but, like the euro, is simply not on the agenda.
And, also like joining the euro, it’s a British decision, not an EU one.
As an aside, John Redwood spoke in the debate of the moral authority of the United States. I didn’t rise to the bait of asking whether this was the moral authority exemplified by Abu Ghraib or whether he was referring to the Guantanamo bay version of it.
A vote was taken at the end of the evening, and I lost by 51 votes to one. As the debate was organised by the UK Independence Party, I think I did pretty well to get one vote.
The person who did vote for my side of the argument was a late arrival: if normal practice had been followed of taking a vote at the beginning and a second one at the end to see how opinion has changed, I might even have won.