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Britain no longer needs “the full gym membership”

Costs of EU membership should be fully audited prior to UK renegotiation

  • Senior MP Brian Binley writes that full membership is “too costly” and unnecessary
  • Terms are getting worse and should be replaced by a trade-focused relationship
  • “Nugatory” reform will be counter-productive and lead to a messier withdrawal

A senior Tory MP calls today for an urgent cost-benefit analysis of Britain’s membership of the EU – warning that the current terms are already too costly and getting worse all of the time.

Brian Binley, treasurer of the 1922 Committee, says it is unlikely that the UK needs “the full gym membership” any longer.

A more cost effective relationship could be to have a new bilateral deal between the UK and the rest of the EU – a trade-focused arrangement under which Britain would be “of the EU but not in the EU”.

Binley urges David Cameron to define his “red lines” before he starts negotiating and sets out a series of policy areas which should not be included in the UK’s Brussels treaties, including agriculture, fisheries and social policy.

He also warns that “nugatory” reform of Britain’s relationship with the EU, even it is enough to persuade voters to maintain the UK’s membership, will only lead to greater long-term dissatisfaction and an even messier ultimate withdrawal.

In a Civitas book co-authored with Lee Rotherham, a former adviser to three shadow foreign secretaries, he says the terms of membership serve Britain badly and “are getting worse all the time”.

Binley and Rotherham say that the EU has an array of third party trading agreements which demonstrate that viable alternatives to full membership do exist and should be properly considered.

“From this increasing variety, we might readily conclude that a single blanket treaty that covers us in the same breath as all the other member states is, over the long term, not the best way forward. The world is gradually catching up with the EU in low tariff terms.

“At some point, and we have in all likelihood already have passed it, being a full EU member is too costly politically and economically for a country like the UK. We don’t need the full gym membership.

“The cost-effective route is then one of separate association treaties, with current key titles removed. In effect, that takes us to being of the EU but not in the EU, rather like Churchill’s way of looking at our relationship with the continent: associated, but not absorbed.”

Binley and Rotherham call for new instructions to be issued for Whitehall to audit the costs of EU membership in detail, as part of the balance of competences review that has been ongoing under the coalition government. This cost-benefit analysis is required prior the start of negotiations.

“Led by the Treasury, they should now finally audit the actual costs of each of the treaty sections they have been looking into; and 11 Downing Street should then add up the sums as an adjunct to the final report. In other words, we need a genuine cost-benefit analysis and we need it quickly.

“We simply do not need to be in a treaty association that, like some crazy insurance plan, adds unnecessary costs to the deal we really need.

“We should go minimalist and lift out just the trade sections; and then on top of those aspects, individually add on those bits we actually think cooperation does work for us if we sit together in a room at Brussels working on them. Much of that will turn out best done bilaterally with individual member states.”

Binley and Rotherham warn that efforts to merely tweak Britain’s relationship with the EU will be inadequate and ultimately counter-productive.

“Making a nugatory deal then managing to briefly sell it in a referendum would ruin any hope of significant EU reform for at least a generation. Indeed, all EU members would be losers. Moreover, UK withdrawal further down the line would become inevitable and far more messy.”

UK interests which must be removed from the EU’s control, they say, include: agriculture; fisheries; social policy and employment; enterprise and industrial policy; foreign, security and defence policy; regional policy; culture.

Further areas should be removed from the Brussels’ direct responsibility and instead replaced on a case-by-case basis by bilateral agreements between the UK and the EU, including: free movement of workers; financial services; energy; judiciary and fundamental rights; justice, freedom and security.

In a foreword, the former Tory cabinet minister John Redwood says that he will vote to leave the EU unless David Cameron fails to restore Britain’s authority “over the things that matter”.

“Mr Cameron has rightly told us our present relationship with the EU does not work in the UK’s interests. He has said he wishes to see a sovereign UK Parliament capable of making the big decisions which matter to UK citizens. He has promised us a renegotiation of our relationship.

“I wish him well, and want to see leading a Conservative majority government to bring this all about. More importantly I look forward to the referendum which follows the negotiation. If he has gained us a new relationship based on trade and political co-operation I will vote for it. If the negotiation falls short of restoring our authority over the things that matter I will vote to leave.”


‘Hard Bargains or Weak Compromises? Reforming Britain’s relationship with the EU’ by Brian Binley and Lee Rotherham is published by Civitas on Monday March 2. It can be accessed below.

Brian Binley entered parliament after a successful business career in which he set up two companies now employing approaching 300 people. He is MP for Northampton South, and is a member of the Business, Industry and Skills Select Committee as well as member of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. He was chosen to chair the Conservative Party’s Parliamentary Enterprise Group, and also chaired a review into the decline of the high street. He has been elected to the 1922 Committee every year since 2006, and since 2010 has been its Treasurer. As a result he additionally has extensive experience serving on the Conservative Party Board.

Dr Lee Rotherham is an author, research consultant, and a warrant officer in the army reserves who has undertaken three tours of duty. At Westminster, he has advised three shadow foreign secretaries plus a number of other frontbenchers, and was campaign secretary for Conservatives Against a Federal Europe (CAFE). Extensively published, some of his more recent works include The EU in a Nutshell (foreword by Dr David Starkey), A Fate Worse Than Debt: A History of Britain’s National Debt from Boadicea to David Cameron and Manning the Pumps: How to Salvage the Eurosceptic Credentials of the Conservative Party(foreword by Sir Bernard Ingham).

Hard Bargains or Weak Compromises: Reforming Britain's relationship with the EU

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