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Chris Grayling flattens host of straw men

by Hugo Dixon | 25.01.2016

Chris Grayling writes in The Telegraph that Britain’s membership of the European Union as it currently stands is “disastrous”. The Leader of the House of Commons has done a fine job flattening a host of straw men.

Take this comment: “The crisis in the eurozone and the migration challenge have led to calls for still more integration and a move towards much greater political union. It is a path that the UK will not and should not follow.”

Quite so. But it is also not a path anybody is telling us to follow. Britain is neither a member of the eurozone nor of the border-free Schengen Area, so we don’t have to help shore them up. Grayling didn’t immediately respond to requests by InFacts to discuss his column.

The minister also mentions “serious talk about a European army”. Some euro-federalists such as Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, want such a thing. But creating this would require unanimity, giving Britain a veto (see Article 42.2). What’s more, if we left the EU, the remaining countries would be more likely to merge their armed forces. Given that Britain fought countless wars to prevent the rest of the Europe creating a military bloc, this hardly seems in our interests.

Grayling also takes a pot shot at the phrase in the EU treaties calling for “ever closer union”. But he doesn’t give the full phrase: “ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen” (see Article 1). Many people who don’t want a United States of Europe might be quite happy with Europe’s people getting closer to one another.

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There’s more. Grayling tilts at the EU for telling us how many hours we can work. But he forgets to add that Britain has opted out of a key part of the Working Time Directive (see page 7). As a result, we are free to work as long as we wish.

Perhaps Grayling’s most powerful rhetorical flourish is this: “We cannot be left in a position where we have no ability to defend our national interest.” I can picture his patriotic readers nodding their heads gravely. I want to do so too. Of course, we must defend our interests. The key question is how best to do that.

Britain has the EU’s second largest economy and, along with France, its best armed forces. We were the driving force behind the EU’s single market and its expansion to include much of the former Warsaw Pact. This has been good for our prosperity and security. By quitting, we would no longer be a leader in either Europe or the world. The best way to defend our interests is to stay in the EU and maximise our influence within it.

This article was previously published on 14 Jan. 2016 on hugo-dixon.com

Research by Sam Ashworth-Hayes

Hugo Dixon is the author of The In/Out Question: Why Britain should stay in the EU and fight to make it better. Available here for £5 (paperback), £2.50 (e-book)