This is a letter I sent to Polly Toynbee on 25th October 2011 after the debate in Parliament concerning a referendum on membership of the European Union.
You seem to be one of the few people in public debate who is prepared to acknowledge the truth of the political and economic situations we find ourselves in. I am today hugely depressed by the level of the public debate. Voices like yours are rare and very welcome. I find the present crop of politicians not only limited, in that few of them seem to have a background in any other activity than politics, but also I doubt their intellectual capacity as well.
I was pleased to read your article in the Guardian this morning about the present squabble concerning the European Union. I entirely agree with you about the level of misunderstanding and misinformation in the general debate about Europe I think you are absolutely correct in pointing out that the truth is that being in Europe is our destiny. The 20th-century saw the Europeans involved in two huge Civil Wars and even though there are now far fewer of us who actually remember those events, they are fortunately a very important part of our history syllabus and our national psyche.
I find the lack of perspective even more than the lack of truthful argument concerning Europe to be the most depressing thing about the current debate. The wild accusations thrown around about what is supposed to be the assumption of executive powers by Brussels bureaucrats are simply the whining of ignorant and selfish little Englanders. I could go on about so many aspects of our modern life which now bind us to Europe but today I would like to pass over my experiences concerning the so called imposition of European regulations on British business to the detriment of its performance.
The truth is that nobody could today start a business the way my wife did in 1974. At that time there was very little regulation outside of simple accounting and employment law. The taxation environment was benign; we still lived in a world of ‘caveat emptor’ and safety was taken care of by the law. Today we manage our business subject to more regulations than I could count. And the bulk of those regulations originate in Whitehall, not Brussels. We have personal experience of draft directives issued from Brussels being turned into British law faster than any other member of the European union. In fact in one case the Germans and Austrians simply refused to implement a directive, which was then withdrawn but remained on the British statute book for two more years.
Those who complain that business in Britain is restricted by a host of regulation are quite correct except that most of them originate in Britain. Let me give a few examples without, I hope, becoming too tedious. Health and Safety regulation is mainly a British invention and little of it is European. Employment law and regulation has only about a 10 per cent European content. Audit compliance has a larger European content but is still mainly British. Product liability, safety, and supply diligence is where Whitehall has been most enthusiastic in implementing European directives ahead of the crowd. But this still remains a largely British area in both regulation and implementation. Building regulation is almost entirely British in conception even though with some European content. And is now so onerous that soon we shall have to destroy old houses rather than renovate them.
This is just a selection of regulations under which we must now manage our affairs. The real culprit over the last 30 years has been Parliament allowing successive governments to deal with every problem by legislation, which in every case spawns regulation and civil servants to administer it. The problem is that within this avalanche of regulation there are many good and proper intentions. The Data Protection Act is a good example of good intentions ruined by bad legislation. To blame Brussels for the present almost intolerable burden of regulation and control while ignoring the dead hand of Whitehall is not just ignorant but stupid.
I find those who argue against our membership of the European union with their inaccurate data and biased interpretations to be the European equivalent of the Republican Tea Party in America. They have no real policies either. It is not just that these, frankly, ridiculous arguments against Europe must be challenged at every opportunity; we must also vigorously refute the rosy alternative, which is put forward. It is simply wishful thinking.
About Richard Graham