hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 28 September 2012

Poles Apart



Alphen, Netherlands, 28 September.

Dear Mr Sikorski,

I have waited a few days to comment on the speech you made to the Oxford Analytica Global Horizons Conference on 23 September at Blenheim Palace and on your recent piece in The Times about Britain and the EU.  Some would see such comments by a Polish Foreign Minister as gross interference in Britain’s internal affairs, but then we are a tolerant people.  That said I am not so sure you Poles would have appreciated such comments from a British Foreign Secretary.  

Your remarks were clearly less for our benefit and more to do with relations with your President and your Prime Minister, who too often feel the Sikorski foreign policy is not Poland’s foreign policy.  Indeed, my sources tell me that after your recent Berlin speech your Prime Minister took up to three days to approve and the President criticised you for not having consulted more widely before the speech.  Moreover, given your call last year for German leadership I felt I could have been reading a lecture by the German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle about how we British have no alternative.  Maybe that was the point.  

However, out of respect to you as a fellow Oxford man I will limit my comments to your Little Britain speech.  You set out to blind your audience with facts.  You said that British membership of the EU cost a trifling £15 ($24) per British head per year against some £1500 ($2435)-£3500 ($5680) (clearly a scientific figure) of benefits. And, that only one-sixteenth of UK primary legislation stems from EU decisions.  

Let me immediately correct those figures for you.  According to the Office for National Statistics in 2011 the net cost of EU membership for the UK was £10.8bn ($17.5bn).  Some outlier estimates put the gross cost at £65bn ($106bn) per year or £1000 ($1620) per head if one includes the cost of all regulation and transfers plus the £15bn ($24bn) paid annually into the EU budget.   The cost is probably between £400($650) and £440($715) per British household.  The only year the UK was a net beneficiary was in 1977 when a referendum was held on UK membership.  You say that half of Britain’s exports go to the EU.  In fact, the latest figures show that trade with the EU is somewhat less than 50% with a £50bn ($81bn) trade deficit.  

You cited the usual Polish nonsense about ‘betrayal’ in 1939 and in 1945 at Yalta (Britain went to war in 1939 for Poland and if you were betrayed at Yalta it was by mighty Washington and Moscow not by exhausted and marginal London).  And then you went for what you thought was our jugular – the EU single market. You said that the single market was a “British idea”.  Indeed, Britain has been remarkably consistent about this ‘vision’ for Europe.  The British people never signed up for the kind of German-led European super-state you seem to be espousing, although it is hard to understand from your remarks whether you seek an empire or a union as you imply a European balance of power. You might wish to clarify your thinking about just exactly it is that you seek.  You also overlooked the fact that the single market is not, well, single.   Euro-virtuous Germany has consistently and repeatedly blocked the Commission’s Services Directive, where Britain is of course strong.  

Your venture into foreign and security policy was at the very least misplaced.  You say a British commissioner runs “our” diplomatic service.  However, no-one in Britain had ever heard of her before she was appointed and we know even less about her now, but that is hardly your fault.  As for your suggestion that Britain “could, if you only wished, lead Europe’s defence policy” it is, I am sure you will admit, very hard to lead nothing.  And whilst I grant you Poland has marginally increased its defence expenditure to bring at least something to your famed Weimar/Bermuda Triangle, the rest of the EU thinks military power far too messy.  

Quite simply, Mr Sikorski, you have missed the point.  The EUrosphere you are about to take Poland into is a political trap that Britain will never fall into.  We would of course wish you well and we respect Poland’s right to decide its destiny.  Indeed, that is why we fought both World War Two and the Cold War.  However, you of all people should uphold our right to choose our destiny. This may not be what you and Germany clearly want for us, but then we are not you.  There is certainly no reason at all why we could not still be friends, in spite of your thinly-veiled threats to future trade relations.  

Our objection to the Europe you espouse is not because we have delusions of grandeur, even though we have one of the world’s biggest economies, hugely-experienced armed forces and an excellent diplomatic machine, although I grant you our political leadership is not up to much. Rather, the simple EU truth is that on matters of economic and political culture Britain will always be in a minority and forced to accept the ‘diktat’ of what Tocqueville (did you read history at Oxford?) called the tyranny of the majority.  Majorities are not always right.

I hope you find your Brussels job. Perhaps you see yourself as a kid of super-commissioner combining foreign, neighbourhood and aid portfolios.  That is after all what your friend Guido Westerwelle has called for.

Sorry, but we are poles apart.

Yours sincerely,

Julian Lindley-French   

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