Last week I interviewed Douglas Carswell MP on the issue of Europe, at Portcullis House. It turned out to be one of those interviews that went better than expected and ended up as more of a conversation. Below is a transcript of some of that interview
PAUL BURGIN: I am with Douglas Carswell MP, to talk about Europe. You've got a proposition for the European issue which you have just mentioned to me
DOUGLAS CARSWELL: I think we should withdraw from the European Union, and I think our European membership is a disaster and pressure is obviously growing for a Referendum, but what I want to do is to get people, right across the political spectrum, to start to think about how we could extricate ourselves from the European Union. I believe it will be simple to do, but not easy, and so I brought forward a Private Members Bill to overturn the European Communities Act and I hope off of that , that it will provoke people to actually think seriously about what sort of country we could be if we were outside the EU
PAUL BURGIN: Do you have an alternative view in place of that? Would we go it alone, or would you like us to sign up to something else?
DOUGLAS CARSWELL: I would personally like us to have good relations with Europe, because even though Europe's not growing and even though Europe's got generational economic problems that are going to be with Europe for all of our lifetime and probably all of our children's lifetime. I still think, you know, it's important, we want to be good neighbours, we want to have, I think, arrangements in place for free movement of goods, free movement of services, free movement of people. But the key is that if we are part of something, anything European it should not be exclusive, it should not prevent our ability to strike other arrangements with the rest of the World, so for me the key test is to make sure we can make our own trade arrangements with Australia, Mexico, Brazil. In India and Turkey they are really disappointed because economic growth is down to 5 and 6% a year. That's where the growth is outside Europe. I think we need to be in a similar relationship to Europe that Switzerland has, where it's in effect able to trade freely, but it's not bound by exclusive ties to a stagnating continent.
PAUL BURGIN: That answered one of my other questions actually. There have been other people who have put forward visions of a change in Europe, Lord Owen put forward a two-tier plan for Europe, have you heard of some of these other ideas?
DOUGLAS CARSWELL: I have, I think the real problem with Europe is that a tiny elite are trying to organise Europe by grand design and I don't think it really matters so much what that grand design is, the danger is they are trying to organise it by grand design. So whether you have a one-tier Europe, a two-tier Europe, a veritable geometry Europe, a blah-blah Europe, it's trying to organise the affairs of millions of Europeans by grand design and it doesn't work. When we see the failure of the European monetary project, the Euro, it is the failure of the currency by grand design. We have got to get away from this idea of believing that society should be organised from the top down. Whatever the vision is, whether it is one-tier, two-tier, quick trying to organise free people, let them organise themselves
PAUL BURGIN: So if this came to a Referendum, which I imagine something like this would, what would you envisage being on the question? Would it be a straightforward question?
DOUGLAS CARSWELL: First of all it would have to be acceptable to the Electoral Commission and quite rightly so. The Electoral Commission would want to make sure that politicians like me couldn't fix itand would want to make sure that it's fair and there would have to be a binary choice, and I think it would have to be pretty straightforward like; "Do you think the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union? Yes or No?" The political establishment is terrified of this and they will try all sorts of tricks. They will decieve people with talk about renegotiation , the Third Way, but come on, every British Prime Minister since we went in has told us that we are going to change the club rules, they never did.
PAUL BURGIN: How do you see us culturally in Europe? I was asked a no of questions to ask you, one of them was "Should European language, education, be compulsory?" which to me is a bit of a strange question but we are different from Continental Europe aren't we in many ways?
DOUGLAS CARSWELL: Well clearly we are an extra European culture by which I mean, we are obviously European in origin, but we are an offshoot, and we are extra European in the sense that in the 1600s we began to interact with and establish ties and links with the Globe and in fact as a country we have been at our best when we have done that. We've been at our worst when we've been narrowly focused and inward looking and tied our future to that of Belgium. We are an extra European country, I think probably in many ways a bit like Turkey. Turkey is European in many ways, but it's got a beyond European horizon and I think our horizon should be beyond Europe. I once saw a map of the World which was done to represent the amount of telephone calls made in Britain on Christmas Day and India and Australia and Canada were huge. There's not a lot of streets in this country that doesn't have families in that has ties to India, or Australia, or Canada, or America. But culturally do we phone Belgium on Dec 25th? Some of us do but not many
At this point I assumed the interview was at an end and thanked Douglas for his time, and then, with the conversation still being recorded:
DOUGLAS CARSWELL: Actually, here's an interesting thought!
PAUL BURGIN: Yes!
DOUGLAS CARSWELL: How European is the European project? By that I mean is not the secret of Europe's success, the continent that dominated the World economically, militarily, culturally, politically, for 3-400 years, is not the secret of Europe's success not lie in the fact that unlike China, the Chinese Empire, or the Mogol Empire, or the Ottomans, Europe alone never had a centralised political authority that was able to stifle and stagnate Europe. If you brought the printing press to Europe, you could never allow one Prince to forbid the publication of documents that they didn't approve of, that's exactly what happened in China. Innovation could seep from one Principality to the next. When some mad explorer called Columbus had this crackpot idea about sailing across the Atlantic to discover India, he was turned down by the King of Portugal, he could go to another European state. This idea of Europe being a mosaic of different autonomous entities, this to me explains Europe's success and even within European political units, the decentralisation of power not just across Europe but within units, is it a coincidence that Venice, a city state, used to be a great power because power is dispersed, there was a great council there was never a hereditary monarchy! The Dutch Republic, is it a coincidence that the power of the Dutch Republic was disseminated amongst autonomous regions and that the states general always had power over taxation? In England, is it a coincidence that England rose to primacy after the Civil War? Might it not be the case that the secret of Europe's success is the dispersal of power and could it perhaps be that since 1978 China's discovered this trick about decentralising control over economic and political control! America's obviously discovered this trick of dispersal of power, could India be discovering it? Could it be that Europe is actually forgetting this great lesson about the dispersal of power and is stagnating at this precise moment while the rest of the World is discovering it?
PAUL BURGIN: Well that could lead to another question actually. One of the things that comes across why some Pro Europeans are so Pro European is they tend to see it as a United States of Europe would work as a bulwark against the US. It's almost like they want their own sphere.. they see Europe as dominating..
DOUGLAS CARSWELL: That's Euro Imperialism isn't it!
PAUL BURGIN: It is!
DOUGLAS CARSWELL: Euro Imperialism I don't like it, I don't like it, I always been for Gladstone not Disraeli. I think this idea that we must unite in order to get one over our rivals, it's actually quite ugly when you think about it. If the raison d'etre of European integration is to stick one to the Yankee, then we're no better than tin pot Latin American dictators. I don't think that's really how we should arrange the political architecture. I think the European project is profoundly un-European, I think that it will fall apart, I think "So what will happen next!". Well lets go back to free movement of goods, services, people, and not have political centralisation, instead of a single market meaning conformity within a common set of rule. Let's go back to having a single market based on the idea that, if your willing, I'm willing to find a buyer, you can sell your product across any territory and unfortunately the Europe we've got is.. If I was on the Left I would despair at the Europhillia of the Left, I mean so much of what happens in Brussels is based on big corporate interests using the power of the Brussels machine for commercial bondage, it is a corporatist racket. You see riots on the streets of Athens and you see ordinary people in Portugal and Spain and elsewhere being stuffed and their prosperity being sacrificed so that bankers don't face losses, I mean hang on, when is the Left going to wake up and realise that actually the narrative they've been pushing for a generation is actually accurate
PAUL BURGIN: You don't see it as a coincidence than that Europhillias in British politics tend to be on the Right of the Labour Party and the Left of the Conservative Party
DOUGLAS CARSWELL: Someone once said that if you're on the Right of the Labour Party, you're the Left of the Conservative Party, you're the middle of the road, well hedgehogs get squashed there it's not a good place to be. I think the real problem actually for Britain's European policy is less what Party politicians think, the real problem is actually being their policies being made by the establishment and the management, people like Kim Darroch, John Cunliffe. Who voted for these people? Who ever heard of these people outside Westminster and yet these are the people who make the deals on our behalf. That's the real problem, I get very frustrated listening to politicians blame Brussels for the relationship with Europe. The people responsible for the dreadful deals we negotiate with Europe are the officials we appoint to negotiate on our behalf. Until we rein them in and control them we are never going to get anywhere, but it's too late for that there needs to be a Referendum
PAUL BURGIN: I remember one of the political books I read, Tony Benn's Diaries and he mentioned when he was Energy Secretary in '77 when the UK led the Council of Ministers and he felt almost like a glorified civil servant
DOUGLAS CARSWELL: It's interesting you've said that, someone who's very different from Tony Benn, Alan Clark in his diaries, I think in 1985, he talks about how he turned up at the meeting in Brussels and he said (they) had done the deal and he was there to read the speech
The interview lapsing into brief conversation I thanked Douglas Carswell and got a lovely coffee from his Research Assistant. Few interviews I have done end up feeling like a conversation and very enjoyable at that, this was one of them