Visiting Brussels is enough to make anyone a Brexiteer

Visiting Brussels is enough to make anyone a Brexiteer

by Murdo Fraser
article from Saturday 22, September, 2018

ALTHOUGH I was in favour of remaining in the EU, I have never been a particular fan of the European project. It always seemed to me that there was a self-perpetuating bureaucracy in Brussels which regarded itself as superior to the interests of individual member states. To me, that was a price worth paying for us to retain the benefits of membership of the single market, in our economic interests.

I was always rather sceptical of the views of hard-line Brexiteers, often portrayed in the “mainstream media” as swivel-eyed fanatics railing against unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. I really couldn’t see that this was all some great conspiracy to deprive the good people of the United Kingdom of our democratic rights.

But there is nothing like exposure to the Brussels machine to make one reconsider one’s opinions. And that is where I was this week, with the Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Constitution Committee, as part of our enquiry into the future operation of common frameworks across the UK. Whilst in Brussels we met a wide range of individuals, including representatives of EU Commission Directorates, ambassadors to the EU from various countries, and representatives of business, interest groups, and NGOs.

The EU institutions dominate Brussels as a city, their sleek modern buildings packed with small armies of staff. Around this clusters an industry of diplomats, lobbyists and interest groups. Rotund middle-aged men on expense accounts tuck into expensive dinners at Brussels’ finest eating establishments, making a substantial contribution to the Belgian economy.

The whole apparatus of the EU is both self-sustaining and self-supporting. The Commission, unelected, is where the real power lies, despite attempts over the years to strengthen the scrutiny of the European Parliament. And it is on the Commission that lobbyists focus their attention, enjoying substantial access, and appreciating the level of engagement that exists.

It is the Commission, ultimately, that makes the rules, passing these down to the member states who, with a few exceptions, have little option but to comply. Politicians, whether at a European or a National level, have limited input. And the contempt for those democratically elected within member states that I observed was, at times, breath-taking.

The over-riding impression was that the EU must be a common endeavour, a shared project which everyone had to believe in, where officials and technocrats know best. It was simply not acceptable to have politicians in member states trying to go their own way, even if that was what their voters wanted. To describe this as arrogance would be an understatement.

I confess that I never really understood the Brexiteers demand that we must “take back control”. But now, having seen the operation of the Brussels machine at close quarters, the motivations behind the drive to return powers to the UK are much more understandable.

It doesn’t really matter what I think now. Brexit is happening, and we have a UK government which has committed to delivering on the outcome of the 2016 referendum.

Despite the celebrity backing, there won’t be a “People’s Vote” to seek to overturn the Brexit referendum. Indeed, such a move would be highly dangerous, undermining democracy in our country, and stoking anger amongst those who voted  for Brexit because they already felt distant from the political mainstream. If we want to see a surge in populist politics as we have seen elsewhere in the world, a 2nd referendum would be the perfect way to deliver it.

But having seen the Brussels machine at close quarters, I think I understand a bit better the mind-set of the Brexit enthusiasts. And what I have just seen makes me less concerned than I was before that we are leaving this undemocratic, centralised circus behind.

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