The upcoming general election on 7 May could well be a turning point in EU-UK relations, says Sir William Cash, a veteran Conservative politician. The House of Commons longest-serving committee member tells EURACTIV UK’s Mark Briggs why he thinks it is time for Britain to leave the EU, and what the general election holds in store.
Sir William Cash is the Conservative MP for Stone. He was knighted in 2004 for political service. Cash is the chairman of the House of Commons EU Scrutiny Committee, of which he has been a member for 35 years. “I think I’m the longest standing MP on a single committee in the history of parliament,” he says.
Could you please tell us what you think are the main problems with the structure of the European Union?
Look what is going on in Europe as a whole. There is 60% distrust in several countries. The turnout in the last EP elections was only 43% and that was including older people and compulsory voting. The number of people 20-35 year old who turned out voluntarily demonstrates a complete rejection of the system. People are rejecting it, and the ideologues in the establishment are refusing to listen
European Parliament decisions are not based on national voters decisions. The Council of Ministers is more reflective of voters wishes, but the Council is reflective, because decisions are made by majority vote, which is implemented by consensus. I see the whole thing as a sort of constitutional fraud.
My predictions have been proved right. I said there would be massive unemployment, there would be protests and riots in the streets, and it was inevitably bound to be undemocratic and that people would react against that.
I don’t think anyone can deny that’s happening. Look at Podemos and Syriza. The EU is creating instability. It is depriving people of prosperity, except by giving them money.
I believe the entire European project is dysfunctional and undemocratic.
This is the time for it to have a rain cheque, restructure the whole thing, bring it up to date, have an association of nation states, and create a sense of values.
What solutions do you propose?
I would like to see structural change in our relationship between the UK and EU, but also structural change in the EU itself, which isn’t on offer.
Trade, absolutely. Political cooperation, absolutely. But the Euro is a disaster area. Political union has become an end in itself. There needs to be a scaling down of the EU institutions and more power for national governments.
At the moment, the EU is leading Europe over a cliff. The UK could lead Europe out of the morass it is now, in and actually save Europe, as we have done over the last 200 years. This is not nostalgia. This is fact.
Do you think the UK should leave the EU?
I used not to, and now I do.
The government’s position is inadequate. It doesn’t address structural reform. It just nibbles at the treaties. I firmly believe I am not anti-European. I approve of the ideas of the founding fathers, but not of political union. I don’t believe I’m anti-European. I just don’t believe the project can work.
What are the alternatives to membership?
I’m certainly in favour of free trade, but in a framework of national associations. If we go back to the WTO, we wouldn’t be bound by the EU treaties, some of which are quite protectionist.
If you look at the trade the UK has with other 27 states, it runs a deficit of over £50 billion. Germany runs a surplus of over £50 bn.
What’s in it for us? We have an Anglosphere. The EU will still trade with us. It’s win-win.
There is a perceived lack of engagement in European issues by the House of Commons. Would you like to see the Minister of Europe questioned on the floor and debates on EU issues?
I certainly would like to see a Europe Minister’s questions. We [the EU scrutiny committee] have already recommended that.
There is no doubt at all in my opinion [that] Number 10 [is] blocking debates in the House of Commons. There are a number of important debates, including freedom of movement, the EU budget and the Charter of Fundamental Rights that they are simply not prepared to have debates on at the moment.
I think it’s the Liberal Democrats [not wanting debates], the whips supporting it, and Number 10 supporting the coalition [between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats}. It is deeply unsatisfactory.
There are a lot of people with strongly held views about the EU, and don’t want people to know the extent to which laws can be passed by the EU.
What do you think will happen at the general election?
It’s impossible to judge, because it will rely on individual seats.
What will be the impact of the UK Independence Party?
UKIP will deprive us [Conservatives] of marginal seats. They will stop us from achieving our objectives, by depriving us of the opportunity to pass legislation through a majority in the House of Commons. The whole of the UKIP intrusion into this election is extremely negative, and most likely to prevent us as a nation of being able to reassert the right of the voter to determine their future and legislation at Westminster.
And what about the Scottish National Party?
The SNP will provide a lot of problems for Labour, but also for Eurosceptics. They are very pro-European/ They don’t want a referendum, but they do want to disintegrate the UK and keep Scotland in the EU. They will stop at nothing
If they get 40 seats, they could hold the balance of power.
But I still think the Conservatives will win.