Monday, 7 May 2018

Kate Hoey on the European community and poorer countries

The member for London Vauxhall often speaks from ignorant prejudice on matters European, but at least on the occasion of last Thursday's debate on Customs and the Border, she had some evidence on her side. Admittedly, the evidence was from almost fifty years ago, but it bears examination. She began by quoting Joan Lestor from 1971:

“The political significance of British entry into Europe will have far-reaching effects upon the third world, the developing world.
Because of the protectionist policies of E.E.C. we shall not close the narrow channels between the rich and poor nations but rather widen them. Much has been said about the ability of E.E.C. to increase assistance to the developing world and to guarantee that the Community will continue to be outward looking in the future.
I cannot understand—and nobody has explained this to me from either side of the House—how an organisation like E.E.C., which everybody agrees is based on a protective tariff wall to which this country must agree as part of the price of entry and which will mean erecting a fresh tariff barrier against helping other parts of the world, can be said to be outward-looking. I do not believe the interests of the E.E.C. are identical with the interests of the smaller, developing and weak nations of the world.”—[Official Report, 21 October 1971; Vol. 823, c. 954.]
I will take Members back a little further to 1962—I genuinely do not think the right hon. and learned Gentleman was here then—and the words of Clement Attlee:
“I think that integration with Europe is a step backward. By all means let us get the greatest possible agreement between the various continents, but I am afraid that if we join the Common Market we shall be joining not an outward-looking organisation, but an inward-looking organisation.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 November 1962; Vol. 244, c. 428.]
All these years later, some things have changed, but the European Union is still an inward-looking organisation. Do we really want our future arrangements to be tied to that?

I would contend that, so far from remaining inward-looking, the EU is now more conscious than ever of its responsibilities on the world stage. Although at first sight, the UK's contribution to overseas development aid is slightly more generous (£13.4bn in 2016 as opposed to EU institutions' £12bn), the EU also has a scheme (the General Scheme of Preferences or GSP) which grants tariff-free or reduced tariff access to the EU market to countries of lower-middle-income and below. In 2016-17, 23 countries benefited from reduced tariffs and a further 49 from duty-free access.

Moreover, Ms Hoey should be careful who she shares a Brexit bed with. She will find that there is a significant number of fellow-Leavers who also want to do away with the UK's commitment to a share of  our GDP to international development.

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