Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union address was extraordinary.
As I watched Juncker from inside the European Parliament yesterday warning, I was more grateful for Brexit than ever before.
Without the UK in the way, the foot has been put down even harder on the EU-integration accelerator.
He spoke in support of completing the banking union, the capital markets union and the digital single market – centralising more powers from the member states to Brussels. With new institutions to boot.
There’s a new finance minister, internal security Labour minister and an EU army. Plus, huge funding for pan-European parties to reduce the influence of national parties, which is an assault on democracy.
And even more shocking are the plans to merge the Presidents of the European Commission and European Council. Juncker wants the EU to have a single figurehead. Will they be elected by the people of Europe? I highly doubt it.
But it also underlined to me the importance of strong Brexit voices in the UK in all parties. Many political commentators may feel that it has gone quiet in Brexit quarters, but that silence has been considered rather than forced.
Many of the top Tory voices, including David Davis, Liam Fox and Steve Baker, are now leading the Brexit negotiations themselves – and doing a good job of it, despite the media narrative.
But I’m also the first to admit that there is a void in the debate. The media story is that Eurosceptic politics and Ukip specifically has been killed off by the Brexit vote; that the vote has eliminated any reason for anyone to support Euroscepticism.
But I think that is wrong for two reasons. Firstly, the Brexit vote energised a broad sweep of the country who had not voted ever before in the past. All these voters are watching the Brexit process carefully, and politicians should step carefully.
If politicians renege on their promises – and we’re starting to see potential signs of that in the debate about the Single Market – these voters will come out again in force, and vote out their politicians. Labour is risking that now by opposing the EU Withdrawal Bill.
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There is sometimes a misconception that there has been a significant shift in opinion away from Brexit. This is not the case, and people would feel like it was a significant breach of trust if politicians didn’t make good on the vote. The majority of the public oppose a re-run and a further majority oppose a vote on a final deal. Overall, 70% think that the government should go ahead with Brexit, according to YouGov figures.
This has been further supported by my experience on the ground talking to people in my constituency. During the recent General Election, I spoke to lots of my constituents and while many ended up voting for the non-Brexit parties, they did so, they said, only because the parties had made clear during the campaign that they wanted to see Brexit through to the end. That is one of the reasons the Liberal Democrats with their second referendum pledge suffered so badly.
There is a real suspicion that the Government will not implement border control, and that the transitional period is a fudge to keep us in the EU in the long term. That is perhaps one of the reasons that trust in the Conservatives to lead the negotiations has dropped from 39% in June to 33% in August.
Secondly, Brexiteers can find renewed purpose in giving voice to the concerns of citizens of other countries who, sadly, haven’t voted to leave the EU yet.
In fact, Brexiteers are already starting to work closely with other politicians across the EU, with some of our leading Brexiteers attending events and rallies organised by parties such as AfD in Germany.
This is starting to reflect itself in public opinion too. More than 60% of French voters now have an unfavourable view of the EU, according to the Pew Research Center — with almost half of the electorate also turning Eurosceptic in Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.
On top of that, a recent poll by Chatham House found that 43% of EU influencers from politics, the media, and business thought that there would be another EU exit over the coming years.
In this context, Juncker’s speech was so extraordinary for what it ignored. He failed to even acknowledge the failure and misery the Euro currency has had on countries in Southern Europe. Let’s remember that in Greece youth unemployment still running at over 40%. That is a lost generation and nothing anyone should be happy about.
The devastating migration crisis has not stopped either. In fact, I hear from many of my colleagues in Southern Italy that it is getting worse. This is bad for everyone. But all this is brushed over.
Instead, Juncker talks about the establishment of further EU institutions. And, more worryingly yet, giving extra funding to pan-EU parties, who are likely to be EU supporters undoubtedly. Like it or not, this is an EU power grab. Cooperation between trading nations is not enough for them – they want to take it further and seek greater control over the nations of Europe.
And this is where Eurosceptic voices from all the UK parties can now focus their energies. We should raise our voices, call out the EU’s anti-democratic practices, and ensure that the people across the European Union who are suffering at its hands have a voice.
We can find purpose in highlighting how the EU has damaged the economies of Southern Europe and is now trying to usurp democratic parties in Eastern Europe – and elsewhere too through these new reforms.
On Brexit, Juncker says the UK will regret Brexit. This speech proves in 60 minutes exactly why we won’t regret it. I’m positive about our future outside of Europe.
If this is the future of the EU, then I don’t want any more part of it at all. Faced with this at the ballot box – the British people would reject the EU again.
Steven Woolfe is the independent MEP for North West England