Much ado about nothing?

Ireland – at least Ireland south of what used to be the border between ‘the North’ and the Republic – will have no say in ‘Brexit’ on June 23. The majority here would probably vote ‘remain’ if there was a choice. However, Christopher Booker’s colum in today’s Sunday Telegraph might give us a few reasons to think that the whole issue is all a bit anachronistic. The world has a habit of moving on and making us all look a bit foolish about the things we make a fuss over. This is what Booker had to say:

Scarcely a sentence in that creepy government leaflet telling us to vote to stay in the EU does not cry out for factual correction. But one is particularly disingenuous – concealing a colossal shift in how we are governed which is scarcely being noticed in this campaign. Among the ways it claims the EU is “improving our lives” is a reference to how, as from next year, “roaming charges will be abolished across the EU”. This will save users of mobile telephones “up to 38p a minute on calls”.
The EU was first asked to abolish roaming charges by a global body called the International Telephone Users Group (INTUG) way back in 1999. But it so dragged its feet that eventually INTUG approached another global body, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The OECD then involved a third global body, the International Telecommunications Union, which used the rules of a fourth, the World Trade Organisation, to ensure that by 2013 roaming charges were being abolished right across the world with the EU right at the back of the queue.

What everyone has been missing, although it should be highly relevant to this referendum, is the astonishing scale on which the making of our laws has been passed up to a global level, to scores of mysterious organisations which then hand down rulings to be implemented by lesser regional bodies, such as the EU.

One after another, groups campaigning to “Remain” have been claiming as benefits of our membership of the EU things which have, in fact, been handed down by this fast-emerging network of global governance. There has been much talk, for instance, of how the EU is playing a key part in ending wholesale tax avoidance by multi-national corporations. But one reason why they have been getting away with this for so long is that the EU had enshrined in its treaty that right to the “free movement of capital” originally laid down by the OECD.

Only when this became an embarrassing international scandal was it taken up by the G20, which is now acting with the UN Conference on Trade and Development to change the rules. Thus the steps being made to address the problem are due entirely to our new system of “global government”, in which the EU is only a subordinate player.

Stronger in Europe, the group leading the “Remain” campaign, claims that, if we were to leave the EU, disabled people would somehow lose their rights. But these are enshrined in the 2010 Equality Act putting into UK law the UN Convention on the Rights of the Disabled which, as the EU’s own website makes clear, must be implemented by all member states.

The BBC was recently having fun with a lamentably inadequate history of all those long-controversial EU regulations laying down the required marketing standards for fruit and veg, such as cabbages, cucumbers and bananas. The point it wanted to make was that Brussels had finally recognised these rules as being “a little bit daft”, and so very sensibly repealed them. 

But what the BBC failed to tell us was that the reason they were all scrapped was that they have now been replaced by new standards handed down from another global body: the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) based not in Brussels but in Geneva.

In many ways UNECE plays a greater part in making our laws than Brussels, over everything from marketing standards to vehicle design. 

One reason why the EU is able to boast that it has been cutting back on its tens of thousands of directives and regulations is simply that it has been replacing them with new rules handed down from higher bodies such as UNECE, the International Standards Organisation, the International Maritime Organisation and scores of others, many also based in Geneva.

Two years ago, in the week David Cameron gave his Bloomberg speech announcing the referendum, I wrote about this under the heading “Forget Brussels: now we are ruled by the giants of Geneva”. But so parochial are the mantras being repeated ad nauseam by both sides of the campaign, that neither has noticed this revolution in the way the world is governed. The implications are immense. It is time we woke up to the fact that, in very significant respects, the EU has become an irrelevance.

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