The EU idea has come and gone

George Eustice MP says that If we leave the EU, the only question we will ask is why we didn’t do it sooner.

Who should decide what size ear tags on cattle should be?  You might think it’s a trivial question and doesn’t really matter but we are currently having to spend tens of thousands of pounds on lawyers fees to argue the toss with the European Commission through the European Court because of a recent inspection in Wales by EU auditors.

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In parts of the country, including Wales, farmers often use a small, metal tag as the second back up tag on cattle because they are less likely to be lost, although they still contain all the information needed to identify the cattle concerned.  The UK and Welsh governments have no problem with this.  It makes sense.  However, the European Commission argue that these tags are against the law and that the second back up tag must be exactly the same size, shape and colour as the primary tag.
We never asked for the opinion of the European Commission and have no interest in their view.  We are quite capable of making our own rules on ear tags.  And yet, the European Commission have created an ear tag dispute as an excuse to take money from us through an iniquitous system of fines known as “disallowance penalties” and we are having to waste huge amounts of time an money resisting this smash and grab raid on the public purse.
Sometimes it is witnessing the trivial minutiae of EU law that makes you realise the reality: that the very concept of a centralised, pan-European legal system that attempts to govern farming and the environment is fundamentally flawed.  EU law is all pervasive.  It tries to codify and regulate almost every conceivable feature of our landscape and virtually everything a farmer might try to do with their land. EU law militates against good governance.  However hard we try to abide by the rules it is inevitable that the British taxpayer will be routinely stung by completely unjustified, arbitrary EU fines.  Civil servants spend their days fretting about whether we are obeying this or that regulation and it is impossible to implement coherence in policy making or to deliver change.  No one knows where they stand and it creates a culture of perpetual legal jeopardy.
If we leave the EU and take control we will be free to try new things and develop new, more coherent policies.  Civil servants who today spend their days writing pointless strategies for the EU bureaucracy or having to ask permission before being allowed to do anything will be free to think things through from first principles and to pilot new ideas.
If we stop sending £350 million per week to the EU, we will have more than enough money to fund all the activity that the EU currently does on our behalf and still have billions left over for other priorities like the NHS.  We will support farming in Wales at the same level as we do now but we could spend money better and more effectively with new policies to protect farmers from risk and more holistic schemes that really deliver for our environment and promote animal welfare.  There would also be more power for the Welsh Government to decide how best to help their farmers.
We will also be able to afford to continue to fund regional economic development grants in Wales.  I am a Cornish MP and I familiar with the arguments about EU structural funds since we also qualify for Convergence funding.  However, there is no such thing as “EU money”.  There is only the money that we have given the EU, about half of which we then receive back with lots of strings attached and an army of bossy EU auditors finding fault in everything we do.  In recent years, the burden of clunky procurement rules and huge retrospective fines on businesses has damaged confidence in these EU funds.  It would be better by far to have sensible Local Growth Funds administered nationally by the Welsh administration.
The EU is an idea whose time has come and gone.  It is time to replace our membership of the EU with a new UK- EU partnership instead.  If we decide to leave the EU this Thursday, the only question we will ask ourselves in a few years time is why we didn’t do it sooner.

George Eustice is the MP for Camborne, Redruth & Hayle and is Minister of State at DEFRA.

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