If the opinion polls are to believed, roughly 18 per cent of the Britons who are planning to vote in the 10 June European elections intend to do so for the UK Independence Party (Ukip). Ukip’s policy of withdrawal from the EU has clearly struck a chord with the millions of Britons from across the political spectrum who feel concerned about the undeniable loss of sovereignty that Britain has experienced over the past 30 years or so.
But would a vote for Ukip really pave the way for the return of sovereignty to the Mother of Parliaments?
Ukip’s opposition to surrendering power to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels could not be clearer. Yet the very same party is an enthusiastic supporter of two other globalising, democratically unaccountable entities – the World Trade Organisation and Nato – which, in their own ways, pose at least as great a threat to national independence as the EU.
“We are writing the constitution of a single global economy,” proclaimed the WTO’s first director general, Renato Ruggiero, in 1996. There were no calls then for a referendum.
In the intervening eight years, the WTO has sought to impose the hegemony of neoliberalism the world over – regardless of what local voters think of it. The commodity broker Nigel Farage, Ukip’s MEP for the South-East region, enthuses that if Britain withdraws from the EU the country would be able to negotiate directly with the WTO. But he fails to explain why a party that rails incessantly against the edicts of unelected Brussels bureaucrats should wish to accept the edicts of another lot of unelected bureaucrats in Geneva.
Ukip’s support for the WTO and its passionate defence of Nato – “the cornerstone of Britain’s defence policy” – betrays the party’s true neoliberal, Atlan-ticist agenda. Indeed, while Ukip would definitely pull Britain out of the EU, we should, the party argues, “negotiate as many deals as possible and join as many trade organisations as we can”. In other words, exchange membership of the EU for the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta).
“My country is losing a lot of what I grew up with,” bemoans Joan Collins, the latest celebrity supporter to be wheeled out by Ukip. But if, as we infer, she is speaking of the gentle charms of Britain of the 1940s and 1950s, to whom have we lost them?
It is not the cultural influence of Italy that has eroded the innocence of childhood. It is not German films that bombard us with violent images and stylise serial killing. And it is not from Greece that we receive the misanthropic influence of rap. Many in Ukip would agree with Collins, and look nostalgically to the Britain of yesteryear. Yet joining Nafta will increase Britain’s Americanisation and threaten what little remains of indigenous culture still further.
It is a conclusion that Ukip refuses to draw. Instead, the Ukip 2001 manifesto claimed that one of the benefits of EU withdrawal would be that, “freed from EU projects”, Britain would be “able to purchase equivalent technology from the US at far lower cost, or buy into high-tech US enterprises which would greatly enhance our military capability”.
In the same document, the French (Ukip’s favourite whipping boys) are berated for their “long-standing hostility to America and Nato and to the Anglo-Saxon model”. What terrifies Ukip most about the EU, aside from the dreaded “Continental model”, which provides part-time workers with holiday pay and employment rights, is the development of a European defence capability, making Nato redundant.
Ukip claims that Nafta is a simple trading bloc and has no political agenda. But the view that joining Nafta will not impinge on national sovereignty is simply nonsense. Nafta’s chapter 11, for instance, gives multinational companies the right to sue any member state if “a regulation or law impedes the attainment of current or future profits” – in other words, it allows private corporations to challenge and repeal legislation enacted through the democratic process.
Although the party has put forward candidates from leftist backgrounds, such as Kim Rose – a defector from the Socialist Labour Party who stood for Ukip in 2001 – the real movers and shakers within it are disaffected Tories. Ukip’s leader, Roger Knapman, a former Conservative MP for Stroud, was a minister in John Major’s government. Jeffrey Titford, the party’s MEP for the Eastern region, is a former Conservative councillor, while Nigel Farage was “locally active in the Conservative Party from his schooldays until the overthrow of Margaret Thatcher”.
These men are not, as some of their critics have claimed, “isolationists”. Nor are they xenophobes, even though their party will undoubtedly attract the support of some who are. But what they most definitely are, is free-market ideologues, who believe in the divine right of big business to go anywhere in the world in search of profit – unencumbered by social chapters and other “regulations” – and in the economic and military supremacy of the superpower in whose interest such an ordering of the world is done.
Roy Hattersley, contrasting Ukip’s policy of complete withdrawal from the EU with the Tories’ “partial renegotiation”, labelled the party “absurd but honest”. Yet it is difficult to see what is honest about a party which, while offering the British electorate the lure of self-government, would move us even closer to a country that is undoubtedly the greatest destroyer of national independence on the planet today.