Belfast Telegraph

JD Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin: 'Let's quit the EU now while we still have our democracy, prosperity and freedom'

By Tim Martin

The desire for political independence and local democracy is one that can be well understood by anyone from Ireland. The emotions aroused in Ireland by the centuries-old debate about these issues are starting to be reflected, albeit to a lesser extent, in the current debate about Brexit in the UK.

Many eurosceptics had an open mind about the European project and probably viewed it favourably - before the fiasco of the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) in the early 1990s.

The idea that European currencies could be fixed together within a narrow band certainly had attractions for many people, but interest rates gradually rose in the two years to September 1992, culminating in levels of 15% or so, which caused a deep recession and economic chaos.

The major banks were in serious trouble, with the mighty Barclays requiring a 'rescue rights issue' and over a million households were plunged into negative equity - anyone who has lived through this sort of experience has no desire to repeat it, needless to say.

Wetherspoon's first entry into any sort of national political or economic debate started in the late 1990s, when the successor to the ERM, the euro, was introduced in Europe and was proposed for the UK.

Having seen the debacle of the collapse of the ERM, Wetherspoon opposed the euro. It was our observation that all the currencies of the world were backed by a single government, except the euro, and this flaw would eventually be fatal.

There was no central government to transfer money around the system and no power or consensus to raise the necessary taxes.

The anti-euro campaign won the argument in the UK, in spite of support for the project from the Financial Times, the employers' organisation the CBI, the prime minister and most of the good and the great. I observed at the time that almost all the main political and business advocates of the euro were from an Oxford or Cambridge elite, who seemed to prefer monetary rule from Europe to the democratic control implicit in a state having its own currency.

The debate has moved on in the last decade, with increasing powers being assumed by the less-than-democratic institutions in Brussels.

The judgments of the European Court, made by judges who are not under the democratic control of the peoples of Europe, make up about 50% or so of the new laws and regulations in the UK each year. Legislation can only be initiated by the unelected European Commission, and European members of Parliament are widely regarded, often by themselves, as having minimal control over the law-making process, partially as a result of the remoteness of the whole system from the European public.

The consequent main argument for the Leave campaign is that democracy, prosperity and freedom are all closely linked.

Yet EU institutions are slowly removing democracy from member states, so that Greece and Portugal, for example, have lost control of their own budgets, as well as their interest rates, two of the most democratic controls of any parliament.

The Remain campaign, by contrast, focuses on the advantages of a single market and the risks inherent in leaving a 'community' of countries which has been in existence for a considerable time and has coincided with generally rising living standards in the main European economies.

My own view is that a common market is to the benefit of all and that free movement of peoples within the existing countries of Europe has also been a general benefit.

However, I strongly believe that democracy is necessary for future prosperity and even survival. Once democratic powers are lost, a sense of alienation and anger invariably follows - history indicates that these emotions can result in the rise of extremist parties and politicians, as we can already see in the European landscape. So let us have a common market and free movement of peoples, but let's repatriate the making of laws to national parliaments.

Co-operation is great, friendship is great, but let's hold on to democracy with both hands.

No taxation without representation, was the American manifestation of this philosophy a couple of hundred years ago.

Tim Martin is a member of the Vote Leave campaign group and founder of the JD Wetherspoon pub chain, which has nine pubs in Northern Ireland

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