Boris Johnson understands the problems of the EU better than anyone else in this country. Once he was our man in Brussels and Maggie’s favourite journalist. In the Daily Tel. today, Boris points out that if Denmark has special treatment, tailored to her needs, why can’t we? But Cameron wll ignore this, like he does every brilliant suggestion that Boris comes up with.Boris begins: “Suppose you can’t take it any more – the temptation is too much. You’ve watched those Scandi-noir TV shows. You’ve been mesmerised by the charismatic female detectives in their Charlie Brown sweaters and their amusing way of saying “tak” for thank you. You have vicariously drunk so deep of Danish culture – the lager, the sausages, the whole snuggly wood-burning cosiness of it all, the extraordinary way they all seem able to speak the most perfectly accentless English – that finally something snaps inside your head, and one day you announce to your startled spouse: “Darling! That’s it! We’re off. We’re selling up and we are buying a home in Denmark.”
And you paint a picture of the life in the land of Lego and Havarti cheese: a clapboard cottage set back from a long bone-white beach, a place of curlews and lapwings and boats for the grand-children; and endless gentle guitar-strumming parties in the magical evening light of the northern summer. “OK!” says your spouse. “You sold it. Let’s do it!” And you get online and you google “Buy a home in Denmark” – and pow; you sink back in your chair in disbelief. Try it; you’ll see what I mean. “For fanden!” you will say, as they do in those Danish TV shows – or goddammit all to hell. If you want to buy a home in Denmark, you basically need to be Danish – or to have lived in that country for at least five years. That rules out most people in the UK. Holiday home in Jutland? Nej, baby.
Here we are – Denmark and Britain – both members of the European Union; indeed we joined at the same time. We both participate in what we are endlessly told is the great seamless unity of the single market. We are both supposedly communicants of that vast and inflexible euro-religion, which holds that every member state must commit itself body and soul to the four sacred freedoms – the cross-border movement of goods, people, services and capital; and we are assured by the pontifical authorities in Brussels – and by their high priests in the UK – that if there is any deviation from those principles, any violation, any variation, any genuflection to national peculiarity, no matter how trivial, the whole edifice of European law will come crashing down with devastating and unimaginable consequences.
That is what Brussels tells us; and as so often the Euro-priests are talking tripe. If you want a classic example of how the EU survives, while recognising national particularity, look at Danish property law. There is nothing to stop a Dane buying a home in London or any other part of the UK, under basic EU principles. It doesn’t work the other way round; and everyone understands why the Danes want it that way. It goes back at least to the Schleswig-Holstein question of 1863, or even before. One way or another the Danes don’t want the Germans buying up bits of Jutland. They want those villages to be Danish; they like to see red and white Danish flags flying above the clapboard homes.
They don’t want an endless stream of Stuttgart businessmen coming in their Mercs, putting down big cash deposits, and driving out the local folk. So they insisted on their right to have it their own way, and they negotiated their exemption when they joined the Common Market, and in every subsequent treaty revision they have consecrated this right to national self-determination; and no one makes a fuss. No one blames the Danes or says it is the end of the EU. I point this out because I am fed up to the back teeth with reading pious and ill-informed claptrap from some UK commentators, to the effect that David Cameron’s proposals on EU borders are somehow destructive of the single market and its “cherished principles”.
What rubbish. If this whole project is going to survive – and it is an ever bigger if – we need it to be more flexible and more devolutionary: more willing to recognise national particularities. Like the Danes, Britain is a special case. It is not just that we are one of the biggest magnets for immigrants – we share that status with Germany. We are unlike any other EU country (especially Germany) in the current rate of population growth, which has been largely – though by no means entirely – driven by recent immigration.
In London alone, we will need to find another 165,000 school places in the next five years. We will need to build another 80 secondary schools. That is a big expense for the taxpayer. As I have said many times in this space, I am a passionate believer in the benefits of migration. Waves of talent from overseas have helped to make our capital the most dynamic urban economy in Europe. But it should be up to us in this country to decide – as they do in America and Australia – whom to admit and when to admit them. Now our friends in Brussels have given us the bum’s rush, and said they won’t agree to the four-year cooling-off period that the PM has proposed.
This would have meant you can’t come here and immediately clamp your jaws around the teat of the benefits system. I happen to think this idea would have been generally popular with European electorates, but never mind; they won’t have it. So my question is: what will they agree to? We need to know. These people are radically and dangerously misreading the Prime Minister if they think he wants to stay in the EU at any price. The David Cameron I know is much more Eurosceptic than some of his senior colleagues. We need to hear soon about ways in which Parliament can halt the tide of EU regulation, and ways in which we can regain some control of our borders.
The PM’s suggestion was modest, and sensible. It has been recklessly disregarded. This country could have a viable and exciting future outside the present EU arrangements. If we are going to stay, we need reform; and if the Danes can have their special circumstances recognised, so can Britain.