‘I’m a European but I’m voting out of the uncontrolled, unaccountable EU’
- Credit: Archant
I am European. As Europeans we generally share common values, a common religion, heritage, culture and history. We have common treaties, which, in the case of Portugal, go back to the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373.
As a student, I worked as a waiter at the Normandy Hotel in Deauville and, as a barman, at the Westminster Hotel in Le Touquet. At the time I spoke reasonable French. My daughter was educated at the Paris Opera and joined a German ballet company for several years.
Either for business or pleasure I have visited no fewer than 16 European countries. I have served on an EU committee in Brussels and have the honour of being created a 'Chevalier' by Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands.
Yes. I am European.
Yet at the upcoming EU referendum I shall vote to leave. I have been opposed to the EEC from the start, initially for reasons of self-interest, but latterly in the belief that it is in the UK's interest to distance itself from this bureaucratic, undemocratic, uncontrolled and unaccountable empire.
This has nothing to do with my not being a 'good' European. In fact I despair when I hear the argument that we should vote to stay in the EEC, based, so it would seem, on little more than a desire to holiday on the continent, or in the case of some young people on the assumption that they are more global in outlook than their elders. Hopefully those young people, who actually vote, will have a longer term vision for their future and will be better informed.
My own initial opposition to joining the European Economic Community dates back to the early 1970s. At that time our family business was based on a substantial fleet of vessels, fishing out of the port of Lowestoft. On June 30, 1970, just six hours before Denmark, Ireland, Norway and the UK entered into negotiations to join the EU, the existing six members hastily agreed the principle of equal access to fish in EU waters. (This wasn't difficult for Luxembourg.) The four applicant countries were to surrender well over 90pc of the total fish stocks to the European Union. In the end the people of Norway defied their government and, in a referendum, decided not to join. They have done this twice.
- 1 Norfolk fish and chip shop named one of the 10 best in the UK
- 2 Vandals smash charity dinosaur trail T.rex and leave kebab in its mouth
- 3 Café serving produce fresh from its farm opens in north Norfolk
- 4 Teenager died after choking on own vomit
- 5 Banksy mural created to spark debate after town's artwork was sold
- 6 Woman accused of exposing herself to boy outside Lowestoft park
- 7 Motorcyclist suffers serious injuries in crash with 4x4 outside village pub
- 8 Some firefighters using foodbanks amid £18m payroll system 'farce'
- 9 Police break up rave at country park
- 10 'Disappointed and angry' - Cricket pitch repeatedly vandalised by bikers
I had met Ted Heath (before he became prime minister) at a small luncheon party at the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club in Lowestoft. I formed the impression that he was not a man of the people and lacked the personality to be prime minister. He did not appear to understand our concerns. It was no surprise to me that, in his overarching desire to take the UK into the EEC, he ignored many national interests including the interests of our country's fishermen. Furthermore, his Tory government used every possible means to persuade the electorate to support entry into the EEC, disguising it as a 'Common Market'.
Some time ago I was asked to serve on an EU sub-committee on social harmonisation within the European fishing industry. There were representatives from all members of the EU, from both sides of industry.
At tremendous cost we enjoyed instantaneous translation and produced large quantities of paper all translated into our respective languages. This was at a time when Britain's fishing industry was in severe decline, which resulted in the virtual elimination of the fishing fleets of Aberdeen, Hull, Grimsby and Lowestoft. One agenda item that we discussed at some length was that fishing skippers should attend a two-year degree course to be held in Brussels and conducted in French. My opposition to this was described as pragmatique and, although this was translated as pragmatic, it was clearly intended as an insult.
Most meetings lasted a day but considerable time and discussion went into planning a plenary meeting, which was held in much luxury and with great hospitality over three days in Venice.
The young career EU official, who was our rapporteur, was clearly under pressure to produce a report for his superiors bursting with conclusions.
After two years, when we had achieved nothing, I resigned. I felt that it was a waste of my time, my company's time and the taxpayers' money.
As the referendum approaches we are being inundated with so- called facts from both the Remain and Leave factions. The truth is that it is almost impossible to predict what will happen if we remain in the EU, let alone if we leave.
One fact is undeniable. We have already sacrificed sovereignty in the cause of European Union, and will have to sacrifice more as the European Union expands.
However, we have sacrificed more than sovereignty. We have traded an easily understood parliamentary system for something that practically no-one understands.
So how should I vote?
There is a lecturer at the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto called Lawrence LeDuc. He has studied referenda around the world and written extensively on the subject. It would be wrong to summarise his findings in one short paragraph, but it is fair to say that he has found that there is a tendency for the electorate, out of fear of change, to vote for the status quo.
We can be sure that the Remain campaign will rely heavily on the fear factor. This will influence a large section of the electorate, but this is probably Britain's last chance to regain its sovereignty and renegotiate its relationship with the EU. If we vote to remain we can wave goodbye to that.
If we vote to leave we have a chance to renegotiate our whole relationship, not only with Europe, but also the rest of the world.
•Tim Spurrier was the chairman and managing director of Lowestoft-based Small & Company from 1986 to 1998.