'Britain’s being relegated to lowest tier in EU’ - UK MP Bill Cash

The crisis in Ukraine is grabbing headlines, with their economy balancing on the brink of collapse. Now, EU cheers up the new authorities in Kiev, promising the money to bring life to near-death state of Ukrainian finances – but doesn’t the EU have bigger problems on its hands? Is it even the role model it proclaims itself to be? Today Sophie talks over these issues with Bill Cash, a conservative member of the British Parliament.

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Sophie Shevardnadze:Bill Cash, a conservative member of the British Parliament is on our show, it’s great to have you with us today. I’m just going to go ahead and start from the latest news which is Ukraine obviously – “…the EU’s Eastern Partnership ambitions and the association treaty are responsible for the current crisis in Ukraine.” Those are your words, so if you elaborate on them – how and why?

Bill Cash: I’m very much in favor of political cooperation, I’m also very much in favor of trade throughout Europe and of course with Russia as well, and throughout the world, globally; but the problem is that this particular set of agreements and it’s the Eastern Partnership agreement as well as the Association Agreement, have in fact, in my opinion, been far too ambitious. It would have been far better if it had been a lower-key operation and in fact, Michael Lee, who is with the German Marshall Fund, the other day said that their policy was “misconceived” and he said he was one of the architects of the policy, and he went on to say, I’ll just quote from it: “This was misconceived from the outset and I was one of the culprits.” In retrospect, EU made a number of serious mistakes. It was not necessary or appropriate to present Ukraine with an incredibly demanding, deep incomprehensive, free trade agreement. Now, obviously, people can argue with that, but I think that that is the problem and my concern about the EU, which we may come on to later, is that it is overambitious and that it creates situations and I regard this as a crisis that could have been avoided if they hadn’t been so ambitious. I would have said that whatever the circumstances may have been when these things were first thought out, first of all, they were overambitious, but secondly, looking at the situation with Crimea and a whole of a Black Sea issue – the issue which was a matter of obvious vital national interest to Russia; that that issue, involving these questions as well, was, I would have said, bound to lead to a lot of very serious questions on a part of Russia, and I therefore think that the EU attitude has been extremely naïve. I would go further and say it has created a very unfortunate and dangerous situation.

SS:But what about now, Mr. Cash? Ukraine needs at least $35 bln by the end of next year to stay afloat, and it’s on the brink of bankruptcy – can the EU afford to follow through on its promise to help out?

BC: The answer is “No”, and there are serious concerns amongst my colleagues and certainly amongst many of them in the House of Commons, about the costs of all this – because when they say “35 billion” you can usually add quite a lot more. The fact is that proportionately, we’re liable I suspect for something of the order of 50 billion pounds worth of that; it may not be as much as that, but one way or another, it is a matter of concern to the British taxpayer and it ought to be a grave concern to the EU, which in many respects is pretty well bankrupt.

SS:But however much money you give to Ukraine, however much you can afford to give – how do you control that money, how can you make sure that the money you give to that country won’t end up in the new elite’s pockets?

BC: Well, that’s a very important question. It could apply to almost any country of the EU. The Court of Auditors in the EU have refused to sign off the European budgetary accounts for the last 21 years – so the probability of the money getting astray is very-very high, and there is a very track record in relation to the Ukraine in respect of problems of transparency and corruption. That is well known. Quite frankly, we don’t know the answer to the question, other than the probability is that we should exercise extreme prudence and in any case, I don’t think the money is there to pay for it.

SS:Your foreign minister has said that Ukraine can receive assistance in exchange for commitments and reforms. What kind of commitments does he mean? What exactly are those commitments?

BC: Well, I don’t know. What I do know is that there are very big questions here - I mean, I’m not underestimating the importance of trying to achieve a rational and well-negotiated answer to these problems. I’m not in favor of military invasion, I do think that this referendum which is being proposed in Crimea is being taken in extremely short notice and is against the background of quite a lot of pressure which is being exerted by the presence of the military personnel. But having said that, I do believe that it is extremely important that this matter is dealt with by rational and proper discussion between all the parties, but on a realistic basis. I can understand why Russia would be concerned about the relationship in terms of security and military questions, and the Crimea, which is as I said, of vital national interest in terms of the security of Russia, and has been for hundreds of years.

SS:Keeping in mind everything you’ve said right now, Mr. Cash and talking about being realistic – what do you think about Ukraine’s aspirations to join the EU? How realistic are they?

BC: I think the EU has become overextended, I think there are far too many countries. I’m very much in favor of forms of association between different countries, who voluntarily want to do so, on the basis that they are sovereign nation states. I heard George Soros on the radio this morning, arguing this, and I believe very strongly that it is extremely important that countries retain their independence although of course, this is a very good thing for them to trade together and to cooperate. I wrote a pamphlet about this in a year 2000, quoting Winston Churchill where he said “we should be associated, but not absorbed”, and I led the rebellion against my own government back in the 1999s, over the Maastricht Rebellion - I was the leader of the Maastricht Rebellion against the Conservative government, although I’m a conservative member of Parliament, because I thought the EU was overextending itself and so it is proved to be, with terrible results; it is completely dysfunctional. It is, in my opinion, nothing like as democratic as it has claimed, not that I’m claiming that other countries are as democratic as they should be: the Ukrainian situation at the moment would appear to be based on the government which is an interim government and not elected. There is much talk about the rule of law and international law, but I am afraid that I find it very difficult to regard what is going on at the moment, on any side, as being consistent with the international law. If I may say with respect, I think that the best that could happen would be that everybody stepped back, paused, and looked at the situation. I personally think that these Association agreements should be withdrawn for the time being, at any rate, and that everybody should sit around the table: Russia, different countries of the EU and the U.S. and take a very deep breath, and prevent what is the dangerous situation from escalating.

SS:Yeah, but it doesn’t seem like the parties involved want to step back and take a look, and take a break. I’m sure you know about recent leaked conversation between the top U.S. diplomats which openly dismiss the EU’s efforts in Ukraine – should the EU swallow its pride and follow America’s lead in matters of foreign policy?

BC: I think that individual countries within the European Union must, and that includes the UK, form their own foreign policy. I’m not in favor of the European foreign policy, I made that abundantly clear over many-many years; You only have to look at the situation that occurred in relation to the Gulf, Iraq, Kosovo – I can you give an endless list of failures by the EU. It is just simply a complete mess, and I don’t think that they are capable of achieving a foreign policy. I think that individual countries can still and should cooperate, and to aim for peace and stability – and this applies as much to Russia as it does for that matter to any of the other countries. I am afraid that the whole aspiration of a EU, a political union, which is absolutely the top of the priorities of the European establishment and the elite, which I oppose very vigorously indeed, is the cause of so many of these problems, both economic, political and in terms of foreign policy.

SS:The Americans are calling for serious sanctions against Russia, but how far can the EU go with this threat?

BC: Well, I’ve seen the regulations in question. In fact, I’m going to a meeting today, where these methods are going to be discussed, and I can only say that I’ve seen that they have aimed at certain individuals and there are economic sanctions being drafted and so and so forth. But, of course, as George Soros said on the radio this morning – “Once you start throwing economic sanctions in one direction, they have a way of coming back at you”, and given the fact that everyone is saying there won’t be any military intervention, so far as Crimea as concerned; and that’s appears to be ruled out by our foreign secretary and by many others – then, there is no ultimate sanction, which is being proposed, and therefore, it would appear to be there are all the ingredients for an escalation of an economic war, and that is actually a very-very bad situation. When you have economic warfare between great nations, particularly in this global economy, with contractions of the EU, the implosion of European economy, you are bound to end up with more and more difficulties, troubles, and making the situation worse rather than better.

SS:Now the EU has recently asked London for extra funds, and those funds are amounting to more than UK spends on its own foreign office. Surely, there are some benefits to that, right? I mean, some of that comes to the country through the redistribution, foreign trade, right?

BC: Yes, I mean, I don’t regard the EU as having its own money as such – it’s a way of interpreting the situation. When we get our money back, and we are net contributors on a massive scale, and by the way, it’s going up dramatically, thanks to Tony Blair and previous government – then I regard that as our money anyway, so I don’t regard them as giving us any benefit out of it. As far as I’m concerned, it’s our money and I’m very glad we’re getting it back again. I was the person who put down the amendment for the reduction of the European budget, which was accepted by the House of Commons just before David Cameron made his own very sensible decision to go for the reduction of the budget himself.

SS:Also, corruption in the EU is another huge problem. As one EU official put it, the scale of it is “breathtaking”. Is it also felt in London, and what can be done about it?

BC: Well, it is breathtaking. I may say that I wouldn’t exonerate any country, I don’t know for certain, but from all the reports that one gets, there is also corruption in Russia and corruption in the Ukraine, and in many other parts of the world. It’s just one of the modern scourges of a global economy. It’s same in China and various other countries, by all accounts. All I can say is that it has to be dealt with. The court of Auditors of the EU do their best. We have a debate on that in the House of Commons regularly – every year. I’ve in fact been on the European Committee of the House of Commons for 30 years now, and all I can tell you is that it hasn’t been signed off, as far as I’m aware, for the last 21 years, so the accounts are extremely dubious and corruption is rife. I personally think this is one of the problems of the EU that would be best dealt with as we do in the House of Commons through our public accounts committee which supervises and audits our national accounts, and they have done very well indeed, but bringing this to Europe is another story altogether.

SS: Germany is the strongest economy in the Europe, bearing the brunt of a string of bailouts, but also calling most of the shots as well. Did Germany create an accidental empire out of the EU?

BC: I am extremely concerned about anyone country having a predominant role in the EU. We are locked into it by a virtue of treaties and through the European Communities Act of 1972, I’ve argued against this for extremely long time, but I don’t think that the consequences – and this is a very large subject - of majority voting and co-decision in the European Parliament and inadequacies in the way that European Parliament functions are a proper way of sustaining the kind of democracy we need. I think that Germany has the disproportionate amount of power in that context, because those countries economically dependent on Germany inevitably look to Germany, economically and politically. I don’t think that’s healthy, as I’ve said in Germany itself, I don’t think it’s healthy for Germany and I don’t think it’s healthy for Europe as a whole.

SS:Now you’ve said in many instances the EU is a failed project. Why? And, what is the alternative to the EU in that case?

BC: There is a positive message – and that positive message is that there are many values and many democratic aspects of the individual member states, which, in combination through sensible cooperation, without pushing individual countries too far in the given direction, without anyone dominant country, without in fact Britain being relegated to the second tier of the two-tier Europe – which is what is going on, which is totally and utterly unacceptable and the British people by considerable margin agree with what I’ve said over this, over the last 20 years – there is an alternative, which is both peaceful, prosperous, stable and uncorrupt and transparent. But it has to be based on democracy and democracy is about the votes of those people, in UK, as far as I’m concerned, within general elections when they decide the government that they want. That is the key issue, and we go back to that, I go back to that every single time.

SS:Talking about great democracy and protecting it – you’ve also said that the right of people to choose the laws they want will be under threat in case of further European integration. What exactly did you mean?

BC: Well, exactly what I’ve just said. By majority voting, which is increasing and moving into more and more areas, with the Lisbon treaty, which I opposed, and yet it is now being implemented by our government, and it contains a lot of issues, including increases in majority voting, which deprive the British people of having the kind of laws that they wish to have for themselves, which they should be allowed to choose through their elected representatives – because that is the essence of what David Cameron said when he said that the National Parliaments are the root of our democracy.

SS:But, here’s another thing. You’ve been against all things EU for ages, but only now you and your views are making it into the mainstream – what’s changed?

BC: Well, I think that’s the recognition that it didn’t work. It has taken a very-very long time. People move slowly in these matters, and the establishment in the elite have their ability through the control over leaders of government, the spin-masters and also their contacts and the manipulation of the arguments, to create circumstances in which it’s very difficult for those of us in the back benches to win the arguments. It his extraordinary, how often, great issues in the UK and the UK’s Parliament have ultimately been decided by the views of those who were in the minority, who’ve ultimately been demonstrated to have been right – not with any great self-satisfaction, because as far as I’m concerned, it’s all pretty obvious, and was when I started arguing about this matters in the late 1980s.

SS:Now, some MPs are saying that the scale of immigration has left Britain unrecognizable, with some parts of the country alienated, even. Do you share this sentiment? Is the EU to blame for this as well?

BC: I am very concerned about the scale of immigration. You have to remember that unlike Russia, the UK is a relatively small land-mass. Unlike France it is a relatively small land-mass. And the fact is that we have a capacity which is being exceeded. I am actually not in principle against immigration – I have to say that, I believe that it is a very good thing for people in individual countries to move from one country to another, and I think it is a very healthy thing economically for that to happen. But, by the same token, there have to be limits. An uncontrolled immigration, as conservative party and David Cameron made clear, is not a good idea, I happen to agree with that, but much of our immigration also comes from our Commonwealth, from the former Empire, and that has also contributed to both benefits and disadvantages.

SC: Thank you very much for this interesting conversation. Bill Cash, a conservative member of the British Parliament, talking to us about whether Ukraine could have its rightful place in the EU, also talking pros and cons of Britain’s membership of the EU. That’s it for this edition of the Sophie&Co, we’ll see you next time.