The increasing transfer of power from Westminster to Brussels prior to last year’s referendum reduced policymakers’ ability to deliver on their promises, which has led to a lasting corrosion of the public’s trust in politicians, says Alex Fiuza.
To paraphrase Jane Austen, it was not always a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of political ambitions, must be in want of integrity. It is no secret most people think politicians shifty, untrustworthy and power-hungry. Only bankers are as disliked. Trust in government and elected politicians, the foundation of our democratic system, has steadily eroded. Taking back control as we leave the European Union is the beginning of a solution. Here we will explain why.
Polling by the Edelmen Trust Barometer bears this feeling out. Only 26 per cent of those polled trust the Government. Only the Prime Minister, Theresa May, was trusted by more than 25 per cent, and even then only 35 per cent claimed to trust her, and over half of those surveyed felt the current system was not working for them. For comparison, in the late 1980s, half the population trusted politicians – a better number, but the rest still didn’t trust them.
Why has this happened, you may ask? It has many causes, but the greatest is a failure of politicians to keep their promises. As the power of the EU has grown, this has become worse. Brussels seizing control over entire swathes of policy, to the point of passing 70 per cent of our laws, puts much of actual governing beyond our Government’s power.
Westminster cannot control immigration or curb migrant benefits. We get no say on whether net immigration is 30,000 or 330,000, no matter the pressures on housing and services. The Government cannot get rid of regressive taxes on tampons and energy. These taxes add hundreds of pounds to bills, no matter how much people struggle with the cost of living. It cannot cut waste by adjusting certain procurement practices. This leads to billions of pounds of waste every year, waste the Government cannot touch as it struggles to close the deficit.
We cannot even create trade deals for ourselves. No matter how far the proportion of our trade with the EU falls, we cannot pursue deals of our own due to EU membership rules. This leaves us to drift into higher and higher prices because of EU tariffs and protectionism. British politicians can’t tailor rules and regulations to our needs. If misguided red tape is suffocating businesses, or if the EU locks us into unsafe practices, there is nothing Westminster can do about it. In some extreme cases EU law has even prevented us from deporting terrorists and hate preachers on the thinnest of grounds, but again, our Government is powerless to change this while we are in the EU.
Countless policies people want and expect to change through the democratic process have been taken over by the EU. This has disenfranchised the electorate, and has allowed politicians to make empty promises they know Brussels will never allow them to keep. In a word, it makes our Government less accountable.
Once we have left the EU – including necessarily the Single Market and the Customs Union – politicians will have their hands untied. Their promises on all manner of issues that Brussels now controls will mean something again. Of course, giving them back the tools to keep their promises and pursue the national interest in full, won’t necessarily make them do so. The voters will need to constantly hold the politicians to account. Improving our politics won’t always be easy, and the results will still be imperfect. Brexit allows us to take a necessary first step, however, and this in itself is worthy. Our vote in the EU Referendum to take back control was among the most important votes in our history – in large part because it should make voting matter so much more. When we have left the EU we will be back in control – although it may take time to make sure we control the whole of our lives. We will, at least, be sovereign once again.
This was the primary motivation for almost 50% of Leave voters. It matters because it will strip Westminster of one of its biggest excuses for not living up to its promises. It will allow us to pursue our national interest in full, without the hindrance of catering to the other 27 Member States. It will ensure we don’t live in a watered-down democracy over whose decisions we have less and less influence. Of course, it isn’t an immediate ticket to a better politics, but it is a necessary first step. Improving our politics is a goal almost every Briton should get behind. This is what is possible when we Get Britain Out of the EU in March 2019 – and members of the Cabinet, like the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd and others should remember.