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Speech by Winston Peters at the House of Lords

Speech by Winston Peters at the House of Lords

Rt Hon Winston Peters
New Zealand First Leader
Member of Parliament for Northland
13 MAY 2016

Speech by New Zealand First Leader and Member of Parliament for Northland Rt Hon Winston Peters
The House of Lords
Committee Room 3A,
Westminster, London
10am, Thursday, May 12th, 2016 (UK time)


To leave or to stay in the EU is for the British people to decide. In what appears as a raging internal debate, there nevertheless is a vast audience of outsiders who are carefully watching, assessing the arguments for and against and contemplating what it could all mean.

This is an outsider’s view of some of the pros and cons, and what opportunities may really avail.

To begin with we on the outside have always known, that since joining the EU there has been a strong “Eurosceptic” movement just below the surface of British politics.

Apart from grievances with unwieldy EU bureaucracy and loss of sovereignty, much of the anti-EU sentiment stems from concern with immigration. The UK in the EU, is an open door, a wealthy country and a magnet for people from EU countries like Poland and Romania that enjoy open access, work and welfare benefits.

There has been a growing element in the “EU Process” that does not make any sense, of a bureaucratic disconnect with ordinary people, whatever their nation might be. Laws banning abnormal curvature in cucumbers and bananas, banning children under 8 from blowing up balloons, and making it a crime to eat your own pet horse, but not that of your neighbour, to banning prunes from being advertised as a laxative. Anyone who has over eaten enough prunes knows just how risible and distressing that is. In short, ridiculous laws, drafted by high paid minds, that seem deliberately obtuse.

And on the question of migration many observers have watcher in apprehension and dismay at the invasion of sovereign countries and their seeming inability to do anything about it. Accordingly, the migrant crisis is ongoing and on which EU leadership appears dysfunctional and indecisive.

Perhaps most alarming in the current debate, to Brexit or not, are some extraordinary claims. For example, yesterday, it was alleged that Britain leaving the EU would cost every person in the UK between 500 and 2,000 pounds a year- by 2030.

Now there are some quite unusual features connected with such a claim. First, 2030 is 14 years away. Second, 500 pounds is 75% lower than 2000 pounds. The difference suggests that whoever did these calculations is looser than the proverbial goose.

Yesterday the UK trade deficit figures with the EU came out at a record high, all of which means debt to the UK voter.

Ladies and gentlemen, ironic indeed is the 2000 pound per annum loss claimed to each citizen as an example. It raises the suspicion that the 11th hour discovery of the real economic interests of the ordinary Briton has occurred in somewhat the same way as Christopher Columbus discovered America- purely by accident. The analogy doesn’t stop there, because as you will recall Columbus was advised not to go because, his boat would drop off the end of the world; similar to the current “remain” threat of world war three.

But back to the 2000 pounds, if you look carefully at EU GDP growth rates, or rather the lack of them, 2000 pounds is about what the ordinary Briton has already lost in real terms, in a little over a decade.

The EU is Britain’s largest trading partner and some opine Brexit would adversely impact jobs and growth, that Brexit would be a legal minefield, and could take years with uncertainty impacting business investment.

If you ask the average Briton today about the impact of two million EU workers in Briton, they will confirm that already has had an impact, an adverse one on their economic and social opportunities. They certainly know that economic growth has been stunted. And anyone who thinks that EU processes are plain sailing simply has never engaged with them.

Some might conceive of an EU, sans UK retaliating against the second largest economy in Europe. A glance at the EU GDP growth figures in recent years suggests that option is not available to the EU. The French and German people are having elections next year, after which time it is reputed they are going to come forward with a plan for the future of the Eurozone. That says much of what they think of the present plan. Neither low GDP growth or EU stagnation appear to support the scaremongers.

To those who say the effect on London as a financial centre would be critical. There is an obvious response. London has been a global financial centre for centuries and way beyond the EU. Banking, as London knows best, is global and dependent upon real expertise.

However, the most critical element, much overlooked in this debate is the economic and social advances that only real freedom can germinate and cause to flourish. The benefit of real freedom is economic development born of fair competition, that allows innovation to emerge and prosper. It nurtures and encourages it. And in many ways the EU environment has stultified real competition. Recent GDP growth rates attest to that.

“Breaking up is always hard to do”, or so goes the song. But the leave side see a massive opportunity, which many outside observers see as well.

The question that many are asking is, “if not the EU then what?” The largest part of the answer to that question is staring them in the face.

It’s based in history. It arises from both trade and empire and it is a Commonwealth of enormous growth. With much of that growth coming after the UK left our special relationship.

The Commonwealth the UK will find in 2016 is quite different to the one it turned its back on in 1973. Infrastructure has come on in leaps and bounds. The days of the Commonwealth having nothing but raw commodities are gone.

It is now a dynamic powerhouse, crossing every time zone and trading session in the world. It covers nearly 30 million square kilometres, almost a quarter of the World’s land area. It’s members can be found in every single inhabited continent. Together, we have a population of over 2.3 billion, nearly a third of the world’s population. In 2014 the Commonwealth produced GDP of $10.45 trillion, a massive 17% of gross world product. Seen that way the Commonwealth could be a colossus.

It has a diversity of markets the EU can only dream of, from first world economies to emerging markets with huge growth potential. Part of the choice the UK faces is of a Europe, divided and indebted, or trade in the developed and emerging economies of The Commonwealth. By 2050 the population of The Commonwealth will have increased by 30%, whilst the EU will have dropped by 2%. GDP growth in the Eurozone has amounted to just 0.7% in recent years, Commonwealth GDP grew by 5%.

Eighteen of the Commonwealth’s 53 countries are in Africa, the only continent which during the Global Financial Crisis did not have a single quarter of negative growth. Unlike the EU which took a collective plunge into the freezing waters of the GFC, the Commonwealth with its geographical and economic diversity is a strength, not a weakness and with diversity, both economic and cultural, it mirrors the global economy which the EU does not.

At a time of increasing world tension and polarisation, with talk of a new cold war, the opportunity to foster better trading relations with, for example, India and South Africa, is massive.

Why trade on a continental scale, when you could really trade on a global scale?

The reaction of some on the “remain side” put one in mind of the famous words of Marilyn Rice-Davies in one of the most memorable quotes in British Politics, “He would say that wouldn’t he?” First, that any of the 53 Commonwealth Nations has the power of veto, as though the UN security council does not. Second, that it is dysfunctional, as though the EU are sitting around the campfire singing kumbaya on migration. Third, that many of its members are economic cot cases, as though Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain are economic powerhouses. Four, that distance is in effect a non-tariff barrier, as if the East India Trading company never left port or that transport costs or not being massively reduced. And, Fifth, as though the Geographic Concern is not being met by high end, added value products being moved by sea and air.

The UK returning to the Commonwealth, and the creation of a Commonwealth Free Trade Area would heal a rift dating back 43 years.

It will not be easy, it will not be simple and it will not happen overnight. It will take great courage and statesmanship but in what appears to be a sea of EU atrophy, Britain taking a bold and courageous step back to The Commonwealth with a fresh approach is something that The Commonwealth would respond positively to. It would signal the dawn of a new age of Commonwealth economic advancement.

And to those who point to elements of corruption in the Commonwealth; that is a problem most Commonwealth countries acknowledge and detest in the same way we abhorred the background to the Wall Street generated global financial crisis of 2007, or the Big Short, which hitherto respected finance houses engaged in to rapidly spread it’s cancerous effects.

The gesture alone of the UK, coming back would be more significant to the Commonwealth than many in the UK realise. The young countries of Australia, Canada and New Zealand, among others, answered the “Home Country” call in not just one, but two world wars. The names of Passchendaele, the Somme and El Alamein have been branded into the New Zealand consciousness just as much as the British. Reminders are found in all of our small towns of our sacrifice in defence of the Empire.

At the height of WW2 New Zealand had over 150,000 men under arms, truly remarkable for a country of just 1.6 million at the time. While Britain lost 5123 men per million of population, New Zealand lost 6684. Strong were our feelings when the UK turned toward the EU and away from the Commonwealth throwing the economies of our countries which had sacrificed so much into shock, all while the sacrifices made for the Empire were still in living memory.

But that’s in the past and many outsiders are telling the British that they must remain. New Zealand’s Prime Minister has. So did former Canadian Prime Minister Harper, and President Obama.

None of those leaders asked their people, or your people, first.

This is a decision that the people that once made Britain great, alone must make. You live in the United Kingdom, you pay taxes to Brussels, and you are subject to European Union control.

Anyone who thinks that the economy of the nation that once created the largest empire in history will be suddenly laid to ruin upon leaving the EU is greatly mistaken, or having left will be friendless, doesn’t understand history or realise when push comes to shove how deep Commonwealth bonds are.

The British people stand on the cusp of an exciting future.

It will not be easy to achieve that future. But if there is one nation that can do it, it is the British.

One caution. If a majority of British people are swayed by the undue influence of outside money, of foreign interests openly contaminating your nations referendum, then that would be a British people that frankly the commonwealth really wouldn’t want.

But if to be British in 2016, on 23 June, is to have stoically confronted and defeated a disgraceful trespass and attempted perversion of your democracy, then that would be the British The Commonwealth would welcome back with open arms.

The world is a far bigger place than the 28 EU member states. Britain forgot that once, at its present cost. Some of us believe that you won’t make that mistake again.

After all it was a Briton who centuries ago wrote this call to action:

“There comes a tide in the affairs of men, which if taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”


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