Mr Weatherley was guest speaker at the British Chamber of Commerce of Thailand (BCCT) Phuket Business Dinner event at the Amari Patong hotel, where his mandate for the evening was to deliver his appraisal of “Brexit – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats”.
Noting that the “Brexit” debate was divisive – even amongst families – Mr Weatherley opened his appraisal focusing on two key aspects: ideological and economic, and quickly dismantled rationales for “remain in the EU” along both lines of thinking.
Making short work of the ideological argument, Mr Weatherley decried the EU as “bureaucratic, unelected and wasteful”. One key example cited was the legally binding requirement for members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to convene in Strasbourg once every four weeks simply because it was written into the original treaty.
“I am not sure everyone here realises this happens, but every one of the 751 MEPs, every support staff, every translator – the lot – all decamp 440 kilometres costing the tax payer at least 144 million euros (B5.35 billion) per year – some even estimate it is over 400mn euros p.a. The EU has the figure at officially 3.5 billion euros (B130bn) so far in the EU history and I can assure you it is much higher when taking into account the building upkeep, catering transfer and so on,” he said.
Worse, MEPs themselves have voted against the requirement, but yet it stays.
“I mentioned this to the PM (Prime Minister David Cameron, at the time) and his reply was, ‘Yes, Mike, we all know that is wrong, but there is nothing we can do about it’.
“And my reply was, ‘Right there PM, you know something is wrong, 99% of Europe doesn’t want to do it, but we can’t change it? The EU project is doomed to failure if we can’t even be adaptable to change that one small, obvious thing’.,” Mr Weatherley said.
The EU also failed as a functioning democratic institution, he added.
“In my capacity as Intellectual Property adviser to the PM, I made frequent trips to Brussels. Not to see the democratically elected MEPs to lobby for a particular law – there is almost no point in doing that. The real power lies with the Commissioners and the Directors of the various Directorates,” he explained.
“These officials are not elected by the people, but are appointed by the individual Governments getting together and deciding who they would like. And quite often these Commissioners are failed politicians who are given favours by their party – Kinnock and Mandelson spring readily to mind. But all parties do it. They control 23,000 Civil servants split into various Directorates. Run by a senior civil servant that basically has a job for life.
“And when meeting these Commissioners, or Directors, for anyone who has watched ‘Yes Minister’ it is 100 times worse. If they don’t agree, you can’t lobby to get them deselected, outvoted or anything. It is the most frustrating political accountability experience, and I haven’t even started on the Council set up and other departments,” he said.
On the Economic front, Mr Weatherley admitted, “if it makes financial sense, then all those other things could be overlooked. Maybe.”
Yet that, too, faltered, he said.
“The EU share of worldwide GDP in 1973 was 37%. In 2025 it is forecast to be down to 22%. And when I look at how groupings such as Asean is coming together it fills me with horror as to how the EU collectively will slip even further.
“I was the Chair of the All Party Asean Group and no matter how hard I tried to impress on everyone the economic long term growth from this region, people were incredibly blinkered,” he said.
In his opinion, the EU is too introspective, and consequently missing out on trade deals with non-member countries simply because it takes not just all member states to agree, but even constituencies within EU nations.
To his he cited the example of Canada, after 12 years of negotiations, bowing out of a major trade deal because of one province in Belgium that diasagreed.
Further, he added, “In fact, the officers of our Parliamentary Asdean Group had regular meetings with the 10 Asean Ambassadors in London who expressed their enduring frustration at their long-standing attempts to do trade deals with the UK Government only to be rebuffed with replies that we are a member state of the EU and the deal needs to be done with them. A deal that is thus far a long way from completion. It’s been 10 years in the making so far. Although Singapore did sign an agreement in 2014,” he said.
Other issues included the EU’s lack of accountability for its own finances, “The EU accounts have not been accurate since 1995 – the rules were changed to not allow a negative auditors opinion but they did at last however give a clean opinion in 2007 and all years since – but also noted material errors in every single year. It’s a mess,” Mr Weatherley pointed out.
Among the threats, Mr Weatherley recognised that UK’s financial district “might be a problem” in the initial stages as the UK is heavily dependent on financial services as export revenue.
“HSBC has moved to France, but I am very familiar with French labour law, and if they want to do that then that’s up to them. I do not see others following,” he said.
“Also, the rule of English law is well respected around the world, and this will remain a key attraction for financial services to stay,” he added.
Responding to the question, “So, what exactly has changed so far?” Mr Weatherley replied candidly, “Right now, nothing. Nothing will change until the EU agrees the terms of Britain’s exit.”
The explanation lent itself to questions about the current low currency value, this week trading at 43 baht to the pound.
“In my opinion the pound was overvalued anyway and this was bound to happen, but kind in mind that this is good for exports. We have come out of a recession on an export-led recovery, and could well do so again.
“However, I do not see any major changes soon, not until the UK starts signing trade deals, and that includes with the EU,” he said.
Mr Weatherley noted that it was “unthinkable” to have no trade between the UK and the EU even after Brexit, and its deadline two years from now.
“The EU exports to the UK 50 billion euros net a year, which they would not want to lose, and the Lisbon Treaty actually specifies that any country leaving must be given a trade deal. So all this talk that the UK will be cut out of a trade deal with the UK actually goes against what was included in the treaty in the first place,” he said.
“I think the whole EU project needs to be broken up and we need to start from scratch. Yes, I believe in close cooperation with our European neighbours. And I think there is lots we can do that will be in our collective interest. But it cannot be done under the current set up,” he concluded.
The BCCT welcomes suggestions for topics, and expert speakers, for the Business Dinner Series. Email Greg@BCCThai.com The Phuket News is a proud sponsor of the BCCT Phuket Business Dinner series.