26 APRIL 2003, Page 31

True cost of Europe

From Michael Fabricant, MP Sir: Tim Congdon ('The dawning of a new Europe', 19 April) rightly points out that there is a pressing need 'for the UK to reassess the economic case for European involvement'. And by 'European involvement' he means membership of the European Union.

A couple of weeks back, the minister for Europe, Denis MacShane, revealed in an answer to me in the Commons Chamber that no analysis of costs and benefits of membership of the EU has been undertaken since 1997. Even that analysis was restricted to the economic effects on Britain of European enlargement.

But a more recent analysis performed by the US government rather backs up Tim Congdon's assertion that we would have lost nothing had we not joined the European Union. Indeed, the analysis goes further. It claims that. given Britain's membership of the World Trade Organisation which gives us access to European markets anyway, far from benefiting us, our membership of the EU actually costs Britain $45 billion annually. Or, to put it another way, taking all the direct and indirect benefits into account, the cost is equivalent to our government opening and staffing 100 brand-new district hospitals each year. Waiting-lists would be a thing of the past.

Nothing is for ever. Alliances come and go. It is anachronistic to claim — at a time when phone calls to America are cheaper than to France, an email to Sydney is free. and UK companies are the biggest investors in the United States and vice versa — that geography alone should dictate our economic destiny. By the end of the 20th century, compatibility in language, law and heritage was already determining trading patterns in free markets, not political or mere geographical considerations.

A future Conservative government — if not this Labour one — should pledge itself to undertake a full economic analysis of our EU membership and publish the results. Europhiles convinced of the rightness of EU membership should have nothing to fear from this. If it turns out that the US has got it wrong and that we do benefit from our membership, I shall be both surprised and delighted.

Michael Fabricant Conservative Member for Lichfield, House of Commons.

London SW1