COMMENT Only the Brits Play by the Rules

Article excerpt

The referendum on Europe was back in 1975. The result was a strong yes vote for staying in what was then still called the European Economic Community.

Certainly many people thought they were voting to build a real Common Market, "an area without internal frontiers in which the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured".

It would take time, we were told. But the various national barriers to trade would be progressively dismantled and a domestic market of some 370 million people would then be in place.

Nearly 25 years later, the Single Market is still not complete. Strong progress has been made but a number of the original barriers are still there. Certain countries continue to pump out state aid, especially to national airlines for example, which gives them an unfair competitive advantage.

Several manage to weave a web of protective local regulations which effectively lock out non-local suppliers. This week the electricity market is being opened up - except in France.

Fellow business colleagues in other European countries are amazed their own countries continue to get away with this blatant protectionism. The European Parliament should be fighting it but isn't.

The consensus seems to be that the parliament simply has other priorities: the dominant party, the Party of European Socialists, bolstered by the large British Labour bloc, is more focused on extending Social Chapter directives than on completing the Single Market. Regulation, regulation, regulation is their constant cry.

Meanwhile the British, as befits the inventors of cricket, tend to play by the rules.

There was a perfect example of this only last week. Conservatives have been leading a campaign to re-instate British beef on the menu as an option for school meals.

Despite agreement within other countries of the EU to lift the export ban, there is still a ban by some local authorities within this country. Even where counties such as Shropshire have given the lead in lifting the ban, local authorities are still careful to state that they cannot push "British" beef. …