“Stronger Together” – highlights of CIB’s annual rally, 11th April

The Campaign for an Independent Britain held a public rally at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster, London on Saturday March 11th.

The rally featured speakers from a number of affiliated eurosceptic groups – highly appropriate given the title of the meeting was “Stronger together, looking forward. Bringing the Eurorealist groups together”. The meeting was chaired by CIB’s chairman Petrina Holdsworth and both George West, CIB’s President and our Hon. Secretary Edward Spalton, gave addresses. The other speakers came from organisations affiliated to CIB – John Mills from the Labour Euro Safeguards Campaign, Simon Richards from The Freedom Association and Robert Oulds from the Bruges Group.

The prospect of a referendum if David Cameron is returned to power in next month’s General Election dominated the meeting and has unquestionably been a factor in encouraging eurosceptic groups to recognise the need to work more closely together. The speakers agreed that a referendum before 2017 looked to be highly improbable, but it was pointed out that Cameron has selected the second half of that year deliberately to coincide with the UK presidency of the EU. Although a Conservative victory is by no means a foregone conclusion, it is most likely that Cameron’s team have agreed on the choreography with the main players (such as Germany’s Chancellor Merkel) that will enable him to claim a significant concession that will pull the wool over the electorate’s eyes. In other words, he is seeking to repeat Harold Wilson’s trick in 1975, where nothing of any significance was really agreed.

All the speakers acknowledged that we start as the underdogs, although underdogs have a long history of pulling off surprising victories. Simon Richards suggested that several different campaigns to suit different sections of the electorate may be one way forward. John Mills mentioned his involvement with Business for Britain and the importance of winning support from the business community. He mentioned the slogan used by the “out” campaign of 1975, in which he played a prominent role: -“Out of Europe, into the world”. Given the gradual re-orientation of our trade away from the EU in recent years, this ought to have resonance forty years later.

Robert Oulds emphasised the need to be able to sell an exit model that will not cause job losses. He explained the reasons for his support for the EEA/EFTA model as used by Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. He also explained why the “Swiss”, “Turkish” and “WTO” options would not be feasible as an immediate exit route, although he also stressed that while EEA/EFTA would be the only route to a seamless exit, it is not an ideal long-term relationship between an independent UK and the EU. He emphasised the volatility of public opinion. Euroscepticism tends to increase in times of economic downturns.

However, the cause is not lost. Bruges Group surveys indicate that when the voters are offered a choice between the EU and EFTA – in other words, between a political Europe and a trading relationship – the result is overwhelmingly in favour of EFTA. He stated that both Richard North and Hugo van Randwyck have met with senior officials from EFTA, who indicated that the UK would be very welcome to re-join. We must be positive, said Mr Oulds – emphasising joining something rather than leaving something.

A series of videos of the day’s proceedings will be posted to the website in the next couple of weeks. However, as a post script, Edward Spalton mentioned that, in the 1975 referendum, his father voted to stay in because although he felt distrustful about the whole Common Market business, “If that man Tony Benn is against it, there must be something good about it!”

Given that Tony Blair has come out so strongly in favour of us staying in, could history repeat itself and a thoroughly mistrusted politician once again act as a recruiting sergeant for the side he opposes? We can but hope.

UK’s trade deficit in goods with the EU hits a record high

According to the Government’s Office of National Statistics, the trade deficit in goods with the other 27 member states of the EU reached £21.1 billion in the three months to February, a record high since comparable records began in 1998 and an increase of £1.5 billion on the previous three months.

The statistics provided further evidence of the growing reorientation of UK trade away from the EU.  The EU now accounts for 47.6% of UK goods exports – a figure that is probably overstated by 3-4% due to the “Rotterdam/ Antwerp effect” – the practise of recording goods shipped to these two large ports as exports to the EU even if they may well be then shipped on to a third country outside the EU.

Given that the demographics of the EU suggest a dimishing role for the EU as a a destination for UK exports and given that a tit-for-tat trade war would clearly hurt the other member states more than the UK because of the trade imbalance, these figures only strengthen the case for a new relationship between the UK and the EU where we can preserve our access to the Single Market while being free to strike our own trading relationships with the growing economies of the world.  For all its inadequacies as a long term relationship between the UK and the EU, a move to join Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland in the EEA and EFTA would clearly be beneficial for our country’s exporters.

(with thank to Open Europe’s daily briefing service)

Photo by John D F

Another fence-sitter about to come out?

Along with Bill Cash, John Redwood MP has long been known as a fierce critic of the EU. However, the question of where they stood on the withdrawal issue has been a source of considerable debate. Recently, Bill Cash came off the fence as we reported last month when, at the Alternatives to EU Membership conference organised by David Campbell Bannerman MEP he said “There is no alternative except moving to exit.”

Mr Redwood, who recentlky addressed a near empty House of Commons appears to be inching close to a similar position. Here are a few extracts from what was an extremely well-delivered speech

“It used to be a fundamental principle of the House of Commons that no House of Commons properly elected could bind a successor House of Commons. That was a fundamental part of the British people’s liberties. They have to trust a House of Commons for up to five years to legislate and govern on their behalf. They can do so safe in the knowledge that if we—those in government—do not please, they can dismiss us at the following general election. They can elect a new group of people who can change all that they did not like about the laws and conduct of the Government whom they have just removed.”

“Our membership of the European Economic Community, now the Union, has increasingly damaged, undermined and overwhelmed that essential precept, which was the guarantee of our liberties as the British people. Now there are huge areas of work that are under European law and European control. Those parties that go out from this House into the general election and, for example, offer a better deal on energy, may well come back and discover that what they have offered is quite impossible under the strict and far-reaching rules on energy that now come from the European Union.”

“Yesterday, we did not have time to debate in the House the EU energy package. Within the proposals we were being asked to approve in the Commission’s work programme was a strategic framework for energy policy. In turn, that will spawn an enormous amount of detailed regulation and legislation, making energy a European competence almost completely. More or less anything that the main political parties say about what they wish to do on energy policy during the next five years will be possible only if it just happens that what they wish to do is legal under this massive amount of law and regulation. Much of it is in place already. More will come forward in ever-increasing volumes under the strategic framework and further legal policy. That is but one area.”

“A couple of other big concerns that will be much debated in the election are welfare and border and migration policy. Again, anything that parties say in our general election has to go through the European test. Will changes in benefits that parties wish to see be legal or possible under the European Union? May we not find that we are completely bound by predecessor Parliaments because they have signed up to legal requirements under European law that make it impossible for the House any longer to control our own welfare policy?”

“Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe encouraged me with his optimism because he said that welfare remained a national UK matter, but there is plenty of evidence that it already is not in many respects. All sorts of policies have been looked at that I am told would fall foul of European law and regulation. It is quite obvious, again, looking at the European Union’s work programme, that it will intensify its activity in this area and make it even more difficult for a national Parliament to express the wish that it wants in its laws on welfare. The same is true of border controls, where we are signed up to the free movement of peoples. That is now being ever more generously interpreted as giving the EU carte blanche and substantial control over border and migration policy throughout the EU.”

“We need to pause over this. I remember the excellent words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his Bloomberg speech. The Bloomberg speech wisely said that the fount of political authority in any European member state, but certainly in the United Kingdom, rests from the national electorate through the national Parliament.That is still right. We see that in the recent conflicts and rows in a country such as Greece, which is under even more European control than we are by being part of the euro. The Prime Minister reasoned that this country needs to negotiate a new relationship with the EU that recognises that on really important things—I would have thought that welfare, borders and energy were really important things—if necessary, the national Parliament can assert and interpret the will of the British people. There should be some mechanism by which we can then do as we wish, reflecting the will of the people.”

“When I asked {Pat McFadden} whether, on a mighty issue that matters a great deal to the British people, there should be a right for us in this House to reflect their view and legislate accordingly. He said no, there should be no such right, and we have to follow all the rules of the European scheme.”

“We need to negotiate now…an arrangement…for us, the United Kingdom. We must be able to say that we are still a vibrant democracy. We need to be able to say that if something matters a great deal to the British people and if it has been approved in a general election, this House can take action even if it means disagreeing with the rules of the European Union. By all means, we can try to negotiate an arrangement case by case, but where we cannot do that, we need an override. We need the right to say, “This thing matters too much to our democracy.” If we do not have that very simple change, we no longer have in this country a successful and vibrant democracy that can guarantee stability and guarantee to deliver what the British people want.”

“I am pleased to have been part of the forces in this country that kept us out of the euro, which meant that we missed the worst—this country has a reasonable economic recovery that is completely unrelated to the continent, with its long recession and deep troubles in the southern territories—but as I see my country sucked into common policies on energy, borders, foreign affairs and welfare, I think that we might be sucked in too far and have exactly the same problems on those issues that the euro area is already experiencing on the central matter of economics.”

“I urge Ministers to take this seriously and to re-read the words of the Bloomberg speech. I urge the Opposition to join us, because they aspire to govern this country. One day they may come up with really popular policies and be elected on that basis, and what a tragedy it would be if they discovered that they could not enact those policies because they were illegal under European law. That could happen just as much to the Labour party as to the Conservative party.”

“If there is to be trust between politicians and the people, the national Parliament must be able to deliver when the people speak. We are in danger of that no longer being true.”

Photo by Martin Hesketh

Millions of UK jobs NOT at risk from Brexit, says IEA report

The oft-repeated claim that 3m British jobs depend on Britain’s membership of the EU has been challenged in a new report by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).

The report’s author, Ryan Bourne, calls on the public and commentators to challenge the assertion frequently made by pro-EU supporters.

“It can be said with certainty that three to four million jobs are not at risk in the event of a Brexit”, Bourne said.

He added “It’s high time that politicians and commentators stopped scaremongering, and recognised that jobs are associated with trade and not the membership of a political union” .

Trade is the crucial factor associated with jobs, not EU membership and it would be a mistake to think trade flows and volumes would be substantially hit by Brexit, according to the IEA.

The 3m jobs claim has a variety of sources, one of the more recent being based on Treasury estimates of the number of jobs linked to British exports flowing to the EU – still Britain’s single biggest trading partner. The figure was cited ad nauseam by Nick Clegg during his debate with Ukip leader Nigel Farage last year.

However, Bourne argues that it’s unrealistic in the extreme, even in a hypothetical worst case scenario where trade completely broke down, that these jobs would be lost.

Rather “import substitution” would help to offset some of the worst aspects of a breakdown in trade. If the Prime Minister of the day was unable to negotiate an EU-UK free trade deal, both the EU and the UK are still bound by the rules of the World Trade Organisation that imposition of massive tariffs.

While still a huge part of the UK’s export market, the EU controls many aspects of British trade policy. The UK government is unable to sign unilateral free trade agreements with other countries. Outside the EU, the IEA report suggests Britain could focus on getting a better deal with countries around the world.

It remains highly questionable whether the EU would want to start a de facto trade war with the UK after a Brexit, since the EU sells more to Britain than it buys. The IEA concedes that there would likely be a change in the UK’s trade patterns.

If no UK-EU free trade deal could be negotiated, some industries may find it more difficult to operate at their current level and may have to shed jobs as a result. One example could be the financial services sector, which, according to analysis by Open Europe, would be most in danger if Britain pulled out of the EU.

The report argues that the central factor determining whether or not the EU is a drag on or a boon to UK employment depends is kind of policies an independent Britain would pursue after Brexit.

If Britain goes for a low tax, de-regulated, free trade economy uninhibited by Brussels’ rules and hefty EU contributions, the IEA believe there is every reason to believe prosperity will be just as great or greater following Brexit.

(This article first appeared in City AM)

A subject that is too important to be left to the experts

The standard of debate about our membership of the European Union leaves much to be desired – even from the business community, argues Peter Troy.

This article was first published by The Journal (NCJ Media) 16 February 2015.

Last week the national head of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), John Longworth, reportedly said the best way to end political uncertainty over the UK’s relations with the European Union (EU) is to hold an early referendum, ie before 2017.

The call was quickly endorsed by others which encouraged front page headlines in one national newspaper and many articles in which business organisations commented on the vexed In/Out issues of the EU debate; with quotes from both the CBI and also the 200,000 member organisation The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

For those of us who have been debating the EU membership issue for decades we know too well there are many powerful reasons why an early referendum is not possible. Not least, there must be a Referendum Bill passed through Parliament and any attempt to rush it through would doubtless meet with stiff opposition from both sides of the EU divide. Politicians could build all sorts of delays into the Parliamentary timetable and stop an early contest. Also a  very salient reason is Mr Cameron’s need to conclude plausible negotiations with ‘Brussels’.  Any pressure to push for an early ‘reform’ risks one or more member states blocking his moves, whatever they be. Indeed, senior officials at number 10  insist up to two years will be needed to secure a successful ‘renegotiation’ with the other EU countries. Whether any sort of meaningful renegotiation is possible or credible has to be seriously doubted.

What is not in doubt  – as last week’s reporting illustrated – is the lack of quality discussion and knowledge on the whole subject of the European Union by the UK media and the over simplified, as well  I argue at times the non-representative comments of business pressure groups. Quotes from both the CBI and the 200,000 member strong organisation The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) were much reported last week in the national media.

Whilst the CBI favours EU membership on behalf of its corporate members, understandable because the EU is pro big business, the FSB have a stance which is curious. The FSB represent the small, but large in numbers, business community.

Twice in their history FSB branch delegates have vote for a policy to leave the EU at their annual conferences. In 2001 as an FSB activist I, along with a colleague from the North East, proposed a motion calling for the Federation to demand withdrawal from the EU which was supported by the representatives of the branches by a majority of 68 percent.

Later in 2004 the Federation’s conference voted out the EU Constitution treaty proposal (which in all but minor detail became the Lisbon Treaty) as undesirable, by a huge majority of 95 per cent. Despite these clear expressions from its membership, which have not been contradicted, the FSB is apparently supportive of EU membership. Despite my best efforts in 2014 the FSB Policy Team remain oblivious to the viable option of continued Single European Market (EEA) membership without the constraints imposed by the political EU; this is known as The Norway Option.

To bring matters up-to-date a report was published last Friday by the independent educational think tank Civitas titled The Norwegian Way. This is a detailed study of how the UK, like Norway, could continue to trade tariff free with the Single Market while regaining the UK’s political independence from the EU.

This latest learned work supports the theory first advocated in detail by The Bruges Group in 2013. There are I suggest lessons to be learnt and knowledge to be gained from Norway’s part of a wider economic group, the European Economic Area, which permits it free trade with EU countries but allows it to avoid the Common Agricultural Policy, control its own fisheries, and pay a much smaller membership fee. Unlike EU members, Norway can negotiate its own free trade agreements with countries around the world, with its own priorities.

On the ongoing question of the UK’s continued membership of the EU and – depending on the outcome of the general election on 7th May – there is a need between now and the EU referendum for people to become better informed. It is a too important subject to be left to politicians, journalists and lobbying groups. As with so many matters the detail can be found on the internet.

By Peter Troy

Talk is cheap – Peer demolishes Cameron’s EU renegotiation strategy

Lord StoddartCameron’s ‘Talk is cheap’ says independent Labour Peer

as Government dodges question on withdrawal from EU

In response to a written question from the independent Labour Peer, Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Hansard 15.01.15), the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Baroness Anelay of St Johns has once again failed to provide an answer on whether the Government will consider leaving the EU if it cannot obtain its objectives through negotiation.   Her response has triggered scathing criticism from Lord Stoddart, in which he has called into question David Cameron’s strategy for re-negotiating Britain’s EU membership.

Commenting on the Government’s response, Lord Stoddart said:  “It is quite clear that the bashful Baroness is avoiding giving a proper answer to my questions on withdrawal from the EU and is not going to clarify what exactly the Prime Minister meant when he said that ‘nothing can be ruled out’ in negotiations with the EU.  Simply giving me a copy of the PM’s speech is not clarification of anything.

“I am forced to conclude that the Prime Minister’s words on this were just so much propaganda – misleading and without any real substance.  He obviously has no intention of withdrawing from the EU, if his negotiations fail, which disastrously weakens his negotiating stance.  As the saying goes – ‘talk is cheap.’”

The full text of Lord Stoddart’s question and the Government’s reply are as follows:

 

Hansard 15th January 2015, column WA261/262

 

European Union: Question asked byLord Stoddart of Swindon

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 16 December 2014 (HL3536), whether recent statements by the Prime Minister stating that during negotiations on European Union reform nothing can be ruled out mean that the United Kingdom could withdraw from the European Union if the Government’s objectives cannot be met.[HL3927]

15 Jan 2015 : Column WA262

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) replied: “I refer the Noble Lord to my answers of 20 November 2014, 4 December 2014 and 16 December 2014. The Government’s position has not changed: the European Union must reform to become more competitive, democratically accountable and fair for those inside and outside the Eurozone. I also refer the Noble Lord to the speech by the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron), on the 28 November 2014; and the speech by the Deputy Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), on the 5 August 2014.”