Winning the referendum

If there is a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU what is the current state of opinion and what are the essential issues that will motivate a vote to leave?

There have been a number of polls in recent times, some showing a majority to stay in and others showing a majority to leave. For analysis, I examine the questions of two of the best known firms of pollsters.

These are based on the questions:

a) For YouGov: “If there was a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?” The alternatives offered were: “To remain in the EU” or “To leave the EU

b) For Ipsos-MORI: “If there were a referendum now on whether Britain should stay in or get out of the European Union, how would you vote?

Both these questions are useful as they have been asked in the same form for many years. In the course of the YouGov polls throughout 2014, there was almost level pegging at 40% on each side.

However, the questions are misleading in that the issues in the referendum will not be what is implied in both these questions – that the choice is between staying in the EU broadly as it is (probably with some minor reforms negotiated by David Cameron) and otherwise exiting abruptly into an undefined future. Neither of these propositions are true.

Ipsos-MORI in their October polling asked a further question offering four alternatives which are reproduced here:

Ipsos Mori EU Poll

(https://www.ipsos-mori.com/Assets/Docs/Polls/political-monitor-oct-2014-EU-charts.pdf, page 5)

From this, one can see there are four blocks of opinion:

a) Those who want closer integration – 14%
b) Those who want broadly the same relationship as at present – 29%
c) Those who want to belong to an economic community without political links – 34%
d) Those who just want out – 17%

It is absolutely obvious that those seeking withdrawal need to win both the vast majority of those who want a return to an economic community without political links and some of those who want the same relationship as at present.

Relying on the group that wants to leave the European Union altogether is only to attract 17% of the electorate (all the percentages are excluding the six per cent of ‘Don’t Knows’). Of course, in the ‘squeeze’ question – remain or get-out – the get-out attracts some of the other groups, making its total 40%.

Because of the status quo and inertia effects in referendums, that is the tendency in referendums throughout the world for the electorate to vote for the status quo, the withdrawalists need to be looking at a poll lead of 15-20% at the start of the campaign to be sure of victory.

Plainly the group who wants to remain part of an economic community without political links must be offered this which means the offer of staying in the Single Market without all the political links, that is to say, EFTA-membership to be sought and EEA membership to be maintained. This is an existing, workable, off-the-shelf solution to the key aim, exiting from the political and judicial side of the EU.

But this is not enough. Inroads must be made into the group who want the relationship with the EU to remain as it is at present.

Because the EU, as set up, has an ongoing integration process at its heart with thousands of employees working precisely on this, it is essential to convince most of this group that their wish is unrealisable and is simply not on offer.

It needs to be clearly and repeatedly stated and demonstrated that the integration or (power grab) process is continuing and will continue. It is part of the EU DNA.

First, attention should be drawn to the repeated treaties which have turned the Common Market into the European Union. All of these have been a one-way transfer of power always with assurances by British politicians that they do not mean very much.

Then attention must be repeatedly focussed on what integration measures are in the pipeline today and over the next few years.

  •  British financial contributions will rise to a much higher level.
  • More mass immigration is planned, for example, David Cameron flew to Istanbul last week to hasten Turkey’s entry to the EU and Juncker’s plan to ‘promote mobility’.
  • The chaotic accounts, off balance sheet liabilities and implied liabilities in the European Central Bank, the European Investment Bank and the EU itself are likely to impact on the British taxpayer as the eurozone crisis returns.
  • Juncker’s ‘Agenda’ for the next five years, set out in his speech of 15th July to the European Parliament, contains further integration proposals. Among these are:
    o Massive spending proposals;
    o A new European Energy Union;
    o Europe to be number one in renewables;
    o Single Supervisory Mechanism and Single Resolution Fund for the banks (that is, bailing out    foreign banks);
    o A Capital Markets Union;
    o ‘Promoting’ labour mobility;
    o A Commissioner with special responsibility for the Charter of Fundamental Rights;
    o Common asylum policy;
    o ‘New European policy’ on legal migration;
    o ‘A stronger Europe when it comes to foreign policy’.

While withdrawalists cannot hope to capture all the votes of the block of opinion that wants to stay in the EU ‘as it is’, it must be repeated constantly that their desire is not on offer. Politicians who generally find it difficult to confront hard choices also must be confronted with the real choice.

The choice is between more financial contributions, more EU control, more immigration, more spending and an adventurist and dangerous EU controlled foreign policy in much of the world on the one hand and a clear offer that saying ‘No’ means staying in the Single Market via the EEA which will take all the ‘business’ concerns out of the debate and jobs and the economy will not be affected but all the political and judicial structures of the EU will be jettisoned.

There is also a final argument to make. We need to stress that Britain can have a great future in the world if it acts globally. The ‘stay in’ option must be clearly shown to be an option to ‘get in deeper’.

Perhaps a thought for the electorate to consider is the old Chinese proverb:

‘Fool me once, shame on you,
Foor me twice, shame on me.’

EU to “bleed us dry” of another £64.2 billion (net) by 2020

Lord Stoddart

In response to a written question from the independent Labour Peer, Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Hansard 6.01.15), Lord Deighton, the Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, has provided confirmation via data from the Office of Budget Responsibility, that the UK will spend £64.2 billion (net) on EU membership between 2014 and 2020, £97.7 billion gross.

Commenting on the Government’s response, Lord Stoddart said: “I have had to combine the annual totals myself but these statistics make it very clear that we are going to continue to pay through the eyes, ears and nose for our ongoing membership of the EU, for the rest of the decade. The EU will bleed us dry to pay for public services in other member states, while steadily dismantling our Parliamentary democracy and freedoms.

“Apparently, the Government is perfectly happy with this situation and these appalling costs, despite telling us that we face four more years of austerity and with no real sign of our £1.6 trillion national debt coming down. In other words, we are financing these grotesquely huge figures out of borrowed money. We should never lose sight of the fact that we are passing these monstrous debts on to our children and grandchildren. They will pay for our mistakes and, in particular, for the folly of EU membership.”

The full text of Lord Stoddart’s question, the Government’s reply and the contributions table is as follows:

Hansard 6th January 2014, column WA137

EU Budget: Contributions: Question asked by Lord Stoddart of Swindon

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their present projection of the United Kingdom’s gross and net contributions to the European Union budget for the whole of the seven year budget agreement 2014–20.[HL3534]

The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Deighton) (Con): The independent Office for Budget Responsibility is responsible for forecasting UK gross and net contributions to the EU Budget. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecasts can be found in Table 2.19 of its Economic and Fiscal Outlook supplementary and fiscal tables – December 2014 (See link below)

EU Contributions

A dismal choice for the electorate

With the UK General Election less than four months away, campaigning has already started. Barring a miracle, we face the dismal choice of either David Cameron or Ed Miliband as prime minister, although neither of the parties they lead look likely to gain an outright majority.

The Labour Party will lose one of its most consistent and honourable supporters of UK independence with Austin Mitchell, the MP for Grimsby, standing down after 38 years. There are still a number of Labour MPs who believe the UK should quit the EU, notably Kate Hoey, John Cryer, Kelvin Hopkins and Graham Stringer. However, they are in a minority and on the back benches. Miliband has consistently refused to allow the UK voters a say in whether we should continue to be members of the EU and, in spite of the valiant efforts of John Mills and the CIB-affiliated Labour Euro Safeguards Campaign, looks unlikely to change his mind any time soon. If Red Ed ends up in Downing Street, we can therefore look forward to five more years of misery as Brussels continues to do some 80% the job that our MPs are elected (and paid) to do.

Of course, David Cameron has insisted that only a vote for the Conservatives will secure a referendum on our EU membership, but can he be trusted? In many ways he cuts a rather pathetic spectacle – certainly not the sort of person able to fight for a good deal for the country if we vote to leave. Yesterday’s visit by Angela Merkel only underlined the subservience our Prime Minister seems obliged to show to the German Chancellor. We will be allowed to renegotiate only what she allows us to. Once she declared that there could be no change to the EU’s fundamental principle of free movement of people, it promptly disappeared from Dave’s wish list. She made it clear yesterday that she did not support Cameron’s desire for treaty change. Roger Boyes, writing in Wednesday’s Times, claims that “Merkel is losing faith with parochial Britain.” He suggests that those who believe that Germany will do anything to keep Britain within the EU are mistaken. “There was a collective sigh of exhaustion at a German-hosted diner this week when a guest read out the headline ‘Cameron warning to Merkel: I won’t rule out leaving the EU’. One day Mrs Merkel will wake up and ask: would German interests in Europe or the world be seriously damaged without Britain in the EU? Her answer, as a cold-eyed trained scientist? Probably not.” No doubt in the event of a Tory victory and a renegotiation followed by a referendum, David Cameron will try and present such crumbs as fall from the German Chancellor’s table as a major triumph, following in Harold Wilson’s footsteps of 40 years ago. His claim that “if I don’t get what is needed, I rule nothing out” rings very hollow when he has made it clear that, if elected, there will be no place for withdrawalists in his 2015 cabinet. According to the Daily Mail, he insisted that “all senior Tories will have to support his stance on voting to stay in the European Union if he secures a deal on clawing powers back from Brussels.”

So the best Tory MPs will be stuck on the back benches, leaving him with only the dregs of the party from which to choose ministers – unless, of course, they defect to Ukip as Cameron refused totally to rule out a coalition with Ukip in the event of a hung parliament, for no doubt Nigel Farage’s party will insist on being offered at least one seat in the cabinet as a price for joining the government.

At least the ongoing woes of the Eurozone, concerns about free movement of people and the rise of Ukip will ensure that the all-important issue of withdrawal from the EU cannot be swept under the carpet as it has been in previous general elections. However, it looks to be a while before we will be led by a man (or woman) who has come to their senses and realises that the future for Britain is as a free country, looking to the wider world rather than confined within the dysfunctional EU. In other words, the road to withdrawal still looks to be a long and rocky one.

Another act in the Greek tragedy?

There will be a General Election in Greece on 25th January and its result will be watched with some degree of apprehension in the rest of the Eurozone.

The Greek Parliament has been dissolved before the end of its term because it has been unable to agree on who the next Greek President should be. The candidate nominated by Antonis Samaras, the Prime Minister, was the former European Commissioner Stavros Dimas. However, in each of three successive ballots, Mr Dimas failed to secure the necessary 180 votes.

The post of President is largely ceremonial, wielding little power. However, the law states that in such circumstances, new elections have to be called, so Greek voters will have to go back to the ballot boxes after barely 2½ years.

The last election, held in June 2012, took place when the country’s strings being pulled by the so-called “Troika” – the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund. Greece was in its fourth year of a recession which saw the country’s economy shrink by 25% overall. The government was bust and the loans provided by the “Troika” came with strings attached – widespread privatisation and a drastic slashing of the state budget including thousands of public sector redundancies. This has caused great hardship for the Greek people. Anecdotal evidence talks of children scavenging for food in school litter bins, a sharp increase in the suicide rate and shortages of essential drugs in Greek hospitals.

At one stage, it appeared that Greece might exit the Euro. The ability to devalue a country’s currency reduces the debt burden and makes exports more competitive. Tied to the single currency, Greece did not have this option. Its government debt was already pretty substantial before crisis struck – in fact, even when Greece applied to join the Euro, the books had to be fiddled to enable the country to meet the necessary criteria. The recession therefore only compounded a long-standing problem.

In the 2012 elections, PASOK, the Greek Socialist party, bore the brunt of the voters’ anger. The dominant party in the period following the end of military rule, it is now a shadow of its former self, polling only 13.2% at the last election and expected to lose half its remaining seats this time round. Like many socialist parties in the EU, its loyalty to the great European project is unwavering. When George Papandreou, the former prime minister and PASOK party leader, provided a rare exception to this rule by threatening to offer the Greek electorate a referendum on the Troika’s austerity policies, opposition from Brussels forced him to resign. Lucas Papademos, a former ECB Vice President, was appointed to succeed him and he became Prime Minister without ever having stood for office in his life. Significantly, Papademos had been Governor of the Greek Central Bank at the time the country made its flawed application to join the Euro.

Although Papademos’ caretaker coalition was eventually replaced by a government headed by Samaras and the centre-right New Democracy Party at the 2012 elections, this has not meant the end of socialism in Greece. Enter the firebrand Marxist Alexis Tsipras and the Syriza party – or rather coalition, as Syriza – Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς, (SYnaspismós RIZzospastikís Aristerás) in full, means “Coalition of the Radical Left”. It is a ragbag alliance of, among others, left-wing populists, Greens, Maoists and Trotskyites, all united in their opposition to Troika-imposed austerity. Tsipras once insisted he will tear up the current agreement with the Troika the day Syriza enters office, calling it “barbarous”. He has since toned down his language hut still intends to seek a re-scheduling of Greece’s debt and to reverse the swingeing public sector job cuts imposed in the last two years – a classic socialist “Tax and Spend” policy that Greece can ill afford with its government debt standing at over 175% of GDP. Furthermore, some of Tsipras’ colleagues have not toned down their rhetoric one iota. One Syriza MP, Yiannis Milios, said that whereas “New Democracy and PASOK have decided to pay up, ….we are saying that we might not pay. We might not pay because we will negotiate and say that this [bailout] program is not sustainable.”

In a nation still reeling after six years of harsh recession, Syriza has struck a chord. Even though anyone looking back over the last 100 years of history will recognise that Marxists, Maoists and Trotskyites have a much better track record of creating problems rather than solving them, the party has enjoyed a consistent lead in every opinion poll since the snap election was called. “The future has already begun,” Tsipras proclaimed after the elections were announced. “You should be optimistic and happy.”

Prime Minister Samaras has urged voters not to rock the boat and has warned that a Syriza-led government’s refusal to meet Greece’s debt obligations could lead to a default and ejection from the Euro. This is where things really start to get interesting. Although opposed to austerity, Syriza professes itself to be pro-EU and pro-Euro. However, its support is not unconditional. Panagiotis Lafazanis, the Syriza deputy leader stated in October that the movement must “be ready to implement its progressive programme outside the Eurozone if need be.”

In 2012, a determined effort was made to keep Greece in the Eurozone at all costs for fear of a domino effect if the country defaulted on its debt and returned to the drachma. There were concerns that a default by Spain or Italy might follow which would result in the collapse of the entire single currency. Two and a half years later, the Eurozone is still in a bad way, but the ECB believes the single currency bloc can better withstand the shock of “Grexit”. However, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writing in the Daily Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/11319525/Greek-expulsion-from-the-euro-would-demolish-EMUs-contagion-firewall.html), maintains that the “firewall” is nowhere near as robust as senior EU politicians believe it to be. The evidence suggests he is correct. There is great alarm in Germany at the prospect of a Syriza victory. Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, made it clear that in his view, “there is no alternative. If Greece takes another path, it will be difficult. New elections will not change the agreements we have struck with the Greek government. Any new government will have to stick to the agreements made by its predecessor.”

Yiannis Milios replied that Germany was seeking to overturn Greek democracy. “Nothing is stronger than the sovereignty of the people”, he said. “If the Greek people decide to change policy by voting for Syriza, we are obliged to respect the people’s will. Mr Schäuble is forgetting this democratic principle.” It is interesting that George Papandreou has returned from the dead, leading a new party called “Allagi”. In spite of his offer of a referendum on the austerity measures in 2011, Papandreou is still viewed by the electorate as a spineless individual who caved in to the Troika. He is unlikely to receive many votes, but could it be that he is acting as a “spoiler” for Syriza? Indeed, in view of a recent piece in Huffington Post, allegedly written by Papandreou which encouraged meek acceptance of the Troika’s austerity measures, some commentators are wondering whether his attempts at a comeback is being sponsored by the EU or even the USA in a desperate attempt to derail Syriza.

But even in the unlikely event of this move succeeding, waiting in the wings in Spain is Podemos, another recently formed far-left party which came out of nowhere to win 5 out of 54 Spanish seats in the European Parliamentary elections. The party’s name translates into English as “We can”, which hints of Barack Obama, but its role model is rather Alexis Tsipras. On hearing of the news that elections were to be held in Greece, Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos tweeted, “2015 will be the year of change in Spain and Europe. We will start from Greece. Come on, Alexis! Come on, Syriza!”

The Eurozone might survive the departure of Greece, but Spain, where elections are due to be held later this year, is a different matter. Like Syriza, Podemos is pro-EU and even reasonably pro-Euro, but what if Syriza wins this election in Greece, maintains its stance against the Troika, precipitates a Greek expulsion from the Eurozone and then a Greek recovery? Podemos might then alter its stance on the Euro. Meanwhile, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy and Marine le Pen’s Front National in France make no pretensions to be pro-Euro. They too would benefit politically from a successful “Grexit”.

As we have noted, the powers-that-be in Brussels will do their utmost firstly to deny Syriza victory and if this fails, will try to persuade Tsipras to compromise, but it is only a matter of time before one anti-establishment party in an EU member state will find itself in power and will refuse to give in to pressure. With opposition to the EU rising in much of Western Europe, the forthcoming election in Greece looks set to herald a particularly fascinating and unpredictable period in politics. On this note, Happy New Year!

A good note on which to end the year

Walking into the local supermarket, the newspaper headline in the Daily Express screamed out at me: 51% want to leave the EU.

Actually, the Sunday Times got in on the act yesterday with a similar piece and furthermore, the results of the WIN/Gallup survey are not that dramatic. Only a few days ago, we reported that an opinion poll conducted by Survation on behalf of The Freedom Association yielded a much better result:- 46.6 per cent of those surveyed would vote “out” while just 34.3 per cent would vote “in”, with 19.1 per cent undecided.

However, it is encouraging that, in a year where various other polls in the summer and early autumn put supporters of withdrawal in a minority, disillusion with the EU is on the rise again. A combination of the demand for more UK taxpayers’ money by the EU and the admission by David Cameron that he cannot curtail free movement of people while the UK remains an EU member are the most likely catalysts for this change in public opinion.

It is very apparent that the UK population does not love the EU and never will. If I may be allowed a couple of personal anecdotes, I was talking to a man only last Saturday who admitted to me that he had now become more open to the idea of withdrawal, while a lady in a shop this morning made it clear to me that she was no fan of the EU, but concerned about how we could exit tidily after all this time. When you’re in the midst of Christmas shopping and rather pushed for time, it’s probably not the best moment to start explaining the mechanics of a successful exit. Perhaps I’ll pay her a visit in the quiet season after New Year…….

The Gallup survey revealed a growing disenchantment with the EU in other member states, although nowhere else registered a majority for withdrawal. Holland, with 58% supporting continued EU membership as against 42% wanting to leave, came the nearest. However, the answer to another question: “Over the past 12 months, have you felt more European?” saw a majority for the “No” option in every country surveyed – even Germany.

So 2014 is ending on a positive note for the campaign to see the UK leave the EU. This does not mean it’s in the bag. Far from it. There is much work still to be done. When Scotland threatened to register the “wrong” result in its independence referendum, the big guns swung into action and exposed the weaknesses in Alex Salmond’s arguments to great effect. Until we see something like a 70/30 majority in favour of independence, with the majority of the electorate not only wanting to leave the EU but convinced that a reasonably seamless departure is achievable, we cannot afford to relax. Even if the Tories win the election next year and the referendum takes place, every effort will be made to convince us that we would be better off staying in a “reformed” EU. We can expect our politicians to try to repeat Harold Wilson’s sleight-of-hand in 1975 where the public were fobbed off with insignificant concessions about the UK’s budget contribution and import quotas for New Zealand butter and cheese, which were sold as substantial achievements. Even if they fail to pull the wool over the electorate’s eyes and we vote to leave, how will our own government react? Will it obey the voice of the people and begin withdrawal negotiations?

At this stage, no one can be sure of anything. As next year looms, with the prospect of the most unpredictable General Election in many years, all we can say is that the Campaign for an Independent Britain will do its utmost to ensure that the question of the EU will not be swept under the carpet in the build-up to 7th May’s poll.

On this positive note, may I, on behalf of the Committee of the Campaign for an Independent Britain, wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

France says “non” to treaty change

David Cameron’s aim to renegotiate the UK’s relationship within the EU while remaining a member suffered a blow when François Hollande, the French President, told the Prime Minister he is “obsessed with his own problems”.
Bruno Waterfield, writing in the Daily Telegraph, states that M. Hollande said he will block Mr Cameron’s request for a change to the EU treaty to include a new settlement for Britain in Europe. He told the Prime Minister that he is opposed to amending the EU’s treaty on the grounds that change is not needed and might trigger a referendum in France.
The French President dismissed the British case for renegotiation as a product of Tory political disarray over the rise of Ukip, accusing Mr Cameron of being “obsessed with his own problems”.
The warning came at a meeting of the European Council summit in Brussels. “The price to keep Britain in Europe keeps getting higher and higher. It is now up to the UK to decide,” said a senior French government source. “We will not pay an extra price to keep the UK in the EU.”

European diplomats are expecting Mr Cameron to use the opportunity, if he wins British elections next May, to table demands for a “new settlement for Britain in Europe”.
The Prime Minister’s renegotiation will be hitched to EU treaty changes required to address the Eurozone crisis. It is expected to include an opt-out for Britain on the core principle of “ever-closer union”.
But President Hollande reminded Mr Cameron that any treaty change will need the unanimous agreement of all EU countries, including France.

This blow to Mr Cameron comes as a Foreign Office report published yesterday suggested that the EU is only playing “lip service” to the role of national parliaments and is increasing its grip on everyday life in Britain, and Foreign Office report has found.
The final Balance of Competences review suggests that the EU is guilty of “mission creep” and is imposing an unnecessary burden on British businesses.
The report suggests that controversial EU legislation such as the working time directive, domestic water standards, car safety seats and agency working standards should be handled by Britain.
At an EU summit in June next year, Mr Cameron, if in government, will be asked to make concrete proposals for treaty change by the autumn of 2015 but senior European diplomats warn that Britain’s political capital is low.
“Britain’s political prestige in Europe is lower than I have ever known it,” said one senior EU diplomat with 30 years experience in European diplomacy. “It has not been helped by recent British behaviour over the EU budget, which was widely regarded as childish.”

After pulling back from a demand for free movement clauses to be amended in the European treaty, Mr Cameron is understood to be asking for an opt-out from the EU’s legally binding commitment to “ever-closer union”. British government sources have admitted that, in the face of hostility to treaty change, the Conservatives might have to accept a “protocol” promising an opt-out at a future date when EU treaties are changed.

France is opposed to any new treaty clause allowing Britain, or other countries, to take an “à la carte” approach to the EU, and instead wants Brussels to take on more powers to regulate business taxes.
France also fears that a successful attempt by Britain to renegotiate the EU treaty would open the door to Germany’s push for new eurozone powers to dictate economic policy to members of the single currency. British demands could also fuel French calls for a referendum and become a political focus for the far-Right Front National, which is beating Mr Hollande’s Socialists in presidential opinion polls.
Marine Le Pen, the FN’s popular leader, is campaigning for a popular vote on the euro and the Élysée regards allowing Britain to reopen a debate over the EU treaty as “too risky”.
“It has become more and more hazardous,” said the French source. “There is no guarantee today that a French government could convince the French people.”

(To see the original article on which this piece was based, see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11300291/France-to-block-David-Camerons-treaty-change-plan.html)