Report from Glasgow

Having travelled up to visit relatives who were not well, it was a surprise to find that the ORANGE WALK had been routed past our hotel, so we heard many, many flute and accordion bands, from Scotland, England and Northern Ireland – drums under the window – the rattle of the drums and the deep booming thud of the bass drums against the shrill flutes – on their way to Bellahouston Park where their leaders were to demand that the SNP Scottish government should STOP TRYING TO OVERTURN THE REFERENDUM which  resulted in a vote for Scotland to remain part of the UK.

 “The best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley” – Robert Burns

I reflected how the Labour planners of devolution had congratulated themselves that their scheme was ingeniously clever. It gave so much power to the Scottish Parliament that it would surely take the wind from the nationalist sails and the electoral system was such that no single party would ever be able to command a majority. They were wrong on both counts!

Flute bands are a bit samey and I lost count of them. We had been told to expect twenty six but press reports said there were over sixty. Tunes varied from “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Onward Christian Soldiers” to the more traditional Irish tunes, including the oft-repeated strains of “The Sash” with which I had become familiar on other occasions-

“Sure it’s old but it is beautiful and its colours they are fine.

It was worn at Derry, Aughrim, Enniskillen and the Boyne.

My father wore it when a youth in bygone days of yore,

And on the Twelfth I’ll always wear the sash my father wore”.

Many of the Scottish and English bands would be with their Northern Ireland brethren on that day. Brethren and sisters too. Ladies were playing in many of the bands. Lodges were often headed not just by a drum major but by a young person carrying an open bible, ahead of the lodge banner and other colours – a symbol of the sole claimed source of authority, freely available to all without the intervention of a church hierarchy.

It was a sweltering day. We decided to seek a quieter quarter of the town. If there was going to be any trouble, it would be when the lodges returned from their meeting in the park, having drunk deep. I believe there were four arrests that day which, considering the thousands of marchers and spectators, was insignificant.

So we adjourned to a quiet bar parlour where the television was showing the England v Sweden football match. Not being a sporting enthusiast, I had not watched a match from start to finish before. I found the skill quite gripping. The crowd in the pub was certainly not anti-English, cheering the English goals scored and getting equally excited when Sweden came close.

It’s never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine” – P.G. Wodehouse

As a (small u) unionist I sometimes get fed up with the incessant aggressive whingeing tone of Scottish and other nationalists but find this site to be frequently businesslike and objective. The distance between the author, James Kelly, and his subject, Theresa May has lent an accurate perspective and sharp focus to the author’s view. His latest post is reproduced in full.

The Brexit Delusion over who calls the shots

I don’t know about anyone else but I’ve been rubbing my eyes in disbelief over the last few hours. If you’ve been listening to the mainstream media’s verdict about what was agreed a Chequers, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the fabled Brexit deal that Theresa May has been tasked with striking needed only to be a deal with the rest of her own cabinet, and not with the European Union. By that rather lower standard, what has just happened might be seen as a stunning personal triumph for the Prime Minister and a guarantee of a (somewhat) softer Brexit, exactly as Stormfront Life is claiming tonight. The agreement will only be subject to a few modifications if Brussels raises any objections, reveals The Guardian, which apparently believes that the EU has only a limited consultative role in the whole process.. It’s the old imperial delusion – decisions are things that happen in London. The same commentators who complacently tell us that an indyref is a non-starter because Theresa May will say “no” also apparently believe that it’s a mere point of trivia that the EU have already ruled out many elements of May’s Brexit proposal. Back in the real world, without the EU’s assent there is no deal at all, and that would mean the hardest of hard Brexits.

A rare injection of realism was provided by Sam Coates of The Times, who acknowledged that the EU may well still insist on a straight choice between a looser Canada-type deal and the Norway model that would entail the retention of the single market. But he argued that the Chequers proposal was about 80% of the way towards the Norway model, thus making it that much easier for the Prime Minister to jump towards Norway if forced to choose. What he didn’t expand on is the consequence of such a decision. It’s highly debatable whether the government really are now 80% of the way towards Norway, but even assuming for the sake of argument that they are, the reason they haven’t travelled the remaining 20% of the distance is that doing so would completely breach the red lines on formally leaving the single market and ending freedom of movement. Some may say that a Soft Brexit is inevitable because there is a natural parliamentary majority for it – but that majority is cross-party in nature and neither the government nor the Prime Minister are sustained in office on a cross-party basis. I find it in conceivable that a Tory government led by Theresa May could keep Britain in the European Economic Area or retain freedom of movement, even if they wanted to.

And if that proves correct, there are really only four alternatives –

  1. The EU backs down and accepts British cherry-picking of the most desirable aspects of the single market and customs union. This is almost unimaginable because it would create a precedent that Eurosceptics in other countries would try to follow, thus risking the unravelling of the EU.
  2. A Canada-type deal is negotiated after all. This is possible but it would require turning the super-tanker around, because it’s clearly not close to what Theresa May has in mind at the moment. It would mean a very hard Brexit in any case.
  3. There is no deal at all
  4. The Prime Minister’s failure to strike a deal (or a deal that is consistent with her red lines) triggers a political crisis that results in a change of leadership and/or a general election.

I can recall at least two previous occasions when we’ve been told that the PM has made a decisive move towards a soft Brexit, only for us to realise weeks later that there had been no change of any real significance. I fully expect the same to prove true on this occasion. “

(My emphasis because I remember exactly the same thing – Edward)

What is the truth of freedom of movement?

Whilst it is often stated that Freedom of Movement is a non-negotiable and a fundamental indivisible principle of the Single Market, the truth is actually far more complex.  The ‘four freedoms’ are not indivisible for countries outside the EU, such as those who are members of the European Economic Area, (EEA).

Furthermore, the EU has made provision in legally binding and proposed agreements unilaterally to control freedom of movement along with the other freedoms of the Single Market.  The UK could do the same if it remained a member of the Single Market (and wider European Economic Area, EEA) by re-joining The European Free Trade Association (EFTA).  The same actually applies to the EU’s proposed draft text to the Withdrawal Agreement.  Thus Mrs May and her government are, at least in this regard, determined to pursue a Brexit strategy (Brexit in name only) which is far worse than what is actually available utilizing existing established agreements.

The EEA Agreement governs the Single Market (and wider EEA)

The operation of the Single Market (and wider EEA) is set by the EEA Agreement, to which all Member States of the EU and EFTA (excluding Switzerland) are signatories. For the EFTA/EEA members, the EEA Agreement is amended by the addition of Annexes and Protocols.  Thus the EFTA countries have bespoke variations on the basic EEA Agreement. EFTA countries also have greater flexibility since powers retained by individual EFTA countries have often been removed from the individual Member States of the EU and transferred to the European Commission or its agencies (acting for the whole EU).  Consequently EU Member States often find they cannot act unilaterally, whilst individual EFTA countries can do so and they make use of this freedom to serve their interests.

Within the EEA Agreement Freedom of Movement is Unilaterally Controllable

The Single Market (and wider EEA), has free movement of goods, persons, services and capital as basic principles. However, the EEA Agreement also includes an opt-out which can be applied unilaterally by EFTA countries (see Chapter 4, Safeguard Provisions, Article 112), but obviously not by Members States of the EU.  It states:

Safeguard Provisions, Article 112

  1. If serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectorial or regional nature liable to persist are arising, a Contracting Party may unilaterally take appropriate measures under the conditions and procedures laid down in Article 113.
  2. Such safeguard measures shall be restricted with regard to their scope and duration to what is strictly necessary in order to remedy the situation. Priority shall be given to such measures as will least disturb the functioning of this Agreement.
  3. The safeguard measures shall apply with regard to all Contracting Parties.

This opt-out is intended to be “temporary” (until a permanent solution is implemented), but nevertheless can be invoked and maintained in the absence of that permanent solution.  It has already been used by Liechtenstein to control immigration and Iceland to control capital flows in the wake of the financial crisis.

The EU’s Ability to Unilaterally Control Freedom of Movement

So useful and/or essential does the EU regard Articles 112 and 114 of the EEA Agreement that, rather than them being toothless window-dressing, it chose to include them virtually unchanged in its draft Withdrawal Agreement, Article 13 (Protocols NI) which states:

Article 13 Safeguards

  1. If the application of this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties liable to persist, the Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate measures. Such safeguard measures shall be restricted with regard to their scope and duration to what is strictly necessary in order to remedy the situation. Priority shall be given to such measures as will least disturb the functioning of this Protocol.
  2. If a safeguard measure taken by the Union or the United Kingdom, as the case may be, in accordance with paragraph 1 creates an imbalance between the rights and obligations under this Protocol, the Union or the United Kingdom, as the case may be, may take such proportionate rebalancing measures as are strictly necessary to remedy the imbalance. Priority shall be given to such measures as will least disturb the functioning of this Protocol.

The EU is intentionally ensuring, whether the UK is in the EEA or not, that the EU can unilaterally restrict immigration into the remaining Member States from the UK. The EU is also agreeing here that the UK can unilaterally restrict immigration from the remaining Member States into the UK.

Implementing the Safeguard Measures Immediately

In the UK, there are permanent economic, infrastructural and societal factors which would justify implementing the existing Safeguard Measures immediately, as of 29th March 2019, when we supposedly leave the EU whilst de facto remaining within the Single Market.  Subsequently it would be prudent to negotiate the introduction of specific clauses to enshrine a right to permanent or longer term control.

Why the untruths about Free Movement?

The kindest explanation as to why Freedom of Movement is misrepresented is that many politicians are actually being economical with the truth, and are avoiding the fuller picture which contradicts their claims.  They may also fail to understand the subtleties of that fuller picture.   This is somewhat obvious in Mrs May’s Lancaster House speech 17th January 2017 where she appears to have accepted some very disingenuous claims about free movement. Here are her words:

But I want to be clear. What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market.

European leaders have said many times that membership means accepting the ‘4 freedoms’ of goods, capital, services and people. And being out of the EU but a member of the single market would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement those freedoms, without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would mean accepting a role for the European Court of Justice that would see it still having direct legal authority in our country.

Mrs May also appears to fail to understand how the EU and EEA works, including the subordination of the European Court of Justice. These are explained in more detail here with links to further information.

The great tragedy of missed opportunity

This country desperately needs the powers to choose who we should let in and under what circumstances. This was one of the loudest great messages from the Brexit Referendum result. Voters want us to be able to control our borders. To repeat, that power of control is there in legal texts. It could have been grasped by Mrs May and her colleagues in government if they had chosen to do so.   They have chosen – at least up to now – instead a path of uncertainty, cave-ins to the EU and potential chaos.  It is a price the British people should not have to bear.

The lyrics of Jerusalem – updated for Brexit

We have been sent these excellent alternative lyrics to Blake’s hymn Jerusalem by an anonymous supporter. Especially given recent developments, they are particularly pertinent at the moment:-

And did those men in ancient time
Fight for our rights and liberty
And with belief and blood divine
They set laws that made us free

And yet a countenance malign
Did seek to steal those rights away
And turn us back to slaves again
Ruled by their evil empires sway

Give me my country back again
Bring back the land my fathers made
I strive for justice, not for gain
To see our people proud and staid

I will not cease this endless fight
Nor shall my sword fall from my hand
Til we’ve restored our liberty
In Britain’s green and pleasant land

The EU is right – our government is wrong!

Shock horror! Can a Brexit supporter honestly utter such a phrase as the above?

Sadly, yes, especially when the subjects include cooperation in security and criminal justice matters. These two issues powerfully illustrate the illusory nature of our government’s approach to Brexit. It still wants to have its cake and eat it. Reality is dawning that this isn’t possible on the trade front, but somehow that reality has not spread to other areas where some sort of future cooperation is needed. Be it trade, criminal justice or military cooperation, the EU is concerned at all costs to preserve its integrity. In voting to leave, we dealt it a massive blow. Obviously, it recognises that some form of cooperation will be necessary but it does not seek a warm and cosy “deep and special” relationship with us. Yes, we were once part of the club, but we won’t be after March 29th next year. We made the decision to leave and we must accept the consequences.

To any Brexit supporter, this is perfect common sense. We knew what we were doing when we voted Brexit.  Among the many issues which we highlighted as a reason to leave the EU were concerns about the flaws of the criminal justice system in some EU member states and the need to disentangle ourselves from the EU’s military and security aspirations.

So yes, if the EU says we cannot participate in its flawed European Arrest Warrant scheme after Brexit, great! That’s what we voted for. Likewise, the EU’s disdain for Mrs May’s “ambitious future security partnership” with the EU won’t cause many Brexit supporters much lost sleep.  As a Third Country, we would no longer participate in several EU security data bases which hold intelligence and help track criminals. However, there are other means of cooperation over these matters. We have Interpol as well as Europol. The procedure may be more complex but at least UK citizens will be one step further removed from the EU’s interference with our daily lives. We don’t want the EU to give us special treatment. What is more, is Europol reliable? One report suggest that its statistics distort the truth about terrorist threats in the EU, with more emphasis being placed on monitoring so-called “separatists” than those who pose the biggest threat to ordinary people.

On a different note, we heard recently that Olly Robbins, who has more or less pushed David Davis into the sidelines and has become the de facto chief negotiator, has been told by the EU that there is no chance of a bespoke trade deal with the EU.  It will either be a very loose trading arrangement or what has been described as a “Norway-type deal”. There are strong opponents of both these options and even among her cabinet, Mrs May will have her work cut out to square the circle.

She has not, however, signed a letter promising a second referendum, Two separate copies have been sent to me, one by a very concerned Brexit supporter who feared Mrs May was about to  cave in to the remainiacs. If anyone has come across this spoof letter, try to find an example of the PM’s real signature. You will then see that it does not match the signature on this letter.

Observant readers may have noticed that we have said little about the latest EU council meeting. This is not because we were unaware of it but rather because it has been a foregone conclusion that nothing was going to be said to indicate any progress with the Brexit talks. We did pass a milestone last week when the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill became law. It paves the way fro the 1972 Accession Treaty to be repealed when we leave the EU in March next year, but as far as what our future relationship with the EU is going ot look like,  we are still none the wiser.

Is the single market expanding?

With Mrs May having decided to leave the Single Market (and wider European Economic Area, EEA), it could be critical to know if it poses a long term existential threat to our future as a global trading nation.  Whilst in a formal sense the EEA will contract after Brexit, it actually wields considerable informal influence over much global trade. Ignore its ramifications at your peril.  Could then Mrs May’s government, having decided to leave on somewhat disingenuous grounds, that the four freedoms are indivisible, be unaware of this less obvious consequence?

What is the Single Market (or wider EEA)?

The Single Market provides a common mandatory regulatory framework of European Union (EU) directives (laws), standards, compliance or conformity assessment and market surveillance for many products under a centralised legalistic bureaucratic framework. Thus the quality, safety, environmental impact, energy consumption, and integration with other products can meet common (harmonised) criteria; commonly known as Essential Requirements in directives based on the New or Global Approach.  Failure to demonstrate compliance with the Essential Requirements or acceptable (harmonised) standards can prevent a product being placed on the market (in the Single Market or wider EEA) or cause it to be withdrawn.   Demonstrating compliance may require independent conformity assessment and certification; typically carried out by independent test houses and qualified notified bodies (Nobos) which in turn are regulated ultimately by the European Commission (or designated agency).  (Further information on the EEA see here, here and associated links)

What is a product or service?

Unsurprisingly any product and service is much more than just a collection of parts with some kind of functionality. Those parts, materials comprising those parts, associated services, design, production, testing and inspection processes all have to comply with recognisable and authoritative standards.  Whether it is an automobile or safety shoes, there will be standards and reliable means to ensure their compliance, often with some form of mandatory regulation or control.  The alternative to these arrangements is very much the Caveat Emptor principle and an inability to benefit from the accumulated experience of producers, regulators and users.  Costs can also be higher because of a lack of standardisation.

Not all export markets are the same

Some export markets and customers for certain products and services can be very sophisticated, featuring well-developed regulatory frameworks, facilities and knowledgeable, competent, in-house resources. Then it is a matter of complying with their requirements, their specified standards and their regulatory framework.  To offer non-compliant alternatives in the hope that they will be acceptable is to court losing the work to fully-compliant competitors.   However, some exports markets and customers need to rely on external resources and guidance from larger and well-refined markets.  This reliance can be very subtle and render otherwise generally acceptable suppliers and products uncompetitive, or exclude them completely from the market.

The March of Global Standards and the Single Market

Globally accepted standards are great facilitators of international trade.  Where a product is quite complex it certainly helps to know that is complies with standards that you (or the local regulatory authorities) are already familiar with and can trust.   In reality many standards are produced by international bodies and are the same in the UK, Japan or Germany, with perhaps minor national variations. There is also considerable interchange between European Standards (Euronorms) and International Standards.  Hence the expansion of International Standards effectively to supersede national standards and fill obvious needs.

Somewhat less obvious, mandatory regulation is also expanding and effectively following the lead of the more advanced practices.  The Single Market (and wider EEA) is the home of many businesses which are well versed in working to International and European Standards and which follow well-refined conformity and regulatory practices, thus making it somewhat of a low risk trend-setter.  The European Commission is also happy if others (particularly individual non-EU countries) follow its lead (The Brussels Effect), while for those planning to join the EU, it is necessary to do so.  Also, there can be formal agreements which effectively extend the EU’s mandatory regulatory practices into particular products and markets outside the EEA. In summary, it is a complex, ever evolving subject.

World-leading product but still  excluded from an export market

It is not surprising, therefore, to be confronted in an export market with a plethora of well-known European and/or International Standards, along with conformity assessment or regulation modelled on EU/EEA practices.  Such imitation can extend as far as using documentation that in part has clearly been re-badged from previous use inside the EEA; it keeps the costs and risks of preparation down.  It can also be advantageous to reputable organisations to point out that they vigorously follow these often high and demanding, standards and practices, while at the same time being  ‘outside the loop’ can be detrimental to other companies.

Vendors/Suppliers don’t argue with potential customers in export markets

Being ‘unfairly’ excluded from profitable business rarely leads to robust or legal challenges against the potential customer by the unsuccessful vendor; as a minimum, very deep pockets are needed which  small enterprises obviously do not possess.  It is even rarer for unsuccessful vendors eventually to win the work after having caused delays, bad feeling and extra costs.  Once excluded because of non-conformity it is difficult and costly for a company to get back into its given export market again. This is especially the case with capital goods or complex products; re-design, re-testing and conformity re-assessment don’t come cheap.

The Invisible Competitor

The subtle influence of the Single Market (and wider EEA) extends far beyond the borders of its Member States.  This extent of that influence is impossible to determine. Even knowing it is there usually requires considerable perception, industry knowledge and exposure to the export markets involved.  Yet this influence can make it more difficult or even impossible for organisations (especially smaller enterprises) that don’t follow the EEA’s standards, conformity assessment and regulatory practices to do business in some export markets.

In future, unless there is a re-think of the Government’s Brexit policy,  the UK may face problems in accessing some highly attractive export markets outside mainland Europe because of the reach of the Single Market and EEA.

Greeks have no reason to celebrate

Last week, Euro zone finance ministers offered Greece a 10-year deferral and maturities extension on a large part of past loans as well as 15 billion euros in new credit to ensure Athens can stand on its own feet after it finally exits its bailout in August, eight years after stringent austerity measures were imposed on the country.  On hearing this news, many Greeks celebrated. Even Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appeared wearing a tie! However, in the words of Ambassador Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos, the country has nothing to celebrate.

Greece was obliged to submit to EU programs in 2010  so that the public debt could be reduced.In 2010 this debt was 262 billion euros. In 2018 it is 323 billion euros and growing. To put it another way, debt was 120% of GDP in 2010 and 185% in 2018. So the objective of the program failed,the public debt was not reduced and after eight years of measures,the country has been destroyed and the people continue to suffer.

To present the completion of the fourth and final review of the growth strategy as a victory and a story of success, the Eurogroup statement of 22 June 2018 congratulated the Greek authorities and the Greek people on the successful conclusion of the ESM program. The statement is a masterpiece of manipulation of public opinion, presenting a disaster as a success.It might have been perhaps more honest to present it as a successful disaster.

The Eurogroup did not give to Greece a debt relief or reduction as had been promised in the past. The unsustainable debt magically became sustainable.What was given to Greece was an extension of  debt interest repayment and maturity for Greek bonds for 10 years.

Not many paid attention to a document called Annex A in which six specific commitments are mentioned in order to ensure the continuity and completion of reforms adopted under the ESM programme. These commitments concern:

1.Fiscal retrenchment where Greece assumes to fully respect its commitment to ensure that its annual budget achieves a primary surplus of 3.5% of GDP over the medium term.This means constant overtaxation of the Greek people and no relief in sight.

2.Social welfare, where Greece will continue with efforts to modernise its social welfare system,health care system,pensions and proposing a new approach on disability benefits. Modernisation in euro-jargon means collapse through financial squeezing, as we have seen from the last eight years.

3.Financial stability obliging Greece to continue implementing reforms aiming at restoring the health of the banking system.This health is more important than the health of the Greek people and obliges Greece to implement the comprehensive action plan on household insolvency with the objective to eliminate the backlog of cases by end 2021. This means that more people will be rendered homeless in order to restore the health of the banking system.

4.Greece will safeguard competitiveness of its labour market through an annual update of the minimum wage in line with the provisions of law 4172/2012. In other words, a continuation of low minimum wages and poverty for the people.

5. Privatisation. Greece confirms its intention to complete a large number of privatisations including airports,ports,marinas.Actually most of the country becomes privatised as the state is stripped from its assets and this “with a view to swiftly attract investment to support a sustained economic recovery”.

6.The implementation of reforms to modernise the public administration will be sustained. In other words, more civil servants will be fired so unemployment will increase.

What is totally surreal and shows the true face of the EU is the paragraph of the Eurogroup statement that intervenes into the Greek justice system and tries to influence it.There have been court proceedings that have started against members of the Committee of Experts of TAIPED for violating Greek law. TAIPED is an institution created by the Troika that acquires public property and sells it within the framework of the privatisation policy that is being imposed upon the country.

The former president and some senior staff of the Greek Statistical authority ELSTAT have had proceedings opened against them for falsifying statistics..The blatant intervention into the Greek justice system mentions: ”We recalled that the ongoing legal proceedings against the members of the Committee of experts of TAIPED are a matter of very serious concern and we reaffirm our full confidence in the work of the experts, which was also confirmed by the Hellenic Court of Auditors. Preoccupations also concern the proceedings against the former President and senior staff of ELSTAT,notably as regards the alleged falsification of fiscal data.The Eurogroup continues to have full confidence that the data validated by Eurostat and delivered by ELSTAT since 2010,including the 2009 general balance outurn is in compliance with the rules that are applied in all Member States.The Eurogroup mandates the institutions to continue monitoring the developments in those cases and the supporting actions taken by the Greek authorities,including legislative actions if needed,for instance strengthening the independence of ELSTAT,in full respect of the independence of the judiciary,and report back to the Eurogroup in the context of the post programme surveillance.”  This paragraph is a masterpiece of hypocrisy that undermines the judiciary system of what is left of a member-state. Our BREXIT friends should be informed about this.

In these eight years, Greece has been destroyed systematically. Thanks to the austerity measures, people have died, unemployment has soared, poverty has increased and basic human rights have been violated. Meanwhile, in Brussels the politicians and technocrats have been congratulating themselves on the “progress” achieved in Greece.

So what can be done? Nothing, unless we have regime change in Greece.Once that is done, then the Loan Facility Agreement of May 2010 can be unilaterally denounced according to UN procedures, the country cold then leave the eurozone and the EU. Criminal charges should be raised against the Greek regimes that that collaborated with the troika and against the  the troika itself for crimes against humanity. Article 41.3 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU must be implemented. It stipulates:”Every person has the right to have the Union make good any damage caused by its institutions or by its servants in the performance of their duties,in accordance with the general principles common to the laws of the Member States.” And finally Greece should claim reparations from Germany for the loan that it made during the occupation of the country from 1941 to 1944,which it never payed back and which created the famine in the country that killed thousands of persons then.The amount with interest is more that the public debt of Greece.

Only by taking these measures can Greece be saved .