Sorry, Douglas, but you are a bit premature

Douglas Carswell resigned from UKIP last month and now sits as an independent MP. On his resignation, which was announced a matter of days after Mrs May triggered Article 50, he said “It’s a case of job done…..we have achieved what we were established to do.”

In other words, he felt that UKIP had served its purpose – a theme to which he returned yesterday during a speech at an event hosted by the Institute for Government:- “I think we’ve done our job, and I think we should award ourselves a medal, or a knighthood, and take pride that we’ve won….if you’ve won a battle or a war you disband and you go home”.

But is Mr Carswell right in saying that the job is done? Winning the referendum last June against all the odds was an amazing achievement and the triggering of Article 50 last month to begin our divorce from the EU was a truly significant milestone for our country, but there are still hard campaigns to be fought in the next two years if Brexit is truly to be Brexit.

Many readers will be aware of the campaign by Fishing for Leave to  see a swift denunciation of the 1964 London Convention and the exclusion of all CFP-related legislation from the “Great Repeal Bill” so that we will regain control of all our waters once we leave the EU. While there have been a few positive signs that the Government is listening, a long, hard battle will need to be fought if we are to secure a Brexit that truly means Brexit for our fishing industry.

An equally fierce battle will need to be fought to extricate the UK from the European Arrest Warrant. Chief Police Officers support continuing UK participation in this odious scheme and they have the backing of the Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Last month, the Campaign for an Independent Britain hosted a meeting where legal expert Torquil Dick-Erikson highlighted the grave flaws in the EAW and mentioned some of the miscarriages of justice which it has engendered. Thankfully, there is a growing awareness of this issue among Leave-supporting Tory MPs and Peers, but it will not be easy to force Ms Rudd to climb down.

A third critical issue is foreign policy. Our friends in Veterans for Britain are seriously concerned about our being far too closely linked to the EU’s military policy even after Brexit.  On independence, our foreign policy will inevitably diverge from that of the EU. There may well be instances when we will wish to work alongside them, but we need to keep our distance from the European Defence Agency if Brexit is truly to mean Brexit.

If that is not enough, the battle is not won when we have taken the UK out of the EU. The EU needs to be taken out of  many UK citizens, especially young people. Those of us who took part in debates in schools and universities were made all too aware of the damaging effect of years of pro-EU propaganda. Of course, some europhilia among our young people is very shallow and superficial, revolving around the ungrounded fear that Brexit will stop them travelling around Europe. Such concerns can be easily dissipated by older people relating their experiences of inter-railing in the 1960s, years before we joined the EU.

For some, however, their love of the EU goes deeper and will require somewhat more intensive de-programming. A re-vamp of our GCSE history syllabus is essential as so few young people have any knowledge of our development as a nation. This, of course, will be mean challenging the far too prevalent self-loathing mentality which likes to talk about racism and slavery and generally to demean our great country, ignoring our many remarkable achievements over the centuries which prove that we have the capacity to manage our own affairs – and indeed, to run our country much better without the EU’s “help”.

Mr Carswell’s comments were directed primarily towards his former party. While this website is not the place to debate whether his assessment of the state of UKIP is correct or not, we can but hope that he and those who agree with him will resist any temptation to put their feet up as far as the battle for independence is concerned. The referendum result and the triggering of Article 50 were indeed causes for celebration, but the battle for independence is not over yet.

The options for our railway network after Brexit

With all the many complexities of securing a trade agreement and agreeing the terms of our divorce from the EU, the future for the UK rail network is not likely to be in the forefront of the minds of our politicians during the next two years – apart from perhaps the ruinously costly HS2 project.

Once we are out of the EU, however, a number of new options are possible for our railway network which would have been out of the question had we voted to remain.

Before considering these options, a couple of misconceptions need laying to rest. Firstly, the EU was NOT responsible for rail privatisation.  The late Bob Crow of the RMT union made this claim some years back, but Directive 91/440, the apparent culprit, talks of “separating the management of railway operation and infrastructure from the provision of railway transport services” (in other words. separating track from trains), but adds that while “separation of accounts” is compulsory, “organizational or institutional separation” was optional.

What it fact happened is that the UK began the privatisation process under John Major and the EU  adopted some features of the UK model at a later date. The complex and unwieldly franchise system from which our railways currently suffer, however, is also a creation of the UK government and nothing to do with the EU at all.

So once we are out of the EU what changes? Firstly, it becomes possible for Jeremy Corbyn to fulfil his pledge to re-nationalise the railways. It was one of the first promises he made on becoming leader of the Labour Party and one which would have been impossible as a member of the EU. Already, the track and infrastructure is in public hands with Network Rail having replaced the privately-owned Railtrack in the aftermath of the Hatfield accident of 2000, which was caused by a broken rail and which brought to public attention Railtrack’s poor stewardship of the railway infrastructure. Furthermore, some franchises, including the East Coast Main Line from 2009 to 2015, were taken over by the State when the operator felt unable to continue running them profitably. Stringent terms are attached to franchises, so in one sense, passenger train operating companies do not have that free a hand under the franchise system.

Mr Corbyn’s planned renationalisation would be accomplished by not renewing franchises at the end of their term and trains then being run buy the state. As more and more of the network  reverted to state control, outside the EU, he could then, if so desired, return our railway network to the monolithic structure of the British Rail era.

At the other end of the spectrum, outside the EU, it would be possible to return to the “vertically integrated ” railways which pre-dated the rail nationalisation of 1948, where privately companies owned their own rolling stock, track, signalling and stations. Given the requirement to separate  track from trains would no longer apply, it would make possible, at least in theory, a complete privatisation of the rail network and a much simpler structure, with the government playing a very minor role.

Of course, it would be possible to carry on much as things are at the moment – indeed, this will almost certainly be the case in the immediate post-Brexit period as there will be far too much else requiring the attention of the government and Whitehall.

In summary, therefore, Brexit makes possible a number of options which would not be on the table if we had voted to remain an EU member state. Public opinion on re-nationalisation is sharply divided and there would be complexities facing any reorganisation. For instance, what of specialist freight operators and charter train providers, most of which are completely privately-owned? While there is a considerable degree of support for taking scheduled passenger services on the UK’s main lines back under public ownership, only real hard-line left wing ideologues wold go as far as wanting to take the freight companies back into public ownership.

One welcome and uncontroversial benefit of leaving the EU would be the chance to replace the EU’s Interoperability Directives with something far simpler. These  pieces of legislation stipulate a very complex registration process for new rolling stock which allows locomotives, carriages and wagons to operate across international borders. Given the UK’s geographical location, a very low percentage of trains in this country are ever going to operate across international boundaries – only Eurostar services, car and lorry shuttles through the Channel Tunnel, international freight services and the very limited service across the Irish border between Belfast and Dublin.

It is utterly pointless therefore for an operator like Trans Pennine or Chiltern Trains, for example, to have to comply with this directive. Currently, under EU legislation, they are required to do so even though their services do not go anywhere near international boundaries.

What needs to be remembered in studying any policy area where the EU has either full or partial competence is that there is always a political element. Regular visitors to this website will be aware of John Ashworth’s stinging criticism of the Common Fisheries Policy. It was designed as a tool of integration and its potential to help build a united Europe was far more important than the effect it might have on actual fishermen – especially UK fishermen.

EU transport policy likewise has been designed to facilitate integration – in particular, the burgeoning network of high-speed railway lines being built to link major European cities. Our course, an independent UK may decide that we still think it is a good idea to have a high-speed network linking London with the North of England and Scotland, but as with other areas of post-Brexit policy, our prime consideration will be what is best for the people of this country. What this might entail will depend on who is in power, but at least future governments of whatever hue will have far more options as they no longer have their hands tied by the EU’s all-consuming desire to create a federal superstate.

A tribute to the late Helen Szamuely

With Helen’s death, one of the great freedom fighters of our time has passed on.

Born in Moscow, she was the daughter of a father who bravely opposed Soviet Communism; Helen understood it from an early age, and fought it long before the Wall came down.

She came to the UK at the age of fourteen and with a First in History and Russian from the University of Leeds and a doctorate from the University of Oxford, her knowledge of Soviet history and what it did to the Warsaw Pact countries was encyclopaedic.

So she also saw through the project of European integration from its inception, and was a founder member of the Anti-Federalist League, UKIP and several other resistance groups, also serving as Head of Research for the Bruges Group.

Slightly more surprisingly to many, she was also omnivorous in her love of the arts and could often be seen in the evening at private views for a wide range of styles.

Helen had a first class and incisive mind, and could be impatient with the less gifted, especially when she thought that even they should have been able to grasp the point she was making. But she was never unkind, and her generous sense of humour always carried the day.

We have lost a brave and good woman, and my thoughts are with her daughter, Katharine.

(This tribute first appeared on the Brexit Central website. Dr Szamuely was also a member of the Campaign for an Independent Britain’s Committee for many years.)

Some EU-critical Irish are starting to put their heads above the parapets

Ireland joined the EU, along with the UK and Denmark, in 1973. With its important agricultural sector very dependent on exporting to the UK, the Irish really had very little choice.

Many Irish men and women developed an enthusiasm for the European project which has been conspicuously absent from this side of the Irish Sea.  The generous EU subsidies which Ireland received undoubtedly contributed to their Euro-enthusiasm, but EU membership helped Ireland publicise its separate identity as an independent nation after breaking with the UK in 1922.

The leadership of the main Irish political parties, along with the Irish media, have been staunch supporters of EU membership. Their position has not changed in spite of the severe hit taken by the Irish economy in the recent Great Recession – a downturn exacerbated by Ireland’s membership of the Single Currency. Neither has the change in Ireland’s status from net recipient of to net contributor to EU funds made any difference in their stance. Brexit has made them downright hysterical in their depiction of the Brexit vote as an unmitigated disaster for both the UK and Ireland.

But what of the Irish people? The most recent Eurobarometer survey still pointed to a nation happy to be part of the EU. 55% of those surveyed had a positive image of the EU, the highest score across the entire EU28.  Ireland was also the most positive country regarding the future of the EU. At face value, there seem to be few echoes of  the hostility towards the EU which has always been such a feature of the UK.

Regular visitors to this website will be aware of the work of the veteran Irish Eurosceptic Anthony Coughlan, but  has he been a voice crying in the wilderness?

If a recent letters page in the staunchly pro-EU Irish Times is at all typical, the answer seems to be no.

A Mr Ronan Scanlon, from Leopardstown, Dublin, had written a few days earlier, “Ireland is a maritime country in the North Atlantic, an open economy with a flexible, literate, highly educated and – above all – English-speaking workforce. To what kind of future can she look forward walled into an anti-democratic, over-regulated, protectionist little customs union with its job-destroying currency and within which hardly anyone else speaks English as their mother tongue?” and he returned to the fray on 4th April to hit out at EU regulation:- “EU membership imposes far too many regulations on small businesses that don’t export anywhere…Why are such standards decided at supra-national level? It ought to remain a competence for domestic legislation in national parliaments.”

Ken Andrew from Cobh, Co. Cork debunks claims in the paper that we in the UK are regretting voting for Brexit:- “Your columnist also mentions a long-time London-Irish businessman admitting to feeling ‘a little scalded’ as proof that many British people are suffering regret over their choice to vote Leave. The truth is there is little evidence of buyer’s remorse among voters, and Theresa May is enjoying remarkably good approval ratings, even amongst Remainers, for her handling of the Brexit process thus far. The British economy is booming, inward investment is at record levels, unemployment is at its lowest rate in a decade and the predicted exodus of jobs from the City of London simply hasn’t happened.

The offending columnist, Kathy Sheridan, also gets short shrift from Dave Slater of Kilkea, Co. Kildare, for her condescending attitude towards supporters both of Brexit and President Trump:- “Why don’t your columnists actually come out and directly say what they are obviously thinking? They oppose universal suffrage, clearly consider it a disastrous failure and would, in light of events, ‘reluctantly’ prefer a return to limited suffrage. Those with third-level degrees, business owners and those who own a house valued above a certain threshold. That should put a stop to a Trump or Brexit ever again being forced through, against all logic and decency, by the great unwashed.

Of course, such sentiment does not imply that Ireland is going to follow us out of the exit door, although the very fact that a group of Irish economists and lawyers have recently produced a report making a credible case for “Irexit” indicates that Brexit has given a new spring in the step of a much larger number of EU-critical movements than the more widely-reported groups such as the Front National in France or Geert Wilders’ PVV in the Netherlands.

Sinn Féin has predictably ditched its sham euroscepticism after realising that Brexit provides an opportunity to press for a vote on an United Ireland, with Northern Ireland being incorporated into the Irish republic (and thus the EU) rather than bringing back a hard border with the UK. However, not only is a hard border unthinkable on either side, but if the UK government plays its cards right, Brexit may further open the eyes of our Irish cousins and encourage them at least to consider whether they might be better off joining us in seeking freedom from the failing, disunited and moribund EU. We can but hope.

 

Photo by minniemouseaunt

Some pictures of the anti-austerity rally on 25th March

On 25th March, several members of the Campaign for Independent Britain joined with representatives of EPAM, the United People’s Front, to protest about the EU-imposed austerity which is crippling Greece. The demonstration was held in front of the Greek embassy in London and was one of a number of similar demonstrations held in several European capital cities.

Here are a few pictures of the event.

If you would like to find out more about the extent of the suffering among the Greek people, former Ambassador Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos will be one of the speakers at the forthcoming CIB Annual Rally on 29th April. His subject will be:- Greece – the cradle of democracy with no democracy and EU-inflicted poverty

The big EU-UK question

Does the BREXIT negotiating strategy being adopted by our Government stand much chance of success?

The government is exuding a great deal of confidence about the future outcome of its negotiations to leave the European Union (EU). It would be nice to think we can believe its claims, but we need to ask whether they are realistic or whether we should instead be adopting a different, less ambitious, less complex, novel and consequently less risky, approach.

Whilst predicting the future is always guesswork, we should at least attempt to identify the major ‘showstoppers’ and risks to a successful outcome. To put it another way, we must consider some really important underlying assumptions which will need to be right or we could face a potential disaster. We can but hope that this has already been done by the government already as a preliminary to setting negotiating goals and working out our Prime Minister’s winning strategy.

This list is not necessarily exhaustive but includes some significant underlying assumptions upon which is predicated the success or failure of our BREXIT negotiations:-

  1. That pragmatic enlightened flexible mutual self-interest will prevail in the EU hierarchy;
  2. That rational economic considerations override EU political priorities or malice;
  3. That UK’s loss through failure to reach a trading agreement is EU’s loss as well;
  4. That Mrs May can set the EU’s negotiation strategy;
  5. That The World Trade Organisation (WTO) option for trading with the EU is viable;
  6. That negotiating team and administrative arrangements can be adequately resourced.

Let us consider these assumptions in order:-

(1) – The EU hierarchy does not have a great history of actions based on pragmatic enlightened flexible mutual self-interest, but rather the opposite. It has its ideological goals (e.g. increasing Superstate centralisation) which are unremittingly pursued whatever the undesirable consequences. It has inflexible, slow bureaucratic processes and procedures; it is somewhat dominated by the German – French duopoly.  The final deal will be further complicated by the Byzantine high level process involving the vote of the (presently somewhat posturing and hostile) European Parliament and unanimous agreement of all the 27 remaining Member States (presumably pursuing their own self-interests, such as Spain over sovereignty of Gibraltar).

(2) – The EU’s political priorities and ideology have traditionally overridden economic considerations.  Consequently, for example, the relentless economic hardship imposed on the southern European member states, Greece in particular, by the Euro. It is claimed that the austerity imposed on Portugal was a signal to larger economies like Italy that they must tow the German line.  Usually the EU takes years to negotiate free trade agreements (FTAs) largely because their scope extends far beyond purely trade considerations to include ideological and political features.

(3) – The EU could actually profit at the UK’s expense from a failure to agree a free trade agreement. Over the years, the EU has encouraged the transfer of economic activity from the more advanced Member States to the less developed, often through financial inducements. The EU’s Customs Union is also inherently protectionist, erecting barriers to imports from third countries.  Whilst there are likely to be some business losers, overall EU economic activity could remain the same, and there would be some winners, even in the UK, such as firms able profitably to expand in their protected EU home market.

(4) – There is limited scope to influence the EU’s negotiation strategy or priorities in favour of the UK’s interests. Commonly in contractual arrangements, money and concessions flow from the weakest – or more desperate – party to the strongest or more indifferent. Over the years the UK has not had that much influence in the corridors of EU power to protect its interests.  Leaving must inevitably reduce influence rather than strengthen it especially where any malevolence, greedy envy or dishonesty towards the UK is to be found.

(5) – Trading with the EU under WTO rules is more problematic than closely integrated trading as part of the Single Market – and in some instances, impractical or uncompetitive. The EU’s Customs Union operates tariffs and effectively non-tariff barriers (rules, regulations, inspections, approvals, standards, etc.) to outside imports from third countries, which the UK would become.  WTO rules do not change this situation, and even a free trade agreement may not help much where EU-imposed conditions are impractical to follow.

(6) – The resources needed to negotiate  – and in particular to protect our interests and not be ‘taken for an EU ride’ – have to be built up quickly and without in-fighting. Also, after leaving the EU, its Customs Union and the Single Market, the additional administrative arrangements here and in the EU, such as customs clearance or inspections, have to be in place and running smoothly. Unfortunately, over the years the UK has lost much expertise and knowledge of administrative systems thanks to the transfer of competences to the EU or the operation of the Single Market, whilst the world of intra-EU Member State trade has moved on with increasing volume and complexity.  Additionally, the UK Government has a poor record with large, complex projects – especially relating to information technology.

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In summary, consideration of these assumptions gives some indication of how risky Mrs May’s planned BREXIT strategy is if we are to take it at face value. There exists a significant likelihood of it being ‘derailed’, or at least not turning out as expected.  These six points are obvious areas for concern. Assumptions, if incorrect, cannot be changed, but we can however change our response before and hopefully well before, the worst happens.

There is more than one path for leaving the EU, whilst retaining a satisfactory trading relationship; perhaps our prime minister has something up her sleeve.  It is not impossible that as an interim solution, she may be considering temporary membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) which would give us continued access to the European Economic Area (EEA) while still allowing us to leave the political clutches of the EU. This route would allow the UK to control levels of EU migration through unilaterally enacting the Safeguard Provisions in Article 112 of the EEA Agreement.  Remaining within the EEA (UK is currently a member through being in the EU) would retain trading continuity with the EU with the least disruption. Given a choice negotiating with future friendly EFTA partners is more attractive than negotiating with somewhat disgruntled soon to be ex-EU partners.