How to uncouple ourselves from the EU’s quangocracy

The Red Cell’s latest research looks at the EU’s hidden layer of administration and governance. The Tangled Web: Dealing with EU Agencies after Brexit reflects on a massive growth industry in the EU. Today, Euroquangos employ 15,000 people and operate a budget of €10.1 billion. Clearly, this is not small beer territory but high ABV % Burton on Trent land, and should be an area of considerable focus for Brexit planners.

Their interpretation will clearly vary from case to case. Some institutionally are straightforward duplicates of national counterparts, undertaking missions that currently have minimal or a shared treaty foundation, but whose simple existence provides cover for the Commission or MEPs to justify their own ambitions to gain greater powers down the line. By contrast, a small number of others generate output that has a direct bearing on the interoperability of certain sectors. The question that arises in the latter case is therefore: can the same effect be duplicated by setting up an external liaison mechanism, and by providing legal cover for existing agreements to transition into bilaterals?

In most cases, it would appear to be so. The assessment reached is that of the 53 Agencies, only two merit something approaching formal UK affiliation; eight require a liaison role through a form of “Strategic Association”; while the rest (all 43 of them) can be dealt with by checking their website and picking up the phone. Clearly, much is dependent on how quickly legal bridges can be constructed to span those areas where treaty continuity is essential after Brexit, though in most cases a preliminary review would suggest this is an issue of specifics rather than generic concern.

So what then should be the guiding principles used to drive the audit, and what do ministers and civil servants need to plan around conceptually? The Red Cell report identifies seven themes.

In the first instance, association should default to the most minimalist level, unless a practical need for closer administrative cooperation is proven. What can be achieved by a phone call or monitoring a web site should be left at informal intergovernmental level. The default should not be to begin with where we are at now, if we are to make the most of the opportunities of Brexit.

Secondly, planners need to appreciate why that concept of institutional distance is inherently desirable. Euroquangos constitute an enduring element of political risk, owing to the strategic objectives of the EU. They are also a long term distraction and complication for UK delegates sitting in those international bodies that generate trading standards and which should constitute the priority arena.

Meanwhile, the nature of future cooperation should not be set up in such a way as to give one part of Whitehall a courtier’s monopoly. That risks generating a vested interest held by one department, supporting the body accruing powers at the expense of competing departments, but at actual cost to collective sovereignty.

Priority should be given to points of liaison that focus on cutting and pre-empting technical barriers to trade.

Fifthly, the money issue. Juste retour should apply: the funding of programmes should, taken collectively, be cost neutral in terms of the budget that comes back. The UK should no longer be subsidising expenditure done in poorer EU states – unless, that is, the Government is planning on taking those net sums off the 0.7% international development target, which one doubts.

Sixthly, any cooperation should not include automatic obligations for the UK to legislate, which must be the preserve of Parliament. As a future paper by the Red Cell will explore, the UK also needs in the interim to develop better mechanisms for monitoring how global standards are set, as it becomes closer in the food chain to the standards being set at their global source.

Finally, and associated with that theme of good governance, while UK quangos may in some cases initially take over from Euroquangos as a default, change must not end there. An opportunity exists for significant reforms of the national system of off-books government, with powers returning to more direct democratic supervision through ministers within departments, greater Parliamentary oversight, devolution to regional government level (and, importantly, beyond), and more direct legislative responsibility and accountability.

The EU Agencies collectively constitute a huge subject matter spanning the concerns and output of most government departments. To do the subject(s) justice, each Agency merits a paper in its own right. No doubt Whitehall is already well into the process of doing just that. Hopefully though, this research will encourage auditors to be justly bold in their approach and not take the assumed ‘benefits’ of current affiliation at face value. Otherwise, our fleet of Euroquangonauts will be orbiting us in great cost and numbers for a long time yet to come.

(this article originally appeared on the Brexit Central website and is used with permission) 

North v South, East v West

Cast your eyes no further east than Berlin, Vienna or Rome and all looks pretty rosy in the EU’s garden. Apart from the shock of Brexit, most of the critical votes during the past year have gone the Establishment’s way. Even before our referendum, the Austrians set the scene by choosing a former Green party leader as President rather than Norbert Hofer of strongly eurosceptic FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria). Now this year, the Dutch and French elections have not seen any breakthrough for eurosceptic parties and looking to the future, Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is losing support, with Angela Merkel looking unassailable while Italy’s Five Star Movement does not now look likely to make any sort of breakthrough when the country goes to the polls. It too may have peaked.

Meanwhile, the economic news looks positive. The €urozone is enjoying a decent recovery with deflation beaten and business confidence returning. After almost a decade of one problem after another, the EU does appear on the surface to have turned a corner. Frexit, Iexit and other variations on the same theme don’t take up many column inches now.

In actual fact, one other country would vote to leave the EU if granted a referendum – the Czech Republic. At the beginning of July, the Spectator Magazine published an interesting report on the state EU in collaboration with Project 28, a polling organisation.  47% of Czechs would vote to leave as opposed to 43% who want to stay. The country  is very much an outlier, however, as the next most anti-EU country, Greece, would vote to stay in by 54% to 39%.

Scratch beneath the surface, however, and the picture isn’t so positive. Some 41% of Italians, 32% of French an 28% of Germans do not think that the EU in its present form will still exist in 10 years’ time. What is behind this sentiment? – or to put it another way, what are the most likely causes of conflict within the EU, causing it to splinter?

Firstly, the €urozone’s overall improved economic performance conceals real problems within individual countries. Youth unemployment is still over 40% in Spain and 45% in Greece. Italy recently bailed out two of its banks and, along with Spain, the overall indebtedness of its country’s banks increases while the net credit of German banks is also increasing. Such imbalances within the Single Currency area have the potential to cause problems if uncorrected. Furthermore, any push for closer political and economic integration within the €urozone would risk reopening old wounds when they have not had long to heal. Club Med is still resentful of Germany, whereas German taxpayers will not want to subsidise what they regard as the profligate and lazy southern countries.

More destabilising than the north-south divisions, however, are the east-west tensions. The Spectator claims that Hungarians have little appetite for “Hexit”, with only 15% of voters wanting to leave the EU. Viktor Orbán, the country’s leader, is a frequent critic of Brussels, however, He is no enthusiast of further integration and according to a piece in the Guardian, “he doesn’t want to leave the EU; he wants to subvert it, which is far more dangerous.”

The refugee crisis has inflamed East-West tensions. Hungary’s initial opposition to accepting large numbers of immigrants was worded roughly along the lines of “we’re not ready to accept immigrants; our country is still rebuilding itself after years of subjection to the Soviet Union. Come back in 20 years’ time and maybe we’ll be able to handle the sort of multicultural society you have in the West.” Now the rhetoric has hardened. Orbán doesn’t want multiculturalism now or ever and has announced that his country will offer a home  for “Germans, Dutch, French and Italians, terrified politicians and journalists who here in Hungary want to find the Europe they have lost in their homelands.” In the same speech, he also attacked political correctness while elsewhere, he claimed that Europe’s Christian identity was under threat from Moslem migration.

It is quite clear that there is a vast difference between his vision of the EU’s future and that of Macron and Merkel. “In 1990,  Europe was our future, now we are Europe’s future,” he said on another occasion. Meanwhile, according to one blog, in the Czech Republic, the country’s parliament has voted to enshrine in its Constitution (subject to Senate approval) the right for its citizens to carry arms. The reason for this seemingly drastic measure seems to be a concern about the possible problems which migrants might cause. The blogger wasn’t able to provide too many sources of information and any extra detail about this surprising development would be welcomed.

Such attitudes are light years away from the pathetic defeatism of Sweden’s former Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who said that his countrymen were “boring”, going on to rubbish his own country to an incredible degree, claiming that “only barbarism is genuinely Swedish.” Well, the Swedish Vikings were a pretty rough lot a thousand years ago, but since then, European civilisation, including Sweden , has much of which to be proud. Is he unaware of the heroic efforts of Sweden’s king Gustav II Adolf who played a huge part in saving Europe from barbarism in the Thirty Years’ War? Or the great Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus whose categorisation of plants into different genres is still the basis of botany today?

It is quite unbelievable for any western leader to be so dismissive of  his country, but although perhaps the worst, he is far from unique. Douglas Murray’s book The Strange Death of Europe claims that the entire continent is “weighed down with a guilt for its past.”  While his arguments are persuasive, they hardly apply to the former Soviet bloc countries like Hungary and Poland who are proudly patriotic and defensive of their culture after years of subjection to the sterile ideology of Marxism-Leninism. There doesn’t seem to be much evidence of guilt in the utterances of Mr Orbán nor indeed, in those of Poland’s most influential politician Jarosław Kaczyński.

Furthermore, we are not talking about a straight west-east split. I am sure that many people living in Western Europe probably sympathise far more with Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic than with their own guilt-ridden political leaders. It is these leaders, however, who will be trying to drive European integration forward and if it is on their multicultural, self-loathing politically-correct terms, then Hexit, Czexit, Polexit may be on our lips sooner than you can say Jack Robinson.

 

Clash of cultures – the root of our Brexit difficulties

Can the conflicting opinions on the EU’s intentions in the Brexit negotiations be reconciled? In my hearing, a staunch Brexit supporter recently referred to Michel Barnier as a “reasonable man” whereas  I have read numerous comments from people convinced that the EU wants to punish us and will deliberately be as unreasonable as possible. Who is correct?

It cannot be denied that Brits and Continentals do seem to have a different mindset when it comes to negotiations. Our attention was recently drawn to an interesting article on this subject on the Conservative Home website by James Arnell, a lawyer with some experience of negotiating with people from European countries. He claimed that such people begin with unreasonable demands and only at the last minute does a deal emerge.

Fair enough, but this does not get to the heart of the conundrum. The fundamental problem is that many of us don’t understand the difference in culture between our country and the majority of the other member states.

It goes back centuries, possibly longer. Essentially, our Common Law legal system bequeathed to us a love of liberty and flexibility. We don’t like everything to be rigidly codified and prefer laws to which we can adhere to in spirit rather than obeying to the letter. Such a mindset is as inevitable outworking of Common Law with its insistence on equality and inalienable rights.

Across the water, the two most influential figures in the development of law were the Byzantine emperor Justinian (d.565) and Napoleon. Their legal systems, which form the basis of  most of the law codes in Europe, were very top-down. Freedoms were conditional and the concept of everyone being equal before the law was unknown.

The EU’s approach to lawmaking is very much in that tradition and like all such systems, tends to be very exact and very bureaucratic. It will legislate in great detail in areas where an independent UK would not have been so precise or perhaps, not bothered at all. We may have laughed at the cuddly toy sheep depicted in Regulation 1462/2006, but it graphically illustrates the difference in approach which has been one of the biggest problems facing our politicians and civil servants since 1973 and which lies at the root of the lack of progress with the Brexit talks.

Very few UK politicians have appreciated the difference in mindset between ourselves and the rest of the EU – even those who have supported our membership. On one occasion, Sir John Major was taken to one side by Helmut Kohl, the former German Chancellor, and told to go home and read the treaties as he clearly had never done so.

This mindset manifests itself in various other ways, some mildly amusing, others frustrating. The Civil Service did not always find it easy to convert EU directives into UK law and often ended up “gold-plating”  – in other words, interpreting them in an excessively strict manner. A German motorist was once apprehended by the police for driving his Porsche at well over 100mph on a UK motorway. His excuse was that the 70mph limit did not seem to apply as so many other cars were going faster. In other words, he could not get his head round the concept of obeying the spirit but not the letter of the law – a guideline rather than something always enforced to the letter.

The different legal status of a UK policeman compared with a Continental Gendarme is another aspect of the same clash of mindsets. As Christopher Gill, one of the former “Maastricht Rebel” Conservative MPs explains,

“The tradition of British policing has been to protect individuals and their property from criminal activity and to apprehend those who transgress whereas on the continent police act almost like an army of occupation, responsible for public order enforcement, crowd control and generally buttressing the authority of the civil state as opposed to defending the freedom of the individual citizen”.

On a personal note, I can recall during my time working in Brussels how often colleagues used to moan about Belgian bureaucracy. The amount of form-filling required to register for residence or to let the authorities know that you worked for the EU and were thus covered by different tax arrangements was quite staggering. Yet it didn’t seem to bother the Belgians that their taxes were being used to pay the salaries of some public sector workers whose sole occupation seemed to be to stamp forms!

When we joined the EU, however, whether our politicians understood it or not – and most of them almost certainly didn’t – we agreed to play by their rules and in leaving the EU, it is exactly the same. Under Article 50, we have two options – to come to an agreement or leave without one. As M. Barnier has pointed out, it was our decision to leave. If, therefore, we want to leave by the EU’s approved route, our exit negotiations have to be conducted according to EU rules which limit the scope for flexibility. The EU in other words will not be flexible because it CANNOT be flexible in some areas where our ministers would like a bit of “give and take”.

For instance, Liam Fox’s claim that an EU-UK trade deal would be “the easiest in history” because we are beginning with zero tariffs and maximum regulatory convergence fails to take into account the simple fact that under EU rules, we become a “third country” on independence and the treaties cease to apply. Whatever the levels of convergence, in March 2019 our entire current relationship with the EU will be no more and any new trading arrangements will need to be put together on a totally different basis.  The EU can’t bend the rules for us, whether it wants to or not.

This clash of cultures shows why it was right to vote to leave last year. It also explains why we are likely to prosper once we have left, even though when it comes to international trade, we will still be subject to any regulation originating with global bodies. David Davis’ “sunlit uplands” are therefore not a total fantasy, but we’ve got to get there first! We will only do so if our negotiating team fully get to grips with the nature of the organisation we are trying to leave. It may be boring, tedious stuff, but if we are to leave smoothly, there is an urgent need for Civil Servants and politicians alike to heed the advice which John Major never took – Go and read the treaties!

 

 

Photo by archer10 (Dennis) 100M Views

So we’re all stupid racists?

It’s over a year since the referendum but some remoaners just will not give up their belief that a group of ignorant racists bear the prime responsibilty for our leaving the EU. As stubborn as the most ardent flat earthers, no amount of evidence to the contrary will shake their convictions.

Last August, our Chairman debunked the claims of an alleged increase in racist hate crime, showing how easily the statistics can be manipulated.  Undeterred, Channel 4 thought they had struck gold when featuring Sivalingam Rajan, a Sri Lankan-born shopkeeper from Swindon, who suffered a racist attack after telling a customer that she didn’t have enough money to pay for her purchase. The offending girl was interviewed by the programme and asked about Brexit, no doubt in anticipation that she had voted to leave the EU.  Instead, she replied, “I didn’t watch it, things like that I don’t get involved with – nothing to do with me.”

You would expect better things from the respected Nature journal but sadly not. Last January, we highlighted an article by Colin MacIlwain of Edinburgh who called Leave voters “a loose coalition of dissenters, doubters and right-wing jackals.”  Undeterred by its descent into the levels of the gutter press, Nature subsequently published a piece by a certain Jane Green who claimed that “voters with less education cast ballots consistent with populist waves.” So there you have it. We’re all thickos. Richard North, with a PhD to his name, the trilingual Daniel Hannan MEP with his history degree from Oxford, the multi-millionaire inventor and businessman Sir James Dyson and Cambridge-educated Dame Helena Morrisey, one of the most influential women in the City of London are all complete numbskulls because they supported Brexit.

OK, perhaps on average, a higher percentage of remain voters may have had degrees, but there is a world of difference between having a good brain and actually using it!

 

 

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A letter from our Chairman: the white elephant regional fire control centre

Sir, The Origin of the White Elephant Regional Fire Control Centres

Chris Williamson MP seems to have rather a selective memory about this massive waste of money in all regions of England, not just at Castle Donington. It was actually part of John Prescott’s plan to balkanise England into Euro-regions to match the devolution in Scotland and Wales.

The whole of Britain would be divided into bite-sized regions of around 5 million people which would be easier for the EU to digest. The intention was that we should gradually cease to feel British or English and become happy East Midlanders and Europeans. As Nick Clegg was pleased to tell everyone, England did not exist on EU maps.

Scotland and Wales are EU regions. Many EU grants were administered at regional level and could be manipulated through the EU Council of the Regions to remake the country to the EU model. As we always paid more into the EU than we got out, officials and politicians were essentially to be bribed with laundered British money to remodel our country to an alien pattern.

John Prescott had set up unelected regional assemblies and the fire control centres were an attempt to give them something to administer. The project was opposed by the Fire Brigades Union, as the regions were grotesquely oversized for operators to have adequate local knowledge to direct fire engines swiftly. Nonetheless, the money was spent.

The next step was to prove that there was a popular demand for the project which was sold as “bringing government closer to the people”. The fraud was detected by the people of the North East of England. Far from looking enviously to the doings in Edinburgh, they decisively rejected the idea of an elected regional assembly in a referendum, as “A White Elephant”.

In other parts of the country, Church of England bishops were persuaded to chair campaigns called “Constitutional Conventions” to pretend that there was a popular demand for the scheme. They were aided by the political activist Canon Kenyon Wright from Scotland. With vigorous resistance from alert local campaigners, as well as the example set by the electors of the North East, these officially sponsored groups simply faded away to deserved oblivion.

All that is left is the debt and continuing cost and a lesson about allowing insidious foreign forms of government into our country. Perhaps David Davis should demand a rebate from the EU?

Yours faithfully

Edward Spalton

(As a background note:- a number of these centres have been built across the country and continue to be rented but have never been used – ES)

 

 

Avoiding the cliff edge?

Brexit news has come thick and fast this past week. While we don’t see the need to comment on every twist and turn, some recent developments have been quite significant.

In particular, following reports of disagreements within Mrs May’s cabinet over how “hard” Brexit should be, we are now informed that the Cabinet is united over the need for a transitional deal pending full departure from the EU.  There has been considerable pressure from business leaders worried about the relatively short timescale to prepare for departing the EU. According to the Daily Mail, Mrs May told a group of senior figures from industry that she wanted to avoid a ‘cliff-edge’ exit from the EU.

The article also said that even David Davis, one of the ministers keenest to leave the EU as soon as possible, is reconciled to a transitional Brexit period lasting until 2022.

Of course, with 2022 is now the new date for the next General Election, this puts a great deal of pressure on the Government to make sure we’re through the transition period before voters go to the polls. A recent survey by YouGov studied the main reasons given by voters for supporting the two big parties in this year’s election. Among Tory voters, Brexit came top of the list with 21% citing it as their top concern. By contrast, Brexit (either supporting or opposing it) did not feature at all in the top 10 reasons why people voted Labour.  Achieving a successful Brexit looks like being essential for the Tories if they are to stand a chance of remaining in power next time round.

One big issue in many voters’ minds was immigration and it is possible from the snippets revealed by a government source that no attempt will be made to restrict migration from the EU during the transition period, although when the BBC reported on this topic, it merely used the term “might be” no restriction. If this is the case, it would confirm Mrs May’s statement earlier this week that whatever the transitional arrangement may be, it is not going to include remaining within the Single Market. If so, what will it include? A safer transitional option, the EEA/EFTA route, would enable us, via the Liechtenstein Solution, to start imposing restrictions  far sooner.

Opposition to housing development in greenfield sites and in small towns is not going to go away either, particularly as an increasing number of people are starting to make the obvious link between housing shortages, concreting over the countryside and immigration. This will only add further pressure on the Tories.

However, if voters may be concerned that the government is kicking its migration target further down  the road, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee thinks otherwise, noting that Brexit will encourage firms to replace cheap labour with robots. In a sense, this is nothing more than the House of Lords playing catch-up. Almost two years ago, Andy Haldane of the Bank of England said that millions of jobs would be replaced by robots in the next twenty years. Even allowing for exaggeration and/or technology not developing as fast as suggested by the headline report, if we start to become a world leader in artificial intelligence, we will be struggling to find work for the current immigrants and with the exception of top professionals, certainly won’t want any more.

As the summer recess begins, the government will not have an easy job to  keep everyone happy, be it the many shades of opinion among leave voters, the Business community or even the Cabinet. We are still woefully thin on detail about even its transitional plans, but at least we have now been told that the important players are not only talking to one another but listening and attempting to find common ground that will keep most leave voters and business people on side. That still leaves a lot of concerns unaddressed, but for this small mercy we must be thankful.

Photo by williamcho