Second referendum? Nein Danke!!

It is now almost ten months since the referendum on our membership of the EU. After a long wait, Mrs May has now triggered Article 50 and we are finally about to begin the exit negotiations.

While Brexit is likely to feature prominently in the newspapers and on radio and TV news bulletins in the next two years, how much interest the finer points of the negotiations will be to the majority of the population who are not political “anoraks” is debatable.  The EU has never been popular in this country, but it has only ever set the adrenaline racing for a tiny minority of voters.

Of course, it took centre stage for the first half of last year, but now we have made our decision, it has retreated into the background as an issue for most people. Whichever way they voted, the result has been accepted and life carries on, focusing on areas of greater concern.

There are a few exceptions, it must be admitted. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon is doing all she can to stir up resentment to the Brexit vote in order to pursue her aim of a second independence referendum, In some parts of London, disagreements between leave and remain voters have left a legacy of unpleasantness and even in the Somerset village of Norton-sub-Hamdon, home of a former Lib Dem leader, some neighbourly relations are a bit strained.

But this hardly justifies a German politician urging us to hold a second referendum. The proposal from Katarina Barley, the general secretary of the German Socialist Party (SPD), therefore needs to be firmly rejected. She claimed that, “when the referendum was held, nobody really knew what it would be about — not the British people, not even the political class….A lot of people wrongfully thought that Britain could get a deal like Switzerland or Norway without the inconveniences, without accepting the rulings of the European Court of Justice, without free movement of labour.”

This is hardly an accurate summary of the referendum campaign. In reality, the leave campaign gave very little detail about exit strategy – indeed, Dominic Cummings of Vote.Leave decided quite deliberately not to adopt an exit plan. As for the aspiration to end free movement of people and the power of the European Court of Justice, the issue is not so much whether these things will happen but when. Theresa May has been quite specific in stating that Brexit means both of these things. The complexities of the divorce settlement may mean that we cannot distance ourselves from the EU to the degree we would like as quickly as we would like, but we’ll get there in the end.

The leave campaign did have its weaknesses – no one could deny that. On the other hand, the remain campaign, with its cranked-up Project Fear and its reluctance to admit that the EU was a political project designed to build a superstate, was equally flawed.  After such a bruising and mediocre campaign, it is hardly surprising that only 21% of those surveyed in a recent poll by YouGov want a second referendum. If the same pollsters had asked the speakers and activists who had taken part in last year’s campaign, enthusiasm for a re-run would have been even lower.

So Ms Barley’s claim that the mood in the UK is shifting towards a second referendum has little basis in reality, not to mention the prevalent attitude in Brussels being a desire to be rid of us ASAP.  At the end of the day, we voted to remove ourselves from a project designed to emasculate our national political institutions. Forget last year’s debate about the percentage of our laws which originate in Brussels. The reality is much more complicated and as the scale of the Brexit negotiations becomes clear, it will also become increasingly clear exactly how much independence has been surrendered by 44 years of EU membership. We are getting out just in time – and by the time we actually go, there will be few regrets.

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.

Leavers worked very hard for years to secure Brexit – but we were also helped by a string of good luck

By Patrick O’Flynn MEP

A TV advert came out last year starring James Corden as a motorist driving through central London and finding that every single set of traffic lights miraculously favours him.

After cruising through about four sets in a row, a by-now-ecstatic Corden yells: “They call me Mr Green Light!” The advert serves as a useful reminder of how such a random thing as a run of good luck can change outcomes completely.

I was reminded of it while in Westminster last week to take part in the political circus surrounding the triggering of Article 50. Because, let’s be frank, our victory has only partly been down to our collective political genius. It has also depended on an almost freakish number of factors and events having fallen in our favour in the most fruitful sequence.

No wonder many Remainers cannot break out of outright denial about Brexit. It is an occurrence that has come at them at very high speed, leaving them with an acute case of political PTSD. I suspect many re-run what has happened in their minds every day and simply cannot fathom how it happened.

Let me take you through the sheer number of consecutive green lights we have needed so you can fully appreciate what I mean.

Green light number one was staying out of the €uro and that depended on Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party pressurising John Major and the other party leaders into supporting a referendum before entry. Had a stronger conviction politician such as Ken Clarke been PM at the time, there would have been no chance of a referendum lock on the single currency. But as luck would have it, Downing Street was occupied by a balancer rather than a leader, someone who responded to pressure. And as a result, the UK kept its monetary sovereignty and was able to observe the unravelling of the €uro experiment from the semi-detached sidelines.

The next green light was the failure of the Blair Government to impose transitional migration controls following EU enlargement in 2004. The bottom end of the labour market was flooded and talk of wage compression and pressure on public services took hold in working class communities.

Then came the failure of all the main party leaders to honour their commitment to giving a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Naturally a British rejection of Lisbon would have been hugely disruptive to the EU. But the treaty could surely have been repackaged for a second time with some more tweaks to reassure UK public opinion. But no, it was steamrollered through and as a result public resentment built.

The great financial crash of 2008 further built popular resentment against establishment figures and exacerbated the stagnation of living standards that oversupply of labour was already causing.

Then came another hugely important green light for Brexiteers – the formation of the 2010 Conservative-Lib Dem coalition under David Cameron. With Cameron already regarded with suspicion by the Tory base, the sight of him teaming up with Nick Clegg created the conditions for the rise of UKIP. And as well as transferring at least five points from the Tory score into the UKIP column, the very existence of the coalition also transferred ten points from the Lib Dems to Labour.

Another green light soon followed when the crashing of Lords reform by Tory MPs such as Jesse Norman gave Clegg an excuse to rat on boundary changes that Cameron was depending on for the 2015 election.

So Cameron, who like Major before him was a politician who responded to pressure and travelled light ideologically, was placed in the tightest of tight spots. What he had in addition – something the more cunning Major lacked – was a blithe overconfidence in his own ability to get out of such spots. Therefore, against the advice of George Osborne, he promised an In/Out referendum, confident that his brio would win the day, if and when that day ever arrived. A big green light for us there.

The lights were green again at the 2015 general election – with our First Past The Post electoral system delivering an unexpected outright Tory majority on a 37% vote share. Cameron was left with no excuse for not delivering the referendum.

Accordingly, 8th May 2015 was the first time that most people on the liberal left had even bothered to start contemplating having to win a plebiscite on EU membership. Up to that point most had dismissed the very idea of leaving as a fringe concern of a few right-wing Europhobes in the Tory Party and UKIP.

And even then, the early summer polls on EU membership showed Remain leads of 20-25%. Many pundits predicted a Remain landslide. So Labour and the Lib Dems felt able to take their eyes of the ball and plunge energetically into inward-looking party leadership contests. The prospect of a Leave referendum win was considered so remote that Jeremy Corbyn’s long-time opposition to the EU was barely considered relevant by pro-Remain Labour members as they voted him in by a landslide.

Are you getting the idea by now? They call me Mr Green Light!

And more green signals followed: not only did the more broadly appealing Vote Leave campaign win designation as the official Leave campaign (essential to keeping the dream alive), but the more immigration-focused alternatives were liberated to hit the segments of the electorate who responded to their blunter messaging. And nobody could claim collusion or choreography was going on between Vote Leave and Leave.EU because everyone knew that they really did hate each other.

Just as important was Cameron’s botched “renegotiation”. So cocksure was the then PM about his ability to win pragmatic voters around to Remain on economic grounds that he advertised in advance to his EU peer group that he would ultimately accept whatever they offered him. Unsurprisingly, a lousy deal was forthcoming.

Also, both David Cameron and George Osborne took bad reputational hits in the eyes of Labour-inclined voters in the months leading up to the referendum campaign they were destined to lead.

Cameron’s, one vaguely recalls, concerned a slightly trumped up story about his late father’s use of tax havens. Osborne’s concerned benefit cuts and blew up when Iain Duncan Smith resigned from the Cabinet in protest. The appeal of Osborne in particular to sectors of the electorate that Remain needed to turn out was much reduced. And while Osborne allegedly had been damning about the intellectual capacity of IDS, there is little doubt about who outsmarted whom on this occasion.

So Remain was left with a derided renegotiation and an undercooked campaign led by two Tory posh boys and involving almost zero input from the ambivalent leader of the Labour Party. Even during the campaign itself some crucial luck broke our way when postal vote ballots dropped on a day when record immigration figures led the news.

When polling day itself dawned it should have come as no surprise that torrential rain unloaded on London – depressing turnout in the Remain heartland.

So, my fellow Leavers, as well as recalling our heroic hard work and strategic brilliance, let us also try to understand rather better the trauma of our Remainer friends who were beaten before they even properly realised they were in a fight that they might lose.

One can only conclude that somebody up there must like us. I give you Article 50, courtesy of Mr Green Light.

This article first appeared on the Brexit Central website and is used by permission

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.