Everything to play for

With a few recent opinion polls suggesting support for withdrawal from the EU has fallen in the last few months, a report in the Independent summarising a recent poll by Survation offers some hope. Some 70% of the electorate have yet to make up their minds and the enthusiasm of Tony Blair to play a prominent role in the “yes” or “in” campaign is likely to be a great boost to his opponents as he is seen as so untrustworthy in matters relating to the EU (is he trustworthy about anything at all? Well, that is another question!)

This does mean that the barrage of horror stories about the dangers of withdrawal, with one chief executive after another being wheeled out in support of staying in, have not convinced over 2/3 of UK voters. The tactics of fear, uncertainly and doubt have so far not been as effective as the “in” camp have hoped. Our fellow-countrymen (and women) are obviously still open to a well-presented, bullet-proof argument in favour of withdrawal. In short, there is everything to play for, even though time is short. To quote Dr Richard North, we have to present the EU as a problem, offer the solution and paint a glowing picture of the outcome. If we can do this, our opponents will have few arguments with which to beat us down

Photo by The hills are alive*

Rebuttal of the Europhiles’ Arguments

On 30th June 2011 The Rt Hon David Lidington MP, Minister for Europe, claimed a number of benefits that follow from Britain’s EU membership. In this rebuttal the Bruges Group addresses the main points he raises.

1) Access to the Single Market is of central economic importance to the UK

The Single Market is a Customs Union with the institutions of the European Union making regulations which govern businesses within it. There are no important customs unions anywhere else in the world.

EU membership is not a prerequisite for access to the Single Market. Switzerland and Norway which are outside of the EU, export more in relation to their GDPs and per capita than the UK does. Furthermore, both China and the USA each export more to the EU than the UK does and without having their economies burdened by costly EU regulation.

Countries as far afield as Mexico, Turkey, Chile and South Africa have tariff free access to the Single Market. Without having to pay the huge costs associated with the EU. As shown later in this report the costs both the taxpayer and the British economy amount to many 10s of billions of pounds per year.

The Single Market with its four freedoms of free movement of goods, capital, services, and people is not just reserved for EU members. Those four freedoms also apply to members of what is known as the European Economic Area (EEA). Britain is also a member of the EEA and this guarantees that Britain will always enjoy those four freedoms regardless of EU membership.

 2) The EU is one of the world’s most important trading zones

Less that 10% of the UK economy is involved with trading with businesses in other EU member- states. However, 100% of our economy must comply with the EU’s excessive regulatory burden.

Single Market trade is also becoming less important to the UK. With the growth of emerging markets the amount of British foreign trade with the rest of the world is set to increase so that by
2020 around 70% of Britain’s foreign trade will not be with the EU. Presently, the EU accounts for approximately just 40% of the UK’s trade.

 3) The benefits of EU membership… include free movement

As previously stated citizens of European Economic Area member-states have the opportunity for free movement throughout both the EU and the EEA. If the government continues to support the free movement of people then this can be achieved via the UK’s membership of the EEA.

ree movement into the UK is also an issue of great political concern in the UK, yet government cannot address this whilst governed by EU rules in this area.

 4) That 3.5 million jobs, 10% of the UK workforce, are reliant on exports to EU member states

This misleading claim first emerged in the year 2000 from the now defunct Britain in Europe group which unsuccessfully campaigned for Britain to join the euro. They apparently based this claim on research they commissioned into how many jobs were involved with the EU. However, Dr Martin Weale the Director of The National Institute for Economic and Social Research described Britain in Europe’s spin as “pure Goebbels” and said, “in many years of academic research I cannot recall such a willful distortion of the facts.” The report had in reality came to the conclusion that the jobs would still exist regardless of whether the UK was a member of the EU or not.

It is surprising that a Conservative Minister is repeating that erroneous claim.

British people and business do not need to remain within the EU, a supra-national political structure, to trade with other people and businesses on the continent.

The UK is a member of the European Economic Area and EEA members have tariff free access to the Single Market. Furthermore, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) would prevent the EU discriminating against British exporters. What is more, Articles 3, 8 and 50 of the Lisbon Treaty legally requires the EU to negotiate “free and fair trade” with non-EU countries.

The UK is the single biggest purchaser of exports from the other 26 EU member-states. They sell far more to Britain than British businesses sell to them. Perhaps the government should take action to address structural trade deficit which effectively means that Britain losing jobs to the continent.

 5) Collective action gives us more negotiating power

Britain, with only 8% of the votes in the Council of Ministers has little formal power over the determination of EU rules, whereas a sovereign state would have 100% authority over its own affairs.

Outside of the EU Britain can retake its seat on the World Trade Organisation and negotiate according to our best interests instead of being represented by an EU trade commissioner who is currently from Belgium. Britain will then be able to negotiate without being encumbered by the differing interests of other EU nations that often have a different outlook to the UK. And as one of the largest WTO members the UK can support the many other members who share our global trading outlook.

Britain is having its own foreign policy decisions being subjugated to common EU positions. Both national and EU embassies will have to cooperate. As a result of the common foreign policy the UK diplomatic service will be receiving direction from the EU’s High Representative.

EU rules also state that “The High Representative shall represent the Union for matters relating to the common foreign and security policy. He or she shall conduct political dialogue with third parties on the Union’s behalf and shall express the Union’s position in international organisations and at international conferences.”

They also state that “When the Union has defined a position on a subject which is on the United Nations Security Council agenda, those Member States which sit on the Security Council shall request that the High Representative be asked to present the Union’s position.”

Furthermore, Defence integration is already underway.

One of the areas cited by Mr Lidington included the ability to reduce crime, catch criminals and take action to tackle abuse of the asylum system

What Mr Lidington may be unaware of is that Britain cannot deport foreign EU criminals because of an EU directive, number 2004/58/EC. The EU’s increasing involvement in areas to do with Justice and Home Affairs such as the European Arrest Warrant and the European Investigation Order are seen as threats to our civil liberties and should not be welcomed.

The attempt to claim that EU control over Britain’s asylum policy as a benefit of EU membership is also surprising.

 6) Mr Lidington was confident in the UK’s ability to move the EU in the right direction

The EU is unreformable, it is not proposing to return any powers to the member-states and the EU continues to legislate thus continually deepening the centralisation within the EU.

 7) The governments EU referendum lock was also cited in the letter as part of moving the EU in the right direction

It does no such thing. The Government have introduced the EU Bill, containing the so-called ‘Referendum Lock’; however this does not prevent the EU expanding its powers without a referendum. It can still do this by legislating in new areas which it has not as yet done so but are granted to it as shared competences under the terms of the treaties. Once it has done so this becomes another EU occupied field and national Parliaments must then confirm to EU law and can only legislate in those areas if they obey the principles of the EU legislation. The EU Bill does not cover referendums in such circumstances and only in the event of there being a new Treaty and then only if the Government considers a Treaty change a ‘significant’ transfer of power.

In conclusion what Mr Lidington has failed to address is the enormous costs of Britain’s EU membership:

  • Britain has to hand over to the EU more than £10 billion each year excluding contributions to the bailout schemes
  • The Common Agricultural Policy costs Britain at least £16.8 billion per annum. According to the Consumer Nominal Assistance Coefficient (CNAC), on average, agricultural prices paid by European consumers are 23% higher than those prevailing in international markets. It means higher food prices for an average family in the UK of £1,500 per year.
  • The Common Fisheries Policy costs Britain over £3 billion in lost commercial opportunities each year. This figure is derived at by calculating the proportion of the value of the EU’s total catch, approximately £5 billion per year, of which it is estimated that 70% comes from previously defined British waters. Furthermore, in 1970 there were 21,443 fishermen in the UK. By 2007 that figure had dropped to 12,729: a decrease of 40.64%.
  • Over-regulation from the EU on business costs Britain over £20 billion per annum holding back UK economic growth by 2% each year. The British Chamber of Commerce Burdens Barometer, counting regulation from Whitehall and Brussels, puts the cumulative figure of total regulation upon British businesses much higher. At least 50%, and perhaps as much as 70%, of this legislation originated from Brussels, therefore the cost of EU regulation is at least 2% of GDP and that is a conservative estimate. Peter Mandelson told the 2004 CBI conference that the cost of regulation amounts to 4% of Europe’s GDP. Also in 2004 the Dutch Vice Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Gerrit Zalm stated that the administrative burden on business in the Netherlands was estimated at 4% of GDP. In October 2006 Gunter Verhuegen, the European Commission Vice-President for industry and Enterprise estimated that the annual cost of EU regulation across the EU amounted to €600 billion per annum (around 5.5% of GDP), while the benefits of the Single Market amount to only €160 billion: therefore the costs exceeded the benefits by €440 billion. Later, in a letter from Commissioner Verhuegen to Bill Newton-Dunn MEP, dated 18th June 2007, he gives the overall EU figure as an average of 3.5% of GDP for all member states and the figure would be similar for the UK. Therefore, the £20 billion per annum and 2% figures are erring on the side of caution.

The question needs to be asked if this is a cost worth paying and ask for a genuine explanation of what we get in return. If the Treasury disputes those figures then there should be an official cost benefit analysis into Britain’s EU membership.

THE BRUGES GROUP

The Bruges Group is an independent all–party think tank. Set up in February 1989, its aim was to promote the idea of a less centralised European structure than that emerging in Brussels. Its inspiration was Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech in September 1988, in which she remarked that “We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re–imposed at a European level…”. The Bruges Group has had a major effect on public opinion and forged links with Members of Parliament as well as with similarly minded groups in other countries.

The Bruges Group spearheads the intellectual battle against the notion of “ever–closer Union” in Europe. Through its ground–breaking publications and wide–ranging discussions it will continue its fight against further integration and, above all, against British involvement in a single European state.

For more information about the Bruges Group please contact:

Robert Oulds, Director
The bruges group, 227 Linen Hall, 162-168 Regent Street, London W1B 5TB
Tel: +44 (0)20 7287 4414
Email: [email protected]p.com

Now we know the question

In spite of much speculation in the press, it is highly unlikely that the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU will be held before 2017. However, we can now be more confident about the wording of the referendum question. The European Referendum Bill was published last week and had its first reading in the House of Commons and consequently, we now know that the proposed question is “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”

This means that supporters of withdrawal will become the “No” campaign. While some reports suggested this question was a replacement for “Should the United Kingdom be a member of the European Union?” on the grounds that some people didn’t even know that we were a member, it does make our task somewhat harder as there is an innate desire among the uninformed to want to please and to be positive – in other words, to say “Yes”. No doubt Mr Cameron is aware of this.

The “Out” campaign, as Robert Oulds said recently at CIB’s annual rally, must therefore be positive and talk not so much about leaving something but rather about joining something better – the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which we should never have left in the first place.

Incidentally, to answer any critics who fear that EFTA may not want us back, Mr Oulds has pointed out that in a reply by the Prime Minister of Iceland, S. D. Gunlaugssson, to a question about Cameron’s promise of an EU referendum in an interview with the “Liechtensteiner Vaterland” on 9th May 2015, he said “I would certainly welcome Great Britain into EFTA. An entry into EFTA could be a good solution for Great Britain and would be equally good for EFTA. We would at all events be open to taking the British back into EFTA.”

A report on the Battle for Britain – May 2015

With the publication of the Referendum Bill, and David Cameron’s visits to other EU countries taking place, some features of the referendum are already obvious.

As expected, David Cameron’s reform agenda is minimalist. Clearly his aim is to produce enough, or just enough, changes to proclaim his reforms a success but, at present, this seems unlikely. They will be too weak.

The opposition, in the shape of the SNP and Labour, have shown no capacity at all to discuss the issues on the referendum and are, effectively, sidelined. The SNP has not even wanted even the Cameron minimalist agenda and is concentrating on such minor issues as wanting EU citizens and 16-17 years old included in the voting. Labour seems to be trailing in the wake of the SNP and is absorbed in its own internal leadership election. They saw no reason to have a referendum and have been wrong-footed!

It seems to be conceded on both sides that party politicians will play a smaller role than in 1975. Salmond has said the pro-EU side should be non-party and many withdrawalists think the same should be the case. However, some politicians are too ambitious to forfeit the limelight.

Conservatives are, in any case, paralysed. They are waiting for the results of David Cameron’s reforms and are, in the meantime, avoiding any debate on fundamental issues.

In this void, there has been a spate of speeches by businessmen pressing for the UK to stay in the EU. On examination, these are actually speeches in favour of staying in the Single Market and never address the political issues.

Some attention should be directed to the polls which are alleged to show an increase of support for staying in the EU. However, what matters is the voting intentions of those who actually vote. Referendums generally have a lower turnout than general elections but this, of course, cannot be counted on. Clearly, the pollsters understated the weight of the over-60s’ votes in the general election. This block is far the most eurosceptic and has, of course, experienced the results of giving the politicians a blank cheque in 1975.

Finally, it is notable that two pro-EU themes seemed to have been thoroughly discredited and disappeared from the proEU argument. One is the ‘three million jobs’ argument and the other is that ‘Norway and Iceland have to obey fax democracy’. Bereft of these two themes, it is noticeable that no new facts and no new arguments have been put forward by the proEU forces.

Photo by Airwolfhound

A simple approach for considering EU membership

The campaign for remaining ‘IN’ the European Union in the coming referendum has powerful built-in advantages over the ‘OUT’ or let’s leave alternative. The IN campaign has access to far greater financial and government resources; the voracious support of much of the ruling and political Establishment, including the EU apparatus, the main stream media, and converted ‘Eurosceptics’ satisfied by the ‘renegotiated deal’ on offer; the potential to spread fear of the unknown in leaving, conduct personal attacks on leading Eurosceptics and to wage a dishonest, deceptive, manipulative, censorious and platitudinous campaign. Peter Hitchens provides an opinion about what to expect based on the 1975 EU membership referendum in his recent Blog. There are also other examples of what could happen based on EU referenda in places like Ireland and we have the example of the deceit, concealment, manipulation and vacuous debate of our recent General Election.

The ‘OUT’ campaign is somewhat hampered by a natural risk averse reluctance to change from the status quo (‘the devil you know’) and by the esoteric nature of much of the case for leaving focusing on the less visible damage caused by EU membership and refuting dubious pro-EU arguments. For example, few people know much about the Common Fisheries Policy or EU Public Services Procurement Rules, making it difficult to really say whether or not the UK should be subject to them (which it shouldn’t, in the former case, to save our once great fishing industry and, in the latter, to facilitate innovative free enterprise and save taxpayers’ money). The limited resources of the OUT campaign also make it more difficult to expose false and spurious claims from EU-enthusiasts, although with major parts of the media acting as an IN propaganda machine it is unlikely such critical examination would get fair treatment anyway, more likely to be shut down immediately.

Looking behind the widely recognised issues of severe damage caused by EU membership, such as uncontrolled immigration*, rampaging bureaucracy, increasing cost and wastefulness, lack of democratic accountability, and bizarre ideological behaviour, there are far more basic questions that could help inform decision making at all levels of wisdom about the EU. This would help a wide range of voters, and facilitate a more open and fair campaign against the arrayed vested interests for remaining IN. These basic, yet important questions are:

1 Would the country be better governed by Brussels (by being part of the EU) or by our own government and Parliament in London?
2 Who would make fewer mistakes and correct them more quickly, our government in London or EU bureaucrats in Brussels?
3 Who would protect our national interests better, our own government, accountable to the People, or unelected EU bureaucrats?
4 Would we be happier, more democratic and peaceful as a sovereign, independent country with our own identity or as an anonymous region of an EU superstate?
5 Would we, as individuals and a country, be more competitive, productive and ultimately prosperous being heavily regulated by a centralised, costly EU bureaucracy or as a fast moving, low tax, entrepreneurial free society?
6 Would it be acceptable to suffer short term pain, in leaving the EU when we choose, to achieve longer term gain?

These fundamental questions could be considered in the light of the existing direction of travel of the EU towards ever greater political and monetary integration, territorial expansion, current and past events, and where the EU will, based on current information, likely be in 10, 20, 30 or more years’ time. Where there is some uncertainty, the balance of probabilities could be included. With this approach, you don’t need to be an expert or a fortune-teller to be able to reach a reasonably logical and informed judgement quickly, which is likely to be similar to logical conclusions arising from comprehensive investigation and analysis.

The EU fits within longstanding continental European traditions of authoritarian centralised top down rule and does not sit easily with our traditions mainly of property rights, rule of law, democracy and individual freedom. As times change and new challenges arise, is the EU’s raison d’être and business model, as it applies to us and perhaps more generally in the modern world, already burdensomely obsolete, and if not now, when?

*Latest statistics show that net migration from the EU in the 12 months to December 2014 was 178,000. From non-EU countries (and therefore something we can control) was 197,000

Photo by EU Naval Force Media and Public Information Office

Article 50: Is it a trap or not?

Some of our supporters have expressed a concern that invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which is the EU’s own prescribed exit route, would lure us into a trap designed to ensnare countries and ensure that departure from the EU is impossible.

Any discussion of this subject must being by looking at what Article 50 actually says; Its wording is as follows:-

1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.

2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it.

A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.

Robert Oulds, the Director of the Bruges Group and a member of the CIB Committee has researched this subject in some detail. These are his conclusions:-

1) Article 50 does not preclude unilateral withdrawal. If after two years a withdrawing country does not want to conclude an agreement then it can just simply leave. But Article 50 is the only way the EU can be brought to the negotiating table, otherwise a post-EU withdrawal agreement will take time to achieve, from 5 to 10 years.

2) Article 50 can be initiated by an Act of Parliament or by Royal Prerogative, HM Government simply making the decision to withdraw by giving notification. Such notification cannot be cancelled, only delayed but that can only be done by unanimous agreement of the European Council.

3) Once the UK has submitted its notice to leave Britain will automatically withdraw unless those negotiations are extended. The European Council will have to unanimously agree to the extension, perhaps one or more of the UK’s less reliable ‘allies’ on the continent will wish for Britain to just go and will therefore not extend the discussions thus forcing the withdrawal to take place regardless of whether or not there had been a change of heart at home.

4) The provisions in Article 50 are there because the European Union wants to perceive itself as a voluntary union but also to make sure that it can negotiate a future post-EU relationship based mainly on trade.

As can be seen, there is no “trap” in Article 50. What is does make clear is that if a country leaves, it would be a long process if that country has second thoughts and decides it wants to re-join. However, which prisoner, being offered the chance of release after 44 years in jail, would be upset on being told “once we let you out, it will be very hard for you to come back in there again”?

Photo by uitdragerij