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”?

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Once again, Owen Paterson is talking more sense than his Party leader

Now the dust has begun to settle after the General Election, the first Tory withdrawalist has already broken cover. Owen Paterson, a former Cabinet minister, used the accidental leaking of an e-mail to the Guardian Newspaper by a Bank of England official regarding its secret plan to investigate the impact of quitting the EU to make the point that we could actually be better off by regaining our independence.

On Radio 4’s Today programme, he reiterated the key point he made in a speech late last year – namely, that leaving the European Union did not mean quitting the European Economic Area.

“The European Union is a political construct, and the jobs and the prosperity are delivered by the market,” he said. “We have an opportunity to get back to the arrangement we voted to join in 1975 and … very importantly we can completely re-galvanise the single market in areas such as services which we completely need. Most importantly we would get our seat back on the global bodies which decide regulation. There is absolutely a very clear option for us to play a major role in the single market and be very significant members of the EEA without participating in the political and judicial arrangements of the EU. And it is very important to get that message across. I see a really optimistic, positive future for us.”

Mr Paterson said Britain was being forced out of the EU after being left behind by the Eurozone countries as they effectively formed a “new country” by framing policies to support struggling economies such as Greece. “We can never go there. We’re never, ever going to join the euro,” he said. He added that while it was legitimate for the Bank of England to explore the impact of leaving the EU, it should not view quitting as “a leap into some terrible black abyss. There are various options which can deliver prosperity, increase jobs … which is as members of the single market…It isn’t either remain in the European Union or leap into the dark. There are other options.”

He later dismissed claims by Lord Hill, the UK’s European Commissioner, who claimed that there was an “extraordinarily strong case” for Britain to remain in the EU. “My deepest respect to Jonathan, who I served in the Cabinet with”, said the former Environment Secretary, “but he is totally and utterly wrong. He is a member of the establishment; we all know where they are coming from. We need time to make the case that there is an incredibly optimistic destination. His idea that trade is synonymous with the European Union is complete and utter tosh. We would under any sane solution continue very active membership of the market.”

Given the odds that the “out” campaign faces, it is very encouraging to have a former Cabinet Minister not only coming out so clearly in support of withdrawal but also advocating the only scenario which is likely to win a referendum. It seems that supporters of EU membership just do not want to hear the obvious solution to the “renegotiation” conundrum and dismiss it out of hand. Of course, the former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who coined the widely-quoted phrase “Fax diplomacy” isn’t wildly keen on his country’s relationship with Brussels BECAUSE HE STUPIDLY WANTS NORWAY TO JOIN. Thankfully, most of his countrymen have somewhat more common sense. They appreciate the freedom that their position outside the EU gives them. While membership of the EEA plus EFTA is not a perfect scenario and hardly an ideal long-term relationship with the EU, 80% of Norwegian voters believe it is better for their country than membership and as Mr Paterson has pointed out so eloquently, it would be much better for the UK as well.

(with thanks to The Daily Telegraph)

The choreography begins

David Cameron headed off for a so-called “summit” with other EU heads of state in Riga, Latvia on Friday morning. It is the first gathering of EU heads of state he has attended since the General Election and has been billed as the start of his official bid to “renegotiate” the UK’s relationship with the EU. He stated that it would be a challenging time:- “All I will say is that there will be ups and downs. You will hear one day that ‘this is possible’; the next day something is impossible.”

However, it is hard not to be cynical. Cameron is looking to emulate Harold Wilson’s subterfuge in 1975:- a few minor concessions dressed up as a major victory followed by an attempt to con the electorate in a referendum. To strengthen his propaganda team, Cameron has brought in Mats Persson, formerly one of the directors of his favourite think tank, Open Europe. In all probability, the choreography has most likely been agreed in advance between the Prime Minister and the key players – Germany’s Chancellor Merkel, the French President François Hollande and Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission. According to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Cameron’s “shopping list” includes, among other things, a clamp-down on benefits for EU migrants, an opt-out from “ever closer union”, safeguards for the City, guaranteed access to the single market for the ‘outs’, an end to protectionism in services, and powers for national parliaments to issue “red cards” on EU laws.

However, he adds that “Mr Cameron has gone quiet on demands for wholesale repatriation of powers or for a whittling down of the ‘acquis’ – the EU’s vast corpus of directives and regulations – knowing that both are anathema for Germany.” It appears that he has sounded out the top figures in the EU on what ground they are prepared to give and after going through the façade of “tough talking”, all will be sweetness and light when the “negotiations” are finally complete – a great triumph for the Prime Minister, no doubt.

However, the article also points out that securing some agreement with Mr Juncker and the French and German leaders is by no means the end of the story. It quotes Denis McShane, the former European Minister, who said, “People elsewhere – not just in Paris and Brussels – are frustrated about being taken for a quantité négligeable (lightweights) by arrogant British negotiators. For better or for ill, the EU is a system where the institutions matter, as do all member states, large and small. Even if Merkel is the dominant force, she does not always get it her way.”

There is also another problem facing Mr Cameron – the Tory MPs who want to see us leave the EU. Expressions of dissent were conspicuous by their absence during the election campaign as the remorseless Tory election machine sliced through the Lib Dem heartlands in the south of England. This does not mean they have changed their minds. While pressure is being applied to them not to “rock the boat” as negotiations begin, it is hard to see the consensus lasting for long. One CIB Committee member, with some inside knowledge of the workings of the Tory party, expected the uneasy truce to last only a matter of weeks.

We shall see, but given the slender majority Mr Cameron enjoys, the withdrawalist MPs will have some considerable clout. They will, of course, need to display the same determination to stand up to the whips as they did in the previous parliament, but if they can get themselves organised, they will provide a formidable obstacle to any attempt by the Prime Minister to repeat Wilson’s smoke-and mirrors trick. Business for Britain employed Dominic Cummings, Michael Gove’s former Special Advisor, to conduct focus groups in 2014 on vote in any future referendum. His conclusion showed how the underlying support for EU membership could easily be reduced in the face of a good “out” campaign:- “If those who want to leave the EU neutralise the economic arguments then the people will vote to leave as there is nothing else to support membership.”

Last year, one Tory MP, Owen Paterson, stated that the economic arguments for staying in do not stack up given the right exit strategy:- “We can leave the political project and enter into a truly economic project with Europe via the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the EEA. We would still enjoy the trading benefits of the EU, without the huge cost of the political baggage,” he said last November. That, ultimately, is what business really wants. We have never been interested in the political agenda at the heart of the EU project. If Mr Cameron really wants to opt Britain out of “ever closer union”, he should follow his former Environment Secretary’s advice, invoke Article 50 and bring his pointless jet-setting across Europe to an end.

Turning up the volume on what?

Sir Mike Rake, President of the Confederation of British Industry has urged his members to “turn up the volume” in support of the UK’s membership of the EU in a speech at the organisation’s annual dinner, according to a report in the Guardian today.

This is the latest development in a week which saw Deutsche Bank threaten to relocate part of its business from London if the UK leaves the EU while Lord Bamford, the Chairman of JCB, said that the UK had “nothing to fear” from withdrawal. Confused? Perhaps you are, but not as confused as the CBI’s President and the many other business leaders who have spoken out in favour of continuing UK membership arguing that we face “a choice between openness and isolation…. between shaping the future or retreating into the past.”

What these businessmen are concerned about is tariff-free access to the rest of the EU and its common regulatory standards – in other words, the single market. Do they care about the political dimension to the EU? – in other words, that its goal is the creation of a federal superstate? Most unlikely. In other words, therefore, if they can be convinced that access to the single market could be preserved if we withdrew from the EU but remained in the EEA and re-joined EFTA (the so-called “Norway Option”) until a longer-term relationship could be agreed, their concerns would be answered.

Let us be clear, the “Norway Option” is not an ideal long-term relationship for the UK. However, its most eloquent advocates have studied the issue of withdrawal and how best to achieve it over a period of many years. If there was a “silver bullet” which, at a stroke, could enable us to move instantaneously and seamlessly to a simple free trade relationship with the EU with full access to the remaining 27 member states, they would prefer this approach. However, such attempts to devise such a scenario have all contained serious flaws, which would result in job losses and worse. Our aircraft would not be able to fly in EU airspace if we just pulled out, nor would our aircraft have rights to use air space and landing slots in third countries under the present treaties, negotiated on our behalf by the EU.

However, it is the best way to reassure voters who are understandably nervous after being bombarded with scare stories . Trade would not be affected while we would escape from a political project with which we have never felt comfortable. Furthermore, regaining our independent seat at the World Trade Organisation and other international bodies involved in devising common global standards for goods would enable us – and thus our business leaders – to have far more clout in determining what these standards should be. At present we have no voice at these “top tables”and have to go along with the “common position” of the EU Commission which is more responsive to French and German requirements than to ours.

This is hardly the “retreat into the past” or “isolation” which Sir Mike Rake fears. It actually gives us a bigger voice on the world stage and brings us closer to where the real decisions are increasingly made these days. We can shape the future far better outside the EU and it is high time that the bigwigs in the CIB educated themselves on the reality of international trade. We are also free to reject new Directives. Whilst Labour politicians here bewailed the privatisation of Royal Mail, independent Norway simply declined to enforce the Third Postal Directive and kept its mail deliveries as a public service. We could do the same.

 

 

Photo by webtreats