One reason why some people are uncomfortable with the idea of the UK withdrawing from the EU by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and taking the EEA/EFTA route is because they believe that an EU member state might announce a veto in advance, thus completely discrediting and nullifying the proposal.
This, however, isn’t true. Negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty do not require unanimity
from the EU side, as they are subject to Qualified Majority Voting. So a veto is not available to any member state.
The Commission is in no position to veto anything of this sort either, as these Article 50 negotiations are outside its remit, being reserved to the European Council.
So any pretended advance “veto” would be even more bogus than the one Mr.Cameron announced a while ago. In that case, treaty change whilst within EU membership does require unanimity by the Inter Governmental Conference but affairs had not reached the stage where a veto was possible.
Of course, the British press and media were largely taken in but, in the heightened degree of scrutiny during a referendum campaign, it is more likely (one hopes) that they would take the trouble to inform themselves.
The announcement that university vice-chancellors are launching a campaign to encourage students to vote to stay in the EU doesn’t come as any great surprise. Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission recently admitted to the Belgian newspaper Le Soir that the EU had become “an élitist project.” Academics have always been far keener on the EU than the average man in the street and some of them, of course, are very much part of that élite. Others are only concerned about their particular field of study. They have welcomed the grants provided by the EU but are highly unlikely to have any idea about how it operates and possibly may never have understood that the European project is about creating a federal superstate.
However, the decision of the university vice-chancellors to throw their weight behind remaining in the EU is a wake-up call for supporters of withdrawal. Last Monday’s statement by Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of the Universities UK group, when dissected, does not contain any unanswerable arguments for staying within the EU but there must be a sensible exit strategy on offer if it is to be countered.
She said, “The case for staying in Europe is about ensuring the future prosperity of the UK. It’s about maximising the chances of new discoveries that enhance the society in which we live, it’s about the UK’s standing in the world, it’s about British jobs, and it’s about opportunities for British people now and in the future.” Well, if she still believes in the myth that three million jobs depend on our EU membership, she is distinctly behind the times. While relying on WTO rules to preserve our trade the day we leave the EU would indeed damage the UK’s future prosperity and threaten jobs, the EEA/EFTA route (or a “Shadow EEA” agreement if this option is taken away from us by the EU’s “associate member” plan) will preserve UK jobs and will be, at worst, economically neutral in the short term and beneficial in the long term. Care is needed here, however, as the amount of “red tape” we could cut after leaving the EU is far less than some supporters of independence might claim, given that some regulation placed on our statute books by the EU originates with international bodies of which we would still be a member. Then what about the UK’s standing in the world? This is one of the daftest arguments the Europhiles have yet come up with. Why on earth should anyone respect a nation which can be subject to fines and legal action at the whim of unelected foreign bureaucrats? At the end of the day, the EU is a club of nations that do not have enough self-confidence to run their own affairs as sovereign nation states. It is hardly going to diminish our standing in the world to stand proudly on our own two feet again. After all, we speak the world’s most spoken language as our mother tongue, we can regain our own seat on organisations such as the World Trade Organisation and we are still either the 5th or 6th largest economy in the world, depending on whose figures you read. An independent UK would hardly be an insignificant cypher on the world map.
She added, “By supporting collaboration and breaking down international barriers, the EU helps universities to carry out cutting-edge research and make discoveries that improve people’s lives.” And why should not an independent UK encourage its universities to continue to be in the cutting edge of research and co-operate with their foreign counterparts in the EU and beyond? The arguments do not stack up.
So why is the academic world so keen on the EU when the main thrust of its arguments can easily be countered? Most likely because they haven’t actually heard the counter-arguments but perhaps more imprtantly, some of the rhetoric used in the debate thus far has antagonised them. Immigration is a real concern to some, but strong language replete with anti-immigrant sentiment is not going to go down well in any academic institution. Log on to any university website and scroll down a list of professors and lecturers in most departments and you will find a very international group of people. Of course, our universities also attract many students from overseas, including from the EU and plenty of UK students are taking their degrees in universities on the Continent – in some cases, for no other reason than because the fees are less! The withdrawalist movement therefore needs to emphasise that there would be no reason for an independent UK to pull out of the EU’s Erasmus student mobility programme – after all, Switzerland, the EEA countries and Turkey are also members. It’s all about the tone of the argument, in other words. Withdrawal must not sound like pulling up the drawbridge. To neutralise the pro-EU campaign in our universities, we must recognise that our objective is to win over a very cosmopolitan group of people who do not share our visceral loathing of the European project and do not see it for the great evil that is unquestionably is. Such is our hatred of the EU that we would love to press some button that would instantaneously sever our links with it and leave us in a purely free trade relationship along the lines between the EU and, say South Korea or Mexico. This, whether we like it or not, is cloud cuckoo land. Disentangling over 40 years of integration isn’t going to happen overnight and even if we were able to win 80-90% of our fellow countrymen round to unconditional support for independence, a slow, gradual divorce is the only way of extricating ourselves while maintaining our prosperity. There will, of necessity, be in the short term (and in some cases, the medium term too) a need to keep much EU legislation on our statute books which we would ideally love to confine to the dustbin as soon as possible.
And thankfully, the sheer practicalities which must restrain the more gung-ho supporters of withdrawal should also lead them round to supporting the only exit strategy most likely to command widespread popular support. After all, we have one objective and one only – to win the referendum and get out of the EU. Opinion polls show us as being the underdogs at the moment and it is clear we cannot win round “soft” supporters of membership or the undecided with any argument that smacks of isolationism or anything that might remotely be conceived as racism. Several university debating societies are already inviting speakers to take part in debates on EU withdrawal and we should gladly rise to the challenge. Sociologists claim that many under-30 are far more individualistic and sceptical about the welfare state and even the NHS than their parents’ generation. They are cynical about big government and grandiose schemes by politicians. Such people ought to be natural opponents of a behemoth such as the EU, but not many of them currently are. We therefore need to hone our message; to get back to fundamentals and say far more about the essential anti-democratic and élitist nature of the European project while at the same time emphasising that we are keen to engage with the whole world, including the EU. If we can begin to win debates on university campuses, the tactics we use may subsequently prove helpful in winning over the population at large.
David Cameron wants us to stay in. The Foreign Office is even keener that we stay in. In spite of polling which suggests that supporters of remaining in the EU are in a majority, there are some fearful people in positions of power who are very, very worried about a vote to leave the EU.
Whatever the real reason behind David Cameron’s announcement of a referendum on our membership of the EU in his Bloomberg speech, for better or worse, he is now committed to holding it before the end of 2017. If we in the “Out” campaign can get our act together – and that’s unfortunately still a pretty big “if” at the moment – we have the better arguments and, unlike the Scottish referendum, where the weaknesses of Alex Salmond’s economics were not exposed until the very end of the campaign, the economic debate is already under way. We haven’t won it yet, but put forward a sensible, seamless exit strategy and victory on this front should be ours well before the electorate goes to the polls.
Unsurprisingly, the supporters of “in” are keen to tilt the balance as much as possible in their favour. Hence the “purdah” vote was taken so early in the life of the new parliament, while the new intake of Tory MPs were in awe of the whips and hadn’t had the chance to develop the 2010 intake’s habit of rebelling. Referendum law is much less well-defined than the legislation surrounding Westminster or local elections as we have had so few referendums, but Section 125 of the Political Parties and Referendum Act 2000 (PPRA 2000), setting out the rules which apply to the 28 days in the run-up to the referendum, is very sensible. During this period, the government and Civil Service have to avoid taking any actions, making statements or spending taxpayers’ money which could influence the outcome of a referendum. Why should anyone be unhappy about this? After all, shouldn’t we be distancing ourselves as far as possible from the likes of North Korea and Zimbabwe where any vote must only have one outcome – or else? The Government doesn’t think so, arguing that if these rules were applied, it could not conduct business in Brussels. This is a pretty disingenuous argument. After all, our government conducts its business in Brussels at the moment without any fanfare. Most people are blissfully unaware of just how much time and money goes into our dealings with the EU. It’s not too much to expect that it could be done quietly and discreetly during the 28 day period before the referendum, with no propaganda being involved.
Thankfully, a few warning shots have recently been fired across the Government’s bows. The cross-party Public Administration Committee has challenged ministers’ arguments that a relaxation in these “purdah” rules was needed to allow them to continue the work of government. The Committee’s Chairman, Bernard Jenkin MP, wrote to David Lidington, the Europe Minister, saying that there was no case for modifying Section 125 and that “the government’s proposal has cast a cloud of doubt over the propriety of the process, even at this early stage. We regard this as completely unacceptable.” This warning has clearly hit home. Sir Jeremy Heywood, head of the Home Civil Service, has claimed that any suggestions that the Government had not allowed a fair debate could result in legal challenges “by people with deep pockets.” Whether these warnings will result in a change to the Government’s tactics remains to be seen, but a very valid point has been made. It is Cameron’s dream to settle the EU question once and for all and he is not attempting to hide the way he wants it to be settled. A vote for “in” which was seen to have been obtained unfairly would not settle the issue at all, however, especially if the margin was very narrow. The threat of legal challenges would mean that the Government just couldn’t ride out the ensuing storm in the hope that it would die down and withdrawalists would roll over and admit defeat. In other words, a skewed result would solve nothing.
There therefore remains only one way of putting this issue to bed – to strain every sinew to gain that critical “out” vote. Considering the disadvantages we face, no one could remotely complain that a vote to leave would have been achieved by fraud, deceit or manipulation. It would be the best and the only way by which the air could finally be cleared in this long-standing issue so critical to the very survival of our nation.
We are very aware that opinion polls are consistently showing that supporters of outright withdrawal are in a minority. Of course opinion polls can be wrong, with both the UK general election in May and Greece’s bailout referendum earlier this month producing results somewhat at odds with the pollsters’ predictions. Having moved to my present home in East Sussex less than four months ago, I am still at the stage of meeting local people for the first time and being asked what I do for a job. When I mention my work for CIB, in the great majority of cases, the reaction has been along the lines of, “I think we should leave the EU too; good on you!” or similar. This in and of itself by no means proves that the pollsters are wrong, however. Rural East Sussex cannot be taken as representative of the UK as a while and even if supporters of withdrawal really are more numerous than they appear in surveys, there is no room for complacency.
Having said this, however, there is good reason to believe that quite a lot of support for “in” is actually quite soft. The more detailed analyses of UK public opinion which go beyond the simple in/out question find very little support for closer integration. A poll by Ipsos Mori back in October of last year showed that while support for remaining in the EU stood at 61% excluding “don’t knows”, only 14% supported closer economic and political union. Even though support for staying in the EU has increased still further since then, there are still only a small minority of people who want to see further powers surrendered to Brussels.
So, to put it another way, potential support for voting to leave could be as high as 86% if it were made clear that there is no status quo on offer. It is either closer political integration or withdrawal. The dream of ever closer union is still alive and kicking on the Continent, as François Hollande, the French President, made clear over the weekend. “What threatens us is the lack of Europe, not the excess of it,” he said in a speech at an event to celebrate the 90th birthday of Jacques Delors. He went on to talk of accelerating the process of integration within the Eurozone – a common budget for the single currency areas and a separate parliament too – or at least, separate sessions of the European Parliament exclusively for the MEPs whose nations use the Euro. Of course, this is only one man’s opinion – and one man who is very likely to be booted out of office in the next French presidential election, but it was sufficient to elicit a response from Magdalena Andersson, Sweden’s finance minister, who felt concerned that Sweden (and by implication, the other EU member states who still use their national currencies) could be relegated to second class members of the EU.
But is there any alternative? The concept of a “two-speed Europe” has been touted for some years and for all the competing visions of how to move forward and the lack of enthusiasm for closer integration among the populations of some Eurozone states, including France for that matter, there are enough politicians within the governments of the Eurozone countries itching to press on with the primary agenda of the EU – the creation of a federal superstate. They are not prepared to wait for Sweden to decide whether or not it ever wants to adopt the Euro and they do not wish the UK to slow down the process either.
What looks likely is that some form of “associate membership” may be offered to the UK. What it would involve is not totally clear, but it will inevitably be a far inferior relationship to the EU than the EEA/EFTA option. It could well be designed in such a way as to inculcate a sense of inferiority among the non-Euro members in the hope that it will encourage them to join the “vanguard”. It could be far closer to “government by fax” than the former Norwegian premier Jens Stoltenberg’s infamous parody of his country’s relationship with the EU.
To put it another way, “associate membership” would be rather like travelling down a slow, bumpy country lane in a clapped out old banger while the “vanguard” cruise along the autobahns in their sports cars. The duration and quality of the journey on the two roads are very different, but neither route allows you to spend long in lay-bys. You have to keep moving towards the destination whether you travel slowly or quickly (although there will be a few side-roads allowing quick access onto the autobahn from the narrow road) and more importantly, whether you switch to the fast road or continue bumping along the farm track in your banger, THE DESTINATION OF BOTH ROADS IS THE SAME. In other words, an opt-out from ever-closer union is utterly meaningless.
This is the key point – joining the EU means joining a project that has only ever had one goal. Economics comes second to the political objective of creating the United States of Europe and this is where the withdrawalist campaign can, with a good campaign, whittle away at the “soft” supporters of continuing UK membership. I have yet to see the results of any poll asking these people why they want to vote to stay in, but it would be a pretty reasonable assumption that, for many of them, the answer would most likely be, “to keep my job”, “because we need to trade with the rest of the EU”, “I’m nervous about a step into the unknown”, “I’ve been offered an Erasmus scholarship” or “I want to continue living by the Mediterranean and I’m worried I would be forced to return to cold, grey England if we left the EU.” In other words, their big concerns revolve around issues which are peripheral to the aim of the EU. Convince them that there is an “out” option that will address their concerns while at the same time allowing the country to escape from a political project which few believe in and support for staying in the EU will peel away. Or course, we must also convince voters that the idea of keeping the level of EU interference at its current level is a non-starter. It’s either more EU or goodbye EU. Those supposedly hard-won derogations are only humps in the road. They slow your progress but they don’t force you to stop, let alone turn back.
The EEA/EFTA option fits the bill precisely. It also has the advantage of being practical rather than aspirational. Not only have “aspirational” books and leaflets made unrealistic claims (for instance, “Leave the EU and we can control immigration”, or “Leave the EU and we can slash regulation”) but your aspirations – in other words, your picture of what you would like an Independent UK to look like 10 years after we leave, whether or not it is achievable – may be very different from mine. Withdrawalists are united on regaining our sovereignty and in opposing the unaccountability of the EU structure. This in itself is sufficient to provide plenty of “sunlit uplands” and avoids focussing on issues which only divide supporters of withdrawal.
There is, however, one potential pitfall. Plans for closer Eurozone integration and the alternative of “associate membership” may be developed in such a way as to replace the EEA altogether. Richard North flagged this possibility up on his blog last month. Within the EEA agreement, there is provision under Article 127 for members to withdraw on 12 months’ notice. In other words, if all 28 EU countries simultaneously gave notice to quit, there would no longer be an EEA. Whether there is some sort of cunning plan being hatched in Brussels to force Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein into the EU by pulling the EEA rug from under their feet we cannot say as the discussions are being held behind closed doors. However, in the same article, Dr North shows that there is a way of maintaining a “shadow EEA” arrangement if this is indeed the EU’s plan which will avoid being forced into associate membership. With Iceland’s government distinctly unenthusiastic about EU membership and Norway boasting a strong and well-organised anti-EU movement, any attempt to shoehorn these countries into the EU through sheer naked coercion will be fiercely resisted and the shadow EEA idea will no doubt be widely canvassed.
All this is still speculation at the moment, but a quick move to a two-speed Europe with the UK of necessity in the slow lane must surely cause many of those who favour a status quo to realise that it isn’t going to be an option. A vote to stay in means more integration, however much David Cameron’s sham renegotiations will leave us lagging behind the federalist front-runners in the Eurozone.
Our aim is for the UK to leave the political, judicial and monetary structure of the European Union (EU) as well as the Customs Union and other Common Policies, but the UK would stay in the Single Market by retaining its European Economic Area membership and would propose to rejoin EFTA.
What would happen?
It must be emphasised that EU membership and Single Market membership are two different matters.
In this plan, entitled FLEXCIT – the work of eureferendum.com and The Bruges Group – the UK would stay in the Single Market by retaining its European Economic Area [EEA] membership and joining EFTA. In due course, it would then make further policy changes as any normal country. Ultimately, the long term aim would be to change the UK’s relationship to the EU to ‘joint membership of a European free trade area’. This goal is within reach and will be attained more easily if the political and monetary aspects and other Common Policies of the EU are jettisoned.
In the short term the UK would be in the position of Norway or Iceland. This is not a perfect strategy, nor is it the end of a process – which will go on for many years – but it is an existent, proven platform which will secure an amicable and stable exit.
How would the UK stay involved with the EU?
a) The Four Freedoms – which are part of the EEA agreement. It should be noted that EU governments (including the UK) in reaction to the ‘sweetheart’ tax deals agreed by Juncker in Luxemburg, have actually reduced freedom of capital movement. In the case of Cyprus (and soon to be Greece?) full capital controls have been imposed by the EU Troika. It should also be noted that the provisions of the EEA agreement are more restrictive on freedom of labour movement than the EU membership and also allow further restrictions in exceptional circumstances, unlike the EU.
b) Horizontal policies associated with the Single Market, such as consumer protection, company law, environment, statistics.
c) Co-operation in development, training, culture, tourism, etc.
d) The Single Market.
In addition, the UK would continue to be involved with the EU in intergovernmental matters, may agree to participate in some EU programmes and, in some cases, sign up (inter-governmentally) to EU institutions where they offer better value than going it alone.
What would trigger this?
A referendum to leave the EU having a positive vote, the UK would then serve an Article 50 notice in accordance with the EU treaties, giving two years’ notice to leave the EU and start to agree the terms of departure.
What parts of the EU would the UK leave?
The UK would repatriate the ‘acquis’ (the system of EU law). Just as Ireland
and India did when they became independent, bringing the whole acquis into
British law allows a seamless transition. Once repatriated, the British parliament
would then repeal EU involvement in the following areas:
– The Common Agriculture Policy
– The Common Fisheries Policy
– The Customs Union
– The Common Trade Policy (and regain the UK’s seat at the WTO plus the ability to make its own trade agreement with other countries)
– The Common Foreign and Security Policy
– The Common Policy on Justice and Home Affairs
– The Charter of Fundamental Rights
– EU Economic and Monetary Union (the UK is signed up for Stages 1 and 2 but not Stage 3 (the euro) of EMU.)
– No involvement in direct or indirect taxation
– The EU Commission
– The EU Court of Justice
– A substantial reduction in contributions to the EU budget
– The ‘joint and several liabilities’ of all EU members for all EU debts
– Extrication from specific risk exposure to the liabilities of the EU, the ECB and the EIB as soon as possible.
In short, Britain would then be in approximately the same relationship to the EU as the EFTA/EEA countries: Norway, Iceland and Leichtenstein. Of course, it may be decided that certain functions should be ‘bought in’ from the EU and also that the UK may decide to participate in some EU programmes,
such as in Eastern Europe, on a voluntary intergovernmental basis. Clearly, there must be negotiation with the EU in certain areas and, equally, there will be transitional policies required in some areas such as extrication from debt guarantees.
The advantages of this strategy?
a) It attains the aim of leaving the political, judicial and monetary structure of the EU.
b) All those who wish to leave the EU, whatever their ultimate goal, will be able to support Flexcit and the UK staying in the Single Market as a platform to move to future long-term trading arrangements which will take a long time. These arrangements can be debated after exit.
c) Of all options, it is likely to engender the least hostility from the EU institutions since this option can be traced back to proposals fromPresidents de Gaulle and Giscard D’Estang. Indeed, de Gaulle’s press
conference in 1963 outlined a sensible free trade relationship for the UK to the then EEC.
Further, in December 2012 former head of the EU Commission and the main driver of the EU in his day, and a man highly respected in Brussels, Jacques Delors, told Handelsblatt newspaper:
“If the British cannot support the trend to more integration in Europe, we can nevertheless remain friends, but on a different basis. I could imagine a form such as a European economic area or a free trade agreement.”
This correctly stated the alternatives for the UK, “Supporting the trend to more integration in Europe” or ‘friends’ on the basis of membership of the EEA.
d) Having looked at many speeches by business which purport to support the UK remaining in the EU, the only reasons given are the asserted benefits of the Single Market. There are many business speeches in favour of the Single Market but none in favour of the parts of the EU identified above where the UK will leave. No business has ever asked for EU control of justice and home affairs, an EU foreign policy,
massive financial transfers from the UK to Brussels or increased exposure to the losses of the eurozone.
Staying in the Single Market removes all business objections. At one time it is true that many businessmen and business organisations pressed the British government to join the euro. It is now
realised that this would have been a disaster on a grand scale.
e) By staying in the Single Market and reassuring business, the electorate is also reassured that there will be no economic change. The electorate will be comfortable that jobs, investment and trade will be
unaffected and business will continue exactly the same as before.
f) Once a referendum is won this plan sets out a clear and simple plan for action on Referendum Day +1. There can be no doubt about what ‘leaving the EU’ actually means. It is a clear instruction from the
electorate and a clear plan for action. It is not an expression of wish which the Executive can implement in the way it chooses.
g) In the 1975 referendum, a number of outside leaders in the Commonwealth were quoted by the pro-EU leaflet circulated to the electorate as stating they wanted the UK to remain in the EU. This
pattern of outside advice was repeated in the recent Scottish referendum. As the move from EU membership to EFTA/EEA membership is less dramatic, there is little reason for outside leaders to comment or to parse the exact differences between EEA and EU membership.
h) To win a referendum with a cacophony of options is unrealistic and, even if won, would simply hand the initiative to the ‘more integration’ forces in Westminster who would negotiate as they saw fit. In 1975, the pro-EU literature devoted a great deal of space to describing and disparaging the great variety of alternatives to the EU offered by the anti-EU side.
The FLEXCIT plan, taking up approximately the position of Norway, is available, off the shelf, and is a proven and existing solution while long term trading arrangements are debated and implemented over several years.