Danger – Handle with care

When the current Parliamentary session ends on July 20th, we will enter what has long been  called “the Silly Season” when newspapers dredge up all sorts of far-fetched stories to try to keep readers’ interest.

It seems that some are already getting into practise, particularly those who specialise in “biff-bam” Brexit stories,  many of which have a only very tenuous relationship with fact. Among the e-mails greeting me this morning were several communications from concerned leave supporters who had spotted seemingly worrying articles in the press over the weekend.

Two articles in particular were the focus of concern. The first concerns an ancient charter granted by Charles II in 1666 allowing 50 fishermen from Bruges “eternal rights” to fish in English waters as an act of gratitude for the hospitality given him by the city during the 1650s when he lived in exile.  The headline is much more lurid, however:- “Belgium says 1666 royal charter grants its fishermen “eternal rights” to English waters.” Not quite the same as 50 fishing boats from one Belgian city! Let’s unpack things a little more.

Firstly, a discussion my colleague John Ashworth of Fishing for Leave revealed that we technically have similar fishing rights off the Newfoundland Coast going back even further – to the period shortly after its discovery by John Cabot in 1497. Have we sought to upset the Canadians by exercising them at any time in the last hundred years? Almost certainly not. Furthermore, in 1666, Belgium did not exist as a country, being part of the Spanish Netherlands. Then, what is meant by “English Waters”? In the 17th Century, by convention, this meant only the sea within three nautical miles of the shoreline. Things have changed significantly since then, with territorial waters being expanded during the 20th century. Any attempts therefore by fishermen from Bruges to fish within three miles of the English coast after Brexit on the basis of this charter would open a legal Pandora’s box.

But are there actually any vessels that would be entitled to do so? The charter mentions “Fifty herring boats.” The historic town of Bruges, which in its heyday saw considerable maritime traffic along the  canals linking it to the North Sea, is no longer a major port. The fishing industry in that part of Belgium is centred on nearby Zeebrugge (literally “Bruges-on-Sea”) which is, in fact, the largest fishing port in the country, with a substantial fish market in the town. Yet in 2013, it only boasted 43 fishing boats in total. Given that Bruges lies on a canal 8 miles (or 12,87 kilometres) inland from Zeebrugge and its fish market, the likelihood of there being any fishing boats (let alone specialist herring boats) based in the part of the city which existed in 1666 is almost certainly zero.

In other words, when the Flemish prime minister Geert Bourgeois unrolled a copy of the charter on a Belgian television news show, it was a piece of grandstanding and nothing more.  It does, however, indicate just how much grandstanding we are likely to face as the Brexit negotiations get under way. Belgium, along with other EU member states who fish in the North Sea, has been upset by the decision by Michael Gove to denounce the 1964 London Fisheries Convention. Even this, however, is a considerable over-reaction. The wording of this agreement is vessel-specific and therefore was unlikely ever to have been put to the test as none of the boats specified are likely to be in commercial use 53 years later. In other words, Mr Gove’s action was merely a precautionary measure to avoid possible complications.

It’s not only politicians on the other side of the channel who are grandstanding.  I also received a couple of e-mails about an article claiming that Vince Cable reckons that Brexit will never happen. Once again, let us examine the facts. The Lib Dems campaigned in the recent General Election to be the so-called “party of the 48%”. They went up from 9 MPs to 12 only courtesy of the SNP slump in Scotland, so it can hardly be said that their campaign was a success, but hope springs eternal!

Cable is wrong because of the dynamics of the two main parties. The Tories did unexpectedly badly and are licking their wounds. The majority of Tory MPs campaigned for Remain but most Tory activists and a significant minority of MPs are solidly pro-Brexit, so to backpedal would be suicide, provoking the worst crisis in the Conservative Party since 1846. (See more on this here – principally the last three paragraphs.)

But Corbyn has been strengthened by the election result, even though he didn’t win. As a consequence, he is revealing his true Brexiteer colours. He and his right hand man John McDonnell have never been keen on the EU but when he won the Labour leadership campaign, he initially faced immense opposition from the majority of Labour MPs, who didn’t want him as their leader. He was thus unable to take an anti-EU stance publicly. This has now changed as Corbyn was quite smart in the election campaign, pitching to floating Brexit supporters who were either moving on from UKIP or who didn’t like the Tories. Now his own position is strengthened, he is coming out increasingly strongly for Brexit. This in turn adds further pressure on the Tories not to backpedal.

None of this is to ignore the complexities of Brexit but the Lib Dems are now no more than little pygmies shouting from the sidelines. The media may feel obliged to report the words of the man likely to be the next leader of the UK’s third party, but no one need take much notice of his wishful thinking. We are basically into a period of two-party politics. It may not last for long, but at the moment, neither Mrs May nor Jeremy Corbyn show any signs of trying to stop Brexit and no other party leader’s opinions matter very much.

I hope that this debunking of two articles will help reassure concerned readers. Politicians remain the least trusted profession in the UK, but journalists run them pretty close, being even less trusted than bankers, estate agents and trade union officials. There are some exceptions and we are thankful to those members of the media who do seek to maintain high standards and report facts accurately, especially when it comes to Brexit. Based on what I found in my e-mail in tray this morning, however, all too many journalists are guilty of sloppy reporting, poor research and sensationalism. Their offerings, especially lurid headlines in the forthcoming “Silly Season”, need to be handled with extreme care.

 

The biggest losers

Following Mrs May’s response to the London Bridge terrorist attack, Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor, posted a tweet saying that “Mrs May is happy enough to tolerate the extremism of the Brextremist Lie Machine newspapers spewing hate day after day.”

Several newspapers picked this up, expressing horror that Islamic State-supporting terrorists should be equated to sections of our national press. Indeed, such was the storm of protest that Mr Campbell subsequently deleted the tweet, saying . “Previous tweet deleted. Agreed it was over the top”

But over the top or not, the damage has been done. We now know the truth. Such is the vitriolic loathing felt by remoaners like Campbell towards Brexit supporters that in his eyes, some of us are almost as awful as the men who committed the terrible atrocities in Manchester and London recently.

Mind you, there is perhaps good reason from Blairite remoaners to be feeling a bit miffed at the moment. Although unreported by the Press, one of the interesting asides of this general election campaign is that, whatever the result, the last few weeks have significantly damaged their chances of a comeback.

The Campaign for an Independent Britain, being a cross-party organisation, does not fly the flag for any one political party and has encouraged people to vote for fully-fledged Brexit candidates whatever their allegiance, but we can be quite unequivocal in our opposition to the Blairite faction within the Labour Party, which remains one of the biggest strongholds of irreconcilable remainiacs.

When Mrs May called a General Election in April, received opinion expected Labour to suffer its worst defeat since 1983, if not longer. The uncompromising Socialist agenda would deter most voters, Jeremy Corbyn would be forced to resign and Labour would tack back towards the so-called centre ground.

Things have not gone according to plan, however. Three days before polling day, a raft of opinion polls put the Tory lead between 12% and a mere 1%  – nowhere near the 20% differential at the start of the campaign. Averaging these out, Mr Corbyn looks highly unlikely to be marching into 10 Downing Street on Friday, but he could end up with a higher percentage of the vote than Ed Miliband in 2015 – certainly high enough to justify remaining in office and his party thus avoiding a third leadership contest in less than two years.

From the point of view of withdrawing from the EU, it is significant  – and welcome – that Corbyn has never made any statement during the campaign indicating that he will seek to challenge or reverse the Brexit vote.  Before becoming Labour’s leader, his anti-EU credentials were actually quite impressive and his pro-EU speech during last year’s referendum campaign was distinctly lukewarm and lacking in conviction.

Whatever one’s views of his position on other policy issues, we must therefore be thankful that his better-than-expected performance looks likely to leave the Blairites sidelined for a while – hopefully long enough to see us out of the EU. If these people equate a perfectly reasonable desire to join some 180 or so nations in being a sovereign nation once again with the murderous ideology of Islamic State, the sidelines – or worse –  is the best place for them.

Photo by University of Salford

Rise up? Throw up more likely!

Politicians rely on people’s short memories and none more so than Tony Blair, who must rate as one of the most deceitful, despised characters ever to have been Prime Minister. So his recruitment to the Europhile cause, trying to get people to “rise up” and overturn the democratic decision to leave the EU, is most welcome to independence campaigners.

Even Simon Jenkins in the Guardian has said Blair should “butt out”, adding that “former Prime Ministers do not campaign against the people”  Our President, my colleague George West, agrees. “It is time for the people of Britain to rise up against Tony Blair, a man who promised to take the UK out of the EEC if elected to Parliament.He should remember his promise  and stop blethering on about trying to keep us inside the European Union.”

Let us remember, he is the man who sent our troops into Iraq, ill-equipped on the strength of a dodgy dossier which was later found to have been plagiarised from a student’s thesis on the internet. The Weapons of Mass Destruction did not exist. Many better men than he were sent to their deaths or disablement on the strength of his deceit.

He now pretends concern that the controversy over Brexit could lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom, yet he and his government bear the greatest responsibility for this. Devolution in Scotland and Wales was quite deliberately “asymmetric” – that is unbalanced and unfair, creating bad feeling between people in different parts of the kingdom.

Blair’s deputy, John Prescott, set about completing the process of dividing Britain by trying to create elected regional assemblies in England. The people of the North East rejected that soundly. Had the programme succeeded, the whole country would have been balkanised into regions of around 5 million people with their own representation in Brussels – bite-sized chunks for easier digestion by the EU. Scotland and Wales are, of course, EU regions.

The ideology for this was set out in a report on British identity by the Runnymede Trust which Blair commissioned. It was chaired by Lord Parekh and came to the conclusion that we now were “a nation of communities” and that the very terms British and Britain were so laden with racism that their use should be discouraged and, if possible, discontinued. On that account, the report considered a completely new name for our country but, in the end, made no recommendation.

These are the sort of people who will be backing Blair and who have made the very name “Blairite” one of the most deadly insults possible within the Labour party and its former supporters. David Cameron, of course, aspired to be “the heir to Blair” and the country gave him his marching orders with the referendum. Their day is done. With challenges as well as opportunities, we are on our way to being a free country now.

Project Fear 1975 style

We have already highlighted the fear tactics used in Norway’s 1994 vote on EU membership. In the 1975 referendum campaign in the UK, similar tactics were used, just as they are at the moment. Here is Peter Shore’s stirring speech at the Oxford Union debate 3 days before the 1975 referendum debunking “Project Fear”. Well worth a listen, according to our President, George West.

(image courtesy George Libbet, the Guardian)

A recession? it’s up to David Cameron

As Project Fear goes into overdrive, there are plenty of good grounds for scepticism.

Lord Stoddart, for one, is distinctly unconvinced.  “On the same day that former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling stood on a platform with current Chancellor George Osborne to support the imposition of additional swingeing taxes on the British people, if they dare to vote for Brexit on 23rd June, the Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn emphatically states in the House of Commons that the Labour opposition will oppose any such measures, whether or not Britain leaves the EU,” he said.

 “Since 59 Tory MPs have also said they will not support Mr Osborne’s measures, it is clear that his threat is a completely empty one and yet another scare story bites the dust!  It is equally clear that the Remain campaign is in chaos.  They are so busy inventing irresponsible scare stories aimed at bullying the voters, that they are forgetting to take the elementary step of consulting with each other.  How can we trust anything they say?”

Of course, a vote to leave the EU sounds the death knell for  George Osborne’s hopes of succeeding David Cameron, so it is unsurprising that he has been pressing the “fear” button even harder than usual as the polls swing round towards a leave vote.

Recent headlines talk of the pound “plummeting”. Check out the Sterling/US Dollar exchange rates and although the pound has fallen slightly since the polls started to show a lead for “leave”, £1 is currently (as at 10.30 on 17th June) worth over $1.42. HIGHER THAN THE LOW POINT FOLLOWING MR CAMERON FIRST ANNOUNCING THE REFERENDUM DATE NEARLY FOUR MONTHS AGO.

Those who heard Helle Hagenau from Norway’s Nei til EU speak at our rally last month will remember that she described how the Norwegians were threatened with thousands of job losses the day they voted not to join the EU. This did not come to pass – in fact, Norway became more prosperous after the 1992 vote to stay out.

We pointed out here how 364 economists predicted that Sir  Geoffrey Howe’s 1981 budget would cause an economic calamity and were proved badly wrong. It was this budget, not our entry to the EU eight years earlier, which was the point when our moribund economy finally turned round

Of course, the has been a distinct lack of detail rgarding how we are going to leave. We know that Flexcit has been downloaded by a number of senior civil servants and whatever the proposals of some of the most prominent campaigners, it is highly likely that this is going to be the route which the Government will take as it is far an away the safest route to guide our economy through the Brexit door. It would ensure that any drop in the pound or the FTSE-100 would prove short-lived.

The lack of agreement of a consistent exit strategy has been the Achilles heel of the Leave campaign, which is a pity. If we had been able to silence the scaremongers regarding the route throug hthe Brexit door, the vote would have been in the bag a long time ago. It has been frustrating that we have ot been able to re-focus the issue on the political nature of the EU, which is  pity given the quality of such offerings as this speech by Lord Owen which highlights the federalist nature of the EU project and is well worth listening to.

Therefore, the economic issues will still rumble on right up to referendum day. The bottom line is that if we vote out, the buck stops with David Cameron. The markets will be looking for a detailed response from the Prime Minister regarding the timescale for invoking Article 50 and what exit route he is going to take.  His civil servants know there is a proven risk-free route to economic stability which will quickly calm market nerves. If he chooses to ignore their advice and pussyfoot around,  he and he alone must carry the can for any forthcoming economic downturn.

BBC muddying the waters

Anyone listening to the BBC news last week would have heard a misleading headline that Germany’s  finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said that we would not be allowed to stay in the Single market

However, if you listened to the article in full, what he actually said was that if we were to stay in the Single Market, we would have to abide by the rules, including accepting the “four freedoms”. In other words, a bespoke deal isn’t on offer.

This is no great shakes. Whatever the wishes of many “leave” supporters, it will be the government which negotiates our exit strategy and we know that senior civil servants have been downloading Flexcit, an exit strategy document co-authored by, among others, Dr Richard North and CIB Committee member Robert Oulds of the Bruges Group. This advocates remaining in the Single Market by re-joinng EFTA and ths accessing it via the EEA agreement.

Herr  Schäuble’s words on which the BBC based their headline were given in response to the assertion that “Britain could continue to enjoy the benefits of the single market without being an EU member, in the same way that Switzerland and Norway do.” He replied, “That won’t work. It would require the country to abide by the rules of a club from which it currently wants to withdraw. If the majority in Britain opts for Brexit, that would be a decision against the single market. In is in. Out is out. One has to respect the sovereignty of the British people.”

As Dr North pointed out,  “The man thinks the EFTA/EEA (interim) option wouldn’t work. And that is on the basis of his interpretation that a vote for Brexit by the British people necessarily means a rejection of participation in the Single Market….What we have therefore, is an opinion based on an assumption, and nothing more than that – from a politician who is not a head of government, and who may not even be in office by the time Article 50 negotiations start in earnest……The finance minister is just another noisemaker in a debate polluted by noise.

While it is true that the degree of extra control over immigration which the EEA/EFTA route will allow us is not the same as that which may Brexit supporters desire, a recent poll conducted by Opinium, for the Bruges Group,  yielded the following results:

33% = Remain EU and Remain in the Single Market
13% =  Leave EU, join  EFTA, Remain in Single Market
39% = Leave EU, and have a Free Trade Agreement
16% = Don’t Know
Taking out the Don’t Knows, gives:
61% =Options to Leave EU (FTA + EFTA)
39% = Options to remain in the EU

(See here for a more detailed analysis of the result)
The poll shows that so strong is the desire of many to leave the EU that they are not taking much notice of the economic arguments. The “leave” side, however, needs to clean up its act. Recent polls are encouraging, but it would be a shame to lose a winnable referendum when the finishing post is in sight  because we are unable to reassure floating voters concerned about their economic wellbeing that the sky won’t fall in on  June 24th.  EEA/EFTA provides precisely such reassurance.