The complexities of Brexit

Having been opposed to to our EEC/EU membership since the early Seventies when Mr. John Selwyn Gummer (as he then was – now Lord Deben) addressed our grain trade conference and told us that the Commonwealth countries wanted nothing more to do with us, I have picked up one or two things along the way.  Our family firm bought milk powder from New Zealand and we knew that our friends there were not at all pleased to be losing one of their best customers.

From late 1971  the government consulted our trade association and gave  very full, detailed information about what our firm would have to do when we joined the EEC on January 1 1973.

Without that information, we would have been in a total mess. Please see my account in Articles 2 and 3 of “The Miller’s Tale”.

We are due to be out of the  EU by the end of March 2019, so the government will have to start giving full, detailed information to all trades quite early in 2018, if businesses  are to have any chance of being ready.  Government departments such as Customs and Excise will have to be fully informed and equipped  too. There appears to be very small chance of this because of the lackadaisical way the government has approached the negotiations, handing the initiative to M. Barnier.  It always was unrealistic to expect to complete a wholly new style of comprehensive trade agreement within two years but they appear not even to be able to agree in cabinet what they actually want.

We already have three ministers involved – David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox plus the new unit which has been set up in the cabinet office, in part by transferring staff from David Davis’s department DExEU .

Robert Peston, who  is reckoned to be a very well-informed reporter, wrote in a Facebook post that

 “(Mrs May’s) fatal weakness is that she lacks the authority to settle this argument such that the EU  would have a clear understanding of who actually represents the UK and what we want from Brexit.

In the words of a senior member of the cabinet, it is a scandal that there has never been a cabinet discussion about what kind of access we want to the EU’s market…., what kind of regulatory and supervisory regime should then be in place  to ensure a level playing field for EU and UK businesses….”

As far as I know, no significant country trades with the EU on World Trade Organisation rules alone. They all have additional agreements on things like customs co-operation, approval of manufacturers and their quality standards  etc. All our present arrangements simply cease to exist if we “just walk away”.

To give just one example – British farmers presently export 40% of their lamb to the EU. As an independent country outside the single market without an additional agreement  that would be subject to a “sheep meat” tariff of £2,689 per tonne. The price to British farmers would collapse. But the lamb would not even get as far as customs until it had satisfied the “sanitary and phytosanitary” health controls which apply to all food products. The shippers would also have to appoint official importers on the other side – firms or individuals resident in the EU – to be responsible to the authorities for conformity to EU standards and, of course, the payment of inspection charges and tariff.  This is not the EU “punishing” us but the simple effect of the rules, if there is no other agreement.

With regard to EEA/EFTA, you may recall that Mr. Cameron went on his “hug a husky” trip and gave out quite a bit of unfavourable information which was misleading and not entirely correct but still avidly accepted by many  from UKIP  to extreme Europhiles.

Very few have since taken the trouble to check it. We in CIB have been supporting our fishermen and insisting on the need to assert control over all our fisheries – including the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone.  Norway and Iceland reserve all their territorial waters and EEZ for their own boats under article 112 of the EEA agreement. Our government is not guaranteeing that to our own fishermen. Iceland was able to impose capital restrictions during the financial crisis and Liechtenstein imposes strict limits on immigration – all under this arrangement.

Mrs. May is proposing a  transition/implementation period which involves continued subjection to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The EEA agreement is preferable, being subject to the EFTA court which can only rule on on “EEA-relevant”  matters and has no formal powers of enforcement. If the arrangement does not suit us, we can be out of it by simply giving a year’s notice. Under the ECJ we would be subject not just to the 20% or so of EU legislation affecting trade but to the other 80% which enforces the political project, including things like the European Arrest Warrant..

Given the weakness of the government’s performance, I cannot see it negotiating anything better than the EEA agreement as a basis.  As an interim, it has the advantage of being a known quantity and could be subject to agreed amendments  (off the peg with alterations rather than “bespoke”). It is a least worst option. I have not heard of anything equally practicable and achievable in the limited time available.

Funnily enough, when we started discussing this possibility some  years ago it was fiercely attacked by a man who said it would be enough simply to repeal the European Communities Act 1972. It turned out he was a keen Europhile! I wonder why he was so against it?  Perhaps this article Europhiles for a sovereign Parliament may give us a clue.

When Mrs. May announced the government’s approach to Brexit in her Lancaster House speech in January, I felt that she was biting off much more than she could chew. A free trade agreement of the scope and complexity which she proposed seemed just too much to cram into a maximum negotiating period of two years.

But, on reflection, there was not even two years available. Basing things on my experience in a firm approaching entry into the EEC in 1972, it was obvious that both government departments and businesses would need a substantial lead time to get ready for the changeover to the new system. Farming and other industries with long production cycles would need at least a year’s notice, in full detail, of what the government intended. Businesses contemplating investment projects would need to know too.

In our CIB newsletter of 29 March 2017, (when Article 50 was triggered), I wrote about our chemicals industry which is a very important part of our exports. I had listened to the proceedings of the Environmental Audit Committee of 7 March.

“GREAT REPEAL BILL MAY SECURE BRITISH EXPORT SUCCESS – OR NOT

The chemicals industry is a key British exporter. For years now it has been working to comply with the EU REACH Regulation (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals). On 7 March DEFRA told MPs that the Great Repeal Bill (Now the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill) would create an identical British version to be called BREACH so that British-manufactured chemicals could continue to circulate freely in the EU market.

REACH requires companies which produce the same chemical to submit joint dossiers on their product with safety data to the European Chemicals Agency. Many such registrations have been filed at very considerable expense.

Next year will be the deadline for registering specialised low-volume chemicals which will affect thousands of companies. This is creating problems. For instance, should a British manufacturer which only sells in the UK go to the expense of registering with REACH when it might have to do the same a year later with BREACH?

The officials appear to be in a muddle and not to know. DEFRA has promised that the UK “will have a functioning scheme from Day One” but this is not good enough. The UK Chemical Industries Association says there is “no clarity at all” and doubts that such a scheme can be put in place within the two year negotiating period. According to a survey of the industry, one fifth of the UK chemical manufacturers are already planning to establish themselves in another EU country as insurance against the muddle. Whether they stay or go depends on their confidence in the British government.

The government has realised that the British chemical industry must be helped over this non tariff barrier, if it is to continue its success as our second largest single exporter. The highest levels of political and official will are needed to secure the confidence of the industry. The Devil, as always, is in the detail and will not be exorcised by vain repetition of mantras about “WTO Rules”. At least it is clear, they know that much!”

Yet now, seven months later the muddle persists. Private Eye reports a setback, even from this unsatisfactory position.-

“MORE on the consequences of Brexit nobody seems to have thought of until now. The European Chemicals Agency has quietly confirmed that more than 6,000 substance registrations filed by UK-based chemical s companies will be “regarded as non-existent” after Brexit.

These registrations are a condition of access to the European Union market, but in the bloc’s overarching REACH chemicals law, there is no legal basis for registrations from countries outside the single market, which the British government is determined to leave.

This puts UK chemicals companies in a bind. As 60 per cent of UK chemicals exports go to the EU, companies will need to switch their registrations to associated companies or agents inside the single market. This will involve new contracts and costs, including payments to the European Chemicals Agency which charges about 1,600 euros to change the identity of a registrant and between 9,000 to 34,000 euros paid for the original registration.

A final deadline for registration of chemicals under REACH falls on 31 May 2018, nine months before Brexit. The deadline applies to low-volume and specialised chemicals. Should UK- based companies bother? Those that sell sufficient volumes into the EU market will need to ensure their registrations continue, but what about UK companies that sell only in the UK or to non EU countries?

In fact, they have no choice. The UK will still be a member of the EU in mid -2018 and companies have a legal obligation to register their substances. Moreover, the British government has said that it will continue after Brexit with a facsimile of REACH, including its registration provisions. So, if UK companies selling only in the UK don’t file their EU registrations, when Brexit comes round they would be on the UK market illegally.

The government says it is “working to ensure a smooth transition for the chemical industry as we leave the EU”. But time is short and there is still little clarity on the many practical details.”

So the authorities have marked time for seven months. I hope that CIB members and supporters – especially those with experience of the industry or living in areas of substantial chemical manufacture – will contact their MPs to pressure DEFRA to get a move on. There are thousands of similar things which will need to be sorted out quite early in the New Year, if affected firms are to have a chance of making a living and paying their workers after Brexit.

As a post script, readers may be interested in an e-mail exchange in which I was involved:-

From: [email protected]

To [email protected]

Sent: 24/10/2017 11:19:06 GMT Summer Time

 Subj: RE: The complexities of Brexit – Campaign for an Independent Britain

THERE  NEED  NOT  BE  ANY  COMPLEXITIES  WHATSOEVER !!!!!!  We have a very good balance of trade and payments surplus with that Mighty Economic Colossus, The  United States of America, the largest economy in the World. Nor do we have a trading agreement!!!  This endless babble with the EU, by the UK Government is just a load   of procrastinating tripe created by a weak leadership who are quaking in their Knickers and Underpants. We also have good trading, and profitable relationships with a good number of other countries around the World.

The  fact the people who would be quaking in their underwear if we simply walked away; would be the likes of Merkel, Macron, Barnier and Juncker. Particularly Merkel who is     already in the cart following the German elections, having caused an election result that has resulted in the Neo NAZIs getting into the Bundestag for the first time since 1945. As we all know this is the direct result of her insane immigration policies. She would also be very worried about the German car industries employees because of the huge number of cars that are currently imported into the UK. 1.3 million German car industry employees rely on exports to the UK, in order to keep their jobs.

As we are seeing with other national elections, the four of the above EU and national leaders, plus a number of others, are between them destroying the EU from within. The USSR was destroyed from within, and in that there is a lesson for Juncker and Barnier; POWER!, without accountability, destroys that which it represents.   Ken.

Dear Sonya and Ken,

I just remembered this article from PRIVATE EYE which includes BREXIT problems with regard to farming, trade with the USA under EU/US trade agreements and the time needed to adjust to any new arrangements.

“BREXIT is less than 18 months way and yet still no post-Brexit transitional arrangements or EU-UK trade deal is even under discussion, let alone agreed. Given that farming is a long-term business and its viability is currently governed by the EU’s international trade arrangements, will UK farmers continue to commit to the financial risks of food production faced with such uncertainty?

A good example of the difficulties ahead concerns the threat to the UK organic cheese Kingdom Cheddar, which is currently exported to the US .

Kingdom is made from organic milk produced by the 265 UK dairy farmers in the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative (OMSCo). In 2015, under US-EU trade arrangements, OMSCo qualified to export its premium organic cheese to the US. It took OMSCo eight years to develop the Kingdom brand, its dairy farmer members having substantially altered their farming practices to meet US standards (including using fewer antibiotics and improving animal welfare).

The arrangement that allows Kingdom to be sold in the US however is between the EU and the US. OMSCo points out that unless an “equivalence” agreement on organic farming standards is signed between the UK and the US “in the next three months”, it will stop production of Kingdom at the end of December. OMSCo chairman, Nicholas Saphir says “We cannot take the risk of producing a niche market product that, given its 18 month production(cycle) may not be able to be sold after Brexit”.

OMSCo is unique in the UK in exporting high volume premium organis cheese to the US; but given agriculture’s long production cycle, all UK food exports face the same risk of disruption, as th clock ticks down”.

The article goes on to make the same point about lamb production which I made in “The Complexities of Brexit”, pointing out that farmers will have to decide this Autumn whether to retain millions of ewe lambs for for breeding or send them for slaughter as fat lambs because their progeny will not be brn until Spring 2019, just as Britain leaves the EU which currently takes 40% of British lamb.

I am afraid that neither government nor Brexit campaigners appear to be taking this sort of thing into consideration.  All industries with long lead times will have similar problems.

Regards

Edward

 

The Miller’s Tale – Episode 3

(1)  A BLAST FROM THE PAST –

I mentioned that my father had devised a milk replacer food for baby calves. It was government policy during the war and for a long time afterwards that as much milk as possible should go fresh to the consumer. This preserved the maximum nutrition and vitamin content.  Synthetic vitamin supplements were not available. All raw materials and foodstuffs were in short supply and generally rationed. So a product which allowed the farmer to sell more of his milk for human consumption was officially favoured. When raw materials were available, it could be sold without ration coupons at a cost which was a fraction of the price the farmer would get for his milk. In April 1944,  our firm registered the trade mark CAL-O-LAC for this product. It was my mother’s idea.   So our  small firm went on to produce a significant proportion of this niche  product nationally ..

The artist’s impression of the Ashbourne Road Mill appeared in the 1953 Coronation edition of the Derbyshire Advertiser and you can see a logo of a calf drinking out of a bucket but the artist omitted the word “Cal-O-Lac” from beneath it. . That is the trade mark as I remember it, after  father employed a London  advertising agent to improve the image.

So I was very surprised when my son Charles recently found this advertisement for Cal-O-Lac on the internet (a snip at £150!) . I think my mother may have designed it too. She was very artistic. It must be from the early post-war era when things were opening up a little but austerity was still prevalent. I can remember being taken to the first post-war agricultural show in 1947 but don’t recall this style of advert.

(2) JANUARY 1973  – “GOING INTO EUROPE ”

We were well-prepared for the changeover to the new policy. Although the European Communities Act 1972 did not receive Royal Assent until October 1972, MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries & Food) had prepared us well, so we entered the strange new world on January 1st 1973 where prices of key ingredients were fixed politically and our profitability would depend on collecting the EEC subsidy for making wheat and milk powder unfit for human consumption by incorporating them into animal feedingstuffs.

This was an extremely prosperous time for farming. It went on unfettered for twelve years. Prices were fixed at levels to keep small French peasant farmers happy and our much larger, more efficient farms could scarcely avoid doing very well indeed. The EEC guaranteed to buy everything they could produce and this created the grain, beef, butter and milk powder mountains – more than we could “denature”(the technical term) in animal feed. So it was dumped at even lower prices on the world market, putting farmers in the Commonwealth and Third World out of business.

As our farmer customers – with a guaranteed market for everything they could produce – were doing well, so did we. Not a few people asked why I was grumbling about it. “Because it’s wrong” was my answer. The housewife and the taxpayer were paying far more to make food dear than the taxpayer had previously paid to keep a secure supply of  home-grown food.

(3)  THE NEW OFFICIALS

The new system needed careful supervision to make sure that people were not cheating – claiming the “denaturing” subsidy and then selling the wheat or milk powder back as human food at full price.  So a new breed of official was required. One sensible thing which MAFF did was to invite a number of people from the trade to become civil servants and supervise the inspectors.. They had done the same  when wartime controls were introduced and it gave us some confidence that officialdom would understand its task.

As ours was one of the first mills to be fully equipped, we had an arranged visitation by twelve of the new inspectors who were being trained. They came from all sorts of previous jobs within the civil service and this was the first time many had seen the feed milling process.  Eventually one was assigned as our regular inspector, a man whose previous experience was entirely clerical or administrative.

He was very awkward and ill-mannered. He managed to upset everybody from the mill foreman to the girls in the office. So eventually I phoned up the supervisor, a man from the trade who often wore rather flamboyant bow ties and matching pocket handkerchiefs. “ I say, can you call your dog off?” I asked “This chap’s upsetting everybody”.

“Leave it to me, dear boy” he said and we got a replacement inspector, a man who had worked in the real world as a pest control officer. He had a couple of grand Jack Russell Terriers in the back of his car. I knew instantly that we would hit it off.

He was efficient, meticulous and rigorous in going about his business. After about three months, he said “I am going to show you something and, if you say you’ve seen it, I will deny it completely”.  He showed the reports of the previous man who had convinced himself that we were crooks, cheating the system – but he couldn’t put his finger on it and that had driven him crackers. The report was an Official Secret which we were not entitled to see. If acted upon, it could have ruined our business. Our subsidy could have been held up for months, destroying our cash flow,  and we would not have known why. “I know this isn’t right” he said “I am going to write another report now. You won’t see that” and we never had any problems after that.  This was the sort of conduct people expected of MAFF. As a department it enjoyed the deserved confidence of the farming community and industry.

The Old Order Changes

Probably the most individually influential of its civil servants was Sir Emrys Jones, who was chief adviser to the Minister from 1967 to 1973. I can’t remember a Minister of Agriculture having a “special adviser” – a party political appointment – in those days. Sir Emrys enjoyed the confidence of five of them regardless of party – Christopher Soames, John Hare, Fred Peart, Jim Prior and Cledwyn Hughes.  Sir Emrys was very much a muddy boots and hands-on civil servant, who spent as little time in Whitehall as possible. He came from a hill farming family in Wales, as did quite a number of senior MAFF civil servants in those days. We sometimes called them “The Taffia”. They were formidable.

I only got to know him after he resigned in 1973 in despair at the introduction  of the European Common Agricultural Policy which, he said, would cause farmers to grow “the wrong crops in the wrong places at the wrong times”.  He came to talk to a group of us feed technologists just after he had started as Principal of the Royal Agricultural College Cirencester. I asked him how he liked his new job. “Man” he said “If it wasn’t for the bloody students and the bloody governors, the job would be bloody perfect!” His enthusiasm was infectious.

A  similar character  from Wales was appointed to enforce  the new regulations to control the use of medicines in animal feeds. As with our introduction to the CAP, the guidance and information were first class. He placed a great emphasis on the co-operation and help which they wanted to  extend to the trade. His authoritative summing up suggested a non-conformist Chapel  background. “ But if you stray from the paths of righteousness, be sure we will find you out – and our vengeance will be terrible!” It was said with a twinkle of humour – like the glint of sunshine on steel. Their successors were more of the inflexible, humourless, tickbox variety, like the first inspector of the new breed we had chanced to meet.

COMING SHORTLY – MR WILSON’S “FUNDAMENTAL RENEGOTIATION”

The Miller’s Tale – Episode 2

The Swinging Sixties and Beyond

 It is easy to forget how much things have changed since the Sixties. There was no internet. So unless you subscribed to specialist publications or were in a political party or special interest or trade group, your information was limited to what the main newspapers or the BBC and ITV told you. With regard to the European project, the most crucial of the government’s information and intentions were concealed from the public for thirty years by the Official Secrets Act. I will give an account of things as I remember them but will use italic type like this to insert information which was not available until later and also give links to later articles which give a fuller explanation, not available to me at the time.

Whilst the countryside looks picturesque and much of it appears unchanged, that is very deceptive. Farming has been one of the most rapidly modernising industries of all. Whilst there were still  small farms in the Sixties which  used horses for some of the work, mechanisation went on at a great pace and the number of people required to work the land declined steeply as machines got bigger and better.

I called on such a  farm in the mid Sixties and the farmer was in his fields. I had to wait for him to finish his job because he was sowing seed by hand and had to count the paces and keep the rhythm as he broadcast handfuls of seed from the bag round his waist – just as in the bible story “a sower went forth sowing.” That was the last time I saw it done.  His descendants now drive machines which are positioned by satellite and controlled by computers.

Most farms were going for bigger and better tractors and machinery – seed drills, fertiliser spreaders, sprayers, ploughs, combine harvesters, forage harvesters and so on. Cows were being moved out of cow sheds and into covered yards where they could self-feed on silage when not grazing.  Milking parlours replaced the cow shed stalls. Bulk milk tanks replaced the man-handled milk churns.

Britain had a unique agricultural policy. Food from abroad was allowed in freely without customs duties and farmers received subsidies to keep up home production and guarantee food security.  To the benefit of the less well-off, the tax payer, not the consumer,  funded the system. Food was a much bigger proportion of household expense in those days and cheap food also reduced pressure on wages.

Farm land would not be allowed to go derelict, as it had done in the depression between the wars. This system was negotiated annually in the Farm Price Review under parliamentary scrutiny. As the memory of food shortages and rationing faded, politicians naturally scrutinised this expense very carefully. World food prices fell from the late Fifties onwards and this tended to drive up the required subsidies which were gradually restricted. So farming was not  as profitable as the increases in production might suggest. (See attachment for fuller description).

Attitudes changed in the Sixties. Early on, the satirical TV programme “That Was The Week That Was” mercilessly lampooned the failings of our political class. In  doing so it reduced people’s confidence in the institutions of government. It was part of the process of rubbishing the hitherto undisputed comfortable feeling that “British is best”.  No fearless investigator or satirist looked into government deceit about the European project. Our European neighbours were doing better than us economically. Documentary programmes drove  this message home relentlessly.

Things were not helped by the fact that our key industries frequently went on strike. We did not know it at the time but the Prime Minister Harold MacMillan (from 1957 to 1963) expressed the view that our country was “ungovernable”.  He thought that the trade unions would come to their senses if British industry was opened to unrestricted competition from Europe. The unions were so powerful that he dared not alter the laws which gave them almost total immunity from normal legal redress..

At this time, we were installing some new machinery. The engineer, who was supervising the job,  picked up a spanner and started to make an adjustment. He put it down very quickly, looking around with a worried expression. “Is this a union shop?” he asked. Fortunately we weren’t. In some factories,  only  members of the right union were allowed to do certain tasks. Shipyards, already months or even years behind with deliveries, were brought to a halt. Drilling a hole which went through a piece of metal and a piece of wood could cause a strike whilst the shop stewards argued whether a woodworker or metal worker should have done the job. Then they would want overtime to make up for lost time. That was the way things were then. Britain’s industries were rightly losing the confidence of their overseas customers. The Germans, French, Japanese and others would willingly replace them and make deliveries to quality and to time.

The Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson (1964-1970) wanted to modernise British industry. His catch phrase was “the white heat of the technological revolution” but he couldn’t tackle the unions either. As well as being over-mighty, they were the Labour party’s paymasters. He did stand up to a Seamen’s strike in 1966. He believed that communists were using the strike to take over the union.

He brought in emergency powers and the strikers backed down but not before goods piled up on quaysides and most of the Cunard fleet was out of action. The crew of the Queen Mary stopped work at Southampton. The left wing of Labour supported the union.

By luck rather than by good judgement I did rather well out of this. I had bought a large contract of groundnut cake and two months’ shipments arrived together just before the strike. So we were sitting pretty. But I still got a row from my father because we had to hire outside warehouse space.

There were two other disruptive features of trade union conduct in those days – the “sympathy strike” and “blacking”. Trade unionists with no grievance against their own employer would strike “in sympathy” with workers involved in another dispute. “Blacking” was the practice of blacklisting lorries from a firm involved in strike action so that trade unionists in other factories would refuse to load or unload them. Dubious tactics could also be used in disputes between trade unions.

I have a copy of the Sunday Mirror of July 20th 1969. The front page stories are of the first moon landing, the death of Ted Kennedy’s girlfriend in a car which ended underwater and a surprise appearance by the Duke of Edinburgh at a registry office wedding in Cardiff. But inside is a tale of thuggishness between trade unions which I quote here. The TUC was called in as umpire in a dispute between the United Road Transport Union and the much larger Transport & General Transport Workers’ Union, who were in competition for recruits.  Their Midlands Organiser, Alan Law, had been accused in Parliament of blackmail and extortion. A firm called Stephenson Clark had paid £5,000 into the TGWU convalescent homes fund following negotiations about dismissed drivers. Mr Law intended to share the £5,000 with £400 each to seven drivers and £1,100 each to two shop stewards. I knew several firms which were shaken down by Law. Businesses in the Midlands dreaded the attentions of this man and spoke of “The Rule of Law” which bordered on gangsterism, using the immunities from normal legal redress which the unions continued to enjoy until the days of Margaret Thatcher.

One thing strikes me about the Sunday Mirror of those days. It was very much better written than any tabloid today. A full page article by Roy Jenkins, Chancellor of the Exchequer sang the praises of what her termed “the civilised society” and the beginnings of our present obsession with homosexuality and transgender matters. He was a leading light amongst the group of  Labour MPs, working behind the scenes to defy their own party policy and get us into the European Economic Community.

In this, he was at one with the up and coming Conservative, John Selwyn Gummer, now Lord Deben. He and Jenkins both peddled the lie that the Commonwealth countries, grown up and independent, wanted nothing more to do with us – so we must look to Europe.  Gummer came to our Corn Trade Association Conference at Buxton to tell us that. I knew it was a lie because our New Zealand friends supplied us with thousands of tons of milk powder and were not at all pleased to be losing one of their best customers. So, I decided that a project which required a lie to promote it must be concealing more and greater evils. The Canadians who supplied excellent quality wheat for flour milling got the same treatment.

In late 1971 I became a member of a MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries & Food) Committee, concerned with bringing in the European Common Agricultural Policy. The others on the committee were a good twenty years older than I . When they heard the details of the policy which I had heard in Holland ten years before (see Episode 1), they were so outraged that they wanted to walk out. We had not yet met Sir Humphrey Appleby of “Yes Minister” but a senior civil servant who greatly resembled him smoothed them down expertly.

“Well gentlemen” he said “We were not founder members of the community, so these arrangements are not what we would have wished. But just give it a few years of British common sense and we’ll soon get it licked into shape”.  Tea and biscuits appeared instantly. With hindsight, I guessed that the lady with the trolley was waiting for her cue. “And now gentlemen, the political decision having been made, we want to help you get the very best out of this”.  It was a deceit expertly done but, to give the civil servants their due, they certainly gave us the help we needed to make our living in this strange new world. We had to make radical alterations to the way we ran our business. In the highly regulated Common Agricultural Policy our profitability would depend on being able to claim EEC subsidy for “denaturing” wheat and milk powder – that is, rendering them unfit for human consumption by blending them into animal feed. We needed new record systems, new laboratory equipment and parts of our production lines had to be redesigned. By Autumn or early winter of 1972, we were ready to be up and running with the new system. So everything worked perfectly when we “went into Europe” in January 1973 . The only things we were not prepared for was the new breed of inspector and Harold Wilson’s 1975 “Renegotiation” – of which more anon.

 

The miller’s tale – a series of reminiscences

EPISODE 1 – Early intimations.

“Shades of the prison house begin to close upon the growing boy” – Ode on intimations of immortality from recollections of early childhood by William Wordsworth.

We moved into the countryside from the house next to the mill in 1950 and our old home became offices and a laboratory for our family business.. Going into the business made my later close acquaintance with the European project inevitable.

That was all in the far, unsuspected future when I went on a school visit to Germany in 1958. The German boy I stayed with asked me “Have you heard about our Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft? It will guarantee our living standard”. Neither his English nor my German was up to translating the word. So an answer had to wait until we got home. As soon as I asked our teacher, several other boys said

“My chap said exactly the same thing”. So it was obviously something they had been taught in school.

Our teacher, Mr Rhodes, explained that the word meant “Economic Community” and it had been started by a new treaty the previous year between France, Italy, Germany and the Benelux countries.

We discussed it for a while and thought it was a very good idea that these continental countries were co-operating with each other. “But remember,” said Mr. Rhodes, “This shows a difference in tradition between our countries. You would not be taught a political opinion like that as a fact in a British school.” How times have changed since!

This was the first time I remember people talking about what was called “The Common Market” and, whilst we wished the neighbouring countries well, I don’t recall many people being keen on the idea of our joining it ourselves. Matron was an exception but she was a Liberal – then a very small parliamentary party. One prominent member was a Lady Violet Bonham Carter who was so extremely enthusiastic that a radio comedian dubbed her “Lady Violent Common Barter” !

Interest moved up a notch around 1960. By then I was a pupil in a firm of corn merchants at Banbury, called Lamprey & Son Ltd. Their office was next to the town hall and had a high sloping desk with stools – no lounging in executive chairs! The accounts were still kept in hand-written ledgers upstairs. On my arrival, the manager, an austere man, passed me a weighbridge ticket – 5 tons 2 hundredweights three quarters and one stone. “There you are boy. Twenty five pounds twelve shillings and six pence per ton. What does it come to?” When I asked for a piece of paper to do the calculation “Lord love you, lad. What have they been teaching you all these years?”

Farmers came into the office on market days to order what they needed, to pay their bills and to be paid for grain which we had bought from them. It was a busy cheerful place and I clearly remember one nice old boy, a smallholder who had lost a leg in the First World War, asking the manager. “Well, Mr Humphries, be you goin’ to join this ‘ere common market?”. It didn’t rank very high in our concerns amongst the general bustle of a busy office. I did many jobs in that firm from bagging coal to really responsible tasks. Our boss, Roger Bradshaw, was only about ten years older than I. His father had died quite recently. So it was very different from working for my father. He would give a task, such as taking over the running of the retail shop without any detailed instructions and his favourite exhortation was “It won’t take you five minutes to get hold of it”.

Sometimes it took me much longer but I was allowed to make mistakes as long as I owned up. His son phoned me a few days ago to say he had been asking after me and this put me in mind to write these reminiscences.

After two happy years I went back home. Our most profitable product was a milk powder food for baby calves which my father had developed. He knew that technical advances were taking place in Holland and we eventually came to an arrangement with a large Dutch firm to use their formulations and made several visits to their mill to effect the technology transfer.

It was on one of these visits in 1962 or 1963 that I first came across the European Common Agricultural Policy. I was watching wheat come down a conveyor and suddenly saw purple grains. Now the only reason I knew for purple grains was ergot – a very nasty fungus which causes abortion in cattle amongst other things and there seemed to be an awful lot of it. The director who was looking after me said he would explain it all that evening. I learned that the grain had been dyed because it had been subsidised for use in animal feed. The dye ensured that the wheat could not be diverted back into human food. He explained the whole complicated system which also subsidised the use of milk powder in calf food.

I had never come across anything quite so odd in my life. We then had free trade in food and feed at home. How on earth could a common sense people like the Dutch have come to use such a complicated (and frankly barmy) system? “Little Holland is neighbour of big Germany,” my host said “and the Germans wanted it”. It was then that I remembered that he was very senior and I was very junior and a guest in his house. So I thought I had probably spoken out of turn.. His speech was quite matter-of-fact, as if describing the weather. I also knew that he had flown with the RAF during the war. So I shut up but remembered.

It would be ten years before we entered this system. In the meantime, many people were quite well-disposed to the idea of joining the “Common Market”. Mainland Europe was doing much better than us economically. We always seemed to be strikebound in major industries and things were rather shabby here in comparison to their rapid progress. There were also people I respected greatly, who had done great things in the war. “This will be marvellous for you and your generation Edward. It means you will never have to suffer the sort of things we did.” You had to take notice of people like that. But nobody could explain to me why they had such a crazy agricultural policy.

Brexit means…..?

We now have less than three months to wait until Mrs May will invoke Article 50 and we formally begin the process of leaving the EU.  This means we will finally see her “Brexit means Brexit ” statement fleshed out, although it is doubtful if we will know all the detail by the end of March, especially as there are likely to be a good few twists and turns between the invocation of Article 50 and Independence Day.

During 2017 the Campaign for an Independent Britain will continue to fight for the best possible Brexit deal, working alongside other like-minded individuals and organisations. We will let you more as our plans develop, but here are a few guidelines which we believe will help ensure Brexit is successful.

Firstly, Brexit DOES NOT mean a trade-off between single market access and free movement of people from the EU. If the Government is considering remaining in the European Economic Area (EEA) – possibly by re-joining EFTA, the European Free Trade Area – as an interim position, the “four freedoms” of the Single Market are not indivisible for a non-EU country, in spite of claims to the contrary by the likes of Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister.

Iceland suspended free movement of capital following its banking crisis and, as has been pointed out on this website and elsewhere, Liechtenstein imposed restrictions on free movement of people over 20 years ago. Readers may remember that David Cameron’s “deal”  included a so-called “emergency brake”  – an agreement with the other 27 member states that if we voted to remain in the EU, we could restrict the in-work benefits paid to migrants for four years.

All Mr Cameron was doing was asking permission to apply Article 112 of the EEA agreement. Outside the EU, if we took the EFTA route, we wouldn’t have to ask the 27 member states and could impose far tougher restrictions than merely restricting benefits. Like Liechtenstein, we could drastically limit the numbers too. Liechtenstein has done nothing more than making use of an article in an existing agreement. We could do the same if the government chooses to go down the EFTA route.

Of course, we do not know if this is Mrs May’s plan, but it is inconceivable, given the number of on-line articles and research papers which have addressed this subject, that she and her advisers are not aware of Article 112 and Liechtenstein’s use of it. It is high time that the canard of the indivisibility of the “four freedoms” was laid to rest once and for all.

So what else does Brexit mean?

Firstly, freedom from the European Court of Justice. UK law and its courts must be the final arbiter of British justice.  We should pull out of participation in the European Arrest Warrant, which has resulted in UK residents being sent for trial abroad on hearsay evidence.  Furthermore, Brexit must lead to the return of trial by jury and other features of our historic legal system which have gradually been eroded by our membership of the EU.

Next, Freedom from any involvement with the European Defence Agency and an independent foreign policy. We should obviously work together with the EU where it is mutually beneficial so to do, but we should  not be involved with the EU’s empire building in the Balkans or former soviet republics such as the Ukraine.

Brexit must mean an end to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). As John Ashworth has argued, the concept of “Community waters”, the quota system, and the ridiculous amount of fish caught by boats from other EU member states in what are our national waters by right is a disgrace that has cost thousands of jobs in the fishing industry. The opportunity to revive our coastal communities through a well-designed fishing policy on similar lines to the Faroese scheme must not be passed over.

A replacement to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) must also be designed. Unlike the CFP, which hardly benefits any UK fishermen at all (apart from those who have bought quota and then re-sell for profit), the CAP’s single farm payment is a lifeline for many in the agricultural sector. As an interim measure, a single payment system managed in Westminster rather than Brussels may be the answer, but looking further ahead, something more imaginative is essential as the CAP, initially designed to support small French farmers, has never been a good way to manage farming in the UK.

Finally, Brexit means not only taking the UK out of the EU but taking the EU out of the hearts of UK citizens. Schoolchildren and students have suffered years of indoctrination through pro-EU propaganda.  They will be the biggest beneficiaries of Brexit, but as anyone who has taken part in debates on the EU in schools and universities has discovered,  most of them don’t realise it at the moment.

So there will be much to keep us in the Campaign for an Independent Britain busy as 2017 approaches. On that note, may we wish all our members and supporters a Happy New Year.