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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(with thanks to The Daily Telegraph)

The choreography begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turning up the volume on what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Photo by webtreats

Report on “Flexcit” Workshop, 29th April

Several members of the Committee of the Campaign for an Independent Britain were among those attending a workshop at the Farmer’s Club in Westminster, London on Wednesday April 29th. The workshop was originally to have been chaired and hosted by Peter Troy, but he suffered a severe heart attack a couple of days before the event. The two sessions were therefore chaired by CIB’s new chairman Edward Spalton and vice-chairman Anthony Scholefield.

The speakers for the two sessions were Robert Oulds of the Bruges Group and the political analyst Dr Richard North. Robert Oulds explained why the EEA/EFTA model as used by Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein was the only route to a seamless exit from the EU. While it is not an ideal long-term relationship between an independent UK and the EU, it will prevent job losses and enable the UK to function without any hiccups form day 1 of exit. He showed how “soft” the support for withdrawal is. Many people would prefer to stay in a “reformed” EU, but when businessmen are quoted in the press supporting EU membership, it is the trade aspects that interest them. They are not really interested in the EU’s political agenda. One opinion poll commissioned by the Bruges Group indicated that when the voters are offered a choice between the EU and EFTA – in other words, between a political Europe and a trading relationship – the result is overwhelmingly in favour of EFTA. He stated that senior officials from EFTA have indicated that the UK would be very welcome to re-join.

Richard North’s “Flexcit” presentation emphasised that withdrawal is only the beginning of a process. He pointed out that with the growth in international trade, standards are often decided at a much higher level than the EU. This shoots down David Cameron’s “top table” argument inasmuch as an independent UK would have its own seat at the WTO and various UN bodies. At the moment, the EU negotiates a previously agreed position on behalf of all 28 member states, with France and Germany usually the dominant forces in agreeing what the EU position will be. WE therefore have less influence by being in the EU.

He pointed out the unrealistic approach to withdrawal taken by some individuals. In his proposals, the full acquis, the CFP and the CAP would have to be “repatriated” into UK law to tide us over because of the length of time it will take to devise independent domestic policies. Research he undertook with Owen Patterson MP suggested that at least five years would be required to produce an independent agricultural policy. Also, farmers like the CAP and some are dependent on its subsidies. Britain’s growing population is becoming increasingly and dangerously dependent on imported food and sudden drastic changes to the farm support system would make the situation worse at a time when production needs to be encouraged, not disrupted.

Robert Oulds summarised the picture both speakers were painting: withdrawal was like arriving at Heathrow Airport – the beginning of a journey rather than the destination, (No one goes on a holiday to Heathrow!) Flexcit is a guide to where the journey will lead our country. Time was too short for Dr North to go through the remaining five stages on the journey in detail – addressing the immigration and asylum question, creating a genuine European single market, developing independent policies (including foreign and defence policies, agriculture and fisheries), global trading and finally domestic reform. This final section suffered particularly from the constraints of time, but it is in many ways the most radical and exciting area – a major re-vamp of the entire political system designed to return power to the people and to ensure that the lies and deceit which saw us dragged into the EU can never be repeated again. This will already be familiar to some readers as the Harrogate Agenda

All in all, a stimulating afternoon that generated some interesting question and answer sessions. However, it left many of us wanting to know more. Thankfully, to that end, all participants were given the latest version of the Flexcit document – a full 411 pages – which will make for stimulating reading for us all over the next few weeks. Anyone wishing to download the document for themselves can do so here.

Videos of both sessions will be posted onto the website in the nest week or so. CIB wishes Peter Troy all the best for a speedy recovery.

“Stronger Together” – highlights of CIB’s annual rally, 11th April

The Campaign for an Independent Britain held a public rally at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster, London on Saturday March 11th.

The rally featured speakers from a number of affiliated eurosceptic groups – highly appropriate given the title of the meeting was “Stronger together, looking forward. Bringing the Eurorealist groups together”. The meeting was chaired by CIB’s chairman Petrina Holdsworth and both George West, CIB’s President and our Hon. Secretary Edward Spalton, gave addresses. The other speakers came from organisations affiliated to CIB – John Mills from the Labour Euro Safeguards Campaign, Simon Richards from The Freedom Association and Robert Oulds from the Bruges Group.

The prospect of a referendum if David Cameron is returned to power in next month’s General Election dominated the meeting and has unquestionably been a factor in encouraging eurosceptic groups to recognise the need to work more closely together. The speakers agreed that a referendum before 2017 looked to be highly improbable, but it was pointed out that Cameron has selected the second half of that year deliberately to coincide with the UK presidency of the EU. Although a Conservative victory is by no means a foregone conclusion, it is most likely that Cameron’s team have agreed on the choreography with the main players (such as Germany’s Chancellor Merkel) that will enable him to claim a significant concession that will pull the wool over the electorate’s eyes. In other words, he is seeking to repeat Harold Wilson’s trick in 1975, where nothing of any significance was really agreed.

All the speakers acknowledged that we start as the underdogs, although underdogs have a long history of pulling off surprising victories. Simon Richards suggested that several different campaigns to suit different sections of the electorate may be one way forward. John Mills mentioned his involvement with Business for Britain and the importance of winning support from the business community. He mentioned the slogan used by the “out” campaign of 1975, in which he played a prominent role: -“Out of Europe, into the world”. Given the gradual re-orientation of our trade away from the EU in recent years, this ought to have resonance forty years later.

Robert Oulds emphasised the need to be able to sell an exit model that will not cause job losses. He explained the reasons for his support for the EEA/EFTA model as used by Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. He also explained why the “Swiss”, “Turkish” and “WTO” options would not be feasible as an immediate exit route, although he also stressed that while EEA/EFTA would be the only route to a seamless exit, it is not an ideal long-term relationship between an independent UK and the EU. He emphasised the volatility of public opinion. Euroscepticism tends to increase in times of economic downturns.

However, the cause is not lost. Bruges Group surveys indicate that when the voters are offered a choice between the EU and EFTA – in other words, between a political Europe and a trading relationship – the result is overwhelmingly in favour of EFTA. He stated that both Richard North and Hugo van Randwyck have met with senior officials from EFTA, who indicated that the UK would be very welcome to re-join. We must be positive, said Mr Oulds – emphasising joining something rather than leaving something.

A series of videos of the day’s proceedings will be posted to the website in the next couple of weeks. However, as a post script, Edward Spalton mentioned that, in the 1975 referendum, his father voted to stay in because although he felt distrustful about the whole Common Market business, “If that man Tony Benn is against it, there must be something good about it!”

Given that Tony Blair has come out so strongly in favour of us staying in, could history repeat itself and a thoroughly mistrusted politician once again act as a recruiting sergeant for the side he opposes? We can but hope.

UK’s trade deficit in goods with the EU hits a record high

According to the Government’s Office of National Statistics, the trade deficit in goods with the other 27 member states of the EU reached £21.1 billion in the three months to February, a record high since comparable records began in 1998 and an increase of £1.5 billion on the previous three months.

The statistics provided further evidence of the growing reorientation of UK trade away from the EU.  The EU now accounts for 47.6% of UK goods exports – a figure that is probably overstated by 3-4% due to the “Rotterdam/ Antwerp effect” – the practise of recording goods shipped to these two large ports as exports to the EU even if they may well be then shipped on to a third country outside the EU.

Given that the demographics of the EU suggest a dimishing role for the EU as a a destination for UK exports and given that a tit-for-tat trade war would clearly hurt the other member states more than the UK because of the trade imbalance, these figures only strengthen the case for a new relationship between the UK and the EU where we can preserve our access to the Single Market while being free to strike our own trading relationships with the growing economies of the world.  For all its inadequacies as a long term relationship between the UK and the EU, a move to join Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland in the EEA and EFTA would clearly be beneficial for our country’s exporters.

(with thank to Open Europe’s daily briefing service)

Photo by John D F