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

Encouragements and challenges from the latest social attitudes survey

On Thursday 26th March, the 32nd British Social Attitudes survey was published. After the recent YouGov poll giving supporters of continuing EU membership a 10% lead, this survey, which took a larger sample size of 3,000 voters as opposed to less than half that number in the YouGov survey, provided some welcome encouragement for supporters of withdrawal but also some serious challenges.

There is no question that the EU is unpopular with the British electorate. However, the Telegraph’s headline “British more anti-EU than last two decades” only tells part of the story. Given a referendum now, more than half of those surveyed (57%) would choose to remain in the EU, while only 35% want to withdraw. This only confirms the findings of the YouGov Survey that the withdrawalist movement has a lot of ground to catch up. However, when the renegotiation option is brought into the equation, 24% of those surveyed indicated an unequivocal wish to leave the EU with 38% wanting to stay in a reformed EU where Brussels would exercise considerably less power. There is indeed, in a sense, a Eurosceptic majority but herein lies the challenge. How many of those 38% could be won over to an outright withdrawalist position if they could be convinced that Cameron’s renegotiation is only going to be mere window dressing which does not address their concerns?

The answer to this question depends on identifying why so many people who are clearly uncomfortable with our EU membership do not wish to pull the plug altogether. This, of course, means asking them some questions. Not wishing to presume to anticipate what replies we might be given, there are a few obvious areas worthy of investigation.

  1. How aware is the electorate of the alternatives? Hugo van Randwyck and Robert Oulds both claim that when voters are given the choice between EU membership and re-joining EFTA (i.e., adopting a purely trade-based relationship with the EU) the balance comes down strongly in favour of EFTA.
  2. How well-informed are most voters concerning the degree to which the EU interferes in our lives? Or the cost?
  3. How many of those reluctant to support withdrawal have been misled by such nonsense as the “Three Million Jobs” myth and believe that we would sink without trace if we withdrew?
  4. How many are still unaware that the objective of the EU always was, is and always will be the creation of a federal United States of Europe?

It is the conviction of all the CIB Committee that if the UK electorate was presented with a clear picture of the aims and costs of the EU and the positive options for our country as an independent nation that the vote for withdrawal would be overwhelming. Furthermore, even though we and most of our supporters are firmly committed to the preservation of the UK, we nonetheless take heart from Scotland.

When David Cameron announced that a referendum on independence was to be held, supporters of the Union appeared to have an unshakeable majority. A poll by Lord Ashcroft in May 2013, less than 18 months before the vote took place, claimed that only 26% of those surveyed supported independence with a massive 65% against. However, the Independence campaign came within a whisker of pulling it off and barely six months after the referendum, it is all too apparent that the vote to stay in last September did not settle the issue. “Half of Scots think we will be independent by 2025” claimed The Scotsman earlier this month and research from the University of Edinburgh suggests that about half  English voters agree with them.

A similar momentum in favour of withdrawal from the UK is therefore a distinct possibility. The challenge is to build a team and devise the right strategy to make this happen.

Photo by Iker Merodio | Photography

Open Europe’s latest research on the 100 most costly EU regulations

On 16th March, the Open Europe think tank published a new list of the 100 EU-derived regulations which were the costliest to the UK economy. Open Europe estimates that these EU laws cost the UK economy £33.3bn a year. This is more than the £27bn the UK Treasury expects to raise in revenue from Council Tax in the current (2014-15) financial year.

In at least a quarter of cases, the UK Government signed off on the regulation, despite the accompanying Impact Assessment explicitly concluding that the estimated costs outweigh the estimated benefits.

However, the study also claimed that leaving the EU and ‘becoming like Norway’ would mean that 93 out of these 100 costliest EU-derived regulations to the UK economy would remain in place at a cost of £31.4bn (94% of the current total cost),under the so-called EEA agreement.

The top five costliest EU-derived regulations are:-

1) The UK Renewable Energy Strategy – Recurring cost: £4.7bn a year
2) The CRD IV package – Recurring cost: £4.6bn a year
3) The Working Time Directive – Recurring cost: £4.2bn a year
4) The EU Climate and Energy Package – Recurring cost: £3.4bn a year
5) The Temporary Agency Workers Directive – Recurring cost: £2.1bn a year

The full ‘Top 100’ list can be accessed here .

Below are some thought from Robert Oulds, of the Bruges Group, on the Open Europe report.

Open Europe is as anti-EEA as they are pro-EU. They support the reform agenda, and saying in the EU. They consistently misrepresent the EEA as a transitional alternative.

Regarding these regulations, most would apply even if we were not part of the EEA. The Working Ttime Directive originates from the International Labour Organisation, not the EU. The vast majority of financial services legislation would also apply if we were outside of the EU. Indeed a recent analysis showed that if we were to honour international agreements and the decisions of bodies that the UK sits on then 41 of 42 financial services rules ‘forced’ on us by the EU would apply anyway, although not the potentially destructive “Tobin Tax” and the numerous EU agencies which do not apply to the EEA. .

Many of these regulations come from UN standard setting agencies designed to eliminate technical barriers to trade apart from the environmental regulation.

As for the EEA, while it is true that Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are obliged to implement some EU rules, these countries adopt 70 per cent fewer regulations than those imposed on EU member states. While neither Norwegian ministers nor parliamentarians can attend or vote in the meetings of the Council of Ministers, or in the European Parliament, they have the right not only to be consulted about EU rules but can also shape EU decisions at the start. Indeed, EEA representatives take part in more than 500 EU committees and expert groups. The management of the EEA agreement is also not top down from the European Union. The EFTA Surveillance Authority monitors whether or not free competition is being followed and that markets are open to business from EU members. Any contravention of the rules by a member state or company can be reported to the Court of Justice of the European Free Trade Association States, which has jurisdiction to interpret the EEA agreement. Unlike the EU’s ECJ, which can overrule and strike down national law, the EFTA Court can only state that a national law is incompatible with the EEA agreement. Resolution can only come from national institutions – not through the EEA and EFTA institutions. What is more, disputes are resolved at a political intergovernmental level, not by judges or bureaucrats in the Commission exercising their power in a supranational institution. Ultimately, for the EFTA/EEA states, it is for the national government to decide how a breach of the EEA agreement can best be remedied. In some cases Norway just chooses to rewrite its rules to make them appear to conform but in reality, nothing changes.

When EFTA countries choose to adopt EU rules, they do not do so as countries that have transferred the making of legislation to the EU, as Britain has. Nations such as Norway establish EEA-relevant rules at the national level. The legislation is not directly imposed from above by the EU. Furthermore, the EFTA states that have agreed to be part of the EEA can opt out of areas of EEA where they feel that legislation does not serve their national interest. Inside the EU, the UK does not have this right.

Implementation of those acts that are not vetoed or ignored are often delayed by Norway. The custom of the EFTA states being responsible for drafting the decision of the EEA Joint Committee often allows them to delay their implementation. The delaying of the translation of EEA-relevant decisions into Norwegian dialects is also regularly used to postpone implementation. Those EEA-relevant acts that are not delayed are often altered. The EFTA/EEA states demand that more than a third of the acts, and as many of 40 per cent of those which deal with services, are changed. This is not just an opportunity to tailor EEA rules to the EFTA states’ advantage; it is also in itself yet another source of delay: negotiations then ensue.

What is more, Norway has a rather nonchalant attitude to aligning its legislation with that of the EU. According to a draft report from the European Commission from 12th December 2012 found that Norway had refused to incorporate into their own law 427 EU legislative acts. In particular the Norwegian government publicly stated its refusal to incorporate the Third Postal Directive and will also not comply with the EU’s financial services agencies. This is certainly not fax democracy.

Norway could make even more use of the flexibility in the EEA agreement. IT does not do so because Norwegian politicians are thoroughly pro-EU and want to keep as close as is politically possible. They are still trying to persuade their population to join, although most Norwegians support EEA membership and are happy to be outside of the EU.

Whereas over 100,000 EU instructions apply to Britain, as of December 2010, only 4,179 EEA relevant acts have been incorporated and are still in force. These 4,179 EEA regulations should be retained, yet they can be modified by the UK. The vast majority of other EU rules can be reviewed when it is practical to do so. In excess of 80 per cent of EEA relevant policy areas fall within the remit of the international standard-setting agencies. Much of the EEA relevant law will be applied after Brexit, regardless of whether the UK retains its membership of the EEA. They are a vital part in the process of not only providing standards but also removing technical barriers to trade.

The European Commission itself acknowledges that, if the European Economic Area agreement is updated membership of it ‘would offer EEA EFTA countries a convenient “alternative EU Membership-status on an à la carte basis”.’

A subject that is too important to be left to the experts

The standard of debate about our membership of the European Union leaves much to be desired – even from the business community, argues Peter Troy.

This article was first published by The Journal (NCJ Media) 16 February 2015.

Last week the national head of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), John Longworth, reportedly said the best way to end political uncertainty over the UK’s relations with the European Union (EU) is to hold an early referendum, ie before 2017.

The call was quickly endorsed by others which encouraged front page headlines in one national newspaper and many articles in which business organisations commented on the vexed In/Out issues of the EU debate; with quotes from both the CBI and also the 200,000 member organisation The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

For those of us who have been debating the EU membership issue for decades we know too well there are many powerful reasons why an early referendum is not possible. Not least, there must be a Referendum Bill passed through Parliament and any attempt to rush it through would doubtless meet with stiff opposition from both sides of the EU divide. Politicians could build all sorts of delays into the Parliamentary timetable and stop an early contest. Also a  very salient reason is Mr Cameron’s need to conclude plausible negotiations with ‘Brussels’.  Any pressure to push for an early ‘reform’ risks one or more member states blocking his moves, whatever they be. Indeed, senior officials at number 10  insist up to two years will be needed to secure a successful ‘renegotiation’ with the other EU countries. Whether any sort of meaningful renegotiation is possible or credible has to be seriously doubted.

What is not in doubt  – as last week’s reporting illustrated – is the lack of quality discussion and knowledge on the whole subject of the European Union by the UK media and the over simplified, as well  I argue at times the non-representative comments of business pressure groups. Quotes from both the CBI and the 200,000 member strong organisation The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) were much reported last week in the national media.

Whilst the CBI favours EU membership on behalf of its corporate members, understandable because the EU is pro big business, the FSB have a stance which is curious. The FSB represent the small, but large in numbers, business community.

Twice in their history FSB branch delegates have vote for a policy to leave the EU at their annual conferences. In 2001 as an FSB activist I, along with a colleague from the North East, proposed a motion calling for the Federation to demand withdrawal from the EU which was supported by the representatives of the branches by a majority of 68 percent.

Later in 2004 the Federation’s conference voted out the EU Constitution treaty proposal (which in all but minor detail became the Lisbon Treaty) as undesirable, by a huge majority of 95 per cent. Despite these clear expressions from its membership, which have not been contradicted, the FSB is apparently supportive of EU membership. Despite my best efforts in 2014 the FSB Policy Team remain oblivious to the viable option of continued Single European Market (EEA) membership without the constraints imposed by the political EU; this is known as The Norway Option.

To bring matters up-to-date a report was published last Friday by the independent educational think tank Civitas titled The Norwegian Way. This is a detailed study of how the UK, like Norway, could continue to trade tariff free with the Single Market while regaining the UK’s political independence from the EU.

This latest learned work supports the theory first advocated in detail by The Bruges Group in 2013. There are I suggest lessons to be learnt and knowledge to be gained from Norway’s part of a wider economic group, the European Economic Area, which permits it free trade with EU countries but allows it to avoid the Common Agricultural Policy, control its own fisheries, and pay a much smaller membership fee. Unlike EU members, Norway can negotiate its own free trade agreements with countries around the world, with its own priorities.

On the ongoing question of the UK’s continued membership of the EU and – depending on the outcome of the general election on 7th May – there is a need between now and the EU referendum for people to become better informed. It is a too important subject to be left to politicians, journalists and lobbying groups. As with so many matters the detail can be found on the internet.

By Peter Troy