State of the Disunion as 60th anniversary celebrations approach

No doubt there were huge sighs of relief in Brussels that fewer Dutch voters than expected supported Geert Wilders’ anti-establishment PVV in the country’s recent General Election and that the VVD (Liberal) party, led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte gained the most seats.

A few days before the European Union’s 27 remaining members meet to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of  Treaty of Rome, they can breathe more easily – at least for now. However, Mr Wilders was never going to become Prime Minister due to the multiplicity of political parties in the Netherlands, virtually all of which ruled out going into coalition with his party. If the PVV had become the largest party in the Dutch Parliament, it would have nonetheless emboldened anti-EU parties in France and Germany, where elections are also due later this year.

Even so, next weekend’s festivities cannot disguise the harsh fact that the EU is becalmed, with no clear sense of direction. Eurosceptic parties may not yet be on the verge of forming governments in Western Europe, but their support is growing steadily. In response, Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, has recently published a white paper offering five different future scenarios for the bloc’s future.

In a nutshell, these range from pressing on with ever closer union (Scenario 5) at one extreme to a reduction to nothing more than a Single Market (Scenario 2) at the other. The other three options are a two-speed Europe (Scenario 3), with some countries integrating faster than others, “Doing less more efficiently” (Scenario 4) and “Carrying on” (Scenario 1).

The ever-closer union option is unlikely to gain much favour in Eastern Europe, especially Poland and Hungary. The current Polish government is a supporter of repatriating power from Brussels and the recent reappointment of Donald Tusk, a member of Poland’s biggest opposition party, as President of the European Council against the wishes of Poland’s government, is not going to improve relations between Warsaw and Brussels. Poland’s foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski said that his country will “play a very rough game” in the European Union.

Hungary has no appetite for interference in its internal affairs by Brussels. The European Commission has criticised the construction of a razor wire fence on the border with Serbia, but Hungary has ignored the criticism and pressed on regardless.

Then there are Greece’s problems. Our friends in EPAM, a Greek Eurosceptic organisation, are organising protests against austerity outside several Greek embassies, including one in London, on Saturday 25th March. The organisation claims that austerity has bitten so deep into Greece’s fabric that lives are being lost as the country’s health service has reached the point of collapse. One article recently brought to our attention claims that “The country is rotting inside the EU and the eurozone. The Greek people have crashed economically. Greek cities, because of massive illegal immigration, look less like cities in Europe and more like cities in Afghanistan. Banks have begun the mass-confiscation of residences. The people are on the verge of revolt.

Of course, it is the Euro, one of the EU’s flagship policies, which has put Greece into its current straitjacket. Until recently, however, support for both the Euro and EU membership was remarkably strong. Almost two years ago, at the height of the last financial crisis, over 69% supported remaining within the Eurozone, with 56% wanting to keep the single currency even if it meant harsh austerity measures being imposed.

Such statistics act as a reality check to those of us in the UK whose dislike of the EU is so intense that we find it hard to figure out why other countries are not preparing to follow us out of the exit door.  We have never been keen on pooled sovereignty and for us, the EU’s “Ring of death” flag is a badge of shame. Across the Channel, things are viewed differently. Member states which suffered years of Soviet rule or military dictatorships view EU membership as a symbol break with a past they are all too keen to forget. While not all the EU’s leading lights are such gushing  federalists as the Belgian MEP and former Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt,  there are still plenty of enthusiasts for the project. For instance the Spanish MEP  Esteban González Pons who called Brexit “selfish”, claimed that the EU was the “only alternative” in an increasingly globalised world and expressed the hope that one day, we would one day “come home”  – re-join the EU in other words.

Such sentiment seems almost laughable given that others in the EU clearly view  Brexit as a great opportunity to press on with closer union now the pesky foot-dragging Brits are going their own way.  We will no doubt hear much about how wonderful the EU is during next weekend’s celebrations, but once the festivities are over, the leaders of EU-27 will have to look long and hard at Mr Juncker’s five options for the EU’s future and coming to a consensus isn’t gong to be easy. Geert Wilders may not have achieved the breakthrough for which he hoped, which in turn has made Marine le Pen’s already difficult path to the Elysée Palace even harder, but the EU has only won a short-term reprieve.  A big fireworks display in Rome cannot disguise the fact that it faces a serious identity crisis which it shows little sign of being able to resolve.

Photo by Christopher Lotito

A letter from our Chairman:- “How BBC was “nobbled” before our vote to join EEC.”

This letter appeared in the Derby Evening Telegraph on 2nd March 2017

Sir, The President and the Media

Saros Kavina is quite right that a free press and media are important to a free society. But President Trump has shown some discernment in excluding the BBC from his press conference.

What has emerged from the American election is that the media are composed of a collection of interest groups with their own agendas which they promote quite ruthlessly, bending the facts where it suits them.

As a long-serving independence campaigner, I would rate the BBC as amongst the worst offenders. Its part in manipulating public opinion in the Seventies in favour of entering the EEC was fully admitted in a Radio 4 programme “Letter to the Times” of 3rd February 2000. Contributors included Sir Edward Heath, Roy Hattersley and the Conservative marketing man, Geoffrey Tucker, who organised the campaign which brought the influential on side. Apart from the Daily Worker, every single national newspaper supported the European project.

This is what Tucker said.

We decided to pinpoint the “Today” programme on radio and followed right through the news programme during the day…. the television programmes “News at Ten”, “24 Hours” and “Panorama” and from radio “World at One “ and “Woman’s Hour”. Nobbling is the name of the game. Throughout the period of the campaign, there should be direct day by day communication between the key communicators and our personnel – e.g. Norman Reddaway at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Marshall Stewart of the “Today” programme. And in 1970 the “Today” programme was presented by Jack de Manio, who was terribly anti European. We protested privately about this. Ian Trethowan listened and de Manio was replaced.Ian Trethowan, a personal friend of Heath’s, was the BBC’s Director of Radio.”

So the BBC was under daily direction by the Foreign Office as to what it should say to British people, in the interests of a foreign organisation, the European Economic Community. Norman Reddaway went on to a knighthood and to be ambassador to Poland. BBC policy has remained unchanged ever since.

So, to Saros Kavina’s advocacy of the free media, I agree that it would be a good idea.

Yours faithfully

Edward Spalton

Donald Tusk (not Trump!) Reminds us why we voted to leave

We will not be providing you with a blow-by-blow commentary on the progress of the European Union (Notification of withdrawal) Bill as we believe that, in spite of opposition from the Lib Dems, the SNP, some Labour MPs and Ken Clarke, it will complete its passage through Parliament in time for Mrs May’s deadline of 9th March when the government will formally trigger Article 50.  There will be plenty of press coverage and analysis for people wanting to follow the Bill’s progress through both houses of Parliament but this website will confine itself occasional comment on the key moments of the Bill’s progress. We will also be monitoring which MPs support and which oppose the will of the people.

Of more immediate interest is a speech by Donald Tusk, the President of the  European Council, which provided a welcome reminder why we voted to leave. In order to understand where Mr Tusk is coming from, we need to remember that next month marks 60 years since the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which formally inaugurated what has become the European Union. Naturally, the EU wants to celebrate this milestone but we pesky Brits have already spoiled their party with Brexit and, to add insult to injury, the USA has voted for a president who, in the words of Ted Malloch, the new US ambassador to the EU, “doesn’t like an organisation that is supranational, that is unelected where the bureaucrats run amok and that is not frankly a proper democracy.”

So what was Mr Tusk’s response?  The answer is – guess what – More Europe! “We must therefore take assertive and spectacular steps that would change the collective emotions and revive the aspiration to raise European integration to the next level”, he said. Yes, he means further integration. Just to make sure no one could be in any doubt, he also added “If we do not believe in ourselves, in the deeper purpose of integration, why should anyone else? In Rome we should renew this declaration of faith.”

He did not go into much detail about how integration was to proceed, There was no mention of fiscal or monetary union within the Eurozone, although he did talk of “strengthening the foreign policy of the EU as a whole.” Brexit received only a very oblique mention when he claimed that “the disintegration of the European Union will not lead to the restoration of some mythical, full sovereignty of its member states, but to their real and factual dependence on the great superpowers: the United States, Russia and China. Only together can we be fully independent.”

Why could no EU member state be fully sovereign? On which superpower is New Zealand, with a population less than one eighth of Mr Tusk’s native Poland “really and factually” dependent? Or Australia, India, St Helena, South Africa or Morocco, to name a few countries at random.

There is a particular irony in this statement given that many EU member states are also members of NATO and have been accused, with good reason, by President Trump of being too dependent on the USA for their protection.

Tusk complained about “Russia’s aggressive policy towards Ukraine” without the slightest mention that the EU must take the blame for the current state of that country by fermenting opposition to a democratically-elected leader.

He also complained that, faced with “national egoism….becoming an attractive alternative to integration”, the pro-European élites (his own term, may I add) were suffering from “a decline of faith in political integration.”

In other words, it’s the same old message, underpinned with the belief that if it is repeated sufficiently, it will convince the doubters. Tusk’s political rival Jaroslaw Kaczynski, however, is unlikely to be impressed. The leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party has called not for more integration but for the very opposite- a new treaty which would return power to the member states. “The vision of the EU forced upon us by the Lisbon Treaty has failed”, he said.

Thinking back to this time last year, we will recall that David Cameron went to Brussels asking for something similar – a return of some power back to the UK. He came away with only a few crumbs which ultimately didn’t sway the voters and we wisely voted to leave.

Neither Poland nor fiercely EU-critical Hungary looks likely to follow us out of the door at the moment, but Mr Tusk’s words were those of a man who realises that supporters of the European project are on the back foot at the moment. Unfortunately for him, the determination he expressed to carry on ploughing the same old furrow is unlikely to address the growing disillusion with the project across a number of EU member states.

“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging” goes the old saying and there is much wisdom in it. Unfortunately, Mr Tusk and his friends in Brussels seem both unable and unwilling to turn their digger off.

Photo by Glueckstadt

Death of a parliamentary colleague

Death of a parliamentary colleague – Nigel Spearing

Nigel’s death comes at a turning point in our long and arduous campaign against UK membership of the EU. He was always a strong opponent of the ‘European Project’  to build a United States of Europe without first getting the approval of its peoples. He was one of the first Labour politicians to appreciate there could be no compromise with the Eurofanatics in the British Press and Parliament. The weakness of their arguments was finally exposed in the 2016 Referendum campaign. Until his final illness, Nigel was a stalwart of our long drawn out battle to save the country we loved from an ignominious future as an outpost of a superstate. His work for our cause over several decades, in and out of Parliament should be long remembered

Eric Deakins

Former Labour MP

1970 – 1987

Forgetting the lessons of the past

Oh dear. They never learn, do they?

Those Eurocrats over in Brussels think that they have hit on a clever new ploy to victimise Britain and punish us for having had the temerity to vote to Leave. After years of telling us that life outside the EU would be awful for Britain, they have now been forced by reality to admit that, actually, it is going to be pretty good. All those free trade deals that Liam Fox is busily chasing are going to be good for British business.

So now the EU has decided that when the rules of the EU say that a member state cannot agree to any trade deals due to the restrictive nature of the Customs Union, what it really means is that we cannot even talk about a free trade deal until after we have left.

What they hope to do is build in a time lag of a year or more between the UK leaving the Customs Union and any new trade deals coming into operation. That will hit the pesky Brits in the pocket and allow the Eurocrats to crow over our misfortune.

And they intend to follow that up by dragging their heels over a UK-EU trade deal. They will throw obstacles into the path of British trade to the EU. More punishment for the UK.

But they forget that this has been tried before. And it did not end well for the European Empire that tried it.

Back in 1806 the Emperor of the French, Napoleon Bonaparte, ruled most of Europe. France itself extended deep into what are now Italy and Germany, while his family and acolytes sat on thrones in Italy, Germany, Poland and Scandinavia. Only Britain stood defiant. After the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 Napoleon had no chance of an armed invasion of Britain. He was stymied.

Then he had an idea. He called it “The Continental System”.

Under this masterful plan all contact between Britain and the European Continent would be cut off. Not even the mail would be allowed through. All trade would grind to a halt. Britain would be economically prostrate. She would be bankrupt in a matter of months and forced to surrender. Napoleon issued his orders. The ports were closed to British ships, no ships could sail for Britain. Every country in Europe was bullied into joining the Continental System.

All except one: Portugal. Portugal is Britain’s oldest ally and had important trade links to Britain. So in 1808 Napoleon invaded Portugal. To do so he had to march through Spain, and so invaded Spain as well. The Portuguese asked for British help. The British sent an army under Wellington and so began the Peninsular War that would drain France of men and money.

Meanwhile, the Russian economy was tottering toward collapse without British trade and British investments. The Tsar of Russia lifted the embargo and began trading with Britain again. So in 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia, a campaign that destroyed his own army. With the threat of Napoleon’s army gone, more and more countries opened up to trade with Britain. They had been suffering economically and unemployment was rising.

In any case the French economy itself was crumbling. The tax take was nose-diving and Napoleon’s government was facing bankruptcy. Napoleon could no longer keep a large army in the field. He was defeated and exiled to Elba. His attempt to return to power was crushed at Waterloo. He ended his days a prisoner of the British on the remote island of St Helena

As for Britain, how had she fared while Europe suffered massive economic dislocation and bankruptcy? Well, British trade with Europe fell by 55% between 1806 and 1808, and did not recover for years. However, the British had the open sea to take advantage of, and they did. British ships had to take British goods further, but they found eager customers.

Britain ended up more prosperous after the Continental System than before.

If only the Eurocrats bothered to read their history they could save themselves a lot of trouble.

Photo by pijpers662

The Australian High Commissioner backs Brexit

The original article appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 17th December

Australia is backing Brexit Britain all the way – ALEXANDER DOWNER

As the UK leaves the EU, our two nations will grow close again to promote our shared values and interests. I am not the first member of my family to serve as Australian High Commissioner to the UK.

My father held the position between 1964 and 1972. You will understand the significance of that period. For the past few years of his posting my father argued, sometimes acrimoniously, with the British government about the damage the UK’s terms of accession to the EEC – as it was then called – would do to Australia.

Over four decades later I am talking somewhat more amiably with Whitehall about the consequences for Australia of Britain’s departure from the EU. So there you have it. Britain’s adventure in the EU has been bookended by the Downer family. Let’s be frank. (We Australians do frank quite well.) My father’s generation was deeply hostile to Britain abandoning those Commonwealth countries which had stood by her in her darkest hour. In two world wars, New Zealand, Australia and Canada – with India, South Africa and other members of the then Empire – sent thousands upon thousands of troops, airmen and sailors to help save Britain from the Germans. And during the Second World War, following the fall of Hong Kong and Singapore in 1941, we Australians also had to deal with the Japanese on our doorstep.

Despite this sacrifice, the attitude of the Heath government in the Seventies was “So what?” Government is about the national interest, not emotion. Britain had to make its future in Europe and we could make our futures somewhere else. So our dairy, horticultural, beef and lamb exports were largely replaced by imports from the EU and our citizens were sent to the “Others” queue at Heathrow. Doug Anthony, the then deputy prime  minister, was so incensed that he abandoned his lifelong support for the Queen in Australia and joined the republican movement.

As for my father, he finished his term in London three months before the Act of Accession came into force. He left London a sad man. I remember standing with him at the Menin Gate looking at the thousands of Australian names inscribed there. With tears in his eyes he denounced Roy Jenkins for saying he had no time for kith and kin politics. For my generation of Australians, it’s different. We haven’t had the wartime experiences of our parents and grandparents. Britain long ago withdrew from what was called East of Suez and while we and the Americans fought communism in South-East Asia, after the Sixties Britain largely abandoned that task. Britain threw its lot in with Europe.

I was the Australian foreign minister for nearly 12 years. Not once in that period did a British foreign secretary visit Australia. But instead of sulking, we’ve been forging new markets in Asia and North America. It’s been hard going but we’ve stuck at it, securing free trade agreements with the US, the major economies of north Asia including China and with much of South East Asia. I can immodestly say we’ve done well. Politically, we’ve built fruitful relations with the Asean countries, we’ve forged strong ties with China, Japan and Korea and are building a multidimensional and vibrant relationship with
India.

Yet clever foreign policymakers know that in the era of globalisation, significant countries like Australia and the UK have global interests, not just regional interests. And in recent years our relationship has started to flourish again. Both of us have realised we can help each other, whether it’s militarily in Afghanistan or politically in institutions like the UN. We think alike on most of the great issues facing the world so it makes sense to reinforce each other when we can.

Now the world has changed again. The British people have voted to leave the EU. Had he lived until June 23 2016, my father would have been so pleased. An emotional man, tears would have come to his eyes. His son is something else. I do have a heart, of course. But my head said that Britain’s departure from the EU would damage the EU: it would blow a hole in the EU’s budget and the EU would lose a member with substantial strategic reach and awesome soft power. And that would not be in Australia’s interests, which are best served by a strong UK and a strong EU.

Nevertheless, once decisions are made, it is better to look to the future. So for our part, we are encouraging the UK and the EU quickly to establish a new, mutually beneficial relationship that sustains the economies and global influence of both. We are also keen to strike a free-trade agreement with the UK. That shouldn’t be too hard to do because we are like-minded free traders who know that protectionism makes people poorer and costs jobs.

Finally, we have another hope: that Britain will continue to recognise it is a global power with global responsibilities, not just a regional player. If it does so, this will mean Australia and the UK finding yet more ways to work together to promote the values and objectives we share. We’ll never recreate the era my father mourned, nor should we aspire to; but we should be able to do something special all the same.