Mrs May keeps us guessing

It would have been a futile exercise to report every twist and turn in the recent debate about “hard” and “soft” Brexit. Far better to wait and see what Mrs May and her collegaues actually plan to do.

Yesterday, we were given some inkling as to her future plans, although it didn’t amount to as much detail as many would have liked.

There were, however, some encouragements in other areas. She made it quite clear that there was to be no second referendum and that those who wanted to challenge the result needed to wake up and smell the coffee:- “But come on.  The referendum result was clear.  It was legitimate.  It was the biggest vote for change this country has ever known.  Brexit means Brexit – and we’re going to make a success of it.”

This has been one of Mrs May’s stock phrases since taking office.  Yesterday, we came a little nearer to knowing what it actually meant. “There will be no unnecessary delays in invoking Article 50.  We will invoke it when we are ready.  And we will be ready soon.  We will invoke Article 50 no later than the end of March next year.” Fair enough. This is a confirmation of what had widely been expected. Thankfully, business will have less than six more months of uncertainty, for as well as a date being set, it is looks likely that by then, our exit route will have been determined.

But what will that route be? We were told what it would not be:- “It is not going to a “Norway model”. It’s not going to be a “Switzerland model”.  It is going to be an agreement between an independent, sovereign United Kingdom and the European Union.” Furthermore, alongside repealing the 1972 Accession Treaty, she intends to convert the Acquis into UK law when the Article 50 period is complete, so the WTO route looks to be off the table too.

So what does that leave us with? How is she planning to square the circle between trade and immigration control? There was not a great deal of detail:- “I know some people ask about the “trade-off” between controlling immigration and trading with Europe.  But that is the wrong way of looking at things.  We have voted to leave the European Union and become a fully-independent, sovereign country.  We will do what independent, sovereign countries do.  We will decide for ourselves how we control immigration. And we will be free to pass our own laws.”

On the one hand, she was quite clear that some restriction of freedom of movement will have to be part of any deal:- “We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration again” yet at the same time she insisted, “I want it to give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate in the Single Market – and let European businesses do the same here.

Still a bit opaque. The Liechtenstein compromise would fit all the criteria she listed. Another possibility would be the Australian model. In 1997, Australia’s government signed a joint declaration on EU-Australian relations, followed two years later by a Mutual Recognition Agreement. The UK could do likewise, or make a unilateral declaration, up to and including a commitment to full regulatory harmonisation. There don’t seem to be many other choices.

Mrs May is deliberately not giving too much away on the negotiating tactics, but she didn’t mince her words about the irreconcilable Remainiacs:- “When it legislated to establish the referendum, Parliament put the decision to leave or remain inside the EU in the hands of the people.  And the people gave their answer with emphatic clarity.  So now it is up to the Government not to question, quibble or backslide on what we have been instructed to do, but to get on with the job.

Because those people who argue that Article Fifty can only be triggered after agreement in both Houses of Parliament are not standing up for democracy, they’re trying to subvert it.  They’re not trying to get Brexit right, they’re trying to kill it by delaying it.  They are insulting the intelligence of the British people.”

In summary,  there were some good things in the speech and not a lot to cause major concern, although Richard North takes the PM to task for claiming we would make our own decisions about how our food is labelled, as those regulations originate with the World Trade Organisation, to which (presumably) she would still wish us to belong. That apart, it was a speech which certainly did not deserve the put-down in the Daily Mirror, suggesting that Mrs May was a prisoner of “ideological Tories who get out of bed every morning to wind back the clock to a bygone age.”  Such garbage is typical of those people who do not accept that it is the EU which is a relic of a bygone age. On the contrary, Mrs May wasn’t anyone’s prisoner. She was spelling out her own positive vision for our future in that speech. The Sun called her a “capable PM we  can be proud of.”  Well, she is continuing to wn over the doubters and  you could sense her genuine enthusiasm as she talked about her “ambitious vision” for post-Brexit UK and it’s good that she isn’t letting herself be rushed, but a little bit more detail about how we  are going to get there would be welcome.  Hopefully , we won’t have too long to wait.

Another headache for the EU

Concerns about the EU’s cherished principle of free movement of people is not only confined to the UK. Non-EU Switzerland voted to restrict migration from the EU in a referendum in 2014.

The EU was not happy with the result and has threatened to rescind the bilateral treaties which govern its relationship with Switzerland. but the Swiss have not backed down.   The deadline for an agreement is February next year. The treaties, which cover everything from agriculture to civil aviation and the free movement of people, contain a “guillotine” clause that would nullify all if one is struck down.

Talks are continuing to avoid this impasse.  EU diplomats reacted positively to a proposal to give Swiss job seekers an advantage over foreigners, but many obstacles still stand in the way of an agreement.

Switzerland has less flexibility in restricting migration than the non-EU members of the EEA. Liechtenstein has exercised its freedom to restrict migration. Switzerland will find it a lot harder to obtain concessions form the EU, as free movement of people is a cornerstone of the EU-Switzerland deal, as Swissinfo explains.

With the 27 other EU member states meeting for something of a crisis meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia, the scale of the EU’s problems is being laid bare.  Even within the EU, the Dutch are calling for an “emergency brake” on immigration. The former Soviet bloc countries are not so keen. Another idea being floated around is a distinction between free movement of workers and free movement of people, but some senior figures within the EU are none too happy about this idea. Come what may, however, it is apparent that both within and without the EU, the thorny issue of immigration is not going to vanish frm the headlines any time soon.

Brexit – the mood at grassroots level eight weeks on

Away from the debate between politicians, businessmen and campaigners  about the best exit route, eight weeks after the memorable result of June’s referendum, life for ordinary people has settled down remarkably quickly.

In fact, it soon became apparent within a matter of days after June 23rd that life was carrying on as normal for much of the country. I recall a trip to London during the final week of June.  Walking down the south bank of the Thames, it struck me how little effect the referendum result  was having on day to day life. A long queue of people of all nationalities were waiting to buy tickets to the London Eye and the restaurants were full – in fact, my train home was even fuller! In short, you wouldn’t have thought we had just taken a major political decision only a few days ago.

Initial statistics suggest that life did indeed carry on much as normal during the first full month after the Brexit vote.  The number of people claiming unemployment related benefits fell by 8,600 in July. It had been expected to rise by around 9,000. The fall was the first since February this year. Other data showed that the employment rate in the UK reached a record high of 74.5% between April and June this year. Retail sales also grew by 1.4% during the month. The vote to leave the EU has not deterred people from spending money.  Furthermore, for all the uncertainly generated by David Cameron’s decision to call the referendum, London attracted more venture capital for start-ups than other major European cities. According to an article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, it attracted €1.5bn in the first half of the year, well ahead of its nearest rivals Stockholm (€1bn), Paris (€674m), and Berlin (€520m).

Significantly. although the rate of UK consumer price inflation jumped to 0.6% in the year to July followin the Brexit vote, it was only slightly up on the 0.5% recorded in March and still well below the 1% threshold which triggers a letter from the governor of the Bank of England to the Chancellor explaining why inflation is so far below the 2% target!

BBC Radio 4 broadcast an interesting programme on Wednesday Evening where two groups of people from the most pro-leave and the most pro-remain areas of the UK met in separate rooms to discuss their feelings following the Brexit vote. Two Rooms, hosted by Fi Glover,  was another fascinating insight into how quickly life has settled down. The leavers, from Boston, Lincolnshire, were the more optimistic of the two groups, expressing great hopes especially for the UK’s trade prospects. The remainers, from Brixton in South London, talked of their shock when the result was announced. They were concerned about possible loss of access to the single market and expected an economic downturn.

Both groups,  however, accepted the result. Indeed, one person used the phrase “now we’ve left”, even though we haven’t even invoked Article 50 let alone come out the other end! Interestingly, both groups saw Brexit as a long overdue opportunity to re-boot our democracy and to decentralise power to a local level. For all the initial horror of some Brixtonian remainers, there were no calls for a second referendum. They may not have wanted a leave vote, but Brexit as far as they were concrned means Brexit.

Such attitudes at the grassroots level should not come as a shock. For four month’s David Cameron’s decison to call the referendum  thrust the issue of EU membership into a prominence it had never previously enjoyed.  A year ago, just before the General election, a survey by YouGov placed “Europe” as far down as 7th in its list of voters’ priority issues, well behind housing, welfare and health. Anyone who has ever stood as a UKIP candidate will have known the frustration that in general elections, the EU was never widely viewed as the most important factor in determining how people would vote.  After its moment in the spotlight, it is therefore unsurpisingly again receding into the background.

But not totally. News that over a million Eastern European migrants are now working in the UK will have served as a reminder to some people why they voted to leave, while the Daily Express has unearthed another story which will raise plenty of hackles:- a German-based agency called medaltracker.eu whose data is used by offical EU websites, has published a chart showing that the greatest number of medals in the Rio Olympics has been won by the EU! Nowhere is the UK to  be seen, which is  particularly galling considering the tremendous performances by Team GB. It seems that the Brexit vote has done nothing to change the mindset of the EU élite who opened a museum four years ago costing £44 million and called the “House of European History” which calls the Second World War a “civil war“, in spite of quite a bit of the action taking place in North Africa and the Far East

While it seems impossible to change this very selective and bizarre interpretation of history, hopefully, if our government and Civil Service can get their act together, by the time the 2020 Olympics begin in Tokyo, “now we’ve left” really will mean “now we’ve left” and the likes of Medaltracker will not be able to repeat their insult to our heroic athletes.

 

 

An opportunity to correct an historic mistake on 23rd June – a letter from our President to the Leicester Mercury

Married with a son and daughter plus three granddaughters, I have lived in Leicester for 20 years. I am not a member of any political party, now aged 81, having worked in engineering manufacturing for 51 years watching our heavy engineering virtually disappear and our fishing fleet destroyed by the EU.

I organised demonstrations to close down the EU-inspired East Midlands Regional Assembly and also had the EU flag taken down because it was being flown illegally above the main entrance to the Town Hall. In 2000 under Magna Carta I organised and, with the help of Groby voters, won hands down a Parish Poll to save the pound against the euro. For good measure, under the ancient law of Misprision, I laid evidence of alleged treason against Tony Blair at Leicester Magistrates Court which the Bench felt they couldn’t handle although I had done my duty as a citizen in making a detailed report.

I spent 10 with Leicester Jazz Society voluntarily promoting concerts and a jazz festival in the city, plus two years trying to establish St George’s Day celebrations in Castle Gardens. Now I spend my spare time on three NHS-related committees locally, plus organising Head & Neck Cancer Support Group meetings monthly at Coping with Cancer at Helen Webb House, Westleigh Road, Leicester. Having survived major cancer surgery to my head five years ago I am now used during the final exams at the Royal Infirmary for trainee doctors and those wishing to become Consultants

Around the age of 17 in 1951, I followed my father into a large engineering factory. There was little problem trading with and travelling around the continent before we were drawn into the Common Market. Becoming married and a father I became suspicious that we were not being told the truth about joining the EEC so I sat in the Commons the night we joined by a slender majority of 8 votes obtained by the withholding of crucial information from MPs about the terms of entry and a legal warning from Lord Kilmuir about the surrender of sovereignty hidden for 30 years. (see video film of former Labour MP Nigel Spearing on MPs being asked to sign a blank cheque)

At the stroke of midnight 1st January 1972 we turned our backs on and discriminated against our Commonwealth friends. We had to cancel duty free and other food contracts with those countries to enter the higher cost food market of the EEC without any thought to the major impact upon the economies of those countries who had historical and multicultural links with us. As Barbara Castle of the Labour party put it “This is the new internationalism, selected relationships dictated and controlled by a powerful European bloc. What kind of internationalism is it that henceforth this country gives priority to a Frenchman over an Indian, a German over an Australian and an Italian over a Malaysian”?

Since then I have campaigned to reclaim the sovereignty of our Parliament and Courts to make our own laws and regain the freedom to trade globally within and outside an ailing crisis-ridden EU of rising unemployment and social unrest

There are three issues and many more that worry me should we remain in the EU.

  1. The British public want truth and calm debate, not hysterical crystal ball predictions and threats bombarding us from the remain side. We began to distrust long ago politicians fobbing us off as though the British public are fools such as the time then Minister for Europe Keith Vaz claimed that the European new Charter of Fundamental Rights “would have no greater legal standing than a copy of the Beano”. Peter Hain said of the EU’s draft Constitution for Europe, the forerunner of the Lisbon Treaty setting the EU’s course for the next 50 years that it was, “a mere tidying up exercise”. We are getting bad tempered insults, mud-slinging with an eye to winning the next general election. The Labour party is as bad as the Conservative. It is the scratching of infected scabs left by long standing party conflicts.

  1. I owe my life to the NHS. I fear that the TTIP trade treaty being negotiated in secret between America and the EU will bring the full weight of privatisation, pharmaceutical, insurance, financial investment companies and legal professionals to fall upon the NHS. David Cameron says the NHS will be exempt. I do not trust him.

  1. The biggest concern is uncontrolled immigration. We need controlled immigration. Our history is built upon immigration over centuries. Our culture evolves over time if newcomers integrate gradually rather than bringing the problems of their own countries with them. We need to leave the EU and elect a Parliament to begin to get to grips to find the right balance between the types of skills and labour that are needed matched with the adequate provision of homes, schools, hospitals, transport systems and the many services that are required to avoid social tensions and civic unrest. It ought to be made known that economic immigrants on arrival should not expect to take or be given priority over UK residents. Joining the EEC required us not to set any limits on immigration from within the Community. Although Turkey is expected to join according to our government’s policy, on top of those arriving from other EU countries, 100,000 would be expected to arrive every year from Turkey. This is the estimate given by Lord Green to the Migration & Asylum Select Committee on 7th June based on the pattern from east European of known arrivals Our towns and cities are becoming overcrowded and air polluted whilst our countryside is coming under increased pressure with new urban sprawls

The evidence of uncontrolled immigration is perfectly clear to those who live, travel and work in cities, to those who want their children placed in schools, to those who want GP appointments and to those who want hospital treatment.

The Office of National Statistics state that at the time of my birth in 1935 the UK had a population of 46,870,000. It is now 65,089,427 with a projected increase to 74.3 million in 2039.

My wife’s parents were invited and came to the UK from the West Indies in early 1960s. Caribbean immigrants were needed to fill job vacancies because we had to cope with the loss of people killed in the second world war (326,000 military and 62,000 civilian deaths) who would have provided more children had they lived. Those immigrants arrived and came speaking the English language, wearing western dress and bringing Christianity as my wife reminds me. They had a rough time but in reasonable numbers integrated over time. We have never before known the scale and different cultures and different languages we have arriving now in the UK. We are told we need immigrants to counter an ageing UK population. This is perfectly true when a balance can and should be created and managed once we leave the EU. Sad to say our UK population is on average ageing as many women need or decide to work longer before couples can afford or want to start families. We should not raid the skills and labour especially for medical staff needed by the remaining populations in poorer countries. It is wrong morally to recruit doctors and nurses as a cheaper and short term alternative to spending money and time to train our own youngsters

I liken the EU to a lorry without insurance and MOT certificates travelling on worn tyres and defective brakes driven by under-qualified drivers along rocky roads to a destination signposted “Ever Closer Control”. David Cameron says he changed the signpost from “Ever Closer Union” but yet again, I do not trust him.

I trust the common sense and instincts of the British people to have the confidence to vote Leave to be governed in future by our Parliament by MPs we elect and not to be governed by unelected Commissioners we cannot get rid of.

Upon leaving the EU we would save billions of pounds. It is just not the money that we transfer directly to the EU but the even greater amount of money which burdensome regulations cost the UK economy. How much better when we are spending our hard earned money on our own needs and making laws and regulations to suit our own country and people. A brighter future beckons when we leave and take control.

George West

UK statistics authority – hopefully staying far more neutral than the Treasury

This article first appeared in BBC News. After the recent flawed Brexit report from HM Treasury, it is encouraging to hear that at least one public body, albeit one which operates independently of the Government, intends to maintain neutrality.

The statistics watchdog has vowed to resist any political pressure over the release of migration statistics in the run-up to June’s EU referendum.

Details of the number of EU migrants paying tax and claiming benefits in the UK will be published next month.

Sir Andrew Dilnot, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, told MPs that any interference in the process from any source would be “just inappropriate”.

But MPs suggested officials didn’t have a full picture of migration levels.

Giving evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee, Sir Andrew was questioned about statistics used by the Leave and Remain campaigns during the campaign so far.

He said it was “legitimate” for the Remain campaign to say that 3.3 million jobs were linked to trade with the EU but it would not be fair to say they were directly connected to the EU membership and to claim they would disappear if the UK voted to leave.

Sir Andrew said Leave campaigners were entitled to cite the £19.1bn figure for the UK’s gross annual contribution to the EU budget but he was concerned that by stating that the UK could save £350m a week by leaving the EU, this “could be interpreted as implying that the gross figure was, in fact, a net figure” – ignoring the rebate and funds which flow from the EU to the UK.

Sir Andrew, a former director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, was asked by several MPs about the move to release data on the number of National Insurance numbers actively used by EU citizens in the run-up to the EU referendum on 23 June.

Eurosceptic MPs have long sought more information about this, arguing official figures on inward migration from the EU based on the International Passenger Survey (IPS) underestimate the true numbers.

Sir Andrew told MPs that while it was already known how many NI numbers were issued, it was not known how long recipients were staying in the country afterwards and whether they entered the country with the specific purpose of registering for tax and benefits or whether they were already here.

“It is conceivable the work being done will show the Nino (National Insurance numbers) and IPS numbers are consistent with one another but measuring something different,” he said. “It is conceivable that they will not show that… and we will make a judgement about we think about their quality.”

Asked by Leave campaigner Kate Hoey whether he had been subject to any pressure from Downing Street or elsewhere in government about the information, Sir Andrew said no.

Asked what would happen if he was, he replied: “If anyone was to put pressure on us they would receive the response that that is just inappropriate and if they continued I would ring the chair (of the committee).”

Eurosceptic MPs have been pushing for information about the number of EU nationals who have paid income tax and NI and received benefits over the last year to be published, as well as information about the nationalities of new NI applicants over the past four years.

They say details of National Insurance numbers – which are issued to those entitled to study or work to help pay tax and benefits – being actively used will shed more light on the current impact of EU migration on the UK labour market.

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics suggested that 257,000 EU migrants came to the UK between September 2014 and September 2015. But other figures for the same period show 630,000 National Insurance numbers were allocated to EU nationals, up 7% on the year before. Of these, 209,000 were from Bulgaria and Romania.

Former Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillan questioned whether any figures would show the true scale of immigration into the UK.

“We are really not in control of this. We really don’t have the information about who is coming in, who is working, who is staying and who is leaving…and we don’t have the knowledge with which to work.”

Schengen’s flaws are challenging the EU project as never before

The EU has traditionally excelled at using crises for its own ends  – in other words, to further integration. The flawed €uro project, which set interest rates for the benefit of Germany but not the Medterranean nations, is a classic example. The tragic recessions in Greece, Spain and elsewhere have provided the impetus for another treaty designed to surrender fiscal sovereignty of the €urozone member states and thus move an EU inner core closer to becoming a federal superstate. Even though treaty plans currently seem to be dormant, they are still on the longer-term agenda.

The flood of refugees into Europe, however, is proving challenging, not only in and of itself but also as far as turning it into a beneficial crisis is concerned. Member states are unilaterally reimposing border controls – in other words, pushing back the integration process. There is provision under the Schengen agreement for a temporal reimposition of borders in the event of an emergency, so putting back border controls isn’t necessarily breaking the rules,  but the migrant crisis has struck deeper into the heart of the European project than anything else for many years.

You can now find articles disussing the possiblility of ending the Schengen agreement altogether. The writer of the article in the link, like others, says that the implications of such a move for the whole EU project would be immense.  He does go on to say, however, that it probably won’t happen

For such optimists, a report by Frontex, the European Union’s border agency, will not make happy reading.  Frontex officials warned a that ‘staggering’ number of European citizens had become jihadists and were taking advantage of lax border controls. The organisation also stated that it had no idea how many illegal immigrants had entered the EU.

So far, concerns over these issues – or indeed, the aftermath  of the Brussels bombings – have not shifted poblic opinion in the UK towards withdrawal.  While most of those for whom migration is an issue are firmly on-side already, one might have expected the desire to distance ourselves from terrorists on the Continent to have helped some wavering voters make their minds up.

What may help provide a more favourable backdrop for the debate is the growing disillusion with the whole European project elsewhere. It’s not just open borders and immigration. Today the Dutch are holding a referendum  on a proposed pact betwen the EU and Ukraine, which is viewed by both sides as a prelimiary move towards Ukrainian membership. Expansion fatigue has been a factor in many older EU countries for many years, but without further expansion on the horizon to encourage the masses that the EU is marching ever forward, the threat of stagnation – and indeed of implosion – of the EU increases. The referendum is non-binding, but a “no” vote will send another powerful signal  to Brussels that disillusion with le grand projet is not confined to the UK.

The debate in this country appears to have moved on from the days when we were told that a UK withdrawal could see the whole EU project undermined. This is a shame as it can be so easily countered. The EU is already showing signs of fracture and UK withdrawal could prove the best way to achieve a peaceful dismemberment, rather than the disorderly collapses that has brought to an end many multinational entities from the Roman Empire through to the Soviet Union.

In other words, if the UK votes to withdraw from the EU, to quote William Pitt, “England has saved herself by her exertions and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example”