A Brexit that will work for nobody

“Brexit means Brexit,” Theresa May famously said on a number of occasions last year, “And I intend it to work for everybody.”  With the half-way point between the referendum vote and Brexit day looming next month, current pronouncements from the Government suggest that on the contrary, we could end up with a Brexit that works for no one.

Our fishermen have good reason to be worried. Unless the Fisheries Regulation 1380/2013 is exempted from the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – and there is no sign that this is the Government’s plan – we will end up leaving the Common Fisheries Policy only to revert to what is in effect a shadow CFP, including all the access arrangements which would continue to give away our nation’s resource to the EU. Last week, when asked about fisheries, the Prime Minister said,

“When we leave the European Union, we will be leaving the common fisheries policy. As part of the agreement that we need to enter into for the implementation period, obviously that and other issues will be part of that agreement.”.

While this “implementation period” may exist only in Mrs May’s imagination, she should instead have given an unequivocal statement that upon Brexit, we will not only immediately take full control of our Exclusive Economic Zone, but will not be running it on a quota basis.

At least as far as fisheries is concerned, there is hope that ultimately it will be Michael Gove who determines post-Brexit policy. He has shown himself sympathetic to the plight of our fishermen and his mention of John Ashworth in person during a fringe meeting at the Tory Party Conference is a recognition that the fishing community is running a well-organised campaign that not going to take no for an answer.

Another area of concern is the reluctance of this government to disentangle ourselves from the EU’s military machine. Our friends in Veterans for Britain  were understandably critical of the Government’s recent  “future partnership” paper on defence, which would limit our independence. They also do not want to see is tied in to PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation) a key factor in the EU’s military ambitions to create a defence union. It appears from an earlier briefing put out by VfB that many MPs are still in the dark about the very limited military autonomy with which government ministers plan to allow us. This is unacceptable. As an independent country, our political objectives will inevitably diverge from those of the EU. We will no longer be interested in its empire building in the Balkans or among the former soviet republics. Our defence policy must be disentangled from that of the EU before we leave. If Mrs May is planning a reshuffle, as is widely being rumoured, the appointment of a genuine Brexiteer to  replace the most unsatisfactory Micharl Fallon as Defence Secretary would be a very good move.

We also need to make a clean break with the EU on criminal justice matters.  Torquil Dick-Erikson has raised the issue of the European Arrest Warrant on this website before. We agree with him that it is totally unacceptable for the Government to keep us as a signatory to the EAW and to be a member of Europol. More than that, Torquil has pointed out that the Government has also declared its willingness to allow “special intervention units” from the EU to set foot on British soil, and under a smokescreen of “ensuring security.”

In these three areas – fishing, defence and criminal justice, Brexit must be as “hard” as possible and the Government’s shortcomings will be highlighted over and over again on this website until there is a change of heart. This is not the Brexit we voted for.  As last year’s Vote.Leave slogan said so graphically, it was all about “taking back control”. If our fishing grounds are shared with the EU, our defence is bound up with that of the EU and EU judges still have the power to haul us off to any one of 27 member countries on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations, we are not in control at all.

What is more, these issues must not be swept under the carpet while all the media focus being on trade talks – or rather, the lack of trade talks. Thankfully, as far as trade is concerned, a number of senior figures from industry, supported by a small but growing number of MPs are expressing their concern that the “No deal is better than a bad deal” mantra is unrealistic and dangerous. Leaving the EU without a deal would be a calamity for our economy, even though one recent opinion poll suggested that as many as 74% of voters would prefer this to a supposed “bad deal”. Do they realise that planes would be unable to fly? That the M20 in Kent would be turned into a lorry park overnight?

Of course, it is possible that the Government is engaging in brinkmanship to try to twist the EU’s arm and get it to start trade talks before the three contentious issues of the Irish border, the “divorce bill” and the rights of EU citizens have been agreed, but it is a high-risk strategy and one that looks unlikely to succeed. It is based on a long-standing failure to perceive that the EU is first and foremost a political project, not a trading bloc.

This mistaken perception of the EU’s nature suggests that the transitional arrangement mentioned recently by Mrs May (where we would be able to trade seamlessly with the EU after Brexit in return for being subject to most of the EU’s rules and policed by the European Court of Justice) is mercifully a non-starter.  It is an unsatisfactory pick-and-mix deal which violates the EU’s political integrity while being an extremely bad arrangement for the UK. It remains a mystery why the EEA/EFTA option is still being ruled out of court by all senior government figures when something far worse is being publicly advocated instead.

While no sane person would disagree with the statement by David Davis that Brexit is “the most complex peacetime operation in our history”, it is now nearly 14 months since the referendum vote and we do not yet have any indication that the Government has come up with a strategy which will deliver a satisfactory break with the EU.  Thanks to David Cameron’s ban on allowing the Civil Service to work on any Brexit plan before the  referendum, the Government and Whitehall have found themselves on a sharp learning curve, but some campaigners, such as John Ashworth have been active for 20 years or more and have considerable knowledge their specialist subjects. Why are their recommendations not being adopted? Why, after all this time, is the government still seemingly confused about the difference between the Customs Union and customs clearance agreements? Why has the defence integration continued since the Brexit vote without any consultation with the military, who actually understand the issues?

It does not help when anyone who dares to stick their heads above the parapet and suggest that we are heading for a disaster is labelled a “traitor” – as was the case with Philip Hammond last week. Of course, Mr Hammond supported remain during the referendum and some ardent Brexiteers refuse to believe that anyone who did not campaign for Brexit can possibly be genuinely committed to making it happen, in spite of our own soundings which suggested that most MPs, whatever side they took in the referendum campaign, have accepted the result and will not seek to be obstructive over Brexit. More worryingly, a veteran leave supporter like Christopher Booker, whose pro-Brexit credentials are impeccable, has been tarred with the same brush for expressing concern about the direction of Brexit talks. What is the point in saying things are looking good when there is every evidence that they are not?

There are two very big worries which force concerned Brexiteers like Mr Booker – and indeed, your author – to stick to their guns. The first is that a calamitous Brexit would be grist to the mill of the hard-core remainiacs who have never accepted the result of last year’s referendum. A spike in unemployment and inflation coupled with possible food shortages would lead to calls for us to start negotiations to re-join the EU, even though we would lose our opt-outs on the €uro and Schengen along with the Fontainebleau rebate won for us by Mrs Thatcher. This would be a disaster.

Secondly, it would lead to unprecedented political upheaval. Less than a year ago, some Conservatives were convinced not just that Jeremy Corbyn was unelectable but that the Labour Party was in its death throes. Last June’s election was a rude awakening for the Tories, proving their optimism to be very wide of the mark. The mood at the Party conference was apparently very sombre indeed.

There is good reason for this, as today’s young people in particular are far more likely to support Labour than the Tories, suggesting that far from Corbyn being unelectable, he is likely to become Prime Minister in 2022, bringing with him a team of MPs who are in the main, even more reluctant Brexiteers than the Tories. The best way  – indeed, probably the only way – of avoiding this is for the Tories to deliver a successful Brexit. Analysis of voter intentions suggest that the most popular reason why voters opted for the Conservatives last June was a conviction that they would deliver on Brexit. To betray the voters’ trust  would not just hand over the keys of No. 10 Downing Street to Jeremy Corbyn in 2022; it would produce the biggest crisis in the Conservative Party since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846.

As  Anthony Scholefield, a CIB Committee member, pointed out in his 2011 critique of Cameronism, “Too ‘nice’ to be Tories – how the modernisers have damaged the Conservative party“,  attempts by the Tory leadership since 2005 to reach out to urban touchy-feely politically correct types have served rather to alienate many traditional supporters. As I argued a few years ago, there are plenty of people who genuinely want to vote for what Mrs May famously called a “nasty” party. I was wrong in predicting that Cameron wouldn’t win the 2015 election, but he only won it because he was forced to give in to the mounting pressure within his party to hold a referendum on our membership of the EU. It was the EU issue which also saved Mrs May’s bacon two years later. Given that a good few Tory voters (and indeed activists) still remain most uncomfortable about this move to the supposed centre ground since Cameron became leader, I believe that nothing else can save the Conservatives from calamity in 2022 except a smooth, well-managed and complete Brexit that will enable our businesses to keep trading while at the same time revitalising our fishing industry and freeing us from the clutches of the EU’s military and the EAW.

To put it another way, the Tories have a long list of EU-related sins for which they need to repent collectively, going back to the deceit of Edward Heath in the 1970s. This is their one and only opportunity to make atonement. They created the mess; it is poetic justice that they are being saddled with the task of getting us out of it. If they succeed, the country can move on after over 40 years in our unhappy relationship with Brussels and the party need never again “bang on about Europe”.  If they fail, our country may well end up marking the centenary of the resignation in 1922 of David Lloyd George, the last ever Liberal Prime Minister,  with the resignation of the last ever Conservative Premier. It really is as serious as that

 

Trying to change the way we think

This excellent piece by Christopher Booker has also been published in Derek Bennett’s Euro Realist newsletter and is reproduced with permission 

It can be downloaded as a pdf here

The metric system – love it or loathe it, this is the strange story of how it was imposed on Britain over several decades, by stealth, deception and downright lies.

In recent days, as television news has brought us non-stop reporting on the terrible floods, we have yet again seen evidence of one of the odder things to have happened to Britain in our lifetime. An official of the Environment Agency tells us that some river has burst its banks because it has risen by ‘5.2 metres’, only for a shocked local to tell us that it is ’17 feet higher than normal’.

Some hapless BBC reporter interviewing a flood victim outside his house solemnly informs us that the water is ‘300 millimetres deep’. But only when the homeowner tells us ‘it’s a foot deep in our living
room’ do most of us have an idea of what they are talking about.

What this illustrates us how we now have side by side two quite different systems of weights and measures in this country – one invariably used by government officials and the BBC, the other still used by millions of people because, for most everyday purposes, it seems to be much more sensible and easily comprehensible.

And part of the reason why so many of us now live in two different worlds like this, on something which touches almost every aspect of our lives, lies in a strange saga which has never been properly told.

In the year just ending, anniversaries of glorious events in our island story have come thick and fast – Magna Carta 1215, Agincourt 1415, Waterloo 1815, victory in the Second World War 1945.

But 2015 has also marked two anniversaries from a much less glorious story – one I have been following for 50 years as one of the murkiest episodes in the history of our supposed parliamentary democracy.

This is the story of how politicians worked to replace our old system of weights and measures with the ‘much more sensible’ and ‘rational’ metric system.

I am not here concerned with the pros and cons of the two systems – although I shall touch on that later
– but with the peculiarly dishonest tactics our politicians devised to bring about such a huge change in our British way of life without ever needing to consult our wishes. Precisely because the politicians knew that such a far-reaching move would be highly controversial, they wanted to introduce it without ever allowing it to be debated or voted on by Parliament.

They sought instead to impose it on us, at every stage, by stealth, deception and downright lies. The story began 50 years ago when, in 1965, a Labour government used a Written Answer buried at the back of Hansard to announces its intention to replace the weights and measures used in Britain since the time of the Roman empire (it was after this, not the British empire, that it was known as the ‘imperial system’).

The first lie was a pretence that the switch to metric was to be made in response to the wishes of British ‘industry’. When years later I managed to unearth the relevant documents, it turned out that ‘industry’ had said nothing of the kind. Under pressure from a small group of shadowy bureaucrats, the chief trade body representing businesses had certainly expressed interest in the possibility of such a change, since it
would affect all its members. But it merely said that many were ‘concerned’ by its implications.

In 1968 came the second lie when, as the then technology minister Tony Benn gabbled to MPs a list of his plans for the future, he slipped in his wish to see Britain ‘fully metric’ by 1975.

But this change, he insisted, would be entirely voluntary. ‘Compulsion’, he twice promised, ‘is not part of the process’ (hence no need for parliamentary debate). Within months this was given the lie when his government issued a statutory diktat – the first of many – making it a criminal offence to sell drugs except in metric.

In 1969 it set up a ‘Metrication Board’ to ‘co-ordinate the process’ and ruled that, after 1975, It would become illegal for anything but the metric system to be taught in schools. During the 1970 election campaign, when I first revealed all this in a magazine article, one reader was so incensed that she badgered her would-be Tory MP into promising that Parliament would, for the first time, debate the subject.

It was only a short debate (which I attended). But when other Tory backbenchers heard of what was going on, they were furious that such an immense change to British life was being smuggled in by stealth,

In 1972, when Edward Heath was taking us into the European Common Market, he learned that Brussels planned a directive to ensure that all its members must use the metric system. He pleaded that this be kept under wraps until Britain was safely in.

But in 1973, after we had entered, Heath issued a Metrication White Paper, based onthe wholly fictitious claim that Britain was onlyadopting the metric system in response to ‘two polls’ of industry. No such polls had ever taken place.

By 1978, under Margaret Thatcher, the Tories were pledged to have no more of it. No sooner was she elected in 1979 than she scrapped the Metrication Board. In 1980 Brussels hit back by at last issuing its long-planned directive requiring all members of the ‘European Community’ to use the metric system (all except Britain and Ireland already did).

In 1985 the Thatcher government responded with a new Weights and Measures Act, confirming that the ‘imperial’ system would continue to be legal. In 1989, Brussels issued a new directive designed to whip Britain into line – although, to soften the pill, this still allowed us to continue for a time using miles on road signs and pints (but only for beer, cider and milk).

It was this directive which 20 years ago in 1995 – our second anniversary – led to the Major government issuing a swathe of new statutory instruments making it a criminal offence to sell goods of any kind, including fruit and veg, except in metric.

Indeed the government went much further than the directive envisaged, by requiring the metrication of every aspect of British life, from evidence given in courtrooms to speed limits on our canals, along with thousands of local bylaws. When some of us pointed out that this all resulted from Brussels directives, the minister who signed most of these diktats into British law, Michael Heseltine, insisted that they had ‘nothing to do with Europe’. This had been British policy, he said, ‘since the Sixties’. But the very documents he signed were being put into law under the 1972 European Communities Act – again without Parliament being given the chance to discuss them.

When I was interviewed by a young BBC presenter at this time, he scornfully suggested that no one under the age of 40 had any idea what feet and inches were. When I asked him how tall he was, he replied ‘five feet, 10 inches’. That bit of the interview hit the cutting room floor.

Nothing angered many British people more than when, in 2000, these laws made it illegal for market traders to sell fruit and veg by the old weights which most of their customers preferred – and this came to a head when a Sunderland stallholder Steve Thoburn was charged with the criminal offence of selling a ‘pound of bananas’.

He and four other ‘Metric Martyrs’ took their case to the Court of Appeal, arguing that since, under the ancient rule that no Act of Parliament can be overruled by one passed previously, the 1985 Weights and Measures Act could not be negated by an edict issued under the European Communities Act of 1972.

To get round this argument, Lord Justice Laws craftily devised a wholly new legal principle. He ruled that the European Communities Act was a ‘constitutional statute’, so important that it could not be overturned by anything which came after it. Many larger businesses, such as those making tinned foods, welcomed the confusion created by the new laws, as they reduced the contents of their old ‘1lb’ tins (454 grams) to 400 grams, hoping customers charged the same price would not notice.

Many other manufacturers, such as those making sweets and chocolate, played the same trick – even though the only reason why weights and measure legislation was backed by the criminal law was that this was to prevent customers being sold ‘short measure’.

At least it still remained legal for shopkeepers forced to sell in metric to print the ‘imperial’ equivalent next to it. But in 2002 Brussels issued a new directive designed to make even this illegal, and again the UK dutifully complied. It would become a crime for retailers to make any mention of the old weights and measures at all.

The new laws continued to throw up ever more anomalies until, in 2007, many giant US corporations, such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard, were warned by a clever pressure group, the British Weights and Measures Association, that this new EU law would make it illegal for them to export anything to the EU unless its packaging, sales literature and much else was given only in metric. It would even become illegal for them to refer to a ’42-inch’ television screen.

The US firms protested so loudly – estimating that it could cost them billions of dollars – that Brussels at last backed down. Not only did it scrap its demand relating to US goods, it also withdrew its law banning any mention of non-metric measures within the EU itself.

So embarrassed was Brussels by the anger its metrication laws had aroused in Britain that its trade commissioner issued a remarkable statement. He wanted the British to know that ‘imperial measures’, such as the mile and the pint, were ‘the very essence of the Britishness that Europeans know and love’. The British could continue using imperial equivalents alongside metric weights and measures as long as they wished.

On this last, carefully phrased fudge, 40 years of deceit and chicanery more or less came to an end. Never again, it seemed, would a greengrocer be charged with a criminal offence for shouting ‘lovely toms, a pound a pound’ to customers who hadn’t a clue what was meant by ‘half a kilo’.

But one legacy of this bid to impose metrication on the British people without ever consulting their wishes is that we are left with a strange hybrid system which is sometimes one thing and sometimes another. Fervent supporters of metric scornfully insist that it is so much more ‘rational’ than that
ridiculously antiquated system rightly consigned to the dustbin of history.

They try to overlook that the most modern and successful economy in the world, the USA, which landed a man on the moon in feet and inches, still somehow manages to survive with the imperial system.

And how many realise that the official EU definition of a metre is that it is ‘the length equal to 1,650,763 wavelengths in vacuum of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the levels 2p(10) and 5d(5) of the krypton atom’ You can’t get more ‘rational’ than that.

In truth the only way metric is more user-friendly than imperial is simply that it divides and multiplies by 10, But one thing I have learned from 50 years of observing all this is how, for everyday practical purposes, such as cooking or carpentry or measuring out a carpet, imperial wins every time.

We see this, as I said at the start, whenever reporters from the rigorously-metricated BBC come up against members of the public, as when they interview flood victims. The reporter may dutifully tell us that the floodwater in someone’s house has reached a depth of ‘300 millimetres’. But only when the victim tells us ‘it’s a foot deep’ do we really have a picture of what is meant – just as when we are told that some new-born royal baby weighs ‘6 pounds, 8 ounces’, rather than ‘2.72 kilograms’ or even ‘2720 grams’.

Despite half a century of trying to change the way we think, I suspect that, for practical purposes, those dear old pounds, feet and inches will be with us for a long time yet.

Photo by eamoncurry123

Ministers’ Metrication Conspiracy

The British Weights & Measures Association (BWMA) has prepared a 12-page booklet of the lies told by Ministers and others in order to force metrication on us as if it were our own choice. It was, of course, a condition of joining the EU that we should go metric. Most of the booklet consists of copies of correspondence between Ministers and high-ranking officials.
Here, for example, is a shockoing quote from Francis Pym to sir John Eden:-
“Previously, we have committed ourselves to metricate on a permissive and voluntary basis. Now we are going to impose it.”
Copies of this booklet are available as a pdf file or as a hard copy from Michael Plumbe at BWMA,
98 Eastney Road,
Croydon,
Surrey CR0 3TE
A remittance of at least £1 would be appreciated

 

Photo by eamoncurry123