Spreading Alarm and Despondency amongst British Expats

Whilst we know that politicians are not on oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, they are not entitled to misinform people either recklessly or deliberately. This is particularly true for those who speak from a position of apparent experience or authority which lends weight to their views.

You would expect a lawyer and former Crown Law Officer to be aware of this responsibility. Yet Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney General and a practising barrister did not live up to this standard.

In the run-up to the election, the Guardian reported him saying that 2 million UK citizens working in the EU would become illegal immigrants overnight if Britain were to leave the EU. This is a massive untruth. People who have acquired rights of residence will still have those rights even if the EU treaties cease.

They are known as “acquired rights”, “executed rights” or “vested rights”. They are so firmly established that they have acquired the status of “customary law” which means that they stand as a fundamental principle of international law, not needing a specific treaty to confirm them. There is even a parliamentary briefing note about it, so Mr. Grieve has no excuse.

On 26 May I was surprised to see a report on RT (Russia Today) giving credence to this scare in a report about worried British expatriates living in France. Now RT is generally a far more sceptical reporter of EU affairs than the BBC but they seemed to have swallowed the British government story hook, line and sinker. There were some very distressed people with established businesses, fearful that they would be forced to leave and preparing to put their homes on the market.

We can expect much more of this style of panic mongering from the British government as the date for the British EU referendum approaches and it was surprising that RT had unwittingly stoked up unnecessary distress for these people.

There is a perfectly feasible way for the UK to leave the political structure of the EU and retain its trading and other relationships without any significant disruption. You can read it here and can listen to a half hour introduction it here

Photo by James O’Gorman

Cameron in a spot of bother

The European Union Referendum Bill was finally published by Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, on 28th May. If you wish to read it in full, click on the link here. David Cameron seems determined to rush it through the Commons as quickly as possible. It has already passed its second reading, with only 53 MPs voting against.

However, he is already facing some bother from his MPs over the technical details. The procedures for referendums have not been as well developed as, for instance, the rules governing elections, which have evolved over a period of centuries. It was only 40 years ago that the first referendum, on whether we should remain in the EU, was held.

The biggest challenges he is facing revolve around the concept of “purdah” – a 28-day period before the actual referendum when ministers and civil servants are unable to make official announcements. This reduces the opportunities for one side to rig the debate. It was first introduced in 2000 and banned the publication of promotional material by central and local government in the 28 days prior to the holding of a referendum. Hammond tried to argue that it would be “unworkable” to expect ministers not to explain where the national interest lay in the referendum campaign or to continue their day-to-day business with the EU. However, he was challenged in a superb speech by Owen Paterson MP, who has emerged as David Cameron’s most vocal critic since the election.

Cameron also got into a muddle about whether members of the Government would either have to support him in selling his renegotiation strategy or resign. At first it appeared that this was what he was saying, but according to several newspapers. he claimed that his statement had been “over-interpreted” and that he was just talking about ministers having to abide by collective responsibility during the negotiation process. Several prominent Tories, including Boris Johnson, have argued for flexibility. “It would be safer and more harmonious” to allow those with different views to articulate them, he said. Meanwhile, Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said that, when the referendum campaign gets underway, “I would urge the Government to treat EU membership as a matter of conscience for front and backbenchers alike.”

A new grouping of Tory MPs has emerged which might further upset the Prime Minister. Led by Steve Baker, the MP for High Wycombe, Conservatives for Britain appears to belong to the “wait and see” camp that purports to support the renegotiations and will not declare their hand until they find out what deal Cameron has brought back. However it does appear that this group is setting the bar so high that there is no chance of their wish list being granted. Freedom to strike our own trade deals and the right of Parliament to throw out EU legislation will unquestionably be rejected by the other member states – not that Cameron has any intention of even bringing these subjects to the table.

What is clear is that Cameron’s desire to steamroller through a “yes” vote as quickly as he can is already causing cracks to appear in the solid wall of Tory unity that stood them in such good stead in the election campaign. At this stage, it is impossible to guess how many MPs will ultimately rebel and make a clear commitment to support withdrawal. They will certainly face great pressure from the whips, but we can but hope enough of them will put country before party to ensure that Cameron is unable to repeat Harold Wilson’s 1975 trick that he is clearly so wishing to emulate. He has clearly upset a good few of them already. Given that the general Election took place barely a month ago, this is a more promising start than many of us could have imagined.

As if that was not enbough, Labour has attacked him, not only over the “purdah” issue, but on his denial of the vote to 16- and 17-year 0lds. The SNP are also unhappy with the exclusion of 16- and 17-years olds as they were allowed ot vote in the Scottish independence referendum. The bill goes to the Committee stage next week. As Richard North argues, It is yet possible that an alliance between Labout, the SNP and those Tories unhappy with his steamroller tactics may inflict a defeat on the government, leaving Cameron’s strategy in tatters.

Photo by derekskey

Lessons from Austerlitz

Napoleon Bonaparte, watching the Austro/Russian army deploying at Austerlitz, is recorded as saying:
“Let us wait twenty minutes; when the enemy is making a false movement we must take good care not to interrupt him.”

The EU referendum campaign has begun and cool strategy is required.

Those who wish to see a ‘NO’ outcome are concerned about the barrage of pro-EU, or pro-Single Market to be precise, statements by political leaders and big banks and business, as well as EU Commissioners, and so on.

And these people are not bothering with Cameron. They are in favour of staying in the EU without any of Cameron’s reforms. Judging by the ICM poll, the ‘stay in’ side is 10-18 points ahead, even before Cameron returns with his ‘reforms’ or those polled have any idea what is likely to be renegotiated.

But did any reasonable person think that this would not happen?

I welcome this barrage on various grounds.

First, a lot of rhetorical ammunition has been expended for nothing.

Second, the EU side is exposed as obviously bereft of any new ideas since 1975. There are no new arguments.

Third, the idea that this is a stitch up, a fudged referendum, a pretence, a fraud, is gaining ground. As Iain Martin says, in CapX:
“The government’s renegotiation with the EU is bordering on the comical.”
and
“No-one likes to be taken as a fool.”

Fourth, there are already signs of infighting between those few who genuinely believe it is possible to have a ‘reformed’ Europe and those who are just using this as a cynical phrase.

Fifth, all those who the electorate most distrusts are climbing into the same lifeboat without bothering about any navigation:-

  • All the political parties and their leaders
  • The directors of big banks, even those presiding over the banking scandals
  • Big Business directors
  • EU Commissioners and Eurocrats generally.

But, of course we need to counter-attack properly with:

  • A proper aim
  • A proper plan
  • All fighting in one direction
  • No room for complacency

It is also worth considering the melting away of the great polled predicted pro-EU vote during the Dutch and French referendums on the European Constitution.

The recent YouGov poll shows the ‘OUT’ side ahead in the key voting groups: over 40s and over 60s.

Most commentators, such as Iain Martin and James Forsyth, tell us that the referendum is about ‘supporting the status quo’. Nothing could be further from the truth. A ‘yes’ vote is a vote for ‘more integration’, as laid out in Juncker’s presidential statement in 2014.

The real choice was put by Jacques Delors, former head of the EU Commission and the main driver of the EU in his day, and a man highly respected in Brussels, in December 2012, to the Handelsblatt newspaper:

“If the British cannot support the trend to more integration in Europe, we can nevertheless remain friends, but on a different basis. I could imagine a form such as a European economic area or a free trade agreement.”

This correctly stated the alternatives for the UK, “Supporting the trend to more integration in Europe” or ‘friends’ on the basis of membership of the EEA/EFTA.

Photo by – = Duke One = –

Photo by Internet Archive Book Images

Everything to play for

With a few recent opinion polls suggesting support for withdrawal from the EU has fallen in the last few months, a report in the Independent summarising a recent poll by Survation offers some hope. Some 70% of the electorate have yet to make up their minds and the enthusiasm of Tony Blair to play a prominent role in the “yes” or “in” campaign is likely to be a great boost to his opponents as he is seen as so untrustworthy in matters relating to the EU (is he trustworthy about anything at all? Well, that is another question!)

This does mean that the barrage of horror stories about the dangers of withdrawal, with one chief executive after another being wheeled out in support of staying in, have not convinced over 2/3 of UK voters. The tactics of fear, uncertainly and doubt have so far not been as effective as the “in” camp have hoped. Our fellow-countrymen (and women) are obviously still open to a well-presented, bullet-proof argument in favour of withdrawal. In short, there is everything to play for, even though time is short. To quote Dr Richard North, we have to present the EU as a problem, offer the solution and paint a glowing picture of the outcome. If we can do this, our opponents will have few arguments with which to beat us down

Photo by The hills are alive*

Now we know the question

In spite of much speculation in the press, it is highly unlikely that the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU will be held before 2017. However, we can now be more confident about the wording of the referendum question. The European Referendum Bill was published last week and had its first reading in the House of Commons and consequently, we now know that the proposed question is “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”

This means that supporters of withdrawal will become the “No” campaign. While some reports suggested this question was a replacement for “Should the United Kingdom be a member of the European Union?” on the grounds that some people didn’t even know that we were a member, it does make our task somewhat harder as there is an innate desire among the uninformed to want to please and to be positive – in other words, to say “Yes”. No doubt Mr Cameron is aware of this.

The “Out” campaign, as Robert Oulds said recently at CIB’s annual rally, must therefore be positive and talk not so much about leaving something but rather about joining something better – the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which we should never have left in the first place.

Incidentally, to answer any critics who fear that EFTA may not want us back, Mr Oulds has pointed out that in a reply by the Prime Minister of Iceland, S. D. Gunlaugssson, to a question about Cameron’s promise of an EU referendum in an interview with the “Liechtensteiner Vaterland” on 9th May 2015, he said “I would certainly welcome Great Britain into EFTA. An entry into EFTA could be a good solution for Great Britain and would be equally good for EFTA. We would at all events be open to taking the British back into EFTA.”

A report on the Battle for Britain – May 2015

With the publication of the Referendum Bill, and David Cameron’s visits to other EU countries taking place, some features of the referendum are already obvious.

As expected, David Cameron’s reform agenda is minimalist. Clearly his aim is to produce enough, or just enough, changes to proclaim his reforms a success but, at present, this seems unlikely. They will be too weak.

The opposition, in the shape of the SNP and Labour, have shown no capacity at all to discuss the issues on the referendum and are, effectively, sidelined. The SNP has not even wanted even the Cameron minimalist agenda and is concentrating on such minor issues as wanting EU citizens and 16-17 years old included in the voting. Labour seems to be trailing in the wake of the SNP and is absorbed in its own internal leadership election. They saw no reason to have a referendum and have been wrong-footed!

It seems to be conceded on both sides that party politicians will play a smaller role than in 1975. Salmond has said the pro-EU side should be non-party and many withdrawalists think the same should be the case. However, some politicians are too ambitious to forfeit the limelight.

Conservatives are, in any case, paralysed. They are waiting for the results of David Cameron’s reforms and are, in the meantime, avoiding any debate on fundamental issues.

In this void, there has been a spate of speeches by businessmen pressing for the UK to stay in the EU. On examination, these are actually speeches in favour of staying in the Single Market and never address the political issues.

Some attention should be directed to the polls which are alleged to show an increase of support for staying in the EU. However, what matters is the voting intentions of those who actually vote. Referendums generally have a lower turnout than general elections but this, of course, cannot be counted on. Clearly, the pollsters understated the weight of the over-60s’ votes in the general election. This block is far the most eurosceptic and has, of course, experienced the results of giving the politicians a blank cheque in 1975.

Finally, it is notable that two pro-EU themes seemed to have been thoroughly discredited and disappeared from the proEU argument. One is the ‘three million jobs’ argument and the other is that ‘Norway and Iceland have to obey fax democracy’. Bereft of these two themes, it is noticeable that no new facts and no new arguments have been put forward by the proEU forces.

Photo by Airwolfhound