A simple approach for considering EU membership

The campaign for remaining ‘IN’ the European Union in the coming referendum has powerful built-in advantages over the ‘OUT’ or let’s leave alternative. The IN campaign has access to far greater financial and government resources; the voracious support of much of the ruling and political Establishment, including the EU apparatus, the main stream media, and converted ‘Eurosceptics’ satisfied by the ‘renegotiated deal’ on offer; the potential to spread fear of the unknown in leaving, conduct personal attacks on leading Eurosceptics and to wage a dishonest, deceptive, manipulative, censorious and platitudinous campaign. Peter Hitchens provides an opinion about what to expect based on the 1975 EU membership referendum in his recent Blog. There are also other examples of what could happen based on EU referenda in places like Ireland and we have the example of the deceit, concealment, manipulation and vacuous debate of our recent General Election.

The ‘OUT’ campaign is somewhat hampered by a natural risk averse reluctance to change from the status quo (‘the devil you know’) and by the esoteric nature of much of the case for leaving focusing on the less visible damage caused by EU membership and refuting dubious pro-EU arguments. For example, few people know much about the Common Fisheries Policy or EU Public Services Procurement Rules, making it difficult to really say whether or not the UK should be subject to them (which it shouldn’t, in the former case, to save our once great fishing industry and, in the latter, to facilitate innovative free enterprise and save taxpayers’ money). The limited resources of the OUT campaign also make it more difficult to expose false and spurious claims from EU-enthusiasts, although with major parts of the media acting as an IN propaganda machine it is unlikely such critical examination would get fair treatment anyway, more likely to be shut down immediately.

Looking behind the widely recognised issues of severe damage caused by EU membership, such as uncontrolled immigration*, rampaging bureaucracy, increasing cost and wastefulness, lack of democratic accountability, and bizarre ideological behaviour, there are far more basic questions that could help inform decision making at all levels of wisdom about the EU. This would help a wide range of voters, and facilitate a more open and fair campaign against the arrayed vested interests for remaining IN. These basic, yet important questions are:

1 Would the country be better governed by Brussels (by being part of the EU) or by our own government and Parliament in London?
2 Who would make fewer mistakes and correct them more quickly, our government in London or EU bureaucrats in Brussels?
3 Who would protect our national interests better, our own government, accountable to the People, or unelected EU bureaucrats?
4 Would we be happier, more democratic and peaceful as a sovereign, independent country with our own identity or as an anonymous region of an EU superstate?
5 Would we, as individuals and a country, be more competitive, productive and ultimately prosperous being heavily regulated by a centralised, costly EU bureaucracy or as a fast moving, low tax, entrepreneurial free society?
6 Would it be acceptable to suffer short term pain, in leaving the EU when we choose, to achieve longer term gain?

These fundamental questions could be considered in the light of the existing direction of travel of the EU towards ever greater political and monetary integration, territorial expansion, current and past events, and where the EU will, based on current information, likely be in 10, 20, 30 or more years’ time. Where there is some uncertainty, the balance of probabilities could be included. With this approach, you don’t need to be an expert or a fortune-teller to be able to reach a reasonably logical and informed judgement quickly, which is likely to be similar to logical conclusions arising from comprehensive investigation and analysis.

The EU fits within longstanding continental European traditions of authoritarian centralised top down rule and does not sit easily with our traditions mainly of property rights, rule of law, democracy and individual freedom. As times change and new challenges arise, is the EU’s raison d’être and business model, as it applies to us and perhaps more generally in the modern world, already burdensomely obsolete, and if not now, when?

*Latest statistics show that net migration from the EU in the 12 months to December 2014 was 178,000. From non-EU countries (and therefore something we can control) was 197,000

Photo by EU Naval Force Media and Public Information Office

Two and a half years to save our country

The surprise result of the 2015 General Election means that the UK will be holding a referendum on its membership of the European Union in less than two and a half years’ time. David Cameron’s victory will now be concentrating many withdrawalist minds on how to achieve an “Out” vote in that referendum and the scale of the challenge becomes apparent when one of the tactics which propelled the Conservatives to an unexpected victory will be used to encourage our countrymen to stay within a “reformed” EU – fear.

The last-minute nature of the swing to the Tories and the widely-reported indecision on the part of many voters don’t exactly point to an enthusiastic endorsement for David Cameron. Rather, the prospects of a Labour government propped up with SNP support made many waverers decide to back the devil they knew rather than the more frightening devils they did not. The bottom line, however, is that however grudgingly many voters put their crosses in the Tories’ box, the scare tactics paid off.

Yesterday, in a piece in the Daily Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard pointed out that a referendum held in 2020 or after would be more easily won by supporters of withdrawal. Had Labour won the election, the shock of defeat “would have “flush(ed) out the last EU dreamers and leave a post-Cameron party with even less tolerance for the posturing of Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker….There is a high likelihood that such a party would let it rip on euroscepticism while in opposition and then come roaring back in five years’ time given that the most likely scenario would have been the replacement of David Cameron by a more eurosceptic Tory leader.” This is a fair point, although his proposal of Boris Johnson for this role is distinctly unconvincing. Another point which would have favoured 2020 for the referendum is that it gives us longer to address the disunity and disorganisation of the withdrawalist movement. We have right on our side and a far better case than supporters of our EU membership, but we are not winning the argument and time is short.

However, there is still everything to play for. We can win the battle for our country’s freedom and while this is not the time for naïve optimism, there are a number of factors which could swing opinion in favour of withdrawal.

Firstly, while the Tory party held together with an impressive stage-managed unity during the campaign, with Cameron’s many critics biting their tongues, this does not mean that they are any happier with his policies than they were a couple of years back when his leadership looked to be on the line. Especially given Cameron’s stated intention to pass over anyone advocating withdrawal from the EU when it comes to choosing his cabinet, leaving him effectively with only the dregs of his party to choose from, the rebellious backbenchers will come roaring back with a vengeance before too long. With the Tories’ majority so small, they will wield a considerable degree of power and if they can coalesce around a sensible exit strategy, such as “Flexcit”, this will add some considerable weight to the “Out” campaign.

Secondly, the anti-politics mood has not gone away. The electorate may have given a clear signal about who they want (and don’t want) to govern them, but this does not mean the profound disconnect so many people feel towards politics and politicians of all parties has gone away. The withdrawalist movement has so far failed to harness this sense of remoteness from the corridors of power. In particular, the individualism of the younger generation ought to make them natural opponents of something as remote and bureaucratic as the EU. Admittedly, the presence of pro-EU propaganda in schools has not helped, but winning the younger generation for the cause of independence is not impossible if the message is packaged appropriately.

Thirdly, the EU itself, for all the money it may pour into the “in” campaign, is not going to change its ways, especially under the leadership of Jean-Claude Juncker at the European Commission. There will be plenty of events in Brussels which, if handled correctly, can re-kindle the fires of euroscepticism within the UK population. The bottom line is that we don’t fit and never will. Only fear and ignorance stand in the way of withdrawal.

Finally, and unusally for this website, a quote from the Guardian. Commenting on why the Tories’ strategy of fear was so successful, Rafael Behr wrote, “that kind of tactic only works when it plays to underlying weakness in the opposition offer.” Divided and disorganised the withdrawalist movement may be, but if we can get our act together and sell both a watertight exit strategy and a vision for a newly independent UK, there is nothing weak about the withdrawal offer. It is only natural common sense. We are only seeking to encourage our compatriots to vote for something that will be very good for them. Can we spring an even greater upset than this morning’s results in late 2017? Yes we can.

Photo by Brabantia – Designed for Living

More nonsense from Ed Miliband

The latest sparring match in the election campaign has centred on foreign policy. Ed Miliband accused David Cameron of adopting an “inward-looking approach” to foreign policy at a speech at Chatham House on Friday. According to the Labour Leader, the Prime Minister’s leadership has resulted in the “biggest loss of influence for our country in a generation”.

Like a worn-out gramophone record, Miliband will include a criticism of Cameron’s offer of an in/out referendum on our membership of the EU. Recognising the weakness of the economic arguments, he has had to turn to the alleged political arguments against withdrawal. “The Tory view threatens to weaken further our position abroad, a pessimistic isolationism,” claimed Miliband.

This organisation is no cheer leader for David Cameron. His offer of a referendum is better than nothing, but it is quite clear that a Cameron-led government will bend every sinew to obtain an “in” vote. However, Miliband is living in cloud-cuckoo land if he believes that staying in the EU will increase our clout on the world stage.

Several recent articles which have appeared on the internet bring home the hard truth – the EU revolves around Germany. It has the largest population and is by far the largest economy in the Eurozone. The crisis in Greece has underlined how much Germany calls the shots in the Eurozone. Once Chancellor Angela Merkel and her finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble made it clear that there can be no deviation from the policy of austerity agreed in 2011, the die was cast. The rest of the single currency bloc and Christine Lagarde of the IMF all fell into line:- Greece can expect no realistic easing of credit terms.

There are legitimate grounds for exasperation with Greece. Even the far less confrontational centre right government led by Antonis Samaras, which was ousted by Alexis Tsipras’ left-wing Syriza movement earlier this year, dragged its heels. Given Syriza came to power on an anti-austerity ticket, it was inevitable that Brussels and Frankfurt would quickly find themselves at loggerheads with the new régime in Athens. However, for all the criticisms which can legitimately be made of the immature behaviour of Syriza’s leaders and the party’s ill-judged economic policies, they had a mandate from the Greek electorate.

Is the EU about to undermine this and seek régime change? This is the verdict of at least one analyst who states that “The campaign to bring Greece into line is not just about economics. It is power politics designed to crush any democratic voices that challenge the EU’s reigning economic orthodoxy.” If it fails, Greece may leave the Euro and possibly the EU, which, while financially manageable, would raise all manner of political implications, especially given Athens’ warm relationship with Vladimir Putin in Moscow. However, what if it succeeds?

The writer goes on to say that “Brussels will have definitively exposed its profoundly anti-democratic nature” and that “this will have political repercussions, not only in much bigger peripheral countries like Italy and Spain, also suffering under austerity policies, but in countries like France and Britain that belong to the core of the EU. A German-led exercise of power to crush a democratically elected European government with an iron fist will provoke a strong reaction in France, which sees itself as a bastion of democratic ideals. An off-the-cuff remark by Schäuble at the IMF meeting to the effect that France, too, would probably be happy to have someone force their Parliament to take action provoked a storm of indignation in France cutting across party lines.”

Turning specifically to UK, the article goes on to claim that crushing Greece “could tip the scales in a British election next month deemed too close to call, fuelling eurosceptic opinion that could boost not only the anti-European U.K. Independence Party but the Conservative Party of Prime Minister David Cameron, who has pledged to hold a referendum on continued EU membership if re-elected.” Considering Cameron is every inch a Brussels stooge, it would be ironic if he were to benefit from an escalation in the Greek crisis, but at least it would show up Miliband’s claims for the hollow nonsense that they are. Germany rules the roost as far as the EU is concerned. FACT. If we want to have any real influence in the world, we therefore have to throw off its yoke and regain our independence.

Photo by RiotsPanel

The Scotland Referendum and the lessons for 2017

No, it was not a Referendum on Independence

Regardless of the result, Scotland would not have become independent as a result of the 2014 referendum. The Scottish people were being sold a false prospectus.

There are two reasons:
The first is that the nature of the 2014 referendum was misunderstood. It was purely consultative; it was an ‘expression of wish’ referendum not a referendum on any actual concrete, practical proposals for an independent Scotland, as there were none. There were, of course, plenty of aspirations. This misreading by the political class of the nature of different referendums cropped up repeatedly during the euro referendum that never was around the year 2000. At that time Tony Blair seems to have thought a referendum vote in the UK would decide British entry to the euro regardless of the EU treaties, rates
of entry, ERM membership, etc., etc. when agreement to entry required consent from other participants. Alex Salmond seems to have also thought that winning a referendum would be decisive. But a referendum is an instrument, it isn’t an aim or a plan. The final terms and the consent of other parties, especially the UK government, was not in Salmond’s control.

Indeed, the YES campaigners went to great lengths to keep the Scottish electorate from hearing contrary views or thinking about hard facts. One remembers the assault on Nigel Farage in Edinburgh. It was infantilising and patronising for the YES campaign to suggest that Scotland could break away from the rest of the UK without pain but would flourish in the EU. Nor did the Westminster parties treat the electorate as adults. Unlike the Spanish government, which stated the truth, that the independence of any part of the country was a matter for the whole country, the Westminster parties refused to allow any electoral participation in the rest of the UK, nor were English politicians encouraged to campaign in Scotland – apparently the logic was that the Scots would be ‘upset’.

Types of Referendum

Referendums fall generally into three categories. First, there are those that ask for confirmation of decisions already taken and implemented by the Executive (confirmatory). Among these would be classified the French referendums which confirmed the various governmental constitutions during the French Revolution – the changing regimes of the Directory, the Consulate and the Empire.
Hitler’s referendums, which covered such matters as the merging of the Offices of Reich President and Reich Chancellor after the death of Hindenburg, approval for the reoccupation of the Rhineland and leaving the League of Nations, also fell into this category.

A second type of referendum is the enabling type. This is where the general proposition is put to the people with the details to be filled in by the executive at a later date. Classic cases of this type were the referendums in the 1990s in Scotland, Wales and London. In these cases, the details were on subordinate matters, not essentials.

The third type is the seeking of popular consent (“consent”) to a fully worked, proposed law. A referendum of this type was conducted in Denmark in 1992, where the government sought approval of Denmark’s consent to the Treaty of Maastricht after making available a million copies of the treaty. A similar referendum was held in Denmark in 2000 on whether or not Denmark should join the single currency. In this case most of the facts were in the public’s hands. The treaty had been distributed, the rate at which Denmark would enter the euro and all the conditions were known and Denmark complied with the conditions for entry to the single currency, including being in the ERM for over two years. There were defects in the actual question, but the basis for the question was reasonable.

The basis of the “consent” referendum is generally acceptable, provided the public receive balanced information and each ‘side’ has equal resources. Some referendums have somewhat hybrid characteristics. The British referendum of 1975 fell partly in the “consent” category in that the Treaty of
Rome was available to the electorate, though not distributed. Nevertheless the matter in question, membership of the Common Market, had already been decided by Parliament and enacted previously so that it also had many elements of the “confirmatory” type. What has been objectionable is the pretence that the consent obtained in 1975 applied to all the various subsequent amending treaties that have turned the Common Market into the EC and now the EU with far greater powers than those given consent to by the British people in 1975.

Unique Referendum

Once the types of referendums are classified, it is easy to see that the Scotland referendum of 2014 was unique. It was a classic referendum of the enabling type where the electorate gives approval to a general proposition with the details later filled in by the Executive. What was unique in Scotland was that the details were to be filled in by agreement between the Executive and a regional government. Because of the necessity of negotiations, the Scotland referendum exhibited a further uniqueness, it could not be executed by a single Executive but fulfilment was dependent on the outcome of negotiation between two parties and, to some extent, outsiders such as the EU institutions.

It is negotiations that will matter An independent Scotland would come into being via a Scotland Act passed by the British Parliament which would define the terms of separation and would
have to command the support of a majority of MPs. Any negotiated terms would be very different from the narrative put forward by the YES side. These terms and negotiations thereon would be going on against a background of capital flight as the Scotland bargaining position was eroded.In fact, the separatists would be in a remarkably weak position, similar to Blair would have been over the euro, as explained at length in my book, ‘Why Mr. Blair will not win a Euro Referendum’. Having won a referendum, but having an unsatisfactory negotiation, what exactly would the Scottish separatists do then? There is a prevailing assumption that Scotland and the UK would agree a deal. This is highly unlikely. More likely is a complete deadlock in negotiations. There would be no pressure on the UK side to agree any deal at all, although obviously they would appear to be reasonable. Even if Scotland agreed to hand over the Faslane base in perpetuity, agreed it would not have sterling as its currency, took on its fair share of UK debt, agreed to migration controls, agreed a division of oil as a favourable basis to the rest of the UK, agreed to take on all liability for Scottish pensioners – and these are the minimum terms the rest of the UK should and would insist on – dealing with the question of EU membership is outside the UK’s powers, there are other parties involved.

Capital Flight

The second reason that Scotland will not become independent regardless of any  purported ‘yes’ vote is, of course, flight of English capital (followed by Scottish capital) from Scotland – regardless of whether or not there is a shared currency. Indeed, the question of a shared currency was a misleading issue. The real
issue was that English savers would not wish their assets to be in one country and their liabilities in another. In the same way, despite Germany and Portugal, sharing a currency, German savers, pensions and institutions keep their assets in Germany not in Portugal. Institutions and corporations would have a fiduciary duty to rectify a mismatch of assets of liabilities. Whether there was a shared currency or not would be irrelevant. And, of course, Scottish financial institutions are all heavily dependent on English capital. So, the Scottish financial sector would have to go into exile in England when English savers exercised their vote and there would be a massive transfer of English capital into England.

There was a previous independent ‘Scotland’

Another area which has never been considered by the YES Campaign or the Westminster parties is ‘people flight’. There has, of course, been a previous ‘Scotland’. It was Ireland becoming a dominion in 1922 and leaving the Union even if the political and financial background was different. Ireland then was a rural economy without any significant systemic role in the financial structure of the UK. It could detach itself from the UK with some damage to itself but of little relevance to the rest of the UK.
Two things happened demographically after 1922. Almost immediately there was an exodus of English born Irish residents or Protestant Irish born. This was followed by an ongoing exodus of Irish born people which lasted for 70 years up till the 1990s and has resumed again in 2008. Between 1926 and 1972 (that is, after the initial exodus of English born people) it is estimated that about one third of the potential Irish population between 1922 and 1972 was exported; that is to say, the number of Irish born and their descendants leaving after 1926, was 50% of the Irish population in 1972. If one adds in the pre-1926 exodus plus the further exodus after 1972, the figure was higher.

Why should Scotland be any different? The heavy welfare state planned by the SNP cannot be sustained without English financial support and will have to be drastically reduced. The economic losses when a political and economic union breaks up tend to be equal by definition on both sides, unless there are special factors. But the capacity of each side is vastly different. So what would be a relatively small loss
for the UK was a crushing loss for Ireland and would be a crushing loss for Scotland.

Indeed it is hard to say that Ireland ever became truly independent. Ninety years after 1922, the UK extended an emergency £7 billion loan to Ireland (£10,000 for every Irish family), this has recently been extended to 2042 (120 years after ‘independence’). While, no doubt the act of a good neighbour, it is
hard not to read some dependence into this. Indeed, if Scotland followed the path of Ireland, it would never become truly independent.

Emigration from Scotland

Moreover it is difficult to see why English born people would wish to stay permanently in Scotland, a country that specifically voted to separate itself from England. Of course, the UK could impose migration controls on Scotland, especially as the arrival of Scottish migrants would impose enormous infrastructure costs on the UK, as well as pushing down wages.

Conclusion

In short, the Separatists will fail because they do not have a clear aim, defining exactly what are the essentials of their independence proposition nor a clear plan, defining how to secure separation without massive self-harm to Scotland’s economy.
Their secret wish must be the sheer feebleness and lack of any foresight or planning by the UK government, which could agree separation terms which are damaging to the rest of the UK by taking on liabilities, both financial and other, to Scotland under the guise of ‘good relations’ and leave the Scottish state a permanent pensioner of the English taxpayer.
However, otherwise, once the capital exodus and the people exodus begin – and they would begin immediately after a YES vote – it is difficult to see how the Separatists could act other than by reneging on a YES vote.

The lesson for EU withdrawalists is clear. They must win the ‘enabling’ question, that is to say, an ‘expression of wish’, but must also have a clear aim and clear plan to be executed the day after the result.
Photo by Dave McLear

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