Brexit was never an economic proposition

If there is one universal truth about we eurosceptics it is that, aside from hating the EU, we cannot agree on anything. Over the last three years I have had more arguments with Brexiteers than I have remainers – and made more enemies on the Brexit side than remain.

The crucial bone of contention is the mode of leaving the EU. Anything that it not “hard Brexit” is denounced. There are many who believe that Brexit is simple and that there is no cause for delay. I wish that were true. Worse than that, though, are those who know it not to be simple but maintain the pretence that it is. I have no time for intellectual dishonesty.

I am also less enthused by Brexiteers who insist that Brexit is an economic miracle waiting to happen. It isn’t. Trade is a fiendishly complex endeavour and we will doubtlessly have to march double time just to get back to where we are. All of our present trade relations are via the EU and restoring and optimising those links will take time.

Personally I see no reason to make an economic argument for Brexit. It is not an economic proposition – and if there is one thing we can all agree on it is that Brexit is ultimately in the interests of democracy. The economy is entirely secondary.

At one point I might have made the case that Brexit will bring about cheaper food, clothing and much else – but I now have serious doubts about this. Trade in the modern global system is a lot like whack-a-mole and not every thread is one you necessarily want to pull on. There are no sweeping unilateral measures we can take and and every measure we do take will have consequences. Everything we do must be done carefully and with due consideration as to the potential fallout.

If Britain is to make a success of Brexit we will need to seek out sector specific alliances and work through the multilateral system and use collective pressure to bring about the changes we want to see. There is only so much we can do unilaterally.

This is why I believe an Efta EEA Brexit would be the more intelligent path in that Efta with the UK would make the fifth largest bloc in the world and one which could bring to bear considerable pressure on the EU to drop some of its protectionist measures. In some circumstances we are more likely to achieve EU reform from the outside. Failing that, Britain is going to find it difficult going it alone.

There are some who still believe we can pick up where we left off with old allies but the old rule is still the same; twice the distance means half the trade. To an extent the internet and trade in services breaks this rule but New Zealand and Australia are in a different sphere of regulatory influence. We on the, other hand, will still be in the EU’s gravitational pull come what may.

More to the point, any alliances we make must be toward addressing particular problems – and our most pressing being that of the migration crisis where all our efforts must be focussed on those trade measures which best eliminate the push factors in Africa. We are going to have to coordinate our efforts with the EU and we will still need close cooperation in order to make an impact. We may leave the EU but we cannot turn our backs on Europe.

I take the view that Article 50 talks and any subsequent trade talks must not be viewed as a chance to get one over on the the EU. If we play that game we will lose. We have to take a more collaborative approach and for the time being we are in a mode of damage limitation. We should leave the radicalism until we have left the EU. Brexit is radical enough for the moment.

The short of it is that we need to be more honest and realistic about what Brexit will achieve economically. We are certain to take a hit and it is insulting to pretend that we won’t. We all knew Brexit would have economic consequences – and if we are honest, none of us cared. We would have voted to leave regardless.

Primarily our future prosperity depends on fixing our politics here at home. That is what Brexit is about. Our politicians continue to abdicate from their responsibilities, handing to Brussels enormous areas of policy while they tinker on the sidelines. We continue to kick the can down the road on serious economic reform and and we have only really dabbled in “austerity”. Since our politicians have been incapable of making the hard choices, we have forced their hand. Vanity spending will have to be cut, electoral bribes will have to be slashed and white elephants will have to go on the barbecue.

In this we will have a reckoning with the wastrels, posers and charlatans of Westminster. We will have some almighty rows and we will tear the status quo apart. That is primarily what I voted for. I am under no illusions that it will come at great cost, I am as worried as any remainer about what it holds for the immediate future, and I am troubled by the wrong-headed approach to Brexit. All I know for certain is that this is a thing we must do and there can be no turning back.

At heart I am a libertarian. I take the view that every entitlement from government comes as a moral cost – and everything we get from government comes at the expense of certain liberties. There is no greater means of controlling a population than to make them dependent on government.

This is the paradigm we have had ever since World War Two. It has crushed our self-reliance, it has weakened our entrepreneurial flair and it has corroded society in all manner of pernicious ways. It has made Britain a spoiled, selfish and lazy country. It has made us a command and control economy with a cosseted middle class propped up by state spending and our whole economy is a house of cards. A Ponzi scheme. And Ponzi schemes always fail.

This is why Brexit is a revolution. It is the economic and moral revival we have been unable to secure by other means. We will prosper from Brexit not because of any direct consequence of leaving the EU but by tearing down the ossified structures of yore and rediscovering ourselves.

Shortly before the referendum I was out talking to people about Brexit. I asked a lady why she was voting to leave. I told her that we probably would take an economic hit but her reply was quite simple. “Something has to change”. And that is what gives me confidence.

We were not hoodwinked by the Boris bus, we were not fooled by Russian interference or computer algorithms. We went into this with our eyes wide open. Let us not patronise or pretend. Let us say it out loud that this is not an economic venture. This is purely political and the economy must be subordinate to political concerns – otherwise we might as well go the whole hog and abolish elections.

I did not vote for Brexit to spend £350m on the NHS. I don’t think Brexit is a free trade miracle. I just know that our politics is spent and if our politics is spent then so is our economy. We cannot fix the economy until we fix our politics. Let no man or woman interfere with that. If we do not see this through then we are not deserving of prosperity.

Some pictures of the anti-austerity rally on 25th March

On 25th March, several members of the Campaign for Independent Britain joined with representatives of EPAM, the United People’s Front, to protest about the EU-imposed austerity which is crippling Greece. The demonstration was held in front of the Greek embassy in London and was one of a number of similar demonstrations held in several European capital cities.

Here are a few pictures of the event.

If you would like to find out more about the extent of the suffering among the Greek people, former Ambassador Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos will be one of the speakers at the forthcoming CIB Annual Rally on 29th April. His subject will be:- Greece – the cradle of democracy with no democracy and EU-inflicted poverty

Anti-austerity demonstration in front of the Greek embassy.

PLEASE SUPPORT THE GREEK PEOPLE
In response to an appeal by EPAM,
the United People’s Front
THE CAMPAIGN FOR AN INDEPENDENT BRITAIN
(Cross- Party)
INVITES FELLOW PRO BREXIT CAMPAIGNERS
TO ASSEMBLE
at 12.00 noon Saturday 25 March
outside the Greek Embassy
1a Holland Park, London W11 3TP
(nearest Tube Station Holland Park)
IN SILENT PROTEST AT THE LOSS OF
BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS, IMPOSED BY THE EU’S AUSTERITY PROGRAMME,
as evidenced by the UN Human Rights Council Report,which proves DENIAL of
THE RIGHTS TO
WORK, SOCIAL SECURITY, FOOD,
HOUSING & HEALTH CARE.
LIVES ARE BEING LOST.
THE DEATH RATE HAS SHOT UP,
as a result of Euro Austerity &
COLLAPSE OF GREEK HEALTH SERVICE.

 Leonidas Chrysanthopolous writes:-

We are calling for the restoration of human rights to the people of Greece who have been deprived of them because of the austerity measures imposed by the EU and the IMF. Our requests are based on the report that was published in February of last year by the independent expert of the UN and submitted to the Human Rights council in Geneva. We have chosen that date since it is the National Day of Greece and we celebrate the proclamation of the war of independence against the Ottomans.

State of the Disunion as 60th anniversary celebrations approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Christopher Lotito

Don’t undo democracy – a letter from our President to the Leicester Mercury

The beaming photogenic chairman of Loughborough Lib Dems (First Person 17th May) started his column by referring to the roots of the EU that are actually the cause of subsidence and collapse of democracy. The “great work of democracy” to which he refers was undone at the stroke of midnight 1st January 1973 when our Members of Parliament sub-contracted their work to Brussels.

When reading what he wrote and reaching the passage “Europe now is peaceful, economically successful and a beacon of democracy in a troubled world” I wondered whether his television set needs re-tuning. The evidence to the contrary fills our screens almost daily ranging from labour reform riots across France, Greek people crushed by austerity measures and people injured by riot police. I have not known lasting peace in Europe for the past forty years. There have been attacks upon us by IRA, war in the Balkans, bombings in Madrid and, more recently, slaughter in European capitals. As for the economic success to which he refers, the euro single currency is a failure predictably doomed from the outset and unemployment queues amongst younger people across the continent grow ever longer.

No wonder I have never voted Lib Dem as a party seemingly so divorced from reality and never will. The prospects for a brighter future rest in re- joining the wider world and stepping off the gravy train driven by unelected bureaucrats to an unpredictable and worrying destination

 

George West

Greek worries return as support grows for referendums elsewhere in the EU

Compared with the high drama of last year when Yannis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister and Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the President of the Euro group, came close to a punch-up at a Eurozone ministers’ meeting in the run-up to a deal over the country’s debt,  Greece has not been hitting the headlines to anything like the same degree – yet.

However, its intractable debt problem has not gone away. On the face of it, things look a bit better. Compared with the corresponding period in 2015, more tax has been collected while governemt expenditure has not risen very much. The country is therefore running a healthy fiscal surplus.

But at what cost? The anti-austerity Syriza-led government of Alexis Tsipras has been utterly humiliated. A report in the Guardian paints a bleak picture of the mood in the country after the Greek Parliament approved the toughest austerity measures to date – €5.4 billion in savings, meaning pension cuts and further strains on the already creaking Greek health service. Greek government debt still stood at a whopping 176.9% of GDP at the end of 2015, slightly down on 180.1% a year earlier, but still unsustainably high in spite of years of punishing austerity measures.  ““It can’t go on for ever,” said Stergiou, a student interviewed by the Guardian’s reporter. “Greeks are running out of stamina, they are running out of endurance.”

This speech by Steven Woolfe MEP on the same subject is worth listening to. The statistics he spells out are quite frightening.  His proposal, that Greece should leave the EU, may sound far-fetched, but in view of the widespread public anger that a party elected on a ticket of hope has now become as unpoplar as its predecessors, nothing is impossible.

Greece isn’t alone with its problems. A Maltese bank, Nemea Bank, has been placed in administration. Admittedly, it is only one of 24 banks in operation in this small country, but nonetheless a further sign that beneath positive money figures for the Eurozone as a whole, all is not well in several peripheral countries.

Furthermore, it’s not only people in financially troubled countries who are becoming increasingly unhappy with the EU. David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on UK membership has let a very unwelcome cat out of the bag as far as the EU is concerned. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard analyses a MORI opinion poll showing how widespread the demand for similar referendums is becoming in other countries. Over 50% of the electorate in both France and Italy support such a move and were the Italians to agree to such a referendum, it could be quite a close run thing.

What is more, only a minority of those surveyed expected the UK economy to suffer if we left.

The thought of a “domino effect” has always worried the EU’s élite. However, the response of Jean- Claude Juncker, the Commission President, indicates just how out of touch these people are from the real world.  With David Cameron clearly in mind, he said “Too many politicians are listening exclusively to their national opinion. And if you are listening to your national opinion you are not developing what should be a common European sense and a feeling of the need to put together efforts. We have too many part-time Europeans.” More Europe has always been the EU’s usual answer to any problems. Even Mats Persson, the  former director of Open Europe who is now advising  David Cameron recongises the folly of this approach. “If European voters always face the choice between ‘more Europe’ and ‘no Europe’, then “sooner or later, they will pick the latter”, he said.

Lord Lawson said a while ago that the EU was past its “sell-by date”. One of the many government scare stories currently doing the rounds is that Brexit would pose problems for the EU. However, if Lord Lawson is correct, it could in fact create an opportunity. The EU has no divine right to eternal life. If withdrawal precipitates its demise in a piecemeal but orderly way, this may be preferable to the sort of sudden collapse that marked the end of Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union.  If we believe that our country deserves something better than miserable subjection to an unelected supranational bureaucracy, why should not our European neighbours seek a better future too?