Yet more media muddle

As we reported yesterday, Mrs May is not giving much of her Brexit strategy away at the moment. For anyone wishing to find out more, great care needs to be taken as some reports in the press are, shall we say, somewhat less than helpful.

Writing in the Independent, John Rentoul informs us that “Finally, we know what Brexit actually means – Theresa May intends ot take us out of the single market.” Has  Mr Rentoul spotted something that the rest of us have missed? He noticed that Mrs May made it clear that “‘we are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.”  He therefore concludes that, “given that the ECJ is the court that enforces the rules of the EU single market, this was confirmation that she intends to take us out of it.”

QED – except that it isn’t true. Whatever the role of the ECJ in enforcing the single market regulations among EU member states, it has no power over Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, the non-EU countries who are part of EFTA and access the single market via the EEA Agreement.  Robert Oulds’ book Everything you wanted to know about the EU explains the difference clearly (p189) :-

Whereas the European Commission and the European Court of Justice regulate the EU’s compliance with the terms of the EEA agreement, EFTA’s side is managed by its own institutions.”

In other words, Mr Rentoul is jumping to conclusions. Mrs May has said that “it is not going to be a Norway model”, but she said nothing to preclude the Liechtenstein model – in other words,. re-joining EFTA and accessing the single market via the EEA agreement but invoking Article 112 of that agreement to reduce migration from the EU.

Another piece to take with a very hefty pinch of salt is this piece in the Irish Times by Professor Vernon Bogdanor, David Cameron’s former tutor.  Entitled Why Brexit will be Margaret Thatcher’s revenge, the piece claims that “those most likely to have voted for Brexit will suffer most after Article 50 is triggered.” It goes on to say that “Contrary to popular perceptions, article 50 inaugurates a withdrawal process, not a trade agreement.” I would like to know how many people Professor Bogdanor has met who really think that invoking Article 50 was anything to do with a trade agreement. I certainly haven’t met any!

Getting off on a bad note, he then parades even more ingorance than Mr Rentoul about the EEA. “Matters would be easier, of course, were Britain to emulate Norway and join the European Economic Area, ” he writes. Excuse me! As a mamber of the EU, the UK is ALREADY a member of the EEA. What I presume he means is that we should remain a participant in the EEA by re-joining EFTA, but it isn’t what he said. He then goes on to claim that “The EEA obliges member states to incorporate not only current EU laws, but also future legislation, into domestic law, and to accept the principle of free movement.” Wrong again. The EFTA countries who are part of the EEA are only required to transpose legislation specifically marked “EEA relevant” into domestic law.  Last October, Dr Richard North calculated that only 4,947 out of 23,076 pieces of legislation – in other words, about 21% of the total Acquis – had been incorporated onto Norway’s statute books, much of it technical in nature and much of it also originating with international bodies like the WTO, with the EU merely acting as a conduit.  As for free movement, there is some freedom to restrict it using Article 112 of the EEA, as we have aready noted.

Neither Messrs Rentoul nor Bogdanor seem aware of the Norwegian veto of the Third Postal Directive in 2012, which insisted on deregulating postal services across the EEA. This proves the point that non-EU countries cannot be touched by the ECJ and thus have far greater latitude in dealing with EU legislation, even when marked “EEA relevant.”

Next comes another myth:- “Per head, Norway currently pays around 83 per cent of the British contribution.” In 2015,  Norway paid £1.66 per head of population to access the EEA. We paid about £150. Either the great Professor inadvertantly included Norway’s voluntary contribution to various EU schemes or his calculator seems to be suffering from a chronic malfunction.

He then rounds up his dismissal of any EEA-type relationship by repeating the “regulation without representation” nonsense. Dear Professor Bogdanor, please get your facts right. Norway is represented on the Committess which create EEA-relevant law, even though the country does not have a vote. Read these words of Anne Tvinnereim, a Norwegian politician, who knows what she is talking about. “We do get to influence the position,” she said. “Most of the politics is done long before it {a new law} gets to the voting stage.”

Professor Bogdanor then rejects the Swiss option, which virtually everyone else has already done, but this leaves him with only the WTO option as a possible route, something which Mrs May, by proposing the nationalisation of EU law (in other words, giving laws passed by the EU their authority from our Parliament rather than the EU via the 1972 Accession Treaty) seems to have ruled out.

He is right to conclude that newly-independent UK will be more global. “The irony is that…..leaving the EU will expose Britain to more globalisation, not less.  Brexit, therefore, will be Margaret Thatcher’s revenge. It will suit the vision of the Tory right which hopes that, outside the EU, Britain could become like Hong Kong or Singapore, a global trading hub.” However, he then falls into the common trap of saying that this is exactly what Brexit voters don’t want. Vernon, old chap, I was accused by my opponent in one debate of selling a vision of an independent UK which was just that – “Singapore on steroids” to quote his words.

There are many of us who are excited by the global trading opportunities which Brexit will provide. A recent Fabian Society report linked the Brexit vote with economic deprivation and the lack of government spending on areas populated by the white working classes, but a look at the Brexit vote map shows that this is only part of the story. Many prosperous areas in the South East also voted for Brexit. In rural East Sussex where I live, plenty of large houses, presumably inhabited by people who are not at all economically deprived, displayed large “Vote Leave” boards in their gardens and outside their gates.

On one point I would agree with Professor Bogdanor:-  “Britain….has a deep-seated skills problem…. The priority, if May’s socially responsible capitalism is to be become a reality, must be a radical skills policy. That means more resources devoted to further education colleges, currently the Cinderellas of the education service, and to university technical colleges, for those whose skills are technical and vocational rather than academic.” Yes indeed, to make the most of Brexit, our education system needs to be signficantly re-vamped from top to bottom. Last year, we published Generations Betrayed, a booklet by Chris McGovern, which shows how much the history syllabus needs to be reformed. This, however, is only one of many features about the UK education system which is unsatisfactory.

In conclusion, however, after having ploughed through these confusing articles, the abiding thoughts they leave is a fervent hope that the people who are advising Mrs May about the best Brexit route are considerably more clued-up than Messrs Rentoul and Bogdanor and actually know what they are talking about.

Photo by NS Newsflash

June’s result must be respected

The result we achieved on 23rd June 2016 was a key victory but it is clear that this was not the end of the war. There are still key obstacles to be overcome before we find ourselves fully disengaged from EU membership.

The first issue is to ensure that we all agree, at least broadly, on what our negotiating strategy should be. Here, a broad consensus has emerged. Starting with trade, unless there are massive and permanent –  and thus very unlikely – derogations, we will have to be outside the Single Market, if we are going to secure control of our own borders, to reduce very substantially our payments to the EU and to be outside the jurisdiction of the EU’s Luxembourg Court. Ideally, we should then combine this with a Free Trade deal with the rest of the EU, which would keep our existing trade relations in place more or less as they are at the moment.

There is a school of thought which says that we would be better to be outside the Single Market but in the European Economic Area (EEA). This might be easier to negotiate but it could still leave us with obligations on free movement of labour, payments and jurisdiction which nearly everyone who voted Leave would like to avoid. Being outside the EEA – but in the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) – would therefore be a better bet, but this could be more difficult to negotiate. To secure a deal along these preferred lines, therefore, we may well need to be willing to walk away altogether from free trade with the EU, falling back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariff levels which are actually quite low – averaging around 3%. UK willingness to do this, however, if push comes to shove, may concentrate minds on achieving a free trade deal, which would make much more sense for everyone, within the two year period stipulated by Article 50 in the Lisbon Treaty.

Sorting out our trade relationships with the EU would very probably be the most difficult part of our Brexit negotiations, but it would leave a large number of other areas where co-operating with other countries in Europe on the right terms would make sense. Here our objective should be to ensure that there is maximum continuity but on the basis of inter-governmental co-operation rather than the UK being part of the EU’s federal project. As co-operation in all these areas is in everyone’s mutual interest, hopefully, reaching agreement will not be too difficult.

Having set the scene on where we would like to be, how are we going to make sure that we get there? There are significant obstacles in the way.  There is a large majority – probably between 75% and 80% – of MPs who were not Leave supporters. Some of them – ignoring the clear referendum result – are threatening to derail negotiations by opposing them on principle rather than in detail, either by calling for a second referendum or by having reversing Brexit as part of their manifestos for the next general election.  Others are preparing to oppose details of negotiations in such a way that the effect will be the same.

These are dangerous tactics, however, for those who want to win elections.  The outcome of the recent EU referendum was a decisive vote for Brexit. Those who feel they have the right to overturn the biggest vote ever in the UK for any proposition put before the electorate do so at their peril. A recent poll showed that 69% of those questioned thought that the decision taken on the referendum should be respected whether or not they agreed with it and only 22% were against.  Voters are not likely to be happy with either political parties or individuals who fail to support the electorate’s clearly expressed view. Eurosceptics should make sure that those standing for election know this.

Our Chairman’s letter to the Derby Telegraph in the aftermath of the referendum

Sir,

I am astonished at the downbeat response from many industries about the decision to leave the EU.

They appear to have been deliberately misinformed by the government – and to have swallowed it!

Around three quarters of EU legislation is geared to nudging us ever nearer to the Single European State – a country called Europe. That is the main purpose of the EU – “Ever Closer Union”.

The remaining 25% relates to trade regulation of the European Single Market, the only part of the EU project in which industry is interested. Arrangements already exist for non EU member countries to be in the Single Market without being in the EU political project. It is called the EEA – European Economic Area – the “Common Market” part of the project.

You can Google the detailed plan for continued participation in the Single Market. It is called “ FLEXCIT” . There are two versions – a forty eight page pamphlet and the full policy which extends to some 420 pages.

One objection to this policy is that the EEA involves the acceptance of the principle free movement of people. But, under Article 112 of the agreement, EEA member states can unilaterally impose restrictions when they experience excessive immigration. They do not have to ask anybody’s permission.

Another development which the government failed to mention is that most new business regulation is now global and comes from bodies like UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) which, for instance, sets the standards for motor vehicles. Whilst there is an EU Directive about this, it was not made in Brussels but merely transcribed from what UNECE agreed in Geneva.

As an EU member Britain has no voice at the real “top table” in Geneva. As an independent country, it will be able to influence matters there.

So there is every reason to look forward to a period of greater British influence in the way world trade is regulated.

Yours faithfully

Edward Spalton

The only show in town, says Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

Leave camp must accept that Norway model is the only safe way to exit EU

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

The Leave campaign must choose. It cannot safeguard access to the EU single market and offer a plausible arrangement for the British economy, unless it capitulates on the free movement of EU citizens.

One or other must give. If Brexiteers wish to win over the cautious middle of British politics, they must make a better case that our trade is safe. This means accepting the Norwegian option of the European Economic Area (EEA) – a ‘soft exit’ – as a half-way house until the new order is established.

It means accepting the four freedoms of goods, services, capital, and labour that go with the EU single market. It means swallowing EU rules, and much of the EU Acquis, and it means paying into the EU budget.

Leavers know that if they gave in to these terms, they would drive away all those other voters who want to slam the door on immigration. So the campaign has been evasive, hoping to muddle through until June 23 with the broadest possible church.

Some Brexiteers have tried to square the circle with blue sky romanticism on trade, or sweeping talk of a ‘Hong Kong’ model, or by suggesting we fall back to the default settings of the World Trade Organisation.

Professor Patrick Minford from Cardiff University was refreshingly candid in proclaiming that his Brexit vision would “eliminate” most of Britain’s manufacturing – what he describes as a Schumpeterian “good shock” to clear away dead wood  – but this is just as Utopian as EU ideology itself. It is no an answer to the politics of Project Fear.

As my colleague Allister Heath argued last week, there are great numbers of middle-class, centrist, Tory-leaning readers of The Telegraph who want Britain to restore sovereign self-government, but have been rattled by the barrage of taxpayer-funded propaganda. They crave reassurance that it really is safe to vote for Brexit.

Prof Minford is right to denounce the Treasury’s document on the short-term horrors of Brexit as “intellectually deceitful”, but his reasons are different from mine. The Treasury claimed that a “vote to leave would cause an immediate and profound economic shock”. The hit to GDP ranges from 3.6pc to 6pc, with a loss of 800,000 jobs in a ‘severe’ scenario, comparable in scale to the collapse of Western banking system in 2008.

What is striking about this ghoulish document is that it did not model the Norwegian EEA outcome, even though this ‘off-the-shelf’ option is the most likely counter-factual. The reason is obvious. Had the Treasury done so it could not have come up with such alarming figures. 

There have been two excellent reports on the EEA option, one by the Adam Smith Institute and another entitled ‘Flexcit’ by Richard North from the EU Referendum blog

The Adam Smith Institute starts from the premise that the EU is “sclerotic, anti- democratic, immune to reform, and a political relic of a post-war order that no longer exists.” It says the EEA option lets the public judge “what ‘out’ looks like” and keeps disruption to a minimum.

“The economic risks of leaving would thus be neutralised – it would be solely a disengagement from political integration. All the business scare stories about being cut off from the single market would fade away,” it said.

The report argues that everybody could live with an EEA compromise, whether the Civil Service, or the US, or the EU itself. Britain would then be a sovereign actor, taking its own seat on the global bodies that increasingly regulate everything from car standards, to food safety, and banking rules.  

“As Britain is already a contracting party to the EEA Agreement there would be no serious legal obstacle,” it says.

David Cameron disparages the Norwegian model as a non-starter. “While they pay, they don’t have a say,” he says.

Actually they do. As our forensic report on Norway by Szu Ping Chan makes clear, they have a de facto veto over EU laws under Article 102 of the EEA agreement. Their net payments were £106 a head in 2014, a trivial sum.

They are exempt from the EU agricultural, fisheries, foreign, defence, and justice policies, yet they still have “passporting” rights for financial services. Their citizens can live in their Perigord moulins or on the Costa Del Sol just as contentedly as we can. 

They do not have to implement all EU law as often claimed. Norway’s latest report shows it has adopted just 1,349 of the 7,720 EU regulations in force, and 1,369 out of 1,965 EU directives. 

The elegance of the EEA option is that Britain would retain access to the EU customs union while being able to forge free trade deals with any other country over time. 

There would be no need for a desperate rush to both reach a modus vivendi with the EU and to renew all the EU’s 80 bilateral deals with other countries and regional blocs before the two-year guillotine fell under Article 50, the EU secession clause. 

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, a former EU trade official (and Nick Clegg’s wife), argues that Britain is so short of trade expertise that it would struggle to assemble 25 experts even after repatriating staff from the EU. 

In this she is right. Where she is on shakier ground is to claim that we would need 500 officials “working intensely for a decade” to renew our third party trade deals.

Really? There is a simple administrative mechanism for the switch-over. All it requires is a filing at the United Nations under the “presumption of continuity” and trade goes on as before,  a procedure used time and again over the post-war era. 

This is what occurred after the break-up of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. It was the formula used for decolonisation in the 1960s. It  would take a willful decision to override this mechanism of international law, and it is hard to see why a close allies such as US, Canada, or Japan would act in such a fashion.

The G20 and the G7 profess to stand for free trade and keep telling us a lurch towards protectionism would shatter the world’s fragile economic order. 

What is true is that any EU state could stop Britain stepping back to the EEA. Hell hath no fury like a union spurned. But Article 3 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty says the union will uphold “free and fair trade” with the rest of the world, and this has legal force.

 Such vindictiveness would be the quickest and most certain way to tear the EU apart, for would it deeply damage the interests of the Dutch, Nordics, and Germans. It would cut across Britain’s intimate defence ties with France, and across Britain’s NATO pledge to Poland and the front-line states of Eastern Europe.

There may be many powerful reasons why Britain should remain in the EU, whether to ensure the comity of these Isles and show solidarity to Ireland, or to close ranks with our fellow liberal democracies at a time of civilizational threat. One thing that we do not have to worry about is a trade embargo, provided we stick to the safe ground of the EEA.

So we have bizarre situation. The Leave campaign is in effect lying about the Norwegian imperative because it dare not admit that EU migrants will continue coming to work in a post-Brexit Britain; and this in turn allows the Remain campaign to air its lies on economic Armageddon.

Just ignore them both. Every citizen is capable of reaching his or her own verdict on 40 years of EU conduct.

This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 2nd June 2016.