EFTA might save the day if MPs will read the small print

We have pointed out regularly on this website that, for all its faults as a long-term relationship with the EU, the EEA/EFTA route – whereby the UK remains in the European Economic Area (EEA) by re-joining EFTA, the European Free Trade Association – is a much better short-term arrangement to see us out of the Brexit door than the current proposed “Vassal State” transitional arrangements, particularly as it appears that these will be based on “good faith” rather than a treaty. Since when has the EU ever respected “good faith”?

More on good faith here, but it appears that the initial talking down and misrepresentation of the EEA/EFTA route by David Cameron selectively and inaccurately  highlighting the negatives, which were duly repeated parrot-fashion by everyone from Nick Clegg to Nigel Farage for their different reasons has distorted MPs’ perception of  what in reality could be a life saver for Mrs May and her government, whilst taking the wind out of the sails of all but the most fanatical remoaners.

This option has been brought into focus once again by Iceland’s Foreign Minister Guðlaugur Thór Thórðarson. A year ago, speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, he urged the UK to rejoin EFTA and this last week, he has intervened in the Bexit debate again, saying that Iceland’s relationship with the EU had been misrepresented in the Brexit debate and allowed more independence than many people realised. “We have the best of both worlds, we can make deals wherever we like, we usually do it through EFTA,” said Thórðarson, adding “We also have bilateral agreements, for example we were the first Western nation to sign a bilateral agreement with China,” adding, “It’s not true we take 80 to 90 percent of [EU’s] acquis, we have taken 13.4% since 1994.” Of course, Iceland is not tied to the Common Fisheries Policy, the Common Agricultural Policy nor to any of the political structures of the EU.  As an EFTA country, it is out of the direct reach of the European Court of Justice. If the terms of the EEA agreement are found to be unsatisfactory, the agreement can be ended by simply giving a year’s notice.

Given the overlap between free trade agreements signed by the EU and those signed by EFTA, following Iceland and Norway’s example would enable trade to continue to flow seamlessly between the UK and EU as well as  countries like the USA, Japan, South Korea and Mexico. It would also much reduce the Irish border problem. Some hard brexirteers applauded the suggestion by Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, that Britain should avoid the Article 50 procedure altogether and simply leave. But they overlooked the fact that he suggested that the UK should move instantly to the EEA/EFTA model, pending completion of final negotiations which, he foresaw, could take some years.

At the moment, Mrs May is squeezed between a rock and a hard place. Six out of the 11 members of her “Brexit war cabinet” have stated their opposition to any “customs partnership” while 60 Tory MPs have insisted that they will not support the government if it pursues a “customs partnership” as it would make meaningful trade deals “impossible” and render the Department of International Trade “obsolete”. Given that Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of these sixty, has stated his willingness to endure 21 months of the proposed “Vassal State” transitional arrangement, it is hard to imagine that using EFTA instead as a transition would lead to widespread revolt. On the other hand, the security offered by EFTA would deprive the hard-core remainiacs of their support on both the Tory and Labour benches. The reasons given, for instance by Dr Sarah Wollaston, for supporting the House of Lords amendment – namely that she was not prepared to “endorse economic ruin” – would no longer apply.  There would be no credible reason for MPs not supporting the EEA/EFTA route unless they were genuinely determined to wreck Brexit. Some of the Lords, according to Lord Lamont, are seeking to do just this.  The EFTA route would pull the rug from under their feet, as few MPs would like to be exposed as mere wreckers when there would be no reasonable grounds to justify their behaviour.

This option could well become more attractive given that ever more MPs are starting to speak out against any close customs partnership with the EU. But, if the EEA/EFTA route is necessary at some stage on the way to a final settlement, it looks more tolerable than anything else which is within the bounds of possibility as a transitional arrangement during the few available remaining months of opportunity before the Article 50 notice expires.

Take part in the campaign to make sure that Brexit is not blocked – Email the Lords

Take part in the campaign to make sure Brexit is not blocked

 

Please ask the members of the House of Lords not to oppose, nor water down, Brexit.

Email them to support the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Petition the Peers to respect the referendum result and vote the right way.

Ask the Lords to support our exit from the European Union. The referendum of 23rd June 2016 must be the final say on this issue.  The EU should not be led to believe that the UK will settle for anything less than a full exit from the European Union.

The Members of the House of Lords, having approved the referendum, should keep faith with the result.

Ask them to conclude the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill’s passage through the House of Lords without opposing it or seeking to water down Brexit. And above all else without stipulating that there should be a further and thoroughly unnecessary second referendum. Nor should there be an opportunity for the decision to leave to be overturned.

Click here to email individual members of the Lords

This will send an email to your chosen Peer, or Bishop, concerning the EU (Withdrawal) Bill

One step nearer….

It’s good to have some good news on the Brexit front after hearing of the hardening of the EU’s stance on the proposed transitional arrangement and the recent but unnecessary talk of a second referendum. Last night, something positive happened which takes us one small step nearer to leaving the EU – the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons and will now go to the Lords.

Recently, the focus of Brexit has been on our future relationship with the EU once we leave. There is another equally important aspect of leaving the EU  – ensuring that we have sufficient laws in place to enable the country to run smoothly on Brexit day. Essentially, all laws passed by the EU which have then been included on our statute books derive their authority from the EU treaties, but these will cease to apply once we leave the EU and repeal the 1972 Accession treaty, so the resultant legislation also becomes null and void.

In order to avoid a legal vacuum, with no regulation at all covering areas of day to day life, laws originating with the EU must be “repatriated” so that they derive their authority from our Westminster Parliament instead and this is what the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill provides a framework for. They will not necessarily be transposed verbatim. Last year, we highlighted the problems with so doing using one particularly obnoxious law – the Fisheries Regulation 1380/2013 – as an example.

The debate over the Bill has centred on the scale of the task in ensuring all this legislation works for an independent UK. Labour has been concerned that the Government may try to twist the necessary re-wording of some directive and regulations for its own political advantage, bypassing Parliament in the process – commonly referred to by the media as the “Henry VIII powers”. However, all the proposed amendments were defeated (See here)

What is more, not a single Conservative MP voted against the bill. Even Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry trooped into the “Aye” lobby! Four Labour MPs – Kate Hoey, John Mann, Graham Stringer and Frank Field (along with the suspended Kelvin Hopkins), rebelled against the party whip to support the government which ended up with a majority of 29. They deserve our thanks. A further eight Labour MPs did not vote either way. A full list of how MPs voted can be found here.

For the benefit of anyone not familiar with Parliamentary procedure, bills normally pass through three reading before coming law. The final reding has now been completed. The predominantly Europhile House of Lords may try their hands with further amendments, but some of their number have thankfully acknowledged that it is not appropriate for an unelected body to try to mess up the democratic will of the people. There may, perhaps, be a bit of further Parliamentary ping-pong with any Lords’ amendment, but  essentially, we are one step nearer leaving the EU as very little now stands in the way of one vital piece of the Brexit jigsaw finally being put in its place.

Is David Davis going to set us free from the EAW?

It is very good to see that David Davis, by raising the point about the supremacy of the ECJ’s jurisdiction over the EAW, has taken a first step to breaking us free from the shackles of the continental inquisitorial justice system, so alien from ours. I am hoping that he might now take a second step, viz, as follows:

In my speech on Alien Legal Systems, at the CIB event in the House of Lords on March 15th this year, I mentioned David Davis. Here is an extract from that speech, with my personal challenge to him which he might now answer, and indeed perhaps he will answer it:

 “For us in Britain, the preliminary public hearing in open court,  where the prisoner is formally charged, must take place within hours, or at the most a few days, after his arrest and detention.

Some years ago there was an attempt to extend this, in serious terrorist cases, to three months, then reduced to six weeks. An MP called David Davis fought a noble battle of principle against this – he resigned his seat and stood again for Parliament on this very point – Habeas Corpus. He won and was returned to his seat. In the end, Parliament fixed a maximum limit of 28 days of detention without charge, and only in exceptional cases of terrorism. This is what we in Britain consider to be “reasonable”.

But for many EU states, under their Napoleonic-inquisitorial jurisdictions, it is considered “reasonable” to keep a prisoner under lock and key with no public hearing for six months, extensible by three months at a time. These are the terms of the Commission’s Corpus Juris proposal for an embryo single uniform criminal code to cover the whole of Europe, including the British Isles. This is what is may be faced by anyone in Britain who is targeted by a European Arrest Warrant. And on a long list of crimes, not just terrorist cases.

Now is the David Davis who resigned his seat to stop the six weeks’  detention bill on no evidence, the same David Davis now in charge of the government’s Brexit department? If so, does he share Ms Rudd’s wish to keep us subject to, not six weeks, but six months and, in the case of Andrew Symeou, nearly a whole year’s detention with no public hearing? If he opposes it, will he please say so openly?

This is no marginal matter. As I have shown, whoever controls criminal justice, controls the police and prisons, and thus holds the  ace of trumps in the struggle for power over a country. And that is precisely what Brexit is really about – who shall hold power in this land? Shall it be the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels? Or shall it be the people of Britain?

So we see that the European Convention is a very thin blanket,  designed to cover systems with Habeas Corpus as well as those without. It can only work if the woolly ambiguity of its use of words like “reasonable” [in article 6, referring to a prisoner’s right to a public hearing within a “reasonable time”] remains unchallenged.”

[For your ease of reference, the whole speech is here (7 pages)]

Peer says that the General Election could mean that anti-Brexit Peers have committed the “ultimate act of political hara kari”

THE PRESS OFFICE OF                                                           

The Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Independent Labour)                                                                                          

News Release

 

19th April 2016

 

House of Lords “badly served” by anti-Brexit Peers as it faces threat to its powers from General Election

 

The independent Labour Peer, Lord Stoddart of Swindon has reacted to the announcement of a General Election by pointing out the threat it is to the future of the House of Lords, following its opposition to the Government’s Brexit legislation.

Lord Stoddart said:  “The House of Lords has been badly served by those Peers who have threatened to delay or block Brexit completely, because their threats have certainly contributed to the Prime Minister’s decision to call a General Election.  Undoubtedly, the Tories will include a manifesto pledge to clip the wings of the Lords by sharply reducing the period by which Peers can block legislation.  They could also propose a reduction in the number of Peers or restrictions on their eligibility to take part in votes.

“Standing up to the Government is one thing but seeking to invalidate the will of the people cannot and should not be tolerated.  Opposing Brexit as strongly as they did may go down in history as the ultimate act of political hara kari by Peers who should have known better.”

Ends

 

When turkeys really do vote for Christmas

“Don’t worry, Rupert,” said the backbench MP I was having tea with, “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.”

The “turkeys” in question were the House of Lords, and the “Christmas” was the idea that they would seek to block Brexit by undermining Article 50 Bill.

Well, we now know that the Lords have voted to defeat the government on the rights of EU citizens in the UK – and by doing so have thrown UK citizens in the EU to the wolves. Given the size of the rebel majority, it now looks likely that the Lords will inflict other defeats on the government on this Bill.

This should not come as a surprise. There have been many instances in the past when turkeys have voted for Christmas. As a rule, this happens when the turkeys have managed to convince themselves that they are voting for Easter, not for Christmas. They ignore the gathering storm clouds heavy with the snows and blizzards of winter, and instead see only the narrow gleam of sunlight that they think heralds spring and so rush eagerly forwards seeking chocolate eggs.

Perhaps I am taking this analogy too far.

Let me give you some examples.

In 1785 the government of France faced bankruptcy. King Louis XVI brought in the financial guru Jacques Necker to solve the problem. Necker looked at the hideously unfair tax system by which poor peasants were highly taxed, but wealthy nobles lived largely tax-free. He proposed a new tax system under which the nobles and the Church paid their fair share of taxes. The nobles were appalled and forced Louis to sack Necker, bringing in a more compliant finance minister who scrapped the idea of taxing the nobles. The noble turkeys thought that they had voted for chocolate eggs at Easter, but instead had voted for Christmas in the form of the French Revolution that followed. Many of their heads fell on the guillotine as a result.

On 5th December 1648 the English Parliament voted to accept a proposal from King Charles I that put forward a new settlement to end the Civil War that had been raging since 1642. They had forgotten that the army leaders no longer trusted Charles and would accept no deal that saw him returned to power. The next day, the army arrived at Parliament in the shape of Colonel Thomas Pride with two regiments of armed soldiers. He arrested 45 MPs and threw them into prison, while another 300 fled. Only 151 MPs were allowed to take their seats, and they did so under the guns of the soldiers. The MPs had convinced themselves that they were voting for peace, plenty and the rule of law. Instead they had precipitated a military dictatorship headed by army commander Oliver Cromwell.

In 1221 the Governor of Merv, then one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world, ordered the execution of some merchants. The pretext was that they had broken a rule on trading, but in reality it was because he wanted to confiscate their goods. It was, possibly, the most disastrous decision in history. The merchants were the envoys of Genghis Khan, ruler of the Mongols. Genghis Khan dropped everything to avenge the insult. He arrived at Merv with an army of around 50,000 men, stormed the poorly defended city and massacred the entire population. It is thought that over a million people were killed. The governor had thought he was voting for Easter in the form of a haul of treasure, but he actually played the role of a turkey at Christmas, as did the entire population of his city.

And so to today. The Lords believe that they can thumb their noses to the government and to the people. They think that they are voting for Easter in the form of flagrant virtue signalling and feeling smug over their smart dinner parties, while seeking to undermine Brexit.

It remains to be seen if they have voted for Easter or for Christmas.