Brexit and some alternative facts

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. (anonymous, often misattributed to Eric Blair aka George Orwell)

The truth is usually more complex and subtle than the simplistic soundbyte beloved of politicians and media headline writers. Fake news is not necessarily the problem; misinformation can be spread because the basic assumptions are incorrect, the background has not been thoroughly investigated or it is just speculation masquerading as fact.

The following are a couple of quite significant examples.  However, please don’t take my word and incomplete knowledge of these subjects for granted.  A much better source is Eureferendum.com and the original source documents.

Control of EU Immigration Requires Leaving the Single Market – NOT TRUE

How often have we heard or read this, but it is not actually correct.  The Single Market (aka European Economic Area), created by the European Union (EU) and to which the members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) also belong has free movement of goods, persons, services and capital as basic principles (set by the EU). The conditions of access of members of EFTA to the single market are set out in the Agreement on the European Economic Area which also includes free movement as a basic principle.

However, the EEA Agreement also includes an opt-out which can be applied unilaterally by members of EFTA (see Chapter 4, Safeguard Provisions, Article 112), but obviously not by Members States of the EU.  It states:

  1. If serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectorial or regional nature liable to persist are arising, a Contracting Party may unilaterally take appropriate measures under the conditions and procedures laid down in Article 113.
  2. Such safeguard measures shall be restricted with regard to their scope and duration to what is strictly necessary in order to remedy the situation. Priority shall be given to such measures as will least disturb the functioning of this Agreement.

This opt-out is intended to be temporary (until a permanent solution is implemented), but nevertheless can be invoked and maintained in the absence of that permanent solution.  It has been used already by Liechtenstein to control immigration and Iceland to control capital flows in the wake of the financial crisis.

The EU negotiators are already setting terms for the EU-UK negotiations – NOT TRUE

How often has the media reported that this or that person, with an appropriate grand EU-related title, is already laying down tough terms for us? In reality, at the moment there are no negotiators as such – just political nominations by various posturing organisations within the EU set-up and their self-important leaders or other politicians. The small print of the Lisbon Treaty Article 50 states:

  1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
  2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union states:

  1. Without prejudice to the specific provisions laid down in Article 207, agreements between the Union and third countries or international organisations shall be negotiated and concluded in accordance with the following procedure.
  2. The Council shall authorise the opening of negotiations, adopt negotiating directives, authorise the signing of agreements and conclude them.
  3. The Commission, or the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy where the agreement envisaged relates exclusively or principally to the common foreign and security policy, shall submit recommendations to the Council, which shall adopt a decision authorising the opening of negotiations and, depending on the subject of the agreement envisaged, nominating the Union negotiator or the head of the Union’s negotiating team.
  4. The Council may address directives to the negotiator and designate a special committee in consultation with which the negotiations must be conducted.
  5. The Council, on a proposal by the negotiator, shall adopt a decision authorising the signing of the agreement and, if necessary, its provisional application before entry into force.

Clearly negotiations are with the Council (of the European Union) who nominates a negotiator and, at the time of writing, they haven’t done so, officially at least.

To sum up, all is not what is reported or stated to be true facts and because they are repeated so often, if not vehemently, it is easy to be taken in.

Trading with Canada – the EFTA angle

Mrs May is keeping her cards close to her chest regarding the sort of post-Brexit relationship she is seeking with the EU. Of course, there has been much intense and often ill-informed speculation in the media, which (in our opinion) is better ignored.

Occasionally, however, she or one of her team lets slip the occasional clue. It looks highly likely that the “WTO option” alias “Hard Brexit” is a non-starter.  In an exchange between the Prime Minister and Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Question Time last week, Mrs May said, “We’re going to deliver the best possible deal for trade in goods and services with and operation within the European Union, and we’re going to deliver an end to free movement.” A couple of days later, Greg Clark, the Business Secertary, told Andrew Marr that “our objective would be to ensure continued access to the markets in Europe and vice versa, without tariffs and without bureaucratic impediments.”

The obvious assumption is that some form of continuing membership of the European Economic Area is envisaged, either by re-joining EFTA, the European Free Trade Association, or by a one-off arrangment whereby the UK, as a current participant in the Single Market, will be allowed to continue to be a member of it after we leave the EU. Either way, once outside the EU, like Liechtenstein, we can avail ourselves of Article 112 of the EEA agreement and restrict freedom of movement by EU nationals into the UK.

This seems to be the direction in which Mrs May intends to take us. The decision of Nissan to produce two new models at its Sunderland plant points strongly towards some form of continued membersip of the EEA. The complexities of the supply chain, to which Greg Clark referred during his interview with Andrew Marr, are such that, without a guarantee that there would be no disruption, Toyota would have not made this commitment. As state aid – in the shape of compensation for loss of single market access – is ruled out by WTO  rules,  this once again points to some sort of continued access to the single market being Mrs May’s objective.

This, of course, has been a divisive issue among Brexit supporters. Ironically, if the government formally announces that this is the plan, it will bring our side closer together for no leave supporter views access to the single market, whether or not via EFTA membership, as anything other than a short-term holding position – to get us through the Brexit door without  disruption to trade. We all want a looser arrangement in the longer term.

However, EFTA membership would raise a number of interesting points. Firstly, EFTA already has a trade deal with Canada,  It is a much less contentious arrangement that the CETA deal between Canada and the EU. While all relevant parties have now signed the CETA deal, it is not yet in force and by the time it is fully implemented, we may well be on the way out. Signficantly, there has been objections from a few EU leaders to the idea of the UK automatically being able to “piggyback” onto trade deals to which it signed up as an EU member state.

As far as CETA is concerned, re-joining EFTA would not only cirumvent this problem, but would be a much better outsome, as the EFTA-Canada deal has a much simpler disputes system. Each party will nominate one person who is impartial, then they agree on a third person who will be the President of the tribunal, and the case is then heard. If this doesn’t work, the WTO arbitration process kicks in. All in all, this deal is much less likely to see our elected government sued by predatory multinationals. Anti-CETA campaigners should read more about the EFTA-Canada deal. Unfortunately, those who have e-mailed me about the subject do not seem to have EFTA on their radars at all. 

Of course, EFTA has suffered from a low profile for many years. Apart from Liechtenstein, which joined in 1991, no other country has become an EFTA member since 1970. The organisation has lost member after member to the EU and has had to accept underdog status in its dealings with the EU. It now has only 4 members as opposed to the 28 member states of the EU. Iceland, which currently holds the EFTA presidency, has expressed its support for the UK rejoining. “The EFTA countries might make an agreement with the UK,” said Iceland’s Foreign Minister Lilja Alfredsdottir. “We are chairing the EFTA right now and I put it as a priority to analyse the possibilities that EFTA had on this front.

Of course, the UK’s re-accession to EFTA would tip the balance slightly. It would still be much smaller than the EU, but the additional presence of a heavyweight European nation would certainly give he organisation some extra clout. More importantly, it would put EFTA back in the spotlight, which could be something of a worry to the EU. Would applicant countries like Serbia, Montenegro or even Turkey start to weigh the two options of EFTA or EU membership and decide that, even if they would not be bribed with further EU funds,  preserving their political freedom by joining an organisation that is committed to trade and not political integration might be a better bet? What about Sweden and Denmark, who may be tempted to follow us out of the Brexit door?

Back in the 1980s, Jacques Delors envisioned the EU and EFTA states as working in cooperation as partners in a “European village”, which in due course became the European Economic Area (EEA) alis the Single Market. However, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were fears that if joint decision making between the EU and EFTA was to be implemented,  the newly-independent nations of Central and Eastern Europe may plump for EFTA rather than the EU, which the EU hierarchy was none too keen on. The EU therefore had to be the lead partner and EFTA subordinate in the EEA. With EFTA still draining members to the EU in the 1990s, it had little choice in the matter. 

Now, however, Brexit has dealt a hammer blow to the credibility of the entire EU project at what was already a difficult time.  It has also put the final nail in the coffin as far as any hopes that existing EFTA members might leave it and join the EU. Making the EU more attractive than EFTA may have been a simple job in the early 1990s; the UK rejoining EFTA after Brexit in a couple of years’ time would lead to a very different perception of the situation.

Of course, to repeat, the EEA or indeed EFTA is not a long-term arrangement for the UK. Ideally, what is needed is a continent-wide free trade agreement – one without the baggage of CETA or TTIP – which would replace the EEA, probably EFTA too and would only include free movement of capital, goods and services like any normal free trade agreement. This is a long-term goal around which all Brexit supporters could unite.  In the short term however, EFTA, while far from perfect, may prove a valuable tool for tipping the balance of influence in Europe away from Brussels, which would be no bad thing.

(with thanks to Hugo van Randwyck for details about the EFTA/Canada FTA)

Restore Britains Fish

It is vital that the opportunities Brexit offers for our fisheries are exploited to the full. In my last piece, I pointed out that we should avoid any attempt to create a shadow Common Fisheries Policy. With the treaties no longer applying once the Article 50 negotiations are concluded, the Regulations which govern EU fishing policy will therefore cease to apply as well. This means that fisheries reverts to national control. In other words, the other EU countries will have no quota whatsoever unless we offer it to them.

In this article, I want to address another important issue. It is vital that we adopt the best practises from those countries who control their own fishing. Professor Philip Booth of the Institute or Economic Affairs recently produced a paper advocating the Icelandic model of fisheries management. I would strongly advise against such a policy. There is a much better model for us to emulate which is closer to home – the Faroese. Advocates of the Icelandic model, like Professor Booth fail understand the complexities of a mixed fishery in the relatively shallow water around the UK. Our fisheries are unique. Iceland’s waters do not contain as many different species as ours. Only the waters around the Faroe Islands, which share the effect of the Gulf Stream with us, are compatible.

Another reason for avoiding the Icelandic Model is that, like the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, it operates a quota system of weight per species per vessel. Norway is similar. By contrast, the Faroese system determines allocation by the number of days at sea. This is a much better system for a number of reasons which I will set out below.

1). The problem of discarding marketable species.

Discarding, whether at sea or to landfill, is immoral. However, with the Icelandic system, unless you can give every vessel a proportion of quota for every species, which is impossible, there will be discarding in one form or another. Even if you could come up with a complete quota system for every vessel and every species, inevitably one quota will run out before others. Of course, officialdom will try to devise ever more complicated ways to prevent discarding, but it is like a dog chasing its tail. It is unworkable.

By contrast, with the Faroese system, there is nothing to discard apart from a few undersized fish. Everything is sold and marketed

2) The effects on Fishermen’s attitudes.

In Iceland as much as the EU, whatever the authorities do to stop discarding, it is impossible in a quota-based system, even though it can appear solved on paper. In a mixed fishery, there is no way to avoid hauling up the wrong species for which a vessel may have no quota or have used it up. What do you do ? There are three choices, all unsatisfactory.

i) Keep them and sell them illegally.

ii) open the cod-end and let them go dead and dying back into the sea.

iii) Land them and incur a cost

A quota system puts pressure on fishermen to cheat if they are to survive.

Under the Faroese “Days at sea” system, everything you catch can be landed to be sold without fear of prosecution.

3) The need to report the catch

Fishermen play a key part in building up scientific data. They are required to report how many of each species they catch and where they were fishing when they caught them.

The quota system, which encourages cheating and discards, will inevitably result in falsified scientific data. After all, if you end up catching species for which you have no quota, it is human nature only to record to fish which you are entitled to catch. Likewise, if you catch a species that you have quota for, but caught them in an area you are not allowed. you will steam to the area where you are allowed and say you caught them there, which screws up scientific data.

Faroese fishermen, by contrast, have no fear of criminalisation. They have no reason to be dishonest and therefore record true data.

4) Fishing effort.

As was noted under 1) above, with a quota system, a given vessel will inevitably use up its quota for one species quicker than for others. In a mixed fishery, this means that when your quota for one or more species has been used up, a percentage of your catch cannot be sold – at least legally. This means lower profitability and more fishing time, along with increased pressure on fishing grounds.

A “days at sea” system means that you can fish without looking over your shoulder. There is one downside. The limit on the amount of time spent at sea means that fishing off the harbour entrance needs to be discouraged. However, with this caveat, the “days at sea” system is much more efficient as overall actual fishing time is reduced compared with the quota system.

5) Relationships between fishermen, scientists and fishery officers.

A quota system results in constant battles and lack of trust. Co-operations between the different groups is minimal as everyone is trying to outwit everyone else. By contrast, all three groups can work in harmony under a “days at sea” system.

6) Individual fishermen’s ability.

If fishermen are given a set allocation of weight per species, it gives little incentive to be innovative, progressive, or to improve. The “days at sea” system gives far more scope for fishermen to excel, benefitting from their own endeavours and maximising profit.

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Given the overwhelmingly advantages of the “days at sea” system, let us now have a closer look at how the Faroese make it work.

  • The harvesting licence is an operating licence issued to an individual vessel. The fishing licence specifies the details of fishing activities (catch and geographical area limitations) in which the vessel is permitted to participate, as well as gear requirements, requirements for reporting of catch data and information on landings or transshipments.
  • All vessels larger than 15 GT must maintain a daily log of their activities in an authorised catch logbook which is issued for this purpose, recording data for each set or haul and they must also have functioning satellite vessel monitoring systems (VMS) in both national and international waters.
  • We are constantly being told that because of straddling stocks, an independent UK must run a parallel system to the EU, The tiny Faroe Islands, however, has no problem in deciding what is best for its own fishermen and those who are allowed to fish in its waters. Faroese fisheries in other zones and in international waters have long been an important part of total Faroese fisheries catches, both in terms of total tonnage and economic value.
  • Faroese fishermen have a long tradition of fishing in foreign and international waters. The Faroe Islands have reciprocal fisheries agreements with neighbouring countries in the North Atlantic region – the European Union, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Greenland. These involve the exchange of fishing opportunities, including offering foreign vessels quotas and access to the Faroes’ zone in exchange for equal fishing opportunities for the Faroese fleet in their zones. These agreements provide Faroese fishing vessels with the scope and flexibility they need.
  • A number of fish stocks of great importance for the Faroese fishing fleet can therefore be fished both in the Faroese fisheries zone and in the zones of other countries and international waters. Managing and conserving these fish stocks is therefore a shared responsibility requiring close international cooperation between all relevant nations in the region.

The Faroe Islands have no resources other than the marine resources, yet they, a tiny nation of only 50,000 people, have been brave enough to introduce one of the most successful fisheries management systems currently in operation. Will we have the courage to break out of the quota mindset and follow their example?

Moving together towards the Brexit door?

What  a difference a week can make! This time last week, many of us were frantically pushing our final leaflets through doors, gritting our teeth and hoping that the soundings from grassroots campaigners across the country were going to prove more accurate than the official opinion polls. Now all that is behind us, although the shockwaves of the Brexit vote are still reverberating around the country, the EU and indeed, the whole world.

Some things, however, have not changed. I’m not just referring to the miserable summer weather, which kindly went on hold for a few hours last Friday morning to allow a beautiful sunrise to greet the fantastic result before reverting to type again, but also the dreadful standard of coverage of EU-related events in the mainstream media.

So what is exactly going on in Westminster, Brussels and Whitehall as far as Brexit is concerned?

Firstly, we can be reassured that, in spite of the petition for a second referendum reaching three million signatures and some Labour MPs also coming out in support of this, the Government has accepted the result. There will be no second referendum. A new Brexit unit has been set up, headed by Oliver Letwin and both Tory remainers and leavers have come together to look at the best way out. Former Remain MP Sajid Javid spoke for  many of his collegues when he said “We’re all Brexiteers now”. While distrust of our politicians was a big factor in the “leave” vote, it does seem that the pro-remain Tories are bowing to the inevitable and throwing their weight behind securing a smooth divorce from the EU.

There is no legal requirement for the UK to trigger Article 50 and begin the formal exit process.  After all, in law the referendum is actually a consultation only. Obviously, with so much resting on the result, it was never going to be brushed aside or ignored. Already  its shockwaves have caused the Prime Minister to resign and the UK’s Commissioner Lord Hill, has made his departure. It is a case of when rather than if. Although no formal talks are taking place with EU officials, both sides appear to be preparing for the process to begin at some point in the not-too-distant future.

The lack of any coherent exit strategy by the leaders of Vote.leave has not helped calm jittery nerves in this immediate post-referendum period. We were concerned before the referendum that the failure by the offical campaign to spell out their vision for a post-Brexit UK could lose us the vote.  Thankfully, this didn’t happen, but with the Government not expecting to lose and therefore having made little preparation either, it has led to something of a vacuum.

It is perhaps ironic that more pragmatic former Tory Remainers  are starting to line up alongside the Leave Alliance (of which CIB is a member) in recognising that withdrawal is a process rather than an event and in the interim, we must retain access to the Single Market. Support for the “Norway Option” or EEA/EFTA as it is better known, is therefore growing among our former opponents. Hopefully they will get up to speed quickly and realise that it is not a suitable long-term relationship with the EU for an independent UK. We can do better, but first, we need to get out smoothly.

For some 38% of leave voters, immigration was the big issue and there is a feeling among some leave supporters that any deal which allowed unrestricted freedom of movement to continue would mean that their vote was wasted. This, of course, was one reason why most of the big names on the leave side kept their distance from the EEA/EFTA route.

The best way of keeping everyone happy would appear to be what Richard North calls  the Liechtenstein solution.  This tiny country has used the provisions of the EEA agreement to restrict migration from the EU for over 20 years. As Dr North puts it, “The EU has been quite willing to negotiate with one of the three EFTA/EEA states on freedom of movement. Furthermore, they have come to an amicable solution, which has allowed it to secure an amendment to the treaty giving it a permanent opt-out to freedom of movement.  Of course, this won’t go far enough for some people, but it seems the best basis for an outline deal. The EU’s “four freedoms” remain intact for the 27 member states but we can still access the Single Market while giving ourselves a great deal of wiggle room as far as the emotive issue of migration from the EU is concerned. It is not twisting the rules, as some may fear, but rather, working within the rules.

The 400-plus page document Flexcit has been recently been updated to include more information about Liechtenstein’s use of the relevant articles in the EEA agreement.

The leader of another EFTA member, Iceland’s President  Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, welcomed the Brexit vote – giving the lie to those claiming that leaders of extremist parties were the only overseas politicians to speak positively of Brexit. In one Brexit debate last month, your author found himself confronted by a claim that we would not be allowed to re-join EFTA.  Mr  Grímsson’s statement proves the point, which I made at the time, that such claims are pure hogwash.

Two other issues are worth mentioning briefly. Firstly, Scotland will have to leave the EU along with the rest of the UK. Spain’s Mariano Rajoy, concerned about the possible secession of Catalonia, was quite adamant about this. This does not rule out Scotland applying to re-join the EU if it votes to secede from the UK in a future referendum, but that is another issue.  Secondly, the damage being done by the Brexit vote to both the EU’s economy and indeed its general credibility has removed one possible obstacle. While the other member states regret the result of last week’s vote, this piece in EU Observer suggests they are resigned to it, want us to get cracking and seem most unlikely to derail the Brexit process.

Of somewhat less signifiance is the statement by Australia and New Zealand that they wished to make the most of the trade opportunities provided by Brexit.  It sounds good and may well be an option to pursue in the longer term, but there is one fundamental problem:- the serious lack of experienced trade negotiators in the UK after 40 years of delegating this job to the EU.

This one issue highlights the sheer complexity of the negotiations which lie ahead of us. There is the possibility that it could go wrong, leaving us worse off financially. We could be bogged down in negotiations for years if things become difficult. The forthcoming Conservative Party leadership campaign therefore assumes a particular importance in this respect. We need a cool-headed Prime Minister who will seek the best deal for our country and lead us safely thought the Brexit door.

 

If South Korea can do it, why can’t we?

THE PRESS OFFICE OF                                                           

The Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Independent Labour)  

News Release

3rd November 2015

Peer hammers Government for pro-EU bias and stay-in campaigners for belittling our country’s ability to stand on its own

During a debate on the European Union Referendum Bill in the House of Lords (02.11.15), the independent Labour Peer, Lord Stoddart of Swindon has pointed out the bias being exhibited by the Government in the debate about Britain’s future in the EU and strongly criticised fellow peers who regularly talk down Britain’s ability to cope as an independent sovereign nation.

Lord Stoddart said that it is impossible to obtain unbiased information from “…the Government because they are in fact biased. I say that because the Prime Minister has just been to Iceland where he made his position perfectly clear, which is that he wishes to remain in the EU. He believes that it is the best thing for Britain to do, so he has made his position absolutely clear. How can the Government be unbiased?

In a hard hitting speech, Lord Stoddart bluntly stated that “the British national interest cannot be served in the European Union. That is because the European Union is exactly what it says it is and what it wants to become. It has been made perfectly clear by unelected officials and indeed by elected people that they want further integration. However the Prime Minister tries, he will never be able to join a full Union unless he is prepared to agree to more integration.”

Lord Stoddart also expressed serious concerns about the habit those who support staying in the EU have of belittling our country and its ability to thrive as an independent nation. “The other thing that has worried me about this debate is the lack of confidence that so many people have in this country’s ability to negotiate with other countries and to stand on its own and build up its own businesses and exports. Why is it that other countries in the world can do it? Why can South Korea do it with a population of 25 million? Why cannot Britain, with a population of 65 million, negotiate successfully with other countries when smaller countries including Saudi Arabia and Iceland can? The Prime Minister of Iceland made it perfectly clear that it was doing very well outside the EU with a population of 350,000 and did not want to go into the EU any longer. Why have we lost confidence in ourselves?”

The full text of some of Lord Stoddart’s remarks during the debate are as follows. Click on this link for the full debate.

Referendum Bill – second reading

House of Lords – 2nd November 2015

Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Ind Lab): My Lords, I have been listening to this debate all afternoon and I find it very interesting indeed. I also realise that all the amendments are well meant, but I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, has hit the nail on the head. What she wants is unbiased information, and she believes that you cannot get it from the Government because they are in fact biased. I say that because the Prime Minister has just been to Iceland where he made his position perfectly clear, which is that he wishes to remain in the EU. He believes that it is the best thing for Britain to do, so he has made his position absolutely clear. How can the Government be unbiased? The noble Baroness said that we have civil servants and they will be unbiased. Civil servants are never unbiased; they take their lead from the boss, as in fact they should. Knowing that the Prime Minister has gone abroad and said that he believes that the United Kingdom should remain in the EU come what may will condition whatever is put into these reports. We should make no mistake about that.

2 Nov 2015 : Column 1450

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: Would the noble Lord allow for the possibility that the Prime Minister might have reached the position he now holds because of his concept of the British national interest and his position as Prime Minister in trying to define that national interest?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Yes, I believe that the Prime Minister believes that, but the British national interest cannot be served in the European Union. That is because the European Union is exactly what it says it is and what it wants to become. It has been made perfectly clear by unelected officials and indeed by elected people that they want further integration. However the Prime Minister tries, he will never be able to join a full Union unless he is prepared to agree to more integration, and that of course will also mean joining the euro. Further integration must include the euro and anyone who wishes to be part of further integration will have to join it or else leave or become some sort of associate member. Those are the facts and we should not try to deny them.

6 pm

The other thing that has worried me about this debate is the lack of confidence that so many people have in this country’s ability to negotiate with other countries and to stand on its own and build up its own businesses and exports. Why is it that other countries in the world can do it? Why can South Korea do it with a population of 25 million? Why cannot Britain, with a population of 65 million, negotiate successfully with other countries when smaller countries including Saudi Arabia and Iceland can? The Prime Minister of Iceland made it perfectly clear that it was doing very well outside the EU with a population of 350,000 and did not want to go into the EU any longer. Why have we lost confidence in ourselves? Why is it that so many people say we have to be members of this great organisation to succeed?

Common sense prevails in Iceland

Last week, Iceland formally withdrew its EU membership application. Given the importance of fishing to Iceland’s economy it is hardly surprising that the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy has proved a major stumbling block. As with Norway, it has long been a principal factor in Icelandic lukewarmness to the EU, and when the country did start formal accession talks following the collapse of its banking sector, an agreement on the CFP was always going to be a challenge. Discussions never got beyond an EU demand for Iceland to reduce its mackerel catch and to abide by EU quotas. As one report put it, the EU gave Iceland an ultimatum: It’s us or the fish. Iceland chose the fish.

With the a centre-right anti-EU government in power since elections in 2013, these devfelopments have come as no surprise. Accession talks ceased two years ago, although there has been some opposition recently to the process being terminated without a referendum. However, those supporters of membership who took to the streets of Reykjavik  must surely recognise that they represent a shrinking minority. Opinion polls indicate that the sceptical Icelanders are becoming even more opposed to their country joining the EU.

Many of Iceland’s senior politicians strongly support their country’s independence. Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, Iceland’s Foreign Minister, said that “Iceland’s interests are better served outside the European Union.” Iceland has an advantage over Switzerland and Norway in this area. In these countries, well-organised anti-EU movements have more or less ensured that any referendum on joining the EU would be defeated, but it would be over and against the wishes of quite a few senior politicians who would like their country to join. David Cameron is fond of quoting Norwegian politicians who moan about their country’s relationship with the EU, even though Richard North and Peter Troy were easily able to find Norwegian MPs who were far happier to be outside the EU when they produced their DVD The Norway Option.

There is a lesson for the UK here. If tiny Iceland, with its population of barely one third of a million people (less than the population of Gloucestershire, in other words), has the confidence that it can survive outside the EU, those politicians in the UK who paint such a bleak picture of our country’s prospects outside the EU must be challenged. Such negativity flies in the face of the reality of our northern neighbour’s self-confidence. If Iceland can prosper as a sovereign independent country, so can we.

Photo by JasonParis