Why did we vote to leave? Two quick reminders

A number of UK companies are to be given a pre-Brexit leaving present by the EU – a substantial fine. According to this piece in Bloomberg, the European Commission intends to complete its investigation into a controversial tax break for U.K.-based multinationals will be ready later this year. None of the companies involved in the U.K. probe is accused of wrongdoing. It is the government’s tax system is the issue for regulators in Brussels.

With the second anniversary of the Brexit vote looming, here is a timely reminder of why we voted to leave – to take back control from these unelected bureaucrats.

Another reminder was provided by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator. He warned that we would be ejected from Europol and from the European Arrest Warrant (EAW). Although meant as a threat, if his words are to be taken at face value. they ought to be a cause of rejoicing for Brexit campaigners. On this website, we have repeatedly highlighted the failings of the EAW and have stated that Brexit must mean our withdrawal from it.

Unfortunately, things are not that simple. Barnier’s words are most likely designed to pile additional pressure on Theresa May, who is desperate to keep us in the EAW. Still, who knows, more by accident than design, thanks to the government’s lack of progress,  we could end up with a better Brexit at least in the area of criminal justice than the Government actually intends?

Separating the wood from the trees

As the “ping-pong” continues between the two Houses of Parliament over the amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, it is easy to end up very confused, bogged down by a mass of detail.

Part of the problem is separating the wood from the trees. Some items of news, touted as major developments, could better be described as “going round in circles”. More of the same, in other words. Take, for example, the “Backstop” plan announced by HM Government two weeks ago – a temporary customs agreement  which, so it believed, would solve the Irish border problem.  Any gambler would have been justified in betting that the proposals would amount to nothing new and would promptly be rejected by the EU.  This, of course, is exactly what happened. In his usual polite, but measured way, Michel Barnier dismissed the UK plans. Here is his speech. For those readers not wanting to read it in full, this short extract, where he contrasts the EU’s “backstop” proposals (which have been deemed unacceptable by  a number of pro-Brexit supporters in the UK) with HM Government’s, is sufficient to show just how wide of the mark our side still is:-

But let me recall that our backstop provides answers to each of these questions.

It provides specific solutions to the unique situation of Northern Ireland.

The UK is taking a different angle, however. It is looking for a UK-wide solution.

Let me be clear: our backstop cannot be extended to the whole UK.

Why? Because it has been designed for the specific situation of Northern Ireland.

What does it do? On customs, Northern Ireland would form part of our customs territory. What is feasible with a territory the size of Northern Ireland is not necessarily feasible with the whole UK….

So it’s back to the drawing board with the clock continuing to tick.

If further evidence was needed of how good life can be outside the EU, even for signatories of the EEA agreement, this documentary on Liechtenstein is worth listening to.  It includes an interview with the country’s Prince.  If anyone should know how well this small country is functioning outside the EU but yet within the EEA, its leader must surely be the man.

Such is the muddle at the heart of government that some serious commentators are now claiming that we will never achieve Brexit. The forthcoming European Council looks to be a bad time for Mrs May. On the one hand, she is nowhere near to coming up with any sort of agreement to which the EU will agree. On the other hand, some of her backbenchers are threatening to bring down the government over fears that Brexit will be botched and disaster ensue.

The standard of reporting by the press when it comes to Brexit has left much to be desired, Looking at things more objectively, the two problems the government is facing are closely related. There are unquestionably a few determined “wreckers” who have not come to terms with the Brexit vote and never will. There are also mainy remain-voting MPs who have accepted the verdict of the referendum but will only go along with the government’s plans if they are confident that the country will not suffer economic turmoil and dislocation. They, unlike their more gung-ho Brexit colleagues, are aware of the problems which we, among others have highlighted if we have to crash out of the EU without a deal and bringing down the government is the only weapon left in their arsenal.

We have long been saying that only a crisis will bring a change of direction.  Thankfully, the government’s complete lack of ability to address the outstanding issues, let alone throw its weight behind a solution which will be acceptable to Parliament, makes such a crisis increasingly likely.  If it leads to a reconsideration of something like the EFTA route, this could actually prove beneficial, detaching from the hard core head-banging remainiacs those pragmatic MPs who are prepared, in spite of their own personal preference, to support the people’s democratic decision with a sensible Brexit and thus ensure that we do finally leave the EU next March.

Stagnation

Italy has a new government, but only after a great deal of wrangling. The principal reason for the impasse is that, like the Brexit vote in 2016,  frustration with the European Union was an important motivation for the Italians’ decision to vote in large numbers for two eurosceptic parties.

The situations in the two countries at the moment are nonetheless very different. We are on the way out. True, many Brexit supporters are finding themselves increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress in the Brexit negotiations but there are good grounds for believing that we will leave – eventually., somehow.

Italy, by contrast, is still in the EU and there is no immediate likelihood of “Italexit”. Many inhabitants of this founder member of the European Union are distinctly unenthusiastic at the way EU membership has affected their country, but this doesn’t mean they want to leave altogether..

What both countries have in common is that they have come up against the dead hand of inertia. Essentially, big, bloated states and bureaucracies do not make decisions quickly. Stagnation is the inevitable result. Those of us who can remember the latter years of the Soviet Union will recall that by the time of Mikhail Gorbachev, it had lapsed into stagnation – unable to respond to events. The EU is in a similar position. No senior figure since Jacques Delors seems to have any vision for the EU’s future direction. The enlargement process, after the celebrations of 2004, seems to have ground to a halt.

However, just like the Soviet Union, the EU does not like anyone trying to take it in a direction in which it does not want to go. This piece by Norman Lamont  claims that the EU is very uncomfortable with democracy when it produces a result it doesn’t like. Unfortunately for the Italians, the stagnation into which the EU has descended is going to make it difficult to sort out their country’s moribund economy. A well-informed website claimed that it was actually Berlin which forced the Italian President to reject the nomination of a Eurosceptic finance minister by the putative new government, forcing a climbdown and nearly precipitating new elections, the result of which would most likely have been a parliament containing even more Euro-critical MPs.

For us in the UK, this tendency towards stagnation has made it very hard for us to achieve a successful Brexit.  Last week, Michel Barnier delivered a speech expressing his frustration at the slow progress of Brexit talks. In one sense, he has some justification – our side has been going round in circles ever since Article 50 was invoked. To leave the EU seamlessly requires a lot of research and an appreciation of the nature of the beast. It could be argued that our side has failed almost totally on both counts.

And the struggles the EU is going through, including the Italian crisis, are more than sufficient vindication of our decision.  In a fast-moving world, the EU’s inbuilt bias to inertia makes it ill-equipped to respond to change. We could do much better as a sovereign state – the big problem is making our escape. A rocket needs a huge amount of power to escape the gravitational pull of the Earth and fly off into space. Our negotiators will need to try a lot harder if we are to escape from the gravitational power of the EU.

 

Brexit roundup – short-term problems; longer-term potential?

With Parliament  still in the Easter recess, things have been a bit quieter than usual on the Brexit front. However, the well-supported fishing protests last Sunday suggest that we are going to be entering a  period in which the Government will face ever-mounting pressure to try a different approach to securing some sort of workable short-term post Brexit arrangement.

The long term is not looking promising either. Given how readily Mrs May and David Davis rolled over, what is the likelihood of their resisting demands from Michel Barnier that the UK sign a “non-regression” clause in any long-term agreement, which would force the UK not to undercut EU standards on tax, health and the environment to poach investments. He has also insisted that access for EU fishing vessels must be included in any long-term deal. The “environment” issue is a red herring as many EU environmental laws owe their existence to UK influence, but why should we not determine who fishes in our waters? Why should we be denied the freedom to cut tax? The state in the UK is horrifically bloated, as in most other Western nations.  It needs to be shrunk drastically and were this to be undertaken, taxes would inevitably undercut those in many EU member states.

Going back to the transitional arrangements, a report from the House of Commons Brexit Committee has confirmed that if a “deep and special partnership” with the EU proved unsuccessful, EEA/Efta membership was an alternative that could be implemented quickly. Although the Committee is looking at EEA/Efta as a long-term solution (which it isn’t)  it would be a better alternative than the current proposals for the short term, which poses the question as to why Mrs May and her team are pursuing such a damaging alternative. Maybe they still believe that it’s worth enduring 21 months of humiliation because  there will be a marvellous deal at the end – a hope which is unlikely to be fulfilled. Barnier’s comments make it clear that he wants to deny us as much long-term freedom as possible.

A number of Commonwealth countries have been discussing a future trade relationship with the EU. The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that it would be “fairly easy” to negotiate “an improved approach on trade between Canada and the UK” after Brexit. The same article claimed that India is becoming less enthusiastic, no doubt due to  the recent statement by Theresa May that she still intended to reduce annual net UK migration to less than 100,000, meaning that India’s desire for more of its citizens to come over here as part of a new trade deal is unlikely to be fulfilled. Australia is also keen to start negotiations with the UK on trade, but pointed out that  if we stayed in the EU’s customs union after Brexit, we wold become “irrelevant”.

Meanwhile, disgruntled remoaners are still seeking to over turn Brexit by demanding a second referendum.  For all her failings in other areas of Brexit, at least Mrs May is standing firm on this. “Regardless of whether they backed Leave or Remain, most people are tired of hearing the same old divisive arguments from the referendum campaign, and just want us to get on with the task of making Brexit a success. And they’re right to think that. The people of this country voted to leave the EU and, as Prime Minister, it’s my job to make that happen.” she said in a recent speech to mark one year until Brexit day.

Mrs May is most definitely right in claiming that most people have had enough of Brexit controversy. Claims that some 44% of voters want a second referendum do not tally with real-life experience.  Given that the poll was conducted by a pro-remain group, Best for Britain,  a healthy degree of scepticism is justified. Mrs May has the support of Jeremy Corbyn in opposing a second referendum and it is doubtful whether those activists on both sides of the argument who spoke in debate after debate, criss-crossing the country and having to suspend anything resembling a normal life for three months would want to go through it again.

The clamour is coming from those who wouldn’t have to do the donkey work. The latest addition to the ranks of these good-for nothings is David Miliband, who called Brexit “the humiliation of Britain.”  Well, Mrs May does seem to be trying to do this at the moment, but a decent Brexit would be the absolute opposite – a chance to stand tall as a sovereign nation once again. there’s nothing humiliating about this.  One after another, the fears stoked up by remoaners are being debunked. The UK economy has performed well since the vote and only today, Andreas Dombret, Member of the Executive Board of the Deutsche Bundesbank, stated that despite attempts to lure parts of the finance industry to Paris or Frankfurt, London would remain Europe’s financial hub after Brexit.  A mass exodus from the City was always a concern during the referendum campaign, but such fears are unfounded.

In many ways, a healthy debate on how we leave  – i.e., the relative merits of the current transitional proposal versus EEA/Efta as a holding position will take the wind out of the remoaners’ sails and would cut their media exposure in favour of more important issues. However, one cannot overstate the importance of winning this debate. Brexit must mean Brexit (to quote Mrs May). Surrendering to the EU’s demands for a transitional deal would prevent us fully achieving the separation for which we voted in June 2016. This must not happen.

The fantasy of a “frictionless” trade agreement

Mrs May and Mr Davis’ oft repeated aspiration for ‘frictionless’ trade with the European Union (EU) via a free trade agreement (FTA) and mutual recognition of standards will in reality consign the United Kingdom to being a permanent EU vassal stateBrexit will be in name only, with “stay, pay, obey without a say” being the outcome of their mishandling the Brexit negotiations.  The transition agreement, which turns the UK into an EU vassal state thanks to completely caving in to unreasonable demands by the EU, is a forerunner of even worse things to come. The transition deal (partially agreed, although a long way from being ratified) is vastly inferior to the deal which they could have obtained, but rejected out of hand as far back as Mrs May’s Lancaster House speech 17th January 2017. We could have retained our membership of the Single Market (and wider European Economic Area, EEA) through re-joining, even temporarily, The European Free Trade Association, EFTA. This alternative, also known as the ‘Norway Option’, could have delivered practically ‘frictionless’ trade and a soft border on the isle of Ireland.

At the heart of Mrs May and Mr Davis’ highly risky, far-fetched and delusional approach to Brexit is a failure to understand the nature of the EU, the European Economic Area (EEA), EFTA’s working relationship with the EEA including the EEA Agreement, mutual recognition of standards and how world trade works.  They make the most basic mistakes and repeat factually incorrect or incomplete statements to support their contradictory desire to leave the Single Market while retaining the same level of market access through an FTA.  They appear unwilling to take cognisance of readily available facts that completely disprove their fatuous mantras.

The details of what will happen after the UK leaves the EU (and the EEA) are there for anyone to see on the EU’s dedicated website  – especially in the increasing number of “Notices to Stakeholder”s under Brexit preparedness) It makes somewhat chilling reading.  There is nothing equivalent on the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union’s website. Presumably either they haven’t done this vital work or have chosen not to share it – a truth too awful to tell?

Upon leaving the EU and the EEA we would become a ‘third’ country. We would then be subject to different requirements by the EU in order,  at best, to manage the risks (to consumers and others) of doing business with us (or any other ‘third country’ outside the Single Market or EEA) and, at worst, to erect protectionist trade barriers in favour of domestic EU enterprises.  From the EU’s perspective, they will not grant concessions to ‘third’ country suppliers outside their control which are not enjoyed by EU domestic suppliers, especially when these could increase risks or create an ‘unfair’ competitive advantage.  The EU also has to treat the UK the same as any other ‘third’ country in order to comply with World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreed requirements or principles.

The EU is developing the Single Market by harmonising standards, regulations, and enforcement or surveillance within a top down centralised legalistic and bureaucratic framework under their supervision and control. It is also a long-established declared ambition that ‘third’ countries (outside the EU, or wider European Economic Area, EEA) would adopt or follow at least some EU-style measures.  The EU’s approach (to products) is outlined in principle in COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE COUNCIL AND THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT Enhancing the Implementation of the New Approach Directives and in more detail in the EU’s Guide to the implementation of directives based on the New Approach and the Global Approach .

For the EU, mutual recognition of standards (which differ from theirs) has limited application, since it is not their preferred choice where harmonised standards (in their widest context) exist.  In any case, there is the practical complexity and increased cost of demonstrating equivalence and compatibility, which can be far from straightforward and unacceptable to consumers and users.  To take a simple illustration, traffic lights using green on top for ‘stop’ and red underneath for ‘go’ certainly provides equivalent functionality but are far from compatible and acceptable.  Also test values from subtly different tests may mean a product is (theoretically) less safe rendering it unacceptable or requiring expensive (or impractical) re-design, which in turn may invalidate other test results and/or existing certification/approvals.  (See also the Fallacy of Easy Mutual Recognition of Standards).

The EFTA/EEA option is not perfect, but is far more favourable to the UK’s interests than the transitional deal on offer or indeed, to what will eventually emerge as Mrs May’s FTA and ‘deep and special relationship’. Norway participates in the EEA through membership of EFTA. Actually it only implements EU legislation necessary for functioning of the EEA, which at most constitutes around 25% of the total EU acquis or system of laws. More than 90% of these EEA related laws reportedly originate in global bodies, meaning the UK would need to implement them anyway for global trade, unless we leave the World Trade Organisation (WTO), et al. Also the EFTA route to EEA membership gives members outside the EU a say in EU legislation affecting the EEA, is largely free (although ‘voluntarily’ Norway does contribute to regional development funds) and is outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). What is more, EFTA members make their own trade agreements with other countries.

Contrary to statements by M. Barnier and Mrs May about the four indivisible freedoms, EFTA/EEA membership contains the facility to control immigration. Two members of EFTA have unilaterally invoked Article 112 (the Safeguard Measures) of the EEA Agreement to restrict free movement – Liechtenstein for people and Iceland for capital. The UK could do so too if we retain membership of the EEA by re-joining EFTA.  Ironically, Articles 112 and 113 of the EEA agreement, which Mrs May rejects, are reproduced closely by the EU in their draft Withdrawal Agreement, Article 13 (Protocols NI), allowing the EU unilaterally to restrict freedom of movement (including immigration into the EU from the UK).

Continuing membership of the EEA solves the problem of maintaining a soft border in Ireland between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, thus avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK (something Mrs May has ruled out, for the moment).  It also gives us full control of fishing in our Exclusive Economic Zone.  The EEA agreement (for EFTA members) can be adapted to suit their interests.  Thus the UK (within EFTA) could get a bespoke version.  So we could ‘imitate, adapt and improve’ on the existing EEA agreement to suit our needs rather than follow an insular and amateurish effort to ‘re-invent the FTA wheel in a few months’ that isn’t going anywhere.

From the beginning, the EU negotiators completely dominated the Brexit negotiations. It was inevitable then that negotiating concessions (or cave-ins) would be made by weak, dithering and clueless Mrs May and Mr Davis to strong, decisive and professional M. Barnier and his team. Comparing the EU’s draft Withdrawal Agreement with the text agreed by the UK shows just how much the increasingly uncompromising EU is getting its way.  Worse still, the EU is getting away with demands that are over and above those necessary for trade, with more already in the pipeline (such as fishing, defence, defence procurement, locking UK into EU budgets etc.).  If you thought the Transitional Deal was bad, wait until you see the final withdrawal agreement and the FTA.

EU Turns Up The Heat: Threatens to ‘Punish’ British Fishermen

Press release from Fishing for Leave

Fishing for Leave lambasted comments made in the Danish Media following the visit of EU Chief negotiator Michel Barnier to Denmark’s main fishing port Thyboron, saying; “You can keep your “Harshness!! – International law confers Britain full sovereignty and control over all our waters and resources!”

– EU Fishermen say; “Brexit has incredibly big impact on our company and all of Denmark’s fisheries. We rely on getting into British waters, he says, saying that 85 percent of the catch of the species of sand eel caught in Thyborøn takes place in British waters”.

Fishing for Leave spokesman Alan Hastings said; “As much as no British fishermen wishes personal ill on other fishermen, where were the EU tears when our resources robbed and communities decimated?”

“Does no one in the EU feel guilty that you built a future for the EU industry on robbing UK coastal communities of theirs?”

“Time for Michael Gove robustly to defend UK interests so we can rejuvenate our communities that were sacrificed with a detrimental deal that benefited the EU”.

Britain has the formal opportunity under international law to stop fishermen from Denmark and other EU countries fishing in British waters post-Brexit.

But fishermen in the EU, along with Michel Barnier, say such a decision could also have a negative impact on British fishing.

They say the EU would look to close EU markets to force Britain to continue current shares and access that see’s EU vessels catch EIGHT times more fish in UK waters as UK vessels do in EU waters 780,000 tons vs 90,000 tons.

“When it comes to fishing, we will talk about the topics that are directly related. Our access to British waters and their access to our market”, said the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier aboard the fisherman Meilsø when he visited fishermen in Thyborøn today (3rd March 18).

 “Monsier Barnier made it clear that there will be a negotiation with EU fishermen’s access to fishing in British waters and allowing British fishermen to sell their products on the EU’s internal market” says DR’s correspondent Ole Ryborg.

At this point, according to Ryborg’s Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen the Danish government; “will help Barnier to be harsh in negotiations with Britain in the fishing industry”.

Fishing for Leave responded to the threat by pointing out that the EU markets dependency on UK fish exports combined with EU losing the ability to catch 60% of the fish in UK waters would only increase EU markets necessity on UK fish.

Alan Hastings from FFL said “What the EU thinks is a position of strength is actually a weakness and that is their dependency on our resources as a critical part of their food supply”.

“This is no different from the cod wars when British vessels lost access to Norwegian and Icelandic grounds but almost immediately UK processors on Humberside started to import fish direct from Norway”.

“Remainers and the EU cite tariffs but when the cost of tariffs is weighed against the £3-4bn worth of resources which we can repatriate this offsets tariffs by a huge margin as UK fishermen will be able to land more of what they are otherwise forced to discard”

Alan concluded “Michel Barnier’s comments are a shot across the bow and the battle to restore our sovereignty & governance of UK waters is very much alive!

“Will the government capitulate to EU demands or stand up for British coastal communities and not use them as an ‘expendable’ bargaining chip for 2nd time in the face of EU belligerence?

“The big question for Michel Barnier is, why should the EU get continued access? The UK provides 50% of waters but EU relative stability only gives us 25% of our fish”.

“Fishing is massively important to UK communities too and the CFP has been an economic, social & environmental disaster. Brexit also allows environmentally and economically decent UK policy where we become equal of Norway & Iceland.”

“Taking back control is an “acid test” Michael Gove for this government in coastal constituencies. Will the government hold fast or face electoral oblivion in areas like Cornwall, Kent, East Anglia, Yorkshire and the NE of Scotland?”