Macron’s victory may create more problems than it solves

Emmanuel Macron campaigned for – and indeed, won – the French Presidential election on an unashamedly pro-EU platform. His victory was greeted with huge sighs of relief across the Continent. Rather ironically, however, his enthusiasm for the Single Currency and indeed the European project as a whole may have the opposite effect, as John Stepek pointed out in a recent edition of Moneyweek magazine.

At the heart of the problem is that when it comes to further integration within the EU and in particular, the single currency area, it is far easier to talk the talk than walk the walk.

A broad range of economists acknowledge that so many economically divergent nations pushing ahead with a single currency in the 1990s was far from ideal. If a monetary union is to work, fiscal and political union, while not prerequisites, certainly reduce the risk of a catastrophic failure. As it currently stands, the Eurozone is far from being an optimal currency area.

This is exactly the line Macron has been taking. In other words, as Stepek puts it, “He’s one of the rare pro-eurozone politicians who’s actually quite honest about the euro and the eurozone. He is calling openly for a much closer Europe. He reckons that Europe needs a common budget, a common banking system – effectively, a full-blown United States of Europe.”

Any French politician who has made such a proposal in the past has been fobbed off by Berlin with the curt instructions to put their own house in order first. Reforms to France’s generous pension arrangements, bloated public sector and short working week have been often proposed by a number of newly-elected Presidents only to be scuppered by tyre-burning, stone-throwing protesters backed by France’s powerful trade unions.

But just suppose Macron succeeds where his predecessors have come to grief. Even a streamlined French economy will take years to converge with Germany’s and then, what about Italy or Greece? Following Macron’s victory, the headline in the Bild newspaper, which Stepek describes as the rough German equivalent of the Sun, was “How expensive will Macron be for us?”

This is not just the heart of the Eurozone’s problem – it highlights a major stumbling block with the whole European project. Germany has been happy to be a net contributor to the EU’s funds via the EU budget. In some ways, it would be very churlish of the Germans to moan about this. Labour market reforms in the first decade of the 21st Century made German businesses more competitive and the single currency also made German goods relatively cheap in other Eurozone countries. Italy and Spain, habitual devaluers before adopting the Euro, have lost this option. Unable to weaken their currency and thus boost their export markets, businesses in these countries have failed to compete with the Germans.

The unemployment figures bear this out. Only 3.9% of working age Germans are out of work and youth unemployment was a mere 6.7% in March. The corresponding figures for Italy are 11.7% and 34.1%. Spain and Greece are even worse, with overall unemployment at 18.8% and 23.2% respectively and more than two out of every five young people out of work in both countries.

Closer fiscal union means that not only would German taxpayers be paying into the EU budget to rebuild the infrastructure of the former Soviet bloc countries, but they would be liable for the social security and pension benefits of unemployed and retired Greeks, Italians and Spaniards. At the same time, a banking union would increase German liabilities if an Italian bank went bust. In short, it would be all pain for the average German (who is doing very nicely out of the Euro) with very little gain.

But surely the gain would be the big step towards full political integration which has always been the goal of the EU project? We are now getting to the heart of a fundamental flaw in the whole federalist vision. The idea of an United States of Europe may have been appealing in the late 1940s when everyone was keen to find a format which would prevent another world war. The problem is that while certain intellectuals, particularly on the political left, have long had an internationalist outlook, ordinary men and women are far more attached to the concept of nationhood and ethnicity, even though they may not even be aware of how deep that attachment runs.

But the subject of fiscal transfers, along with the related issues of benefits and welfare, can be guaranteed to bring such sentiments out into the open. Even in the United States of America, there is considerable resistance in some states to a European-style welfare state – and significantly, the states in question are the most ethnically diverse. It seems to be hard-wired into our nature that we are more willing to make sacrifices for people who are “one of us” than for people we perceive to be different.

A German, whose public sector employees have to work well into their 60s, is therefore unlikely to take kindly to subsidising the pensions of Greek public sector workers, many of whom used to retire in their 50s. But Greek austerity is biting impossibly hard. At our Annual CIB rally, Ambassador Chrysanthopoulos told us that his own pension had been cut from 3,400 euros per month to 1,200. If the recently announced cut of a further eighteen per cent applies to him, he will be down to under 1,000 euros a month – and he reckons himself lucky! So real hatred for Germany is building up in Greece, as is impatience with Greece in Germany. The German people may yet find the price of European empire too high while poorer Greek households on the most basic social security are currently receiving around 8 euros per household (not per person) per day. So starvation stalks the land – all in the name of building a European superstate.

An extreme example? Perhaps, but it illustrates graphically the challenges which Macron’s election has brought to the surface. How deeply does the average German, Greek, Frenchman, Swede, Pole, etc  – as opposed to an intellectual or a politician – really love the EU? If the depth of love of the rank and file isn’t strong enough to transcend ethnic and cultural divisions or to be willing to endure financial deprivation and extreme hunger, the only question which Macron, Merkel or their successors will need to consider is how the whole EU project can be put peacefully to sleep without a total political and economic catastrophe.

Photo by Lorie Shaull

EU unemployment could be higher than the official figures

A study by the European Central Bank has suggested that the real level of unemployment in the European Union may be higher than the official figures.  If the numbers of underemployed and unemployed people in the Eurozone are added together, it apparently amounts to between 15% and 18% of the total workforce.

France and Italy in particular have not seen the slow recovery within the Eurozone translate into reduced levels of unemployment. Bert Colijn, a senior economist at the Dutch bank ING, estimates that in Italy, the total of the underemployed and unemployed may be as high as 30%.

In total, five million jobs have allegedly been created across the EU since the 2008 financial crisis, but many are part-time or temporary. This means that wage growth is pretty anaemic in many EU member states.

This report, if true, paints a very bleak picture indeed for some EU member states, as the official data is pretty grim. The youth unemployment rate in Greece stood at 48% in January. In Spain, it hit 56.1% in April 2013, but by March 2017, it had fallen to 40.5% – still two in five young people. The figures for Italy and France were 34.1% and 23.7% respectively. By contrast, in Germany, the figure was 6.7% and the overall unemployment rate a mere 3.9%.

These figures highlight the flawed nature of the single currency. The Germans insisted on a “strong” €uro as the price for surrendering the Deutschmark. They have ended up gaining a very profitable export market for their goods on their very doorstep. Meanwhile, the Mediterranean countries are suffering.

Given that, on the one hand the current state of affairs is going to continue to keep unemployment high in these countries while on the other, Germany would have considerable say in any moves towards further integration within the Eurozone, the prospects for their struggling neighbours to the south are unlikely to  improve any time soon.

Some EU-critical Irish are starting to put their heads above the parapets

Ireland joined the EU, along with the UK and Denmark, in 1973. With its important agricultural sector very dependent on exporting to the UK, the Irish really had very little choice.

Many Irish men and women developed an enthusiasm for the European project which has been conspicuously absent from this side of the Irish Sea.  The generous EU subsidies which Ireland received undoubtedly contributed to their Euro-enthusiasm, but EU membership helped Ireland publicise its separate identity as an independent nation after breaking with the UK in 1922.

The leadership of the main Irish political parties, along with the Irish media, have been staunch supporters of EU membership. Their position has not changed in spite of the severe hit taken by the Irish economy in the recent Great Recession – a downturn exacerbated by Ireland’s membership of the Single Currency. Neither has the change in Ireland’s status from net recipient of to net contributor to EU funds made any difference in their stance. Brexit has made them downright hysterical in their depiction of the Brexit vote as an unmitigated disaster for both the UK and Ireland.

But what of the Irish people? The most recent Eurobarometer survey still pointed to a nation happy to be part of the EU. 55% of those surveyed had a positive image of the EU, the highest score across the entire EU28.  Ireland was also the most positive country regarding the future of the EU. At face value, there seem to be few echoes of  the hostility towards the EU which has always been such a feature of the UK.

Regular visitors to this website will be aware of the work of the veteran Irish Eurosceptic Anthony Coughlan, but  has he been a voice crying in the wilderness?

If a recent letters page in the staunchly pro-EU Irish Times is at all typical, the answer seems to be no.

A Mr Ronan Scanlon, from Leopardstown, Dublin, had written a few days earlier, “Ireland is a maritime country in the North Atlantic, an open economy with a flexible, literate, highly educated and – above all – English-speaking workforce. To what kind of future can she look forward walled into an anti-democratic, over-regulated, protectionist little customs union with its job-destroying currency and within which hardly anyone else speaks English as their mother tongue?” and he returned to the fray on 4th April to hit out at EU regulation:- “EU membership imposes far too many regulations on small businesses that don’t export anywhere…Why are such standards decided at supra-national level? It ought to remain a competence for domestic legislation in national parliaments.”

Ken Andrew from Cobh, Co. Cork debunks claims in the paper that we in the UK are regretting voting for Brexit:- “Your columnist also mentions a long-time London-Irish businessman admitting to feeling ‘a little scalded’ as proof that many British people are suffering regret over their choice to vote Leave. The truth is there is little evidence of buyer’s remorse among voters, and Theresa May is enjoying remarkably good approval ratings, even amongst Remainers, for her handling of the Brexit process thus far. The British economy is booming, inward investment is at record levels, unemployment is at its lowest rate in a decade and the predicted exodus of jobs from the City of London simply hasn’t happened.

The offending columnist, Kathy Sheridan, also gets short shrift from Dave Slater of Kilkea, Co. Kildare, for her condescending attitude towards supporters both of Brexit and President Trump:- “Why don’t your columnists actually come out and directly say what they are obviously thinking? They oppose universal suffrage, clearly consider it a disastrous failure and would, in light of events, ‘reluctantly’ prefer a return to limited suffrage. Those with third-level degrees, business owners and those who own a house valued above a certain threshold. That should put a stop to a Trump or Brexit ever again being forced through, against all logic and decency, by the great unwashed.

Of course, such sentiment does not imply that Ireland is going to follow us out of the exit door, although the very fact that a group of Irish economists and lawyers have recently produced a report making a credible case for “Irexit” indicates that Brexit has given a new spring in the step of a much larger number of EU-critical movements than the more widely-reported groups such as the Front National in France or Geert Wilders’ PVV in the Netherlands.

Sinn Féin has predictably ditched its sham euroscepticism after realising that Brexit provides an opportunity to press for a vote on an United Ireland, with Northern Ireland being incorporated into the Irish republic (and thus the EU) rather than bringing back a hard border with the UK. However, not only is a hard border unthinkable on either side, but if the UK government plays its cards right, Brexit may further open the eyes of our Irish cousins and encourage them at least to consider whether they might be better off joining us in seeking freedom from the failing, disunited and moribund EU. We can but hope.

 

Photo by minniemouseaunt

Leavers worked very hard for years to secure Brexit – but we were also helped by a string of good luck

By Patrick O’Flynn MEP

A TV advert came out last year starring James Corden as a motorist driving through central London and finding that every single set of traffic lights miraculously favours him.

After cruising through about four sets in a row, a by-now-ecstatic Corden yells: “They call me Mr Green Light!” The advert serves as a useful reminder of how such a random thing as a run of good luck can change outcomes completely.

I was reminded of it while in Westminster last week to take part in the political circus surrounding the triggering of Article 50. Because, let’s be frank, our victory has only partly been down to our collective political genius. It has also depended on an almost freakish number of factors and events having fallen in our favour in the most fruitful sequence.

No wonder many Remainers cannot break out of outright denial about Brexit. It is an occurrence that has come at them at very high speed, leaving them with an acute case of political PTSD. I suspect many re-run what has happened in their minds every day and simply cannot fathom how it happened.

Let me take you through the sheer number of consecutive green lights we have needed so you can fully appreciate what I mean.

Green light number one was staying out of the €uro and that depended on Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party pressurising John Major and the other party leaders into supporting a referendum before entry. Had a stronger conviction politician such as Ken Clarke been PM at the time, there would have been no chance of a referendum lock on the single currency. But as luck would have it, Downing Street was occupied by a balancer rather than a leader, someone who responded to pressure. And as a result, the UK kept its monetary sovereignty and was able to observe the unravelling of the €uro experiment from the semi-detached sidelines.

The next green light was the failure of the Blair Government to impose transitional migration controls following EU enlargement in 2004. The bottom end of the labour market was flooded and talk of wage compression and pressure on public services took hold in working class communities.

Then came the failure of all the main party leaders to honour their commitment to giving a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Naturally a British rejection of Lisbon would have been hugely disruptive to the EU. But the treaty could surely have been repackaged for a second time with some more tweaks to reassure UK public opinion. But no, it was steamrollered through and as a result public resentment built.

The great financial crash of 2008 further built popular resentment against establishment figures and exacerbated the stagnation of living standards that oversupply of labour was already causing.

Then came another hugely important green light for Brexiteers – the formation of the 2010 Conservative-Lib Dem coalition under David Cameron. With Cameron already regarded with suspicion by the Tory base, the sight of him teaming up with Nick Clegg created the conditions for the rise of UKIP. And as well as transferring at least five points from the Tory score into the UKIP column, the very existence of the coalition also transferred ten points from the Lib Dems to Labour.

Another green light soon followed when the crashing of Lords reform by Tory MPs such as Jesse Norman gave Clegg an excuse to rat on boundary changes that Cameron was depending on for the 2015 election.

So Cameron, who like Major before him was a politician who responded to pressure and travelled light ideologically, was placed in the tightest of tight spots. What he had in addition – something the more cunning Major lacked – was a blithe overconfidence in his own ability to get out of such spots. Therefore, against the advice of George Osborne, he promised an In/Out referendum, confident that his brio would win the day, if and when that day ever arrived. A big green light for us there.

The lights were green again at the 2015 general election – with our First Past The Post electoral system delivering an unexpected outright Tory majority on a 37% vote share. Cameron was left with no excuse for not delivering the referendum.

Accordingly, 8th May 2015 was the first time that most people on the liberal left had even bothered to start contemplating having to win a plebiscite on EU membership. Up to that point most had dismissed the very idea of leaving as a fringe concern of a few right-wing Europhobes in the Tory Party and UKIP.

And even then, the early summer polls on EU membership showed Remain leads of 20-25%. Many pundits predicted a Remain landslide. So Labour and the Lib Dems felt able to take their eyes of the ball and plunge energetically into inward-looking party leadership contests. The prospect of a Leave referendum win was considered so remote that Jeremy Corbyn’s long-time opposition to the EU was barely considered relevant by pro-Remain Labour members as they voted him in by a landslide.

Are you getting the idea by now? They call me Mr Green Light!

And more green signals followed: not only did the more broadly appealing Vote Leave campaign win designation as the official Leave campaign (essential to keeping the dream alive), but the more immigration-focused alternatives were liberated to hit the segments of the electorate who responded to their blunter messaging. And nobody could claim collusion or choreography was going on between Vote Leave and Leave.EU because everyone knew that they really did hate each other.

Just as important was Cameron’s botched “renegotiation”. So cocksure was the then PM about his ability to win pragmatic voters around to Remain on economic grounds that he advertised in advance to his EU peer group that he would ultimately accept whatever they offered him. Unsurprisingly, a lousy deal was forthcoming.

Also, both David Cameron and George Osborne took bad reputational hits in the eyes of Labour-inclined voters in the months leading up to the referendum campaign they were destined to lead.

Cameron’s, one vaguely recalls, concerned a slightly trumped up story about his late father’s use of tax havens. Osborne’s concerned benefit cuts and blew up when Iain Duncan Smith resigned from the Cabinet in protest. The appeal of Osborne in particular to sectors of the electorate that Remain needed to turn out was much reduced. And while Osborne allegedly had been damning about the intellectual capacity of IDS, there is little doubt about who outsmarted whom on this occasion.

So Remain was left with a derided renegotiation and an undercooked campaign led by two Tory posh boys and involving almost zero input from the ambivalent leader of the Labour Party. Even during the campaign itself some crucial luck broke our way when postal vote ballots dropped on a day when record immigration figures led the news.

When polling day itself dawned it should have come as no surprise that torrential rain unloaded on London – depressing turnout in the Remain heartland.

So, my fellow Leavers, as well as recalling our heroic hard work and strategic brilliance, let us also try to understand rather better the trauma of our Remainer friends who were beaten before they even properly realised they were in a fight that they might lose.

One can only conclude that somebody up there must like us. I give you Article 50, courtesy of Mr Green Light.

This article first appeared on the Brexit Central website and is used by permission

Contagion:- the real reason why the EU is concerned about Donald Trump

Boris Johnson certainly has a way with words.  He chose to absent himself from an emergency dinner  for EU foreign ministers convened yesterday (Sunday 13th) to discuss the consequences of Donald Trump’s election victory, saying  that they should snap out of a “collective whinge-o-rama”.

Some of Mr Johnson’s European colleagues talked quite openly of their “horror” at the prospect of a President Trump, echoing the tones of Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU Commission President, who said that “The election of Trump poses the risk of upsetting intercontinental relations in their foundation and in their structure.” In other reaction from the other side of the channel,  France’s President Hollande said that the Trump Victory “opens a period of uncertainty”.  Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to the USA, went further, saying, “‘After Brexit and this election, everything is now possible. A world is collapsing before our eyes.”  That Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, would react negatively, comes as no surprise, calling the Trump victory “another Brexit night” and claiming  that a “wave of protest” was engulfing established politics. Even his compatriot Angela Merkel, a woman not known for making extreme statements, congratulated Trump while at the same time hinted at her disapproval, telling reporters that his election campaign featured “confrontations that were difficult to bear”.

By contrast, Theresa May, gave a characteristically measured response to the Trump victory. Having made some critical comments about him when his candidacy was first announced,  she responded to his victory in a gracious way saying, “I would like to congratulate Donald Trump on being elected the next President of the United States, following a hard-fought campaign” and stated that she looked forward to working with him.

It is very clear that Trump the campaigner made all manner of statements that flew in the face of everything the EU stands for – his oppositon to mass immigration, his climate change scepticism and his desire for a better relationship with Russia for instance. However, the matter of how Trump the president will behave is almost irrelevant. The damage has been done and the real concern in Brussels is whether the sentiments that propelled Mr Trump to his unexpected victory will push the EU into a further and deeper crisis than the Brexit vote.
In other words, does President designate Trump make a President le Pen more likely? Will the Trump victory boost support for Alternative für Deutschland to such a degree that Chancellor Merkel’s power – or even her re-election prospects – may be dealt a mortal blow? Even before next year’s general elections in France and Germany, Austria is holding a re-run of its Presidential election on 4th December where Green candidate Alexander van der Bellen faces a stiff challenge from Norbert Hofer, whose Freedom (Freiheit) Party is another EU-critical anti-establishment party which so ruffles feathers in Brussels.

The same day that Austria goes to the polls, Italian voters will take part in a referendum on constitutional reform. Matteo Renzi, the current Prime Minister, has staked his future on securing a “yes” vote. A rag-tag group of 13 parties, including both far left and far right, oppose it and with Beppe Grillo’s Five Star movement among them, Mr Renzi may be defeated.

The phrase “the EU is in a crisis” has been repeated ad nauseam since the Great Recession of 2008. One of the Remain camp’s pleas during the Brexit referendum was that we shouldn’t be giving a further kick in the teeth to an already wobbly EU.

The problem is that the Brexit vote and the rise of politicians like Marine le Pen or Beppe Grillo are not the cause of the crisis but a consequence of it. In spite of the denials of some remainers during the referendum campaign, the European project always has been about the creation of a federal superstate. The evidence is there for all to see in the European Parliament’s visitors’ centre in Brussels, which contains a plaque saying “National sovereignty is the root cause of the most crying evils of our times….The only final remedy for this evil is the federal union of the peoples.”   Perhaps ironically, in view of the Brexit vote, these are the words of a British diplomat, Philip Kerr, later Lord Lothian.

In the early years following the signing of the Treaty of Rome, most leaders of original six participating countries and their supporters in countries keen to sign up – including Edward Heath in this country – supported the vision of a federal Europe with great enthusiasm.  One of the most enthusiastic federalists of the 1960s was Jean Rey, a Belgian lawyer and Liberal politician who was to become the second president of the European Commission in 1967.   I can recall being asked to translate a speech he made shortly afterwards and his enthusiasm for the project was self-evident.

Although a certain amount of wool had to be pulled over the eyes of the electorates of the original six nations in those early years, there was little resistance to the basic idea of a Federal Europe – at least, once the volatile and unpredictable General de Gaulle left office in 1969.

Fast forward to the last decade and that ability to inspire support for the federalist project so epitomised by Jean Rey just isn’t there any more. The two latest keystones in the integration process – the Schengen open border area and the Euro  – are widely unpopular, being blamed between them for a number of problems ranging from Italy’s poor economic performance to the attacks on women in Cologne in the New Year period.

The EU élite still wishes to push ahead with further economic and fiscal integration within the Eurozone. A recent interview with Herman van Rompuy, the former European Council President, is most revealing.  On the one hand, he says “The economic and monetary union and the single market will have to be deepened and/or completed. An emphasis on the EU’s military dimension has emerged as a genuine topic of interest for the very first time.” In other words, a further deepening of European integration has to be the way forward, but on the other hand, he admits that “I am not, however, urging immediate moves towards federalism or the United States of Europe…. The climate in Europe does not favour such a qualitative leap, even if there is a crying need for more ambition than at present when, in truth, there is no ambition at all.”

This is the heart of the EU’s crisis. The drive for federalism has run out of steam and even its most ardent supporters are admitting as much. Could the EU project ever change its objectives and come up with an alternative destination other than an United States of Europe? It’s hard to see how. So much has been invested into the federalist project. The whole structure of the EU institutions, the single currency and the open border area were designed with this end in view. If the EU powers-that-be decided that the end game should be scaled back to nothing more than a free trade area, just about everything would need drastic tweaking and downsizing as the whole structure of the EU is so cumbersome.

Given the number of committed federalists who are still very much on board, such Guy Verhofstatdt, the former Belgian Prime Minister, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the 1960s Marxist rabble-rouser turned Green MEP  or indeed Mr Juncker himself, such an abandonment of the original vision would be tantamount to a betrayal. The word “immediate” in Mr van Rompuy’s comments is perhaps the giveaway. What he is implying is “let’s bide our time. Let’s not push for closer integration when the mood is so unfriendly. Let’s hope that a few years down the line, hostility will have subsided and we can then press on.” This was essentially the way the UK was treated with our opt-outs. There was clearly no support in the UK for our joining the €uro when the single currency was launched but the unspoken hope was that one day, we would come to our senses, albeit one step behind the other member states.
The problem is that we never did and what if sentiment against further integration in EU-27  doesn’t soften either? No wonder the EU élite is nervous about the prospect of contagion from Brexit or the Trump victory spreading to the European mainland.
But it’s not just people like Marine le Pen or Beppe Grillo who will be making them jittery. The previously unthinkable is being thought in the most unlikely places. This article in the usually solidly pro-EU Irish Times is case in point.  Perhaps you’ve never heard the term “Eirexit” before  as the prospect of Ireland leaving the EU would have seemed unthinkable even a couple of years ago. After all, EU membership was widely viewed in Ireland as a means of further consolidating its separate identity from the UK following independence in 1922. Yet since our referendum, the writer informs us, “Eirexit has gained some momentum …. There is a small but growing band of public figures questioning the basis of Irish EU membership.” The article lists the various fringe parties in Ireland which  support withdrawal and devotes considerable space to a profile of Dr Anthony Coughlan, a veteran anti-EU campaigner whose analysis of the constitutional implcations of the Lisbon Treaty has been posted on our website and included in our booklet A House Divided as it is second to none.
The Irish Times article concludes asks “Are these a collection of disparate and peripheral voices, or do they reflect a population far less enamoured of Brussels than its political leaders?” That such a question should even be asked by a leading newspaper in a country like Ireland is an indication of how far the project has drifted since the days of Jean Rey or even Jacques Delors in the 1980s.  Just as the €uro was designed to be an irreversible currency union, the whole EU project was constructed without any reverse gear. It finally acquired an escape hatch in the shape of Article 50, but even here, Giuliano Amati, the man who claims he drafted this section of the treaty, never intended it to be used.
One does no wish to gloat over the soul-searching which has taken place in many European capitals in recent months. After all, a sudden collapse of the whole project would leave a dreadful economic and political mess whose ripples would be felt this side of the channel too.   For all its faults. one impetus behind the European project was a commendable desire to avoid the carnage seen in 1914-8 and 1939-45.
Unfortunately, the bad design and premature launch of the Single Currency, the failure of the Schengen area to cope with the refugee crisis – not to mention the deceit and democratic deficit which has charactised the EU since its inception – are all conspiring together to drag the EU into a greater and greater crisis. We can but hope that the end result will not be another European war which the EU was meant  to  prevent, but it would certainly be more helpful if our own pro-EU politicians like Tim Farron and Owen Smith could devote their energies to devising a way for the EU peacefully to dismember itself rather than talking about taking us back into a failing political union which may not even exist in anything like its current form by the time we next go to the ballot box.

The CBI’s foolish games

Towards the end of the 1990s, during drinks after at a debate at Bath on joining the euro, Mr Idris Francis, a long-standing supporter of withdrawal from the EU, asked Kate Barker, the CBI’s chief economist at the time, why she had not produced any calculations on the effects of joining the euro. She replied, in front of several others, that, “There are so many effects subject to such wide margins of error that it is impossible to know what the consequences of joining would be.” But he then asked her “But do you and the CBI want to join anyway?” to which she replied “Yes.”

Mr Francis quoted this exchange at several later meetings. At one Labour-organised meeting in Bournemouth, he was threatened with eviction by a senior figure in the Britain in Europe campaign. He also received a letter from Kate Barker, objecting to him quoting her words, but at the same time she confirmed what she had said.

Kate Barker must now be regretting her foolish support for the Euro. The CBI was thankfully dissuaded from supporting it as far back as 1999, thanks to the Business for Sterling campaign group. However, it has certainly not changed its policy of supporting our membership of the EU, come what may.

The Vote.Leave campaign recently gained access to the leaked minutes of the CBI’s president’s committee in July 2015, where former Chairman Sir Michael Rake told the meeting, “It is important not to overplay our hand in the negotiations with Brussels, like Greece, and that [the] CBI should be strong in making the case for competitiveness within Europe”. The meeting was attended by Lord Maude, Minister for Trade and Investment, as well as other government officials.

It should be noted that this is the same Sir Mike Rake, who was the deputy chairman of Barclays Bank, which was fined £284.4 million by the Financial Conduct Authority over “brazen” currency rigging.

It seems from his comments that no lessons have been learnt by the CBI in the years following its misjudgement on the Single Currency. Indeed, it is frightening to think that the CBI will almost certainly end up supporting another leap in the dark as untried and as doomed to failure as the Euro – namely UK associate membership of an EU. This will place the UK permanently in the EU’s powerless second division while the First Division  – the Eurozone members  – call all the shots.

It is so obviously a bad solution ot the UK’s “problems” with the EU, but it is almost certainly what  David Cameron will be offering us in the forthcoming referendum, aided and abetted, no doubt, by the CIB. It is sad indeed that an organisation claiming to be “the voice of business” dopes nothing more than play silly games.