Tony Blair must be silenced

Do you know anyone who doesn’t hate Tony Blair? The most I can say in his favour is that I know a couple of people who loathe certain other politicians even more than they loathe him. Most people wish he would just shut up and retire to obscurity but unfortunately, being an ex-Prime Minister, the media is still more than willing to listen to what he says – and as far as Brexit is concerned, he has been rather verbose recently.

His latest outburst shows that he remains stubbornly opposed to the government carrying out the democratic will of the people.  He doesn’t want us to leave the EU. Even though much of the article focuses on the problems of a future trade relationship, his  support for the EU goes beyond trade issues. “Membership of the European Union is right as a matter of principle, for profound political as well as economic reasons.” he asserts. He goes on to say “We are making an error the contemporary world cannot understand and the generations of the future will not forgive….Brexit isn’t and never was the answer.”

Naturally, we would disagree, but if Blair and his ilk are to be silenced once and for all, two things are necessary. Firstly,  his arguments in favour of the general principle of EU membership have to be refuted, but secondly, the government must address the current weaknesses in its Brexit strategy.

The first of Blair’s points, namely that EU membership is a good thing politically as well as economically, is so fatally flawed  that no fair-minded well informed person could possibly agree.  Thanks to our EU membership, we have found ourselves unnecessarily mixed up in the EU’s empire building – for example, in the Ukraine, a part of the world where we have little strategic interest. We have found our excellent Common Law legal system compromised by our membership of  Europol or the European Arrest Warrant. Furthermore, the direction of travel in the EU is towards closer integration, which means in effect power will be taken still further away from the people and their elected representatives,  given instead to a largely unelected and increasingly unaccountable clique of bureaucrats and politicians in Brussels.

In 2012, Angela Merkel told David Cameron, “Your vision of the EU is so cold, David.’ The point she was making is that for most of us, including our former Prime Minister, the EU was about trade. We have always been sceptical about grandiose political projects.  and thus have always felt on the outside of the EU, most of whose member states do not share our scepticism. Only a few senior British politicians have ever embraced the EU’s federalism wholeheartedly. One of these few, however, was Blair’s mentor Roy Jenkins, the only Briton ever to lead the European Commission. As Prime Minister, Blair never felt himself in a position to display his federalist sympathies quite so openly as Jenkins but now Brexit looks like extinguishing the dying embers of his megalomaniac ambitions of becoming Emperor Tony the First, he clearly feels he has nothing to lose.

For those of us living in the real world, however, it is blindingly obvious that our political system needs to be reformed so that we digress further from the EU. In other words, power should be brought closer to the people – taking non-EU Switzerland as our model, which has one of the most accountable systems of government in the world. Indeed, we should seek to become the leader of Free Europe, as we were between 1940 and 1945, showing that there is a better way for countries to organise themselves than to emasculate their national democracies in favour of a remote, unaccountable bureaucracy in Brussels. We can do far more good and wield far more influence internationally this way than by remaining in the EU. The future generations, far from being unwilling to forgive us for Brexit, will be delighted that by leaving the EU, we made not only our country, but other lands too, a better place. Blair’s argument that Brexit was an unfortunate mistake will, unless the Government messes up badly, prove to be about as accurate as his conviction that Saddam Hussein possessed a vast stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.

Unfortunately, our opportunities to help the government address the weaknesses of its Brexit strategy (and thus avoid making a mess of Brexit) are more limited, but we must do what we can. Blair outlines four possible outcomes:- staying what he calls a “reformed Europe”, leaving the EU but staying within the Single Market and Customs Union, leaving the EU but negotiating a bespoke Free trade agreement which “keeps us  close to Europe politically” or leaving the EU and “negotiating a basic Free Trade Agreement and market ourselves as ‘Not Europe’”.

As far as the first option is concerned,  the Conservative Party has spent much of the last 30 years trying to “reform” the European Union. last year’s “State of the Union” speech by Jean-Claude Juncker and the strongly pro-federalist speech by Martin Schulz a couple of months later  shows how deeply federalism which, above all, led to the Brexit vote, is still embedded into the EU’s DNA. Perhaps Blair has forgotten that for all his talk of our “staying in the EU, using the Brexit vote as leverage to achieve reform” that David Cameron did come back from Brussels with some degree of reform nearly two years ago.  He secured a sort-of exemption from ever closer union and a very weak concession that the EU might allow a limited “emergency brake” on immigration. The majority of the electorate wasn’t impressed and voted to leave. 18 months on, there has been no indication of any widespread change of heart.

The way Blair frames the second option, he is either being devious or just plain stupid. Like a number of other remainers, he portrays the single market and the customs union as somehow joined at the hip. They are not. Staying in the EEA as a transitional arrangement would be a vast improvement on the transitional deal currently being discussed, which would leave us as a colony of the EU with no power. The Customs Union, on the other hand, was never even discussed during the referendum debate. Apart from micro-states like San Marino, Turkey is the only non-EU country to be part of the Customs Union. The Turks do not like this deal and given that we would not be able to secure an independent trade policy, it wold not be popular here either. It is an irrelevancy and the sooner it falls out of any discussion of our future, the better.

Blair’s third and fourth options are more about politics than trade. Both assume we end up with a bespoke deal with the EU. Do we want to stay politically close to the EU or deliberately launch out on a different path? In reality, rather than a binary choice, the question should be phrased more on the lines of whereabouts on the scale of political closeness or political divergence do we wish to position ourselves? The answer is probably far closer to the “divergence” end of the spectrum than Blair would wish, as has been noted above.

Unfortunately, the muddle which the Government has found itself in may result in our ending up stuck in limbo between options 1 and 2 – a transitional deal which sees us effectively locked into the EU for a further 21 months and which gives us access to the Single Market but on far worse terms than Norway or Iceland. It is staggering that there has so far been so little critical analysis of the proposed transitional deal, as it is a very bad arrangement indeed. Somehow, the EU’s harsh guidelines have been completely ignored by many politicians and indeed, much of the media. As mentioned above, we would essentially end up as a colony of the EU, forced to accept the full acquis but with no say in the framing or implementation of these laws.  In such circumstances, it would be all too easy to end up saying “What was the point of the Brexit vote?”

To throw in the towel is exactly what Blair and co would love us to do. No one can deny that the last 18 months have been exasperating and there is still little light at the end of the tunnel as far as a sensible exit strategy is concerned. If you are a leave voter who has become utterly fed up with the whole subject of Brexit, take heart; you are not alone! Perhaps, however, we should think back to that momentous day in June 2016. Our elation at the time should act as a reminder that we must not give up, no matter how frustrated we feel at the moment. To allow the likes of Blair to win by default, especially given the weaknesses of his arguments, would be the ultimate tragedy for our countrymen and a betrayal of all  that we have fought for over the last four decades. Blair can only finally be silenced by persevering to the end, continuing to make the case for Brexit, seeking to influence the debate on how best to achieve the best deal – and persevere we must and shall.

A Happy Christmas from the Campaign for an Independent Britain

As 2017 draws near to a close, we would like to thank our members and supporters for their help and encouragement during the course of the year.

From the Brexit point of view, 2017 has been very frustrating. The triggering of Article 50 was a welcome development and we believe that it is highly likely that we shall indeed leave the EU in March 2019. The shape of Brexit has yet to be determined, however, with many conflicting voices in government and, indeed, in Parliament as a whole.  There have been few indications that the Government has yet come up with a road map that will take us seamlessly to independence and given that almost 18 months have elapsed since the Brexit vote, this is  a cause for concern.

During the year, the Campaign for an Independent Britain has been active organising meetings, producing new literature, providing  commentary via our website and supporting like-minded organisations committed ot the same end. We intend to continue to campaign for a Brexit that will see us properly out of the EU but at the same time one which will not cause any damage to our economy. We will continue to cooperate with like-minded partners, including specialist groups like Fishing for Leave, which have expertise in particular areas. We foresee the first battle of 2018 will be fought over the suggestions for a transitional agreement which would, in effect, see us locked into the EU for a further period.

While we trust that the unacceptability of this arrangement will result in its ultimate rejection – or at least, a rejection of the framework published by the European Council, it looks likely that our work will not be over when March 29th 2019 dawns.

For this reason, we are asking for your help. As one of the oldest anti-EU campaigning organisations, set up before we even joined, we are keen to see the job done and still to be active right up to the time when we can regard our withdrawal as fully accomplished. Unfortunately, as things stand,  we would be left with little in the way of a contingency fund to keep going after the formal Brexit day on 29th March 2019.

If you have not already supported our recent appeal, you can do either

  • by sending a cheque to Campaign for an Independent Britain at 78 Carlton Road, Worksop, Notts, S80 1PH
  • or by Pay Pal, using this link.

Wishing you a Happy Christmas and best wishes for the New Year.

The Campaign for an Independent Britain

 

Half way there, but have we even started?

Last week marked the half way point between 23rd June 2016 – that euphoric day when we voted to leave the EU – and the actual day on which we will actually leave:- March 29th 2019.

On Friday, Mrs May confirmed that she plans to set the date for our departure from the EU into law. There will be no slippage and no turning back. This comes against a background of growing concern that Brexit could be stopped.  Today, Lord Kerr, a former UK ambassador to the EU, insisted that the Article 50 process could be stopped or reversed. No way, replied Mrs May. Her proposed law will make it irreversible.

This is good news for those of us who fought so hard to secure that historic victory in June last year. I have dealt with more than my fair share of correspondence recently from people concerned that the government is going to back track. My views have not changed since writing this article that Mrs May and the Tories, whatever side they supported during the referendum campaign, have no choice but to deliver Brexit because failure to do so would provoke the worst crisis in the party since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846.  Backtracking would be suicidal. Thankfully, a lust for power is deeply entrenched into the Conservatives’ psyche and given their shock at last June’s General Election result, they know that delivering a good Brexit is essential if they are to avoid  electoral meltdown in 2022.

Probe a bit deeper, however, and the picture is not quite so rosy.  In spite of the Brexit vote last year, as  Veterans for Britain has been keen to point out, the Government has taken us deeper into the EU’s military integration process, with there being considerable support to signing us up to PESCO, the Permanent Structured Cooperation of the EU’s external action force – set up in reality to undermine and replace NATO. Brexit can only mean Brexit if we are completely detached militarily and we can but hope that even at this 11th hour, Gavin Williamson, the new defence secretary who has little experience of military matters, will listen to those members of our armed forces who know what they are talking about and step back from this process.

Sadly, of our daily newspapers, only the Express  has so far been willing to cover this disturbing development. However, to repeat, even if Williamson’s predecessor Michael Fallon was able to get away with betraying the UK’s armed forces without being subject to too much scrutiny, it will be out of the bag by 2022 and the Tories will reap the whirlwind electorally.

Equally disturbing is this statement from the Prime Minister’s office which was passed to one of our supporters. Note the section he has highlighted in yellow:-  It also means that the existing body of EU law will become British law. So this provides certainty and clarity for all businesses and families across the country from the very moment we leave the EU.”

This is true when it comes to legislation which would only be applied internally. For instance,  the rules governing bathing water have been devised by the EU. It is no great problem for us to continue to use them over the Brexit period. They work satisfactorily so even if they could be improved, there is no urgency until we have settled down as a sovereign, independent country.

It is a different matter, however, when it comes to legislation which involves the relationship of an independent UK with the rest of the EU. We have previously highlighted the fallacy of this approach with regards fisheries, but it also applies to the general question of trade. the PM appears to be repeating the mistake that because our regulations will be aligned with those of the EU up to Brexit day, some sort of seamless trade arrangement should not be a problem,

The transitional arrangement which she seeks is essentially based on this misunderstanding – we can be essentially honorary EU members for two years while a bespoke long-term deal is sorted out. We would obey all the rules and pay into the EU’s coffers without any representation. Such a deal would be unacceptable to many Tory backbenchers, not to mention the wider Brexit-supporting community. Thankfully, although the penny seems not to have dropped in Westminster, the EU has said it is a non-runner.

The European Parliament  set out its position, where, among other things,  it “reaffirms that membership of the internal market and the customs union entails acceptance of the four freedoms, the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union, general budgetary contributions and adherence to the European Union’s common commercial policy”  – in other words, you’re either in or you’re out. To repeat, it’s not about regulatory convergence but the legal relationship of a future EU-UK relationship. We will no longer be subject to the EU’s treaties, Article 50 is quite clear about this. We need to seek a new legal basis and any transitional agreement would require almost as complicated a legal ratification process than a long-term bespoke relationship.

The EU’s guidelines also say, “To the extent necessary and legally possible, the negotiations may also seek to determine transitional arrangements which are in the interest of the union and, as appropriate, to provide for bridges towards the foreseeable framework for the future relationship in the light of progress made. Any such transitional arrangements must be clearly defined, limited in time and subject to effective enforcement mechanisms. Should a time-limited prolongation of Union Acquis be considered, this would require existing Union regulatory supervisory, judiciary and enforcement instruments and structures to apply.”

This affirm that the EU will allow us to go ahead with a transitional deal, but it must be on the EU’s terms and subject to the appropriate legal processes being completed in time, which looks very doubtful. In other words, to repeat, it’s a non-starter and a red herring.

So until there is a change in mindset among UK’s negotiators we will continue to go round in circles. Last Friday also saw the usual Barnier/Davis press conference following the latest round of “negotiations” and there is still no indication from the EU side that they feel ready to start trade talks as insufficient progress has been made on the three critical issues of the Irish border, the rights of EU citizens resident in the EU and the “divorce bill.” Agreement must be reached within two weeks or trade talks will not be starting any time soon. Sadly, David Davis’s response was to call for the EU to show “flexibility  and imagination.” Unfortunately, the EU’s legal structure doesn’t allow it to be flexible. Mr Davis can repeat this little phrase as much as he likes. It will not make a shred of difference.

So at this point when we have just reached the half way point to Brexit, it is sobering to think that this milestone has been reached with the two sides so far apart and so little real progress made. Not what any of us expected on that incredible morning when the result of the referendum was announced. A Brexit of sorts will almost certainly happen on 29th March 2019, but unless the government raises its game, we could find ourselves, more by default rather than design, either crashing out following a breakdown of the talks or suffering a Brexit that isn’t really Brexit in any meaningful way.

Some helpful insights from the Freight Transport Association

The really hard tasks will begin soon. Once Article 50 is triggered, the UK government will then have to negotiate a Brexit deal that will enable our trade with both the EU and the rest of the world to continue.

As an example of how complex this might be, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) has published a submission it made to Parliament, expressing a number of concerns facing the industry.  Like many organisations involved in trade with the EU, the FTA wishes to ensure that we do not face huge disruption as a result of Mrs May’s decision that we will leave the Single Market.

The piece is worth reading in full, but a few points are worth highlighting:-

  1. There will almost certainly need to be a transitional trading arrangement between the UK and the EU. Negotiating a full trade deal may be very tight, if not unachievable, within the two year timescale of Article 50.
  2. No deal will give us as unfettered access to the Single Market as EEA membership would have done. There will inevitably have to be some trade-offs.
  3. Increased Border controls will be very time-consuming. Falling back on the WTO option would be particularly bad in this respect. The port of Dover would suffer more than anywhere else as freight movements are predicted to rise to between 14,000 and 16,000 per day in the next decade.
  4. Although tariffs are falling worldwide, some sectors of the economy would suffer if tariff-free access to the EU were lost. Tariffs of 10% or more could be imposed on motor vehicles, for instance.
  5. The biggest worry is that the EU may not want to tackle trade issues until after Brexit.  Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s Chief negotiator, made a statement suggesting that the two-year period following the formal triggering of article 50 would only be devoted to withdrawal arrangements and that issues related to the post-Brexit trade relationship with the EU would only be dealt with post-Brexit.  While this is only one person’s opinion and that other voices within the EU are keen to avoid such a disastrous scenario, it shows that the UK’s negotiators will be facing some quite difficult individuals on the other side of the table.

No, Brexit is not going to be easy. We can but hope that the Government has been preparing for these eventualities and knows what it wants before the negotiations begin.