Mayday, Mayday! Brexit Mayday!

Be not intimidated…nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberties by any pretense of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery and cowardice. ― John Adams, 1765, British Citizen, Founding Father and 2nd President of The United States of America

It’s over! It’s over, bar the ridiculous charade of ‘tough negotiations’. The thoroughly nasty and vindictive European Union (EU) has won. And gallant, heroic and duped Mrs May and her negotiating team have already lost. We can forget a fair deal on Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and a free trade agreement.  And, unlike in normal divorce proceedings, there is no independent arbitrator to ensure something approaching ‘fair play’ where differences are irreconcilable.

In any negotiation the parties have to progress in good faith because each knows things the other cannot know; privileged information that could be used by the unscrupulous to exploit the situation.  Our contract law consequently places obligations on the parties and means of redress through the courts when one party abuses its position.  Unfortunately the EU, so far, appears to be negotiating in bad faith, not telling the full truth about what can and cannot be negotiated, and the UK is buying the deceptions considerably weakening our position; the EU are effectively ‘laying down the law’ and simultaneously getting us ‘over a barrel’.

Ambassador (rtd) Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos (Former Secretary General of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization) was on the inside of the Article 50 negotiations when it was included it in the Lisbon Treaty. He has revealed that Article 50 was only intended to cover financial arrangements for a Member State leaving the EU. The remaining conditions now being set out by the EU are outside its scope and can only have been included to pressurise us, exact a far heavier price and coerce others into not leaving the EU.  It is one thing freely to negotiate issues that are outside the scope of Article 50 but quite another dishonestly to hold a sword of Damocles over Mrs May’s head that ‘everything must be agreed before anything is agreed’.   Obviously Europhiles on the inside are not going to own up to this subterfuge; they haven’t up to now have they?

Then there is the misinformation about the Single Market, free movement of people, costs of Single Market membership and the jurisdiction of the EU’s European Court of Justice (ECJ) etc. Different arrangements are open to members of EFTA; the European Free Trade Association who are also members of the Single Market, (the European Economic Area (EEA)) but not Member States of the EU and its Customs Union. They can and do negotiate free trade agreements with other countries. Free movement can be unilaterally suspended by any member of EFTA by invoking Article 112 (the Safeguard Provisions) in the EEA Agreement. The UK as a member of EFTA would be able to do the same, if we chose to leave the EU and join this trading association of independent European countries to remain in the EEA.  Also, it costs the EFTA countries little financially to be members of the EEA although Norway does separately contribute towards EU facilities or services used and to development funds.  The ECJ only has jurisdiction over the EU Member States and hence over part of the EEA, but not over EFTA (i.e., non-EU) countries.

There is also increasing evidence that the EU is out to punish us for the temerity of Brexit. Their ‘negotiating position’ is hardening and the language becoming ever more strident.  For example, see Britain needs fighting ‘Plan B’ for trade as EU turns screws on Brexit by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard first published in the Daily Telegraph 26th April 2017. They can also be very obstructionist. For example, see The six Brexit traps that will defeat Theresa May by Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister of Greece, published in The Guardian 3rd May 2017. Perhaps worse, the EU knows how to inflict real damage on our economy in the event of us leaving the Single Market (EEA) and becoming a ‘third country’ with or without a trade deal.  On the outside, we would face external tariffs, non-tariff barriers (such as special rules, standards, certifications, approvals and inspections) and a massive expansion of Customs Clearances both here and in the protectionist EU (which they might want us to pay for as well).

What we are seeing is a well-established modus operandi for the EU which can be explained in a few quotes from Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission:

When it becomes serious, you have to lie.

We decide on something, leave it lying around and wait and see what happens. If no one kicks up a fuss, because most people don’t understand what has been decided, we continue step by step until there is no turning back.

There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.

Article 50 negotiations as they now appear can’t achieve a reasonable outcome in our interests (we are being misled) and who would actually choose to touch these EU people  – gangsters more like – with the proverbial barge pole?  We need a plan to out-manoeuvre them, a strategy to ensure they cannot hurt us and to avoid any negotiating except where we are the visibly stronger party; money and concessions invariably flow from the weak to the strong.  These are high stakes and if we get it wrong the EU will likely exact a price worse than they’ve inflicted elsewhere, notably upon Greece.

We could ‘weaponize’ our ingenuity, industry and research to redress the balance of negotiating power, for example, by investigating background facts, intelligence gathering and analysis; something akin to the backroom work of Bletchley Park. There are obvious skeletons in the EU cupboard and some that need digging much deeper, such as the sinister origins of the EU and long-standing anti-British sentiments.  The earliest predecessor of the EU (the European Coal and Steel Community) was profoundly anti-British and had an aim to damage our then industrial power. We were saved by the then Prime Minister Clement Attlee from this calamity, only to have later Prime Ministers and British civil servants collude in the EU’s ‘management of our decline’.  Former EU insiders ‘coming clean’ could be goldmines of information.

We could cultivate allies and build alliances with those we can do business with to mutual benefit.  The obvious ones are EFTA, probably by becoming a (temporary) member. The media here and overseas, up till now mainly Europhile could be another ally. Communications to influence public opinion are essential, otherwise the EU’s propaganda arm and fellow travellers will use it against us.

There are other things that can also be done to defend our national interests once it is recognised that the EU’s actions relating to Article 50 are part of a major scam.

England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example. William Pitt the Younger 1805

Brexit – no U-turns

We are still only in the preliminary stages of the Brexit negotiations. It has taken a long time to get to this point and Mrs May has already faced a tough battle to reach the point where Article 50 could be triggered. Still, so far, she has delivered. She promised that this would happen before March 2017 and in spite of the legal challenges and the opposition of some MPs along with considerably more Lords, she has been as good as her word.

The battles which lie ahead will be harder still. Even if there is a desire for an amicable agreement on both sides, a seamless exit from the EU with our trade virtually unaffected was always going to be a tall order within the two-year timescale of Article 50.

In calling a General Election, Mrs May had made life somewhat easier for herself at home. By March 2019, campaigning would already have begun if the most recent parliament had run its full term and the UK electorate would have been preparing to head to the polls in May 2020. Assuming the polls are correct and she wins a further mandate, she will have a couple of extra years’ breathing space if a transitional deal becomes an essential part of the exit route or else both her government and the EU agree on an extension to the negotiating period.

Failure, however, is not an option. Her party still has a massive uphill struggle to regain the trust of many Eurosceptic voters, some of whose memories go back to Edward Heath’s betrayals in the early 1970s and the bully-boy tactics used by John Major to railroad the Maastricht Treaty through Parliament in 1992. When Mrs Thatcher’s eyes were opened to the true nature of the European project, it was not Labour or Lib Dems but Tory grandees like Michael Heseltine and Geoffrey Howe who stabbed her in the back and engineered her downfall.

Thankfully, the recent Tory intakes of 2010 and 2015 have tipped the balance and while withdrawalists were still a minority among the party’s MPs in last year’s referendum campaign, there are plenty of Conservative anti-EU voices in Parliament whose commitment to withdrawal is every bit as strong as that of the most ardent “kipper”. Any back-tracking by Mrs May would rip her party apart – and she knows it.

On a more positive note, wrapping up the EU issue once and for all, laying to rest a running sore within her party which has festered for decades. It would be hugely beneficial electorally, rendering the Lib Dems totally irrelevant while causing many former UKIP voters to ask what the party they once supported now stands for.

So what is Mrs May up against in Brussels? The European Council met at the end of last month and its guidelines are published here. Agreement must be completed on three initial areas – the Irish border, the UKs contribution to the EU budget and the rights of EU citizens living in the UK – before discussions on the framework for a future EU-UK relationship.

The divorce talks will take place between the UK and an organisation whose reputation for bureaucracy is rooted in the top-down approach to law and government which characterises many of the member states. Our history is very different. We have been far less likely to legislate to the same degree or in the same sort of detail as our continental neighbours. This dislike of pages of small print has been something of a handicap throughout our sad 44 years as an EU member state. During his time as Prime Minister, John Major was once told by Germany’s former Chancellor Helmut Kohl to “go and read the treaties.” UK politicians, even Prime Ministers, have historically had little idea about what they are signing up to. Unlike their Continental counterparts, they don’t do detail when it comes to the EU.

Mrs May has a reputation for being good at detail, so while Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission President, may be right in general terms when he said that “I have the impression sometimes that our British friends do underestimate the technical difficulties we have to face,” we can but hope that in the period since becoming Prime Minister, Mrs May has assembled a team around her who, we hope, are preparing to get to grips with the complexities of the negotiations which lie ahead.

On the face of it, the EU is merely requesting the UK to work through a number of technical issues which need to be addressed to ensure a smooth divorce and can therefore claim that it has no wish to punish the UK – just merely to conduct a separation according to a set of rules to which everyone, including the UK, has agreed.

But is this really an accurate picture? Or will the EU set out to make us as miserable as possible while still claiming to be acting according to the rules?

Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek Finance minister who resigned when his party leader caved in to demands for more austerity, says that Mrs May should avoid negotiating with the EU at all cost. “If she doesn’t do that she will fall into the trap of Alexis Tsipras {Greece’s Prime Minister}, and it will end in capitulation,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“They will give you the EU run-around. You won’t always know exactly who to talk to and that is deliberate. When you make a moderate proposal they will react with blank stares and look at you as if you were reciting the Swedish National Anthem. It is their way of stonewalling.” Professor Varoufakis has suggested that the UK should adopt the EEA/EFTA route, or “Norway Option”, as a transitional arrangement as “they could not refuse this. They wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.”

Mrs May has ruled this out in her utterances so far, although she has not ruled out a transitional arrangement nor given away much detail as to what this might mean.

Varoufakis’ unhappy experience with the EU is not unique. One country has left the European project – Greenland. The EEC (as it then was) was distinctly uncooperative and only when the Greenland government threatened to prevent all EEC boats from fishing in its waters on independence that a deal was finally agreed.

Some economists, notably Professor Patrick Minford of Cardiff University Business School, said that Mrs May and her government need to have a fall-back option if negotiations fail. His proposal is truly radical – unilateral free trade with no tariffs whatsoever. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard called it a “heady Cobdenite manifesto” – and a world apart from Varoufakis’ suggestion.

Mrs May, who was accused by one EU diplomat of living in a “different galaxy”, has indicated that she is not going to be cowed by the EU. On last Sunday’s Andrew Marr show, she said “I am not in a different galaxy. I think what this shows, and what some of the other comments we’ve seen coming from European leaders shows, is that there are going to be times when these negotiations are going to be tough.”  She is unquestionably correct in this assertion.

She has, nonetheless, a strong hand in a few areas, notably fishing, where lack of a deal would hurt the EU more than our fishermen. Security too is not an area the EU would want to leave unresolved, We have the most proficient counter-terrorism operational capability of any state in Europe, according to Veterans for Britain. Indeed, it is the five Anglophone nations or “Five Eyes” – the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, whose intelligence sharing does more than anything else to keep the Western nations safe. The EU would not want to lose out on that link with our security services.

But one other important point is that it is not in the EU’s interests to be seen as punishing us. If it really plays rough, we can let the whole world know. It cannot bully us as it did with Greenland and expect that such behaviour will be ignored by the world’s media. Such behaviour, after all, would lump the EU in the company of the former Soviet Union, the Inquisition and North Korea as being insanely hostile to dissent. At the same time it would send a message to the citizens of the other EU-27 that they are trapped and there is no way out – a recipe for a violent implosion at some point in the future. It would also cause accession states like Serbia and Albania to draw back while snuffing out the residual support for EU membership in countries like Norway and Iceland.  In this country, any heavy-handed tactics by a German-led EU is likely to unite all but the most diehard remainiacs in a determination to  support the Government in toughing it out in order to regain our freedom.

Some prominent withdrawalists have long claimed that Article 50 is a trap, although this has been refuted by other supporters of Brexit.  We are about to find out who is right.

Greek crisis gives a boost to left-of-centre euroscpticisim

The Eurozone has survived its most serious crisis to date. While the formula of late-night sessions, high drama and final compromise, grist to the mill in so-called EU “summits” usually has an element of theatre about it, on this occasion, the Greeks came within spitting distance of the single currency exit door before agreement was finally reached on a third bailout for the stricken country amid some pretty angry scenes.

Some sort of deal always seemed more likely than “Grexit”. That is how the European Union works. Even more predictable was yesterday’s vote in the Greek parliament in support of austerity measures. There was plenty of huffing and puffing, plus a number of resignations – including that of the colourful finance minister Yanis Varoufakis who handed in his notice several days before the final Greek capitulation, but the outcome was never in doubt. Against his better judgement, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has signed up his country to a deal which goes against everything in Syriza’s election manifesto. He promised to end austerity; he has instead been forced to implement a harsher austerity package than his predecessors. The rejection of austerity by the Greek electorate in a referendum earlier this month counts for nothing.

Ignoring the will of the people when they vote the wrong way; reneging on your promises in order not to conflict with the desires of your fellow Europeans. This is all grist to the mill to the European project. Nevertheless, the protests die down after a while and things move on as normal. Or do they?

It is quite possible that in a few years’ time, the Greek crisis will just be a footnote in the history of the EU and that the project towards a federal superstate has continued on its merry way with only a few minor ripples on an otherwise smooth surface. Equally – and perhaps more likely – it is quite possible that the crises affecting the European project will become more intense, especially if the bailout fails to restore the Greek economy to growth. It may take a while before the whole edifice comes crashing down, but the humiliation of Greece has left a bitter taste in the mouth of many erstwhile supporters of the EU.

A search through the internet or the daily papers will yield comment galore on who are the real villains of the piece. The Germans, so say some, for insisting there can be no debt relief for Greece and imposing impossible terms on a nation that is, to all extents and purposes, bust. Others blame Syriza for promising the impossible in the mistaken belief that Germany would blink first rather than sacrifice the irreversibility of the single currency. Maybe it’s six to one and half a dozen to the other. Richard North pointed out in his blog out how Greece has been an incredibly corrupt country for decades. Less important than the finer points of the economic arguments, however, is perception. The EU is, after all, a political project to which economics are always subservient and the political damage to the EU project may be as great as the economic damage to Greece.

As far back as February, this blog predicted that the rise of Syriza might result in a growth of left-of-centre euroscepticism. This prediction has proved accurate. The perception of a concerted effort by the centre-right German Chancellor to crush Alexis Tsipras out of a desire to emasculate the left has generated a great deal of anger. A most interesting article in the Guardian by Owen Jones claims that as a result of the Greek debacle “Britain’s left is turning against the European Union, and fast.”

Jones quotes a few examples: “Everything good about the EU is in retreat; everything bad is on the rampage,” writes George Monbiot, explaining his about-turn. “All my life I’ve been pro-Europe,” says Caitlin Moran, “but seeing how Germany is treating Greece, I am finding it increasingly distasteful.” Nick Cohen believes the EU is being portrayed “with some truth, as a cruel, fanatical and stupid institution”. “How can the left support what is being done?” asks Suzanne Moore. “The European ‘Union’. Not in my name.” He then claims that there are senior Labour figures in Westminster and Holyrood privately moving to an “out” position too.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard picks up on this theme in his column for the Daily Telegraph. Although no socialist himself, Mr Evans-Pritchard expresses considerable sympathy for these emerging left-of-centre eurosceptics, for what he calls the EU’s “scorched earth treatment” of Greece is totally opposed to everything socialism has historically stood for. A left-wing government – indeed, one of the most left-wing governments elected by popular mandate in Europe since the end of the Cold War – is being forced to implement a radical privatisation programme and to cut pensions and other benefits at the diktat of politicians of a different political hue in a different country. He points out that the historic social democratic parties of Europe have become so sold on the European project that it supersedes their loyalties to traditional socialism. There can be no better illustration of this than the action by Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, to ignore an amendment which rejects one of the most controversial features of TTIP, the EU-US free trade agreement in a series of votes in the European Parliament. Schulz, by all accounts a thoroughly unpleasant man, is a member of the SPD, the German Social Democratic Party. The SPD, along with most other socialist parties in the EU, including the UK’s Labour Party, is a member of the PES (Party of European Socialists) group in the European Parliament, which will tolerate no eurosceptics among their MEPs. I can recall meeting a Parliamentary assistant from Malta during my time working in Brussels who told me how the Maltese Labour Party, which had opposed EU membership, had to change its tune quickly after the country voted to join the EU, with all its eurosceptics relegated to the sidelines so it could join the PES grouping.

And herein lies the irony of the PES sellout:- Right-of-centre free market withdrawalism is to all intents and purposes a UK phenomenon. Opposition to the EU has historically come largely from the Left. Indeed, in this country during the 1970s and 1980s, Euroscepticism was far more prevalent in the Labour Party than in the Conservatives. The late Tony Benn was a consistent and unbending supporter of withdrawal and the 1983 Labour Party election manifesto included a commitment to withdraw the UK from the EEC, as it then was. Supporters of the Free Market feel uncomfortable about the pressures exerted on the EU institutions by big business through the army of lobbyists. Socialists have no less reason to dislike the EU’s corporatism, but the mainstream social democratic parties have been at best muted in their criticisms. It is hardly surprising that recent years have seen the emergence of more radical parties like Syriza or Spain’s Podemos, which have challenged and in some cases, even superseded the mainstream social democratic parties. Furthermore, events in Greece are now causing these new parties to turn not only against Europe’s bankers and big multinationals but against the single currency too. Costas Lapavitsas, a Syriza MP said, “It is now perfectly clear that the only way out of this is to break free of monetary union.” According to the Greek media, Panagiotis Lafazanis, the energy minister and a member of one of the most far-left of the factions within Syriza, has publicly advocated bringing back the drachma. To many in Greece, the Euro is a symbol of their European identity and support for staying within the single currency remains astonishingly high given the damage its inflexibility has done to their economy. However, with the International Monetary Fund rightly casting doubt on whether the agreement negotiated in Brussels can ever lift Greece out of its debt trap, a further flare-up in Greese’s financial crisis looks very likely and when it happens, calls for Greece to quit the Eurozone may not be confined to a handful of peripheral Marxists.

To return to the UK, the re-emergence of left-of-centre Euroscepticism – and indeed, outright withdrawalism – comes at a time when the Labour Party is going through a period of soul-searching following its defeat in the General Election. None of the four leadership contenders are openly withdrawalist although the left winger Jeremy Corbyn could be called euro-critical. The late Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT trade union, was a supporter of withdrawal and even launched a left-of-centre withdrawalist party No to EU – Yes to Democracy, which contested the European Parliamentary elections in 2010, winning 1% of the popular vote. While this was hardly an earth-shattering result, it is an indicator that left-of-centre withdrawalism has never totally died out in the UK. It has only been dormant. Greece’s “rescue package” appears to be the catalyst which is bringing it back to life. In his Guardian article, Owen Jones points out how a socialist agenda would now be impossible to implement because of the EU. Renationalisation of the railways and the Royal Mail would be impossible, he claims. Keynesian economics has been outlawed by the Lisbon Treaty and he fears that TTIP, if implemented, would lead to the permanent dismemberment of the NHS. An additional concern for Jones is the growing support for UKIP among the white working classes, which he feels can only be countered by a revival of left-of-centre withdrawalism. Whether this is possible within the Labour Party or whether we will see the formation of a British equivalent of Podemos or Syriza, but with a commitment to withdraw from the EU  remains to be seen. Certaionly something is happening, although quite how much momentum the withdrawalist left is going to build remains to be seen. We must, however, get used to hearing a lot more of a new term Jones has coined – Lexit – Left support for withdrawal. Indeed, even if our personal political allegiance does not lie with socialism, the more we hear of it in the run-up to the referendum, the better.

 

Photo by rvw