Cut and run

So now we have the date! Much to the fury of the SNP, the referendum will take place on June 23rd. Having come back with nothing of substance, Cameron has decided to cut and run, hoping to sneak through a “remain” vote before the “leave” campaign has time to build up a sufficient head of steam.

Listening to BBC Radio 4 today, it is very obvious that the “remain” campaign is going to play on the fear factor. If I was given £1 for every time David Cameron, George Osborne and others used the phrase “a step into the unknown”, I could make a very substantial dent in my mortgage.

In spite of the best efforts by Mr Cameron, he has come back with nothing more than a deal yet futher diluted from the draft version whose inadequacy was well illustrated a couple of weeks back on this website and on others too.  As Peter Lilley pointed out here,  things have gone downhill from Cameron’s initial desire to be on the world’s top tables, including the EU’s. We would now merely  be “the appendix of Europe”.

After following the debate for much of the day, a few things are apparent:-

  1. Remainers will have a real problem trying to defend the deal. George Osborne was squirming  when cross-examined ny John Humphrys on the Today programme. It amounts to nothing of substance and he knows it.
  2. The crucial group, the undecideds and “soft” voters in either camp can be won round, and the shallowness of the so-called deal can be exploited to our advantage, but the “deal” will be history by June 23rd. It’s going to be broader perceptions of the EU that count – and to a degree, the perception of our political leaders too.
  3. We need better, more robust arguments than many put forward by some “leavers” I heard on the radio today. Access to the Single Market  is a crucial issue.  We need to move on from “They will trade with us because  they sell more to us than we do to them” or we will lose. To make the case that staying in is the risky alternative (which it is), our arguments must be watertight.
  4. The potential influence of Boris Johnson in this debate has been grossly overstated by the media

On this brief note, CIB wishes all those campaigning for our freedom from the EU the very best as we prepare for a long four month slog. It’s not the timescale we would have ideally liked, but we’ve got to make the best of it, work our socks off, believe in ourselves and pray for a miracle.

An interesting read while we wait..

While we await the conclusions of the European Council meeting and wonder what exactly David Cameron will emerge with,  this article by Lord Lawson which appeared in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph (slightly amended here), sums up how far the Prime Minister has fallen short of his original objectives.

The Prime Minister has clearly failed to achieve his objectives, and  the time has come for us to leave

In four months’ time the British people are likely to be asked to take the most important decision for the future of our country in their lifetimes. It is not about Europe as such. It is about whether we should remain within a deeply misguided and troubled institution known as the European Union. No one could have been clearer about the problem than David Cameron, in his Bloomberg speech three years ago, when he committed himself to securing a “fundamental, far-reaching reform” of the EU. He has conspicuously failed to do so.

He committed himself to ending the notorious ratchet, and ensuring that “power would flow back to the member states, not just away from them”. He has conspicuously failed on this front, too: not a single power is to be returned to the United Kingdom; and the doctrine of the so-called acquis communautaire, which holds that powers once transferred to the European Union cannot be taken away, remains firmly in place.

He also promised that whatever he did achieve in his negotiations would involve “proper, full-on, Treaty change”, without which they could not be legally binding. No Treaty change has been secured.

The Prime Minister cannot be blamed for the abject failure to achieve his objectives. The European Union is adamant against any change other than further integration. What is unacceptable is presenting the so-called concessions he does appear to have secured, which range from the wholly inadequate to the completely meaningless, as constituting success.

Let us have a look at them. He claims that he has secured a “red card” system to prevent new EU legislation that is damaging to the UK. Some red card! The draft agreement states that this will only come into play if and when more than 55 per cent of the EU wants it to – a highly unlikely state of affairs in the first place – and, even if it does, all that follows is that the presidency will put it on the agenda for “a comprehensive discussion”.

He claims to have addressed the serious problem of uncontrolled and uncontrollable levels of immigration by securing what he likes to call “an emergency brake”. Some brake! All that is provisionally agreed is an offer by the EU to allow us to bring in a temporary reduction in the level of some benefits (which no one who has studied immigration into the UK believes would make any significant difference, anyway). This is an offer which the EU would be free to withdraw at any future date – such as after a vote by the UK to remain within the EU.

And as for the City of London, and our ability to flourish outside the dysfunctional Eurozone, we are sternly told that we must “refrain from measures which [in their opinion] could jeopardise the attainment of the objectives of the economic and monetary union” and that “the existing powers of the Union institutions to take action that [in their opinion] is necessary to respond to threats of financial stability” remains untrammelled. We have been warned.

So what was presented as a drive for fundamental reform has turned into an exercise in damage limitation: how to limit the damage that EU membership inflicts on us. And even that has scarcely been achieved. The only way to end the damage is to leave.

As Chancellor, I became increasingly aware that, in economic terms, membership of the EU did us more harm than good. And that was before the arrival of European monetary union, which occurred after I had left office, and which has had such a disastrous economic effect on the EU.

But it is unsurprising that it brings no economic benefit, for the European Union has never been an economic project. It is has always been a political project, with a political objective which we in the UK do not share. That is the fundamental reason, above all others, why we must vote to leave.

That objective is the creation of a full-blooded political union, a United States of Europe.

That is what “ever closer union” is all about. As the 1983 Solemn Declaration on European Union makes explicit, this is not simply a union of the peoples of Europe but a wholehearted political union of the member states.

That is what monetary union is all about. The father of European monetary union was Jacques Delors, the former President of the European Commission. I knew him very well, since before he became President of the Commission he was France’s finance minister and my opposite number. He fully understood that you cannot have a workable monetary union without a fiscal union, and you cannot have a fiscal union without a political union. That was the object of the whole exercise.

Hence the proposal, in the European Commission’s so-called “Five Presidents’ Report” of June last year, for a single Eurozone Finance Ministry and a single Eurozone Finance Minister by 2025. This is clearly not right for us, and we must leave. Otherwise, although we have a notional “opt-out” from the political union, we will still be obliged to accept EU laws framed with this object in mind.

I have been asked “what, then, is your alternative to being in the European Union?” A more foolish question is hard to imagine. The alternative to being in the European Union is not being in the European Union. Most of the world is not in the European Union – and most of the world is doing better than the European Union.

So far as the detail is concerned, the morass of EU regulation, much of which is costly, unnecessary and undesirable, would become UK regulation, which we would then be free to accept, repeal or amend as our national interest requires.

Above all, we would become once again a self-governing democracy, with a genuinely global rather than a little European perspective. We would prosper, we would be free, and we would stand tall. That is what this referendum is all about.

More nonsense rebutted.

Thatcher letter re maastricht

If anyone still believes the “remain” side will play fair, a couple of newspaper headlines in recent days should be sufficient to dispel such illusions.

Firstly, Charles Powell, Lady Thatcher’s private secretary during much of her time in Downing Street, claimed that she would have backed David Cameron’s renegotiation and voted to stay in.

Bill Cash MP has rebutted that claim by producing a letter she wrote to him making it clear she would not have signed the Maastricht Treaty (See above), which meant that she therefore would have taken the UK out of the EU. If Maastricht was a step too far for her, therefore it is inconceivable that she would have supported keeping the UK in the EU under the terms agreed by David Cameron and Donald Tusk, which accept the further integration to which successive UK governments signed up with the Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon treaties.

Now David Cameron, following in the steps of Hilary Benn, has raised the spectre of the Russian Bear. Mr Putin would be delighted to see the UK leave the EU, so we are to be warned. It would “weaken Europe”.

If Benn and Cameron’s alleged fears are based on military concerns, they are unfounded. Firstly, let’s be clear: we are wanting to withdraw from the EU, not Nato. It’s the all-important alliance with the USA which has helped maintain stability in Europe and given the reluctance of most EU member states to spend much on defence, it’s the organisation including a country prepared support its military that will count in the years to come if Mr Putin needs to be kept at bay.

Furthermore, within the EU, the UK has been the biggest foot-dragger when it comes to the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy. It’s the usual story. While our leaders insist they want our country to remain an EU member state, they disagree with the other member states over the question of defence, just as they don’t want us to join Schengen or adopt the Euro.

Only today, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin expressed his enthusiasm to proceed with further integration within the Eurozone, declaring our country will get “no veto, no mechanism” – in other words, no special deal to protect the City of London. On so many issues, they want to go one way, we want to go another. Although the other countries don’t want us to go, our presence actually makes the EU weaker. Our departure is therefore likely to delight Mr Putin far less than the scaremongers would have us believe; in fact, it probably won’t bother him one way or other.

This is a man with a plan, but is is legally binding?

When a politician says that he wishes to make something `absolutely clear’ you can rest assured that there is something in his subsequent statement that is of an ambiguous nature or worse still something which is at complete variance with what he is stating.

Well, last week David Cameron stood up in a hushed House of Commons and uttered those hallowed words ,”Let me be absolutely clear about the legal status of these changes that are on offer ….these changes will be binding in international law and will be deposited at the UN …in key areas treaty change is envisaged…”

The changes which were apparently `on offer’ were those which had been hatched between Cameron and Donald Tusk, on a number of topics which the Prime Minister and he had decided should be laid before the British public as proof that EU and Britain had reached a civilised accommodation of each other’s hopes and aspirations for new beginning.

To be fair to Cameron, he did use the future tense when stating that these changes would be legally binding but he totally failed to lay out the procedure whereby they would become binding and which particular key areas would need treaty change .The clear implication being that some would not need anything other than a quick agreement by some higher authority.

Tusk in his letter had written that “most of the substance of the proposal takes the form of a legally binding decision of the Heads of State or Government,”i.e. the European Council.

The House had of course been given sight of the Tusk letter and knew in advance what it said so it perhaps surprising that no one cross examined Cameron on the precise detail of the next steps in the saga.

Dominic Grieve added to the discussion by saying that the House should be aware of the “legally binding nature of the document that he (Cameron) will bring back if it is accepted by the European Council”

No ifs and buts there then, says Mr Grieve. Once it is agreed by the European Council it is law!

The only problem is that the European Council (Heads of State et al) is not part of the legislative body so it can`t make laws so whatever Cameron brings back will be just a statement of intent, no more no less.

On the other side of the coin, some realism has been introduced by our old friend Martin Schulz who has warned of the fact that the MEPs will need to agree to the proposed changes otherwise there could be “roadblocks “to these changes. The fact is that they can stop them.

So there we have it. On the face of it we now have complete confusion over what we, the general public, have been led to believe by the different parties to this discussion.

Are we looking at a quick legal settlement via an agreement of the European Council (which we know they are not entitled to do) or the more convoluted process whereby we have the prospect of treaty change via the normal processes which involve a meetings, conventions and conferences a vote by the EU Parliament? All of this will take time.

There is also the possibility of the use of the simplified procedure which is available under Article 48 TEU for revising treaties. If the European Council is seized of the matter and considers the proposed changes to the treaties to be of a minor nature (well frankly whatever Cameron says, this is all they are) and they are in agreement with those changes they can consult with the Commission, the EU Parliament and then move on to the ratification process will have to be unanimous.

That is what I suspect may happen and nothing will be set in stone until the proper legal processes are complete. They are unlikely to be completed if we have a referendum in June and therefore the British public may be asked to consider its vote in the absence of any legally enforceable changes to our terms of membership in spite of all the hot air in Parliament.

More educational bias

Anyone who has taken part in debates at schools and universities will know that supporters of “leave” face an uphill battle in trying to sell the noble cause of withdrawal to young people, While one study suggests that some 80% of pensioners support withdrawal, something like 80% of under-24s support remaining in the EU.

There is no doubt that this is due to the pro-EU material which has been widely used in schools recently. Of course, it’s our money which ultimately funds this stuff and most of our MPs aren’t that bothered. In January 2014, the House of Commons debated the Europe Citizens’ Programme, a five-year programme costing €185 billion to fund educational projects that seek to enhance both the understanding of EU institutions and European integration. One MP put it in these words: “This grant-making exercise is aimed at providing propaganda, as I see it, for purposes of political union.” Only 32 MPs opposed it in the Second Reading and only 30 in the final stages.

It is nonetheless good that some schools genuinely want an open debate on the EU and both your author and our Chairman, Edward Spalton, have been happy to accept invitations to speak in these debates. Unfortunately, not all schools are prepared to be so even-handed. A correspondent mentioned to me how her 14-year old granddaughter was disciplined by a teacher at a school in Cumbria for criticising the EU. Reports also have circulated of schools singing pro-EU songs. Readers may recognise the pro-EU cartoon (above) where the teacher uses the phrase “ignorant extremist” to describe the boy’s father, just because he believes in national sovereignty.

However, the worst example to come to light of pro-EU bias can be found in an audio clip, sent to us by another supporter. It features a talk by Dr Tony Arnold of the EU Law department at Birmingham University. It begins on a perfectly sensible note, advising students to register for the coming referendum and pointing out that if the referendum is held on 23rd June, it will be at the start of the summer vacation. Dr Arnold then rightly says “This is a really big moment for the future of this country”, but the bias that then follows is frankly appalling:-

“Your children and your grandchildren will say to you, ‘Did you cast your vote?’ and if you say ‘no’ they will say, ‘why didn’t you cast your vote? You might have affected the outcome. Look at the disaster which has befallen the United Kingdom since it decided by the smallest of margins of withdraw from the European Union.’”

No, Dr Arnold. This is nonsense. It would be a disaster if we decided to remain in the European Union. However, if we are to convince young people that we’re better off out, we must not resort to similar scare tactics but instead, to paint a positive picture of the benefits of exit. As I drove home from losing a debate last Friday, for all my own strong convictions on the subject, I found myself asking, “How do I tell people, especially young people, in the short slot of time we are usually allocated in these debates, just exactly why we would be better off?” It’s a question which isn’t as easy to answer as you might think, but one we all need to ask ourselves if we are to win.

With one bound the UK will be free – or will it?

Dick Barton – Special Agent was a popular BBC radio thriller serial in the late 1940s. It often featured the line “With one bound Dick was free!” No matter how dangerous Dick’s dilemma, he would always escape by the easiest – and usually most contrived – method.

Some supporters of withdrawal still favour a similar approach to leaving the EU – repealing the European Communities Act of 1972. With one bound, the UK would be free – no need to bother with Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – the EU’s prescribed method for withdrawal. However, in international law, states cannot use changes in their own internal constitutional arrangements or indeed existing constitutional arrangements as reasons to abrogate a treaty unless they were specified at the time of making the treaty.

Therefore, while such an approach may seem appealing, it would be a gung-ho, John-Bull-in-a-china-shop sort of thing to do, leaving us with all manner of problems. It would not help at all in the very necessary negotiations which will have to accompany leaving the EU in an orderly manner with a seamless continuation of mutually beneficial trade. It would be exactly the sort of “leap in the dark” with which Sir Stuart Rose is trying to scare people. It would immediately put the UK in the wrong in the eyes of the international community. It would be an initial declaration of bad faith – not the right foot to get off on.

It would also have a great many side effects which would be disadvantageous. For instance, all our food safety laws originate in an EU Regulation, not an Act of Parliament and they would be gone in an instant – a great hazard to domestic public health, placing our own considerable food exports to the EU in regulatory limbo so they would lose their access to the Single Market. Each delivery would have to be detained at the port of entry until it had been thoroughly tested before being released.

It is a proposal which would help the Europhiles greatly and show every businessman in the country what clots were running the Leave campaign. They will be praying for people to suggest it loudly.

A couple of years ago I wrote an article suggesting a way in which reasonable safeguards against any EU trickery might be built in to the process whilst observing the normal rules of civilised international conduct. In fact I am far more worried about our own officials, very comfortable in their EU servitude, than I am about the EU Commission. As Lord Tebbit remarked “It’s called the Foreign Office because it works for foreigners”.

The Independence Movement will not be the negotiators of the post-referendum settlement. Unless the Fixed Term Parliament Act is repealed, the task will fall to a government enjoying a majority in the present Parliament. Given that Mr Cameron has insisted that no preparations should be made for a referendum vote to leave, it will necessary for that government to establish wide public confidence in the expertise and bona fides of the independence negotiating team. Leave.eu is already urging commitment to steps in this direction.  Otherwise there would be no public confidence that the Europhile majorities in Lords and Commons would press for a settlement, fully respecting a vote to leave.