Turning up the volume on what?

Sir Mike Rake, President of the Confederation of British Industry has urged his members to “turn up the volume” in support of the UK’s membership of the EU in a speech at the organisation’s annual dinner, according to a report in the Guardian today.

This is the latest development in a week which saw Deutsche Bank threaten to relocate part of its business from London if the UK leaves the EU while Lord Bamford, the Chairman of JCB, said that the UK had “nothing to fear” from withdrawal. Confused? Perhaps you are, but not as confused as the CBI’s President and the many other business leaders who have spoken out in favour of continuing UK membership arguing that we face “a choice between openness and isolation…. between shaping the future or retreating into the past.”

What these businessmen are concerned about is tariff-free access to the rest of the EU and its common regulatory standards – in other words, the single market. Do they care about the political dimension to the EU? – in other words, that its goal is the creation of a federal superstate? Most unlikely. In other words, therefore, if they can be convinced that access to the single market could be preserved if we withdrew from the EU but remained in the EEA and re-joined EFTA (the so-called “Norway Option”) until a longer-term relationship could be agreed, their concerns would be answered.

Let us be clear, the “Norway Option” is not an ideal long-term relationship for the UK. However, its most eloquent advocates have studied the issue of withdrawal and how best to achieve it over a period of many years. If there was a “silver bullet” which, at a stroke, could enable us to move instantaneously and seamlessly to a simple free trade relationship with the EU with full access to the remaining 27 member states, they would prefer this approach. However, such attempts to devise such a scenario have all contained serious flaws, which would result in job losses and worse. Our aircraft would not be able to fly in EU airspace if we just pulled out, nor would our aircraft have rights to use air space and landing slots in third countries under the present treaties, negotiated on our behalf by the EU.

However, it is the best way to reassure voters who are understandably nervous after being bombarded with scare stories . Trade would not be affected while we would escape from a political project with which we have never felt comfortable. Furthermore, regaining our independent seat at the World Trade Organisation and other international bodies involved in devising common global standards for goods would enable us – and thus our business leaders – to have far more clout in determining what these standards should be. At present we have no voice at these “top tables”and have to go along with the “common position” of the EU Commission which is more responsive to French and German requirements than to ours.

This is hardly the “retreat into the past” or “isolation” which Sir Mike Rake fears. It actually gives us a bigger voice on the world stage and brings us closer to where the real decisions are increasingly made these days. We can shape the future far better outside the EU and it is high time that the bigwigs in the CIB educated themselves on the reality of international trade. We are also free to reject new Directives. Whilst Labour politicians here bewailed the privatisation of Royal Mail, independent Norway simply declined to enforce the Third Postal Directive and kept its mail deliveries as a public service. We could do the same.



Photo by webtreats

Two and a half years to save our country

The surprise result of the 2015 General Election means that the UK will be holding a referendum on its membership of the European Union in less than two and a half years’ time. David Cameron’s victory will now be concentrating many withdrawalist minds on how to achieve an “Out” vote in that referendum and the scale of the challenge becomes apparent when one of the tactics which propelled the Conservatives to an unexpected victory will be used to encourage our countrymen to stay within a “reformed” EU – fear.

The last-minute nature of the swing to the Tories and the widely-reported indecision on the part of many voters don’t exactly point to an enthusiastic endorsement for David Cameron. Rather, the prospects of a Labour government propped up with SNP support made many waverers decide to back the devil they knew rather than the more frightening devils they did not. The bottom line, however, is that however grudgingly many voters put their crosses in the Tories’ box, the scare tactics paid off.

Yesterday, in a piece in the Daily Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard pointed out that a referendum held in 2020 or after would be more easily won by supporters of withdrawal. Had Labour won the election, the shock of defeat “would have “flush(ed) out the last EU dreamers and leave a post-Cameron party with even less tolerance for the posturing of Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker….There is a high likelihood that such a party would let it rip on euroscepticism while in opposition and then come roaring back in five years’ time given that the most likely scenario would have been the replacement of David Cameron by a more eurosceptic Tory leader.” This is a fair point, although his proposal of Boris Johnson for this role is distinctly unconvincing. Another point which would have favoured 2020 for the referendum is that it gives us longer to address the disunity and disorganisation of the withdrawalist movement. We have right on our side and a far better case than supporters of our EU membership, but we are not winning the argument and time is short.

However, there is still everything to play for. We can win the battle for our country’s freedom and while this is not the time for naïve optimism, there are a number of factors which could swing opinion in favour of withdrawal.

Firstly, while the Tory party held together with an impressive stage-managed unity during the campaign, with Cameron’s many critics biting their tongues, this does not mean that they are any happier with his policies than they were a couple of years back when his leadership looked to be on the line. Especially given Cameron’s stated intention to pass over anyone advocating withdrawal from the EU when it comes to choosing his cabinet, leaving him effectively with only the dregs of his party to choose from, the rebellious backbenchers will come roaring back with a vengeance before too long. With the Tories’ majority so small, they will wield a considerable degree of power and if they can coalesce around a sensible exit strategy, such as “Flexcit”, this will add some considerable weight to the “Out” campaign.

Secondly, the anti-politics mood has not gone away. The electorate may have given a clear signal about who they want (and don’t want) to govern them, but this does not mean the profound disconnect so many people feel towards politics and politicians of all parties has gone away. The withdrawalist movement has so far failed to harness this sense of remoteness from the corridors of power. In particular, the individualism of the younger generation ought to make them natural opponents of something as remote and bureaucratic as the EU. Admittedly, the presence of pro-EU propaganda in schools has not helped, but winning the younger generation for the cause of independence is not impossible if the message is packaged appropriately.

Thirdly, the EU itself, for all the money it may pour into the “in” campaign, is not going to change its ways, especially under the leadership of Jean-Claude Juncker at the European Commission. There will be plenty of events in Brussels which, if handled correctly, can re-kindle the fires of euroscepticism within the UK population. The bottom line is that we don’t fit and never will. Only fear and ignorance stand in the way of withdrawal.

Finally, and unusally for this website, a quote from the Guardian. Commenting on why the Tories’ strategy of fear was so successful, Rafael Behr wrote, “that kind of tactic only works when it plays to underlying weakness in the opposition offer.” Divided and disorganised the withdrawalist movement may be, but if we can get our act together and sell both a watertight exit strategy and a vision for a newly independent UK, there is nothing weak about the withdrawal offer. It is only natural common sense. We are only seeking to encourage our compatriots to vote for something that will be very good for them. Can we spring an even greater upset than this morning’s results in late 2017? Yes we can.

Photo by Brabantia – Designed for Living

Report on “Flexcit” Workshop, 29th April

Several members of the Committee of the Campaign for an Independent Britain were among those attending a workshop at the Farmer’s Club in Westminster, London on Wednesday April 29th. The workshop was originally to have been chaired and hosted by Peter Troy, but he suffered a severe heart attack a couple of days before the event. The two sessions were therefore chaired by CIB’s new chairman Edward Spalton and vice-chairman Anthony Scholefield.

The speakers for the two sessions were Robert Oulds of the Bruges Group and the political analyst Dr Richard North. Robert Oulds explained why the EEA/EFTA model as used by Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein was the only route to a seamless exit from the EU. While it is not an ideal long-term relationship between an independent UK and the EU, it will prevent job losses and enable the UK to function without any hiccups form day 1 of exit. He showed how “soft” the support for withdrawal is. Many people would prefer to stay in a “reformed” EU, but when businessmen are quoted in the press supporting EU membership, it is the trade aspects that interest them. They are not really interested in the EU’s political agenda. One opinion poll commissioned by the Bruges Group indicated that when the voters are offered a choice between the EU and EFTA – in other words, between a political Europe and a trading relationship – the result is overwhelmingly in favour of EFTA. He stated that senior officials from EFTA have indicated that the UK would be very welcome to re-join.

Richard North’s “Flexcit” presentation emphasised that withdrawal is only the beginning of a process. He pointed out that with the growth in international trade, standards are often decided at a much higher level than the EU. This shoots down David Cameron’s “top table” argument inasmuch as an independent UK would have its own seat at the WTO and various UN bodies. At the moment, the EU negotiates a previously agreed position on behalf of all 28 member states, with France and Germany usually the dominant forces in agreeing what the EU position will be. WE therefore have less influence by being in the EU.

He pointed out the unrealistic approach to withdrawal taken by some individuals. In his proposals, the full acquis, the CFP and the CAP would have to be “repatriated” into UK law to tide us over because of the length of time it will take to devise independent domestic policies. Research he undertook with Owen Patterson MP suggested that at least five years would be required to produce an independent agricultural policy. Also, farmers like the CAP and some are dependent on its subsidies. Britain’s growing population is becoming increasingly and dangerously dependent on imported food and sudden drastic changes to the farm support system would make the situation worse at a time when production needs to be encouraged, not disrupted.

Robert Oulds summarised the picture both speakers were painting: withdrawal was like arriving at Heathrow Airport – the beginning of a journey rather than the destination, (No one goes on a holiday to Heathrow!) Flexcit is a guide to where the journey will lead our country. Time was too short for Dr North to go through the remaining five stages on the journey in detail – addressing the immigration and asylum question, creating a genuine European single market, developing independent policies (including foreign and defence policies, agriculture and fisheries), global trading and finally domestic reform. This final section suffered particularly from the constraints of time, but it is in many ways the most radical and exciting area – a major re-vamp of the entire political system designed to return power to the people and to ensure that the lies and deceit which saw us dragged into the EU can never be repeated again. This will already be familiar to some readers as the Harrogate Agenda

All in all, a stimulating afternoon that generated some interesting question and answer sessions. However, it left many of us wanting to know more. Thankfully, to that end, all participants were given the latest version of the Flexcit document – a full 411 pages – which will make for stimulating reading for us all over the next few weeks. Anyone wishing to download the document for themselves can do so here.

Videos of both sessions will be posted onto the website in the nest week or so. CIB wishes Peter Troy all the best for a speedy recovery.

Can we trust Tony Blair?

So many ghosts from British politics past have returned from the dead to make some idiotic comment about the EU in the last few months that it has not been worth the effort to give our readers a resumé of all their drivel. After all, keeping track of Nick Clegg’s daft statements about the EU is almost a full-time job, as he makes so many of them.

However, one cannot let Tony Bliar’s intervention pass without comment, as it illustrates perfectly the utter contempt that some senior politicians feel for the people who elected them into office and explains why disillusion with politicians is so widespread in the country.

Blair said that he fully supported Ed Miliband’s decision not to offer the UK electorate a referendum on whether we should leave the EU or not.”This issue”, he said at a speech in his former Sedgefield constituency, “touching as it does the country’s future, is too important to be traded like this.”

Let’s unpack these words. What he is saying is that, essentially, the general public – you and I, in other words – cannot be trusted to make an informed decision about whether we should stay in the EU or not. He pointed out how the Scottish independence referendum had proven “the fragility of public support for the sensible choice.” What arrogance! “If I, the great Tony Blair, think a certain course of action is right, any opposing views must be dismissed as stupid.”

He also claimed that if we were to have a referendum on EU membership simply because it was now 40 years since the last one, then we should have a referendum on our NATO membership as well. This is a completely spurious argument. We were not led into NATO under false premises, being told it was one thing when in reality it was another. Furthermore, while NATO has enlarged to take in some of the former Soviet bloc nations, it still remains what it always was – a defensive alliance. On the other hand, the EEC/EU has changed beyond all recognition since 1975. Forty years ago, there was no directly elected European Parliament, no single currency, far less use of qualified majority voting and so on. In 1975, you could believe, if you didn’t look too closely beneath the surface, that we were just part of another trading bloc like EFTA.

No one can be under any illusions now about our subjugation to the unelected bureaucrats of the European Commission – a subjugation Blair himself facilitated by signing the Nice Treaty of 2001. We have never been asked if we wanted to join an embryonic superstate and, for all his faults and in spite of his rather dubious motives, David Cameron was right to reply to Blair by saying that, “You can’t stay in an organisation unless it has the full-hearted consent of the people.”

Blair went on to say, “If Britain left, the rest of Europe will be vigorous in ensuring the UK gets no special treatment.” Has he never read Article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty? It states that “The Union shall develop a special relationship with neighbouring countries, aiming to establish an area of prosperity and good neighbourliness”? While it has to be admitted, the EU hasn’t been doing too well in relating to its large neighbour to the East, it is unlikely that on independence, our country will elect as leader an awkward, aggressive brute like Vladimir Putin.

He took the all-too-familiar line about the damage which Brexit would allegedly do to the economy. While we can take it as read that he has never studied the informed analyses of supporters of withdrawal such as Robert Oulds, Richard North, Ruth Lea and Tim Congdon, all of whom have pointed to economic benefits from withdrawal, is it too much to think that he has never studied Open Europe’s work? As we recently pointed out, this pro-EU think tank claimed that a free trading deregulated UK would actually be better off outside the EU if the exit was handled well.

Equally tedious was Blair’s claim that we would be “diminished in the world” and “out of the leadership game” if we left the EU. In what way? We would still a member of NATO, we would still occupy one of the permanent seats on the UN security council (for all that is worth); we would still be a world leader in financial services, we would still be one of the largest economies in the world. In fact, we would regain our own seat at the World Trade Organisation instead of having to be represented by the EU. It gets better. We would not be having to compromise in every foreign policy decision and need not get sucked into conflicts such as in the Ukraine in which we have no strategic interest. Unfortunately for the likes of Tony Blair, it would provide fewer opportunities for future UK prime ministers to strut around in front of the world’s media at those twice yearly tedious EU summits, posing as some sort of great world leader.

However, the most irritating of all his comments in this thoroughly irritating speech was his caricature of anyone who loves their country. He is correct in saying “national pride is a great thing” but to call UKIP (and presumably by extension anyone else who wants out of the EU) “mean-spirited” is a typical Europhile tactic. He said that “Nationalism is a powerful sentiment. Let that genie out of the bottle and it’s a Herculean task to put it back in.” This statement was made in the context of comparing the Scottish independence referendum with David Cameron’s proposed referendum on EU membership. It is all too apparent from the surge in support for the SNP that last September’s vote has not put the issue to bed for a generation as had been hoped at the time. Blair’s fear is that whatever the result of a referendum in 2017, a similar surge in support for withdrawal may develop into an unstoppable momentum. He will hopefully be proved right. After all, let’s face it. Will CIB give up if we don’t get the right result in 2017? Will Global Britain? Will UKIP? Will Get Britain Out? What is wrong with loving our country to the point when we would prefer to be run by our own elected representatives and governed by our own laws? It is all too apparent that the EU is losing popularity across a number of member states and with good reason. It is a failed project that, like Tony Blair himself, belongs to a bygone era.

Photo by Chatham House, London

Encouragements and challenges from the latest social attitudes survey

On Thursday 26th March, the 32nd British Social Attitudes survey was published. After the recent YouGov poll giving supporters of continuing EU membership a 10% lead, this survey, which took a larger sample size of 3,000 voters as opposed to less than half that number in the YouGov survey, provided some welcome encouragement for supporters of withdrawal but also some serious challenges.

There is no question that the EU is unpopular with the British electorate. However, the Telegraph’s headline “British more anti-EU than last two decades” only tells part of the story. Given a referendum now, more than half of those surveyed (57%) would choose to remain in the EU, while only 35% want to withdraw. This only confirms the findings of the YouGov Survey that the withdrawalist movement has a lot of ground to catch up. However, when the renegotiation option is brought into the equation, 24% of those surveyed indicated an unequivocal wish to leave the EU with 38% wanting to stay in a reformed EU where Brussels would exercise considerably less power. There is indeed, in a sense, a Eurosceptic majority but herein lies the challenge. How many of those 38% could be won over to an outright withdrawalist position if they could be convinced that Cameron’s renegotiation is only going to be mere window dressing which does not address their concerns?

The answer to this question depends on identifying why so many people who are clearly uncomfortable with our EU membership do not wish to pull the plug altogether. This, of course, means asking them some questions. Not wishing to presume to anticipate what replies we might be given, there are a few obvious areas worthy of investigation.

  1. How aware is the electorate of the alternatives? Hugo van Randwyck and Robert Oulds both claim that when voters are given the choice between EU membership and re-joining EFTA (i.e., adopting a purely trade-based relationship with the EU) the balance comes down strongly in favour of EFTA.
  2. How well-informed are most voters concerning the degree to which the EU interferes in our lives? Or the cost?
  3. How many of those reluctant to support withdrawal have been misled by such nonsense as the “Three Million Jobs” myth and believe that we would sink without trace if we withdrew?
  4. How many are still unaware that the objective of the EU always was, is and always will be the creation of a federal United States of Europe?

It is the conviction of all the CIB Committee that if the UK electorate was presented with a clear picture of the aims and costs of the EU and the positive options for our country as an independent nation that the vote for withdrawal would be overwhelming. Furthermore, even though we and most of our supporters are firmly committed to the preservation of the UK, we nonetheless take heart from Scotland.

When David Cameron announced that a referendum on independence was to be held, supporters of the Union appeared to have an unshakeable majority. A poll by Lord Ashcroft in May 2013, less than 18 months before the vote took place, claimed that only 26% of those surveyed supported independence with a massive 65% against. However, the Independence campaign came within a whisker of pulling it off and barely six months after the referendum, it is all too apparent that the vote to stay in last September did not settle the issue. “Half of Scots think we will be independent by 2025” claimed The Scotsman earlier this month and research from the University of Edinburgh suggests that about half  English voters agree with them.

A similar momentum in favour of withdrawal from the UK is therefore a distinct possibility. The challenge is to build a team and devise the right strategy to make this happen.

Photo by Iker Merodio | Photography

Scaremongering and bias

We recently posted a highly critical article by Roger Helmer MEP on the subject of Open Europe’s recent analysis of the prospects for an independent UK.

Roger pointed out that claims that the UK would be poorer by 2.2% of GDP was a “worst case scenario”. To be fair to Open Europe, this is precisely what it said, with more emphasis was on the “worst case scenario” than you would have thought from reports in the media. The blame for this scaremongering, in other words, should be laid at the door of the press rather than Open Europe itself. “UK risks economic blow outside EU – Open Europe study” claimed the BBC. The Financial Times, whose pro-EU bias is nearly as bad as the BBC’s was no better: “Brexit could cost economy £56bn a year, think-tank warns”. Thankfully, City AM struck a more balanced note: “Beware the headline costs of Brexit: We’ll thrive if we’re open to the world”. Open Europe’s daily e-mail, or “daily shakeup” as it is now called, from 24th March was similarly careful to be a bit more objective than some of the daily papers. “A Free trading Britain could prosper outside the EU” said the headline to one article.

If you look more closely at the report, it claims that, “In a best case scenario, under which the UK manages to enter into liberal trade arrangements with the EU and the rest of the world, whilst pursuing large-scale deregulation at home, Britain could be better off by 1.6% of GDP in 2030.” This is a very significant remark. A pro-EU think tank is claiming that, given the right policies, we would be better off out. No wonder that the BBC, which has received further criticism from the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee for its pro-EU bias, skated over this positive scenario in its reporting of the analysis.

Open Europe’s round-robin e-mail the following day included a report on an event it hosted marking the launch of its new report, ‘What if…? The consequences, challenges and opportunities facing Britain outside the EU.” It included a quote from Lord Wolfson, one of the speakers and a signatory to the “Business for Britain “campaign. He endorsed the positive prospects for the UK outside the EU if the correct policies were adopted. The UK’s economic success outside of the EU would mostly “depend on what Britain chooses to do in the wake of departure,” he said. He argued that “the opportunity of leaving [the EU] shouldn’t be underestimated”, especially since the UK would have more freedom to trade with the rest of the world. Of course, Open Europe would prefer us to stay in a renegotiated relationship within the EU. As Mats Persson, a director of Open Europe put it, “There’s life after Brexit, but it makes sense to test the limits of EU reform before pulling the trigger.”

Fair enough, but it’s all too apparent from the preliminary meetings held by David Cameron that “the limits of EU reform” fall far short of what many people in the UK wish for. An end to free movement of people is not on the cards, nor total repatriation of our criminal justice system. Theresa May foolishly opted back in to 35 Justice and Home Affairs measures included in the Lisbon Treaty, including the European Arrest Warrant. Will a subsequent Conservative Government (in which she may play a prominent role) decide to opt out again a couple of years later? Hardly. Suzanne Evans, a UKIP MEP, was widely criticised when she replied “yes” when asked if she would stay in following a reform she was happy with. This was another case of selective media reporting, for her following words were, “But I don’t think that is going to happen – that is the problem. If we could reform the EU that would be wonderful, but unfortunately this is an organisation that just won’t reform.” She didn’t go on to flesh out what “reforming the EU” meant for her, but how about this? Let’s abolish the European Commission, bin the thousands and thousands of pages of EU laws, scrap the European Parliament, return sovereignty to the member states in toto and turn the EU into nothing more or less than another EFTA. If David Cameron could persuade the other 27 member states to go down this route, I am sure that not just Suzanne Evans but many other ardent supporters of withdrawal would say, “I’m happy with these reforms” but it ain’t going to happen.

Going back to Open Europe, its report insisted that an independent UK would only prosper if it remained outward-looking. To turn this into some sort of scare story, as some media articles attempted to do, is to be guilty of very selective reporting. Open Europe’s actual words are, “In a best case scenario, where the UK strikes a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU, pursues very ambitious deregulation of its economy and opens up almost fully to trade with the rest of the world, UK GDP would be 1.6% higher than if it had stayed within the EU.” What is scary about this? Pick up any book or article written by a supporter of withdrawal from the EU, be it Ian Milne, Ruth Lea, Tim Congdon, Robert Oulds or whoever, and you will find the author in question propisng precisely this course of action – cutting red tape and embracing free trade with the rest of the world. There are unquestionably a few protectionists who support withdrawal, but they are minor figures with little or no influence.

A more contentious point concerns immigration. The Open Europe report says that “In order to be competitive outside the EU, Britain would need to keep a liberal policy for labour migration. However, of those voters who want to leave the EU, a majority rank limiting free movement and immigration as their main motivation, meaning the UK may move in the opposite direction.” On the immigration issue, the withdrawalist community is very divided. On the one extreme, Lord Wolfson, a man who is clearly comfortable with withdrawal, is known for supporting free movement of labour. On the other hand, whether or not UKIP’s Victoria Ayling really did say “I just want to send the lot back” when she was still a member of the Conservative Party, there are plenty of other people who will quite unashamedly admit that this is what they would like to do.

There are two comments to be made here. Firstly, even a fairly open immigration policy need not go as far as allowing free movement of people. Surely reclaiming the right to deport foreign criminals and no longer being required to pay child benefit to workers with families still living in Poland is better than the current situation. Secondly, there are a number of reports which question the supposed economic benefits of large-scale immigration, such as the Civitas paper by Anthony Browne Do we need mass immigration? Data from the International Monetary Fund shows that in the UK, per capita GDP adjusted for the effects of inflation (“constant prices” or “real GDP” in economists’ jargon) increased by £2,212 in 2000-2004, the four-year period leading up to the accession of the former Soviet bloc states.

However, in the nine years from 2004-2013 when large number of migrants arrived in the UK from Central and Eastern Europe, the latest estimate of the increase is £286, little more than one eighth of the growth from 2000-2004, yet over a timespan of nine years as opposed to four. This poses the question as to whether Open Europe is being a bit disingenuous. Of course, more people means a higher GDP, but it is GDP per capita which is the real measure of wealth. Haiti has a higher GDP than Liechtenstein, but you don’t encounter slums, high infant mortality and food shortages in Liechtenstein.

There are plenty of other holes that can be picked in Open Europe’s report, as Richard North points out, but notwithstanding any potential flaws in its methodology, the very fact that it has conceded that withdrawal may be a benefit to the UK economy is an indication of the weakness of the pro-EU argument. Sadly, this is still not resonating with the electorate, with the latest poll from YouGov showing supporters of withdrawal in a minority, with 46% wanting to stay in and only 36% wanting to withdraw if a referendum were to be held today. The figures are even worse when the choices are between withdrawal and a renegotiated membership. We clearly still have much work to do. It would be a tragedy if, having won a key concession from one of our most influential opponents, we were then to lose the battle that really counts.

Photo by TechnicalFault (formerly Coffee Lover)