Lessons from Austerlitz

Napoleon Bonaparte, watching the Austro/Russian army deploying at Austerlitz, is recorded as saying:
“Let us wait twenty minutes; when the enemy is making a false movement we must take good care not to interrupt him.”

The EU referendum campaign has begun and cool strategy is required.

Those who wish to see a ‘NO’ outcome are concerned about the barrage of pro-EU, or pro-Single Market to be precise, statements by political leaders and big banks and business, as well as EU Commissioners, and so on.

And these people are not bothering with Cameron. They are in favour of staying in the EU without any of Cameron’s reforms. Judging by the ICM poll, the ‘stay in’ side is 10-18 points ahead, even before Cameron returns with his ‘reforms’ or those polled have any idea what is likely to be renegotiated.

But did any reasonable person think that this would not happen?

I welcome this barrage on various grounds.

First, a lot of rhetorical ammunition has been expended for nothing.

Second, the EU side is exposed as obviously bereft of any new ideas since 1975. There are no new arguments.

Third, the idea that this is a stitch up, a fudged referendum, a pretence, a fraud, is gaining ground. As Iain Martin says, in CapX:
“The government’s renegotiation with the EU is bordering on the comical.”
and
“No-one likes to be taken as a fool.”

Fourth, there are already signs of infighting between those few who genuinely believe it is possible to have a ‘reformed’ Europe and those who are just using this as a cynical phrase.

Fifth, all those who the electorate most distrusts are climbing into the same lifeboat without bothering about any navigation:-

  • All the political parties and their leaders
  • The directors of big banks, even those presiding over the banking scandals
  • Big Business directors
  • EU Commissioners and Eurocrats generally.

But, of course we need to counter-attack properly with:

  • A proper aim
  • A proper plan
  • All fighting in one direction
  • No room for complacency

It is also worth considering the melting away of the great polled predicted pro-EU vote during the Dutch and French referendums on the European Constitution.

The recent YouGov poll shows the ‘OUT’ side ahead in the key voting groups: over 40s and over 60s.

Most commentators, such as Iain Martin and James Forsyth, tell us that the referendum is about ‘supporting the status quo’. Nothing could be further from the truth. A ‘yes’ vote is a vote for ‘more integration’, as laid out in Juncker’s presidential statement in 2014.

The real choice was put by Jacques Delors, former head of the EU Commission and the main driver of the EU in his day, and a man highly respected in Brussels, in December 2012, to the Handelsblatt newspaper:

“If the British cannot support the trend to more integration in Europe, we can nevertheless remain friends, but on a different basis. I could imagine a form such as a European economic area or a free trade agreement.”

This correctly stated the alternatives for the UK, “Supporting the trend to more integration in Europe” or ‘friends’ on the basis of membership of the EEA/EFTA.

Photo by – = Duke One = –

Photo by Internet Archive Book Images

Anthony Scholefield

Anthony Scholefield

Anthony Scholefield is Director of the Futurus Think Tank

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He’ll get his deal!

Wouldn’t it be great if David Cameron’s charm offensive achieved nothing of any substance? That he came back empty-handed from his whistle-stop tours of Europe and announced that, in view of the intransigence of his fellow EU leaders, he had not secured any concessions on the UK’s concerns about the EU and would therefore recommend we vote to leave? Recent media reports have highlighted some of the obstacles the Prime Minister is facing. Having already recognised that there is no wiggle-room as far as free movement of people is concerned – not that Cameron was ever really interested in securing a modification to this principle – Poland’s Prime Minister has raised objections to any thought of stopping benefits for EU nationals resident in the UK or forcing them to wait four years before being eligible for benefits at all.

And now, according to the Guardian,  Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign Minister, has warned the Prime Minister not to indulge in “wishful thinking” about German support for reform of the EU. He also pointed out that Chancellor Angela Merkel was preoccupied with Greece at the moment, adding that it would be an illusion to presume the UK could get special treatment because of its large contribution to the EU’s budget.

While there are genuine grounds to believe that some EU heads of state and senior ministers are genuinely fed up with Mr Cameron and his demands for special treatment, it would be hopelessly naïve to hope that ultimately, they are going to get so sick of his demands that they will tell him to get lost and take his country with him. The Guardian article quotes an advisor to the German Chancellor, saying that she would consider it a failure of her chancellorship if the UK withdrew from the EU during her term of office.

So, however much frustration senior figures from the EU may feel, Cameron will get his deal. He will come back from Germany, like Neville Chamberlain when he landed at Heston aerodrome in 1938, proclaiming “Peace for our time.” He will wave a piece of paper that will be just as worthless as the Munich agreement, but it will sound impressive. Present indications are that EU states may agree on declarations to be added to the treaties, firstly acknowledging that the UK no longer aspires to the “ever closer union” specified in the treaty of Rome and secondly to modify the bald assertion that the EU’s currency is the euro. Neither would reduce any existing EU powers over us at all. The supposedly eurosceptic press will rally behind the new deal and we’ll all be encouraged to vote to stay in under these renegotiated terms which our plucky Prime Minister has fought tooth and nail to extract from his reluctant EU partners. It will all be choreography and spin, but there will be no substantial improvement of the UK’s position, just like Harold Wilson’s renegotiations of 1975 which did little more than secure a lower tariff for New Zealand butter. We can but hope our countrymen won’t be deceived again.

As the old saying goes, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Photo by Steve Bowbrick

Photo by Brett Jordan

A report on the Battle for Britain – May 2015

With the publication of the Referendum Bill, and David Cameron’s visits to other EU countries taking place, some features of the referendum are already obvious.

As expected, David Cameron’s reform agenda is minimalist. Clearly his aim is to produce enough, or just enough, changes to proclaim his reforms a success but, at present, this seems unlikely. They will be too weak.

The opposition, in the shape of the SNP and Labour, have shown no capacity at all to discuss the issues on the referendum and are, effectively, sidelined. The SNP has not even wanted even the Cameron minimalist agenda and is concentrating on such minor issues as wanting EU citizens and 16-17 years old included in the voting. Labour seems to be trailing in the wake of the SNP and is absorbed in its own internal leadership election. They saw no reason to have a referendum and have been wrong-footed!

It seems to be conceded on both sides that party politicians will play a smaller role than in 1975. Salmond has said the pro-EU side should be non-party and many withdrawalists think the same should be the case. However, some politicians are too ambitious to forfeit the limelight.

Conservatives are, in any case, paralysed. They are waiting for the results of David Cameron’s reforms and are, in the meantime, avoiding any debate on fundamental issues.

In this void, there has been a spate of speeches by businessmen pressing for the UK to stay in the EU. On examination, these are actually speeches in favour of staying in the Single Market and never address the political issues.

Some attention should be directed to the polls which are alleged to show an increase of support for staying in the EU. However, what matters is the voting intentions of those who actually vote. Referendums generally have a lower turnout than general elections but this, of course, cannot be counted on. Clearly, the pollsters understated the weight of the over-60s’ votes in the general election. This block is far the most eurosceptic and has, of course, experienced the results of giving the politicians a blank cheque in 1975.

Finally, it is notable that two pro-EU themes seemed to have been thoroughly discredited and disappeared from the proEU argument. One is the ‘three million jobs’ argument and the other is that ‘Norway and Iceland have to obey fax democracy’. Bereft of these two themes, it is noticeable that no new facts and no new arguments have been put forward by the proEU forces.

Photo by Airwolfhound

Anthony Scholefield

Anthony Scholefield

Anthony Scholefield is Director of the Futurus Think Tank

More Posts - Website

The choreography begins

David Cameron headed off for a so-called “summit” with other EU heads of state in Riga, Latvia on Friday morning. It is the first gathering of EU heads of state he has attended since the General Election and has been billed as the start of his official bid to “renegotiate” the UK’s relationship with the EU. He stated that it would be a challenging time:- “All I will say is that there will be ups and downs. You will hear one day that ‘this is possible’; the next day something is impossible.”

However, it is hard not to be cynical. Cameron is looking to emulate Harold Wilson’s subterfuge in 1975:- a few minor concessions dressed up as a major victory followed by an attempt to con the electorate in a referendum. To strengthen his propaganda team, Cameron has brought in Mats Persson, formerly one of the directors of his favourite think tank, Open Europe. In all probability, the choreography has most likely been agreed in advance between the Prime Minister and the key players – Germany’s Chancellor Merkel, the French President François Hollande and Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission. According to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Cameron’s “shopping list” includes, among other things, a clamp-down on benefits for EU migrants, an opt-out from “ever closer union”, safeguards for the City, guaranteed access to the single market for the ‘outs’, an end to protectionism in services, and powers for national parliaments to issue “red cards” on EU laws.

However, he adds that “Mr Cameron has gone quiet on demands for wholesale repatriation of powers or for a whittling down of the ‘acquis’ – the EU’s vast corpus of directives and regulations – knowing that both are anathema for Germany.” It appears that he has sounded out the top figures in the EU on what ground they are prepared to give and after going through the façade of “tough talking”, all will be sweetness and light when the “negotiations” are finally complete – a great triumph for the Prime Minister, no doubt.

However, the article also points out that securing some agreement with Mr Juncker and the French and German leaders is by no means the end of the story. It quotes Denis McShane, the former European Minister, who said, “People elsewhere – not just in Paris and Brussels – are frustrated about being taken for a quantité négligeable (lightweights) by arrogant British negotiators. For better or for ill, the EU is a system where the institutions matter, as do all member states, large and small. Even if Merkel is the dominant force, she does not always get it her way.”

There is also another problem facing Mr Cameron – the Tory MPs who want to see us leave the EU. Expressions of dissent were conspicuous by their absence during the election campaign as the remorseless Tory election machine sliced through the Lib Dem heartlands in the south of England. This does not mean they have changed their minds. While pressure is being applied to them not to “rock the boat” as negotiations begin, it is hard to see the consensus lasting for long. One CIB Committee member, with some inside knowledge of the workings of the Tory party, expected the uneasy truce to last only a matter of weeks.

We shall see, but given the slender majority Mr Cameron enjoys, the withdrawalist MPs will have some considerable clout. They will, of course, need to display the same determination to stand up to the whips as they did in the previous parliament, but if they can get themselves organised, they will provide a formidable obstacle to any attempt by the Prime Minister to repeat Wilson’s smoke-and mirrors trick. Business for Britain employed Dominic Cummings, Michael Gove’s former Special Advisor, to conduct focus groups in 2014 on vote in any future referendum. His conclusion showed how the underlying support for EU membership could easily be reduced in the face of a good “out” campaign:- “If those who want to leave the EU neutralise the economic arguments then the people will vote to leave as there is nothing else to support membership.”

Last year, one Tory MP, Owen Paterson, stated that the economic arguments for staying in do not stack up given the right exit strategy:- “We can leave the political project and enter into a truly economic project with Europe via the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the EEA. We would still enjoy the trading benefits of the EU, without the huge cost of the political baggage,” he said last November. That, ultimately, is what business really wants. We have never been interested in the political agenda at the heart of the EU project. If Mr Cameron really wants to opt Britain out of “ever closer union”, he should follow his former Environment Secretary’s advice, invoke Article 50 and bring his pointless jet-setting across Europe to an end.

EU debate disappointment at TPA’s post-election conference

The Taxpayers’ Alliance, in conjunction with Conservative Home, Business for Britain and the Institute for Economic Affairs, held a post-election conference in London on 11th May. The four-hour event covered a number of topics, including Scotland, the election campaign itself and the prospects for change in the EU. Although three of the four organisations co-hosting the event would claim to be cross-party, the meeting had a very strongly Tory flavour to it, with most of the keynote speakers being Conservative Party members.

Dr. Liam Fox was one of those who addressed the conference and his speech sounded a distinctly EU-critical note. He was particularly concerned about further possible calamities within the Eurozone, calling the Single Currency “an economic pass-the-parcel; a time bomb which they all hope will go off when someone else is holding it.” He claimed that senior figures in Brussels live in a parallel universe, quoting Mario Monti, a former Commissioner and Prime Minister of Italy who said recently “We have done so well with the Euro”. Dr. Fox appeared somewhat sceptical about the prospects of any meaningful renegotiation, especially in the light of recent comments by José Manuel Barroso, a former President of the European Commission, who stated that he would support renegotiation “as long as it is compatible with the objectives of the European Union.” Given that the main objective of the EU is “ever-closer union” and the logical end-point of “ever-closer union” is “union”, this does not sound promising for Mr Cameron, said Dr. Fox.

The panel for the debate on reform in the EU consisted of Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s sole MP, Matthew Elliott of Business for Britain and Laura Sandys, the former MP for Thanet South and Chairperson of the European Movement. For someone such as myself who had attended CIB’s rally and the recent presentation on “Flexcit” by Dr Richard North, the level of debate appeared pretty puerile by comparison. Admittedly, with a time slot of only half an hour including questions from the floor, there was not going to be long enough to do this subject justice, but it was particularly frustrating that neither of the other panellists took Laura Sandys to task for repeating Cameron’s statement that we had to stay in the EU to be “at the top table”. This shows a sad ignorance of how the EU now works. So much regulation landed on us by the EU does not originate in Brussels at all. The EU merely acts as a conduit for various organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, UNECE (the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) and other global bodies. These are the real “top tables” and we do not have our own seat here. The EU represents us, but not just us. It represents all 28 member states. We would have far more clout in influencing legislation as an independent country, especially given that these bodies are not so keen to see national vetoes surrendered as the EU. (Your scribe attempted to raise this subject when the debate was opened to questions from the floor, but there was insufficient time for all those who raised their hands to be given a chance to speak)

Douglas Carswell stated his belief that David Cameron would try and repeat Harold Wilson’s trick of 1975, trying to sell a piffling concession to the electorate as a major triumph of renegotiation. With that one would agree. His endorsement for Business for Britain and its importance in the forthcoming referendum is a different matter.

Matthew Elliott said that remaining in under renegotiated conditions was better than the status quo. However, his contribution was most disappointing. He clearly shows no understanding of the EEA/EFTA option which would satisfy the concerns of businesses he claims to speak for while opening the door to a much better future. It would be by far the best way of satisfying on the one hand, a desire for a looser trading relationship with the EU while on the other ensuring a seamless exit. One was left with grave doubts as to whether he really does want to see our country regain his liberty.

However, given Laura Sandys’ senior role within the European Movement, it is apparent that fear, uncertainly and doubt are the only real weapons available to those who support our membership. She said that the pro-EU movement had failed to make the case for the positive role played by the EU. To which one must reply that it is because it hasn’t actually played a positive role; it has done far more harm than good. Supporters of our EU membership really don’t have any convincing arguments. Their arguments are very weak and easily refuted, Unfortunately, although right is on our side, we have a long way to go to win the argument irrevocably. Withdrawalists are still not at all clear what to do with the aces in our hand which, if played correctly, should finally persuade the public how much better life will be on the outside. I therefore left the meeting with a mixture of hope and frustration.

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