EU Referendum: not just another meeting

Friday 31 July 2015  

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So, with an eye to maximising publicity, Mr Farage yesterday decided to tell the world that Ukip was launching its campaign "on the ground" from the beginning of September. He is, we are told, to "mobilise a people's army" in favour of leaving the European Union, and will launch hundreds of public meetings.

Mr Farage was of the view that the referendum could be held as early as "March or April", and if he believes that, then that explains why he is in such a rush to get things moving, telling the "no" side that it needs to "get off its backside". It needs to do two things, he says: to "get cracking" and "come together".

However, in one thing, Mr Farage is certainly wrong. There will be no referendum in March or April, nor in June. It seems unlikely that there can be one before October of next year, while we maintain that the most probable date is October 2017.

On this basis, we believe that to ramp up the campaign early is premature - and potentially harmful. Given the need for a grand strategy, the time would be better spent working on this, and then organising and training our side, better to execute the campaign.

Crucially, before we commit ourselves to a strategy, we need a clearer idea of what Mr Cameron is planning, especially if "associate membership" becomes a reality. If it does, and there is a second referendum to follow, this will be a game changer. It will demand a precise and measured response.

Sadly, it is not within our capability to influence Mr Farage. He set his face against anything we might have to offer over a decade ago, having decided that the way to success was though gaining MPs in Westminster, a strategy that has yet to produce results.

Nevertheless, that does not mean there is nothing we can do, or that we have to stand idle while Farage insists executing what appears to be a strategy-free campaign.

Essentially, if we are in for the long haul, then we need a group of campaigners who can act as a backstop, to block the gaps left by the orthodox campaigners. We need people capable of stepping in, long after the early starters have peaked, with an intelligence-led response to developments as they occur.

To that effect, with the support and generous sponsorship of the Campaign for an Independent Britain, the Referendum Planning Group (RPG) is convening a workshop at the Woodland Grange Hotel in Leamington Spa, on 12 September.

The workshop numbers are limited, but it is open to all those who want to take an active part in the campaign and are capable of organising and building their operations for activation when the time is right.

While there will be a number of formal campaigning groups – and an official "no" campaign - we will be looking for organisers who can set up additional, autonomous groups, to augment official activities. These groups, in our view, need to be function-orientated, capable of taking rapid and effective action in areas where larger, formal groups are unable to operate.

Our preliminary agenda for the workshop splits the day into four parts, starting at 10am and finishing at 4pm. In the morning, we will start with an outline of RPG's intellectual base and, for the second part, we will look at campaign structures. After lunch, we will kick off with presentations by existing activists, represented by the CIB, the Bruges Group,, Futurus and The Harrogate Agenda.

Then we plan to turn the meeting over to our potential volunteers, to hear from them as to how they think they can contribute to the campaign, what they need from us, and how best we can all work together.

I would stress that we are not planning to go into competition with other groups – this is for self-starters who are not happy working within the framework of traditional, hierarchical groups. We are looking at cell structures, on the lines of a guerrilla army, capable of identifying the enemy's weak points and acting decisively without needing external leadership.

For the day, we are asking for a contribution of £25 from each attendee, although there are a number of sponsored places for those with limited means.

The day, though, is for the independently-minded, those who do not want to be bystanders in the coming campaign. If you want to punch above your weight and make your contributions count, Leamington Spa on 12 September is the place to be.

Admin is being handled by Dorothy Davis. If you are interested, you can contact her by e-mail via this link in order to make a booking. We look forward to seeing you there.

Richard North 31/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: a grand strategy

Thursday 30 July 2015  

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Sitting on my desk for a long while have been many books on revolutionary theory and the acquisition of power, including in which number has been Gene Sharp's book on "Power and Struggle". Not until recently, however, have I acquired (at the behest of The Boiling Frog) Sharp's slender but vitally important volume entitled " From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation" (free .pdf download here).

Although intended to assist campaigners attempting to overthrow dictatorships and install democracy, much of the advice is relevant and useful to our campaign to leave the EU, and especially the chapter on strategic planning. So important is it that I decided to reproduce the essence of it in this post, adapted to apply specifically to the referendum campaign.

If what he says can be summed up, it is in one sentence. Sharp says, "If one wishes to accomplish something, it is wise to plan how to do it". But, he then goes on to say:
The more important the goal, or the graver the consequences of failure, the more important planning becomes. Strategic planning increases the likelihood that all available resources will be mobilised and employed most effectively.
To plan a strategy, Sharp tells us, means to calculate a course of action that will make it more likely to get from the present to the desired future situation. In terms of our current struggle, that means getting to a state where we are a free, independent function country, outside the EU.

Taking from Sharp and modifying his work, we can say that a plan to achieve that objective will usually consist of a phased series of campaigns designed to produce a majority of the people in favour of leaving the EU, and to weaken the determination of those who would keep us as members.

Sharp acknowledges that strategic planning is a difficult task. But, he says, the failure to plan strategically means that one's strength is dissipated, one's actions are ineffective, energy is wasted on minor issues, advantages are not utilised and sacrifices are for naught.

If we do not plan strategically, we are likely to fail to achieve our objectives. A poorly planned mixture of activities will not move us forward. Instead, it will more likely strengthen the opposition. In order to help us think strategically, Sharp says, clarity about the meanings of four basic terms is important.

Grand strategy is the conception that serves to coordinate and direct the use of all appropriate and available resources (economic, human, moral, political, organisational, etc.) of a group seeking to attain its objectives.

By focusing primary attention on the group's objectives and resources, grand strategy determines the most appropriate techniques of action to be employed. Leaders must evaluate and plan which pressures and influences are to be brought to bear on the opposition. It will also include decisions on the appropriate conditions and timing under which initial and subsequent campaigns will be launched.

It sets the basic framework for the selection of more limited strategies for carrying out the campaign. It also determines the allocation of general task to specific groups and the distribution of resources to them.

Strategy is the conception of how best to achieve particular objectives in a conflict, operating within the scope of the chosen grand strategy. It is concerned with whether, when and how to fight, as well as how to achieve maximum effectiveness. A strategy has been compared to the artist's concept, while a strategic plan is the architect's blueprint.

In devising strategies, planners must define their objectives and determine how to measure the effectiveness of efforts to achieve them. Tactics and methods of action are used to implement the strategy.

Tactics relate to the skilful use of one's forces to the best advantage in a limited situation. A tactic is of limited action, employed to achieve a restricted objective. The choice of tactics is governed by the conception of how best to utilise the available means of implementing the strategy.

To be most effective, tactics and methods must be chosen and applied with constant attention to the achievement of strategic objectives. Tactical gains that do not reinforce the attainment of strategic objectives may in the end turn out to be wasted energy. A tactic is thus concerned with a limited course of action that fits within the broad strategy, just as a strategy fits within the grand strategy.

Tactics are always concerned with fighting the campaign, whereas strategy includes wider considerations. A particular tactic can only be understood as part of the overall strategy. Tactics are applied for shorter periods of time than strategies, or in smaller areas, or by a more limited number of people, or for more limited objectives.

Method refers to specific means of action, which in the context of a political campaign can mean the social media, letter-writing to local newspapers, leaflets, rallies and public meetings.

On the broader front, the development of a responsible and effective strategic plan, concludes Sharp, depends upon the careful formulation and selection of the grand strategy, strategies, tactics, and methods. The main lesson is that a calculated use of one's intellect is required in careful strategic planning. Thus:
Failure to plan intelligently can contribute to disasters, while the effective use of one's intellectual capacities can chart a strategic course that will judiciously utilise one's available resources to win the campaign.
Interestingly, Sharp suggests that there are sound reasons for making the grand strategy widely known. The large numbers of people required to participate may be more willing and able to act if they understand the general conception, as well as specific instructions. The knowledge could potentially have a very positive effect on their morale, their willingness to participate, and to act appropriately.

The general outlines of the grand strategy would, of course, become known to the opposition but they would find out anyway. Knowledge could cause them to change tactics to our advantage, while contributing to dissension and defections from the Europhile camp.

All it needs then is that there should be a grand strategy – one that we are all capable of following, one that we can all feel that we own. Your views on that would be much appreciated.

Richard North 30/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: the mess they're in

Wednesday 29 July 2015  

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Do we need a treaty change, or don't we? Well, for the changes that Mr Cameron says he wants, the Government thinks we will need one, and one which goes beyond the Article 48 "simplified procedure".

The House of Lords Select Committee reserves judgement on whether any agreement would require treaty change, but it also accepts that it is not feasible for changes to the EU Treaties to come into force ahead of a referendum, even if it is held at the end of 2017.

But, assuming that a treaty change is necessary and Mr Cameron can't deliver in time, how does he convince the British electorate that the "colleagues" are prepared to ante up when they do have a treaty, especially as there is no way there can be any legal guarantees.

On the other hand, since Mr Cameron has promised a treaty, why would anyone be impressed with Ian Martin's "take" on what George Osborne has to offer?

Yet Martin is one of those who seems to think that Osborne can broker a deal by Christmas, ready for that referendum in June 2016. However, while ostensibly writing about "Europe", he is making the mistake common to English journalism of looking at events through the prism of domestic politics. 

Despite the historic nature of the referendum, and its vital importance to future generations, all that matters to this hack is short-term domestic politics. The important thing to him, therefore, is that Osborne can use the contest to "further his leadership ambitions", but only if he can "present whatever the deal is as a magnificent achievement and a marvellous vindication of his efforts".

But why a deal short of a treaty should be acceptable to us, because it is from the Chancellor, when the same deal from the Prime Minister would not be, is not explained. Not even the Daily Telegraph attempts that. Instead, it gives Osborne licence to claim he's achieved the political equivalent of turning water into wine – having Britain's relationship with the EU "return to the concept of a 'single market of free trade'".

Someone really should take Osborne aside and tell him that the EEC was from its very inception a political construct. Even Harold Wilson knew that. Is our current Chancellor so untutored that he doesn't realise that the Treaty of Rome had as its primary objective "ever closer union". It cannot return to being a "single market of free trade" because it never was one.

What price a newspaper, though, that interviews the Chancellor and doesn't point this out – that lets the man spout his mantra, and then treats it with a respect that it is certainly not its due, putting a nonsense pledge on the front page? Do politicians now have a free pass to mislead, without intervention or comment from the fourth estate?

Leaving that aside, in an attempt to get some sense, I suppose we could try Janan Ganesh's in the Financial Times , but he has caught the trivia disease. Again, ostensibly writing about "Europe", he is obsessing about the referendum timing and domestic politics. Mr Cameron has no reason to go for an early referendum, says Ganesh. The moment the referendum is over, it marks the beginning of the end to his career as Prime Minister. The later he leaves it, the more time he gets to pursue his agenda as prime minister, and secure his "legacy".

However, neither one of these geniuses - Martin or Ganesh – seem to have worked out the political implications of a new treaty agreed after the referendum, and the near-certainty of it triggering a second referendum, most probably in the mid-term of the next parliament.

With this, one can posit a scenario of Mr Cameron going to the country in 2020, with a "yes" vote under his belt, promising anther referendum to cement the deal. And what better reason could there be for him to stay on for another term as prime minister?

Not even Rafael Behr of the Guardian seems to have put it together – prattle seems to have infected the fourth estate and addled their brains. The "only certainty" about the deal that will be offered to the British public, intones the mighty Behr, "is that it will include compromises and imperfections – characteristics of the European project that have always been unacceptable to much of [the] right and are rapidly falling out of favour on the left".

Undecided voters, he adds, "can surely be persuaded that Britain is better off staying in the EU, but the prime minister is making that task harder by insisting that the case for 'yes' hinges on the detail of his renegotiation".

In the Behr scenario, therefore, "asking people if they like the half-baked deal that the prime minister brought home from Brussels seems, in the current climate, to be an invitation to say 'no'" – in which event Mr Cameron, we are told, "will have to pivot away from treaty changes and … make the broader case for Britain in Europe".

The assumption here is that Mr Cameron is going to bring home a "deal" from Brussels. But, most likely, all he will bring is the promise of a treaty in the near future, in which the UK will be relegated to "associate membership" status. Not a hint of that comes from Mr Behr.

For all that the concepts of a "two-speed Europe", the avant garde, the "core group" and "associate membership" are not exactly state secrets. One might, therefore, have thought that just one British journalist might break ranks and talk about what is in dozens of news sources on the continent – and available to British readers via the magic of the internet and Google translate.

Apart from Booker, though, you will have to go back to 21-22 June before you will find even a passing reference in the British media to "associate membership". Only the Guardian in recent times will allow a mention of "core Europe".

There was actually more news on the subject in the British media in 2012, when the idea was being mooted for inclusion in the next round of treaty-making. Yet, now that it is close to becoming a reality, the media are making omerta look more relaxed than the regime in Speakers' Corner.

With better than 40,000 references to Kernuuropa over the last couple of years, the near-obliteration of any reference to the English-language equivalent can't be accidental. One has to work extremely hard to cultivate a level of ignorance that manages to guard against even an accidental mention.

Rather than address this issue, we have the Express present us with Lord Hill, vice-president of the European Commission, who admits that Mr Cameron's "renegotiation" demands have "not yet" been made clear to the "colleagues". "The British government have not yet set out their clear and detailed list of their requests," he says.

The Times has Emmanuel Macron, the French economy minister, saying much the same thing. After a press conference with the Osborne, he declared that "we need to understand what the UK wants", reflecting - says the paper - a frustration felt across Europe at Britain's delay in spelling out its demands.

With the HoL Select Committee making a similar complaint, you might have thought that even one enterprising journalist might dig behind the headlines. If renegotiation is supposedly a central part of Mr Cameron's referendum strategy, why has there been so little effort to put the agenda in front of the "colleagues".

The most obvious explanation is that the renegotiations are no longer a central part of Mr Cameron's strategy - and that the outcome is irrelevant. That certainly could apply if the Prime Minister was not in control and was merely waiting for an announcement about a new treaty, whence we will be told that the "real" objective of the talks all along was "associate membership".

Vainly, though, do we search for any semblance of intelligent life in the media, or anything approaching coherent analysis of what is a bizarre and unexplained omission. What passes for journalism in the Express is a pathetic hack trying to sell us the idea of "Brexpulsion" – a facile "exclusive" from Prof Iain Begg (he of three million jobs fame), which has the UK at risk of being kicked out of the European Union.

Never mind that there is no provision in the treaties for the expulsion of a member state – if this is quality journalism, one can only observe that the media has plumbed new depths. But even the best is low grade. Coverage of the EU, in the round, is a total mess.

As regards referendum coverage, as the campaign gathers momentum, the public needs better and deserves better. The mess that comprises the current coverage is a disgrace, an affront to the very idea of responsible journalism. It is also a threat to what is left of our democracy.

Richard North 29/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: a concoction of confusions

Tuesday 28 July 2015  

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If anyone actually thinks they know what is going on, they haven't been listening – or so the old joke goes. But, if anyone is relying on the Guardian or any other media to tell them what is happening with the EU referendum, they are unlikely to end up well informed.

David Cameron, we are told by the Guardian, is to stage another round of separate meetings with European leaders this autumn. These will be "critical" to determining whether he thinks he can go ahead with a referendum next year or should instead wait until 2017.

This "intelligence" comes in the wake of the Independent on Sunday claiming to have inside knowledge of Mr Cameron's intentions, selling us the unlikely line that a June referendum is on the cards.

A day later, we get the Prime Minister from Indonesia declaring that "the negotiations would determine the date of the referendum, not the other way round", something also picked up by the BBC. It has Mr Cameron asserting that he did not have a referendum date in mind. Instead, he tells reporters that, "When the negotiation is complete then we'll set the date for the referendum".

Cameron also claims that "technical discussions" are "well under way in Brussels to work on the legal parameters of a deal", and "weekly analytical discussions" are looking at the legal form to the changes the UK is seeking. Officials and lawyers are considering whether they would require treaty change, primary legislation or something more modest.

At the same time, we are given to understand that Mr Cameron has accepted that treaty change is not possible by next year. It is nevertheless reported that he could "still win a legally binding agreement in writing that treaty change would follow", once other EU states had finished their own negotiations about revising governance in the euro area.

This is about as clear as mud, not least because there can be no legally binding agreement. Brussels is not in a position to guarantee a treaty change, and neither is any member state. In the absence of the ability to deliver, no agreement can be legally binding. That is a basic principle of law. 

Nevertheless, we are supposed to believe that Mr Cameron wants that further round of talks with key European leaders such Angela Merkel, at the end of September, supposedly  "to test out how quickly a deal can be struck".

However, if we put this into the context of what we already know, it does not compute. The timetable for treaty change is already set, with the first stage of the roll-out in late 2017, leading to a convention starting in the spring of 2018 and a treaty agreed by 2022. 

This, then, rather relegates the Prime Minister to a play-acting role. He will be able, we are told, to make a preliminary judgement at the autumn European Council as to whether to go short or long on the referendum date, but the narrative has him wanting to decide after the December Council.

This, of course, makes a total nonsense of the Independent story. No decision on the referendum date has been made. But, beyond that, we really are none the wiser, especially as the key decisions are not in Mr Cameron's hands. 

Nor does it help if we cast the media net wider. The Telegraph also has David Cameron conferring with Angela Merkel and other European leaders, but it reminds us that the timing will put his meeting just before the Conservative Party conference. Then, he "will come under immense pressure from backbenchers to show a more ambitious menu of proposed reforms than has so far been disclosed".

Clearly, the Telegraph is after something dramatic so, for his meeting with Merkel et al, it has Cameron "now preparing to set out a far more detailed set of demands" than have so far been tabled - backed by a politically illiterate leader that shows it hasn't a clue on what is going on.

It doesn't get much better if we turn to the Times, though, because there we get George Osborne wanting to "wrap up negotiations with Brussels by Christmas". These days, we don't even get government by leak. Instead, we have to rely on what the Chancellor has told his friends, who then presumably confide in the Times lobby correspondent. From this unimpeachable source, we get a variation on the theme offered by the Guardian.

He (the Chancellor), we learn, would like to strike an agreement at the December Council on "the four target areas of British sovereignty, fairness for non-eurozone members, competitiveness and immigration". This, of course, is not possible and the narrative does not entirely match what the Guardian is telling us. 

Furthermore, none of the media sources are factoring in the new treaty and the potential for the UK being consigned to associate member status. Without this crucial intelligence, it is not easy to make any real sense of what is happening. But, when it comes to the referendum timing, even the Times has it that "Downing Street sources insisted" that "no decision had yet been taken on the date".

As to the bigger picture, the only real sense we can get is gleaned from the Financial Times. It gives us French economy minister Emmanuel Macron, declaring that, "We need a stronger eurozone, more integration and to reaffirm the political project of the eurozone but at the same time we need fair treatment of the [non-euro] countries".

That seems to be a coded reference to a "core group" and the concomitant "associate membership", although Macron stops short of spelling it out. And all we get on the referendum timing from the FT is that the European Council on 15-16 October will give European leaders "a collective chance" to "take a view on how quickly detailed discussions can be wrapped up".

Cutting to the chase, therefore, all we can really surmise is that the media don't have a handle on things. Trapped in their desperately Brit-centric perspective and reliant on publicity handouts from the Cameron and Osborne media teams, they can't see the inconsistencies in what they are told, and don't have the knowledge to see the bigger picture.

Unsurprisingly, the result is simply a concoction of confusions, strengthening our view that the British media is inherently incapable of sensible reporting on European Union issues. But then what really comes over is the sense that we are being played. And that comes as no surprise. We've known that all along.

Richard North 28/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: taking us for fools

Monday 27 July 2015  

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It was on 21 June that Mr Cameron was reported as seeking "associate membership" of the EU, and then only a few days later that we got confirmation in the Financial Times that the Prime Minister was expecting to go to the country without a new treaty under his belt.

Confirmed at the European Council, this then pointed to the near certainty that Mr Cameron would have to rely on a declaration by the "colleagues" of a new treaty, announced before the referendum but with the negotiations starting afterwards.

Last Sunday, we also had Hollande indicating that he has fallen into line with Germany, to accept an avant garde Europe, effectively kicking into touch any idea that the EU is prepared to consider "reform" of the nature being suggested by the Conservative government.

There can be absolutely no doubt that this is on the agenda for the next treaty, centred around the idea of core Europe, which has been kicking around for many years and which is being addressed by the policy and constitutional experts as differentiated integration - the next big challenge facing the Union.

One would hardly expect this to appear in the British media although, ironically, there is a reference in the Financial Times only in relation to the dishonesty of the UK debate on "Europe" (aka the European Union, if we are going to be scrupulously honest).

However, it is not necessary to be imbued with even the slightest tinge of Europhilia to agree that the debate is indeed being handled in a thoroughly dishonest way – by politicians and their handmaidens in the British media.

And that must be the case with yesterday's report (pictured, top) that Chancellor George Osborne is "take Britain's case for European Union reform to Paris", seeking support from his French counterpart "for a deal the Conservative government can put before voters" in the promised referendum.

After Hollande's statement last Sunday, not by any possible stretch of the imagination can anyone believe that the French – or any other EU Member State – is going to sit down with the UK seriously to discuss "reform". Mr Osborne's actions are such a transparent charade that no one should be able to report it seriously. Yet the legacy media trots it out with no hint that reform is no longer an issue - if it ever was. 

What this amounts to is that Mr Osborne and his fellow politicians, and the media which so uncritically reports them, are taking us for fools. Treating us with utter contempt, they assume that we are so ignorant and untutored that we cannot see through the charade and do not realise that everything we are being told lacks substance.

The same goes for the facile story in the Independent on Sunday. This paper  wants us to believe – without a shred of evidence other than the word of a journalist who was convinced that there would be a hung parliament at the general election – that the referendum poll will be in June of next year.

Nothing in politics can ever be totally ruled out, but there would have to be some very substantial evidence offered before the IoS story could be given any credence, especially as recent events tend to confirm the best time frame as October 2017, or thereabouts.

Sadly, though, there are those who are prepared to take such reports at face value. Few seem to stop and think that a Europhile newspaper would enjoy seeing the "no" campaign peak too early and waste its energies fighting an early referendum. Thus, there are eurosceptics who don't bother to question media motivations when they pass on tendentious stories, despite their lacking any credible evidential base.

To that extent, politicians and the media get away with taking the electorate for fools because so many behave like fools. They may call themselves eurosceptics, but actually lack scepticism. They are gullible to the point of naivety, accepting everything they are told, as long as it comes from a "prestigious" source, like a newspaper.

As to the date of the referendum, the best remains autumn 2017, during the UK tenure as "rotating president" of the EU council. It will come after the "colleagues" have announced their intention to hold a treaty convention. It will, I fear, put associate membership officially on the agenda only weeks before the poll.

If he wasn't trying to take us for fools, Mr Cameron would already be identifying this as the outcome he is most likely to be asking us to approve. But there again, deceit has been writ through the project ever since it started, so if we are the fools, the likes of Mr Cameron are most certainly the liars. The combination, though, does not make for a happy mix - too many people seem content to be led by the nose to a humiliating defeat.

Richard North 27/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: second-class citizens

Sunday 26 July 2015  

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Booker has picked up on the recent indications that the EU is planning a new treaty, following which the UK may be offered "associate membership", making us (in the historical context) "second-class citizens".

There can be little dispute that, should this be offered by Mr Cameron just before the referendum poll, it could transform the campaign, although nothing of this has yet percolated the deeper reaches of Channel 4 News.

From there, political editor Gary Gibbon tells us there's "a riff you hear around the top of government that the referendum on Europe is won". You hear, he says, "'60/40' thrown around as a plausible if not easy margin of victory for the yes campaign for staying in the EU. You heard it in the run-up to the Scottish referendum too".

The thing is that, with the arrival of associate membership, public sentiment could go either way. If Mr Cameron ambushes us at the last minute, and the offer is heavily spun, it could look attractive enough for the majority of voters to give it a punt, especially if there is to be a second referendum, when the terms can be put to the vote.

If, however, the "no" campaign is ahead of the game and we have been discounting any idea of association as the second-class citizenship that Booker highlights, then we're in with a chance. The weight and longevity of the propaganda might be sufficient to neutralise the Cameron game plan, making leaving the EU a better proposition.

Certainly, Mr Gibbon is upbeat, informing us that on the "no" side there is serious work being undertaken to try to make sure that the referendum doesn't go to the government, even if currently there seems to be a three-way split.

On the one hand, we are told, there is Dominic Cummings and Matthew Elliott, "old hands from the campaign against the euro over a decade ago". They are coordinating efforts to recruit, strategise and fundraise. On the other, there is Richard Tice and the campaign and then there is Ukip's Nigel Farage, cast as the wild card, in the manner of John Prescott as deployed by Tony Blair.

Outside this "golden triangle", of course, nothing else exists and, as long as we rely on the London-centric media, nothing ever will.

These are the "experts" though who still believe to this day that Mr Cameron vetoed an EU treaty, who forecast that Ukip would get "at least five seats" in the general election – and that there would be a hung parliament. These are also the people who were predicting that we wouldn't get a referendum and, more recently, that Greece was going to drop out of the euro.

Despite many of them convinced that the referendum was to be in May next, that turns out not to be, but one of the self-same "experts" who was so convinced that we would have a hung parliament is now telling us on the basis of an anonymous "senior source" that Mr Cameron will hold the poll in June. The Prime Minister will, we are reliably informed, announce the "fast-tracked date" as the centrepiece of the party conference in October.

Doubtless, we are so lucky to have these experts to keep us in the loop - even if the Electoral Commission wants nine months from the passing of the referendum legislation before there is a poll. Thus, when it comes to acting on the "intelligence" of these "experts", we might perhaps reserve judgement, even sparing a thought for Nigel Farage who talks of the "small-minded Westminster types" who are seeking to tell us how the campaign should be run.

What is desperately worrying though is that the scent of Mr Cameron's great turn-round on associate membership has been with us for at least a month, and the fact that the possibility hasn't been officially acknowledged by a government which is seeking to abolish "purdah" suggests that there might indeed be plans to spring the news on us at the last minute.

That "last minute" is most likely to be in September 2017, as the timing is not in his hands. It is then that the "colleagues" will be making a Laeken-type declaration, with a treaty convention to follow in the spring of 2018. And it could hardly be the case that Mr Cameron could hold a referendum in June next year, only then to announce the following year that there was a new treaty to follow, with another referendum to come.

The possibility of a 2017 referendum and a second "treaty-lock" referendum needs to be at the centre of any "no" strategy, which is going to have to be intelligence-led and highly innovative if it is to make a dent in the status quo. Yet, not only is there little sign that the danger is being recognised, all three campaigns are promising to launch in September, presumably in anticipation of a June poll.

The point here is that if the ballot actually takes place in or around October 2017, the campaign will have over two years before the voters trudge to the polls to cast their votes. If campaign peaks early and then the poll comes at the end of two years-worth of the leaden arguments that are currently on offer, the public will have long-since lost interest.

To my mind, intensive campaigning should be confined to the three months before the poll. Any activity now should be carefully targeted, aimed specifically at weakening the opposition's case rather than seeking to change minds.

When we do hit the streets in force, we have – as Owen Paterson's "ExCom" tells us – the big need to reach out to centre-left voters, and the need for 50 percent plus one. That will need a positive vision on the lines of the Stokes precept, which none of the campaigns so far seem able to offer.

As long as the campaign is in the hands of the "experts" though, it would seem that such basic principles have little traction. The beauty of being an "expert" lionised by the London media is never needing to know what you're talking about it, and never having to apologise when you're wrong – which is most times.

Fortunately, there are other types of "second-class citizens" out there – ordinary people who have an instinctive feel for campaigning and who don't need the "experts" to tell them what to do. With access to the net, and a reach that collectively meets and exceeds the legacy media and its dying news titles, they have to capability to confound the pundits and deliver another result that none of them expected.

In those "second-class citizens", who are so obviously ahead of the game, we have probably our best and only chance of engineering an upset.

Richard North 26/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: an immensely complex operation

Saturday 25 July 2015  

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Making interesting reading is an extract from a Cabinet Office document entitled: "Legal and Constitutional Implications of United Kingdom Membership of the European Community - Memorandum by the Law Officers" (C(67) 62) dated 25th April 1967 – and secret at the time.

The key bit comes at the end, and reads as follows:
The requirements under the Treaties would restrict our independence of action in future international dealings, and would, broadly speaking, have the effect of transferring to Community institutions our power of concluding treaties on tariff and commercial matters …

As a matter of international law, we would have no right to withdraw from the Treaties unless there was a fundamental change in circumstance s (e.g. if one of the member States were over-run by a foreign power). We regard this as somewhat academic; if for any reason, the United Kingdom decided to withdraw, and an Act of Parliament were passed for this purpose, we find it difficult to imagine that our Courts would not give effect to it. Withdrawal from the Treaties would certainly be an immensely complex operation.
This, of course, pre-dates the Lisbon Treaty and Article 50, but it is useful to know that the Law Officers believed that, before we even joined the EEC, we could leave if Parliament so decided.

Yet, what is especially significant is that, even with (then) nearly 50 years of political and economic integration to come, the Law Officers already thought that withdrawal would be "an immensely complex operation". And that currently, is the position we confront, with the possibility of Mr Cameron and the "colleagues" confusing the issue with an offer of associate membership of the European Union.

Despite the superficial attraction, that idea is not at all acceptable. It keeps the UK in a subordinate position where, in a Brussels-centric supranational treaty organisation, the European Commission still has the right of initiative when it comers to making the rules and therefore calls (too many) of the shots.

The thing is, we've been here before. Edward Heath in 1963 had made it clear that the question of associate membership had been considered and rejected.

Then, in January 1967, when Harold Wilson visited Charles de Gaulle in Paris to discuss Britain's entry to the EEC, the General had suggested that the British study "an agreement for association between Britain and the Community to cover their interests and their exchanges".

Wilson was quick to tell the French President that an association "would be unable to mobilise the aspirations of all for closer political involvement". Under such a system, he said, "the British ship would not be moored alongside the Continent, but would come and go. It would be a commuter relationship, an offshore relationship".

At the meeting, the French Prime Minister, M. Couve de Murville, had said that the political element in the process on which the British had embarked "was more important than the economic element". With this, Wilson had agreed. "He did not think any form of limited economic association could ever generate the political unity which lay at the heart of the decision he was seeking".

This, Wilson later elaborated on in a report to Cabinet marked "top secret" and dated 24 April 1967. An associate membership, he then wrote, "would be a kind of second-class citizenship which would impose on us many, perhaps most, of the obligations of membership with few of the rights".

It would, Wilson added, "fail to give us an equal or adequate voice in Community Councils and so prevent us from playing our part in developing what we and the well disposed members of the EEC think Europe's role and position in the world ought to be, whether in specialised fields such as technology, or in world affairs generally".

Still later, in December 1967, the issue had been debated in the Lords when Lord Chalfont declared that an association was not a "starter".

"We would be dealing with a situation", the noble Lord said, "in which we would accept many of the obligations attaching to membership of the Common Market, and some of the most important of them, without the privileges of voting and the rights of full membership". This would mean, he added, "that we should be accepting formally the obligations of the Community without having the influence … on its development".

Perversely, earlier in the year, de Gaulle had suggested that the British try "something new and different", without actually specifying what he had in mind. Yet, while this was widely regarded as a delaying tactic, there was perhaps an opening there, the foundation for which had already been set by Winston Churchill back in 1948.

Much is made in the hagiography of the European Union of the role of Churchill and in particular his 1946 speech in Zurich when he called for a united Europe. On the other hand,  far less is made of his speech at The Hague on 7 May 1948, when he chaired the Congress of Europe (pictured) which led to the creation of the Council of Europe.

In that speech, he took great care to remind the Congress that:
Nothing that we do or plan here conflicts with the paramount authority of a world organisation of the United Nations. On the contrary I have always believed, as I dared in the war, that a Council of Europe was a subordinate but necessary part of the world organisation. I thought at that time, when I had great responsibility, that there should be several regional councils, august but subordinate, that these should form the massive pillars upon which the world organisation would be founded in majesty and calm. This was the direction in which my hopes and thought lay three or four years ago.
What is doubly fascinating is that on 17 June, a month after the Congress, Churchill led a 19-strong delegation, which included Monnet's former colleague, Arthur Salter, to meet the then Prime Minister Clement Attlee. Its purpose was to present for the favourable consideration of His Majesty's Government the Resolutions passed at The Hague.

Picking up on his speech, Churchill told the Prime Minister that the delegation "had no desire to trespass on the functions of executive Governments" and that unity and lasting peace "was the foremost object of European union". It was, he added, "fully consistent with the objectives of the United Nations; for any European Union would be a subordinate and regional element in the United Nations organisation". (Capitalisation as in the original.)

Referring to the assembly which was to become the Council of Europe, he "stressed the fact that those whom the Deputation represented had no desire to usurp the functions of His Majesty's Government".

The delegation favoured the establishment of a European Assembly as "a forum for the ventilation of ideas and a means of mobilising public opinion throughout Europe in support of the conception of European Union". Churchill, however:
… did not contemplate any elaborate machinery: he envisaged an Assembly which would meet once or twice a year to review the progress made and to enlist public support for the policy of the national Governments. He did not suggest that resolutions passed at this Assembly should in any way be binding upon national Governments. The Assembly could not encroach on the executive responsibility of Governments.
As regards sovereignty, he agreed that it was undesirable to ask for the surrender of sovereign rights. He would prefer to speak in terms of countries acquiring an enlarged or enriched sovereignty through membership of a European Union.

Despite claims now made to the contrary, nothing in what Mr Churchill said then could in any way be taken as advocating or supporting the type of organisation that the European Union has now become. To that extent, any suggestion that the British war leader was a spiritual founder of the EU is a wicked lie.

What is important, though, is Mr Churchill's advocacy of a European Union that would be "a subordinate and regional element in the United Nations organisation".

The previous year, in 1947, precisely that type of "European Union" had been created, with the name of the United Nations Economic Commission Europe (UNECE), based in Geneva where it still resides in the former League of Nations building.

Crucially, its first Executive Secretary, Gunnar Myrdal, formerly the Minister of Trade of Sweden, enunciated the working principles of this new organisation, which were the very antithesis of Monnet's of removing the veto and imposing majority voting on sovereign nations.

Generally, Myrdal sought to avoid bring votes to the working organs of the Commission. "This practice", he said:
… is founded upon recognition of the fact that no economic problem, indeed no important problem whatsoever, concerning sovereign governments can be solved by a majority decision in an intergovernmental organisation, but only by agreements between as many governments as are willing to consent.
That founding principle has not prevented UNECE slowly and persistently building up a body of standards which is now so extensive that, working through the 1994 WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, it is setting the regulatory agenda in an increasing number of areas for the whole of Europe, including the EU, and – in certain respects – for much of the rest of the world.

The true heir to the Churchill heritage, therefore, is not the EU but UNECE, with its "determination not encroach on the executive responsibility of Governments" and its low-profile but successful intergovernmental approach.

Rather than pursue the wholly unsatisfactory idea of an associate membership of the EU, therefore, we should be looking to expanding the scope of UNECE – of which we are already a member – recovering our voting rights in that organisation which are currently held by the EU.

This would the most appropriate body to administer a genuine, Europe-wide single market, leaving the rump of the EU to concentrate on building the governance for its single currency, for as long as its members want to be part of a eurozone.

For the rest of us, the European Union is cul de sac from which we must emerge if the countries of Europe are truly to prosper. And if getting there is "an immensely complex operation", it is certainly worth the effort.

Richard North 25/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: campaign watershed

Friday 24 July 2015  

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As time progresses, it becomes more and more clear how the bulk of the media commentariat misread the Greek crisis.

We can see this from the delicious way German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble puts down Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, who then goes on to admit that there was never any prospect of Greece leaving the eurozone. Needless to say, there are still those caught up in the theatre and others who miss the point, not understanding that Greece was the classic beneficial crisis.

But there are others. There is, for instance, Anatole Kaletsky who has popped up from obscurity to say that the Greek deal is not that bad after all. One might suggest that one factor that makes it not so bad is that, in addition to the bailout, the EU is giving Greece straight grants of €35 billion - a fact scarcely if at all mentioned by the commentariat.

As was always going to be the case, though, the Greek situation is contained, the country having served its purpose in bringing all the other states into line, ready for the next round of treaty-making.

If anyone has a problem, therefore, it is our "no" campaign - given that the analysis in my previous post is anywhere near correct. That tells us that, at some time during campaign, there will be an announcement that the EU intends to seek a new treaty, following which there will be treaty convention.

The logical timing for this announcement – or declaration - is the autumn of 2017, putting it just ahead of the referendum. And at the point, Mr Cameron will have the task of explaining how he intends to handle this development, the outcome of which may be that the UK is offered "associate member" status.

In one possible scenario, the Prime Minister may pretend that the development is of his own making – that he has prevailed upon the "colleagues" to include associate member status in their treaty deliberations, giving the UK the opportunity to redefine its relationship with the EU and thus fulfilling his promise to the nation.

Doubtless, the idea of this new status will be heavily spun, although there will be few details. The Bertelsmann Fundamental Law itself does not go in to detail, allowing that "each associate state would negotiate its own arrangement with the core states".

That would permit Mr Cameron to present a "yes" vote in the coming referendum as a mandate for him to negotiate the details and bring back the optimum arrangement for the UK. And, in such a scenario, the new treaty goes through the convention process and then the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), coming out the other end for ratification in 2021 or 2022.

That process will trigger the "treaty lock" referendum, which will allow Mr Cameron to ask approval of a treaty which will open the way to the UK applying for associate status, with a "no" vote cast as the first step towards leaving the EU.

Effectively, in what could now be a two-referendum contest, the first referendum is converted from a straight "yes-no" on whether we leave the EU, to request for a mandate for change. The second then becomes a request to approve the change, with a "sudden death" option of leaving the EU if it is rejected.

This, of course, is speculation, but not wholly so. As I remarked yesterday, there is too much activity for the discussion on a new treaty to be random "noise". The only uncertainty in my mind is the timing, and that is hardly speculative, having been set out in the Five Presidents' report.

The idea of Kerneuropa (core Europe) is now so firmly embedded in the process, with the concomitant associate membership, that the only real question can be how Mr Cameron will handle the news when it becomes official. On the other side, of course, is the question of how the putative "no" campaign will deal with the associate membership scenario.

If, as we see from the Bertelsmann Fundamental Law, associate membership is also to be offered to the EFTA States, with a possible ending of the EEA agreement, then the "no" campaign is left without two of its planks – the "Norway" and "Swiss" options. At the same time, it will be having to confront what is superficially a very attractive alternative.

A danger, in my view, is that we decide to do nothing until a new treaty process is announced, and associate membership is formally on the agenda. That might leave us with only a very short time to counter an entirely new scenario, having been robbed of some of our major campaigning tools.

My first thinking on this is that we should pre-empt the possibility of Mr Cameron reshaping the campaign, by attacking the concept of associate membership and by offering a better alternative.

Historically, I recall that earlier British governments rejected the possibility of associate membership instead of full membership of the EEC. It would be interesting and potentially useful to know the grounds on which the idea was rejected, and whether those arguments could be used today.

As to better alternatives, I am minded to go for a "partnership of equals" scenario, similar to that which was originally offered by Delors when the EEA was first mooted. We need to push for a genuine, Europe-wide single market rather than the Brussels-centric model of a Europe of concentric circles.

Certainly, if the idea of associate membership is introduced and dominates the debate, many of the arguments currently deployed by "no" campaigners may be rendered obsolete. By way of an insurance policy, there is every reason to be focused on what is needed to defeat what looks to be a very real possibility.

There is another advantage in going early, anticipating an official announcement with a high profile campaign against associate membership. It prevents Mr Cameron pretending it was his idea, or something he had negotiated. A UK prime minister responding to an EU initiative has an altogether different feel, and the threat is somewhat defused.

On the other hand, there will always be those who hold different views and who will make a virtue out of ignoring analyses from outside the bubble. Others, especially those in the "yes" camp, simply don't have the first idea of what is going on.

For the eurosceptic "community", though, the ultimate question becomes - as always - one of whether they want to win this referendum or whether players are more interested in debating a limited number of propositions while remaining firmly within their comfort zones.

Bizarrely, we see from Hansard in 1968 debates that would not look out of place if they were held today on virtually identical terms, so little have the basic arguments changed. We can do them all over again, spreading tedium throughout the land, or we can win the referendum. But it is unlikely that we can do both.

Richard North 24/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: a treaty hiding in plain sight

Thursday 23 July 2015  

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Although the Hollande and Schäuble calls for a new treaty that we reported on Monday got only scant coverage in the legacy media, the signs are that the EU is driving inexorably towards a "core Europe".

The last time we saw anything serious on a "multi-speed Europe" from Hollande was in 2012, when there were strong expectations of developments in the aftermath of the 2014 European elections. But now, after the plans were put temporarily on hold by Chancellor Merkel, there are unmistakable indications that plans are firmly back on the agenda.

Not least, we saw on 2 June in Die Zeit a report of a "secret Franco-German plan" for closer integration of the eurozone, with Angela Merkel said to be in favour of it. The plan is authored jointly by Merkel and Hollande and will be "obligatory" for eurozone members, while those outside the zone will have loosened ties (the so-called associate membership). 

We were also told that the details are based on the Schäuble/Lamers plan of 1994, and studies are under way to determine if the approach is legally possible. That this was a "scoop" was confirmed by the Italian political magazine Formiche, which noted that Kerneuropa (core Europe) could be just what Chancellor Merkel needs to keep her word on Germany being willing to lead Europe.

Such developments, though, always leave traces. Once an idea is abroad, the fingerprints are there to see if you know where to look, as in Euractiv a week ago, which had Jan Techau, director of Carnegie Europe, pick up on the consequences of a core group.

The Italian Repubblica has also picked up the vibes, and Berliner Zeitung has political scientist Herfried Münkler affirming that a core Europe is needed. Even the Guardian recently had Enrico Letta, former Italian prime minister, telling us that the UK must move into the slow lane as part of a "two-speed Europe". And that was on 15 May, only days after the general election.

The US Council on Foreign Relations is now talking of the "Merkel method", while Frankfurter Allgemeine is lauding Schäuble as hero of the hour (alternating as the hate figure), acknowledging that there is a plan behind the recent treatment of Greece.

Süddeutsche Zeitung tells us that Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel is "pleased that President Hollande also supports the call for a deepening of the Union". Gabriel, we learn, actually presented the plan in June to French Minister for Economic Affairs Emmanuel Macron, linking in with the Five Presidents' report.

In parallel, SPD deputy party leader Axel Schäfer has announced a "Franco-German parliamentary initiative" to drive the proposals "from the bottom up". Europe and the eurozone are "not just a matter for governments, but also of parliaments", he says. A working group is ready to start work at the beginning of September.

Also buying the line is Tageblatt which contrasts the "concrete" Merkel with the "man of great principle" Jacques Delors, and Die Welt notes that "Paris and Berlin have a common work basis to lead Europe out of the Euro-agony", thus adding more weight to the evidence that something is afoot.

Putting all this together, these are not so much fingerprints as size-12 boot prints, with mud all over the living room carpet. Speculation is fast turning into certainty that there will be a new treaty, and the implications for the EU referendum are profound.

Whatever else, the announcement of a treaty convention, probably to start in the spring of 2018, destroys any chance that Mr Cameron might nurture of getting "reform". The "colleagues" are looking to a massive leap in integration, and they will not be in the market for ideas from the UK.

The prospect of associate membership, therefore, begins to be the only item on the agenda. When this breaks cover, it will transform the referendum campaign. For the moment, though, the UK media remains oblivious to the implications, even though the continental press is all over the idea of a two-speed Europe.

One wonders which newspaper, and which star source, will be the first to "discover" it, and how long it will take – and how much time will be wasted before there is a more general realisation that EU politics are poised for irrevocable change.

When our media do wake up, doubtless they will get it wrong – as they so often do – although eventually, the truth must percolate the brains even of British journalists. In the meantime, though, the "derivative blogs" have it. 

But, since nothing exists until the legacy media "discover" it, we may have to wait a while to be told what we already know – that treaty change is hiding in plain sight and the game is changing under our very noses.

Richard North 23/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: the irrelevance of the "yes" campaign

Wednesday 22 July 2015  

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Ostensibly, the "yes" side has beaten its opposition to the punch in appointing an executive director of the all-party umbrella organisation that will fight to keep the UK in the European Union.

This, we are told is Will Straw, failed Parliamentary candidate for Rossendale and Darwen and what passes for a high- profile figure in the Labour party – one of the hereditary aristocracy who sustains the train-wreck that the part has become.

Alongside Straw is Conservative peer Lord Cooper, one of the founders of the polling firm Populus, with a reputation for finding the key messages and groups that needed to be swung to prevent the Scots voting for independence. These two are joined by failed Lib-Dem strategist, Ryan Coetzee, the man who brought Nick Clegg to defeat and helped the former leader to oblivion.

Other key figures announced are Lucy "the liar" Thomas, campaign director for Business for New Europe and Greg Nugent, director of marketing for the London Olympics. Lord Sainsbury is providing initial funding for the organisation.

In what is probably a sensible move, mirroring the Conservative strategy for the 1975 referendum, Labour has decided that it will run its own campaign, headed up by the former cabinet minister Alan Johnson – a man who is not going to provide much of an intellectual challenge to the "no" campaign.

The Guardian claims that it is not yet clear how much energy the Labour party will put into the all-party effort, as opposed to its own, the inference being that "senior Labour figures" have yet to work out how they are to milk the campaign for maximum political advantage. But then, it must also be left to the new Labour leader, when elected, to decide on strategy.

It will, of course, be up to the Electoral Commission to decide if this grouping is to become the designated lead campaigner for the "yes" side, but in many respects, the choice is irrelevant. The real leader of the "yes" campaign is David Cameron and it is he who is going to be calling the shots.

Interestingly, a spokesperson for Straw grouping tells us that: "The executive team are a young group who welcome the referendum and will organise it around a positive view of Britain's future strength in Europe and the world. They will draw on their experience of politics and business without being locked in the past".

We are then informed that it is "drawing together all the various strands of opinion that wants to keep Britain in Europe". Says the spokesperson, "We support the need for reform. The campaign will develop in a number of stages, in the first phase more engaging and enquiring. We want to sponsor a strong, factually based debate in the country".

This is ironic given that the "Lying Lucy" campaign so far has specialised in its own brand of tedious mendacity, raking over tired old memes that bear only a chance association with anything that resembles the truth.

One suspects that its main function will be to keep the putative "no" campaign engaged and distracted, keeping the debate focused on the trivial and away from any substantive issues which might inspire and engage the public.

As the Financial Times points out, the "no" side is still divided, with the media citing "Business for Britain" and Arron Banks' cited as the main contenders, but with others in the wings.

However, much of the campaigning – on both sides – will be irrelevant if the "colleagues", as expected, stick to their late 2017 timetable for announcing a new treaty process (possibly with a treaty convention in the Spring of 2018), whence a "core group" for the eurozone will be centre stage, with associate membership on offer for the UK and other non-euro members.

Introduced at a late stage in our referendum campaign, that is doubtless why Mr Cameron wants to abolish purdah, allowing him to feed in a game changer only weeks before the poll, with the "no" campaign completely unprepared.

That, at least, may be Mr Cameron's expectation, and it remains to be seen whether the "no" campaign will be able to rise to the challenge and devise a response which is able to match the apparent attractiveness (and safety) of associate membership.

Given the lacklustre and derivative tenor of "no" campaigning we have seen to date, there is no good reason to expect that the eurosceptic movement will be able to deliver, but at least we've been able to warn of one potential "play" to which we might be exposed.

The crucial issue now facing us is that, if Mr Cameron does put associate membership on the table, the "no" campaign will no longer have the option of avoiding putting its cards on the table with a firm alternative (if it ever did). To prevail against this play, we are going to have to come up with a fully-worked exit plan, with the potential to deliver more than Mr Cameron can promise.

Our greatest danger is that the associate membership will also be on offer to Norway and Switzerland, and the other EFTA states, backed by the prospect of the EEA being dismantled, in preference to and EU split into "inner" and "outer" circles.

With both the Norway and Swiss options potentially no longer on the table, and the "outer ring" spun by the "yes" campaign as a trading association alongside Norway and Switzerland, we will need to make our alternative offer very good indeed.

If Mr Cameron then goes for the second referendum ploy, telling us that this coming referendum is simply the opportunity to elect for associate membership, with a chance to vote for the detail in a second referendum – keeping the option of voting to leave open – one can easily surmise that the bulk of the electorate will find his offer very attractive.

Such a possibly certainly does suggest that the make-up of the "yes" campaign announced yesterday is a matter of supreme irrelevance. Bigger events are afoot, and they will determine the shape – and most likely the outcome – of the campaign to come.

But that notwithstanding, forewarned is forearmed. If we can rise to the challenge, my belief is that we now have a better chance of winning.

Richard North 22/07/2015 link

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