Migration: the UN intervenes

Saturday 29 August 2015  

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Now, courtesy of the BBC, we learn of the intervention of the UN in the migration crisis. Sec-Gen Ban Ki-moon has stepped in to tell us that "much more is required" to prevent the deaths of migrants fleeing to Europe, calling for a "collective political response" to avert "a crisis of solidarity".

He is thus calling on EU Member States to "expand safe and legal channels of migration" after declaring himself to be "horrified and heartbroken" at the latest loss of life, including 71 migrants found suffocated in a lorry in Austria and some 200 people feared drowned after two boats capsized off the coast of Libya.

"A large majority of people undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan", says the Sec-Gen, adding that: "The international community must also show greater determination in resolving conflicts and other problems that leave people little choice but to flee".

But, while the media in general and even the mighty BBC seems content to ignore the role of international law, not so Mr Ban who is, after all, the custodian of the very same.

He calls on nations "to observe international law on asylum requests", and not to "force people to return to places from which they have fled if there is a well-founded fear of persecution". This, says Ban, "is not only a matter of international law; it is also our duty as human beings".

With his speech writer obviously working overtime on the clichés, he then concludes by telling us that: "This is a human tragedy that requires a determined collective political response. It is a crisis of solidarity, not a crisis of numbers".

This, however, has not been the only intervention by the UN. A few days ago, António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees urged the EU to speed up the formulation of an adequate collective response to this "unprecedented crisis".

Joined by the French Minister of Internal Affairs, Bernard Cazeneuve, who was on a visit to the Swiss city, Mr. Guterres called on European countries not to deal individually with the migration crisis.

"It is clear", he said, "that Europe has the capacities and the size needed to meet the challenges, assuming that it shows unity and jointly assume this responsibility".

In the view of Mr Guterres, "Taking into account all the human tragedies that these people have suffered, it only makes sense that we must act; we must act quickly; and must act effectively".

This, though, was not entirely an exchange of clichés. Guterres called for increased resources to be allocated to development cooperation, as well as humanitarian assistance. He noted that the support program to Syrian refugees was only funded only up to 41 percent, while only 21 percent of Turkey's costs are covered.

He also called for accelerated implementation of EU decisions taken on improving reception and registration of refugees, but also relocation and resettlement. The latter, he observed, "would likely require much higher figures than those that have been proposed so far".

And there we have at last the international agenda laid bare. What we, the UK doesn't have, though. is a direct voice in framing this agenda. The UN is addressing itself to the EU – the UK does not have a voice.

If we are to deal with this crisis on our own terms, we have to break out of this claustrophobic tryst and deal direct. Global policy should be made by equals at a global level – not fixed up between the UN and the EU, and handed down for us to obey.

An independent UK is a necessary precursor to resolving this crisis.

Richard North 29/08/2015 link

Asylum seekers: words matter

Friday 28 August 2015  

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Trailing in our wake, the media have suddenly cottoned onto the importance of language in describing the current migration crisis and, in the self-referential way that they do, are making a complete mess of discussing it.

The open shots were fired by Aljazeera which, just over a week ago, announced that it was no longer going to use the term "migrants" in relation to the Mediterranean er … migrants.

The "umbrella term", its writer Barry Malone decided, was "no longer fit for purpose" when it comes to describing the horror unfolding in the Mediterranean. It had, he wrote, "evolved from its dictionary definitions into a tool that dehumanises and distances, a blunt pejorative".

For reasons of accuracy, we were then told, the director of news at Al Jazeera English, Salah Negm, had decided that his network would no longer use the word migrant in this context of the Mediterranean. It would instead, where appropriate, say "refugee".

The problem here, of course, is that it is wholly inaccurate and therefore unwarranted to assert that people casting off in a boat from, say, Libya, are refugees. To be a refugee is to conform with the definition in the 1951 Convention on refugees, and is a status which can only be determined in respect of any single person by an examination of his of her personal circumstances.

Nevertheless, the theme was picked up by the Washington Post which a few days later asked whether it was time to "ditch the word migrant".

Interestingly, this paper cites Judith Vonberg, writing for the Migrants' Rights Network, who argues against Aljazeera's prissiness. "By rejecting the term and using 'refugee' instead as a means of arousing the empathy and compassion we should be feeling towards these people, Al Jazeera gives credence to the illiberal voices telling us that migrants are not worthy of our compassion", she writes.

Instead, Vonberg argues that the word migrant should be "reclaimed" as a fair and neutral description of people crossing borders.

This, of course, takes us right back to where we started, opening the way for Lindsey Hilsum on Channel 4 to ponder over which word to use – refugee or migrant – failing to come to a conclusion.

That then gives Camila Ruz of the BBC News Magazine an opportunity to pontificate. But, after prancing around the territory, even the mighty BBC fails to come to a conclusion. All Camila Ruz manages to do is observe that the shifting language of migration might seem petty to some but to those involved in the debate there is no doubt of its importance.

She then concludes with a quote from Rob McNeil of the Migration Observatory, who says: "Words matter in the migration debate".

And indeed they do, as we were pointing well before these journalists started realising something was amiss. But it is Don Flynn, director of Migrants Rights Network who has the answer, embedded in the Camila Ruz piece. Rejecting the term illegal immigrant, he argues that it is "better to say irregular or undocumented migrants".

Oddly, even the word "undocumented" may be inaccurate, as some will have documents of a kind. That leaves us with the term "irregular migrant", which is actually what is used by the professionals and many agencies in the field.

In the end stage, individuals sitting in a camp in Calais, poised to make the journey to England, may be categorised from a choice of labels. If they conform with the Convention definition, they will be refugees.

On the other hand, they may not strictly conform with that definition, but it may be judged that to return them to their countries of origin would breach their human rights, in which case they are afforded a more limited form of status called "Discretionary Leave".

If they fulfil neither criteria, they may be judged as economic migrants, but may be given temporary leave to remain – for a short time, allowing them to get their affairs in order – if they agree voluntarily to return. Only if they do not, and in most other cases, do they become illegal immigrants.

The point is that "irregular migrant" is a value-free term. It describes people who are not moving from one country to another in a "regular" fashion, without in any way seeking to describe their actual status. And that, as a generic, seems the most appropriate term to use.

Richard North 28/08/2015 link

EU Referendum: immigration at record levels

Friday 28 August 2015  

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Perhaps one of the more interesting things about yesterday's ONS release of migration figures was the relatively low-key response.

The news in itself is far from happy. Net long-term international migration for the 12 months ending March 2015 stands at 330,000, up 94,000 from the same period last year. Immigration is recorded at 636,000 (up 84,000) and emigration at 307,000 (down 9,000), the net figure representing a statistically significant increase from the 236,000 recorded in the year ending March 2014, and is the highest net migration on record.

Net migration of EU member state citizens increased to 183,000 (up 53,000), with a gross of 269,000 (up 56,000). The total included 53,000 Romanian and Bulgarian (EU2) citizens, almost double the 28,000 in the previous 12 months. There was also an increase in non-EU net migration to 196,000 (up 39,000), with the gross increasing to 284,000 (up 23,000).

For a slightly different period, to the year ending June 2015, there is another important statistic.

Compared with the 636,000 people coming here (in a slightly different period), there were 25,771 asylum applications (main applicants). For all the turmoil and publicity about migrants at Calais, this represented an increase of ten percent compared with the previous 12 months (23,515). Furthermore, the number of applications remains low relative to the peak number of applications in 2002 (84,132) - just before the conclusion of the Le Touquet Treaty.

The largest number of applications for asylum came from nationals of Eritrea (3,568), followed by Pakistan (2,302) and Syria (2,204). Of the total applying, 11,600 people were actually granted asylum or an alternative form of protection. That amounts to less than two percent of the gross total (1.8 percent) and three percent of net migration.

The main thing that comes over from these raw data therefore is that non-EU immigration exceeds immigration from EU Member States. The least of the problem is that which is given the greatest amount of attention and publicity – asylum seekers. Such is the effect of the media obsession.

Focusing on the real issues, we can see that the greatest problem is non-EU migration – which is not mandated by the EU and which would be unaffected by withdrawal from the EU. And these are most likely to become permanent migrants, as opposed to incomers from EU member state, the movement of which tends to be relatively fluid.

But with now eight million foreigners permanently resident in the UK (defined as those born outside the UK of non-UK parents), no one can argue that this government – any more than the last – has the immigration problem under control.

Measures such as tightening up the housing market and enforcing the minimum wage are slow to take effect, and are of relatively minor effect compared with the "pull" of relatively higher-paid jobs in a buoyant economy. But there is no case for saying that leaving the EU, per se will remove the problem, when so many immigrants are from non-EU countries.

Business interests are claiming that they need the constant flow of immigrants to keep the economy buoyant, but they so often speak with forked tongue. Cheap incomers put a damper on the wage increases that would occur where labour shortages arise, and save on training costs and other overheads arising from employing indigenous labour.

On that basis, the over-riding impression is that the government is not actually committed to reducing immigration, and is merely going through the motions – a situation that seems hardly likely to change should a referendum result bounce an unwilling David Cameron into leaving the EU.

The essence, therefore, has to be that EU membership is not the dominant issue when it comes to immigration. Arguably, the root of the problem is a government that is not yet convinced that immigration should be substantially reduced, and is not committed to taking action to keep numbers down.

To that extent, the focus on the EU could not only be a distraction, but a dangerous one. Linkage of immigration and EU membership by anti-EU campaigners could backfire if and when we fail to win the referendum. The implied approval of continued EU membership might be taken as agreement to the current levels of immigration from EU member states.

Either way, it cannot be assumed that concern for the increasing level of immigration will necessarily translate into opposition to the EU. Even if it does, we have no evidence that any such concern will reflect in greater support for leaving the EU.

As White Wednesday and others have remarked on their Twitter accounts, we see immigration increase, while support for the EU remains stubbornly high – go figure. To the extent that immigration is a government problem, as Peter points out, we are better keeping the issues separate.

The best we can argue is that leaving the EU would enable us better to focus on solutions at regional and global levels but it would be unwise to assert that leaving, per se, will bring us any direct relief.

Richard North 28/08/2015 link

We have serious work to do

Thursday 27 August 2015  

We've been thinking. Without exception, we are sorry to say that very few eurosceptic organisations and groups are interested in winning the referendum. They mistake volume of output for productivity and spend most of their time belching out the familiar trash, of which we are so heartily sick, to the point of utter tedium. 

Nobody has tried harder than us to turn the supertanker, but we have failed. The message isn't sinking in and the groupuscules are not going to listen - not to us, not to anyone. They will wish they had when it's too late but that's no use to us. Already it's looking like a progressives vs Ukip debate and while we have berated Ukip for its manifest inadequacies, we can't say the other lot are a vast improvement. 

Consequently we have independently concluded that even speaking to them is wasted breath. If they are so utterly determined to crash and burn, there is nothing we can do to help them. Instead, we need to be getting on with something more productive. To that end, we are moving past them, developing what we hope will be a refreshing new take.

All we're getting from groupuscules is the usual griping and moaning about the EU - and even we've been bogged down in the procedural detail. But now we have to set about building the vision. We don't want to have the same old boring conversations about what to spend our membership fee on or binning regulations. Where is the energy in that?

Leaving the EU is an opportunity to revitalise politics and to design a new world. That should be exciting. To me the prospect of building something new and departing with the politics of the last century IS exciting. It's the opportunity of a lifetime

With something of that magnitude we should be creating a buzz, not filling people with exhaustion and dread. What does it say about us that people would rather talk about the inane utterances of Jeremy Corbyn and who will lead a virtually extinct political party when this of all issues decides how the world will look for the next hundred years? 

It's easy to see why the public aren't interested in the debate. It's crushingly boring when we look at it through that kipperish prism and nobody wants to buy into the shrivelled Ukip message. We want to go big and we want Britain to be the engine of global innovation. We need to tell the world what we want to do with our independence and how we're going to make the EU wish they were us. 

With that in mind, when it comes to the other eursceptics, not only do we not care what they say or what they think, we just don't want to know. We can't count on them for anything and they can only ever damage the cause. Since we're not going to get any help from anyone, it's down to me and thee. 

We assume if you're reading this, you've been following us this far and so now it's up to you whether we win or not. We made an appeal last week for volunteers to step forward to form our platoon of redoubt bloggers. 

We've had a couple of volunteers thus far  and instructions will be forth coming but we need a good deal more. A few have not made the grade simply because they cannot let go of the old Eurosceptic paradigm. If you are stuck in that rut you are no use to us. It's time to stop complaining about the past and start creating the future. We have to design one that will sell and we have to make the other lot look like the dinosaurs.

The scattergun whining about the EU can be done by others. They are after all experts at whining. What we need is vigour, dynamism and optimism and precision. We want to be creative with our message and we need to make people believe that Brexit is a confident step into the world where we have absolutely nothing to lose. If you want to moan about the price of fish and the number of foreigners, there is a place for you. Just not here.  

Peter North 27/08/2015 link

EU Referendum: the art of winning

Thursday 27 August 2015  

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It is a truism that no (battle) plan ever survives first contact with the enemy. On the other hand, no one will make the mistake of going into battle without a plan. The successful general will craft his plan in relation to the enemy he is facing. And, if the conditions change, he will change the plan to meet the new realities on the ground.

Eurosceptics, however, seem determined to ignore the art of war. Instead, they want to fight on their home turf, obsessing about familiar issues, against an enemy of their own imagining rather than seeking out the voters whose support they need to win the referendum.

That much Peter is pointing out in his new blog, making these crucial observations:
Eurosceptics are going to have to bin all the arguments they have rehearsed for decades. The world has changed, the battlefield has changed, and more to the point, these same arguments didn't work the last time we have a referendum. The opposition knows what to expect of us, it knows our arguments as well as we do, and it's not the burning issue that eurosceptics believe it is. If we don't have something new to sell, it really is game over. Adapt or die.
Despite this reality, the respective "yes" and "no" campaigns still seem determined to gear up for a private battle, even if there is no shortage of advice from the Fourth Estate. For instance, the Guardian is telling us that the EU referendum "won't be decided on the Eurostar but in the pub", while the Times warns that the "politics of fear will rebound on referendum rivals".

Nevertheless, both campaigns are wholly mistaken in assuming that their preoccupations have any relevance to the coming battle. They are like two squabbling native tribes on a 1941 Pacific island which is about to be invaded by the Japanese Imperial Army intent on fighting a completely different war.

Clearly, the squabblers don't even begin to realise that they're not even in that war, the real war. This is being mounted by the EU, which faces an existential threat in the referendum, fronted by David Cameron and his government. They will be fighting for the hearts and minds of the British people, seeking their support for continued EU membership, and are not interested in engaging in the private squabbles.

Only those who recognise the real enemy and who are prepared to mount counters, directed at the enemy action, are going to be in the battle. And to prevail, their tactics will have to be closely attuned to the enemy's situation.

Here, the prattle about the cost of the UK contributions, the "over-regulation", the loss of "sovereignty" and the many familiar mantras which sustain the EU "debate" are simply not going to be part of the discourse. They will have minimal effect on the outcome of the vote.

And that is the point of the Sun Tzu. If we are to succeed in gaining victory, we need to be acutely conscious of the enemy's plans. We need to respond to them, and they become the drivers of our strategy. 

In this context, it was said of Mao Tse-tung that he preferred striking only after the enemy had made the first move in order better to ascertain its weak points. This will have to be the way we work. There will be no choice about whether the enemy makes the first move: Mr Cameron has the initiative. It is for him to announce the outcome of his so-called "renegotiations" and for us to respond. But if we leave it entirely to his good offices, it may be too late to affect the outcome.

Thus, the essence of our strategy must be to identify as early as possible his likely moves, and then to prepare ourselves to act the moment his intentions become clear, pre-empting his strike(s) if at all possible.

The best possible guess, as it stands, is that the Prime Minister will want to leave his announcement as late as possible, giving us very little time to act. And if he makes his pitch on a new relationship with the EU, as we expect, then we could be in for a very difficult time.

The essence of his offer could be based on the new relationship amounting to the fabled "associate membership". But the trap is that Mr Cameron could then offer us a second referendum to approve the terms of the arrangement, making it effectively a risk-free choice for the electorate.

We do not know this to be the case, but it is a possibility and one that looks plausible. Guided by Sun Tzu, our "water strategy" should be focused on devising an effective counter to our best guess as to what the enemy's intentions might be. At the same time, we should be watching for an other surprises that Mr Cameron might spring on us. 

In other words, our strategy should be focused on the enemy's intentions. What we should not be doing is obsessing about the things that interest us, with no reference to what the enemy is doing, or plans. We certainly should not be attempting to repeat the self-same arguments that eurosceptics have been rehearsing for the last twenty years or more. They haven't convinced people in the past, and they are not likely to do so in the future. 

In order to win, therefore, we need to develop the art of winning. That requires strategy, based on what the enemy is likely to do, not on obsessing about the issues we feel to be important.

Richard North 27/08/2015 link

EU Referendum: that "relationship" word again

Wednesday 26 August 2015  

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It was Matthew Sinclair who claimed of his own piece in the Telegraph yesterday that it had been co-authored with Andrew Lilico, both of them currently working for the consultancy Europe Economics.

In what was a contentious piece, however, it would have been helpful if they had revealed that both the European Commission and the European Parliament are major clients of their company, with significant input from Andrew Lilico. And such is the extent of the work that billing over the years must amount to several hundred thousand pounds.

This pair, therefore, are not dispassionate observers of the EU political scene and cannot be relied upon for useful analysis, more so when they failed to disclose their employer's financial links with the EU. That amounts to sharp practice, especially when Sinclair tells us that he always feels "more eurosceptic" when he goes to Brussels (to meet his company's paymasters).

But this is a man who appears to be unaware of the evidence which points to the evolution of his "large non-euro bloc" into a form of associate membership and when pointed in the right direction is unable to understand what he is given.

These sort of people are very helpful to the establishment – presentable, oozing prestige and apparently knowing. They have just enough credentials to pass themselves off as "eurosceptic", while pursuing a line which will lock us further into the EU than any dozen committed Europhiles. Small wonder they are destined for high office.

Yet, as we see from George Osborne's latest jolly – this one in Finland – the idea of "associate membership", the words that Sinclair dare not utter, are not so very far from the thoughts of the Chancellor.

Osborne, however, is equally reluctant to use the revealing words, using relying on the common euphemism of a "two-tier Europe" - which means exactly the same thing. It will, he is telling us, "will protect British taxpayers and the City of London from decisions made to save the Eurozone" - precisely the role envisaged by Andrew Duff when he was preparing for the expected convention is 2015.

All that is happening at the moment is that we are going through absurd posturing, as Mr Osborne plays out his silly games, pretending that he is somehow in control of events.

Mr Osborne is thus carrying out a series of media interviews in the capital cities of Finland, Sweden and Denmark, building on pre-ordained idea of associate members comprising the non-eurozone members (which could even include some which drop out of the euro). And all this is supposed to be to the benefit of the new breed of "second-class citizens".

Meanwhile, the Europhile Financial Times talks up the non-existent gains in the manner of glowing reports on Soviet tractor production statistics. But we do get that "relationship" word again, as in: "Mr Osborne is winning Nordic backing for Britain’s drive to reform its relationship with the EU".

That's what this is all about: "relationships". We'll be sick to the hind teeth of the word by the time this referendum is over. But if Mr Cameron and his de facto deputy, Mr Osborne, have their way, the result of all this frenzied relationship-building will be an associate membership, under the guise of a new and better relationship with the rest of the EU..

That means the real agenda, as always, is being obscured. Ignored by the British media, the Germans still go on planning their Kerneuropa as their version of a "first class EU".

And poor little Matthew Sinclair won't even realise it is happening. To him, we'll be in a "large non-euro bloc", and Britain will be leading it. All will be well with the world, and it will never occur to him or his ilk that we're still in the EU on much the same terms as before.

Richard North 26/08/2015 link

EU Referendum: working on the gift wrapping

Tuesday 25 August 2015  

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The referendum scenario on which we are currently working has been with us for a little while. It rests with Mr Cameron coming back from Brussels having renegotiated a new relationship with the EU Member States, parading it as a triumph which will enable the nation to vote "yes" at the polls.

In reality, this will be little more than a rebranding exercise. The "core states" in the eurozone will take the next major step forward in integration, with a new treaty that defines only them as full members. The rest of the members, with perhaps a few small concessions to their new status, become defined as "associate members", partaking in only the current EU policies.

For this to work, though, it is absolutely vital that Mr Cameron is able to present this new relationship as all his own work – rather than something pre-ordained as a means of defusing the so-called "British question". And now, it would seem, that process has begun with an authored piece in the Telegraph by Tory placeman Matthew Sinclair, formerly of the Taxpayers' Alliance, written with arch Europhile Andrew Lilico.

Carefully tuning in to the general cynicism over any result that the Prime Minister may bring back, the Sinclair duo prime their pump by telling us that Mr Cameron might yet surprise us. The "renegotiation" is still likely to produce "an important result".

At this point, the scribes could simply reveal the goods, telling us that the outcome is already done and dusted, but this is not the game. Instead of admitting that this is "associate membership", it is disguised as "a permanent place for EU members with no interest in joining the euro". And it will have been created by David Cameron.

Given that is the end game, one has to smile at the elaborate camouflage which Sinclair plasters over this bare hulk, yet how transparent it remains.

Further disguising the hulk depends on us buying Sinclair's line that it is becoming increasingly awkward to be in the EU but not the common currency. The eurozone economies, he and Lilico say, are emerging from a deep crisis and the politicians who really matter believe avoiding another crisis will require much greater control over financial markets (which affect us as they are concentrated in London, by far Europe's largest financial centre) and much deeper integration. 

In other words, there is going to be a new treaty. That's what "greater control over financial markets ... and much deeper integration" really means. 

But if you can call the camouflage applied so far the base coat, the next layer comes with Sinclair telling us that the UK has responded in a different way to the financial crisis, preferring to empower market forces and strengthen oversight instead of extending the scope of regulatory control. This, of course, is moonshine – the UK has been every bit as involved in the regulation game as the rest of the EU Member States, but the image outlines have to be blurred.

That serves the purpose in creating the foundation for the next key step: "We also have little interest in greater integration designed to bolster the eurozone", say the Sinclair duo, who then quickly moves to paint a dismal picture of a "shrinking non-eurozone minority", where "we will be overruled".

In other world, we can't become full members in the new treaty, and the status quo is not acceptable. But to get to the bottom line, we have to wade through an amount of padding. Soon enough, though, we get to the payoff. "If David Cameron’s renegotiation is going to have bite", we are told, "he needs to ensure there is a permanent bloc of non-eurozone member states".

This bloc will be comprised of the "associate members". Somewhat disingenuously, Sinclair and Lilico tell us that creating this "may just be possible". Not for nothing did we call the European Union "The Great Deception" – it "may just be possible". Yeah, right! It has to be couched in these terms of course. This cannot be a walk-over for Mr Cameron. He has to work for his "victory" - if it was a slam-dunk, his people might smell a rat.

The key, says Sinclair, "is to get the EU to drop its insistence that the euro is its official currency". He adds:
New members wouldn't then have to commit to joining the eurozone and all of the current non-eurozone member states could be offered permanent non-eurozone status pending a specific application to join. If they want to join in the future, that is their prerogative, but there should be no requirement for them to do so. That way the non-eurozone population might stabilise at a third to a half of the EU population, enough that it could hold its own against all but the most determined eurozone bloc vote under qualified majority voting.
That this is something that is already written into the Bertelsmann/Spinelli scenario is not something that Sinclair would have us know. For all we know, he hasn't been told it's in the script – not that it matters. What's important is that great British public aren't told - that they don't realise they're being taken to the cleaners.

However, the cat's already out of the bag, even if that doesn't stop Sinclair dressing it up further. This he does with the message that this is a "looser relationship" – and so much better if Poland, Denmark and Sweden join us. Another plus, says Sinclair, might be if Norway also decided that the new non-eurozone member state status would be better than its current half-in, half-out engagement with the EU. There goes the EEA, just as we predicted 

So there it is, all laid out - associate membership by any other name. Describing is as a "looser relationship" is all part of the camouflage - the narrative of deception that is necessary to prepare the ground for Mr Cameron's forthcoming victory. 

It's good that we see the briefing starting so early – confirming that the real battlefield is going to be about "relationships". This, after all, is what Mr Cameron promised us in his Bloomberg speech way back in January 2013. "I want the European Union to be a success. And I want a relationship between Britain and the EU that keeps us in it", he told us. The Bertelsmann "associate membership" is it. 

Matthew Sinclair and Andrew Lilico now wants to repackage this and sell it to us disguised as "a sustainable and acceptable form of non-euro EU membership". Cameron "just needs to deliver it", he says. The truth, though, is that it has already has been delivered. They're simply working on the gift wrapping. That's what they are doing, and there'll be many more like him, plastering on the camouflage in the form of pretty packaging and blue ribbon. 

That leaves us clear about our job: to tell it like it is.

Richard North 25/08/2015 link

EU Referendum: ranting on regulation

Monday 24 August 2015  

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The Sunday Express was at its offensive worst this weekend, heading a piece about bathing water quality as: "EU bureaucrats to brand popular British beaches 'UNFIT for swimming' in latest barmy move".

In typical coprophagic style, the story was also picked up by the Telegraph, which asks whether "new EU regulations" make 25 English beaches "unfit for swimming" overnight.

A point of interest here, though, is that these are not "new EU regulations" – they are not even EU regulations. We are talking about Directive 2006/7/EC of 15 February 2006, otherwise known as the Bathing Water Directive. This replaced Directive 76/160/EEC, based on a Commission Proposal published in 2002, and now coming into force via UK Regulations promulgated in 2013, and coming into force this year.

The amended standard takes into account WHO standards which we would doubtless have adopted of our own volition, even outside the EU – not least because of the vital role of water quality in peoples' choice of beaches, and the importance of beaches to the tourist industry. Effectively, though, this is the first substantive upgrade for 40 years, with over a decade warning and the UK regulations well-reported in the media at the time, including the Telegraph and the BBC.

Given the lengthy gestation of these new standards, there is actually little excuse for not being prepared to meet them and, while there may be a good case for the UK being able to set its own standards and own priorities, this is not a bandwagon that the "no" campaign should be keen to mount, without taking the very greatest of care.

Over term, environment is one of the EU's most popular policy domains and, within that, surveys have shown that there is majority support in the UK (56 percent) for greater EU action on water issues.

Furthermore, the EU "Blue Flag" scheme (attesting to bathing water quality) has one of the highest recognition factors in the UK as an EU benefit, gaining 50 percent overall. Crucially, that percentage is even higher in some of the more Eurosceptic areas, scoring (for instance) 60 percent in the South West, as opposed to 42.3 percent in London.

As Friends of the Earth are quick to point out, therefore, there is considerable concern that leaving the EU will lead to a weakening of UK environment standards, and especially a loss of momentum in the programme of continuous improvement in bathing water quality.

On balance, therefore, the Bathing Water Directive is an asset to the "yes" campaign, and attacks on water quality standards are more likely to lose votes in the referendum than gain them.

Thus, as Complete Bastard points out, we must be far more nuanced in our approach. While there are some limited gains to be made from removing laws, generalised foam-flecked ranting about "EU regulations" is not going to benefit the campaign.

Richard North 24/08/2015 link

That small project: the dirt arrives

Sunday 23 August 2015  

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At great expense, a small pot of "light dirt" arrived in the post yesterday, much to the puzzlement of the postman when I told him what it was. The idea was to replicate the sort of appearance a vehicle gets from driving down a dusty road in Italy … this being intended as a replica of a Mk IV operated by the 1st SS Panzer Division, Italy 1943.

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I think I might have overdone the green, and the dust film has had the perverse effect of darkening up the sand yellow, but the something one gets from contemporary photographs is that no one tank looks the same (example above). This is unsurprising as the tanks only got a base coat in the factory. The camouflage was often applied in the field, commonly by the tank crews themselves.

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Anyhow, I'm not sure I've got it quite right yet … although the model photographs better in bright sunlight than it does on a cloudy day. I'm going to try a matt varnish to see if that brings up the colour a little more, and the tracks need a little more wear to look convincing. But we're getting there.

Richard North 23/08/2015 link

Migrants: something has to give

Sunday 23 August 2015  

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With no let-up in the flood of would-be refugees crossing the Mediterranean, the Italian coastguard is reporting having rescued about 3,000 boat people, after receiving distress calls from more than 20 overcrowded vessels drifting in waters off Libya.

One of the biggest single-day rescue operations to date appeared to have been concluded on Saturday without any reports of casualties, when two navy vessels, the Cigala Fulgosi and the Vega, picked up 507 and 432 people respectively from two wooden boats in danger of sinking just off Libya.

At least another 1,000 rescued migrants and refugees were reported to be headed for Italian ports on other boats.

However, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is not getting an easy time of it. The wave of new arrivals has triggered virulent attacks on his handling of the crisis. Senator Maurizio Gasparri, from Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia party, says: "This must [be] a joke. We are using our own forces to do the people smugglers' business for them and ensure we are invaded".

Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigration Northern League, is calling on the government to park the migrants on disused Italian oil rigs off Libya. "Help them, rescue them and take care of them: but don't let them land here", he writes.

Of course, this sort of rhetoric is not new. In June 2003, Umberto Bossi, then head of the Northern League was quoted as saying that boats carrying migrants should be shot out of the water. He was "sick" of illegal immigrants, the Corriere della Sera newspaper had him as saying, then recommending that weapons should be used because there was no other solution. "After the second or third warning, boom... the cannon roars", he said.

Twelve years later, the problem has vastly intensified, but at least the politicians are no longer talking about blowing the boat people out of the water.

Humanitarian organisations, on the other hand, are calling on EU Member States to shoulder more of the burden of absorbing the waves of asylum-seeking migrants and to help create safer routes for them to reach Europe.

Those things aren't going to happen in the near future either, which means there is no possibility of immediate relief. But things can't go on like this – sooner, rather than later, something is going to have to give.

Richard North 23/08/2015 link

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