EU Referendum: the Tufton Street Gang

Friday 12 February 2016  

It really is an example of the most extraordinary chutzpah for the Independent to complain of collusion between right-wing think-tanks. When it comes to such endeavours the Fabian Society is the granddaddy of them all.

Nor is it exactly news that 55 Tufton Street is a nest of vipers. It harbours groups which form a nexus of influence which dominates the fringes of right-wing Conservatism. And it provides the spiritual home of those who believe they are entitled to run the "leave" campaign.

What is helpful about the two articles produced by the newspaper is that it raises the profile of an issue known to many but given little prominence. We touched on it in March last year, with observations on the low-grade of work produced by the London-based cabal of think-tanks. But now, at least, it is partly in the public domain.

Predictably, though, apart from the low circulation Independent, no other newspaper has picked up the story. But then one would not expect the right wing media to bite the hand that feeds it. The think-tanks provide it with an endless supply of free copy, making for an incestuous relationship that is never going to get proper scrutiny.

But such is the closed world of the "SW1 crowd" represented by 55 Tufton Street that in October last year we even found ourselves in agreement with Nigel Farage about the undesirability of letting them near the lead campaigner designation process.

The reports, though, give substance to the claim that Vote Leave is an establishment stitch-up and further re-affirms the idea that the and GO nexus is the default choice for designation. Despite its manifest failings, it would have to struggle to be worse than the Tufton Street nexus - leaving campaigners with the choice between low-brow demagogues and jaded eurosceptic tropes. Neither is at all satisfactory. 

But if the designation does go to the grouping, it will represent a high-level failure of the right-wing think tank "community" to dominate the intellectual high ground and to provide leadership to the movement against EU membership. 

At the time in 2013 when the IEA launched its Brexit competition, we really thought that we were being presented with an opportunity to set the agenda for the forthcoming referendum.

But when the Institute botched its own competition, changing the rules not one but twice during its course, and had to disqualify two of its judges for being unduly partisan, we knew the writing was on the wall. When it then awarded the "prizes" to six entrants of such poor quality that they have disappeared without trace, that marked the end of a brave initiative.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, therefore, the one thing of which we can already be certain is that, despite the expenditure of millions of donors' money on the establishment and maintenance of these London-based think tanks, they will contribute next to nothing to the greatest political event of this century so far, and for many years to come.

This was an opportunity for these organisations to shine and, as we see from their lack-lustre output, they've missed that opportunity. When an unpaid, self-motivated group of individuals coordinated by a blogger based in a Bradford suburb can produce, in Flexcit, something far better than the entire think-tank collective could deliver, it is time to serve a redundancy notice on this collective of useless mouths.

If nothing else, the referendum is an opportunity to rethink how we do political research in this country, working towards the idea of virtual think-ranks, freed from the stultifying grip of the Tufton Street Gang, and the intellectual constraints that it brings.

With that, of course, we need to see a new funding model. If we are to get a fresh flow of political ideas, they are going to have to come from outside London, and we are also going to have to break the grip of the small number of extremely wealthy donors who call the shots.

This blog has been fortunate in having a variety of donors, some big, but mostly small. It is through their support that we have been able to keep going. I cannot express enough our appreciation for this continued generosity. But we also want to bring in more people, more minds to the mix, and act also as a conduit to fund the resurgent blogging movement.

Shortly, we will be launching a new proposal which will cover just this, from which we expect a renaissance of political thinking, of a nature that the stale, pampered minds of the London think-tank circuit have been unable to deliver.

With that, nothing would give me greater personal pleasure than to bid the Tufton Street Gang goodbye.

Richard North 12/02/2016 link

EU Referendum: in spite of these people …

Thursday 11 February 2016  

One might expect of any honest person setting up a conference on "a positive alternative plan to EU membership" to acknowledge that Flexcit is at least a player in a crowded field.

In was first published online in March 2014, then 98 pages long. Over successive editions, it has grown to 421 pages, with the current final edition (v.004) uploaded yesterday. From the website alone, it has been downloaded 44,000 times. With other links (which we can't count), I should imagine there have been well over 50,000 downloads.

However, when Tory MEP David Bannerman has decided to set up such a conference in the EU's Europe House in London yesterday, under the working title: "The Good Life after Brexit", Flexcit was nowhere to be seen.

Bannerman invited to speak Liam Fox, David Davis, Nigel Farage, John Redwood, Graham Stringer, Dan Hannan, Bill Cash and Ian Paisley – politicians all. He also gave the floor to token female, Ruth Lea and, of course, the great man himself, Mr Bannerman.

All of these were giving "their own perspectives on the positive case for leaving" – which is actually different from presenting "an alternative plan to EU membership". But missing completely from the speaker's line-up was the author of Flexcit.

In fact, until it happened, I was unaware that there was to be a conference at all. I had not even been invited as a member of the audience – ironic considering the status of and the fact that even the opposition is inviting us to cover their events, the latest being a top-level conference on Britain's future in Europe on 3 March.

Whether this disqualifies Mr Bannerman as an honest person I will leave it for my readers to decide, but it does make him a foolish one. Quite deliberately, he has cut himself off from a powerful source of information, leaving him the poorer for it.

That, quite possibly, is the most interesting part of the dynamic. While we avidly soak up information from wherever we can get it on matters relating to the UK and its exit from the EU, Mr Bannerman and his ilk strictly ration themselves to a diminishing pot of knowledge, from a tight circle of friends and approved sources. Nothing from outside is allowed to sully their fragile minds.

Through this extraordinary process, we have been able to witness Mr Bannerman's meanderings, starting in 2014 when he launched upon the world a strange creature which he called EEA-lite. This was a bespoke exit agreement based on a heavily amended EEA agreement, apparently positioning us between the EEA Agreement and the Swiss bilateral trade arrangements.

Thus armed, Mr Bannerman was well-equipped in November 2014 to hold his first alternatives conference, with many of the same cast of characters he was fielding yesterday – at precisely the same location, Europe House in London, no doubt because he doesn't have to pay for the room hire.

On this occasion – as so often – each of the speakers was singing to their own individual hymn sheets, not that this worried Mr Bannerman. He was there to promote his new book, Time to Jump. Say what you like about Chairman Bannerman, although as an MEP he is a moderately wealthy man, if you want to know his innermost thoughts, you have to pay for them.

However, those who saved their money will not have been severely disadvantaged. Towards the end of 2015, Mr Bannerman seems to have abandoned "EEA-lite" and was pushing the WTO option in the Telegraph. By then, of course, he had attached his star to Conservatives for Britain, an outpost of Mr Elliott's Vote Leave empire. As such, it was fully compliant with the prevailing SW1 dogma.

Bringing us up-to-date, though, when even his own cronies have been able to see the pitfalls of WTO option, the ever-inventive Mr Bannerman has come up with what he thinks is a newly-coined "WTO Plus" option. This is what he now wants us to embrace.

Had he been inclined to listen to people who knew better than him - those whose Twitter accounts he has not already blocked – he would have taken heed of the fact that "WTO Plus" as a term is already taken. It applies to a variant of the WTO Agreement which imposes special conditions – known as "market access obligations" - on least developed countries. It is not something that could possibly apply (or be relevant) to the UK.

Despite having been told this, and in typical form, Mr Bannerman doggedly perseveres with his "invention". But in so doing he demonstrates not only the obduracy for which he has become noted, but also his complete inability to understand how the WTO multilateral trading system works.

One gets tired and bored with Bannerman's gibberish and I would sooner scrub the walls of a septic tank than delve too deeply into this man's mind. (In fact, some of my happiest hours were spent doing the former, but that is another story.)

According to Bannerman, his "WTO Plus" is "the kind of trade deal we would have with the EU if we left". Apparently, it combines "a guaranteed basic trade deal based on current World Trade Organisation arrangements with a better free trade deal on top".

The point here is that this is a contradiction in terms. With your designated trading partners, you either have the WTO arrangements – which allow you to trade on a Most Favoured Nation (MFN) basis – or you have a Regional Trade Agreement (RTA), which lies outside the MFN system. You can have one or the other, but you cannot have both.

What Bannerman is saying is ridiculous. It is absurd. It is childishly wrong, and an embarrassment to all seriously-minded people who are working on suitable exit plans. But – or so it would seem – this fatuous man stood up in front of a bunch of Tory "eurosceptic" grandees and uttered his gibberish. And not one of them told him to sit down and stop talking rubbish.

Actually, I'm tired and bored with this entire, self-regarding Tory claque. For years, if not decades, they've been trotting out the same mindless dribble that we are now hearing from Bannerman. He isn't the exception – a throwback. He's Tory mainstream, part of a collective fantasy that is dragging us all down.

Bannerman, like so many of his ilk, thinks that the "worst case scenario" would mean "tariffs on some goods". It really doesn't matter how much people like me write, what I write, or even where I write about the importance of Non-Tariff Barriers. To these lame, dismal people, trade agreements stop with tariffs. Their horizons take them no further.

On that basis, dialogue is actually pointless. It is like trying to have a conversation on nuclear physics with the three-year-old. These people don't have the mental architecture to discuss anything more sophisticated and demanding than their standard fare.

Simpletons like these – bolstered by serried ranks of Ukip supporters and other mindless creatures – then indulge in "the EU needs us" mantra to take them further on into their fantasy. Writes Bannerman:
But I think we can do better than that. There are already indications that German car manufacturers would ensure their government does not impose tariffs on UK cars – why penalise BMW-owned Minis and Rolls Royces? There would be such demand from all sides for a better deal - for some added clauses sprinkled on top to make sure there weren't barriers to the trade that is so important for France, Germany and other EU member states. They need access to the UK market.
It was for occasions such as these that the epithet "FFS" was invented. If we leave the EU and were rash enough to have done so without a copper-bottomed deal, the situation would be straightforward. We would be bound by WTO MFN rules, under which we would be obliged – with little formality – to allow access to goods from EU Member States.

On the other hand, as an RTA, the EU lies outside the MFN system and would be permitted to discriminate against us, in our new-found status as a "third country". As such, they could impose specific entry rules on our products, before allowing them access. Conformity might be very difficult (and expensive).

In short, following Brexit, EU Member States would have relatively free access to our markets, but we would have highly restricted access to theirs.

Now, the crunch would come not so much with finished goods, but with components in what has become an integrated manufacturing system. For instance, last time I checked, about £5bn-worth of UK-produced vehicle components are exported annually – with 75 percent going to EU countries. Since much of this trade is on a just-in-time basis, any disruption would highly damaging to all parties.

It would, therefore, make great sense for us to sit round a table and agree a trade deal. But, if we didn't, it would be far more damaging to the UK than the EU. Manufacturers in EU Member States could, in what is a highly competitive market, always re-source their component supplies, cutting us out of the loop. But we would still have to accept their completed vehicles.

Retaliation in this instance is not an option. Under MFN anti-discrimination rules, any action taken against the EU would also have to be applied to all our other partners trading under the same scheme. The effect of that would be devastating to our status as a global trading nation.

The scenario posited by Bannerman, therefore, is childish. Yet this or something similar is trotted out endlessly by "leaver" groups, despite a full analysis in Flexcit, which they simply don't bother to read. Similarly, they dribble out the canard which Bannerman lovingly repeats here, that: "We could scrap damaging EU laws – up to 700,000 pages of the Acquis - paper the height of Nelson's Column".

I actually can't be bothered to argue the point here. It is all covered in the greatest detail in Flexcit – see Chapter 9, from page 173 onwards. There will be no bonfire of regulation, no matter how many times idiots like Bannerman and his fellow travellers intone the same simplistic mantras.

Then, writes Bannerman, "think of the money saved - £55 million a day in membership fees". Well, we don't pay that amount. This is based on gross payments including the rebate – an unnecessary exaggeration.

And, if we enter into a stable post-exit relationship with the EU, we will be paying some money into the kitty. Taking our own payments to cover CAP and similar funding, the actual saving could be as little as £2bn a year, or about £6 million a day. That's worth having, but nothing like the figure Bannerman relies upon.

Finally, Bannerman argues that leaving will return to us border control. He writes:
Our borders are not secure without leaving the EU. Cologne migrants may only have to wait two years for EU passports - and do the public want 75 million Turks getting full access to the UK on top? No wonder the former head of Interpol has warned EU's freedom of movement is ideal for terrorists.
This is straight out of the "kipper" playbook – playing the immigrant "card" at its most primeval level. It is "dog-whistle" politics, but useless because only the faithful can hear the call.

Using such techniques is no way to bring on board the undecided and it was precisely because of this style of politics that Bannerman's Tory friends sought to exclude Farage from the campaign. Now, they are using the same rhetoric, doing the very thing that they warned might trigger a failure of the leave campaign.

The man then finishes with the slogan: "Subjugation or sovereignty". We would prefer "Co-operation of subjugation", but that is a matter of choice.

Where there is no choice is in producing an effective exit plan. We have – Bannerman hasn't. We listen and constantly improve our work. Bannerman and his ilk block us out of the debate and repeat their tired mantras, oblivious to the outside world. And then get to write up their stupidity in the Telegraph and other legacy media journals.

That tells us a great deal about the current debate – and "euroscepticism" in general. If we ever win the referendum, it will be in spite of these people, not because of them.

Richard North 11/02/2016 link

EU Referendum: a fog of incomprehension

Wednesday 10 February 2016  

No doubt Jacek Rostowski was honest in his intentions when he wrote of the Brexit camp's arguments in the Guardian yesterday, telling us that leavers were "selling a Pollyanna vision that will never exist". The man is an economist and former finance minister of Poland and, as Pete North wrote, he can do us a lot of damage.

Rostowski argues that the leavers are hankering after "an agreement based on 'friendly' negotiation with EU member states" which "would permit the UK to opt out of the free movement of people, end EU budget contributions, extend regulatory opt-outs and allow access to Europe's single market".

Even though such a vision is illusory – and therefore entirely unachievable – the former finance minister is paying us the compliment of assuming that we are unified behind these ideas. The reality, though, is that there is no single vision. Contact any number of individuals or groups within the leaver "community" and you will get staggeringly different and often contradictory messages.

Further, in respect of certain prominent individuals, we will find a bewildering progression of opinions, to the extent that the same person can simultaneously advocate conflicting solutions or, over time, hold completely different views without ever explaining how or why their views have changed.

Thus, it would be a significant step if we had within the leavers any form of unanimity, even if it was agreement on completely wrong-headed ideas. At least that would demonstrate that the "community" was capable of agreeing on any single thing – something which, so far, it has proved incapable of doing.

In fact, the closest the "aristocracy" of this group have come to agreeing is on their detestation of Flexcit, the one plan that is actually workable. This is, therefore, ignored not only by the Jacek Rostowskis of this world, but also by the self-appointed custodians of the eurosceptic flame.

And the one thing that all these people have in common is that none of them have actually read Flexcit. Some have scanned a few pages so that they can say they have looked at it, and some have read (but not understood) the first few paragraphs of the two-page summary.

Some don't even realise there is a summary, and complain bitterly about the length, often grandly declaring that "ordinary voters" will never read something so long – projecting their own idiocy onto us, as if we were not aware that this document is for top-level campaigners and was never intended for general circulation.

That said, the long version is now running to nearly 44,000 downloads, and a short, pamphlet-length version is in the course of preparation, yet still it manages to remain invisible to the self-appointed guardians of the debate, including the media.

Had Rostowski done the unthinkable and read the heretical thoughts contained in Flexcit, he would have had trouble projecting the negotiations as an attempt by the leave campaign to secure "a new UK-EU free trade agreement", without opting into freedom of movement or paying into the budget. This is an option specifically excluded from Flexcit.

This is absent is precisely for the very reason Rostowski excludes it. "No country has full access to the single market without making a contribution to the EU budget and accepting the four freedoms", he says: "and no such exception would be made for Britain".

Rostowski goes on to say that campaigners assume that on Britain leaving, the EU's remaining 27 members would be intent on helping. This he regards as paradoxical, "given that the same people campaign to leave on the basis of these states' unwillingness to accede to British demands for reform".

The man has a point here, which is why we, immediately post-exit, we would have senior representatives of the British government to initiate a charm offensive, conducting a goodwill tour of all the EU member state capitals to reassure the members of our good intentions – and our determination to come to a swift, mutually acceptable exit agreement.

One can envisage that it might be a year or so from the referendum result to lodging an Article 50 notification with Brussels, during which period the opportunity will be take to discuss the exit agreement with a wide range of players.

As to the negotiations themselves, Rostowski argues that "member states would naturally be driven by their national interests". He thus suggests that "even countries with common interests with Britain, for example those with trade surpluses that are mirrored in Britain's trade deficits, may well negotiate them away for advantage at Britain's expense on other (to them) more important issues".

That, on the face of it, seems a sound observation but if, on the other hand, the UK keeps the options limited, and narrows down the negotiations to a continuance of the EEA Agreement, there would be little scope horse trading.

Interestingly, Rostowski then digs into a little detail about the conduct of the negotiations. And surprisingly for one who claims to have attended more than 60 meetings of finance ministers, he gets it wrong – telling us that Britain "would have to negotiate withdrawal with the European Commission, not with individual states".

The procedure, however, is set by Article 218(3) TFEU, which requires the Commission to make recommendations to the Council, which then nominates "the Union negotiator or the head of the Union's negotiating team".

This, in fact, is a different ball game to the sort of negotiations in which Mr Rostowski has been involved – and very much above his pay grade. What he says should be taken with a pinch of salt.

The European Council will decide on its negotiating position, the UK separately with decide on its, and the two sides will meet to discuss terms. No doubt the teams fielded by both sides will split into sub-groups to discuss the detail of the settlement.

Rostowski rightly warns us that the talks will be taking place at a very sensitive moment, when Europe is exposed to much political and geopolitical risk. He thus suggests that Brexit "will have a profoundly destabilising impact, stirring resentment among other EU members and making it even less likely that Britain would achieve a favourable deal".

That much, in principle, is probably true, but if the UK goes out of its way to be helpful and accommodating, then this could work in its favour. Expecting hard and prolonged talks, the Council may respond positively to a straightforward exit plan submitted by the UK, which minimises the administrative and political burdens.

Most probably, the accession negotiations used as a model for the talks, of which all parties have considerable experience. As long as the UK keeps its pitch tightly focused and within the Council's comfort zone, there is no reason why the talks should not proceed fairly smoothly.

Mr Rostowski, however, clearly does not want this to be the case, as he descends into naked propaganda on matters which lie outside his immediate experience.

He argues, for instance, that - alongside negotiating with the EU - the UK would have to simultaneously renegotiate bilateral access to the EU's 52 trade deals with third parties, from which Britain currently benefits.

It is hard, he suggests, to see how a market of 65 million could negotiate the terms achieved by that of 500 million, just as it is hard to see how the UK's civil service could advantageously complete all these negotiations in just two years, after 40 years of leaving the job to the commission. The EU is the UK's main route to global market access and it would simply close shut.

This, as we know, is scaremongering. Relying on the principle in international law of the presumption of continuity, with the application of only minor administrative procedures, these deals could continue in place until such time as we felt it advantageous to renegotiate them.

It is on a false note, therefore, that Mr Rostowski offers us his conclusion that the leave camp is selling a Pollyanna vision of Britain outside Europe that will never exist.

The reality is that he is actually addressing a composite version of a vision that doesn't exist, but which is not dissimilar to some versions offered by some factions.

On the other hand, there is also in place a comprehensive exit plan which addresses all the issues that he could think of, and many more, offering a sound, realistic vision that could make the exit settlement a relatively simple and secure process.

And, while we could expect the "remains" to fight shy of this, the very strange thing is that so many leavers are also determined to avoid having a structured exit plan. Of those who have even considered one, far too many are obsessed with the first stage of the exit, unable to deal with the concept of a multi-phasic extraction which allows us to manage our withdrawal over a sensible period, free from arbitrary schedules.

When, however, the leave campaign can finally get round to the idea of having a properly structured exit plan in place, then we will be able to break though the fog of incomprehension and no longer have to bother with the likes of Mr Rostowski.

Richard North 10/02/2016 link

EU Referendum: a change of tactics?

Tuesday 9 February 2016  

Although the BSE campaign and its fellow-travellers have been pouring out a non-stop torrent of FUD, the Prime Minister – as effective leader of the "remains" - has not been amongst those prominent in the use of scare tactics.

For him then to come out with a scare story about the Le Touquet Treaty, and its possible discontinuance if we leave the EU, is something of a new development.

As it stands, the treaty can be ended at any time by written notification, the termination taking effect two years after the date of the notification. Thus it is always possible that the French could end the treaty if we leave the EU, perhaps giving notice at the same time we sent our Article 50 notification to Brussels.

However, outside the EU – and in any event – we could repudiate the 1951 Convention on the Treatment of Refugees (and the 1967 Protocol), and also the European Convention on Human Rights.  Freed of such obligations, we would be well-positioned to counter any action taken against the UK. Should the French allow migrant free access to the ports (and Channel Tunnel), we could simply pack them on a return ferry and send them back to France.

This could perhaps lead to an unedifying situation with one or more ferries carrying thousands of refugees shunting between British and French ports, prohibited from discharging at either, until one or other of the parties blinked.

For this to happen would be no more in the interest of the French than the British. It was in the interests of regularising the situation that the French signed the treaty in the first place.

Even without it, there are carrier liability provisions in place which impose heavy fines on ferry companies and Eurotunnel for permitting access to undocumented passengers. So, treaty or not, large numbers of would-be asylum seekers would be denied passage. As a result, you would be seeing camps spring up in Calais, just as they did before the Le Touquet Treaty.

With the treaty in place, the French have a considerable degree of leverage over the British. They have been able to extract, via the Evian Arrangements, many millions in cash from the British taxpayer, to assist the Calais authorities in dealing with the problem.

For various reasons, therefore, it is likely that treaty would remain in place after the UK left the EU – for the very reasons that such treaties are upheld. They are, as White Wednesday points out, beneficial to both parties.

Therefore, that Mr Cameron should choose an issue so transparent a scare story that even Vote Leave could see though it suggests something more profound than just opportunistic propagandising. Either he is losing his grip or he is changing his tactics.

Here, one should note that the comments were made in a prepared speech to the Policy Exchange on prison reform. They were flagged up well in advance, sufficient for newspapers to run overnight headlines on the "scare".

This points to premeditation, supporting a view that we are seeing a deliberate change in the "play". And there are further indications of this being the case in this Guardian piece, where Mr Cameron talks of the value of EU membership in assisting our fight against terrorism.

But if we're seeing a change in pace, that might have considerable implications for the referendum campaign. Rather than play the "deal" card and go for an early (June) referendum, relying on a poll boost from public approval, the Prime Minister might have decided to play the long game (if that had not always been his intention).

The point at issue here is that Mr Cameron could expect a boost of twenty points of more from bringing a deal back from Brussels which the public perceived as "good", contrasted with a smaller but none-the-less significant boost to the leavers in the event of the deal being seen as poor.

Given that we have seen various polls giving the advantage to the leavers, at a point where a change in sentiment might actually mean something, this could be enough to convince Mr Cameron to return to safer territory and argue the broader case for EU membership.

This, necessarily, would require Mr Cameron to put distance between him and the deal to be brokered in Brussels in ten day's time. If this is his "play", then we must expect some downbeat mood music over the next week or so, preparatory to an orchestrated failure of the "summit". This piece from the BBC on Portugal might be an early example.

Most likely, there will be some carefully stage-managed objections, followed by Mr Cameron adopting a "battling for Britain" pose and rejecting the deal – thus buying him time to build on his alternative scenario. He could then come back some time later with a marginally better deal and thus claim victory.

This then puts into perspective the way Mr Cameron is gaming the designation process, brought into high profile by a piece from Asa Bennett in the Telegraph. By keeping the rival leave campaigns in the dark as to when he will start the designation, they are forced to devote their energies to the designation competition, rather than the main campaign.

In particular, Mr Bennett has picked up on the possibility that Mr Cameron could fold the six-week designation process into the 10-week referendum period, leaving only four weeks for the campaign proper.

Interestingly, after Booker had raised this possibility, we were referred to a debate in the Lords when Ukip's Lord Willoughby de Broke gained from FCO minister Baroness Anelay an assurance that this would not happen.

On 18 November last year, she stated that "the referendum period will be a minimum of 10 weeks and in advance of that is the designation period". The Baroness went on to say: "The two cannot be conflated … there is no way of concertinaing it, if I can put it that way".

That contradicts a typically ill-informed piece on the BBC website which states (wrongly) that the Electoral Commission will publish details of the designation process once David Cameron has named the date for the referendum. As we know, there does not have to be any linkage between designation and the referendum date.

The BBC suggests that Mr Cameron could make an announcement as early as Monday 22 February, "if a deal on his draft renegotiation package is agreed by EU leaders the previous weekend". But, as long as the designation is not folded into the referendum period, his deadline for a referendum on 23 June is on 9 March.

Allowing that Baroness Anelay is calling it correctly (although there seems no legal bar to a later date), if by 9 March the designation process has not started, then there cannot be a referendum on 23 June.

However, even if the regulations are laid by this date, that does not mean there will be an early referendum. Mr Cameron could call for early designation and then still leave the referendum until next year. In this context, it should be noted that in the Scottish referendum, the campaigns were designated on 23 April 2014, with the referendum held just under five months later on 18 September.

If Mr Cameron is playing the long game, he could launch the designation period early and then leave the campaign groups on tenterhooks, leaving the announcement of the referendum date to the minimum ten weeks before the poll, perhaps at the need of August 2017, for an October poll.

Significantly, though, the Electoral Commission has already put the main campaigns on notice to prepare preliminary submissions for designation by March, which suggests that there is not going to be a formal announcement any time soon.

That also would make sense, as it is to Mr Cameron's tactical advantage to have the rival leave campaigns fighting each other for as long as possible. And even when that battle is over, there is the exit plan to agree – an issue which the "leave" camps have been evading and which could spark an even bigger battle.

All in all, it seems, we're back in Northern Irish political territory where it is said of the political situation, if you think you know what's going on, you haven't been listening. But that notwithstanding, my money's still on the long game.

Richard North 09/02/2016 link


Monday 8 February 2016  

Booker recalls the Environmental Audit Committee debacle. I'm not named in his story, of course, because Booker is forbidden by the Telegraph management to name me in his column. The story, however, is picked up by Not a lot of people know that, who names the "expert witness" who could not be named. 

It seems the whole thing was a last-minute stitch-up by Moonbat and Mary Creagh, to prevent me giving evidence which would have spoiled Moonbat's great day out. So weak was his evidence that he could not handle the competition. Thinking of Moonbat, therefore, I am reminded of John 11:39.

Richard North 08/02/2016 link

EU Referendum: drivel from Dominic

Sunday 7 February 2016  

In this instance, not of the Cummings variety, we get a seriously lightweight piece from Dominic Lawson, former editor of the Sunday Telegraph and now Sunday Times columnist. 

Mr Lawson's subject for the day is the so-called "emergency brake", which he chooses to explore in terms of motoring analogies, starting with a little homily, to the effect that, "if the brake feels soft and spongy when pressed, it can be the indicator of imminent - and potentially catastrophic - failure".

Apart from the dreary lack or originality, however, the point to take home is that Lawson, in common with the entire corps of journalism – with the one exception of Booker - has not actually explained the nature and origin of what Mr Tusk calls the "safeguard mechanisms".

One can only imagine the transformative effect the detail might have, if prominently featured in the British media, pointing out that Mr Cameron was relying on a provision of the EEA Agreement, in force since 1994 and which could have been implemented at any time since.

What would also be interesting to see would be the effect this would have on the debate when it was pointed out that Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein have the power to invoke this provision unilaterally (and that Liechtenstein already has), whereas the UK requires the permission of the European commission.

Not least, one might suppose, this would change the dynamic, somewhat, of the argument over loss of influence, as between the UK and Norway, when we leave the EU. Even a micro-state such as Liechtenstein has more "influence" than us, it would appear.

The crucial point here, though, is that this detail is readily accessible to the media, and it is not for want of trying that it has not appeared in the legacy media.

Following my abrupt and bad-mannered rejection on Wednesday by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, I spent a cordial few hours in a floating hostelry with a member of the fourth estate, taking him through the Tusk "draft decision", including the detail of the "emergency break".

Specifically, I took him to the EEA Agreement and showed him Articles 112 and 113, pointing out the similarities in wording, and how it was that these were being used as the legal base for the Tusk decision.

Yet, despite some helpful follow-up messages, adding some useful detail, the response has been silence. As it stands, this brave hack has given more coverage to the foot attire of Nicholas Soames at PMQs than he has the origins of the "emergency break".

And that, in many respects, typifies the legacy media. Even when you go the extra mile to spoon feed then with the detail, handing them the story on a plate, nothing happens. Nothing, it seems, can interfere with the endless torrent of trivia which obsesses modern journalists.

Needless, to say, there are those who would have is continue down the path of helping and educating the legacy media, in the hope that they will one day get the message. Experience shows, though, that this is a fruitless exercise.

The media don't know because they don't want to know. Their ignorance is self-induced and meticulously cultivated. Dealing with them is wasted effort. Drivel from Dominic is as good as it gets.

Richard North 07/02/2016 link

EU Referendum: democracy is broken

Sunday 7 February 2016  

Following on from the great Tusk proposal, Booker enters the fray to declare that the "deal" is not binding in any way.

For the first time in the legacy media, we also see a reference to the so-called "emergency brake" stemming from articles 112 and 113 of the EEA Agreement, allowing the inference that Mr Cameron or his predecessors could have invoked this provision without going through the pretence of a "renegotiation".

If there was any way Parliament was doing its job, these issues would have been all over the newspapers this weekend, with a constitutional crisis in the making after the Prime Minister had been called out for lying to the House of Commons.

But, it would seem, a Prime Minister telling lies to the Commons is now part of the natural order of things. MPs don't care and it is not deemed worthy of any comment by the legacy media. Never more, therefore, has it been so clear that our democracy is broken.

None of us ever thought it would end this way, not with a bang but with a whimper. Leaving the EU – if it ever happens – can only be the start. If it isn't, there's little point in leaving.

Richard North 07/02/2016 link

EU Referendum: not legally binding

Saturday 6 February 2016  

One of the most dispiriting sights of the Wednesday last was the ranks of supine MPs crowding the Commons chamber, silent almost to a man (and woman) while their Prime Minister brazenly lied to them.

We drew attention to this in our earlier piece, observing that his address to the Commons (column 927) amounted to as clear a lie as has ever been uttered from the lips of a British Prime Minister. He told the House:
Finally, let me be absolutely clear about the legal status of these changes that are now on offer. People said we would never get something that was legally binding - but this plan, if agreed, will be exactly that. These changes will be binding in international law, and will be deposited at the UN. They cannot be changed without the unanimous agreement of every EU country - and that includes Britain. So when I said I wanted change that is legally binding and irreversible, that is what I have got. And, in key areas, treaty change is envisaged in these documents.
Not only is the idea that the document is legally binding a lie, built into that statement is the essence of a contradiction which proves it to be. Says the Prime Minster, "in key areas, treaty change is envisaged in these documents".

To his eternal shame, former Attorney General Dominic Grieve supported the lie, declaring that the Prime Minister had "achieved a quite remarkable result because of the legally binding nature of the document that he will bring back if it is accepted by the European Council".

The nearest anybody got to calling Mr Cameron out for the liar that he is was Bill Cash, who remarked that we had been "told and promised that this entire package would be both legally binding and irreversible, but now it will be stitched up by a political decision by the European Council, not by a guaranteed treaty change at the right time".

Cash is perfectly correct. The very fact that treaty change is necessary to cement in the provisions of this "settlement" means that they cannot be binding. And, since no one can guarantee the outcome of treaty negotiations still to be held, nothing dependent on them can be considered binding.

Earlier, we even had that noted EU-enthusiast Andrew Duff making his own observations on Mr Cameron's core claim, which goes back many months. "If the heads of government want to placate Cameron", he wrote, "they can promise formally to change the treaty in the future, but such a promise will be neither legally-binding, nor irreversible".

Elaborating on his statement in the Commons, however, Mr Cameron is now insisting that: "If it [the settlement] is agreed it will be agreed as a legally binding treaty deposited at the United Nations".

Crucially, though, this cannot be agreed as an EU treaty. As Duff points out, Article 48 of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) would automatically kick in, requiring a convention and a full intergovernmental conference, in a process that would take about three years, assuming that the European Parliament would consent to holding convention.

Thus, Mr Cameron is relying on is the fiction that the European Council meeting on 18-19 February will, for the purpose of this settlement, constitute itself as an intergovernmental body comprising heads of government and prime ministers of the member states, with power to make a binding agreement.

This status is confirmed by the Tusk letter, where the Council President states that: "Most of the substance of this proposal takes the form of a legally binding Decision of the Heads of State or Governments".

Notice, he does not state that this is a European Council decision. There is no such thing envisaged in the treaties in respect of this situation. He refers to "Heads of State or Governments". And like Mr Cameron, he wrongly states that it is "legally binding", although he does not say that it is irreversible.

At the very best, though, before this agreement (or "decision" as Mr Tusk would have it) could have any legal force as a "legally binding treaty", it would have to be ratified by all 28 Member States. This included the UK. The Government would need to gain parliamentary approval.

But if that is fraught, that is probably the least of the problems. There are, in fact, two insurmountable obstacles. Firstly, the settlement requires, in respect of several provisions, that the Member States agree to EU treaty amendments to give legal effect to those provisions.

The point here is that none of the signatories could guarantee the passage of treaty amendments and, even if they were to secure the amendments, none could guarantee their ratification.In this context, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (Article 61) kicks in. As we noted previously, it states:
A party may invoke the impossibility of performing a treaty as a ground for terminating or withdrawing from it if the impossibility results from the permanent disappearance or destruction of an object indispensable for the execution of the treaty.
The "object indispensable for the execution of the treaty" in this case is an amended treaty which, if it does not materialise, renders Mr Cameron's settlement unenforceable. As such, it is neither legally binding nor irreversible.

As to the second obstacle, the original settlement, agreement by heads of government, etc., acting as an intergovernmental body, are outside the framework of the EU treaties. But amendments to the EU treaty require actions by the European Council, legally an entirely separate body, and the European Parliament.

Here, the dictum res inter alios acta vel iudicata, aliis nec nocet nec prodocet applies (two or more people cannot agree amongst each other to establish an obligation for a third party who was not involved in the agreement). This is translated into treaty law by Article 34 of the Vienna Convention, which states that "a treaty does not create either obligations or rights for a third State without its consent".

Put simply, no agreement can be binding if its execution depends on something outside the control of the parties making that agreement, rendering it impossible to deliver. And then no parties to a treaty can bind a another to its provisions, without their consent (which the EU is not in a position to give).

With that, as we averred in our previous piece and again here, the Prime Minister is guilty of the most grievous of all sins – misleading the House. By any other name, he is lying to the Commons.

Now, if the serried ranks of MPs can't or won't do their job, and call him out, then in a democracy this task falls to the media. And here, as always, the fourth estate is failing in its duty. The best it seems we can expect is the likes of the Guardian conveying the views of Martin Schulz, president of the European parliament, who has said that the settlement was "reversible".

Reported in terms of a "he said – she said" argument between Schultz and Cameron, none of the media accounts dwell on who might be right. Sky News, for instance, simply says Schultz is causing the Prime Minister a "headache" because "his comments threaten to play into Eurosceptic arguments".

Thus by gutless politicians and a gutless and witless media, the public are so ill-served that a Prime Minister can quite deliberately lie though his teeth and (so far) get away with it.

But then, who really cares? What really counts is that we should not be nasty to the media, or horrid to our revered MPs. Perhaps if we write a nice, polite letter to Mr Cameron, deferentially pointing out the error of his ways, he will immediately correct himself and apologise profusely for misleading us.

I look forward to this miracle with bated breath.

Richard North 06/02/2016 link

EU Referendum: when do we get this debate?

Friday 5 February 2016  

I suppose that if you collected up all (or most of) the lazy "eurosceptic" tropes into one body of work, you would end up with something very similar to the speech given by David Davis yesterday to the Institute of Chartered Engineers.

That made it almost inevitably that it should be picked by Michael Deacon for the Telegraph as the "sane voice of Euroscepticism", even if this lame hack does go on to ask: "but will anyone listen?" However, we will be fortunate if people don't listen, especially as the Mail seems to think that the speech is this MP's bid to lead what the newspaper calls the "out" campaign.

But the Mail's view is so typical of the legacy media, which is not only incapable of realising that we are running a "leave" campaign, but consistently failing to understand the difference between an election and a referendum.

You would think that even idle hacks could have by now have worked it out. An election is largely a matter (these days) of electing a government leader while the referendum is a clash of ideas. In the one, personalities are all-important, in the other they should factor not at all. Even Davis, the MP, had wit enough to recognise this obvious truth, saying of the eternal media quest for "Mr Leave": "Oh, I don't think it matters. The argument matters more than the person".

But this doesn't stop the odious Mail publishing a self-regarding comment piece entitled: "Who will speak for England?" It invokes the spirit of September 1939 when, in response to a dithering speech by Neville Chamberlain, deputy opposition leader Arthur Greenwood was enjoined to stand back from the appeasement posture and "speak for England".

The double irony here is that, in the run-up to 1939, the Mail's proprietor, Lord Rothermere had not only favoured appeasement but had actively supported Adolf Hitler, taking his paper with him in singing his praises. And it is this same newspaper which does not support withdrawal from the EU, arguing on 22 October 2011 that the then crisis (as opposed to this current crisis) offered "a perfect opportunity to renegotiate our terms of membership".

This is a newspaper which has become a by-word for amateurism and superficiality, yet writes an excoriating piece on how "rank amateurism, jealousies and petty hatreds are tearing apart the rival 'Out' camps" – another one unable to distinguish between "out" and "leave. 

Yet the Mail  feels qualified to tells us that voters are "crying out for an informed and lively debate on the crucial issues". Instead, it laments, "they're being treated to a one-sided, stage-managed charade of scaremongering, spin... and censorship". For once, they must have been reading their own copy.

Furthermore, knowing how the legacy media has set its face against any mention of Flexcit, there is not a single newspaper that can with any validity complain about censorship – at least, not without a very large measure of hypocrisy.

Also attempting to personalise what it also calls the "out" campaign is the Financial Times which would have it that the "eurosceptics" are worrying about the "lack of leadership". The paper claims that there are "40 disparate groups with no single leader, clear campaign strategy or agreed vision".

No matter how many times some of us (including Arron Banks of declare that we do not want a single leader, the media trots out the same meme – the FT bring only the latest in a long line. But, as to a "clear campaign strategy" and an "agreed vision", the paper cannot exactly claim any great perspicacity of foresight when for nearly four years we've been openly calling for a clear strategy.

Interestingly, it was in September 2012 that we were recording Cranmer's observation that the Eurosceptic movement was "fundamentally a clash of gargantuan egos, none of whom will deign to co-operate or collaborate with their co-eurosceptics, principally out of a lack of trust, belief or respect".

We were told not to expect political coherence or campaigning strategy from the Conservatives, Ukip, the Democracy Movement, the Campaign for United Kingdom Conservatism, Better off Out, the Campaign for an Independent Britain, the Freedom Association, or the Liberty League. Said Cranmer, "you have more hope of persuading a Wahhabi Sunni to sup with an Ahmadiyyan and plant the cornerstone of a new mosque".

It was then, incidentally, that his Grace was saying: "until Euroscepticism speaks with one voice - or at least unifies around a single immediate objective - it cannot lead us to the Promised Land". And only a few days ago, we we saying:
Leaving is the means to an end. It what we intend to do with our newly-acquired freedom that really matters and until we have a convincing answer to that, we will never leave.
But suddenly, as befits such occasions, everybody's an expert, with Allister Heath – Matthew Elliott's brother-in-law - peddling the Vote Leave line under the guise of dispassionate comment.

A sensible, moderate anti-establishment campaign telling the public that it deserves a better deal, emphasising the costs of the EU and advocating greater control for the British public over the issues they care about, he says, could go down well. This is despite the numerous injunctions not to get bogged down in fractious disputes about money.

Keeping it in the family, in piles wunderkind James Forsyth in the Spectator, doubtless keeping in with commissioning editor Mary Wakefield, wife of Dominic Cummings. He takes time out to acquaint us with his brilliant insight as he tells us that eurosceptics are "too divided and their campaigns too shambolic" to seize the opportunity afforded by the referendum.

Displaying the pig ignorance common to his trade, though, he moves on to tell us that "the arguments for Brexit are all there, waiting for someone persuasive to marshal them". With that, he neglects to inform us that his magazine, along with other journals, have been consistently and wilfully ignoring the most successful attempt to marshal the arguments.

Once again, it's the bloggers such as The Brexit Door and Lost Leonardo who are doing the heavy lifting. The so-called "professional" journalists simply fritter away their efforts on a tide of triviality and statements of the bleedin' obvious. Meanwhile, the Cummings-Elliott soap opera continues unabated, with Cummings displaying the sort of behaviour that confirms him as a liability to the cause.

It is from the other side, therefore, that we are seeing sense. The Centre for European Reform has actually done something useful in stating that deregulation as part of a Brexit settlement is a non-starter – a point made yet again by Pete North.

This brings us full circle, back to Davis, who tells us that, with Brexit, we "would have the opportunity to reform our economy, pushing through the changes necessary to create a dynamic, modern economy". Listing the benefits we can look forward to, he tells us that we will have such delights as "competitive tax rates, a competitive labour market, and effective, rather than burdensome, regulation".

After Brexit, says Davis, "we can put all that right without asking Brussel's (sic) permission". And what gets me here is the almost child-like naivety. This paints such a simplistic picture, creating the impression that the big bad world out there suddenly becomes so easy to manage, once we escape the shadow of Brussels.

Never mind all the complexities of managing the labour market, dealing with tax competition in the age of globalisation, multi-nationals and free movement of capital. And don't even trouble your pretty little head with the notion that regulation has to be negotiated on a global stage, which gives us some more flexibility, but not very much more.

So, given that we need a debate to sort all these issues out, from where is this debate going to come? The media is incompetent and the politicians equally so, while Vote Leave is bogged down with internal squabbling and the other "big leave" is necessarily focused on winning the designation. (Make no mistake, an organisation with Elliott and Cummings in it that became lead campaigner would be a disaster).

With Vote Leave poisoning the environment, it seems that the last thing we are going to see any time soon is a rational debate about core principles, my so-called third battle. Would someone, therefore, like to tell me when this debate is supposed to happen?

Richard North 05/02/2016 link

EU Referendum: and so back to work

Thursday 4 February 2016  

After yesterday's wasted effort, on what actually amounts to an irrelevance, it's catch-up time, picking up on the torrent of news going on in what approximates to the real world.

The one thing one cannot accuse the legacy media of doing, though, is inhabiting that real world. Unable to comprehend the core difference between an election and a referendum, the likes of the Telegraph still want to characterise this is a battle between political "giants". They end up, however, picking a lumbering dinosaur in the form of Nigel Lawson, as the champion of the leavers.

That this, stale, irascible figure has come to the fore again says much for the state of British politics and – especially – the nature of what is laughably called "euroscepticism". After his more recent performance, and generally, that anyone can think Lawson is a suitable ambassador for "leave" is, frankly, risible.

What one hopes will only be a temporary prominence of this lumbering dinosaur arises from the failure of Vote Leave to clean out its own stables, and dispense with the unwelcome services of two of the most divisive figures in the "eurosceptic" camp – Matthew Elliott and Dominic Cummings.

The fact that these two have been sacked as board members of Vote Leave, but are being kept on as staff - with Lawson drafted in to afford "greater supervision" - is akin to recruiting some aging beast to impose order on a crèche full of puppies.

Such an arrangement, though, is indeed said to be temporary, lasting only until Mr Cameron has been to Brussels for the February Council. Then, we are told, a more permanent nanny will be brought in to control the squabbling children of Vote Leave.

Meanwhile, the debate is being drowned out by the thunder of dropped balls hitting the ground. While the media go for the shallow biff-bam of personality politics – the only genre they are fit to handle – analysis of substantive issues goes begging. Not a single journalist has so far showed any sign of understanding the detail of Mr Cameron's renegotiation package.

One of the more egregious claims is that the Tusk proposal is a "legally binding document", a claim repeated by the Prime Minister yesterday (column 927) in what amounted as clear a lie as has ever been uttered from the lips of a British Prime Minister. He told the House:
Finally, let me be absolutely clear about the legal status of these changes that are now on offer. People said we would never get something that was legally binding—but this plan, if agreed, will be exactly that. These changes will be binding in international law, and will be deposited at the UN. They cannot be changed without the unanimous agreement of every EU country—and that includes Britain. So when I said I wanted change that is legally binding and irreversible, that is what I have got. And, in key areas, treaty change is envisaged in these documents.
Not only is the idea that the document is legally binding a lie, built into that statement is the essence of a contradiction which proves it to be. Says the Prime Minster, "in key areas, treaty change is envisaged in these documents".

The very fact that treaty change is necessary to cement in the provisions of this "settlement" means that they cannot be binding. And, since no one can guarantee the outcome of treaty negotiations still to be held, nothing dependent on them can be considered binding.

What Mr Cameron seems to be relying on is the fiction that the heads of government and prime ministers of the member states constitute an intergovernmental forum which has to power to make binding agreements. The Tusk "settlement" is then supposed to constitute a treaty (which will then, of course have to be ratified).

But, as the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties attests (Article 61):
A party may invoke the impossibility of performing a treaty as a ground for terminating or withdrawing from it if the impossibility results from the permanent disappearance or destruction of an object indispensable for the execution of the treaty.
In other words, no agreement can be binding if its execution depends on something outside the control of the parties making that agreement, rendering it impossible to deliver.

Furthermore, heads of government, etc., acting as an intergovernmental body, outside the framework of the treaties, cannot impose obligations on the European Union. As any good lawyer will tell you, the dictum res inter alios acta vel iudicata, aliis nec nocet nec prodocet applies (two or more people cannot agree amongst each other to establish an obligation for a third party who was not involved in the agreement).

The Prime Minister, in making his claims, is guilty of the most grievous sin of all – misleading the House. There is no half measure here. The claim that Tusk's "settlement" is legally binding simply isn't true.

Had we been blessed with a grown-up media, such issues would be addressed, but we are not dealing with adults. These are children let out of the crèche for a day, to play with things of which they know nothing - and with predictable results.

That leaves, as always, the grown-ups in the blogosphere to pick up the slack, which is our task over the next few days and weeks. It ain't going to come from the legacy media.

Richard North 04/02/2016 link

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