EU Referendum: reading the runes

Saturday 30 May 2015  

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I think it was my son Peter who remarked that we now have journalists writing about the EU referendum in the Telegraph, who aren't even old enough to vote in it. And when that happens, all you get is superficial analysis.

In this case, we have the juvenile Tim Stanley querying David Cameron's "presumptuousness" in demanding treaty change. This, the lad thinks, "might doom the renegotiation process to failure". 

Yet, scarcely had he pressed the upload button in the Telegraph's notoriously slack newsroom, where most of the sub-editors have been fired and unchecked self-publication is the norm, then the BBC was contradicting him. It reported that Angela Merkel had told Mr Cameron she did not rule out future treaty changes in "Europe" and will be a "constructive partner" to the UK in getting reforms. 

Without the benefit of the prestige of the Telegraph, which allows it to gets it wrong with such monotonous regularity and still survive, Autonomous Mind has to get it right. This he does in his latest blogpost, reminding us how much of this "renegotiation" process is being stage-managed.

It is obviously skilful enough to fool a goodly number of hacks. Hollande is being cast as the "bad cop" and Merkel the reluctant "good cop". The two are not scheduled to settle their differences until the final scene, when they will give Mr Cameron enough for his "Heston moment", allowing him to parade his pristine piece of paper before the adoring (hand-picked) crowd.

But it isn't only the hacks that are getting it wrong. Enter Farage, the very same whose tactical acumen saw his party halve its Westminster representation – from two MPs to one – in the general election.

Before the election, he was in full flow, claiming Ukip was going to get zillions of MPs and take over the known universe. We, on the other hand, were suggesting that he needed to learn how to manage expectations. Political success can be claimed if you get more than you predicted, but a better performance can be branded a failure if you have raised expectations beyond your achievements.

Now confronted with a referendum for which it is quite obvious that he has made absolutely no preparation, Farage has not even begun to learn that lesson. Instead, he is repeating his mistake in this different context. He is talking down expectations of Cameron's "renegotiations" to such an extent that he is making out that the Prime Minister will come back empty-handed.

While Mr Cameron's "renegotiations" are being heavily stage-managed, though, that does not mean he is going to bring nothing back from Brussels. Not least, as we've just seen, all the indications are that he will bring back a treaty change. But he will also be pulling together a number of concessions across a wide range of EU activity, to make up the so-called "Danish option" about which we recently wrote.

Nevertheless, the Danes themselves are urging Mr Cameron not to rely on this option, which relied largely on opt-outs. But they need have no fears. The Prime Minister seems to be going for a much more complex and sophisticated package, sufficient for him to claim that he has achieved substantial concessions from the "colleagues". By the time is it dressed up and padded out, there will be more than enough to fill a hundred-plus pages in a White Paper, sufficient to fool all but the cynical and the well-informed.

The reality, of course, is that the deal will be relatively modest. But the more people like Farage talk down the expectations, the easier it will be for Mr Cameron to over-perform, and therefore convince people that he has achieved something more than he has. Farage is being expertly "played", unwittingly setting the scene for David Cameron's "victory".

Less perceptive commentators, far from picking up these nuances, are looking at the fluff on the periphery of events. In particular, they are noting the rush of business-sourced scare stories, and affording them some weight.

On the other hand industry sources, in the Financial Times and elsewhere, are beginning to take a more sanguine look at their own strategies. While we have been assailed with scare stories from the car industry, one critic notes that, "The car industry hasn’t been a great judge of its best interests", remarking that its decision to support the euro "bordering on the juvenile". "They don't have a great background to pontificate about this issue (Brexit) now", he says.

Certainly, some of the propaganda from business could only be described as facile, even Lloyd's of London Chief Executive Inga Beale, who recently added her own ignorance to the common pool amassed by big name executives. If Britain left the EU, she complained, businesses would find it harder to sell their products across Europe with Britain is outside the region's single market.

With such stupidity being given rough handling in the social media – but not in the bovine legacy media – multi-nationals are beginning to tell their executives to keep clear of the debate, for fear of "reputational damage". Thus, we can expect the craven corporate to take less of a part in the campaign than originally expected, with even suggestions that the "yes" campaign should not rely on the economic argument.

In the way the battle is shaping up, therefore, almost everything will hang on how well Cameron is able to stage-manage the negotiations, and on his presentational skills plus.

There also seems to be a deliberate attempt to rig the referendum procedures as we see with the amendment to S.125 of PPERA abolishing the 28-day Government purdah before the poll date. This will permit the Government to send out a White Paper summary to all households after the "no" campaign has already sent out its referendum address, giving the Government the last word and a colossal advantage.

Thus, it is not so much the propaganda that wins the day. Rather, it will be the stage managing and Cameron's manipulative skills that are going to be decisive, together with one other factor - the utter inability of the eurosceptics to provide reassurance that leaving the EU is a safe bet.

In part then, Cameron will win it, matched by the eurosceptics who will lose it. No prominent, media-recognised figure apart from Owen Paterson is actually arguing coherently for the EEA, and even then he is currently only arguing for that one stage of a multi-stage process.

Sadly, it is not so much that the eurosceptics are not being heard in the debate. The problem is that not enough of them are making a coherent case. Far from helping, the likes of Messrs Farage and Hannan are muddying the waters – both in their own ways entirely out of control, even if they continue to enjoy the applause of their respective claques.

But, while we can rely on two constants - that the media in general doesn't have the first idea of what is going on and lacks the competence to understand what it sees - the Achilles' heel of Mr Cameron's strategy is that he will need his Parliamentary party to approve the outcome of his "renegotiations".

This is where the strategy could crack wide open. Some of the new Tory intake are holding seats with majorities only in double figures. There are more than enough with their seats at risk to wipe out the Government's slender majority. All of them are acutely conscious that they will have to face an electorate in 2020 which will not be kindly disposed to even a hint of betrayal. 

Then there are also enough people in the real world able to see through Mr Cameron's theatricals. They do not depend on the media midden as they have platforms such as these, as well as the social media. They are capable of making another Conservative victory a forlorn hope. 

Against all these clever experts who have spent nanoseconds studying the referendum dynamics, and who so presciently forecast the outcome of the general election, this might not count for much. But then it only took one boy to notice that the emperor had no clothes.

If Cameron, as expected, walks out with nothing more than a sun tan - and he can do little else - it will be noticed. And we will not be relying on the children in the media to cry foul. There are plenty of grown-ups who will be speaking out, and if the Cameron "fudge" goes through unchallenged, they will be intent on making this the last Conservative government for a generation. 

Richard North 30/05/2015 link

EU Referendum: Swiss "model" bites the dust

Friday 29 May 2015  

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As neat a demolition of the so-called Swiss "model" as you are going to get comes from Graham Avery over on the Europhile British Influence website.

Switzerland's bumpy ride with the EU began in 1992, when its people voted against the European Economic Area, Avery writes. Unlike other EFTA countries, it followed a "bilateral" path, negotiating a series of agreements with the EU, sector by sector, so that it obtained access to the European market by accepting the corresponding EU rules.

Under these agreements, much of EU law now applies to Switzerland. But unlike the EEA, says Avery (not altogether accurately) "which makes EU rules automatically applicable to Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein", the Swiss model requires fresh negotiations every time that EU policies change.

This situation, Avery claims, has proved frustrating for Swiss business, which has no certainty of access to the EU. But he is correct in saying that it has irritated the EU - to such an extent that last year the EU (including Britain) resolved to make no more agreements with Switzerland unless it accepts a "new institutional approach". This means that the Swiss model must become more like the EEA.

On top of this, Avery continues:
… came last year's referendum on "mass immigration" in which the Swiss people by a small majority (50.3%) instructed their government to impose quotas on workers from the EU. If that is implemented – as it must be by February 2017 – a crisis is inevitable. It contravenes the bilateral agreement on free movement of workers, and if that falls, the other agreements giving Switzerland access to European markets automatically fall.

Faced with this prospect, opinion in Switzerland is deeply divided. Some argue that the bilateral agreements must be preserved. Others say that the country should move forward and join the EU, or at least the EEA. Others are in favour of pulling back from the EU altogether. Signatures are being collected for a referendum to cancel the earlier referendum.

Meanwhile, the Swiss government is playing for time, with national elections due in October, and no compulsion to act until February 2017. Uncertainty about access to the EU is troubling for Swiss business, which fears an economic slowdown. Most commentators agree that relations with the EU have reached an impasse. "The whole relationship between Switzerland and the EU is now in complete uncertainty", says Professor René Schwok of Geneva University.
In response, it would not be right for me to say that I could write something very similar. I have already written something very similar – in Flexcit, posted well over a year ago.

Essentially, there is no merit in the so-called Swiss "model" as an alternative to UK membership of the EU. It was never really a conscious "model" as such - more of a ramshackle series of arrangements, cobbled together by the Swiss Government after the people rejected membership of the EEA in their 1992 referendum.

And now, with the rejection of the "free movement" provisions, EU-Swiss relations are in crisis, with a deadline for resolution in February 2017. And that timeline puts Switzerland in the frame during the run-up to our own referendum, when the stresses and failings of the model will be high profile.

Yet this failing "bilateral" model is precisely what is being championed by the likes of Daniel Hannan, and formed the basis of all six winning entries for the shambolic IEA "Brexit" competition, judged by the Lord Lawson who understood the concept about as well as he did once the ERM.

This leaves a huge hole in the "eurosceptic" armoury, where many of the campaigners still fail to understand the importance of having a credible exit plan, based on a sound alternative to EU membership.

The Europhiles of British Influence have so far have shown themselves not to be the sharpest knives in the draw, and if they can rip to shreds the Hannan-preferred model already, they will have a field day when the EU insists that Switzerland adopts something closer to the EEA – the very option that the Hannanites have turned their back on.

What we will find though is that, as the EEA option is further strengthened, the options set out in Flexcit will come into their own – which is hardly surprising as so many people have contributed to its development.

That at least is some comfort for, as one corner of the "eurosceptic" argument collapses, there will be a rock of stability that can hold the campaign together. British Influence will not find any easy pickings there. We will eat them alive.

Richard North 29/05/2015 link

EU Referendum: the matter of timing

Friday 29 May 2015  

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What many did not believe would happen came to pass yesterday with the publication of the European Referendum Bill and its first reading in the House of Commons – a procedural measure that does not involve a debate. The second reading is scheduled for 9 June (corrected).

With the publication, we at least get to know the proposed question: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?" If you are Welsh, at no extra expense you get it in some impenetrable foreign language which even most Welsh people don't understand. For the record it is: "A ddylai'r Deyrnas Unedig ddal i fod yn aelod o'r Undeb Ewropeaidd?"

What the Bill doesn't tell us is the date of the referendum, other than it must be before 31 December 2017. The day on which the referendum is to be held will be announced by the Foreign Secretary, in regulations laid some time after the Act has come into force.

The reason is has to be done this way is because there can be no way of knowing when the Act will receive the Royal Assent, and only once this is known can the earliest poll date be determined. And, on the basis of the Electoral Commission recommendation, there will be a nine-month gap between the date of the Act (and implementing regulations) coming into force and polling day.

Some might argue that this is only a recommendation that the Government can ignore, and it is indeed the case that this could – in theory – be set aside. However, the Electoral Commission is a statutory body, charged inter alia with advising governments on the conduct and administration of referendums, under which circumstances, the Government is obliged to take note of the advice it is given.

In specific terms, any administrative decision made by the Secretary of State (which will include the date of the referendum) is judiciable – coming within the scope of Judicial Review. And under any such proceedings, the validity of any decision challenged will be measured against specific criteria.

Crucially, these require that the Secretary of State, in reaching his decision, must take into account that which is relevant. To ignore it can render a decision Wednesbury unreasonable and thereby unlawful. And in that very context, advice from a statutory body such as the Electoral Commission would be regarded as a "relevant matter" which must be taken into account.

In British public administration, therefore, advice by statutory bodies to government is, to all intents and purposes, mandatory. No government will ignore it without an absolutely watertight reason – and string support from its own lawyers. On this basis, short of something quite extraordinary occurring, we must assume that the Electoral Commission's nine-month gap will apply.

Currently, we are seeing the Government rushing the bill through the Lower House at breakneck speed, inviting press speculation that Mr Cameron could be seeking to bring the referendum date forward to next year.

More likely, though, he is aiming to pre-empt delay in the House of Lords, where the Bill is expected to have a difficult passage as their Lordships attempt to amend crucial clauses. On some contentious issues, amendments may be batted to and fro, between the Houses, delaying the eventual completion of all the stages.

While, by Convention, the Lords do not block legislation covered in a government's manifesto, there is nothing to stop this Bill being delayed. Only the most optimistic, therefore, would expect the Bill to receive Royal Assent until about mid-2016. Add then the Electoral Commission's nine months and we are looking at later spring or early summer before there can be a referendum.

Furthermore, none of this takes account of any delays or difficulties Mr Cameron might experience in finalising his negotiations with the "colleagues", in order to deliver a satisfactory outcome. To set a referendum date too early is to give hostage to fortune, where the Prime Minister could be forced to make unwanted concessions just to keep to his timetable.

Then, whatever that outcome, the Government will want to publish (and effectively will be obliged to) the details in a White Paper which, copying the 1975 referendum, it will want to summarise and send to all households in the UK. And under the procedural rules likely to apply, this will have to be completed at least a month before polling day.

This would suggest that the Government will hold off promulgating regulations setting the date until it is more or less sure that it is going to get a satisfactory outcome to its negotiations, which can hardly be any time this year.

Looking at the situation in the round, one must thus conclude that, if the Bill was rushed through Parliament, and given an easy passage through the Lords, it is technically possible to get Royal Assent by Christmas and to have the referendum late next year.

The chances of this happening, though – and of negotiations having been satisfactorily concluded by the end of this year – are vanishingly small. No matter how much press speculation we see, the best odds are still on late 2017 for the referendum.

My money is on October 2017, which just happens to be the 100th anniversary of the "Glorious Socialist October Revolution", aka the Russian Revolution. For what we hope will be a people's revolt, this would be extremely propitious, just the right moment for a counter-revolution.

Richard North 29/05/2015 link

EU Referendum: reform is not an option

Thursday 28 May 2015  

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Even before the Monarch had delivered Mr Cameron's promise on an "in-out" referendum – the one so many Ukip supporters said he couldn't be trusted to honour – the Guardian was announcing that Kate Hoey had got backing to head the "no" campaign.

This may well be mischief on the part of the newspaper, although it is interesting to see that the mainly left-wing, pro-EU media is taking a far greater interest in the "EU NO" campaign than its right-wing equivalents, most often steering us in the direction of Matthew Elliott's Business for Britain.

To have the pro-EU media thus directing us has to say something, but if we are to take the Guardian report at face value, we learn that Kate Hoey, supposedly "one of the most prominent Eurosceptics in the Labour party", is being lined up as a possible leader of the "EU NO" campaign in the referendum.

Her champion for this role, it seems, is John Mills, a player in the "no" campaign in the 1975 EEC referendum and currently one of the donors who is keeping Mr Elliott's operation afloat.

Mills describes her Hoey, MP for Vauxhall, as a "tough fighter" who would appeal across the political spectrum. "I think she is a very strong, feisty figure. She is respected, she is liked. She knows her own mind", he says, adding that she is a reliable cogent figure - " important qualities that you need in somebody who is going to lead a campaign like this".

It is not entirely unreasonable, however, to ask by what right Mills feels entitled to nominate a leader for the "EU NO" campaign. If there is an official campaign, it will be an umbrella group made up from an as-yet unknown mix of organisations. They might not want to be taken for granted and, at the very least, might expect to be consulted – just supposing a single leader is wanted, which is already a very dubious proposition.

Some of Hoey's comments here - about consultation - could equally apply to the attempts to railroad anti-EU campaigners into accepting various "leaders". And while, in the past, she has argued strongly for unity amongst eurosceptics, this is not the way to achieve it.  

Then there is the other important question - whether Hoey is at all suitable for the task. Certainly, she has argued for a referendum and has spoken for leaving the EU. But, according to her own account, she is not a principled "outer". She is a self-declared "reformer", committing only to withdrawal only if the EU fails to reform to her liking.

In this, she has a great deal in common with Mills, who says he will make a final decision on whether to support the "EU No" campaign after the conclusion of Cameron's renegotiations, and Mr Elliott's Business for Britain, which holds the same stance.

This pursuit of "reform" however, should rule out all people and organisations committed to it, as totally unsuitable to hold prominent positions or even take part in a "EU NO" campaign.

And to understand the reasoning all one has to do is read the relevant chapters of The Great Deception concerning Britain's entry first to the Coal and Steel Community in 1950 and then to the EEC. The point at issue then was that Britain, in organising its relations with mainland European countries, had to make a decision in principle as to whether to work on an intergovernmental basis or join in with the Six in the creation of a supranational authority.

This was the issue which Churchill and other MPs addressed during the Commons debate on the Schuman Plan in June 1950. The "supranational" Coal and Steel Community being proposed was one which had "the power to tell Great Britain not to cut any more coal or make any more steel, but to grow tomatoes instead". And to that, Churchill declared he would say, "without hesitation, the answer is 'No'".

The longer-term response, after the UK had also rejected the idea of the supranational EEC, was to set up a rival organisation, the intergovernmental European Free Trade Association (EFTA). This still exists to this day, although without its founding member.

And there lies the choice currently on offer, the choice between supranationalism and intergovernmentalism. This is the same choice that was on offer in 1950 when the right decision was made but which was so tragically reversed in 1972 when the Government took us into the EEC.

Crucially, surpranationalism is the defining characteristic of the EU, and the one which makes it so objectionable. Thus, you cannot reform it in any meaningful way – take away its supranational character and it ceases to be the EU - it becomes something else. To expect otherwise is to expect a cat to bark.

On that basis, there are only two options when we are asked whether we want to remain in the EU - "yes" or no". No amount of tinkering around the margins will make the EU less of a supranational organisation, and therefore reform is an irrelevance. To vote "no" is to reject supranationalism - to vote "yes" is to accept it. The idea of "reform" means nothing to us - a reformed supranational organisation is still a supranational organisation. There is not and cannot be a middle way.

When it comes to polling day, there question on the ballot paper will invite an answer: "yes" or no" – but the underlying question is: do you accept or reject supranationalism? That is the real issue in this referendum, the same issue that Churchill spoke to in 1950. And to supranationalism, we should say the same: "without hesitation, the answer is 'No'".

For Churchill, there wasn't a "maybe" option – no pick 'n' mix menu. There is none now. Anyone campaigning for the "EU NO" proposition has to be committed wholeheartedly to opposing supranationalism as a matter of principle. Anyone else belongs on the other side.

Richard North 28/05/2015 link

EU Referendum: it's yesno

Wednesday 27 May 2015  

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That's what the BBC is saying - so it must be true. In this case, would prefer the question to be: "should we leave the EU?", although it is proposed as "Should the UK remain in the EU". The addition of the words "remain in" to replace "be a member of", is to take account of those who didn't realise we were already in the EU.

I am thus reminded of the Yorkshire farmer who at the height of the Battle of Britain in 1940 was prosecuted for breach of blackout regulations, after having lit a huge bonfire on his property and left it burning overnight. His defence was that he did not know Britain was at war.

All those years later, we have the Monarch - who presumably does know we're in the EU - reading out her lines provided by Mr Cameron, telling us that there will be an "in-out" referendum. At last, the game's afoot.

Now we have the chance to correct a historic mistake by past politicians, who gave power to a supranational body in the wrong-headed belief that it would improve our trading and manufacturing performance. We can undo their damage and set the United Kingdom back on the path to greatness.

Richard North 27/05/2015 link

EU politics: crying wolf

Wednesday 27 May 2015  

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The story broke in Handelblatt yesterday, only to have the likes of the Express today with front-page hyperventilating about a secret Franco-German "plot" to "slap a crippling new tax rate on Britain".

This also gets the treatment from the Telegraph, which blathers about the plans being "a direct challenge to David Cameron, who is calling for sovereignty to be returned to EU members". And their story, as do the others, comes complete with the usual vapid boiler-plate from talking heads. Yet not one of the darlings notes that setting a minimum rate of corporation tax – which is what this is all about – requires unanimity. Britain can stop this dead with a veto.

At least we get City AM telling us that little bit of the story, advising us that the Government "has knocked back a move by German authorities to introduce a minimum rate of corporation tax across the European Union, saying that such proposals would not survive a vote involving the EU's 28 member states".

But even this deadbatting does not get close to telling us what is going on – after all why would the Germans seek to introduce this proposal, which is to be presented by the Commission as an Action Plan on company taxation on 17 June, if it could be so easily "knocked back"? 

One might possibly rely for an explanation from Open Europe's Raoul Ruparel, who tells City AM that the Franco-German proposals were "mostly a political show" and unlikely to "go anywhere", except that this misses the point – as Open Europe so often does.

We are, of course, dealing with old friend enhanced cooperation, which was invoked with Financial Transfer Tax. And the point here (as the Commission narrative shows) is that enhanced cooperation "may be undertaken only as a last resort, when it has been established within the Council that the objectives of such cooperation cannot be attained within a reasonable period by the Union as a whole".

Thus, the Germans will be submitting their proposal to the Council in the expectation that it will be turned down, so that the eurozone can adopt it under alternative treaty procedures. Furthermore, that this was the intention all along is signalled by an earlier proposal in 2011 by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, aimed to introduce a "competitiveness pact" in the eurozone. So much for the "secret plot".

Had any of the papers been on the ball, though, they would have seen this as part of the ongoing Franco-German initiative, which had been reported earlier. Clearly, joined-up reporting isn't their thing.

As so often is the case, therefore, we see the British media fundamentally incapable of reporting accurately or intelligently on EU issues, either going over the top with ludicrous claims of "plots", or simply missing the crucial details which are needed to make sense of events.

Yet these are the organs that are to be reporting on the EU referendum, and supposedly keeping us informed. Campaigners have every right to be worried. Neither the Fourth Estate, nor their prattling "talking heads" on which they rely, are up to the job.

Richard North 27/05/2015 link

EU Referendum: lessons from the other side

Wednesday 27 May 2015  

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In my view, the "out" campaign must have three things in order to do its job effectively. It will need to have a case for leaving the EU (why we should leave), a statement of what we aim to achieve by leaving (our "vision") and the exit plan (how we leave).

I have likened this to a three-legged stool, where the three "legs" must be in balance, and complement each other, in order to provide a stable platform from which to fight. There is no point, for instance, is making the case for leaving because of "excessive" EU regulation if we then say that, in order to leave, there will be little relief from regulation.

Even then, these intellectual properties will not in themselves win the referendum for us. They are essentially a sine qua non, so we must move on from there to build the structure of the campaign, acquiring the resources need to fight, and devising the tactics.

There is a linkage, though, between our "three-legged stool" and our tactics. Specifically, in making the case for leaving, we must identify the group (or groups) of people we most need to convince, and tune our message to make sure it convinces our target audience.

As one might expect, we are not alone in thinking in these terms. Peter Wilding, director of the Europhile British Influence is also ruminating along similar lines.

Interestingly, he has come to the conclusion that economic arguments alone "will not be enough to persuade British voters that the country should stay in the European Union". They are, he says, increasingly being dismissed as scaremongering. The case for EU membership has to be part of a "far bigger story" about Britain's future.

Thus, Wilding believes the "yes" campaign has to go "beyond the economic". The message, he says, "has to be that Britain is a leader in Europe and must get stuck in: Complete the single market, create jobs for our children and grandchildren. It's about emotion – people are proud of their country, they want it to do well – and hope for the future, not fear".

We can take some comfort from this, as we're obviously having an effect in neutralising the FUD. On the other hand, though, our own "side" is not up to speed, still focusing on the economic issues, trying to make this an issue all about business.

In fact, this is a path down which we don't want to travel. The very last thing we want to do is get embroiled about whether business does or does not support membership of the EU, or whether they want reform and, if so, what reform issues they will accept. Some do want to leave, some don't. Some want reform, but few can say what exactly it is that they want or will accept.  These are arguments we can't possibly win, as a "yes" campaign is clearly indicating.

In other respects, the "yes" campaign is also getting its act together. British Influence and two other leading pro-EU groups, Business for New Europe and the European Movement, are working together as an embryonic "yes" campaign. The anti-EU movement is very far from forming a single group – and probably never will.

Wilding acknowledges that the polls have swung steadily in his favour over the past couple of years from "the largest gap in favour of leaving, to the largest gap in favour of staying". Yet the country is still divided in three: solidly pro-EU, definitely anti and undecided.

"The battle will be won or lost in the middle", Wilding says, "and it won’t be an easy one. The 'out' camp has developed an attractive narrative – here we are, shackled to a corpse, and we'd be better off out. I wouldn't presume to be confident of the result of this vote".

Says the Guardian, observers also point out that EU fatigue – witness last year's European elections – is, broadly, on the rise and recent EU referendums on the continent have invariably resulted in no votes. The paper also thinks that Britain "boasts both a largely anti-EU (or at least, highly critical) press and a partly 'europhobic' governing elite".

Factors that could play in the "yes" camp's favour include anxiety about a possible breakup of the UK. "One in five people say they'll change their no [anti-EU] vote to a yes if Britain's exit from the EU also means Scotland leaving the UK", Wilding says.

That is where we need to be, assessing specifically what it will take for our target groups to support us. But above all else, we need to define our positive "vision" and get the other two "legs" of our stool fully in place. Obsessing about what business wants is a distraction – that much we can learn from the "yes" campaign.

Richard North 27/05/2015 link

EU Referendum: international coprophagia

Tuesday 26 May 2015  

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Barely was the ink dry on the Lisbon Treaty when there was talk of another. Speculation, particularly in the German press, was rife, but seemed to peak in 2012 when it became clear - and more so in retrospect - that Merkel was abandoning any immediate plans to push for another treaty.

The ebb and flow of this debate was scarcely, if at all, followed by the UK media, which remained (and remains) largely ignorant of what was happening. It failed, therefore to note the decisions taken by the "Franco-German motor" to seek all means available short of a new EU treaty to bring economic governance to the eurozone. Only when all other avenues had been exhausted would an attempt be made to launch a formal treaty process.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that when the Guardian picks up a random a rather sketchy report in le Monde on this continuing process, it immediately misreads the situation.

Thus do we see the paper rushing to print with a completely bogus story on its front page telling us that that "Germany and France have forged a pact to integrate the eurozone without reopening the EU’s treaties, in a blow to David Cameron's referendum campaign".

Sidestepping Britain's demands to renegotiate the Lisbon treaty and Britain's place in the EU, the paper says, "the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, François Hollande, have sealed an agreement aimed at fashioning a tighter political union among the single-currency countries while operating within the confines of the existing treaty".

As framed by the Guardian, there is no substance to the story. The events described are part of an ongoing routine which has been rolling out for more than five years, now based on developing a programme in "four areas", covering economic convergence, fiscal and social policy, financial stability and investment, and governance of the monetary union.

But, in a classic example of international coprophagia, once le monde had run the story, its European partner the Guardian decided to carry it. From there it has spread to other UK papers, with nothing more to add than was in the original report.

Then it gets embellished beyond all recognition by the Daily Mail, which has Mr Cameron "left humiliated after a pact between French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel was leaked ruling out the need for EU treaty change".

Since then, the story has been run other journals, and even the German media has been caught in the wake, with Die Welt reporting that Paris and Berlin are showing Cameron "the red card" – again relying on nothing more substantial than le monde.

All this does is reinforce the impression that the media – Europe-wide – is structurally incapable of reporting accurately or intelligently on EU affairs. So few papers are inclined to appoint specialists, and there few that we have are generally of poor quality.

That, however, will not stop the coprophagiat gorging on the reports, interpreting the detail in their own knowing way, all to add to their own ignorance and misdirection for us the grateful plebs to imbibe while we revere their greater wisdom.

And so do we continue to be misinformed.

Richard North 26/05/2015 link

EU Referendum: never a dull moment

Tuesday 26 May 2015  

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An action-packed day yesterday had Lord Hill, the British European Commissioner, claim that there was an "extraordinarily strong case" for Britain to remain in the EU.

The Commissioner then did what so many EU advocates do, resorting to the scare, with the warning that, "you cannot have your cake and eat it" and enjoy the benefits of the European Union such as the benefits of the single market and free trade if the nation votes to leave the European Union.

This was immediately countered by Owen Paterson, who said he was "totally and utterly wrong" and accused him of trying to paint a "wild caricature" of the risks of Britain leaving the EU.

Later, of Lord Hill, he told The Telegraph: "They think they're ahead in the polls, that they have us in the run. They are portraying a complete caricature that leaving the EU it is like leaping off the cliff into a dark abyss.

"My deepest respect to Jonathan, who I served in the Cabinet with", said Paterson, "but he is totally and utterly wrong. He is a member of the establishment, we all know where they are coming from. We need time to make the case that there is an incredibly optimistic destination".

"This idea that trade is synonymous with the European Union is complete and utter tosh", Paterson then declared: "We would under any sane solution continue very active membership of the market."

However, this did not stop the Sky News website blithely asserting that one of the reasons to stay in the EU was that: "Millions of jobs are linked to our EU membership.

I can never work out whether journalists who write this "utter tosh" - as Paterson would put it – are being deliberately dishonest, or are just plain thick. Either way, the dishonour their trade and make a mockery of their mission to inform people. But then, they gave up on that mission a long time ago.

Another one in that category is Dan Hannan who yesterday was filling space in the Daily Mail with his own brand of incoherence.

I am constantly under some pressure to be "nice" to our Dan – or, at least, less aggressive towards him, and there have been some attempts at a reconciliation. But this has to be a two-way process. Mr Hannan knows where I am coming from (or could find out if he could be bothered), and he should know that his particular brand of obdurate stupidity drives me to distraction.

He almost wants to weep at Mr Cameron's "missed opportunity" to negotiate a tougher deal with Brussels, he says. "We could settle the EU in a manner that would satisfy 80 percent of British voters. We could strike a bargain that would leave us fully involved in the single market, while allowing us to take control of most other policies".

"We could secure more freedom to reach bilateral trade deals with non-EU states such as Australia and India. We could reassert the primacy of our own law, so that EU directives and regulations would be treated as advisory pending the implementing of legislation by Parliament".

Nothing of this, of course, could be achieved without leaving the EU. Certainly, as long as we are in the EU, this is not in any way realisable. Hannan, you would have thought, would know this – except that anyone who has read The Great Deception knows more about the EU than Hannan. He is far too grand to read it.

Nevertheless, only someone as profoundly ignorant as this man could then say, "If the Government doesn't secure a looser deal through renegotiation, there is another way to secure it. We can get it by voting to leave, then striking the same bargain as the Swiss or the Channel Islanders, who remain successful despite being outside the EU - common market, not common government".

Thus having lauded the value the Single Market, which would "satisfy 80 percent of British voters", Hannan completely contradicts himself be seeking to take us out of that very same Single Market, entertaining instead a nebulous "Swiss" model or a totally unrealistic Channel Island settlement. And, as befits the man, he never troubles to tell us how the UK would negotiate these miracle solutions within the framework of an Article 50 settlement.

Even to get to this incoherent waffle, though, we have to read him telling us the obvious – that what Mr Cameron is asking for by way of renegotiation is very little. But, based on that slender intelligence, Mr Hannan believes that his fellow countrymen won't be deceived by the thinness of the offer.

Unfortunately, Hannan and his ilk do not seem to have explored (in public) the potential effect of Mr Cameron delivering a treaty change under the "simplified procedure", using Article 48 of the Consolidated Treaties. This states:
The Government of any Member State, the European Parliament or the Commission may submit to the European Council proposals for revising all or part of the provisions of Part Three of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union relating to the internal policies and action of the Union.

The European Council may adopt a decision amending all or part of the provisions of Part Three of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The European Council shall act by unanimity after consulting the European Parliament and the Commission, and the European Central Bank in the case of institutional changes in the monetary area. That decision shall not enter into force until it is approved by the Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.
The points here are that the procedure is open to any Member State to invoke (it does not require approval of the European Council or its president), and in Part Three, administration of the Freedom of Movement provision are covered. Furthermore, approval by the European Council can be very quick – in the space of a rainy afternoon in Brussels, as I put it. And while the European Parliament has to be consulted, its approval is not required.

Given the effect Mr Cameron's false claim to have vetoed a treaty had on the gullible media and his own party, it takes very little effort to imagine the galvanising effect of a Prime Minister employing a Chamberlain-style "Heston moment". All he has to do is come back from "tense" meetings in Brussels, declaring: "I have in my hand this treaty agreed by the European Council". Media and politicians alike will be putty in his hands.

Given also that most major newspapers and almost all of the broadcast media support EU membership, we can readily see journalists willingly falling in behind the Prime Minister. With all three major parties behind him, and only a disconsolate rump of "right wing" Tory MPs and a discredited, disjointed Ukip against, the chances are that the popular vote will be massively in favour of Mr Cameron's "new deal".

All it then takes is for the Government to publish a White Paper six weeks before the poll, then delivering a summary to every household, commending the "deal" to the public. Are the people so easily fooled? Need you even ask? 
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Much, of course,  will depend on the stage-managed theatre, and Mr Cameron is continuing the charade with a heavily publicised meeting between himself and Juncker, where he told the Commission President that, "British people are not happy with the status quo" in Europe. The irrelevance of this in practical terms is almost as profound as Mr Hannan's ignorance. Mr Juncker has no locus and no role in relation to treaty change – which is a matter solely for Member States.

Despite that, the talks were said by the No 10 spokesman to have focused on "reforming the EU and renegotiating the UK's relationship with it", in what can only have been very general terms, staged almost entirely for public consumption.

To be fair, that spokesperson also said the meeting was unlikely to yield conclusive solutions and that the terms of Britain's EU membership was not just a topic for consideration by the Commission, but also the European Council and Member States. I am totally shocked, I tell you, shocked.

Not everyone is playing the game, though. Pascal Lamy, the former trade commissioner and erstwhile head of the WTO, warns that Britain is seen by some in the EU as a "pain in the ass so they can leave and it would be fine". This man, incidentally, does not agree with the view that David Cameron is unlikely to secure treaty change because it would "take an extremely long time". He is possibly aware that an Article 48 "simplified procedure" treaty is on the cards.

Another one not playing the game is Tony Blair. This former Prime Minister has decided to campaign to keep Britain in the EU. One imagines that his intervention is about as popular with the Europhiles as Hannan's are with me. Perhaps we should do a swap.

He (Blair, that is) will warn that a vote to leave would mean "chaos" for business and diminish Britain's place in the world. That is from the man who decided to invade Iraq alongside the US and had no plan ready to administer the occupied areas - a factor partly responsible for the humiliating defeat of the British Army.

Still, it's about time we got some breaks - and having Blair work for the other side is one. Nor was it the only one. In what otherwise amounts to a non-story, we learned that one million foreigners were to be banned from voting. A break this is, but since they were never going to be allowed – as the Westminster franchise (slightly modified) was always going to be the best option - the "victory" is slightly overstated.

Needless to say, that didn't stop a French-born Scottish politician moaning about a "democratic disgrace". But, as they say, it is not difficult to tell the difference between a ray of sunshine and a Scotsman.

Also whingeing were business representatives, who are vying with Hannan in the ignorance stakes by demanding a referendum in 2016. This is the EEF manufacturers' organisation, which says an early vote is needed to end the "creeping uncertainty" that now exists for business and industry.

One really does wonder how these Captains of Industry can be so ill-informed and still survive. In order to explain this perplexing phenomenon, one is drawn to the theory that stupidity – far from being the exception – has to be the norm, certainly in the ranks of the corporates.

Research carried out for the EEF shown that 85 percent of British manufacturers would stay within the EU, with only seven percent wanting to quit. Among larger businesses, the vote to stay in was even higher, which rather tend to confirm the "stupidity" thesis.

As to an early referendum, Mats Persson, who moved from the Europhile Open Europe to Number 10 last week, has warned of the dangers of trying to secure a "quick win" at the expense of "big reforms". Despite the fact that we will get neither, with this consummate liar at the helm Cameron will be well equipped to roll out his deception.

And with that – a busy day – we await the Queen's speech and the promise of the Referendum Bill that so many were so confident wasn't going to happen. Luckily, "I told you so", isn't in my vocabulary.

Richard North 26/05/2015 link

EU Referendum: the battle lines take shape

Monday 25 May 2015  

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The news yesterday was that Labour's acting leader, Harriet Harman, has abandoned her party's opposition to an EU referendum. Harman and Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary, finally accept that people should be allowed a vote for the first time in more than 40 years.

"We have now had a general election and reflected on the conversations we had on doorsteps throughout the country", these two politicians say. "The British people want to have a say on the UK's membership of the European Union. Labour will therefore now support the EU referendum bill when it comes before the House of Commons".

While some of the legacy media are leaping on this development to claim that this might allow Mr Cameron to bring the date of the referendum forward, other sources remind us of the obvious. The Bill is likely to face concerted attempts to delay or re-write it from Labour and Lib-Dem opponents in the Lords, who outnumber the Conservatives by almost two-to-one.

On that basis, we are still looking at mid-next year before a n EU Referendum Act takes effect, and then another nine months before there can be a poll. We are well on track for an October event, giving Mr Cameron time for his stage-managed "Heston moment", when he declares to the world the brilliant outcome of his "renegotiations".

Nevertheless, this will not stop other newspapers continuing to speculate, and they will do so right up to the moment when an early referendum, even in their terms, is no longer a possibility. Then they will move on without the slightest acknowledgement that they got it wrong – again. But that is what the legacy media does.

Rather than accept their prattle, we should continue to remind ourselves that the pundits got it wrong at the general election. In the more complex and unfamiliar scenario of an EU referendum, they are unlikely to perform any better. In fact, most of them are already out of their depth.  

Whether through its own ignorance, or design, we certainly see the BBC getting it wrong. It is labouring to frame the debate as an economic issue, offering a distorted definition of the EU that happens to fit its playbook. The European Union, the BBC tells us:
… is an economic and political partnership between 28 European countries. It began after World War Two to foster economic co-operation with the idea that countries which trade together are more likely to avoid going to war with each other. It has since grown to become a "single market" allowing goods and people to move around, basically as if the member states were one country. It has its own currency, the euro, its own parliament and it now sets the rules in a wide range of areas - including on the environment, transport, consumer rights and even things like mobile phone charges.
That this is a deliberate distortion is perhaps best illustrated by the BBC itself, which goes on to record that Mr Cameron "is expected to demand an opt-out from one of the EU's core principles of forging an 'ever-closer union' between member states".  Yet this "core principle" is hardly compatible with the idea of "an economic and political partnership between 28 European countries".

Forgetting to tell us that the EU is a supranational treaty organisation, with the aim of creating a federal "United States of Europe" is a rather convenient omission. But it is also a necessary one, as only by this means can the BBC present as two of the principle contenders: Business for Britain; and Business for New Europe (BNE).

The former, we are told, "wants big changes to the UK's relations with the EU and says the UK should be prepared to vote to leave if the changes are not achieved". BNE, we are helpfully advised, "is a coalition of business leaders who support the UK's membership of the EU and 'oppose withdrawal to the margins'."

Neither, it seems, wants to pull out because we want no part of a future "United States of Europe", but since the BBC hasn't told us that that is the aim, this should matter to us lowly plebs. The BBC wants this to be a debate about pro-EU business, versus lukewarm business, and that is how it shall be.

Interestingly, the left-wing Independent also favours this line-up, against which all the feeble Leo McKinstry for the Express can manage is that this issue "is not just about economics". Therein lies the problem: even our supposed allies are failing to correct deliberate attempts to distort the debate. 

Fortunately, one journalist can see through the charade. Peter Hitchens in his own column sketches out the likely scenario. The Tory Party leadership and its backers in business and elsewhere, he says, will in the next few months, appear to merge themselves with "Eurosceptic" opinion, reasonably accepting that British independence is practicable and may even be desirable, railing against EU "bureaucracy" or some other vague characteristic.

To keep up the momentum, Mr Cameron himself will strike increasingly nationalistic poses at gatherings of EU leaders, similar to his non-existent veto. Then there will be negotiations at which we will be told the EU has abandoned some of its "red tape" or diminished its demand for ever-closer union, or postponed some other power-grab.

When Mr Cameron, haggard and exhausted after night-long negotiations, emerges into the Brussels dawn to claim his triumph, the rest of the EU will keep quiet about the fact that there is no triumph, just as they kept quiet about the fact that he did not actually wield the veto in 2011. Winners don't need to boast. They can let the losers vaunt themselves and brag, if it helps the real winners get their way.

At that point we see the faux eurosceptic Tories, who have cosied up to real anti-EU campaigners, come out of the woodwork. They will say: "Mr Cameron, with charm and grit, has won a great and historic deal for Britain. Now we can in all conscience vote to stay in. So should you. Please join us". Then says Hitchens:
… this mingling is the real purpose of "Euroscepticism", to gull and soothe genuine secessionists with what looks like friendship and agreement, the more powerfully to abandon and undermine them when the decisive moment arrives.

And precisely because they have feigned sympathy so well, and pretended to be in favour of leaving if the right conditions aren't met, their defection will be all the more effective. The nation will vote heavily to stay in, and the issue will be dead until the EU itself breaks up under its own strains, spitting us out into a pitiful loneliness we weren't brave enough to choose when it might have been some use to us.
That, as near as damn it, is exactly as I see the campaign panning out – and especially if we allow our enemies dictate the shape of the campaign and who the key players are going to be.

On the other hand, the line-up of the Labour with Mr Cameron, already alongside the Lib-Dem rump gives, us a three-party pro-EU line-up and the ideal opportunity to cast this contest as people versus politicians. While the BBC and its friends want to set-up a biff-bam business debate, with the people as passive spectators, we must sideline them and fight on issues that really matter.

This referendum is an opportunity for us to correct a historic mistake, when politicians gave away our powers to a supranational authority in the wrongheaded belief that this would improve our trading and manufacturing performance. It didn't, and now we have chance to set Britain back on its proper course.

This is too important for games, and certainly not a platform for failed politicians to re-launch their careers. We have to win this, and if we the people don't, no-one else will.

Richard North 25/05/2015 link

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