Richard North, 18/06/2015  

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In a softening of tone that could have been taken as a tentative peace offering, on 18 April I wrote a piece which was cautiously complimentary about the Ukip general election manifesto.

I noted that it accepted that Article 50 negotiations are the preferred option for arranging our exit from the EU. And I also noted that, in calling for a free trade agreement affording us access to the Single Market, the party also appears to be turning its face against the WTO (or "free-for-all") option.

There may be some significance in there only being 19 comments to that piece, when posts critical of Ukip have occasionally attracted well over a hundred. It was certainly evident that I was not attracting any great engagement from Ukip supporters. But if I had been rash enough to expect that an emollient (and informative) post would have any effect on Ukip policy-making, I would have been setting myself up to be disappointed.

In the event, it comes as no surprise to find Ukip reverting to type with what the BBC called "the opening salvo of its EU Referendum campaign" – the launch in London of a booklet entitled "The Truth About Trade Beyond the EU". Written by their MEP William Dartmouth, this supposedly "outlines the reasons why we would not be leaving any markets when we leave the EU", essentially comprising part of Ukip's exit plan.

Paid-for (ironically) with EU funds – which clearly does not impose any quality or value-for-money criteria - it would not be unfair (as opposed to unkind) to describe it as vapid drivel, relying as it does on the usual mixture of factoids and mantra.

Addressing "the realities of an EU exit for the UK", for instance, it tells us that we would "continue to trade with EU member states", the reason adduced being that: "The UK is the largest purchaser of EU goods and services". That is fair enough, as we would doubtless continue to trade. We might go hungry if we didn't, given the amount food we ship in from the Continent. 

But, where the whole shebang goes drastically wrong is in the following declaration, which asserts:
It is inevitable that we would negotiate our own trade agreement with the EU after exit. And - with or without a trade agreement - we can continue to trade with EU countries, just as China, Russia and the United States do today - under WTO rules.
The immediate flaw in this stems from an understanding of the Article 50 (exit) procedure, where the expectation is that we negotiate an agreement before we exit. Should we leave first and then negotiate, there will be a huge gap, whence we would have enormous difficulties exporting to the EU.

Parking this for just one moment, we see Ukip supporters enthusiastically tweeting the news of the formal ratification of a trade agreement between Australia and China – as an example of what the UK could achieve outside the EU. But they neglect to point out that the agreement took ten years to negotiate.

That, of course, is a core issue. Doubtless, the UK could negotiate a trade agreement with the EU, and it could also negotiate trade deals with other countries to replace the arrangements it relies on under the EU umbrella. But how long would these take? And what would the UK do in the interim, during the many years that it would take to conclude new settlements?

Returning to the Ukip comment, we see them asserting that, "… without a trade agreement - we can continue to trade with EU countries, just as China, Russia and the United States do today - under WTO rules" – effectively a reiteration of the "WTO option".

Yet, it was specifically about the death of the WTO option that I was writing on 18 April, the point being that countries such as China do not rely purely on "WTO rules" for their trading arrangements with the EU. As we wrote at the time, there are 65 agreements with China involving the EU (or its members states) including 13 bilateral agreements.

When it comes to the United States, the EU is currently negotiating TTIP – which Ukip opposes. That rather indicates that the "WTO rules" are not considered sufficient, notwithstanding that the US does not rely entirely upon them. Even now, there is considerable EU-US collaboration, not least through the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC), established in 2007.

This Council provides an umbrella for a vast array of pre-existing agreements outside the basic WTO framework. Included is the vital 173-page Mutual Recognition Agreement which underpins trade in a wide range of industrial goods and was established to augment some of the limitations of the WTO agreements.

As regards Russia, in addition to its WTO membership, there exists the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which provides the basic framework for EU-Russian trade. It should be remembered, though, that sanctions over Ukraine are seriously disrupting relations - making Russia a poor model for Ukip to cite.

Nevertheless, the idea that it would be possible to trade with the EU, under anything like normal conditions, purely under WTO rules – without additional bilateral agreements – is simply moonshine. To suggest that China, Russia and the United States trade under such conditions is false. The claim simply isn't true.

This is doubly ironic in a booklet that also devotes itself to correcting five "falsehoods", not least the claim that you have to be a member of the EU in order to export successfully to it. This claim should be easy to rebut, which makes it rather unfortunate that the author chooses to tell us that:
The EU has numerous different varieties of trade agreement - being an EU member is just one of them. Switzerland, not a member of the EU, with an economy one quarter the size of the UK's, consistently exports to the EU more than 4.5 times per head of what the UK manages.
By coincidence, this example is deployed just as the Guardian picks up on the fallout from the Swiss immigration referendum, illustrating the ongoing and progressive collapse of the so-called "Swiss model" (or "option" as I prefer). This is part of a slow-motion constitutional crisis in Switzerland, as relations with the EU deteriorate. The situation will come to a head in February 2017 - just in time to do most damage to the "no" campaign.

From the way we are seeing other propaganda activities build up, the Guardian piece is part of a calculated initiative aimed at undermining the "no" camp by illustrating the fragility of its favoured exit options. This goes alongside what appears to be a studied tactic of eliding the Swiss and Norway options, making them out to be very similar if not actually the same. Thus, when Switzerland goes down, the Norway option will be dragged down with it.

Thus, the very last thing Ukip (or anyone else, for that matter) should be doing is parading the virtues of the EU-Swiss agreement. Not only is it not sustainable, it is on the point of collapse.

Another "falsehood" the booklet tackles is more of a straw man, attempting to debunk the supposed claim that: "A UK-EU trade agreement will inevitably require the 'free movement of people'". As part of this "debunking", it quotes David Cameron saying that: "Accepting the principle of free movement of workers is a key to being part of the single market".

And it then has a Conservative ex-Cabinet minister saying: "Even if we were to leave, it is inconceivable that the UK could negotiate a trade deal with the EU that did not involve some agreement on freedom of movement".

In fact, says Ukip, the EU has – depending on how it is counted – 109 trade agreements. Only four of those agreements, with EFTA and the EEA, have a "free movement of people" component.

Actually, it misstates the position, because there are only two agreements there – the EEA agreement, involving three countries, and the bilateral agreement with Switzerland (which involves neither EFTA nor the EEA). But there we have Switzerland again, the very country Ukip is citing as a model for a trade agreement.

Even then, Ukip has got it wrong. Drill down into the Russian Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, for example, and you will find "free movement of people" component. It is not unrestricted, but it is there.

But the crucial point is that participation in the Single Market is not the same as trading with the EU. And to participate in the Single Market would require accepting all its tenets, including freedom of movement. Mr Cameron is right. It is inconceivable that the EU would allow us to participate without agreeing to free movement of workers (at the very least).

As much to the point, free movement provisions are the future – especially as international agreements focus increasingly on services. Yet, when Ukip supporters gleefully cite the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) - as an example of what the UK could do if we leave the EU - they don't seem to have realised that, within the framework of the agreement, Chinese companies can bring in workers for projects valued at $150 million or more. There is also a "Work and Holiday Arrangement" (WHA) under which Australia will grant visas for up to 5,000 Chinese workers and tourists annually.

And, in the ultimate irony of an issue replete with ironies, we note that the ChAFTA took ten years to negotiate – a not untypical period for such an agreement. Ukip's idea of negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU after we leave would take as long, and could only bring disaster.

As to the booklet as a whole, we find the BBC (edited screen grab – top) offering its debunking slot to "Lying Lucy" – otherwise known as Lucy Thomas, campaign director for the Europhile Business for New Europe.

Fortunately for us, Lucy is not very bright. But even she was able to work out that Ukip's arguments did not add up. Unfortunately, Lucy is not alone. There is every sign that some of the more advanced Europhiles are getting their act together. In what it to be a long campaign, the Ukip case offered today will be comprehensively shredded – it is that full of holes. 

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For the "no" campaign in general, we cannot afford this level of stupidity - of which Ukip seems to have an inexhaustible supply. And the situation is made far worse when Farage once again indicates that he intends to take a prominent part in the fight. 

He acknowledges that he is a divisive figure and that not everyone likes him - something of an understatement. But that is the least of our problems. With his party's current effort, he is reinforcing the belief that the "no" campaign is unable to offer a credible alternative to the EU, thus adding to the already considerable difficulties we have in mounting an effective campaign.

An even greater problem, though, seems to be that we are dealing with people so stupid they don't even realise how stupid they are – a condition for which there is no known cure. If Ukip insists on pursuing its damaging line, therefore, there is no alternative but to freeze it out of the campaign. We cannot allow it to represent us, or to be seen as speaking in our name.

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