Richard North, 17/01/2016  

When it was invented, in the Second World War, it was code-named "window" – thousands of foil strips dropped from an aircraft, painting radar screens with false targets to confuse the enemy. Now, it is called "chaff", but it does roughly the same job.

In campaigning terms relative to this referendum, "chaff" does an analogous job – spurious arguments coming from all directions which confuse the issues and make it almost impossible to conduct a proper debate.

For instance, given the argument over the source of regulation, and the impact of leaving the EU on the food industry, it should be fairly simple to establish the facts. Legislation in the food sector, perhaps more than any other industry, is internationalised, which means that the overall impact should be slight.

After all, in the field, we have Codex Alimentarius, the OIE, the IPPC, UNECE and the OECD, amongst others all contributing to the body of international standards which filter down under the aegis of the WTO phytosanitary agreement and the agreement on technical barriers to trade, to determine much of the content of the EU's Single Market acquis.

Thus, when we explored this issue, we found a Norwegian official who did not feel that his country was in any way disadvantaged by not having voting rights in the EU. As far as he was concerned, the international bodies, not the EU – were the "top table".

On this basis, it is a very simple matter to slap down a ludicrous piece in the Guardian which asserts that Brexit would be a "nightmare scenario" for UK food and drink businesses.

According to "analyst" Kate Trollope, the UK’s food and drink firms would have to meet EU food laws to export but have no power to influence those rules, thus repeating the "no influence" scaremongering that constitutes much of the Europhile counter-attack.

But, in this Guardian piece, we also get cited the director of the Food and Drink Federation, Ian Wright, has said that in his personal view Brexit would, undoubtedly, lead to an exodus of US and European food businesses from the UK.

He also argues that it could result in "chaos of years", as Britain would be forced to negotiate new trade deals with its partners round the world. Membership of the World Trade Organisation is not a given, he says, and some experts have even questioned if Britain would actually have the officials to negotiate all the trade agreements.

This claim, about having to renegotiate new trade deals around the world is manifestly false, as we would be able to rely on the principle recognised in international law known as the "presumption of continuity", where parties to treaties can assume continuation, on completion of simple administrative formalities.

Now, the point here is that the issues raised in the Guardian piece are amongst those most commonly rehearsed by "remain" campaigners". A focused response by "leavers", and especially one where we argued for a greater engagement in global (and regional) bodies giving us greater say in making regulation, would very easily have the Europhiles on the back foot. The "lack of influence" meme could hardly survive.

Instead of focusing on the issues, however, both journalists and "leave" activists seem to be all over the place.

Returning to the egregious Fraser Nelson in this context, we see a man here bleating the conditions that the "wounded beast" of the EU might set, asking whether we might "end up accepting the diktats and red tape that drove us mad in the first place".

This is a man also who asserts that the big question, when the EU referendum debate kicks off, will be what exactly, "out" looks like – another one of those journalists who cannot seem to come to terms with the fact that we are fighting a "remain-leave" campaign.

In and amongst this, Nelson claims to be an admirer of my work, and with Flexcit now exceeding 38,000 downloads, only by a deliberate act could he fail to mention that this plan provides a comprehensive description of "out", answering the big question that he claims is unanswered.

Think then how much more advanced the "remain" campaign could be if two years or more ago, when Flexcit started to take the shape that we now see, journalists and activists had recognised the work for what it is. But, with elements on both sides studiously ignoring Flexcit, we have the bizarre position where they are falling over each other to complain that there is nothing.

Even when it comes to the basics, we have the same problem. The straightforward procedure for leaving the EU, set out in Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union has been seriously misinterpreted by many pundits, not least by Fraser Nelson, to the extent that time and effort – which could have been expended on fighting the battle - has to be wasted on correcting schoolboy errors.

Then, after several years of controversy as to whether Article 50 was the correct instrument by which to secure our withdrawal from the EU, the matter seemed to have been settled – only for Dominic Cummings to wade back into the field and question whether it is, after all, the right route to take.

Six months ago, Cummings had not read Article 50 and was completely unaware that the negotiations were time-limited. But now, this born-again constitution expert is telling us that "those who think our only route out is Article 50 are VERY wrong – legally, politically and practically".

He goes on to assert that David Cameron, in seeking to invoke Article 50 "immediately" is "mad" and "won't fly", while then declaring that, before Article 50 there was no legal mechanism in the Treaty but that didn't mean leaving was impossible. Article 50, writes Cummings, is "just one possible route [for leaving] and not the best".

So, just as we should be concentrating on the Mr Cameron's moves, we have this monumental distraction from a man who has yet to learn of the significance of lex specialis derogat legi generali yet is insisting that we take a journey into the unknown.

It gets worse still with an intervention from Mr Hannan who believes that we should use the result of the referendum to negotiate a new relationship with the EU, which might include an "associate membership" – without, it would seem, invoking Article 50.

This would very much align Hannan with Mr Cummings who is still pursing the idea of a second referendum on a new deal, without again leaving the EU. These two are central to the Vote Leave organisation, which means that one of the main "leave" groups is refusing to commit to leaving the EU.

Bringing this to a crux, we find ourselves entering a campaign with only a fraction of our collective energy directed at winning the referendum, and only an amount of that focused on leaving the EU. There is just so much chaff in the air that we can scarcely see the targets any more. Just think what we might achieve if we actually focused on the job in hand.

comments powered by Disqus

Brexit - the first year - New e-book by Richard North
Brexit - the first year - New e-book by Richard North
Buy Now

Log in

Sign THA
Think Defence

The Many, Not the Few