Richard North, 24/01/2016  

I think that one of the best reports I have read in recent times, relating to the EU and the referendum, is from my own son Pete North, who writes of the complexities of global governance and the shenanigans in Brussels.

Because he is my son and I am open to accusation of favouritism, I give Pete a hard time and probably do not praise his work enough. But, by any measure, this was a sound piece, and one which offers a maturity of analysis and insight that we will not get from the legacy media.

Neither do we get anything approaching its quality from professional politicians, something which struck me quite forcibly last night when I read this dire contribution from MP John Baron, who writes in terms of the Government needing "to regain proper control of our borders" and the "need to stop the deadweight EU red tape which engulfs all British companies despite only five percent trading with the EU".

This is actually the sort of thing that we get from any number of politicians, so it's probably unfair to single out John Baron, but what strikes one – and especially in comparison with Pete's work – is the almost child-like naïvety of his world view – this from a man supposedly part of our law-making process, with ambitions to take an even greater part.

One point, so often made on this blog, is that we cannot control our borders – per se – and that is not where we exercise control over immigration. That lies in the realms of policy covering a wide range of issues, and effective execution. Thus Baron – and all the others – should be talking about regaining control not of our borders, but our policy and then of acquiring the means properly to enforce it.

As to the idea that we can happily dump huge tranches of "EU law" once we achieve withdrawal is one of those perennial canards that is beyond child-like.

For instance, Mr Baron is old enough to remember the Guardian campaign in the 90s, picking up the differences between British and EU laws on slaughterhouses, the EU laws then applying only to export establishments. Then along came BSE, big-time, and all the slaughterhouses were lining up to be EU-compliant and any hope of beating off the EU rules evaporated.

With the advent of globalisation, the idea of two-tier regulation has long gone, an issue we explore at length in Flexcit (see pg. 182). Firms tend to look for the most complex set of regulations and conform to those, this being less costly than producing to different standards and holding inventories for different regulatory zones.

But if Baron inhabits a simplistic world, so indeed do former Cabinet Ministers such as Liam Fox, who – like so many of his ilk – talks glibly about taking control back from Brussels so that we can make our own laws.

The problem with this is that, with the march of globalisation, the bulk of laws are no longer made at national level. This is where Pete's piece is so useful – pointing out the complexity of modern law-making. The issue is no longer about individual legislatures making laws, but how those laws are made and by whom – and our role in their making.

In this, globalisation is the "leave" campaign's trump card – enabling us to argue that not only are laws no longer made at national level, they are not even generated by sub-regional entities such as the EU. Thus we can assert that the EU is no longer necessary, as we need to be taking a greater part in the global law-making process.

And then, along comes Liam Fox (and many more like him), who want to take us back to the little England of yore that never even existed. In the days of Empire, we made laws for the world, but those days are past. Now, global institutions make the rules. We need to be part of that process.

This lengthy lament, however, is but an opener to a more profoundly ill-gauged contribution from Dominic Cummings where, in a lengthy interview with the Economist, he manages to plumb depths that even MPs would find it hard to reach.

I don't actually intend to waste time on a full analysis of his interview - life's too short. Rather, one needs to pick up some particularly facile comments, to illustrate just how badly the "leave" campaign is served.

We start well into the interview where Cummings tells us how David Cameron will "have to explain how he intends to deal with the next treaty, which is now officially underway".

According to this "genius", the next intergovernmental conference is already planned, whence he tells us that the "The Five Presidents' Report is published, asserting that this new treaty is "massively centralising", which is going to be "a big problem" for Mr Cameron.

The problem here is that the last time Cummings got anywhere near a comprehensive briefing on the situation in the EU, viz à viz treaty change was when I gave it to him. He hasn't kept up-to-date since.

Thus, Five Presidents' Report notwithstanding, the man is not up to speed with the latest developments, which suggest that a new treaty could be back on hold, with as yet unknown ramifications for the "leave" campaign, and creating quite different problems for Mr Cameron.

Notwithstanding that Mr Cummings is formulating an answer to a problem he hasn't properly defined, his solution already looks singularly bizarre. He tells us that "we have to explain the risks of a vote to remain; that we'll be essentially locked in the boot in a car heading off to a place that we can see and where we know we don't want to go".

The infelicity here, of course, is that if we're locked in the boot of a car, it is most unlikely that we would be able to see where we're heading. But then, illogicality doesn't seem to trouble Mr Cummings.

Thus, he asserts that "we need to explain the risks of a Remain vote", despite us not knowing precisely (or at all) what those risks might be until Mr Cameron has made his final offer to the British people. What we surmise, though, is that Mr Cameron will be "triangulating", in which case the current "leave" and "remain" arguments risk being nothing more than a foil for the Prime Minister's own play.

But then we get to the core of Mr Cummings's troubled logic, when he tells us that "we also have to set out why this is not the great leap in the dark that people think".

This is from a man who has eschewed the idea of an exit plan, whereupon he lets loose a gigantic hare and set it running.
A lot of people have been saying that as soon as there is a Leave vote then the Article 50 process begins straight away. Completely wrong. In fact that would be like putting a gun in your mouth and pulling the trigger. No-one in their right mind would begin a legally defined two-year maximum period to conduct negotiations before they actually knew, roughly speaking, what this process was going to yield. So we must explain to the public: "Don't worry. Straight after you go there is not going to be a huge eruption. Legally nothing changes the next day. A new government team is going to sit down with the EU and figure out what this new relationship should look like legally. That will be a big thing before any formal process happens".
In stating this, Mr Cummings is raising a huge straw man. Few people that I know of are arguing for an immediate Article 50 notification. We would expect anything up to a year of so of discussions before we were ready to commence negotiations.

But, for Cummings, his assertion is just a pre-amble. He goes on to say: "There is a widespread assumption that we have to use the Article 50 process, and that has a lot of risks. That is not true. We do not have to use the Article 50 process".

Hitting us between the eyes is this completely untoward idea that there is an "assumption" that we have to use Article 50. But no, this is not an "assumption". This is what is written into the treaty. We don't assume it must be used. The treaty tells us it must be used. Thus, when Mr Cummings then asserts that we don't have to use the Article 50 process, in any legal or practical sense, he is completely wrong.

Just how wrong is clear from his alternative, to which Tony E draws attention. We find Mr Cummings stating:
There is a clear way in which we come to a new deal: we repeal the 1972 European Communities Act (ECA) and the supremacy of EU law, we negotiate a free trade deal with the EU (which is in all of our interests), we also have sensible laws on the free movement of people.
Although Tony E is prepared to evaluate this piece of stupidity, I'm not. This is kindergarten stuff, the equivalent of sticking a key in a live electric socket to see what happens. No sensible person would do it. They would not even consider working outside the Treaties and starting off proceedings by repealing the ECA.

The tragedy is that this is not just any person. This is the campaign director of Vote Leave Ltd. Furthermore, he works very closely alongside another director of the company, Mr Hannan. And it is he that is saying that the "idea of Britain opting out of the non-economic aspects of EU membership is hugely attractive...".

Hannan is also suggesting that we use a "leave" vote as a platform for further negotiations, which would not involve Article 50 but which could culminate in a form of "associate membership". This, perforce, would keep us in the European Union.

When we stitch together the comments of Cummings and Hannan we see the picture emerge of a British government not invoking Article 50 and simply using the "leave" vote as leverage for another round of renegotiations.

As part-author of this scenario, Mr Cummings is described by the Economist as "blunt, energetic and clever". But then, the Economist also uses "out" to describes the "leave" campaign, and is avowedly Europhile. To them, Mr Cummings must be exceedingly good news. His arguments, it says, are "appealingly thoughtful", even - one assumes - down to the manic idea of repealing the ECA.

At the risk of over-praising Pete, I would say that he – and our other bloggers who are trying to get to grips with the real issues - are the ones to whom that description should apply. We need thoughtful analysis, and we're not getting it from any other source.

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