Richard North, 11/02/2016  

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.

For his speakers, Bannerman invited 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 took the floor.

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". 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 and his audience 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, that is not the case with Mr Bannerman and his ilk. They 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 better infomred 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 in use. 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 which typifies his efforts, 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 to allow access to goods from EU Member States.

On the other hand, as an RTA, the EU lies outside the MFN system. It would be permitted to discriminate against us, in our new-found status as a "third country". As such, it could (and would) 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.

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".

"Not again", one sighs. I actually can't be bothered to argue this facile 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.

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