Richard North, 20/07/2016  

A much-repeated tweet from Wolfgang Munchau has him complaining that the remain camp not only lost the referendum. "They are, he says, now losing the post-Brexit debate too".

The greatest irony of this is the suggestion that there is any kind of debate going on at all. What we mostly see are hermetically sealed groups, constantly repeating their entrenched positions without variation or deviation – entirely oblivious to the arguments of the competing factions.

As far as I can see, none of them read each other's work (or acknowledge that they have), and from their lofty heights the only thing they have in common is a sneery disdain for outsiders such as, the only sources from which new ideas and information are coming.

In his own article, Munchau thus cites one of his own group, John Springford, who writes a thoroughly dishonest piece under the label of the Centre for European Reform, purporting to inform us of the limited nature of Britain's exit options.

Springford's dishonesty is a classic of its kind. He relies on a mixture of half-truths and disinformation to build a straw man argument, which he then proceeds to demolish in a quite transparent attempt to control the agenda. But it is not a debate – it is simply a series of assertions which Springford wants you to believe, in lieu of the truth.

Interestingly, the main aim is an attempt to convince us that it is not possible to negotiate an exit deal with the EU which keeps us in the Single Market while allowing us to imposing quotas on the number of immigrants from the EU.

To make the case, Springford chooses to contrast two of the three Efta State members of the EEA, Liechtenstein and Norway, while ignoring Iceland. Norway and Liechtenstein, we are told, are full members of the single market, signing up to all rules and standards in goods, services and capital, as they are members of the European Economic Area (EEA). But, it is conceded, "they have different rules governing the free movement of workers".

And it is at this point that the lies, half-truths and deception start. Springford would have it that: "The EEA agreement allows Norway and Liechtenstein to restrict the flows of people if 'serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectoral or regional nature arise'".

But, in fact, that's not what the EEA Agreement says. The relevant part, Article 112, actually states:
If serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectorial or regional nature liable to persist are arising, a Contracting Party may unilaterally take appropriate measures under the conditions and procedures laid down in Article 113.
Three issues arise from this. Firstly, the provision applies to all contracting parties, not just Norway and Liechtenstein. Secondly, the scope is far wider than just the movement of people and, thirdly, the application is unilateral. The party taking action does not require the permission of the other parties.

The relevance of Article 112 applying to all contracting parties immediately becomes apparent when we see Springford claiming that "Norway has never used this 'safeguard clause'". That much is true. But the missing country, Iceland, has used it – albeit not in respect of the free movement of persons. And one should also note that the European Commission has used the safeguard measures against Norway, to restrict the flow of farmed salmon.

Furthermore, when the EEA Agreement was first signed, two other signatories, Austria and Switzerland also invoked Article 112, the latter also in respect of free movement of persons. Crucially, once it is realised that safeguard measures are of general application and can be invoked unilaterally, the perspective changes somewhat. But this, Springford doesn't want to happen.

Instead, in Springford's little world, we move on to the lie direct. The reason, he claims, is that Norway didn't invoke safeguard measures is because "under the agreement, the EU may retaliate by restricting imports of goods or services from Norway".

And that really is a lie, at several levels. Firstly, we have to look at the Agreement – in this case Article 114 – which states:
If a safeguard measure taken by a Contracting Party creates an imbalance between the rights and obligations under this Agreement, any other Contracting Party may towards that Contracting Party take such proportionate rebalancing measures as are strictly necessary to remedy the imbalance. Priority shall be given to such measures as will least disturb the functioning of the EEA.
Even a lay interpretation will suffice here to tell the reader that "retaliation" is not an appropriate word. We are looking at "proportionate rebalancing measures", which would be of a limited extent and confined to like measures in respect of the free movement of persons. Such measures could not extend to the movement of goods and services.

The second lie is that Norway never intended to invoke Article 112 in respect of free movement of persons. This country's bigger problem is not immigration but under-population. Half as big again as the entire United Kingdom, it has a population of less than one-twelfth. And, as regards immigration, the major movements come from outside the EU, driven by the country's generous and liberal asylum policy.

Nevertheless, one can see how Springford is building the lies, as he then goes on to claim that: "Liechtenstein has been allowed to restrict free movement since 1998 by imposing quotas on the number of EEA nationals who could live and work in the country".

The key word here is "allowed" – in that, resides another lie. Liechtenstein unilaterally invoked Article 112. It wasn't "allowed" to invoke it. It invoked it as of right, calling in a treaty provision which had been agreed and ratified by all parties.

But then comes the lie indirect – the lie by omission. To understand the story properly, and to put it fully into context, one needs to know that Liechtenstein only briefly invoked the Article – in order then to broker amendments to the EEA Agreement which gave it a permanent solution (taking it outside the ambit of Article 112).

Furthermore, we must factor in Switzerland with its eight million population which, in signing up to the EEA Agreement in 1992, came under the same Protocol 15 which exempted Liechtenstein from the free movement of persons. Had Switzerland remained in the EEA, doubtless it too would be exempt from the full free movement of persons provisions.

Knowing this as we do, the next Springford lie has the transparency of the water in a summer Norwegian fjord. Says our man, the EU "tolerated" the Liechtenstein deal because "it is politically and economically insignificant, and its curbs on free movement do not threaten the integrity of the EU".

That is the lie Springford wants to sell you – one which the establishment is only too keen to perpetrate. Mostly likely, the Treasury Select Committee will buy it, relying on the ignorance of Monnet Professor Dougan, rather than my better researched paper, which they will either not publish or will hide away.

Just to be on the safe side, though, Wolfgang Munchau picks up the lie and runs with it, embellishing it on the way. Liechtenstein becomes a "a tiny city-state" (which it isn't), the outcome becomes "a cherry-picking deal" (which it isn't) and he calls it "an emergency brake on immigration" (which it isn't).

This is the way the game is played. We are fed a diet of lies and half-truths and then what passes for a debate is rigged, so that important information is kept from the people. Sources of alternative information are sneered at, denigrated or simply ignored. The truth will not out. The lies must prevail.

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