Richard North, 31/01/2020  
 


With the focus on Wednesday's proceedings in the European Parliament, little attention has been paid to the vital and final stage of the Article 50 process. This requires a vote from the Council of the European Union, on the basis of qualified majority voting, to conclude the Withdrawal Agreement.

Anyhow, that happened yesterday with the adoption of a decision by the Council, thus allowing the Agreement to enter into force at midnight CET on 31 January 2020.

By the time I publish my next blogpost, therefore, we will have left the European Union and will be considered (by the EU) to be "a third country", a new status which the Irish Times (and doubtless many more) considers "a senseless act of self-harm".

The naysayers are, of course, entitled to their views, but I think that the "self-harm" was in joining the EEC in the first place. And, as I wrote on the eve of the 2016 referendum, leaving is a matter of correcting that historical mistake. It has to be done and it would be better if it had never had to be done.

There is, of course, a possibility that, had we never joined and remained as a member of Efta – an organisation that we founded – we would have been party to the talks on the creation of the EEA.

There is even the further possibility that we could have brokered a better deal, we might currently be an Efta/EEA member – the status that we would have preferred to take us through the Brexit process – only perhaps improved by us becoming equal partners in a European Economic Space.

Even without that, there were other opportunities for economic cooperation at a European level, not least the European Council. But had history been even slightly different, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) had been awarded the management of the Marshall Plan, it could have emerged as the dominant force for economic cooperation in Europe.

This would have been the closest approximation to Winston Churchill's vision, set out in his Hague Speech of 1948 (the year I was born).

Then he argued for the United Nations to be the "paramount authority" in world affairs, but with regional bodies as part of the structure. They would be "august but subordinate", becoming "the massive pillars upon which the world organisation would be founded in majesty and calm".

Effectively, a New World Order would comprise a hierarchy of three tiers – national, regional and global. In the European context, this would have included all the nations in continental Europe, organised around the central body of UNECE, based not in Brussels but in neutral Geneva.

In the nature of things, however, the victors get to write the history and while the fascinating history of UNECE (linked above) has been effectively airbrushed from the popular record, acres of print has been devoted to the hagiography of the European Union.

As a corrective, Christopher Booker and I wrote an alternative history of the European Union, in The Great Deception. And, whatever its merits, there are two important omissions to the earlier chapters: one is the development of UNECE and the other is the story of the founding of the EEA.

These issues, seemingly less important when we published in 2003, in the throes of the European Convention and its Constitution for Europe, before it was transformed into the Lisbon Treaty. But they have taken on vastly more significance with Brexit, and may point our way to the future, after the current generation of politicians have finished botching the exit process.

Given the approval of my publisher, after the launch of Booker's Groupthink (now complete and due in March), I will get the go ahead to revise The Great Deception and bring it up to date, covering the period up to the end of this year when it is expected that the transition period will end.

It was something Booker and I had discussed many times but sadly, he can no longer be a partner to the endeavour, and nor will he be able to see the fruits of our joint work which has been instrumental in taking us out of the EU.

Interestingly, this was noted recently by Owen Paterson, with whom I worked for more than a decade. Although I disagree profoundly with his current stance on Brexit, he has always been a good friend.

He tells of our "fruitful collaboration", along with Booker, "whose co-authored books The Castle of Lies and The Great Deception, he writes, "did much to influence Eurosceptic opinion".

Although I have effectively been "no platformed", as was Booker in the later stages of his life, that is indeed true and it is a reflection of the state of the former Eurosceptic "movement" that, during the celebrations of today's exit, I will be sitting at home, consuming a wee dram as the clock chimes eleven, and then getting down to writing my blog – as I have been doing for the past 16 years.

I often claim that the only breaks I took during that whole period were when I was sent to prison for refusing to pay the Police precept of my Council Tax (in protest at the uselessness of West Yorkshire's finest – who then sent 12 police officers to arrest me), and for a couple of days when I lay idle in hospital having open heart surgery.

Before even the sadly late Helen Szamuely and I had started the blog, Booker and I had been working with Paterson, when – as he writes – "we shared frustrations that increasingly damaging European regulations were being compounded by crass implementation due to the ignorance of an urban Labour government doing great harm to the countryside and a variety of businesses across the UK".

In fact, the great rush of regulation came with the run-up to the "completion" of the Single Market in 1992, coinciding with Maastricht, under the aegis of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, and in the years after, up to 1997, which took in the great BSE crisis, and the ground-breaking Factortame decision on the ownership of the British fishing quota.

Our best work, I think, included that period, but Paterson nonetheless concedes that Booker's Sunday Telegraph column was "a fantastic platform" from which to highlight the depredations of the EU. "Combined with meticulous research from Richard North", he writes, "we made an effective triumvirate and won some important victories".

It saddens me, in this context, that Paterson has done a Peter Lilley who, back in August 2016, complimented me on my "original research" which, he wrote, was "thorough and well documented".

But, as with Paterson, that only applied as long as I was supporting their prejudices. Because I have called for a reasoned and measured Brexit process, we have parted ways. Both Lilley and Paterson now occupy the extreme fringe, pushing for an ultra-hard Brexit with no concessions to reality – and my research is no longer of value to them.

Tellingly, it was Lilley himself who wrote that "when politicians debate issues of which they have no experience they seize on any plausible argument which supports their case". Nothing changes.

The real battles, however, were elsewhere, with the struggle to get what we originally called the "exit and survival plan" onto the agenda. That endeavour has, so far, failed – largely due to the shortsightedness and lack of vision of the Eurosceptic Movement, and the hijack of the agenda by darker forces.

Directly and indirectly that has led to what Booker himself called " a catastrophic act of national self-harm" – not the fact of Brexit but the way the process has been botched. Pete writes of this yesterday, in somewhat pessimistic terms, then adding another piece warning that the real Brexit day is "a long way off".

Sadly, he's right, which is why I will only be having a small dram tonight. While the Grand Place in Brussels glows with Union Flag colours, we wait in hope for the real thing.






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