EU Referendum

Brexit: ignorance their birthright


I did watch David Davis yesterday when he talked to the Brexit Committee - sort of. I had it running as background while I got on with other work, which is rather pressing in on me. Thus I recall hearing but didn't fully register his comments on Switzerland and immigration until I read the details later recorded by the Daily Mail and, to a lesser extent in the Independent.

The Mail's rendition was that Davis was being grilled on migration by the committee, but in fact, he was being asked about the interplay between access to EU member state markets and freedom of movement, in the context of "taking back control" of immigration policy.

Checking back with the video (15:27), we find that Davis said: "I think 'take back control' is quite important here … the example I'll point you to is the Swiss example, who thought they had control over their own migration via an emergency brake system which, when they tried to exercise it they were unable to because it was tied into so many other treaties".

Now the point here, and the reason for this blogpost, is that not only is the Secretary of State wrong, what he is saying is a perversion of the truth. His recollection of events is completely at odds with the real world.

To understand this properly, one need only go back to our Monographs, specifically No 1 and No 10 which deal with the freedom of movement issue, in which the fate of Switzerland is writ large.

Those of my readers who have taken the time to go through these Monographs will recall that when, in 1992, when the EEA Agreement was signed, the Final Act records that the safeguard measures incorporated in Article 112 were invoked by no less than four of the (then) seven Efta members: Liechtenstein, Austria, Iceland and Switzerland.

Liechtenstein and Switzerland both lodged reservations on freedom of movement and both were parties to Protocol 15 which, in the index still retains its original title: "Protocol 15 on transitional periods on the free movement of persons (Switzerland and Liechtenstein".

It is a matter of record that, after a referendum held on 6 December 1992 when the Swiss rejected EEA membership by the narrowest of majorities (50.3 to 49.7 percent), Protocol 15 was amended to remove the name of Switzerland. But for that, doubtless, Switzerland would have gone along with Liechtenstein. Both would have ended up party to the permanent amendment to the EEA Agreement that Liechtenstein only currently enjoys, giving it exemption from the freedom of movement provisions.

Instead, Switzerland went its separate way and in June 1999 agreed a bilateral treaty with the EU on the free movement of persons.

One assumes that it was an oversight on the part of the Swiss Federal Government that they omitted to insist on the inclusion of safeguard measures. Instead, in what has made the Swiss hostages to fortune in that it allowed a link between this and six other key trade agreements – the so-called guillotine clause. By this means, if the Swiss government terminated the agreement of free movement, all the other treaties ceased to apply.

The Swiss are thus in a far worse position than they would have been had they remained in the EEA and are now in the perverse position of seeking to amend their own free movement treaty to incorporate exactly the safeguard measures that are currently missing.

With Liechtenstein enjoying what amounts to a permanent solution, neither can the treaty amendment be cast as an "emergency brake system", as Davis insists on calling it, making him wrong on this important detail as well.

Now we come to present day and we have a Secretary of State, responsible for our Brexit negotiations, so ill-briefed that he gets a crucial issue – which could very well be central to our exit strategy – completely wrong.

One doesn't for the moment believe that Mr Davis did his own research and, in the normal run of things, probably relied on a position paper produced by his departmental civil servants or his special advisers. If that is so, it is as worrying as the Secretary of State getting it wrong – the possibility that his advisers are equally in error, and are giving their minister false information.

This augers ill for the forthcoming negotiations. In our book, The Great Deception, Booker and I remarked on how the "Rolls Royce minds" of the Foreign Office had been comprehensively outmanoeuvred in the UK's accession negotiations and again in our bid to reduce our annual contributions. On current form, if what Davis is spouting is an accurate reflection of the standard of briefing he is getting, we are in danger of repeating history.

And then there is the Brexit select committee. Not one of the darling Muppets picked up the nonsense of offer from the Secretary of State. His demeanour, I thought, was not that different to one he might adopt when addressing a class of bright ten-year-olds, and the gullible little dears sucked it up without complaint.

Of the questioners, one got the impression that some of them so lacked any understanding of what they were asking (having been given their slips by teacher) – and the answers - that they were more like those proverbial ten-year-olds, preening in front of the camera, barely resisting the temptation to say: "Look mum, I'm on telly!"

All this, of course, could have been avoided had Davis, his advisors, or the committee MPs read my Monographs. That they don't is their loss, and while they can stand aloof and celebrate their own ignorance, they must get used to the idea that there is a growing cohort of readers who know far more than they do.

And, if our political masters insist that ignorance is their birthright that must be preserved at all costs, they must accept the contempt that goes with it, as we increasingly realise their poverty of their aspirations.