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 EU referendum: the invisible revolution

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The FUD continues unabated, as the Guardian reports that HSBC, Britain's biggest bank, has issued "a stark warning about the economic risks of the UK pulling out of the European Union", citing the economic uncertainty created by the risk of the UK going alone.

The Times is playing the same game, with scary headlines, proclaiming that HSBC has threatened "to quit City over fears UK could leave the EU". This comes as the bank has revealed it was threatening to move its headquarters out of London to another country, a threat that has not impressed Mark Gilbert of Bloomberg.

Writes Gilbert, there's a saying used to call the bluff of someone who threatens to flounce out of the room during an argument: "Don’t let the door hit your backside on the way out". That sums up, he says, how the UK should react to the bank's threat to move its headquarters to a different country.

The real issue, we also learn from Gilbert, is nothing to do with the EU, but the increased bank levy. And threatening to leave in a fit of pique every time there's a threat of increased regulation or a nudge in taxation smacks of teenagers threatening to run away from home because a curfew is too early or household chores are too tedious. HSBC is becoming a bore by regularly trying to blackmail the Treasury.

But, in terms of using blackmail, the Guardian and other media outlets which are running the EU meme are every bit as guilty, exploiting public ignorance and fear to sell a false bill of goods.

The point that the likes of HSBC and their media fellow travellers choose to obscure is that the banking industry is global and so, increasingly, is its regulation. In fact, there has been what has been described as a "Cambrian explosion" in international regulatory co-operation which has transformed the regulatory environment. This means that pulling out of "Europe" would not make any difference to the trading environment - power is no longer geo-located in Brussels (if it ever was).

Conveniently, the extent of this transformation has been charted by the OECD and by researcher from Arizona State University. And in their documents we see this helpful chart (below) which sets out the structure of global financial regulation. 

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Readers will observe the focal position of the Financial Stability Board (FSB) and the remarkable number of organisations that make rules, set standards and co-ordinate regulation within this crucial field. But they will also note the relatively inconsequential position of the EU, which is a downstream organisation when it comes to framing regulation.

But this is all part of a much bigger picture, which goes under the classification International Regulatory Co-operation (IRC), as charted by the OECD.

Not only has it recorded a staggering proliferation of organisations involved, the OECD, after an initiative launched in 2010 has identified eleven "mechanisms" of IRC, ranging from the formal and comprehensive to the informal and partial.

These run to harmonisation through rule-making by supranational or joint institutions such as the EU, treaties between states, regulatory "umbrella" partnerships such as the Canada-US Regulatory Cooperation Council, and intergovernmental organisations such as the ILO, OECD and WTO.

The territory also includes regional agreements on regulation such as APEC and UNECE, mutual recognition agreements, transgovernmental networks such as the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, national requirements to consider international standards, incorporation of international standards in national law, soft law instruments and dialogue/information exchange among regulators and stakeholders (see diagram below).

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The UK government is fully involved, as is the US government, where IRC is subject to a Presidential Executive Order, with action directed through the Office of Management and Budget. And it drives trade relations between the US and Canada.

Yet, while writ of IRC is dominating the global regulatory environment, it is almost completely invisible to the media, to most politicians and commentators. This means that most of what we are told is superficial to the point of misleading. The way we are governed has undergone a revolution – an invisible revolution - and the media is not even close to putting us in the picture.

Instead, it gives succour to the propagandists, who would have it that the "Europe" of which they know so little is one which is essential to UK trade, unwilling or unable to recognise that, in this changing world, we can live without the political ambitions of the EU, and do better on the global stage, outside the EU.

The point they cannot seem to cope with is that globalisation has now advanced to such a stage that the original justification for having the EU running the European trading bloc has long since expired. "Europe" isn't working, and we need now to look for a new settlement, of which IRC is a major part. 

But the media will never get close to explaining this. Their journalists do not have the intellectual architecture which enables them to understand what they are seeing, which leaves them fundamentally unable to report what is actually happening. The revolution to them will remain invisible, because they have no mechanisms with which to see the events around them.

Richard North 25/04/2015

 Blair: Europe - "a very good reason to vote Labour"

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Legacy media reporting of Blair's speech yesterday is all over the place, but then over 3,000 words is a little bit difficult to summarise, so this is hardly surprising. Sound bites are more the media's style.

Unfortunately, however, Tony Blair's speech at the Xcel Centre in Newton Aycliffe has some substance, and some good clues on how the coming fight over the EU might be played out - so we need to look at it in a little more detail. 

For starters, the former prime minister offers a commentary that, turned around, we could use to our own advantage. He tells us:
Elections should never simply be about an exchange of rhetoric, the laying out of policy positions or the cacophony of the campaign. They should also be an investigation and a decision about our ambitions as a nation, who we are and where we're going.

For me Europe is an important litmus test. I believe passionately that leaving Europe would leave Britain diminished in the world, do significant damage to our economy and, less obviously but just as important to our future, would go against the very qualities that mark us out still as a great global nation.

It would be a momentous decision.
By way of illustration, we could just as easily say that leaving "Europe" would enhance Britain position in the world, strengthen our economy and highlight the very qualities that mark us out still as a great global nation. I guess it's how you tell 'em. And, on this, Blair is telling us that, should the Conservatives be re-elected on May 7th, they are committed to holding a referendum to decide whether Britain remains in the European Union. Referring to the Scottish referendum, Blair raises the spectre of nationalism - "a powerful sentiment". Let that genie out of the bottle, he says, "and it is a Herculean task to put it back. Reason alone struggles".

That in itself sounds terribly profound, but perhaps someone should tell Blair that nationalism has never been healthier, and never more has the nation state prospered. In 1945, 51 states were members of the United Nations. Membership rose to 152 in 1979 and to 194 today.

But in Blair's distorted mind, the EU referendum carries the same risk of resurgent nationalism. For that reason, he says, should the Conservatives win, the prime minister will be spending more energy, will have more sleepless nights about it, be more focused on it than literally any other single issue.

Mr Cameron, Blair asserts, knows the vastness of the decision. He knows the penalty of failure. He knows exit will define his legacy. And, following the Scottish referendum, he knows the perilous fragility of public support for the sensible choice.

It is this passage which the Telegraph makes out that Blair is saying that the "public can't be trusted to make 'sensible choice' on EU".

Myself, I don't see it. "Trust" is not a word Blair used anywhere in his script. He is warning about the attraction of nationalism and the fragile support for the EU. And he is right to be worried – given the paucity of his case.

Nevertheless, Blair believes the referendum will be "a huge distraction" for the country – and for Cameron. It will take precedence over the NHS, education, law and order, the lot, even though he doesn't really believe we should leave the EU.

The referendum was a concession to Party, a manoeuvre to access some of the UKIP vote and a sop to the "rampant anti-Europe feeling" of parts of the media, Blair asserts. This issue, touching as it does the country's future is too important to be traded like this, he says, then continuing:
It is greatly to Ed Miliband's credit that he resolutely refused to make that trade. He faced down calls to follow the Tory concession from parts of the media and many inside our Party. In doing so, he showed real leadership. He showed that he would put the interests of the country first. He showed that on this, as on other issues, he is his own man, with his own convictions and determined to follow them even when they go against the tide. I respect that.
This the man, though, who joined with President Bush in invading Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein and then "forgot" to prepare plans for administering the peace. This is the same Tony Blair who – like so many Europhiles – doesn't understand the distinction between membership of the EU and participation in the Single Market.

Over half our trade is with "Europe", he says. There are millions of UK jobs dependent on access to the European markets. Not joining the euro was one thing. Leaving Europe altogether is quite another thing. He goes on to say:
There is, in my view, also a complete under-estimation of the short term pain of negotiating exit. There would be a raft of different Treaties, association agreements and partnerships to be dis-entangled and re-negotiated. There would be significant business uncertainty in the run-up to a vote but should the vote go the way of exit, then there would be the most intense period of business anxiety, reconsideration of options and instability since the war.
Then, digging himself in deeper, he says:
The Tory campaign talks of chaos should Labour win. Think of the chaos produced by the possibility never mind the reality of Britain quitting Europe. Jobs that are secure suddenly insecure; investment decisions postponed or cancelled; a pall of unpredictability hanging over the British economy. And for what? To satisfy the insistent Euro-phobia of a group who will never be satisfied.
And there, writ large, is not the prospect of chaos but the need for "Flexcit". We must have a credible exit plan on the table, one which takes account of the uncertainties and will ensure that there is no chaos. We need to put charlatans like Blair back in their boxes, neutralising the FUD and regaining the initiative.

But Blair does raise points which have to be taken seriously. He says:
There is a beguiling notion that upon Britain voting to leave, the rest of Europe would be in an amenable and friendly frame of mind in the consequent negotiation. They would have, it is said, a shared interest, in making it as amicable as possible.

Excuse me, but get real. As a result of our decision every other European Leader would be faced with big choices about the terms of Britain's relationship with Europe now as an outsider. This they would regard as a wholly unnecessary diversion from the critical domestic challenge of recovering their own economies. They will believe that Britain wants to have the benefits of the single market without the responsibilities. They will be determined to prevent that. Norway and Switzerland both are obliged, as the price of their access to Europe's market, to accede to a series of European rules even though they cannot influence their drafting. The rest of Europe will be vigorous in ensuring Britain gets no special treatment. This will be a horrible process. Don't be in any doubt about that.
Here we go again with the "no influence" meme but, that aside, Blair has a point. The EU is not going to roll over and give the UK a free pass – and we're only a third of the way into the speech.

And again, we're in no-man's land, as Blair rubbishes the very idea of a referendum – the man who offered us a referendum on the European Constitution – only to have his successor resile. But he does allow that: "We should have a referendum if we seriously believe that getting out of Europe is a national priority if our terms aren't met". If we don't, he adds, "then it is a completely unacceptable gamble with our future".

At this point, as one so often does with Blair speeches, one loses the will to live, so we bounce over the homilies about Britain's role as a "global player". We saw what happened in Iraq when Mr Blair staked his claim for that role. We need no lessons from him.

Blair claims that this current "alliance" with Europe was sought half a century ago by the then leaders of our country because "they knew that without it, Britain could not maintain its influence and its power. And of course it involves ceding or pooling some sovereignty. But it does so in order to gain sovereign power over decisions that in the reality of 21st Century geo-politics we will only exercise in concert with others".

Yet that is a gross misreading of history, again about which we need no lessons from Blair. He wants us to believe that globalisation is "blurring national boundaries and forcing integration on the world" – when, in fact, globalisation is bringing a renaissance to the very idea of a nation. The power is draining away from sub-regional cul-de-sacs such as the EU, and back towards the nation states.

But Blair, locked into his "little Europe" paradigm, wants to play with "reform". The movement for change in Europe would benefit hugely from British input and leadership. Nationalist forces in Europe – see the National Front in France – are surging everywhere, he says.

One recalls, though, the end of his tenure as British prime minister, when he had lost faith in the idea of influencing the EU. And it was very obvious at the time. Mr Blair might have a short memory – we don't.

For those who believe we can do just as well out of the EU, if not better, Blair turns the argument to Ukip, and asks whether they represent the standard bearers of an open-minded culturally tolerant Britain. "Are creativity, innovation and curiosity about what we can learn from the world their hallmarks?"

That's a clever argument: if you want to leave the EU, look who represents the "out" case, he is saying. "We know what this movement to wrench us out of Europe is based on", says Blair. "You can see it on display when Mr Farage swiftly moves the debate to immigrants".

So, if we're to take anything home from the Blair speech, it's that we need a credible exit plan, that Ukip is not a good representative for the "out" case – and there is very little else we can learn from Mr Blair.

But then Mr Blair thinks that Labour and its Leader took a "brave decision" when they decided not to yield to pressure for a referendum, but instead chose to "make the principled and intelligent case for Britain in Europe".

I've yet to hear this "principled and intelligent case" for staying in the EU – mostly, what we get is FUD, to which Mr Blair is no stranger. He wants Labour to win on the 7 May and, for Labour, under Ed's leadership, to be the Government of our country on the next day.

Should that unlikely event happen, the government of our country will be as it was the day before – in the hands of the EU and the European Commission. But if Mr Cameron wins, we at least get a referendum. That, for what it's worth, is a brave decision, and that's why I won't be taking up Mr Blair's invitation to vote Labour.

Richard North 08/04/2015

 EU referendum: the propaganda continues

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Ruth Sunderland writes for the Daily Mail, telling us how much car makers are entitled to a voice in the debate on "Europe".

"Chief executives in the sector might not rush to sign up for a Labour Party advert on the subject, but they are terrified of a Brexit", she writes. "Feeling on the subject is so strong that the industry last year commissioned a report by accountant KPMG itemising in detail the risks to the sector".

"So far as the car makers are concerned", we are told, "membership of the EU is vital because it ensures free trade across their biggest single export market. Some 49 percent of UK-made vehicles are sold elsewhere in Europe, without any tariffs or regulatory barriers".

And there we go again – this continued attempt to elide membership of the EU with participation in the Single Market. If only everyone in the eurosceptic community could focus on the essentials, then we might defeat this type of FUD.

One wonders whether there is any real determination in some quarters to win this coming contest.

Richard North 01/04/2015

 EU exit: an absence of thinking

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The minimal coverage given to Owen Paterson's Heritage speech tells its own story, but even our venal media should have made something of his responses to questions. As it is, only Huff Post picks them up, having Paterson say that "we would lose an 'out' referendum" because his "optimistic vision" has not been explained. "And 'out' is frightening", he added, "it's unknown and people will hang onto nurse".

Paterson's view is that, "we have to go the whole hog, get back to the trade arrangement, but we need time to explain there is a positive destination". He thinks we have "the most spectacular future outside the political and judicial arrangements [of the EU], embracing the trade, commercial and economic aspects", he said. "But at the moment that has not been explained".

"There is a protest party", Ukip, that has done no absolutely no work on the detail [of how to leave]", Paterson told the Americans, "and they are being attacked, quite rightly, for that because their image is backward looking and negative".

As a result, those like him agitating for the United Kingdom to leave the EU needed more time to persuade voters it was a good idea.

There, writ large, is precisely the predicament we're in, on which we elaborated recently, on the back of the YouGov poll that put the "inners" ten points ahead for the second month running.

By coincidence, yesterday we saw the publication of the British Social Attitudes Survey, which very much confirms the YouGov findings. It has 57 percent wanting to continue with EU membership, with only 35 percent wanting to withdraw.

As with YouGov, when a more nuanced question is asked, offering different options, the position changes. Those who want to leave the EU drop to 24 percent, while those who would like to see an attempt made to reduce its powers stands at 38 percent. Only 18 percent want to leave things as they are, ten percent want the EU to have more powers, and four percent want a single (European) government.

The Social Attitudes Survey thus sees most people as being "eurosceptic", defined as wanting to leave the EU, or seeing it with reduced powers. But therein lies the fatal confusion – the "reformers" are not "outers" and it cannot be assumed that they will vote to leave the EU in any referendum.

Here, Paterson's point has particular force. The "eurosceptics" are split between leavers and reformers, and – of the former – there are irreconcilable splits between different groups and sub-sets, and no clarity of vision from the main players.

If there has been any change, it is that these splits are being recognised, although there are no indications that different factions are prepared to debate the issues – or even explore the issues dispassionately.

Thus we have the likes of Ruth Lea arguing for the "WTO option" without troubling to explain why she has suddenly deserted the Swiss Option. And we also have Roger Helmer who tells us that UKIP cannot accept any deal, even an interim deal, that doesn't give us control of our borders.

This is the man who is confident that the UK could negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU but, like so many of his ilk, he simply doesn't do detail.

Presumably Mr Helmer expects the UK to work within the provisions of Article 50, so one assumes that he would be content to wait the ten or more years that it would take the negotiations to reach an agreement. And, all the while we would remain in the EU, paying the contributions, fully committed to freedom of movement – just because Mr Helmer doesn't like interim solutions.

On the other hand, if we went for the "Norway option" they hate so much – or "model" if you must – we could be out in two years, ready to negotiate a longer-term solution, which would include dealing with the vexed question of freedom of movement.

Meanwhile, the FUD flows and the lies proliferate. They are easy to rebut - although far too difficult for the aristocracy.

And that is perhaps the underlying problem. The eurosceptic "aristocracy" have long ceased thinking. And they are, of course, far too grand to debate issues with mere mortals - or get down in the weeds, where the real fighting is going on. Thus, their arguments are fixed in aspic, going nowhere and inspiring no one.

Along with Ukip, they are set to lose us the referendum – if we let them.

Richard North 27/03/2015

 EU referendum: losing it before we even start

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Published yesterday was the latest YouGov poll on EU sentiment, and it does not make good reading. The ten-point lead for the "inners" established in February is maintained – at 46 percent in favour of remaining in the EU as opposed to 36 percent who would vote to leave in a referendum.

Faced with renegotiations and a recommendation from Mr Cameron that we should stay in, the percentage supporting the EU rises to 57 percent, with only 21 percent wanting to leave – much the same as it was last month.

If there is any consolation to be taken from these figures, one could at least observe that the "Ukip paradox" is broken – the phenomenon where, as Ukip popularity increased, support for leaving the EU declined. As it stands, support for Ukip is currently declining – down to 12 percent according to YouGov and a mere ten percent according to ComRes in the Daily Mail.

If Farage actually knew what shame was, now would be a good time to show it. His tenure as leader of Ukip has delivered what is, on the face of it, an unwinnable hand. Even if Mr Cameron gains a victory at the general election, and gives us a referendum, the chances of winning it must be slight.

Not a little of this must be attributable to Mr Farage's failure to ensure that his party produced a credible exit plan, on top of a clear vision of what a post-exit Britain would look like. Instead, he has ceded the ground to the charlatans of Open Europe and the like, who are so successfully muddying the waters.

OE is even now fielding its chairman, Rodney Leach, who has come out of the woodwork to tell Reuters that: "Transforming Britain into the deregulated, free trading economy it would need to become outside the EU sounds easy in theory, but in practice would come up against some serious political resistance within the UK itself", thus knocking down the straw man of Open Europe's making.

Even Roger Helmer is beginning to realise that OE is not batting on the same side but, having given this Europhile think-tank such a head start, it is going to be very difficult to claw back lost ground – even if Ukip was capable of doing it, which does not look to be the case.

The essential requirement, though, is actually relatively simple – to the extend that Ryan Bourne, head of public policy at the Institute of Economic Affairs, has managed to work it out – even if his message is a tad inconsistent.

He nevertheless says that, if the outers want to win a referendum, "they need to neutralise the economic issue by showing that Britain would be no worse off outside". He adds: "The evidence suggests that, with broadly sensible policies, this is achievable".

That is actually straight from Flexcit (and about the only place you will see it), where the "Norway Option" combined with repatriation of the acquis offers a cost-neutral solution to leaving the EU, and buys time to negotiate a longer-term solution, once we have left.

What we must also do in this context is continually emphasise – as has Owen Paterson been doing - that the Single Market and the political baggage of the European Union are not one and the same. It is possible to leave the EU and remain in the Single Market – which is precisely what the Norway Option - or the "Norway Model" if you prefer – aims to do.

By this means, we can easily address the fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD), delivered by the likes of Standard Life Chairman Gerry Grimstone, who on the one hand tells us that, "leaving the European Union would be disastrous for Britain and harm its economy" and then in the same breath declares: "It would be disastrous for London and the UK if the UK were to leave the single market".

But it is a measure of the inadequacy of the "eurosceptic" response that we have Robert Oxley, campaign director of Business for Britain, condemning Grimstone for joining in "the scaremongering that life outside of the EU would be disastrous for the UK" – without any attempt to draw the distinction between EU and Single Market membership.

And, while Oxley bleats about the cost of "EU financial regulation", if he lifted his horizons somewhat, he would see from the New York Times that the regulatory agenda is global, with the sub-regional EU only marginally involved in primary standard-setting.

This, though, so much typifies the state of the anti-EU campaign. On the one hand we have the incompetence of Mr Farage and, on the other, the London-based think-tanks entertaining themselves with increasingly arcane and irrelevant arguments – much in the manner that climate-change has degraded into a tedious squabble between rival pundits.

Amid all this, too few people are focusing on what it actually takes to win a referendum. Even if some in Civitas are beginning to steer in the right direct, this is too little, and risks being too late. It leaves us ten points behind in the polls, and still prey to the charlatans who would have us lose the campaign before it even starts. If we are going to win, this is not the way to do it.

Richard North 25/03/2015

 UKIP: "deep shock" for everyone

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This week, for us, began with an examination of the status of the referendum debate, of which Ukip no longer seemed to be part. The only substantive input was from Farage making foolish comments on a 2015 poll – which Boiling Frog has now thoroughly debunked.

But while we've been concerned with fighting and winning a referendum, and beating off the FUD, a representative of the supposedly anti-EU Ukip has been repatriating taxpayers' money into their own pockets. Yet, only a few months ago, Matthew Goodwin, the greatest expert on Ukip the world has ever known, was telling us that "Ukip's days of amateur campaigning are over".

Contradicting the great sage, though, we now have the BBC reporting: "UKIP in turmoil over general election candidates", the Guardian with, "Ukip faces crisis after suspensions and racism claims", and Channel 4 also talking of "turmoil". And that is but a small sample of the overall comment. 

Even the kindest of Ukip's critics, therefore, are having to admit that this is a massive own goal, now compounded by another ludicrous statement from Farage. This time, he is admitting that the party manifesto may not be published until 15 to 18 days before the general election, then confessing that he finds Ukip's lack of policies in certain areas "scary".

Despite this, he makes the incredible assertion that the delay is a "deliberate ploy" designed to build momentum in the final days of the campaign. And if that was at all true, then the promise of a fully-fledged manifesto for the spring conference was precisely what? Another "deliberate ploy"?

But for all the posturing of this foolish man, his party is floundering at 13 percent (YouGov), while Matthew Parris thinks "the Tories are going to win, and win well".

His forecast, he says, is based on a hunch. His evidence is anecdotal, his observations flimsy. But he believes the polling evidence for a stalemate result is flimsy too: flimsier than might be suggested by the news media's now-tedious obsession with every wobble on the graph and with the pollsters' ever-more-arcane attempts to sneak their way into the psychology of voters.

And that, for what it is worth, is my view as well. My "gut feeling" is that the "Miliband effect" will create a last minute surge towards the Conservatives, with the two-party squeeze pushing Ukip out of the picture, leaving Cameron with a small but workable majority. Whatever chance Ukip had of making a splash is long gone.

Then, we will have the task of fighting that referendum, for which Mr Farage and his peculating colleagues are completely unprepared. Then, people will begin to learn what a total waste of space the Ukip "experiment" has been, and then we will have to do the job for which Ukip was founded, and which it has long deserted.

And then, it won't only be Farage who will be in deep shock.

Richard North 21/03/2015

 EU exit: the FUD of Grieve

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Two million UK citizens working abroad could become illegal immigrants overnight if Britain were to leave the European Union, former attorney general Dominic Grieve has warned. In assessing this claim, though, one should note that Mr Grieve is a practising barrister which must mean that, not only is he wrong, he must know he's wrong.

The status of treaty rights acquired while a treaty is in force, when that treaty comes to an end, is even dealt with in a Parliamentary briefing, and in much more detail by UN lawyers.

In short, these "acquired rights" – also known as "executed rights" or "vested rights" – do continue to apply to individuals. So firm are they embedded in the international order that they have acquired the status of "customary law", which means the principle does not need to be anchored by an particularly treaty, but stands alone as a fundamental principle of international law.

Thus, should it come to the UK leaving the EU, those persons who currently live in other EU member states, invoking the right to remain under the "freedom of movement" or "freedom of establishment" provisions of the treaties, will be able to retain that "acquired right".

There may be some details around the margins that have to be settled, but so absolute is this that there can be no question about Grieve's stance, which has to be an example of quite irresponsible – and deliberate - scare-mongering.

Nevertheless, Grieve is partly right when he says that, "The requirements of any free trade agreement would make British removal from the clauses dealing with freedom of movement impossible", then adding: that a "curious consequence" of this would be that "the single biggest cause of domestic irritation with the EU, immigration, would remain unaltered".

Certainly, we would have to concede some degree of free movement, and especially if we rejoined the EEA, although we would be in a far better position, given the "safeguard clause", which would allow us to suspend this provision.

Talking of the possibility of withdrawal, he then complains that: "There is... a total lack of clarity as to how a government would proceed to unravel a relationship that has developed in complexity over more than 40 years", adding: "Which parts of the several thousand pieces of EU legislation that are currently incorporated into our own statute law would be retained?"

We can answer that with Flexcit, except that Mr Grieve is more interested in rhetoric than he is in answers, so he can afford to ignore what we say. But, as Complete Bastard points out, he would be less able to get away with his fatuous points if Ukip had come up with a credible exit plan which addressed points such as these.

With some Ukip supporters telling us that such detail is not necessary, at least Grieve does us a favour by illustrating how important it is that we have a "campaign manual" which addresses the FUD. Doubtless, though, that lesson will be lost on Ukip – and most of the "eurosceptic" community – which seems to prefer to give the Dominic Grieve's of this world a free pass.

Richard North 19/03/2015

 EU exit: all at sea with the think tanks

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There must be something in the water down in London town, affecting how people think, and certainly the performance of those organisations which – with increasingly less justification – call themselves "think tanks".

One of our more recent targets was Lee Rotherham's Civitas paper, and while I can "see where he is coming from" – in management-speak parlance - I fundamentally disagree with his strategy of testing renegotiation to destruction before we unleash EU withdrawal on the unsuspecting public.

This hasn't prevented us conducting a robust but friendly exchange, culminating in an lively argument in the Red Lion yesterday, where we ended up agreeing to disagree. I still think he is wrong, but I respect his reasons for promoting what I feel to be a flawed approach.

At least in this case, though, we have a paper which sparked debate – which is supposed to be the purpose of treatises published by think tanks. The point of publication is to try out ideas and argue them through, allowing them to fall by the wayside if they don't survive the scrutiny.

One can be forgiven for assuming, however, that that view is dropping out of favour. One gets the impression that the London think-tanks are on broadcast-only mode. Any conversation between them is private and us serfs in the provinces are supposed to genuflect before their greater wisdom and imbibe uncritically all they deign to hand down to us.

Certainly, despite some shoddy and very questionable work, the bulk of the think-tanks get an easy ride from the (London-based) media, being given a free pass to publicise their wares, with never a hint of criticism or even critical analysis.

Into that category falls much of the work from Business from Britain. There is nothing personal in our criticism of the think-tanks publications. Simply, we take the view that it does no-one any favours if we allow to go unchallenged work of questionable quality. We ourselves have to be our own most severe critics, because if we can't support our ideas in the rough-and-tumble of public debate, they are not going to survive the test of time.

Holding very similar views as BfB, but very much on the dark side, is Open Europe, which we have seen don false colours, allowing many to think it is a "eurosceptic" organisation, while assiduously promoting a pro-EU line.

This, not so very long ago, brought Witterings from Witney. Boiling Frog and Autonomous Mind into the fray, attempting to counter the poisonous disinformation of Mats Persson over the Norway Option, which continues to this day.

Yesterday brought us into the fray once more to deal with Open Europe with its quite blatant propaganda on the effect of leaving the EU on the financial services industry. Its form of propaganda is all the more dangerous, as it purports to offer a balanced view, attempting to lead the unwary into believing its claims that it is a non-partisan organisation.

Then, the latest recruit to the hall of shame is a frequent visitor to that location, our very own IEA which has just published a report addressing the "EU jobs myth".

On the face of it, any attempt to debunk that most egregious of myths – even to this day perpetrated by Gordon Brown - should be welcome. And, for the uncritical media (or the tiny fraction that could be bothered with this report), the effort is entirely sufficient.

It is also the case that our opposition is less bright than it would like to think, and does not engage seriously in debate – relying mostly on constantly repeated FUD. Against such lacklustre opposition, the IEA has done the necessary, but that is rather like applauding the England cricket team for winning the test series against Merthyr Tydfil primary school (second eleven).

For a more discerning audience, however, the effort, coming from the IEA's Head of Public Policy, Ryan Bourne, is less creditable. Not least, Complete Bastard rips it apart with consummate ease.

The point Bastard makes is that EU withdrawal (I hate the word "Brexit") must not be seen as a leap in the dark. We, the anti-EU movement must be able to offer a smooth, trouble-free transition from EU member to independent nation, otherwise too many people will take fright and we risk losing the referendum.

Yet Bourne does anything but that, far too easily conceding that there could be considerable disruption before the market settles down, and any lost employment is recovered.

This is simply something we cannot afford to concede but, in the hands of the IEA, it becomes necessary because, with almost endearing stubbornness, the Institute refuses to accept the validity of the "Norway Option", having rejected it on entirely doctrinaire grounds in its chaotic, dishonest "Brexit" competition.

This puts the IEA on the wrong side of the tracks, capable of doing more harm to the anti-EU cause than some of the more inept pro-EU organisations, which at least are obviously and openly on the other side.

Unfortunately, the anti-EU movement has to confront no end of these fair-weather friends. It cannot allow false nostrums to prevail, polluting campaign messages. Their authors must be disowned and their errors rigorously exposed.

Nevertheless, some would have it that we should take a more emollient "big tent" approach, and accept a compromise view that keeps the anti-EU movement united. Advocates of this approach need to consider whether their objective is to unify the campaigners or to win a referendum. The dilution of the message may secure the former, but at the risk of losing the bigger battle.

Successful campaigns, on the other hand, tend to be uncompromising, projecting a consistent, coherent message with conviction and clarity. Small numbers often succeed with this when larger numbers fail. Their "secret weapon" is the realisation that they are there to win battles, not make friends.

Thus, it seems to me that we cannot give a free pass to the faint hearts and woolly minds of the London think-tank circuit. Their work, no more than anyone else's, cannot be immune from criticism and debate, even if they want to cast themselves as above the fray. And if they produce rubbish, it must be treated as such.

Richard North 12/03/2015

 EU exit: Open Europe descends into propaganda

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Since the self-proclaimed "eurosceptic think tank" Open Europe has been outed, it has abandoned all pretence at neutrality and is now peddling blatant propaganda in support of its pro-EU agenda.

For us, the anti-EU campaign, its activities could cause us problems as, under false pretences, it has acquired considerable prestige as the "go to" organisation on EU issues. However, with its "cover" well and truly blown, the Guardian, in an article published Monday, was left to to describe it as a think tank, "which campaigns for a reformed EU".

What then follows is the type of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) that we're going to have to deal with throughout any referendum campaign. Open Europe is now at the forefront of the battle as the pro-EU forces attempt to distort the debate. And, as always, their output is sucked up by the ever-gullible Telegraph.

Open Europe's ploy this time is to warn that "Britain would face an uncertain future outside the EU", via a series of reports which purports to examine the implications of a British exit.

The first such report, is a modest 17-page affair including covers and blurb, looking at seven sectors of the UK deemed "most at risk from Brexit". These are the automotive trade, chemicals and pharmaceuticals (actually, two very different industries), aerospace, capital goods and machinery, food, beverage and tobacco, the financial services and insurance sectors and the professional services sector.

It would be a kindness to call the work "superficial", but OE evidently feels it is sufficient to justify telling us that, should Britain decide to leave the EU, it would be able to negotiate trade deals with the EU on manufactured goods such as cars.

But, we are led to believe, financial services could be damaged by "barriers to entering European markets [which] could be increased by new EU regulations over which the UK [would have] no votes".

What makes this such blatant propaganda is not so much what is said, but what is left out. A full page on the automotive industry, for instance, fails to mention the role of the World Forum for Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulation, yet the existence of this organisation would play a vital part in any post-exit settlement.

What we do get though is a typical Open Europe meme, which has us losing out on "voting rights" (in the EU), something that is considered "problematic", but "could be mitigated by [an] increased say in global standard setting forums".

There, one sees a glimmer of recognition that there are such things as "global standard setting forums", so the lie comes in not telling us that the industry-specific regulation is produced by the World Forum and adopted by the EU – in which context the loss of voting rights in the EU would be irrelevant.

Perversely, Open Europe then tells us that, outside the EU, the UK could pursue "lighter and more tailored regulation not possible under EU membership", which is exactly the same canard floated by Business for Britain.

Yet the automotive industry is almost completely integrated with European manufacturers, so it is most unlikely that UK producers would want to diverge from the World Forum standards (known as UN Regulations) which the EU also adopts. OE, therefore, is suggesting something that is not really on offer.

The propaganda is at its most strident, though, when OE addresses the financial sector. Here, it tells us, the UK's "loss of voting rights" would have a "greater impact", "since barriers to entry could be increased by new EU regulations over which the UK has no votes".

What applies to the automotive industry in terms of global regulation, however, applies in spades to the financial sector. Already, the predominant driver of regulation is the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision. Further developments are being driven by the G8, its subsidiary organisation, the Financial Stability Board (FSB), chaired by Mark Carney, and the OECD.

This process of global regulation is set to continue and expand. The EU is increasingly the secondary processor of international "quasi-legislation", to such an extent that leaving the EU will have very little impact on the UK's regulatory position. In or out of the EU, we would still be fishing in the same pond. The loss of our limited voting rights on the EU Council of Ministers is completely irrelevant.

What Open Europe is doing, therefore, is ignoring (or drastically playing down) the effects of globalisation, in order to magnify a non-existent problem. It is thus downplaying the the impact of something which is transforming the UK's post-exit prospects, and which should be a game changer for the anti-EU campaign.

The irony is that, not only are the pro-EU shills hiding the truth, factions of the eurosceptic community are also conspiring to keep globalisation off the agenda. With the help of Open Europe propaganda, it is all the more easy for them to do this, ensuring that the public remain out of the loop. The only prominent figure banging the globalisation drum is Owen Paterson. 

If one was unaware of the Open Europe agenda, one might be tempted to dismiss their work as incompetent, lacking as it does the references to globalisation, but if the omissions in this case are deliberate, one wonders quite what motivates those supposedly on our "team" who are eschewing a winning argument.

Richard North 11/03/2015

 EU Referendum: we need a better vision

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Some might suppose that we would "walk through" the latest Farage statement on immigration, except that the only question to ask is: why is this news? Making it up as he goes is not going to get Farage anywhere near a sniff of power, so his latest U-turn is of very little long-term relevance.

In fact the only thing of any interest that Farage managed to say yesterday was: "You cannot have anything in politics without people obsessing over caps and targets and I think people are bored of it".

Of real relevance in the longer term, however, is the vexed question of "over-regulation" which has been briefly in the headlines. But, except for those who are most engaged in seeking to "expand the envelope", the details would also be regarded as "boring" by most people.

Supposedly one of the skills of the media, though, is the ability to take ostensibly boring detail and put it into a context that makes it interesting, accessible and relevant – and even entertaining. But, such is the nature of the modern media that it is no longer up to the job – if it ever was.

This still leave the essential issues to address, which are very far from boring, and which strike at the heart of the way we are governed. One of those is that the blind mantra of "EU red tape" harming industry, one of those memes that has been doing the rounds for over twenty years.  It is one that, in fact, is way past its sell-by date and one which is no longer of any great service to the anti-EU movement.

For sure, there are many business interests which will complain about over-regulation, usually out of narrow self-interest. If there is financial advantage to be gained, they will argue against regulation, whether it is necessary or not. And if there is advantage to be gained from making the EU the whipping boy, then those self-same business interests will jump on any passing bandwagon.

Yet, for the ordinary voting public, the regulation of business is not that unpopular – most will be largely indifferent to it, or vaguely in favour. And, when it comes to the "banksters" and other malefactors, regulation is more popular than not. Anyone seeking to sell a ticket of cutting regulation on business is going to gain less traction than they might otherwise imagine.

On the other hand, there is some logic in the EU mantra of having 28 sets of regulation replaced by a single set. For exporters, trading across the Community, this does substantially ease business, it does promote trade and, even according to independent academic studies, does reduce costs. To that extent, there is some research to indicate that regulation is a trade lubricant, and the trade in regulated products is higher than in those where there is no regulatory control.

Furthermore, according to such studies, in certain sectors, differences in [national] standards do have a significant negative effect on trade - which is why, of course, industry spends so much time lobbying for regulation, and assists in it formulation, funding studies and providing sector experts. They are aware of what the WTO points out, that so-called "non-tariff measures" – some arising from the lack of harmonisation - "can be as trade-restrictive as tariffs, and even more so in the case of certain high- and middle-income countries".

As the other half of the Booker-North duo who virtually invented the "EU red tape" meme some twenty years ago, I perhaps have a better grasp of this than most. The issue has never been one of regulation per se. It was mostly one of poor regulation, our catchphrase, "the sledgehammer to miss the nut". Then, a major part of the problem was enforcement - the "Mad Officials" who misapplied the law or who were clumsy in its application, creating unnecessary burdens.  

Arguably, therefore – and this is precisely what I do argue – the "red tape" agenda is not going to win us the referendum battle. At best it will capture the support of some in the business community – and the opposition of others. With skilfully exploited FUD, the agenda could backfire on the "out" campaign. If we left the EU without making the appropriate provision, for instance, we would no longer have any hygiene control on food shops, factories and restaurants. 

Nevertheless, in campaigning terms, the arguments that the pro-EU lobby uses can be turned to our advantage. They argue that a single set of regulations for 28 EU member states makes for more and cheaper trade. This is not a problem. That effect must be even greater with standards common to all 160 WTO members, and that is where we should be.

Since so many standards are now made at global level, we would be far better off breaking out of the constraints of "little Europe" and rejoining the world, where we would have a much more powerful voice in setting the global agenda. The globalisation agenda, that so many seem to be determined to ignore, could work powerfully in our favour, and become a game changer.

On top of this, since global business is carried out on an intergovernmental basis, the benefits to be gained from working together do not carry with them the price of loss of sovereignty, and we are no longer subject to the rule of institutions such as the ECJ.

The point thus, in terms of campaigning, is that we must question the old arguments, the old mantras and the same tired old strategies. If we are going to have the slightest chance of winning, we need fresh ideas and new ways of presenting them. "Globalisation" is one of those ideas. As a campaign tool, EU "red tape" is a relic – we need a better vision.

Richard North 05/03/2015

 EU referendum: timing and other matters

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Yesterday saw the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), John Longworth, reportedly throwing a spoke into Labour's wheels by saying the best way to end political uncertainty over the UK's relations with Europe is to hold an early referendum.

The call was quickly endorsed by Boris Johnson but, for once, we got some sense on the issue in the form of John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow airport.

Talking to the Financial Times, he said: "We need to have a proper discussion about the benefits or not of being part of the EU", remarking that, "We've actually had this sitting over our heads for years, for decades. It's not a trivial choice and we need to have enough time to have a proper debate".

Longworth had been arguing that holding a referendum as soon as possible after May's general election, rather than the current plan of 2017, would reduce uncertainty for business, so the candour from John Holland-Kaye is all the more welcome.

Ed Balls – still the shadow chancellor – also spoke to the BCC (which was holding its annual conference), saying that that politicians should not flirt with the idea of Britain leaving the EU. They should not put party political interests above the national interest. "We have to reject the Luddite view of those that think we can cut ourselves adrift from the EU and go it alone".

Nevertheless, he too rejected Longworth's call for a quick referendum. "Setting an arbitrary timetable for a quick referendum [does not help] the prospects for us having meaningful reform from our European partners; those reforms are going to take time", he said.

Downing Street has also intervened in the question, stating that there are two practical obstacles to an early poll. In the first place it is likely to take up to two years to pass the legislation to enable the referendum to be held because the Tories expect that they will have to invoke the Parliament Act to override opposition in the House of Lords. The prime minister also believes it may take more than a year to negotiate "wide-ranging reforms".

Despite John Holland-Kaye's views, though, no one is actually giving any signs that they are prepared to have a sensible (or any) debate. In fact, the opposition's idea seems to be to repeat the same old FUD, never engaging in the issues and never allowing any outsiders into the debate.

That said, we've taken the opportunity to post the latest version of Flexcit, not yet complete by getting to the point where it is very nearly finished.

This version (v.20) is substantially re-ordered, with an entirely new chapter on asylum policy, and many other additions which bring the page count to 375 and the number of words to 147,000 – rather longer than the original IEA submission which ran to 26,000 words.

As a .pdf file, the work is fully searchable, and it will make a significant contribution to the debate, even though the media and many others will quite deliberately ignore it. Yet, on the basis of the ongoing dialogue that has run for over a year now, we are convinced that the flexible, multi-stage approach is the most cogent way of devising a credible exit plan.

One addition we expect to make is to turn the admirable work by The Boiling Frog on telecoms into a chapter, whence the first full edition of Flexit will be essentially complete.

Now comes the urgent task of putting together plans for an "out" campaign, in anticipation of the Conservatives winning the general election and Mr Cameron returning to office. Although the likelihood of us winning the campaign is low, I still think it is winnable, so long as certain pre-conditions are met.

The first is that we have a credible exit plan in place – and that is very close to completion – and the second is that we have a broad-based "out" campaign led by a coalition of existing anti-EU groups, willing to get behind the plan.

Here, the greatest obstacle to success is going to be the determination of a few individuals to take over the campaign, so it is vital that the existing players get together to work on a functioning campaign.

Then, of course, we will have to confront the problem of an indifferent and inadequate media, which is probably not capable of reporting on a sophisticated plan like Flexcit without getting key details wrong. That, though, is a problem for the future. Before we address that, we have to deal with those who would seek to exclude us from the battle before it even starts.

Richard North 11/02/2015

 EU regulation: a litany of untruth

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Reuters has an article on the report of the House of Lords EU Economic and Financial Affairs Sub-Committee. That Committee has been delivering its views on "the post-crisis EU financial regulatory framework", and the legend we are supposed to believe is that Britain's clout in the European Union is weakening just when plans for a capital markets union present a "golden opportunity" for London's financial sector.

Efforts by Europe to strengthen banking rules to avoid a repeat of the 2007-09 financial crisis are "admirable", the Committee said, but it criticised the costing of the impact of the new laws and noted other flaws, saying Britain needed to retain direct involvement in decisions that affect one of its most important economic sectors.

It does seem, though, that this largely Europhile committee is misleading itself, the media and the public at large – effectively ignoring the evidence placed before it.

For instance, there was Professor Simon Gleeson who told us that, if you look at the totality of the European response to the crisis, with the exception of banking union the Commission proudly announced that it had 40 different items of legislation. Of those, all of them, said Gleeson, with the exception of one and the partial exception of another, follow policies that were already being implemented in the UK.

Had Europe not existed, he continued, every single one of those directives would have been implemented here for exactly the same reasons that they were implemented at the European level, because they were part of a globally considered response to the crisis.

The Committee itself asked our witnesses whether the main elements of the EU financial sector regulatory framework would have been enacted in the UK irrespective of its membership of the EU. Sharon Bowles, Lib-Dem MEP described as "rubbish" the "all-pervading notion that in the absence of EU regulation there would be no regulation" in the UK.

In her view, a UK-only regulatory framework would have been more stringent, as the UK Government's push for tighter regulation over the CRD IV/CRR negotiations demonstrated. She said that the UK had "blindly followed" the Basel agenda, and pointed out that the UK had often led discussions at international level, for instance with regard to bank recovery and resolution.

Andrea Leadsom MP, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, stressed that the UK had played a significant leadership role in the development of international standards. Consequently many of the reforms would have been enacted even if the UK had not been in the EU.

Prof Gleeson said that, of the 40-plus pieces of legislation, with one or two exceptions: "Had Europe not existed, every single one of those directives would have been implemented here for exactly the same reasons that they were implemented at the European level, because they were part of a globally considered response to the crisis".

He pointed out that at FSB/G20 level most of the policy input came either from the UK or the US, so "we are making policy for ourselves through a very long and devious route".

Professor Kern Alexander, University of Zurich, noted that the UK was an important participant in FSB discussions on international standard-setting, and in the Basel III discussions on capital requirements. In terms of EU legislation, the UK had spearheaded both the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive and the deposit guarantee scheme revisions.

In other words, when it comes to financial regulation and the UK, the EU is an irrelevance. The necessary regulation is made at an international level and the UK would have adopted much the same regulation in or out of the EU.

As the Committee was told, Mark Carney is Chairman of the Financial Stability Board, so the UK will always have its seat on the Basel Committee, the FSB and things like that. As a major player in financial services, it will always be highly influential, and does not need the EU as a power broker.

Cutting through the FUD, the UK will not suffer from a departure from the EU. It is a global power in its own right. It sets the agenda and the EU follows.

Richard North 03/02/2015

 Brexit: Moore equals less

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There was never any doubt, in my view, that the "no"campaign would win the Scottish referendum, and for very predictable reasons. So one can only stand back and admire the chutzpah of Charles Moore who was telling us that Salmond was going to win and is now gravely instructing us on the lessons we must learn in order to avoid following in Salmond's footsteps and losing an EU referendum.

Actually, this also underlines the total isolation of people like Moore who, locked in their tiny, self-referential Westminster bubble, are completely oblivious to the fact that there are real people in this world who have been asking what we need to do to win an EU referendum, and have been coming up with the answers, long before he even begun to think about them.

For all that, I suppose it does no harm to have the man tell us that, in a referendum "people get frightened", and that, although "they admire passion", it also "makes them suspicious … They start to ask questions”.

If Moore was up to speed, he would be talking about FUD, and he would also be specifically identifying the fact that Salmond had not produced an effective exit plan, to answer the FUS, and to address issues such as which currency an independent Scotland would use.

As it is, Moore stops short with the observation that, in the end, Salmond painted himself into a corner. "In the end, he could not answer the boring, difficult, important question". In a European referendum, Moore then goes on to say, "comparable questions will arise". These "might be about free trade with Europe and being shut out of markets, or about the exact terms of our subsequent relationship with the EU".

If the Get Outers shake their fists like the wartime cartoon and shout "Very well, alone!", they might be chaired through the streets of Clacton, but they will lose.

Well, the funny thing is, we'd already guessed that. After all, in Dawlish, I was going through precisely these issues, having worked this out all by myself – along with the thousands of others who have come to exactly the same conclusions. And all by our little selves, we've worked out exactly the same thing that the great Charles Moore is now so earnestly telling us, that the status quo won.

From there on, though, Moore actually gets worse. The Get Outers, he says, "will need careful answers to everything – sober, statistical, dry, backed up by graphs and experts, business people and think tanks, women with professional careers, not just blokes in the pub".

But actually, that's the least thing we need, and if that is the way we approach the referendum campaign, we will most certainly lose. We really do not want to be trading points with the Europhiles, getting bogged down in interminable detail, boring everyone to death. We don't want to revel in the FUD – we need to neutralise it.

That's what I was saying in Dawlish. By offering a properly thought-out exit plan, we sideline the minutia and the petty-fogging details, by taking the high ground. We don't argue about whether leaving the EU costs us three or four million jobs – we by-pass the argument completely, with an exit plan that has us staying in the Single Market.

Moore, however, is determined to show that he has no real idea of how to fight a campaign, no demonstrably no ability to read one. He wants to tell us that, while the Get Outers have some advantages over Salmond, and "the two sides over Europe will be much closer together when the starting pistol is fired".

But he hesitates to make this last points, "because nothing should be done to induce a sort of pre-complacency". The present state of affairs, he says, is that there probably won't be a referendum and, if there is, the insurgents probably won't win it".

Pompous to the last, he tells us that: "Only if they really accept the magnitude of the task will they find the resources to prove this prediction wrong".

The thing is, Moore almost certainly thinks he's up with the leading edge of thinkers when he gives us the benefit of his stunning insight. His sort cannot even begin to understand that we are way ahead of him, and got to where is where he is now, years ago.

What the man doesn't appreciate, therefore, is that if we don't get a referendum in 2017, which looks less and less likely, we will be preparing for one in 2022, which we will have a better chance of winning anyway.

We have long known that we will only win it if we are better prepared than Salmond was, which is why we have been working on an exit plan for a year, and why we are already running workshops and seminars. And that is why, when it comes to it, we are actually going to win the referendum. And the likes of Moore will be the last to realise.


Richard North 27/09/2014

 Brexit: the Dawlish experience

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Travelling five hours on a Cross-Country train from Leeds to Dawlish, arriving late because of a points failure, and then finding the technology doesn't work because my computer wouldn't interface with the high-tech television screen, it not exactly the best way to start a talk on how to leave the EU.

And yes, I could have got an earlier train, but that would have been peak travel, adding £150 to the already exorbitant cost, or an overnight hotel bill to add to the train fare. So, a last minute dash, followed by a 20-minute taxi ride to the Langstone Cliff Hotel in Dawlish, had to suffice.

For all that, it worked. Under the CIB banner, joint-funded funded by the CIB and Anthony Scholefield, and organised by Peter Troy, the idea was to take the message of how to leave the EU outside London, to new audiences, and speak to them direct, by-passing the media and the established political parties.

Although Flexcit has been published online since March, with the latest version just posted, trying out the ideas in front of a live audience is a valuable experience and one which is an essential part of refining the message and learning how to present it.

On the day - reflecting much of the online feedback and the experience of earlier meetings - what I found necessary to emphasise is that the exit plan is complicated. Furthermore, there is a limit to the extent that one can simplify it, before you are misrepresenting the entire process.

If we look at a telephone from 40 years ago, and look at the latest devices, there is a huge leap in the degree of complexity – matched of course by a massive increase in capability. What has happened with telephones has also happened with government and we could no more go back to the simple Bakelite telephone than we could go back to the far more simple style of government which prevailed in pre-EEC days.

Secondly, one has to stress that the exit plan is primarily a tool for winning a referendum. Unless we can reassure voters that leaving the EU is a safe and ultimately rewarding experience, we are unlikely to succeed in convincing a majority that it is worth leaving the EU.

Thus, while there are many different options for arranging an EU exit, we are not free agents in this matter. We have to go for the plan that plays best to the uncommitted in a referendum campaign and, while this might no be (and most certainly isn't) optimal, it is better to advance a plan that will attract popular support, and win the referendum, than to opt for ideological purity and thereby ensure we remain in the EU forever.

It is in this context that the "Norway option" comes. It is far from ideal but, in preserving our continued participation in the Single Market, is the best tool for neutralising the torrent of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) that we can expect the opposition to exploit.

The third point to stress is that "Brexit" is not the end point of the process, but the beginning. It is once we leave the EU that the negotiations really begin in earnest, so the finer detail of Article 50 exit agreement doesn't really matter. The important thing is to get out – almost on any terms. Very quickly thereafter, we begin to shape the final settlement.

That then brings us to the fourth element, the post-exit settlement. That requires the UK to reshape the Single Market, turning it into a true, European market, breaking the grip of the Brussels-centric regulatory machine. This is done by embracing and enhancing regional and global organisations, and by adopting better and more refined tools, to improve the global trading system.

This is where much of the complexity lies, first in understanding how the current system works, and then reshaping it to perform the same functions – but perhaps more efficiently – outside the EU. That is what globalisation is all about, and that is where we need to be, the "continuous" bit that makes Brexit into Flexcit.

With that, what people are also learning is that politics can be fun. For a day's outing, the 35-plus that attended found it an entertaining, challenging day, from which we all learnt and all benefitted.

The size of the meeting was optimal - that's the number we wanted, and that's the way we are going to reach people. Before the referendum, we need hundreds of such meetings, and have plans to make them happen, with the possibility of sponsorship to make a Flexcit film to act as a force multiplier.

The next meeting is in Rotherham on 18 October (a Saturday), and you can get booking details by e-mailing Niall Warry. That will be a Harrogate Agenda programme, and thus will include Flexcit and much more. Numbers are to be held to about 30 and we look forward to seeing some of you there.


Richard North 26/09/2014

 Brexit: refreshing the FUD

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The torrent of FUD in the Scottish referendum from business enterprises is now having unwelcome repercussions on the EU referendum prospects.

Fortified by the apparent success of his own efforts and those of his business colleagues in turning the tide of independence movement, Sir Mike Rake chairman of BT and president of the Confederation of British Industry, now feels similar interference on the EU issue is legitimised.

With the Scottish referendum out of the way, EU membership is now Rake's biggest concern as a businessman and as the CBI's president, and - he says - the effect that withdrawing from the single market would have on British industry and jobs.

"Our biggest concern on the EU is that many members of Parliament are considering committing to vote to come out whatever happens. Business would see that as extremely irresponsible", he says, telling us that business should make its views known on the political issues of the day.

When it comes to how we are governed, this is crossing the line. Business is perfectly entitled to express its views on matters which affect it, but it has no business interfering in matters where its interests are not at stake.

The point here, of course, that leaving the EU does not necessarily involve or require withdrawal from the single market. In arguing that we should stay in the EU, Rake is propagandising about how we should be governed, which is not the business of business.

To an extent, that was the same issue in the Scottish referendum. In that case, business intervention achieved the "right" result, but it looks as if there is a price to pay. Through this campaign, FUD has been refreshed, and legitimised. We are going to find it harder to defeat it.


Richard North 22/09/2014

 Booker: Eurosceptics must not make the same mistake

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"Some 40 years ago, having observed a common pattern to several high-profile elections in Britain, the US and France", writes Booker, "I coined what, in a playfully journalistic way, I called "Booker’s law". In each case, six months before election day, one side had looked to be well ahead in the polls".

"As the day neared, however, the gap closed, to the point where we were being excitably told that it was 'too close to call', 'neck-and-neck' and 'going right to the wire'. But then, in each case, the easy winner turned out to be the side that had looked likely to win six months before".

Last week, as he wondered whether Scotland would again follow this pattern, he reflected on how, from the success or failure of either side, we could draw at least one clear lesson. If the "yes" vote had won, as many have pointed out, the lesson would have been that this was a further terrifying indictment of how, in recent decades, we have all felt betrayed by Westminster's political class.

Somewhere in the Nineties, a fearful gulf began to open up between politicians of all the major parties and the rest of us. Right across the policy spectrum, and certainly aided by the ever-increasing amount of our law that was coming from Brussels, our politicians seemed to have floated off to another planet, no longer capable of speaking in language we could relate to.

Never was this alienation more obvious than in this recent campaign when, at the last minute, our three party leaders – David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband – all rushed up in a panic to Scotland, with such extraterrestrial ineptitude that it seemed that "Team Westminster", as Alex Salmond so aptly called them, had become his most powerful weapon.

But if, despite this, Mr Salmond was still to lose, it became clear that his own fatal weakness was that he so obviously didn’t have a plausible "exit plan" to convince voters that an independent Scotland could prosper.

To not one of the key practical questions did he have a convincing answer, from what would happen to the currency or our Armed Forces, to the future of North Sea oil. "With one mighty bound Scotland will be free" was all he had to offer. As it turned out, the vacuum at the heart of that fantasy was a key factor in his losing the day.

But we can see exactly the same fatal flaw in all those who clamour for Britain to leave the EU. Not one of the recent flood of half-baked pamphlets produced by "Better off Outers" has shown any grasp of the complex issues that would be involved in making this possible.

And without a plausible exit plan, any In/Out referendum campaign would be successfully dominated by a tidal wave of what my friend Richard North calls "Fud" – fear, uncertainty and doubt – about how Britain outside the EU would lose “three million jobs” by being shut out of the EU's single market.

A properly worked out case to show how Britain could indeed thrive outside the EU (and still have full access to its single market) has no more been put by the Eurosceptics than Mr Salmond could explain how Scotland might happily survive outside the UK.

Now we have got this terrifying diversion behind us, one of our next priorities must be to come up with a properly worked-out strategy whereby our now still United Kingdom can sensibly separate itself from the increasingly dismal mess that is the European Union.


Richard North 21/09/2014

 Scotland: the lessons for the EU referendum

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Looking at the failure of Mr Salmond to carry the day on his independence campaign, we have already ventured the possible causes, so much so that further analysis is almost like shooting fish in a barrel.

In the first instance, the "yes" campaign's exit plan - despite its length – was terribly slender, relying on unproven (and in some cases unprovable) assumptions – such as continued Scottish membership of the EU, and the ability to continue using the pound.

Therein lies the point of Flexcit, which stands for flexible response and continuous development. For our primary exit pathway from the EU, we suggest EFTA/EEA membership (the "Norway Option"), but we recognise that this might not happen, so we have a fallback position, with our so-called "shadow EEA".

Lacking flexibility, Salmond didn't have a fallback. So when key people (including Barroso) said Scotland couldn't stay in the EU, he had no alternative, and was forced to bluster, the argument degenerating into a "yes we can, no you can't" squabble that he could never win.

In fact, Salmond could have adopted roughly the same strategies we have, with Notre Europe setting out his options.

Lord Ashcroft lists issues which influenced voters, with 15 percent citing the EU issue as a reason for voting "no". On that question alone, it is conceivable that satisfactory answers could have brought Salmond his victory.

On the issue of the pound, even more were influenced, with 57 percent citing this as a reason for voting "no". But with Salmond claiming that the pound was "Scotland's currency just as much as it is the rest of the UK's", he could have, at the very least, taken note of Irish independence and come up with ideas of what to do in the event of a refusal of the (remaining) UK to co-operate.

The same goes for tax and spending, pensions, the NHS, defence and security, and the other matters raised. But these should have been discussed years ago, the questions raised and answered long before they were to become issues in a referendum.

Salmond had not done the early preparation, though, so when the FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) started to fly, he was unprepared, lacking the in-depth treatment these issues need. The short time of the campaign was too short for him to work up the answers, and then deliver them convincingly, which meant that the FUD prevailed.

Therein lies our lessons for the EU referendum. Defenders of the status quo can and will rely on FUD, and to counter it we need to be properly prepared – and well in advance. And it isn't just a question of defeating the FUD. We have to drive past it, in order to plant our own narrative.

One other aspect which has been raised is the personality of Salmond, and the similarity of his approach with a well-known "eurosceptic" leader. Both tend to come to the party unprepared, relying on bluster and force of personality to make their points, without in any way mastering their respective briefs.

In the Scottish referendum, this cut no ice, and in the EU referendum it is unlikely to do any better. And, in this event, Salmond has paid the personal price, preparing to stand down as leader of the SNP at an annual conference in November, when he will resign as Scottish First Minister.

With him is likely to die his obsession, as did Quebec independence in 1995, after the independence movement lost by a margin of just over one percent.

David Cameron certainly thinks so, declaring that the question of Scottish independence has been settled for a generation. "There can be no disputes, no re-runs, we have heard the settled will of the Scottish people," he says, doubtless hoping that, if we do have an EU Referendum, he will be able to say the same thing of us all.

One can only hope that the Scottish referendum is taken as a warning by the anti-EU movement. If we follow the path of Salmond, we could be following him in defeat.

Meanwhile, before we even get there, Owen Paterson, who was sacked as environment secretary in the July cabinet reshuffle, has called for the recall of parliament - currently in recess for the party conference season - and said the "chaotic" narrow "no" vote "undermines" the UK.

He described the promises made to Scotland as "rash" and "unacceptable", saying that the preservation of the Barnett Formula for calculating Scotland's share of cash, was "unfair". "It's such a lopsided settlement, it cannot last," he added.

"It is unfair Scottish politicians will continue to vote on taxes raised from the English, while voting special tax raising powers to Scotland alone … Such a lopsided constitutional settlement cannot last; it is already causing real anger across England. If not resolved fairly for all the constituent parts of the UK for the long term, it will fall apart".


Richard North 19/09/2014

 Scotland: saved by the FUD?

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In a classic response to a challenge to the status quo, we have seen the establishment pour out a torrent of FUD, indicative of exactly what we might expect at the tail end of an EU referendum campaign, if the "out" camp ever looks like winning.

So transparent is the tactic that it had the Sunday Herald lifting the lid off it, noting that the "no" campaign had described it as "Project Fear", even though the official title of the London government's rebuttal document was "United Kingdom, united future: Conclusions of the Scotland analysis programme".

This has had the "yes" campaign producing its own rebuttal (pictured top), after Mr Salmond had already produced his 670-page exit plan. And now, Sunday Herald columnist Iain Macwhirter thinks the FUD isn't working (examples below).

So many Scots refused to heed the warnings of press, politicians and banks, he says, because this has been a truly bottom-up movement, that rose from obscurity in drafty halls and internet chatrooms; ignored by the establishment and ridiculed by the press; dismissed by polling gurus like Nate Silver who said a Yes was "almost inconceivable".

It has, Macwhirter asserts, been mediated through new-fangled social media and old-fashioned word of mouth. The internet has given anyone with a computer the ability to correlate, often in real time, what they are being told is going on with what is really going on. This may be the first election in which the mainstream media ceased to be the mainstream. 

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Perhaps, he then says, the atmosphere before the 1945 Labour election landslide was similar to this. That was the last time that ordinary people in this country took charge of the political process by the scruff of the neck and demanded radical change. Certainly, 1997, the year of the Labour landslide and the devolution referendum, was a non-event by comparison. There was none of the optimism, engagement, cultural and political - the fun. The Scottish people have entered history, not to pick a fight with England, but to have a party.

If Scots take the momentous step of voting "yes" on Thursday, the shockwave will be felt across the world, Macwhirter concludes. In Europe, governments will look at regional movements like Catalonia in a new light. America will watch in amazement as the old country disintegrates, concerned about the strategic implications for NATO of Trident moving elsewhere.

In England, he tells us, social democrats, who have felt excluded from British politics for that last 30 years of neoliberal economic hegemony, will gain renewed hope that it is possible for people to challenge the political and economic establishment.

In my view, though, it is more likely that the status quo will prevail. My expectation is that, for the "yes" campaign to win, it needed to be 10-15 points ahead in the polls, and climbing. And, when the "no" campaign wins, we will be able to say that Salmond's 670-page "exit plan" was not good enough to check the FUD, which was allowed to flow unchecked.

If, on the other hand, the "yes" campaign wins, we can agree with Macwhirter that it was because their campaign has been a truly bottom-up movement, that rose from obscurity in drafty halls and internet chatrooms; mediated through new-fangled social media and old-fashioned word of mouth.

And if that is the case, then perhaps we have a chance of winning an EU referendum. But even then, we will still note that the "yes" campaign had to deliver a 670-page "exit plan" and fight off the FUD. To that extent, we have a case whichever side wins, although my mind is still set on the "no" campaign winning, primarily because of a failed exit plan.


Richard North 15/09/2014

 Brexit: these people are not our friends

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The Daily Mail and others today are reporting that the boss of one of the UK's biggest companies has said Britain should leave the European Union if it cannot renegotiate a better deal with Brussels.

This is Dr Nigel Wilson, chief executive of insurance giant Legal & General. He, we are told, has become the first boss of a FTSE 100 company to publicly suggest quitting the EU. He argued that the UK economy is "underachieving" by focusing too much on Europe rather than faster growing markets.

Legal & General is also a major investor in infrastructure projects and Wilson is complaining that his firm has "wasted" £150million "on complying with one European directive called Solvency II", which is making it more expensive for insurance companies to invest in infrastructure.

He thus articulates his "personal view" that the EU "has simply got too big now and it's very difficult to work with". He would like to see the UK "turn outward more towards the world".

That itself is rather strange, given his comments on the "Solvency II" package. Although of EU origin, this complex regulation on capital requirements in the insurance industry, running to 155 pages, has considerable international dimensions.

Specifically, Directive 2009/138/EC implements recommendations from the International Association of Insurance Supervisors, the International Accounting Standards Board, the International Actuarial Association and nine other agencies alongside the World Bank and the IMF.

Furthermore, there is considerable overlap with the International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS) and, with future developments under Omnibus II, we are seeing a gradual convergence of financial regulation on a global scale.

This makes the recent upsurge of concern about the EU from city sources rather puzzling. Financial services is nothing if not a global industry and regulation is increasingly being tackled at a global level. The EU, increasingly, is a downstream player, no longer initiating measures – as it was doing until fairly recently – but responding to global standards-setting initiatives.

But then one finds the Legal & General has been particularly active in lobbying for "an appropriate outcome in the UK on Solvency II". With Directive 2014/51/EU coming into force, one can see this as a form of special pleading, positioning the company to get a competitive advantage from recent regulatory developments.

Looking more closely at what Dr Wilson is saying, one then sees that he is not making a direct, unequivocal call to leave the EU, but simply setting up an option in the event that the UK can't do better out of the EU than it is at the moment.

For Dr Wilson, the price will undoubtedly be "an appropriate outcome in the UK on Solvency II", for which his support for continued membership of the EU will be assured.

In essence, what we are seeing – as we saw yesterday with Mr Johnson and his sidekick - is a variation on the Cameron/Open Europe "renegotiation-reform" ploy. That leaves it wide open for a latter day conversion to the cause, when the a fudged "reform" is dropped on the table.

One sees recent events, therefore, as game playing – the corporate world exploiting public concerns about the EU to its own advantage, then to fall into line when a referendum looks certain, backing continued membership.

Even if these players were genuine about leaving the EU, though, the "outcome" they would be looking for is not one we would particularly enjoy. In the whole of his 108-page report yesterday, Open Europe board member Gerard Lyons used the word "democracy" once, and that was only because it was in a quote from David Cameron.

Corporate Britain thus is not interested in the things we are concerned with. Its interests are not our interests, and its conditional calls for quitting the EU do not make it our friend. Without hesitation, they will ditch any vestige of euroscepticism if it suits them, leaving us to fight the battle on our own.


Richard North 07/08/2014

 Michael Fallon: and how is he a eurosceptic?

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We are being told by Michael Fallon, the new Defence Secretary, that Mr Cameron has created a "Eurosceptic Cabinet" to prove to UKIP voters they can change the EU.

This is from a man who, according to Wikipedia, was active in the European Movement as a student and the "yes" youth campaign in the 1975 referendum and has never since given any serious indication that he is opposed to UK membership of the EU.

More recently, writing for Conservative Home on UK membership of the EU, he stepped away from both the status quo and the idea of leaving, backing David Cameron who had "rejected the defeatism of both approaches, and has set out a path for a reformed Europe".

In other words, Fallon – although counted as on the "right" of the party - is just another woolly Tory Europlastic, supporting the standard "reform" fudge, with absolutely no intention of seeing us leave the EU. Only in the debased sense of the word can he be considered "Eurosceptic" but, by any rational measure, the man is a dyed-in-the-wool Europhile.

If Mr Fallon is an example of this "Eurosceptic Cabinet", that he thinks it is going to woo UKIP voters back to the Tories, then he is not just mistaken – he is seriously deluded.


Richard North 16/07/2014