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 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

 EU referendum: vultures circling the corpse

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Blogged by Purple Scorpion we learn of the doings of Dominic Cummings, more than a decade ago campaign director of Business for Sterling, now emerging to tell us how to run the coming EU referendum "no" campaign.

In a report for Business for Britain, "reformists" and wannabe leaders of the "no" campaign, Cummings reverts to exactly the device which probably lost the Conservatives the last two elections – the infamous "focus group". It was devises such as those which had election campaigners chasing after the supposed opinions of "swing groups" in order to decide how to pitch their messages.

The fact is, of course, is that there are no defined "swing voters" in a potential EU referendum. The last time we had one was in 1975, so one can hardly look at a single group and see what, if anything might have changed their mind since last time.

What Cummings has done, therefore, is take "swing voters" who voted for Mr Cameron in 2010 and might change their mind, using them as a litmus test of how to gauge the message to potential voters in a referendum which we might see in 2017.

In terms of campaign design, of course, this exercise has almost no value. This cohort cannot be taken as representative of the nation as a whole. Nor does it have any particular relevance to a national referendum. We are not talking about a limited number of marginal seats on which elections will turn, but the sum of all the votes cast by the nation, where it is the majority option that counts.

Thus, all we are getting is verbatim extracts of opinions given by people collected to talk about a referendum, giving some colour to an otherwise drab subject. More importantly, it provides a re-launch platform for Mr Cummings, which will stand him in good stead when he, Matthew Elliott and his London gang of think-tankers make their bid for the campaign millions on offer from the Electoral Commission.

This is what they did with the North-East region referendum, swanning up from London to Hoover up the money. While the locals had to fight the campaign unaided, the maestros schmoozed with the donors, telling them how lucky they all were to have them, then writing books to tell everyone how clever they were in winning the poll.

Now history is set to repeat itself. As a referendum begins to look a likely proposition, the smell of money and kudos is enough to bring the gold-diggers and careerists out into the open, the pack leaders adorning themselves with the "CEO" title to mark their own importance. Bless!

Unfortunately,  these are the people, if we let them, who are going to lose us the referendum. Not one of them has the first idea of what they are fighting for or how to pitch a winning campaign.

Cummings, with the benefit of his magical mystery focus group, for instance, tells us that "the combination of immigration, benefits, and human rights dominates all discussion of politics in general and the EU in particular". 

It doesn't, of course. But this is a man that thinks the "biggest change in the EU debate since Brown announced in 2003 that we would not join the euro" is that "people now spontaneously connect the issue of immigration and the EU". It is no coincidence, though, that Cummings is the man that walked away from his paid position in Business for Sterling in 2002, and has taken little interest in the EU ever since. 

He is evidently a man who seems to have missed out on the Lisbon Treaty altogether. But now there is a whiff of money, he's back, ready to take is place in the ranks of the paid CEOs, prepared to fight to the last expense account.  

Setting up his pitch, the born-again Cummings now rushes to give us the benefit of his newly found wisdom, gravely telling us that an "out" campaign would "not have to focus on immigration". It is a massive factor that needs no reinforcement, he says. Rather, the campaign would need to neutralise the fear of leaving and focus on what could be done with the money saved by leaving, both as a positive message and as an answer to the fear of lost trade.

So, from the giant intellect of this great campaigning genius, this is what we get: "neutralise the fear of leaving". Yet, if Mr Cummings had read our lowly blog (which he is far too grand to do), he would have discovered, with not a CEO in sight, that we had managed to work this out over eighteen months ago, all by ourselves. A successful campaign, we said, would be:
…. exploiting the status quo effect and the perceived importance to British economy of the totemic Single Market. In this context, the "out" campaign will only succeed in a referendum if it is able to neutralise the FUD.
This, we said at the time, is a sine qua non, having raised the issue of FUD in January 2013 and pursued it ever since, even labelling the phenomenon with the "FUD" buzzword, something that Cummings hasn't invented yet - although he will.

Some 18 months after the event, therefore, we have a Jonny-come-lately waltz in to tell us what must be done. Sadly though, it is only in the way an exasperated England fan might instruct his team how to win: score more goals than the oppostion, stupid.  But when it comes to exactly what needs to be done, all we get from the maestro is: "There are various ways in which this could be done but these lie outside the scope of this report". Clearly, the fee was insufficient and needs topping up.

That is actually classic Cummings. In fact, it is characteristic device of the golden boys. They swan around the London circuit oozing supercilious confidence, blithely informing their sponsors that the answer is soooo simple - something must be done, dressed up with vacuous jargon and last decade's marketing buzz-words. And they are the ones to do it, for a fee of course.

In respect of the EU referendum campaign, though, there is an inbuilt trap which none of these golden boys have even began to realise exists. Much less have they any idea what to do about it, .

The problem is the very real conflict between the need to get out quickly, preferably within the initial two years afforded by Article 50, and the overwhelming requirement to protect the Single Market – the only way we are going to neutralise the FUD – by continuing to participate in the EEA.

Here, the trap is, of course, Freedom of Movement, which is an integral part of the EEA. Forget trying to release ourselves from it. It is entirely non-negotiable. Thus, on the face of it, we can either deal with immigration or we can "neutralise the fear of leaving". But, on the basis of what we are being offered by the likes of UKIP, we can't do both.

If fact, we can have our cake and eat it. Freedom of Movement is a red herring. The idea of "regaining control of our borders" is an empty mantra. Unless we are to adopt a North Korean style of government, with totally sealed borders, restrictions on immigration would be subverted by illegal immigration, asylum seekers and family reunification, none of which are resolved by leaving the EU. And then, none of those already here can be sent back.

With that, of course, we have not yet officially started the campaign. And, as we know from 1975, sentiment can not only change, it can completely reverse. With a huge humanitarian crisis in the making, where more than 5,000 migrants have been picked up by the Italian navy in the past 48 hours in several rescue operations between Sicily and North Africa, the sentiment can change here as well.

There are those who would sink the boats of migrants, coldly committing murder in the process, or return desperate men, women and children from whence they came, only for them to perish en route or be locked away in camps when they make landfall. But that is to invite a backlash which could leave the "no" campaign flat-footed. The immigration card needs to be played with the very greatest of care.

On the other hand, there is a way of squaring the circle. That is what this post, this one, this and this are all about, options which some readers are too stupid to understand. We avoid the simplistic, empty mantras and address the "push-pull" factors, dealing with the causes rather than the symptoms. Migration is a symptom. Let's deal with the causes.

All of this, necessarily, requires a far more  greater knowledge and understanding of the issues than we have seen to date, and a more sophisticated campaign, with a. But the likes of Cummings play down the need for  knowledge – if only because they lack any grasp of detail. 

Mr Cummings thus stresses that the tiny cohort with whom he chose to spend his time, "know almost nothing about the mechanisms of international trade, the EU's Single Market, the EU's Customs Union, and the interaction of all these complex systems with global regulation".

This means, he says, that discussions about the relative merits of the EU's or EFTA/EEA trading arrangements are not only distinctly foggy in Westminster - they are completely unintelligible to these people, who have not heard of EFTA or the EEA.

In his own condescending way, he tells us that the arguments that are discussed among the tiny number of genuinely knowledgeable people - "the sort of arguments analysed by those who entered the IEA competition" - have no grip on these people, who have none of the knowledge necessary to make sense of them.

In Mr Cumming's tiny little world, therefore: "All discussion of these issues rapidly runs into the sand and talk returns to immigration".

However, as I have already pointed out, the campaign has not even started yet. And in the 1975 campaign, many people very quickly understood what the three initials EEC meant. By the same token, by the time the 2017 campaign is over, a similar number of people will become familiar with the EEA, and the related concept of the "Norway Option".

Where Cummings and his London friends fall down, of course, is that they rely on what they read in the legacy media. And because the "smart set" can't get their brains round complex issues, they think the electorate is going to be similarly vacuous. They will want a "Janet and John" campaign that insults the intelligence, and deals with none of the substantive issues.

What will be needed, though, is for the case to be fully worked out. That is what Flexcit is for. Not one in a thousand will read it, any more than the average Christian reads the Bible, or the average football fan reads the 148-page FIFA manual on the laws of the game. But, if FIFA needs 148 pages to play football, to deal with something as complex as leaving the EU is going to need a lot more.

Then, and only then, will we know where we stand, and have the wherewithal to devise a strategy. And only then can we simplify the case. But having a full version as backup means we will have all the important angles worked out. We will rarely, if ever, be caught out and, as far as the Europhiles go, we will be ahead of the game. Meanwhile, campaigners will benefit from the knowledge that their campaign has substance, and will derive their confidence and will to win from that.

All Cummings can offer, by way of an "obvious idea" though, is "to develop a roadmap and the framework for a new UK-EU Treaty 'Wiki-style'". Such decentralised movements have achieved astonishing things in science and could in politics, he says.

This again is typical of the breed. Apparently plausible, especially to those who have no experience of campaigning in the real world, any such device would immediately become a target for opposition hackers and trolls. Massive effort would have to go into defending something which, by the time it had been savaged and disrupted, would not be worth defending anyway.

Nevertheless, that is not going to make any difference to the "smart set". The referendum is a game for them to play, with careers and names to make, and money to dribble through their fingers as they play. The only thing that won't worry them is whether they win or lose. The game is simply for playing - for as long as the cheques roll in.


Richard North 01/07/2014

 EU politics: euro-FUD to the rescue

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The superb Mary Ellen Synon picks up on the ridiculous Sajjad Karim, former Lib-Dem MEP, who defected to the Tories in 2007. Retailing a classic scare story, he is claiming that, if Britain left the EU, it could be forced to surrender its seat on the United Nations Security Council.

It couldn't. But, without needing to go into the details, we have an answer to such absurd claims: "euro-FUD" - or #€FUD for Twitter users (courtesy Man in Shed). This is the most sensible and effective response to such stupidity, and it puts us way ahead of where we were in 1975.

To have a simple, pithy put-down for these Muppets is a powerful weapon in the right hands. For instance, every time we hear the "3-million jobs" claim, the answer is "euro-FUD!" Loss of Foreign Direct Investment? Euro-FUD! All our laws come by fax? Euro-FUD! 

The original acronym was coined by marketers but, in M E Synon's capable hands, it reaches a wider audience. Mr Karim, she writes, wants to spread Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. That's all that has to be said.


Richard North 21/06/2014

 EU politics: Airbus anti-FUD

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Not traditionally this blog's favourite company, it has suddenly leapt up in our estimation following the comment of Airbus's chief executive Fabrice Bregier. Our new hero robustly tells us that, if Britain voted to leave the EU in a referendum, that would not be a reason for the aircraft manufacturer to remove its operations from the UK, where it employs 10,000 people.

With any number of business "leaders" joining the exodus scrum, these comments make a refreshing change from the Europhile dross who have been campaigning against an EU exit.

The crucial issue for Airbus is that 90 percent of its market is outside Europe. Thus, competitiveness is the top priority for the company, Bregier said at a company event in Toulouse yesterday. "In the UK", he said, "I will look at two parameters: the exchange rate between the pound and the dollar and the second one is the UK government continuing support for the development of the aerospace industry".

As it stands, Airbus was "very pleased" with the support it was getting from Cameron's government. He does not believe that would change if Britain left the EU. "I believe that if these two parameters are stable there would be no reason for Airbus to change our strategy in the UK", Bregier added.

The company's 10,000 employees in Britain are engaged in developing and making wings, fuel systems and landing gears for Airbus aircraft and, in a telling comment, Bregier also said that, "we have no intention to duplicate all this expertise".

And that is something that none of the Europhile exodus crew tend to mention. Building up an experienced workforce, capable of handling high-end production processes, is no easy thing. No manufacturer would lightly disperse a team and take on the task of starting afresh.

It helps here, also, that aircraft are usually priced in dollars, so the tribulations of the euro are less important than they might be to other manufacturers.

Nevertheless, Mr Bregier's comments are a useful reminder that the game is a lot more complex than the FUD-merchants would have it. EU membership is only one of many issues that influence a UK presence. Other factors are far more important.


Richard North 13/06/2014

 Media: conned by the Beeboids

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I was invited  to take part in a Radio 5 Live debate on the EU scheduled for Tuesday, up against Charles Grant of the CER.  I had been extremely reluctant to do anything with the BBC, but the inquiry came via Booker, who had been extremely impressed with the researcher. When the same researcher contacted me, he promised a 25 minute slot, with assurances that it would be a grown-up debate.

After a long discussion of the issues, where the man had quite obviously done his homework, and agreed about the poor quality of the debate so far, I agreed to go to Leeds for an 11pm broadcast.

However, at the last minute, it appears (unknown to me at the time), Grant pulled out. The programme was thus postponed until yesterday night at 11pm (Wednesday). But this time, I was to be up against ex-Beeboid Lucy Thomas from BNE, and - as I was to find - an obviously biased interviewer, Phil Williams. Then, only after the programme had started and I was already in the studio, was I told there had been "a lot a breaking news". The discussion time had been cut - to an unspecified length. In the event, it was considerably less than than ten minutes.

After an introductory clip, which included a long interview with an academic from Sheffield University, clearly europhile in tenor, Williams gave the first hit to the Beeboid. Far from being a serious discussion, she trotted out the same low-grade europhile FUD that we've been getting for years - including an attack on the Norway option, with me given no time to respond. 

Thomas was then given the last word, with free passage to observe that too many people spent time listening to "people like Dr North".

Thus, for an hour and a half of my life taken to drive to and from Leeds and take part in the programme, all I got to do was trade a few points on two questions and slap down the fatuous Williams. His great contribution was to accuse me of "cherry picking", when I told him that we need to be operating on a global level and "little Europe" was dragging us down.

I suppose I should have known better.  This is actually typical of the BBC, who pulled me in under false pretences - as they so often do. Had I known the conditions in advance, I would not have agreed to take part. 

This is the LAST time I let the Beeb con me. They are time wasters, incapable of hosting a serious debate on any issue of consequence. If we are to rehearse these issues, it is going to have to be without the "assistance" of a wholly inadequate state broadcaster. We are actually better off without it. To be stitched on on-air is actually worse than not being there. 

Meanwhile, Complete Bastard points out that there is another thing we can do without. Between UKIP and the BBC, we are struggling to make headway. 

Life was never meant to be this complicated, and this is only a start. If we ever do have a referendum, we are going to need a powerful web presence to counteract the sheer unprofessionalism of the Beeb, and the low-grade amateurism of UKIP.


Richard North 22/05/2014

 EU politics: the treaty that never was

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In the annals of EU politics, yesterday will be seen as a turning point – the day when retiring European commission president José Manuel Durão Barroso rejected the prospect of an early treaty revision.

This effectively closes the door on Mr Cameron's ambitions for a "substantial re-writing" of our relationship with the rest of the EU, which Mr Cameron has promised, initially on the basis of hijacking treaty negotiations and superimposing British demands on the proceedings.

Already, it was obvious that a treaty could not be concluded within the 2017 timescale that is on the table, early enough to allow Mr Cameron to hold his referendum. But now, Mr Barroso has closed off any prospect of a treaty, depriving Mr Cameron of even a figleaf with which to enter the 2015 general election campaign.

Already we had concluded that all was left to Mr Cameron was a "Wilsonian fudge", but with Mr Barroso's speech, there can be no doubt at all. Any "renegotiations" that Mr Cameron is able to secure will not produce a treaty change, and will therefore have no binding effect on EU institutions or member states.

All we can reasonably expect now is some highly stage-managed political theatre, which will undoubtedly be assisted by the coincidence of the UK holding the rotating EU presidency in the latter half of 2017.

This brings to mind John Major's plans in 1992 to rescue the Maastricht Treaty after its rejection by the Danes. Between the Birmingham European Council held in the October, and Edinburgh in December, he cobbled together a series of non-binding political "declarations" which were to serve as reassurance to the Danish people and secure ratification at the second attempt.

Then, as now, there was much talk of clawing back powers from Brussels, the "big idea" in this event being a declaration on "subsidiarity", which would be applied to all future Brussels legislation.

Thus agreed in Edinburgh, parts of the statement by John Major to the Commons on 14 December 1992 bears a remarkable similarity to the rhetoric currently employed by Mr Cameron.

Blowing the whistle this time, though, is deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who has declared that Cameron's plans to renegotiate Britain's ties with the European Union are "wishful thinking and likely to yield only minor concessions that will not unite his governing Conservative party".

That leads us to an extraordinary situation where, if the Conservatives do win the 2015 general election – which is not impossible – Mr Cameron will be committed to fighting an EU referendum on the back of "renegotiations" which will be quite transparently a charade.

However, with Barroso willing to concede that "the case of the UK may be seen as a special one", there may be sufficient support for the theatre to give it a patina of credibility.

Faced with all the establishment political parties supporting continued membership of the EU, and the backing of the print and broadcast media, enough of the public may be gulled into believing Mr Cameron's claims that he has achieved something, and giving him a majority "yes" vote for continued EU membership.

Either way, when we look back on defeat or victory, we will be recalling Mr Barroso's non-words of yesterday, the day when the "fudge" became an inevitability and any semblance of a serious renegotiation - slight though it always was - disappeared from the political agenda.


Richard North 09/05/2014

 EU referendum: a Wilsonian fudge?

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"David Cameron's demands to renegotiate British membership of the EU would not necessarily require a treaty change, according to the top Brussels lawyer who helped to draft every EU treaty from Maastricht to Lisbon".

So says the Financial Times, reporting events which seems to be paving the way for Cameron to offer a Wilsonian fudge – a "yes-no" referendum with a faux negotiation and no treaty change.

Mr Cameron's glad tidings come from Jean-Claude Piris, former legal counsel of the European Council and the Council of Ministers. He says that his "seven key demands" could be met with some deft legal drafting, provided there was political will and a mood for compromise on both sides of the negotiations.

Nevertheless, the FT is realistic enough to recognise that Mr Piris's analysis is likely to reinforce a view among Tory MPs that the prime minister's European strategy is "too timid and open to a political fudge".

However, it is a matter of fact that there is insufficient time for a full-blown treaty change between now and the end of 2017. Therefore, if Mr Cameron is to keep to his timetable, he has no option but to go for the "fudge". And there is no reason to think that he will not get away with it.

This is a prime minister, after all, who has managed to convince a largely uncritical media – and many of their readers – that he has vetoed a non-existent treaty. And if he can do that, it should be no great problem for him to convince them that he has done a deal with Brussels, sufficient at least for the political claque to lap it up.

We look thus to be facing the prospect of a 2017 referendum and, with the media and the three main parties pitching behind the prime minister (assuming he wins the 2015 general election – which cannot be discounted), we look to be facing a re-run of the 1975 campaign.

There will, of course, be differences. Not least, we will have UKIP batting on our side but, with its recent and past performance, the party may prove to be a liability.

Nor will, necessarily, the access to the internet prove to be any great blessing. We have seen over the years how people rarely stray out of their comfort zones and tend to use the greater access to information simply to reinforce their prejudices.

However, if we accept that, in just over three years we could be fighting an "in-out" referendum, then we are going to have to take a cold, hard look at what we need to do to win the campaign.

And here, there is already another difference between now and 1975 – if the polls stand, we will go into the campaign with public sentiment already against us. And unless we can reverse the tide, we will lose.

Uncomfortable though this may be, the facts as they stand point to the greater likelihood that we will lose a 2017 referendum. Even if we hope the contrary will be the case, too much is at stake simply to hope for the best and expect everything to come right on the day.

Thus, over the next months, those of us who feel passionately about leaving the EU are going to have to do some serious thinking and make some hard decisions. But make no mistake, if we have to fight a 2017 referendum, we will be ready – and it would not be a good idea to get in our way.


Richard North 06/05/2014

 EU referendum: in danger of losing everything?

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Following on from Dick Taverne's take on the putative referendum, we now have Hannan pitching in with the message that we should go Tory if we want a referendum.

What both Hannan and Taverne have in common, of course, is that they both believe that an "out" campaign could prevail, whereas this is very far from being a certainty. In fact, the balance of evidence suggests that we would be more likely to lose the referendum, even if Mr Cameron came back from Brussels with empty hands.

Let us suppose, though, that Mr Cameron reneges on his commitment to a substantial rewriting of the treaty, and gives us this hitherto mythical referendum, Hannan does at least admit to worries.

Specifically, his concern is that the campaign might be dominated by UKIP, and focused on immigration, in which case we could lose. He doesn't blame UKIP for galvanising its vote; but almost nothing it says appeals to voters who are undecided on EU membership.

Hence does Hannan note the paradox where, the better UKIP fares in the polls, the lower support for EU withdrawal. The case for independence, he says, needs to be warm, optimistic, internationalist. We need, says Hannan, to explain why the EU has been made redundant by technological advance, why it no longer makes sense to be trapped in a declining customs union.

It's not that UKIP is wrong about immigration, says Hannan. Obviously we shouldn't exclude highly skilled professionals from outside the EU so as to free up space for unskilled migrants from inside. But that can't be the main message.

In the view of Hannan, we need a campaign that appeals to voters of Left, Right and Centre, to children of immigrants, to Scots, to white collar public sector workers, to students. We need, he thus says, to conjure the vision of a global Britain, interested and involved in the affairs of every continent, including Europe.

And all of this, in that airy, superior way in which Hannan excels, sounds so plausible, except that he misses what is probably the single most important facet of the campaign – that we should have a credible, workable exit plan.

What we have all seen over the past year and more is a torrent of FUD, and it is quite evident that campaign supporting continued EU membership will rely heavily on the fear factor. Crucially, as did recently the studies by The City UK, the europhiles will show that none of the recognised exit plans are workable.

Unfortunately for Hannan, that includes his pet plan, where he believes that we should "aim for a Swiss model, based on bilateral accords". So unrealistic is this that it has already been demolished by the opposition.

That actually makes Hannan, in his own way, as much part of the problem as UKIP. In many ways, he is part of a much bigger problem. Thus, when he writes, "Eurosceptics are in danger of losing everything", he is closer to the truth than he imagines.

The bigger problem is that, given that we could be facing a life-or-death referendum in just over three years, we are not ready. And there is no prospect of us being ready.

As it stands, the anti-EU movement is not so much split as completely fragmented. At one extreme, we have groups who regard even the prospect of sitting down to negotiate with the EU as "treachery". We also have those who regard Article 50 as a "trap", most of whom want an immediate repeal of the ECA.

In Article 50 territory, we have those who want the Norway option, the Swiss option, those who rely on stronger relations with the Commonwealth, those who want us to join NAFTA, the EFTA joiners and those who just want to rely on the WTO.

To fight an effective campaign, all the groupuscules are going to have to unite under a single banner, only then to find that unity alone will not be sufficient. Backing the wrong plan, even if there is total support for it, is no better than fragmentation: divided we fall, united we fail.

And there is the real danger for the "eurosceptics". Only with supreme effort do I see some of the groups uniting behind one or other plan, but it will not be the right one. The right one is not yet finished but, even when it is, it is going to be studiously ignored by the likes of the oh-so-superior Hannan – as he is doing already. These people claim to support free markets, but the do not believe in a free market for ideas. 

Already I can see some problems for me personally. As we've seen with calls to support UKIP, there will be huge pressure to support "the" campaign and get behind they "approved" narrative, whatever that might be. This will leave me (and our readers) in a quandary.

We then have the choice of supporting a campaign destined to fail, and become associated with its failure, or of standing aside and watching it fail, then to be blamed because we refused support. The other alternative is for us to mount our own independent campaign, in the hope of compensating for the defects of the "unifiers", and thereby be blamed for causing "splits". 

It is there that the Europhiles have the inbuilt advantage. All they have to do is argue for staying in the EU – and there is only one EU. We, their opposition, have to unite behind a single, workable plan, offering a vision of Britain outside the EU. But there are possibly as many "visions" as there are groups, and that's before UKIP gets stuck in and ruins the efforts of us all. The chance of unity is next to nil.

To some extent, therefore, this could be a re-run of the 1975 referendum campaign, where different groups refused even to have their speakers share the same platforms. And if, this time, the same thing starts happening, the outcome could be the same. So, in that one respect, Hannan has got it right: we are indeed in danger of losing everything.


Richard North 04/05/2014

 EU referendum: a disaster, but for whom?

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I wonder if Mr Cameron is even capable of understanding the irony of his citing a non-existent treaty veto as proof of his good intentions on his 2017 referendum. But, whether he means it or not, the prime minister is certainly talking the talk, as if he really intends to have his referendum.

However, Dick Taverne – one of the original SDP MPs and now a Lib-Dem peer - thinks that Mr Cameron's "solemn promise" confirms his profound ignorance of the way the union works and of the formidable obstacles in the way of his plans to renegotiate the terms of British membership. And Taverne thus thinks that a victory for the Conservatives in the next election is likely to lead to Britain's exit from the EU – a disaster in his terms.

To help us on our way, we are told of Lord Kerr's belief that, "You would be plumb crazy if you seriously thought that the right year to bring to a climax a renegotiation … was the year of a French presidential election and a German federal election". Polls in France and Germany show public opinion overwhelmingly opposed to a special deal for Britain. Furthermore, repatriation of major powers from Brussels almost certainly requires a treaty change.

Cameron's timetable for achieving this can only have been conceived in cloud cuckoo land, says Taverne. First, he would need a majority of the 28 member states to agree to hold a convention – the last convention took 18 months. The next stage would be an inter-governmental conference – the Maastricht inter-governmental conference took a year.

Then a deal would have to be ratified by all member states, several of which would have to hold a referendum of their own. No one can assume that all would vote yes. And have Conservatives forgotten that it took Margaret Thatcher five years of arduous negotiations to secure Britain's budget rebate?

This is not news to EURef readers, but Taverne concedes that there is a general mood for change within the EU. Nevertheless, different countries want different changes, and from the start of his premiership Cameron has gratuitously offended his potential allies, to the extent that he cannot rely on any support.

The odds are, therefore, overwhelmingly against achieving a deal by 2017, in which context Cameron could hardly recommend a vote for staying in if he came back from Brussels empty handed - or so Taverne says.

He thus thinks Mr Cameron's "europhobic party" would never let him push back the referendum date, and if he defied them they would enthusiastically kick him out and replace him with a "proper europhobe". An anti-European Conservative government would then strongly argue for a no vote, "supported by a stridently europhobic press".

The circumstances, he says, could not be more different from 1975, when the leadership of all three parties and a majority of the press campaigned for Britain to stay in, and when there was no UKIP.

A referendum would make sense when negotiations are complete and we know what sort of union we should be in or out of. But Cameron's impossible timetable destroys the central pillar of his European strategy, Taverne concludes. He thus declares: "Only those who want us to leave, come what may, can wish for a Conservative majority in 2015".

And that, it would appear, is the view from the europhile "bubble". But there is no reason to believe that Taverne is any better informed than Iain Martin, the man who only latterly found out that the polls were favouring the "inners".

On the basis that bubble-dwellers tend to be more ignorant than we realise, it is quite possible that Taverne is not yet up-to-date with the way the polls are shifting. Nor is he correct in assuming that we have a "stridently europhobic press". The chances are that the press will support continued EU membership, and even more so the europhile BBC.

As to the "europhobic" Conservative party, my guess is that it will rally behind the leader.  In Wilsonian style, it is quite possible that Mr Cameron could cobble together an "agreement" to take the place of treaty change, sufficient to deceive those willing to be deceived.

Taverne's fear of a disaster, therefore, may be justified, only not in terms of an "out" vote. It remains eminently possible that, given the opportunity, Mr Cameron will fudge the renegotiations, put a referendum to the people and come away with vote to stay in the EU.

"Only those who want us to leave, come what may, can wish for a Conservative majority in 2015," says Taverne, but it could be the other way around. As it stands, I have no confidence that we could win a referendum. A Conservative victory, under current conditions, could have the anti-EU movement fighting for its life.


Richard North 03/05/2014

 EU politics: City FUD

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This is one to watch. Quitting the EU would pose "very significant risks" to Britain, says The City UK, the body which represents major UK-based banks and insurance firms.

This assertion is based on two reports which the organisation has yet to publish, although the Lib-Dems seem to have seen them, and are evidently familiar with the content.

What the Lib Dems are saying is that exit scenarios from Europe risk damage to UK financial services through uncertainty, reduced market access and loss of influence. Attempts to carve out exemptions for the UK could lead to carve outs in other areas by other member states, fragmenting the Internal Market.

They also say that access to the EU's Internal Market in financial services for non EU-member states would not be guaranteed if the UK became a member of the EEA and EFTA. In order to obtain Internal Market access, the UK would have to implement all of the relevant EU legislation, having given up its say in formulating it.

I'm not sure exactly what that means, so we're going to have to wait for the reports to see what they say, which makes this something of a holding post. What one finds, however, is that the City wonks seem remarkably, or wilfully ignorant of how the EU works, and the make-up of the regulatory system.

This is also apparent in Bootle's bumph, another of those economists who has remarkably little understanding of the nature of the EU and how it works.

Together, it would seem, Bootle and The City UK, are going to make for an interesting week. We will have to see where it takes us.


Richard North 28/04/2014

 Brexit: the IEA's confusion over the Single Market

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We're picking up a lot of personal reaction from last night's Brexit prize, although relatively little internet traffic, perhaps indicating that the prize-giving has not exactly set the world on fire. Even lil 'ol UKIP didn't notice. But with such a dull line-up, this is hardly surprising, although I suspect many have run for cover from the controversy.

However, Witterings from Witney has made his views known, in brief, before dashing off to Durham. There will be more to follow but, hopefully, not too many like Allister Heath. He prattles about "grown-up debates", while his minions mercilessly exterminate any comments which indulge in, er … a grown-up debate.

This, though, is not the end of the battle. It is the start (or the continuation) of the debate, and the publication of the low-grade Mansfield paper does at least provide a baseline, against which we can compare our work, in order to highlight the salient issues, and bring them more into focus.

With that in mind, resume from where we left off, whence we had determined that FCO civil servant Mr Mansfield didn't want full access to the Single Market, and he certainly did not want the UK to join the EEA. On the other hand, we have argued that within the time constraints of the Article 50 negotiations, there is very little option. To get inside the two-year limit, we are virtually obliged to go for a ready-made package such as the EEA.

But, as we point out in our submission, there is another important reason why we would need to stay in the Single Market. This is one which would be well-known to regular ex-readers of this blog but not necessarily to an FCO civil servant based in Manila.

The essence of this is FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt), the torrent of Europhile scare stories that have proliferated in the media since Mr Cameron gave his EU speech in January year-last. And, to judge from the latest opinion polls on EU sentiment, the FUD is working.

During any referendum campaign which might lead to our exit, I wrote in our submission, supporters of continued EU membership will most likely have fought a negative referendum campaign, relying heavily on their FUD - virtually the only weapon they have. In fact, we can expect the "in-yes" campaign to go into high gear, saturating every possible media source with scare material.

More specifically, the campaign will be exploiting the status quo effect and the perceived importance to British economy of the totemic Single Market. In this context, the "out" campaign will only succeed in a referendum if it is able to neutralise the FUD. This, as they say, is a sine qua non.

In our considered view, that will only be achieved by the "out" campaign giving absolute, unbreakable assurances of a commitment to continued membership of the Single Market. That is the political reality of any referendum campaign.

Assurances of that nature will, of course, have to be honoured, thus dominating the Article 50 negotiations. Without them, it may even be the case that a referendum on the Art 50 settlement could not be won. Thus, the need to keep the Single Market intact does, in our view add an insurmountable obstacles to settling for a bilateral agreement (and, for that matter, the WTO option).

Now, it is entirely up to Mr Mansfield to argue that we should not continue membership of the Single Market but, our view is that the negotiators would not have a free hand. Unless there was already a commitment in place to continue with the Single Market, the referendum would not have been won, and there would not have been any Article 50 negotiations to consider.

Clearly, Mr Mansfield was not aware of this argument or, if he was, he did not consider it important enough to mention it. The judges must have been aware of it, as we put it too them. And, I gather, we were not the only ones to do so. If they weren't, they should have been and weren't paying enough attention.

The question is, therefore, whether you, the regular ex-readers, consider that the judges were entitled to ignore our arguments in assessing Mr Mansfield's work, and whether in the absence of Mr Mansfield even considering these arguments, the judges were entitled to claim that his work was better than ours.  You might be surprised to learn that I think that we might have offered a better pitch.

As to what Lord Lawson, father of Nigella, was even thinking, though, this is very difficult to work out. In today's Times, he writes a column about the Brexit award, which is headlined, "The UK will continue to enjoy access to the single market even after 'Brexit'" (above). Yet, if Mr Mansfield has his way, we will not enjoy access to the Single Market. He specifically writes (p.9) that "full membership of the Single Market should not be sought".

And Lord Lawson and his judging panel gave this man the IEA "Brexit" first prize. Did he actually read the submission and, if he did, did he understand it?

Richard North 09/04/2014