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 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

 Flexcit: how we would actually leave the EU

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In November last, we started writing an in-depth plan as guidance for the UK in leaving the EU, the basis of which has been published here, where you will also find the references to the issues discussed here.

At the time the submission was so arbitrarily rejected, however, I observed that my single, most important contribution was the observation that "Brexit" should not be regarded as a single event, but a process – rather like the process of European integration, with its progression of treaties.

Thus, I advanced that we should not be looking for a single product, a finished "plan" which we could park in the showroom and polish, for all to admire. Rather, we should be setting out a series of ongoing strategies, an exit to which would be added FLexible response and Continuous development. Thus, in our submission, "Brexit" became "FLexCit" – with a flow chart illustrated above.

As to the agreement arising from the Article 50 negotiations, this became not an end point, but simply one step in a long-drawn-out process that involves nothing more than a series of interim solutions. Thus, we argue that Britain should rejoin EFTA and, through that, the EEA.

This would involve adopting the entire Single Market acquis, essentially the "Norway option", allowing us to continue trading with our EU neighbours without interruption. But we would also repatriate the rest of the acquis and, with very few exceptions, re-adopt them into UK law (alongside repealing the ECA). Then, we would need a provision by which we would adopt the EU's bilateral treaties, to maintain the status of the third country agreement, once we have left the EU.

This three-point plan offers stability and continuity. In effect, the day after we leave the EU will be little different, in practical terms, from the day before we leave. There will be no Armageddon – no end of the world scenario. The Europhile FUD will simply not materialise.

However, that means that, in terms of tangible dividends, there will be very little to see. Much has been made of the reduced burden of regulation that might be expected but our analyses suggest that expectations might be unrealised in the short-term.

Much of the existing legislation will have to be maintained, either because of EEA membership, domestic regulatory requirements or international obligations. The dividend, we believe, will not come from "big bang" deregulation, but from continuous development, majoring on the issues we have raised.

What you will see from the flow chart though, right at the bottom, are three blocks. One is headed "EFTA/EEA talks", the other the "eight-point programme" and the third "UNECE talks".

The first and the third of the blocks are linked, and I will deal with these in more detail in a separate post. In essence, though, I propose that the EEA is eventually abandoned, and that EFTA becomes a much more powerful and wide-ranging free trade area, perhaps taking on more countries, and even other former EU countries, becoming what I call EFTA+.

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I then suggest that the EU ceases to be the custodian of the Single Market acquis, and is replaced by UNECE, to become a genuine European single market, covering the whole of Continental Europe, built around the WTO TBT Agreement and, in particular, Article 2.4. Thus we have a completely different structure for the Single Market, as illustrated immediately above, removing political integration from the mix.

This then leaves the "eight-point plan", the elements of which are set out on the chart below. Firstly, we have posited that withdrawal from agriculture, fishing, regional and other policy areas will eventually allow for the repeal of some measures and their replacement with more efficient policies.

Secondly, we argue that better regulation, with risk-related measures, could yield significant economies, especially when combined with better, more timely intelligence.

Third, we aver that greater attention must be given to system vulnerabilities and to improved enforcement if growth in transnational organised crime is to be contained. This is a very significant check on the growth of free trade, as organised crime moves in to take advantage of the systems in place.

The proliferation of free trade zones, for instance, facilitates crime and tax avoidance. FTAs are also responsible for increased cross-border crime. Yet relatively little attention is being given to the problems.

Here, there is an interesting contrast between TTIP, which aims to "boost" the global economy by around €310bn, and TOC income estimated at more than $3trn a year. International trade in counterfeited goods and piracy alone is estimated to grow from $360bn (based on 2008 data) to as much as $960bn by 2015.

As to the fourth element, we need to be seeking regulatory convergence, leading to global regulatory harmonisation and the elimination of duplication. This could have a very substantial effect in reducing costs, provided it is done sensibly.

On the other hand, between markedly different regulatory environments, hysteresis can negate any beneficial effects of convergence. In fact, the hysteresis effect would rule out free trade areas based on the Commonwealth, and/or mixes of other countries where there are major differences between social development.

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Fifth, we need better dispute resolution would secure more uniform implementation, to ensure that whatever agreements are made, they are properly enforced. This is a highly vexed question which has yet to be resolved.

Sixth, instead of looking for all-embracing free trade agreements such as TTIP, which actually don't really work, there is the prospect of "unbundling", seeking sector-specific solutions. This is an alternative to the grandiose free trade agreements that promise much and deliver little.

Seventh, there are openings for more constructive ways of dealing with freedom of movement – especially on a global level - and, finally, we address the issue of free movement of capital and payments.

Each of these eight points will, in due course, be the subject of a separate post, the overall point being that these alone are enough to shape the future and give us plenty of meat to work on. I would not see this programme being completed in 30 years, by which time other priorities will have emerged. That is not as bad as it sounds, though, because progress is being made all the time.

The dominant ethos of flexible response, coupled with continuous development, though, will never change. And that is why "Brexit" is actually a chimera, and why anything that is offered as a fixed point or single event is a complete waste of space. Essentially, despite Myddelton's "Ratner moment", it is FLexCit or nothing. As an event, "Brexit" simply cannot work.


Richard North 08/04/2014

 EU politics: developing a winning strategy

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Despite the headline on the screen-grab, this is not about Farage. Rather, it is about one of my favourite subjects, stupidity - my own and, in this case the extrusions of Mr Andrew Rawnsley in this weekend's Observer.

Cutting to the chase, he is analysing the Clegg-Farage debates, and their implications for "pro-Europeans". The central conclusion he draws is that it is "hard to defend the status quo in the current climate and it is an unwise politician who tries to do so when elements of the status quo are anyway pretty indefensible".

Mr Clegg's worst mistake in the first debate, Mr Rawnsley tells us, was to answer a question about what the European Union would look like in 10 years' time by saying he thought it would be "pretty much the same" as now.

That, he says, may be an honest answer. It might even turn out to be an accurate prediction. But it came over as insouciance that was dismissive of public concerns. To win this great argument, we are told, "pro-Europeans will have to demonstrate a much better grasp of what makes people angry and a convincing commitment to reform".

It would be silly, Rawnsley concludes, "to read too much into the Clegg-Farage debates, but it would be equally foolish to ignore their lessons. Pro-Europeans should give up making excuses and start working on their arguments. It may be later than they think".

And it was worth spelling all that out just to be able to demonstrate how wrong Mr Rawnsley really is. Like Clegg, he doesn't even understand the battle he is fighting (and winning).

The point, of course, is that no one needs to defend the status quo. It has a habit of looking after itself. Those who challenge, those who are seeking change – they have to do the heavy lifting. Otherwise the status quo just goes rolling along, unchanged.

In the hands of the enemy, the most powerful weapon is the "elephant in the room" – the fact that so few people are aware of how much the European Union affects their daily lives. And in this, the pro-Europeans have the willing compliance of the legacy media and the establishment politicians. All they have to do is say nothing, and they win.

But the other weapon they have is FUD. Virtually, since Mr Cameron's January 2013 speech, the FUD has been pouring into the media, and it works – not that Rawnsley has begun to appreciate it.

Rawnsley's problem here is that he is just another metro-muppet. Like so many of his ilk, he's trapped in the Westminster village bubble, and actually thinks the Clegg-Farage debates were important. He's taken his eye off the ball.

The ball, in this case, is the EU "in-out" referendum polls. If Rawnsley really understood what was happening, he would have realised that his "pro -Europeans" were winning hands down.

With the leader of the ostensibly anti-EU UKIP having reinvented his party as the all-purpose "dustbin" for protest votes, having focused on Hoovering up anti-immigration BNP votes, the biggest player in the game is in the process of vacating the battlefield, one where the remaining forces are ill-equipped and unable pick up the slack – as yet.

Thus, would that he knew it, when Mr Clegg said that the European Union would look "pretty much the same" in 10 years' time, he wasn't very wrong. Ten years brings us to 2024. By then, a new treaty will have been in force, to replace Lisbon, for only a couple of years.

Only by some miracle will the UK anti-EU forces have built up enough momentum to have fought the referendum of 2018-19, and won the "no-out" vote. More probably, at the rate we are going, the UK will have fiudged the issue and we will be looking down the nose of another 50 years of EU membership.

And that really is the irony of people like Rawnsley. They are too stupid to even realise that they have won. All the have to do is keep pumping out the FUD, and the so-called "eurosceptics" will do the rest, failing through decade after decade to dent the opposition, or even understand why they are failing to dent the monster.

In ten year's time, therefore, they'll still be splatting "vote UKIP!" on Telegraph comment threads and not reading EU Referendum. We'll still be be writing "I told you so", as we celebrate our 20th anniversary, preparing to write yet another analysis of the latest treaty, and waiting for another referendum that will never come.

On the other hand, we could actually exploiting the stupidity of people like Rawnsley, develop our own winning strategy and then start rolling it out. Breaking habits of a lifetime and starting to win could prove addictive.


Richard North 07/04/2014

 Bexit: a "dystopian vision"

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The Independent today offers a "dystopian vision of Britain under the rule of Nigel Farage". That includes a perverse, distorted "Brexit" scenario, which goes like this:
The changes had begun in 2018 …

A minority Labour government had narrowly lost the vote on EU membership in 2017, with 48.2 per cent in favour of staying in, but 51.8 for the "Brexit". The result unleashed a wave of euphoria. It split both the main old parties and simply drowned the long-forgotten third. DemLibs, were they called? A tipsy exhilaration had gripped the land. As Tories and Labour fragmented, so the Patriots carved a substantial slice from each and won a fresh election with a landslide.

Gruelling months of negotiation in Brussels followed, with the British side much enfeebled by the mass resignation of senior civil servants. From farming and fishing to airlines and taxes, hundreds of discrete deals had to be struck at speed to replace the Single Market. At last, formal separation from the EU had come into effect on 1 July 2019.

The PU [Patriotic Union] had refused to join the wider European Economic Area, as membership would mean Norwegian-style subjection to every EU norm without a seat at the table. So, piecemeal, trade and co-operation pacts were hammered out on every front with EU mandarins who – in spite of their public commitment to neutrality – could not resist the odd twist of the fiscal knife in revenge.
And there we have the "no influence" - "fax democracy" meme writ large, the very same that Mr Clegg used in that debate, which Farage had every opportunity to demolish but didn't. But we will continue to get this sort of thing until we come up with an exit plan of our own. We have one here, served up on a plate, free. If UKIP wants help, here it is. It will struggle to find better.

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With that, it really is about time certain people realised that we are not playing games. Europhiles are rigging the debate and fighting dirty. FUD is and has been their most effective weapon, and they are using it to effect. Now, quite rightly (for them), they have homed in on the tactic painting a picture of the disaster they believe will happen if we leave the EU. If they paint that picture long enough and often enough, and inb enough graphic detail, it will have an effect. "Mud", as they say, "sticks".

It is, therefore, time that UKIP pulled its finger out. To help it on its way, we've set up a policy development pack for it (pictured top). And that, of course, is one of those low jibes which is calculated to irritate and offend. But those who are capable of thinking this through need to acknowledge that there is a limit to patience, and to tolerance. Can they say that the jibe is not deserved? Can UKIP actually move out of the kindergarten and deliver the goods?   

For a party which has as its objective (supposedly) the UK's withdrawal from the EU, it is utterly bizarre that they have not produced a settled plan to achieve that end. In fact, it is much, much more than bizarre. It is totally unacceptable. 

Here he have a situation where the Independent has actually crafted a longer, more detailed version of an exit plan than, so far, UKIP has produced. Criticising the critics for pointing this out will only go so far, and it will not work on this site. A better solution is for the party to pull its finger out and deliver a credible plan. Without it, UKIP has no claim even to be in the fight. And as long as it fails to deliver, I will be here reminding people of its failures.

The real issue, though, is whether UKIP can rise to the challenge or whether, faced with something more demanding than splatting "vote UKIP!" on a Telegraph comment thread, the hierarchy simply runs for cover. 


Richard North 05/04/2014

 Flexcit: travesty at the IEA

Autonomous Mind has noticed oddities about the final shortlist for the IEA "Brexit" prize. All those offering a distinctive EFTA/EEA solution (or variations thereof) have been blown out of the water while, amongst the remaining six, there is a distinct Commonwealth/Anglosphere bias.

One of the finalists, the Commonwealth Exchange, even goes so far as to say that it "does not take a position on whether the UK should remain in the EU" but feels it is important that plans are in place should it chose freely to leave. As a result, it has put forward a submission arguing that "the Commonwealth and wider Anglosphere should be at the forefront of any UK plans if it were to leave the union".

While we have yet to see the details of the final six, AM argues that the only possible explanation for the very obvious bias in the IEA judging panel is that it has abandoned any pretence of embracing wide-ranging and innovative solutions in an open minded fashion.

Instead, he says, it has "sought to advance entries that mirror their own pre-determined viewpoints". In short, the panel is only interested in entries that reinforce and confirm their own biases, which renders the whole IEA competition worthless.

You would hardly expect me to disagree with this, but there are very good, dispassionate reasons for suggesting that this is the case. Not least, as we pointed out in our earlier piece the political realities of any Article 50 negotiations are such that there will be great pressure to conclude an early agreement. Thus, while a Commonwealth or Anglosphere solution might sound superficially attractive, there is very little chance of settling all the issues involved in a de novo solution within a politically acceptable timeframe.

Additionally, we have the problem of fighting and winning an referendum campaign. Although the IEA set the scene with an Article 50 notification having already been made, I pointed out in my submission that any negotiations would have to take account of what had passed during the referendum campaign.

I then posited that, in order to overcome the FUD and actually succeed in gaining an "out" majority, there would have to be an unbreakable promise to safeguard our participation in the totemic Single Market. And that, to all intents and purposes, would require our re-joining the EEA.

While the IEA panel, in its patronising way thought this is an "intriguing" idea, what it will have to justify is the rejection of an interim solution in preference to something which may not (and almost certainly will not) work. Unless the panel have gone for another way of safeguarding our participation in the Single Market – one equally as plausible – one will be able to presume that it has not been guided by logic, or chosen the winner on the basis of merit.

When I looked at the competitors, during the writing of our submission, I concluded that any submission which suggested that the Commonwealth should be "at the forefront of any UK plans" would be so unrealistic that it could not possibly win. Although I allowed for better relations with Commonwealth countries, I did not place this prospect high up my list.

And apart from the fact that many Commonwealth countries have developed alternative markets and their own trading partnerships, there are very real technical reasons why the Commonwealth, as a bloc, could not form a stable or successful free trade area. In the modern age, says AM, the Commonwealth solution is no longer a realistic option.

Free trade blocs, he writes, require its members to have broadly similar standards and have similar levels of social development. There is such a difference in standards and social development between Britain and other members, including Uganda, Rwanda, Pakistan, India, Canada and New Zealand, that the notion of the bloc being a suitable wrapper for a free trade bloc just doesn't stand up.

The essence of a modern free trade area is a common rule book, setting out a wide range of standards, a reliable dispute system and, all importantly, uniform and effective enforcement.

Where there are major differences in social development, however, the introduction of common standards kicks in a phenomenon known as "regulatory hysteresis", explained in some detail in this paper.

What is absolutely necessary in a free trade area – as between EU countries in the EEA – is a convergence of regulatory systems, brought about by standardisation of law and uniform enforcement.

But what the paper illustrates is that imposing the same regulation in countries with different initial conditions can make countries diverge more, rather than move them closer together. This, it says, has important implications for global regulatory reform, but it also rules out any idea of the Commonwealth becoming a successful trading bloc.

For sure, as Empire, it could work, where the standards were determined in Westminster and enforced by British civil servants and colonial administrators under their supervision but, as independent countries, different conditions apply.

Between markedly different regulatory environments, hysteresis can negate beneficial effects of having a trading agreement, an effect which increases with time. Rather than go for a full-blown trading bloc, therefore, we need to assist the less developed countries with regulatory convergence, usually along limited sectoral lines, with the emphasis on improving enforcement.

This was one of the issues set out in my FLexCit submission, but the judges have given no indication that they have the capability to assess such effects, as indicated by the Bootle video (above).

Thus, AM has concluded that the IEA has ignored the real world in favour of a concept that would be unworkable and costly. It has pretended the politics of Brexit are irrelevant and that economics trumps all. As such, he writes, it cannot be taken seriously and any interventions it makes in the debate concerning the UK leaving the EU are likely to cause more harm than good.

Certainly, I will be looking very carefully at the winning entries to see whether the judges are indulging in nostalgic fantasies, or have taken account of real world conditions. As it stands, we have no reasons to be confident in either their grip of the issues or their impartiality.


Richard North 01/04/2014

 FLexCit: the blueprint for leaving the EU

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Since yesterday, I have been reworking my EU exit plan, into single line space format, with Times New Roman font. That brings it down to 98 pages – a reduced number of pages for those who want to print it out. The copy can be downloaded as a .pdf from this link, now entitled "FLexCit", standing for FLexible response and Continuous development.

This is probably the best, most comprehensive and realistic EU exit ("Brexit") plan you are going to get – for a very long while, free to download and to use as appropriate. Unlike many, it is written with a keen eye on the political realities, and is devised for the real world, with no concessions to the little Englander sentimentality that afflicts so much work.

Further, I do not rely on quick-fix superficialities of the type on offer here, in the Capital Economics "Nexit" report, nor flood it with irrelevant graphs and figures as a cheap way of imparting gravitas and authority. The work stands on its own, without artificial aids.

This, then, is the result of four-months intensive writing, under great time pressure, and word count constraints, but based on decades of experience and years of research. It is something UKIP should have produced years ago and, had I still been working with UKIP's political group, I would have produced earlier.

Incidentally, I noticed yesterday, in the run-up to the Clegg-Farage debate, Roland Rudd of British Influence (pictured), crowing that UKIP had not produced an exit plan. However, he cannot now say there is no workable exit plan. There is. It is here, the antidote to FUD and the shape of things to come. Comments and observations, aimed at improving it, would be much appreciated.

Richard North 27/03/2014

 UKIP: backing the wrong man

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The Nigel Farage story has moved on today, but is by no means abating. The media, however are moving away from the slightly risky territory of the UKIP leader paying a former mistress and onto the very much safer ground of him paying his wife, Kirsten, out of his secretarial allowance.

This is where the Financial Times stands, while the loss-making Guardian has resuscitated a video clip, with Farage stating that an MEP could earn as much as a Goldman Sachs banker through claiming expenses and employing his wife.

That was part of a longer documentary, Enemy Within, screened on BBC2 in 2000, at a time when there were only Michael Holmes, Jeffrey Titford and Nigel as MEPs. That was the time when the MEPs were pledging to put their surplus expenses into a fund to help people stricken by EU red tape, with a promise that wives and other relatives would not be taken on the payroll.

After yesterday's epic front page headline from The Sun, demanding, "Did UKIP with your aide Nige?", on the back of a page 5 story, the Daily Mail repeats the allegation today that Farage had an affair with Anabelle Fuller, who returned to Farage's personal payroll last year.

The paper thus asks, "Could Nigel Farage's 'weakness for women' be his Achilles' heel?", declaring that: "Ukip leader's love life may be his undoing at May's Euro elections".

However, a piece on Huffington Post rehearses yesterday's story, but is notable for some of the comments which suggest that Farage's private life is his own affair, and nobody else's business. That is fair enough comment, or would have been until Farage decided to mix business with pleasure. Then it became a legitimate public issue.

And Farage has most certainly been mixing business with pleasure. I recall once walking into his office in Strasbourg, only to find him in a passionate embrace with the latest intern, while Kirsten was actually in town with his newly-born child.

Later, we - the staff - had the embarrassing experience of having a fiery Kirsten storming into the office to demand from us information on what was going on. But far from being repentant, Farage gave the intern a full-time post. It thus became evident that the way to success for an attractive female was via Farage's bed.

Very much later, the Daily Mail tracked down this former employee, but she refused to spill the beans, then having her own career to think of as a full-time Brussels functionnaire. That left the paper without a libel-proof story, so the details were never published.

As for Annabelle Fuller, her relationship with Farage was an open secret. Such was their lack of caution that Farage had to be warned several times about making it too overt. He was, for instance, cautioned against taking her to Washington for a long weekend at the taxpayer's expense. But he never denied to friends and colleagues the nature of the relationship.

Once the newspapers started to pick it up, though, both emphatically denied their tryst, making ample use of no-win, no-fee legal services. More that a few journalists fell foul of the Farage sting, leaving a legacy of ill-will that could only bode ill.

The show-down with the long-suffering Kirsten, however, could not be put off forever. More than once, she had locked him out of the house when he had returned in the small hours from his drunken, womanising binges, and with one expensive divorce already costing him dear, he could not afford another.

The question thus remains as to whether Farage did a deal with public money. At the moment, no one is saying, but not a few in the party have been asking whether paying Kirsten her £30,000 salary was "hush money" for putting up with Annabelle. There had to be a reason for breaking all the promises ever made by UKIP about not hiring wives.

And now, with Mz Fuller back on the payroll, I think we are entitled to know if that is because she knows where the bodies are buried. For whatever reason, a woman with an erratic background and little to commend her is being paid a stellar £60,000 salary by Farage – plus additional fees to her PR business. 

Thus, the UKIP leader is paying his women as good as £100,000 a year from taxpayers' funds. And it is that, not his sexual peccadilloes, which is rightly in the public interest. We, like The Sun, are entitled to ask questions about these payments, and why they are being made.

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The point, of course, is that secretarial allowances are to enable MEPs to service their constituencies and perform effectively as elected representatives. For that, research is essential, an area in which UKIP generally - and Farage in particular - is dismally lacking.

As a former researcher for Farage's one-time group in Brussels, the EDD, I know only too well how vital the research role is. After I left, the role was never properly serviced. Bloom even sought my services again, but I recall my response being: "not even if hell freezes over". I now work as a researcher in a private capacity, for some decent men.

But I am very far from being the only competent researcher in the business. And for £100,000 a year, Farage could buy some serious capability. How much of the low-grade output coming out of UKIP is the result of his spending taxpayers' money on keeping his women quiet?

If he had done as I had suggested, and taken a like amount from the expenses of each of the UKIP MEPs, with additional group funds we could have set up a world-class research unit in Brussels, relying on the overhead being paid for by the European Parliament.  The aim was to rival the famous Conservative Research Department, the unit which kept Margaret Thatcher in power.

Despite all sorts of malicious rumours and ill-informed gossip, that was the real reason Farage and I fell out. I wanted the party to be research-led, pre-empting the FUD, keeping our MEPs and members properly informed and making a solid, unimpeachable case for leaving the EU. That's why, in the first instance, Booker and I wrote The Great Deception, a book Farage did his best to sabotage, seeking to prevent it being published.

On the other hand, he was already frittering away money on fruitless enterprises, on hiring his women and on topping up his already generous pension from his office expenses. The courageous Spiked online, meanwhile, deletes my comments on its own sycophantic piece, even as the sky darkens with pigeons coming home to roost.

With the likes of Spiked and others giving him an easy ride, Farage has got away with it for so long that he believes he can walk on water. But now, a number of journalists – who have also had to put up with a number of more sinister threats than just libel suits – have found ways of showing that he is just another opportunist politician on the gravy train.

That, of course, leaves UKIP members out on a limb. Yet Farage, in his own defence, asserts that his supporters "have had to develop thick skins and brave resilience when dealing with 'smears'". By this means, he dismisses the recent press as "part of a concerted campaign to undermine us which just makes us dig our heels in and wave off the Establishment". But it won't wash.

This is exactly what one might expect of Farage, but those who wish to dismiss current events as "smears" need to grow up.  It is a miracle that their leader has got away with it for so long. He has held hostages to fortune for so many years that it was only a matter of time before he got his comeuppance. If hadn't been this, it would have been something else.

Nor is this the end of it. There is much, much more in the pipeline. By the time the media has finished, the only thing left of Farage's reputation will be smoking wreckage - however long it takes. His supporters have been backing the wrong man. They need to be thinking about how to rescue the party before it too crashes and burns.

Richard North 14/03/2014

 UKIP: the direction of travel

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Despite the EU role in the Somerset flooding, the debacle over Ukraine, the corporate tax avoidance arising from EU's "free movement of capital and payments" provisions, the horsemeat scandal, the silicone breast implants scandal, and sundry other EU-inspired disasters, the latest poll on leaving the EU gives the "outers" 39 percent and the "inners" 41 percent.

With a two percent lead to those who want to stay in the European Union, you might ask what it takes actually to get people to want to leave the evil empire.

But then, most people haven't been told about the EU role in the Somerset flooding, Ukraine, tax avoidance, horsemeat, breast implants, etc., etc. In the main, all they get from the media is the low drone of assorted FUD, with very little counterbalancing intelligence on how the UK could remain in the Single Market once it had left the EU.

It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that the majority support the status quo, staying in the European Union. But there is more to it than that. Alongside the FUD, we've also been getting a steady drip-drip of publicity hostile to UKIP, in the Times and then the latest offering from the Daily Mail. This projects the party's London HQ as a bizarre freakshow. It paints a picture that would have most normal people crossing the road to avoid contact with the party, driving out any thought of voting for Mr Farage.

That certainly seems to be the case with at least 80 percent of the population, as the latest ICM poll on European election voting intentions indicates (below). This has 20 percent opting for UKIP, 35 percent for Labour, 25 percent for the Tories and the Lib-Dems on 9 percent. 

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Against historical performances, 20 percent is an encouraging figure, although it now puts UKIP in third place, and a very long way from the "political earthquake" promised by Mr Farage. If all he is able to deliver is third place, his credibility is on the line. But so is the credibility of the entire anti-EU movement, especially as Mr Farage wants the euro elections to be a referendum on the EU.

Furthermore, on general voting intentions, the news is even glummer. Labour stands at 38 percent, and the Conservatives creep in with 35 percent. But UKIP drops back to just nine percent in fourth place, while the Lib-Dems claw back third position with 12 percent of the poll. 

This is against a background of UKIP flatlining in the polls. Ever since the May "surge", the UKIP vote has been on the decline. Now, YouGov has the party oscillating between 11-14 percent, with very little movement out of that range for more than six months.

In a real life parliamentary by-elections, however, we are seeing much the same thing. At Wythenshaw, the party attracted only 5.7 percent of the electorate, with an overall turnout of 28 percent. In South Shields, it took a 9.4 percent share of the electorate. It took 14.8 percent share at Eastleigh, and 7.3 percent of the available vote at Rotherham.

With the one exception of Eastleigh, therefore, the party has been unable to mobilise more than ten percent of the electorate. It shows no evidence of having re-energised electoral politics, as turnouts remain poor. And, against the baseline of Eastleigh, the party's electoral support is going down. That is roughly what the polls are showing: gradually declining popular support and no sign of an electoral breakthrough.

All of that renders rather irrelevant the message of booksellers Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin. As some time political analysts, they are trying to sell the message that UKIP has greater potential than its poll results indicate. In theory, that may be true, but it also illustrates that they are out of their depth.  

In terms of "potential", a political party dedicated to leaving the EU (supposedly) should be able to pull in the bulk of the 39 percent who say they want to leave the EU. Such people should, potentially at least, be UKIP supporters. But, as we saw last year, the party also invites some pretty sharp reaction, with 43 percent of voters declaring the would never vote for it under any circumstances. More recently, we saw UKIP as the least liked and most disliked party.

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As stories abound of bizarre happenings in the party, only so much can be put down to "smears". To be asked why he is paying both his wife and his former mistress from his official secretarial allowance (note Barroso watching in the background) is not something which can easily be ignored, especially as the legacy media have been exceptionally quick to pick up the story.

Under such circumstances, a British MP would find it hard to keep his seat - a leader of a serious political party more so, especially when he is attracting critical comment of an extremely damaging nature.

Such low-grade revelations will continue, though, because, at its heart, UKIP is not a serious political party. And the percentage of "never" voters can only increase. But, even if hostile stories are dismissed as "smears", there is something which Ford and Goodwin clearly do not understand about the party. And that "something" explains what is happening. It explains the poll results.

Essentially, UKIP is not only fundamentally unserious. It is an empty vessel, devoid of any substance. The party has been strident on the subject of immigration, openly courting the BNP vote - as Mr Farage has been happy to acknowledge - but when it comes to leadership on issues such as the Somerset flooding, Ukraine, tax avoidance, horsemeat, breast implants, etc., etc., its voice has been uncertain, weak and often contradictory.   

If it had substance, a solid core, it could ride the smears and still make converts. But the closer people get to the party and the more exposure it gets, the more apparent the emptiness becomes. Unable to counter the FUD, and lacking ability to put the EU on the spot, it seems to be losing us the wider battle, as well as its own battle for votes. It may be a "eurosceptic" party, but by no measure can it be said to be leading a coherent, much less growing, anti-EU movement.

Inertia may get it some sort of electoral victory in the euros, but the chances of it "winning" the contest outright are now receding. And, on current results, the chances of us winning an "in-out" referendum are nil. That much we do know, now we know the direction of travel. The paths of UKIP, the political party, and the anti-EU movement are diverging. The one is no longer the other.

Richard North 12/03/2014