EU Referendum: drivel from Dominic


In this instance, not of the Cummings variety, we get a seriously lightweight piece from Dominic Lawson, former editor of the Sunday Telegraph and now Sunday Times columnist. 

Mr Lawson's subject for the day is the so-called "emergency brake", which he chooses to explore in terms of motoring analogies, starting with a little homily, to the effect that, "if the brake feels soft and spongy when pressed, it can be the indicator of imminent - and potentially catastrophic - failure".

Apart from the dreary lack or originality, however, the point to take home is that Lawson, in common with the entire corps of journalism – with the one exception of Booker - has not actually explained the nature and origin of what Mr Tusk calls the "safeguard mechanisms".

One can only imagine the transformative effect the detail might have, if prominently featured in the British media, pointing out that Mr Cameron was relying on a provision of the EEA Agreement, in force since 1994 and which could have been implemented at any time since.

What would also be interesting to see would be the effect this would have on the debate when it was pointed out that Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein have the power to invoke this provision unilaterally (and that Liechtenstein already has), whereas the UK requires the permission of the European commission.

Not least, one might suppose, this would change the dynamic, somewhat, of the argument over loss of influence, as between the UK and Norway, when we leave the EU. Even a micro-state such as Liechtenstein has more "influence" than us, it would appear.

The crucial point here, though, is that this detail is readily accessible to the media, and it is not for want of trying that it has not appeared in the legacy media.

Following my abrupt and bad-mannered rejection on Wednesday by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, I spent a cordial few hours in a floating hostelry with a member of the fourth estate, taking him through the Tusk "draft decision", including the detail of the "emergency break".

Specifically, I took him to the EEA Agreement and showed him Articles 112 and 113, pointing out the similarities in wording, and how it was that these were being used as the legal base for the Tusk decision.

Yet, despite some helpful follow-up messages, adding some useful detail, the response has been silence. As it stands, this brave hack has given more coverage to the foot attire of Nicholas Soames at PMQs than he has the origins of the "emergency break".

And that, in many respects, typifies the legacy media. Even when you go the extra mile to spoon feed then with the detail, handing them the story on a plate, nothing happens. Nothing, it seems, can interfere with the endless torrent of trivia which obsesses modern journalists.

Needless, to say, there are those who would have is continue down the path of helping and educating the legacy media, in the hope that they will one day get the message. Experience shows, though, that this is a fruitless exercise.

The media don't know because they don't want to know. Their ignorance is self-induced and meticulously cultivated. Dealing with them is wasted effort. Drivel from Dominic is as good as it gets.

Richard North 07/02/2016 link

EU Referendum: a list of empty promises


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And so it came to pass that Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, published in Brussels, his "proposal for a new settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union".

Together with Tusk's letter setting out the outline of the settlement, the key document is the Draft Decision of the Heads of State or Government, meeting within the European Council, "concerning a New Settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union".

If approved, it "shall take effect on the same date as the Government of the United Kingdom informs the Secretary-General of the Council that the United Kingdom has decided to remain a member of the European Union". But, what does it offer us?

Economic Governance

In the first of the so-called "baskets" – Section A on "economic governance" - it will be recalled that Mr Cameron asked Mr Tusk on 15 November that, if the eurozone countries decided to take measures to secure the long-term future of their currency, they would nevertheless "respect the integrity of the Single Market, and the legitimate interests of non-Euro members".

In Mr Tusk's response of today, he acknowledges that, in order to fulfil the Treaties' objective to establish an economic and monetary union whose currency is the euro, "further deepening is needed". That is the euro-speak for a new treaty.

Restating the obvious, Tusk goes on to say that further deepening the economic and monetary union "will be voluntary for Member States whose currency is not the euro and will be open to their participation wherever feasible".

On the other hand, it is acknowledged that Member States not participating in the further deepening of the economic and monetary union "will not create obstacles to but facilitate such further deepening while this process will, conversely, respect the rights and competences of the non-participating Member States".

When it comes to the detail, we actually get six substantive points, which prohibit discrimination between euro and non-euro areas and a requirement that legal acts, including intergovernmental agreements between Member States, directly linked to the functioning of the euro area "shall respect the internal market or economic, social and territorial cohesion, and shall not constitute a barrier to or discrimination in trade between Member States".

In another of these provisions, the Council notes that the implementation of measures, "including the supervision or resolution of financial institutions and markets, and macro-prudential responsibilities", to be taken in view of preserving the financial stability of Member States whose currency is not the euro "is a matter for their own authorities, unless such Member States wish to join common mechanisms open to their participation".

However, while this is all good stuff, Mr Cameron called for "legally binding principles that safeguard the operation of the Union for all 28 Member States - and a safeguard mechanism to ensure these principles are respected and enforced". Instead of this, he has actually got:
[7. The substance of this Section will be incorporated into the Treaties at the time of their next revision in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Treaties and the respective constitutional requirements of the Member States.]
The square brackets are in the text, which indicates text which has yet to be approved. So even in this draft document, we are dealing with a provisional statement. And that, itself, is very, very far from being unequivocal.

Crucially, this requires treaty revision and there is no treaty revision on the stocks. Thus the European Council is saying that at some unspecified time in the future, it will be included in a new treaty draft – assuming the then constituted Council agrees to be bound by the decision of its predecessor. It must then be agreed unanimously by all Member States - which the European Council has no means of enforcing – and it must then be ratified by all 28 Member States.

In other words, there are no "legally binding principles that safeguard the operation of the Union for all 28 Member States". Nor is there any legally enforceable  "safeguard mechanism" to ensure these principles are respected and enforced. All Mr Cameron has is an unenforceable political statement from the current European Council, which hasn't even been approved yet. From the list of successes, therefore, scratch any idea of "economic safeguards". 

Sovereignty - "ever closer union"

Missing out the virtually irrelevant Section B on "competitiveness", we skip to "Section C" which deals with sovereignty, the third of the so-called "baskets". Here, though, the European Commission is not addressing sovereignty, per se, but the British Government's concern at the continued inclusion in the treaties of the term "ever closer union".

This was included in Mr Cameron's letter to Donald Tusk on 10 November 2015, when he wrote:
First, I want to end Britain's obligation to work towards an "ever closer union" as set out in the Treaty. It is very important to make clear that this commitment will no longer apply to the United Kingdom. I want to do this in a formal, legally-binding and irreversible way.
From this, there can be no doubt that Mr Cameron is being unequivocal, especially in terms of wanting "a formal, legally-binding and irreversible" commitment from the European Union.

As to what is on offer from the Council Decision, after a something of a rambling preamble, we see this statement:
It is recognized that the United Kingdom, in the light of the specific situation it has under the Treaties, is not committed to further political integration into the European Union.
However, as it stands, that is a political declaration, which has no force in law. As per Article 15 of the Consolidated Treaties, "the European Council … shall not exercise legislative functions". Thus, this statement falls very far short of Mr Cameron's requirement. That shortfall, though, is quite obviously recognised by the Council, as the next sentence, in a now familiar style says:
[The substance of this will be incorporated into the Treaties at the time of their next revision in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Treaties and the respective constitutional requirements of the Member States.]
Once again, the square brackets indicates text which has yet to be approved. We are again dealing with a provisional statement.

This, then, is another issue which requires treaty revision, so the European Council is not able to give us a "legally-binding and irreversible" commitment from the European Union. In other of his "baskets", all Mr Cameron has is another unenforceable political statement, which hasn't even been approved yet.

From the list of successes, therefore, scratch "ever closer union".

That "red card"

Turning next to the much vaunted "red card", this refers to Mr Cameron's desire to enhance the role of national parliaments, "by proposing a new arrangement where groups of national parliaments, acting together, can stop unwanted legislative proposals". The precise threshold of national parliaments required, he wrote, "will be a matter for the negotiation".

Typically, the media in its usual ignorant way, has fallen for the trap of believing that something substantial has been offered by the EU. Taking this at face value, for instance, the Financial Times argues that "allowing the parliaments of member states to reject EU legislation could be a significant boost for national sovereignty if a sufficient number of legislatures decide to play the 'red card'".

But the idea that national parliaments are to be given any powers at all to reject EU legislation at will is sheer moonshine. This is an elaborate and cruel deception.

What in fact is on offer is an extension of Protocol 2, already in the Consolidated Treaties, relating to subsidiarity, a provision that William Hague once dismissed as so weak that even if the European Commission proposed the slaughter of the first-born it would be difficult to employ it.

Currently, as it stands, if a third of all the votes held by national parliaments are cast in favour of a complaint that a legislative proposals fails to conform to the principle of subsidiarity, then the draft must be reviewed. And after that review, the Commission may, if it so chooses, amend or withdraw the draft.

Now here's the thing. We are dealing with a very, very limited scenario. It is restricted to a situation where a draft law fails to comply with the principle of subsidiarity.

This applies only to areas where the EU does not have exclusive competence, whence the Union "shall act only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level". The number of occasions when this can be invoked is actually very small – twice since 2009 when the provision came into force.

But now, what is on offer is that:
Where reasoned opinions on the non-compliance of a draft Union legislative act with the principle of subsidiarity, sent within 12 weeks from the transmission of that draft, represent more than 55 % of the votes allocated to the national Parliaments, the Council Presidency will include the item on the agenda of the Council for a comprehensive discussion on these opinions and on the consequences to be drawn therefrom.

Following such discussion, and while respecting the procedural requirements of the Treaties, the representatives of the Member States acting in their capacity as members of the Council will discontinue the consideration of the draft legislative act in question unless the draft is amended to accommodate the concerns expressed in the reasoned opinions.
If this sounds slim, consider the Protocol as it already stands, which states that "if by a majority of 55 percent of the members of the Council or a majority of the votes cast in the European Parliament, the legislator is of the opinion that the proposal is not compatible with the principle of subsidiarity, the legislative proposal shall not be given further consideration". 

What is on offer, therefore, is nine-tenths of nothing - a very slender enhancement of a provision that takes very little power from the Union. The bulk of legislation, which covers areas of exclusive competence, is entirely untouched by this provision, and then the only ground for rejection is a failure to conform with the principle of subsidiarity – which in itself is notoriously difficult to sustain.

Even then, while this is not specifically stated, to introduce this non-provision, amendments to Protocol 2 will be required, and since the protocol itself is an integral part of the treaty, that amounts to a commitment to treaty change – which is not yet forthcoming. The proposal is a charade.

Safeguard mechanism (migrant benefits)  

Effectively, this is the biggest confidence trick of them all. The so-called "renegotiations" over the ability of the UK to suspend certain benefit payments to migrant workers are actually nothing of the sort. The UK, in a roundabout way, is simply invoking the pre-existing safeguard measures set out in Articles 112-3 of the EEA Agreement.

While there has been much loose talk about Norway's supposed lack of influence in the EEA, it in common with any EFTA state, can take such measures unilaterally but, as Article 113 of the Agreement states: "For the Community, the safeguard measures shall be taken by the EC Commission".

Thus, all the UK can do is petition the European Commission, which will now consider a proposal to amend Regulation (EC) No 492/2011 on freedom of movement for workers within the Union, which will then set in train the administrative provisions for invoking Article 112.

As to the "influence" of the UK, all Mr Cameron has been able to achieve is a draft declaration from the European Council, which states that:
The European Commission considers that the kind of information provided to it by the United Kingdom shows the type of exceptional situation that the proposed safeguard mechanism is intended to cover exists in the United Kingdom today. Accordingly, the United Kingdom would be justified in triggering the mechanism in the full expectation of obtaining approval.
So what this wonderful "new deal" amounts to is the agreement that the UK that can trigger an EEA treaty provision which has been in existence since 1992, "in the full expectation of obtaining approval" to control payments of British taxpayers' money to citizens of other EU Member States.

In other words, the UK is being told that it is justified is asking permission to control benefit payments to migrant workers and, all things being equal, might expect the Commission to give it permission to do so. That's real influence for you.

However, as we see from the main "decision" this permission will have a limited duration and apply only to EU workers newly entering its labour market during a period of [X] years, extendible for two successive periods of [Y] years and [Z] years.

In other words, there the four years which Mr Cameron has pleaded for is not foreseen in this deal, it can only apply to new migrants, and will be time-limited, with the actual timings yet to be agreed.

And overall, Mr Cameron says, this draft deal delivers "substantial reforms". It actually does no such thing.

Richard North 03/02/2016 link

EU Referendum: let stupid dogs lie


There is a telling difference between us lesser mortals and men such as John Redwood. We believe that we need the 419 pages of Flexcit, and something like three years of study, to define how we leave the EU. Redwood believes he can do it in a mere 417 words, contradicting the bulk of what we have to say in the process.

The detail of what Mr Redwood is writing is covered fully by Pete North, and explored further in another piece, and then by Lost Leonardo in his own blog.

Both writers take exception to Mr Redwood's many assertions, including the most egregious of them which have him declaring that "the Leave campaign does not want the UK to seek a Norway style deal", that in order to leave "the UK could simply amend the 1972 European Communities Act" and that, after leaving, we could "simply rely on World Trade Organisation membership to stop tariffs and other barriers being imposed".

Not without justice, Pete describes this as being "stupid to the point of malevolence", while Lost Leonardo writes of Mr Redwood having written a post that is "so anachronistic that one wonders if the man dreams not of taking Britain back to the 1950s but to the Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, without pesky big-brained mammals pointing and laughing at them blundering about the place".

Others have sought to challenge Mr Redwood directly, with Mike Stallard questioning his aversion to the Norway option, drawing attention to the fact that it is a "stop-gap". The response has been nothing if not perverse, with Redwood asserting that he has "no wish to end up in some EU-lite arrangement".

Such a facile response would tend to reinforce Pete's assessment that this is a malevolently stupid man writing. There can be little dispute that this is a particularly stupid response. No one with even the slightest familiarity with Flexcit could argue with any validity that it was "EU-lite".

However, of the many things we know about John Redwood, we would not mark him down as stupid. Everything points to him being a very clever man – a graduate of Magdalen College Oxford, a DPhil and a fellow of All Souls College.

The question therefore, is why such a clever man should behave is such a stupid fashion. And discussing this earlier with Christopher Booker, we concluded that the answer lay in the realms of animal psychology. Redwood is performing the age-old ritual of the cock proclaiming his dominance from the top of the farmyard dung-heap.

There is in fact a considerable body of scientific work, including the seminal 1993 work of Carlons Drews, on the concept and definition of dominance in animal behaviour. Drews defines the concept as:
… an attribute of the pattern of repeated, agonistic interactions between two individuals, characterized by a consistent outcome in favour of the same dyad member and a default yielding response of its opponent rather than escalation. The status of the consistent winner is dominant and that of the loser subordinate.
What Redwood is doing on his blog is displaying classic dominance behaviour, often known colloquially as "top dogging", although this is not a term you want to google without qualification, as it can lead you into rather different areas.

Often characterised as "aggression", there are recorded very different attributes to dominance behaviour, where the outcome is defined as much by the submissive behaviour of the subordinate as by the winner's actions.

What it boils down to is that alpha-male Redwood is marking his territory, prior to defending it, and thereby asserting his dominance. 

In a pack animal such as a dog, this might be done by urinating on the bounds of his domain – the scent of which is distinct to that animal. For the likes of Redwood, where such behaviour in the corridors of Portcullis House would be frowned upon and less effective, he relies instead on statements distinct to himself, then inviting agreement with them. This "agreement" he can then interpret as "submission", thereby reinforcing his self-perceived status as the pack leader.

We get exactly the same behaviour from Daniel Hannan, David Campbell Bannerman and even Ruth Lea – the latter establishing that the behavioural characteristic can present in the female. We're also getting it from Martin Durkin, with his misconceived attempt to make a film on leaving the EU.

The essence of the dominance behaviour is that it must, by definition, be egregious – specific to the individual. If it reflects the consensus, or agreement with a competitive alpha-male, it cannot invoke the desired submissive response that the initiator is seeking. The response becomes conformity rather than submission.

Thus, as we see with Redwood, the assertions have to be different - unique to him. But they are different for the sake of being different – they have to be in order to enable him to identify submission and assert his dominance.

In this, however, there is a sad irony. While dominance behaviour is normal in lower order animals – seen even in guinea pigs – in humans it is often a sign of insecurity and weakness. It is exhibited most often by males on the fringes of the "pack", who lack real power. Those who have power assert their dominance by exercising that power. They have no need for artefacts.

In all senses one can see this weakness in the likes Redwood and the others, even in Nigel Farage – all are individuals who have never quite made it and harbour deep-rooted inferiority complexes.

The real sadness, though, is that these individuals, in their quest to demonstrate their own personal status to their peers, are dragging down the "leave" campaign. Insistent on projecting perverse ideas for no better reason than to reinforce their own status, they cause confusion in the ranks and provide material for the opposition.

Dealing with these people is less easy. In the animal kingdom, a more powerful alpha-male will challenge the pretender and force a submissive display, thereby restoring order to the pack.

Humans, on the other hand, who are able to carve out intellectual "territories", don't work this way. They are able to define their territories by the number who submit (i.e., support) them and exclude (block) those who refuse to yield. Unwittingly, this is why Twitter is so successful (and often so unpleasant), as it allows free-rein for alpha-male dominance behaviour.

For the "leave" campaign, this is disruptive and dangerous. We have become carved into disparate "packs", each vying for its own band of supporters, the ultimate objective of leaving the EU having been subsumed into the more immediate need.

Fortunately the answer does not require the pack leader to square off with the challenger, fangs bared. The key is that we are dealing with weak people on the margins. Therein lies the clue – they should be marginalised further, ignored where possible. And their status-seeking nostrums should be ridiculed.

With Redwood, that is extraordinary easy to do. The animal instinct has buried his intellect and all we are left with is stupidity. We can, with ease, let stupid dogs lie.

Richard North 02/02/2016 link

EU Referendum: BBC – the enemy without


Tony E at Brexitdoor is one of our new generation of Brexit bloggers, and he's already had a look at the loathsome Jonty Bloom, and his attempt to talk down the Norway Option.

This is the second time in a month that the BBC have tried this, the trail blazed by Carolyn Quinn, who went to Greenland in order to do her business. But now it's Jonty's turn, a man who so transparently wanted to show us how bad it all was that it almost hurt.

But it is also a reflection of how arrogantly confident the BBC is that it will never be seriously challenged that it can afford to make such blatantly biased programmes. This is an organisation that is totally out of control, laughing at us as it peddles its propaganda.

Like so often though, the bias is as much by omission as anything. An honest man going to Norway to assess the implications of EEA membership would have looked at the whole picture. He would have talked to people like Bjorn Knudtsen, Chairman of the Fish and Fisheries Product Committee of Codex Alimentarius.

He might also have talked to politicians like Anne Tvinnereim, or Helle Hagenau, international officer of the Norwegian No2EU campaign.

The thing is that we don't have to rely on the BBC anymore. We too can go to Norway and find out things, (although we actually met Bjorn Knudtsen in Bristol), so we are not reliant on the feline Mr Bloom who was so determined to tell us that the Norway Option is not a good idea for Britain.

But, as Tony E recorded, Mr Bloom's pièce de resistance was the Norwegian domestic heating manufacturer called OSO Hotwater, a firm which enabled the brave BBC warrior to tell us that "independence does come at a price".

OSO Hotwater, we are told, is a maker of central heating boilers just outside Oslo, and a few years ago it woke up to a nightmare. Overnight OSO's boss Sigurd Braathen discovered that the EU was introducing new environmental and energy efficiency standards that favoured gas powered boilers over electric ones.

Obligingly, he told Mr Bloom that he did the calculations and realised that half of Oso's products would soon be useless: unsaleable.

Then, in comes the propaganda kick. Says Mr Bloom, "Norway is not a member of the EU, it has no say over these or any other EU rules. It can lobby against them, but it does not sit round the table when they are proposed, discussed, amended, debated, or voted into law. The consequences can be huge".

The story, however, doesn't hang together – not in the least bit. Legislation like this does not just pop out of nowhere. The instruments in question appeared in June 2010 as the draft Commission regulation with regard to ecodesign requirements for and delegated regulations for energy labelling of local space heaters, and also Commission Delegated Regulations of 18 February 2013 supplementing Directive 2010/30/EU with regard to the energy labelling of water heaters, hot water storage tanks and packages of water heater and solar devices.

As delegated legislation, this had been well signalled, stemming from a 2010 directive, the nature of which had been the subject of endless discussion. But, the particular feature of the legislation that was causing such concern was the inclusion of electric heaters.

Here, Jonty Bloom wants to make out that poor lil ol' Norway was all on its own, beating up against Big Bad Brussels. 

Laying on the anguish, he tells us how Sigurd would have had to buy new machinery and robots to install better insulation onto the boilers, at the cost of an extra £5 million. Because they were Single Market rules, the OSO and many other companies in Norway had to follow them even though they never exported so much as a single widget to the European Union, the nation having to "accept all the rules and regulations without a say in how they are made".

But., in the end, says Mr Bloom, OSO got lucky. The EU rules were watered down not because of anything that Norway did but because of French and Finnish objections. Originally the company thought it would have to spend £10m refitting its factory, in the end it cost just half that. But as Sigurd told Jonty, that was just "blind luck".

In fact, though, right from the very start, the heating world exploded in outrage. Not only did Norway object, but the issue was taken up by the Nordic Council of Ministers, which included Sweden, Finland and Denmark, plus it flew into heavy flak from Germany which in October 2012 asked for electric heaters to be taken out of the regulations altogether.

It took until August 2013, more than three years after the draft regulations had been published, for the highly revised regulations, during which period the Norwgians were fully consulted.

To allow a claim that it was simply "blind luck" that prevented the original, more draconian proposals coming into force is a travesty. It simply isn't true. 

Now it maybe that Sigurd Braathen was unaware of the turmoil going on, on his behalf. In trade politics, I have often found that businesses are completely unaware of stuff in the pipeline, largely because they are uninterested. Only when they come into force did they bitch at us for not "doing something", when we'd had been warning them for years.

But, with the huge resources of the BBC and the expenditure of an evening's work (which is what it has taken me – alright, a bit longer), the story could have been checked out. Had Mr Bloom really tried, he could have found that the story was flawed. If anything, it is an example of where the system actually worked. 

As to Norway not having a say, this is plainly untrue. It represented itself, it worked through the Nordic Council. And through the standards bodies, it had access to CEN and CENELEC, and through them to the Commission. Then, all the time it was feeding in to the technical system that was telling Brussels their regulations were a bad idea. 

If after all that, perversely, the Commission had gone ahead, no one EU Member State could have blocked the measures – not even Germany. But Norway could have exercised its "right of reservation" and blocked the application of the law for Norwegian products - or it could have negotiated and exemption to the law by way of a protocol appended to the EEA Agreement. Norway had more power than any other Member State. Listen to Anne Tvinnereim on this.

One should perhaps hesitate to say that the BBC was lying. But it is well evident that Jonty Bloom went to Norway to find reasons why the Norway Option was bad for Britain. Having found a plausible tale, he was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. He'd found what he had come for.

However, if the BBC is so keen to bad-mouth the Norway option, and ITV is now joining in, one has to ask what frightens them so much. Since they are going to such great lengths to warn us off, it must be evident to the meanest intellect that we're on to something.

On this, you can refer to White Wednesday's invaluable analysis on the entire Norway Option issue.

Richard North 23/01/2016 link

EU Referendum: Hannan, the enemy within


As we confront the reality of an EU referendum and the need to produce a coherent exit plan, the absence of a commitment from either of the two main groups, Vote Leave and, is becoming ever-more an embarrassment, holding back development of an effective campaign.

For sure, are now talking about having a plan, although progress on that front is glacially slow and by no means certain. But Vote Leave, under the tutelage of Dominic Cummings, has formally set its face against having one. This opens the way for the "remains" to claim that leaving is a leap in the dark, with jibes that the campaigns don't have an alternative.

Enter Daniel Hannan, writing for the Spectator and its "soppy europhile" editor Fraser Nelson, ostensibly telling us "What Brexit would look like for Britain".

At this stage, it is helpful to know that Mr Hannan is a director of Vote Leave Ltd, an organisation that refuses to commit to leaving the EU, fronted by Dominic Cummings, the campaign director who just happens to be married to Spectator commissioning editor Mary Wakefield. Nothing of this, of course, is disclosed to the reader, but this leaves it open for us to assume that Mr Hannan may have an agenda that he is not too keen on disclosing.

That said, we move on to Mr Hannan's piece. Once past the preliminaries, we find him looking at an alternative to the EU and suggesting that "all the options involve remaining part of the European free-trade zone that stretches from non-EU Iceland to non-EU Turkey". No one in Brussels, Hannan asserts, "argues that Britain would leave that common market if it left the EU".

It is at this point that one has to do a double-take. It is very easy to be sucked into this text without realising what Hannan is doing. But, right from the outset he is suggesting that the final outcome of a Brexit should be participation in a "free trade zone" with the EU.

At face value, this sounds so eminently reasonable that one should have little difficulty accepting that as a proposition. But, it is only when one starts thinking in a little more depth does one begin to understand the poverty of the vision on offer. We are supposed to go through all the turmoil and uncertainty of leaving the EU, just to come away a measly free-trade agreement.

But where Mr Hannan finishes, this is where we in Flexcit actually start – not that this is recognised by Hannan. He is nothing if not consistent in completely ignoring anything we have ever written, from The Great Deception to the present day.

There are several points, therefore, that go by the wayside. Firstly, settling the trading arrangements with the EU upon our exit is only one stage of an ongoing process – the start, not the finish. Secondly, we should be looking for something far more ambitious than just to fit in with the Brussels system. Thirdly, there is far more to our relationship with the EU than just trade.

In Mr Hannan's world, however, time has stood still. The idea of a staged exit is rigorously excluded while he rehearses the same issues he was writing about ten years ago, in terms that have scarcely changed. Laboriously, he goes on a hunt for the ideal "model", with a tedious and somewhat flawed review of the Norway-EEA and Swiss arrangements.

This leads him then to conclude that Norway "gets a better deal than Britain currently does", and – quite wrongly – that Switzerland gets "a better deal than Norway". And upon this flawed assumption, he then drops into an exposition of the better deal fallacy as he assert that "a post-EU Britain, with 65 million people to Switzerland's eight million and Norway's five, should expect something better yet".

"The deal on offer", Hannan claims, "is based on free trade and intergovernmental co-operation". And in his magic scenario, he tells us: "We'll recover our parliamentary sovereignty and, with it, the ability to sign bilateral trade deals with non-EU countries" and: "We'd obviously remain outside Schengen".

Sneakily dishonest in his portrayal, he omits to refer to the conflict between access to the Single Market and the continued adoption of free movement, despite this being one of the most fundamental issues in the entire Brexit debate. This is akin to building an F1 racing car without troubling to add an engine.

Furthermore, in Mr Hannan's "sunlit uplands" where we enjoy all the benefits of his "free trade", he doesn't bother with the rather important constraints of Article 50 negotiations, and with the difficulties inherent in agreeing his "better" deal.

Once again, this is a fundamental issue. We would all like to be able to sit down with the "colleagues" in some agreeable spot and, over the course of a balmy sunny weekend, come to a final agreement on trading arrangements. But in the real world, things don't happen like that. It took 16 years for Switzerland to conclude its package of deals with the EU and, typically, a free trade agreement with Brussels takes five years or more.

Thus, we have two elements – the timescale and free movement – which shape the scope and the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations. You can ignore them, but that makes no sense. Not only would your F1 racing car have no engine, it would also lack wheels.

The thing is, to the causal observer, Hannan's dishonesty is not that obvious. Negotiating a free trade agreement seems eminently plausible, more so when we are told that it would be "in everyone's interest".

To reinforce this legend, we are told that the UK runs a structural deficit with the EU, only partly offset by its surplus with the rest of the world. On the day we left, says Hannan, "we would immediately become the EU's biggest export market. The idea that either side would wish to jeopardise the flow of cross-Channel trade is bizarre".

What is not apparent here, though, is the non sequitur. Fur sure, neither side would wish to jeopardise the flow of cross-Channel trade but, in seeking a deal with the EU, the UK will find that there are substantial elements of any new relationship which are simply non-negotiable.

In this context, the EU is not going to change any fundamental provisions of the treaties to accommodate the UK. Even if it wanted to, it could not do so without going through the treaty revision procedures and that cannot happen within the framework of any exit negotiations.

Thus, the UK will not be given preferential access to the single market, giving the EU the effective status if an immovable object. And, given that is the case, the British government will deal with the reality. Most likely, it will come to an agreement which will be very similar to that enjoyed by EFTA-EEA states (the Norway Option). It certainly will not be any better – not in the short- to medium-term.

In this, and despite Hannan's assertions, the UK is a disadvantage. It cannot block the import of EU goods on technical grounds (being a party to WTO agreements) and neither can it impose tariff penalties without also applying those same penalties to all other nations with which it will want to trade.

The EU, on the other hand – and perfectly legitimately under WTO rules – can exclude UK products unless they follow conformity assessment rules, for which there would be no provisions in place.

Now, it doesn't matter how many times Hannan might write to the contrary – and how many thousands of pounds he is paid for repeating the same points – these are the facts of the matter. The UK, in its exit deal with the EU, will not get a "better deal" than the arrangements it currently enjoys.

It was because of that, and the other issues relating to the real world of Britain's post-exit position, that we wrote Flexcit. This plan did not emerge in its current shape for any arbitrary or whimsical reasons. It was structured the way it is because it represents the best possible fit to deal with the situations in which we will find ourselves.

When Hannan ignores this work, therefore, to come up with his facile, tedious nostrums, this reflects on him rather then on Flexcit. He is simply demonstrating his inability to look outside his own tiny little world and acknowledge that he is not the centre of the known universe.

It is actually people like Hannan  who are holding us back. With his false nostrums, he constitutes the most significant blockage to the adoption of a credible exit plan. Until we do, we will not be able to deal with the lies and the misrepresentations of the "remains",

But then Hannan is the man who most recently is on the record as saying that the EU will not take us seriously until we "vote no". That is, he says, when "proper concessions will be put on the table".

"In the event of Britain voting to leave", Hannan goes on to say, "some kind of associate membership would very quickly be put on the table". With that, "we wouldn't be full members, but we would keep probably the bulk of the economic and financial links to the EU but we would be pulling out of the political union".

However, Mr Hannan's "associate membership" keeps us in the EU, subject to the writ of the European Commission and under the jurisdiction of the ECJ. In a scenario which Hannan clearly has not thought through, this is achieved by "voting to leave" but not actually leaving. He is positing a situation where the "no" vote does not cause us to leave. It simply triggers further negotiations.

The man adds to the confusion in his Spectator piece, talking of many European federalists actively campaigning for Britain to be given an economics-only relationship - what Jacques Delors calls "privileged partnership" and Guy Verhofstadt "associate membership".

Such a relationship would allow "core Europe" to push ahead with a European army, a common tax system and so on, while - so Hannan says - "Britain led an outer tier of some 20 European states and territories, part of a common -market but not a common government".

This is actually a misrepresentation of the scenario. The "second tier" would never be 20-strong, and having the UK lead it exists only in Mr Cameron's dreams. And, in all events, "associate membership" keeps us within the EU, very much as a second-class member.

But it is a measure of Hannan that he is all over the place. Having written loosely about "associate membership", without having got to the bottom of what it actually means, he then writes of Iceland being "much better off outside the EU". And if Iceland can manage, he tells us, "I think we might just about scrape by". Yet Iceland is one of the EFTA-EEA countries, a relationship which Hannan eschews, while at the same time appearing to endorse it.

These are not the actions of a committed "leaver". More likely, we are dealing with a man who blows with the wind, and one who under certain circumstances, is prepared to stay in the EU. As such, he can hardly be trusted not to follow Mr Cameron is the "right" deal is offered. And that rather makes Mr Hannan the enemy within.

Richard North 22/01/2016 link

EU Referendum: stupidity as an art form


There comes a limit to how much we can accept as plain ignorance and begin to recognise that there are people out there in charge of keyboards who are so stupid that one wonders how they actually mastered the skills of tapping the keys in the right order.

But, when it comes to journalists, there is a very special kind of stupidity which infects a breed which is supposedly dedicated to spreading knowledge. This is the sort of stupidity that portrays a depth of ignorance of such a profundity that it cannot be accidental. These are the hacks who have elevated stupidity to an art form.

Soaring to the top of the list is Fraser Nelson writing a piece in the sadly diminished Telegraph, asserting that "a vote to leave the EU is no guarantee we'd shake off its malign influence".

What elevates his to the highest level, though, is a particularly facile comment, share by Labour's Stephen Kinnock – son of Neil – and the Tory MEP Vicky Ford, to the effect that notifying the EU of our intention to leave via Article 50 bars the UK from taking part in the exit negotiations.

Nelson's version of this stupidity comes in the context his asinine discussion of the Norway option, following which he ventures that we could "of course, hope to negotiate our own British option". But, writes Nelson, "appallingly, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty seeks to frustrate even this. If a nation votes to leave, it cannot be in the room when other EU members discuss the terms of its departure".

We've heard a great deal of stupidity on this, which stems from the wording of Article 50 in the treaty. As we point out in our explainer though, Para 2 of Article 50 actually requires the Union to "negotiate and conclude an agreement with that [withdrawing] State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union".

Para 3, inter alia permits an extension of the negotiating period – which must be agreed unanimously and then Para 4 tells us that the discussions between the Member States on the negotiations cannot be attended by the departing states.

This is not a block exclusion. In all other discussions and processes other than those directly involving the negotiations, the departing Member State participates fully in the business of the European Union.

Furthermore, the partial exclusion is entirely logical. Otherwise the UK would end participating in Council meetings when matters pertaining to negotiations with itself were being discussed and decided upon. This cannot be permitted, otherwise, effectively, the UK would be sitting on both sides of the table during the negotiations.

Yet the wording of this exclusion is taken by Nelson (and many others) to mean a total exclusion from the negotiations as a whole, to the extent that the "colleagues" unilaterally decide on what they will offer the UK, which is handed down on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

While it is troublesome enough that some politicians should believe this, journalists writing for "broadsheet" national newspapers are supposed to be a cut above the rest, claiming a special authority by virtue of their position.

Thus to have Nelson imbibe and then regurgitate this stupidity is simply unacceptable. It is not anywhere near the standard of work we rightly expect from a journalist from a "serious" newspaper. This is kindergarten stuff.

But, having gone so seriously off the rails, Nelson compounds his stupidity with a groaningly facile commentary on this supposed injustice. He tells us:
This is illogical and vindictive, but it is how the wounded beast would behave. It would certainly be in the EU's self-interest to agree a free trade deal with Britain: it would need access to our markets as much as we'd need access to theirs. But as the EU demonstrates with terrifying regularity, it does not always act rationally.
This is so much an example of the need for the pundit to look in the mirror – an irrational comment based on a flawed understanding of something that the journalist should have got right.

Bizarrely, we get Peter Foster in the same newspaper complaining that facts on the EU referendum are so hard to get, which should have him looking also at the rest of Nelson's work and taking it apart for its trivial superficiality.

This includes the repetition of the lame change of "fax democracy" in respect of the Norway Option which demonstrates that Nelson, in his squalid intellectual quagmire, has not progressed in his understanding of the issues relevant to the EU referendum beyond that which was current more than ten years ago.

Intellectually, Nelson inhabits a land where time stands still, where he is rehearsing arguments we were hearing 25 years ago (see, for instance 47:15 on this clip). Yet, to remain so completely locked in the past, his reading must be terrifyingly narrow. And only someone imbued with overweening arrogance would dare expose their ignorance to public scrutiny. A more rational (and humble) being would take far more care to be well informed.

This, it seems to me, could be the crux of the matter. Maybe it's wrong to call these people stupid – although I cannot find it in myself to suggest that parading one's ignorance is anything else but stupid.

What we are dealing with is a set of people who believe that it is perfectly acceptable to go into the field unprepared, taking money for their labours yet not in any way delivering value for money, or treating their readers with respect, by seeking out the best information they can, in order to pass it on.

As recently I presented Charles Grant with the choice of calling himself ignorant or a liar, people such as Fraser Nelson are stupid, or ignorant – or so arrogant that they feel entitled to treat their readers with contempt.

Either way, this is not responsible journalism. Anyone producing such poor quality work should be deeply ashamed, and it is exactly the measure of Nelson that he would not even begin to accept that his writing was in any way flawed.

I wonder though if he has any conception of the contempt in which he and his ilk are held by so many people, who have become disgusted by the shallow superficiality of the fare they are being offered. Perhaps, for him, it is better that he doesn't realise. He might otherwise never wish to show his face in public again.

Richard North 15/01/2016 link

EU Referendum: damnation by proxy


In what seems a contradiction of recent claims – that the European Commission is gearing up to take an active part in the referendum campaign - we learn from Reuters that economists employed by the Commission have been banned from researching the impact of Britain leaving the EU, or even talking about it, for fear of getting embroiled in the debate.

Reuters says it has been told that: "There is an internal order not to discuss or study the impact of Brexit", with information that the instruction had come from the office of the Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker.

A result of this, we are told, will be that the Commission's economic forecasts for the eurozone and the wider EU will take account of political and financial risks in China, the Middle East and the United States but not the glaringly obvious risk that Britain may vote to leave.

This diffidence, according to a senior EU official, arises from the Greek experience, when the Commission had denied it had a "Plan B" to manage a possible Grexit, only the for the press to discover that it had, causing "upset" in Athens and the money markets.

"We learned from the Grexit thing," says an official. "If we do it [produce a contingency plan], the press will find out about it. So this time we're not doing it".

On the face of it though, this would hardly seem to matter. The Commission has plenty of willing proxies, such as the Centre for European Reform., willing to churn out tales of the dire consequences of Britain leaving the EU. The latest offering from this organisation came only yesterday, under the title: "If the UK votes to leave: The seven alternatives to EU membership".

This was written by Jean-Claude Piris, Consultant for EU Law and international public law, and former Legal Counsel of the European Council and Director General of the EU Council Legal Services. This is also the man who so glibly lied to Carolyn Quinn about the fate of British expats when we leave the EU.

Under the directorship of former Economist journalist Charles Grant, CER likes to think itself a cut above the rest, yet Grant himself is not averse to a bit of creative fiction, having also told Quinn all the trade agreements negotiated by the EU would have to be renegotiated by the UK when we leave – something which is manifestly not true.

Given the choice by me on Twitter, of being ignorant or a liar, Grant decided that I was "rude" and blocked my account, even though he feels it perfectly legitimate to brand journalists as liars, without in any way being considered rude.

This is the measure of an organisation that offers no less than seven alternatives for leaving the EU yet fails to mention Flexcit or even discuss the concept of a staged withdrawal – which transforms the dynamics of a British exit.

More careful with his phrasing that Mr Cameron, Mr Piris confines his comments on the EEA (Norway) option to claiming that EFTA states "have to apply the EU legislation concerning the internal market … without having the chance to influence their content significantly". Says Prisis, "They are given the opportunity to express their views on legislation, but cannot vote on what is decided".

Nothing of course is mentioned of the globalisation of regulation and the fact that Norway has significant influence over technical laws, long before they reach Brussels. But then, candid analysis is evidently not part of Mr Piris's brief. He does not refer to globalisation anywhere in his document.

Instead, the partisan Mr Piris concludes that "none of the options available to the UK, in case it were to decide to withdraw from the EU are attractive". And with that, he tells us that any option would take the UK in one of two directions.

Either the UK would become a kind of satellite of the EU, with the obligation to transpose into its domestic law EU regulations and directives for the single market., or it would suffer from higher barriers between its economy and its main market, obliging the government to start trade negotiations from scratch, both with the EU and with the rest of the world, without having much bargaining power.

In short, says Piris, "if the UK chooses to leave the EU, it will be left between a rock and a hard place".

Sadly for the CER, though, the legacy media does not seem to have expressed any interest in Mr Piris's work. For the likes of the Telegraph, they are more interested in the offering of Cabinet Minister Chris Grayling, who is telling us that he "backs David Cameron's plan to renegotiate Britain's membership".

Together with Boris Johnson's declaration that he is not an "outer" and therefore will not be assuming the leadership of the "leave" campaign, these are statements of such banality that one wonders why anyone is bothered with them.

Far more interesting would have been an analysis of the paper by Andrew Duff, published on 12 January and of more than passing interest. A member of the Spinelli Group which produced the Fundamental Law as a proposal for a new treaty, Duff seems to have abandoned his brainchild in favour of what he calls: "The Protocol of Frankfurt: a new treaty for the eurozone".

Whether this reflects a lack of confidence in the ability of the "colleagues" to forge ahead with a new treaty isn't clear. But one gets the impression that Duff is presenting a "protocol" as an alternative to a full-blown treaty, possibly as a means of expediting proceedings.

However, given that there is no difference in substance between a treaty and a protocol, and that the latter – as proposed by Duff – will require the full treaty amendment process as set out in Article 48(2) – which Duff acknowledges – there seems no merit whatsoever in attempting what might be a shortcut. A full-blown convention will still be needed, followed by an IGC.

The implications of Duff's publication should have attracted the attention of the media though – although since the Fundamental Law has been scarcely mentioned, it is unsurprising that it has been given no attention. Nevertheless, readers would have been entertained by his observation that:
European integration has reduced the capacity of national governments to act effectively in many circumstances, but has yet to put in place an alternative government of a federal type at the supranational level. The EU institutions are in the invidious position of being significant enough to take the blame but not important enough to take the credit.
This, as much as anything, is a cri de Coeur for a new treaty, and if Duff – the insider's insider - is signalling that plans for a new treaty are on the rocks, then this is very significant indeed. This is possibly the one instance where David Cameron could be tempted to cut and run, and risk the wrath of the Electoral Commission, and go for an early referendum.

Such nuances, though, are way beyond the ken of the legacy media, which is besotted with local politics and unable to see anything beyond the Channel. But, if there is the slight chance that we are looking at an early referendum, then what really matters is the preparedness of the "leave" groups and their ability to produce credible exit plans.

It really is bizarre that we are so far reliant on the likes of the eurohphile CER to produce details of exit options, which they use as a means of damnation by proxy, while there is no official offering (as yet) from the two largest groups.

Things, however, are changing. We are beginning to see the re-emergence of Ukip "moderates". Flexcit is attracting some support from surprising quarters, and re-energising what has become a tired, stale debate. With that in mind, we're publishing online the short version of Flexcit, running to 33 pages, including the title page. If we are to be damned, let us at least have a suitable counter in place.

Richard North 14/01/2016 link

EU Referendum: the wrong kind of leaves


Booker is in full flow this weekend with his an evaluation of the state of play on the referendum.

A question he asked just before Christmas, he writes, is even more relevant today: "Has any major political story of our time ever been more myopically discussed than that of our promised referendum on whether the UK should leave or remain in the EU?"

In the foreground we still see the carefully staged theatre, which has David Cameron appear to trudge forlornly round the capitals of Europe seeking support for his wish to negotiate a "new relationship" for Britain in a "reformed EU".

This was all supposedly so that he could arrive next month at some kind of "a deal" – something that was never going to happen. Belatedly, even the Spectator and the Sunday Telegraph are beginning to recognise.

Not all the hacks have caught up with this reality, though, and some are still claiming that we could be seeing a referendum as early as this summer.

Meanwhile, with the emergence of Peter Bone's "Grassroots Out" (GO), ever more groups are emerging, some of which are jockeying for lead designation in the "leave" campaign.

As it stands, though, none have so far formally adopted A practical plan as to how we might actually extricate ourselves from the EU in a sensible way – let alone offer any positive vision of how Britain could flourish outside it.

Booker suggests that Mr Cameron will not emerge with much to show for his little ragbag of demands, although even these, he admits, would require a new treaty. And, as the Electoral Commission explains, the necessary procedures for a referendum rule out any chance of having one a day earlier than his promised date of 2017.

Looming over all this in the background, however, is that far more important element in the picture, hardly ever referred to on this side of the Channel: the fact that our EU colleagues are now actively planning a major new treaty of their own, which makes anything so far on offer look like an insignificant sideshow.

Hidden in plain sight, as in various documents published in Europe including last September's "State of the Union Address" by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, is the plan for a radical restructuring of the EU into two classes of member.

The 19 eurozone countries will move on to much closer political and economic union; while Britain and the rest become mere "associate members" (possibly also including countries outside the EU, such as Norway and Switzerland).

As Juncker explained, none of this is to be formally revealed until 2017, when the Commission issues a White Paper to trigger the laborious procedures now required for any new treaty. And these might not be concluded until 2025.

All of which completely transforms the game play. Mr Cameron can keep his original promise to hold a referendum in 2017, but only to ask the British people for permission to remain in the EU until the terms of the new treaty are clear. We will then have to hold a second referendum on whether we accept these terms.

His successor will thus be able to lead a "yes" campaign for Britain to remain in the EU as just an "associate member" (the fabulous "British model"), and Mr Cameron will have got pretty well all he promised.

Under this magical scenario, Britain will enjoy the sunlit uplands of a wholly "new relationship" with a "reformed EU", even though this meant we were still firmly part of it, subject to most of its laws – and of course without any of the advantages we might have got by regaining our status as an independent country.

Until our "Leave" campaigners wake up to this, Booker writes, they are doomed to remain as no more than "the wrong kind of 'Leaves' on the line" – and we shall continue sleepwalking through this dismal little non-debate in which no one bothers to explain what is really going on.

However, Booker recognises that one such "leave" one may belatedly be getting its act together on and exit plan. That is, of which we expect to see much more later. Mr Cameron's game may already be cast in stone. But for some of us the leavers, the play is only just beginning.

Richard North 10/01/2016 link

EU Referendum: the lies sharpen


The Britain Stronger in Europe campaign, which insists on calling itself "Stronger In" – as opposed to the more obvious BSE – has (rightly) made a feature of the leavers' confusion over an exit plan, producing a deft compilation (above) which makes the point.

But no sooner has moved to remedy the mater, a teenage scribbler in the Huffington Post takes the low road to miss the point, while BSE strengthens its determination to lie its way through the campaign.

Responding to the announcement that is to adopt Flexcit as the basis for its own exit plan, this remain campaign immediately jumped the gun by looking at the original draft and assuming that this is to be the final version.

This, of course, is not the way things work. have asked me to submit a draft, which I have done. It is now online, under the title The Market Solution. But its status is only that of my submission. will look at, and then we will discuss changes. If any are needed to meet the greater objectives (and I am sure there will be some), I am quite happy to look at them, as long as they do not breach the underlying concept.

In the meantime, it is going to take a little time to get a working arrangement functioning. This is the real world and complex, grown-up issues take time to resolve.

Nevertheless, this did not stop "Stronger In" from issuing a press release claiming: "Leave campaign backs 'Still pay, No say' model for UK outside Europe", asserting that had "adopted the controversial 'Flexcit' model". This, they claimed, "would see the UK continue to pay into the EU budget and accept free movement of people - contrary to the UKIP position on immigration".

This is the moronic level of what passes for comment from "Stronger In", with its "Executive Director" Will Straw arguing that: "Leave.EU's new policy shows they accept EU budget contributions, would keep free movement, would keep all EU laws, but would remove the UK's influence over the most important economic regulations we would be forced to accept".

It doesn't seem to matter how many times we write that this is a multi-stage process, and that the first step is an interim – a stepping stone – to allow for an expeditious exit within the two-year Article 50 period.

This is not even a nuance. It is the central element of the plan, but one which our critics on both sides seem to have difficulty getting to grips with. Nor can the famed Will Straw seems to be able to cope with the idea that much of the regulation that we will keep in place arises from global or regional bodies. This is another area where comprehension so often fails.

Also, seeking to make trouble, the press release talks of a "dramatic split" from UKIP immigration policy, which they claim "will enrage many Eurosceptic allies. It is, they say, "laying bare the increasing divisions inside the Leave campaigns and highlighting the massive disagreements still raging about what they see as an alternative to membership of the EU".

Actually, what has been encouraging is that, apart from a few hard-liners, the initiative has been well received. We are, after all, totally at one in agreeing that immigration must be managed. The difference is that we see the need to leave the EU first, in order to achieve any long-lasting and effective policy improvements.

Predictably, "Stronger In" wants to see the division, picking out this "scathing" section, which states:
To ignore the interplay between policy domains is rank amateurism, something which is manifest in Ukip's refusal to consider remaining in the EEA because of the requirement to maintain free movement of labour. This is a party which has failed to declare what it is trying to achieve in policy terms, declaring only the aspiration of "managing" borders. Thus, this political party is prepared to abandon a proven and workable trade relationship because it interrupts an indeterminate process aimed at producing an undefined effect, with no specified outcome.
This, in fact, heralds a pragmatic approach. And there are plenty of people on our side who see the sense of taking the tactical steps necessary to achieve success, rather than risk all in seeking unattainable objectives to achieve an indeterminate effect.

However, "Stronger In" does observe that Vote Leave "is now the only major organisation active in the campaign refusing to clarify which model they back for the UK". That really does leave them out on their own, being challenged to "speak up and set out their alternative to EU membership".

The irony is that, as long as Will Straw is around, it will not make very much difference what we do. He will either misunderstand or misrepresent it, resorting to low-grade polemics which neither enlighten nor entertain.

Bizarrely, when it comes to Flexcit, Straw relies almost entirely on the two-page summary, which leads him to surmise that the plan "appears to suggest the UK re-joining the EU, by the EEA countries being given what sounds like full member status".

This is what he actually takes from my description of the third stage of Flexcit, "which involves initiating negotiations to transform the EEA into a genuine, Europe-wide single market, with common decision-making for all parties".

This rather underlines my point about Straw's complete inability to understand what has been written. Fortunately, in the Herald, we get a Leave.EU spokesman saying: "Will Straw's gross misrepresentation of Flexcit ... betrays his woeful understanding of life outside the gilded cage of EU membership".

Indeed it does. "Far from having to 'pay with no say', countries like Norway and Iceland participate in hundreds of EU committees, helping to shape the Single Market regulations which they apply", says this spokesman, "retaining a veto where they find them particularly objectionable". Moreover, we are told, "they have full control over their agricultural policies, external trade and fishing waters, unlike EU members".

And then we get the point that evaded Mr Straw: "In any case, Flexcit sees the EEA as a stepping stone rather than a final destination". And that really is the issue. To get a lot, we have to give a little. The final outcome is what we have to keep in sight, with the eventual objective of redefining the entire post-war settlement.

In what is then a very fair representation of what I actually said, I am cited as saying that: "BSiE clearly haven't read Flexcit, from their comments. They don't seem to have understood what's written in it anyway. The idea of 'No say' is a complete lie, as even within the context of Efta and the EEA there are structured negotiations and consultations built into the system".

I add: "The Norwegian-style model would only be a staging post towards our endgame of going back to Winston Churchill's original vision of an arrangement covering the whole of geographical Europe under the banner of the UN Economic [Commission] Europe in Geneva, with nations co-operating as equals in a 'European village'".

Those people who have taken the trouble to read Flexcit and have the sense to understand it will realise that we are being far more ambitious then simply seeking to extract us from the EU. That, as I keep saying, is only the start of the process. We're playing the long game. We aim to achieve far more and end up far better placed than we could from just grabbing what we can get and running.

Richard North 09/01/2016 link

EU Referendum: BBC – the bias of institutional incompetence


In a programme entitled, "How to make a Brexit", on Tuesday's Radio 4 at 8pm, Carolyn Quinn explored "the practical process by which Britain would exit the EU if UK voters opt to leave, and looks at the experience of Greenland, which quit the EEC in 1985".

"We'll be travelling into the future to imagine what might happen should the majority of voters in the forthcoming referendum decide they want to leave the EU", she said in the programme. "How would the days, the weeks, the months after the result shape up? How would Britain go about the process of unwinding a trading and political relationship what has lasted for four decades? In essence, how exactly would Britain make a Brexit?"

Sadly, by the end of the programme, we were not much the wiser. But right from the start, when the narrative cut to Ruth Lea, we are able to see why this was going to be. At this early point, she was unidentified, but she was used to set the tone for programme. Quinn – insofar as she felt obliged to deal with these messy things called "eurosceptics" - dealt only with the "aristocracy", the guardians of the SW1 orthodoxy who have done so much to keep the movement in the doldrums.

Thus it is was the voice of Lea who shrieked out at us to create an atmosphere of crisis which doubtless fitted exactly with the BBC playbook: "Given a leave vote or whatever it is", said Lea, "then the British government will, it'll be all hands to the pump. Let's be honest about this. They'll have to get on with it".

Then a male voice, also unidentified at this stage, loomed out at us to reinforce the crisis meme. "This is the largest scale legislation and policy exercise that has possibly been carried out ever", it said. And yet another voice followed: "I think of this like a couple who've been married. This is sorting out your divorce".

There we have it – the BBC "take" on leaving the EU – framing the programme as a crisis, together with the pejorative vision of a couple sorting out their divorce.

In the programme, there were so many things which could have been said, such as the idea that, properly handled, the exit process could be remarkably uneventful. The day after leaving need not be very different, in practical terms, from the day before. And far from being case of an "old" couple – as we find out later – organising a divorce, Brexit could have been portrayed in a much more positive light. It could have been be seen for what it is, the chance to correct a historic mistake, breaking away from "little Europe" to rejoin the world. 

We would, of course, not expect the BBC to propagandise for the "leavers". But nor should it do so for the remainers, which is exactly what it has done. From the very start, the framing supported the "remain" side, casting Brexit in a negative or crisis mould.

With this framing so cast, Carolyn Quinn claimed that the BBC would "attempt to map a route though a tangled web of treaties, laws and directives which currently bind us to the European Union".

At this point, one might expect a neutral guide, and from the BBC were are entitled to get one. But to be that, Quinn would have had to pick out the most pressing issues, in order of magnitude – where the cost or political effect was greatest. But she did not do that. Instead, to start with, she picked out a singular minority issue, but one of potentially damaging to the "leavers", telling us that: "I'll ask what Brexit would mean for EU citizens in Britain and UK nationals in other EU member states".

Then, although far from relevant, she told us she would look at how our ministers in the European Council, our Commission and elected members of the European Parliament would spend their remaining time in office.

Starting "at the beginning" we were invited to imagine that the UK had voted to leave the EU. "What happens next?" Quinn asked. And oh dear me. We were exposed to a clip from some ghastly "comedy" programme, the "Now Show", which addressed the completely different question: "Can we actually leave?"

This, it would appear, was the BBC's patronising idea of introducing to Article 50 to us, wrongly identified as in the "Treaty of Lisbon" – despite its numbering being drawn from the Consolidated Treaty of the European Union. If you're not happy with your membership, some fatuous woman trilled to a background of equally fatuous music, "just return it to Brussels and with two year's notice, we'll cancel it with no questions asked".

And this, said Quinn, "is not quite as much of a parody as you might imagine". Jean-Claude Piris, former director general of legal services of the Council of the European Union, is our guide on this. He was introduced by Quinn to tell us what would happen if Article 50 was to be invoked.

Piris introduces the procedure, starting with a letter sent to the president of the European Council. Unfortunately, quite unnecessarily, Quinn then took us to Europhile Charles Grant, who added to his explanation the gratuitous caveat, "if all goes well".

"If all goes well", echoed Quinn lovingly, seemingly relishing in the doom-laden scenario to come. What came over was that this was what she wanted to hear. "As we will discover", she said, "There'll be all sorts of things which would need to be finally negotiated. The trade options alone are staggering and there's what to do with EU legislation, citizenship and even devolution".

Just in case you hadn't noticed, here again was that poisonous little barb on "citizenship". That was the second reference, along with EU legislation. We'll hear more.

It's was at this point that we got a journey into irrelevance, with an expensive trip to Greenland to tell us so little that one wonder why our license fees were wasted so freely. Pre-Article 50, the Greenland experience has so little to tell us that one struggles to understand how it helps at all, particularly Quinn's fascination with a drum made from reindeer stomach. This was valuable time wasted.

It was twelve minutes-plus into the programme before we got back, briefly, to Westminster and the SW1 bubble. The task was to look for a "model" for a post-referendum new relationship the government "would like to build". For that, we were taken to another member of the eurosceptic "aristocracy", Martin Howe – described as a "constitutional QC". He expressed his "fear" on waking up on the day after that referendum.

There will not, he opined, have been the preparation that should have been done in Whitehall. You'll find the civil service running round "like headless chicken wondering what to do". Thus did Quinn build on her artfully crafted sense of crisis.

Howe's belief was that, "whatever the government's view on the result of the referendum … it really ought to be doing some serious contingency work on what would happen if there's a 'leave' vote". Quinn then asserted that Howe had "given a lot of thought as to how we would leave" - albeit that that has not been particularly evident elsewhere. 

Gus O'Donnell, former head of the civil service, was then called in to ask whether Howe's fears were justified. "Obviously, every civil servant will be thinking 'what if?' What are the different possibilities, the different scenarios? I will be absolutely sure that they will be hoovering up all of the work that's been done by the outside world", O'Donnell said.

"Headless chickens" is not a fair representation, he said. The civil servants will be thinking through the scenarios. There is time for the government to decide when the Article 50 clock starts ticking, he told Quinn, leaving her to observe that leaving is far more complex than it was when Greenland left.

As to Brexit, there has, she said, been an attempt (implying that there had been only one such attempt) to anticipate what might happen – at which point we waited expectantly he hear of the detail. Instead, though, we were introduced to Stephen Booth of the Europhile Open Europe, and his "war gaming" exercise.

Strangely bereft of detail, the got the impression that Quinn got what she wanted. It is a "hugely complicated process", she said. And so the meme continued to develop, including another reference to the citizenship "problem" – the third reference so far – one of the many issues making up a "huge in-tray" for any British government faced with finding its way to Brexit.

One of the most pressing issues, said Quinn, was sorting out trade relationships with our soon to be ex-EU partners. And for advice on this, she goes again to Europhile Charles Grant, the man who does not want the UK to leave the EU.

"All the different options", he explained, "whether it's European Economic Area, Switzerland's bilateral agreements, the free trade agreement, the World Trade Organisation rules - there's a basic trade-off that Britain will face. If Britain wants to have significant access to the Single Market, it has to accept the rules and standards of that market, without having a vote on them, which is the Norwegian option".

"If it wants to maintain regulatory sovereignty and not have to adopt all the rules and standards of the EU - that's the WTO option - that's fine but then it has much less access to the Single Market. So there is a trade-off that Britain will have to decide upon when it leaves the EU, if it does, which is how much access do you want to the market and if so how much are you prepared to accept all the rules and regulations made by the EU without having a vote on them".

This is a carefully disingenuous statement by Grant, who avoided the "no influence" meme, and restricted himself to the technically accurate "no vote" claim – even though it was still thoroughly misleading. In fact, Norway has a vote on most of the rules when they are made, which most often is at global or regional level, before they get anywhere near the EU. We we got nothing of that from either Grant or Quinn.

You would have thought Quinn might have got a whiff of this point, as it has been circulated far and wide. But she was happy to take the Europhile at face value on this crucial point, without even the slightest question. This was clear bias at its most transparent.

Instead of pursuing this core issues, she lamely asked: "So could the UK manage without an EU trade agreement", referring to Ruth Lea for an answer – a lady described as an economist working for Business for Britain.

The trend was becoming clear. This was a perpetuation of the SW1"bubble" argument, totally London-centric, with no interlopers allowed into the debate. This was how the BBC played it.

Predictably, we got waffle from Lea on the WTO - familiar to many of us and much of it completely wrong, including the totally incorrect claim that China operates [entirely] within the WTO rules. But if what Lea was saying was controversial, we got no hint of that from Quinn. She imbibed it as the "reasonable option". Here only concession was that the arguments will range far and wide between the various trade options, asking Lea how she thought EU and UK negotiators would pick their way through the options. 

This forced Lea to concede that the negotiators would very likely sit down and conclude some kind of trade deal, if for no other reason than to prevent tariffs being applied to the car industry. From her, there was no mention, of course, of non tariff barriers. From Lea, there never is, and Quinn didn't have the knowledge to ask about this vital subject.

Cue again Charles Grant, the Europhile to give us something else to worry about. "Something that all these options have in common, which is very important for the British", he said, "none of these options, Norway, WTO, Switzerland, whatever, keep the Britain in the free trade agreement that the EU has negotiated with other parts of the world".

According to Grant, "there are some 200 trade agreements". But at this point, he secreted a direct lie: "but from the day we leave the EU, these trade agreements no longer apply to the United Kingdom", he claimed, "so Britain would have to start from scratch to negotiate separate bilateral agreements with other countries like South Korea, Canada, Singapore, whatever, to catch up and maintain the access that it enjoys".

The point here is that, as with the Czech-Slovak "velvet divorce", the UK can rely on the "presumption of continuity" embodied in international law. All the UK has to do is notify the signatories, for them to agree to continue with their trade agreements. There is absolutely no automatic need to start from scratch. To declare so is to perpetrate an outright lie. But not content with that, Grant went on to embellish the lie, saying:
There's a very important practical element here. Since 1973 when we joined the EU (he means the EEC), we haven't had any trade negotiators. We handed over that competence to the European Union and the European Commission, so Whitehall doesn't have any. And I can tell you, they're gonna have to negotiate dozens and dozens and dozens very, very quickly. So they're gonna be in the market for people who know how to do a trade deal. They’re gonna have to hire people from other member states, they'll use the consultancies, maybe they'll get some old men out of retirement to help. It'll be difficult.
Had she broken out of the SW1 bubble, Quinn might have been discovered that she was not being told the truth, but instead she referred back to Ruth Lea who was "not worried about that". She thought we could hire the expertise, not in any way understanding that Grant was misleading his audience – and with absolutely no conception of how long de novo negotiations would take.

Nevertheless, that was good enough for Quinn, who delved back into her "imaginary scenario" and the "increasingly crowded agenda" to take a journey to Brussels to meet Piris. He was used to point out one of the other big considerations besides trade.

But what we actually got was another lie. Piris told us that, "A big problem will be for Britons living, which are about two millions, in countries of the European Union now. So they will be not any more EU citizens, hence they will lose their citizenship of the EU which gives the right to move, to establish, who have a lot of benefits and so on".

"Then, if the UK tried to negotiate with the EU on that, will the UK accept that Eastern Europeans will have free access?" he asked, rhetorically answering: "I don't think so, because that's one of the problems. And if there are some barriers to this movement, the same would be applied to Britons going to the EU countries. So there will be a lot of problems for EU citizens living in the UK as well, because you have two millions living there, working and living and studying in the UK".

Thus said Quinn, "Immigration and movement of citizens then are among the host of issue that would need to be unravelled". She should have known better or found out, on such an important point. The fact is that acquired right under international law means that moat of the problems raised by Piris simply do not exist. But Quinn seemed to have got the problem she wanted, and was not going to weaken her case. Very far from that, she insisted on going further, to explore yet another problem.

"But we mustn't forget about legislation", she said. "What would happen to the mass of EU regulations, the thousands of directives which have been incorporated into UK law since 1973?" 

For her answer, SW1 again spoke to SW1. The guide here was Daniel Greenburg, "a parliamentary lawyer heavily involved in a number of EU-related Bills. He drafted the amendment act which brought the Lisbon Treaty into UK law in 2008".

"This is the largest scale legislation and policy exercise that has possibly been carried out ever", he said. "It's certainly bigger than the exercise that had to be carried out in 1972 when we joined because it's more complicated unravelling 40 years of combined European and domestic policy and literally every one of those thousands of pieces of our law that rests on European Union law will have to be examined to see how you unpick it, how much you want to throw away, how much you want to keep and for different reasons, and the extent of the exercise is just staggering".

This, though, was just one view – the most problematic of all scenarios. But once again it gave Quinn the answer she appeared to want. She did not trouble to delve further. Never mind that we might stay in the EEA and adopt the entire acquis, as well as repatriating laws outside the EEA. In that scenario, on the day after we leave, nothing changes. Like India and Ireland on independence, we could take our time, expending such energies as we felt necessary, so much so that India still has laws on its statute book that were drafted in Whitehall during the days of the Raj.

Quinn, though, quite clearly wanted the problems to mount up. "And it wouldn't just be Whitehall civil servants and policymakers affected", she said with barely suppressed glee. With that, we were back to Martin Howe, who assumed that we would not repatriate the CAP and CFP. Thus, he obliged Quinn with a new set of problems which have "implications for the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well". He told her:
You have a common agricultural policy which is very tightly controlled at European Union level but within the United Kingdom agriculture is divided – in England it's between the Westminster that controls it and in Scotland it's the Scottish Parliament and government that controls it, so you'd need to replace the Common Agricultural Policy with a UK Common Agricultural Policy. You wouldn't want to have, say, Scotland subsidising beef farmers who then undercut English beef farmers, etc. So you'd have to have a degree of central policy but within that you'd obviously retain the existing characteristics of the devolved legislatures and governments that have their own local powers and their local implementation of the policy.
With yet another problem bubbling away, and with "the policymakers and law makers set to work at Westminster and in the devolved governments", Quinn wanted to know what happened to the people working within the institutions of the EU.

Piris was quite helpful on one aspect of this, killing a myth promulgated by both sides. The situation would continue exactly as before, he said. The UK remains a full member of the EU. Ministers and officials continue to participate except that they don't participate on the EU's side for the negotiations with the UK, "of course".

A time-wasting digression into the European Parliament then took Quinn to a discussion of whether or not Article 50 was final – which need not detain us, especially as that takes us back to Greenland to add detail which was of no value, and an equally fruitless discussion as to whether Greenland should seek to join the EU. Other than to act as subtle, pro-EU propaganda, the diversions were completely irrelevant.

Back in Westminster, there would be "so many questions to answer" said Quinn, including the question of compensation for the UK's departure, or whether the judgements of the ECJ would still he heeded during the exit process.

Even then, there were, according to Quinn, "two final hurdles to cross". Any withdrawal treaty would have to be approved by Parliament "here in Westminster" as well as in Brussels. "So would a two or possibly three-year negotiating timetable really be enough to sort this all out", she asked.

"I think the problem is that once you start extending time like that, all the extra time will then get used up in opt-out negotiations", said Martin Howe. "Experience shows that the only way you achieve a result on negotiations is when they're up against a deadline".

Howe, said Quinn, believes there are sound, practical reasons why the UK should be prepared to walk away without a deal after two years - without in any way hinting at the consequences.

If the referendum were in 2017, he said, then the two-year time limit would allow the negotiation process to be completed and concluded within the current parliament, whereas if it's extended you're then going across into a new parliament with a general election in the meantime, in which there might be a change of government or, at a minimum, the negotiation process gets tangled up in the general election campaign.

We were then left with the thought of Gus O’Donnell seeing Britain as an old married couple who'd decided to go their separate ways – finishing with the theme introduced at the beginning. It doesn't have to be messy, Quinn said.

"When you trigger the Article 50, you then start the negotiations", said O'Donnell:
Then I think of this as a couple who have been married. This is sorting out your divorce – you know, the splitting of assets, because there'll be liabilities that'll need to be shared out, all sorts of things like that. That is one set of negotiations. The other set is of course life post-divorce. How are you going to live together? And there are various ways you could live together. You know, you're going to be sharing the same global trading world. Are we gonna be sharing it more like a Norway or a Switzerland, or a New Zealand or a Japan. So there are lots of different scenarios. But once you've got through the divorce proceedings, let's hope that they can be done in a nice, amicable way, so we have an amicable, friendly divorce and then we get on to, as it were, co-habitation and how we're going to live together in this world, and trade together in this world.
And that's how the programme was left. This was the SW1 view of Brexit – shallow, alarmist and heavily weighted with Europhiles who were keen, with the eurosceptic aristocracy, to share their ignorance with us, bolstered by uncorrected lies.

Obviously, this was what the BBC thought was high-quality broadcasting. But, as an attempt at impartiality, it was irredeemably flawed. So subtle was the bias, though, that not everyone recognised it for what it was. This was bias by ignorance, bias by omission. Quinn the ignorant chose – with her producer and researchers – from a tiny gene pool of "prestigious" voices who simply do not have the knowledge to inform us on crucial questions. Others were prepared to lie about the subject, in a way that Quinn was quite unable to detect.

One could not accuse Quinn and the BBC of bias in the ordinary sense. They are too ignorant of the subject to know how to be biased. This was institutional incompetence speaking from the bubble, a new type of scenario where the ignorant see fit to preach to their fellow man.

We need to complain long and loud to the BBC on this. The combination of ignorance and lies, and the obsessive, London-centric reliance on prestigious figures made this programme a low-grade, distorted pastiche. If there is to be a free and fair debate, we need far better from the BBC. And this is a point that must be made.

Richard North 07/01/2016 link

EU Referendum: another strategic misstep


Yesterday saw Vote Leave make a fool of itself over the costs of regulation, then compounding its error with facile and misleading estimations of the amount of law in force in the EU.

It claims a "staggering 714,709 pages" are currently in the acquis, repeating the same amateur mistake it has made so often - taking the total laws promulgated over time instead of the laws currently in force. The point, of course, is that as new laws are brought in, many replace others, consolidating or repealing them.

As it stands, the number of EU laws is relatively stable, standing at 23,076, up from 20,868 EU acts currently in force in December 2013. But the figure is irrelevant anyway. For what it is worth, the number of laws on the UK statute book stands at 101,2777 – over four times the EU number.

The point here is that numbers, per se, mean nothing. What matters is the nature of the law, its source, and how it is applied. And in purely volume terms, the actual number of EU laws means very little. So much is of international origin which we would have applied irrespective of EU membership, and which will continue to apply even after we leave the EU.

In campaigning terms, it doesn't make sense to talk up the volume of EU law if, when we leave, there will be very little if any change – and we end up with just as much law as before we left. Doubtless, the "remain" campaign will point this out, disadvantaging a "leave" campaign which has made an issue of it.

Much the same applies to the question of EU contributions. Given that we agree payments on a seven-year cycle, it is likely that we will remain committed to making full payments until the end of one cycle, and possibly one more.

Then, as has been brought to light by the arguments over the Norway Option, if we were to agree a relationship with the EU similar to that enjoyed by Norway, we would be paying over at least half of what we are currently paying – and possibly more.

Add to that the EU payments, for CAP and other functions, and the actual savings on out EU contributions will be relatively modest – possibly as little of £4 billion per annum, and then only after a transitional period.

Again, therefore, it makes little sense in campaigning terms to talk up an issue as a problem if we then are not able to deliver much in the way of relief once we leave. Yet again, the "remain" campaign can make mincemeat of our claims.

Yet, this is precisely what Vote Leave is doing, in the Express and the Times, talking up the cost of EU membership, heedless of the fact that leaving the EU will deliver very little in the way of savings. And in the Telegraph, we have Matthew Elliott still bleating that 2014 contribution was £19.1 billion - thus counting in the £4.9 billion rebate that is returned to us.

From another perspective, it also sends out the wrong message, defining the anti-membership case as an economic rather than political issue. That leaves us vulnerable if Mr Cameron is able to promise a reduced contribution (as part of an associate membership package), as we will not be opposing membership as a matter of principle.

This flawed approach, however, is typical of the people involved with Vote Leave. As we saw, Cummings focused on the economic issue during his Business for Sterling days, Elliott used cost as the basis of his failing No2AV referendum strategy, and now we see the same theme in use again – making the Cummings-Elliott duo something of a one-trick pony.

Such is their arrogance, however, that nothing critical  - either in private or public - will ever have an effect on them. These self-declared campaigning "geniuses" consider themselves totally beyond reproach. Neither do they believe in consultation, or in coordinating their activities with other groups.

Under such circumstances, all we can do is publicly distance ourselves from their incompetence – making a declaration that they do not speak for us and that the claims made are "not in our name".

Vote Leave is acting with all the strategic and tactical acumen of a bull in a china shop, and we cannot afford to be seen to have anything to do with them. We did not ask them to take on the "leave" campaign and, as they are dong more harm than good, we can only make out concerns very public and very clear.

Richard North 31/12/2015 link

EU Referendum: a matter of complete indifference


I am not entirely sure either the media or our esteemed politicians have fully understood what the term "referendum" stands for. They may know what the word means, in principle, but the implications do not seem to have sunk in.

This certainly seems to be illustrated by a story doing the rounds, with the Guardian version telling us that David Cameron "is facing fresh pressure to grant ministers a free vote during the EU referendum campaign after Michael Howard, the former Conservative leader, joined those calling for collective responsibility to be suspended".

One can see the point of the collective responsibility being lifted – this is the route taken by Harold Wilson, when he allowed his Ministers freedom to campaign on either side, once his (sham) negotiations had been completed.

What is tiresome, though, is the obsession with a "free vote". There will in fact be two votes, one the Cabinet vote on the outcome of the "renegotiations". That vote is made in secret and Ministers will be free to vote any way they choose. But then there is the parliamentary vote to approve the renegotiation package, at which point there are calls for the free vote.

The issue is then whether individuals are then bound by collective responsibility or whether they should be free to vote against the package in Parliament and then campaign openly against continued membership of the EU.

However, being a referendum, there is only one vote that matters. This is on the day when we all go to the polls – and Ministers will have exactly the same opportunity to cast a vote as do we all – in secret. At that point, they are free to cast their votes any way that they please.

Interestingly, the Guardian does not believe that the parliamentary vote is a decisive factor. And out in the real world, there are doubtless many – of which I would count myself as one – who are totally indifferent to how Ministers campaign. A referendum is a matter for the people and the less we hear from politicians the better.

More to the point, we have become used to the extraordinary ignorance of politicians from both sides of the divide. It is unlikely that any of them can contribute usefully to the debate – they are more likely to confuse the issues than add to our enlightenment.

However, this is giving the legacy media something with which to keep the referendum issue bubbling over. Having convinced themselves that there will be a "deal" at the February Council, and a vote in June (or July), they seem anxious to keep a narrative going, milking the London-centric political drama for all that it is worth.

On the timing, the Independent seems to be hedging its bets, telling us that David Cameron "hopes to seal his renegotiation deal" in February. But, "if he fails", it says, "he will have to wait for the March or June summits and postpone his plan for a summer referendum".

That is the way the media are going to play it. They will ramp up the soap opera, bringing it to a crescendo in February when we will be entertained by a cliff-hanging drama and a last minute failure to secure a deal. The fact that there was never going to be a deal thus will never have to be admitted, leaving the way clear to repeat the drama for an autumn referendum – another one that is never going to happen.

Meanwhile, in a welcome re-emergence, Mr Brexit entertains us with a comparison between new domestic abuse laws regarding coercive and controlling behaviour and our membership of the EU. He advances the tongue-in-cheek thesis that, if we applied the statutory definition to our EU membership, it would have many of the characteristics of an abusive relationship.

There is also a new entrant to the blogosphere, in the form of Tommy 1, who is having a look at why Norway is the only leave option for Brexit – a useful exploration of the issues.

That is more than we can say of Hugo Dixon in The Times, who asserts that many Eurosceptics don't like the Norway option. "No wonder they no longer recommend it", he writes, adding: "The snag is that they haven't spelt out a credible alternative. As a result, quitting would be a leap in the dark".

This, of course, is not true, which leaves these people adopting the ostrich position, determinedly trying to convince themselves that a credible exit plan does not exist. They will cling to this fiction, because they must, aided and abetted by the media which still believe they are the custodians of the debate.

Needless to say, we are not sitting idle on this. Reality may be deferred, but it is not to be denied. My gut instinct tells me that this could be an interesting year for Flexcit.

Richard North 28/12/2015 link

EU Referendum: skating on thin ice


For several months now, there has been what one might call a "vibrant" debate over the funding of university research and the potential effect of leaving the EU. This has seen the establishment of a campaigning organisation called Scientists for EU, set up to argue the case for remaining in the EU.

However, as the campaign gets more strident, and more overtly political, questions are being asked about this inherently political role of bodies which receive a great deal on public funding.

There is good cause for arguing that such bodies should not involve themselves in political campaigns, and especially the EU referendum when the question on the table is "who governs Britain". It is no part of any publicly-funded organisation to intervene in such a debate.

Typical of the propaganda line being adopted comes with the Independent from Christmas Eve, which asks readers to consider the damage which could be done to "British science" by a Brexit.

Addressing that issue directly, though, is to take the framing of the Europhile campaign at face value, falling into a huge trap. The campaigners are not actually representing science, per se, but higher education as a whole, which takes some of its funding from the EU.

If we then look at higher education as a whole, the perspective changes completely. Firstly, as an "industry", it is huge, earning a massive £30.7 billion in the financial year 2013-14. The Higher Education Statistics Agency lists 666 providers on its register, including approximately 138 universities and some 67 "university sector colleges", operating out of 15,895 buildings.

Student numbers (in the year 2013-14) were 2,299,355 comprising 1,533,855 taking first degrees, 226,065 other undergraduates and 539,440 postgraduates. The sector employed 395,780 staff of which 194,245 were academic and 201,535 were non-academic.

As to the sources of the industry's £30.7 billion income, £6 billion came from funding body grants (19.8% of income), of which £1.96 billion was allocated to recurrent research. The largest amount, £13.7 billion, came from tuition fees and education contracts (44.5%), other income came to £5.6 billion (18.1%), and endowment and investment income brought in £340 million (1.1%).

The actual amount brought in by research grants and contracts amounted to just £5 billion (16.5% of income). Of that, collaborative research involving public funding earned £1.1 billion, contract research brought in £1.2 billion, consultancy contracts yielded £442 million and continuing professional development (CPD) and continuing education courses brought in £679 million.

Of the total of about £7 billion research income, the actual payments from the EU (funded from the UK contribution to the EU budget), amount to a mere £690 million – a tiny fraction of the industry's total income, comprising a mere 2.3 percent. Charities, incidentally, contributed £1.1 billion to UK research in 2012-13.

Here, it is worth noting that, compared with the £690 million (of our money) the EU sends to the UK, £3.8 billion comes from fees and accommodation from non-EU students – more than five times the EU research figure.

A further £3.4 billion went on goods and services bought off-campus and the total export earnings from non-EU students (2011-12) were estimated at £10.7 billion. In fact, nearly 20 percent of the output generated by the higher education sector can be attributed to the recruitment of non-EU students – accounting for 18 percent of the jobs generated.

Yet, for a mere 2.3 percent of the industry's income, we are being told that continued British membership of the EU is essential – so fantastically important that it must over-ride all the constitutional and democratic implications. One might venture that the advocates of this stance have lost their sense of proportion. This has to be a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.

And if that was not enough, there is an inherent dishonesty in attributing all this EU funding to "science". The Framework 7 programme (FP7) covered many difference areas, including large tranches of social studies.

Then, even those areas which covered scientific issues were not by any means pure science. When I looked at FP7, I found  that about 10-15 percent of the funded projects had direct policy relevance. The research was used for setting out parameters for EU intervention and legislation. From its €50 billion budget, I estimated that as much as €20 billion supported the EU legislative programme.

When we look at the current Horizon 2020 programme, we can see a similar dynamic. For instance, "actions" for 2014 and 2015 are focusing on, "New ideas, strategies and governance structures for overcoming the crisis in Europe (resilient economic and monetary Union, EU growth agenda, EU social policies, the future of European integration, emerging technologies in the public sector)".

The EU is also funding work on "Europe as a global actor", focusing research and innovation cooperation "with third countries, new geopolitical order in the Mediterranean, EU eastern partnership and other third countries". It will also look at: "New forms of innovation in the public sector, open government, business model innovation, social innovation community, ICT for learning and inclusion".

In short, the Commission tells us, the Horizon 2020 programme "aims at fostering a greater understanding of Europe, by providing solutions and support inclusive, innovative and reflective European societies with an innovative public sector in a context of unprecedented transformations and growing global interdependencies". In short, the research programme is a gigantic policy generation machine.

This aspect of the European Union is rarely understood. Apologists claim that the Commission employs less staff than a local authority such as Birmingham City. But the reason it is able to keep numbers down is by outsourcing much of its policy making.

Policy development is being funded through the research programme, with academia co-opted as a fully-fledged partner. And for this and 2.3 percent of its income, the Higher Education "industry" wants us to stay in the EU.

The irony is that, should we leave the EU, we can retain participation in the EU's research programme, as does Norway and Iceland - and even Israel. But there is another twist. The EU research cash devoted to policy development is directed at securing "European" solutions, leaving the UK effort depleted.

When the UK leaves and starts to rebuild its own policies, it will need the research capabilities of UK universities. For a while, at least, government research spending will have to increase. Higher education can only benefit financially from our withdrawal. If there is a political case, the industry has no business making it.

Richard North 27/12/2015 link

EU Referendum: the tedium of it all


If we hadn't already seen so many times almost the entire media corps getting it wrong, we might be a little concerned about the reporting on the forthcoming EU "summit" – as they insist on calling it. Given the media track record, however, I think we'll trust our own judgement, and simply note the media's lamentable analysis

Part of the dire collective is the Financial Times, setting us up for the Christmas pantomime. Centre stage is David Cameron's plan "to renegotiate Britain's membership of the bloc". But, in what the paper is styling a "tricky" encounter, we are suffering from tedium as charade is played out.

This is the "neuralgic issue" – the denial of migrant in-work benefits for four years after they arrive in this country. With a theatrical impasse dominating the headlines, we are acquainted with a "plan B", in the form of an "emergency brake" on migration. This, we are told, "would allow the UK and other member states to curb free movement in special situations on the grounds of public security or public health".

Funnily enough, this would be very similar to Articles 112-3 of the EEA Agreement, the so-called "Safeguard Measures" which permit EFTA states unilaterally to take "appropriate measures" if serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectoral or regional nature arise and are liable to persist.

But what is a routine part of the EEA Agreement and available to countries such as Norway cannot be given to the UK. It will be "hotly contested" at next week's "summit", even though, "for all the sound and fury", neither plan will alter the flow of migrants from Europe to Britain" – according to Sir Stephen Nickell of the Office for Budget Responsibility.

In any event, we are told that British officials have dismissed the "emergency brake" idea as "kite-flying" and "chaff". They suspect that the option was floated to provoke other EU leaders into opposing it. Such are the games that are played.

However, those of us with memories longer than a nanosecond will recall that the "colleagues" aren't planning on reaching a resolution next week anyway. Donald Tusk has already told us that the December Council will only address "the political dilemmas related to this process". He has added: "Based on a substantive political discussion we should be able to prepare a concrete proposal to be finally adopted in February".

Therefore, we are not going to see anything resolved next week – other than the totally ersatz controversy drummed up by the media to keep the plebs entertained and its idle hacks employed.

We see this tedious controversy in great measure in today's Telegraph with the Prime Minister saying that the "short term reaction" of British people to the flood of migrants entering Europe will be to think "get me out of here" and consider voting for Britain to leave the EU.

Those who might be fooled by the headline need to read Mr Cameron's comment on the "longer term". This, he says, will lead to European leaders realising that they will have to give him the reforms he is demanding as part of his renegotiation with Brussels.

So the mindless dirge plays its way through the system. The "colleagues" will see the light in February, only then to raise another hurdle. That will have the media hyperventilating for a while over the new "threat" until that too is resolved, only to be replaced by another one, and then another.

The dynamic will last us until the spring of 2017, when we will start getting the vibes about Mr Cameron's shiny new "British Model". The media can then swoon over the brilliance of it all, prior to pulling the plug on the "leave" campaign and backing continued membership of the EU. 

For the time being, though, we have the FT telling us that the "free movement of EU citizens" is "a cornerstone of the European single market". "The central question at the forthcoming referendum", is says, "will be whether the British public's angst over migration is so great that it justifies surrendering the huge economic benefit that Britain receives from being part of the bloc".

With a self-awareness not commonly found in the media, it then declares that this is not a matter that will be influenced much, if at all, by the outcome of Mr Cameron's talks in Brussels. "The sooner the country moves on to a substantive debate about the merits of EU membership the better", it concludes.

That debate, of course, is not on the agenda. The media simply isn't up to it, the campaigners don't want it and the likes of Mr Cameron simply want to rig the referendum in any way necessary to procure a win. Having a free and open debate would wreck that plan.

Instead, the Prime Minister has been meeting Guy Verhofstadt who put to him his proposals for changes to the current institutional setup of the Union. They include "greater eurozone integration and more efficient management and decision making within the Union". Yet again this is "two-tier Europe" writ large, encompassing associate membership which Mr Cameron has already labelled the "British model".

This, Verhofstadt has set out in print, reminding us that a British renegotiation "will most certainly lead to a major treaty change". This will, he says, "create a system of two types of European membership". The first type "is 'full membership' that goes all the way. It makes you part of the 'ever closer union' with one currency, one economic policy, one army and one foreign policy".

Those countries who think the full membership is not their cup of tea can apply for the second type: "associate membership". This gives access to the internal market with its free movement of goods, services, capital and people. You will only have to apply those rules and regulations that are necessary to create a level playing field in internal trade.

Obviously, that also means the UK would no longer have full representation and the corresponding voting rights at EU level.

"That's it", Verhofstadt tells us. "It is clean. It is neat. Everybody will know where they stand. No more complaints about unfair treatment, rebates or historical opt-outs. This means that the real crux of the matter is not how to clean up the European mud pool, but whether politicians everywhere in Europe can handle this kind of clear choice".

A UK referendum on the country's role in Europe is fine, he avers. No democrat could ever oppose that. The real question is: What will the referendum ask? Will it be a "yes/no" on the membership of the UK or will it mandate the newly elected Prime Minister to renegotiate the terms and conditions of the UK's membership?

If the Brits vote to stay in the union but on different terms than today, they should be prepared to accept an "associate membership" in which they will have little or no say in how these rules were decided on. That is the consequence of their choice, Verhofstadt concludes.

Actually, it's not going to be quite like that. Britain will be cast as the leader of the "outer ring" and a full member of the "trade group". We will have full representation and voting rights on anything to do with the Single Market. This is the "British Model" – a claimed improvement on the "Norway option", and sold as EEA with voting rights and "influence".

There are so many signals point to this that one would think that only the blind and the terminally stupid could fail to understand what is in store for us. But, as Lost Leonardo points out, such matters are only evident among a small but growing online community. The rest are either in denial or suffering from "not invented here" syndrome.  

In time, when real people have finally tired of the shallowness of the debate and the trivial posturing of the "noisemakers", we might start breaking down the wall of stupidity that the media have erected.

In the meantime, says Lost Leonardo, if you want to make a real contribution towards Britain leaving the EU and agreeing a new relationship with our continental allies based on intergovernmental co-operation and not supranational subordination, then LeaveHQ and this blog should be your first port of call.

Until then, tedium rules. The media is a lost cause, and the high profile campaigns are not any better.

Richard North 10/12/2015 link

EU Referendum: ten answers to ten questions


British Influence has published a rather tedious report purporting to assess the possible consequences of Britain leaving the EU. 

In keeping with the general policy of this organisation, it studiously ignores Flexcit, which of course it has to do in order to pose ten key questions. It claims that advocates of Britain's withdrawal from the EU need to answer them if they are to put forward a credible alternative to EU membership.

These questions are either answered or addressed in Flexcit but, as LeaveHQ observes, British Influence haven't the guts to take us on. If they did, they simply would not have a case, and would not have had to pose the questions in the first place. 

Nevertheless, to make it more obvious that these people are "frit", with LeaveHQ we've reproduced their questions and appended the relevant answers, drawn from Flexcit and related material:
1. What would the Eurosceptic ideal arrangement between the UK and the EU look like and how realistic is it possible to achieve?

There is no ideal arrangement. We have never pretended that there was one, and it is facile even to suggest that there should be one. Essentially, after nine treaties and more than 40 years of political and economic integration, there can be no optimum or "ideal" mechanism for leaving the EU.

Nor is it possible or even advisable to specify precisely which arrangement might be best or most realistic for the circumstances, when the outcome depends on negotiations between parties. We thus suggest a series of options in our Flexcit plan, any one of which, if adopted, will permit a trouble-free exit as part of an overall process which involves six measured steps to freedom.

The real issue then is whether it is possible to develop a good working relationship with the EU once we have left it. The answer to that is an unequivocal yes, with every reason to believe that this would be beneficial to the UK and EU member states.

2. Every successful arrangement with the EU to allow countries outside of it access to the Single Market has included freedom of movement – how would we arrange access to the Single Market without agreeing to freedom of movement?

Under the options available to us, we would compromise on freedom of movement for the purposes of retaining access to the Single Market, pending a longer-term resolution. We recognise that Brexit is a process rather than an event, and the immediate goal of leaving the EU is best served by the continued adoption of freedom of movement, to allow for a staged exit.

In the interim, we would take such measure as are permitted under current agreements to restrict migrant flows, by administrative and other means. This would include dealing with non-EU measures which permit or facilitate third-country immigration.

3. Article 50 stipulates a two-year timeline for exiting the EU. However, the Swiss deal with the EU took almost ten years to agree. How would we avoid any post-Brexit arrangement taking as long as the Swiss deal did?

We do not endorse the "Swiss option". The reason we propose the EFTA/EEA ("Norway") option is that it is a well-established off-the-shelf option and the best for a rapid exit, within the two-year Article 50 period.

Should the Norway option not be accessible, there are other off-the-shelf options available, allowing considerable negotiating flexibility. There are no good reasons, therefore, why negotiations should not be completed within the two-year period.

4. Won't the commercial interests of the remaining EU countries take precedence for them over giving Britain "a good deal" post-Brexit?

Article 50 prescribes that Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with the departing State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. International law and the rules of the Union require that the negotiation shall be carried out in good faith.

Within the framework of the negotiation, we are conscious that the legitimate concerns and needs of all parties must be respected. We also understand that the Union cannot, for its own purposes, offer the UK a better deal that it could secure through membership of the EU. Our plan, therefore, sets realistic objectives and ones which do not prejudice the survival of the EU or the commercial interests of its members.

5. Won't the two-year (at minimum) period post-Brexit period see Parliament completely tied up in renegotiation with the EU to the detriment of all other legislation?

The Article 50 negotiation is a matter between the European Council, with the European Commission, and the Member State government. Parliament is not directly involved in the negotiation.

We would expect Parliament to approve the Government's negotiating mandate, and to be informed as to its progress. There would also be some merit in the Houses establishing a joint, cross-party select committee to review and advise on the negotiations, and to report occasionally to both Houses. Any final agreement would also require the approval of both Houses, and possibly a referendum, which would also have to be authorised by Parliament.

The burden thus imposed, in total, would not be substantial and would be well within the capability of Parliament to accommodate without the allocation of any further resources.

Further, as a point of information, the UK would not formally leave the EU until the negotiation had been concluded, or the two-year period expired.

6. Without the weight of the Single Market behind us, how will Britain avoid being in a poor bargaining position with countries like China, should they wish to come to the bargaining table in the first place?

As regards existing trade deals, the UK will be in no worse position outside the EU than it will be in. It can rely on the legal assumption of continuity to ensure that it will continue to trade with third countries on the same basis as it did before it left.

As to trade generally, the "big bang" trade deals such as TTIP belong with the dinosaurs. They are expensive and time-consuming to negotiate and rarely deliver the benefits they claim.

The greatest growth in international trade is being achieved through innovative, flexible agreements such as the Partial Scope Agreements – and their equivalents which deal with technical barriers to trade – plus "unbundled" sector- and product-specific agreements, cast on a regional or global basis, without geographical anchorage.

The UK, freed from the encumbrance of the EU and the need to work within the constraints of 28-member "common positions" will be better able to partake in these innovative mechanisms, and improve its trading position far beyond that afforded by old-fashioned trade deals.

It would also be in a better position to broker deals between non-state actors, where growth potential is high, without being held back by the lethargic bureaucratic procedures of the EU.

7. How could voters be persuaded that the more radical alternatives to EU membership wouldn't bring radical economic and political change with it that would disadvantage them?

Political realities suggest that the more radical alternatives would not arise. In our plan there are various fallback positions, some of which are sub-optimal for the time being, but hardly radical.

In any event, post-exit we will see the restoration of democratic controls over the legislative and treaty approval process. We expect Parliament to resume its historical function of reflecting the will of the people, and thus ensuring that undesirable and unasked-for changes are avoided – unlike at present, where the will of the people can be overturned by the undemocratic institutions of the European Union.

We do, however, recognise that there are weaknesses to our democratic system – in addition to those brought about by our membership of the EU – and thus propose as part of our exit plan reforms which will strengthen democratic control, and thereby better ensure that the wishes of the people are respected.

8. Are those who wish Britain to leave the EU proposing open borders – or even significantly relaxed visa restrictions – with all Commonwealth countries, including some developing countries with massive populations, and in some cases large scale internal political problems, such as India, Pakistan and Nigeria?

In our plan, we do not propose open borders – or even significantly relax visa restrictions – with any Commonwealth or any other third country. We would, however, seek to include mutually beneficial visa arrangements in any new trade deals, over which we would retain total control.

9. During the two-year negotiation period that starts with the triggering of Article 50 post-referendum, wouldn't there be a large incentive for an unprecedented amount of EU citizens to emigrate to the UK while it was still legally possible?

Since our plan retains freedom of movement provisions, there would be no need for any citizen of any other EU Member State to make any special arrangements in seeking residential status in the UK as their rights and responsibilities will be largely unaffected by the UK leaving the EU. We expect EEA rights to be maintained.

However, it would be perfectly legitimate within the context of the Article 50 procedure, to negotiate a side deal on an intergovernmental basis, temporarily removing or modifying reciprocal establishment and citizenship rights, to pre-empt and thereby prevent migration surges.

10. Are proponents of Brexit willing to remove a crucial aspect of the Northern Ireland peace process and risk Scotland leaving the UK in order to leave the EU?

We think British Influence does a great disservice to all the players involved in the Northern Ireland peace process by pegging its success on the EU. Ultimately, devolution is helping to create a distinct governing body separate to London which will do more for peace.

As to Scotland, ironically, we would ask ten questions not entirely dissimilar to those pitched by British Influence. Those who say Scotland would break the Union should also read our Brexit plan in that they will find that breaking away from the UK is as politically and technically tricky as the UK leaving the EU.

The EU will likely reform on the basis of a two speed Europe to address the necessity for more economic governance over the eurozone. That is an inevitable consequence of currency union. Scotland using the pound means full separation is not a political reality. Thus, in most respects Scotland is as independent as it is ever going to be (give or take).
Despite these answers being inherent in the Flexcit plan, in its own arrogant way, British Influence is now issuing a challenge to "all supporters of Brexit" to answer its ten questions.

Yet, the one thing of which we can be assured, is that British Influence don't actually want our answers and will ignore our posts - even though it is challenging all Brexit supporters. Theirs is a propaganda game where they are only interested in point-scoring.

Nevertheless, our answers are here. British Influence can pretend they don't exist, but they are still here.

Richard North 09/12/2015 link

EU Referendum: an optimistic view


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As the year begins to drain away without anything tangible in terms of Mr Cameron's supposed renegotiations, we get Catherine Bearder the last and only Liberal Democrat MEP, doubting whether the UK would be allowed the Norway option if it did leave the EU. "The deal will be very difficult, because they [other member states] don't want any other country to join us", she says.

She likens the scenario to someone leaving the family home after a divorce, remarking that, "You don't give them the front-door key and tell them to use the sitting room any time they like".

Insofar as this means anything, it is a neat reminder of the "better deal fallacy". The EU has too much at stake to give us an easy ride, so it will deliver as much as it needs to, and no more. However, there is little dispute that stresses are building up within the Community and, according to Nicolai von Ondarza of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, there is an urgent need for the EU to legitimise its current situation.

Von Ondarza argues that the numerous successes of eurosceptics in the European elections, and above all the subsequent national elections, have already impaired the functioning of the Union. Without the consent of the people, it is condemned to failure in the long term.

Nothing immediate can happen but the medium-term political perspective will be dominated by three looming events: German Bundestag elections and French presidential elections in 2017, and the British referendum in 2016 or 2017.

Until then, von Ondarza concedes that there is not a great deal more that can be done. That which can be done will only pave the way for tackling a treaty revision after 2017.

Germany can and should play a key role in this process. Not only does Berlin occupy at least a leading position in the Eurozone, London also orientates its negotiating strategy largely on Germany.

If Berlin wishes to advance the Union's development it needs to use these levers, above all to achieve the necessary political agreements in the short and medium term. And in the longer perspective the German government must declare its willingness to tackle the challenge of a regular treaty amendment, including a Convention.

Doubtless, the role of France will also be crucial but, in 28-nation Union, any single member can end up blocking change. A referendum in any one of a number of countries could delay or even block those medium-term plans.

But there is obviously something in the wind, as we are also getting ruminations from Nick Witney former chief executive of the European Defence Agency.

He warns that Britain is pushing its luck and the patience of the "colleagues" is wearing dangerously thin. While a properly committed and engaged UK would be widely welcomed, the departure of the obstructive and unhelpful UK of recent years would, in and of itself, elicit few tears.

Any efforts partners are still ready to make to help Cameron in his "renegotiation" will be made less by warmth towards the British than fear of Brexit's impact on the cohesion, the balance, and even the sustainability of the remainder of the EU. Thus, we have the possibility of a situation where the "colleagues" might walk away and leave Mr Cameron to his fate, letting him fight the EU referendum unaided.

This might especially be the case if the Union is unable to agree to a new treaty announcement before Britain goes to the polls, in which case the Prime Minister will be going to the people with empty hands. And having promised "full-on" treaty revision, not even to have the promise of a future treaty would leave him in a very weak position.

In that event, if the "leave" campaign could come up with an attractive alternative to the EU, and offer credible assurances that an orderly departure is feasible, then we could be in with a serious chance of winning the referendum.

This must be obvious to the Prime Minister, who must be aware that he needs the promise of a treaty in order to win. And since there can be no treaty announcement until the Spring of 2017, that more or less settles the date of the poll.

Therefore, as far as the current state of play goes, we have nearly two years to convince the British public that there is a credible alternative to the EU. And if we get it right, 2017 could actually see us on our way out.

Richard North 26/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: strategy on autopilot


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In February 2013, names more familiar to British audiences now than they were then appeared in the Huffington Post, talking about Mr Cameron's (then) "in-or-out" referendum.

The names were Gerry Gunster and Ben Goddard, respectively senior partner and chairman of Goddard Global, the company now engaged by Arron Banks and his operation as strategic advisors. To this pair, David Cameron's call was fascinating for "those of us - mostly Americans - who study and practice the science and art of 'ballot measure' campaigns".

Americans, we were told, routinely vote on hundreds of state and local referendums each election cycle, settling and resettling debates on issues ranging from tax policy to alcohol regulations to how governments are selected.

But a world power deciding such a monumental, non-retractable, international issue as EU membership "in one swift referendum" is, they said, "somewhat unusual and trepidatious - even to the ballot issue happy cousins on this side of the pond".

In what might turn out to be an apocryphal comment, Gunster and Goddard went on to tell us that "referenda" are "neither for the faint-hearted nor for the inexperienced". Like most EU issues, they said, this debate will be contentious and emotionally charged. There will be charges and counter-charges, fear tactics, negative messages, conspiracy theories, misleading polls, half truths and full lies.

But, we were told, "experience teaches us that those succeed in defining the terms will win the debate". Doing that requires "the use of sophisticated research, targeted communications and organization of a broad-based coalition capable of taking the winning messages to the street".

So, more than two years before Mr Cameron had won the election which was to lead to the referendum, Gunster and Goddard were telling us how to fight our unique referendum, and in terms that quite clearly applied to the contests they had experienced in the United States.

Armed with that experience, they tell us that every successful referendum campaign "must be based on a very simple truth: Everyone votes their own self interest". Thus, they aver, "the side that speaks to the self interest of a majority who vote on election day is the side that will win".

Then came what could be taken as the sales pitch. "It takes sophisticated research to determine how your side can best appeal to the self-interest of the most voters - messaging that creates a bond between your cause and a majority of voters", we are confidently informed.

Not stopping there, though, Gunster and Goddard decide to tell us that the most common mistakes campaigns face is "the trap of the false consensus." Those who feel the strongest about an issue tend to wind up in charge of the campaign. They also tend to believe their own arguments.

Emphasising their utility, they declare that: "Only a commitment to using good research and sticking to a consistent message is a sure path to victory, as we have demonstrated in over 95 percent of the campaigns we've been involved in and helped lead over the past four decades".

And then we get a final point. "Yes" votes are more difficult to win than "No" votes, say Gunster and Goddard. For over 100 years the "Yes" side of the campaign has failed 60 percent of the time.

This is quite obviously the status quo effect, but the way it is framed might be confusing to some British readers, yet the pair make no concessions to this. In the United States, where the referendum is a so-called "initiative" question, the "yes" answer goes to the side proposing change.

Thus, when the question was put in Massachusetts as to whether to expand the bottle deposit scheme, to improve recycling rates, those who wanted the scheme expanded had to vote "yes". Those opposed had to vote "no". In the EU referendum, though – at the time – to leave the EU (the proposition for change) was to get the "no" vote while the status quo (staying in) was to require a "yes" vote.

One might have thought that the Americans would adjust their rhetoric accordingly, but they didn't. It might be a small point, but it might also be a telling one. These people lack empathy, and make allowances for the nuances.

However, from this emerges the Gunster-Goddard recipe for winning referendums (which the insist on calling "referenda"). Those wanting change (in this case, to leave the EU) "must convince the public that a problem exists, that it is their problem, and that the problem is so acute that they must take action". The public must be convinced that "the specific proposed solution that will appear on the ballot is the right answer to the problem and should be adopted".

On the other hand, those supporting the status quo, say Gunster and Goddard, just have "to convince a majority of voters that the proposed solution does not solve the problem". A common theme in support of the status quo is: "right problem, wrong solution".

If that was over 30 months ago, however, one might have expected the company, with the benefit of watching the UK scene for a while, to be speaking in more nuanced terms.

But, in October 2015, we see similar boilerplate opinions, this time from Gerry Gunster on his own. We thus have the referendum guru believing that, "the side that best succeeds in appealing to voters' emotions will be the one that wins". Thus, he says, "You have got to get into that emotional side of a person … Everybody has some self-interest".

In over two years, therefore, he has hardly moved at all, still telling us that: "For a voter that self-interest usually means family, community, pocketbook, wallet and, am I safe? Ultimately people make those decisions based upon whether or not … voting on this particular issue will protect those basic principles".

It turns out, though, that Gunster has a standard template which he trots out, irrespective of the audience. Thus, on a Washington advocacy blog, he declares that the challenger to the status quo must convince voters that a problem exists, the problem is the voters' problem, the problem is so acute that voters must take action, and then that the specific proposed solution on the ballot is the right answer to the problem and should be adopted.

This was written in July 2015 and, if it has a familiar feel to it, it is because this is exactly the same nostrum offered to the Huffington Post more than 30 months ago. Dissection of the template, however, does not inspire confidence.

One difference on the ground, for instance, is immediately manifest. This is not going to be a "swift" referendum. And the dynamics of a long-drawn-out campaign are very different from the short, sharp contests that our American friends are used to.

Moreover, in this referendum  there can hardly be any need to convince voters that there is a problem, or that action must be taken. Both are "givens" and by both sides, the "remains" as much as the "leavers". The dispute is over the solution: either we "reform" or we "leave".

In terms of leaving, the proposed solution clearly lies outside the competence of Gunster and his company to devise. Furthermore, nothing they have said in any way indicates that they are prepared for the complex task of defining an exit plan. And even if they do, they have to deal with all the warring tribes who have their own ideas of what it should be.

But all we have had from, so far, has poisoned the well. We got the crass statement from Arron Banks that he could negotiate "a better economic arrangement" with the EU than is afforded by the Norway option, thereby walking eyes wide shut into the better deal fallacy.

Against whatever solution Gunster is able to broker, there will be Mr Cameron. Supposedly, all we have to do is convince a majority of voters that Cameron's proposed solution "does not solve the problem", and then substitute our own.

But, with the assistance of much the leaver "community" (including, Mr Cameron has already managed to damage the most plausible solution – the Norway option. Now he is unveiling his "British model" which, at a superficial level, will sound highly attractive. To counter that, Mr Gunster has empty hands.

One suspects, though, that Mr Gunster is more concerned with tackling his contention that every successful referendum campaign "must be based on a very simple truth: Everyone votes their own self interest".

We've already seen some of this, in the recent polling commissioned by Clearly, Mr Gunster is trying to ascertain which issues give the strongest responses, so that he can focus on them and play them back to the voters.

For this technique, Mr Gunster needs his "sophisticated research [and] targeted communications". He thinks he also needs to organise a "broad-based coalition capable of taking the winning messages to the street". But it is no coincidence that his research tools are extremely expensive. It is these that make referendums an extremely lucrative business.

But as to how he gets his "winning message" to a UK audience, thereby changing minds, Gunster doesn't have a clue. He has not the least idea of social dynamics over here, and next to no knowledge of how the UK media works. He has given no thought as to how it is likely to behave over the span of this referendum campaign. Yet, being able to make informed predictions will be vital to the success of the campaign.

His strategy undoubtedly does work for the types of referendums that he has been dealing with. But then, when it comes to questions on sick pay, drivers licenses for immigrants, banning the use of bait, dogs or traps in bear hunting, and the famous bottle deposits referendum, the issues are relatively easy to define.

When it comes to the EU, though, we are in a completely different league. Not only are the issues multi-faceted and complex, there is absolutely no accord on whether the problems of the day will trigger an exit vote in perhaps two year's time. Nor is there any way of knowing whether the problems Gunster defines will be accepted by voters as ones which need us to leave the EU in order to resolve them. 

More to the point, we already see that Mr Cameron is carving out his "middle way". In this play, the more strident the "leave" and the "remain" camps are, the more "moderate" he looks and the easier it is for him to get his message accepted. Therefore, the very strategy that Gunster so expensively defines as essential to win will be one that aids the other side.

Then, if – as we anticipate – Mr Cameron acknowledges the EU as being problematical and offers his new "relationship" (the British model) as the solution, the ballot will become a battle of opposing solutions.

Further, in the very specific context of this referendum, as it is likely to pan out – Mr Cameron will not be able to give cast-iron assurances that he can deliver his proposed solution. But then, neither will we. Thus, the core issue which the voters will have to address is whether they trust the Prime Minister, or whether they trust an insurance salesman or a gaggle of arrogant Tory Boys.

Thus, there is a good chance that we are going to be confronting a situation where the question on the ballot paper is not that one that is answered by the voters. We may see "remain" or "leave" in front of us, but the question we answer may well be, "Do you trust the Prime Minister?"

Nothing in Gunster's previous experience prepares him for this viper's nest, and nothing in's current statement indicates that they have any measure of these factors. Referendums are "neither for the faint-hearted nor for the inexperienced", Gunster says. But this is a man who lacks any of the experience needed to succeed in fighting an EU referendum in the UK.

Instead, committed to playing with his expensive toys, he is putting the cart before the horse. The political analyses should come first, and drive the data collection. "Big data" should be the servant, not the master. Gunster is simply leading his employers down an expensive cul-de-sac, with a strategy that has next to no relevance to the special conditions which prevail here. In so doing, he is already wasting the time and efforts of leavers. If the strategy does not change, is will simply pave the way for Mr Cameron's own play.

That's the thing about strategy. It tends to be either right, or wrong. There is rarely any such thing as half right. And if you get it wrong, you most likely – albeit unwittingly – end up helping the enemy.

For Mr Gunster, all he will suffer is an amount of reputational damage – although we intend to make that penalty as high as possible. But we have a lot more at stake, far too much to entrust our fate to a man who shows no signs whatsoever of being equipped to fight this campaign, especially as he seems to be flying on autopilot.

We really can do without this. When we are fighting for our lives on the question of bottle deposits or whether to ban the use of bait when hunting bears, we'll be sure to give Mr Gunster a call. But, in this battle, we need people who know what they are doing. They must understand the complexities of this EU referendum and be committed to the cause.

On current form, it does not look as if Mr Gunster of his company get anywhere near qualifying.

Richard North 22/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: the arrogance of the always right


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The Guardian has been making a big deal about Tory grandee Sir Nicholas Soames claiming that Vote Leave Ltd have got it wrong on their claims about savings from leaving the EU and no longer paying the annual contribution.

Says Soames, one of its founding documents indicated that the UK would be free to spend nearly £20 billion on schools and other domestic priorities if it left the EU. Answering why the UK should leave the EU, the Vote Leave Ltd said: "We stop sending £350m every week to Brussels and instead spend it on our priorities, like the NHS and science research".

The £350 million works out at £18.2 billion a year – and was used to roughly equate the UK's annual £19.23 billion contributions to the EU as a condition of its membership. But Soames says this marks the UK's gross contribution, whereas the figure dips to £9 billion, according to Treasury figures, once the UK rebate and other EU grants are taken off.

In the event of a leaving the EU, the UK government would have to finance the equivalent of the EU grants. It would also have to pay to meet Vote Leave's preferred option of maintaining access to the single market. This means that Britain would save just £5.29 billion by leaving the EU. Soames says that this more modest saving would leave a shortfall of £13.94 billion in Vote Leave's calculations.

One can argue about the details here, but actually, Soames is not wrong in principle. Of the 2014 payments the rebate and public sector payments amount to £9.4 billion, which means that net payments are only £9.8 billion.

In other words, by the time we have taken account of the rebate and paid for the farmers and regional development, and the other things which come out of Brussels payments, we would actually be "saving" about £180 million a week – half of what Vote Leave claims.

However, if we use Norway as a guide, and assume that the UK will still be buying in services from the EU – from Europol to the European Defence Agency and Galileo, as well as the air traffic system, Eurocontrol, we could be the actual direct savings from leaving the EU could drop to about £5 billion – about £95 million a week, or about a quarter of the Vote Leave figure.

Whichever figures are used, therefore, the Vote Leave claim is an exaggeration. The only argument is about the extent – and that is not where any campaigning organisation wants to be. As I pointed out in August, citing Gene Sharp: "Claims and reporting should always be strictly factual. Exaggerations and unfounded claims will undermine the credibility of the resistance".

You can, I wrote, get away with inaccurate reporting for a long time and, if you are preaching to the converted, telling them what they want to hear, you can get away with it forever. Addressing that audience, there is often no advantage in delivering facts – people will turn away from detail they don't want to hear.

In this coming referendum campaign, though, we have to secure more than 50 percent of the vote. That means we need to covert of lot of people to our way of thinking – far more than is needed in a general election campaign. And there the Sharp precept must apply: claims and reporting must be strictly factual. Accuracy is at an absolutely premium.

Crucially, if we sell a false bill of goods, our target audience will not come rushing to tell us we're wrong. Most won't argue with us or even reveal their disagreement. They'll simply note the mismatch – very often intuitively. And stripped of that all-important credibility, we'll fail to convince – we won't convert the people we need to our way of thinking, and the left-wing media will have a field day.

Here, we now have an example, in the Guardian, and it won't be the last we hear of it. At every opportunity, the "remains" will chip away at this unsupportable claim, using it to erode Vote Leave's credibility. Extraordinarily, though, a Vote Leave spokesman dismisses the analysis, saying:
It's good to see that the BSE campaign are finally admitting the EU costs us billions. We send £350m to Brussels every week: enough to fund a new hospital every week of the year. But these figures are simply not credible, based on flawed assumptions that do not stand up to basic scrutiny. We've seen dodgy polls from the in-at-all-costs brigade, and now it's dodgy sums.
This really is quite an extraordinary response. By any measure, Vote Leave is in the wrong, but its response is to display that brand of insolent arrogance that will eventually be its downfall. Its underlying assumption is that everything it says or does is right, and everyone else (friend of foe) who disagrees, is wrong.

To add to its cascade of unforced errors, though, Vote Leave, with Cummings at the helm, could be on the brink of making its biggest mistake of the campaign, and one that could quite possibly be fatal. 

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Seen on the Twitter account of the "genius" Cummings is what is quite obviously the start of a coordinated attack on the EU's Single Market, already being followed through in the group's campaign newsletter.

Where this is taking us has not yet been revealed publicly, but Cummings is addressing the inherent conflict between maintaining access to the Single Market while seeking to abolish freedom of movement. Since we can't have both, his next "brainwave" (after his second referendum idea crashed and burned) is to "diss" the Single Market, making out that we are better off without it.

This is a line which probably originates from Ruth Lea - it has her fingerprints all over it. Soon enough, I expect we will see emerging the insane WTO-plus option, the effect of which would be to ensure a post-exit collapse of exports to the remaining EU Member States.

Yet, such is the inherent arrogance of Vote Leave and its intellectual driver, Dominic Cummings, that they will not begin to accept the flaws in their own arguments. This is a "transmit only" organisation which purposefully shuts out any contrary views, while Cummings himself actively discourages dissent.

If this was a private party, we could afford to ignore it, but much in the way that we have seen the Guardian pick up the errors on Britain's savings, we can expect the "remains" to seize on Vote Leave's further errors, to exploit them in the service of its own campaign.

Despite the money pouring in, therefore, the "leave" campaign is no better off when one of its "big hitters" is effectively working for the other side. And, as we see, it is not the only one – a subject to which we will be returning.

Richard North 21/11/2015 link

Strategy ten: that "British model"


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In the wake of Mr Cameron's Chatham House speech in which he introduced us to the idea of the "British model", it would not surprise me if the appearance of an article by David Goodhart in the Sunday Times this weekend is not entirely coincidental.

Goodhart is a former director of the think tank Demos and currently head of the Integration Hub, and has a recent history of advising David Cameron on how to win the referendum and how to sort out immigration. Now, "spontaneously", he has come up with a "secret weapon" for the Prime Minister, the idea of "framing Britain's negotiation as creating a new role for itself as the leader, or shaper, of the 'outer ring' of EU states".

Yet, strangely, that was exactly what we were suggesting could happen when, in advance of the Chatham House speech, we observed that the only thing we didn't know at present was how Mr Cameron intended to brand associate membership. We ventured that "something imaginative" could be on the stocks, such as a "free trade group", over which Britain may claim to assume leadership.

Now we know it is to be the "British model", and no sooner has that been established, we see the emergence of a proposal that Mr Cameron should assume leadership of this "outer ring", from a known Europhile sympathiser. In the context of winning an EU referendum, writes Goodhart:
… how much better to be the main shaper of Europe's outer ring than to be its foot-dragger-in-chief. It gives dignity and historical resonance to a position that will seem to many people a middle way between fully in and fully out — appealing to the mild Euroscepticism that is the centre ground of British opinion.
And that is precisely the purpose of the "British model" – to carve out a "middle way" that will win Mr Cameron the referendum.

The essential thing to realise here is that this is not an adjunct to Mr Cameron's play, designed to finesse or lend support to his four-point "wish-list", as Vote Leave seems to think. It is his play, and the one which he will use to pave the way for a better relationship with the EU.

It is, for instance, by adopting associate membership that Mr Cameron will be able to "protect non-eurozone states" so near to his Chancellor's heart, as legislation and treaty provisions which apply to the eurozone will not apply to the outer ring. For the first time since the inception of the single currency, there will be a cordon sanitaire between euro and non-euro states.

Membership of the outer ring will also liberate the UK and any other associate member from the "ever closer union" imperative. Only core members will be obliged to sign up to the whole package. In a two-speed Europe, the second tier can set their own pace – or not at all.

This, in fact, will be Mr Cameron's "different vision for Europe", a means by which – as he told his in his Chatham House address – he will endeavour to achieve his "flexible union of free member states who share treaties and institutions, working together in a spirit of co-operation".

The "competitiveness" issues and tackling "abuses of the right to free movement" can also be dealt with as part of the package, pulling together all four elements of the "heads of discussion" that Mr Cameron set out.

Vote Leave, prop. Dominic Cummings, seems to think such matters are "trivial", and that Mr Cameron will spin his "trivial wish list" as significant so that it seems like he has solved real problems. But that is very far from the case – the outcome will be (and will be seen to be) a very significant development.

What one must appreciate is that the European Union, as a treaty organisation, has embraced as one of its most fundamental tenets the principle of unity of purpose. Every state – in theory, at least – signs up to the same treaties. There is no "à la carte Europe" – and only reluctantly have opt-outs been agreed.

For the Member States now to recognise that the Union can be split is, therefore, a major development. It frees the eurozone to forge ahead with its own treaties, without requiring the unanimous agreement of all members, while the "outer ring" can stand back from political integration and concentrate on what Mr Cameron will call the "original purpose" of the EU – the trade agreement.

In fact, this will not take much spin to "big" this up. It will certainly look to be a significant achievement if the Prime Minister is allowed to perpetuate the myth that the "British model" is his idea, brought about by his efforts, through tense negotiations with the "colleagues".

In fact, he is pushing at an open door. Not only was this proposed in the Bertelsmann/Spinelli Fundamental Law of October 2013, it is also a means of regularising the position of Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, paving the way for the abolition of the EEA, and bringing all the EFTA states back under the same roof.

This also neutralises the "Norway Option", which would bring the UK into EFTA and create a bipolar Europe, with a dangerously attractive alternative for other states. This would significantly weaken the influence of the EU s and create conditions where we could establish a Single Market free from the grip of Brussels.

Bizarrely, though, we find that Dan Hannan supports Goodhart's vision, clearly failing to understand that this is offered as a means of keeping the UK inside the European Union. But then, this is yet another thing Hannan has consistently got wrong.

It is Owen Paterson, also in the Sunday Times (free transcript), who has a better handle on things. He points out that the "outer tier" would not change our status as a subordinate to a supranational government. It would be, in effect, a rebranding of our current status, locking us into the Union as it currently exists, while the eurozone forges ahead, to a new level of integration.

However, this is most definitely what we do not want. As Lost Leonardo points out, what we really need is a "new relationship" based on intergovernmental co-operation that recognises the right of the British people to have the definitive and deciding say in how and by whom we consent to be governed.

Crucially, we also need a relationship which also enables us to play a positive and constructive role in shaping the processes of economic globalisation to suit our interests and those of other free trading nations around the world. 

Since that is something we will never achieve as the "outer ring" of a greater European Union, our strategic targets have become that much clearer..

Richard North 16/11/2015 link

Strategy ten: the politics of expectation


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The teenage scribblers have spoken and the narrative is locked in. Those who disagree, and suggest that Mr Cameron has played a bad hand well, are told condescendingly that we "don't understand politics".

This, of course, is the SW1 view – expressed by people looking through the filter of Westminster politics. Politics belong to them, and should be left to that self-selecting band of "brilliant political strategists and campaigners". Us mere plebs should know our place in the order of things.

The reality, though, is that such people have little comprehension of the political interface between the EU and the UK. They have only the haziest idea of how the EU works and have little grasp of its history. Inevitably. get it wrong when they try their hand at analysis. That Westminster "filter" excludes the Brussels input, and nothing is of any significance until they can plant a flag on it, and squeeze it onto the adversarial mould of British politics.

This is the mistake Mr Cameron himself made back in January 2013 when he delivered the Bloomberg speech. "At some stage in the next few years", he said:
… the EU will need to agree on Treaty change to make the changes needed for the long term future of the Euro and to entrench the diverse, competitive, democratically accountable Europe that we seek. I believe the best way to do this will be in a new Treaty so I add my voice to those who are already calling for this. My strong preference is to enact these changes for the entire EU, not just for Britain.
Cameron, in the manner of Margaret Thatcher, had thought he could "handbag" his way into the new treaty negotiations, forcing the "colleagues" to agree to his demands, in exchange for his agreement to the new treaty. But, from the very start, that plan ran into trouble. There was actually no treaty in the offing.

What he hadn't appreciated, but could have ascertained if he had been better plugged in, is that Merkel in September 2012 had already decided to "pull" the treaty, putting it on the back burner to allow for a broad and "open" debate on Europe.

By the end of the year, though, help was at hand – even if Mr Cameron wasn't to know it at the time. As The Times reported, a group of senior politicians in Brussels was to propose "second-class" EU status for Britain, in what was called "a dramatic shift in thinking by the strongest supporters of a united Europe".

They were, said The Times, to suggest that the UK should become an "associate member", a "new category of membership" that would give Britain the option of staying attached to the EU "to prevent it quitting altogether" if, as some had then expected, the Prime Minister's renegotiation failed to satisfy voters or Eurosceptic Conservative MPs.

This made its formal appearance in October 2013, as the "Fundamental Law", which incorporated the proposals for an "associate membership", specifically as a solution to the "British problem".

Such an option, though, would need treaty change, the process for which could not be completed before the end of 2017, giving Mr Cameron a serious problem. He had committed to himself to negotiating a new treaty and, even in January 2015 was telling Andrew Marr that he was committed to a "proper, full-on treaty change" before the end of 2017.

Technically, there was only one way this could happen and that was by limiting the scope of the treaty changes and invoking the "simplified procedure" in Article 48 of the Treaties. And even in May 2015 this still looked possible.

Very quickly though, this option began to look less and less credible, not least because clear signals were now coming from Berlin, Paris and Brussels, that treaty change was back on the cards.

This presented a lifeline for Mr Cameron and, on 21 June 2015, the Sunday Times revealed that he was looking seriously at the "associate member" option which could be included in the new treaty.

But, to disguise what might otherwise be seen as "second-class membership", Mr Cameron was to see EU membership "rebranded" to convince voters he had redrawn the country's relationship with Brussels. Titles such as "market membership", "trading membership" and "executive membership" were being considered, although nothing firm had been decided.

Now we come to the events of Tuesday when tucked into his speech to Chatham House, Mr Cameron declared that we need "a British model of membership that works for Britain and for any other non-Euro members", calling this "a matter of cardinal importance for the United Kingdom".

Missed by every journalist present, and the entire press corps subsequently, Mr Cameron had reactivated "associate membership". But now the rebranding has been revealed. The name on the pack is to be the "British model".

What had not been realised, though, was that the Chatham House speech amounted to the formal launch of the Prime Minister's referendum campaign, and that it had been subject to elaborate preparation.

Setting the scene had started with Mr Cameron's visit to Iceland, where he went out of his way to attack the "Norway Model". Next was George Osborne's speech in Berlin on safeguarding non-eurozone members – laying down the need for a separate "two tier" Europe.

With Monday's CBI speech, and then the Chatham House speech, the pieces fell into place. He used these speeches and the Iceland visit to establish the extremes at both edges of the argument, the Eurosceptics with their "Norway Model" and the Europhiles who wanted to "stay in" Europe at any price.

Now, "Mr Reasonable" has created space for the centre ground and is now occupying it. His message is carefully calculated to appeal to the "moderate middle" who will decide the outcome of the referendum.

Tuesday, then, was "day zero".  Before that day, nothing exists. The slate has been wiped clean, ready for a re-birth. With two years to run before the ballot, this is a necessary cleansing. Relying on short public (and media) memories are, Mr Cameron is ditching all his previous "commitments". He can afford to let the media squeal, pointing out the poverty of his ambition. 

What the media (and the flatulent Vote Leave Ltd) have not realised is that there are hidden depths to thus speech. Nor have the realised that Mr Cameron is managing expectations. Now at their lowest possible point, things can only get better. Every new "concession" from Brussels can be paraded as a victory. 

Crucially, the "British model" could restore Mr Cameron's fortunes, allowing him to position himself as the leader of a new group, which could encompass the EFTA/EEA countries of Norway and Iceland, Turkey, and even Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Already "semi-detached" members such as Denmark and Sweden could also join in.

This would be Mr Cameron's new version of "in Europe but not ruled by Europe". Glossed over would be the fact that the UK would still be subject to the European Court of Justice, that laws would still be made by the Commission and we could be over-ruled by Qualified Majority Voting (QMV).

With the full resources of No.10 spin doctors, Mr Cameron could create a scenario which would marginalise the "leavers". It no longer matters what they think. Even less important are the views of the committed "pro-Europeans". They are not going to change their minds in the referendum.

The only people who matter to David Cameron are those in that "moderate middle" - people with no strong convictions who could vote either way. And they are to be sold the shiny "British Model" - after it has had a makeover, and a respray.

In strategic terms, this is a game-changer. Many of the assumptions on which current campaigns are based now become irrelevant. To be effective, the tenor of campaigning needs to be adjusted to meet the new conditions on the ground.

Clearly, the priority target must be the Prime Minister's "British model". But to get coordinated action pre-supposes that the "noisemakers" are even aware of, and understand, this development. As it stands, there is no sign that these groups have the capability – or the willingness – to devote any of their resources to intelligence-led campaigning. There is not even any sign that they know the purpose of intelligence gathering. 

How we deal with this development, therefore, is going to have to the subject for the next piece. That will have to include an assessment of how to respond to the "theatre" that is going to form the main part of the government's overt activities.

Already, we've had from the Guardian admissions from "senior continental diplomats" that the [renegotiation] show "must be staged on Cameron's terms". "Brussels", they say, "must look a little defeated for the prime minister to act the role of conquering hero…".

This, one assumes, is guiding the response from European Council President Donald Tusk, who is warning that reaching a deal would be "very tough". Given that the outcome is pre-ordained, though, the toughest challenge for the "colleagues" is keeping up the standard of play-acting.

Our challenge is to break through the noise, to reach the people who matter, in a way that ensures they will listen to our messages. That will be the subject for another day.

Richard North 13/11/2015 link

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