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 Brexit: an application of Bootleomics

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It is nearly two weeks since the IEA "Brexit" prizes were announced, and far from starting a debate, as the Lord Lawson hoped it might, the IEA intervention has killed it dead. Within a few days of the prizes, publicity had sagged and it has now been four days since there has been any media at all.

Nevertheless, I am continuing to work offline on upgrading our own version of the "Brexit" plan, I've been hard at it all weekend and have now been able to upload the latest version of "Flexit" (v.04), accessible here or from the button on the menu above.

Added to the original are more than 6,000 words in over 20 pages, the additions alone longer than one of the entire submissions selected as a finalist for the IEA prize. Oddly enough, I am inspired by a quote I extracted from a paper written almost exactly a year ago by Ben Harris-Quinney of the Bow Group.

"It is now not enough to simply bemoan the failings of the EU", he wrote. "The first priority for all eurosceptics should be to find a superior and realistic alternative, and to actively and constructively work towards it".

What I'm currently working on is an evaluation of why some pundits favour the "Swiss option" for leaving the EU, over the "Norway option", the essence being, in part, that the former supposedly offers a greater chance of securing cost-savings.

From the work I have done so far, it seems that the justification for this is, to say the very least, rather ingenious, coming from Open Europe. I thought it worth running it on the blog to see what my regular ex-readers thought of it.

To save their money, Open Europe, it seems, have a theory is based on a comparative analysis of cost/benefit ratios, as between EU and UK law. According to Open Europe, EU law comes out at 1.02, which means that every pound spent delivers a mere £1.02 of benefits. On the other hand, UK law comes out at 2.35 which means that every £1 spent delivers £2.35.

When the two ratios are compared, they tells us, this gives a 2.5 times advantage to UK law, which has Open Europe arguing that it is more cost effective to regulate nationally than it is to regulate via the EU.

This is a delicious theory, and one that would be very attractive – if it was valid. But the big problem for me is that chalk seems to be being compared with a very ripe cheese. Let's look at a few bits of legislation from the two different systems, in a target year of 2008/9.

On the UK side, we have the Estate agents (Redress scheme) Order 2008 and Estate Agents (Redress Scheme) (Penalty Charge) Regulations 2008. These ensure that consumers have access to independent redress from estate agents and estate agents are fined for non-membership of redress schemes.

Picking more or less at random from the EU side, we have Directive 2008/105/EC of 16 December 2008 on environmental quality standards in the field of water policy (amending and subsequently repealing several other directives).

On the UK side, we have the Local Transport Act, an Act which seeks to empower local authorities by giving them strengthened powers to deliver a local transport system that is best suited to local needs. Back to the EU, we have Council Directive 2008/72/EC of 15 July 2008 on the marketing of vegetable propagating and planting material, other than seed.

The UK then can have Street Works (Charges for Unreasonably Prolonged Occupation of the Highway) (England) Regulations 2009. This is designed to reduce the number of occasions when works in the highway by undertakers take longer than the agreed duration and so help to reduce the inconvenience and disruption caused.

From the EU we then have Directive 2008/28/EC of 11 March 2008 amending Directive 2005/32/EC establishing a framework for the setting of ecodesign requirements for energy-using products.

Back on the UK side, we have Pensions Act 2008 which introduces measures aimed at encouraging greater private pension saving. And from the EU we have Directive 2008/68/EC of 24 September 2008 on the inland transport of dangerous goods.

Clearly evident from this small sample is that very obvious fact that the two legislatures are operating in completely different areas. But even if we expand the sample, it is still evident that we are dealing with very different legislation sets, covering completely different territories.

Taken as a whole, we can accept that the UK law offers a cost/benefit of 2.35 and the EU delivers 1.02 but – and it's a very big "but" – if the UK had produced all the EU law, can we assume that the cost/benefit would have turned out at 2.35 instead of 1.02?

And that, of course, is the point. Different law sets will have different outturns, with the cost/benefit ratio determined as much by its nature as its origin. The idea that changing the source of the legislation will, necessarily, produce a different outcome is surely absurd.

However, from here the plot thickens. When Mr Roger Bootle's firm Capital Economics produced its NExit plan for Wilder's Partij voor de Vrijheid last February – for an undisclosed fee - it went for the "Swiss option" on the basis that the Open Europe scenario could save the Dutch a shed-load of money.

Looking at the comparative analysis of cost/benefit ratios, they decided these could be applied to the Netherlands. Thus, after NExit, Capital Economics argued that, for every regulation transferred from Brussels to Den Haag, costs could be reduced "in line with the difference in the benefit to cost ratios".

Based on an equally dubious estimate of the number of laws that could be repatriated and re-enacted to become domestic law (failing to recognise that much of it now stems from international agreements), the firm then applied the modern equivalent of the magic wand, called "modelling".

This clever technique, straight out of the "climate change" arsenal, allowed Capital Economics to claim that their "Swiss option" gave them an extra €326 billion (2013 prices) in cumulative gross domestic product over the period between 2015 and 2035 (about €15bn a year), "purely from a reduction in the regulatory burden".

Add a nice snazzy diagram (above) and you have a classic example of Bootleomics – very clever and persuasive until you make the mistake of looking at the detail. But, to strengthen its credibility, you can now rely on the six IEA "Brexit" finalists choosing the very same "Swiss option".

And it wouldn't have hurt having that nice Mr Bootle as an advisor to the judging panel, despite being kicked off as a judge after complaints of lack of impartiality. Nice work if you can get it.


Richard North 21/04/2014

 EU politics: we assume too much

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The recent IEA "Brexit prize" submissions brought home to us the depth of ignorance of people supposed to be expert in matters EU. This actually stops you short – one tends to assume that people at least know the basics and when they don't, it is necessary to reassess the way we deal with things.

But, if we need to be wary of the "experts", what about the ordinary public? According to YouGov, their ignorance is profound. For instance, only 16 percent can correctly name the date of the coming Euro-elections. A clear 68 percent didn't know and 16 percent choose the wrong date.

It gets worse. Some 77 percent admit they don't know how many MEPs we have. Only seven percent actually got the figure right. Some 93 percent couldn't even name one of their MPs.

Only 20 percent of respondents could get the number of countries in the EU right, a mere 44 percent of people knew that Norway was not a member of the EU, 27 percent thought Ukraine was a member and 30 percent believed Turkey was in the Union.

I am sure if we started asking more detailed questions, such as the names of the five principle institutions of EU, we would get blank stares. So here we are then, getting excited about arcane details of the EU, nuances in the polls and shades of opinion,  yet the bulk of people don't even know the date of the election. 

This tells us that we cannot assume that what drives us has any impact on the public, or they care about what we care about. For all our knowledge, we're flying blind. Intellectually, we live in a different world.


Richard North 16/04/2014

 Brexit: interesting coincidences

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A weekend of intensive work has delivered a partial but nonetheless detailed forensic analysis of the six IEA "Brexit" prize winning entries, which is too interesting not to share with you. Fill your bowls with popcorn, sit down and enjoy.

Regular ex-readers will recall that, when we first started realising that the IEA was playing fast and loose with its own rules, we suspected that all those entrants (like me) who had gone for the EEA option had been excluded. Then, when we saw all the six prize winners, this seemed to be confirmed. But this is only the half of it.

From our forensic analysis, what we are now seeing is that the winners – all of them – came up with the same very rare solution for their "Brexit" blueprints, which involved not only rejecting participation in the EEA but also seeking EFTA membership. Stay with me and you will shortly see quite how significant this is.

For a start., we first noticed this with Mansfield, who managed to win first prize with this interesting scenario. He wants the UK to join EFTA but entirely rejects the idea of EEA participation. And necessarily, for his proposal to succeed, EFTA members have to accept the UK's application to join them.

However, as we have pointed out, any member could veto British membership. It cannot be assumed that entry will be automatic. Yet, Mansfield does not seek to explore the views of EFTA members as to whether they would accept the UK and, if so, under what terms.

Despite the improbability of Mansfield's scenario, however, we start to see coincidences stack up. A similar lack of curiosity about EFTA's views is manifest in Murray and Broomfield, the second prize winners. They propose that the British government should consider "whether the UK should use as its negotiating position a proposal to re-enter the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) alongside Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein". There is not the slightest hint that EFTA membership is anything other than an entitlement. And, like Mansfield, they "propose that HMG should reject any option of joining the EEA".

Tim Hewish, as third prize winner, then follows suit. He takes the position that that "UK future trade policy should not hide behind the EEA or have a complex arrangement like the Swiss". Instead, he believes that the UK should look for "a completely separate bilateral deal". So once again no EEA. But, as for EFTA, here membership is a "vital and rapid tool for the UK to secure FTAs with third parties". And not content with hat, he continues:
We see it as a gateway to join exciting [he possibly means existing] FTAs that EFTA already has as a quickstep solution within our three year plan. For the UK to conduct its own separate deal with all of EFTAs current FTA partners (which has taken them over 20 years to craft) would take considerable time. By joining EFTA, the UK would inherit trade deals under Article 56 (3) of the EFTA Convention.
In this submission, though, there is a slight recognition that that the EFTA membership is "first and foremost a political matter and would need to be discussed at the highest political levels and between all nations involved". There is also an acknowledgement that a UK application "may be subject to increased difficulty due to its perceived size economically, politically, and in terms of population".

That, at least, is closer to reality, indicating entry would not necessarily be automatic – the only one of six who even addresses this issue.

From field trips to both Norway and Iceland, I would concur that EFTA membership would not be automatic. Having had the opportunity to discuss this with a wide range of politicians and activists in both countries, it would appear that any response to an application would depend on many factors.

The political colour of the government's in power, their current relationships with the EU, and the attitudes of the European institutions and Member States to UK membership could be highly relevant, but there is possibly one over-riding factor which will shape the response.

Essentially, in Iceland and Norway both, there are varying degrees of dissatisfaction with the EEA agreement, but also a realisation that the relative power of the three EFTA/EEA members is insufficient to force a renegotiation.

British membership, therefore, is seen as advantageous, but only inasmuch as the UK's strength could add leverage to the EFTA/EEA combination, strengthening their hand against the EU. On the other hand, Britain seeking membership of EFTA for its own selfish reasons, without it being prepared to do some of the "heavy lifting", would not be looked upon favourably.

On this, I contacted my recent Icelandic host, Björn Bjarnason, former Justice Minister in the Icelandic government. He suggested that there was one possible option we could look at, but it would have the UK initially outwith EFTA and the EEA. This had the UK joining with Switzerland to help it renegotiate its bilaterals, coming up with a better deal than EEA members had, which would apply to both countries.

With that in place, Bjarnason said, a British application to join EFTA would be welcome, as it would help EFTA members to improve their relationship with the EU. A Britain thus able to increase leverage would be welcomed. A Britain seeking to join EFTA as a camouflage for something else would merely create political problems within the EFTA.

Nevertheless, none of our winners actually went for the UK-Swiss option. From Clements, the fourth-rated Brexit prize winner, all we see is this earlier sense of entitlement, with two identical - and somewhat presumptuous - references to a Britain which should "reinstate her association with the EFTA". Again, participation in the EEA is rejected.

It is exactly such an approach that, according to Bjarnason (and others), we would expect to be turned down by EFTA members. But that brings in Stephen Bush, at number five in the prize rankings. He considers that EFTA membership will be "close to ideal for Britain to join and she should apply to negotiate this in parallel with the EU negotiations". Again, there is no indication that EFTA members could tell Britain to get lost. Just as before though, we see a rejection of EEA.

Finally, we have Daniel Pycock. He bluntly argues for "access to the European Union's markets from EFTA (rather than the EEA)". This is a misunderstanding of the role of EFTA, as entry to EU markets is gained via the EEA rather than EFTA. The one is not an alternative for the other. And, with that, we have a full house - six out of six going for the "EFTA-only" option.

Prior to the launch of the IEA's Brexit Prize, it has to be said that exit plans offering the precise combination of seeking membership of EFTA and rejecting participation in the EEA have been rare. Normally, one sees EFTA/EEA treated as a single package, accepted or rejected as a whole, primarily because the EFTA membership is normally sought in order to gain access to the EEA.

It should be noted that EFTA membership is not required to pursue the so-called "Swiss option", as the Association played no role in the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU. This we know from René Schwok, writing in an official EFTA anniversary book. In other words, the "Swiss option" doesn't need EFTA membership. 

In fact, the advantage of the bilateral route for Switzerland is that it allowed her to make her own agreements without being bound by the EFTA framework. Thus, the only advantage the UK would gain from the EFTA-only option would be the ability to tap into EFTA's existing trade deals. But if that was the sole motivation, it is unlikely that the UK would be accepted as a returning member.

Now, here's the rub. We wrote at the beginning of this piece that to see this "EFTA-only" option was rare. Actually, it's very rare. In the ordinary course of events, it's difficult enough to find a single paper suggesting this option. There's a good reason for this. It's not a viable option. Normally, we get the "Norway Option", which requires EFTA/EEA membership. Or we get the "Swiss option", which doesn't involve either EFTA or EEA membership.

In fact, so rarely is th "EFTA-only" option that, before the IEA Brexit competition, I haven't been able to identify a single paper advocating it. Doubtless they exist, but they are hard to find. It seems hard to beleive that the winners were getting their inspiration from the internet. 

So what have we got? We have six papers all offered simultaneously by Brexit prize contestants. Since all of them were in competition, we might assume that they did not consult with each other, nor discuss their submissions.

Thus, for each of the six papers, their writers independently came to the conclusion that this flawed (and rare) option offered the best prospect of attaining "the fastest benefits of lower trade barriers" (this, The Boiling Frog reminds us was a requirement of the competition). And all seven writers independently concluded that the "EFTA-only" solution was the winning idea - not that any of them gave it that label. 

Here, one might suggest that the odds of six papers offering the "EFTA-only" option appearing in the IEA's shortlist of 17 papers, drawn from nearly 150, are astronomical. That so many could get through must certainly be a very remote possibility.

But then, what odds should we offer for all those six papers, not only offering this rare option but also going on to be selected as prize winners? And what are the odds of all six of them being chosen, and only those six, with no other option chosen?  We don't even get the more conventional offering of a rejection of EFTA and the EEA. 

Every single one of the six winners insist that we join the EFTA and all six reject the idea of EEA participation. This, one might even say, is unique. I can't imagine the odds Paddy Power might offer if one had suggested this as a likely outcome for the competition. I hadn't even thought of the possibility of an "EFTA-only" solution.

Despite all this though, we have to accept that six "EFTA-only" solutions coming out of nowhere to take all six prizes was completely coincidental. It had to be, otherwise we would have to think collusion – that the organisers had given hints to the "winners" and the "right" answers had been plucked out for the judges to put in rank order, with no other submissions given a look in.

One has to recall that the original IEA plan was that only Mansfield's paper should be published in full. All the other papers would be summarised by Philip Booth, for a "monograph" that he alone was going to prepare - some time after the event. That's what Philip Booth told us. 

Thus, if there had been collusion, and rigged judging, we should never have been able to find out, because none of us could have done the forensic analysis needed to detect it. But since nothing untoward ever happened, I don't suppose that really matters. Why would we want to do forensic analysis?

Without making a fuss, we just have to accept that, out of nearly 150 papers submitted, six totally impractical offerings, identical in suggesting the same rare solution, all made it through to the front to scoop all the prizes. That has to be a coincidence. There cannot possibly be any other explanation.


Richard North 15/04/2014

 Brexit: prize-winner announcement

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We were told that, to coincide with the announcement of the IEA's "Brexit" winner at 8pm yesterday evening, the winning entry would be available on the IEA website. In view of David Myddelton's senior moment, though, I remarked that this would only be as long as they pressed the right button.

However, well after half-an-hour after the announcement, a link to the paper still had not appeared. One wondered whether they were so ashamed of the paper (or themselves) that they didn't dare publish it. Even their press release seemed to have gone astray. 

With the incompetence for which this think tank has become justly famous, the link originally provided gave us an "access denied" (above). However, when the link finally came live, we begin to see why the IEA was so reluctant to publish the full version. We did not expect very much from the IEA, but this was far worse then even we expected.

We had our very grave suspicions that the judges had not fully read our paper, but we are now wondering whether the judges read this one at all.

Working from the press release, we saw that the paper was by Iain Mansfield, a 30 year old member of the diplomatic service based at the British embassy in Manila. It is a poorly-constructed mixture of low-grade wishful thinking, political naivety, and practical minefields that it in no way resembles a workable or even half-way intelligent plan. To say it was "lightweight" would be paying the author a compliment. If the judges did actually select this as the winner, then they need to be deeply, deeply ashamed of themselves.

It took a further hour, however, for the "plan" at last became available on the wesbsite. Now the whole world can see the ghastly thing in all its tawdry detail.

Inevitably, I'm going to be comparing this with my own work – which is exactly what the judges should have been doing. This was a competition, after all, where different writers were pitting themselves against each other. I am not thus an impartial judge, but readers can look at both papers themselves and form their own judgements.

Nevertheless, it is entirely valid for me to compare the relative merits of the two entries - the only two to which I have access. So, starting at the beginning, we have in the winner a document which is about half the length of mine (the text actually less than 9,500 words, excluding text boxes). It has less than half the number of references, and poor quality graphics, most of which don't even look original.

Let us also recall that the judges told us that our entry was "good" and our arguments "intriguing". But, they said that, due to the "extremely high quality of some of the entries" the IEA was not progressing our entry to the final six.

With that, we need to start comparing the detail.  I'll only make a start in this post, looking at where Mansfield argues, of the Article 50 negotiations, that the government should "observe the two-year period and not negotiate for an earlier or later date". 

Here, Mansfield's argument is entirely fair and sensible: we argue much the same. We do not believe it is politically sustainable for the government to conduct prolonged Article 50 negotiations as there will be enormous pressure for an early conclusion. Thus, we argue, the negotiations will be dominated by the need to conclude them speedily.

With that in mind, however, we then go to great lengths to show that this dominating need has a major and unavoidable impact on the nature of the exit agreement. To that effect, we provide evidence which shows that negotiating bilateral free trade agreements with the EU is a complex and lengthy process. The current round of EU-Swiss talks, for instance, started in 1994 and took 16 years to get to the current state. It would, therefore, be extremely optimistic to expect a de novo bilateral deal to be concluded within five years.

Thus, we argue that the bilateral agreement route is not open to the UK within the framework of the Article 50 negotiations. The only way we believe that UK negotiators could get inside the time frame is to take an off-the-shelf deal, and agree it unchanged – the whole deal on an all-or-nothing basis. And this is why we recommend the EEA option – not because it is ideal, but because it is the only realistic option, attainable in the time.

Mansfield, however, rejects the idea of joining the EEA, although he does suggest we join EFTA. As an aside, does he explore the views of EFTA members, as to whether they would accept the UK? He doesn't, but we did.

I actually went to Norway, and to Iceland. The Norwegians and Icelanders both, wanted us in EFTA and the EEA, because we could help them renegotiate the deal. Would they want us in EFTA without the EEA? I very much doubt it – but this is something Mansfield doesn't even explore. And the judges let him get away with it.

Howsoever, what Mansfield advocates is a pick'n mix bilateral agreement, adopting a position "somewhere between that of Turkey's and Switzerland's membership of EFTA". This is not only politically unattainable in the timescale, it is incoherent.

Turkey's relationship with the EU is of membership of a Customs Union. Switzerland has bilateral free trade deals with the EU. The relationship with the Swiss deals and EFTA is complex. Some are via EFTA, some are outside. But the one thing absolutely certain is that there is no position at all between Turkey and Switzerland. Mansfield is comparing chalk and cheese.

And, having talked so some of the other competitors last night, I know that we were not the only entrants to point out the impossibility of attaining an ab initio bilateral deal within the two years.

The judges are, of course, entitled to disagree with our views, but they are not entitled to ignore our evidence in favour of an assertion that has no evidential support, and then claim that the latter submission is better than the former, especially when Mansfield did not offer any serious discussion as to the feasibility of attaining a bilateral deal within the time frame he sets. This is simply not playing straight.

Yet, as we remind ourselves again, our submission - according to the judges - was "good". By inference, though, Mansfield's work was "extremely high quality". This is simply not a tenable statement, and one which will become even less tenable as we delve into this work.. We will assert that the judges have misled themselves, and done us all a grave disservice.

With that, we'll call it a day. We'll pick up the threads again later, when we will look at some of the other nonsense assertions made by Mansfield, and accepted by the judges.


Richard North 09/04/2014

 Flexcit: how we would actually leave the EU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Richard North 08/04/2014

 Brexit: the IEA's "Ratner" moment

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I spent most of yesterday corresponding with Philip Booth of the IEA, trying to ascertain from him why the Brexit prize competitors were given a set of very explicit instructions, while their submissions appear to have been judged on very different and hitherto undeclared criteria.

I tested my correspondence out on a few friends, just as a check, to make sure I wan't being too hard. Although it was evident I am angry, the tone was described as "measured". Amongst other things, I had wanted to know why the rules had also been changed so that a new short-list of six had been created, after the submission deadline.

The particular interest for the competitors not shortlisted (and there are a number of us thus concerned), is that the IEA is making a public statement that there are at least six better submissions than ours. For me - I would not presume to speak for the others - I regard that as "professionally damaging". And it was not something any of us signed up for.

Anyhow, as the exchanges multiplied through the day, it was evident that I was getting nowhere. Eventually, in the early evening, I brought the exchange to a halt, without having achieved anything at all, not the slightest concession, nor scintilla of understanding.

The thing about these exchanges, though, is while you are getting the polite brush-off, you rarely get an inkling of what they are really thinking. But, while Booth had asked for a private exchange, he was in fact copying in colleagues and sundry others. At his end, the exchange was anything but private - it was being broadcast throughout the IEA. They might just as well have put it on the Tannoy.

Then I received yet another e-mail, one with the same header used for the Booth correspondence, but from a different address, one [then] unknown to me. The writer, incidentally, had copied his reply to two others (text published below), the content providing the IEA's "Ratner moment", that brief insight of their inner thoughts, which reveals the contempt they really have for us. 

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The e-mail, it turns out, was from professor emeritus David Myddelton of Cranfield University, educated at Eton and Harvard Business School. His cv (top) says he has been chairman of the IEA since 2001. Although he is a reasonably frequent speaker on the "eurosceptic" circuit, he is obviously no great fan of yours truly, although I cannot think of anything specific I've done to offend him.

Nevertheless, thanking Booth for sending our correspondence to him, he grandly declared that: "Richard North's attitude is disappointing". Then says the professor emeritus, a man who obviously must know about such things: "He has written on this and similar topics so much that I cannot believe he spent a huge amount of time on his entry".

So, this is the first stage of the standard denigration technique: "North" can't have spent much time on his submission so [implied] it was probably crap anyway.

Then the boot goes in. My "measured" tone reminds the revered professor "of my ten-year-old grand-daughter – who likes to boast that she did very well on an exam, before the results indicate that she scored, say, 10/40!"  Does this run in the family? One can only wonder.

But, from his careful and measured study of the evidence, there comes the learned professor's considered view of the entire issue: "It is not North's failure to be judged to have finished in the top six entries that might hurt his 'professional reputation'", declares the great professor, "but his petulant and bad-tempered response to the result". He should have bent over and taken his punishment, is the sub-text.

Then the knife goes in, making it clear they are not actually going to address any of the points "North" makes. Oh no! Says Myddelton: "I hope you and Mark [Littlewood, IEA director general], and indeed anyone else connected with the Brexit Prize, will manage to avoid a public spat with Richard North".

"There would seem to be nothing to be gained", Myddleton adds, "and potentially quite a bit to be lost". We would not, after all, want to concede that he might have a point, so let's not give him any opportunities, is the sub-text here.  We couldn't possibly have him be seen to be right.

A little time later, though, I got another e-mail, from the same professor Myddelton:

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"Dear Richard", he writes. The man doesn't know me of course, and we've not been introduced.  But from his lofty, above-the-line-stance, peering down at his inferiors, there is no "Dr North" here, just a "Richard". One can then only imagine the embarrassment as he tells me: "I copied you in by mistake on my recent e-mail to Philip Booth and Mark Littlewood about the Brexit Prize".  We don't get an apology for the insults, mind you. Just, "Sorry about that" - sorry I've been caught out insulting you..

Then we get to the real reason for the e-mail - a necessary disclaimer: "I should perhaps add", he says, with feigned casualness as he does a quick underpants change, "that my role as Chairman of the IEA Trustees is non-executive, and I've had no part in the organisation of the Brexit prize". And then, a final hypocritical flourish: "All the best, David".

Well, cheers Dave! I actually spent over 700 hours on researching and writing the submission, with personal visits to both Norway and Iceland, where I interviewed senior politicians, trade representatives and others, to give first-hand information to go into the report.

But, Dave, you are also dismissing a huge amount of time put forward by EU Referendum readers, and the huge help given by The Boiling Frog and others, who were also just as keen to have a fair competition, those whom you have now so casually insulted.  But that doesn't matter - they're only plebs who didn't go to Eton.

Despite that, I then wrote to him about the submission of which he had been so dismissive: "You will not have read it of course", I ventured.  These very clever people never do ... they have the wonderful gift of divining the quality of such things without needing to read them. Thus, I observed: "You are undoubtedly far too clever and grand and could not be expected to soil your magnificent brain with such material". And we couldn't have him actually learning anything.

"However", I added, "I must really thank you for such an illustrative example of what the other half think of us plebs. I am sure my readers are going hugely to enjoy your perceptive analysis".

Compare and contrast this with what they were saying to my face. Isn't it refreshing when the mask slips and you find out what they really think about you, and what they are really saying! For all their airs and graces and their fine words, the truth will out. But how sad, the message is always the same: "know thine place, pleb!"

Whatever did we do before the internet, and learned professors who press the wrong buttons? But whatever made me think I was ever going to get a fair deal from the IEA? At least we got their "Ratner" moment, when we learned what they really think of us.


Richard North 08/04/2014

 The Harrogate Agenda: communicating the message

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A post published on Autonomous Mind yesterday has so far attracted four comments. But then, it didn't criticise UKIP. Had it done so, it might have seen responses in the high double figures, exceptionally high for a relatively low-circulation blog.

Similarly, my critical "take" on that debate was a record high for the newly installed Disqus system, with 82 posts (some of them mine), comparing with the five comments on my analysis of the impact of the WTO's Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, a ground-breaking piece of work introducing issues which are rarely discussed in anti-EU circles, coupled with constructive criticism of Farage, of the type we are told is wanted.

The truth is that there is a strong element of hypocrisy here. The party isn't really interested in constructive criticism.  Its main concern is to suppress criticism altogether, the commentariat ganging up on the threads to howl down anything it doesn't like.

And such is the rout of the independent blogs that the vacuous Hannan piece on the debate gets an unreadable volume of over 3,000 comments, this site having become the playground for the commentariat following Dellingpole's departure from the Telegraph, most of the comments - as always - having nothing to do with the subject of the post.

The mistake made by the AM piece is to take a constructive look at the future of the anti-EU movement, and how we need to progress the campaign. My piece makes a similar mistake.  It actually addresses real isues: the WTO agreement and how it could facilitate our early exit from the EU, and provide us with a battle-winning argument.

On the blogosphere, if an issue takes off, hits on even an obscure blog can lift from a few hundred a day, to hundreds of thousands. We had this happen on this blog over "Qanagate", when we did more than a million hits in one week. So hit rate is a good measure of interest, from which the comments then flow.

We can deduce from all this that, whatever else excites it, the commentariat is not actually interested in nuts and bolts issues to do with the EU. It will rise up to defend its champion and it loves discussing itself. But, with only a few exceptions, there is no serious concern about the arguments needed to defeat the enemy. Give it a serious issue to debate and it will run a mile.

This, of course, has always been the case. For the footsoldiers, messages have to be simplified and popularised to be accessible, then turned into slogans which can be chanted at the barricades and splatted on comment threads.  Polysyllabic words need to be avoided: even "vote UKIP!" is probably stretching the literacy skills of some posters.

So it is that we have to suffer the condescension of earnest posters, who advise us with all the gravitas of those who believe that they have just discovered the wheel, that our posts are too complex for ordinary people and that we must focus on projecting simple messages for the [simple] masses.

What our advisors neglect, however, is that there are no short cuts to developing the popular message. Behind the apparently simple slogans must lie fundamental truths, ferreted out with blood, sweat and tears, synthesised, refined and then crafted into their final form that is accessible to everyone.

Thus, the election-winning slogan "Labour isn't working" did not succeed just because it was a clever play on words. It spoke a fundamental truth, based on the distillation of thousands of statistics, gathered by hundreds of people over time, and distilled down into that single phrase, to form a succinct, coherent message.

The trouble with the anti-EU movement, though, is that it doesn't really have a coherent message, In its absence, we build a lexicon of slogans that mean different things to different people. Even the title "eurosceptic" - which we no longer use, preferring "anti-EU movement" - has wildly different meanings.

As to slogans, take the one I coined: "We want our country back!" As a slogan, that is fine - as far as it goes. But what country is it that we want? Is it the imagined perfect England of maidens on bicycles, passing the cricket on the village green on their way to church? Or is it some Brave New Britain, yet to be imagined? Or is it just a return to the status quo, whatever that might be?

When it then comes to leaving the EU, what exactly does that mean? Does it mean that we stand alone, relying on the WTO and on expanding world trade, turning our back on the EU? Does it mean the Norway option, or bilateral agreements on Swiss lines? And if not any of those, what does it entail? The anti-EU movement does not have a single answer, and the biggest single player, UKIP, doesn't have a coherent answer at all. 

With twenty-plus years of existence behind it, we can deduce that if UKIP members were passionately (or at all) interested in an exit plan, it would have one by now. But rather than there being any great pressure for one, the greatest disturb comes when [now] external critics point out its absence. Then, the pressure is directed at the critics, aimed at shutting them up.  In UKIP, the answer to criticism is to stop the criticism.

So we return to Autonomous Mind, one haven of reflective calm amid the baying mob, who has concluded that The Harrogate Agenda cannot stand aloof from the anti-EU movement, and wait until it has achieved it aim, in order that we should be able to progress ours.

Further, having developed what a group of us feel is the definitive exit plan, it has become very clear that it is not going to be discussed and promoted unless we do it ourselves. With UKIP especially, not only has it not developed its own exit plan, it has no real interest in any others from outside the fold.

Following the euro-elections, therefore, when we will be better informed of the state of play by the election results, a small group of us are to meet to discuss integrating the anti-EU agenda with The Harrogate Agenda.

Nothing is cast in stone yet, but the likely outcome is that our workshop sessions will be changed to include a full exposition of our EU exit plan, the one we have come to call "Flexcit".

There are those who then come to us to sneer and jeer, telling us that The Harrogate Agenda is almost completely unknown, as if that is news to us. Yet we intend it to be that way. We have quite deliberately set our face against a high-profile launch and rapid development, in favour of slow, cautious growth on the back of a well-prepared and coherent message.

The irony of all this though, however slight the knowledge is of The Harrogate Agenda, if you want something that is completely unknown to the public, it is the UKIP EU exit plan. And, when it comes to a message, we have the head start, as THA actually exists, unlike the UKIP exit plan.

At least we actually have something to communicate (and can do so, unlike in the pic, where there is no communication because the string is not taut, symbolising UKIP perhaps, which is all dressed up with nowhere to go, speaking to itself).


Richard North 04/04/2014

 That debate: "fax democracy" – we deserved better

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Following on from the Clegg-Farage debate, I promised I would return to the Norway "fax diplomacy" segment, once I had seen the recording. That I have done, and append a transcript below. However, before exploring the exchange, we need to review the crucial issue of global governance, and the growth of international regulation, in order then to put the debate in context.

It was in October 2008 that I first wrote a substantive piece about global governance (although I was writing about it as early as 2004), and I have been writing about its progress on and off ever since, learning a great deal in the process.

What in particular I have been noticing is a significant growth of international regulation, formulated at global level under the aegis of the WTO and the UN. They are then handed down to regional and sub-regional bodies such as the EU, and through them to their members. Individual member countries, which are not part of any specific trading groups, deal direct.

Such has been the phenomenon that I have been reporting that the bulk of trading law affecting us in this country, coming to us via the EU, does not in fact originate with the EU. It is coming from a plethora of global bodies.

Until fairly recently, though, I had not fully (or at all) understood why this was happening. In fact, that it was only when I was researching for my Flexcit plan that I stumbled on what is most certainly the reason why we are seeing the progressive globalisation of trading regulation.

That cause is the WTO's Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade which came into force in 1995 and, after a slow start, is gradually taking effect. The full text is here but the particular point of interest is Article 2.

The first part of this Article requires that, in respect of technical regulations, products imported from the territory of any WTO member "shall be accorded treatment no less favourable than that accorded to like products of national origin and to like products originating in any other country".


Also, the Article requires members to ensure that technical regulations are not prepared, adopted or applied with a view to or with the effect of creating unnecessary obstacles to international trade and then, in Article 2.4 (reproduced above), the agreement requires that where technical regulations are required and relevant international standards exist or their completion is imminent, "members shall use them … as a basis for their technical regulations …".

WTO members are also required to play a full part … in the preparation by appropriate international standardising bodies of international standards for products for which they either have adopted, or expect to adopt, technical regulations.

Essentially, this is the template for globalisation and in my Flexcit plan, I wrote that this was, effectively, the redundancy notice for the EU's Single Market.

The point about the Single Market, of course, is that it is a collection of regulation, driving the harmonisation of standards, with a view to facilitating trade throughout the Communities. That acquis is also used as the basis of the EEA agreement, and other agreements, such as that on offer to the Eastern Partnership, and the Turkish customs union.

As such, as the acquis is gradually replaced by international regulation, it loses its distinctiveness, and simply becomes a property shared by all members of the WTO, which they will all use as the basis for international trade. The EU's Single Market thus becomes redundant, replaced by the globalised market.

Now, the thing that becomes important, and has particular relevance to Wednesday's debate is the way this new global acquis is being constructed.

As it stands, as long as we are in the EU, we have a subordinate position, and the agreements on international standards are negotiated and approved by the EU. EFTA/EEA countries, however, are able to negotiate for themselves and, only after they have agreed them are they then processed into actionable law (with the core unchanged) and passed to the originating countries. I have produced a flow chart (below) which illustrates how the process works.

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This then is the "fax diplomacy" to which Nick Clegg referred to in the debate, in the following passage, starting 38 minutes and 48 seconds into the programme:
NC: I tell you what I don't believe in. I don't believe in the dishonest in saying to the British people that you can turn the clock back. What next? Are you going to say we should return to the gold standard, or maybe get WG Grace to open the batting for England again? This is the 21st Century, it's not the 19th Century.

Now Nigel Farage, I've heard this many, many times, and you'll hear it this evening, says that we should be like Switzerland or Norway. Let's just think about that for a minute. Switzerland and Norway have to pay into the European Union coffers. They have to obey all European Union laws. That's why they call it "fax democracy" in Norway: everything gets decided by everybody else in Brussels. They then have to transpose it into law in Oslo. They have no British MEPs, they have no Norwegian of Swiss MEPs or Commissioners, they have no passport checks, no power whatsoever, all the rules are made by foreigners – utter powerlessness. That is how perverse the patriotism of Nigel Farage has become that he now advocates that we become like two countries that have less power than we do in the world's largest economy.
This is two seconds short of a minute, giving Farage plenty of time to respond. And with the goal mouth wide open, on 39 minutes and 46 seconds, he misses the point completely, and kicks the ball into touch:
NF: Nick, Nick, Nick, you talk about modernity. You are advocating continued membership of a customs union. It is the only customs union of any size that exists in the whole world. It is a 19th Century concept based on building a club and protecting yourself against the rest of the world. It is not fit for purpose in the 21st Century and that's why people with real experience with economics, from a standpoint of total independence like Nigel Lawson, say we now need to get rid of this outdated model and move into the modern world. The European model is outdated, crumbling and failing. We deserve something much better than that …
This takes some forty second, at which point David Dimbleby recognises that Farage has missed the point, and puts the question to him again, handing him the opportunity on a plate to demolish Clegg's "fax diplomacy" claim. Thus does Dimbleby, on 40 minutes 26 seconds, ask:
DD: What do you make of the argument … what do you make of the argument that Nick put that these countries that have these relationships appear to be outside the EU but appear to have a trading relationship, in effect have to do what they're told by the EU without having any voice at all within the EU?
In the aftermath of the debate, we actually offered an optimal response, repeated here below:
Norway and Iceland have consultative arrangements and vetoes. That is more than our measly eight percent of the vote in the Council of Ministers. And with globalisation, most trading laws affecting the EU are made globally. At that level, the UK is excluded while Norway and Iceland are fully represented - they have more influence than the UK. Out of the EU, we would return to the global "top tables". We would then have more power not less.
Taking 30 seconds or less, this would have easily deliverable, but instead of something like this, Farage kicked the ball into touch again. In a fractured sequence from 40 minutes 44 seconds to 41 minutes 33 seconds, he comes us with this:
NF: Well Mexico has a trade deal with the European Union and if Mexico sells …

DD (40:46): He weren't citing Mexico, he was citing Iceland and Switzerland. NF (40:49): Yeah, yeah … Well, in fact he wasn't, he was citing Norway and Switzerland. Both Norway and Switzerland sell about 75 percent of their overseas goods to European Union countries. To maintain free markets and to avoid an argument, the pay a small subscription. Their goods …

DD (41:05): Freedom of movement?

NF (41:07): Well that's up to them. And the Swiss recently voted of course to potentially change that or end that …

DD (41:12): Norwegians have freedom of movement. Is that correct?

NF ( 41:14): If we sell goods to North America, we have to conform to the standards of North America without having a direct say over the regulations in North America. Wherever you trade in the world, you know, if we sell motor cars to America they have to be with the steering wheels on the other side. That's just the way that it is. What people who buy and sell products do is they adapt. It's called business.
The total time of the whole sequence is 2 minutes 45 seconds, with the larger part of the time going to Farage. He had every opportunity to explain, and was actively encouraged to do so.

By any measure, Farage's response was confused and lame. There are those who would say that he should not pursue arcane detail, but when it comes to it, what is more arcane than a discussion about customs unions? Yet that was what Farage chose to discuss, failing completely to address the "fax diplomacy" issue. He needed to say Norway, Iceland and even Lichtenstein had more power over EU regulation than the UK, and he did not.

Whichever way you cut it, Farage failed to step up to the plate. We need better from him and, given the amount of money we pay him, he really is going to have to up his game.


Richard North 04/04/2014

 That debate: a victory against a weak opponent

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So the second debate came to pass. And I wrote this post while watching the show, so we'll have to come back to it in more detail when we've chewed over the videos and commentary, to give it a more balanced appraisal. 

Overall, I thought it a poor debate. But my immediate response is to home in on Nick Clegg answering a question about the power of the UK outside the EU. There, he was quick to invoke the "fax democracy" meme.  For a fleeting moment, I was really pleased. Clegg had created the perfect opportunity for a well-crafted comeback - a killer put-down - making it potentially the pivotal point in the debate.

My abiding memory was that David Dimbleby was scrupulously fair in giving Farage every opportunity to deal with the issue. In fact, he handed him the opportunity on a plate. And, however well Farage might have handled the rest of the debate, this he completely fluffed. 

Probably, unless you are a nerd, you would not have noticed it.  But Clegg, in a generally poor performance - where he missed a number of open goals - had made a major tactical error, opening up a point on which he could have been slaughtered. He really did give Farage a gift, but he was also raising an issue on which we really need to score. 

And it is not as if this is an arcane corner of the debate.  The opposition is constantly bringing up the "fax democracy" and "no influence" memes, as did Open Europe yesterday.  All Farage had to do was explain that Norway and Iceland had consultative arrangements in place and that they had vetoes. He could also have said, with globalisation, an increasing number of laws were made on the global stage, where the EFTA countries were fully represented, while the UK was excluded.

Farage could have then said that in areas where they had major economic interests, Norway and Iceland had more influence than the UK – which had only eight percent of the vote in the Council of Ministers. And, out of the EU, we too could increase our power at the "top tables" of the global trading bodies where it really matters.

Farage could and should have anticipated the question. There was a very good chance that it might come up. He and his team should have worked out a response, and rehearsed it. Here is one I've just knocked up, in a matter of minutes, the sort of thing I could do in my sleep, without rehearsal:
Norway and Iceland have consultative arrangements and vetoes. That is more than our measly eight percent of the vote in the Council of Ministers. And with globalisation, most trading laws affecting the EU are made globally. At that level, the UK is excluded while Norway and Iceland are fully represented - they have more influence than the UK. Out of the EU, we would return to the global "top tables". We would then have more power not less.
Timing that, it comes out at 30 seconds, allowing for emphasis. That is well within the allowance, and easily deliverable. But Farage showed no familiarity with the Norway Option. It was really obvious to me that he was not at ease with the arguments. In my view, he delivered a pathetically weak response. I'll explore that further when I see the recorded video.

As I said earlier, therefore, even when you give these people stuff gratis, they don't use it. Whatever the ill-informed rumours might be, that's why I fell out with Farage in the first place. He prefers to wing it, instead of doing the work. He might get away with it most times, and he obviously did in this debate overall. But there are times when being on top of your brief really matters. This was one of them. 

That now brings us to Clegg's "seven percent lie". That came up several times in the debate, opening up another potential "killer point". Farage is, of course, compromised by his 75 percent claim, but I gave him the perfect out. All he needed to do when Clegg trotted out his line was, with lofty disdain, dismiss his argument, saying the House of Commons figures were based on a limited sample. He should have then said:
We can argue about percentages all day, but the facts are – and you do like facts, Mr Clegg – that on the UK government database there are registered roughly 3,969 General Acts and 71,851 UK Statutory Instruments. That makes 75,820 in all. On the EU database, there are 20,868 EU acts - directives, regulations and decisions - currently in force. Whichever way you look at it, that is a lot of law we have to obey.
The only mitigating fact is that, however bad Farage was on some issues, he handled others competently. And he did score some good hits: his Iceland and Switzerland argument was messy but almost up to par. Clegg, on the other hand, was much worse and consistently so. I think he misjudged his entire approach. He never really laid a glove on Farage and ending up being patronising and unconvincing, with a distinctly unimaginative closing speech. 

YouGov gives Farage the victory with 67-27 percent and ICM awards 69-31 percent. The limitations of these snap polls are well known, and there is probably an in-built-bias against Clegg. Nevertheless, Farage gets the victory. But I thought it a weak performance, Farage winning by such a margin partly because he was against an even weaker opponent.

Thus, it was, in my view, a victory by default, Auchinleck versus Marshal Graziani. God help Farage if the europhiles ever field a Rommel.

And, while some might think I'm being less than fair to Farage (perhaps returning the compliment) we should recall that, in the larger battle, we are losing: 42 percent wanting to stay in the EU and only 36 percent wanting to leave. And while it is easy to rubbish the BBC, I thought Dimbleby in his handling of the debate was fair - much fairer than I had expected.

The trouble is that, out in the real world, the debate isn't fair. We see the way, for instance, Open Europe quite cynically rig the debate. To compensate for this, we really do have to be on top of our game, exploiting every possible opportunity we are given. The Farage-Clegg debate, therefore, was one of missed opportunities.


Richard North 03/04/2014

 Brexit: the Open Europe/IEA propaganda nexus

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From the press office of Open Europe yesterday, bolstered by a Mats Persson blog today comes a brazen attempt to assert control over the "Brexit" agenda, with a tendentious evaluation of how Article 50 cannot work, leading to a predictable call for EU reform.

Having now opened a Berlin office, it does seem that the organisation is learning from a previous denizen of the city, offering a Goebbels-like claim that it is an "independent think tank" which is "seeking to contribute new thinking to the debate about the direction of the European Union …".

Yet, it far from being independent, Open Europe is a front for the "EU reform" wing of the Conservative Party. And, rather than "seeking to contribute new thinking to the debate", it is seeking to close down the "Brexit" debate and concentrate attention on the EU reform. It is not a think tank. It is a propaganda operation.

So desperate is the Goebbels Institute to stake its claim that it has issued a 24-page booklet purporting to be the "real Brexit debate". This reports on its fatuous "war games" last December in which it managed a bizarre simulation of Article 50 negotiations, devised to produce a messy failure and thus demonstrate that reform was the better option.

So weak was the argument that the Goebbels Institute finds it necessary to distort the exit options, maintaining its classic stance that if the UK adopted the "Norway Option", it would have "no say over EU decision-making".

This has been addressed so many times, that even Open Europe director Mats Persson can't pretend he doesn't know it is a lie, but still the Muppets continue with it. They have little alternative because they know that, if they acknowledge the truth, their game is over, Their vision of reform is bankrupt.

Thus the Muppets contrived a simulation which had pretend "colleagues" expressing concern that allowing the UK to join the EEA would establish a dangerous precedent. They were wary of allowing member states to "cherry pick" access to the single market without actually being an EU member. Not a word was said about the "colleagues" offering precisely that to Ukraine and the rest of the "Eastern Partnership".

Keen on what they call a "reality check", the presumptuous Muppets then tell us that the EEA "was designed as an improvised measure for governments seeking closer integration with the EU, but whose electorates had rejected full membership".

This gives them another opportunity to inject a dose of poison, concluding with the a scary tale of a dismal future. This is the one where the UK has to accept "many of the existing tenets of EU membership", and expensive EU law, "with no way of influencing it". The net effect, goes the narrative, "would be less opportunity to hold Brussels to account, not more".

Underpinning the Goebbels Institute are analyses of several different exit options, but they contrive to offer just sufficient detail to make their evaluations look plausible, but the options never quite manage to be workable. They cannot be allowed to provide a better alternative to their preferred option of reform.

Article 50, the Muppets then tell us, is a one way street. Once triggered, there is no going back, they say – as if that was a disadvantage. This, they actually say, "it is likely to put the UK on the back foot in any negotiation", then whingeing that the UK will not take part in the final qualified majority vote on whether to accept the new deal, sounding for all the world like and out-take from a Gerald Batten video.

But, having stacked the decks against "Brexit", they then come to the stunning conclusion that Article 50 is "best kept as an implicit threat, as in practice it cedes more control than it provides. However, "any leader negotiating new membership terms must clearly be ready to trigger it".

So that's the Open Europe game plan: EU reform of an unspecified nature, backed up by a threat, implicit or actual, that if the "colleagues" don't do exactly what we want, we threaten them with Article 50 – without actually using it, of course, because it doesn't work anyway.

In offering this scenario, we are of course seeing a fundamental failure of imagination and nerve. Open Europe is staffed and supported by timorous wee beasties who haven't the wit to devise a proper exit plan. Instead, confronted with the inherent impossibility of achieving meaningful EU "reform",  they have to rig the debate in order to offer anything that looks even remotely workable.

Oddly enough, in this endeavour, they claim as a registered supporter, one Martin Ricketts. By pure coincidence, Ricketts is also a Managing Trustee and Chairman of the Academic Advisory Council of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), and a member of the judging panel for the IEA's "Brexit prize". In another of life's wondrous coincidences, so is Roger Bootle an IEA judge and a registered Open Europe supporter.

In yet another complete coincidence, the IEA now looks set to award the "Brexit" prize to an option straight out of the Open Europe play book – one that looks superficially plausible, but which cannot possibly work. Thus does the Open Europe/IEA propaganda nexus keep the faith.

Richard North 02/04/2014

 Brexit: political realities of Article 50

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We had young Peter up for the weekend, so blogging was necessarily light. Then, with the muse having temporarily deserted, I spent an idle afternoon adding to the Booker column comments.

Saddened by the low grade of commentary, and also more than a little irritated by the "Vote UKIP" hijackers and the "lib-lab-con" mantra, I did a little winding up of my own, until I got bored with that too, and left the Muppets to it. The main action, however, was over on Janet Daly who, being kinder to The Great Leader than was Booker, attracted more attention from his love-struck acolytes.

Nevertheless, the work on the Booker thread at least yielded sight of a 96-page pamphlet produced by William Dartmouth, UKIP MEP for the South West, called Out of the EU, into the world, with the sub-title: "The UK does not need to be in a political union in order to trade - and other inconvenient truths".

The booklet looks attractive enough and is filled with factoids which will be of some use to people who can't be bothered to look them up for themselves. But it is incredibly light on political analysis, and most of what it produces isn't worth having.

On Norway and the EEA, for instance, we are told that it is "not correct to assert that Norway has no influence on EU regulations", which seems a good start. But Dartmouth then goes on to say:
As an EFTA member, Norway has the right to advise the EU countries how it would vote, if it had the vote, on proposed EEA regulations. This right ensures that Norway has the ability to influence new regulations; technically, Norway also has the right not to implement EU regulations.
Later, we are then told that, "Norway can influence EU regulations - by prompting debate and ensuring that the EU takes its interests into account. These are ways of influencing EU regulations aside from direct voting". 

And that is it. That really is the best that William Dartmouth can offer, after five years in the European Parliament as his group coordinator on the international trade committee. Not a thing from, the Norway Option penetrates the consciousness of this dismal little man – and they wonder why I get increasingly impatient with the UKIP efforts.

But if this contribution is pathetic, Dartmouth slightly redeems himself by advocating that we invoke Article 50, but only slightly. He then spoils it all with this piece of sophistry, where he advocates what I call the "bilateral option":
We would seek to negotiate - but it is not obligatory - a UK–EU trade agreement. This would operate in similar fashion to the 29 Trade Agreements the EU already has in place - as well as the 12 Trade Agreements the EU is actively negotiating. As above, the EU has agreements that relate to Trade with well over 100 countries. I buy ready-made suits off the peg now. But the UK-EU trade agreement should be "tailor made", as indeed are the other trade agreements (FTAs) that the EU negotiates.
Just how specious this is can be discerned from my Flexcit plan. There, I wrote that, following the "in-out" referendum, there will be a strong demand for the earliest possible exit from the EU.

I thus anticipated that the two years initially set by the Treaty for Article 50 negotiations would be treated as a maximum. Although the period could be extended by unanimous agreement, there would be little tolerance for prolonged talks and certainly not for a process that dragged on for many years.

My view was that expectations would undoubtedly create a political momentum that would be difficult to ignore, especially if a general election intervened. Dominating the talks, therefore, would be be an over-riding need to bring them to a speedy conclusion - within the two-year period.

Advocates for bilateral options, though, rarely discuss the time needed to conclude negotiations. Yet, although the relatively straightforward Greenland exit took two years to conclude, the current round of EU-Swiss talks started in 1994 and took 16 years.

Furthermore, the tendency is, with the progress of time, for the duration of negotiations to increase, as evidenced by the GATT/WTO rounds. The latest of these has taken more than ten years without reaching a conclusion.

With the EU, prolonged negotiations seem to be the norm. By way of example, preliminary talks on the Mexico-EU FTA started in 1995 and finished on 24 November 1999, the agreement coming into force on 1 July 2000.

The Colombia - Peru deal was launched in June 2007 and provisionally applied in the first trimester of 2013, nearly five years later. Its 2,605-page length, with 337 articles and dozens of schedules give clues as to the complexity of the task confronting negotiators. Work on the EU-Canadian Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) started in June 2007 and it took until October 2013 for its key elements to be agreed.

Negotiations on the EU-South Korea FTA started in 2006 and the final agreement entered into force on 1 July 2011. However, this was only the last stage of a process which had started in 1993. To deliver the current 1,336-page trading agreement, alongside a broader-ranging 64-page framework agreement on political co-operation, took almost 18 years.

The EU-India free trade negotiations were launched in 2007 and have still to come to a conclusion seven years later. An agreement may not be signed until 2015.

The putative EU-Mercosur agreement has an even more chequered history. Negotiations were launched in September 1999 but, despite a re-launch in May 2010 and nine further negotiation rounds, no agreement has been reached after more than ten years. No date has been set for further negotiations.

Even more limited pacts can take many years. Negotiations for the Turkish readmission agreement – allowing for the return of illegal immigrants entering EU member state territories via Turkey – started in November 2002, but the agreement was not signed until 16 December 2013 – an interval of 11 years.

On this basis, it is highly improbable that British and EU negotiators could conclude a de novo bilateral agreement in less than five years, especially as there is much more than trade to deal with. Whatever their attractions in theory, the bilateral options are not viable, purely on the grounds of the time needed to negotiate them.

But this sort of thing completely by-passed Dartmouth. Even when you give these Muppets a free gift, as in the Norway Option, they don't take any notice of it. Yet, left to themselves they haven't a clue.

Often it has been suggested that we should go out of our way to help UKIP, even well-paid UKIP MEPs, taking home £182,826 in pay and expenses, while we work for nothing for the cause. But the sad truth is that even when you hand these people information on a plate, gratis, they are incapable of using it.

On the Article 50 negotiations, we actually flagged up the need for an interim solution in our open submission, creating space for a longer-term solution, which is why we advocate EFTA/EEA membership. It is not that this is an optimal solution, but by adopting an off-the-shelf agreement, we circumvent the need for prolonged negotiations prior to leaving the EU.

This is probably where the IEA judges have gone wrong, in failing to understand that, in real life, our negotiating options are extremely limited. But with William Dartmouth thinking we can negotiate a "tailor made" UK-EU trade agreement, without even considering the political realities of Article 50 negotiations and the pressure for an early completion, we have an MEP who is barely safe enough to let out on his own.

Richard North 31/03/2014

 Booker: even Ukip misses the key point

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The only real value of Lord Ashdown, writes Booker, is that he is one of those politicians we can use as a touchstone. Whatever he says about anything, we can usually assume the opposite is true.

So when, amid all the synthetic excitement generated by Wednesday's confrontation on "Europe" between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg, this Lib Dem panjandrum pronounced that the only real winner was "the British public", the very reverse was the case.

Again the only real message to emerge from their exchanges was how far the vacuity of what passes for our national "debate" on the EU stems from the fact that our politicians have never properly grasped what the EU is about, and how far it has degraded our political life.

The most revealing moment came when Mr Clegg wheeled on yet again what has become the only real argument the Europhiles put forward for why Britain must remain a member of the EU: the claim that "three million" jobs depend on our trade with the EU – so that, if we were to leave, we would be excluded from its single market, implying that all those jobs might suddenly disappear.

There is no better measure of how unreal our politics have become than how this fatuous mantra has been allowed to remain at the centre of the debate. It originated, of course, 15 years ago, when it was picked up by "Britain in Europe" from a study by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) as the basis for its slogan "out of Europe, out of work".

If we left the EU, we were told, millions of jobs would be lost. This was such a travesty of what the NIESR actually said – that our withdrawal would, in the long run, have little effect on employment – that its director called it "pure Goebbels… in many years of academic research I cannot recall such a wilful distortion of the facts".

But when Mr Clegg again played this trick last week, Mr Farage was found equally wanting, in failing to make the crucial point that it is perfectly possible to trade freely with the single market without having to be a member of the EU. Dozens of countries around the world already do so, led by the two most prosperous countries in Europe itself, Norway and Switzerland.

Not the least disconcerting thing about Ukip and my friend Mr Farage, dedicated as they are to extricating Britain from the EU, is that they do not make this the centrepiece of their policy: that we could continue to trade with the EU just as we do now, simply by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and joining Norway and Switzerland outside it as members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

Furthermore, this would give us considerably more influence over deciding the single market rules than we have now, with only 8 per cent of the votes; not only because EFTA is fully consulted before those rules are agreed, but also because, as a sovereign nation, we would sit in our own right at the "top tables" of all those international bodies such as the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, whence many of the rules now originate.

By hammering this home, UKIP and the Tory Eurosceptics could, at a stroke, pull the rug from under what, for Europhiles such as Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron, has become almost their only argument for Britain staying in. It is their success in keeping this out of the debate that more than anything condemns it to such wearisome sterility.

What we heard on Wednesday was like listening to two bores banging on in a pub. Neither really landed any serious blow on the other, because neither was remotely engaging in the reality of what we are up against. It is unsurprising that our national debate has become so trivial and so tedious. It is this which makes the "British public", pace Lord Ashdown, the only real losers.

Richard North 30/03/2014

 Ukraine: feeding the media claque

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On Wednesday, trailing way behind this blog and Booker's piece over the weekend, Bruno Waterfield wrote for Spiked on-line, putting the EU in the frame for its "chaotic" handling of international relations, and the Ukraine crisis.

This was the sort of piece Bruno might have written for the Daily Telegraph if it was still an adult newspaper, telling us that "events in Ukraine, and the development of a new destabilising dynamic more broadly in Eastern Europe, show that the EU is far from benign".

It wasn't so very far from what UKIP's William Dartmouth wrote on 21 March, the first comment from the party since 3 March, so it was no great leap for Nigel Farage yesterday to pick up on Clegg's reference to Ukraine, and then to accuse the EU of having "blood on its hands", having pursed an "imperialist expansionist" policy in the east and giving "false hope" to people in the Ukraine.

Actually, within the context of the debate, I thought Farage's commentary was an unforced error, as what he said was wide open to wilful misinterpretation. He was being asked the final listener's question of the debate, with only 45 seconds to answer, why countries such as Ukraine were so keen to develop closer ties with the EU, while in the UK there is a debate about doing the opposite.

He could have opted for a safe and effective answer, declaring that we were not by any means the only countries keen to keep a distance from the EU. In fact, three of the most vibrant democracies in Europe, in Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, when given the choice to join the EU, had rejected the opportunity. Ukraine was a throwback as, gradually, countries were realising the downside of getting entangled with the EU.

It was Farage's choice, however, make the case that the EU's action had led to Mr Putin being provoked, adding that the EU had "not been a thing for good in Ukraine". But nothing he said could reasonably have been taken as an expression of support for Mr Putin. And nothing then in Mr Clegg's body language suggested that he found Farage's comments any more than usually offensive.

It was not until the following day, however, that Mr Clegg decided to be offended. In fact, speaking on his weekly LBC radio show, he decided he was more that offended. He was "shocked" by the UKIP leader's comments, accusing him of "siding with Putin" on Ukraine.

This was picked up by the BBC , and much of the print media, including the Telegraph, the Guardian and the Daily Mail. The latter newspaper, in typical Mail style, perpetrated a libel, headlining a claim that Farage had sided with Vladimir Putin in the TV debate, and thus faced an "angry backlash".

That "backlash" was from a Mr Clegg, obviously suffering from delayed shock. Having not been shocked at the time, he now takes the comments as "proof" of Mr Farage's "extreme" views being clouded by his hatred of the EU. Said the deputy prime minister: "It shows quite how extreme people can be like Nigel Farage when their loathing of the European Union becomes so all-consuming that they even end up siding with Vladimir Putin in order to make their point".

Needless to say, we don't get any detail from Mr Clegg as to why Mr Farage might have been motivated to say what he did, or any recognition that that case had been made elsewhere.

For Clegg, merely to "suggest that somehow it is the European Union's fault that the Ukrainian people rose up, as many did on the streets of Kiev, against their government - seeking to claim greater democracy, greater freedom" is enough in itself. It is "such a perverse way of looking at things".

Unfazed, Farage has repeated his charge, in slightly more detail, taking in Syria, where he says that the civil war has been "made worse by EU leaders stoking the expectation of western forces helping to topple the Assad dictatorship despite the increasing dominance of militant Islamists in the rebellion". At last, EU foreign policy seems to be on the agenda.

However, as Peter observes, it is depressing that the EU induced travesty in Ukraine is only noticed by the media herd as it becomes a political football between two point-scoring intellectual pygmies. But that, it seems, is what it takes to get the claque motivated. They can't read, they can't think for themselves, and their ignorance is profound. Information now has to be spoon-fed to them by B-list politicians.

Sadly, it is these people who have become the custodians of the public agenda. No wonder we are in such a mess. But at least Farage now seems to know the difference between a country east of Poland and a plant hire company.

Richard North 28/03/2014

 EU politics: good but not good enough

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Possibly, the reason we have to suffer from the likes of Clegg prattling about his three million jobs "linked with Europe" is the total inability of the likes of Nigel Farage to put the issue to bed.

It would have been so easy for Farage to have said that the jobs were linked not with membership of the EU, but with the Single Market. He could then have said that we could continue participating in the Single Market outside the EU, just what the "colleagues" have been falling over themselves to offer Ukraine with its Association Agreement.

Of course, Clegg would have come back with "fax law" and loss of influence, but there is an easy counter to that, with the "Norway Option" and the fact that so much law comes from international organisations at global level.

Then Farage allowed himself to get bogged down on the argument about the percentage of law emanating from the EU. Clegg had one figure. Farage had others. But he could so easily have sidestepped the argument, and completely outflanked Clegg. All he had to do was state that most of the law was now coming from global institutions, where we were represented by the EU, as opposed to Norway which has seats at the "top tables".

Thus it was that he got bogged down in a never-ending circle, with the same points raised, repeating tired arguments that have been used again and again, without the issues ever having being resolved. Farage had the opportunity to put some of them to bed. But, as so many are now observing, the UKIP leader doesn't do detail, the sort of detail that you'll find in my FLexCit plan. For all that, in presentational terms, he didn't do badly, he didn't do well enough to make a dent in Clegg's arguments.

And, on the final "killer" question on why countries like Ukraine were lining up to join the EU, Farage could have pointed to the fact that two of the most vibrant democracies in Europe, Iceland and Norway, had been given the choice, and their peoples had refused to join.

Overall, of course, he didn't do badly. We have always accepted that Farage is a good performer. But he didn't do well enough. And, in his closing remarks, he concluded that he thought most people were on his side, wanting to leave the EU. But, in fact, they're not - the man is out of touch. As The Boiling Frog remarks, the latest poll from YouGov on "Brexit" gives 42 percent wanting to stay in and only 36 percent wanting to leave – a six percent margin for the inners.

Over time, therefore, we are losing the argument. And it's not that we're doing badly - we're just not doing well enough. Farage supporters, of course, thought their man did well, and Clegg supporters thought their man did well. A snap YouGov poll, however, gave Farage 57 percent and Clegg 36 percent. On the face of it, Farage wins. 

This, though, is a snap poll biased by the fact that it was a self-selecting cohort of those who were interested enough to watch the show. In that context, a majority thought Farage a better performing seal than Clegg, but that is neither here nor there. Farage may be winning the beauty contest but we are losing the argument on the larger debate.

Interestingly, Dan Hodges suggests that the instant polls were bound to show Farage the victor. Cheap populism is superficially popular, he says, then adding: "But once again Nigel Farage showed the nasty side of his politics, if not his character".

But it is the larger debate that really matters. Bleeding into this local affair, questions were asked and they were not resolved. It was a good show, if you like beauty parades – but not good enough. As the Independent remarked, neither side landed a killer blow. Thus, as long as the Brexit poll tells its dire story, the message to Farage comes straight out of the old school report lexicon: "must do better".

Richard North 27/03/2014

 Booker: Cameron on the spot

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In some important aspects, Ed Miliband's recent speech on his EU referendum intentions is sorting the [eurosceptic] men from the boys.

On the one hand, you have The Boiling Frog doing a serious analysis, which suggests that the Electoral Commission may not look favourably on the idea of having an "in-out" referendum to decide a treaty ratification. On the other hand, we have the low drone of the self-obsessed Tory Boy who brings nothing to the table but his own ignorance.

Bring us up to speed on the current state of play, though, is Booker, in an attempt to simplify the issues to a point where even the more intelligent UKIP members can understand them.

Essentially, Booker is running the line that Miliband's "calculated promise" of a referendum has wrong-footed the other two parties, throwing a rather larger pebble into the fetid pool of British politics than is generally realised.

He will indeed give us an "in-out" referendum, he says – but only if there is another treaty requiring a further substantial surrender of national powers to Brussels. The cunning of this is that by making our continued membership of the EU conditional on our accepting such a treaty, he has put both the other major parties firmly on the spot.

Mr Cameron’s Conservatives and Mr Clegg’s Lib Dems are just as firmly committed to remaining in the EU as Mr Miliband. So by tying the two issues together, he would make it virtually impossible for all three parties officially to do anything but campaign for a vote for staying in.

He softens the pill slightly by saying that the possibility of such a major new treaty is "very unlikely", despite the fact that influential voices in Brussels are lobbying hard for one that takes the EU a further step towards becoming what Viviane Reding, the European Commission vice-president, calls "a United States of Europe".

But Mr Miliband thus gets it both ways. If there is such a treaty, he binds the other two parties into supporting him, whatever it contains. If there isn't, because other voices in Europe fear that it could face all sorts of difficulties with ratification, he is off the hook.

He has, says Booker, at least pledged a referendum that he wouldn't then have to hold. In this sense, he has countered Mr Cameron's fatuous promise of a referendum in 2017, which can never happen, after negotiating for the return of powers of self-government that can never be granted.

Still more self-deluding are those Eurosceptic voices calling for an "in-out" referendum even sooner, because they would lose it. The latest YouGov poll for the first time in years shows a small majority in favour of staying in. This is hardly surprising because, despite the general unpopularity of the EU, the Eurosceptics have not yet come up with any remotely plausible strategy for how and why we should leave.

The Europhiles, including Mr Cameron, have for more than a year had it all their own way, by claiming that, although, of course, they would like to see "reform" of the EU, if Britain were to leave it, we would be shut out from the single market, at a cost of three million jobs.

What no one in any position of authority has pointed out is that this is rubbish. It would be perfectly possible to stay within the single market simply by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, to join the two most prosperous countries in Europe, Norway and Switzerland, in the European Free Trade Area. 

In fact, this is the only way Mr Cameron could hope to get what he says he wants: continued access to the single market, plus the return from Brussels of some of our powers of self-government. But he has already ruled this out, because invoking Article 50 would mean us having to leave the EU.

So vapidly ill-informed has our "debate" on the EU become that none of this is ever spelled out, so it is never going to happen. We are doomed to stumble on through the fog – as, what Roy Jenkins called, the "foot-dragging and constantly complaining member" of a club, the rules of which the British people, led by their politicians, have never really tried to understand.

Richard North 16/03/2014

 EU referendum: Cable boring us all to death

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Vince Cable, the Lib-Dem business secretary, has intervened in David Cameron's game, branding the Conservatives "seriously irresponsible" for promising a 2017 referendum.

Ignoring the growing clamour of voices that says a 2017 plebiscite is impossible, Cable, is talking to the The Independent, whence he chooses to make an issue over the "blight" on foreign investment in Britain. He thus warns of the "chilling effect" of the in/out referendum promise, saying it is delaying the economic recovery and putting 3.5 million jobs at risk.

He claims businessmen are now warning him on a daily basis that they would invest elsewhere to ensure they retained access to the EU's single market. "They say 'we are here because of Europe; we are not just here because of Britain'", he asserts.

Asked to name names, Cable comes up with the usual suspects, car-makers Vauxhall, BMW Mini, Ford and Nissan, adding that the same concerns were being expressed in the aerospace industry and City. British, Japanese, American, Indian and German firms had all voiced fears, he says.

This tedious little game, though, rest on three suppositions. Firstly, one has to assume that there will be that referendum, which Cable should know is impossible. Then, secondly, he must assume that the "outers" would win, which is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Thirdly, and crucially, Cable must assume that the end result would be that the UK outside the EU would no longer had access to the EU's Internal Market. Necessarily, we would be excluded from the trading arrangements that we currently enjoy. Nothing like the "Norway option" would be on offer. 

On the other hand, the EU has been willing to agree a deep and comprehensive free trade area (DCFTA) with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, which encompasses full participation in the Internal Market, without there being any immediate question of EU membership.

It does seem, therefore, beyond the realm of probability that the UK would not be able to negotiate something similar on its departure from the EU. On that basis, the most likely outcome of a "Brexit" is that trading arrangements continue unchecked.

By now, in what should be a mature debate, we should be past the low-grade FUD that Cable has on offer. We really should be able to address the arguments for staying in and departing from the EU on a more adult level, without having to put up with the tedious repetitions that Cable is resuscitating.

Sometime, one wonders whether the game is about boring us all to death, with the same mindless scare stories, forcing us into the position of ending the debate rather than suffer the tedium of yet another dire warning about losing our ability to trade with the rest of the EU.

The trouble is that Mr Cameron and his merry men are not much better, which means we have to suffer this endless round of tedium, instead of addressing the real issues attendant on our membership of the EU.

But then, one might surmise that if the pro-EU faction cannot come up with some more interesting and imaginative arguments for remaining in the EU, that itself tells its own story. A construct which relies on endless repetition of the same tedious FUD can't have very much to offer.

Richard North 07/03/2014

 EU politics: "it would be madness to hand over our fish stocks”

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Tucked into the trade news but reported nowhere else that I can see is a short story about mackerel negotiations on the North-East Atlantic fishery being moved to Bergen in Norway, in an attempt to resolve the long-running fisheries dispute with the EU.

This is something I have reported on extensively, with the most recent piece here, but is something I probably would not have thought to report on, but for the fact that the man I was supposed to meet yesterday in Reykjavik to discuss the Icelandic fishing industry had been called away to those self-same talks.

Since then we have been unable to get any news of their progress, other than they are going on all week, and so far have failed to reach a conclusion. The talks, though, did not stop me meeting with other officials at the Icelandic Fishing Vessel Owners Association, including the man mentioned in the story linked (illustrated above), the picture showing one of the fleet of huge pelagic vessels.

With Björn Bjarnason, who was Minister of Justice at the time of the "pots and pans" revolution, together with former Icelandic Ambassador to Germany, Ingimundur Sigfusson, we asked the trawler owners whether they would support EU entry. Their response was unequivocal. They are against membership. It is in their interests, and in the interests of Iceland, they say, to manage their fish stocks. And that could not be done within the EU.

Famously, Iceland operates a system of selective fisheries closure. Their research vessels carry out real-time monitoring and, if an imbalance in the age composition is recorded, the fishery is closed within hours, with the restrictions broadcast over public radio.

They could not, say the fishermen, live with a situation where fleets from different nationalities exploit their waters, requiring them to go to Brussels for a regulation to close down particular fisheries, having to argue their case in front of bureaucrats over a thousand miles away.

A point made to us was that the regulation of the fisheries is science-based – there are no politics in it. Foremost advocates for control were the fishermen themselves, and they look upon the way Brussels manages the "common resource" with horror. It would be "madness" they say to hand over their fish stocks.

Within the Council of the European Union (the Council of Ministers), I point out that we, the UK, have a mere 29 votes – eight percent of the 352 total - with 252 having to be cast to reach a qualified majority. Yet Iceland, with its tiny population of just over 300,000, would only be given three votes.

When it comes to influence at the "top table" of the EU, therefore, there simply is no comparison between having control of their own resource, and having to compete in Brussels for the privilege of being able to catch some of their own fish.

Another thing that the fishermen find totally unacceptable is the exclusive EU competence on the management of the biological resource. Iceland regards it as vital to their national interest that they keep their vote on international bodies, such as the UN FAO and the General Assembly.

Overall, it was an illustration of their own power that Icelandic negotiators were at Bergen this week talking, on an equal basis, with the EU. Yet Britain, with 70 percent of the waters of the EU, is not at the talks. We have to allow our interests to be represented by the EU. And we all know where that gets us.

Typically, though, the political elites still hanker after joining the EU, and they use every opportunity to promote membership. To that, we ask for an opinion – we ask everyone this – are they fools or liars? There is much discussion on this and no real answer, although the balance rests on them being fools.

Others are more unequivocal. When we asked the farmers' union, there was no doubt. The elites, they say, are lying. But that is the next part of the story. I will report this when I can.


Richard North 29/01/2014

 Iceland beckons

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Gearing up for my visit to Iceland next week, we have a packed programme which includes meeting with fisheries, farming, labour union and other representatives, a visit to an aluminium smelter, dinner with utilities executives and lunch with MPs in the Icelandic Parliament. 

Another highlight  will be a reception aboard the Einsatzgruppenversorger Bonn (pictured above) on the Thursday evening, meeting the German ambassador.

My lecture will also be on the Thursday, lunchtime at the University of Iceland, ironically in Room 101. It is entitled, "Is the EEA an option for Britain?", and will be the first opportunity to try out in public some of the ideas I have been working on for the IEA "Brexit" submission.

The feedback plus the fact-finding will help inform the final work, but there will be plenty of material for blog posts and perhaps for a separate pamphlet. Are we to see the "Iceland Option"?

Actually, it occurred to me that, being as we are looking at the EEA/EFTA model, that covers Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein, which would abbreviate nicely to "NIL". If one recalls the instructions given to British negotiators seeking entry to the EEC, to "swallow it whole", perhaps the new option could be called "NIL by mouth".

Whatever else, in the grander scheme of things, Iceland is a linchpin. As I get to understand the politics more, I will elaborate on this in a series of posts.

Richard North 24/01/2014

 Brexit: working draft complete

This morning, I put the finishing touches to a complete working draft of the "Brexit" submission, the work coming out at exactly 20,000 words. It's not the last of it, of course, because there will have to be some additions closer to the time. But the hardest part is done.

One reason for finishing early is because, next week, I've been invited to Iceland to deliver a lecture on the "Norway Option" to the No to EU Movement. I'm out on Monday and back on the Saturday. Autonomous Mind and The Boiling Frog have agreed to do some guest posts, to keep the blog warm.

While I'm in Iceland, my host Björn Bjarnason, has arranged a fact-finding tour. I will be meeting industrialists, union, fishing and government representatives, and many others including MPs. They have also set up a sightseeing trip for me on the Friday!

When I come back, there will be much to write up. Some of what I learn will, no doubt, find its way into the Brexit submission. For the moment, though, to have temporarily finished this incredibly intensive exercise is like waking from a deep sleep.

Looking around, I'm not that sure I like what I see. Despite that, for a few days, I will get stuck in with a few posts, before jetting off to colder climes.

Richard North 21/01/2014

 EU politics: euroscepticism, but not as you know it

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José Manuel Barroso has intervened directly in the debate on immigration, telling MEPs in Strasbourg that David Cameron's call for free movement rights to be restricted is "narrow, chauvinistic" and based on "scaremongering stereotypes".

This, as you might expect, is picked up by the Financial Times, which has had a busy time of late. It goes so far as to tell us that Barroso has "fired a shot across the bow" of Mr Cameron, saying that national governments have sufficient powers to curb the abuse of immigration without having to put into question the entire European project.

"Contrary to impressions created recently in national debates, [free movement] is not a freedom without rules", he added, then declaring that, "If there is an abuse of free movement the member states are not only entitled, they have the duty to act".

We are then advised that the commission is "increasingly frustrated" with Britain's attempt to scapegoat the EU for claims that immigration from within the bloc – in particular from poorer member states – to the UK has led to wide abuse of its social welfare system.

On the home front, the FT is telling us that Mr Cameron has shelved a government report on EU migration, after Theresa May has failed to provide evidence to support her case for imposing tighter curbs on immigrants.

Mrs May, whose department was responsible for drafting the report, said last month there was "abuse of free movement" rules and that some migrants were attracted by "access to benefits". As the narrative then went, she struggled to prove her contention that limiting EU migration would be good for Britain.

Now, we are told, Mr Cameron has ordered a delay in publication of the Home Office report until after the euro-elections. One anonymous official is cited, saying that, "They can't bring themselves to publish the report before the European elections because they would have to admit that freedom of movement is a good thing".

Meanwhile, dredging up an old argument, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg has told Mr Cameron that she would not recommend that Britain leaves the European Union and, like Norway, become a member of the European Economic Area (EEA).

"I don't believe that Great Britain, with its old empire mind-set should consider becoming a member of an organization which basically means that laws and rules which are made in other countries are implemented directly," she told NTB newswires. "I do not think that's a realistic thing right now".

This is an entirely predictable line from the Norwegian political elite, all to match another contribution from corporate business, with the Ford Motor Company also interfering in domestic politics, called for Britain to remain in the European Union, warning that it would reassess all its investment plans if Britain left.

Chief executive of the European operation, Steve Odell, mirrors Solberg's dissimulation, acknowledging that we would still be able to trade with the EU if we left, but asserting that this would be, "only if you comply [with EU regulations] without a voice into the process".

This is not the first time Odell has intervened and he has nothing new to say. It is probably not a coincidence, therefore, that he and Soberg have crawled out of their holes at the same time the Muppets were having their ludicrous seminar on EU reform, listening to the Osborne speech.

But, just so as you know, there are no shortcuts to reform. Says MuPpet George Freeman, "we should be ambitious for Europe and work to agree a reform package to make it more entrepreneurial and globally competitive".

"We may not succeed", he adds. "But not trying would be a major derogation of our duty, and a potentially huge missed opportunity to unleash the new cycle of global competitiveness, trade and investment in Europe we so badly need after the crash of 2008".

This, we are told, is "Euroscepticism, but not as you knew it. It's a progressive agenda for reforming the EU for an age of austerity and global competitiveness".


Richard North 16/01/2014