EU Referendum: an optimistic view


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard North 26/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: strategy on autopilot


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard North 22/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: the arrogance of the always right


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard North 21/11/2015 link

Strategy ten: that "British model"


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard North 16/11/2015 link

Strategy ten: the politics of expectation


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard North 13/11/2015 link

Strategy ten: working for the other side


Yesterday, we touched very briefly on the effect of campaigning without strategic direction. In the absence of such direction, we might just as well be working for the other side, I wrote, promising to explore this further in today's post.

In keeping with the idea of maintaining a topical hook, we can explore this through the events of yesterday, when David Cameron made another speech, this one at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in London, to coincide with a letter sent to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk.

With that, however, we have had the bulk of the media rushing down the path of ignorance, boldly proclaiming that Mr Cameron had issued "demands" on EU reform. Particularly egregious examples include the Telegraph which proclaimed that David Cameron was setting out his "demands" to Europe. The Express confidently reported that the "bid to reform Britain's membership of the European Union appears to have run aground within just hours of the Prime Minister setting out his demands".

The only very slight problem with both these assertions was that Mr Cameron quite explicitly had not made any demands. His letter to Tusk stated that its purpose was "not to describe the precise means, or detailed legal proposals, for bringing the reforms we seek into effect".

That, wrote Mr Cameron, "is a matter for the negotiation, not least as there may, in each case, be different ways of achieving the same result". All he had done was to set out "the four main areas" where the United Kingdom was seeking reform. He then hoped that the letter could "provide a clear basis for reaching an agreement that would, of course, need to be legally-binding and irreversible - and where necessary have force in the Treaties".

What came out of the Chatham House speech, though, was something very much more enlightening. Very early into the address, Mr Cameron told us there were "two sorts of members of the European Union" - eurozone and non-eurozone members.

What was quite evidently a core concern, though, was a eurozone on the brink of change. This would have "profound implications for both types of members". To protect us, we need, said Mr Cameron, "a British model of membership that works for Britain and for any other non-Euro members". And just so there could be no doubt as to its importance, the Prime Minister gave us a clue: This is "a matter of cardinal importance for the United Kingdom", he said.

And there, writ large, is associate membership – rebranded to take on what may become its definitive title: the "British model".  Thus, over just a few days, from Mr Cameron's visit to Iceland, where he went out of his way to attack the "Norway Model", to Mr Osborne's speech in Berlin on safeguarding non-eurozone members, to Monday's CBI speech and then the Chatham House speech,  the pieces are falling into place.

As we see it, having established the extremes at both edges of the argument, and with George Osborne setting the scene for him, "Mr Reasonable" has created space for the centre ground and is now occupying it, with a message tuned to the "moderate middle" who will decide the outcome of the referendum. 

On this, it really doesn't matter what "leavers" think. Even less important are the views of the committed "pro-Europeans". They are not going to change their minds in the referendum. The only people who matter to David Cameron are those in that "moderate middle" - people with no strong convictions who could vote either way. 

Furthermore, we do not seem to be alone in this view. The Independent, gives us the headline, "David Cameron's strategy to keep UK in Europe is to present himself as 'the man in the middle'", positioning himself "between the fervently pro and fervently anti-EU brigades".

In campaigning terms, this gives us our marching orders. If our three-point grand strategy, set out yesterday, is anywhere near correct, then our intelligence has identified the target. Phase one of the strategy is in place. It is now urgently necessary to attack this "British model", and come up with a better – and credible – alternative. This is where the bulk of our resources should be focused.

What then of the two main leaver groups? Sadly, Vote Leave Ltd fell into the same trap as the media, treating the Prime Minister's basis for discussion as "demands". Then, failing to understand Mr Cameron's "play", they dismissed these supposed demands as "trivial".

Even when associated membership was drawn to their attention, Dominic Cummings was dismissive. It  wasn't the whole issue now, he declared. Only later, after prodding (see below), did he acknowledge that, having warned of "associate membership" (it having appeared once on the Vote Leave website), it was "hiding in plain sight in DC speech - 'a British model'". The belated admission, however, has not triggered any action.

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As for the other big group, Richard Tice of was getting himself bogged down in a pointless spat with Will Straw over trade and the EU - pushing the WTO as an exit option. His organisation, meanwhile, has completely missed the point. It has condemned Mr Cameron's actions as "meaningless gestures presented as meaningful reform".

Unable to see the links and the underlying agenda, Arron Banks has dismissed Cameron's speech as "loaded with bombastic rhetoric, underpinned by the usual Cameron pomp". This, he asserts, "will not be enough to paper over the crevices of a conspicuously unambitious reform agenda".

Banks, with his tenuous grasp of the issues, believes that, when Mr Cameron finally secures all his "reforms", the public "will be armed with the facts that no level of imaginative re-packaging will be able to compete with". He proclaims: "This is the beginning of the end".

All this actually illustrates is a complete failure of intelligence. hasn't even arrived at the starting post. On the other hand, Vote Leave Ltd, may have arrived - in that it grudgingly acknowledges the that associate membership is on the agenda. But it is not addressing this issue. Thus, with no discernible strategy, the two "noisemakers" are making every mistake in the book.

What these two groups are doing, therefore, is soaking up resources that could be better employed on fighting the real battle. And, with their totally inadequate intelligence gathering and analytical capabilities, they are failing to inform the media, leaving them to spread disinformation and ignorance.

As for Farage, we struggle to find anything from him worth recording. He is reported here, dismissing Mr Cameron proposals as lacking any targets for substantial renegotiation of membership. Farage also complains that Mr Cameron has tried "to portray a new 'third way' relationship with Brussels that is simply not on offer". Like, he has a way to go before he gets near the starting post.

Yet, the tiny Bruges Group has been able to put the story together - and with only a fraction of the resource available to the other groups. But the noise level is so high that it will get relatively little media coverage. Before this referendum, the Group was a media favourite. Now its voice is drowned by the "noisemakers".

Like it or not, "leave" groups are in competition for media attention, for funds and much else. Inadequate groups do not work in isolation. When they fail to perform, they detract from the campaign as a whole. Effectively, they are to this referendum what bed blockers are to the NHS. They can be a more potent drag on our capabilities than the pro-EU campaign. And in that sense, they are not on our side at all. 

Nevertheless, they are a factor on the ground, and have to be worked into any strategy. How we deal with them is something I will look at shortly.

Richard North 11/11/2015 link

Strategy ten: engaging with the enemy


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In this first post of our series on EU referendum strategy, I promised to revisit the nature of strategy, and discuss why it is so important. And there is no better way of doing this than to look at current events, to give us a topical note, from which we can draw the necessary lessons.

Let's start with the Prime Minister's speech to the CBI yesterday. The childish interruption, organised by the equally puerile Vote Leave, has absorbed much of the media attention, but fortunately we have a transcript with which to work. The actual speech can be heard on the CBI website.

Initially, David Cameron tells us he's "not firing the starting gun on the referendum campaign", perhaps a sideways dig at the idiot Times, which yesterday ran a front-page story claiming that he was ready for the "gamble" of a June (2016) referendum. 

I thought, incidentally, we had got over this hump of stupidity, but there is absolutely no bottom limit when it comes to the British media. It seems to regard depths as things to be plumbed with untrammelled enthusiasm.

Back with Cameron, what he then does is lay out what amounts his strategic vision, starting with this extraordinary statement:
… what I have done in recent weeks is just to debunk some of the duff arguments that people put around. So last week I talked about what I think is a very duff argument put about by the Out campaign, which is that it would be easy for Britain to leave Europe and simply sign up to a deal like Norway. I think that would be a bad idea. When you look at the detail of the deal that Norway has, it is not a good deal. They pay more per head into the European Union than we do, they take more migration than we do, and yet they don't have a seat at the table to determine what the rules are. So that is a bad deal. So the people who definitely want to leave, they need to come up with a better argument than "let's have a position like Norway".
Never mind here that Cameron is adopting the technique of repeating the lies. What he has done is create one of two extremes of an argument, thereby creating the centre ground which he can occupy. The second extreme comes with this:
So today I also want to debunk an argument that is sometimes put around by those who say "stay in Europe come what may". Some people seem to say that really Britain couldn't survive, couldn't do okay outside the European Union. I don't think that is true. Let's be frank, Britain is an amazing country. We have got the fifth biggest economy in the world. We are a top ten manufacturer, growing steadily strong financial services. The world wants to come and do business here, look at the record of inward investment. Look at the leaders beating a path to our door to come to see what's happening with this great country's economy.
This has been misread by much of the media, which has taken this statement in isolation, using it to signify a hardening of resolve. But it is nothing of the sort. The Prime Minister is creating his middle ground. On the one hand, there is the insulting characterisation of the "duff argument" about Norway. On the other side, there are those who want to stay in and argue that Britain couldn't survive outside the EU. Into the space created walks the moderate Mr Cameron. He tells us:
The argument isn't whether Britain could survive outside the EU; of course it could. The argument is, "How are we going to be best off?" That is the argument that I think we are going to be making together after this successful negotiation. When it comes to the crucial issues, our prosperity, our national security, of course we could try to look after those things outside the EU, but how do we make ourselves more prosperous and more secure? That's what the argument should be about, and that's what I will throw myself into once I've completed this negotiation.
He concludes:
And I hope that British business will back me in this negotiation because, frankly, the status quo isn't good enough for Britain. We need to fix these challenges, fix these problems. That's what the negotiation is about and then we can throw ourselves headlong into keeping Britain in a reformed Europe. But as we do so, no duff arguments, no pretending that Britain couldn't survive outside the EU, of course we could. The fifth largest economy in the world, the great economy that is getting stronger and better.
And this is exactly what the Independent saw, which I reported on over the weekend. This is Mr Cameron's "middle way", the full extent of which he is yet to reveal but which we expect to morph into associate membership. He is conscious of the problems of the EU, so he is going to "fix these challenges, fix these problems".

For us, this is dangerous. He is not attempting to appeal to either extreme - he knows they have fixed positions. Instead, he is appealing directly to the "moderate middle" - Mr Reasonable - all the more so for his deft handling of the schoolboy interruption.

Bizarrely though, the "high-noise" leavers are oblivious to the danger. Dominic Cummings, the "mad genius" of euroscepticism, even seems to think that Cameron does not have a strategy, "DC doesn't know his goals" and "doesn't have a strategy", he tweets.

But, despite Cummings's strategic myopia, what we saw yesterday is a classic example of political strategy in action. There is a clarity of purpose and a clear theme, which had Mr Cameron telling his audience that once the negotiation is concluded, "we can throw ourselves headlong into keeping Britain in a reformed Europe".

From the very start, the Prime Minister has never wavered from his twin goal. The first is one of forging a new relationship with the EU. As for "reform", what he has in mind is what the "colleagues" have suggested to him: to split the Union into two tiers. This is what he might be calling an "arms length relationship", but the idea of creating a new relationship was there, in the Bloomberg speech. 

The second goal, dependent on the first, is to keep Britain in the EU. Again, Mr Cameron has been totally consistent on this. He could not have made it more clear.  

And this is where strategy pays off – you state your objective, and then you focus on how to get there. This is what Mr Cameron is doing. We need to do the same thing. Furthermore, it is vital that we understand the difference between the "goal" or "objective", and the strategy - the roadmap. In Mr Cameron's case, we know his goals. Our goal is more modest at this stage – simply to win the referendum. But what is our strategy – our roadmap for the campaign?

Here, we can refer back to Gene Sharp, whom we looked at in July and Pete looked at yesterday. But, what came out in the comments to my piece was that there is something even more important than our own strategy. The key to this whole campaign is the enemy's strategy.

In the context of this referendum, it is also vital to recognise who the enemy is: the Prime Minister. He is our enemy - not the patsy "remain" campaign, or the CBI - against which the thoroughly "mad" Mr Cummings has decided to declare war.

In this war, it is Mr Cameron who has the initiative in so many areas that, inevitably we must respond to him. Our core strategy, therefore, has to be reactive, and it has to be intelligence-led. Our key task is to identify as early as possible the nature of Mr Cameron's strategy, then to devise effective responses. Where possible, we must pre-empt his moves.

The essence, therefore, is as I set out at Leamington Spa. There are three stages to our strategy: we must identify the threat; we must neutralise it; and then we must mount a counter-attack. Three things, and in that order. 

Earlier than anticipated, we have a very clear idea of Mr Cameron's intentions. We have been lucky in the that, with him having signalled his intentions so early. We now have an obvious task: to make it clear that the "arms-length relationship" is the worst of all possible worlds. It then remains for us to project our own alternative, something far better than anything the Europhiles can offer. That must be the substance of our counter-attack, the third prong of our strategy. 

This, though, is only the bare bones. We also have to look at the detail. While each war has a strategy - the so-called "grand strategy", each battle is defined by its own subordinate strategy. Here, it is important to retain a sense of hierarchy. The battle strategy - whether indeed you fight the battle - is subordinate to the grand strategy.

But our subordinate strategies must include such matters as how we should project our messages - what one might call the communication strategy. We should know to whom we must deliver the key messages, and how they must be delivered in order to change minds. 

Above all else, with the noisemakers having lost the plot - off fighting totally irrelevant battles of their own - we are terribly short of resource. Therefore, we cannot afford is to dilute our effort with activities unrelated to the strategic direction. We certainly can't afford the wild antics that Mr Cummings has in mind. All they will do is damage our authority and credibility.

If we do not plan strategically, says Gene Sharp, we are likely to fail to achieve our objectives. A poorly planned mixture of activities will not move us forward. Instead, it will more likely strengthen the opposition. And that is why strategy is so important. Without it, we might just as well be working for the other side. With Vote Leave Ltd, others are wondering whether that could even be the case.

We will look further at this problem tomorrow.

Richard North 10/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: and so to the theatre


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Is there anyone this side of rationality who believes there are any circumstances under which Mr Cameron will recommend that the Britain leaves the EU?

Yet, if the Observer is to be taken at face value, this is precisely what the Prime Minister will threaten to do if the EU does not give "substantial ground" on the "demands" he intends to present to the president of the European Council on Tuesday.

If we can't reach an agreement, and if Britain's concerns are to be met with a "deaf ear", "then we will have to think again about whether this European Union is right for us," he will say, adding: "As I have said before – I rule nothing out".

Into that little fiction, though, Cameron tucks an observation that he does not believe Britain's concerns will be met with a "deaf ear" – and, of course they won't. This is carefully rehearsed theatre – all part of a cynical exercise calculated to deliver a "remain" vote when we finally go to the polls.

Even this weekend, we had further confirmation that the outcome of his "play" is pre-ordained – as we have been reporting for many months. This came in the Independent which had Wolfgang Schäuble and George Osborne talking of a "two-speed Europe" to be written into a new treaty – associate membership by any other name.

Presented baldly, the idea is hardly attractive enough to carry the day. Both The Sceptic Isle and Ben Kelly make this very clear, which means that Mr Cameron must stage manage the delivery of what will be presented as his own idea. And sure enough, the legacy media is obligingly trotting out the propaganda, ranging from Sky TV and ITV, to the Express. Strangely, only the Independent is off-message.

This newspaper presents David Cameron as "a conjurer who has forgotten the rest of his trick". For years, it says, he has suggested that Britain's present relationship with the rest of the European Union is intolerable and that, when the time comes, he will set out a package of dramatic changes that will suddenly make it beneficial and, indeed, essential.

Yet the closer he gets to his "abracadabra moment", the paper continues. the more obvious it becomes that he will settle for the minor changes that have been well trailed, and most of which have already been agreed in principle. And in threatening to support an exit, "he makes less and less sense".

What it picks up is something that the Observer also notes - that Mr Cameron intends to challenge both the "Remain" and "Leave"campaigns to clarify their arguments, positioning them respectively as those who want to stay in the EU, come what may, and those who want to come out regardless of what he negotiates.

This, says the Independent is an "unconvincing attempt" to co-opt one of the favourite rhetorical devices of Tony Blair's: the third way. Mr Cameron seeks to pretend that there are two extremes in this debate, allowing him to position himself as the moderate, offering a "sceptical but pragmatic middle way".

Either this newspaper is genuinely ignorant, or it is all part of the game, but it does not acknowledge that associate membership" is the middle way. Instead, it declares that, "there isn't really a third way". There is "in" or "out" and Mr Cameron knows this.

Interestingly, the newspaper considers whether supporters of the EU, including itself, should go along with what it calls "Mr Cameron's pretence". But it feels it would "rather argue the case for Europe for what it is, imperfections and all". Arguments, it says, "should be made openly and honestly". The basic choice is what it has always been: "in" or "out", and – predictably – the Independent believes we should stay in.

If that is a genuine expression of opinion, then it is commendable, if somewhat naïve – if not hypocritical. Since when has the Independent ever argued openly and honestly? But what it is does point up is that Mr Cameron clearly does not believe he can win the argument this way – hence the charade. His "middle way", comprising associate membership, plus his attempts to create a TINA scenario by demolishing the Norway (Interim) Option, now seems the government's settled strategy.

But before we get to see this naked in tooth and claw, we have to be taken though a tedious charade, where the Prime Minister "acts tough for Britain" and the "colleagues" allow themselves to be dragged kicking and screaming into offering something which was already decided by them the best part of three years ago.

The only thing we don't know at present is how Mr Cameron intends to brand associate membership. Something imaginative could be on the stocks. Rather than referring to inner and outer groups, for instance, the inner eurozone might be contrasted with something labelled a "free trade group", over which Britain may claim to assume leadership.

Marketing and timing will be crucial in this respect, presenting something which looks superficially attractive, while giving the "leave" campaigners minimal time to counter a last-minute barrage of propaganda. In the meantime, we get taken to the theatre.

Richard North 08/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: the Norway Model


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For many years, as long as I can remember, it's been called the Norway Option – hence the title of the original Bruges Group pamphlet. We then called it the Norway Option throughout Flexcit but, when the media goes live, it gets turned into the "Norway Model" - despite the above being a real Norway Model.

One wonders whether this is deliberate, or just the legacy media failing to get the point (as usual). But, whether it is the Norway Model or the Norway Option, it is still an interim option, buying us time for a longer term settlement. That idea is totally beyond the media's comprehension.

Either way, there is sense in using a consistent description, as that makes searches easier though the likes of Google. Perhaps, though, "Norway Model" is being used with the intention of driving people away from looking for "Norway Option", just in case they might learn something. The Boiling Frog certainly thinks this is the case.

Richard North 07/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: the lies they tell


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The BSE campaign is warming up for another of its propaganda-fests, this one on trade, with a pre-publication hit offered to the Guardian.

At the centre of this fest is a report written by three former UK ambassadors to the EU, in which they argue that British exporters would be disadvantaged if the UK left the union.

They claim that Britain would immediately lose access to free trade deals with 51 states and would then have to renegotiate its own bilateral deals as a weaker force – "a country with a population of 63 million rather than as a member of a union with a population of 500 million.

Potentially, this might seem a major problem. Currently the European Union lists 853 bilateral treaties on its treaty database, together with 258 multilateral agreements. Of those 1,111, 250 are classified as trade agreements.

These cover a vast range of subjects from the "Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Moldova on the protection of geographical indications of agricultural products and foodstuffs" to the "Agreement on fishing between the European Community and the Kingdom of Norway".

However, as always, dishonesty stalks the land. If others made the claims such as we are hearing, they might simply be considered disingenuous, but these people are former ambassadors. And, as diplomats, they must be familiar with international law.

In that specific context, we are dealing with the problem of continuity of treaties (which is what free trade deals are) following a change of status of the contracting parties. But this is a problem that has been met before.

In more recent times, there was the "velvet divorce" between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which created precisely that problem. But it was resolved when on 19 January 1993 the two republics were admitted to the UN as new and separate states. In respect of international treaties, they simply agreed to honour the treaty obligations of Czechoslovakia.

The Slovaks transmitted a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations on 19 May 1993 expressing their intent to remain a party to all treaties signed and ratified by Czechoslovakia, and to ratify those treaties signed but not ratified before dissolution of Czechoslovakia.

This letter acknowledged that under international law all treaties signed and ratified by Czechoslovakia would remain in force. For example, both countries are recognized as signatories of the Antarctic Treaty from the date Czechoslovakia signed the agreement back in 1962.

Something similar can apply when the UK leaves the EU. What happens is that we can rely on a general presumption of continuity that is held to exist by many authorities on international law, as expressed in the basic primers.

To help matters along, there is even a formal template that can be followed, in the form of the Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties. And although the UK has not acceded to this Convention, it doesn't really matter. The Czechs and Slovaks basically followed it, even though it was not then in force. The presumption of continuity was sufficient.

Nevertheless, the Convention is helpful in that it sets out the procedures for carrying over treaties, where all parties agree to their continuation. It allows a succeeding state – in this case the UK – to establish its status as a party to existing treaties by way of a formal notification of succession lodged with the depository of each treaty.

There is one minor snag, in that continued participation in the treaties will normally require the consent of all the parties. It does not seem likely, though, that many parties will want to withhold consent, especially as, in many cases, third countries are beneficiaries of the treaty provisions.

A good example is the Mutual Recognition Agreement on Conformity Assessment between the EU and Australia, which allows Australia to export specific goods to EU Member States. In this case, it would be irrational Australia to withhold consent.

There may be a further problem as there is a distinction between treaties made jointly between the European Union and its component Member States, and other parties (whether bilateral or multilateral) – the so-called "mixed" treaties, and those concluded only between the European Union and third parties, such as under the Lisbon Treaty Article 207 powers, known as "exclusive" treaties.

There is a possibility that the Vienna Convention procedure might not apply to the exclusive EU treaties. In this case, the UK has no direct locus and, on withdrawal from the EU, might have no part in such treaties. But there again, the principles of the Vienna Convention could be deemed to apply, given the political will.

In any event, there are currently very few exclusive treaties, with the EU treaty database listing only 17 made under Article 207, of which only three relate to trade, of the 250 trade agreements listed in the database. Renegotiating these would not present any great problems.

Even then, there is a further option which would avoid the possibility of being held to ransom by third countries which do not consent to an independent UK as a treaty partner.

This would involve an agreement with the EU of a limited treaty giving Britain notional membership status for the strict and exclusive purpose of taking advantage of third country treaty provisions. Any such arrangement would most certainly be of limited duration, and adopted only to give time for selective renegotiation and/or re-enactment with the original parties to the third country treaties.

More likely, though, the presumption of continuity will suffice. That makes the claims of the three former ambassadors alarmist at best, but more like yet another dose of lies. Treaty continuity is a minor administrative problem – nothing more. It takes the liars of the BSE campaign to turn it into a crisis.

Richard North 07/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: bring on the debate


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Given his track record on such things, it came as no surprise to have our Prime Minister openly lying over the Norway (Interim) Option. But what still takes some getting used to is that the "high-noise" leavers, Vote Leave Ltd and piled in to disown the option and this endorse his dismissal, while not even attempting to address the lies.

What then happened was that both campaigns retreated to their comfort zones. Vote Leave Ltd revisited old battles, fought and won with the CBI over the euro, while indulged in a private spat with the BSE campaign, both of the groups thus continuing with the policy of opting out of the mainstream debate.

The irony of this all is that Norway and with it the rest of EFTA – claimed by David Cameron to have "no say" in the making of rules for the Single Market – went on to conduct a joint meeting of the EU's Internal Market Advisory Committee (IMAC) and Enterprise Policy Group (EPG).

At this meeting, the EFTA/EEA States welcomed the adoption of the EU's new Single Market Strategy, published at the end of last month., and the fact that it reflected the priorities laid out in the EFTA/EEA Comment from July 2015.

So, the very thing that the British Prime Minister was claiming was in a matter of days, being unravelled by events. The EFTA/EEA states were doing the very thing they were said not to be doing: having their say. Not only that, they were doing what the "leave" groups were not doing, but should have been.

Furthermore, while we have been demanding that the "remainers" tell us what continued EU membership looks like, this to an extent is happening here. Aided by the EFTA/EEA states, the Commission is looking at the future of the Single Market over the next few years.

This is via COM(2015) 550 final, published on 28 October of this year, entitled "Upgrading the Single Market: more opportunities for people and business", which sets out a "vision" for a "deeper and fairer Single Market".

The usual penchant for rhetoric comes to the fore, as the Commission tells us that it wants a news strategy based on "opportunity, modernisation and results", to which effect the Single Market "needs to be revived and modernised in a way that improves the functioning of the markets for products and services and guarantees appropriate protection for people".

The strategy, we are led to believe, is made up of targeted actions in three key areas: "creating opportunities for consumers, professionals and businesses; encouraging and enabling the modernisation and innovation that Europe needs; ensuring practical delivery that benefits consumers and businesses in their daily lives".

Reading through the modest 22 pages of the document, what is striking is not so much what it says but what it doesn't say – its timidity and limited scope. It is essentially a European document and, although there are references to TTIP and the need to secure "an ambitious, fair and effective outcome" to the US talks, that seems to be the limit of the Commission's ambitions.

The measure of this is startlingly few references to global issues. "We need a Europe that is open to the world and a world that is open to Europe", says the Commission, without the least detail as to how this should be achieved. Nowhere is the term "globalisation" to be found.

Significantly, the WTO is celebrating twenty years of the TBT Agreement, which entered into force with the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 1 January 1995.

This heralded a revolution in global trading, the importance of which has scarcely been recognised. Outside the narrow confines of "little Europe", there is a global market in the making and the European Union is not taking its full part in it.

The lack of vision we are getting from the Commission, though, is being mirrored elsewhere, and in particular in an article in Euractiv, where we see Stuart Brown, a researcher in European politics at the LSE, tells us to "Forget Norway", arguing that: the UK needs a "proper debate on the single market".

This lightweight and dishonest piece has been partially explored by Pete, but there is a more fundamental point to be made.

Yes, we need a debate. And it does need to be about the single market - but it needs to be much wider than just the limited vision the encompasses the EU's single market. We need to be thinking about a global single market, and how to make it work more efficiently, with increased transparency and accountability.

This is a debate which the EU is avoiding. It is one which the "remainers" are hiding from and it is one, remarkably, from which the high-noise "leavers" are running. Yet, for the leave campaign at least, as White Wednesday points out, it is our strongest suit and the battlefield on which we need to fight the referendum.

In this, we need to go past the familiar mantras about being a global trading nation, and get to grips with the extent that globalisation is already dictating how we trade – how it works, its successes, it failures and the obstacles ir faces.

If we can have that debate – an adult debate, in which the legacy media is incapable of partaking – then we will be a long way towards understanding the issues which will help us craft our winning hand. For the moment though, we're being drowned out by the noise. It would be start if the noisemakers toned it down a bit, even if they also incapable of joining the debate.

Richard North 06/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: a paucity of power


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One extraordinary thing about the current debate on the EU referendum is not so much its extent as its limited scope: the same issues, the same FUD and the same fog of ignorance.

It is that, probably more than anything, seems to be running out of steam, as the parties avoid the core issues. The remainers avoid telling us what continued EU membership looks like, while the "high-noise" leavers are unable to describe a post-exit Britain.

But nothing adds more to the air of unreality than the pretence by ministers that they are seeking real objectives, when they are chasing shadows – ideas with no substance at all.

Into this comes the quest by the Prime Minister and Chancellor for an "emergency brake", supposedly to safeguard the economic interests of non-euro countries, something to which George Osborne referrred in his Berlin speech.

But even the Financial Times seems to be having trouble with the terminology, which makes this quest even less substantial. Says this newspaper, David Cameron and George Osborne want a "protocol" that enables the EU single market to coexist more easily with an integrated eurozone.

The point about a "protocol", however, is that this is a formal addendum to a treaty, and thus has the same status, requiring the same procedures to bring it into being – unanimous agreement by all 28 Member States and then ratification.

As such, there is not the slightest hope in the known universe of getting such an agreement through the system, which means that the whole idea is a complete non-starter.

Recognising the futility of this quest, we now see a different option being touted, which goes by the name of the Ioannina mechanism, which has been used to delay a decision if a country feels that its vital interests are threatened but cannot muster a blocking minority under qualified majority voting.

It was first proposed at a Council meeting in Ioannina, a Greek city north of Athens, in 1994, when foreign ministers from the then 15-member union were called to discuss how voting rules should change if Norway joined the EU.

At the meeting, ministers agreed that if EU members wished to oppose a measure but could not muster enough support to block it, they could ask the bloc's council of member states to do "all within its power, within a reasonable space of time, to reach a satisfactory solution" that would be acceptable to a qualified majority.

This "mechanism", though, has the status only of a political declaration which, as the UN points out is not legally binding. This is so far from the idea of Mr Cameron's full-on treaty change that it is a travesty.

All of this makes the posturing of Messrs Cameron and Osborne totally valueless. Nothing therefore better demonstrates the paucity of power in this land. Our ministers are not in control – all that is left is pretence.

Richard North 05/11/2015 link

EU-Referendum: the two-step shuffle


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You see beasts on a transporter arrive at a slaughterhouse. The ramp comes down and they are led off to the lairage. It doesn't then take much skill to deduce that, in a very short time they are going to turned into meat for human consumption.

The thing is, even as they are being led down the ramp, the animals don't know this. But you the observer, recognising the building as a slaughterhouse, know exactly what is going to happen.

So it is with the two noisy "leave" campaigners, Vote Leave Ltd and its doppelganger They are being led down the ramps to their slaughter, without them even realising what's happening. There will, of course, be lots of mooing and bellowing, but the destination is pre-ordained. Once the deed is done, all that will be left to mark their passage will be a few dropping on the straw – and even those will soon be hosed away.

But it is not a knife that will be used to despatch our noisemakers. What is being used to cement their fate is a beguilingly simple two-step shuffle, transparent to the outside observer but unrecognised by campaigns that have no strategy and have allowed themselves to gorge on "dead chicken" trivia.

The one part of this dance is the softening up of the British public for the outcome of the so-called "renegotiations". This will be an offer of associate membership, most probably in a heavily disguised form, which will allow David Cameron to claim a substantive victory.

Undoubtedly, the "leave" response will be to rubbish the associate membership and then offer an alternative, which will be claimed to be more attractive. The second part of the dance is designed to pre-empt this move, by closing down the best alternatives - such as the Norway (Interim) Option. What is left will be uncertain and largely undeliverable.

Implementing the first step of the shuffle has been left largely to George Osborne, who progressed the idea of associate membership that bit further, under the noses of the "high-noise" leavers, who have failed to recognise what he was up to.

This followed on from Mr Cameron's successful execution of the second step, where he enjoyed the good fortune of recruiting unwitting leavers to the cause of demolishing the Norway (Interim) Option. 

Not even the open goal of a Prime Minister lying to make his case would tempt them to oppose the Prime Minister. With their apparent support, and the willing complicity of a gullible media, Cameron was able to lie his way into the history books as the Prime Minister who continued using the deception arts in support of the European projet.

Cameron's intervention now opens the way for further studies, of the type highlighted in the Guardian yesterday. This one, from the Policy Network capitalises on the disarray amongst the "high noise" leavers who are unable to agree amongst themselves as to best exit plan. They have identified the core weakeness in the Vote Leave Ltd and the campaigns. Both demand "unity" from their supporters yet, internally, they are riven with disagreement over their exit strategies.

Thus, when Policy Network or any other body asks what Britain looks like outside the EU, all we get is the "fantasy politics" offering of some vague "free trade area", relying on the "better deal fallacy". But when it comes down to detail, all the "high noise" leavers can agree on it what they don't want.

The more the actual options for leaving are examined, say the Policy Network authors, Pat McFadden and Andy Tarrant, the less attractive they become. And, although this assertion can easily be disputed, this is not something either Vote Leave Ltd or can do. Neither have an exit plan, so - as Lost Leonardo points out - they have absented themselves from the debate.

What we then end up with is lightweight fluff from the likes of Boris Johnson, who blathers about an "attractive alternative future" for the UK outside the European Union - without being able to tell us how we get there - while preferring to remain a member of a reformed organisation.

 There, taken with the the most extraordinary ignorance of pundits like Conservative Home's Mark Wallace, we have the makings of our defeat. The referendum is turned into a binary choice between Mr Osborne's "reformed EU" and an alternative future which, on examination proves to be unattainable.

The tragedy is that the noisemakers don't even realise they are being beaten. So busy bellowing, and depositing their droppings over their new territory, they don't hear the knives being sharpened. Right to the moment when they drop, they will be applauding themselves on the "brilliant" jobs they are doing.

Richard North 04/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: blind to the danger


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Although dismissed by Labour as a "meaningless publicity stunt" (a fiction spread by - see above), Chancellor George Osborne's speech to the Federation of German Industries in Berlin yesterday was anything but. 

Upstaged by the German Chancellor on her own turf, he was almost completely ignored by the German media, but then he wasn't speaking to a German audience. This was entirely for domestic consumption.

What Osborne is doing is building on the foundations which he was laying back in September when he told the New Statesman that he was looking for treaty change to resolve the issue" of creating "two classes of members" within the EU.

This is associate membership by any other name, and yesterday Osborne spelled out in more detail what was needed "to fix the relationship between the member states in the Eurozone and those outside" – the essence of what the Financial Times calls a "two-tier Europe".

Now the Chancellor (our Chancellor, that is) is spelling it out that the principles of this two-tier system must be. "embedded in EU law and binding on EU institutions", one which the FT says "will comprise an integrated eurozone surrounded by a looser group of countries using their own currencies".

"This is about people's jobs and people's wallets", says Osborne in a BBC interview with the self-regarding Keunssberg, when he goes to some length to position this move as a "middle way".

There are some people, he says, who want to leave the EU regardless, some people who want to stay in regardless. But he thinks,
… the majority are looking at this negotiation. And if we don't get a deal, they'll question whether the EU works for Britain or even can work for Britain. If we do get a deal, I think people can see we can have the best of both worlds. So this deal is going to be absolutely crucial to the outcome of the referendum.
In his speech, amplified in the interview, Osborne is "candid" in saying: "there is a deal to be done and we can work together". The threat is explicit: "Rather than stand in your way, or veto the Treaty amendments required, we, in Britain, can support you in the Eurozone make the lasting changes that you need to see to strengthen the euro. In return, you can help us make the changes we need to safeguard the interests of those economies who are not in the Eurozone".

All this would sound more impressive if it wasn't already pre-ordained, but those like Dominic Cummings who buy into the idea that this is a "charade" are missing the point (as they so often do), allowing Vote Leave Ltd to misinterpret the event, underplaying its significance. trails in its wake, parroting its rival's line, having completely lost the plot - totally blown it.

The clever people who see it as a "charade" are indeed missing the point. Of course it's a charade – this is indeed all part of the theatre. But the theatre is an important part of the game. It's part of a structured "play" that has Osborne and Cameron working together in an attempt to outflank the "leavers" and create an illusion of measured progress.

Putting it together is Jonathan Lindsell, who correctly identifies Cameron's recent moves to rule out the Norway Option as a ploy to limit the options of the "leave" campaign.

If the Norway (Interim) Option is neutralised, the high-noise "leavers" will only be able to promise the Swiss, WTO or Free Trade Agreement options. "All these", Lindsell says, "entail considerably less certainty and market access than the Norway option, and the first and third could take years of acrimonious exit negotiations to attain. In this way, the "remain" side will be able to attack leavers as fantasists or gamblers who dismissed their own most moderate Brexit choice.

With Osborne positioning associate membership as the "moderate middle way" and Mr Cameron knocking down the options to create a TINA (there is no alternative) scenario, the electorate's choice will be dangerously narrowed. Basically, in its dressed-up form, it will be associate membership or nothing.

The worst of it is that the two big noisemakers in the "leave" campaign seem completely unaware of the danger. They are making the most fundamental of all mistakes, gravely underestimating the opposition they are facing.

Vote Leave Ltd doesn't understand the play at all, and is completely misinterpreting the Chancellor's moves, while recycling the propaganda from Matthew Elliott's own business partner.

Both noisemakers have walked eyes-wide-shut into the Norway "trap" and they now seem determined to ignore the danger – so well articulated by The Sceptic Isle. The interesting thing is that we always suspected we were going to have to carry the load. We just didn't think it would come to a head so soon, with the noisemakers deciding to opt out of the real battle.

All of us would like to see a proper campaign up and running, but both "high noise" groups, Vote Leave Ltd and, are consistently falling at the hurdles. Their incompetence has reached a stage where they are probably beyond redemption. Yet, just when we think they have reached bottom, they prove that they have still to reach the lowest ebb.

The only thing so far to have been our salvation is that the "remains" are almost as incompetent as our noisemakers. But the moment the real opposition steps in (Cameron and Osborne), you immediately see "our" side in complete disarray. There is no excuse for the lack of strategic being displayed, and the groups are falling into every tactical trap going, so much so you would think the operations are being run by interns.

The movement opposing EU membership deserves better than this, and it is not right that they should be let down by the incompetence of these train-wreck campaigns. To try and compensate for this, we are going to have to work that bit harder, but needs must. This fight is really too important to cede to amateurs. We will just have to keep battling on regardless.

Richard North 04/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: the price of farmers


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For a measly £500, you can have a copy of Agra Europe's 70-page report report "Preparing for Brexit", whence we can learn that, if we leave the EU, land prices will crash,. British agriculture will face a traumatic shock, and 90 percent of the country's farmers will be ruined.

For your money, you can be comforted by the prospect of a wave of debt foreclosures by banks, akin to the America Dustbowl and the Grapes of Wrath, and a fresh seed of discord will be sown between England, Scotland, and Wales, imperilling the United Kingdom.

Alternatively, we can get the gist of the report from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, who reminds us that British farmers currently receive 60 percent of their income from EU subventions.

For the Agra Europe scenario to work, however, the British government in a post-EU world would have to chop all subsidies at a stroke, with Agra Europe taking it as a given that David Cameron or any other British prime minister will do little to prevent such a bloodbath.

"What is certain", it says, "is that no UK government would subsidise agriculture on the scale operated under the CAP", an assertion which A-EP drily observes is "conjecture".

In fact, few Brexit advocates – including ardent free-traders – suggest that subsidies should be slashed. They accept that agriculture is strategic, even iconic, and that society has a special duty of care to farmers. Borrowing from Charles de Gaulle, Ambrose calls it, "une certaine idée de lAnglettere".

Yet, despite direct CAP payments to Britain averaging £2.88bn a year from 2014-2020, Richard North, author of the Death of British Agriculture (and known to some readers of this blog), says it is an "absurd assumption" that a post-Brexit government would slash farm subsidies, given the reliance of the UK food industry on agricultural feedstock as a raw material.

He notes that Owen Patterson, the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, depends on dairy farmers for miles around to feed his enormous yogurt plant in Shropshire. His operations would be paralysed under any scenario described by Agra Europe, yet Mr Patterson is a leading champion of Brexit.

North says that the more likely outcome is that Britain would go in the opposite direction, increasing rural subsidies along the lines of Norway, Switzerland and Iceland.

This means moving away from production payments to a multi-pronged strategy that combines farming with rural tourism and conservation, intended to safeguard village life and stop the relentless depopulation of the land. "It costs more, but you get more bang for the buck", he said.

On the other hand, the National Union of Farmers (NFU) have so far refused to take sides on the referendum, deeming it impossible to make any useful judgment until the Prime Minister has revealed his EU negotiating demands and clarified what future policy will be.

Says A-EP, if the 55,000 members of the NFU cannot yet reach an informed conclusion on what is in their own vital self-interest, the rest of us can scarcely do so. And that is not a bad conclusion.

However, the NFU has produced its own report on the UK farming's relationship with the EU, which is a monument to Europhilia. There is no doubt that where its true loyalties lies. For it to be comfortable with leaving the EU, it wants assurances on whether we would have access to the European market, and under what conditions.

The NFU also wants to know what a future British agricultural policy would look like, particularly for direct support and, then, if we continue to have access to the EU's single market, but take a different approach on support to farmers, how fair competition for our farmers would be ensured.

Other things the NFU wants to know is whether Britain would be more or less open to imports and, because farmers rely so much on imported labour, they have a keen interest in immigration policy.

Whether it will take a position in the referendum is anyone's guess but their questions pose a direct challenge to those who eschew an exit plan and the detail that goes with it. One thing is for sure, if we are to have any chance of support fro farmers and other special interest groups, we are going to have to produce some answers.

Richard North 03/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: a bigger game afoot


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Given the rush of publicity on the EU referendum during the week, mainly centred on the Prime Minister's intervention over the Norway Option, one might have thought that the Sunday newspapers would follow through and develop the story. Instead, referendum coverage has been relatively light.

On reflection, this should not be a surprise. The legacy media has, almost without exception, imbibed Mr Cameron's lies intact. Without the wherewithal to challenge his claims, and lacking any understanding of the issues raised, the journalists have little more to say. We have, in effect, an ignorance-induced news vacuum.

It is thus left to the growing band of bloggers to continue the debate, with particularly good contributions from The Brexit Door and White Wednesday, of a quality and depth that the legacy media could not even begin to match. Lost Leonardo is also stoking the debate,and The Boiling Frog's piece is still on the table, so there is plenty of meat to keep the discussion going.

But what are also emerging from the Cameron intervention are questions as to his motivation. Bizarrely, Dominic Cummings thinks the Prime Minister was goading "leavers" in to supporting the Norway Option, which he regards as "a suboptimal fixed fortification". That, Cummings believes, is very bad strategy.

As a late comer to the EU debate, however – having been out of it for many years – Cummings is perhaps looking at the Prime Minister's intervention in isolation, not appreciating that the Norway Option has been a target for a considerable time, long before he belatedly climbed back into the ring.

Mr Cameron even made an attack on Norway a prominent part of his 2013 Bloomberg speech, in which he announced his commitment to a referendum. That alone seem to suggest that he had something more in mind than Mr Cummings.

In fact, the Norway Option, as it stands, represents one of the most credible ways of securing a swift, trouble-free exit from the EU. Used partly as a halfway house for countries seeking to join the EU, it is equally valid as a halfway house for the likes of the UK, which are aiming to leave.

It is this function as a halfway house – an interim option - that makes it so dangerous to the "remainers". His failure to recognise this illustrates Cummings's almost total lack of strategic acumen. Far from being a "fixed fortification", the EEA is simply the most accessible route to achieving full single market participation after we have left the EU, buying time for us to fashion a longer-term solution. This is not "fixed". It is a dynamic solution to a complex, dynamic problem.

That alone is an extremely good reason why Mr Cameron should want to be rid of the Norway Option, and one has to ask why, if the option is as bad as he makes out, it was necessary to tell so many lies, exaggerating the payments and the laws adopted, and underestimating the influence.

But there is more to it than that. As we have seen from the Bertelsmann/Spinelli Fundamantal Law, there is a proposal extant to wind up the EEA and bring in the EFTA states, together with Switzerland, into the maw of associate membership.

Should the UK pre-empt this move and join EFTA, this trading association would become the fourth largest trading bloc in the world, after the EU, the United States and China. As such, the members would be significantly more powerful, and able to deal with the EU and other partners - becoming more reluctant to accept the second class status of associate membership.

Clearly, a more powerful EFTA would not be a desirable outcome, either to the EU or British Europhiles. Neither would it be a happy development for the Europhile political élite in Norway. Demolishing the case for Norway, therefore, would seem to be an essential part of Mr Cameron's strategy – and very much in the broader interest of the EU.

The removal of the Norway Option also has the merit – from the Europhile perspective – of narrowing down the alternatives available to the "leavers", who are being led by the nose into the trap of advocating the unachievable "bespoke" free trade agreement (FTA).

Already, the "remainers" have had Global Counsel doing the work to support the claim that "the path to Brexit - and beyond - would be long and uncertain, taking ten years or more.

This ticking time-bomb sits dormant, ready to explode in the faces of Dominic Cummings and all the rest who are pushing the idea of an open-ended FTA. With all their eggs in one basket, the relatively simple destruction of their fantasy will render the "leavers" impotent, with nowhere to go.

For these reasons, the Norway Option must be kept on the table. It is the height of madness to close down your options at this stage in the campaign and utterly crass to allow your opposition to do this for you, as has Vote Leave Ltd.

Fortunately, neither Vote Leave Ltd nor (and nor even Ukip) constitutes the totality of the "leave" campaign. There are enough to keep the Norway Option flame burning and, despite the best efforts of both sides of the divide – with the complicity of the legacy media , it is very far from extinct.

Richard North 02/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: the "better deal" fallacy


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In my piece on barking cats to which I constantly refer, I call in aid a commentary written by Milton Friedman on the behaviour of government bodies. The way an agency behaves, Friedman argues, is not an accident, not a result of some easily corrected human mistake, but a consequence of its constitution in precisely the same way that a meow is related to the constitution of a cat.

The biological laws that specify the characteristics of cats, he says, "are no more rigid than the political laws that specify the behaviour of governmental agencies once they are established".

A natural scientist would readily recognise that you cannot assign characteristics at will to chemical and biological entities, and you cannot demand that cats bark or water burn. Thus, Friedman asks: "Why do you suppose that the situation is different in the social sciences?"

Exploring his thesis, what we are confronting is the idea that institutions effectively have their own "biology", their own immutable rules that determine their behaviour. Thus, expecting them to respond in ways that transcend what amounts to their "genetic programming" is as illogical and as fruitless as expecting a cat to bark.

In respect of the European Union, this principle is as important as it is profound. As a treaty organisation, steeped in history and protocols, with its own embedded "political DNA", its behavioural pathways are fixed. There are certain things it will do, there are things it can do. And there are things which, under any circumstances, it will never do - because it cannot.

This, however, is not the full extent of it. An equally powerful aid to understanding is Philip Selznick's theory of bureaucracy, in which he developed (if not actually coined) the principle of "self-maintenance" as a determinant of institutional behaviour.

Distilled to its very essence, "self-maintenance" dictates that, wherever the founding principles of an organisation might be, its structure is shaped by the characteristic and commitments of participants and influences from the external environment. From this, over time, it develops means of self-defence.

This self-defence develops into a series of activities which Selznick defines as self-maintenance, and his particular thesis is that these activities eventually become the superior goal. In effect, as with biological entities, the need to ensure its own survival emerges as the most powerful of driving forces - taking precedence over all else.

By this mean, these two thinkers, Freidman and Selznick, provide vital elements of the intellectual foundation, with which we can begin to understand how the EU will behave. Their principles have served me well in my many years as an analyst of EU affairs.

Once one gets inside the organism, and understands the functionality of its "political DNA", things that might be obscure to casual observers can be very clear.

In particular, understanding has been invaluable in carving a way through the noise and the chatter on Mr Cameron's supposed "renegotiations, as he seeks to carve out a new, better relationship with the EU. Whatever statements might emanate from No.10 or elsewhere – and no matter how confident their authors might be – one knows that certain things simply cannot happen. And because they cannot, we can always rely on the absolute certainty that they will not.

Somebody who shares this understanding is Andrew Duff who, in a recent piece, comments on the insistence by Europe minister David Lidington that the Cameron administration will be able to secure "clearly irreversible and legally binding" change, with this to form the basis of the offer that Mr Cameron puts to the British people in the referendum.

But, writes Duff:
There is no precedent in the history of the EU of a member state ripping up its existing treaty obligations. It is true that both Denmark and Ireland were granted special Council decisions and (non-binding) declarations in the effort to overcome negative referendum votes on the Treaties of Maastricht, Nice or Lisbon. But these were concessions designed to permit treaties that had already been signed by every head of government to enter into force. The supplementary agreements were mainly of a tautological or oxymoronic nature – affirming that the treaties meant in fact what they said – although some took the form of promised future additions to treaty texts. (A similar agreement after the signing of the Lisbon treaty was made with the Czech Republic concerning the Charter of Fundamental Rights but was never delivered.) It is important to note, however, that none of those special measures amounted to new opt-outs; none made any substantive change to the treaties as agreed; and all were crafted, with a mixture of high politics and low cunning, to accomplish a successful ratification of a treaty change which deepened the integration of Europe.

By contrast, the current British demand for an irreversible legal guarantee on weakening integration is a very different thing. The chances of getting agreement on a dismantling of 'ever closer union' are slim indeed. But even were a political agreement reached, because political promises can be and are broken, a legal guarantee to amend Article 1 could not come in the form of a mere promissory note. A political promise made to Cameron by other heads of government that implied a future rupture with the UK's previous treaty commitments – even if it were dressed up as a Council decision would be unlikely to survive a challenge at the Court of Justice. And in any case the European Council cannot legally commit a future intergovernmental conference into amending the treaties on such a fundamental issue as the very mission of the Union, not least because such a treaty revision would have to run the gauntlet of an open constitutional Convention populated by national and European parliamentarians.

It is therefore a paradox that just as the British appear to be rowing back on wider demands for substantive policy reform in Europe, they are ratcheting up their insistence on the legal form of one particularly controversial outcome to the renegotiation. One may wonder what they hope to achieve with this.
Cutting to the chase, Duff is saying that the British government will not be able to secure "clearly irreversible and legally binding" change because the institutional systems will not permit it. You can read a hundred or even thousand articles written by any number of "experts" and insiders, saying it will happen. But it won't. It won't, because it can't. This cat doesn't bark.

Thus far, so good, in what is turning out to be a long but necessary preamble to the main these of this post – the headline proposition that it is a fallacy to believe it is possible to get a better exit deal from the EU than is represented by the Norway Option.

We see this fallacy expressed most recently by Vote Leave Ltd, by Richard Tice for and by Daniel Hannan. Vote Leave tells us it "does not support the Norway option". Britain, it says, "is a bigger, stronger, and more important country than Norway. We can negotiate a much better EU deal based on free trade ...".

In the Tice version, we see a familiar mantra that Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world and we are the EU's biggest trading partner. Therefore, he argues, there "is no reason why a post-EU Britain cannot seek an even better arrangement, one which is even more expansive, assuring that the UK-EU mutually beneficial trading relationship remains intact".

In this, one can always concede that one can seek – but we will never find. There are overwhelmingly powerful reasons why the "better deal" will never happen.

Firstly, the Norway deal is a treaty which imposes on this and other EFTA states the obligation to conform with the legislation that comprises the Single Market acquis, in common with the 28 member states of the EU. In essence, the EU is saying that, in order to participate in the Single Market, the EFTA States must obey the same rules as the EU members – no more, no less.

In that context, one has to ask what is meant by a "better deal"? Do those who hanker after such a deal expect that the UK will gain access to the Single Market on different terms – that they can perhaps be excused compliance with the rules that everyone else has to obey?

What some might have in mind, though, is that the UK might be given the privilege of market access without having also to subscribe to the "four freedoms" and in particular freedom of movement and freedom of establishment.

Here, though, one tires of recording how many times different officials within the EU – to say nothing of Angela Merkel and others – have said that acceptance of the four freedoms is "non-negotiable". Yet, no matter how many times this is said, there are still those who believe that this is just a negotiating position. But it isn't. And Friedman and Selznick affirm that this is the case.

Specifically, the possibility of a UK departure represents an existential threat to the EU, especially as other member states might be tempted to follow. On that basis, the self-maintenance imperative takes over. The EU cannot agree to an exit deal which gives the departing state a deal better than the terms available to ordinary members. To do so would be to invite destruction, something the "genetic programming" of the entity simply will not allow it to do.

All this, then, comes from "cracking the code". Applying superficial levels of logic when analysing the EU isn't good enough. To do so is to invite fallacious conclusions, as in the belief that we can get a better deal out of the EU than Norway (or even Switzerland).

We will get a deal, but – in terms of market access - it'll be no better than what we have already. We should take it and get out while we can. "Quick and dirty" is infinitely better than holding out for the perfection that will never come.

Richard North 01/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: internet nutters


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More than ten years ago, and I others were arguing strongly that we needed to develop an exit plan, for when we had an opportunity to leave the EU. The need became even more apparent when the prospect of a referendum emerged.

The essence of an exit plan is reassurance. People are not necessarily going to read it – most won't. But the very fact that a credible plan exists, and is recognised as such, means that they will be more willing to vote for leaving the EU.

The one thing we must not do, we have argued, is to go into a referendum campaign without a plan. That would expose us to criticism form the opposition, who would simply have to point out that it was lacking – thus emphasising that leaving is a leap in the dark.

And now, even before the campaign gets fully under way, that is precisely what is happening. Yesterday, the naysayers had a field day, with two pieces in different newspapers, capitalising on the perceived lack of a plan.

One of these was Professor Iain Begg, writing in the Telegraph under the headline, "What might Britain leaving the EU look like? No-one really knows", with the sub-title, "The EU referendum debate has gone on as if there is a clear vision for what a 'leave' vote might mean, and this should be a cause for concern".

What Begg has to say really isn't important – the fact that he is able to say it is what matters. And that applies equally to Phillip Collins, writing in The Times, who commented on Owen Paterson's interview on Newsnight, saying he "betrayed the emptiness of the 'out' position by being unable …to describe what Britain on its own would look like".

"Instead", Collins asserted, "he blathered on about taking a place on global councils, as if they are there for the asking once this small island of 64 million people off the shore of Europe decides to go it alone".

The tiresome quip about a "small island" aside, Collins does have a point, as does Beggs. The noisiest of the campaigners, "Vote Leave Ltd", is in the thrall of the Svengali-like Dominic Cummings, whose determination not to have a plan is matched only by his tactical ineptness and the strategic void left by his absence of planning.

The Cummings void is intensified by the lack of input from Leave.EU and the almost complete absence from the field of Ukip, exacerbated by the almost total refusal of the media and the political establishment to acknowledge the work of campaigners who are not part of the groups they choose to recognise. This dire game intensifies as the legacy media continue seeking to frame the debate and impose unwanted leaders on the campaign.

As to the broader campaign, there is, of course, some merit in the argument that the "leave" campaign should not go public with a fixed plan too early, as it provides a target for the opposition to focus on – but this thinking is easily outweighed by the danger of not having a plan at all.

As we have seen, this simply opens us up to sneering accusations that we have no plan. And when – if ever – the groups that the media do recognise actually come up with a plan, they will be on the back foot, responding rather than leading and with very little room to manoeuvre.

Despite this and Cummings's concern at presenting a stationary target, it seems his idea of campaigning is to repackage the same tired old memes that have already been chewed over and discredited, presumably in an attempt to bore voters into submission.

Most of all, though, Cummings (and others) fail to understand the concept of Flexcit - a flexible response and continuous development. With the plan in its 24th edition, we are able to accommodate changes and new thinking, as well as a continuous flow of updates.

Crucially, if we are to have a debate that is going to keep people engaged, then it must be over new ideas – such as the effects of globalisation and the ways to develop the single market, breaking away from the stale thinking that is dominating the campaign, and driving us all in catatonic boredom.

A measure of quite how detached from reality this stance has become emerges when the those engaging in the vibrant debate going on outside the grip of the establishment groups are described as "internet nutters".

This actually points to another dynamic in play, the determination of the Tory-dominated Vote Leave Ltd to exclude dissident voices. For them, the concern is that the referendum campaign will create dangerous stresses within the party, which can be reduced if the attack is channelled away from sensitive targets.

Thus, while the real enemy - and thus the logical target for this campaign – is David Cameron, Cummings and his business partner, Matthew Elliott, are more interested in keeping the focus on the EU and away from their party leader. Criticism of the EU is permitted. Attacks on the leader are not.

This became clearly evident over the last few days when David Cameron launched his attack on the Norway Option – which we believe offers the best interim solution for a rapid exit - the eurosceptic "aristocracy" represented by Vote Leave Ltd chose to side with the Prime Minister.

With the general incompetence already displayed by Vote Leave Ltd, this becomes another strong reason why such a partisan group should not be the designated lead campaigner. 

Whoever does get the designation, though, it looks increasingly as if the "internet nutters" will be driving the real campaign – the only place where there is intelligent discussion and anything interesting to relate.

Richard North 31/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: the EEA acquis


Revised with the addition of the background to the "three-quarters" claim.

000a EEA-030 acts.jpg

Mr David Cameron, the liar who currently holds office as prime minister, asserts that Norway (as part of the EEA) "accepts about three quarters of EU rules". Yet this is just another lie to add to the others the prime minister has already made in a debate where lying by the pro-EU membership faction seems par for the course.

The truth, as always, is very different. Having contacted the EFTA Secretariat, which administers the EEA agreement, they report that 10,862 acts have been incorporated into the EEA Agreement since its inception in 1992 (see screen-shot above).

Very often, though, acts repeal other acts, and some acts are time-limited as cease to have an effect. Taking this into account, there are 4,957 acts remaining in force today.

By contrast, the very latest count of the EU laws in force (today) stands at 23,076. As a percentage of that number, the EEA acquis of 4,957 acts currently stands at 21 percent. In effect, the EEA (and thus Norway) only has to adopt one in five of all EU laws – not the three-quarters that is claimed.

The prime minister, however, does not quote these primary sources – always a mistake. Instead, he quotes a Norwegian Government report in 2012, which makes a mistaken claim in the introduction, repeated in Chapter 1 of the English version (the only chapter to be translated), which is not repeated in in the body of the report (available in Norwegian only).

The error made is to claim that "Norway has incorporated approximately three-quarters of all EU legislative acts into Norwegian legislation", when the detail is to be found on pages 794-5, which do not support this claim.

What we see there is a chart setting out the EU legislation in force (the same source that I have used), only for July 2008 – over seven years ago. In this overview, which comprised a total of 28,031 legislative acts, of which 1,965 were "applicable directives".

The report takes this figure for directives, and compares it with the (then) 1,369 directives adopted by the EEA, then concluding that "about 70 percent of all European Union Directives also apply to Norway through the EEA".

This is where the error lies, for the 70 percent of all directives is wrongly changed to "all EU legislative acts" in the introduction, expressed as "approximately three-quarters", the figure which has been lifted and used by the Prime Minister.

However, the report then goes on to observe that EU had 7,720 current regulations, whereas the EEA Agreement comprised 1,349 applicable regulations, approximately 17.5 percent of the EU regulations. When both were taken together (directives and regulations) – 2,718 adopted by the EEA compared with 9,685 in the EU EU acquis, amounting to about 28 percent.

Interestingly, when the comparison is made on the same basis that I have used (with 24,061 EU legislative acts), the actual percent comes to 11 percent – a far cry from the "three-quarters" claimed in the introduction.

Even without going into the depths of this report (for which I am exceedingly grateful to my commenter), there is plenty of work to show that the claim has already been discredited. Any competent researcher should know that, and Mr Cameron's office should certainly be aware of that.

The report I cite, however, looks at a snapshot of 2000-2013, when it finds that only ten percent of EU laws were adopted. But this ignores the fact that many laws are repealed each year. So as we add to the law book, old laws are dropping off the end. 

Thus, the only valid measure is a comparison between LAWS CURRENTLY IN FORCE. We are making the comparison between the total number of laws on the books of the EU and of the EEA - the laws currently in force. That brings the figure to 21 percent, which can be regarded as definitive at this time.

Yet the three-quarters figure is routinely cited by the BBC, Open Europe and even the Westminster Parliament, even though there is no evidential support for it, based as it is on an error in the Norwegian report.

This careless and even mendacious use of a discredited and inaccurate figure, however, characterises this debate, where truth is the first casualty of war. It is important though, to recognise that the prime minister is amongst those freely resorting to lying, and that the supine media will freely repeat his lies, with not the least effort to check them.

The irony, though, is that the figure doesn't really matter anyway. When the UK leave the EU, it should – like many newly independent states – repatriate the entire body of law, and then work though the list at its leisure to determine what should be kept.

As such, an independent Britain – at least in the early stages – will adopt near-on 100 percent of EU laws. Only gradually will the situation change, when the EU will be adopting laws made by the UK (and Norway) in global institutions. And that is the real benefit of independence.

Richard North 31/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: we, the invisibles


000a Cummings-029.jpg

If the events of the last few days have proved anything, it is that there are two entirely separate "leave" campaigns in progress. And we are not referring to Leave.EU and Vote Leave Ltd, but to a far greater distinction.

Essentially, there is the establishment, led by the so-called eurosceptic "aristocracy" and there are us, the people – most of whom are not even aware that they are part of the campaign.

The ironic thing is that the denizens of this establishment believe they are the campaign.  So complete is that belief that they don't even think of themselves as the only campaign. That would imply that there could under some circumstances be two campaigns. Their mindset does not even conceive that anything not within their purview could ever exist.

An extraordinary example of this came with Ruth Lea blithely telling British Influence that "we all agree … Norway is not the way". It was that arrogance that gave the game away – the assumption that what Ruth Lea believes necessarily applies to us all. The idea that someone could hold a contrary thought would not even enter her head.

In exactly the same way, we had John Redwood declare, "Eurosceptics don't want the Norwegian model", again illustrating the overweening arrogance of this self-anointed aristocracy.

Between them and us stands the "Norway Option" – the dividing line between those who are looking for an intelligent way out, and those who are driven by dogma and prestige and are intent more on securing their own agendas than they are on leaving the EU.

This is brought into focus with considerable clarity by Mr Brexit who points to the considerable confusion in the stance of Dominic Cummings- the man without a plan - and his unwillingness to make his intentions clear.

But what is so utterly bizarre is that the "aristocracy" stands closer to the Europhiles than they do to us. This is not only in their rejection of the Norway Option, but also in their expressed desire for EU reform. Take a sanguine look at the European Movement, Open Europe and now Vote Leave Ltd, and you would find it hard to discern a difference between them.

But, as Pete North observes, the Norway Option "is still go" and The Boiling Frog picks up the threads by looking at Iceland, which rejects the idea that the EEA is "ruled by fax".

David Cameron, in opposing  the Norway Option as an alternative to the EU is creating a straw man. This option is not the end game. It is an interim solution to the complex problem of extracting ourselves from over forty years of political and economic integration.

Amazingly, the Eurosceptic "aristocracy" simply can't get their soggy little brains round the idea that it would be extremely unwise to attempt a "big bang" separation from the EU. They also have difficulty with the idea that the two year period allowed for the initial Article 50 exit negotiations isn't long enough to broker a bespoke free trade agreement – which can take 5-15 years to conclude.

One might have thought that relatively intelligent people could comprehend these relatively simple concepts, but they seem to be totally beyond the scope of Ruth Lea, John Redwood, Dominic Cummings and many more of this ragged bunch.

We have speculated many times on why this should be, but the behaviour seems inexplicable – a blunt, obdurate determination to look facts in the face and turn the other way.

Yet there remains an absolute logic in deciding that, since we are already in the European Economic Area (EEA) – the basis of the Norway Option and the core of the Single Market – we should on leaving the EU maintain continuity by staying in the EEA, buying time for a considered, longer-term solution.

As to the Norway Option, the Telegraph has been talking (at last) to the Norwegian No2EU campaign, which asserts that the Norwegians are happy, rich and free outside the EU.

If we went the same route, our contributions to the EU – contrary to the Prime Minister's lies - would halve. We would gain a veto on new laws and benefit from "safeguard measures" which would enable us to suspend parts of the agreement if necessary (including free movement).

We would take back control of our seats on world bodies, where most trade law is made, and we would cease to come under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Even as an interim solution, we would be better off in the EEA.

Over the last few days, though, we have had input from numerous bloggers, including Mr Brexit, from White Wednesday, Independent Britain and even Civitas, which contributes a thoughtful piece.

Yet nothing of this matters to the guardians of ignorance, the once-mighty Times. To us and the rest of the legacy media, we are invisible – we simply don't exist. As for Flexcit, it is as if it was trapped in the enchanted forest, where the text fades to invisibility when viewed by someone from the inner circle.

Thus, from a position of profound ignorance that we so commonly associate with the legacy media these days, it trots out the propaganda and roundly declares on the undesirability of "entering a Norwegian-style halfway house".

In common with the rest of its ilk, it then – with a lofty pompousness that would be almost comedic if it weren't so tragic – has the nerve to tell us that: "It is time then for both 'in' and 'out' campaigners in Britain to explain in more convincing detail how Britain would develop, and position itself in the world after a referendum". "Eurosceptics, Euro-realists: all now have a duty to present precise visions of how Britain should evolve in the next decade", it says.

For a newspaper that cannot cope with the idea that we are "leave" and "remain" campaigners, there is a sinister motive to their wilful refusal to acknowledge Flexcit with its 30,000-plus readers.  What we have here is the establishment attempting to "own" the referendum campaign. Between the legacy media and the self-appointed "Vote Leave Ltd", they want to frame the debate and exclude those of whom they do not approve.

That is the main reason why there are two campaigns. The establishment-sanctioned effort excludes us, the people. We are invisible. In the collective establishment mind, we don't exist as sentient entities. On voting day, we become the cannon fodder, to do as we are bidden.

But what none of these self-regarding, coprophagic parasites understand is the power of the internet. Through it the Norway Option lives on, unloved and unregarded by the establishment. But when we, the invisibles, take their citadels by storm and win this referendum, they won't even have seen us Cummings.

Richard North 30/10/2015 link

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