EU Referendum: working on the gift wrapping

25/08/2015  

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The referendum scenario on which we are currently working has been with us for a little while. It rests with Mr Cameron coming back from Brussels having renegotiated a new relationship with the EU Member States, parading it as a triumph which will enable the nation to vote "yes" at the polls.

In reality, this will be little more than a rebranding exercise. The "core states" in the eurozone will take the next major step forward in integration, with a new treaty that defines only them as full members. The rest of the members, with perhaps a few small concessions to their new status, become defined as "associate members", partaking in only the current EU policies.

For this to work, though, it is absolutely vital that Mr Cameron is able to present this new relationship as all his own work – rather than something pre-ordained as a means of defusing the so-called "British question". And now, it would seem, that process has begun with an authored piece in the Telegraph by Tory placeman Matthew Sinclair, formerly of the Taxpayers' Alliance, written with arch Europhile Andrew Lilico.

Carefully tuning in to the general cynicism over any result that the Prime Minister may bring back, the Sinclair duo prime their pump by telling us that Mr Cameron might yet surprise us. The "renegotiation" is still likely to produce "an important result".

At this point, the scribes could simply reveal the goods, telling us that the outcome is already done and dusted, but this is not the game. Instead of admitting that this is "associate membership", it is disguised as "a permanent place for EU members with no interest in joining the euro". And it will have been created by David Cameron.

Given that is the end game, one has to smile at the elaborate camouflage which Sinclair plasters over this bare hulk, yet how transparent it remains.

Further disguising the hulk depends on us buying Sinclair's line that it is becoming increasingly awkward to be in the EU but not the common currency. The eurozone economies, he and Lilico say, are emerging from a deep crisis and the politicians who really matter believe avoiding another crisis will require much greater control over financial markets (which affect us as they are concentrated in London, by far Europe's largest financial centre) and much deeper integration. 

In other words, there is going to be a new treaty. That's what "greater control over financial markets ... and much deeper integration" really means. 

But if you can call the camouflage applied so far the base coat, the next layer comes with Sinclair telling us that the UK has responded in a different way to the financial crisis, preferring to empower market forces and strengthen oversight instead of extending the scope of regulatory control. This, of course, is moonshine – the UK has been every bit as involved in the regulation game as the rest of the EU Member States, but the image outlines have to be blurred.

That serves the purpose in creating the foundation for the next key step: "We also have little interest in greater integration designed to bolster the eurozone", say the Sinclair duo, who then quickly moves to paint a dismal picture of a "shrinking non-eurozone minority", where "we will be overruled".

In other world, we can't become full members in the new treaty, and the status quo is not acceptable. But to get to the bottom line, we have to wade through an amount of padding. Soon enough, though, we get to the payoff. "If David Cameron’s renegotiation is going to have bite", we are told, "he needs to ensure there is a permanent bloc of non-eurozone member states".

This bloc will be comprised of the "associate members". Somewhat disingenuously, Sinclair and Lilico tell us that creating this "may just be possible". Not for nothing did we call the European Union "The Great Deception" – it "may just be possible". Yeah, right! It has to be couched in these terms of course. This cannot be a walk-over for Mr Cameron. He has to work for his "victory" - if it was a slam-dunk, his people might smell a rat.

The key, says Sinclair, "is to get the EU to drop its insistence that the euro is its official currency". He adds:
New members wouldn't then have to commit to joining the eurozone and all of the current non-eurozone member states could be offered permanent non-eurozone status pending a specific application to join. If they want to join in the future, that is their prerogative, but there should be no requirement for them to do so. That way the non-eurozone population might stabilise at a third to a half of the EU population, enough that it could hold its own against all but the most determined eurozone bloc vote under qualified majority voting.
That this is something that is already written into the Bertelsmann/Spinelli scenario is not something that Sinclair would have us know. For all we know, he hasn't been told it's in the script – not that it matters. What's important is that great British public aren't told - that they don't realise they're being taken to the cleaners.

However, the cat's already out of the bag, even if that doesn't stop Sinclair dressing it up further. This he does with the message that this is a "looser relationship" – and so much better if Poland, Denmark and Sweden join us. Another plus, says Sinclair, might be if Norway also decided that the new non-eurozone member state status would be better than its current half-in, half-out engagement with the EU. There goes the EEA, just as we predicted 

So there it is, all laid out - associate membership by any other name. Describing is as a "looser relationship" is all part of the camouflage - the narrative of deception that is necessary to prepare the ground for Mr Cameron's forthcoming victory. 

It's good that we see the briefing starting so early – confirming that the real battlefield is going to be about "relationships". This, after all, is what Mr Cameron promised us in his Bloomberg speech way back in January 2013. "I want the European Union to be a success. And I want a relationship between Britain and the EU that keeps us in it", he told us. The Bertelsmann "associate membership" is it. 

Matthew Sinclair and Andrew Lilico now wants to repackage this and sell it to us disguised as "a sustainable and acceptable form of non-euro EU membership". Cameron "just needs to deliver it", he says. The truth, though, is that it has already has been delivered. They're simply working on the gift wrapping. That's what they are doing, and there'll be many more like him, plastering on the camouflage in the form of pretty packaging and blue ribbon. 

That leaves us clear about our job: to tell it like it is.



Richard North 25/08/2015 link

Migration: the pot speaks of the kettles

18/08/2015  

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One of the few saving graces for those of us fighting for withdrawal from the EU is that most of the key figures in the emerging "yes" campaign seem to be as thick and as ill-informed as some of our lot.

This certainly applies to Laura Sandys, chair of the European Movement, who is sounding off in the Guardian in her own illiterate fashion about immigration.

Like so many, she elides refugees and asylum-seeking with immigration in general, to tell us that Europe's migration crisis is "escalating everywhere from Calais to the Mediterranean refugee flotillas", thereby miscasting the nature of the problem and parading her profound ignorance of the issues.

It ill-behoves this "pot", therefore, to pick on sundry blackened "kettles" of whom she declares, "many are claiming that exiting Europe will solve these and other migration 'problems'". This, says la Sandys, "is one of the biggest political mis-selling scandals of our time".

One can note in passing that Mzz Sandys isn't really into irony, as the it is the very European Union that she so loves – aka The Great Deception - as political mis-selling on an epic scale.

It is a pity, though, that she has plenty of material to support a claim that "outers" (i.e., parts of the "no" campaign) have "started to make some very ambitious claims about the wonderful sunny uplands of life outside the European Union – sans foreigner and in particular sans EU migrants".

Nevertheless, this is classic BBC-inspired trick of picking the bits that provide her with a useable counterpoint, using them to say that "they" would have it that there "will be an end to dastardly migration to all those Ukip-rich voting areas once we leave behind the plot to flood this country with foreign workers who undercut British citizens".

You can see what she's doing here – apart from the "bait and switch" from asylum seekers to free movement of workers – simply by the fact that she avoids Flexcit like the plague. It will not give her the answers she needs.

Instead, she picks Business for Britain, Douglas Carswell and Nigel Farage, claiming on the one hand that their "arguments are often contradictory" but then asserting that they all claim that "controlled borders" would mean less migration. And these claims are not "in any way credible".

Nevertheless, she doesn't play it straight. For her "take" on Business for Britain, she cites this source, claiming that:
… it proposes taking away the social chapter, which gives protection to low-paid workers, and only allowing EU migrants to come to the UK for “skilled” jobs. In effect, this would mean that British workers would be sent to the fields or dreary factories, while EU migrants could access skilled work.
Taking BfB's actual statement, though, we get:
If Britain decided to leave the EU, policy-makers would face crucial questions about which direction they would like to take Britain's migration system: leaving would give the UK complete control, allowing it to either retain an 'open border' scheme or reduce inward immigration by, potentially, the tens of thousands.

The UK would gain significant new freedoms which would allow policymakers to, if desired by the British people, reform its migration system to select only highly skilled workers from across the world. It would also, crucially, have the power to remove the discriminatory element in our current migration system and apply the same criteria to both EU migrants and non-EU migrants, making it easier for the UK to fill the gaps in its economy by finding the best candidates globally.

However, meaningful reform could only come as part of a wide-ranging change in how the UK manages migration policy across a range of government departments. Leaving the EU is an enabler, not a solution in itself.
The real issue here is that we would not get these freedoms without also losing access to the Single Market, but the essence of what BfB is saying is a million miles from Sandys' claim. She is doing that cuddly little thing that Europhiles do – she lies.

Next in line for Sandys, though, is Carswell. She picks his "Singapore of Europe" model. This, we are told, doesn't try to put an end to free movement at all. In Carswell's post-Brexit Britain, employers will be under pressure to reduce employment rights. Says Sandys:
A new focus on trade with the rest of the world will require loosening visa restrictions in order to secure inward investment and bilateral trade deals. With already half of our migration coming from beyond Europe, it is unclear how well this vision would reduce actual numbers. And we shouldn't forget that migrants coming from the rest of the world are more likely to seek permanent residency, eventually getting old in the UK, with all the attendant health costs.
Then she goes for Farage's Brexit "retail offer", telling us that this is the model "that would place the greatest restrictions on free movement". But, says Sandys:
… for Britain to keep his promises, we would have to erect a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – which would effectively become the "back door" option for migrants entering Britain from the EU. Farage heralds the Australia immigration model, but a closer look reveals that even Migration Watch says that the Australian model is "totally unsuitable" and admits that once you look at the figures behind the rhetoric, Australia has three times more migration proportionately than the UK.
Finally, we get a model she describes "the Twilight Zone option" – following the example set by Norway and Switzerland. This too, Sandys says, would fail to deal with migration issues, as Norway and Switzerland already have higher EU migration as a proportion of population than we do. Any Brexit proponents promising they can get access to the single market without free movement of people are selling a pup. So no real halt on EU migration with this model either.

And there, actually, we get to the substantive issue. We have a choice thrust upon us, as to whether to go for a limit on freedom of movement, or whether to preserve access to the Single Market. In Flexcit, we went for the latter, arguing that we could return to the immigration question at a later date.

What Sandys has done, therefore, is expose the vulnerability of the sections of the "no" campaign, sections who have not thought the issues through, and chosen to make migration an issue.

Sandys thus claims that they are currently leaving unspoken the reality that leaving the EU would merely make those who are currently insecure at work more insecure, and deliver almost no change in the need for workers from abroad.

If the "outers" (as she would have us be) really cared about those who feel threatened by immigration, she says, "they would propose aggressive enforcement of those breaking minimum-wage laws, promise a huge increase in skills development and support the living wage".

With that, we see where she is going – bogging us down with tedious detail over increasingly arcane points. That is what the "no" campaign has let her do. We need to take the high ground and "park" immigration as an issue, leaving Sandys out in the cold where she belongs. 

But we can't do this and pull the plug on freedom of movement - not in the first stage of our exit plan. 



Richard North 18/08/2015 link

EU Referendum: campaign watershed

24/07/2015  

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As time progresses, it becomes more and more clear how the bulk of the media commentariat misread the Greek crisis.

We can see this from the delicious way German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble puts down Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, who then goes on to admit that there was never any prospect of Greece leaving the eurozone. Needless to say, there are still those caught up in the theatre and others who miss the point, not understanding that Greece was the classic beneficial crisis.

But there are others. There is, for instance, Anatole Kaletsky who has popped up from obscurity to say that the Greek deal is not that bad after all. One might suggest that one factor that makes it not so bad is that, in addition to the bailout, the EU is giving Greece straight grants of €35 billion - a fact scarcely if at all mentioned by the commentariat.

As was always going to be the case, though, the Greek situation is contained, the country having served its purpose in bringing all the other states into line, ready for the next round of treaty-making.

If anyone has a problem, therefore, it is our "no" campaign - given that the analysis in my previous post is anywhere near correct. That tells us that, at some time during campaign, there will be an announcement that the EU intends to seek a new treaty, following which there will be treaty convention.

The logical timing for this announcement – or declaration - is the autumn of 2017, putting it just ahead of the referendum. And at the point, Mr Cameron will have the task of explaining how he intends to handle this development, the outcome of which may be that the UK is offered "associate member" status.

In one possible scenario, the Prime Minister may pretend that the development is of his own making – that he has prevailed upon the "colleagues" to include associate member status in their treaty deliberations, giving the UK the opportunity to redefine its relationship with the EU and thus fulfilling his promise to the nation.

Doubtless, the idea of this new status will be heavily spun, although there will be few details. The Bertelsmann Fundamental Law itself does not go in to detail, allowing that "each associate state would negotiate its own arrangement with the core states".

That would permit Mr Cameron to present a "yes" vote in the coming referendum as a mandate for him to negotiate the details and bring back the optimum arrangement for the UK. And, in such a scenario, the new treaty goes through the convention process and then the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), coming out the other end for ratification in 2021 or 2022.

That process will trigger the "treaty lock" referendum, which will allow Mr Cameron to ask approval of a treaty which will open the way to the UK applying for associate status, with a "no" vote cast as the first step towards leaving the EU.

Effectively, in what could now be a two-referendum contest, the first referendum is converted from a straight "yes-no" on whether we leave the EU, to request for a mandate for change. The second then becomes a request to approve the change, with a "sudden death" option of leaving the EU if it is rejected.

This, of course, is speculation, but not wholly so. As I remarked yesterday, there is too much activity for the discussion on a new treaty to be random "noise". The only uncertainty in my mind is the timing, and that is hardly speculative, having been set out in the Five Presidents' report.

The idea of Kerneuropa (core Europe) is now so firmly embedded in the process, with the concomitant associate membership, that the only real question can be how Mr Cameron will handle the news when it becomes official. On the other side, of course, is the question of how the putative "no" campaign will deal with the associate membership scenario.

If, as we see from the Bertelsmann Fundamental Law, associate membership is also to be offered to the EFTA States, with a possible ending of the EEA agreement, then the "no" campaign is left without two of its planks – the "Norway" and "Swiss" options. At the same time, it will be having to confront what is superficially a very attractive alternative.

A danger, in my view, is that we decide to do nothing until a new treaty process is announced, and associate membership is formally on the agenda. That might leave us with only a very short time to counter an entirely new scenario, having been robbed of some of our major campaigning tools.

My first thinking on this is that we should pre-empt the possibility of Mr Cameron reshaping the campaign, by attacking the concept of associate membership and by offering a better alternative.

Historically, I recall that earlier British governments rejected the possibility of associate membership instead of full membership of the EEC. It would be interesting and potentially useful to know the grounds on which the idea was rejected, and whether those arguments could be used today.

As to better alternatives, I am minded to go for a "partnership of equals" scenario, similar to that which was originally offered by Delors when the EEA was first mooted. We need to push for a genuine, Europe-wide single market rather than the Brussels-centric model of a Europe of concentric circles.

Certainly, if the idea of associate membership is introduced and dominates the debate, many of the arguments currently deployed by "no" campaigners may be rendered obsolete. By way of an insurance policy, there is every reason to be focused on what is needed to defeat what looks to be a very real possibility.

There is another advantage in going early, anticipating an official announcement with a high profile campaign against associate membership. It prevents Mr Cameron pretending it was his idea, or something he had negotiated. A UK prime minister responding to an EU initiative has an altogether different feel, and the threat is somewhat defused.

On the other hand, there will always be those who hold different views and who will make a virtue out of ignoring analyses from outside the bubble. Others, especially those in the "yes" camp, simply don't have the first idea of what is going on.

For the eurosceptic "community", though, the ultimate question becomes - as always - one of whether they want to win this referendum or whether players are more interested in debating a limited number of propositions while remaining firmly within their comfort zones.

Bizarrely, we see from Hansard in 1968 debates that would not look out of place if they were held today on virtually identical terms, so little have the basic arguments changed. We can do them all over again, spreading tedium throughout the land, or we can win the referendum. But it is unlikely that we can do both.



Richard North 24/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: the irrelevance of the "yes" campaign

22/07/2015  

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Ostensibly, the "yes" side has beaten its opposition to the punch in appointing an executive director of the all-party umbrella organisation that will fight to keep the UK in the European Union.

This, we are told is Will Straw, failed Parliamentary candidate for Rossendale and Darwen and what passes for a high- profile figure in the Labour party – one of the hereditary aristocracy who sustains the train-wreck that the part has become.

Alongside Straw is Conservative peer Lord Cooper, one of the founders of the polling firm Populus, with a reputation for finding the key messages and groups that needed to be swung to prevent the Scots voting for independence. These two are joined by failed Lib-Dem strategist, Ryan Coetzee, the man who brought Nick Clegg to defeat and helped the former leader to oblivion.

Other key figures announced are Lucy "the liar" Thomas, campaign director for Business for New Europe and Greg Nugent, director of marketing for the London Olympics. Lord Sainsbury is providing initial funding for the organisation.

In what is probably a sensible move, mirroring the Conservative strategy for the 1975 referendum, Labour has decided that it will run its own campaign, headed up by the former cabinet minister Alan Johnson – a man who is not going to provide much of an intellectual challenge to the "no" campaign.

The Guardian claims that it is not yet clear how much energy the Labour party will put into the all-party effort, as opposed to its own, the inference being that "senior Labour figures" have yet to work out how they are to milk the campaign for maximum political advantage. But then, it must also be left to the new Labour leader, when elected, to decide on strategy.

It will, of course, be up to the Electoral Commission to decide if this grouping is to become the designated lead campaigner for the "yes" side, but in many respects, the choice is irrelevant. The real leader of the "yes" campaign is David Cameron and it is he who is going to be calling the shots.

Interestingly, a spokesperson for Straw grouping tells us that: "The executive team are a young group who welcome the referendum and will organise it around a positive view of Britain's future strength in Europe and the world. They will draw on their experience of politics and business without being locked in the past".

We are then informed that it is "drawing together all the various strands of opinion that wants to keep Britain in Europe". Says the spokesperson, "We support the need for reform. The campaign will develop in a number of stages, in the first phase more engaging and enquiring. We want to sponsor a strong, factually based debate in the country".

This is ironic given that the "Lying Lucy" campaign so far has specialised in its own brand of tedious mendacity, raking over tired old memes that bear only a chance association with anything that resembles the truth.

One suspects that its main function will be to keep the putative "no" campaign engaged and distracted, keeping the debate focused on the trivial and away from any substantive issues which might inspire and engage the public.

As the Financial Times points out, the "no" side is still divided, with the media citing "Business for Britain" and Arron Banks' TheKnow.eu cited as the main contenders, but with others in the wings.

However, much of the campaigning – on both sides – will be irrelevant if the "colleagues", as expected, stick to their late 2017 timetable for announcing a new treaty process (possibly with a treaty convention in the Spring of 2018), whence a "core group" for the eurozone will be centre stage, with associate membership on offer for the UK and other non-euro members.

Introduced at a late stage in our referendum campaign, that is doubtless why Mr Cameron wants to abolish purdah, allowing him to feed in a game changer only weeks before the poll, with the "no" campaign completely unprepared.

That, at least, may be Mr Cameron's expectation, and it remains to be seen whether the "no" campaign will be able to rise to the challenge and devise a response which is able to match the apparent attractiveness (and safety) of associate membership.

Given the lacklustre and derivative tenor of "no" campaigning we have seen to date, there is no good reason to expect that the eurosceptic movement will be able to deliver, but at least we've been able to warn of one potential "play" to which we might be exposed.

The crucial issue now facing us is that, if Mr Cameron does put associate membership on the table, the "no" campaign will no longer have the option of avoiding putting its cards on the table with a firm alternative (if it ever did). To prevail against this play, we are going to have to come up with a fully-worked exit plan, with the potential to deliver more than Mr Cameron can promise.

Our greatest danger is that the associate membership will also be on offer to Norway and Switzerland, and the other EFTA states, backed by the prospect of the EEA being dismantled, in preference to and EU split into "inner" and "outer" circles.

With both the Norway and Swiss options potentially no longer on the table, and the "outer ring" spun by the "yes" campaign as a trading association alongside Norway and Switzerland, we will need to make our alternative offer very good indeed.

If Mr Cameron then goes for the second referendum ploy, telling us that this coming referendum is simply the opportunity to elect for associate membership, with a chance to vote for the detail in a second referendum – keeping the option of voting to leave open – one can easily surmise that the bulk of the electorate will find his offer very attractive.

Such a possibly certainly does suggest that the make-up of the "yes" campaign announced yesterday is a matter of supreme irrelevance. Bigger events are afoot, and they will determine the shape – and most likely the outcome – of the campaign to come.

But that notwithstanding, forewarned is forearmed. If we can rise to the challenge, my belief is that we now have a better chance of winning.



Richard North 22/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: the end of the Norway option?

27/06/2015  

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Barely, if at all, mentioned by the legacy media this week was a report issued on Tuesday - the so-called Five Presidents' Report on completing Europe's economic and monetary union.

This, we think, must be taken with other indicators, and details emerging from the European Council, together with the Council conclusions, Mr Cameron's own comments on the referendum timing and the Bertelsmann Stiftung Fundamental Law.

Putting all these sources together, together with the views of the Commission President, and the idea of the Prime Minister brokering associated membership status with the EU now looks even more plausible. The "colleagues" plan to launch the treaty process that will allow this in late 2017, the moment the UK's referendum is over. Completion is scheduled by 2025 at the very latest.

As the Bertelsmann "Fundamental Law" points out, though, associate membership could also cater for the needs of Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, "seeking to improve on their present unsatisfactory arrangements". Presumably, this will also include Liechtenstein, pulling all four EFTA countries into the Greater European Union, to total 32 countries.

The attraction for the "NILS" countries is that they add MEP and Council representation to their current EEA/bilateral arrangements, removing the oft-repeated complaint of lack of voting power or "influence" over Single Market laws.

The "inner circle" will comprise members of the eurozone, which will sole access to the "inner Council", with European Parliament sessions set up to deal exclusively with eurozone business.

Of immediate concern to the UK referendum campaign is that Mr Cameron will, at the eleventh hour, offer association as a form of "rebranded" EU membership, pointing out that the offer will also be available for the NILS countries.

In this scenario, both the Swiss and Norway options will disappear, leaving the "no" campaign seriously bereft of viable exit plan options. Potentially, this could be very damaging, especially as the "WTO option" is guaranteed to bring the UK economy to a halt.

However, in anticipation of this problem, and to address perceived weaknesses in the Norway option, we have been doing some rebranding of our own. Specifically, we've been looking at the "shadow EEA" option, our fallback in the event that the UK's application to rejoin EFTA fails or if the UK is blocked from staying in the EEA.

As the Flexcit plan stands, if this happens, we have the UK seeking to negotiate a bilateral agreement to adopt the entire Single Market acquis. The UK would adopt the same mechanisms for the incorporation of new laws, so that there would be no divergence once the agreement was in place.

However, there is a further option, not dissimilar to the line taken by the Australian government in 1997. Then, it signed a joint declaration on EU-Australian relations, followed two years later by a Mutual Recognition Agreement. The scope exists for the UK to do likewise, or to make a unilateral declaration, up to and including a commitment to full regulatory harmonisation (which already exists).

A full harmonising commitment would be akin to the shadow EEA agreement, only made unilaterally. As such, it would not need assent from EU member states. Given that commitment, the UK would then be in a very strong position to insist on access to Single Market, invoking WTO non-discrimination rules.

Add the MRA agreement, and an agreement on tariffs, and then a bilateral agreement on programme participation and there is an almost exact equivalence with EEA Agreement.

Carried out under the aegis of Article 50, the negotiations would be given a formal framework. As long as the UK did not seek preferential access to the Market, on better terms than were available to a full member, there would seem to be no serious obstacles to an agreement.

Inevitably, though, this requires some agreement from EU Member States. Yet, it is posited by WTO advocates that the "no" campaign cannot promote an option which relies on bilateral agreements.

This is based on the experience of the Scottish referendum, when Alex Salmond was confronted with the question of which currency an independent Scotland might use. He was unable to offer a solution in the event that the UK authorities refused to permit continued participation in sterling. It is thus held that the "no" campaign cannot afford a similar refusal.

However, any comparison with the situation pertaining to the UK's exit negotiations is flawed. Not least, the negotiations are taking place within a treaty framework.

Within this framework, not only does Article 50 require Member States to negotiate with the departing state, Article 3 of the Consolidated Treaties requires the Union to, "contribute to … free and fair trade". Article 21 requires that the Union, "work for a high degree of cooperation in all fields of international relations, in order to … encourage the integration of all countries into the world economy, including through the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade".

Furthermore, the EU Treaties themselves exist within the framework of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties which requires the parties to act in "good faith". Then "good faith" in itself is "almost certainly" a principle of customary international law, and indeed is a principle of WTO law.

Any idea that the EU, within the framework of Article 50, as reinforced by the separate Articles within the Treaties, and further reinforced by international law, would refuse to negotiate on basic issues of trade, and not strive in good faith to reach an agreement, simply does not lie within the realm of practical politics. And, should there clear breach of EU treaty obligations, those breaches might well be a remedy through proceedings in the ECJ. 

The whole rationale for discarding Flexcit, and instead going for the WTO option, is fundamentally flawed. This is especially so as the WTO option also requires bilateral agreements to make it work, essentially making it a theoretical construct, with no basis in reality.    

Thus, we aver that stage one of Flexcit offers as reasonable an assurance of an amicable exit settlement as could be anticipated, and one which will secure the UK's continued participation in the Single Market, with or without the EEA.

But since we now offer not one but three mechanisms for securing exit, we feel it would no longer be appropriate to call stage one the Norway option. Nor would we even to claim that this is a preferred option. In terms of our rebranding, what we now suggest calling it the "Market Solution", reflecting the outcome that we seek and would almost certainly be able to secure.

Whether or not, Mr Cameron therefore comes up with the idea of associated membership, we will still have something better.



Richard North 27/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: a change of strategy?

22/06/2015  

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With no independent confirmation of yesterday's Sunday Times report claiming that David Cameron is seeking "associate membership" of the EU, there is no hard (or any) evidence that this "secret blueprint" is real. However, if it really is the Prime Minister's intention to go for this option, it would represent a significant change in his strategy, and one which is not compatible with his present game plan. 

As it stands, there is no provision for associate membership within the EU treaties. Formal adoption would require full treaty change, comprising a convention and an IGC. This is not something which is even remotely possible within the 2017 referendum timeframe.

Nevertheless, "association" is an active proposition, having been included in the 2013 Fundamental Law of the European Union, published jointly by the Spinelli Group and the Bertelsmann Stiftung as its proposal for the next treaty after Lisbon. Intriguingly, in recent times it was first proposed by arch-federalist Andrew Duff in a report entitled "On Governing Europe", published on 12 September 2012.

But when details hit the media in December of that year, the BBC had Conservative MEP Martin Callanan rejecting the idea. He was not happy with the implied second-class status, saying: ''We'd end up with a lot of bad things in terms of all the single market legislation, but no means of influencing that legislation either through commissioners [or] MEPs. But we would still be subject to the jurisdiction of the [EU] Court of Justice''.

The Mail was more forthright, denouncing a: "Brussels plot to make Britain a second-class member of the EU denying country our veto and MEP seats". Even Downing Street was said to be "cool on the idea", with David Cameron recorded as being "wary of adopting the same position as Norway".

Oddly enough, John Redwood hailed the idea as "great news", adding: "It shows that the UK can negotiate a new relationship with them. It shows that many on the Continent now recognise that the UK cannot join their euro union and needs a looser relationship with them based on trade".

According to The Times though, which had us "shunted towards 'second class' EU status", Nigel Farage was also broadly favourable, welcoming the "change in federalist thinking". "Andrew Duff has always been one of the most profound federalist thinkers and he can see that there needs to be a Plan B for Britain", he said.

This time round, though, Bernard Jenkin is rejecting the idea. "The offer of a two-speed or two-tier EU is no concession at all", he says. "We would continue to be taken for a ride on the road to second-class membership in an EU that as a whole is proceeding with continued political integration".

As to whether Mr Cameron could pull it off is another matter - but the question is whether it would be enough to turn the "middle 15" and keep them in the "yes" camp. To that effect, what might be sufficient is a deferred offer – a solemn declaration from the "colleagues" that provision for associated status will be included in the next (soon to follow) treaty, and a promise from the Prime Minister that he will apply for this status as soon as it is available.

A point that has escaped critics is that the exact modalities have yet to be defined. In the Bertelsmann draft, the possibility of an associate having voting rights in common areas is not ruled out. Thus, an argument could be made that this is not the "second-class status" as painted, but a genuine change in relationship.

In a very narrow sense, Cameron would not only be offering a better deal than the Norway option, so the idea could be touted as a replacement to the EEA and a solution to the Swiss problem. In that case, by the time the propaganda machine had done its work, "associated membership" could look very attractive to the uncommitted voter. Handled with skill, it could be the referendum winner.

If this is played out, it certainly would represent a change in strategy, with the play not predicted by the great sage Charles Grant. Moreover, it would totally outflank offerings from some "no" campaigners - an "associate status", ostensibly offering all the advantages of Single Market access without the political baggage of ever closer union, is dangerously close to some positions. On the basis of future delivery, it relieves Mr Cameron of the need to get down to specifics, rendering the laborious lists of demands and conditions completely redundant.

A plausible scenario is that Mr Cameron will offer to finalise an agreement of the details in forthcoming full treaty negotiations. This will be followed by a "treaty lock" referendum in the next Parliament, giving us the chance to approve or reject the new position, thus reassuring people that they will be fully consulted and have a chance to reject the deal (albeit - unsaid - that the alternative will be full integration).

It may be, of course, that I am over-interpreting this development, but if this is a new strategy, it is close to inspired. Many of the eurosceptic "offers" are high on risk and short on detail. To counter these, all Mr Cameron has to do is offer voters a risk-free punt presented as "reverting" to a trading relationship - the very thing the majority say they want. We may just be facing an entirely new game.



Richard North 22/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: new options on the table

21/06/2015  

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Big news for the Sunday is the identity of the (hitherto) mysterious backer of the "no" campaign headlined by the Express last week. From the front page of the Sunday Telegraph we learn that the man is Arron Banks, multi-millionaire insurance underwriter - one-time donor to the Conservatives and latterly to Ukip.

What we had from last week was a pledge of millions of pounds to support the international campaign, from which politicians (including Ukip) had been banned. One millionaire donor – presumed to be Banks – had offered to underwrite the entire cost of the £7 million launch, which was to take place in the second week of September.

Now we see from the Telegraph headline that the ante has been upped to £20 million, in the expectation that the group is going to be the official "no" campaign.

The group have already engaged an advertising agency and were actively seeking to recruit Lynton Crosby from America, although talks broke down last week. They are now looking to the UK for someone to co-ordinate the campaign, and there is talk of a senior retired military figure being appointed as the leader.

The emergence of this group has come as a surprise to the caucus based on Matthew Elliott's Business for Britain.  This had ambitions of leading the official "no" campaign – although the "for Britain" grouping is now being seen as one component of a larger alliance, details of which have yet to emerge.

The Banks grouping has the support of Global Britain's Richard Tice, former Chief Executive of the multi-national real estate group, CLS Holdings PLC, and lead author of the group's position paper on leaving the EU.

It would thus appear that we are looking at conceptual as well as physical competition as the Global Britain nostrum lacks credibility and, if followed, would be a gift to the "yes" campaign, promising as it does chaos and economic ruin in the event that the UK did withdraw from the EU.

Arron and his team will also have to confront the Electoral Commission if it is to gain the official "no" status, which will be taking applications once the Referendum Bill becomes law. The successful campaigner will have to have satisfied statutory criteria and the new pretender might have difficulty with this. It will all depend on how well the competition organises itself and who can attract the support of membership organisations.

Meanwhile, David Cameron is flying a kite on the possibility of "rebranding" Britain's membership of the EU. He aims to recast it as "associate membership", to demonstrate the UK will have a new relationship with Brussels.

This possibility was raised by the Spinelli Group and the Bertelsman Stiftung in October 2013 as its offering for a major revision to the Lisbon Treat, setting out the details in a document entitled "A Fundamental Law of the European Union".

However, this idea had already been rejected by the UK in the 1960s, for very much the same reasons as are currently employed against adopting the Norway option. In 1968, we saw Hugh Fraser, Bill Cash's predecessor in Parliament, note that there was no enthusiasm for the idea because "Britain would have no say in the policy decisions of the Council of Ministers".

Nevertheless, the idea now has the backing of Open Europe funder, Lord (Rodney) Leach, laughingly called "a Eurosceptic Tory donor". He has been working with Ed Llewellyn, Mr Cameron's chief of staff, and Tory sources say he is seeking to persuade other donors not to defect to the "no" campaign.

What could happen is that the "colleagues" could agree to formalise an associate status in a new treaty, to follow on after our referendum. Then Mr Cameron would be asking us to support the "yes" campaign on the basis of a promise, which would be endorsed in a "treaty lock" referendum following the new treaty.

All of this, understandably, diverts attention from the news of the appointment of Alan Johnson as the leader of the Labour "yes" campaign. Seen as one of Labour's most persuasive communicators, we are told that Johnson is regarded as the just right man to carry a Labour pro-EU message which would not leave a permanent rupture with the thousands of Ukip supporters that Labour needs to win back ahead of the 2020 election.

The real leader of the "yes" campaign, though, is David Cameron, while the nature of the "no" campaign lies in the balance. With Mr Cameron seeking to "rebadge" Britain's role in the EU to something like "market membership", "trading membership" or "executive membership", it is even more important now that we get our act together and put together a coherent group.

Ostensibly, the offer from the Prime Minister will be far better than anything Global Britain has to offer, and certainly very much safer. By contrast, the terms obtainable via Flexcit would be a significant improvement – although we would have to leave the EU in order to benefit from our proposed relationship.

With these developments, therefore, the tide is subtly shifting in our favour, requiring a robust response to Mr Banks and his millionaire chums. The idea of him and his chums employing ranks of slebs to make a flawed case, treating the campaign as their own personal plaything, is not something which appeals.

Given a choice of that, or Mr Cameron's option - which has been described as "a nice package with a new badge" - the "no" campaign that we have in the making will easily have the better of the argument. All we have to do is make it happen.



Richard North 21/06/2015 link

EU Referendum – "no" ain't Switzerland

19/06/2015  

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"What would happen when we leave the EU?", Charles Moore asks, cautioning us that we must know the meaning of "no". Well, in this context, "no" does not mean opting what is known as the "Swiss option", despite the enthusiasm of Ukip and others for citing Switzerland as an example we should follow.

That much we've already rehearsed at length in Flexcit and again more recently on the blog, warning that there are too many problems for this to be a safe option. But, it seems, there is nothing like a eurosceptic with a death wish, as we seek the likes of William Dartmouth extol the virtues of Switzerland's status outside the EU, thus leaving us wide open to serial debunking from informed Europhiles.

One such is Caroline de Gruyter, correspondent for NRC Handelsblad in Vienna who writes for Carnegie Europe, lending such journalistic skill as she can muster to demolishing idea that we should rely on the "Swiss option" as an alternative to EU membership.

The British enthusiasm for the option is noted by de Gruyter, but it is shared by Geert Wilders who, speaking of the Netherlands, says "Switzerland is the example". Similarly, Germany's Pegida movement repeatedly singles out Switzerland in its manifesto as an example to follow.

But, avers de Gruyter, "Switzerland is essentially as dependent on Brussels as EU countries are. In fact, the Alpine country is losing as much sovereignty and democratic impact as EU members". The problem, she thinks, "is not Brussels. It is globalisation".

As a nation with one of the world's most open economies, she argues that Switzerland increasingly has to play by global rules. Those rules are not set in Bern. After fierce battles with the US tax authorities in recent years, the Swiss have de facto given up their banking secrecy, which is enshrined in the country's constitution.

If they had not handed over thousands of bank files on American citizens, Swiss banking giants UBS and Credit Suisse would have lost their license to do business on Wall Street. Without this license, a bank cannot trade in dollars - in other words, it is dead.

Washington presented Bern with a clear-cut choice: Either play the global game and have the world’s biggest banks, or play the sovereign game and shield foreign bank clients in your country. You can no longer have it both ways - especially as a small country.

Switzerland, de Gruyter claims, was once was a safe haven for dictators' fortunes, but it is no more. Bern now clamps down on money launderers and scrutinizes politically exposed individuals. And after the recent US crackdown on FIFA the Swiss Federal Parliament has agreed to change a decades-old law that exempts sports associations from scrutiny.

Almost half of Switzerland's imports come from Germany, Italy, or France. The Swiss said "no" to joining the EEA in a referendum in 1992, but they need access to the EU's internal market, which completely surrounds their country. So Bern has concluded many bilateral treaties with Brussels that require Switzerland to adhere to the basic rules governing the internal market - free movement of goods, people, capital, and services.

In February 2014, however, the Swiss voted in a referendum to impose restrictive quotas for foreigners wishing to live in Switzerland. The Swiss feel swamped, even though 85 percent of these foreigners are Europeans, mostly well-educated, such as German engineers or French doctors, on whom the Swiss economy depends.

To this day, the Swiss Government still has not reconciled the referendum result with the EU free movement agreement. On a broader front, though, she asserts that the Federal Parliament has to draft most legislation in such a way that Swiss companies have access to the EU's internal market without facing two incompatible sets of rules. This, she claims, is, "just like Norway", raising the tired old spectre of the "fax economy".

If de Gruyter is able to convince her own kind with this low drone, so be it – but the argument has increasing traction with the British people, by dint of constant repetition.

But she is not wholly wrong when she asserts that, because the Swiss need to apply so many global rules and EU regulations, their self-rule is compromised. Many Swiss citizens, she says, find their country's system of direct democracy is not functioning as it used to.

Voter turnout in general is below 50 percent, far lower than in most EU member states. Ten years ago, several villages around Geneva reported that turnout for a referendum had declined to 30–40 percent, with the Swiss People's Party ahead nearly everywhere.

A former village mayor, de Gruyter says, conceded that Swiss locals had become rich by selling vineyards to multinational companies and by renting out houses to the new globalised middle class. But another official complains that the government was ignoring the Swiss refusal to join the EU: "It doesn't matter how we vote. Every year, we get more EU regulation via the back door".

From all this, de Gruyter asserts that, "those who claim that certain EU member states should leave the union and be like Switzerland are deceiving the electorate". Switzerland, she says, "has the same problem as EU countries: a considerable loss of sovereignty".

In what she obvious feels is the killer point, she then tells us: "the cause is not Brussels, but globalisation. Quitting the EU is therefore a false remedy, and it is time those fantasists up north realized that".

Speaking personally, I would have made a better job of demolishing the "Swiss option", stressing the tensions building up over the February referendum, and the loss of all the trading agreements under the "guillotine clause", unless freedom of movement is reinstated.

The points made about globalisation, however, cut both ways. Much regulation of global origin is actually framed in Switzerland, in Geneva, via such institutions as UNECE and the WTO, or the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision.

However, geographical proximity does not necessarily confer privileged access and, in truth, no one country has a complete "handle" on globalisation. More and more, the apparatus of government are becoming remote and obscure – understood by barely a handful of specialists in each country.

That is the real reason why the "Swiss option" would never work, in the long term. As with the "Norway option" and EU membership itself, none of these address properly the effects of globalisation. We need an entirely new settlement.

In the shorter terms though, it took 14 years for Switzerland to conclude its raft of bilateral agreements with the EU, the sum of which afford fewer rights and access than does the EEA Agreement. We can't afford to sit at the negotiating table for that many years, to get to the same unsatisfactory position that Switzerland occupies, and neither can we trade with the EU without a comprehensive formal agreement. 

The "Swiss option", therefore, has nothing to offer Britain, and the more we have eurosceptics promote it, the more difficult it will be to win our referendum.



Richard North 19/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: the inexhaustible stupidity of Ukip

18/06/2015  

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In a softening of tone that could have been taken as a tentative peace offering, on 18 April I wrote a piece which was cautiously complimentary about the Ukip general election manifesto.

I noted that it accepted that Article 50 negotiations are the preferred option for arranging our exit from the EU. And I also noted that, in calling for a free trade agreement affording us access to the Single Market, the party also appears to be turning its face against the WTO (or "free-for-all") option.

There may be some significance in there only being 19 comments to that piece, when posts critical of Ukip have occasionally attracted well over a hundred. It was certainly evident that I was not attracting any great engagement from Ukip supporters. But if I had been rash enough to expect that an emollient (and informative) post would have any effect on Ukip policy-making, I would have been setting myself up to be disappointed.

In the event, it comes as no surprise to find Ukip reverting to type with what the BBC called "the opening salvo of its EU Referendum campaign" – the launch in London of a booklet entitled "The Truth About Trade Beyond the EU". Written by their MEP William Dartmouth, this supposedly "outlines the reasons why we would not be leaving any markets when we leave the EU", essentially comprising part of Ukip's exit plan.

Paid-for (ironically) with EU funds – which clearly does not impose any quality or value-for-money criteria - it would not be unfair (as opposed to unkind) to describe it as vapid drivel, relying as it does on the usual mixture of factoids and mantra.

Addressing "the realities of an EU exit for the UK", for instance, it tells us that we would "continue to trade with EU member states", the reason adduced being that: "The UK is the largest purchaser of EU goods and services". That is fair enough, as we would doubtless continue to trade. We might go hungry if we didn't, given the amount food we ship in from the Continent. 

But, where the whole shebang goes drastically wrong is in the following declaration, which asserts:
It is inevitable that we would negotiate our own trade agreement with the EU after exit. And - with or without a trade agreement - we can continue to trade with EU countries, just as China, Russia and the United States do today - under WTO rules.
The immediate flaw in this stems from an understanding of the Article 50 (exit) procedure, where the expectation is that we negotiate an agreement before we exit. Should we leave first and then negotiate, there will be a huge gap, whence we would have enormous difficulties exporting to the EU.

Parking this for just one moment, we see Ukip supporters enthusiastically tweeting the news of the formal ratification of a trade agreement between Australia and China – as an example of what the UK could achieve outside the EU. But they neglect to point out that the agreement took ten years to negotiate.

That, of course, is a core issue. Doubtless, the UK could negotiate a trade agreement with the EU, and it could also negotiate trade deals with other countries to replace the arrangements it relies on under the EU umbrella. But how long would these take? And what would the UK do in the interim, during the many years that it would take to conclude new settlements?

Returning to the Ukip comment, we see them asserting that, "… without a trade agreement - we can continue to trade with EU countries, just as China, Russia and the United States do today - under WTO rules" – effectively a reiteration of the "WTO option".

Yet, it was specifically about the death of the WTO option that I was writing on 18 April, the point being that countries such as China do not rely purely on "WTO rules" for their trading arrangements with the EU. As we wrote at the time, there are 65 agreements with China involving the EU (or its members states) including 13 bilateral agreements.

When it comes to the United States, the EU is currently negotiating TTIP – which Ukip opposes. That rather indicates that the "WTO rules" are not considered sufficient, notwithstanding that the US does not rely entirely upon them. Even now, there is considerable EU-US collaboration, not least through the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC), established in 2007.

This Council provides an umbrella for a vast array of pre-existing agreements outside the basic WTO framework. Included is the vital 173-page Mutual Recognition Agreement which underpins trade in a wide range of industrial goods and was established to augment some of the limitations of the WTO agreements.

As regards Russia, in addition to its WTO membership, there exists the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which provides the basic framework for EU-Russian trade. It should be remembered, though, that sanctions over Ukraine are seriously disrupting relations - making Russia a poor model for Ukip to cite.

Nevertheless, the idea that it would be possible to trade with the EU, under anything like normal conditions, purely under WTO rules – without additional bilateral agreements – is simply moonshine. To suggest that China, Russia and the United States trade under such conditions is false. The claim simply isn't true.

This is doubly ironic in a booklet that also devotes itself to correcting five "falsehoods", not least the claim that you have to be a member of the EU in order to export successfully to it. This claim should be easy to rebut, which makes it rather unfortunate that the author chooses to tell us that:
The EU has numerous different varieties of trade agreement - being an EU member is just one of them. Switzerland, not a member of the EU, with an economy one quarter the size of the UK's, consistently exports to the EU more than 4.5 times per head of what the UK manages.
By coincidence, this example is deployed just as the Guardian picks up on the fallout from the Swiss immigration referendum, illustrating the ongoing and progressive collapse of the so-called "Swiss model" (or "option" as I prefer). This is part of a slow-motion constitutional crisis in Switzerland, as relations with the EU deteriorate. The situation will come to a head in February 2017 - just in time to do most damage to the "no" campaign.

From the way we are seeing other propaganda activities build up, the Guardian piece is part of a calculated initiative aimed at undermining the "no" camp by illustrating the fragility of its favoured exit options. This goes alongside what appears to be a studied tactic of eliding the Swiss and Norway options, making them out to be very similar if not actually the same. Thus, when Switzerland goes down, the Norway option will be dragged down with it.

Thus, the very last thing Ukip (or anyone else, for that matter) should be doing is parading the virtues of the EU-Swiss agreement. Not only is it not sustainable, it is on the point of collapse.

Another "falsehood" the booklet tackles is more of a straw man, attempting to debunk the supposed claim that: "A UK-EU trade agreement will inevitably require the 'free movement of people'". As part of this "debunking", it quotes David Cameron saying that: "Accepting the principle of free movement of workers is a key to being part of the single market".

And it then has a Conservative ex-Cabinet minister saying: "Even if we were to leave, it is inconceivable that the UK could negotiate a trade deal with the EU that did not involve some agreement on freedom of movement".

In fact, says Ukip, the EU has – depending on how it is counted – 109 trade agreements. Only four of those agreements, with EFTA and the EEA, have a "free movement of people" component.

Actually, it misstates the position, because there are only two agreements there – the EEA agreement, involving three countries, and the bilateral agreement with Switzerland (which involves neither EFTA nor the EEA). But there we have Switzerland again, the very country Ukip is citing as a model for a trade agreement.

Even then, Ukip has got it wrong. Drill down into the Russian Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, for example, and you will find "free movement of people" component. It is not unrestricted, but it is there.

But the crucial point is that participation in the Single Market is not the same as trading with the EU. And to participate in the Single Market would require accepting all its tenets, including freedom of movement. Mr Cameron is right. It is inconceivable that the EU would allow us to participate without agreeing to free movement of workers (at the very least).

As much to the point, free movement provisions are the future – especially as international agreements focus increasingly on services. Yet, when Ukip supporters gleefully cite the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) - as an example of what the UK could do if we leave the EU - they don't seem to have realised that, within the framework of the agreement, Chinese companies can bring in workers for projects valued at $150 million or more. There is also a "Work and Holiday Arrangement" (WHA) under which Australia will grant visas for up to 5,000 Chinese workers and tourists annually.

And, in the ultimate irony of an issue replete with ironies, we note that the ChAFTA took ten years to negotiate – a not untypical period for such an agreement. Ukip's idea of negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU after we leave would take as long, and could only bring disaster.

As to the booklet as a whole, we find the BBC (edited screen grab – top) offering its debunking slot to "Lying Lucy" – otherwise known as Lucy Thomas, campaign director for the Europhile Business for New Europe.

Fortunately for us, Lucy is not very bright. But even she was able to work out that Ukip's arguments did not add up. Unfortunately, Lucy is not alone. There is every sign that some of the more advanced Europhiles are getting their act together. In what it to be a long campaign, the Ukip case offered today will be comprehensively shredded – it is that full of holes. 

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For the "no" campaign in general, we cannot afford this level of stupidity - of which Ukip seems to have an inexhaustible supply. And the situation is made far worse when Farage once again indicates that he intends to take a prominent part in the fight. 

He acknowledges that he is a divisive figure and that not everyone likes him - something of an understatement. But that is the least of our problems. With his party's current effort, he is reinforcing the belief that the "no" campaign is unable to offer a credible alternative to the EU, thus adding to the already considerable difficulties we have in mounting an effective campaign.

An even greater problem, though, seems to be that we are dealing with people so stupid they don't even realise how stupid they are – a condition for which there is no known cure. If Ukip insists on pursuing its damaging line, therefore, there is no alternative but to freeze it out of the campaign. We cannot allow it to represent us, or to be seen as speaking in our name.



Richard North 18/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: committee stage blues

17/06/2015  

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So, yesterday was the first of two committee stage debates on the EU Referendum Bill, the next being on Thursday (tomorrow). Eagerly anticipated was Amendment 11, tabled by Bill Cash, Owen Paterson and others, seeking to restore Section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which the Government aims to remove by Clause 25 of Schedule 1 of the Bill.

After overnight wheeler-dealing, it was anticipated that Labour would support its own Act, which was being shredded by the new Conservative Government. With the support of the SNP, and as many as 40 Tory rebels, this would have proved sufficient to have wiped out Mr Cameron's slender majority and deliver him his first defeat of the Parliament.

First out of the traps was Alex Salmond, but his main concern was to grandstand on a "double-lock" for the referendum, tabling an amendment which would require a majority in Scotland and the other component parts of the UK, before we have a valid "no" vote. If there is a difference in the vote, Scotland could split from the UK.

An interesting facet of his position was that he argued that Scotland was a nation. In EU terms, though, it is regarded merely as a region. The Scottish region should, perhaps, be wary about making it more difficult to leave this destroyer of nations.

Speaking on the abolition of purdah, Salmond declared his SNP group united in support of the European Union. But they were not prepared to accept a biased referendum. If the issue of purdah was "correct", then it must pertain to the referendum as well, he said. And civil service impartiality must be maintained.

Going even further, Salmond suggested that there should be rules produced by the House on the implementation of Purdah, and a "fairness committee" comprising Privy Councillors, with penalties for breach of the rules.

Liam Fox spoke next, one of the "old gang" of Tory eurosceptics. It was, he said, unacceptable for government to exempt itself from rules of procedure. The reason we had purdah was to prevent the government from using resources to support one side of the debate, potentially altering the course of the debate.

After any referendum, particularly one that, as we know from previous debates on Europe, will arouse great passions on both sides, he said, we require the result to be regarded as fair, reasonable and legitimate if there was to be any chance of the country coming together on the issue once the voters had spoken.

If people believed that they have been bounced or that the result is the consequence of a rigged process, Fox added, it would be extremely difficult for the country to come together, and the political consequences would be intense. It must be seen that the legitimacy of the process is related to the fairness of the process. That was what was being put at risk by the Government's proposals.

Meanwhile, euro-trash Peter Wilding had been in the Telegraph, sneering at the "Europhobes" and talking of Owen Paterson, who had "oozed indignation on Sunday". Purdah, said Wilding, was a red herring. During the election, the Conservative Party campaigned on the basis of a manifesto that included the pledge to hold an in/out EU referendum. It is hardly reasonable, now that the Conservatives are in government, that they should not be able to take a stance on the issue.

One does not, of course, expect euro-trash to have any understanding of constitutional niceties, but the only "red herring" was his. Purdah does not stop ministers, or David Cameron, expressing a view. They are simply not allowed to campaign on the issue, using government resources and public money. As far as this blog goes, anyone who uses the term "europhobe" is out of order. I don't like it, but it will beget retaliation with "euro-trash", although we'll ring the changes with "euro-slime" or even "euro-filth".

Back in the issue at hand, already noted by Salmond and others – and recorded by the BBC - was a "concession" made by the Government that a 5 May date in the next year has been dropped. This really was the red herring. There never had been chance that the referendum was going to be held then. So the Government had committed to not doing something it never had any intention of doing.

This had arisen from Government assurances sent by e-mail overnight to Conservative MPs by Europe Minister David Lidington. But as well offering this "non-concession", he reminded colleagues of the second reading debate when Foreign Secretary Hammond had promised that Government would: "exercise proper restraint to ensure a balanced debate during the campaign".

Now Lidington now  promised to "work with colleagues over the next few months to understand their specific areas of concern", and then: "bring forward at report stage in the Autumn government amendments that command the widest possible support within the House". This, he said, would "put beyond any doubt that the campaign will be conducted throughout in a manner that all sides will see as fair".

While there had been some confidence that the rebels would carry the vote on the amendment, with Lidington's intervention, hopes were beginning to dissipate. A harbinger came with Europhile Dominic Grieve, former Attorney General, who opposed the removal of purdah as a matter of principle - which he made clear to the House in his own intervention.

However, on hearing assurances from the Minister that the Government would reconsider purdah and return at the report stage with a proper amendment, Grieve declared he "would be quite prepared to continue to give them my confidence in this matter".

In his experience in the House, it was "quite frequent in Committee for a Bill to be criticised, for the Government to give assurances that they will remedy it". MPs frequently accepted those assurances. "That is why", he concluded, "I have no difficulty in proceeding along the usual established route".

As if we needed reminding of the importance of the issue, we could read that only 15 percent of Conservative party members would vote to leave the EU irrespective of any negotiations. Some 63.3 percent would cast their vote according to the outcome of the negotiations, so the way the details were handled would be crucial.

Nevertheless, the writing was on the wall for the rebellion. And the death knell sounding as it emerged that Labour would not support Amendment 11. Instead, it was tabling one of its own which did not seek to reinstate purdah. It simply asked for more "clarity" about what the Government had in mind.

Veteran eurosceptic, Bill Cash, stepped in - fresh from hospital and unable to stand for any length - making a heroic attempt to save the days. He offered a means of retrieving the situation so that there didn't have to be a vote.

It's about trust, said Cash, but not just about trust. Purdah had been put in for very sound reasons, so he appealed to the government to think again. The people had a right to know that the referendum won't be "canted". This is not a eurosceptic argument - the real question is about our democracy.

In response, we got an ignorant intervention from Clarke, muddying the water. He deliberately overstated the adverse impact of Purdah, but was called to order. Cash cited the Electoral Commission in support. Labour europhile Mike Gapes then did his muddying, dribbling about Norway and Switzerland, arguing that they have to obey all the rules with no say. He was called to order, for straying too far from the amendment, but managed to waste time in the process.

Kenneth Clarke then held forth, with what was described as a "Hush Puppy" approach, sneering about purdah. People are suggesting that the whole government machine should be switched off for four weeks, he claimed. This was pure hyperbole – it is a deliberate misstatement, typical of the euro-trash approach to politics. The government is unaffected. Simply, ministers cannot actively campaign for the proposition, using public money.

Insultingly, the wrecker Clarke even got the Section wrong, citing S.129 instead of S.125. That illustrated his contempt for the efforts of the rebels. His "casual wafting around" the subject was noted by Richard Bacon. It sounded like and most certainly was filibustering.

Eventually, Lidington took the stage, defending the removal of purdah - it would be unworkable, he said. Bill Cash challenged his view, but Lidington stood his ground. The Government seriously wants this removed. He said the Government's job was not to supplant the "yes" campaign, but claimed that the Government must be able to feed information into the debate. Changes would be be introduced at the report stage, he affirmed. We're not going to ask the House to accept our word.

The Europe Minister then announced that the report stage would not be until the autumn. That means that, by the time it goes through the Lords, the Bill is going to struggle to get Royal Assent by the end of the year. But to those willing to accept the good faith of the Government, it also signalled that it was taking the prospect of amendments seriously.

With a weak chair (the Speaker stands down in Committee) and Clarke having bored on, chewing up the time allocated for the debate, many who wanted to speak had not been called. A strong whipping operation in place, aided by the delay in the vote while the "stand part" was debated, did more damage to the rebellion. The decider, though, was Labour. It had bottled out and abandoned its own legislation, planning to abstain in the crucial vote. When it came. this gave the Government a victory of 288 votes to 97 - a majority of 191, with only 25 rebels to the fore.

However, the battle is not over. The showdown has merely been postponed to the autumn and the report stage. Grieve warned of storms to come, saying that if the Government were using the promise of amendments to "try to wriggle out of this obligation again", he "would regard that as a rather infamous thing to do", and would not support them.

Thus we see battle deferred rather than won or lost - an opening skirmish in a long war. And at least more of the public are aware of the issues. For many, there is a whiff of Government manipulation, and even desperation. Trust, it could be said, is not at an all-time high.



Richard North 17/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: should we stay or should we go?

15/06/2015  



Conservative backbencher Philip Davies and Laura Sandys, former Conservative MP and chair of the European Movement discuss on the Sunday Politics show whether we should leave the EU.

We are going to see a lot of these "mini-debates" over the next two years, and a lot of us are going to be taking part in them. Most will not necessarily in the august presence of Andrew Neil, or even on television. But, whether a face-to-face or in a small informal group, or in a debate in a village hall, or even at a major event in some grand conference venue, the battle is there to be won.

It is therefore, useful to take a forensic view of this little episode, to evaluate the performance of the two speakers (and Neil) in order to learn what we can from them. Their strengths and weaknesses can be used as a guide, enabling us individually and collectively to improve our own performances.

As to the setting, there can be no great (or any – unless you think differently) objection to how the opening was handled. To give each of the protagonists thirty seconds to make their cases is quite standard, and a fair way of starting proceedings. And there are advantages and disadvantages in any event to going first, so there is no great issue to be made in having Laura Sandys open.

The first thing to come across is that Sandys goes for the "low ground", hitting the jobs and trade buttons. "Every single job in this country is probably seven degrees of separation from some form of export", she asserts. "I think we've got to ensure that we stay in the European Union so that we can trade with Europe and the rest of the world. I think some people think it's an either or. I think it's both".

Had this been me listening to this, awaiting my turn, I think my spirits would have been soaring at the prospect of being able to take the high ground, and relegate her comment to the status of "low drone", which it most emphatically deserves. In my view, Sandys had made a major tactical error.

Not content with the one error, though, Sandys compounds it by appealing to the notional "left". She thus declares: "I also think there are some social issues - that Europe actually created some legislation, regulation that supports maternity rights, equality and as part of the European Union those are irrevocable".

In a limited way this is quite clever. It sets up the European Union as the "protector" of rights, but it is not a theme Sandys develops. Instead, she scoots back to "trade", with more sweeping assertions. Ultimately, she says, "this country needs to be at every top table it can be at. That's its history and that's its future. And so the idea of walking away from one of the – the largest market in the world. I think we'd be very foolish".

Hindsight is dead easy when doing this sort of critique, but there is no need for it here. What Sandys is offering is so tediously predictable that we could almost have written the script for her. The number of times we have heard this, or a close relative, must number in the thousands.

What she has done, unwittingly, is open up the way for the rejoinder successfully used by Owen Paterson, who cheerfully grabs such a gift with both hands, to tell us that we are not "walking away" – the European Union "is leaving us". With its single currency and political integration, it is bent on creating a new country. And, with a new treaty in the offing, as soon as this referendum is out of the way, it will be taking us down a path that we cannot and don't want to follow.

With that as the baseline, it would then have been open to Davies to declare that the task now confronting us was to separate the political baggage from the trade issues, and to create a new relationship based on trade, which is what most of us thought the EU was all about. Sadly, this was not to be. Davies, instead, also takes the low road, but this time following the Ukipesque path. "There are a number of reasons why we must leave", says Davies, "not least because it is "the only way we can control immigration into this country".

One immediately starts wondering whether there is a different sort of immigration, one that involves movement other than into this country, but we let that pass as the heart sinks at the own goal. This is precisely where we don't want to be. In his bid to out-Ukip Ukip, Davies has just contradicted even the "eurosceptic" wing of his party, and lost a massive tranche of his audience.

Clearly anxious not to let Sandy be the only low drone in the room, Davies now matches her, error for error, by taking the low road to tedium.

"But above all else, we'd be better off out of the EU. Every single year, the EU is a smaller and smaller part of the world's economy", he says. "All of the growth in the world economy is in China, India, South America, emerging economies in Africa. That's where all the future growth in the world's economy's going to come from and that's where we need to be".

In full flow, Davies now goes into eurosceptic "dog whistle" mode, not quite foaming at the mouth, eyes swivelling, but no so very far from it. "We built our wealth in this country by being global traders", he says, rant-mode on and running. "We should be ashamed of ourselves that we're handing over £19 billion pounds a year to be part of a backward-looking, inward facing protection racket, which is what the European Union's become, protecting the interests of inefficient European businesses and French farmers".

"We've gotta be much more global in outlook, much more international, much more positive about the world, not stuck in the 1970s. And of course we all want to trade with the EU. We will keep free trade with the EU", he then asserts.

At the end of this dissertation, Neil steps in with the observation that Davies has over-run his time. Turning to Laura Sandys, he says: "You say we should stay in, to trade. Why couldn't we trade if we were outside the EU". And, since Sandys has taken the low road, it is a reasonable question to ask.

Had Sandys been on top of her brief, she might immediately have responded to say that the Single Market had been a huge success in eliminating not only tariffs but also the more recent scourge of international trading – the non-tariff barriers, which were costing global trade far more than tariffs ever did.

Within the EU's Single Market, she could have said, the common regulation had eliminated these barriers, with one set of rules replacing 28, making trading easier and more profitable. Outside the EU, she could then argue, the UK would lose the benefit of the trading system, damaging its economy.

This is a credible case to make, and I've heard many a Europhile make it. But Sandys doesn't even try. Instead, she burbles about the UK trading with the EU and the rest of the world, prompting Neil to invoke the case of Switzerland, which is not in the EU yet exports five times more goods to the EU (per capita) than the UK. Why could we not export [from outside the EU], he asks.

Unfortunately, Neil's intervention puts Sandys back in her comfort zone. She slots effortlessly into mantra-mode. "We could if we had a Norwegian or Swiss model, but we are not there setting the rules, we've got our neighbours setting the rules for us. We end up having to comply on a sector-by-sector basis. It would take ten years to get the agreements in place".

This is the old "no influence" meme – the variation on the fax democracy", but with an added twist. Sandys is conflating the Swiss and Norwegian "models", which allows he to say that to would take ten years to agree a new deal. As a generalisation, this is a lie.

Neil, had he known more, might have picked up this deception, but like the rest of his ilk, his knowledge is skin deep. He doesn't challenge it. Instead, he packages up Sandys's argument: "We would continue to trade outside, but we would have no say in the rules of the game. At the moment we help to build the rules of the game, as we helped to build the Single Market. Why would you give that up?"

With that neat little bow added to the gift-wrapping, he hands it to Davies, who makes an almost total pig's ear of unwrapping it. "Well there's two points", he says. "The first is I'm not sure that we have as much influence as that would suggest", then hilariously muffing QMV and first "quality" and then "qualitative" majority voting, thereby releasing the inner amateur that resides in so many MPs. "More often than not, we're outvoted", Davies emphasises, "We're not actually having a great say over the rules".

Despite that, it's not a bad point to make, but the inner amateur fails totally to deploy the killer line: most of the rules are now made at international level, where we have no representation while, if we left the EU, we would be able to negotiate for ourselves, at the global top tables, increasing our influence.

Instead of delivering this killer shot, Davies decides to load his magazine with blanks, as he laboriously ladles out his "other point": "This idea that we could only negotiate as good a deal as Switzerland and Norway is for the birds", he says. "We're the fifth or sixth biggest economy in the whole world. Now we can do a much better, we can have a much better deal than anyone else. Then we get this little homily:
Last year, we had a balance of trade deficit with the EU of £62 billion, so if people talk about all the jobs they rely on trade from the EU in this country, there are lots of jobs reliant of that. We're not going to stop that. But how many more jobs in the EU are dependent on trade with us. So Germany is never going to give up trade in BMWs and Mercedes into the UK, so we can negotiate a very good deal for ourselves in terms of trade from outside of the EU, because they need us more than we need them.
This is truly in Ukip "nutjob" territory. Apart from the fact that our deficit looks very different when services are taken into account, there is a huge fallacy in Mr Davies's case. The point, of course, is that, while we don't need to be in the EU to export to EU countries, the UK doesn't need to be in the EU for EU countries to export to us.

Thus, the EU Member States know full well that, should we leave the EU, they will continue to sell goods to us. Furthermore, under WTO rules, we can neither impose significant (and in many cases any) tariffs, nor discriminate against their products. Mr Davies might just care to look up the principle of "National Treatment" in this respect.

The idea, thus, that we have any special leverage in negotiations with the EU is utterly flawed. But, even if it wasn't, the prospect of the UK negotiating a better trading deal with the EU once having withdrawn, than it could as a Member State, is a fantasy. We would struggle to agree a bespoke agreement less than ten years, but it would be a poor deal. Crucially, the EU knows that to offer preferential terms to an outsider would create huge internal stresses, sufficient to threaten the very survival of the Union. It could not and will never happen. 

Unsurprisingly, the point be Davies is easily batted away by Sandys as "not a very robust argument". That allows her to return to the "influence" meme, her zombie still alive and kicking as she gravely tells us it is "absolutely crucial" that our businesses have a say over the sorts of terms and agreements that they will trade with "Europe".

By now, we're only halfway into this debate, although it feels much longer. And already I'm beginning to lose the will to live. Davies has done the unforgivable – he has descended into the weeds, to trade blow for blow. Thus the debate rests on "he says-she says" exchanges that will bore the pants off casual viewers. As the referendum campaign develops, we will see new records for the speed with which millions of remote buttons are pressed.

With the trade issue completely unresolved, and no winner on either side (which give the status quo the game), Neil moves on to migration. Again he calls in aid Switzerland, which "pretty much has open borders with the EU". The EU, says Neil, would require the same of us, even once we had left.

This is a reasonable point, in general, but badly made in respect of Switzerland, which is undergoing a crisis in its relations with the EU after the referendum on immigration, February year last. And Switzerland's plight is very relevant to the debate, but not only is it omitted by Neil, it is not raised by either Davies or Sandys.

Davies simply reiterates that he thinks we could do better than Switzerland, notwithstanding that Switzerland is trying and failing to do better than Switzerland. And anyone following the argument al;ready knows that the EU has repeatedly emphasised that the principle of free movement is not negotiable. A tiresome rant on immigration then terminates in the Ukip mantra that, we need to leave the EU to control our borders.

Sandys manages a damaging jibe calling the Swiss and Norwegian options, the "twilight zone", pointing out the obvious flaws in the Davis position, trading blows as good as she gets – another no-score draw. "The EU will not allow us to have access to the Single Market without free movement of labour", Sandys declares triumphantly.

Little does she realise it, but she has not only given Davies a free kick at the goal, but she's walked off the pitch. Free movement of labour is precisely what we want to return to, scaling down from the free movement of people – which includes relatives and dependants, and all sorts of non-economically active incomers. But Davies doesn't recognise the gift, and returns to his mantra about Germany wanting to sell us BMWs and Mercedes.

There's three minutes left to run, and we're back on the biff-bam on trade, and they've all lost it - all of them, including Neil. Like a toothache, I just want it to be over. And if this is what the debate is going to be like, it is going to be a very long two years. A taste of things to come, Neil called it. If that's the case, God help us.



Richard North 15/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: matters of detail

04/06/2015  

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Peter Wilding of the Europhile British Influence writes in the Telegraph, framing the referendum as a choice between Great Britain in Europe or Little England. We would, however, cast the choice as between Little Europe or Global Britain.

Thus in many respects defines the fault line between the two sides but, there is not all there is to it. Wilding, as a polemicist, reveals a little of himself when he writes of the "sceptics" wanting Cameron to play hard-ball in the renegotiation. "A Dirty Harry movie with 'Make my day' Dave toting his colt 45 (sic) at Angela and Francois, is what they want to see", he writes.

Yet, film buffs will know that the fictional "Dirty Harry" did not tout a Colt 45, but a Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum, "the most powerful handgun in the world". This tells you that Mr Wilding is a man who doesn't do detail – a man who is careless of his facts.

In this, though, Wilding is not alone. Lucy Thomas of  Business for New Europe (BNE) publishes on her blog "a look at the three most commonly cited 'Out' scenarios", and then "sets out the step-by-step process involved in arriving at them, along with the obstacles and pitfalls that accompany it".

She chooses three – ignoring Flexcit of course – this is the one they can't beat, so they ignore it. Instead, what's on offer is: "EEA Membership – the Norway option"; "EFTA Membership – the Swiss option" and "Customs Union – the Turkey option".

The analysis of the Norway option has the usual crop of lies and half-truths, including the claim that Norway adopts 75 percent of EU laws. It doesn't. Last time I checked, the EEA acquis comprised 5,758 legislative acts, out of the 20,868 EU acts currently in force – about 28 percent of the total.

But the interesting thing here is that Lying Lucy describes the Norway option as "EEA Membership", whereas strictly it is EFTA membership and participation in the EEA agreement. The EEA isn't a body as such, so you can't be a member of it. Hence, it's either the "Norway option" or the EEA option". 

But this makes the contrast with what Lying Lucy calls: "EFTA Membership – the Swiss option". Here, she is also off the rails, mistakenly assuming that Switzerland's EFTA membership is in any way related to its bilateral agreements with the EU. However, as the rest of us know, these deals were negotiated entirely outside the EFTA framework.

Strangely, we can't get in to look at her infographic on this – which doesn't say much for her IT wonks - and her Turkey option isn't worth looking at. The WTO option, where Lying Lucy could have a field day, doesn't even get a look in.

All this points to another dose of ignorance - fundamentally, she is not master of her brief. So, while some think that these Europhile organisations are pretty slick, and feel intimidated by them, what we are seeing is low-grade players who have to resort to lies to make their case, to make up for the lamentable gaps in their knowledge. People who know their subject don't need to lie.

When the chips are down, therefore, these people will be easy to beat. We know their own subject better than they do, and have more respects for the facts. And, unlike them, we have no need to lie. Fortified by better knowledge and the truth, we will defeat them in detail.



Richard North 04/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: shambles on the sidelines

02/06/2015  

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The BBC Today programme yesterday ran a thoroughly dishonest piece about the impact of the "Norway Option" on the UK, using Norway's Foreign Minister Borge Brende to help deliver its propaganda.

"Britain can have more influence inside the EU than outside," said Brende, triggering an immediate organised twitter storm, while Autonomous Mind posted a stonking piece on his blog, calling out the man for what he is – a liar. But, for all that, the damage was done.

All things being equal, our next step would be to lodge a complaint, but there wouldn't be much point. We've been there before and the outcome will be the same. The adjudicators will say that even "no" campaigners don't agree that the option is beneficial: the Norwegian foreign minister was just repeating what a lot of eurosceptics are saying.

Other "eurosceptic" critics raise even more imaginative objections. At a recent Global Britain seminar, Roger Bootle "warned" that the solution "could be sabotaged by existing EEA or other leaders saying at a late stage that it was not acceptable".

This harks back to the workshop we ourselves held on Flexcit, when Lee Rotherham raised the prospect of a last-minute veto by Lichtenstein, stopping Britain from joining EFTA and thereby continuing to participate in the EEA. I told him that our plan had multi-layered fallback positions, and in the unlikely event that this happened, we would rely on what I call the "shadow EEA" option.

Had Bootle read Flexcit, we would have known this, and therefore known that his warning was "invalid". But this was not to be.

Interestingly, we had previously met one of the Global Britain speakers, Ewen Stewart, to discuss the adoption of Flexcit as a provisional working plan, to use as the basis of a common strategy for a campaigning group were are setting up

Also there were representatives from Democracy Movement and People's Pledge, and although we were there to discuss the plan, none of the people from those three organisations had actually read it. Stewart, after informing the meeting that he had to leave early because he had a tennis match booked – despite some of us coming hundreds of miles to be there – professed complete ignorance of Flexcit and asked if a copy could be "sent round to him".

But then, Global Britain had just published its own Brexit option, which purported to have looked at all the other options (except Flexcit), noting that of the Norway Option that, "some would argue that we would have no say on framing single market directives". For Global Britain, the thing to go for was the WTO option, which it renamed the "Global Britain Free Trade Option".

Faced with this, we set up our free Flexcit workshop for which, at great expense, we had printed and bound copies of the plan. Sadly, no-one from Global Britain, Democracy Movement or People's Pledge could find the time to attend, where they would have seen presentations from Robert Oulds of the Bruges Group and myself.

Whether Global Britain is any better than Ukip is moot, but at a conference organised by the Bruges Group yesterday, Tim Aker told his audience: "We don't need detail - 'articles and options' - we need to just explain to people that the EU controls our borders".

This evoked a response from Conservative MP John Redwood, who said: "You're trying to split the eurosceptic movement by not getting behind our prime minister who's trying to stand up for our country", but then we already read yesterday from Dan Hannan that that voting "no" meant "voting for a Switzerland-style relationship with the EU", even if there is a train wreck in progress. 

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Hannan, though, is somewhat at odds with fellow Conservative MEP Campbell Bannerman, who wants renegotiation to produce a deal that allows us to control numbers arriving from the EU. He wants democracy to be returned to Britain by making the UK Parliament sovereign over EU law in a large number of key policy areas, and he wants an EEA-style agreement like Norway's, except within the EU - a sort of "associate membership" of the Brussels club.

On the other hand, Matthew Elliott and his Business for Britain wants a "two-tier Europe" and now says that, diehard eurosceptics may well have to fight a "no" campaign without his outfit. "If the Government gets a two-tier Europe, we're very much in", Elliott says.

That raises the interesting prospect of a putative leader of the "no" campaign changing sides just before the referendum, which should encourage those who want to align with him to form the "no" campaign umbrella group. 

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Then, "rather sweetly", writes Isabel Oakeshott, Tory MPs who have long been regarded as arch eurosceptics say they are awaiting the outcome of negotiations before getting their campaign together, a "wait and see" strategy that she thinks is "naïve".

On our recently reactivated sister blog, though, Peter warns of the other extreme, of over-selling the benefits of withdrawal, which is setting ourselves up for the fall.

But it doesn't need me to highlight the shambles in the eurosceptic camp. The opposition is already fully aware that we're all over the place – with no chance of any immediate improvement.

The three things, for our "three-legged stool", that we need to underpin the intellectual base of this campaign are the "vision statement", the reasons for leaving and the "exit plan". We are nowhere near establishing these, much less agreeing a common position.

At this early stage in the campaign, this might not seem that important, but the Norwegian No2EU campaign took five years to prepare for their 1994 referendum victory. Even though David Cameron has emphasised that he is in "no rush" to bring forward a referendum before the end of 2017, that still only gives us 30 months. We really do not time to mess about like this.



Richard North 02/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: Swiss "model" bites the dust

29/05/2015  

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As neat a demolition of the so-called Swiss "model" as you are going to get comes from Graham Avery over on the Europhile British Influence website.

Switzerland's bumpy ride with the EU began in 1992, when its people voted against the European Economic Area, Avery writes. Unlike other EFTA countries, it followed a "bilateral" path, negotiating a series of agreements with the EU, sector by sector, so that it obtained access to the European market by accepting the corresponding EU rules.

Under these agreements, much of EU law now applies to Switzerland. But unlike the EEA, says Avery (not altogether accurately) "which makes EU rules automatically applicable to Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein", the Swiss model requires fresh negotiations every time that EU policies change.

This situation, Avery claims, has proved frustrating for Swiss business, which has no certainty of access to the EU. But he is correct in saying that it has irritated the EU - to such an extent that last year the EU (including Britain) resolved to make no more agreements with Switzerland unless it accepts a "new institutional approach". This means that the Swiss model must become more like the EEA.

On top of this, Avery continues:
… came last year's referendum on "mass immigration" in which the Swiss people by a small majority (50.3%) instructed their government to impose quotas on workers from the EU. If that is implemented – as it must be by February 2017 – a crisis is inevitable. It contravenes the bilateral agreement on free movement of workers, and if that falls, the other agreements giving Switzerland access to European markets automatically fall.

Faced with this prospect, opinion in Switzerland is deeply divided. Some argue that the bilateral agreements must be preserved. Others say that the country should move forward and join the EU, or at least the EEA. Others are in favour of pulling back from the EU altogether. Signatures are being collected for a referendum to cancel the earlier referendum.

Meanwhile, the Swiss government is playing for time, with national elections due in October, and no compulsion to act until February 2017. Uncertainty about access to the EU is troubling for Swiss business, which fears an economic slowdown. Most commentators agree that relations with the EU have reached an impasse. "The whole relationship between Switzerland and the EU is now in complete uncertainty", says Professor René Schwok of Geneva University.
In response, it would not be right for me to say that I could write something very similar. I have already written something very similar – in Flexcit, posted well over a year ago.

Essentially, there is no merit in the so-called Swiss "model" as an alternative to UK membership of the EU. It was never really a conscious "model" as such - more of a ramshackle series of arrangements, cobbled together by the Swiss Government after the people rejected membership of the EEA in their 1992 referendum.

And now, with the rejection of the "free movement" provisions, EU-Swiss relations are in crisis, with a deadline for resolution in February 2017. And that timeline puts Switzerland in the frame during the run-up to our own referendum, when the stresses and failings of the model will be high profile.

Yet this failing "bilateral" model is precisely what is being championed by the likes of Daniel Hannan, and formed the basis of all six winning entries for the shambolic IEA "Brexit" competition, judged by the Lord Lawson who understood the concept about as well as he did once the ERM.

This leaves a huge hole in the "eurosceptic" armoury, where many of the campaigners still fail to understand the importance of having a credible exit plan, based on a sound alternative to EU membership.

The Europhiles of British Influence have so far have shown themselves not to be the sharpest knives in the draw, and if they can rip to shreds the Hannan-preferred model already, they will have a field day when the EU insists that Switzerland adopts something closer to the EEA – the very option that the Hannanites have turned their back on.

What we will find though is that, as the EEA option is further strengthened, the options set out in Flexcit will come into their own – which is hardly surprising as so many people have contributed to its development.

That at least is some comfort for, as one corner of the "eurosceptic" argument collapses, there will be a rock of stability that can hold the campaign together. British Influence will not find any easy pickings there. We will eat them alive.



Richard North 29/05/2015 link

Booker: united to keep us in the EU

24/05/2015  

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In this week's column, Booker picks up on CBI president Mike Rake, and this thoroughly disreputable bank, Barclays, the very firm of which Rake is deputy chairman. It is, is facing a record-breaking fine of £1.5 billion for its fiddling of exchange rates, yet Rake feels he is entitled to tell us how we should be governed.

Booker notes that the CBI and the BBC have been shamelessly in cahoots over their support for Britain's membership of the EU ever since the days when they were propagandising together for Britain to join the euro.

Almost daily they told us how, unless we joined the single currency, we were doomed. Foreign firms would pull out of Britain en masse. And of course they are both playing exactly the same game today, as David Cameron launches his campaign to negotiate for Britain a "new relationship" with the EU.

The one thing the Europhiles are absolutely desperate to keep out of the debate is the possibility that, even if we did leave the EU, we could continue trading with the single market just as we do now by remaining within the European Economic Area (as was superbly illustrated by the way Jim Naughtie impatiently tried to stop Owen Paterson making precisely this point yesterday morning).

The only argument we ever hear is that, if we left the EU, our trade with Europe would collapse: much as we shall hear from Mr Cameron when he returns from his "negotiations" with no more than a few little fig-leaves, to persuade us all to vote "yes" for staying in.

One considerable danger, however, is that the dressing-up of these "fig-leaves" will be so intense that a gullible media will fall for it, and present the Cameron deal as if it was something substantial, just like the treaty that he supposedly vetoed.

But the chief reason why this shabbily deceitful argument is being allowed to dominate the debate, says Booker, is the Eurosceptics' inability to unite in explaining that there is only one possible route whereby the EU can be made to give Britain that "new relationship" Mr Cameron talks of.

Certainly, the likes of Rake are making a big thing about us not having a "credible alternative future to EU membership", only to have Ruth Lea pop up with her utterly mad idea that the post-exit UK could rely on WTO rules, by which – she says - many countries, "including China, very successfully conduct much of their trade".

I wouldn't mind so much if this arrogant woman took the time out to keep herself informed but, as we pointed out, China has a substantial number of agreements with the EU, which transcend WTO rules and are vital for the conduct of trade. Not least is the raft of Mutual Recognition Agreements on conformity assessment, without which the flow of goods would be seriously hampered.

Fortunately – for the moment – many of the "inners" seem as ignorant as to the realities of international trade as is Ruth Lea, but if any of them had to wit to call her out, Mike Rake's claim about the absence of a "credible alternative future to EU membership" would certainly stand if all we had to rely on was this woman's dogma.

For us, though, this is a real problem, where our supposed allies are all over the place, doing – as Autonomous Mind asserts, more harm than good. Nevertheless, Booker wants Cameron to do the one thing he says he cannot agree to: by using Article 50 of the treaty to say that we wish to join Norway and others outside the EU, but still in the Single Market.

Booker also asserts that his bluff is finally being called, although that is not always the case. What we are getting is the likes of Prof Mark Taylor, of Warwick University Business School – who was on the Today programme yesterday, just before Owen Paterson. He told us: "We would be worse off outside the EU because we wouldn't have access to the Single Market".

This, bluntly, is an outright lie, but then Taylor probably feels he has to protect his income stream. In 2013, Warwick University took €7,462,052 in EU funding (and a share in a further €54,330,432-worth of projects, amounting to €8,030,622). Thus, in that one year (the latest figures available), their coffers were swollen by over €15 million from the EU.

However, money-grubbing euroids are only part of the problem. With Ruth Lea and many others who regard themselves as the Eurosceptic "aristocracy", strutting their stuff, we stand at risk of remaining firmly shackled to all the superstructure of this failing political project.

As we point out elsewhere, those who are serious about winning this referendum are having to fight on three fronts. We have to deal with the underhanded lies of the pro-EU camp and also the brain-capsizing ineptitude of the Ukip. But there is also the selfish, self-absorbed right-wing think tank "aristocracy" who are neither use nor ornament.

We can only win if the anti-EU movement ups its game and starts doing its homework. But there is also the danger of the campaign being hijacked by Westminster careerist campaigners who get paid either way. Against that, we will have our "credible alternative future to EU membership", but it is pointless doing all that work if it is lost in the noise created by our own side.



Richard North 24/05/2015 link

EU referendum: Guardian peddling lies

14/05/2015  

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The Guardian is peddling lies - transparent and unequivocal. Its narrative is one of disaster for the academic community. Even the possibility that we'll vote to leave the EU would be a disaster for British science. The EU, it says, directly pays for much UK research and innovation, the paper tells us, and if we leave the EU we lose all that money (which we put in, in the first place).

Not to be swayed by tiny details such as these, the paper asserts that: "Given our public sector funding difficulties, and the understandably low priority research has in the political arena, we simply cannot afford to lose out on such a successful and empowering pot of EU money".

"Scientists love evidence, and the evidence is clear", the paper then asserts - thereby ignoring the evidence to the contrary. "Bluntly, if the UK were to leave the EU, we would massively and irreversibly damage an enterprise on which our future depends", it claims.

And so the inference goes that, if we leave the EU, the EU research funds dry up. But this is a lie - and totally contrary to the evidence. There is no requirement for a country to be a member of the EU for it to be part of its research programme. For heaven's sake, even Israel is part of the programme.

Those of you who have read Flexcit, will have picked up details on the Seventh Framework Programme and EEA members. It tells you that more than 2,350 Icelandic and Norwegian participants, including many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), were involved. Icelandic researchers contributed to 217 projects, receiving funding of nearly €70 million. The Norwegians took part in more than 1,400 projects, receiving €712 million.

If the UK leaves the EU and rejoins the EEA, it can continue participation in the research programme (currently Horizon 2020) without interruption. Even without EEA membership, it can participate – as does Switzerland. The Guardian is telling lies, indulging in outrageous FUD.

But this calumny goes beyond the Guardian and extends to a campaign website called Scientists for EU, where these propagandists can spread their lies.

This brings me to the broader issue that this piece illustrates. Talking yesterday to a senior politician, he observed that the "out" campaign should already have a rapid rebuttal unit up and running, to deal with this sort of thing. To my mind, it is an indictment of Ukip, which should already be equipped to handle false claims.

Perhaps that's the sort of thing that Carswell's short money could handle, but for the fact that it would doubtless be wasted.

It is this sort of thing, though, that leads me to believe that we will lose the referendum. I don't see that we have any real chance of winning - for many different reasons, but all boiling down to the fact that the "eurosceptic" movement is too fragmented, has no coherent vision and – with particular relevance here - has left preparations too late. The Norway "no" campaign had five years to prepare for their 1994 victory.

I think the best (and only) thing we can achieve is damage limitation - doing what we can to avoid losing too badly. If the gap is narrow, then at least we can claim some legitimacy in continuing the fight.

There should also, in my view, be a secondary objective. We should use the campaign to build a standing, non-party-political organisation on the lines of the Norwegian "no" campaign, better to equip us to fight a "treaty lock" referendum should it come.

That would be our real opportunity to force EU withdrawal. In the interim, though, we need to claw back the anti-EU movement from Ukip, and to organise it on a non-partisan basis, ready and capable to deal with the sort of lies the Guardian is trotting out.

That, maybe, is for the future, but what is so disturbing is that a newspaper can so easily trot out lies, without feeling any need to check the veracity of what it is saying. And if this illustrates how the referendum campaign is going to go, we're in for a long, hard couple of years.



Richard North 14/05/2015 link

EU Referendum: a stronger hand than appears

11/05/2015  

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Boiling Frog
has revamped his site, and added a new post further discussing the possibility of a Wilsonian fudge following the Cameron negotiations.

This is precisely the sort of thinking and analysis that we need if we are going to prevail, as we know well that the odds are stacked against us if Mr Cameron comes back from Brussels bringing what he claims is a successful deal.

And we should be under no illusions that the newly returned Prime Minister is fighting to win, apparently having paved the way somewhat with his EU counterparts. And the insidious propaganda also continues, as from the likes of The Guardian in the piece linked, which cannot resist having a dig at the "Norway option".

Norway is held up as the alternative model [to the EU], it says, "standing outside the single market and its decision-making bodies, but forced to comply with the rules". Never mind that within the EEA, we are in the Single Market. The newspaper goes on to assert: "For one of the world's largest trading nations to go down this route would be bizarre. The UK needs to help set the terms of trade, even when the bargain is tough".

Thus is the straw man erected, a classic example of how the exit scenario is belittled and misrepresented. We are going to get a lot of this, and only by joining forces to present a common theme will we have enough power and reach to overcome the distortions.

Another handicap we're going to have to overcome are some of the "Tory right" MPs, who really do not seem to have their act together.

Enter John Redwood, who has conceded that "a treaty change was not on the cards" – even though it is – but then demands the repatriation of banking regulation, oversight of member states' annual budgets and the need to "regain control of our borders", the latter requiring the treaty that Redwood concedes is not on the cards.

Redwood and his supporters are, quite obviously, spoiling for the fight, but they are hardly focusing on what it takes to win it. There is no principled stand here, no grand vision and no plan - just squabbling over the detail.

That leaves Mr Cameron well-place to outflank the opposition, appointing George Osborne as his lead negotiator, planning on bringing back just enough concessions to make the renegotiations look plausible.

With Jean-Claude Juncker telling Mr Cameron, "I stand ready to work with you to strike a fair deal for the United Kingdom in the EU", the stage is set fair for a theatrical gesture that will easily neutralise Mr Redwood's concerns.

Sooner or later, though, he must declare his hand to the "colleagues", as indeed he is being called upon to do, and then it will be our turn to dissect what will be a thin case, lacking entirely in substance.  

And even then, we may het help from unexpected quarters. "There is a limit to how far we are willing to go — and we're on the UK side. We're not looking for treaty change", says a senior EU official. "But", he continues, "the reforms we back will be for Britain, not a favour to the leader of a party trying manage his rebels. He must be careful, he can't let emotion get the better of him and ask for too much because the continent is fed up".

Another thing we have going for us is that we seem to have a better grasp of Mr Cameron's range of tactics, than even the great Wolfgang Münchau, who labours under the impression that treaty change "can obviously not happen under Mr Cameron's timetable".

It is quite entertaining to discover how such ignorance pervades even the pro-EU camp, with Münchau failing to realise that the "simplified procedure" under Article 48 is an option.

The blind lead the blind on both sides, it seems – which is hardly a surprise to us. As the the usual suspects pontificate, their narrow perspectives and failure to grasp the issues fortify their ignorance, leading them to offer flawed conclusions.

By contrast, we have more and better cards in our hand than might at first appear, and the knowledge and skills to use them wisely.



Richard North 11/05/2015 link

Flexcit: the first edition

28/04/2015  

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The Guardian and others are parading a report from the German think tank Bertelsmann Stiftung which claims that leaving the EU could knock 14 percent, or £215 billion, off the UK economy. The report runs to a mere seven pages, and to describe it as "thin" would be a compliment, with no evidence of any serious working-out.

It is based on three scenarios, the "most favourable" having the UK receiving "a status similar to that of Switzerland or Norway". And even at that point, it falls apart. There is no direct equivalence between these two positions. Anyone who affords them the same status cannot be taken seriously.

But then, Bertelsmann presents the "second most favourable scenario". This is one where there is no trade agreement with the EU, resulting in higher non-tariff barriers as well as to tariffs between the UK and EU. That paves the way for the "least favourable scenario" (which it calls "isolation of the UK"), where we "lose all privileges arising from the EU's 38 existing trade agreements".

Although the think tank concedes that the UK can reach new trade agreements through independent negotiations, it argues that experience has shown this to be a lengthy process. Moreover, it adds, the UK's negotiating power would be less than that of the EU.

What this then does is open up a sordid little squabble between Matthew Elliott, he of Business for Britain, and Peter Wilding of British Influence. Elliott on the one hand argues that the report imagines a world "where every negative and false assumption held by those in favour of remaining in the EU at-all-costs is true, and then gives this absurd doomsday scenario a cost in terms of GDP".

Wilding, on the other hand, asserts that the Bertelsmann report is "another nail in the coffin for the Brexit vandals", claiming: "It is now obvious that leaving would be an act of national self-harm". He goes on to say: "If people want Britain to lose influence in the world, lose jobs at home and lose trade abroad then isolation is the answer".

This sterile spat, though, does nothing more than emphasise the absence of agreed exit plan, leaving the opposition free to invent whatever they want. Elliott, of course, is impotent. Having locked himself into the renegotiation meme, he is unable to offer anything sensible of his own – even if he was capable of producing it.

However, things are about to change. This week sees the completion of the first edition of Flexcit, now running to 411 pages and 20 chapters, including much of the recent work on this blog and Boiling Frog's studies on telecoms. Now we do have a plan.

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As before, the publication is online can be freely downloaded from the link in the preceding paragraph, or from the menu at the top – where it will remain accessible.

The plan itself has stabilised on six stages, opening with the "Norway option" and other facets, in what might be called the "EEA-plus" option. Stage two deals with immigration and asylum, three addresses the need to create a genuine European Single Market, four looks at new policies for an independent UK, five sets out the global trading policy and stage six pursues ideas for domestic reform.

This is far more advanced than anything so far on the table and, contrary to the naysayers, is intended to deliver an economically neutral withdrawal. It will not add cost, but nor in the short-term, will there be any significant savings. In the longer term, the potential benefits are huge, but the initial reason for leaving is not economic. We leave because we want no part of a political union with the rest of the EU Member States.

With the first edition now complete (barring corrections), we are having what amounts to a launch at a private seminar in London on Wednesday. We'll build on it from there, rolling it out to a wider circle before we will commit to a public launch – the timing of which will depend on whether we are to get a referendum in 2017.

In the interim, I'll be working with the Robert Oulds of the Bruges Group to get Flexcit published as a book, and we'll keep you appraised of progress. But never let it be said now that there isn't a comprehensive exit plan. There is.



Richard North 28/04/2015 link

Media: lacking the intellectual architecture

26/04/2015  

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In my previous post, I pointed out that journalists lacked the intellectual architecture to understand the EU, and thus report it properly. Right on cue, in the Daily Telegraph, we get a graphic example of this from Sarah Knapton, science editor, and Richard Orange.

They offer a bizarre story which claims that British organic farmers "are being forced to treat their livestock with homeopathic remedies under new European Commission rules branded 'scientifically illiterate' by vets", with the journalist duo telling us that: "The directive states that: 'it is a general requirement…for production of all organic livestock that (herbal) and homeopathic products… shall be used in preference to chemically-synthesised allopathic veterinary treatment or antibiotics'".

This is classic "Red Tape Folly" stuff, the like of which Booker and I used to be writing for the Telegraph and the Mail more twenty years ago – with the added proviso that we used to check the facts before committing ourselves to print.

Knapton and Orange, however, have got themselves into a little bit of difficulty with this story: the "directive" doesn't actually exist. They tell us that it came into force on 1 January 2015, but it didn't. It really does not exist. There reference to it is a complete invention.

As it stands, the production of organic food – including the treatment of livestock – is controlled by Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 of 28 June 2007, on organic production and labelling of organic products and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91.

This is pointed out on the Commission website, and even then the regulation does not state what the article claims it to say. What it does say is this:
[D]isease shall be treated immediately to avoid suffering to the animal; chemically synthesised allopathic veterinary medicinal products including antibiotics may be used where necessary and under strict conditions, when the use of phytotherapeutic, homeopathic and other products is inappropriate.
This, of course, is very far from requiring homeopathy. In fact, it permits the use of conventional therapy, something which many local rules do not.

To get anywhere near the quote used by the Telegraph, you have to go to the 1991 Regulations (repeated in the 1999 supplement). In the 1991 Regulation, 5.4, we see:
The use of veterinary medicinal products in organic farming shall comply with the following principles:

(a) Phytotherapeutic (e.g. plant extracts (excluding antibiotics), essences, etc.), homeopathic products (e.g. plant, animal or mineral substances) and trace elements and products listed in Part C, section 3 of Annex II, shall be used in preference to chemically-synthesised allopathic veterinary medicinal products or antibiotics, provided that their therapeutic effect is effective for the species of animal, and the condition for which the treatment is intended;

(b) If the use of the above products should not prove, or is unlikely to be, effective in combating illness or injury, and treatment is essential to avoid suffering or distress to the animal, chemically-synthesised allopathic veterinary medicinal products or antibiotics may be used under the responsibility of a veterinarian …
Once again, this does not force farmers to use homeopathic medicines. Merely, it lists (in Annex II) the products that should be used provided that their therapeutic effect is effective, and then goes on to say that, if they do not prove, or are unlikely to be, effective in combating illness or injury, conventional medicines may be used.

Only by taking the first part, out of context, can it be argued that there is any compulsion to use homeopathic medicines. And, if that was not bad enough, the 1991 regulations are no longer in force, having been replaced by the 2007 version.

With these Regulations, the 1999 supplement falls, to be replaced with Commission Regulation (EC) No 889/2008 of 5 September 2008 laying down detailed rules for the implementation of Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 on organic production and labelling of organic products with regard to organic production, labelling and control. The relevant part is Article 24 on "Veterinary treatment", which states:
1. Where despite preventive measures to ensure animal health as laid down in Article 14(1)(e)(i) of Regulation (EC) No 834/ 2007 animals become sick or injured they shall be treated immediately, if necessary in isolation and in suitable housing.

2. Phytotherapeutic, homoepathic products, trace elements and products listed in Annex V, part 3 and in Annex VI, part 1.1. shall be used in preference to chemically-synthesized allopathic veterinary treatment or antibiotics, provided that their therapeutic effect is effective for the species of animal, and the condition for which the treatment is intended.

3. If the use of measures referred to in paragraph 1 and 2 is not effective in combating illness or injury, and if treatment is essential to avoid suffering or distress of the animal, chemically synthesised allopathic veterinary medicinal products or antibiotics may be used under the responsibility of a veterinarian.
Seen in the context of national rules which often prohibit conventional treatment, the (intended) effect of this regulation is to permit treatment using normal veterinary medicines. Far from requiring homeopathic treatment, it actually provides the farmer with the legal justification for reverting to more effective treatment.

Of further interest here, on 24 March last year, the Commission issued COM(2014) 180 final, with Appendices, proposing a new regulation on organic production. Here, the relevant passage says:
disease shall be treated immediately to avoid suffering to the animal; chemically synthesised allopathic veterinary medicinal products including antibiotics may be used where necessary, under strict conditions and under the responsibility of a veterinarian, when the use of phytotherapeutic, homeopathic and other products is inappropriate.
While the progress of this is stalled, it does demonstrate that, not only does the EU not require organic farmers to use homeopathic treatment, it has no intention of so doing.

The question thus arises as to why two Telegraph journalists have got it so spectacularly wrong. A clue may lie in the Mail on Sunday which last week did a story about the application of the EU organic aquaculture regulations to Norway, a story run the previous day in Dagbladet and in the Norwegian edition of The Local.

The Norwegian story itself is flawed. Apart from the fact that Norway has conformed with EU standards since the 1991 Regulations, the paper is turning a permissory provision into a mandatory requirement. All the regulations do is allow specified homeopathic treatments to be tried, prior to conventional treatment.

This narrative in no way supports the Telegraph story, although it has been copied out by The Express and now in The Sun as well, in classic examples of media coprophagia.

The real explanation for the Telegraph's fiction most likely lies in the very simple premise is that it met the journalists' expectations of what an EU story should look like. It reinforced their prejudices and kept them within their comfort zone. In effect, they believed it because they wanted to, and then sold it to their gullible readers.

And therein lies the ultimate irony. Not a few readers have swallowed the story whole, without the slightest trace of scepticism. Thus says "paulw": "Just another example of the lunatic prescriptive dictates written for and imposed upon the people of the UK by the unelected Brussels mafia. The only way to have all the laws written by the people of this country and for the people of this country is to elect the people's party Ukip".

They believe what they want to believe, but when it comes to trying to understand how the world really works, they're out to lunch.



Richard North 26/04/2015 link

EU exit: a comfortable place to be

21/04/2015  

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For Eurosceptics, we are told, things look grim. To turn City and wider public opinion around, they will have to paint a much more attractive vision of what life outside the EU will look like and convince people that the road from here to there is a lot less terrifying than it appears at present.

Actually, we have been doing this for some time - except that newspapers such as the Telegraph aren't listening, and they wouldn't understand what they were told, even if they did pay attention. For instance, on the issue of the "Norway Option" and the loss of influence the UK would supposedly suffer, journalists generally are not even past first base. Most have totally bought into the "fax democracy" meme, or versions of it, without beginning to get to grips with the complexity of the issues.

As an indication of how far behind they are, we've been looking at this whole issue of influence over the formulation of new regulation, and what things will look like when we withdraw from the EU. And they look a lot less terrifying than appear to the ignorati

What is fascinating about this is the way the regulatory environment has changed from where it was when the EEC was first launched. The changes are huge, and work greatly to our advantage – in ways that the average journalist could not even begin to imagine.

At the heart of the changes is the United Nations Economic Commission, Europe (UNECE). It has been making the weather, developing a new "International Model" of regulation, working through its WP.6 Working Party on Regulatory Cooperation and Standardisation Policies. And this is having a startling impact.

WP.6 calls itself "a forum for dialogue among regulators and policy makers", where a wide range of issues is discussed, including technical regulations, standardisation, conformity assessment, metrology, market surveillance and risk management. 

It makes recommendations that promote regulatory policies to protect the health and safety of consumers and workers, and preserve our natural environment, without creating unnecessary barriers to trade and investment. And while their recommendations are non-binding, they are widely implemented in UNECE member states and beyond. 

But WP.6 has also done pioneering work on international legislation. Initially in relation to the telecoms industry, it has developed a new way of making regulation, based on this "International Model". It in turn relies on the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), and creates a framework for the practical implementation of technical harmonisation at a global level.

In so doing, it also draws from existing schemes for good regulatory practice (GRP), which is a development in its own right. Catalogued by the WTO, GRP sets out the formal mechanisms for implementing the Agreement on TBT. The organisations involved in constructing it include APEC, ASEAN, OECD, UNECE and the World Bank.

But tied into this, the WP.6 "International Model" provides a set of voluntary principles and procedures for application to sectors such as telecoms, for countries that wish to harmonise their technical regulations.

It is acknowledged that some international technical regulations exist, but they tend to be cumbersome and burdened with details. They have proven to be difficult to prepare and, as a consequence, can be difficult to amend once in place. Furthermore, detailed agreements between a large number of regulatory authorities are frequently difficult to obtain, and such regulations tend not to achieve full consensus.

Under the aegis of UNECE, therefore, interested countries are brought together to discuss and agree a regulatory framework comprising what are called "common regulatory objectives" (CROs).

These CROs are at the heart of the new system. They are easier to compile and it is easier to find consensus when agreement is sought. But, to give them teeth, they are linked to international standardising bodies, which provide a forum for all interested parties (including regulatory authorities), and have established a degree of trust at the international level.

On a procedural level, where there is a need for regulatory convergence, the "Model" does not start with existing national technical regulations. Instead, the parties work from basic principles, discussing and agreeing on which safety, environmental or other legitimate requirements should be met by a technical regulation.

The "agreed and concrete legitimate concerns" then become the common regulatory objective, following which countries agree on the existing international standards that could provide for technical implementation or, where necessary, the elaboration of new international standards. The degree to which there is reliance on international standards can be seen by the CRO on GSM.

Whenever a new or revised technical regulation is being prepared, regulators follow the principles found in the WTO/TBT Agreement. In this, the regulations have to be based on the relevant international standards.

As an example, a wide range of telecom standards have now been agreed, covering personal computers (PCs); PC peripherals, legacy Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) terminals; Bluetooth, Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN); Global Standard for Mobile Telecommunication (GSM); and International Mobile Telecommunications.

Further sectoral initiatives have been concluded on earth-moving machinery, equipment for explosive environments and pipeline safety. And there will be many more.

To an extent, though, there is nothing new about this system – it reverts to the original harmonising process used by the European Union, where directives were issued which set out the regulatory objectives, leaving the details of implementation to the Member States.

In this context, the process has moved up from the sub-regional EU to global level, co-ordinated by UNECE and other regional and world bodies. This is the new reality, where the EU is simply a bit player on a larger stage – but one on what all the players are equal, with the UK having the same power as all the other players.

The beauty is that this is achieved without even a hint of QMV, allowing the UK to sit at the top table and decide on the regulation which will continue to define the Single Market. Gradually, the EU is being eased out of the process of originating such legislation, making the outside world a very comfortable place to be.

In a million years time, there might be journalists capable of understanding this, but we would be unwise to rely on them. We're going to have to spread the news ourselves.



Richard North 21/04/2015 link
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