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 Immigration: Cameron's odiferous rat

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The is an interesting battle being played out over Cameron's speech, the nature of which is so subtle at a technical level that there is not a chance in a million that the media will understand what is going on.

Essentially, all the media want is the biff-bam personality politics, witness this piece from the Spectator's Isabel Harman. What she is after is a Eurosceptic rebellion, so that's what she's writing about – the only thing in which she is truly interested.

Peter Oborne, on the other hand, has been looking in depth at the speech. And he sees in it something "wise" and "thoughtful", selling a "Gaullist vision of a Europe of sovereign states collaborating in a common endeavour" - something which exists only in his imagination.

This vision, he writes, "involves compromise, endless attention to detail, and an ability to build alliances across Europe". On the basis of the speech, he believes Cameron "is capable of selling the Eurosceptic case to the rest of the EU and winning".

Thus does Osborne conclude that the Prime Minister is "a most formidable politician", one of only two things he gets right. The other non error is his assertion that the speech "gives us our first glimpse of how Mr Cameron will handle the European question if he wins the general election next May".

What Oborne hasn't realised – and what none of us are supposed to realise – is that Cameron has rigged the game again. And, if I'm right on this, we've all been played.

By way of background, we see the latest YouGov poll which tells us that an EU referendum poll held now would yield a majority of 45 percent in favour of staying in the EU, against 37 percent who would vote to leave.

If Mr Cameron carries out his renegotiations and delivers "significant reforms", such as "placing a limit on the number of immigrants allowed to enter Britain", the majority climbs to 58 percent and those who would leave drop to 25 percent.

But, if Mr Cameron fails to get these fabled "reforms", the situation reverses – a majority of 43 percent would vote to leave, while only 34 percent would want to leave. 

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There is no way that Mr Cameron cannot be aware of this dynamic – he must know he has to deliver the goods or, for him, it's game over. But, since he cannot deliver a wide-raging treaty change, the game must be rigged.

And that is where yesterday's speech takes us. What the Prime Minister has done is narrow down the "reform" spectrum to cover one subject, and one subject only – immigration. To be more specific, it has been narrowed down to freedom of movement.

Why that matters is simple. Under the new Lisbon Treaty protocols, treaty change has become a complex and time-consuming affair. It involves a treaty convention as well as an intergovernmental conference, taking four years door to door.

However, Article 48 – which deals with treaty change – also allows for a "simplified procedure". Potentially, this would allow the procedure to be completed on a rainy afternoon in Brussels, perhaps on the margins of a European Council. There is, though, a small condition. The changes permissible are confined to Part Three of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which, just as it happens, include freedom of movement. Against all the odds, therefore, Cameron could pull off a quickie treaty and come home in triumph, waving a piece of paper.

Another clue is that Cameron is relying on the Europhile Open Europe to prepare his narrative. This provides media cover for the idea that the "plan" will deliver a reduction in immigration – long enough to get past the election and the referendum campaign.

And, if these seems a tad cynical, the speech itself leads us to suspect there is more to Mr Cameron than meets the eye. In the early part, we read:
Those who argue that Norway or Switzerland offer a better model for Britain ignore one crucial fact: they have each had to sign up to the principle of freedom of movement in order to access the single market and both countries actually have far higher per capita immigration than the UK.
… which suggests that the Prime Minister knows full well that we can have access to the Single Market without being in the EU. But then we get this:
Those who say we would certainly be better off outside the EU only ever tell you part of the story. Of course we would survive, there is no doubt about that. But we would need to weigh in the balance the loss of our instant access to the single market, and our right to take the decisions that regulate it.
Here, Mr Cameron suggest that, if we left the EU, we would lose our "instant access" to the Single Market. As "instant” and ordinary access is probably a distinction without a difference, this suggests that we are being gamed.

Nevertheless, the point made in my earlier piece before we were so rudely interrupted still stands. If it is possible to exert some control over immigration while we are in the EU, then we could exert even greater control if we were in the EEA, and even more still once we have walked away from the ECHR.

Oborne, in the piece to which we referred earlier, praised Mr Cameron as a "formidable politician", and in playing us – if that is what we are seeing – he is certainly showing his mettle. But he may actually have overplayed his hand. Expectations can be managed, but not totally controlled, and in narrowing down the treaty scope, his new treaty may lack conviction and fail to produce the result he wants.

Our biggest problem here, though, is the media wanting to report personality politics, instead of dealing with the issues. Cameron could end up pulling a fast one, with most people remaining totally unaware of what is going on.

Richard North 29/11/2014

 Immigration: Cameron's "pull" shoots UKIP's fox

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Entering what he may feel is the last chance saloon, in his bid to stave off a defeat in any EU referendum (and salvage the general election), Mr Cameron has today delivered his much-trailed speech on immigration.

Earlier, it had been previewed in the Guardian and elsewhere, from which we learned that the Prime Minister intended to negotiate a cut to EU migration and "make welfare reform an absolute requirement in renegotiation".

This is to be a central part of his renegotiation package with the EU, aimed at removing the financial incentives that attract migrants to Britain – effectively weakening the "pull" factors that attract workers and their families from EU member states.

The plan is to remove in-work benefits for migrants until they have been in the UK for four years. Also, they will not get social housing until they have been here for the same period, and they will not get child benefits and tax credits for children living elsewhere in Europe, no matter how long they have paid taxes in the UK.

EU jobseekers will not be supported by UK taxpayers; and they will be removed if they are not in a job within six months.

Cameron says that, together with other measures, this will deliver the toughest system on welfare for EU migrants anywhere in Europe. It will, he says, return free movement to a more sensible basis – the position before a European Court judgement in 1991 when Member States had the right to expect workers to have a job offer before they arrived - and a return to rules put in place by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

The "other measures" will include the abolition of the system where EU migrants can bring family members from outside the EU without any restrictions. There will be tougher and longer re-entry bans for rough sleepers, beggars and fraudsters, and there will be stronger arrangements for deporting EU criminals and stopping them coming back.

Furthermore, there will be no access to labour market for nationals of new Member States joining the EU until their economies have converged more closely with current members.

The Prime Minister is to argue that these changes should apply to the whole of the EU, but should that not prove possible, he would negotiate them in a UK-only settlement. He will then reiterate his determination to secure "reform" and will make it clear that, "if the concerns of the British public fall on deaf ears", then "he rules nothing out".

"People", he will say, "want Government to have control over the numbers of people coming here and the circumstances in which they come, both from around the world and from within the European Union".

In recent years", he will add, "it has become clear that successive Governments have lacked control. People want grip. I get that…They don’t want limitless immigration and they don't want no immigration. They want controlled immigration. And they are right".

Setting out the framework, he will then say that Britain supports the principle of freedom of movement of workers and accepting that principle is a key to being part of the single market.

Thus, he says, we do not want to destroy that principle or turn it on its head. But freedom of movement has never been an unqualified right, and we now need to allow it to operate on a more sustainable basis in the light of the experience of recent years. His objective is "simple". He intends to make our immigration "system fairer and reduce the current exceptionally high level of migration from within the EU into the UK".

Looking at this in the round, some of this is already possible without treaty change, or even additional EU legislation. As we indicated earlier, these are measures that largely conform with the judgement on the Dano case, to the effect that freedom of movement is a "qualified and limited" right. For those specific issues, the renegotiation idea is a sham – we don't need it. With the necessary enforcement and administrative resources, the UK could probably go ahead straight away. 

However, for other issues - such as removal of rights to bring in family members from outside the EU, treaty change and withdrawal from the ECHR will be needed. On that basis, Cameron will not be able to achieve success in this area.

What was also expected but is missing from the speech is a call for the right to apply a "temporary emergency brake" on free movement of workers if a country is being overwhelmed by EU migrants. The Guardian suggests that this absence will "disappoint Eurosceptics" who have become doubtful that fiscal disincentives will be enough. It "will prompt the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, to argue that Britain will only regain control of its borders if it leaves the EU".

Fortunately, that "emergency brake" provision does exist within the EEA agreement, where there is a fallback position: Articles 112-3 are what comprise the "Safeguard Measures" which permit the parties unilaterally to take "appropriate measures" if serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectoral or regional nature arise and are liable to persist".

This puts EEA supporters in a powerful position. Mr Cameron is to argue that the measures he proposes are sufficient to control immigration within the EU. But more is available outside the EU, within the EEA. The improvement in the position effectively shoots the fox of the naysayers. And that is without ceding from the ECHR – which would be necessary to restrict rights of dependants and asylum seekers.

The total package applied to the EEA - plus the add-ons – would, however, shoot the Farage fox, provided certain other "pull" factors were dealt with – such as the use of private accommodation at cut rates made possible by the illegal overcrowding of rooms. There is no appetite for a total ban on immigration, and the totality of controls will be sufficient to satisfy most reasonable people that immigration can be brought under control. 

To a very great extent, therefore, Mr Cameron has given the "Norway option" a huge boost. Nobody can say that the EEA provisions are inadequate, while at the same time arguing that controls within the EU are sufficient. We have them over the proverbial barrel.

Richard North 28/11/2014

 EU politics: "honesty about migration"

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"Since he unwillingly left the government, the former environment secretary has made speeches and remarks that have generally been of high intellectual calibre", says Daniel Finkelstein in The Times. He then goes on to add: "I haven't always agreed with him (his most recent proposal on Europe I think utterly wrongheaded), but I have been impressed by their tone and internal consistency".

Faced with such compliments, one hates to be uncharitable about Mr Finkelstein, although we could have done without the "utterly wrongheaded" bit. The problem is, though, that although he may recognise the "high intellectual calibre" of Paterson's speech, he doesn't seem to have spent much time studying it.

To put Finkelstein in perspective, he is commenting on Time Montgomerie's interview of Owen Paterson, who opined that most Ukip voters want "robust and Conservative policies", which include "honesty about immigration". If we give them Conservative policies, Paterson says, we win them back.

In his own column, Finkelstein asserts that Ukip supporters want fewer immigrants and, in using the phrase, "honesty about immigration", Paterson appreciates that even outside the EU it will be hard to achieve what Ukip supporters are after. "If the United Kingdom wishes to take part in the single market", he adds, "it will, like Norway, have to accept free movement of labour in Europe".

"In other words", says Finkelstein, "a credible Conservative policy on immigration will be hard put to achieve what Ukip voters are after. And they will see that straight away. These are angry and disillusioned people who can tell the difference between 'honesty about immigration' and 'less immigration' straight away".

What we can see straight away, though, is that Finkelstein hasn't addressed the issues and, instead, is relying on the usual Europhile mantras. This is exactly what we get in this piece, where we get the same low drone, as the author chants: "Norway just has to accept all rules related to the free movement of goods, services, capital and people within the EU".

In a way, these people are misled by our use of the shorthand "Norway option", to mean that we take the EFTA/EEA route to preserving the Single Market outside EU membership. Their febrile minds assume we mean that the UK will be like Norway.

What we actually mean is that we adopt the EEA Agreement, using EFTA as a portal to do so, and that gives us the opportunity to remove ourselves from the EU treaties and rely on free movement provisions in the EEA agreement, which refer only to workers and self-employed.

This detail none of the naysayers even begin to address. Outside the EU treaty provisions, family reunification relies on the ECHR (Article 8), from which we would cede, thus being able to prevent relatives and dependents joining employed migrants. This, as we have also remarked – and as Paterson points out – also gives us greater control over asylum seekers.

In addition to this, Paterson refers to "push" and "pull" factors, which drive the mass movement of people. Again, this is something Finkelstein doesn't mention.

By coincidence, though, on the same day as the Peterson speech, we also get a report from Open Europe which deals with "pull" factors in relation to free movement of workers from EU member states.

This think tank makes proposals which would limit the payment of non-contributory in-work benefits to migrants, for a period of five years, relying on the recent ECJ ruling which reminds us that freedom of movement is "qualified and limited", and that discrimination on non-contributory benefits is permitted.

By eliminating such benefits, the UK would effectively remove what amounts to a migrant subsidy, making coming to the UK economically unattractive for many workers from EU member states.

Open Europe thinks this could be part of the "reform" agenda which allows the UK to stay within the EU while limiting migration flows. But such devices could just as easily pave the way for the UK to join EFTA and benefit from the Single Market, while reducing the impact of migrant flows.

And it is here that the battleground lies. Notably, while EU withdrawal has been high profile for the last few days, Ukip has absented itself from the debate. But that debate has to reconcile leaving the EU and staying within the Single Market, with retaining an element of freedom of movement.

Owen Paterson, in a speech of "high intellectual calibre", has confronted those issues delivering exactly that which is labelled on the tin, "honesty about migration".

Only the mouth-breathing tendency within Ukip would argue for the total cessation of immigration, which means that Paterson has squared the circle, offering a way of reducing immigration while protecting our trading arrangements with the EU.

That is something even (or especially) the Ukip leadership have not managed to do, opening the way to Ukip members to support the one party which is offering a referendum and has grown-up ideas on how to leave the EU. All Farage can offer - the man who has spent 20 years not producing an exit plan - is a shallow jibe about Paterson joining UKIP.

That leaves Finkelstein and Farage both cast adrift – each in their own ways totally incapable of understanding that which has been put before them, locked in their self-furnished blinkers – while the debate goes on without them.

Richard North 26/11/2014

 EU politics: the Europhiles fight back

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Exasperated by eurosceptic Tories and "that speech", pro-European Conservative MPs have finally decided to fight back with their own lobby group.

Former minister Damian Green and other prominent pro-Europeans have thus told the Financial Times that they are mobilising to dispel the popular view that the "vast majority of the Tory party are gagging to get out of Europe".

Mr Green claims that there are 60 MPs in the European Mainstream Group but the group is being relaunched to act as a "rebuttal mechanism" to colleagues such as Owen Paterson.

"The battle lines are increasingly clear", says Green. "We have been too polite over the years. We have obeyed instructions to not bang on about Europe and the result is people don't think we exist. There is a referendum coming and we have to make our case".

No one can argue that, from a Europhile perspective, something isn't needed, and a lot better than they're able to manage at the moment.

We saw, for instance, City AM retailing a comment on Paterson's speech from a CBI spokesperson who says: "Most CBI members believe the UK is best placed to create jobs and growth as part of a reformed European Union".

"While the EU isn't perfect", he says, "the UK does have influence as a full member and no other alternative offers to British firms what membership of the EU can. All other options leave us on the outside with little influence, following the same rules to be allowed to trade inside the EU, but with little say in what those rules are".

This is the classic Europhile drone, exactly that which elicited from Owen Paterson the response that they should read his speech, but that is something they can't afford to do.

Hence, we're getting exactly the same response from Nick Clegg who, with typical modesty, describes Paterson's plan as "idiotic", declaring: "Norway has to abide by all the rules, pay into the coffers, accept people crossing across the European Union and has absolutely no say on how the club is run at all".

One has to admire their consistency, if nothing else, as the ghastly Roland Rudd's British Influence adds his euro-worth with the now predictable comment that a "Norway solution" is a "false choice". Norway, it says, "has single market access but pays a quota into the EU budget, adopts all relevant EU legislation (but with no input in formulating it) and accepts EU immigration".

Laura Sandys MP, Chairwoman of the European Movement UK, delivers a variation on the theme, attacking the immigration issue, claiming: "The point with Norway is that they have to allow free movement of people as part of their 'licence' to access the EU's single market. Patterson offers a false options that excludes Britain from the top table while offering no break on immigration".

It would indeed help if these people actually read the speech. The point about the UK being in the EEA and not the EU, of course, is that "free movement" applies only to workers and the self-employed. And then, if we leave the ECHR (which is easier to do if we are out of the EU), we get to refuse entry to dependents and we can deport asylum seekers.

Policy Review takes to preaching, telling us that we "labour under the misconception that leaving the EU and following the Norway model is a cost-free option".

Yet, we are told, Norway pays in approximately €400 million per annum into the EU budget as a contribution to the EU's social programmes. That isn't actually true – the bulk of the money is actually managed by Norway and is not paid into the budget.

But actually, the sum is closer to €500 million, but whatever the figure, multiplied up to meet either GDP or population, we would pay a lot more than Norway. And this we know, so there really is no point here. But then we slot into the usual drone:
The Norwegians play very little part in formulating the EU’s regulations and directives, no Norwegian staff work in the European Commission, there is no Norwegian Commissioner, there are no Norwegian Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), Norway has no votes in the in the various Council formations, the Norwegian Prime Minister is not invited to the high level meetings of the EU’s political leaders. The country even has to pay the translation costs for the appropriate legislation to be transposed into domestic law.
But then, the UK has eight percent of the vote in the Council and 9.5 percent in the European Parliament, as against Norway which is its own master on organisations such as Codex – and many more – while we have one twenty-eight of one vote.

That leaves Open Europe - and no litany of pomposity is complete without them. Better though to turn to the Guardian which has the famous Rafael Behr tormented by the thought that, "anti-EU forces are battle ready". The fightback, he says, "must start now".

Perhaps Mr Behr should be talking to Mr Damian Green, and then perhaps they can get together to plan a new story about Norway, to replace the one that has been ripped to shreds by Owen Paterson.

Embedded in his concerns, though, was the recognition that Paterson was trying to "tug the Brexit argument away from lurid anti-immigration rhetoric and towards macroeconomics, trade and democracy". Behr thus quotes Paterson saying: "Even people who are broadly in favour of withdrawal are unlikely to commit to the process unless they are assured that all the angles have been covered".

Here, there is a glimmer of intelligence, with Behr noting that this view "reflects study of the Scottish independence referendum and the way Alex Salmond's campaign was harmed by the impression that his white paper setting out the viability of a new state was cobbled together on the back of an envelope".

However, alongside Your Freedom and Ours, we have given up waiting for "the People's Army" to do anything. It "has long ago abandoned any idea of fighting for Brexit".

The silence of the UKIP lambs is a welcome relief, but how much nicer it would be if it was matched by an equal period of silence from the Europhiles and their bleating about the Norway option.

As Witterings from Witney has found, they're silent when you want to hear from them and otherwise dismissive, so the least they could do is come up with some new arguments.

Perhaps, though, we should rely on Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, who said of Owen Paterson's suggestion of invoking Article 50, that is was "equivalent to handing in your resignation notice. It's not a negotiating tactic. It is a notice to quit".

At last, one of them has got the point. First we tell them we are quitting, and then we negotiate an exit settlement. And that is why Mr Paterson proposed it.

Richard North 26/11/2014

 Paterson speech: the fallout

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I went to bed last night dizzy with tiredness. The physical and emotional investment that goes into the preparation of material for a speech of the complexity offered by Owen Paterson yesterday is hard to imagine, and almost impossible to convey.

Hundreds of hours by "the team" went into that, all to come together on the day for a brief hour to feed the unknowing and ignorant media - not a single one amongst them with the capacity to understand what they were being told.

Sitting in my home office in Bradford, though, I'm not supposed to admit my part in this, except that I've effectively been outed by Dellers this morning, who makes the link so clear that only the blind - and the London hacks - could fail to make the connection.

Oddly enough though - as many have guessed - the main flow of information down to Westminster is via the blog - briefing in plain sight, so to speak. This is material which is freely available to anyone who wishes to avail themselves of it, kept available by the generosity of readers and sponsors. But such is the arrogance and ignorance of the media claque that they don't stoop to read such this material and hence have not recognised the source of much of the input.

The best way, therefore, to keep a secret from the media is to publish it on this blog. Then, even if they accidentally stumble on it, the idle hacks will never admit to having seen it, for fear of betraying a darker, shameful secret, that they have looked at EU Referendum, work - as Dellers kindly says - from "our greatest living expert on the subject".

Had they done so, of course, they would have known that much of the material that went into the speech came directly from blog posts such as this, picked up by the Paterson team in London. But then, even if the hacks didn't care to sully their precious little brains with such seditious material, they could have picked it up from Booker (who gets much of his material from the same source) - except in that sneery way of theirs, they don't read him either. They are far too grand to accept anything from his column - except when it suits them.

Thus, yesterday was an affirmation of the way the Westminster politico-media bubble works. It is not what is said to this ghastly, mocking crew. It is who says it that matters. And yesterday, they were being addressed by one of their own so, for a brief moment, they listened.

To their horror, though, they found they were being addressed by a grown-up, telling them things they had not heard of before, in such depth and quantity that they immediately went into crisis overload, recoiling in shock and horror at the sheer weight of facts that battered their poor little brains.

Each of them dealt with the crisis in their own ways, some by mockery - the action of children tittering at the back of the class because they didn't understand what teacher was telling them. Others struggled manfully with unfamiliar concepts and thus made their usual botch of reporting. Not one managed accurately to convey the depth and subtlety of the speech.

And then we have the naysayers. Not least, we had the dreadful Roland Rudd sounding off from his position of the most profound ignorance. He thus delivered to the BBC, where he has his own personal camp bed, exactly what they wanted to hear, smarming his way though Newsnight, followed by a Evan Davis interviewing Owen without the slightest interest in what he had to say.

That, then, is the next job - to tackle these malign naysayers - who have largely focused their attack on the "Norway option" - again without even beginning to understand what was being put to the audience and without having read the speech.

They, however, do recognise the threat. The moment it becomes clear to the British public that it is possible to be part of the Single Market, without having to be in the EU, it is game over for the Europhiles. And, for all the weakness of the media, that realisation came a little closer yesterday, which made it, on balance, a good day.

That day, for once, we set the agenda.

Richard North 25/11/2014

 Paterson speech: round-up

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Boiling Frog
does his own review of the speech. It makes an interesting contrast with Conservative Home. OP meanwhile is on Daily Politics, setting out his case. TBF is working on turning it into a YouTube clip, and the latest version of the speech is here, with the press release here.

ITV gets the point, reporting that Paterson is warning David Cameron he quit the EU immediately in order to give voters a "proper choice" between a trade partnership or joining the Euro. Britain would inevitably be dragged into the single currency "applying to leave the EU" would mean other nations would be "legally bound" to enter negotiations before a planned in/out referendum in 2017.

The former Environmental Secretary insisted Britain could leave the EU but still remain part of the Single Market, warning that the Eurozone had "already embarked upon a path that we can never follow". He said activating the two-year mechanism to leave the EU would leave British people with a clear choice ahead of the referendum.

This is something the Europhiles should take up. If they are that certain of the merits of the EU, then they should welcome an "all or nothing" referendum which gives them a chance of taking the UK into the euro. After two years of debate, the public should be well prepared to answer the question "in or out?", making this the most effective way of resolving the issue.

A Complete Bastard compliments UKIP for staying out of the debate and leaving it to the grown-ups, while Isabel Hardman asks in the Spectator whether Owen Paterson hoping to become leader of the "out" camp in the 2017 referendum.

And for once, it seems, TCB and The Telegraph are on the same page, with Paterson calling Conservative MPs who defect to the UK Independence Party are "stupid".

Carswell on Politics Today has already been sidelined by today's plan and now Paterson has dismissed the "glib Ukip solution" as "childish" – just leaving the EU - will not resolve the problem.

"We have to recognise that we are an open trading country and we do need to bring in skilled people. But it is always a question of balance. There are only two [MPs who have defected]. It would be very unwise if any others do go, most unwise".

Paterson then goes on to say: "What is clear is that if you defect you don’t get the referendum, so if you are very keen on a referendum as a Conservative party backbencher you are very stupid to go and defect".

The paper now is almost out on its own as it conveys Paterson's views on Britain withdrawing from the European Court of Human Rights. It would be easier to stop EU migrants coming to the UK, he says: "Much of the problematical immigration into this country stems not just from the EU but from the European Court of Human Rights".

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Lifting from the speech, we get to be told: "This is exacerbated by the rulings of judges in the court at Strasbourg and by our own UK courts implementing the Human Rights Act".

"Repeal of the HRA and adoption of a new Bill of Rights, breaking free from the ECHR, would also relieve us of migrant pressure, include such absurdities as not being able to deport illegal immigrants who come to Calais, because – according to our judges – France is not a 'safe' country for asylum seekers".

This, at least, is more accurate reporting than Breitbart is able to manage, this online news site suggesting that Mr Paterson "has called for Britain to leave the EU and negotiate a new free trade agreement with Europe". Negotiating a new free trade agreement is, of course, precisely what Mr Paterson hasn't recommended, leaving readers to puzzle out on their own why the "Norway option" has been chosen as the mechanism for leaving the EU.

Michael Deacon, parliamentary sketchwriter for the Telegraph doesn't do a much better job, attempting a lame parody over the importance to voters of invoking Article 50. Little do these hacks realise how openly they are parading their ignorance, not least Mr Montgomerie of Conservative Home who is writing of the "little known" Article 50.

Deacon is one of those who could have benefitted from reading Melanie Phillips. She suggests that Paterson is "principled, intelligent and brave". "There aren't many like that in mainstream politics", she adds. "Sacking him was as telling as it was stupid. His approach is key to the regeneration not just of conservatism but of Britain. Watch him therefore get attacked – or more lethally, just ignored".

Unlike the vacuous clever-dicks, Phillips is actually interested in the history that Paterson has to offer. "He makes the interesting point that the idea of a government of Europe was first conceived by Jean Monnet not as a response to Nazism but to the earlier slaughter of the First World War", she notes – the only person (so far) to go into print to make this point.

The Guardian, in the form of John Crace, however, manages to both attack Paterson and ignore him – or at least, the points he makes, relying on the oh, so funny mispronunciation of "Yurp" and some crass comments about badgers, thereby filling his column with emptiness.

In the real Guardian Paterson is allowed to say: "We can leave the political project and enter into a truly economic project with Europe via the European Free Trade Association and the EEA. We would still enjoy the trading benefits of the EU, without the huge cost of the political baggage".

"We need to pick a proven, off-the-shelf plan. However, our participation in the single market is fundamental to protecting the UK’s economic position. This brings us to the only realistic option, which is to stay within the EEA agreement". 

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"The EEA is tailor made for this purpose and can be adopted by joining Efta first. This becomes the 'Norway option'. We have already seen that Norway has more influence in international decision-making than we do as an EU member state. Using the EEA ensures full access to the single market and provides immediate cover for leaving the political arrangements of the EU".

"The changes would allow Britain to gain greater control of its borders because Britain would also leave the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR)". Paterson said: "Outside the EU and freed from the writ of the ECHR, 'freedom of movement' within the EEA could be limited to free movement of workers, without having to accept dependants and members of their extended families".

"This is exactly what David Cameron wants when he said last year that he thought free movement within the EU 'needed to be returned to the original concept, which was the freedom to be able to go and work in another country'. But, if we are to benefit from the single market, we must at least accept that provision".

And that's enough for today ... I'll pick up the theme again tomorrow.

Richard North 25/11/2014

 EU politics: how the EU silences our voice in the world

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Matt Ridley in The Times is writing about the Paterson speech, and of his making a surprising and telling point.

It is that many of the rules handed down to British businesses and consumers by Brussels have often (and increasingly) been in turn handed down to it by higher powers. This means, Paterson argues, that we would have more influence outside the EU than within it. We could rejoin some top tables.

One example is the set of rules about food safety: additives, labelling, pesticide residues and so on. The food rules that Britain has to implement under the EU’s single market are now made by an organisation that sounds like either a Vatican secret society or a Linnean name for a tapeworm: Codex Alimentarius. Boringly, it's actually a standard-setting commission, based in Rome.

Codex is a creature of the United Nations. Its rules are in theory voluntary but since the EU turns Codex's decisions into single-market law, and since the World Trade Organisation (WTO) judges disputes by Codex's rules, Britain in effect is lumped with what Codex decides. But it's Brussels that represents us on many of the key committees, so we have little chance to influence the rules in advance.

Codex has two sister organisations, which deal with animal and plant health. As environment secretary, Mr Paterson discovered on a visit to New Zealand just how powerless other countries perceive us to be.

There was a particular new rule about a sheep disease that the New Zealand government wanted to persuade one of these bodies to amend. It had got Australia on side, and planned to enlist Canada and America, but when asked by Mr Paterson if Britain - Europe's leading sheep producer - could help, the New Zealanders replied: no point, you’re just part of the EU. He felt stung by the implication of that remark.

In effect, if an organisation such as Codex changes its rules about food labels, Brussels is powerless to do anything other than follow suit. This goes much deeper than just a few veterinary and food issues. In 1994 the EU adopted the world trade system that required all signatories to adopt international standards in preference to their own.

Take another example. The rules followed by the banking industry when assessing asset risk are decided not by the EU but by a committee based in Switzerland. Then there's the Financial Stability Board, chaired by Mark Carney and based in Paris. It's a creature of the G20. It is supposed to set the standards for financial regulation worldwide.

Britain's car industry is vital to our economy. Yet the single market standards of the EU for motor manufacturing are derived from regulations produced by (take a deep breath) the World Forum for the Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations, hosted by the UNECE.

Ask yourself, says Ridley: is it likely that Britain, with its disproportionate interest in fish, car manufacturing, banking and sheep, will have seen these topics aired to our best advantage by some suave suit from Malta or Lithuania acting on behalf of the entire EU? Not a chance.

There's plenty of other intergovernmental bodies on which we are represented separately, and don't need to leave the EU to join. There's Nato, and the UN climate change framework, whose chief (Christiana Figueres) says she wants to use it to achieve "centralised transformation" of the world economy if she can get a world treaty.

So, to an increasing extent, the EU is just one of the spider's webs in which we are entangled - but it's often the only one that represents our interests.

At the weekend, Ridley adds, he looked up the latest review of the WTO's Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement and, sure enough, it lists lots of comments it has received from countries such as New Zealand, Malaysia, Japan, Switzerland, even Cuba. Not a single EU country is mentioned because of course our comments were relayed by the European Union.

In the past, "ministers had to travel to Brussels to make their case, and to keep an eye on new laws", Mr Paterson will say in his speech, "but with the advance of globalisation we now need to be represented in Geneva, Paris, Berne, Rome and elsewhere".

No wonder Eurosceptics say we have less international clout than Norway, which sits on all these committees. It plays a big role in the Codex Alimentarius, hosting a key committee about fish.

Very few of these international rule-setting bodies are based in Britain. If we left the EU, we would at least get to be like Switzerland - a place favoured by UN agencies to base themselves. There's jobs in polishing the shoes and limos of UN-crats.

This is good news for those Europhiles who sound so touchingly worried that they might lose the opportunities for racking up room-service bills while on business in Brussels. They can relax, and vote "out" in a referendum. The hotels in Switzerland are just as good.

And conversely, the intergovernmental world is not an entirely comforting point for Eurosceptics to make. If we left the EU, we would not find ourselves in some sunlit meadow where we could make up any rules we wanted, as Ukip likes to imply.

We would be still be just as subject to all these international standards and intrusions if we wanted to trade with other countries. And although we might get a bit more influence over rule-making in the areas that matter to us, we would still be regularly outvoted.

We are often told to fear leaving the EU because it would lead to "fax diplomacy": learning about new laws without having had a chance to comment on them first. But Brussels is also receiving such faxes. Leave the EU and we could be sending some of the faxes to Brussels ourselves. And perhaps even hosting a few of the fax machines.

More generally, the EU is increasingly a problem in the multilateral, intergovernmental world. The inexorable drift towards co-ordinated world government is indeed happening, but the European Union is looking more like an oxbow lake, rather than the stream. Let's get back in the main channel.

Richard North 24/11/2014

 EU exit: the Paterson speech

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The actual speech text is here, delivered at 11am this moning. It is reviewed in The Times, in the Telegraph, the BBC, the New Statesman and elsewhere (140 reports and counting).

The essence of speech is that, instead of pussy-footing around, Cameron should cut to the chase and commit to invoking Article 50 the moment a Conservative government takes office after the election. With an electoral mandate, there is no need for a referendum.

Negotiations on a exit settlement should then proceed, using the "Norway option" as the base, involving joining EFTA and adopting the EEA agreement. Additionally, the entire EU body of law should be repatriated, to ensure legislative continuity, allowing for selective repeal and amendment as appropriate and necessary.

The loss of influence in leaving the EU is more than made up for by the restoration of our standing in international organisations such as Codex, UNECE, OECD, and many others, where we would be negotiating in our own right, determining standards which, under WTO rules, the EU is obliged to adopt.

In this, there would be no "fax democracy" as such. We would be sending laws down to Brussels – not the other way around.

The issue of "freedom of movement" is dealt with by dropping out of the ECHR and the EU treaties, so that we would only be obliged to grant freedom to workers, and not their dependents unless we chose to do so – plus restoring the ability to deport illegal immigrants.

Also, there would be continued measures to address "push" and "pull" factors, making the UK unattractive for unskilled migrants seeking low-paid work

However, Paterson reminds us that it took 40 years to progress to this stage of integration and we are not going to resolve all the issues in one stage. For the longer term, therefore, he argues that we would need to progress from the EEA to ensure a genuine Europe-wide Single Market, working on a truly intergovernmental basis.

One possible alternative, he suggests, is to strengthen the regional UNECE, so that it can administer the Single Market as an economic project rather than a political construct. Using that body, we would be able to negotiating directly across the board, cutting out the EU as the middle man, and substantially enhance the transparency of the system.

With a more durable European solution in place, we would be better able to promote our economic interests and we would also be able to take a lead in revitalising international trade. Free from the EU, says Paterson, we would have real influence on shaping the global regulatory models where true power lies.

The UK would have a key role in building transparency with enormous benefits to tackling organised crime, such as human trafficking, addressing issues of migration constructively.

In conclusion, Paterson adds, the Eurozone has already embarked upon a path that we can never follow. We are simply recognising that reality. We must either be fully committed to "Le Projet" or we must build an entirely new relationship.

The British people must be allowed to make that decision. Article 50 is the best method of making this happen. By this means we would forge ahead and resume our rightful place as a global leader. With our own independent status, working closely with our many allies, we would massively increase our influence.

As Churchill said, "We have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe but not of it. We are linked but not comprised. We are interested and associated but not absorbed". He was right then and he is right now. Get this message across and the UK has a spectacular future as a flourishing world power.

Richard North 24/11/2014

 EU politics: the lies of Mr Maier

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When confronting our so-called "captains of industry" speaking about the merits or otherwise of the European Union, we have to deal with the possibility that many of them are either rather ignorant, or they think we are and are lying through their teeth to us.

We got this with Stephen Odell, CEO of Ford Europe. In July last year, he was bitching about EU regulation, apparently oblivious to the fact that most of the regulation affecting his sector came not from the EU but from the World Forum on Vehicle Harmonisation, hosted by UNECE.

Nevertheless, the Europhiles and the EU-supporting media keep trotting out such people, but whether it is Open Europe, the CER or the CBI, it is always a similar message based on the same profound misrepresentation of reality.

This time, though, it is the Telegraph, giving space to Juergen Maier, chief executive of Siemens UK and advisory board member of Business for New Europe. It is he, representing a company not known for its probity - a company that had to hire a firm of lawyers to investigate its own the web of corruption - who is stepping up to the plate with the usual diet of tosh, half-truths and downright lies.

As always with these people, he fails to make the distinction between EU and EEA membership, thus asserting that there is "a pretty wide consensus in business … such as the belief that the EU delivers very significant value to the UK economy".

This, however, is just one building block in what is quite evidently developing into a political argument, for Mr Maier goes on to concede that this EU "does not work as well as it could and needs to be reformed".

Then, with a degree of understatement normally reserved for the British, he introduced a note of pretend balance, telling us that, "there is some disagreement over how that reform is to be achieved, with one school of thought advocating a referendum".

That referendum, he says, "may or may not happen, at a date yet to be decided upon, with a choice between two unknown options". And this, the poor darling bleats, "is profoundly worrying for business leaders".

The "worried" Mr Maier then sits back and observes that the EU "will certainly change over the next few years", and then complains that "we have not been provided with any details at all about what our relationship with our largest market would be in the event of an 'out' vote".

The thing is, a company the size of Siemens, with its huge resources – a £3.6bn turnover and 14,000 employees in the UK – could very easily make some informed guesses. But that isn't Mr Maier's game. He wants to bitch about "uncertainty".

As we blink back the tears over the plight of this poor man, we are assailed by concern for his beleaguered "business persons". These poor people need "... to know what conditions they will have to operate in". As if this was the unique prerogative of these precious persons, he then tells us, "Businesses need clarity". 

For all that, Mr Maier offers a little bit of sense – in a limited way. "The benefits of remaining in the EU are often overlooked", he says. "Take regulation. We all know that new regulations and directives coming from Brussels cause squeals of anguish from some corners in the UK".

"But", he continues, "the fact is that EU regulation almost always involves replacing 28 national sets of standards with one, Continent-wide standard. This means British exporters only have to comply with one set of rules – hardly an example of suffocating red tape. This is a boon to business, not a burden".

As we absorb this, and ponder the sense in it, we wonder if Mr Maier is being deliberately obtuse.  I sometime wonder whether being thick is a necessary qualification for being a "captain of industry". 

This is a man who is happy to argue about the advantages of selling to a market of 500m consumers "without worrying about complying with 28 different reels of red tape". Yet Siemens is a global company selling to over a hundred countries. What is good for 28 countries, therefore, has to be better for four times as many countries. Companies such as Siemens don't just need to satisfy Europe. They need global standards.

No more so is this necessary than in the car industry and, sure enough, Mr Maier tells us to: "Take the car industry". Well, let's take the car industry. "There are 2,350 businesses in our automotive supply chain", says Maier. These are dependent for their prosperity on foreign-owned car manufacturers, half of whose exports go to the EU.

At Siemens, Mr Maier's wonks have calculated that 25,000 jobs in the supply chain are dependant on UK operations, many of which are in small or medium-sized British businesses that often export to the EU through this company.

But what this deceitful little man does not tell us is that the regulatory system depends on Directive 2007/45/EC, EU law on the face of it, but only on the face of it. This Directive actually "establishes a framework for the approval of motor vehicles and their trailers, and of systems, components and separate technical units intended for such vehicles". Leaping then to Recital 11, we see:
Consequently, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Regulations to which the Community accedes, in application of that Decision, and amendments to UNECE Regulations to which the Community has already acceded should be incorporated within the Community type-approval procedure either as requirements for EC vehicle type-approval, or as alternatives to existing Community law. In particular, where the Community decides, by means of a Council decision, that a UNECE regulation shall become part of the EC vehicle type approval procedure and replace existing Community law the Commission should be empowered to make the necessary adaptations to this Directive.
What this little gem tells us is that the regulator of record is UNECE, not the EU. Mr Maier's car industry needs global regulation and, within the limitations of that system, is getting it. And Norway is part of the body that makes the law. When it has helped decide what the standards are, they are faxed (or e-mailed) to Brussels, for processing under 2007/45/EC. 

"It is perturbing that those who claim that Britain would be better off out have not put forward a detailed alternative for what 'out' means", Maier now says. We have, of course, but the likes of Maier don't trouble themselves with detail, or look round them to see what is on offer. They prefer their lies.

"The average Norwegian pays more than half of what the average Briton pays for access to the Single Market, and is ruled by a 'fax democracy' where the government must implement regulations it had no say in", this liar says.

The average Norwegian doesn't pay that money for access to the Single Market. Not even an above average Norwegian pays that. Norwegians do pay €1.8 billion for Norway/EEA grants but these are not membership fees. They are voluntary contributions. Nor are the programme contributions part of the membership fees.

Reviewing the actual EFTA budget, the sum attributed to "EEA related activities" is €8,145,000. That is the membership contribution, out of the €22,369,000 total EFTA budget, of which Norway pays just over half (55.35 percent). In effect. Noway pays about €5 million a year for single market access.

However, after clogging us with his lies, Maier insists that "businesses can only make an informed choice if they are presented with a vision of what Britain would look like outside the EU". "This worrying lack of clarity from Eurosceptics", he adds, "combined with a growing realisation about the risks of leaving, means that I believe the voices of businesses large and small shall begin to be heard".

Then says the man, "the majority of them will be singing the same tune – that Britain will be better off staying in the EU and leading the Continent in carrying out the reforms that business needs to see".

But this is a total non-sequitur. Mr Maier is getting his pound of [regulatory] flesh. Businesses have nothing to fear from leaving the EU. The "lack of clarity" is largely self-induced, brought on by obfuscation and mendacity by a man who should know better.

We should also get better from the likes of the Telegraph as well though, but we are not going to get anything from that quarter, any more than we are from Mr Siemens.

And this is where we have our own political point to make. To deal with the lying likes of Siemens, we need some serious heavy lifting, the sort of that the UKIP millions and its media access can give.

Instead of serious effort, though, we're getting this sort of garbage, while the party is preening itself over the result to come in Rochester and Strood.

Yet the battle to come is not going to be fought in high-profile by-elections but in a referendum. There, unless we defeat it in detail, the "lack of clarity" that the likes of the lying Mr Maier are so keen to disseminate will exert a powerful effect and we will lose the fight.


Richard North 17/11/2014

 Brexit: saving us from new ideas

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The tiresome thing about the burgeoning "debate" on EU exit strategies is that, on both sides of the divide, that debate doesn't even exist. The different parties are on transmit mode only. There is no exchange of ideas, no development and, most of all, no thinking.

Thus, we have Hannan still prattling on about Switzerland, as if its government was not in the midst of a constitutional crisis, following the 9 February referendum on immigration. And on the other hand, we have the luvvies in the Guardian, dribbling out their same dreary litanies.

"Norway is not a member of the EU but is a member of the European Economic Area, which means it is part of the European single market", says Larry Elliott. "But access comes at a price: Norway has to accept EU laws and regulations without having a say in how they are made", he adds.

Then there is that little matter of the end of the world that was supposed to happen on 1 November, that TBF forgot about, the classic displacement activity of a certain kind of "eurosceptic" - anything but address the grinding work of a serious exit plan.

Meanwhile, the Flexcit YouTube has done 1,700 views. That's a healthy number of people who have taken part in a virtual debate. Whether they agree with them or not, our viewers have voluntarily looked at some different ideas – which is more than our other protagonists are doing.

That is the only future for the debate – where it must happen if it is to survive. The rest is sterility, born of an overweening arrogance of people who believe that one set of ideas can last a lifetime, with no need to develop and adapt to a complex and changing situation.

Thank goodness we have men such as these. Without them, we might actually have to confront new ideas, new solutions and actually make progress. And that would never do.


Richard North 05/11/2014

 Immigration: getting the diagnosis wrong

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It's almost comedic the way the hacks are trailing in our wake, this time Fraser Nelson who comes to the startling conclusion that leaving the EU wouldn't solve our immigration problem.

"The complex truth", he tells us, "is that the mass movement of workers affects every nation, which is why even non-EU countries like Switzerland and Norway have greater immigration levels than Britain. The United States controls its own borders (in theory) yet illegal workers remain a huge political issue. Immigration will always be a problem for any rich country – the more important question is how you handle it".

As recently as here, we were writing in precisely the same terms, but also arguing here, on 9 October, that leaving the EU, per se, would not solve our immigration problems.

The same point was raised by the "formidably briefed" Owen Paterson at the beginning of the month, and the end of last month, but we were also arguing the same point at the beginning of September. Our seminal piece, though, was in May of this year, when we argued for a "global solution" to immigration.

But now, months after the event, Mr Nelson comes waddling into the debate but, if he is behind the curve, his readers are more so as three thousand comments spiked with Ukipite vitriol take him to task for even suggesting that the UKIP mantra of leaving the EU is not the answer to all our ills.

This is not helped by The Dear Leader who gets it spectacularly wrong in declaring: "We should say to people who come into Dover from Calais and who claim refugee status, 'I'm sorry, you've applied at the wrong country, you've got to go back to France'. And that is what we should be doing".

This is typical of the ignorance of Mr Farage, and the inadequacies of those around him. All of them fail to realise that the reason we don't and can't and therefore don't send these asylum seekers back to France is nothing to do with the EU. It has everything to do with our own judges and the Human Rights Act.

The blockage stems from a case in 1999 when the Court of Appeal, headed by Master of the Rolls, Lord Woolf, found that France and Germany were not "safe places" to send refugees facing persecution "from forces other than the state", whence we could no longer return asylum seekers to either country. The then home secretary, Jack Straw, the Guardian reported, had acted unlawfully in ordering three asylum seekers to be returned to France and Germany. 

With some prescience, the Independent reported that Britain would have to accept thousands more asylum seekers. Hitherto, the government had relied on the Dublin Convention, that required that migrants applying for asylum within the European Union should have their application heard in the first member state in which they set foot. Now this had been set aside.

The ruling was described as "very important" by Anne Owers, director of the human rights organisation, Justice. She said the Government would have to review its Immigration and Asylum Bill which was based on the assumption that other EU states were safe destinations for asylum seekers, even though those states had harsher interpretations of the United Nations convention on refugees.

Straw did not leave it there. He took the case to the House of Lords, but the ruling was confirmed in the year 2000, just before Christmas, when barely anyone noticed. Nevertheless, the judgement is available online for those with wit enough to look it up – which evidently doesn't include Mr Farage's current advisers.

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With this, and other cases, the so-called "Dublin system" is creaking at the seams. To Germany and France, together with Austria, Greece has been added to the UK list of "no return" countries, while the EU has consistently failed to develop a coherent asylum policy.

For all that, asylum seekers are a very small component of our overall immigration burden, but the problem for policy-makers is that they grab disproportionate headlines, providing a living illustration of immigration out of control - a proxy for all the other immigration issues. And, with the Lords ruling have dropped out of the popular memory, the likes of Farage are milking the issue as part of the anti-EU campaign, adding to the government's discomfort.

The point though, is that this is not an EU issue. Whether we were in the EU or not, there would still be asylum-seekers queuing up at Calais trying to get to the UK, and we would still be dealing with the same legal constraints.

After all, the UK has not signed up to the Return Directive, so this law does not apply, and we are thus bound by ECHR judgements and the UN Refugee Convention. In so doing, we are dealing with the principle of non-refoulement which, outside the framework of the conventions, has become customary law.

As with so much to do with immigration, therefore, we have to look beyond the simplistic mantras, and explore the complexities that are clearly outside the grasp of the more virulent Ukipites. Aside from the few reasoned voices, their only contribution is to poison the debate, polluting the comment threads with their ill-tempered diatribes.

But, as the lumbering Nelson observes, Mr Cameron is also playing it wrong. In particular, we would aver, he is also failing to point out the source of our problems. But then Mr Cameron is compromised by his failure to address the ECHR and related issues, leaving him open to attack from the likes of Farage, who have never hesitated to disseminate their own brand of ignorance.

To a very great extent, therefore, Mr Cameron is the author of his own misfortune. He needs to up his game, even more than Farage. Ideally, they would both catch up, along with the Fraser Nelsons of this world, and then maybe we could have an informed debate that would actually get us somewhere.


Richard North 31/10/2014

 Immigration: they catch up … eventually

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If EU migration is the problem, Switzerland and Norway are not the answer Since both Switzerland and Norway accept far more immigrants per capita than the UK, why do so many people look to them as the answer to Britain's immigration worries?

So writes the great sage Mats Perrson of the Europhile Open Europe, once again trailing behind this blog. We did it on 28 September and several times thereafter, including here.

These people are so far up their own fundamentals, they have no idea what is happening in the world around them.


Richard North 28/10/2014

 Flexcit: the Dawlish experience

Peter Troy, the Publicist Ltd, together with Anthony Scholefield and the Campaign for an Independent Britain (CIB) have funded the production of a film of the Dawlish Flexcit talk. Collectively, they have managed the impossible, turning a sow's ear into a silk purse. This makes the production surprisingly watchable, and extremely informative.

We hope that this film will have a long shelf-life, and it's very useful for me, in helping me tighten and refine my own presentation. In due course, I hope we can train a number of people up to give this presentation, so that we can increase the rate at which we expose people to the message. 

As part of The Harrogate Agenda programme, though, we are happy to offer this presentation to anyone who is prepared to host it - replicating the successful Rotherham workshop, organised last week by John Wilkinson, where a version of this talk was delivered.

Meanwhile, we see from the Telegraph that Iain Martin has written this:
Those of us who are moderate sceptics, who could be persuaded to vote for out in a referendum for an optimistic and outward-looking alternative, want answers, not shouting. Say this to many Ukippers and they will instantly start shouting at you about treason. It as though they are incapable of grasping that to win a referendum they are going to have to calmly persuade their fellow citizens of all races, creeds and convictions.
This is what Flexcit is all about, and if he was not so ignorant, and close-minded, Martin would already be familiar with it. But, like so many journalists, Martin is driven by "prestige", so he will wait for endorsement by one of the great and the good before he deigns to recognise its existence - and then will only report a fraction of what he is told.

For myself, I am quite happy to stay under the media radar. There are few journalists who have the wit and patience to understand what we are saying, and even a 31-minute video is beyond the attention span of most of them. And, at this stage, we can do without the sort of half-baked misrepresentation that the media will offer.  

Hence, the strategy – and it is quite a deliberate strategy – is to stay under the radar, building our own constituency of knowledgeable people, before we break into the popular consciousness. In other words, we want to build on firm foundations and are not interested in the quick hit, only then to be forgotten. 

For those who want more detail, there is then the Flexcit book online. When that is finished, it will be published in hard copy, and then we will produce shortened versions in pamphlet (and even leaflet) form. We also hope to make a video, along the lines of the Norway Option - a video which is still a good primer.

In this, as you will see, we are playing the long game. If a referendum comes in 2017, we will be ready, even though we would prefer longer. Thus, unlike 1975, we will be able to go into a campaign with a fully-researched exit plan, one that is being field tested and can provide most of the answers.

And that is why I am confident that we have a winning strategy in the making.


Richard North 23/10/2014

 Flexcit: the immigration dimension

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I promised yesterday to look at the immigration issue further, specifically taking in discussions in London, with parties who must remain unnamed.

The essence of what we were told reflected a widespread view that the "Norway Option", with EFTA/EEA membership, was not a viable proposition because it still required the UK to adopt the EU's freedom of movement provisions. Since immigration would be the main issue in the referendum, this would have to be addressed, with the WTO option preferred, without seeking a free trade agreement.

Our counter was that The Norway Option was only a temporary expedient, and that the longer-term settlement would seek to decouple trade and freedom of movement, reverting to controlled access of workers, admitting only those necessary to meet UK economic and social needs, and our remaining international obligations.

We also argued that leaving the EU, per se, would not solve our immigration problems. On the one hand, the bulk of our immigration was not mandated by the EU. It relies on the ECHR and, to an extent, the UN convention on refugees and other international agreements.

Further, we argued that simply blocking immigration would result in an increase in illegal immigration. Irrespective of EU membership, it was necessary to deal with the "push" and "pull" factors which drive migration.

To that extent, I averred, migration itself was not the problem – it was the symptom of multifarious (and very different) problems. Thus, to deal with migration, the specific problems had to be identified and picked apart. No one solution would work, so it was a question of chipping away at the edges, with different policy and enforcement strategies, the cumulative effects bringing down overall migration.

This, I then argued, would impact on migration from EU member states, even to the extent that we could do much more already to trim numbers, some of which measures Mr Cameron had already introduced, specifically in terms of benefit payments.

In this context, the influx of Polish workers was raised, whence I pointed out that many of the "pull" factors had economic implications which added to the draw, but which verged on criminality and could be addressed by existing law and more rigorous enforcement.

Specifically, I noted the tendency in some areas to accommodate incoming workers in poor housing, in breach of statutory density limits, the overcrowding enabling lower (although extortionate, relative to what was offered) rents to be changed.

Here, I argued, if statutory limits were applied, rental costs would increase substantially for the migrants, reducing the economic gain from their employment in the UK. This would have the effect of reducing the longer-term "pull" from low-wage countries.

This is but one example. Of many other issues, one is the failure of police to enforce re-registration of foreign-registered cars after they have been here for one stay of six months, or several shorter visits in any one 12 month period. For the some of the immigrant community, vehicle tax and insurance has become optional and often unpaid, again reducing costs and increasing the draw.

I pointed to many more examples of how enforcement failures gave immigrants the edge, but I have to say that much of this was disputed, ending with a somewhat obdurate insistence that returning control of our borders (a wholly misleading phrase) was the only way forward.

It is this extremely helpful now to have a piece in the Guardian which illustrates some of the malpractice going on, confirming exactly some of the points I have made – even if the same conclusions have not been drawn.

Re-inventing the wheel is hardly necessary, so I won't summarise the article here, but it is worth reading it. Tackle some of those issues, and you will have an effect on the locality where they were reported – Wisbech. In other areas, different strategies, or combinations, are required.

This, of course, does not gainsay the argument that leaving the EU and then, eventually, quitting the EEA and renegotiating a new free movement deal would not be advantageous. But it does re-affirm that, just because we are in the EU, does not mean that we are totally at the mercy of immigration from member states. There are things we could be doing, and these should be done.

Pretending we can do nothing is almost as bad as pretending that leaving the EU is the answer to all our problems.

UPDATE: News just in - tax loophole on foreign-registered cars to be closed. The scale is huge - we're talking about 100,000 cars, costing the revenue £20 million a year. What took them so long?


Richard North 09/10/2014

 Flexcit: putting the record straight

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On 18 October, we're holding another of our Harrogate Agenda workshops, this one in Rotherham at the Best Western Consort Hotel (pictured), just off the M1/M18.

Assembling at 10, we're testing a new format, with Neill Warry looking at the 1975 referendum and the lessons we can learn from it. Then we show the Norway Option video and, after a break for lunch, we go into a repeat of the successful "Flexcit" talk I gave in Dawlish, finishing off with an exploration of the Harrogate Agenda, and how it fits into the Flexcit scenario.

The format works with any number from about 10-30 people, although we prefer the higher number to cover costs. You can get more details by e-mailing Niall Warry (click on the link), and we look forward to seeing some of you there.

What makes this workshop, and the many more to follow, so urgent and important, is the likes of this from Andrew Lilico in the Telegraph, where he has it that David Cameron is promising to withdraw Britain from the European Union.

This, of course, is nonsense – and obviously so. But then this is precisely the sort of nonsense one might expect from the chairman of the IEA "Shadow Monetary Policy Committee". Anyone associated with the IEA is not going to be altogether when it comes to the EU.

Lilico is misinterpreting (or over-interpreting) a statement by Mr Cameron in his conference speech, when he pledged to put migration at the very heart of his renegotiation strategy for Europe. He would, he said, go to Brussels, and would not take no for an answer when it comes to free movement.

Actually, all Mr Cameron has in mind was a codicil to any forthcoming accession treaty, limiting the movement of workers from any new joiner, until GDPs come within certain limits and the wealthier UK is less of a draw.

This does not even require any EU treaty negotiations. It can be built-in to the accession treaty whenever one comes up – and none are planned for at least five years. The UK could have done this with Bulgaria and Romania, for it had (and has) a veto and can block any treaties not to its liking.

But, despite that, Lilico spirals off into a soliloquy about the free movement of people within the European Union, arguing that "there is no doubt that Britain would not be in the European Union if free movement were abandoned and hence EU citizenship withdrawn for UK citizens".

In a convoluted piece of logic, Lilico then argues that, because of the link between free movement of goods and free movement of persons, restricting free movement of persons would, in substance, be withdrawing from the Single Market and hence in substance withdrawing from the EU.

The substantive question is unambiguous, he says. The only thing left to consider is the semantic question – whether withdrawing from free movement would be called "withdrawing from the EU" or not. Since the EU is the zone of EU citizenship and EU citizenship means free movement, the answer must be "Yes – the UK would not be in the EU", he says, though we might perhaps still be in some other form of "Europe".

What then particularly concerns us is that Lilico posits that many schemes for "withdrawing from the European Union" involve continuing to participate in some other form of "Europe" – e.g., the "Norway option" of continuing to be in the European Economic Area.

With regard to the "in-out" referendum, we then get the argument that "out" hasn't normally meant "no Europe", merely "exiting the European Union". But exiting the European Union is precisely what any form of restriction on the free movement of persons entails, by definition.

If I now understand Lilico correctly, he is telling us that restricted free movement of persons cannot be called "Being in the European Union", even if we then remain in the EU, and Cameron's promise to restrict the free movement of persons decides that point unambiguously. It's an ambiguous form of unambiguity, but I think he means in "Europe" but not in the EU - or the other way around. I'm not quite sure.

On the other hand, by inference, I think we are supposed to take it that, even if we leave the EU, via the Norway option, thus continuing with free movement of persons, we only getting out of the EU but remaining in "Europe", while Mr Cameron will take us out of "Europe", even if we remain in the EU.  

It is this sort of confused thinking that we need to sort out, and that's why we're holding the Rotherham meeting and many more like it. Not least we need to lodge, face-to-face with a substantial constituency in the anti-EU movement, the full nature of the Flexcit plan, something which Mr Lilico clearly hasn't grasped.

In particular, we need to fix in the public mind that Flexcit is not the "Norway option". EFTA/EEA membership is simply an interim measure, enabling us to leave the EU. Only then do we start the real negotiations, with a view to building a genuine European single market, decoupled from the freedom of movement baggage. We aim to leave the EU and then create a new "Europe" as a community of equals.

On this, we found from the Dawlish experience that even people who had read Flexcit online had not fully appreciated its depth and subtlety. But after the meeting, they had something Lilico will never have – an understanding of the plan. 


Richard North 07/10/2014

 EU politics: the nine-point wonder

A joint post with Autonomous Mind 

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"Eurosceptics, say half-clever columnists, are 'unappeasable'. Bien pensant opinion holds that any concession made to critics of the Euro-racket serves only to excite further unreasonable demands. It doesn't matter what HMG brings back from the talks, we're told: Eurosceptics will whinge anyway, because whingeing is in their character. Right?"

This is what Daniel Hannan is writing these days, enough to motivate Autonomous Mind to write up a commentary which forms the basis of this joint post.

For myself, I tend to ignore the lad. The world has moved on and our Dan is no longer in the forefront of the debate. But I see AM's point, in wanting to take this one head on. Hannan wants to convince us that his master David Cameron could bomb off to Brussels and come back with nine specific points that would convince "eurosceptics" to love the EU.

To achieve this remarkable piece of legerdemain, however, Mr Hannan has to carry out some intellectual contortions of his own. When commentators talk of "the Eurosceptics", he says, they seem to have in mind only Conservative and UKIP MPs, not the 70 percent of the country who say they want a trading rather than political relationship with the EU.

Thus does Hannan frame the debate by redefining "eurosceptics" – these now become an amorphous 70 percent of the country who say they want a trading rather than political relationship with the EU.

I'm not sure where this 70 percent comes from, but it reinforces my view that we must walk away from the term and call ourselves the anti-EU movement. That way there can be no misunderstanding.

However, even if he's attempting to convince the people he defines as "eurosceptics", if we didn't know better, we might think Mr Hannan is displaying a degree of naivety, or as AM would have it, a "frightening lack of even the most rudimentary awareness and understanding" of the issues.

Looking at these nine points selected to underline his case, Hannan starts with an "Autonomous trade policy"'. The EU's Common External Tariff impacts us badly, as the need for a common EU position on trade means all deals have to take account of a variety of other interests, says Hannan, who tells us that, while EFTA countries Norway and Switzerland have managed to sign a free trade deal with China, Britain is constrained by the EU and therefore cannot.

Surprisingly, though, there is a problem with this. The notion of the UK running its own autonomous trade policy, in a customs union, is plain nonsense. It is impossible, in every sense of the word you can imagine, to remain in the EU and have an autonomous trade policy.

Interestingly there is no mention at all of British self representation on the global decision making bodies and conventions, leading us to wonder if Hannan grasps their significance. In fact, he probably doesn't. But either way, suggesting that Mr Cameron should seek to secure trade autonomy, within the EU, is ludicrous.

Next in line, Hannan wants "Fiscal freedom". There should be "No financial transactions taxes, no green levies, no EU airport duties – and, for that matter, no harmonisation of VAT", because, he argues, "there should be no automatic transfer of revenue to the EU".

At this point, and we are only into the second of nine points, one is tempted to exclaim of Hannan, "Do grow up, Hannan!" He needs to look at Article 311 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the Union, where the "own resource" system is so embedded into the treaty system that messing about with the revenue transfer system would be impossible to unravel without treaty change.

As to VAT, that is an EU tax. Therefore, although Britain gets to keep some of what is collected, VAT results in automatic transfer of revenue to the EU. Rejecting harmonisation of VAT won't make a blind bit of difference to the practice of paying an EU tax.

Number three has Hannan seeking to disapply EU Citizenship. If our relationship is to be primarily economic rather than primarily political, we should scrap something that was created by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.

Once again, though, this is one of the tenets of the Treaties. And you can't selectively disapply parts of the Treaty. Thus, Hannan's pay-off line vision that the return of stiff blue British passports would be a concrete symbol that things had changed is fantasy land delusion.

By now, though, we're looking nervously at the date of the piece, wondering if this is a re-hash of an earlier 1 April piece. In three out of three of his points, he is talking about treaty change. Hannan must know that this is not on, that it's not going to happen.

He doesn't stop there, though. Next is his sights is the Common Agricultural Policy'. Yes it's wasteful, immoral, bureaucratic and corrupting. But to imagine for even just a split second that Cameron could achieve its demise, or a British opt out from the CAP as a sop to Eurosceptics while remaining in the EU is ridiculous.

Number five is an opt-out from the Common Fisheries Policy. This is another pearler. "Britain should control its territorial waters out to 200 miles or the median line, as allowed under maritime law, making due provision for the historic rights of neighbouring states and entering into sensible multilateral agreements on total allowable catch", Hannan says.

It seems Hannan is weaselling here. He seems reticent to point out to his readers the concept of acquired rights and what this means for the prospect of controlling fishing in our waters. More to the point, though, the whole concept of the total allowable catch is the fundamental flaw of the CFP. We would come out of the policy – not that we can – only to perpetuate its worst aspects.

At this point, though, one begins to lose the will to live, and we've still got four points to go. Hannan wants "independent diplomacy", "Common Law, not EU law", "British Social Policy" and then, for his finale, number nine, the "Supremacy of Parliament".

Yes, here it is, the Hannan solution: "Sections 2 and 3 of the 1972 European Communities Act should be repealed or amended so that EU law no longer has automatic precedence over UK law on our own territory".

Our Mr Hannan thinks that Brussels regulations should be treated as advisories pending implementation by Parliament, and he thinks that Mr Cameron is going to play "go fetch" and bring that back from Brussels.

Yet, the most laughable thing we get is his payoff: "I don't want to be unreasonable", he says. "It might be that Britain is able to secure some but not all of these points. If I had to identify the most important ones, I’d say 1 and 9".

"But, unless I'm missing something", he concludes, "the government isn't pushing for any of them. Which means that, as things stand, the only way to secure them is to vote to leave and then negotiate them from the outside".

Hell will need to freeze over and Sam Cam will go ice skating on it before any of these ideas even gets close to being considered. Of course the government isn't pushing for any of them, for the simple reason that the transfer of such powers is impossible as they undermine the foundations of the EU itself.

The only solution to most of the areas above is to leave the EU, full stop. But then, should we have left, why on earth would we want to negotiate on the issues Hannan sets out? It would amount to the surrender of the powers we would already have recovered.

Just whose side is he on?


Richard North 03/10/2014

 Immigration: no easy answers - part I

Part 2 has been posted below this ... the comment thread here serves both posts

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Conservative Home picks up on a Conservative fringe event, jointly hosted by British Future and ConHome, "provocatively" entitled "Immigration: How can we make promises we keep?" Interestingly, the four panel members, including Paul Goodman and Owen Paterson, all refrained from offering easy answers. They indicated that they would leave such disreputable behaviour to UKIP.

Nevertheless, Owen Paterson turned up to point out, in formidably well-briefed remarks, that leaving the EU and following the border control path of Norway or Australia would not guarantee lower migration.

He observed that immigration was "a huge recruiting agent" for UKIP, which was "quite ruthless" at exploiting the issue, then going on to point out that "we do need to have open borders to have a dynamic, thriving economy".

This was against the background of Reckless's defection, and his claim that unless we leave the EU we shall be unable to restrict immigration. This is quite wrong, Paterson averred. About 13 percent of the UK's population consists of immigrants, but the equivalent figure for Norway is 14.9 percent, for Switzerland it is 23 per cent, and for Australia, with its much-vaunted points system, the migrant level stands at 27 percent.

None of those countries, as we are well aware, is in the EU, which had Paterson arguing that, "there are no glib, easy, quick-fix answers". Copying Australia's points-based immigration system may sound to some like the answer, he said, but it’s it was "glib and Ukippish".

On this, Paterson is absolutely right, and in more ways than are immediately apparent, with Australia providing a fascinating example of how the superficial case made by UKIP – which wants to adopt the Australian system – falls apart the moment it is examined in detail.

The crucial thing to appreciate is that, as with every country, immigration policy is in determined by many factors, but especially strong drivers are geography, neighbourhood relations, and the state of the economy, both in absolute terms and relative to its neighbours.

The particular points to note with Australia though are its geography, and its neighbours – or relative lack of them, close to hand. The closest country at an equal stage of development is New Zealand, and that is separated by 925 miles of sea. Arguably, if Australia was separated by a mere 22 miles from a major continental land mass, its attitude to migration might be very different, specifically in terms of freedom of movement between close neighbours. 

And there's the rub. There is freedom of movement between Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand citizens are able to live, work, and study in Australia indefinitely on special "temporary" visas due to reciprocal arrangements between the two countries. New Zealanders settling in Australia are included in total settler numbers but are not counted as part of Australia's Migration Programme unless they choose to apply for permanent residence as skilled or family migrants.

In other words, between Australia and New Zealand exist more or less the same "freedom of movement" arrangements as exist between EU member states.

As for the points-based immigration system, this limits immigration visas to applicants who conform to certain criteria, and who have certain skills. Potential applicants have to stack up 60 points but basically, if you are under 50, can speak English and have a pulse, you can get in. There are so many "skilled" occupations almost anyone could find a fit, whether a cook, florist or community worker.

Even then, for an applicant who has no skills, there is the unskilled migrant entry scheme. Then there is the "family stream", where relatives of existing immigrants can join them, and then there is the humanitarian stream, for the substantial number of asylum seekers who are given entry.

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On top of all this, there is a holiday worker scheme, and for those who do not qualify for permanent visas, there are temporary visas. Through either of these, workers can acquire points to go towards qualifying for a permanent visa, as work experience in Australia is weighted in favour of the applicant.

Looking at this in the round, one might conclude that a skills-based quota system works brilliantly, with just a few provisos. Taking from the Australian model, the skill-set has to be relaxed, it shouldn't be applied rigorously and there must be plenty of exemptions.

And that is why, for the 2014-15 programme, the Australians intend to admit 190,000 migrants. On a pro rata basis, this is equivalent to the UK admitting half a million people, making it an interesting choice as UKIP's poster child for its immigration policy.

As Owen Paterson says, there aren't any easy answers. And we should not pretend there are.


Richard North 02/10/2014

 UK politics: frankly, they are wrong

Conservative MPs who defect to the UKIP should be treated "with great respect", says Owen Paterson. He also said the party had to make it clear to MPs tempted to defect that "protest will not get you what you want".

Asked on Sky News how many more Tory MPs might defect after Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless he said: "I have no idea", adding: "They are misguided sadly. I think we should be respectful of their decisions - they have set a new constitutional precedent of standing down unlike Shaun Woodward and Quentin Davies who just pushed off to the Labour party".

Mr Paterson went on to say: "They are setting themselves up to be voted back which one has to respect and I think we should treat all those who are currently not supporting us with great respect. But we also have to confront the fact that frankly they are wrong".

"We have to politely point out to people – many of whom are good, sensible Tories – who are minded to support UKIP, that they are mistaken. We have to make really clear why they are mistaken in a polite, logical and measured manner and get them back".

He also hit out at Mr Reckless' suggestion that the UK could curb immigration by leaving the EU. "When you see Mark Reckless saying getting out of the EU would solve it, I'm afraid his facts are wrong". He pointed out that Switzerland and Norway have higher immigrant populations than the UK, despite not being EU members.

Asked if he might defect, Paterson says: "It's absolutely laughable. How am I going to deliver (my) agenda through any other organisation apart from the Conservative party?"


Richard North 29/09/2014

 UK politics: it's not about UKIP

Modern conservatism is not about dealing with UKIP, says David Davis. It's about returning to core values, and promoting policies to help conservative supporters.

He's right in one sense – that the Tories will never win an argument with UKIP. That party operates on an elemental level that has 2,000 supporters chanting "UKIP! UKIP!" in the manner of a football crowd. It could just as easily have been "Hail Victory!"

On the other hand, there is that other political strain – conservatism. And real conservatives can do something that UKIP can never do. Individually and collectively, they can develop policy, including – in the fullness of time – a credible exit plan from the EU.

With that in mind, I was asked recently to pen some observations about the Farage Party, and was able to suggest that the essence of UKIP is negativity. Members know what they don't like, and are united in mutual detestation of the things they abhor.

Beyond this stultifying negativity, though, they have no idea what they actually want, and could not even being to unite around common objectives. There is no common ground, no ideology that could help bind them into a political force. They agree on how much they hate certain things, but there is nothing at all to define UKIP as a political party.

Thus, UKIP may hate the EU, and indeed they are keen to express that hatred at every opportunity. But while the EU is often merely the EUSSR, when it isn't the Fourth Reich, the real hatred is reserved for the "political classes" who support it, the "LibLabCon" traitors, quislings and worse.

In terms of how real conservatives should deal with UKIP, therefore, the most obvious thing to do is accentuate the positives. Unlike UKIP, a real conservative has a vision of what society should be, what the nation should look like, and what is needed to achieve a fairer, better society for all.

As David Davis indicates, therefore, rather than attack UKIP, real conservatives should be stating their case more clearly. Over term, the leadership has betrayed its own membership, which is why so many Tories switched to UKIP in the first place, but this does not stop individuals holding the torch of real conservatism aloft.

Filling the gap is vitally necessary: even if UKIP did get power, it wouldn't know what to do with it. In the 20 years of its existence, it hasn't even been able to devise or publish a credible – or any – EU exit plan.

The reason for this strange absence, though, is highly revealing about the state of UKIP as a party. Even though it is effectively a one-man band dominated by Nigel Farage, at grass roots level it is disorganised bundle of embittered warring tribes.

Within this, it harbours a great secret of which few are aware, that Farage is in thrall to a hard core "Praetorian Guard". But they are not guardians of policy – rather they represent the reactionary inner core of UKIP which demands immediate, unilateral exit from the EU, the so-called "Ollivander" option.

To this sad, dysfunctional crew, the EU treaties are "illegal" and those who signed it are "traitors". Any idea of negotiation or agreement is an anathema. They would sooner see the British economy crash and burn, with ships rusting in port,  than accept a deal with Brussels.

So powerful is this group within UKIP that Farage cannot dictate a rational exit plan. To do so would trigger massive splits and blood-letting on a scale not seen since 2001. Then, dissent over the leadership tore the party apart, and triggered the series of events that has cemented Farage in place as the Supreme Leader ever since.

Then, no one was interested in the internal politics of UKIP. Today, such a rupture would not be so private, and Farage knows full well how slender his grip on power really is. He cannot dictate policy because he dare not.

For real conservatives (as opposed to the ersatz Cameronian version), this gives them one of their most powerful weapons against UKIP. For historical reasons, the official Conservative Party is committed to supporting the prime minister's attempts to renegotiate a relationship with "Europe", but even Mr Cameron has acknowledged that those negotiations could fail.

In anticipation of that failure, real conservatives need to do something UKIP cannot – entertain a serious, wide-ranging debate of what a post-EU Britain would look like, and then produce a comprehensive exit plan, setting out the steps needed to make the vision of an independent sovereign Britain possible.

At the very least, such a plan would show up Mr Cameron's weakness. For, if there is a credible alternative to EU membership on the table, one where the UK can continue trading with its European partners and co-operate on issues of mutual interest, then it would be much harder for him to say he had won a good deal from Brussels.

What goes for an EU exit plan then has equal force with the vexed issue of immigration. Following the collapse of the BNP, Farage has quite deliberately reinvented his own party as BNP-lite, in a bid to attract the Labour supporters that might otherwise have gravitated to his competition.

But, to appeal to the racist tendency that marked out the BNP, Farage had to present the party as anti-immigration, his only policy being to pull up the drawbridge and let in a tiny number of people on license. His party thus invokes images of the white cliffs of Dover, of a fortress Britain that harks back to 1940 when the UK was isolated and the Hun was ranged across the Channel. This is the UKIP vision of heaven.

In making its pitch, UKIP is in fact exploiting a global problem. There is not a developed country in the world that is not under pressure from migration, and many less-developed countries are also suffering serious problems: one just needs to look at Turkey and the flood of Syrian refugees and Kurds that has crossed its border.

As for migration from central and eastern Europe, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the demolition of the iron curtain, does anyone think that, after nearly 50 years of separation, there was not going to be migratory pressure to the affluent West?

The EU aside, countries outside the EU, including Norway and Switzerland, have had to deal with massive inflows, and have had to deal with may of the same problems that we have had to confront.

Thus, while in the UK, migration level is 13 percent, in Norway it is 14.9 percent; in Switzerland it is 23 percent. In Australia, which is the poster child for UKIP's immigration policy, it stood at 6.2 million people (27.3 percent) in 2012, up from 4.7 million people in 2003 (23.6 percent).

Even outside the EU, therefore, we would have been troubled by the global wave of migration. In or out of the EU, the situation needs managing. UKIP has no answers to this – its immigration policy is as slender and as incoherent as its EU exit plan. Real conservatives, on the other hand, are in a position to host a genuine debate, on real answers to problems which so far has eluded the global community.

That is the singular difference between UKIP and real conservatives – answers. UKIP hasn't any, and has no ability to produce them, even though, over the next five years, its 24 MEPs will cost the British taxpayer nearly £140 million in salaries, overheads and expenses. For that money, all UKIP seems to be able to do is tell us what it doesn't want. Real conservatives, on the other hand, have the ability to answer the nation's needs.

Then, in one other issue above all else, the difference stands. While UKIP whinges about being in the EU, even the official Conservatives have outflanked them. They have promised an "in-out" referendum.

If UKIP members are genuine in their desire to leave the EU, then their options at the general election are obvious. But then they will have to confront reality: do they really want to get out of the EU, or do they enjoy hating it too much to want to leave? That is the choice they are going to have to make.


Richard North 28/09/2014

 Brexit: the Dawlish experience

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Travelling five hours on a Cross-Country train from Leeds to Dawlish, arriving late because of a points failure, and then finding the technology doesn't work because my computer wouldn't interface with the high-tech television screen, it not exactly the best way to start a talk on how to leave the EU.

And yes, I could have got an earlier train, but that would have been peak travel, adding £150 to the already exorbitant cost, or an overnight hotel bill to add to the train fare. So, a last minute dash, followed by a 20-minute taxi ride to the Langstone Cliff Hotel in Dawlish, had to suffice.

For all that, it worked. Under the CIB banner, joint-funded funded by the CIB and Anthony Scholefield, and organised by Peter Troy, the idea was to take the message of how to leave the EU outside London, to new audiences, and speak to them direct, by-passing the media and the established political parties.

Although Flexcit has been published online since March, with the latest version just posted, trying out the ideas in front of a live audience is a valuable experience and one which is an essential part of refining the message and learning how to present it.

On the day - reflecting much of the online feedback and the experience of earlier meetings - what I found necessary to emphasise is that the exit plan is complicated. Furthermore, there is a limit to the extent that one can simplify it, before you are misrepresenting the entire process.

If we look at a telephone from 40 years ago, and look at the latest devices, there is a huge leap in the degree of complexity – matched of course by a massive increase in capability. What has happened with telephones has also happened with government and we could no more go back to the simple Bakelite telephone than we could go back to the far more simple style of government which prevailed in pre-EEC days.

Secondly, one has to stress that the exit plan is primarily a tool for winning a referendum. Unless we can reassure voters that leaving the EU is a safe and ultimately rewarding experience, we are unlikely to succeed in convincing a majority that it is worth leaving the EU.

Thus, while there are many different options for arranging an EU exit, we are not free agents in this matter. We have to go for the plan that plays best to the uncommitted in a referendum campaign and, while this might no be (and most certainly isn't) optimal, it is better to advance a plan that will attract popular support, and win the referendum, than to opt for ideological purity and thereby ensure we remain in the EU forever.

It is in this context that the "Norway option" comes. It is far from ideal but, in preserving our continued participation in the Single Market, is the best tool for neutralising the torrent of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) that we can expect the opposition to exploit.

The third point to stress is that "Brexit" is not the end point of the process, but the beginning. It is once we leave the EU that the negotiations really begin in earnest, so the finer detail of Article 50 exit agreement doesn't really matter. The important thing is to get out – almost on any terms. Very quickly thereafter, we begin to shape the final settlement.

That then brings us to the fourth element, the post-exit settlement. That requires the UK to reshape the Single Market, turning it into a true, European market, breaking the grip of the Brussels-centric regulatory machine. This is done by embracing and enhancing regional and global organisations, and by adopting better and more refined tools, to improve the global trading system.

This is where much of the complexity lies, first in understanding how the current system works, and then reshaping it to perform the same functions – but perhaps more efficiently – outside the EU. That is what globalisation is all about, and that is where we need to be, the "continuous" bit that makes Brexit into Flexcit.

With that, what people are also learning is that politics can be fun. For a day's outing, the 35-plus that attended found it an entertaining, challenging day, from which we all learnt and all benefitted.

The size of the meeting was optimal - that's the number we wanted, and that's the way we are going to reach people. Before the referendum, we need hundreds of such meetings, and have plans to make them happen, with the possibility of sponsorship to make a Flexcit film to act as a force multiplier.

The next meeting is in Rotherham on 18 October (a Saturday), and you can get booking details by e-mailing Niall Warry. That will be a Harrogate Agenda programme, and thus will include Flexcit and much more. Numbers are to be held to about 30 and we look forward to seeing some of you there.


Richard North 26/09/2014