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 EU politics: false flags galore

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It was actually in 2006 that we were pointing out that Open Europe wasn't a eurosceptic organisation. How could it be with a "mission statement" almost identical in tone to the robustly Europhile organisation Business for New Europe. And by 2012, we were openly calling it the "enemy within", so obvious were its pro-EU sympathies.

That, however, did not stop the media routinely labelling it a "eurosceptic think-tank", and continuing to do so almost to this day. Amongst their number, as you would expect, was Conservative Home, helpfully reinforced by the European Commission which in 2009, according to Mary Ellen Synon, declared Open Europe "a eurosceptic think-tank to the right of the conservatives in the UK".

Reuters routinely called it "a eurosceptic think-tank", the Economist in 2010 backed up the Commission, calling it "a small but assiduous Eurosceptic campaign group", and the Guardian in June 2012 also helped the lie on its way. It told us that: "Britain should stay in EU, says report by Eurosceptic think tank".

A month later, the Financial Times chose a variation on the theme, referring to OE as a "broadly eurosceptic think tank", even though the think tank had "acknowledged recently that EU membership remained the most beneficial arrangement". And, of course, the BBC was to the fore, observed as late as June 2014, referring to the "influential Eurosceptic think tank Open Europe".

Even the supposedly eurosceptic Spectator went along with the myth in November 2012. And predictably, The Times fell into the trap, calling Open Europe a "Eurosceptic think-tank” in October 2013. Sadly, the Telegraph was no better. It used the term "Open Europe, a Eurosceptic think tank" in November last year, as indeed did the Express and the Daily Mail.

But one other media outlet that was giving Open Europe the "eurosceptic" accolade was EurActive. It was keeping up the charade into 2013 but, by December of that year, OE had become "the Euro-critical think tank Open Europe". Then, as of yesterday, it has been fully outed to become "a critical but pro-EU think tank" (see illustration).

This is a major step. After all these years, the truth it out and, as a false flag operation, Open Europe is no more. However, a replacement is already in place, in the form of Business for Britain - or Business for Elliott as one critic calls it, after its founder and major beneficiary, Matthew Elliott. He is the man who started Taxpayers Alliance - ostensibly an independent organisation but in fact a Tory front to broaden the attack on Labour's public expenditure agenda.

Elliott's latest cash cow has stepped into the breach with a "renegotiation" agenda identical in principle to that of OE. And it has already spawned the first of a number of Münzenberg-esq "front organisations", the equivalent of the "Innocents' Clubs", stacked with "useful idiots", used to bolster Soviet Russia.

This "clone" of BfE, Historians for Britain, is to be followed by others, all adopting the same basic pattern, launched on the back of a list of prominent signatories willing to perform the "useful idiot" function to a gullible media. In due course, we can expect the likes of "Nurses for Britain" and even "Roadsweepers for Britain", the aim being to swamp the anti-EU movement with "false flag" operations and to suppress the established "outers".

With the media corporations inherently sympathetic to "renegotiation", and the average journalist apparently unable to tell the difference between a WWII tank and a mid-sixties self-propelled gun, they are hardly going to bother outing these sham anti-EU organisations, any more than they did Open Europe. More likely, they will suck up the highly polished propaganda that Elliott can provide them, as a cheap substitute for real journalism. 

Willi Münzenberg would have been so proud to see his work so deftly exploited. Maintaining plausible "front organisations" is a demanding process and the pro-EU faction has made the most of his pioneering work.  


Richard North 28/02/2015
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 Ukraine: needless provocation?

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I am not sure what to make of the apparent bravado of Nato forces, including a small detachment of US Second Cavalry Strykers (pictured), joining an Independence Day parade in the Estonian city of Narva, a mere 300 yards from the Russian frontier.

The city juts into Russia, separated only by a river, and has a large Russian-speaking population. It has often been cited as a potential target for the Kremlin if it wanted to escalate its conflict with the West onto Nato territory. Thus, the Washington Post calls the parade a symbolic act that highlighted the stakes for both sides amid the worst tensions between the West and Russia since the Cold War.

Symbolic it may be, but it is also provocation - not least to the Russian-speaking population of Estonia. Despite that, though, it hardly seems that Russia can complain. It has upped the frequency of probing flights by Bear maritime patrol aircraft, close to UK airspace, and is worrying the Norwegians in the high Arctic with extensive air movements.

On the other hand, in a bid to calm things down, Merkel has rejected calls to arm Ukraine, and is even refusing weapons to the Baltic states. It seems particularly inappropriate, therefore, that the UK should be sending troops on a training mission to Ukraine. This is hardly calculated to calm Russian suspicions and lends strength to the Norwegians who are asserting that "relations with Russia will never again be the same". They are talking about restructuring their military.

The UK military lobby is doubtless delighted, as this new threat – real or apparent – justifies greater defence spending. Rory Stewart, current Defence Committee chairman, is already putting in a bid for more money. In fact, such is the enthusiasm for upping the ante that a cynic might even suggest that the UK defence industry had done a deal with Russians, their respective establishments looking forward to a boost in conventional arms spending, the like of which neither have seen since the end of the Cold War.

Nevertheless, the Nato establishment may be taking on more than it bargained for. Last week saw the release by the Russians of details of a new armoured vehicle, the first completely new platform for over 40 years, carrying the name Armata.

Developed by the Uralvagonzavod Research and Production Corporation, the tank version (T-14) sports an unmanned remotely controlled turret, armed with a brand new 125 mm 2A82-1M smoothbore gun. Its muzzle energy is greater than one of the world's previously considered best tank guns: the German Leopard-2 Rheinmetall 120mm. 

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Significantly, it is also equipped with a 30mm cannon capable of dealing with various targets, including low-flying helicopters, together with a 12.5 mm rotary machine gun, reportedly capable of taking out incoming projectiles, such as anti-tank missiles and even anti-tank shells at speeds approaching 3,000 meters per second. Presumably, it is equipped with sensors similar to those used in the Israeli Trophy system.

The Russians have already delivered 20 units for training purposes, but this is territory into which we do not want to venture. The UK is reliant on 20-year-old Challenger 2 tanks and the very last thing we need is an expensive re-equipment programme. Matching Russian capabilities could cost us billions.

With the UK standing accused of "sleep-walking" into the current crisis, and having been "taken by surprise by events in Ukraine", one wonders if Mr Cameron has really thought through his current "provocation". We really cannot afford another arms race, and decades of Cold War with Russia, yet our prime minister seems determined to lead us down that path, without the first idea of the consequences.


Richard North 26/02/2015
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 Globalisation: a conspiracy of silence?

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At the beginning of the month, we saw a report from the House of Lords EU Economic and Financial Affairs Sub-Committee, which delivered views on "the post-crisis EU financial regulatory framework".

This Committee thought that efforts by Europe to strengthen banking rules to avoid a repeat of the 2007-09 financial crisis were "admirable" but it also criticised the cost of the impact of the new laws and noted other flaws, saying Britain needed to retain direct involvement in decisions that affected one of its most important economic sectors.

Most significant of all, though, was the evidence offered by Professor Simon Gleeson who told us that, of the 40 different items of legislation produced by the EU in response to the crisis, with the exception of one and the partial exception of another, all were already being implemented in the UK.

Had Europe not existed, he continued, every single one of those directives would have been implemented here for exactly the same reasons that they were implemented at the European level, because they were part of a globally considered response to the crisis.

In the context, the primary drivers of financial legislation are the G20 and its operational arm, the Financial Stability Board (FSB), the OECD and, crucially, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision.

Cut then to Ruth Lea in today's Times who concedes that much of the Brussels-originated financial regulation after the financial crisis would have been implemented even if Britain had not been an EU member. But, she implies, outside the EU, they can be repealed and/or amendment as circumstances change. Within the EU, she says, this is "all but impossible".

This is a line she also sought to convey in her speech on EU alternatives last week, one shared by a number of the speakers there who offered the vision of a regulation-free nation once we had left the EU – something, they asserted, that was entirely impossible while we remained in the EU.

Totally ignored, therefore, were the effects of globalisation and the fact that much of the rule-making that forms the EU acquis is initiated at global level. As a result, also ignored is the fact that – for a huge tranche of regulation covering a wide range of sectors, from financial services to automotive production and agriculture – leaving the EU would make very little difference. Most regulation would still apply.

The upside of this is that, outside the EU, we would be able to take a very much greater part in framing the regulation and, like Norway, would be in the interesting position of taking part in the process of developing regulation which would be adopted by the EU and then handed down to EEA members, including Norway.

To my mind, this is a better position than the simplistic view offered by Ruth Lea and her follow travellers, whose vision of a regulation-free nation is, to say the very least, unrealistic. In the absence of much of the current international/EU law, we would have to frame laws to replace it. Then, since we are global traders, much of that law would have to be harmonised with global laws, putting us right back where we started.

What seems to me to be happening, though, is that the "regulation-free" advocates are so wedded to their narrative that they are ignoring – or even denying – the effects of globalisation, and the fact that we would obtain little relief from trading regulation on leaving the EU.

However, in so doing, they are ignoring one of the most powerful arguments we have for leaving the EU – that rejoining the global regulatory community gives us more power and influence than we currently enjoy as members of the EU.

From there, we can then begin to understand why this same caucus is so opposed to the "Norway Option". But that creates a bizarre situation where they have common cause with the Europhiles who also oppose it, although for different reasons – precisely because it increases our power and influence, while giving us access to the Single Market.

Sadly, that puts us at odd not only with Europhile sentiment, but also with the eurosceptic "regulation-free" advocates. Yet, so strong is the globalisation argument that we cannot walk away from it, just for the sake of a false unity which would have the overall effect of weakening our case.

This then presents a further conundrum, as the "regulation-free" advocates are effectively bolstering the Europhiles, with the potential to weaken any coming EU referendum campaign. Effectively, even if unwittingly, they have joined the enemy ranks.

Quite how we then handle this, I am not yet sure, but the one thing we have to take into account is the importance of offering the uncommitted a credible exit plan. This, I suspect, may outweigh the effects of a false unity, in which case we have fewer allies in our cause than eve we imagined.


Richard North 24/02/2015
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 EU exit: irrational fear of the Norway Option

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Latest in the long (and tedious) line of naysayer to warn Britain "of serious consequences for economic and security policy if it leaves the European Union" is Vidar Helgesen, Norway's minister for Europe.

He has been given a platform by the Observer , taking the opportunity also to tell us that his country has often found it difficult to shape economic rules that affected Norway – often cited by Eurosceptics as a shining example of how a nation can thrive outside the EU – while not being a member.

This is a sideways dig at the "Norway Option", but it must say something for this option that the Europhile tendency that it is so keen to discourage its adoption, taking virtually every opportunity to spread the message of how bad they think it is.

Not content with the usual frighteners, though, Helgesen adds a reference to a time of "burning security crisis not seen since the cold war". Most key meetings, he claims, are now being convened at EU level, rather than within Nato, and it was vital that the UK was there to shape decisions.

The man is on his way to talk to the pro-EU campaigning group, British Influence, with a speech entitled: "The European Union: why one who has not joined thinks that WE should not leave".

Largely as a result of its oil resources, Norway is one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, with a higher per-capita income than the vast majority of its member states.

As a result, we are told, "British Eurosceptics" often say the Norwegian experience is evidence of how a country outside the EU, but enjoying the benefits of the single market through membership of the EEA, can prosper without having to commit itself to full membership.

This, however, is classic straw-man territory. But then, the only way the Europhiles can win an argument is to distort it first, beyond all recognition.

In Flexcit, we recognise that the Norway Option is an imperfect instrument, advocating it only as a halfway house – a ready-made template to ease our way out of the European Union. This is but stage one of a three-part process, with the benefits of withdrawal accruing mainly in the third stage.

Such is the narrowness of his vision, though, that Helgesen complains EEA membership often creating "frustrations and difficulties", which means that "Norwegian ministers and officials spent a lot of time – sometimes without success – trying to find out what was going on in EU meetings that would affect their country directly".

"We [Norway] are fully integrated into the EU single market as members of the EEA", he says, "but what we don't have is the right to vote on those regulations that are incorporated into our law when they are made by the council of ministers".

But with qualified majority voting applying to the Council of Ministers, and Britain holding 29 out of the 352 votes, it can cast only eight percent of the vote. Yet, a qualified majority is 252 votes - 73.9 percent.

In the European Parliament, the situation is little better. There are 73 UK MEPs, and these represent a mere 9.7 percent of the 751 elected MEPs. Given the party splits, this level of representation is notional. UK MEPs rarely vote together as a single bloc. Even if they did, they could never muster the 376 votes needed for a majority.

Thus, the idea that Norway is gravely disadvantaged by not having a vote is sheer fantasy. Any relationship with the EU – in or out – is going to be fraught.

It is, therefore, of little consequence that Helgesen reports that, on occasion, Brussels has sprung surprises that the Norwegians could not predict. The same kind of frustrations, he says, could well face the UK – as if they do not already, and continuously so.

Here, what is so fascinating about these Europhiles is how little they know of the construct they so adore – much less of the way the world works, and the Norwegian part in it.

Referring to our membership of the Union, he says: "You would not have all those Brits staffing the commission where the decisions are made", then adding: "Britain being on the outside would obviously not have that amount of people on the inside. You would find it more difficult, as a result, to affect the regulations".

That, of course, is not how regulations are affected, and this is not even how the game is played – as the Norwegians themselves well know, with their role in Codex standing as a major example of how regulation is framed.

It takes Anne Tvinnereim, former Norwegian State Secretary – whom we interviewed when we went to Norway – to present the honest position. "We do get to influence the position", she told us. "Most of the politics is done long before it [a new law] gets to the voting stage".

Nevertheless, Helgesen says: "It is up to the British to make the decision [as to whether they leave the EU], but I would not think that if the Norwegian model were applied, that this would be ideal". This, though, is nothing more than a statement of the obvious. There is no such thing as an "ideal" in practical politics – only sensible compromises that take us towards a desired goal.

And clearly, such rationality is beyond Peter Wilding, British Influence's director, to whom Helgesen is coming to talk. "Eurosceptics who peddle the myth that Norway is the best [model] for a non-EU Britain are deceiving the British public", Wilding says. "They say leaving leads to more democracy and security. This is nonsense".

So yet again a Europhile resorts to the straw man argument. Nowhere in Flexcit and nowhere generally do we see it argued that the Norway Option, per se leads either to more democracy or security. That is not the point. It is merely a means to an end.

Before we leave it there, however, we have to observe that the other side of the Norwegian divide is suffering from the same misconceptions.

This we see with Heming Olaussen, former director of the Norwegian "No Campaign", who – as the recent Bannerman fest - also warns us against the EEA option (as do most of the other participants).

When, however, these people have the depth of knowledge that we have acquired, though dint of solid hard work, they might be worth listening to. As it stands, it is remarkable how so many can stand up to parade their ignorance, and still believe they have anything to offer.

What tells us more than anything, though – far more than their words – is the frequency and intensity with which so many parties seek to condemn the "Norway Option", alongside their determination to ignore Flexcit. This tells us that we are on the right track. It wouldn't scare them so much if we weren't.


Richard North 23/02/2015
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 EU Referendum: back where they started

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David Cameron, we are told, has downplayed the chance of an early referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union and said he needs time to renegotiate the best deal.

The Prime Minister says that calling a snap vote on membership risked forcing the electorate to choose between two "unappetising" options. A "better choice" would be to hold a vote by the end of 2017 after having had a chance to convince other allies to reform the EU and give the UK more freedoms.

And so, ten days after the Sunday Times set the hare running, and the Express made a fool of itself, we are back where we started, with 2017 remaining the preferred date for a referendum.

Getting back to where we started has very much been the theme for the week, with the IEA l;ast Monday rehearsing the same old block of exit options that have been floating around for decades. More an exercise in nostalgia than forward thinking, the Institute even dredged back into its own archives to resuscitate a 14-year-old-idea that didn't even have much going for it when it first appeared.

All this was in the pretence of promoting debate on "the best way" of leaving the EU, and so unsuccessful has been this endeavour been that, after killing debate stone dead after its abortive competition last year, the best the IEA was able to manage was an article in the Telegraph telling us that there are four paths that the UK can take out of the EU … and they're all bad.

Along with the IEA in its original Brexit competition, Telegraph writer Ben Wright simply cannot grasp the idea that leaving the EU cannot be a single event. It must be a multi-stage process, probably unrolled over a several decades, on the premise that undoing forty years of economic and political integration cannot be achieved with any speed.

This was what the idea that the IEA peremptorily rejected last year, although it is now published online as the Flexcit plan, offering far more than the totality of the IEA offering. Yet one of the IEA authors - who hadn't troubled himself to make a submission to the original competition, had the nerve to tell us that, "the debate has been far too myopic".

For "myopia", though, we have to turn to Campbell Bannerman's continued efforts to sell his aptly-named "EEA-lite" option, so lightweight that it almost completely lacks substance. The only forward-looking glimpse allowed during a seminar held in Europe House yesterday was a video recording from Owen Paterson telling us that a "spectacular future" awaits us outside the EU.

This moved the Express to remark that: "Convincing those who are undecided that Britain would be better off out of the EU is a vital way of strengthening the campaign for an exit". The paper adds: "Articulating a positive vision of a free Britain is central to achieving that", even if this is the paper – like so many – which has made no effort whatsoever to break out into the sunlit uplands and articulate such a vision.

At least this week we've seen some solid work from the Democracy Movement, in association with Global Britain, debunking the "three million jobs" meme. This is the unglamorous end of the campaign, doing work that must be done if we are to build a solid case for exit.

That is all the more necessary with Hannan, completely misreading Mr Cameron's "renegotiation" strategy, so much so that Peter Wilding, of British Influence, believes that in any referendum the case for staying in would "triumph". If it was left to the likes of Hannan, Wilding is not wrong. It would be a walkover.

Nevertheless, with Civitas also having produced its new paper on the Norway option, and the new edition of Flexcit having been published, it has been a busy time on the eurosceptic front. The only absentee from the debate, it seems, has been Ukip.

This is perhaps just as well, as it does look as if that referendum is getting closer. Rafael Behr in the Guardian notes that here is palpable confidence in the Tory party that David Cameron will still be prime minister after the general election. It flows, he says, not from any surge in public enthusiasm for the idea of Conservative government, but from a lack of evidence that voters are ready to trust Ed Miliband with power.

The subsequent referendum, Behr believes, will be a nightmare for Britain. But it will be a bigger nightmare for us if we lose. Yet, the bulk of the activity we have seen this week has brought us no closer to victory. Happily, though, not everything is on the media map. While most are back where they started, some of us crossed the start line - of which more will be revealed in good time.


Richard North 19/02/2015
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 EU referendum: a confusion of campaigns

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In last night night's post, I highlighted an article from the Daily Telegraph which asserted that David Cameron's "planned timetable" for renegotiating EU treaties had been "torpedoed" by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

This was on the basis of his scrapping an "analytical note" on "stronger economic policy coordination, convergence and solidarity", where Downing Street had hoped that the paper would "put treaty change firmly on the political agenda", thereby opening the way for Mr Cameron to push his "reform" agenda.

Far from being "scrapped", however, it appears that this "analytical note" has been seen by the Financial Times which, after all that, tells us that Mr Juncker has indeed "raised eurozone integration proposals". Furthermore, his note is being taken as "the first signal" that he "intends to press for further consolidation within the eurozone" – treaty change by any other name.

That the FT managed to track down the document, though, is no great feat - the Commission has helpfully posted it on its website. And it is there that we see the Commission talking about the short term (within the next 18 months), and then of developing "a long-term perspective" on "how the framework of EMU should develop".

The "framework of EMU" is, of course, EU-speak for treaty change, thus completely trashing the Telegraph story, possibly explaining why no other newspaper has followed up on what might otherwise have been regarded as a hot tip.

Nothing of this rules out the possibility of a separate "simplified procedure" treaty on Part III issues – or says it will happen - but it does confirm that which we have been asserting for some time. There is no possibility of Mr Cameron being able to hijack treaty negotiations on the eurozone to get his way. Essentially, if he is to come up with a treaty change, it is Article 48 "simplified procedure" or nothing.

As to the timing, we see a candid report from CER which draws attention to the average of 19 months it takes for the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers to reach consensus on a piece of EU legislation. This gives something of a datum by which we can measure the time 28 Member States will need to negotiate and agree a new treaty – even under the simplified procedure. Thus, the idea of Mr Cameron being able to bring home the bacon in time for a 2016 referendum remains absurd.

Outside in the real world, though, we see pressure building up on the immigration front, with tension building in Hungary, while deaths mount in the Mediterranean, putting pressure on Italy and other receivers.

Although there are distinct areas of law covering freedom of movement for workers, and asylum seekers, the issues tend to become intertwined in the media, and as the migration season picks up, there will be more and more Member States looking for a political gesture to reassure their voters that measures are being taken to control the flow of migrants.

Mr Cameron, therefore, stands a chance of being able to manipulate political opinion, enough to surprise us all and bring home a usable treaty. And that will leave us with the problem of how to fight a referendum campaign where the existing "reformists" - and Ukip – have been sidelined by attention-grabbing promises to bring immigration under control.

Should the Conservatives succeed at the general election, therefore, we may have to be prepared to fight on grounds which are not of our choosing, also having to cut through some of the groups that already think they "own" the campaign and who are seeking to control the debate.

Already we are seeing this with the "Norway Option" issue, where the media have all but ignored the Lindsell Paper, as indeed they ignored my Bruges Group paper when it came out.

Interestingly, a day before the Lindsell Paper, British Influence published a paper by the Senior European Experts (SEE) group and Regent’s University (financed by the EU), on the Norway Option, purporting to analyse eurosceptic claims, but in fact ignoring them, trotting out much the same arguments they were using in 2011.

In their supposed (and extremely brief) analysis, they refer to euroscpetic support for the option, but only to a 2011 Bruges Group paper – not nearly as comprehensive as mine. However, if you Google "Norway Option", it brings up my 2013 paper at the head of the search results. There is no way these people could not know of its existence, so the absence of any reference has to be deliberate.

Bizarrely, though, those supposedly on our "side" are doing the same thing. We have, for instance, Allister Heath in the Telegraph blithely declaring that eurosceptics must "focus" on explaining how the City can to "continue to sell financial services to Europe and car makers to export their wares to the continent".  "They need", says Heath, "to make their case, and fast". Yet this is precisely the case we have been making in Flexcit which he studiously and quite deliberately ignores.

The same goes for Matthew Elliott. As he and his Business for Britain rehearse a twenty-year-old narrative about over-regulation in the Finanical Times, we get the Institute of Directors noting that "many EU rules are global in nature and that … British business would have to continue to comply after it left the bloc". The Institute adds that, since EU legislation is transposed into UK law, there would be no overnight change to what many regard as its regulatory straitjacket. 

These are issues also rehearsed in Flexcit but EU Referendum is not invited to the debate, and nor are many others. Longstanding eurosceptic groups complain privately that they are being excluded from the debate, while the prima donnas regard it as their private fiefdom, with the complicity of the media which is muddying the waters with inaccurate and distorted reporting. 

Those players seem to believe that "owning" the campaign is far more important than winning it, putting us at grave risk of losing.


Richard North 14/02/2015
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 Civitas: The Norwegian Way

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Norway is not in the European Union, Jonathan Lindsell writes. Instead it is part of a wider group, the European Economic Area (EEA), which permits it free trade with EU countries but allows it to avoid the Common Agricultural Policy, control its own fisheries, and pay a much smaller membership fee. Unlike EU members, it can negotiate its own free trade agreements with countries around the world, with its own priorities.

Eurosceptics, however, tend to dismiss Norway as a model for Britain to replicate if it leaves the EU. In 2013, while announcing his strategy to renegotiate Britain’s EU membership and then put the result to a referendum, David Cameron dismissed Norway: "[W]hile Norway is part of the single market – and pays for the principle – it has no say at all in setting its rules: it just has to implement its directives".

My research for Civitas, looking at Norwegian state publications and research from some of its parties, undermines this contention. Norway does not have formal votes in the European Parliament or Council, that much is true. However it does have a veto – something full members lack on many topics. It has exercised this power, and Brussels seems to respect it.

Oslo can also push for adaptations and exemptions from harmful clauses in EU law, and can contest the details of implications through a separate court. Only directives and regulations that apply to the "single market" are implemented in Norway – others can be rejected. Representing itself at global bodies like the World Trade Organisation, it can help set the regulatory agenda before the EU even considers some laws.

All of that said, pro-Brussels governments in Oslo have often been quick to comply with EU regulation, and have not tested the veto fully. Christopher Howarth shows that, while arguments could be made that Norway adopts anywhere from 9-75 percent of EU law, it's certainly true that they adopt less.

The EEA arrangement allows Norway to win its own trade deals, rather than having to follow the EU’s cumbersome priorities, as Britain does. Critics suggest that small countries outside continental economic blocs do not have the importance to win substantial tariff reductions, but this is highly suspect. Both Iceland and Switzerland have the same trade outlook as Norway, and they have each concluded landmark free trade deals with China – a larger market than any country with which Brussels has partnered.

The Norwegian option is also criticised for including EU free movement rules – for immigration. In fact, the EEA's rules include provisions for suspending free movement in social or economic emergencies. Norway hasn't used these, instead focusing on integration and language help, but Iceland exercised the same powers to stop capital flight during the recession and the EU respected the action.

Opting for the Norwegian model presents a way to leave the European Union while retaining many of the benefits, and keeping substantial influence. Britain is a much larger economy than Norway, and it is reasonable to expect Westminster’s diplomatic clout would be considerably larger, even after leaving.

Lindsell's full study, "The Norwegian Way: A case study for Britain's future relationship with the EU" can be accessed HERE. It's well worth the read.


Richard North 13/02/2015
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 Asylum: irony, inertia and hypocrisy

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Completely unreported in the British media (and almost everywhere else) is an longstanding confrontation between the governments of Afghanistan and Norway over the expulsion of Afghan asylum seekers (including women and unaccompanied children).

Not only has Afghanistan warned Norway that forcibly returning expulsion of the Afghan refugees will have serious consequences on bilateral relations and cooperation between the two nations, it is also saying that it is no longer prepared to accept forced returns.

A statement from the Afghani Ministry of Foreign affairs further adds "that Afghanistan is a dangerous place to be, the country has huge economic problems, and there is a lack of shelter, jobs and education". The Afghan authorities thus insisted that the return of the Afghan refugees must be voluntary, referring to an agreement between the two nations on repatriation.

This is entirely confirmed by the Norwegian language newspaper Bergens Tildende, which has a copy of the Afghan statement and a full account of the protest, complete with an update from today.

However, no one with any understanding of the wider issues could fail to be struck by the irony of the Norwegian action, in seeking to reduce the large number Afghan refugees who have migrated to Norway and sought to set up home there.

Specifically, it was the Norwegian government back in August 2001 which took such an active part in trying to get the Australian government to accept 438 Afghan refugees who had been picked up by the Norwegian cargo ship, the MV Tampa off Christmas Island to the north-west of the Australian coast.

The Master of the Tampa, Captain Arne Rinnan, had been responding to an emergency message from the Rescue Co-ordination Centre Australia, and had been guided by an Australian Customs aircraft to the 20 metre wooden fishing boat, the Palapa 1, which was carrying the refugees.

But, much to his consternation, when he sought to offload his human cargo on the Australian-owned Christmas Island, the Australian authorities refused him permission to enter Australian waters.

When, after declaring a state of emergency, he defied his instructions, the Australians landed an armed SAS team on board, which sought to force him to leave, the government insisting that no asylum seeker on board the Tampa would set foot on Australian soil.

The ensuring crisis was finally resolved through the intervention of the Australian High Court, and the assistance of Papua New Guinea, and then the island nation of Nauru and New Zealand, with the participation of the Norwegian government, which had lobbied the Australians to allow the Afghans to disembark and be processed as refugees.

The whole affair raised serious questions as to the interpretation and adequacy of international law, many of which remain unresolved. But the one thing the so-called "Tampa affair" did do was trigger the adoption of a new Australian strategy for dealing with what were known as Irregular Maritime Arrivals. This became the "Pacific Solution", defined by then Prime Minister John Howard in terms of him "asserting the right of this country to decide who comes here".

The overt aim of the "Pacific Solution" was to deter future asylum seekers from making the dangerous journey to Australia by boat, on the premise that once would-be asylum-seekers they knew that their trip would probably not end with a legitimate claim for asylum in Australia, there would be dissuaded from attempting to gain entry by this means.

The essence of the policy was to intercept asylum seekers them at sea and convey them to detention centres in the territories of third countries, specifically in the island nation of Nauru and Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. 

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Those who then qualified as refugees were offered protection in the territories in which they had been deposited or, in a limited number of cases, resettlement in countries throughout the world, including those in Europe and in the United States. Failed asylum seekers were returned to their countries of origin, or detained indefinitely on the islands.

What has been quietly forgotten, though, is that the elements of this policy were promoted by Tony Blair in March 2003, on the basis of a concept paper produced by the Home Office entitled: "New International Approaches to Asylum Processing and Protection".

Asylum seekers would be sent to "regional protection zones" outside the EU and held in "transit processing centres" while their applications were considered. The centres could be in Russia, the Ukraine or another eastern European country. Albania had also been considered. In the longer term, the Government foresaw the establishment of UN safe havens that would offer protection to refugees in regions close to the main areas of global conflict.

Speaking later, Blair observed that the nature and volume of asylum claims to the UK had changed radically, and the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees had started to show its age.

However, to cut a long story short, the idea was given a lukewarm response by the EU, although it was later picked up by Germany, with the support of Italy, for discussion at EU level. Unfortunately, it was blocked first by Spanish Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso, of Melilla and Ceuta fame, on "humanitarian" grounds, and then by France's Dominique de Villepin.

Effectively dead in the water, it was nevertheless resuscitated by the then Conservative leader, Michael Howard, who put immigration and asylum at the heart of the 2005 general election campaign.

What made the plan very different is that Michael Howard, unlike the Australians and Tony Blair, recognised that this could not be done within the framework of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, and promised that a new Conservative government would withdraw from it.

With rhetoric remarkably similar to that used by the Australian prime minister four years before (also during an election campaign), Howard declared: "What we ultimately want to do is to say that no one should apply for asylum in Britain. After all, if you think about it, you can only apply for asylum in Britain today if you've entered the country illegally or by deception. It's an invitation to people to break the law".

A future Tory government, he said , would only take genuine refugees via the UNHCR, at a rate of 15,000 people a year. "Then", he said, "we really would be giving sanctuary to those who are fleeing persecution and torture and not those who simply have enough money to pay the people smugglers".

Interestingly, of the Blair version of the plan, Amnesty International had observed that it clearly represented an attempt to circumvent important domestic and international legal instruments, including the Refugee Convention. It also contravened the intent and purpose of the right to seek and enjoy asylum set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Bizarrely, though, when it came to the Howard plan, Blair himself condemned it – even though it was a version of his own. It was, he said, "incoherent babble". The idea of sending asylum seekers to regional processing centres was a "fantasy island" policy.

It was left to Howard to defend the plan. "I'm interested in doing the right thing for the people of this country", he said. "I believe that we have to bring immigration under control, we have to limit the circumstances that people apply for asylum in this country". 

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But, within a month of winning the general election, the new Blair government had formally abandoned the plan, which was actually still on the table after Blair had proposed it. This left the UK government processing a growing number of refugees, while trying desperately and failing to find homes for an increasingly larger number of failed asylum seekers, eventually having to allow them to stay – exactly the problem the Norwegians are now confronting.

As for the Australians, after abandoning their "Pacific Solution" in 2008, the Abbott government launched something very similar under the title Operation Sovereign Borders.

Of dubious legality, if it does not actually contravene the 1951 Convention, it drives a cart and horse through the spirit of the thing, making out the Australians to be the ultimate hypocrites as they pretend to be functioning members of the international community while effectively ignoring international conventions – as indeed they did in the "Tampa affair".

At least our own Michael Howard had the intellectual coherence and the honesty to recognise that a large part of the problem was the UN Convention, one that even Blair conceded was "showing its age". To be consistent, if the Australians are to continue their policy, they should at least do the decent thing and withdraw from it, as indeed we must.

How utterly bizarre can you get, then, when UKIP, in offering 100 reasons to vote for it, has for its 76th item: "Protecting genuine refugees by returning to the UN Convention of Refugees principles".

When the Convention is actually part of the problem, and both Conservatives and Labour have pointed to the need to resolve its limitations, and the Australians effectively have to ignore it in order to construct a halfway effective policy, only amateurs such as Ukip could stand up and support it.

Strangely, though, the party does not seem to support the Australian asylum policy – but then, if it did, it would be trailing in the wake of the Conservative Michael Howard, and that would never do.


Richard North 31/01/2015
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 EU exit: the ignorance of the high and mighty

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There was a time once when senior political figures said things and I listened, purely on the assumption that they must be better informed, more experienced, and with better contacts and understanding.

Like the plan that falls apart with first contact with the enemy, my deference to "senior political figures" survived for as long as it took for me to meet some of them, when the residual question became one of how these people manage to function on the incredibly low level of knowledge and understanding that they actually possessed.

Very much falling into that category is former Swedish prime minister, Carl Bildt, currently lauded by the Guardian for his supposed insight into the fate of Mr Cameron's treaty change in the wake of the Syriza victory in the Greek election.

According to the Guardian-appointed sage, this victory deals a "severe blow" to Cameron's hopes, the man "warning" us that the appetite for treaty change in the EU has diminished since the election. "Treaty change will be very difficult", he thus tells us.

No one in the business, though, was ever under the impression that there was any appetite for treaty change. In fact, two years ago almost to the day, we were writing of the lack of enthusiasm for a new treaty, and in this respect nothing much has changed in the intervening period.

What has changed, of course, is Cameron's tactical approach, in that he is most likely preparing to avail himself of the "simplified procedure" afforded by Article 48, but such subtlety is a closed book to the Guardian And Mr Bildt. But then, is an ex prime minister, and these sort of people know very little indeed.

However, Bildt has clearly has failed to update himself on the Lisbon Treaty changes (even though he signed up to them), and he is thus working under the impression that, if the treaty process is opened up, the new Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, will be able to use this as a chance to press for changes to the rules governing the single currency.

Under the Art. 48 procedure, of course, only Part III (TFEU) issues can be amended, and that does not include single currency. The euro is safe from any interference by Mr Tsipras and his pals.

What enables Bildt to spread his ignorance, though, is prestige. Endowed with this commodity, he can deliver any amount of tosh to the Guardian, not because it is right, or because the man has any insights worth having, but simply because his prestige carries the day.

Earlier, the man was talking a similar level of tosh at an event organised by the Europhile British Influence at the Royal United Services Institute. There, he was also in a cautionary mood, telling us that the EU and Britain would be diminished if the UK left the EU.

"The weight of the EU on the global stage will diminish but the weight of the UK would diminish even more because the UK is important as a significant actor inside the EU", he said. "Ask Washington. They would go to Brussels, Berlin, Paris. Americans would still change aircraft at Heathrow but that would be about it. I am exaggerating slightly. But there would be a risk of that".

Frankly, US officials are these days more likely to be en route to Geneva or Basel, than Brussels, because that increasingly is where the action is. But the "little European" in Bildt wouldn't be aware of that. His horizon stops at Brussels.

At least, though, he recognises that negotiating a divorce would be "cumbersome but doable", but then we get the usual tedious drivel from a man who fails to step outside the intellectual boundaries set for him.

Those who believe the UK could negotiate a relationship with the EU along the lines of Norway and Switzerland, he says, "would turn the UK into a satellite of the EU". Norway has tariff-free access to the EU's single market as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA). But it has to abide by EU regulations related to the single market "over which Norway has no voting rights".

So he drivels on, pouring out the same derivative tosh that we've heard so many times before. "If you want to be part of the single market [but not in the EU] you would have to enter what is de facto a satellite relationship with Brussels without any influence on the decision making".

Not in the least understanding how the world has changed, and how the Norwegians have it sussed, he then bleats about whether this would this be acceptable to the UK parliament, surmising that we would then have to leave the single market.

"The single market is dependent on the common decision making of the rules of the single market. It is defined by the single rules. Those are decided by the Brussels procedures", he says. "If you want to be part of the market and outside of Brussels then you end up with a huge democratic deficit".

These people are so out of date now that it is a pleasure to see them try it on yet again, as if they had any chance of winning the argument. But we do perceive a slight change, in that he is admitting that we can leave the EU and stay in the single market, so there is some process.

As to who makes the rules, as we know, it isn't Brussels. We need to be "outside of Brussels" to resume our place at the top table, and the likes of Mr Bildt haven't even realised it yet.

Why should we defer to these people? They are the epitome of ignorance.


Richard North 29/01/2015
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 EU regulation: a confusion of responsibilities

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Although they account for just five percent of traffic, lorries are responsible for 15 percent of fatal collisions - around 4,200 in Europe per year - and around half of cyclist deaths in London.

So says The Times today, retailing a set of factoids which are taken out and dusted every now and again, especially by the EU when it is trying to justify more regulation of the transport fleet.

We thus saw in 2011 when the European Parliament tabled a declaration in support of the mandatory fitting of advanced emergency braking systems and lane departure warning systems.

Then, lorries accounted for three percent of traffic, giving rise to 14 percent of fatal collisions and 4,000 deaths. In percentage terms, lorries are killing fewer people. Quantitatively, more people are dying under the wheels of trucks.

The last time we raised this issue though, there was a discussion as to the general responsibility for safety, the extent to which it lay with the drivers and cyclists, and how much safety should be designed in, enforced by regulation.

Very much in the "design" camp is London Mayor Boris Johnson, who has joined with Chris Boardman, the former Olympic champion, and Kate Cairns, the sister of a cyclist killed by a lorry driver in London, to call on the Department for Transport to throw its full support behind measures that could save hundreds of lives each year.

The problem being addressed is the length restriction on different classes of lorries, leading manufacturers to design their vehicles with short, flat-fronted driver cabs, in order to maximise the proportion of load space. This results in cabs with multiple blind-spots and no crumple zones.

Until 1997, regulation on such issues as blind spots was a matter for the EU, but progressively such matters as the fitting of mirrors, vision panels, and other vision aids (such as video cameras) has been a matter for UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission Europe).

Progressively, EU legislation on vehicle design is being repealed and replaced with UNECE Regulations, implemented by EC Regulation 661/2009 under the aegis of Directive 407/2011, applicable since 1 November of this year.

Currently, we are in a transition process, and the state of play is helpfully summed up by our own Department for Transport (DfT), in this bulletin. It lists some of the 50 EU Directives that have been repealed and replaced with UN Regulations covering the same subjects.

However, to add to the confusion, the European Commission tells us that vehicle dimensions (and hence length restrictions) are not covered by UNECE, and remain an EU competence.

Having first checked that they would not contravene any international agreements, therefore, in April last, new EU Regulations on vehicle dimensions were agreed, after considerable delay, with the expectation that trucks conforming to these new dimensions (fitted with "safety cabs") could be expected on the roads by 2018-2020.

Now, it looks as if this is not to be. The thrust of the current Times story is to tell us that, under pressure from companies like Renault and Volvo, the French and Swedish governments are seeking to ban new cab designs until 2025 to avoid disadvantaging firms who have already begun introducing their new truck models for the next decade.

Campaigners are complaining that the UK government has been "sitting on its hands" and failing to mount strong opposition to France and Sweden. But what is of special interest here is that the DfT has said it favours alternative legislation, known as "type approval" to make safety changes.

Should this be the route taken, though, it would have significant implications, taking the regulations out of the hands of the EU and vesting the responsibility in UNECE, which deals with type approval matters.

This, in fact, is simply going with the direction of travel, signalled last year, when the Commission announced that it was steering a reform of the UNECE 1958 Agreement on international vehicle regulations, with a view to getting agreement on a system known as the "International Whole Vehicle Type Approval".

The 1958 Agreement, it says, has not been updated since 1995 and the specific challenges entailed by the accelerating globalisation of the automotive industry and market in the last decades call for a fundamental reform of this Agreement.

Very much under the radar, this process has been going on now for two years, when the Commission declared in its CARS 2020 Action Plan that international harmonisation of vehicle regulations had been a priority for many years.

The EU had taken the view that agreeing common regulations with other major markets around the globe offered the benefit of lower compliance costs, generated economies of scale and reduces technical barriers to trade. The overall objective was to establish the principle of "tested once, admitted everywhere", whilst ensuring the promotion and maintenance of the highest safety and environmental standards.

And, despite high profile initiatives such as TTIP – the EU-US trade agreement - the final CARS21 Report had concluded that the most effective instrument for international regulatory harmonisation was the UNECE 1958 Agreement, "provided it is modernised to accommodate the needs of emerging economies and to the extent that it enables the mutual recognition of international whole vehicle type approvals (IWVTA) starting with the category of passenger cars".

The acceptance of the regulations established under the 1958 Agreement by the EU's trading partners has been recognised as the best way to remove non-tariff barriers to trade.

Furthermore, the Commission avers, in order to enable countries with emerging automotive industries and markets to agree and apply common global standards alongside other major markets around the world, and thus to offer additional benefits of lower compliance costs and economies of scale, the attractiveness and the reliability of the 1958 Agreement needed to be enhanced.

What few people realise is how deeply embedded the EU has become in this process. The Commission has actually taken the leadership of the UNECE task force in charge of preparing the draft proposal for a new Agreement.

The first informal draft was presented to WP.29 – the World Forum on the Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulation - in March 2013 and, in November 2013, a formal document with amending proposals for revision was submitted. Currently, all contracting parties are scrutinising the proposed changes and will provide their feedback at the next session of WP.29 in June 2014.

An informal working group, under the co-chairmanship of the European Commission and Japan, expects to submit final proposals to WP.29, ready for the formal procedure for adoption of the revised Agreement to be launched at the March 2015 session of WP.29 with a view to allowing the Agreement to enter into force in March 2016.

Between them, therefore, Japan and the European Commission are setting the standards for vehicle regulation for the coming decades – an international agreement to which, at some time in the future, it is hoped that the United States will join.

The UK is part of this process, but only as 1/28th of the team that authorises the "common position" guiding the commission negotiators. It hands its voting power to the commission for the final approval of the Agreement, while countries such as Norway and Switzerland (and Japan) will exercise their votes on their own behalf.

For the future though, there will be no confusion about the source of vehicle regulation. It will be made in Geneva, the home of UNECE and WP.29, but with the active participation of the EU, which maintains a substantial office in the city. By the time it gets to Brussels, and placed in front of the European Parliament, that "showcase" of democracy, it will be beyond change.

When cyclists continue to be slaughtered in ever-increasing numbers, Mr Johnson's successor will have to by-pass Brussels and go straight to Geneva to lobby for new or additional laws.

The interesting thing then is that it will not make any difference whether we are in or out of the EU, the destination will be the same. In or out of the EU, the regulations will also be the same, which adds to a further level of caution to our previous piece

We cannot begin to remove layers of regulation following our withdrawal from the EU, until we have worked out their origin. And where, as is the case here, the law originates in Geneva, it will be around long after the EU treaties are gone.


Richard North 10/12/2014
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 EU exit: stretching the debate

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I think one is entitled to a small amount of irritation at Daniel Hannan's attempts to muddy the water over the Norway option, not least in his inability, after all these years, to understand how the quantum of EU legislation is recorded.

Relying on work published on his own political group website - but never the more detailed work published in Flexcit - Mr Hannan tells us that Norway applies only nine percent of EU regulations and directives, thereby seeking to contradict the claim from the likes of Nick Clegg, Open Europe and the BBC, that "three quarters of Norway’s laws" come from Brussels.

That claim, Mr Hannan says, is "a lie", referring to data published by EUR lex and the EFTA Secretariat. They show, he asserts, that Norway actually adopted only 9.05 percent of EU directives and regulations between 2000 and 2013.

This is on the basis that Norway had to adopt 4,724 EU legal acts in that period, compared with about 52,183 directives and regulations that the UK and other EU states had to adopt over the same period.

The problem with Mr Hannan's comparison, though - if not exactly a lie – is that it is highly misleading. Numerically, the number of legal acts adopted in any one year are of no importance whatsoever. The figure can include directives running to nearly a thousand pages or one-page decisions, or a three-line amendment to a regulation.

What matters when comparing Norway (and the EEA in general) and the rest of the EU, is not the ebb and flow of regulation - the enactments and repeals, but the legislation actually in force at any one time. For that, one draws on a different website. That gives us 22,321 acts – directives, regulations and decisions -  currently in force, up from 20,868 when I checked in December 2013.

At that time, the number of EU acts adopted by Norway and still in force stood at 5,758. That figure is arrived at by discounting those which have become void, or have been replaced. As a proportion of the total acquis,  that makes for about 28 percent that Norway has had to adopt, and a much more accurate (and stable) figure than Hannan has to offer.

Why this figure should be used in preference to the figure for gross adoptions can easily be seen from Hannan's earlier efforts. In 2005, he had carried out exactly the same type of exercise that I have conducted, recording 3,000 acts adopted by Norway with 18,000 applying to the UK and the rest of the EU. That delivered a proportion of about 17 percent, nearly twice the figure that is currently being claimed.

Comparing like with like - legislation in force - the current proportion of legislation adopted by EEA countries, and still in force, has increased quite markedly, up from 17 to 28 percent. However, it is still a fraction of the total and only about a third of the amount the likes of Nick Clegg, Open Europe and the BBC claim.

As far as Hannan is concerned, that means that Norway "unquestionably has a better deal than Britain", when it comes to EU membership, although this man isn't about to change his mind about the merits of the Norway option. For nearly a decade, he has been arguing that Switzerland offers a better deal than either membership of the EU or the Norway option, and is "the preferred option of most British Eurosceptics".

Wearily, that is where Mr Hannan is stuck, in a decade-long groove that has not advanced an iota - even down to his arrogance in claiming to represent "most British Eurosceptics". 

Of all the issues, though, the one that has progressed least is the question of regulation. Mr Hannan believes that having to deal with less regulation (the nine percent that he asserts) is better than the situation we encounter within the EU. But what he and others don't seem to realise is that there can be no difference in the amount of regulation we apply, in or out of the EU - in the short term, at least.

This was the point made by Owen Paterson in his speech, one that stems directly from his experience as Environment Secretary. We simply can't run down legislation on spec, without knowing what we are doing, and without having replacements to take over where necessary.

Mr Hannan, of course, hasn't been a Secretary of State, so he wouldn't necessarily understand this. But the fact is that, until we know exactly what can be dispensed with – a process which will take considerable analysis and time – we will have to take on the entire legislative acquis.

Rather than adopting the Norway option, therefore, were are actually looking at an EEA+ option, making the day after we leave the EU the same as the day before. And on that basis, we take on the europhiles who insist on pretending that leaving the EU requires leaving the Single Market. We cannot emphasise enough that participation in the Single Market is not dependent on EU membership.

Strangely though, if we actually want to ensure full compliance with global regulation, such as the Basel III accord, we are better off out of the EU, where compliance is better in some other countries. 

This emerged last week when the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision published its reports on the compliance of rules adopted last year in the EU and the US with its global accord on banking regulation, adopted in 2010 and known as Basel III.

As was to be expected, the Basel Committee found the EU "materially non-compliant" with Basel III, while the US was found "largely compliant" and all other jurisdictions reviewed so far were found "compliant". The EU, which often claims leadership on championing global financial standards, thus finds itself the global laggard on this key plank of the financial regulatory agenda.

This is the other aspect the likes of Hannan ignore – the increasing grip of international rules, which are progressively rendering the EU a downstream standards-maker, processing rules originated elsewhere rather than originating them.

All of these issues make for a very different debate than the one that became fossilised in Mr Hannan's brain so many years ago. If we are to get anywhere, we need to stretch that debate – it doesn't belong to Mr Hannan, or Mr Farage for that matter. We need to make it work for us.


Richard North 09/12/2014
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 UKIP: fixing the party

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The trouble with doing reviews of Times pieces is that they are behind the paywall, so you can't just link to them and rely on the reader to click-through to get the details, thereby only having to publish the bare bones of the story. You have to post virtually the whole thing, which sometimes means giving more emphasis to a story than it merits.

This would have been the case with this not very important story, albeit on the front page (above). It's about UKIP rigging their own selection procedures for MEP candidates. Fortunately, though, the Independent has run it, which means I don't have to go into the detail.

The reason I needed to mention it at all is to make a quick point, as part of a more general piece about Ukip, correcting what appears to be a standard attack briefing that party supporters use to libel me on comment threads, in a usually forlorn attempt at character assassination.

The claim is made that I resigned the party "before I was pushed", after the election of Godfrey Bloom as Yorkshire Region MEP in 2004. To stop this falsehood spreading it, I have to rebut it. In fact, I resigned in 2003, in protest at the way the selection procedure had been rigged, and the way Farage, with the complicity of David Lott, then party chairman, quite deliberately blocked the appeal which could have set aside this selection and put me in pole position.

It is the case, therefore, that Ukip has been rigging its selection processes for many years, which partly explains why so many of the current batch of MEPs are such dross. Any such assertion from me, though, brings forward the accusation that I hold a "grudge" against The Dear Leader – so it is useful to have the legacy media detail other examples of rigged selection – doubtless because it too has a "grudge".

Actually, no one who knows me would ever suggest that I had such a base relationship with a man with whom I shared a desk for four years, and for whom I wrote speeches. Life is far too short. And even if I had become a Ukip MEP, I would almost certainly have resigned over the embarrassing Kilroy debacle, so the past hasn't been changed that much. Right now, I would still be out on my own.

Rather than a grudge, what I do have is the most profound contempt for Farage – the calm, icy sort. Any passion has long gone. And that's actually a very different thing. Outside the cult, his incompetence, dishonesty and other less than savoury personal attributes do not really support any other view, but above all else, his attempts actively to block policy development have to be the most important reasons for regarding him in such an unfavourable light.

Overall, this "rolling dysfunction" is holding back the party and threatens to bring down the entire anti-EU movement. An example of the immediate effects are picked up by Dr Eric Edmond, a perceptive critic of Ukip and its leader. He links to yet another train-wreck interview, this one with current chairman, Steve Crowther, graphically illustrating the policy chaos that exists within the party.

This is chaos which intensifies by the hour, after Farage disowned a policy on camera, despite it having been minted by deputy leader Nutall at the Doncaster conference in September - of which Farage was apparently unaware. That left him to admit he had "misspoken", after being forced to acknowledge that the policy on sex education remained party policy.

However, frequenting – as one does – the occasional comment thread, I recently had my own personal epiphany, coming to the realisation that Ukip's root problem is that its people don't actually understand what policy is. Even with the benefit of a thoroughly-grounded seminar in the principles of policy-making, I asserted, they wouldn't understand what they were being told, much less be able to put it into practice.

What, in essence, the party is producing is a list of aspirations rather than policies. The core failure is the lack of any connection between what they want to happen, and the means of making those things happen, in such a way that one can be assured that the outcomes are deliverable. This confusion between aspiration and policy means that the party can never progress to a state of coherence.

Party supporters, on the other hand (and not entirely unreasonably), point to the similar inadequacies of the established parties. But this simply highlights the further failure to understand the nature of politics. It is for the challengers, with no track record, to demonstrate their capabilities. Conventionally, this is done through the mechanism of policy statements – something which Ukip has so far failed to do.

Over the months to come, this failing will become increasingly evident, as Mr Cameron unveils his "play", with which he seeks to undermine and eventually destroy the upstart. Putting together a series of technical measures, complete with some theatrical contrast provided by apparently obstructive Poles, he will attempt to do this by delivering a policy which shows that he has the potential to control immigration from within the EU.

On the other hand, Ukip – despite making immigration its core issue, eliding it with its anti-EU sentiment – has failed yet to deliver a credible (or any) policy on how it would control immigration from outwith the EU.

It has failed in this context to realise that "controlling our borders" is not a policy, per se, but an aspiration – and a wholly unrealistic one at that. As long as the UK admits 34 million visitors to this country each year – the majority without visas – it has effectively ceded perimeter control, the system then relying on other layers and stratagems.

The party might be better off calling for control over immigration policy. That is an altogether more realistic and focused aspiration than "controlling and managing our borders", which it currently tells us it would seek to do. The act or process of "controlling and managing" is exactly that - an act or process - a means to an end. In policy terms, it is meaningless without declared objectives and then the detail of how the controlling and managing would be done.

Nor indeed does it help having Ukip telling us that: "We will extend to EU citizens the existing points-based system for time-limited work permits". That does not begin to constitute a policy. Nor even is it, in itself, a component of a policy.

To have the makings of a policy, the statement would have to be directed to, and linked with, a specific objective or outcome. It would then have to be couched in such terms as to make it clear that it could contribute to the declared objective – whatever that might be. Any system or process, as such, is blind – and has as much a capability to obstruct as support any particular policy line.

But where the real policy wonks play is in co-ordination – the thing known more commonly as "joined up policy". The "perfect" policy is one thing, but can get a little bit raggy when you have to take other considerations into account. For instance, you might well come up with the best in highly-polished defence policies, only to have it fall apart when your foreign policy delivers you enemies you didn't want, didn't expect and can't fight - a bit like UK policy really.

Here, the rank amateurism of Ukip comes to the fore, best evident when one reads that: "UKIP would not seek to remain in the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) or European Economic Area (EEA) while those treaties maintain a principle of free movement of labour, which prevents the UK managing its own borders".

Now here one must recall that Ukip hasn't actually declared what it is trying to achieve, and we also know that "managing" borders is not a policy as such, but a process. So we end up with a political party that is prepared to ditch a proven and workable trade relationship because it interrupts an indeterminate process aimed at producing an undefined effect, with no specified outcome.

In this event, we are open to the suggestion that Ukip may be well-motivated and be seeking a desirable outcome. But since the party has neither defined its preferred outcome nor any credible means by which it might achieve it, we can be excused from accepting that it has any policies.

Meanwhile, we can see Mr Cameron's policy being rolled out, the overall objective undeclared but loosely translated as "stuff Ukip". Helping in this noble endeavour are his allies who are talking down immigration. They are also rubbishing the "Norway option", something they have in common with Ukip – which must tell you something.

Meanwhile, we have the entertaining prospect of theatrical Poles, providing the backcloth for Mr Cameron's stunning victory to come. The harder he has to battle, the better and more convincing he will look.

If Ukip had policies, of course, it would be easier to assess Mr Cameron's games, by reference to what Ukip had on offer. One would simply compare what is with what could be. That's the way politics is supposed to work. Poor Ukip, though, hasn't discovered this yet - and Farage never will. If his party grows up, things might be different but, for the moment, contempt seems in order for the Peter Pan of politics.


Richard North 03/12/2014
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 Booker: out of their depths on the EU

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As the issue of "Europe" continued to swirl daily through the headlines, writes Christopher Booker, two remarkable speeches last week illustrated one of the crucial problems with this "debate". This is that the labyrinthine workings of the EU are so complicated that few people can really begin to understand them.

The Pope's address to the European Parliament seemed devastatingly critical. He spoke of how "the great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions".

He described it as looking "elderly and haggard" in "a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust and even, at times, suspicion". He observed how it had lost the trust of its citizens, who see it too often as "downright harmful".

Reading the Pope's speech in full, however, he doesn't seem to have grasped the EU's real nature at all: in particular, why the core principles on which it was set up were inevitably destined to bring it to its present dismal pass.

Some passages might have been written by the Commission itself, as when he proclaimed "the readiness of the Holy See" to "engage in meaningful, open and transparent dialogue with the institutions of the EU".

Even less understanding was shown in the generally dismissive media response to that other speech last week, in which Owen Paterson MP became our first serious politician to explain the only practical strategy whereby we could achieve what most British people, including David Cameron, say they want.

That is, a wholly new relationship with the EU, allowing us to continue trading freely in the single market – but without being sucked ever deeper into the toils of its increasingly oppressive and unworkable political superstructure.

The ideas Mr Paterson put forward, whereby Britain could be liberated to become again a more independent and self-respecting nation (see his article on the facing page), would have been familiar to readers of this column.

Above all, he has grasped the nature of the revolution whereby ever more of the laws passed down to us by Brussels now originate from those higher global bodies on which we could join Norway, which sits on them in its own right as an independent country, and have far more influence in shaping the rules than we do now.

What was so obvious in the media response to Paterson's speech was how out of their depth were almost all those interviewers who tried to make light of it.

Particularly noticeable was how, as soon as he tried to talk about this dramatic change in the way international rules are made, Radio 4's Martha Kearney and Newsnight's Evan Davis at once tried impatiently to talk over him. It was clearly something they couldn’t get their little heads round at all.

Davis in particular, looking ever more like Gollum, twice brushed it aside as "very interesting", as he tried quickly to move on to sexier questions, such as whether Paterson was criticising Cameron and why didn't he join Ukip?

The truth is that, if ever we are to have a grown-up, informed debate on these issues, Paterson's position can be the only realistic starting point. But both journalists and his fellow politicians have got an awful lot of catching up to do.


Richard North 30/11/2014
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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 Oborne 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 stay in. 

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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 played.

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
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 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
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 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
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 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
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 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
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 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
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 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
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