EU Referendum: the Liechtenstein solution

Tuesday 28 June 2016  

Throughout much of the referendum debate, it has been assumed that, in order to continue participating in the Single Market, we would have to accept freedom of movement. Any number of high-ranking Commission officials have warned us that this is "non-negotiable".

Now, at last, we are beginning to have the debate we should have had before the referendum, we have the know-all BBC creeping out of the woodwork, togoether with others, to remind us of this, as more and more Johnny-come-latelys leap on the EEA bandwagon.

However, we should have known that the Commission officials (and the European politicians who joined them), were not telling the truth – or at least the whole truth in respect of the EEA.

Almost too late, we discovered something hidden in plain sight: the fact that the EU has been quite willing to negotiate with one of the three Efta/EEA states on freedom of movement. Furthermore, they have come to an amicable solution, which has allowed it to secure an amendment to the treaty giving it a permanent opt-out to freedom of movement. The state concerned now operates a quota system little different in principle to the Australian points system.

That the state is the principality of Liechtenstein need not worry us. It may be a tiny micro-state with a population of 37,000 spread over an area of 61 square miles – less than half the area of the Isle of Wight – but it is a fully-fledged Contracting Party to the EEA Agreement. It has assumed exactly the same rights and responsibilities as any other Efta state.

Furthermore, Iceland has used exactly the same provisions to suspend free movement of capital following the 2008 financial crisis, demonstrating that there is a real and effective option within the EEA Agreement which could be available to the UK, and solve a lot of problems.

I've already told the story in parts, but for the record, I am now bringing it together under one head in this blogpost. Now the media and politicians can ignore it properly, instead of pretending they haven't seen it. I've also written up a version in Flexcit, so that they can ignore it there as well, leaving the 90,000-plus readers better informed than those who seek to instruct us.

The story starts – and a fascinating one it is – before Liechtenstein joined the EEA on 1 May 1995. We can actually take 10 March 1995 as the beginning, when the EEA Council - part of the formal consultation structure set up under the agreement – looked at the situation dominating Liechtenstein's entry.

The Council recognised that Liechtenstein had "a very small inhabitable area of rural character with an unusually high percentage of non-national residents and employees". And it decided that this microstate could easily be swamped by immigrants if unrestricted free movement of workers was permitted. Like the UK, but at the opposite end of the scale, the country was not able to absorb unlimited numbers.

Moreover, the Council acknowledged "the vital interest of Liechtenstein to maintain its own national identity". It thus concluded that the situation "might justify the taking of safeguard measures by Liechtenstein as provided for in Article 112 of the EEA Agreement".

Article 112 is part of the "safeguard measures" – popularly known as the "emergency brake". Where serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectorial or regional nature arise, which are liable to persist, it allows Efta states (but not EU Member States) unilaterally to take appropriate measures to resolve them. EU Member States have to rely on the Commission to take action.

Back in 1995, with a massive immigration problem looming, the EEA Council asked all members to "endeavour to find a solution which allowed Liechtenstein to avoid having recourse to safeguard measures". However, no long-term solution was found so a temporary expedient was arranged by way of transitional arrangements which allowed the country to impose "quantitative limitations" on immigration until 1 January 1998. These were incorporated into Protocol 15, appended to the Agreement.

The next move was towards the end of 1997, just before the end of the transitional period. There had been no long-term solution found so Liechtenstein unilaterally invoked the Article 112 safeguard measures. By this means, it kept the existing immigration restrictions in place when the transitional period ended. 

There were further attempts to resolve the situation in 1998, which were unsuccessful. Then, on 17 December 1999 after a further review, the EEA Joint Committee decided that the "specific geographical situation of Liechtenstein" still justified "the maintenance of certain conditions on the right of taking up residence in that country".

In order to resolve the situation, though, it came up with a proposal for a longer-term solution, allowing Liechtenstein to introduce a quota system controlling the number of workers allowed to enter the country. This decision was given formal status by an amendment to Annex VIII of the EEA Agreement, setting out what were called "sectoral adaptations", cross-referred to Annex V on the free movement of workers.

As a formal amendment to the EEA Agreement, the decision provided for a new transitional period until 31 December 2006, and allowed for the new measures to apply subject to a review "every five years, for the first time before May 2009".

After reviews in 2009 and in 2015, it was concluded that there was no need to make any change to the current rules. The provisions on the Sectoral Adaptations could remain unchanged. Under the current arrangement, Liechtenstein issues 56 residence permits for economically active and 16 permits to economically non-active persons each year. Half of the totally available permits are decided by lottery, held twice a year.

The numbers involved are, of course, small beer, but Liechtenstein is a tiny country. What matters is that a precedent has been set within the framework of the EEA Agreement for suspending freedom of movement in respect of a single country, and replacing with a quota system for what amounts to an indefinite period.

This is where the situation currently stands. Thus, whatever the EU might declare in terms of freedom of movement being "non-negotiable" for EU Member States, it is undeniable that it is negotiable within the framework of the EEA Agreement, as it applies to Efta states.

Therefore, if the UK chooses to follow the Efta/EEA option as an interim solution to expedite the Article 50 settlement, once the agreement is adopted it can then follow the procedural steps pioneered by Liechtenstein, imposing limits on immigration from EEA states.

In terms of the quota system applied, it should be noted that, in the Australian-style points system, only 23 percent of the migrants admitted come under the points system. The overall limit set amounts to an arbitrary quota, set annually – currently at 190,000. This is, by any measure, a quota system.

To that extent, the UK can have some of its cake and eat it. The "Liechtenstein solution" potentially gives our negotiators far more flexibility than at first imagined, and should help us reach an amicable settlement with the EU, while keeping us in the Single Market.

Richard North 28/06/2016 link

EU Referendum: we're all leavers now

Monday 27 June 2016  

"There can be no doubt about the result", said David Cameron in a statement to the House this afternoon. And with that, technically there are no "remains" any more. We are all "leavers" now.

And Robert Neill MP asks if Article 50 is the only legal way of leaving the EU. Cameron agrees. It is the only legal way that the job can get done. Owen Paterson asks if we will get a White Paper. Cameron answers that we will get multiple reports from the newly formed Brexit unit.  

Carswell ask if some of the architects of the Vote Leave campaign will be involved in the work of the new Cabinet office. Cameron replies that the referendum campaign is over. In other words, "no".

Previously, Ken Clarke had asked Mr Cameron to consider joining the EEA. This is for the next Prime Minister, says Cameron - but the issue is now firmly on the table. It's was a halfway house for nations joining the EU, and it can serve as a halfway house for the UK leaving.

And then there's Flexcit. We're working hard on producing another, updated edition. Already one of our first recommendations has been adopted, with the appointment of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster as head of the Brexit unit, working inside the Cabinet Office.

We look forward to many more of our recommendations being adopted.

Richard North 27/06/2016 link

EU Referendum: getting the strategy right

Monday 27 June 2016  

With David Cameron skulking in No 10, declining to face the challenge of dealing with the aftermath of the referendum, and Corbyn's opposition party crumbling before our very eyes, the nation is currently without an effective government or opposition.

The ruling Conservative Party has shattered into warring factions and no one group has sufficient support to be able to elect a leader outright, while the plotters continue to position Alexander (aka Boris) Johnson as leader-in-waiting.

Meanwhile, Sky News's Faisal Islam "reveals" that Vote Leave doesn't have an exit plan. Having spoken to a Tory MP from Vote Leave, he learns that the plan does not exist. Faisal quotes the anonymous MP as saying: "There is no plan. The leave campaign don't have a post-Brexit plan".

The apparent absence of any such plan is adding to the uncertainty but, in terms of the media narrative, this is undoubtedly deliberate. Faisal knows full well of the existence of Flexcit which has had well over 80,000 downloads and is approaching the 100K mark. Yet he – and even journalists who have previously mentioned it - are studiously ignoring its existence.

There is a certain wilful stubbornness about this, which defies rational expectation. Even MPs and others, anxious to block the ascendency of Mr Johnson, and who are thus determined to produce their own plans, are ignoring the material in front of them, preferring to reinvent the wheel, mostly in any shape but round.

We thus see all around us the beginnings of the debate that we should have been having before the referendum, but at so basic a level that issues we were discussing four or five years ago are now only just being aired.

But in their rush to come up with ideas – and also deal with constraints of Article 50, we see people reveal that they have not even mastered the basics of the subject on which they are now presuming to instruct us mere mortals. More specifically, there are those who are seeking to avoid the use of Article 50, or by-pass it in some way or another, so that they can bring exit negotiations to a speedy and satisfactory conclusion.

You would think that, after 43 years of membership of the Communities, these people would have realised that the European Union is a treaty organisation, of which the United Kingdom is a part. And with that in mind, you might think that they would be aware that provisions for leaving the organisation are bound up in international and treaty law.

Therefore, in framing any strategy for leaving, you would expect people to understand that they must take full note of treaty, etc., provisions – which must be taken as absolutes in determining the general framework of any exit strategy.

On that basis, it is a given that it is not in any way politically or legally realistic to frame any exit strategy which does not conform fully to the provisions of international and treaty law. Strategies really need to be road-tested for compliance, before they are given a public airing.

For the likes of the odious Johnson, Gove and many others, therefore, I am addressing the general principles which strategists should keep in mind. These essentially amount to five points.

Firstly, the right of a Member State to leave the EU lies outside the EU Treaties. The Treaties neither confer the right to leave or impose any conditions which might affect the decision. As Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) itself states:
1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
Article 50, therefore, simply recognises the state of the art. This Article applies only after the decision to leave has been made.

Secondly, the procedural choices on leaving are then limited by international law. We are not allowed pick 'n' mix options, dipping into different treaties to come up with our own desired mix.

We are bound by the principle of lex specialis derogat legi general (special law repeals general law), which is regarded as a fundamental tenet of international law. In short, whenever two or more laws or treaty provisions deal with the same subject matter, priority goes to that which is more specific.

Where Article 50 makes specific provisions for withdrawal, these take precedence over more general provisions, as in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT). We do not have the choice of using one or the other. Our choices are determined by lex specialis.

Thirdly, and subject to my further comments, until the Article 50 procedure is complete, the UK remains bound by the provisions of the EU Treaties, with all the rights, responsibilities and obligations.

As parties to the Treaties, we are obliged under international law to conform with their provisions. This general obligation is conferred by virtue of Article 26 of the VCLT, under the universally recognised provision of pacta sunt servanda: "Every treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith".

As one of the major guarantors of the writ of international law, it is inconceivable that Her Majesty's Government could countenance a breach of pacta sunt servanda. The international ramifications would be profound, with implications far beyond just relations with the Union and its member states. It would gravely weaken the international standing of the United Kingdom.

Therefore, inasmuch as we are obliged to resort to Article 50 by virtue of lex specialis, the principle of pacta sunt servanda obliges us to comply with its provisions.

Fourthly, and notwithstanding the above, any sovereign state, on grounds of its own choosing and disregarding international and treaty law, can unilaterally breach any treaty provisions or unilaterally abrogate any treaty to which it is party. However, while a state can exercise this absolute right, there are consequences to such actions.

No state can bind another outside the framework of international and treaty law (short of invasion and occupation – or other limited means) and thus, if we place ourselves outside this framework, we have no means of controlling the actions of others states – and nor can we entertain any rightful expectations of their actions.

With the EU Treaties in mind, there are no provisions within the Treaties to expel a member state – but this does not mean that the UK cannot be expelled. Specifically, in legal terms, where any party – intentionally or otherwise – is in material breach of treaty provisions, the other parties are entitled to "invoke the breach as a ground for terminating the treaty or suspending its operation in whole or in part" (Art 60 VCLT).

This could apply if we choose to repeal or amend the European Communities Act, or take any other unilateral action before the conclusion of the Article 50 procedural steps. Action such as limiting the jurisdiction of the ECJ, or premature termination of EU budget contributions, which serve to disapply treaty provisions, could be deemed to be a material breach of the treaties.

In this event, the other parties may decide to terminate the Treaties as a whole. They would be entirely within their rights to do so. One should not need to set out the consequences to the UK. They would be catastrophic.

Finally, for those who would seek to negotiate with Member States without triggering Article 50, they must know that this is not a viable option.

In terms of any trade agreement, states could not negotiate because this is an exclusive EU competence. This mechanism is also ruled out because member states, neither individually nor collectively, could require the EU to give the UK access to its agencies or their ongoing programmes.

Furthermore, any agreements reached with Member States outside the Treaty framework cannot be binding on the Union. In this instance, the principle of pacta tertiis nee nocent nee pro sunt applies (a treaty binds the parties and only the parties; it does not create obligations for a third state) applies. This is set out in Article 34 of the VCLT.

Thus, while it may be valid to conduct preliminary (scoping) talks with contracting parties, these cannot be taken to be part of the formal withdrawal process.

Pulling all these points together, it should be noted that this is all seriously basic stuff. You don't have to be a Cambridge don, or a Monnet Professor to work this out. It is freely available on the internet and should be known to anyone embarking on devising an exit strategy.

What this all boils down to, though, is that there is no lawful means by which we can secure an exit without using Article 50. And only once the Article 50 procedure is complete can we think of repealing the European Communities Act. So clear is this that, at this stage in the debate, there should be no need for discussion. The matter should have been treated as settled a long time ago.

Therefore, I am beginning to get extremely irritated at the lack of preparedness, the lack of knowledge and the sheer amateurishness of leave campaigners. A lot of what I am seeing is in multiple breach of treaty and international law and could not therefore be countenanced by any responsible government. For campaigners to offer such poor work is, to be blunt, irresponsible.

We are getting to the point where developments are proceeding at a very rapid pace, with potentially dangerous consequences. We no longer have to time to spoon-feed people with Janet and John explanations, carefully couched so as to smooth over ruffled egos.

This applies especially to MPs, all of whom should be up to speed by now. They should know what they are talking about, rather than be producing amateurish tracts which show them to be way behind the curve. They have responsibilities to the public and they are not living up to them.

With that, we need people to focus on reality - to stop playing games. There should be no more discussion about whether Article 50 is optional. It is not. People need to accept that and prepare accordingly. Until and unless that is fully accepted, there is no hope of any progress.

Richard North 27/06/2016 link

EU Referendum: the opportunity we didn't deserve?

Sunday 26 June 2016  

000a Booker-026 govern.jpg

"Are we still capable of governing ourselves?", is the headline of the Booker column today. There could be no better summing-up of the extraordinary situation in which we all find ourselves this weekend, he writes, than the quotation at the beginning of The Great Deception, the history of the EU we wrote a decade ago.

In 1950, when steps were first being made to create a supranational government for Europe, Britain's then-foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, memorably observed "if you open that Pandora’s box, you never know what Trojan 'orses will jump out".

Says Booker, despite having spent much of the past 24 years trying to explain why Britain's decision to submit to that weird supranational form of government had been, in Lady Thatcher's words, "a political error of the first magnitude", he confesses that on Thursday night he was just as startled as anyone by how the referendum results unfolded.

So dismally had the campaign been conducted by both sides that, right to the end, he was predicting as the best outcome a 48-52 per cent split in favour of Remain – except that it turned out to be exactly the other way round.

Booker, of course, was not the only one to call it wrong, but now we are faced with this Brexit earthquake, Booker is reminded of a scene in a Marx Brothers film where one of them asks a bystander to choose five cards before putting them back in the pack. "Do you want them one at a time" he asks, "or all at once?". When the answer is "all together", he throws the cards up in the air so that they shower all over the place.

Such is our position today – when the cards of Britain's future seem suddenly to have been scattered in all directions. Now Humpty Dumpty has fallen so unexpectedly off his wall, where are all the king's men to put him together again?

The last people to advise on how we should now proceed are those leaders of the Vote Leave campaign, who we all feared would lose us the battle by their refusal to offer a properly worked-out "exit plan": one capable of neutralising Project Fear by allowing us to continue trading, like independent Norway, just as freely with the single market as we do now; but without the political baggage and without having to obey three quarters of the EU's laws.

That, says Booker, is the only intelligent way to go. Yet, as he has asked before, are our politicians and civil servants any longer capable of negotiating such a sensible withdrawal? For decades they have become so used to working within the claustrophobic supranational Brussels system that one has to wonder whether we are any longer capable of governing ourselves.

The real reason why the British people voted as they did, it seems, was not due to the lamentably inadequate arguments put forward by Vote Leave, but by a deep sense that they no longer wish to be ruled by a system they don't understand and by a remote, self-serving political elite, wholly unresponsive to their concerns – exactly that sense of alienation we now see welling up across the EU.

That is why we see crises piling in on the EU from all sides, as that wishful thinking dedicated to suppressing national identity collides with the sense of national interest in all directions – the euro, migration, Ukraine. All these are self-inflicted wounds, and now Brexit adds yet another.

Booker then reminds us that the process of disentangling ourselves from this infinitely complex supranational system will be a much more difficult and lengthier task than most people realise.

"Have we slept so long cocooned in its emasculating embrace that we are no longer capable of rising to that challenge in the grown-up way that it requires?", he asks. Such is the task now before us. Otherwise, having opened Pandora's box, we shall see all those Trojan horses running rings around us – in a way that may cause us to look back on June 2016 as the opportunity we didn't deserve.

Richard North 26/06/2016 link

Brexit: alarm bells

Saturday 25 June 2016  

Now that we are firmly on the path towards leaving the EU, to focus turns to the divorce settlement. But, as an indication of how unprepared we are, we have the pretender to the throne, Alexander (aka Boris) Johnson, still dickering about the application of Article 50, suggesting that it is not necessary to invoke it.

It really is not good enough to have such a basic matter unresolved at this stage. We were writing about it in 2012 and its application has long since been resolved, by the government and by two of the country's leading constitutional lawyers.

Yet still we're having Johnson, Redwood and sundry others arguing the toss – putting the entire negotiations at risk. After all, if these people can't even deal with the basics, there seems little chance of getting to grips with the more complex matters.

When the Article 50 issue has been so thoroughly aired and apparently resolved, and we're still having to revisit the same sterile arguments, over and over again, it is time to sound the alarm bells. Article 50 is the only lawful way to withdraw from the EU. These people need to accept the unarguable, and move on.

However, this controversy over this apparently minor technical point is but the visible steam on a seething cauldron as the Conservative Party breaks up into warring factions, each seeking to seize the prize of the leadership - and control of the renegotiation process.

That process itself will define the shape of post-exit Britain but itself has the potential to bring chaos and destruction to a level unimaginable in modern European politics. Yet, as the ship as it heads for the rocks, Captain Cameron has abandoned ship and madmen squabble over who holds the wheel. 

At the front - for the moment - is the ghastly Johnson making his bid for power, alongside his running-mate Michael Gove. Behind him are men (mostly men - I see no women emerging) whom you would cross the road to avoid. They have ideas so extreme and so devoid of reality that one can scarce believe that what they are pursuing is seriously intended.

These are men with almost autistic characters. They can face down truth with unwavering stares, refusing in any way to accept the consequences of their actions, as they focus manically on their chosen course. And in this case, they are not ruling out unilateral abrogation of the EU treaties - relying on Crown prerogative, which does not even need the assent of Parliament. They would drive us onto the rocks and applaud each other for their skill.

These are worrying times, more worrying than people can imagine - with a power vacuum at the centre which may not hold until October to allow an orderly transfer of power. The referendum has lifted the lid on that seething cauldron. What we see inside is not a pretty sight. It has the potential for much danger.

The referendum has been the cover for a coup. Vote Leave was never about winning the referendum. It was always about taking over the Conservative Party. That's why the Cummings-Elliott axis were happy to let Farage do the preening over the count. They were too busy executing their coup. Now, Cameron has been deposed and the plotters are storming the palace. Cummings is already behaving as if he was chief of staff at No 10. 

Corbyn's opposition in disarray, their leader a weak, empty man. With him in place, there is little Parliament can do to stop the zealots taking over. What the plotters can do, and have the potential to do, is not something any sane person would even want to imagine.

With little idea of what is really going on, we thus see some media - dominated by prattling girlies (of both sexes) - on about us being "out of the EU". We're not, and there's a long way to go. There is very little chance of achieving an orderly transition - if indeed that is possible - if the wrong people grab the wheel.

In place of that, we face the possibility of an "association" deal being negotiated. On offer will be a second-class status little different to that of Ukraine, effectively under the control of the EU. It will leave us, as Cameron so often warned, without any seats at any of the "top tables". The worst of all possible worlds.

In the absence of a coherent exit strategy - as Westminster descends into chaos - this option may seem increasingly attractive to many. It will be hailed as a way of reimposing order. But it puts us in the position of supplicants as the siren calls for order and certainty swell in volume. Thus will be the choice - chaos or subjugation, with the idea of freedom a distant memory.

That points the way to a different coup, one being prepared for us in Brussels, with the pressure on to bounce us into early negotiations before anyone is ready. There awaiting us will be a "honey trap" - increasingly attractive compared with the chaos at the centre. We may be watching ourselves leap from a sizzling pan into a roaring fire.

Richard North 25/06/2016 link

EU Referendum: so what next?

Friday 24 June 2016  

While they're sweeping up all those chicken heads, we have Flexcit for you: it's all worked out here. Just follow the instructions and you won't go far wrong. Written by hundreds, read by thousands (currently over 80,000), this is the definitive exit plan, as noted by The Register.

There is also the video which helps explain some of the issues, and the short version here.

Over the next hours, weeks and months we are going to be assailed by ill-informed comment in super-tanker quantities, much of it from the BBC whose David Dimbleby referred to Article 50 as "Chapter 50" - reflecting the degree of knowledge and insight in the institution.

In this and other media organisations - and in government itself - there is terrifyingly little knowledge of the workings of the EU, and next to none about how we should extract ourselves from it. Listening to some of the offerings is painful.

However, with the promised resignation of Mr Cameron as Prime Minister, the excellent news is that he has had the sense to to defer the Article 50 notification to his successor. It will not - as Cameron suggested it might (another example of FUD) - be invoked immediately.

That gives us some time for reflection and planning, and also some mature consideration as to timing.

Key events are the French presidential elections in May next year and the German federal elections, which will be held between 27 August and 22 October 2017. Until those are over, and the new (or existing) German Chancellor is bedded in, there is not much point in invoking Article 50. There will be no-one on the other side of the table, capable of making a decision.

The new prime minister must also decide on whether he (or she) wants the two-year article 50 negotiating period to run into our own general election period. There might be some sense (but also some hazard) in setting the period so that the tail end straddles the election. That way a putative settlement can be part of the election mandate sought.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this, and a national conversation might be appropriate.

Also, we have to deal with the assumption that the negotiation period will necessarily be two years. It can be extended by unanimity. However, there is nothing in the book which says the application for an extension has to be left to the last minute. It could, in fact, be the first order of business. A British government could start the talks with a proposal to extend the period - taking the pressure off negotiators.

And there, we are going to have to see some serious realism. Even with the best will in the worlds - adopting the EEA core acquis unchanged - concluding the settlement within two years is going to take Herculean effort. We are going to have to throw a huge number of concessions off the sledge to make it happen.

The end result, therefore, is going to be neither pretty nor clean. And there are going to be plenty of naysayers warbling: "I told you so", when we see no immediate savings on contributions, and no immediate cut in immigration.

But even Dan Hannan has managed to understand enough of Flexcit (not that he would ever admit it) to realise that Brexit is a process, not event. By the time he has repeated that point enough times, he will have convinced himself that he invented it, and will dine out on his own cleverness

The crucial element, though, is that the extraction will be phased. The legal-politico task of withdrawing from the EU treaties is only the start of a long process, a means to an end - an opportunity rather than a reward (some more slogans for Mr Hannan to steal). What we do then will determine whether Brexit will have been worth it - there is danger as well as opportunity.

A government and media bereft of ideas, however, will need guidance. And it is a truism that most new policy initiatives come from outside government not within. After all, the very idea of joining the EEC came as a result of external agitation and lobbying. A tolerable post-EU order, therefore, is going to be driven by minds outside the bubble.

Fortunately, so much of the work is already done. It is there to steal, and any number of clever Hannan-clones can read our work and claim authorship. We can't stop them doing it and, if that is what is necessary, some of it will have to be tolerated. Small minds can't cope with "not invented here" syndrome.

Nevertheless, Flexcit is sufficiently well established for many of its readers to recognise the origin or parts when they appear. To see them used will be something of a reward. To know that their users could not bring themselves to acknowledge the origins will tell its own story - one we can see unfolding for our entertainment over the next two years.

A new sport is born - Flexcit spotting. Step forward Mr Hannan. In the meantime, as Mary Ellen says, we can spend a little time partying.

Richard North 24/06/2016 link

EU Referendum: so it's out then!

Friday 24 June 2016  

Guest post by Pete North
Well, we've done it. Defying all of my expectations. Firstly, I want to get some things out of the way. Though I was wrong about the result I think the Vote Leave campaign was dismal. I believe it is responsible for this being a slim victory and not a landslide. Those ideas put forth by the leave camp have been wholly disgusting and factually incorrect. I do want to leave the EU but I do not seek the Britain as envisaged by the Tory right, the Labour left or Ukip. Thankfully, reality stands in the way of that.

As campaigner and contributing editor at The Leave Alliance, you should know this. The official Leave campaign was one widely opposed and we never wanted the likes of Boris Johnson or Farage. These are not informed men and they have no idea what they are talking about. Our ethos at TLA was to make a liberal case for leaving the EU, seeking not to dodge the political realities.

To that end, we produced a comprehensive Brexit plan which is rumoured to be required reading in the civil service. We make the case that leaving the EU in a single bound is impossible as it is damaging both to the EU and the UK. And so our recommended path is similar to that of Norway whereby we retain single market membership and freedom of movement.

The funding for the official Vote Leave campaign dries up today and that malign entity will be dismantled. What Ukip says will no longer be relevant. This is now a decision for the adults.

The majority of MPs are opposed to leaving the EU and so they absolutely will not support any moves to leave the EEA as well and so there are democratic safeguards in place to ensure extreme measures are not taken. 

We are meeting on Tuesday to discuss future direction. The proposal will be to continue making the case for Flexcit and for Efta membership under the banner of TLA. It sees us as close allies of the EU but not subordinate to it, which I believe is best for the UK. It retains most of the advantages of the EU without requiring a political merger and gives us control of key policy. I think it is the right move.

This is not about hostility to Europeans or Europe. This is hostility to our political class who continued to commit us to further subordination without public consent. One way or another, Britain will remain a liberal and tolerant nation. We are simply choosing a different mode for our relations with Europe. 

The EU is based on a dogmatic principle of supranationalism. We are departing from that to a more multilateral mode both in Efta and the WTO. This is not the end of the world and I can assure you Ukip and the likes will not get their way. We know this because they only scored 14% at the general election. There are more of us than there are of them.

As a committed leaver for all of my adult life I detest Ukip and what they stand for. And so do our thousands of supporters. I believe this is the right move because the question is now resolved, we can reboot British politics, redesign British governance and move on from a 40 year quarrel. Politics will be far healthier for it at the end of this process.

In the meantime, nothing happens immediately, there is no need for alarm. Brexit is a process, not an event and we will see in due course that the propaganda spouted by the remain campaign was a gross distortion of the facts. 

Though if you wish to guarantee Britain remains a liberal and tolerant country, it will require of you that you maintain current levels of political particpation and speak up for what you believe in. We have been disengaged for far too long which is why we are even here in the first place.

There will be more to discuss and this blog will continue as normal and I expect there is more work to be done. Meanwhile, enjoy the party. You have earned it.

Pete also blogs here, on Pete North's political blog.

Pete North 24/06/2016 link

EU Referendum: Victory!

Friday 24 June 2016  

05:05 We're on 15.2m to 14.2m  for the remains ... we're more than a million ahead, going up. Congratulations everybody ... the team. You did us all proud. We did it.

And so to bed. I've been up for 22 hours. I'll pick up when I've had a bit of sleep.

04:55 Keith Vaz says this is a crushing, crushing decision. A terrible decision... "in a thousand years, I would never have believed people would have voted in this way. It's catastrophic". We must now get the best deal in respect of our exit.

04:49 The Eurocrats are now facing a Brexit-coloured wrecking ball smashing through the Berlaymont.

04:38: Remain on 11,944,720. Leave gets 12,751,576 votes. This is an 800K margin, going on 1 million. Dimbleby says there is no way "remain" can win. It looks as if we have reversed the decision of the 1975 referendum. We're out.

04:31: Rumour has it that Birmingham is about to go leave. And we're waiting for Cornwall ... patronising twat called Martin somebody says fishing is a "very emotional" issue. Steve Hilton says the question is no longer about whether we leave but how.

04:20: Count now stands at 10,363,816 for remain and 10,996,500 for leave - a clear 600K advantage. The BBC's Emily Maitlis interviews Will Straw - who looks knackered. Remainers behind him very subdued. But he does not concede defeat. This is a "wake-up call" for the political élites, he says. It's a very close result - there's going to be a "lot of reflection".

04:04 Stupid BBC person says that if we leave the EU, we put things like Erasmus behind us. And yet she will pick up her salary cheque this month. Meanwhile, Farage is giving a ranty victory speech. Just as well the polls are closed - that would have cost us a million votes. BBC is saying the "balance of advantage" lies with leave campaign. 

03:55 I can see dawn from my office window - a new dawn on an independent Britain? Yay! Suck it up guys. The lights are on in the Berlaymont. Hillary Benn says "if you walk away from the world's largest market, you crate (sic) a great deal of uncertainty". Note to Benn ... if we leave, the EU is no longer the world's largest market!

03:45 Rossendale in Lancashire delivers 39.3 percent for remain (15,012 votes), while leave gets 60.7 percent (23,169 votes) - at last, we've got something good to say about Lancashire. The discussion about what we might need to do if we vote leave is no longer an academic one. Remain is saying they still think a win is "possible". Leave is on 6 million and the remains are on 5.8 million. And, in the "Asian markets", there is "a real sense of anxiety" ... aw, shucks!

03:40: On a personal level, recorded 59,659 hits yesterday and 21,968 already today. With 380 comments on this thread, this sets new records for the blog. My thanks to all readers and supporters.

In high-immigrant Haringey, remain gets 75.6 percent (79,991 votes) while a mere 24.4 goes to leave (25,855 votes). Crawley is an interesting one. Home authority for Gatwick airport, it delivers a remain vote of 41.6 percent (22,388 votes) and leave gets 58.4 percent (31,447 votes).

03:15 We have 260 of 382 areas still to declare, so we're not even halfway. But remain is still trailing with 49.8 percent on 4,149,554 votes and leave is still ahead (marginally) on 50.2 percent, with 4,184,849 votes. The country is split down the middle. Dimbleby is trying to pull in extraneous domestic issues and play down the EU element. He doesn't get it.

03:05 Nobby Richmond upon Thames delivers 69.3 percent and 75,396 votes for remain and 30.7 percent and 33,410 votes for leave. Nevertheless, the BBC is talking of a "high possibility" of a Brexit by the end of the night. This is something of a turnround - part of the dynamic is that Labour members outside London are telling the party to get stuffed.

02:53 286 results left to declare. Leave stands at 3,453,618 votes and remain gets 3,420,957 votes. It's London and Scotland versus the rest of the country, but even London isn't homogeneous. Barking & Dagenham has yielded only 37.6 percent for remain at 27,750 votes, while 62.4 percent and 46,130 votes go to leave.

02:00: Unexpected strength in the North-East is skewing the result in favour of "leave".

01:25: Overall, the English vote stands at "leave" with 324,829 votes and remain at 256,890 votes. For the UK as a whole, remain has gained 344,535 votes. Leave has taken 370,404 votes. There are 367 results yet to declare. The electorate is 46,503,464.

Whoever is going to get a victory, they are having work for the result. Based on current turnout estimates - 67.4 percent - the winning post is set at 16.8 million. As a reminder, the 1975 turnout was 64.5 percent. Peter Kelner is saying the results look much closer now. A remain victory is no longer certain.

01:19 Shetland declares remains at 56.5 percent and leave at 43.5 percent. This is an interesting result. Shetland was one of the only two areas in the 1975 referendum which came in with a "no" vote, delivering 56 percent.

01:00: Swindon delivers another possible outlier, with the remains coming in at 45.3 percent (51,220 votes) and leave at 54.7 percent (61,745 votes). Broxbourne gives the remains 33.7 percent and the "leaves" 66.3 percent. There is no clear trend yet emerging from any of these results. That "long night" just got longer.

Dimbleby, talking about the prospects of leaving the EU, starts referring to "Chapter 50". This is the BBC's finest political mind?

00:54: A stonking result from Sunderland. The "remains" get 51,930 votes while the "leaves" pull in 82,394 votes. This is much better than expected. The "remains" are said to be a little nervous. That gives the "remains" 38.7 percent, while the "leaves" have taken 61.3 percent.

Clackmannanshire is also in: Remain 57.8 percent, leave 42.2 percent. This puts the "leave" campaign ahead by 3,200 votes after 5 declarations. Foyle (Northern Ireland) gives the "remains" 78.3 percent. Leave gets 21.7 percent.

00:05 Newcastle: first result from England - Remain: 65,404 (50.7 percent), Leave 63,598 (49.3 percent). This is much closer than predicted by the legion of "experts". The "remains" were expecting to have done better. Orkney also in. Remain 63.2 percent, leave 36.8 percent. In 1975, it delivered 62 percent "yes" - the two results almost the same.

23:37: Massive 96 percent vote in Gibraltar in favour of remain - to no one's surprise.

23:22: Speaking to a High Person this evening, his day on the hustings had no one mention the £350 million "savings" as the reason for leaving. One of the biggest handicaps of the entire campaign, he said, was having to talk down the lie, before the discussion could get down to the details. In every way imaginable, the Vote Leave campaign has been a train wreck. If we do actually win, it will have been in spite of, not because, of the efforts of the Vote Leave hierarchy.

22:55: Ipsos Mori offers an "on-the-day" poll with "remain" in the lead with 54 percent and "leave" at 46 percent – closer to my minimum expectation of a ten-point gap. 

There is good evidence to support a thesis that a substantial number of people do not actually make up their minds until they have a pencil in their hand and are looking at the ballot paper. It is then that the "fear" motivation is at its strongest. And it is my view that Vote Leave and the other main "leave" campaigns simply failed sufficiently to address the economic impact of leaving.

In fact, by specifically rejecting continued participation in the Single Market, Vote Leave seems to have gone out of its way to ensure that we would lose what I believe was a winnable contest. This crass intervention, in my view, will prove to be the single most important factor in driving voters into the "remain" camp.

22:45: If we have lost, the fight goes on. This hasn't been a free and fair fight, but one characterised by a Prime Minister who has elevated political lying to an art form, starting with his faux renegotiation and his non-treaty. I feel no obligation to take this result as final, and will continue to work for an independent Britain.

The immediate task will be to identify the reasons why we lost. The official Vote Leave campaign will already be polishing its excuses, ready to come up with the conclusion that its was everybody else's fault except theirs. Pete North, however, has already published two posts, here and here, looking at some of the problem areas. It will come as not surprise for you to learn that he (rather like his father) is looking to the execrable conduct of the campaign for his answers.

22:15: For what it's worth, I think we're going to lose - a prediction where I sincerely hope I'm wrong. To those I've been talking to privately, I've been saying this consistently throughout the campaign. If there is a poll error (YouGov gives "remain" 52 percent and "leave" 48 percent), I think it will be in understating the margin. I expect there to be at least a ten-point gap, and possibly more - closer to the 1975 result.

Then as you will recall, the result was 67.2 percent in favour of continued membership of the "Common Market", with a turnout of 64.5 percent. The registered electorate at that time was 40,456,886 human beings - plus Ted Heath.

22:05: It's going to be a very long night, says somebody. Is anyone recording the cliché rate (measured in clichés per minute - cps)? This is going to be agony - a procession of talking heads on the idiot's lantern, people who I didn't want to listen to during the campaign, and the very people who have nothing to say to me now.

22:00: Polls closed. Why is it that ITV feels the need to have a moronic drumbeat to accompany its announcements?

19:33: The BBC's Nick Robinson is complaining that the referendum campaign has been a "deeply demoralising experience". Both sides, he says, have acted in a "deeply misleading way". When the campaign is over, he adds: "I don't think that we will look back and think that we had a healthy debate of the issues".

18:02: Even the Metro – via Ben Kelly - can acknowledge "Flexit" (sic). But not the mighty Telegraph.

17:12: Stephen Bush in the New Statesman has just discovered that the splits in society are not defined by left and right – brought to light by a divisive referendum campaign. To us, it is interesting how many times we have to write that "they catch up eventually. We were writing about this stuff in early 2011 and again later the same year. And what we were saying then is just as true now, even if it takes this referendum to make people notice.

15:44: Interesting piece by Allister Heath in the Telgraph. This is Flexcit by any other name, but nicely sanitised so the ideas don't have to be attributed. I'm told I should be pleased that our ideas are at last "getting out there", and of course I am. And you can't patent or copyright such ideas. But, all the same, while we get that warm glow of satisfaction from seeing them in print, having salarymen plagiarise or steal them doesn't pay the bills. Gradually, stage-by-stage, Heath is stealing our work. After a few more articles, he will own it.

14:36: I am not sure I can get my head round the idea of legions of clerks, armed with erasers, secretly rubbing out "leave" votes and replacing them with votes for the other side. However, when it comes to the use of pens, it was instructive to note that we were offered that option at our polling station. I forgot to ask whether one could mark the box in blood … preferably from somebody else.

14:21: "Dougan the Dishonest" has posted a transcript of his little venture into mendacity. And, on the main webpage we are told that he "analyses the substance of each viewpoint and delivers an informed assessment of the UK's potential future position, both as a member of the EU and in the wake of a vote to leave".

That, quite demonstrably, is untrue. Self-evidently, the man is not analysing the substance of each viewpoint. Had that been the case, he would not merely have said of the legal review, "it will have to be done very, very quickly". He would have to have said that "some" (i.e., himself and supporters) thought it would have to be done quickly. Others suggest that it could be done at a more leisurely pace.

Not anywhere, though, is there any attempt to give an assessment of both viewpoints. This is quite clearly advocacy, promoting the "remain" cause.

Then, on the website, we get the disclaimer: "Professor Dougan is an employee of the University of Liverpool. He does not work for, undertake paid consultancy for, or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article". Yet, he is the holder of a Jean Monnet chair, and the post is financed by the European Union. For sure, the money is not paid to Dougan directly. It is paid to the University, and they pay him. Why does the University not see fit to state this? What has it got to hide?

13:23: Just been out to vote. The clerks report they've already done more business than they do in a full day. There were queues waiting to get in at five to seven.

12:44: The Electoral Commission reports that 46,499,537 have registered to vote. Most of them are people. This is a record for a UK poll. Early reports have people queuing to cast their votes.

12:03: On this day, in the year 930, the world's oldest parliament, the Icelandic Parliament, the Alþingi (anglicised as Althing or Althingi), was established. Particularly attractive features of this assembly were that it was held in the open air and the delegates were required to stand throughout the proceedings.

11:21: Latest opinion poll from Ipsos Mori (via Britain elects, on Twitter) has the "remains" on 52 percent (up five points) and the "leaves" on 48 percent (down five points). This is a telephone poll and the "don't knows" have been excluded.

Through the day and into the night, on this historic day, I'll keep a running blog going, adding to is as events demand. In the meantime, you are more than welcome to treat this as an open thread. And I'm glad my part in the event is being recognised, at last. I'll let you into a secret ... this North is voting to leave. The North not in the North will as well. The Norths have it?

Interestingly, the dishonest Dougan spat rumbles on. Last night, we received this (below) from Liverpool University.

000a Liverpool-023 Dougan.jpg

This raises an interesting point, as we are sternly told that, even if we disagree with Dougan's view, it is "honestly held". That, by all accounts, makes him an honest man.

One didn't realise quite the degree to which sophistry is part of the academic's armoury these days, combined with an overweening arrogance that elevates them - in their own minds - to demi-god status, superior to us mere mortals. What they never seem to realise is that some of us have been there before, and might know a little bit more than they do. That never even occurs to them. In their reality, it is probably not even possible.

What Dougan - and his employers - are neglecting is that the brave professor is not a common and garden "ordinary man". He presents himself as an expert, implying that he is independent, setting himself up in judgement over the "leave" campaign.

The thing is, the moment you set yourself up as an "expert", the rules change. On the one hand, you are claiming that special status and demanding that your "expert opinion" be respected. But with that status comes special responsibilities. You are not allowed to retreat behind the defence of ignorance, the ignorance of an ordinary man, and claim protection from the charge of "dishonesty" on the basis that you didn't know. You cannot concede that you may be wrong, "but the views were honestly held", if any real expert could recognise the error.

That is the ordinary man's defence. It is not available to the expert. If you claim expertise, then you are expected to project the state of the art. To claim you are an expert and then not give a rounded, expert opinion - instead offering a limited, partisan view - is in itself dishonest. And, with that in mind, I have replied in these (for me) relatively gentle terms.

000a Liverpool-023 Dougan2.jpg

Dougan, in fact - whether he realises it or not - has stepped off the expert "plinth" and got stuck in the street fight, dishing it out to all and sundry. As such, he cannot claim any special privileges. As an expert, he should have known he was talking rubbish. If he didn't know he was talking rubbish, then he's not an expert. He can't have it both ways.

Richard North 24/06/2016 link

EU Referendum: correcting an historic mistake

Thursday 23 June 2016  

One of the compulsory course reading books student public health inspectors were presented in my time (and probably still are, as they go to university to take their environmental sciences degrees) was a manual on communicable diseases.

We had to be familiar with the terrors of smallpox, cholera, typhoid and even green monkey disease (which was then emerging as yet another threat – to say nothing of pneumonic plague).

Each disease was summarised in standard format in two pages, with the last category always being the treatment. And as a rule of thumb, the longer the list of cures, the less effective any of them were likely to be. The entries on diseases for which there were certain and effective treatments were usually a model of brevity.

So it is with reasons for leaving the European Union. The longer the list, the less convincing it is – and the easier it is to find excuses for disagreement. But then, we only need one reason to leave. That is good enough – so powerful that it transcends all others.

Essentially, today is our opportunity to correct an historic mistake. Politicians and others in the 1960s and early 70s, looking at the apparent success of Continental economies, and mistakenly believing this to be a function of the then Common Market, made the further mistake of believing that joining this construct would help cure Britain's post-war economic ailments.

Others who were fully aware of the integrationalist agenda, such as Ted Heath, had different ideas. But the fact is most people thought we were joining an economic union.

So prevalent is this myth that, to this day, many Conservative MPs still believe that we joined a Common Market that somehow lost its way – round about Maastricht – and started down the path to becoming a European "superstate".

Myth or not, it is fair to say that there is no popular mandate for joining of putative United States of Europe. And then, on the other hand, there is nothing that could be achieved by way of economic and other forms of neighbourly cooperation that could not have been achieved by other means.

To sum it up in a nutshell, in 1973 we joined a supranational construct, ostensibly to securing economic cooperation, when the same end could have been achieved by intergovernmental means, a looser and healthier form of association.

To have joined a supranational body was a mistake then and - as the Communities have grown to embrace 28 members – that mistake has become even more apparent. And, as we see the march of globalisation, while we are chained to "little Europe" in what is becoming a global backwater, the mistake has assumed colossal proportions.

Thus, today, 23 June 2016, the hundredth anniversary of the battle of Verdun from which came the intellectual driver of the European Union construct, we have the opportunity to correct an error.

In so doing, we are not leaving "Europe" – nor even travelling in a markedly different direction. The image of the signpost (above) sends the wrong signal, which has us going in almost opposite directions.

A better image would be the one below, with multiple trains travelling on roughly parallel tracks. Each is free to travel at its own speed and to stop at stations of their choice. Some may share the same destination, others may not. Still more may share part of the journey, diverging only as they travel on to reach their final destinations. 

In fact, there is no destination. The affairs of a nation are a journey. We the people are passengers in a journey through time. We depart and others climb on, then to depart in a never-ending progression. We can decide on the speed and direction – to a certain extent, but never the ultimate destination. That is unknowable.

But if today we decide that it is necessary to travel in a different direction, uncoupling ourselves from the EU train, we should not be concerned with the immediate consequences. Undoubtedly there will be a cost, but it is likely to be minimal and, as we point out in Flexcit, there is no need whatsoever for leaving the EU to be a leap in the dark.

Neither should we have any false or exaggerated expectations of the outcomes of our choice. Many will argue, for instance, that leaving offers us a chance to restore our democracy, except that this is a country which has barely if at all experience democracy and, with the current London-centric political classes in place, we are hardly ever likely to.

In fact leaving, in itself, achieves nothing and gives us nothing. It is not an end but a means to an end – a change in our status which enables us to make better and different decisions if we choose to do so. It does not guarantee that we will make those decisions or, necessarily, secure us better outcomes.

To leave, therefore, is to open us new opportunities for ourselves as a nation – it is an investment in a future, a better future than can be achieved as members of the European Union. It is an expression of faith and confidence in ourselves.

As such, no one should let themselves be influenced by the official referendum campaigns. Both have been inept neither have even begun to address the issues – the real issue – as to why we should leave. From the mouths of none of the campaigners to I recall having heard the words "supranational" and "intergovernmental".

Yet if we go back to the Parliamentary debates of the 1950s through to the 70s, when we actually joined the EEC, these two terms were the common currency of discourse, with MPs from both sides – and their Lordships – completely familiar with them, their respective meanings and the implications of choosing either.

In that broad historical context, the "remains" are quick to assert that Winston Churchill would have supported our membership of the EU, citing his 1946 Zurich speech. But here we have Churchill speaking in a 1950 debate in the House of Commons, on the Schuman Plan.

This is an occasion when MPs are talking about specifics, and the supranational nature of the proposed construct is well recognised – as is its role as a precursor to a "Federal Union of Europe" (to use Churchill's own words). And in that debate, he asked: "what association should Britain have with if such a thing should come to pass in the course of time?"He then answered in these terms:
It has not got to be decided today, but I shall give, with all humility, a plain answer. I cannot conceive that Britain would be an ordinary member of a Federal Union limited to Europe in any period which can at present be foreseen.
Churchill was very much in favour of helping developments on the Continent. We should, he said, "help, sponsor and aid in every possible way the movement towards European unity. We should seek steadfastly for means to become intimately associated with it". But, he said:
We must find our path to world unity through the United Nations organisation, which I hope will be re-founded one day upon three or four regional groups, of which a united Europe should certainly be one. By our unique position in the world, Great Britain has an opportunity, if she is worthy of it, to play an important and possibly a decisive part in all the three larger groupings of the Western democracies. Let us make sure that we are worthy of it.
This was exactly a reflection of his Hague speech in 1948, where he argued for the United Nations to be the "paramount authority" in world affairs, but with regional bodies as part of the structure. They would be "august but subordinate", becoming "the massive pillars upon which the world organisation would be founded in majesty and calm".

Effectively, a New World Order would comprise a hierarchy of three tiers – national, regional and global. In the European context, this would include all the nations in continental Europe.

While was clearly Mr Churchill's ambition for that moment, what has actually emerged is not a dominant regional but a sub-regional entity. This is the European Union, which has assumed the role and many of the powers of a regional entity, without actually being one.

But, as we point out in Flexcit, that true European regional body does exist in the United Nations Economic Commission Europe (UNECE). Established in 1947, it has as interesting history, initially under its first executive secretary, Gunnar Myrdal. In the organisation of UNECE, we now have the a body which could manage a genuine Europe-wide single market, outside the grip of Brussels, run on a truly intergovernmental basis.

That is one of the many options open to us should be choose today to correct that historic mistake. And, to that effect, we need no other reason to cast our vote to "leave". Membership of the European Union is not for us. Joining the EEC in 1973 was a mistake. We would be perpetuating that mistake if we did not leave now.

Richard North 23/06/2016 link

EU Referendum: spilling the beans on cucumbers

Wednesday 22 June 2016  

When on 19 May Jeremy Paxman opened his programme on "Who Really Rules Us?", declaring that: "Everywhere you look, the European Union is telling us what to do", he chose to illustrate his point by brandishing a cucumber and regaling us with details of Commission Regulation (EEC) No 1677/88.

The very least you would think the BBC might be able to trail in the wake of Huffington Post and revisit its own ignorance. Having made such a meal of the "cucumber regulation, it should now broadcast a report on the blog by UNECE's executive secretary, Christian Friis Bach.

Headed, "Cucumbers: Blame the UN", Bach writes that, as the UK referendum on Brexit approaches, he feels "obliged to stand forward and confess" – something which the BBC is clearly unable to do. The European Union, he says, is often criticized for dealing with ridiculous things such as the shape of cucumbers: banning the curved ones and imposing straight ones on farmers and consumers alike. But, he adds: "this story is wrong for three reasons".

The first and foremost of these reasons is not the European Union that has developed the current standard for cucumbers. It is the UN or to be more specific Bach's organization, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

In fact, he says, the European Union does not have a specific cucumber standard but traders can refer to the UNECE standard to meet the EU's general marketing requirements. Therefore, "don't blame the EU, blame us".

The second reason Bach puts in that the standard does not force all cucumbers to be equally straight. It is correct that an Extra Class or Class I cucumber can only bend 1 centimetre for each 10 centimetres. But a Class II cucumber can actually bend 2 centimetres for each 10 centimetres. There are straight cucumbers and not so straight cucumbers.

But the third and most important reason for why the story is wrong, is because these agricultural standards are very useful and widely used. The standards not only facilitate trade, they also help producers get a better price for better quality.

Traders in the UK can buy cucumbers from Spain or Morocco, or any other country by simply referring to the standard. They will then be able to compare prices, knowing exactly what they will get. There is no need to travel all the way to where the cucumbers are grown to inspect them.

The quality is defined by the standard. So, if you order Class I cucumbers, you will get Class I cucumbers. This is trade facilitation at its best. And the producers of Class I cucumbers, wherever they might be, will get the premium for a Class I cucumber.

But, says Bach, you could argue, why do they have to be straight? What about all the curved cucumbers that are then wasted? Should we not fight food waste?

Bach readily concedes that we should do this. But, he says, this is also part of the logic behind the cucumber standard. Very curved cucumbers are difficult to store in boxes and, when transported, they bump into each other and end up with bruises, especially when travelling longer distances.

This means that they will get soft spots and start rotting before even arriving at the supermarket and will have to be thrown away. Moreover, many cucumbers are processed by machines, and, if they are very curved, they will get stuck in the machine and have to be thrown away.

Finally, experience shows that consumers tend to choose straight cucumbers, so even if the curved ones make it to the shop, some of them will probably be wasted anyway.

It is therefore, Bach says, better to sell and eat curved cucumbers locally in the producing countries. Curved cucumbers are just as delicious as straight ones but not every cucumber is meant to travel and end up in a supermarket. Curved ones can be sold directly by local farms or on local markets or, if no longer edible, they can be collected and used as animal feed or turned into compost.

On that basis, Bach asserts that the cucumber standard is a good standard. And the world needs significantly more cooperation on standards of all kinds, be it in the UN or in the EU. And even if you do not agree, he concludes, then remember if you hear the cucumber critique: do not blame the EU. Credit the UN.

And with this sentiment, we completely agree. Without the predictability that a uniform and enforceable standard gives buyers, trade in cucumbers and the many other products covered by UNECE standards would be far more costly and difficult. Those standards are as important to traders as AAA standards are to battery dealers.

Unfortunately, with the willing complicity of the media, such standards have come to represent the very essence of pettifogging regulation, with the flatulent man-child Alexander (aka Boris) Johnson capitalising on the collective ignorance of the "leavers", poking "fun" at things he clearly doesn't understand.

Through this stupidity, though, he and his ilk have failed to capitalise on one of the most potent weapons available to the "leave" campaign – the globalisation of standards.

The very fact that standards essentially to the conduct of trade are no longer made by the EU but by regional bodies such as UNECE, and global bodies such as Codex, means that we no longer need the EU to drive the development of a European single market.

Right now, a global market is in the making, and as long as we're in the EU, we have no votes at the "top tables". They are no longer in Brussels, but in Geneva, Rome, Paris, Washington, Vancouver, and in cities throughout the world. The cucumber standard is produced in Geneva, but the illustrated brochure is prepared by the OECD in Paris (illustrated).

The "killer point" for the "leave" campaign is that countries like Norway have a vote – but we do not. We have 1/28th of a "common position", which we are obliged to follow. In campaign terms, we've lost a phenomenally important debating point, merely so that "Boris" can indulge his obsession on "bent banana" rules.

Interestingly, I was writing about UNECE and cucumber standards on this blog in June 2014, but our high and mighty "eurosceptic aristocracy" have been far too grand to take notice - or even understand the implications of what I've been writing. Many of them seem to cultivate and take a perverse pride in their own ignorance.

But here we are, with one day to go before polling day and I'm writing about the failure of the "leave" campaign to deploy its resources properly, while no less than the executive secretary of UNECE spills the beans on cucumbers.

Alongside Pete, though, we are aware that such issues are highly sensitive and careless discussion on them might well see another MP slain. When it comes to cucumbers, though, such passions are inevitable.

Nevertheless, win or lose, when it comes to the "debriefing" on this campaign, we won't have to look very far for reasons to explain its poor performance.

Richard North 22/06/2016 link

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