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Wednesday 6 May 2015  

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Considering how prominent Ukip has been in the run-up to this election, and its potentially pivotal role in determining which of the major parties takes office, I actually write relatively few pieces specifically about the party – and far less than the legacy media. Some newspapers run several Ukip-related stories each day.

Nevertheless, there is a tedious constancy about the occasional visitors to this site, who pop up whenever I do write a Ukip-related story, asserting that my hostile tone is motivated entirely by a "grudge" against Farage.

These are the sort of people who by their breadth of ignorance demonstrate that they rarely visit EU Referendum, yet seem to believe that by attacking me they can somehow exonerate their leader from his own incompetence, a man who still thinks we can have a referendum this year.

Farage has already tried that one and one might have supposed that he would have learned a lesson from the reactions. But that has never been his style – learning from experience. For Farage, Proverb 26-11 is an article of faith.

As to that grudge of mine, one should take it that Hamish Macdonell of The Times is similarly afflicted, having written of Ukip's Scottish launch on Monday, that:
One of Ukip's core arguments is that it is made up of real people, not the professional politicians who run the mainstream parties. That is certainly true: there was precious little professionalism on display in Falkirk. It was, quite frankly, one of the most botched and bungled events of recent political history …
At least the Times reporter found the event entertaining, but the entertainment value runs thin when one sees the studied incompetence of the party seriously threatening any progress towards a successful referendum campaign.

But then, when Iain Duncan-Smith writes that : "Voting for Ukip and Nigel Farage is like writing Britain's 'suicide note'", no doubt he is in the thrall of a grudge as well, as indeed must the Telegraph, for publishing his words on the front page (pictured top).

Nevertheless, the Work and Pensions Secretary says voting Ukip in the general election is "unfathomable" and people "will not be forgiven" for ruining the chances of holding an in-out referendum on Britain's membership of the EU.

And that latter part is true. One is reminded of Carswell, before he switched sides, telling us that that only the Conservative would guarantee us an "in-out" referendum, which would "only happen" if Mr Cameron was prime minister. No doubt, Mr Carswell had a grudge as well.

The fact is, though, that under the tenure of Mr Farage, the net effect of Mr Carswell's new party is to make an EU referendum less winnable, with YouGov now reporting a 12-point lead for the "inners", up two points since April.

No doubt, even to remark on that must be considered evidence of a grudge, because in Ukip-land, Farage still thinks he can take the country by storm in a 2015 referendum, and win the contest without even bothering to work up a credible exit plan.

Fortunately, the losers are losing, which means that, when this election is over, we can get back to addressing the problem of how to win a referendum without the distraction of Ukip and its train-wreck policies and its incompetence.

But once again, that has to be a grudge speaking. After all, if it wasn't for The Great Leader, we might already have a credible exit plan, Mr Cameron might be heading for an easier victory, and we might be ahead in the EU referendum polls. And that would never do.

Richard North 06/05/2015 link

Tuesday 5 May 2015  

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An extraordinary thing about this weekend just past, when a record number of asylum seekers crossed the Mediterranean from Libya, is the relatively modest coverage in the British press. According to Reuters, nearly 5,800 were plucked from boats off the coast of Libya and ten bodies were recovered in less than 48 hours, in what Italy's coastguard is labelling one of the biggest rescue operations of this year.

This reflects such media attention that there is, with the focus firmly on the transit route from Libya, but tucked into the Reuters' report is also news of another incident in Egypt, where three people died when a migrant boat sank while attempting to reach Greece.

Separately, the news agency reports that the Spanish police intercepted and rescued 21 migrants in a boat 16 nautical miles south of Cabo de Gata, Almeria, on the southern coast of Spain. Here, the origin is not specified, but it is far more likely to be Morocco or Algeria than Libya, which is much further down the coast, making it the third separate starting points that we know of.

This is not the first time Spain has been in the news recently. In February, nearly 100 people tried to climb the six-metre-high fence erected to prevent migrants getting into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta (see picture below), while the authorities make war on migrants. It may be out of the news, but Spain remains on the front line, with Morocco still a transit country.

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Elsewhere, we see reports that the so-called Balkans route is still being fully exploited which, tied in with the reports of other migrant flows, makes the focus on Libya wholly misplaced. The issue with Libya is that this is only one many routes taking traffic, and even then it is wrong to assume that the refugee flow is entirely directed at Europe. A report in the Washington Post from two weeks ago highlights the huge numbers currently taking refuge in Kenya, and their precarious existence.

This report had the Kenyan government threatening to dismantle the world’s largest refugee camp (pictured below), setting off a panic among the nearly 350,000 Somali refugees who live there and the international aid organisations that care for them.

But if there was local panic, there should be more than a little heightened tension in Whitehall. If the Kenyans are unable to house near-on half a million refugees, the chances are that many of them will come north to Europe, joining the flow of dispossessed people who are already heading our way.

The United States is giving Kenya $45 million to help it with its crisis – but even if that area is stabilised, there is still the deteriorating situation in the Yemen, potentially adding more millions to the flow northwards. 

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But if the media isn't making any sense of it, the academics aren't getting the point either. They too are focused on Libya and the Mediterranean, not appreciating that this is just one route of many – a symptom of a far greater problem.

Not least, the academics are arguing for a "more efficient system of asylum quotas", sharing out the responsibility for housing the refugees, taking the load of the "frontier" states such as Italy, Malta, and Greece, and also to the northern countries that receive the highest number of asylum applications.

But what no one seems to be able to get to grip with is the simple fact that, as long as the EU member states are bound collectively by the 1951 Convention on Refugees, the ECHR and the Lisbon Treaty, with its Charter of Fundamental Rights, Europe is extending an open invitation to the world's dispossessed.

Dealing with Libya or going to war against "people traffickers", therefore, isn't going to make the slightest bit of difference. And strengthening the rescue effort is simply madness - blocking the easy routes as a deterrent, and then saving people who take to the sea as a result is simply not credible policy.

As long as the dispossessed are afforded a welcome, once they have cleared the increasingly dangerous obstacle course we have set them, they will keep coming - and more so if we have rescue at hand. And, as the season drags on, those in Italy will have moved on and many thousands will be camping out at Calais, waiting for an opportunity to cross the Channel.

What today is scarcely given coverage in our media, therefore, is a crisis in the making, and one which we are not even beginning to address.

Richard North 05/05/2015 link

Monday 4 May 2015  

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On the brink of electoral defeat, it seems Farage is aiming to get his excuses in early, complaining to LBC about the "cult of celebrity" which, he claims, "is affecting the election and detracting from the serious issues facing the electorate".

This adds to his condemnation of the BBC, which has now grown to a wish to see curbs on entertainment programmes such as Dr Who. And not content with that, he's also having a go at the pollsters who, in the litany of Faragian woes, seem to have it in for him.

Nothing from The Great Leader, however, admits to any great error on his part, except perhaps to a minor misjudgement over Miliband's intentions on the referendum. Yet, despite some wishing to see what impact Farage might have on our sadly diminished House of Commons, we already know the answer to that from his performance in Strasbourg. Even on the key issue of asylum policy, all he could do was deliver a pub-bore rant.

Interestingly the Sunday Times had Dominic Lawson commenting on the general theme of immigration, remarking that Farage is either deluded or trying to fool the public when he continually trots out his mantra that Ukip — in a UK outside the EU — would be able to control the figures by introducing "an Australian-style points system".

Lawson recalls that Owen Paterson pointed out recently that the Australian points system has let in a greater proportion of immigrants relative to the existing population than we have done as signatories of EU freedom of movement treaties.

The point is that there are almost uncountable numbers of aspiring immigrants to developed countries who have the skills that any points system demands. And as Paterson also noted: "As long as there are significant incentives to move, people will cross borders … When controls are imposed, people find a way round them . . . In the UK there are over 30 million visitors each year and attempts to pull up the drawbridge would simply lead to a massive surge in illegal immigration".

The criticism here, though, is not confined to Ukip. All the parties pretend this is a force they can control as if it were a bathroom tap. Lawson asserts. Miliband has even commissioned the printing of Labour campaign mugs covered with the words "Controls on immigration". The real mug, Lawson says would be the voter who bought that — at least in the sense of believing it.

The sad thing is that there are real world problems, for which no parties are currently offering sensible (or any) solutions. Over the weekend, for instance, rescue operations recovered more than 3,400 people off the coast of Libya on Saturday, as potential asylum seekers took advantage of the calm weather to renew their assault on fortress Europe.

The Mediterranean may, for the moment, seem a long way away, but with record number of migrants already in reception camps in EU Member States, it is only a matter of time before some of these reach Calais with a view to crossing the Channel and claiming refuge in this country.

Since no party has the answer to this problem – not even (and especially) Ukip - it is not surprising that the election campaign reverts to trivia and celebrity politics. Rather than whinging, though, Farage might reflect that if his party had come up with some credible policy ideas on key issues, voters might be more inclined to support him.

But there's the rub. For Farage's complaints about the dumbing down of the election process to be justified, he and his supporters need to do more than contribute simplistic nostrums which are no better that the other parties' offerings.

As it is, they are not anything like enough to convince voters that Ukip is a party to be taken seriously, which is why they have failed to register and will not make their breakthrough on Thursday.

Richard North 04/05/2015 link

Sunday 3 May 2015  

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On Thursday, Britain faces an unambiguous choice, says The Sunday Telegraph. Not since the Eighties has the distinction between Labour and the Conservatives been so clear; not since that turbulent decade has the ideological divide between Left and Right been wider.

It would be comforting to think that this was anywhere close to reality – but the state of our politics is now such that, on all the main issues, the main parties are separated only by small differences – except for one thing. Mr Cameron has pledged an EU referendum.

There are those who have expressed doubts as to Mr Cameron's good faith but, as the election campaign has progressed, it seems to me that those doubts have been less often expressed. And I am certainly prepared to accept that, if he gets to lead a majority in the House, Mr Cameron will honour his promise.

Says The Sunday Telegraph, though, the polls for 2015 suggest that the election result will be close – and that it could end in deadlock and confusion. In the view of the paper, that would be calamitous. It believes that Britain needs a strong government with a clear mandate and a large dose of common sense. And that is why it would like to see a Conservative majority.

And just for once – albeit for entirely different reasons – we find ourselves in agreement with this newspaper. A majority Conservative government is the best and only way in the foreseeable future that we have even a chance of withdrawing from the EU.

Whether or not we are in a position to win an "out" campaign is another question. But I have been wont to pose my own question about a referendum: if not now, when? If we don't make the best of this opportunity now, it could be a decade or more before we get another chance.

For better or worse, therefore, we do need a Conservative majority. This is not said with any enthusiasm, but that is what we need.

Richard North 03/05/2015 link

Saturday 2 May 2015  

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It was in April that I expressed my "gut feeling" that the "Miliband effect" would create a last minute surge towards the Conservatives, with the two-party squeeze pushing Ukip out of the picture, leaving Cameron with a small but workable majority.

Certainly, despite the wild optimism of the pundits – the Matt Goodwins of this world - Ukip was never going to make the grade. Empty of substance, boasting a leader with no more depth than the classic pub bore, it only needed sufficient public exposure for the shine to wear off.

Now, snapping at the party's heels is Dan Hodges, who remarks: "Just look at Nigel Farage. He is losing in Thanet. But on Tuesday he was in Hartlepool. Yesterday he was in Strasbourg. Today he was on LBC attacking the BBC coverage of the campaign".

This, says Hodges, "is not a man on the brink of electoral glory. This is a man who has basically given up, and is now embarking on a national farewell tour. It's clear that Ukip will poll below, (possibly well below), double figures next week".

With that, we are now confronting the very real possibility that Mr Cameron will lead a majority government, and that will bring us to the threshold of a referendum campaign, where we will be fighting against all the odds.

Sadly, though, Farage's vacuity – the same that has made him no more use as an MP than he has been as an MEP - has left a legacy of an entirely inadequate exit plan, the limitations of which are already beginning to be explored.

In the Europhile online magazine, The Conversation, it is being picked apart by Trevor Salmon, Emeritus Professor of Politics and International Relations at University of Aberdeen. On trade, he says, Ukip simply assumes that the UK will be able to negotiate a free trade agreement, make its own trade deals on its own terms, and retake its seat in the World Trade Organisation.

Getting right to the point, Salmon concedes that some of this may be possible but, he says, "it could take a long time, and be contingent on securing the agreement of all the other EU states – some of which may not be amenable". He adds:
We know from past experience that trade negotiations between EU states can take a long time. For example, it took years to negotiate the entry of Spain and Portugal to the European Economic Community. In 1974, Portugal's dictatorship ended – the same happened in Spain's in 1975. Both applied to join the EEC shortly after, but neither were acceded until 1986. This was not because the EEC was hostile, but because it had other issues in play, as well as niggles over special interests such as wine.
It is precisely issues such as these that we deal with in Flexcit and if Farage had any sense at all, he would have realised that his scenario was never going to fly and devoted some energy to preparing something better.

Another thing he needed to do was address the Europhile meme that leaving the EU would be an economic disaster. Latest to try this on is France's UK ambassador, Sylvie Bermann. A British exit, she says, would be a "lose-lose" situation for the rest of the EU as well as Britain itself.

As the Europhiles so often do, Bermann confuses participation in the Single Market with membership of the EU. Our response is simple: we can take part in the one without needing the political baggage that goes with EU membership.

For Ukip, however, a deplorable lack of tactical acumen has ruled out continued participation in the Single Market. Instead, Farage has tied himself and his party to an unrealistic immigration policy, which keeps him locked into an unworkable exit plan.

Fortunately, from the reaction we had to the Flexcit seminar last Wednesday, we can take some encouragement. The idea of an incremental approach to withdrawal, and continued participation in the Single Market via the EEA, does have some traction.

Using the Flexcit scenario, we can distance ourselves from Farage's short-sightedness. Then at least we will have a chance of undoing the damage he has done, neutralising the propaganda from the likes of Prof Salmon and Sylvie Bermann.

Additionally, there is the good sense of the voters of Thanet South, who seem set to keep Farage out of the Westminster Parliament, recognising a loser when they see one. And deprived of that platform, a failed party leader will have his ideas consigned to the dustbin where they belong.

All we have to do then is win the referendum. That's the hard bit.

Richard North 02/05/2015 link

Friday 1 May 2015  

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The game used to be to assess one or other initiative announced by the British government, and to tease out the EU origins that they weren't telling you about – identifying the EU "elephant in the room".

Now the game has gone global, and it is the media in the frame as we see the Daily Express complaining about new "bonkers" EU rules on mortgage lending, requiring stringent checks on the creditworthiness of applicants.

The newspaper is using personal finance expert Martin Lewis, founder of website, to front a scare headline about remortgages, complaining that home owners who are seeking to remortgage when their mortgage term comes to an end are caught by the EU rules when under British rules, lenders can bypass the checks.

Certainly, it is the case that the FCA is having to tighten up the rules, but what the newspaper doesn't say is that this was going to have to happen anyway, with or without the EU.

The British problem is that the current rules stem from the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FSMA), with regulatory framework having been in place since 2004. Now, the EU has updated the rules via Directive 2014/17/EU 4 February 2014 on credit agreements for consumers relating to residential immovable property, and the UK government is having to come into line with them.

However, as the Directive itself points out, "the financial crisis has shown that irresponsible behaviour by market participants can undermine the foundations of the financial system, leading to a lack of confidence among all parties, in particular consumers, and potentially severe social and economic consequences".

The Directive then informs us that the G20 had commissioned work from the Financial Stability Board (FSB) "to establish principles on sound underwriting standards in relation to residential immovable property", and the EU has considered it "… appropriate to ensure that the Union's regulatory framework in this area is robust, consistent with international principles".

The work of the FSB had started with a "Framework for Strengthening Adherence to International Standards", which was published on 9 January 2010. This was followed by the "Thematic Review on Mortgage Underwriting and Origination Practices", which was published on 17 March 2011 and then, finally, by its "Principles for Sound Residential Mortgage Underwriting Practices", which were published on April 2012, briefly recorded by Reuters, under the headline: "Global regulators map out safer home loans".

It is these principles which have made the UK regulatory code out of date, and required the EU to update its code. And the similarity between the EU directive and the FSB principles is uncanny. For instance, the FSB says:
Jurisdictions should ensure that lenders take into account all relevant factors that could influence the prospect for the loan to be repaid according to its terms and conditions over its lifetime. This should include an appropriate consideration of other servicing obligations, such as the level of other debt (secured and unsecured), the interest rate and outstanding principal on such debt, and evidence of delinquency. Lenders should also include an assessment of whether the loan can be expected to be repaid, including principal, interest, taxes and insurance, within the specified loan amortisation period from the borrowers' own resources (income and assets) without inducing undue hardship and over-indebtedness.
… while the Directive follows up with:
It is essential that the consumer's ability and propensity to repay the credit is assessed and verified before a credit agreement is concluded. That assessment of creditworthiness should take into consideration all necessary and relevant factors that could influence a consumer's ability to repay the credit over its lifetime. In particular, the consumer's ability to service and fully repay the credit should include consideration of future payments or payment increases needed due to negative amortisation or deferred payments of principal or interest and should be considered in the light of other regular expenditure, debts and other financial commitments as well as income, savings and assets.
As to the Express's "bonkers" EU rules, therefore, it is looking in the wrong direction. It should be focusing on the FSB, the chair of which is none other than Mark Carney, currently governor of the Bank of England.

However, the Express is not alone. In their inability to pick up the fact that most of the financial services rules (and many others) have gone global, the media generally are not so much missing an elephant in the room as a stampede of elephants. Heedless of the thunder of multiple pachyderms, they - along with the amateurs in Ukip - simply do not have the first idea of what is going on, or how the world really works

Richard North 01/05/2015 link

Thursday 30 April 2015  

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The EU's proposed asylum policy is "a direct threat to our civilisation", Nigel Farage has claimed in a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, arguing that as many as 500,000 Islamic extremists could flood Europe were the policy implemented.

The clear demand for the rapid implementation of what the Ukip website calls "a common EU migration and asylum policy" ... would be wholly unacceptable to a United Kingdom that already has levels of immigration that are too high, and as Isis have previously threatened, could lead to half a million Islamic extremists coming to our countries and posing a direct threat to our civilization", he is quoted as saying.

There are a few problems, here, though. Firstly, there isn't such a thing as a "common EU migration and asylum policy". There is a Common European Asylum System, which is altogether a different thing.

Farage, in fact refers specifically to the system, and during his speech waves a print-off from the EU brochure on it. But if he had actually read it, he would have seen that it helpfully points out that the EU is putting into effect the Member States' international obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention on the protection of refugees.

Now there's the rum thing. In its manifesto, UKIP tells us:
We will comply fully with the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; speed up the asylum process; and seek to do so while tackling logjams in the system for those declined asylum status. We will continue to honour our obligations to bona fide asylum seekers.
Effectively, therefore, UKIP fully supports the basis of the Common European Asylum System, and is committed to allowing asylum seekers into this country and, where they qualify as refugees, affording them leave to remain. And, by the way, there is no such thing as a bona-fide asylum seeker. The status is unqualified - it simply describes someone who is seeking asylum.

Where Farage's intervention is particularly clumsy, though, is his inherent assumption that the UK will bear the brunt of the inflow. Yet the number of asylum seekers the UK has to absorb is relatively modest , primarily due to the cooperation of EU Member State authorities, via the Sangatte Protocol, the Le Touquet Treaty and the Evian Arrangements.

Far from acknowledging the role of these agreements, Farage instead argues for adopting the Australian system, whereby the boats are stopped and asylum seekers are processed offshore.

All this is great stuff, but for the another problem: the Australian policy is almost certainly in breach of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the one with which Ukip is committed to full compliance. At least, when Michael Howard proposed something similar in 2005, he had the sense to realise that, to give it effect, we needed to withdraw from the 1951 Convention. Hence, he produced a policy for the 2005 election which stated the following:
A Conservative Government will give the UN Secretary General 12 months’ notice of Britain’s withdrawal from the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees and the 1967 New York Protocol. The 1951 Convention is increasingly unworkable today.

It was designed to give shelter to the small number of Eastern European dissidents who managed to escape from behind the Iron Curtain, not to deal with the challenges of mass migration. As Mr Blair has said:
The 1951 Convention … was drawn up for a vastly different world, in which people did not routinely travel huge distances across multiple borders (The Times, 4 May 2001).
The Convention prevents governments taking immediate action to deport asylum seekers whose claims are obviously not genuine. Nearly all applicants – irrespective of the merits of their case – are entitled to the full process of claim, consideration and appeal.

At the same time, a Conservative Government will enter reservations against those parts of the European Convention on Human Rights which would prevent it implementing its asylum reform programme.
The depth of this offering, and the grasp of the issues makes Farage's offering sound like a pub-bore rant. If the media was on the ball, it would pick up his contradictions – but, short of that, someone ought to tell Farage that his party is making a fool of him, with a little help from himself.

Richard North 30/04/2015 link

Wednesday 29 April 2015  

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I wrote when it first appeared two weeks ago that The Times story was just so much empty fluff, doing nothing more than representing the inability of the legacy media reliably to report EU affairs.

My comment referred to the claim that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had "ruled out any treaty negotiations on Britain's relationship with Europe" until 2019, a fiction which – in typical lurid journalistic style - was said to "infuriate the prime minister".

The total lack of substance did not, of course, stop the story being copied out by the Telegraph in another typical example of media coprophagia – then faithfully replicated by a number of gullible readers. The Telegraph had already run a similar version of the story, back in February, making a habit of running unsubstantiated reports. 

Ironically, it now takes the BBC's Katya Adler to interview Juncker, whence he puts the record straight. Sitting in the comfort of his private jet, he accused politicians and sections of the UK press of misreporting his position on treaty change. "I made it perfectly clear during the [European election] campaign that I want a fair deal with Britain", he says. "Unfortunately the British government and the British press are not listening and are blind when others are speaking so they did ignore that".

Juncker went on to complain directly about the Times report, which had quoted an "unnamed EU official". Said the Commission President, in an obvious rebuff to the newspaper: "I am the only EU official to be quoted when it comes to Britain".

Then confirming a refrain we on this blog have been pursing since November last year, Juncker says he does not rule out making minor changes to EU treaties. As one might expect, he is keeping his powder dry, saying it it was too early to decide what treaty changes might be necessary.

But, he says, "I do exclude major treaty changes as far as the freedom of movement is concerned - but other points can be mentioned," then adding: "I do think that we need a fair deal with Britain - but it's up to Britain to put forward their proposals, their requests, their ideas".

"It's up to them to take initiatives and then we'll take them under exam in a very polite, friendly, objective way", Juncker says, concluding with the obvious rider: "policy changes are [also] possible under the existing treaties". Thus does Juncker open the way for the Article 48 "simplified procedure" scenario that we have been tracking for all this time.

Without so much as a blush, though, the Telegraph picks up the story, and even the Wall Street Journal has a bite. The Express also covers the story, missing the point as always, reporting on "an apparent softening of his recent hostility" towards the referendum, despite Juncker affirming that his position has been constant since the European elections.

Inevitably, this is the sort of low grade reporting that we have become accustomed with the media. There can be no expectation of accurate reporting here. The media is simply not up to the task. It much prefers the simplistic biff-bam approach, which informs no-one and simply confuses the issues – something we should avoid.

However, for the intelligent analyst, the information is there – and we do seem to be still on track for Mr Cameron's treaty "victory" in time for a 2017 referendum. The media won't see it coming, of course, but at least we now have a clearer picture of their incompetence.

Richard North 29/04/2015 link

Tuesday 28 April 2015  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard North 28/04/2015 link

Monday 27 April 2015  

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It's five days since I wrote about the fences and their role in displacing asylum seekers from the safer land routes to the perilous sea routes. The fences, though, were only part of the story. After they were constructed in the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta (in 1993) and Melilla (in 1996), the effect then was to divert more of the migrants out to sea. 

They emerged from the Sahara and embarked for the Canaries or southern Spain, and for Italy. Some took to tiny rowing boats, sometimes succeeding, sometimes drowning. And, in a sign of things to come, in June 2003, some 200 people went missing, presumed dead, 60 miles off the Tunisian coast, after their boat capsized. There were only 41 survivors. 

The response of the Spanish was to strengthen their defences. They installed from 2001 a $140 million surveillance system called the Integrated External Vigilance System (SIVE), first in the Strait of Gibraltar and along the Andalusian coast, in the province of Cadiz. It was gradually extended to other areas of Andalusia, the Mediterranean coast and the coasts of the Canaries.

This system combines three elements: radar stations distributed along the coast (pictured), control centres where specialised agents can control the movement of the cameras and radars scattered along the coast and "interception units" (patrol boats, helicopters and vehicles) that receive orders from the control centre. 

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The budget to put this system in operation on Spanish coasts between 2001 and 2006 was €106 million, while in 2005 and 2008 its total cost was €130 million.

The effect, however, was entirely predictable. Denied easy sea crossings, migrants redoubled their attempts to enter Melilla, creating what was termed "a new and bloody crisis". They gathered in their hundreds in the scraps of woodland outside Melilla and organised mass assaults on the city's perimeter.

By summer 2005, Amnesty International was reporting that those who were caught on the fence were being treated with excessive force by Moroccan and Spanish guards, and those caught inside the fence were being illegally expelled back into Morocco, often to be dumped in the desert. By autumn, there was clear evidence of murder at Melilla and, along the coast, outside Ceuta.

A human rights lawyer from Melilla, Jose Alonso, reported: "It was the closest I have ever been to a war, going to the fence and seeing what was happening". There was a helicopter over the Spanish side with a huge light shining down on the Moroccan side. There was shooting. From where I was, I saw hundreds of people trying to get over the fence. Both sides were shooting down at them. It was like a film about a war".

Already, though, the Spanish "invisible walls" had Deutsche Welle in July 2004 reporting that immigrants were attempting to cross the Mediterranean sea at a higher risk than ever before because "high-tech surveillance systems leave them no choice but to take far more dangerous routes".

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This was over ten years ago, and the system has since been upgraded (pictured above), further establishing a trend that has continued ever since – as one route was closed down, the migrants simply moved on to another route, each more dangerous than before.

As we now see, the situation has culminated in migrants take the sea route from Libya to Italy, and the rise in drownings – a situation that has been building more than two decades and an inevitable consequence of closing down the safer routes.

Yet what we are seeing is the almost total inability of the media to report properly on this phenomenon. The closest we are getting is the Independent which today writes of "Europe's new iron curtains".

Only incidentally, it writes of Bulgaria's "wall", a project as ambitious as the US's reinforcement of its border with Mexico: a state-of-the-art "integrated monitoring system", which will see Bulgaria's whole southern border with Turkey closely observed by a new task force of 1,500 border police.

"The government's plan is to make it stretch 100 miles across the southern border with Turkey. The plan is to finish by June", says Boris Cheshirkov, a spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Bulgaria. "It's a chicken-wire fence with barbed-wire rolls in front of it", Cheshirkov explains. It's three metres high. I don't know what else to say about it".

He could always add, says the Independent, that it is a monstrosity. The hardening of the border will result directly in refugees choosing to seek out more dangerous routes of travel, and many are predicting a rise in the number of those trying to flee the Middle East by boat rather than land in the coming months – threatening more tragedies like those happening right now in Italian waters.

"There's already an established people-smuggling route from Turkey's Aegean coast going into the Mediterranean", says the Turkish journalist and author Alev Scott. "We'll certainly see that sea route becoming used more as a result of the fence".

And there, at last, we have it, but only embedded in a longer, more general story. This should be headlined as the major story. Migrants are drowning in the Mediterranean because European states have progressively closed down their options. They are drowning to order, as a matter of policy. And the media can't even report it properly.

Richard North 27/04/2015 link