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 Cabinet reshuffle: an act of sabotage?

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For the last few days, I've been intensifying the effort on "Flexcit" trying to knock it into better shape as I creep past 100,000 words and the book begins to look something near to what might be its finished form.

As if it has not been hard enough already, it gets harder from hereon as we refine the text and impose more rigour on the content, all to ensure that the message is delivered with utmost clarity and consistency.

Meanwhile, the shockwaves from the event which brought about my own burst of energy continue to reverberate around the fringes of the "bubble", even motivating Peter Oborne to come out to play, with a cry of outrage as he suggests that Mr Cameron's reshuffle "almost looks like an act of sabotage".

And for once, Oborne's political analysis is probably close to the mark. He sees in the reshuffle "the logic of the Downing Street modernising clique", led by George Osborne. "Mr Paterson, public-school-educated and in his late fifties, is an obvious barrier to change. His undoubted integrity is a nuisance rather than an asset. Replacing him with a young, state-educated woman sends out the right signals".

Those looking for a deeper, more profound reason for Mr Paterson's sacking, and the ethos behind the reshuffle in general, are going to be disappointed. Sometimes, as Freud once said, "a pipe is just a pipe". Sometimes, when a reshuffle looks like a shallow exercise in window dressing, it is because that is just what it is.

Oborne later goes on to remark that reshuffles "excite Westminster insiders to an unhealthy extent", but leave the majority of voters untouched. But before he gets there, he tries to look at Paterson's sacking from the point of view of the voters.

He tells us that Mr Paterson, who was raised in Shropshire and ran the family leather business for 20 years, is one of a tiny number of genuine countrymen in modern politics. When he was political columnist of the Spectator 13 years ago, and Mr Paterson had just been elected to Parliament, he reported that he could occasionally be spotted in the Members' Lobby removing a straw from his hair.

Mr Paterson, Oborne continues, has a profound love and understanding of the country and talks the same language that farmers do. As a result, he has been the most interesting and original environment secretary in three decades, rescuing his department from a morass of town-based pressure groups. He thus tells us:
Showing considerable moral courage, he [Paterson] has challenged the intellectual consensus that there is a contradiction between economic growth and conservation. Stone walls don't get built, Mr Paterson likes to point out, unless someone has the money to pay for them. His departure has been welcomed by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Badger Trust, the Wildlife Trust, the RSPB: that large class of do-gooders who articulate an essentially suburban and sentimental understanding of the countryside. It is unlikely to go down so well in farmers' markets this weekend.
Gainsaying his own point about lack of voter interest, Oborne thus recognises that agriculture ministers are different. The rural communities tend to know who their ministers are. They see them, and many meet them – and certainly come to listen to them in the flesh – at agricultural shows and game fairs.

Owen Paterson was a reassuring Conservative presence at such events, but Oborne guesses "the Downing Street modernisers calculate that Britain's farmers don't matter because they are Conservative voters anyway". Perhaps, he says, "they reckon it was worth selling out the farming community in order to obtain slightly better coverage on the leader pages of the Guardian".

It was said to me earlier that this is in fact typical Cameron, dumping the voters he has, in order to chase after voters he will never get – exactly the mistake he made with the 2010 election strategy and one he is set to make yet again.

And this comes at a time when even Oborne has noted that UKIP is starting to reverse the "spectacular gains" it made earlier this year. It is now down to less than 10 per cent, with the Conservatives recovering as a consequence.

This is a trend, Oborne says, that could see Cameron back in Downing Street after the election, although he then acknowledges that "this week's fiasco of a reshuffle" will fuel the damaging UKIP criticism that the Tory party "has been captured by a tiny, metropolitan, centralising elite".

A reshuffle, therefore, that was supposed to set Mr Cameron up for the election, therefore, is more likely to have damaged him. " It has also sowed the seeds for future divisions", concludes Oborne.


Richard North 17/07/2014

 Michael Fallon: and how is he a eurosceptic?

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We are being told by Michael Fallon, the new Defence Secretary, that Mr Cameron has created a "Eurosceptic Cabinet" to prove to UKIP voters they can change the EU.

This is from a man who, according to Wikipedia, was active in the European Movement as a student and the "yes" youth campaign in the 1975 referendum and has never since given any serious indication that he is opposed to UK membership of the EU.

More recently, writing for Conservative Home on UK membership of the EU, he stepped away from both the status quo and the idea of leaving, backing David Cameron who had "rejected the defeatism of both approaches, and has set out a path for a reformed Europe".

In other words, Fallon – although counted as on the "right" of the party - is just another woolly Tory Europlastic, supporting the standard "reform" fudge, with absolutely no intention of seeing us leave the EU. Only in the debased sense of the word can he be considered "Eurosceptic" but, by any rational measure, the man is a dyed-in-the-wool Europhile.

If Mr Fallon is an example of this "Eurosceptic Cabinet", that he thinks it is going to woo UKIP voters back to the Tories, then he is not just mistaken – he is seriously deluded.


Richard North 16/07/2014

 EU politics: a new player in town

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Charles Moore gets into the Spectator with a brief commentary on the reshuffle just past, labelling it as the worst we've seen in 25 years. The Mail then has Max Hastings tell us that the reshuffle is: "A shabby day's work which Cameron will live to regret".

I will go with Hastings, but don't think it's actually worth arguing the Moore point. Nor do I completely endorse his view that David Cameron "had established a surprisingly strong position as the leader whose unpopular but necessary policies were starting to work".

However, Moore also thinks that Cameron and his team "seemed steadier and more able than their opponents. Now he has thrown that away with changes so large that he looks as if he disrespects what he has achieved".

With that view, I have a certain amount of sympathy, in fact taking a harder line than mere "disrespect". On greater reflection, I see the reshuffle as an insult, appointing inexperienced ministers, who have not served their "apprenticeship" and who are thus quite unfit to be Secretaries of important departments of state.

Some of the changes are simply capricious, done for presentational reasons, demonstrating Mr Cameron's own unfitness for office. We're back to the "A-list" mentality", the "women's list", and the "Notting Hill set", with a dilettante prime minister using the Cabinet as his own personal plaything, rather than as an instrument of government.

On balance, I thus think that Cameron has done his own electoral chances more harm than good. Just as he was beginning to look vaguely electable, with an ICM poll showing a mere one percent gap between the Labour and Tories, he has done something extremely ill-advised.

What was as interesting in this poll though was that UKIP had dropped to nine percent – back to single figures. YouGov gave them ten percent over the weekend, so this doesn't immediately strike as an outlier.

With little sensible on offer, it is unsurprising that UKIP is fading back into obscurity, but now it seems that Mr Cameron is determined to give them another chance. No doubt, they will blow it, as they always do, but no one can say that they are not being given plenty of opportunities to make their mark.

But there is now another player ready to emerge. By Mr Cameron getting rid of Owen Paterson, says Charles Moore, has turned his strongest cabinet bulwark against UKIP into a powerful enemy.

But the real target will be the ever-popular Mr Juncker - who was enthroned by the European Parliament yesterday - and the rest of the "colleagues". Mr Paterson may well emerge now as the leader of the "Eurosceptic" wing of the Conservative party and, by default, a new national leader, ready to take on the referendum campaign, should the Conservatives win the election.

If UKIP wrests the crown from Cameron, however, there will undoubtedly be a leadership challenge, and we're back to the original "plan B" where we get a referendum after the 2020 election, under a new Tory leader. Perhaps, with his fatuous reshuffle, Mr Cameron has moved one step closer to defining who that will be.


Richard North 16/07/2014

 Immigration: playing political football with refugees

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December last was when UNHCR pressed the panic button about the growing tide of refugees. In its mid-year trends report for 2013, it warned that since the start of 2012, millions of people had become refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs), and already the first half of 2013 had been one of the worst periods for forced displacement in decades.

By the middle of the year, the size of UNHCR's population of concern had reached an all-time high. With figures continuing to rise during the second half of the year, notably in the Syrian Arab Republic, refugee and IDP year-end numbers are likewise expected to be at record highs.

By mid-2013, the total population of concern to UNHCR stood at 38.7 million. This was the highest level on record and almost three million more than just six months earlier. With no end in sight to the crisis in Syria, the total population of concern to UNHCR was expected to surpass the 40 million mark by then end of 2013.

The figure of 38.7 million was made up of 11.1 million refugees, 987,500 asylum seekers, 189,300 refugees who repatriated during the first half of 2013, 20.8 million IDPs protected/assisted by UNHCR, 688,200 IDPs who returned to their place of origin during the first half of 2013, 3.5 million stateless persons and 1.4 million others.

The report itself used for its illustration a remarkable event, a group of 5,000 to 7,000 Syrian refugees crossing over the pontoon bridge at Peshkhabour on the Tigris River, into Iraq.

After a further report on asylum for 2013, UNHCR this week issued a press release calling for "Europe" to shoulder more of refugee challenge presented by the Syrian crisis, with a new report setting out: "What Europe Can Do to Ensure Protection and Solidarity".

Picking up the press release is Left Foot Forward, with Jill Rutter lambasting our government for having "only admitted 50 Syrian refugees", which seems particularly parsimonious and a break with past tradition. This compares with Germany, which has agreed to take 25,000 people, while the United States has pledged to take an open-ended number. 

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Over 80 percent of the world refugees live in poor countries, Rutter writes, and one of the founding principles of United Nations is that its member states should share responsibility for humanitarian problems. A desperate UNHCR, she adds, has appealed for EU countries to take in 30,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees.

Next week, we are then informed, Parliament will again debate the UK's response to the Syrian refugee crisis. Concludes Rutter: "Those who consider that sharing responsibility for supporting refugees is an important and progressive principle can ask their MPs to attend the debate and push for greater generosity".

And there lies a fascinating divergence between the "progressive left" and the "right" as represented by UKIP. From Gerard Batten in 2009 we have his booklet "Immigration: action overdue" which could not present a more extreme contrast, including a recommendation that Britain should withdraw from the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

As far as it goes, this is as close to policy as UKIP gets, but it undoubtedly represents the sentiments of a large number of the party members. And that, reinforces the issue of asylum seekers as a political football, putting "left" and "right" at opposite ends of the spectrum.

What is interesting to see in the latest UNHCR report, though, is its own "wish list" for European action, which encompasses sixteen separate points. First on the list of the refugee agency is a guarantee of protection from refoulement, the principle that a state may not oblige a person to return to a territory where he may be exposed to persecution.

UNHCR then wants a "global moratorium" on returns to Syria and to countries neighboring Syria and Egypt, which host the vast majority of refugees from Syria, it wants states should provide access to their territories and an immediate stop to "pushbacks".

The agency also asks for search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean to be strengthened while, for all those who manage to present themselves as asylum seekers, it wants "swift access to fair and effective asylum procedures".

Given the situation in Syria though, it believes the majority of people fleeing the country fall within the refugee criteria in the 1951 Refugee Convention, and should thus be recognized as refugees. If, exceptionally, they are found not to meet the criteria for refugee status, complementary forms of protection criteria are likely to be met, so they should be allowed in anyway.

UNHCR also calls for the proper application of all the "Dublin" criteria, including those designed to unite families within the EU, and it wants "adequate reception conditions for people seeking international protection in Europe, with particular attention to those with specific needs".

Few people probably realise that there is EU law on this, in the shape of the Reception Conditions Directive, with its own website. UNHCR wants Member States to ensure reception conditions are in accordance with their legal obligations.

The refugee agency also asks that detention of asylum-seekers should be avoided and only used as a last resort. Where used, states should establish strict limits and safeguards on the use of detention and explore alternatives to detention.

UNHCR is urging states to consider an array of solutions that can be mobilised to secure urgent and effective protection, including resettlement, humanitarian admission, private sponsored admission schemes, and the use of other legal programmes (student or employment visas).

It is calling upon states to make multi-annual commitments towards a goal of providing resettlement and other forms of admission for 100,000 Syrian refugees in 2015 and 2016, and urges states to facilitate family reunification "in a pro-active manner", including for extended family members of Syrians who have been granted some form of protection.

This, if nothing else, signals the extent of the gap between expectations and delivery, with the issue being almost entirely ignored by the legacy media. Nevertheless, The Times has picked up a statement from Rolland Schilling, who represents the UNHCR in Britain, urging the Government to consider taking more refugees from Syria.

Schilling acknowledges that there is public concern about migration, but he also believes there is a deeply held belief that the persecuted should be protected. "I think that is a majority view. They go in parallel", he says.

Despite the UK being one of the most generous providers of aid money to Syria, Schilling warns that there is enormous pressure on Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. They have accepted the majority of 2.8 million people who have flooded out of Syria since the start of the conflict three years ago, he says.

Here, there is another stark contrast. Lebanon has taken 1,117,095 refugees, Turkey 789,678, Jordan 602,182, Iraq 225, 475 and Egypt 138,101. Europe as a whole, on the other hand, has taken a mere 123,600. 

It remains to be seen whether the humanitarian ethos will prevail over concerns about migration, but as the scale of the refugee crisis builds, it is not inconceivable that we see a backlash against the UKIP insistence that we raise the drawbridge.

In anticipation of this possibility, a sensible political party might seek to modify its own policy stance - or at least start debating the issues in a different way. It could argue that the refugee agency "wish list" is unrealistic to the point of being naïve, and come up with its own proposals for dealing with the crisis.

Maintaining a hard line stance may play well with members but, in the scheme of things, risks alienating mainstream voters to an even greater extent than it has already. 

From the broader view of the anti-EU movement, it seems to me that we must start offering some sensible ideas for the resolution of as problem that isn't going to go away, or we end up tarred with the same isolationist brush that will eventually drag UKIP into electoral obscurity. 


Richard North 14/07/2014

 UKIP: the embarrassing stupidity of O'Flynn

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Following the example of TGL in falsely accusing Greenpeace of taking Brussels money, UKIP's Patrick O'Flynn is now vying for the top slot in getting things completely wrong.

Falling for the meme that has been floating around on diverse websites, including this one, we see the myth perpetrated that: "On the 1st November 2014 the right of Parliament to legislate over us in 43 areas … will be removed and be made subject to … QMV".

Included in a magical mystery list is Article 50 of the TEU – that which relates to the procedures for leaving the EU – the supposed removal of the veto translated as making the withdrawal of a member state conditional on QMV. Needless to say, there are no original sources cited for the assertions, but that doesn't stop O'Flynn swallowing the myth, hook, line and sinker.

In fact, there is no loss of veto coming into force on 1 November. The change over from unanimous voting to QMV in about 40 areas has already taken place. It came with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, so these changes have already been in place for nearly five years, without O'Flynn apparently noticing.

What does change on 1 November 2014 is that a there is a new system of QMV. A new "double majority" will apply when, according to Article 16 of the consolidated treaty, "a qualified majority shall be defined as at least 55% of the members of the Council, comprising at least fifteen of them and representing Member States comprising at least 65% of the population of the Union".

Despite the sterling attempts of Denis Cooper, Autonomous Mind and this post by Boiling Frog, followed by this one to put the record straight, this has not stopped Patrick O'Flynn urging party members to support a new petition that calls for the Government to begin moves to leave the EU "before the wholesale loss of national vetoes occurs".

Sadly, there is no stopping this rather stupid man, even if his members deserve better. It is bad enough having these silly memes thrashing around the internet, but senior members of UKIP should not be leading people astray.


Richard North 12/07/2014

 Trade agreements: is "unbundling" the future?

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A little while ago, the Financial Times ran a piece by Alan Beattie on UKIP's trade policy (above), who argued that it "would leave Britain isolated and vulnerable". I didn't write a review then, as there was more to the issue which Beattie was raising.  He chose to confine it to what he termed "Farage's dream of prosperity" which is to be "born of a US treaty". This, Beattie thought, was "a dangerous fantasy".

The points he made, however, went far beyond UKIP's trade policy, and could have been raised without reference to "Farage's dream", one that comes with a promise of a new trade deal "as soon as Britain's exit liberates the UK from the dead hand of European protectionism".

To the unjaundiced eye, writes Beattie, this (UKIP's policy) looks great. But he then observes: "Sadly, such agreements with the US have progressively less to do with free trade and more with restricting competition at the behest of well-organised American industry lobbies".

This is actually the substantive point. It isn't just UKIP which is being led astray. Trade agreements across the board are not what they used to be. For instance, Beattie suggests that, if we attempted a deal with the United States, first up would be the US pharmaceutical industry targeting the National Health Service, the very name of which makes American drug lobbyists visibly bristle.

The centralised NHS procurement system holds down the price of drugs based on the service's own assessments of value for money. This has far-reaching consequences: a quarter of all government purchases of medication worldwide use NHS reference prices, according to estimates by the Office of Fair Trading. That does not suit American pharmaceutical companies, which prefer procurement prices based on markets rigged by restrictive, litigious patent regimes.

The inference, which Beattie develops in his piece, is that trade deals have become encumbered with all sorts of side issues, which extend far beyond the simple necessities for international trade, and move into the area of harmonising domestic policies.

Then, on Monday last, this same theme was picked up by Martin Khor, an executive director of the South Centre, a research centre of 51 developing countries, based in Geneva.

Khor writes of "overloaded 'trade deals'", opening his piece by declaring: "Once upon a time, trade agreements were just about trade. The negotiator's principle was: I'll allow some of your products to enter my market if you allow some of mine to sell in yours". He adds: "Both countries could estimate what the benefits would be for them, and if it was mutually satisfactory, a good deal was made".

Today, though, Khor continues: "trade deals are not mainly about trade any more". The trend, he says, started when intellectual property, services and investment measures entered into the system of trade rules when the old GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) was transformed into the WTO (World Trade Organisation).

By way of example, Khor offers companies' patent rights. If they are not "respected", it permits the aggrieved nation to impose extra tariffs on imported products, blocking them as punishment.

This, we are told, has complicated the rules of trade since non-trade issues invaded the system. But this complication at the WTO is minor compared to the bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) involving the United States and the EU, he says.

A prime example is the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations, involving Malaysia and eleven other countries. Under the leadership of the United States, the TPPA includes chapters on many non-trade issues including intellectual property (with standards far higher than in the WTO), rules on investment liberalisation, a system where foreign investors can sue the host states in an international tribunal, and opening up of services sectors to foreign ownership.

Then there are the two issues that directly intrude into the way the government operates. Government procurement, or the rules on how the state decides to award contracts for goods, services and projects, is to be opened to foreigners as if they were locals.

And government-owned enterprises, including private companies in which the state has a share, are to be governed by rules that prevent them from having advantages. The way they buy and sell goods and services are also to be opened to foreigners as if they were locals.

In other words, says Khor, the "free trade agreement" has gone far beyond the terms of importing and exporting goods, and penetrated deep into the structure of the domestic economy, including how local businesses are allowed or disallowed from benefiting from government policies, and how the government conducts its business.

Central to this process is the concept of "regulatory convergence", not dissimilar to the harmonisation of rules that has been a core feature of the EU's Single Market, so much so that when the EU sets the parameters for third countries to join the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA), it writes of its neighbours "linked to regulatory convergence through gradual implementation of EU rules".

Despite the pervasive influence of this concept, to be found as much in the current Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, too many of the more superficial pundits – Farage included – still believe that current trade deals are a way of cutting back the burden of regulation. As both Beattie and Khor testify, it has precisely the opposite effect.

For this reason, and a complex of others, resistance to the current range of negotiations is building. It is getting harder to reach agreement, and taking longer, so much so that many believe that the day of the comprehensive FTA is over. There are simply too many obstacles.

As an alternative, we are now suggesting in Flexcit a process called "unbundling". Rather than relying on ambitious free trade agreements that promise much but are often able to deliver little, the idea is to go for sector-specific (or even product-specific) solutions, on a multi-lateral or even global level.

Sometimes known as the "single undertaking" approach, they are easier to negotiate and can yield results relatively quickly. They also pose less of a challenge to sovereign entities, which makes them less of a threat to small nations.

An example is the initiative on the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances, which emerged as the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). The first version of the code was formally approved in December 2002 and published in 2003.

This very small step exactly typified "unbundling". Globally negotiated rather than geographically anchored, this was a multilateral rather than a bilateral agreement with a very narrow but vital effect on one particular sector.

Labelling of hazardous materials – more particularly difference in labelling – has been an important non-tariff barrier, restricting trade in a major industrial sector. The entirely uncontentious initiative eases the flow of goods for negligible cost, without any of the baggage we see in contemporary free trade agreements. 

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But what gives this a topical "hook" is that yesterday the EU, together with 13 other WTO members (Australia, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong (China), Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore and the US), seem – without actually labelling it thus - to have discovered "unbundling" (above).

These fourteen formally opened "plurilateral negotiations" in the WTO on liberalisation of trade in so-called "green goods". At the first stage, the members of this initiative will aim to eliminate tariffs or customs duties on a broad list of goods that help clean the air and water, help manage waste, are energy efficient, control air pollution, and help generate renewable energy like solar, wind, or hydroelectric.

At the second stage, the negotiations could also address non-tariff barriers and environmental services. The EU is particularly keen to reduce barriers to trade in services ancillary to goods exported. It cites an example of producing wind energy. It is not enough just to buy the wind turbine: companies also need to have access to the maintenance and engineering services necessary to keep it running smoothly.

It is a great pity that such a noble venture as a trade agreement should be addressed to such a base area of commerce, but the negotiations which are about to start are very much worth watching. Compared with the progress of TTIP, my guess is that we will get more sooner, potentially re-writing the book on international trade.

One thing which should already be lodged, though, is the realisation that free trade areas are not a single, constant type of entity, but a highly varied and continually evolving form of international agreement.

When thus, we see people extol the virtues of FTAs, one needs to ask "what kind"? And, as it stands, for many types of agreement, there are more disadvantages than advantages. Here then, there is more than one "dangerous fantasy". Merely to assume that all FTAs are the same and all work equally well is another one. We have to be more specific.


Richard North 10/07/2014

 UKIP: a certain irony

A one-time UKIP leader, we are told, has been selected as the Conservatives candidate for the Kent seat of Thanet South. This is Craig Mackinlay, who is to fight the seat at the general election, when the current Conservative MP, Laura Sandys, stands down.

A more pointed snub could hardly have been arranged: Craig was once a key party figure and a close associate and supporter of Farage. He was stop-gap leader in 1997 before Michael Holmes took the helm, becoming deputy leader between 1997 and 2000.

The move is being seen as a direct challenge to Farage, who is said to be considering contesting the seat. He actually stood for it in 2005, when he took 2,079 votes, coming fourth.

More likely, surrounded by his latest batch of supporters, Farage will hardly notice the slight. He may nevertheless look elsewhere for his next battle. 

It is interesting, though, how few people from the "old" days are still with him. Of Farage's close team from the days when he was a newly-elected MEP, most have left the party. Not a few, such as Mackinlay (and, of course, myself), have become his political opponents.

And what a very different party it might have been if things had been otherwise.


Richard North 07/07/2014

 Brexit: the path to ego-driven perdition

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An interesting new blog here, called Politics Satellite,  draws a parallel between the Scottish and EU referendums, with the current campaign looking increasingly like a pilot production for the main event that might come in 2017.

There are many similarities that can be taken from the Scottish referendum campaign and overlaid on a potential EU "in-out" one, from the arguments used to the approaches both sides are utilising to win supporters.

The quintessential issue, though, is that Salmond does not have a detailed, fully worked-out exit plan and, as PS illustrates, this is having a telling effect on the "out" campaign. People – and especially women voters - are asking questions about what might happen if Scotland leaves the Union, and they want answers.

That is the one big similarity that could be a lesson for Eurosceptics to learn, concerning how detail, or the lack of it, is being received by voters.

Says PS, there needs to be a plan and there needs to be details so that when questioned the Eurosceptics can reassure voters that leaving the EU can be done without pain. We won't all be taking a giant leap into a great unknown. Otherwise it looks like, as in Scotland, the women will vote to stay where we are.

However, we are beginning to get to the stage where the anti-EU movement is troubled not by the absence of a plan, but a surfeit of them, with each little groupescule determinedly advocating their own little brainchild, with what looks like an equal determination to ignore other options.

That is one of the very strange things about the situation. If there is a debate about the merits of rival options, occurs largely in the Europhile communities. The "eurosceptic" factions each set up their stalls in isolation, and peddle their wares in grand isolation, each pretending no-one else exists.

Even this weekend, we thus have Alan Murad, Acting Campaign Manager of Get Britain Out, blithely telling us that, "it is important Eurosceptics present viable alternatives to EU membership, something they are often criticised for failing to do".

Without even recognising that there are other workers in the field, he then goes on to promote his favourite little hobby-horse, the idea of "closer ties with the Commonwealth countries", as a substitute for EU membership, something which is very far from being a viable alternative to EU membership. 

Then, engaged in his own personal battle on Twitter, is Campbell-Bannerman - now safely returned as a Tory MEP, after his brief sojourn as a UKIP MEP and his brush with Farage. He is still trying to flog his idea of an "EEA-lite", without the first idea of how that might pan out in the time-limited context of Article 50 negotiations.

As Con O'Neill decided more than forty years ago, when he took us into the Common Market as lead negotiator, the only way to maintain the momentum was to "swallow it whole" – to accept the treaties unchanged. The moment the treaties were put on the table for discussion, the fruits of hard-won compromise would unravel, and any chance of a swift resolution would evaporate.

Similarly, if we are to go to the table with the hope of agreeing a speedy exit plan based on continued participation in the EA Agreement, we need to "swallow it whole". Once we are out, we can then revisit the agreement, making "Brexit" a process rather than a single event. That is, in fact, where Flexcit takes us, a co-operative, online venture that concludes that no single "plan" is workable, thus requiring a flexible response, and then continuous development, probably over many decades.

Such candour is not for the likes of Hannan, though. Relentlessly beating his own drum, he has seamlessly graduated from Norway and EFTA to the Swiss option, without so much as a blush.

But in his typical, High Tory way, Hannan eschews any co-operative approach. His is the top-down down plan which is being looked at by "brilliant" lawyers and which will be revealed to us plebs when he's ready, for us to admire and adore. In his own way, Hannan is as centrist and authoritarian as the "colleagues" he would seek to replace.

Certainly, Hannan the dictator is no debater. His role is to descend from the mountain to hand down the tablets and instruct us mere mortals on the path to righteousness. He will never accept that there could be possibly any flaws in his grand design, a "Swiss option" that even the Swiss have been unable to make work and which the EU has already said (many times), it would not be prepared to repeat.

Whether he is the inspiration for this in the Telegraph remains to be seen, but despite the need to break away from an EU-centric approach, all we get is an unnamed Tory. This source says: "We want to be in a position where we trade with the European Union and cooperate on the issues we choose to cooperate on. Basically the rest of Europe is then a European eurozone that wants deeper and closer union".

Thus we are told: "You end up with the two rings of Europe. The inner ring, which is euro-obsessed, and the next ring around which, although is not in the euro, are still in the European Union but have a looser arrangement".

Clearly, this man was not listening to Prodi last week, who averred of such an arrangement that, "you will not be in the core but the periphery". Prodi thus went on to say: "As you did with the euro, you can be out on the periphery … if you are interested in a loser relationship with Brussels, you will get less and less power".

Altogether, what the eurosceptic community seems to be intent on doing is frittering away its energies on further and further fragmentation of effort, each faction determined to be the proud owners of their own unique plan, to add to those who believe we should not have a plan anyway.

Only the Europhiles, it seems, think it necessary to work together. For us, there is not the slightest attempt even to consider a consensus view, or any thought as to why the europhiles have been so successful and euroscpeticism has been a consistent and dismal failure.

In the meantime, it comes as no great surprise to have Andrew Stuttaford tell us that, for the immediate future, we can only expect a Cameron defeat at the polls next year, which will mean his replacement by a europhile Labour government, and a stake through Brexit.

That, in a way, is encouraging news. As I lurch from mild optimism to extreme pessimism, I am more and more convinced that a referendum campaign will see rival "out" groups vying for attention, with not one of them able to come up with a credible exit plan, leading us down a path of ego-driven perdition.

On that basis, the longer we can delay a referendum campaign, the longer we have before losing it.


Richard North 06/07/2014

 EU referendum: will they, won't they?

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EU referendum: will they, won't they? After McCluskey says they should, Ed Balls turns round and says they'd be silly even to think of it.

Not for the first time, Labour seem to be misjudging the mood of the people. I sense that most people are less worried out whether we leave the EU, or stay, than they are about being asked for their opinion. And this sort of airy dismissal won't go down well.

McCluskey, on the vother hand, says: "It is time that Labour's leadership took a new look at the referendum question. We do not seek a referendum to take Britain out of the EU, we seek a referendum rethink in order to help Labour into power".

"Without such a pledge, our party will stand exposed", he says, "UKIP will be strengthened in some key constituencies and the Tories will hypocritically charge Labour with being anti-democratic. In a tight election, this can make the difference".

In a final barb, McCluskey then says that denying a referendum would suggest that Labour was part of a "political elite" that did not trust the electorate.

Balls, however, says that Labour is "not proposing a referendum" because it thinks to spend two or three years blighting investment and undermining the economy" would be bad for jobs and investment.

This stance is supposed to be "business friendly", avoiding uncertainty and thus protecting jobs but that does not stop Lord Sainsbury putting the boot in. He says, "While the general election is less than a year away, the challenge today is that neither industry nor the voters feel they fully know how the Labour party views its relationship with industry".

It is a bit early yet for the polls, but it will be interesting to see how this pans out. This could be Ed Miliband's biggest mistake, even if we are rather spoiled for choice.


Richard North 04/07/2014

 EU referendum: writing on the wall?

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With Labour's biggest union backer, Unite, expected to approve a motion at its annual conference calling on the Labour party to offer an "in-out" EU referendum, one wonders whether there is a realisation here that a staunchly "eurosceptic" Conservative Party could be a vote winner.

If that is the case, and we see the Labour Party move to adopt an EU referendum as a part of its manifesto, we could be seeing a partial re-run of the 1997 general election campaign where, under pressure from the Jimmy Goldsmith's Referendum Party, we saw the parties commit to a vote on the single currency.

Whether Ed Miliband moves in this direction will, no doubt, depend – in part at least - on what the polls are telling him. If he becomes convinced that he cannot win the general election without committing to a referendum – and thereby neutralising the Conservative vote – then reason would suggest the adoption of a commitment by Labour.

Such a development could very well bring us close to a dream scenario: a referendum campaign played out with a mid-term and increasingly unpopular Labour government in office, supporting the "in" proposition, against rampant Conservative fighting on the "out" ticket – all without Mr Miliband having secured any worthwhile concessions from Brussels in Wilsonian-style renegotiations.

Under these circumstances, provided we can actually structure an effective campaign, and it doesn't get hijacked by the Tory Boy think-tankers, then we could be onto a winner. The logic is then that a triumphant Conservative Party then storms to a landslide victory in the 2020 general election, ready to negotiate a successful departure from the EU, excluding Labour from office for a generation.

Given this electoral calculus, of course, UKIP has one last hurrah next year, but will likely suffers in a classic, two-party squeeze, then to gradually decline as the referendum agenda takes over. By 2020, with the UK on its way out of the EU, the party will then have all but disappeared.

But if Labour does make a firm commitment on a referendum for this coming parliamentary term, perhaps UKIP has one last service to offer, in helping as far as it can to keep the Conservatives out of office in 2015, all to pave the way for a greater and more enduring Conservative victory in 2020 and our final exit from the EU.

And then its work will have been done.


Richard North 02/07/2014

 Brexit: the only people in the way are eurosceptics

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Version 17 of Flexcit is just off the stocks, at 271 pages, bringing it that much closer to finishing. I'm now having to think about whether we do a separate chapter for each of the main EU policies - in which case it's going to be a very long book – or whether we should deal with them in broad brush terms.

As it stands, I've only dealt, at chapter length, with three policy areas: environment, agriculture and fisheries. Each of these has special features that make an in-depth look appropriate. But one could look at others – say, foreign policy and defence, regional policy, and certain others. I would appreciate view on where to go on this.

Another policy I've looked at in depth is immigration. Here, there is no specific EU policy relating to external migration, which makes it a shared competence shared competence, with member states often taking the lead.

With that, I am making progress, developing theme of "push-pull" factors as the primary means of limiting migration, and as a mechanism for by-passing the "freedom of movement" provisions of the EU/EEA treaties, dealing with the causes of the problem rather than the symptoms.

The staggering thing about this, though, is just how shallow politicians are. And we're not just talking about UKIP here. Interviewed yesterday was former Home Affairs commissioner Franco Frattini, on how to ease the pressure on southern nations like Italy.

Frattini, the man who was the EU's top migration official from 2004 to 2008, argues that EU asylum and immigration rules need to be overhauled in the name of greater burden-sharing, coming up with a "four-point plan".

First of all, he says, is the "mother of all problems" is the so-called Dublin regulation, which, he says, "stipulates that incoming migrants can only claim asylum in the first EU country they enter".

He describes the rule as "the biggest obstacle to the application of the solidarity principle that everybody invokes, at least in words," adding that "people who have been granted asylum should be free to move anywhere in the EU".

Southern countries like Italy, which are the first port of call for boat migrants, complain that the Dublin system places undue stress on them. Northern EU states with more generous asylum regimes, like Sweden, fear they would be swamped if the rules were changed.

Actually, it isn't quite that simple. The regulation creates a hierarchy of responsibility for dealing with asylum seekers but, crucially, there is a special twist for "illegal" immigrants.

If the asylum seeker has "irregularly" crossed the border into a member state, it is that member state which ends up with the responsibility for examining the asylum application.

A canny migrant, landing in Italy, however, will evade processing formalities (sometimes with the complicity of the authorities) and head northwards to Calais. A quick trip across the Channel and the "irregular" migrant is in England claiming asylum before you can say "Tony Blair".

In other words, while Mr Frattini doesn't like the system very much, it doesn't suit any country very much. But no one knows how to change it for the better.

As to the second of Frattini's complaints, he takes the view that so-called "economic migrants", chasing work, should be distributed across the bloc according to quotas, taking into account host nations‘ "economic needs, size and reception capacity".

"It would be an enormous step forward in the name of an equitable burden-sharing," he insists, stressing that Germany would not be penalised from the reform, because "it already hosts many migrants from the East".

But, with almost a puckish sense of humour (one assumes), Frattini suggests that Poland and other central European nations would have room to take in more people. He says the quota system is an idea initially put forward by European Parliament President Martin Schulz - a German Social Democrat. And so we have the biter bit.

Third on Mr Frattini's list is Frontex, the EU border agency. It needs to be transformed into a full-blown "European border police corps," according to Frattini, who says he pushed the idea as EU commissioner in 2006, but it did not get anywhere due to "widespread opposition".

Finally, the man until recently responsible for the EU's migrant problem, says his country - facing a record influx of boat migrants from North Africa - deserves more help from Brussels. He wants the current EU Home Affairs Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, to be more forceful in looking after the needs of the front line countries.

If one stands back from all this, though, it really does invite the Tipperary joke – the one that ends: "I wouldn't start from here".

What is missing, however – as sharp-eyed readers will notice – is any reference to mitigation. An ex-Commissioner should be aware if this, The Commission has been very keen on "push-me, pull-you", coined on his watch in 2007.

This is why we have to get out, and why we eventually will. The politicians have lost it. They have a system they don't understand, and have run out of ideas on how to make it better.

Nevertheless, that does no mean that leaving is going to be any easier – the academics seem to have lost it as well.

Highlighted at the top of this piece is a cut from Tim Oliver, writing on the LSE blog. He claims to write on how a "Brexit" might occur in practice, offering "five ways in which the UK might leave the European Union", noting that even if the country were to give up its membership there would still be a number of unresolved questions as to the kind of UK-EU relationship which could emerge.

Agog to know what the LSE has to say, we find the man is frittering away his time – and ours – on telling us that we might use Article 50, the government might make a unilateral decision to withdraw, the EU could expel Britain, it could engineer a "passive expulsion" from the EU – messing us about so much that we leave in disgust – or through a slower and gradual process of changes to the EU whereby Britain does not leave the EU, but the EU leaves Britain behind.

This, then, is the offering from academia. One can only wonder whether they are being deliberately obtuse, or simply missing the point. But if people have never heard of the EEA, we can thank academic such as Tim Oliver for spreading the ignorance.

On the other hand, Wolfgang Schäuble is telling us that the UK is an essential, indispensable component of the European unity. The EU without the UK, he says, "is absolutely not acceptable, unimaginable". Therefore we have to do everything, so that the interests and the positions of the UK find themselves sufficiently [represented] in European politics.

Hugo Dixon of Reuters adds to the pain, telling us that a "Brexit" would harm the rest of the EU as well as the UK, which makes the behaviour of the "colleagues" over Juncker rather ill-advised.

But, they've left it too late. The only people that can stop the UK leaving the EU now are the eurosceptics, which is why we should read Complete Bastard as well. There is time yet to get it right - we don't have to lose it as well.


Richard North 02/07/2014

 EU referendum: vultures circling the corpse

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Blogged by Purple Scorpion we learn of the doings of Dominic Cummings, more than a decade ago campaign director of Business for Sterling, now emerging to tell us how to run the coming EU referendum "no" campaign.

In a report for Business for Britain, "reformists" and wannabe leaders of the "no" campaign, Cummings reverts to exactly the device which probably lost the Conservatives the last two elections – the infamous "focus group". It was devises such as those which had election campaigners chasing after the supposed opinions of "swing groups" in order to decide how to pitch their messages.

The fact is, of course, is that there are no defined "swing voters" in a potential EU referendum. The last time we had one was in 1975, so one can hardly look at a single group and see what, if anything might have changed their mind since last time.

What Cummings has done, therefore, is take "swing voters" who voted for Mr Cameron in 2010 and might change their mind, using them as a litmus test of how to gauge the message to potential voters in a referendum which we might see in 2017.

In terms of campaign design, of course, this exercise has almost no value. This cohort cannot be taken as representative of the nation as a whole. Nor does it have any particular relevance to a national referendum. We are not talking about a limited number of marginal seats on which elections will turn, but the sum of all the votes cast by the nation, where it is the majority option that counts.

Thus, all we are getting is verbatim extracts of opinions given by people collected to talk about a referendum, giving some colour to an otherwise drab subject. More importantly, it provides a re-launch platform for Mr Cummings, which will stand him in good stead when he, Matthew Elliott and his London gang of think-tankers make their bid for the campaign millions on offer from the Electoral Commission.

This is what they did with the North-East region referendum, swanning up from London to Hoover up the money. While the locals had to fight the campaign unaided, the maestros schmoozed with the donors, telling them how lucky they all were to have them, then writing books to tell everyone how clever they were in winning the poll.

Now history is set to repeat itself. As a referendum begins to look a likely proposition, the smell of money and kudos is enough to bring the gold-diggers and careerists out into the open, the pack leaders adorning themselves with the "CEO" title to mark their own importance. Bless!

Unfortunately,  these are the people, if we let them, who are going to lose us the referendum. Not one of them has the first idea of what they are fighting for or how to pitch a winning campaign.

Cummings, with the benefit of his magical mystery focus group, for instance, tells us that "the combination of immigration, benefits, and human rights dominates all discussion of politics in general and the EU in particular". 

It doesn't, of course. But this is a man that thinks the "biggest change in the EU debate since Brown announced in 2003 that we would not join the euro" is that "people now spontaneously connect the issue of immigration and the EU". It is no coincidence, though, that Cummings is the man that walked away from his paid position in Business for Sterling in 2002, and has taken little interest in the EU ever since. 

He is evidently a man who seems to have missed out on the Lisbon Treaty altogether. But now there is a whiff of money, he's back, ready to take is place in the ranks of the paid CEOs, prepared to fight to the last expense account.  

Setting up his pitch, the born-again Cummings now rushes to give us the benefit of his newly found wisdom, gravely telling us that an "out" campaign would "not have to focus on immigration". It is a massive factor that needs no reinforcement, he says. Rather, the campaign would need to neutralise the fear of leaving and focus on what could be done with the money saved by leaving, both as a positive message and as an answer to the fear of lost trade.

So, from the giant intellect of this great campaigning genius, this is what we get: "neutralise the fear of leaving". Yet, if Mr Cummings had read our lowly blog (which he is far too grand to do), he would have discovered, with not a CEO in sight, that we had managed to work this out over eighteen months ago, all by ourselves. A successful campaign, we said, would be:
…. exploiting the status quo effect and the perceived importance to British economy of the totemic Single Market. In this context, the "out" campaign will only succeed in a referendum if it is able to neutralise the FUD.
This, we said at the time, is a sine qua non, having raised the issue of FUD in January 2013 and pursued it ever since, even labelling the phenomenon with the "FUD" buzzword, something that Cummings hasn't invented yet - although he will.

Some 18 months after the event, therefore, we have a Jonny-come-lately waltz in to tell us what must be done. Sadly though, it is only in the way an exasperated England fan might instruct his team how to win: score more goals than the oppostion, stupid.  But when it comes to exactly what needs to be done, all we get from the maestro is: "There are various ways in which this could be done but these lie outside the scope of this report". Clearly, the fee was insufficient and needs topping up.

That is actually classic Cummings. In fact, it is characteristic device of the golden boys. They swan around the London circuit oozing supercilious confidence, blithely informing their sponsors that the answer is soooo simple - something must be done, dressed up with vacuous jargon and last decade's marketing buzz-words. And they are the ones to do it, for a fee of course.

In respect of the EU referendum campaign, though, there is an inbuilt trap which none of these golden boys have even began to realise exists. Much less have they any idea what to do about it, .

The problem is the very real conflict between the need to get out quickly, preferably within the initial two years afforded by Article 50, and the overwhelming requirement to protect the Single Market – the only way we are going to neutralise the FUD – by continuing to participate in the EEA.

Here, the trap is, of course, Freedom of Movement, which is an integral part of the EEA. Forget trying to release ourselves from it. It is entirely non-negotiable. Thus, on the face of it, we can either deal with immigration or we can "neutralise the fear of leaving". But, on the basis of what we are being offered by the likes of UKIP, we can't do both.

If fact, we can have our cake and eat it. Freedom of Movement is a red herring. The idea of "regaining control of our borders" is an empty mantra. Unless we are to adopt a North Korean style of government, with totally sealed borders, restrictions on immigration would be subverted by illegal immigration, asylum seekers and family reunification, none of which are resolved by leaving the EU. And then, none of those already here can be sent back.

With that, of course, we have not yet officially started the campaign. And, as we know from 1975, sentiment can not only change, it can completely reverse. With a huge humanitarian crisis in the making, where more than 5,000 migrants have been picked up by the Italian navy in the past 48 hours in several rescue operations between Sicily and North Africa, the sentiment can change here as well.

There are those who would sink the boats of migrants, coldly committing murder in the process, or return desperate men, women and children from whence they came, only for them to perish en route or be locked away in camps when they make landfall. But that is to invite a backlash which could leave the "no" campaign flat-footed. The immigration card needs to be played with the very greatest of care.

On the other hand, there is a way of squaring the circle. That is what this post, this one, this and this are all about, options which some readers are too stupid to understand. We avoid the simplistic, empty mantras and address the "push-pull" factors, dealing with the causes rather than the symptoms. Migration is a symptom. Let's deal with the causes.

All of this, necessarily, requires a far more  greater knowledge and understanding of the issues than we have seen to date, and a more sophisticated campaign, with a. But the likes of Cummings play down the need for  knowledge – if only because they lack any grasp of detail. 

Mr Cummings thus stresses that the tiny cohort with whom he chose to spend his time, "know almost nothing about the mechanisms of international trade, the EU's Single Market, the EU's Customs Union, and the interaction of all these complex systems with global regulation".

This means, he says, that discussions about the relative merits of the EU's or EFTA/EEA trading arrangements are not only distinctly foggy in Westminster - they are completely unintelligible to these people, who have not heard of EFTA or the EEA.

In his own condescending way, he tells us that the arguments that are discussed among the tiny number of genuinely knowledgeable people - "the sort of arguments analysed by those who entered the IEA competition" - have no grip on these people, who have none of the knowledge necessary to make sense of them.

In Mr Cumming's tiny little world, therefore: "All discussion of these issues rapidly runs into the sand and talk returns to immigration".

However, as I have already pointed out, the campaign has not even started yet. And in the 1975 campaign, many people very quickly understood what the three initials EEC meant. By the same token, by the time the 2017 campaign is over, a similar number of people will become familiar with the EEA, and the related concept of the "Norway Option".

Where Cummings and his London friends fall down, of course, is that they rely on what they read in the legacy media. And because the "smart set" can't get their brains round complex issues, they think the electorate is going to be similarly vacuous. They will want a "Janet and John" campaign that insults the intelligence, and deals with none of the substantive issues.

What will be needed, though, is for the case to be fully worked out. That is what Flexcit is for. Not one in a thousand will read it, any more than the average Christian reads the Bible, or the average football fan reads the 148-page FIFA manual on the laws of the game. But, if FIFA needs 148 pages to play football, to deal with something as complex as leaving the EU is going to need a lot more.

Then, and only then, will we know where we stand, and have the wherewithal to devise a strategy. And only then can we simplify the case. But having a full version as backup means we will have all the important angles worked out. We will rarely, if ever, be caught out and, as far as the Europhiles go, we will be ahead of the game. Meanwhile, campaigners will benefit from the knowledge that their campaign has substance, and will derive their confidence and will to win from that.

All Cummings can offer, by way of an "obvious idea" though, is "to develop a roadmap and the framework for a new UK-EU Treaty 'Wiki-style'". Such decentralised movements have achieved astonishing things in science and could in politics, he says.

This again is typical of the breed. Apparently plausible, especially to those who have no experience of campaigning in the real world, any such device would immediately become a target for opposition hackers and trolls. Massive effort would have to go into defending something which, by the time it had been savaged and disrupted, would not be worth defending anyway.

Nevertheless, that is not going to make any difference to the "smart set". The referendum is a game for them to play, with careers and names to make, and money to dribble through their fingers as they play. The only thing that won't worry them is whether they win or lose. The game is simply for playing - for as long as the cheques roll in.


Richard North 01/07/2014

 UKIP: winging it on NGOs

"I couldn't work out for years in Brussels", says Nigel Farage in his address to the Institute for Government:
… why, when once a year in December, we get the annual revision of the fishing quota system, I couldn't for the life of me work out why Greenpeace's criticism of the discards regime that has been on place now for nearly thirty years – that has led to British industry in the North Sea throwing back far more dead that it was allowed to keep alive – I kept wondering why the criticism from Greenpeace wasn't stricter, wasn't sterner, until I saw the very large sums of money that they actually get from the European Commission every year.

So I'm not for one moment suggesting that we close down Oxfam or anything like that, but I do think that, given the influence these organisations have over public opinion, it's a fairly bizarre state of affairs to have the government effectively funding the organisations that lobby it. And I think that relationship is much too close and is unlikely – as I say with my Greenpeace example of fishing quotas – to perhaps give us the level of debate that should be desired.
Yet, the YouTube clip (top) is taken from the Greenpeace website, where the organisation has joined with the Fishfight campaign, to er… ban discards. On the other hand, when we look at Mr Farage's recent contribution to the discards debate, via the UKIP website, we get this result from Google:

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But the killer fact, of course, is that Greenpeace does not solicit, nor accept contributions from governments – and that includes the EU. Of all the major NGOs, this is the one that does not take a penny from the Commission, as we recorded in our earlier piece. Mr Farage never "saw" any sums paid to this NGO.

Fortunately for Mr Farage, the event was chaired by Rt Hon Peter Riddell, Director of the Institute for Government, who shares the same degree of ignorance as the UKIP leader. And thus was Mr Farage able to escape unchallenged.

Similarly, as to his substantive theme – the adoption of "direct democracy", Mr Farage wants more referendums, but only as a "backstop", a "safety net" which would be used to stop government doing things.

This, of course, is not direct democracy, demonstrating that – as Complete Bastard points out – Mr Farage has not thought things through. "So what we're looking at is panicked policy harvesting from a deadbeat party that has overextended itself and wasted everyone's time", says Bastard.

Interestingly, there were journalists at the meeting (including one from the Daily Mail), but none get near picking up Mr Farage's errors. The only person who queried his claim was Andrew Carner (35 years a civil servant), a governor of the Institute, who told Mr Farage: "I think your funding figures on NGOs are simply not right. Very few of the big NGOs get a majority or a large proportion of their funding from government – they get a few percent".

Had Mr Farage been better briefed, he could have pointed out that the WWF has been paid nearly €54 million from EU funds in the six year period from 2007 to 2012, the RSPB were paid more €14 million, and that Friends of the Earth Europe are primarily funded from public funds. Its work programme in 2013 cost €1,368,059.00, of which the EU contributed €751,064.00 (54.89 percent). Likewise, the EEB gets most of its funding from the taxpayer.

The best bet, though, would have been to add up the Green 10 subventions for the period 2007-2012. We start with WWF grabbing €53,813,343, Birdlife is lead recipient for funds worth €25,680,683, Naturfreund gets €2,862,371, Bankwatch takes €8,178,095, the EEB is lead recipient for €13,186,263, Climate Action Network gets €2,240,616, HEAL (as EPHA) takes €4,622,921, Transport & Environment, takes €2,172,353 and Friends of the Earth was lead recipient for grants worth €13,674,033.

Putting these nine together, with Greenpeace the notable exception, the Green 10 minus one are primary or lead recipients of funds to the tune of €126,610,677 disbursed by the Commission between 2007-2012. But, as we know, Mr Farage does not do detail. But he does, it seems do fiction. And when everyone else in the room is as ignorant as he is, he can get away with it. 

Nevertheless, over £100 million paid to the "top nine" environmental NGOs would have made the point that much more strongly. As it is, Mr Farage may be getting a call from Greenpeace.


Richard North 26/06/2014

 Immigration: more push than pull

There were some who wondered why I should have written about the S. Korean fishing ban, under consideration by the EU. But the real question should be why, of late, I have written so little about such issues. 

As it happens, I was sent details of the S. Korean affair by a colleague, who thought I might be interested – and indeed I was. It fitted perfectly into a wider study on immigration that I am writing up for the Flexcit plan, to illustrate the role of so-called "push" factors as a causal mechanism.

We have written about the effect of fishing in third country waters many times, such as here in 2006, and here, and this piece, where I referred to the then current wave of migration to the Canaries, "entirely due to the effect of the predatory third country fishing agreements, which are depriving Africans of their livelihoods".

I then asserted that the immediate answer was to stop stealing African fish. Scrap the third country deals and help countries develop their own fishing industries, complete with processing facilities which give the added value.

The interest goes back much earlier, however, and we were actively engaged in this issue in 2001 when I was working in the European Parliament. It was then that Kim Willsher fronted for Channel 4 a revealing film about the depredations of the "EU fishing fleet" in Mauritania.

We got in touch with Kim Willsher, and I started to make arrangements for Nigel Farage to go out to Mauritania himself, to draw attention to the predatory third world deals. But when I set up meetings for TGL in Brussels, to progress this idea, he never showed. Eventually, the idea fizzled out – a major opportunity missed, in my view.

But even then, we were well aware that the EU itself was responsible for much of the pressure on migration, and that to contain the problem required a concerted effort to deal with these "push" factors, about which I have more recently written.

This is part of the reason why I find the UKIP "pull up the drawbridge" policy on immigration so objectionable. It is not that that I would disagree with the need to control the flow of migrants into this country. It is that - as Farage well knows – the measures we need to take are far more comprehensive than just improving (or re-asserting) border controls.

Further, in political terms, there was far more capital to be made in taking a global approach to controlling immigration, than projecting the "little Englander" drawbridge mentality.

What again brings this into focus, though, is a piece in the Guardian today, headlined: "Why illegal fishing off Africa's coast must be stopped". Sadly, it is rehearsing exactly the same issues that Kim Willsher was addressing more than a decade previously, and which Farage so egregiously failed to pursue.

Says the Guardian: "The livelihoods and nutrition of millions of people in Africa are being put at risk by foreign fishing fleets in their waters", then pointing out that up to a quarter of jobs in the region are linked to fisheries. Take the fish and you take the jobs, and add to the migration pressure.

Yet, not only does the EU (alongside Russia, China, S. Korea and other countries) take obscene quantities of fish, via the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, it is paying €6.5 billion from 2014 to 2020 (up from €4.3 billion in the previous period) to subsidise the fisheries sector.

A very large proportion of that (more than a quarter) is paid to Spain to stave off unemployment in the politically sensitive Spanish fishing industry. Hence, taxpayers' money is being paid to reduce European unemployment, only to export it to Africa.

However, it is not just predatory fishing policies which are doing the damage. Coincidentally, in the Guardian, there is a report on the destructive effect of cotton subsidies on West African farmers.

In this case, it is not the EU at fault. Since the McSharry CAP reforms, and with the implementation of the 2010 reforms, 94 percent of agricultural support is unrelated to specific production and is thus "uncoupled". The main offender here is the United States, which aggressively subsidises its own growers (albeit at a reduced level over the last year, as a result of rising world prices).

This apart, there are other, substantial problems which handicap West African growers, not least the prohibition on granting US Aid for projects which would compete with US farmers. This is the so-called Bumpers Amendment, which we met in Afghanistan, and which continues to have a worldwide effect.

More generally, we see a report here which sets out some of the other issues currently holding Africa back. It also puts losses in West Africa from illegal fishing at $1.3 billion annually and, in Senegal alone, at around $300 million in 2012. That is equivalent to around 2 percent of GDP. The supposedly "legal" fishing, though, costs much more.

It takes very little, therefore, to hunt out and understand these issues and their role as "push" factors. They even apply to within the EU, where intelligent policy could reduce migration pressure from member states, as well as from outside the external borders.

However, the saddest thing of all is that, considerably more than a decade after such issues have been raised, virtually nothing has changed but the rhetoric. We are facing exactly the same problems and, if anything, are further from solving them than we ever have been.


Richard North 20/06/2014

 EU regulation: the "deregulation" con-trick

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In the ongoing war of words between the EU and its detractors, few weapons have been so powerful as the charge of "over-regulation", providing a never-ending stream of "red-tape" stories for the media to chew over.

Even then, the media tends to speak with forked tongue. As we saw in yesterday's story, the Commission taking tentative steps to reduce the "red tape" burden in the notoriously over-regulated field of meat inspection has sections of the media immediately start shrieking in protest.

Despite that, the Commission is acutely aware of the cumulative impact of the "red tape" propaganda and in October last launched its REFIT programme in a bid to convince people that it was responsive to the needs of the business community and was cutting the burden of regulation.

Despite the rhetoric though, there was a hidden agenda behind the programme, not least the need to integrate international agreements into the acquis, and to prevent this process being blocked by the European Parliament and the Council.

Nevertheless, that has not stopped the Commission today launching a further propaganda initiative, in the form of a "Refit scoreboard". This comes complete with a communication on the "state of play and outlook", backed by a staff working document and a Q&A memorandum, all part of the paraphernalia of an EU public relations campaign.

Invariably these days such an initiative includes graphic representation, and this we see illustrated (top - click to expand) in an "infogram" which claims, amongst other things, that, in pursuit of "making EU law lighter, simpler and less costly", more than 6100 legal acts have been repealed since 2005.

The reality, though – as always – is very different. Much of this supposed reduction has been achieved by taking several instruments, and their amendments, and consolidating them into one new law. The net result, with additions, is often longer than the sum of the separate laws, but in propaganda terms, one law has replaced many. Sometimes, as many as 20 or so laws are amalgamated into one new law.

The other trick we picked up was with the vegetable and fruit marketing standards, where laws detailing acceptable sizes and shapes were scrapped altogether for 26 types of produce, including carrots, cauliflowers, cucumbers, leeks, plums and onions.

But what we actually saw was that the specific standards were replaced by "general marketing standards" (GMS). These were not specified in detail by the EU, but in order to comply with them traders had to apply the relevant UNECE standards, which effective reproduced the marketing standards that had been scrapped. In short, nothing had changed.

Another trick added to the Commission armoury is to list all the obsolete laws making a virtue out of necessity, parading normal legislative housekeeping as part of a "deregulation" process.

Thus, dropping a proposal (not even a law) for a "Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EEC) No 1360/90 establishing a European Training Foundation as regards the Director's term of office", because alternative arrangements had been made, becomes part of the Commission's heroic efforts to reduce "red tape".

Similarly dropped was a "Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the operating space, access to the driving position and the doors and windows of wheeled agricultural or forestry tractors", but this only goes because such matters are now determined by the World Forum for the Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations, hosted by UNECE.

Thus, like so much of what the EU does, this is smoke and mirrors, a series of elaborate procedural devices that have little effect other than to reduce the headline figure of the number of laws produced by the EU.

Meanwhile, the torrent of laws continues apace, concealed in part by the window-dressing, only then to be ignored in its entirety by the British legacy media until harnessed by a wandering europhile in support of continued membership of the EU.

Our problem is that, without systemic debunking of these propaganda devices, they lie on the table, ready for deployment, and we are left ill-equipped to counter them when they are used against us.

This, in my view, is where UKIP singularly fails. Warning about this sort of thing is what we set out to do in 1999, when we sent three UKIP MEPs to Brussels, using group funds to support the "intelligence" function. Yet, between 2004 and 20014, with €16 million spent in group funds, we've seen nothing of this, and still have to go elsewhere for our information.

The EU is fortunate to have such lightweight opposition, enabling it to get away with transparent ploys like "Refit".


Richard North 18/06/2014

 EU referendum: declining support for leaving

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There is a more than usually disturbing thing about the recent YouGov survey on EU referendum voting intentions. People were asked how they would vote in the event that David Cameron "successfully renegotiates Britain's relationship with the EU". And, given that situation, those who wanted to "remain in" the EU hit 57 percent, against the 22 percent who wanted to leave.

However, those tortured souls who actually read this blog will know that Mr Cameron's chances of renegotiating anything with the EU, successfully or otherwise, are nil to the nth power, minus as many trillion as you could write on the deck of the new HMS Queen Elizabeth in eight-point lower case New Times Roman.

Thus, to get 57 percent of the mortal beings, who no doubt claim a degree of sentience, actually believing that Mr Dave can achieve the impossible has to mark a new low in the gullibility of our electorate.

Actually, this is a new low. The gullible "inners" surge to a 35-point lead – the largest since the question was first asked this way in June 2012. The worse Mr Cameron's chances get, the more people believe he can actually achieve something.

What is particularly terrifying is that this same electorate, even without incentive of Mr Cameron's happy hour, is - according to YouGov - "increasingly positive" about staying in the Union. Their poll, published in The Sun, reports an eight point lead for those who want to stay in the EU. 

It is also is the largest lead recorded since YouGov first asked the question, this time in September 2010. Some 44 percent of the electorate would now vote to stay in the Union, while a minority of 36 percent would vote to leave. And that, sadly, is a continuation of a trend which started in March.

Three months later, we have the Telegraph's Iain Martin asking: "Is UKIP putting voters off Euroscepticism?". He's really bright this one, for a legacy media hack. It's only taken him that long to notice the inverse correlation between the apparent rise in support for Mr Farage's dysfunctional party and the fall-off in support for leaving the EU.

But then, if you follow Autonomous Mind, you get to see that there wasn't much of a UKIP surge anyway. It exists only in the minds of the faithful, who still seem to think that getting the support of 9.2 percent of the electorate, to gain three percent of the vote in the European Parliament, somehow represents a "political earthquake".

Recalling the perspicacious, if somewhat slow-witted Mr Martin, one also sees another report which, in the best tradition of the legacy media, tells us what we already knew - that many of those who did vote for UKIP in the euros did so because of Mr Farage's pitch on immigration.

It is that, though, which we believe has created the "glass ceiling" for UKIP and – long before Mr Martin got there – we believe is alienating potential supporters for the "out" proposition.

Martin, summoning up up what brain cells he can muster, is left wondering whether UKIP "could end up being toxic to the Eurosceptic cause". I told you this one was bright. However, last month we had no doubts at all. Followed by Bill Cash a few days later, we believed Farage was variously toxifying or contaminating the brand.

Whether you believe that or not, the polls (and not just YouGov) do indicate that, if we had an EU referendum now, we would lose it. Moreover, the trend away from leaving the EU is hardening. I begin to wonder, therefore, whether I have misread the situation, and that the hype over Juncker is a devious ploy to bring forward a referendum that we most certainly will lose.

Yet - Martin observes - Britain should be, according to UKIP orthodoxy, halfway out the door at the EU. Thus, while the BBC thinks UKIP is "incompetent, venal and racist", it seems to be something much worse – a loser. And even if you don't agree, there's no denying that the anti-EU movement is in dire trouble.

Richard North 18/06/2014

 Brexit: boring into the detail

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With my last piece, and a few other of my recent posts, I think I'm now in the running for "the most boring blog ever written" prize, strengthening my quest to drive my hit rate down to record lows (not as successful there as I would like!).

My more perceptive ex-readers, of course, realise what I am doing – trying to use the blog as a research tool, and a sounding board for material which will end up in the "Flexcit" plan. It also helps to reduce the daunting workload if I am able to post pieces on the blog which can also be used as "Flexcit" material.

The more technical pieces on the blog also serve to prove a point – that, in general, people are less prone to comment on them than they are the more political points. And whatever the excuses offered, the evidence is there for all to see. Critical posts on UKIP have exceeded one hundred comments several times. Some of the comments on the more technical posts haven't even made two figures.

There can be many explanations for this phenomenon, but fortunately I am not entirely (or at all) reliant on the comments. Many readers have sent me their personal observations by e-mail, some with attachments running to dozens of pages of very welcome corrections and observations.

That validates my determination to make "Flexcit" a living document, which evolves and develops through the efforts of now a hundred or more people, some having offered no more than a single comment, making small but important corrections to the copy.

Much as I would like to keep covering a wider range of issues (and particularly with the Iraq situation crying out for intelligent comment), I am having to keep focussed. And if that means having to write pieces on arcane subjects as the EU's anti-dumping policy, so be it. At least I have spared you (so far) from a dissertation on the WTO's schedules of concessions, and their relevance to the UK's post exit agricultural subsidy policy.

What does trouble me though is the determination of some commentators to assert that all this work is unnecessary. All we need, some will tell us, are some catchy soundbites and one-page leaflets, and the voters will come flocking to our side in the "in-out" referendum.

Talking with Boiling Frog today, though – back from his arduous but fascinating tour of the European Quarter - it was he who put it in context. From Das Kapital to Mein Kampf and the Little Red Book, no revolution worthy of its name ever succeeds without its "bible".

Mostly, of course, it is unread, but the very fact that it exists provides reassurance – the fact, in this case, that we can say we have thoroughly examined the important issues relating to leaving the EU, and have covered the bases, is enough. What we can't or mustn't do is do into a campaign with no formal exit plan, and no idea of how to deal with the inevitable complications.

The lack of coherent response from such people, therefore, betrays both a superficial approach and a lack of tactical acumen. Most of our Harrogate Agenda advisory group are ploughing through books on the history of the 1975 referendum, not least the tract by David Butler and Uwe Kitzinger, which has to be regarded as the definitive history.

All of can thus see that we are in the process of making many of the same mistakes that we made in 1975 – and that was without the benefit of UKIP making things infinitely worse. And one of those mistakes was not having a coherent, agreed exit plan, offering a coherent alternative to the EU.

Thus, for the time being, I really don't really have much option but to keep bidding for the "most boring" prize. A lot of the detail is boring, but sadly, that doesn't mean it isn't important. And if there are any complaints, I'll do a piece on WTO schedules of concessions, or even meat inspection - or Irish beef prices. Then you'll really get to know what boring means. 


Richard North 17/06/2014

 Booker: Mr Cameron's smoke and mirrors

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We all saw the picture of David Cameron and Angela Merkel being rowed across a Swedish lake, writes Christopher Booker, supposedly so that Mr Cameron could persuade Mrs Merkel not to allow the dim "arch-federalist Jean-Claude Juncker" to become the European Commission's new president.

What we were not told was that these photo-opportunities are an old Swedish tradition. A similar picture showed the then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev rowing across the same lake in 1964.

The difference was that, whereas today's leaders had to be seen wearing lifejackets, 50 years ago the three men in a boat just wore suits. It would have been a good illustration for Booker's piece last week on how the world has changed since D-Day, suggesting that, where our leaders were once ''Men from Mars", today we have only "Men from Venus".

"Europe" is nothing if not theatre. Mr Cameron wants to impress upon everyone, particularly in the wake of the Euro elections, that he intends to see the EU "reformed", reducing its powers (hence his bid to block Juncker as the European Parliament's choice for that top job).

He thereby hopes that he can mop up the UKIP vote and win next year's general election by promising that he will negotiate a "new relationship" between Britain and the EU, then lead the "yes" campaign in the 2017 "in-out" referendum.

Of course, this is all just theatre. Mr Cameron knows that if he could get anything more than a few cosmetic concessions from the EU, it would require a new treaty, which any one of the 27 other countries could veto. He knows that even if Mr Juncker dropped out, he would only be replaced by some other "arch-federalist".

Furthermore, Cameron knows that, whatever Mrs Merkel may say about Juncker in public, she doesn't want him either, any more than she likes the attempt by MEPs to claim that they, rather than the European Council, can propose a new commission president, flatly in breach of treaty rules.

Behind the theatre, the reality of what is going on was better reflected in the minutes of the recent "2,087th meeting" of the outgoing commission. First they expressed satisfaction that, despite all those votes for "anti-European parties", the recent Euro elections produced an overwhelming majority for mainstream parties favouring more integration.

Then, in referring to a briefing for the new commission president, it was just the same old familiar story: the EU's priorities must be to promote "growth and jobs" (at which they have been so successful in the eurozone); more action on climate change; a common energy policy; more EU powers over "justice and home affairs"; and an extension of the EU's External Action Service (which has been so brilliantly effective in sorting out the Ukraine and the Middle East).

Nothing has changed, concludes Booker. There is no way Mr Cameron is going to get his "reformed EU", or his treaty. Like so much else, it is all theatre – or, as we used to say, just make-believe, smoke and mirrors.


Richard North 15/06/2014

 UK politics: what comes round goes round

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Continuing down the road towards Mr Cameron's 2017 referendum, we now see Mr Bob Neill, Conservative MP for Bromley & Chislehurst, in the frame for another EU Referendum Bill. He drew top Conservative Member in the Private Members' Bill ballot and then announced he would be introducing the Bill to legislate for an "in-out" vote by the end of 2017.

Born on 24 June 1952, this is an early birthday present for Neill, who says that the last time Britain was given a vote on our membership of the EU, he had just started work. Forty years on, just shy of the age of 62, this highly paid MP now, by his own admission, has a free bus pass. In this time, he says, our relationship with Europe (sic) has changed beyond recognition.

Then we get the money quote: "Only the Conservative Party are offering a credible plan of renegotiation and reform, and this Bill guarantees that the British people will have the final say".

We note that, despite the Hannan prediction, "renegotiation" is still on the official cards. But, that apart, there is a total irony here. It was Bob Neill who in the June 2006 by-election had to fend off a certain Nigel Farage who, with 2,347 votes, very nearly gave the seat to Lib-Dem challenger Ben Abbotts.

Had Abbotts won, we suspect it would not have been him leading the way to a referendum. Farage's failure paved the way for greater glories, and indirectly, to another try at a Referendum Bill. And perhaps here there is a sign. The main obstacle now to a referendum, if we want it, may be Mr Farage's party.

In that, of course, lie another raft of ironies. A pessimistic view would have it that we cannot win an "in-out" referendum – mostly because of the inadequacies of UKIP. That means that, at the general election, we need a UKIP success to block the very thing that is supposed to get us out of the EU, thus keeping us in the EU for the time being.

The electoral permutations now begin to look more than a little bizarre: vote Conservative for a referendum that we might lose, keeping us in the EU for the foreseeable future. Vote UKIP to block a referendum, keeping us in the EU for the foreseeable future. Or vote Labour to keep us in the EU for the foreseeable future.

Hackneyed cliché it might be, but sometimes you couldn't make it up. But does anyone have a scenario where we actually get to leave the EU?


Richard North 14/06/2014

 UKIP: Farage faces jail threat

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The Times is picking up on the Farage saga, reporting how the UKIP leader "broke electoral law" in failing to declare donations worth £200,000 during a period of 14 years.

This is from the Electoral Commission, which means that Farage potentially faces a maximum fine of £20,000 or up to a year in jail, "if the Electoral Commission decides to refer the case for criminal prosecution and Mr Farage is convicted".

Its investigation was prompted when The Times reported that Farage had been given a constituency office near Littlehampton, West Sussex, rent-free since 2001, shortly after he had became an MEP. He did not declare the gift until 16 May this year.

Seeking to excuse their leader, the party claims that Farage declared the use of a rent-free office in his European Parliament Register of Interests, from 2001. However, The Times has documents from 2001 and the first half of 2002, which failed to show this gift from J Longhurst Ltd.

The paper has the declaration for 2013 but officials have been unable to provide documents covering the intervening period. However, there are copies from 2012 and 2009. They do have the declaration (although no value indicated).

The party claims that the premises has been used as Farage's MEP office so the European Parliamentary register was the logical place for it to be declared. "Mr Farage was surprised to learn that the Electoral Commission thought it should be informed as well as this did not accord with the professional advice he had received at the time", it says.

Yesterday the commission published figures showing that rent for the office, which was provided by John Longhurst, a local farmer and UKIP supporter, had now been declared as a donation-in-kind worth £15,000 a year since 2001.

Mr Longhurst also registered an additional donation-in-kind of more than £10,000 in early 2001, bringing the total value of the donations to £205,602. The commission said that it was considering what disciplinary action to take against Mr Farage for breaching electoral law.

The paper, however, says the belated declaration also raises fresh questions over how the MEP used EU funds intended to pay for the office. Farage claims to have spent an average of £15,500 a year of EU money on "office management and running costs", which solely covers rent, utilities, business rates and insurance and cleaning for the former grain store.

As Farage has received the office rent-free since 2001, his total spending on the management costs, which excludes stationery, staff salaries, office equipment and communications, could reach almost £200,000. This opens Farage to possible investigation by OLAF, the EU anti-fraud body.

We've heard so much of this before that we've learned not to expect much from the process. However, if the Electoral Commission does decide to take formal action, we could possibly see court proceedings at the same time as the general election.

What else comes out of the woodwork is anybody's guess, but there are plenty of people working on bringing more to the surface. "Teflon" Farage might nevertheless get away with it again, but if he does, it won't be for want of trying. There are a lot of people after him.


Richard North 13/06/2014