EU Referendum: not just another meeting


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So, with an eye to maximising publicity, Mr Farage yesterday decided to tell the world that Ukip was launching its campaign "on the ground" from the beginning of September. He is, we are told, to "mobilise a people's army" in favour of leaving the European Union, and will launch hundreds of public meetings.

Mr Farage was of the view that the referendum could be held as early as "March or April", and if he believes that, then that explains why he is in such a rush to get things moving, telling the "no" side that it needs to "get off its backside". It needs to do two things, he says: to "get cracking" and "come together".

However, in one thing, Mr Farage is certainly wrong. There will be no referendum in March or April, nor in June. It seems unlikely that there can be one before October of next year, while we maintain that the most probable date is October 2017.

On this basis, we believe that to ramp up the campaign early is premature - and potentially harmful. Given the need for a grand strategy, the time would be better spent working on this, and then organising and training our side, better to execute the campaign.

Crucially, before we commit ourselves to a strategy, we need a clearer idea of what Mr Cameron is planning, especially if "associate membership" becomes a reality. If it does, and there is a second referendum to follow, this will be a game changer. It will demand a precise and measured response.

Sadly, it is not within our capability to influence Mr Farage. He set his face against anything we might have to offer over a decade ago, having decided that the way to success was though gaining MPs in Westminster, a strategy that has yet to produce results.

Nevertheless, that does not mean there is nothing we can do, or that we have to stand idle while Farage insists executing what appears to be a strategy-free campaign.

Essentially, if we are in for the long haul, then we need a group of campaigners who can act as a backstop, to block the gaps left by the orthodox campaigners. We need people capable of stepping in, long after the early starters have peaked, with an intelligence-led response to developments as they occur.

To that effect, with the support and generous sponsorship of the Campaign for an Independent Britain, the Referendum Planning Group (RPG) is convening a workshop at the Woodland Grange Hotel in Leamington Spa, on 12 September.

The workshop numbers are limited, but it is open to all those who want to take an active part in the campaign and are capable of organising and building their operations for activation when the time is right.

While there will be a number of formal campaigning groups – and an official "no" campaign - we will be looking for organisers who can set up additional, autonomous groups, to augment official activities. These groups, in our view, need to be function-orientated, capable of taking rapid and effective action in areas where larger, formal groups are unable to operate.

Our preliminary agenda for the workshop splits the day into four parts, starting at 10am and finishing at 4pm. In the morning, we will start with an outline of RPG's intellectual base and, for the second part, we will look at campaign structures. After lunch, we will kick off with presentations by existing activists, represented by the CIB, the Bruges Group,, Futurus and The Harrogate Agenda.

Then we plan to turn the meeting over to our potential volunteers, to hear from them as to how they think they can contribute to the campaign, what they need from us, and how best we can all work together.

I would stress that we are not planning to go into competition with other groups – this is for self-starters who are not happy working within the framework of traditional, hierarchical groups. We are looking at cell structures, on the lines of a guerrilla army, capable of identifying the enemy's weak points and acting decisively without needing external leadership.

For the day, we are asking for a contribution of £25 from each attendee, although there are a number of sponsored places for those with limited means.

The day, though, is for the independently-minded, those who do not want to be bystanders in the coming campaign. If you want to punch above your weight and make your contributions count, Leamington Spa on 12 September is the place to be.

Admin is being handled by Dorothy Davis. If you are interested, you can contact her by e-mail via this link in order to make a booking. We look forward to seeing you there.

Richard North 31/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: second-class citizens


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Booker has picked up on the recent indications that the EU is planning a new treaty, following which the UK may be offered "associate membership", making us (in the historical context) "second-class citizens".

There can be little dispute that, should this be offered by Mr Cameron just before the referendum poll, it could transform the campaign, although nothing of this has yet percolated the deeper reaches of Channel 4 News.

From there, political editor Gary Gibbon tells us there's "a riff you hear around the top of government that the referendum on Europe is won". You hear, he says, "'60/40' thrown around as a plausible if not easy margin of victory for the yes campaign for staying in the EU. You heard it in the run-up to the Scottish referendum too".

The thing is that, with the arrival of associate membership, public sentiment could go either way. If Mr Cameron ambushes us at the last minute, and the offer is heavily spun, it could look attractive enough for the majority of voters to give it a punt, especially if there is to be a second referendum, when the terms can be put to the vote.

If, however, the "no" campaign is ahead of the game and we have been discounting any idea of association as the second-class citizenship that Booker highlights, then we're in with a chance. The weight and longevity of the propaganda might be sufficient to neutralise the Cameron game plan, making leaving the EU a better proposition.

Certainly, Mr Gibbon is upbeat, informing us that on the "no" side there is serious work being undertaken to try to make sure that the referendum doesn't go to the government, even if currently there seems to be a three-way split.

On the one hand, we are told, there is Dominic Cummings and Matthew Elliott, "old hands from the campaign against the euro over a decade ago". They are coordinating efforts to recruit, strategise and fundraise. On the other, there is Richard Tice and the campaign and then there is Ukip's Nigel Farage, cast as the wild card, in the manner of John Prescott as deployed by Tony Blair.

Outside this "golden triangle", of course, nothing else exists and, as long as we rely on the London-centric media, nothing ever will.

These are the "experts" though who still believe to this day that Mr Cameron vetoed an EU treaty, who forecast that Ukip would get "at least five seats" in the general election – and that there would be a hung parliament. These are also the people who were predicting that we wouldn't get a referendum and, more recently, that Greece was going to drop out of the euro.

Despite many of them convinced that the referendum was to be in May next, that turns out not to be, but one of the self-same "experts" who was so convinced that we would have a hung parliament is now telling us on the basis of an anonymous "senior source" that Mr Cameron will hold the poll in June. The Prime Minister will, we are reliably informed, announce the "fast-tracked date" as the centrepiece of the party conference in October.

Doubtless, we are so lucky to have these experts to keep us in the loop - even if the Electoral Commission wants nine months from the passing of the referendum legislation before there is a poll. Thus, when it comes to acting on the "intelligence" of these "experts", we might perhaps reserve judgement, even sparing a thought for Nigel Farage who talks of the "small-minded Westminster types" who are seeking to tell us how the campaign should be run.

What is desperately worrying though is that the scent of Mr Cameron's great turn-round on associate membership has been with us for at least a month, and the fact that the possibility hasn't been officially acknowledged by a government which is seeking to abolish "purdah" suggests that there might indeed be plans to spring the news on us at the last minute.

That "last minute" is most likely to be in September 2017, as the timing is not in his hands. It is then that the "colleagues" will be making a Laeken-type declaration, with a treaty convention to follow in the spring of 2018. And it could hardly be the case that Mr Cameron could hold a referendum in June next year, only then to announce the following year that there was a new treaty to follow, with another referendum to come.

The possibility of a 2017 referendum and a second "treaty-lock" referendum needs to be at the centre of any "no" strategy, which is going to have to be intelligence-led and highly innovative if it is to make a dent in the status quo. Yet, not only is there little sign that the danger is being recognised, all three campaigns are promising to launch in September, presumably in anticipation of a June poll.

The point here is that if the ballot actually takes place in or around October 2017, the campaign will have over two years before the voters trudge to the polls to cast their votes. If campaign peaks early and then the poll comes at the end of two years-worth of the leaden arguments that are currently on offer, the public will have long-since lost interest.

To my mind, intensive campaigning should be confined to the three months before the poll. Any activity now should be carefully targeted, aimed specifically at weakening the opposition's case rather than seeking to change minds.

When we do hit the streets in force, we have – as Owen Paterson's "ExCom" tells us – the big need to reach out to centre-left voters, and the need for 50 percent plus one. That will need a positive vision on the lines of the Stokes precept, which none of the campaigns so far seem able to offer.

As long as the campaign is in the hands of the "experts" though, it would seem that such basic principles have little traction. The beauty of being an "expert" lionised by the London media is never needing to know what you're talking about it, and never having to apologise when you're wrong – which is most times.

Fortunately, there are other types of "second-class citizens" out there – ordinary people who have an instinctive feel for campaigning and who don't need the "experts" to tell them what to do. With access to the net, and a reach that collectively meets and exceeds the legacy media and its dying news titles, they have to capability to confound the pundits and deliver another result that none of them expected.

In those "second-class citizens", who are so obviously ahead of the game, we have probably our best and only chance of engineering an upset.

Richard North 26/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: it's all about reassurance


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Enthusiastically retweeted by the eurosceptic "community" over the weekend was a report by the Telegraph claiming that "EU diplomats" were planning to spend £2 million on a "dinner service", said to be "fit for an emperor".

The truth, of course, was a little more prosaic. The EU had issued a tender document for a four-year framework contract to supply the Brussels EEAS operation and 140 sites, worldwide, with "china tableware, fine glassware, sets of cutlery and silverware" for the diplomatic banqueting suites over the period, with an estimated contract value of between £1-2 million.

Given that fine china can retail for as much as £120 per plate, the actual spend is relatively modest, and represents no more than a three-star hotel chain might invest for similar goods. And if the EU is to have a diplomatic service, then diplomats wine and dine the great and the good – that is what they do, and it carries a price tag.

The point, of course, is whether the EU should have a diplomatic service – but that question has been answered by the 28 Member States who permitted its establishment by agreeing the Lisbon Treaty. The greater question, therefore, is whether we should be part of it, which is precisely the question which will be put during the referendum when it arrives.

Then to carp over what in fact a relatively modest costs (for a grouping with a collective annual GDP of €14 Trillion) strikes me as petty. It makes us look small-minded and trivial, unable to accept that, if the EU is to do its job properly – as its members have defined – then this sort of money has to be spent.

But that does define a major strand of British euroscepticism – petty, small-minded and trivial. Its followers are gullible, easily distracted and unconcerned with the bigger picture.

We see this again with today's story about EU waste on foreign aid. This is classic Taxpayers's Alliance stuff, always good for a Daily Mail "shock-horror" headline which this time storms about the EU funding "a study on COCONUT development!" A quick check, though, reveals that this study:
… is an ambitious and forward-looking development initiative which takes coconut-based manufacturing to a higher level by incorporating value-adding processes into the production chain. It supports Pacific economies to export value-added coconut-based products (e.g. soft vegetarian cheese, coconut yoghurt, high quality oil, protein, flour, chips, cream, milk powder) and help reduce high fuel import bills by using coconut oil-fuelled power generators in rural areas (supporting rural electrification/rural development objectives).
Another complaint is that money has been spent on developing wildlife tourism in Swaziland, yet as this paper shows, this is probably one of the best ways of containing the scourge of poaching, and protecting vulnerable species – and that is apart from the development potential.

Of course there is grave concern about the way foreign aid is used, and about how it should be spent – and supervised. But this is not what such pieces are about. The TPA wants cheap, headline-grabbing points and anything is grist to the mill. What better than a "tee-hee" smirk about coconuts or wildlife tourism? But it is the retweets which illustrate precisely why the newspapers go for this low-grade material – this is what sells.

Then, of course, there is Greece. Such is the detestation of the EU that anything done in its name has to be bad – by definition. When the kleptocracy which is the Greek state threatens to do untold damage to the single currency, and moves are made to restore discipline and a sense of responsibility, Greece is immediately accorded the victim status, with vile slurs – of a most offensive nature – openly applauded.

I am not going to revisit the heavily researched pieces I published here and here, other than remark that they attracted so much venom that I was banning commenters wholesale. To attack the "victim" is clearly unacceptable.

Yesterday, though, was the day when the Greek banks reopened, to coincide with a hike in the VAT rate – from 13 to 23 percent, a move regarded as "madness" by some. Yet, the increased rate is simply an attempt (and not necessarily a good one) to reduce evasion which is so extensive as to be estimated at €9 billion or 4.7 percent of the country's GDP, as against the EU-wide rate of 1.5 percent.

On top of that, tax arrears increased from €44.9 billion at the end of 2011 to €55.1 billion at the end of 2012, and have further increased to about €62.1 billion, or 34.0 percent of GDP at the end of 2013 and now stood at above €70.0 billion (or about 38.9 percent of the 2013 GDP) at the end of October 2014. This is close to the bailout amount, making tax evasion a problem so serious that even the house magazine for Ukip, Breitbart, believes that it is the problem..

The overwhelming evidence, therefore, is that the Greek state and its peoples have made major contributions to their own misfortunes and, since EU member states are being compelled to come to their rescue, it is only reasonable that they should be afforded some say in sorting out the mess.

Automatically opposing the EU on this does not make sense and, in that the majority of voters are critical of Greece, it is not even good politics. Furthermore, as Complete Bastard points out, it is not in the interest of the UK to have a weakened EU or one which is incapable of dealing with its problems. To be anti-EU membership does not require us to be opposed to its very existence.

Herein lies something that has been troubling me for some time – and increasingly so. Should we ever win this referendum and find ourselves sitting across a table with the other 27 Member States, then we can hardly expect amicable negotiations if we have spent years being uncooperative and objectionable.

Further, as we explore the consequences of leaving the EU, it becomes more and more apparent how much we will remain reliant on it for multiple services and joint ventures. We simply cannot afford an acrimonious break, or to have poor relations with what will still be a massive trading bloc.

The reason we want to leave the EU is that our desire to revert to the status of an independent nation is entirely incompatible with membership of a supranational treaty organisation which has ambitions to become a federal state. But that does not mean that we want to go to war.

We do, of course, have every right to confront the EU, to disagree with it, and to challenge its many missteps. But we do not have any right to seek its termination. And, recognising that, we need a lot more maturity in this debate.

The key to that maturity is to understand the nature of the campaign we are fighting. And if it takes Peter Kellner to articulate it, no matter. In general, he says, victory goes to those who are perceived to offer reassurance rather than risk. The best way to obtain a majority for change is to persuade voters that it is safer than the status quo.

The UK's future relationship with the rest of Europe will depend mainly on which future looks safer and less hazardous to most voters: remaining a member of the EU, or the prospect of life outside it. The campaign is not about hate. It's about reassurance – it always has been.

Richard North 21/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: don't use these leaflets


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If the EU referendum is not to be held until the end of 2017 (or close to it), then we have over two years before we go to the polls. And it remains my belief that it will be that long.

Even if the poll is brought forward, it is still premature to run with a public campaign. If we go too early, people will be bored and become unresponsive to the message. In my view, therefore, we need to husband our strength and concentrate the campaign into the last three months.

In the interim, we have more than enough to be doing with planning, organising and building, plus the necessary skirmishing to test the strength of the enemy and to get a sense of his tactics.

To start now, as Ukip intends to do, aiming in the next fortnight to distribute two million copies of two leaflets, is in my view premature. Not only that, given the nature of the leaflets, the activity could be positively harmful – detracting from the overall effort.

Taking the first of the two (illustrated top), this shows people "trying to board a freight lorry in Calais heading for the UK", telling us that, "as long as we remain in the EU, this will keep happening".

That we have Ukip focusing on migration itself is bad news. The very last thing we want is this campaign focused on that subject. Doubtless, that was what created the glass ceiling for Ukip in the general election, robbing of any chance of electoral success. And now, it is planning to repeat the same mistake.

Worst still, the leaflet is grossly inaccurate, perpetuating what amounts to a lie. What is being shown are potential asylum seekers, but whatever their status, their presence owes more to the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees (and the 1967 Protocol) than it does EU law.

In term of the message conveyed by the leaflet, the UK leaving the EU could hardly affect the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean or the draw that the UK represents.

As the law stands, if these migrants manage to hide themselves aboard a lorry (is there such a thing as a "freight" lorry?), or otherwise get to the UK, and then surrender themselves to the authorities, they will be invoking the 1951 Convention. Leaving the EU will not change this.

But what makes this leaflet especially inept is that it ignores the reality of the situation, and the role of France.

Specifically, with the 1951 Convention in place, any person reaching UK soil and demanding asylum has to be processed by the UK authorities and, if they qualify, they must be given protection. Most, for various reasons, manage to remain in the UK.

Thus, the main line control is to keep them from gaining access to UK territory. And this is achieved, in respect of France, by way of the Le Touquet Treaty signed in February 2003.

This permits the UK to station immigration officers in ports on French soil, where they process passengers before departure. Potential asylum seekers are denied permission to travel and referred back to the French authorities for processing. That way, the UK is not forced to give them residence permits or provide them with housing and benefits.

With additional measures, these so-called "juxtaposed controls" have undoubtedly substantially reduced the inflow of migrants across the channel, especially as the agreement was later extended to the Eurostar terminal in Brussels.

Without the active and continued cooperation of European authorities, therefore, the problems we have would be inestimably worse. If the French withdrew their support, and opened the port gates to asylum seekers, one ferry-load could exceed the entire annual total. And if the UK left the EU without a negotiated deal (as some in Ukip would have us do), why would any continental authority want to help us? 
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Therein lies the stupidity of the position, and it doesn't get much better with the second leaflet (above). The anti-German line may play well to some of the converted, but it's a cheap shot and simply reinforces the "Xenophobe" image, with which the opposition is so keen to tarnish us.

Also disturbing is that the front faces of these leaflets do not carry any Ukip identification. Instead, they bear the legend "Say NO – believe in Britain", thus purporting to represent the "no" campaign, which they do not. They do not speak in our name.

Thus, anyone who is tempted to comply with the Ukip request to distribute these leaflets really should think again. They do not convey a winning message and risk doing serious damage to the campaign. Furthermore, if you deliver them, you will be perpetrating a lie.

To Ukip generally, the message should be obvious, but it is not one to which they are disposed to listen. And this is why there are moves to exclude Ukip from the official campaign – if that is possible. And with this, the party seems to be intent on justifying those moves and making them even more necessary.

Richard North 19/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: in for the long-haul


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Verhofstadt is talking about a new treaty and the need for economic governance of the eurozone. And that's on its way now, as opinion firms up in support of the EU, with 68 percent in this survey broadly in favour of UK membership - far more than would vote for any particular political party.

Focusing on the Greek issue, it is very easy for Eurosceptics to reinforce their own confirmation bias and tell themselves that the EU is on its last legs. But they are talking to themselves. In institutional terms, the EU has probably never been stronger and more confident, while there is little support for Greece in the rest of Europe.

Hilariously, at this point, Owen Jones decides to turn against the EU, arguing for the "left" to take a stand. Then master-strategist Nigel Farage launches the Ukip referendum campaign about two years prematurely, using the problem at Calais as a lead issue, despite the fact that this is not directly an EU failing.

Meanwhile, as confusion reigns over the difference between EFTA and EEA (probably deliberate, according to Boiling Frog), the real agenda begins to look more and more like "associate membership" as the definitive offer - something which, if it transpires, would have a profound effect on the shape of the "no" campaign.

And this is the next important step – looking at the way a fast-moving game is developing. We are still probably looking at a poll more than two years away, so time spent planning and building the campaign will not be time wasted. We need to know the measure of our enemy before we commit our forces to the fight.

More to the point, if there is going to be a long delay before we do get to the polls, we need to learn to pace ourselves. Memories may be short, but most will recall how the general election seemed to drag, as people lost interest in the endless repetition of the same dreary points.

With the summer break almost on us, we have just the opportunity to retrench and plan, taking the time out really to think about what we're doing, and what we're trying to achieve. Like the man said, there's a first time for everything.

Richard North 15/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: meetings galore


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Two meetings in the stifling heat of a crowded London yesterday, both devoted to the coming "no" campaign – although the issues are very far from settled. Meanwhile, Normal Tebbit thinks it's starting to look unlikely that there will be a single organisation campaigning for a "no" vote. At present, he says, there is too wide a spectrum of opinion to make that possible. 

He could be right, although our Referendum Planning Group (RPG) is trying to make things happen, while the Exploratory Committee (ExCom) is banging heads together in the hope that agreement can be reached. But then there is Arron Banks and his "going global" group and, of course, Ukip to contend with. No one knows which way they will jump.

The only optimistic note I can muster is the thought that the "yes" campaign is probably as divided and certainly as incompetent as some of our groups. And while Mr Cameron has some good advisers, he has some very bad ones, and himself is not master of his EU brief. 

Oddly, the driving force behind this entire campaign is ignorance. In fact, it's a race to find who has the stupider arguments. One is constantly taken aback not by how much people know, but by how little. Even the basics of Article 50 are a closed book to some, yet they feel qualified to pronounce on strategy. That's without knowing the legal and technical constraints of the negotiations that must follow a successful referendum.

In that madhouse of the Westminster bubble, though, there is still that naïve belief that they are at the centre of the game. There is still no real appreciation of the democratising power of the internet, or the fact that there is a huge and increasing constituency out in those tacky little provinces, who are better informed than the centre.

We've already seen this with the media, where it is quite evident that even senior journalists do not have a grasp of the basics, while think-tank gurus make fundamental mistakes, betraying their limited grasp of the way things work. And the more they produce - the longer their tomes - the more of their ignorance they reveal.

Nor, it seems to me, is there a proper understanding of the nature of a major referendum such as this.  The contest is not a general election, but I don't think that point has really sunk in. This is not a case where political parties take centre stage. Neither is the government master of events, much less the media and their handmaidens, the pollsters. 

The essence of a referendum of this importance is that the politicians have been forced to release their already tenuous grip on the reins of power. They have handed the decision to the people. Whether they appreciate it or not, this is where the people have been given the opportunity to tell their masters what they really think. Many are beyond the reach of political manipulation, and will no longer take their guidance from the centre.

The point here is that the old aphorism of "information is power" is actually true. People used to come to the centre because that's where the information was. You had to gather together, in the coffee houses and meeting rooms, to know what is going on. But, as the flow of information has become decentralised, the centre not longer has the monopoly, and can no longer control the flow.

It is now my rooted belief that, once ordinary people realise how little their masters understand of the way we are governed, and how little control they actually have over the processes, things will change even more than they have. Power relies on illusion - it always has done. 

For the moment, the centre is still playing its games in the belief that it is in control. But they parade on a stage to which the rest of the nation is largely indifferent, where the writ of the illusion no longer runs. The centre is no longer in charge - because it is no longer master of its brief, because it can no longer control the flow of information. The only thing is, it doesn't yet realise it. 

And on this, I shall ruminate further.

Richard North 01/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: no default option


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Having already dealt with the persistence of Ruth Lea in insisting that WTO rules are the default option in the event of us leaving the EU, it is easy to forget that such myths can have long half-lives, making them extremely dangerous to the cause.

We thus recall CBI President Mike Rake asserting in May that: "No-one has yet set out a credible alternative future to EU membership. The current alternatives are not realistic options … ", whence Lea elected to address his claim by way of an "open letter" (extract illustrated above). Unwisely, she declared that, if the UK left the EU, "the UK-EU default relationship would be under the WTO rules, by which many countries, including China, very successfully conduct much of their trade".

Despite the obvious fatuity of this message, and the attempts at rebuttal, we still see repeats on Twitter, in Eurofacts, in the Better off Out magazine and in multiple other outlets. This blog, it seems, is the only site attempting to bring sense to the debate and, against the constant repetitions of Lea's myth, we are struggling to make ourselves heard.

But what is perhaps more disturbing is that lack of debate – from both sides of the divide - over what is quite plainly a suicide option that would bring trade with the EU screeching to a halt. In fact, right across the board, one sees an almost complete lack of appreciation of the adverse effects of the "WTO option".

Even the prestigious Bertelsmann Stifung, which reported on the implications of this option back in April of this year, came up with an incredibly anodyne analysis of what it called the "deep cut" scenario, where the "United Kingdom exits the EU and there is no trade agreement between the EU and UK".

This, said Bertelsmann, means that "non-tariff barriers to trade would be introduced/ increased by dismantling exemptions from existing trade agreements and tariffs would potentially be introduced between the EU and UK". However, it then goes on to say:
While prevailing WTO law requires a country to levy MFN tariffs against its trade partners if they do not have a free trade agreement, there really is no reason why – if a Brexit does happen – the United Kingdom would have to return to the non-tariff barriers from before it joined the EU. After all, the acquis communautaire has been implemented into UK law. But uncoupling from the EU's regulatory coordination and harmonization process – a key demand of the UKIP and other Euro critics – would gradually lead to a build-up of new non-tariff barriers to trade.
This apparently plausible argument, however, is seriously flawed, so much so that it tends to demonstrate that German think-tanks are no more knowledgeable than their UK equivalents, and just as prone to error.

In this case, what we are seeing is the same error as exhibited elsewhere - the failure to understand that entry for third country goods to the EU's Single Market requires surmounting two basic hurdles. The hurdles would have to be surmounted by importers of UK goods, once the UK had left the EU.

On the one hand, there is the requirement for regulatory conformity (achieved either by harmonisation or mutual recognition of standards). On the other, there is the separate requirement for products to undergo conformity assessment and for there to be a formal means of providing evidence of conformity. And it is this latter requirement which is being neglected.

The point here is that all the UK assessment systems and bodies, which are currently recognised under EU law by virtue of our EU membership, ceased to be recognised. The documentation and certification that they produce will not be valid, and will not be accepted by the authorities in EU (or EEA) Member States.

Furthermore, in law, the UK on leaving the EU without concluding a trade agreement will formally assume the status of a third country. An indication of what is required when there are formal agreements in place comes from the US. What our list will look like, when there no agreements in place, is very difficult to say, but it is self-evidently the case that our exporters are not geared up to producing the level of paperwork required.

However, if you want a quick guide to the requirements for demonstrating conformity assessment, it is here, which deals with the general principles and concepts behind the EU's "New Approach" laws and directives – essential reading for any putative third country (i.e., British) exporter - and the importers of British goods.

There is, in this, an interesting twist to the procedures related to the "New Approach", in that many of the goods can be released by Customs, for circulation in the internal market, on the basis of self-certification. But, if there are no Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) in place, self-certification is not recognised. The responsibility falls on the importer, which must have a representative resident in the EU. This would add costs and delays to imports from the UK, making them less attractive than goods sourced from within the EEA, or from countries which have trade agreements with the EU.

Even when British goods were able to gain access to the Single Market, therefore, they would most often carry a cost penalty that would make them less competitive than other products.

Now, in what is a complex field, nothing of this has to be taken on trust. The EU is nothing if not generous with its information, setting out copious details on the Europa website. What most readers will particularly enjoy are the eponymous SAD guidelines, which spawn thousands of additional pages of guidance. And, as this guideline indicates, without mutual recognition, any exporter is going to have a hard time getting products into the Single Market.

The "bible" however, goes by the name of the Blue Guide. It sets out the broad requirements, making reference to the need for conformity assessment, and outlining how the status of different countries affects their ability to export. Then, the whole system is given legal "teeth" by Council Regulation (EEC) No 2913/92 of 12 October 1992, as amended, otherwise known as the Community Customs Code.

Of this 88-page document, Article 79 in particular applies, setting out the terms for "release for free circulation" of goods from third countries - the technical term for customs clearance. This, the Article tells us, "shall entail application of commercial policy measures, completion of the other formalities laid down in respect of the importation of goods and the charging of any duties legally due".

The important thing to understand from this is that it is a negative procedure. Customs officials may not admit goods unless they conform with the requirements. With intra-community trading, there is a presumption of conformity. With third country goods, valid documentary evidence of conformity must be provided. If it is not furnished, the goods cannot be admitted. It is as simple as that.

From there, it gets doubly interesting. You might have thought that the procedures for dealing with goods, in the event of the documentation proving inadequate, might be well-established. But that is not the case. The procedure I sketched out in my earlier blogpost is based on my personal experience as a port health inspector, and my work as a one-time consultant, when I was involved on behalf of clients on legal issues relating to rejected imports.

However, as this press release makes clear, after all these years of a Customs Union, there is no standard procedure applying throughout the EU. Remarkably, each of the 28 countries have their own way of doing things. To resolve this, the Commission has proposed a new directive which, as it stands currently, is still going through the legislative procedure.

Make no mistake, though, if the UK drops out of the Single Market and the attendant treaty system, and does not replace it with a new and comprehensive agreement, trade with Member States will be severely disrupted. Then, given how fragile the physical system is, it would take very little to bring the whole structure crashing down.

Therefore, people who are currently promoting the "WTO option", by whatever name it is called, must be brought to recognise that there is no "default option". We can either negotiate a settlement under Article 50 or trade goes down the pan. Helpfully, on page 6 of this document, the Commission sets out the criteria it expects to be fulfilled, before there can be a trade agreement which gives near neighbours access to the Single Market. 

With that, I hope we can begin to focus some minds on the real world, and bring some sense into the putative "no" campaign. If we do not, we stand a very real risk of losing the referendum, and we will deserve to do so.

Richard North 30/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: an open letter to Dominic Cummings


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Dear Dominic

You have been prominent in the media recently, slated as a key figure in the development of an effective "no" campaign, and your role in the newly-formed "Exploratory Committee" has been well advertised.

As such, you are in a position to have a significant impact on the shape of the "no" campaign, to which effect it is extremely helpful and generous of you to air your initial views on your own blog on aspects of the campaign. In particular, you pose two questions – firstly as to whether there might be not one but two referendums, and then you ask whether it is necessary for the "no" campaign to produce an exit plan.

Since you have aired these issues in public, in the interests of openness and fair debate, I will answer your points on this blogpost. Because of the complexity (and importance) of the issues, it may take me a couple of days to complete this one post, especially as I intend to take into account any relevant comments of my readership – which is also entitled to express a view.

When the piece is complete, I will also send you an e-mail with a link, and if you wish, I can also send you a copy in any other format, should you want to circulate it further. It would help then to have a considered response, published out in the open, but I will not hold you to that. You are undoubtedly very busy.

However, I will state that, in my view, there are no more important a questions in relation to the forthcoming "no" campaign than, firstly, whether we should have an exit plan, and then, secondly, the nature of that plan (and, indeed whether there should be one or several plans).

Upon the outcome of this issue will depend my attitude to the campaign lead, and my degree of involvement in the campaign. I am sure many of my 10,000-plus readers will also be taking a keen interest in the outcome, and none of us will want to expend much energy on a campaign if it is doomed to failure from the outset.

With that in mind, I will address first the issue of whether the "no" campaign should have and exit plan, to which effect, if I understand you correctly, you are veering towards the view that we should not have one. To quote you on the matter, you wrote:
There is much to be gained by swerving the whole issue. No10 is dusting off its lines from the Scottish referendum. Perhaps they can be neutralised.

Different people have different ideas about the best way to leave. For example, some people suggest we should leave the EU but simply remain in the Single Market while we negotiate a new deal. Others have different ideas. Global rules set by the World Trade Organisation provide some guarantees against European countries discriminating against British trade. But none of this is the real point. We are not a Government. We can't negotiate anything. A NO vote as a simple matter of law does not mean that we leave the EU tomorrow. A NO vote really means that a new government team must negotiate a new deal with the EU and they will have to give us a vote on it. If you want the EU to keep all the power it has and keep taking more power as it has for decades, and you're happy paying billions to the EU every year instead of putting it into the NHS – then vote YES. If you want to say "stop", vote NO and you will get another chance to vote on the new deal. If the country votes YES, we've lost our chance to change anything. We may not get another vote for decades, after we've had to bail out euro countries and had another few decades of the EU's useless and inhumane immigration policy. If the country votes NO, we can force politicians to get us a better deal.
The key points which I take from this (which I assume is the expression of your opinion) is that we – i.e., the "no" campaign - is not a government and can't negotiate anything. Therefore we can't dictate terms, which are basically up to government. Instead, therefore, you propose an alternative, essentially arguing for a fear-based (i.e., negative) strategy, of scaring people into voting "no", essentially because, if they do not, they'll not get another chance in decades.

I trust that I have properly and accurately conveyed the thrust of your argument – if I have not, please do get back to me and I'll make the necessary adjustments. But, on the assumption that I am correctly conveying the flavour of your stance, if at this point I say: "with the greatest of respect ... ", you will know exactly what that means.

Some long time ago – in March 2011, to be precise - I wrote a piece about what I called the Stokes precept. It was named after the Conservative MP Richard Stokes, who contributed to a debate in the Commons on 15 October 1940 (at the height of the London Blitz) on war aims. These at the time (and were to continue to be) an extremely contentious issue, whence Mr Stokes argued that that you cannot campaign solely on a negative. You have to give people something positive to aim for. 

Arguably, it was the failure of Churchill to offer a positive vision for his war aims (resolutely refusing to discuss them, or permit a formal statement) that lost him the 1945 general election. And here you are suggesting that we fight on a negative basis, a strategy that, in my view, will ensure we lose.

What in fact I am arguing for is three things, what I've been calling a three-legged stool. I put this up on the blog and any effort spent in reading it would be well rewarded. It goes through the argument in detail, for an exit plan and other components of what should form the "intellectual case" needed to underpin our campaign.

Specifically, I argue, we must have our negative case (as you have set out - although it needs much more). We then need a "positive" vision - a picture of what a post-exit Britain might look like - effectively conforming with the Stokes precept.  But then, as I have written God knows how often - and in detail in Flexcit, which you really need to read - no plan will be successful if drafted without reference to the capabilities and intentions of the enemy.

In this context, again and again we see - in practice and in terms of declared intent - that the pro-EU side intends to rely mainly on fear. More specifically, it is using FUD - fear, uncertainty and doubt - powerful tools which act in favour of the status quo.

Therefore, in addition to our negative pitch, and our positive vision, we need a FUD neutraliser. When the enemy argues that leaving the EU is a terribly dangerous venture, we have to counter by illustrating that leaving the EU is a perfectly practicable proposition, entirely reasonable and safe. That is the purpose of an exit plan. It is not to second-guess the government. It's primary purpose is to demonstrate to the wavering voter that leaving the EU is possible and safe.

Elsewhere, I have painted a picture of people on the bank of a river, looking at an island in the middle, in which is situated a utopian village. To motivate them to go there, I argue, you must make the case that to stay where they are is not optimal (or even very bad) and that the island is a perfect destination. But you are not going to convince people to make the crossing if the waters are crocodile-infested and those who attempt to swim across face certain death. You must provide a sturdy boat, and a seasoned crew.

Thus do we complete our three-legged stool. We have our case for saying "no" – why we need to get out. We paint a rosy vision of what it would like to be out, and then we reassure people that it is safe to cross over into the promised land.

Putting this another way, this is basic motivational theory. I won't give you a specific link because there are hundreds which say much the same things. In essence, in order to get people to change (in this case, vote "no" in a referendum when they are inclined to vote the other way), you first have to establish the need. People need to be convinced of the need to change.

Secondly, you must identify the reward – the reason why the risk is worth it. Then, thirdly, you must remove the barriers to realisation. In this coming referendum, the most important barrier is fear (or FUD, if you like). That's what makes an exit plan essential. And I really do mean essential – not an optional extra, but a core part of the "no" campaign's intellectual trinity. Without it, I would argue, a campaign is unlikely to succeed. 

Before leaving the matter there, however, I must return again to your idea that the detail of an exit plan is best left to government, because we, the "no" campaign, are not in a position to execute such a plan. What, in effect, you are saying is that the development of an exit plan should be left to those in the position to execute it.

You might care to pause to consider this argument for, if it was valid, it would negate much of the rationale for the think-tank industry that inhabits (some might say infests) London. Part of the necessary process of advocacy - often adopted by think-tanks - is not only to propose a course of action, but suggest to government the means by which it should be achieved. 

It is by no means unusual for government then to borrow ideas from those think-tanks (or other bodies), in order to execute their policies. One might even observe that the whole idea of the European Union came from outside agencies, as indeed did the methodology for making it happen.

An important part of making an idea happen, therefore, is to suggest (sometimes in some detail) how it might happen. This is another good reason why a exit plan should be produced independently by the "no" campaign, with the added advantage that in the event of success and the Government is forced to negotiate our exit, the plan can be used as the yardstick against which its performance can be measured. If it delivers a less advantageous deal than we suggest is possible, we have reason to ask why.

Finally, to conclude this part of my letter on this issue of whether we need an exit plan, I must refer once more to the activities and intentions of our enemies. In this context, one sees Sir Mike Rake, in his persona as President of the CBI openly taunt the "no" campaign on its failure to coalesce around a credible exit plan. Thus, he said at the May speech to the CBI annual dinner:
No-one has yet set out a credible alternative future to EU membership. The current alternatives are not realistic options – little or no influence and the obligation to comply with EU principles whilst still paying most of the costs.
Sir Mike is not the first or only person to make this point. In November last year, we saw Juergen Maier, chief executive of Siemens UK, note that, "It is perturbing that those who claim that Britain would be better off out have not put forward a detailed alternative for what 'out' means".

In the wake of Sir Mike's speech, we saw this theme picked up by a leader in the Observer and, by reference to the Business for New Europe (BNE) site, we can see this developing into a major attack point for the "yes" campaign, which will increasingly be used against us.

On this basis, and much more, its is overwhelmingly evident that the "no" campaign cannot go into this fight without a comprehensive, clearly thought-out exit plan. There is no gentle way of putting this: to argue against having such a plan is simply not a credible position.

Before moving on to address the question of whether there should be a unified exit plan, I now turn to your comments on a second referendum. In the first instance, you pose the question of whether the Government will suggest a second referendum, in the event that we succeed with a "no" vote. That raises some intriguing possibilities.

You suggest that offering a second vote would give the government the opportunity to reverse a loss in the first, so that "yes" would mean victory yet "no" would not necessarily mean defeat. European governments, you remind us, have held second votes repeatedly over the past quarter century.

On this basis, you posit a scenario where the government says: "If the public votes 'no', we will have to negotiate an exit deal with the EU and we believe that it is only right that the public has a vote on the final deal". If it did offer this option, you assert that it would be likely that Labour would do the same. You even argue that Labour might suggest this, and that the Government would feel obliged to agree.

Secondly, you ask whether the "no" side should demand a second referendum in the hope of forcing the parties to commit to one. At this juncture, I might myself suggest that, when you get round to reading Flexcit, you will note that we entertain the possibility of a referendum on the outcome of Article 50 negotiations. There is a reference to one on page 3, in the summary we so helpfully provide for people who haven't the time to read the whole document. There is another on page 123, and another on 393.

For sure, we don't make a big thing of it, not least because I have mixed feelings about the utility of a "yes-no" referendum. A "yes" vote would at least give democratic legitimacy to the agreement, but a "no" vote would present us with some problems. There does not appear to be a facility within Article 50 for the departing state to reach a provisional agreement and come back for more talks if it can't get it ratified. The outcome would mean dropping out of the treaties without a replacement agreement. This, as we will see shortly, would be disastrous. 

On the other hand – as we have observed earlier in this letter – a referendum on the Article 50 agreement would serve to keep the Government honest. If, for instance, it sought to broker a dishonest deal which meant rejoining the EU disguised as something else – which is quite possible – then a new "no" campaign could pull the plug, and warn the nation to reject the deal. 

As to whether the "no" campaign might argue for a second vote, which is a scenario you discuss, I tend towards the view that we should do so. And if for no other reason, it sets the tone for a new, independent nation. If the Government took us into the EEC (and then the EU) without a vote, it can at least commit to a fully democratic process when taking us out of the EU.

You yourself argue that, "as a matter of democratic accountability, given the enormous importance of so many issues that would be decided in an Article 50 renegotiation – a far, far bigger deal than a normal election – it seems right to give people a vote on it". I tend to agree.

However, you also argue that it makes a "no" vote seem much less risky. "If you vote 'yes', you won't get another vote for another 40 years – if ever. You should vote 'no' to Cameron's rubbish deal", you suggest. "If you vote 'no', you will force a new Government to negotiate a new deal and give you a new vote. A 'no' vote is much safer than a 'yes' vote".

With this last argument, I am not sure I agree. It seems rather too convoluted and confusing – and thus easily demolished. The question is whether the initial "no" vote is safe on its own merits. And that depends largely on whether there "no" campaign can deliver a credible exit plan. We have gone full circle.

I now turn to another of the crucial matters that you raise, the question of whether we need a unified exit plan, as opposed to the argument over whether we should have one at all. "Creating an exit plan that makes sense and which all reasonable people could unite around", you observe, "seems an almost insuperable task". You add, quite rightly, that: "Eurosceptic groups have been divided for years about many of the basic policy and political questions".

To address the key point, though, and to answer the question of whether we need a unified exit plan, the response has to be, most emphatically in the negative. Unlike the advocates for European political integration, we do not need to be tied to a single, monolithic plan. We can embrace and rejoice in plurality and diversity.

Whether we need a "unified plan", therefore, it the wrong question. To get to the right question, we need to go back to Sir Mike Rake, who asserted that "no-one has yet set out a credible alternative future to EU membership" – or (unspoken) a means by which we could safely arrive at that future destination.

The operative word, therefore, is not "unified", but "credible". If the "no" campaign is to offer or endorse one or any number of exit plans, they must meet one test, that of credibility.

What we cannot afford is official recognition of any plans which do not meet the credibility test. Even if the "no" campaign also endorses a plan which is credible, the enemy will attack the weakest link. It will adopt divide and conquer tactics, and afford most prominence to the weakest plan.

In your blogpost, you kindly refer to our plan, Flexcit, although you tell us that you need to study it more. You also state that, "Global rules set by the World Trade Organisation provide some guarantees against European countries discriminating against British trade", which is a tangential reference to a plan given a number of titles and descriptions, but which is generically known as the "WTO option" - or sometimes the MFN-based approach.

There are other options, and most (including the WTO option) are described and analysed in depth in Flexcit, and you would find their study rewarding. The sections convey essential knowledge, without which you will struggle to understand the arguments being put forward.

Although we assert that Flexcit should be adopted officially by the "no" campaign as a stand-alone plan, we are also quite relaxed about other plans being adopted. Our only proviso, on which our support for the official campaign is conditional, is that they should be credible. 

However, what is happening at the moment is that a bid is being made to have the "WTO option" adopted as the official credo of the "no" campaign. We also learn that Flexcit, for reasons which have not yet been openly declared, should be discarded. Furthermore, it is my understanding that you are involved in the process of selection, albeit that an official "no" campaign has yet to be selected (and can only be by the Electoral Commission).

But, if there is to be a contest of ideas, it is healthy that it should be out in the open, not least so that justice is seen to be done. There has been far too much hole-in-the-corner stuff, some of which has been a disgrace to the good name of Euroscepticism. Your facilitation of an open debate is thus doubly to be welcomed.

Now, against that background, I will aver that, in whatever name or guise it might appear, the "WTO option", as a plan, entirely lacks credibility. We (for I am not alone in this) would go so far as to suggest that the ideas being advocated by a number of prominent groups are dangerously flawed, to the extent that, if adopted by an official "no" campaign, they could be instrumental in losing us the referendum. Their destructive potential cannot be overstated.

To be absolutely clear on what is being discussed, though, we will reiterate our understanding that the "WTO option" is one where the UK leaves the EU without having negotiated any trade agreements with the EU, either within the framework of Article 50 negotiations, or on the margins. Instead, it relies entirely on the multilateral WTO agreements covering trade-related matters.

As to this option, I've already trashed it on this blog, I've taken it apart in Flexcit and I've held seminars and workshops explaining why it's a non-starter. But like the resignation of a Ukip leader, just when you think it's gone, up it comes again.

As you review the living dead on your blog, I note that you assert that: "Global rules set by the World Trade Organisation provide some guarantees against European countries discriminating against British trade", and we also note from another source the claim that: "Were the UK to leave [the EU], it would continue to have access to the EU's markets, as World Trade Organization rules prevent the EU from imposing unfair, punitive tariffs on UK exports".

Looking briefly at your comment, where you assert that the WTO provide some guarantees against European countries discriminating against British trade, one has to take note of the "some" qualifier as regards protection against discrimination. The point here, that you need to take firmly on board, is that the WTO rules only afford very limited protection against discrimination, and then only in respect of tariffs.

But, as the WTO site itself says, "by their very nature RTAs (Regional Trade Agreements – as is the EU) are discriminatory", and, under WTO rules, an amount of discrimination against third countries (and that would include the UK) is permitted. The WTO observes:
Modern RTAs, and not exclusively those linking the most developed economies, tend to go far beyond tariff-cutting exercises. They provide for increasingly complex regulations governing intra-trade (e.g. with respect to standards, safeguard provisions, customs administration, etc.) and they often also provide for a preferential regulatory framework for mutual services trade. The most sophisticated RTAs go beyond traditional trade policy mechanisms, to include regional rules on investment, competition, environment and labour.
The crunch issue here is the "preferential regulatory framework". Unless goods seeking entrance to the EU Single Market (i.e., British exports) conform to the regulations which comprise the framework, they are not permitted entry. Thus, the assertion that, if the UK left the EU, "it would continue to have access to the EU’s markets …", is simply not true. And - to spell it out - if it is not true, it is false.

With or without tariff issues being resolved – which are actually irrelevant to the access issue - the claim is false. Tariffs do not prevent access to a market. They simply impose a tax on entry. The actual barrier is regulatory conformity – what is known generally as a non-tariff barrier (NTB) or, sometimes, as technical barrier to trade (TBT).

Nevertheless, it is generally recognised that, in order to access the Single Market, goods must comply with EU rules. Conformity is the way of overcoming the NTB. But what advocates of the WTO option have not realised is that there is more to it than that – much more. Potential exporters not only have to ensure their goods conform, they must provide evidence of their so doing. This requires putting the goods through a recognised system of what is known as "conformity assessment".

We are at this point entering serious "nerd" territory. If your eyes are beginning to glaze over, all I can say is welcome to my world. It has taken me years of mind-numbing, tedious study to understand this amount of detail, and either your know it, or you don't. If you don't, you are going to make serious mistakes. And that is just what the "WTO option" advocates have done. Bear with me and you'll see why their mistakes are not so much serious as catastrophic.

And, for all that, the fundamentals are quite simple. The point about the Single Market is that border checks have been eliminated. The common rules are monitored by relevant national authorities and there is mutual recognition of standards. Thus, if you so desire, you can load a truck with grommets in Glasgow and ship them all the way to Alexandroupoli on the Turkish border, with just the occasional document check.

But the moment we leave the EU, this stops. Your grommet manufacturer may still comply with exactly the same standards, but the testing houses and the regulatory agencies are no longer recognised. The consignment has no valid paperwork. And, without it, it must be subject to border checks, visual inspection and physical testing.

What that means in practice is that the customs inspector detains your shipment and takes samples to send to an approved testing house (one for the inspector, one for the office pool, one for the stevedores and one for the lab is often the case). Your container inspection is typically about £700 and detention costs about £80 a day for the ten days or so it will take to get your results back. Add the testing fee and you're paying an extra £2,000 to deliver a container into the EU.

Apart from the costs, the delays are highly damaging. Many European industries are highly integrated, relying on components shipped from multiple countries right across Europe, working to a "just in time" regime. If even a small number of consignments are delayed, the whole system starts to snarl up.

Then, as European ports start having to deal with the unexpected burden of thousands of inspections, and a backlog of testing as a huge range of products sit at the ports awaiting results, the system will grind to a halt. It won't just slow down. It will stop. Trucks waiting to cross the Channel at Dover will be backed up the motorway all the way to London.

For animal products exported to the EU, the situation is even worse – if that is possible. Products from third countries (which is now the UK) are permitted entry only through designated border inspection posts (BIPs). Only at these can they be inspected and, if necessary, detained for testing. But, for trade between the UK and EU member states, there are no designated BIPs. Until one (or more) has been nominated and equipped trade in these products stops dead - say goodbye to a £12 billion export trade.

If the way out of the country becomes blocked, very quickly the return route gets blocked and incoming trade from the EU starts suffering. In the UK, goods from the EU are no longer delivered. Trade slows. Manufacturers which depend on imported components start struggling and then have to close. And while the naysayers talk about losing three million jobs if we leave the EU, we are looking at twice that and more – seven or eight million jobs are at stake.

At this point, you might say, how can this happen? The "WTO option" advocates will tell you that countries such as China, the United States and Australia all trade with the EU without formal trade agreements, and therefore operate under WTO rules. They don't have these problem – so why would the UK? The answer, however, is tragically simple. These countries don't rely solely on WTO rules.

What our "WTO option" advocates have done is make a very basic but fatal mistake. They're obsessed with tariffs and haven't begun to focus on non-tariff barriers. Thus, by and large, they are only looking at trade agreements dealing with tariffs - a sub-set of international agreements which are registered with the WTO. But there are many different types of agreement and many which involve trade, either directly or indirectly, which are not registered with the WTO. These, for our "WTO option" advocates, remain under the radar. To them, they are invisible.

Yet one of the most important types of trade agreement is the Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) on conformity assessment. This gets round the problem of border checks, as the EU will then recognise the paperwork on product testing and conformity certification. Throw in agreement on Customs cooperation – to ensure that official paperwork and systems mesh – and you are on your way to trouble-free border crossings.

China has a Mutual Recognition Agreement, signed in May 2014, the United States has one on conformity assessment which runs to 81 pages, agreed in 1999. Even Australia has one. All of these are outside the remit of the WTO but they are nonetheless trade agreements, and vital ones at that. But look then what the think-tank Global Britain - another "WTO option" advocate - is doing. "As an example", it writes, "Australia has no trade agreement with the EU ... ". It then goes on to cite an EU web page, which actually tells us:
The EU and Australia conduct their trade and economic relations under the EU-Australia Partnership Framework of October 2008. This aims, apart from cooperation on the multilateral trade system and trade in services and investment issues, to facilitate trade in industrial products between the EU and Australia by reducing technical barriers, including conformity assessment procedures.
What is the EU-Australia Partnership Framework, if not (inter alia) a trade agreement? The details are set out here, and we also see that it sets the framework for the all-important MRA on conformity assessment. One MRA is here, running to 110 pages, with an amendment here running to a further 20 pages.

There are, in fact, 82 agreements between the EU and Australia, of which 18 are bilateral. There are 65 between the EU and China, of which 13 are bilateral. Between the EU and the United States, there are 135, of which 55 are bilateral. As regards trading agreements, not only is Global Britain incorrect in its assertions, its authors apparently don't even read their own reports.

Such is the importance of agreements such as the MRAs that the UK would have no option but to seek deal with the EU, for which there is a facility within Article 50. But, the moment it sought such deals, it would no longer be relying on exclusively on WTO rules. It would be seeking bilateral agreements along the lines of the so-called "Swiss option".

One can say, unequivocally, that the UK could not survive as a trading nation by relying on the "WTO option". It would be an unmitigated disaster, and no responsible government would allow it. If, on the other hand, the official "no" campaign adopts it, the "yes" side will be counting its blessings.

Initially, we will be looking at a slow burn. In what is an arcane field, pro-EU analysts are almost as ignorant as our own. And there is always a possibility that mutual ignorance would cancel out pro- and anti-EU campaigns. But, with this ticking time bomb at the heart of the "no" campaign, it would be unwise to assume that real trade experts will not brief the opposition on the implications of the "WTO option". If that happens, we can expect the FUD to be lethal. The chances of the "no" side winning would quickly recede to nil, especially if the demolition took place in the last weeks of the campaign.

But now, a further question arises, as to why a number of prominent bodies (and one in particular) got it so wrong, and are so keen to reject Flexcit, even though it apparently delivers the answers – or so we would aver.

To reach an answer on why, almost simultaneously, most of London-based think-tankers have suddenly taken the "WTO option" to their hearts, one has to recall the shambolic IEA Brexit competition last year when €100,000 was wasted on a trivial piece of work, when all six finalists just happened to support the so-called "Swiss option", or variations thereof. 

But, with the case for the Swiss option in tatters and with the criticisms mounting, out it all goes as the think-tankers turn on a sixpence and go chasing after their latest hystérie du jour. That's €100,000 for a master plan that has had a shelf life of 14 months before being unceremoniously dumped.

The point that has to be made, therefore, is that the London claque is in the grip of a disease, identified back in 1896 by Gustave Le Bon in his book The Crowd. The disease is one of prestige, of which he writes:
The special characteristic of prestige is to prevent us seeing things as they are and to entirely paralyse our judgement. Crowds always, and individuals as a rule, stand in need of ready-made opinions on all subjects. The popularity of these opinions is independent of the measure of truth or error they contain, and is solely regulated by their prestige.
When you come to consider the arguments above, you need to be sure that you are making an objective assessment, and are not clouded by this disease which leads so many people astray. I touched on this in a recent post and conclude with the observation that there is far too much at stake to allow this to have its usual effect.

There is much more to write, and some of the points you raise on your blogpost I have not addressed. But this is neither the time or place: there are some other pressing matters I must attend to. Thus, I trust what I have written so far is helpful and I look forward to a continued dialogue. Before I finally do leave this, my own blogpost, though, I will quote your own words back at you:
To those who say these discussions should happen only in private, I strongly disagree. Much about a campaign has to remain secret but these big questions are necessarily part of public debate. A decade has been largely wasted. These big things must be confronted now in parallel to establishing a professional campaigning organisation and public discussion raises the probability of the NO campaign getting things right.
I could not agree more with those sentiments, and commend you wholeheartedly for expressing them. And I will add one sentiment of my own. I voted in the 1975 referendum and, having gone out and bought a copy of the Treaty of Rome – then to read the words "ever closer union" – voted "no". This time round, I will be fighting as well as voting, and with a determination to win. For those who do not share my commitment, I have a few words of advice.

Don't get in my way.

Yours truly,


Richard North 25/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: new options on the table


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Big news for the Sunday is the identity of the (hitherto) mysterious backer of the "no" campaign headlined by the Express last week. From the front page of the Sunday Telegraph we learn that the man is Arron Banks, multi-millionaire insurance underwriter - one-time donor to the Conservatives and latterly to Ukip.

What we had from last week was a pledge of millions of pounds to support the international campaign, from which politicians (including Ukip) had been banned. One millionaire donor – presumed to be Banks – had offered to underwrite the entire cost of the £7 million launch, which was to take place in the second week of September.

Now we see from the Telegraph headline that the ante has been upped to £20 million, in the expectation that the group is going to be the official "no" campaign.

The group have already engaged an advertising agency and were actively seeking to recruit Lynton Crosby from America, although talks broke down last week. They are now looking to the UK for someone to co-ordinate the campaign, and there is talk of a senior retired military figure being appointed as the leader.

The emergence of this group has come as a surprise to the caucus based on Matthew Elliott's Business for Britain.  This had ambitions of leading the official "no" campaign – although the "for Britain" grouping is now being seen as one component of a larger alliance, details of which have yet to emerge.

The Banks grouping has the support of Global Britain's Richard Tice, former Chief Executive of the multi-national real estate group, CLS Holdings PLC, and lead author of the group's position paper on leaving the EU.

It would thus appear that we are looking at conceptual as well as physical competition as the Global Britain nostrum lacks credibility and, if followed, would be a gift to the "yes" campaign, promising as it does chaos and economic ruin in the event that the UK did withdraw from the EU.

Arron and his team will also have to confront the Electoral Commission if it is to gain the official "no" status, which will be taking applications once the Referendum Bill becomes law. The successful campaigner will have to have satisfied statutory criteria and the new pretender might have difficulty with this. It will all depend on how well the competition organises itself and who can attract the support of membership organisations.

Meanwhile, David Cameron is flying a kite on the possibility of "rebranding" Britain's membership of the EU. He aims to recast it as "associate membership", to demonstrate the UK will have a new relationship with Brussels.

This possibility was raised by the Spinelli Group and the Bertelsman Stiftung in October 2013 as its offering for a major revision to the Lisbon Treat, setting out the details in a document entitled "A Fundamental Law of the European Union".

However, this idea had already been rejected by the UK in the 1960s, for very much the same reasons as are currently employed against adopting the Norway option. In 1968, we saw Hugh Fraser, Bill Cash's predecessor in Parliament, note that there was no enthusiasm for the idea because "Britain would have no say in the policy decisions of the Council of Ministers".

Nevertheless, the idea now has the backing of Open Europe funder, Lord (Rodney) Leach, laughingly called "a Eurosceptic Tory donor". He has been working with Ed Llewellyn, Mr Cameron's chief of staff, and Tory sources say he is seeking to persuade other donors not to defect to the "no" campaign.

What could happen is that the "colleagues" could agree to formalise an associate status in a new treaty, to follow on after our referendum. Then Mr Cameron would be asking us to support the "yes" campaign on the basis of a promise, which would be endorsed in a "treaty lock" referendum following the new treaty.

All of this, understandably, diverts attention from the news of the appointment of Alan Johnson as the leader of the Labour "yes" campaign. Seen as one of Labour's most persuasive communicators, we are told that Johnson is regarded as the just right man to carry a Labour pro-EU message which would not leave a permanent rupture with the thousands of Ukip supporters that Labour needs to win back ahead of the 2020 election.

The real leader of the "yes" campaign, though, is David Cameron, while the nature of the "no" campaign lies in the balance. With Mr Cameron seeking to "rebadge" Britain's role in the EU to something like "market membership", "trading membership" or "executive membership", it is even more important now that we get our act together and put together a coherent group.

Ostensibly, the offer from the Prime Minister will be far better than anything Global Britain has to offer, and certainly very much safer. By contrast, the terms obtainable via Flexcit would be a significant improvement – although we would have to leave the EU in order to benefit from our proposed relationship.

With these developments, therefore, the tide is subtly shifting in our favour, requiring a robust response to Mr Banks and his millionaire chums. The idea of him and his chums employing ranks of slebs to make a flawed case, treating the campaign as their own personal plaything, is not something which appeals.

Given a choice of that, or Mr Cameron's option - which has been described as "a nice package with a new badge" - the "no" campaign that we have in the making will easily have the better of the argument. All we have to do is make it happen.

Richard North 21/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: bad news is good news


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Ipsos MORI's latest Political Monitor has crept out with such lack of fanfare that it's taken a day or so after twitter reports to confirm its provenance. And, on the face of it, the findings are serious bad news. Support for staying in the European Union, the headline tells us, is "at a 24 year high", with 61 percent choosing to stay in, while only 27 percent want to make the break.

It gets even worse when the proposed referendum question is put. This is: "should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?" The response to that delivers a gives us a "yes" vote of 66 percent, against a mere 22 percent prepared to admit to "no".

Take away the "don't knows" and the "don't cares", and assume the responders are not indulging in their new-found hobby of misleading pollster, and we have a potential disaster in the making: a clear 75 percent in favour of staying in, with a pitiful 25 percent brave enough to consider leaving.

At a 3:1 ratio against us, that's actually far worse than the 1975 result, which delivered 67 percent in favour of the status quo, as opposed to 33 percent against – a ratio of 2:1. On the face of it, we're facing wipeout – an irrecoverable position.

If one drills down into the figures though (to use that awful phrase), we get a completely different picture. When asked about preferences for Britain's future role in "Europe" (see chart below), 14 percent would like closer political and economic integration and 31 percent would like it to remain broadly as it is at present. On the other hand, 33 percent would like to return to the common market idea, without the political baggage, while only 13 percent wand to leave.

Comparing these two blocks, we have 45 percent favouring the status quo or going for further integration. These are the potential "yes" vote. On the other side, though, we actually have a tiny majority – but a majority nonetheless – potentially in the "no" camp. 

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The crucial point here – one that should have us all focusing on the issue – is that there is a strong caucus in favour of reverting to Single Market participation, far more than those who want to leave the EU. If we can persuade these people that "no" gives them this objective, then we are very much in the game.

Less good news, but nevertheless not altogether bad, is the sentiment of renegotiation. Asked how confident they are about David Cameron getting "a good deal for Britain", 38 percent are "confident", up from 26 percent in November. Against that, 57 percent are "not confident", down from 69 percent.

The bad news is that the number of people who think Mr Cameron can bring home a deal is increasing – despite all the indications that his position gets weaker by the day. But we can take confidence in the finding that a very substantial majority believe that the Prime Minister will come home empty-handed.

Building on both sets of results, if we can convince people that Single Market membership is on offer, without the political baggage, and undermine confidence in the renegotiation, then we have a "double whammy" in our favour.

There is a further marginal element here is that Mr Cameron's net satisfaction ratings have climbed to plus 7, the first time it has been positive since December 2010. Farage, though, scores minus 18, suggesting that, in a head-to-head, the cause championed by the Ukip leader might come out worse. Interestingly, Farage retains his cult status amongst his followers, with 83 percent of his voters satisfied with him, against only 12 percent not.

Add that to the mix and we have further support for the idea that we should keep Farage away from the "no" campaign, while we concentrate on telling the electorate that continued participation in the Single Market is as going proposition, while Mr Cameron is unlikely to gain any serious "reforms".

Alongside Farage, though, we have to keep silent the band of "free market" zealots, and the rabid "deregulators" who would have us ditch the Single Market and strike out on our own. Those too have the capacity to lose us the referendum.

Richard North 20/06/2015 link

EU Referendum – "no" ain't Switzerland


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"What would happen when we leave the EU?", Charles Moore asks, cautioning us that we must know the meaning of "no". Well, in this context, "no" does not mean opting what is known as the "Swiss option", despite the enthusiasm of Ukip and others for citing Switzerland as an example we should follow.

That much we've already rehearsed at length in Flexcit and again more recently on the blog, warning that there are too many problems for this to be a safe option. But, it seems, there is nothing like a eurosceptic with a death wish, as we seek the likes of William Dartmouth extol the virtues of Switzerland's status outside the EU, thus leaving us wide open to serial debunking from informed Europhiles.

One such is Caroline de Gruyter, correspondent for NRC Handelsblad in Vienna who writes for Carnegie Europe, lending such journalistic skill as she can muster to demolishing idea that we should rely on the "Swiss option" as an alternative to EU membership.

The British enthusiasm for the option is noted by de Gruyter, but it is shared by Geert Wilders who, speaking of the Netherlands, says "Switzerland is the example". Similarly, Germany's Pegida movement repeatedly singles out Switzerland in its manifesto as an example to follow.

But, avers de Gruyter, "Switzerland is essentially as dependent on Brussels as EU countries are. In fact, the Alpine country is losing as much sovereignty and democratic impact as EU members". The problem, she thinks, "is not Brussels. It is globalisation".

As a nation with one of the world's most open economies, she argues that Switzerland increasingly has to play by global rules. Those rules are not set in Bern. After fierce battles with the US tax authorities in recent years, the Swiss have de facto given up their banking secrecy, which is enshrined in the country's constitution.

If they had not handed over thousands of bank files on American citizens, Swiss banking giants UBS and Credit Suisse would have lost their license to do business on Wall Street. Without this license, a bank cannot trade in dollars - in other words, it is dead.

Washington presented Bern with a clear-cut choice: Either play the global game and have the world’s biggest banks, or play the sovereign game and shield foreign bank clients in your country. You can no longer have it both ways - especially as a small country.

Switzerland, de Gruyter claims, was once was a safe haven for dictators' fortunes, but it is no more. Bern now clamps down on money launderers and scrutinizes politically exposed individuals. And after the recent US crackdown on FIFA the Swiss Federal Parliament has agreed to change a decades-old law that exempts sports associations from scrutiny.

Almost half of Switzerland's imports come from Germany, Italy, or France. The Swiss said "no" to joining the EEA in a referendum in 1992, but they need access to the EU's internal market, which completely surrounds their country. So Bern has concluded many bilateral treaties with Brussels that require Switzerland to adhere to the basic rules governing the internal market - free movement of goods, people, capital, and services.

In February 2014, however, the Swiss voted in a referendum to impose restrictive quotas for foreigners wishing to live in Switzerland. The Swiss feel swamped, even though 85 percent of these foreigners are Europeans, mostly well-educated, such as German engineers or French doctors, on whom the Swiss economy depends.

To this day, the Swiss Government still has not reconciled the referendum result with the EU free movement agreement. On a broader front, though, she asserts that the Federal Parliament has to draft most legislation in such a way that Swiss companies have access to the EU's internal market without facing two incompatible sets of rules. This, she claims, is, "just like Norway", raising the tired old spectre of the "fax economy".

If de Gruyter is able to convince her own kind with this low drone, so be it – but the argument has increasing traction with the British people, by dint of constant repetition.

But she is not wholly wrong when she asserts that, because the Swiss need to apply so many global rules and EU regulations, their self-rule is compromised. Many Swiss citizens, she says, find their country's system of direct democracy is not functioning as it used to.

Voter turnout in general is below 50 percent, far lower than in most EU member states. Ten years ago, several villages around Geneva reported that turnout for a referendum had declined to 30–40 percent, with the Swiss People's Party ahead nearly everywhere.

A former village mayor, de Gruyter says, conceded that Swiss locals had become rich by selling vineyards to multinational companies and by renting out houses to the new globalised middle class. But another official complains that the government was ignoring the Swiss refusal to join the EU: "It doesn't matter how we vote. Every year, we get more EU regulation via the back door".

From all this, de Gruyter asserts that, "those who claim that certain EU member states should leave the union and be like Switzerland are deceiving the electorate". Switzerland, she says, "has the same problem as EU countries: a considerable loss of sovereignty".

In what she obvious feels is the killer point, she then tells us: "the cause is not Brussels, but globalisation. Quitting the EU is therefore a false remedy, and it is time those fantasists up north realized that".

Speaking personally, I would have made a better job of demolishing the "Swiss option", stressing the tensions building up over the February referendum, and the loss of all the trading agreements under the "guillotine clause", unless freedom of movement is reinstated.

The points made about globalisation, however, cut both ways. Much regulation of global origin is actually framed in Switzerland, in Geneva, via such institutions as UNECE and the WTO, or the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision.

However, geographical proximity does not necessarily confer privileged access and, in truth, no one country has a complete "handle" on globalisation. More and more, the apparatus of government are becoming remote and obscure – understood by barely a handful of specialists in each country.

That is the real reason why the "Swiss option" would never work, in the long term. As with the "Norway option" and EU membership itself, none of these address properly the effects of globalisation. We need an entirely new settlement.

In the shorter terms though, it took 14 years for Switzerland to conclude its raft of bilateral agreements with the EU, the sum of which afford fewer rights and access than does the EEA Agreement. We can't afford to sit at the negotiating table for that many years, to get to the same unsatisfactory position that Switzerland occupies, and neither can we trade with the EU without a comprehensive formal agreement. 

The "Swiss option", therefore, has nothing to offer Britain, and the more we have eurosceptics promote it, the more difficult it will be to win our referendum.

Richard North 19/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: the inexhaustible stupidity of Ukip


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In a softening of tone that could have been taken as a tentative peace offering, on 18 April I wrote a piece which was cautiously complimentary about the Ukip general election manifesto.

I noted that it accepted that Article 50 negotiations are the preferred option for arranging our exit from the EU. And I also noted that, in calling for a free trade agreement affording us access to the Single Market, the party also appears to be turning its face against the WTO (or "free-for-all") option.

There may be some significance in there only being 19 comments to that piece, when posts critical of Ukip have occasionally attracted well over a hundred. It was certainly evident that I was not attracting any great engagement from Ukip supporters. But if I had been rash enough to expect that an emollient (and informative) post would have any effect on Ukip policy-making, I would have been setting myself up to be disappointed.

In the event, it comes as no surprise to find Ukip reverting to type with what the BBC called "the opening salvo of its EU Referendum campaign" – the launch in London of a booklet entitled "The Truth About Trade Beyond the EU". Written by their MEP William Dartmouth, this supposedly "outlines the reasons why we would not be leaving any markets when we leave the EU", essentially comprising part of Ukip's exit plan.

Paid-for (ironically) with EU funds – which clearly does not impose any quality or value-for-money criteria - it would not be unfair (as opposed to unkind) to describe it as vapid drivel, relying as it does on the usual mixture of factoids and mantra.

Addressing "the realities of an EU exit for the UK", for instance, it tells us that we would "continue to trade with EU member states", the reason adduced being that: "The UK is the largest purchaser of EU goods and services". That is fair enough, as we would doubtless continue to trade. We might go hungry if we didn't, given the amount food we ship in from the Continent. 

But, where the whole shebang goes drastically wrong is in the following declaration, which asserts:
It is inevitable that we would negotiate our own trade agreement with the EU after exit. And - with or without a trade agreement - we can continue to trade with EU countries, just as China, Russia and the United States do today - under WTO rules.
The immediate flaw in this stems from an understanding of the Article 50 (exit) procedure, where the expectation is that we negotiate an agreement before we exit. Should we leave first and then negotiate, there will be a huge gap, whence we would have enormous difficulties exporting to the EU.

Parking this for just one moment, we see Ukip supporters enthusiastically tweeting the news of the formal ratification of a trade agreement between Australia and China – as an example of what the UK could achieve outside the EU. But they neglect to point out that the agreement took ten years to negotiate.

That, of course, is a core issue. Doubtless, the UK could negotiate a trade agreement with the EU, and it could also negotiate trade deals with other countries to replace the arrangements it relies on under the EU umbrella. But how long would these take? And what would the UK do in the interim, during the many years that it would take to conclude new settlements?

Returning to the Ukip comment, we see them asserting that, "… without a trade agreement - we can continue to trade with EU countries, just as China, Russia and the United States do today - under WTO rules" – effectively a reiteration of the "WTO option".

Yet, it was specifically about the death of the WTO option that I was writing on 18 April, the point being that countries such as China do not rely purely on "WTO rules" for their trading arrangements with the EU. As we wrote at the time, there are 65 agreements with China involving the EU (or its members states) including 13 bilateral agreements.

When it comes to the United States, the EU is currently negotiating TTIP – which Ukip opposes. That rather indicates that the "WTO rules" are not considered sufficient, notwithstanding that the US does not rely entirely upon them. Even now, there is considerable EU-US collaboration, not least through the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC), established in 2007.

This Council provides an umbrella for a vast array of pre-existing agreements outside the basic WTO framework. Included is the vital 173-page Mutual Recognition Agreement which underpins trade in a wide range of industrial goods and was established to augment some of the limitations of the WTO agreements.

As regards Russia, in addition to its WTO membership, there exists the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which provides the basic framework for EU-Russian trade. It should be remembered, though, that sanctions over Ukraine are seriously disrupting relations - making Russia a poor model for Ukip to cite.

Nevertheless, the idea that it would be possible to trade with the EU, under anything like normal conditions, purely under WTO rules – without additional bilateral agreements – is simply moonshine. To suggest that China, Russia and the United States trade under such conditions is false. The claim simply isn't true.

This is doubly ironic in a booklet that also devotes itself to correcting five "falsehoods", not least the claim that you have to be a member of the EU in order to export successfully to it. This claim should be easy to rebut, which makes it rather unfortunate that the author chooses to tell us that:
The EU has numerous different varieties of trade agreement - being an EU member is just one of them. Switzerland, not a member of the EU, with an economy one quarter the size of the UK's, consistently exports to the EU more than 4.5 times per head of what the UK manages.
By coincidence, this example is deployed just as the Guardian picks up on the fallout from the Swiss immigration referendum, illustrating the ongoing and progressive collapse of the so-called "Swiss model" (or "option" as I prefer). This is part of a slow-motion constitutional crisis in Switzerland, as relations with the EU deteriorate. The situation will come to a head in February 2017 - just in time to do most damage to the "no" campaign.

From the way we are seeing other propaganda activities build up, the Guardian piece is part of a calculated initiative aimed at undermining the "no" camp by illustrating the fragility of its favoured exit options. This goes alongside what appears to be a studied tactic of eliding the Swiss and Norway options, making them out to be very similar if not actually the same. Thus, when Switzerland goes down, the Norway option will be dragged down with it.

Thus, the very last thing Ukip (or anyone else, for that matter) should be doing is parading the virtues of the EU-Swiss agreement. Not only is it not sustainable, it is on the point of collapse.

Another "falsehood" the booklet tackles is more of a straw man, attempting to debunk the supposed claim that: "A UK-EU trade agreement will inevitably require the 'free movement of people'". As part of this "debunking", it quotes David Cameron saying that: "Accepting the principle of free movement of workers is a key to being part of the single market".

And it then has a Conservative ex-Cabinet minister saying: "Even if we were to leave, it is inconceivable that the UK could negotiate a trade deal with the EU that did not involve some agreement on freedom of movement".

In fact, says Ukip, the EU has – depending on how it is counted – 109 trade agreements. Only four of those agreements, with EFTA and the EEA, have a "free movement of people" component.

Actually, it misstates the position, because there are only two agreements there – the EEA agreement, involving three countries, and the bilateral agreement with Switzerland (which involves neither EFTA nor the EEA). But there we have Switzerland again, the very country Ukip is citing as a model for a trade agreement.

Even then, Ukip has got it wrong. Drill down into the Russian Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, for example, and you will find "free movement of people" component. It is not unrestricted, but it is there.

But the crucial point is that participation in the Single Market is not the same as trading with the EU. And to participate in the Single Market would require accepting all its tenets, including freedom of movement. Mr Cameron is right. It is inconceivable that the EU would allow us to participate without agreeing to free movement of workers (at the very least).

As much to the point, free movement provisions are the future – especially as international agreements focus increasingly on services. Yet, when Ukip supporters gleefully cite the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) - as an example of what the UK could do if we leave the EU - they don't seem to have realised that, within the framework of the agreement, Chinese companies can bring in workers for projects valued at $150 million or more. There is also a "Work and Holiday Arrangement" (WHA) under which Australia will grant visas for up to 5,000 Chinese workers and tourists annually.

And, in the ultimate irony of an issue replete with ironies, we note that the ChAFTA took ten years to negotiate – a not untypical period for such an agreement. Ukip's idea of negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU after we leave would take as long, and could only bring disaster.

As to the booklet as a whole, we find the BBC (edited screen grab – top) offering its debunking slot to "Lying Lucy" – otherwise known as Lucy Thomas, campaign director for the Europhile Business for New Europe.

Fortunately for us, Lucy is not very bright. But even she was able to work out that Ukip's arguments did not add up. Unfortunately, Lucy is not alone. There is every sign that some of the more advanced Europhiles are getting their act together. In what it to be a long campaign, the Ukip case offered today will be comprehensively shredded – it is that full of holes. 

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For the "no" campaign in general, we cannot afford this level of stupidity - of which Ukip seems to have an inexhaustible supply. And the situation is made far worse when Farage once again indicates that he intends to take a prominent part in the fight. 

He acknowledges that he is a divisive figure and that not everyone likes him - something of an understatement. But that is the least of our problems. With his party's current effort, he is reinforcing the belief that the "no" campaign is unable to offer a credible alternative to the EU, thus adding to the already considerable difficulties we have in mounting an effective campaign.

An even greater problem, though, seems to be that we are dealing with people so stupid they don't even realise how stupid they are – a condition for which there is no known cure. If Ukip insists on pursuing its damaging line, therefore, there is no alternative but to freeze it out of the campaign. We cannot allow it to represent us, or to be seen as speaking in our name.

Richard North 18/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: the fight goes on


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I buried a friend yesterday – or would have but for the fact that, these days, people are rarely buried. Instead, one attends dreary crematoriums. They don't have the same feel as a proper church followed by the graveside ceremony. And, despite the care taken to make everything as tasteful and dignified as possible, I hate them.

More to the point, I hated the reason for my being there in Darlington crematorium – the untimely death of Peter Troy from a massive heart attack, suffered at the beginning of last month only days before he had been due to chair a Flexcit seminar in the Farmers' Club in London.

The seminar, held on 29 April, had been Peter's idea. He had arranged it at short notice as a possible way of encouraging potential members of a new group we were in the process of creating, in the hope that they would take to Flexcit, once they knew a little more about it.

This had not been the first Flexcit seminar. That had been organised by Peter in Harrogate in June last year, where he is photographed with a very hot North and our co-sponsors. Its purpose was to give me a chance to air an as then incomplete work in front of a live audience, better to gauge my approach and improve the work.

A revised and improved version was then aired in Dawlish on 26 September last year. Peter, with customary energy, not only organised it but arranged to have the proceedings filmed. He then produced a superb video which continues to be available online - now with nearly 5,000 views.

In Peter's absence in London last moth, the third seminar was chaired by Edward Spalton, current Chairman of the Campaign for an Independent Britain (CIB). Edward was there at the funeral yesterday, to pay his respects. But, as it happened, none of the people we wanted to convince actually deigned to turn up to the seminar, but it was well-attended by an enthusiastic group of supporters. They gave us the confidence to go ahead with the group we were planning, in which Peter had played a crucial part.

The group, I can now reveal, is called the Referendum Planning Group (RPG). We plan a formal launch in October, and the current membership includes Edward Spalton, Anthony Scholefield, representing his Futurus think tank (also in the Harrogate photo), Robert Oulds of the Bruges Group, Niall Warry representing The Harrogate Agenda and myself representing

However, in this case, the group owes its existence to an original initiative by David Phipps, now Scribblings from Seaham, also from last June. Worried by the fractured nature of the eurosceptic movement, he sought to broker a meeting of all eurosceptic groups. The aim was to help prepare a referendum campaign, should Mr Cameron's Conservatives come to power (as indeed they did).

Despite the invitation being completely open-ended, distressingly few groups responded. Of those that did, some have fallen away, unable to accept a premise that we should coalesce around a single draft plan, and work towards its completion, as part of the basis for an effective campaign.

Instead, the dissidents argued that we should form a group with no commitment to any plan and then undertake "prolonged discussions" in an attempt to reach agreement on the way forward. Should we not agree, the idea was then that all the members would promote their own plans, under the single umbrella of the group.

It was Peter Troy who took over the organisation of the RPG and did his very best to bring the other groups on board. But it was not to be. As he lay stricken and the seminar went ahead, it became clear to us that, if there was to be an RPG, it would have to start off with its five committed members. Thus, at a recent meeting in London, just before Peter's untimely demise, we decided to go ahead, using Flexcit as a draft component of our planning.

The idea of the group is, as its title indicates, to plan a referendum campaign. It is not intended that it should, in itself, be a campaigning group. We intend it to be more of a facilitator which will help its component members prepare a submission to the Electoral Commission, seeking designation as the lead "no" campaigner.

We have no illusions as to the difficulties involved. And, despite the assumptions of other (now multiple) groups that they are the natural heirs to the "no" crown, we will work with anyone who is prepared to put the needs of the campaign first. We are more than happy to add our considerable expertise and skills to the common cause.

However, were he still here, Peter himself could affirm that we will not accept a subordinate status, where we are required to fall in with the diktats of any self-appointed London élite, or anyone else, and become their obedient serfs. And nor will we be ignored.

The point he made to me so many times was that there are thousands of people who, over the decades, have collectively expended hundred of thousands of hours and untold wealth in the fight for freedom. They have earned the right to be directly involved in the campaign.

In memory of Peter Troy, but also in deference to the stalwart men and women of this country who have fought and are fighting so hard, we must resist assumptions that anyone has a God-given right to the leadership role. Nor can we accept that the campaign is the plaything of an as yet unknown multi-millionaire, or even that it is the property of Ukip. To be successful, it must be a people's campaign, and who takes the lead slot is for the Electoral Commission to decide.

We expect the Electoral Commission to recognise that the ordinary people of England (and our colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) deserve fair and equal participation in the "no" campaign. We will fight alongside anyone in the common cause, but as equals and not subordinates. We've had enough subordination from Brussels.

With his work on Flexcit and his intense pursuit of a functioning Referendum Planning Group, that aspiration is further on than it might otherwise have been. We will miss Peter's energy, his dedication and his commitment most dreadfully. But the fight goes on.

Richard North 16/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: should we stay or should we go?


Conservative backbencher Philip Davies and Laura Sandys, former Conservative MP and chair of the European Movement discuss on the Sunday Politics show whether we should leave the EU.

We are going to see a lot of these "mini-debates" over the next two years, and a lot of us are going to be taking part in them. Most will not necessarily in the august presence of Andrew Neil, or even on television. But, whether a face-to-face or in a small informal group, or in a debate in a village hall, or even at a major event in some grand conference venue, the battle is there to be won.

It is therefore, useful to take a forensic view of this little episode, to evaluate the performance of the two speakers (and Neil) in order to learn what we can from them. Their strengths and weaknesses can be used as a guide, enabling us individually and collectively to improve our own performances.

As to the setting, there can be no great (or any – unless you think differently) objection to how the opening was handled. To give each of the protagonists thirty seconds to make their cases is quite standard, and a fair way of starting proceedings. And there are advantages and disadvantages in any event to going first, so there is no great issue to be made in having Laura Sandys open.

The first thing to come across is that Sandys goes for the "low ground", hitting the jobs and trade buttons. "Every single job in this country is probably seven degrees of separation from some form of export", she asserts. "I think we've got to ensure that we stay in the European Union so that we can trade with Europe and the rest of the world. I think some people think it's an either or. I think it's both".

Had this been me listening to this, awaiting my turn, I think my spirits would have been soaring at the prospect of being able to take the high ground, and relegate her comment to the status of "low drone", which it most emphatically deserves. In my view, Sandys had made a major tactical error.

Not content with the one error, though, Sandys compounds it by appealing to the notional "left". She thus declares: "I also think there are some social issues - that Europe actually created some legislation, regulation that supports maternity rights, equality and as part of the European Union those are irrevocable".

In a limited way this is quite clever. It sets up the European Union as the "protector" of rights, but it is not a theme Sandys develops. Instead, she scoots back to "trade", with more sweeping assertions. Ultimately, she says, "this country needs to be at every top table it can be at. That's its history and that's its future. And so the idea of walking away from one of the – the largest market in the world. I think we'd be very foolish".

Hindsight is dead easy when doing this sort of critique, but there is no need for it here. What Sandys is offering is so tediously predictable that we could almost have written the script for her. The number of times we have heard this, or a close relative, must number in the thousands.

What she has done, unwittingly, is open up the way for the rejoinder successfully used by Owen Paterson, who cheerfully grabs such a gift with both hands, to tell us that we are not "walking away" – the European Union "is leaving us". With its single currency and political integration, it is bent on creating a new country. And, with a new treaty in the offing, as soon as this referendum is out of the way, it will be taking us down a path that we cannot and don't want to follow.

With that as the baseline, it would then have been open to Davies to declare that the task now confronting us was to separate the political baggage from the trade issues, and to create a new relationship based on trade, which is what most of us thought the EU was all about. Sadly, this was not to be. Davies, instead, also takes the low road, but this time following the Ukipesque path. "There are a number of reasons why we must leave", says Davies, "not least because it is "the only way we can control immigration into this country".

One immediately starts wondering whether there is a different sort of immigration, one that involves movement other than into this country, but we let that pass as the heart sinks at the own goal. This is precisely where we don't want to be. In his bid to out-Ukip Ukip, Davies has just contradicted even the "eurosceptic" wing of his party, and lost a massive tranche of his audience.

Clearly anxious not to let Sandy be the only low drone in the room, Davies now matches her, error for error, by taking the low road to tedium.

"But above all else, we'd be better off out of the EU. Every single year, the EU is a smaller and smaller part of the world's economy", he says. "All of the growth in the world economy is in China, India, South America, emerging economies in Africa. That's where all the future growth in the world's economy's going to come from and that's where we need to be".

In full flow, Davies now goes into eurosceptic "dog whistle" mode, not quite foaming at the mouth, eyes swivelling, but no so very far from it. "We built our wealth in this country by being global traders", he says, rant-mode on and running. "We should be ashamed of ourselves that we're handing over £19 billion pounds a year to be part of a backward-looking, inward facing protection racket, which is what the European Union's become, protecting the interests of inefficient European businesses and French farmers".

"We've gotta be much more global in outlook, much more international, much more positive about the world, not stuck in the 1970s. And of course we all want to trade with the EU. We will keep free trade with the EU", he then asserts.

At the end of this dissertation, Neil steps in with the observation that Davies has over-run his time. Turning to Laura Sandys, he says: "You say we should stay in, to trade. Why couldn't we trade if we were outside the EU". And, since Sandys has taken the low road, it is a reasonable question to ask.

Had Sandys been on top of her brief, she might immediately have responded to say that the Single Market had been a huge success in eliminating not only tariffs but also the more recent scourge of international trading – the non-tariff barriers, which were costing global trade far more than tariffs ever did.

Within the EU's Single Market, she could have said, the common regulation had eliminated these barriers, with one set of rules replacing 28, making trading easier and more profitable. Outside the EU, she could then argue, the UK would lose the benefit of the trading system, damaging its economy.

This is a credible case to make, and I've heard many a Europhile make it. But Sandys doesn't even try. Instead, she burbles about the UK trading with the EU and the rest of the world, prompting Neil to invoke the case of Switzerland, which is not in the EU yet exports five times more goods to the EU (per capita) than the UK. Why could we not export [from outside the EU], he asks.

Unfortunately, Neil's intervention puts Sandys back in her comfort zone. She slots effortlessly into mantra-mode. "We could if we had a Norwegian or Swiss model, but we are not there setting the rules, we've got our neighbours setting the rules for us. We end up having to comply on a sector-by-sector basis. It would take ten years to get the agreements in place".

This is the old "no influence" meme – the variation on the fax democracy", but with an added twist. Sandys is conflating the Swiss and Norwegian "models", which allows he to say that to would take ten years to agree a new deal. As a generalisation, this is a lie.

Neil, had he known more, might have picked up this deception, but like the rest of his ilk, his knowledge is skin deep. He doesn't challenge it. Instead, he packages up Sandys's argument: "We would continue to trade outside, but we would have no say in the rules of the game. At the moment we help to build the rules of the game, as we helped to build the Single Market. Why would you give that up?"

With that neat little bow added to the gift-wrapping, he hands it to Davies, who makes an almost total pig's ear of unwrapping it. "Well there's two points", he says. "The first is I'm not sure that we have as much influence as that would suggest", then hilariously muffing QMV and first "quality" and then "qualitative" majority voting, thereby releasing the inner amateur that resides in so many MPs. "More often than not, we're outvoted", Davies emphasises, "We're not actually having a great say over the rules".

Despite that, it's not a bad point to make, but the inner amateur fails totally to deploy the killer line: most of the rules are now made at international level, where we have no representation while, if we left the EU, we would be able to negotiate for ourselves, at the global top tables, increasing our influence.

Instead of delivering this killer shot, Davies decides to load his magazine with blanks, as he laboriously ladles out his "other point": "This idea that we could only negotiate as good a deal as Switzerland and Norway is for the birds", he says. "We're the fifth or sixth biggest economy in the whole world. Now we can do a much better, we can have a much better deal than anyone else. Then we get this little homily:
Last year, we had a balance of trade deficit with the EU of £62 billion, so if people talk about all the jobs they rely on trade from the EU in this country, there are lots of jobs reliant of that. We're not going to stop that. But how many more jobs in the EU are dependent on trade with us. So Germany is never going to give up trade in BMWs and Mercedes into the UK, so we can negotiate a very good deal for ourselves in terms of trade from outside of the EU, because they need us more than we need them.
This is truly in Ukip "nutjob" territory. Apart from the fact that our deficit looks very different when services are taken into account, there is a huge fallacy in Mr Davies's case. The point, of course, is that, while we don't need to be in the EU to export to EU countries, the UK doesn't need to be in the EU for EU countries to export to us.

Thus, the EU Member States know full well that, should we leave the EU, they will continue to sell goods to us. Furthermore, under WTO rules, we can neither impose significant (and in many cases any) tariffs, nor discriminate against their products. Mr Davies might just care to look up the principle of "National Treatment" in this respect.

The idea, thus, that we have any special leverage in negotiations with the EU is utterly flawed. But, even if it wasn't, the prospect of the UK negotiating a better trading deal with the EU once having withdrawn, than it could as a Member State, is a fantasy. We would struggle to agree a bespoke agreement less than ten years, but it would be a poor deal. Crucially, the EU knows that to offer preferential terms to an outsider would create huge internal stresses, sufficient to threaten the very survival of the Union. It could not and will never happen. 

Unsurprisingly, the point be Davies is easily batted away by Sandys as "not a very robust argument". That allows her to return to the "influence" meme, her zombie still alive and kicking as she gravely tells us it is "absolutely crucial" that our businesses have a say over the sorts of terms and agreements that they will trade with "Europe".

By now, we're only halfway into this debate, although it feels much longer. And already I'm beginning to lose the will to live. Davies has done the unforgivable – he has descended into the weeds, to trade blow for blow. Thus the debate rests on "he says-she says" exchanges that will bore the pants off casual viewers. As the referendum campaign develops, we will see new records for the speed with which millions of remote buttons are pressed.

With the trade issue completely unresolved, and no winner on either side (which give the status quo the game), Neil moves on to migration. Again he calls in aid Switzerland, which "pretty much has open borders with the EU". The EU, says Neil, would require the same of us, even once we had left.

This is a reasonable point, in general, but badly made in respect of Switzerland, which is undergoing a crisis in its relations with the EU after the referendum on immigration, February year last. And Switzerland's plight is very relevant to the debate, but not only is it omitted by Neil, it is not raised by either Davies or Sandys.

Davies simply reiterates that he thinks we could do better than Switzerland, notwithstanding that Switzerland is trying and failing to do better than Switzerland. And anyone following the argument al;ready knows that the EU has repeatedly emphasised that the principle of free movement is not negotiable. A tiresome rant on immigration then terminates in the Ukip mantra that, we need to leave the EU to control our borders.

Sandys manages a damaging jibe calling the Swiss and Norwegian options, the "twilight zone", pointing out the obvious flaws in the Davis position, trading blows as good as she gets – another no-score draw. "The EU will not allow us to have access to the Single Market without free movement of labour", Sandys declares triumphantly.

Little does she realise it, but she has not only given Davies a free kick at the goal, but she's walked off the pitch. Free movement of labour is precisely what we want to return to, scaling down from the free movement of people – which includes relatives and dependants, and all sorts of non-economically active incomers. But Davies doesn't recognise the gift, and returns to his mantra about Germany wanting to sell us BMWs and Mercedes.

There's three minutes left to run, and we're back on the biff-bam on trade, and they've all lost it - all of them, including Neil. Like a toothache, I just want it to be over. And if this is what the debate is going to be like, it is going to be a very long two years. A taste of things to come, Neil called it. If that's the case, God help us.

Richard North 15/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: potpourri


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Readers closely following the ins and outs of the progress of the EU referendum "no" campaign were yesterday treated to the lofty view of the fragrant Mr Moore, who grandly informed us that the "no lot" are attacking one another about who is the truest, bravest patriot among them.

This marginally patronising "take" on the state of the EU referendum campaign then gave way to the "pleasant surprise" of a discovery that the beginnings of a "no campaign" will be announced soon.

"Despite all the squabbling", we are told, "an all-party group is coming together". From this, Charles Moore then tells us, "it will emerge the official, designated campaign which the law requires. This can then receive donations and secure equal rights of representation on television and radio".

It is not impossible, in a few weeks' time, Moore continues, that someone, somewhere, might start thinking about the concerns of actual voters in all of this.

From the Sunday Telegraph, though., the news of a "growing Tory revolts confronting David Cameron, as the Conservatives for Britain, organisation has expanded from just over 50 members last weekend to include 110 Tory MPs.

A further 12 MEPs and 13 peers are also supporting for the organisation, "a development will be a further blow to the Prime Minister's authority over his party, which has already been undermined over Europe".

About a fifth of members believe a satisfactory deal is "unlikely" and therefore expect to campaign to leave the EU, about three fifths think a successful renegotiation is possible and will make a decision when the renegotiated position becomes clear. Many of them would vote to leave if the question were tomorrow on the present basis. Others could choose to support Mr Cameron, whatever he achieves.

This is one of the three "for Britain" groups, and all three say they will await the outcome of Cameron's renegotiation before deciding which way to jump. But key figures in all of them are frustrated that Cameron's initial demands have been slimmed down to four: cuts to EU migrants' benefits, more powers for national parliaments, more protection for non-eurozone countries and an end to the principle of "ever-closer union".

What they are not saying though, is where they stand should Mr Cameron not reveal his hand until the very last moment – which is why he might be so keen to abolish the purdah period. Long before that, the Electoral Commission will be asking for submissions for lead campaigners, and it is hard to see how groups officially taking a "maybe" stance can qualify to lead a "no" campaign.

Nevertheless, veteran campaigner Dominic Cummings has been enlisted to kick-start the "no" campaign. We are told that he will try to line up a range of politicians, businessmen and celebrities to make the argument, just as he did on the euro. Yet sources close to the "out" camp admit it is "playing catch-up".

Cummings's main task, says the Sunday Times will be to bring together parties, personalities, think tanks and pressure groups in the eurosceptic world.

Insiders quote the Monty Python film Life of Brian. "It’s all a bit People's Front of Judea versus the Judean People's Front", said one campaigner. "But we do all agree that the EU are the Romans and they haven't done much for us. Dom's job is to get everyone singing from the same hymn sheet".

The other issue is Nigel Farage, who expects a big role in the "no" camp but has not yet been consulted. Many Conservatives fear he will alienate moderate voters who would be needed to win the referendum, although he is already pledged to starting up a campaign "on the ground" by September.

This may or may not be the campaign reported by the Sunday Express which has "business leaders" having pledged millions of pounds to support the international campaign, in which politicians have been banned from taking part. That hardly seems a Ukip enterprise.

One millionaire donor has even offered to underwrite the entire cost of the £7 million launch, which is to take place in the second week of September, while one of those "source" things says: "This is going to be the official 'no' campaign but it is not going to involve any politicians".

"We know", he says, "that the 'yes' campaign is going to be run by politicians but we want ours to be run by people who have a personal stake in the future of this country, not politicians who often have a vested interest".

The organisers have already engaged an advertising agency and are actively seeking to recruit a prominent political strategist from either America or the UK to co-ordinate the campaign. They are also in the process of setting up fundraising and organising committees in each of the Commonwealth countries.

The source added: "Our message will be a positive one about voting to leave the EU so we can take Britain global".

Those behind the campaign are expected to remain anonymous until its launch in the autumn. However, the organisers say they are busy recruiting prominent businessmen and women, celebrities, sportsmen and women and ambassadors from every walk of life to support the campaign. The group is also preparing to commission an independent study of the financial consequences of leaving the EU.

So, that accounts for the People's Front of Judea and the Judean People's Front, but the Popular Front of Judea has yet to put in an appearance. Then there's our effort. We'll be along shortly.

Richard North 14/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: a blind leap into economic uncertainty?


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If we didn't know better, we might think that Hammond's shopping list on EU reform, published yesterday, was a deliberate attempt to throw the game. Considering that this is supposedly the government's secret weapon that is going to keep us in the EU, all we're getting is a woolly mixture of fond hope and tired clichés.

When yesterday, Quentin Letts wrote a sketch on the second reading debate, he called Hammond's offering "as unexciting a piece of work as an unbuttered ham sandwich", sparing us from describing his speech at length, "as some of you later today may be operating machinery".

Into that category also comes his "four-point package for EU reform", partly analysed by Complete Bastard. It is of such banality and tedium that one supposes Hammond plans to spray it over the European Council in the manner of Goldfinger and Fort Knox, stealing way with a deal from the somnambulant "colleagues".

But the clever thing is that Hammond and his master in crime, David Cameron, are not out to win the game. They do not need to. Their strategy is simply not to lose it, presenting a sufficiently plausible "renegotiation" deal to the voters – to the accompaniment of grand theatre. By this means, they hope to inspire a majority of the electorate to feel less uncomfortable about voting "yes" than they do marking the ballot "no".

One of those who has divined Mr Cameron's strategy is Rafael Behr in the Guardian, who rightly argues that the prime minister's best asset in this battle is public opinion. "There is not much love for the EU in Britain", he writes, "but ardent desire to quit at any costs is a fringe position. A referendum on existing membership terms could be won by the yes camp if the alternative looks like a blind leap into economic uncertainty".

Slide across now to Stephan Shakespeare, he of YouGov fame, the pollster which so brilliantly predicted (not) the Conservative victory at the general election. Pointing to his company's most recent poll on the EU Referendum, he tells us that the "yes" camp enjoys a 10-point lead over the "noes", standing at 55-45 after removing the "don't knows" and the "wouldn't votes".

Shakespeare notes, however, that "the biggest driver will be risk aversion – and leaving the EU must be deemed a massive risk however attractive it may be to lovers of derring-do freedom". And this is re-iterated by the Telegraph which has the pollsters suggesting that for many, "the prospect of leaving is deemed too big a risk, however attractive it might be to go it alone".

This is precisely why we wrote Flexcit. Its purpose is to provide reassurance to those contemplating voting in the EU referendum that leaving the EU is not a leap in the dark. It spells out in detail why no harm will come to them or the nation as a result of a managed transition from full EU member to independent state.

Nonetheless, we have Kenneth Clarke, "informed" by Business for New Europe, who decided to hold forth in the second reading debate on what "out" means, and what a "no" vote mean. His "eurosceptic friends", he claims, have always given different answers. Douglas Carswell, for instance, has a quite different view of what a "no" vote means compared with some of his no-voting colleagues on the government back benches.

Clarke went on to ask whether "no" meant the "Norwegian option" or the "Swiss model", or whether eurosceptics wish to go into the wide blue yonder and leave the trade area altogether. Needless to say, he did not refer to Flexcit, but then neither do many of the eurosceptic "aristocracy". They, as we have remarked earlier, are so obsessed with their own individual "plans" that they have not even begun to focus on what will prove the Achilles heel of the "no" campaign - the lack of a coherent definition of "out". 

As I write, though, the Guardian has published an exposé from Raheem "x-box" Kassam, who tells us the Ukip is "full of 'rag-tag, unprofessional, embarrassing people'", who "hampered" Nigel Farage's election campaign.

Of this I might write more later, but suffice it to be said that this is the same organisation which now, with its leader, wants to take a lead role in fighting the EU referendum. The really scary thing, though, is that, with some honourable exceptions, Kassam could be describing the "no" campaign as a whole, albeit that some have better suits and posher accents.

If we carry on this way, it won't only be a flat in Ramsgate that "looked like a Damien Hirst exhibition" because it was so unkempt, so much as the "no" campaign as whole. Unless the precious ones can get their heads round Flexcit and start behaving as if they want to win, Rafael Behr's prospect of a "blind leap into economic uncertainty" will give Mr Cameron an easy victory.

Richard North 11/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: stitched up


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This was never going to be a "free and fair" referendum. There is far too much at stake for the establishment to sit back and make it easy for us. But a reader's comment on the blog Friday week last, which ended up on the front page of the Sunday Times yesterday, indicates how dirty it is going to be.

Picked up by Owen Paterson, and run in the Mail on Sunday with an op-ed in his name, it also gets coverage in the Independent and elsewhere. The issue is that the government has proposed in the Referendum Bill the scrapping of the 28-day "purdah" period in the run-up to polling day, which will permit the government unrestricted freedom to campaign right up to the last minute - including sending out leaflets and pamphlets to every household – and even commissioning television adverts.

First introduced for referendums in the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000, this "purdah" period has been a standard feature of referendums ever since then, including the Scottish independence referendum – to which the Act didn't apply.

"Suspension of 'purdah'", writes Paterson, "will allow millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to be thrown into the campaign at the last minute, swamping the 'no' side. It will leave a bitter taste to those who hold democracy dear". The real question, though, is why the government should be so insistent on breaking precedent, perpetrating this outrage to democracy.

The clue, if we actually needed one, is tucked in the response from the Downing Street spokesman, who claims that the EU referendum is different from the AV vote. "The restrictions have been lifted because this referendum is an absolutely fundamental part of our manifesto", he says. "The idea that the government should be restricted in the crucial final weeks on a key manifesto commitment and be made to switch to neutral wouldn't make much sense".

The intention is thus signalled with undeniable clarity – the Government intends to campaign right up to the last minute, sending out material to voters in an attempt to influence the decision, right up to polling day if it sees an advantage in so doing.

Why there should be this last-minute rush is not difficult to work out, especially for those who are familiar with the 1975 referendum. Then, the "purdah" period did not apply to what was the first ever national referendum. The Government took advantage of this by sending out to all households its own pamphlet on "Britain's New Deal in Europe" in the last ten days of May, only days just before the 5 June poll, in addition to the "yes" and "no" leaflets.


It takes no great leap of logic to work out that this is precisely what the Government will want to do again – with the timing dictated by last-minute negotiations, brought to a high-octane finalé just days before the postal votes are due to go out, as the Prime Minister stages his "Heston moment".

This is the crunch issue. It has the potential to define the legitimacy of the entire referendum and determine its outcome, as Mr Cameron takes the negotiations right to the wire. We expect him to refuse to reveal his hand until then, purely for his own tactical advantage. It will be aimed specifically at wrong-footing the "no" campaign and limiting the time available to assess the deal and campaign against it.

For the time being, though, the Conservatives are keeping their powder dry. Steve Baker, chair of Conservative for Britain (CfB), speaking on the Andrew Neil show yesterday, was adamant in public that his newly-formed group existed only, "to assess the renegotiation when it comes and prepare for an 'out' campaign because it seems inevitable that some will want one" (see video clip above).

Earlier that day, Foreign Secretary Hammond on the Marr Show had ruled out any substantial changes to the treaty (see video clip below), leading Baker to remark that, if that was the case, there would have to be an "out" campaign.


It would be remiss not to prepare for an "out" campaign he went on to tell Sky News, saying that he expects personally to be campaigning to leave the European Union. "It is not at all a surprise that some MPs wish to leave the European Union. That's well known", he says, but then stresses that, of CfB, "At this stage, it's not an 'out' campaign".

Nevertheless, despite tensions between Ukip and the Conservatives, Mr Baker believes "the eurosceptic movement in this country is now remarkable united". He adds that: "At some stage, there will need to be a single designated 'out' campaign and we'll see who is part of it".

Attempts, meanwhile, will be made on Tuesday during the second reading of the Bill to face down the Government and force it to abandon its proposals to scrap the "purdah" period. Hammond, though, is unrepentent, defended the arrangements, affirming that the government did not expect to be neutral in the referendum and ministers would expect to speak out in favour of Britain staying in a reformed EU.

Furthermore, the Treasury is expected to publish a series of economic "analysis papers" on Britain's relationship to the EU, replicating a contentious exercise it conducted during the Scottish independence referendum. Allies of George Osborne say he wants to see "an informed debate", although so far from the "yes" side, all we have seen is a flood of scare stories, fortified by an unending diet of lies and disinformation.

This reminds us that there will actually two separate – and separately funded - "yes" campaigns. There will be the designated campaign, and then the Government will be fighting its own battles, while also setting the terms of the debate and making the rules.

To overcome that, the "no" campaigning is going to have to be inspired, although the system is now so rigged that, if we don't manage to get "purdah" reinstated, we will have good cause to question the legitimacy of the entire process. In a fair fight, a "yes" answer – if that was what was delivered - would stand. But this is not going to be a fair fight.

Richard North 08/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: conceding the ground?


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A new group of 50 Conservative MPs and MEPs has been set up, including Owen Paterson and John Redwood, calling themselves Conservatives for Britain (CfB). They have decided they will formally support David Cameron's efforts to negotiate better terms for Britain's EU membership but, if the Prime Minister fails to achieve "truly radical changes", they say they will join the "no" campaign.

The group's name has conscious echoes of Business for Britain, says the Sunday Telegraph "raises the prospect of a single 'out' organisation taking shape under the banner 'For Britain' when the referendum battle begins".

Notwithstanding that this is to be a "yes-no" rather than an "in-out" campaign – which means the somebody hasn't caught up yet, this might present some conceptual difficulties, as the group's public position is "maybe". 

If Mr Cameron – as expected - does not announce the outcome of the negotiations until towards the end of the campaign, this could mean a "wait and see" position being held for the bulk of the campaigning period, with the MPs and MEPs ruling themselves out of the debate until then.

However, Conservative MP Steve Baker, chairing the group, says his members will monitor the Prime Minister's progress in securing a radical new deal. He then says that unless Britain regains sovereignty over its own laws and power to trade freely, he and his colleagues will launch their own formal "out" (or perhaps "no") campaign.

It is already self-evident that these objectives cannot be secured as long as the UK remains in the EU, and Mr Cameron has already described the concept of a veto for Parliament over EU laws as "impossible". In fact, short of the UK invoking Article 50, there is no way the "colleagues" could accede to such demands without a major treaty, which is not even on the table.

Nevertheless, Mr Baker says: "We wish David Cameron every success", then adding, "unless senior EU officials awake to the possibility that one of the EU's largest members is serious about a fundamental change in our relationship (which is not being asked for and will not be given), our recommendation to British voters seems likely to be exit".

This, we are told by the Telegraph is a "dramatic development", which demonstrates that large numbers of "eurosceptic" Tories are no longer prepared to wait before setting out their case against Britain's membership of the EU as it stands. We are also told that it highlights the determination of the group to ensure that a highly-organised "out" campaign is up and running well before Mr Cameron concludes his negotiations with other EU leaders.

That, though, does not entirely mesh with Mr Baker writing in his own name, telling us that CfB has been formed "to discuss the criteria by which to judge the Government's EU renegotiation". He then says: "We are willing to consider how to prepare for an 'out' (or perhaps 'no') campaign if, lamentably, the European Union establishment will not allow the UK a new relationship of trade and co-operation".

By its own reckoning, it would appear that the group cannot act until Mr Cameron has admitted that "the European Union establishment" has refused to give him the "truly radical changes" that he has no intention of asking for, arguing that at least some are "impossible".

Thus, one can only assume that if there is to be a highly-organised "out" (or perhaps "no") campaign, it will be left standing at the kerb with its engine running, possibly until days before the poll. By contrast, Ukip leader Nigel Farage was being quoted all yesterday as saying that the "out" (or perhaps "no") campaign must take shape now. He argues that his party could "fight the ground game" in the battle.

Whether by accident or design, therefore, Mr Farage seems to have pre-empted the CfB and is prepared to get a campaign up and running before even the Conservative "eurosceptics" have been able to "consider how to prepare for an 'out' (or perhaps 'no') campaign".

There has been some blog comment on this Conservative stance, which is not overwhelmingly enthusiastic, and there is twitter reaction which might be described as "sharp". Some Conservative MPs may find it a little difficult to explain why, having campaigned personally on an "out" ticket, they have now joined the ranks of the "maybes" and are ceding the ground to Ukip.

Richard North 07/06/2015 link

Getting serious


As you would expect, running a website called, we're busier than ever. I have an inbox full of well-wishers and volunteers. I've been down at Harrogate Agenda HQ this week plotting so I'm behind in the admin work but I promise I will get to you.

If you seriously want to help, get yourselves on Twitter and help us push Flexcit. If you don't understand Twitter, don't worry, neither do we. All we know is it gets results and we can drown out the kipppers who are polluting the internet with unfocussed garbage.

We have a team of Tweeters who will pick you up and follow you. We're lucky in that our team need no instructions or leadership. They get on with it. That's what we need more than anything. Self-starters. But as much as owning the message is important and snatching it away from Ukip, we need you to go out and recruit. Building our base is more important than ever. If Ukip makes the running we lose and lose badly.

That said, as readers will know we have irons in the fire behind the scenes. Those forces will soon be in the fight and we'll have something official to say soon. Richard and I are both working full time to bring everything we can to the fight. Some days it's horribly depressing but on other days we feel humbled by the incredible people we have, not least Autonomous Mind and Boiling Frog, Toby Goodman and White Wednesday. With allies like that, we deserve to win.

One thing we do need more than anything is money. There have been moves behind the scenes to silence this blog. We won't say who, but you know us well enough to know that we will never sell out and let the SW1 claque own the message with their half informed bilge. So long as we have an internet connection we will continue to dominate.

Behind the scenes we're improving the website in ways not immediately apparent but critical all the same. We're running a Twitter operation almost 24/7 and work on Flexcit continues. We have a reputation for not suffering fools gladly and while people tell us not to be so harsh on our own side, they go silent when we ask who exactly are we supposed to lavish praise on. Win or lose nobody will be able to say we weren't the most accurate, up to date and hard-working operation.

This is coming at great financial and personal cost. We have asked you before for donations and your response has been humbling, but this time the game is real. The MEP posers have EU pensions to keep them going, but we do what we do with what we've got. What follows is entirely up to you. The hundreds keep the wolf from the door. The thousands means we have game. Richard North won't ask. But I will. You people have had your money's worth over the years. Now it's your turn. We're the only game town who knows what's going on. Cough up. You know where the donate button is.

Peter North 06/06/2015 link

EU Referendum: a turning point to defeat


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A day after we see a report that Blair is the least trusted figure in the EU debate, with Farage the second most distrusted figure, up pops the Ukip leader telling us he is going to lead the "out" campaign. So well prepared is the man, though, that he doesn't seem to have realised that this is a "yes-no" campaign, with him on the "no" side. 

Displaying the same arrogance as other wannabes, he also fails to realise that the lead organisation is not going to self-nominate. The leads on both sides are for the Electoral Commission to designate – and that is not going to happen until after the Referendum Bill has become law.

The rather strange thing is that this is not exactly a secret. It has been a facet of all recent referendums, and is going to be a crucial part of this one. And there is a great deal at stake. Very substantial dowries – worth several millions – and other privileges are awarded to the designated organisations.

But if Farage is even aware of this, he has given no sign of it. In an apparent attempt to pre-empt this official process, he is planning to make a speech today to his own activists, after claiming: "We are going to take the lead, we are going to get cracking".

Then says Farage: "We will be launching a massive series of public events and meetings all over the country starting in September. These will be public meetings. They will be live web streamed". He adds: "We are going to be busy, delivering leaflets through the doors by the million. We are not prepared to stand around and wait".

What is worrying the man – and he's not alone in this – is prominent campaigners who want to wait to see the result of Mr Cameron's renegotiation before they make a move. In response, he says - changing the designation of the campaign: " The No campaign needs to get itself moving. All this nonsense from very snobby Tories that we should not dominate the campaign and I should go on holiday for six months – forget it!"

Nevertheless, while expecting to be at the forefront, Farage is saying: "we will open our arms and be all embracing and welcome everybody". We will "reach out broadly across Eurosceptic community and across communities in this country", he claims.

Bearing in mind that Ukip only represents eight percent of the total electorate, if it is to stand a chance of winning the lead designation - and thereby actually taking the lead - Farage will have to attract the support of others. Yet there are as yet no indications of which (if any) other groups are prepared to throw in their lot with the party.

The worst of it is that Farage is not alone in wanting to be top dog. Maybe at least one more and possibly two other groups may compete for the designation, leaving the anti-EU movement badly fragmented. This raises the spectre of the Electoral Commission refusing to designate a "no" lead at all, leaving the groupuscules to fight it out between themselves, without a government grant or any official status.

Despite this, Farage is making it clear that he refuses to be treated as "the naughty boy of British politics, being told to go and behave and stay out of the way". He says: "That simply isn't going to happen". "It is time", he says, "for those across the political spectrum, particularly in the Conservative Party, to put their cards on the table. No more endless waiting, political hand-wringing or excuses. The campaign must start now".

He claims he is prepared to work with "anyone and everyone who is willing to help us win this referendum and get Britain out of the European Union". But, he adds, "Those who want to help rather than harm our campaign need to stop wasting time, get off the fence and get on with helping us get our country back. There is not a minute to lose".

All this, however, is going to cause more than a little dismay in certain quarters. Ukip, as a party, is demonstrably unprepared to fight an effective campaign. Furthermore, under a leader who has toxified the debate and whose tactical acumen has halved his party's Westminster representation at the general election, few outsiders have any confidence that Ukip's intervention will help the cause.

Certainly, it is far too early to start active high-level active campaigning, and especially as so many of the strategic issues have yet to be resolved.

Thus, when it comes to writing the history of this campaign, I suspect that this week will mark another of those turning points which led us down the path to defeat. And future historians may well remark at the determination of so many on the "no" side, not only to repeat the mistakes of the 1975 campaign, but to invent a few more.

Whatever else, those historians will be wondering why people apparently so committed to leaving the EU were so determined to do everything they could to stay in. They may also wonder  whether there was any need for a "yes" campaign, when the "noes" were so determined to lose all by themselves.

Richard North 06/06/2015 link

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