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 Immigration: not quite what it appears

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Things are not quite what they seem to be on the immigration front, says the Financial Times, telling us that fewer migrants have come to Britain in search of work during this parliament than under Labour's final term in office, and they are more highly skilled.

This is based on a study commissioned by the FT from the Oxford-based Migration Observatory, which challenges pre-election warnings from those such as UKIP that Britain is attracting record numbers of incomers from Europe and farther afield.

The most recent official statistics showed annual net migration soaring to almost 300,000 - dashing the Conservative party' s attempts to cut the number to the "tens of thousands" and so win the confidence of wavering Ukip voters.

But the observatory’s five-year snapshot across the parliament shows that 117,000 fewer working migrants arrived in the UK since the 2010 election than during the previous Labour term in office a decrease of 16 percent.

Migration Observatory director, Madeleine Sumption, said it was striking that despite increases in net migration in 2014, the size of the migrant workforce was "considerably smaller" now than five years ago, with the data demonstrating that since the coalition took office there has been a rise of 40 percent in jobseekers from recession-hit nations in the "old EU", such as Italy, Spain and Portugal.

The intriguing thing is that this has been offset by a 35 percent fall in working migrants from the eight eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004, and a drop of more than a quarter in those arriving from beyond Europe.

Sumption argues that the growth in working migrants from old EU countries, who are more likely to pursue professional jobs, had helped to raise the skill level of those arriving in the UK. "While it's difficult to predict migration flows, it's clear that what happens to migration from old EU countries could have a significant impact on the overall skill profile of the new migrant workforce in the future", she says.

The observatory's data also show that migrants' wages have risen on average by 17 percent under the coalition, compared with the previous five years - a significantly higher increase than among the UK-born population. There has also been a greater concentration of immigrants in London, in professions such as financial services, and away from lower-skilled roles elsewhere in the country.

By contrast, the number of lower-skilled migrants from Europe has begun to decline in the past five years, something which the Observatory has already noted to be highly significant. In a previous report, it noted its 2011 Migration Observatory/IpsosMORI study found that attitudes toward low-skilled labour migrants, extended family members, and asylum seekers were much more negative than attitudes to high-skilled migrants, students, and close family members.

This general pattern was found again in a Migration Observatory/YouGov study, in both Scotland and England/Wales, signifying that the public attitudes to immigration are far more nuanced than is generally allowed. There seems to be a greater tolerance for skilled migrants, and for those which come from our closest neighbours.

All in all, therefore, the migrant "card" will perhaps not be quite as powerful a factor in the general election as earlier polls have suggested.


Richard North 30/03/2015
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 General election: not a clue

The Spectator blog is publishing a list of a dozen predictions on the outcome of the general election. And, as one might expect, they are all over the place, proving that, whether experts or not, guesses are still guesses.

One interesting thing though is that the current average prediction for Ukip seats stands at 3.3, down from 6.6 in the Political Studies Association's survey last February.

That downwards trend is endorsed by YouGov, which would also have us believe the voters think that Ukip is the sleaziest party. But then, as Autonomous Mind recently noted, comedian Russell Brand has been voted the world’s fourth most important thinker by readers of the "intellectual" magazine Prospect.

AM thus suggests that the team at Prospect deserve to be feeling rather deflated about the calibre of their readership and, in like manner, YouGov might want to feel the same about their polling panel.

When it comes to the New Statesman though, it would be hard to tell the difference between readers and writers, but then the same might be said of this piece in the Spectator. Basically, when it comes to intelligent political commentary, the legacy media have lost the plot, just as they have with so many issues. 

If you want sense, these days, you have to go elsewhere, such as here and here.


Richard North 28/03/2015
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 EU exit: an absence of thinking

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The minimal coverage given to Owen Paterson's Heritage speech tells its own story, but even our venal media should have made something of his responses to questions. As it is, only Huff Post picks them up, having Paterson say that "we would lose an 'out' referendum" because his "optimistic vision" has not been explained. "And 'out' is frightening", he added, "it's unknown and people will hang onto nurse".

Paterson's view is that, "we have to go the whole hog, get back to the trade arrangement, but we need time to explain there is a positive destination". He thinks we have "the most spectacular future outside the political and judicial arrangements [of the EU], embracing the trade, commercial and economic aspects", he said. "But at the moment that has not been explained".

"There is a protest party", Ukip, that has done no absolutely no work on the detail [of how to leave]", Paterson told the Americans, "and they are being attacked, quite rightly, for that because their image is backward looking and negative".

As a result, those like him agitating for the United Kingdom to leave the EU needed more time to persuade voters it was a good idea.

There, writ large, is precisely the predicament we're in, on which we elaborated recently, on the back of the YouGov poll that put the "inners" ten points ahead for the second month running.

By coincidence, yesterday we saw the publication of the British Social Attitudes Survey, which very much confirms the YouGov findings. It has 57 percent wanting to continue with EU membership, with only 35 percent wanting to withdraw.

As with YouGov, when a more nuanced question is asked, offering different options, the position changes. Those who want to leave the EU drop to 24 percent, while those who would like to see an attempt made to reduce its powers stands at 38 percent. Only 18 percent want to leave things as they are, ten percent want the EU to have more powers, and four percent want a single (European) government.

The Social Attitudes Survey thus sees most people as being "eurosceptic", defined as wanting to leave the EU, or seeing it with reduced powers. But therein lies the fatal confusion – the "reformers" are not "outers" and it cannot be assumed that they will vote to leave the EU in any referendum.

Here, Paterson's point has particular force. The "eurosceptics" are split between leavers and reformers, and – of the former – there are irreconcilable splits between different groups and sub-sets, and no clarity of vision from the main players.

If there has been any change, it is that these splits are being recognised, although there are no indications that different factions are prepared to debate the issues – or even explore the issues dispassionately.

Thus we have the likes of Ruth Lea arguing for the "WTO option" without troubling to explain why she has suddenly deserted the Swiss Option. And we also have Roger Helmer who tells us that UKIP cannot accept any deal, even an interim deal, that doesn't give us control of our borders.

This is the man who is confident that the UK could negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU but, like so many of his ilk, he simply doesn't do detail.

Presumably Mr Helmer expects the UK to work within the provisions of Article 50, so one assumes that he would be content to wait the ten or more years that it would take the negotiations to reach an agreement. And, all the while we would remain in the EU, paying the contributions, fully committed to freedom of movement – just because Mr Helmer doesn't like interim solutions.

On the other hand, if we went for the "Norway option" they hate so much – or "model" if you must – we could be out in two years, ready to negotiate a longer-term solution, which would include dealing with the vexed question of freedom of movement.

Meanwhile, the FUD flows and the lies proliferate. They are easy to rebut - although far too difficult for the aristocracy.

And that is perhaps the underlying problem. The eurosceptic "aristocracy" have long ceased thinking. And they are, of course, far too grand to debate issues with mere mortals - or get down in the weeds, where the real fighting is going on. Thus, their arguments are fixed in aspic, going nowhere and inspiring no one.

Along with Ukip, they are set to lose us the referendum – if we let them.


Richard North 27/03/2015
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 EU referendum: losing it before we even start

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Published yesterday was the latest YouGov poll on EU sentiment, and it does not make good reading. The ten-point lead for the "inners" established in February is maintained – at 46 percent in favour of remaining in the EU as opposed to 36 percent who would vote to leave in a referendum.

Faced with renegotiations and a recommendation from Mr Cameron that we should stay in, the percentage supporting the EU rises to 57 percent, with only 21 percent wanting to leave – much the same as it was last month.

If there is any consolation to be taken from these figures, one could at least observe that the "Ukip paradox" is broken – the phenomenon where, as Ukip popularity increased, support for leaving the EU declined. As it stands, support for Ukip is currently declining – down to 12 percent according to YouGov and a mere ten percent according to ComRes in the Daily Mail.

If Farage actually knew what shame was, now would be a good time to show it. His tenure as leader of Ukip has delivered what is, on the face of it, an unwinnable hand. Even if Mr Cameron gains a victory at the general election, and gives us a referendum, the chances of winning it must be slight.

Not a little of this must be attributable to Mr Farage's failure to ensure that his party produced a credible exit plan, on top of a clear vision of what a post-exit Britain would look like. Instead, he has ceded the ground to the charlatans of Open Europe and the like, who are so successfully muddying the waters.

OE is even now fielding its chairman, Rodney Leach, who has come out of the woodwork to tell Reuters that: "Transforming Britain into the deregulated, free trading economy it would need to become outside the EU sounds easy in theory, but in practice would come up against some serious political resistance within the UK itself", thus knocking down the straw man of Open Europe's making.

Even Roger Helmer is beginning to realise that OE is not batting on the same side but, having given this Europhile think-tank such a head start, it is going to be very difficult to claw back lost ground – even if Ukip was capable of doing it, which does not look to be the case.

The essential requirement, though, is actually relatively simple – to the extend that Ryan Bourne, head of public policy at the Institute of Economic Affairs, has managed to work it out – even if his message is a tad inconsistent.

He nevertheless says that, if the outers want to win a referendum, "they need to neutralise the economic issue by showing that Britain would be no worse off outside". He adds: "The evidence suggests that, with broadly sensible policies, this is achievable".

That is actually straight from Flexcit (and about the only place you will see it), where the "Norway Option" combined with repatriation of the acquis offers a cost-neutral solution to leaving the EU, and buys time to negotiate a longer-term solution, once we have left.

What we must also do in this context is continually emphasise – as has Owen Paterson been doing - that the Single Market and the political baggage of the European Union are not one and the same. It is possible to leave the EU and remain in the Single Market – which is precisely what the Norway Option - or the "Norway Model" if you prefer – aims to do.

By this means, we can easily address the fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD), delivered by the likes of Standard Life Chairman Gerry Grimstone, who on the one hand tells us that, "leaving the European Union would be disastrous for Britain and harm its economy" and then in the same breath declares: "It would be disastrous for London and the UK if the UK were to leave the single market".

But it is a measure of the inadequacy of the "eurosceptic" response that we have Robert Oxley, campaign director of Business for Britain, condemning Grimstone for joining in "the scaremongering that life outside of the EU would be disastrous for the UK" – without any attempt to draw the distinction between EU and Single Market membership.

And, while Oxley bleats about the cost of "EU financial regulation", if he lifted his horizons somewhat, he would see from the New York Times that the regulatory agenda is global, with the sub-regional EU only marginally involved in primary standard-setting.

This, though, so much typifies the state of the anti-EU campaign. On the one hand we have the incompetence of Mr Farage and, on the other, the London-based think-tanks entertaining themselves with increasingly arcane and irrelevant arguments – much in the manner that climate-change has degraded into a tedious squabble between rival pundits.

Amid all this, too few people are focusing on what it actually takes to win a referendum. Even if some in Civitas are beginning to steer in the right direct, this is too little, and risks being too late. It leaves us ten points behind in the polls, and still prey to the charlatans who would have us lose the campaign before it even starts. If we are going to win, this is not the way to do it.


Richard North 25/03/2015
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 EU exit: Open Europe distorts the debate - again

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Britain faces a stark choice after an EU exit of allowing its economy to shrink by £56 billion, by shutting down its borders, or agreeing to the continued free movement of European citizens in a new deal with Brussels, says the Guardian, citing Open Europe as its source.

This is another thoroughly dishonest report from one of the country's least ethical think tanks, which is now devoting its energies to distorting the "EU exit" debate, in an attempt to garner support for its bankrupt "reform" option.

The tactics adopted are as familiar as they are dishonest, the think tank presenting a series of false choices, downplaying preferred options and playing the "scare" card by going for one of the least realistic options and attaching a massive price tag to it – in this case of 2.23 percent of GDP by 2030, or £56 billion a year.

The "straw man" is then presented by Mats Persson, director of Open Europe, as a challenge to Nigel Farage, who says in a message to the Ukip leader: "You have some questions to answer [on] exactly what you want to see outside. What is it?"

Persson, who is maturing as a consummate, unprincipled liar, thus frames the debate in terms of a "free trading Hong Kong-Britain with very liberal policies, including on migration", which he asserts is "what is needed to make us competitive", or "what probably most of what your [Ukip] voters want: to shut the borders and shut the world out which would mean a net loss in terms of the UK's GDP and economic competitiveness".

By presenting this "challenge" to Farage, however, Persson is shooting fish in a barrel. He is addressing the man whose party represents only the minority of anti-EU opinion, and which, in the twenty-plus years of its existence, has yet to come up with a coherent exit strategy. The think-tank director can thus cherry-pick any unrepresentative option he likes, to bolster his fraudulent case for renegotiating the EU treaties – which is the real object of the exercise.

In the OE report, we are told by the Guardian, four exit scenarios are set out, all of them offering the entirely unrealistic "big-bang" options with not the least attempt to consider hybrid solutions, which involve interim solutions and staged withdrawal.

As so often when it sets out to deceive, therefore, Open Europe is characterised by what it doesn't say – what it omits rather than what it tells its readers.

The worse case, which OE wants us to consider is Britain leaving the EU customs union and the single market, and failing to strike a trade deal with the EU. This, predictably, would create havoc with the trading arrangements with the EU, so much so that no one but an idiot (and Mats Persson) would even consider it. Not even Ukip is mad enough to consider this option, yet this is precisely what Persson chooses for his "Armageddon scenario". It is this on which he relies to support his assertion that leaving the EU could cost us £56 billion a year.

Predictably, and with weary constancy, OE skirts round the Norway Option – which is mentioned by name only once in the 104-page report. No analysis of the cost to the GDP of retaining EEA membership is made, by which sleight of hand, open Europe avoids telling us that this option would be cost-neutral. 

Such pages as are devoted to EEA membership are dedicated to telling us how bad the option is, so much so that – as with the IEA "Brexit" competition - the option does not make the final list of scenarios. This is "death by omission", the option dismissed with the classic and entire misleading comment that: "Only EEA membership offers full access, but also involves accepting all the EU rules without a vote on their design or implementation".

This is now part of the current OE armoury, presenting the vote as if it was the be all and end all of the legislative process. Yet, we have been told time and time again that the politics are settled long before the vote, with EEA countries having greater influence over new legislation than the UK. This, OE steadfastly chooses to ignore.

One can only conclude from this that the Norway Option really does terrify the Europhiles, so much so that OE rushes past it, to invite its readers to consider a "mildly improved version of Switzerland's relationship with the EU". In this particular fantasy, Britain negotiates an exit from the EU, involving a free trade deal with the rest of the EU which would give the UK similar market access to the one it currently enjoys. Yet this is still supposed to cost 0.81 percent of GDP.

This then paves the way for fantasy number three, an "even better version of Switzerland's relationship with the EU" – one which, presumably, washes even whiter. In this, Britain would scrap many "EU regulations" and introduce "unilateral free trade" in which the UK would open its borders to foreign competition. Remarkably, this fantasy scenario would lead to a boost to GDP of 0.64 percent.

Now comes the fanfare for the "best case scenario". According to the mendacious Persson, Britain would secure a deal with the EU, implementing a unilateral free trade arrangement, while going for "the maximum deregulation on EU rules such as scrapping all climate change targets". This, supposedly, would increase the UK's GDP by 1.55 percent.

But just to make sure that we understand that Persson does not actually recommend this move, he inserts the sly barb, that: "In political terms this would make Margaret Thatcher look like a socialist". What he doesn't tell us is that the Climate Change Act would keep the climate change targets in place, and therefore, wipe out his GDP boost.

For the first time, however, Open Europe actually recognises the potential impact of global versus EU influence over regulation, but readers need not expect an honest exploration of the issue. There is no honest intent anywhere in this report.

OE keeps the focus tightly on financial regulation currently in force, with a view to talking down the global influence. There is nothing of G8, its relationship with the FSB, OECD and the Basel Committee, and things to come, where the trend is towards globalisation of regulation. And those expecting a references to Codex, UNECE, or the World Forum for the Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulation, will be disappointed.

Such omissions, though, go completely unnoticed by a media which is increasingly proving itself unfit to report on the EU debate. In this instance, the Guardian buys into the myth-setting, conveying the OE "belief" that its report "represents a particular challenge to Farage who will have to decide whether Britain should see a dramatic shrinking in its GDP or allow unrestricted EU migration".

The egregious straw-man, of course, is not the challenge it is intended to be. It should be, because Farage has been almost criminally negligent in failing to ensure that Ukip has a credible exit plan. But over-confidence has moved Persson and his minions to go so far over the top that all they are doing is challenging is their own credibility.

Needless to say getting their propaganda into the Guardian has proved no challenge at all, but they probably found the Telegraph even easier. This paper is steadily abandoning even a pretence of supporting the anti-EU cause, and always gives OE a warm welcome. This report proves no exception.

Here, though, the Telegraph goes the extra mile and give Simon Wolfson free rein to comment – the shopkeeper and advisory board member of Open Europe who has turned stupidity into an art form.

Without so much as a blush, he tells us that, we should brace ourselves "for a barrage of misleading economic propaganda from both sides", of the EU debate, and then goes onto to retail the OE propaganda as if it was anything other than misleading economic propaganda, bizarrely asserting that it is "a remarkably balanced document".

When it comes to the European Movement, and even the European Commission, there is a certain honesty in their approach. They deliver propaganda, but at least we know it for what it is. The slimy, underhand approach of Open Europe is all the more detestable for its pretence that it is something it isn't – an impartial commentator.

The techniques used would be entirely familiar to Goebbels, as Wolfson tells us of his "fear is that those who are fighting to leave the EU would do so in the spirit of shutting out the world rather than embracing a global prosperity".

"If these attitudes prevail then Brexit can only damage the UK economy", he says. One could be charitable and assert that only his stupidity prevents him knowing full well that one of the primary purposes of leaving the EU is to escape the grip of the claustrophobic little Europeans in order to rejoin the world trading community as a member in our own right.

But with even its cheerleader unable to argue the case for the EU honestly and directly, this Open Europe's "landmark report" marks a new low in its level of deceit. It is so bad that, even though the case made by Ukip may be dire, the OE approach even makes Farage look honest.


Richard North 24/03/2015
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 UKIP: "deep shock" for everyone

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This week, for us, began with an examination of the status of the referendum debate, of which Ukip no longer seemed to be part. The only substantive input was from Farage making foolish comments on a 2015 poll – which Boiling Frog has now thoroughly debunked.

But while we've been concerned with fighting and winning a referendum, and beating off the FUD, a representative of the supposedly anti-EU Ukip has been repatriating taxpayers' money into their own pockets. Yet, only a few months ago, Matthew Goodwin, the greatest expert on Ukip the world has ever known, was telling us that "Ukip's days of amateur campaigning are over".

Contradicting the great sage, though, we now have the BBC reporting: "UKIP in turmoil over general election candidates", the Guardian with, "Ukip faces crisis after suspensions and racism claims", and Channel 4 also talking of "turmoil". And that is but a small sample of the overall comment. 

Even the kindest of Ukip's critics, therefore, are having to admit that this is a massive own goal, now compounded by another ludicrous statement from Farage. This time, he is admitting that the party manifesto may not be published until 15 to 18 days before the general election, then confessing that he finds Ukip's lack of policies in certain areas "scary".

Despite this, he makes the incredible assertion that the delay is a "deliberate ploy" designed to build momentum in the final days of the campaign. And if that was at all true, then the promise of a fully-fledged manifesto for the spring conference was precisely what? Another "deliberate ploy"?

But for all the posturing of this foolish man, his party is floundering at 13 percent (YouGov), while Matthew Parris thinks "the Tories are going to win, and win well".

His forecast, he says, is based on a hunch. His evidence is anecdotal, his observations flimsy. But he believes the polling evidence for a stalemate result is flimsy too: flimsier than might be suggested by the news media's now-tedious obsession with every wobble on the graph and with the pollsters' ever-more-arcane attempts to sneak their way into the psychology of voters.

And that, for what it is worth, is my view as well. My "gut feeling" is that the "Miliband effect" will create a last minute surge towards the Conservatives, with the two-party squeeze pushing Ukip out of the picture, leaving Cameron with a small but workable majority. Whatever chance Ukip had of making a splash is long gone.

Then, we will have the task of fighting that referendum, for which Mr Farage and his peculating colleagues are completely unprepared. Then, people will begin to learn what a total waste of space the Ukip "experiment" has been, and then we will have to do the job for which Ukip was founded, and which it has long deserted.

And then, it won't only be Farage who will be in deep shock.


Richard North 21/03/2015
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 Ukip: another of our MEPs is missing

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Confronted with The Sun's claims that UKIP MEP Janice Atkinson had conspired fraudulently to inflate a restaurant bill, a source said she appeared "very, very surprised" that she was being criticised. "She doesn't see what she's done wrong. I think she's genuinely dense enough not to realise this is not the way things happen", he said.

And that, in many respects, is all too typical of the Ukip hierarchy. Tthey just don't get it – and not just this particular specimen of Ukip dross. But this is the one who, only two weeks ago, was predicting she was going to take Folkestone and Hythe from the Conservatives at the general election, and was claiming she had the evidence to prove it.

Well, there is one prediction I can confidently make: Atkinson, who infamously referred to a Thai woman as a "ting tong", and has been taken to court by the Child Support Agency over missed support payments to her ex-husband, is not going to be an MP in May (or ever). She has been suspended from the party, dropped as the Folkestone candidate and has had the party whip withdrawn.

And all this happened after The Sun filmed Christine Hewitt, Atkinson's assistant, asking a restaurant manager for an invoice for a party in Margate that had cost £950. She asked for a higher sum and eventually was given an invoice for £3,150. "The idea is we overcharge them slightly because that's the way of repatriating [the money]", Hewitt was filmed saying.

Apparently, the restaurant manager had agreed to take part to enable video footage to be obtained, The Sun said, indicating that this was most probably a "sting". And legal experts are saying that the action of Atkinson and her chief of staff could be viewed as "a criminal fraud" and should prompt a police investigation. European laws on expenses and party funding may also have been broken. We may yet see another MEP in prison.

Thus, when it comes to "not getting it", The Great Leader Farage says: "I am astonished she could have done something quite so stupid. I am very very shocked and surprised". He must, of course, be about the only person in the world who is surprised, which provokes a somewhat hollow laugh when he declares: "I want Ukip to be the party that restores decency into our political sphere, and as such, I will do my level best to uphold those principles across the entire party".

Perhaps our Janet should have thought about this when she gave this speech, in which she said: "Ukip believes in women … If you believe in Britain, and you believe in women, then vote Ukip". Clearly, Ukip no longer believes in this particular woman.

Then, it appears that most of the country doesn't believe in Ukip. The party has peaked, but no one wants to admit it", says Suzanne Moore in the Guardian, adding: "Nigel Farage now resembles every other politician".

"A political force grounded in disenfranchised resentment can only fizzle out when faced with the realities of governance", she then went on to say - words written before Atkinson had been outed. Now that, yet again, Ukip has been shamed - and not by its enemies but by one of its own - Moore's words might actually seem prescient, had we not been saying much the same for many months.

Ting Tong, the witch is dead says TCB. How long before the rest of the party follows?


Richard North 20/03/2015
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 EU exit: the FUD of Grieve

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Two million UK citizens working abroad could become illegal immigrants overnight if Britain were to leave the European Union, former attorney general Dominic Grieve has warned. In assessing this claim, though, one should note that Mr Grieve is a practising barrister which must mean that, not only is he wrong, he must know he's wrong.

The status of treaty rights acquired while a treaty is in force, when that treaty comes to an end, is even dealt with in a Parliamentary briefing, and in much more detail by UN lawyers.

In short, these "acquired rights" – also known as "executed rights" or "vested rights" – do continue to apply to individuals. So firm are they embedded in the international order that they have acquired the status of "customary law", which means the principle does not need to be anchored by an particularly treaty, but stands alone as a fundamental principle of international law.

Thus, should it come to the UK leaving the EU, those persons who currently live in other EU member states, invoking the right to remain under the "freedom of movement" or "freedom of establishment" provisions of the treaties, will be able to retain that "acquired right".

There may be some details around the margins that have to be settled, but so absolute is this that there can be no question about Grieve's stance, which has to be an example of quite irresponsible – and deliberate - scare-mongering.

Nevertheless, Grieve is partly right when he says that, "The requirements of any free trade agreement would make British removal from the clauses dealing with freedom of movement impossible", then adding: that a "curious consequence" of this would be that "the single biggest cause of domestic irritation with the EU, immigration, would remain unaltered".

Certainly, we would have to concede some degree of free movement, and especially if we rejoined the EEA, although we would be in a far better position, given the "safeguard clause", which would allow us to suspend this provision.

Talking of the possibility of withdrawal, he then complains that: "There is... a total lack of clarity as to how a government would proceed to unravel a relationship that has developed in complexity over more than 40 years", adding: "Which parts of the several thousand pieces of EU legislation that are currently incorporated into our own statute law would be retained?"

We can answer that with Flexcit, except that Mr Grieve is more interested in rhetoric than he is in answers, so he can afford to ignore what we say. But, as Complete Bastard points out, he would be less able to get away with his fatuous points if Ukip had come up with a credible exit plan which addressed points such as these.

With some Ukip supporters telling us that such detail is not necessary, at least Grieve does us a favour by illustrating how important it is that we have a "campaign manual" which addresses the FUD. Doubtless, though, that lesson will be lost on Ukip – and most of the "eurosceptic" community – which seems to prefer to give the Dominic Grieve's of this world a free pass.


Richard North 19/03/2015
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 EU referendum: a descent into madness

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In the manner of a stopped clock occasionally being right, even Conservative Home has managed to make a sensible comment about the Farage call for a 2015 referendum. It reads:
If you ever feel the urge to run a failed Out campaign in an in/out referendum on Britain's membership of the EU, here’s how to do it in two easy steps.

First, make Out-ism all about immigrants and foreigners. Indelibly associate it with gripes about how many people speak English on your train to work, mutter about abolishing protection from racial discrimination in the workplace, stuff your mouth full of dog-whistles and blow until you can blow no more. 
Neglect to make a positive case for replacing the protectionist, monolithic, anti-democratic EU with an outward-looking, free-trading approach to the whole world. Provide no messages to the wavering, softly eurosceptic millions other than those which confirm the fears raised by the "in" camp's scare-mongering.
Second, having built such a poor platform, insist on an immediate EU referendum. In return for your support for a minority government, demand a vote on a time scale that provides for no campaign period beyond a couple of weeks, no time to build a big Out coalition across party lines and no opportunity for anyone to undo the damage your focus on foreigners has done to distract from the positive case for independence.

Of course, while such an approach is a recipe for failure in a referendum, it may simultaneously be a recipe for maximising support for your party among the 20 percent or so of voters whom you hope will hand you the greatest partisan advantage, and to hell with the impact on our chances of actually leaving the EU. But to make that trade, you'd have to put party before country – and that would be wrong. Wouldn't it?
What's missing, of course, is any idea that a 2015 referendum is impossible, but then you have to take what you get from CH. Better late to the feast than not at all.

However, Civitas also offers a reasoned analysis on the same theme. It is very much worth reading, pointing to the damaging effect of Farage's move. But it is a measure of how far Farage has departed from reality that, despite the absurdity of his position, he has repeated his call, telling the Telegraph: "The EU is facing an existential crisis and, given that it only takes a few weeks to launch and organise a referendum, it should be held in 2015".

For the many years that I have known Farage, I have never seen him exhibit quite this degree of detachment from the real world - "it only takes a few weeks to launch and organise a referendum". This is barking mad. No serious politician could ever say something quite so stupid – even if it takes a pretty stupid journalist actually to publish it. 

Strangely, a piece by Reuters tends to confirm this surreal detachment. The Agency records Farage's response to a question about his health, having him says, "it's fine", then adding: "I have lived a very clean lifestyle so I like to think I am reaping the dividends". As the man said, "you can't be serious".

As for the media, currently, there is currently a certain manic quality to the coverage, particularly from the Telegraph which, having puffed The Great Leader's poundshop Mein Kampf, failing to note - as did Boiling Frog - TGL's ability to produce his personal statement when his party is unable to deliver a manifesto.

Not content with this, though, the Telegraph is also sucking up the Europhilia from Open Europe. Bizarrely, it then runs an editorial that ends up telling us that Cameron is right to seek "reform" of the EU because the OE crapologists assert that the Norway "model" doesn't work. Even the term "model" rather than "Norway Option" is a distortion, designed to confuse rather than inform - again as pointed out by the redoubtable Boiling Frog.

In fact, the paper's treatment of this issue is more than bizarre - it is downright sinister. There have been two high quality studies on the "Norway Option", one from Bruges Group and the other from Civitas, yet neither were given any coverage by it, nor the media in general. Yet any amount of tat opposing the option goes straight in. It takes no imagination at all to work out that there is an agenda here.

Thus, if you want sense from the media, go elsewhere. In this instance, you could try looking to Russia Today, which relays David Cameron's views of Farage's stupidity, saying that the chances of holding a referendum in 2015 were "pretty slim". Even on this, though, Cameron is being pathetically weak. He should be slapping down the stupidity, making it absolutely clear that Farage is on his way to madness.

Perhaps this is the real story. Ukip is now dipping to 12 percent in the latest YouGov poll, on a downward trend, and Farage is a wasting asset. Yet the Conservatives are being run ragged. Cameron needs to grasp the nettle. He should stop running scared of Ukip and deliver the coup de grace.


Richard North 18/03/2015
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 EU regulation: incompetence on every side

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I have to say that I'm getting a little tired of the sheer silliness for the Open Europe children, and of their feline dishonesty – to say nothing of the gullibility of the media. And splattered over the Guardian is an example of media gullibility, with the headline, "EU exit: 'Norway option' would leave UK with 94% of current costs – thinktank", presented as if it was something new, special or even accurate.

The source is a trivial piece of work, picked over by the drooling City Am, which seeks to tell us that the Norway Option is a bad idea, because: "94 percent of the cost associated with the most burdensome EU rules would remain in place but the cost would be even harder to cut, since Norway has no formal voting powers over EU rules".

The point, of course, is that if these drivellers had actually bothered to read Flexcit (and were able to understand it), they would see that our exit plan – adopting the Norway Option as the first part – is economically neutral. The actual regulatory costs would be 100 percent of those borne under EU membership, as we remain in the EEA and repatriate the entire EU acquis.

As to the absence of formal voting on the part of Norway, we are seeing Open Europe creep away from their claim that "Britain would still be subject to EU regulations on employment and financial services but with no formal ability to shape them", and their alternative, that Britain would have "no formal political influence" over the Single Market rules. 

Nevertheless, we see OE continue to ignore regional and global regulation, and the way EFTA/EEA members have greater influence over it than EU members. And while its thoroughly dishonest stance has been fully aired on this blog, it this type of propaganda is an indication of what we are going to have to deal with in any referendum campaign.

The current effort includes OE listing the "top hundred" of supposedly the "most costly EU-derived regulations in force in the UK", in their attempt to talk up the costs of the "Norway Option". But, unless OE researchers are truly ignorant, then we really are dealing with wilful propaganda, malicious in intent, the aim being nothing else but to deceive.

Dipping into their "top hundred" list illustrates the point. For instance, we see old favourites such as the Motor Vehicles (EC Type Approval) (Amendment) Regulations 2008 implementing Directives 2007/34/EC, 2007/35/EC and 2007/37/EC, plus Regulations (EC) No 706/2007 and 715/2007, with the OE claiming that the annual recurring cost of £1.3 billion a year is wholly attributable to the EU.

Yet, as readers on this blog will already know, the directives and regulations are part of the vehicle type-approval package which implements UNECE regulations – regulations which would remain in force even if we had completely withdrawn from the EU. Furthermore, within the EEA, we would have a vote on new regulations, through the World Forum on the Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations, in Geneva.

Then OE have listed the CRD IV package the cost again attributed to the EU. However, we find the European Banking Authority telling us that the package implements the Basel III agreement. Although OE attributes its recurring £4.6 billion cost to "EU regulation", it is attributable almost entirely to international "quasi-legislation".

Another item on the OE list is the UK Renewable Energy Strategy which, although implementing Directive 2009/28/EC, is also mandated by the Climate Change Act. Both Directive and Act are variously implementing the Kyoto and subsequent international agreements. To attribute the £4.7 billion cost to "EU regulation" is wholly misleading – the polite way of saying "a lie". OE is peddling lies.

Even where we see the genuine application of EU law, as in the Genetically Modified Food (England) Regulations 2004, and two other Regulations, to attribute the cost to the EU is also misleading. Outside the EU, we would almost certainly have identical legislation, with exactly the same costs.

I am not going to trouble you with further examples from the OE list, but the point is made that significant costs attributed to the EU do not stem from EU initiatives. We would carry them whether we were in or out of the EU, "Norway Option" notwithstanding.

But, if the OE argument is false, and repeatedly so, so too is much of the propaganda from the "other side". That criticism applies especially to Ukip, Business for Britain and many others in the anti-EU movement- all of those which, to a greater or lesser extent assert that there would be immediate savings in regulatory costs arising from leaving the EU.

The trouble is that EU regulation, and how much money we may or may not save from leaving the EU, constitute the type of "biff-bam" arguments that the media love to report. But the two sides getting bogged down in such arcane details is precisely the wholesale turn-off for the general public that we need to avoid. If we are going to make any progress, the economic issues should be neutralised and "parked", not endlessly chewed over by a bunch of hyperactive think-tank wonks and ill-briefed politicians.

What we are seeing, therefore, is incompetent campaigning from both sides – although the need to overcome the status quo effect imposes greater demands on the "out" campaign. Equal incompetence means we lose. Either way, though, the anti-EU movement is being poorly served. And if we can't even trash the OE nonsense, we deserve everything we get.


Richard North 17/03/2015
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 EU referendum: some personal observations

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The exact choice of words could be left to the reader but, to me, there seems to me to be an element of wilful stupidity in those journalists (and the editors) who take seriously the prospect of a 2016 EU referendum.

Yet, after the initial kite-flying by Andrew Marr in January, The Sunday Times in early February tried out the idea, and the Express made an utter fool of itself on the issue a few days later. But now, untarnished by reality, that paper is still clinging to the idea, despite David Cameron telling the Financial Times that a 2016 referendum isn't on the cards. He expects it will take longer "because there are quite a lot of moving parts".

That same message is repeated in the Guardian, thus reaffirming a truth which anyone with any understanding of the issues knows has to be the case.

But if advocating a 2016 referendum is wilful stupidity, advocating something that cannot – and therefore isn't going to - happen, how does one describe the proposal in Nigel Farage's poundshop Mein Kampf? There, he goes one step further and demands a referendum in 2015, as the price of his cooperation with the Conservatives after the election.

If serious, any such demand is beyond stupidity. If he is not serious, maybe he is setting the hurdle for political cooperation so high that Cameron will not deal. But why play such games? If Farage does not want cooperation, he should come out and say so.

But it then gets even worse, with a suggestion for a referendum question that is utterly bizarre:  "Do you wish to be a free, independent sovereign democracy?" Apart from being  so ambiguous that it would not stand a chance of getting adopted, he is seriously muddled about the nature of sovereignty. He should read last three paragraphs here, and then note who wrote them.

For me, though, this creates a serious personal issue here. Consistently, I am told by my critics that I should be reaching out to groups such as Ukip, assisting them in the fight, rather than constantly attacking them. Yet, I see Farage - not for the first time - making wholly unrealistic demands for early referendum, having blocked the development of a coherent exit plan, thus rendering his party woefully unprepared to fight any referendum, much less an early one.

Here, I am reminded of the old joke about Saul who for many weeks beseeched his God to let him win the lottery. One Friday, after yet another session of wailing, the skies darkened, and a bolt of lightning struck the ground in front of Saul's feet. Then, from the Heavens, a voice boomed out, "Saul! Saul! Meet me half way. Buy a f*****g ticket!".

And that, our course, is the essential requirement for any meaningful cooperation. Ukip members do not make up the majority of those who oppose UK membership of the EU, and nor is it the only group campaigning for an exit.

If Mr Farage was at all interested in cooperation, therefore, he needs to be talking to us, the majority, identifying common ground and coordinating action. He cannot launch an initiative or idea that no one else could possibly follow, then expect us all to fall in behind him, like children following some latter-day pied piper. 

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The evidence thus strongly suggests that Mr Farage isn't in the least interested in cooperating with other groups – or even talking to them. And it is not possible to work with people or groups who show no interest in working with others, and are not prepared to meet other groups half-way.

With that in mind, one wonders what to make of this in the New Statesman, which reminds us that there is potentially another game in town:
The Out campaign has all-but-decided on its best line-up for the battle to come, and already exists in utero in the shape of Business for Britain, a sharp-elbowed and media-savvy think tank headed by Matthew Elliott that has quietly put together a team of able advocates for a European exit. To make matters worse for pro-Europeans, it is likely that when the campaign moves out of cover it will be bolstered by veterans from the Taxpayers' Alliance and the No to AV campaign - a sort of right-wing, anti-European version of the Avengers.
From a "left wing" publication, this might be taken as hyperbole, except that Mr Elliott has made no secret of his ambition to take over the "out" campaign. This is simply confirmation of that which has been aired for some considerable time and openly admitted in private meetings.

In strict terms, however, this is not for the "out" campaign to decide. If Mr Elliott believes that he is equipped to lead the campaign, then he is entitled, like the rest of us, to apply to the Electoral Commission for designation as a lead campaigner. But that is all. The Electoral Commission decides - not a self-serving, London-based claque. 

Furthermore, to take the lead, says the Electoral Commission, the groups ("in" and "out") must "adequately represent those campaigning for each outcome". Because of this, it advises potential applicants "to consider forming an umbrella organisation with other groups who are campaigning for the outcome you support".

So far, Elliott has shown no sign of creating such a group and nor has he discussed with other campaigning groups the possibility of forming such a group. Nor has he responded to invitations from other groups. Now, the suggestion that he will be putting in his own people from the Taxpayers' Alliance and the No to AV campaign is confirming fears that he intends to exclude other organisations and players.

Most of all, though, it is Elliott's presumption which has sounded alarm bells amongst numerous groups and activists, who – on the basis of past experience - have good reason to fear exclusion. In legal and constitutional terms, he has no business in presenting himself as a putative leader.

Once again, though, we get suggestions that we should "work" with Elliott and his allies except that, as with Ukip, even more serious problems arise. In the first instance, Business for Britain is not committed to leaving the EU. Currently, it argues on a "negotiation and reform" platform, proposing a raft of changes that could not be achieved without major treaty change as its price for remaining in the EU.

Under no circumstances, therefore, can Mr Cameron deliver on BfB's agenda, in which event we are led to believe that Mr Elliott and his friends will turn round and campaign for withdrawal.

The obvious pitfall here is that the negotiations will probably not be concluded until well into the referendum campaign, which thus requires that campaigners sit on their hands (or soft-pedal) until Mr Cameron comes back from Brussels with his "piece of paper", and there has been an opportunity to evaluate the deal.

Apart from anything else, we end up fighting on detail rather than on principles, which is a sure-fire way of losing the campaign. Even Elliott agrees that both sides "will want to put a positive message at the heart of their campaigns". Yet all he has to offer is a completely unrealistic "reform" package and a "wait and see" strategy. In tactical terms, this is suicide. We need to be presenting our "positive vision" right now. 

Needless to say, this presents me personally - and anyone else, with a vested interest in winning the referendum - with a clear, unavoidable choice. Both high profile groups claiming some form of "ownership" of the debate are offering losing strategies. And since they are not interested in changing them and have rejected any input from outsiders, we cannot support them. 

Even if wanted to, they would not let us on any terms except their own, and that is unacceptable. None of us have come all this way to buy into a losing strategy. Sadly, therefore, logic dictates that we cannot even take a neutral stance. If Ukip and BfB are determined to lose the referendum (by act or default), conscience requires that, in addition to mounting our own campaign, we must oppose theirs.

That is the logical position. It might be personally damaging, because it is always easier to go with a flow. But I really cannot in all conscience take instruction or direction from a self-serving politician or a man who hadn't been born in 1975, during the last referendum, and has never yet held down a proper job.


Richard North 16/03/2015
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 Asylum: down at the dirty end

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At the beginning of the week, we saw reports of a United Nations condemnation of Australia's asylum policy – speficially its treatment of the so-called "boat people". This was met with a typically robust rebuttal from Tony Abbott, who complained about being "lectured" by the UN.

These episodes made for an interesting, if not stark, comparison with a later report which asked whether "letting Syrian refugees drown in the Med to deter others" was now UK policy.

Arguably, it is not. The Mediterranean region is no longer a British sphere of interest, even if we made it so when we undertook joint actions against Libya. The primary responsibility rests with the maritime states, and especially Italy, Greece, and of course, Turkey.

But dealing with the traditional small boats is only part of the equation. Some of the wealthier refugees have taken to hiring the services of people smugglers to produce larger cargo ships, mainly out of Turkish porst, delivering people by their hundreds to [mainly] Italy.

Now, there has been a major development, with a report of a Turkish coastguard cutter opening fire to stop a cargo vessel carrying 337 mainly Syrian migrants, including 85 children and 68 women,.heading towards the waters of EU member states.

Coastguards had launched an operation to chase down the 180-ft Istanbul registered Dogan Kartal as it headed through the Dardanelles straits, initially ignoring calls to stop, including warning shots. It was eventually forced to halt when the coastguards fired on the engines.

No more details seem to have been released, but there is bound to be more to this than we have currently been told. With the Turkish authorities having so far shown little enthusiasm for tracking and hunting down people smugglers, for this suddenly to happen suggests there has been some back-room deal.

Turkey, in intercepting these people, now bears the considerable cost of looking after them, and is also sending a message to other potential refugees not to attempt the journey – further adding to the country's already considerable costs in accommodating Syrian refugees.

If Turkey has been offered some financial assistance, or some other incentive, then this would be a measure of where Europe's real border controls start. Some of those migrants might easily have found their way to the UK, and that is where our controls also start.

This is something the Ukip zealots need to come to terms with. If asylum seekers arrive on our doorstep, under the terms of the 1951 Refugee Convention (and 1967 Protocol), we are obliged to accept them. Returning them to their point of entry in Europe is notoriously difficult and most end up being given leave to remain.

Furthermore, for those who do escape the net, and end up in Calais or other Channel ports, we have the facility afforded by neighbouring countries to post our own immigration officers to prevent potential migrants embarking without papers. If countries such as France and Belgium withdrew their cooperation, and even started waving asylum seekers through, we would be in serious trouble.

All of this underlines the simple fact that we cannot manage asylum policy on our own. We are not Australia – we can't intercept the ships in Turkish waters, and we don't have convenient islands on which we can dump our unwanted humanity. Like or not, we need "Europe" and countries such as Turkey – and more than they need us.


Richard North 14/03/2015
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 UKIP: the dimmest of the dim

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With Farage having landed himself in hot water, once again, his lacklustre cult masquerading as a party is trying to run interference by complaining of a job advertisement by Oceanwide Vlissingen for riggers and forklift operators, to work on a project in the UK.

Warming to its task, the party/cult tells us that the advertisement for a "UK project" demands that applicants are of "Baltic nationality", giving a platform to Farage to whinge that: "It is this sort of anti-British worker discrimination that shows the disadvantage that British workers are facing in the jobs market".

This is then reinforced by a boilerplate quote from Jane Collins, UKIP's employment spokesman. She says:
It is a sad indictment of government that we are importing labour from the Baltic States to fill UK vacancies, when we still have 1.9 million people unemployed. This is a prime example of what UKIP has been saying about British jobs for British people, as it is simply ridiculous that only employees from the Baltic States should staff a UK project.
However, as Complete Bastard points out, what the Ukip muppets have done is get hold of the English-language version of the advert published by the company's St Peterburg office, which recruits both Russian and Eastern European (i.e., Baltic) seamen for a variety of tasks.

As is customary for all agencies recruiting in this catchment area of mixed nationalities comprising Russians and some EU citizens, when advertising for jobs in the EEA, potential Russian applicants have to be excluded. They are not entitled to take up work there. Thus, as can be readily discerned from multiple websites, such jobs bear the legend "Baltic nationality" or sometimes "Baltic nationality only", this being more tactful than "no Russians", which is what it actually means.

The same jobs are also advertised on a Russian site with a contact point in Ukraine, bearing the standard legend, "Baltic nationality only". Elsewhere, though, on sites advertising within the EU area, the requirement is for "EU nationality", with not a hint of the "discrimination" of which Farage wrongly complains.

How absolutely typical it is of Ukip to get the wrong end of the stick, and even then it still manages to contradict itself. As the Guardian happily points out, the advert by Oceanwide Vlissingen would be "illegal under the EU laws Farage is complaining about, which say that all EU citizens have to be treated equally".

But, of course, this particular advert and the many like it would never be illegal, as they are directed to applicants outside the EU, where discrimination between EEA and other nationalities is permitted. In effect, "Baltic nationality" is anti-Russian, protecting the jobs of the British (and other citizens of EU member states) from the foreign hordes.

All we are left with then is another example of Ukip under-performing, adequate testimony as to why you wouldn't even trust the party with a TV remote.


Richard North 13/03/2015
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 EU exit: the other side is even worse

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While Farage is dragging the Ukip agenda further and further away from the task of leaving the EU, the exit debate continues without him, and with a remarkable intensity, leaving the ostensibly anti-EU party entirely without a voice on the issue.

Latest into the lists is Mark Leonard's European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), with a paper on the "British problem" and an analysis so trite that we are able to take some comfort from it. However bad our lot might be, Mr Leonard and his friends are even worse in their understanding of the issues.

Leonard is one of those "pro-Europeans" who insists on calling members of the anti-EU movement "Europhobes" – mildly irritating but harmless, and a usage that actually demeans him, revealing him as the petty-minded individual that he really is.

Actually, to call his analysis "trite" is something of a compliment. He tells us that the "risk of Brexit" is not driven by a Eurosceptic public but by a "Europhobic elite" that has conflated immigration with Europe and then, totally off-beam, argues that "Britain's Europhobes have a powerful intellectual framework", as well as "wealthy backers, and advocates in the media, the House of Commons, and even the Cabinet".

Would indeed that there was a "powerful intellectual framework", especially when Mr Leonard asserts, in his report, the single reference to intellectualism is in a reference to "the biggest triumph of UKIP". This, he asserts, has been to fuse the European issue with migration – arguing that the EU has taken away domestic control of Britain's borders.

In an interview last year, we are told, Farage conceded that he struggled for years to work out how to make Euroscepticism a popular cause before he got hold of immigration as the way to make it connect: "These things did seem to be rather intellectual debates rather than things that were affecting everyday lives", he said.

In other words, Mr Leonard is saying that it was not until Farage broke away from the "rather intellectual debates" that he managed to make "euroscepticism" work for him. The great pro-European thus contradicts his own thesis. If Ukip is "eurosceptic", it is also anti-intellectual.

Cutting through the blether, however, there is one section which could help us in our work on devising a suitable exit plan – something the anti-intellectual Ukip has still not got round to doing.

Under the sub-heading, "Brexit fallout and contagion" we learn that, around the EU, there is "a widespread fear" of four elements. Of these, one is that "Europe" without Britain would be "smaller and poorer". The EU would miss the practical application of a well-oiled government machine that has helped drive forward European integration, and leaving the EU would have an "immediate impact on the UK's immediate neighbours" – such as Ireland.

What I find particularly interesting, though, is the first of the elements identified, which is given a lengthy treatment. In this, there is concern about "the chaos unleashed by a Brexit", and in particular, "the thousands of hours that would need to go into re-writing laws and negotiating new terms". "Untying the links between the UK and its closest partners", Leonard adds: "would consume a huge amount of political and bureaucratic energy".

Here, it is just as well that the "great pro-European" hasn't read Flexcit (not that, on current form, he'd understand it), for it keeps him in ignorance of the answer to that problem, which has us adopting the Norway Option, and repatriating the EU acquis – as an interim option – which minimises the administrative burden.

This brings to mind the crucial issue of "absorption capacity", which I deal with in Flexit - a measure of the ability of a system to absorb change.

Obviously, Leonard would be right if, as he believes will happen, the UK looks for a de novo free trade agreement with the EU, then the burden will be huge. But if, for the time being, we adopt our "off-the-shelf" solution, the amount of effort required is minimised.

It is encouraging, therefore, that we already have answers to the concerns that could well be voiced in any EU referendum, even if – as Boiling Frog points out, the "out" side is less than unified in coming together to adopt a winning strategy to leave.

That came from Mr Frog after a lunch with White Wednesday, who then offered this comment to our previous post:
My frustration [on this] … can easily come over as "why can't we all just be friends?" i.e., the big tent stuff you refer to. But it is only a big tent in the sense of a meeting point to debate and challenge. I'm not one for some woolly consensus that fails to satisfy anyone. The anti-EU movement doesn't so much look like a spectrum of views but a line of islands separated by shark-infested waters ... move to the consensus space in between and you get eaten alive.
At least now, though, we can take it that the pro-EU lobby is unaware of our [necessary] disunity, and that we already have answers to most of their major concerns.

In conclusion, it is worth noting that one of Leonard's concerns is that, with the UK leaving, the diminution of the existing EU would have a corrosive effect on international perceptions of the EU. After the "no" vote on the Constitutional treaty the EU went from seeming like a rising power to a failing project, and this would reinforce that perception.

However, this comes just as Iceland has formally decided to drop its application to join the EU – thus deciding to keep within the terms of the EEA and to cooperate with the EU as it has done previously.

What's good enough for Iceland – from which we can learn a great deal, and where Flexcit has been avidly read - is more than good enough for the UK. The EU need only be seen as a "failing project" if it lacks the capability to adjust to the new reality, where cooperation rather than political union becomes the watchword.


Richard North 13/03/2015
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 Asylum: the poisoned well

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I spoke slightly too soon the other day in remarking that only the Guardian had picked up on the EU asylum initiative. Even as I was writing, the Express was producing a front page story on the issue, which appeared last Saturday.

Typically of this repulsive newspaper, though, it runs with the headline "New migrant flood on way", with the sub-heading: "Outrage after EU warns Britain to prepare for more foreigners", thus presenting a completely distorted and alarmist view of the development, without in any way explaining what is really involved, and why the EU has launched its initiative.

Nevertheless, while there is no question in my mind about how wrong this newspaper is, on all counts, to explain exactly why requires complex and lengthy arguments.

From the end of last year, I decided to research the asylum question, and to get to the bottom of the issues, only to find layers of complexity that I had not even begun to appreciate. As a result, it took me almost the end of February, a full three months, before I was confident enough to write an analysis. This, I included in the latest edition of Flexcit and even that is the short version, the full-length (and as-yet unfinished) analysis running to over 120 pages.

The end point of this work, though, is not encouraging. As with other issues – not least EU regulation – the complexity and the intractable nature of the issues makes me wonder whether it is actually possible to have a rational debate.

Not only is the level of ignorance is so profound, that the various protagonists and commentators aren't even beginning to address the issues, much less understand them, the majority seem already to have their rooted ideas and are not disposed to change them.

Nevertheless, as I had already been toying with a general analytical piece on the issue of asylum, I thought the Express story might provide a topical hook on which to hang a blogpost.

Having spent a couple of days on the drafting, though, I seem to be no further forward than when I started. The piece is not only proving difficult to write, as it touches on so many aspects of contemporary politics and the associated public discourse, it also started getting very long and tortuous, so much so that it is never going to attract an audience.

I started by arguing that, before one can addressing the specifics of the Express story – and the "asylum" debate in general – it was necessary to have a minimum level of understanding of the basics, and in particular an understanding of the legal framework in which Member States and EU institutions operate.

It had to be understood that the framework was set by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and extended by the 1951 UN Convention on the treatment of refugees and the 1967 Protocol. But, not only did any potential critic have to be familiar with these instruments, they also needed to understand the role of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and the influence of judge-made law from the Court of Human Rights. And then there must be some familiarity with EU law, and specifically the Dublin Regulation.

To add to those basics, I considered it also essential to know something of the background to the formulation and development of asylum policy and its implementation, at national and EU levels, over the last thirty years or so. Only that would equip anyone to deal with the Express story, and understand why it was so wrong.

However, conveying those details is not going to happen in one blogpost. Not for nothing does the short version of the analysis in Flexcit run to 25 pages (see page 134). Summarising the detail in a few pages on a blog is simply not possible – not for me, at any rate.

But then, if I can't deal with the likes of a story that claims that Britain, "could be forced to accept a new surge of migrants under Brussels plans to set up refugee processing centres in Africa and the Middle East", what chance is there of dealing with the myriad of stories that are going to get thrown at us in any referendum campaign.

Yet, dealing with such stories is going to be essential. The point at issue – in this particular case – is that, under the circumstances, there is a certain logic to the EU proposal, and to many people, the approach the Commission intends to take may seem reasonable. Furthermore, it might actually lead to a significant cut in the number of "irregular migrants" that the UK will have to process – the very opposite of what the Express is claiming.

What the paper is suggesting is that the Commission's idea of "refugee centres" – close to the countries from which most refugees originate - will allow illegal immigrants access to the UK, giving hope "to bogus refugees who previously would have had to journey thousands of miles to make their claims".

In fact, though, the idea of these offshore refugee processing centres is not at all new, and not without merit. Interestingly, one of those who proposed them was Tony Blair in 2003, on the back of a Home Office paper.

At the time, though, the idea got a lukewarm response from the EU, although it was later picked up by Germany, with the support of Italy, for discussion at EU level. However, it was blocked first by Spanish Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso, on "humanitarian" grounds, and then by France's Dominique de Villepin.

Unable to progress by this route, it was nevertheless resuscitated by the then Conservative leader, Michael Howard, who put immigration and asylum at the heart of the 2005 general election campaign. He strongly advocated almost exactly what we are seeing in the Commission proposal.

The crucial difference in the Howard proposal, though, is that – as a practising barrister - he recognised that offshoring asylum-seeker processing could not be done within the framework of the 1951 Refugee Convention, and he thus promised that a new Conservative government would withdraw from it.

On that basis, his administration would have flown asylum seekers to the designated refugee centres, and would only have allowed a limited number, on humanitarian grounds, to enter Britain, in a controlled and predictable stream.

The great value of this system would be that only genuine refugees would be admitted, leaving economic migrants (usually the majority of asylum seekers) the choice of either remaining in the refugee centres, or returning to their homelands. This is precisely the system being adopted by the Australians to deal with their "boat people" and, so far, it seems to be effective.

Where in my view the Australian system is more than a little dubious is that the current Abbott government is by-passing the 1951 Convention, without confronting the need to withdraw from (or heavily amend) this instrument.

But, if in principle, we wished to follow, not only is it likely that we would have to withdraw from the 1951 Convention, we would also have to withdraw from the EU. It has embedded the principles of the 1951 Convention in the Charter of Fundamental Rights – together with a right to asylum – which now part of the Lisbon Treaty and thereby forms part of EU law, which which we have to conform.

When we come to the Express story, though, we see the paper asking us to assume that setting up refugee processing centres in Africa and the Middle East necessarily attracts "bogus refugees" who will no longer have to travel "thousands of miles" to the UK to make their claims.

Instead, we are encouraged to assume that they will be given free passes to enter the UK and be transported to that location, thus allowing Ukip MEP Gerard Batten to assert: "We have already been swamped, now we have to prepare for a deluge".

Just to cement in this canard, we then get Alp Mehmet, of Migration Watch, saying: "This is a half-baked idea that will only add to the problems the UK and other European countries have with illegal immigration. All these centres will do is act as a magnet for more people who want to come to Britain".

Thus is a huge opportunity lost. Not only does the newspaper fail to further our understanding of the asylum issue, and welcome what is probably the only long-term way of dealing with it, it also loses the chance of pointing out the flaws in the Commission proposal and why, to implement it, we must leave the EU.

The worst of it all, though, is that it puts "eurosceptics" apparently at odds. We have the Ukip faction, condemning something without even beginning to understand it, while airing the contrary case is too long and tedious to have any popular appeal.

Yet, as I have pointed out many times, the default position of the anti-EU movement is that we lose the referendum. This will be largely because so many campaigners and activists are promoting tired, inadequately researched nostrums. Unless we address these inadequacies, the "default position" will become the reality.

The really big problem, though, is how we even start breaking down the tidal wave of ignorance that is engulfing us and poisoning the well of political discourse.


Richard North 09/03/2015
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 UK politics: tedium the new black

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As we run into the general election period, there are growing indications that the public boredom threshold has already been crossed, with people retreating from the campaign in their droves.

With the top political news being whether or not Mr Cameron is going to take part in a one-on-one debate with Ed Miliband, there is a level of unreality which is hard to come to terms with. One wonders how, with so much at stake, how such trivia could dominate the agenda.

But even that competes with the headlines reporting how Farage has been told by one of his adoring supporters that he had been "sent by the Messiah" to protect us from the EU.

Against this, one is left asking what it takes to get serious issues on the agenda, or whether even the media or the public are actually capable of serious discussion any more – and whether it is even worth trying to raise serious issues.

I'm minded to recall a piece earlier in the week by James Delingpole in the Mail, on the supposed "EU ban" of halogen light bulbs.

It would have taken little effort to establish that, in fact, there are no current plans (or any) to ban low voltage lamps – which accounts for most installations. And there are adequate replacements for high-voltage lamps – bulbs with integral transformers which can be used with existing fittings.

In fact, halogen lamps are interim technology, and relatively recent in large-scale domestic use. The end state is the LED lamp and these are coming down in price. Low energy and with long life, these will square the circle, providing high quality light at affordable cost.

Had the Mail set out the real issues, there would have been no story – but real issues isn't the media game. They give their readers what they want to hear, and if the truth gets in the way, then the truth goes. But one also gets the sense that the readers don't want the truth anyway. They go for the stories they want to hear.

Thus the modus operandi becomes the likes of Business for Britain going for the easy shot, selling a false bill of goods in order to grab the easy headlines from a gullible press, too shallow to check the accuracy of what they are given.

Much the same is happening in the immigration debate. We see a veritable torrent of material but, yet when the European Commission makes an important contribution to the debate, it is only the Guardian that reports it. Shallowness becomes the watchword.

Even the election analysis rests on the slender foundation of a "leading expert" who fails to distinguish between a genuine political party and a cult. What party ever had a (male) member inscribing a heart, professing undying love to "Nige" (pictured), only then almost to get trapped by the tide.

Grown-up analysts, however, are reading the runes. But the analysis is not to be found in the media, a welcome relief from what the Sage of Seaham calls "tittle-tattle". But, if shallowness is the new reality, then we will have to adapt. The question is, though, whether a bored public even cares any more. Tedium, it would seem, is the new black.


Richard North 07/03/2015
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 EU Referendum: we need a better vision

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Some might suppose that we would "walk through" the latest Farage statement on immigration, except that the only question to ask is: why is this news? Making it up as he goes is not going to get Farage anywhere near a sniff of power, so his latest U-turn is of very little long-term relevance.

In fact the only thing of any interest that Farage managed to say yesterday was: "You cannot have anything in politics without people obsessing over caps and targets and I think people are bored of it".

Of real relevance in the longer term, however, is the vexed question of "over-regulation" which has been briefly in the headlines. But, except for those who are most engaged in seeking to "expand the envelope", the details would also be regarded as "boring" by most people.

Supposedly one of the skills of the media, though, is the ability to take ostensibly boring detail and put it into a context that makes it interesting, accessible and relevant – and even entertaining. But, such is the nature of the modern media that it is no longer up to the job – if it ever was.

This still leave the essential issues to address, which are very far from boring, and which strike at the heart of the way we are governed. One of those is that the blind mantra of "EU red tape" harming industry, one of those memes that has been doing the rounds for over twenty years.  It is one that, in fact, is way past its sell-by date and one which is no longer of any great service to the anti-EU movement.

For sure, there are many business interests which will complain about over-regulation, usually out of narrow self-interest. If there is financial advantage to be gained, they will argue against regulation, whether it is necessary or not. And if there is advantage to be gained from making the EU the whipping boy, then those self-same business interests will jump on any passing bandwagon.

Yet, for the ordinary voting public, the regulation of business is not that unpopular – most will be largely indifferent to it, or vaguely in favour. And, when it comes to the "banksters" and other malefactors, regulation is more popular than not. Anyone seeking to sell a ticket of cutting regulation on business is going to gain less traction than they might otherwise imagine.

On the other hand, there is some logic in the EU mantra of having 28 sets of regulation replaced by a single set. For exporters, trading across the Community, this does substantially ease business, it does promote trade and, even according to independent academic studies, does reduce costs. To that extent, there is some research to indicate that regulation is a trade lubricant, and the trade in regulated products is higher than in those where there is no regulatory control.

Furthermore, according to such studies, in certain sectors, differences in [national] standards do have a significant negative effect on trade - which is why, of course, industry spends so much time lobbying for regulation, and assists in it formulation, funding studies and providing sector experts. They are aware of what the WTO points out, that so-called "non-tariff measures" – some arising from the lack of harmonisation - "can be as trade-restrictive as tariffs, and even more so in the case of certain high- and middle-income countries".

As the other half of the Booker-North duo who virtually invented the "EU red tape" meme some twenty years ago, I perhaps have a better grasp of this than most. The issue has never been one of regulation per se. It was mostly one of poor regulation, our catchphrase, "the sledgehammer to miss the nut". Then, a major part of the problem was enforcement - the "Mad Officials" who misapplied the law or who were clumsy in its application, creating unnecessary burdens.  

Arguably, therefore – and this is precisely what I do argue – the "red tape" agenda is not going to win us the referendum battle. At best it will capture the support of some in the business community – and the opposition of others. With skilfully exploited FUD, the agenda could backfire on the "out" campaign. If we left the EU without making the appropriate provision, for instance, we would no longer have any hygiene control on food shops, factories and restaurants. 

Nevertheless, in campaigning terms, the arguments that the pro-EU lobby uses can be turned to our advantage. They argue that a single set of regulations for 28 EU member states makes for more and cheaper trade. This is not a problem. That effect must be even greater with standards common to all 160 WTO members, and that is where we should be.

Since so many standards are now made at global level, we would be far better off breaking out of the constraints of "little Europe" and rejoining the world, where we would have a much more powerful voice in setting the global agenda. The globalisation agenda, that so many seem to be determined to ignore, could work powerfully in our favour, and become a game changer.

On top of this, since global business is carried out on an intergovernmental basis, the benefits to be gained from working together do not carry with them the price of loss of sovereignty, and we are no longer subject to the rule of institutions such as the ECJ.

The point thus, in terms of campaigning, is that we must question the old arguments, the old mantras and the same tired old strategies. If we are going to have the slightest chance of winning, we need fresh ideas and new ways of presenting them. "Globalisation" is one of those ideas. As a campaign tool, EU "red tape" is a relic – we need a better vision.


Richard North 05/03/2015
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 Rotherham: and now for Oxford

After Rotherham, we get the Oxford report - reviewed by Complete Bastard. Notably, we see that five of the seven men convicted of exploiting the girls were of "Pakistani" heritage and the victims were all white British girls, but the report found no evidence that the agencies had not acted because of racial sensitivities.

Then, says the Guardian, the report called on the government to research why the perpetrators of this type of child abuse – which has been seen in Rochdale, Rotherham, Derby, Bristol and Oxfordshire – were predominantly from a Pakistani and/or Muslim heritage. For a start, though, they could read the Independent, and this, this, this and this. It isn't that difficult to work out.The one place you need not go for inspiration though is Ukip.


Richard North 04/03/2015
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 UKIP: spring conference

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It is hard to add to this. There can be little dispute that a credible (or any) manifesto is vital to Ukip's electoral prospects. Thus, by now, even their most ardent supporters must be getting nervous. The party is beyond parody


Richard North 28/02/2015
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 Media: embarrassingly amateur

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If one wonders just how naff the Daily Mail can become, one just needs to visit the headline of their piece on the Ukip spring conference in Margate. There, we are told, the Ukipites were "gatecrashed" by "NAZI dancing troupe goose-stepping through Margate in front of a Second World War tank".

Notwithstanding any other errors, the vehicle in question is not a tank – it is an Abbot FV433 self-propelled gun. And it is not of World War II vintage. It was actually introduced into British Army service in 1965. I remember it well as, about that time, I was nearly flattened by one when it came hurtling down a track on which we had pitched our tent (don't ask).

The identity of the vehicle may be a nerdy point, but details matter - not that Ukip would know the difference. But if you are to have any credibility at all, you get them right.


Richard North 27/02/2015
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