The one good thing about the Ukip manifesto - about which we remarked yesterday – is that it accepted that Article 50 negotiations are the preferred option for arranging our exit from the EU. And 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.
Despite the manifest problems with other aspects of the Ukip manifesto, these two developments are significant, and especially the apparent rejection of the WTO option - the idea that we do not need to negotiate any trade agreements with the EU and can go it alone, under the umbrella of WTO rules. This alone is a major relief, as the enthusiasm for it in some quarters threatens to destabilise the case for EU withdrawal.
One of the converts to this idea is Ruth Lea. She was formerly an advocate of the so-called "Swiss option" (page 27), so she now stands – without explanation - completely at odds with her earlier position. But we have also seen an intervention from Global Britain.
This organisation wrongly believes that major nations such as the USA, India, China, Japan and Australia have no trade agreements with the EU, on which basis it argues that the UK should be free to trade under existing international law using WTO rules. Like Ruth Lea, they believe that when we leave, we do not need to negotiate a trade agreement with the EU.
Their case is built on arguments, as we will see shortly, are fundamentally flawed – resting on an incomplete understanding of how the international trading system works. Thus, although Ukip have stood back from this option, it is still necessary to give it a decent burial.
Lea herself argues that fifty percent of international trade is conducted under WTO rules, without Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs). On that basis, she asserts, this is "not some dreadful, minimum, minority option". But even there, she is wrong. For a start, all trade between WTO members - whether within the ambit of trade agreements or not - is carried out "under WTO rules".
Where she particularly misstates the situation, though, is that the RTA is by no means the only form of trade agreement. A significant volume of trade between developed and less-developed countries is carried out via a different form of agreement, known as preferential trade agreements (PTAs). Nearly 20 years ago, in 1997, these amounted to around 42 percent of trade. Although they have dropped to around 15 percent, that still means that the majority of world trade is conducted under the aegis of bilateral trade agreements.
Interestingly, though, much of the trade liberalisation comes not via bilateral agreements but unilateral tariff reduction. These account for roughly 66 percent of the decline in average tariffs in developing countries during the last two decades. Some 25 percent has come out of the Uruguay Round and only around ten percent has been gained through RTAs.
The gradual decline in tariffs has mean that they are now much less an important barrier to trade than they used to be. This is something which Ruth Lea and Global Britain concede. – as does the Democracy Movement in its latest pamphlet.
It is this decline which they use to legitimise their argument that we do not need to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU, as the classic form of this agreement is directed towards tariff reduction.
This, though, ignores the changes in the way countries have sought to protect their positions, in the absence of tariff wall. As tariffs have diminished in importance, they been replaced by so-called Non-Tariff Measures (NTMs) or Technical Barriers to Trade (TBTs).
These have become far more important than tariffs and are of far more concern to advanced trading countries such as the USA, India, China, Japan and Australia.
Furthermore, they are a growing scourge. In 1995, the WTO received 386 formal notifications of TBTs. By 2013, they had risen to 2,137. Overall, TBTs are estimated to add more than 20 percent to the costs of international trade, against a trade-weighted average of 2.6 percent for goods from third countries sold into the EU Single Market.
Here, on of the most important TBTs are regulatory measures produced by individual nation and by blocs such as the EU. Exporting countries selling manufactured goods to the EU have the particular problem in that they can only place their products on the market when they meet all the applicable requirements and standards required by the EU. Those standards, rather than tariffs, have become the main barriers to trade.
In many countries, this is partially resolved either by all parties adopting common international standards, by exporting countries adopting EU standards as their own, or by agreeing equivalence between similar national standards. This is one of the crucial issues which puts to bed any idea that leaving the EU is going to lead to a bonfire of regulations that the WTO advocates so adore. The world is rushing to achieve regulatory convergence - regulation is now being carried out on a global scale, as a means of reducing trade barriers.
However, this is only part of the problem and, as developed countries have achieved a great deal of regulatory convergence. In many respects, it has become the least of the problems. The most troublesome problem that has emerged is not conformity with regulations (and standards), per se, but the need to verify conformity, through what is called the conformity assessment procedure.
It is here that things can get very complicated and expensive. Unless conformity is verified by an approved body before goods reach the Single Market, they can be required to undergo testing and document checks at the border. Not only can this cause considerable delay, it can lead to the rejection of perfectly sound produce, bringing trade to a halt.
To avoid this happening, exporting countries do two things. First of all they set up their own conformity assessment systems, ones which match the systems in the EU and are at least equivalent to them. Then they seek their recognition of their systems from the EU. And here is the essential point: recognition is done through a special type of trade agreement known as the Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRA). These enable conformity to be checked and approved before the goods are despatched, so that the goods are able to enter the Single Market without further checks.
Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the USA, Israel and Switzerland all have MRAs with the EU. China also formalised an agreement on 16 May 2014. This, and other agreements other agreements on Customs co-operation, considerably eases the flow of trade.
Furthermore, China also tends to resort to the Memorandum of Understanding system, as in here, here and here, agreements which do not have the status of full-blown treaties but which, with a Communist government, have binding effect in their society. And, while each MoU might deal with narrow specifics, collectively they add up to a substantial area of co-operation.
We saw, for instance, the EU-China Cooperation Plan in Agriculture and Rural Development, agreed "under the auspices of the annual bilateral Agricultural Dialogue to enhance cooperation in the fields of sustainable agricultural production, organic agriculture, rural development and agricultural research". This paved the way for the free trade in organic produce between the EU and China.
All such agreements are essential to trade, and they do not represent "free trade" on the model promoted by the WTO advocates. Even without formal RTAs, the trade is highly regulated and controlled by processes that, in themselves, facilitate the flow of goods. The regulations and the agreements are not the barriers - they help remove the barriers.
The important thing to understand, though, is that the MRAs have far more value to the trade between the different nations than the marginal advantages gained by reducing the already residual tariffs. But they are not lodged with the WTO as tariff reductions and thus do not register as free trade agreements.
Only because of this can the likes of Ruth Lea can claim that the EU does not have a trade agreement with China. But in fact, it has multiple agreements - 65 over term, including 13 bilateral agreements, ranging from this on trade and economic co-operation, to this on customs co-operation. None of these are of the simple, tariff reduction variety.
Additionally, China tends to tends to foster multilateral relations, working actively through G20, where it agreed with the EU the 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation. Reinforced by 60 high level and senior officials dialogues on topics including industrial policy, education, customs, social affairs, nuclear energy and consumer protection, this makes for powerful relationships which do not show up on the WTO books.
As to the UK, should we leave the EU, we will be looking to trade under similar conditions to those enjoyed by Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the USA, Israel or Switzerland – and China. The only problem is that, if we choose to rely solely on the WTO option, we will be out in the world without covering MRAs and other complex fabric of agreements that serve to lubricate trade.
To trade with the EU, therefore, we are going to have to negotiate such agreements - trade agreements by any other name – and, for the time being, tap into the EU's ongoing arrangements. The "no negotiation" stance on withdrawal is not tenable. The WTO option, and what is termed by Global Britain as the "free trade option", is a dangerous fantasy. And at least Ukip has recognised that. The rest need to follow.
We could not be bothered to fisk the Conservative manifesto – so low are our expectations. All we needed from them is to promise us a referendum and abide by the result. And that's what we got, with the added bonus of a commitment to repeal the Human Rights Act.
Ukip, on the other hand, is the challenger, so there are higher expectations. And since this is supposedly an anti-EU party, one expects it to come up with a comprehensive and realistic policy on the EU. But, given the amateurish nature of Ukip, that was never going to happen and, in their current manifesto, we are not disappointed. This is amateurs' night on stilts.
It starts with Ukip telling us that it believes British citizens should have an in/out referendum on our membership of the EU "as soon as possible" – a throw-back to Farage's stupidity in calling for a referendum this year – heedless of whether we could, or were prepared to fight and able to win.
And in a celebration of its amateur status, it then pushes for the question of choice to be: "Do you wish Britain to be a free, independent, sovereign democracy?” – something so vague and non-specific that it would never be approved by the Electoral Commission or Parliament.
Nevertheless, we have made some small progress. The manifesto explores the scenario following a vote to leave, suggesting we have "two legal options" – one is to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and leave immediately and the other is "to activate Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and notify the European Council that the UK has decided to leave the EU in two years' time".
In fact, we don't have two legal options – we have one – to activate Article 50. And then, that doesn't involve us putting a specific time limit on it. But at least the party goes for the "second option", which "provides for a sensible, orderly exit and this is the option we prefer". This is progress indeed.
Then the amateur tendency comes to the fore. Having activated Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the party says: "we will set a fixed date, two years ahead, on which we intend to leave, while recognising we could leave earlier". But that is not the way Art 50 works. The negotiations end when an agreement is reached – and although one has aspirations on timing, it is unwise to commit to a specific period.
Furthermore, concluding an agreement does not automatically take us out of the EU. It may well be that there is a short transitional period, so that we have a few months to put arrangements in place. We could – by way of an example – conclude an agreement in May 2020, but formally end our membership on 1 January 2021.
To give the party some little credit, though, it does want "amicable negotiations", with the "first step" being to "broker a bespoke UK-EU trade agreement".
But here the plan starts to fall apart. The belief is that the deal could be brokered "possibly within a very short period of time". Yet all the evidence points to a trade agreement taking five years or more – possibly as long as 10-15 years. There is virtually no chance of it being concluded in two years. What does Ukip do then? It has no answers.
Instead, all it has on offer are inherent contradictions. On the William Dartmouth "trade" page, we are told that: "We will continue to trade internationally after Brexit, enjoying the rights inherent in the WTO's 'Most Favoured Nation' (MFN) principle". A few pages later, though, on the "Brexit" page, we are told that "we will secure trade agreements with the EU, the 40 nations with trade agreements with the EU and other nations of interest to us".
As a "G7 member, a leading world economy, the fifth largest by GDP", we are also assured that "this will be a rapid process in most cases". Countries already trading with the EU "will want to continue seamless trade relationships; other world nations will want to forge new trade alliances with the UK; and all nations will find it easier to deal with the UK directly".
There is, of course, a major difference between arrangements where there are trade agreements and those which rely on MFN status. In the latter, we pay tariffs. In the former, trade is largely tariff-free. Yet, apparently, we are to "enjoy" both of these simultaneously.
Confusion, however, quickly descends to dishonesty. "As a minimum", we are told, "we will seek continued access on free-trade terms to the EU's single market. Our custom is valuable to the EU now and will continue to be so following Brexit".
But "access on free-trade terms to the EU's single market" outside EU membership is participation in the EEA by any other name – effectively the "Norway Option". The price of that would most certainly be free movement of people, which is the very thing that Ukip promises will end. The party is trying to have it both ways.
Furthermore, confusion and dishonesty doesn't stop there. "Excessive regulations stream out of Brussels, adding huge administrative and financial burdens to the challenges already faced by small businesses", says Ukip, which then adds: "All this must stop".
The party then goes on to say that fewer than one in ten British businesses trade with the EU, yet 100 percent of them must comply with thousands of EU laws on employment, waste management, environmental regulations, product registration, health and safety and so on. Ukip, therefore, "will repeal EU Regulations and Directives that stifle business growth", it says. It "will get us out of the EU and release enterprise from the strangulation excessive regulation".
One point, of course, is that Single Market access requires conformity with exactly with "the thousands of EU laws on employment, waste management, environmental regulations, product registration, health and safety and so on". Another point is that, under WTO rules on equal treatment, it is not possible to apply one set of rules to imported products, and more relaxed laws to domestic businesses. And nor would the EU permit two-tier regulation to prevail in countries which had Single Market access.
Thus what we have is a thoroughly dishonest - as well as an inconsistent - policy, even without taking into account the complete cop-out on the fishing policy. For solving "discard and landing issues", it offers only that we should "work with our fishermen".
To deal with asylum seekers, the party says: "We will comply fully with the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees" - without acknowledging that this is at the root of the problem. And the party then claims also that it will "speed up the asylum process and seek to do so while tackling logjams in the system for those declined asylum status".
Some of that might be helped by the party's commitment to removing ourselves from jurisdiction of the ECHR, yet it doesn't begin to explain how we are going to remove failed asylum seekers back to their country of entry, when we stand outside the EU and its Dublin regulation.
And then tucked into the immigration section is what appears to be a bombshell. "We value and want to encourage tourism", says the party, so the "Migration Control Commission" will be charged with finding a system which enables countries with which the UK already has close ties, such as member states of the European Union and the Commonwealth, to establish reciprocal arrangements for visitor visas and term-dated entry passes.
There is no way of reading this, other than Ukip is proposing visas for visitors from EU member states, requiring us also to have visas to travel to countries such as France and Spain, and all other EU member states.
Then, to add even further to the incoherence, we come to the finances. Even though the party is going for Art 50, and two years of negotiation – with the probability of us not leaving until 2020 – Ukip claims to be saving £7.5 billion in 2017-18, £8.5 billion in 2018-19 and £9.0 billion in 2019-20. By its own measure, therefore, these saving are illusory.
But, in its "Brexit" policy, Ukip says there will be a wide range of issues on which we will want to continue to co-operate. These, we are told, "include extradition treaties, cross-border intelligence, disaster relief, accommodation of refugees, pan-EU healthcare arrangements and various other cultural projects". We will also, says Ukip, "maintain our membership of pan-European institutions, such as the European Space Agency and the European Medicines Agency".
This is actually sensible, but there is a cost involved. And, if we are to involve ourselves with the EU to the same extent as Norway, this – as we reported earlier could cost us as much as £6 billion a year.
For all that, no one really expected a Ukip policy to be anything but amateur's night out. It's almost comedic, therefore, having Nigel Farage boast that his manifesto sets "a new gold-standard for how manifestos should be produced".
I suppose, therefore, that this must means he's also sets a new standard for gold-standards - and a very low one indeed.
The EU needs to change, the Conservative Manifesto tells us. And it is time for the British people – not politicians – to have their say. Only the Conservative Party will deliver real change and real choice on Europe, with an in-out referendum by the end of 2017, we are promised.
Labour, we are told, failed to give us a choice on the EU. They handed over major new powers to Brussels without our consent, and gave away £7 billion of the British rebate. We, the Conservatives say, have taken action in Europe to promote your economic security. We cut the EU budget for the first time ever, saving British taxpayers £8.15 billion.
We took Britain out of Eurozone bailouts, including for Greece – the first ever return of powers from Brussels, they say. Our Prime Minister vetoed a new EU treaty that would have damaged Britain's interests. And we have pursued a bold, positive, pro-business agenda, exempting smallest businesses from red tape, promoting free trade, and pushing to extend the Single Market to new sectors, like digital.
But there is much more to do, they say. The EU is too bureaucratic and too undemocratic. It interferes too much in our daily lives, and the scale of migration triggered by new members joining in recent years has had a real impact on local communities.
"We are clear about what we want from Europe. We say: yes to the Single Market. Yes to turbocharging free trade. Yes to working together where we are stronger together than alone. Yes to a family of nation states, all part of a European Union – but whose interests, crucially, are guaranteed whether inside the Euro or out. No to 'ever closer union'".
So it goes on: "No to a constant flow of power to Brussels. No to unnecessary interference. And no, of course, to the Euro, to participation in Eurozone bail-outs or notions like a European Army".
It will be a fundamental principle of a future Conservative Government, we are told, that membership of the European Union depends on the consent of the British people – and in recent years that consent has worn wafer-thin.
That's why, after the election, they tell us they will negotiate a new settlement for Britain in Europe, and then ask us whether we want to stay in the EU on this reformed basis or leave. David Cameron has committed that he will only lead a government that offers an in-out referendum.
The Conservatives then tell us that they will hold that in-out referendum before the end of 2017 and respect the outcome. So the choice at this election is clear, they say: Labour and the Liberal Democrats won't give us a say over the EU. UKIP can't give us a say. Only the Conservative Party will deliver real change in Europe – and only the Conservatives can and will deliver an in-out referendum.
And so our potential leaders have a "plan of action". They will let us decide whether to stay in or leave the EU. They will legislate in the first session of the next Parliament for an in-out referendum to be held on Britain's membership of the EU before the end of 2017.
They will negotiate a new settlement for Britain in the EU and will then ask the British people whether they want to stay in on this basis, or leave. Crucially, they tell us, they will honour the result of the referendum, whatever the outcome.
They will, we are assured, protect Britain's economy and will protect our economy from any further integration of the Eurozone. The integration of the Eurozone has raised acute questions for non-Eurozone countries like the United Kingdom.
Then the propaganda flows, as they tell us that we benefit from the Single Market, so "we" do not want to stand in the way of the Eurozone resolving its difficulties. Indeed, given the trade between Britain and the Eurozone countries we want to see these economies returning to growth.
But, say the Conservatives, "we will not let the integration of the Eurozone jeopardise the integrity of the Single Market or in any way disadvantage the UK. We will reclaim powers from Brussels".
As always, we have the familiar litany: "We want to see powers flowing away from Brussels, not to it. We have already taken action to return around 100 powers, but we want to go further. We want national parliaments to be able to work together to block unwanted European legislation. And we want an end to our commitment to an 'ever closer union', as enshrined in the Treaty to which every EU country has to sign up".
Furthermore, they say, "we will continue to ensure that defence policy remains firmly under British national control, maintaining NATO and the transatlantic relationship as the cornerstones of our defence and security policy".
And then, they tell us they will scrap the Human Rights Act. They will scrap "Labour's Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights which will "restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK".
The Bill, they say, will remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights, which we signed up to in the original European Convention on Human Rights. It will protect basic rights, like the right to a fair trial, and the right to life, which are an essential part of a modern democratic society.
But it will reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of wider society. Among other things the Bill will stop terrorists and other serious foreign criminals who pose a threat to our society from using spurious human rights arguments to prevent deportation.
The Conservatives will, they then say, take action in Europe to make us better off. They want an EU that "helps Britain move ahead, not one that holds us back". They tell us they have already succeeded in exempting our smallest businesses from new EU regulations, and kicked-off negotiations for a massive EU trade deal with the USA, which could be worth billions of pounds to the UK economy.
They say they will build on this. They want to preserve the integrity of the Single Market, by insisting on protections for those countries that have kept their own currencies.
They want to expand the Single Market, breaking down the remaining barriers to trade and ensuring that new sectors are opened up to British firms. They want to ensure that new rules target unscrupulous behaviour in the financial services industry, while safeguarding Britain as a global centre of excellence in finance.
So, they say, they will resist EU attempts to restrict legitimate financial services activities. They will press for lower EU spending, further reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and Structural Funds, and for EU money to be focused on promoting jobs and growth.
And there you have it – the first self-fisking manifesto in history. Further comment is unnecessary.
It says something of his lack of attention to detail that Farage should have gone to Grimsby to launch his party's fishing policy, with his claim recorded by the BBC that, "When Britain leaves the European Union, Grimsby will once again be a great fishing port".
The inference, borne out by the party's new poster (on its website), is that the EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has been responsible for the demise of the fishing industry in Grimsby.
The reality, though, is completely at odds with this. The port was not a victim of the CFP. In the 1960s, it was home to the distant water fleet, with over 600 trawlers registered. What did for them were the Cod Wars, when Iceland extended its economic zone to 200 miles, excluding British vessels from their traditional fishing grounds.
Since then, however, Grimsby has reinvented itself as a major processing centre for imported fish, mainly – and ironically – from Iceland, but also from Norway and the Faroes, not least with the assistance of grants from European Fisheries Fund.
Norway is no model for Grimsby. The greatest threat to its trade is not the EU, but cheap air cargo. This permits frozen whole fish to be shipped out to low-cost centres in China for processing, and then air-freighted back to Europe and elsewhere. The situation is such that two thirds of seafood traded internationally is shipped by air.
That apart, Mr Farage is quick to extol the virtues of Iceland and Norway which, he tells us, are not in the EU. But, typically of the man, he is light on detail when it comes to a replacement fisheries policy. All we get from the man is that, "a system similar to that operating in Norway could revitalise Britain's fishing industry". UKIP's policy on fishing, he says, includes preserving UK territorial waters within the "12-mile limit" around the coast for British fishermen, and creating a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone under UK control.
As it stands, of course, we do retain our 12-mile limit. We also have our 200-mile EEZ, but bringing it back "under UK control" does not a policy make. We need to know precisely what controls would be applied, and how, before we are close to being able to judge whether the Ukip fishing policy is worth having.
For that, Ukip could have done no better than go to Owen Paterson's Green Paper which, interestingly, is precisely what the government's own review of EU competences did (see reference on page 75) – much to the chagrin of the House of Lords Select Committee.
Interestingly, when we came to look at Norway's fishing policy, it is not one which we thought particularly attractive, nor – for a variety of complex reasons – one which is applicable to the UK. Not least, it relies on the TAC system which is at the heart of the CFP, and which has caused so much damage to British fisheries.
Rather than continue this system, we went for aspects of the Icelandic policy, which seemed to us better developed. We also took lessons from the Faeroes, from the management of the Falklands squid fishery, and some of the ideas on governance from the eastern seaboard of the United States.
The resultant policy document – outlining the main issues for consultation - ran to 33 pages and one might have thought that Ukip, with its access to the wealth thrown at it by the EU, might run to something of similar or greater length by way of a policy document. Instead, all we get is thirteen "bullet points", which are fine as dog-whistle aspirations but, even in their totality, do not a policy make.
For instance, we are told that Ukip will end "quotas which cause unnecessary discards – and the new 'discard ban' which will distort the market and harm the environment". We are also told that there will be, "'land what you catch' and self-management with regional control". But there is no clue as to what systems the party would chose to control fishing effort, and how they would be enforced.
Yet, in British waters at least, the equitable (and effective) control of fishing effort has to be at the heart of any fisheries management policy. That Ukip does not even refer to this issue says a great deal. Their authors clearly do not have the first understanding of the subject, or any idea of what it takes to construct a coherent policy.
Furthermore, Ukip are not even in the real world when they claim they will stop foreign vessels claiming "historic rights" to fish our inshore waters. Noticeably, they refer to inshore waters, but the doctrine of "acquired rights" suggests that, even after we leave the EU, we will not be able fully to exclude EU member state fishing vessels from any of our waters.
As we write in Flexcit
, some of these rights pre-date the CFP and some stretch back as far as the Middle Ages. Consolidated under the current CFP regime, they would have to be honoured, unless some could be waived (or bought out) as part of the Art 50 negotiation process. Without that, there could be no question of excluding foreign vessels, unless in strict accordance with international (and domestic) law.
Confirming that it simply doesn't "do" policy, though, Ukip has just sent to its members a 28-page pamphlet
, funded by the EU and written by MEP Ray Finch. Despite the expense, this is just another rehash of the evils of the CFP. The closest we get to policy is the view that, "Outside the EU, the UK can run its own fisheries with a sensible conservation strategy which will avoid the Tragedy of the Commons in our waters at least and thus ensure that there is enough fish for future generations".
With more than a little prescience, therefore, we see the new Ukip poster boy, Tony Rutherford
, uncertain as to where he is going to place his vote. Asked who he will be voting for in May, Rutherford paused, before replying: "I don't know. I've got MPs from all angles fighting for the industry", he said. "It's a very awkward question for myself because they're all doing so much for us. It isn't just Ukip that realises it's serious, everyone does. It's just Ukip that seems to do the shouting about it".
Sadly, "shouting" is all they are doing. Yet the BBC seems to think that this reference
represents a fisheries policy, while it actually devotes more space to a discussion on Farage's Arthur Daley overcoat
. This is the other face of the problem. The media is hopeless when it comes to analysing Ukip's policy failures. It's left to Greenpeace
to do a number, with its own website
pointing out Ukip's lack of engagement on fishing issues in the European Parliament.
That, in fact, is the real story. Mr Farage has been an MEP since 1999 – some fifteen years. He has had all the time he needs to come up with a fishing policy. Yet all he can manage, at the height of an election campaign, is a short introduction to the Ukip pamphlet that is about as policy-free as it can get, and 13 dog-whistle bullet points.
And that's one of the reasons why Ukip is tanking
in the polls.
Legacy media reporting of Blair's speech yesterday is all over the place, but then over 3,000 words is a little bit difficult to summarise, so this is hardly surprising. Sound bites are more the media's style.
Unfortunately, however, Tony Blair's speech at the Xcel Centre in Newton Aycliffe has some substance, and some good clues on how the coming fight over the EU might be played out - so we need to look at it in a little more detail.
For starters, the former prime minister offers a commentary that, turned around, we could use to our own advantage. He tells us:
Elections should never simply be about an exchange of rhetoric, the laying out of policy positions or the cacophony of the campaign. They should also be an investigation and a decision about our ambitions as a nation, who we are and where we're going.
For me Europe is an important litmus test. I believe passionately that leaving Europe would leave Britain diminished in the world, do significant damage to our economy and, less obviously but just as important to our future, would go against the very qualities that mark us out still as a great global nation.
It would be a momentous decision.
By way of illustration, we could just as easily say that leaving "Europe" would enhance Britain position in the world, strengthen our economy and highlight the very qualities that mark us out still as a great global nation.
I guess it's how you tell 'em.
And, on this, Blair is telling us that, should the Conservatives be re-elected on May 7th, they are committed to holding a referendum to decide whether Britain remains in the European Union.
Referring to the Scottish referendum, Blair raises the spectre of nationalism - "a powerful sentiment". Let that genie out of the bottle, he says, "and it is a Herculean task to put it back. Reason alone struggles".
That in itself sounds terribly profound, but perhaps someone should tell Blair that nationalism has never been healthier
, and never more has the nation state prospered. In 1945, 51 states were members of the United Nations. Membership rose to 152 in 1979 and to 194 today
But in Blair's distorted mind, the EU referendum carries the same risk of resurgent nationalism. For that reason, he says, should the Conservatives win, the prime minister will be spending more energy, will have more sleepless nights about it, be more focused on it than literally any other single issue.
Mr Cameron, Blair asserts, knows the vastness of the decision. He knows the penalty of failure. He knows exit will define his legacy. And, following the Scottish referendum, he knows the perilous fragility of public support for the sensible choice.
It is this passage which the Telegraph
makes out that Blair is saying that the "public can't be trusted to make 'sensible choice' on EU".
Myself, I don't see it. "Trust" is not a word Blair used anywhere in his script. He is warning about the attraction of nationalism and the fragile support for the EU. And he is right to be worried – given the paucity of his case.
Nevertheless, Blair believes the referendum will be "a huge distraction" for the country – and for Cameron. It will take precedence over the NHS, education, law and order, the lot, even though he doesn't really believe we should leave the EU.
The referendum was a concession to Party, a manoeuvre to access some of the UKIP vote and a sop to the "rampant anti-Europe feeling" of parts of the media, Blair asserts. This issue, touching as it does the country's future is too important to be traded like this, he says, then continuing:
It is greatly to Ed Miliband's credit that he resolutely refused to make that trade. He faced down calls to follow the Tory concession from parts of the media and many inside our Party. In doing so, he showed real leadership. He showed that he would put the interests of the country first. He showed that on this, as on other issues, he is his own man, with his own convictions and determined to follow them even when they go against the tide. I respect that.
This the man, though, who joined with President Bush in invading Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein and then "forgot" to prepare plans for administering the peace. This is the same Tony Blair who – like so many Europhiles – doesn't understand the distinction between membership of the EU and participation in the Single Market.
Over half our trade is with "Europe", he says. There are millions of UK jobs dependent on access to the European markets. Not joining the euro was one thing. Leaving Europe altogether is quite another thing. He goes on to say:
There is, in my view, also a complete under-estimation of the short term pain of negotiating exit. There would be a raft of different Treaties, association agreements and partnerships to be dis-entangled and re-negotiated. There would be significant business uncertainty in the run-up to a vote but should the vote go the way of exit, then there would be the most intense period of business anxiety, reconsideration of options and instability since the war.
Then, digging himself in deeper, he says:
The Tory campaign talks of chaos should Labour win. Think of the chaos produced by the possibility never mind the reality of Britain quitting Europe. Jobs that are secure suddenly insecure; investment decisions postponed or cancelled; a pall of unpredictability hanging over the British economy. And for what? To satisfy the insistent Euro-phobia of a group who will never be satisfied.
And there, writ large, is not the prospect of chaos but the need for "Flexcit
". We must have a credible exit plan on the table, one which takes account of the uncertainties and will ensure that there is no chaos. We need to put charlatans like Blair back in their boxes, neutralising the FUD and regaining the initiative.
But Blair does raise points which have to be taken seriously. He says:
There is a beguiling notion that upon Britain voting to leave, the rest of Europe would be in an amenable and friendly frame of mind in the consequent negotiation. They would have, it is said, a shared interest, in making it as amicable as possible.
Excuse me, but get real. As a result of our decision every other European Leader would be faced with big choices about the terms of Britain's relationship with Europe now as an outsider. This they would regard as a wholly unnecessary diversion from the critical domestic challenge of recovering their own economies. They will believe that Britain wants to have the benefits of the single market without the responsibilities. They will be determined to prevent that. Norway and Switzerland both are obliged, as the price of their access to Europe's market, to accede to a series of European rules even though they cannot influence their drafting. The rest of Europe will be vigorous in ensuring Britain gets no special treatment. This will be a horrible process. Don't be in any doubt about that.
Here we go again with the "no influence" meme but, that aside, Blair has a point. The EU is not going to roll over and give the UK a free pass – and we're only a third of the way into the speech.
And again, we're in no-man's land, as Blair rubbishes the very idea of a referendum – the man who offered us a referendum on the European Constitution – only to have his successor resile. But he does allow that: "We should have a referendum if we seriously believe that getting out of Europe is a national priority if our terms aren't met". If we don't, he adds, "then it is a completely unacceptable gamble with our future".
At this point, as one so often does with Blair speeches, one loses the will to live, so we bounce over the homilies about Britain's role as a "global player". We saw what happened in Iraq when Mr Blair staked his claim for that role. We need no lessons from him.
Blair claims that this current "alliance" with Europe was sought half a century ago by the then leaders of our country because "they knew that without it, Britain could not maintain its influence and its power. And of course it involves ceding or pooling some sovereignty. But it does so in order to gain sovereign power over decisions that in the reality of 21st Century geo-politics we will only exercise in concert with others".
Yet that is a gross misreading of history, again about which we need no lessons from Blair. He wants us to believe that globalisation is "blurring national boundaries and forcing integration on the world" – when, in fact, globalisation is bringing a renaissance to the very idea of a nation. The power is draining away from sub-regional cul-de-sacs
such as the EU, and back towards the nation states.
But Blair, locked into his "little Europe" paradigm, wants to play with "reform". The movement for change in Europe would benefit hugely from British input and leadership. Nationalist forces in Europe – see the National Front in France – are surging everywhere, he says.
One recalls, though, the end of his tenure as British prime minister, when he had lost faith in the idea of influencing the EU. And it was very obvious at the time. Mr Blair might have a short memory – we don't.
For those who believe we can do just as well out of the EU, if not better, Blair turns the argument to Ukip, and asks whether they represent the standard bearers of an open-minded culturally tolerant Britain. "Are creativity, innovation and curiosity about what we can learn from the world their hallmarks?"
That's a clever argument: if you want to leave the EU, look who represents the "out" case, he is saying. "We know what this movement to wrench us out of Europe is based on", says Blair. "You can see it on display when Mr Farage swiftly moves the debate to immigrants".
So, if we're to take anything home from the Blair speech, it's that we need a credible exit plan, that Ukip is not a good representative for the "out" case – and there is very little else we can learn from Mr Blair.
But then Mr Blair thinks that Labour and its Leader took a "brave decision" when they decided not to yield to pressure for a referendum, but instead chose to "make the principled and intelligent case for Britain in Europe".
I've yet to hear this "principled and intelligent case" for staying in the EU – mostly, what we get is FUD, to which Mr Blair is no stranger. He wants Labour to win on the 7 May and, for Labour, under Ed's leadership, to be the Government of our country on the next day.
Should that unlikely event happen, the government of our country will be as it was the day before – in the hands of the EU and the European Commission. But if Mr Cameron wins, we at least get a referendum. That, for what it's worth, is a brave decision, and that's why I won't be taking up Mr Blair's invitation to vote Labour.
Now up on the the CER website, the Independent is running a story based on a report from the Centre for European Reform.
This tells us that a British exit from the European Union would hurt the poorest regions of the country hardest because they are more dependent on manufacturing exports – all based on the premise that UK manufactured goods would be hit by EU tariffs unless a free trade deal is agreed.
According to CER, the regions with the most to lose economically are the West Midlands and the North-east, but also hard hit would be Northern Ireland, followed by the East Midlands and West Midlands. The least affected area would be London, where the financial hit from tariffs would represent just 0.11 percent of output.
In the North-east alone, the cost is £197 million on export tariffs, mostly in the car manufacturing sector, equating to 0.43 percent of the region's output.
Such a scenario, of course, could easily be avoided by the simple expedient of adopting the "Norway Option", thereby protecting the UK's participation in the Single Market. However, the so-called "WTO Option" is precisely what is on offer from the likes of Ruth Lea, Global Britain and Ukip.
Thus we see in the North-east's Chronicle, a lamentable effort by Ukip's Jonathan Arnott, who can only assert that the idea of leaving the EU costing us trade is "nonsense", asserting that, "like Switzerland and Iceland we could develop our global trade links and create jobs".
If that is the best Ukip has to offer, keeping its spokesmen well away from any referendum campaign becomes an urgent necessity. If they can't deal with the easy issues, such as how to avoid the imposition of tariffs following our exit, then we are better off without their "help".
At this stage, the anti-EU "movement" should have its arguments in place, and not be struggling to find answers to the simplest of CER propaganda. The "tariff" meme should be dead and buried, so much so that the Europhiles don't even dare raise it.
Instead, we get CER's John Springford burbling that: "Many eurosceptics claim that it would be easy to sign a free trade agreement with the EU, to stop tariffs being applied to British goods".
"In fact", he says, "the EU would have the upper hand in trade negotiations. The EU buys 45 percent of Britain's exports, while the UK only buys seven percent of the EU's, so the EU would be able to dictate terms".
Then we get the old saws: "Any free trade agreement would require Britain to accept the free movement of workers and most of the EU's rules – just as Switzerland must. Politically, this would be worse than EU membership, since Britain would not be able to limit immigration and would have even less control over EU regulations".
There's only one thing worse than such weak arguments, and that's a weaker opposition that can't deal with them.
To my piece on the accumulation of "marginal gains" as a means reducing immigration, we need to add a further note, to cover other aspects of immigration control.
A great deal of migration – although no one has put a specific figure on it – arises from the need to fill skilled posts, where there are insufficient local recruits holding the right qualifications, largely because the training provision has been inadequate.
This was an issue to which the Daily Mail drew attention in December last year, where it highlighted the shortage of paramedics and the recruitment of large numbers of trained personnel from Australia.
Now the paper is back on the case with an update to its original story, reporting that "ambulance bosses" are routinely making a 21,500-mile round trip to Australia to hire paramedics on £4,500 "golden hello" payments because it is far cheaper than training them in Britain.
This, though, is an almost exact copy-out from a Guardian story last month, where the headline issue was that managers from the London Ambulance Service, the largest in the NHS, were just about to make 250 job offers to applicants from Sydney and Melbourne.
Adding to this story, the Mail tells us that the inability to meet expected demand for paramedics is not the only issue. There is also the problem that many are quitting the NHS, frustrated at having to spend hours queuing outside A&E units which are too full to accept their patients. There is also, apparently, resentment at being called out to a growing number of non-urgent calls from patients unable to see a GP.
However, it is also the case that career opportunities for paramedics are expanding, as they can now become "advanced practitioners" in A&E units in hospitals and in GP surgeries. They can also get jobs in call centres for the 111 helpline, where the work is less stressful and they can earn more.
The resulting exodus has hit the London Ambulance Service hardest. Currently 340 posts are vacant, a fifth of the total workforce. Last year alone more than 230 paramedics quit. However, Australia has a surplus. Other understaffed ambulance services in the UK are also going abroad, including to Poland.
As well as the 225 paramedics hired from Australia last month, London Ambulance Service hired 175 from New Zealand in September. Managers are considering flying out again later this year and calculate that the first recruitment drive saved the NHS £9 million.
Certainly, the arithmetic seems to make sense. It costs £50,000 to train one paramedic in Britain. Each trip to Australia costs the ambulance service £90,000 in flights and hotel bills, but they return having hired on average 200 paramedics.
Jason Killens, director of operations at London Ambulance Service, said: "It's not our long-term solution but is helping us fill a skills shortage while we train more people to become paramedics in the UK".
Putting a political "spin" on this, one assumes that Ukip – in adopting the Australian "points-based" migrant system – would permit an unlimited number of qualified paramedics to enter Britain, and presumably would also expand the national quota to allow in other migrants where there were skill shortages.
But what we don't see is any attempt at formulating joined-up policy, where demand prediction is improved, and money is allocated to areas where skill shortages are anticipated, to ensure that indigenous workers are able to acquire the right training, and take up jobs where there are vacancies.
Even then, there are further issues which have to be addressed. In Australia, for instance, university fees are considerably lower than they are in the UK, and there are no restrictions on popular courses, such as the Bachelor of Paramedic Science, leading to a surplus of qualified graduates.
In the UK, they are offered a starting salary of between £21,478 to £27,901 – which can increase to £30,200 per annum, with London weighting,. For team leaders or paramedics who have undertaken extended skills training in critical care or trauma, salaries fall between £25,783 and £34,530.
This is higher than the equivalent in Australia – where paramedics are considered to be underpaid. For Antipodeans, there is the added bonus of being able to explore England and the rest of Europe, while living in cheap rented accommodation, before returning home.
For UK graduates looking to set up home and start a family, and having to repay student loans, the pay for London employment is not particularly attractive. And it is here that the lack of subsidised accommodation – which used to be a feature of NHS service – which also takes its toll.
In the 1980s and the early '90s, under a programme initiated by Margaret Thatcher, Hospital Trusts were allowed to sell off staff accommodation in high value areas, using the cash to fund expansion without having to go cap-in-hand to the Treasury. But now the great sell-off reflects in the difficulty in attracting local staff.
And all of this illustrates the complexity of dealing with immigration. To recap, in order to minimise the inflow, we need better job market intelligence, more responsive training to ensure that demand for skilled workers can be met locally, a more flexible higher education finance system, to attract students to the right courses, and perhaps a return to tied accommodation, so that key workers can be offered housing as an inducement to work in high-expense areas.
Then, on top of all that, there is a need to sort out the GP service. Despite over-generous salaries and improvements in working conditions, it gets harder and harder for people to get appointments with their GPs. If the pressure on A&E departments is to be reduced (and with it the pressure for more paramedics), accessibility to GP surgeries must be improved.
On the other hand, there is an argument for using immigrants to top up the labour market, when there are specific skills shortages. And if recruits are not allowed to bring families and dependents, and are offered short-term contracts without any provision for citizenship (as with posted workers), then we get the best all worlds.
The trouble is that, in order to make that happen, we need joined-up policy. And that is something which seems beyond the ability of existing political parties to deliver. As for Ukip, policy-wise, they're not even in the same room.
The really interesting thing about the Mail on Sunday front page story is that it was scheduled to appear in last week's paper, and would have done do but for Ukip's attempts in the High Court to suppress publication.
The interim injunction, however, was overturned in time for the MoS to run the story this week, and adds credence to the claims that Farage was trying to bury the poll. This shows him trailing behind the Conservatives, and only one point ahead of Labour in the South Thanet constituency, Nigel Farage's target seat.
It's all very well for Ukip now to attempt damage limitation, claiming that the ComRes finding is a "rogue poll", but if it wasn't at all damaging, one has to ask why the party went to such pains to suppress it - especially as the methodology has been supported by other pollsters, and is unremarkable. Furthermore, ComRes stands by its methodology.
Of course, it could that there is little confidence in the earlier Survation poll, which gave Farage a twelve-point lead in February. As this relied on those who said they were certain to vote, and asked about named candidates, the result was likely to have flattered Farage's standing.
Interestingly, this marginal seat has been showing signs of drifting to Labour and, with the current ComRes poll putting the Conservative's Craig Mackinlay in the lead, it could be argued that the net effect of Farage's intervention in Thanet South is to give the seat to the Tories.
For Farage to lose to an ex-Ukip leader (albeit only a caretaker), now turned Tory candidate, would be the ultimate humiliation. And that may be enough to explain why Ukip took what is on the face of it the rash decision to suppress the poll.
But, as Compete Bastard points out, it is going to take far more than manipulating the publication of a poll to rescue Ukip's fading fortunes. Win or lose at Thanet South (and more likely, lose), the party is on the rocks, with no obvious way that it can survive.
When the final chapter of Ukip's decline comes to be written, the causes will be pretty obvious – as they have always been. A party without an ideological base and lacking intellectual substance was never going to prosper in the longer term.
Of the pundits that allowed themselves to be fooled into believing that this was a political party, most are going to look very stupid indeed when the general election is over.
As it now stands, the period will be marked by the resignation of Farage as party leader, prompting some to speculate as to who might replace him. But the reality is that, once Farage has gone, no one really cares. The dross that surrounds him are even less capable of running a party that he is, which means that, when he goes, his plaything will fall apart and become an electoral irrelevance.
On the up-side, it looks more certain each day that Mr Cameron's Conservatives are likely to win, and I am even more confident that we will be seeing a majority Conservative government. But that will then face us will the challenge of an "in-out" referendum, which actually needs Ukip to be pushed to the background, where its capacity for damage is minimised.
At least in Thanet South, though, we will have in Craig Mackinlay an MP who is robustly anti-EU … a fine legacy for Mr Farage to leave us with.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.