Brexit: shambles at the top


It was our view, right from the very start, that Theresa May appointed the "three Brexiteers" with the idea that she was setting them up to fail. It's also been no secret that the three didn't get on with each other.

The story in the Telegraph yesterday doesn't really break any new ground when it tells us that Liam Fox and Alexander (aka Boris) Johnson are "locked in feud" over who controls Britain's foreign policy. In truth, it would be a surprise if sweet harmony reigned.

What is new is that the Telegraph says it has evidence of this disharmony, which comes in the form of a "terse letter", effectively demanding that the Foreign Office be broken up. It confirms the existence of a "bitter Whitehall feud" over who controls key parts of Britain's foreign policy.

Johnson is understood to have firmly rejected Dr Fox's demands and "Whitehall sources" claim that the Prime Minister is "unimpressed with this sort of carrying on".

One wonders whether this "tension" is responsible for the unexplained deletion of the recent news story put up by Dr Fox's department. But if Foreign Office and Dr Fox's department of international trade are already at loggerheads, that might also explain the Sunday Times story which is telling us that Brexit "will be delayed until end of 2019", relaying the warning from "ministers" that Whitehall is "not ready for talks".

The sources are unnamed "City sources" which could just as well mean that the Sunday Times is fabricating (or exaggerating) the story. Nevertheless, what we're getting is that Britain could remain in the EU until late 2019, the reason being that, despite great political pressure to stick to an earlier timetable, the new Brexit and international trade departments are not ready to deal with the negotiations.

Also being cited are the French and German elections, with the suggestion that Britain might not invoke article 50 until France has voted next May or even until after the German poll in September.

This makes complete sense, of course, and is brought into focus by the comment of an unnamed "City insider" who has told the Sunday Times: "You can't negotiate when you don't know who you're negotiating with". A Cabinet Minister (unnamed) has also confirmed to The Sunday Times that there were "some challenges" in the French and German electoral timetables.

On the domestic front, however, any perceived delay presents the Prime Minister with considerable problems, as we see from a tweet from former Ukip leader Nigel Farage. He has his staff write: "Brexit must mean end to free movement, out of single market & taking back our territorial waters. Anything less would be betrayal".

Back to The Sunday Times and we now switch to "another source", also unnamed. This is not even a "senior source", so it could be the tea lady or chauffeur who has had "discussions with two senior ministers". That exchange again tells us something we already knew, that: "They don't have the infrastructure for the people they need to hire. They say they don't even know the right questions to ask when they finally begin bargaining with Europe".

But as an indication of the sort of problems that are afflicting the heart of government, we get "another senior government insider" - unnamed. This one says that there is also uncertainty about preparatory talks with EU leaders. "I'm not sure they are going to be ready", the anonymous source says. "There is an issue about these preliminary talks - no one even seems to know what the substance will be".

Davis and Fox are spending the summer recess setting up their new fiefdoms, but The Sunday Times says Davis has so far recruited less than half the 250 staff he expects to need. They are working in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office in Whitehall.

Fox, we are told, is looking to recruit up to 1,000 trade policy experts but currently has fewer than 100. His team is temporarily housed in the business department. Its permanent home "could be anywhere", says yet another insider.

Yet, for all that, the story has all the gravitas of Whitehall gossip. There is no evidence, no documentary corroboration and no one, apparently, is prepared to put their names to the story. Nevertheless, from the direct experience of how long it takes to write up an exit strategy, it stands to reason that ministers and civil servants alike are having difficulty getting their acts together. And if the deleted news story is an indication of their grasp of the issues, we're in dire trouble. 

The only surprising thing is that anyone should be surprised, although The Sunday Times appears to be. In an editorial, it starts off by saying: "How simple and straightforward Brexit seemed just after the referendum. We would trigger article 50 of the Lisbon treaty and Britain would wave goodbye to the European Union two years later".

The thing is that only the profoundly ignorant or the wildly optimistic could ever have been under the impression that leaving the EU was ever going to be "simple and straightforward". To have a major British newspaper suggest that it might have been is worrisome.

And even without the Whitehall "gossip", we've always felt that we have good cause for concern about the lack of preparedness. Furthermore, it seems, the "reckless Brexiteers" are about to get in on the act, throwing a strop because reality is taking its toll. These are the Tory "eurosceptic" backbenchers who, as Booker observed two weeks ago are causing more trouble than they're worth.

Now, The Mail tells us, these troublemakers are planning to launch "at least two cross-party groups to pressure the Prime Minister into announcing a strict timetable for leaving the European Union", apparently having the nerve to complain that Mrs May has "failed to set out a clear 'road map' to the UK's eventual break".

It is interesting that the politicians and the whole London think-tank industry – which devotes its entire time to telling government what it should be doing - has gone AWOL on this, completely devoid of original or realistic ideas.

Nothing at all coming out of the intellectual desert in the capital gives us any confidence that anyone has got a grip on the issues, while the "leaver" community – as fragmented as the "three Brexiteers" - remains all at sea. They are making such a mess of things that, by contrast, even the EU is beginning to look efficient.

Richard North 15/08/2016 link

Brexit: the darkest of games


Those with memories that go back to the IEA Brexit competition in 2013-14 will recall that not one of the six finalists advocated the Efta/EEA option. All of these finalists "coincidentally" went for a then little-discussed Efta-bilateral option, the only six to have done so. And they all got a prize.

All those who advocated the Efta/EAA option were excluded from the final list – my submission included - even though a number of us had been originally shortlisted. Then the rules were changed, and a new shortlist of the shortlist was prepared. We found ourselves ousted from the competition.

That the head of the judging panel was Lord Lawson is no coincidence. This is a man who has consistently opposed the EEA option. And it is quite obvious that the IEA Brexit competition was rigged, unfairly to discriminate against those who offered the EEA option as a solution.

However, unlike most of the other discarded competitors, I did not take the rejection as final. I continued work on my draft, which is now in its eighth edition as Flexcit. But merely to have been so persistent has provoked the enmity of the eurosceptic "aristocracy" who, almost to a man (and woman), oppose the Efta/EEA option.

Amongst those are the group of "eurosceptic" Tory back-benchers, including Bill Cash, John Redwood and now the rising star, Steve Baker - all considered to be on the "right" of the party. They detest the idea of the Single Market, with an ideological fervour which defies any rationality. And because they have no rational base for their beliefs, they treat disagreement as tantamount to heresy.

These people don't fight fair. They attack the messenger, in my case briefing against me personally in a most disgusting fashion, all with the view of discrediting my arguments without ever having to deal with them.

Sadly, they've been aided and abetted by people whom I should have been able to rely upon as allies. But, since early days, just to exist and try and do one's work conscientiously, is to attract enemies.

In Ukip, in an attempt to neutralise the growing claims that our Party was racist, I recruited two Kashmiri Muslims to stand for Ukip in the 2001 General Election, only to attract the rabid hostility of a fundamentalist Christian group who effectively ran the Yorkshire region.

Writing The Great Deception, one might have thought, would have gained an amount of support, but it attracted a huge number of enemies in Ukip, as we failed to support the Rodney Atkinson theory that the EU was born of a Nazi plot.

My hostility to Nigel Farage, of course, has built up an extra cadre of enemies – his loyal fans who will hear no ill against their leader. I am supposed to give my unconditional backing to a man who had seriously damaged me financially and politically and who, to this day, briefs against me with a collection of well-worn lies.

Then, as we began to focus on leaving the EU, we looked seriously at Article 50, only to meet the sub-group who we have come to call the "trappists", who insist that the Article is a "trap" and that we should immediately repeal the ECA.

My subsequent support for a phased withdrawal from the EU has then built its own band of detractors, to add to the others, to which we must add the Cummings-Elliott nexus who, for their own thoroughly dishonest reasons, excluded me from the official leave campaign.

It may occur to the dispassionate observer, however, that my enemies have in common things which would lead them to be hostile to me, entirely unrelated to my own personality. After all, with the idea spread about that I am "difficult to work with", can anybody say that with a straight face after seeing Dominic Cummings in action? 

As to my critics, one only has to observe the discourtesy with which Steve Baker treated me (along with the rest of the Treasury Committee). He doesn't say so, but he completely disagrees with my position. But instead of having an open debate, he abused his position on the Committee to shut me out. The other witnesses were given twice the time I was allowed, drowning out my input.

But if that is the way these people work, there are others who have been taken in by the hostile propaganda. Some have argued that the Flexcit message would do better if it was detached from its primary author, and promoted separately as a concept by different people.

I've not entirely agreed with that view – not least because it is based on the false premise that I am the problem rather than the message. But I tolerated some independent initiatives before the referendum, simply to avoid any public display of disharmony.

This has been particularly the case with Roland Smith. But he has stretched tolerance to breaking point and beyond. With Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute, he has produced a progression of posts, through which he has gradually sought to take ownership of the Flexcit agenda.

In work which quite evidently relies on Flexcit and the EUReferendum blog, Smith has only ever once admitted that his writing "borrows from the North plan". But in his latest evolution, published on Friday last, he offers a "collaborative effort" which once again "borrows from the North plan". Yet it is attributed to a group of authors led by himself, with no attribution to myself, the blog or Flexcit, or any recognition of the origins.

Sadly, in an (unsuccessful) attempt to make this "interim option" just sufficiently different from Flexcit to avoid a charge of outright plagiarism, Smith has introduced a number of errors, while also failing to keep up to speed with the EEA/Liechtenstein solution on freedom of movement.

He thus makes space for the predators to move in and damn his work with faint praise. That is the problem generally with cheap rip-offs. Superficially, they may look the same as the originals, but they are not as well-built and easily fall apart with only gentle use. This is why, of course, counterfeits should be avoided.

Significantly, one of Smith's co-authors is Dr Kristian Niemietz, who recently wrote an article for the IEA, headed, "Saving Brexit from the Brexiteers: why free-market liberals should support the EFTA/EEA option".

Dr Kristian Niemietz is the IEA's Head of Health and Welfare. He is seemingly obviously oblivious to the irony of his own Institute's rejection of the very same option when it was handed to them on a plate during its Brexit competition. But at least Niemitz in his own writing links to Flexcit – even though he doesn't mention it by name – an indirect and grudging acknowledgement of the source of the idea.

No such acknowledgement comes from Smith's other co-authors, Prof Steven Peers, George Peretz QC and Prof Simon Hix. Interestingly, the only time we seem to have heard about the EEA from Peers at such length is in a blogpost published on 24 June, the day after the referendum. So similar is this to the first stage of Flexcit – first published over two years ago – that it would be for him to show that he managed to dream up an almost exact replica all on his own, divorced from any external influence. 

At least the other two, Peretz and Hix, come to the subject anew, with nothing more to contribute to Smith's effort than their names. Hix in a YouTube presentation published on 30 June, effectively dismissed the option. His favourite response to it was: "please could I have a unicorn". Tellingly, he then went on to have a quick sneer at Flexcit, lumped in with fictional options.

All that aside, though, Smith's plagiarism presents me with a problem. Whatever justification he might have had before the referendum no longer applies. But when I have ignored it, he treats my silence as assent, and becomes more and more brazen in his theft.

At the other extreme, I do not want to waste money on formal action – that would serve little but to make a small band of lawyers even richer than they are already. And since I have offered the Flexcit free of charge to those who were prepared responsibly to promote it, I have suffered no financial loss.

In this case, though, Macmillan's "events, dear boy, events", are providing an answer. While Smith and his friends are so anxious to establish their ownership of a sub-standard version of Flexcit, the events of the past few days are rapidly making their efforts redundant.

When you look at the posturing of the Tory backbencher dinosaurs, and the actions of the Government in seeking to secure a Brexit settlement, even their rip-off version of Flexcit is so massively sophisticated in relation to what our protagonists are able to deal with, that it is totally beyond their comprehension.

On the one side, we have government agencies dealing with the mechanics of Brexit at an almost childishly superficial level, and on the other we have dinosaur Tories unable to see beyond their simplistic mantra of repeal the ECA", played to the repetitive counterpoint of "free-trade, free-trade, free-trade".

To such simple souls, the idea of an interim solution – presupposing a future end game which encompasses dimensions not already on the table – is so far beyond their comprehension that we all might just as well be speaking in tongues.

In context, Flexcit was intended as a referendum tool, designed to provide reassurance to wavering voters that there was a post-exit plan, and that leaving could be safe and largely cost-free. It was not intended for these people and doesn't speak to them. 

Now the referendum is over, Flexcit as originally drafted has largely done its job. I am already having to rewrite it to deal with the new political realities as they emerge. That a group of plagiarists now want to copy the old version is, in its way, very flattering. But it is largely a waste of time. The situation is changing faster then they can copy my work.

The important point, however, is that the work produced by Smith and his friends should not be confused with Flexcit. Although based on our work, they have introduced too many errors and are too far behind the curve for it to be taken seriously. If they want to market their sub-standard rip-off, they may as well get on with it, as long as they don't pretend it is Flexcit.

And while they play their games, we have to deal with the far greater threat, where the Tory dinosaurs, led by the likes of Steve Baker, are locking horns in a battle that has the potential to do far greater harm that Smith's petty theft.

Richard North 25/07/2016 link

Brexit: the shambles of Leadsom


The good thing about Andrea Leadsom's launch speech to support her bid for the leadership of the Conservative Party yesterday was that it was less than a third the length of Michael Gove's speech. Oddly enough though, the amount she dedicated to discussing withdrawal from the European was about the same – and of similar opacity.

She started off well enough though, stating that the result of the referendum was final. It must be respected, she added, declaring roundly: "The United Kingdom will leave the European Union".

Very quickly, though, it got down to detail, and her pitch began to unravel. Freedom of movement "will end", she said. The British parliament will decide how many people enter our country each year to live, work and contribute to our national life.

Billions of pounds more will be invested in the NHS from the savings we make from cancelling our EU membership fee, the laws and regulations that govern the British people will be made in Britain – and not Brussels. And at elections the British people will be able to appoint or sack politicians, secure in the knowledge that EU bureaucracy cannot undermine their wishes.

As to the negotiations, Leadsom informed us that she intended to keep them "as short as possible". Neither we nor our European friends need prolonged uncertainty, she said, "and not everything needs to be negotiated before Article 50 is triggered and the exit process is concluded".

Her "dedicated" team would consult opposition politicians, business people, farmers, trades unions and trade negotiators. And, having done so, she would set out trade, border and security agreements, with the "renegotiation" in the hands of a dedicated Cabinet colleague.

And so we go on. Mrs Leadsom wants to sell a pig in a poke. There is nothing specifically in her speech which identifies when she might invoke Article 50 – or even whether she intends to do so. She talks of a "trade agreement" with the EU without being specific as to its nature, but then commits to ending free movement, which presumably means dropping out of the Single Market – although she doesn't state this specifically.

Worryingly, though, she talks about "savings we make from cancelling our EU membership fee", which means she must think there will be any, and then – without even doffing a cap to globalisation (much less the possibility of EEA membership) declares that laws and regulations "will be made in Britain – and not Brussels".

That she intends to keep the negotiations "as short as possible" is a meaningless phrase. Bringing them to an end in twenty years, if that is the only "possible" course of action, would conform to that pledge. And why she talks about "renegotiation" is anyone's guess. What is she renegotiating?

The upshot of this effort, however, is a studied vagueness. It is possible to infer much from what she says, but the fact that inference is needed tells its own story. You would have thought by now that politicians might have learned that this is exactly the sort of behaviour that has alienated people from politics.

This unimpressive woman clearly does not have a grip on the issues and is unable to offer a convincing roadmap for successful negotiations. We need far more clarity than she has so far offered.

But if there was any doubt about the suitability of Mrs Leadsom, one needs only look at her latest backer. As well as John Redwood, she now has Alexander (aka Boris) Johnson, who says she has the "zap" to be prime minister.

Yet this is the woman who as junior Treasury minister attracted the ire of her officials, who declared her, "the worst minister we’ve ever had". Said one official, "She found it difficult to understand issues or take decisions", while another said: "She was monomaniacal, seeing the EU as the source of every problem".

To add to a growing concern, the Mail report which announces the recruitment of Johnson also has Leadsom declaring that she would invoke Article 50 as soon as she was elected, although I cannot find any direct quote to confirm that she was that specific.

However, the very lack of detail from Leadsom allows any number of constructions, none of them good. Unless the woman has a handle one of the most basic of the three challenges I outlined yesterday, she is no use to man nor beast. Even the prospect of Article 50 being triggered before we are ready is not one we could even countenance.

Increasingly, we see a delusional woman who seems to lack any clear idea – or any idea at all – of what we're dealing with. But that much is now becoming evident even to the MPs. At a hustings meeting of the 1922 Committee, last night, Leadsom is said to have "stumbled".

Backbenchers left the packed meeting muttering under their breath after the energy minister fielded questions on Brexit and how much support she was receiving from Ukip. One cabinet minister said she was asked three times about her backing from Ukip and Leave.EU. "When you're asked to say you're not UKIP at a hustings to be leader of the Conservative party, you're in trouble", he said. "It was a car crash".

Another MP said her pitch was a "fucking shambles", adding: "She babbled on about the importance of the frontal cortex for emotional development, said she'd trigger Article 50 immediately – and then that she wouldn't".

Appropriately, the archaic meaning of shambles is a slaughterhouse – a place where dumb animals are put down. This may have been the right place for Leadsom. No 10 certainly isn't. She's the Tory equivalent of Corbyn.

Richard North 05/07/2016 link

Brexit: Farage resigns … again


Top of the week's news for a few nanoseconds is the resignation of Ukip leader Nigel Farage – once again. I suppose we must wait for the statutory ten-day return period before it can be taken as confirmed.

Already, the political eulogies are flooding in, with the media rewriting history – casting Farage as the man who got us the referendum and then proceeded to win it: "the man who got us out of Europe".

Actually, as regards the referendum, he always opposed the idea – preferring to put his resources into taking Parliament by storm through the election process. When he found he could not block it, he reluctantly supported it, climbing on the bandwagon at the last minute.

However, he made no preparations for the campaign, rejected outright the idea of an exit plan and, when it came to the lead campaigner designation, the submission made on his behalf was so woefully inadequate that Farage ended up consigned to the periphery of the campaign, and us lumbered with Vote Leave.

Having thus done his best to lose us the campaign before it had even started, he then intensified his efforts with an obsessive focus on immigration – failing to distinguish between free movement of persons and the EU asylum policy, culminating in "that" advert, which probably cost us thousands of votes.

The majority of British voters nevertheless opted to leave the EU – for reasons we still do not fully understand. Now, with the political parties in turmoil, never before has clear direction been needed. But clearly, Farage is not the one to provide that,. With nothing useful to contribute to the debate, at least he has the decency to do the appropriate thing and resign.

However, with unconfirmed rumours that his Brussels offices have been raided, believed to be at the behest of Olaf investigating falsified documents in relation to Ukip's finances, Farage could be jumping before he is pushed. More than a few are suggesting that this "shock" move was not voluntary.

If one was to look for a political legacy, Farage was always a good spokesman and a moderately competent debater – let down by his indifferent grasp of detail, although so often paired with people who knew less, this was not always a handicap.

But he was also rigorous in excluding competition and suppressing fresh talent, so we will never know whether someone better might have emerged to lead Ukip more effectively, making victory more assured.

From a personal perspective, having shared a desk with him in Strasbourg over the four years that I worked for Ukip in the early days of our representation in the European Parliament, I have to say that he is a man best savoured from a distance – the greater the better.

His "boyish charm" is wafer thin and behind the façade he is a liar, a bully and a braggart, who does not know the meaning of the word loyalty. Personally he has done me great harm and, in my view, has held back the development of the party to the extent that he is largely responsible for its current parlous state.

Whether there is anyone of calibre ready to step up and take his place remains to be see but, from past performance, with the dictator gone we can expect a period of bitter in-fighting before a clear victor emerges. But this is a bad time for it to be happening, when we need focus on the EU withdrawal process.

As always, therefore, Farage has put himself before party and himself before country, telling us, "I want my life back". Well, having blighted many others, he can go and get his life. There will be no regrets over his passing from this quarter.

Richard North 04/07/2016 link

Brexit: the rats rejoin the ship


In yesterday's speech (Friday), running to around 5,000 words and taking an hour to deliver, Michael Gove's "plan for the United Kingdom" certainly demonstrated that he is fond of the sound of his own voice – excessively so.

When it actually came to talking about his plans for Brexit, though, that took less than 250 words. Mr Gove promised to deliver "specific changes". We would, "leave the European Union, end the supremacy of EU law and take back control of our democracy". With my leadership, it will be delivered, he said.

On the promise to take back control of our borders, Mr Gove informed us that he would "end free movement, introduce an Australian-style points-based system for immigration, and bring numbers down".

As to the money we currently send to Brussels, with his "leadership", it would be invested "on the priorities of the British people - principally in the NHS - and to cut VAT on domestic fuel".

The referendum, he said, "was about democratic accountability the principle that politicians must answer, as directly as possible, to the people who elected them". Because of that, Mr Gove believed that the next Prime Minister had to be "on the winning side of the argument".

Put simply, he said: "the best person to lead Britain out of the European Union is someone who argued to get Britain out of the European Union. That is best for the country - to retain the trust of millions of voters - and it is best for the Conservative party too".

What this "best person" singularly failed to deliver, though, was any detail at all about how he would achieve such wondrous things. And, in terms of trade, all we got from him, in one of two mentions, was that he was "a passionate supporter of free markets, free trade and free enterprise".

"We need bold leadership", said this best person, "both to negotiate our new relationship with the European union, and to pursue new trade deals with the rest of the world… with the US, the Commonwealth and the growing markets in South and East Asia".

With 5,000 words at his disposal, and the undivided attention of the world's press, you might have thought that he could then devote even a tiny ration to telling us what sort of relationship he had in mind, when he was going to trigger Article 50 to set negotiations in motion and how he was going to reconcile the need for a trade agreement with free movement of persons.

That we got such thin gruel, at this stage, is completely unacceptable. Business, for all its support of staying in, nevertheless needs more to go on than what Mr Gove had to offer, just as we all need a better idea of what he has in mind, in order to make an informed choice (not that we actually get a choice).

One suspects, though, that Mr Gove, having wafted through the referendum campaign with no clear exit plan, has very little more idea than when he was clambering out of a bright red bus proclaiming that we would give £350 million a week to the NHS – a detail noticeably absent from yesterday's speech.

But then, with only Dominic Cummings to rely on, the "best person" was hardly equipped to do detail. Perhaps the only real detail to come from Mt Gove – and then only in the questions session – was that he would not give Cummings a job in No 10 or his government.

As to a coherent exit plan, no more detail is forthcoming from the other contenders but, while the politicians retreat behind their smokescreens of waffle, the world and his wife is leaping into print, to offer ideas – mostly centring around the Norway/EEA option.

With far more clarity than "best person" Gove was able to muster, we thus have David Frost, head of the Scotch Whisky Association, talking up the Norway option, "but explicitly as a transitional arrangement", while relying on the protection of "the EEA safeguard clause for free movement".

Despite the uncanny similarity in approach, there was no mention of Flexcit, but his adoption of the principles at least puts Frost streets ahead of Wolfgang Münchau hiding behind the Financial Times paywall to tell us the Norway option "is the best available for the UK".

The Norway option, the Great Sage says, is "the economically most benign of all" and "is economically almost neutral" – which is exactly what I've been saying forever. But in FT land, time has stood still, as Wolfgang gravely informs us that "it would not allow Britain to curtail free movement of labour".

But at least this man is also thinking "transitional arrangement", arguing that you could impose a time limit - say, ten years. We could then continue the arrangement indefinitely, opt out of the EEA and seek a bilateral trade agreement, opt back into full EU membership under Article 49.

Gradually, but oh so slowly, the message is beginning it get through – more than two years after I launched the idea in my paper rejected by the IEA. But then, at least we have a Ukip plan on which to rely.

How interesting it is, therefore, that about the only politician so far to offer anything sensible about leaving the EU is the dyed-in the wool "remainer" Theresa May. The mumsy Andrea Leadsom clearly isn't cutting it, thus opening the way for May's uncontested "coronation" some time next week – or so the "Fleet Street" scuttlebutt goes.

By then, one suspects, the "rats" who so quickly deserted the "Norway option" ship will all be swarming back on board. 


I'm shortly off to Bristol, thence to attend Yeovilton Air Show tomorrow (Saturday) – something of an annual North tradition – returning late Sunday. Until I return, blogging will be light to non-existent.

Richard North 02/07/2016 link

Brexit: letting off steam


What does not come over from the media reports, but is extremely evident from President Tusk's statement, is that the meeting in Brussels yesterday of Heads of States and Governments (HSGs) was an informal gathering which had no official status whatsoever.

The gathering, from which the UK was excluded, was not meeting as the European Council (even though it was using – or abusing – Council facilities) and had thus no authority to make decisions or policy on behalf of the European Union. Effectively, this was an exercise in letting off steam.

On the receiving end of the messages, we assume that the "colleagues", individually and collectively, are talking to us. This isn't always the case, and sometimes it isn't the case at all. For the most part, these are politicians speaking to their own domestic audiences - especially Merkel and Hollande, who are facing re-election next year.

What this means, though, is that the much-touted "decision" that the UK "will not be given access to Europe's single market without accepting freedom of movement rules", has no legal force – and probably no practical effect.

Even the choice of terminology is a bit odd, with President Tusk, speaking in English, saying that: "Leaders made it crystal clear that access to the Single Market requires acceptance of all four freedoms, including the freedom of movement. There will be no single market à la carte".

One is never really sure in these circumstances what is meant by "access" to the Single Market. Properly defined, the Single Market is a common regulatory area. A country is either part of it, or it is not. If it is not, then it can trade with the countries forming the Single Market, on defined terms. But for the most part those countries which have trading privileges are not required to accept the full freedoms.

The more one explores this subject, though, the more anomalies are thrown up. For instance, it is common to talk of the Single Market acquis is if it was a monolithic block, common to the entire area. Yet, that is not the case. There is unrestricted trade in agricultural products between the EU-28 but not within the EEA. The Efta states are not part of that market.

Thus, while all Single Market legislation supposedly has the description, "EEA Relevance" appended to it, this is not the case with laws governing agricultural products. We can see that from this example. Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein do not apply these standards (through the EU).

The point that emerges from this is that the Single Market is actually quite flexible - more so than would appear. It can be modified according to circumstances, and different versions of it exist, in different areas. There is no reason in principle, therefore, why the UK should not negotiate its own specific version of the supposedly Single (but actually "variable") Market.

And that very much appears to be the case with freedom of movement. It actually matters not what the HSGs say in an informal meeting because – as we saw with Leichtenstein - the provision for exemption is built into the EEA agreement.

The important thing here is that invoking Article 112 is not bending or twisting the law. Nor is the Article a "loophole" – it is a fundamental part of the Agreement. Thus, to use it to cap immigration is to use it precisely for one of the purposes for which it was intended. And, given that – for Efta states – its application is unilateral, there is no mechanism for over-riding it.

It could of course, come to pass in the Article 50 negotiations, that the remaining EU members refuse to allow the UK to stay in the EEA, or seek to modify the Agreement.

Either would be problematical, and would create as many problems for the EU as it would the UK. Administratively, the EU simply does not want another unique arrangement with a neighbour, absorbing disproportionate amounts of resource.

This has actually been the problem with the Swiss agreements. From the EU's point of view, they are resource-intensive. It would prefer to fold Switzerland into a standard "neighbourhood agreement", common to all its near-neighbours.

Switzerland also has another edge to it, with the outcome of the 2014 referendum on immigration quotas, which is very far from resolved. The EU could find itself fighting quota battles on two fronts, from a weaker position than currently appears.

Nevertheless, as always, our own people are proving to be the greater part of the problem. Fresh out of the "stupid bin" is our old friend Farage who is blithely disowning the Norway option. "We didn't vote for that", he says. "We did not vote to be part of this outdated cartel that is called the single market. We voted to be free of it, to stop regulating the 88 percent of the economy that does not export goods to the European Union".

Having given no serious thought to a post-exit settlement, it is not helpful to have the likes of Farage sounding off, especially as he is speaking against the one option that has any great utility as part of an interim settlement.

He is by no means the only one, but gradually, Flexcit is getting an airing. We're now recording well over 90,000 downloads and will be reaching 100K shortly. The determination in some quarters to ignore the only plan in town is now looking not just small-minded but downright silly. 

For all that, I'm glad I called it Flexcit, with the "Fl" standing for flexibility. We are having to adjust to the changing circumstances, but at least we can. It's the EU which is having the problems adjusting. We're ahead of the game.

Richard North 30/06/2016 link

EU Referendum: so it's out then!


Guest post by Pete North
Well, we've done it. Defying all of my expectations. Firstly, I want to get some things out of the way. Though I was wrong about the result I think the Vote Leave campaign was dismal. I believe it is responsible for this being a slim victory and not a landslide. Those ideas put forth by the leave camp have been wholly disgusting and factually incorrect. I do want to leave the EU but I do not seek the Britain as envisaged by the Tory right, the Labour left or Ukip. Thankfully, reality stands in the way of that.

As campaigner and contributing editor at The Leave Alliance, you should know this. The official Leave campaign was one widely opposed and we never wanted the likes of Boris Johnson or Farage. These are not informed men and they have no idea what they are talking about. Our ethos at TLA was to make a liberal case for leaving the EU, seeking not to dodge the political realities.

To that end, we produced a comprehensive Brexit plan which is rumoured to be required reading in the civil service. We make the case that leaving the EU in a single bound is impossible as it is damaging both to the EU and the UK. And so our recommended path is similar to that of Norway whereby we retain single market membership and freedom of movement.

The funding for the official Vote Leave campaign dries up today and that malign entity will be dismantled. What Ukip says will no longer be relevant. This is now a decision for the adults.

The majority of MPs are opposed to leaving the EU and so they absolutely will not support any moves to leave the EEA as well and so there are democratic safeguards in place to ensure extreme measures are not taken. 

We are meeting on Tuesday to discuss future direction. The proposal will be to continue making the case for Flexcit and for Efta membership under the banner of TLA. It sees us as close allies of the EU but not subordinate to it, which I believe is best for the UK. It retains most of the advantages of the EU without requiring a political merger and gives us control of key policy. I think it is the right move.

This is not about hostility to Europeans or Europe. This is hostility to our political class who continued to commit us to further subordination without public consent. One way or another, Britain will remain a liberal and tolerant nation. We are simply choosing a different mode for our relations with Europe. 

The EU is based on a dogmatic principle of supranationalism. We are departing from that to a more multilateral mode both in Efta and the WTO. This is not the end of the world and I can assure you Ukip and the likes will not get their way. We know this because they only scored 14% at the general election. There are more of us than there are of them.

As a committed leaver for all of my adult life I detest Ukip and what they stand for. And so do our thousands of supporters. I believe this is the right move because the question is now resolved, we can reboot British politics, redesign British governance and move on from a 40 year quarrel. Politics will be far healthier for it at the end of this process.

In the meantime, nothing happens immediately, there is no need for alarm. Brexit is a process, not an event and we will see in due course that the propaganda spouted by the remain campaign was a gross distortion of the facts. 

Though if you wish to guarantee Britain remains a liberal and tolerant country, it will require of you that you maintain current levels of political particpation and speak up for what you believe in. We have been disengaged for far too long which is why we are even here in the first place.

There will be more to discuss and this blog will continue as normal and I expect there is more work to be done. Meanwhile, enjoy the party. You have earned it.

Pete also blogs here, on Pete North's political blog.

Pete North 24/06/2016 link

EU Referendum: "glib and kipperish"


Although we've never been particularly impressed by politicians as a breed, the thought that Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Priti Patel sit either in the main or political cabinet of this Conservative government is pretty daunting. That such low-grade people can get so close to the reins of power perhaps explains why our government is so incompetent.

Now these people have been visited on Vote Leave, we are having to suffer their stupidity in public without the filter of an obliging Civil Service to protect us from their worst excesses. The latest round is their crass intervention on immigration, doing exactly what they said they wouldn't – producing an "exit plan", covering one aspect of the Brexit policy domain.

The flatulent Johnson at least has a sufficient glimmer of intelligence to realise that he is compromised, arguing that he is not offering an "alternative vision" but merely addressing "policy options". Given that this is a distinction without a difference, it is unsurprising that he has referred to his idea of a "points-based system" as a policy that would be carried out by "the government of the day" and "any government" that might be in power after the 23 June referendum, rather than this current government.

But this is a policy which has already been demolished by Migration Watch some eighteen months ago. It is one that has no redeeming features. It can only do harm. With its disadvantages so well rehearsed, however, that even David Cameron is able to trash it within hours, leaving the "remain" campaign with a gift that it will not be slow to exploit.

Crucially, the insistence on rejecting freedom of movement means that Vote Leave has completely and irrevocably ruled out any deal on Single Market participation. It thus excludes the Efta/EEA (Norway) option, just at a time when we are starting to see a recognition that this is the only safe way to leave.

Thus, instead of progressing to a scenario where the electorate is reassured that we can leave without any significant economic penalty, we are instead being regaled by Mr Cameron claiming Vote Leave's ideas, if implemented, would "crash the economy".

In terms of detail, rejection of free movement would cause massive disruption in Ireland. As Mary Ellen Synon remarks, any significant divergence between immigration policies of the UK and the EU would mean that the Common Travel Agreement (CTA) could not survive.

But not only are we looking at the very real prospect of having to reinstate border controls between Northern Ireland and Ireland itself, we are confronting the near certainty of reciprocal action from EU (and Efta) member states.

After enjoying visa-free travel with France and other European countries, since 1946, there is a possibility that we could once again be seeing visas in order to travel to mainland Europe. Certainly, there is no chance that we could start excluding workers from EU Member States and not expect retaliation.

To add to this, the Vote Leave trio are also talking of an early repeal of the European Communities Act, specifically to make it easier to remove criminals and other people whose presence in the UK is "not conducive to the public good". Without going through the full Article 50 process, that would put the UK in breach of its treaty obligations, a move likely to precipitate a complete breakdown in relations between EU Member States and the UK. Such a move would be insane.

Of course, no government would even consider such a rash action, with Lost Leonardo confident that an interim solution would be sought. So the very fact that politicians from Vote Leave should be suggesting it says a great deal about how far the "leave" campaign has departed from reality.

Despite this, some will argue that it represents a robust stance on immigration, which is a sure-fire vote winner. And we may even see a boost in the polls as the intent of this move percolates through to the electorate.

Nevertheless, there are so many hostages to fortune being offered, that the "remain" campaign would have to be even more incompetent that it has already shown itself to be if it didn't make the most of it. Vote Leave has suddenly become the gift that keeps on giving. It is not going to take very long, for instance, for the "remain" campaign to recall that Owen Paterson has already dismissed the Australian system, saying it would not guarantee lower migration.

At a fringe meeting organised by Conservative Home and British Future on immigration, he observed that the issue was "a huge recruiting agent" for UKIP, which was "quite ruthless" at exploiting the issue, then going on to point out that "we do need to have open borders to have a dynamic, thriving economy".

This, in October 2014, was against the background of Mark Reckless's defection, and his claim that unless we leave the EU we shall be unable to restrict immigration. This is quite wrong, Paterson averred. About 13 percent of the UK's population consisted of immigrants, but the equivalent figure for Norway was 14.9 percent, for Switzerland it was 23 percent, and for Australia, with its much-vaunted points system, the migrant level stood at 27 percent.

None of those countries was in the EU, which had Paterson arguing that, "there are no glib, easy, quick-fix answers". Copying Australia's points-based immigration system may sound to some like the answer, he said, but it was "glib and Ukippish". 

Amonth later did we have Lord Green of Migration Watch explain why a points based system for immigration control was "a bad idea". How it is, he asked, that the Australian Points Based System keeps cropping up in the British debate, venturing that it must be because the term has become shorthand for an effective system and, perhaps for that reason, it is regarded by some as an electoral asset. If so, he said, "it is fool's gold".

The Independent, however, suggests that the "Australian-style points system" has become the preferred way of opposing immigration without actually saying that we do not want so many foreigners here. But if that's fool's gold, it's also kipper's gold. It was a bad idea when it was the centrepiece of Ukip's immigration policy for the general election, but it is even worse in the hands of Vote Leave, which is fighting a referendum campaign.

Even without that, says The Sceptic Isle, the abolition of freedom of movement makes the campaign look "negative and regressive". Between that and charge of "fantasy politics", the sight of Vote Leave going "glib and kipperish" is not a pretty sight.

Richard North 02/06/2016 link

EU Referendum: open thread - immigration


In the light of Vote Leave's suicide note on immigration, we're putting up this open thread for the day, which I'll convert into a post this evening.

A point to take on board is that this proposal completely and irrevocably rules out any deal on Single Market participation, and thus excludes the Efta/EEA (Norway) option. Therefore, Vote Leave wants to commit us to a second-tier relationship which, in the short- to medium-term would involve significant economic perturbation.

Another crucial point is that the Australian so-called "points" system is not well named. It is in fact a hybrid quota system. The points get you on the waiting list, but the overall limit is determined by an annual quota. In between is an expensive, cumbersome, bureaucratic system that has central government deciding on access to labour for a large number of companies.

Thirdly, the UK is not Australia. It is only 20 miles from France with a multiplicity of entry points and a long tradition of visa-free entry (since the War, from 1946 on onwards). We have 32 million visitors to the UK each year, as opposed to the seven million or so in Australia – a flow which makes a huge economic contribution.

Experience worldwide shows that where artificial restrictions on entry are imposed, illegal immigration increases exponentially. One set of problems is thereby exchanged for another. Crime rates increase as does the black economic which, of course, does not pay its taxes.

Overall, the Australian system doesn't even work very well for Australia. In a far more complex economy such as the UK, with its entirely different geography and neighbourhood relationships, it is totally inappropriate. Applying it to the UK when Ukip thought of it was a stupid idea. With the outcome of a referendum resting on it, it is insane.

As to Flexcit, there are some who run away with the idea that accepting continued free movement means abandoning any control over immigration. This could not be further from the truth – see Chapters 7 & 8. There are many things we can do, right down to applying unilaterally an "emergency brake" on immigration. 

To secure an exit from the EU and – as much to the point – to win the referendum, we are going to have to compromise. Insisting on a doctrinaire approach to immigration might play well to the faithful, but it has a mixed impact on the "undecideds". In what at best is a very tight contest, the wrong move could cost us the referendum. This may just be the move that has that effect.

More later, as the debate evolves.

Richard North 01/06/2016 link

EU Referendum: a lack of informed consent


Courtesy of Jacob Rees-Mogg, we learn that 23 June, Referendum Day, falls on the anniversary of the Battle of Plassey in 1757 when Clive of India's victory over the Nawab of Bengal and his French allies ushered in over a century of unsurpassed greatness for this country.

But then, it will also be the 50th anniversary of an adjournment debate in the House of Commons, initiated by Mr John Cordle, MP for Bournemouth East and Christchurch. His subject was "Synthetic Detergents (Import Duty)", and he was complaining about an increase in the import tariff from 10 to 20 percent on short-chain fatty acids used for the manufacture of household detergents.

The interest here was that the tariff was imposed to protect just one British manufacturer, owned by Albright & Wilson and employing a mere 35 people. This is something which, six years later, no British Government was able to do, or would be ever again – perhaps until after 23 June 2016 – because we had by then joined the Common Market.

On that same day, however, in 1966, journalist Nigel Lawson was writing in the Spectator about how Harold Wilson's government, in maintaining a weak pound, would ensure that we are frustrated in our desire to become a member of the Common Market.

If the French object to our increasing economic, and therefore political, dependence on the United States, Lawson wrote, both they and the Germans were likely to share the view recently transmitted to Brussels by a German member of the Common Market delegation in London and leaked to Le Monde.

According to this German diplomat, it appeared, were we to join the Community, the English sickness would merely contaminate the economies of the Six and drag them down too.

Perhaps now, this is the reason why the "colleagues" are apparently so unhappy to see us go, fearing that the loss of the UK's buoyant economy will do even more damage to the eurozone economies than the EU has already managed.

Whether or not we break the link, though, Rees-Mogg thinks the "verdict of the British people has to be respected". There can be no rerun of the contest just because one side does not like the outcome, he says. In "the unlikely event of a Remain victory", he adds, and the British people vote to stay, "then I will have to accept that, and shut up".

That, no doubt, will be the view the Prime Minister and the entire establishment will be keen to pursue – but it is not one that I could endorse or in any way will be bound by.

This referendum campaign has been so badly conducted by both sides that the outcome can hardly be representative of anything other than the confusion engendered by the warring tribes.

While the Government – and Mr Cameron in particular – has seen fit to lie openly (as indeed has Vote Leave), the nominal anti-EU factions have been more concerned to use the referendum (and the supposed freedoms gained by leaving the EU) as a platform to promote their favoured nostrum.

Thus we get the "fee traders" using the debate to push their ideas of a tariff-free, regulation-free nirvana, while the anti-immigration lobby – of which Ukip is a prominent part - see this as their opportunity to curtail the movement of people to this country. Others are using the campaign as a proxy leadership contest, and as a means of settling scores within the Conservative Party.

No one on the "leave" side seems to be addressing the issue of what it takes to win this referendum. Leaving the EU, rather than an end in itself, seems to have become a means to an end – actually, to many different ends and not all of them mutually compatible.

We have thus an absurd situation where the "remains" have not even attempted to make the case for continued membership while, on the other side, the case for leaving the EU is not being argued. To argue, for instance, that we want to see immigration reduced is to argue for reduced immigration. It is not primarily an argument for Brexit.

On this basis, we would have to conclude that, whatever the outcome of the referendum, there will be no informed consent – either for staying or leaving. The waters have been well and truly muddied.

What really emerges from this campaign, therefore, is that we don't really know how to fight referendums in this country. This has been more like a general election than anything, with political personalities to the fore. Quite frankly, I don't give a tinker's about Mr Cameron's succession, but that has become a dominant issue. Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow has said he cannot remember a "worse-tempered or more abusive, more boring UK campaign" than that for the EU referendum.

He condemns the media's coverage as "no way to run a chip shop, let alone an interesting and informative campaign for a vote upon which all our futures hang". The campaign, in his view, compares unfavourably to the "coherent and comprehensible" precedent set by the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, saying it has been dominated by abuse and "intemperate challenging of facts by both sides".

To be absolutely fair, one could thus argue that we should discard the result, whatever it might be. That is not going to happen, but if the result goes against us, I have no problem is saying nothing will have been resolved. The fight will have to continue as if nothing had happened.

Richard North 31/05/2016 link

EU Referendum: the wages of stupidity


One can fully understand the sharp reaction of Vote Leave to the publication of the Institute of Fiscal Studies' report on "Brexit and the UK's public finances". For in that report is written two passages which identify clearly why their campaign has failed to dominate the economic arguments, neutralising them as contentious issues and taking them out of the fray.

Firstly, we see the Institute write that the more we can replicate current access to the single market – for example, by membership of the EEA – the lower the cost of exit will be. By contrast, it says, the further we move from that model – for example, relying on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules – the greater the cost.

Then, as we highlight in the graphic above, we see it observe that: "Key Brexit campaigners seem to have ruled out any deal that would involve membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), like Norway".

This, of course, was the whole point of Flexcit, one about which we almost weary of writing. But the simple fact is that, to protect the UK's economic position in the first instance, we had to preserve our participation in the Single Market. And here we see the IFS confirm what we've now been writing about for several years.

However, the problem came in October last year when Cameron flew to Iceland specifically to diss the "Norway model". Despite its attractions, we had the idiotic Dominic Cummings agree with the Prime Minister, sternly declaring: "Vote Leave does not support the 'Norway option' for Britain". After we vote leave, he said, "we will negotiate a new UK-EU deal based on free trade and friendly cooperation. We will end the supremacy of EU law".

When Farage joined in, saying "I don't want a Norwegian deal", followed by Richard Tice of, Douglas Carswell and then John Redwood and Ruth Lea, Cameron had achieved a clean sweep of the noisemakers, and effectively taken the "Norway option" out of the game.

The IFS suggests that part of the reason for these "leavers" rejecting the option was because the UK would likely have to make a significant contribution to the EU budget, but it was as much the case that it would also require continuation of freedom of movement – something to which Farage, in particular, was opposed.

With that, though, the main campaigners are determined to proceed without a plan and cede the economic argument – with Vote Leave relying on the offset from the EU contributions, claiming to save £350 million a week from the EU budget contribution.

This pretention, though, is badly damaged by the IFS, which reminds us that this figure is ignoring the rebate, which "is clearly inappropriate". It is equivalent, says the Institute, "to suggesting that were the UK to leave the EU and not make any financial contribution to the EU’s budget then remaining EU members would continue to pay the rebate to the UK". With brutal simplicity, it concludes: "That is clearly absurd".

Yet, still the Muppets in Vote Leave don't get it. In a bizarre press statement they claim that the rebate is "a discretionary grant which the European commission can pay to the UK if it so chooses". The organisation adds that: "There is no obligation on the commission to pay it", and then seeks sustenance by citing out of context a remark by George Osborne at the Treasure Select Committee (see para 15) – a remark which in itself was disputed.

So totally without foundation are their claims that there is no easy way to describe such crass ignorance. Originally agreed by Margaret Thatcher as the Fontainebleau Abatement in 1984, the rebate relies for its legal base of Articles 311 and 312 of the TFEU and is firmly locked into EU law. It is not in any way a discretionary matter.

It is now firmly entrenched in the budgetary system, having in 2004 become the Generalised Correction Mechanism for all Member States, after a Commission Proposal (COM(2004) 501 final/2).  Currently, it is given force by Council Decision 2014/335/EU "on the system of own resources of the European Union", implementing the European Council decision of 7-8 February 2013. This concluded that the then existing correction mechanism in favour of the United Kingdom was to continue to apply.

This Decision is augmented by Council Regulation (EU) No 608/2014 of 26 May 2014 "laying down implementing measures for the system of own resources of the European Union", and by Council Regulation (EU) No 609/2014 also of 26 May 2014 "on the methods and procedure for making available the traditional, VAT and GNI-based own resources and on the measures to meet cash requirements" (Recast).

Vote Leave, however, have got themselves into a typical bind, trying to defend the indefensible because one of their "stars" is committed to an error and cannot row back from it - as we had with Johnson and his three-fingered banana clusters.

In this case, we have Dominic Cummings who is insisting on using the £350 million figure, come what may - even after having been challenged on it during his session with the Treasury Select Committee. Presumably on the basis that there is no such thing as bad publicity, he believes that the controversy plays into Vote Leave's hands. Despite that, almost everyone around him is telling him that the false claim just detracts from the argument. It is certainly giving the BBC endless opportunities to point out the error.

Such is the notoriety of the £350 million claim that it has even spread to the New York Times giving an international dimension to Vote Leave's stupidity, further degrading the credibility of the leave campaign. And with nowhere else to go, Vote Leave supporters are reduced to whingeing on the sidelines, having already destroyed the best and only counter to the IFS report.

Thus will they find in good time that the wages of stupidity are defeat.

Richard North 26/05/2016 link

EU Referendum: Gove - the fantasy option


This is what Michael Gove said (part of it) on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning:
Robinson: What will the UK be like if we're outside – what relationship would we have with our closest neighbours and important trading partners?

Gove: We would have a relationship of free trade and friendly cooperation. We would be able to demonstrate that democratic self-government, the model of government that we've had in the past and that other countries like Australia and Canada use to their advantage, can be deployed by us in order to spend money on our priorities and indeed in order to negotiate new trade deals with other countries.

Robinson: Forgive me, I want to pursue your positive vision of what 'out' looks like. So free trade like Canada. Now as you know – just take that example because you mentioned Canada – Canada is forced under its free trade deal … to pay tariffs in its services, to pay tariffs on manufacturing components, to pay tariffs for many farming goods as well. So is that the best you can hope for?

Gove: Absolutely not. One of the things about the different models that different countries have is that it proves that there is no single model that Britain has to accept, which is the currently existing alternative. Look, we'd be part of a free trade area.

It's already the case with the European free trade area that extends from Iceland to the Russian Border. The only country in the European land mass outside that is Belarus. We would be part of that and we would benefit also from being able to take back control of our seat on the World Trade Organisation …

Robinson: Would we be in the Single Market, in the European Single Market?

Gove: We would be part of a free trade zone.

Robinson. We would not be in the European Single Market.

Gove: We would have access to the countries of the Single Market by being in a free trade zone.
I was still struggling with that when I read his speech, and this in particular:
There is a free trade zone stretching from Iceland to Turkey that all European nations have access to, regardless of whether they are in or out of the euro or EU-26 After we vote to leave we will remain in this zone. The suggestion that Bosnia, Serbia, Albania and the Ukraine would remain part of this free trade area - and Britain would be on the outside with just Belarus - is as credible as Jean-Claude Juncker joining UKIP.

Agreeing to maintain this continental free trade zone is the simple course and emphatically in everyone's interests.
Amazingly, the reference cited, giving apparent credibility to this mystical creature is this - a colour map showing EU trading partners. Strangely, one might think, there is absolutely no sign of a European free trade zone. It simply does not exist.

But that, is seems, it Vote Leave's picture of what "out" looks like - a totally mythical construct, through which we would gain access to the Single Market. However, I suppose there's a certain logic to it. If Mr Cameron can get away with a pretend treaty, why shouldn't Gove get away with having a completely fictitious European free trade zone?

This is getting almost like the Telegoons - the sketch where Neddy Seagoon decides to hold up a bank to get some money. He doesn't have a gun so he goes in and waves a colour photograph of a gun at the bank staff. They give him a colour photograph of some money.

We are descending into the depths of the surreal. There is nothing here, any more - nothing real - that we can take seriously. Perhaps we've slipped unknowingly into a parallel universe. 

Richard North 19/04/2016 link

EU Referendum: the irony in honesty


It is hugely ironic that, when Prime Minister David Cameron comes close to telling the truth about the EU in his recent article in the Telegraph, a lot of people thought his claim so exaggerated that they were prepared to dismiss it as a lie.

This was his scenario where he asks us to "Imagine a world where a British airline wasn't allowed to fly between Rome and Paris", as a consequence of us leaving the EU.

It could have been better phrased, because what he was referring to was the right of a UK-registered airline picking up paying passengers in Rome and dropping them off in Paris, or vice versa, when en route from a UK destination.

This, though, is not a given right and, in aviation terms is known as the sixth freedom. The first five rights, which include the right to fly to and from a foreign county, the right to overfly others, and the right to refuel or carry out maintenance in a foreign country without embarking or disembarking passengers or cargo, come as part of the package written into the Convention on International Civil Aviation of 1944, otherwise known as the Chicago Convention.

The so-called "sixth freedom" is one of several known as "beyond rights", which do not come automatically. They must be negotiated and agreed separately between individual member states or, in the case of the EU, within specific trading blocs.

For the UK, these rights came about in respect of other EU members states in what was known as the "third package" of liberalisation and other rules, embodied in Council Regulations (EEC) Nos 2407/92, 2408/92 and 2409/92, agreed in 1992.

Since repealed, there have been recast as Regulation (EC) No 1008/2008 on common rules for the operation of air services in the Community, a text which also applies to Efta states within the EEA.

As an EU regulation, this would fall if we adopted the stratagem favoured by some Ukip members of unilaterally repealing the European Communities Act, in order to leave the EU.

But, as Mr Cameron also points out, we would lose this freedom if, as Mr Alexander (aka Boris) Johnson once suggested, we adopted something like the Canadian free trade agreement (CETA) as a model for a post-exit Britain. Under this deal, Canadian airlines are only allowed to operate routes in Europe if they start or end at a Canadian airport. If this rule was applied to British airlines, they would have to scrap hundreds of routes.

Of course, if we adopted the exit stratagem recommended in Flexcit, and rejoined the EEA under the Efta banner, these regulations and many more would stay in force, and our airlines could continue operating just as before.

The trouble is that none of the noise-makers – the "GO" movement, or Vote Leave – are actually proposing this stratagem. Variously, they all want some kind of (unspecified) free trade deal with the EU, effectively giving them full market rights without the commitment to free movement of people.

Doubtless, this magical "bespoke deal" that the noise-makers want is attainable – although no-one has yet committed any details to paper. But what is becoming increasingly apparent is the number of side-issues that are going to have to be settled.

Only the other day, we were discussing specific arrangements for the Irish land border, which will have to deal with movement of goods and people.

There are issues which have been widely discussed about the rights of expats, there are the reciprocal medical treatment agreements, the replacement for the European arrest warrant, the treatment of asylum seekers in Calais, and dozens of other issues that have been raised recently.

To those, Mr Cameron adds the problems of British farmers being slapped with tariffs if they wanted to export more beef to Europe, and of British telecoms companies and car manufacturers facing new barriers when trying to sell their goods and services to customers in Europe.

The Prime Minister also raises the issue of broadcasting. Under EU rules, once a broadcaster is licensed in one member state, it can broadcast in all. If we replicated Canada's deal, companies would have to choose between seeking separate licences in all EU states in which they want to broadcast, and moving out of the UK altogether.

Then, Mr Cameron reminds us, there's our biggest service industry: financial services. Half of all international financial firms base their European headquarters in the UK. From their one office here, EU membership allows them to do business in all 27 other EU states.

These are the so-called passporting rights, and if we are to have a "bespoke deal", we will need to carve out replacement arrangements.

Then, if freedom of movement is not to be unrestricted, then we are going to need negotiations on access provisions. We are gong to have to negotiate separately access to the various security databases, and to market surveillance information, to sharing information on plant and animal diseases, and we're going to need to agree common maritime rules, and air traffic control regulations.

Altogether, it would be rather nice if some of those gifted researchers in either or Vote Leave could get together and list all the separate issues that will have to be negotiated and agreed. And if just the basic Single Market acquis is 5,000 legal acts – without taking account of the CAP and CFP, one might imagine that this could be a rather long list.

If we now remember that it took Mr Cameron ten months to come to a non-deal on his five "baskets", what we then need is for those gifted researchers to come up with a sensible, evidence-based estimate of how long they think it might take to negotiate all the issues which they have listed.

So far, all we seem to be getting is a variation of "alright on the night". The EU needs our trade, so they will want to come to an agreement. And, while that may well be the case, to give that a veneer of credibility, we need some detail on the issues that need to be settled and a timescale.

Without this, Mr Cameron has a point. It's all very well dismissing him as pushing "project fear", but there are real issues which have to be settled and agreed with 27 member states, all within a period of two years – unless someone feels brave enough to rely on unanimous agreement for an extension.

And this, of course, is where the noise-makers are increasingly being caught out. They don't actually know what they want. They've never set out the details and they haven't a clue what it will take to get an agreement. All they can do is fall back on the mantra that EU Member States will want a deal, without any ideas of how to achieve it.

With that, there is no real need for "project fear". The noise-makers are creating a huge vacuum of expectation, allowing Mr Cameron and his remainers to ask them, quite reasonably, to supply some of the detail.

The embarrassing silence that follows tells its own story. Soon, there will be a low murmur, building steadily to a crescendo, recognisable to anyone who has spent any time with battery hens. It will be the sound of chickens coming home to roost – or maybe just Mr Cameron laughing.

Richard North 06/04/2016 link

EU Referendum: border checks for Ireland?


In the battle to leave the EU, the situation between Eire and Northern Ireland is emerging as a major fault line in the campaign. Specifically, when we leave the EU, there the land border between the newly-independent UK and the remains of the EU will also become the external border to the EU.

The implications of this are serious enough to have had the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs of the Irish Parliament in June last year express concerns about the re-imposition of border controls and customs checking, with potentially highly damaging effects on Anglo-Irish trade, with serious effects on the economies of the North and South.

This concern was amplified by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kelly and more recently in the BBC and currently in the Irish Times.

Interestingly, this latter piece, by Deputy Editor Denis Staunton, picks up on what he calls the "leave" campaign's greatest weakness - its failure to answer the question of what happens next if Britain leaves the EU and what kind of arrangement with Europe it should pursue.

Vote Leave, he notes, expects Britain to negotiate a trade deal with the EU, something it expects to be a straightforward process. "The heart of what we all want is the continuation of tariff-free trade with minimal bureaucracy", it says.

The Ukip-dominated campaign, Staunton adds, is even more relaxed, suggesting trade with the EU could continue on just the same terms if Britain leaves. "Given that we buy more from the EU than it buys from us, it is unlikely that the EU would seek to change this in the event of us leaving", it says.

When the government published a White Paper on the alternatives to EU membership, Leave campaigners dismissed it as a "dodgy dossier". Britain would not follow the path of Norway, Switzerland, Canada or Turkey in its post-Brexit relationship with the EU, but it would find a solution of its own, they said.

However, Staunton observes that it is an "an irrefutable fact" that in all third-party relationships with the EU, there is a direct relationship between the level of access granted to the single market and the number of EU rules any country must accept.

As a member of the EEA, Norway is more integrated into the single market than any non-EU country. "In return for such access, it must pay into the EU budget, adopt most new single market rules without being able to influence them and accept the free movement of people from the EU".

Switzerland's bilateral agreements with the EU involves similar obligations, while Canada, which has an advanced free trade agreement with the EU, has to accept EU rules when exporting to Europe but has much less access to the single market.

Says Staunton: "All of these countries, including Norway, are outside the EU customs union and, the White Paper warns, if Britain were also to be outside it, there would be a return of customs checks on the border".

Specifically, the White Paper states that, "under most of the alternatives described … the UK would be outside the EU customs union and so trade across the Border with Ireland would be subject to customs controls and rules on the origin of products".

To avoid this, the Joint Committee of the Irish Parliament recommended that, in the event of Brexit, "no external EU border is established on the island of Ireland separating North from South" – wishful thinking that is about as far from reality as it is possible to get.

With the prospect of border checks, however, there are fears there there will be customs posts on the border and huge queues as trucks wait for clearance. But this is a fantasy. It is wrong to assume that, because the UK would fall outside the Customs Union, it necessarily follows that there would have to be checks on goods crossing the border.

This perhaps harps back to the 19th Century origins of the Customs Union as the German Zollverein, as a means of removing time-consuming and costly border checks. In that case it certainly reflects the limited vision and the extraordinary lack of knowledge displayed by EU supporters.

The myopia is all the more remarkable as in 1949, eight years before the Treaty of Rome which put the Zollverein into effect for the original six members of the EEC, and organisation called the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) launched a scheme to remove cross-border checks of goods in transit.

This system, known as the Transports Internationaux Routiers (TIR) was so successful that it led to the negotiation of a TIR Convention which was adopted in 1959 by the UNECE Inland Transport Committee. It entered into force in 1960. It has since been updated and revised, currently standing as the 1975 Convention, as amended, forever breaking the link between customs control and border checks.

At the heart of the system is a document known as the "TIR carnet", issued to registered transport operators for each truck journey, listing the details of the consignments. These have to be kept in secure load compartments and sealed for the duration of the journeys. The specially marked vehicles are given free passage across borders, with any tariffs or other taxes becoming payable only when the final destination is reached.

Currently, thee million carnets are issued each year, equating to 10,000 trucks a day. Between them, they make 50,000 TIR border crossings daily. And the system has since 2003 been undergoing simplification and computerisation, to become the e-TIR system. As a 21st Century system, it is on its way to emerging as a fully electronic, paper-free operation.

As to Brexit, providing that the UK is prepared to re-enact the Community Customs Code and other flanking legislation to which EU recognition of the TIR system is tied, we could adopt the TIR system for Irish trans-border goods traffic.

This would allow for the worst case scenario, where no trade agreement was reached with the EU. Goods would be subject to varying tariffs and conformity inspections, but there would be absolutely no need for customs posts or border checks.

Where unloading has to be supervised and inspections have to be carried out, there is already an established system of what are known as "inland ports" or "inland clearance depots", where checks can be carried out on goods before delivery. Often, these coincide with break-bulk facilities and local distribution hubs, allowing operations to be combined.

As for the Republic of Ireland, a significant proportion of its trade is with other member states. A significant volume transits through the UK and sometimes other Member States before reaching their final destinations. For this, the EU already has a system in place known as the Community Transit System (CTS), its equivalent of TIR.

By this mechanism, goods travelling between Ireland and other EU Members States can use the system, passing though Northern Ireland, if necessary, and other parts of the UK. There will be no customs checks or physical inspections.

The UK can, of course, go further than the bare minimum provision, relying on TIR. If it joined EFTA, it could then take advantage of the Convention on a Common Transit Procedure, as amended, which initially agreed in 1987. This again allows cross-border movement without the need for border checks, bringing it into the ambit of the EU's CTS. The UK currently recognises this for shipping goods between EU member states. It is used for goods travelling through Switzerland.

Within the EU, the UK integrates the harmonised procedure into our own systems, implementing a substantial body of EU legislation. As part of the Article 50 settlement, it would also be open to the UK to re-enact this body of law, and agree to continue the harmonised system. This would have to be settled during the negotiations, but should not present any undue problems, as long as we don't seek to change anything.

Failing all that, there is the possibility of signing off a special, one-off deal. This is exactly what happened in 2004 with Cyprus to facilitate trade between the divided Greek and Turkish zones. Similar in many respects to the TIR and CTS, this could as a last resort provide a model for trade between the North and South.

All in all, therefore, the chances of a Brexit bringing chaos to Ireland, with new customs posts and border checks, is vanishingly slight. And what could be agreed for Ireland could also be applied to Scotland in the event that it became independent. There is little possibility of reactivating the modern equivalent of Hadrian's wall.

Scaremongering apart – for which the major culprit seems to be the UK Government – there is little for Ireland to fear from Brexit, in terms of any disruption to trade. The day after we leave, reporters on both sides of the border will be scratching their heads, wondering what all the fuss was about, as they find they have absolutely nothing to report.

Richard North 03/04/2016 link

EU Referendum: more positives and negatives


Continuing the theme introduced a couple of days ago, I'm again going to look at the upside of the coming campaign, which officially starts in two week's time, but also some of the less happy aspects – which are as much part of the terrain as the good stuff.

Firstly, on the ROSL Meeting booked for 23 April, we've had a steady trickle of people specifically asking to reserve seats. Although booking is not required, I'm happy to do that, so if anyone wants to contact me, I'll make the necessary arrangements.

As to the line-up, this is not going to be the normal (and frankly tedious) series of talking heads. We'll be doing things in a very different way. Firstly, after the official welcome, Booker will introduce the session and then I will deliver a TED-style talk on Flexcit, with the audience very much part of the package.

Then we have the audience asking questions and making comments from the floor, in an extended Q&A, where anything goes and everything is filmed. We then plan to edit these sessions, to provide a series of crisp, video clips to post on YouTube and keep the interest going, right up to the date of the referendum.

Separately, we're hiring an ante-room where we can do quiet, one-to-one interviews of our blogger team and individual guests, on a wide range of topics, again to provide clips for posting on YouTube. And we'll also do a short piece on The Great Deception, which is now back in print.

That's very much the positive end of our campaigning, with Robert Oulds of the Bruges Group also reporting that the short version of Flexcit is turning out to be their all-time best seller, with the free electronic copy also available from their site.

As to what might be considered the "negative" side, however, even this is essentially positive in effect. What we're doing is applying the dictum "fight to win but prepare to lose", something you might have thought was quite popular as mottos go.

Strangely, the only reference I can find on the net, though, is from an old copy of the New Straits Times from 1998. Nevertheless, the auguries are good as it defines a court strategy adopted by Microsoft in protecting its intellectual property.

The dictum is worth mentioning here as it is very much part of this blog's activities as we move towards the final phase of this referendum campaign. We will very much be fighting to win, but in the particular battle there is always the possibility that we will lose - and for that we must be prepared.

On the basis that this is but one battle, and the war goes on, it is a useful exercise to record errors and failures in the campaign, better to instruct those who follow, in the event that they have to pick up the baton and fight another referendum campaign.

If we win, of course, the exercise won't matter, but there's no harm in an insurance policy. After all, the first thing we did once we knew there was a referendum in the offing was re-read the seminal book The 1975 Referendum by David Butler and Uwe Kitzinger, to remind us of the mistakes made.

Since the book is now out of print, and copies are extremely expensive, The Boiling Frog scanned the whole book and we uploaded it on this site, where it is still available as a free download.

Through an oversight, there are two pages missing. On one (p.287) there is a passage I used in a piece written on this blog nearly eleven years ago on the experiences of one Conservative campaigner. He had been in the thick of the battle, and observed:
What was notable was the extent to which the Referendum, certainly in its latter stages, was not really about Europe at all. It became a straight left versus right battle with the normal dividing line shifting further over than in general elections – hence the Labour Party split and their discomforture. In all the speeches I made to Conservative audiences the trump card was always – "beware Benn, Foot, Castle". It was this, more than anything else, which solidified the Conservative vote and increasingly negated the efforts of anti-EEC Conservatives.
Just over a week ago, we were writing of the need to record as many examples of errors as possible, to ensure that there are warnings for future generations in the event of us losing. At the end of that process there is a book that must be written, fulfilling the same role as Butler and Kitzinger's efforts all those years ago.

The passage we have used already illustrates how history is, to an extent, repeating itself. The contest is becoming a foil for the leadership ambitions of Alexander (aka Boris) Johnson, distracting people from the core issues, and is already a proxy war for the soul of the Conservative Party.

Yesterday, perhaps, we saw another highly public example of where the campaign is going so badly wrong, and where "leave" campaigners have been completely misled. This came in the form of "GO" movement campaigners lining up for a very public photo-shoot, delivering their application papers to the Electoral Commission in pursuit of designation as the lead campaigner (pictured).

To bring home how much things have changed. we need to recall that their role as the alternative to Vote Leave was originally (once it had changed its name from Founded by businessman and Ukip donor Arron Banks, the key figures were very keen to stress that it was a "people's campaign", looking for figures from all walks of life, from businesspeople to UK border guards, to put its messages forward, rather than just politicians.

When millionaire Toby Blackwell joined the group last October, he attacked the "Westminster elite" for undermining the campaign and called on squabbling politicians to step back in order to allow a people's movement to grow.

Characterising the campaign as a new "Battle of Britain", Blackwell declared that it was "not owned by any political party or any politicians but all of us". This should, he said, "be a people's campaign".

Now, effectively, we've seen the "bait and switch" as – its job done - has stood back and handed the reins to the "GO" movement. And while Nigel Farage was originally kept in the background, this new outfit is very visibly led by him, surrounded by smiling politicians. The people are mere "extras", drafted in for the crowd scenes and to provide the applause.

This is not what many people signed up to, and it creates exactly the dynamic we wished to avoid. Really, the very last thing we wanted was the referendum degenerating into a personality contest between rival politicians. But as the situation has developed, either - as we pointed out yesterday - we end up with Nigel Farage as the lead protagonist or, possibly even worse, we are overtaken by the "Boris and Dave" show.

Potentially, the campaign would be at its most effective when cast as the people versus the establishment, the latter being represented by "Dodgy Dave" and his equally "dodgy deal". That framing, however, has been swept aside in order to sate the ambitions of grandstanding politicians, who have basically hijacked our campaign.

Whether it is even possible to have a people's campaign, or realistic to expect the politicians to confine themselves to the margins, is moot. But yesterday's activities saw the demolition of any chances of that happening in this campaign.

Ironically, yesterday also saw the death reported of Ronnie Corbett, famous for the comedy sketch on the roles of the British classes – a sketch that has the "working class" Corbett come up with the immortal line: "I know my place". And in the machinations of the "GO" charade, the relevance of the line has been brutally reinforced.

A referendum may be the people's contest, but we have yet to learn how to prise the politicians' grubby fingers from it.

Richard North 01/04/2016 link

EU Referendum: unity not on the agenda


I've been writing for some time now that, when it comes to the British media, truth and accuracy are theoretical concepts with no practical application. If it suits them, any one of the printed or broadcast titles will lie – by omission as much as anything. Inaccuracies which distort their reports are grist to the mill.

And today being the last day on which contenders can submit applications to the Electoral Commission for lead designation, respectively for the "leave" and "remain" campaigns, nothing changes. But then one might ask, why would the media want to change when they have been peddling their lies for so many decades? With their own agendas to push, now is the very last time we might expect a sudden Damascene conversion.

So it is that the Telegraph on its usual mendacious form parades a headline which escapes being an outright lie by being a quotation from the Prime Minister who is turning lying into an art form, exceeded in intensity and frequency only by Alexander (aka Boris) Johnson.

Strictly, from a Jesuitical perspective, the lie comes in the willingness to repeat another's lie without pointing out that that is what it is. And in this case, we are dealing with Mr Cameron's claim that the only thing than unites eurosceptics is their inability' to spell out vision for Brexit. That vision does exist, in the form of Flexcit, circulated online, with over 50,000 copies having been downloaded.

What is true is that the two organisations that going forward with applications for designation as lead for the "leave" campaign, have been unable to produce their own visions, much less agree between each other as to what it should be.

One of the bidders is the "GO" movement, ostensibly led by Nigel Farage, which takes in Ukip and Arron Banks's The other is Vote Leave Ltd, a company with strong Conservative Party links, which emerged from the Business for Britain grouping launched by Matthew Elliott. Its leaders include Michael Gove and Gisela Stuart, but it also claims the support of Alexander (aka Boris) Johnson.

An overview of their respective websites confirms the lack of coherence and the singular lack of detail. "In fact", says David Cameron, "the only common ground is their inability to tell the British people what would happen if we left the EU. They have failed to answer reasonable questions about what would happen to jobs, prices or our country's security if Britain left the EU".

That neither grouping is able to offer a credible (or any) vision or an accompanying exit plan is a reflection of the deep differences between prominent individuals within the eurosceptic "movement", driven as it is by powerful egos which have ensured continuous rivalry over the decades, resulting in an absolute refusal to work together.

Thus, within the two groups submitting applications, there are deep, irresolvable rifts. The only way campaign managers have been able to contain them has been to promote an agreement to disagree, a moral cowardice and lack of resolve which the Prime Minister and the "remain" campaign have been quick to exploit.

Predictably, attempts to bring the two groups together have failed. They could never have succeeded anyway because of the internal rifts. Activists and supporters calling for unity have thus been frustrated. The rifts are simply too deep and long-standing for them to be cleared away, and there is no willingness amongst individuals, the so-called "eurosceptic aristocracy", to allow this to happen.

In another important respect, though, the Prime Minister has got it wrong. The two groups are united not only in their "inability" to come up with their own plans but also in their absolute refusal to entertain Flexcit. This seeks to accommodate the different demands of eurosceptic, while squaring the circle by keeping in touch with reality. Its only success in respect of the two groups applying for designation is to secure the enmity of both.

However, the lack of a coherent, universally accepted plan is – as we saw yesterday - already having a damaging effect on the "leave" campaign. But the superficial and fragile unity within the groups is far more important to their managers than the formation of any effective strategy. That would require a firm commitment to a single plan, which would tear the groups apart.

The result has been plain for all to see – a fractious, incoherent campaign, fought on a day-to-day tactical level without any underlying strategy. The battle, such that it is, comprises mainly of bickering with the "remains" over every-more arcane and tendentious issues, frequently driven off course by the short-term news agenda.

Come 14 April, when the Electoral Commission is obliged to publish its decision, we will perforce have one winner and one loser in the "leave" camp. The loser will be restricted to a spend of £700,000 while the winner will be able to spend £7 million. It will also receive a cash grant of £600,000 plus certain other benefits, including the right to air referendum broadcasts and send the official referendum address, on behalf of the "leave" proposition, to all UK households.

In the final analysis, though, the outcome of the designation process has ceased to have any relevance. Both groups are as bad as each other, with only marginal differences which will have little impact on the conduct of the campaign. In the absence of a coherent intellectual base, the contest will become increasingly personalised, centred either on Nigel Farage or, more likely, becoming the "Boris and Dave" show.

That leaves the independent groupings, such as The Leave Alliance, to do the heavy lifting without grant support or any media recognition, and without the big bucks and corporate donors.

To their advantage is the revolutionary tool of the internet, the full potential of which has yet to be realised and fully exploited. But, to a huge degree, this also makes the designation process irrelevant. As the Scottish referendum demonstrated, the official groupings no longer have a near-monopoly of access to the voting public, and the power of the media is substantially diminished.

Nevertheless, the fractious – and fractured – nature of the "leave" campaign creates an unnecessary and unwanted handicap in a contest which is going to be hard enough to win, even with everyone pulling together.

But, with absolutely no sign of the main groups getting their acts together, that is the reality on the ground. Unity is not a realistic prospect, and there is going to be no coalescence around a single vision or exit plan. Individually and collectively, the main players have decided that winning is not a priority. That is how it is going to be.

Richard North 31/03/2016 link

EU Referendum: positives and negatives


Not everything is what it seems. While we are focusing to certain extent on the negative aspects of this campaign, behind the scenes we are planning a big push for 23 April with a meeting in London at the Royal Overseas League, starting at 2pm and lasting until 6pm. 

Booking is not necessary, but if anyone wants to reserve a seat, drop me a line on the contact button and we'll keep a place for you. We'll be charging £15 at the door - which also covers coffee at the start and finish - and donations will welcome, as always.

Christopher Booker has agreed to chair the meeting and the idea is to update and improve on the Dawlish event, styling it closer to the TED talks format, in front of a live audience. There will be three cameras in operation, so you will have plenty of opportunity to make your points on film.

The longer-term output will be a video for posting on YouTube, but we also plan to produce mini-clips of a number of interviews with supporters, and cut-outs from the question and answer sessions. We should, therefore, we able to post videos on many of the remaining days of the campaign, providing new material for fuel the debate, when it really matters.

Interestingly, at the Dawlish meeting, back in September 2014, we predicted that the opposition would be majoring on the idea that leaving the EU would be a "leap in the dark". Here we are now, with the Prime Minister pushing precisely that as a slogan and the "Stronger In" campaign sending out leaflets with that emblazoned on the front.

Countering this meme will be our positive contribution to the campaign, funded largely by the generous contributions of our readers, which are still coming in via the direct route. Nonetheless, we still need additional funds to get the message out, and to support our blogging effort.

Our current plans take account of the Scottish experience where much of the campaigning took place on the internet. The battle was largely out of sight of the legacy media – which made the usual mistake of believing that it was dominating the debate.

More so, we believe, this campaign is being dominated by internet exchanges, where there is real discussion, as opposed to the sterile, tedious fare that the media sees fit to present us with.

However, while less attractive, the negative side of campaigning is just as important. Sadly though, much of that involves attempts at resisting the media determination to turn the referendum into the "Dave and Boris Show", thereby creating a grotesque beauty pageant which is robbing the contest of its meaning.

Here, Tony E at Brexit Door has some interesting observations to make, illustrating how completely the Labour Party seems to have withdrawn from the battle. Looking at LabourList, the biggest independent Labour blog, there is no sense that we are engaged in the most important political contest of the century. There is no mention whatsoever of the EU referendum.

If one imagines a scenario where Labour's Mr Corbyn had positioned his party firmly on one side or the other of the debate, it would have had a profound effect in the contest, in making it a multi-party battle.

As it stands, with Labour having almost completely vacated the field and the LibDems having dropped below the horizon, this has left the divided Conservatives as the main protagonists.

That has paved the way for the legacy media to revert to its favourite sport – reporting Tory "splits". It was thus inevitable that the contest would be turned into a battle between the two wings of the Tories, one led by David Cameron and the other by Alexander (aka Boris) Johnson, the serial liar.

Another option open to the media would have been to cast the battle as a David and Goliath struggle, as between the real David (as in Cameron) cast as the Goliath, and Nigel Farage as the plucky challenger, determined to bring freedom to the people.

However, Farage ruled himself out when he chose to make immigration his main (and only) pitch. There was no way that the media was going to play his game and make the referendum a single issue campaign.

In any event, the opportunity to pursue the "Dave and Boris" soap opera was more than the media could resist. Perforce, this has relegated Nigel and his Ukip supporters to the second division, as part of the sparsely-reported "GO" movement, Arron Banks's disappearing and the barely visible Vote Leave.

Lacking any clear strategic purpose or anything positive to offer, these groups have resorted to bickering with their counterparts the "remain" campaign. So dire has this become that it has been described as a "wretched, witless race to the paranoid bottom".

Extraneous matters, such as the fate of the NHS, have been brought into the fray, distracting voters from the key issues, while the "he says this, he says that" narrative is calculated to drive people away in their droves.

This was precisely what we wanted to avoid. There is now the very real risk that, as the squabbling intensifies, the voting public will decide that the only sensible response is "a plague on both your houses". Unable to sort the wheat from the chaff, and deluged in detail, they will vote for personalities, without reference to the issues.

The way we wanted to frame the contest was as between the people and the establishment, the latter represented by "Dodgy Dave" and his equally dodgy deal. Now it has been hijacked by the politicians, and the intervention of Mr Johnson has taken the "dodge deal" off the agenda.

The only way we can see to reinstate it is to take "Boris" out of the picture – a necessary precaution in any event. His unpredictability, incompetence and his propensity to lie makes him an extremely unreliable ally who could so easily do more harm than good, as is already proving to be the case.

In my view, the Parris attack – whatever its motivation – is a harbinger, and anyone who is as vulnerable as Mr Johnson is not someone we can allow to head up out campaign. This is a man who, in every facet of his professional and private life is a sustained and prolific liar.

The irony of this is that our strongest suit in attacking the Prime Minister is that he too is a liar – in particular over his pretend treaty. Yet an attack on these grounds by an inveterate liar such as Mr Johnson is not going to get very far. We thus have a potential campaign leader who cannot afford to deploy our most potent weapon.

This means that the first part of our DOR strategy goes wanting. And if Johnson cannot debunk Dave's dodgy deal, neither can he nor any of the other "leavers" come up with a suitable alternative offer, or any credible reassurance that such an offer is achievable.

That put The Leave Alliance in exactly the position we expected to be in when we discussed the prospect of forming a reserve. We are the only group that is not compromised, and which has a coherent strategy.

We aim to start putting that into effect on 23 April, balancing positive and negative aspects of campaigning to the best advantage, with the emphasis increasingly turning to the positive. Even if it is not enough, we intend to go down fighting – ready for the next round if it proves necessary.

Richard North 30/03/2016 link

EU Referendum: too difficult to call


There is some comfort being taken from the latest ICM poll which has the "leave" campaign edging ahead by a slender two points, putting it at 43 percent of the poll as opposed to the "remains" at 41 percent.

This has been attributed to the turmoil attached to the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith, rather than reflecting any specific activity of the respective campaigns, which have yet to have any serious impact on public sentiment.

However, in a campaign which has yet to start officially, David Cameron has the worst behind him in that he seems to have got away with returning from Brussels with his hands empty. The failure to secure "full-on" treaty change, should, according to long-standing predictions have given the leavers a 15 percent lead so if this is as bad as it gets, the Prime Minister will be able to count himself fortunate.

It remains to be seen whether the Brussels bombing will have any effect on sentiment, but the results could be equivocal.

Ukip has been quick to invoke lack of border control as a factor in the attacks but the two dead bombers are both Belgian nationals, apparently operating from a cell within the country. With extensive criticism of the Belgian security services also emerging, it may well be the Ukip intervention rebounds on them, and the polls fail to deliver an anti-EU "bounce". In fact, there may well be a backlash against those who have sought to exploit events.

It is not unreasonable to suggest that the degree to which the polls shift will depend on how much voters focus on the actual referendum issues, and the extent to which they are distracted by events. Even the attempts to tie in the ongoing but as yet undeclared Tory leadership contest with the referendum may have a mixed effect.

What will most certainly be relevant, though, is the designation process for the lead campaigner. Applications, which opened on 4 March, close on 31 March - in one week's time. The decision will be announced on 14 April. The choice made by the Electoral Commission will have a significant effect on the conduct of the campaign.

This contest is said to be the real reason for the suspension of Suzanne Evans from Ukip, as this MEP is currently supporting Vote Leave, the rival to the "GO" movement supported officially by Farage and Ukip, and by Arron Banks's

It will be very difficult for the Electoral Commission to award the lead designation to a grouping which does not have the support of Ukip. But with MEPs Suzanne Evans and Patrick Flynn, plus Ukip's sole MP Douglas Carswell, Vote Leave is able to claim they have some support from this quarter. To these they are also able to add as many as 400 Ukip councillors.

A potential USP (unique selling point) for Arron Banks's, at the core of the "GO" movement was their intention to adopt Flexcit (agreed in private but then denied in public). But a recent e-mail to a reader makes it very clear that the group has abandoned any idea of presenting a coherent exit plan.

Instead, the group merely refers to "a number of outstanding issues that would need to be resolved in the two years after the referendum", and expresses its confidence that these issues will be resolved "as it is in the economic interest of all countries that this happens".

In terms of its campaign strategy, it states an intention to "carry out a grassroots campaign that resonates with ordinary people", that "recognises the need for a large scale ground campaign and carries a message of optimism about our future outside of the European Union".

This retreat from a coherent strategy, to rest its entire campaign on unsupported aspiration, almost certainly weakens's chances of designation - especially as it seems to be "borrowing" Mr Johnson from Vote Leave to populate its own twitter feed, thereby favouring a politician from a rival organisation, and contradicting its claim to be a grassroots organisation. Supporting a Tory leadership contender is hardly the sign of a people's campaign.

For (one assumes) a dispassionate Electoral Commission, this probably puts Vote Leave in the top slot, a position reinforced in terms of the prestige of having a clutch of cabinet ministers in its ranks, and a demonstrably more effective administration.

If Vote Leave takes the prize, that will require a clarification of its relations with Boris Johnson, who is not yet formally part of the Vote Leave campaign. The likelihood is that he will be anointed "Mr Bexit" and become de facto leader of the "leave" campaign.

Although the alternative of Mr Farage is no more attractive, Johnson's position would bring into high focus his chaotic performance in front of the Treasury select committee. And while the Telegraph is content to re-write history to protect the reputation if its man, there are other reports which give a more accurate picture.

Johnson is now quite clearly a marked man as it was quite evident that he was the focus of an elaborate ambush in the select committee - a deliberate attempt to bring him down. His inability to deal with this attack bodes ill for the campaign as a whole. It could have a significant adverse effect on voter sentiment, over the longer term.

With three weeks to go before the official start of the campaign, however, there is no way of telling which way things will go. At the moment, it is far too difficult to call. It is remain's to win and ours to lose.

Richard North 24/03/2016 link

EU Referendum: on making mistakes


Although it is a tad premature, amongst friends and acquaintances, we've been having a fair bit of discussion on the role of this blog once the referendum is over.

Fairly obviously, that depends to a great deal on the result. Should we be fortunate enough to win, we expect to be highly active in offering views on how the exit negotiations should be managed, and what the various targets should be.

If we lose, there will be a need to set out the reasons why we think we lost, in particular highlighting the mistakes made. Then, at least, future generations will know the pitfalls when we get a re-run, as we surely must.

But if this is a potential function of the blog, post-referendum, then the best way of doing it is to come prepared, monitoring and assessing the campaign as we go and offering a running commentary. That makes for what is grandly known as multi-functionality.

Primarily, the main function should be campaigning. And if we were having a material effect on the campaign then that's where all our energies should be focused. Sadly, though, it is very clear that in the main campaigns – Vote Leave, and the GO/ nexus – views have polarised and ossified.

We thus see the likes of Richard Tice, co-founder of, coming up with exactly the same dire boilerplate that he was churning out months ago, without the slightest evidence of a shift in position.

Vote Leave, meanwhile, have left their bizarre views on their website – oblivious to reason or counter-argument, demonstrating their absolute determination to stand above anything that might approximate debate. At the same time, they endorse Mr Johnson's increasingly incoherent position.

Against these noise-makers, and without the resource or time fully to develop our cascade system, our role becomes more of an attempt to illustrate what an effective campaign should look like. We also provide an outlet for those who do not want to tarnish their own reputations by association with these groups.

As to the mistakes, as an old hand at campaigning I'm entirely at one with Gene Sharp who long ago declared that: "Claims and reporting should always be strictly factual. Exaggerations and unfounded claims will undermine the credibility of the resistance".

To avoid giving the opposition a free hit, I've spent a lot of time and energy behind the scenes, directly and indirectly. But when we find advice privately given is consistently ignored or rejected – and mostly for no good reason – then we have to consider other ways of getting the message though.

Here, we have to think of the balance of advantage: whether the downside of going public outweighs the need to ensure that campaigners have access to good, accurate information.

Then, there are different kinds and levels of mistake. We have the strategic errors but then we have the tactical errors such as yesterday when, with the smoke still hanging in the air over Zaventem and Maalbeek, Ukip was already in action. Its defence spokesman declared: "This horrific act of terrorism shows that Schengen free movement and lax border controls are a threat to our security".

This can be seen as a mistake in being too quick off the mark, and thereby insensitive, especially as we currently have so few details about these attacks. Any offence, though, is partly mitigated by Hugo Dixon having been equally opportunistic in arguing that the bombings are a reason for staying in the EU.

But there is a greater error than opportunism – or being associated with comments such as this. That, as Pete North points out, is in enlisting this barbarity as material to serve the argument on either side of the EU debate.

Simply, it is not an issue. In or out of the EU, the UK will continue to work with its continental neighbours, as indeed it works with most other countries in the world, in order to combat the menace of terrorism. We were doing so long before we joined the EEC, and will be doing so long after we have left the EU.

From a purely human point of view, therefore, the correct response would be to express sympathy for those affected by tragedies which could have been so much closer to home, and to pledge continued assistance and cooperation, regardless of the result of the EU referendum.

There we shall leave this matter, otherwise we too stand at risk of being accused of opportunism, and look at other types of error.

As it happened, on Monday we had an extraordinary example of Mark Ellery writing on the EU's legislative procedure, making the rookie error of confusing the European Council and the Council of the European Union (formerly the council of Ministers).

Having crossed swords with this gentleman before, we did not expect anything but a hostile reaction to any attempts to post a correction, so no great care was taken to avoid bruising egos. But the response more than adequately illustrated the nature of the problem we have with many eurosceptics – this one representing himself as the research "executive" at Get Britain Out.

Nevertheless, simple technical errors – although potentially serious if allowed to spread unchecked – pale into insignificance against this strategic blunder which has had businessman Peter Hargreaves, on behalf of, writing to around 15 million homes at the cost of millions of pounds, "beseeching" them to vote to leave.

The text of the letter, reporoduced here, relies for its effect on telling us how awful the EU is, right down to asserting that: "It certainly adds a huge amount to your grocery bill".

This is more or less the line taken in the failed 1975 referendum, and at every opportunity by some eurosceptics ever since. And you would have thought – as I wrote recently – that if forty years of telling people how badly off we are was going to work, we would by now be a million light years ahead in the polls.

The problem with being rich though, is that there will be very few people around you prepared to tell you how wrong you are and, with plenty of money, you don't have to listen to them even if they do.

On twitter from 1st March until the referendum, Hargreaves is undertaking to give 115 reasons why we should leave the EU, many of them so tendentious as to achieve nothing but to lower the tone of the campaign and reduce our credibility.

Even he, however, is unable to match the noise level of Boris Johnson in promoting CETA as a model for the alternative to EU membership, and this is another mistake to add to the list.

After the 1975 referendum, David Butler and Uwe Kitzinger published a book called The 1975 Referendum, which recounted many of the mistakes made by the then "no" campaign. The book should have been essential reading for today's campaigners. But, with the current batch of campaigners replicating many of the past errors, and adding a huge bundle of new ones, it's actually hard to imagine how they can all be fitted into one book.

It rather makes sense, therefore, to get in early with the blog, and collect as many examples as early as possible, to ensure the record is complete. It's a bit like taking time lapse photographs of the train wreck. With luck, we won't need it, but if there is another referendum we wouldn't want to deprive future generations of the chance of making the same mistakes.

Richard North 23/03/2016 link

EU Referendum: the race to the bottom


As early as June last year, Dominic Cummings had already decided that his emergent Vote Leave campaign wouldn't have an exit plan, no doubt with the approval of wonder boy Matthew Elliott. His reason was that it would become the target of the opposition's attacks.

Predictably, the story has become Vote Leave's lack of a plan, whence we had Boris Johnson come up with the half-baked idea of using the Canadian free trade deal (CETA) as a model. An equally predictable result has been that David Cameron and sundry others have shredded it at every opportunity.

This has led to Johnson, in between behaving like a demented child, having to row back his apology for a plan. This he did yesterday on LBC, limiting his enthusiasm to "elements of the Canada deal I like". As a replacement, the man-child offered a stunningly original alternative. "We should do a British deal ...", he said.

Presented with this wide-open goal from Johnson, David Cameron  had no trouble at all with an appropriate response. Speaking to dock workers in Felixstowe, Suffolk, he said people who advocate the Canadian option were "literally making it up as they go along". And that indeed is what Johnson is doing, having mentioned nothing of this cunning plan prior to last week's speech in Dartford.

But Mr Cameron is now well practiced, after his equally comprehensive demolition job delivered in Vauxhall on 10 March. A Canada-style free trade deal, he confidently asserted: "means you do not have full access for your financial services, you have to pay tariffs on your cars, you don't have full access for your farmers' produce. So it's not a great deal for Britain".

"Canada", the Prime Minister added, "is a country 4,000 miles away from the continent of Europe that does ten percent of its trade with the European Union. We are a country just 20-odd miles from the continent of Europe and we do 50 percent of our trade with the European Union. So a Canada deal is not the right deal for us". It was then, picking up on Johnson's own confusion, he told his audience:
To start with they wanted to be in the single market, then they said let's do a free trade deal, then they said let's do a Canada free trade deal. Today, the leaders of the leave campaign are saying they don't really want a Canada deal at all, that they weren't right about that. They are literally making it up as they go along. They are rolling the dice and they're taking a risk with people's jobs and people's livelihoods.
In practical terms, this means that the Vote Leave campaign is turning out to be a train-wreck, leading Business Insider to make the obvious remark, that "one of the biggest weaknesses with the Leave campaign is that it is struggling to present a consistent vision of what Britain will look like outside of the EU to the public".

Cameron and the "remain" campaign, says Business Insider, are clearly aware of this and see it as a weakness they can exploit. They don't need us to tell them that, and as long Vote Leave and Mr Johnson between them insist on making basic, unforced errors, they can hardly complain if the opposition does exploit this gift so freely given.

Furthermore, in the hands of Vote Leave, this is the gift that keeps on giving. Johnson's unguarded reference to a "British deal" is worthless rhetoric, unless he can put substance to it, which he cannot. When he is goaded by the opposition, he will only make things worse, lacking as he does the slightest idea of what a coherent exit plan looks like.

In a sign of things to come, though, Johnson shows no signs of recognising the depths of his own stupidity. In his LBC interview, he blithely stated: "We've been in the EU for 40 years. We are a massive economy. There's no reason why we shouldn't do a deal very rapidly indeed".

This truly is jaw-dropping stupidity. Recalling only recently the complications over beef tariffs, one could quite easily imagine the "colleagues" taking six months out, just to bicker over the levels of tariff-free beef quotas. By the time we've worked our way through the 912-page tariff list during the exit negotiations, we could be well into the next century.

Despite that, some would argue that a deal could be reached quickly because we already have a high degree of regulatory and system convergence, but that is hardly the point.

It is the multiplicity of the issues at the margins which will take the time, things like dispute settlement procedures, the systems for ensuring continued regulatory convergence, asylum and extradition procedures, overseas aid and foreign affairs. In fact, there is a whole raft of complex issues. Imagine how much time will be needed just to sort out social security and health arrangements for expats, both here and those of our own who are resident abroad.

None of these issues are irresolvable, but they add to the time taken. My bet is one of the big ones – the amount of financial compensation we have to pay for leaving the EU – will take the most time. But even without that, all our experience indicates that it would be wildly optimistic to expect an ab initio deal to be concluded within five years. There are thus multiple reasons why we can't do a deal "very rapidly indeed".

The problem we have, though, is that Mr Johnson's stupidity is just as prevalent in the other camps. Arron Banks, for, having flirted briefly with Flexcit, retreated at the speed of light when some online ex-Kippers were nasty to him. He then entertained the better deal fallacy before lapsing into silence and running way from the debate.

Meanwhile, Ukip – which will be driving the "GO movement" in the competition for lead campaigner designation - is trapped by the intransigence of Lord Dartmouth. Since March 2014, he has been promoting the "bespoke" free trade deal - drawn from the same well of stupidity from which Boris Johnson avails himself. Even now, Dartmouth has not changed his position in the slightest, despite Mr Cameron's intervention.

As far as I understand it, this remains the official Ukip stance, with the fallback of the suicidal WTO option, in the event of our failing to negotiate a deal within the two years initially allowed for by Article 50.

So far, the Johnson stupidity has given Cameron the opportunity to accuse him of "rolling the dice" with people's futures - a charge that is both credible and easy to sustain. This is a massive own goal which we intend to plug with the launch of Leave Alliance tomorrow. But who could possibly have predicted those years ago when we started writing what was to become Flexcit that the main "leave" campaigns would be so intent on suicide, and so determined to hand the game on a plate to the opposition?

The worst of it all is that it is sterilising the debate. With no worked-out plan on offer by the noise-makers, there can be no discussion over the contents - no positive vision to discuss. The media, hard put at best to report intelligently, is running out of material and the leave groups have nothing interesting to say.

We are thus seeing the slow death of the campaign. By June, most people will be so bored by it all that hey will be looking for the torture to end. A golden opportunity to bring the "Europe" issue to life is being lost, the effect of dire decisions made by stupid people, fronted currently by the idiot Johnson.

Never, I suspect, has a political campaign been so badly managed. Never have so many opportunities been squandered. Those responsible should be hanging their heads in shame, except that not one of them seems to have sufficient wit to recognise their own incompetence.

If we do win this referendum, it will be a miracle, relying on the only thing that can possibly save us: the "remains" are about as incompetent as the "leavers", although it is a close-run thing. In this grotesque race to the bottom, it seems that this is all we have to look forward to – the death of adult politics.

Richard North 16/03/2016 link

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