Brexit: an unknown destination

21/03/2017  


The one good thing about Mrs May finally letting it be known when she is to invoke Article 50 is that it puts to bed all those who advanced at great and tiresome lengths the view that we did not need the Article and could proceed immediately to the leaving stage by repealing the European Communities Act.

This goes back to July 2012 when Booker was calling for Mr Cameron to pursue Article 50, only to run into a storm of hostile commentary – not dissimilar to what he's currently getting.

Pitched into battle we saw the likes of Idris Francis and Ashley Mote lambasting Booker, calling Article 50 a "trap" and warning of dire consequences if it was ever invoked.

Some readers had the Eurogendarmerie storming the British Isles while Torquil Erikson told us that "any and every EU regulation and directive which has been passed into UK law would be nit-picked over and reinforced with threats of fines and prosecution".

"Any interim activity planned by the British government", he said, "would be examined microscopically for any apparent unlawful activity, and again policed with threats. It would be a logistical and administrative nightmare for the then UK government".

At the top of the dung heap was Gerard Batten, speaking for Ukip, then as now, arguing that Article 50 should not be used.

We can take some small comfort from the fact that these voices will no longer be heard, but there will be no apologies offers or admission of error. That never happens in eurosceptic land. Different voices take up different themes and the noise continues.

From the Prime Minister, however, rather than noise, we get clichés. "I am very clear", she says, "that I want to ensure we get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom that works for everyone across the United Kingdom and all parts of the UK when we enter these negotiation".

"I have set out my objectives", she declares: "These include getting a good free trade deal. They include putting issues like continuing working together on issues like security at the core of what we are doing. We are going to be out there, negotiating hard, delivering on what the British people voted for".

What we don't get is any sense of how she intends to achieve this, up against Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, who has a message for us. "Britain's example", he says, "will make everyone else realise that it's not worth leaving".

This has the tabloid media spitting with indignation at Juncker's "boast", but a more sanguine assessment might be that the President, unlike the Prime Minister, has weighed up the odds of the UK walking away with a successful deal, and has concluded that they are not favourable.

If we are to believe the odious Guido the "Ultras" themselves are not rating our chances very highly, while a "government source" puts the likelihood of the UK having to adopt the WTO option at 50-50.

If that is the case, the Government ministers have no-one to blame but themselves. It would take very little skill and even less research to cut through the rhetoric and acknowledge that concluding a "good free trade deal" inside the 18 months being set aside for the talks - on top of all the other issues that have to be settled – is extremely unlikely.

All one can do is watch the Government define its own nemesis as it lurches forward into an impossible position from which there is no escape.

Sadly, though, it appears we are going to be none the wiser in just over a week when the Prime Minister sends her Article 50 notification to Brussels. We are told to expect (contrary to the advice of Ivan Rogers) only a short letter, possibly extending to two pages at most, doing nothing more than reiterating the Government's general objectives.

If that is the case, it will be a mistake, handing the initiative to the "colleagues", who will then have no constraints in crafting their response. And if, as expected, the they couch it as a series of demands, leading with the presentation of a substantial claim for financial compensation, then we can pretty much assume that we're in for a rough ride.

Mrs May has seriously dropped the ball on this, having failed to manage public expectations in a battle she cannot win. Come what may, the UK is going to have to pay a substantial sum to the EU, and make ongoing financial commitments, if it is to stay in the game. Yet, she has allowed the assumption that she will be standing firm, setting herself up for a fall.

Some theorise that, in the expectation of failure, Mrs May is looking more to the process of blame deflection than she is a successful outcome to the negotiations, in which case an unwavering stance from the "colleagues" will play into her hands, allowing the "unreasonable" EU to be cast a the villain.

Juncker is already halfway there, according to (Bild am Sonntag via Reuters), having said that Juncker said Britain would need to get used to being treated as a non-member. "Half memberships and cherry-picking aren't possible", he says: "In Europe you eat what's on the table or you don't sit at the table".

That latter phrase is being taken as an indication that the EU will be immovable on the financial issue, in which case we are already heading for the WTO option and economic catastrophe.

Would-be chief negotiator Michael Barnier certainly seems to be preparing for the worst, instructing the EU-27 that they have to start preparing now for future customs controls.

To extent to which Mrs May's "Team Brexit" is prepared for this is going to be the acid test. The precursor to many a free trade deal – as in 1997 with the EU and the Republic of Korea – is a customs agreement. It thus stands to reason that this issue will be high up on the work programme. How it is presented and the progress made may give us a strong clue as to how the technical negotiations will proceed.

As it stands, though, on 29 March 2019, we look to be leaving the EU – in good time for the Euro-elections, thus making sure that the current crop of UK MEPs is the last. In one fell swoop, Ukip loses most of its power base.

Such things, though, are mere trivia compared to the momentous events afoot. The phoney war is nearly over and we are about to enter a new phase. No one knows exactly how this is going to pan out, as we are navigating uncharted waters. But, at least, we will shortly be able to count down to our unknown destination.



Richard North 21/03/2017 link

Brexit: value for money

15/03/2017  


When in October 2013 I began the process of writing what was to become Flexcit, I quickly concluded that the so-called "WTO option" was a non-starter.

In my submission for the Brexit prize, I thus dismissed the idea, stating that a strategy based on an expectation that Britain can rely solely on WTO agreements, without securing direct agreements with the EU, would not be well-founded. Britain, I wrote, would struggle to maintain its current levels of external trade.

Of my various objections to the option, I specifically pointed out that the major problem was the proliferation of non-tariff barriers. As time has progressed, I have been writing more and in greater detail about the flaws in the option, to such an extent that you would think there was nothing left to say.

That was three years ago and so transparently obvious are the drawbacks that, had there been even a halfway intelligent debate, the WTO option would no longer be an issue. It would have been ruled out of the political discourse as too hazardous and damaging. The discussion would have moved on to more profitable and realistic areas.

But, not only has the matter not been settled, we have to suffer the low drone of ill-informed commentators such as Matt Ridley adding their ignorance to collective. Now we have a further offering, this one from Douglas Carswell, the lingering remnant of Ukip's Westminster ambitions, soon to be rejoining the Tories if some rumours are to be believed.

One would have thought that the very least our MPs could do on this issue is keep themselves properly informed, except that experience tells us that such an expectation is hopelessly naïve. Generally, we find our MPs to be the repository of ignorance, less aware of the issues than many of their constituents and often handicapped by their complete inability to learn.

So it is with Carswell who, after all this time, hasn't risen above kindergarten level on EU matters. Yet, as is common with his ilk, he feels qualified to instruct us mere mortals on what he thinks to be right. 

It would be nice to think that we could get all these people locked in a room and forced to thrash out the issues, until the matter was satisfactorily resolved. But, as we all know, the world does not work that way. MPs, in particular, defend and nurture their ignorance with the ferocity of a lioness protecting her cubs.

The problem, though, is that ignorance has consequences. If – as we are currently seeing – it pervades the highest levels of government and there are no MPs capable of imposing a corrective, vital policy decision will be made on false premises. The wrong decisions will be made, with devastating consequences.

We do our best on this blog, and yesterday – with others – lodged with The Times formal complaints about Ridley's piece. None of us, though, have any expectations that the complaints will be dealt-with fairly or sympathetically. The establishment always looks after its own.

This leaves us in a frustrating void, where there are so many thing which should be on the agenda to discuss, but where we are constantly dragged back to rehearse arguments on issues that should long ago have been resolved.

On the WTO option, in my first few versions of Flexcit, I did not devote a great deal of space to it, as I thought the problems would be obvious to the meanest of intellects. How wrong I was.

Helpfully – despite publishing Ridley – The Times did at least publish a report from Marcus Leroux, the newspaper's trade correspondent, which built on the Booker column of last Sunday, on the problems facing the customs service.

This gives us a taste of what things might be like if the UK falls back on the WTO option, but the interesting thing is that, in contrast to the 500-plus comments on the Ridley piece, Leroux only attracted 16. It is as if readers simply cannot visualise the enormity of the peril they face. They do not seem to be able to cope with the idea that the entire trade system would grind to a halt, so they opt to dig their heads in the sand. 

Nevertheless, one is further encouraged (if only slightly) by another report, also in The Times, which tells us that the Government has been told that at least seven separate bills must be passed, in addition to the Great Repeal Bill, in order to set the legislative infrastructure of a post-exit UK.

The list covers immigration, tax, agriculture, trade, fisheries, data protection and sanctions, but also includes the customs regime. This would appear to recognise that the EU's UCC simply cannot re-enacted by the Great Repeal Bill and that we will need our own dedicated customs code.

Concern, however, is also being expressed at the shortness of the timetable, which also suggests that the reality of their predicament might be beginning to dawn on ministers. Something as complex as a brand new customs code might, in normal times, take five or more years to produce.

Now it has to be squeezed into a mere two years, with the added complication that cooperation with our trading partners must be built in, which will require intensive, and successful bargaining in Brussels.

Despite this, one cannot escape the impression that this is too little, too late. One fears that "Team Brexit" will be going to Brussels to experience the negotiating equivalent of the first day of the battle of the Somme, with our delegates staggering out at the end of the day wondering what hit them.

This is where the lacklustre performance of the likes of Carswell really is unforgivable. Such people are paid handsome salaries and are given generous expenses. For that, they should be giving value for money. Parading their ignorance doesn't cut it. They are public servants, paid to do a job, and the need to be doing it properly.

The same, incidentally, goes for the media. As long as newspapers claim special rights and privileges, theirs is the duty to keep their readers properly informed – a task in which they are lamentably failing. As for the BBC - don't even go there. They are a lost cause, along with the other broadcasters.

Where then that leaves ordinary people is not clear – even less so those who have devoted the time and energy as responsible citizens to keeping themselves informed. It is doubly frustrating to be treated with disdain by the public servants whose salaries we help to pay, only to find they are less knowledgeable than we are.

To this, I am not going to pretend that there are any easy answers. But it must be the case that the burgeoning "conversation" on this blog comments is attracting attention. In fact, I know this to be the case, and as long as we have here a civil and good quality discourse, it can do nothing other than grow in influence.

The essential thing here is that, collectively, there is a better sense here of the difficulties involved in Brexit than you will see anywhere else, with more detail than the entire output of Parliament and its lamentably poor succession of select committee reports.

But it is not only difficulties of which one needs to be aware. There must also be solutions on offer. In Flexcit, we have some, but that has always been a dynamic document which grows and progresses over time. To deal with the new realities, a new version is probably required, but even as we write, we are overtaken by events.

There are, however, solutions to be had. They are being explored, even if they are not being publicly aired. Some will come from this tiny haven of sanity, funded exclusively by donations from its readers, for which we are eternally grateful, powering an operation which costs only a fraction of the salary of one MP. The irony is that it should be needed at all.



Richard North 15/03/2017 link

Ukip: out for the count

24/02/2017  


In Stoke, it would be hard to imagine a better set of circumstances for Ukip to fight a by-election, says The Times: a neglected Labour safe seat, so disillusioned barely half of people even bothered to vote in 2015; a seat which voted overwhelmingly for Leave, up against a pro-Remain Labour candidate who called Brexit a massive pile of s***; a seat abandoned by a metropolitan TV historian who had been parachuted into the area but now wants to run a London museum.

Yet somehow Nuttall and his team managed to contrive a situation where Ukip's self-styled salt-of-the-earth Scouse bloke had a grip on the truth looser than Nigel Farage holding his 10th pint. 

In the event, Nuttall gained two thousand less votes than his party did at the general election, squeaking in at second place with less than a hundred votes more than the Tories. The unfashionable view of his performance is that he managed to get only 9.4 percent of the electorate to turn out and vote for him. This may be that "glass ceiling" of ten percent which prevents small parties from prospering. 

However, it was not a good result for Labour. They lost just over four thousand votes, resulting in a new MP being elected on a 38 percent turnout. That means we have an MP sent to Westminster by 14 percent of the electorate. A democratic mandate this is not. 

But if democracy is against the ropes, The Times allows their Matt Chorley to argue that the stage is set for Ukip to disappear from view. We can only hope that is true. A party that appointed Gerard Batten as their lead Brexit spokesman has nothing to offer and nowhere to go. 

A win for Nuttall would have given this silly, vain little man an undeserved platform in an institution that is already badly tarnished. Adding his voice to the collective ignorance would not have been an improvement. In fact, it could only have done harm. 

Under different leadership, there is a theoretical possibility that Ukip could make an intelligent contribution to the Brexit debate. But, since there is no prospect of testing that theory, perhaps the best thing that Ukip could do is follow the path signposted for it by The Times and disappear from view. 

If it cannot make a sensible contribution to the debate, it is better that it makes none at all. There is too much noise already.



Richard North 24/02/2017 link

Merry Christmas

25/12/2016  


This time last year, we didn't even know the date of the referendum. But it was my firm conviction that Mr Cameron would not be so unwise as to go early. Thus I wasn't even anticipating that we would have the contest this year, much less that we would win it.

Last Christmas, though, I had another preoccupation, building for Booker a 1:72nd scale model of the Flower Class Corvette, HMS Poppy, in honour of his uncle, Commander Neil Boyd, RNVR, who captained the ship through the greater part of its tumultuous history. 

The build actually started it in late August 2015 as a Christmas present for that year. But, having discovered that the ship had undergone extensive modification, it became clear that it was not going to be completed on time.

When we were then confronted with an early contest, building had to wait its turn while we concentrated on the fight. But, with prodigious effort, from July onwards, I managed to finish it – all but a few touches – by the end of November.

By arrangement, I will deliver the model in the New Year. For the moment, though, Booker will have to make do with the same thing he had last year – a colour photograph. But at least it's of the finished model.

Now is not the time to rehearse the events of the last year - we'll do some retrospectives over the next few days – but I need to record a bitter-sweet moment, the death of a doughty campaigner, Christina Speight who died on the morning of 5th September at St Mary's Convent and nursing home.

Unlike my good friend, the much-missed Peter Troy, at least she lived to see the historic victory before succumbing to a chest infection in July. Although in Ukip days, we had crossed swords occasionally, in her latter years she had been a great supporter of the blog and a generous donor to the Leave Alliance campaign.

Speaking of donors and supporters, I must also record my thanks for the generosity of those who contributed to the upkeep of this blog, and to the campaign. They kept us in the fight, when others had done their best to freeze us out and silence us.

But for those donations, we would be struggling to he heard. As it is, we are still the premier anti-EU blog, dedicated to a successful Brexit. Especially with the help of those donors who have generously committed to a monthly payment, we are very much in the game, and on top of our game, ready to continue the fight into the New Year in what will undoubtedly be a decisive period. For better or worse, history is being made.

For the moment, though, all I have is the pleasurable duty of wishing all my readers, supporters, friends and relatives a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from me and the redoubtable Mrs EU Referendum on this the 13th Christmas of this blog.



Richard North 25/12/2016 link

Brexit: say no to Nuttall

24/12/2016  


On this blog, we very rarely write about Ukip these days. After all, we are primarily concerned with Brexit and, since the referendum, very little of the party's activities have had anything to do with that pressing issue.

As to the new leader, his greatest contribution since being elected by the rump of a disintegrating party has been to appoint Gerard Batten – the Article 50 denier – as their lead Brexit spokesman. This is as sure a signal as anything that the leadership has descended into the land of the fayries.

Entirely predictably, therefore, we are seeing Nuttall - with the same mindless dedication to stupidity for which he deserves to become famous – set his face against continued membership of the Single Market, churning out the same-old, same-old mantras, with which we've become so wearily familiar.

But now this crass individual is calling in aid the pre-referendum situation, arguing that "almost every leading campaigner for or against Brexit" made it clear during the referendum that "a Leave vote would involve leaving the single market".

It is on that slender "authority" that Nuttall claims legitimacy for his party's current stance, bleating dismally about "something similar to the 'fax democracy'", with remainers "seeking to foist on us an exit in name only".

Setting aside our wonderment at how someone can live as long as this man and know so little, I need to record my growing dismay at the utter fatuity of this tiresome mantra. If it is given its head, it will have us locked into the EU, defeating the aims of the Brexiteers.

The point which eludes these anti-marketeers is that the one thing which will absolutely ensure a clean break from the EU is membership of Efta and continued participation in the EEA. Practically and legally it is impossible to retain EU and Efta membership.

Moreover, we have long argued the need for an interim solution, for which Efta/EEA is eminently suitable. If this option is rejected, the need for an interim or transitional arrangement remains just as powerful, and thus creates the greater danger, of which Nuttall and his supporters seem oblivious.

Without the Efta/EEA solution, Mrs May and her team will be looking for transitional arrangements which will, perforce, involve a succession treaty which keeps us actively involved in elements of the EU treaties. In effect, there is a danger that Nuttall's action will keep us within the Union and prevent a clean break – the exact opposite of what he wants.

The even greater danger is that a prolonged transitional agreement, which keeps us within the orbit of the EU, gives time for the "colleagues" to organise a new treaty which can offer the UK "associate status" which, as an idea, is not going away.

Andrew Duff, still pushing his theme, wants to convert Brexit into an EU-UK Association Agreement, the effect of which would be to put us in exactly the same position that we would have been, had we not won the referendum. Having to deal with this danger is one thing.  But having also to deal with the likes of Nuttall glorying in his own ignorance is intolerable. 

One can quite understand the "remainers" pre-referendum briefing against the Efta/EEA option, for precisely the reason that it presents such an attractive alternative to EU membership. But to have the self-appointed claque of "leavers" join in and support the "remainers" was the height of stupidity. For Nuttall now to demand that we should repeat this stupidity, and claim it as legitimising his actions, is the height of folly.

Thus, while Christmas is supposed to be a time of goodwill and cheer to all men (and women), in the case of the anti-marketeers, we are making a serious exception. These people are as dangerous as they are stupid. They would destroy their own dreams, and take ours with them.

Our huge problem though is their almost impenetrable stupidity, and their resistance to acquiring knowledge. Anyone supposedly in the "leave" camp who is still prattling on about "fax democracy" and actually believing this inane propaganda is beyond salvation.

Sadly, under the leadership of Nuttall, that makes the official Ukip (but not necessarily all its members) as great a threat as the most potent "remainer". Perversely, anyone pushing for continued single market participation is a potential ally.

Therein lies yet another danger. To the point of tedium, we have argued for Efta/EEA as an interim solution. We have always regarded it as the least-worst option, with the safeguard that, at any time, as an Efta member (if they will have us) we can walk away from the EEA with one year's notice. The danger is that, in the hands of the "remainers", this could become a permanent (or semi-permanent) solution.

What is lacking from their equation is a vision of an end game – something of which Ukip and most of the "leave" fraternity are equally bereft. But we are not going to win the wider argument without offering the nation a credible long-term alternative to the EU.

This, then, defines the battle lines for the coming year. The anti-marketeer's arguments have no legitimacy. We say no to Nuttall - he is doing the cause more harm than good. 

Right from the start, though, more than five years ago, we were arguing that we must furnish a positive object. That is what Nuttal's "leading campaigners" notably failed to do. It is something that still needs to be done. And even though we're in the run-up to Christmas, I get tired and angry in equal measure at having to expend so much precious energy in fighting what should be our own side. We should not have to be doing this.



Richard North 24/12/2016 link

Brexit: the wages of incompetence

04/12/2016  


The big mistake we have all been making has been to focus too much on the mechanisms for leaving the EU, with not enough given to what we want out of Brexit. Thus, it is perfectly fair to observe that, in the referendum, we voted for a departure, not a destination.

Even now, the public discourse is largely avoiding the question of where Brexit is taking us, with the end result more likely to be a consequence of our mode of leaving rather than the result a deliberative policy. Rather than defining a direction of travel, therefore, the Government seems to be devoting more effort to containing the effects of different leaving options.

Raising the issue from outside the bubble, though, is not going to be easy - although Pete has made a start. The bubble-dwellers are so behind the curve that they haven't even begun to think seriously about an end game. And neither are they temperamentally or intellectually equipped to do so.

In any event, for the next week we are going to be distracted by the Supreme Court hearing, which is going to trigger interminable comment on Article 50 and related matters, with no resolution in sight until mid-January. That will shunt discussion on an end game further down the line.

Despite most journalists having a basic education and at least average intelligence, they nevertheless seem to be making an incredible meal over the term "interim", or "transitional". We assume most of them know what these words mean, although they seem to have difficulty in translating them into practical effect.

Thus we have the likes of Simon Watkins in the Mail on Sunday whingeing about the aims of Brexit being "diluted". One by one, he writes, "the much-vaunted aims of Brexit are being diluted. The core objectives were surely leaving the single market, scrapping our payments to the EU and controlling immigration".

But those objectives were not part of the referendum which, as we all know, was confined to the question of whether we should leave the EU. There was no plebiscite on the Single Market, and many of us did not consider (and still do not consider) that EU payments were a core issue.

As to immigration, despite the recent surge on movement from EU Member States, it is still the case that more immigrants come from outside the EU – where we have the means of control but choose not to use them.

Where immigration from the EU is concerned, a post-Brexit UK that stays in the EEA (via Efta) would have the unilateral right to restrict movements, under Article 112 of the EEA Agreement. It is only the absolute determination of the politico-media nexus to remain ignorant on this issue which allows the likes of Watkins to make the point he does.

But what he and so many of the others ignore is that concessions which might be unacceptable if they were part of the final settlement may be tolerable – and even welcomed – if they were part of an interim settlement which paved the way to a stable long-term solution.

The degree to which we would be prepared to accept concessions would doubtless depend on the nature and attractiveness of the end game. But it is not unreasonable to posit that the more attractive it is, the more we are prepared to concede in order to attain it.

Ironically, within Flexcit we have long held that an option which keeps us in the EEA and thus the Single Market for the short-term is the best we can hope for. Our longer-term aim is the abolition of the EEA as we know it, with the reconstitution of the Single Market under different management, with the headquarters moved out of Brussels to Geneva.

Doubts about the practicality of this come mainly from people who have not read (or understood) Flexcit and, amongst that sub-group, there are many who dispute that the idea is at all practicable, couched in terms of the EU never permitting it.

Yet, entirely of its own volition, Brussels has ceded legislative authority over vehicle construction and safety, and on vegetable and fruit marketing standards, and is now a law-taker in these spheres. It has not made new laws here for many years.

Add to this the WTO TBT and SPS agreements, and the Vienna and Dresden agreements on standards, and we see that much more of the Single Market acquis has been ceded to regional and global organisations – to say nothing of the global nature of financial services legislation.

Totally under the horizon, we have also seen the emergence of a systematic process for standard-setting, via UNECE's WP.6, which has the support of the EU and the participation of all EU Member States. For a post-Brexit UK, this would be the obvious – and effective – forum for cooperation on standards setting, keeping the UK full in the loop on developing the Single Market.

Such matters, though, are totally above the "pay grade" of the average journalist, most of whom are still wittering about the "loss of influence" and "fax law" if we take the EEA option. The idea that Norway could actually have more influence, rather than less influence outside the EU, is totally beyond their grasp.

Eventually, we suppose, some of them will catch up – but the process is painfully slow. Issues we were writing about three years ago have still to be settled by the legacy media and many of the politicians, who seem stuck in their own laborious version of Groundhog day. At least, in the film, the loop came to an end. There is no certainty that it will do so in real life.

Perversely, we see in The Times Matthew Parris complaining that: "The British disease is now rank ineptitude", writing that, "whatever the trade or profession it seems to be considered bad form to root out the stupid and the incompetent". Significantly, though, he does not include journalism in his list of failing trades.

Then we get the likes of Nigel Jones in the Telegraph telling us that the Leave majority in the Conservative party should set aside their differences with Ukip, and working with Ukip's new leader Paul Nuttall to mount a grassroots campaign to press the Government in the direction of the EU's exit door, with a view to achieving a "clean break".

Clearly, Jones has not noticed that there is not a fag paper between the position of the Tory Right and Nuttall's Ukip, which now has Gerard Batten for its Brexit spokesman calling to ditch Article 50 and repeal the European Communities Act – exactly the stance taken by John Redwood.

As we begin to see in Nuttall another of those Walter-Mitty figures with extremely ambiguous CVs, one would have thought the best option for the Conservatives would be to put as much distance between them and Ukip as they possibly could.

Little did we think for all those many years when we have been dreaming of leaving the EU that, when the great event finally came, the driving force would be the incompetence of the major players – from ministers who don't know the basics, to MPs locked in their private miasmas of ignorance, and a legacy media which inhabits a different planet.

One can only hope that, deep within the bowels of government, there are people who do know what they are doing. But if there are such people, they are keeping themselves extremely well-hidden.



Richard North 04/12/2016 link

Brexit: reality takes a seat

02/12/2016  


Reuters have picked up and embellished the story that most of the media were running with all day yesterday, reporting that Chancellor Philip Hammond says that Britain needs to keep open the possibility of continuing to pay fees to the EU even after it leaves. 

This was after Brexit minister David Davis, in answer to an oral question in Parliament, had said that Britain would consider making payments to the EU after it leaves, if that was necessary to achieve the best possible access to the Single Market.

Hammond is cited as saying: "We have to look at any deal in the round ... and I think David Davis is absolutely right not to rule out the possibility that we might want to contribute in some way to some form of mechanism".

Despite a sharp reaction from the likes of Peter Bone and the squealing of anguish from the Brexit morons, this was always going to be a possibility – verging on certainty.

Needless to say, the loudest squeals have come from Ukip, with their new Brexit spokesman, Gerald Batten, saying: "David is already going weak at the knees. It is ridiculous to offer to pay to trade with the EU. Every country in the world has access to the single market".

But there is a lot more to this than Batten's simplistic nostrums – the man who wants to ignore Article 50 and go straight to the repeal of the European Communities Act.

As it stands, none of the Efta/EEA countries pay for market access. They pay grants in aid to help the emerging economies of Eastern and Central Europe and they pay for participation in decentralised agencies and programmes.

But there is also the question of what might be termed "legacy payments". These we deal with in Monograph 3, pointing out that, at the very least, we will have to honour the MFF commitments, which means that we will be paying a sum equivalent to our net annual payments until the end of 2020.

For that, we can barter participation in the decentralised agencies and programmes, so the net effect on expenditure will probably be neutral.

It is the next MFF programme that is going to be really interesting, when the RAL kick in and the "colleagues" demand the UK "share" of repayments, on top of agency and programme contributions. As Booker observed, with our own payments to farmers and others we could end up paying more overall than we are now.

The media far and wide, however, are casting this as a "concession", as if there was any choice in the matter. Short of a cold, hard Brexit, though, we are going to have to pay something to the EU. The only question will be how much we will have to pay.

What we are seeing in the responses is the media and politicians playing catch-up, as they are right across the board.

Only now are pundits getting to grips with the idea of a transitional deal, and the need for an end game, while many remainers, having rejected the idea of the "Norway option" before the referendum are now embracing it with zeal.

The payments issue, though, is likely to be particularly sensitive, given the rash claims made by Vote Leave and their fellow travellers. Arron Banks has called Davis's words "incredibly foolish".

Yet, the foolishness comes in failing to recognise and acknowledge that the UK cannot expect a cost free exit from the EU, and walk away from long-standing treaty commitments without offering something in the way of compensation. To refuse to accept this simply isn't practical politics.

Over the next few months, even running to years, we are going to see a lot of this – silly, shallow people like Banks, who have no grasp of the realities of international relations, making their facile statements. Meanwhile, the business of grown-up politics will have to continue, simply because it must.

That, in the end, is going to drive the outcome of the Brexit talks. The government is going to have to "concede" certain issues because, unless it does, there simply won't be a workable settlement. The pundits will just have to catch up as best they can.

But the same reality will have to drive the "colleagues". With the latest immigration figures just in, they will have to recognise that the UK government will not be able to agree a settlement that does not involve some real concessions on freedom of movement.

But then, there are no constants in this ever-changing political kaleidoscope. We heard yesterday, for instance, that Hollande was not going to stand for a second term as French president. This comes as no particular surprise but it confirms that there will be at least one new face at the table when the negotiations start.

When those talks do finally start, there will be something else at the table – something which is currently missing – a sense of reality. The parties will agree because they must agree. Meanwhile, the noisemakers will do what they do best – make noise.



Richard North 02/12/2016 link

Brexit: a Damascene conversion

29/11/2016  



So opposed to the "Norway option" was Peter Wilding, director of British Influence, that in February of this year – well before the referendum - he invited the Norwegian Europe minister, Vidar Helgesen, over to the UK to tell us how awful it was.

We got the usual low-grade BS from Helgesen, with him telling us that British Eurosceptics often say the Norwegian experience is evidence of how a country outside the EU, but enjoying the benefits of the single market through membership of the EEA, can prosper without having to commit itself to full membership.

Helgesen, on the other hand, said that this arrangement often created frustrations and difficulties, which meant Norwegian ministers and officials spent a lot of time – sometimes without success – trying to find out what was going on in EU meetings that would affect their country directly.

"We [Norway] are fully integrated into the EU single market as members of the EEA, but what we don't have is the right to vote on those regulations that are incorporated into our law when they are made by the council of ministers", he added.

On occasion, Brussels has sprung surprises that the Norwegians could not predict. The same kind of frustrations could well face the UK. "You would not have all those Brits staffing the commission where the decisions are made", said Helgesen. "Britain being on the outside would obviously not have that amount of people on the inside. You would find it more difficult, as a result, to affect the regulations".

On the back of this, Wilding roundly declared: "Eurosceptics who peddle the myth that Norway is the best [model] for a non-EU Britain are deceiving the British public. They say leaving leads to more democracy and security. This is nonsense".

In full spate, Wilding then said: "We now have the Norwegian Europe minister himself telling us to get a grip, get real and get involved in shaping Europe. Little England cannot be an option".

But now, a mere eight months later, this same Mr Wilding is so convinced of the merits of belonging to the EEA that he is preparing a legal challenge to the government to decide whether it can withdraw from it.

Wilding's rabidly "remainer" campaigning platform has now morphed into a "pro-single market think-tank" and has hired lawyers to argue that leaving the EU does not automatically take Britain out of the European Economic Area (EAA), in which the single market operates.

They will claim that the decision to take the additional step must be decided by parliament separately from any vote to trigger Article 50, the mechanism for exiting the EU.

British Influence has written to David Davis informing him it is seeking a judicial review of that position. It warns that the government may be in breach of the law if it seeks to take Britain out of the EEA along with the EU without clear legal justification.

"We believe the government has not understood how we leave the EEA, and has not understood that we do not need to leave the EEA in order to respect the red lines the 23 June referendum established", Wilding says. "This is not about stopping, thwarting or delaying Brexit, but getting a smarter Brexit that delivers for the UK and doesn’t destabilise the continent of Europe".

Interestingly, British Influence invokes Liechtenstein, saying that it has used some provisions of its EEA membership to limit free movement of people. Its lawyers will argue that Britain could also use these provisions to satisfy the demands of those who voted for Brexit to limit immigration.

The argument hinges on whether Britain joined the EEA as a member of the EU or in its own right. Lawyers are focusing on the case of Croatia, which acceded to the EEA nine months after joining the EU, to prove that the two entities are separate.

They will argue that to leave the EEA, Britain must separately trigger Article 127 of the EEA agreement, in addition to Article 50. Article 127, which Wilding calls "a game changer", requires members to give 12 months' notification to leave without reference to Article 50, while Article 128 says that countries acceding to the EU "may" apply to join the EEA but are not compelled to.

Actually, this argument is very thin indeed, making this a false move by Wilding. We dealt with it at length in October, arguing that the EEA Agreement was quite evidently a treaty between EU Member States and Efta States. To be a party to the Agreement, the UK must either be a member of the EU or Efta.

Failing this, the other members can invoke Article 60 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, and eject the UK. Article 60(2) entitles, in the event of a material breach of a multilateral treaty by one of the parties, entitles the other parties by unanimous agreement to terminate the treaty in the relations between themselves and the defaulting State.

In practice, it would be very hard for any state to participate in the EEA unless it was either a member of the EU or Efta, as the management of the Agreement is conducted via the institutional frameworks of both organisations. That would allow the parties to terminate the Agreement on the grounds of "the impossibility of performing a treaty" (Article 61), or the parties may prefer Article 62, citing "a fundamental change of circumstances".

For once, though, we're not on our own on this. The media's all-purpose "leading authority on European law has also poured cold water on Wilding's thesis. This is Jean-Claude Piris, a former head of the European council's legal service.

"The UK's withdrawal from EU will mean an automatic cessation of its membership of EEA as an EEA-EU member", he says. "In order to become an EEA member you have either to be an EU member or an Efta member". Thus, the UK would not be able to remain in the EEA unless, on withdrawal from the EU, it rejoined Efta.

The crucial point then, which would be much more interesting for Wilding to explore, is whether the UK participation in the EEA Agreement would then automatically lapse, requiring the government to re-apply, or whether we could claim continuity.

In the latter event, this could be very helpful as the UK could then unilaterally invoke Article 112 (safeguard measures) to impose restrictions on the free movement of persons – without requiring the assent of any other party.

Needless to say, a Government spokesman dismissed the challenge, saying: "As the UK is party to the EEA Agreement only in its capacity as an EU Member State, once we leave the European Union we will automatically cease to be a member of the EEA".

Nevertheless, continued EEA participation is possibly the best option for a trouble-free extraction from the EU, which makes it all the more perverse that the lunatic fringe is objecting to it, and absolutely bizarre that those who most strenuously opposed it are now supporting the idea.

Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of Brexit were, as Booker ventured over the weekend, the most serious barriers to a smooth exit from the EU comes from the Tory eurosceptics – as well as their fellow travellers in Ukip.



Richard North 29/11/2016 link

Brexit: is Blair leaving it too late?

25/11/2016  


The reincarnation of Tony Blair is much heralded, but with mixed feelings. If he thinks his second coming is going to save the nation for Europhilia, others are taking the view that his presence will strengthen our determination to leave the EU.

Blair himself tells us he is "dismayed by the state of Western politics". But, he adds, he is also incredibly motivated by it. "I think in Britain today, you've got millions of effectively politically homeless people", he says.

He believes Brexit "can be stopped" if British voters decide the "cost-benefit analysis doesn't stack up". Such a turnaround could arise in one of two ways, both of them hinging on negotiations over access to the EU's Single Market, he thinks.

"Either you get maximum access to the single market, in which case you'll end up accepting a significant number of the rules on immigration, on payment into the budget, on the European court's jurisdiction". In this case, people may then say: "Well, hang on, why are we leaving then?"

"alternatively, you’ll be out of the single market and the economic pain may be very great because, beyond doubt, if you do that you'll have years, maybe a decade, of economic restructuring".

Brexit, he says, was 'like agreeing to a house swap without having seen the other house'. And while the referendum campaign was won by the leave side, even those voters would eventually look at this in a practical way, not an "ideological way".

However, while he is launching a defence of the "muscular centre", he says that the "right-wing media" would not allow him to return to front-line politics. "There are elements of the media who would literally move to destroy mode if I tried to do that," he claims.

Instead, he says he is interested in providing "a service" to political leaders, in the form of a technologically-inspired platform. Quite what that means is not yet clear but we do know that he has held private talks with non-leader Nick Clegg, after having had discussions with former Chancellor George Osborne.

Yet, when he approached the current Tim Farron, he was rebuffed, the current Lib-Dem leader, rejecting the offer of a face-to-face meeting with Mr Blair. Mr Farron gave him "short-shrift" and is not interested in a closer political relationship.

Perhaps Mr Farron believes that Blair is planning a break-away party on the lines of the Social Democratic Party of 1981, when four senior Labour Party "moderates", dubbed the "Gang of Four" broke away to form a new party – only to merge with the Liberals to become the Liberal Democrats.

Should this happen, Farron's lacklustre leadership would doubtless be challenged, as one can envisage Blair looking to splinter off Corbyn refugees from the Labour Party, to form a new grouping using the Liberal Democrats as it hub. Tory Europhiles might also be expected to join this new "centre party", ready to challenge the Conservatives in the 2020 election.

All this is an ironic inversion of expectations. Amongst others, Farage always anticipated the Tories splitting and, with a rampant Ukip taking dozens of seats in the Commons, he expected the "Right" to combine with his Ukip MPs to form a new centre right party to take us out of the EU.

Instead, the Ukip electoral ambitions were never realised, the Conservative Party has stayed intact (for the moment) and it is the disillusioned Europhiles who are potentially looking to form a centre-left or "progressive" party to keep us in the EU – or take us back in.

Nothing of this, though, has been declared openly by Mr Blair, whose new organisation launches in the spring. He says it merely intends to analyse why British voters chose Brexit and the populist forces that led to the election of Donald Trump in the United States.

On the other hand, Blair is pushing the thesis that there is a global political vacuum, and his moves to get senior Lib-Dems on side are definitely seen by some as an attempt to galvanise centre ground politics and restore New Labour thinking in the UK.

One wonders whether the recent Branson initiative might also be connected. Although there is no declared connection, the timing is deeply suspicious.

For all that, though, it may be that Blair has left it too late. If he is not intending to launch until the spring, Mrs May will by then be ready to start the Article 50 negotiations and the opportunity to block the notification will have passed (assuming Mrs May wins her Supreme Court appeal).

That leaves the alternative possibility that Blair is playing a longer game, ready to target the 2020 election, when he could present a party which stood on a pro-EU platform, arguing for rejoining the EU. If that is the case, and he really believes the referendum result can be overturned, then Mrs May could be facing a more serious challenge than anything Corbyn has to offer.

The upside is that a robust challenge could have the effect of uniting the Conservative Party, and aligning pro-anti EU politics with left and right. A win for Mrs May under those circumstances could become an affirmation of Brexit, leaving the pro-EU forces completely defeated.

If he is not too late to the party, therefore, Blair could be doing us a favour. Aligning his unpopularity with the EU, he could ensure that there is no chance whatsoever of us returning to the embrace of the EU.



Richard North 25/11/2016 link

Brexit: time is running out

20/11/2016  


There has been no neater comment on where we have got to on Brexit, writes Christopher Booker, than the two pictures on the cover of the current issue of Private Eye

The first, labelled "Then", showed that grandiose bus hired by Vote Leave, carrying the claim that, by pulling out of the EU, we could give an extra £350 million a week to the NHS. The second, captioned "Now", showed a clapped-out, windowless bus stuck in a field, going nowhere.

In Booker's view, our progress towards invoking Article 50 does indeed look ever more of a shambles. The real problem, as it has always been, he says, "is that so few people really understand the incredible complexity of what a successfully negotiated Brexit would involve".

That is certainly evident if we turn elsewhere to the Sunday Telegraph where we see an "exclusive account" of how: "Heavyweight Brexiteers among 60 Tory MPs to demand clean break from the EU".

These MPs, including seven ex-Cabinet ministers, are concerned that pro-EU figures in the Cabinet are fighting to soften the Government's Brexit position and are demanding that the Prime Minister pulls Britain out of the single market and customs union.

They say that only the "cleanest Brexit" can fulfil the country's referendum call to "untie ourselves from EU shackles and freely embrace the rest of the world".

This initiative coincides with the relaunch of the European Research Group (ERG), a pro-Brexit Tory body that claims it will produce "new thinking and policy ideas" for Britain's future after Brexit, as well as being "a constant reminder to ministers of the strength of Euroscepticism on the Tory backbenches".

As for these "new ideas", we are going to be waiting a long time, if a parallel piece in the ST is any guide. This is from Suella Fernandes, one of the 60 Tory MPs and vice chair of the ERG.

For her, we get the usual collection of issue-illiterate mantras, starting with the red herring of the customs union which was not even an issue until a few weeks ago, and was hardly – if at all – discussed during the referendum campaign.

The substantive issue is, of course, continued participation in the Single Market and here Fernandes claims that she and most of her Parliamentary colleagues took the referendum as an instruction to untie ourselves from EU shackles and freely embrace the rest of the world.

Fernandes also claims that it was "made clear in the referendum campaign" that remaining in the EU’s internal market, like Norway, or in a customs union like Turkey, "is not compatible with either of these commitments and doing so would frustrate the will of the electorate".

This is simply not true and these 60 have no more right than the lacklustre Vote Leave, Leave EU or Ukip to dictate the shape of the Brexit settlement. All of them consciously refused to adopt an exit plan prior to the referendum and, since that time, none of them have come up with any coherent ideas of how we manage the exit negotiations.

And that is the point that Booker makes in his column. None of the major "leaver" groups nor indeed the "remainers" were remotely prepared for the outcome.

The Remainers simply relied on their absurd Project Fear to ensure that the problem would never arise, but the Leavers were just as bad by deliberately refusing to work out any practical exit plan. Rather than come up with anything sensible, the "official" campaign believed they could wing it on vapid little make believe slogans such as the one blazoned on the side of their silly bus.

Five months later, with only four months to go before Mrs May invokes Article 50 and formally tells the European Council that we intend to leave, and here we are with the general debate no further forward or better informed.

All we can see is a dawning realisation by ministers that it really is turning out to be far more complicated than any of them ever realised, and that we have nothing like enough civil servants to cope with it all.

Booker reminds us that the Prime Minister, Theresa May, continues to keep her cards almost invisibly close to her chest, except for insisting that we must continue trading fully "within" the single market (because anything else would be a disaster), while staying hung up on how this could be made compatible with her wish to "control immigration".

This tension is why she added last week that we cannot be hoping for an "off-the-shelf" solution. Whatever she intended that to mean, there is only one way we can hope to achieve a deal that meets her primary requirement.

Only if, on leaving the EU, we nevertheless remain within the wider European Economic Area (EEA) can we hope to continue trading "within" the single market much as we do now.

But this would also allow us, outside the EU, to escape from the three quarters of its 20,000 laws that cover issues other than trade. It would even, under the "safeguarding" clauses of the EEA Agreement, give us limited control over internal EU immigration.

Whether or not Mrs May would regard this as the kind of "off-the-shelf" solution she now seems to be rejecting, its other immense advantage is that it would enable us, in the short time available for these negotiations, to focus on all those countless other issues that will need to be settled as part of our disentanglement from the rest of the EU system of government.

Look at the 35 different policy areas set out in the template for a treaty of accession to the EU and we can see just what will have to be unravelled in reverse, in the "Secession Treaty" that will be needed at the end of our negotiations. Only six of these 35 categories cover trade.

But our talks will also have to resolve the 29 other areas, such as what is to be done about our involvements in the EU’s common foreign and defence policies, its policies on justice and home affairs, our relations with the EU's 27 different agencies, and a whole host more – including, heaven help us, the unbelievably tricky questions of how we manage to extricate ourselves from the common agricultural and fisheries policies.

All this has so far been scarcely mentioned in the public debate, although it does help to explain why some are now suggesting that we may need to recruit 30,000 more civil servants just to cope with the myriad further issues needing to be resolved, including those ongoing financial commitments to the EU which, over a decade or more ahead, could amount to a staggering £60 billion.

The truth, Booker concludes, is that, in all directions, we are still hopelessly unprepared for what we let ourselves in for on 23 June. And the time left to get our act together is now fast running out.

And with that, the nonsense offered by the "Tory 60" is something we can certainly do without. As Pete observes, these people are dishonestly risking our global standing and flirting with recession on the basis of a delusion – a delusion that there is any credible alternative to continued participation in the Single Market, for the short- to medium-term.

Interestingly one person who in November 2014 saw this very clearly was Owen Paterson. "It is critical to remember, he said, that the economic Single Market and the political EU are not one and the same thing. We are perfectly at liberty to pursue participation in the Single Market without being saddled with the EU as a political project".

"Membership of the EEA", Paterson averred, "allows full participation in the Single Market without being in the EU, as enjoyed by Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein. Those such as the CBI, who confuse the memberships of the Single Market and the EU are making a basic error and misleading the British people".

"We can leave the political project and enter into a truly economic project with Europe via the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the EEA", Paterson said. "We would still enjoy the trading benefits of the EU, without the huge cost of the political baggage".

And what was true then is true now. We cannot afford to be messing in the way we are doing. We need to move on. Most of all, if an "interim solution" is to be at all credible, we must define the end game. And that is something most people have scarcely considered.



Richard North 20/11/2016 link

Brexit: countering the scaremongering

18/11/2016  


In response to recent Brexit stories in The Times, some of which we have covered, a number of pundits have chosen to take the view that the newspaper is scaremongering. It is regarded, as with others, as merely continuing "project fear".

This raises the question as to what constitutes scaremongering and what is simply drawing attention to real but under-appreciated problems. There are then the instances were valid comment is being made, although the extent of problems identified is being exaggerated.

Certainly, The Times of yesterday - on payments to the EU – was probably exaggerating when it came to the payment period, but probably no far wrong when it comes to the £60 billion or so that we will have to pay the EU over term. But on this payment issue, The Times is not on its own. In early October, the Financial Times was talking about RAL and, if anything, understating the amount we might have to pay.

And now, the Financial Times has returned to the fray, enlisting Wolfgang Schäuble to spread a dose of pessimism, including an assertion that the UK would face EU budget bills for more than a decade, running up to 2030.

We have met Schäuble's pessimism before, and his role is very often to fly a kite for Angela Merkel. But neither he nor Merkel can guarantee they will survive the coming elections into the Brexit negotiations. Even if they do, Germany is only one country of 27 which will be sitting opposite us.

Thus, the Financial Times front page headline, declaring: "Berlin dashes Downing St hopes of easy path to Brexit" probably transcends mere exaggeration and belongs firmly in the realms of scaremongering. And, to no one's surprise at all, this is picked up by the Guardian which elides Schäuble's view with that of "Germany", as if they were the same thing.

Nevertheless, one cannot disagree with Schäuble's specific claim that we will probably be funding to EU to 2030 and beyond, and it is about time that the British public got used to this reality. Only if we deal with this obvious requirement will it not prove an insurmountable obstacle to the Brexit talks.

The Financial Times thus has elements of scaremongering and the truth, all rolled up into one article. But I wouldn't put in the same the latest story (at the time of writing) in The Times in the same league.

This has it that: "Brexit is too much for the civil service", with the paper relying on comments by John Manzoni, chief executive of the civil service, reported by Civil Service World. He says Whitehall is trying to do 30 percent too much, reflecting the growing anxiety among senior civil servants at the amount of extra work across departments being generated by Brexit.

This coincides with new figures released by government which reveal that only 38 percent of civil servants at the Department for Exiting the European Union agree that they have clear work objectives — the lowest score of any department. The Department for International Trade also recorded poor scores in the civil service people survey, which is conducted annually.

But this actually should not surprise us. For nations joining the EU, there is invariably concern about the "absorptive capacity" of their civil services, and the matter has been periodically discussed both in terms of individual states and of the EU as a whole.

It stands to reason, therefore, that there should be a similar challenge for departing states and it is so predictable that the UK would have to confront the issue that we wrote a section on it in Flexcit (see page 174).

Another problem we also predicted was having to deal with the functions carried by the EU's decentralised agencies – to which effect we devoted the best part of Chapter 5 to these and related matters. More recently (in August), we also wrote a blogpost to take the discussion further.

Compare and contrast this with an article by Labour MEP Richard Corbett, headed: "The Brexit nightmare we will soon be unable to ignore". This broaches the subject of agencies anew, written in such a way as to suggest that no-one else has ever thought of them in the context of Brexit – and suggesting there is no answer but to remain in the EU.

This, if anything, really is "project fear", but that does not mean to say that raising such problems is a bad idea. Unless we identify the potential pitfalls, we will be ill-equipped to deal with them when the time comes. What makes the difference, therefore, is that we look to raise problems in order to explore a way of dealing with them.

To that extent, the "head-in-sand" approach of the Brexit zealots - who dismiss concerns about potential difficulties and airily suggest that Brexit can be agreed on a rainy afternoon in Brussels – is just as unhelpful as the stance taken by those who would exaggerate the difficulties of leaving, or invent problems that don't exist in the real world.

Into that category storms the Daily Mirror which headlines the claim that a £100billion black hole will emerge in the Chancellor's budget over the next five years due to "mediocre" growth and low tax revenues.

Even then, in the same story, we have former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell backing up John Manzoni, warning that the civil service is not ready for the challenge of Brexit. He has told the House Magazine that Brexit was "a tougher task" than any he faced head of the civil service from 2005 to 2011.

Asked if Whitehall was prepared for the task, he said: "There's a very simple, short answer to that, which is No. Brexit imposes a lot of extra requirements on the civil service. They're not perfectly ready".

To conclude, though, I can't resist commenting on the news that Ukip has been accused of misspending £385,000 of EU funding on its own general election campaign and to bolster its Brexit drive ahead of the UK referendum.

Although they deny any wrongdoing, Ukip has always sailed close to the wind on its spending of EU funds, and it was back in 2003 that I proposed to Farage a challenge-proof scheme involving the creation of a think-tank in Brussels to provide a critique of the EU. But, as the current claim shows, Farage chose to fritter away the money on endless and ultimately fruitless attempts to get him into the Westminster parliament.

Yet now is the time, more than anything, when we need information to guide us on Brexit, and to counter the scaremongering. How ironic it is, though, while that Ukip is to appeal to the ECJ in an attempt to block demands from the European Parliament that some of the money is repaid, we are having to produce our Monograph series unaided – exactly the function the Brussels think-tank would have been performing.

Yet the obvious counter to scaremongering is information. It's a pity that Farage and I could not have agreed on this.



Richard North 18/11/2016 link

Brexit: the great betrayal?

02/11/2016  


To judge from the most recent media coverage, the great Brexit soap opera seems to have taken something of a hit from Greg Clark. Speculation on the "hard Brexit" has almost evaporated after he spelt out the Government's intentions so clearly that even the average hack could understand what he was saying.

It is now so obvious that the Government has no intention of taking us out of the Single Market that the Telegraph has actually noticed,and has Jeremy Warner noting that Mrs May's conference speech was throwing a bone to the Brexit zealots, but never promised us a hard time - something everybody but the media noticed at the time.

But that leaves the semi-employed Farage speaking on his LBC show, warning of the risk of a "great betrayal" of Britain's vote to leave the EU.

Farage's complaint is that the Single Market represents: "Every single thing that we voted to get out of in this referendum". With Lord Mandelson, Tony Blair, and Tory MPs like the Nadhim Zahawi telling us we must stay part of it, he's " just beginning to wonder and to worry, are we on the edge, perhaps, of a great betrayal".

"Whichever side you voted in that referendum", he said, "17.4 million people voted for us to leave … it was the biggest exercise in democracy ever in the history of this country". He then tells us that: "If Brexit doesn't happen, there is going to be political anger that has never been seen in this country".

Not for the first time, though, the former Ukip leader has got it spectacularly wrong. The "political anger" of which he speaks might well emerge, but the trigger is more likely to be a failed Brexit which crashes the UK economy.

There is no question, of course, that the majority voted to leave the European Union but, as Lord Mandelson rightly observed, the electorate has not given the Government any specific mandate as to how we leave. But there are no prizes for guessing that, other than the zealots, there is no desire to see the economy wrecked in the process of leaving.

On the other hand, if Farage and his friend Arron Banks had produced an exit plan before the referendum, and linked it with their own campaign, they might have some cause for complaint when the Government goes its own way.

The same could be said of Vote Leave, but hat organisation rejected the very idea of an exit plan, arguing that this should be left to government. Its supporters have even less cause for complaint than Farage.

The reality of the pre-referendum scenario, though, was one of anarchy. There was no exit plan endorsed by the official leave campaign or Ukip because the various factions could not agree amongst themselves as to what the strategy should be.

So it is today, with varying shades of "hard" being promoted, ranging from unilateral repeal of the ECA and no negotiations with the EU – rejecting entirely the use of Article 50 - to a Canadian style deal that removes us from participation in the Single Market, but allows us to negotiate a "better deal".

Then, as we have tried to point out many times, the term "free trade agreement" covers a multitude of sins, so even amongst those looking for this option, there is no unanimity. Check with any group and you will find differing and sometimes contradictory expectations, all sheltering under the same portmanteau description.

Moving on from the referendum, however, there is another factor to take into account. The question on the ballot paper was whether we should leave the EU. But that vote has now been cast. Those who voted to leave have no proprietary rights. They have not acquired exclusive rights to determine how we should leave. That is a matter for government, representing the entire nation – leavers and remainers alike.

Thus, it is more than a little presumptuous of the likes of Farage to complain about "betrayal". He had plenty of time and opportunity to work up an exit plan – and was strongly advised to do so, more than a decade ago – but didn't.

Then, in this post-referendum period, everyone has a right to offer opinions as to how the exit negotiations should be handled. No one group has any rights to dictate what the approach should be. That includes Parliament, which lost its right to dictate events when it handed over the decision on the EU to the people.

A further point that has to be considered is what actually constitutes leaving, with the secondary question of how the leaving process should be phased.

As to the first point, we've had freedom of movement (i.e., visa-free travel) with most of Europe since 1946 - over a quarter of a century before we joined the EEC. And, if Farage did his homework, he would know that participation in the Single Market is not incompatible with immigration control.

When even Guardian writers are beginning to recognise that we can participate in the Single Market without being in the EU, Farage is not only wrong to talk about "betrayal" – he is being absurd.

And that goes without factoring in the timescale. Given that we have undergone a process of political and economic integration over the last 43 years, it is not credible to expect that we should extract ourselves completely within the space of a couple of years.

Thus we also find the media gradually coming to the realisation that Brexit is a process, not an event. If we have restored the nation to a position of equilibrium within twenty years, it will be a minor miracle. In fact, we will always have a dynamic relationship with our European neighbours, so we will have to learn to live with a fluid and ever-changing situation.

With that, it would be useful – some might say essential – to have an organisation such as Ukip, outside the longer-established parties, monitoring the government's performance and offering sensible advice where needed.

Long ago though, Ukip vacated the field, so Farage himself has no mandate nor any obvious qualifications to offer the government advice, over and above any other grouping. That his party is so weak in this respect, is in itself an act of betrayal. Never more has an active, relevant watchdog been needed, and never since its creation has Ukip been so irrelevant.

The next time Farage talks about betrayal, therefore, he needs to be looking in a mirror.



Richard North 02/11/2016 link

Brexit: shambles at the top

15/08/2016  


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

25/07/2016  


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

05/07/2016  


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

04/07/2016  


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

02/07/2016  


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

30/06/2016  


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!

24/06/2016  

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"

02/06/2016  


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
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