Brexit: the kleptocracy of the IEA


As I was rather keen to point out at the time, not one of the IEA's six prizewinning entries in its €100,000 Brexit competition entertained the idea of the "Efta/EEA option" – often called the "Norway Option".

Still less did they accept the idea in my submission of Flexcit, the core feature of which was to go for Efta/EEA as an interim option, using it to buy time for further negotiations for a longer term solution for our trading arrangements with Europe.

I had written: "we are not advocating the 'Norway Option', per se, but something entirely original. In short, our solution to 'Brexit' is 'FLexCit' – FLexible response and Continuous development, a process rather than an event. That is the essence of our submission".

Had the IEA embraced Flexcit in early 2014, it would have have been ahead of the game as the only London-based think tank with a coherent view of how to leave the EU. Potentially, it could have dominated a generally fact-free referendum campaign.

Instead, it rejected anything which even offered an Efta/EEA solution. From nearly 150 entries and an initial shortlist of 17 papers, all six finalists submitted "EFTA-only" options. All of them, including the first prize entry, have disappeared without trace, contributing nothing to the current debate. The exercise was  – a complete waste of donors' contributions.

Having excluded itself from the pre-referendum debate, however, the IEA is now making up for lost time. It is engineering a salami-slicing bid to take ownership of Flexcit, the option it so contemptuously rejected back in 2014 but which is now emerging as the only workable option for a low-risk exit.

Even then, the IEA has been slow coming to the party. Having made a total mess of their Brexit competition, it was left to Philip Booth, their editorial and programme director, to salvage something from the wreckage with the publication in February 2015 of a book setting out four possible paths for Brexit.

Although Robert Oulds was recruited to write about the "Norway Option", the idea of using it as an interim solution had not yet penetrated the corporate brain. And, with nothing to offer of any great worth, this publication also disappeared without trace.

Lacking any corporate view on leaving or staying in the EU, the IEA was all over the place in the run-up to the referendum. In a contribution to the debate at the end of March 2016, it had Dalibor Rohac writing: "I used to be a eurosceptic. Here's why I changed my mind".

The world, he told us, appears to be a more dangerous place than at any other time in my memory. Brexit would shift the focus of British politics away from these strategic threats to parochial efforts aiming at reaching a decent trading and political settlement. That struck him as a risk that would require "a much more compelling justification than the one currently provided by the Leave campaign".

Nearly a month later, Diego Zuluaga gave his reasons "Why we must remain in the EU". Brexit, he said, offers the prospect of some marginal, but hardly compelling, improvements in trade and regulation. But, we were told, "this will likely come at the expense of deep commercial ties to Europe, a highly beneficial open immigration regime, and effective constitutional barriers against harmful economic policy". Taking these points into account, Zuluaga concluded, "leaving the EU is no longer an attractive proposition".

On 18 April, the IEA published a book by Patrick Minford & J R Shackleton entitled Breaking up is so hard to do. This had Minford arguing that the use of Article 50 was optional and that the UK should be prepared for a unilateral withdrawal, "setting up alternative international and regional treaty arrangements that do not involve the EU or require its consent".

In a footnote, Minford referred to suggestions that the UK would retain its membership of the EEA after EU exit or that it would revert to Efta membership it enjoyed before joining the EEC in 1973. "Both of these are misconceptions", he said, "without any legal foundation".

A few days later though, on 26 April, staff member Ryan Bourne was proclaiming: "Let's hear the positive economic case for Brexit", and suggesting that the impact of leaving had been greatly exaggerated. Dr Kristian Niemietz, head of the IEA's health and welfare unit, then took a hand, writing on 5 May 2016 of his own part in "Breaking up", under the heading of: "Brexit and Bremain: the devil and the deep blue sea.

In as somewhat incoherent intervention, Niemietz wrote of "inners" and "outers" talking about the EU when they really meant the EEA, or EFTA, or Schengen, or the Eurozone, or just international cooperation in general. As a result, he said, "the EU receives a great deal of praise, and a great deal of blame, for things which are not actually the result of the EU as such".

On 12 May, however, Niemietz was back, writing, "an unenthusiastic case for Brexit" in which he argued that, "Brexit will probably do no harm, but it may not do much good either". When in doubt, he wrote, "I err on the side of the smaller political unit, which is why I back Brexit nonetheless".

The day before the referendum, on 22 June, the IEA produced another book, this one entitled: "Making the Pieces Fit: Reforming Britain's relationship with the EU", by Philip Booth and Ryan Bourne.

Looking at the possibilities for leaving the EU, the pair observed that, joining the EEA would be one, apparently oblivious to the fact that the UK is already in the EEA. This, they said, brings with a repatriation of some powers, but does not fully restore control across a range of economic areas. Thus, they concluded: "To realise the true gains from Brexit, the EEA must, in these circumstances, be very much a transitional arrangement".

Thus, for the first time since Booth had been confronted with Flexcit nearly two years previously, two staff members were coming to the same conclusion: [continued] membership of the EEA must be "transitional" – it must be an interim option. There was, however, no acknowledgement that the IEA has already rejected this idea, with Booth having been on the judging panel. Still less was there any reference to Flexcit.

At this point, one might argue that the IEA is perfectly entitled to pursue the line of the EEA as an interim option, except that the idea did originate in Flexcit and it has subsequently been heavily promoted on the EU Referendum blog . They knew full well the source of the idea.

Furthermore, the idea of the Efta/EEA option as an interim solution doesn't stand alone. For it to be credible, it must be part of a phased exit plan, a process rather than an event, with an identified end point. This makes the idea an original concept, one that the IEA did not originate and did not own.

In a piece the day after the referendum, however, Kristian Niemietz told us that the work was just beginning. But he didn't mention the EEA at all. But then, on 29 June, Sophie Sandor wrote for the IEA saying that we must ensure we remain in the European Economic Area (EEA) only to have, a day later, Ryan Bourne tell us that EEA membership "is not a sustainable proposition".

Then, on 14 July, Niemietz intervened with a piece headed: "Saving Brexit from the Brexiteers: why free-market liberals should support the Efta/EEA option". With the irony meter needle bending against the stop, he asserted that Efta/EEA was the option that free-market liberals should now bang the drum for, "at least as a short-to-medium-term solution".

There was an active link in the sentence, which took the reader straight to Flexcit, although the plan was not named. Nevertheless, Niemitetz was finally acknowledging the source of the only definitive plan which is recommending Efta/EEA as an interim option.

The 18 July the saw Simon Barnett write for the IEA endorsing the Efta/EEA option, clearly borrowing research work from Flexcit to support his case, but without the courtesy of an acknowledgement. Lifting material from other people's work without attribution is, apparently, acceptable practice in the IEA.

In the meantime, the Adam Smith Institute was playing a similar game, lifting work from Flexcit in such a brazen manner that it was indistinguishable from plagiarism. Prime mover, Roland Smith, had a limited license from us to promote the idea of Flexcit without attribution of the source, but crossed the line by passing the work off as his own.

Now Kristian Niemietz lent his name to the plagiarism, claiming co-authorship of what amounted to a badly-butchered version of Flexcit in an ASI Briefing Note. Another of the co-authors was Ben Kelly, a Leave Alliance blogger, who claimed he was not told his name would be added to the note.

Nevertheless, Ryan Bourne wasn't buying it the EEA pitch, arguing on the IEA blog on 20 July for unilateral free trade. To maintain current arrangements, he argued for "some (unspecified) sort of deal". This would be sub-optimal, he said, but may be politically sensible as a transitional arrangement.

But now the IEA had seduced Ben Kelly to take the role of useful fool, his turn to bang the Efta/EEA interim option drum. This was Flexcit in all but name. Kelly even stole whole sentences directly from the Flexcit book, unchanged. In accordance with the IEA kleptocracy manual, though, there was no attribution.

Slowly, gradually, slice-by-slice, the very plan that the IEA had rejected is becoming one of its core possessions. Theirs is a classic example of how you steal intellectual property. First, you detach it from the originators. Then you get people used to the idea as a generic concept. Then you gradually assert it as your own, having your own writers pass themselves off as the originators.

The real irony is that the IEA could have had the work, gratis. But, too embarrassed to admit their errors and their gross mismanagement of the Brexit competition , they now have to steal the work to call it their own. That's the way things are done in the SW1 bubble. And whatever excuses they have for their behaviour, it's still theft.

Richard North 09/08/2016 link

Brexit: the darkest of games


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard North 25/07/2016 link

EU Referendum: Flexcit – not as we know it, Jim


The purpose of Flexcit is to give reassurance to undecided voters, by showing that leaving the EU can be a safe, measured process. It need not have any economic fall-out.

As such, this exit plan does not seek to instruct government. It does not pretend to be actionable policy. It simply conveys a structured argument that says that, if it so desired, the Government can make leaving the EU relatively painless and ultimately very profitable. There is no "leap in the dark".

However, after Vote Leave peremptorily rejected this plan, and after Arron Banks took it on board and then distanced himself from it, it was never going to be easy to get it in front of the public. This is made more difficult by the legacy media's determination to ignore it.

Thus, we really appreciate attempts by supporters to bring Flexcit to the forefront, and have done our best to make the plan accessible. But anything which ends up with Flexcit being misrepresented or distorted, does not do us any favours. The crucial thing is that the plan is a package. It stands or falls as a whole. It is more than one part.

Problematically, though, we are seeing particular aspects of the plan being over-emphasised by the Telegraph in its recent article (above). Doing this and neglecting other parts is to present something which easily be knocked down by our critics. This straw man approach then allows those critics to claim they have demolished the plan, defeating the purpose of our developing it in the first place.

That this is the case has been partly aided by Roland Smith of the Adam Smith Institute. The Telegraph has him discussing a "staged exit from the EU" which appears to be Flexcit but is not. 

Smith initially presented a liberal case for leaving the EU on the Adam Smith website, with a move back into Efta and the EEA", part of a staged process. This was fair enough but, in a series of steps culminating in the Telegraph article, Flexcit has become more and more closely associated with the Norway option.

The point here, of course, is that Flexcit, very specifically, is NOT the Norway option. Phase One of our plan gives three choices, of which Norway is only one. There are two fallbacks, each devised to allow for the eventuality that Britain might fail to rejoin Efta – a prerequisite of the Norway option – or that it might be blocked from continued participation in the EEA.

With no reference to the fallbacks, the Telegraph mistakenly asserts that there is a "larger risk to the Flexcit plan", coming in the form of potential international opposition. Britain's re-entry into EFTA. This we are told "would require the unanimous approval of its existing members". And then, having secured that membership, the UK would "need all 27 of the EU's remaining nations to sign off on it entering the EEA".

Our concern here is that we have gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid our plan being dismissed on these grounds. Failure to join either Efta or the EEA may be a risk to the Norway option, but it is not a problem for Flexcit. If the worst happens, we simply move on to one of the fallbacks – their availability being an absolutely integral part of the plan.

Dwelling on the issue of "entering the EEA", it should be said that the argument has progressed, and in leaps and bounds. Here, the specific point is that the UK is already in the EEA. Thus, it is not a question of "entering the EEA" but of whether we can continue as part of it, having transitioned from the EU to Efta. This issue is discussed at length in Flexcit.

Latterly, we see the transition as one of treaty continuity. The 27 EU Member States (and the three Efta states) can agree that our participation can continue, by consensus. There is no need for each Member State to sign off on the process, making life a whole lot easier.

Further, we are in a much stronger position than might at first appear. The EEA Agreement as between the EU and Efta states relies on the participation of the Efta states. Without their participation, there is no agreement. If the EU refused to agree an orderly transition, the Efta states could pull out, collapsing the agreement and putting the EU's neighbourhood policy in disarray.

That would also have some disadvantages for the Efta states, but they would be able to measure these against the advantage of being part of the world's fourth-largest trade bloc. It would be a matter of who blinks first.

On this issue alone, then, the Telegraph seriously misrepresents Flexcit. But the error is then compounded by speculation that "France could put up a fight". Smith is cited as saying: "There are a number of people in the French political establishment, who would try to dig in and just not do anything", then suggesting that: "Paris could attempt to block a deal outright". But it could not. We have the fallbacks which will prevent this from happening

Failing to mention this, the Telegraph then speculates that, "if opposition proved insurmountable, Westminster would need a backup plan". Ignoring the fact that Flexcit has not one but two backups, we then get a dissertation on the "clean break" option, doing without any trade deal, and instead relying on the WTO option. This is exactly what we wanted to avoid. It creates uncertainty rather than resolving it.

Earlier, we see the Efta/EEA option described as one which, "would result in powers over agriculture, fishing, justice, security, and others being returned to the UK". These alone will "be enough to be getting on with, bearing in mind that we have spent 43 years outsourcing all our capacity in these areas".

Again, this understates the nature of Flexcit. While we will actually be repatriating most of the non-EEA acquis, we have to bear in mind that agricultural products – as well as fisheries products – form a major part of our trade with the EU. Therefore, to maintain regulatory convergence and support equivalence, we will need pro temp to attach both the CAP and the CFP to the EEA, with a country-specific protocol.

With other programmes and continued participation in number of EU agencies, this makes for an EEA-plus solution. It is a "British solution" not the Norway option.

Another area of error is the detail on Liechtenstein in relation to restrictions on free movement, which the Telegraph manages to get spectacularly wrong. Brussels, we are told, granted the principality special status in 1994 under Protocol 15 in the EEA agreement, allowing it to limit the number of new residents for a period of four years. And now, we are told, this agreement remains in place today, and is reviewed on a rolling five-year basis.

In fact, Protocol 15 only dealt with transitional arrangements. As we point out here and here, the current exemption from freedom of movement provisions arises first from Liechtenstein's unilateral use of Article 112 and then from a negotiated agreement, set out in Annex VIII.

Thus, Brussels didn't "grant" Liechtenstein any special status. The principality leveraged its position on the back of Article 112. It owes nothing to the largesse of Brussels – and the arrangement, involving as it does a treaty change, is permanent.

To weaken our case, by getting details wrong, does us no good at all. We are up against formidable and unprincipled enemies, who already have the ear of government and the BBC. Our greatest strengths are accuracy and meticulous attention to detail. We cannot afford to be associated with these errors - that hands the game to our enemies.

Richard North 20/06/2016 link

EU Referendum: breaking the bubble


By some accounts, the Prime Minister didn't do too well during his half-hour of scrutiny on the Sky News Special, being interviewed by Faisal Islam and then questioned by a sceptic audience.

What to me really stood out though was Mr Cameron accusing the "leave" campaign of refusing to spell out what the country would look like after Brexit, instead trying to reassure us that it was "all going to be okay".

This was almost exactly the line taken earlier in the day by George Osborne, who joined forces with his Labour predecessor Alistair Darling, to write a letter to Vote Leave condemning it for "making up" its plans for Brexit.

In their letter, the pair wrote: "You are coming forward with uncosted and unworkable proposals that would damage our country by taking us out of the single market upon which so many jobs depend". They added: "It is simply not good enough to pretend to the British people that they can vote leave and there would not be profound and negative economic consequences that would affect them and their families".

To conclude their letter, Osborne and Darling demanded that Vote Leave spelled out the "specific trading relationship" Britain would have with the EU after Brexit and offer "guarantees" on trade tariffs.

The day previously Vote Leave had breached their own self-denying ordinance on releasing any post-Brexit plans, by publishing its proposals on immigration. But no one is expecting it to respond to the chancellors past and present, or even the Prime Minister by producing more detailed plans.

The Economist sees this lack as a "fatal contradiction".On the one side are the anti-regulation heirs of Margaret Thatcher like Michael Gove who want to turn Britain into the Singapore or Hong Kong of Europe. On the other side are the nativists who resent immigrants on cultural, as much as economic grounds, and who favour protectionism over free markets.

The working class voters who like the "leave" campaign on nativist grounds would probably be horrified by the economic agenda of Gove and his colleagues. The Economist believes that this is why we don't hear the "leave" campaign spell out all the EU regulations they would like to abolish, which would include those on workers' rights and why Boris Johnson burbles on inanely and inaccurately about bananas and teabag recycling. It's a distraction from the unpopular part of the "leave" agenda.

Nevertheless, the "leave" campaign would be wise to reconcile its differences and produce a plan. When the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) took it upon itself to publish a plan by our own Roland Smith, it triggered positive responses from across the political spectrum, culminating in highly favourable comment from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph.

That Ambrose lumped together the ASI paper with Flexcit, however, is hardly surprising. Roland based his paper closely on our work, removing any references to it as a way of secreting the message into the "bubble". The very mention of Flexcit in some quarters causes nose-bleeds.

By so doing, Roland managed to demonstrate that, once shorn of its identity, there is a real demand for the ideas expressed in Flexcit. Again that is not surprising. Coherence and credibility are watchwords for any successful campaign and Flexcit provides precisely that to a campaign that otherwise lacks direction or substance.

The absence of a plan has been a liability throughout the entire campaign. Had there been one published at an early stage it would have deprived the "remains" of one of their most powerful memes and thereby reshaped the entire campaign. We would by now have spent many months talking about detail and the very specific direction of travel in which Flexcit takes us.

Even now, as the media tardily wakes up to its presence, "bubble-dwellers" are still not fully – or at all – getting to grips with the thinking behind our title. They certainly have not understood that it represents a flexible and continuous response to the complex process of leaving the EU. By "flexible", we are not committed to any one mechanism of exit and, while preferring the Efta/EEA option, we have numerous fallbacks.

This is something Lost Leonardo called a "revolution in public policy-making", the product of several years of reporting on the EU, pulling in a vast array of sources with absolutely essential input from readers and fellow bloggers. It is a real testament to the quality of our readers.

From this experience, we have the most comprehensive study on the subject anywhere. Our pool of solid expertise leaves more prestigious entities standing. That's because we have not underestimated the complexity of the Brexit process. We have spent the time and effort doing the research - at the same time opening up our work to continuous scrutiny and responding to the critiques. 

We started with the assumption that there is no magic wand: the two years allowed under Article 50 would not be nearly long enough to unpick forty years of political, economic and social integration. To even get close is implausible. Moreover, the more radical the process, the greater the risk. Anything perceived to be risky would deliver us a referendum defeat.

From that point we arrive at our guiding ethos. Brexit is a process, not an event. Leaving the EU will have to be done in phases. The first phase simply takes us out of the political construct of the EU. Only then do we look at the long road of full separation.

When asked what does Brexit looks like the day after, the answer is simple: exactly the same. By remaining part of the EEA, with a transitional agreement on fisheries and agriculture, maintaining most of the cooperation agreements and adopting the entire EU acquis into British law, nothing changes. This is the quickest settlement to negotiate, the least disruptive and the solution most likely to be ratified without a fuss.

Necessarily, this requires compromise on freedom of movement, an idea which is met with howls of rage from those less familiar with the subtleties and complexities of the plan. They wish to ditch this policy in the mistaken belief that it will have a significant effect on overall migration.

To accommodate this rejection, they assume that we can rely on WTO rules or whip up a customised treaty in two years flat and them resume normal politics. These are flawed assumptions.

We have always said the EU is more than just a trade bloc. There are multiple levels of invisible government which have gradually integrated over the years. These must be unpicked with a scalpel, not an axe. As much as we might like to go at it like a bull in a china shop, we don't have that luxury. Britain's soft power is hard-won on the basis that we uphold our agreements and respect treaties. Moreover we will still wish to have amicable relations with the EU and so compromise will be required of us.

The wisdom of this approach is that it removes any cliff edges and takes the drama out of Brexit. It makes it a much easier sell. Hardliners don't like it but they will vote to leave come what may. It is the "undecideds" we need to convince. Though it does not immediately satisfy many of our requirements we are at least out of the EU - for good.

The plan also presupposes that a successful EU exit should be the foremost political priority of the "leave" campaign and that any, indeed, every other issue, should play second fiddle to securing a majority vote in an EU referendum. Of necessity that means repudiating many of the tired old "eurosceptic" (a word that must now be retired) nostrums that have failed to arrest, let alone reverse, the ongoing process of political and judicial integration to which all EU Member States are subject.

The transition plan rejects empty aspiration and embraces pragmatic and practical political reality. It is not a contradiction that those who are amongst the most determined advocates for Brexit sound like the reasonable centre ground. We have put ourselves in that position deliberately because we know that is where we need to be in order to convince the mass of undecided referendum voters that leaving the EU is not only necessary, but also practicable, possible and safe.

In offering our plan, we recognise that the EEA option is far from optimal. We habitually call it the Norway Option, perhaps unwisely, but it is a departure lounge rather than the destination. This of course prompts the mantra: "Still pay, no say". And then there is the tired "fax democracy" canard.

But in the process of producing Flexcit, we became increasingly aware that the EU is not the top table in regulatory affairs. In fact, the EU is now superseded in most areas, adopting regulations from many global bodies wholesale. We have seen how the United Nations Economic Commission Europe (UNECE) is pivotal to several key areas of regulation. We have also explored the role of Codex and standards bodies which now form the basis of what we regard as an emerging global single market.

Far from having no say, we find that the EU is increasingly an obstruction to us having our say, removing our independent vote and right of opt out. It seems the entire case for remaining in the EU is perpetuating the myth that the EU is the alpha and omega of rule-making. It just isn't so.

We find in the very first instance that Britain is free to pursue its own trading avenues and has an enhanced role in the formation of regulations. Consequently we become a leading voice in bringing that global single market closer to what we have achieved in Europe. The argument for going into the EEC in 1975 was that we needed to be in it to have a say in the rules. If that was true then, the same logic applies now - but on a global level.

We set out in Flexcit the many opportunities this presents along with the process of modernising our aid, trade, fishing and agriculture policies after we repatriate them. But having dismantled much of our administrative capability and expertise while inside the EU, we really don't want to bite off more than we can chew.

We identify how we can reform immigration without doing anything as drastic as ending freedom of movement and without leaving the Single Market. We show how our agility gives us leverage over the EU to reform it from outside in ways we cannot from within. Effectively Flexcit gives us the reforms Mr Cameron pretends he has already secured.

How we then evolve becomes a matter for a national conversation. But it will become clear that the current structure of government and the politics within is inadequate for the task at hand. To that end we put forth our own proposals for democratic reform, to ensure our politicians never do this to us again without our consent. That is the true destination of Flexcit and the entire point of it. We're not in this to prune a few regulations and save money.

For all that, we are under no illusions. Leaving the EU is not only a revolution in our relations with the Continent. It is also a fundamental restructuring of domestic governance, involving a long-overdue reshaping of the post-war settlement. Not by any means do we underestimate the gravity of what we propose.

That is why we need to win the intellectual argument - and why we need a plan. Flexcit demonstrates that this can do this without undue pain and without unacceptable risk. At the end of the process we have a United Kingdom fit to do business with the world as it is rather than how it was when Mr Monnet dreamed up the European Union.

Yet, only weeks now from the referendum, we're still discussing the basics. Roland Smith is still having to hide the true source of his papers for fear of offending the "nose bleeders". And Mr Cameron is thus able to get away with criticising the "leave" campaign for not having a plan, when we've had one all along.

If we then go on to lose the referendum, we will have doubt as to the reasons. Yet, even if we are thus unable to leave the EU, the fight does not stop there. We are not only taking on the EU but also our own political system. One of our first tasks is to break the "bubble". Only when we are free from its malign influence will we be able to make any serious progress.

Pete North and Lost Leonardo (Independent Britain blog) contributed to this article.

Richard North 03/06/2016 link

EU Referendum: Article 50 - "the only lawful route"


When in February of this year, the Government published a Command Paper entitled, "The process for withdrawing from the European Union", it asserted that Article 50 of the TEU "was the only lawful route available to withdraw from the EU".

There can be hardly anyone with any sense or understanding of treaty or international law who would challenge this, but that did not stop Dominic Cummings, campaign director for Vote Leave, doing precisely that. This was then reinforced on the Vote Leave website, where the use of Article 50 was regarded as optional, with different legal mechanisms being available.

This was subsequently repeated by Bernard Jenkin, Michael Gove, Nigel Lawson and Alexander (aka Boris) Johnson, putting almost the entire Vote Leave élite at odds with reality.

This, however, was not good enough for the House of Lords EU Select Committee, chaired by Lord Boswell. Determined to have "as clear an understanding as possible of the process whereby the UK would withdraw from the EU", they decide to hold a public evidence session with two experts in the field of EU law.

The chosen ones in this case were Sir David Edward KCMG, QC, PC, FRSE, a former Judge of the Court of Justice of the European Union and Professor Emeritus at the School of Law, University of Edinburgh; and Professor Derrick Wyatt QC, Emeritus Professor of Law, Oxford University, and also of Brick Court Chambers.

Previewed in the Booker column, the essence of their conclusions was that: "If a Member State decides to withdraw from the EU, the process described in Article 50 is the only way of doing so consistent with EU and international law".

The slightly different phrasing here does not in any way obscure what amounts to a complete endorsement of the Government's assertion. And this, by rights, should put the issue to bed – except that Vote Leave doesn't let minor things like being wrong disturb it. Its website remains (at the time of writing) unchanged, as does its declared view that Article 50 is optional. Vote Leave doesn't do corrections.

Strangely, though, despite Lord Boswell telling us that he was so keen to sort out Article 50, he chose to head up his press statement with an entirely different, if related issue. If the UK votes to leave the EU, we are informed, "negotiating withdrawal would be a 'complex and daunting task'".

In many respects, this is out of order. Boswell has called in legal experts to give him the word on EU law, but is straying into the political domain – stretching expertise into opinion-led evidence. Thus, while his witnesses are entitled to their opinions, they have to be qualified. The extent to which the negotiations may be "complex and daunting" will depend to a very great extent on the exit option chosen by HMG.

Enter the Telegraph which falls for the Boswell spin but then quotes Roland Smith (aka White Wednesday) who points out that the EEA option would avoid most if not all the problems to which the experts refer.

Needless to say, all those legacy media organs which do publicise the Select Committee report seem to have ignored the Article 50 issue altogether, even though this was the primary reason for the report.

Thus they all miss the point which is so crucial to understanding the entire referendum debate – that we are limited in the first instance to a two-year negotiating period, in which the Government would seek to finalise an exit settlement.

Wyatt, the academic lawyer - demonstrating a degree of political naivety - thought an extension would "probably happen", not perhaps realising that there would be a price. Relying on the unanimous agreement of the other 27 Member States, our position would be so weak that we could hardly resist what would most certainly be unacceptable trade-offs.

The more savvy Edward counselled against relying on the two-year time limit being extended, which would probably reflect the real-life position, giving us the two years for a make-or-break agreement.

This puts us precisely in the area that Vote Leave is trying to avoid – having to confront the impossibility of reaching a bespoke "free trade" agreement within that time period.

This is, of course, why the Article 50 issue had to be resolved. Sadly, with the media – including the BBC - having swallowed the Boswell bait, the job is only half done.

Richard North 05/05/2016 link

EU Referendum: the irrelevance of the EU


000a Booker-016 Global.jpg

Booker takes an interesting slant in his column today, picking up on that "creepy government leaflet". Scarcely a sentence in the leaflet, he writes, does not cry out for factual correction. But one in particular conceals a colossal shift in how we are governed which is scarcely being noticed in this campaign. 

This is the reference to how, as from next year, "roaming charges will be abolished across the EU", saving users of mobile telephones "up to 38p a minute on calls" – one of the ways the EU is claimed to be "improving our lives".

Relying heavily on EURef, Booker tells us it is true the EU was first asked to abolish roaming charges, and that was by a global body called the International Telephone Users Group (INTUG) way back in 1999. Typically, though, the EU dragged its feet, so much so that eventually INTUG approached another global body, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The OECD involved a third global body, the International Telecommunications Union, which used the rules of a fourth, the World Trade Organisation, to ensure that by 2013 roaming charges were being abolished right across the world, the EU well down in the queue.

Thus, says Booker, what everyone has been missing, although it should be highly relevant to this referendum, is the astonishing scale on which the making of our laws has been passing up to a global level. The process has gone to scores of mysterious organisations which then hand down their rulings to be implemented by lesser regional bodies, such as the EU.

One after another, those groups campaigning to "Remain" in the EU have been claiming every kind of benefit attributable to our membership. But the reality is that we don't really owe a fraction to the EU of what is claimed. Rather, much of what we see is coming from this fast-emerging network of global governance.

There has been much talk, for instance, of how the EU is playing a key part in ending wholesale tax avoidance by multi-national corporations, Booker reminds us. But one reason why they have been getting away with this for so long is that the EU had enshrined in its treaty that right to the "free movement of capital" originally laid down by the OECD.

This is also something we covered on the blog, especially when it became an embarrassing international scandal and was taken up by the G20, which is now acting with the UN Conference on Trade and Development to change the rules. So, if steps are at last being made to address this problem, Booker says, this is due entirely to our new system of "global government", in which the EU is only a subordinate player. Interestingly, even the WTO is getting involved.

Another area emerged when Stronger in Europe claimed that, if we were to leave the EU, disabled people would somehow lose their rights. Yet, as we quickly pointed out, disability rights are enshrined in the 2010 Equality Act, putting into UK law the UN Convention on the Rights of the Disabled which, as the EU's own website makes clear, is legally binding on all member states.

Yet another area where global agencies are active was one missed by the BBC, which was too busy engaging in mockery over EU regulations laying down the required marketing standards for fruit and vegetables, such as cabbages, cucumbers and bananas.

The point it wanted to make was that Brussels finally recognised that these rules were all "a little bit daft", so "very sensibly" repealed them. But what the BBC failed to tell us was that the reason they were all scrapped was that they have now been replaced by new standards handed down by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) based not in Brussels but in Geneva.

In many ways UNECE now has much more part in making our laws than Brussels, over everything from marketing standards to vehicle design. One reason why the EU is able to boast that it has been cutting back on its tens of thousands of directives and regulations is simply that it has been replacing them with new rules handed down from higher bodies such as UNECE, the International Standards Organisation, the International Maritime Organisation and scores of others, many also based in Geneva.

Two years ago, in the week David Cameron gave his Bloomberg speech announcing the referendum, Booker first wrote about all this under the heading "Forget Brussels: now we are ruled by the giants of Geneva".

But so parochial are the mantras being repeated ad nauseam by both sides in this campaign that neither of them has noticed as far-reaching a revolution in the way the world is governed as anything since 1945.

The implications of this, says Booker, are immense. It is time we woke up to the fact that. In very significant respects, the EU itself has become an irrelevance. But there is at least a glimmer of light at the end of that long tunnel, in a paper from Roland Smith (White Wednesday), published by the Adam Smith Institute. Coincidentally, Roland writes of: "How global regulators are killing the value of EU membership". That is much the theme raised by Booker, and one we rehearse at length in Flexcit.

When the Vote Leave finally wakes up, it might realise that this process of globalisation is one of our stronger hands. We no longer need the middle man when we can deal direct.

Richard North 17/04/2016 link

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