Why would anyone ‘wait and see’ on Cameron’s EU renegotiation?

Another very curious news release this morning from Business for Britain, yet again giving credence to the view that something sufficiently substantial will emerge from Cameron’s EU renegotiation.

What are this lot up to….along with several others in the Tory constellation who are openly adopting a position of ‘wait and see’?

There are really only 3 reasons/options why one would take this approach:

1. One is being ‘clever’, knowing all along that Cameron won’t produce anything of substance, and when he doesn’t, you then feign surprise, disappointment and perhaps even a little anger that this historic opportunity has been missed and you then passionately support an EU NO vote.

2. One genuinely believes that Cameron’s renegotiation could produce something acceptable, therefore it’s worth waiting for. Meanwhile one must be seen to put some pressure on the PM by wheeling out business people who say exit holds no fears.

3. One is actually pro-EU.

A further thread running through these three options is Tory loyalty: There is no disloyalty on display (yet) in any of the above options. Only open disbelief in the prime minister at this stage could fall prey to that charge.

So where is Business for Britain in the above?

In the early days I had thought they were adopting the first option but as each new press release hits the streets, it is ever clearer that they have adopted the second. The language and tone is simply far too believing in Cameron, right down to trusting the “I rule nothing out” statement. Add all this to B4B’s own list of ‘reforms’ which look as anaemic as Cameron’s (and very similar in a number of respects) and one sees that they are seeking to build influence over the PM, much as Open Europe has done in recent years. And like Open Europe, they are in the business of bringing sceptical Tory politicians and newspapers into their network of influence by feeding them a constant diet of moderately sceptical stories and soundbites. Also like Open Europe they initially appear to be ‘onside’.

But in the final analysis Business for Britain have no stomach for a fight, especially one which they have long since calculated they are likely to lose. Like Business for Sterling before them, this is a group that must be seen to win – they want to maintain & extend their influence in the corridors of power at all costs. This is what drives them. That and holding no principled opposition to the EU’s supranationalist character and ambition.

From that perspective, it becomes clear that their motives do not actually fall under Option 2 but Option 3. Once that is recognised, the parallels with Open Europe’s own journey become clear and complete.

These people are not our friends.

Ruth Lea’s ‘WTO’ Brexit plans are fatally flawed

Some assistance from the pro-EU camp

This just went up on the the Capx site, written by Bill Emmott (he of ‘Great European Disaster Movie’ fame): http://www.capx.co/bill-emmotts-10-point-plan-to-keep-the-uk-in-the-eu/

And this what it should tell the Out camp.

First from the preamble:

“So if the pro-EU camp – in which it is presumed that David Cameron sits – is to prevent that clock from becoming a time-bomb it had better start getting its message out now. But first it needs to get its message straight. In other words, it needs to do a lot better than Nick Clegg did in his disastrous broadcast debates with Nigel Farage in spring 2014.”

Learning: Outers too have to start geting the message out now. And we need to get the message straight. Ours is the bigger hurdle because the onus is on us to make the case for change. Waiting and seeing (yes you Tory eurosceptics and Business for Britain) isn’t going to cut it. Nor is wooliness over how we get out.

“1. Accentuate the positive. A message of opportunity and hope will be much more powerful and convincing than one of fear. The opportunity and hope come from the UK’s participation in, and hence every British citizen’s participation in, the scope, scale and diversity of Europe. It is not a trap or hindrance, as the antis will say, it is an opportunity.”

Learning: Outers must also be positive. We must stop the language of traps, Romanians next door, EUSSR and all that guff

“2. Accept the negatives, the many genuine reasons to criticise the EU. The basic sentiment should be that the EU does a bit of harm but a great deal of good. After all, every level of government does some harm – creating distortions, wrapping you in red tape, misspending your taxes, occasionally being guilty of corruption – whether it is your town council, Whitehall or Brussels, so in this the EU is no different. What matters is that it does much good too, often by restricting the ability of other levels of government to do harm – eg through subsidies and protectionism – and indeed the ability of powerful global companies to do harm, by means of competition laws. And it has safeguards to limit the harm it does, such as its Court of Auditors and its own anti-red tape campaign. When there is harm or mistakes are made, we can and must work to improve things.”

Learning: Outers must accept the positives of the EU. And meet each of those points raised by the In camp – “restricts national govts to do harm; restricts global companies from doing harm”.

“3. Occupy the high ground. This is a grand strategic choice which will affect Britain, and its place in the world, for decades, perhaps centuries, not a matter of a few pounds, jobs or points of GDP one way or the other. Don’t do as Clegg did by reeling off spurious statistics about jobs at risk or forecasts of economic gains or losses. Such statistics and forecasts will always be bogus, whether used by “ins” or “outs” because they all depend on guesswork about an unknowable future, and unknowable alternative domestic policies post-Brexit. The pro-campaign’s advantage is that the status quo is more knowable than what would happen if Britain left, so don’t throw it away by trading bogus guesses with the antis’ own bogus guesses.”

Learning: Firstly, don’t let them present theirs as the status quo option – it isn’t. If we vote IN we will stay in for a very very long time indeed and the journey is very knowable: it means full integration, euro and all. But also agree with the Inners that it is fruitless to trade stats.

“4. David Cameron must show, however, through the negotiation process that reform and progress are possible in the EU. An emphasis on helping to create a proper single market in services and digital commerce, which has been oft-proposed but much-delayed or hindered, would show that there is much to play for by staying in. The EU is not a static entity, it is an ever-changing one: the argument is that we need to be inside in order to keep changing it for the better, and in Britain’s interests”.

Learning: If he comes back with anything seriously substantive then things could get ‘interesting’. But he won’t – we already know what’s on the table and it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. The clue will be in the fact that full treaty change with an inter-governmental conference won’t happen.

“5. By pushing on open doors such as single markets liberalisation and the building of an energy union (a fully connected grid and open energy market), the negotiation can show also that the British have allies and admirers in the EU. It isn’t a case of us versus them. So don’t alienate those allies by making self-destructive, insulting demands as the Greeks have. Find allies who also want what we want, and hug them close.”

Learning: they will emphasise the single market over and over (because they know that plays well with the British). Other aspects will drift into the background unless we bring them forward. We mustn’t diss the single market, quite the reverse. We must pledge not to leave it when we give up full EU membership. That essentially means an EEA relationship which we must accept as the first step in the journey out. While maintaining that message we need to draw in other aspects of policy and accept that some will be done better in continued coopeartion with the EU while others won’t.

“6. Stress that whatever happens in the EU will affect Britain greatly, whether we are in or out. Simple geography dictates that. The difference lies in how much influence we have over EU events and policies. Switzerland and Norway, the standard examples of outside countries that are much affected by the EU, would have only a small chance to influence what it does if they were inside. Great Britain has a big influence, however, which it would lose by leaving.”

Learning: Well at least he acknowledges that it’ll affect Britain greatly if we stay in – that journey ‘deep in’ again, where we’re concerned. And they’ll go for Norway and Switzerland and will emphasise ‘small influence’ – better than ‘no influence’ so they are starting to learn. But they can’t give any more on this as their argument will collapse. So we should hammer it for all its worth while being ready for Norwegian politicians to pop up (those that favour ‘In’) to try and argue back.

“7. Use young people as the main voices for staying in, not super-annuated politicians or fat-cat business people. The chances the young can have, the travel that EU open skies has made cheap for them, the fellow-Europeans they work with in Manchester or London or Berlin, the European popular culture they share, the size of the market for their small start-ups thanks to Europe – these are the sorts of images that need to be shared. Parents and grandparents need to want Britain in the EU for the sake of their children and grandchildren.”

Learning: we equally need to go for the young vote. We need to make the case in pro-globalisation terms and in similar ways to that above.

“8. The antis will often argue that outside the EU, Britain would be wonderfully free to make its own trade deals and work closely with all those like-minded folk in English-speaking countries and the Commonwealth. So get Americans, Canadians, Indians, Australians and others to speak for your campaign, pointing out that if the antis were to bother to ask them, both the Commonwealth and the English-speaking peoples would actually prefer Britain to stay in the EU. There isn’t an alternative gang for Britain to join.”

Learning: we need to do the same in reverse and emphasise that we don’t want an “alternative gang” – that is the 1950s language of blocs. We want a globally-networked Britain with a myriad of influences everywhere drawing on the English language and on historic connections (including the EU).

“9. If Cameron thinks it important, then he can bargain for some small changes in the rules about EU migrants’ eligibility for welfare benefits. Otherwise, on immigration the ins should do two things. First, point out continually that more than half of immigration to Britain over the past decade has been from non-EU countries, which we are able to control entirely ourselves right now, and that EU migrants have on average been better educated and higher-skilled than non-EU immigrants. Second, push broadcasters or YouTube channels to show old episodes of the 1980s sitcom “Auf Wiedersehen Pet”, which portrayed a group of Geordie builders working in Germany, thanks to EU free movement rules. It is a two-way street, one that ordinary Brits have exploited before when they needed to. They might again, but won’t be able to if we leave.”

Learning: He’s assuming the campaign will be “UKIPist” in flavour. We mustn’t allow that to happen under any circumstances.

“10. If you must talk about negatives, talk of membership of the EU being rather like an insurance policy. We don’t know what the future will bring, 20, 30 or 40 years on, in politics, economics, the environment, health or anything else. Being in the EU will give us the chance of facing up to any threats or changes together with our neighbours, if it feels at that time advantageous to do so. It is an insurance against an unknowable future. Why take the risk of cancelling it?”

Learning: We must be prepared for this (especially the Russia threat alluded to here). We need to note where the EU has gone badly wrong in these areas and that we already know where Europe is heading demographically and economically….and it isn’t good. But of course that means an acceptance of immigration into the UK….Go back to Learning point 9…..

There is no status quo in the EU Referendum. It’s a battle of two journeys

What are we actually voting for in this referendum? To answer that, let’s suppose the IN vote wins. What happens then?

Well the one handbrake on EU integration – the building of a country called Europe – will have been released as the club’s most awkward member state falls into line. The UK Government and all of Westminster will declare with one voice that “we’ve had two votes in 40 years – the matter is now settled for good”. The EU will be cock-a-hoop; there will be high fives in Brussels and in several cities around Europe. The takings in the Belgium Capital’s bars and restaurants will surge. All those news stories in British newspapers – crazy regulations, unwanted taxes (and fraud) from Brussels, unexpected demands on the UK taxpayer to cough up an extra £1.7bn by Christmas, arguments over mass immigration, the whole corporatist racket – those stories probably won’t disappear but they’ll become entirely academic & inevitable. Like an unwanted tax bill or weeds in your garden. The people will have voted for it, you see.

The EU will then press hard on the accelerator towards political union. And the UK will be a part of the historic journey into that new country, whatever shape it may take. Indeed the whole process of the last 40 years has been a stealthy journey towards this destination, with Westminster in denial at every step of the way. If the UK votes IN, the process won’t only continue but it will speed up. “The UK hasn’t voted out”, the narrative will go, “so it never will”.

This is the point: A vote for IN is not a vote for the status quo. It is a vote for a wild journey – a journey that finishes building a country called Europe, into which the UK will be absorbed and in which the UK will eventually adopt the euro, just as respected writers like Wolfgang Munchau in the FT have suggested. Absurd? Who could have guessed in 1975 that voting on a ‘common market’ would bring us to this point 40 years later, with common policies on almost everything including a mooted EU army (despite those Westminster denials)?


Munchau quote


To fight this journey, we first need to step off the ‘EU train’ where it is now. That doesn’t mean we are suddenly magically transported somewhere else. It means we stay broadly where we are – in the single market with the existing body of EU law entangled with ours but importantly not on the journey to political union. That means taking a step back from full EU membership and into EFTA/EEA.

And that will be the first step in our own new journey: to become a reinvigorated, democratic, globally-networked Britain with a world view. We will have an important network of relations including the EU, EFTA, the Commonwealth, the Anglosphere and continue to make full use of our leading positions in the G20, the G8, NATO, and the UN security council. It is immensely exciting but it will not happen overnight and we will continue to play a big role in the geographic continent that is Europe. There will still be European agreements aplenty – some are extremely desirable. But we won’t be part of another country.

It’s a battle of two journeys. Time to choose OUT.

EU Referendum: Norway has no influence? Yeah right…

Norway has no influence in single market rules? That’s highly debatable.

As an EEA & EFTA member, Norway does in fact have influence. It has formal influence in shaping new EU law through joint EU/EFTA/EEA committees and working groups. Norway can push for adaptations and exemptions from harmful clauses in EU law, and can contest the law through a separate court. It has a veto over EU law if the law runs against its own interests. It also has an emergency brake on freedom of movement. The only thing it doesn’t have (because it isn’t an EU member) is a formal vote in EU institutions to ratify new law. This last point gets blown up into “Norway has no influence”.

A further new angle to this comes from a recent EFTA report showing that the vast majority of single market law includes policy areas now covered by the UN or other global bodies. As a result of globalisation in the 21st century, ASA, UNECE, Codex Alimentarius, WTO, NAFO, ILO and a whole host of bodies few have ever heard of are the new sources of law that then gets handed down. The EU takes a seat on such bodies and negotiates on our behalf meaning we effectively have one twenty-eighth of a seat. Norway takes a single seat on such bodies so has much greater influence than Britain in shaping laws originating from these sources – a seat it uses to great effect, particularly for industries where it has significant interests like fishing, and oil & gas.

Anne Beathe Tvinnereim, a Norwegian minister, therefore flatly denies Norway has no influence. Norway has more influence than we do. Of course there are some Norwegian politicians who support claims that they have no influence. But these politicians tend to want EU membership for Norway so arguably have their own agenda. Or they simply haven’t kept pace with the force of globalisation that leaves their argument high and dry.

And that’s where we really find the clue that the “no influence” claim is wrong: the country as a whole is now firmly against EU membership. The Norwegian organisation pushing for Norway’s full membership has given up. Iceland, another EEA member, has gone the same way. These countries “constantly awaiting orders from Brussels” – or so we are told – are, in reality, nations at ease with themselves.

One other point. The assumption in all this is that the UK enjoys major influence inside the EU. But it doesn’t. When we joined, the UK had 17% of votes in the Council of Ministers; now we have 8%. The veto is now almost non-existent and the UK hasn’t managed to block single Commission proposal passing through the Council despite trying 55 times. More recently we have even been outvoted on financial services measures, which historically was not the case given the UK’s power in this area. Commentators often report how marginalised Britain is in the EU.

The most the IN lobby can realistically say is that influence is constrained in certain ways both inside and outside the EU. But short of setting up a dictatorship with omnipotent powers, that is always going to be the case. It is not an argument for staying in.

Can we just walk out the EU and then trade with it?

Could the UK simply walk out of the EU (and the single market) without any negotiation and then trade with the EU “like any other country in the world”? It sounds easy….but the devil is in the detail.

The EU discriminates against countries outside the EU and EEA unless it has agreed preferential trading agreements (PTAs) with such countries. The EU already has such agreements with 55 countries and a further 80+ are in progress. That’s 145+ countries. Once it had left, the UK would obviously become a non-member and without its own UK-EU PTA could then face tariffs from the EU and trade discrimination arising from the 145+ countries operating under a PTA.

On average, tariffs are low these days and advocates of this approach always stress that. But this average hides some high and low tariffs. For example, an 8% tariff is applicable to car imports. The other larger aspect to this is the issue of non-tariff barriers, which are likely to re-emerge causing havoc with business supply chains – especially just-in-time ones – that have been built around the EU/EEA being a single “domestic” market. It’s estimated that performing a UK exit in this way would cost £26bn annually, most of it from non-tariff barriers.

“Ah”, say supporters of this option, “but the EU would have to make an agreement with us on exit because they buy half our exports and we buy loads from them – they’d be mad not to do a deal”. Firstly, while the EU does buy half of UK exports, the UK only accounts for circa 10% of exports from the EU. The UK would be in a weak position to negotiate access on its terms.

Plus one bigger issue: trade agreements can take years and years to hammer out. After an Out vote, there would be enormous political and financial market pressure for the UK to conclude a deal fast. And that may be simply impossible, even in the 2 years allowed for by an exit under Article 50.

Is this approach therefore bad? No, several options are better than staying in and this one has a number of features to commend it, not least “fuller” independence. But it comes with enough uncertainty that it may not survive a referendum campaign so we’d never actually get out.

Far better to focus on a quick exit using existing structures, which means an initial step back to EFTA/EEA membership and therefore continued participation in the single market. Then we can take time to consider longer term arrangements.

UKIP’s contribution

Dan Hannan has penned an article for Capx that is possibly his most critical of UKIP’s damage to the Brexit cause.

Well, there is an election coming…

As is Dan’s habit on Twitter, he retweeted someone who linked to his article. This time he retweeted me, which not only opened up the prospect of many more retweets (and a few more followers to prop up one’s vanity) but it also meant I saw the 20+ replies.

Aside from the one or two in agreement, the replies fell into two camps:

1. “UKIP deserve credit for forcing the issue into the wider political debate”
2. “UKIP is the only game in town where Brexit is concerned”

There is some truth in the first, but only in the narrow sense that UKIP’s issue is specifically about high immigration, some of which is caused by EU membership. And importantly the emphasis is on the immigration bit not the EU membership bit. Indeed the latter has taken a distant back seat.

Part of the party’s problem is a mistaken conclusion about its own journey: the conclusion that says making a shouty tell-it-like-it-is noise that plays to a particular gallery is what brought them to this point *and* what will carry them through to victory and EU exit. Hence more of the same: foreign voices on trains, immigrants clogging motorways, and immigrants with HIV.

Their theory is presumably that the wider electorate will one day wake up from their slumber and see that there is something important in all that green ink and that they should also get angry. But the reality is that this approach doesn’t work because it quickly hits a ceiling and indeed has already switched off so many people that In/Out polls are now utterly dire for the Out cause.

By any criteria of success for developing a mass movement or plan for Brexit – and the Yougov poll is about as good as they come – UKIP has totally failed.

As to the second point about them being the only Brexit game in town, there is some literal truth in that statement, but their poisoning of the Brexit case illustrates the limits of that literal truth. To quote an older Hannan article, the party has become an end in itself and UKIP’s electoral success only has one relationship with the prospects for Brexit – an inverse one.

A dramatic about-turn in strategy could possibly save the party and with it the Out case. But given the constituency of supporters that UKIP has nurtured over the years, I suspect that will be near impossible.

So the issue is that we now have a dysfunctional UKIP occupying the Brexit field yet simultaneously destroying it by turning people off. And all the while, the pro-EU side jumps up and down pointing to this state of affairs as representative of the Out case.

Sadly what would now be better for the anti-EU movement as a whole is for UKIP to fail at the election and create space for more reasoned arguments.

We shall see soon enough whether that will happen.