Monday, 22 February 2016

Cameron Watch - A piece of paper

Most of you will recognise the reference above to Neville Chamberlain's "Peace for our Time" speech of 1938.  It is primarily remembered for its ironic value: less than a year after the agreement, Hitler's continued aggression and his invasion of Poland was followed by declarations of war on Germany by France and the United Kingdom.

I am not the first, nor will I be the last to draw a parallel between Cameron & Chamberlain. Where Chamberlain hoped to avoid war in Europe, Cameron's aim has always been limited to avoiding a war within the Tory party. Where Chamberlain's treaty at least served to buy time for Britain to re-arm ahead of the looming conflict with Germany, there appears to be no up-side for Britain from Cameron's "piece of paper".

Cameron claims that his deal has secured a "special status" for Britain within a reformed EU. In this the Prime Minister of Great Britain is guilty of perpetrating a fraud on the electorate.  This is a serious charge, not made lightly, but regrettably it is true.

The deal is NOT legally binding

A number of bloggers have commented on this point:
  • RobSanderson explains that as the agreement was made in an inter-governmental meeting of European heads of states, NOT a formal meeting of the EU council, it cannot be binding on the EU.
  • TheScepticIsle adds that even if this agreement were a treaty, it would not be legally binding until ratified by all 28 member states.
  • EU Referendum covers these points in detail in his dissection of Dave's dodgy deal: part 1part 2 & part 3 and also here.
  • BarristerBlogger describes the agreement to amend the treaties as currently unenforceable and facing numerous constitutional obstacles to become enforceable.
  • TheReferist points to the Commons European scrutiny committee's publication of a briefing paper by its legal adviser (Arnold Ridout) which highlights 'legal uncertainties' - usefully summarised in a Guardian blog.
To cast even further doubt on the binding nature of the deal, consider the following quotes after the deal had been struck:
"On the question of amending treaties we do not know if we will ever have a change of them". Angela Merkel, Independent, 20th Feb 2016
"there was no exception to the rules of the single market, there are no planned revisions of the treaties, and no veto on the eurozone". Francoise Hollande, Le Figaro, 20th Feb 2016. Further comment on this can be found at Leave HQ
Added to that, the "emergency brake " that has been negotiated is still subject to EU parliament approval and the proposal will not be voted on by the EU parliament until after the Referendum.:
  • Martin Schulz, the President of the EU Parliament, has already stated that the EU parliament would need to see its concerns addressed and that nothing is irreversible.
  • Gianni Pittella, the leader of the Socialists and Democrats, said in a Brussels debate that his group (the second largesr in the EU parliament) would fight against the emergency brake.

The deal provides no reform

Fellow blogger SemiPartisanPolitics, provides a wonderful description of David Cameron’s deal as "essentially an embossed, artfully decorated statement of the status quo".

We looked at Camerons deal previously, and little has changed in the intervening period:
  • Competitiveness: We still have the confirmation of existing initiatives, the latest in a long line of attempts improve EU economic performance, all to little avail.  The EU has seen the lowest growth of any region in the world in the 21st century.
  • We still have the proposal for a "red card requiring agreement of 15 referees", which is imply a minor adjustment to the existing orange card procedure, which has been used just twice since its introduction in 2009. 
  • We still have measure on welfare benefits which are widely accepted as having no impact on migration and infinitesimally small cash savings: an "emergency brake which requires permission from all other drivers on the road" (now extended to 7 years); child benefit for children outside the UK will be indexed according to the home country (which means higher payments for some countries, e.g. Luxembourg).
Cameron claims to have secured a 'special status' for Britain, referring to the proposed future treaty changes on an opt-out from ever-closer union and protection as a non-euro zone state. In practice, this is a cynical re-branding of the UK's current position.  No new protections are provided, no powers repatriated, no answers forthcoming as to what is the point in being a peripheral state in a Eurozone dominated EU proceeding towards federal union.  With only the UK & Denmark having opt-outs from the Euro, the UK will inevitably face the choice between isolation or integration within the EU, while having no global voice, courtesy of Article 34.

The Prime Minister takes us for fools in making claims that the deal represents any kind of reform. The deal also proves once and for all that there is no prospect of reforming the EU or our relationship with it.  If we vote to Remain on the basis of these "reforms", it is safe to say that the EU will never seriously consider any concerns Britain may raise ever again.

Enter Boris: Self-Government, Trade & Co-operation

The comment by Boris Johnson that "I don't think that anybody can claim that this is fundamental reform of the EU or of Britain's relationship with the EU" rings very true.

The media has obviously been obsessed with Boris's stance on the EU Referendum. The Daily Mail, BBC, Guardian to name a few have all carried his comments regarding his decision to back Vote Leave.  Like many, I am unhappy with the media turning the referendum as the people's choice into a form of political celebrity media-fest.  Many feel unsure about how committed Boris really is to Brexit.  But whatever the political calculations of Boris, he does have a knack of expressing in simple sentiments the key issues:

Self-government and democracy:
"Sovereignty: this is not something that is possessed by politicians. Sovereignty is people’s ability to control their lives and make sure the people they elect can pass the laws which matter to them."
"This is the only opportunity we will ever have to show that we care about self-rule."
The risks of voting Remain, there is no status quo:
"A vote to Remain will be taken in Brussels as a green light for more federalism, and for the erosion of democracy."
Trade and friendly co-operation:
"I would like to see a new relationship based more on trade, on cooperation, with much less of this supranational element."
These remarks are an echo of  Boris's comments in December 2012, calling for a "pared down EU relationship", which would "Boil it down to the single market".

Opposition to Remain across the Political Spectrum

A number of politicians from across the spectrum have now dismissed Cameron's reform package and are now supporting Leave.

Michael Gove, one of the Prime Ministers closest friend in politics,  raised the issue of self-government as his prime reason to Leave: "Every single day, every single minister is told: 'Yes Minister, I understand, but I'm afraid that's against EU rules'. I know it. My colleagues in government know it. And the British people ought to know it too: your government is not, ultimately, in control in hundreds of areas that matter."  In a telling phrase, he described the EU as "an analogue union in a digital age".

Michael Howard, the Prime Minister's political mentor and champion of his campaign for Tory leadership in 2005, said that Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate met with failure.  He cited the reluctance to reform of "EU leaders so mesmerized by their outdated ambition to create a country called Europe that they cannot contemplate any loosening of the ties which bind member states.” In an interview on Radio 4, Howard described the EU as flawed and failing, and recommended the UK should Leave.

Frank Field, the highly respected campaigning Labour MP, described the deal as 'awful' and urged Labour voters to vote out in the EU Referendum,

David Owen, former foreign secretary, former leader of the SDP and long-time Europhile, cites security as his reason for supporting a Leave vote : “To remain in the EU is in my judgement a more dangerous option for British security in its deepest sense – economic, political, military and social – than is being admitted or even discussed in the wake of Cameron’s failed negotiations.”.  He also highlights that "Europe has moved away from us. Its elite chose a different path long ago and it is not a path the UK ever wished to follow."

The honest Referendum choice

The Prime Ministers claims to have negotiated a legally binding reform of our relationship with the EU is a clear fraud.

David Cameron's re-negotiation exercise has surely proven no reformed relationship is possible within the EU. This is perhaps best summed up by French President Hollande, when he issued an "integrate or quit" challenge in a heated exchange with Nigel Farage in the Strasbourg parliament last October:   "Do you really want to participate in a common state? That's the question."

It seems clear to me and many others that the majority opinion of the British would be in favour of a relationship based on trade and co-operation, with a return to national self-government.  The only way to achieve this is to Leave the EU.

A relationship based on the single market only is of course readily available via EFTA EEA. It is not perfect nor should it be considered the peak of UK ambition, but it provides for a safe or soft exit within 2 years and buys time for further negotiations to resolve the remaining issues. As per a previous post: Leave the EU, keep the Single Market.

We must not let David Cameron perpetuate this fraud of a reform deal on the British electorate.  Once we discount Cameron's fraudulent reform deal, the Referendum choice is clear:
  • Remain in the EU and accept continued integration. The inevitable destination is a Federal Union of Europe and erosion of national self-government and democracy.
  • Leave the EU, regain national self-government and democracy. Chart a new course based on trade and co-operation. We wish to be allies and partners with European nations, not locked into a doomed political project which leaves us subservient to Brussels government.

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