Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The primary question



Last week, I came across an article from the Scottish Herald entitled "Study: EU referendum will be battle between economic fears and immigration".  It refers to a study undertaken by the Nat Cen think tank looking at polling data to try and analyse attitudes driving the Remain and Leave side in the EU Referendum.  They conclude (unsurprisingly) that Leave supporters are primarily motivated by immigration concerns and Remain supporters are primarily motivated by economic concerns.

On a similar theme, the Remain campaign have recently been questioning Leave campaigners as to whether they accept Freedom of Movement as the price for access to the European Single Market. That certainly is a valid and important question, probably the central question to what relationship a newly independent UK would have with the EU. But as I thought about this question in the context of the Nat Cen survey, it struck me that it is not the most important or primary question.

The primary question of the EU Referendum is whether the UK should be a self-governing nation, with decisions made in this country by democratic consent, or whether we cede this power to Brussels. All other questions become secondary. A decision on trade with europe vs. free movement would be made by democratic consent of the UK public, only if the UK votes to Leave the EU .  If the UK votes to Remain, it will not be our decision to make.

In short, the UK referendum on EU membership is our one opportunity to choose whether we as a people want the power to decide anything of significance ever again.

Camerons choregraphed charade negotiations

The unedifying sight of our elected prime minister touring round Europe and holding meetings with unelected Brussels bureaucrats to ask permission for a minor change to our welfare system is surely proof enough that we are subordinate to Brussels.  It doesn't matter what your stance is on payment of welfare benefits to non-UK nationals, the question you need to ask is who should be deciding that policy ? Should it be decided by democratic consent within the UK, or should it be decided according to the diktats of the Brussels bureaucracy ?

Cameron's "emergency brake" is nothing more than asking for permission for a very limited use of safeguard measures already included in the EEA agreement (dating back to 1992).  EFTA EEA countries use these measures : Lichtenstein has applied restrictions to free movement of people; Iceland has been able restrict free movement of capital. As an EU member state, the UK has to ask the Commission for permission to use these measures and is also subject to subsequent EU treaties which further constrain the use of these measures. The UK has less self-government and power than Iceland & Lichtenstein.

Fallacy of "reformed" EU

For all his eurosceptic posturing over the years, Cameron's reform package includes no recovery of UK self-governance, no rolling back of the Lisbon treaty he attacked while in opposition and for which he gave a "cast-iron promise" to hold a Referendum if elected as PM.  The failure to achieve meaningful EU reform is is not just because Cameron is a duplicitous PR man more interested in occupying high office than the tedious business of good governance. The simple fact is the EU is impervious to the idea of returning power to nation states.

The arch-federalist former Lib Dem MEP Andrew Duff confirmed this in writing last year, when responding to claims made by Europe minister David Lidington that Cameron would secure "clearly irreversible and legally binding" change:
There is no precedent in the history of the EU of a member state ripping up its existing treaty obligations. It is true that both Denmark and Ireland were granted special Council decisions and (non-binding) declarations in the effort to overcome negative referendum votes on the Treaties of Maastricht, Nice or Lisbon. But these were concessions designed to permit treaties that had already been signed by every head of government to enter into force. .......  It is important to note, however, that none of those special measures amounted to new opt-outs; none made any substantive change to the treaties as agreed; and all were crafted, with a mixture of high politics and low cunning, to accomplish a successful ratification of a treaty change which deepened the integration of Europe."
There is also no prospect of a let-up in the EU's continued power-grab from nation states. As discussed in a previous post, there is no "status quo" on offer in the Referendum. The draft for the next treaty, the Fundamental Law of the European Union, co-authored by Andrew Duff, is intended as "a major step towards a federal union".

The supra-national EU's raison d'etre - the end of nation states

It is vital that the UK public understand the nature of the EU.  It is not an "inter-governmental" organisation to foster international dialogue, co-operation and collaborative effort between nations (in the way that the UN or Nato is).  It is a "supra-national" organisation whose whole raison d'etre is to take power away from member states and ultimately replace nation states entirely.  This point is expanded upon at LeaveHQ here, and in this post written by fellow blogger TheScepticIsle.

EU supporters will of course claim that we have a democratic say in the EU via the institutions. However the UK's voting rights carry very little power of influence:
- The UK has 73 of the total 751 MEP's in the EU parliament. The MEPs are spread across multiple political parties hence rarely vote as a single national block.
- The vast majority of decisions in the EU council are now reached via majority voting.  While there are still some policy areas where unanimity is currently required, these remaining vetoes can be removed without treaty change using the Passerelle clause introduced in the Lisbon treaty.
- Under the new rules for Qualified Majority Voting in the EU council introduced in 2014, the UK has 12.6% share of the vote (it is now well documented that the UK has attempted to block 55 proposals since 1996 and failed in every case).

In any case, the unelected EU commission holds the power to propose and approve all legislation, which is entirely in line with Monnet's plan for a powerful Commission staffed by bureaucrats with power to over-ride and subordinate nation states (in line with Salters proposals dating from the 1930's for a United States of Europe governed by a powerful unelected Secretariat).  In practice EU policy is directed by the unelected commission in hock with vested interest lobbying (multi-nationals and Non-Government Organisations), as illustrated by the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal.

Another, possibly more important, way in which the EU takes power away from nation states is in binding member states to follow the EU's common positions.  Article 34 of the Lisbon treaty requires member states to "uphold the EU's position  in all international organisations and international conferences", co-ordinated by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (essentially the EU's Foreign & Defence secretary).   Article 34 also explicitly extends this to the UK's permanent seat on the UN security council, where the UK is required to "defend the positions and the interests of the Union".  This is also true of the EU's Common Commercial Policy which covers all aspects of trade and is an exclusive competence of the EU, i.e. the member states are prohibited from action in this area.

The UK's foreign, defence and trade policy is made in Brussels, and the UK's presence around the world in international organisations is simply to serve as a proxy for the EU.

Conclusion

So we can see that the real Brexit prize is self-governance, as described here by fellow blogger Lost Leonardo.  Despite the differences between the various Leave campaigns, I believe this is the single unifying message.

Voting to Leave the EU is choosing to be a self-governing nation.  This is the primary EU referendum question - all else is secondary or policy detail.

Much of the noise coming form Cameron and the Remain campaign is precisely to distract and divide the Leave campaigns from the primary question of "Who decides our Laws & policies?"

But these secondary questions must not be allowed to blind the Leave campaigns to the ultimate goal of a self-governing UK via democratic consent. I am fully confident of the British people's sense of liberty and pragmatism and believe we will make wise decisions in all these secondary questions - but the first priority must be to regain the power to decide.

This may sound like an excuse not to address the numerous tricky questions that are associated with Leaving the EU.  Far from it, and I will try to address these issues in subsequent posts.  But it should be understood that these are essentially matters of tactics and strategy for how a self-governing UK charts its future destiny. The primary objective is for the UK to reclaim the power to decide its destiny.

For those who find the whole decision to Leave scary, then please bear with this debate.  There is a safe route :  "Leave the EU, Keep the Single Market" followed by negotiation to remove the remaining obstacles to full self-government.  If we vote to Remain, we can be sure we'll never be asked to decide anything ever again.

By voting to Leave the EU, we regain the power to decide UK laws, UK policies, to regain our voice in the world, to decide our destiny. In short, we gain a little thing called democracy.  That must be the Leave campaigns unifying message.

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