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.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Who needs the EU ?

Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond appeared on the Andrew Marr show on Valentine's day to talk about the EU re-negotiations. It hardly constituted a declaration of love for the EU.

Marr asked Hammond to comment on the recent apocalyptic comments on the EU by Donald Tusk (President of the EU Council) that "the whole house of cards could come down". Hammond's own remarks hardly inspired confidence in the EU:
Well, what I think I fear and many people in Europe fear is that without Britain, Europe would lurch in very much the wrong direction. Britain has been an enormously important influence in Europe, an influence for open markets, for free trade, for a less dirigiste approach to running the economy.
We would be dealing with a Europe that looked very much less in our image. And I think the thing we have to remember is that there’s a real fear in Europe that if Britain leaves the contagion will spread,
Several questions come to mind. If Britain is so central to the survival of the EU project, how is it we are regularly isolated, denigrated as non-communitaire and labelled as the awkward member ? How is it all our requests for reform are ignored, with Cameron's reform package amounting to literally nothing ?

The suggestion that without Britain, the EU would lurch toward protectionism and against open markets poses further questions: should Britain really be inside a union so at odds with its own values ? Is this not just another way of saying that the EU is holding back a free-trading, open-market Britain ? (a perennial euro-sceptic argument)

However, the eye-catching suggestion that a number of other states would be ready to follow Britain really does open pandora's box.  Are there a whole series of nations unhappily locked inside the EU ? Why should Britain remain just to prolong such an unhappy arrangement ? Should Britain lead the way out for nations seeking a free-trading, open-market alternative to this stultifying political union ?

Above all else, the question I would pose is : Why do we need the EU ?

Security & Defence

David Cameron recently tried to suggest that we needed to remain in the EU in order to be secure against threats such as ISIL, Russia & North Korea. This claim does not stand up to any scrutiny:
  • Many non-EU countries are involved in actions against ISIL (Norway, Commonwealth allies Australia & Canada, USA of course etc.).  Many EU countries are not involved.
  • The stand-off with Russia over Ukraine was sparked when the EU offered Ukraine an association agreement. More than a trade deal, it included political association that amounted to choosing Brussels over Moscow - effectively "poking the Russian bear".  The EU's imperial ambitions are a threat to all our security.
  • North Korea ? I doubt that Kim Il Jong gives the EU a moment's thought.
So if the EU did not exist, what would be needed to provide security? Perhaps a military and mutual defence alliance for European nations ? plus add North American friends such as the USA & Canada ? Some sort of Treaty Organisation spanning the North Atlantic perhaps ?  In other words what has served us well and provided peace & security for 70 years

Add to that the UK's partnerships with Commonwealth allies (Canada, Australia and New Zealand) in military co-operation and intelligence sharing (as part of the "Five Eyes" alliance that also includes the USA), and we can say that defence & security is pretty well covered - with no need for the EU to exist at all.

International Relations 

The UK, by dint of its history and outward-looking nature, is possibly the most internationally connected nation on the planet: permanent member of the UN security council; leading member of the Commonwealth; together with the USA founded the majority of inter-governmental organisations after World War 2.

Most interestingly, in 1946 Winston Churchill proposed the Council of Europe (CoE) as a forum for international relations and co-operation for the European region. Today there are 47 members encompassing all European states (including Russia) except Belarus. The CoE was established by the 1949 Treaty of London, i.e. pre-dating the organisations that evolved into the EU.

So why was the EU created ? It wasn't needed for regional international relations. The Father of the EU, Jean Monnet, rejected the Council of Europe (and inter-governmental organisations in general) because they would not lead to political union. The EU is and always has been a vehicle for European political union.

Human rights

The best known body of the Council of Europe  is the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights.  The Convention was created by the Council of Europe after World War 2. British MP and lawyer Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, chaired the Committee on Legal and Administrative Questions and guided the drafting of the Convention. So you thought the EU invented human rights ? In fact it was another example of Britain taking a leading international role.

In recent years, Human Rights judgements have come in for criticism. But it is also worth noting that Britain's influence in the Council of Europe and ECHR is now constrained by the EU.  The Lisbon Treaty Charter of Fundamental Rights, binds the UK to obey all ECHR judgements, or face judgements and fines via the EU's Court of Justice.  Article 34 of the Lisbon treaty binds the UK to follow the common EU position within the Council of Europe . With control over 28 states within the 47 member Council of Europe, the EU very much drives the agenda.  The UK cannot independently challenge, influence or withdraw from any ECHR decisions - we require EU agreement.

Free Movement

Would we have visa-free travel across Europe and opportunities to work/study/retire across Europe without the EU ? Well, yes actually. As explained by EU Referendum in this blog post, the UK agreed a treaty with France for visa-free travel as early as 1946, followed by a raft of treaties in 1947 establishing similar arrangements across Europe. 1961 saw the establishment of the British Visitor Passport which allowed travel to France without a passport.

No-one can honestly claim it was impossible for UK citizens to work or live abroad on the continent before 1973. It is also clear that east europeans arrived to live & work in the UK in the period between the fall of the Berlin wall and the accession of east european states to the EU in 2004. It seems likely that even without the EU, a continent-wide free movement would have been established.

But a free movement established without the EU would have respected the right of states to exercise national controls on immigration, residency and citizenship rights.  The current EU free movement is specifically designed to eliminate national self-government, the core reason why the current EU free movement provokes distrust and anger.

Trade & Single Market

Readers of this blog (or associated, generally superior blogs) will already know that the Single Market extends beyond the EU.  So there is no reason in principle why a European Single Market cannot exist without the EU.

We would need an organisation or forum where we could co-ordinate European trade affairs, preferably run on an inter-governmental basis (i.e. nation states co-operating as partners and equals) rather than the EU's supra-national basis (where an over-arching organisation subordinates and replaces nation states).  It should focus on extending free trade - perhaps a "European Free Trade Association" ?  Oh wait ! That's EFTA  - the free trade association created by Britain with 6 other European states in 1960, which currently includes the 2 richest and most successful economies in Europe: Norway & Switzerland.

Of course, the single market needs a single set of trading regulations / standards, so surely we need the EU for that ? As readers of this blog will also know, the vast majority of these regulations / standards are now made in international organisations and passed down to the EU.  The EU's only role here is to delay, gold-plate and mangle these global regulations. Removing the EU from the process would actually lead to better regulation fit for a global single market and less delay in seeing the benefits (for example, the EU boasts of providing lower mobile roaming charges - in fact this was a global initiative and Africa  had lowered roaming charges before the EU got around to it).

European single market rules and disputes are currently adjudicated by the EU's Court of Justice - which is unsatisfactory since the same court also rules on political matters and is notorious for pursuing a political integration and federalist agenda.  If the EU didn't exist, how would the Single Market be adjudicated ? Well one option would be to use the EFTA court which adjudicates Single Market rules for EFTA states.

Another alternative would be one of the more important international organisations governing trade regulations, i.e. UNECE, which already has all European states as members and has an inter-governmental decision making structure. UNECE could form a regional body for administering the European Single Market.  It was in fact the purpose intended for UNECE by Winston Churchill - another inter-governmental organisation founded by Britain before the EEC/EU existed.

Who needs the EU ?

There is a common theme in all the above topics. The UK leading in founding inter-governmental organisations, which the EU has sought to replicate or usurp. This contradicts the myth the UK was insular and obsessed with empire following World War 2 - nothing could be farther from the truth. 

So what is the purpose of the EU ? It is based on ideas developed following the horrors of the first world war.  In order to prevent franco-german wars in europe, a supra-national organisation to sub-ordinate and ultimately replace nation states was envisaged, run by technocrats.  It is of course now redundant in this purpose, but still it carries on following the outdated 1931 blueprint.

That the UK chose to surrender an advantageous position with global influence, and abandon its trading & friendly relations with EFTA & Commonwealth allies to be absorbed into this doomed political project will eventually be seen as one of the greatest acts of folly in our national history. Membership of the EU has sapped UK inter-national engagement and national democracy. Leaving the EU is the only choice for those who would revitalise democracy and want a globally engaged Britain.

Those european states that genuinely wish to be absorbed into a federal political union could then proceed without the reluctant UK. The only proviso I would state is that such a move must be achieved by democratic consent. There should be a wave of referenda across europe before full federal union is realised - but as we've seen, the EU doesn't really care for democratic consent.

That other states feel unhappy shackled within the outdated political project is becoming clear.  So perhaps Britain's ultimate opportunity to lead in Europe is to show the way out for other states who wish to regain national self-government and democracy - a group of nations I shall henceforth refer to as "Hammond's contagion".  For the UK to be a self-governing nation, it must leave the EU - and provide an example and encouragement to other nations who also wish to be free.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Vision for the UK - based on Democratic Consent

Democracy is at the heart of true self-government

Democracy, from the greek words "demos" (people) and "kratos" (power) literally means power to the people.  Abraham Lincoln famously referred to "Government of the people, by the people, for the people" in the Gettysburg address in 1863. Less well-known is that the phrase originates from John Wycliffe in the prologue to the first English language Bible in 1384, as described in Daniel Hannan's telegraph article.

The vision statement from Leave HQ states with clarity that self-government is the primary aim of the  progressive Leave campaign, but also that democracy is at the heart of true self-government.

The EU is essentially un-democratic not just because of the structure of its political institutions, but also because there is no unified European "demos" or people.  Democracy is entrenched within the nation state rather than in a European identity. The EU's own White Paper on European Governance identifies this fundamental deficit, as discussed at EU Referendum blog with a link to a full critique.

But it must also be recognised that while the UK has a clearly identifiable "demos", a democratic deficit exists here as well.  The fact that so much of our national governance has been surrendered by our politicians without our consent is testament to that. Many people and communities in the UK feel Government is remote and immune to their views - they feel that there is an establishment elite in the Westminster "bubble" who talk to themselves alone.

If the EU Referendum's primary question is whether the UK should be self-governing by democratic consent, it follows that leaving the EU must also be a catalyst for change in the UK. Fellow blogger RobSanderson discusses this hereA more direct form of democracy that engages and empowers the whole UK public must be part of our vision for the UK.

EU Referendum: Both sides are talking past each other

The EU Referendum should be an example of direct democracy which engages the whole UK public. Democratic consent is thus gained for the outcome. Regrettably, the poor quality of media coverage and the respective mainstream campaigns is visible evidence of the the UK's democratic deficit. This results in an obscuring of the primary question (who governs) and a failure to inform and engage the electorate.

In a previous post, I referred to a study on EU Referendum polling undertaken by the Nat Cen think tank. Nat Cen warn that "the two sides are often talking past each other rather than engaging in a debate on the merits of their respective cases."  I've summarised the results of their analysis below:
Remain Voters: worried about economic impact, not convinced by immigration 
73% worried that Leaving EU would harm the economy.
68% convinced jobs would be lost.
56% believe UK would not be able to control immigration even if we did leave.
Leave Voters: believe no negative economic impact, motivated by immigration 
91% believe we would be better off (59%) or no different (32%) economically
67% insist immigration cannot be tackled while inside the EU.
92% want an Australian-style points based system for EU immigration.
The study by Nat Cen draws on Lord Ashcroft's polling of 20,000 people on their EU Referendum views. Ashcroft has also commented that undecided voters feel a weight of responsibility for future generations but feel under-informed and hence ill-equipped to choose. Undecided voters want to know what the future holds if we stay or leave, but at present see no clear vision articulated.

The Remain campaign - the voice of the establishment telling us to be afraid

The Remain campaign is very much the voice of the political establishment & metropolitan elite advocating the "status quo" - even though there is no status quo on offer.  There is no attempt to establish a vision of the UK's future inside the EU as it accelerates towards fiscal and political union.

The strongest supporters of the EU never wanted a referendum - they regard the electorate as insufficiently informed or enlightened to be entrusted with such a decision. Now that we have a Referendum, the Remain campaign seem set on trying to scare us into staying with dire warnings of our fate should we choose to be a self-governing nation.

Immigration concerns are typically dismissed as "xenophobia", although the Remain campaign seemed happy to stoke fears over the Calais security arrangements (groundless fears, as confirmed by French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve and as discussed by fellow blogger WhiteWednesday).

The Leave campaign - the voice of populism

In contrast, the Leave campaign seems to be based on an overtly "populist" approach. There is talk of how much money we will save in EU contributions, even though our net contribution to the EU for 2014 was £9bn, only just over 1% of total Government spending.

There is much talk of the immigration issue, but no clear explanation of  what would be implemented in practice - leading many undecided voters to conclude that nothing will change in any case.  There is no recognition that the UK public as a whole have a nuanced and balanced view on immigration. The majority see pros & cons in immigration.  Free Movement is popular for the opportunities it provides: visa-free travel; working/studying/retiring abroad.

Most importantly, there is a blase approach to the economic risks, which is clearly a source of anxiety for undecided voters and those leaning towards Remain. While there are a lot of people who don't really care for the EU, and agree that the UK should be self-governing, they will not vote Leave if they perceive there is significant economic risk. They will balance the tangible risk of economic pain versus what they see as the comparatively intangible threat of a future United States of Europe.

Regrettably, the current mainstream Leave campaigns seem content to repeat a message that only satisfies their core support.

The Leave campaign's challenge -  provide a credible vision

For the Leave campaign to win democratic consent in the Referendum, it will need to break out from its comfort zone. It must provide a credible vision of the UK outside the EU that appeals to and reassures a wide spectrum of opinion. There seem to 3 areas emerging in the debate that will need to be addressed :

1) Economy. In EFTA EEA (aka the "Norway" option) , we have a tangible example of life outside the EU with full Single Market access, i.e. risk-free. EFTA EEA is not perfect and should not be considered the peak of an independent UK's ambition, but EFTA EEA would be a huge improvement on current EU membership or Cameron's proposed reforms. This should be used to demonstrate how poor the Remain options are, as well as exposing David Camerons dishonesty. EFTA EEA could also provide a starting point for agreeing a new relationship with the EU.

2) Immigration.   A successful Leave campaign will have to look at all aspects of immigration and describe a practical approach broadly in line with moderate UK opinion. The Remain campaign will try to portray the Leave campaign as single-issue with undertones of xenophobia - the Leave campaign will need to ensure it maintains a moderate message with broad appeal to avoid this trap.

3) Security & UK's place in the world. Cameron will place "security" at the heart of the campaign to Remain.  However, NATO and our shared intelligence with USA, Australia, Canada & New Zealand ("the five eyes") provides more re-assurance than the prospect of President Juncker's euro-army. Article 34 of the Lisbon treaty reduces UK's role in international forums to that of a proxy for the EU. The UK regaining its voice in the international arena and being free to form alliances as it sees fit provides a strong case for Leaving the EU.


The Leave campaign's central message is that the UK should be self-governed by direct democratic consent. Contrasting this with the alternative of being subject to "government in Brussels" by the supra-national EU provides a simple, powerful message and choice. The ability of the UK to govern itself (the world's 5th largest economy, 4th military power, leader in soft power) is not in doubt.  The prospect of a new politics based on direct democracy - an empowering of the people - also underpins the progressive case for Leave.

However, to achieve democratic consent to Leave the EU, the Leave campaign needs to reach beyond its core vote. It will need to provide a credible vision of life outside the EU, in order to persuade and reassure a broad swathe of the UK electorate. Leave campaigners must rise to the challenge, engage with the wider UK electorate and revive democracy (or people-power) in the process.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Prez Sez - Let Brits Leave

Most states manage with between zero and one presidents.  The grandiose proto-state that is the EU has seven Presidents. (Yes. seven !).  On Friday 29th January, David Cameron attended a short-notice meeting with Jean-Claude-Juncker, the President of the European Commission, to discuss his EU reform package.  Cameron then agreed the details of his EU reform package with Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council. Martin Schulz the President of the European Parliament, was in the UK in the latter part of last week, ostensibly to support the campaign for the UK to remain in the EU.

Schulz shoots down  Cameron's deal

In a keynote speech at the London School of Economics, Schulz fired a warning shot regarding the proposed EU reform deal: "proposals which cater to narrow self-interests, risk undermining the common good, or would set dangerous precedents for a Europe à la carte will meet with resistance from the European Parliament".  He also made clear that the "European Parliament needs to see its concerns addressed".

Specifically, he ruled out the idea of a multi-currency EU : "The currency of the European Union is the Euro. The Treaties are very clear on this."  Boom! There goes the economic governance basket in Cameron's reform package.

He also cast serious doubt over the emergency brake on benefits payments.  He describes an example scenario of the emergency brake which he suggests is unequal and not the type of EU we want to live in.  He then states that the European Parliament would not support proposals that "cause discrimination and undermine European values." Boom! There goes the migrant benefits basket in Cameron's reform package.

The competitiveness basket can be ignored as a repeated homily -  more competitiveness is always being promised and pursued.  Which leaves just the sovereignty basket.

Schulz addresses the sovereignty question by simply denying there is a problem : "the EU is not about giving up sovereignty".  He also claims that the EU is based on "dialogue, perseverance and multilateralism".  Schulz is of course indulging in the typical Orwellian doublespeak of the EU-federalists. The EU is precisely the opposite of this description. If the EU were multi-lateral and posed no threat to sovereignty, there would be no need for an EU referendum - there is no reason to oppose inter-national co-operation. Unfortunately, the EU is actually a supra-national body whose aim is to replace nation states. Hence the friction.

In the EU summit of December 2015,  on the topic of the UK's re-negotiations, Schulz himself described the UK as "moving more slowly along the road of EU integration" while also insisting that the UK should not gain advantage from its slower progress. Boom ! There goes Cameron's sovereignty basket.

To complete his demolition of Cameron's reform package, Schulz also cast doubts on Cameron's claims that the deal is legally binding in an interview with Sky News: "Nothing in our lives is irreversible. Therefore legally binding decisions are also reversible - nothing is irreversible."  This view is confirmed by the analysis on EU Referendum blog.

Schulz makes the case for the Single Market (not the EU)

President Schulz at least has a go at making the case for Remain, primarily by talking up fear of losing access to the Single Market:
"Let's face it: a huge chunk of London's attractiveness for global finance is down to it being part of the internal market."
"With such prospects, isn't it reassuring to be part of the biggest single market in the world?"
Which is all well and good, but of course the UK does not need to be in the EU to be part of the Single Market.  As covered in a previous post, the UK could Leave the EU, keep the single market. The UK would then regain an independent voice and vote in all international organisations, gaining more influence over the single market regulations (the bulk of which are formed in these international organisations).  The UK would also regain the freedom to negotiate its own trade deals.

UK foreign, defence & trade engagement in Europe (not the EU)

Whilst making the spurious claim that the EU is based on "multi-lateralism", Schulz also tries to talk up the Remain case by discussing the important role the UK has to play in foreign, trade and security policy:
Europe needs the UK with its foreign policy experience and clout, its open market policies and its trade track record if we want to have hope of solving any of these crises - and even more so, if we want to maintain the global security architecture and shape the future world order.
All of which can be agreed with. Europe (not the EU) and global security needs a strong and engaged UK.  Which is why the UK should leave the EU.  The UK has always been a leading player in inter-national co-operation - together with the USA we founded most of the existing international organisations. Sub-ordination to the supra-national EU, with Article 34 reducing the UK to little more than a Brussels mouthpiece in international organisations (e.g. UN, NATO), has weakened the UK's inter-national engagement, as noted by other allies. A recent article in De Spiegel also highlighted this :
Moreover, British successes in the EU are relatively rare, particularly on far-reaching issues such as defense and diplomacy, where Britain has increasingly taken a position contrary to that of the EU in recent years. It is an ironic state of affairs, since it was London, with its military strength and global diplomatic experience that helped Europe achieve a modicum of respectability in foreign and security policy in the past. But when it came to peace talks for the Ukraine, which resulted in the Minsk Protocol, Britain played no role at all. Instead, it was the Germans and French who engaged with the Russians and Ukrainians.
A similar misconception is displayed by Schulz when he discusses the EU's clout with respect to trade agreements and highlights the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Agreement - TTIP. In practice, the EU holds up trade agreements as it takes into account the protectionist interests of all EU member states - TTIP has been more than 10 years in negotiation already.

Schulz suggests that the size of TTIP will define inter-national standards. In fact, the opposite is true and the EU's approach is outdated. Standards agreed in international bodies are used as the basis of sectoral or unbundled trade agreements.  These modern agreements are much faster to agree and are indicative of an emerging global single market. An independent UK would be uniquely placed to benefit from this approach, as described here.

Let the Brits Leave

The most interesting part of Schulz's speech is when he displays the EU's impatience with the UK. Along with his demolition of Cameron's reform package, this chimes with my understanding: the EU are not going to provide meaningful concessions to the UK - take it or leave it:
"the British often test our patience and good will with their continuous demands."
"They are demanding. They push hard. They insist. They just don't let go. Many of my colleagues say behind closed doors: Don't stop a rolling stone. If the Brits want to leave, let them leave."
A similar sentiment can be found in the European press, for example France 24's recent article, where they repeat Le Monde's complaint from 2011 : "the British are interested in only one thing: the common market".  This is reflected in polling of the British public, who regularly confirm their belief that they only joined a common market and that they would prefer a trade-only relationship with the EU.

Taken together with Schulz's (inadvertent) suggestions, we can see an independent UK which:
  • retains full participation in the Single Market;
  • regains full control of foreign, defence & trade policy;
  • regains independent voice & vote in international organisations;
  • actively engages in inter-national co-operation - in Europe and the world.

In short, the EU would lose an unruly subordinate and gain a strong partner and ally.  A relationship that would suit both parties much better than current arrangements. We agree with President Schulz: "Let the Brits leave".

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Cameron Watch - Is that it ?

So, finally it has arrived, nearly twenty years in the making - the Conservative party's great EU reform package.  The Conservative Party voted against the last three Treaties (Lisbon, Nice, Amsterdam) and fought four elections in a row (1997, 2001, 2005, 2010) promising to repatriate significant powers from the EU.

In 2007, David Cameron visited the Czech Republic and proclaimed that the EU was "the last gasp of an outdated ideology".  Steve Baker MP, a leading light in the Conservatives for Britain group, recalls how the speech inspired him to become an MP.  In the same article, Baker also stated "It is time for us to recover our self-government".

In January 2013, David Cameron told us in his Bloomberg speech that he wanted to agree fundamental, far-reaching change.

Camerons reform process got off to an inauspicious start in Nov 2015. He announced reform was to be sought in 4 key baskets and insisted a new membership deal must be legally binding.  Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP described the reform package as "thin gruel".  Bernard Jenkin, another Conservative, asked: "Is that it? Is that the sum total of the government’s position in this renegotiation?". Cameron sent a letter to Donald Tusk outlining his reform requests.

However, the sense of disappointment then was as nothing compared to the reaction this week, when Cameron & Donald Tusk published the draft agreement.  Jacob Rees-Mogg commented that "the thin gruel has been watered down".  The Sun newspaper headline succinctly declared "It Stinks".  It would be fair to say that this reform package was not worth the 20 year wait.

Reviewing the reform package 

There have been plenty of posts in the blogsphere that have panned the reform package: EU Referendum  a list of empty promises;  LostLeonardo A Reformed EU?Pete North Cameron's red card is a political decoy ; Brexit Door This is not the deal you’re looking for…..move along. The mainstream Conservative commentator Andrew Lillico also concludes that the reform package amounts to no change in his blog post.  I'll briefly review the 4 "baskets" in the reform package and give my own thoughts:

1) Economic Governance. Tusk's response recognises that the Euro is not the only currency in the EU, which our opt-out on the Euro already makes explicit. Cameron sought protections for non-Euro states, although the measures listed are already provided - so no change from current situation.

2) Competitiveness. This is pure fluff, to pack out the thin package.  The EU is always promising more competitiveness.  Who would argue for less competitiveness ?

3) Sovereignty:  After a general discourse on the meaning of "Ever Closer Union", Tusk eventually recognises that the UK "is not committed to further political integration". Left unsaid is the fact that the UK remains fully signed up to the EU treaties, which have included "Ever Closer Union" as far back as the 1957 Treaty of Rome. Tusk also notes that the competencies conferred on the Union can only be modified by treaty with unanimous agreement. So no repatriation of any powers - no change from current situation.

Tusk goes on to describe what has been dubbed "the Red Card". The procedure is very limited in scope and only applies to areas where the EU does not have exclusive competence and where the draft law is not compatible with the principle of subsidiarity.  The "Red Card" will require 55 % of the votes allocated to the national Parliaments to block a proposal, i.e. 14 national parliaments need to review and reject the proposal within a 12 week period.  In practice, this is simply a minor tweak to the existing "Orange Card" procedure (Protocol 2 of the Consolidated Treaties). William Hague lambasted this procedure in 2008, quipping that "even if the European Commission proposed the slaughter of the first-born" it would be difficult to block the proposal !  The Orange card proposal has only been activated twice since it was introduced.  The Red Card is nothing new of any substance.

4) Immigration.  Or as Tusk entitles this section in the draft agreement, Social benefits & Free Movement - highlighting the limited scope of the agreement.

Sending child benefits abroad has not been stopped, but the payment will be indexed according to the home country - in some cases benefit payments may increase.

Cameron's infamous "emergency brake" is a brake on welfare payments, not immigration.  Only the EU commission can exercise the brake - all the UK can do is ask the EU commission to consider its case. If the EU commission agrees to use the brake, it will be for limited duration (no mention of 4 years in the agreement) and will only stop payments for new migrants entering the workforce. So if the UK can convince the EU commission that 999,999 migrants broke the UK welfare system, the 1 millionth migrant won't get benefits - for a while. Wow.

Now whether or not you think the issue of migrant benefits is crucial (for the record - I don't), this is a miserable failure on Cameron's part.

Finally, we have the issue of transitional arrangements, where immigration from new states joining the EU may be initially capped.  Tusk simply states "the position expressed by the United Kingdom in favour of such transitional measures is noted". I recognise that tone from the workplace - it is when your superior is telling you to go away.

Cameron defending the indefensible

Jacob Rees-Mogg is too generous.  This is not watered-down thin gruel.  It is not even clear soup.  It is bread and water rations - minus the bread.

Far from being legally binding, this is simply a draft agreement with provisional statements, In a number of cases, treaty change is required to implement the proposal, but the agreement simply suggests wording for a future treaty, which may or  may not be adopted as and when a new treaty is developed.

The agreement has still to be reviewed and agreed by the 27 other EU Member States and could be unpicked at the upcoming European Council meeting later this month. President Hollande of France has made clear that the UK will not have a veto on euro zone policies and he also ruled out further negotiations over reforms.  The EU Parliament could veto the emergency brake on migrants' benefits after the referendum.

Will there be "rabbits from the hat" ?  There may be some tinkering with Parliamentary legislature, e.g. amending the 1972 European Communities Act to state that Parliament is sovereign over the EU; amending the Human Rights legislation and enacting a UK bill of rights.  These are empty gestures and would fail as soon as anything beyond the EU treaties was attempted.  The only way to escape the judicial supremacy of the EU as conferred by treaty is to leave the EU - as Cameron well knows.

Could Cameron unveil "Associate membership"  ?  Since the next treaty appears to have been postponed, Cameron can only offer this as a label to put on his dismal reform package.  In practice, Associate Membership is simply a recognition that we have been consigned to the periphery of the EU, unloved and without influence, until the UK is finally ready to commit to political integration.

Only the UK & Denmark have Euro opt-outs, all other member states are obliged by existing treaty obligations to join the Euro. So when the EU is 26 Euro states vs 2 non-Euro states, how much influence will we have ? How long before we are told that to have any influence we must commit fully to the project and join the Euro ?

In short Cameron has a deal that offers nothing and is not even secure. Yet he has the gall to claim that the deal is the "best of both worlds" and provides a "massive return of power to the UK". Tony Blair looks like an honest broker by comparison.

Cameron's reform package versus the "Norway" option

As covered in previous posts, Cameron has derided the "Norway option", but is now looking exposed as his own offering comes under scrutiny.  Defending his package in the House of Commons, he again made false claims regarding the "Norway option",
- Norway pays more per head than the UK - Wrong. Norway pays about half the UK level.
- Norway adopts all EU laws - Wrong. Norway adopts about 1 in 5 EU laws.

Even worse, Cameron's "emergency brake" is simply a roundabout way of executing Articles 112-113 in the EEA agreement.  Norway and other EFTA / EEA states can use these measures unilaterally. Little Lichtenstein has used these measures to suspend immigration flows. Little Iceland used these measures to suspend free movement of capital during its banking crisis.  The UK with all its "influence" has to ask the EU commission if it might consider exercising these measures on its behalf  in a very limited manner.

In a previous post, we looked at a Norway option scorecard. Here is a revised scorecard, which emphasises how much better the Norway option is than Cameron's deal.


It is remarkable just how poor Cameron's deal is.  Cameron is defending the deal using a pre-prepared script, but even he doesn't sound convinced. He is taking us for fools in declaring that this is a good deal.

I read this as the EU putting the UK and Cameron in their place.  There is no reform, there is no prospect of reform - take it or leave it. If we do take this deal, then the EU has our measure - we can never expect to be listened to again.

From this we can conclude that the idea of a "reformed" EU is dead - in fact it was still-born. We can also take it as read that the established political elite will use any lie to protect their own careers and connections - as discussed by SemiPartisanPolitics on his blog.

So we are faced with a very clear choice :

If you are entirely happy with an unreformed EU, with the UK stuck between marginalisation or integration within the EU, with no prospect of regaining UK self-government, with the EU speaking for the UK in the world, with the continuing and unending hegemony of the Blair / Mandelson / Cameron / Osborne political elite & their SW1 media chums - then by all means vote Remain.

Everyone else, those who see the need for change, I urge you to take this chance. It is probably the best & only chance for self-government and a democratic revival in the UK.  It is also probably the last chance to save Europe from the EU.  There is a visible and safe alternative - you can and should Vote Leave.

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.


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.