The outcome of a vote for Britain to “leave” the European Union (EU) must be Britain’s negotiated EU exit (or ‘Brexit’) via Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), Brexit being so defined as Britain’s withdrawal from EU Treaties, Institutions and Representation.
The fact that this even needs saying is a serious reflection on the lengths to which the Vote Leave campaign has so far gone in problematising the idea of Brexit.
The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism
This blog featured its first such piece in September 2015—prior to the official launch of Vote Leave—in which it was noted that, in June 2015, then CEO of Business for Britain, Matthew Elliott, told a reporter for the London Evening Standard: “If the Government gets a two-tier Europe, we’re very much in”.
To that end, it should be noted that Business for Britain and Matthew Elliott both have a long record of support for the “reform” of Britain’s relationship with the EU. Indeed, until as recently as October 2015, following Mr Elliott’s departure from Business for Britain to become CEO of Vote Leave Ltd, the Business for Britain website contained an “About Us” section that stated:
Business for Britain exists to give a voice to the large, but often silent, majority among Britain’s business community who want to see fundamental changes made to the terms of our EU membership.
Got that? “[F]undamental changes… to the terms of [Britain’s] EU membership”.
Under the heading, “Do you agree with us?”—also published in the “About Us” section of the Business for Britain website—the organisation asked (itself) a series of questions. One of these was: “You talk about renegotiation, but isn’t your campaign really about leaving the EU?” To which the following response was written (my emphasis):
What unites supporters of Business for Britain is an agreement that the status quo in our relationship is not working and that the Government is right to seek a new deal for the EU and the UK’s terms of membership. Instead of pushing the debate to the extreme corners of In vs Out, we should be having a sensible discussion about what is right and what is wrong in our current arrangements. Resisting renegotiation and denying people a say will push public sentiment further towards Out and fast-track an EU exit.
Characterising those who advocate that Britain leave the EU as “extreme” and asserting that “sensible discussion” be limited to “what is right and what is wrong in our current arrangements” is hardly consistent with the putative aim of leading the “leave” campaign in an EU referendum. Even Matthew Elliott’s introduction to Business for Britain’s report, Change or Go: How Britain would gain influence and prosper outside an unreformed EU, is focused on “[setting] out what changes should be sought from renegotiation”.
In spite of numerous opportunities being offered to retract his earlier statements about wanting Britain to be in a two-tier EU, the Vote Leave CEO has neglected to do so.
A System of Rhetoric
When six Tory MPs came out in favour of the Vote Leave campaign, I wrote a post in which I attempted to demystify the system of rhetoric that is used (almost) universally by Tory MPs when discussing the matter of Britain’s EU membership. The so-called “leavers” and the “remainers” alike will talk about a “new relationship” for Britain and “fundamental change” in a “reformed EU”.
The article that James Cleverly wrote for Conservative Home about his “coming out for out”, asserts that: “We need new relationships and, without that fundamental change in the EU, the only way that will be possible is for the UK to leave.” This, you will note, is not an unequivocal statement of support for the idea of Britain leaving the EU.
Likewise, the article that Chris Grayling wrote for The Daily Telegraph, which was given the hysterical headline, “Chris Grayling calls EU ‘disastrous’ for Britain in clearest signal yet he plans to back Leave campaign” and trailed as Grayling becoming the first Cabinet Minister to break from the herd. When you read the words as written, the reality is much less dramatic:
I am someone who believes that simply staying in the EU with our current terms of membership unchanged would be disastrous for Britain. That’s why I have always believed that it is imperative that his renegotiation takes place and delivers as much potential change as possible.
You know who else does not think that Britain should remain in the EU on current terms? David Cameron! As he said in his Chatham House speech: “if Britain’s concerns were to be met with a deaf ear… then we will have to think again about whether this European Union is right for us. As I have said before – I rule nothing out.”
Of course, Tory Cabinet Minister supports Tory government policy to “renegotiate” a “new relationship” to keep Britain in a “reformed EU” is not a very snappy headline, but it is much more accurate.
A Cummings Plan
Returning to the subject of the Vote Leave campaign, the latest wheeze of Campaign Manager, Dominic Cummings, is to problematise the subject of Brexit by suggesting that there is another “route out” of the EU other than Article 50. The issue of a negotiated exit via Article 50 was settled a long time ago among Brexiteers and while the idea of a negotiated exit—that is all Article 50 specifies—may puzzle some of the lesser minds among our national legacy media there is no reason for a “leave” campaign to foster uncertainty regarding this issue.
Then I watched Daniel Hannan interviewed on The Daily Politics, during which he said that a vote to leave the EU need not mean leaving the EU but could instead be merely a prelude to the offer of “proper concessions”, and the meaning of Mr Cummings’ intervention became clear—there is no need to invoke Article 50 if your aim is not to leave the EU.
I could scarcely believe my ears when Mr Hannan also started talking about “associate membership”.
The “associate membership” idea was first floated in 2006 by former Liberal Democrat MEP and arch EU federalist, Andrew Duff, as a means to “park” Britain in the lower-tier of a two-tier EU so as to allow further integration among eurozone countries while keeping Britain in the EU.
Mr Hannan has argued in the past that it is when we “vote to leave that associate status will be put on the table” and now it seems that he has gone the whole hog and adopted the euro-federalist term as his own.
The “associate membership” proposal is strikingly similar to the “two-tier EU” idea that broke cover in the British media over the weekend and which some of us have been writing about for months—and which David Cameron supports.
Voting to Leave the European Union is not about securing “concessions” or agreeing an alternative form of “associate membership”, it is about withdrawal from EU Institutions, Treaties and Representation. There is no reason to concern oneself with securing “concessions” if the aim of your campaign is to leave the EU.
Vote Leave, Take What The Tories Decide To Give You
We now find ourselves in an extraordinarily peculiar situation, with the Vote Leave group saying almost exactly what David Cameron is saying.
Mr Hannan/Vote Leave: “Brussels never takes ‘No’ for an answer… at least, not the first time” therefore a vote to leave would be a mere prelude to the offer of “real concessions” and an “associate membership” role for Britain in a (by implication) two-tier EU with the “supremacy of Parliament” restored.
Mr Cameron/The Tory Party: We will “renegotiate” a “new relationship” for Britain in a “reformed EU” and a new “British model of membership” that will see Britain leading the “outer-tier” of a “two-tier EU” and an amendment to the ECA 1972 that affirms the “supremacy of Parliament” over EU law.
There is a group of so-called Tory “leavers” on one side of the debate and a group of Tory “remainers” on the other side of the debate, but both are ultimately aiming to achieve the same objective. Their respective “plans” fit together hand-in-glove. Heads we win, tails you lose. The Tories have decided that whatever the outcome—“leave” or “remain”—the vote can be manipulated to keep Britain in the second-tier of a two-tier EU.
Vote Leave is currently campaigning for “concessions” and an “associate membership” position, so, in terms, is pro-EU membership—as part of a second-tier—and to that end cannot “adequately represent those campaigning for the [‘leave’] outcome”.