Still Pay, Less Say

The reaction of Britain Stronger in Europe (BSE) to the latest release of the Flexcit plan—now branded The Market Solution—is a straightforward exercise in “projection”. The tendency of human beings to deflect attention away from unpleasant traits by “projecting” their fears and failings onto others is a well documented psychological phenomena. It is predictable that a campaign group should employ similar defence mechanisms when confronted with an existential threat. However, the arguments that BSE makes in defence of its own position are just not credible.

The Executive Director of BSE, Will Straw, asserts that: “Leave.EU’s new policy shows they accept EU budget contributions, would keep free movement, would keep all EU laws, but would remove the UK’s influence over the most important economic regulations we would be forced to accept”.

One wonders, could Mr Straw be any more trivial or more crass? International co-operation costs money—and that really should be the end of that; that is just the way things work.

The “remainers” do not baulk at the notion that EU institutions determine their own spending and policy-priorities. Why is the idea of democratically elected politicians in an independent Britain—ultimately accountable to the British electorate—setting spending and policy-priorities so anathema?

If Mr Straw will insist upon lowering what is really a constitutional argument to the level of “budget contributions”, he should at least get his facts right. For instance, Norway pays roughly half as much as the United Kingdom per head of GDP to participate in the Single Market. Norway also pays toward the administration of programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Single European Sky. Finally, Norway pays money directly to former Eastern Bloc countries to enhance their economic development, as a means to ease migratory pressure and increase opportunities for trade.

Which part of this does BSE and Mr Straw have a problem with? Is Mr Straw suggesting that we would not “still pay” were Britain to remain an EU Member State or does he have a more general problem with the idea of national governments setting their own spending priorities based upon the democratic will of national electorates?

Unlike the “remainers” I shall not say that Britain has “no say” in determining EU policy. That would not be true; just as the assertion that EFTA/EEA participants have “no say” in the Single Market is entirely false. However, in the EU, legislation and regulation are subject to the “co-decision” procedure of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union (formerly the Council of Ministers)*.

In the European Parliament, Britain has around 8 percent of the votes, and in the Council of the EU, Britain has around 12 percent of the votes. The fact that decisions in the Council are taken under Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) means an EU Member State can be legally bound—under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ)—to enforce a decision, regardless of how it votes.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) do not have the power to initiate legislation or amend or repeal existing legislation once it has been passed.

Those powers are reserved to the European Commission, which is a body of political appointees who are empowered to act in an executive role for the European Union as a whole. By definition, these supranational institutions—above the nation-state—mean less say for national electorates.

The “Still Pay, Less Say” message better describes the position of the “remainers”. The EU will continue to set its own budgetary requirements and the EU Member States will continue to pay, as the EU assumes control over ever more areas of policy, meaning less say for national electorates. What is it that is so anathema to the BSE about the British government having the flexibility to set spending and policy priorities based upon the democratic consent of the British people?

* Not all EU legislation or regulation is based on co-decision—there is also what is known as the Comitology Procedure—but that is a point for another time.

Brexit Plans

The Britain Stronger in Europe (BSE) campaign was very quick off the mark this morning, responding to last night’s announcement by Leave.EU Head of Communications, Andy Wigmore, that the Arron Banks funded “leave” campaign will be working with Dr Richard North—the foremost authority on EU affairs in the eurosceptic community—and adopting a North-inspired Brexit plan called “The Market Solution” or “TMS”, for short.

The cherry-picked quotes from Dr Richard North and Robert Ould’s Flexcit plan featured in the ‘Notes for Editors’ portion of the BSE press release—all highly creditable and I for one welcome the additional publicity—do rather call into question the legitimacy of the group’s repeated assertions that the “leave” campaign “don’t have a clue what ‘Out’ looks like”.

If, on the other hand, the BSE group were only made aware of the existence of a credible EU exit plan when the and Leave.EU collaboration was announced, and simply scanned the Flexcit plan for suitable quotes overnight, then that tells its own story too.

Turning to the press release itself, the content is interesting only in so far as it lacks any originality or credible critique. The BSE group’s decision to label “The Market Solution” as the “Still Pay, No Say” model is absurd. The EFTA/EEA members have a consultative role in the formation of Single Market directives and a national veto. Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein also have independent representation on the intergovernmental bodies—above the sub-regional EU—where international standards, which, as a signatory to the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, the EU is obliged to accept, are negotiated and agreed.

There is no conceivable way in which EFTA/EEA states could be legitimately described as having “no say” in the Single Market or in terms of the regional and global regulation that makes up an increasingly large proportion of the EEA acquis. Indeed, Britain’s role in setting global standards for trade would be greater outside the EU than it is inside the EU. To that end, it is worth remembering that no less an authority than the Prime Minister, David Cameron, says that: “Our participation in the Single Market, and our ability to help set its rules is the principal reason for our membership of the EU.”

The “no say” point is doubly rich coming from a group that is campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU. It is the overlay of supranational political and judicial institutions—above the nation-state—that limits the say that people in this country have over how and by whom Britain is governed.

Putting the point about whether EU membership does “enhance Britain’s influence” to one side—I think it is a highly debatable assertion, but just parking that for the moment—it is not credible for the “remainers” to argue that Britain’s EU membership gives the country more “clout” on the global stage, but to then deny that Britain’s EU membership has any meaningful impact upon British policy-making or national governance.

It is incoherent and evidently false to say that EU Member States have more power and influence than independent countries, yet, at the same time, argue that Britain has the same freedom of action and flexibility in terms of national policy-making as the 165 UN Member States that do not accept that their national governance should be subordinate to supranational institutions.

The announcement of this collaboration between and Leave.EU could spell the start of something really important, a shift away from Mr Cameron’s increasingly tedious “renegotiation” theatre and the scripted outcome that is already being widely anticipated and reported, towards a genuine discussion about Britain’s future role in the world and life outside the EU, as citizens of a confident, independent, self-governing country, with full representation globally and more democratic responsibility and accountability for national politicians and policy-makers domestically.

The “Renegotiation” Is A Matter For The “Remainers”

Supranational governance is fundamentally unacceptable for Britain regardless of EU “reform”. The “renegotiation” will not change that. Yet legacy media outlets are still mired in a “renegotiation” debate that is more concerned with what “reform” the “leavers” would accept than it is with how Britain should “leave” the European Union.

In order that the British public are able to make an informed choice about whether Britain should remain in or leave the European Union, various lines of argument need to first be disentwined. To that end, blogging colleague, Red Cliffs of Dawlish, recently published an excellent piece that gives a clear and concise answer to one very simple question: What is Brexit?

For those who follow the debate with care, this may seem redundant—Brexit refers to Britain’s exit from the European Union—but, over recent days, I have come across people in both the “remain” and the “leave” camps who are not clear about what Brexit means. There is a tendency to associate Britain’s EU exit with all sorts of policy objectives that have little or sometimes nothing to do with leaving the European Union and which should not prejudice what is in essence a constitutional matter.

The conclusion at which Red Cliffs arrives is as follows:

Brexit = Withdrawal from EU Treaties, Institutions and Representation: “Not A Penny More And Not A Penny Less.”

In the first instance, this definition clarifies that any arrangement that keeps Britain is a “reformed EU” is not Brexit. That being the case, “renegotiation” is a matter for the “remainers”. The aim of the Brexiteers is to “leave” not to “reform” the EU.

Likewise, Red Cliff’s definition does not specify how Britain should leave the EU. Personally, I favour Dr Richard North’s Flexcit plan, which describes a structured process of phased withdrawal during which national independence is recovered and enhanced as part of a six-stage process.

In other words, the legacy media focus on “renegotiation” skews discussion towards the “remain” outcome—in quite a profound way—before the referendum debate has even begun. The assumption that Britain should only “leave” the EU should the “renegotiation” fail to achieve sufficient “reform” is unawarranted given that the propositions on the ballot paper will be “remain” or “leave” not “remain” or “reform”.

The legacy debate reflects the “renegotiation” but not the referendum.

Do “leavers” really need to wait for the conclusion of the “renegotiation” in order for the referendum debate to begin? The principle that supranational governance is fundamentally unacceptable for Britain and that who governs Britain is a matter for the British provides a sound basis on which to campaign, regardless of the “renegotiation” and its uncertain outcome.

The established “leave” campaigns have not helped themselves in this regard. As recently as June 2015, Vote Leave CEO, Matthew Elliott told the London Evening Standard that: “If the Government gets a two-tier Europe, we’re very much in”.

The assertion that he would accept a “two-tier Europe” places Mr Elliott and his campaign in an extraordinarily weak position, especially given that a “two-tier Europe” is precisely what the Prime Minister is likely to deliver.

The refusal of Vote Leave to clarify whether Mr Elliott would support Britain leaving the EU regardless of the outcome of Mr Cameron’s “renegotiation” also raises serious concerns about the organisation’s suitability to lead the officially designated “leave” campaign.

Moreover, Vote Leave Campaign Manager, Dominic Cummings, has yet to outline a serious Brexit plan. Indeed, his most notable contribution to the debate so far was to distance Vote Leave from what Civitas associate, Jonathan Lindsell, describes as Britain’s “most moderate Brexit choice”, the so-called Norway Option or Norway Interim as some supporters of the Flexcit plan have taken to calling it.

This has the unfortunate consequence of creating confusion rather than clarity, which, I am sorry to say, is the method of communication favoured by Britain’s legacy news-media and political class.

The declaration of six Tory MPs that they will support the Vote Leave campaign—has there ever been a more tedious piece of political rhetoric than Vote Leave spokesmen urging people to “Vote Leave”?—muddies the water still further, as evidenced in a piece written by James Cleverly for Conservative Home.

Although, read carefully, Cleverly’s piece is quite clear about where the Tory MP’s true loyalties lie. Notably, Mr Cleverly does not declare his unequivocal support for Brexit or for Britain leaving the EU. Indeed, his rhetortic echoes Mr Cameron’s call for a “new relationship” for Britain in a “reformed EU”.

Mr Cleverly clearly states that his aim in coming out in support of the Vote Leave campaign is to strengthen the Prime Minister’s hand in his EU “renegotiation”. “It may feel like a stone in his shoe and it will be reported as disloyal,” he writes, “but it is massively to the Prime Minister’s benefit for there to be a credible and active Vote Leave campaign.”

Furthermore, just in case anybody is any doubt, Mr Cleverly also takes the opportunity to reassert his support for the Tory Party and its leader:

Over the course of the campaign all Conservatives should remember that there would be no renegotiation without the referendum, no referendum without a Conservative victory, and no Conservative victory without David Cameron.

The “new relationship” line is a stock phrase in Mr Cameron’s EU speeches and in statements made by Tory cabinet ministers and it makes another appearance here:

The case for a new relationship with European and global economies is overwhelming.

It scarcely needs saying that a “new relationship” does not necessarily mean support for leaving the EU. A “new relationship” could just as easily mean remaning in a “reformed EU”. This is David Cameron’s stated aim, after all.

Finally, the article concludes with the heavily caveated assertion 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 is as close as Mr Cleverly comes to supporting the proposition that Britain should leave the European Union, but the crucial qualifier “without fundamental change” changes the meaning of his concluding statement.

As I have striven to describe in previous posts, I think we should anticipate that David Cameron will agree a “new relationship” for Britain in a “reformed EU”, precisely because that is part of the EU plan.

The only reason for a “leave” campaign to be concerned about labelling the “renegotiation” as “trivial” is if a “non-trivial” renegotiation could satisify its demands. The prospect of “fundamental change” to, say, a “two-tier Europe” would not concern a campaign that is centred on the convinction that supranational governance is fundametally unacceptable for Britain—and that it always will be.

The Vote Leave campaign and many of its most prominent supporters, however, focus on specific policy outcomes, such as lower costs and reduced red-tape. This creates an enormous hostage to fortune that David Cameron will—at the very least—aim to exploit. Should Mr Cameron return from his “renegotition” with a deal for a “new relationship” that creates “a British model of membership”—acknowledging our shared “European values” but outside of the eurozone and exempted from “ever closer union”—it will be an uphill struggle for a campaign that has repeated, time after time, that his “renegotiation” aims are “trivial”, to convince people that Mr Cameron has not achieved the “reform” he has promised all along. Indeed, under those circumstances, there is every possibility that Mr Cleverly and his fellow Tory MPs will stand back in awe at the remarkable achievement of their inspirational leader.

What the “leavers” need to do is to “move the goalposts”. The idea that “reform” or “fundamental change” are synonyms for “good” should be rejected. Reform means change and change means different. Not necessarily better. Indeed, the “reform” that Mr Cameron agrees may very well be worse. The “leavers” need to be able to offer a better alternative that is both credible and safe.

I am aware that this piece has been repetitive in places, but the aim is to draw attention to a system of rhetoric that (Tory) politicians have introduced into the debate as a means to “frame” the outcome as a success should Mr Cameron agree a “new relationship” intended to keep Britain in a “reformed EU”. The pattern recurs with unerring frequency and is something that Brexiteers should bear in mind.

The Tory Party and David Cameron, in particular, would very much like the British public to have a renegotiation debate about EU “reform”. Please let us get on with the referendum debate about whether Britain should “remain” in or “leave” the European Union.

Enough Larping, Already

Leaving the EU is a serious business. People have legitimate concerns about economic security which the “remainers” will emphasise, to the extent that the “leavers” allow.

Remaining in the Single Market—in the short- to medium-term—nullifies every economic argument and forces anti-Brexit voices to discuss the political aspects of Britain’s EU membership.

Forcing the “remainers” to argue that the British electorate should have less say over national policy moves the debate onto territory where the “leavers” are strong and the “remainers” are weak.

That is why a serious “leave” campaign would seek to “park” the economic issue with assurances that regulatory continuity and co-operation in EU programmes would continue post-Brexit. Norway and Iceland participate in the Single Market via the EEA agreement and have independent representation in the intergovernmental forums—above the sub-regional EU—where technical regulation is agreed. Likewise, Israel participates in the research programmes that concern Scientists4EU.

The EFTA/EEA states are not obliged to adopt a “common position” at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or on any of the other global bodies (UNECE, Codex, etc.) where nation-states, corporations and associated NGOs negotiate and agree technical standards for trade. Neither do EFTA/EEA states apply the Common External Tariff nor do they surrender the right to make trade deals with third countries to a supranational authority.

Live action role-playing or “larping” is a popular activity among fantasy enthusiasts and historical re-enactment societies, but when it comes to determining Britain’s future direction, adults need answers. The Brexit campaign should not be a generic right-wing whinge or a platform for larping about a libertarian utopia absent regulation or the payments associated with international co-operation at all levels.

Those who are only playing at leaving the EU need to stop putting road-blocks in the way of those who are intent upon making Britain’s EU exit a political reality.

A grown-up “leave” campaign should provide a secure base on which to build a positive vision for an independent Britain that embraces opportunities for greater global engagement and more democratic control.

A Teachable Moment?

Vote Leave’s Campaign Manager, Dominic Cummings, does not think that most people have even heard of the Single Market. Presumably, he thinks that even fewer understand the difference between the Single Market and the European Union.

Of course, a capable “leave” campaign would be in the business of educating people so that they can make an informed decision about whether Britain should remain in or leave the European Union come the referendum.

Indeed, Vote Leave and Leave.EU were recently presented with an ideal opportunity to do just that.

Former Google CEO, Dr Eric Schmidt, now Executive Chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, recently commented on the benefits of Britain remaining in the European Single Market.

Unfortunately for Vote Leave, this story came after two consecutive days spent criticising Britain’s Single Market membership, complaining about the “costs” associated with regulatory compliance (a necessity for cross-border trade) and of participation in co-operative programmes administered at the EU level (does Vote Leave favour non-participation in these ventures or should Britain—uniquely—be exempted from payment?).

Meeting claim with counter-claim will not convince many people and will leave most none the wiser about which way to cast their ballot. The Vote Leave strategy also places Brexiteers in the unsatisfactory position of whinging about a status quo that nobody supports—the “remainers” make a point of saying that the EU is in need of “reform”—rather than advancing their positive vision for an independent Britain. Moreover, the sources with the upper-hand in these exchanges are invariably those with the greater prestige. The “prestige” of an international businessman of Dr Schmidt’s stature is difficult for a campaigning organisation to oppose.

To that end, it is far more effective to communicate new information that explains the true relationship between Britain, the European Union and the Single Market. As the bloggers associated with LeaveHQ and the Flexcit plan will have cause to assert and reassert more times than I care to consider: the EU is not the Single Market. We are not planning to leave the Single Market, which brings the jobs and prosperity that Dr Schmidt promotes; we are fixed upon leaving the supranational political institutions of the EU, which subordinate Britain’s national political institutions and denude the people of Great Britain of their right to independent self-government.

The rejection of supranational governance for Britain is a point of principle that no “reform” could ever address.

This distinction is crucial and the fact that Vote Leave is in the business of conflating the Single Market and the European Union—yet another characteristic that the Elliott/Cummings vehicle shares with Britain Stronger in Europe (BSE) and the other “remainers”—is yet another reason why this grouping is not fit to represent the outcome that Brexiteers seek.