A Point Of Clarification

Vote Leave has come under increasing pressure over recent days, with Conservative MP, Steve Baker, alluding to “genuine disagreements about strategy and tactics” between Vote Leave and the rest of the Brexit community.

While the legacy media is happy to present the disagreements as a biff-bam personality clash between Banks, Wigmore, Cummings and Elliott, the real story concerns a fundamental point of principle.

There is a cosy consensus among politicians and the press which presumes that Vote Leave is somehow entitled to lead designation as the official “leave” campaign. Therefore, what is in fact a genuine dispute is only ever described euphemistically as “bickering” or “in-fighting”. To talk or write about the reason for the ill-will between Vote Leave and everybody else campaigning for Brexit would unmask Vote Leave as the charlatans that they are. The deeply serious nature of the opposition to Vote Leave is also obscured by a lot of childish rubbish about Monty Python and “splitters”.

In response, I can only ask of our legacy media, “When are you going to grow up and learn some manners?” Britain’s membership of the European Union is a serious matter—possibly one of the most serious and undoubtedly one of the most impactful political decisions that any of us will make in our lifetimes. That fact alone demands that people have the opportunity to participate in a proper debate.

A Curious Reversal

Turning to matters of substance, in an attempt to reverse its position with respect to holding a second referendum, on Friday 5th January Vote Leave published a blog post titled, “Vote Leave’s position on the second referendum”. This was the first piece of Vote Leave literature to state without equivocation that “we [Vote Leave] want Britain to leave the EU”. Presumably, this is an attempt to slip the noose that is being lowered over Vote Leave’s head by dint of its untenable position regarding what “leave” means.

Careful reading reveals that previous Vote Leave literature encourages people to Vote Leave or #VoteLeave or “vote to leave” but never “to leave the EU”, with Vote Leave director, Daniel Hannan, even going so far as to say that a “vote to leave” could be used as a means to secure “proper concessions” and “associate membership” in a two-tier EU.

Obviously, any form of associate MEMBERSHIP would mean Britain remaining in the EU and therefore still subject to all the Directives, Regulations and Decisions of the European Commission, as well as subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. It is impossible for Vote Leave to pass the statutory test to “adequately represent those campaigning for the [‘leave’] outcome” while pursuing such a policy.

Hence, the reversal.

Curiously, this vitally important policy change—provided you believe anything that emerges from a campaign that has equivocated on this fundamental issue for so long—was not publicised on either the @Vote_Leave or the @Vote_LeaveMedia Twitter accounts. The first time the post was referenced on any Vote Leave associated social media was when Head of Media for Vote Leave, Robert Oxley, and Vote Leave supporting UKIP Deputy Chair, Suzanne Evans, posted a link to it on their personal Twitter accounts.

Odder still is the fact that the post in question is dated 29th January 2016, one week prior to the publication date. Google bears out this clumsy attempt to pre-date the piece.

Also of note is the number of Facebook “likes” that the post has received. As I write, the post before, “Key points on David Cameron’s omnishambles deal”, has 2 likes. The post in question, clarifying Vote Leave’s position regarding two referendums and the “confusing” press coverage, has an incredible 602 likes. Yet the posts that follow, which were published prior to 5th February, have 19, 12, 11 and 0 likes.

There is no record of this post on Vote Leave’s social media accounts prior to 5th February, yet the date it carries is 29th January, one week prior. Are Vote Leave trying to mislead people about when their two referendums position changed? I think we should be told.

Finally, the fact that Vote Leave CEO, Matthew Elliott, even feels the need to clarify that Vote Leave “want[s] Britain to leave the EU—no ifs no buts” tells you something very important about how successful his campaign has been in reaching out to people beyond a tiny claque of media sycophants. The Vote Leave campaign has so far promoted a “reformist” agenda, cogently detailed by fellow Brexit blogger White Wednesday, as a means to keep The Conservative Party together on the issue of “Europe”.

What kind of a “leave” campaign needs to issue a statement saying that “we want Britain to leave the EU”? That is the one thing you would never expect a “leave” campaign to need to clarify because it should be an unmistakable part of its literature and an essential feature of its campaign. In the case of Vote Leave, it is not.

Why Do We Put Up With This?

What use is a political debate conducted via politicians and journalists who do not know what they are talking about and do not report on what they do know?

The latest piece of legacy journalism to catch my eye is a blog post written by Isabel Hardman concerning the fractious relations between Vote Leave and Leave.EU.

Hanging her story on the increasingly tedious Monty Python trope—inferring that the disagreement between the two campaigns is akin to the bickering between The People’s Front of Judea and The Judean People’s Front—Ms Hardman does not attempt to explain why the two groups are at odds. Instead, she adopts a manner of weary disdain and dismisses the dispute as yet more petty squabbling.

For my part, I have no insight into the motivations of Banks, Wigmore, Elliott and Cummings, I can only report on what I observe. To that end, Ms Hardman’s piece does not tell us anything about the very real drama that is playing out right in front of our eyes, observed by the legacy press pack yet not reported on.

There is a fundamental point of principle at stake.

Taking a lead from my fellow Brexit bloggers, I thought that I was writing something (at least somewhat) revelatory when I put the pieces of the Vote Leave puzzle together into a single blog post. The post concluded with the assertion that (in its present form) Vote Leave is not campaigning for Brexit but for “associate membership” in a two-tier EU.

As it turns out, there is no scandal in this. Allister Heath’s latest column for The Daily Telegraph calls explicitly for the “leave” campaign to focus on securing a “vote to leave” as a means to prompt the European Commission to offer Britain a “looser relationship” modelled on the “associate membership” role first explicated by former Liberal Democrat MEP, Andrew Duff, in 2006.

During a recent Newsnight appearance, Conservative MP Steve Baker, to his (partial) credit, was open enough to say: “I don’t think [a merger] is possible and the reason is there are genuine disagreements about strategy and tactics”. Given that Vote Leave is not presently campaigning for the “leave” outcome (as the Electoral Commission requires) one must regard “disagreements about strategy and tactics” as a quite remarkable piece of understatement.

Hilariously, it was at this point, just as Mr Baker had identified the source of the disagreement, that Evan Davis ended the interview, with the words: “We don’t have time to go into those”. No, the interview time was taken up discussing trivial matters with very little relevance to the referendum debate. The last thing the BBC wants is to inform its viewers about a conflict over a point of principle, the biff-bam personality politics is what keeps them in control and able to frame the debate however they decide.

Somewhat hearteningly, the latest Leave.EU press release states that the current terms on which Vote Leave is campaigning: “rules Vote Leave out as the officially designated campaign since it is not campaigning to leave”. I suppose that the story is at least out there now that Leave.EU has said it.

Will any journalists bite? I doubt it.

That is the fun house mirror of Westminster politics. The politicians and the journalists control the narrative and you are not told what they know, you are told what they want to tell you. Personally, I’ve had it with the lot of them. When this is the way in which a country’s “political class” behaves towards its electors, I am inclined to say that fact alone is a good enough reason for voting to leave the EU.

Fortunately for all of us, the matter of Britain’s EU membership will not be settled by politicians or legacy journalists. In a referendum, the electorate does not vote for “representatives” to “lead” them; everybody speaks and votes for themselves. This is our chance to have our say, so whether you are pro- or anti-Brexit, let’s have the debate between us, the people who lend these scoundrels our power, and let’s do what is in our best interests not what is in theirs.

A Reformed EU?

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At the outset of the Conservative Party’s “renegotiation-then-referendum” policy, David Cameron told us in his Bloomberg speech that he wanted to agree “fundamental, far-reaching change” to Britain’s relationship with the EU. In his Chatham House speech he doubled down on this, asserting that “if and when” he negotiated an “agreement that works for Britain and works for our European partners” he would “campaign for it with all of [his] heart and all of [his] soul to keep Britain inside a reformed EU”.

On that basis, I would suggest that the question people ask of the deal currently on the table is the following: Does Donald Tusk’s “proposal for a new settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union” presage a “reformed EU”?

I have read the draft document twice now and it is scanty stuff. David Cameron has not secured any of the negotiating aims that some Brexiteers (myself included) had presumed were part of an elaborate exercise in expectation management; a smokescreen for much more substantive—albeit still inadequate—changes to Britain’s relationship with the EU.

It is for this reason that I was doubly surprised to see Mr Cameron offering his wholehearted support to the draft deal, describing the proposals as delivering “substantial reforms”. To fall such a long way short of the extraordinarily low bar he had set himself and to then be greeted with the kinds of newspaper headlines that today confront the Prime Minister is a moment of major egg on face for a man who is ordinarily so unflappable, especially when it comes to matters of presentation.

This may not even be the end of Mr Cameron’s humiliation. The proposals now have to be assessed and picked over by the 27 other EU Member States, which may raise further objections in the upcoming European Council meeting, later this month. Could it be that the EU institutions have decided to teach Mr Cameron a lesson for even feigning to seek “fundamental reform” of Britain’s relationship with the European Union—something that all of us Brexit bloggers could have told the man is not possible, prior to the beginning of this farcical exercise in deception, and, on the basis of this offer, self-deception.

The purpose of the EU is to facilitate an “ever closer union among the peoples of Europe” through the progressive accumulation of power in supranational institutions above the nation-state. The process of engrenage or “salami slicing” is a ratchet designed to subjugate the historic nations of Europe piece by piece and once an area of policy is ceded to the EU there is no mechanism for returning power to the Member States.

Even the term EU Member State makes quite clear that the members are subordinate to not co-operative partners with the EU. EU Member States are not independent self-governing countries. Perhaps Mr Cameron is finally coming to realise that, to his cost, this morning. Perhaps.

Jurassic Park

One of the perennial accusations thrown at eurosceptics is that they are backwards-looking reactionaries who long for a simpler time when red tape was proper British red tape and we did not have to put up with any of this foreign muck. The pity of it is that the “remainers” are right; the eurosceptic old-guard who protect the Tory orthodoxy that says opposition to Britain’s EU membership is all about immigration, red tape and EU payments are well past their best.

One such fossil is Tory MP, John Redwood, who has written a blog post that is so anachronistic that one wonders if the man dreams not of taking Britain back to the 1950s but to the Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, without pesky big-brained mammals pointing and laughing at them blundering about the place.

There is no point delving into too many of the specifics, so, to cut a long story short, Mr Redwood achieves the remarkable feat of being wrong in almost every particular, beginning with this:

The Leave campaign does not want the UK to seek a Norway style deal, as we see no need to pay any money into the EU once we have left.

Needless to say, Mr Redwood does not speak for the “leave” campaign. The designation process has not yet begun. Regardless, there are already several Brexit bloggers, active on social media, who embrace the opportunity for a “Norway style deal”, which would undoubtedly be agreeable to the EU, as a means to withdraw from the political EU without any of the economic risk that understandably concerns referendum voters.

It is likewise useful to reflect on the fact that what are often described as “Britain’s exports to the EU” should be labelled “Britain’s intra-EEA trade”. As an EU Member State, with full access to the internal market, Britain does not export to the EU—all of the members of the European Economic Area (EEA) are part of a common regulatory zone known as the Single Market.

The fact that countries outside the EU but inside the EEA play an active role in setting the rules for the Single Market and have independent representation on the global regulatory and standards-setting bodies, where more than 80 percent of Single Market rules originate, means that there is a ready-made position waiting for Britain outside the EU. Britain joining EFTA/EEA as an interim measure post-Brexit will not only safeguard jobs but also provide a platform from which to negotiate alongside fellow EFTA states, such as Norway and Iceland, to agree a more suitable longer-term relationship with our EU partners.

However, none of that can happen if Britain does not first vote to leave the EU, and securing that leave vote depends upon convincing millions of our fellow citizens, who may be concerned about the direction of travel in the EU project but who are understandably risk-averse, that there is no risk associated with Britain reassuming its proper status as a self-confident, self-governing independent nation-state—and that, in turn, brings us to the second major howler in John Redwood’s blog post.

I shall quote at length:

Once the voters have chosen to leave, there are two options. The UK could invoke Article 50 under the Treaties and enter a negotiation lasting up to two years – or more – to decide which agreements we wish to keep and what we wish to change. That would be playing the EU’s game and may take longer than is desirable.

The UK could simply amend the 1972 European Communities Act to make clear that as from the Exit vote all EU laws and rules in the UK depended on the authority of Parliament and no longer derive from the Treaties or the European Court. All present laws and rules would continue for the time being.

Now, it is not entirely clear to me what Mr Redwood is even saying here. He airily dismisses the only route out of the EU—a negotiated exit via Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union—as “playing the EU’s game” and then blithely talks about making an amendment to the European Communities Act 1972. In the context of the shenanigans over at Vote Leave, with Dominic Cummings problematising Article 50 and Daniel Hannan arguing for “proper concessions” and “associate membership”, one cannot help but wonder, is Mr Redwood even talking about leaving the EU?

He recommends that the exit procedure outlined in the treaty not be followed, but he neglects to say that the ECA should be repealed, only that it should be amended. Now, one could get upset about this, but there is no point. This is kindergarten-level material and certainly not serious politics.

The matter of Britain’s negotiated exit via Article 50 is already settled, to the point of it having been accepted as government policy. The Foreign Secretary, Phillip Hammond, recently told a committee of peers:

“Although the referendum is not legally binding it will be politically binding and if there is a referendum decision that Britain should exit then we will serve a notice under Article 50 of the treaty of Rome and begin the process of negotiating exit arrangements—uncharted territory because no country has done that before.”

So that, as they say, is that. Article 50 is not only the only route out, it is also British government policy—and acceptance of a compromise position on the matter of Britain’s Single Market membership will eliminate all of the purported economic risk that is such a prominent feature of the anti-Brexit campaign.

If John Redwood and his fellow Tory dinosaurs could quit trying to turn the clock back, to repeat tired old arguments that have been rebuffed and defeated, the Brexiteers might be able to make some progress in presenting referendum voters with a credible vision for Britain’s future as an independent country.

In short, Brexit is not about going back to a time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, it is about looking forward to a better way of engaging with our domestic institutions and the wider world as we look to advance our interests on this increasingly networked and rapidly globalising planet.