The Political Class Is Stronger In

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The Remain campaign has nothing positive to say about the EU. It insists upon conflating Europe and the EU; and the EU and the Single Market. These are not people with whom it is possible to debate. They make it impossible to establish common ground.

You might have thought the fact that the Remain campaign is funded by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley would have been a wake-up call for the “progressives” who defend and promote the supranational EU project.

Britain already has a government, we do not not need another one, especially one that exists to dissolve popular sovereignty and deny democracy to those who are most in need the safeguards that can only come from being able to say “no” to people in power.

The fact that the term “political class” is now an everyday part of the political lexicon is a very bad sign for the health of British democracy and the direction in which the country may be headed.

In a real democracy, the “political class” is anybody who involves themselves in the political process—that is everything from voting to organising to writing a blog—and the politicians are the servants of the people.

The way in which the term “political class” is used today implies a layer or tier that is self-identifying and divorced from the rest of society—and that is precisely what one observes.

Outsourcing British policy-making to the EU ensures that you, the electors, the voters, the people, have less say over how and by whom your country is governed. British politicians and their counterparts among the “political class” in other countries don’t see a problem with that.

The Remain campaign is an invitation to the British people to Remain Fearful, Remain Powerless, Remain Subordinate. The “political class” is Stronger In.

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The Future Is Multilateral Not Supranational

The EU is in a pretty bad way. Leavers and Remainers agree on that much, I think. After all, the entire purpose of David Cameron’s EU “renegotiation” was to agree a “new relationship” with our European allies which would promote trade and friendly co-operation while excluding Britain from further political integration.

In spite of claims to the contrary, Cameron achieved nothing of the sort. It is not credible to argue otherwise.

What David Cameron now tells us is a “reformed Europe”—the fundamental dishonesty of referring to the EU as Europe still rankles—is something like the worst available option. British institutions remain subordinate to the EU institutions with Britain’s trade and (increasingly) international relations bound by the “common position” of the EU28.

Meanwhile, the members of the eurozone are committed to “completing economic and monetary union” which means more power for the EU in the areas of fiscal and banking policy. That leaves the UK on the periphery with only Denmark for company.

The better alternative is for Britain to leave the EU and agree a genuinely new relationship founded upon intergovernmental collaboration. The future is multilateral not supranational; an open, engaged and internationally-minded country like the UK should be working to develop links with emerging economies and striving to eliminate technical and physical barriers to trade.

Free of the supranational EU’s empire-building agenda, Britain could play an active role in working to reinvigorate global free trade, creating ad hoc alliances (even working closely with the EU when appropriate), and protecting the unique culture that makes Britain an attractive destination for people the world over.

A thoughtful post in the FT by Anand Menon broadly reflects my view of Brexit, when he writes that Britain leaving the EU could enhance European co-operation by freeing Britain of the commitment to “ever closer union” that government after government has told us not to be concerned about ever since signing the Treaty of Rome. There are good reasons for Britain to work with other states in all sorts of areas, but in a democracy governance must have the consent of the governed, which means open debate in national parliaments by politicians who are directly accountable to their electors.

Menon says that he is not sure the same principle (he cites the example of military co-operation) holds in the area of regulation, but anybody who is familiar with the Flexcit plan for a structured approach to EU exit will be well aware of the existence of intergovernmental bodies such as Codex and UNECE, as well as global super-regulators such as ISO. Indeed, the opportunity for Britain to “have its say” in Single Market regulation would be greatly enhanced by EU exit.

This may sound counter-intuitive and it may well even upset some on “my own side” but without the unwelcome political baggage associated with EU membership, Britain and the rest of the EU could work together more closely than ever; productively and amicably as partners and friends, rather than as master and servant.

The cynical politicians want to appeal to your emotions to convince you that doing what is in their interest is a better idea than doing what is in your interest. Don’t fall for it. Outside the EU, Britain would be more democratic and more engaged at the global level. The people we elect would have to take responsibility for their actions and come clean about the trade-offs that are part and parcel of being an independent self-governing country.

That can only benefit our politics. A more engaged, more democratic future is waiting for us outside the EU. We need only the courage to leave.

Around The World

I am not sure if there is a policy that better exemplifies the faux internationalism of the EU than its proposal to create a “European digital single market”. Owing to the success of the Internet and especially the Web, the market for IT-based products and services is truly global. Barring geography-specific customisations, from a user perspective, it is possible to serve the same content to anybody with access to the Internet, regardless of where they are on the planet.

How this is possible requires a modicum (not that much) of understanding about what the Internet and the Web are from a programmer’s perspective.

Ostensibly the Internet might look like what then United States Senator, Ted Stevens, famously referred to as a “series of tubes”. The wires and radio towers and submarine cable systems over which digital signals are transmitted are part of the Internet, but they are not the core technology. The heart of the Internet is the Internet Protocol Suite, which defines the various standards that computer equipment implements in order to send and receive data via the Internet.

Those standards are published in the form of Requests For Comments (RFCs) by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and hardware- and software-makers opt into and incorporate those technical descriptions into their product engineering and design.

The Web has a similar standards-setting body called W3C based in Massachusetts and headed by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, which is a membership-based organisation comprised of representatives from public and private sector organisations (corporate giants such as Google, Apple and Microsoft) which debate, draft and distribute the standards that are implemented in software by the browser-makers and networking vendors.

The grandfather of the lot in the IT and telecommunications sector is the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), where Britain is compelled to adopt the EU’s “common position”. EU membership is not a “force multiplier” for Britain’s “global influence”, as is often claimed, it is an encumbrance and an obstacle to full self-representation.

Given the enormous flexibility, scale and scope of this partially voluntary, partially intergovernmental set up, the EU’s interest in creating a digital single market for Europe is a case of empire building, at the expense of multilateral co-operation with partners beyond the European landmass and neighbouring archipelagos. In order to benefit from globalisation while also maintaining necessary democratic safeguards, Britain needs a voice, a vote and (should it come to it) a veto on global bodies, as well as the economic agility that comes from negotiating trade agreements in Britain’s national interest.

The Consequences Of Brexit

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If Britain votes to leave the EU there will be consequences. That’s right. There has been a lot of talk among the Remain crowd about possible Brexit impacts—most of it spurious exaggeration—but as a blogger who is proud to call himself part of The Leave Alliance I feel that I have an obligation to write plainly about the future that would confront an independent Britain.

First of all, outside of the EU, Britain would be a self-governing country. That is, the people whom we elect to Parliament would have to account to the electorate for the policy decisions that they make. Britain would also recover power over key policy areas including trade, aid, agriculture, fisheries, energy and the environment. Imagine that.

Why is it that Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan can legislate and administrate their own affairs while Britain needs the input of 27 other nation-states and a Commission and Court that subordinate our national institutions to the will of a qualified majority of political leaders for whom we never vote and whom we cannot remove?

Moreover, post-exit Britain would no longer be bound by Article 34 of the Treaty on European Union, which really needs to be read to be believed:

1. Member States shall coordinate their action in international organisations and at international conferences. They shall uphold the Union’s positions in such forums. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall organise this coordination.

In international organisations and at international conferences where not all the Member States participate, those which do take part shall uphold the Union’s positions.

2. In accordance with Article 24(3), Member States represented in international organisations or international conferences where not all the Member States participate shall keep the other Member States and the High Representative informed of any matter of common interest.

Member States which are also members of the United Nations Security Council will concert and keep the other Member States and the High Representative fully informed. Member States which are members of the Security Council will, in the execution of their functions, defend the positions and the interests of the Union, without prejudice to their responsibilities under the provisions of the United Nations Charter.

When the Union has defined a position on a subject which is on the United Nations Security Council agenda, those Member States which sit on the Security Council shall request that the High Representative be invited to present the Union’s position.

This enormously far-reaching provision means that in international forums Britain is less than a self-governing country, removing as it does our right of reservation and opt-out in intergovernmental negotiations at the global level. This is a corruption of the collaborative and multilateral foundation upon which international trade and co-operation depends.

The urgent need to recover those vital democratic safeguards becomes all the more apparent when one observes the way in which globalisation is accelerating.

The sensible, pragmatic and practical choice is for Britain to leave the EU and rejoin EFTA to participate in the EEA (Single Market) agreement while permanently opting out of “ever closer union” and euro membership. Given that there are ever stronger hints that Britain taking that confident step into an EFTA/EEA type of arrangement is something that the EU would be willing to accept, Cameron and Osborne’s fantasy “special status” in a “reformed EU” is looking even more tawdry than it did to begin with.

Britain can continue to participate in the Single Market without accepting the political baggage that comes with EU membership and about which the Remainers are so reluctant to talk. That means no change to the regulatory environment at the point of Brexit and no economic shock. In economic terms, it means preserving the status quo.

Plus the convergence of Single Market rules and international standards under the auspices of the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, facilitated by the Vienna and Dresden agreements, protects our say in the standards-making process and allows us a right of reservation and the ability to opt-out, neither of which are available to any EU Member State, bound as they are by the compromise position agreed among the EU27.

The Irrelevance Of Vote Leave

I was planning to write a longer, more in-depth piece about my disagreements with Vote Leave, highlighting one last time why I do not think that this Tory-led campaign group has any real legitimacy when it comes to making the case for Brexit. Indeed, as the designation process has worn on, I have persuaded myself that state-support for only one group on each side of the referendum question was bound to corrupt proceedings. Ho hum.

In lieu of a more detailed analysis I present this simple response to a wholly avoidable BBC story about the Vote Leave claim that EU exit will save British tax-payers £350 million per week or £50 million per day. Portentously framed as a “reality check”—the BBC is synonymous with truth and honesty as we all know—the article is mostly reasonable.

I hate that Vote Leave puts serious Brexit campaigners in the position of having to either concede the point about EU payments (I do so willingly and also long before most on the other side had turned their attention to the subject) to the Remainers or fatally damage our own credibility through association with absurd exaggerations. Moreover, the people at the top of Vote Leave are well aware that the £350 million figure is false, but such is their arrogance, the corrections of lowly plebs are fit only to be ignored.

The guilty party on this occasion was Gisela Stuart who said: “Every week we send £350m to Brussels. I’d rather that we control how to spend that money, and if I had that control I would spend it on the NHS”. The substantive political point—that spending and policy priorities should be determined by democratic governments that are accountable to national electorates—is obscured by this nonsense about £350 million, which then, all too predictably, becomes the focus.

The brief explanation that the BBC provides would sit well among the material produced by The Leave Alliance bloggers.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – the UK does not send £350m a week to Brussels – the rebate is deducted before the money is sent, which takes the contribution down to £276m a week.

That figure includes £88m a week spent in the UK on things like regional aid and support for farmers. The government could decide after a Brexit that it should take that money away from farmers and give it instead to the NHS, but it might be an unpopular decision in rural areas.

Then there’s another £27m a week that goes to support things like research projects in UK universities and companies.

If we deduct all that we end up with £161m, although even that includes development funding, which counts towards the government’s pledge to spend at least 0.7% of the country’s economic output on development aid.

In fact, one cannot help but wonder where the BBC researchers found their source material.

However, the points that the same article makes about Norway’s contribution to the EU budget are wrong. Norway pays something like half of what Britain pays to the EU per head of GDP to participate in a range of EU programmes including the totemic Single Market.

Claim and counter-claim over figures is exactly the kind of debate that serious leavers hoped to avoid. Leaving the EU is a political decision, not an economic one. Even if leaving the EU ended up costing Britain money, it would be well worth doing. There is no place for Britain in the EU outside of political integration and the euro. We need a new relationship for Britain with the EU, and between governors and the governed. Taking back policy control and giving British voters a far greater say over how and by whom we are governed cannot be gainsayed by the Remainers. There is no good reason to fight on the insecure foundations favoured Vote Leave.

So, there it is, probably rather more mild than I might have otherwise been but, other than for those who are directly involved (Elliott, Cummings, Oxley), Vote Leave is an irrelevance. For all of the extra attention that the media will give the “lead campaign group”, as people start to engage and the debate kicks into a higher gear, Vote Leave will be sidelined. Unless they can come up with something interesting to say, they will not be listened to. There is more accurate information and more entertaining opinion elsewhere.

That Booklet – Part II

The next section of the UK government’s EU referendum leaflet addresses economic concerns related to EU exit. But before I come onto the points that are raised, I have to preface this by saying that Britain’s EU membership is first and foremost a political decision. It is an almost unbearable distraction for those of us who observe and comment on matters EU with any degree of earnestness for the debate about ‘Who governs Britain’ to be consistently deferred as as to discuss economics or immigration or any other (at best) secondary issue.

Having said all of that, EU membership does have an economic dimension because it is through Britain’s EU membership that people and businesses access the Single Market. The Single Market, however, is not only comprised of EU Member States; there are three EFTA (European Free Trade Association) members too. Those are Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein. Reading only the UK government’s EU referendum booklet would leave one with the impression that access to and even participation in the Single Market is synonymous with EU membership. It is not.

So, what of the other assertions made? “The EU is by far the UK’s biggest trading partner. EU countries buy 44% of everything we sell abroad, from cars to insurance”, notes the leaflet. Some Leave campaigners will dispute these figures and argue that intra-EU trade is declining as a percentage of Britain’s current “exports”. I will not.

The percentage—whatever the actual figure—is significant enough that it cannot and should not be ignored. As much as I look forward to the idea of Britain engaging globally without the encumbrance of a trade policy decided by the compromise position of the EU28, the fact of the matter is several of the world’s most important developed economies are EU Member States, and Britain will want to continue friendly trade and co-operation with those partners post Brexit. Working to develop better trading relations with emerging economies in Asia, Africa and Latin America will take time, so it is important to safeguard the economic benefits of the Single Market even as we decouple from the supranational political structures of the EU.

To that end, it always rankles to see Britain’s trade with the rest of the EU described as “exports”. The word “exports” implies a degree of separation that is not present. Britain and the other 27 EU Member States are part of a common regulatory zone that is “protected” from third-country imports by a common external tariff. Outside of the EU though, Britain can rid itself of the common external tariff, increase its trading agility, and have more say over Single Market rules than any EU Member State by rejoining EFTA, thereby allowing access to the EEA agreement (the Single Market agreement) from the other side of the table.

Indeed, the UK government booklet’s emphasis on the Single Market provides a strong indication as to the most likely post-exit trading scenario—continuity market membership as part of EFTA. That means no immediate change to freedom of movement or business regulation, but, as a corollary to that, very little risk of economic instability or job losses.

In other words, contrary to the tenor of the UK government booklet, Britain can leave the EU safely and securely in a series of measured steps, taking proper account of all the concerns that Remain campaigners seek to amplify and exaggerate.

That Booklet – Part I

The UK government booklet claims that Britain has “secured a special status in a reformed EU”. Two questions immediately leap to mind: 1) What is “special” about Britain’s EU status? 2) In what sense has the EU been “reformed”?

Does anybody believe that Britain can maintain its membership in the “ever closer union” club without participating in “ever closer union”? If you think that Britain’s government should be subordinate to a supreme government for Europe that is not accountable to any national electorate then remaining in the EU is the choice for you.

But the British government should be clear about the fact that remaining in the EU means that British institutions will be subordinate to the supranational EU—in which the European Commission has the sole right of initiation; the UK has 12.6 percent of the vote in the Council of the EU; around nine percent of the vote in the European Parliament; roughly nine percent of the vote in the European Council; and the European Court of Justice is the highest court in the land.

The assertions that follow are either meaningless or misleading. First, “we will not join the euro”, says the UK government booklet. The only way to be sure of that of course is to leave the EU. While Britain remains an EU Member State, euro membership will continue to exert a peculiar pull on Britain’s political class—and almost nobody else. Poke the more serious remainers hard enough (not even that hard) and they will concede that they foresee Britain one day giving up its own currency. Who can forget the prior statements from politicians and corporate bosses about the “need” for Britain to abandon centuries of monetary and fiscal independence? What would protect the currency from the europhile claque right at the top of British politics once emboldened by a vote to remain?

Second, “we will keep our own border controls”. It is a peculiar myth that has been allowed to assume totemic status that Britain does not have its own border controls. Indeed, one of the key reasons why Britain should leave the EU is to shift the focus of attention away from the idea that mass immigration was imposed on the UK by the EU. It was not. British politicians should account to the British electorate for the decisions that they make and if people do not like the policies that the government pursues we should have the power to turf out the old lot and elect politicians who will address peoples’ legitimate concerns.

Third, “the UK will not be part of further European political integration”. This will not be in the power of the British government to prevent should Britain remain an EU Member State. Decisions taken by the avowedly political European Court of Justice confer ever more power upon EU institutions. Legislation passed by the European Parliament and the European Council defines the policy-framework within which the British government is able to act domestically and on the world stage. Not a single policy area was reclaimed for Britain as part of Mr Cameron’s faux renegotiation. Trade, agriculture, fisheries and competition policy remain exclusive EU competencies, while other important policy areas such as energy and the environment remain so-called shared competencies. The reach of the EU institutions is far greater than most people realise, and the UK government leaflet does nothing to educate people about these important facts.

The last two claims in the leaftlet can be dealt with together—“there will be tough new restrictions on access to our welfare system for new EU migrants” and “we have a commitment to reduce EU red tape”—as both are equally silly. I mean, seriously, is this the best that the government can do?

Even by David Cameron’s own standard, this is remarkably weak stuff. Even as somebody with an unshakeable commitment to Britain’s EU exit, I expected better.