Running Towards Risk


In 2003, Tim Lister and Tom DeMarco published a book about managing risk on software projects (stay with me!) in which they argued that “running towards risk” invariably yields more productive outcomes and better results than doing the opposite. “Projects with no real risks are losers… Risks and benefits always go hand in hand,” the pair assert.

That does not mean adopting a reckless or cavalier approach to risk-taking—Lister and DeMarco both consult on risk-management—but it does put the lie to the idea that risk is something that should be avoided at all costs. A more positive description of the same idea would be “embracing opportunity”.

So, yes, there are risks to leaving the EU and yes that is what makes embracing the opportunity so worthwhile.

Managing Risk

Effective risk-management involves identifying risks and proposing credible mitigation or avoidance measures. To that end, leaving the EU must be the most painstakingly described “leap in the dark” in the history of the world.

There are serious proposals for how Britain can leave the EU without fear or economic disruption and they have been part of the “leave” conversation from the very beginning. The Remainers have never seriously addressed the case that The Leave Alliance has made because the chancers and blowhards within Vote Leave make for an easier opposition.

Most people who follow these things will now know that Roland Smith’s terrific essay for the Adam Smith Institute, The Liberal Case for Leave, was based on the research of Dr Richard North and the Flexcit plan for a fear free exit. The plan was mentioned on Newsnight recently and it is openly acknowledged that civil servants have been reading Flexcit as part of drawing up contingency plans to be used in the event that the British electorate vote to leave the EU on June 23rd.

Though nobody can say with certainty what “leave” would look like, that does not mean that the “plausibility scope” is limitless. The decision will be constrained by political reality and the default two-year time period for the Article 50 exit negotiation means that the deal will of necessity use as many existing legal instruments as are available. That points very strongly to an EFTA/EEA interim deal.

The consequences of not coming to some kind of an agreement on trade prior to the deadline would be disastrous for both Britain and the EU so we can be confident that such a deal would be done.

Even if the EU decided to play “hardball” the UK would have options. The EU is a rules-based organisation bound by treaty and convention to negotiate in good faith. Article 50 commits the EU to “negotiate” with any departing EU Member State; Article 8 commits the EU to a “good neighbourliness” policy “founded on the values of the Union and characterised by close and peaceful relations based on cooperation”; and Article 3 affirms the EU’s commitment to promoting “free and fair trade”.

The EU will drive a hard bargain but it will not step outside the framework of its own treaties and there would be consequences for the EU if it did.

On this side of the Channel, if anybody wants to make a problem out of the fact that the abysmal Vote Leave is not proposing anything like that, I can only reiterate that this referendum is not about electing Vote Leave, it is about voting to leave the EU. Following a leave vote the position of the UK government will be determined by a parliamentary process; “leave” voters will not call all of the shots and “remain” voters will not be ignored. It is their country too.

The Commons as a whole is “remain”-minded, which, ironically, would provide the necessary ‘ballast’ to ensure that Britain’s economic security is protected at the point of EU exit. According to a very interesting poll commissioned by the Adam Smith Institute, the EFTA/EEA option has overwhelming popular support among “remain”-minded voters (in the event of a leave vote) and, even more importantly, nearly half of all “leave”-minded voters would accept such an outcome, at least for an interim period.

The need for reconciliation and a positive future relationship with our EU partners points almost ineluctably to a phased approach to EU exit—a process not an event—embracing the idea of transitional arrangements which retain Single Market membership at least until Britain has had the chance to rebuild its policy-making capabilities in vitally important areas such as trade, aid, energy, the environment, agriculture and fisheries.

However, that does not mean neglecting immigration as many in the media so often imply. The EEA agreement refers specifically to free movement of “workers” not free movement of “people” so there would be some wiggle room there. The “safeguard measures” in the EEA agreement are also interesting in the sense that the precedent for using them already exists—and there is also scope for a quota-based system to be applied as per “sectoral adaptations” in the EEA agreement. Little Lichtenstein has a brake on free movement of workers and Iceland imposed capital controls in response to the banking crisis. There would be scope to allay the fears of the most concerned.

Questions For Remainers

There it is. The initial phase of the Brexit transition from supranational subordination to independent self-governance. There are risks but there are also contingencies to mitigate those risks and the opportunity to re-engage with the rest of the world, championing the multilateral trading system and promoting trade facilitation to enhance peace, prosperity and well-being is enormous.

What then can the Remainers tell us about what staying in the EU would look like? Do they have the first idea about the plans for further integration that are coming down the pike? Are they capable of speaking honestly about the risks associated with remaining tethered to an EU bloc centred around the euro which substitutes Britain’s global voice in international forums for the “common position” of the EU-28? What kind of a future is that?

If you want to stick your head in the sand and pretend that systemic problems with the euro and the entire EU legislative process can be wished away with some half-hearted incantation about “reform” from people who never really mean it and who would never achieve it then that is your prerogative.

But running towards risk is the inverse of taking a reckless gamble on a genuine unknown. The greater autonomy, agility and accountability that leaving the EU would mean for policy-making in this country represents a real opportunity to bring power closer to the people. Taking responsibility for your actions is the beginning of maturity and it is past time that British politics grew up and started to engage with the real world once again.

Nobody should think that reforming Britain’s governance is going to be easy but we have to start somewhere and returning policy-making power to institutions we can influence begins with Britain leaving the EU.

A Step Into The Light


Untangling 40 years of political and economic integration cannot happen overnight but it can be done in a series of measured steps. The obvious first step is to rejoin EFTA so as to continue to access the Single Market (EEA) on the same terms as today.

Yes, free movement of workers is an intrinsic part of the EEA agreement, however, even exiting to that position would allow more control over immigration than we have today—and as the first phase of a multi-stage process the EEA provides a solid platform on which to build a longer-term settlement that better suits Britain.

First of all, there are so-called “safeguard measures” in the EEA agreement. These are akin to the “emergency brake” which Cameron failed to agree as part of his renegotiation, allowing for the unilateral suspension of any of the four freedoms. Secondly, leaving the EU places responsibility for the current immigration policy squarely where it belongs—at the feet of Parliament and the UK government.

Any post-exit immigration policy would obviously need to accommodate a wide range of voices, not only leave voters, and there would be trade-offs whatever is decided. I can only think that we would see a much more constructive debate as a result.

People need to stop thinking about leaving the EU as a one-time event and understand instead that of necessity it will be a longer-term process. An EEA type deal keeps the rest of the ship steady—retaining the bits that people generally like (i.e the market)—while removing Britain from the political and judicial arrangements of a union which even Remain-minded politicians say Britain should not go further into. See Cameron’s claims about a “special status”.

Britain is not in the euro and not in Schengen and it is not going to be. “Leading in Europe” is unthinkable from such a position and the idea that the UK can “reform” the EU from a position on the periphery is a joke. Remaining at this stage would mean accepting the EU as our interface to the rest of the world even while being marginalised as the eurozone integrates still further (as it must). That really would be “isolating” ourselves and turning our back on the world.

Better to let those countries that want to integrate do so while we step into the second pillar of the two-pillar EEA agreement, EFTA, which is genuinely all about trade, as the EU is still (mostly) being sold to people.

The fact that almost the entire referendum debate has centred on what our future trading arrangement would be—even though the EU is an avowedly political organisation with competency across a vast array of policy areas—is part of the same delusion British politicians have perpetuated since the UK first sought to join the then European Economic Community (EEC). Nowhere else on the continent is this level of deception and self-deception indulged. The EU is not a trade bloc, it is a government, and it is one that, in my view, we do not need nor want.

There is an enormous amount of work to be done to rediscover the art of democratic self-governance. More than almost anybody seems to realise. But I see leaving the EU as an enormously exciting opportunity to reinvigorate our domestic politics and to re-engage with the rest of the world as Britain.

The first practical and pragmatic step, however, is to concede the point on freedom of movement, which is not the same as an “open door”. That is the price the EU will demand for securing our trouble free exit and it is also the only kind of deal that our Remain-centric Parliament will accept. It returns policy control in the areas of trade, aid, energy, the environment, agriculture and fisheries, removes Britain from the jurisdiction of the ECJ, and causes minimal disruption for both sides. That is more than enough to be going on with for the time being.

A process, not an event. That is the key. The EEA is the door. We were taken into the EU one step at a time, we will recover our independence in equally measured steps. Do you want to take that first step?

Vote to leave.

Self-Governance And Global Engagement


Britain should leave the EU to make our politics more democratic and our government more accountable. Everything else is a sideshow. Whatever the short-term costs may be, there is nothing that could not be managed better by bringing decision-making power closer to the people and through more active engagement at the global level.

To that end, this post seeks to address many of the points that are often raised with respect to the idea of accepting an EFTA/EEA type of trading relationship as part of a post-exit transition to a longer-term settlement.


Let’s be serious for a moment. Leaving the EU may not result in any immediate cost-savings. The money that we presently pay into the EU budget would be deferred rather than saved and there is every likelihood that the EU would insist upon budget contributions continuing at the current level at least until the start of the next funding round. The UK government has made commitments and it is because of our respect for the rule of law and the sanctity of contract that Britain heads the world soft power index.

In other words, an independent UK would continue to support British agriculture and provide regional development funds to the underdeveloped parts of our own country as well as to post-Communist Eastern Europe. We would also continue to participate in science and social programmes in collaboration with our EU partners.

There may be savings to be made through more efficient administration and reduced bureaucracy, but cost reduction is not a key reason to leave the EU. I’m not sure it would even make my personal top ten “reasons to leave” list. Even if EU membership cost the country only £9.99 a year, I would still want to leave. It is sacrificing self-governance for supranational subordination that I find objectionable, not the membership fee.


With regard to immigration, there is much more that the UK government could and should be doing to reduce the “pull factors” that attract such large numbers of people to this country. Properly enforcing occupancy rules at the local level is just one example of a measure that would help to increase the cost of living for migrants to something like the normal level.

These enforcement issues are as much a matter of political will as anything else. A vote to leave the EU would send a strong signal to the UK government to pay serious attention to people’s legitimate concerns. Leaving the EU also places the responsibility for the current policy squarely where it belongs—at the feet of Parliament and the UK government. Politicians would no longer be able to fob voters off with the bogus notion that the EU “makes us” do such and such. EU membership is an active policy choice made by Parliament, something that MPs impose on us, not something that is imposed upon them.

Free of the EU, Britain would also be empowered to take an independent stance in global forums and to table proposals to reform the conventions that are driving mass migration to unsustainable levels. Immigration is a global concern and should be dealt with at that level as well as at the local, national and regional level. The EU’s “common position” restrains the ability of the UK government to act in the British interest and for the common good.


The claim that EFTA/EEA member states have “no say” over what are sometimes called “EU rules” is one of the most egregious lies told by the Remain campaign. It would be true to say that Norway, for instance, has “no vote in EU institutions” but that is not the same as having “no say”.

The EEA agreement has a two-pillar structure in which EU and EFTA members participate. EFTA members also play a full role in joint committees and are equal participants in a process known as “decision-shaping”.

In addition, the EEA acquis is one quarter the size of the EU acquis. Upon leaving the EU, Britain would regain policy control over crucial areas such as trade, aid, agriculture, fisheries, energy and the environment. We would also be free to determine our own level of foreign affairs and defence co-operation.

The so-called “emergency measures” contained in the EEA agreement also allow EFTA members to unilaterally suspend any of the four freedoms for a period. This is akin to the “emergency brake” that David Cameron failed to bring back as part of his “renegotiation”—and it does not require the assent of EU institutions in order to use it.

Taking the point about having a say several stages further, the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade has changed everything with respect to regulation. Article 2.4 says: “Where technical regulations are required and relevant international standards exist or their completion is imminent, Members shall use them, or the relevant parts of them, as a basis for their technical regulations”. That little word “shall” transforms the relationship between global bodies and the EU, placing independent nation-states at the forefront of the regulatory agenda.

In his Bloomberg speech, David Cameron said: “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 Prime Minister would do well to read my previous post explaining that the EU is not the Single Market. Even more important however is the WTO TBT Agreement and the combined effect of the Vienna and Dresden Agreements which increasingly render the EU obsolete as a vehicle for making our voices heard.

The standards that are translated into Single Market regulations increasingly originate at the global level in bodies such as UNECE, Codex, the ILO, the IMO and the ITU. Independent nation-states have more power in these forums than any EU Member State—all of which are treaty-bound to adopt the EU’s “common position”. The real ‘top tables’ are at the global level and that is where Britain needs to be in order to ensure that British ideas are represented.

Remaining in the EU means sacrificing global power and self-representation in intergovernmental bodies where every vote is respected in return for so-called “influence” in the supranational EU where decisions are taken under a system of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) in which, if you are in the minority, you can be overruled. That really would be resiling from the world and I fear for what would happen to our much diminished political discourse when it is understood that the politicians lied to us in order to hand policy-making power to people who are not accountable to any electorate.

After Brexit the power to make our own trade, aid, agricultural, fisheries, energy and environmental policies would be returned to Parliament. The greater autonomy and agility of our domestic institutions would force British governance to become more adaptable and accountable to the needs of the people. Indeed, with the ability to sack the government back in British hands, we would have a proper say in setting the agenda at both national and local level, and the politicians would have to listen to us. Moreover, we would have no choice but to get real, focusing on policies and not personalities, changing for the better the culture of debate and deliberation that plays such a crucial part in any self-governing democracy.

“Project Fear” Concedes Defeat


The swiftness with which Remain-minded MPs have gone from saying that leaving the EU is a “leap in the dark” and “nobody knows what Leave looks like” (literally yesterday) to today saying that “One alternative option put forward by pro-EU MPs would be for the UK to stay part of the single market by continuing its membership of the European Economic Area” is quite remarkable.

This BBC article prompted a strong reaction on both sides of the referendum campaign. But nothing in it will be news to anybody who has followed the work of The Leave Alliance or read Dr Richard North’s Flexcit plan. Indeed, were either of the campaign groups doing anything like a reasonable job of informing the public, the idea of leaving the EU but remaining in the Single Market would be entirely unremarkable.

The Leave Alliance has always argued that leaving the EU will necessarily be a process not an event and that as a result of more than 40 years of political and economic integration untangling Britain’s policy-making framework from that of the EU will take time. This is nothing more than pragmatic political reality.

There is no realistic exit option that does not embrace transitional arrangements of some kind or other and an EFTA/EEA type arrangement is the most credible because it involves taking existing legal instruments off the shelf to avoid uncertainty and facilitate an agreement that both Britain and the EU can accept in the short- to medium-term. EFTA/EEA would not be the destination but a pragmatic interim arrangement on route to a new settlement.

To witness the hysterical reactions of those who have variously ridiculed, ignored and scorned the only credible Brexit plan responding to the news that a Remain-oriented Parliament would have a say in the immediate post-exit arrangements is odd to say the least. A credible leave campaign, which Vote Leave most assuredly is not, would be using this opportunity to hammer home the fact that the EU is not the Single Market. Reassurance that Britain will not leave the Single Market while we disengage from the EU’s political and judicial arrangements means that leaving the EU is no risk at all.

With respect to immigration, it is worth noting that the EEA agreement contains within it a unilateral “emergency brake” akin to the one that Cameron failed to agree as part of his EU “renegotiation”. Furthermore, there is more to managing immigration than immediately ending free movement of workers within the EEA. Recovering policy control over key areas such as trade and aid, as well as foreign and defence policy, will enable Britain to do much more to find solutions to what is a global problem, working with our allies in Europe and partner countries around the world.

Leaving the EU is only the start of a process that will transform this country into one that is much more democratic and much more engaged at the global level. Outside of the EU, Britain would have no option but to modernise; Westminster and Whitehall would be too busy with national governance to indulge in political vanity projects; real localism would become a necessity; the business of politics would be policy and I see only positives resulting from the resurgence of democracy and accountable government.

The Remainers overplayed their hand with the “Project Fear” bogey and now they are trying to claim credit for ideas that were never theirs. The one thing that none of them can argue credibly from now on, however, is that “nobody knows what Leave looks like”. It begins with a return to proper democratic politics with a Parliamentary process to determine our immediate post-exit arrangements, and, to take the argument one stage further, we even know what that looks like—leaving the EU and remaining in the Single Market.

If you are interested in really engaging with the responsibilities and the opportunities that arise from democratic self-governance, there is (much) more in Flexcit.

The EU Is Not The Single Market


Remainers apparently struggle to understand the very simple concept that the EU is not the Single Market. To clarify, the Single Market is the 31-member state EEA (European Economic Area) agreement, which includes EFTA (European Free Trade Association) members—Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein—along with the 28 EU Member States.

EFTA/EEA member states enjoy full access to the Single Market without being bound by the Common External Tariff or the Common Commercial Policy, which, under the terms of Article 34 of the Treaty on European Union, empowers the European Commission to speak on behalf of EU Member States in international trade talks and compels EU Member States to adopt the EU’s “common position” on standards-setting bodies at the global level.

It is quite stunning the lengths to which Remainers will go to in order to muddy the water on this particular issue, even to the point of arguing against themselves. No less a figure than the Prime Minister says that the Norway option would not be right for Britain because it would mean paying into the EU budget and accepting free movement of workers. Maybe I missed a meeting, but at what point was it agreed that remaining in the EU would mean any change to either aspect of our current relationship?

Of all the rubbish I have read about the EEA though, this piece from Euroactiv currently tops what is a very long list. If you want to read the entire article the link is there. I am going to focus only on the following sentence:

In practice, Norway was never outside the EU: As a member of the European Economic Area Agreement (EEA), Norway adopts all Single Market legislation just like any EU member state, with the exception of the common agriculture and fishery policies.

I will say it again if I have to, the EU is not the Single Market. This abuse of language is so common among Remainers that one easily becomes inured to it, but what Euroactiv has published here amounts to a lie. Norway is not in the EU and nobody can credibly argue that Norway is in the EU. That would be because the Single Market agreement (the EEA) is not the EU. The use of the words “in practice” change nothing.

There is also the assertion that “Norway adopts all Single Market legislation just like any EU Member State”. Countries that are in the EEA adopt all “EEA relevant” legislation, but, that is not the same as being in the EU. Not even close. At last count, the proportion of “EEA relevant” legislation was around one quarter of the total number of EU legislative acts in force. Adopting all Single Market legislation is not the same as adopting all EU legislation because—say it with me now—the EU is not the Single Market.

For any europhiles trying to follow along, you can leave now. You wouldn’t understand this next bit and I know that new information is the kind of thing that is liable to disrupt your worldview. Still here? Right, get this, I’m about to blow your mind: not only is the EU not the Single Market, but the world does not end at the borders of the EU.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. You’ve heard all about those dragons at the edge of the map and isn’t the EU a flat disk sat on the back of a turtle being pulled through space by four giant elephants?

No, exciting as the thought may be, Britain and the British people will not be stepping off the edge of the world at the point of EU exit. Transitional arrangements which suit both sides will be hammered out as part of the exit negotiation. The Remainer idea that leaving the EU would mean Britain being “isolated” and “alone” is as pitiable as it is absurd. As far as these timid creatures as concerned, the UK is not a place that “makes history” any more.

To be completely honest, even if that were true (it isn’t), Britain is still my home. It matters to me how and by whom my country is governed even if the time-servers at the FT can’t be arsed to engage with the arguments with any degree of seriousness.

One of the reasons why the Remainers’ view of EU exit is so grossly negative is that (if their rhetoric is to be believed) they genuinely think that the world really does end at the edge of the EU. The fact of the matter, however, is that globalisation is changing everything. The emergence of genuinely multilateral institutions operating on an intergovernmental basis at the global level undermines practically every argument that the Remainers make about having “influence” in the EU. If we want Britain to play an active part in solving the major issues of the 21st century, rather than whinging from the sidelines mired in a grey supranational construct conceived in the 1920s, Britain needs a full seat at the top table.

Britain is plugged into the global system in ways that the Remainers have not even begun to recognise, let alone seriously address. There are a universe of global bodies above the level of the sub-regional EU. The WTO, Codex, UNECE, the ILO, the IMO, and so on. But, as part of the EU, the UK is bound by the EU “common position” on these forums, without an independent voice, vote or right of reservation.

Our politicians cede our power at the global level in exchange for “influence” in the EU. But what purpose does that “influence” serve if it means that the voice of the people is never heard?

The Remainers want us to believe that it would be really, really dangerous for Britain, one of the world’s oldest and most successful nation-state democracies, to embrace the same level of independence as say, Australia, Norway, Switzerland, Canada, the United States, etc. Then they act incredulous when we say that we don’t believe them.

This great country’s days are not over. Leaving the EU would be but the first step in a great global journey towards greater prosperity and purposeful political engagement. There is a lot of work to be done to rebuild our democratic institutions and policy-making expertise, but the first step is to leave the EU.

A Transition Plan


To complain that David Cameron, George Osborne and the Remain camp are scaremongering, spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt on the basis of tenuous assertions with little—sometimes no—grounding in fact is broadly akin to complaining that fish have gills which they use to breathe under water. That is what they are, that is what they do.

If nothing else, this referendum has made clear that David Cameron and George Osborne are not fit to hold the offices of state which the electorate so carelessly allowed them to occupy. That, in time, can and will be corrected. What is less certain is whether we will have another opportunity to vote on bringing power closer to the people, by leaving the EU, or pushing that power still further away, by remaining in the EU.

We knew what was coming. The core of what became The Leave Alliance spent years preparing a comprehensive transition plan for a structured EU exit. The Flexcit plan acknowledges (may have even originated) the idea that leaving the EU will be a process rather than a one-time event. We leave in the same manner that we were taken in—piece by piece, in stages.

The plan also presupposes that a successful EU exit should be the foremost political priority of the “leave” campaign and that any, indeed, every other issue, should play second fiddle to securing a majority vote in an EU referendum. Of necessity that means repudiating many of the tired old “eurosceptic” (a word that must now be retired) nostrums that have failed to arrest, let alone reverse, the ongoing process of political and judicial integration to which all EU Member States are subject.

The transition plan rejects empty aspiration and embraces pragmatic and practical political reality. It is not a contradiction that those who are amongst the most determined advocates for Brexit sound like the reasonable centre ground. We have put ourselves in that position deliberately because we know that is where we need to be in order to convince the mass of undecided referendum voters that leaving the EU is not only necessary, but also practicable, possible and safe.

The fundamental reason why Britain must leave the EU is, was and ever shall be political and not economic. As an EU Member State, policy choices which should be subject to democratic debate are taken at the supranational level. As an EU Member State, the UK is not and can never be a self-governing democracy. Simple.

We do not need common government in order to trade and co-operate with our continental allies.

Given that the only realistic immediate post-exit deal is an EFTA/EEA type arrangement (or something that broadly replicates the same structures), it is useful to look at how Norway works with the EU. Norway, a much smaller economy than the UK, is a member of the 31-member state EEA agreement, which also includes fellow EFTA members Iceland and Lichtenstein, along with the 28 EU Member States. Norway is involved in shaping EU legislation deemed “EEA relevant” and unlike EU Member States, which all accept that decisions shall be taken under Qualified Majority Voting (QMV), Norway has a right of reservation—effectively a veto—over any new regulation that it does not wish to apply in its own market. The decision to exercise that right obviously has consequences and, for reasons that are even more obvious, such an eventuality almost never arises. But, as is the perogative of a self-governing nation-state the choice is in the hands of the Norwegian government.

Norway also has full self-representation on the global bodies where most technical standards for trade now originate, not to mention independent trade, aid, energy, environmental, agricultural, fisheries, justice and home affairs, foreign affairs and defence policies. An EFTA/EEA type arrangement provides an excellent base on which to build something even better, affording us the freedom to make policies that serve the common good rather than sacrificing large swathes of people at the alter of advancing the cause of EU integration.

The British have always adopted a transactional approach to EU membership, to the chagrin of many of the other EU Member States. That is precisely why it makes so much sense to embrace this historic opportunity to reorient our relationship with the EU. Trading and co-operating with our friends on the continent, but writing legislation and making policy in Westminster and Whitehall.

If we want more democratic and more accountable government, we need to bring decision-making closer to the people, not vest it in supranational structures which empower tiny elites to impose their agendas on the rest of us.

Britain Will Not Leave The Single Market


For a wide variety of reasons that have been rehearsed time after time on this and other Leave Alliance blogs, the UK will not leave the Single Market at the point of EU exit. This is driven by sound political and economic concerns and, if we can be serious about the subject of risk for a moment, a botched EU exit would not be in anybody’s interests.

Two-years is too short a time frame to agree anything other than an EEA-oriented deal and EU leaders will not offer anything else. Given the make-up of the current UK Parliament, British MPs are unlikely to accept any other exit deal either.

Further evidence of this comes in the form of Stronger In’s latest piece of campaign news. “Brexit would hit UK growth and impede foreign investment,” the headline shrieks. What follows is a letter signed by a group of multinational executives.

Now, as much as I can often be heard saying that how and by whom Britain is governed is no business of business (which it isn’t), some of what the letter says is worth reiterating. This part in particular:

Recent suggestions that the UK should leave the single market if it exits the EU are particularly concerning and potentially hugely damaging. According to surveys, almost three-quarters of foreign investors cite access to the EU’s single market as a key reason for their investment in Britain.

Note that their primary concern is access to the Single Market, not the EU*. This part of the letter is almost identical to something that former Google CEO now Alphabet Executive Chairman, Dr Eric Schmidt, said in January, which I referred to at the time as a potential teachable moment for the “leave” campaign.

Regrettably, Vote Leave refused to learn that lesson and has since gone into what looks like full on self-destruct mode. That, to my mind, is all the more reason to ignore Vote Leave. We are not voting to elect the Vote Leave Party, we are voting to Leave the EU and, as has been broadly outlined during the debate, the UK government would have very few options should the “leave” side win the referendum. The future is uncertain—don’t you just love the way the Remain campaign repeats that tautology with such nursery freshness?—but that does not mean that the plausibility scope is limitless.

That is why leaving the EU is safe. Far safer than remaining subordinate to a set of supranational institutions committed to a political union from which our Prime Minister claims to have excluded Britain. As I have asked several, ordinarily very vocal Remainers on Twitter, “What is Britain’s role inside the EU outside of the euro and outside of political union?” Answers come there none.

Whereas outside the EU, Britain could play a full role in developing and shaping the multilateral trading system, working alongside similarly-minded partners such as Australia and New Zealand, playing ‘honest broker’ to the USA and the EU. It will be entirely safe to do so and we know this because the Remain side keep telling us that any deal that involves leaving the Single Market would be politically risky and economically uncertain. The UK government and their EU counterparts are nothing if not risk-averse. They will be reluctant to change anything, but a vote to leave will force the UK government to take Britain out of the EU’s political and judicial arrangements.

That is why we will leave the EU but remain in the Single Market, repatriating the entire body of EU law, while putting policy control back under direct supervision of the British people via the UK Parliament. The real revolution will centre not on the deal that we do with Brussels but on the way in which we are governed here—real domestic reform, top to bottom.

Leave the EU, keep the Single Market.

* As an aside, never mind that any such “uncertainty” would last all of two seconds (if that) as the government came clean about the fact that leaving the EU would not mean leaving the Single Market, I do find it funny to see these buccaneering business types suddenly adopting the pose of frightened little children hiding behind Mummy’s skirt, desperate to avoid the “uncertainty” associated with democracy and accountable government. Remember, they’re doing it all out of their earnest concern for the well-being and future prosperity of the British people…

Embracing A Global Role


On June 23rd 2016, the British people will vote in a referendum on whether they wish for the United Kingdom to remain in or leave the European Union. A vote to “leave” would be a major geopolitical event, but how would Britain’s EU exit (or ‘Brexit’) affect trade and industry?

The UK voting to “leave” the EU is broadly associated with uncertainty and risk. The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, says that a vote to “leave” could expose the UK to a “material slowdown in growth”. Indeed, the perception in the City is such that traders may well make such an outcome a short-term reality. By contrast, it is generally perceived that remaining in the EU means endorsing a static status quo.

Before discussing Brexit, therefore, it is important to acknowledge that the UK voting to “remain” in the EU is not without uncertainty or risk. The EU’s ‘Five President’s Report’ lays out a timetable for the completion of economic and monetary union (EMU) by 2025. European Commission President, Jean-Claude Junker, has announced that he will present a White Paper on the subject of EMU in June 2017.

What further consolidation of the Eurozone would mean for the UK, with its euro opt-out and equivocal approach to political union, is not yet clear. The “special status” that Prime Minister, David Cameron, says he has negotiated with the other EU Member States, raises more questions than it answers.

What really interests and intrigues people, however, are possible post-exit scenarios.

Political realities

Broadly speaking, there are three immediate post-exit options for the UK: the WTO option, the ‘Swiss’ or bilaterals option, and the ‘Norway’ or EFTA/EEA option. Before looking at each of those, however, it is important to note that what the UK government would be able to negotiate with its EU counterparts is constrained by political realities.

The first and foremost political reality is the fact that the only legally constituted means for an EU Member State to leave the EU is via Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). Moreover, Article 50 guarantees only two-years to negotiate an exit agreement. The negotiating period can be extended, but the decision to do so requires unanimous agreement among the remaining EU Member States and, according to a UK Government Command Paper, such an extension would be likely to come at a price. The paper says: “Article 50 provides for a two year negotiation, which can only be extended by unanimity. There could be a trade off between speed and ambition. An extension request would provide opportunities for any Member State to try to extract a concession from the UK.”

Thereby do we begin to limit the ‘plausibility scope’ for the negotiation. Indeed, with a two-year deadline in mind, the idea of agreeing a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA) is a total non-starter. The EU-Canadian Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) has taken seven years to negotiate and is not yet ratified. Likewise, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is three years in the making and nowhere close to completion. There is not one FTA listed on the EU Treaty Database that took less than three years to complete negotiation and ratification.

Some of those in the “leave” camp suggest that, in lieu of an FTA, the UK could resort to trading with the EU under WTO rules. That would be a disaster for UK-EU trade. Under WTO rules, the EU is categorised as a Regional Trade Agreement (RTA) which, the WTO acknowledges, “by their very nature are discriminatory”. As such, RTAs are permitted to discriminate against third-countries, which, were the UK to leave the EU without a replacement trade deal, would include the UK.

The outstanding issue under those circumstances, would not be tariffs, but non-tariff barriers (NTBs), or what are otherwise known as technical barriers to trade (TBT). Without mutual recognition of conformity assessment and an ongoing commitment to regulatory convergence, UK exporters selling into the EU market would have no way to demonstrate conformity to EU standards. It is not sufficient to conform, exporters must be able to demonstrate conformity, and that means having the right paper work.

What a WTO only arrangement would mean in practice is customs inspectors having to detain shipments and take samples to send to approved testing houses. The associated costs would have to be paid by UK exporters, but the associated delays would be even more damaging. Highly integrated European supply lines, relying upon components shipped from multiple countries under a ‘just-in-time’ regime, would be very badly impacted.

Writing on, political analyst, researcher and anti-EU campaigner, Dr Richard North, asserts: “Then, as European ports start having to deal with the unexpected burden of thousands of inspections, and a backlog of testing as a huge range of products sit at the ports awaiting results, the system will grind to a halt. It won’t just slow down. It will stop. Trucks waiting to cross the Channel at Dover will be backed up the motorway all the way to London.”

A pragmatic compromise

Obviously it would be in the best interests of all concerned to avoid such a catastrophic outcome. So, what then is the alternative? Fortunately, there is one, although it would require a degree of political compromise.

In short, the most realistic exit option involves the UK maintaining regulatory continuity by applying to rejoin the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) so as to participate in the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement. The EEA is the 31-member state area that forms the Single Market, made up of the EU-28 plus three of the EFTA members—Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Switzerland is a member of EFTA, but has a separate set of bilateral agreements for managing EU trade and participation in co-operative ventures.

This pragmatic acceptance of an ‘off-the-shelf’ solution with respect to trade would protect jobs and investment while also fulfilling on the referendum outcome of taking Britain out of the political and judicial arrangements of the supranational EU. That would mean no immediate change to freedom of movement. However, as Roland Smith of the Adam Smith Institute argues, it is useful to conceive of Brexit as an “evolutionary process” rather than as a “one-time event”.

“In contrast to other exit plans that seek varying degrees of cut-off from the EU,” he remarks, in a report titled ‘Revolution Not Evolution: The Case For the EEA Option’. “The EEA option starts from a very liberal, cooperative agenda that is practical and realistic, and evolves the UK away from EU membership. This will be the first step of an ongoing evolutionary process that ultimately promises the start of a reinvigoration and re-maturing of Britain’s wilting democracy that is increasingly and worryingly held in contempt by many voters. And all the while, maintaining the very open trade and free exchange we have with our nearest neighbours and friends.”

An International Model

To appreciate the potential upside of EU exit in terms of trade, it is important to understand that trade is an exclusive EU competency. EU Member States do not have the power to make independent trade agreements and are obliged to adopt the EU’s “common position” on global bodies such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The significance of this is revealed when one rolls back the curtain on the hundreds of standard-setting bodies operating at the global level. Organisations such as the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Codex Alimentarius Commission are in the process of transforming the EU from a law-maker into a law-taker.

In days gone by, it was possible to think of EU membership as giving the UK a seat at the ‘top table’ when it came to making rules for the Single Market. Today, that is no longer the case. Indeed, one of the biggest misconceptions associated with the EEA option is idea that it would mean complying with EU legislation with “no say” over the rules. In fact, more than 80 percent of the legislative categories defined in the Single Market or EEA acquis (body of law)—as distinct from the EU acquis—fall within the ambit of international organisations.

This apparently minor administrative detail is extremely significant in the context of Article 2.4 of the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, which says that, “Where technical regulations are required and relevant international standards exist or their completion is imminent, Members shall use them, or the relevant parts of them, as a basis for their technical regulations”. That little word “shall” transforms the relationship between global bodies and the EU, placing independent nation-states at the forefront of the regulatory agenda. In other words, the EU is no longer the regulatory ‘top table’.

In the area of vehicle regulation, for instance, the standards to which equipment manufacturers work are defined not by the EU but by the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29), a working party of the Inland Transport Division of UNECE. There are currently 57 signatories, including the EU. Non-EU countries include major vehicle manufacturing countries such as Japan and South Korea. Outside of the EU, the UK would have full self-representation and the freedom to deal direct at the global level.

UNECE, which was established in 1947, prior to the foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community, which evolved into the present day EU, is also at the cutting edge of developing an “International Model” of regulation, through its WP.6 (Working Party on Regulatory Co-operation and Standardisation Policies). The ‘model’ provides a set of voluntary principles and procedures for countries wishing to harmonise technical regulations, bringing interested countries together to discuss and agree new regulatory frameworks that are then turned into Common Regulatory Objectives (CROs).

Notable successes include CROs for PC peripherals, legacy Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) terminals; Bluetooth, Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN); Global Standard for Mobile Telecommunication (GSM); and International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT-2000 or 3G). That is in addition to CROs for earth-moving machinery and equipment for explosive environments.

The process is nascent but extant, offering a viable model for a liberal, globally-minded, free trading country like the UK to reinvigorate the multilateral trading system, working to reduce technical barriers to trade under the aegis of UNECE and WTO.

The multilateral trading system

The ‘national debate’ as conducted among the publicly-funded campaigns is regrettably—although perhaps not unexpectedly—short on facts and perspective. There are viable alternatives to EU membership. But, especially in the initial phase, the UK would have to accept a compromise. The remaining EU Member States would not offer the UK a ‘better deal’. As John Springford and Simon Tilford of the Centre for European Reform, writing in The Daily Telegraph, affirm: “Germany and France will say: ‘it’s all or nothing’. Join the European Economic Area, or no deal.” Experts for the “leave” side agree. However, the advantages to be derived from driving the regulatory agenda at a global level, championing the multilateral trading system and intergovernmental co-operation, would provide enormous scope for an independent Britain to embrace a truly global role.

Pig Ignorant And Grossly Offensive To Boot

What is the point of the British legacy media? It is incapable and where capable unwilling to report on reality. It exists only to lie to you.

Sure, for the most part, the hacks are just clueless keyboard thumpers who know not what they do. But why should ignorance be an excuse when these people are being paid?

Everybody makes mistakes. But the extent of the deception and self-deception which bubble journalists evince is on another level. If these people are ill-informed, it is because they want to be. If I type “EU referendum” into a search engine, the top site is

So, by that somewhat circular route, do we come to the focus of this post: this condescending and inaccurate Evening Standard article written by Anthony Hilton. I shall not rebut the entire piece, just a few illustrative examples. If you really must read it in its entirety, follow the link.

EU laws are essentially of two types.

There are three types of EU legislation: Decisions, Regulations, and Directives. A minor point perhaps, but it is indicative of the slipshod manner in which the British press report on EU issues, only to then put themselves at the front of the queue wailing about an absence of facts.

Those aimed at creating the single market — which is most of them — demand that member states respect the free movement of goods and services and require that the products which are to be traded be produced to common minimum standards.

The Single Market (EEA) acquis is one quarter the size of the total EU acquisroughly 26 percent (based on the latest updated figure) of all EU legislative acts in force are “EEA relevant”. Of those more than 80 percent of the legislative categories covered under the EEA acquis fall within the ambit of international standards which the EU is obliged, under the terms of the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, to use as the basis for technical regulations within its Single Market.

All trade blocs and trade treaties have these kind of laws.

It is this kind of statement that causes one to doubt Mr Hilton’s honesty. No other trade bloc anywhere else in the world has an executive Commission which proposes and enacts laws that bind its Member States and are judiciable in a supranational court. Mutual recognition of conformity assessment and common regulatory standards do not demand political integration. ASEAN does not pass laws. NAFTA does not pass laws. Even TTIP, should it ever come into force, would not have a legislative function with primacy over and above that of participating nation-states.

People tend not to appreciate that the bulk of EU law has the sole purpose of making the single market work better, which is what British business wants.

What business wants is not relevant in matters of constitutional importance. How and by whom Britain should be governed is a matter for the British electorate. Moreover, as I have just explained, the assertion that “the bulk of EU law has the sole purpose of making the single market work better” is monstrously, maddeningly false.

There is no reason other than political union for Britain’s trade, fisheries, agricultural, energy and environmental policies to be subject to the majority vote of foreign governments. In the land that Mr Hilton inhabits, however, taking decisions further away from the electorate, lengthening lines of accountability, and introducing additional complexity and unnecessary duplication of effort which runs counter to the multilateral harmonisation agenda is more democratic than self-governance and proper global engagement.

This incoherent view hinges on a fundamental misunderstanding that is all too common among the Bubbleteers. In a democracy, the power lies not with the politicians, but with the people. The ultimate back-stop is not Parliament, but the British electorate.

A vote to leave is a vote to take that responsibility unto ourselves, to begin to act like the engaged and active citizenry that we like to think that we are.