Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Sold down the river


One of the most striking images of the EU Referendum was the sight of multi-millionaire Bob Geldof aboard a luxury yacht (which some alleged as being sponsored by Goldman Sachs) giving two fingers to a flotilla of fishing boats campaigning for a Leave vote. 

Bethany Pickering, a young Labour member aboard Geldof's yacht was less than impressed: “we didn’t expect it would be a millionaire being condescending to fishermen" ... “It was very patronising, very much mocking the issue they had, jeering at them, using his ability and his money to drown out what they had to say.” Interestingly, she eventually switched from supporting Remain to Leave on the eve of the Referendum – albeit citing the EU's inability to reform rather than the fishing protest.

Geldof's actions seemed to epitomise a rich metropolitan elite completely out of touch with the lives of ordinary, working-class people. And if any group of workers have grounds for grievance over the UK's membership of the EU, it is surely British Fishermen.


History of Betrayal

The UK has some of the richest fishing grounds in the world. But these have been surrendered  by successive UK governments as outlined in John Ashworth's booklet "The Betrayal of Britains Fishing". I've summarised some of the key points in the history:

Pre-dating the UK's accession to the EEC, the 1964 London Convention granted fishing rights to 31 areas within the UK's 6-12 mile zone: France (15), West Germany (6), Belgium (5), Holland (3) and Ireland (2). In return, the UK obtained rights in 5 areas: France(1), West Germany (1), Holland (1) and Ireland (2). This is clearly an unfair deal which is especially favourable to France – the most plausibly explanation is the UK Government attempting to placate General De Gaulle's hostility to the UK's application to join the EEC.

EEC Fisheries Regulation 2141/70 designated all member states fishing waters a "common resource" and was signed only hours before the UK's formal application was submitted in 1970. Thus, the UK's accession meant sacrificing sovereignty over fishing waters. Prime Minister Edward Heath proceeded with accession talks and misled the House of Commons into believing that the United Kingdom had obtained a derogation which would permanently protect UK fishing interests.

Norway had also applied to join the EEC at the same time as the UK. Edward Heath wrote to the Norwegian Prime Minister asking him to keep quiet about the accession arrangements for fisheries, but the Norwegian Fisheries Minister let the cat out of the bag, which helped persuade Norwegians to reject the EEC in the 1972 referendum. Fisheries was again  a key issue when Norwegians rejected the EU in the 1994 referendum.

In 1973, the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) commenced, which led a number of countries to establish 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) around their coastlines. In 1976 all EEC members states created 200-mile EEZ's (UK passed the Fishery Limits Act 1976). The UK's EEZ contained approximately 80% of all Western Europe's fish, but these waters were by now "Community waters" .

In 1976, the Commission proposed to manage fishing in "community waters", divided into fishing areas within which a fixed "Total Allowable Catch" (TAC) would be set by species and allocated between member states based on a quota system. After much argument, the policy was finally implemented in 1983 – with the UK the biggest loser in the quota system.

Worse was to follow with the accession of Spain and Portugal. Spain had one of the world's largest fishing fleets but very little marine resource in its own territory. Spain could fish in "Community waters" and took full advantage in exploiting access to the UK's territorial waters. The UK Government tried to protect UK fishermen via the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. But in a famous case, the European Court of Justice upheld a complaint by the Spanish fishing firm Factortame Ltd and levied damages of £100m against the UK Government.

To add insult to injury, EU supporters claim “you need a CFP because fish know no boundaries” and conservation cannot be managed by individual nation states. In fact, the CFP is a classic Brussels cumbersome, bureaucratic, "one-size-fits-all" policy which cannot cope with fish movements and leads to widescale cheating and forces fishermen to discard prime marketable fish (up to 50% of a fishermans catch). The CFP has been an environmental disaster for UK territorial waters. By contrast, Nordic nations such as Norway, Iceland, Greenland & the Faroe Islands who have been wise enough to avoid the CFP all have thriving fishing industries.

The figures reflecting the impact on the Common Fisheries Policy on UK fishing are stark. Under "equal access” rules, 70% of UK fisheries resources worth approximately £1.6 billion are in foreign hands. 60% of the UK fishing fleet has been scrapped and employment in UK fishing has halved. 


UK Government & Fisheries Policy 

Given the tale of woe described above, it is not surprising that Fishing has long been a totemic issue for euro-scepticism. Under William Hague and Michael Howard, it was Conservative Party policy to withdraw from the CFP. In 2005, Shadow Fisheries minister Owen Patterson published a Green Paper outlining how the UK would take back control of its Fishing Waters.  However, David Cameron – having posed as a euro-sceptic during his Conservative leadership campaign - dropped the policy upon becoming leader.  So now that we are leaving the European Union, how does the current Conservative Government intentions match up ? The recent Brexit white paper does not provide grounds for optimism.

Para 1.1 “To provide legal certainty over our exit from the EU, we will introduce the Great Repeal Bill to remove the European Communities Act 1972 from the statute book and convert the ‘acquis’ – the body of existing EU law – into domestic law. This means that, wherever practical and appropriate, the same rules and laws will apply on the day after we leave the EU as they did before.” 

Para 8.16 “In 2015, EU vessels caught 683,000 tonnes (£484 million revenue) in UK waters and UK vessels caught 111,000 tonnes (£114 million revenue) in Member States’ waters. Given the heavy reliance on UK waters of the EU fishing industry and the importance of EU waters to the UK, it is in both our interests to reach a mutually beneficial deal that works for the UK and the EU’s fishing communities. Following EU exit, we will want to ensure a sustainable and profitable seafood sector and deliver a cleaner, healthier and more productive marine environment.” 

This suggests that the Common Fisheries Policy will be converted into domestic law. Worryingly, there is no commitment to restoring UK sovereignty up to the 200 mile limit or rejecting the Common Fisheries Policy. A post-Brexit revival of British fishing needs 2 key policies from the UK Government:

Firstly, the CFP must be repealed and not simply adopted into into UK law.  As a Fishing for Leave spokesman explains “When the CFP (Common Fisheries Policy) ceases to apply on EU withdrawal, the UK can automatically repatriate exclusive competency over our 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and all fishing resources within. The EU fleet will be automatically excluded from this area, unless the government adopts the disastrous CFP as proposed in the Great Repeal Bill.”

The CFP and its system of quotas is disastrous for fish stock and the fishing industry. It incentivises cheating & discarding of marketable fish. A system based on “days at sea” would incentivise transparency, accurate reporting, innovation and productivity.  John Ashworth recommends the Faroese system as a good fit for the UK – this is a “days at sea” system and the waters around the Faroes Islands have a diverse fish stock (like UK waters).

Secondly, the UK must reclaim sovereignty over all fishing waters within the 200 mile limit, including the historic “acquired rights” inside the UK's 12 mile limit granted to European nations under the 1964 London Convention. As a Fishing for Leave spokesman explains this offers a “back door access to the six-12 nautical mile band around the UK. … It would allow EU vessels access and, therefore, the ability to claim they had acquired rights under UK law.” 

The London Convention, which came into force in 1966, allows any contracting party to renounce the agreement after 20 years (i.e. 1986). Two years notice is required to activate Article 15 of the London Convention. So to avoid an overlap period and the risk of the EU fleet acquiring rights under UK law, the UK Government must activate  Article 15 of the London Convention at the same time as triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty.


What UK Government must do now

There are elements  in the Fishing industry who have invested heavily in the current CFP Quota system. It seems possible that the Governments attention has been captured by these vested interests. The Government may wish to recompense or provide equivalent access – but the Government must unambiguously reject any idea to adopt the CFP and its disastrous quota system.

The Government also seems to be reluctant to renounce historical access rights granted under the London Convention for fear of upsetting EU member states during the Brexit negotiations – depressingly repeating past failed attempts to curry continental favour via the sacrifice of British sovereignty over its territorial waters. Moreover it would be foolish to give up important negotiating leverage. The UK fishing fleet will take some time to recover capacity, and the UK could choose to grant temporary licenses to foreign fleets under UNCLOS 3 – but this power to choose only exists if historical access rights have been renounced. The Government must trigger Article 15 of the London Convention at the same time as Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Yet again, there is the distressing possibility of British Fishermen being “sold down the river” by our own Government. Edward Heath betrayed British Fishing and it has lived long in the memory and been a symbolic rallying point for euro-sceptic dissent. Brexit must mean Brexit for British Fishing. Be in no doubt – British fishing will be an acid test for Prime Minister May. If Theresa May delivers on Fishing, she will gain an enormous level of trust in all parts of the UK (notably Scottish Fishermen who are less than impressed with Nicola Sturgeon's stance). If she fails, she could lose the trust of the nation in her ability to deliver any aspect of Brexit.


Sunday, 15 January 2017

Flexcit is dead


At the start of a new year, it is common to reflect on the events of the last year and look ahead to the coming year. So I thought I'd reflect on my own experience of the 2016 EU Referendum and how my views have developed over the last year.

In January 2016, I was a relatively new supporter of Flexcit, the self-styled “definitive” Brexit plan, which proposed a phased exit from the EU via EFTA EEA, on the basis that (i) Article 50's 2 years timescale is not enough time to reach a comprehensive exit settlement (ii) remaining in the Single Market for an interim period removed economic risk from exit.

Leave.EU

At the start of 2016, Leave.EU briefly flirted with Flexcit. The response was overwhelmingly negative from the primarily UKIP supporting Leave.EU membership. "No to EU Freedom of Movement, EU Laws & EU contributions" was the common refrain. This was a bruising encounter, but ultimately one I found instructive. The issues of Freedom of Movement, EU laws, EU contributions were totemic because they represent to many people the most obvious ways in which the power to govern ourselves has been diminished.

Leave.EU also hired polling experts from America, who advised that Labour voters would be key to a Leave victory. I suspect this also contributed to Leave.EU's change of heart on Flexcit. But I have to say that the Referendum results from Labour heartlands and the accuracy of Leave.EU's final poll prediction (52-48 for Leave) suggests Leave.EU's pollsters were on the money.

Vote Leave

Vote Leave won the designation for Leave and campaigned under the theme of "take back control" – a simple phrase to cover self-government, sovereignty and democratic control. The issues raised by Leave.EU's membership also appeared during the campaign:

Freedom of Movement. Whatever your views on immigration, it is unarguable that the UK government has ceded power regarding EU immigration. The majority of UK public opinion favours "controlled" immigration, with no discrimination against non-EU citizens and no automatic right to benefits - impossible as an EU member state.

EU Laws. Tabloid tales of barmy Brussels regulations are legend but in truth are usually gross misrepresentation - as was the case with Boris and the Banana regulations (which actually come from UNECE and apply to exporter, not retailers). However, this issue touched a deeper nerve with greater public awareness that we no longer controlled the making of UK law:
- Many trade and technical standards are now international in source. But while countries around the world (USA, Japan, Canada, Australia etc.) implement these standards into their national regulations, the UK has ceded regulatory control to the EU Commission.
- The legal tradition of this country based on common law, habeas corpus, magna carta and "permissive law" (all is permitted unless explicitly prohibited) is being overtaken by EU law based on an inquisitorial, "prohibitive" (all is prohibited unless explicitly allowed) continental legal system.

EU payments. The "£350m per week" claim generated much controversy amid claims of lies and deception. In fact the £350m per week figure is the correct GROSS figure. The NET figure is reduced by the UK rebate and CAP / regional funding, as was frequently pointed out amid huge media attention (which of course was the whole point of the exercise!). Although £10bn per year NET payments is a tiny amount of Government spending, it is still a huge sum of money to most voters - and how that money is spent is not in our control.

Remain Campaign

As expected, the Government / Remain campaign focused on economic risk and the single market. Little attempt was made to make a virtue of membership of a European Political Union. Despite lauding the single market, the Remain campaign dismissed the EFTA EEA option as terrible - “still pay and no say”. Many Remain campaigners claimed that it would simply not be an option - exiting EU would mean exiting EEA as well.

Crucially, in mid-April, Michael Gove said in a speech for Vote Leave that the UK would leave the Single Market. As confirmed by Ameet Gill (David Cameron's director of strategy), Remain seized on this and “spent the next three months trying to hang that round Leave’s neck” - exemplified by statements from David Cameron and George Osborne.

Referendum Result

The Remain campaign have complained that Vote Leave's campaign was based on instinct over intellect and “lies” citing the £350m figure (as discussed above). Yet the Remain campaign was based on an appeal to “fear” and ludicrous statistics (£10 back for every £1 we put in?). Dominic Cummings has written a long but exteremely interesting blog on the Referendum Campaign in the context of our dysfunctional politics and political media and he also explores how political debate might be improved. Put simply, Vote Leave's direct appeal for self-government, to “take back control” was necessary and effective.

Despite some media attention for the interim EFTA EEA option in the last few weeks of the campaign, I find it difficult to argue or believe we had any impact on the Referendum result. It seems to me that those who valued the Single Market and economic certainty over sovereignty and self-government voted Remain – including some who were attracted to the idea of an EFTA EEA option. Conversely those who prioritised self-government and sovereignty voted Leave – including some who favoured the interim EFTA EAA option and understood there was no guarantee of this route being taken.

Nor do I believe that a Leave campaign based solely on Flexcit would have won. Many Leave voters would simply not have been motivated to vote for “Brexit-lite” - especially Labour supporters and the significant numbers of Leave voters who never normally vote. Reluctant Remain voters cowed by Project Fear would probably conclude “Brexit-lite” did not offer sufficient gains to make the risk worthwhile.

Ultimately, the main Leave and Remain campaigns boiled the Referendum choice down to “take back control” versus “don't take the risk”. Although the margin of victory for Leave was narrow, it was significant in triumphing against the status quo and much of the establishment. First and foremost the Referendum provides a mandate for the UK to become a sovereign, self-governing nation. Secondary to that will be pursuit of the best trading terms.

Remain campaigners claim there is no mandate for a “hard” Brexit. But it seems to me that in the context of the campaign there is no mandate to stay in the Single Market, certainly not at the cost of sovereignty. The EU are implacably opposed to reforming the Single Market to accommodate Britain's desire for full self-government, so the inevitable conclusion is that Britain must leave the Single Market.


Beyond the Referendum

So having campaigned for an EFTA EEA interim option, was I disappointed by the Referendum campaign? Am I now worried about the prospect of a "hard" Brexit? In short, am I now a candidate for "Bregret" ? My answer is: No – absolutely not ! Like most, if not all "Liberal Brexiteers", I voted Leave because my priority was self-government and sovereignty.

While I had developed some queries over elements of Flexcit approaching the Referendum (I thought the conformity assessment issue had been overplayed),  I still thought the EFTA EEA interim provided the most likely and safest Brexit scenario. Having continued, to read, question and investigate, I find I have lots more issues and queries regarding Flexcit. I will go into more details in subsequent blog posts, but here is an overview :
- Political and legal considerations. Public support for the EEA option is unlikely, nor can it be guaranteed that EFTA / EU consent will be forthcoming or can be circumvented.
- Single Market Regulations. The UK will remain subject to the EEA acquis (~26% of all EU laws, ~70% of EU Directives). The claims that these regulations are simply handed down from international organisations do not stand up to detailed scrutiny.
- ECJ rulings. The EFTA EEA states fall under the jurisdiction of the EFTA Court, but the key EEA principle of homogeneity also applies to the courts and ECJ rulings also apply via the EFTA Court.
- Interim becomes permanent. Once the UK is safely parked in the EEA, there will be no incentive for the EU to negotiate. The UK will have lost all leverage available on exit and will also have signalled an unwillingness to contemplate leaving the Single Market. Longer term, there is a high risk that the EU will impose an “Associate Membership” on EFTA EEA states.
- Flexcit is not an interim EEA option. Since the referendum, Dr North has clarified Flexcit as meaning the UK stays in the EEA for 20+ years and argues the case for Single Market reform. The argument appears to amount to: “We must leave the EU, it won't reform. We must stay in the Single Market for 20+ years and persuade the EU to reform”.
- Customs Union issues. The EEA option does not provide an “off the shelf” solution. There are many trading issues associated with leaving the EU that EEA will not address, including customs operations and agriculture / fisheries. Consequently, the EEA option may not meet the 2 year Article 50 deadline.
- WTO & Conformity Assessment. The problems associated with conformity assessment and the risk of an “operation stack” scenario have been exaggerated. Negotiating an MRA (Mutual Recognition Agreement) should be straightforward. The WTO option is sub-optimal (for both EU and UK) but does not mean “all trade will literally grind to a halt” (to quote Anna Soubry).

Perhaps the final nail in the coffin is the intransigence of Remainers who now see the Single Market / EFTA EEA as a platform for staying in or rejoining the EU. They reinforce this strategy with Project Fear Mk II, but, we should be sceptical of the hype regarding the Single Market:
- As Andrew Lilico notes, in 2012 the EU Commission estimated that since its inception, the Single Market had added just 2% to GDP averaged across EU member states (with the UK's gains probably less).
- The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) in 2013 concluded there still is no "single market in services".
- Numerous commentators suggest anxiety over the Financial Services Passport is overdone, with one even stating "The City needs the EU like a fish needs a bicycle".

Polling by YouGov suggests 68% support for getting on with Brexit, with a Canadian style Free Trade agreement the most popular choice.  There is no good reason why the UK and the EU cannot agree a mutually beneficial trading arrangement outside the Customs Union and Single Market. Alternatives to EEA have been highlighted to provide transitional trade arrangements pending a final dealThe facts and the politics are moving away from Remainers and Flexcit - both of whom want to stay in the Single Market indefinitely. Flexcit (short for flexible response and continuous development) has shown itself inflexible in responding to changed circumstances.

Conclusions

What a year 2016 was. I've certainly learnt a lot and my thinking has evolved considerably from a year ago. Far from suffering "Bregret", I am very confident about our future outside the EU. To sum up my current views in a simple phrase: "Flexcit is dead. Long-live Brexit!"

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The Last Straw

This is not an easy blog post to write – but it has been coming for a while.

First, a bit of background. If you've read my blogs, you'll know I have advocated the EFTA EEA option as an interim step for Brexit - based on the the ideas in Flexcit / The Market Solution, written by Dr Richard North, whose EU Referendum blog is frequently referenced in my own posts.

I was something of a latecomer to the EU debate. I first started searching for information beyond mainstream media in early 2015. Following the General election of 2015 and the prospect of an EU referendum, I accelerated my search. I went through as much pro and anti EU info as I could find : think-tanks ; books; various blogs etc – I tried to make sense of the competing arguments and visions.

After many months, I came back to EU Referendum blog and Flexcit and the penny dropped on what they were saying. I'd also read “The Great Deception” by Richard North & Christopher Booker (an excellently researched history of the EU up to rejection of the EU Constitutional treaty in 2005). I had reached a clear conviction that we needed to leave the EU, but that it would be complex and would need to be phased – especially to avoid trade and economic fall-out.

I actually went as far as setting up a monthly donation to EU Referendum – nothing spectacular, but I wanted to support what I saw as research far ahead of the crowd. I also responded to the call for bloggers issued by Pete North (Dr. North's son & working associate) and started blogging in the autumn of 2015. Later that year, a private message group was set up on Twitter for EU Referendum and associated bloggers, which I was invited to join.

A tale of two bloggers


I happily concede I was very much a newby and a junior figure in the group. I privately wondered if I was only invited because of my donation. Certainly there were 2 members of the group who stood out for their efforts and impact:
Roland Smith. Involved in the EU debate for decades – widely known as “White Wednesday” on social media. In March 2016, Roland voluntarily gave up work in the run-up to the Referendum in order to campaign full-time and promote Flexcit / interim EEA ideas in Westminster via his ASI institute connection - with notable success.
Ben Kelly has been an active blogger for many years (via “The Sceptic Isle” and Conservatives For Liberty) and was especially prolific during the Referendum campaign. He brought a significant social media profile to the group and also edited the Leave Alliance web site (Leave HQ) during the referendum.

But dont just take my word for it. Pete North marked Roland and Ben out for special praise on the eve of the Referendum vote here.

Yet within a matter of weeks of the Referendum victory, Dr North had attacked the reputations and integrity of Roland and Ben and accused them both of “plagiarism” and “intellectual theft”.

Roland had promoted interim EEA ideas via the ASI but shorn of their Flexcit label and Dr North's name in order to attract new audiences. This was undertaken with the full knowledge of Dr North and was a notable success - as confirmed by Dr. North himself. Furthermore, on 2nd June, the ASI had invited Dr North to write a blog post explaining Flexcit and how the ASI articles had drawn upon his ideas. The flashpoint for Dr North's change of attitude seemed to be an apparently innocuous blogpost written by Roland on June 10th referencing some comments by Daniel Hannan that were reported in the Evening Standard. Dr North has a longstanding antipathy to Hannan – who Dr North also accuses of intellectual theft. A subsequent ASI post co-authored by Roland Smith (after the Referendum) on the advantages of an interim EEA option prompted Dr North to launch a full-on attack on Roland. By this time, various voices had come out in support of the interim EEA option with no apparent connection to Roland or ASI. The ideas were in the public domain and out of anyone's control. Dr North never did take up the invitation to write his own post for the ASI.

During the Referendum campaign, Ben had written a number of guest articles for newspapers and web sites – again interim EEA ideas were floated without explicit reference to Flexcit or Dr North in order to gain a wider audience. Ben's crime was to write a similar article after the Referendum for the IEA. Dr North reserves particular venom for the IEA - in his eyes they “rigged” their 2014 IEA Brexit competition and “snubbed” his Flexcit submission. A full-on attack ensued, including a particularly low blow by Pete North regarding some payments made to Ben. As far as I am aware, the majority of funds collected via EU Referendum and Leave HQ web sites were directed to supporting Pete in his full-time blogging activities. As someone who donated to these funds, I am extremely glad that some of the money made its way to Ben. His efforts in the referendum campaign were unstinting – he deserves every penny.

A question of ownership and loyalty


So what exactly is the “intellectual property” that has allegedly been stolen ? Dr North describes the essence of Flexcit as
(i) The EEA option as an interim step. I can confirm that Dr North and Flexcit was how I came across this concept. But there have been suggestions of the EEA option as a way to leave the EU pre-dating Flexcit and I have also seen other suggestions that  EEA could be used as a transition ahead of a longer term deal that are not associated with Dr North. I do not see how Dr North can claim sole ownership over this idea.
(ii) EFTA/EEA members have independent voice/veto in international organisations (unlike the UK) where international regulations and standards are framed. It is quite possible that Dr North was responsible for revealing the role of international organisations in framing regulations and standards, in particular the discovery of the“ diqule ” (dual international quasi-legislation). Whether revealing the way international governance works is copy-rightable is another matter.

It is clear that Dr North sees these concepts as his own personal intellectual property. But what is he expecting as a result ? Royalties ? The right to stop other publications by injunction ? He has stated he simply wanted acknowledgement that articles are based on his ideas. But ask yourself why license was given during the Referendum campaign to re-use material without Dr North's name or the Flexcit brand – and why such a strategy was so successful in gaining traction.

The answer is self-evident – Dr North is toxic to the cause he espouses. He has a long-standing reputation as a hostile, angry person and a history of bitter fall-outs. He alluded to this history on his blog in July when he launched an attack on Roland Smith . In reality, he actually has a much longer list of people and events that he views as “betrayals”. Having seen the appalling treatment of Roland and Ben, I have plenty of reason to doubt Dr North's version of past events.

A classic example is provided by the Leave Alliance launch of Wednesday 16th March. Two conservative MPs attended but walked out after Dr North had insulted Vote Leave, its leaders and Conservative MPs. The events are described on Dr. North's blog and Pete North's blog – judge the tone for yourself. Pete North states “the consensus is that Dad arriving late and in a foul mood spoiled the presentation a bit …. we had yet more calls to moderate behavior and language” before dismissing such calls outright. In other words Dr North's own supporters were uneasy over events but got short shrift. This was the last straw for one particular member who subsequently left the group.

The case for Dr North's intellectual property is thin at best and the charges of plagiarism against Roland & Ben are baseless. Will anyone who has followed Roland and Ben not be aware of their association with Flexcit and Dr North ? Does anyone seriously believe Roland & Ben wrote the articles for personal gain ? Their crime appears to be that their loyalty was to securing Britain's independence, not to the promotion of Dr North and the denigration of his enemies.

The Last Straw


Dr North spent much of the rest of the campaign attacking Vote Leave and the Leave campaign. He assumed defeat was inevitable and seemed to be relishing the prospect of revenge on those he would blame. Nor did the Referendum victory mellow him at all. He continues to attack all and sundry while complaining that “the bubble” ignores him.

So what happens when someone in “the bubble” approaches Dr North, as John Mills (head of Labour Leave) did recently ? Dr North published their exchange of letters in his "The Mills File" blog post of 27th August. Mills is clearly trying to understand what can be achieved as a minimum within the 2 years Article 50 time-frame. Dr North's responses had a familiar "passive aggressive" edge.

Granted, Mills has weaknesses in this area of debate (like many public figures in Westminster), but he at least accepted the need for additional protocols/agreements over and above the WTO framework and was aware of the financial services passporting versus equivalence debate. But Dr North's focus seemed to be on attacking his "enemies" for proposing options that are impossible, specifically because of the 2-year Article 50 timescale. Notably:
North describes negotiating an MRA as a hugely complex and time-consuming task, although previous posts by him and Pete North paint a different picture.
North highlights issues associated with customs code and drafting new customs law. He neglects to mention that the Flexcit / EEA option will also suffer from the same drawback.
Finally, in the last response, North states “Even the Efta/EEA agreement could be very tight, in two years. We could even find ourselves having to seek an extension of time.”

The admission that EFTA/EEA may require an extension of the 2 years deadline is critical. In fact, Dr North has admitted this several times since the Referendum:
24/6/16Even with the best will in the worlds - adopting the EEA core acquis unchanged - concluding the settlement within two years is going to take Herculean effort.”
29/6/16We could, for instance, apply for a three-year extension, making five years in all – thus taking the time-limit off the agenda. We could even make the total ten years.”
12/7/16leveraging an early notification against an agreement by the EU to extend the negotiation period – say to five years”
2/8/16Even with a fair wind, though, with every possible stratagem adopted, no realistic assessment will suggest that there is any reason for optimism. The chances of completing negotiations within two years have to be considered slight.”

Note also what Dr North states regarding the bi-lateral option in his  Monograph 4:
"On this basis, it is highly improbable that a de novo (bespoke) bilateral agreement under the aegis of Article 50 could be concluded in two years - something which is being increasingly recognised. Five years is probably more realistic. Whatever their attractions in theory, the bilateral options seem hardly viable, purely on the grounds of the time needed to negotiate them."

If an extension is contemplated for the EEA option, it can be contemplated for other bi-lateral options. The core Flexcit argument is that the constraints of Article 50 dictate the EEA option as the only option - that no longer stands.  

This is a highly significant change, but not an isolated one. A series of posts over recent months have changed the nature of Flexcit considerably. Co-incidentally, the first of these posts appeared within days of Dr North accusing Roland of thievery. It is as if North feels that the “old” Flexcit has had its day, and new ideas are required to create a “new” Flexcit, distinct from the one that in his own mind has been “stolen” by imagined "enemies". 

Flexcit is essentially the container for Dr North's research, but it also seems to be the vehicle for his own private wars.  For me it has become an unreliable source.

Ultimately, the Mills File post was the last straw for me. Dr North complains of “the bubble” ignoring him - in reality he does not want to share his ideas with “the bubble” - as evidenced by his treatment of Roland and Ben, who were singularly successful in promoting these ideas. It seems to me that Dr North is actually inside his own bubble – one where only he is right and everyone outside his bubble is to be attacked as “morons”, “children” or "behind the curve".

I will happily acknowledge I have learnt a lot from the Norths and will acknowledge their work in my posts. They do provide unique and interesting research around trade and regulations and I would recommend reading their blogs – just try and ignore the angry rant stuff. I have wondered for a while whether I should just drift away from the group quietly (as others have done). In airing my views on this blog I have probably set myself up for some brick-bats and vitriol, although I may escape that if I am considered to be too small-fry to bother with, e.g. “why give him the publicity”. In the end I have decided to be honest about my views – I hope it is the right decision.


Sunday, 19 June 2016

Brexit for a progressive immigration policy


In my last post, I quoted from British Future's "How To Talk About Immigration" in stating that the majority of the British public "hold pragmatic and nuanced views".  To illustrate this, I've reproduced one of their pie charts in the picture above. At this particular time, I feel it is important to emphasise that Britain remains a country where the majority are moderate and reasonable.

The shocking events of Thursday 16th June means two young children have lost their mother and a husband has lost his wife. I confess I wasn't aware of Jo Cox the MP, and I follow politics more than most people, but by all accounts she was an MP of particular compassion, dedication and integrity.

The sequence of events and the motive for the killing are unclear. We do not know whether this deed was prompted by mental illness or extremist views, or both, or neither. While the due process of law must be followed to uncover the truth, politically it does not matter - the killer does not speak for us. Leave or Remain, Left or Right, Black or White, Gay or Straight - he does not speak for us. I gather the man charged with this murder is Scottish - should he be convicted, that does not taint Scotland by association.

Regrettably, some in the Remain campaign have stooped to appalling opportunism in using the violent act of one individual to smear the entire Leave campaign.  The narrative being constructed is that to even question immigration policy or EU membership is akin to hate crime and in some way to blame for this weeks tragic event. That is a very broad demographic to accuse:
  • The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has consistently promised to cut net immigration to "ten's of thousands".
  • The Chancellor, George Osborne, in his Treasury economic analysis of EU membership refers to unskilled immigration being too high.
  • In recent days, Theresa May (Home Secretary), Tom Watson (Labour Deputy Leader). Ed Balls (former Labour Shadow Chancellor) have all spoken of the need for immigration control and limits of free movement within the EU.
  • Vote Leave contains Lord Owen (former Labour Foreign Secretary, former Leader of the Social Democrats, long-time europhile and recent convert to Leave), Gisella Stuart (German born and bred Labour MP), Priti Patel (Conservative minister, born in London to a Ugandan Indian family).
Are we really to believe that these people, along with half of the UK population, are toxic xenophobes ? I gather that the last 4 MPs to be murdered were victims of the IRA, whose political arm, Sinn Fein, support Remain - are Remain tainted by such association ? The  answer to both these questions is of course No.

UK public concerns over immigration

As for myself, while I'm clearly committed to Leave, my motivation is not immigration. I've historically had a liberal view on immigration "it's good for the economy - what's the problem?". But it was pointed out to me that I live in a rural part of the country and am a reasonably well-paid professional - so it was easy for me to be "liberal" on immigration.  Fair point.  So over the last year or two I have made a concerted effort to understand immigration concerns.

The main concern people have is simply the volume of immigration.   I personally don't have concerns over eventual population size or population density.  While England has a high population density by European standards (on a par with Netherlands), it is less than half that of Jersey or Guernsey. England's population problem is more one of distribution, arising from unbalanced economic growth.  But there are valid concerns over the rate of immigration that can be absorbed and integrated. In particular, an effectively limitless supply of low-wage labour resulting in :
- wage compression for lower paid UK workers;
- severely reduced investment in training UK workers, especially the young;
- increased load on services and infrastructure, especially as below median incomes contribute less in tax revenue than the value of benefits & services consumed.

But for me, the primary concern over EU immigration is fairness. EU non-discrimination rules mean that the UK Government must treat all EU citizens as if they were UK citizens in all matters of Government public spending: access to benefits, housing, apprenticeships etc. The EURES scheme requires UK jobs to be offered to workers across the EU, provides funding to EU job applicants and pays a bonus to UK companies for hiring EU nationals. Poorer and young Britons are squeezed out as a result.

By contrast, non-EU migrants have no recourse to UK Public funds and are unable to claim most benefits, tax credits and housing assistance, so usually contribute more in tax than they consume in benefits and services. Incredibly, the UK government are pursuing an anti-immigration policy regarding non-EU migrants:
- introducing a £1,000 per annum levy on companies for each skilled non-EU migrant they employ,
- requiring that skilled non-EU migrants resident for less than 10 years earn a minimum £35,000 pa or face deportation;
- last year, the NHS turned away 2,700 non-EU migrant nurses.

Most British people would support a system where the UK Government can target taxpayer-funded benefits and training at poorer and younger British citizens. They would also want to treat all non-UK migrants equally: repeal the £1,000 levy and £35,000 salary requirement on non-EU migrants; extend the rule on no recourse to UK Public funds to EU migrants; provide equal access to employment for migrants from any source, EU or non-EU.  The current immigration system only makes sense if you are ideologically committed to the idea of Britain as a province in a single European state.

A Progressive and Global Immigration policy

Contrary to much of the Remain campaign's claims there is a positive, progressive, global view of Brexit and immigration.

Liam Halligan in the Telegraph, who describes himself as from proud migrant stock, argues that there is a very strong pro-immigration case for leaving the EU. Halligan describes Britain as "inherently tolerant of migrants – superbly tolerant", but also argues that tolerance is dependent on confidence that immigration is being managed and that concerns of low-skilled, low-income British workers are heard. He cites  "tolerant and economically successful countries, with vibrant migrant cultures Australia, New Zealand, Canada" as examples of countries that "have migration controls".

Douglas Hansen-Luke, writing for United Politics, describes himself as a Brexiteer in favour of immigration. He states "Britain has always been an open, internationally mixed nation ... better at integration than most" and highlights the need for national debate (recognising the need for democratic consent).  He observes that in Australia "more than 25% of its population was born abroad", but "working immigrant arrivals contribute more in tax than they take out" reducing pressure on services and personal income has still risen strongly. He describes this as a "win-win alternative not a zero-sum game".

Immigration & EFTA EAA

I am associated with a group of bloggers advocating the "Liberal case for Leave", who advocate an initial exit to EFTA EAA, hence retaining freedom of movement, in the short term at least. Understandably, many in the Leave campaign baulk at this, but I would emphasise that (i) the EFTA EEA interim option is based on pragmatism and expediency and does not diminish or lessen my support and enthusiasm for the goal of a fair, controlled and global immigration policy; (ii) there are policy options available in the interim EFTA EEA stage which would allow an approximation to the desired immigration policy.

There are actually many things the UK Government should be doing now. No entry/exit records are kept for migrants and no record is kept when migrants become available for work. Implementation of systems to track migrants would enable identification of over-stayers and illegal workers. Coupled with rigorous enforcement of minimum wage, residential occupancy standards (eliminating over-crowded migrant bedsits, "beds in sheds" etc) exploitation of migrant workers and the knock-on effect of wage compression would be reduced. Improved NHS workforce planning would provide more training of British nurses and doctors and rely less on immigrant workers.

EFTA EEA membership entails accepting the current EU non-discrimination rules. However, as Phillip Hammond observed last year it is possible to exclude new EU migrants from benefits for 4 years. This could be applied to all UK Public funds (as per non-EU migrants) and extended to 5 years (when permanent residency is achieved). But this would also have to be applied to Britons aged 18 to 23. This could be mitigated by a "post-education" support targeted at young Britons, using the student loan scheme qualification rules or similar (British Citizen, ‘settled status’ as per Immigration Act 1971, or ‘ordinarily resident’). Those in training, work experience or low-paid jobs would be supported and Government initiatives such as apprenticeship schemes would be reserved for young Britons. This might be a way to provide "fairer" immigration within the rules as they stand today.

EFTA EEA membership does allow for unilateral use of "Safeguard Measures" (EEA agreement articles 112-3) in the event of serious economic, social or environmental impact. Liechtenstein have used these measures to control EU immigration. By implementing tracking/enforcement systems described above and withholding national insurance numbers, Britain could activate the EEA safeguard clause and control EU immigration. The flow of workers from low-wage states could be limited, although some low-wage labour will always be required for example, agriculture and the care sector. EEA agreement article 114 allows states to respond to Britain's action with counter-balancing measures, but they must be strictly necessary to redress any imbalance in EEA rights/obligations and should least disturb the functioning of the EEA. Wilder claims that imports of UK goods would be blocked seem unfounded.

Conclusion

There have been unpleasant overtones in the campaign, sometimes from Leave (in particular, Farage's crass poster) but more so from Remain, who have: 
- stoked unfounded fears for ex-pats (they are covered by "acquired rights"); 
- stoked unfounded fears over the border with Ireland (Common Travel Area dates back to 1921); 
- campaigned on strong restrictions of non-EU immigration; 
- and most perniciously, claimed that Leave want to abolish all immigration.

It is time for Remain to stop smearing their opponents. On social media, I have been variously labelled as an ignoramus who has never traveled beyond his village, xenophobe, racist, bigot, fascist, hater, war-monger, British imperialist and most bizarrely a Putin stooge (I've yet to receive any roubles). All before the terrible event of Thursday 16th June 2016.

In truth, the Remain campaign can only offer "more Europe". Uncontrolled immigration from an ever enlarging Europe (Turkey, Ukraine, Balkans and North Africa are all touted for EU membership). Increasing restrictions on non-EU immigration, shutting out Commonwealth allies and friends. No protection for poor and young Britons as all UK publicly funded benefits, services, schemes are open to all EU citizens.  Remain offer a dismal vision of a shrunken Britain inside Fortress Europe, turning its back on the world, taking its orders from Brussels, the employer of last resort for the EU, solving the problems caused by the abysmal failure of EU economic and monetary union.

By contrast, the Leave campaign have a vision of immigration policy based on democratic consent, both controlled and fair, and based on a Britain open to the world, not limited to the "little EU". A policy that allows support for poorer and younger Britons, while embracing those from around the world who wish to contribute to and participate in Britain's future. A future that embraces globalisation and makes Britain freer, more prosperous and happier - like Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

We have one chance in a generation to escape the dismal vision that Remain offers us. One chance in a generation  to dismiss the failed EU government from power. We must vote Leave for a brighter, progressive future for Britain.