Issue 59: 2016 06 23: A Jolly Voting Day (John Watson)

23 June 2016

A Jolly Voting Day

Quiet, too damned quiet!

by John Watson

Watson,-John_640c480 head shotIn most parts of Britain, voting day is an oasis of peace. Before it, came the last stages of the campaign, the opposing factions shouting their wares like coster-mongers in a Victorian engraving. Afterwards will come the recriminations and the wrangling over the implications of the result.  In between there is nothing to say. The nation has heard the debate and goes to cast its vote.  No one wants to hear anything more from the politicians and for that reason nothing more is said.  What is the point if it will only irritate the voters?

With a referendum, voting day is especially quiet. There has been no canvass, so a number of the activities which we are used to seeing on election day become pointless.  You will look in vain for activists knocking on the doors of those supporters who have not yet been to the polls.  With a referendum nobody knows who their supporters are so you would not know which door to knock on. Nor is there any need to collect voting cards as electors come out of the poll booth.  In a general election it is customary to hand your card to the representative of the party which you support so that they will know you have voted and will not waste their time reminding you to do so later. No canvass though makes this pointless and if in some areas there are representatives of Remain and Leave standing in the street it will only be for show. They will have no more function than the sentries who pace to and fro in front of Buckingham Palace.

This absence of activity may be a relief in some ways but it is also something of an anti-climax. Standing at a voting station always makes a pleasant culmination to campaigning at a general election because convention has it that, the campaigning being over, the representatives of the different parties do not talk about politics. Instead there is a collegiate atmosphere and sometimes even an element of cooperation.

Many years ago I was standing outside a school in southern Islington. It was desperately cold and, the returning officer having ruled that we must stay outside the building, the only shelter was a sort of open porch. There were three of us there. I was representing the Conservatives and there were representatives of Labour and the Liberals (as they then were). I knew Pat, my Labour opposite number, fairly well.  He was from the extreme left of his party and claimed to be the most senior member of the militant tendency who had not been expelled from it. He was also amusing and good company and occasionally, after canvassing the same block for our different parties, we would go off to the pub for a beer.  Naturally we discussed our respective canvass returns and, oddly, we always found that the same people had agreed to vote for both of our parties, giving credence to the theory that there are those who always offer or refuse their support, regardless of who they are talking to.

Anyway, as I said, it was bitterly cold and so Pat and I came to deal. I would go off and get coffee and mars bars but, while I was away, he would wear a Tory rosette as well as a Labour one and would gather information about who had voted on behalf of both parties. Eager not to be left out of this somewhat unorthodox agreement, the Liberal man cut in by offering to get newspapers as well, if Pat would increase his count of rosettes from 2 to 3. It was an odd feeling, walking down the street, hearing a booming voice behind us saying “I welcome you to the poll on behalf of all three parties”.  The electors, who knew nothing about what had been agreed, must have been very surprised.

All would have gone well but for the fact that at that moment the sitting Labour MP turned up with his entourage to visit the polling station. He was horrified to see one of his most radical supporters wearing what looked like an off-colour set of traffic lights. “You’ll take those off at once” he exclaimed. In doing so he underestimated the robust quality of his own activists because, when I returned to the polling station, the MP had left and Pat, with the smile of a man who has enjoyed telling someone else where to get off, unpinned my rosette from his lapel and handed it back.

That is why, as I see the bland polling stations today, with the voting being carried out with all the decorum that a serious decision requires, I will feel a tinge of regret.  No doubt the order and seriousness is a credit to the British public, but for a jolly voting day give me a general election any time.

 

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Issue 59:2016 06 23:Anatomy of a debate (Don Urquhart)

23  June 2016

Anatomy of a Debate

A different way of keeping the score

by Don Urquhart

The worst are full of passionate intensity wrote Yeats just after the Great War.  The words came into my mind just before the great EU referendum debate.

On Tuesday 21st June 2016, David Dimbleby hosted a debate at Wembley.  On the Remain side were Ruth Davidson, Sadiq Khan and Frances O’Grady.  Speaking for Leave were Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom and Gisela Stuart.

Earlier in the day political journalist Tim Montgomerie had averred that Ruth Davidson’s job would be to savage Boris and, watching the debate, I had the impression that the Remain side were going at it the more aggressively.  So I watched it again, this time counting the number of times each speaker made ad hominem attacks on the other side or interrupted an opponent.

Here’s how it worked out.  The person who spoke most was Sadiq (14), followed by Gisela (12), Andrea (11), Frances (9) and Ruth (9) with Boris surprisingly speaking the least number of times (8).  So the Leavers addressed us 31 times and the Remainers 32.  So who was the most aggressive?  Here I noted each instance where lies or other failings were attributed to the other side or there was an interruption.

Ruth Davidson achieved a score of 37 with Sadiq just behind on 31.  Frances was third with 15.  Not surprisingly Boris was the most aggressive of the leavers on 11.  Andrea scored 7 while Gisela had only 3 naughty points.  The Remainers totalled 83 and the Leavers 21, which reinforced my original impression.  One day we might find out whether the Remainers had a consciously aggressive strategy.  One had the impression that Sadiq and Ruth’s more ranty passages were attracting crescendos of applause in a Nuremberg rally fashion.  The contrast with the quite civilised and calm debating style of the two Leaving Ladies was quite marked.  Boris seemed relatively subdued but attracted the biggest cheer of the night with his Independence Day climax.

No doubt spinners like Alastair Campbell or Lynton Crosby could be wise about the correct debating style to adopt in each situation.  I know what I like in my debaters but it is clearly different strokes for different folk.

 

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Issue 58: 2016 06 16:It’s the economy, stupid! (Frank O’Nomics)

16 June 2016

Brexit: It’s the economy, stupid!

An economic case for Remain

by Frank O’Nomics

Information on the potential costs or benefits of Brexit has hit overload and most people just seem to want to get beyond the 23rd June referendum.  There are so many different claims and assertions that we struggle to know what to believe.  It is not that we think people are lying necessarily, just that they are being selective, using data which supports their side of the debate.

In an effort to reach a conclusion ahead of the vote, I have tried to boil the issue down to one of economics. You may argue that Brexit is about many other things as well, with issues of sovereignty and immigration figuring large, but if by economics we really mean targeting the outcome that produces the best overall social welfare, with the narrowest variance across the UK population, then hopefully that will cover most of the areas people really care about.  Taking this approach it seems to me that we can come up with credible estimates for the short-term costs of Brexit, which are likely to be large and numerous, but it is much harder to calculate the extent of the benefits and just how quickly they will kick-in.  In other words we are being asked to accept a few years of severely reduced economic growth in return for a better long-term future whose timing and magnitude we have to take for granted.  I suspect that this is a bet that few will be prepared to take.

For many of us there is a great deal wrong with the European Union.  Having an effective common monetary policy is hard to rationalise without a common fiscal policy, and this points to increasing federalism over time.  Given that a common currency sits at the heart of this, and that we continue to opt out of the Euro, it seems hard for us to continue to be part of the EU, particularly if we cannot contemplate a loss of sovereignty.  However, running counter to all of this  are the historical economic benefits that we have received while the UK has been an  EU member.

Comparing UK GDP per capita with the average of Germany, France and Italy over time, shows that, while in the post-war period before our entry in 1973 the UK data sits well below that our of European neighbours, from the early 1980’s (excluding the problem years of 1990-1994) the UK has enjoyed a level of prosperity well above the average of the others.  In looking at the economy as a whole since the single market began in 1993,  OECD data shows UK GDP up 62% in real terms, compared with France, up 42%, Germany, up 31%, and Italy, up just 15%.  Outside the EU, Switzerland has grown by 48%.  Clearly some will argue that we could have done just as well, or even better, by negotiating trade agreements across the globe, but there seems little evidence to support this.  If then we take it as read that we have done reasonably well by being part of the EU, we should look closely at the consequences of leaving.

The effects of Brexit that we can rationally quantify are those which will develop over the next couple of years; some of them may be temporary: others are potentially long-lasting.  First comes the impact on sterling, which could depreciate by as much as 20% very quickly.  Secondly, and related to the decline in the currency, it is likely that short and long–term interest rates would rise; short-term rates would be impacted by the inflationary impact of a weaker currency (although initially they would perhaps be artificially restrained by the Bank of England on fears of an economic slowdown) and long-term rates by the increased yield that investors would demand for lending money to the UK government (due to the increased uncertainty). Thirdly, there are significant transition costs for both the manufacturing and services, and especially the financial services, sectors of our economy.

If we go the free trade route we open ourselves up to competition from imports from across the globe, while our exports would be potentially subject to tariffs, at least until trade agreements were made (and these could take a long time).  The financial sector, which is a big contributor to UK growth, could be a big loser if barriers are raised which encouraged a shift in financial transactions to the likes of Frankfurt and Paris.  This transition phase for trade and finance is very likely to result in an increase in unemployment, and all the social and economic costs which go with that.  In the longer-term, lower net migration may not help reduce unemployment but could instead create supply side problems by decreasing the size of the workforce.  Note that employers are already reporting a growing skills shortage.

What does all of this add up to?  The OECD sees a “large negative shock” from Brexit which could leave our GDP over 3% below what it would otherwise be by 2020, and over 5% lower by 2030 (note that the EU itself would take a hit of around 1% by 2020 if we left).  Such a fall in GDP would mean that either taxes would have to rise to cover the shortfall in government revenues, or spending would have to be cut – most probably both.  For those who worry about health, education, and even defence, the key to generating more cash for these areas is increased economic prosperity, and the immediate impact of Brexit would be quite the reverse.  A more moderate assessment comes from Open Europe, who estimate that the long-run negative impact of Brexit would be 0.5%-1.5% of GDP, but this assumes that a “reasonable trade agreement is struck between the UK and the EU”.  Such an agreement could take some time, as could any negotiations outside Europe to offset the costs of leaving.  The German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schauble, has said that a deal similar to Norway or Switzerland would be “unworkable” for the UK.

The positives of leaving are difficult to calculate and will have an indeterminate timing.

Many economists have, of course, produced data to demonstrate the benefits of Brexit, but few show any of these appearing in the first couple of years.  One of these few is Patrick Minford of the Cardiff Business School, who argues that the EU is a Customs Union that protects its manufactured goods and agriculture, keeping their prices above those in the rest of the world.  He suggests that this, together with the fact that we buy more from the rest of the EU than we sell to them, costs us about 4% of GDP.  This number can be increased when the costs of regulation are taken into account, but for us to instantly benefit from free trade and freedom from regulation would seem to be unlikely.  Much of the regulatory burden would remain and new trade agreements outside of the UK would involve a lot of time and uncertainty which, in a difficult economic environment, would be very hard to weather. The economists arguing for Brexit are somewhat isolated, with the OECD, IMF, UK Treasury, LSE, PwC, IFS, NIESR and others all producing compelling models which demonstrate the case for remain.

We are left then looking at a situation where we can reasonably estimate the prospects for UK growth if we remain in the EU, and come up with a range of estimates of the short (or possibly not so short) term costs of leaving.  What is very hard to ascertain is the long-term benefits of leaving and, returning to the concept of social welfare, the variance of outcomes is much wider.  With this in mind even those of us who are highly critical of the EU may take some persuading that now is the time to be contemplating an exit.

 

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Issue 58:2016 06 16:Wachet Auf!(Neil Tidmarsh)

16 June 2016

Wachet Auf!

International co-operation is the dream; supra-national coercion is the nightmare.

by Neil Tidmarsh

Tidmarsh P1000686a-429x600 Tidmarsh head shotI lived and worked in Spain for a year in the early 1980’s.  It was an exciting moment.  Franco had died only a few years before, and Spain was anxious to make up for lost time after forty years wasted under a fascist military dictatorship.  Everyone was determined to enjoy their new liberty. The whole nation was ready and eager to become a modern, free, European, democratic country at last.  They were justifiably proud of the amazing progress they had made in a few short years: their new constitution was up and running; the new parliament and the new king had seen off the coup d’etat attempt of Lieutenant Tejero and his handful of military dinosaurs; membership of the EC was on the way.  While I was there they successfully hosted the World Cup, showed maturity in their attitude towards the Falklands War, and elected the socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez.  It was like being present at the birth of a nation. The optimism was thrilling, exhilarating.

And now, a generation later?  Spain, like most of the Eurozone, is groaning under EU-imposed austerity measures.  Although these have produced some growth, they are socially painful; the unemployment rate is over 20%, and the youth unemployment rate is approaching an eye-watering 50%.  They are also politically toxic; Spain has been without a government for six months, since votes for new, minority, protest parties in last December’s general election resulted in political deadlock.  There will be fresh elections later this month, but it’s likely that these will simply produce another hung parliament; this paralysis of democracy in Spain may well continue for some time yet.  At the beginning of the year, the European Commission issued stern warnings against abandoning austerity measures when it looked as if a left-wing coalition was about to form a government; and last month the Commission threatened to impose financial sanctions on the country for exceeding recommended budget-deficit levels, threats which will probably materialise into actual fines after the forthcoming elections.

It’s all quite heart-breaking. The straight-jacket of the Euro gave Spain no room for manoeuvre when the credit crunch hit in 2008, leading to bank collapse, the bursting of the property balloon, recession and a sovereign debt crisis.  And it’s the same story all over the Eurozone – Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland (even France has the threat of EU-imposed austerity measures snapping at its heels – so far it has only just about managed to fend off those unforgiving teeth).  Eight years later the EU is still trying to find a way out of the mess.  And in the meantime, democracy is suffering: I’ve lost count of the number of referendum results that Brussels has ignored; a technocrat was imposed on Italy as an unelected head of state; protest votes against supra-national coercion are going to minority parties which make the forming of working majorities difficult; and, most disturbing of all, the resulting disillusionment is feeding all kinds of unsavoury extremist parties.

As June 23 approaches, I worry about many things.  I worry about the effect Brexit might have on the City of London, which has fed, clothed and sheltered me (and much of the rest of the country, indirectly) for the last few decades.  I worry about the effect it might have on the Union. I worry if British agriculture, the construction industry and the NHS will be able to cope without hard-working immigrants.  I worry about losing the “free movement of peoples”, the EU’s one beautiful idea.

But, even more than all these, I worry about the effect the EU has had, and is having, on Europe, our great continent, this magnificent collection of nations whose civilisation has shaped today’s world.  Am I the only one who wants to shout “Wake up, Europe! Sleepers, awake! Reveillez-vous! Despertarse! Wachet auf! You’re sleep-walking round and round in circles in a deep, dark pit of high unemployment, low growth, sovereign debt, austerity, the degradation of democracy, a plummeting share of global business and global influence.  Wake up and ask yourself “ What has happened? Where am I? How did I get here? How do I get out? ”

“Remain” argues that Britain should stay in the EU and carry on shouting “Wake up!” until our partners’ eyes open.  But we know that our voice is just one of many in Brussels, and have seen how reviled it is when it is raised; “difficult”, “frustrating”, “uncooperative” and “obstructive” are typical labels the UK has earned in Brussels in recent years.  David Cameron’s recent shout of “Wake up!” achieved little when he went in search of reforms a few months ago.  And back in 2008 he was more or less sent to Coventry when he reminded the other EU heads of state, when they were about to be stampeded into surrendering a slice of their nations’ sovereignty to the Central bank, that none of them was authorised to give away what belonged to their electorate (as I’ve said before, it would have been like a butler giving away his employer’s family silver).

Does the Continent want to wake up?  Perhaps it doesn’t.  Perhaps all this simply highlights an important cultural difference between Europe’s mainland and its off-shore island (yes, there are cultural differences, even though we are one civilisation).  The continent likes big ideas, prefers the theoretical approach; it has a tendency to take a beautiful idea like ‘liberté, fraternité, egalité’ or ‘property belongs to all’ or ‘a single currency’ or ‘ever closer union’, and to impose it on reality, top down, whether it’s practical or not, whether it’s necessary or not, and impose it with such rigidity, such inflexibility, that reality is made to fit whatever the cost.  Britain is wary of ideas, of abstract theories, of ‘isms’ and ‘ologies’.  We prefer a more practical, pragmatic and empirical approach, a more organic process, preferably from the bottom up.

Next week’s vote is essentially a choice between these two approaches. The one has served Europe badly in recent decades (and disastrously in recent centuries); the other has served Britain well for millennia. The choice is yours.

 

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Issue 58: 2016 06 16: Just Give Us The Facts (J.R.Thomas)

16 June 2016

Just Give Us The Facts

Muddled politics after a Leave vote

by J.R.Thomas

Rogue MalePolitical events develop their own mythology.  So, it seems, do referenda.  That, for the referendum on Scottish independence, was that the Remain (in the UK) voters were compelled to that position by fear.  Fear of what would happen if they opted for independence, that the Scottish economy would collapse and famine stalk the land, whilst jobs vanished south over the border. They might have been confirmed correct in their concerns had independence indeed been chosen, the oil price collapsing as it did within weeks of the referendum and destroying all the Scottish Nationalist computations of government spending, investment and growth.

But neither Scottish Remainers nor Leavers knew about that at the time; the Remain campaign (it is alleged in this theory) managed to inject fear into a vote already heavily influenced by emotion and sentiment, so that in the end the voters clung nervously to nurse, in fear of meeting something worse.  Naturally, when the European referendum came along, the Remain group hauled the box marked “Fear” out of the cellar, and proceeded to make the voter’s flesh creep, in the expectation that they could pull off the same trick twice.  They may yet do that, though the evidence is that the British public, as in many democracies in the West and in the Presidential contest in the USA, have turned on their mainstream politicians and now treat with contempt anything that comes from a conventional political mouth.  The more nurse tries to frighten the public, the more the public seems to make vulgar noises and rude signs.

The cry from the public now is “Give us the facts!”, “Tell us what will happen if we stay or if we go”  and “Treat us like adults”.  What we seem to want, in our material world, is to be assured that we will not get poorer if we Leave, or indeed, if we Remain.  But much of what we all would like to be told about our future prosperity is unknowable.  Who knows what the economy will be doing in fifteen years’ time?  Not the Treasury for sure – they are remarkably poor at forecasting what will be happening in six months’ time.  Which is not to blame them.  No expert knows, of course. The future is based on an infinitude of variables.  Or, as Harold MacMillan put it when asked what could upset his ministry: “Events, dear boy, events”.

It seems unlikely, though not impossible, that the EU will impose punitive tariffs on British exports if we leave.   Apart from anything else, we import more from them that we export to them – we are significant trading partners with each other – and, on the presumption that we would do unto the EU whatever it might do unto us, neither side would benefit but the EU would lose more.

Would the EU attempt to suffocate the UK’s largest earner of overseas remittances, the City of London?  The answer to that must surely be “yes”; it has long been an ambition of the Commission to have a centre of financial excellence within the Eurozone, and it has had several attempts at promoting Frankfurt as the rival to the City.  Each has failed, for several reasons, not the least being that there are advantages to the City in being seen as a world player with an independent currency. (Switzerland too has that advantage and might have become a more serious rival to London had it not been for its traditions of secrecy and its inward looking nature; and most of all because of its strict control of immigration.) It’s migrants that will be the City’s great defence to any attempt to steal its thunder – the greatest conglomeration of financial talent in the world is parked happily in London and it is talent that makes the markets work.  It seems unlikely that those employees would move with much enthusiasm to Frankfurt, but, if the capital barriers do go up, then some investors and financiers will need to be within the Eurozone, and if Britain began to erect tougher barriers to immigration, the City might be slowly smothered by loss of skill and enterprise.

One final economic point; markets do not like uncertainty – in capital freedoms, in regulation, in legislation.  This is being written on the Tuesday afternoon before this week’s Shaw Sheet edition; the FTSE indices have been dropping steadily over the last few days, directly inversely to the strengthening lead of Leave in the opinion polls. That is not so much a comment on long-term economic prospects – the markets at least know those are a known unknown – but it is a strong comment on the worries of uncertainty.

Voters can make their decision on whatever grounds they please; on the possibilities of decanting David Cameron from public office, if that be their will, in spite of the urging of Tom Watson that it is better to Remain and wait for another opportunity to pursue that ambition; or in the hope of stopping immigration, even if that is an unlikely consequence of the vote for a very long time at least. All those abstruse worries about sovereignty, control, nationhood, the emotional appeal of who we feel ourselves to be, that is what should determine how we vote on the 23rd.  But we can be sure of one thing; if we do vote Leave, what we then face is not the end of the debate, merely the beginning.

We will then enter a period of uncertainty, especially if the margin is narrow.  Indeed, we are likely in those circumstances to have to face another referendum before too long, to approve the proposed terms of our exit. That, if it happens, will be an interesting conundrum; the House of Commons is probably around two thirds Remainers, even allowing for some who currently are Remainers but are known or believed to have doubts.

Most of the cabinet and the Prime Minister are profoundly Remainers. Yet in these circumstances they will have the job of trying to negotiate a Leave package, almost certainly to be put back for approval to the British people. The wording of that question will be interesting – does a “No” vote mean “Negotiate something better”, or “If that’s the best you can do, let’s stay in” or “I voted Remain anyway”?  Even if David should move out of the back door of No 10, and another, say, B Johnson move in through the front, any new Prime Minister will still head a party that in parliament, though probably not in the constituencies, wants to Remain. It seems a trifle difficult to imagine how such conflicting interests can possibly be resolved, or what the incentives are for Remainers to negotiate something which is likely to secure Leave support.  “Uncertain” is a gentle way of expressing the characteristics of what is likely to be a prolonged period of turmoil.

A glance at nineteenth century history offers some useful parallels, as the clash between liberalism and conservatism convulsed the two main parties in the Commons, culminating with the reordering of the parties, as Irish Home Rule and Free Trade became the issues du jour.  The Tories and the Whig/Liberals went through several convulsions, splitting and triggering general elections on the issues.  Referenda then were not considered acceptable, and in any case politics were in some ways less complicated so elections could ratify particular courses of action.  Would the 2016 Conservatives split on how to handle a Leave vote, and trigger a general election?  A general election which would, if the opinion polls are reflecting the public mood correctly, give a majority to Labour, led by Mr Corbyn, albeit probably with the assistance of the Scots Nats.  Do the Conservatives care enough on this issue to pull the barn down on their heads?  It would not take many defectors (a majority of twelve, remember) to do this.  Maybe there indeed is still much to fear.

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Issue 57: 2016 06 09: Remain! (John Watson)

09 June 2016

Remain!

The muddle after Brexit.

By John Watson

Watson,-John_640c480 head shotPersonally I enjoy a little lowbrow family comedy and the excellent series “My Family”, starring Robert Lindsay and Zoe Wanamaker, is always good for a laugh.  A lot of the jokes, of course, are old ones and a recent episode centred on the contrast between the behaviour of the generations in relation to a teenage party. The teenagers, needless to say, behaved highly responsibly. The parents, of course, behaved like idiots.

It was while I was watching it that it occurred to me that it was not merely a comedy but also an allegory for the EU referendum debate. There, there are two groups of people: the politicians who are supposed to be wise and balanced and give a lead; and the public who are supposed to be more swayed by their emotions and in need of sensible guidance. As in the comedy, it has all turned topsy-turvy. The politicians get more abusive and less rational by the minute: meanwhile the public, in a serious-minded and perfectly civilised way, listen to the arguments and try to strike the right balance between the various risks.

Not all the politicians have behaved like idiots, of course. An honourable mention must go to Andrew Tyrie, Chairman of the Commons Liaison Committee, for his attempts to rein back some of the more extravagant mis-statements, but as the end of the campaign looms there is little prospect of the standard of debate rising.  So it seems likely to remain: public – rational and reflective; politicians – hysterical and decidedly over the top.

This curious inversion is something new. In the past, an elector would typically decide to support a particular party and then, not uncritically but most of the time, espouse the policies which the party leader followed. That left party machines and elected representatives in an intermediary position. It was they who carried the public’s trust and it was they who had to make responsible decisions on the public’s behalf. Now, however, it is different. Unable to get sensible honest answers from the party machines, the public has simply gone past them and is looking at the issues for itself. There are plenty of sources of information. The newspapers all have views, as do the bloggers (the views of the Shaw Sheet editors are split). Social media is packed with commentary and every organisation from the IMF to the WTO has come out with an opinion. So too have the leaders of other countries. Voters are now looking at myriad sources and, as they do so, what the various politicians think becomes ever more academic.

Why has this happened?  Perhaps the easy availability of online information made it inevitable that the deferential relationship between the public and the political leadership would begin to break down.  Perhaps the splits within the political parties have disrupted the relationship they previously enjoyed with their supporters.  However it be, the result is striking and will become more so if the decision is to leave. In that case the public will have comprehensively rejected the advice of almost all its political leaders.

It is against this background that you have to judge the suggestion that, following a Leave vote, the pro-EU majority in Parliament could assert themselves by forcing the country to stay with the market as members of the EEA. Even if that is practical internationally, it would sit oddly with a Leave decision as the price paid for membership would include free movement of people between the UK and the EU and that is precisely the issue fuelling the Brexit campaign.

The oddest thing about the proposal, however, is that the pro-EU MPs, majority though they be, should think that following a Leave vote they would have any sort of mandate to try to claw the position back. The country, for better or for worse, will have spoken and its leaders going forward will have to be people who understand and are ready to deliver the choice that it has made. That doesn’t mean that they need to be Brexit supporters but at least they should be comfortable working with the direction in which the referendum has taken Britain.

They will need to be strong, too. The excitement which will greet a vote to Leave will inevitably be followed by a period in which the public worries about whether it has got the decision right.  It is then that the public will look for confident leaders able to take realistic decisions, coldly and wisely, in very difficult circumstances. They will not include Mr Cameron, who will just have seen his huge political gamble misfire. I don’t think they will include Boris Johnson or Michael Gove either. As things get difficult, the public will be asking questions about whether they misled it.  That leaves Teresa May as a possibility and no doubt other will emerge as well.

The other novelty of a post Leave world is that what will then be the main  issue in the British politics, the rebalancing of the U.K.’s external relations, will be a cross party one. Up to now, the Labour Party has distanced its own pro EU campaign from that of the government by focusing on the way the EU achieves its social objectives. In a Brexit world there would be no room for face-saving niceties of this sort. The question will be one of survival, and those of similar minds in the two parties will end up working together, much as they did in the war.

No one can tell how this will pan out and I certainly do not propose to try. Clearly, however, a Brexited vote will mean a major political realignment and it will also have the effect that individual members of Parliament will have outgrown their mandates.  They will have been elected on the issues as they stood in 2015, not on the issues as they stand after the vote. That means that, after taking a few months to get our bearings, we must have a general election. Then at least members of Parliament will have the opportunity of explaining their views on the new relationships to the electors who can make a fresh choice on the basis of what they hear.

It is when you look at the confusion which would follow a Brexit decision that you realise what a very large risk it is to vote for Leave. If we go for Remain, of course, the risks are different. There is no dislocation of our economy but there is the danger of being dragged into a more and more oppressive European superstate.  That isn’t a particular pleasant prospect either but, as you look round Europe, the idea of the superstate seems to be becoming more and more restricted to the political elite.  Do we really think that it is viable in the face of challenges by the anti-Europeans on the far right and the far left?

The balance is difficult to strike, but I think that there is this to be said. The risks of remaining in are better understood that the risks of leaving, and there is nothing as destructive in politics as uncertainty.  If we remain in Europe we will be able to fight the things which we dislike and to form alliances with those other members of the EU who dislike them equally.

In this week’s paper there were two comments on the referendum from overseas which are particularly interesting. One was from Angela Merkel stressing the importance she placed on working with the UK.  That is what you might have expected. The second, however, was in the French left-wing journal “Libération”, whose Brussels correspondent, Jean Quatremer, wrote:

“if you stay, you will ruin our lives like never before. David Cameron will be the only European leader capable of winning a referendum on Europe and will therefore gain a central role in the EU game.”

He also said that British leaders would “negotiate concession upon concession in order to completely bury the federal dream of the fathers of Europe.”

I have no idea whether Mr Quatremer was being ironic or not.  Either way, though, he makes it sound worth a go!

 

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Issue 56:2-016 06 02: Europe – A Synergy-Free Zone (Neil Tidmarsh)

02 June 2016

Europe – A Synergy-Free Zone

No cheer for Europe in the 21st Century.

by Neil Tidmarsh

Tidmarsh P1000686a-429x600 Tidmarsh head shotThe continent of Europe is not a very happy place at the moment.

In Brussels last week, there were violent demonstrations against austerity measures and labour reforms.  Eight protesters and two policemen were injured (one of them was the city’s chief of police, who was taken to hospital with head injuries from a thrown rock).  This week a general strike by public sector workers threatens to bring Belgium to a halt.

In France, the country is already grinding to a halt. For the last few weeks, police have fought running battles with violent demonstrators through the streets of Paris.  Striking lorry drivers and railway workers have been joined by workers at oil refineries and nuclear power stations, air-traffic controllers, refuse collectors, ambulance crews, cash transporters, train drivers, metro drivers, bus drivers and dockers.  Strikers are blockading petrol depots, ports, bridges and motorways.  Unions organising the strikes and demonstrations are threatening to paralyse the Euro 2016 soccer championship tournament this month.

And of course demonstrations continue in Greece – from the mass of respectable citizens protesting outside the government buildings in Syntagma Square to the gangs of masked anarchists engaged in running battles with the police through the streets of Athens.

There is political turmoil on the streets – and there is political turmoil in the ballot box as well.  The stench of burning tyres and tear gas is nothing to the stench coming from some voting booths recently.  Local elections in France earlier this year showed Marine le Pen’s National Front to be more or less neck and neck with the two mainstream parties.  In Austria, the two mainstream parties were knocked out in the first round of presidential elections; the second and final round was almost won by Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom party – he lost to Alexander van der Bullen (a Green party member standing as an independent candidate) by only 49.7% to 50.3% of the vote.  In Poland’s general elections last October, the centrist government was defeated by Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his right wing nationalist Law and Justice Party (the new government promptly attempted to take control of the courts and the state media, and the EU mobilised its previously-unused “rule of law mechanism” to monitor Poland’s constitution and threaten sanctions.) In Germany, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) made dramatic gains in regional elections in March.

Spain’s two mainstream parties also did badly in the general elections last December; neither of them has been able to form any kind of coalition, so the country has been without a government for six months.  There will be fresh elections this month, but there is every chance that the deadlock will be repeated.  General elections in Portugal last year were nearly as inconclusive – a conservative minority government emerged, but lasted only eleven days before being replaced by a Socialist-led leftist coalition.  And in the Netherlands, two months ago, voters in a referendum rejected the EU’s trade and security treaty with Ukraine, a nominal issue – it was really a vote against the EU.

There is economic turmoil, too.  Unemployment is high – painfully so in Italy (11.4%), Portugal (12.2%), Poland (10%) and France (10.3%), agonisingly so in Spain (21.4%) and Greece (24.4%).  There has been no economic growth in Europe for ten years. Many countries have seen their economies shrink.  To be fair, figures this week suggested that France is at last coming out of its long period of stagnation – its GDP grew by 0.6% (not much, but it’s something) in the first quarter of this year.  Ironically, this is almost certain to be wiped out by the recent protests and demonstrations, which may well return the country to zero growth (or even recession) by the time they’re done.  Even Germany is plagued by deflation, in spite of all the economic stimulus from the European Central Bank.  And Europe’s share of the world’s business has fallen from 34% in 1980 to 24% last year; in other words it has lost almost a third of its trade with the rest of the world.

What is happening?  What has gone wrong?  Europe should be leading the world economically, politically and culturally.  It should be a global powerhouse, intellectually and materially rich, an innovative, enterprising, dynamic community of like-minded, culturally-related nations, miles ahead of the competition in the twenty-first century.  Each and every one of the European nations has left its mark on world history, for good or ill, determining the shape of today’s globe. Bringing them all together should have resulted in an explosive and amazing surge of synergy – the whole being greater than the sum of its parts – to rival or even outdo that caused by the different nations of the British Isles coming together as Great Britain in the dawn of the modern age, or the independent American colonies coming together as the United States.

But that hasn’t happened. Instead we have economic stagnation, sovereign debt, unemployment, austerity; violent demonstrations on the streets; protest votes for extremist political parties which threaten the very existence of democracy, or protest votes for anti-mainstream parties which unintentionally render democracy impotent.  And declining political influence on the world stage.

Why? What has happened to Europe?  Who or what is responsible for its paralysis?

These are questions I will leave you to ponder as we all decide how we are going to vote in three week’s time.

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Issue 55: 2016 05 26: Juncker’s intervention

26 May 2016

Juncker’s intervention

How the European Commission could swing the vote

by John Watson

Watson,-John_640c480 head shotThe successive initiatives rolled out by Remain, including salvos from the Treasury, from Obama, from US and NATO defence chiefs, from Corbyn and from every Tom, Dick and Harry who is anxious to be seen as part of the victory team if we reject Brexit, contain echoes of the rolling barrages which were once employed on the Western Front. The latest polls indicate that they may be a little more effective but the risks are certainly similar. Judge it wrong and you blow up your own side. Mr Obama’s intervention is an example of that. Be too cautious and your remarks will pass unnoticed. Running “project fear” is not as easy as you might think.

The interesting question, though is what is coming next. Leave seems to be storing its ammunition at the moment but, shortly before the poll, we can expect it to reveal a whole lot of grisly EU scandals. Some of those will focus on the budget. The Commission has put that back until after the referendum but it is inconceivable that, if, as rumoured, it shows large increases, the figures will not be leaked to Brexit campaigners. It only takes one EU insider to believe that the public should be provided with proper information. Then there is said to be a German paper suggesting a pooling of military resources. That is unlikely to play well with a public who feel that the EU cannot be trusted. No doubt there are other things as well. Remain will have a busy time countering the fallout from all this but, at the same time, it would be surprising if they didn’t themselves have some big last minute move up their sleeves and if that big move did not involve an intervention by the EU itself.

Naturally we look at the referendum in UK terms. Do we do better in or out? Does being in threaten our sovereignty? Does being out undermine our prosperity? The campaign here centres on those issues, but viewed from the Offices of the Commission in Brussels the perspective must be rather different. They do not give a fig for our sovereignty, and how we would fare following Brexit must be pretty low on the agenda too. They have other concerns. Would Brexit trigger a run of countries leaving the EU? Would the Netherlands follow? What about France? The French seem to have gone off the European project since Germany took over as the main driver.

The gradual strengthening of separatist parties throughout Europe is an ominous sign and Mr Juncker, a strong believer in further integration, would not want to go down in history as the man on whose watch the EU broke up. Inevitably, then, the European Commission must been wondering what it can do to assist Remain, hoping that if we vote to stay the separatist movement will be nipped in the bud.

When pushed, the EU gives things away to fix problems. The negotiations with Turkey to secure a deal over refugees are an example of this. The proposals may have run into the sand but it remains the case that the EU was prepared to offer increased access to the Schengen area and the carrot of possible EU membership to a country most of whose land mass lies outside Europe. What might it offer to keep Britain if the polls show the referendum result to be finely balanced?

There are some areas where little can be done. Freedom of movement is too fundamental a part of the EU to play with and, with Britain moving from in work benefits to a minimum wage, not much can be achieved through skewing the social security system. It is hard to see, then, that the EU can offer anything significant on the migration front. On the question of sovereignty, though, it is different. Much of the unpopularity of the EU arises because of the perception that it interferes too much in the domestic affairs of member states. Subsidiarity, the principle of making decisions at the lowest practical level, has never really been applied. Lip service has been paid to it since Maastricht, when the EU accepted it as a principle, but there has been little follow through in practice. Instead the regulators, aided and abetted by centralising decisions of the European Court of Justice, have steadily tightened Brussels’s grip. Mr Juncker has already indicated that interference in member states’ affairs has gone too far and a serious undertaking to clip it back could be very helpful to Remain.

What else has Mr Juncker got under his Christmas tree? Completing the market in financial services, perhaps, or a root and branch reform of the Common agricultural policy. No doubt there are other baubles too, although how convincing they would look in the face of hostile campaigning is perhaps doubtful. After all, we have heard talk about deregulation and better budgeting before and not much has happened. Who knows whether any reforms would really be delivered once the pressure of the referendum had gone away?

There is, however, one thing that Mr Juncker could do to help the Remain camp. In fact he should do it anyway as a simple matter of honesty. It is really not clever for the Commission to postpone publication of its budget until after the poll. The proposals will inevitably leak and will enable the Leave camp to add allegations of fraud to allegations of extravagance. Probably the postponement is just a matter of bureaucratic convenience but, if so, it is an administrative decision which could result in the breakup of the EU. If he has a jot of common sense Mr Juncker should see that it is reversed immediately.

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Issue 55: 2016 05 26:Universities abusing their position (Lynda Goetz)

26 May 2016

Universities abusing their positions

Concern about loss of EU funding behind encouragement to Remain

by Lynda Goetz

Lynda Goetz head shotExeter is my alma mater.  I, like many other alumni, donate the odd sum to keep the old place going; to help it keep up with its national and international rivals; to provide bursaries and so on and so forth.  Exeter, along with several other universities, in contravention of rules advising institutions to remain neutral ahead of the referendum, has recently, it seems, been encouraging students to recognise the ‘benefits’ of EU membership.  The vice-chancellor, Sir Steve Smith, has apparently sent an email to all undergraduates and Professor Melissa Percival, an associate Professor in French, Art History and Visual Culture, has also emailed students to tell them Brexit would ‘threaten the future of British students abroad’.

At Oxford, students allege that a discussion hosted by the principal of Trinity College, Sir Ivor Roberts, was used to encourage them to vote Remain.  Although a spokesman said the university was ‘encouraging open debate on the issue’, they then went on to say that: “The University’s Council wishes to affirm the value that the UK’s membership of the EU provides to the university”.  In Plymouth an event hosted by the politics professor, David Brockington, involving only three pro-EU speakers, was allowed to take place after students campaigning for Vote Leave were told they could not hold events as the university would only host a ‘fair and unbiased event’.

What on earth is going on here?  Surely universities should be places where open debate on this important issue is encouraged?  Students should be questioning the dubious statistics offered by both sides and arguing the merits of leaving versus staying.  Members of the public should be being invited to high level debates with top quality speakers who are masters of their subjects.  We should be able to hear the historical perspective, the economic perspective, the political perspective and the moral and philosophical perspective.  Universities should be, for those of us not in the capital, the places where we can go to listen to and participate in stimulating and interesting debates, discussions and question-and-answer sessions.  Why are the universities peddling the snake oil of Remain and playing a ‘nanny knows best’ (or should I say ‘teacher knows best’) game?

The answer of course is simple and boils down, as do so many things, to self-interest and money.  Exeter University, Oxford University and Plymouth University are all part of the Erasmus Plus Programme, developed from Erasmus, the EU funded initiative set up originally in 1987 as the student exchange programme. Named after the Dutch philosopher it is also an ackronym for EuRopean Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students.  Erasmus Plus was started in January 2014 and is the €14.7 billion catch-all initiative which incorporates all the EU’s current schemes for education, training, youth and sport.  Over the past twenty years over two million students have benefited from Erasmus grants with some 4,000 institutions over 33 countries participating (the Erasmus Mundus scheme involves exchanges between Europe and Developing Countries).

However, that is not the whole story.  Universities also receive EU funding worth €70.2bn for research and innovation under the Horizon 2020 programme.  EU funding provides an additional 15% on top of the UK Government’s own research funding, clearly amounts that our higher educational establishments are not keen to lose.  Funds requested by UK higher education institutions from the EU rose from €508.6m in 2008 to €856.3m in 2012 according to a Guardian online blog by Joanna Newman, Director of the UK Higher Educational Unit, in November 2013.

I do not know what Sir Steve Smith’s email to his current students actually said.  What is clear is that these figures should be broadcast to all, not just to current attendees at particular institutes of higher education.  However, the public should also be apprised of the fact that, prior to the Erasmus project, cultural exchanges did exist – they were just perhaps more limited.  Those of us studying foreign languages could and indeed did go abroad, often as lowly ‘assistants’ in high schools for a year rather than being able to study at a foreign university with the tuition fees waived or receiving an additional living allowance.  We did gain the experience of living and working in a different county and culture and increased our ‘intercultural awareness and adaptability’, the soft skills now vaunted as an integral part of Erasmus.  Although Switzerland was suspended from the programme in 2014 following its popular vote to limit access for EU immigrants, and there is every reason to believe the same would happen to the UK were we to leave the EU, this does not rule out re-negotiated arrangements.  The UK does not, or did not, take as much advantage of the programme as other nations, coming in at only sixth in terms of total students participating in 2013. It is also noteworthy that the UK was one of the least enthusiastic of participating nations originally – having its own exchange arrangements in place already.

Of course, Sir Steve Smith, Sir Ivor Roberts and Joanna Newman all consider the EU as crucial to ‘the fortunes of our higher educational sector’.  This is because they are all part of that professional elite, which Steve Hilton*among others has identified as benefiting the most from our participation in the EU experiment.

Desiderius Erasmus, was known as an opponent of dogmatism.  He lived and worked in many parts of Europe to expand his knowledge and gain new insights.  Perhaps it is time that both our educationalists and our politicians stopped Dishing Out Gobbledygook and Started Debating the Issues which are Neglected and Need Evidence and Reasoning so that we could all be in a position to make a rational decision on June 23rd free of this mess of self-interest and dogma which is being foisted on us by those in power.

*former director of strategy for David Cameron who this week added his voice to the Brexit camp

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Issue 54: 2016 05 19: The Non-Existent Carrot (Neil Tidmarsh)

19 May 2016

The Non-Existent Carrot

What TTIP can tell us about the EU’s corrosive affect on Europe.

by Neil Tidmarsh

Tidmarsh P1000686a-429x600 Tidmarsh head shotLast week, Greenpeace in the Netherlands leaked documents about the talks between the teams from the USA and the EU trying to negotiate a free-trade deal – a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).  The leak provoked a media storm across the continent.

Most of the storm was a reaction against the secrecy in which the talks are being held.  Various newspapers complained that Europe’s citizens are being kept in the dark while big multi-nationals are being consulted at every step.  While it’s difficult to see how such tricky and delicate negotiations could be conducted out in the open without giving away tactical advantages to the other side (it’s asking the players in this high-stakes poker game to show their cards to all and sundry), nevertheless the reaction is an interesting reflection of Europe’s hatred and fear of the EU’s lack of transparency and democratic accountability, and the way such failings will inevitably breed suspicion and mistrust.

Even more interesting, and of greater concern, is the intense and widespread opposition to TTIP across Europe which this media storm was riding.  In Germany, support for it has slumped from 55% two years ago to just 17% today.  This week Francois Hollande said that France wouldn’t back TTIP as it stands.  And the leak, by showing each side’s negotiating positions, must have been an attempt to sabotage the deal.  Why this hostility?  Isn’t a free trade agreement with the USA exactly what an outward-looking and enterprising Europe of the 21st century wants?

No. Because the Europe of the 21st century isn’t outward-looking and enterprising.  Europe under the EU is inward-looking and protectionist.  The EU is a customs union – it’s designed to enable the member states to trade freely with each other within the union, but protects them from competition by making it difficult for others to trade into the union from outside (and, by extension, making it difficult for members to trade out of the union with non-members).  Europe under the EU is frightened of the outside world, of globalisation, of free trade, of the giant on the other side of the Atlantic.  No wonder the TTIP leaks provoked fearful warnings about US business, US technology, US government, about the threats they pose rather than the opportunities; the dangers rather than the benefits.

Of equal interest and concern is the leaden pace of these negotiations.  They’ve been going on for three years now, but very little progress has been made in all that time.  Three years!  How long will it take to hammer out the whole treaty?  Years and years!  And then it will have to be ratified by every one of the 28 parliaments of the 28 member states.  How long will that take?  Will it ever actually happen?  Commentators are beginning to say that the likelihood of it ever being completed is very slim.

And this – the TTIP – is the carrot President Obama dangled under our noses after waving the “back of the queue” big stick at us.  A carrot which doesn’t yet exist and which may never exist.  A carrot which the UK may well be able to grow faster on its own if it votes itself out of the communal vegetable patch.  After all, the USA negotiated a free trade deal with South Korea in just one year, with Australia in less than a year, with Israel in one year, with Singapore in two years…

TTIP  shows up the EU for what it really is – inward-looking, self-defeatingly defensive, slow-moving and inefficient.  It is so ponderous and sclerotic that it is in danger of seizing up altogether.  The signs of impending inertia and paralysis aren’t hard to find.  The damage that these short-comings are inflicting on Europe isn’t hard to find, either.  Last week, the Greek finance minister wrote to the other eurozone finance ministers warning them that Greece was in danger of becoming “a failed state”.  This week, it was reported that the eurozone has only just returned to pre-credit crunch levels of GDP – that’s ten years lost, and the damage is still there in the shape of high unemployment (over 20% in Greece and Spain, over 10% in France, Italy, Portugal) and political turmoil (anti-austerity votes in Spain, Portugal and Ireland have resulted in no government at all, and anti-EU votes have seen a disturbing rise in extremist parties across the continent).  The time and energy expended by the EU looking inwards to solve its own internal and largely self-created problems (the sovereign debt crises of its southern members, the collapse of Schengen, etc) have been time and energy wasted, time and energy which should have been invested in an outward-looking engagement with the wider world.

Of most interest and concern, however, is the way in which the EU’s shortcomings – its stubborn and introverted resistance to change and necessary reform – are beginning to filter down through Europe to the level of individual member states and citizens.  France’s woes are a good example of this. This resilient and dynamic nation amazed and impressed the world in the 1870’s by taking only a year or two to pay back the war indemnities imposed on it by Germany after its defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, crushing indemnities which the world thought the war-damaged country wouldn’t be able to pay back for decades, centuries even, if at all.  But today this country is a microcosm of the EU’s failings. Adam Sage, the Paris correspondent of The Times, wrote this week about Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedish soccer star of Paris Saint-Germain, describing him as “a symbol of the thrusting, self-confident, international society that France cannot quite bring itself to become”.  Mr Sage says the modernisation of this French soccer team was Nicolas Sarkozy’s one and only success in his attempt to modernise the nation; all his other attempts “to turn France into a hard-working and outward-looking nation” failed.

Sarkozy’s successor President Hollande has also failed.  His initial policies of high-spending and high taxation only compounded his country’s problems; they combined with its restrictive labour laws to stagnate the economy.  Even a government minister admitted that the country was more or less bankrupt. Unemployment rose even further, dynamic and enterprising Frenchmen fled the country to set up businesses in the UK, and the ratio of public spending to GDP rose to its current level of 57%, the highest of any major economy.  M. Hollande has recently changed tack and tried (rather feebly) to liberalise the economy and relax its restrictive labour regulations; but he has found that change is well-nigh impossible.  Political and popular resistance has been overwhelming.  Last week he had to use a presidential veto to force through even a heavily watered-down version of his reforms. The man behind Hollande’s new-found sense of reality is economy minister Emmanuel Macron, who has just launched a new centrist political movement “En Marche” which calls for change and reform; it’s significant that his first rally took place last week not in France but among the ex-pat French business community here in London.  But his mission is probably doomed, according to Adam Sage; “If Macron becomes president” he writes, “I suspect that, like his predecessors, he would cave in to the conservatives who sweep all before them in France.”

That’s the main point; the whole of Europe, under the EU, has become conservative (with a small ‘c’) and reactionary.  Change and reform have become almost impossible; inertia and stagnation have become the order of the day.  Even the protest movements sweeping the continent are reactionary and backward-looking, not reformist and revolutionary.  The French students occupying public spaces around the clock in their “nuit debout” demonstrations, the masked protestors throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at police in Athens, the tens of thousands peacefully protesting in Syntagma Square, the new left-wing party Podemos in Spain, the extreme right-wing followers of le Pen in France and the Freedom Party in Austria – they are all demonstrating against change and reform; they all want things to stay the same, indeed to go backwards, to return to that innocent time when we could enjoy spending more than we earned, before reality proved that having your cake and eating it is unsustainable.

These are not signs of an enterprising, energetic, resilient, vigorous and dynamic community.  On the contrary. Europe has lost its vitality, its revolutionary spark, its ability to stay on its toes and revive and reinvent itself with new ideas and activities.  The EU is sapping the continent’s unique world-leading energies, suffocating its native ingenuity, reducing it to inertia, timidity, waste and inefficiency.

Of course Britain is a European nation and must go forward in partnership with its European neighbours, co-operating with them over trade, security, justice, education and all the other concerns we all share.  But the EU is not the system for that co-operation.  It is too wasteful, ponderous, bureaucratic, rigid and top-heavy, and insufficiently democratic and transparent.  Britain is saying to its neighbours that we should all fly off into the future together, but the plane built for that flight has been badly designed, indeed is dangerous.  We’re not alone in that opinion.  We’ve been suggesting for some time that we should all take the opportunity now to rebuild it before it’s too late.  If that opportunity hasn’t been taken, then we cannot be blamed for refusing to embark on that reckless flight and for attempting to find our own way into the future instead.  Onwards and outwards to engage with a wider world.  And even then, there is no reason why we shouldn’t continue to try to co-operate with our neighbours over all those concerns that we share with them.

This week there were gloomy reports suggesting that Britain is facing a recession whether we stay in the EU or choose to leave it.  The question now seems to be whether our best chance of finding the shortest route through that approaching storm is within a restrictive, inflexible, sluggish, blinkered system, or on an independent, efficient, fast-moving, adaptable, dynamic and outward-looking platform of self-sufficiency.

As for that, do you remember that recession in the early 1990’s, when we staggered along within the exchange-rate mechanism, our heads barely above water?  Then we were chucked out of the mechanism. Was it a disaster? No. Quite the opposite. All of a sudden we found ourselves with room to manoeuvre on our own and were soon out of recession. We watched the waters recede and the sun come out, and shook our heads and exclaimed “Thank goodness we’ve woken up from that nightmare!”

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