Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Why we should oppose TTIP and leave the EU

Leftists are finally coming out of the woodwork to declare their euroscepticism. This in my eyes weakens the case for leaving the EU. When you have the RMT, Owen Jones and Ukip on your side it looks pretty grim. The leftist arguments are starting to merge with those of Ukip - not least in their opposition to TTIP.

As we have noted, opposition to the EU over Greece is wholly irrational, especially from the right - for whom it is also wholly inconsistent, but TTIP is something they both agree on. The chief complaint being Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). But you can see why corporates would lobby hard for it. COSCO was heavily invested in the bidding process for Greek shipping ports and then on day one of Syriza's rule, privatisation of ports was taken off the table. Democracy is a volatile thing. Why a nation should not be held accountable for ripping up contracts I don't know.

It is said that the nature of ISDS courts and their secret nature would lead to corporate gouging of the taxpayer, which is a real concern - but what is interesting is that the left placed their insistence on it not applying to healthcare when it is a much more serious concern for infrastructure and defence. But such intellectually inconsistency is only to be expected from the left and Ukip.

That is not to say it is a not a genuine concern. Just because the left are anti-trade and broadly protectionist does not mean the right should be dogmatically in favour of TTIP. Anti-corporatism, or crony capitalism, is a cornerstone of libertarianism. It is a matter of fact that globalisation is happening, it brings enormous benefits to us and the emerging markets of the world and makes us all wealthier. A trade agreement between the EU and the US is going to happen in one shape or another and most of us will be better off for it.

The problem is that it lacks transparency and accountability. It isn't democratic. People we didn't elect will be making agreements that won't be challenged by the European Parliament, not least because MEP's are not intellectually equipped to even approach it. Especially not the fringe lunatics like Ukip. It's bad for democracy here at home too. In effect we're seeing the death of domestic politics as it has effectively outsourced most of the politics of substance. It's why we have government ministers debating whether or not teachers should have the powers to confiscate unhealthy snacks from children's lunchboxes. It's displacement activity.

These agreements are happening almost completely without national scrutiny and no right of independent veto. As much as this can mean more regulation (which is not always a bad thing) it mainly means regulatory convergence, which often means compromise - which too often results in a lowering of standards or a reluctance to regulate at all in the knowledge an agreement will probably fail.

What we need is our own voice at the top table table to ensure that we get the very best from such global agreements and that we can veto deals that harm our own standards. More than this, I want to see parliament re-energised and focussed on the stuff of consequence. More than this, while we expect TTIP will eventually get where it's going, a lot will have been removed from it. It will not resemble the original proposal in scope and depth. And that's actually a pity.

The problem with the EU is it's insistence on bloc trade deals applying to almost everything whereas Mexico has seen much faster growth in the automotive sector by a process of unbundling - ie industry and sector specific trade agreements which happen bilaterally and with fewer compromises. That is the future of global trade.

Opponents of TTIP oppose it from an anti-globalisation perspective - fearing a gradual global homogenisation and an erosion of democracy. The former complaint is pointless. Technology and progress demands globalisation. It is happening and it is a force of nature equal to gravity. So the question for my generation and the next is how we harness that force without sacrificing democracy.

There does need to be an ISDS mechanism. There is no good reason why any sector should be exempt from it either. Nor is it unreasonable for agreements to have conditions that demand structural and economic reforms as we have seen in Greece. But the EU is not the vehicle best equipped to manage this process. It needs to be more consultative and cannot be as the EU is where entire nations are summarily overruled - particularly in our case where we have nations that don't even have a car industry blocking trade deals that we would benefit from enormously.

The fact is that unbundled trade agreements are much faster to achieve, and more likely to succeed. As it stands TTIP has all but stalled, taking us back to 1992. Such agreements can take decades whereas a simple agreement on global standards for painkillers or wheelnuts is far more achievable - and it means areas where we have particular standards and concerns cannot be overlooked for the sake of expediency.

The world is developing in a different way to how the architects of the EU envisaged. Rather than large blocs forming sweeping agreements we're looking at inter-governmentalism and sector specific global trade associations. The model is incremental and tailored according to the development status of the participants. This is alien to the EU.

This is why there is an apparent intellectual inconsistency on this blog. I have welcomed Greek port privatisation on the behest of the EU but at the same time oppose mandatory land reforms and wholesale privatisation in Ukraine. Greece is developed enough and has had single market access long enough to (notionally) be able to carry off such reforms. It just doesn't want to despite having agreed to it. Ukraine and Poland however have some considerable distance to travel become they are economically and culturally able to full converge with the mainstream single market. A one size fits all approach, imposed all at once is simply not a good idea. Not in the region and not globally.

The removal of border tariffs and complaining about African protectionism may be free trade in principle, but it goes against the principles of international development. In order for there to be free trade there needs to be an equilibrium between trading systems - trading on like for like terms. Dismantling protectionist development mechanisms to pursue a dogmatic free trade agenda has been a disaster for Kenya, is damaging to Poland and may be catastrophic for Ukraine.

Outside the EU, we would have a good deal more power to put the breaks on the EU by vetoing proposals at the top table to prevent the free trade wrecking ball undoing efforts to nurture open up new markets.

It has been proposed this week that Britain should rejoin Efta, which is indeed part of the interim solution in that Britain would be a leading voice in Efta and a necessary counterweight to the EU at the global level. That is presently more influence than we have a subdued EU member. What we can then do is overtake the EU in securing unbundled agreements with the USA (and beyond) and achieve more than we could waiting decades for whatever compromise the EU can cook up.

TTIP represents the thinking of the last century in a world that is so much more dynamic. We are and always have been a global leader in setting standards and anything that reduces those standards is an unwelcome development, and anything that subordinates our parliament to the level of a local council is insufficient. Our own MPs need to be fully engaged in matters of trade and development but instead, because it's an exclusive competence of the EU, it's something we barely even discuss anymore. It's why the level of debate about trade in the UK is so lamentably shallow.

We can't stop globalisation, we can't have global trade without some kind of dispute settlement mechanism and we can't always expect there won't be losers as well as winners in any final agreements - but a system that progresses without consultation or consent is one that cannot survive. The future is a world of nations speaking as equals with fully engaged legislatures, not as subordinates of unaccountable blocs who outsource their lawmaking.

The case must be made for an assertive Britain leading the way for globalisation and making it work while keeping our democracy. The shallow and timid worldview of Ukip is not the solution, nor is the paranoid protectionism of the left, but the imperialism of the EU is obsolete, hubristic, anti-democratic, slow and in some cases dangerous. That is message the No-ists need to promote, otherwise we're stuck for another generation in a decaying and stagnant bloc with delusions of statehood. I'm not certain we can survive that.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Call it what you like, but it ain't democracy

The EU is not a democracy. The true definition of a democracy is that the power resides with the people. Not by any measure can this be said of the EU. For starters, nobody in the Commission was elected, MEP's have no right of proposal, and if all our MEP's voted together, they could still not avoid being steamrollered by the EU. That's not simply outvoted - that's systemically outnumbered. 1.2 MEP's per million people is hardly representation either. Some argue that the council of ministers is made up of elected people, but that's neither here nor there. In effect it is a government the people cannot remove. At best we can have a partial electorally mandated cabinet reshuffle.

But it's about more than just the structures and the processes. They could tweak it here and there but it would still not change the nature of what the EU is. The EU is an artificial construct in every way. In terms of a European demos (a people), there is no such thing. Hardly anyone can name political grouping in the European parliament and in most instances, unless there's a juicy drama like the Greek crisis, it is often second rate news or treated as foreign news. To all intents and purposes the EU is a government yet it is not reported as such. Pan-European politics doesn't exist.

There is no single common European identity, history or language either. The European demos is a construct that simply doesn't exist in the same way it does for a nation like the UK. We have an island story, a shared history, a common language, a national character and a shared identity. That's a demos. Whatever concoction the EU has fabricated is less a demos as a political partition.

You can't simply print some bank notes, create a flag and sing an anthem to create a demos. It's been tried before but it doesn't work. There is no EU demos on which to base a political union. It exists only in the imagination of a small minority of EU federalists. Even European elections are couched in terms of domestic parties - and serve mainly as an opinion poll on the national government and the EU as a whole. Hardly surprising then that the public in the main would return UKIP MEPs. The EU lacks legitimacy, the public knows it and the Euro votes are an opportunity to say so. They know that power without a demos is simply tyranny and a demos without power is not democracy.

Moreover, the EU has only ever come this far by lying to its peoples about what it really is. Even today the arguments against Brexit revolve around the three million jobs that supposedly depend on the EU. Course, as we know, the EU is not the single market - but rather than telling an outright lie, it perists in massaging public ignorance about the nature EU - which is effectively the same thing. The EU is happy to remain an obscure and fringe concern to national politics. If the public knew what you and I know, the No camp would be looking at an easy win.

But it's actually not good enough to complain that the EU is not a democracy. The notion that we should "reclaim parliamentary sovereignty" overlooks that it was parliament who did this to us in the first place. Maastricht ratification on occured on the back of threats, three-line whips and brinkmanship, in a parliament of politicans whose own mandates are far less that 30%. Not forgetting, without separation of powers, our entire parliamentary system is designed to secure the obedience of MPs. Why else would we have so may ministerial posts? 119 since you ask.

Even the Lisbon treaty was never put before the people - This the treaty that effectively abolished the entity we voted to join to establish something entirely different. This when 64% of people wanted a referendum on it and well over 50% would have voted to leave altogether. The treaty never went to a referendum and was instead carried by a large parliamentary majority. If that's what representative democracy looks like, I'd hate to see what it looks like when it's unrepresentetive. 

The purpose of a referendum is to secure legitimacy for decisions where Parliament alone can not secure that legitimacy. It can't in these such instances. With only small mandates, themselves in hock to an SW1 bubble mentality, MPs cannot be trusted with such extraordinary decisions.

But here we are, in an undemocratic political union, sold to us on a lie, rammed through with neither consultation or consent - at the fag end of a fading labour government. This is why this blog has always maintained that the UK is not a democracy either. Commentators confuse process and ritual and voting traditions with democracy. By definition democracy means that the people hold power, yet we rarely see any instance where the people wield power. 

Given how few powers councillors have and how restrained their decisons are by Whitehall and Brussels, it would be fair to say there is no actual democracy anywhere in the system. We have a benign managerialist dictatorship - and our occasional elections are little more than opinion polls. A change of guard seldom produces meaningful change. The charge that "they're all the same" isn't unjustified. They're not all the same, but the way the system is rigged, the outcomes are often the same either way.

By every measure that the EU is considered undemocratic (unelected commissioners etc) we must apply that same logic to our own system. After all, our own system resulted in a Conservative win primarily because of Ed Miliband's lack of personal appeal. Like it or not, parties are elected on the basis of their leader. But who actually voted for their own constituency MP? And who actually voted for the Prime Minister?

When it comes to more local concerns, we've been front and centre in the fight against wind turbines. We never wanted them, but were forced to have them anyway. It took ten years for the government to "allow" local councils final authority over them. But the fact such powers are gifted from the centre is yet more proof that the power does not reside with the people, thus by definition we are not a democracy. Similarly, with "DevoManc", as I understand it, Manchester is about to get a mayor it does not want to preside of a region that doesn't technically exist and nobody asked for. 

The accepted definition of democracy is that we have a vote once in a while, and somebody who is returned on less than a quarter of the vote is free to make decisions for us. One man or woman supposedly represents the hopes, needs and aspirations of seventy thousand of us. The Commons model is not all that far removed than when it was a talking shop for rich barons from the regions to discuss their own narrow concerns. That's ultimately why we argue that proportional representation won't make a difference. Representative democracy just isn't democracy at all. 

We believe that Brexit, while inherently desirable does not "restore democracy". We cannot restore that which we have never had. Thus Brexit is merely the first stepping stone to democracy. Being ruled from London is little different to being "ruled" by Brussels. In ether case we are still ruled and both are remote from the needs of the people they supposedly serve. Arguably London is further detached from us since SW1 culture is barely aware of anything outside its own self-referential claque. They genuinely see themselves as an elite.

It seems our first concern is to educate the public in what democracy is and what it looks like. If we can do this then they will conclude for themselves that neither Westminster or the EU is democratic and start demanding real change. Leaving the EU is only the beginning.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

The world has moved on from the quaint old EU

If you look at the latest package of DfID measures aimed at mitigating the migration crisis in Africa, we see a splurge in humanitarian measures of the type you're all fairly familiar with. You will see posturing politicians on Twitter announcing why this makes them proud to be British. It suits their vanity. Sadly they never stop to ask what happens when the money runs out. When you're adopting a sticking plaster strategy no money will ever be enough. You would think that a department for international development would know this.

But then it isn't just DfID who have a wrong-headed approach to aid and development. On the one hand we have the Ukip's of this world demanding a massive reduction in foreign aid and on the other eurosceptics who assume we can quit the EU and simply trade with the Commonwealth through free trade agreements. If only it were that simple.

Border tariffs are no longer the central obstacles to global trade. Global trade is more about the removal of technical barriers to trade, and negotiations are centred around regulatory convergence. Differing regulatory regimes create trade chaos, adding multiple layers of bureaucracy to the process. It is often said that less regulation would be good for business whereas what we need is more and better regulation shared by more partner nations. At the very least this eliminates the need for port inspections which leave trade open for theft, fraud and delays incurring demurrage and detention fees (over $70m annually in Ghana).

And of course if you have delays in the ports, you have long tailbacks, wage costs and warehousing capacity problems which halt production. In turn that results in the loss of contracts or damages a manufacturers credit facilities leading to bankruptcy and foreclosure. This results in a high turnover of companies popping up to service only one contact at a time with little in the way of business longevity, leading more and more untraceable fly-by-night companies exploiting the chaos, often introducing components into the supply chain which fail to meet international standards. The natural response to this is yet more inspections and delays.

To take one Commonwealth nation, Nigeria, it is said that the maritime industry alone could sustain the economy but not without massive modernisation. The road leading to the Lagos port, which handles nearly everything that Africa's biggest economy imports, is one of the most congested in a megacity whose traffic jams are legendary. Wide enough to accommodate only two lanes on either side, along it move the goods that Africa's top crude producer uses its huge oil receipts to buy - everything from designer wear to dried fish, champagne and shampoo. In the case of perishable or degradable goods from woodchip, coal through to foodstuffs it can result in a loss of of value or abandoned consignments.

And it's not just the roads that cause delays. Importers say that rules are not always followed, and officials can still hold back shipments while they await bribes. They've all got a scam going, from the man that wheels your trolley out to the senior customs officers. Nigerian authorities "inspect" 70 percent of cargo, compared with around 5 percent in the European Union.

Of course none of this actually matters if goods never reach their destination. Piracy is still a huge problem - and not just for Africa. Piracy has overtaken natural disasters as the leading cause for insurance claims in ASEAN states according to those in the marine insurance industry. While most claims are genuine there has been a disturbing rise in the number of ‘insider jobs’. Insiders may be members of the crew or even shipping companies themselves.

There is also the issue of antiquated dock equipment. For example, wood pellets exhibit two undesirable handling attributes. Due to multiple handling some pellets degrade back to dust which can block the cooling system heat exchangers resulting in engine overheating. The dust is also highly flammable and must be prevented from settling in the engine compartment. The implications of the loader overheating or catching fire extends far beyond the cost of damage to the machines.

Efficient unloading of wood pellets is crucial to maintaining a port’s schedule. Any delay means that a ship will miss tidal deadlines and incur additional high demurrage costs. An overheated conventional loading shovel takes 45 minutes to lift out of the hold in order to clean the heat exchangers and remove dust from the engine bay, then a further 45 minutes to put it back in. This has a significant impact on the productivity of the trimming operation so having the right wheeled loader is critical.

Then we get to regulations. Here is an illustration. Back in May, Chinese customs stalled Australian and South African coal deliveries that exceeded fluorine limits under the country's new quality regulations. Australian 5,500 kcal/kg thermal coal was sold to a Chinese cement producer and is understood to have been rejected by the local inspection and quarantine bureau. The cargo was later redirected to a buyer in Taiwan, and the South African 4,800 kcal/kg coal was sold to a Chinese trader but underwent a third round of inspections after failing the first two checks.

China's main economic planning agency the NDRC mandated that coal imports must meet quality standards for five trace substances - with mercury content of less than 0.6 microgram/gram (µg/g), arsenic below 80µg/g, phosphorous below 0.15pc, chlorine below 0.3pc and fluorine below 200µg/g. These are in addition to restrictions on ash and sulphur content of a maximum of 40pc and 3pc, respectively. The quality regulations took effect on 1 January and have raised waiting times, which have in turn increased demurrage costs and the risk of rejection at ports.

The rejections trigger a fresh wave of concerns in the Chinese import market. Buyers will take responsibility for the coal, because they are likely to have bought the cargoes on a Free On Board basis. While they have sought to minimise risks by requiring suppliers to offer guarantees on the five trace elements on a loading or discharge port basis, China relies on its national standards for the quality checks rather than the widely used international ISO and ASTM standards.

Many of the major testing agencies in Australia and South Africa do not offer checks based on the Chinese standards, although tests for China's standards are available in Indonesia with costs of 20-25¢/t already factored into prices. In addition, the longer shipping journey to China from Australia and South Africa will probably result in some coal quality degradation.

Here there is a clear need for a memorandum of understanding between these trading nations, agreeing to one standard and one inspection regime to facilitate trade. That in itself is no small undertaking. The introduction of such an agreement in a package deal (like TTIP) means that if one article fails to reach agreement, the whole package of measures are dropped. When a market as large as China is starting to make regulatory demand of its own for imports, there has never been a time where international agreements were more necessary. But they are not happening between the EU and China but between regulatory commissions and authorities at the level above.

Just securing an agreement with Japan's automotive industry to join United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) would eliminate much of the regulatory divergence in the automotive industry. A comprehensive "trade deal" between the EU and Japan then becomes largely redundant. If we can work toward a similar agreement in electronics then again the EU is totally irrelevant.

Similarly the The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and (UNECE) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to strengthen their support to developing countries seeking to implement the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement. All the bluster about the EU negotiating with other blocs is a mentality belonging to the last century, with global trade bodies now securing their own interoperability frameworks, leaving the EU far behind.

What this points to is the need for independent nations to be in at the very top tables arguing the case for the industries they have rather than taking a back seat and waiting to see what what compriomises the EU can come up with, in a bloc where nations will vote through measures affecting industries not even present in their own states.

Were we to leave the EU, we would be in the almost unique position of having first rate infrastructure, favourable trading conditions with the EU but also the freedom to negotiate individual deals that make our own industries more competitive. Our car industry may depend on it.

The future points to a model of aid for trade by which we invest not in schools and drinking wells in the middle of the desert, but in ports, roads and security. If we are to have a statutory minimum spend on aid then some of our defence spending in policing shipping lanes could very well count toward that to ensure goods get to market. In pooling our sovereignty and delegating trade to the EU we miss opportunities and fail to get the agreements we need.

Superficially, favourable tax regimes and low tariffs look attractive but the reality of trade tells another story. Multinationals can easily decamped from advanced nations in search of lower overheads and favourable tax regimes only to find the level of under-development and corruption is an overhead in itself.

As we can see, merely eliminating trade tariffs (which is not always desirable) is not enough. There is a long road to travel before we get anything like functioning global trade. In some cases, import bans are essential to helping grow key industries. Ghana has banned imports of Tilapia fish, estimating the ban will create about 50,000 jobs in the aquaculture sector of the economy, where young unemployed persons are being targeted. There's an immigration target met right there. Such industries are needed to stimulate a tax base so that African states are more dependent on the revenue from their peoples than oil giants. This is one example where EU "free trade" conflicts with other desirable global outcomes.

A humanitarian aid effort does nothing to mitigate the need for migration and slowing the flow is not going to come cheaply. The EU's answer is to put up fences and mount aid operations. It doesn't work. What we also don't need is the EU ploughing into Africa pulling down tariff barriers (as it has in Kenya) - and rather than package trade deals between blocs such as the EU TTIP, we're better off going for individual agreements targeted as specific industries, which are not only more effective but can be agreed upon in much shorter time frames resulting in more rapid dividends.

What is clear on both sides of the Brexit debate is that on matters of trade an international development we are not even past first base in the level of understanding. It's pitiful. Understanding all of this is essential to tackling the multifarious problems we face, not least immigration and asylum, and yet they're stuck in shallow debates about TTIP and trading blocs, blissfully unaware of how irrelevant the EU is to the process.

In reality, UNECE is the single market and the gateway to globalisation, yet it is seldom mentioned or monitored. The Brexit debate is mired by a little Europe mentality on both sides, to which the concepts we are talking about hereabove are entirely alien to them.

What is at stake here is the opportunity to add trillions to global growth, while solving many of Africas most acute problems and many of our own in the process. Meanwhile from the EU we get compromises, half measures and yet more vanity aid, while failing to address the very real and pressing issues - many of which are caused by the fundamental flaws in the EU's own DNA, along with its trade psychology that belongs to the middle of the last century.

Brexit offers us a real opportunity to to step into the modern world of globalised trading and to drag Europe kicking and screaming along with it. The federalist dream is dead. The global dream is only just beginning and we're not even in the game.

We may lose our car industry if we don't quit the EU

We've heard a lot from various vested interests about the implications of Brexit on the British auto industry. Firstly it's important to understand the nature of the car industry before wading in. Like most expensive consumer items, the actual profit comes not from the product itself but the finance deals. In essence, a car is credit bait. There is little profit in selling a car for the sticker price. Average monthly dealership profits can be as little as £15k and often make losses.

It is therefore incumbent upon car manufacturers to increase profitability by optimising supply chains and cutting down labour costs.

What we're hearing from the political class, from their position of ignorance, is that Brexit could result in tariffs of up to 10% on the finished product - which could result in manufacturers quitting the UK. Given the size of the market, it seems implausible that the EU would be so keen to shoot itself in the foot, but let's suppose they're right and they add 10% to our exports. We can live with that.

As you all probably know by now, trade negotiations are an exclusive competence of the EU. The EU negotiates our trade deals for us. The EU has agreements with dozens of nations, but still applies tariffs to imports from non-EU countries. Because the EU likes old fashioned trade packages like TTIP, encompassing dozens of industries and products, the results are often less favourable than if individual agreements on certain products and markets were unbundled. That means if the EU gets a bum deal, we get a bum deal.

That may be no big deal to those member states who don't import certain components, but that's a sticking point for us since we have a thriving automotive industry. Since we can't veto a bad trade deal, politically or practically we put up with what the EU can get for us. Europhiles insist that we don't have the clout without the EU but in reality sovereignty pooling leads to collective impotence.

We have seen in recent years a departure of the US automotive industry to Mexico which trumps the US on free trade. It has agreements with 45 countries, meaning low tariffs for exporting those cars globally and favourable deals on the import of components, for which both the US and the EU have protectionist barriers on.

We could do precisely the same outside the EU. It would at least mitigate the 10% tariff and best case scenario increase the profitability of the industry attracting yet more assembly lines. Far from losing our automotive industry if we leave the EU, given the EU's fixation with packaged trade deals with other trading blocs, we might well lose our assembly lines if we DON'T quit the EU.

Already we have seen the industry decamp to Eastern Europe to cut down on wage costs, but these savings won't last long as wage demands will eventually catch up to the rest of the EU. Given the Euro's woes the next move is for the entire industry to quit not just the UK but the EU entirely.

What we need is the flexibility and sovereignty to agree our own specific unbundled deals tailored for the industries we have. Not least because such agreements can be reached inside a couple of years, whereas deep and comprehensive trade agreements and association agreements can take up to sixteen years to negotiate. In an increasingly globalised world, moving ever faster, the quagmire of the EU is unsuited to today's markets. It's a last century system for an internet connected world. It harms our competitiveness, reduces our influence and inhibits industry growth.

The scaremongering about Brexit is not only unjustified but also primarily influenced by people who don't actually know very much about supply chains or global trade. They are locked into a belief system that says only vast trading blocs can deliver prosperity. Mexico is busy proving them wrong. And so can we.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

UK democracy: everything's fine until it isn't.

Persuading people of the need for radical change isn't easy. The truth of it is, the status quo just isn't awful enough for people to take a risk. If we listened to the left wing you'd genuinely think Britain was a failing state with massive levels of homelessness, destitution and poverty. That was Labour's whole message during the election. The reason they didn't win is because most people know it just isn't true. Life is hard for some but poverty in this country is usually only temporary except when reinforced by welfarism.

We haven't seen much in the way of radical welfare reform aimed at tackling this, but in the end the gesture politics of welfare reform seem to be working after a fashion and it turns out just small tweaks accomplish a great deal. None of it really goes far enough for my tastes. I still think we have an inherent culture of state dependency. But again, it's hardly something worth going to the barricades over.

The left have a really hard time selling us the idea that we're in poverty and destitution and the left seemingly have little to offer but for the same tired socialist ideas or merely a repeat of Blair's so-called "social amelioration" (fire-hosing borrowed money at the poor to you and me). It didn't solve very much. The left are beginning to wake up to the fact that they lack economic credibility. That's why I believe Liz Kendall is the only leadership contender who can prevent Labour being wiped out entirely. But that's all she can really hope to do without any fresh ideas.

It's a fine thing to talk about localism and restoring powers to as many people as possible, but that's a little difficult when everything from fishing and agriculture to waste disposal and energy is dictated by the EU. No council will ever depart from boneheaded recycling schemes in favour of landfill (aka land reclamation) because that power is not within their gift - and is not within the gift of Westminster either. All councils can do is execute their duties within a strongly encoded framework.

Unless councils are sovereign entities the position of counsellor is largely for decoration. I've met a number of now ex councillors, all of whom entered local politics with ideals of public service and reform, only to be confronted with an immovable behemoth that resists reforms, where long standing incumbent councils close ranks to prevent any meaningful change. The notion that we have any collective power over our local authorities is risible.

The slow agglomeration of police forces is a wholly unwelcome development and the scale of councils means money is always concentrated on the district with the most urgent need, at the expense of everywhere else. The idea that money raised locally is spent locally went out of the window years ago. If you pay council tax in Ripon, it's likely to be spent in Harrogate.

All of this has happened very gradually, where local services have amalgamated for their own convenience rather than ours, each headed by officials on gargantuan corporate salaries. Almost everyone is opposed to this development, but councillors haven't been able to stop it. In this the public have been fairly passive. There is a certain apathy about us, but that is a learned apathy.

We're now used to the idea that if you write to a councillor or an MP you won't get a reply. And if you do it's a corporate-speak brush off. From the police to social services to the NHS, where complaints are concerned there is a culture of hostility, defensiveness and denial. You then enter the "f*ck off loop" whereby you're shuffled between departments until you get fed up and go away.We simply resign ourselves to the fact that our lives can be  impinged upon by the state and there's nothing we can do about it. Those who try are harassed and bullied by the courts and end up with crippling legal fees and no justice.

The same is true when dealing with corporates too. It's the same when changing your energy supplier or trying to cancel a phone contract you don't want. Everything is bait - and once they have your name on the dotted line, that's it, they can ignore you. Meanwhile, we're creating a status of second class citizen without access to credit. If one of these corporates asserts you owe them money, through mass mechanised corporate scale abuse of the county court system, they can blacken you name for a decade - with no right of appeal - unless you can afford it.

Which brings us on to the justice system. Actually, don't get me started, we'll be here all day. The short of it is that justice is only for those who can afford it. And if you're up against the mechanisms of councils and the state, you can forget about justice altogether. The police and councils investigate themselves and find themselves free of fault.

On a day to day basis, the benign managerialism of the UK works quite well. If you are obedient, pay what you're told, when you're told to pay it, never ask questions and never demand justice, things are fine. Better than ever. But when you ask for what you've paid for, you won't get it. When you need protection you won't get it. When you want justice you won't get it. What you will get though is an ever larger tax bill.

Until we have real democratic control over our councils and Westminster, we will continue to drift toward corporatism where everything is decided before it gets as far as Westminster - and if a law made at the very top level of global governance kills your business, well, that's just too bad.

While I am a euroscpetic, as much as I resent Brussels rule, I resent London rule just as much. London likes to think it is the engine of the economy, but it is the regions that supply it with our young and vital people. In that respect, London is a parasite that sucks the vitality out of brilliant cities like Liverpool and Newcastle. The media follows power thus culture follows and that's where our young people want to be. The result is that London has become its own country while the rest of the country stagnates. Through boom and bust, Bradford house prices have remained more or less static.

What we get from the Tories is the promise of a Northern powerhouse, but what it is in effect is a Northern super-quango, imposed upon Manchester, which like the Scottish parliament will suck more and more powers and budgetary controls away from councils. It is a perversion of the word devolution. We also now learn that rail developments in the North have been shelved. One thing we Pennine folk know all to well is that cross Pennine travel sucks - and always has - but London always gets what it wants. It's little wonder many Northerners want the SNP to succeed with Scottish independence and take the North with it.

Meanwhile we are governed by an entirely self-serving SW1 claque who are in thrall to the fashions and groupthinks of the Westminster bubble - who see themselves as an enlightened elite - who don't trust people with the power to run their own affairs. The only thing that matches their stupidity is their arrogance. A toxic combination. 

What we need is real devolution and to shift power away from London. At the very least, Parliament should move out of London. London can survive without it. Why are we cramming more houses into London when Liverpool is turning into our own Detroit?

Under the surface, everywhere we look we're being short changed and ripped off. All the left can offer is the old dogmatic mantras about re-nationalisation - as if the people ever wanted nationalisation in the first place. Our public amenities used to be locally owned and locally controlled corporations. They were stolen and sold off. Now they are merely obscure features in the assets column of a Shanghai hedge fund.

The danger of keeping utilities publicly owned was that government would use them as a means of keeping people unproductively employed to the point of bankruptcy. The railways were famous for over-employing. But that is no longer a danger in most instances. A small CHP plant providing power and heat for  large urban area can run on its own with very little human intervention. Why should these things not be community owned? Why should districts not choose their own energy policy? Why should we wait for an EU directive only to have it gold-plated by Westminster and imposed on councils covering massive areas, encompassing several towns in some cases? Why does Keighley answer to Bradford?

Socialism as we knew it is dead. But that does not mean we have a new age of free markets. What we have is corporatism both in consumer markets and local and national government. We can't afford to renationalise even if we wanted to. But we can use the mechanisms of the market to re-municipalise those things which should be under public control. But this would require the one thing that London is most afraid of: Democracy.

Liz Kendall can talk all she likes about returning powers, but such is not in her gift until the left can end their unquestioning devotion to the EU. If we want a radical overhaul of our services and how we are governed, then it must start with Brexit. History is replete with examples of power gravitating toward the centre, holding regions and nations together against their will. In every instance it has failed - and ended in collapse, poverty and war. Now we see the EU pulling in different directions and our serpentine Prime Minister conspires to keep us in at all costs - with no opposition from the party that supposedly represents the workers.

I will throw my vote to anyone who wants to get serious about real democracy. But until I see a mainstream party make the case for leaving the EU and governing for all, not just London, I'll know they're not serious about reform.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Europe is safer if we leave the EU

There are some myths kicking about of late that really need to be addressed. The first being that the EU nurtures fledgling democracies. To federalists the measure of democracy is the empty voting rituals we have once every few years. In the real sense of the word democracy we barely have it in the UK let alone Eastern Europe.

That said, the eurosceptic cry that we need to return democracy to our national parliaments ignores the fact that representative democracy isn't democracy either. The decisions made by a self-absorbed media-obsessed SW1 claque are neither representative of the nation as a whole and are democratically illegitimate in most cases.

The charge that Britain is run by Brussels means little in that their is little distinction between our own officials and theirs. Their PC fixations and obsessions are much the same, with our politicians using law making as a means of virtue signalling in an increasingly absurd bidding war. For the North of England to be ruled by either London or Brussels is immaterial. Our politicians might as well be on Mars. Similarly, the last people on Earth I would consult on matters of democracy are Euro-federalists. They don't know the meaning of the word.

As trade becomes globalised, so does regulation and as we drift toward greater globalisation, the notion of absolute sovereignty becomes quaint and obsolete. What that means in practice is the eradication of democracy. In Eastern Europe, we're about to do to Poland what we did to Russia. We'll create a new breed of agri-garchs, turning the whole landscape into corporate farms who will in turn import cheap labour, displacing Polish people into the cities - which are already bleeding their populations elsewhere. Free market "democracy" of the EU kind is a free licence for corporate gouging. The EU will do to Polish farming what it did to British fishing.

If Arbroath had a choice of remaining a thriving fishing port or becoming a dilapidated Tesco town, I think they would have opted for the former. Too bad the euro-zealots put their political ambitions before democracy. The result being a decimated North Sea, species extinction and a Scottish heroin problem.

The Euro-federalist perception of democracy is essentially imposing a human rights regime upon the little people, imposing PC cultural values, and allowing them the occasional vote on who gets the cosy sinecure in the local kleptocracy. This is supposedly liberal democracy. Sorry, people power it ain't.

Given the EU's cultural hegemony it's actually not surprising that Putin has in recent years presented himself as the anti-liberal gay-bashing authoritarian leader. This in itself is a consequence of Western NGO meddling within Russia and the East. As part of the EU's neighbourhood policy it has been pushing for gay rights and equal marriage - a position largely imposed upon the people's of Europe without their direct consent. Putin is setting himself up as the opposition to creeping Western decadence - in a part of the world where social conservatism still holds sway. Hardly surprising that Ukippers hold some sympathy for him.

The Ukrainian government is pushing gay rights at the behest of the EU right now. Personally I cannot think of anything more crass to be pushing at a time when Ukraine is culturally and politically divided, at war with itself and thirty years behind in most respects. What this ultimately shows is the EU's total lack of concern for the plight of Ukraine or its own conduct in how it approaches policy reform in the region - where it's own myopic politically correct fixations take precedence over matters of life and death. If you wanted to give Russia an open goal in further sowing division, this is exactly how to do it. If the USA hasn't settled on gay rights (don't be fooled by a supreme court ruling) then the chances of Eastern Europe opening up to gay marriage and abortion are somewhere close to zero. This is a culture war where Putin has a strong hand in retaining regional influence - and sympathy.

This brings us onto the second myth that the EU keeps the peace. As a side, we didn't need political union to defeat the Russians during the cold war and we don't need it now. Quite the opposite, but we'll get to that later. In Ukraine though, I expect debate will rage, but the inclusion of Common Security and Defence Policy in the association agreement was a form of EU military expansionism of its own, part of a long standing policy to cleave nations out of the Russian sphere of influence. As much as Russia does not need excuses for aggression, we gave Russia every reason to defend its own interests in Crimea.

Against a backdrop of continued anti-Russian diplomacy (frustrating Russian arms deals) across the globe and continued NGO meddling inside Russia, there is little wonder we're seeing Russian petulance and paranoia. If you poke a bear with enough sticks, eventually it will bite you. It doesn't take a genius to work out that such a reaction could only lead to further escalation - and it's fair to say the post-cold war peace is draining away.

EU supporters argue that "No-ists" are basically "Putin-toadying quisling scum, who think it possible to appease your way out of a dictator's aggression" at the suggestion that there was a more diplomatically astute means of bringing Russia into the fold - and that entering a tit for tat military build up is folly. Far from appeasement, the EU should recognise its own role as the midwife to Russian strategic petulance and deprecate its own military ambitions.

That said, how we got here is something of a moot point. We are where we are - locked into a cycle of escalation - past the point of no return, because the one thing the EU lacks is self-awareness and humility. Right now the EU is pulling itself apart at the borders, and is fatally incapable of responding to the ongoing asylum crisis. The fault is written into the DNA of the EU and its own hubris prevents it from acknowledging where the problem lies. Thus all the EU ever does is put sticking plasters on to problems it created - not least with the bombing of Libya, the undermining of Kenya and overfishing in West Africa - creating the perfect storm of migration. A recipe for civil unrest at the very least.

The final myth is that pooling sovereignty leads to greater real power in the face of a common threat. In practice it leads to collective impotence and self-deception. We saw in Libya the inability of the EU to reach a common position on intervention - which in the end went ahead as a NATO mission with the EU Commission stamping its brand all over the diplomatic efforts. There was no clear definition of the mission, it shifted in scope and Libya was left to rot in the aftermath. Libya became the EU's Iraq through political cowardice, indecision and vacillation. Similarly, after being so insistent on ramming through Ukraine's association agreement, we see a complete abandonment of Ukraine by the EU, with zero intention of making any decisive moves in Ukraine's defence.

If we rewind to 2008 and the invasion of Georgia, again we saw no decisive EU action. Sarkozy's "triumph" allowed the Russians to call their troops peacekeepers. French mediators caved in and allowed this, thus the stipulated withdrawal of combatants did not apply. Under the ceasefire agreement Moscow could claim - in a strictly legal sense - that Russian troops could stay in Georgia indefinitely.

The European Union confronts Russia in the same way Neville Chamberlain confronted Hitler in 1938; being outwitted and tricked in the cease fire negotiations. There is then no possible outcome other than appeasement. It is then rich of the europhiles to call eurosceptics "Putin-toadying quislings" when the EU is quite happy to assert its soft power to a point but then cave in when it comes to the shooting.

As before, NATO means business, but the EU has proved to Putin time and again that it is timid, toothless and divided. Putin's miscalculation being that a weaker EU makes for a weaker Europe. I would argue that a Europe with Britain asserting its own values, rather than waiting to reach a common position among 28 nations, some of whom are sympathetic to Russia, is ultimately in the best interests of peace. Moreover, a permanently hobbled EU, putting the federalist dream into the dustbin of history removes the existential threat to Russia.

If that still makes me a Putin appeasing quisling, then I'm afraid it's a label I'm just going to have to get used to. The common threads of the EU's history has been idealistic zealotry, hubris and denial of real democracy. Its main accomplishment is to convince its peoples otherwise. To borrow from Simon Cooke, "the EU has spread its red gold across the continent - funding this project and that scheme, supporting international exchanges and generally making people feel that the project is a great big cuddly Father Christmas sort spreading joy and happiness". This is a sophisticated mirage - one that fools the idealists and the fantasists.

What lies beneath is is a power hungry, antidemocratic corporatist empire that simply would not function and could not exist if it ever truly consulted the people of Europe. It is born of a fear that independent sovereign democracies could not co-exist without going to war with each other - and by means of depriving the people of their democracies they can be forced to live in peace. If you ask me, that sounds like a perfect blueprint for war.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Brexit: We need to quit before it gets ugly

The bunny's a little hot
As we get into the minutia of trading agreements and bogged down in the detail of Brexit, we find ourselves in the position of a mounting a gargantuan political and diplomatic campaign in order to leave the EU, only to get where we are now with our trade agreements. Brexit brings only fringe advantages now that much of governance is global. As we outline here, things are outpacing our collective ability to comprehend. The world is changing in ways faster than any of us can keep pace with.

Up until just a few years ago it was always assumed by a great many eurosceptics that Brexit was as simple as pulling the plug and ripping up treaties. If it wasn't that simple then, it's nowhere near it now. A sudden Brexit would indeed be suicidal, which is why we always impressed it upon Ukippers that they couldn't expect to be taken seriously unless they had seriously good answers as to how we would leave. The fact they did no such thing is why the no campaign is in a bit of a pickle. Were it not for Flexcit, the eurosceptic cupboard would be completely bare. Even our own offering is a little late.

But in the processes of discovering how we must leave we also find a few more good reasons as to why we should leave. The problem with politics on such a massive scale as the EU is that policy takes a long time. A very long time. Just plugging the domestic policy vaccuum in energy took a number of years - and that's just for the UK. Such interia put us in the position of having to pay not only for our future vision but also for emergency stop gap measures such as STOR.

Now imagine such intertia on an EU scale, with various lobby groups, NGO's, corporates and national agendas all pulling in opposite directions in the face of a crisis. Whatever compromise we reached would be inadequate, meaning we take an enormous hit or are forced to leave the EU in precisely the way we have always said we shouldn't.

So it then becomes a risk assessment on whether such a crisis is likely to happen. As it happens, events do happen and it may be that in a very short space of time, Greece is ejected form the Euro. It will happen in a rush in conditions not ideal. We've already spent billions trying to stop that from happening to seemingly no avail. If a sudden Grexit is bad, then a sudden Brexit is a disaster - for everyone.

Now, when we look at the emerging global refugee crisis, we find Bulgaria and Hungary erecting border fences to keep our migrants, an explosion of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean and an ill-at-ease Italy threatening to hand our passports like candy. Not only is it bad now, with 59 million refugees escaping warzones, it is said to get worse in the years to come.

The root causes are many and diverse, but the EU's aderence to the 51 Convention on Human Rights is a huge pull factor, and it's codified in the treaties of the EU. Not only would a reappraisal require a new global agreement, it would also require a rewrite of certain EU rules, many of which would threaten the fundamentals of free movement within the EU, which many eastern European nations simply would not ratify. So we then find ourselves in a stalemate, left with a solution that satisfies nobody, while becoming increasingly cut off from the world inside the EU.

We have already seen European leaders unwilling to budge on something as basic as welfare discrimination, putting us in the position of either breaking with treaties or giving up on certain domestic benefits altogether. Brits are tolerant but at some stage the venom will reach boiling point, causing the UK government to take extraordinary measures. What happens then within the EU is anyone's guess but the rows will not be pretty - and may even rip at the very fabric of the EU. It's not looking good as it stands. We would probably cave in to keep the peace, but I fear the Ukip surge is just a rehearsal for something more ugly yet to come. If we want to avoid that, we must leave the EU.

Essentially, our relationship is like one of those insecure couples who stay in a dead marriage. That lack of self-esteem to end something that isn't working, letting it drag on until the inevitable breakup destroys everything and ends up in bitter recriminations, court cases and an argument over who gets the U2 limited edition box set and custody of the cat.

Some hard choices are coming fro Britain in terms of welfare and immigration. They are already tough decisions set only to get tougher. We are best able to mitigate those consequences if we have the powers we need. Brexit is less about cutting off ties as it is agreeing to be friends with benefits rather than live in partners undermining each other. It's an amicable divorce while there is still time to have an amicable divorce, before it gets ugly, and to maybe reshape the relationship in such a way that we can gear the whole of our trade toward the new globalised paradigm.

With a project as fragile as the EU, constructed with no demos and no clear mandate, a crisis of democracy is a certainty, thus if we want to avoid a sudden death Brexit, as is so frequently warned against, then we must now set in motion the process of leaving gradually while we still have a choice in the matter - not least so the EU can take the measures it needs to independently secure its own future.

A Europe not at peace with itself within the confines of the EU is more likely to make the Eastern bloc look toward Russia in the long run. Euroscepticism is gaining traction all over Europe. Peace and security depends on the freedom of the people to determine their own policies more than trade - something the EU has never understood. The EU as an obsessive bunny boiler who wants to keep the relationship together at any cost is one that might well shatter the peace.

Brexit may well point the way for the EU to abandon it's persistent attempts at federalisation and step into the present. The age of empires is over, we don't want a new cold war and we'd rather be part of a global community than a little Europe stuck in the ideals of the last century. Let's get out before we are forced out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Are 75% of our laws made in Brussels?

This is one of those boring debates that continues to limp on, not least because of Ukip's mindless meme tweeting. There have been studies to count all of them in order to express them as a percentage as if that actually meant a damn. So I'm going to make this very simple. It's a question of magnitude not percentage.

There are three kinds of laws. Regulations, decisions and directives. A regulation is a law in itself. There are thousands of them. Decisions are less straightforward and you can read about them here.

Directives however, are instructions to create law, often specifying international standards to which those laws must conform. So while a law may be passed by Westminster, it's because the EU told us to. On paper it counts as a law made in the UK but it has its origins elsewhere.

It gets muddy when our own parliament adds laws to any bills enacting EU directives. To get any measure of what the split is, you'd have to do a long-winded forensic analysis which would be an absurdly complex undertaking that would take years - by which time there would be a whole raft of new laws.

But supposing we got an exact figure, what would that tell us? Can the Dangerous Dogs Act be held in equal stature and magnitude to an EU law instructing us to close down all coal powered power stations? Clearly not.

We also need to get past the idea that any laws are "made in Brussels". The vast majority of technical regulations from vehicles to sewers, beach cleanliness to the curvature of cucumbers are all made by global regulatory agencies such as Codex, UNECE and others too numerous to list. They are adopted verbatim and passed down to the EU where they either become regulations or the template for a directive. The EU couldn't possibly make all the laws it takes credit for because, as they are keen to remind us, they employ fewer people than the BBC.

What matters is that we are told what to do by Brussels because our MEPs voting together cannot block law, we have no veto at the WTO and while directives may be fewer in number, they are of massive consequence - and they bypass democracy altogether.

So when you see that debate going on, you can take it as read that the kippers are wrong, but the europhile zealots arguing the toss with them are equally wrong, if not more so. It's a stupid debate where both sides argue from a position of complete ignorance.

The truth is, governance is global now, we will always end up adopting law made elsewhere, but if we want a voice and a veto at the very top table, to ensure we can block laws we don't want, we're going to have to leave the EU. Even Norway has more influence than we do. Let's get out while we can.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Democracy? You're kidding, right?

One of the problems eurosceptics have is convincing people we're "run by Brussels". There's a good reason for that. We're not. It's more accurate to say we are told what to do by Brussels. It's even more accurate to say we're told what NOT to do by Brussels. So we're free to do what we like so long as it's within a predetermined set of parameters. How we do it is entirely up to us.

Very often that puts us in the position of having to do things we don't want to do in a way that we don't want to do it because the ways we do want to do things are prohibited. And as stupid as that often seems, we can always count on our ow government to make it even more complicated and more expensive. It's not even strictly accurate to say we're told what to do by Brussels. Governance is now global. As previously explored, our membership of the EU removes our power of veto at all the top tables.

So what we often end up with is law we don't want, never had a choice in and have to implement them in ways ill-suited to our own needs, often conflicting with more suitable local governance.

Many would ask particularly what difference would Brexit make since our own government and diplomatic corps are usually at the forefront of the stupidest global initiatives and wouldn't use the veto even if they had it. It's a fair question. The answer is probably not a lot. We would likely have ended up an equally lunatic energy policy even outside of the EU - but the critical distinction being that we own that decision. We are responsible for those we elect.

This is still quite an abstract distinction and more a point of principle - and the reason we struggle is that people's concerns in the wallet tend to take immediate precedence over concepts such as sovereignty; a word which is becoming increasingly meaningless, along with the word democracy which seems to elicit a hollow laugh whenever you mention it. There's a good reason for that though.  

The word democracy stems from the Greek word, dēmokratía, comprising two parts: dêmos "people" and kratos "power". Without a demos, there is no democracy. But people without power is not democracy either. So when we look at the chain of political institutions we see global bodies where we have no power of veto agreeing to things then passing them down to the EU where MEPs can nether repeal or propose legislation, in a parliament where we have a mere 1.2 MEPs for every million citizens, who even voting together as a bloc (which they rarely do) could never hope to prevent something becoming law if the UK did not want it. 

It is then passed as a directive and turned into domestic law by our own parliaments, mangled by Whitehall and handed to councils who are told what and how to do something. So it's not just the EU that has an allergy to democracy, its all the way down through the chain, with only a voting ritual every five years to change the guard at Westminster.

So when asked why bother leaving the EU since it won't make any major difference - we're in something of a pickle again. Without comprehensive domestic reform Brexit is largely an exercise in futility. But domestic reform is putting the cart before the horse. If the government is not acting on the instructions of the people at the global level, and agreements eventually arrive at our shores via an EU directive, then we've not really accomplished very much. And so while Brexit accomplishes little on its own, it is a precursor to broader meaningful reforms such as separation of powers and proper local devolution.

Today Labour leadership contender Liz Kendall spoke of the need to hand more powers to local authorities. In this we would not disagree, but she cannot speak of handing away powers that are not in her gift - with fishing, agriculture, energy and employment law all being specific competences of the EU. Far from being a democracy, the EU is an obstacle to it. Thus, rather than democracy, what we have is a benign managerialism.

The big problem euroceptics have in convincing people to vote out is that this benign managerialism to all intents and purposes actually works quite well, with little in the technical regulation that would inspire people to go to the barricades. Neither promises of utopia nor predictions of doom either way are sufficiently believable to mobilise a movement, and when the real experts are saying Brexit makes little noticeable difference, why wouldn't you be satisfied with the status quo? After all, it's not Communist China with mobile execution vans, there are no Stasi squads putting bloggers in jail and give or take, free speech is healthier than it ever has been. What is so bad that we need to rock the boat?

The answer to that is not much. The problems we have a wildly exaggerated and we can't say for certain whether Brexit would be any improvement since what affects us also affects EU member states. The immigration problem won't go away for any of us regardless of Brexit. So what is it about?

It's about the future. This is not a referendum on whether we accept the status quo. This is about whether we want to travel in the EU to its final destination. For sure we're probably never going to join the Euro, and the full federalist dream is never going to come to fruition either. But that's the problem. What the EU wants to happen never will happen but that won't stop it from persistently trying. And really what is the point when we don't need it, nobody wants it (apart from those euro-elites whose incomes depend upon it) and it's rooted in an idea from the early part of the last century, long before such things as affordable airliner travel and the internet. Put simply, Europhillia is luddism. 

More and more countries are confidently stepping into the first world and into the global community and the future of global trade means a global conversation, with every voice being heard rather than elites speaking on our behalf. We don't want the world breaking up into competing blocs. We want inter-governmentalism with nations speaking directly to nations without a middleman constantly watering down our agreements. If we want the full benefits of trade then why ask for permission and why add the delays of the Strasbourg talking shop? Why wait to invite India or Brazil to the table? Why say to the world that you can come in if you're Polish but not Peruvian, Indian or Canadian? It's no longer the 1960's. There's more reason for British people to flock to India than in the other direction.

The EU has been negotiating TTIP on our behalf. We have secured certain opt outs but then so has everyone else in Europe, which means that trade deal is a lot weaker than it could have been. What could we have negotiated for ourselves? I have a stronger desire to visit and trade with New York or Mumbai than I have Berlin or Amsterdam. But then why not with everybody on our own terms and in our own time?

Rather than fighting off immigrants in the Mediterranean and blowing up smugglers boats we would be trading freely with Africa and spending aid directly, helping to build first world administrative systems that reduce the need to migrate in the first place. Sure the EU could do that, but the chances of the money getting much further than a Brussels Mercedes dealership are nil.

We're a first class country denying our own place at the top table, and for two long we have been inward looking to Europe when we should have been looking out. It's time to let the obsolete ideas of the last century die and persuade Europe that it's small idea of a United States of Europe is dead. A world of free nations awaits us. 

The old problems are long gone for Europe. Europe isn't going to go to war over coal and steel any more than Lincolnshire is going to fight Humberside over pork. The notion that we would suddenly start fighting each other without the EU is a quint superstition. In the final analysis, I can't think of anything more likely to cause regional instability than an antidemocratic entity that just won't take no for an answer. It's already put up walls with Russia, building new walls in Bulgaria and fortifying Southern Europe. That doesn't look very much like progress to me. Arguably, the inherent inefficiencies and corruption in the system are more likely to provoke internal war.

It isn't political union or flags that keep the peace. The EU is built on foundations of intellectual sand. Trade, travel and communication bring the peace. Freedom preserves it. So why close ourselves off to the world? Why be a little Europe when we can be a great Britain?

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Europhiles: The lies they tell

Pro-Europa has published its list of twelve reasons to stay in the EU. They're making it easy for us. Let's have a look...

1. Jobs
Around 3.5 million British jobs are directly linked to British membership of the European Union’s single market – 1 in 10 British jobs.

We're not sure this is quite right. We think it's closer to five million jobs that depend on free trade as part of the single market, and may be substantially more. But Pro-Europa is being dishonest in that the EU is not the single market. That would be the EEA which we would have full access to as part of Efta.

2. Exports & investment
The EU buys over 50 per cent of UK exports (54 per cent of goods, 40 per cent of services).
Over 300,000 British companies and 74 per cent of British exporters operate in other EU markets.
American and Asian EU firms build factories in Britain because it is in the single market.

Again we see the same lie put a different way. They will persistently conflate the single market with the EU. Our illustration above shows that isn't the case. It's looking more and more like we can boost trade by exploiting more favourable deals outside the EU. Our car industry may depend on it.

3. Trade
The EU negotiates trade agreements with the rest of the world. Outside the EU Britain would have to renegotiate trade deals alone. While the EU is the world’s largest market, a UK outside the EU would not be a high priority for other counties to negotiate a trade deal.

This is dishonesty on stilts. Plenty of countries have free trade deals with powers like China and replicating the same memorandum of understanding is no major undertaking, assuming we would need to, but having EU affiliate status as an EEA member means our existing trade deals don't change. If anything it means we can negotiate new trade deals a lot faster as Iceland and Norway do.

We have seen in recent years a departure of the US automotive industry to Mexico which trumps the US on free trade. It has agreements with 45 countries, meaning low tariffs for exporting those cars globally and favourable deals on the import of components, for which both the US and the EU have protectionist barriers on. We can do better.

4. Consumer clout
British families enjoy lower mobile phone roaming charges, lower credit card fees, cheaper flights and proper compensation when flights are delayed or cancelled. These sorts of benefits could not be achieved by Britain alone.

For me this is something of a moot point since my Three mobile never works when I leave the country but this is all mainly fluff. Certainly nothing worth surrendering our democracy for. That said, in reality, these benefits are the result of global agreements. It's a little dishonest for the EU to take credit for them.

5. Clean environment
Through commonly agreed EU standards, national Governments have achieved improvements to the quality of air, rivers and beaches. Good for Britain and good for Britons holidaying or living abroad!

Most of these standards are agreed at the global level by the WHO, UNEF and major British NGOs. They are then adopted by the EU verbatim. All the EU does is either water them down or delays them. Some of these measures are actually counter productive or inferior to our own standards. Outside the EU we would have a veto at the global level but we usually end up voting for the common EU position. We need a stronger voice at the top table to make sure we get the right results for our unique island.

6. Power to curb the multinationals
The EU has taken on multinational giants like Microsoft, Samsung and Toshiba for unfair competition. The UK would not be able to do this alone.

I'm not entirely sure that a sovereign nation could not take on the multinationals alone. Iceland does. We have a large enough market to make our voice heard, but supposing Pro-Europa is right, nobody is talking about making the EU our enemy. It is inconceivable that we would cease to co-operate with the EU on mutually beneficial matters as indeed Norway, Turkey and Israel do.

7. Freedom to work and study abroad – and easy travel
1.4 million British people live abroad in the EU. More than 14,500 UK students took part in the European Union’s Erasmus student exchange scheme in 2012-13. Driving licences issued in the UK are valid throughout the EU.

Again this is playing on the assumption that the EU is the single market. It isn't. Free movement would still be a reality outside of the EU, only we would have a great deal more control about who we let stay and what benefits they are entitled to. It should also be noted that Efta members and Turkey are full members of Erasmus.

8. Peace and democracy
The EU has helped secure peace among previously warring western European nations. It helped to consolidate democracy in Spain, Portugal, Greece and former Soviet bloc countries and helped preserve peace in the Balkans since the end of the Balkans War. With the UN it now plays a leading role in conflict prevention, peacekeeping and democracy building.

This is an assertion that will make some of our readers choke on their cornflakes. Ukippers believe the EU was directly responsible for the chaos in Ukraine. One could argue a strong case, but a more moderate individual would still say Ukraine was badly mishandled by the EU in its rush to get an association agreement, and it can be said that such cowboy diplomacy was indeed a provocation to a wounded Russia. Similarly the EU's ill thought out intervention in Libya has consequences. The EU also weakens African governments adding more instability to the region.

We think NATO can take more credit for keeping the peace. As for "consolidating democracy", it's a meaningless expression from an institution that is itself not a democracy. The notion that the EU helped secure the peace is mildly offensive given how dependent Europe was on the USA for its military security during the cold war - and still is.

9. Equal pay and non-discrimination
Equal pay for men and women is enshrined in EU law, as are bans on discrimination by age, race or sexual orientation. This benefits Britain and British people who live in other EU countries.

If anything the EU has always lagged behind Britain in such ventures, but this is one of those areas where the noble stated intent has very different results in practice. Unintended consequences can be more damaging than discrimination. In modern Britain the people themselves would be successful in fighting for and securing such rights and would find they were kicking at an open door given the diversity of MPs in Westminster. It is preferred that such rights are fought for and won from the grassroots level rather than imposed by a supranational authority. Rights so easily gifted can be just as easily be revoked. We need control over our own employment and discrimination laws.

10. Influence in the world
As 28 democracies, and as the world’s biggest market, we are strong when we work together.
Britain is represented in many international organisations in joint EU delegations – giving Britain more influence than it would have alone. The EU has played a major role in climate, world trade and development.

This assertion is risible. The repeated europhile meme is that Norway has no influence outside the EU. This is a lie. The dishonesty of this received argument preys on the ignorance of the public in where EU law comes from.

The vast majority of EU law is not EU in origin. The EU institutions themselves employ fewer than the BBC collectively thus cold not possibly author the masses of regulation churned out all the time. They come from international bodies such as WP.29, WTO, UNECE, Codex, NAFO and a dozen other bodies you have probably never heard of - on which the EU effectively takes out seat and negotiates on our behalf.

While Ukip and others say we don't have a seat at the WTO and other such institutions, we do. However, trade is an exclusive competence of the EU so we're forced to adopt the common EU position derived from its advanced observer status. What this means is we have no independent power of veto.

Norway on the other hand is a member of Efta but still has its own independent vote because Efta is not a supranational organisation. Thus Norway gets a veto on single market rules and regulation before they even get down to the EU level. Such regulations do not get as far as the European Parliament without a global agreement. So when it comes to things like automotive industry regulations, Norway has more say than we do, and it doesn't even have a car industry. Many of the employment regulations, so called "workers rights" come from bodies as diverse as the ILO and WHO. Norway has a strong influence there too.

Norway used its veto when it came to the 3rd Postal Directive, a Directive the UK had no option but to implement. That's British "influence" for you.

11. Cutting red tape
Common rules for the common market make it unnecessary to have 28 sets of national regulations.

Red tape gets a bad name. The EU is accused of adding red tape but not all of it is bad. Different regulatory regimes create technical barriers to trade. Regulatory harmonisation facilitates trade. Consequently, there is a global effort to harmonise regulations, and most regulations are now made at the global level. Presently we have no power of veto at the top table as an EU member. That stops us preventing bad laws or new laws weaker than our own.

As it happens, securing a global agreement with Japan's automotive industry to join the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) would eliminate much of the regulatory divergence in the automotive industry. A comprehensive "trade deal" between the EU and Japan then becomes largely redundant. If we can work toward a similar agreement in electronics then again the EU is totally irrelevant.

Similarly the The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and UNECE has signed a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen their support to developing countries seeking to implement the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement. All the bluster about the EU negotiating with other blocs is a mentality belonging to the last century, with global trade bodies now securing their own interoperability frameworks, leaving the EU far behind.

12. Fighting crime
The European Arrest Warrant replaced long extradition procedures and enables the UK to extradite criminals wanted in other EU countries, and bring to justice criminals wanted in the UK who are hiding in other EU countries. Eurojust helps UK authorities work with other EU countries’ to tackle international organised crime such as drug smuggling, people trafficking and money laundering.

As crime is moving off the streets and onto the internet, it's never been more important to have intergovernmental co-operation. On the whole, we would argue that the EAW is a good thing in principle and we could very easily opt into it without being members of the EU - and we might even secure certain essential opt-outs. It certainly wouldn't be in the EU's interests to refuse if that was our choice. Pro-Europa seems to think Brexit marks the end of all international co-operation. That is, frankly, silly.

13. Research funding
The UK is the second largest beneficiary of EU research funds, and the British Government expects future EU research funding to constitute a vital source of income for our world-leading universities and companies

This is what is known as a bare faced lie. Israel and Switzerland are global leaders in scientific innovation. They are not in the EU.

In conclusion we can see that the europhile case is built on the lie that the EU is the single market, that Britain is weak and can't survive without surrendering it right to self-govern, and seem predominantly inward looking on little Europe, seemingly unaware of globalisation or keep to distract you from it. It is a myopic vision locked in the ideology of yesteryear and seems to ignore the last thirty years of technological progress. Trade is global and so is regulation. They want a "European Community". We want a global community.

Presently, our voice is silenced by the EU. At best we have 1/28th of a voice and only 1.2 MEPs per million people. Europhiles would call that democracy - but any system where the voice of over sixty million people can be overruled cannot by definition be democracy. Voting rituals alone don't make a democracy and when the voices of so many are drowned out, that peace peace the EU claims to keep will not last. This referendum is a chance to correct a historical mistake and to retake our place in the world as a true democracy. One way or another we will eventually leave the EU. This is an opportunity to do it peacefully, amicably and without disastrous repercussions. 

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Busting the Norway myth

The repeated europhile meme shall be that Norway has no influence outside the EU. This is a lie. The dishonesty of this received argument preys on the ignorance of the public in where EU law comes from.

The vast majority of EU law is not EU in origin. The EU institutions themselves employ fewer than the BBC collectively thus cold not possibly author the masses of regulation churned out all the time. They come from international bodies such as WP.29, WTO, UNECE, Codex, NAFO and a dozen other bodies you have probably never heard of - on which the EU effectively takes out seat and negotiates on our behalf.

While Ukip and others say we don't have a seat at the WTO and other such institutions, we do. However, trade is an exclusive competence of the EU so we're forced to adopt the common EU position derived from its advanced observer status. What this means is we have no independent power of veto.

Norway on the other hand is a member of Efta but still has its own independent vote because Efta is not a supranational organisation. Thus Norway gets a veto on single market rules and regulation before they even get down to the EU level. Such regulations do not get as far as the European Parliament without a global agreement. So when it comes to things like automotive industry regulations, Norway has more say than we do, and it doesn't even have a car industry. Many of the employment regulations, so called "workers rights" come from bodies as diverse as the ILO and WHO. Norway has a strong influence there too.

Without our veto at the top tables, we only get to influence the minutia at the EU level, horsetrading as to how and when we implement that which has already been decided. That much cannot be changed once it has got as far as the EU commission let alone the parliament. Even if all our MEPs voted together, which they rarely do, we couldn't prevent a law we did not want. Norway can.

We will still end up abiding by Single Market rules when we leave the EU, as will the US because the standards are global, but at least we will finally get a say in how they are made and which ones we adopt.

Europhiles essentially parrot the classic europhile propaganda, that conflates the EU with the single market. The EU is not the single market. It is made up of many concentric circles with no single authority. Many believe the EU makes the rules. It doesn't.

But even at the EU level Norway is on several committees and co-operative bodies and does steer regulations, with a few exceptions which are nether here nor there considering the improved influence they have at the top table.

The likes of British Influence actually know all this full well, but it's their dirty little secret that they keep from you because they know that well meaning people will continue to repeat their mantras verbatim. Public ignorance is their most potent weapon.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Setting ourselves up to fail

The more I delve into issues surrounding international trade and regulation trying to keep pace with Richard North, the more I discover how little difference Brexit will make as far as industry will notice. But we have a problem. Ukippers are filling up the airwaves with promises of milk and honey - and that a libertarian regulation-free utopia is just around the corner. If we win this referendum, they're in for a mighty shock.

In any eventuality we will still be subsidising our agriculture, we will still be paying large sums to producers to seemingly do little, we will still be making compromises over our fishing grounds and there is very little point in deregulating manufacturing. Much of what is said about EU red tape is hokum.

That's why Ukip is becoming a bit of a problem. We're not going to re-industrialise, we're not going to "take back control of our borders" and we're probably not going to get much in the way of trade deals that we don't already have. Things have gotten a bit more complex since the twenty year old eurosceptic arguments were developed.

On the face of it, if you take our word for it that all of the above if true, you might ask why bother leaving, and why all the fuss? Kippers would have it that the ultimate destination of the EU means Britain becoming a minor state of a Federal Europe, eating frogs legs and spending Euros. But that doesn't look like a reality either, nor does the threat of an EU army.

We're never going to join the Euro and even if the EU does achieve the final killer treaty, whatever government we end up with in Brussels couldn't be much worse than our own. Half of the global initiatives that filter down through the EU very much have British officials in the driving seat. The "EU madness" is very much of our own making. As much as our energy policy has impositions from Brussels upon it, it's our own parliament that triple gold-plated it to become one of the most absurd pieces of law ever passed.

At this point,you could be forgiven for ceasing to care altogether since the measurable economic advantages to Brexit are negligible. Very few of the old eurosceptic arguments stand up and even in a federal superstate, Lizzie won't be kicked out of BuckPal anytime soon.

The reason we at eureferendum.com know all this is because we have put all the traditional eurosceptic arguments through some very serious stress testing, and we keep treading in the cold cat sick of reality.

International trade means international regulation which means huge compromises, often taking on laws we don't want for greater good. The broader national interest means compromise. For sure we would have a few more vetoes, but we can't really rely on our government to use them much. We have a veto on UNECE matters pertaining to the environment and I struggle to find an instance where we have used it.

Even falling back on the old tropes about identity and culture doesn't really hold much sway since we as far as identity goes, the Scottish are busy building their own with Wales not too far behind. We have many problems, many of which are of our own making, wrongly blamed on the EU and more probably the result of the centralisation and corporatisation of local authorities. 

So what is the actual point? For me, it's about scrutiny and accountability. The EU negotiating on our behalf in any circumstance is intolerable but what troubles me more is that Strasbourg is the mechanism of scrutiny. MEPs are a subspecies of politician who are even less fit to govern than most MPs. As if that weren't bad enough, in the European parliament, even if all our MEPs voted together, we are still a minority by default which means, to use a reductio ad absurdum argument, that if the EU decided we were all suddenly going to drive on the right, in practice we couldn't stop them.

We might also ask if we'd even know what hit us if that did happen. Even our own government is often surprised by measures it has previously agreed to. TTIP went through without our national parliament ever getting to scrutinise it. Something like that is far too important to outsource. 1/28th of a voice is not enough.

As much as anything it's a cultural thing. The problem with us is that we're just not cut out to take an interest in EU politics. Our politics is culturally based in London. We're quite parochial like that, which means important EU matters are ignored when really they shouldn't be. It is treated as foreign news and reported as such. Neither the people nor the media really grasp that the EU is a government in its own right, and it's that ignorance and passivity on which the EU depends to progress it's federalist agenda. There is a democratic deficit that cannot be fixed.

For sure we could have an elected commission and an elected EU president, and that would make for a fine democratic façade (and would essentially establish the EU as a nation in its own right), but that would not make a it a democracy any more than the proverbial wolves voting on the dinner menu. And that's the ultimate principle to fight (and die) for.

Because the EU has always been a top down imposition on the peoples of Europe, with neither a demos nor a mandate, the European Parliament will always be viewed as a foreign talking shop, and our lack of engagement in it ensures we will always get a bad deal. We will treat euro-elections as an opinion poll on the incumbent government thus will always end up with the madcap fringes like the Greens and Ukip representing our interests. Cranks and cronies who are simply not up to the job.

If there are to be new rafts of regulation that could fundamentally change our country, I want Westminster and our fierce internet headbangers chucking it around for debate. TTIP has barely been discussed in any great detail, people are pretty ignorant of what it is, and those who oppose it seem to oppose it for all the wrong reasons. That's because it's abstract to the British political machine.

The EU model could hardly be described as representetive either. We have a mere six MEPs to represent somewhere like South West England. That works out at 1.2 MEPs per million people, to represent seven cities and several large towns. This is not democracy by any definition I understand.

For all we might grumble that democracy in the UK is no real democracy, there is a certain force that guides Westminster in ways that Strasbourg is immune. We need to make it work better, but it's better than what the EU calls democracy. Strasbourg is not steered by public debate and popular discourse.

That is why we must repatriate the scrutiny process. Whatever veto we then end up using will at least be a people's veto. It matters because minutia matters. My example de jour being the shipping container. There are better designs but we settle for the mediocre one because universality is what makes the global shipping trade work as efficiently as it does. Perhaps one of the greatest innovations of the modern world.

The shipping container dictates the size of lorries, the types of dock crane, and the shape and size of ships, the width and camber of roads and the height of bridges. That does mean lorries are now much bigger than we would necessarily want for our roads on this little and ancient island, but the common good benefits are there for all to see. But then cyclists get squished so now we are remodelling our cities. Just one small design standard can change everything. Next time that happens, I want our parliament in Westminster looking at it.

There is also another dimension to this. Many lament the triviality and emptiness of British politics. Our parliament seems ever more preoccupied with interfering in our daily lives. What it really is, is displacement activity. Maybe if parliament was looking at the larger matters of trade it would find less reason to poke its nose into things that do not concern it, and leave the more trivial matters to local councils.

By restoring parliament to matters of importance, we restore its prestige and dignity and thus in the process restore its gravitas. That would perhaps go some way to fixing the crisis of confidence we have in our politics - with each level of government doing what it should. We may then start to see councils responding to to the wishes of citizens having reacquired the powers to act.

That is the battleground on which we must fight. We fight to make Westminster mean something again, to restore the primacy of our domestic politics. Brexit doesn't mean a renaissance of empire and fortune, but a renaissance of politics and participation. That in itself is worth having.

Making false promises of what Brexit will achieve is an open goal for the No camp. If the Yes camp puts eurosceptic arguments under half the stress we have put them under, then they will crumble the moment the debate heats up. Brexit cannot deliver a utopia, it cannot deliver total sovereignty nor can it give us complete control of our borders. A global, internet connected, modern Britain can never close itself off. But Brexit can reconnect the people with their politics and politicians, and it gives us the power to say no when it really matters.

A managerial federal Europe may indeed deliver a base level of prosperity, but we are more than economic units to be managed. We are people and we must have a say in our politics otherwise we are merely spectators of our government rather than participants. Managerial federalism may work while the going is good, but all good things inevitably come to an end. What then? If the people do not say no in this referendum, they may already have said no for the very last time.