Brexit plans in tatters after Government faces further defeats

Labour Party

Theresa May’s Brexit strategy has been left in tatters following another shock defeat in the House of Lords. MPs will now be able to vote on whether the UK should remain in the European Economic Area following the Lords vote.

I’ve lost count how many votes the Government has lost on Brexit, it’s around 13. It would be easy to dismiss the actual figure, but it is symbolic because it shows the Government simply isn’t yet able to move forward with Brexit plans.

It’s not ready to meet the 29 March deadline and consistent defeats in the upper chamber along with open criticism from within her own cabinet (even before the vote yesterday, Boris Johnson called his own Prime Ministers proposals for a customs partnership “crazy”), illustrate that May really has not got a full grasp on Brexit.

Formal moves to remove the official 29 March exit date from the bill are sensible. If Brexit plans continue then a huge amount of work is required to sort out ‘macro’ problems, such as the customs union and single market – of which most of us are familiar with and understand their significance. Despite this the Government has continued to underestimate the level of detail required and the length of time such negotiations take.

And even if they do end up being resolved it’s just scratching the surface. EPLP leader Richard Corbett, MEP, has recorded an extensive list of what he calls “a long list of little things”, which, if Brexit goes ahead, “will impact ordinary people in a remarkable wide number of areas – and mostly things we didn’t know about or weren’t told about) at the time of the referendum,” he says.

His archive charts everything from holidays, to sport and health among other matters. You can read about it in more detail here.



Lawson’s tragedy is to be the next in line to try and out-UKIP UKIP

Labour Party

Now that UKIP looks like the protest party of choice, the anti-EU bandwagon is predictably growing apace.

The Tory knee-jerk reaction to UKIP’s gains makes interesting viewing for those of us not directly in the firing line. With 60% of UKIP’s local election support coming from ex-Tory voters and only 7% ex-Labour, according to ex-MP and electoral reform campaigner Martin Linton, it’s the Conservatives who should be (and clearly are) truly worried.    

Hence the intervention in today’s Times by Nigel Lawson, Margaret Thatcher’s Chancellor for six years and a Tory grandee of considerable standing. In common with most of the Conservatives who have spoken out in the UKIP debate, Lawson has decided he doesn’t like the EU. Maybe this is just the prevailing fashion in Tory circles, maybe these anti-EU Conservatives really believe the way to tackle Farage etc is to fight UKIP on their own territory by being more UKIP than UKIP.

The Tories are clearly running scared. Flawed logic, in this instance, the way to combat UKIP is to provide a Tory version of more of the same, is often a response to such fear. The Tories now have it in spades. They didn’t win the 2010 general election and they are now very firmly on course to fail again in 2015.  

 I think it’s rather sad that Lord Lawson has joined the anti-EU cheerleaders, not least because his main arguments are nonsense. Lawson “strongly” suspects there would be a “positive economic advantage to the UK in leaving the single market”, claiming you do not have to be in the single market to export to the European Union. Lawson strategically omits to say that the EU single market helps to bring down barriers, create more jobs and increase overall prosperity in the EU.  It’s also worth noting that he was Chancellor of the Exchequer when the UK signed up to the Single European Act in 1986.

Predictably Lawson also claimed that withdrawing from the EU would save the City of London from a “frenzy of regulatory activism”. It is really quite extraordinary how Tories defend bankers and by definition the huge bonuses which have done so much harm to the financial industry. The main reason they object to EU regulations is that it will hit the bankers where it really hurts – in their pockets.

The noble lord is, however, right on one matter, namely that any repatriation of powers secured by David Cameron will be inconsequential. He can at least see that clearly.

The answer is not to withdraw from the EU all together, as Tories scared of UKIP and, of course, UKIP themselves maintain. That would be madness, a huge national fit of pique cutting off a very large nose to spite a face not yet out of joint. The UK would lose the valuable and irreplaceable European single market and we would no longer be part of cross border initiatives to cut crime and improve the environment, to name but two major areas where EU action is very beneficial.

The answer is to get fully stuck in and reform the EU from within, not by attempting to repatriate powers in the teeth of opposition from nearly all the other member states, but by playing a constructive and active role at the top table. The huge waste that is the Strasbourg seat of the European Parliament would be a good place to start followed by a concerted effort on the Common Agricultural Policy where the latest round of reform has failed to deliver anything very meaningful. There is much to do. It’s just a huge shame that Prime Minister Cameron is so involved in batting off his own backbenchers that he can’t see the wood for the trees, let alone act in a responsible and statesmanlike fashion.

Ed Miliband makes it clear that Britain’s future lies within the European Union

Labour Party

The economic case for being in the European Union is overwhelming:

  • a market of 500 million people
  • producing and selling one third of the world’s goods and services
  • where British businesses do at least 50 percent of their trade 

The aspirations for the British economy – high-skills, high-wages and high productivity – are easier to achieve within the European Union than outside it.

 Ed Miliband in his ground-breaking speech to the CBI used the example of the UK car industry to demonstrate that it is easier to achieve our aspirations within the EU rather than outside it.

 “Nissan, Tata and Toyota didn’t come to Britain for a low-wage, low skill economy:” Ed told his audience on Monday. “They come to Britain because we offer a gateway to high-income consumers who want high-value goods. And to make those high-value goods they invest in high-skilled jobs…………….we have people from all over Europe coming here to be part of (our) Technology Clusters. Because of the single market.”

The economic case for being in Europe is overwhelming, and many, if not the majority, of those attending the CBI conference are pro-EU and would not want Britain to leave. Their businesses rely on being in the EU. 

The alternatives for Britain were we to exit the EU are grim indeed.  Ed highlighted them: 

“If we left the EU, be under no illusions, it would be the United States, China and the European Union in the negotiating room. Literally eating our lunch. And Britain in the over flow room……I fear ……we would end up competing on low wages and low skills. A race to the bottom.”

 And most importantly, Ed Miliband stressed that this is not a future for Britain that we should contemplate. 

Yet no-one, even the most Europhile amongst us, would for even a nano-second claim that everything in the EU is rosy. Ed pointed to the following.

There are 25 million unemployed people across the EU and five million young people in the EU are at this minute looking for work. The failures of the Euro have shaken confidence in the whole EU. The EU budget often seems to match the priorities of the 1950s not the 21st century. Meanwhile the immigration attendant on enlargement has not been handled well.   

These important matters should be addressed while the massive advantages to Britain of being in the EU emphasised more strongly.

Ed is also very clear that now is not the time for a referendum on the EU. Businesses considering coming to Britain would put their investment on hold pending the outcome of a referendum. There would be instability in the British economy. Moreover, holding a referendum on the EU would not reflect the priorities of the British people – jobs, living standards and prosperity.

 Britain is stronger in the EU than it would be outside:  “Exit would not honour the traditions that have made Britain the great country it is,” was the upbeat note on which Ed concluded his speech. “Britain has always given so much to the world. We have traded with others, not turned inwards. We have opened up our country to new influences, not shrunk from them. We have engaged with others, not stood aside from them.

 “An ambitious Britain has always been an outward looking Britain. An inward looking Britain can never be an ambitious Britain.”

 And finally Ed Miliband said in no uncertain terms: “I believe our future lies within the European Union.”    


Congratulations to Poland’s Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski

Labour Party

You may have seen this article in yesterday’s times by Poland’s Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski.

A veteran of the Solidarity generation, Mr Sikorski ticks, in his own words, “every box required to be a lifelong member of the Eurosceptic club”. He is even acknowledged by his heroine Margaret Thatcher in her book “Statecraft”.

Yet he believes in the modern European project and emphasises that Poland will do its utmost to make it succeed.

Mr Sikorski is, of course, in the European mainstream. This is yet another example of just how isolated the British Conservatives find themselves.

Mr Sikorski goes much further in his article, busting seven myths about the EU regularly peddled in Britain.

Myth 1 – Britain’s trade with the EU is less important than its trade with the rest of the world.

In fact half of UK exports go to the EU. Until recently Britain traded more with Ireland than Brazil, India and China put together. In 2011 the UK trade deficit with China was £19.7 billion. Between 2003 and 2011 Britain’s exports to Poland increased threefold.

Myth 2 – The EU forces Britain to adopt laws on human rights that are contrary to the British tradition

In fact these rulings come from the European Court of Human Rights, which is not part of the EU but part of the Council of Europe, originally set up by the UK and pre-dates the EU.

Myth 3 – The UK is bankrupting itself by funding Europe

In fact, the EU budget is a mere one per cent of the GDP of all EU member states. The UK’s annual net contribution to the EU is £8 – 9 billion a year, similar to that of France and less than Germany. It equates to just £150 a year for each person in Britain. Moreover, UK companies have benefitted enormously from EU cohesion fund investments in Central and Eastern Europe. These are new markets for this country. The British Government estimates that every household “earns” between £1,500 and £3,500 from the single market – between five to fifteen times the UK’s budget contribution.

Myth 4 – The UK is drowning in EU bureaucracy

In fact there are 33,000 people working for the European Commission compared with 82,000 at HM Revenue and Customs. Spain has nearly three million bureaucrats.

Myth 5 – Britain is being taken over by EU legislation

In fact EU Directives are not imposed on high from Brussels. British elected representatives and officials in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers approve and sign off EU legislation.

Myth 6 – The European Commission is a hotbed of socialism

In fact there are many examples of the EU helping to dismantle monopolies and maintaining competition regulations, for example the Open Sky and the subsidies to business.

Myth 7 – The EU stops hardworking Britons working longer hours than feckless continentals

In fact the average Pole works 40.5 hours a week, the average Spaniard 38.1 and the average across the EU is 37.2. In the UK we are slightly under the EU average at 36.2 hours a week.

Mr Sikorski has given us valuable information on the reality rather of the EU rather than the fantasies we hear all the time. Maybe we are also seeing the beginning of a more mature and sensible attitude to the European Union by some of those sections of the British media who have in the past been somewhat economical with the truth about our membership.

Cameron’s shilly-shallying on Europe is not good for the country

Labour Party

The Tories are well and truly getting themselves in a twist on the EU.Europe, as we all know, was always their Achilles heels, a fault line which is getting deeper by the day.

By wading into these turbulent waters, big beast Eurosceptic Dr Liam Fox has heightened their problems and shown us an even more divided party. But it’s not just the Conservative Party in the frame. Since they are the leading part of the Con-Dem Coalition Government, this is something which affects the British people as a whole.

In a speech given tellingly to the right-wing think tank, the Taxpayers’ Alliance, Dr Fox, according to ConservativeHome defied “the wisdom of the Conservative leadership by arguing that if we are not able to renegotiate significant powers back for Britain, we should leave the European Union”.   

It is, of course, bad enough that a former Cabinet Minister should attack his Party’s leadership in this way. It’s made even worse by David Cameron’s utter ineptness. Does he support a referendum or doesn’t her?  Liam Fox and 100 other Tory MPs think he doesn’t while others believe he might.

If it weren’t so serious, I would say that brewery and a lot to drink come to mind. Britain’s relationship with the European Union matters very much to our country. I can do no better than quote Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander writing in the Guardian on Saturday: “My fear is that the shambles over the last few days reveals more about the prime minister’s weakness in the party than the strength of his convictions about Europe. Whatever your view on Britain’s relationship with the EU, we all want the government’s approach to an issue this significant to start from only one place: consideration of what is best for Britain. I regret that this prime minister seems to be more concerned with managing party interests than governing in the national interest when it comes to Europe.”

Our national interest is at the very minimum to have a clear and well thought out strategy for Europe. It does no harm to repeat that the EU single market is the UK’s largest trading bloc taking 40 per cent of our exports. This involves more than simply getting goods there. As Douglas Alexander said in the same article: “…the single market is not just about “free trade” as the Eurosceptics misleadingly imply. It’s about far more than that: removing barriers behind the borders – and that requires common rules with a commission and court to enforce them. And where we have shared goals – from tackling climate change to cross-border crime and human trafficking – in an era of billion-person countries and trillion-pound economies – we cannot afford to give up on ways that help amplify our voice and protect our interests.”

It beggars belief that the Prime Minister is playing party politics with such an important matter. The real problem is that Cameron has not really “detoxified” the Tory brand. He hasn’t had the courage to do what Neil Kinnock achieved for the Labour Party in the 1980s. The British Conservative Party now has more extremists than before the 2010 general election.

Cameron seems to think appeasing the Eurosceptics will get him off the hook. Such misplaced judgment defies all historical precedents. Cameron has isolated the UK by pulling out of the European People’s Party, the centre-right group which also happens to be the largest political group in the European Parliament. Having annoyed his natural allies, Cameron now thinks he can renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU. Total and utter pie in the sky for reasons explained in some detail in other posts on this blog, and rather pleasingly put forward by Andrew Neill on the BBC Sunday Politics programme.