Is Theresa May About to Betray Brexit?

Ten months ago, I wrote a blog, posted here, describing how the EU and the Remain camp would try to reverse brexit by undermining business confidence and by delaying our exit through intractable negotiations. Since talks commenced, matters are proceeding much as expected. I was initially encouraged by May’s declaration that brexit means brexit but it is becomingly increasingly clear that the statement was meaningless and designed to provide political cover for prevarication. I’d like to say upfront that I really hope that the analysis in this blog is wrong. I really do, but for the life of me I can’t stop thinking that a great brexit betrayal is at hand.

The EU has laid down a staged approach to talks that guarantees that substantive issues on a future UK/EU relationship remain undiscussed. Instead they will only talk about exit issues and the purpose of this is threefold. First, staged talks ensure that politically difficult matters are discussed first. This allows them to highlight the costs of brexit in a way that feeds into campaign hyperbole by Continuity Remain. Second, they ensure that progress is slow by whittling away at the time remaining before the Article 50 deadline of March 2019 and the politically unpalatable prospect of leaving without a deal. Finally, and most importantly, the approach ensures that nothing substantive about our future relationship is discussed. This is important because brexit is about the future not the past. If matters are agreed about our future relationship then it lends legitimacy to the idea that brexit will inevitably occur. The subtext is that so long as nothing is agreed about the future then brexit might still be avoided. President Macron is already talking about a place for the UK in a reformed EU.

So if that is the EU strategy then what of May’s public statements including her recent speech in Florence? Some commentators have suggested that by verbally schmoozing the EU she is attempting to reach out directly to the member states and to by-pass the Commission and Barnier. In fact, she is playing their game. By focussing on what is effectively a standstill transitional arrangement she again avoids the substantive question of our future relationship. If you think about it, it is illogical to talk about a transition when you have not yet agreed the final destination. Importantly, she described the transition arrangement as being ‘under the same terms’ as at present with continued market access. Lets look more closely at that statement by examining how preferential trading could continue after March 2019 when according to Article 50 the UK must leave the EU.

I was very much struck by this article by consultant economist/trade expert, Derrick Wilkinson. In it, he explains that under WTO rules, the UK and EU could only legally continue to trade under preferential arrangements after brexit if the 2 sides had entered into a Free Trade Agreement beforehand. Importantly, he says that this has to be more than just a statement of intent, it has to be pretty much agreed in detail. Thus, under his analysis, the transition cannot legally be used to start talks about trade. It must be an implementation period for an agreement made in detail and before the March 2019 deadline. There is no sign whatsoever of the EU and UK attempting to write a FTA by March 2019 and by ‘conceding’ discussions on May’s requested transition arrangements without an end-state the EU will be able to spin out matters even longer. So what other options for trade exist? Well if it is to occur under preferential terms, and given that May has already discounted the Norway option, there is only one and that is continued membership of the EU by an agreed extension to Article 50 talks which would be just the start of endless delays, uncertainty and ultimately the great brexit betrayal.

I can hear some readers thinking, but what about “no deal is better than a bad deal”? Isn’t that evidence that May wants a FTA agreed by March 2019 or we’ll walk and trade under WTO rules and tariffs? It might have been a convincing threat 6 months ago but the amount of work needed to prepare our ports and customs’ systems for ‘no deal’ is immense and the moment to start making preparations for this has now passed.

In sum, I fear that the EU will continue to prevent the negotiations progressing to a stage when brexit agreements become irreversible and implementation inevitable. Theresa May either through choice or ineptitude has got the country into a position where the only choices available to us are a FULL trade deal (not going to happen), No deal (for which were not prepared) or continued EU membership by an extension to Article 50.

The electoral consequences for the Conservative Party of this situation will be grievous. And I for one won’t care.

Watch The Article 50 Pea Very Carefully

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In my last post I discussed how the EU, aided by a vigorous UK Remain Campaign, will use time and well-judged leaks and statements to destabilise UK markets, reduce business confidence and undermine political support for brexit in the UK. The aim will be to persuade the British electorate to change their minds, possibly in a new referendum or perhaps after a general election held under adverse circumstances. In that blog, I mentioned that the reversibility of Article 50 would become a key plank of the EU’s strategy, and I predicted that the EU’s lapdogs within the UK Remain Campaign would seek to have the matter determined in the European Court of Justice.

Sure enough, today we see an article in the Daily Telegraph confirming my prediction. Jolyon Maugham QC is one of the key Remain lawyers in the recent High Court action and he has been unstinting in his opposition to brexit. He claims to be merely protecting the sovereignty of parliament but his actions and statements are unmistakably political rather than altruistic. His comments in the Telegraph confirm my worst fears and I would like to explain why.

The High Court ruling is important because it requires that Parliamentary approval is obtained before Article 50 can be triggered by the Government. However, the basis of its judgement touches on the key issue that will become the critical political focus for the next few years: the reversibility of Article 50. The ruling stated that the triggering of Article 50 required parliamentary consent because an Article 50 declaration cannot be reversed and so the very act of triggering it would result in inevitable changes to the law which can only be done through legislation and not by royal prerogative. Now Brexiteers might be comforted by the idea that Article 50 cannot be reversed but the matter will not end with this ruling even if it is upheld in the Supreme Court case on 5 December.

In fact, this ruling temporarily suits the Remain Campaign because the effect of a Parliamentary vote in both houses could be to introduce long delays especially if, as the Telegraph article suggests, the Regional Assemblies/Parliaments also have to provide their separate consent. Delays are the key to the strategy of making the UK electorate change their minds. The longer matters go on, then the more opportunity there is to disrupt brexit talks and foment resistance at home. In the worst case, an intervention by the Scottish Parliament could result in a massive constitutional crisis which could cause huge political instability and shake the foundations of our country to the core. The High Court ruling is only a temporary staging post, however. The Remain/EU strategy will only work if Article 50 can actually be reversed, and in this regard British court rulings will eventually become irrelevant as the reversibility of Article 50 is a matter of EU law and it will be decided in the ECJ. If you read the Telegraph article it is clear that this has been the Remain plan all along. It is ironic and sheer legal hypocrisy that the reversibility of Article 50 can be used in the British courts to support one phase of the EU/Remain strategy (delay), and then taken to a European Court to turn the idea on its head for the longer term EU objective.

There are some who suggest that the Prime Minister should not be appealing the High Court’s decision in the Supreme Court. I think there are 2 ways of viewing this depending on how much you trust her intentions. If she genuinely wants the UK to leave the EU then it could be sensible to get as many of the legal arguments out of the way before Article 50 is triggered as protracted court actions will be more toxic once talks are under way. Alternatively, it may be that as a weak Remainer, complexity and delay might suit her and it may eventually become clear that, contrary to her public statements, she is actually complicit in the EU’s strategy of keeping us in. At the moment she has the benefit of my doubt, but I remain open-minded.

The sad fact is that the legal machinations are completely beyond the control of ordinary voters. That said, a political battle of gigantic proportions is already under way and it is one that will determine the outcome of the brexit war and the complexion of British politics for a generation. Leavers must brace Theresa May’s spine and this will require mass overt action on the streets to remind all MPs and peers that not only should the outcome of the referendum be respected but that when the people are asked a question through a democratic medium then they expect their answer to be put into effect. It is not enough for leavers to sit quietly at home moaning until it is too late. The Remain strategy is already in play and they will marshall the full force of the establishment. We need to oppose it with all the vigour we can find because there is more to this than just brexit. There is a fundamental principle at stake.

The Rest of The EU Referendum Campaign

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When the awful murder of Jo Cox MP was announced yesterday, I decided to stop campaigning for a while out of respect for her husband and young family. After 24 hours silence, I have decided to rejoin the fray because notwithstanding these terrible events, the country is still faced with an historic referendum that will determine the future strategic direction of the country for many years to come. It is therefore right that the democratic process continues although both sides may have to make changes to the tone of their campaigns and to recognise the public shock and anger that this attack has stirred.

Disappointingly, it seems there are some that are seeking to make political capital from this attack and in particular from conflicting reports that the assailant shouted ‘Britain first’ during his attack. I have two points about this. First, speculation about the details of the attack are unhelpful and could prejudice future legal proceedings. Trials can collapse if they are seen to be prejudiced by prior media reporting and therefore journalists and commentators should tread warily and avoid speculation. In my experience, witnesses to traumatic events can often give different and conflicting accounts of what they saw or heard despite trying to provide an honest recollection or perception of events. Often, it is only after a full investigation that an accurate picture can be established, and it is therefore important to let the police do their work without any media interference, speculation or comment based on rumours or only a partial view of the facts.

My second point is that whether or not the attack was politically motivated is largely irrelevant to the referendum question before the country. The question is not about political violence. It is solely about our membership of a European political institution. None of the subsidiary issues connected with the question should be affected as a result of a young mother with altruistic views losing her life on the street whilst honestly serving her country. Even if Jo Cox supported the Remain side of the campaign, it is right to say that her death does not automatically make the Remain argument correct even though we all feel complete compassion for Jo’s friends and family. It would be a terrible blow to our freedom of speech to allow her murder to stifle or constrain the debate on a national matter of such importance. Moreover, if we allow fear and violence to affect the discussion we play into the very hands of those that would seek to use violent or undemocratic means to undermine our parliamentary process.

Having said that, egged on by an ever-hungry media, the mood in the country does seem to have changed in the last 24 hours, and the Leave Campaign needs to modify its approach not only to respect the new mood but also to ensure that its message is not lost in a chorus that will likely try to convince voters that to vote leave is somehow to condone the events in Birstall. It is a matter of tone rather than substance. Most Leave supporters won’t change their minds but a soft centre ground could easily switch sides unless matters are handled sensitively. Here are 4 ideas in no particular order:

This week, the Leave Campaign seemed to gain real momentum in the polls and was starting to set the agenda. Any delay in campaigning is to the advantage of David Cameron and his Remain campaign. It will allow them time to regroup and to lead the discussion when it recommences, probably with an attempt to gain the moral high ground. The campaigns should start again as soon as is decently possible to limit this effect.

The immigration debate needs to be couched in terms of parliamentary accountability. Fear mongering about migrants should be avoided throughout social media. The main argument is that immigration is a matter that should be decided in our own national parliament rather than in Brussels. In many respects, this tragedy has put into sharp focus the good that MPs can achieve if empowered, and the Brexit debate should concentrate on why it is better to have that power residing in Westminster rather than elsewhere. I have always held this view about immigration and parliamentary accountability but it is not universally shared within the Leave Campaigns.

Attacks on the establishment will need to be handled very carefully. Individual MPs acting for constituencies are not in my view ‘the establishment’ and it is wrong to question their motives or honesty. It is when they act collectively within the Party system and as governments that much political honesty is lost especially when they act beyond their authority within unelected institutions that wield far too much power. That said, blatant examples of individual political dishonesty, double standards or duplicity are still fair game but the way that they are challenged needs to be thought out carefully.

Arguments about whether the Remain side are trying to weaponise the death of Jo Cox are counter-productive and waste valuable campaigning time. It is better to concentrate on getting out your own campaign message rather than to play on the home territory of the opposition. It is always better to turn the opposition’s negative campaigning into a positive argument for your own side of the argument. Support for our parliamentary process is a good example of how you can do this. Now more than ever, the Leave Campaign needs a positive message delivered confidently in measured terms and with a smile. There should be no anger: leave that behind.

It is therefore a matter of emphasis and tone, and I would urge all Leave campaigners to think carefully before they press the ‘send’ or ‘tweet’ button. Undecided voters and soft Leavers need to be very carefully handled between now and the vote next Thursday. It would be a shame to lose this argument through ill considered behaviour or arguments.

The Leave Campaign Is Missing a Trick

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The problem for the Leave campaign at the moment is that we are trading blows over tactical issues rather than focusing on the big strategic questions that should rightly be addressed over such an important matter as our EU membership. As well as putting voters off our message, it suits the Remain campaign because it allows them to dribble out daily stories over the dire consequences of leaving which support their overall strategy of Project Fear. They can’t run a positive campaign because they know that it would open up to scrutiny all manner of things about the EU that are a complete anathema to voters. The response to this from the leave camp has been disappointing and it has lacked coherence and impact.

To my mind, the two big questions that need answering in this poll are: Where is the EU heading and what should be the UK’s future relationship with it? These are weighty questions with a lot of component parts which themselves are important to voters. However, by plunging into the minutiae of democracy, immigration and economics, the Leave campaign has not sufficiently highlighted that the EU’s overall direction of travel is towards a superstate. Number 10 is desperate to avoid any attention on the future EU because they know that if the subject was properly examined then voters would stampede towards the Brexit. It also explains why Remain has gone very quiet about David Cameron’s EU deal because they know that it affords no protection against future EU state-building, and any decent forensic examination would reveal that under the deal’s terms we are likely to be left half-in and half-out, marginalised, paying the bills and with less political influence than if we were properly out and back at the global table.

By constraining the debate in this way, the Prime Minister is being intellectually dishonest because our EU membership is indeed important and merits a proper strategic debate about our future place in the world. But he knows that if he can use the minutiae to distract attention away from the EU super-elephant in the room then he will be able to avoid the really big questions about our future.

I hope that the Leave campaign picks up on this because I really do think that the core leave vote will be insufficient. By all means, talk about immigration, democracy, sovereignty,cost etc but do it within a very clear framework of the future shape of the EU rather than as piecemeal vignettes. The Five President’s Report may seem dry to most but if presented effectively, items like the report and today’s leak in the Times about a planned EU Army could allow us to highlight the overall direction of EU travel and to develop some overall coherence to our arguments.

A Draft Speech for a British Prime Minister

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Good evening

When I announced an In/Out EU Referendum in 2013 I laid out my vision for a fundamentally reformed European Union which would be better equipped to face a competitive world beset with economic and security problems. I identified three key challenges that needed to be addressed, namely, problems with the eurozone, competitiveness and the role of national governments including a recognition of the importance of national sovereignty. In my speech I identified 5 principles that supported my vision. First, there should be improvements to European competitiveness by reforming the European Commission to provide a more nimble organisation more focussed on global free trade. Second, the EU needed to adopt a more flexible approach with less emphasis on one-size-fits-all political solutions, and safeguards that recognised national interests and diverse opinion. Third, I wanted power to flow back to the member states, and, fourthly, a greater role for national parliaments to improve democratic accountability in the absence of a European demos. Finally, I wanted to see a fair settlement that balanced the interests of those inside the Eurozone against those outside. My speech was positive and delivered in the spirit of a committed member of the European Union who could see a better way.

Since the General Election of 2015 you will be aware that I have visited most EU capitals and campaigned tirelessly for the kind of changes that I believe are necessary to produce a European Union best equipped for the 21st Century and to secure the UK’s position within it. It is important that people realise that most effective international diplomacy is conducted in private and outside of the glare of the kind of publicity that we have seen in Brussels this week. Proper diplomacy is quiet work, and it relies on relationships that in some cases were forged and nurtured over hundreds of years. I have to tell you that over the many private meetings that I have held in the last 10 months it has become very apparent to me that there is no collective will for the kind of changes that I outlined in my Bloomberg vision set out in 2013. It seems that the UK sees our place in the world differently to others and that this difference can not now be resolved. We have therefore truly arrived at a fork in the road.

The deal that has been agreed in Brussels this week therefore marks the high water of institutional change that other EU countries are prepared to accept. I expect that most of you would agree that it falls very far short of my 2013 vision of fundamental EU reform, and it highlights that the direction that other EU countries wish to follow is based on closer political union and centralisation something that the United Kingdom finds hard to accept. Some of you may well ask, why did you battle so hard for the deal if it was not something that fulfilled your expectations? Well, the reason is that I wanted to negotiate the very best terms that could be achieved and then let the British people decide if it was enough. Whatever international deal is presented to the people, it is the duty of a Prime Minister to ensure that it was the very best that could be achieved on behalf of his nation. If you hold the deal to be insufficient then I would much prefer that it was because it represents a difference of international opinion rather than because your Prime Minister didn’t try hard enough.

To my mind, the reasons for either remaining in or leaving the EU are now finely balanced. It is the most important strategic decision that we will make as a country since the Second World War and therefore it is right that the British people conduct a serious and mature debate on the matter before making their decision. Whilst the deal may seem poor, it needs to be viewed in the context of all the other reasons for either remaining or leaving this organisation. A poor deal alone may be insufficient reason to leave as there are a myriad other factors that also need to be considered. For example, there can be no argument that in some situations it is better and stronger to act as a group of like-minded countries. But on the other hand, does common action require a political union that draws sovereign power away from the people in individual countries and reduce the value of their vote?

I do not intend to set out all the factors that need to be considered as this will be played out in detail during the coming months before the referendum which I now announce will take place at the earliest opportunity on 23rd June. However, I do wish to make some remarks on the conduct of the forthcoming campaigns. First, it is right that such an important matter for the country is debated in a mature and objective manner. In this regard, I hope that both campaigns will set aside the usual political point scoring and negative campaigning and set out their cases objectively and factually. This is not only important to achieve a result based on proper democratic foundations but also because it will be played out in the full scrutiny of the the rest of the international community. One of my priorities has been to minimise the diplomatic fallout resulting from this referendum and the manner in which we conduct our national debate will reflect on us internationality.

It is also for this reason that I have decided to adopt a neutral role in the debate. Myself as the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor will play no part in the debate other than to facilitate it. There is important diplomatic business to conduct over the coming months including the economic recovery, the refugee crisis, Syria, Iraq and Libya. This will require close contact with many countries that will be affected by our vote in June, and it would be untenable for us to attend such meetings if we had adopted any other position than a neutral one in the matter of the EU referendum. Aside from these three senior government politicians, the rest of the cabinet is released from cabinet collective responsibility with immediate affect to campaign as they see fit. I have placed some constraints on ministers but these are minor and intended to ensure that a proper amount of time is spent on other ministerial duties. I am determined that whilst the debate may rage, the government will not be sidetracked and will continue to deliver on the promises made in our manifesto. It is also important that Britain now holds the fullest and most meaningful of debates and with this in mind it is important that elected politicians play a full role in examining the issues before the people finally decide.

This country has played a huge role in international affairs over the course of our long and proud history. The direction in we choose to go will not only determine our own future but will also set a model for the rest of the world who will watch with great interest and in some cases with a degree of fear. Closer to home, it is important also to recognise that there will be no second referendum on the matter. Our decision in June will set our course for the foreseeable future and therefore it will also be important that we come together as a country to unite around the collective will of the people once a decision is made. It is a big moment for us but I am confident that the British people will conduct their deliberations carefully and soberly before deciding wisely.

Could Cameron do a Hugh Grant on Saturday?

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The differences between the Prime Minister’s EU aspirations outlined in his 2013 Bloomberg Speech and the thin gruel seemingly contained in his draft EU renegotiation agreement are so stark that I find it perplexing. In no way, could the draft agreement constitute the promised ‘fundamental reform of the EU’. It throws some minor titbits in the UK’s direction but the EU itself is largely unchanged and will lumber on regardless especially as there is no legal cement provided by treaty change. However, Cameron is no fool, and all this makes me wonder what he is really up to? I can’t accept that what seems to be on offer is the end of the story and I find myself wondering if he could really be a Leaver who might be prepared to throw caution to the wind and declare an honest hand in the manner of the British Prime Minister played by Hugh Grant in the film, Love Actually

Then I woke up!

And yet. Surely, the Prime Minister can’t think that the British voter will fail to notice a dud deal when they see one. David Cameron is far too clever for that, and I therefore fully expect that he is playing a subtler game and that his real strategy has yet to be revealed. Here are some thoughts on how things could unfurl

In the first scenario, the conventional narrative is correct and what you see is what you get. In this case, the Bloomberg Speech contained promises that, in the context of a 2013 Coalition government, the PM never thought he would have to keep. The majority he gained in the 2015 election was unexpected and so he now finds himself having to wriggle out of his previous declarations. In this case, Cameron has already decided that the UK will stay in the EU and he has calculated that he can scare the voters into supporting him. He is following the Wilson model and he will brazen it out by trumpeting what a great deal he has secured. His assertions will be supported by a ‘3-shirt, acrimonious’ meeting with fellow EU leaders from which he will emerge bleary-eyed and victorious after a hard-fought battle with the French playing the traditional role as the defeated European foe. If he feels his side of the campaign needed an extra boost he might even walk out of this weekend’s talks before returning to ’emergency’ talks a month later to secure the ‘important’ terms that he demands. The press might have you believe that this would constitute a ‘failure’ on the PM’s part but in the eyes of his core vote and the undecided middle ground it would probably be seen as a show of strength and reinforce the idea that the deal is actually something substantive and worth fighting for. This is the scenario being played out in the press but it is the least likely to my mind. The deal is so transparently a paper tiger that there is a real likelihood that the electorate will reject it and vote to leave, leaving the PM on the losing side and the wrong side of history. It’s why I believe it’s not that simple.

Before moving on, we should briefly address the key question of which target audience is the PM addressing with his recent remarks? It can’t be his party who increasingly see his round-robin of european capitals as a begging mission and a bit of a national humiliation. I don’t think either that it is the europhiles who are largely convinced ‘Remainians’ anyway. In my view, he is addressing European politicians and the public in other countries, and I need to explain this.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, it is absolutely right that a British Prime Minister should seek to minimise the diplomatic damage that will undoubtedly result from the referendum process as to do otherwise would be against our national interest. If we end up leaving, we need to minimise the strategic fallout which could be considerable. On the other hand, even a vote to remain in the EU could undermine long-term diplomatic relationships if it was secured clumsily. With this in mind, I believe that the PM had no choice but to enter into EU negotiations seeking realistic (weak) changes and to portray the UK as ‘willing’ Europeans and ‘reluctant’ potential leavers. If he had entered into talks demanding huge and unrealistic changes that could never be accepted in other capitals he would have been perceived as a pre-determined leaver and the EU would have just given up on us amid much diplomatic rancour and long term damage.

If this explains the PM’s behaviour and remarks in the last few months, it also raises questions about what he is really seeking. If it is indeed a diplomatic charade, then it raises the possibility that the Prime Minister actually does want us to leave the EU or is at least agnostic. I noted that the PM has not unequivocally signed up to Tusk’s draft letter and there have been remarks from No10 and Ministers about it ‘being the basis of a negotiation’ Does this mean that the UK might attempt to introduce new and as yet unseen material into the talks? Certainly the French are alive to the threat as even President Hollande remarked last week that there should be nothing else in the talks beyond what is stated in the draft agreement. If the UK wanted to ensure that the talks were unsuccessful, then I can think of no better way of engineering it than by making a late bid for new clauses. The effect of failed talks would be electrifying. In the extreme case, the PM could come home on Saturday declare himself a reluctant leaver and campaign to leave. This would be the Hugh Grant option. Does this explain why some of the more senior ministers seem to have gone silent? In reality, probably not although its a nice thought. I believe that it is more likely that he plans to use the failed talks as a lever to gain something altogether different such as the Associate Membership model. Under this plan, the UK would sit in outer ring of slowcoaches whilst an inner core forged ahead with closer political integration. To my mind, Associate Membership would constitute a second class status which I would vigorously oppose but I mention now to illustrate that the Prime Minister’s position is still opaque.

There are probably a number of other scenarios that you could think of and any one could be true. The important point though is that nothing is ever as it seems with politics and international affairs. David Cameron is a wily animal and in my opinion we have not yet see the half of it. The clues will be in his remarks and by careful consideration of which audience he is talking to. The BBC’s Andrew Marr show may well provide the clue. The weekend ahead promises to be extremely interesting.

A Single Leave Campaign – An Outline Blueprint

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With the EU Referendum polls showing a healthy lead for the Remain Camp and the Prime Minister seemingly on the verge of a deal in Brussels you would think that the various Leave campaigns would be directing all their available firepower at the vacuous nature of these orchestrated talks and the total lack of meaningful reform that they will provide. But oh no! At a seriously important moment in how this might play out, the Leave Camps have decided to direct their fire at each other and also within their own individual campaigns. For a committed Brexiteer, this is totally dispiriting and totally unnecessary. It is largely about the 3 campaigns jockeying for lead campaign status from the Electoral Commission but it is also a dispute about the key messages and how the campaign should be run. There are also large egos at stake, and the result is that at grassroots level activists are left bemused and dispirited. More strategically, the media is starting to portray the Leave Campaigns as a disorganised rabble with all that this means for how the matter is perceived by the general population. This is hardly a recipe for success, and so this morning I thought I would produce a plan that I believe could bring together the major Leave camps under one umbrella whilst allowing them to raise funds and campaign in their own particular way.

In designing this campaign structure I have held one thought in my mind, and that is that unlike a general election there are no political parties who can legitimately claim leadership. The leave movement is actually owned by ordinary people with the strongly held view that the UK should leave the EU. Importantly, it is not owned by those that would seek to organise the campaign; they are merely servants for a broader political idea. This is important because individuals have many different reasons for being prepared to get up early on a wet Saturday morning to deliver leaflets or man a town-centre stall. For some, it is about controlling migration. For others, it is about regaining sovereignty and for another group it is about saving money. All are valid reasons and it is right that the referendum allows these views to be examined otherwise the poll will not have achieved its democratic purpose of determining the people’s will. With this key point in mind, I believe that a united Leave Campaign should try to facilitate all these views. It is not for any one group to impose their will on how the arguments should be revealed. That is for the activists on the streets, in the media and writers in the blogosphere.

Before describing my proposed organisation it is worth mentioning the key campaigning themes as this seems to have been a source of much of the friction. Leave.EU seems to be of the view that immigration should be the major theme of the campaign and this is reflected in much of which is pushed out by their spokesmen. In my view, this particular theme is guaranteed to appeal to the key UKIP support but will not necessarily appeal to the moderate and undecided centre ground if it is couched in the terms often favoured by controversial individuals such as Nigel Farage. That said, the target audience for Leave.EU is still very important and if campaigning along these lines results in a large turnout of the UKIP rump support, then it could prove decisive in determining the result. On the other hand, VoteLeave’s target audience is the undecided centre ground who may be more attentive to arguments about sovereignty and finance. LabourLeave have equally valid messages for their target audience. The point is that all these target audiences will have to feel sufficiently motivated to make the trip to the polling booth and vote to leave and so all campaigns are important with nobody right or wrong. Like many grassroots activists, I don’t care why someone votes to leave so long as they do. With that in mind, my proposed campaign structure tries to reconcile the different views of the main campaigns by adopting a federal structure (sorry to use the ‘f’ word in a skeptic blog) which would allow the individual campaigns to run their own affairs under the umbrella of a joint steering group which would be the officially designated lead campaign. Here’s what it would look like:

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The steering Group would have the following features:

1 Board members would be drawn fairly from the main leave campaigns. This would not necessarily be solely from the three campaigns I have mentioned. Board composition would have to be agreed as some individuals are divisive but whatever the differences, agreement must be achieved.

2. Members and the main spokesmen would have to sign up to some main principles. The most important of these is that the leave campaign is actually campaigning for the UK to leave the EU and not just using the referendum to leverage a better deal from Brussels. In this regard they should sign up for a single referendum and immediate use of Article 50 after a successful vote. I don’t believe that the leave campaign should try to be prescriptive about the question of exactly how the UK would leave as this will be a matter for the government of the day. Options can be provided, but the aim is to be clear that the government of the day must indeed take the UK out of the EU. Second, members should recognise that colleagues from the other campaigns may have different views on how the campaign should proceed. This should not be a recipe for argument but welcome diversity. The board is facilitating the campaign, not trying to run it.

3. The board would dispense public referendum funds to the various campaigns according to agreement and their relative size. Feedback from private polling of interest groups could also be fed down to the separate campaigns to maximise effectiveness.

4. The board would provide a point of contact for the media (media centre?). Better to have this at the top rather than allow the media to try and undermine unity by playing off the separate campaigns against each other. The stronger the leadership at the top and the clearer the message then the less likely this problem will arise. The key message is that diversity of opinion is welcome within the leave camp. The media centre could be manned by personnel from all 3 campaigns and queries answered by the individual most likely to receive a favourable response (e.g. VoteLabour rep vs Guardian enquiry; LeaveEU rep vs Daily Express etc)

Sitting under the steering group are the individual campaigns. These would lose their current strategic role and they would be reprofiled to face their activists. Their key role would be to assist activists and provide campaign resources to street level. The key features of the individual campaigns are as follows:

1. They would be free to raise their own funds subject to the rules.

2. They would be free to run their own campaigns as they wish and to determine their target audience subject to the same requirements as the Steering Group which is that they are actually campaigning to leave in a single referendum.

3. Their key role would be to provide logistic support to the ground campaign such as leaflets, campaigning gear, advertising and information support.

4. They would decide how best to run their campaigns and appeal to their target audience. e.g. mail shot vs leafleting vs street stalls

5. They would manage their database of supporters and sign people up as in the current way.

A key part in my plan would be the joint coordination centre sitting beneath the individual campaigns. This organisation would run a combined database of volunteers to ensure that activities take place across the country in a coordinated manner. It would put local coordinators in touch with volunteers of all complexions to allow manpower to be allocated to the campaigning task. It should be possible to coordinate activities quite closely. For example, leafleting activities could be arranged carefully to target specific audiences according to their likely receptiveness to different campaign themes. I am not prescriptive about how this would work other than to say that there must be some coordination of activities otherwise the street level campaigns will be ineffective and inefficient. The closer the coordination the more effective the results.

Finally, there are the volunteers. In my experience, most of the activists from the various campaigns recognise the joint endeavour and are quite happy to campaign alongside each other. For my part, I would happily man a town centre stall with 3 piles of leaflets and people from the other leave organisations. Questions from the public could be directed to the activist with the best knowledge and likely appeal. In my view, the current difficulties are not at this level, they are within the senior management.

In sum, we need a federal structure that allows the campaigns operational freedom but with a close element of coordination. The current set up is self-destructive and will doom us to lose unless it is gripped quickly. I commend this plan to all those who are in a position to make the changes. Please publicise the ideas if you agree.

Could Cameron Vote to Leave the EU?

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Are there any circumstances where David Cameron could decide to campaign for the UK to leave the EU? Well yes, according to a senior source close to one of the campaigns and I tend to agree but for different reasons than those provided. Popular opinion is currently that the Prime Minister is a committed europhile who will do anything to secure an agreement in his so-called renegotiation with EU partners. They say his list of demands has been made deliberately trivial to secure an easy agreement which he can then sell to the British people to win the referendum for the Remain side.

However, there are also those of us who think there is a cleverer strategy at play here which will be revealed once the current political theatre has achieved its purpose of providing a smokescreen. This plan would see David Cameron eventually announce a new deal for the UK offering Associate Membership of the EU. This status would be sealed by a new EU Treaty which would see the eurozone states forge a much closer political union with others, like the UK, on the periphery. Whilst it would undoubtedly be hyped as a special arrangement, probably referred to as the British Model, in reality it would leave the UK in its current situation, still subject to the same disadvantages of EU membership but in a far weaker position on the periphery. It would be sold as a new arrangement but would actually be a solution securing the status quo. It would not, in popular parlance, be Brexit and it would not allow the UK to realise any of the benefits of leaving or joining a looser trading arrangement like EFTA. This hidden strategy is explained in detail by the Bruges Group in this excellent paper here. Worryingly, their analysis envisages that even if there was a vote to Leave, it would still result in Associate Membership being offered as the only choice in a follow up referendum. This highlights one of the fundamental weaknesses of the current Leave campaigns which are seemingly unable to offer an alternative Brexit model and which instead make vague references to an undefined future bilateral agreement that would hopefully be secured after a further negotiation. The choice is thus about staying in the EU under the Prime Minister’s arrangements or something undefined. This leaves the Leave side wide open to scaremongering by the Remain side who will rely on voter fear, uncertainty and aversion to risk during their campaign.

Whilst I do agree with the Bruges Group that Associate Membership is the likely offering, I wonder if there is an even more complex and multi-layered approach to David Cameron’s strategy. My source tells me that Cameron is mildly eurosceptic but he felt in the early stages of his premiership that it was unnecessary to expend much energy and political capital on the EU issue. I am told that Cameron believes it is, on balance, in the UK’s interest to be part of the single market but finds the political process tiresome and unnecessary. That said, my source also says the Prime Minister does not like to be taken for a fool, and like a friendly grandfather provoked beyond reason by a petulant child, he could lash out at EU colleagues if they don’t cave in to his demands or seemingly humiliate him. In these circumstances, my source could see the PM returning home from Brussels and campaigning to leave. Now, the problem with political sources is that they often superimpose their own agenda or, more charitably, their hopes on their analysis of a situation. In this case, I think the source could see Cameron on the Leave side as a winning asset and he was therefore applying a large dose of hopium to his thoughts. However, his remarks did set me thinking about Cameron’s motivations.

One thing that marks most national leaders is that they tend to start doing things to ‘secure their legacy’ especially when they have had more than one term in office. In many cases this includes forays into foreign policy and global affairs. In David Cameron’s case, the referendum is likely to mark the end of his premiership, and the outcome of the poll will forever define his legacy rather than the last years of domestic politics which in historical terms have been relatively unremarkable with the exception perhaps of the Scottish Referendum. In political terms, a vote to leave could be of monumental importance constitutionally but it could also have huge geo-strategic and governance implications for the EU, Europe and to some extent the world. With this in mind, I believe that for Cameron, the most important factor, above anything else, is that he is associated with the winning side of the referendum even if that turns out to be a vote to Leave. Bearing in mind the Bruges paper, even a win for the Leave camp could still result in Cameron’s preferred outcome of Associate membership. He could therefore attach himself to a winning Leave campaign and rely on his successor to secure Associate Membership. So, whilst Cameron would probably prefer to avoid the diplomatic fallout of a volte-face to the Leave side, his legacy is uppermost. He is likely to see which way the wind is blowing (like many of his Conservative MPs) and then position himself accordingly especially if it seems his opinion is being marginalised and overtaken by events. If Leave really starts to make headway expect the renegotiation talks to seemingly stall and for dark mutterings to emerge about the duplicity of our EU partners. The announcement could then take the form of an embattled Prime Minister addressing the country and telling it that there is no option but to vote to leave.

So, returning to my question. Yes, Cameron could campaign to leave if he felt he was in danger of being on the losing side. I would accept that it is an unlikely prospect because under the present campaigning it all seems to be heading towards his preferred option of a Remain win along with Associated Membership. That said, never underestimate the power of political hubris, self-interest and opportunism to trump high principle. Importantly for Leavers, the Prime Minister’s endorsement does not mean that he would be an asset to the Leave campaign. The various Leave campaigns need to wake up to the Bruges Group paper. The only counter is to offer an alternative brexit model to voters (in my view membership of EFTA) so that the poll is about competing visions of Europe rather than the Prime Minister’s recommendation. To achieve this the main campaigns need to unify and campaign under one banner and message. There needs to be a defined brexit model. Otherwise, The Bruges Group Catch 22 situation will prevail and we will never escape this madness. Please lobby your campaign leadership accordingly.

Campaign Issues for All Leavers

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This is a plea to Leave Campaigners of all complexions.

We seem to have entered a phoney war for the various EU Referendum campaigns. The ‘Remain’ side has clearly got a strategy that it is so far unwilling to reveal whilst ‘Leave’ is divided into various camps dominated by LeaveEU (linked closely to UKIP) and VoteLeave (linked to Westminster Eurosceptics). There is also a number of smaller campaign groups with some good ideas and I will refer to one of these in particular later on. As a committed Leaver, (reasons here), I am concerned that the Leave side is putting out contradictory and confusing messages which will fatally weaken the campaign and that some groups are adopting tactics that will fail to convince the undecided centre ground who will ultimately determine the outcome of the poll. We will only have one shot at this so it is important that everyone sets aside political tribalism and preconceived ideas for a higher purpose and to ensure that we get it right. To this end, I thought I would cover a few factors that I believe are key to our success. If you agree, I ask you to lobby your camp with these ideas.

The first is unity. The various Leave campaigns must come together and agree a consistent message. If not, ‘Remain’ will exploit the differences and portray leavers as inconsistent and lacking any clear plan for what would happen following a vote to leave. George Osborne has already made comments to this effect and we can expect much more of the same unless things change. There are positive reasons for a Leavers’ union too as both camps could bring important strengths to a combined campaign. VoteLeave could provide media and westminster access, expertise and personalities whist Leave.EU has an existing army of well-organised, extremely enthusiastic and dedicated UKIP activists that could be easily tapped into for local campaigns and doorstep campaigning. Such a union would also allow a single campaign to disassociate itself from any particular political party and all the tribalism that such associations promote. Whilst the grassroot supporters of VoteLeave and Leave.EU seem amicably disposed to each other, their respective leaderships are too wrapped up in egotistical arguments over leadership and related tribal politics. The news yesterday that the two sides had failed to agree to any kind of merger is a massive blow to Leavers of all camps and I would recommend that supporters of both sides lobby their leadership to make them think again especially as it seems the differences are more about leadership personalities than campaign technicalities. If we enter the referendum with these two large camps operating separately then Leave will lose the referendum. Its as simple as that. More background to this issue can be found in an article here.

The second dynamic is the Leave message. If we are unable to offer a clear and easily understandable vision of life outside the EU and what would happen after the vote then Remain’s tactic of preying on voters’ fears of the unknown will prevail and we will lose the poll. Undecideds do not like strategic risk as we saw in the Scottish referendum. The problem is that many leavers have conflicting visions of life after Brexit and are rarely able to agree a model which, to some extent, is a matter of political taste. With this in mind, we need a known entity that at one stroke could be supported by all leavers, defeat the fear mongering and provide reassurance to voters. That solution is initially through membership of The European Free Trade Association often known as the Norway model. At this stage, I should refer readers to a very clever individual called Dr Richard North who heads up an organisation at eureferendum.com. Dr North and his denizens have devised a strategy that would see us apply for EFTA membership to protect access to the single market and to allow a controlled exit from the EU. Importantly, the plan envisages membership of the EFTA as only a first step towards adopting a more global position in the world. It would allow a controlled withdrawal from EU institutions and from laws that have 40 years of complexity and inertia behind them, and it is therefore less risky (and therefore more voter friendly) than a bilateral brexit agreement that could be acrimonious and disadvantageous. Importantly, it would protect UK interests (including access to the single market), make exit negotiations far easier (as EFTA is an existing entity) and finally it offers voters a known brexit model that would allay fears. Now detractors would say that EFTA membership would still mean that the UK would be subject to single market rules including freedom of movement and that is partially true but the important point is that this would only be a first stage and one that would make a referendum victory much more likely. Most importantly, Dr North’s plan is a process it is not just about membership of EFTA which is only the first step. In my opinion, Dr North’s commitment and frustration occasionally affects the tone and accessibility of his site, and I feel his treatment of the media and the 2 main leave campaigns is mistaken and counter-productive because it deters some who might otherwise be supporters. That said, I utterly endorse his well-researched proposals for this brexit model and I believe we should all rally around his ideas. I have very much simplified his work and the plan is far more comprehensive than I can represent here. Whatever your political complexion and allegiance, if you are a leave campaigner do nothing else today except read this paper and think about how Remain and Leave will try to convince the crucial uncommitted voters in the middle ground. Dr North’s strategy is known as FLexCit and can be found here. You can also hear him describe his ideas on this 30 minute video.

Turning next to timing, it does seem that the current media focus on a renegotiation decision by February parrots Remain propaganda. The media is making much of the forthcoming EU summit this week but in reality there is a far more complex strategy in play here. Cameron’s so-called ‘demands’ are actually an irrelevant side-show whose only purpose is provide media theatre so that when the actual agreement is produced it can be heralded as a great victory for Britain in the face of severe opposition from the other states. And this agreement will be called Associate Membership. It will no doubt be referred to as the British model but in effect it will relegate the UK to the periphery of the EU and allow eurozone states to further integrate towards political union. It will be portrayed as a great victory but will actually change nothing from the current situation except make the UK a more irrelevant sideshow. Now, Cameron’s strategy is very clever as you would expect from a PR executive but can be easily countered if his fox is shot early before it is produced. With this in mind, I would implore leavers to publicise this briefing note on the Cameron strategy to supporters but also directly to reporters of the mainstream media. You will see from the flow diagram that Cameron’s is trying to engineer a position whereby Associate Membership occurs whatever the outcome of the referendum and in my view this is another reason why the Leave Campaign should be based on the EFTA solution. We need to ensure that the vote becomes a plebiscite between competing models rather than Associate Membership or…er…Associate Membership which is what Cameron is trying to engineer. A last point on timing. In my view, there will not be a vote on this for a long time and we need to careful that we don’t bore people with all the arguments too early. This is a time for getting the campaign infrastructure sorted out. We need cash, activists, a combined campaign and an agreed message. This can only be provided by campaign leadership but I fear it will only occur if supporters make it clear to their leaders that the outcome of the vote trumps all other concerns. Please write to your leaders and make your views known as this is too important to ignore.

I would like to end with a note on media (I don’t admire them but they are unfortunately a necessary evil (My views are here). This is one area where I do disagree with EUReferendum.com’s approach. They correctly identify the problem concerning the lack of proper analysis but they seem to react to this by throwing brickbats at individual reporters and media organisations. The tone is aggressive, and in my view will alienate the very people that we need to culture in order to get key messages across and to prevent the slick propaganda machine of Remain having primacy. They refer to them as ‘legacy media’ but I feel this might be wishful thinking by committed individuals who perhaps feel somewhat ignored. It is fine to suppose that social media and the blogosphere will provide the platform for transmitting messages but these hit the wrong target. The vast majority of the undecided middle ground is not following bloggers or twitter feeds that discuss the EU referendum. Social Media audiences are largely (but not exclusively) composed of other bloggers, activists who have already made up their minds or journalists looking for feeds. We are talking to ourselves and missing the main target. Where social media is useful is for making contact with individuals and organisations and seeking to modify their attitude towards your campaign (which I suppose I am trying to do here!). So, for example, we should be lobbying individual mainstream reporters about the Cameron Strategy discussed above, and using persuasion not brickbats to get them to look more deeply into the situation. It will also culture useful contacts for the future. I would propose that campaigners address friendly and persuasive tweets to individual reporters on the subject matter such as the Bruges paper mentioned above. If enough people do it, then eventually people like the BBC’s Andrew Neil will take notice and set the news agenda which is what we need.

Good campaigning to you all. I’ll be the one carrying a pile of leaflets.

Polls: Bad for Debate?

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In this general election we seem to be bombarded with polls on an almost daily basis. Whilst it is fascinating stuff for the political wonks to pour over, I wonder if it is skewing the debate in an adverse way that is bad for the democratic process.

It seems to me the polls affect matters in two ways. The first issue is the media treatment of the information. Polling has now become the main story, and instead of a forensic analysis of the relative merits of the manifestos, we instead get bombarded on a minute by minute basis with speculation about coalition building and potential alliances. Now, I am not saying that this is not important, but the matter has become so prominent that the content of the manifestos seems to have been largely forgotten by commentators and interviewers. It also means that the smaller parties, who may eventually hold the balance of power are receiving a disproportionate amount of coverage to the detriment of the main issues.

The second disadvantage is a philosophical one really, and that is that the daily polls seem to be encouraging people to vote tactically in marginal seats. As a result, votes will be cast on the basis of which policies people wish to avoid rather than on the basis of which policies people prefer. Now this seems to be a very negative aspect to me that devalues our democratic right. It may provide some instant satisfaction when a party is kept from power but the cost is that the government that does eventually form may not actually represent what people want and this will increase voter dissatisfaction in the longer term. It seems to me we should cast our vote in a positive way for what we want rather than for what we don’t.

It is interesting that some countries such as France, Italy and Spain ban polls in the run up to elections, and I wonder if we should consider doing the same. The media wouldn’t like it because it gives them daily fodder to talk about, but it might improve the outcome of the result. There would need to be a discussion on when the ban should start but I would have thought 3-4 weeks prior to the election should do it.