Thursday, 8 September 2016

The Last Straw

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

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

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

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

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

A tale of two bloggers

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

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

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

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

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

A question of ownership and loyalty

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Straw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 2 June 2016

A profound choice

This referendum is the most momentous decision we will take in our lifetimes. The Referendum should be hinging on big questions like our national identity, who governs us and how do we see our place in the world for the next 40 years. There should also be a clear understanding of what the EU's purpose and aims are and whether we share those aims. Perhaps the most succinct statement on this was provided by Francois Hollande, in an exchange with Nigel Farage last Autumn "Do you really want to participate in a common state?"

The EU's aim is a single European State

There should be no doubt that the purpose of the EU is to create a single European state, governed from Brussels, absorbing formerly independent and autonomous nation states. But don't just take my word for it. Here's some quotes from European politicians over the years:
"We have sown a seed... Instead of a half-formed Europe, we have a Europe with a legal entity, with a single currency, common justice, a Europe which is about to have its own defence. " — Valery Giscard d'Estaing, President of the EU Convention, presenting the final draft of the EU Constitution, 13th June 2003
"The proposals in the original constitutional treaty are practically unchanged. They have simply been dispersed through old treaties in the form of amendments. Why this subtle change? Above all, to head off any threat of referenda by avoiding any form of constitutional vocabulary!" — ValĂ©ry Giscard d'Estaing, 2007, referring to the the Lisbon Treaty achieving the aims of the rejected EU constitution
"The Constitution is the capstone of a European Federal State." — Guy Verhofstadt, then Belgian Prime Minister, now an MEP.
"The European Union is a state under construction." — Elmar Brok, Chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs
"Of course the European Commission will one day become a government, the EU council a second chamber and the European Parliament will have more powers."  German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressing MEPs,  November 2012.
"We need a true political union ... we need to build a United States of Europe with the Commission as government and two chambers - the European Parliament and a "Senate" of Member States ... European Parliament elections are more important than national elections ... This will be our best weapon against the Eurosceptics." — Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, January 2014
“For my children’s future I dream, think and work for the United States of Europe” — Matteo Renzi, Italian Prime Minister, May 2014
Also, we have our very own Kenneth Clarke, in a rare moment of honesty from a British pro-EU politician:
 "I look forward to the day when the Westminster Parliament is just a council chamber in Europe." — Kenneth Clarke, Conservative Chancellor in International Currency Review Vol 23 No 4 1996 
This is reinforced by the proposals for the next EU treaty, The Fundamental Law of the European Union, published by the federalist Spinelli Group of MEPs, through the Bertelsmann  house in late 2013. The pre-amble contains a a telling paragraph:
"This proposal for a Fundamental Law of the European Union is a comprehensive revision of the Treaty of Lisbon (2007). Replacing the existing treaties, it takes a major step towards a federal union. It turns the European Commission into a democratic constitutional government, keeping to the method built by Jean Monnet in which the Commission drafts laws which are then enacted jointly by the Council,representing the states, and the European Parliament, representing the citizens. All the reforms proposed are aimed at strengthening the capacity of the EU to act."
Nor should anyone believe that this is a recent development. The EU was always conceived as a vehicle for supra-national federal union, dating right back to its founding organisation, the European Coal & Steel Community (ECSC) established in 1951:
"Through the consolidation of basic production and the institution of a new High Authority, whose decisions will bind France, Germany and the other countries that join, this proposal represents the first concrete step towards a European federation .."  — The Schuman declaration May 1950
"By the signature of this Treaty, the participating Parties give proof of their determination to create the first supranational institution and that thus they are laying the true foundation of an organised Europe.” — Europe Declaration made on 18 April 1951, at the signing of the Treaty of Paris establishing the ECSC

Supra-national EU erodes national sovereignty

Perhaps the biggest mis-conception in the public mind  is to confuse the EU with other international organisations.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Organisations such as the UN, NATO, WTO, the Commonwealth and the myriad of organisations making international regulations / standards (e.g. UNECE, Codex Alimentarius, ILO) are inter-governmental. They are based on bi-lateral or multi-lateral agreements between sovereign governments as equals or partners. These agreements will include specific and limited obligations and commitments entered into freely for mutual benefit between the partners (e.g. Nato's mutual defence clause, trade agreements that open markets etc).   Nations are free to co-operate, form alliances and partnerships on an issue by issue basis. Decision making is based on consensus, voluntary opt-in and allows for opt-out or right of reservation. For example, NATO does not have majority voting: each nation makes its own decision regarding military action and is free to leave inside one year under a recognised process - as France did in the 1960's .

The EU is uniquely a supra-national union. The EU treaties create over-arching legislative, executive, and judicial authorities.  Powers or competencies are passed from the member states to the union, and the union then exercises power in these competencies in a sovereign manner. Hence the obligations and commitments made by member states are essentially open-ended. The relationship is hierarchical rather than multi-lateral, as member states are subordinate to the union.  The member states are fixed in a permanent alliance with each other and the Union will tend to represent the member states in international forums. Decision making is by majority rather than allowing voluntary opt-in or right of reservation. If the pro-EU camp are to be believed, leaving the EU is so complicated and fraught as to be practically impossible - although they would wish us to believe that so as to deny us a Leave option.

The argument is often made that there is no such thing as absolute sovereignty. It is certainly true that (i) national decisions are constrained by considerations for neighbours, allies and  other inter-national factors (ii)  joining & co-operating with allies is often necessary.  This of course has always been the case. Sovereignty is not unfettered power, it is the ability to choose our path/allies/commitments and accept the consequences.  But it is clear that membership of the supra-national EU means that we increasingly pass decision making to the EU and are unable to choose our allies from around the globe - that is real loss of sovereignty.

EU institutions & democratic deficit

As indicated by Angela Merkel, Vivian Reding and many others, the EU's political institutions mirror that of a state. There are 2 revising chambers: the EU Parliament representing the peoples of Europe and the and EU council representing the members states.  The EU commission is referred to as a "supreme government" by European federalists but as "just a civil service" by UK Remain campaigners trying to downplay their significance. In fact the EU commission is both civil service AND government.  It has sole power to initiate and propose new or amended legislation (as supreme government) and also undertakes the drafting of all legislation (like a civil service). Commissioners are appointed by national governments and swear an oath of loyalty to the EU.

The European Court of Justice acts as a supreme court for ruling on the EU treaties and EU law. The Lisbon treaty also includes the Charter of Fundamental Rights & Human Rights legislation as general principles of EU law (Article 6). Asylum Law is also included in EU law via Article 18 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Recent UK government proposals to amend the European Communities Act 1972 and assert Parliament as sovereign were abandoned. The supremacy of European Union Law was established as long ago as 1963, in the "van Gend en Loos" case and subsequent ECJ case history increases the scope of EU judicial supremacy.

This institutional structure is essentially the one proposed by Arthur Salter in his 1931 publication "The United States of Europe", based on the League of Nations (which had a Secretariat, Council of Ministers, Assembly & Court). Crucially, Salter proposed a Secretariat as a permanent body of international civil servants, loyal to the new organisation (not to the member countries) and with supreme authority over national ministers. Salter also suggested splitting up member states into regions to further erode nationalism - all in the name of peace and avoiding further Franco-German conflict. Salter's close friend and former colleague at the League of Nations, Jean Monnet, adopted this blueprint for the EU's fore-runner (the ECSC).

The EU suffers from democratic deficit, not just because of these institutions but also due to the lack of a European identity, or "demos". The EU commission recognised this issue in its white paper on European governance in 2001. Citizens of the member states see democracy in terms of national issues and vote accordingly. There is a continuing decline in turnout for EU parliamentary elections. But what emerges from the white paper is not a proposal to empower the people, or return powers to member states, but an approach to undermine existing national institutions and "europeanise" them. You can read a well-researched  critique of this white paper here  (ghost-written by Dr R North for a younger Nigel Farage before he became pre-occupied with immigration).

It seems clear that there is simply no room for national democratic self-government in the EU. The EU is built upon a plan dating from 1931, when many intellectuals preferred rule by technocrats and had little confidence in democracy. Its anti-democratic nature is hard-wired.

EU's growing competencies erode national governance

The EU's competences, or powers, are defined in Articles 2-6 of the The Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and represents a large range of powers already transferred from the UK:
  • The UK  has no power to act in exclusive competences such as commercial/trade policy, tariffs, competition rules etc. 
  • The UK can only act in shared competences where the EU has not (yet) legislated. The UK's scope is increasingly restricted as the EU increases its activities. For example, an Energy Union is currently being planned. The UK has a general opt-out of Security & Justice, with 31 specific opt-ins for measures such as the European Arrest Warrant.
  • The UK's economic, employment and social policy must fall within EU guidelines and co-ordinate with other member states policies. Despite the € opt-out, the UK is still subject to the EU's competence on economic policy which aims to achieve convergence for monetary union. 
  • Even in areas where the UK is not prevented from acting, it is not free from EU actions in the same field to implement programs, conduct common policy or supplement the UK's actions. 
The EU also has competence for external affairs, specifically to "define and implement a common foreign and security policy, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy." This policy is defined and implemented by the European Council (Heads of State) and the Foreign Affairs Council (consisting of Foreign, Defence & overseas aid ministers) acting unanimously. So the UK retains a veto (with some exceptions as defined in Article 31). However, the direction of travel is clear:
  • The Lisbon treaty established: (i) the "High Representative of Foreign Affairs", essentially the EU's foreign minister; (ii) the European External Action Service (EEAS), essentially the EU's foreign ministry and diplomatic corps. 
  • Lord Owen, the former foreign secretary, in a recent speech noted "the range and the activity of the EEAS are inexorably increasing  and so is its cost ... At every stage this creep is resisted by the British government initially and then absorbed. Meanwhile we have seen substantive cuts in the budget of the Foreign Office". 
  • There have been many european voices (including President Juncker) calling for an EU army, an EU Defence Union and so on. A highly-informed and balanced analysis on Defence and Brexit can be found at ThinkDefence blog. While he sees little change in the short to medium term, he concludes "the question we should be dealing with, do we want a single EU state with a single EU Navy, Army and Air Force? ... The long term points to ever closer political, and that means military, union."

The EU usurps national representation in international organisations

But perhaps the most dramatic and least understood loss of national power is the way the EU increasingly usurps the role of national governments on the international stage.  The UK is increasingly bound by common policies and the requirements of Article 34, which as a recent blog by LostLeonardo explains, means the loss of influence, vote and right of reservation in international organisations.

With legal identity secured by the Lisbon Treaty, the EU is  keen to upgrade its "limited status" in "organisations and fora where important decisions are taken" (see Vice-President Ashton's Strategy communication to the Commission, dated 20.12.2012). The implication is that member states will be reduced to passive observers and in the fullness of time lose representation entirely. The EU has already assumed competence in the International Maritime Organisation, with predictably negative results (See Pete North Politics blog). Britain is the world's No.2 in services provision, but we have no national representation at the  Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) negotiations, unlike EFTA states Norway & Switzerland, unlike Commonwealth allies Canada, Australia & New Zealand.

The direction of travel is clear. The UK will end up with as much influence on the international stage as Texas or California.

Conclusion - The honest Referendum choice

Voting to Remain is not a simple "stay as you are option". As Allister Heath states in the Telegraph: "Comfortable, middle-class voters who are considering sticking with the devil they believe they know need to think again. Voting to remain is a far greater leap into the unknown than voting to leave. It’s self-evidently normal to be independent and prosperous: just look at America, Australia, Canada or Singapore. But there are no known examples of a previously independent democracy being subsumed into a dysfunctional, economically troubled technocracy and doing well as a result. As mad gambles go, it is hard to think of anything worse."

We need to recognise the EU for what it is - a political project to create a single state, governed by bureaucracy/technocracy instead of by democracy (the consent of the people). The Referendum can be boiled down to one very simple choice : Should Britain be a self-governing nation, trading and co-operating with nations in Europe and around the world ? Or should Britain be subsumed into an undemocratic United States of Europe ?