Curtailing the EU’s Invisible Hand – Roger Helmer MEP

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Cameron’s poverty of ambition

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                                 At least the tie is the right colour, Dave

One of the great weaknesses of Cameron’s position on his much-vaunted EU referendum has been his failure to set out what he wanted from his “renegotiation”, and indeed his lack of clarity on what circumstances (if any) might cause him to call for an “OUT” vote.  (I suspect that he cannot conceive of any circumstances in which he would campaign for Out).

In a sense he’s on a hiding to nothing.  Any significant concessions would require treaty change, which could not conceivably be delivered within his 2017 timetable – still less by 2016, which appears to be his new target date.  So at best he’ll have to “do a Harold Wilson” and talk up trivial and nugatory concessions as a basis for an “IN” vote.  Quite literally he will be offering us little (trivial non-treaty concessions) or nothing.

But today – on the Today programme – a suggestion emerged.  If he could agree a deal with European leaders limiting welfare and tax credit payments to EU immigrants, they suggested, then he would campaign for a Yes vote.  I expected he’d settle for not very much, but I must admit that I am gob-smacked by his poverty of ambition, if he thinks that’s enough to change minds.  He’s dealing with one narrow aspect of one policy area (admittedly an important one), but leaving the whole range of other EU costs and grievances in place.

On immigration, we should still fail to control our borders.  We don’t know exactly what the impact of his proposed measures would be.  The ONS says 214,000 (non-Brit) EU migrants came to the UK in 2014.  Maybe Cameron’s measure would cut that by 10%.  He’s fiddling at the margin.  After his great renegotiation, we should still be unable to control our borders.

We should still be unable to do our own trade deals.  Little countries like Switzerland and even Iceland have negotiated their own trade deals with China, for example — but we cannot.

On employment regulation, we should still be stuck with the Working Time Directive, which was blamed earlier today (May 25th) by John Black, former President of the Royal College of Surgeons, for “a significant proportion of the £3.3 billion wasted in the NHS on agency staff last year.”  Cameron’s concession would leave the Agency Workers Directive and a mountain of other damaging red tape in place.

On energy costs, we should be left with the EU’s ruinous energy policies and emissions targets, which do nothing for the planet but (as former Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani put it) “are creating an industrial massacre in Europe”, closing plants and costing jobs.

The hugely damaging plans for financial markets regulation, including the lunatic Financial Transaction Tax, would remain, undermining the future of the City of London.

Our EU membership would continue to cost the British economy an estimated 10 to 11% of GDP (including regulatory costs)

Our farmers would still be subject to a subsidy policy designed in Brussels for French farmers, rather than a policy designed in Britain for British farmers.  Our fisheries would still be an EU “common resource”, to be raped and plundered at will by the Spanish and others.

And worst of all, most of our laws would continue to be made in unaccountable, unrepresentative, unresponsive foreign institutions which have demonstrated a towering contempt for the democratic will of the people.

Not good enough, Prime Minister.  Must try harder.  All you need to do is to deliver a new relationship with Europe based solely on free trade and voluntary intergovernmental cooperation, and I for one will be happy to vote “YES”.

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The Human Rights Act

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OK. I’m going to get into trouble for admitting it. But just once in a while, Prime Minister David Cameron gets it right. And he’s right to try to repeal the Human Rights Act. And let’s be clear. That’s not because we want fewer human rights, or less protection for citizens. It’s because our rights are, in a very real sense, our birthright. We are born with them. Under our British system, it is the duty of the state to protect those rights — not to hand them down to us as something we should be grateful for. And it’s because we want that protection delivered by democratically accountable bodies, and by British Courts, not by foreign (and arguably synthetic) courts, where judges may be more concerned about political posturing than delivering justice and protecting rights.

So UKIP will not be opposing Cameron’s plan (this time). The opposition comes from the Moaning Minnies and Wet Willies and nay-sayers in his own party (and perhaps Labour and Lib-Dems as well).

A headline in today’s Sunday Telegraph (May 24th) reads “Senior Tory’s threat to quit over Human Rights Act”. The report is presented in stolidly gender-neutral terms, which suggest to me that it may involve a Moaning Minnie rather than a Wet Willie. But this un-named “member of the government” says “The idea that my constituents should have fewer protections available as a last resort is not something I can accept”.

How can anyone who gets as far as becoming “a member of the government” have such a splendidly naïve concept of human rights? Or regard British justice as an inadequate protection?

Yet he/she is not alone. Dominic Grieve says that leaving the ECHR “would be disastrous”. Perhaps he also thinks that freedom and democracy would be disastrous? Perhaps the British people are incapable of governing themselves, and operating their own legal system? He may think that — I don’t. Damian Green says “Withdrawing would appear as though the UK was no longer committed to human rights”. No Damian, it wouldn’t. And even if it did, we should not let the misunderstandings of others prevent us from doing what is right in principle.

I prefer Bernard Jenkin’s comment: “The application of human rights in the UK should not be decided by a foreign court”. Amen to that, Bernard.

There are two fundamental problems of principle with the ECHR. First, any attempt to codify rights in some kind of convention leads to judicial activism and mission creep. And second, the ECHR is justiciable in a foreign court with foreign judges, largely furnished from countries with markedly different legal systems with little idea of English Common Law, or the rights which centuries and generations of British people have enjoyed.

So: judicial activism. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the ECHR. You could go through, phrase by phrase and clause by clause, and ask “So what’s wrong with that?”. And generally speaking, the answer is “Not much”. The problem is over-interpretation. The Telegraph gives a good account of cases where the term “right to a family life” has been stretched beyond reason (just as the qualifications for asylum have also been stretched to breaking point), and over-interpreted out of sight. Fathers allowed to remain because of children they’ve never seen and never supported. One case where the miscreant’s relationship with his cat was taken as evidence of family ties (“Oh no it wasn’t!” — I hear the howls of protest from the politically correct. But I’m afraid it was.).

The result is that terrorist suspects and foreign criminals are free to remain in our country (often at enormous expense in legal costs, housing and welfare payments), and able to re-offend. How does our un-named “member of the government” think that this ensures the human rights of her constituents? It does precisely the opposite. It puts them at risk, both physically and economically.

And the idea of these matters being determined in foreign courts by foreign judges is deeply offensive. As Enoch Powell said “I hold that man to be a traitor who appeals to foreign courts over the heads of Her Majesty’s justices”. He had a point.

Of course where Cameron gets it wrong is in his plan to replace the ECHR with a British Bill of Rights. If he does, we shall get straight back onto the treadmill of judicial activism and over-interpretation. I believe it was Margaret Thatcher who, when asked about the ECHR and so on, replied, “In this country we have our Common Law and a free press, and that is enough”. I think she was right.

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To stop the deaths, we must stop the boats

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Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott is a plain speaking, clear thinking kind of guy.  He recently commented on the Mediterranean migrant crisis: “If you want to stop the deaths, stop the boats”.  At first sight, this seems like a callous approach.  But there’s nothing callous about saving lives and stopping people-traffickers.

The immediate, instinctive, compassionate approach, “Let ’em all come”, leads to perverse incentives and unintended consequences.  It persuades more and more people to attempt the crossing.  And it acts as a Recruiting Sergeant for the traffickers.  We’re doing their marketing, writing their slogans for them.

“Get on the boat for Europe.  If it sinks, the Italian Coastguard will rescue you.  And either way, you’ll be allowed into the EU, given food and shelter and medical treatment.  And they’ll talk about repatriation, but in effect you’ll be in the EU forever.  Just wait for the next amnesty”.

The Australian approach is different.  “If we find your boat, we’ll tow it back to where you came from.  You will not under any circumstances be allowed to land or settle in Australia”.  This may sound harsh, but it stops the boats, and stops the deaths.

There are many who call for these Mediterranean migrants to be admitted to Europe.  There are even those who call for an open door policy to allow all to come who wish to, with safe passage provided.  But this policy is politically unsustainable.  Instead of hundreds and thousands, we should see millions.

The average UK income is around $38,000, and for the EU around $34,000.  Yet there is a rag-bag of African countries with per capita income below $1000, and Afghanistan is not much better off.  Of course they’ll want to come. The population of Africa at 1.1 billion is more than double that of the EU (and Afghanistan is 30 million plus).

And now we have our friend Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker saying that arriving immigrants must be shared out between EU member states on a proportional basis.  He proposes a mandatory migrant quota system, under which the UK would have to take tens of thousands of illegal immigrants.  The short answer to that is “No, Mr. Juncker.  You shouldn’t have let them in to start with.  Your problem, not our problem”.

Some will protest that these are refugees, not merely migrants, and are entitled to asylum under the Geneva Convention.  But that Convention was designed to deal with limited numbers in clearly defined circumstances.  It was not designed to deal with large-scale migrations where migrants may indeed face threats, but they also have massive economic incentives to travel.  It is simply impossible to establish whether the claimed threats are real in these cases – and certainly not with the huge numbers involved.

So our policy should be simple.  Intercept the boats.  Save the passengers from drowning.  Return them to their point of origin (mostly, it seems, Libya).  And make it abundantly clear and public that none of these people will be allowed to settle in any EU country.  And if we can’t get agreement to this in the EU, we must at least make it clear that none will be admitted to the UK.

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Boris drops a brick

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Writing in the Daily Telegraph (May 11th), Boris Johnson talks a good story about EU renegotiation and reform. (I think he’s entirely wrong about the potential for reform – but that’s another story.  The EU is beyond reform, and deserves to be put out of its misery).

One particular sentence hit me: “The best and cheapest way to kick-start growth (in the EU) is to complete the Single Market”.  He goes on to elaborate on this proposition in specific terms with regard to the single market in financial services.

The faith of the Tories in the Single Market is touching.  Early in my career, when asked if there was anything good about the EU, I used to reply that the Single Market was a great Conservative achievement – and for a while I actually believed it.  Later I realised that the Single Market is merely an old-fashioned Customs Union creaking under the weight of excessive regulation.

Boris says “We need to complete the market in financial services …. because every European company needs access to the capital markets to help it grow”.

Bizarrely, in the same paper, in the business section, Philip Booth (programme director at the Institute of Economic Affairs and  Professor of Finance & Public Policy at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham) makes almost precisely the opposite case – and he seems to me to know a great deal more about financial services regulation that does Boris.

He argues that attempts to create all-embracing financial regulatory architecture covering many different countries with widely varying financial industries has resulted in mind-numbing complexity, and has facilitated “regulatory capture”.  “Unfortunately, complexity begets more complexity, and quite soon, only experts in the subject will understand regulation ….this is a classic case of ‘regulatory capture’ by big business and bureaucrats”.  He concludes “In the EU, centralisation of financial regulation will raise the cost of doing business … we might end up with a single capital market, but it won’t be an efficient market serving consumers”.

In fact (and here’s some advice for Boris) the best and cheapest way to kick-start growth in the EU would be to dismantle our perverse energy policies (and in the UK, to repeal the Climate Change Act), and to follow UKIP’s prescription for secure and affordable energy.  Industry in the EU is paying broadly speaking double what our international competitors are paying for energy.  Energy-intensive businesses are closing plants on an epic scale, and moving jobs and investment out of the EU altogether.

I’ve said it before, but I don’t apologise for saying it again: out-going Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger said that the EU can no longer afford a unilateral energy policy.  Out-going Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani said “We are creating an industrial massacre in Europe”.

If the Greens are right about global warming, then with many hundreds of new coal-fired power stations in the global pipeline, the die is cast – nothing we do in Europe will make a scrap of difference.  And if the Greens are wrong, then their policies are utterly futile – but also doing vast economic damage.

So come on, Boris, point the finger at the real enemies – green policies, intermittent renewables – and Brussels.

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Regulatory uncertainty – A barrier to investment and growth

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In recent years, in my work in the parliament, I’ve become more and more concerned about an issue that is scarcely if ever mentioned, either in the media, or indeed in Brussels (except by me — I mention it all the time).

Let me offer you a striking and topical example. Seven or eight years ago, the bien pensant establishment — politicians, the media, green lobby groups — were vilifying petrol engines and their drivers, and urging us all to switch to diesel.  Didn’t we know that CO2emissions were the greatest threat facing Planet Earth, mankind, and the biosphere? Didn’t we understand that we all have a duty to minimise our emissions — and therefore to switch from petrol engines, with their somewhat higher fuel consumption and emissions, to diesel, with lower emissions?

Gordon Brown as Chancellor backed up this advice with differential duty rates designed to drive the switch to diesel from petrol

So both manufacturers and drivers took the advice, and diesel became more popular.  For the first time in my life, I bought a diesel car.

But now, for heaven’s sake, they’ve noticed that diesel cars produce higher levels of SOx2 and NOx and particulates than petrol cars.  And these emissions (which unlike CO2 really are pollution) are causing widespread respiratory illnesses and excess deaths.  In our cities, we are in breach of EU clean air regulations.  I bitterly resent Britain being told by the EU what clean air rules we should apply, but there is no doubt that these pollutants are at dangerous levels.  (We need to keep it in perspective — life expectancy continues to rise, so we must be doing something right).

So now in less than a decade we’ve had strong advice to switch to diesel, suddenly countermanded by strong advice to switch to petrol — with some advocating sanctions against existing diesel vehicles.  (Please bear in mind that the industry has done a great job of cleaning up both petrol and diesel engines, both of which are much cleaner today than they were ten years ago).

But the development cycle for cars is around seven years.  And the average life-span of a car is well over ten years.  The lifetime of an engine factory may be decades, and while factories can be redesigned and re-tooled, it’s an expensive process.

Take Jaguar’s exciting new engine plant in Wolverhampton — a very welcome investment indeed.  Half a billion pounds, and employing 1400 people.  And the first engine it will produce?  The new Jaguar XE’s 161 and 178 bhp Ingenium diesels.  I imagine there will be some red faces in the Jaguar boardroom at this sudden broadside against diesel.  Long-term and essential investment programmes are undermined on the whim of the commentariat who hadn’t paused to think of the air quality implications of their dash for diesel (and in any case the power industry produces more of most of these pollutants than transport).

Another example.  As UKIP’s Industry and Energy spokesman, I sit on the relevant committee in Brussels, ITRE.  The European institutions have been having a comparable change of heart over bio-fuels.  First of all, bio-fuels were the silver bullet to decarbonise road transport (and perhaps air transport).  Bio-fuels did nothing but recycle CO2.  Plants take in CO2 from the atmosphere, we make bio-fuels, burn them and return the CO2 to the atmosphere.  A carbon-neutral solution!

Then we started to realise that there’s quite a lot of CO2-based input into the agriculture behind bio-fuels.  Diesel for tractors.  And transport.  And processing.  Energy for fertilisers and pesticides.  So the savings envisaged had to be substantially discounted.  But still there were some savings, weren’t there?  So we mandated 10% bio-fuel content for petrol and diesel.

But just recently another issue has raised its head.  If you take a thousand acres of land in South America for sugar-cane and ethanol, or in Indonesia for palm oil and diesel — the population still has to eat.  They’ve just lost a thousand acres of good agricultural land.  So off they go down the road and cut down a forest, or drain a swamp, or disturb a peat landscape.  And guess what?  The emissions associated with that change of land use may (depending on the crop and the circumstances) greatly outweigh the CO2 emissions saving you thought you were making.  The new buzz-word is “ILUC”, or Indirect Land Use Change.

So now we’re amending the law to 7% (or maybe 5 or 6 — it’s on-going).  And companies which have made massive investment in dedicated refining capacity for bio-fuels are cut off at the knees.

Think of the impact of this regulatory uncertainty on investment plans.  Who wants to build an auto-engine factory when the rules may be changed on a whim, according to the latest modish theory from the green lobby?  Who wants to invest half a billion (as one company did) in a bio-fuel refinery, only to have the market cut back at the stroke of a pen?

And for nuclear, the situation is worse.  Who wants to invest £10 billion in a nuclear power plant with a design life of sixty years, when Angela Merkel may get a touch of cold feet and close down the industry?  It’s not too alarmist to say that regulatory uncertainty may be the biggest threat to the capitalist system of investment and production.  At last a credible argument for nationalisation.  No one else can afford to invest in this environment.  But maybe if the politicians have to take the hit, they’ll be a little more circumspect in their decision-making.

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Whom to believe?

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Horrible grammar, but a good thought

In the last few days we have seen a report from a respected German think-tank, the Bertelsmann Foundation, saying that Brexit (a UK exit from the EU) would do huge damage to the British economy, and could cost up to 13% of GDP, (bear in mind that several serious analyses of the cost of British EU membership suggest it’s already costing 10 to 11% of GDP).

Yet almost simultaneously, the highly respected and prominent American Think Tank, the Heritage Foundation, says exactly the opposite.  It urges the UK to leave the EU , arguing that the EU is “doomed”, and that the UK will thrive as an independent trading nation.

So whom to believe?  It’s always worth checking the antecedents of this type of report, to see who might have an axe to grind.

And lo and behold, we discover that the Bertelsmann Foundation had a banner on its web-site “The United Citizens of Europe”.  And we find that Board of Trustees includes none other that Vivian Reding, until recently a European Commissioner.  Last year she called for a full United States of Europe. Even our own pro-EU foreign office has described her as ‘an unrepentant federalist’ with ‘no understanding of the EU’s deep flaws’.

One of the two authors of the report is Ulrich Schoof,  who used to work for the European Commission and also for the European Parliament. We can hardly be surprised that the ‘proof’ this ex-eurocrat offers that leaving the EU would be a blow to the British economy is no more than a slim eight pages long. Serious studies in Britain on the effects of Brexit run to hundreds of pages. Many of these studies show that Brexit could lead to increased UK prosperity.

In short, it would be fair to see the Bertelsmann Report as little more than a propaganda exercise by committed European federalists.

But perhaps you’re wondering — doesn’t the Heritage Foundation have any axes to grind?  Well they’re certainly committed to free markets and free trade — and there’s nothing wrong with that.  And they are of course, as you would expect, committed to the US national interest.  But there is no consensus in Washington as to where the USA’s interests lie in this debate over the UK’s EU membership.  The Administration says it believes that it is in the interests of Britain, the EU and the USA that Europe should remain united and that the UK should remain in the EU.  (Whether it says that because it believes it, or because it doesn’t want to disoblige Brussels, is another question).  But many Americans — including Heritage — believe that the UK would be a stronger ally and a more prosperous country as an independent nation than as a Brussels satrapy.

And for the avoidance of doubt, I should add that I am more inclined to agree with the Heritage Foundation than with Vivian Reding.

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