European media

c48104d7-53e2-401e-bf2a-bf260ffa860bLast night I attended a dinner-debate organised by the EPA.  Not (as you might think) the US Environmental Protection Agency, but the European Parliamentarians Association,  which has a rather splendid art nouveau mansion in the Allée de la Robertsau.  The topic for debate was “Beyond the national perspective – do we need European media?”.  They have perhaps failed to notice the existence of Euronews.

We heard passionate pleas from two journalists for more Europe-wide media to provide scope for them to publish their musings, coupled with thinly-veiled pleas for more EU funding to support them.  Naturally I engaged in the debate, and you may find my remarks amusing.  I have reconstructed them as best I can from the notes I made at the event.

“I’m a UK MEP representing the East Midlands, and I must admit that I feel I’m here under false pretences.  We’ve conducted this conversation so far on the basis that we’re all European citizens, but of course I’m not a European citizen, I’m a Brit”.  (General laughter). “I’m very concerned at the top-down, prescriptive tone of what we’re hearing.  You’re concerned about what you want to tell people, not about what they might want to hear.

“We’ve heard one journalist say he is “working for European integration”, and the other saying “How can I convince my readers that the EU is a good thing?”.  But that’s not your job.  You’re supposed to be reporting news and facts.  If you’re trying to persuade people of a particular political viewpoint, that’s not journalism.  That’s propaganda.  Maybe you should be politicians and not journalists.

“To make matters worse, you’re also asking for European funding.  Let me give you a quick tutorial in media economics.  Media outlets have two main income streams – advertising, and payments in one form or another from consumers.  If you expect funding from European institutions to promote the European project, then you’re clearly engaged in propaganda.  This was the way things used to be in Germany in the bad old days.  This is how things are done in Russia.  And in Kazakhstan.  And in North Korea.  It should have no place in an EU that pretends to be democratic.

“You complain that there is too little European news in national media.  I’ll tell you why.  The EU really isn’t very interesting.  Successful media editors know what their audiences want, and they don’t want too much Europe.  Personally I find there’s plenty of European coverage in my UK newspaper, and if I want more detail I can go onto the internet.

“Let me tell you a story.  In my political work I knock on a lot of doors.  More than once I’ve had a householder say “I don’t know much about Europe, and it’s all the fault of you politicians.  You never tell us what’s going on”.  And I reply, “OK.  Can you spare half an hour so that I can explain it to you?”.  And usually the reply is “Not now, I’m watching Coronation Street”.

“There’s another reason why European media are unlikely to work.  The 19th century British political philosopher John Stuart Mill famously wrote “Where peoples lack fellow-feeling, and especially where they read and speak different languages, the common public opinion necessary for representative government cannot exist”.

“It’s time to recognise that readers and viewers have a choice.  They’ll only pay attention to media that give them what they want.  But I have an entrepreneurial idea for you.  If you really believe there’s a latent demand out there for more European media, exploit it.  Go and start a European newspaper, and make your fortune.  And I wish you the best of luck with that project”.



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Simplistic Soundbites: Single Market


New growth? Pull the other one (as my old mother used to say)

The Remain Campaign makes much of the Single Market.  It is vital for the UK’s trade that we remain in the Single Market.  They still claim that outside the EU we should lose 3½ million jobs.  Trade would falter.  Inward investment would dry up.  So we must stay in the EU – or at the very least find some associate status like Norway that gives us “access to the Single Market” (but leaves us subject to the EU’s “free movement” and a lot of the other bad things that eurosceptics are desperate to get out of).

Casting my mind back to my early days as an MEP, fifteen years ago, I recall that when I was challenged to find something good to say about the EU, I would fall back on “Well, the Single Market is a clear benefit” – and also (I am ashamed to admit) – I went on to claim that it was “a great Conservative achievement”.  But the realisation gradually dawned on me that perhaps it wasn’t quite all it was cracked up to be.  Recently I’ve been saying that “The Single Market is an old-fashioned Customs Union overlaid by a mountain of excessive regulation”.

I want to tackle head-on the pro-EU argument that the Single Market is vital (or at least important) for UK trade and inward investment.  And I must draw attention to a brilliant article earlier this week from Roger Bootle “The danger of thinking in slogans on Europe”

If we believe that being in the Single Market offers us substantial benefits, we need to look at countries outside the Single Market and see if they are disadvantaged.  And the news is, they are not.  The three biggest countries exporting to the EU are Russia, China and the USA.  Not only are they not EU members – none currently has any special trade deal with the EU at all.  Yet they are hugely successful in exporting to the EU.  They clearly have access to the Single Market.  Roger Bootle draws attention to  recent paper from Civitas with a self-explanatory title: “The Single Market has benefited non-members more than Britain and other founding signatories”.   The author Michael Burrows looked at non-EU countries and found that their exports into the Single Market had broadly speaking grown faster that the UK’s trade with the EU.

This is absolute empirical proof that membership of the Single Market is not essential – or even, arguably, helpful – to trade with it.  Why on earth do we let the pro-EU camp suggest that membership of the Single Market is essential for trade and investment, when clearly it is not?

Let’s take an obvious example – the car industry.  Does anyone suppose that those smart guys in Munich are going to say “Good Heavens! Those Brits have finally left the EU!  Let’s punish them by refusing to sell our cars in the UK!”.  Of course not.  On the contrary, German car-makers (and French wine makers, and many other industries) will be queueing up to demand that the Commission do everything in its power to promote and maintain cross-channel trade.  It’s worth recalling that Ford used to have a commercial vehicle factory, making vans, in Southampton.  A few years ago they closed it and moved it to Turkey – outside the EU.  So never believe the hype that auto makers only come to the UK because we’re in the EU.  Ford decided that they could service the EU market better from a non-EU country than from the UK.

Digby Jones is a former head of the CBI and trade adviser to the then Labour government. He says that after Brexit, we’ll have a trade deal with Brussels in twenty-four hours.  Why?  Because of the enormous commercial benefits to both sides of such a deal, and because of the UK’s strong negotiating position.  We are a huge net customer of the EU.  We buy nearly twice as much from them as they buy from us.  They need us.  And after Brexit, the UK will be the remnant-EU’s largest export customer in the world.  Bar none.

But imagine, if you will, a worst-case scenario, which would be trade as an arms’ length third country with no trade deal.  We should have to pay the duty – the EU’s Common External tariff – on exports into the EU.  WTO rules mean that they could not increase those rates, or seek to “punish” the UK with inflated duties.  In this case, the annual duty payable on those exports would be around £3½ billion.  That’s way less than half our net annual budget contributions.  Even in these simplistic, worst-case terms we are Better Off Out.

But of course we will have a free trade agreement, because it is in the overwhelming economic interests of both sides to have one – and even more in their interests than ours.

So every time the europhiles bang on about the importance of the Single Market, we have to put them right, because they simply don’t know what they’re talking about.


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Does the EU deserve Market Economy Status?

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Simplistic soundbites: Scotland


The “Remain” proposition is so straightforward and obvious.  Even if there is a majority across Britain for Brexit, there will clearly not be a majority in Scotland.  The Scots, who have an historical affinity with the continent, will feel that they are being rail-roaded out of the EU by an English majority, which will be ample grounds for a second Scottish referendum.

The EU might have jibbed at accepting a newly-independent Scotland as a new EU member while Britain remained “IN”, but it might be much more positive about accepting Scotland after Brexit – if only to embarrass Westminster.

So (they say) Brexit will inevitably lead to the break-up of the UK.  Or will it?  The first point to consider is that the SNP is working itself up to demand a second referendum anyway.  Yes, Nicola Sturgeon would undoubtedly try to use Brexit as a pretext, but without Brexit she’ll simply find a different pretext.  Brexit may not make too much difference.  But the Guardian suggests that some SNP members may vote for Brexit merely on the basis that they think it might provide grounds for a second Scottish independence referendum.

We take it for granted that Scotland is against Brexit.  But as in England, opinion north of the border is divided.  In 2014, the Scots elected a UKIP man as one of their six MEPs.  A recent opinion poll showed support for Brexit at a surprising 27% among SNP voters – who are supposed to be strongly pro-EU. And recent developments in Europe – and Cologne – are likely to drive anti-EU feeling.

Certainly a newly-independent Scotland applying to join the EU would have to buy the whole nine yards.  Euro membership.  Schengen.  The opt-outs negotiated by Britain would no longer be on offer.  No doubt some Scots would be expecting generous hand-outs from Brussels.  But though Scotland’s per capita GDP is low by Western European standards, it is high compared to the poor counties of Eastern Europe, and still more so compared to would-be accession states like Turkey or Serbia.  There will be no cash cornucopia for Edinburgh.

Scotland would also have to accept Brussels’ plans for the resettlement of very large numbers of refugees.  Alex Salmond was always very positive about immigration into Scotland, but I suspect that many rank-and-file SNP voters may take a different view, especially after the events of the last few months.

Canny Scots will recall that an independent Scotland could not have bailed out RBS in the banking crisis.  They will recall that SNP plans for the Scottish economy were drawn up when oil was $100+ a barrel.  An independent Scotland would be in terrible economic trouble with oil at $30, and North Sea rigs lying idle.  Indeed if the SNP pursues Alex Salmond’s wild plan to make Scottish energy 100% renewable, the country will be dependent on back-up from England.

Barclays have a unique take on this question. As reported in the Telegraph, they believe that Brexit could result in widespread economic disruption on the continent, and Britain (and the Pound) could be seen as a “safe haven” compared to continental chaos. In this context, the Scots might prefer the relative security of the UK and the Pound Sterling against the uncertainty of the €urozone.

On balance, I feel that risk of a British break-up post-Brexit has been considerably exaggerated.  But it’s an integral part of the Remain Campaign’s “Project Fear”.


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Climate of Fear


It’s now clear that the “IN” Campaign will rely primarily on fear as a motivator.  Brexit is a leap into the unknown, they say, which will leave Britain “isolated and marginalised”.  Our economy, our trade, our jobs, our security will all be under threat.

The truth is practically the opposite.  Independence is not “an unknown” – it is the normal state of most countries, most of the time, and it is especially appropriate for a major economy and a great global trading nation with a long democratic tradition.

Let’s look at the supposed threats.

“Isolated and marginalised”.  Come Independence Day, we shall continue to be a key member of the UN Security Council.  Of the G7 and G20.  Of the World Bank, the IMF, the OSCE.  We shall resume our seat on the WTO.  We shall still be a main player in NATO and the Commonwealth.  And we shall be free to make our own trade deals with those countries where the EU has failed to negotiate a deal.  We shall be free to re-engage with the Anglosphere.  To suggest that a great country like Britain is “isolated and marginalised” if it declines to be ruled by foreign institutions in Brussels is both demeaning and absurd.

The threat to jobs.  The “IN” Campaign is still touting that “3½ million jobs” figure, even though the think-tank that produced it, NIESR, pointed out within hours of publication that the jobs depended on trade, not membership, and they explicitly stated that there was no prima facie reason to suppose that trade would be affected by Brexit. Let’s be clear: those who continue to use that “3½ million jobs” figure are not merely mistaken: they are lying.  Keep in mind that we have a huge trade deficit with the continent.  If 3½ million UK jobs depend on trade with the continent, it follows that five or six million continental jobs depend on trade with the UK.  They need us more than we need them.  Hands up those who think that those clever guys in Munich will decide not to sell us BMWs after Brexit.  No one?  I thought not.

The real threat to jobs is not Brexit, but staying in.  We’re still smarting from the steel closures.  Major factors were energy prices – directly driven by failing EU climate policies – plus our inability to apply anti-dumping measures to Chinese steel, or to offer state aid to UK steel makers.  All a direct result of EU membership.  But it’s not just steel.  A huge range of energy-intensive industries are moving abroad because of energy prices, including aluminium, chemicals, fertilisers, petroleum refining, glass, cement and more.  Jobs lost, plants closed, investment directed elsewhere.  Don’t tell me about the jobs we’ll lose with Brexit – tell me about the jobs we’re losing today as a direct result of EU membership.

Threat to Trade:  In fact global trade is one of the key arguments for Brexit.  When we leave, we expect current trade deals negotiated by the EU to be grandfathered – though we will be able to revisit them.  But we will also be able to set up our own trade deals with countries where the EU has failed to make any special trade arrangements.  How come Switzerland – and even Iceland – have trade deals with China, while we don’t?  Our position will be protected by our WTO membership.  One of the most egregious arguments used by the “IN” Campaign is that “The UK is too small to negotiate a trade deal with the USA”.  In fact the USA has trade deals with about twenty third-party countries, and every one of those countries has a smaller economy than the UK.  As a G7 country, we are in a very strong position to make our own trade deals, and our national interests will be front and centre – not submerged in the interests of 27 other member-states.

“Brexit is a threat to security”.  I honestly cannot see how the “IN” Camp can make this argument.  We can continue police cooperation through Interpol after Brexit.  Military cooperation between the UK and France will continue.  NATO membership will continue.  Again, the threat is not from Brexit, but from EU membership.  In the EU, we have free movement of people – which seems to include free movement of Terrorists and free movement of Kalashnikovs.  Remember Paris, and terrorist migrants arriving via Greece – and Belgium.  The EU has allowed accession to Eastern European countries where the Rule of Law is honoured more in the breach than in the observance.  Countries which are essentially Mafia states, where smuggling of people, of migrants, of drugs, of weapons, even of human organs, is rife.  Countries where illegal migrants can buy an EU passport.  And the citizens of those countries can freely come to the UK.  I was at the launch of the “Grassroots Out” (GO!) Campaign in Kettering on Jan 23rd, and heard ex-Defence Minister Liam Fox make these points with great force.  Our security depends on NATO and on our armed forces – not on Brussels bureaucrats.

“Brexit is a threat to our energy security”.  This argument was made by Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, and again I really can’t see her point.  I have already written about it at some length. Sufficient to say here that EU energy policies have undermined both our energy security and energy pricing (see above, “threat to jobs”), and that Brexit will at least give us the opportunity (if we have the sense to take it) to put matters right.

“We won’t be able to control immigration”.  They say that (for example) we won’t be able to send illegal immigrants back to the country of entry to the EU if we leave.  But of course we can scarcely do that now, and they’re dismantling the Dublin Convention which was supposed to enable us to do that.  As I write, there are plans to exclude Greece from Schengen – a public admission that EU immigration and free movement policies have failed.  There are a million migrants in Germany (and more to come), who will soon get EU passports and be entitled to come and live in a street near you.

Current EU immigration policy discriminates in favour of unskilled Eastern Europeans and against (for example) highly qualified Commonwealth citizens.  That’s unfair, as well as being bad economics.  We simply cannot control immigration while we’re in the EU.  But as an island, we are in a relatively good position to control the borders of an independent UK.

It is vital to recognise that the EU is not a status quo, but a work in progress.  The choice is between Independence, knowing where we stand; or a one-way ticket to an unspecified destination.  It is between controlling our own affairs – and having no control.  We should not lose sleep over fears of Brexit – but we should be very worried indeed by the prospect of continued EU membership.

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Matters of Faith


The Reverend Peter Mullen is a distinguished member of the Clergy, and for many years has been Chaplain of the Freedom Association.  He casts an acerbic and unforgiving eye on the follies of modern Anglicanism.  He has given me his permission to publish the following piece as a Guest post on my blog:

In recent times, the Church of England has been blessed with some highly imaginative bishops. Remember the former Archbishop of Canterbury, the very devout Rowan Williams whose final sermon included the inspirational theological insight, “The church has a lot of catching up to do with secular mores.” Given such prophetic leadership, how can we fail to keep God’s word and commandments? Then there was Rt Rev’d Richard Harries, bishop of Oxford, who said we should stop saying “This is my body” at the Holy Communion – because visitors “will think we are cannibals.” We should use a phrase such as “angel bread” instead. And we can never find words sufficient to express our gratitude to John Sentamu, Archbishop of York who, in a darkening world, provides us with constant comic relief: a sort of episcopal Widow Twanky in an everlasting Archdiocesan pantomime.

But now these profoundly gifted fathers in God have been surpassed by that indefatigable stentorian Richard Chartres, bishop ofLondon who says that clergy in Muslim districts should grow beards “to reach out to the majority of their parishioners.” Of course they should. And they should strive to avoid even the suspicion of giving offence which might be construed as Islamophobia. The sensitivities of the Muslim population must be accommodated. It is appropriate too that the bishop should have made his suggestion two days after the earliest Christian community in Iraq was wiped out by our Muslim brothers and at a time when militant Islam is harassing, persecuting and murdering Christians – bearded or clean-shaven – across three continents.

Writing in Church Times, Dr Chartres reminded us that beards have traditionally been a sign of holiness and wisdom. Illustrating the bishop’s article were the pictures of two of his bearded London priests. I can’t speak for their wisdom but, as for evidence of holiness, neither was wearing a dog collar. In fact, from their attire, there was nothing to suggest their clerical orders. But one was clutching a glass of beer – which probably did little to help him “reach out” to his Muslim parishioners.

The episcopal suggestion that priests wear beards is not without its problems in these exciting days when we have women priests who might be unable to grow a full beard and will have to do their bit for “reaching out” by sporting a neat moustache. In order to commend themselves to Muslims, perhaps these ladies should adjure beads and necklaces, stop wearing short skirts, cover their heads and hold church services for women only?

But these trifles amount only to a small beginning in this godly programme of “reaching out.” Surely Deaconess Ursula Peabody who supervises the Confirmation class could make arrangements for the young girls to receive FMG? And all these bottles of wine for prizes at the whist drive will have to go.

As a priest myself, I have nothing but praise for the bishop’s invigorating suggestion and I can only regret that I no longer reside in his progressive diocese. But I wonder if his laudable policy of “reaching out” might be rather one-sided? Next time Bishop Chartres attends a meeting of that everlasting talking shop called Interfaith Dialogue with Moderate Muslims – aka the Total Appeasement and Self-Abasement Society – he might invite a little “reaching out” from the other side – say a pork pie and ale night at the mosque for the oppressed minority of Christians in Tower Hamlets. He might even put it to leaders of the religion of peace and love that they cease their practice of burning down churches and crucifying Christians – not permanently, you understand, but perhaps for a couple of weeks or so as an ecumenical gesture.



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UKIP Myths?


There’s a leaflet circulating in the East Midlands purporting to expose six “UKIP Myths”.  The biggest myth, of course, is that UKIP ever said any of the things they claim.  Let’s look at them one by one.

Myth #1: “We pay in money to the EU and get nothing back”.  UKIP says no such thing.  But we do say that we get only about half back of what we pay in.  They give us back a little of our own money, they tell us what to do with it, and then they expect us to be grateful.

Myth #2:  “We have to do whatever the EU tells us — they make our laws”.  Of course they don’t make all our laws, and we never said they did.  But the widely accepted estimate is that they make around 70% of our laws, and in most areas we have no veto.  An official German government study said that Brussels makes 80% of their laws.

Myth #3:  “Your family won’t be affected if we leave”.  It certainly will be — and in a good way.  UKIP wants to leave the EU because it will make us all better off.  Currently EU policies are destroying jobs (think steel closures) and compressing wages for working people.  Time to break free.

Myth #4:  “Being in the EU stops us from trading with the rest of the world”.  No it doesn’t.  But it stops us making our own trade deals, with Commonwealth countries, with China, with the USA.  Did you know that small countries like Switzerland and even Iceland have made their own trade deals with China?  While we’re in the EU, we can’t, and the EU hasn’t.

Myth #5:  “Leaving the EU will stop immigration”. No it won’t.  We never said it would, and anyway UKIP doesn’t want to “stop immigration”.  We just want to get it under control.  In the EU, we can’t control the numbers, or our borders, and we are forced to discriminate in favour of unskilled Romanians and against highly qualified people from elsewhere.

Myth #6: “The EU has done nothing for the East Midlands”.  No one in UKIP has ever said this.  We know that money has come from Brussels to the East Midlands, and some of it has been spent usefully.  But it’s not EU money — it’s our money.  Every pound we get from Brussels costs the UKeconomy around £3.  So after we leave, we’ll have more money to spend on schools and hospitals and scientific research and the other good things we all want to do.

This is typical of the attitude of UKIP’s opponents.  They wrongly accuse us of saying rather daft things.  Then they explain why they’re daft.  But of course they’ve produced a gross caricature of what we actually say.  The truth is, on all these counts, we’ll be Better Off Out.

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