BoJo’s big speech
Yesterday Boris Johnson delivered his first Big Speech on Brexit. It contained some typical Boris gems. “The UK would thrive outside the EU”. Yes indeed. “Nobody in their right mind would join the EU”. And he described Cameron as “a merchant of gloom”.
Boris cited the Canadian model (shortly to be concluded) as the sort of trade relationship we should aspire to — a Free Trade Deal between independent partners, and not (as we have now) a relationship in which one side sets the terms for the other.
David Cameron sought to hit back, saying “The Canadian agreement took seven years to negotiate”. But (as Dan Hannan remarked) “That’s because the European Commission was negotiating it”. You have to feel sorry for the EU trade negotiators. Before they can even sit down with the Canadians (or whoever) they have to try to cobble together the conflicting objectives and interests and sensitivities of 28 separate member-states. It must be like playing chess in three dimensions — and British interests are all too often lost in the process. We must challenge the myth that we’re stronger in trade negotiations as part of the EU. We’re not. But after Brexit, our negotiators, working for the world’s fifth largest economy, will put British interests and objectives front and centre.
Oddly enough I was also challenged yesterday evening at the Derby University Brexit debate on the Canada agreement by none other than our Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin MP. He told me (which I did not previously know) that the Canada deal leaves in place a 10% duty on car imports to the EU from Canada. That will not happen for the UK though. How do I know that? Because in value terms the UK imports twice the amount of cars from the continent as we export there. That gives us an unassailable negotiating position.
Clarion call from Tony Blair
Tony Blair has made a speech supporting Brussels, but saying he would not take a major rôle in the campaign (that’s a pity — it would have been a boost to the Leave side). But he added that those on the Remain side should try to show the same passion and commitment as the Outers. He’s noticed the difference. As I like to say, misquoting Yeats, “The INs lack all conviction, while the OUTs are filled with passionate intensity”. Differential turnout will play a big part in this campaign.
Syed Kamall MEP backs Brexit
My former colleague Syed Kamall MEP, sometime leader of the Conservative delegation and now leader of the ECR Group, has come out for coming out. I thought he would. He’s made a bold and principled decision, but then he’s a principled man. Emma McClarkin and Andrew Lewer, the two Conservative MEPs for the East Midlands, are both also backing Brexit.
Trump backs bilateral trade deals
The Mail reports that Donald Trump, in what is seen as a boost to the Brexit Campaign, is to back bilateral trade deals rather than multilateral packages like TTIP. Of course the USA already has around twenty bilateral trade deals (and for the benefit of those who still believe that the UK outside the EU is “too small” to make its own trade deals, every one of those twenty countries has a smaller economy than the UK). I’m not sure that we’d want to hitch our star to the Trump bandwagon, but he’s made a very positive point on this issue.
Row over EU migrant numbers
The Mail headlines “Tell us the true number of EU migrants”, reporting that HMRC officials are refusing to reveal the data. While official ONS figures indicate that 904,000 EU migrants have arrived since 2010, it seems that 2.2 million National Insurance cards have been issued to EU migrants. The Mail is right: the government should clarify the figures. But it understands what a salient issue immigration is, and is clearly scared to tell us the truth.
“Kick Out the Foreign Crooks”
In a headline that some might feel a touch xenophobic (but has some basis in reality), the Express headlines “Kick Out the Foreign Crooks”. The paper reports that MPs tabled a motion yesterday in the Commons calling for foreign criminals to be repatriated, and prevented from returning. Most British voters would support that plan, but of course it has no chance of success, because it would drive a coach and horses through EU law and various human rights conventions. Perhaps the best thing this bill can do is to highlight the extent to which we have given up the right to make our own decisions and to protect our own citizens.
Derby University Debate
If I may be permitted a personal story — last night I was on the panel at a Brexit debate organised by Derby University. On my side I had Nigel Baxter, Midlands Chairman of Business for Britain, and son of the redoubtable Neville Baxter. Against us were Secretary of State for transport Patrick McLoughlin MP, and former Secretary of State Margaret Beckett MP. We were up against the big guns. A vote before the debate among the 200+ strong audience gave a wafer-thin one percent margin to Leave — it was 34/33, if memory serves, with many undecided. After the debate, Leave had a five point win. 46% vs 41%, with fewer don’t-knows. On such small shifts are the destinies of nations determined. But I was encouraged by the swing towards Leave after a long and lively debate, and against heavyweight opposition.