It’s a huge day for elections. Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland. Local elections. Several Mayors. A couple of Westminster by-elections. Police Commissioners. Not a huge day for EU referendum news, but some stories are rolling on. Meantime, remember to vote UKIP today, and vote Brexit on June 23rd – Independence Day!
Electoral fraud: The Electoral Commission has highlighted a series of sixteen areas where it has particular concerns about electoral fraud. A number of police forces are setting up task forces to deal with the issue. But astonishingly, the Express reports that in one of the at-risk areas, Derby, in my own East Midlands Region, the police say that stopping electoral fraud in the Brexit referendum “is not our responsibility”. Funny that. I always thought that preventing crime was a key police responsibility. But maybe I’m just old-fashioned.
Greece in the cross-hairs again
The Telegraph runs an analysis of the current state of the Greek €uro issue, and predicts a possible crisis in weeks. It seems that neither the IMF (where Lagarde is facing criticism for devoting too much IMF resource to relatively rich Europe) and the European Commission have big problems with Greece’s current recovery plan. Greece has big repayments due in July, and may struggle to meet them.
After all that Greece has suffered, first economically and now with immigration, no one would wish them further problems. Nonetheless a full-blown €uro crisis around mid-June would be helpful for Brexit.
Post-Brexit EU deal “could take nine years”
A report from the House of Lords EU Committee argues that a new EU/UK trade deal could take “up to nine years” to negotiate after Brexit.
The basis of this claim is that EU trade deals with other countries have taken “between four and nine years” to conclude. Note that the headline takes the worst case. On this basis they could just as well have said “The deal could be completed in as little as four years”. But of course it’s not “on this basis”, for several reasons.
First, the Lisbon Treaty Article 50 allows a two year period (with a possibility of extension) during which the UK would remain a member of the EU, and trade terms would not change. So subtract two years, and you have “two to seven years”, not four to nine. Secondly, we start from a much easier position than arm’s length countries, because we currently share so much in common with the EU in terms of legislation and organisation. This would enormously facilitate new arrangements.
Thirdly, while I believe we will have an advantageous new trade deal in place very quickly, the worst-case fall-back position is that we trade with the EU under WTO rules. Other countries do this very successfully at the moment, not least the USA, China and Russia.
But fourthly (and forgive me for repeating myself, but this point cannot be made too often, nor too strongly) as the EU’s largest overseas customer, bar none, we are in a very strong negotiating position. They need a UK trade deal even more than we need an EU trade deal. There will be huge pressure on the Commission from continental industries to expedite a deal. Let’s not imagine that Mercedes and BMW and Audi will allow their business plans to be thrown into doubt by years of uncertainty about access to the UK market.
In short, I believe we will conclude a deal, if not seamlessly then very advantageously, within the Lisbon Treaty’s two years.
The Lords also speak of the “horrendous problem” of untangling the legal situation of (for example) “acquired rights” of UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK. But frankly that’s why we have civil servants and lawyers and sherpas. If they start with mutual recognition and a degree of goodwill, these problems are not insoluble, and it is in everyone’s interests to solve them.
More on that EU Army – and an apology
I wrote yesterday about the German plans for an EU Army, based on a leaked German military policy paper that went first to the FT, and then to Macer Hall of the Express, who splashed it on yesterday’s front page. My colleague Mike Hookem MEP is name-checked in the piece, but writing as I was at 7:30 yesterday morning, I hadn’t realised the great amount of input which Mike and his team had had to the story. Sorry about that, Mike. A piece in Breitbart partially sets the record straight, quoting Mike at length.
Mike has also recorded a hard-hitting two-minute video on this new threat to our independence and security.
The Breitbart article adds some new elements to the story. Berlin and Brussels were trying to keep the plan a secret until after the UK referendum – for rather obvious reasons. And it also mentions that many in the EU’s nomenklatura see NATO as an impediment to EU integration, and are seeking to by-pass it. The tragedy is that with current levels of military spending in the EU, Brussels can never hope to come close to the capability of NATO. So if we have to rely on EU armed forces, we will suffer a massive loss of capability and security. An EU Army may feed the hubris of Jean-Claude Juncker – but it won’t intimidate the Kremlin. With Russia encroaching in the Ukraine and threatening eastern Europe, now is the worst time to side-line NATO.
There can be no doubt that if we vote to remain, that will be seen by Brussels as a green light to go ahead with further EIU integration, and it will become impossible for us to opt out, as both Mike Hookem and Col Richard Kemp, former Commander of British forces in Afghanistan, have argued.
Mike believes, as I do, that this story will play a big part in the Brexit debate between now and the Referendum (though so far as I can tell the BBC is still maintaining radio silence). Thank heaven it’s in the open in time. After this, I can’t see very many serving or retired British military personnel voting to be commanded by German officers.
Heavyweight opposition to TTIP
Ambrose Evans Pritchard runs an opinion piece in the Telegraph entitled “Let the TTIP trade pact die if it threatens Parliamentary democracy”. Opposition to TTIP used to be limited to the “usual suspects” – the anti-capitalists, the anti-globalisation brigade, the anti-American faction. It is significant that respected main-stream economic commentators like Evans-Pritchard are now questioning it.
I was struck by one paragraph where Ambrose says he believes that the EU’s regulatory philosophy is a key reason why the region has missed the big technological leaps of the last quarter century. He adds, in a line worth quoting, “If democracies wish to ban genetically-modified crops out of scientific infantilism, that is their prerogative”.
Cameron’s U-turn on migrant children
Several papers report on Cameron’s U-turn on unaccompanied migrant children in Europe. He now plans to admit an unspecified number. Had he not made this concession, he could have faced defeat in the House of Commons at the hands of Tory rebels. It is the Mail’s front page headline, “Victory for Compassion”.
Of course we all understand the plight of these children, and we should all like to help. But the policy change raises worrying questions. If these children are in France, or other European countries, why are those rich, civilised EU states not providing appropriate care? The number proposed and discussed was 3000. But this leaves many thousands more. So why just 3000? If they move us to compassion, what about the others? How do we select the lucky ones – how reject the rest? Why should a migrant child in France take priority over an orphan child in danger in Aleppo? Then there are the worries that unaccompanied children are cynically sent ahead so that their families may join them later – and that in many cases age cannot be determined and those claiming to be children may in fact be older.
I hate to give comfort to our opponents, but in this case I believe the government’s policy of eliminating the pull factor by helping refugees in or near war-zones, not those who’ve reached Europe, makes sense.
Cynicism over Turkish accession
When Cameron was in Turkey in 2010 he said “I will remain your strongest advocate for EU membership”. But yesterday giving evidence to a Commons Committee, he said “I don’t think Turkish accession is remotely on the cards. It won’t happen for decades”. Why did he say this? He made that clear when he added “If your vote is influenced by Turkish EU accession, don’t think about it. It’s not an issue in this referendum”. Perhaps it’s just “ a dangerous fantasy” – like the EU Army?
Meantime the European Commission and Jean Claude Juncker have been dangling accelerated EU accession in front of Turkey as an incentive for a migrant deal. The cynicism is amazing.
Cameron: “I won’t say sorry”
I reported yesterday on the call for Cameron to apologise for calling Donald Trump “divisive and stupid”. Today, the “i” newspaper carries his response as a front-page headline: “I will never say sorry to Trump”. While I have some sympathy with Cameron’s comments on some of Trump’s wilder statements, I think that he should take a more measured and dignified line. Like it or not, he speaks for Britain. He should not allow his personal petulance and prejudice to run away with him. He could well be doing significant damage to future UK/US relations.
Cameron’s insult to Trump is a direct affront to all those millions of Americans who voted for Trump. Not a great way to bolster the transatlantic relationship.
Probably he calculates that Trump will never become President. But then I daresay he never thought that Trump would become the Republican candidate either. Stranger things have happened.
Italy/Austria spat over immigration
The Express reports an astonishing attack by Italian PM Matteo Renzi on Austria, which is proposing to build a fence to stop migrants crossing the border. Increasingly, the EU project, intended to bring peace, stability and solidarity to Europe’s diverse nations, seems to be having the opposite effect. My advice to Renzi: refuse to allow migrants to land in your country. Send them back to Africa.