Saturday 29 March 2014

The Budget And HMRC

With all the silliness on and immediately after 19th March surrounding the recent Budget and measures regarding Bingo and Beer duty it was tempting to ignore it - very much like Parliament will largely do contrary to their primary duty of scrutinising it.

However one particular measure – tucked away – demonstrated more than anything the absolute need for the Harrogate Demands:
Buried deep in the Budget document, there's a pretty significant HMRC power grab.

If officials decide you owe them money, they now have the ability to take it directly out your bank account. No insolvency proceedings, asset freezes or debt collection agencies. Just the government taking out whatever it thinks it's owed.
Anyone who has dealt with HMRC as part of a SME will read that and quake in their boots. With this in mind I post a copy of an email sent by TBF senior (an independent financial advisor of many decades) to his local MP in response - it articulates many of the deep concerns and frustrations regarding this measure:
The Chancellor’s recent Budget introduced radical pension reforms, a welcome help for savers and encouragement for businesses.  George Osborne continued his theme of ensuring that everyone pays their fair share of taxes.  It's one of the small proposals under the “Debt Recovery” section of the Budget that gives me serious concern.
It is proposed that new powers are given to HMRC so that they are able to access Bank Accounts of people who, allegedly, refuse to pay their taxes.  On the face of it this seems reasonable as people should pay their fair share of tax but this power is a fundamental change in the principle of British Justice.  In the UK, the courts decide the law and who is guilty.  If this power is passed to HMRC then they decide the tax that is due, determine that the person has consistently refused to pay and will then be given the power to raid their Bank Account.  In other words HMRC becomes the Judge, Jury and Executioner.
We have been told that there will be safeguards and this new power will only be used where HMRC have tried to contact the Tax Payer on a number of occasions and receive no response.  It appears that HMRC will decide whether or not these safeguards have been met and regrettably, their reputation for mistakes is well known.  There may be a simple and valid reason why a person has not responded such as they are in Hospital, they have moved house, they may have a mild form of Dementia or indeed HMRC may have the wrong records.
The lower limit of £1,000 of tax owed is miniscule for this draconian measure.  It will affect somebody who may have just had a company car, a change in respect of Child Credit or purely a miscalculation by HMRC in previous tax years.  This is not a measure that is aimed at the person who is deliberately evading large amounts of tax, it is targeting normal people and small businesses.
We are told that HMRC will leave a minimum of £5,000 across Bank Accounts and if this is also going to apply to small businesses, this could be purely the amount that is needed to pay their staff at the end of the month.
My understanding is that the Enterprise Act 2002 abolished preferential status for Crown debts from 15 September 2003.  This proposed measure could circumvent this by allowing HMRC to recover their debt in preference to the other Creditors by taking taxes from the individual’s account prior to insolvency.
HMRC already have powers to recover unpaid debts.  Why are they not encouraged to use them rather than giving them further power?  We are told that Tax Authorities in other countries such as the US and France already have this power.  This is no reason whatsoever for us to follow suit.  After all we live in Britain, not France or the US.
If we give this power to HMRC then what next?  There are many people that do not pay their Council Tax and therefore shouldn’t Local Authorities be given the power to take this money from their Bank Accounts.  After all we all have to pay for people that don’t pay their Council Tax.   How about Motor Insurance Companies.  We all pay additional premiums for people that do not pay for car insurance, so should they be given the power to deduct car insurance premiums from our Bank Accounts.  I am sure that MP’s from all sides of the House would be up in arms if this was proposed.
We have seen powers introduced in the past for what appears to be the right reasons but is subsequently used for other purposes. For example the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 being used to catch people putting out their wheelie bins too early!  It might well be that the current Government is bringing in these new powers with every good intention but there is no guarantee that future Governments may not decide to use this power to implement further draconian measures.
As one of your Constituents, I urge you to oppose this new measure.  We do not want to have to wait until there is a public outcry over people who have suffered under these draconian measures.  There will inevitably be an inquiry with the usual infuriating reply that “lessons will be learned”.  For once, let us learn from our history lessons.  It is with some irony that with the 800 anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta due next year, George Osborne is proposing that we give HMRC the power to determine the tax that is due and deduct it direct from Tax Payers without any recourse to an independent Arbitrator; a very dangerous step.
Of course both of us are under no illusions that any objections will make any difference, especially given the sycophantic nature to Cameron of his local MP. Yet again it demonstrates how broken our so-called Parliamentary democracy has become - at the next election there will really be only two contestants: the political class and the people. Oh how we wish for Demand number 5:
5. No taxation or spending without consent: no tax, charge or levy shall be imposed, nor any public spending authorised, nor any sum borrowed by any national or local government except with the express approval the majority of the people, renewed annually on presentation of a budget which shall first have been approved by their respective legislatures;

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Poll Blow For EU Exit

Ahead of tonight's debate between Farage and Clegg on EU membership broadcast on LBC (7pm) and also shown on Sky News Political Betting has the latest poll from YouGov on EU exit.

We can see quite clearly that those who wish to remain in the EU is 6 points ahead. Factor in the "don't knows" with the status quo effect and the out campaign is in deep trouble. The problem is that those in favour of the EU membership do not have to win the argument, all they have to do is sow enough doubt to keep the status quo. We face an uphill battle.

That's why Richard North's submission was so essential - to nullify that status quo threat. Failing to neutralise the economic argument will mean we lose. Thus tonight Farage has to show he appreciates this massive threat to exit and step up to the plate big time.

Failure to do so and we've all lost...

Brexit: Not Shortlisted

"The European Union is, and always has been, a political project, even though this has not been something that has been as openly acknowledged as it should have been in Britain" Labour MP and IEA judge Gisela Stuart

Today we learnt the names of the final six to go forward to the IEA Brexit prize. Unfortunately the entry by Richard North was not selected; it can be read or downloaded from here.

In many ways it was not a surprise. We had doubts from the start that a submission which aims to negate the economic arguments in order to win a referendum against FUD would be in direct contrast to the economic bias of the IEA.

Despite that a number of the judges acknowledged publically that the EU is a political project not an economic one, a feeling persists the IEA in general and indeed this country still cannot get to grips with the true nature of what the European Union is. This is reflected in the obvious concentration of economic interests in the final six.

What compounds the disappointment though is that after many months of hard work the news was received by a rather terse email from a press person:

The words "good and intriguing" are rather patronising to say the least. "Intriguing" is clearly a euphemism for not what we were looking for. After months of hard work by Richard researching a very complex and important subject and producing an original thesis of "Flexcit" contestants deserve much better than a patronising, bland and standard email.

Despite that it's encouraging that we now have a very detailed, layered and practical document on how the UK can exit the EU, that in itself is progress.

Finally I would like to thank Richard for his enormously hard efforts since October, much of it unseen, in producing a very valuable and useful piece of work. One that needs to be re-read a few times to fully appreciate its scope.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

The Tree, The Council and The Street Lamp

Regular readers may remember a blog post from late 2011 regarding a street lamp outside my house and a tree that has grown to such an extent it was blocking light and maintenance access. The council at the time, citing the Highways Act 1980, gave me 14 days to complete the work or they would do it themselves and seek to recover the costs.

One small problem the tree and the lamp post is on land which is not mine, so I’m not liable. This was pointed out to them at the time which had a confirmation reply that my response was noted and recorded.

2 ½ years later the tree remains untouched. Funnily enough when they thought it grew on my land it was urgent yet when it turns out to be their problem it was less urgent.

And so the lack of pruning of the tree has resulted in another letter to me from my local council, virtually identical in wording to the original, that as a result of a maintenance inspection (nice to know they happen on such a regular occasion) I need to carry out the work in 14 days “or else”. My original email been lost then?

Just to "help me on my way" I have been given a sheet of illustrations that demonstrate the "council requirements for trimming trees around S/L columns - scanned below (click to enlarge):

Apparently they require that:
Clearance to be sufficient to be effective for at least 12 months but preferably as a long term solution
I'm not sure how they would know it was effective for at least 12 months given inspections seemingly happen only every 2 ½ years. Clearly then what apparently applies to me does not apply to the Council (the tree is on Highway Agency property). They admit themselves the current situation is contrary to the Highways Act so that then applies to them as well.

One is now having mischievous thoughts...

Sunday 23 March 2014

Farage Compares UKIP To Millwall Football Club

Autonomous Mind today highlights the contrast in coverage of the Conservatives and the coverage of UKIP. The UKIP’s stories clearly concentrate on the antics of leader Nigel Farage which is hardly surprising given that the man is the party and the party is the man.

As a consquence it’s not UKIP policies that take precedent but Farage himself still having to justify and deny allegations yet again about his private life – all the while consuming yet more copious quantities of alcohol.

Now it’s true that the Mail on Sunday article portrays a far from sympathetic tone, for example this particular paragraph:
[Farage] had no time for the homeless man who tried to sell him The Big Issue, ignoring him completely.
After the bedraggled toothless chap eventually gave up and trudged off, Farage quipped: ‘That’s the first Big Issue seller I’ve come across for a while who isn’t a Romanian immigrant!’
He doesn’t ‘do’ compassion.
In another article we have this:
UKIP leader Nigel Farage has come under fire for using taxpayers' money to pay for a swanky penthouse suite in Brussels.

The Euro MP, who has previously criticised the European Union for its wastefulness, is renting the luxury property in one of the most exclusive addresses in the Belgian capital.
In many ways it comes as little surprise that newspapers adopt a hostile tone. When a party aims to overturn the establishment status quo in terms of EU membership, the cosy alliance of the three biggest parties and the media’s self-interest in maintaining that status quo, any upstart is undoubtedly going to be treated unfairly.

The crucial strategy when fighting the status quo is to become grudgingly respected if not liked. This can be achieved by dealing with policy detail, establishing oneself as an authority on a subject (in UKIP’s case the EU) and - in contrast to others - being seen to be above board in honesty; for example not employing your wife, and mistress, on the taxpayers' expense.

Thus that UKIP would be subjected to smears is no surprise. However shallow smears can always be conteracted by substance. Without substance empty rhetoric is no defence.

The crucial point with UKIP is how much are smears and how much is true? Ironically we turn to Farage to answer this question. He does so by comparing UKIP to Millwall Football Club:
‘We’re like Millwall Football Club, “Everyone hates us and we don’t care!”
Firstly I would suggest that as a leader of a political party it's not entirely conducive to revel in the principle of "everyone hates us, we don’t care". It tends not to result in many votes.

It's true that Millwall's famous chant of: "no-one likes us, we don't care" is a masterpiece of defiance, in tune I guess with some aspects of UKIP which Farage indulges in. Yet conversely it is also a masterpiece of irony. If Millwall supporters truly didn't care, their club would not be defined by a chant that said they didn't.

But more importantly why has Farage compared UKIP to Millwall at all – a club that is associated with thuggery and violence? Even those of a non-football persuasion are fully aware of Millwall’s toxic reputation. Is Farage suggesting they’re all angels simply misunderstood?

We do not doubt that many Millwall fans are normal law-abiding supporters, unfortunately tarnished as they are by their club's reputation. Yet as a club they didn’t earn their infamy through unfairness.

No-one sat looking at a map and stuck a pin highlighting South Bermondsey saying let’s just pick on these chaps for no reason. Millwall earned their reputation. They can complain all they like that they are singled out but a mirror is sometimes useful. Yes their coverage is often unfavourable but a significant number don't do the club any favours.

So in many ways Farage's analogy was correct in a way he probably did not intend. Many of those in UKIP are hardworking volunteers let down by a minority. With no exit plan, a lack of a decent website, a party bereft of policies that are not “drivel” is it any wonder that the media have little else to concentrate on?

So a great deal of one of the Daily Mail articles contains Farage having to deny that he had an affair with Annabelle Fuller:
Has he had sex with Annabelle Fuller? ‘I don’t think we should go into the grisly details.’

Has he slept with her? ‘No.’ Has he kissed her? ‘No. When you work in a tight team, I understand why people might get the wrong idea.’
Why hadn’t he denied it immediately in the European Parliament? Farage falls back on his best weapon: wit. ‘There’s an old saying, if you pick a fight with a chimney sweep you get covered in soot!’
A denial despite that this has been an open secret in the party for years and Fuller herself has openingly boasted about said liason to UKIP delegates in the past. Farage is being less than candid here. Ultimately regardless of Farage's unconvincing response the entire episode detracts from any kind of important issues that UKIP might campaign on. His personal life, paid for by the taxpayer is becoming a hinderance.

And still there is much more to be released about Farage and his entourage. That they have not been made public in media is down to use of Carter Ruck. Thus we suspect that some of the current "smears" are schadenfreude on behalf of journalists who have been on the receiving end of Carter Ruck when investigating numerous alleged misdemeanours - resulting in non-disclosure settlements. For some journalists, with fingers burnt, it's become personal.

Like Millwall, there are smears and facts – and often the former depends heavily on the latter. Criticising those that point out that the emperor has no clothes does not necessarily make them incorrect however uncomfortable the truth.

In the spirit of Farage we'll use another football analogy - we may criticise the manager if he's not up to it, but to do so does not make us a lesser supporter of our club.

Saturday 22 March 2014

Labour's Referendum Promise

Last Saturday I raised the possibility that Labour's promise to use an 'in-out' referendum to try to ratify a new EU Treaty would not be looked upon favourably by the Electoral Commission. With that in mind I wrote to them seeking clarification, and this is the response I received:
Dear TBF

Thank you for your email to the Electoral Commission.

If a referendum were called the Commission would comment on the intelligibility of the question. In addition under PPERA we would formally nominate ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ organisations. We would also ensure that the public had information to enable them to make an informed choice.

Unfortunately we cannot comment on the nature of the question, that would be for parliament to decide and frame the question. We would only comment on the wording.

Kind regards

Mark Nyack             
Public Information Officer
The Electoral Commission
To me that answer is unsatisfactory. While Parliament can decide and frame the question, the Electoral Commission has to decide whether the question is unambiguous. To frame the question in such a way that it poses 2 questions in 1 is far from unambiguous and thus comes under the EC's remit. The EC is being deliberately elusive here - therefore I have written back to them seeking further and more specific clarification. Again their response will be posted here.

Saturday 15 March 2014

EU: Another Empty Referendum Promise?

It's rather symbolic when in a week where we lose two eurosceptics of “Labour past”, that their successors in the form of Miliband et al reveal their intentions to try to rig a future referendum ensuring we stay as EU members.

This blog and Richard North expressed our deep concerns that with Labour changing the dynamics of a future referendum by shifting the status quo effect in its favour we would inevitably lose an in/out referendum under Labour. This shift was expressed with this promise: "[Labour] guarantees that there will be no transfer of powers from Britain to the European Union without an in/out referendum".

This scenario was most likely given that Labour is very much expected to win the General Election in 2015. Even the Tories are now apparently giving up.

There can be no doubt that Labour knew what it was trying to do. It has been alleged that privately Ed Balls has been arguing that Ed Millband goes for a referendum precisely for the very reasons Richard North urges caution. The out camp is likely to lose and it will settle the question for a generation at least.

Labour cannot be unaware of the status quo effect. Peter Kellner President of the pollster YouGov has written about the status quo effect inherent in referendums in the Guardian:
As in so many referendums round the world, when there is no settled national consensus, the status quo will prevail.
Kellner is also married to the unelected EU representative Baroness Ashton, so we can safely assume that that the issues of the status quo and the impending EU Treaty has been well-discussed domestically thus helping to influence Labour’s latest referendum position.

However one problem has emerged with Labour’s position – the Electoral Commission.

As it notes itself the Electoral Commission is required under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 to comment on the "intelligibility of referendum questions". This it did most recently with this 81 page report in response to "The European Union (Referendum) Bill" - a private Members’ Bill introduced by James Wharton MP, which passed its second reading on 5th July 2013.

Thus the Electoral Commission had to initiate their standard question assessment process. And as per page 49, and here, the Electoral Commission question confirms that its assessment guidelines are as follows, the question should:
  • Be easy to understand
  • Be to the point
  • Be unambiguous
  • Avoid encouraging voters to consider one response more favourably than another
  • Avoid misleading voters
And here Labour's promise clearly fails the Electoral Commission guidelines. By throwing in the prospect of leaving the EU in a referendum on whether to answer a simple question on a new treaty Labour's proposal effectively becomes two questions in one. For example those who may wish to oppose a new EU treaty but support EU membership will be forced to vote for a Treaty they oppose or vote against the Treaty and so consequently for exit which they don't agree with.

Unambiguous Labour's proposals are not, and nor can it be said it "avoids encouraging voters to consider one response more favourably than another". The prospect of the "nuclear option" does precisely that.

Regarding misleading voters, one considers that even on the basics of a simple 'in or out' question still left voters' confused, as per page 24:
“If you ask me to leave the Tory party, you first have to find out if I’m a member before you ask me to leave.”
(Male, aged 55, mini-depth, London, English as second language)

“Not everyone understands that we are in Europe already?”
(Focus group participant, aged 25-44, C2DE, Colwyn Bay)

“I don’t think we are a member – I’ve never heard of it [European Union].”
(Female, aged 63, mini-depth, Nottingham)
Labour's two questions in one clearly breaches those guidelines. By reading the report in full one can see that the Electoral Commission is nothing if not pedantic. We have similiar examples on the AV referendum and the Scottish referendum (page 12):
  • Completion: participants were asked to answer a proposed question as if for real and identify any words or phrases they found clear, or more difficult to understand .
  • Understanding: participants discussed what they thought the question was asking and any difficulties they had with the question, and the reasons for this.
  • Neutrality: participants were asked to consider whether they felt the question was encouraging people to vote in a particular way, and if so, why they felt that.
  • Improvements: participants considered what improvements they would make to the question wording and discussed their suggestions
  • Comparing alternatives: participants were shown alternative question wording and asked to compare it to the original, and consider whether or not the changes improved the question
Which led to this:
The Scottish government has agreed to change the wording of its independence referendum question, after concerns it may lead people to vote 'Yes'.
SNP ministers wanted to ask voters the yes/no question: "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?" in autumn 2014.
The wording of the question will now be altered to: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" The change was suggested by the Electoral Commission watchdog.
With this in mind this blogger will be contacting the Electoral Commission asking them to clarify their position on Miliband's promise. I will update readers on any response I receive.

What is becoming very clear is the Tories can’t deliver on a referendum by 2017 as Cameron as promised and now Labour almost certainly can’t deliver on a referendum promise because it contradicts electoral law. Again we see our political parties desperate to appear in touch with a domestic audience while actually being completely and hopelessly out of touch with political reality.

One would expect the UK’s most prominent Eurosceptic party to point this out, but I guess its leader has trouble multi-tasking

Friday 14 March 2014

Tony Benn

"no [MP] has the legal or moral authority to hand over powers borrowed from the electors to people who would no longer be accountable to them" Tony Benn
Within the space of a week, we lose another left-wing Eurosceptic, this time the passing of Tony Benn. I had the privilege of seeing him speak when I attended Parliament during the Maastricht debates and so in his memory I reproduce one of them here. It still resonates 23 years later:
We are discussing whether the British people are to be allowed to elect those who make the laws under the which they are governed. The argument is nothing to do with whether we should get more maternity leave from Madame Papandreou than from Madame Thatcher. That is not the issue.

I recognise that, when the members of the three Front Benches agree, I am in a minority. My next job therefore is to explain to the people of Chesterfield what we have decided. I will say first, "My dear constituents, in future you will be governed by people whom you do not elect and cannot remove. I am sorry about it. They may give you better creches and shorter working hours but you cannot remove them."

I know that it sounds negative but I have always thought it positive to say that the important thing about democracy is that we can remove without bloodshed the people who govern us. We can get rid of a Callaghan, a Wilson or even a right hon. Lady by internal processes. We can get rid of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). But that cannot be done in the structure that is proposed. Even if one likes the policies of the people in Europe, one cannot get rid of them.

Secondly, we say to my favourite friends, the Chartists and suffragettes, "All your struggles to get control of the ballot box were a waste of time. We shall be run in future by a few white persons, as in 1832." The instrument, I might add, is the Royal Prerogative of treaty making. For the first time since 1649 the Crown makes the laws--advised, I admit, by the Prime Minister.

We must ask what will happen when people realise what we have done. We have had a marvellous debate about Europe, but none of us has discussed our relationship with the people who sent us here. Hon. Members have expressed views on Albania and the Baltic states. I have been dazzled by the knowledge of the continent of which we are all part. No one has spoken about how he or she got here and what we were sent here to do.

If people lose the power to sack their Government, one of several things happens. First, people may just slope off. Apathy could destroy democracy. When the turnout drops below 50 per cent., we are in danger.

The second thing that people can do is to riot. Riot is an old-fashioned method of drawing the attention of the Government to what is wrong. It is difficult for an elected person to admit it, but the riot at Strangeways produced some prison reforms. Riot has historically played a much larger part in British politics than we are ever allowed to know.

Thirdly, nationalism can arise. Instead of blaming the treaty of Rome, people say, "It is those Germans," or, "It is the French." Nationalism is built out of frustration that people feel when they cannot get their way through the ballot box. With nationalism comes repression. I hope that it is not pessimistic--in my view it is not--to say that democracy hangs by a thread in every country of the world. Unless we can offer people a peaceful route to the resolution of injustices through the ballot box, they will not listen to a House that has blocked off that route.
There are many alternatives open to us. One hon. Member said that he was young and had not fought in the war. He looked at a new Europe. But there have been five Europes this century. There was the one run by the King, the Kaiser and the Tsar--they were all cousins, so that was very comfortable. They were all Queen Victoria's grandsons, and there was no nonsense about human rights when Queen Victoria's grandsons repressed people. Then there was the Russian revolution. Then there was the inter-war period. Then there was the Anglo-Soviet alliance.
Then there was the cold war. Now we have a Boris Yeltsin who has joined the Monday Club. There have been many Europes. This is not the only Europe on offer.
I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) is a democratic federalist, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes). They want an American-type constitution for Europe. It could be that our laws would hang on which way the Albanian members voted. I could not complain about that, because that is democracy, but it is unworkable. It is like trying to get an elephant to dance through a minefield, but it would be democratic.

Another way would be to have a looser, wider Europe. I have an idea for a Commonwealth of Europe. I am introducing a Bill on the subject. Europe would be rather like the British Commonwealth. We would work by consent with people. Or we could accept this ghastly proposal, which is clumsy, secretive, centralised, bureaucratic and divisive. That is how I regard the treaty of Rome. I was born a European and I will die one, but I have never put my alliance behind the treaty of Rome. I object to it. I hate being called an anti-European. How can one be anti-European when one is born in Europe? It is like saying that one is anti-British if one does not agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. What a lot of nonsense it is.

I ask myself why the House is ready to contemplate abandoning its duties, as I fear it is. I was elected 41 years ago this month. This Chamber has lost confidence in democracy. It believes that it must be governed by someone else. It is afraid to use the powers entrusted to it by its constituents. It has traded power for status. One gets asked to go on the telly if one is a Member of Parliament. The Chamber does not want to use its power. It has accepted the role of a spectator and joined what Bagehot called the dignified part of the constitution, leaving the Crown, under the control of the Prime Minister, to be the Executive part.

If democracy is destroyed in Britain, it will be not the communists, Trotskyists or subversives but this House which threw it away. The rights that are entrusted to us are not for us to give away. Even if I agree with everything that is proposed, I cannot hand away powers lent to me for five years by the people of Chesterfield. I just could not do it. It would be theft of public rights.

Therefore, there is only one answer. If people are determined to submit themselves to Jacques Delors, Madam Papandreou and the Council of Ministers, we must tell the people what is planned. If people vote for that, they will all have capitulated. Julius Caesar said, "We are just merging our sovereignty." So did William the Conqueror. It is not possible to support the Government's motion. I have told the Chief Whip that I cannot support the Labour amendment.

I invite the House to vote against the Government's motion and not to support a motion which purports to take us faster into a Community which cannot reflect the aspirations of those who put us here. That is not a nationalist argument, nor is it about sovereignty. It is a democratic argument, and it should be decisive in a democratic Chamber.

Wednesday 12 March 2014

Changing The Rules Of The Game

Following on from my initial reactions last night to Miliband confirming that Labour will rule out an automatic referendum on the EU, he gave his speech on an EU referendum today, the full text of which can be found here. It will come as no surprise that much of the speech is highly predictable as demonstrated by a couple of excerpts below. Miliband's position is little different to Cameron's

We have the Norway lie:
Exit from the EU would put all these gains at risk. Either we would end up outside the single market or even if we could stay within it, it would be under terms and rules dictated by others. That would be bad for Britain.
We have the 3.5 million jobs lie:
Almost half of all overseas investment in the UK comes from within the EU. Directly providing 3.5 million jobs. And much of the rest of the investment into our country comes because we are part of the single market.
And we have the EU can be "reformed" lie:
Our priority would be different. Instead of this approach, we need one driven by the national interest. Which keeps the country’s focus on the biggest issue facing us: the future of our economy and the cost-of-living crisis. Which understands that Britain’s future lies in the EU. But reforms the EU to make it work for Britain...Now, there are no current proposals from other countries for such a transfer of powers. I do not believe this is the direction in which Europe should head. Indeed, I think some powers should come back the other way
All of which begs the question do Miliband and Cameron use the same speech writers, so similar are they? However there is one crucial difference. Towards the end Miliband promised the following:
So today I am announcing that the next Labour government will legislate for a new lock. Not simply a referendum on any treaty change proposing a transfer of power. Because there have been too many referenda like that in other countries which have been ignored. But a lock that guarantees that there will be no transfer of powers without an in/out referendum...
This is the set of conditions under which the next Labour government would have an in/out referendum. With a clear lock that guarantees that there will be no transfer of powers from Britain to the European Union without an in/out referendum. The alternative is David Cameron’s approach.
On the face of it that looks appealing - Labour are promising an 'in or out' referendum if there is a treaty that transfers more powers to the EU. With a new treaty impending then effectively Labour are promising a referendum as well during the next Parliament (assuming of course they don't try to wriggle out of it).

However one senses Miliband's promise is a giant trap. By promising this new lock he completely changes the dynamics of a referendum and moves the "20% status quo effect" - inherent in any referendum - in his favour.

A simple "yes/no" on a new Treaty is biased towards rejecting the Treaty and maintaining the status quo. By contrast Miliband has added a large uncertainty into the equation that rejection is not the status quo but instead the unknowns of exit which means it will become significantly harder to achieve.

Thus voters will be faced with complicated Treaty change (which they probably won't read) dressed up as necessary reforms, notably for the UK a "better deal" via Protocol 9 - Associate Membership - or the massive uncertainty of exit fueled by lashings of FUD. With this in mind it's clear that by this proposal Miliband tips the inherent 20% advantage towards staying in.

Subtly tucked away at the end of his speech a couple of paragraphs demonstrate that Miliband's proposals are far more dangerous to the Eurosceptic cause than Cameron's.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Ed Miliband Rules Out Automatic Referendum

Just after eurosceptic Bob Crow passes away we have Ed Miliband apparently confirming that Labour will rule out an automatic referendum on the EU. No bad thing considering we are likely to lose anyway especially given there is no coherent (as yet) strategy on how to exit. He says:
...that under a Labour government Britain will only hold a referendum on leaving the EU if there is a "significant transfer of powers" to Brussels - a prospect he describes as "unlikely".
Interestingly his words take on a greater significance given that there's a new treaty on its way which will put the UK into associate membership status, I guess there's Miliband's wriggle room right there - there won't be a "significant transfer of powers" because we'll be plonked in the departure lounge. Thus meaning no referendum on the new Treaty at all.

Astonishingly Miliband then goes on to say...
"that Labour will resist the idea that "the EU is intend (sic) on an inexorable drive towards an ever close union"
Has the twat ever read the Treaty of Rome?
"Determined to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe"

Guido Fawkes Calls Me A Muppet

Guido Fawkes, a blogger of some self-importance, has taken it upon himself to label me a "Muppet" on Twitter. My crime? Merely to point out that Cameron's apparent veto in 2011 was nonsense on stilts.

I had the temerity to question the following sentence in a blog piece by Guido today, he writes (my emphasis throughout):
Despite Downing Street getting to choose the candidate for EU Commissioner, the European Parliament has to approve their pick. Guido understands Number 10 is preparing for the possibility that the PM’s first choice will be spiked by MEPs as revenge for the British vetoing the 2011 treaty. So Dave faces a dilemma. Does he put forward his first choice as normal and risk seeing them vetoed, or does he hold back who he actually wants at the risk of a decoy first nomination scraping through?:
And that apparently passes for a stunning piece of political analysis. Of course we shouldn't expect much better given Guido has previously campaigned for the return of capital punishment without acknowledging that it is against our EU membership or that he once said this:
We are briefed that Blair is the official unofficial candidate of the FCO for permanent President of the Council of Europe.
As regular readers know, and has been well rehearsed, there was no veto. Nor could there have been as it's extremely difficult to veto a Treaty which does not exist and the power of a veto is not available.

It's worth remembering that David Cameron only initially confirmed that he "effectively vetoed". Ah the word 'effectively'? It’s rather like running a mile every day for 26 days and then declaring "I effectively ran a marathon". Not a lie essentially but crucially neither is it the truth. Newspapers of course don't pander to such nuances or subtleties - remove the word 'effectively' and there is your headline.

Interestingly when Cameron gave his report to the House of Commons on 12th December 2011 he did not use the word “veto” once – that would be “Lying In the House”. With this in mind we note Jack Straw’s question to Cameron:
Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): There was no draft treaty before the European Council last Thursday and Friday; there was a set of draft conclusions. Will the Prime Minister set out the paragraph numbers that he thinks would have damaged Britain’s interests had we agreed to them? Will he also confirm that we had a veto on a financial transactions tax before the Council and that we still have one; and that financial services regulation was subject to qualified majority voting before last Thursday and still is?
And then to David Milliband:
“This is the first veto in history not to stop something. The plans are going right ahead. It was a phantom veto against a phantom threat".
But I guess pointing out the facts make me a "Muppet" - Guido with his head so far up the arse of the establishment is no different to the rest of the media where reporting the details is far beyond their comprehension.

And how ironic, and rather odd, that to make his case on Twitter to me Guido links to the Guardian – a newspaper he frequently derides. 

Bob Crow

Naturally it is with a little shock to learn that the RMT leader, Bob Crow has died suddenly this morning – though I guess the manner of his passing is not entirely surprising. Many words undoubtedly will be expressed about his legacy which means there is little I could add that is of use to the extensive coverage that will ensure.

Typically for a rather forthright chap he divided opinions and so he does in death, going by the torrent of comments – split as they are by so-called “left” and “right”. Londoners obviously will probably have more passionate views than others.

Yet many of the venomous comments on the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph website seem to have forgotten that, like him or not, he was against the EU and our membership of it. He saw the insidious organisation for what it is and its impact on the working class members he represented.

Given his often uncompromising stance on other issues undoubtedly his eurosceptic views were genuine, as illustratrated by the No2EU party which he led, unlike the views of the more Judas goat like politicians we have become used to.

And so in that sense that's how this blog would like to remember him by.

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Acting The (Judas) Goat

On Monday in the EU-supporting Telegraph, we have Douglas Carswell in his regular blog arguing that Britain should leave the Ukraine alone. He states:
What should we do? Take great care, for a start.
At the time of the Schleswig-Holstein question, when Britain was the world’s hyperpower, we avoided wading in. We would be wise to be cautious now.
Maybe, just maybe, this desire to be in the thick of things comes less from a sense of our strength, and more from a fear of our weakness.  Perhaps after Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, a certain kind of British official feels that this is what one does.
British diplomats might want to be doing the deals and laying down the terms of the UN resolutions. But since when was the amour-propre of British diplomats the yardstick by which we measure the national interest?
In his anticipation of the motives of British diplomats, what seems to have escaped Carswell's notice is that the UK does not have a choice in the matter. We are members of the EU and as a consequence we cannot have a separate national foreign policy on nations who have Association Agreements with the EU and are undergoing a European Neighbourhood Policy which applies to Ukraine.

Such matters are now a European External Action Service (EEAS) competence so our foreign policy is whatever President Barosso and Baroness Ashton decides it is. It doesn't matter what the UK wants - we are up to our necks in the Ukrainian mess because of our EU membership.

The increasing importance, or 'encroachment' of the EEAS regarding the UK is demonstrated by its continuing expansion at same time the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is declining. For example since 2006-7, staffing has been cut from 7,005 to 4,450 and it is planned to fall further to 4,285 by 2014-15 (page 31).

Yet strangely not once is the EU or the EEAS mentioned in Carswell's blog. And it's not as if Carswell is unaware of the EEAS given that he voted against its establishment in July 2010 while most of his colleagues voted for it, and in October of the same year he said this to the House:
I remind Members that the European External Action Service is the EU's diplomatic corps. It already has about 20 times the budget of our Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
So one wonders why the silence now, Carswell?

Update: I've just spotted that Autonomous Mind has just written a piece on a similar theme regarding the silence on the EEAS from Con Coughlin in the Telegraph.

Sunday 2 March 2014

"500 Years Of Democracy"

I stumbled upon this rather short film by the BBC - shown above- which is about the Swiss relationship with the EU. It allegedly reports on...
"...the Swiss psyche and its complicated legal arrangements with the EU. Some Eurosceptics see the Switzerland as model for a potential future UK-EU relationship, if Britain were to cut, or loosen, its links with Brussels."
How a film that only lasts 2mins 43 seconds long can expect to examine all the "complicated legal arrangements" is an interesting concept. But I guess the only way to gauge is to watch it. The film doesn't start off well - indulging in cliché and inaccuracy:
"...Switzerland's relationship with the EU is a bit like a cuckoo clock - a bit in and a bit out. In Europe but not in the EU."
Ah a "Swiss cuckoo clock". Despite that the cuckoo clock is German in origin regardless of Orsen's Welles' famous speech in the film The Third Man. Yet more importantly is the tone of the BBC film. While quickly rattling through a basic summary giving the apparently obligatory 'pros and cons' it comes the following conclusions:
But Eurosceptics say the referendum ranks alongside the scenery and the chocolates - it's one of Switzerland's attractions.
And in response to Dieter Freiburghaus arguing in support of the Swiss relationship:
Thanks Dieter but many would suggest the idea of a more detached Swiss style arrangement is...well... totally cuckoo.
It would be difficult to think of a more sarcastic pro-EU partisan based sign off to a film.

Despite the unbelievably patronising sentiments of the BBC piece, the facts though do indicate that the Swiss option is not great for the UK.

The Swiss option was born out of a fudge – a consequence of the refusal of the Swiss to join the European Economic Area (EEA) in the ‘90s and their subsequent refusal to join the EU. Instead trading arrangements with the EU are based on a series of "pick and mix" bilateral agreements with over 120 agreements in place.

And while there are some significant advantages - democracy, the Swiss as seen recently can reject EU measures in a referendum - the arrangements are also seen as unnecessarily and fiendishly complex. Bilateral agreements are far too complex and time-consuming to administer. And indeed rather than maintaining distance from the EU it has proved to be a means of moving Switzerland closer to the EU  - about 40 percent of Swiss legislation derives from EU rules.

Overall, the Swiss approach – which includes the Schengen Association Agreement (SAA) - is regarded as unique to the country. It is an exception, developed over time, rather than a recognised formal model of EU relationship.

And because of difficulties it is not seen as an example that can be readily applied to the UK. MPs from the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, for example, found on a visit to Berne in 2013 that the EU did not wish to continue with the current system (page 77):
It was stressed to [the UK] in Berne that the EU did not wish to continue with the current system of EU-Swiss bilateral agreements. For the EU, they are too complex and time-consuming to administer.
More importantly, the EU considers that, without any provision for Switzerland’s automatic adoption of new legislation in areas covered by its bilateral agreements, and without any dispute settlement mechanism, the current system creates “legal uncertainty”.
In December 2012, the EU said that “the approach taken by Switzerland to participate in EU policies and programmes through sectoral agreements in more and more areas [...] has reached its limits and needs to be reconsidered. Any further development of the complex system of agreements would put at stake the homogeneity of the Internal Market”.
Since December 2010 the EU as been refusing to move forward on any further bilateral agreements that Switzerland might seek until the Swiss Government agrees to establish an overarching institutional framework that would ensure the homogenous interpretation and application between the EU and Switzerland of the relevant Single Market rules. Professor Schwok suggested that the “Swiss model no longer exists because the EU wants its relationship with Switzerland to move closer to the EEA benchmark”
So although the Swiss model has its benefits it is very unlikely to be repeated. But naturally in a film of only a couple of minutes long the BBC did not even attempt to explore any of these issues in detail. One could consider this just an oversight yet we have evidence of the BBC dismissing other EU exit options based on lies.

I guess the BBC would consider this little film as part of having to fulfil their "neutral" quota, but it does demonstrate come a referendum our state broadcaster cannot be trusted to give us all the details in what is a complex subject.

Instead it resorted to patronising partisan soundbites.