Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Eurosceptic case for voting 'Remain'.

I came of political age as the ERM debacle and Maastricht ratification process corroded the Tory party. Saving the pound against its "inevitable" inclusion in the Euro project made me a Eurosceptic. The Queen on the money, the ability of the state to finance itself *is* sovereignty, and the ability to generate our own finance has been the United Kingdom's saviour in three world wars, and it would be a profound piece of treason to give up a world reserve currency.

Next to currency, any other pooling of sovereignty is trivial and easily unwound. NATO which extends from the Arctic to Asia Minor, the area to which the UK MUST respond to any attack is arguably a far greater pooling of sovereignty than what remains of the EU. I will NEVER accept the United Kingdom adopting the Euro and I'd take to the rooftops if necessary to prevent it. I am deeply hostile to the idea of ever closer union, and any conversation with one enthusiastic about a federal Europe often has me reaching for a cudgel. I am a Eurosceptic.

Too many people like me, blooded in politics in those bitter divisive battles which pitched Tory business-toadying against Tory patriotism in a civil war whose skirmishes continue to this day, want to restart the war. For many, trust in the EU forever lost, they have spent 20 years believing every anti-EU pitch from the UK press (however untrue), and simply not considering any benefits of being in the club, hiding in an intellectual jungle pretending like Hiroo Onoda that the war wasn't over. So satisfying, so heady was the victory over the Euro, they now yearn to defeat the EU itself, and so they have worked themselves into a hysteria where the EU is a silent enemy poisoning everything.

All this willful cognitive bias by the 'leave' camp means going into their campaign that they have so long demanded, with some truly dreadful arguments, based on exaggerations, lies and wishful thinking. You can almost hear in their words a background by Elgar, the sound of a merlin engine, the image of a lone Tommy in battledress standing on the white cliffs of dover, fist raised to Europe as the Supermarine Spitfire roars overhead he yells "Very Well, ALONE!"

I shouldn't need to say this. The European Union isn't Hitler's Germany, nor is it the USSR. It is a collection of some of the most successful, happy, free, prosperous nations on earth who seek to do business together, and yes, club together to solve problems (environmental, political and financial) that face us all. Shielded from many of the worst problems by our Island fortress, the British experience is different. And our unique experience is reflected and recognised. No-one serious now expects the UK to join the Euro, or Schengen. The UK's implacable hostility to a "Euro-Army" has prevented one being formed. Without the UK, an EU defence policy would be worthless.

For all the grunting about immigrants' benefits about which I simply don't care, what Cameron has achieved is a recognition, even from the likes of Guy Verhofstadt that the UK's status is special, and that should be reflected in the treaties. An opt-out from "ever closer union" was in-effect achieved in Maastricht with our Opt-Outs from the Euro (with Denmark) and Schengen (with Ireland), and this development achieved by Cameron is symbolic, but not meaningless: future treaties will be easier to negotiate because a UK opt-out is already considered a possibility from the outset.

A UK vote to leave the European Union wouldn't be a disaster for the UK. The UK is a big, powerful, influential country with nuclear weapons, aircraft carriers (soon...) and a permanent seat on the UN security council. To imagine we need the EU in any serious, existential way for our prosperity or security is laughable. 3,000,000 jobs "depend" upon the EU? These kind of nonsense numbers discredit the people that make them, no less than the 'KIPpers wanting to pull up the drawbridge. But it would be a disaster for the EU, and that would harm our interests in the long run, to very, very little benefit.

To What Problem is 'Leave the European Union' a Solution?

The most likely 'Brexit' scenario would be to leave the European Union but remain in the European Economic Area, so we'd still have access to the single market, have to take on board a lot of the trade legislation and still pay dues at much the same rate. Not sure what this achieves except getting out of the decision-making process which at the very least allows us to keep an eye on the French. 

Without us in the EU, the EU will run off and integrate. Great, you may say, good luck to them, but that would betray 500 years of British foreign policy. They will become more protectionist, and that won't help us, not at all. A messy European collapse after Franco-German mismanagement will inevitably need the Anglosphere grown-ups to pick up the pieces. Again. Better to prevent that happening. The Zero-sum thinking by many on the 'Leave' camp - believing what's bad for Europe is good for us - is particularly toxic and idiotic.

From 1975, when the UK was "the sick man of Europe" to now, when we're seriously expecting to overtake Germany (and even Japan's) GDP,  it's simply not evident that the EU has held the UK back. I don't credit the EU with all, or even much of this turnaround in the UK's fortunes. But the idea we're "shackled to a corpse" is absurd. The EU isn't preventing the UK being the USA's 2nd largest investor, after Japan for example.

In 40-odd years of EU membership, the UK's economy hasn't aligned at all to that of Europe. We are still the home-ownership obsessed mid-atlantic economy, hypersensitive to interest rates that we were. This gives the lie to the "inevitable" integration to which we're allegedly subject.

We do get outvoted more than any other nation. That is why we're negotiating a special status and all our opt-outs. This isn't evidence that the UK is put upon or suffers under the Euro-yoke, more that the EU, but that the UK is a steering and restraining influence. We cannot always have our way, but being outvoted on lots of trivialities, it does seem we have set the EU agenda on enlargement and free trade.

"But they make all our laws" I hear you say! So what? Really, who cares where the law comes from, and the idea much of this would change were we out is absurd. Most of what the EU sends is intragovernmental negotiated directive on international things the EU is supposed to be for like climate change, or high-volume, low-impact trade law. As EU referendum points out all the time, most of the trade regulations come from world bodies anyway. I just can't see why he thinks this a compelling argument for 'leave'. The fears of EU law being "supreme" that the "roman system" will replace common law and that we'll all inevitably be dragged into a superstate are just paranoid fantasy. We've secured the opt-outs to remain a free, independent nation. The Eurozone will integrate, and we will lead the 'outs' who won't.

What about immigration? Well if you want access to the free market, you have to accept free movement of people. Free movement of people is a good thing. What about the Syrians, I hear some of you grunt? Well, Didn't Cameron play a blinder there? Most of the refugees will not become EU citizens so there's no "danger" even if "they" are all itching to cross the channel as soon as they've got their German passport. Our biggest source of immigration is India, which, last time I checked, isn't in the EU.

It's simply difficult to see what benefit leaving the EU for the EEA has for the UK, over what we've already achieved, and so many of the other arguments sound like paranoid fantasies of people who're desperate to justify an emotional loathing of the EU.

And now the case for 'Remain'.

First, let's get "project fear" out the way. Businesses hate uncertainty. From the 'Leave' vote to any certainty as to the business environment post withdrawal, there will be investments put on hold, weakening of Sterling, projects delayed as decision-makers wait and see. This will probably cause a recession. People who advocate for out must persuade me the benefits outweigh the damage of an unnecessary recession. Thus far, they haven't.

Where many see "the EU" as a disaster, I see "the Euro" as the disaster in much the same way ERM was a debacle for an otherwise excellent government. The Euro is not the same thing as the EU.

The European Union - it's extension to the East and the very Free Market we all hope to keep were british-driven projects. While it's true NATO has delivered peace, the EU has done a good job in institution-building in post-fascist Greece and Spain (sadly, much good undone by the Euro-catastrophe).

When the Berlin Wall came down, Ukrainians and Poles had the same living standards. Poles who were able to orient west, were able to enjoy significant benefits and investment from the EU. Democratic institutions (admittedly currently being tested by 'Law and Justice') have been built and corruption squeezed. There is still much work to do, but former-soviet eastern and central Europe has done well out of the EU, and we have benefitted from their growth. Ukrainians want some of that - an association agreement due to be signed in 2013 is not an "act of aggression" by an "expansionist" EU to appease "fascists" in Kiev, it's part of making the world a better place through trade and investment. Putin, however threw his teddies out of the pram, and thousands of people have died.

Putin hates the EU, and fears it. He fears it, because it offers the people of former soviet satellites evidence that the Russian embrace is not warm or friendly. It is paranoid, and parasitic. The EU gives hope to the people who want these places to become as free and prosperous as Tallinn or Warsaw. The EU offer a way to quietly destroy enemies by making their people rich. The only world leader itching for a 'Leave' vote is Vladimir Putin, because he knows the UK is important to the European union, and now is not the time to be having an almighty row with our allies.

You may say "our interests are not served by Europe" and in narrow, financial terms you may be right (though I'm not convinced by that, and there's plenty of evidence the EU makes us richer). But in the broader interests of a free, confident, rich and united west who can look the totalitarian masters of Russia or China in the Eye and say "do your worst" the EU is part of that process. Because standing together, the West, in its clubs: NATO, the EU can still set the agenda. The USA wants the UK to remain in the EU for the same reason it wants Scotland to remain in the UK. The USA is a hegemon, but one that desires its friends to be as united, strong and free as it is. While Russia, by way of comparison wants its satellites, poor and dependent. The EU is a bulwark against totalitarianism. Perhaps the Carrot to NATO's stick. The UK's role is to be a leader in all major clubs of the west NATO, 5-eyes and the EU as such we are the hinge on which the unity of the Atlantic west rotates. The UK leaving leaves us, and our allies weaker and more divided, just as we need to be unified in the face of a newly dangerous world.

Now is not the time

It is possible sense could prevail, and a post-EU UK could be a free, open, prosperous and happy place. But I suspect any leave vote would be driven not by the open-minded, but by the dull-witted sour old gits who want to pull up the drawbridge and return to 1956. It's possible a 'Leave' vote could have 'Falklands effect' in restoring the national mojo, a return to national self-confidence. But it could also trigger a recession, Scottish independence and the collapse of everything I hold dear.

Now, with the SNP in Holyrood, Putin in the Kremlin and the world recovering from the biggest financial crisis in a century, there is no need to roll the dice. The ephemeral benefits simply aren't worth the risks, and there's no evidence the EU is doing us harm beyond losing a few votes in the Council of Ministers over things that don't really matter.

All the Brexiteers needed to do was wait until the next treaty and turn that into an in/out thing. But they were too stupid to see even that.  When perhaps, the threat of Scottish independence will have receded, and Putin's safely swinging from a gibbet, and then I might say "very well, alone". But now is not that time. They wanted the battle too much, the 'KIPpers; they hated the wrong enemy with an intensity and passion that has completely blinded them to new threats. And that, ultimately is why they will lose; their foul chauvinist miserablism looks worse even than turgid bureaucracy of the EU.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

On Those EU accounts that "haven't been signed off"...

They have. Each and every year.

It's sad that such a central trope from the 'Leave' campaign turns out to be an outright lie, but there you go. I suspect it's because grunting 'KIPpers cannot tell the difference between "material error", around 4.8% (which is lower than the USA's 5% but well over the UK's 1%) and "the auditors not signing off the accounts". But 5% of the money goes missing doesn't make for an easy soundbite, because just 5% going missing sounds like a pretty good job, for a government.

The EU spends its money in places where corruption is rife, and the institutions of Government are weak, like Romania or France, not in places with strong institutions like the UK or Germany. And the European union funds are going into especially corrupt sectors like construction. Perhaps this error rate is understandable. Building roads and airports in Romania is going to help the Romanians, and eventually us. Just as the Marshall plan rebuilt Europe after the Second World War, and gave the USA a rich continent to trade with, rather than a poor continent which needs supporting in a little over a decade, Western Europe should have been MORE generous to the East when the wall came down.

Had Russia been treated after the Cold war like (west) Germany had post 1945, then perhaps Russia would not now be having its tantrum, and  threatening to nuke everybody.

So, the closer you look at the arguments being deployed by the 'Leave' side, the worse they get.

  • The cost? Non-EU Norway pays 90% of our fees per head for access to the single market (which we want, right...?), UK's EU dues are falling.
  • Democracy? The belief the EU rules the UK is overblown fantasy. The UK remains a democracy, in the EU or out. The EU spends 5% or so of UK managed expenditure, and shovels a lot of high-volume, low impact trade law to us much of which we'd implement even if we were out. This really isn't a big deal.
  • We'd be free to trade? I think this is the weakest argument of the lot: The EU's trade deal with India was scuppered by, urm.... the UK, citing immigration concerns. You think we could do better alone? Australia and NZ would welcome us back with open arms? Possibly, but they both see the USA as far more important. The USA is ridiculously protectionist, despite which, the EU might get TTIP through. I doubt the UK could do much better. The EU isn't hampering our trade with the USA or Australia. And in any case, the EU is THE champion of free trade in Global fora, mainly because of British influence.
  • We'd control our borders? Well most of our immigrants currently come from outside the EU (mainly the Indian subcontinent), where we do in fact have control. I doubt much would change here. In any case the immigration of hard-working polish plumbers is less of a problem to most people than 'KIPpers imagine.
  • We don't want to be part of a superstate? And we're not. The Eurozone may become one, but the non-Euro countries will not be part of it. 
I am persuadable. I don't like the EU. C'mon guys, you've been itching for this referendum for 20 years. Is this the best you can do? To what practical problem is 'Leave the EU' a solution? Because I cannot see it. 

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Why the UK Won't Vote to Leave the European Union

Supporters of the UK leaving the European Union are excitedly sharing the latest YouGov poll which suggests a 4-point lead for leave. Thus Louise Mensch former MP for Corby said Out will win because the PM's deal is so "disastrous". I offered her a bottle of champagne that it won't. The bet is recorded for posterity here.

Louise is right, the PM's deal is pretty small beer. But it doesn't matter, and here's why: The EU is pretty low down the list of voter's concerns. Those who're noticing the "debate", have already made up their minds. While Leave's supporters are busy hopping up and down, talking to each other about the polls and about Cameron's "betrayal", Remain voters aren't listening, and won't take an interest until the campaign is actually called.

Then there's the polls, whose problem is internet panels are self-selecting. When there's a decent back-record allowing you to weight your sample, such as in general elections, then the polls are pretty good. But while the poll may be reporting the right number of Conservatives after weighting, I suspect the Euro-obsessive breed of Conservative is more assiduously seeking out polls to answer. This is somewhat counteracted by phone polls' doing the selecting. There may be a differential propensity to respond, but this is probably smaller than the self-selection of an internet panel.

I suspect there is a big differential in propensity to respond to polls between 'Leave' voters, for whom this is their one and only chance, and will excitedly respond compared to 'remain' for whom voting for the status quo is mostly a tiresome duty. How much this is captured in polling methodology, only time will tell, but I suspect the polls, phone and internet overstate the support for 'leave' for much the same reasons they consistently understate support for Conservative party.

For every half-dozen internet polls there's only one or two phone polls. And when the two methodologies diverge, go with the phone poll.  Phone polls are still showing a significant lead for 'remain', though it's true there hasn't been one since Cameron's renegotiation terms were announced.

The reason Remain is probably ahead is simple. The UK is a vastly better place to live and work, its economy vastly superior than it was in 1972, in both absolute and relative terms. That may or may not be because of the EU, but at the very worst, the EU hasn't noticeably held the UK back. The status quo is therefore clearly not untenable. 

Nor would the alternative be: the UK is the world's 5th (soon to be 4th) largest economy on earth and quite capable of standing alone. We are NOT a "small country". But the Leave camp must persuade sceptical voters that going it alone would benefit them, and that remaining risks their prosperity. On the evidence of the last 40-odd years, that is going to be a hard sell. The press leans Eurosceptic, but is much less powerful than in the past, and the BBC will be neutral, leaning 'Remain'.

Even if the the case for Britain to leave is not a crazy one, but the people selling it, (the delightful Mrs Mensch aside) are mostly a toxic bunch of odd-balls, has-beens and worthless onanists. Meanwhile the Prime Minister, Most of the Cabinet, Most of the Parliamentary Tory party, most of whats left of the Labour party, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, most sensible figures from the Arts and Business are all going to be voting for 'Remain'. Boris Johnson, the UK's most popular politician (how that annoys the lefties) will probably see which way the wind is blowing and break for 'Remain'. The uncommitted voter tends to notice these things.

It may be there is a huge differential in turnout favouring 'leave', but differential turnout is the perennial hope of the loser. The status quo has a habit of getting out its vote just enough to stop the excitable mono-maniacs. And I suspect the turnout will be high. There is still all to play for. The polls, as Scotland showed can change enormously during the campaign. But I cannot see the public voting with Nigel Farage against the Prime Minister.

Cool heads will prevail and so I got evens on an 80% bet ("No chance" of 'leave' winning is clearly overstating the case...). Those are good odds, Louise, and I look forward to a Wine-Bottle-shaped package from New York some time after the Referendum.

As for me, I have no dog in this fight. I don't much like the EU or most of its works, but think we should stay in, mostly as a means to thwart the French & German desire for a European empire (as is Britain's historic mission). I certainly won't campaign for Remain and will not be at all upset if we do leave. I merely seek to predict, and profit from that prediction.

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