29.03.17. Now we are finally on our way out of the European Union. With triggering of Article 50, this sets the clock ticking for the UK's departure from the EU...
Courtesy of Vote Leave
Last Monday, Nissan announced a £250 million investment in their Sunderland plant. This is a clear sign that the EU referendum is not stopping companies investing in Britain. Nissan joins other car manufacturers including Vauxhall Motors, Bentley and Rolls Royce who have committed to investing in the UK regardless of the referendum result.
The Labour Party’s EU ‘in-at-all-costs’ campaign launched on Tuesday. Labour In For Britain made the same claim as the pro-EU BSE campaign – that the EU makes us safer. Similar scare tactics were used ahead of the Danish referendum this week on whether to opt into EU security and justice policies. 53% voted against further EU integration.
There are all sorts of ways that the EU makes us less safe. The former Secretary General of Interpol described the EU’s open border system as ‘like hanging a sign welcoming terrorists to Europe’ and says it ‘is effectively an international passport-free zone for terrorists to execute attacks on the Continent and make their escape’ (see here for a short blog on the subject). The British people won’t be fooled by scaremongering. Most people think it’s safer to take back control than keep giving away power every year.
On Wednesday, George Osborne faced a panel of MPs and struggled to answer basic questions on the Government’s renegotiation strategy. Since becoming Conservative leader, David Cameron has made many promises about changing the UK-EU relationship. Only a handful made it into his final list of renegotiation demands.
So far David Cameron has abandoned: securing Treaty change before the referendum, a ‘total opt-out’ from the Charter of Fundamental Rights, requiring EU migrants to have a job offer before coming to the UK, and reforming the Common Agricultural Policy among other things. (Interestingly the fact that Cameron is threatening to leave unless he gets a deal on benefits for migrants (a trivial issue) implies that Cameron’s view is that membership is a marginal decision, though that logic of course assumes that he has a thought-out position.)
On Thursday, Downing Street released a statement suggesting that a deal at the December EU Council was unlikely.
There is constant speculation on the timing of the referendum. What do we know?
1/ We know that there is no single view in Downing Street and that opinions have changed over the months since the election.
2/ Osborne wants to try to get the referendum out of the way as soon as possible and there is a team in Downing Street looking at ways to make this happen. He has said this, and his closest advisers have said this, to MPs, officials and journalists. Downing Street and the Cabinet Office are porous enough that when senior people are trying to make something happen it often becomes reasonably clear.
3/ Osborne wanting to do it and it actually happening are different things. There are many obstacles to a referendum in summer 2016 and many reasons to think it won’t happen.
4/ They need to create some fake rows. Their whole plan is based on a re-run of Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s fake renegotiation in 1975 as mandarins like Lord Hannay of Chiswick have described. For this to work, they need to spin trivia as explosive rows.
5/ Just this week we have seen David Cameron try to bounce Brussels then have to retreat. The FT wrote a scathing piece about his cackhanded diplomacy. As of now, it looks like they are angling to announce after the 17-18 December EU Council that they have made progress in some areas but still disagree on others (especially migration) with further talks punted toward the 19-20 February EU Council meeting under the Dutch Presidency.
6/ As we have said repeatedly, there is another game afoot. It is likely that they will rebrand the whole renegotiation exercise as a victorious achievement of ‘a new kind of membership’. This was hinted at in Cameron’s recent Chatham House speech where he described ‘a British model’ of membership. On top of opt-outs from the euro and Schengen there will be many other promises of changes in the next EU Treaty that they know they need to save the euro.
Conclusion. When the referendum will happen is a mystery – the people with the power to decide have not decided yet. They would like to get it out of the way but may not be able to do so easily or be scuppered by forces outside their control.
We therefore must plan on the basis that it may happen between June and September 2016 – any other operational plan would be negligent – while maintaining flexibility to avoid wasting resources as much as possible in case it happens in 2017 which many well-informed people think is likely. Anybody who makes very confident predictions about this question has not read the groundbreaking work by Philip Tetlock on the science of prediction.
Any reform is meaningless unless there is Treaty change but as EU Council President Donald Tusk admitted this week, this is impossible before the referendum. The only way to achieve a new UK-EU relationship based on friendly international cooperation and free trade is to Vote Leave.