Sunday, 3 September 2017

The EFTA/EEA First Stop Solution

The European Economic Area is the Geographical extent of the European Single Market. I had never thought of it in that way before. This is a far better definition in my view than regarding the European Economic Area as the European Union plus the EFTA (European Free Trade Area) countries.

I read this definition in EUReferendum.com (http://www.eureferendum.com) which I read daily and which I heartily recommend.

The European Economic Area geographical area goes from Iceland and Norway in the North to Greece in the South and from Portugal in the West to Poland in the East. It is a vast area and a huge market. Although we need to leave THE Customs Union to leave the European Union, we do not have to leave the European Single Market if we rejoin EFTA. The Single Market would give the United Kingdom virtually frictionless trade which it enjoys now.

If we rejoined EFTA, we could work with the other EFTA states to amend the EEA agreement so that it was a better agreement for ALL the EEA states not just the EFTA ones. 

The EEA agreement could be moulded as a 'first stop' to a final destination of an inter-Governmental village of equal sovereign states. An inter-Governmental market not a supra-national one.

The following article appeared in 'Labour List':
On Sunday Keir Starmer used an article in The Observer to call time on the ambiguity that had come to define Labour’s approach to Brexit since the referendum. It was an approach that had served us well on 8 June, but it was never sustainable. With the clock ticking, the economy tanking, the pressure from Brussels building and the country crying out for some political leadership, it was high time that we set out our stall.
For several months I’ve also been arguing that our party and broader movement should adopt a clear, principled and pragmatic approach to Brexit that would enable us to: 

  • leave the EU by walking calmly across a bridge, rather than by leaping recklessly off a cliff; 

  • recognise the reality of the EU’s non-negotiable position on the phasing of the Brexit talks (ie divorce details first, long-term trade and partnership talks second), and therefore focus on the resulting inevitability and centrality of the transition deal;

  • commit to a transition deal that delivers as much certainty and stability as possible, and that can realistically be secured in the highly compressed timeframe available (ie has to be off-the-shelf, rather than bespoke);


The position that Keir set out on Sunday delivers brilliantly, both in terms of the emphasis that it places on the pivotal importance of the transition deal, and in terms of its unequivocal rejection of the government’s ‘fantasy politics’ insistence that it will be possible to negotiate a bespoke transition.
So far, so good. But in stating that a bespoke transition deal is a pipe dream, then we must, by definition, be saying that an off-the-shelf model is required. And the fact of the matter is that if we are looking for a ready-made transition model, then EEA/EFTA membership is the only viable option. As well established and well understood international frameworks the EEA and EFTA offer precisely the security, certainty and stability that our country so desperately needs, in these turbulent times. Therefore the sooner we can define and specify the type of off-the-shelf transition deal that is required the better, as doing so will demonstrate that we are the only political party that truly understands the devastating impact that further uncertainty and instability will have on the jobs and livelihoods of the very people that we were elected to represent.
Committing to an EEA/EFTA-based transition would also provide much-needed clarity in terms of our position on the reform of free movement of people and labour. Twenty-four hours after the publication of Keir’s Observer article, the Guardian’s front-page headline was: ‘Backlash over Labour’s shift to soft Brexit’, and the piece quotes senior Labour MPs stating that the front bench’s newly clarified position risks alienating voters who support greater controls on immigration.
But the crucial point here is that EEA not only provides its members with maximum access to the single market, it also allows them to suspend and reform freedom of movement. 
Articles 112 and 113 of the EEA Agreement provide EEA member states with the legal base for managing the inward flow of EU citizens. EEA member states are entitled to unilaterally invoke article 112 safeguard measures, thus enabling them to suspend freedom of movement and replace it with a sectoral quota-based system. As Richard North points out in his highly informative paper, single market participation and free movement of persons, article 112 safeguard measures were invoked in 1992 by no less than four of the then seven EFTA members, namely Austria, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, all citing the need to protect real estate, capital and labour markets. 
Moreover, Martin Schulz, the former president of the European parliament and now the SPD’s candidate for the September federal election has spoken in positive terms about a “safeguard clause” that would “introduce quotas after a certain immigration threshold is achieved in specific regions and industries”. 
This zombie government, led by an utterly discredited prime minister, is guilty of gross incompetence in office. The cabinet has spent far more time negotiating with itself than it has with Brussels, and the Brexiteers are seemingly intent on doing potentially irreparable damage to our economy, and to our broader national interest through the flippant, bombastic and childish way in which they think and talk about the EU. It is therefore absolutely imperative that the Labour movement unites around a settled position on Brexit, so that we can signal to the British people and to our European partners that we are the only grown-ups in the room, and that we’re ready, willing and able to negotiate a principled and pragmatic deal.
Full membership of the single market is not possible without being a member of the European Union, but in shifting to EEA/EFTA membership we would be leaving the EU and becoming part of an internal market that is deeply integrated with the single market.
And this shift would also allow us to reform free movement and retain tariff free access to the EU via the EEA, and via EFTA we would have a customs arrangement with the EU27, ensuring frictionless trade while also being able to negotiate free trade deals with the rest of the world.
Transitional EEA/EFTA membership would therefore enable us to fulfil not only the ideas outlined by Keir over the weekend, but also those of Jeremy and the manifesto upon which all Labour MPs stood and members campaigned, just a few short months ago.
The next step must now be for Labour to commit to an EEA/EFTA-based transition. And it is a step that cannot come quickly enough. For well over a year now we have been grappling with the vexed question of how best to reconcile maximum access to the single market with greater controls on immigration, and the contrast between the front pages of Sunday’s Observer and Monday’s Guardian shows that these differences of opinion are far from settled.
And yet, whilst the debate has been raging, could it be possible that the opportunity to square our Brexit circle has been staring us in the face?
This article is in the national interest and should be taken seriously. Its author is the Member of Parliament for Aberavon, Mr Stephen Kinnock.


Friday, 25 August 2017

The National Health Service

Recently I posted a blog entitled 'A Personal Vision for Britain" (http://leavetheeuropeanunion.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/a-personal-vision-for-britain.html) in which I wrote the following:
It seems to me that the National Health Service is unaffordable in its present form.  What is needed are ideas on total reform of the NHS (a blank sheet of paper, start again) nothing should be off the agenda. Form a group of Conservative minded people, but it must not be party political, to look at, discuss and brainstorm all suggestions. With an ageing population and the probability of rocketing geriatric medicine costs everything must be on the table. This includes Mental Health, Care in the Community and Old Persons Care Home costs.     
I then promoted the blog via Twitter and a person with the 'handle' of 'The Bald Colder' has been communicating with me on this subject. To be fair, 'Bald Colder' can only tweet in batches of 140 characters and we have had a healthy debate.  Here is a flavour of the 'Bald Colder' tweets as if I included them all it would take too much space. I am going to send a copy of this blog to 'Bald Colder' and give this person the chance to response. Their response will be published here if it is forthcoming:
Actually for the amount of money we put into the NHS, our patient outcomes trounce the American system.
The American system is horrifically inefficient because doctors over-prescribe because they are effectively on commission
Wow a Brexiteer where the penny has dropped we're in a giant ponzi scheme. With birth rate 1.9 we have to rely on immigrants
I'm more than happy to talk about healthcare in other countries but our problem is pure and simple: we don't put enough in.
What I would like to see is a tax that is specifically for the NHS and the gov't to compare results on a GDP per capita basis to our peers.
It was a quite a vibrant debate. I would like to see a national debate about what the NHS should look like now. I do not doubt its design was good for the 1940's but I am not convinced it is suitable for 2017.

I would like to see a committee set up to look at what the NHS should look like in the modern world. That committee should not include any elected politician (local or national) and be given a remit of 'here is a blank sheet of paper, what should the NHS look like?'

The chairman of that committee could be elected by a telephone poll. If you can vote for your favourite celebrity on 'Strictly Come Dancing' why not vote for your favourite candidate from a list to chair the 'NHS committee'? It would probably have to be confined to 11 members so it was not unwieldly. The person chosen to chair it, representatives of the Royal Colleges and of Patients would be nominated to sit on it.

On my blank sheet of paper:

  • Take a deposit to book a doctors or outpatients appointment - a credit or debit card payment (just like a 'contactless payment'). It would be, say £5. If the person turns up to the appointment, the money would be refunded; if not the hospital or practice would keep the deposit. (This would in all likelihood reduce missed appointments)
  • Make patients buy their own walking sticks, crutches or wheelchairs. A wheelchair on Amazon is £119.99. Patients would be free to donate them to the NHS after they had finished with them if they wanted to.
  • Do not fund any cosmetic surgical procedures (except for body reconstruction following cancer treatments such as Mastectomy).
  • Allow Local Authorities to buy groups of houses or build groups of houses in little 'villages' for respite patients, care in the community patients and to relieve bed blocking.
  • Consider whether local or cottage hospitals are a possibility for simple procedures
  • Is the current staffing structure fit for purpose?
  • Look at the salaries being paid to senior managers
It is already the case that those over 60 disproportionately take resources from the Health Service. It seems very likely that this cost will increase radically in the next 10 years or so - we have an ageing population.

I do not know if any of the above ideas are good ones or even feasible. 

What I am advocating is a fresh look 70 years after the template was first designed to see if it should have the same look. If it needs to be reformed or re-engineered, let the "NHS Committee" report that back. Equally, if the "NHS Committee" thinks the current model is the right way for the 21st century I would accept that.

Once the "NHS Committee" reports back and I envisage them having 2 years to compile their report, it would be published and a proper public debate of at least another year would follow.  

These are just my personal thoughts. If you are going to comment please keep the comments polite. I have no power just a desire to discuss the NHS in order to change it if necessary to make it the best it can be.




Thursday, 24 August 2017

A Defence of Free Speech

I have said on this blog before that I believe in Free Speech. Further than that, in my last post I stated my position as being that anyone should be able to say anything they like about anyone and that this right should be enshrined in Law.

I was not sure how much I actually believed in Free Speech until I realised how much Free Speech is under attack. This attack is mostly coming from those who are regarded as Social Justice Warriors and the Equality and Diversity lobby but also occasionally by agents of the State such as the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). 

I would rather that phrases like 'stupid woman' were not used and that in politics especially we could refer to people in a genderless way, for example, 'what the person said was rubbish'. It really does not matter to me that Diane Abbott is female and not white. Some of her statements during the election were just rubbish on their own terms and if they had been uttered by a robot would still be rubbish. It appears that she may have been ill when she "misspoke" (sic) so maybe some allowance should be made for Ms Abbott on that point.

This applies equally to people who are not women. Some of the statements of some senior male Conservative politicians in recent weeks have been equally nonsensical. Currently David Davis seems to be tying himself in knots. So let us all focus on WHAT is said and not WHO says them.

All that said I am dismayed by the definition of 'Hate Crime' recognised by the CPS and police, is “any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice”'

I don't have any issue with the 'perceived by the victim' part but I DO have an issue with the 'any other person' part - that could be any of about 58 million people. I think it possible that the CPS is trying to cover Social Media and Internet communication but it is still far too wide a definition.

The following article appeared in "Commentary" and was written by Sohrab Ahmadi. (https://www.commentarymagazine.com/foreign-policy/europe/englands-online-speech-crackdown/)
Censors are always looking for fresh opportunities to censor. So they relish moments of ideological ferment, antagonism, and intemperateness. At such times, people are more susceptible to moral panic and likelier to silence opposing views. We are living through such a moment now, with neo-Nazis, Communists, and various other haters and cranks on the march, both in the streets and online. That’s why open societies should be doubly vigilant against efforts to restrict free expression. 
One such effort got underway this week in England, where the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) revised its guidelines to prosecutors regarding “hate crimes.” Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders on Monday announced the new guidelines in an op-ed in the Guardian newspaper, and British civil libertarians have good reason to be alarmed. 
Writing with that unmistakable tone of hauteur common to crusading bureaucrats, Saunders didn’t disguise the fact that prosecutors in England and Wales – Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own prosecution services – will now be in the business of going after people for airing unacceptable viewpoints. “People all over the world are questioning how those in positions of power can counter the kinds of extreme views that are increasingly being aired,” she wrote, “and how societies might do more to prevent such opinions from gestating in the first place.” 
There is no easy answer to the problem, Saunders suggested. Then she went on to provide one: treating “online hate crimes as seriously as those committed face to face.” Put another way, the fellow who drunkenly throws racist barbs on Twitter may now face prosecution as vigorous as the neo-Nazi who vandalizes a synagogue or mosque with pig’s blood. The most senior prosecutor in England and Wales has expanded the definition of hate crime so far as to proscribe almost any disagreeable or uncivil statement. 
The country already has malicious-communication laws and other provisions against online harassment and abuse, and these are strictly enforced. Last month, for example, a British aristocrat was convicted of malicious communication and sentenced to 12 weeks in jail for offering £5,000 ($6,417) to any of his online followers who would run over anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller. In December an English blogger was convicted of racially aggravated harassment for helping direct a campaign of anti-Semitic abuse at a Jewish MP. 
The hate-crime laws are already broad. Authorities define as a hate crime “any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on a person’s disability or perceived disability; race or perceived race; or religion or perceived religion; or sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation or a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.” (Emphasis added. Note that the definition turns entirely on the subjective perceptions of alleged victims.) 
Under rules promulgated in 2014, moreover, police are required to investigate hate-crime allegations “regardless of whether or not those making the complaint are the victim and irrespective of whether or not there is any evidence to identify the hate crime incident.” That resulted in Home Secretary Amber Rudd being investigated for hate over a speech she delivered at last year’s Tory party conference, in which she railed against foreigners “taking jobs British workers could do.” An Oxford physics professor was so offended that he lodged a criminal complaint. The police declined to investigate, but they recorded the matter as a “non-crime hate incident.” (Ironically, Rudd, who represents the nannyish wing of the Tories, endorsed the 2014 rule change.) 
Now the CPS intends to take things further by applying the subjective definition embedded in the hate-crime laws to online communications. In her op-ed, Saunders pooh-poohed free-speech concerns. “There are crucial provisions in law to ensure we do not stifle free speech, an important right in our society,” she wrote. Which ones? 
Saunders didn’t elaborate. She went on: “Hate is hate, however.” 
Well, yes, but sometimes hate speech is also protected speech. And in an age of aggressive, and often aggressively stupid, political correctness, merely controversial or disagreeable speech can end up being framed as “hate.” 
The law and CPS’s guidelines turn heavily on the concept of hostility, which is defined as “ill-will, ill-feeling, spite, prejudice, unfriendliness, antagonism, resentment, and dislike.” It is hard to see how people in England can debate, say, the hot-button issue of transgender bathrooms without running afoul of Saunders’s law against “dislike.”
It would be interesting to see the CPS definition of "Hate" and of "Extreme Views" as a start in this debate. What is a hateful statement or an extreme one come to that?

Under the "Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006" Schedule 29J it states:
"Nothing in this part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system"
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/1/schedule/enacted
In my opinion people should be able to argue and debate freely, certainly free of a CPS intent on imposing its view of what is acceptable communication. 

What the CPS is proposing and doing could be used, despite their protestations, to constrain Freedom of Speech and we, the people and electors, must not stand for it. 

A personal Vision for Britain

This post is about the United Kingdom. It is about the kind of country I think Britain should be. I am not ashamed to say that I love my country and have discovered I love it more as I get older.

I am a Leave voter, I have campaigned and will continue to campaign to leave the European Union. I have recently begun to post lots of tweets on Twitter on this and about other issues which I feel passionate about. I read the blogs of other people and have learned from them and gained information and ideas.

Leaving the European Union is not the end, it is only the end of the beginning and so I hope that there can be a debate about what the United Kingdom should look like after we leave the European Union.

I like the blogs of Sam Hooper and he has some ideas about how those who are conservative should respond to the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, Momentum and the Left who are on the march and intend to gain power. This blog is an example of where he is coming from
https://semipartisansam.com/2017/08/21/winter-is-coming-for-conservatives-unless-we-wake-up-to-the-socialist-threat/

The problem, as far as I am concerned, is that the Conservative Party is not Conservative. It is at best a left of centre New Labour Bliarite confection. There was very little Conservative Policy in the last 'Conservative Party' manifesto.

So this post is what I would like to see in a post-Brexit United Kingdom. 

First I would like to see Freedom of Speech strengthened. It is under massive attack and not always by the left. The right of anyone to say anything about anybody should be enshrined in Law. 

That would include defamatory attacks which would be taken care of in the Libel and Slander Laws. If it is the case that a correction needs to be published (in whatever form) then that correction should be published in the same form, in the same place and in the same typeface or programme slot as the item corrected. On the front page if that is where the error was printed.

It seems to me that the National Health Service is unaffordable in its present form.  What is needed are ideas on total reform of the NHS (a blank sheet of paper, start again) nothing should be off the agenda. Form a group of Conservative minded people, but it must not be party political, to look at, discuss and brainstorm all suggestions. With an ageing population and the probability of rocketing geriatric medicine costs everything must be on the table. This includes Mental Health, Care in the Community and Old Persons Care Home costs.     

Abolish the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). Return all Central taxes paid to local Government to the Taxpayer and make local authorities or regional authorities plan their own budgets, their own expenditure and make Local Government raise their own taxes. Make Local Government truly work. Chris Grayling has already suggested that the North should 'take control' of their own transport networks so why not for everything else? (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-41020391)

The local authorities would recruit the people they needed such as ex DCLG Civil Servants. Such policies and expenditure would come from the budgets they set and finance they raise. Make mayors such as Andy Burnham work for their money and their pay would be decided in local referenda by the people they represent. That should increase the turnout in local elections. It would also ensure that profligacy would stop. Local people would ensure that it did. Many of these ideas are influenced by The Harrogate Agenda (THA) http://harrogateagenda.org.uk

There would also have to be a root and branch review and rethink of how Edinburgh and Cardiff were financed too but imagine a truly local tax where the budgets and the taxes were set and voted for by local people as set out in the Harrogate Agenda and where real power rested with the people. 

Reduce Parliament to Defence, Intelligence and Foreign and Commonwealth affairs only and reduce the number of MP's at Westminster to 300. Consider ensuring that some of these do not come from any political party - 'Non Party' MP's. The Houses of Parliament would be for truly National issues only.

Devolve as much power, by which I mean with the exception of Defence, Intelligence and Foreign Office matters, to Edinburgh, Cardiff and the English regions. The competence or otherwise of the leaders in these parts of the United Kingdom would soon be proved. 

Means test or target all OAP benefits such as Free bus passes. It is hard to defend wealthier old people getting free bus passes when they more than likely have their own transport and can afford to fund their own Public Transport costs. Abolish the commitment to the 'Triple Lock'. More and more company and private pension schemes are moving to increasing benefits by CPI rather than RPI - so should the State Old Age Pension.

Create a 'Graduation Tax' where, instead of loans, any graduate who agreed to get a paid job and work in the United Kingdom (and in the region in which they qualified if that was thought desirable) for 5 years and could prove that they had done so would not pay any tuition fees. One way of doing this would be to have a 'Graduates Tax Code' where the fees were deducted at source for those 5 years and then refunded in full in the 61st month and thus, as a bonus, be a Graduate Saving Scheme as well.

Any Doctor or Nurse for example who had been trained in the United Kingdom at the taxpayers' expense would repay that cost by working in the United Kingdom health sector (a reformed NHS or Private medicine) for 5 years.

The same rule would apply to other graduates; Solicitors, Social Workers and indeed anyone else who was educated at a United Kingdom University - who would repay their tuition by working in the United Kingdom for 5 years. 

Think outside the box! Imagine all new graduates working and being paid in the United Kingdom for 5 years after their qualification and repaying their debt by work.

It seems to me that the United Kingdom is going to change radically over the next five years and so let us have a debate to change it in a way so that the template we get after the UK changes is the template that we the electors want.









Tuesday, 8 August 2017

General Alarm


In recent days there has been some anger from United Kingdom travellers about longer delays because of tougher Schengen area border controls. The Schengen area is 26 countries of mainland Europe from Portugal to Poland and Sweden to Greece. It is a huge geographical area. As "The Guardian" reports:
The intermittent delays follow the introduction in March of new EU regulations in the wake of the Paris and Brussels terror attacks. The new rules demand both entry and exit checks on passengers from countries – including Britain – outside the 26-nation Schengen border-free zone.
Member states are not obliged to check every non-Schengen passport until October, when regulation EU 2017/458 comes into full force, but several airports are already doing so and others are carrying out spot checks on selected flights. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/01/passengers-facing-four-hour-security-queues-at-some-european-airports)
In this same article, it is further reported that the delays are not everywhere but that “unless Spanish border control puts in place an emergency plan to avoid queues and help passengers to get through faster, there will be a lot of devastating delays for passengers”

It seems to me that this is a dress rehearsal for worse to come. The first observation is that it is up to Spain (or Greece or France) to decide how many border staff to put on their border posts. If there are insufficient staff for those seeking entry, queues and waits will be longer.

France, the Netherlands or any of the European Union countries will not necessarily increase their staffing levels at their borders to ameliorate United Kingdom travellers and that they will be even less likely to do so once the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, especially if we leave without a deal. The Conservative Government better wake up and smell the coffee on this before they see many angry electors as the queues get longer.

If the United Kingdom leaves the European Union on 29th March 2019 without a deal then the United Kingdom becomes a third country and EU databases may well be unavailable or 'switched off' to the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom will have left the Customs Union and the European Single Market as well according to 'President' Mrs May and so the United Kingdom will have left the European Economic Area (EEA) too. 

The simplest thing is that United Kingdom passport holders (like me) will not be joining the European Union and EEA queue at European points of entry (such as Spanish airports) but will have to join the 'International Arrivals' queue. The same applies at points of entry in the United Kingdom such as Dover, Luton Airport and other Border Force entry points or these points of entry will have to create a 'United Kingdom nationals' queue.

I am also rather nervous about the Irish Border. This blog will not get into the issues around the terms of the 1998 Belfast agreement or on the state of political parties in Ireland. This is partially because I do not fully understand Irish politics. I am not interested in the Irish Border except as it is affected by Brexit. 

If the United Kingdom leaves the European Union without a deal, then the borders between the United Kingdom and the European Union have to be monitored properly. The sea is an effective barrier and border but the only land border between the United Kingdom and the European Union is in Ireland. That means border posts between the Republic of Ireland (ROI) and Northern Ireland. 

There was an excellent Twitter thread by "Shocko" on this subject, part of which reads as follows:
"There was a checkpoint UK at the top of our land, including a customs hut. Demolished in late 90s same as similar ROI one across the road". 
This customs hut is now part of a house and the ROI one is now a kickboxing gym.
"There are 300 miles of border in Northern Ireland. That's a lot of detached houses, kickbocking gyms, petrol stations, supermarkets."
In short a hard border between the two parts of Ireland as they currently exist will have to be reinstated which will be logistically (let alone politically) difficult and the work has not even started yet and there is only19 month to go! 

The European Union has said it will not negotiate a new, deep relationship with the United Kingdom until the United Kingdom has left the European Union. 

We need a transition deal. At last the mainstream media and the political class is waking up to this fact. Even "The Sun" has now said that the United Kingdom should pay something to the European Union and so it seems likely that some kind of financial offer will be made. This blog has always argued that the United Kingdom should pay into the funds the amounts that it had already committed to or our word means nothing.

The clock ticks ever louder. There is no time for a bespoke UK/EU deal. I have argued before we should go for what EUReferendum calls an 'off the shelf' deal which is EFTA/EEA. There is no more time to be lost. 

Unless there is some fancy footwork a hard Brexit look ever more likely. Mrs May has to look the 'hard Brexit' elements of her party who are influential and clearly a very large part of that party in the eye and tell them that a Hard Brexit is economically a non starter. Today. If the economy is wrecked on the altar of some 'over the rainbow' vision then the Conservative party will pay a very heavy political and electoral price.

I am alarmed. We need to start talking a sensible workable deal.

Now








Wednesday, 26 July 2017

European Free Trade Association (EFTA)


The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is an intergovernmental organisation set up for the promotion of free trade and economic integration to the benefit of its four Member States: IcelandLiechtensteinNorwaySwitzerland.
The Association manages the EFTA Convention; EFTA’s worldwide network of free trade and partnership agreements, and the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement.
The European Single Market comprises the 28 states of the European Union plus Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway and Switzerland via bilateral agreements. The United Kingdom could leave the European Union and Customs Union but rejoin EFTA/EEA and thus stay in the European Single Market.

The benefit of doing this is that the United Kingdom would retain access to Single Market databases (such as Single European Sky) and thus the calamity that would befall the United Kingdom in the event of a 'Hard Brexit' (no deal scenario) would be lessened considerably.

To take just one example when coming back into the UK from abroad by air, the traveller is invited to go through gates for nationals of the European Union 'and the EEA'. 
There are two queues at passport control – one for European Union (EU)*, European Economic Area (EEA), British and Swiss nationals, and a second for all other nationalities. (http://www.heathrow.com/arrivals/immigration-and-passports)
EFTA is governed by the EFTA convention (http://www.efta.int/sites/default/files/documents/legal-texts/efta-convention/Vaduz%20Convention%20Agreement.pdf
 and the EEA by the EEA agreement (http://www.efta.int/media/documents/legal-texts/eea/the-eea-agreement/Main%20Text%20of%20the%20Agreement/EEAagreement.pdf)

The main objection to the single market and therefore to being in EFTA/EEA is the Four Freedoms. These are: Freedom of Movement of People, Capital, Goods and Services. Mrs May in her various statements that "Brexit means Brexit" (whatever THAT means) and in her Lancaster House speech said this:
But I want to be clear. What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market.
European leaders have said many times that membership means accepting the ‘4 freedoms’ of goods, capital, services and people. And being out of the EU but a member of the single market would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement those freedoms, without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would mean accepting a role for the European Court of Justice that would see it still having direct legal authority in our country. (https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-governments-negotiating-objectives-for-exiting-the-eu-pm-speech) Point 8
Dr Richard North of EUReferendum.com (to whom this post owes a huge debt) has found a clever way around complete movement of people in Chapter 4 (Safeguard measures) of the EEA agreement. Articles 112 and 113 of the EEA agreement:
Article 112
  1. If serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectorial or regional nature liable to persist are arising, a Contracting Party may unilaterally take appropriate measures under the conditions and procedures laid down in Article 113.
  2. Such safeguard measures shall be restricted with regard to their scope and duration to what is strictly necessary in order to remedy the situation. Priority shall be given to such measures as will least disturb the functioning of this Agreement.
  3. The safeguard measures shall apply with regard to all Contracting Parties.

    Article 113
  1. A Contracting Party which is considering taking safeguard measures under Article 112 shall, without delay, notify the other Contracting Parties through the EEA Joint Committee and shall provide all relevant information.
  2. The Contracting Parties shall immediately enter into consultations in the EEA Joint Committee with a view to finding a commonly acceptable solution.
  3. The Contracting Party concerned may not take safeguard measures until one month has elapsed after the date of notification under paragraph 1, unless the consultation procedure under paragraph 2 has been concluded before the expiration of the stated time limit. When exceptional circumstances requiring immediate action exclude prior examination, the Contracting Party concerned may apply forthwith the protective measures strictly necessary to remedy the situation.
    For the Community, the safeguard measures shall be taken by the EC Commission.
  4. The Contracting Party concerned shall, without delay, notify the measures taken to the EEA Joint Committee and shall provide all relevant information.
  5. The safeguard measures taken shall be the subject of consultations in the EEA Joint Committee every three months from the date of their adoption with a view to their abolition before the date of expiry envisaged, or to the limitation of their scope of application.
    Each Contracting Party may at any time request the EEA Joint Committee to review such measures.

"If serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties...." The United Kingdom could argue that virtually uncontrolled immigration satisfies the condition in Article 112 (1)

Even better though, it is now clear that the Cabinet or certainly some Cabinet Ministers are willing to accept Freedom of Movement of people in the short term. I have read two years in some press reports. Therefore Mrs May's objection to being a member of EFTA/EEA no longer applies. 

When we join EFTA/EEA we immediately invoke article 112 of the EEA agreement whilst negotiating with our EFTA colleagues a better deal. EFTA/EEA would be the fifth largest trading bloc if the UK were to join it. 

Mrs May was incorrect in stating the "European Court of Justice that would see it still having direct legal authority in our country". 
If we were a member of EFTA/EEA, there is an EFTA Court:
The EFTA Court fulfils the judicial function within the EFTA system, interpreting the Agreement on the European Economic Area with regard to the EFTA States party to the Agreement. At present those EFTA States are Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway ...
The United Kingdom in EFTA would have to deal with the EFTA court and NOT the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The EFTA court does not have to apply the rulings of the European Court of Justice
The EFTA Court has jurisdiction with regard to EFTA States which are parties to the EEA Agreement (at present Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway). The Court is mainly competent to deal with infringement actions brought by the EFTA Surveillance Authority against an EFTA State with regard to the implementation, application or interpretation of EEA law rules, for giving advisory opinions to courts in EFTA States on the interpretation of EEA rules and for appeals concerning decisions taken by the EFTA Surveillance Authority. Thus the jurisdiction of the EFTA Court largely corresponds to the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union over EU States. (http://www.eftacourt.int/the-court/jurisdiction-organisation/introduction)
The important parts in the above introduction to the EFTA court are:
'.... for giving advisory opinions to courts in EFTA states' and 'The EFTA court largely corresponds'. It would seem then that the ECJ does not have direct legal authority but that the EFTA court has advisory authority.

There is then an Inter-Governmental organisation that the United Kingdom could join as an Independent Sovereign Nation free of the shackles of the Commission and the ECJ. 

In this Inter-Governmental organisation we could represent ourselves (as opposed to being 28th represented by the EU) and negotiate our position on an equal footing with other Sovereign nation states (Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland). We could even help the other nations negotiate a better Inter-Governmental Free Market which non EU member states in Europe might want to join.

The Article 50 clock ticks ever louder.

We must instruct our Government that EFTA/EEA is what we want.
It is least risky economically and avoids the cliff edge of the 'Hard Brexit' that this Government seems determined to deliver. EFTA/EEA is the best initial stepping stone on the road to undoing 44 years of subservience to a supra-national body.

Let's go for it. 




Monday, 24 July 2017

THIRD Country


On 29th March 2019, the United Kingdom leaves the European Union and becomes a third country. In the absence of a 'new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement' there will be a hard border between the United Kingdom and the European Union maybe on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

Although it is true that the United Kingdom complies with all European Union regulations and rules today, the day after we leave the European Union there is no guarantee from the European Union's perspective that this will continue to be the case. There are therefore administrative matters that need to be sorted out when we export goods: 
Nevertheless, the EU will require as conditions for entry, compliance with EU production regulations, licensing of establishments and much more, in a graduated hierarchy of controls. But, to compensate for the inherent limitations of its power within the third country territories, the EU also imposes border controls. 

When we thus turn to Article 229 of Regulation (EU) 2016/429, we see a five-tier control system in place. 

Firstly, goods must come from a country officially listed as permitted to export the relevant categories; secondly they must come from establishments which are approved and listed; thirdly, they must comply with all relevant animal health requirements laid down by the Union; and fourthly they must be accompanied by animal health certificates and by other declarations and documents as required. 

Finally, the consignments must be presented to a Border Inspection Post (BIP) – now called Border Control Post (BCP) – where they must pass inspection. Only when the fees due are paid and the "Common Veterinary Entry Documents" are endorsed can the goods be presented for customs clearance. (http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=86546)
The nearest Border Inspection/Border Control Post in France is not in Calais. It is in Dunkirk (https://ec.europa.eu/food/sites/food/files/animals/docs/bips_contact_france.pdf) and (https://ec.europa.eu/food/animals/vet-border-control/bip-contacts_en
This post has recently been refurbished and can deal with 5000 consignments per year. (http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=86393)

I recently travelled on Eurotunnel where the following was on the wall of the train: 
"Via the Channel Tunnel: Each year, Eurotunnel carries 1,600,000 trucks to and from the UK, with a total trade value of £91bn"

Assuming that half of these are outbound, that's 800,000 trucks. If 10% need to be inspected thats 80,000 trucks or 219 per day. 5,000/365 is 14 trucks a day. What happens to the other 205 trucks?
Then there are other conditions or requirements; non tariff barriers to trade: (http://exporthelp.europa.eu/thdapp/display.htm?page=rt/rt_SanitaryAndPhytosanitaryRequirements.html&docType=main&languageId=en)

Dover will become a car park. Operation Stack on the M20 may well be in force indefinitely. That is just Dover.

Then there is ferry travel from Holyhead and Fishguard. Here is the list of Inspection Posts in Ireland (https://ec.europa.eu/food/sites/food/files/animals/docs/bips_contact_ireland.pdf)
There is no good reason why France or Ireland should increase their BCP capacity to suit the vagaries of the United Kingdom. Why should they? Even if they did undertake such an increase they would most likely want a UK contribution toward the cost of such an upgrade.

As previously posted, once the United Kingdom becomes a third country access to European Union Databases may well cease.

Moving on to flights Michael O'Leary of Ryanair has twice warned about the dangers of no deal to the operation of carriers to mainland Europe from the United Kingdom:
Last week, Peter Fankhauser, the chief executive of Thomas Cook, colourfully predicted that unless our politicians wake up to these potential dangers, we risk being taken back to the "medieval age", echoing the rather plainer warnings of Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, that in Britain we could even find ourselves no longer entitled to fly our aircraft anywhere outside UK airspace. (http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=86527) and (http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=86486)
No flights to Spain, Portugal, Italy and other holiday destinations - imagine what that will do for Conservative Party political fortunes.

There are implications for medicines and the European Medicines Agency which the Government has already said will move outside the United Kingdom to a new European Union based site (e.g. Madrid?) and which the European Union expects the United Kingdom to pay for the relocation of or at least contribute toward it.

Veterinary issues are also a consideration (http://exporthelp.europa.eu/thdapp/display.htm?page=rt/rt_SanitaryAndPhytosanitaryRequirements.html&docType=main&languageId=en) (https://ec.europa.eu/food/animals/live_animals_en)

Imports

For importation, additional animal health requirements are set out in specific Commission Decisions. These lay down health certificates which must accompany all animal imports. In general, these certificates must be signed by an official veterinarian of the competent authority of the exporting non-EU country guaranteeing that the conditions for import into the EU have been met.
On arrival in the EU, the animals and the accompanying certificates must be verified and checked by EU official veterinarians at a designated Border Inspection Post (BIP). Further checks on the animals may also be carried out at the final destination.
None of this is very palatable but it is a fact of life. Michel Barnier has said that he needs answers:
We now need to know the UK's position on each of these issues", he says, "in order to make progress". He adds, not unreasonably, "We need to know what we can do, and [then] we can negotiate in earnest". In a statement of the obvious, he went on to say: "We cannot remain idle as the clock is ticking".

In this, the first phase of the talks, there are three elements – known to us all. The first is "rights of EU citizens" and the second is the Financial Regulation. On this, Barnier says: "It is essential for the United Kingdom to recognise the existence of financial obligations which simply stem from the period during which it is a member of the EU, and in particular from our current multiannual financial framework".

Only once the EU gets this [formal] recognition, he says, can we "begin work on the methodology and agree in this first phase of negotiations on this methodology".

Of the third - issues related to Ireland - " we want to start discussions quickly on the maintenance of the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK, defining precisely its various relevant aspects, and also on the protection of Good Friday commitments Agreement , in all its dimensions".

In what might be a glimpse of the iron fist in the velvet glove, Barnier then says: "On subjects of such importance, it is essential to ensure that we are on the same political line before seeking technical solutions". He adds: "I want to be clear again on these issues: these three priority subjects for the first phase of the negotiations are inseparable". (http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=86537)
The Cabinet of the United Kingdom seems impervious to all this. A Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will be easy to set up because we already comply with all the EU requirements they say. Yes we do TODAY but what about on 30th March 2019? It is not as simple as the Cabinet ministers make out.

The day after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union it becomes an external country (a third country) and the European Union has no alternative but to protect itself from what might be sub standard, rogue or unsafe imports. It is that simple.

The National Audit Office has suggested that there might be as much as a £34 BILLION hit to tax revenue if the new HMRC CDS (Customs Declaration Service) system is not ready in time as it might not be (https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/The-Customs-Declaration-Service.pdf)
There is still a significant amount of work to complete, and there is a risk that HMRC will not have the full functionality and scope of CDS in place by March 2019 when the UK plans to leave the EU. HMRC recognises this risk. The decision to leave the EU could increase the number of transactions by around 200 million and more than double the number of traders having to go through customs processes. HMRC faces some significant challenges to deliver the programme within the current timetable. 
This blog has hardly scratched the surface of all the issues involved.

The idea of 'No Deal' would be, in my view, madness. Farmers, Drug Manufacturers, Travellers, Airline Companies could all be seriously constrained by such a policy. 

The United Kingdom needs to opt for a safe interim 'staging post' to protect itself from such a calamitous outcome. It needs to opt for EFTA/EEA membership where much of the danger can be avoided in the short to medium term.

This will be discussed in the next blog.






Sunday, 23 July 2017

It does not have to be like this


(I had intended my thoughts to be one post but it would be far too long so I have split it up into more than one.)

I am a Leave voter - I voted Leave and would vote Leave again. I voted Leave because I wanted to be out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and of the unelected Commission; so that MP's were answerable not to the Commission but to their electors in their constituencies, to the United Kingdom voter.

Mrs 'President' May said the following in her Lancaster House speech:

That starts with our close friends and neighbours in Europe. So as a priority, we will pursue a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union.
This agreement should allow for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states. It should give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets – and let European businesses do the same in Britain.
But I want to be clear. What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market.
European leaders have said many times that membership means accepting the ‘4 freedoms’ of goods, capital, services and people. And being out of the EU but a member of the single market would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement those freedoms, without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would mean accepting a role for the European Court of Justice that would see it still having direct legal authority in our country. (https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-governments-negotiating-objectives-for-exiting-the-eu-pm-speech)

The United Kingdom was therefore going to leave the Customs Union and "So we do not seek membership of the single market. Instead we seek the greatest possible access to it through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement."

On the 29th March 2017, May then gave formal notice that the United Kingdom was invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. From what I have read it seems the Article 50 notification cannot be revoked. In response Donald Tusk wrote:
..While an agreement on a future relationship between the Union and the United Kingdom as such can only be concluded once the United Kingdom has become a third country  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/31_03_17_eu_draft_guidelines.pdf

The reason given for leaving the single market was thus so that the United Kingdom would not be subject to the 'Four Freedoms' especially Freedom of Movement of people.

On 29th March 2019 the United Kingdom will become a third country i.e. NOT a member of the European Union and only at that point can a new agreement be concluded - AFTER we have left. So what does third country ACTUALLY mean?

It means basically that access to shared databases will probably stop in the 'No Deal' scenario. Access to the Single EUROPEAN sky, medicines, agriculture, customs and other databases may well be switched off. Not because the European Union is vindictive but because the United Kingdom is taking the Sovereign decision to leave the European Union. It is a United Kingdom decision not an EU one.

Michael O'Leary of Ryanair, of whom I am no great fan, has already warned that No Deal will mean that flights to the European Mainland will cease and has stated that Ryanair flights might stop as early as September 2018.

Between 29th March 2019 and the agreement of a 'new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement' the United Kingdom will be in a 'limbo' until it appears on the official 3rd Country list maybe six months after 29th March 2019.

Then the United Kingdom will be officially a third country with all that implies - which will be the subject of Part Two. 

It really doesn't have to be like this.





Sunday, 4 June 2017

A meandering look at sexism and racism


In order to look at the subject of sexism and racism this particular post will probably be used against me as sexist and racist. I hope it is neither. I hope it is an overview.

Turning first to the harder of the two, Racism. Diane Abbott has the following tweet attributed to her:

“Desperate stuff by May. Claims I want to wipe DNA database clean. Never said that. Curious that she is singling me out for attack #BBCQT.” 

There is no getting around this: Ms Abbott is not white and happens to be female. However both these are irrelevant and Ms Abbott should know it. It is deeply irresponsible in my view for her to suggest that Mrs May was being racist if that is her implication. 

Mrs May is focussing on Ms Abbott because, well, Ms Abbott is the Labour Party's weakest link. Her interview on LBC was, from the Labour Party's point of view, a disaster and Ms Abbott has the unfortunate propensity to put her foot in it.

Looking at Sexism, it is my opinion that Mrs May should not be so easily acquitted. To suggest regarding Mr Corbyn naked is sexist and Mrs May should apologise to him. If any man were to suggest regarding Mrs May naked, then the Equality and Diversity lobby, not to say 'the sisterhood' of women MP's would be up in arms demanding that man's resignation.

It is the case that when you look at adverts in a commercial break, many are aimed at women; mascara, lipstick, skin lotions of all types to try to entice the women to buy those products to 'look better'. 

Politicians have said that women should be judged on what they have to offer, not what they look like. Incidentally the same applies to men although William Hague was ruthlessly lambasted for daring to wear a baseball cap.

Politicians like Harriet Harman who, perhaps more than any politician, is responsible for the breaking of the glass ceiling on behalf of women and for relentlessly pursuing the Equality agenda. She was ably supported, amongst others, by Theresa May before she became Prime Minister.

I happen to agree with these women. No one should be judged on their ethnicity, gender or sexual proclivities but on what they SAY. I suggest two questions initially: Is what the person said true? Does it make sense?

Unfortunately, all this work has been undone, ironically, by two women. First by Diane Abbott herself who, instead of defending remarks made 30 odd years before, said:

“I had an afro. It was 34 years ago. The hairstyle has gone and some of the views have gone. We have all moved on,”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/may/28/diane-abbott-under-fire--afro-remark-questioned-about-ira

The good work has also been undone by Theresa May who said the following:

Mrs May added: "Jeremy Corbyn's minders can put him in a smart blue suit for an interview with Jeremy Paxman, but with his position on Brexit, he will find himself alone and naked in the negotiating chamber with the European Union.

"Now I know that's an image that doesn't bear thinking about. But actually this is very serious. We are approaching the end of a long campaign but it is crucial that everybody remembers this important fact."

http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/theresa-says-jeremy-corbyn-would-13112915

Earlier in the campaign, Mrs May was talking about 'boy jobs and girl jobs' in the home:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/theresa-may-philip-may-husband-boy-jobs-girls-one-show-take-bins-out-bbc-prime-minister-marriage-a7727481.html

All of this is sexist commentary by both these female politicians. 

Which just goes to show that when next promoting the cause of equality and diversity, not only politicians, but all those involved should take a long hard look at what they are about to say before opening their mouths and destroying their argument.