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Monday, May 20, 2013

Howarth: It's Crunch Time for Britain and the EU

Open Europe's Christopher Howarth wrote the following article for Ireland's leading business paper the Sunday Business Post

With MPs in the UK passionately discussing holding a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU you could be forgiven for thinking that the UK/EU relations have just taken a decisive turn for the worse. That should be a sobering thought.

However, in truth these issues have been a long time in gestation. Ever since the UK decided not to join the euro divergence between the UK and the EU became inevitable. Unease at the direction of European and eurozone integration is felt most acutely by Conservative MPs but poses questions for all UK parties. How can the UK find a role for itself in an EU increasingly dominated by the politics of the eurozone? How can a state reliant on services exports align its interests with an EU built around a single market in goods? How can the UK’s interests as a financial centre be reconciled with financial regulation set with other interests in mind? And above all, how can MPs in Westminster address the serious democratic deficit built up in the UK’s relationship with the EU over the past decades?

All these issues are beginning to find their way into the mainstream of UK political debate. In Ireland a series of EU referendums provided an avenue to openly discuss the EU. In the UK we have not had the same level of public debate. Instead of debate we saw the Lisbon Treaty, like those before it, rolled into law at the behest of Government whips. These European chickens are now coming back to roost.

When the Lisbon Treaty came into force the then shadow foreign Secretary William Hague said cryptically that “we will not let matters rest there”. King Lear would perhaps have added “I will do such things. What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be the terrors of the earth” but the effect on EU Governments would have been the same. Demanding treaty change, except of course for the centralising type, was unthinkable.

Now after three years in power we are a little clearer as to what terrors the Conservatives had in mind. David Cameron has said he wishes to attempt to reform the EU, renegotiate the UK’s membership terms and then hold a referendum on the UK’s membership after the next election but no later than 2017.

Despite setting out this plan frustration among Conservative MPs has continued to build. In an attempt to defuse weeks of pressure Cameron has now agreed to back and vote for a Bill to put the 2017 referendum into law. Why legislate now? You might be forgiven for thinking Cameron’s MPs do not trust him. Some don’t. But, what concerns them most is that the electorate will not trust them to deliver a referendum after the 2015 election. That matters with UKIP gaining 26% of the vote in the recent local elections.

The desire for a referendum is real but a referendum only allows for a yes/no answer. There are those in the UK, in both the ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ EU camps who want this and dismiss the possibility of reform. Some pro-EU integrationists believe that the status quo does not need to be changed and a referendum will (if it cannot be avoided) will deliver an ‘in’ vote without any substantial changes. This is referred to as the Harold Wilson gambit, after his token 1975 renegotiation. Those in the ‘out’ camp also hope that reform is impossible believing EU intransigence will convince people to leave. Like the Baptists and bootleggers in prohibition US, both sides have a common interest in reform failing.

However, public opinion in the UK is not yet that polarised. The majority of business and public opinion does not wish to leave the European Union but is also not happy with the status quo. Instead they wish to see reform.

The task David Cameron has set himself is achieving new terms that the majority of the UK public would be happy to endorse. This is a tough task, but Cameron believes that if pushed, states such as Germany who value the UK’s advocacy of free trade and liberal economics would back reasonable reforms. So the million euro question is what could a durable EU-UK settlement look like?

First, the power of national parliaments over EU decisions needs to be radically strengthened, to reconnect the EU to voters. Secondly, as the Eurozone integrates further, the UK and other non-eurozone countries need safeguards to make sure euro countries don’t start to write the rules for all 27 member states, in which the case the UK almost certainly will have to leave. There’s also a very strong case for revisiting areas where the EU’s powers have gone too far, such as in crime and policing or employment law.

However, in some areas “more Europe” may be needed. For example, a big move on liberalising services would help make the EU more relevant to an increasingly sceptical business community. The EU services sector is one of the bloc’s great untapped resources, but for too long, protectionist-minded member states and the European Parliament have blocked a dynamic single market in services, to the disadvantage of services-oriented economies like Ireland and the UK. A quirk in the EU Treaties – so-called enhanced cooperation – could be used to press ahead with more services liberalisation involving like-minded countries. If only 12 countries did this, it would still lead to a 1% permanent boost to the EU economy.

Make no mistake, the risks of reform failing are profound. Advocates of ‘in’ would be deprived of their best tune and a UK exit would be far more likely once the British public is finally asked. States in favour of open markets and free trade would lose a strong ally.  The EU could then chart a new course more centralised and protectionist than before. 
But rather than engage and negotiate with Cameron perhaps the best strategy is to sit tight and hope for a Labour victory in 2015? That may paradoxically be the worst option for those wishing to avoid a UK exit. Not only would the Labour party come under immense pressure to hold its own referendum, but would be destined to hold a referendum without having attempted or achieved any meaningful reform. Worse, a mid-term Labour Prime Minister campaigning for an ‘in’ could be faced with a new post-Cameron Conservative leader campaigning for an ‘out’. As for the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg recently told Parliament that treaty change is a matter of “when not if” and would trigger a UK referendum. The worst of all worlds, a treaty change dreamt up with no UK input being put to the British people – the answer to that would be a decisive ‘out’.

So will the UK leave the EU? This is not a certainty but the real possibility should concentrate the minds of those who share some, if not all, of the UK’s interests. Rethinking the EU’s direction of travel, re-centring it on a single market that works for services as well as goods, economic competitiveness, less regulation, decentralisation and the legitimisation of the positions of non-euro states could be useful in reconnecting not just with the UK public but with others as well.


Freedom Lover said...

Although the current UK government talks about re-negotiating some aspects of its EU status prior to an In/Out referendum, nothing specific yet appears to have been considered as meriting re-negotiation - let alone finalized. This is with EU Parliamentary elections now only 1 year away, & 2 before our own general election. This is incompetence beyond belief, when a draft list of potential topics could be drawn up probably over-night! Clearly the government has no true guaranteed intention, not just of calling a referendum after the absurd delay of 4 years, in 2017 - but probably ever if it can be avoided. At the same time, the EU may well take little notice unless Britain puts pressure on it to do so.

Britain should change its tack. We should draw up a list of negotiation topics quickly - leaving room to add more later if need be, then start negotiating. Once there has been a year or two of negotiations, a referendum should be called approving or not the progress so far. The EU should know that if there's no progress, the UK will move straight to the Lisbon Treaty's Article 50 regarding departing from the EU. If the EU still mucks around, then the In/Out referendum should follow immediately. If this referendum produces an In vote, then the negotiations should continue until an adequate deal is found. But if no adequate deal emerges, then an Out vote would probably be inevitable, & all that would need to be done after that would be to deal with BIP issues (Border Inspection Posts) for future UK/EU trade, & just sitting out the minimum 2 years that are required for Article 50 departure negotiations to be completed. Once these 2 years were up, we would be FREE & genuinely INDEPENDENT again!

Anonymous said...

majority of english wish to leave eu

Rik said...

Excellent article.
I would only have added something on the Irish position. Being cut of from mainland EU by an UK exit hardly makes things (and already only on the UK issue) as volatile and potentially dangerous for Ireland as for the UK.
In other words seen the trade relations, Ireland needs a successful UK reneg as much as the UK itself.

Rik said...

@anonymous 12.25
There is no majority for an exit. There is most likely however one for a reneg. And if the reneg should fail, there very likely is one for an exit. Which is clearly something else than you stated.

It is also clear that the government has still a lot of explaining to do. Like that this vote is simply mainly for cosmetic reasons. It is completely unlikely (even with a 2017 and not direct referendum in it) that it will make it.
But especially that wanting a referendum now and wanting a reneg (as some polls show) is simply not coherent/logical.
Seen the fact that all communication have been on the reneg part and it gives a third choice (iso only 2 like with a direct referendum) it is clear were the gap is. Basically caused by the &%ss poor set up of the questions.
But nevertheless communication should be better on this one. Especially if you want to base a strategic voting argument on that lateron.

@Freedom Lover
Part of the reneg will be informal and even secret. Furthermore it will be highly technical and still with a lot of uncertainties. Parties at the end of the day simply finally only agree on the whole deal. Plus will first start to move when there is pressure on them.
Plus Cameron can not really start, he simply doesnot have a majority (people forget that) for that. He simply needs Clegg or risk that the cabinet explodes (and he will not be reelected as things look now). He can simply as well not call such a referendum no majority for that in the present sittuation (he needs one of the other 2 big parties).

So simply will not work that way.
You have to make a clear distiction between what you personally want and what is realistically possible. What you personally want is not possible. So look for the next best thing that is possible.

Probably best would be a reneg this year and a referendum by the end of this year. You have a reneg and a referendum not too far away. Will not happen:
-Necessary legislation will not pass parliament;
-Reneg takes much more time.

The Cameron option looks to me as good as it goes (for both reneg and exit voters and they combined have a large majority).
Of course there is the issue of Cameron's credibility. But he has tied himself to this plan so running away from it will mean political suicide. He will understand that, certainly after last weeks PR-fiasco.

Anonymous said...

What a load of pro-Eurofascist propagandistic and deceitful claptrap Howarth's article is.

Open Europe has been exposed as the stealth Eurofascist, controlled opposition outfit the at it is.

Maybe before Open Europe was outed, this article might have carried some weight and credibility.

Now, however, it's just one more CBI-type bleat from the corporatists who stand to be disenfranchised if ad when the EUSSR is obliterated -- as it should be -- and the UK recovers its democracy.

Bugsy said...

@ Rik - I disagree, Aonymous is right, there is a significant majority in favour of an IN/OUT referendum and an OUT vote.

Causes are relatively simple, no trust in the EU to negotiate properly and timely, no trust in any UK government to "do the right thing". A feeling that it is all going downhill fast and is almost out of control.

Jesper said...

What if EU-countries asked for more than just a letter:

Would UK be willing to use its unique relationship with British overseas colonies and demand (backed with some credible threat):
-increased transparency
-speedier replies to requests for information from tax-authorities

Wouldn't cost the UK much (if anything) to do so & the tax system would become fairer. Stopping tax-evasion might be a popular measure but it wouldn't be populist and it would generate diplomatic good-will.

christina speight said...

Christopher Howarth seems not to have noticed not so much the absolute polling figures than the remorseless trend with those saying "OUT" gaining each time a new poll comes along. The Latest poll gives those demanding we QUIT 46% against 30% for those wanbting to stay IN. That leaves 24% undecided but it only needs 5% of that 24% to plump for OUT to give a clear majority. Mr Howarth should get out more - away from the Westminster hothouse and find out what REAL people think. Anger was always there but to this has now been added HATE.

Rik said...

I see you know better than all the polls I have seen.
Simply wishful thinking from your side.

The last poll is pretty useless in this respect as people were not given the 3 choices that there are but 2. And of the 3 the 2 least popular on top of that.

You have to estimate the effects thereof yourself (and make guesses partly at least). But in no way you get to a majority when there are 3 choices (as there are in reality).
You are not seriously thinking that Cameron would drop his own alternative (the reneg) for a referendum, while it is the preferrred option of himself and most of the electorate.

At this stage it is parliament that determines things and there is no majority for a referendum legislation (even if Cameron would want that, which he probably does).
Cameron might be PM but most people like to forget that he simply cannot do these things on his own. He needs one of the other big parties for a majority and not drive the LibDems out of the coalition (and the UK into new elections).

Ask if people like to exit the EU or want to be hanged and you get a 99% majority. But that would even more than this poll not be asking the right questions.

As said simply wishful thinking from your side. And it is about time people like yourself wake up to reality.
The actions of many are simply totally counterproductive for their own cause. It is united we stand and divided you get your backside kicked. You split the right and basically you are finished. Both in general politics as very likely on the EU.

Unknown said...

The euro is simply a catastrophe for the economies of "peripheral" Europe - as was accurately predicted in detail by the much maligned (in the europhile media) "Anglo-Saxon" commentators when it was being launched.

It must be reformed or abandoned for talk of EU-wide reforms to have any meaning.

Anonymous said...

The one issue is TRUST.

The EU has lost my trust and that of the people of the UK. No amount of renegotiation will ever build up that trust again. The EU lowering the bankers' pay cap this weekend to EUR500k is a great example as is the attempt to up the budget and force some members to pay more against their will.

For me the EU has proven to be anti-UK and we can never ever give them any control over us again.

This article is too pro-EU for comfort. No more procrastination. We have been EU members for years and it does not work.

Referendum now.


Anonymous said...

Come to Ealing and witness what little control the UK government has over anything EU. Local people cannot believe what is happening to their home town.

Did we ever vote for this? Is there a balance so that areas are not overrun or smashed? Does the EU recognise our problem of flight from the Eurozone? Is it proposing to inject funds to protect the local way of life? Are our politicians helping?

The answer to all of the above is NO.

Trust has gone. We have been abandoned and are EU lab rats whilst our own government watches on like eunuchs.

Shame on you Angie Bray MP for Ealing & Acton for putting your own grubby interests before your vulnerable electorate.

UKIP. Referendum now.


Ray said...

There may be variations in the numbers people state as being in favour or not of withdrawal, but I am sure that an overwhelming majority will have no faith in "renegotiations" taken by a man who has pledged to keep us in Europe. There is only one place to safely negotiate our place in Europe, and that is from outside, that way a "you lie, you wriggle, you twist, we go" clause can be written in. Not that I think we should ever rejoin a Europe that resembles the criminal organisation that exists at the moment again.

Rollo said...

Christopher Howarth has not been doing his homework. Close to 50% do want to leave the EU. About 27% are fairly happy with it, subject to some renegotiation (which Howarth knows is not on the cards). The rest don't know or don't care. There is no renegotiation, only more EU making EU worse. No-one wants to stay in the un-amended EU, which is the only option the quislings are offering.

Average Englishman said...

The idea of Dave renegotiating the UK's EU treaties is excellent. He could ditch the fisheries policy, the immigration policy, the common agricultural policy, the budget contributions, the endless red tape, the finance restrictions and keep the good bit:- the reduced European wide mobile 'phone charges and free trade.

Whilst Dave has his 'ace negotiator' hat on he could also agree an end to the Syrian civil war, the Israel-Palestine problem, generally arrange world peace, fix climate change, kill off aids and eradicate world hunger! I think these last ambitions would be easy compared to the negotiations he expects to win in Brussels but nothing is impossible for Dave, so long as someone keeps the 'swivel eyed loonies' off his back.

PLEASE ditch your fantasy world O.E. team. Either the UK leaves the clutches of the EU altogether or it'll just be more of the same old tyranny from the EUSSR. I've listened to enough disingenuous clap trap on Europe from the likes of Ken Clarke, Dave, Howe and others over the years and I don't need any more thank you.

christina speight said...

One of the Anonymice (why not a pseudonym?) asks us to come to Ealing - er ahem - I live there already and I can't see anything unique about Ealing's situation!!!

Do explain please.

Anonymous said...

christina speight

I am not one of the anonymice. My initials are clearly at the bottom of my posts.

Ealing is the no.1 hot spot for immigration in the UK - what is not unique about that?!

And if you cannot see what is wrong then we are LOST!!

Love to explain but not on here (not enough room). Happy to meet somehow if you are an Ealing resident.

Anonymous said...

christina speight

PS. I now get it. I criticised your dear fellow Tory Angie Bray so get singled out.It is a bit of a shame as I am a fan.

If you cannot see what is wrong in Ealing and unique then I am shocked.


Ethnic cleansing is a good phrase, except after 12 years of Labour you won't get any white middle-class residents saying this is as it is now deemed as racist (no doubt to cover over Labour's immigration mess).

Did you not notice the 40-odd drunks sleeping in our parks over last summer and the lack of children playing in said parks due to serious safety concerns?

Ealing is now a transient borough and I doubt whether the police would ever find the culprit should a major crime occur here. Parents with children now see this as a major concern - which is why they (and now we) are moving out.

Did you not know that Labour allowed all and sundry in from Eastern Europe WITHOUT any Interpol checks? Did you not know that some are now parents in our schools? Hey, you are mafia, organised crime etc - welcome to Ealing.

And may be you could kindly explain why many of us feel like second class citizens in our own country?

Seeing as you live in Ealing, er ahem, I expect that you know all the answers.

Tory, Labour or Lib/Dem - all have failed us here.


letmethink said...

@ freedom lover 12:20

I agree with the general thrust of your argument save to say that in order to invoke Article 50, a decision to withdraw must already have been made.

Article 50 initiates negotiation on the mechanics of withdrawal

Bugsy said...

@ Rik- Thank you my cold bath. You say there is no will to leave but to vote on one of three choices. The people I talk to are a fair mixture of citizenry, they have had enough of the political babble about alternatives.
The EU cannot get the Auditors to sign off the accounts for 18 years. No business would survive that.
The CAP still takes up half the budget and is badly spent, reforming it is too slow and unproductive.
7 or 8 countries are in deep economic trouble and the EU have no answers.
Cameron is pro EU and therefore is unlikely to satisfy public opinion after his negotiation.
Its all far too little far too late.

christina speight said...

SC writing from Ealing (where I live too) makes it clear that it is immigration (s)he is talking about the effects of which are by no means confined to Ealing. Since (s)he mentioned one of the MPs for Central Ealing and Acton - Angie Bray - calling her my "Tory friend" (s)he is doubly misinformed.

I resume (s)he lives in Acton which certainly is under pressure right now. Southall went Asian decades ago I also live in Acton. It doesn't apply everywhere.

. Since I use my name I am on record as saying that I will vote UKIP in the Euro-elections and if Cameron remains leader I will probably do the same at the General Election. I have trenchantly lambasted Cameron for over two years on ConservativeHome but have - along with many others - now abandoned that apology for a blog.

I am conservative certainly but resigned long ago. As for UKIP they are useful and useless all in the same breath. I kn ow - I led the party in the 3 Ealing seats in

If you go on being rude to people who largely agree with you I'll suspect you are a closet Tory (that's what they do!)

Anonymous said...

Christina Speight

I live in Ealing. Southall went Asian ages ago but is now African, as is West Ealing which is now predominantly Somalian and pound shops.

It look like we share the same beliefs and are equally frustrated at the self-interested politicians that claim to represent us both at home and in the EU.

And if you don't want people being rude, don't patronise them ("er ahem" & "Do explain please").

If you go on being patronising to people who largely agree with you, I'll suspect that you are a closet Tory (that's what they do!).

Sorry to quote you but it works both ways!


Anonymous said...

"letmethink" went straight to the heart of the matter. when he said "Article 50 initiates negotiation on the mechanics of withdrawal"
History has shown, time after time, that the EU ignores all and any efforts to engage in any form of dialogue.
So the only way forward is to invoke article 50, which would force the EU grandees to take notice, since it would be the parliamentary equivalent of a military commander firing off a sighting broadside, to signal to the opposition that he means business.
Then, if after such a clear signal, the EU grandees serenely sail on, ignoring the efforts to discuss, Britain simply leaves, fully in accordance with article 50. If such a situation arose, and Britain was seen to be packing it's bags, and it alarmed the EU to such an extent that they woke up and scrambled to build bridges, talk, negotiate, you name it, then Britain would be in a wonderful negotiating position, virtually that of naming our own terms.

21/5/13 2:57 pm

Anonymous said...

Christopher ought to get out a bit more. People might not trust Cameron over a referendum? Perish the thought!

Having let the cast-iron promise crumble into rust, Cam-Sham then three-line whipped his MPs not to vote for an EU In/Out referendum. He gave away powers to the EU faster than Blair and wants to give the EU some permanent JHA powers.

Many women in particular can't stand him, as their ability to read body language tells them he's all show, heir to Blairite spin...

It's not a question of 'wanting negotiations to fail'. Those that value research over hype know that Callaghan and Wilson didn't bring any powers back and had to claim that trivial gestures were a great victory.

But as EU law does not allow any powers to be clawed back, a re-elected Cameron would either have to be heir to that pair or turn 'renegotiation' into such a boring long drawn-out farce that the public will forget that there was no real intention to offer them a 2017 referendum.

Dr. Worden said...

Here is a rather different angle: Were the state of Britain to secede from the Union,it could only then be said that the EU is Britain's largest trading partner. (a state can't have its own union as its trading partner lol). The Brits might want to look over at Switzerland, which is capitulating to the EU on continuing as a tax haven. On this point, see http://thewordenreport.blogspot.com/2013/05/is-switzerland-to-take-on-eu-on.html at the Worden Report. To put a fine point on my point regarding Britain, the Brits might find having to capitulate a rather harsh post-secession reality.