Sunday, 23 June 2013

Booker: free-trade dream destined to end in failure 

 Sunday 23 June 2013

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We've come a long way in just a few days in our understanding of the EU-US trade deal, known by its acronym TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact). And much of that has been distilled down into this week's Booker column.

But, while Mr Cameron has been making the most of the propaganda opportunities afforded, Booker links the current event with Tony Blair using Britain's last G8 presidency in 2005 to proclaim his intention to abolish poverty in Africa and halt climate change.

Since then, he writes, we have known that these gatherings are largely a matter of smoke and mirrors – just as we saw from the way last week's charade in Northern Ireland was exploited to the hilt by that "heir to Blair", David Cameron. This was nowhere more obvious than in the impression he tried to convey that he was taking the lead in proposing a historic "free-trade deal" between the USA and the EU.

With the stage thus set, Booker digs in for some "rather severe correctives". For a start, he says, China and India might have had something to say about the BBC's claim that this was a meeting of "the eight most powerful countries in the world".

Then it was not so much a "G8" as a "G8 plus Two", as we saw from the prominent presence, alongside President Obama and the rest, of those two spectres at the feast, Presidents José Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy of the EU, as they stood behind their wheelie bins.

Third, and rather more significantly, Mr Cameron, as Prime Minister of the UK, has no direct status in this deal at all, since trade is an exclusively EU competence. The negotiations are to be conducted by Mr Barroso and the European Commission, not by any mere member state.

Fourth, what is being proposed is not just an EU-US deal but something much wider: between on one side, not just the EU but also the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), including Norway and, on the other, not just the US but also Canada and Mexico, as members of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Fifth, what is being proposed is not so much a "free-trade area" as a deal allowing trade between the two groups of countries subject to the harmonising of tens of thousands of regulations. This will require years of negotiations, which will be so complex and intractable that a deal may never come off at all.

Booker notes that it is hard to conceive that any agreement could be reached between the powerful and highly protectionist farming lobbies on both sides. US agribusiness would find it impossible to accede to the EU's strict animal welfare rules. The EU, so suspicious of GM, will scarcely welcome a flood of meat and cereal products made much cheaper by America's wholesale embrace of genetic modification.

As bitter rivals in the world airline market, the US and European aviation industries have long been embattled over their rival state-subsidy schemes, each side claiming the other's to be illegal. EU manufacturers will not be enthused by an influx of all those manufactured goods made competitive by much lower US energy costs, thanks to shale gas. The list of issues on which negotiations could founder goes on and on.

It is thus very relevant to ask, as does Booker, why all those politicians last week seemed so happy to see this deal given such a high profile? As to the answers, these are many and varied.

Mr Obama favours it because analysis shows that the US would benefit much more from such a deal than the EU. The EU's leaders like it because it offers diversion from the disaster being inflicted on Europe's economies by the slow-motion train wreck of the euro. As for Mr Cameron, he hopes that his grandstanding on the deal will help him to spike UKIP's guns by insisting that we can only benefit from such an arrangement if we remain in the EU.

Here, as so often when he talks about Britain's membership of the EU, he is being disingenuous. He carefully obscures the fact that Britain could benefit just as much from a deal by leaving the EU and rejoining the EFTA.

In his desperation to keep us in the EU, he still relies on that threefold wishful thinking by which he hopes to: a) win the next election; b) promise Eurosceptics that he can then negotiate a new treaty between Britain and the EU within two years; c) put this to a referendum in 2017.

Of these, a) is highly dubious; b) is out of the question – negotiating a new treaty would, under the rules, take much longer than two years; and since c) is dependent on b), this isn't going to happen either.

This leads Booker to the inevitable conclusion that Mr Cameron's dreams can no more come true than did Mr Blair's dreams that he could abolish poverty in Africa.

It may be that, for form's sake, the parties come up with a "TIPP-lite", offering some minor concessions that can be paraded as a breakthrough, but the reality is that all the stresses and differences that prevented agreement in the WTO "Doha Round" are going to re-emerge here, and the agreements are going to be no easier to make.

From the domestic point of view though, the emphasis on a trade deal that offers more from within the EU than could be gained by the UK as an independent player, is quite clever politics on the part of the Conservatives.

And if that play is designed to spike UKIP's guns, Mr Farage's party has been slow to respond with an alternative scenario. Not until after the general election, however, may the full negotiations crash and burn, which means that Mr Cameron's best interests will already have been served by the legend on offer.

To avoid being outflanked, UKIP needs to bring to the attention of the wider public that, in deal terms, the TTIP that glitters is not free trade gold.


Richard North 23/06/2013

 EU referendum: a toxic intervention 

 Sunday 23 June 2013


I think we've given the "Article 50 debate" a fair airing, putting the case for using this Article, the arguments spilling over into the Booker columns and in a useful series of posts by Boiling Frog and others. In the public domain, though, it's really been Booker who has kickstarted the debate, telling us that Article 50 is "the only way" to tackle the "EU mess".

But, according to UKIP economic advisor, Tim Congdon, we should not be doing this at all. Having recently published an article in Standpoint, he has attached a copy to a round-robin e-mail, the text of which is here, with an edited version appearing in this month's eurofacts.

According to this e-mail, the Article 50 debate is "unfortunate", and any idea that it is the only hope for our leaving the EU is "rubbish". Congdon complains that he has had "numerous discussions with UKIP supporters about the irksome and irrelevant article 50", and that such discussions are "a waste of time".

"Too many people are conned by this sort of thing", he says, emphasising that it, "is devised by the EU bureaucracy to divert us from our one and only goal, which must be full independence". And by this he means "full independence from the EU, just as Australia, Canada and over 150 other countries have".

Here, one has to acknowledge that this is no democrat talking. The democrat welcomes debate, is happy to discuss the issues and uses the opportunities afforded to convey the message. And Congdon not only seeks to suppress debate, he does so on the basis of entirely spurious reasons, and without a scintilla of evidence.

In this, what troubles me most is the constant refrains for unity amongst eurosceptic campaigners, the sub-text of which invariably points towards the "dissidents" getting behind the UKIP leader and supporting the UKIP message - never the other way around.

Insofar as there is a UKIP message on Article 50, Congdon seems to speak for the many.  This would appear to be the message I must get behind.  Yet how could I possibly support something which is so wrong-headed? And, since he goes out of his way to promulgate his message, how can I even ignore it?

Thus, when it comes to "splitting", or the dilution of effort of which so many complain, who is actually responsible for creating the schisms? Congdon must know – and if he does not, he should – that I have been one of the leaders in the field on Article 50, and that Booker and I speak as one on the subject.

To dismiss our views on Article 50 as "rubbish" – and that is what he is doing – is a studied insult, and an insult to someone who knows far better than he the background to this provision.

Some of this I explained in an earlier piece, based on original research and from interviewing Alterio Spinelli's political advisor. This information checks out, but I doubt Congdon has done me the courtesy of reading it.

Yet, if we take it further, we can look at the more recent history of Article 50, noting that it was introduced in the European Convention on the Future of Europe – the opening session of which was on 28 February 2002 (pictured). And, unlike Congdon, I was there on that day and followed the proceedings, which finally drew to a close in July 2003.

If he follows the same evidential trail - of what started off as Article 59 of the draft European Constitution - he can see for himself that there is no way it was "devised by the EU bureaucracy", whether to "divert us from our one and only goal ... ", or for any other reason.

So, if we are to aspire towards unity, what am I supposed to do? Am I to fall in behind Congdon, and agree with his toxic intervention – or should I expect him to look at the evidence, argue his corner and thus come to a better and perhaps different conclusion, on which we can both agree?

And there is the rub. Congdon says that discussions are "a waste of time". He, the advisor to The Great Leader, hath already spoken. My options, therefore, are to agree with him or to keep silent. In the interests of unity, I am not allowed a contrary view – even if it is far better informed. To express it is to be a "splitter".

The one advantage of that, I suppose, is that if we lose a referendum campaign – should we ever have one – we will at least be united in our loss. But is that our objective? Or are we in this to win, relying on open debate, criticism and discussion to project the message, rather than an exhibition of cult-like obedience and discipline?

Given that choice, those in our midst advocating unity at all costs should give some time to thinking about what they really want.

Richard North 23/06/2013

 UKIP: a hand-crafted reputation 

 Saturday 22 June 2013

Well, as expected, the Mirror ambush of Farage over his setting up an offshore trust has certainly displaced any other headlines that UKIP might have garnered over the past two days.

Apart from an ill-judged intervention from Dellers, even those which just convey the story uncritically paint a picture of the UKIP leader that most of his followers would not wish to see, especially when accompanied by headlines such as: "Is the shine coming off Nigel Farage?".

A good proportion of the 900-plus commenters on the Dellers piece simply do not get the point. AsNew Statesman gleefully recalls, it is not that Farage has done anything wrong. It is simply his hypocrisy, which stands completely at odds with his "man of the people" image.

To see this in action, we have his speech (above) in the European Parliament on 21 May about the European Council meeting on tax. He says (3 min 10 sec):
… Tax avoidance is legal and the biggest reason that tax havens are allowed to prosper is that we've got this very statist mindset that we must try and get as much tax out of successful individuals as we possibly can. If you do that, and if you have a very complicated tax system, people will do all they can within the law to avoid paying tax. And the answer for western governments is to learn some of the lessons from the 1980s in Britain and America. Bring taxes down, simplify taxes and then for those that wish to obey the law, there's no need to use tax havens.
Then, on the fateful day last week, he is asked by a Mirror reporter up in Aberdeen about tax avoidance. Says Farage then, "It's something we have to handle actually at a global level otherwise it's meaningless because hot money otherwise gets a chance to move around".

So here is The Great Leader, at one defending the use of tax havens – incidentally identifying the three under British administration, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Caymans – then saying that they are something "we have to handle … at a global level", and then going on to apologise for his "mistake" in opening up a trust fund in an offshore tax haven.

As damning though, as Autonomous Mind points out, is a later interview on Channel 4 News, where Farage feigns ignorance of whether the Isle of Man is actually offshore, declaring: "Well, it is difficult to define whether it is off-shore or not".

The point is quickly pounced upon by the Daily Telegraph, but what we are seeing is classic Farage – a mixture of apparent candour and "little boy charm", combined with an "aw, sucks" apology, artfully judged to disarm his interrogator.  Against those unused to it, the technique often works to great effect.

Perhaps though, the most damning indictment of Farage is that, having set up his tax avoidance trust, it actually ended up costing him money. That, for a supposedly successful City trader, is hardly a reputation-enhancing admission. However, it does suggest that he ran his business affairs about as well as he is currently running his party.

How different it was on 25th July 1999, shortly after Mr Farage had been elected to the European Parliament for the first time. In a Meridian TV interview, he declared:
You will remember that right through (the 1999 Euro campaign) that we said we are not going on the gravy train; that we are the only people who are intending, annually, to publish so that the public can inspect them, our expense accounts, our allowance accounts, and the excess that we get – the excess that we are forced to take – particularly on travelling allowances, we are going to be putting into a trust fund and that money will be used to help victims of the European Union in our country, so I do reject the allegation that we're on the gravy train and there's certainly no chance of the three of us going native.
This is the very self-same man who has yet to publish any personal accounts and who was, four years later, to set up a secret offshore trust fund. Thus does his hand-crafted reputation continue to unravel.


Richard North 22/06/2013