STRAIGHT TALKING April 2017
Roger Helmer’s electronic newsletter from Strasbourg
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May invokes Article 50
June 23rd 2016 was a great day, the one I shall always remember as our UK Independence Day. But March 29th was a great day too. The day that the official letter from the British government was delivered to Brussels invoking Article 50 and kicking off the Brexit process. Some wag suggested that we fly it across in a Spitfire, but in the end it was simply the diplomatic bag.
The message to those who say that UKIP has achieved its objective and should now go away, is clear. The negotiations have merely started. Will Theresa May ensure we become a genuine independent nation? Or will she give way to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (or as we might put it, the sticks and carrots of outrageous Juncker)? For the next two years, UKIP must ride shotgun on the process.
Sticking points: Do we get full control of our borders? Full control of our fisheries? Of energy and agriculture? Do we get out from under the ECHR, the ECJ, EU regulatory structures?
Yes we want cooperation. We want a free trade deal. But we want those things as an independent country, not as an associate-member of the EU, subject to arm-twisting and coercion.
My concern is that the model in the minds of the Eurocrats is a sort of quasi- associate-membership, somewhere between Norway and Switzerland. A position where Brussels can still, in effect, call the shots. That’s the outcome we must resist.
No “crashing out”: no “cliff edge”: We constantly see references (even in media that should know better) to the UK “crashing out of the EU without a deal”. Let’s kick up stink whenever we hear the phrase. What they mean is “leaving on WTO terms”, which is the default position if we leave without a deal.
Most countries in the world trade with the EU. Most do not have preferential trade terms with the EU. The three largest suppliers into the EU are China, Russia and the USA. They have no preferential deal (the TTIP deal seems to be dead in the water). Yet they sell more into the EU than we do.
Of course a free trade deal would be better, and my belief is that the sheer economic imperative — and the pressure from the CEOs of the EU’s major companies — will force Brussels to make a deal. But if not, we can manage perfectly well without. We’ll be a normal country, like other normal countries, free of the EU’s Common External Tariff, free to make trade deals with the rest of the world, where the growth is. Not crashing. Merely leaving.
Negotiate from strength
A couple of days ago I Tweeted “Our negotiating strategy should be (A) No more Money; (B) Call us when you want to talk a trade deal”. Short and simplistic in the Twitter 140 character format, but it makes the point.
The EU’s fellow travellers and apologists – the Remoaners, the Quislings, the BBC – are trying to suggest that the EU has the whip hand in the Brexit negotiations, and poor little Britain must be grateful for anything it can get. They – and Brussels – are talking about a “divorce bill” of £50 billion. They have the bizarre idea that we have some obligation to keep paying the subs after we’ve left the club and ceased to use the facilities.
In truth we have a strong negotiating hand, given our balance of payments deficit with the EU, and the fact that we’re set to be their largest external customer. But as Fraser Nelson remarks in a must-read op-ed, WTO terms are being presented as “a disaster”, “a cliff-edge”, whereas in fact they’re the terms that govern our trade with 111 countries including our largest single export market, the USA. He adds “There’s no question of Britain losing access to European markets: every country from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe can sell its wares into Europe”.
The key point which Fraser Nelson makes, is that Theresa May must be prepared to walk away. She must mean it. Cameron’s so-called “renegotiation” failed because Brussels sensed, rightly, that he had no fall-back position (though their intransigence led directly to the referendum and Brexit).
EU pensions: There will be a large number of British civil servants entitled to EU pensions (as well MEPs), and there seems to be a general assumption that at least the UK government must pick up the tab for those pensions. I wonder why. Some were partly contributory, but even when they were not, the pension liability built up in the past, while Britain was a full member, has been effectively paid for as part of our membership fees in the past. I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that the EU has an on-going moral and legal obligation to fulfil its pension commitments to British employees who worked during Britain’s membership.
A club has an obligation to former employees, and that obligation doesn’t cease because one or other member leaves the club.
Media Seminar: One Leaver vs 4 Remainers
On Tuesday March 28th I sat on a panel at a seminar arranged jointly by the European parliament Press Service and the Association of European Journalists. The moderator was William Horsley, a former BBC European Affairs correspondent.
I found myself alongside Tory MEP Charles Tannock; Labour’s Richard Corbett; Anneleen van Bossuyt, a Belgian MEP also with Tannock’s ECR group, and for good measure Martina Anderson of Sinn Fein (looking far too glamorous for Sinn Fein’s GUE-NGL Group).
We found ourselves addressing a couple of dozen fairly senior European journos. Tannock was as gloomy as Eeyore. “This is a sad day” (In my remarks I countered that it was a glorious day, a day of freedom, independence and self-determination). Brexit was “selfish”. I countered “If by selfish, you mean it’s in the interests of the British people, then I’m all for it”.
Corbett asserted that Liam Fox, responsible for post-Brexit trade, had said it was worth losing half of UK exports to the EU in exchange for the right to make trade deals elsewhere. I demanded to know the source of that “quote” (so far as I know it’s a total fabrication). No reply from Corbett.
In his turn, however, Tannock leapt to the defence of Corbett and attacked his own Tory Minister, complaining (irrelevantly) that Fox had “used the 3 million EU citizens in the UK as a bargaining chip”. I reminded him that Theresa May had offered an immediate reciprocal agreement on EU citizens in the UK and vice versa, and that Angela Merkel, not Liam Fox, had blocked it. Harrumph of stout party.
At the end I pointed out to the Chairman that we had an almost BBCesque split on the panel — one Leaver to four Remainers. “So what is the split on the issue in the parliament?” he asked. I replied “The split in the UK is 52/48!”. It was a wonderful irony that Tory Tannock was utterly opposed to the policies of his own Prime Minister, whereas I as a UKIP MEP was much closer to the Prime Minister’s position. Hey Ho. Politics makes strange bedfellows. No, hang on, let me re-phrase that…..!
Heartland Climate Conference
I was invited to attend the Heartland Climate Conference on March 23rd/24th as a keynote speaker in the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington DC — not a stone’s throw from the White House (if you’re good at throwing stones). There was an impressive speakers’ list, with a good number of Professors and PhDs, as well as politicians and think-tankers.
Given the constant barrage of climate scare stories from the liberal media (take a bow, BBC) it is refreshing to spend time with those on the other side of the debate. We are told repeatedly that there is a 97% consensus, but the evidence for this is even dodgier than the evidence for AGW.
I was invited to deliver the keynote address to the plenary dinner on the first day of the Conference, Thursday March 23rd. Find it here. It was very well received, and as I often say in response to kind words from the audience: “If you enjoyed listening to it half as much as I enjoyed giving it, it was well worthwhile”.
The Neglected Sun: In my speech I referred to Fritz Vahrenholt, and his book “The Neglected Sun”, originally published in German as Die Kalte Sonne. I was delighted to find that it has been re-published by Heartland, and that there was a copy in the Conference Welcome Pack.
Vahrenholt’s book is intended for the informed general reader, but it is grounded in solid scientific research, citing literally hundreds of peer-reviewed papers. It marshals the evidence to show that recent changes in climate are entirely within the normal range of the last 10,000 years, and that today is probably cooler than previous warm periods — the Mediæval, the Roman, the Minoan, and the earlier Holocene maxima. It demonstrates the very close correlation between solar activity and terrestrial climate. It points out that the IPCC extrapolates from the strong warming of 1970/1998, whereas it would be more realistic to use the average trend line from the whole 20th century, in which there were three periods of stronger warming separated by periods of stability or decline.
He describes how a range of well-established cyclical effects, most notably the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, affect temperature (the PDO switched to its cool mode around 2000, which probably explains “the pause” from 2000 which has caused Warmists such embarrassment).
He also discusses the very well-established correlation between solar activity and climate, and points out that the Sun appears to be entering a quiet phase which is likely to presage cooling for several decades.
Taking these effects into account, we can see how natural cycles have largely driven recent warming. It is not just that there is no need to postulate a warming effect from CO2 — there is almost no room to postulate such an effect, since natural cycles can account for most if not all of the observed warming.
Vahrenholt does not argue that CO2 has no effect at all. He simply argues that the CO2 effect must be small — much smaller than the IPCC suggests — or taken with natural cycles it would have created more warming than we observe. This helps to explain why the IPCC’s famous computer models always produce results way higher than what we eventually observe.
How could the IPCC get it so wrong? It’s worth remembering two things. First, the IPCC was not tasked with establishing the causes of global warming. It was tasked with studying the human impact on the climate. No surprise, therefore, that it studiously minimises or ignores natural factors. Secondly, (as my old friend Dan Hannan likes to say) “It is very difficult to persuade a man that he is wrong, especially when his income depends upon his being right”.
Off on a jolly? I tweeted some comments from and about the Conference, and of course had the usual trolls spitting blood. “Does your MEP job require you to go to Washington?”. “UKIP MEP off on a jolly at the EU’s expense, even though they’re opposed to it”. And so on. Funny how it’s always “a jolly”. I’m not sure that a programme that consists of a 7:30 plenary breakfast (with speeches), two morning sessions, plenary lunch, two afternoon sessions, and a plenary dinner is necessarily everyone’s idea of “a jolly”, but you can make up your own mind. But the fact is that politicians get invited to make keynote speeches at conferences. Twitter trolls will just have to get used to it. And the Heartland Conference is an amazing learning (and motivational) experience.
Some, slightly more polite, referred to my “holiday in the USA”. In the course of a 52-year career, I have been to the States dozens of times, always on business. For example in another life I attended the Consumer Electronics show in Chicago and Las Vegas quite a number of times. I always regarded that as work, not “holiday” — and so did my employers, who footed the bill. I can’t quite see why attending political conferences and fulfilling speaking engagements is any less “work”.
In fact I’m sorry to say I have never taken a holiday in the USA — an omission I hope to remedy in retirement.
A visit to the US EPA
On the Friday afternoon of March 24th I was privileged to go to the US Environmental Protection Agency where I met Principal Deputy Administrator Jane Nishida and her team (the new head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, was out of town). We discussed climate policy in the EU, and in the USA, especially in the context of the new Presidency. Trump has proposed radical cuts in EPA funding. He wants to bring it back to its core task of fighting pollution, and to rein it (and indeed other government agencies like NASA and the NOAA) back from its crusade against CO2 and fossil fuels.
It is early days, and while the President has made good his promise to approve the Keystone pipeline, we still await news on the endangerment finding and the promised withdrawal from the Paris Climate Treaty. We live in hope.
Inspiration and paraphrase…
…or as we might say: Serendipity rules OK! Just sometimes, when preparing a speech, the brain suddenly hits on a famous phrase that just lends itself to a little adaptation. I remember when I was working on my first conference speech as a candidate, back in 1998, a phrase from the Merchant of Venice came at me out of the blue. I was at a party function — a garden tea-party — and I still remember the moment. I was looking at a guy rope on the marquee when the idea came. Utterly irrelevant, but that is the image seared on the brain.
Shylock says “We will walk with you, talk with you, buy with you, sell with you. But we will not eat with you, nor drink with you, nor pray with you”. This came out at Conference as “I have a message for our friends in Europe. We will walk with you, talk with you, buy with you, sell with you, but we will be damned if we will be governed by you!” It earned me a standing ovation.
A similar thought came up for the Heartland speech. I was talking about the massive $110 billion that the Germans have invested in green energy and solar panels. According to Bjørn Lomborg (The Skeptical Environmentalist) the effect of that vast sum, calculated using the IPCC’s own assumptions, will be to delay the trajectory of global warming, by the end of this century, by a mere 37 hours — effectively zero. The line I came up with: “Never in the history of human folly was so much money squandered, by so many, for such little effect”. No prizes for spotting the reference.
A farewell to Douglas
While I was in Washington, I heard the news that Douglas Carswell had decided to leave the Party. His decision attracted some adverse comment from party members, including the suggestion that he fell before he was pushed. The NEC meeting of March 27th might well have considered his position.
I think that Douglas was a principled man and a serious thinker. He came to UKIP because he felt that was the best way he could help to achieve Brexit (as indeed I did a few years earlier).
But my impression is that he was never entirely comfortable in the Party, and he certainly took a different view in a number of key issues, notably on immigration. He also ended up in a number of personal spats with other senior people in the party. He now feels that his objective in joining UKIP, Brexit, has been achieved (let’s hope he’s proved right on that) so he has decided to leave, and continue to sit, for now, as an Independent MP.
I think he was probably right to go, but frankly I see no percentage in maintaining verbal hostilities on social media. Let’s just wish him well, and hope he continues to argue the case for Brexit (as I am sure he will) from his new vantage point.
Pragmatism Rules OK!
Geoffrey van Orden was elected as a Conservative MEP in 1999 (as I was). Initially he was seen as a committed Eurosceptic, but over the years he seemed to become more sympathetic to the project. I don’t say he has sacrificed principle in pursuit of the glittering prizes, as some of his colleagues have, but he has become (let’s say) more comfortable with the system. He has been a great advocate of EU expansion and Turkish accession.
Nonetheless I was rather shocked when he decided to campaign for Remain in last year’s referendum.
On March 15th, he and I attended a working dinner in Strasbourg given to welcome the new Korean Ambassador to the EU, H.E. Kim Hyoung-Zhin. Each of the MEPs there was invited to say a few words to introduce him/herself. In his remarks, Geoffrey van Orden said that he had voted Remain “not out of any great love for the European institutions, but for purely pragmatic reasons”.
That gave me my cue. When my turn came, I said inter alia that I had campaigned for Leave “Not out of any animosity to the European institutions, but for purely pragmatic reasons”. The audience noted the parallel, and got the point.
Somewhat belatedly, I seem to have discovered a new art form — or rather what is (for me) a novel fusion of two art forms. It’s in fact been around for decades — it’s just taken me until 2017 to discover it.
Regular readers of this column will know that I love classical music, ballet and opera. I have quite a collection of ballet & opera DVDs and BluRays. But the novelty is this. I’ve recently discovered that film producer Franco Zeffirelli, who has also produced operas, has done films (available on DVD) of opera as movie. Most opera films (and most ballet films — Rudolph Nureyev’s great Don Quixote ballet is an exception) are simply stage productions filmed. But these Zeffirelli films have all the qualities of a cinema movie, including real locations and so on.
The first one I got was a double bill of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana presented (as it so often is) along with Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, both examples of a style called “Opera Verismo”, a post-romantic late 19th century style apparently characterised by dealing with the lives of ordinary people rather than heroes, legends and kings.
Sadly Cavalleria Rusticana is mainly remembered now only for the stunning Intermezzo — which is a shame, as the whole piece is a delight. Zeffirelli brings his big-screen magic to the piece, while staying true to the score — no “re-imagining”, no interpolated dialogue.
If Cav/Pag (as they are known in opera circles) are magnificent, then what shall we say of Zeffirelli’s Traviata, which is quite wonderful, as is his Otello. If you thought you didn’t like opera, give Zeffirell a chance. You might be surprised. And if you love opera, you’ll certainly love these versions. An odd feature: all the operas I’ve mentioned feature Placido Domingo in the leading male rôle. And all the better for it.
Also have a look at the UKIP MEP web-site www.ukipmeps.org.