STRAIGHT TALKING May 2017
Roger Helmer’s electronic newsletter from Strasbourg
Please feel free to distribute this newsletter, or to quote from it. It is primarily written for euro-realists in the East Midlands, but may also be of interest to others concerned about the climate debate, or developments in the EU. If you receive the newsletter second-hand and want to go onto the e-mail list (or if you want to be deleted), please e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org
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Those local election results
Let’s be honest. On the face of it, we in UKIP don’t have a lot to celebrate after a more-or-less wipe-out on May 4th. But let me first of all thank all our candidates and activists who fought the good fight even as the tide turned against them. And let’s also take pride at what we’ve achieved. As I Tweeted the next day, “Without UKIP, we wouldn’t have had a referendum; we wouldn’t have won the referendum; and the Tory Party would never have backed Brexit”. The Tweet seems to have touched a nerve: last time I checked, it had achieved 110,000 impressions on 791 re-Tweets.
In fact, apart from the Conservatives, no political party covered itself in glory in these elections. And why did the Tories do so well? Because they had taken over a huge raft of UKIP policies. The EU and Brexit. Immigration. Even grammar schools and (to an extent) a reduction of green subsidies.
The future of UKIP (and I was pleased to hear Nigel express this point of view after I had expressed it on BBC Look North Leeds — about 44 minutes in) depends very much on how the government handles Brexit. If Theresa May, on the back of the new majority she will probably get in June, actually delivers a quick, clean Brexit, then we’ll have a struggle on our hands.
But will she do that? She’s already back-tracking in the ECHR – so we’ll be unable to deport foreign terrorists and rapists. She’s appointing remainers as candidates in winnable seats for the General Election in June. She’s talking in terms of a “transition period”, which suggests a very soft Brexit indeed. And we know what weight to give to her promises on immigration, after her time as Home Secretary. Watch this space.
Commission’s lawyers: “The Brexit bill is unenforceable”
It is reported that the European Commission’s own lawyers advised them some time ago that the demands for a Brexit Bill of €50bn (or €60bn or €100bn) is simply unenforceable. Of course a House of Lords Committee had also reached the same conclusion. But it’s a turn-up for the book when the Commission’s own lawyers take the same view. It utterly undermines the Juncker/Barnier/Tusk negotiating position.
There’s more. The reports say that if the EU does what it wants to do – which is to identify obligations on Britain while ignoring obligations on the EU (such as the return of our share of EU assets), then this would justify the UK in simply walking away, on the grounds that the EU was not abiding by its own rules. This suggests two things. First, Brussels takes seriously the possibility of our walking away. And second, they’re scared witless that we might. If we do, there’ll be a huge black hole in their accounts. And they’ll have ruined relations with their largest export customer. Theresa May has an extraordinarily strong hand, if only she has the guts to use it.
One more Tweet from the last few days: “Memo to Juncker & Barnier: Understand that the UK has chosen to be an independent country. We will not be treated as a renegade province”. It got less mileage than the first Tweet I mentioned, but it’s still at over 19,000 impressions.
May goes to war with Brussels
“May goes to war with Brussels” screams the Guardian on May 4th – following the Prime Minister’s robust speech the previous day. But it would be fairer to say that Brussels has gone to war with Theresa May – and with the UK as a whole. It was clearly Juncker (or those close to him) who initiated the damaging leaks about the Downing Street dinner. And again the objective was clear. Brussels has repeatedly insisted that the size of May’s parliamentary majority is not a factor in the negotiations, yet their actions tell a different story. They are rattled. And they clearly believe that by undermining May in the current General Election Campaign, they will weaken her – and so weaken Britain in the forthcoming negotiations.
We in the West were alarmed when the story spread that the Russians had interfered in the US Presidential election. We seemed much less alarmed when President Obama openly interfered in the British Brexit referendum – though some saw it as a massive breach of diplomatic protocol. But Brussels, abandoning its own principles, is interfering in the democratic processes of member states on an industrial scale.
They have contrived to remove elected Prime Ministers in Italy and Greece, replacing them with safe Brussels placemen. They have quite openly engaged in the French Presidential election, backing their man Macron and vilifying Le Pen (note to the BBC: you call Le Pen “far right”, but her brand of dirigisme, protectionism and corporatism looks to me more like far-left). And now they are trying to undermine a popular Prime Minister at a critical time in the UK. They seem to understand nothing about the British temperament. Their actions are counterproductive, and will simply strengthen May’s campaign.
Signs of panic
The tactic is to make extravagant demands, to create the impression that Brussels has the whip hand. Nothing could be further from the truth. In a rare moment of candour Michel Barnier admitted that the EU could face “explosive” problems without the vast sums demanded of Britain.
In fact I see a split emerging between the bureaucrats, Juncker/Barnier/Verhofstadt, who are terrified of losing Britain’s contributions and are stridently demanding we keep paying, and on the other hand national/regional politicians and industrialists fearful of the potential damage to trade and jobs unless a free trade deal is reached fast. Angela Merkel is talking tough ahead of the German elections. We can expect a new attitude afterwards.
We must be prepared to walk away
Cameron’s so-called “renegotiation” failed because Brussels knew he had no fall-back position (they thought they’d handled the issue very successfully until they saw the referendum result). A good Brexit deal for the UK depends fundamentally on having a genuine and credible fall-back position. Fortunately we have one. It’s called WTO terms. Less good than a free trade deal, perhaps, but still perfectly workable, as a new study from Civitas confirms. Entitled “It’s quite OK to walk away“, its detailed analysis shows that the vaunted benefits of the “Single Market” are less than we’d hoped, while the opportunities under WTO terms are considerable.
Of course the obvious fall-back position is the WTO option, which has received a bad press. It’s widely described as “crashing out” or “a cliff-edge”. It’s no such thing. As Roger Bootle writes in the Telegraph, it’s the basis on which we trade with the USA and many other countries. Maybe we should stop referring to “the WTO option”, and speak instead of “the American option”. Much less scary.
Theresa May should let it be known that her government is actively planning for the American option. That will give Juncker and Barnier food for thought. And a few sleepless nights.
Brussels doesn’t understand “Independence”
The guiding principles agreed by the EU 27 with regard to the Brexit negotiations include the extraordinary proposition that the rights of EU citizens in the post-Brexit UK should be adjudicated by the ECJ, whose writ would then, at least in that respect, cover EU citizens in Britain. They seem oblivious to the fact that a key factor in the UK’s Brexit debate was independence — the right to make our own laws for our own country.
Think about it for a moment. Imagine a US citizen who was disputing his right to work or reside in an EU member-state. If the member-state courts ruled against him, could he then appeal to the US Supreme Court to decide on his behalf? And would Brussels and the ECJ accept the US Supreme Court ruling? Of course not.
Similarly the case of an EU citizen in the USA. If his residence status or Green Card were in dispute in the USA, could he appeal over the heads of American courts and ask the ECJ to rule on his behalf? And if it did, would the US of A accept the ECJ ruling? Again, of course not. Clearly the EU Commission accepts that the USA is a sovereign, independent country, but does not accept that a post-Brexit UK will be independent and sovereign.
Accordingly I Tweeted: Question for Brussels: Are US citizens in the EU subject to US law, or EU law? Why should EU citizens in post-Brexit UK be under the ECJ?
Now of course you can’t get all the nuances into 140 Twitter characters, so internet critics (that term “trolls” is so over-used, don’t you think?) can have a field day with (often deliberate) misunderstandings. We immediately had Professor Michael Merrifield (who should, and probably does, know better) come up with: “Yes, quite a large section of US law applies extraterritorially. Funny when your ignorance makes the opposite point”.
Not to be outdone, Nathan Dennis comes up with a similar complaint: “US law has no territorial boundaries and US citizens are bound by it globally. Your ignorance is frightening, is this a parody account?”
It is true that some US law applies extraterritorially, but it then applies to US citizens in addition to the laws of the country in which they happen to be at the time. An American cannot exclude himself from (say) French law by appealing over the heads of French and European courts to the US Supreme Court. Yet that is exactly what the Commission and the EU 27 want to be the case for EU citizens in dispute with post-Brexit Britain.
Of course the good Professor knows all this perfectly well, and probably Mr. Dennis does too. But they couldn’t resist the temptation for childish name-calling and playground insults.
Prime Minister May — or may not
Someone passed me a quote on the Prime Minister. “She says she keeps her promises, but she broke a long-standing promise in order to hold an election she said she didn’t need, to secure a mandate she said she already had, to pursue a policy she had long opposed”.
She is also repeating her pledge to get immigration down to the tens of thousands. Yet as Home Secretary she utterly failed to meet that commitment. Indeed she can’t even blame the EU — she didn’t even get non-EU immigration down to the tens of thousands!
The very day before we heard that the pledge would again feature in the Tory manifesto, we had the current Home Secretary Amber Rudd being very equivocal about the “tens of thousands” figure. And we’ve had senior Tories saying that even if the pledge could not be delivered, it was good to repeat it as “a mark of aspiration”. In other words, it’s OK to make a pledge you can’t keep to, merely in order to show what you’d like to do if you could. We used to call that “a lie”.
The Blaby Brexiteer
I have decided to contest my own home constituency of South Leicestershire, formerly Blaby, for UKIP.
I had not previously planned to stand on June 8th, we had no UKIP candidate in Blaby, and that no credible Brexit candidate would be on the ballot paper — unless I stood. By standing, I give South Leicestershire voters the opportunity to vote for a committed Brexiteer. Last year, Blaby backed Brexit by nearly 60/40, on a turnout of 76%.
The present incumbent Alberto Costa is a Conservative in this strongly Conservative constituency. But he is also a committedRemainer. Since the referendum last year he reportedly led “a Tory rebellion” against the Prime Minister with the objective of undermining her Brexit negotiating position, especially with regard to the status of EU citizens in the post-Brexit UK.
From 1974 to 1992, Blaby was ably represented by Nigel (now Lord) Lawson, who became a distinguished Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lord Lawson has campaigned effectively against the two great follies of our times: the European Union and climate alarmism. These are the two vital issues that have defined and motivated my political career over eighteen years in the European parliament. Lord Lawson accepted my invitation to speak at the first Climate Conference I organised in Brussels in 2007.
I will be proud to take up Lord Lawson’s issues in this campaign.
Also have a look at the UKIP MEP web-site www.ukipmeps.org.