The Prime Minister’s rhetoric in the Brexit Debate has reached such a pitch of paranoia that it seems almost self-parody. His latest suggestion that Brexit could spark World War Three would have been irresponsible had it been serious.
An immediate opinion poll of 2700 respondents by YouGov showed that only 5% agreed that it was a serious warning. 18% thought there was a danger but not a large one. 25% thought it unlikely. And a massive 49% — almost half – thought it was “a ridiculous piece of scaremongering”. That shows the common sense of the British voter. Cameron’s over-the-top rhetoric will simply further undermine his credibility.
What will be our trade terms after Brexit?
The Lisbon Treaty Article 50 provides for a two-year period during which a member-state leaving the EU can negotiate trade terms. Existing trade terms would remain in place during the two-year period – so there is no risk of “falling off a cliff” the day after a Brexit vote. The Treaty also places an obligation on the EU to negotiate favourable trade terms with neighbouring countries. But since the negotiations cannot start until after the Brexit vote, it is clear that we cannot say precisely in advance what those terms will be. However we can lay down some clear parameters.
What is the worst case? The worst case is actually not bad at all – it is to continue to trade with the EU on arm’s length terms under WTO Rules. There can be no question of the EU applying punitive measures – WTO rules would prevent this. The three largest suppliers of imports into the EU (USA, Russia, China) all operate rather successfully on this basis. We should have to meet EU regulations and product specs on those goods we supply to the EU (as we have to meet local rules in all export markets) but the UK as a whole would be free from the stifling universal application of EU law.
Could we complete the negotiations in two years? There is scope for an extension by mutual agreement. A recent report by a House of Lords Committee suggested that negotiations could last “up to nine years”. But this was based on Free Trade negotiations with other countries taking “between four and nine years”. From these figures we can subtract the two years of the Lisbon negotiating period.
We can also take account of the fact that after 43 years in the EU (or its predecessors) our economy is already closely aligned in many ways with EU practices, which would greatly facilitate the negotiations.
But the key point is that the UK is a massive importer (and net importer) of EU goods. We will in fact be the EU’s largest export customer. Bar none. This is undesirable from a balance-of-payments point of view, but it gives us enormous negotiating clout. We may need a trade deal with Brussels, but the EU needs one with us even more. It will be a matter of urgency for continental industries. For example, the UK is a major market for European cars. If the European Commission seems to be prevaricating in reaching a trade deal with the UK post-Brexit, the Chief Executives of Mercedes, Audi and BMW will be kicking their door down and demanding prompt action.
The current DG of the CBI Carolyn Fairbairn has said “it’s cloud-cuckoo-land to believe the UK can walk into a free trade deal with the EU”. But one of her predecessors Digby Jones has said that post-Brexit we’ll have an EU trade deal in 24 hours. That may be pushing it, but we in UKIP believe that Digby Jones was closer to the truth.
I was in a small shop in Lutterworth last week when I was approached by a couple asking where they could get a T-Shirt like mine. It was a Leave.EU T-shirt, with the slogan “I’m turning my back on the EU” (on the back!). They were clearly enthused, and assured me that all their neighbours were supporting Brexit. A small sample, but encouraging.
A German comedian (yes, they do have them) Jan Bőhmermann is faced with prosecution, and up to three years in jail, because he composed a deeply offensive poem about Turkey’s President Erdogan. Under Article 103 of the German Criminal Code headed “Defamation of organs and representatives of foreign states”, it says “Whoever insults a foreign head of state…shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine”.
This got me thinking. If Donald Trump gets to be President of the USA, and if David Cameron goes to Germany, can he be prosecuted there for insulting a foreign head of state? I think the adjective “stupid” qualifies as an insult?
Energy makes the case for Brexit
Of course all our effort now is focussed on the EU Referendum, and to an extent we must put aside other issues that don’t directly help the cause. My pet subject is energy, and I have tried not to allow it to distract from the Brexit Campaign.
Yet energy is a key argument for Brexit. Current energy policies, dictated by Brussels, are closing down proven, reliable and cost-effective coal capacity, and replacing it with expensive, unreliable and intermittent renewables, which impose massive hidden costs and inefficiencies on the system. Leaving the EU is a necessary condition for creating a rational energy policy, but it is not a sufficient condition. We should recall that all but five of our Westminster MPs voted for the absurd and massively costly Climate Change Act in 2008. So we also need a change of heart in the House of Commons. Perhaps we’ll have to wait until the lights go out before our MPs get the message.
Current EU/UK energy policy has driven up energy costs. It’s caused plant closures and job losses in many industries – not just in steel at Port Talbot. It’s forcing major industries to move offshore to more favourable – and more rational – jurisdictions, taking their jobs and investment with them. The Remain Camp has no answers to these questions. I propose to tackle Energy Secretary Amber Rudd on these issues when I debate with her in Hastings later this month.
But current policies are also threatening the most almighty energy shortage in the UK. The Institute of Mechanical Engineers (not normally given to scaremongering) warns of a huge shortfall in electricity supplies as we are forced to close coal-fired power stations by the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive, and to close ageing nuclear plants. .
A story last week illustrates this point perfectly. The supermarket chain Sainsbury’s is actually building its own power stations so that it can guarantee electricity supply during black-outs. They can already power ten supermarkets themselves, with further capacity to follow. Their senior executive Paul Crewe says “he has sleepless nights” because of his fears about energy security. It’s not just the lights going off – it’s the freezers too.
It’s one thing for politicians to pontificate and debate over issues like energy security. But it emphasises the urgency of the issue when hard-headed businessmen are prepared to make major investments to protect themselves against the inevitable power-outs.
Another recent story concerns Professor Sir David MacKay. He had a hugely distinguished academic career, and from 2009 to 2014 was Chief Scientific Advisor to DECC. In 2008 he self-published a book entitled “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air” The book was well-received, and the first 5000 print run rapidly sold out. While presenting his views in a balanced and neutral way, he left readers in little doubt of his reservations about renewables.
Tragically Sir David died recently, at the early age of 48, of inoperable stomach cancer. But before he died, he gave a final interview to science writer Mark Lynas, in which he was more direct regarding renewables than he had previously been, stating in plain terms that wind and solar power are a waste of money. He favoured low-carbon energy, but urged nuclear and carbon capture. He put the case very simply: if we have enough low-carbon capacity to get by when renewables aren’t delivering, then we simply don’t need renewables at all.
The truth is, we have never “invested” in renewables. We have simply wasted money on grand gesture politics. This is misallocation of resources on a remarkable scale. And the money comes out of your pocket.
Roger Helmer’s electronic newsletter from Strasbourg
The Daily Debrief is now getting thousands of views a day. More people have visited my blog this year than in the whole of last year. Most from UK, but also from USA, Europe, Canada, Australia Singapore and even Bangladesh. Since I am now covering the referendum news on a daily basis, this will be a jury-rigged newsletter.