Oh dear! Stuart Rose gets his figures wrong again

At 0816 today, Lord Stuart Rose claimed 50% of UK exports go to Europe, and implied that our exports to the Non-EU BRIC countries don’t really matter.  Stuart, the UK hasn’t relied on the EU for half our exports since 1992!  Exports to the EU are only 43% and still falling.  The rest of world now takes 57% of our exports – and we have a £27 billion surplus with the BRIC and non-EU countries. By contrast, we have a £62 billion DEFICIT with the EU.

Unilever joins Toyota “UK jobs won’t suffer from Brexit”

Unilever says its 7,500 UK jobs will not suffer in case of Brexit – Unilever, the consumer goods group behind Persil and Magnum ice-creams, has said it will not scale back its UK operations if Britain votes to leave the EU. The comments from Paul Polman, the chief executive of the Anglo-Dutch business, echo those of Akio Toyoda, his counterpart at Toyota, who said the Japanese carmaker would continue to produce cars in Derbyshire even if Britain left.

Rocco Forte backs Brexit

Rocco Forte of Forte Hotels says today he believes an EU exit would increase, rather than diminish, Britain’s world role. “If we could opt out of the EU’s social policy and be sure we could keep control of our tax system into the future, I could change my mind – but all in all, I believe we’d be better off with just a trading relationship,” he is due to say. “If we went it alone it would increase our reputation and clout in the world, not reduce it. The president of China came here because we’re Britain, not because we’re part of the EU.”

More scaremongering

Today the Head of the pro-EU ‘Britain IN’ campaign, Lord Stuart Rose says EU business is worth £133bn to 200,000 ‘British’ exporters would be at risk.  But for every £3 of trade UK firms do in the EU, foreign EU companies sell £5’s worth to the UK.  That means if the EU discriminates against an independent UK, approximately 333,000 EU exporters would lose £220bn worth of business in the UK. No wonder Lord Rose refused to take any questions from journalists at the media launch of the pro-EU ‘IN’ campaign on 12 October 2015.

GMB slams EU failure to stop fuel dumping

EU politicians are still failing to act to stop to stop the dumping of Chinese steel from a country that is not a market economy. This failure to act in the face of the jobs carnage is intolerable. This why GMB is joining a protest in Brussels outside the next EU talking shop to demand action not endless meetings – Micheal Blench, GMB regional officer.

SNP has fewer renegotiation demands than David Cameron

On BBC Radio Scotland at 0810 the SNP spokesperson had no response to LEAVE campaigner Nigel Griffiths asking why the SNP are making fewer ‘renegotiation’ demands than David Cameron, and don’t mention the EU’s betrayal of steel workers and Scottish manufacturing or of Scottish fishing and agriculture, or that a SNP manifesto committed them to joining the EURO?



SNP veteran Jim Sillars backs exit from the EU, following talks with Labour Leave Scottish organiser Dr Nigel Griffiths. A great boost for the brexit camp. The SNP have failed to make any demands of David CAmeron or Brussels to get a better deal for our manufacturing and steel workers of our farming and fishing communities.

EU stops us re-nationalising the Railways

As we approach the end of Labour’s leadership contest one of the most interesting things about the last few weeks has been the resurgence of policy ideas that many had thought Labour had confined to the rubbish bin.

Take the nationalisation of the railways. When Ed Miliband was the leader of our party, efforts to put immediate renationalisation in the manifesto were thwarted. One year on, and both Andy Burnham and Jeremy Corbyn have promised to renationalise Britain’s railway network. The debate has certainly shifted left, but could either Andy or Jeremy deliver on such a promise? I’m not so sure, as neither candidate have said how they would address the big obstacle that their promise faces: the European Union.

Undoubtedly EU law will be a huge obstacle to any renationalisation scheme – especially one that aims to do away with competition and markets. The EU is clear that its objective is “Opening up national freight and passenger markets to cross-border competition”. Its directives and regulations have created what can only be described as a legal quagmire.

The main EU law in this area was the First Railway Directive (which was replaced and upgraded in 2012 with a new version). This was the original law that gave the Tories the excuse they needed to introduce their privatisation agenda in the nineties. That law enshrined the role of the private sector by making it a legal requirement for independent companies to be able to apply for non-discriminatory track access on a member state’s track, calling for:

“separating [of] the management of railway operation and infrastructure from the provision of railway transport services, separation of accounts being compulsory and organizational or institutional separation being optional.”

The 2012 Directive has kept that principle and goes even further, and says that one of its aims is “to boost competition in railway service management”. It also stipulates that: “Greater integration of the Union transport sector is an essential element of the completion of the internal market… The efficiency of the railway system should be improved, in order to integrate it into a competitive market”.

In short, this means that multiple train operating companies must be allowed to use the same track competitively. In Germany it has resulted in the state-owned Deutsche Bahn facing more and more competition from other firms.

Provisions like this mean that, under Prime Minister Burnham or Prime Minister Corbyn, there would be huge legal obstacles in the way of renationalising the railways. How will any effort to block private operators be compatible with EU competition law, for example?

Some claim that “European rules do not dictate that railways must be fully privatised” – note the interesting use of the word “fully”. It’s true that UK law has gone further than the EU law currently requires, but it is also true that the EU would prevent a nationalisation agenda from going as far as many would like.

This is a problem that is only going to get worse with time. The EU is likely to pass even more laws in this area. Since 1991 the EU has introduced three railway packages, which have imposed numerous legal requirements on the member states. A fourth package is on its way – which will further open up domestic passenger services to competition. All of these laws limit a UK Government’s freedom of action and will bind the hands of a future Labour Government.

It would be hyperbole to say that all efforts to renationalise the railways would be blocked by the EU, but it would be equally naïve to dismiss the problem. The facts are simple: the EU creates real legal problems for any nationalisation agenda and will bind the hands of a future Labour Government that attempts to deliver on such a manifesto policy. Honest politics demands detail: before they can give renationalisation a green light, we need to know exactly how the candidates plan to get the EU-shaped elephant off the tracks.

This article was first published by the New Statesman on 26 August 2015.

Labour’s lost voters will return if we leave the EU

In 1975, when the last EU referendum was held, about 80% of Conservative voters were in favour of the UK staying in what was then the Common Market, while the Labour Party split roughly 50:50 for staying in and coming out. Now the situation is largely reversed. It is the Labour Party which is far more Europhile than the Conservatives, a factor clearly reflected in the attitude of all the current Labour leadership candidates. Jeremy Corbyn has wobbled towards a degree of Euroscepticism but all of them now advocate a “yes” vote in the forthcoming referendum, apparently irrespective of what comes out of the current round of negotiations. Does this make sense either for the Labour Party or the country – or even for those who passionately want us to stay in?

Clearly, which way the referendum goes is going to make a huge difference to our future, yet the Labour Party seems to have developed no policy stance on the forthcoming referendum other than to decide not to vote against it being held. The Party says it is in favour of a “reformed EU” but has put forward practically no suggestions about what needs to be changed. This is surely irrational as well as bad politics, not least because, if you scratch below the surface, there are plenty of changes which most left of centre people would like to see accomplished.

Who among them is in favour of the huge net payment across the exchanges which has to be made by the UK to the EU every year – a total of £11.4bn in 2014 and set to rise substantially in future? Who really thinks it is a good idea to turn away Indian programmers and Chinese students from coming to the UK, but to let in 40,000 or more people a year from Rumania and Bulgaria to compete with the less advantaged of our indigenous labour force? How may Labour members are in favour of the Common Agricultural or the Common Fisheries Policies? How many are happy with the way he EU is run, especially the way the Greeks have been treated by the Germans? How many are satisfied that if we are the only major EU Member State outside the Single Currency that our interests are going to be fully protected? The fact is that there is a large left of centre agenda for change but the Labour Party is not putting it forward.

This can’t be doing the Party’s relationship with many of its lost voters any good, particularly those who decamped to UKIP. There is a large majority of the electorate which would like to stay in the EU on the back of major reforms but a much tighter outcome looms if there is little or no change. The unqualified enthusiasm for our EU membership exhibited by many Labour MPs and Party members is simply not reflected among most of the electorate. Nor are voters likely to be impressed by Labour making no effort to remedy what many people thinks are deficiencies in our EU terms of membership.

Potential Labour supporters are likely to be even less happy about Labour’s current stance when they perceive that it weakens the government’s ability to get changes made, as surely will be the case. The more it appears to the powers that be in Brussels that the outcome of the referendum is going to be a “yes” vote irrespective of any concessions they make, the less likely it is that any of them will be inclined to go ahead with the difficult negotiations required to change the UK’s relationship with the other Member States. The more tempting, too, it will be for the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask for the minimum that seems likely to be required to enable them to claim enough of a victory to persuade the UK electorate not to vote “no”. By not making any effort to stiffen and support where appropriate the government’s negotiating stance, Labour makes it more likely that we will be left substantially with the status quo.

And this is where the major miscalculation may be being made by those who advocate staying in before they even know what the revised terms of membership might be. These are febrile times and there is a very real danger to those who want to keep the UK in the EU at any cost that renegotiation which turns out to be a sham could very easily generate an anti-Westminster, anti-authority backlash which will produce exactly the opposite from the result they want. Support for our EU membership is not that strong in the UK and it would not take that much to overturn the relatively small margin of support there is currently for our continuing membership.

This is why even those in the Labour Party most committed to the UK staying in the EU when the forthcoming referendum takes place need to realise that Labour badly needs a reform agenda. Of course, this will not be exactly the same as the one favoured by Conservatives. Much of Labour’s support for the EU derives from the Social Chapter and Labour is not going to support watering down employment protection and many of the social advances for which our EU membership has been largely responsible. But there is a lot of common ground where Labour could support the government’s stance.

If Labour largely advocates our continuing EU membership irrespective of any changes that might be made, with nothing reflecting the widely held concerns about some aspects of our relationship with other Member States, the result is more likely – not less likely – to be a “no” vote when the time comes. It is high time that Labour’s uncritical Europhiles realise that this is what is at stake.

This article was first published by CapX on 27 August 2015.

Listen to voters hostile to the EU

Most people in the Labour Party may want to stay in the EU, but few think there is no scope to improve the way the EU operates or our terms of membership. Why, then, does Labour appear to have no policy towards the renegotiation that is taking place?

What would Labour like to change – given the opportunity to do so? Actually, there is quite a long agenda. Are we happy with net annual payments to the EU now running at about £15bn a year? Is it sensible to turn away Indian programmers and Chinese students while we acquiesce in having over 40,000 extra Bulgarians and Romanians moving to the UK each year? Are we happy with the way the EU is run? Are there adequate safeguards to protect our position if the Eurozone countries all move towards monetary, fiscal and political union while we stay outside the Single Currency?

There is also an important electoral dimension. Some Labour Party people appear to think that it’s not worth trying to change our terms of membership, but this is not a view shared by the vast majority of the electorate. It is not held, for example, by the millions of voters who have decamped to UKIP, whom Labour badly needs to get back.

Those most keen on our staying in the EU might also ponder whether campaigning to stay in on whatever terms is most likely to achieve the ‘Yes’ result they want. The less David Cameron and George Osborne bring back from their current round of negotiations, the more probable it is that there will be an anti-establishment revolt when the referendum comes, resulting in a ‘No’ vote.

Further, the less pressure there is for change from the Labour Party, the more likely it is that Brussels will offer minimum concessions. Why should EU politicians go through all the hassle of agreeing to revise the UK’s terms of membership if the perception is that we are going to stay in whatever happens?

None of this is an argument against voting to stay in when the vote takes place. Instead, it is an argument for Labour – and the new leader, whoever that may be – to campaign vigorously for changes that most people, inside and outside the Party, would like to see made. In my view, this is what is best for the country and the Labour Party.

We may not get everything we want, but those who don’t ask, don’t get – and mishandling the whole renegotiation process, to which Labour seems to be in danger of contributing, could lead to us leaving the EU altogether, and that’s the last thing that most Labour members and MPs say they want.

This article was first published on the Spectator Coffee House blog on 28 August 2015.