The Parties on Europe

Given that it came up today in the election, its worth reflecting on the policies of the major parties when it comes to Europe, particularly given that Cameron seems to have given a firm pledge that implied he’s risk a hung parliament than go into power again with the lib dems, if they refuse to hold a referendum.

Certainly, if you’re not particularly bothered by Europe and the EU, or indeed your pro-EU, all I can do is suggest you vote for one of the smaller parties such as the Greens, SNP, Welsh Nationalists or Lib Dems (although this lot have “form” as it were to breaking core election promises, so maybe not such a good idea!). Keep in mind that if you vote for any of the other parties, in particular the Tories or UKIP, then I hope you like the EU cos you’ll be sick of hearing about it come the next election in 2020, as both these parties in government will be dominated by this issue!

The Tories
Cameron claims that he’s pro-EU but wants to renegotiate Britain’s membership. His plan therefore is to complete any renegotiation between now and 2017, then have a referendum. However the major flaw in his plan is that its basically bollix and completely unworkable.

While Junker has recently suggested that there might be some wriggle room, many of the things Cameron wishes to “renegotiate” have nothing to do with the EU, thus they can’t offer any concessions, even if they wanted too. Membership of the European Court and the European convention on Human rights are conditions of membership for the Council of Europe, not the EU. All the EU can do here is bring along a copy of the Council of Europe charter, with a bookmark on the relevant page and suggest that Cameron go away and read it.

And incidentally the whole point of having a human right act independent of parliament is to stop Parliaments meddling in such an act, such as quietly deleting the bit that protects against, say, cruel and unusual punishment, etc.

As for migration targets or clamping down on “benefits tourism” (which is a myth anyway) there’s not a lot the EU can do for him here either. As I discussed before, the idea that Cameron can set “targets” for migration and annual quota’s pretty much means turning the country into North Korea and stopping people entering and leaving…..including brits, who made up 83,000 of the net migration figures last year…Cameron wants to bring it down to “tens of thousands”. Free movement and travel is a condition of various treaties the UK has signed not just with the EU but other countries, such as the US and Canada. So its difficult for the EU to offer anything more than a few cosmetic changes.

Migrants make up a relatively small part of the UK population, but statistically they are far more likely to be working, paying taxes and less likely to be claiming benefits and their tax contribution exceeds any benefits they claim. So if the UK suddenly turns around and says they can’t use UK public services then that means that either:

A – Then surely they’re entitled to a tax cut? Why should they pay for public services they can’t use? Keep in mind that this is one of the Tory excuses for giving non-doms a tax break, so its either a case of treating Polish builders the same way (making it impossible for any British builder to compete against someone able to give a straight 20% discount before he’s even got out a spirit level) or getting rid of the non-doms rule (and they Tories ain’t going to vote for that!).

Alternatively B – surely the taxes should go to the other EU state? As they will almost certainly get stuck with the costs when said migrant goes home to Poland for treatment/unemployment benefits. Existing rules that predate the EU allows the Irish government to do this, if Irish citizens move from the UK (and visa versa). So there is a precedence for this.

A quick back of the envelope calculation will tell you that such a change would cost the treasury a sizeable amount of money, tens of billions of pounds per year, probably ruining whatever lies economic plans Osborne’s cooking up. Its enough cash to easily warrant a credit rating downgrade, so that changes of the Tories agreeing to that are somewhere between slim and zero.

So at this point it will be 2017, the Tories plans have gotten nowhere and they’ve been made to look pretty stupid trying to negotiate these things. Will they go ahead with a referendum? My guess is, regardless of whatever promises Cameron is making now, the answer is no. The Tories are quite keen to talk the talk about leaving the EU, but I doubt they’d ever walk the walk.

I mean when I was at British Steel we used to have this public school educated toff :lalala: running our unit, who would whinge and whine about how the EU was stifling competition and making it hard for the company to compete. Then without even pausing for breath, he’d complain about how the EU was allowing other countries like Poland or China to “dump” their steel on the EU market (in other words he wanted the EU to promote free trade…but then he also wanted them to prevent it! :??:). Tories will, within their minds, perform these feats of mental gymnastics daily.

However my guess is forced to stare into the abyss of leaving the EU, with the abyss staring back, they’ll bottle it and scuttle back from the edge. As Nick Robinson demonstrated today, by continually asking Cameron what’s his plan B and the PM refusing to answer (and Nick asked the PM the same question over a year ago and also didn’t get an answer), the consequences for the Tories of an EU referendum are likely to be messy. Win, loose or draw, they will have cast the UK into several years of economic uncertainty and political chaos purely to solve an internal battle within the Tory party. This will completely blow the myth of the Tories as the party of business and they will be punished for it in the polls in 2020 and probably a number of subsequent elections too.

So no doubt they’ll make the excuse, that the referendum was conditional on getting agreement with Brussels, which they’ve not gotten so no referendum. This is a particularly likely get-out clause if they are back in power with the lib dem’s, as it will likely mean a coalition agreement in which its stipulated renegotiation followed by referendum (aka Operation Liberal Shield). Cameron is already talking about leaving before the next election, so he could easily leave early, in say 2018, setting up someone pro-EU like Osborne in number 10 (which also serves to block Boris), who promptly forgets any promises the party made.

UKIP
Given the above, euroskeptics would be inclined to vote for UKIP, as they’re just about crazy enough to leap straight into the abyss while yelling something about cheese eating surrender monkeys. However I would argue that this actually makes a No vote (i.e. Britain staying in) more likely. Again, recall why the Tories are hesitant. Its because they know what the consequences would be in leaving and the enormous economic uncertainty that would be created.

While UKIP will claim that holding the referendum early gets it over with quickly, keep in mind that the UK will still need to renegotiate its exit, and that’s going to be neither quick nor easy, at least if we want an amicable divorce (watch Greece for the next year to see the consequences of a messy departure!).

Plus the UK will have to renegotiate numerous other things too, such as new trade treaties with countries like China and the US (who have made clear that Brexit would invalidate existing trade deals). There’s the serious risk of the UK breaking up, given the position of the SNP, Welsh nationalists on this matter and the issues in Northern Ireland.

In short Britain voting yes or even a close no means several years of economic uncertainty. And keep in mind that, as the SNP learnt in Scotland in September, there’s a sizeable chunk of any electorate who are cowards will vote for the safest course of action (which will be to stay in the EU). The polls currently show a 10% margin leaning towards staying in the EU. And after scary news stories start circulating of many of the UK’s factories workers being put on notice of imminent redundancy if the UK votes to leave, or companies hastily re-registering themselves Luxembourg or Dublin, a no vote in this scenario is very likely.

If UKIP are genuinely serious about leaving the EU they need to set out the stall and prove this. Keep in mind the SNP had been in power in Scotland for several years and had made a reasonable attempt to present the case for independence – and they still lost! UKIP by contrast have a policy founded on myth, prejudice and fantasy strung together on the back of several packets of pork scratchings. Even the Tories were pissing themselves laughing at the UKIP manifesto launch a few weeks back (UKIP seemed to think they’ll get an extra 18 Billion a year in tax, which is somewhat at odds with economic predictions suggesting Brexit would result in a drop of 2.2 to 9.5% of GDP!).

So what happens if UKIP lose a referendum? Well no doubt they’ll go off in a huff, accusing their Tory coalition partners of undermining them, likely leading to a collapse of the next government, an early election and probably a labour government by 2017…with Alan Johnson in charge!

And if UKIP do get their way and the UK does vote to leave? Well there will be negative economic consequences. And that means a lot of people in the UK loosing their jobs, life savings and home. Now even if you believed UKIP’s crack smoking lunacy propaganda that this will be “short term pain for long term gain” its unlikely things will have recovered by the next election in 2020. Plus they and the Tories will be going in with the label “the party that broke the UK” (after Scotland and NI leaves). So the changes are in 2020 labour wins, via the backing of several smaller left wing parties, and all UKIP will have succeeded in doing is made “really red” Ken :> PM!

Oh, and the first thing any labour government will do is negotiate a trade and migration treaty with the EU that will make the UK an EU member in all but name with open borders and free unrestricted trade, with Britain agreeing (like Switzerland, Iceland or Norway) to taking on all EU current (and future) trade legislation without quibble or veto. In short Farage will have handed victory on a plate to the EU federalists by allowing them to finally tame the British shrew.

Labour
Actually if you are genuinely euroskeptic, but not a raving loon, labour’s plans are actually the most sensible. They propose to hold fire on any referendum unless the EU agrees any major transfer of powers. In essence they plan to take a leaf out of Ireland’s book and ratify any future treaties by referendum. This is a much more sensible policy when you understand how the EU works, as you’ll get somewhere if you’re pro-active, while you’ll get nowhere fast if you go all Daily Mail on them.

Go into the room with the EU and threaten them with this and that, and they’ll ignore you (just ask the Greeks!). Threaten to leave and they’ll say “okay fine piss off so, the remaining 500 million of us will have to get by without you, don’t let the door hit you on the way out” :wave:

However go into a treaty negotiation and say “yes we’d love to agree to that, but as you know we have to have a referendum and in order to pass that we’ll need x, y and z”. Like I said, this is much more likely to wring concessions out of the EU. Ireland keep in mind, a country of just 5 million has got further with the EU through this approach that Cameron, or previous UK PM’s have managed through bluster and bullying.

So labour’s plans do make sense. But what’s the downside? Well firstly its going to make the process of agreeing anything within the EU all that more drawn out and torturous. And that’s going to be a problem if there’s further crisis with troubled Southern economies like Greece or Spain. Also there’s a big difference of opinion as to what constitutes “major transfer of powers”. Labour seem to think it means the EU brings out another major treaty. UKIP think it means letting the EU decide the definition between butter and margarine.

So labour’s plans could mean quite a lot of continued uncertainty which in of itself could also lead to the UK being marginalised within the EU. But its certainly a more sensible policy than either of the other two main parties.

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8 thoughts on “The Parties on Europe

  1. who are you voting ? out of interest as an Irish man in Scotland?

    Do you know Muddle (as i prefer to call Blundell or Mundull)is not even calling himself conservative when campaigning in Peebles… I wonder why…. they couldn’t even manage to put their poster up on the bank in the high st the other day – hapless or what while the SNP van charged up and down the street chanting vote SNP – was so funny.

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    • Still a bit undecided, as I think my latest post shows.

      Labour have some good policies, but their unwillingness to do business with the SNP makes it difficult to take anything they say seriously.

      The lib dems will say or promise anything to keep their jobs.

      The SNP seem to have enough votes as it is, the Greens have no chance, The Tories are scum….

      Don’t know what to do really!

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