A hundred donkeys, a hundred pounds of flour

 

Estimates vary, but the British Army puts the length of the Irish border at 303 miles.

That’s roughly four times the length between its end-points measured in a straight line. The border is wiggly. At one point it doubles back on itself in a noose that draws part of the Republic into a narrow-necked peninsula. It follows lanes and abandons them for fields; it tracks the line of a shed and then plunges into a bog. For many miles it traverses water. It is invisible: you need a good map and good boots if you want to follow it.

There are more than 200 official-marked crossing points. Garrett Carr walked and canoed the length of it last year (The Rule of the Land, Faber 2017), and marked on his map the unofficial crossing–points he found: a stile, a home-made wooden bridge, a plank across a stream. He found 77.

On the ground, all the crossings are unmarked. Only the speed limits change, from kilometres to miles or vice versa. The signs, the checkpoints, the customs posts, they were all dismantled following the Good Friday Peace Agreement. Nobody wants them back. The border meant men in masks; random terror; death.

That was during the Troubles. In its early years, the border offered a living to smugglers and harmless amusement to everyone else. Goods were cheaper in the north but tax had to be paid if they were taken south. “In those days,” says Carr, “smuggling was mainly about butter, tea leaves and the occasional cow.” He tells of a more ambitious project involving a hundred donkeys each carrying a hundred pounds of flour (eight shillings a sack cheaper in the north), and a great many Irishmen  armed with sticks. Naturally they were ambushed by Customs. The battle went on all night and there was a terrible mess in the morning.

A favoured item for smuggling was shoes. This explains a sentence that baffled me in H V Morton’s In Search of Ireland (1930), in which Morton meets a group of bus passengers who have left their shoes under a hedge in Donegal.

After the Troubles started, smuggling changed. “Sacks of flour are transformed into crates of guns,” Carr writes, “or wraps of Semtex, or a young man with his wrists tied together.”

Nowadays it’s diesel, cheaper in the south because, even within the single market, countries can set their own fuel tax. However, it’s farm diesel, which has the highest differential, and farm diesel is dyed, and in Northern Ireland and the Republic it is dyed different colours. So the dye has to be removed, and this is done with bleach and cat litter, which results in the appearance of five–foot plastic cubes full of blackened cat litter leaking awfulness in remote laybys.

Does David Davis have any idea what he is getting into?

The British Government has just published its position paper on the Irish border. It is 30 pages long and presents, like all its Brexit papers, apparent clarity covering deep confusion. On the necessity of keeping the border invisible, because any visible change would imperil the Peace Agreement, the Government is adamant. Nor can it ditch the Common Travel Area, which has been in force since 1925, allows free movement  between Ireland and Britain for citizens of those countries, with reciprocal rights of residence, and is also a foundation stone of the peace:

“The UK can provide a clear assurance that the Common Travel Area can continue to operate in the current form… without compromising in any way Ireland’s ability to honour its obligations as an EU member state…”

So the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system “will not impact on the ability to enter the UK from the CTA free from routine border controls.” But what about non-Irish EU citizens who have made their way to Ireland?

This is crucial and the reply is astonishing: “Controlling access to the labour market and social security have long formed an integral part of the UK’s immigration system… This range of control mechanisms means that the UK is confident it will be able to: maintain existing movement to the UK from within the CTA without requiring border controls; respect Ireland’s ongoing free movement obligations; and put in place a new UK immigration system and controls for EU citizens” (page 11).

The Government apparently thinks it can prevent unwanted migration simply by checks on employers and social security.

As it moves from immigration to customs the paper has a bad attack of nerves:

“Establishing clear principles now will help shape potential technical solutions, and, as the Irish Government has said, recognises [sic] that this issue requires a political and not just a technical solution…” (etc.)

It pulls itself together enough to enumerate nine essential points to be addressed. Number seven is how best to respect the integrity of customs unions on both sides of the border. The solution, says the paper, “will need to go beyond any previous precedent.”

That applies, it turns out, to every problem leaving the EU customs union presents.

Reference is made to the Government’s Future customs arrangement paper, recently published, which Michel Barnier said would not be considered until the “divorce” was settled. Some of the “facilitations” set out in that paper would be essential to the “highly streamlined customs arrangement” being proposed, says the border document. In other words, “You’ve got to read that bloody paper on customs whether you want to or not.”

We will see whether cheekiness works.  The “highly streamlined arrangement” is one of two alternative options put forward and would be partly based on new technology. There would be continued waivers of entry/exit declarations for goods moved between the EU and UK, and exemption from customs checks for smaller traders. These comprise up to 80% of the businesses that trade across the border. There would also be identification of “trusted traders” on either side of the border who not do not qualify for cross-border exemption. Declaration requirements would be reduced for them. Why they would be trusted is not explained.

That’s Option 1. Option 2 is a completely new arrangement in which everything stays the same. Goods moving between the UK and EU would be treated as they now are for customs purposes. “There would be need for a robust enforcement mechanism that ensured goods that had not complied with EU trade policy stayed in the UK.” (Chlorinated chickens piling up at Holyhead? See below.)

“This could involve, for instance, a tracking mechanism, where imports to the UK were tracked until they reached an end user, or a repayment mechanism, where imports to the UK paid whichever was the higher of the UK’s or EU’s tariff rates and traders claimed a refund for the difference between the two rates when the goods were sold to an end user in the country charging lower tariffs.

“…Traders…would need to be able to track goods or pass the ability to claim a repayment along their supply chain in order to benefit from tariff differences between the UK and EU for rest of the world goods… This partnership would need to cover all goods…” (page 17. My italics.)

Chlorinated chickens pop up under “Sanitary and phytosanitary measures for agri-food,” (SPS). This unappetising heading will also presumably cover GM crops. At present, the whole island of Ireland is treated as one for epidemiological purposes. That will change. “While the UK will have greater flexibility in relationship to designing our own approach to SPS checks” [i.e., we are going to let this rubbish in], “the Irish side of the land border will continue to be subject to EU regulations” [i.e., it’s the EU’s fault].

“One option… could be regulatory equivalence on agri-food measures, where the UK and EU agree to achieve the same outcome and high standards… This approach would include “dispute resolution mechanisms” [the ECJ?], and “could ensure there would be no requirement for any SPS or related checks…”

“It is also important to note,” chirrups the document, “that the UK is in a unique position; the Repeal Bill means that the UK is starting from a point of full regulatory alignment on day one after leaving the EU.”

Then what the hell is the point of leaving?

This question, which must never be asked, sits at the centre of the Government’s paper on the Irish border like the black hole at the centre of the galaxy, silently drawing all things unto it. The paper circles around it, moving from one micro-solution to another, churning out “seamless and frictionless” “and “new, deep and special” (page 15) as inevitable by-products.

What the Government desperately needs is what it already has. The customs union. But it has to leave the customs union in order to make the fabulous global trade deals it is always talking about.

It has to make the trade deals because it is leaving the single market and the world’s largest trading bloc. It needs the single market for a long list of reasons (security and nuclear safety are two), but it has to leave the single market because that allows freedom of movement from the EU and it believes Leave voters voted on the basis of controlling immigration. (Even if they didn’t it doesn’t matter, because Theresa May is fixated on immigration and because if she didn’t leave both the single market and the customs union the Daily Mail would tear her throat out.)

So it has to leave the customs union but it can’t. It would lose too much. The incessant reiteration of “seamless and frictionless” says so. But it has been told it won’t get seamless and frictionless outside the single market and the customs union, and it must know it won’t if it has half a brain, because from the EU’s point of view there’s no earthly reason why it should and a very powerful reason why it shouldn’t. And it has until October to resolve this dilemma and October is five weeks away.

In desperation, it is trying everything, including asking for more time at both ends of the process, and weaving thickets of tracking mechanisms, exemptions and abilities to pass on refunds that will make it look as if it’s implementing EU requirements when it isn’t, or that it isn’t when it is, in order to delay the moment when it has to say whether it’s in or out.

None of these inventions will work anyway, because technology fails and people cheat. And if the Government thinks it can prevent smuggling across an Irish border, it does not – I say this with great affection for the Irish people – know much about the Irish. It should read Garrett Carr’s book.

When Alexander the Great was shown a knot that could not be untied, he cut it with his sword.

 

 

 

 

On second thoughts

 

With Blair, it’s Iraq. With David Cameron it’s that, for the paltriest of reasons, he called a referendum that had huge implications for the country and failed to win it. With David Miliband, it’s … what, exactly? He didn’t do anything. Something was done to him, most people say. Yet he is, all the same, cloaked in an event he can’t shake off. It is clearer than he is.

I am the only person I know who thought that Ed Miliband had a perfect right to stand against his brother for the Labour leadership. I did not see why family should be more important than policy. However, sibling rivalry has always attracted interest: the Bible is replete with examples we are not supposed to follow. Cain killed Abel. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, having first put him down a well. Jacob took advantage of Esau’s hunger to buy his birthright for a bowl of lentils, and then tricked him out of his father’s blessing, which meant his inheritance.

Ed was condemned, in suitably Biblical terms (“Judas”), and probably no more would have been heard of it had he lost the contest for the leadership, but he won. Five years later he lost the general election and was condemned again, but by that time his brother David had left Parliament and was in the USA heading the International Rescue Committee. There he has remained ever since, occasionally expressing an opinion on Labour politics but keeping a low profile.

His absence hasn’t done him any good here: it may be discretion, it may have been the only thing he could do, but it feels like hiding. Or sulking. He’s like a Prodigal Son who hasn’t been prodigal.

From time to time people say, in a slightly puzzled way, “Pity about David Miliband,” rather as if he had been run over by a tram while trying to stop a dogfight. The implication is that it’s a silly waste, we could do with him. He has experience, certainly: he was Tony Blair’s Policy Chief, then Secretary for the Environment, later Foreign Secretary under Gordon Brown. Well, he’s gone.

Or has he? A hard-hitting article appeared under his name in the Observer at the weekend. It says harsh things about May’s Brexit, urges a cross-party “fightback”, and demands a second vote between EU membership and whatever alternative is negotiated.

There has not, so far, been much fuss about it, so presumably it’s thought that nobody’s listening. It is August, after all. (Why did he choose August?) And he has been away for a long time. So perhaps he doesn’t count. Normally, it is not permitted to ask for a second vote on Europe. The Government’s position is that the people have spoken and they must never be allowed to speak again. To say otherwise is to invite demonisation as an anti-democrat.

It’s a very good article: clear, uncompromising and broadly-based. There are excellent reasons why the referendum result should not be accepted as the last word on the subject. I wrote about them on 8 March, www.foxoutinfront.com/the-will-of-the-people (see also foxoutinfront.com/say-you-like-it ), and won’t repeat them here. Of these many reasons, David Miliband focuses on only one, the most important one. It is, in his words, the campaign’s “complete… refusal to describe, never mind debate, what would replace the status quo.”

Miliband is deeply invested in the American political scene (he expected to be offered a high-ranking diplomatic post in the Administration if Clinton had become President*), and turns to America to illustrate his point about Europe. “Support for Obamacare is growing, dramatically, because the alternative has finally been spelled out… The case against the EU depends on avoiding a discussion of the alternative. It is the equivalent of voting to repeal Obamacare without knowing the replacement. It is a stitch-up.” (My italics.)

He is surely right, and the illustration of Obamacare is helpful. But the sentence I have italicised makes clear just what an enormous swindle the referendum was. The fault in the first instance was David Cameron’s, for setting the ballot question; the void left by the question was never filled by the Remain campaign; the Leave campaign saw their chance – a campaign entirely negative, targeted on the EU – and gleefully took it. The losers were the British people.

Miliband considers Brexit “an unparalleled act of economic self-harm,” but believes that it was a big mistake to reduce the referendum to the economic question.

“The EU represents a vision of society and politics, not just economics… The real truth about the single market has been lost in translation. It is not just a market. It is a vision of the good society. Rights (and holidays) for employees, limits on oligopolies, standards for the environment are there to serve the vision. The single market stands against a market society.”  (My italics.)

This aspect of the EU is well understood and appreciated in Europe. Britain has relegated it to the dustbin. We should be ashamed of this, and worried about what has influenced it. It has impoverished the debate to the point where it is not reality that is being debated; and it makes us look what we are in danger of becoming, a small, narrow-minded nation.

“The EU is not just a group of neighbouring countries,” Miliband reminds us. “It is a coalition of democratic states which pledge to advance human rights, the rule of law and democratic rules. That is not a threat to Britain; it is the team we should be in.”

And, going back to the Atlantic Charter, agreed between Churchill and Roosevelt in 1941, he says, “The insight was simple. Globalisation without rules and institutions would not mean more control for ordinary citizens. It would mean less.”

Put that on the buses.

Finally, he quotes Eisenhower’s brilliant insight, never more apt than now, “If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it.”

How this article has been received in the Labour Party I do not know, but I imagine they will deal with it by ignoring it. Jeremy Corbyn, believing himself within striking distance of Downing Street, will not even want to think about a second vote. Nor, should David Miliband fancy his chances of returning to British politics, will he find the party readily making room for him. The left doesn’t want another Blairite on the scene, particularly a clever one with experience of high office. And why should the Blairites welcome a returning hero who will think he has a right to lead and who moreover isn’t that much of a hero, not after an absence of …

In fact it’s only four years. It seems longer. It seems longer because it’s seven years since he lost the leadership battle to his brother. He remained an MP until 2013.

Seven years is a long time. But it is also a fairytale period. It’s transformative. In seven years one can experience a radical change of mind. David Miliband has gone a long way away from us: if he had taken a post under Clinton he would have had to take American citizenship. He must have been willing to do that, ready to turn his back on Britain. It would be understandable. Rejection by his brother, rejection by his party; in the end he would have seen it as rejection by his country. Rejection is a hard thing to handle, and the easiest way to handle it is to reject the rejecter. And he has his pride. After all, he was the older brother and the senior politician. Probably quite a lot of pride.

Is he ready to change his mind?

Also, if we are to apply the highest standards, is it quite good enough? The article he has written is wise, mature and shows a breadth of political thinking. Are the same qualities apparent in his behaviour? Or does he have the same, almost impermeable, membrane between the good bits and the bad bits that most of us have? It matters. It matters if he’s coming back.

He has given no clear signal either that he is or that he isn’t. It seems that he cares deeply about what is happening in Britain but not deeply enough to get involved in it. Perhaps it really is too hard to get over, all that Biblical stuff. And it’s possible that saving refugees is the best thing he could be doing. Yet I have a feeling he doesn’t think so.

Situations like this are resolved in the heart, not the head, or not resolved at all. This one needs resolution.

There is need, in the Britain of 2017, for a political intelligence like David Miliband’s. There is need for strong leadership. Blair has the qualifications, but he can’t do it. Iraq is always ahead of him.

Here is a glimpse of how deeply deception, confusion and contempt for the public have penetrated our politics. This is David Davis, talking on Tuesday’s Today programme about the opaque document on the customs union which his Department had just published.

“You will find it difficult sometimes to read what we intend,” he said, apparently unaware that the population has been unable to read what the Government intends for more than a year. “That’s deliberate.”

Oh, I see.

David Miliband, come home. Forget everything else. The house is on fire.

 

* The Telegraph, 29 April 2016.

 

Five green bottles?

 

Poor EFTA. Nobody loves her for herself alone.

EFTA is the European Free Trade Association. This is immediately problematical, because isn’t the European Union a European free trade association?

Yes, and that is the reason for EFTA.

The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1951; it established the European Steel and Coal Community, which united the French and German coal and steel industries. Its members were West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Britain was invited to join, but declined.

In 1957, the ESCC evolved into the European Economic Community, with a customs union working towards the abolition of internal tariffs. The success of this approach speedily became apparent, and Greece and Turkey applied for associate membership. The British government, fearing economic isolation, took the lead in organising a looser free trade association among other European countries.

This was EFTA and, when it was established in 1960, it had seven members (“the outer seven”): Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Finland joined a year later.

EFTA had a combined population of 90 million; the EEC (“the inner six”) had a population of 190 million. Harold Macmillan decided EFTA was too small for Britain’s interests and, 18 months after it had been set up, applied for Britain to become a full member of the EEC.

Ireland, Denmark and Norway followed suit. That would have reduced EFTA’s membership to six, but General de Gaulle, now President of France for the second time, was not sympathetic to Britain’s application and vetoed it. Ireland, Denmark and Norway promptly withdrew their own applications to join the EEC.

EFTA was now back at eight.

Four years later, a British Labour government under Harold Wilson again applied for membership in the EEC. Britain was in a parlous economic state by this time and appealing to the IMF for help. De Gaulle again opposed the application, although he did not veto it. It was put on hold.

Within a year, de Gaulle had resigned as President, and serious negotiations about Britain’s entry began. Treaties of accession were signed with the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway in 1972. Norway’s population rejected the terms in a referendum. The UK and Denmark left EFTA.

EFTA was down to six.

In 1994, the European Economic Area was created in response to the desire of EFTA countries to share in the benefits of the single market.  It was designed to incorporate all EU and EFTA member states. There are obligations: one of them is a contribution to the EU budget, another is acceptance of the jurisdiction of the supra-national EFTA Court, which is not the European Court of Justice but tends to follow its decisions. Five EFTA states concluded that they would be better served by going the whole way, and applied for full EU membership. They were Sweden, Austria, Finland, Switzerland and Norway (again).

That reduced EFTA to two: Iceland and Liechtenstein, which had just joined.

Then Swiss voters rejected the EEA in a referendum, and Switzerland’s pending EU application was put on ice. (It is still on ice. Switzerland has since negotiated a highly complex series of bilateral deals with the EU.) Norway, asked for the second time to ratify a treaty with the EU, declined a second time. It is back in EFTA, as is Switzerland, although Switzerland is out of the EEA.

That brought EFTA’s membership to four, where it remains, in spite of a blip in 2009 when Iceland, hard-hit by the global financial collapse, applied to join the EU. It withdrew its application as its economy recovered.

This small group of small countries (total population 13.6 million), which Harold  Macmillan decided was insufficient for Britain’s needs, and which countries pop in and out of as a way-station to better things or as a haven until the weather clears, is now the last hope of Remainers who have almost given up and the first straw clutched by Leavers who are starting to see that they will have to compromise on something if the economy is not to sink under them.

There is quite a lot in favour of EFTA – for a start, access, as a de facto member pf the EEA, to the single market. This would preserve Britain’s trading relations with the largest trading block in the world and avoid the necessity of negotiating trade deals, which by common consent usually take at least four years, with approximately 100 other countries by March 2019. (With virtually no trade negotiators. The UK hasn’t negotiated a trade treaty since 1973. This isn’t a steep learning curve, this is an overhanging cliff.) It would preserve our freedom to travel and work in Europe. We would not have to worry about the safety of our nuclear installations (thanks to Euratom). We would be free to negotiate our own trade deals outside the EU if we wanted to, because the EEA does not give access to the customs union.

And it would be a civilised arrangement. This is what is implied when people call it the “Norway option.” Norway is a fine and friendly country, with which we have much in common (fishing; a monarchy; Vikings; an honourable record in “the war”). We also have in common that the Norwegians rejected the EU – not once but twice. Oh, it’s a splendid place.

There have been Norwegian voices, however, suggesting that Norway doesn’t want us take the Norway option. These voices express the view of Harold Macmillan, that Britain is just too big for the boat. The latest figures for the combined GDP of EFTA are 924,970 million euro. The latest figures for the UK’s GDP are 2.6 trillion US dollars.

There are other disadvantages. Because the EEA does not give access to the customs union, it would do nothing to solve, for instance, the difficulties of car manufacturers, whose industry requires the continual export and import of parts. Nor, for the same reason, would it help with the thorny (and urgent) question of the Irish border. On the other hand, it does require observance of many EU regulations, it requires a contribution to the budget and, crucially, it allows for no input into the EU decision-making process.

This is why, in 1995, Sweden, Austria and Finland became full members of the EU. Why settle for less, pay into the pot, and have no seat at the table?

True Brexiters, of course, want none of it. They have turned their backs on the single market, the customs union and the European Court. This is not a rational position, but at least it’s clear.

To whom, then does the Norway option appeal? To millions of people horrified by this Government’s hellbent pursuit of a hard Brexit. But, while you may end up profoundly thankful for a life-raft, it’s idle to pretend that a life-raft is really where you want to be. Remainers are at best lukewarm. Some Leave voters would settle for it, but many are suspicious: they think it’s a Trojan horse for remaining in Europe, and they’re right, because the more we focus on retaining some of our ties to Europe, the more obvious it will be that the best deal, the obvious deal, is to remain inside.

A further possibility, the “Swiss option,” is sometimes trailed. Britain would be in EFTA without being in the EEA. But Switzerland’s deal with the EU, although it does not involve jurisdiction by the ECJ, does impose some EU regulations, restricts single market access in services, which comprise the majority of British exports, allows unrestricted immigration, and requires a contribution to the budget. It took many years to negotiate and comprises around 120 different bilateral agreements.

(What?)

There is legal opinion that the UK may not in fact automatically leave the EEA when it quits the EU, as the Government asserts, and risks being taken to court in The Hague if it does not give the other members of the EEA 12 months’ formal notice of withdrawal (Independent, 12 August). This is required under Article 127, which the Government does not intend to follow because it wants to avoid a Common vote which would essentially be about membership of the single market. James Chapman, former aide to David Davis, told the Guardian on Wednesday, “There is no majority in Parliament for leaving the EEA, so the Government is going to have to shift its position.”

We’ll see.

What is Britain going to do? The cabinet is all over the place. The country is divided. Theresa May goes on another walking holiday. The EU has started to wonder whether we are not mad after all but playing a very high-stakes game of poker.

We aren’t. The stakes are high, but the players are engaged in blind man’s buff. They didn’t think it would be like this. They thought they were going to get cake.

The weeks go by.

Her ambition is vague and indefinite, wrote Ezra Pound of a young woman who sent him letters from a convent. She will neither stay in, nor come out.

So it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five green bottles?

 

Poor EFTA. Nobody loves her for herself alone.

EFTA is the European Free Trade Association. This is immediately problematical, because isn’t the European Union a European free trade association?

Yes, and that is the reason for EFTA.

The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1951; it established the European Steel and Coal Community, which united the French and German coal and steel industries. Its members were West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Britain was invited to join, but declined.

In 1957, the ESCC evolved into the European Economic Community, with a customs union working towards the abolition of internal tariffs. The success of this approach speedily became apparent, and Greece and Turkey applied for associate membership. The British government, fearing economic isolation, took the lead in organising a looser free trade association among other European countries.

This was EFTA and, when it was established in 1960, it had seven members (“the outer seven”): Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Finland joined a year later.

EFTA had a combined population of 90 million; the EEC (“the inner six”) had a population of 190 million. Harold Macmillan decided EFTA was too small for Britain’s interests and, 18 months after it had been set up, applied for Britain to become a full member of the EEC.

Ireland, Denmark and Norway followed suit. That would have reduced EFTA’s membership to six, but General de Gaulle, now President of France for the second time, was not sympathetic to Britain’s application and vetoed it. Ireland, Denmark and Norway promptly withdrew their own applications to join the EEC.

EFTA was now back at eight.

Four years later, a British Labour government under Harold Wilson again applied for membership in the EEC. Britain was in a parlous economic state by this time and appealing to the IMF for help. De Gaulle again opposed the application, although he did not veto it. It was put on hold.

Within a year, de Gaulle had resigned as President, and serious negotiations about Britain’s entry began. Treaties of accession were signed with the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway in 1972. Norway’s population rejected the terms in a referendum. The UK and Denmark left EFTA.

EFTA was down to six.

In 1994, the European Economic Area was created in response to the desire of EFTA countries to share in the benefits of the single market.  It was designed to incorporate all EU and EFTA member states. There are obligations: one of them is a contribution to the EU budget, another is acceptance of the jurisdiction of the supra-national EFTA Court, which is not the European Court of Justice but tends to follow its decisions. Five EFTA states concluded that they would be better served by going the whole way, and applied for full EU membership. They were Sweden, Austria, Finland, Switzerland and Norway (again).

That reduced EFTA to two: Iceland and Liechtenstein, which had just joined.

Then Swiss voters rejected the EEA in a referendum, and Switzerland’s pending EU application was put on ice. (It is still on ice. Switzerland has since negotiated a highly complex series of bilateral deals with the EU.) Norway, asked for the second time to ratify a treaty with the EU, declined a second time. It is back in EFTA, as is Switzerland, although Switzerland is out of the EEA.

That brought EFTA’s membership to four, where it remains, in spite of a blip in 2009 when Iceland, hard-hit by the global financial collapse, applied to join the EU. It withdrew its application as its economy recovered.

This small group of small countries (total population 13.6 million), which Harold  Macmillan decided was insufficient for Britain’s needs, and which countries pop in and out of as a way-station to better things or as a haven until the weather clears, is now the last hope of Remainers who have almost given up and the first straw clutched by Leavers who are starting to see that they will have to compromise on something if the economy is not to sink under them.

There is quite a lot in favour of EFTA – for a start, access, as a de facto member pf the EEA, to the single market. This would preserve Britain’s trading relations with the largest trading block in the world and avoid the necessity of negotiating trade deals, which by common consent usually take at least four years, with approximately 100 other countries by March 2019. (With virtually no trade negotiators. The UK hasn’t negotiated a trade treaty since 1973. This isn’t a steep learning curve, this is an overhanging cliff.) It would preserve our freedom to travel and work in Europe. We would not have to worry about the safety of our nuclear installations (thanks to Euratom). We would be free to negotiate our own trade deals outside the EU if we wanted to, because the EEA does not give access to the customs union.

And it would be a civilised arrangement. This is what is implied when people call it the “Norway option.” Norway is a fine and friendly country, with which we have much in common (fishing; a monarchy; Vikings; an honourable record in “the war”). We also have in common that the Norwegians rejected the EU – not once but twice. Oh, it’s a splendid place.

There have been Norwegian voices, however, suggesting that Norway doesn’t want us take the Norway option. These voices express the view of Harold Macmillan, that Britain is just too big for the boat. The latest figures for the combined GDP of EFTA are 924,970 million euro. The latest figures for the UK’s GDP are 2.6 trillion US dollars.

There are other disadvantages. Because the EEA does not give access to the customs union, it would do nothing to solve, for instance, the difficulties of car manufacturers, whose industry requires the continual export and import of parts. Nor, for the same reason, would it help with the thorny (and urgent) question of the Irish border. On the other hand, it does require observance of many EU regulations, it requires a contribution to the budget and, crucially, it allows for no input into the EU decision-making process.

This is why, in 1995, Sweden, Austria and Finland became full members of the EU. Why settle for less, pay into the pot, and have no seat at the table?

True Brexiters, of course, want none of it. They have turned their backs on the single market, the customs union and the European Court. This is not a rational position, but at least it’s clear.

To whom, then does the Norway option appeal? To millions of people horrified by this Government’s hellbent pursuit of a hard Brexit. But, while you may end up profoundly thankful for a life-raft, it’s idle to pretend that a life-raft is really where you want to be. Remainers are at best lukewarm. Some Leave voters would settle for it, but many are suspicious: they think it’s a Trojan horse for remaining in Europe, and they’re right, because the more we focus on retaining some of our ties to Europe, the more obvious it will be that the best deal, the obvious deal, is to remain inside.

A further possibility, the “Swiss option,” is sometimes trailed. Britain would be in EFTA without being in the EEA. But Switzerland’s deal with the EU, although it does not involve jurisdiction by the ECJ, does impose some EU regulations, restricts single market access in services, which comprise the majority of British exports, allows unrestricted immigration, and requires a contribution to the budget. It took many years to negotiate and comprises around 120 different bilateral agreements.

(What?)

There is legal opinion that the UK may not in fact automatically leave the EEA when it quits the EU, as the Government asserts, and risks being taken to court in The Hague if it does not give the other members of the EEA 12 months’ formal notice of withdrawal (Independent, 12 August). This is required under Article 127, which the Government does not intend to follow because it wants to avoid a Common vote which would essentially be about membership of the single market. James Chapman, former aide to David Davis, told the Guardian on Wednesday, “There is no majority in Parliament for leaving the EEA, so the Government is going to have to shift its position.”

We’ll see.

What is Britain going to do? The cabinet is all over the place. The country is divided. Theresa May goes on another walking holiday. The EU has started to wonder whether we are not mad after all but playing a very high-stakes game of poker.

We aren’t. The stakes are high, but the players are engaged in blind man’s buff. They didn’t think it would be like this. They thought they were going to get cake.

The weeks go by.

Her ambition is vague and indefinite, wrote Ezra Pound of a young woman who sent him letters from a convent. She will neither stay in, nor come out.

So it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five green bottles?

 

Poor EFTA. Nobody loves her for herself alone.

EFTA is the European Free Trade Association. This is immediately problematical, because isn’t the European Union a European free trade association?

Yes, and that is the reason for EFTA.

The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1951; it established the European Steel and Coal Community, which united the French and German coal and steel industries. Its members were West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Britain was invited to join, but declined.

In 1957, the ESCC evolved into the European Economic Community, with a customs union working towards the abolition of internal tariffs. The success of this approach speedily became apparent, and Greece and Turkey applied for associate membership. The British government, fearing economic isolation, took the lead in organising a looser free trade association among other European countries.

This was EFTA and, when it was established in 1960, it had seven members (“the outer seven”): Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Finland joined a year later.

EFTA had a combined population of 90 million; the EEC (“the inner six”) had a population of 190 million. Harold Macmillan decided EFTA was too small for Britain’s interests and, 18 months after it had been set up, applied for Britain to become a full member of the EEC.

Ireland, Denmark and Norway followed suit. That would have reduced EFTA’s membership to six, but General de Gaulle, now President of France for the second time, was not sympathetic to Britain’s application and vetoed it. Ireland, Denmark and Norway promptly withdrew their own applications to join the EEC.

EFTA was now back at eight.

Four years later, a British Labour government under Harold Wilson again applied for membership in the EEC. Britain was in a parlous economic state by this time and appealing to the IMF for help. De Gaulle again opposed the application, although he did not veto it. It was put on hold.

Within a year, de Gaulle had resigned as President, and serious negotiations about Britain’s entry began. Treaties of accession were signed with the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway in 1972. Norway’s population rejected the terms in a referendum. The UK and Denmark left EFTA.

EFTA was down to six.

In 1994, the European Economic Area was created in response to the desire of EFTA countries to share in the benefits of the single market.  It was designed to incorporate all EU and EFTA member states. There are obligations: one of them is a contribution to the EU budget, another is acceptance of the jurisdiction of the supra-national EFTA Court, which is not the European Court of Justice but tends to follow its decisions. Five EFTA states concluded that they would be better served by going the whole way, and applied for full EU membership. They were Sweden, Austria, Finland, Switzerland and Norway (again).

That reduced EFTA to two: Iceland and Liechtenstein, which had just joined.

Then Swiss voters rejected the EEA in a referendum, and Switzerland’s pending EU application was put on ice. (It is still on ice. Switzerland has since negotiated a highly complex series of bilateral deals with the EU.) Norway, asked for the second time to ratify a treaty with the EU, declined a second time. It is back in EFTA, as is Switzerland, although Switzerland is out of the EEA.

That brought EFTA’s membership to four, where it remains, in spite of a blip in 2009 when Iceland, hard-hit by the global financial collapse, applied to join the EU. It withdrew its application as its economy recovered.

This small group of small countries (total population 13.6 million), which Harold  Macmillan decided was insufficient for Britain’s needs, and which countries pop in and out of as a way-station to better things or as a haven until the weather clears, is now the last hope of Remainers who have almost given up and the first straw clutched by Leavers who are starting to see that they will have to compromise on something if the economy is not to sink under them.

There is quite a lot in favour of EFTA – for a start, access, as a de facto member pf the EEA, to the single market. This would preserve Britain’s trading relations with the largest trading block in the world and avoid the necessity of negotiating trade deals, which by common consent usually take at least four years, with approximately 100 other countries by March 2019. (With virtually no trade negotiators. The UK hasn’t negotiated a trade treaty since 1973. This isn’t a steep learning curve, this is an overhanging cliff.) It would preserve our freedom to travel and work in Europe. We would not have to worry about the safety of our nuclear installations (thanks to Euratom). We would be free to negotiate our own trade deals outside the EU if we wanted to, because the EEA does not give access to the customs union.

And it would be a civilised arrangement. This is what is implied when people call it the “Norway option.” Norway is a fine and friendly country, with which we have much in common (fishing; a monarchy; Vikings; an honourable record in “the war”). We also have in common that the Norwegians rejected the EU – not once but twice. Oh, it’s a splendid place.

There have been Norwegian voices, however, suggesting that Norway doesn’t want us take the Norway option. These voices express the view of Harold Macmillan, that Britain is just too big for the boat. The latest figures for the combined GDP of EFTA are 924,970 million euro. The latest figures for the UK’s GDP are 2.6 trillion US dollars.

There are other disadvantages. Because the EEA does not give access to the customs union, it would do nothing to solve, for instance, the difficulties of car manufacturers, whose industry requires the continual export and import of parts. Nor, for the same reason, would it help with the thorny (and urgent) question of the Irish border. On the other hand, it does require observance of many EU regulations, it requires a contribution to the budget and, crucially, it allows for no input into the EU decision-making process.

This is why, in 1995, Sweden, Austria and Finland became full members of the EU. Why settle for less, pay into the pot, and have no seat at the table?

True Brexiters, of course, want none of it. They have turned their backs on the single market, the customs union and the European Court. This is not a rational position, but at least it’s clear.

To whom, then does the Norway option appeal? To millions of people horrified by this Government’s hellbent pursuit of a hard Brexit. But, while you may end up profoundly thankful for a life-raft, it’s idle to pretend that a life-raft is really where you want to be. Remainers are at best lukewarm. Some Leave voters would settle for it, but many are suspicious: they think it’s a Trojan horse for remaining in Europe, and they’re right, because the more we focus on retaining some of our ties to Europe, the more obvious it will be that the best deal, the obvious deal, is to remain inside.

A further possibility, the “Swiss option,” is sometimes trailed. Britain would be in EFTA without being in the EEA. But Switzerland’s deal with the EU, although it does not involve jurisdiction by the ECJ, does impose some EU regulations, restricts single market access in services, which comprise the majority of British exports, allows unrestricted immigration, and requires a contribution to the budget. It took many years to negotiate and comprises around 120 different bilateral agreements.

(What?)

There is legal opinion that the UK may not in fact automatically leave the EEA when it quits the EU, as the Government asserts, and risks being taken to court in The Hague if it does not give the other members of the EEA 12 months’ formal notice of withdrawal (Independent, 12 August). This is required under Article 127, which the Government does not intend to follow because it wants to avoid a Common vote which would essentially be about membership of the single market. James Chapman, former aide to David Davis, told the Guardian on Wednesday, “There is no majority in Parliament for leaving the EEA, so the Government is going to have to shift its position.”

We’ll see.

What is Britain going to do? The cabinet is all over the place. The country is divided. Theresa May goes on another walking holiday. The EU has started to wonder whether we are not mad after all but playing a very high-stakes game of poker.

We aren’t. The stakes are high, but the players are engaged in blind man’s buff. They didn’t think it would be like this. They thought they were going to get cake.

The weeks go by.

Her ambition is vague and indefinite, wrote Ezra Pound of a young woman who sent him letters from a convent. She will neither stay in, nor come out.

So it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five green bottles?

 

Poor EFTA. Nobody loves her for herself alone.

EFTA is the European Free Trade Association. This is immediately problematical, because isn’t the European Union a European free trade association?

Yes, and that is the reason for EFTA.

The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1951; it established the European Steel and Coal Community, which united the French and German coal and steel industries. Its members were West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Britain was invited to join, but declined.

In 1957, the ESCC evolved into the European Economic Community, with a customs union working towards the abolition of internal tariffs. The success of this approach speedily became apparent, and Greece and Turkey applied for associate membership. The British government, fearing economic isolation, took the lead in organising a looser free trade association among other European countries.

This was EFTA and, when it was established in 1960, it had seven members (“the outer seven”): Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Finland joined a year later.

EFTA had a combined population of 90 million; the EEC (“the inner six”) had a population of 190 million. Harold Macmillan decided EFTA was too small for Britain’s interests and, 18 months after it had been set up, applied for Britain to become a full member of the EEC.

Ireland, Denmark and Norway followed suit. That would have reduced EFTA’s membership to six, but General de Gaulle, now President of France for the second time, was not sympathetic to Britain’s application and vetoed it. Ireland, Denmark and Norway promptly withdrew their own applications to join the EEC.

EFTA was now back at eight.

Four years later, a British Labour government under Harold Wilson again applied for membership in the EEC. Britain was in a parlous economic state by this time and appealing to the IMF for help. De Gaulle again opposed the application, although he did not veto it. It was put on hold.

Within a year, de Gaulle had resigned as President, and serious negotiations about Britain’s entry began. Treaties of accession were signed with the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway in 1972. Norway’s population rejected the terms in a referendum. The UK and Denmark left EFTA.

EFTA was down to six.

In 1994, the European Economic Area was created in response to the desire of EFTA countries to share in the benefits of the single market.  It was designed to incorporate all EU and EFTA member states. There are obligations: one of them is a contribution to the EU budget, another is acceptance of the jurisdiction of the supra-national EFTA Court, which is not the European Court of Justice but tends to follow its decisions. Five EFTA states concluded that they would be better served by going the whole way, and applied for full EU membership. They were Sweden, Austria, Finland, Switzerland and Norway (again).

That reduced EFTA to two: Iceland and Liechtenstein, which had just joined.

Then Swiss voters rejected the EEA in a referendum, and Switzerland’s pending EU application was put on ice. (It is still on ice. Switzerland has since negotiated a highly complex series of bilateral deals with the EU.) Norway, asked for the second time to ratify a treaty with the EU, declined a second time. It is back in EFTA, as is Switzerland, although Switzerland is out of the EEA.

That brought EFTA’s membership to four, where it remains, in spite of a blip in 2009 when Iceland, hard-hit by the global financial collapse, applied to join the EU. It withdrew its application as its economy recovered.

This small group of small countries (total population 13.6 million), which Harold  Macmillan decided was insufficient for Britain’s needs, and which countries pop in and out of as a way-station to better things or as a haven until the weather clears, is now the last hope of Remainers who have almost given up and the first straw clutched by Leavers who are starting to see that they will have to compromise on something if the economy is not to sink under them.

There is quite a lot in favour of EFTA – for a start, access, as a de facto member pf the EEA, to the single market. This would preserve Britain’s trading relations with the largest trading block in the world and avoid the necessity of negotiating trade deals, which by common consent usually take at least four years, with approximately 100 other countries by March 2019. (With virtually no trade negotiators. The UK hasn’t negotiated a trade treaty since 1973. This isn’t a steep learning curve, this is an overhanging cliff.) It would preserve our freedom to travel and work in Europe. We would not have to worry about the safety of our nuclear installations (thanks to Euratom). We would be free to negotiate our own trade deals outside the EU if we wanted to, because the EEA does not give access to the customs union.

And it would be a civilised arrangement. This is what is implied when people call it the “Norway option.” Norway is a fine and friendly country, with which we have much in common (fishing; a monarchy; Vikings; an honourable record in “the war”). We also have in common that the Norwegians rejected the EU – not once but twice. Oh, it’s a splendid place.

There have been Norwegian voices, however, suggesting that Norway doesn’t want us take the Norway option. These voices express the view of Harold Macmillan, that Britain is just too big for the boat. The latest figures for the combined GDP of EFTA are 924,970 million euro. The latest figures for the UK’s GDP are 2.6 trillion US dollars.

There are other disadvantages. Because the EEA does not give access to the customs union, it would do nothing to solve, for instance, the difficulties of car manufacturers, whose industry requires the continual export and import of parts. Nor, for the same reason, would it help with the thorny (and urgent) question of the Irish border. On the other hand, it does require observance of many EU regulations, it requires a contribution to the budget and, crucially, it allows for no input into the EU decision-making process.

This is why, in 1995, Sweden, Austria and Finland became full members of the EU. Why settle for less, pay into the pot, and have no seat at the table?

True Brexiters, of course, want none of it. They have turned their backs on the single market, the customs union and the European Court. This is not a rational position, but at least it’s clear.

To whom, then does the Norway option appeal? To millions of people horrified by this Government’s hellbent pursuit of a hard Brexit. But, while you may end up profoundly thankful for a life-raft, it’s idle to pretend that a life-raft is really where you want to be. Remainers are at best lukewarm. Some Leave voters would settle for it, but many are suspicious: they think it’s a Trojan horse for remaining in Europe, and they’re right, because the more we focus on retaining some of our ties to Europe, the more obvious it will be that the best deal, the obvious deal, is to remain inside.

A further possibility, the “Swiss option,” is sometimes trailed. Britain would be in EFTA without being in the EEA. But Switzerland’s deal with the EU, although it does not involve jurisdiction by the ECJ, does impose some EU regulations, restricts single market access in services, which comprise the majority of British exports, allows unrestricted immigration, and requires a contribution to the budget. It took many years to negotiate and comprises around 120 different bilateral agreements.

(What?)

There is legal opinion that the UK may not in fact automatically leave the EEA when it quits the EU, as the Government asserts, and risks being taken to court in The Hague if it does not give the other members of the EEA 12 months’ formal notice of withdrawal (Independent, 12 August). This is required under Article 127, which the Government does not intend to follow because it wants to avoid a Common vote which would essentially be about membership of the single market. James Chapman, former aide to David Davis, told the Guardian on Wednesday, “There is no majority in Parliament for leaving the EEA, so the Government is going to have to shift its position.”

We’ll see.

What is Britain going to do? The cabinet is all over the place. The country is divided. Theresa May goes on another walking holiday. The EU has started to wonder whether we are not mad after all but playing a very high-stakes game of poker.

We aren’t. The stakes are high, but the players are engaged in blind man’s buff. They didn’t think it would be like this. They thought they were going to get cake.

The weeks go by.

Her ambition is vague and indefinite, wrote Ezra Pound of a young woman who sent him letters from a convent. She will neither stay in, nor come out.

So it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five green bottles?

 

Poor EFTA. Nobody loves her for herself alone.

EFTA is the European Free Trade Association. This is immediately problematical, because isn’t the European Union a European free trade association?

Yes, and that is the reason for EFTA.

The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1951; it established the European Steel and Coal Community, which united the French and German coal and steel industries. Its members were West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Britain was invited to join, but declined.

In 1957, the ESCC evolved into the European Economic Community, with a customs union working towards the abolition of internal tariffs. The success of this approach speedily became apparent, and Greece and Turkey applied for associate membership. The British government, fearing economic isolation, took the lead in organising a looser free trade association among other European countries.

This was EFTA and, when it was established in 1960, it had seven members (“the outer seven”): Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Finland joined a year later.

EFTA had a combined population of 90 million; the EEC (“the inner six”) had a population of 190 million. Harold Macmillan decided EFTA was too small for Britain’s interests and, 18 months after it had been set up, applied for Britain to become a full member of the EEC.

Ireland, Denmark and Norway followed suit. That would have reduced EFTA’s membership to six, but General de Gaulle, now President of France for the second time, was not sympathetic to Britain’s application and vetoed it. Ireland, Denmark and Norway promptly withdrew their own applications to join the EEC.

EFTA was now back at eight.

Four years later, a British Labour government under Harold Wilson again applied for membership in the EEC. Britain was in a parlous economic state by this time and appealing to the IMF for help. De Gaulle again opposed the application, although he did not veto it. It was put on hold.

Within a year, de Gaulle had resigned as President, and serious negotiations about Britain’s entry began. Treaties of accession were signed with the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway in 1972. Norway’s population rejected the terms in a referendum. The UK and Denmark left EFTA.

EFTA was down to six.

In 1994, the European Economic Area was created in response to the desire of EFTA countries to share in the benefits of the single market.  It was designed to incorporate all EU and EFTA member states. There are obligations: one of them is a contribution to the EU budget, another is acceptance of the jurisdiction of the supra-national EFTA Court, which is not the European Court of Justice but tends to follow its decisions. Five EFTA states concluded that they would be better served by going the whole way, and applied for full EU membership. They were Sweden, Austria, Finland, Switzerland and Norway (again).

That reduced EFTA to two: Iceland and Liechtenstein, which had just joined.

Then Swiss voters rejected the EEA in a referendum, and Switzerland’s pending EU application was put on ice. (It is still on ice. Switzerland has since negotiated a highly complex series of bilateral deals with the EU.) Norway, asked for the second time to ratify a treaty with the EU, declined a second time. It is back in EFTA, as is Switzerland, although Switzerland is out of the EEA.

That brought EFTA’s membership to four, where it remains, in spite of a blip in 2009 when Iceland, hard-hit by the global financial collapse, applied to join the EU. It withdrew its application as its economy recovered.

This small group of small countries (total population 13.6 million), which Harold  Macmillan decided was insufficient for Britain’s needs, and which countries pop in and out of as a way-station to better things or as a haven until the weather clears, is now the last hope of Remainers who have almost given up and the first straw clutched by Leavers who are starting to see that they will have to compromise on something if the economy is not to sink under them.

There is quite a lot in favour of EFTA – for a start, access, as a de facto member pf the EEA, to the single market. This would preserve Britain’s trading relations with the largest trading block in the world and avoid the necessity of negotiating trade deals, which by common consent usually take at least four years, with approximately 100 other countries by March 2019. (With virtually no trade negotiators. The UK hasn’t negotiated a trade treaty since 1973. This isn’t a steep learning curve, this is an overhanging cliff.) It would preserve our freedom to travel and work in Europe. We would not have to worry about the safety of our nuclear installations (thanks to Euratom). We would be free to negotiate our own trade deals outside the EU if we wanted to, because the EEA does not give access to the customs union.

And it would be a civilised arrangement. This is what is implied when people call it the “Norway option.” Norway is a fine and friendly country, with which we have much in common (fishing; a monarchy; Vikings; an honourable record in “the war”). We also have in common that the Norwegians rejected the EU – not once but twice. Oh, it’s a splendid place.

There have been Norwegian voices, however, suggesting that Norway doesn’t want us take the Norway option. These voices express the view of Harold Macmillan, that Britain is just too big for the boat. The latest figures for the combined GDP of EFTA are 924,970 million euro. The latest figures for the UK’s GDP are 2.6 trillion US dollars.

There are other disadvantages. Because the EEA does not give access to the customs union, it would do nothing to solve, for instance, the difficulties of car manufacturers, whose industry requires the continual export and import of parts. Nor, for the same reason, would it help with the thorny (and urgent) question of the Irish border. On the other hand, it does require observance of many EU regulations, it requires a contribution to the budget and, crucially, it allows for no input into the EU decision-making process.

This is why, in 1995, Sweden, Austria and Finland became full members of the EU. Why settle for less, pay into the pot, and have no seat at the table?

True Brexiters, of course, want none of it. They have turned their backs on the single market, the customs union and the European Court. This is not a rational position, but at least it’s clear.

To whom, then does the Norway option appeal? To millions of people horrified by this Government’s hellbent pursuit of a hard Brexit. But, while you may end up profoundly thankful for a life-raft, it’s idle to pretend that a life-raft is really where you want to be. Remainers are at best lukewarm. Some Leave voters would settle for it, but many are suspicious: they think it’s a Trojan horse for remaining in Europe, and they’re right, because the more we focus on retaining some of our ties to Europe, the more obvious it will be that the best deal, the obvious deal, is to remain inside.

A further possibility, the “Swiss option,” is sometimes trailed. Britain would be in EFTA without being in the EEA. But Switzerland’s deal with the EU, although it does not involve jurisdiction by the ECJ, does impose some EU regulations, restricts single market access in services, which comprise the majority of British exports, allows unrestricted immigration, and requires a contribution to the budget. It took many years to negotiate and comprises around 120 different bilateral agreements.

(What?)

There is legal opinion that the UK may not in fact automatically leave the EEA when it quits the EU, as the Government asserts, and risks being taken to court in The Hague if it does not give the other members of the EEA 12 months’ formal notice of withdrawal (Independent, 12 August). This is required under Article 127, which the Government does not intend to follow because it wants to avoid a Common vote which would essentially be about membership of the single market. James Chapman, former aide to David Davis, told the Guardian on Wednesday, “There is no majority in Parliament for leaving the EEA, so the Government is going to have to shift its position.”

We’ll see.

What is Britain going to do? The cabinet is all over the place. The country is divided. Theresa May goes on another walking holiday. The EU has started to wonder whether we are not mad after all but playing a very high-stakes game of poker.

We aren’t. The stakes are high, but the players are engaged in blind man’s buff. They didn’t think it would be like this. They thought they were going to get cake.

The weeks go by.

Her ambition is vague and indefinite, wrote Ezra Pound of a young woman who sent him letters from a convent. She will neither stay in, nor come out.

So it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Give us back our dirty beaches!

 

The BBC hates unoccupied airtime. On radio, we only get “dead air” just before the bongs that precede the main news. Then, of course, it isn’t really unoccupied airtime at all: it is vibrating with the anxiety of the nation, waiting to be told that Big Ben is still there, war over North Korea has not broken out, we do not yet have to eat chlorinated chicken.

So the two minutes of “slow radio” introduced into Sunday morning’s Broadcasting House is a small revolution. It is not silence, but it isn’t really “radio” either. It is a two-minute clip of something unremarkable, that turns out, as you listen to it, to be something beautiful. Once it was a train clicking over points. Once it was a waterwheel turning. Once it was a dog sleeping. The listener is drawn into it. It becomes deeply restful. It is probably doing more for the nation’s mental health than the rest of the BBC’s output taken together.

Last Sunday (July 30), it was a cascade of birdsong from a forest in Poland. The Białowieża Forest is one of the few remaining primeval forests on the planet, and home to numerous species including bear, lynx, bison, and rare birds such as the black stork, pygmy owl and three-toed woodpecker. Logging, which started more than a year ago with encouragement from the Polish Environment Ministry, had just been stopped. It was stopped on the orders of the European Union.

The EU is much concerned with the environment, although, founded on the desire to make war between Germany and France impossible by uniting their coal and steel industries, it came late to the natural world. In the 1950s and 60s, the level of environmental awareness was not high. This was a time when organo-phosphates were used with abandon and nitrogen was heaped on to soil to “boost fertility”, sewage was pumped into the sea, smog blanketed London at regular intervals and only a wild eccentric would ask for organic vegetables.

In the 1970s the EEC began to take piecemeal measures to combat pollution. They paved the way for Article 25 of the Single European Act of 1987, of which the first aim was “to preserve, protect and improve the quality of the environment.”

That is still the first aim of Article 191 of the Lisbon Treaty.  The three aims that follow are: “(2) Protecting human health; (3) prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources; and (4) promoting measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems, and in particular combating climate change.” (Emphasis in original.)

The EU directives on the environment cast a wide net: habitat, birds, flooding, groundwater, landfill, urban waste water, noise, recycling of electrical equipment, environmental impact of infrastructure projects, quality of bathing water, renewable energy, air quality, carbon capture, nitrate pollution, and more. They establish the “polluter pays” principle. They are incorporated into British law in various ways and with varying degrees of flexibility. They are extraordinarily thorough.

The Bathing Waters Directive (Dir.2006/7/EC) gets it right at the start: “Water is a scarce natural resource, the quality of which should be protected, defended, managed and treated as such. Surface waters in particular are renewable resources with a limited capacity to recover from adverse impacts of human activities.”

Exactly. When did we last hear such clarity from a regional water authority in Britain?

Also: “The public should receive appropriate and timely information on the results of the monitoring of bathing water quality and risk management measures… New technology that allows the public to be informed… should be applied.”

Excellent.

Then, a warning: “Since the objectives of this Directive … cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can be better achieved at Community level, the Community may adopt measures in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity… This Directive does not go beyond what is necessary in order to achieve those objectives.”

Aha! This is the point at which Brexiters raise the alarm. Here is interference with our liberties. Freeborn Englishmen are entitled to their dirty beaches.

There then follow many clauses on monitoring, assessment, what constitutes a “bathing season”, how many samples shall be assessed and how frequently, how bathing water shall be classified (very simply: poor, sufficient, good and excellent), what measures shall be taken if it is classed as poor, how the public should be alerted and kept informed, how the results of the monitoring are to be reported to the Commission, at what depth samples are to be taken for microbiological analysis and how the sample bottles are to be sterilised. And much more.

There are people who want Brexit so that they can roll back the EU’s regulations. From glancing at this one Directive, one can see why. One can also see why they shouldn’t get their way.

The cornerstone of the EU’s nature conservation policy are, jointly, the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) and the Wild Birds Directive (2009/147/EC). The Habitats Directive is built around the Natura 2000 network of protected sites, which encompasses more than 18% of the EU’s land area and almost 6% of its marine territory. More than 1000 species, many of them threatened, are protected, and over 200 types of habitat. The Wild Birds Directive protects all wild birds species naturally occurring in the EU, with special concern for the habitats of endangered and migratory species.

In the UK these Directives place 283 species including otters, nightingales and pine martens under protection, and safeguard 653 natural havens including the oaks of Windsor Great Park and the woods of the Wye Valley.

The effect on the UK of the EU’s environmental legislation has been “overwhelmingly positive,” say the Friends of the Earth in a paper titled The Implications for UK Environmental Policy of a Vote to Leave the EU.

“In the 1970s and 80s the UK earned the unattractive reputation for being “the Dirty Man of Europe; we had the highest sulphur dioxide emissions in the EU and our seas were akin to open sewers. Policy was dictated by so-called ‘sound science’, with action taken only when incontrovertible damage had been proved… Policy makers would react to problems only as they emerged, in a fragmented and ad hoc way. Perhaps the most damaging was the voluntaristic approach to regulation adopted, with close relations between policy-makers and those they sought to regulate.”

Membership of the EU, says FoE, has resulted in the introduction of new regulatory agencies like the National  Rivers Authority and the adoption of strict emission limits. “We have been obliged to change approaches to sewage treatment and releases of nitrates, and the quality of beaches and bathing water has improved.”

Indeed. Tourists are back on the beaches, and no longer gesturing at the sea in disgust; there are salmon and otter in the rivers. Species continue to go extinct at a horrifying rate, partly as a result of destructive farming practices, but the EU works with farmers to educate them in land use that favours greater biodiversity, and gives grants of up to £150 per hectare to encourage the return of conifer plantations to broadleaf. There are success stories: Bitterns and the Large Blue butterfly are back from the edge of extinction in the UK; there are 1600 breeding pairs of Red Kite.

The bad news is air quality. Yes, sulphur dioxide emissions have fallen, but “the UK Government is facing heavy fines over its failure to meet its obligations.”

This document was published in 2013. More on air quality below.

Anyone who read with a sinking heart the paragraph above that starts “In the 1970s and 80s…” can be forgiven, because it’s clear where we’re headed. Brexiters are nostalgic for a vanished past: this is that past. Just how much we will regress depends on what kind of Brexit we blunder into: the much-touted “Norway option” would oblige us to observe a number of EU environmental regulations, but NOT those on habitat, wild birds or bathing water. Back to dirty beaches, the shooting of birds of prey and the felling of ancient oaks? If the talks fail, as the head-bangers would like them to, we will only have to maintain those environmental standards that are forced on us by the terms of a trade deal.

The UK is perfectly capable of looking after its environment without interference from the EU, Brexiters will say. But it has shown little sign of wanting to do so. It opposed the classification of tar sands as “highly polluting,” tried to undermine energy efficiency targets, and wanted to block a pesticide ban intended to protect bees. The British Government has been taken to court twice over air quality; now, threatened with fines of £300m. by an out-of-patience European Commission, it has rushed out an announcement – which would be laughable if it were not tragic – that new diesel vehicles will be prohibited in the UK in twenty-three years’ time.

Twenty-three years? There are 23,500 premature deaths per year in Britain from nitrogen dioxide pollution caused by diesel traffic, many of them deaths of children.

Well, they shouldn’t be so selfish. All they have to do is hang on until 2040 and they will be perfectly all right.

The far-right Polish government, which bears more than a passing resemblance to our own, maintains a two-finger stance towards the EU although it is highly unlikely that it would seek, like Britain, to leave (it gets too much in subsidies).  Latest reports are that it has returned to logging in Białowieża Forest.