Flexcit And The Interim EFTA/EEA Brexit Approach Reported On Newsnight

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Having finally analysed every possible facile, gossipy and shallow angle on the EU referendum in breathtaking detail, finally the media get round to examining the ideas laid out long ago in the only existing comprehensive Brexit plan

Well, it had to happen eventually. Tired of adjudicating shrill and pointless contests in unsupported assertions and lying by omission from Vote Leave and Britain Stronger in Europe, some in the media have finally started paying attention to the safe, stable Brexit option which was there all along.

Tony Edwards of The Brexit Door blog marks the occasion:

The Liberal Case for Leave, written by Roland Smith for the Adam Smith Institute, is based on the Flexcit plan. Roland is one of a number of us who have coalesced around this idea, proposed by Flexcit author Dr Richard North of the EU Referendum Blog, that Brexit should be a multi stage project. To avoid shocks, and to escape diplomatic impasse, we must take each stage in a safe and ordered manner. This not only avoids economic pitfalls, but reassures the people that will not vote to leave the EU, or would like to but are risk averse, that they are not being forced into some great leap of faith, that there is a sensible route to full democratic freedom.

And now, in the last week, Flexcit as a plan has finally broken cover and its first stage is being discussed openly by members of Parliament, Talk radio, the BBC, the Telegraph and today the rest of the print media  (although sometimes not by name).

Tony goes on to point out an important point which is overlooked by many detractors on the Brexit side – that the EEA/EFTA arrangement is transitional, the departure lounge from the EU rather than the ultimate destination:

What is not always being heard in the public domain, and what Roland Smith explained last night, is that the EEA stage of Flexcit is transitory. It will last for a number of years for several reasons, but will not be the end point for a post EU membership UK.

Firstly, while we will want to build trade links with the rest of the world, we will also want to preserve our current markets while we do this. EFTA has been very good at negotiating FTAs, and while in EFTA there is no impediment for the UK in seeking deals within and without the group. We lose no competence in this area to EFTA as we do to the EU – that’s a massive difference in the level of freedom of action the UK will gain immediately.

While Pete North celebrates:

Thanks to Roland “White Wednesday” Smith, our comprehensive Brexit plan made a bit of a splash these evening having been announced on Newsnight as the plan under consideration by the civil service. As ever Newsnight managed to make a pigs ear of it without expanding on the critical details but it’s free publicity.

Lost Leonardo of the excellent Independent Britain blog is pleased, but unimpressed by cynical efforts underway by assorted Remainers to slander the interim EEA/EFTA (Norway) Option as some kind of betrayal of a vote to leave the EU, when it is no such thing:

With the legacy media finally turning its attention to the realities of Brexit—even Newsnight is now name-checking Flexcit—now seems like a good time to look again at the great vistas of opportunity that await a post-exit Britain.

First of all though, one has to address the “criticism”—if one can really call shouting, stamping of feet and pulling of hair critique—that adopting a phased approach to EU exit has elicited from a portion of the legacy media and the oh-so-tedious legacy campaigns.

It scarcely needs saying, but the Remainers’ feigned concern for the most belligerent voices in the “leave” camp is beyond cynical. The same people who have spent weeks, months, even years, verbally abusing anybody who has expressed the view that immigration is a bit high are now saying that it would be a “betrayal” for the UK government, supported by the House of Commons, to insist upon using the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement as a staging post for disengaging from the EU’s political and judicial union without any of the economic after effects that David Cameron and George Osborne have so irresponsibly exaggerated. Give me a break.

The hysterical reaction of Vote Leave and its associated sycophants is particularly loathsome. That organisation has done everything in its power to prevent the idea of a pragmatic, practical and non-hostile Brexit plan, which addresses the political realities as we find them not as we might like them to be, from taking hold in the public imagination.

This is a point which this blog also hammered home:

There is nothing on the paper whatsoever about the European Economic Area or “single market”. A vote to leave the EU is a vote for Britain to do exactly that – to leave an explicitly political, ever-tightening union of European countries all embarked on a journey to one day become a common state (as the EU’s founders and current leaders happily admit).

Many people are rightly now coming to the conclusion that the best way to achieve Brexit with the minimum of political and economic disruption is to exit to an “off the shelf” interim solution which already exists in the form of the EFTA/EEA membership enjoyed by Norway. This is why David Cameron has suddenly started talking about “a vote to leave the single market” over the past few days – it is a tacit admission that if we vote to leave the EU but remain in the EEA, every single one of the Remain campaign’s arguments are instantly negated.

Hence the [eagerness of Remainers] to do everything possible to slander the interim EFTA/EEA option, painting it as some kind of unconscionable scam when in fact it is an utterly pragmatic and realistic way of leaving the European Union while completely avoiding all of the apocalyptic economic scenarios which the Remain camp love to throw around.

The official Leave Alliance blog takes a deserved mini victory lap, while warning of the newfound hostility to the plan among Remain supporters and some unreconstructed Leavers. Proclaiming that reality is finally sinking in, Ben Kelly writes:

One of the most crucial elements of The Market Solution [..] is its aim of de-risking Brexit and neutralising the economic uncertainty associated with a vote to leave. We offer several scenarios that would minimise disruption and protect the economy and the most optimal of those is the EFTA/EEA route a.k.a the “EEA option” a.k.a the “Norway option”.

Leaving the EU will be a staged process; the EFTA/EEA route facilitates our transition from an EU Member State to an independent nation by protecting the economy, simplifying secession negotiations and providing us with a soft landing and a decent perspective of what “out” looks like for the near future. One of the key aims of The Leave Alliance was to disseminate this Brexit scenario amongst influential opinion formers; we were rebuffed by Vote Leave and Leave.eu, but we are now having great success late in the day as the EEA option is becoming potentially pivotal.

Due to the fact that it means leaving the EU in an economically secure way it has been the source of much fear for remainers, hence why they do everything they can to smear it. Many on the Leave side can’t get past the fact it means retaining freedom of movement, but their folly is to assume that controlling our borders is simple and abolishing free movement is a silver bullet. They are unreasonably uncompromising in refusing to accept the necessity of a transitional arrangement; we cannot leave the EU in one fell swoop.

Overall, a positive development, though we may wish to recall the words of Winston Churchill: “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead”.

Suddenly, at long last the interim EFTA/EEA option is being discussed seriously at the highest levels in politics and the media. It took an extraordinary effort to make it happen – involving the tireless work of many of my Leave Alliance colleagues, and more than a little subterfuge here and there to ensure that the Great And The Good of British political life actually took it seriously rather than summarily rejecting it as the work of mere citizens, but here we are.

But with little more than two weeks to go until we cast our votes, is there enough time to establish the right narratives about the Norway Option and rebut the desperate smears of the Remain campaign? Or will it be too little, too late?


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Vote Leave’s Folly Gives John Major Free Ammunition To Attack Brexiteers

Every major current attack line being used against the Vote Leave campaign – and therefore Brexiteers in general – could have been avoided with a smarter, more intellectually robust strategy

John Major should be a walking, talking advertisement condemning Britain’s continued dysfunctional relationship with the European Union – the man who signed Britain up to the Maastricht Treaty and did so much to drag us deeper into the mire of political union.

But thanks entirely to the official Vote Leave campaign, John Major managed to sail through his appearance on the Andrew Marr Show today virtually unscathed, passing himself off as the wise, measured older statesman he so clearly wishes to be.

The Huffington Post breathlessly reports:

Boris Johnson and his fellow Brexit campaigners are running a “deceitful” campaign which is “depressing and awful”, former Prime Minister Sir John Major said today.

In a no-holds-barred interview this morning, the ex-Tory leader repeatedly attacked both the tactics and arguments used by Vote Leave as it tried to persuade Brits to quit the EU in the June 23 referendum.

The former Prime Minister, whose seven years in Downing Street in the 1990s were marked by Tory splits over the EU, accused Brexit campaigners of pumping out “a whole galaxy of inaccurate and frankly untrue information.”

He also mocked the notion that leaving the EU would benefit the NHS – one of Vote Leave’s primary claims – as he accused those at the top of the anti-EU group of wanting to privatise the health system.

Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One this morning, Sir John said: “Throughout the whole of my political life people have regarded me of being guilty of understatement.

“I am angry at the way the British people are being misled. This is much more important than a general election. This is going to affect people, their livelihoods, their future, for a very long time to come and if they are given honest, straightforward facts and they decide to leave, then that is the decision the British people take.

“But if they decide to leave on the basis of inaccurate information, inaccurate information known to be inaccurate, then I regard that as deceitful. Now, I maybe wrong, but that is how I see their campaign.

He added: “For once I’m not going to give the benefit of the doubt to other people, I’m going to say exactly what I think and I think this is a deceitful campaign and in terms of what they are saying about immigration, it’s a really depressing and awful campaign. They are misleading people to an extraordinary extent.”

And who can really disagree with these accusations?

Vote Leave continue to brazenly peddle their £350 million lie.

They continue – despite being packed to the rafters with people who (quite rightly) question the ongoing viability of the current NHS model – to implausibly suggest that they will plow nearly all of the savings from no longer making EU contributions back into the same unreformed health service.

(This blog has no more to say about people who base their decision in the EU referendum primarily on the NHS than has already been written here, here, here and here.)

And now, having utterly failed to move the needle on the economic argument with their oh-so-bright lack of a Brexit plan, they are doubling down on the immigration argument. Which is a surefire way to get 40% of people to go charging to the polling booths to vote for Brexit, while alienating the moderate 20% who will take fright and ensure that Britain remains stuck in the European Union.

Ordinarily, this intervention by John Major might be seen as the last hurrah of a rather bitter man, eager to get revenge on people (like Iain Duncan Smith) whom he views as his disloyal tormentors, and dismissed as such. But every charge levelled by John Major at Vote Leave has an awkward ring of truth to it.

Britain doesn’t pay £350 million a week to the EU.

Boris Johnson, the clown in charge, really didn’t even make up his mind which way he was leaning until the very last minute, instantly undermining every one of his criticisms of the EU.

In fact, every major attack line currently being used against Brexit side could have been easily avoided if only the children running the official Leave campaign had charted and executed a better, more grown up campaign strategy – one based on an actual plan for achieving Brexit.

Richard North laments this very point in a recent blog post:

The absence of a plan has been a liability throughout the entire campaign. Had there been one published at an early stage it would have deprived the “remains” of one of their most powerful memes and thereby reshaped the entire campaign. We would by now have spent many months talking about detail and the very specific direction of travel in which Flexcit takes us.

At this late stage of the campaign, those arguing for Brexit should not have to endure the indignity of being lectured to by so hapless a leader as Sir John Major. We could be winning this referendum based on a plan which nullifies every single one of the Remain campaign’s economic scaremongering tactics.

But here we are. And the latest poll showing a slight lead for Leave, though quite unsurprising for this point in the campaign and crucially nowhere near 50%+1, will only encourage Vote Leave to double down on their present strategy.


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More Commentators Embrace The Norway Option As Part Of A Staged Brexit Plan

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At long last the penny has started to drop among serious influencers that a Brexit to the so-called “Norway Option” as an interim staging position is the only safe, stable and plausible Brexit plan on offer – regardless of whatever Vote Leave may say

Maybe it was Vote Leave’s alarming pivot back to immigration with the rollout of their Australian style points-based scheme, or maybe it was just the slow accumulation of tactical and strategic idiocy bordering on political self-harm.

But regardless of what it was that finally caused Vote Leave to hit rock bottom in the eyes of the commentariat, we should all be eternally grateful – because finally, serious and influential minds with serious bully pulpits are starting to look past the Boris clown show and talk openly about the Norway Option being the only sane Brexit plan capable of delivering a safe, stable process of withdrawal from the European Union.

First, last week, Allister Heath came over to the light side of the Force:

The core assumption of the anti-Brexit economists is that leaving would erect damaging barriers to trade; the pro-Brexit side must take on and demolish these arguments. The good news is that it’s quite easy to do so. The Leave campaign’s long-term aim is to break away completely from the EU. But there is no doubt that, were we to vote Leave on June 23, the UK would seek to adopt, as an interim solution, a Norwegian-style relationship with the EU which ensures that we remain in the single market, giving us plenty of time to work out new arrangements with the rest of the world.

That is both the only realistic way we would quit the EU – the only model, that, plausibly, MPs would support as a cross-party compromise deal – and the best possible way for us to do it. The Norwegians would welcome us with open arms, as their own influence would be enhanced, and other EU nations would seek to join us. Such a deal would eliminate most of the costs of leaving, while delivering a hefty dose of benefits as a down payment.

As part of the European Free Trade Association, we would remain in the single market, complete with its Four Freedoms, while withdrawing from agricultural and fisheries policies, justice and home affairs and the customs union. The City wouldn’t lose access and virtually all of the anti-Brexit scare stories would be neutralised, which is presumably why that option was mysteriously absent from the Treasury’s ludicrous analysis of the short-term impact of Brexit.

And now, Heath’s Telegraph colleague and International Business Editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has weighed in with a forceful case for the Norway Option as the only sensible plan for extricating Britain from European political union within the constraints set out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty:

The Leave campaign must choose. It cannot safeguard access to the EU single market and offer a plausible arrangement for the British economy, unless it capitulates on the free movement of EU citizens.

One or other must give. If Brexiteers wish to win over the cautious middle of British politics, they must make a better case that our trade is safe. This means accepting the Norwegian option of the European Economic Area (EEA) – a ‘soft exit’ – as a half-way house until the new order is established.

It means accepting the four freedoms of goods, services, capital, and labour that go with the EU single market. It means swallowing EU rules, and much of the EU Acquis, and it means paying into the EU budget.

We can quibble over the wording “much of the EU acquis”, as analysis puts it closer to reasonable-sounding 28 percent, but otherwise this is spot on. The article actually explicitly mentions Flexcit and the work of Dr. Richard North, as well as the recent welcome interventions from the Adam Smith Institute courtesy of ASI fellow Roland Smith. In fact, the Telegraph is becoming quite the incubator of serious liberal Brexit thinking of late.

In his latest Telegraph column, Allister Heath goes further and points out that the onus is in fact now on Remainers to explain what the European Union will look like in twenty years’ time given the various crises besetting it (and the EU’s instinctive ratchet towards ever more centralisation), and how voting to Remain could possibly be considered the “safe” option:

The EU was always intended by its founders to be a process – a mechanism by which formerly independent European countries gradually bind themselves together into an ever-closer union. Crises were seen as useful flashpoints that would trigger a further push to integration, and its central institutions were deliberately designed to seek and accrue power.

When I was growing up in France, it was made consistently clear that the EU was a political project that used economics as a tool of state-building; the single market was created because all countries have a free internal market, not because the EU’s founding fathers believed in international free trade. We used to be taught all of this openly and explicitly at school: the EU was the obvious, rational future, the only way war could be avoided and the best way to protect our social models from the ravages of “Anglo-Saxon” markets.

There are therefore two possibilities if we vote to stay: eventual abrupt disintegration, or further EU integration. If the latter, how many more powers will we give up when the next treaty comes along, and how much “progress” will be made in critical areas like a European army, tax harmonisation, and the centralisation of justice and home affairs? Why haven’t voters been told ahead of June 23?

The biggest, costliest and most immediate change after a Remain vote would be psychological. Forget about all the caveats: an In victory would be hailed as proof that Britain has finally ceased fighting its supposed European destiny. Our bluff would have been called in the most spectacular of fashions: after decades of dragging our feet, of being ungrateful Europeans, of extracting concessions, rebates and opt-outs, of trying to stand up for our interests, we would finally have hoisted the white flag. The idea that we would hold another referendum on the next treaty would simply be laughed out of town. Voting to Remain would thus be a geopolitical disaster for the UK, a historic failure.

Comfortable, middle-class voters who are considering sticking with the devil they believe they know need to think again. Voting to remain is a far greater leap into the unknown than voting to leave. It’s self-evidently normal to be independent and prosperous: just look at America, Australia, Canada or Singapore. But there are no known examples of a previously independent democracy being subsumed into a dysfunctional, economically troubled technocracy and doing well as a result. As mad gambles go, it is hard to think of anything worse.

And in a final coup, Toby Young has blessed the Norway Option on Twitter:

To which one can only say: Alleluia. Good. It’s about time.

Hopefully we are now witnessing the beginnings of a slowly building stampede away from the car crash of an official Leave campaign masterminded by Dominic Cummings and toward something better. Hopefully this is the result of serious people with pro-Brexit sympathies starting to realise that surely there must be something better than Vote Leave’s sixth-form level campaign about voting leave to Save Our NHS, doing some research of their own and finding that the solution was there all along in the form of the Norway Option.

There certainly now exists a wealth of independent research and writing advocating for the Norway Option as an interim staging post on the journey out of the European Union, and for the general principles enshrined in Flexcit. The tireless indie bloggers of The Leave Alliance can surely claim some much-deserved credit for this turn of events.

But will the eureka moments experienced by Allister Heath, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard and Toby Young be enough to make a material difference to the trajectory of the campaign? It’s a tall order – unless they do really represent just the beginning of a much larger landslide of Brexit-sympathising commentariat opinion away from the clown show.

A few columns are a good start, but they are nothing compared to the incessant Vote Leave campaign commercials now playing on YouTube, exhorting British voters to leave the European Union so that well-known NHS fanatics like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove can build a brand new, state-of-the-art NHS hospital on every street corner with the money that we supposedly save.

While we should be encouraged by this positive development and seek to exploit these endorsements, it does feel rather like establishment Brexiteers, in freefall and with the ground rushing up to meet them, have finally remembered to pull their parachute cord a mere hundred feet from the surface.

Action at this late stage is unlikely to significantly slow our descent, and our slim hopes of survival rest either in having our fall arrested by the branches of a major anti-establishment backlash, or by landing in the soft, distasteful swamp of stronger than expected anti-immigration sentiment.

Victory for the Leave camp is not yet impossible – all the more reason to keep fighting – but having waited so late to even begin to publicly embrace any kind of Brexit plan, neither is our fate squarely in our own hands.


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The British Media’s Shameful Coverage Of The EU Referendum

Mark Twain - It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt

Of the many disappointments in this EU referendum campaign, the utter failure of the British press to discharge its basic professional duty stings worst of all

A well-functioning, free press is essential to the health of a democracy.

Rigorous journalism, conducted with integrity, is the lifeblood of a vigilant, engaged citizenry – without it, the people cannot make informed decisions and corruption, incompetence and decay quickly begin to corrode good government.

The current EU referendum should therefore be a great test for our nation’s media elite, and reveal whether or not the British press are fulfilling their essential function. After all, here is an absolutely existential question facing the nation – do we stay in the European Union or do we leave? There are many interweaving areas to consider – trade, foreign policy, defence, national security, trade, immigration, the economy. And there is the temporal aspect – what is awkward or uncertain in the short term may have huge benefits in the long run, and vice versa. In every respect, this is a big, meaty issue for Britain’s finest journalistic minds to wrap their heads around.

Of course, no one journalist or publication can perfectly embody all of the great journalistic characteristics of fearlessness, impartiality, scepticism and rational enquiry all the time. That much is not possible, nor expected. We are all human beings and we all have motivations and core beliefs which give us blind spots or encourage us to take mental shortcuts. That’s normal. But at the macro level, if our democracy were in good shape, by now we should see an accumulation of evidence of rigorous enquiry by the media class. Even in a media market where newspapers and websites make no claim of impartiality we should still see evidence of lies being exposed, truth being searched out and upheld, and assertions constantly questioned.

This holds true even when the quality of the discourse itself – in this case driven by the two official campaigns on each side of the EU referendum – is poor, as is very much the case with the fearmongering establishment Remain campaign and the unhinged, loose cannon Vote Leave. Bad ideas are bad ideas and false statements are false statements, whether they come from the shouty man on Twitter or an oleaginous SW1 spokesperson. Therefore, bearing the imprimatur of establishment authority should make one more open to questioning, not less, and there should always be a healthy scepticism of authority and social status.

So are we currently passing the test? On this most important of issues, has the British media been doing its job properly?

It hardly needs stating that the answer is a resounding “no”. In fact, the quality of coverage has fallen incredibly short of the standard we should expect from a healthy democracy – but then, our democracy is hardly healthy. Or particularly democratic. Tthis is not a criticism of any one journalist or publication – though there are several whose deserve full and individual criticism for their groupthink, confirmation bias and craven deference to power. But for the purposes of this blog post we will focus our attention on the overall national media output.

And the best way to see how the media have fallen short in their EU referendum coverage is through their utter lack of curiosity about a plan for Brexit. This is particularly odd given the fact that the SNP government’s weighty tome outlining a plan for Scottish independence provided such rich pickings for journalists during the 2014 referendum. As time dragged on and on, one might have reasonably expected calls in the press for the release of a Brexit plan to have reached a loud crescendo, eventually forcing the hand of the official campaign.

But no – when it was high handedly decided that having an actual plan for what to do after the referendum would be stupid because it would (shock horror) invite scrutiny, there was barely a peep from the media. Vote Leave were allowed to get away with fighting this most rare and consequential campaign without so much as a list of bullet points scribbled on the back of a napkin. Yet you will struggle to find one television or newspaper interview where senior Vote Leave figures (or Leave.EU figures prior to the designation decision) were put on the spot about their lack of an agreed plan.

And yet a Brexit plan exists, and has done for several years. It’s called Flexcit and is hosted at the eureferendum.com blog authored by Dr. Richard North, one of Britain’s foremost authorities on the history and workings of the European Union. Now, it may not bear the stamp of the Westminster bubble, but it was at one point being considered for adoption by Leave.EU (who shamefully decided not to do so because it detracted from the simplistic anti-immigration, economically illiterate message which is working such wonders for the Leave campaign at the moment).

And yet does this warrant the slightest attention from the Westminster media? Apparently not. Besides a vaguely disparaging article in the Herald Scotland, you won’t find a single mention of it by name in a major UK newspaper, let alone on television. Those columnists and pundits who know of Flexcit (and thanks to many ordinary supporters and a large web footprint it is hard to miss in a Google search) and support the plan are forced to make murky allusions to it, because openly mentioning the one citizen-authored plan for leaving the European Union would mean the torpedoing of that article before it ever saw the light of day.

This is a plan which was originally drawn up as an entry to an official competition organised by the IEA, and which has now been downloaded nearly 100,000 times. It isn’t some child’s finger-painting stuck lovingly to the fridge door with a magnet – it is a serious piece of work. And yet even as Britain debates the merits of leaving or staying in the EU and the process by which Brexit might occur, apparently no “household name” Westminster journalist has considered it worthwhile to write about the only comprehensive Brexit plan in existence.

Why the media blackout of Flexcit? One can only speculate – but none of those speculations lead to a very pleasing conclusion. Some journalists and publications overlooking Flexcit might be accepted as a very odd act of omission. The entire Westminster media stubbornly refusing to to mention Flexcit while hanging on every word uttered by Boris Johnson begins to look like a conspiracy of silence. Particularly since The Leave Alliance – the network of Brexit campaigners united under the Flexcit banner (this blog is a member) – has twice met right under their noses in prestigious central London locations.

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In fact, if you want to see a serious mention of Flexcit and the staged withdrawal from the EU advocated by the Flexcit plan, one has to look in the American media – Andrew Stuttaford has twice written about Flexcit while covering the EU referendum for the prestigious conservative journal National Review, meaning that American readers are perversely better informed about the most comprehensive (and likely to be adopted) plan for leaving the European Union than most British people.

Take a moment to let that sink in. Britain is having a great national debate about whether and how to leave the European Union. There exists a comprehensive plan for doing so, which is particularly relevant now because one of the Remain campaign’s chief attack lines is that Leave supporters don’t know what Brexit looks like. But if you want to read about this plan, you will have to rely either on the American media or the small but dedicated army of citizen journalists and bloggers who promote it, because nobody in the British media cares to report on something of material significance to the campaign.

You don’t need to be a fully paid-up Brexiteer to realise that there is something profoundly wrong with this picture. Surely, if there exists a properly thought-out plan for how Brexit might work, it would be in the public interest to mention this plan? Maybe a couple of SW1’s finest journalists might take a few hours out of their busy day to skim the 400 pages and form an opinion, heck, even contact the author with a few questions. But apparently not. If it wasn’t dribbled into a microphone by Boris Johnson – a man who had not even decided that he wanted Britain to leave the European Union a few short months ago – the British media don’t seem to think it is worth covering.

Stuttaford’s latest National Review piece says what the British media will not:

David Cameron’s predictably dishonest ‘Project Fear’ is working predictably well.

The best way to counter it is to show that Brexit is, economically speaking, manageable, and the best way to manage it (there are alternatives) is by joining the European Economic Area—doing a Norway, to use the shorthand. It’s dull, and that’s the point: Dull is reassuring. Signing up for the EEA also recognizes the reality that, after decades of British entanglement with Brussels, leaving the EU is a process, not one bold break, however much romantics might wish otherwise.

Over at EU Referendum, Richard North has, as I have mentioned before in this Corner, been making this point for years (his EEA-based ‘Flexcit’ plan remains—for anyone who wants to get into the details—an essential read).

Before concluding:

I have always thought that Brexiteers would be the underdogs in this referendum. That’s how it has turned out to be, but if those who want out of the EU want to have a shot of winning this thing, they have to show that they have come to grips with the ‘how’ as well as the ‘why’ of Brexit. Their version of ‘how’ will not necessarily be definitive, but the fact that it is being articulated will go quite some way to reassuring an understandably nervous electorate that its concerns are being thought through.

[..] Like it or not, Johnson is the most prominent ‘face’ in the Leave camp.  He needs to start talking about a Brexit route with enough substance to it to reassure the anxious. Arguing that the UK has the economic and political clout to cut a good economic deal with its future former EU partners is not crazy, but it is not enough to convince nervous voters to take the Brexit ramp.  It looks too much like wishful thinking.  And what voters want to hear is evidence of serious thinking.

We can talk until we are blue in the face about the many failings of Vote Leave. And when the history of this campaign is written, they will rightly come in for much criticism for failing to embrace a comprehensive, risk-minimising Brexit plan like Flexcit. But a rigorous press should and would have discovered Flexcit without needing it to be trumpeted by Boris Johnson or slapped onto the side of Nigel Farage’s battle bus. Professional rigour should have seen to that much, or even (one would have hoped) natural curiosity.

The fact that the one rigorous Brexit plan in existence has played almost no role in the national referendum discussion to date is damning evidence of the British media’s lack of interest in rigorous reporting, and strong preference for covering the personality-based, tit-for-tat human drama. And one can understand the temptation. Reading through a 400-word tome about how to withdraw from the European Union while maintaining economic stability is soooo boring, especially when one could be writing breathless gossip pieces about how Michael Gove’s wife and Samantha Cameron have fallen out over their husbands’ divergent views on Brexit. Why do the serious research and analysis when it’s far easier – and generates far more precious web traffic – to report on the latest incendiary nugget to fall from the… mouth of Boris Johnson?

Here, Pete North says it best:

As present, we are only superficially aware that we don’t have democracy because we are missing an essential component of a healthy democracy – a free and inquisitive press. It is not that the state censors our media, rather it censors itself largely to appease advertisers and corporate cronies. In that regard the government does not need to censor the British press.

But as much as anything it has lost its essential inquisitiveness. It is concerned only with the entertainment aspect of politics rather than the dreary business of policy. It is for that reason I look forward to the day when our newspapers go the way of the dinosaur. A fate well deserved.

But in having such a dismally inept media, decisions that affect our lives go unnoticed. We are often taken by the idea that government takes sweeping decisions behind closed doors but the ultimate joke is that they are held in the open, transcribed and published on the web. These days the best way to ensure nobody will read something is to put it on the EU website.

Regardless of which side they happen to occupy in this referendum, most thinking people agree that the level of debate has been shockingly bad. Whether it is David Cameron suggesting that it is “immoral” to vote for Brexit (despite having “ruled nothing out” himself during the renegotiation) or Vote Leave insisting that Brexit would free up £350 million every week which they would prefer to spend building a brand new NHS hospital on every street corner, both sides are spewing out misinformation and hysteria, and talking down to the general public in an immensely grating fashion.

If the Westminster media were doing their job, they would not only fact-check the obvious untruths and misrepresentations emanating from both sides, they would also search out and report on the best of Brexit and Remain thinking from outside of the SW1 bubble. Yet it does not seem to occur to them that people who are not currently MPs, journalists, celebrities or the spouses of MPs, journalists and celebrities also have ideas and opinions about the EU referendum. Sometimes, those ideas and opinions are actually quite good. Sometimes – gasp – they are a lot better than what the professional politicians and pundits are saying.

As things stand, Britain is probably on course to vote to Remain in the European Union, based on a campaign in which both sides were reduced to screaming “but the NHS!” at each other until exasperated voters stopped paying attention. Very few of us will go into the polling booth with an understanding of the EU’s history, its strategic impetus and its future direction of travel. Very few of us will cast our vote with so much as a basic understanding of the global regulatory environment and the EU’s (diminishing) role in setting standards. And as the results start to come in, few of us will have voted purely according to the specific question on the ballot paper, which merely asks us whether we want to leave or remain in the European Union.

And to some extent that’s normal. Not everybody can be an expert. Most people have lives, and do not live and breathe this stuff 24/7. But conversely, just as not everybody can be an expert, nobody has to be totally ignorant, either. There is no reason why the British people, at this late stage in the campaign, could not have a better base level of knowledge than we do. There is no good reason why (for example) important terms like the EEA, Single Market and Schengen Area are routinely confused or conflated with one another. There is no good reason why, in a referendum about deciding whether or not to leave the European Union, so few people know about the one comprehensive plan to deliver precisely that outcome. No good reason at all. Yet here we are.

And for this dismal state of affairs you can thank the Great British Media.

You’re doing a heckuva job, Fleet Street.


If you actually put faith in modern journalism youre gonna have a bad time

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One Month Until EU Referendum Day. Time To Break Out The Rudyard Kipling

The unforgiving minute approaches

At the conclusion of The Leave Alliance’s recent highly successful TED-style talk, in which Dr. Richard North walked through the Flexcit staged plan for leaving the EU, a number of the alliance’s Bloggers Army and other audience members stayed behind afterwards to explain their own reasons for voting Leave on 23 June.

Here are a selection of those reasons – including a contribution from yours truly.

The Leave Alliance is comprised of a diverse group of people from across the political spectrum, some who have been devoted to this cause for decades and others for whom it is a much more recent obsession.

I have the honour of fighting the EU referendum campaign alongside this excellent group of people – a group which comprises Dr. Richard North, surely the foremost authority on the European Union in Britain, Pete North, a writer of very rare ability, the Bloggers’ Army, whose various research and writing talents all far eclipse my own, and our very generous readers and supporters. It is a singular honour to be associated with them all, and to make even a small contribution toward our common goal.

Things are not looking good for the Brexit cause right now. The list of unforced errors, media howlers and general acts of incompetence committed by the oh so politically savvy leaders of the official Vote Leave campaign grows by the day. By clinging stubbornly to disproven statistics and flat-out false arguments, Vote Leave squander credibility faster than we can possibly hope to win it back. Indeed, fighting this EU referendum with the likes of Boris Johnson as a figurehead for the Brexit cause is like trying to swim the English Channel with a ball and chain clamped to one’s ankle – strive though we might, we are inevitably dragged down beneath the waves.

It should be noted that nearly every single one of the official Leave campaign’s missteps and key points of criticism could have been avoided by heeding the advice of The Leave Alliance – not least in terms of the importance of having a robust Brexit plan to lay before serious opinion-formers and influencers.

But we fight on, and we fight to win. Though the path to victory for the Leave side is now very narrow indeed – essentially resting on significant unforced errors from the Remain campaign or major external political shocks, as this blog now argues – we must continue to make the bold, globally-engaged case for Brexit, and stand ready to quickly capitalise on any good fortune which comes our way.

This blog will be working flat out for the next month to achieve the impossible and secure a vote for Brexit in the referendum on 23 June. David Cameron managed to say one true thing during his round of media appearances this weekend – that this referendum campaign is indeed more important than a general election. And so it is. It therefore demands the best of all our abilities.

In his famous poem, “If”, Rudyard Kipling wrote of filling the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run. Well, the final month ahead of us between now and Referendum Day will certainly be unforgiving. We are behind in the polls, we have nearly the entire political and cultural establishment ranged against us screaming hysterically that Brexit would somehow usher in the apocalypse, and the man generally recognised as the figurehead of our movement is, for all intents and purposes, a malevolent lunatic.

So – that should make eventual victory having overcome these challenges all the sweeter, no? We at least owe it to ourselves to try, to work tirelessly for victory but also pragmatically so that we are positioned to turn a bad result into the best possible starting point for our next attempt. And when we feel despondent, let’s remember that these are not ordinary political times. One year ago, who would have said that Jeremy Corbyn would be leader of the Labour Party, or that Donald Trump would be the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee?

So let’s fill the unforgiving minute. Let’s leave it all on the field, as the Americans say – or on the pitch, if we’re being particularly British.

Who’s with me?


While normally it might be considered unbearably trite to quote Kipling, a close reading reveals that in fact there is barely a line which is not highly applicable to those of us struggling to voice a thinking person’s Brexit message in the hurricane of the national referendum debate. And so:


If —

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!


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