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Fighting the SNP - the next steps

By David Campbell Bannerman, Chairman of The Freedom Association 

Well, we managed to stop a majority of Scots voting for the SNP; and have denied them the ability to claim the moral case for a second Independence Referendum by a rather tight 38,462 votes. Phew!

Huge credit to the Unionist parties, led by the main opposition Scottish Conservatives party, for a successful defensive campaign – the Scots Tories gained two seats – list seats in the Highlands & Islands, where my Bannerman family hails from, and in South of Scotland. Sadly, there were losses in Ayr and a very close run battle in the strongly pro-Brexit fishing communities of Banff and Buchan, which could have seen the SNP go backwards in seat numbers rather than add one MSP. Labour and Lib Dems lost seats, whilst the SNP-Lite Greens picked up 3 seats. Overall, the composition of the Parliament really hasn’t changed much; and the Scots are seemingly split 50-50 on the independence issue.

Even so, the new SNP Government under Nicola Sturgeon is immediately back into its demands for a new Referendum regardless, with dark threats of a ‘Catalonian’-style wildcat referendum or street protests or direct action, that Alex Salmond highlighted. Surprising when Sturgeon was unable to answer basic questions – on what the new currency would be, whether Scotland would be in the EU or not, what they would do about a hard border for example, and further tried to have it both ways – saying to some supporters it was all about Covid recovery; then latterly claiming a referendum mandate. The Greens actually have a different view of independence to the SNP, so claiming a clear united mandate for a referendum doesn’t wash. There would be no room for the oil industry in their plans.

So, how do we defend the Union and ensure separation never actually happens?

I fear Unionists, in Westminster as well as at national level, are acting rather like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a fast approaching car – afraid to move; mesmerized by the SNP’s momentum, stunned into frozen inaction. There are worrying echoes of the Irish trouble in Parliament under Gladstone and the chaos over the Home Rule Bill.

There is a battle underway between whether a ‘muscular Unionist’ approach – as Gordon Brown puts it unfavourably – which was preferred it was said by the former Number 10 Union adviser and Vote Leave stalwart Oliver Lewis, who is a sad loss to government – versus a ‘soft, love bombing, money spending’ approach – some would term it ‘appeasement’ - said to be favoured by Michael Gove, who has now taken back the reins it seems. So, there are reports of billions more being spent on better road and rail infrastructure in Scotland and Scottish patients being treated in England.

Robustness versus Appeasement? The debate is actually far more nuanced. But this is what I would propose as a strategy, which has elements of both:

1. A review of how Barnett formula payments are allocated

Some time before these elections I sent a strategy paper for discussion to Michael Gove, Oliver Lewis, and senior Scottish politicians including Douglas Ross. It proposed a Treasury review of the Barnett formula - not to get rid of Barnett, because we Unionists believe in the Union, but to indicate publicly and clearly how valuable Barnett is to Scotland – and to Wales and Northern Ireland too. The SNP are now on record saying they don’t want Barnett payments – a position advocated in the Sustainable Growth Commission report written by economist and ex-SNP MSP Andrew Wilson, and liked by the SNP Finance Spokesman Kate Forbes. This is extraordinary given that Scotland is now receiving, as Andrew Marr pointed out to Sturgeon, £1,670 more per head – that’s £15 billion a year, £200 billion extra in the last 20 years. Their tax revenues are £300 less per head too.

There are no explanations how they would fill the hole; other than vague references to Trident. Massive tax hikes and austerity beckon. Losing these payments would play badly: another recent poll found 62% young Scots are pro-independence but this drops in half to 31% if it costs them £1,000 each.

Yet the SNP maintain the fiction that Scotland subsidises the UK! A poll just days from the election found that 57% Scots believe this! Sturgeon told Marr “I don’t accept that characterisation” – it’s not a characterisation, it is a proven fact.

I believe we must end the block grant that allowed the SNP to squirrel away billions in funds, £2.7 billion allegedly of Covid funds - for a possible new Scottish Central Bank. Voters I called told me that schools are not returning exam fees; Covid money for businesses have been shamefully retained by the SNP Government.

If the SNP wants to be in the EU, then it would be good practice to have to apply for individual grants (say for 3 years) for extra NHS spending, schools spending, law enforcement spending, transport spending from the UK Government. This is not ‘muscular’, it is good husbandry and fair enough for the spending of UK Taxpayers’ monies. This should also be done for Welsh and Northern Irish Barnett funding. If they don’t like these sound management requirements, then they should use their national tax raising powers to fund the extra public spending. The Scottish top income tax is already 45% not 40%.

2. Adoption of a ‘layering’ approach, with a UK top layer, instead of the current ‘silo’ approach, where all sectoral responsibilities are done nationally

This is a major flaw with devolution. Like a gain silo, all powers in certain delegated areas are passed top to bottom to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly. Others are retained in full by the UK Government when perhaps they could devolve more – over farming and fishing management, for example.

The handling of Covid restrictions through four national bodies has been disastrous for the Union – Sturgeon was able to milk the briefings, and many voters liked what she did but didn’t want independence, and Drakeford obtained a bounce too, whilst Boris Johnson was frequently left with the criticism.

We should have ‘layered’ it – public health and the NHS – so there is one UK-wide policy on air flights and when pubs open (and with booze available!) rather than a confusing mess of varying restrictions; often deliberately varied for political ends. We are one country and should behave as one country.

Of course, all the nations should retain a powerful voice in arguing for the best UK policy. But no company would present itself in such a divided and muddled manner.

I am pro devolution; but it is devolution, not independence paid for by the UK. So the UK must retain overall control at the UK-wide level, even if that is a thin top layer.

There should be a guiding principle at the heart of layering: no individual UK citizen should be disadvantaged or discriminated against by the actions of devolved national body. So, closing the Welsh border like Drakeford and Sturgeon both did with England would be ruled out – either the whole country is in lockdown or is not; or small units or local counties locked down.

I think this should also rule out discrimination on student fees in Scotland for example – and I was at student at Edinburgh when we were all treated the same. English students had to pay higher fees than local Scots (who could be English living in Scotland) or even EU students, who also generally had free fees under EU laws.

All of these things are using UK monies to create disharmony and division within the UK. The same is true of care homes or was too of prescriptions. The kind of ‘freebies’ – free laptops etc. – the SNP were able to offer voters should also be subject to scrutiny – with grants being requested off the UK. Over time, a more uniform UK-wide policy would arise and silly games ended.

Devolution also means more powers at the sharp end – to local councils. I would like to see county and city councils obtain more powers, devolved from national bodies and Westminster, and indeed from the over abundance of mayors Heseltine favoured. Whilst we need an overall high UK layer for the NHS say, which can help drive up standards in Wales and Scotland, I also think local hospital management and many services could be contracted and delivered by local councils. Councils used to have their own hospitals. A return to that is real devolution, and should be UK wide.

Schools too should be given more freedom to run themselves. I like the idea of franchising out schools by local authorities – to bring in the best experience and practices of successful operators from elsewhere to drive up standards and ferment innovation – such as Fettes and Gordonstoun running franchised state schools, just as Winchester runs schools in the Far East, Middle East and a state academy nextdoor. Scottish education used to be the envy of the world, now it has become sadly diminished. Not privatisation, as many would be run by charitable trusts, not profit making companies.

3. Promote the UK British brand, as other major corporations promote brands

Why does Coke need to advertise? We all know what it is, looks like, tastes like. It is a household name. Yet every year it relentlessly spends millions in advertising in what marketing people (like I used to be) call ‘brand support’. Every time the SNP have a rally or march or wave the Scottish saltaire around, they are building the independence brand. It is time to support the British brand. The saltaire forms the core of the Union flag anyway.

For heaven’s sake, we don’t even mark the Anniversary of the formation of the British Union - nothing marked it in 2007; but we did the 100th anniversary of Northern Ireland; and by default the Republic of Ireland, this year. We must stop being so apologetic and walk tall as proud Brits – do a London Olympics, Danny Boyle type number. Didn’t we all buy into that as Team GB? Last Night of the Proms in Scotland is reluctant to wave Union flags.

Successful brands know what they stand for, what their core values and attributes are, and sell those proudly. I think we are muddled as Unionists on these, partly due to humility and partly due to not having to. We need to do a lot of thinking about what the core values and attributes are for the United Kingdom, and then go sell them.

No. not some naff, nationalistic, plastic bag campaign; but one that is subtle and emotive. The Scottish piper to Lord Lovat who led the D-Day Landings, the thin red line at Balaclava, where Scottish soldiers saved the British forces from overwhelming odds, the Scots Greys at Waterloo shouting ‘Scotland the Brave’! This is the Union working together. All the conflicts, inventions, expeditions, adventures we have shared as fellow Brits, facing a common enemy or challenge.

I liked the ‘GREAT Britain and Northern Ireland’ campaign that used to adorn Eurostar stations such as Brussels. It sold Britain as a tourist and investment destination in a classy, positive, appropriate way. We must emphasise togetherness, not division.

Our shared values, history, geography and peoples – 1 in 10 residents in Scotland are English, many Scots live out of Scotland, and we are often intermarried – my father was Scots (and Welsh); my mother English (and a bit of Irish). The EU is always doing this – claiming credit somehow for much of Europe that was built long before they even existed. The EU stars are themselves a corporate brand.

The BBC mocked the British flags behind Ministers – they should take a hard look at themselves and promote the best of British – it’s in their name; and BBC Scotland and many Scottish papers are too apologetic about towing the SNP line. Look how British Airways stupidly removed the British flag from their planes, to be replaced by a mess of multiple colours and visuals, and had to bring them all back.

Exchanges, such as between schools in different nations, have their place. I would like to see – or hear – all schoolchildren to be able to sing all national anthems of the 4 nations regularly (Ireland’s Call and Soldier’s Song for Ireland - as important to recognise both traditions), to celebrate our nations and not allow the nationalists to seize differences to foment division.  Like we love singing at 6-Nation rugby games. We are patriots – we love our country; and others too and not nationalists – who love their country by hating others.

We must put aside the normal British reticence to be too overtly British or embarrassed, for we are in a battle for our survival. I remember a UKIP Lord berating me for the idea of teaching our children to sing the British National Anthem. This is not nationalistic, it is our common anthem we use for royal events and the Olympics. Yes, we should drop the verse about ‘rebellious Scots to crush’ and move on from the Jacobite origins. We just need a simple common patriotism that unites us all in the way US patriotism is so open and endorsed by all, regardless of their background, race and politics.

4. Ruthlessly expose the SNP’s mythical claims, absurd assumptions and dodgy economics, that would spell disaster for the Scottish people

Sturgeon has looked deeply uncomfortable and vague when asked about her plans for independence, particularly the economic plans. In 2014, a massive 500-page White Paper set out the plans, and fell down on what currency Scotland would be using. The pound for a bit, then the Euro, or maybe a Scots currency – but that could mean higher borrowing costs, and a devaluation in pensions and benefit payments currently paid in pounds; same with the Euro.

Having another country setting your interest rates without any formal say or input, and under no duty to mitigate the effects, would mean yet more austerity and tax rises on top of having to fill the Barnett hole. There is the issue of financial services having to head South to stay within the regulatorily ambit of the Bank of England. Edinburgh manages more funds than Frankfurt, and Glasgow and Perth need financial services. If Scotland had become independent before the economic crash of 2008/9, it would have been bankrupted trying to save RBS and the Bank of Scotland, that the UK still props up even now.

There is a battle of the ‘Head’ and the ‘Heart’ – the SNP appeals to the emotion of the Heart, but in 2014 hard reality – the ‘Head’ cut in. I met voter after voter in Perth campaigning with Murdo Fraser on a solid Labour council estate who were attracted to the notion of independence, but the ‘Head over Heart’ economic reality on TV convinced them not to take the risk. That is when I knew we would win the Referendum.

As well as the emotive pro-British campaign to appeal more to the heart and emotions, we need to hammer the SNP on their ill-formed plans and economic innumeracy. I pity defence spending, which they would take out of their budget all together, which would disappear almost entirely, leaving fishing vessels, a rump army and small planes to ward off frequent Russian incursions. New Zealand has no fighter jets and is kowtowing to China now.

5. Embrace Brexit with enthusiasm: Bogus Independence vs Real Independence with Brexit

As a Brexiteer, I can emphasise with the SNP’s desire to run its own country, if not sympathise with it. I understand the passion, the belief the change will bring a transformation and independence from running one’s own affairs. But all this needs a healthy dose of reality – the UK has successfully left the EU after 48 years, but can stand on its own two feet, but I doubt Scotland can leave the UK at all easily after 300 years plus.

I do think that what I call an ‘Adam Smith’ Scotland could be a successful independent nation – one that embraces low taxes, low regulation, free trade, tightly controlled public spending. But this is not the SNP vision – which is essentially a hard left, high tax, high regulation, protectionist, high public spending Socialist religion.

What they offer is not real independence but bogus independence. They actually want a different form of dependence - a poll showed most nationalists want to keep their British passports. They want to keep the pound, but joining the EU as a new member requires joining the Euro and with its maximum deficit criteria of 3% - not the 9% deficit Scotland has now; 25% with Covid measures included. Eye-watering cuts would be necessary, like in Greece, probably for a decade of wrangling.

Not only do the SNP want to depend on other country’s currencies, they want to depend on the Bank of England as the central bank. How independent are you when you have your interest rates and QE set by London – but without any say anymore? How much of UK debt could an independent Scotland finance, as oil dries up and financial companies and higher taxpayers flee South?

They want to hand back control of fisheries and to surrender newly won back quotas – to Brussels. Start throwing over quota fish back in the sea again, dead.

They want to return to the French system of the Common Agricultural Policy, hurting Scottish farmers, and to abandon over 70 British free trade deals, which have gone beyond EU trade deals, or give up big deals the EU has failed to do, like India and the USA. Scotland is a great exporter – and a UK-India free trade agreement could mean the end of 150% tariffs on luxury goods like Scotch whisky. Will they happily return to 150% tariffs given the EU has failed to do a trade deal in 12 years?

Scottish Unionists should now demonstrate the real independence Brexit now offers. That means I am afraid, abandoning the Remainer default position which is highly evident even amongst fellow Scottish Conservatives. Ruth Davidson I have huge regard for, as a remarkable politician and individual – when I helped campaign for her in 2016, it was all Ruth rather than the Tories.

But she was vicious with Boris Johnson at the last EU Referendum debate in Watford, which I attended, and relations haven’t been easy. Douglas Ross now needs to embrace the benefits of Brexit, whatever the party’s original views were. For a start, it is 5 years next month since the Referendum, Brexit is happening anyway, and the opposition is going to try and blame us for it whatever, so we might as well own it and sell its considerable benefits.

This stance has not helped relations within the Conservative Party, and the Prime Minister deserves more loyalty and less criticism from the sides more befitting of an opposition party. We need the full Westminster team up in Scotland – Rishi Sunak, Matt Hancock, Michael Gove, Liz Truss etc. - selling the benefits of the Union as part of the branding campaign.

It should be noted that more Scots voted for Brexit in 2016 than for the SNP in the 2017 General Election, that there are well over a million Scottish Brexit voters, that they put a UKIP MEP into the European Parliament in 2014, and that one third or more of SNP voters are pro Brexit. As we saw in Hartlepool, which was 70% pro Brexit, if you engage with those voters you can swing the political pendulum dramatically. The Brexit-loving fishermen in Banff and Buchan nearly won that seat off the SNP. There are real opportunities here.

So, overall if Unionism raises its game, boxes more cleverly and consistently, I believe we can see off independence pressures, as Canada saw off the Québécois demanding Quebec’s breakaway in a second close Referendum in 1995; it quietened the issue down-for decades thereafter.

David Campbell Bannerman is a former MEP of 10 years 2009-19 – for the East of England. He is related to former Scottish and British Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who oversaw the 1907 Union celebrations. David served as a Special Adviser on the Northern Ireland Peace Process at its start in 1996-97, stood as a Scottish MP candidate in 1997, is a leading Brexiteer and strategist, with an expertise in international trade. David is on the Scottish Conservatives Parliamentary list.

 


OUR ARMED FORCES AND DEFENCE: Forces for good and the first responsibility of any Government.

By Tim Scott

TimScottPhoto.jpg‘Strong National Defences’ is one of the founding principles of The Freedom Association. It serves to protect, and is the ultimate guarantor of, our other freedoms. Post-Brexit they fit in with a ‘global Britain’ that is present across the world and as a key driver not just of British security, but influence too. 

The Conservative manifesto of 2019 committed to the NATO minimum of 2% of GDP and a spending increase of 0.5% pa over inflation. A commitment to increase Defence spending by £16 billion over the next 4 years was very welcome. This will see Defence spending increase to about £54 billion by 2024. New agencies will be created for Cyber, Artificial Intelligence and Satellites.   

With already stretched public finances, this was a big win for Defence Secretary Ben Wallace. Service Chiefs had wanted a multi-year settlement to help plan for the future.

In truth, with the National Audit Office (for the 4th year in a row) criticising the Forces planned equipment budget as over-stretched and unrealistic, more money is needed to avoid more cuts in capability. Tough choices will continue to be made, the Army wants new armoured vehicles, the RAF those new F35 Lightnings, and the Navy would like more ships. 

The Treasury had wanted a smaller increase, but it is to Boris Johnson’s credit that he has recognised the need, plus the opportunity, to create more jobs and boost the UK’s influence. A good military will help you be taken seriously in Washington, whoever is in the White House. 

Former US President, Donald Trump, was right to publicly call out the NATO freeloaders, those not matching the agreed 2% of GDP minimum spending. Germany being the worst (relative to the size of its economy). 

If there’s one institution in Britain with a positive and can-do attitude, even (in fact, especially) under difficult conditions it’s our Armed Forces. They deliver. 

RAF_Chinook_helicopter_over_the_Sahara_Desert.jpgReaders will no doubt remember how successive Governments have called on our Forces in times of national emergency (and not just in times of war or conflict). Foot and mouth disease, not enough security guards for the 2012 Olympics, floods, a dam threatening to burst, and more recently Covid vaccinations of course. 

Tony Blair famously noted that when he asked the Forces to do something, the answer was always helpful and positive. When others were asked, he’d often get a list of excuses why not. 

Numbers have been considerably reduced over the last few decades, with many regiments merging. 

Let's consider the current strengths of our Armed Forces:

Army: 79,000 (official size 82,000) full-time and 30,000 reserves

RAF and Navy are at about 32,000 strong each. 

Our spending, as a percentage of GDP, has reduced from WW2 & post-WW2 heights of 5% in the 70s, about 4% by the end of the 80s to roughly 2.5% now. Whilst few (if any?) public services have had such a decline, to be fair we are in a different place strategically now. Northern Ireland is now (mostly) at peace; when I was there we had about 10,000 troops stationed. 

The UN peacekeeping commitment in Cyprus is now manned mostly by reserve troops (not a regular battalion, as was my first posting). Gibraltar and Belize now have a small presence only, not a 600-plus strong battalion group as was. Berlin and Hong Kong no longer have any British troops. What used to be West Germany now has a small presence only, and numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan are much reduced. 

Significant overseas bases retained by us are as follows:

Cyprus: The UK's biggest overseas base with 2 infantry battalions (about 600 strong each), 3000 personnel in total, much signals and intelligence gathering and an RAF base. The latter was used to launch cruise-missile raids against chemical weapons facilities in Syria. 

Gibraltar: Navy base and a small mostly locally-recruited garrison. The smaller RAF base has no planes permanently based there and doubles up as Gib airport- with an interesting approach and landing!

Brunei: a Gurkha Battalion plus jungle warfare school (I tried to get on that course, but with true Forces sense-of-humour was sent climbing in Norway instead). 

Falkland Islands: RAF base (takes flights from the UK via Ascension island), small Army presence, total about 1000 personnel strong. A Navy offshore patrol vessel is also permanently based there. 

Estonia: forward-deployed as a NATO commitment and based around an armoured infantry battalion. Troops are rotated through on a six-month posting, with vehicles there permanently. Total nearly 1000 personnel.  

HMS Jufair on Bahrain: our first base ‘east of Suez’ in years. It was reactivated in 2015. Guarded by a platoon detached from Cyprus, it hosts a Navy frigate (currently HMS Montrose), 4 minesweepers and a supply ship. Crews are rotated through every 4 months. 

We still have about 1000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, mostly training local forces. Camp Bastion - our largest base since WW2 - is now closed. 

In Mali (West Africa) there are 3 large RAF Chinook helicopters and 250 troops supporting the French on anti-Jihadi operations. 

There are also permanently manned training facilities in Oman, Belize, Canada and Kenya. In addition to the above, there are small Navy facilities in Singapore and at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. 

As regards post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’ I feel that the Navy is the most relevant service (let's not forget the Royal Marines are part of the Navy). The 2 big new Carriers are good news, they will be able to project power, influence and deterrence globally. We will be able to rotate them, so can virtually guarantee to have one always available. Frigates and Destroyers are however a bit short at only 19 in total. 

HMS Argus has just returned from 8 months in the Caribbean (where we often have a ship), but is rumoured to be retired soon with no current announcement on a replacement.  

Our replacement nuclear deterrent is now confirmed, and will be based again on 4 dedicated submarines. They are expected to enter service during the 2030s.

The intended global deployment this year of a Carrier Battle Group to the Pacific and back (COVID allowing) is to be welcomed. The Queen Elizabeth, with 2 Type 23 Frigates, 2 Type 45 Destroyers, a tanker and a supply ship will go. I gather one of the new Astute-class submarines will accompany them (however, submarine deployments are never commented on by the MoD). 

The threats world-wide are certainly not getting any the less and remain unpredictable. China in particular is flexing her muscles and seeking global influence. We must continue to work with other friendly democracies. Claims of post-Brexit isolation are wide of the mark and we remain as committed to NATO as ever. Our armed forces are forces for good and long may that continue.

Tim Scott is Treasurer of The Freedom Association and a former Captain in The Queen’s Fusiliers

 

Photo Credits: RAF Chinnok Helicopter. © Crown Copyright 2014 Photographer: SAC Andy Masson. Image 45157162.jpg from www.defenceimages.mod.uk

HMS Queen Elizabeth: https://www.flickr.com/photos/infogibraltar/28386226189/ Creative Commons 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) Licence


The Freedom Association welcomes the new UK/Australian trade deal

The Freedom Association welcomes the new UK/Australian trade deal announced yesterday. David Campbell Bannerman, Chairman of The Freedom Association, a former MEP and international trade expert, said:

"The Australian deal cements our strong natural bonds with our great Aussie friends. It is good news for UK car, whisky and ceramics producers, for our vital services industry, for UK professions whose qualifications will be recognised there, for UK consumers, and our young people - they get new opportunities to travel to Australia for longer."

ENDS

Media Contact

Andrew Allison, Head of Campaigns

Email: [email protected]

Tel: 07803 741104

 

Notes for Editors

1. The Freedom Association is a non-partisan, centre-right, classically liberal campaign group. We believe in the freedom of the individual in all aspects of life to as great an extent as possible. As such, we seek to challenge all erosion of civil liberties and campaign in support of individual liberty and freedom of expression. Visit our website: www.tfa.net

2. The Freedom Association launched its Better Off Out campaign in 2006. More information here: www.tfa.net/better_off_out


Twelve Brexit Opportunities

By David Campbell Bannerman, Chairman of The Freedom Association 

When you hear of Brexit changes in the media, inevitably there is an excessive emphasis on the claimed negatives of Brexit: supposed lorry delays, increased paperwork (how do they manage trading with the rest of the world – 57% of our exports go to the rest of world!), the loss of benefits such as pet passports, free movement or the expensive Erasmus student programme (replaced by the UK Global Turin programme). 

The campaign to ‘Re-join’ the EU has already started, and this is the latest return to failed and tedious Project Fear claims. But strangely Dover and other ports are flowing freely, and the media have given up hanging around there hoping to see major disruption. 

Well, how about these benefits of Brexit?:

New Free Trade Opportunities: The UK has gone into superdrive on signing new free trade agreements (FTAs) with nations all round the world – the latest count is around 63 but before Christmas a new one was being added daily! 

Yes, it is true that quite a number are rolled over EU trade deals, adapted for a post-Brexit UK, but even these deals are going further than the EU’s own deals – such as the Japan one. This is because the UK is more free trading and less protectionist than the EU is, and this is reflected in the UK deals being struck. 

The UK can also do deals that the EU has failed to do. Whilst it is currently highlighting its rather embarrassing China investment agreement, this is not a full free trade deal – investment is normally a chapter or two of fuller trade deals and there is no China Free Trade Agreement. 

The EU has failed to deliver on 12 years of negotiations with India for a free trade agreement, but the UK is in prime position to do a deal. I was responsible for reporting on the EU-India FTA, and can see real benefit for the UK, particularly in cutting massive taxes on ‘luxury goods’ – from Scotch whisky to Jaguar cars (ironically, as Tata is an Indian company). 

A US trade deal would be of great benefit to the UK, and at least five negotiation rounds have taken place. Whilst there are rumours of President Biden being cooler on the UK deal and more pro-EU, delivering a ready-to-go trade deal will make him look good. Given the length of negotiating trade deals, it is quite common for political opponents to complete deals started by rivals, as with the EU-Canada deal, where I met Prime Minister Trudeau in Strasbourg. 

Then there is an opportunity to join a trade bloc fast outpacing the EU – the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership) which accounts for 14% of the global economy, and where countries such as Japan and Australians are backing us. 

Cutting EU Red Tape and Overregulation: In the EU Referendum, the combined total of the EU’s body of law, the Acquis Communautaire – was assessed at 700,000 pages, equivalent to a Nelson’s Column of paper. It will be even more now. One of the main reasons for dissatisfaction with the EU was the scale and unsuitability of this body of law. 

The UK should now be assessing what EU laws, now incorporated into UK law, can be improved, retained or swept away. 47 years of inherited legislation, simply placed into UK law by the Great Repeal Act, can now be revisited anew. The UK won the vital battle in the EU negotiations not to be tied into EU laws, including not slavishly adopting new EU laws with no input, as Norway has to do within the EEA Agreement and not signing up to retaining existing laws through ‘non regression’ clauses. 

The first indication of new Brexit freedoms is the banning of live animal transport - which can be distressing to animals if long distance – and is something that EU Single Market legislation protects. 

But in bigger terms, we are talking or reviewing the Working Time Directive, that costs the NHS £4 billion a year alone for unnecessary use of locums, or counting surgeons sleeping overnight in a hospital to ensure an early start as working, thereby reducing their effectiveness. Historically, the UK rejected this under Social legislation but the EU got round it by forcing it through under Health and Safety laws. 

There is the Agency Workers Directive, which hit the UK harder – with 8 out of 10 jobs affected across the UK (250,000) owing to Britain’s more flexible economy and greater value on self-employment – can now be reviewed or removed with the right sort of activity. This sought to make the self-employed, employees, with much of the same costs for businesses after 12 weeks of work by ‘Temporary Agency Workers’. This is a lifestyle choice that the contractors prefer, and this can now be respected again. 

The REACH Chemicals Directive, still not fully implemented or even fully costed, which seeks to place grossly onerous and costly demands on small business in particular, can also be reworked to suit British needs and sensibilities. Chemicals is an important business to the UK, and one we have some expertise in. 

A real win is for smaller businesses wanting a share of UK Government Public Procurement schemes. EU rules require much greater ‘bundling’ up of contracts which suit larger companies and EU competitors, and make it harder for British SMEs to compete for a share of this £292 billion market. The Prime Minister and Ministers are on record wanting to see the share taken up by British SMEs and their 5.8 million people - to rise from one quarter of central Government procurement contracts - £12.4bn a year - contracts now to one third, and change criteria to include investment in apprenticeships, environmental standards and past performance on value for money. Covid has only driven the need for such home-based suppliers. Government defence contracts should also be more favourable to UK bidders within the rules. 

The EU Landfill Directive which has resulted in fortnightly bin collections and was estimated by the Local Government Association to threaten to reach £1billion a year in fines. That’s £1 for every £25 collected; £50 on each council tax bill, and paid directly to Brussels. This was a lowest common denominator issue: the UK has more old rock quarries to fill, whilst the Netherlands has very few given its low-lying geography. An environmentally responsible review is possible whilst still encouraging widespread recycling. 

These are just a few examples of savings and reform that can be made from those 700,000+ pages of EU laws, with the potential to save billions in costs, and the creation of many new business opportunities. 

Saving EU membership fees. Whilst this has been a controversial area, it was true that the gross contribution to the EU was around £19 billion a year (£350m a week under EU control), with £11bn a year being the net contribution after deductions for returned monies such as research grants and farming subsidies. Contributions are not as simple as Treasury cash transfers – for example, a contribution of around £2bn to EU international aid was not accounted for. 

If that seems modest, think of the period of our membership at 47 years, then that equates to £517bn, nearly equivalent to clearing our Covid support package of £280bn twice over (whilst saving £40bn plus in additional contributions to the EU Covid scheme - had we stayed in the EU). 

Personally, I would like to see a proportion of this – say 15% - £1.65bn a year – over 15 years - spent on reopening local railway lines and improving local roads. The money has until now been going to building transport infrastructure in other EU nations to date. So why not hypothecate for our trains, our roads, other transport instead, to help restart the British economy?

Cutting the Cost of Living. An immediate benefit of leaving the EU’s Customs Union is a significant drop in the cost of living in the UK. Opponents have tried to obscure such benefits in the haze of extra paperwork, border controls and EU supply hold ups. What is not reported is the reality that the UK is now deploying its own system of tariffs and quotas, and that these are simpler and now far less onerous that in the EU.

Think of the Customs Union as a castle with high tariff walls designed to keep imports away or to reduce the amount let in by raising the barrier. Food prices actually went up 20% when the UK joined the EEC in 1973. Now the British equivalent – the UK Global Tariff schedule – involves lower walls, more open gates and less high barriers. Cars and agriculture remain protected. The result will be good news for consumers and producers alike. The UKGT is hardly easy reading, but it cuts import taxes from only 47% tariff free in the EU to 60% now, rising to 80% with further trade deals. 

So, LED lamps go from 3.7% to zero for example, copper alloy tubes from 5.2% to zero, cocoa powder for cooking 8% to zero. We don’t have a banana or orange producing industry to protect with 20% tariffs as Spain and the EU do. The former head of the British Chamber of Commerce, John Longworth, estimates that food costs will be 40% cheaper. 

Taking back control of our borders – One of the many reasons a majority of UK citizens voted to leave the EU was immigration. Those who wished to take back control of our borders were (and still are) described as racists and xenophobes. This is not true. When the UK was a member of the EU, immigration from EU countries skyrocketed. As a result, immigration from non-EU countries had to be severely restricted. With controlled immigration, we have the ability to recruit from all round the world, not just the EU, and we can now manage entry through a new Australian-style visa system. 

Restoring Tax freedoms – It is an illusion to think that sovereignty over tax has not been invaded by the EU. A small tax maybe, but one highly symbolic return of sovereignty is the tampon tax, where a 5% VAT rate could not be abolished whilst in the EU, but has been immediately on Brexit. VAT is the second largest UK tax and is mandatory for all EU members; forming much of the payment of our membership fee, alongside customs duties, which are now also returning to HM Exchequer.

VAT now could be abolished and replaced with a number of other more local taxes. Could we return to a UK Retail Sales Tax that VAT replaced? Or could we usher in a new US style layering of sales taxes – with some going to national assemblies, or some to city mayors or counties, to reflect devolution reality? 

The EU was also moving in on Corporation Tax receipts through a Common Consolidated Tax Base, where richer members subsidised poorer members. The EU also wants to label low Corporation Tax as a form of State Aid, with Ireland and Belgium in the frame, and the Commission has fought several court cases on this in the ECJ, unsuccessfully – so far. 

Establishing Real Freeports – Again, it is claimed incorrectly that the EU has ‘freeports’ – that is low or zero taxed areas where goods can be imported duty free, be worked on, and then re-exported very competitively. The EU versions must follow EU Single Market rules and tax policies. 

Britain can introduce a number of true freeports, with low or zero taxes and light regulation to compete effectively with lower cost areas around the world rather than Europe, and bring local jobs and training to areas needing major economic development; particularly as Britain boasts many ports and harbours around its coast. Freeports is a personal crusade for Rishi Sunak. 

The UK can also now run its own shaped and appropriate Regional Aid schemes, free of the prescription of EU programmes which were also heavily weighted towards benefiting poorer areas of the EU and were so often ruled unavailable to UK regions, as I as an MEP witnessed directly. The UK Shared Prosperity Fund has real potential for British businesses; and Britain has been denied the successful Enterprise Zones of the Thatcher era on grounds of EU rules.

Trade in Services benefits – Again, negative briefing has intervened on the UK-EU trade deal being a ‘thin deal’ because it doesn’t have services. The reality is that services do not have tariffs and therefore tend to be secondary in FTAs, despite the UK and EU economies being around 70-80% services. There is not much on services in the EU-Canada CETA deal either, despite Toronto being the 10th largest financial centre in the world, well ahead of Frankfurt and Paris, although the EU-Japan deal is a bit better. 

The real benefit of service treatment is leaving EU interference and intervention behind, rather than specifically reducing non-tariff barriers, which can come later.

For example, with follow up agreements in Data and Financial Services and equivalence between the UK and EU expected, there will be substantial scope for regulatory divergence across wide areas of technological and financial regulation. For example, the unpopular Alternative Investment Fund Managers (AIFM) Directive, which hit the City of London and Hedge managers hard, can be revisited and even removed. SOLVENCY II’s excessive insurance capital holding regulation can be eased, and the UK will be saved from the devastating threat of the EU’s favoured Financial Transaction Tax on trades.

Rebuilding Britain’s Fishing Industry – Whilst British fishermen didn’t get all they desired immediately, and the system of allocations is complex, and the process being more slow burn, they are still getting a substantial increase in quota – with the share of British waters fished by British boats rising to 75% from 50% now over 5 years. After that a trade off can be enacted between achieving more quota and losing preferential access to the EU market for UK-caught fish. 

The industry has a chance now to rebuild from Scotland to Cornwall, after the devastation of the EU’s Common Fishing Policy, and the Government has a £100 million fund able to help the industry with new boats, facilities and skills. 

Restoring British Farming – similarly, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy did not benefit Britain’s more efficient farming industry, heavily subsidising French and Polish farmers in particular at the UK’s cost. Leaving the EU with a deal avoiding heavy agricultural tariffs has brought extraordinary harmony in a future, fairer, more suitable and more innovative vision between farmer representatives, food industry and environmental groups on the way forward, which bodes well for the future. 

Still retaining some of the best of the EU – The UK has left the EU but not Europe, or the 47 nation Council of Europe. In addition, as many non-EU European and some non-European nations do, Britain can continue to remain in favoured EU programmes, paying a membership fee for each. In particular, the important Northern Ireland Peace Programme continues, supporting reconciliation in Northern Ireland, and Britain stays in the Horizon research programme, which was one area the UK did do well out of from within the EU, such as for science. Continuing the Erasmus Student programme was favoured, but proved not possible in negotiations, but the new UK Global Turin Scheme will replace it. Erasmus tended to favour EU students coming to the UK, at British taxpayers’ expense. 

Strengthening The British Union – contrary to many claims, the case for breaking up the British Union is weakened not strengthened by Brexit, because nations such as Scotland, if they became independent and joined the EU, would have to join the Euro, involving large Greek-style public spending cuts, the loss of Barnett payments, and face a hard border with the rest of the British Union, where 60% of Scottish exports go to. 

In conclusion, many of the benefits of Brexit have been deliberately and unhelpfully rubbished or obscured, for political reasons. But now, with five years since the referendum, it is time to move on together, united as one, and together to seize the very real opportunities Brexit now presents our country and its businesses.

David Campbell Bannerman is Chairman of The Freedom Association, a former Member of European Parliament 2009-19, and a strategic trade adviser

 

Photo Credit: Flag map of the European Union. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


Andrew Allison in conversation with Brendan Chilton

Andrew Allison, Head of Campaigns for The Freedom Association, chatted with Brendan Chilton, formerly of Labour Leave who now leads the Independent Business Network. They talked about Captain Sir Tom Moore; lockdowns, and Labour's response to them; Labour and patriotism; US Politics; and Brexit.

Click on the image above to watch it.

To become a member of The Freedom Association, click here


Defence and Security: the great new post-Brexit opportunities

In the latest Freedom Association webinar, recorded on 2nd February, we looked at defence and security: the opportunities post-Brexit Britain presents, and the challenges that as a country we face.

Click HERE to watch it 

The panellists were:

Colonel Richard Kemp: Richard served as an officer in the British Army from 1977 to 2006. During his years of service, he completed eight tours of Northern Ireland. During one of those tours he was wounded in a multiple terrorist mortar attack in South Armagh. He took command of British Forces in Afghanistan in 2003, although most of the last five years of Richard’s military career were spent in Downing Street as head of the international terrorism team at the Joint Intelligence Committee, where he was responsible for producing assessments on the growing global terrorist problem for the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

Rt. Hon Julian Lewis MP: Julian is the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament. Prior to that, he was Chair of the House of Commons Defence Committee from 2015 to 2019. During that period he supervised the production of more than 30 Inquiry Reports and consistently campaigned to renew the Trident nuclear deterrent submarines and to restore the Defence budget from two per cent to three per cent of GDP. Julian is a member of The Freedom Association, and has served as the Conservative Member of Parliament for New Forest East since 1997.

Tim Scott: Tim is the Treasurer of The Freedom Association and served as a Captain in The Queen’s Fusiliers. Tim was a Platoon Commander in charge of 25-30 soldiers, and served in Cyprus and Northern Ireland. Tim now works as a Business Development Manager.

The webinar was chaired by David Campbell Bannerman, our Chairman, who served on the Defence Sub-Committee at the European Parliament and also served in the Territorial Army (OTC).

To become a member of The Freedom Association, click here


No deal just became the most attractive way forward

By David Campbell Bannerman, Chairman of The Freedom Association

Very soon a choice will have to be made: whether to continue negotiating a trade deal with the EU or to end negotiations and to prepare for ‘no deal’/Australia deal/WTO rules.

The way the EU has behaved has made no deal much more attractive. What they have done is to narrow the gap between the advantages of a free trade deal, with zero tariffs and quotas, and that of working under WTO Rules, to such an extent that having such a thin deal laden with all sorts of restrictions and continued ties is the greater risk. This is encapsulated in what they call cheekily ‘Level Playing Field’ rules, but what are in effect the EU forcing us as an independent sovereign nation to follow the rules they set, including new ones we have no say or voice on. 

Now, if we had opted for an ‘EEA’ type solution such as Norway’s then we would be signing up to such an arrangement. Norway has to follow all EU Single Market legislation with no voice and little influence. It kicked up a fuss on one Directive – on Postal Services, but even that rare challenge was overturned. EEA also means no control of immigration, which is a no-no post our Referendum. 

This is why we went, after much debate, for a free trade agreement relationship with the EU because it is looser, more arm’s length, less prescriptive, and means we are out of the Single Market and Customs Union, with its rules.

I say this as someone who has pushed for an excellent free trade agreement – what I have called ‘SuperCanada’, that is bigger, better and wider than the EU-Canada deal CETA – for years now. It is what Boris Johnson has called for – he used my term ‘SuperCanada’, as did Jacob Rees Mogg, after I presented to the ERG on the proposals in September 2018. I wanted a SuperCanada deal not just for our benefit, but for that of our EU colleagues and friendly nations. 

This is basically what the EU concluded was the only deal possible right from the start post-Brexit, and has been offered three times – by the previous President of the EU Council Donald Tusk and by Mr Barnier himself.

On 7th March 2018, after coming to Number 10, Tusk said: “I propose that we aim for a trade agreement covering all sectors and with zero tariffs on goods. Like other free trade agreements, it should address services. I hope that it will be ambitious and advanced.” Ambitious means wide and with as few tariffs or barriers as possible.

And Barnier himself said, “It is possible to respect EU principles and create a new and ambitious partnership. That is what the European Council has already proposed in March [as above, 2018]. The EU has offered a Free Trade Agreement with zero tariffs and no quantitative restrictions for goods. It proposed close customs and regulatory cooperation and access to public procurement markets, to name but a few examples.

"On security, the EU wants very close cooperation to protect our citizens and democratic societies. We should organise effective exchanges of intelligence and information and make sure our law enforcement bodies work together. We should cooperate to fight crime, money laundering and terrorist financing. We can cooperate on the exchange of DNA, fingerprints, or Passenger Name Records in aviation to better track and identify terrorists and criminals. We are also ready to discuss mechanisms for swift and effective extradition, guaranteeing procedural rights for suspects.

"If the UK understands this, and if we quickly find solutions to the outstanding withdrawal issues, including the backstop for Ireland and Northern Ireland, I am sure we can build a future partnership between the EU and the United Kingdom that is unprecedented in scope and depth.”

Yet on 18th February 2020, the same Mr Barnier suddenly declared “we remain ready to offer the UK an ambitious partnership” (partnership in EU terms normally means embracing non-trade affairs such as defence, security, judicial cooperation or foreign policy). The EU has suddenly noticed the UK is geographically close to the EU after 47 years and has reduced the partnership “unprecedented in scope and depth” to “a trade agreement that includes in particular fishing and includes a level playing field, with a country that has a very particular proximity – a unique territorial and economic closeness – which is why it can’t be compared to Canada or South Korea or Japan.

So just after we had left the EU on 31st January 2020, the EU moved the goalposts and took away a comprehensive free trade agreement, instead offering a partnership agreement which was not comparable to the kind of FTAs the EU had concluded, and which Lord (David) Frost has cleverly kept the UK’s requests very closely aligned to. The EU weren’t willing to offer the FTA they offered 3 times before because we were now considered geographically close! No wonder several of our top Brexiteer lawyers, including Bill Cash in the Commons recently, regard this as ‘bad faith’ in legal terms, which could in theory invalidate the Withdrawal Agreement itself, as our payments and approach were grounded on receiving an FTA. 

So, it is bad faith and a huge misunderstanding by the EU of the realities of the balance of power in trading terms that has brought us to this impasse. As in the Referendum, the EU makes the cardinal mistake of believing its own propaganda: they think that because the EU nation economies put together are bigger than the UK’s, that they hold all the cards. This is supported by our mainstream media, such as the BBC.

But the reality is that the UK is just about to become the EU’s second largest trading partner after the USA. We are the world’s fifth largest economy, the same size currently as India; 20% larger than Russia. If tariffs are imposed in no deal, the EU will be paying £12-13bn a year and the UK only £5bn. Actually, although 43% of our exports go to the EU (57% to the Rest of the World notably), only 7.5% of GDP – of our economy – is exports of goods and vulnerable to EU tariffs.

The EU has a £95 billion goods surplus with the UK, mostly on tariff heavy agricultural and manufactured goods, and though the UK has a £13bn surplus in services, these don’t have tariffs on them, though are subject to licensing such as EU financial passporting, which UK institutions have already worked around. 

So, the reality is that the EU needs a trade deal with us more than we do with them. Not something you hear very often.

If we go to no deal/Australia/WTO Rules, then it is worth remembering that two-thirds of the world trades under WTO Rules, and that the USA and China export more to the EU than we do. So much for geography! Also, most countries do Free Trade Agreements from a WTO Rules position – the recent EU-Japan FTA took Japan and the EU out of a WTO rules position. 

If we are trading under WTO Rules, and the EU is hurting from £13bn a year tariffs, with job losses from these – remember the UK Market employs over a million Germans, half a million Dutch, 400,000 French people – then far from the UK rushing to do a deal, as the French arrogantly claimed, the EU would be under the cosh most. 

By the time a UK-EU FTA is signed – perhaps even finally that SuperCanada style of deal – the EU could have lost a huge chunk of that £95 billion goods surplus from ‘reshoring’ within the UK, from returning manufacturing jobs in food, drink, car parts, steel, trains and from ‘import substitution’ to UK producers or non-EU suppliers from all round the world, such as our Commonwealth, driven by less red tape and the massive surge in UK Free Trade deals Liz Truss has rolled out.  

Whilst we are not protectionist as an organisation, a resetting of the UK’s trading position with the EU, as President Trump reset relations with Mexico and Canada (replacing NAFTA with the USMCA FTA) might be in order, and allow us to redirect our trading markets and suppliers away from an EU focus. 

In short, we shouldn’t be worried if no deal occurs at the end of the year. It will affect only 7.5% of our economy directly by tariffs, and where those are high (many are low or zero rated anyway), those sectors can obtain legal support under WTO rules: farming directly and manufacturing indirectly, such as through aid for Research & Development. The EU Single Market has not suited us at all well since 1992, and a short sharp shock of rebalancing the trading figures would be no bad thing. 

So, let’s not allow the latest Project Fear hysteria to detract us. We should not be signing a deal that ties our hands on EU laws, keeps us in a regulatory straightjacket and seeks to seize our sovereign fishing waters under UN, not EU laws. Boris Johnson is holding firm on our sovereignty and we should stand right beside him and with those principles if we have to go to no deal.


WATCH a webinar we hosted in October: What‘s stopping a trade deal with the EU and is no deal better anyway?

Answering the questions were: David Campbell Bannerman, Chairman of The Freedom Association, a former MEP and international trade expert; Martin Howe QC, a leading barrister in the fields of intellectual property and EU law; Rt. Hon David Jones MP, Conservative MP for Clwyd West, and a former Minister of State at the now defunct Department for Exiting the European Union; Lee Rotherham, Director of think tank The Red Cell and a Common Fisheries Policy expert; and Barney Reynolds, a partner at Shearman & Sterling and the author of 'A Blueprint for Brexit: The Future of Global Financial Services and Markets in the UK' and many other publications.

The webinar was chaired by Alex Deane, a public affairs consultant and political commentator

 


WATCH: Lord Moylan speaks in defence of the United Kingdom during Committee stage of the Internal Market Bill.

Freedom Association member and Conservative Peer, Lord Moylan, gave a great speech yesterday during the fifth day of the Committee Stage of the Internal Market Bill in the House of Lords. Here is an extract:

"What we face is a determination, dating back to 2016, that the EU take economic control of Northern Ireland, despite the fact that even that is contrary both to the Good Friday agreement and the EU treaties themselves, all of which recognise that Northern Ireland is fully part of the sovereign territory of the United Kingdom. I am afraid that too many Members of your Lordships’ House have adopted that view. My own view is that I do not agree with them and that it would be nice if a few more Members of the peerage of the United Kingdom actually spoke up for the United Kingdom."

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EU talks should be suspended. Read our joint letter in the Daily Telegraph

The Freedom Association was a co-signatory of a letter published in yesterday's Daily Telegraph. In the letter, which was coordinated by Brexit-Watch.org, we call "for the UK Government to suspend talks until the EU recognises the UK’s sovereignty." Here it is in full:

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The siege of London: a capital at odds with its country over Brexit

The following was written for this series of essays, published in January of this year, by Daniel Moylan, a former adviser to Boris Johnson as Mayor of London, and who could take charge of Brexit policy if Boris becomes Prime Minister. 

London has long shrugged off the brooding sense of resentment other parts of the country sometimes feel at its dominance of national political and economic life. After all, the capital, with over eight million people, is a social eco-system of its own, caught up in its own affairs and confident that its net contribution to the Government coffers (over £26 billion a year) is sufficient answer to any regional chippiness.

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