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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.

 


If the EU can’t be reasonable, the protocol must end

By David Campbell Bannerman, Chairman of The Freedom Association

The Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP) row that has gnawed around the edges of the G7 meeting of nations is essentially a clash of two very different approaches towards the same stated aim; but with one side having a deeper, hidden objective. 

The EU prides itself on being a rules-based organisation, and in my view is run by technocrats and lawyers - techno-legal I call it - at the expense of democratic politicians. As a result, it tends to be rigid about its rules, absurdly quick to court action, and holds to this approach rigidly and stubbornly to the extent of losing sight of the wider aim. So, it has almost immediately rushed to court action - in the court of European integration, the European Court of Justice, due to the UK unilaterally extending a grace period relevant to the Protocol, despite evidence of serious trouble in Northern Ireland.

The British are more pragmatic and democratic, law-abiding, but more willing to apply the law in more flexible ways consistent with that wider aim. Whilst the EU recites rules and terms, the British point out that the whole aim of this approach is now at risk due to the reaction to the way it is implemented.

So, on the Protocol, the EU claims it is to protect the Good Friday Agreement (GFA)/Belfast Agreement that underpins the Northern Ireland Peace Process - which I worked on some years ago when it started, as a Government Special Adviser. We British clearly want to respect the GFA and to retain the peace in Northern Ireland. So important is this aim that it forms Article 1 of the Protocol. 

The EU claims that any failure to implement the Protocol is a threat to the Good Friday Agreement, except they just mean one side and one community in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, it seems that the instinctive Irish Catholic American stance, embodied by the Kennedy Clan and Ted Kennedy’s closeness to Sinn Fein, is now being reflected in President Biden’s one-sided take on the problem. If The Times report is correct that the most senior current diplomat in London, Ms Yael Lempert, read out a ‘reprimand’ – a ‘demarche’ – about ‘inflaming’ the process to Lord Frost and our Government, then the sooner a more informed and balanced Ambassador is appointed, the better for all. President Clinton gave four speeches in Northern Ireland in my time, all to different communities and brilliantly reflecting their concerns and wishes. Biden has in contrast blundered into this row ill-informed and lacking key understanding, as has the Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom I met in London. They see the Protocol as protecting the GFA, but this just isn’t the case. 

OK, so clearly they don’t want a return to IRA/nationalist violence and maintain this would happen with an enforced North/South Border. But they say next to nothing about the other key community in Northern Ireland - the Unionist/Loyalist community, loyal to Britain. It is this community who are now increasingly resentful, distrustful and isolated by the implementation of the NIP. The traditional ‘Marching Season’ due to start shortly, commemorating William of Orange’s (hence the colour) win at the Battle of the Boyne on 12th July 1690 over forces of King James II, deposed by the Glorious Revolution in 1688, and with the vital Bill of Rights following in 1689 that confirmed Parliamentary sovereignty as we know it. There have already been riots and disorder, but any further EU intransigence will literally pile more fuel on the commemorative bonfire. Time is short. 

This is not some academic debate, it is very real and very dangerous. In the Peace Talks I met ex-Loyalist terrorists who had engaged in violence - one had machine-gunned a bus queue; another stabbed a Sein Fein councillor and his girlfriend to death. If the EU crosses its modern representatives, there is a real danger of a return to violence. They won’t be putting a counter case in the ECJ, but they may take action against the EU directly - its customs officials in Northern Ireland have already been disgracefully threatened. But attacks in Dublin or Brussels are not beyond the bounds of possibility, and no one wants to go back there. 

Essentially, we are at a crossroads on the Protocol now. The decision is either:

1.) To make do with the NIP; but the EU agrees to act reasonably and not treat goods arriving from GB as if arriving from dodgy East European gang sources or in Rotterdam from unethical Asian manufacturers. Maybe an agreed limit on the number of checks – 2% is the normal rate not 20% - might ease the situation. As Raab has said: the “EU must be less purist, more pragmatic and more flexible in the implementation of it.” The nub of the problem is less the actual agreement – though that is very challengeable – but the unreasonable implementation of it by the EU. 

The World Customs Organisation, which the EU and UK are part of, has long pushed for ‘intelligence led’ customs, as does the EU’s Union Customs Code 2016, meaning checks are only done if there is some information that the goods are faulty or the company trading them suspicious. 

The excessive and provocative degree of checks suggests a deeper and more sinister EU agenda: that the EU wants to use Northern Ireland as a lever to force Britain to accept its rules. It keeps pushing this as a simple solution - accept EU agricultural standards – food and veterinary - now and automatically in future and 80% checks will miraculously disappear. But the practical effect of this is that the UK has its hands tied when it comes to doing trade deals as it is no longer in control of some of the core parts of free trade deals - agricultural goods. 

Now the EU has good reason to fear competition from cheaper non-EU agricultural goods coming to Britain, because its Customs Union is protectionist and keeps EU food prices at least 20% higher than world food prices. There is also what Dominic Raab alleged as Brexit Secretary three years ago: that senior EU figures implied losing Northern Ireland was “the price the UK would pay for Brexit” – that the EU had a wish to “carve up” the UK. So, there are deeper political and economic reasons for this unreasonable stance.

Northern_Ireland_Map.png2.) The second option is more fundamental and profound, but is cleaner and neater. That is for the UK to declare that the Protocol is not working, that it is leading - in the legal language of Article 16 - to “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties, that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade.”  There are plenty of grounds for this – the First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Arlene Foster, was dramatically toppled by the backlash from the Protocol, whilst serious riots and disorder have been on the streets on a scale not seen since before the Peace Process, and a return to staking out targets. Trade has been hit hard by checks on certain products – with chilled food and the iconic sausage now at urgent risk. 

So, if the UK invokes Article 16 of this Protocol – and Boris Johnson has rightly and firmly mentioned Article 16 a number of times, including in Parliament - and so suspends this ‘safeguard’ (emergency) clause. The EU actually did this for a few hours over vaccines, before withdrawing it. So what happens next?

Either the Protocol is renegotiated to make it more flexible – perhaps we could agree to an upper limit on the checks made? 2% are the normal checks - not 20%, more than for Rotterdam or Eastern European goods - or for independent experts to rule on what is actually reasonable. Or go further and remove Article 5, referring to Northern Ireland being in the EU’s Customs Union for agricultural goods. 

But President Macron has made it clear “Nothing is negotiable. Everything is applicable.” So, if the Protocol cannot be renegotiated, nor the bigger Withdrawal Agreement which contains it, and remains suspended permanently or annulled, what then? 

Technically, as Northern Ireland will then be out of the EU’s Customs Union for agricultural and industrial goods, there will have to be – shock, horror! - a border on the island of Ireland. But that doesn’t mean a ‘hard’ border. 

Firstly, technically, there are plenty of invisible, soft borders now – a currency border (Euro/£) without exchange controls or checks; tax rates – different VAT and corporation tax rates, miles go to kilometres to the South. But there is a Common Travel Area. 

Second, there have been practical fixes before. The UK earlier signed up to EU Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures – as Ian Paisley memorably quipped: “Our people maybe British; but our cows are Irish!”, so their standards have been the same both sides of the border, suggesting pragmatism – this avoided an EU ban due to Foot and Mouth.

Third, there is no need. In giving evidence to Parliamentary committees, both British and Irish senior customs officials have made it clear there is no need for a ‘hard border’ – meaning physical checks on the border line, with barriers and peaked hats. This all went with the Single Market in 1992. 

There is no rationale for a hard border: borders are in computers these days, with checks only done on the basis of perceived risk or intelligence information. Britain has the CHIEF system (Customs Handling Imports and Export Freight), and is upgrading to the massive Customs Declaration System. 2017 evidence by Chairman of the Board of the Irish Revenue Commissioners, customs expert Niall Cody, confirmed to the Irish Dail very low checks would result: “the EU policy is to go to an IT-based customs process that is totally paperless.”

Also, most exports and imports are done under a ‘Trusted Trader’ scheme where basically traders are checked up on as an organisation in advance and if satisfactory, and regular - such as regular movement of ingredients and semi-processed product for Guinness or Kerrygold back and forth – then very few actual checks are made. 

When I visited Britain’s biggest container port, Felixstowe, they informed me only 4% of incoming containers are checked on such grounds. Niall Cody explained: “In 2016, 6% of [Irish] import declarations were checked and less than 2% were physically checked… The low level of import checks is the result of pre-authorisation of traders, advance lodgement of declarations and an extensive system of post-clearance checks, including customs audit, which are carried out at a trader’s premises… There are currently 133 AEOs (Authorised Economic Operators) which account for 82% of all imports and 89% of exports.” 

So, between 8 to 9/10 movements are covered by Trusted Trader like schemes, used a lot at the US/Canadian border. Only 20% of Northern Ireland’s exports go South to the Republic anyway and we are talking about 0.02% of the EU’s GDP. 

There is an international scheme too – the common transport convention – that allows flow of trucks containers without checks, such as from Dublin to Paris via Belfast.

The problem with a border in the island of Ireland has already been mostly sorted by the Protocol – checks are done for goods (‘at risk of’) heading South are already checked well away from the actual border such as Larne, near Belfast. That bit is working – it is the GB/NI checks that are not. This arrangement could now be adapted to handle cross border UK/EU traffic. Maybe extra facilities could be added elsewhere, but the principle is established. 

I have written or helped to write three papers on a way of solving the border issue, and sat in Number 10 discussing them. May was reportedly terrified into believing a border issue would lead back to war. I never understood why the issue had become so totemic when practical solutions were always at hand and customs experts all agreed a hard border wouldn’t happen. I concluded that a solution was not wanted because a free trade agreement wasn’t wanted, because of this wider, deeper game by the EU and Remainer allies in Britain to keep the UK as enmeshed as possible in EU rules, making rejoining the EU much easier. 

So, if practical to do, what about the consequences of doing it? 

It is worth mentioning a court case challenging the Protocol for the lack of consent inherent in the Good Friday Agreement. I witnessed first-hand how it was built on consent. If proven that the NIP was incompatible, this would be helpful for the UK case. 

But whatever happens, it is likely that the EU will seek to ‘punish’ Britain in a highly legalistic way and suspend parts of the related trade deal, The Trade & Cooperation Agreement (TCA). President Macron in particular has been threatening tariffs and a mini trade war has been explicitly [threatened] as a sanction.

But how sensible and realistic is this really? Sure, the EU could impose some pain, as it did against US goods over their recent trade war. But with Britain we are the main customer with a normal £95 billion goods deficit with the EU - in short, we import far more than we export to the EU and have therefore a rich picking of our retaliatory tariffs. Should we slap tariffs on German cars, French wine, Belgian chocolates perhaps? 

That won’t help Macron when facing an already difficult re-election campaign as President. There is already hardening evidence that whilst UK exports to the EU have held up now as normal, imports from the EU into the UK have fallen significantly. The British customer does seem to be reacting to such threats already by avoiding EU goods. This would only increase.

The form on bullying – it punished Switzerland for seeking to limit free movement by blocking Switzerland from the Horizon research programme, and trade talks failed after 7 years. No doubt a package of irritants would be formulated as the EU did in its recent US trade war over Airbus/Boeing subsidies. But under the wider Withdrawal Agreement the EU benefits greatly from settlement rights for 5 million EU citizens – 1 million more than estimated – and from continued cash payments for various agreed schemes and liabilities. The EU is not in the greatest financial position just now, so suspending any payments could bring pressure. 

In conclusion, none of these options is too difficult to contemplate. They are doable and survivable. If being prepared for stronger solutions makes the EU see sense and adopt a more workable implementation of the Protocol that might solve the main issues, at least until the Assembly can revisit the Protocol after four years. But I don’t see any such contrition – the EU regards this as an opportunity to flex its muscles, to do down an over-successful independent upstart Britain.  

So, I think there is growing inevitability that the Protocol is suspended under Article 16, and soon, before tensions arise around the Marching Season. I think we can take any punishment meted out in our stride and reciprocate with surprising power and effect. 

The EU does need to be shown its increasingly bellicose and self-important approach, and dangerous games with a vital part of UK territory, are totally unacceptable. In the end, this is again about sovereignty. The Protocol was better than the original disastrous Chequers mess May and her advisers managed to concoct. If it has been a useful stepping stone towards a more acceptable and long-lasting arrangement, that sees Northern Ireland properly free of the EU - as Great Britain already is - then it will have fulfilled its purpose. In my view, we needed to get out of the EU first in order to be sure we were free and able to come back and negotiate a better long term deal.  

But now it is time to be bold, for the sake of the British Union. We have heard nothing but bluster, arrogance, unreasonable behaviour and threats from the EU. It is time to call the EU’s bluff. Let them do their worst. It’s time to end the Protocol. 

David Campbell Bannerman is a former MEP of 10 years (2009-19) for the East of England. He is a leading Brexiteer and strategist, with an expertise in international trade.

 

Photo Credit: President Macron - EU2017EE Estonian PresidencyCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


WATCH our most recent webinar. What is the BBC for? Should it be defunded or reformed?

In a Freedom Association webinar held on Tuesday 4th May 2021, we discussed, “What's the BBC for? Should it be defunded or reformed?”

The panellists were:

Andrew Allison: Andrew is Head of Campaigns for The Freedom Association.

Nick Ross: Nick is a broadcaster, journalist, and campaigner. He became a household name in the UK launching breakfast TV, Watchdog and Crimewatch and flagship radio programmes including World at One, PM and The World Tonight.

Lord Moylan. Daniel was appointed a Conservative Peer in 2020. He was chairman of the London Legacy Development Corporation, deputy chairman of Transport for London, and chief airport adviser to Boris Johnson as Mayor of London. A lifelong listener of BBC Radio 3, he has described the radio channel as being "infected by a sort of relentless wokeness".

The webinar was chaired by David Campbell Bannerman, Chairman of The Freedom Association and a former Conservative MEP from 2009-2019, representing the East of England.

Click here to become a member of The Freedom Association. Click here if you would like to make a donation to support our work. 


What is the BBC for? Should it be defunded or reformed?

Please join us for our next webinar on Tuesday 4th May at 6.00 pm. We have a great panel ready to discuss, “What is the BBC for? Should it be defunded or reformed?”

Confirmed panelists are:

Andrew Allison: Andrew is Head of Campaigns for The Freedom Association.

Nick Ross: Nick is a broadcaster, journalist, and campaigner. He became a household name in the UK launching breakfast TV, Watchdog and Crimewatch and flagship radio programmes including World at One, PM and The World Tonight.

Lord Moylan. Daniel was appointed a Conservative Peer in 2020. He was chairman of the London Legacy Development Corporation, deputy chairman of Transport for London, and chief airport adviser to Boris Johnson as Mayor of London. A lifelong listener of BBC Radio 3, he has described the radio channel as being "infected by a sort of relentless wokeness".

The webinar will be chaired by David Campbell Bannerman, Chairman of The Freedom Association and a former Conservative MEP from 2009-2019, representing the East of England.

To register, click here


Method Behind the Madness

By David Campbell Bannerman, Chairman of The Freedom Association 

Has the world gone mad? A proposed assault on personal freedoms with a 6pm curfew designed to keep women safe. Not from some nutty fringe group, but from a Member of the House of Lords – Baroness Jenny Jones – and endorsed by the SNP’s international engagement spokesperson MP Hannah Bardell. 

Excessive policing of a vigil, not even a protest, but then with extremists hijacking it for their own extreme agenda. The supposed female arrested was actually an actress and activist. The police rightly had to protect Churchill’s statue from a mob shouting abuse at the police officers. Gatherings have been made illegal in these exceptional Covid times when we are meant to be all confined home, but enforced randomly it seems by Mayor Khan and Commissioner Dick. They stand back for BLM or extreme Left causes, and pile-in to those opposing lockdown or honouring the murdered Sarah Everard. 

Statues covering all aspects of our history are suddenly being damned or torn down with the say so of a few insistent and determined individuals, representing extreme elements in our society. Our great ‘traditional’ institutions – such as universities, the National Trust, English Heritage, and even Kew Gardens, are suddenly panicking and doing idiotic things such as questioning Churchill’s legacy at Chartwell or attempting to rename plants with potential slavery connotations. Potty indeed. 

A valued Duchess and her captured Duke are declaring war on the Royal Family with hearsay evidence and plenty of erroneous claims with the Media lapping it up and blasting it globally. The TV and radio are full of victims all being oppressed by the State, and demanding redress and special treatment, talking in strange therapist terms of ‘empowerment’ and ‘white privilege’ and ‘taking ownership of’, with presenters setting them up and cheering them on. People have been forced to resign for the tiniest remark seen to be a little controversial, or even ridiculously non-controversial on examination, just not in fad. Even the term ‘BAME’, which seems duly respectful, is suddenly out of fashion and inappropriate.

We now have a new Hate Crime Act in the United Kingdom, which criminalises thought and opinion at the dinner table; which encourages condemnation of adults by the words of their own children, as encouraged by Hitler, Stalin and in the pages of ‘1984’. Big Brother Yousaf of the SNP and his acolytes are watching and innocent speech and expression are now under serious threat in Scotland. The largest Arts Festival in the world with such diversity of expression, now subject to thought police. 

This is the politics of the mob. Of the Witch Hunt. As I learnt from TFA’s excellent ‘Cancel Culture’ webinar, it seems that social media is a big part of this, as it allows very personalised instant attacks on a person or organisation, for them to be ‘cancelled’ or shunned, in the old vernacular, like a virtual mob circling a house of an accused witch. No evidence of being a witch was needed to burn them in those days other than people feeling threatened. Twitter I know to be very direct and personalised – there is no real firewall protection apart from blocking. The SNP nats are adept at ‘pile ons’. 

It is tempting to dismiss this all as a mad, mad world. Perhaps even occasioned by enforced isolation due to Covid, but I fear it is actually not incidental but part of a sinister, deliberate and dangerous attempt to tear down our society, and destroy it from within. There is a plan. 

A cultural war is an easier battle to win than an economic or political one for Marxist revolutionaries. Because culture is malleable; it is not guarded in constitutions, in laws, in verifiable analysis and data. It is handed down from family to family, generation to generation, and is open to question and attack. Chairman Mao saw this in China – the Cultural Revolution may have inspired today’s events. This is a transatlantic movement as with BLM reciting US slogans and a US-style race problem the UK does not have. Favoured expressions of yesterday suddenly become unacceptable. 

Now the very term ‘woman’, incontestable before, is deemed unacceptable to use. Biden’s Democrats are seeking to outlaw its use there. The world must be turned on its head to safeguard the rights of binary people or transgenders. This is not to disrespect either group, it is just about maintaining a proper balance. 

What was thought acceptable 20 years ago is suddenly offensive now. Look at all those creepy warnings now put by the BBC on golden TV episodes that were mainstream and funny not so long back. Health warnings on ‘Fawlty Towers’ for ‘offensive content and language’; ‘Dad’s Army’ for its ‘discriminatory language’; and ‘Little Britain’ taken down because of one of the characters. Are snowflakes so easily offended?

Indeed, where has our humour gone? Monty Python stars are now lucky not to be damned or banned on university campuses. Everyone lives in fear of one ‘unacceptable’ joke ending a career or friendship. Political Correctness is a malign influence that seeks to make us all so self-regulated we all lose spontaneity or wit from fear of saying the wrong thing. The fear of damnation, with the Witchfinder Generals on the prowl. Hard-Left elements who seek to damn at the slightest error. We are becoming increasingly serious and contained. 

This regime is at its height now in universities, which routinely disrespect free speech and free opinion, and are marching through our institutions like that famous domino wave. The police have ‘taken the knee’ to hostile crowds. Big tech is politically correct to some extreme, rigorously now closing down or silencing all, seemingly beyond their ‘Woke’ sense of ethics. If you ban a President, as in Trump, who one may not agree with and take exception too, but is one of the greatest elected representatives in the free West, as Twitter has done, then who is safe? 

Then there is Hollywood. Highly insecure – Los Angeles is rich in fortune tellers – and obsessed with image and fortunes and fads, it is hardly surprising how Meghan Markle’s views are so well received there as she is a representative of it. ‘Me Too’ was all very well, but how many leading names in Hollywood knew about Weinstein, who was treated like its Royalty, but chose to stay silent because careers and money were at stake? Now awards ceremonies like the Oscars or BAFTAs are at risk of being degraded into a tick-box PC-driven exercise seeking to represent minority groups sufficiently. 

The intent of all of this in my view – the evil minds controlling this – is to cause chaos in our society, as the Frankfurt School proposed through critical theory, in order to make it weak, confused and introspective. That way it is easier to make it fall. 

They take valid causes – such as a vigil for a young woman tragically murdered after a late-night walk or for a flawed black individual killed unjustly by police choking (black lives do indeed matter) and they turn them into extreme anti-State, anti-Police, anti-White, anti-Establishment, anti-majority demonstrations. They are prepared to trample over the causes and people they purport to represent, and justify this all by being part of a wider Revolution – the destruction of Capitalism and Liberal Democracy. 

It is time we all saw the very real dangers in what is happening and come together to expose the reality and to fight it all the way. The Freedom Association should take a lead on such a fight back, and is well placed to do so. Let’s organise!


Join us for our next webinar - The British Union at risk: how do we fight back?


During our next webinar, The Freedom Association will address the subject of 'The British Union at risk: how do we fight back?' It will take place on Tuesday 23rd March at 6.00 pm. Confirmed panellists are:

Andrew Allison, Head of Campaigns for The Freedom Association

Rt Hon Baroness Hoey. Born and brought up in Northern Ireland, Kate served as the Labour MP for Vauxhall from 1989-2019

Rt Hon David Jones MP, Conservative MP for Clwyd West and a former Secretary of State for Wales

Brian Monteith, Council Member of The Freedom Association and a former Conservative MSP

The webinar will be chaired by David Campbell Bannerman, our Chairman and a former Conservative MEP. David has written this article about saving the British Union. 

You can register by clicking here. Places are limited. We hope that you will be able to join us. 


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.


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


Join us for our next webinar - Defence and Security: the great new post-Brexit opportunities

During our next webinar, The Freedom Association will be looking at defence and security: the opportunities post-Brexit Britain presents, and the challenges that as a country we face. It will be held on Tuesday 2nd February at 6.00 pm. Confirmed panellists are:

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 will be chaired by David Cambell Bannerman, our Chairman, who served on the Defence Sub-Committee at the European Parliament and also served in the Territorial Army (OTC).

Places are limited. Click here to register.


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