Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Worst of Both Worlds 3: "a puerile barrage of dodgy statistics."

Sadly there has been a further slew of ridiculous arguments from the headbangers on both sides of the EU Referendum debate, which is shaping up to be even worse than the one which preceded the Scottish Independence referendum.

So to try to bring a bit of balance and make the point that both sides need to do better, I'm continuing my series of "Worst of both worlds" articles which points out the problem with one of the most egregiously foolish or inaccurate statements or propaganda pieces from each side.

Whether or not you agree with anything else in the Daily Mail leader "Puerile Scare Tactics" (below) it is difficult to disagree with the conclusion that

"the British public deserves a mature debate on the facts - not a puerile barrage of dodgy statistics."

Absolutely, and although there are some people in both the pro and anti Brexit camps who are trying to be fair, reasonable and truthful, and  to whom this does not apply, I'm afraid a puerile barrage of scaremongering and dodgy statistics pretty much sums up what is being thrown at us by too many people on BOTH SIDES.

How not to argue for "Remain"

The most egregiously silly comment in the past week from a "remain" supporter has to be the absurd comment on the Daily Politics by David Lammy that a million Indians died fighting for Britain and that

"They fought for the European Project."

Lammy managed to make the UKIP representative he was debating look like a statesman by offering this grotesque distortion of the truth as a supremely easy target to shoot down ...

Just to put what actually happened in perspective, depending on what sources you take and which deaths are included, estimates for the number of service personnel from the Indian Subcontinent who lost their lives fighting in World War II range from a little over 36,000 to 87,000. (There were also about 74,187 Indians who died fighting for the British in World War one).

Even if you lump both wars together, Lammy was off by about an order of magnitude unless you include the deaths of between 1.5 to 2.5 million Indians from war related famine and starvation, particularly in Bengal, following the Japanese invasion of Burma (a major supplier of rice to Bengal) combined with a cyclone which caused tidal waves and floods and a devastating outbreak of the "brown spot" fungus. You could write books about who was to blame for this (and people have) but it had nothing to do with "the European Project."

And of course, those people from India who did die fighting Hitler were not fighting for "The European Project" either but to defend the rest of the world against a genocidal dictator.

So much for the "Remain" side, what about the "Leave" campaign?

Different supporters of British exit from the EU have very different ideas about whether the "Norway Option" of going to EEA status would be a good solution in the event of a "Leave" vote in the forthcoming referendum. Some such at Dan Hannan MEP and "Leave.EU" think that Norway has a good deal. Other opponents of British membership such as Douglas Carswell MP are adamant that they do not want the EEA/Norwegian solution.

A few weeks ago I responded to the fact that some supporters of the "Norway/EEA Option" and are so convinced they are right about this that they have been accusing David Cameron of lying when he says that the "Norway Option" would make Britain subject to the rules of the European Single Market without any say in setting them.

Today I'm going to respond to some supporters of the Norway/EEA Option who have been accusing the BBC of lying on the same basis. I make no apology for the fact that I will be repeating some of the same comments, quotes and links used in a previous post called "The Norway Option."

I usually have a lot of time for "The Conservative Woman" blog but an article today by David Keighley on that site is in some ways worse than David Lammy's gaffe - because some people might take what it says seriously.

Keighley does not quite have the guts to directly call Jonty Bloom of the BBC a liar but he effectively makes that charge by referring to "many EU experts" who he says think that a BBC radio 4 programme presented by Bloom, Norway's European Vision, crossed the divide at which "biased BBC reporting" tips over into "being deliberately untrue."

The central argument on the basis of which Keighley and the "EU experts" he quotes, a "leave EU" website piece called Another pack of BBC lies, and the EU Referendum site are accusing Jonty Bloom of being "loathsome" and effectively calling him a liar concerns the central question of how much influence Norway has over the single market's rules. They all appear to take particular exception to the following quote:

"Norway is not a member of the EU, it has no say over these or any other EU rules. It can lobby against them, but it does not sit round the table when they are proposed, discussed, amended, debated, or voted into law. The consequences can be huge".

Let's be clear about five things concerning Norway which no informed person disputes (though one of the allegations made by the "Leave" camp against the "Remain" camp is of denying the first of these).

1) Norway is much richer than the average EU Country.

2) A majority of Norwegians do not wish to join the EU

3) Norway is, however, part of the Single European Market and pays nearly as much per head for this as Britain does for full EU membership

4) Norway, like all EEA members, is consulted on technical aspects of Single Market rules and can occasionally influence these. However it has no vote when the rules are set.

5) EU institutions are deeply integrated into the economy and society of Norway.

Incidentally there are some Norwegians who have encouraged Britain to leave the EU and join them in the EEA and others who have pleaded with us to stay in (not least because we are usually one of the most sympathetic countries for them to lobby when they do want to amend a single market rule change which would harm them.)

Please people, on both sides, let's have a bit of basic logic:

The fact that Norway is outside the EU and comparatively rich does disprove the argument that being outside the EU guarantees poverty and failure. It does not prove either way whether Norway would be richer still or poorer if it were inside the EU.

Let me reiterate that I am not accusing those who believe that Norway has significant influence over the rules of the EU Single Market of lying. I do think they are wrong.

And I think it is most unhelpful when they accuse those who disagree with them of lying, whether it is the Jonty Bloom and the BBC or David Cameron, because the Prime Minister and others who have expressed this opinion have not simply made it up, but are repeating what has been said many times by senior members of the Norwegian government.

A few months ago I published on this blog a review of a Special Report published a few days before in The Economist magazine, "The Reluctant European" which analysed the arguments for and against British exit from the EU. (It is available here as a sequence of articles and here as a PDF)

I predicted that both sides would quote extensively but selectively from it, a prediction which proved accurate, because it recognised that one particular argument for Brexit had a good deal of force, but severely criticised a number of the arguments put by both sides, particularly most of the other arguments for Britain's departure from the EU. I also wrote that one thing in "The Reluctant European" which was particularly likely to upset some Brexit supporters was that, quote,

"The Economist challenges head on an argument often put by advocates of British exit from the EU, that despite not being in the EU the rules still give Norway and other EEA members some influence over what those rules are. When he was an academic, Norway's present attorney general led a study of the relationship between the country and the EU which reported 'serious democratic concerns because Norway was forced to implement laws that it had no say in making.'

"The magazine quotes Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s Europe minister, as saying that because his country is not represented in the Brussels institutions, it often finds it difficult even to discover what laws are being proposed and adopted. They say that the Norwegian Prime Minister and Attorney general have advised Britain 'to steer clear of the Norwegian model at all costs.'

It is not at all difficult to find on the internet plenty of articles and interviews in which Fredrik Sejersted, formerly a professor of law who took over as Norway's Attorney General last year, has indeed expressed precisely the views which "The Economist" attributes to him.

So has Vidar Helgesen, who combined the jobs of Minister for European affairs in the Norwegian cabinet, and chief of staff in the Prime Minister's office, until six weeks ago: he is still in Norway's government but moved to become Minister of Climate and the Environment on 16th December 2015.

In 2012 Fredrik Sejersted and Ulf Sverdrup wrote a report for the European Council on Foreign Relations on the Norwegian model. At that time Fredrik Sejersted was director of the Centre for European Law at the University of Oslo and Ulf Sverdrup was director of the Norwegian Institute for International Affairs (NUPI). They wrote an article in The Independent about the report they were writing which any British Eurosceptic who is thinking of supporting a "Norway Option" solution for Britain would be very well advised to read, which you can do here.

They noted that

"Norway has stayed out of the European Union, and seems to manage quite happily, reaping the benefits of the single market without the aggravations of membership. To many British Eurosceptics that must seem like the perfect deal.

"Well, it is not. On closer examination, the ‘Norwegian option’ is not an example to be followed, but should rather serve as a warning about how difficult a ‘half in; half out’ approach to Europe is. While Norway is formally outside the EU, in reality we are deeply integrated but without the rights of representation. The model is complex and costly, as well as problematic both in terms of democracy and national interest."

They went on to explain that

"Norway has taken more than three-quarters of EU law and policy, and this has had tremendous effects on the national political and legal system."

"The real lesson to be learned from Norway is that for a modern European country with an open economy there is nowhere to hide from the EU."

"The common feature is integration without representation.

"Through the agreements Norway is in effect obliged to implement new law and policy coming from Brussels, but without any say in the decision-making processes.

"A veil of formal sovereignty hides the transfer of real powers, creating a special kind of democratic deficit."

Earlier the same year, a committee chaired by Professor Sejersted had written a report commissioned by the Norwegian government on the country's EU membership which delivered similar findings as you can read in an article on the BBC website here: that report argued that Norway's status outside the EU was essentially "an illusion."

Let's look at the comments made by Vidar Helgeson while he was Norway's European affairs minister and Chief of Staff to the Norwegian PM, and here again the problem of selective quotation by pro- and anti- BREXIT campaigners becomes apparent.

Mr Helgeson has said things which can be quoted out of context by those Eurosceptics who like the Norwegian option as inferring that Norway has substantial influence on single market rules, and he has also said things which can be quoted by those who wish to express concern about the Norway option to imply the opposite.

In fact his views are perfectly consistent but much more nuanced than those looking for a quote to support a black-and-white view of the matter might wish. A good place to read them in context is an interview at EurActiv.com in which he discusses both Norway's influence on the single market and how much Norway has to pay for European Economic Area (EEA) status: the relevant page is called

"Vidar Helgesen: our EEA contribution costs almost as much as EU membership."

Talking of the pre-work by technical experts, he says that

"we have the right to take part in committees under the Commission where Norwegian experts do participate.

"As long as you have knowledge and expertise and bring that to the table, our voice is heard as much as EU member states. A lot of these discussions are technical. In some areas, we are globally leading in the technical expertise."

However he immediately went on to add:

"If and when there are bigger political issues our shortcomings are more evident because we are not at the table when the decisions are made."

Later in the article he says that

"There is very clearly a paradox in that the single international actor that influences the Norwegian society and our daily life the most, the EU, is the only big international organisation that we are not a member of."

You can immediately see why one side of the argument about the "Norway option" might want to selectively quote the first three sentences there and leave out what follows, and the other side of the argument might wish to do the reverse!

Commenting on those British "leave" campaigners  who hold up Norway as

"an example of a successful nation operating outside of Brussels' control."

Vidar Helgesen told Sky News that "the truth is much more complicated and much less rosy."

He said that "We import three quarters of EU legislation with virtually no say in the decision making process. It's a very good solution for our economy - some argue it's not necessarily a good solution for our democracy ..."

He told the Telegraph in an interview written up as "Why Britain should not leave the EU to be like Norway: by a Norwegian minister" that

"Without a seat at the table, it is difficult to play a real part in decision-making."

"During the past 20 years, Norway has incorporated more than 10 000 EU rules into the EEA Agreement. We see the results of these rules every day – in our daily lives, in our work and in business. However, we have had little direct influence over their development. Although we implement more than three quarters of EU legislation, we have to work very hard to make our voice heard."

"Norway’s trade with EU countries accounts for a greater share of our foreign trade than is the case for the UK. We are part of Schengen, and in relative terms we have more EU labour immigrants than the UK. We regularly align ourselves with EU positions on foreign and security policy. And our financial contributions are on a par with comparable EU member-states. Basically, with the exception of our agricultural policies, we are part of the same European integration process as the UK. But we do not have the right to vote in Europe."

He gave a very interesting three minute TV interview on the subject of British EU membership and the Norway option in October 2015 which you can watch on the MSN site at

Interestingly the last line of the interview was the statement that another lesson from Norway is not to try to predict referendum results!

Pulling the threads together it seems to me that those "Leave" supporters who think that a "Norway Option" would give Britain dramatically more freedom from Brussels than we have now have mistaken the illusion referred to by Fredrik Sejersted for the reality and failed to see through the veil of formal sovereignty which hides the transfer of real power to the EU.

And there is enough evidence for both points of view about the Norway option that for either side to accuse the other of lying gets us absolutely nowhere.


Jim said...

As I said earlier, The point about the EEA/EFTA route (or Norway option if you prefer) is not that its ideal, but more it is workable in the 2 year negotiation period of Article 50. Its an off the shelf solution that Wont significantly affect trade, as we keep single market access, so wont cause Havoc and it is workable, both politically and economically.

Its not ideal, nothing ever is, but when you sit down and look at the facts then you will realise its actually our best bet.

It was designed as a "stepping stone in" to full EU membership, but any stepping stone in, quite naturally serves as a "stepping stone out"

Once again Flexcit is a 6 stage exit plan, What seems to be insinuated by your post is that Stage 1 is the end, its not, Its pretty much the beginning.

I likened this to a travel agent showing you the departure lounge at Manchester airport and saying "this is where our opponents want to take you on your holidays" - its not untrue that the rival travel agent will take you to the departure lounge at the airport, but its not like they intend for you to stay there for the full duration of your holiday.

Flexcit is simply pointing out that going via Manchester is a nicer and better way to get to the final overseas destination, than going on a double decker bus, or getting a taxi.

Chris Whiteside said...

I realise that is your opinion, Jim, and I'm not taking issue with that opinion in this article.

What I'm objecting to is people accusing others of lying about the issues with the Norway/EEA option when the latter make statements about the problems with that option AS IT STANDS AT THE MOMENT which I personally agree with.

I would not approve of people accusing those who disagree with me of lying either - we should be able in a mature democracy to accept that people can disagree on this one without either side lying.

Jim said...

But flexcit is not disagreeing with you, its pointing out that it the best way forward with the real world options we have.

What is deceitful is to pretend its the end, when its not. That is my point.

I am not accusing you of telling porkies, I am simply stating you are not looking at the bigger picture, taking stage 1 as the end and presenting it as such does not help anyone.

Whilst I do agree that your analysis of the current people running to lead both campaigns is correct> I am simply pointing out that to state there is no exit plan is simply misleading there is, a brief version of it is here

So now we do have it, though its largly ignored while the MSM keep asking for it, and we keep providing it, so they ignore that, and then ask again a couple of weeks later.

I ask what is the "remain" plan? what is it?
where is the stuff about we should remain in the EU because - and then go though the advantages of remaining subordinate to a supranational organisation. (and do it honestly as Flexcit does)

So from the leave side, well there is the exit plan, the cards are face up on the table. Talk about giving the advantage, but that is the state of play. so we wait.

or are we going to get bogged down again in Vote Leave / Leave.eu rubbish as its part of the bubble?

Jim said...

And that is just it, its not my opinion, its the facts of the matter presented in the workable exit plan. Do I like it all - actually no, but its honest, and its workable. That is what makes it so good. I don't really like a lot of it, but life is like that, and these are the cards we are dealt.

there is never going to a "perfect answer" there never will be, but a plan, which is real world workable, to get where you want to be going is, at least in my book, a blooming good way to start.