Wednesday, February 10, 2016

When both sides have a point ...

I can understand why the "Leave" camp were upset at the suggestion that Britain leaving the EU might result in unhelpful changes to the border arrangements between ourselves and France.

The 2003 Le Touquet agreement is a bilateral agreement between Britain and France, and would not automatically be cancelled if Britain voted to leave the EU.

And the present government of France have certainly said they want to keep it.

But the position is more complex than that and I think this is one which both the "Brexiteers" and the "Remainers" need to think more about.

Because a lot of the electorate is extremely concerned about the security of our borders and don't trust any politicians about it. I don't think anyone has yet presented a coherent strategy to address this.

David Cameron hasn't just invented his concern that France might withdraw from the agreement if Britain leaves the EU, however much 90% of the press might like to believe otherwise.

Most of the quotes from French politicians supporting the Le Touquet agreement which the press and the Brexiteers have been quoting this week were not made in response to the British PM, but in response to other French politicians who do want to withdraw from the treaty, which France can do at any time by giving six months' notice.

The minister who negotiated Le Touquet, David Blunkett, thinks DC has a point.

Sir Peter Ricketts, who until very recently was British ambassador to Paris and before that was a National Security Advisor, was on Radio 4 this morning and quoted in the Telegraph here saying the same thing.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "This is a bilateral treaty but it was made in a multilateral context where Britain and France are working very closely together across a whole range of issues in the interior, justice area, police cooperation and so on."

"If the context changed, and Britain made a major decision to leave the EU, then I think it is very likely that the French would review its position as well."

"It has 1,000 of its crack riot police deployed in Calais, far more than in Marseille. They are bottling up effectively 7,000 or more migrants in the camps.
"They are taking a lot of political flak for that, there is a lot of humanitarian pressure on them. "

"They are doing it effectively to protect our border. We get a secure border; the French carry a lot of the load."

"They are doing it because they see us as a very important ally in the EU on a whole range of areas of cooperation on police and crime. If that stopped, then the incentives change for France."

Some of the language which has been used by politicians on both sides of this particular argument has been way over the top. Both have a stronger case than the other would have you believe.

But listening to Sir Peter on the radio this morning left me in no doubt that there is a genuine concern - and perhaps it is one which is going to need attention whichever way the referendum vote goes.

Which leads me to another point. I know that intelligent "out" supporters realise that a vote to leave will not be a magic wand which will miraculously solve Britain's problems, but listening to the headbangers you would imagine they think so.

Well, the EU is not perfect and none of the "Out" options are perfect. Leaving is not going eliminate all our problems overnight and not will staying in.

Perhaps 10% of the electorate is really fascinated by the forthcoming EU referendum, which happens to include a very high proportion of political journalists and political party activists, including me.

The other 90% of the population is not particularly interested in the EU, are already bored stiff of the rubbish being talked by both sides, and will get more so unless one or preferably both campaigns stop all the silly insults and infighting and make a positive case for why they want to be in or out, preferably in a way which explains how this affects some of the things which the majority of the British people actually care about.

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