Friday, April 08, 2016

Herbert: "Leave" has more positions than the Kama Sutra ...

By something of an irony, Nick Herbert, leader of the Conservative remain campaign, wrote a very amusing and largely accurate article on the main "leave" campaigns yesterday, accusing them of having adopted more positions than the Kama Sutra.

Then later the same day I saw the first message I had seen on behalf of the Leave Alliance from anyone other than Jim King of this parish.

I do hope that we see more from the Leave Alliance, because as far as I can work out they are the only group on the Leave side which has put forward a serious strategy which I could imagine myself voting for, and one of the few of whom Nick Herbert's "Kama Sutra" joke is not justified.

Sadly, Nick is quite right when he says of the other groups supporting Leave that

"Their first idea was that Britain should forge a new alliance, the “Anglosphere”, attractive because it wasn’t French or German, spoke English, played cricket, and owing to its historic ties would embrace the motherland once again.

But this argument ran into the buffers when the Anglosphere told them it would rather Britain stayed in the EU. John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand and Julie Bishop, Australia’s foreign minister, are the latest to endorse remain. Even the former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbottno friend of the EU – believes it’s better for Britain to stay and reform from within. The United States has shown unusual bipartisan consensus on the issue: both President Obama and Senator John McCain want us to remain. Where once Brexit campaigners courted leaders across the Atlantic and the Pacific, they are now reduced to demanding that the Anglosphere keeps its opinion to itself. Their one significant friend, Donald Trump, is unlikely to take that advice."

And to coin a phrase, I agree with Nick when he points out that:

"Out of the EU, they said, Britain would have signed a free trade agreement with China years ago. But when the Port Talbot crisis hit the headlines last week they suddenly changed their tune. Now the most ardent free market ideologues have shamelessly morphed into protectionists, blaming the EU for preventing us from propping up the steel industry. It wasn’t long ago that the Mayor of London very publicly toured China and defended its investment in London’s infrastructure. Only last month, he said that Britain could strike free trade dealsbased on trade and getting rid of tariffs”. Now he lambasts those who “suck up to the Chinese” and criticises Brussels for preventing tariffs against Beijing.

There is clearly a strong case for anti-dumping measures of the kind which Britain has successfully been pursuing in Brussels. But raising tariffs generally would be counterproductive. Unlike the US, we are a net importer of steel. Such action would increase the price, raising costs for our car and aerospace industries – with the potential loss of more jobs in these industries than we would keep in steel production. By all means let’s have the debate. But those whose declared goal last week was free trade agreements with countries like China cannot this week credibly call for trade restrictions with them, or criticise Brussels for disallowing protectionist measures.

He is dead right, too, to say of the main Brexit campaigns that

" ... their opportunistic attempt to ignore the fact of global overproduction and pretend that quitting the EU would solve Port Talbot’s problems won’t wash. Half of Britain’s steel exports go to the EU. Massive economic uncertainty as we negotiate a new relationship, and a risk of the EU imposing costly anti-dumping tariffs once we’ve left, wouldn’t help the steel industry – they could finish it off."

And of course, it isn't just the EU that has rules against unfair state subsidies and against dumping - the World Trade Organisation does too. Even if we left the EU, we would not be able to use state aid to prop up the steel industry without inviting anti-dumping action which would make it even more impossible to sell steel abroad and therefore to make the industry viable again.

As so often in this referendum campaign, the most effective arguments put out by either side are the ones demolishing the other. And Nick Herbert's article at CapX, which you can read in full here, is one of the best examples.

However, the Leave Alliance's FLEXCIT proposal, which is almost the only thing I have seen out of the "Leave" side which is both comprehensive and internally consistent, is a horse of an entirely different colour.

Of those propositions which those people on the leave who are actually making a serious attempt to propose any sort of workable post BREXIT policy for Britain have put forward I have come to the conclusion that

1) I cannot vote for the WTO-plus proposal because too many of the "Remain" criticisms of it are justified - particularly there is simply far, far too high a risk that it would lead to tariff barriers being put up against British exports which would cost many British workers their jobs.

2) An EEA solution along the lines of the deal that Norway has except that we would not sign up to Schengen is much less of a risk, but I am not going to vote "Leave" if I think that's going to be the outcome because I believe that, as senior members of the Norwegian government themselves have said, we would be trading the substance of influence within the EU for an illusion of sovereignty and would lose more than we gained.

3) Nor can I in all conscience vote "Leave" if it is completely unclear what policy would be followed after June 23rd.

At the moment I am in serious doubt whether we would be aiming to build an outward looking, free trading Britain which has links all over the world as the idealists want - a vision which I find very attractive in principle but could only be built if that is what the country is seriously committed to - or an inward-looking "little Britain" which is only too keen to put up tariff barriers at the first opportunity and risks lurching from the unsustainably high levels of migration we have now to an equally undesirable extreme in the opposite direction.

4) However, although it is a compromise which will not satisfy everyone, the FLEXCIT proposal is in a completely different league from everything else which has come from the Leave side in terms of making a serious attempt to work out a strategy for Britain after 23rd June if there is a Leave vote.

It is not perfect, and I have not made up my mind, but if it looks like this strategy or something like it is likely to be what happens after a "leave" vote then, and probably only then, I am in a position to seriously consider voting for that outcome.


Jim said...

Thank you for your kind words on The Leave Alliance Chris,

and thank you for your Flexcit link, much appreciated.

Jim said...

"It is not perfect"

I know, and TLA would be the first to agree with you, that's the problem with reality, it never is :-)

Chris Whiteside said...

No problem, Jim, and I agree with you that reality is never perfect, which goes for the platforms of both sides, of course. One of the things which differentiates the Leave Alliance platform from the other Brexcit supporters is that I have a sense that they understand that.