Monday, 28 March 2016

Anna Soubry: poisonous liar


Anna Soubry is the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise. She is also a liar. In a Telegraph article yesterday she does halfway decent job of demolishing some of the Brexit myths. This is not to say she has a strong case for remaining in the EU. All she is saying that the arguments put forth by Vote Leave, Boris Johnson and the likes are extremely weak and lack any credibility. That's nothing I have not said myself and I am steadfastly pro-Brexit. The inherent lies within are the repeated assertions that David Cameron has secured EU reform.

I was going to fisk the article but it's a tiresome and labour intensive form or writing and sadly it doesn't attract many readers - so I will just address one or two basic, but significant points that relate to the path we will probably follow. She says:
Myth four: we could leave the EU and retain full access to the Single Market without paying into the budget or accepting free movement of people. The evidence shows that this is not possible. As the German finance minister made clear recently, if you want to access the Single Market, you must pay into the EU and accept complete free movement of people. Just ask Norway. They pay into the EU and accept double the number of EU migrants per head than us. At the same time, they still have to put up with some tariffs on their goods and have no say over Single Market rules. That’s the worst of both worlds.
For sure, freedom of movement is a given, but Norway has a genuine emergency brake as encoded into the EEA agreement. Norway is also in Schengen. We are not and never will be. That however is not the theme of this post. Soubry has it that "Norway still has to put up with some tariffs on their goods and have no say over Single Market rules. That’s the worst of both worlds".

Actually it's the best of both worlds. Norway, by way of being an EEA member is a part of the single market, but has the right to refuse regulations and has right of reservation. That is why tariffs apply on certain goods. Namely fisheries and food.

Norway an independent member of Codex - the global food standards setting body. Norway even hosts the all-important Fish and Fisheries Products Committee. Thus, it is the lead nation globally in an area of significant economic importance to itself.

When it comes to trade in fish and fishery product, Norway is able to guide, if not control, the agenda on standards and other matters. The EU then reacts, turning the Codex standards into Community law, which then applies to EEA countries, including Norway. But it is Norway, not the EU, which calls the shots.

In some areas, Norway is able to opt out of applying certain standards thus exempting certain sectors from external competition. Their own parliament gets to decide whether the trade off of tariffs is worth protecting their strategic national assets. In this it is a widely held view that Norway would have no agricultural sector at all were it open to the full forces of competition. And that's self-evidently a bad thing.

Agriculture is central to food security, defence, tourism, land management and flood prevention. Livestock rearing and crop production is part of the economics of such land husbandry. As essential as that is, it is also suicidal to open it up to the the full forces of competition and remote management via the Common Agricultural Policy.

Coming back to Fisheries, Norway has the richest cod fishery in the world with an estimated catch value of €2 billion and a huge amount of added value from processing. The also have a growing aquaculture sector producing Salmon for Japanese markets - a trade deal they were able to negotiate independently of the EU. The decision is entirely theirs as to whether they expose it to EU competition. That sovereignty thing.

Now some are aghast at the very idea of protectionism. It is an article of faith among the Tory right that protectionism is baaad m'kay! I wholly disagree.

While I am from a largely libertarian conservative background, I have since learned to dispense with dogma and absolutes. Unilateral free trade works when you're rich and service driven ie the south east. Every other part of the UK has been devastated as we refuse countermeasures to blatant state subsidy of industry abroad. Italy makes double the steel we do, with massive state support.

We could have protected our own steel, not through any dogmatic socialist tendency but in order to retain some of the knowledge and production ability of what should be classified as a strategic national asset. Every government does it - even the good old US of A.

You may have seen M1 Abrams tanks on the news just recently. Tanks gifted by the US to the Iraqi Army. America has a massive surprise of them and is still building them. It is far cheaper to maintain a production line than it is to let it be cannibalised and then retool and re-staff when you need to build more of them. So for the time being, the US will be handing out monkey models of their main battle tank for thruppence ha'penny a dozen. Sometimes pragmatism defies apparent good sense. For them it is a strategic national asset.

And so too is our agriculture. Having opened up our markets to to full force of competition we are seeing the dairy industry collapsing - and that is a travesty. We should be able to protect that industry and we do need to retain the ability to raise livestock. Moreover, we do not want our countryside plastered with solar panels as farmers struggle to make a living off the land.

We need our own sovereignty over matters we consider vital to tourism, defence and food security and flood prevention. If deviating from the EU standard means we incur tariffs then so be it if the cost benefit analysis suggests it's worth taking the hit. Without such protections, everything is up for sale, everything is open to job killing competition and that does not necessarily mean cheaper goods. There are always externalities.

The dogmatic insistence on free trade at any costs is a, dare I say, "neoliberal" ideology that utterly destroys industries in lesser developed countries. Time and again we have seen superpowers exerting their influence to bring down tariff barriers in Africa meaning that domestic tax revenue collapses, making governments more dependent on corporate bribes for income that genuine revenue from trade and industrial activity.

It is why so much of Africa remains utterly corrupt and is unable to establish functioning democracy. People show no loyalty or obligation to a state they do not pay for and have no control over. Moreover without some protections there is no hope of stimulating a skilled workforce if every industry is exposed to cheaper foreign competition with an unfair advantage.

We all want the benefits of globalisation and we all want free and fair trade but some things are sacrosanct, some things require protection and some things do not benefit from a one-size-fits- all policy. There is no room for dogmatic ideology - especially the supranationalism of the EU that removes choice over every area of trade - often with depressing results.

Leaving the EU means we can maintain the single market, we can veto regulations and though there may be tariff penalties where we choose to protect ourselves from the onslaught of hyper globalisation. The basic right to decide for ourselves.

That may be at odds with the dogmatic free market ideology of the EU but the facts on the ground show that the EU is not a genuine single market. Other member states do not play by the rules and the main reason we suffer as much as we do is because we believe in the rule of law and contract in ways that France, Italy and Greece does not.

We are shooting ourselves in the foot at the cost of our agriculture sector, when we could be protecting ourselves from direct EU competition while seeking new markets elsewhere. And why can't we? Norway does.

As it happens, Britain does believe in free markets and is not so keen on protectionism - and since it is a leader in producing standards and regulations it is unlikely that we would opt out very often, but the point is that Brexit gives us that choice when we need to.

We can have our own fishing and agriculture back under local control, we can safeguard jobs and skills we value and not everything has to have a price tag on it. Protectionism is not a dirty word and safeguarding those industries that have shaped our island for a thousand years is not "socialism" - it's just good government.

In an era of hyper globalisation where we will see ever more globalisation of regulation we need a line of defence now more than ever. The EU is incapable of being that line of defence. The EU is never going to put British concerns first. British jobs and British agriculture should never be a bartering chip for some Portuguese official. Any hit we take from EU negotiations to them is just a cost of doing business. To us, it's our lives they are playing with.

Nobody is every going to care about North Yorkshire coastline like the people of North Yorkshire same as nobody is going to care for the Somerset Levels as the people of Somerset would if only they could. It's our country, our assets, our livelihoods and our democracy. Why should we not get a say in what we allow?

It's not a left/right question. It's about our right to say no when we need to. The dogmatic supranationalism of the EU will never allow for that. It goes against the DNA of the EU - and despite what liars like Anna Soubry say - the EU has not been reformed and never will be.

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