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Samizdata quote of the day

“England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example.”

William Pitt, the Younger

In partial defence of two Red Princes

Over the last two days two scions of notable political families have attracted controversy related to the referendum.

In a leaked telephone call, Will Straw, Remain campaign director and son of Jack Straw, said the following:

“We need to recognise that people have been pulled up short by Jo Cox’s death and it is now time to make a very positive case for why we want to be in the European Union… to call out the other side for what they have done to stir division and resentment in the UK. That is something we must all do… This is what we think is the closing argument of the campaign, reflecting all the arguments that we have been setting out for many months but also the new context that we’re in. What we want to say is people should vote Remain on Thursday for more jobs, lower prices, workers’ rights, stronger public services and a decent, tolerant United Kingdom.”

I see little to condemn there. He is a political campaign manager: deciding how to adapt his campaign message to best take advantage of recent events is what he is paid for. I do resent how the Remain side has smeared the Leavers as somehow responsible for the doings of a deranged neo-Nazi, but what was Straw meant to do, ignore it? Does anyone think his counterpart on the Leave side was not similarly briefing his team on how to minimize the fallout?

Stephen Kinnock MP, son of Neil Kinnock, has also been the subject of angry comment. At the ceremony – basically a secular memorial service – held in Parliament to honour Jo Cox he was one of very few MPs to depart from the consciously bipartisan tone. While wearing (unless my eyes deceive me) an “In” campaign badge, he said,

“I can only imagine Jo’s reaction had she seen the poster unveiled hours before her death – a poster on the streets of Britain that demonised hundreds of desperate refugees, including hungry terrified children fleeing from the terror of Isis and Russian bombs. She would have responded with outrage and a robust rejection of the calculated narrative of cynicism, division and despair that it represents.”

That catch in his voice was not faked. Jo Cox was his personal friend. It seems probable that she was murdered for political reasons. (The likelihood that the killer had mental problems makes that no less true.) It must have seemed urgent to speak for her when she could no longer speak for herself. He still should have stood firm against the temptation to make a political point at that time and place. To do so struck in its own way at the very thing he said he wanted to preserve: the sense across all parties that, as Jo Cox herself said, “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

Mr Kinnock’s speech did not play well among the Independent‘s commenters.

The one-world government logic of Remain

One of the arguments of those wishing the UK to stay in the European Union is that if the UK decides to leave, it will still need to accept most, if not all, EU laws if the UK wants to continue to trade and interact with this bloc. (This is the position, for example, of Norway and Switzerland, or so the Remainers say.) It is all about keeping British “influence”.

The Remainers often don’t appear to realise where the logic of their argument leads. Surely it leads to the case for World government. Let’s look Westward for a moment. Consider the recent example of how the US uses a “worldwide system” of tax. Any American living abroad has to file an annual return to the Internal Revenue Service. The US recently enacted a thumpingly controversial and intrusive piece of legislation called the Foreign Account Taxation Compliance Act, or FATCA. This means any foreign financial institution must take all necessary steps to establish whether a client is American or not or, if it interacts with the US. If no such steps are taken, the FFI must pay a 30 per cent withholding tax. It means that the IRS and other branches of US government have been able to enforce a massive piece of extra-territorial legislation on the rest of the world. Many Americans can’t get access to accounts when they live abroad. The situation is a shambles. Do I hear Remain-type people arguing that we should join the US in political union to try and sort this out and “influence” the US? Of course not. In another case, that of the football organisation FIFA, it was the use of dollar-based transactions by the alleged crooks at FIFA that led to the US Department of Justice, rather than the Swiss or others, sending in the investigators to Zurich. I haven’t heard of Swiss people arguing that Switzerland should become part of the US so that the Swiss can gain “influence” in Washington over such powers.

In other words, countries that have the economic muscle to create a situation where dealing with it entails certain extensions of judicial power can have influence way beyond their borders and aren’t likely to want to have that power diluted by sharing it with others. The US is, despite the best efforts of its political class, the world’s largest economy, and likely to remain so for a while. Ironically, the US hasn’t actually signed up to many of the very cross-border tax compliance moves that it insists upon when applied in other lands. Rank hypocrisy, you might say. But what this also reveals is that when you hear a lot of fine words about “gaining influence”, what it really boils down to is brute economic wealth and power. China, for example, owns a lot of US Treasury debt, as do a number of other Asian jurisdictions, and I suspect that explains why the US hasn’t launched many noisy campaigns about evil expat “tax evaders” in that region. This isn’t edifying, but that’s reality.

The “influence” that the UK may have in the corridors of Brussels comes, if it exists at all, from the relative prosperity and hence economic power of the UK, rather than on anything else.

In fact, to gain the “influence” that involves going along with the Brussels machine as the Remainers see it requires the UK to operate under the Qualified Majority Voting system of the EU. So, on key issues, such as a proposed EU transaction tax on banks, the UK is likely to be outvoted, suffering damage to a key industry (the City). The UK is most likely to object to EU directives where the UK sees a key interest at risk, and by definition, most likely to be in a minority when a QMV process occurs. The “influence” is diluted, often in ways that hurt real UK interests. QMV may seem to benefit the larger countries, but in certain respects it means that the UK can lose key votes on issues that really matter, such as to financial services.

Competition between jurisdictions, with freedom, crucially, of citizens to be able to migrate and with open capital flows, represents arguably the best check on power that we have. A looser Europe, enjoying free trade and free capital flows, but without such centralised political power, is arguably the best outcome from a liberal (in the right sense) use of the word. World government is a deluded dream, but I fear the Remain camp is not willing to face up to where the logic of its argument is leading.

Discussion point: would you miss it?

Donald Tusk: Brexit could destroy western political civilisation

You are not allowed to play our game, nyah, nyah, nyah

The Guardian is covering German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s interview comments that he will not let Britain play with him or his EU friends if it does not do what he wants.

Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has slammed the door on Britain retaining access to the single market if it votes to the leave the European Union.

In an interview in a Brexit-themed issue of German weekly Der Spiegel, the influential veteran politician ruled out the possibility of the UK following a Swiss or Norwegian model where it could enjoy the benefits of the single market without being an EU member.

“That won’t work,” Schäuble told Der Spiegel. “It would require the country to abide by the rules of a club from which it currently wants to withdraw.

“If the majority in Britain opts for Brexit, that would be a decision against the single market. In is in. Out is out. One has to respect the sovereignty of the British people.”

I am left wondering what he means and why we should care. On what he means, the article does not help.

A lot of people seem to be under the impression that “trade deals” are somehow important. I am of the view that unilateral free trade is perfectly fine. If the German government wants to tax and bully Germans who want to buy things from people in Britain, that is very much the German people’s problem. It might mean that Germans buy fewer things from the UK, but does that really matter? Mainstream thinking seems to be that it will cost Jobs, but jobs are a cost. There is no shortage of work to do, so if British people spend less time and effort making things for Germans they will just have more time and effort left to make things for other British people, or people in other countries. Of course there will be some short term pain and turmoil as a result of changes, but that is true of all changes, so I think it is only necessary to consider the long term. And in the long term, as long as the British government allows us to buy things from Europe if we want to, everything will be fine.

George Osborne tweeted, “UK would have to accept free movement and pay in to EU to continue to access trade”, as if the EU would impose an embargo on us like the USA does Cuba.

Peter Mandelson said, “We cannot leave the club and continue to use its facilities.” What facilities specifically does he mean? There is an awful lot of vague language about. As far as I can tell we will still be able to visit France and bring back wine, even outside of the EU.

Matthew Elliot, formerly of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, Big Brother Watch and now the Vote Leave Campaign Committee, said, “The eurozone economies are dependent on trade with the UK. We are the fifth largest economy in the world, while many of them are in a desperate state due to the failing single currency. There is no question about it, Britain will still have access to the single market after we vote leave. It would be perverse of the eurozone to try to create artificial barriers – and would do far more damage to them than to anyone else.” This sounds about right. But then he went on to talk about the ability to “forge trade deals” with emerging markets outside of the EU, which I still see as unnecessary.

People trade with people. Governments just decide whether to get in the way or not. At least for now, UK government people on both sides of the EU debate are talking about the importance of not getting in the way. So that is one good thing.

Britain leaving the EU will be disruptive: that is (mostly) good

In recent years it has become fashionable to hail changes and technologies that are “disruptive”. The example of Uber, the business that Brian Micklethwait of this parish and others have saluted, being a classic case in point. Of course, just because something is disruptive doesn’t make it good for the consumer. Blizzards and earthquakes are disruptive, for example. (Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has pointed out that disruption can be a painful, if not always desirable part of the process of reaching a destination, not the desired destination as such.) Even so, it seems to be highly fashionable to praise technologies if they are “disruptive”; in my daily work-related reading it is hard to avoid seeing this or that business model as “disruptive” with the strong implication that this is a Good Thing.

Ironically enough, however, one of the most disruptive events that may occur in the next few months is if British voters elect to leave the European Union. This will, so critics of such a “Brexit” claim, create uncertainty and be clearly a very disruptive event. All kinds of assumptions of how things are will be turned upside down. My goodness, we poor little moppets might have to learn about how to negotiate trade deals, repeal, replace or cut down on legislation, or have to recalibrate our relations with other nations. There will be a lot of disruption.

And yet apart from a few isolated examples, I see few signs of the pro-Brexit camp saying that this disruption will be a positive good thing; if anything, I sense they want to play this down, although senior Telegraph journalist Allister Heath has argued that the shock effect of Brexit will be positive for the rest of the EU (such an argument is likely to be lost on the existing EU elites barely able to conceive of life outside the comforting embrace of what they have known). It would be good if the pro-Brexit campaigners could argue two things: 1, that Brexit will be disruptive and interfere with the tranquil world of certain people, and 2, that this disruption is good, healthy, necessary and likely to trigger a run of reforms and changes that otherwise are unlikely to happen.

 

 

One way to be a media celeb is to be a lousy finance minister

This item at the EconLog blog caught my eye. It has the ring of truth about it:

And yet, good for him, this is exactly the outcome of his short time in Greek government. As a Minister, he has nothing to exhibit as success. But an intense countenance, an elaborately casual look, and his colourful prose makes him a perfect fit for the world of celebrities. I suppose this is another proof of the immense powers of “commodification” of global capitalism.

The author, Alberto Mingardi, is writing about the “cool dude” Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. The man’s rather strained form of Marxism will, so the author of the piece, hurt him not at all because his targets are, for different reasons, ones that aren’t particularly sympathetic, such as the German government, and Brussels.

The point, though, its that being a failed socialist finance minister isn’t enough to get that sort of media celeb status without other ingredients. After all, there are quite a few of such people and in some cases, such as former UK chancellor Gordon Brown, he is about as trendy as flared jeans; he has all the media appeal of steel reinforced concrete. The Greek chap has the looks and demeanour of an outsider, even if, in reality, he is as much a part of the Big Government class as the rest of them. He understood that people fall for all this bollocks about wearing leather jackets, riding a motorbike and not appearing to be A Suit.

And back in the UK, assuming that Jeremy Corbyn (not exactly the sort of name one associates with horny-handed coal miners or ship-builders) becomes leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, and leads Labour into the sort of disaster widely foretold, he has a career as a media celeb sorted: the ageing geography-teacher schtick with the beard, loose jackets and references to Tony Benn.

 

 

Fingering EU

A reader forwards the following information:

On October 25th, without any consultation, the Council of European Union introduced a change to this legislation, calling for the mandatory fingerprinting of all EU citizens, residents and visitors.

This, along with the passport could form the basis of an intrusive EU wide identity card, similar to that the current British government is proposing at national level, and certainly would enable EU-wide surveillance of everyone’s movements.

The organisations Privacy International, Statewatch and European Digital Rights have written an open letter to MEPs. They are calling for endorsements of this letter, please email privacyint@privacy.org if you wish to do this. (The email address (terrrights@privacy.org) given on PI’s web page for this purpose bounced.)

They are also calling for people to contact their MEPs over this by November 30th. You can find UK MEPs’ emails here. For those EU residents not in the UK, these links should help.

Testing the EU Arrest Warrant

The European Union instituted a European wide arrest warrant in order to speed extradition between Member States, without providing some of the basic precautions that a citizen would expect before being deported to a foreign country. These were established to promote the development of a European ‘judicial space’ under the guise of fighting the ‘war on terror’: an old chestnut these days in the campaign to undermine and reduce civil liberties.

However, the EU arrest warrant is running into the obstacles and minefields of laws and judgements. A recent case involved three French citizens, accused of belonging to a group, that Spain considers to be a terrorist and criminal organisation.

A French court on Tuesday rejected a Spanish request for the extradition of three French people accused of being members of an organisation suspected of financing Basque separatist group ETA, judicial sources said.

Amaia Rekarte, Yves Matxikote and Harritza Gallaraga were detained last month — but later released pending the court’s ruling — after Spain demanded their extradition on charges of belonging to a criminal and terrorist group.

The three accused belong to an organisation, Segi, with Basque sympathies and posssible links to ETA, the Basque terrorist group. However, membership of the organisation is not banned under French law, and Spain was requesting extradition for the three on actions conducted legally in France, whilst being illegal in Spain. It is not clear if the three acted in France alone or in Spain as well.

This appears to have been a ‘fishing trip’ to arrest three Basque sympathisers. It failed as the French judge in Pau argued that French citizens should not be extradited if their actions were legal in their own Member State. The European Commission played down the judgement:

The ruling appears to be a blow to the ambition behind the EU arrest warrant, which was to facilitate extradition in terrorism cases. However, the EU Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, Antonio Vitorino, does not want to overdramatise the importance of the case. “This is a case of conflicting competences between judges. The arrest warrant as such has not been called into question,” said spokesman Pietro Petrucci to EurActiv.

ETA has murdered over 800 men, women and children since 1968 in pursuit of an independent Basque state. The Spanish are understandably enthusiastic in their wish to prevent further murders in this cause.

EU accepts UK anti-terrorism surveillance plans

10 Downing St says the EU Justice Council has agreed to all UK anti-terrorism proposals, including communications data retention standards.

The Council:

agreed to establish new common standards for retention of communications data;

agreed to implement proposals to improve the exchange of data between countries, for example on lost and stolen passports; and

tasked EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security policy, Javier Solana, to bring forward proposals to make better use of intelligence across the EU within six months.

 – 10 Downing Street, EU agrees UK anti-terror plans.

Cross-posted from vigilant.tv.

Blunkett raises spectre of fingerprinting entire EU population!

Mentioned en passant in another alarming article in which David Blunkett threatens yet further abridgements of civil liberties under the guise of ‘fighting terrorism’, it is noted he and the European Commission advocated the idea of…

Joining forces with the Commission, Mr Blunkett backed proposals for a fingerprint data base of all EU citizens and tougher measures to tackle terrorist funding.

Oh wonderful.

EU collects PNR as well!

In Euractiv, it is reported that the next Justice and Home Affairs Council on the 19th-20th February will pass a draft directive authorising the collection of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data from non-EU nationals by airlines flying to a Member State. The data will be transferred to agencies in charge of the EU’s external borders in order to aid the management of immigration.

Data will notably include the names, travel document used, nationality, date of birth plus point and time of departure and arrival. Airlines will face thousand euro fines if they have not transmitted data or if the data is incomplete or false.

The original Spanish proposal was watered down after the House of Lords, amongst other bodies, pointed out that this placed a huge burden upon air and sea carriers. The draft directive will fail if it has not passed by April 30th under the auspices of the Treaty of Amsterdam and the Irish Presidency has crafted a compromise whereby biometric data is excluded and the burden is limited to air carriers.

Statewatch had already raised the flag on this proposal to transform air and sea carriers into data collection and surveillance agencies for external border control agencies.