Boris Johnson’s EU manifesto: a sphinx with only half a riddle

After three days’ hype around London Mayor Boris Johnson’s speech at Bloomberg, in which he endorsed an EU report by his head economist Gerard Lyons, the reality is very disappointing. The EU discussion was an amuse-bouche to the main course: Johnson’s intended return to parliament.

The report itself should offer new analysis and convincing arguments that, although ideally the EU needs reform, a well-managed Brexit would be great for London. Boris is making much of this distinction: he’d rather leave than tolerate with the EU as it is today. He thinks Britain can flourish outside Brussels’ influence.  On the basis of Johnson’s immense stature, it’s likely that his favoured report will influence the EU debate strongly in the general election run-up.  This makes its distinct lack of precision shocking. Continue reading…

Will the Swiss roll over? How their EU dilemma could affect Britain

Swiss monitors have recorded record numbers of Portuguese entering their country this year, adding to the record 66,200 EEA migrants from 2013. This adds urgency to Switzerland’s desire to renegotiate their EU relationship, and the decision they may face to cut all ties.

This February the 8 million Swiss narrowly voted to use quotas to limit EEA (i.e. EU, Norway, Iceland) migration.  Christoph Blocher, Swiss Populist Party leader, argues the ‘road to poverty’ of migration is driving down wages, squeezing native Swiss out of jobs, and stultifying the economy. British readers might draw parallels with Civitas’ recent report by Robert Rowthorn, emeritus Cambridge economics professor, who contends that unlimited migration, plus poor integration and infrastructure investment, could weaken Britain in the long term.

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Will Hungary be expelled from the EU?

I thought I would partake in the proud tradition of using as headlines ‘questions to which the answer is No’. At least, not yet. In amidst the horror of MH17, the sickening news from Gaza and Israel, and David Cameron’s ‘put Britain first’ immigration PR stunt, you would be forgiven for not knowing why Hungary is flirting with an EU reprimand. Continue reading…

Commonwealth investment summit points to EU alternatives

It has been a gentle week to ease Philip Hammond into Britain’s top diplomatic job. He has only had to deal with the MH17 airplane crash in Eastern Ukraine, UN escalation with Russia, and the intensification of hostilities in Israel-Palestine. To add to his relaxation, Theresa May announced a public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent poisoned in London. Oh, and Hammond should be reforming the EU.

The Foreign Secretary will not be troubled, then, by the Commonwealth Games starting tomorrow in Glasgow. They are preceded by a two-day business conference run by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and the Scottish Government, which features heavyweight speakers Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, and Alex Salmond, Scottish First Minister. As I write, Mr Salmond is waxing lyrical about the ‘common weal’, a historic understanding of mankind’s shared goodness.

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Philip Hammond will be Tories’ axeman in the EU

In the reshuffle dubbed the “cull of the middle-aged white men”, the most important new job, Foreign Secretary, went to a middle-aged white man who studied PPE at Oxford and is worth an estimated £7.5 million.

This suggests potential fireworks in Brussels, since Philip Hammond is a known sceptic. Number 10’s aggressive line on Europe is confirmed by the blues’ reshuffle, or perhaps reshuffle blues, which sees Dominic Grieve and Kenneth Clarke sacked. Clarke was the most prominent pro-EU Tory, and has been merrily off-message all year. Grieve was described by The Telegraph as the last “real obstacle to a Tory commitment to withdrawing from the European Court of Human Rights.”

In January I constructed a blunt guesstimate of Conservative Euroscepticism. Hammond was the senior Tory nearest ‘Brexit’. When asked how he would vote if there was a snap EU referendum, Hammond supported Chris Grayling’s comment that Britain “cannot and should not” remain in the EU as it stands. Hammond told Andrew Neil with some force, “The European Union is going to change”.

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Tories to limit EU migration but yield policing powers

The Conservatives are discussing a new model for Europe, demanding a ‘wealth test’ on EU migration.The cap would apply to current and future EU members (i.e. Portugal, Ireland, Romania plus Albania/Kosovo) and would be a pillar of Britain’s renegotiated EU. It could apply to individuals, or to a state’s mean wage compared to Britain’s. It’s rumoured to have Cabinet backing and Tory grandee support, but isn’t yet party policy. The plan describes an ‘outer ring’ including Britain, Sweden and Denmark enjoying exemption from Euro integration, business red tape, human rights law, and state benefits obligations.

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Utterly forgettable – the ECJ’s Google ruling

There has been outrage this week after reports that the controversial EU ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling has made Google remove links to public interest sites such as BBC economics editor Robert Peston’s blog.  The post was on former Merrill Lynch CEO Stanley O’Neal, who played a crucial part in the 2007 financial crisis, presiding over the massive sale of toxic assets.

Peston’s blog yesterday noted that the removal requests actually came from someone who’d commented on his article, not from O’Neal, indicating that a normal internet user was embarrassed by what they’d written years ago. That doesn’t, however, remove the danger that in other cases, the rich and powerful can scrub their own digital records clean to avoid legitimate scrutiny: Google, which processes c.90% of European search results, has received 70,000 whitewashing requests, which would destroy 267,550 search results. (The pages themselves not deleted.) Continue reading…

Cameron must reform EU migration or campaign for ‘Out’

Lord Ashcroft’s latest poll shows the Tories have a 5% boost (to 33%, Lab 31%), which pundits are calling the ‘Juncker Jump’, a response to David Cameron’s brave but doomed last stand against the Commission Presidential candidate. In reality, it is more likely to be an anomaly – last Sunday’s Survation poll (Conservatives 27%, Labour 36%, Liberals 7%, Ukip 22%) is far more representative of 2014’s trend.

Dominic Cummings, famous for savaging most of Downing Street, has stepped into this complex world of political ‘market research’, conducting a study of ‘swing voters’ from the C2/D groups to deliver a clearer picture of real EU attitudes for campaign group Business for Britain. His findings have important implications for the EU debate.

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David Cameron’s EU strategy risks backfiring seriously

Britain is currently fighting blunt tooth and broken nail to block Jean-Claude Juncker’s promotion to European Commission President.

For David Cameron’s substantial EU reform ambitions he needs all the allies, goodwill and bargaining chips he can get his hands on, and he needs them with both member states’ leaders and whoever tops the Brussels machine. Instead, he’s alienating everybody by dragging out the process, forcing the pivotal German Chancellor Merkel to declare against him, losing popular Italian leader Matteo Renzi, and making Juncker a much worse enemy than he needed to be. Cameron’s even repelled the support of Boris Johnson’s university chum, the Polish foreign minister.

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Big Food’s GMO battle could affect Britain

This May Vermont state passed a law requiring labels on foods with genetically modified organism (GMO) ingredients. ‘Big Food’ lobby organisations claim this requirement contradicts the American constitution by forcing speech requirements and restrictions. Producers will be unable to say GMO food is ‘natural’, ‘naturally grown’ or ‘all natural’. Farming associations argue labelling costs will spiral, especially if other states copy Vermont but with different requirements, creating a piecemeal legal framework. Continue reading…