Writing in the Telegraph today, City AM’s Allister Heath delivers a balanced if whistlestop article exploring some of the major problems that UKIP faces yet is doing little to overcome.
However Heath’s otherwise valuable piece gets off on the wrong foot from the get go with its title, ‘Nigel Farage’s biggest problem is Ukip doesn’t do details’. For the piece to be more accurate that should have read, ‘UKIP’s biggest problem is Nigel Farage doesn’t do details’. After all, Farage alone calls the shots and the party dances to whatever tune he chooses to play on any given day.
Even so, some of the analysis is penetrating and underlines much of what this blog has been arguing, even if Heath’s colour commentary about ties with the EU needing to be ‘significantly loosened’ is weak fluff. The emphasis below is mine:
Ukip’s problem is that its policy positions are uncosted aspirations, rather than properly thought-through proposals. Until this is sorted, they risk being torn to shreds as media scrutiny increases. Those who simply wish to protest against a snooty establishment, or who like how Farage “represents people like us”, won’t mind; but much of the country will, and Ukip’s bubble would deflate almost as fast as it takes its leader to down a pint.
In particular, Ukip doesn’t have a plan to exit the EU and to introduce alternative trading arrangements that reflect the complexities of the modern economy. The challenge is especially acute when it comes to complex rules of origin for manufactured goods, and to protect London’s financial services industry against protectionism. This problem is shared by the broader Eurosceptic movement, including in the Tory party; a lot of work is needed, and fast. For those of us who agree that the European project is a busted flush and that the UK’s ties with the EU need to be significantly loosened, this is a source of major frustration.
The absence of a cohesive UKIP exit plan and vision for new trading arrangements is the most critical issue for the whole Eurosceptic movement. This gap is a knife to the heart of the credibility of withdrawalists. It is the equivalent of a boxer not lifting his gloves and instead allowing his opponent to rain blow after blow on him.
Without a plan that triggers negotiation to bring about a replacement trading arrangement and access to the single market before the UK leaves the EU and abrogates existing treaties and agreements – which can only be achieved by invoking Article 50 – voters will be convinced to stick with the status quo, through a combination of Europhile FUD and the all-too-accurate exposure of the damaging consequences of simply leaving before securing trade deals that safeguard our economic interests.
Unless and until Farage gets serious about withdrawal, does detail and understands the mechanics and states the strategy to enable the UK to leave the EU, while maintaining our access to the single market – and crucially ensuring we can trade with those other countries around the world with whom trade agreements only cover EU member states – the ‘No’ campaign will lose any referendum.
Article 50 is the path to restoring our independence after which we can unpick the acquis at our leisure, secure in the knowledge we have access to the markets our businesses are so worried about losing. If the Eurosceptics present a robust plan to give businesses confidence that decoupling from political union does not mean we lose access to the single market or the countries with whom we have EU-negotiated trade deals, they have no economic basis for opposing the out campaign.