It is noteworthy that when it comes to discussion about how the UK should go about leaving the EU in a legal and structured manner that , the only place where the mechanism was properly considered and investigated was by Richard North on the EU Referendum blog with support in the Telegraph and Daily Mail from Christopher Booker. The conclusion was that the UK must invoke Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon.
After many discussions with Richard and reviewing the information about the process, it became clear Richard was right and the legal exit process was clear and defined, even if it is only the start of a long and complex process. It is the only provision that guarantees and requires the EU to discuss with a member state withdrawal from the union and negotiate what relationship that member state will have with the EU after exit – thus ensuring the UK can protect its economic and commercial interests, particularly with regard to trade. Hence this blog began to advocate the Article 50 route in addition to a number of other blogs that had weighed in with support and additional analysis to advance the case.
So it has been frustrating thereafter to see a number of vocal Eurosceptics arguing that Article 50 is a ‘trap’ and arguing behind the scenes – only occasionally breaking cover on forums – that the mechanism for exit should be a simple repeal of the European Communities Act (ECA). Overnight, via this scorched earth approach, the UK would be independent in so much as all treaties that bind us into adhering to EU law would fall.
However, it would also mean the UK would have no trade agreement with the EU – or any country or bloc with whom trade agreements have been made by the EU on the UK’s behalf – and no customs arrangements enabling our goods to enter the customs union. ‘Ha, it doesn’t matter. They sell more to us than we do to them, so a trade agreement would be in place within 24 hours,’ runs the argument of the scorched earthers, pretending the complexities of international trade and product standards with a bloc representing 27 other countries can be sorted out in a day. In fact, Lord Digby Jones, the former Labour trade minister in the House of Lords, made this very argument at the UKIP conference the other day, demonstrating a capacity for delusion and level of ignorance that is truly breathtaking and disturbing in equal measure.
North’s hard work and detailed argument was however of interest to many Eurosceptics and UKIP members. Ploughing a lonely furrow for a long time, EU Referendum (with minor assistance from Autonomous Mind) continued to explain the merits and protections of the Article 50 route to raise awareness among those who wanted to answer that longstanding question about Brexit – how it could be done. It was therefore extremely gratifying to see at Farage’s Q&A session at the UKIP conference that the first two questions raised by UKIP members concerned the ‘how‘ and focused on Article 50.
It was a measure of North’s success in bringing the mechanism issue to the forefront of the Brexit agenda, when even UKIP’s leadership was refusing to define the approach it endorsed and was planning for. In answer to the question, Nigel Farage finally came off the fence and told the UKIP audience (as you can see in the first five minutes of the video below):
“The only mechanism by which we can withdraw is Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.”
Farage did explain he is not comfortable with it because the Lisbon Treaty was not put to the British people, and applied a caveat that if the EU messed the UK around he would make a Unilateral Declaration of Independence, but he accepts it as the only appropriate and legal mechanism for starting Brexit. This is a huge step forward.
We now have clarity about the mechanism and the approach UKIP accepts must be taken, contradicting the scorched earth approach pushed by UKIP MEP Gerard Batten and UKIP’s economic adviser and former leadership hopeful, Tim Congdon. An important part of the battle has been won. The persistence of one blogger, supported by some other blogs and a continuously growing number of Eurosceptics convinced by arguments for Article 50, has brought us to this point. Richard deserves recognition and huge thanks for this.
The next step is for UKIP to start work on understanding what issues need to be negotiated and establishing the position the UK needs to take to get what it wants out of the negotiation. It needs to engage people who understand what needs to be negotiated to ensure the UK is not adversely affected by withdrawal and formulate the approach to follow. This has two benefits
- UKIP can genuinely declare to voters that it has a plan for leaving that does not harm UK interests
- UKIP can assure the business community that after exit, companies will not lose access to their European markets or ability to hire skilled employees from Europe
Only a high level explanation needs to be given, to give people confidence that there is a detailed plan behind the summary that covers the areas that concern people. Polls have shown consistently that the greatest fear people have of Brexit are negative economic impacts. The Europhiles have played on this remorselessly with spin, conjecture and outright lies to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt. But if UKIP steps up, this FUD can be countered and more people will be reassured to vote to leave the EU should a referendum take place.
The comments made in a few moments from a stage in London might just now trigger a fightback by the Eurosceptic side, one that is backed with truth and evidence that destroys the arguments of the Europhiles. This could be a seminal moment in the Brexit campaign. It is now up to UKIP to use its platform to push this up the agenda for the benefit of the whole Eurosceptic side.-
Perhaps, just maybe, hope has been restored. We have to wait and see if this Damascene conversion by Farage becomes more than words.=/