I admit it. I got it wrong about UKIP

It is time to hold my hands up.  It seems I got it wrong about UKIP.

Thanks to the example of an excellent manager I had early in my career, in the work place I’ve always encouraged those who work for me or with me to readily admit when they have got something wrong, correct it, and take from the experience anything that can be learned to apply in the future.  I’m doing that right now.

Yesterday I gave credit to UKIP for embracing the reality of what Brexit from the EU will entail.  Janice Atkinson, speaking in Brighton a day earlier, made clear that extracting ourselves from the EU will take years and would have to follow Article 50 of the EU treaty being invoked to force a negotiation.

The elements of her remarks carried by the Guardian were sensible and measured.  There was no talk of the UK just up and leaving the EU without putting in place a negotiated settlement that covers access to the single market and trade agreements that have been put in place by the EU on behalf of all member states.

Yet just hours later, we see this article that was published on the UKIP website.

UKIP MEP candidate for the south east Janice Atkinson today put out a statement rebutting stories in two Labour-supporting newspapers which claimed she believed it would take years for Britain to leave the EU and that jobs could be at risk.

Mrs Atkinson said: “Of course it is possible for Britain to leave the EU very quickly by repealing the 1972 European Communities Act and effectively declaring independence.

Media outlets hostile to UKIP are clearly seeking to sow the seeds of discontent on this one.

But in the ebb and flow of a live question and answer session, I did not give as clear an explanation as I might have done.

So has she changed her mind, or has she had it changed for her?  Either way, I was wrong.  I let down my guard and I was taken in.

UKIP has not dumped the dangerous delusion of just up and leaving the EU and kidding itself that in matters of trade there will be no consequence – also known as the Gerard Batten, Tim Congdon, line.  Janice Atkinson herself makes this clear…

Trade between Britain and other EU countries is safeguarded by our membership of the EEA and by the WTO.

There is also the important fact that Britain runs a substantial trade deficit with the rest of the EU – i.e. they sell much more to us than we do to them. The idea of Germany wanting to provoke a trade war that will hamper its biggest export market is quite frankly ridiculous. So British jobs are not in danger.

Time for a reality check here.  If the UK just ups and leaves, without following the Article 50 route, which Batten has once again argued in a magazine article is a ‘trap’ and without a negotiated settlement, trade between the UK and EU will be impacted and jobs would be at risk.  We would cease to be members of the EEA and would not be protected in the way some ‘kippers keep suggesting by the WTO.

It is completely and utterly irrelevant that EU countries sell more to us than we do to them.  Without following the rules regarding exit from the EU and without having access to the single market agreed, the UK will become a ‘third country’ to the EU.  Yes, the WTO rules would apply – but those rules mean that as a third country the UK would have imposed on any exports to the EU the same tariff rates that apply to all other third countries that trade with the EU.  If any third country has tariffs imposed on them, the UK would have them imposed too by default.  Anything else would be a breach of international trade rules.

As an example, the 10% tariff on cars entering the EU for sale would then apply to cars made in the UK for the European market, affecting our export competitiveness.  Jobs could be lost.  The UK would likely retaliate and impose tariffs on EU goods coming to us.  Any tariff we impose on an item would then have to be imposed for similar goods from all other countries with which we trade, affecting the cost of imported goods to UK citizens.  UKIP’s favourite example, Germany, may not like it, but those are the rules and they would not be changed, certainly not in anything like a short time frame.

The WTO does not safeguard free trade for former members of a customs union with the remaining members, it just permits discrimination within a customs union that makes tariff-free trade between its members possible.  As such the WTO does nothing to help the UK if we exit the EU without Article 50 and an agreement on trade. No ifs, no buts, no maybes.  That is how it works.  UKIP’s claim otherwise is just wrong.

Therefore the ‘immediate exit’ approach is nothing less than a scorched earth policy.  This fact alone, when explained to voters, would be sufficient to bury UKIP at the polls, given the British people have expressed their desire to retain free trade with the other EU member states and businesses would likely lose market share with costs driven up.  Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.

Why do we have this ludicrous state of affairs?  The reason is UKIP has a serious, perhaps existential problem.  The party is comprised of factions.  To keep the peace Nigel Farage has not grasped control of the policy and the message.  Yes, he has an iron grip on the mechanics of his party, but in trying to be all things to all men, keeping everyone under the same umbrella and preventing a party split, the factions have been allowed to establish and push their own messages and de facto policies for a long time.  Now Farage is trying to put together a message, the factions are not for turning.

That is why we have the Batten line in Freedom Today completely contradicting Farage’s recently adopted line from the UKIP party conference on Article 50.  That is why we have Janice Atkinson walking back her comments from Brighton and pushing the delusional scorched earth approach, just so as not to piss off a minority yet in party terms heavyweight faction that Farage won’t take on.  Party intrigues affecting principled policy.  This is the core reason why party politics is not the route to successfully leaving the EU.

So there you have it.  UKIP has no defined policy, its senior members are at odds on what approach needs to be taken to achieve Brexit, the leader is hamstrung into inaction in case he creates an argument that splits the party, and the media is handed a large cudgel with which to bash the party repeatedly for its incoherence, contradictions and incompetence.

Yesterday I gave UKIP a bit of credit.  I wanted to encourage what appeared to be some realism and common sense.  But after that they showed loud and clearly why my doing so was folly.  I was wrong.  Mea culpa.

17 Responses to “I admit it. I got it wrong about UKIP”

  1. 1 theboilingfrog 26/02/2014 at 1:41 pm

    I remained baffled that a supposed expert on economics (Tim Congdon CBE) fails to appreciate the devestating effects a sudden exit from such a large trading area would have on the FTSE, the bond markets and the Forex markets.

    UKIP’s position is a joke…and it’s not like we don’t have an example on how not to exit properly – Scotland.

  2. 2 Sean O'Hare 26/02/2014 at 2:18 pm

    To be honest I’m very confused about this. I can’t believe that both the Guardian and the Mirror misquoted what Janice Atkinson said so why has she flatly contradicted what she said yesterday? It makes no sense unless she was forced to retract her statement. I don’t think that either Gerard Batten or Tim Congdon have sufficient clout to go up against Nigel Farage’s statements on the route out. I agree with TBF concerning Tim Congdon

    I am still a member, but with few contacts, other than via the now pre-moderated members forum, but I shall nevertheless endeavour to find out what’s going on.

  3. 3 Chris Walker 26/02/2014 at 2:19 pm

    The UKIP webpage accessed via your link has Atkinson saying this: –

    “As regards the mechanism for leaving the EU, it would be my preference to go down the route set out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that sets out steps towards and orderly and amicable divorce. We must in any event retain the right to leave more quickly should the EU establishment not live up to its obligations under this clause.”

    Has the page changed since your quotes were taken from it?

    It seems a reasonable position to me. Obviously other UKIP points of view are available!. Show me a party where there is unanimity and I will ask where the gulag is.

    I do find it somewhat contradictory that blogs that bang on about sovereignty then get all “Civil Service” about the ways and means of leaving the evil empire. By all means have arguments to counter the lies from Clegg, Barroso et al, but sovereignty is what it’s about – as Salmond will find out to his chagrin in September. Why should people vote for the status quo under another name – in Scotland or in the UK? What is needed is to channel the emotional outrage felt by British people over their current servile state alongside the truth about the “3 million jobs”, “government by fax”, etc..

  4. 4 Autonomous Mind 26/02/2014 at 2:34 pm

    Chris, this ‘preference’ is the only route to leaving the EU. She is straddling the fence because Farage came down on the side of Article 50 at conference last year. Yet right at the outset of her comments on that page she said:

    ‘Of course it is possible for Britain to leave the EU very quickly by repealing the 1972 European Communities Act and effectively declaring independence.’

    That is the scorched earth policy. The one that would seriously harm British interests, both commercial and consumer.

    She is putting that contradictory line forward as an option in order to placate the voices inside the party (Batten, Congdon etc) that reject Article 50 as a trap and who also push this deranged view that if we just up and leave the WTO will rush in and make the EU trade with us on terms we had before – which it won’t because it can’t.

  5. 5 paul vickers 26/02/2014 at 3:09 pm

    That the EU sells more to us than we do to it is the key: they’ll not wish to lose a crucial, and profitable, market.

    So, invoke Article 50 (18 months to Brexit) and see what terms are offered for remaining as an ‘associate member’ – or else we’re out, gone, left – and, crucially, encouraging every member who joined after 1960 to follow suit and join us in a beefed-up EFTA and also join the USA, Canada and Mexico in a much bigger and globally important free trade area.

  6. 6 Autonomous Mind 26/02/2014 at 3:28 pm

    Just as long as you realise that if we are out, gone, left without an agreement, any tariffs the EU imposes on third countries for any goods will apply to British exporters trying to sell into the customs union.

  7. 7 cosmic 26/02/2014 at 4:09 pm

    I don’t see that Brexit has anything to do with the associate membership business. Associate membership appears to be something the rest of the EU is hatching along with the new treaty to sort out the Eurozone, very much on its own terms, to accommodate non-Euro EU members. It would involve giving sway to the ECJ etc.

    Brexit would involve not being an EU member.

    I can’t see that the Big Bang, tear up the ECA approach is on the cards for a host of reasons, not least because we are unlikely to see a government in place which would do that.

    A danger is that the mess created would be so huge, that we’d be crawling back to rejoin and be in a worse mess than ever.

  8. 8 John Smith 26/02/2014 at 4:21 pm

    You should pay more attention and listen to what Nigel Farage said on the matter of leaving. Also to suggest that the EU would stop trading with the UK is absolute nonsense. If the EU chose to do that it would collapse within 2 years.

  9. 9 Autonomous Mind 26/02/2014 at 4:34 pm

    John, you need to pay more attention to the post before commenting. I would wager you have not read to the end of the post. If you had you would not have made your comment.

  10. 10 John Smith 26/02/2014 at 4:53 pm

    Exactly the type of reply I was expecting. Oh and why do you feel the need to track people’s credit card details? I recommend you edit what you track. Before you say it is out of your control, it isn’t.

  11. 11 markwadsworth 26/02/2014 at 7:41 pm

    My takeaways here are

    1. UKIP, as per usual, are a policy-free zone, which is disappointing but appears to be common to all larger parties, and a bit like Salmond, they don’t even have a clear set of pre-agreed policies on Brexit.

    2. I’m taking your word for this “those rules mean that as a third country the UK would have imposed on any exports to the EU the same tariff rates that apply to all other third countries that trade with the EU. If any third country has tariffs imposed on them, the UK would have them imposed too by default. Anything else would be a breach of international trade rules.”

    Fair enough, but are EU tariffs vis a vis third countries that cripplingly high? Remember also that the EU has agreements with plenty of other countries that make them effectively tariff-exempt.


    3. I don’t think that your assumption that leaving the EU means being kicked out of the EEA is correct. Surely we could sneak back into EFTA and hence the EEA even if we left the EU? Which gives us access to “internal market”


    4. Most tariffs apply to physical goods. The UK is a world leader at exporting weapons and cars, but sadly not much else. most of our exports are services, financial, literary, artistic, TV and computer games and of course inward tourism etc, which we can sell to anybody in the world anyway.

    4. That said, it shouldn’t be up to us bloggers to scope all this out. UKIP at the very least has had twenty years to cobble a “to do” list in the unlikely event that they form the next government. I bet that Richard North has put more thought into this than UKIP has.

  12. 12 Autonomous Mind 26/02/2014 at 7:48 pm

    What on earth are you talking about, John Smith?

  13. 13 lola 26/02/2014 at 10:06 pm

    Intriguing. All you say may well be true – I am not expert enough to know. One other thing your past excellent manager may have told is that beyond a certain point writing off the past, even if the immediate consequences look dire, is still better than continuing with a flawed concept or business or whatever. In regards to the EU, if you believe as I do that it is a failure and an affront to liberty, leaving is the only option. That that might have negative short tterm consequences is a smaller price than the longer term gains. Mind you selling that to the electorate…

  14. 14 Spinwatch 28/02/2014 at 1:03 am

    AM – We’ve been through this before. I gave reasons beyond just why the WTO would NOT behave as you suggest, but also why the EU is committed to the freest possible trade with its neighbours.

    For those that do their homework, the European Commission is committed policywise to further trade liberalisation, and the EU treaties commit to not reintroducing trade barriers against other countries. Unless done for a bona fide exception (such as temporary restrictions to preserve public health), say, a Dutch importer could take EU institutions to the European Court of Justice and get the restrictions quashed.

    Regional unions are NOT allowed to create adverse effects for other WTO members.

    In your previous article of January 27th,

    where were the chapter and verse references requested in one of my three postings, please? Instead the thread became closed to comments.

    Not exactly helpful….?

  15. 15 Spinwatch 28/02/2014 at 1:32 am

    AM – “Yes, the WTO rules would apply – but those rules mean that as a third country the UK would have imposed on any exports to the EU the same tariff rates that apply to all other third countries that trade with the EU.”

    A simplification that gets it wrong. The EU may currently charge 10% on some vehicle imports (I’ve seen three different figures quoted). But it doesn’t have to charge a flat rate or even a tariff at all.

    South Korea exports brands such as Hyundai and Kia cars. The EU has abolished tariffs on larger Korean cars for 2014, and they will cease to apply to smaller Korean cars from 2016.

    If in say 2017, the EU wanted to restore tariff barriers, it would have to compensate South Korea for losses (defeating the point of doing so).

  16. 16 John Payne 28/02/2014 at 3:54 pm

    Autonomous Mind
    What a load of dribble. The people did not approve of the UNREADABLE SELF AMENDING EU Constitution (renamed ‘The Lisbon Treaty’) which handed British Sovereignty to an external Country. No international law Court would accept as fair and just such document agreed by a Labour Government elected by just 23% of the voting population. Before anyone claims it was passed by an elected Government without amendment should know the rules from Brussels were no amendments would be acceptable. All this and the writer bangs on about trade

  17. 17 bruce bartup 08/03/2014 at 8:28 am

    The histories of some single issue parties in the UK is perhaps roughly akin to the individual paths of independent candidates.

    A principled person or body of people with a substantial but difficult point enters the game. The people recognise a brave voice, reasonable people recognise the soundness of the well made point, supporters gather, all looks well. Then, shock – voters care more about drains, rubbish collection and their next door neighbours carryings on than they do about the important national point with a small hope in hell of getting through Parliament.

    For whatever good reason Discipline is instilled, the wilder thoughts are banished. The press become antagonistic the people become sceptical – is this another lot just like the other lots?.

    Then the dilemma – in this case part of the argument that looked fine in front of friends at the dinner table a few years ago turns out to have a flaw.

    Does one live by principle or the polls, lose sound bites and ratings or lose what is left of the sensible support? Some choose one, some the other. But both are cooked, morally if not politically.

    A single issue party typcally gets one chance at the polls, After that if it survives it is just a party, multi-issued, locally adept at looking after drains etc., media obsessed. Or an ornament for protest votes.

    I’m thinking of Greens, Regional Nationalists, racist parties (succession of), the early labour movement, Mr M. Buerk, White Resident and Road Safety Party, Raving Loonies, Rate Payers and other credible local independents.

    Even if my account is wrong (likely) is the real story of UKIP and it’s probable demise one of democracy working or of it not working?

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