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.