Remain and Reform the EU

There is an increasing possibility that Parliament will vote down the Brexit terms and/or there will be a second referendum or even a General Election. It is winnable as people become disenchanted with Brexit. Two years of young people (mostly pro remain) will join the electorate

Going forward with a “much the same” attitude to the EU is not an option. The public have clearly expressed concerns about the EU. Failure to address these concerns will at best appear complacent and at worst a deliberate ignoring of the British electorate.

The current British MEPs have generally been well-meaning plodders but politically incompetent. They’ve received fat salaries for many years and yet none, with the exception of Nigel Farage, have made any significant contributions to the debate around the referendum (either before or since). In fact, throughout our membership of the EU our MEPs have failed to engage their electorate in the decisions being made by the EU.

No wonder the Brexit campaign were able to stir up dissatisfaction and to mislead the general public.

It is clear from the referendum that there is widespread dissatisfaction with the EU as it is. This is not just restricted to the UK but is evident in other EU countries.

A “much the same” approach will not do. It is simply not a credible position to continue to support the EU as it is at present.

Proposing improvements would undermine the Brexiteers. They have complained about the EU for years but have never put forward ideas to improve it.

We suggest there are some steps that could be taken.

Reduce the number of MEPs

One of the problems is that there are simply too many MEPs. Interviews in the media are therefore spread around in the interests of fairness but it means that none of the MEPs appear to be having any impact. This failure means that up-and-coming politicians do not see being an MEP as an exciting opportunity.

MEPs are therefore hidden. Who knows the name of their local or any MEP? This must be the case in most other countries in the EU. There are signs of increasing dissatisfaction.

We should therefore campaign for a significant reduction in the number of MEPs. There are currently 73; around 15-20 would be sufficient.

• It would mean they would get a higher profile and therefore the general public would be much more aware of the issues;
• The higher profile would attract more able politicians;
• It would save money;
• The smaller number of MEPs would be forced concentrate on strategic issues (which are generally welcome) rather than on minutiae (which are generally unwelcome).

Make the MEPs answerable to Parliament

There is very little interaction between Parliament and our MEPs. This means that EU issues are rarely debated in a way that means the general public can see that the MEPs are being held to account.

Better accountability could be achieved by having a parliamentary committee to which the MEPs are ex officio Members.

The MEPs would be invited (or even better, required) to attend. They could then be questioned by MPs to find out why they voted for or against a particular piece of legislation. The MPs could also suggest ways in which forthcoming legislation could be improved.

In this way the MEPs would be seen to be more directly responsible to the people of this country and issues would be raised in a way that it is likely to be reported in the media and so people would have a greater understanding of what is happening.

It would do much to tackle the impression of a democratic deficit in the EU. It is crazy that there is very little linkage between our MPs and our MEPs.

Improve the quality of MEPs

Taken together the above measures would be likely to improve the quality of MEPs. They have hitherto been faceless individuals who have had negligible influence on debate about EU in this country.

Improving the Tone of Debate

The debate about the EU has always been carried out in this country as if the EU is an enemy who has to be defeated. Cameron spoke of “battle lines” and a “fight”.

It is no wonder that the people of this country, having been bombarded with inferences that the EU is an enemy, then voted to leave the EU. Given this history of aggression it is remarkable that virtually half of voters wanted to remain in the EU.

The tone of the debate lowers our standing in the world. We are seen to be narrow-minded and mean-spirited. The tone needs to be changed to one in which discussions are held with “colleagues” or “friends”. Compromises are made. Benefits are proclaimed.

Federalism – A potential Way Forward

The word “federalism” has been misused particularly by those opposed to the EU. Federalism is a thoroughly British concept. Federal organisation is an integral part of many British institutions as can be seen from the Appendix to this paper.

The idea of a federal organisation is that power remains with the constituent parts of an organisation. These parts then decide what powers they want to cede to the central organisation. This means that central organisation is severely restricted in what it can do. This is what is desired by the majority of the British people.

The deliberate misrepresentation of “federalism” has skewed peoples understanding of what could be a better structure of the EU.

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  • Martin Clarke 15th Jan '18 - 8:45am

    Talk about number of MEPs will only interest politics students. To the average man and woman in the street the ONLY real issue is freedom of movement. Unless you get MAJOR reform on this then we are leaving.

  • Andrew Tampion 15th Jan '18 - 9:10am

    Martin Clarke is right the issue is unbalanced freedom of movement: until that is addressed the chances of exiting Brexit are as near to zero as makes no odds.
    In any case a better suggestion would be to abolish the current EU Parliament and if necessary replace it with MPs fom the national parliaments to meet 2 or 3 times a year. That way the MPs selected would be answerable to their colleagues in our Parliament and indirectly to the electorate.
    On federalism and at the risk of being controversial what about the Southern States of the U.S. who seceded sovereignty to the U.S. federal government and then in 1860 voted democratically (albeit on a restricted franchise) to leave the U.S. only to be told at the point of a gun that they in fact had no right to do any such thing.

  • William Fowler 15th Jan '18 - 9:18am

    The country is overburdened with politicians of various ilks, far too intrusive laws (made to justify their existence) and a purely parasitical layer of commissioners, junk committees, etc… so when the country has the opportunity to get rid of one layer of politicians (MEPs), guess what, they vote to do so. But agree, unless something is done on freedom of movement it will make a mockery of the last referendum.

  • John Marriott 15th Jan '18 - 9:50am

    Had the EU been willing to consider reform before I don’t think we would be where we are today. If other states follow our example – and I wouldn’t rule that out completely – they might wise up.

    I don’t think the problem lies with the MEPs but rather the direction of travel of the present set up. I agree with Martin Clarke. Let’s start by looking at ‘Freedom of Movement’. Why not call it ‘Free Movement of Labour’ and introduce legislation that stipulates that you have to have a job to go to BEFORE you are allowed to move from one member state to another? If you lose that job then you have a specific time to find a new one; otherwise you must return to your country of origin (that might already be the case).

  • No, no, no – the author of the post above is doing the same thing all over again.

    What is actually happening is that a small group of people have decided that we need an EU construct (especially an EU parliament) and then try to tweak it to be acceptable to the UK electorate – it’s a top down imposition.

    Nobody denies that we need some sort of body to set standards and safeguards, but do we need a quasi government.
    And if we are going to have this quasi government imposed upon us, we will require REAL democracy – and numerous treaties have been imposed upon the people with no mandate from the people.

    And that is the EU’s basic contradiction – national democracy must be subservient to EU treaty law, or it won’t work.
    Overriding national democracy only alienates people and deters them from seeing politics as a way of addressing their needs.

    Why do we have to have some sort of federation – why not just a community of equals, with nations’ peoples choosing to decide which path they wish to follow, and how?

    I voted in 1975 to stay in a common market – why have we suddenly arrived at EU flag, anthem, defence force, Foreign Office etc.?

  • John Marriott 15th Jan '18 - 12:31pm

    Quite right, ‘wg’ (not, William Gladstone, I assume?). So did I in 1975. However, there was a lot about unltimately ‘pooling sovereignity’, whatever that meant. But, back then, the world, and Europe in particular (half of which was behind the Iron Curtain) was staring down the barrel of a nuclear gun.

    Back in the 1950s the EU founding fathers (and they were predominantly male) really were worried about war and tweeked their plans accordingly. Well, we’ve moved on since then but, rather like that antiquated US Constitution that people so rave about, the present set up is just not fit for purpose anymore. If the Remain campaign had emphasised this at the time we might not be where we are now.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Jan '18 - 12:57pm

    Rob Wheway | Mon 15th January 2018 – 8:14 am: Please look at the most recent election results. We have one Lib Dem MEP, and yes, I do know her name, Catherine Bearder. I met her campaigning in a target seat in 2014 and 2015.
    Fewer MEPs would reduce the representation of minorities. Caroline Lucas (Green) was a southeast MEP and still works to dispel some of the fake news the leavers put out.
    One might have expected Tory Daniel Hannon to switch to Westminster in 2017, but he did not.
    Reducing the number of MEPs is only relevant if the UK stays in the EU. Otherwise we would not be standing in the next elections for the European parliament.

  • I’m perplexed why anyone still thinks that the EU is in any way reform-able. Surely most can see by now, that the event that ‘baked the cake’, of an inevitable U.S.E, was the creation of the Euro currency?
    Since the Euro, the only reform now possible, is for power, sovereignty, money printing and tax management to head towards the centre of the EU, not away from it.

    Nineteen of the EU 27, have no choice but to submit themselves and their sovereignty to a U.S.E. What the rest do is their business, but the UK has already decided that it wants none of that ‘ever closer union’ nonsense.

    A trading relationship back in 1975 is one thing, but we were never asked whether we were happy to be re-designated as fictional ‘EU citizens’, of a fictional, ‘EU country’.
    Thankfully in about 438 days, we become British citizens again, whereupon anything with EU in its title or description becomes ‘optional’, having no statutory legal (or even transitional!), obligation on me, as a British citizen.

  • paul barker 15th Jan '18 - 2:22pm

    The LD position has always been for a Britain “At the Heart of Europe” – pulling our weight & full of ideas. The actual British position though has usually been thay of the sulky teenager sitting at the back of the class, going along with things without ever suggesting an alternative then grumbling to their mates after class.
    When we overturn Brexit we are going to have to be very careful as a Country, we will have pissed off everybody else, our friends even more than those who werent sympathetic to begin with. Future British Governments should be enthusiastic without being pushy, whatever Political Capital previous Regimes had built up will all have been wasted.
    The article in any case misunderstands what Brexiteers want, their only interest in Europe was to act as sabatoeurs, offering to change The EU wont win over any of its opponents, just strengthen their prejudices.

  • @paulbarker – unfortunately the Lib Dems have no idea what responsibilities they have for wanting to be `in the heart of Europe`. Incidentally Europe isn’t the same as the EU.

    For example when did the Lib Dems lobby Verhofstadt or anyone else with influence about reforms on migration to keep Britain in the EU? When did the Lib Dems ever do anything for those with nothing? Where are the radical innovative ideas to lift people up? Perhaps if you focussed on those things instead of banging on about Brexit people might see that there was a chance.

    The real issue is that the Lib Dems (nationally) are now the voice of the `anywheres` rather than trying to be the voice of the `somewheres`. There are now two types of political ideology – those that want an Osbornite type of economic policy where more globalism and migration is always seen as good while the other is where they want the power of first world economy to ensure globalism is controlled and that we are its master not its servant. That means delearning no borders assumptions and having a vision for the economy that unites everybody.

    Just saying that `you don’t want walls` isn’t the same as giving everyone a stake in the capitalist economy.

  • Mick Taylor 15th Jan '18 - 3:15pm

    There is an unwelcome trend in UK politics, echoed by some in this stream, to say that we have too many politicians. This is a clear misunderstanding of the role of politics in society. Politicians are elected to take decisions on behalf of their electorates, who have no time to deal with the many political issues of the day. It is not a sinecure. When I was a councillor I had to give as much if not more time than I gave to my paid full time employment. So maybe forty plus hours a week. It is hard work and you get no thanks for it, just constant attacks and denigration.
    Politicians do a valuable job and to decrease their number in this seemingly arbitrary way means that the burden would become intolerable.
    That MEPs get little publicity is all part of the deliberate plan to ignore the EU, never give it credit for anything and only to attack it, often for things it has nothing to do with. Our own party, supposedly pro EU, used to refuse to say anything about it in leaflets, because it was seen as toxic, instead of doing what we should have done (and some of us did) and pointing out just how much the EU was doing for the UK and its communities.
    Yes, the EU needs reform. But cutting the number of MEPs is not the way to do it.
    MEPs are answerable to their electorates, not Parliament, which is answerable to its different electorate. A smaller EU parliament would not be able to deal with scrutiny of the commission, nor deal with the legislative process.
    Root and branch review of who does what is needed with power held at the lowest possible level, but some things are better done at a European level. Stopping the farce of having a second seat in Strasburg would save much time and money.
    But above all we need a thorough educational programme to ensure that everyone knows who does what in the EU, which it is clear from some of the posts in this thread is woefully lacking.

  • Mick Taylor 15th Jan '18 - 3:24pm

    The many references to Freedom of movement in this thread show how little people understand it.
    To read some of the comments one might suppose that it is only people from those pesky countries across the channel that can come to the UK. There are of course well over a million UK citizens living and working right across the European Union. Ending free movement won’t just affect other EU citizens but a large number of Brits too.
    In any event, free movement is not an unqualified right. Most countries, apart from the UK, use the accepted rules to limit the time people can remain in another EU state unless the people concerned have jobs. Nor is their an unqualified access to benefits. Again EU rules allow this to be subject to time periods, either to qualify to get benefits or to stop getting them.
    For reasons unknown to me, no British government has used these rules, which would largely answer the many questions raised about Freedom Of Movement.
    If you must continue to support Brexit, at least do it on the facts. For far too long ‘facts’ have been made up and then used to bash the EU.

  • John Marriott 15th Jan '18 - 3:49pm

    No, Mr Taylor, not too many politicians; rather too many useless ones!

  • You are correct Rob Wheway the only way we can realistically stay in the EU is if it is reformed, but you have not identified the two issues that need addressing.

    The first one as many others have pointed out is the free movement of people. The EU must give up its current concept of the free movement of people and replace it with financial assistance to bring up the poorest regions up to the same level as the richest regions and so end economic migration across the EU. Once a person is no better off working in Lithuania than the UK then the EU can restore the free movement of labour. The EU could allow people to live in any EU country, but they should only be entitled to benefits of their home country and their right to work should be controlled.

    How to manage the demand for labour and skills across the EU will not be easy. It will have to combine taxing the employment of non-home country employees and using some of this money to train people to do the role and some of the money to provide these types of jobs in the EU country the employees are from. There will also have to be greater transfers of money from the richer regions to the poorer regions and the encouragement of investment in the poorer regions with financial incentives.

    I don’t think our party will embrace this reform and it would be a hard sell to the UK public and the EU leadership. However, I think it is time we made the effort if we wish to stay in the EU.

    The second one is not the size of the EU Parliament but the role of the EU Parliament itself and the lack of a clear role for the member nation Parliaments. By all means allow the EU Parliament to amend proposed laws, but also ensure that before coming into force into an EU member its Parliament has to pass the law as well. There could even be a few laws which could come into effect once 75% of the Parliaments of the EU member nations and the national Parliaments covering over 75% of the EU population have passed them. With one reform we will have taken back control.

    The other reform needed for the EU to work is reform of the Euro by the abolishing of the Stability and Growth Pact and getting the agreement of all EU member nations that the priority of the EU and all EU member nations and the European Central Bank is to achieve full employment across the whole of the EU and that controlling inflation needs to take a back seat.

  • Alex Macfie 15th Jan '18 - 5:57pm

    “Make the MEPs answerable to Parliament” No, no, no!!! MEPs *are* a parliament. They are answerable to the electorate. Why do they need to be answerable to national parliaments? This suggestion would undermine the EU separation of powers, and EU parliamentary sovereignty. Also MEPs do not act as national delegations, but instead in party blocs, broadly speaking based around ideology. They hardly ever vote en bloc by nationality. Making them “answerable to Parliament” implies MEPs are subservient to the nation states, and thus that UK MEPs are expected to take a coherent “British” line, regardless of party.

  • EU democracy is an oxymoron. The Council of ministers is the only reasonably part but the system of horsetrading does not make for good decision making. The disconnect between MEPs and the electorate is total. Most voters have no idea about the identity and function of their MEP and care even less.

    The unelected Commission has no place in a democracy. The three strands of EU governance make matters worse by engaging in an endless power struggle.Tinkering around the edges of this mess is not going to achieve anything.

  • I just don’t understand the Lib Dem position with respect to the EU. The party likes to think it stands for empowering people by devolving power to the lowest practical level yet, in practice, when it comes to the EU it has invariably supported the status quo’s centralising project of ‘ever greater union’ with just the occasional perfunctory nod towards the need to reform the CAP or fisheries.

    It has been claimed (and not denied) that, over at least two euro-election cycles prospective MEPs were instructed by party HQ to avoid talking about EU matters as far as possible – which was certainly the impression I got as a voter. Who did they think they worked for – the voters or the party bosses? It’s no surprise that all but one lost their seats.

    It is, to put it mildly, a bit late in the day but reform is essential and urgent. For my money the thrust must be towards ending the ‘ever greater union’ and towards devolution where appropriate.

    Of course, what is ‘appropriate’ is an ever-shifting and politically-determined judgement call. My view is that the EU should have powers to do only those things where it has the overwhelming and continuing support of both member countries and the total EU population. So, if, say, four or more countries representing, say, 15% or more of the EU population were to vote that the EU should lose certain powers (for example to run the CAP or fisheries or something more specific like inshore fisheries) then those powers would be ‘repatriated’ to member countries.

    Any such scheme would, of course be fiercely resisted by the establishment but, if introduced, would discipline the EU to be much more responsive to public sentiment. That could only be a good thing and would at long last reconcile the Lib Dem’s professed desire for devolution with the advantages of some limited pan-European policy coordination.

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Jan '18 - 6:10pm

    You may not be aware, Rob, that there was extensive discussion of possibilities of reform and development of EU governance in the comments on a recent article, A Happy New Year for Liberal Democrats? posted here on January 5. On the question of MEPs, it was not suggested that they should be fewer in number (which would necessarily mean that each one was elected by an even larger number of voters), but making them answerable to Parliament as you suggest was considered at some length.

    My own eventual suggestion (as author of the article, pulling ideas together), was that the UK Government should include a powerful Minister for Europe with a large department charged with keeping track of EU legislative development and directives, and that our MEPs should be expected to provide regular information on their own work and comment on developments. There should indeed as you suggest and I had earlier proposed (January 7, 6.02 pm) be a Parliamentary committee to receive and discuss their reports, which the Minister would be required to attend. I also asked that our MEPs should be required to make regular reports on line to some scrutiny body in their own region, which should include the local MPs, in order to increase their democratic accountability to their voters, and arouse public interest in their activities.

  • There is one other MEP who is campaigning hard for Remain: Richard Corbett. See It is a pity he is not a LibDem, but the Leader of the Labour Members in the European Parliament.

  • Several people have expressed concern about the objective of ever closer union, as did David Cameron in his famous “reform of the EU” fiasco. There are two main mechanisms for increasing integration. One is by treaty and the other is through the single market. The second route is not obvious and is often not understood.

    At the time of Cameron’s failed negotiation with the Council of Ministers, Tusk wrote to his Ministers that whatever reassurances were given to Cameron about limiting ever closer union, the process of integration via competences would continue as normal.

    Those who have never heard of EU competences should google the phrase. If anyone asks, I shall be pleased to try to explain them in a few sentences (as a challenge.)

  • @ Martin
    That is because in treaty after treaty, UK sovereignty was signed away whilst denying any opportunity to the people to vote for or against. Clegg promised to veto Cameron’s referendum if he got the chance. Lib Dems should be ashamed.

    It is not surprising that the electorate voted to leave when after four decades it finally got a chance to register its opinion on major changes to the balance of power.

  • Leekliberal 15th Jan '18 - 7:44pm

    Mick Taylor says ‘Root and branch review of who does what is needed with power held at the lowest possible level, but some things are better done at a European level. ‘
    This is ‘subsidiarity’ and you may be surprised to know that the EU is, if only in paying lip-service, committed to achieving it.

    Subsidiarity. The principle of subsidiarity is defined in Article 5 of the Treaty on European Union. It aims to ensure that decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen and that constant checks are made to verify that action at EU level is justified in light of the possibilities available at national, regional or local level.

    It’s down to us Lib Dems to argue for a reformed EU to put these fine words into effect!

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Jan '18 - 10:29pm

    It’s good to have subsidiarity defined, thank you Leekliberal. because it has been frequently favoured in comments on possible EU reforms in previous threads. I think we should now be getting down to detail of where we would like decisions to be the responsibility of EU legislatures rather than the Commission, in the headquarters of which I assume legislative proposals and directives are worked out.

    As to the taking of decisions by the Council of Ministers, it may be that, as was suggested by Michael BG in the previous thread, member countries’ legislatures should have to agree their country’s position before the ministerial vote is taken, making ministers delegates of their own country’s legislature. I believe Michael also favours limited legislative powers for the EU Parliament, whereas a contrary view is that the EU Parliament (always providing that the state legislatures remain supreme) should have greater powers, for instance to initiate legislation, and perhaps to elect the Commission President.

    Such matters should be the subject of constant debate in our party, but what is important (Gordon) is for the party to make it clear that it does not agree with Ever Closer Union, but prefers our country staying in an outer tier of states which do not use the Euro or belong to the Schengen area; moreover, if we do have to leave the EU, we would never consider rejoining on those terms. As to our remaining, I continue to believe that the Freedom of Movement stipulation can be negotiated to mutual advantage.

  • Peter: “The disconnect between MEPs and the electorate is total.” This is largely because of the conspiracy of silence among the media, political commentariat and party leaders about the role of MEPs. This is something that the Lib Dems have done very little to challenge in European election campaigns. It fosters the sort of fundamental misunderstanding of the role of MEPs even among contributors here, leading to erroneous (and certainly unconstitutional in EU terms) suggestions such as making MEPs “accountable to Parliament”. It makes sense for the council members to be accountable to national Parliaments, as the Council represents the Nation states. MEPs do not; in fact their role is as a counterweight to the nation states; how can they perform that role if they have to answer to agencies of those very nation states?

    Gordon writes ” over at least two euro-election cycles prospective MEPs were instructed by [Lib Dem] party HQ to avoid talking about EU matters as far as possible.” This seems plausible and was a completely wrong-headed approach to Euro-election campaigning. Even when we did campaign on the EU, in 2014, we completely missed the point. The Clegg/Farage debates were a fundamentally wrong strategy in principle, because they focused purely on something that MEPs have no role in determining, namely whether the UK should be in the EU. MEPs legislate for the EU as a whole, while whether the UK should Remain or Leave is a domestic issue. As far as I could see, in this country only the Green Party ever focuses its Euro election campaigns on the policy issues that MEPs actually have a role in deciding, and on how this feeds into their specifically ideological vision of how the EU should look. The Lib Dems should have been doing the same sort of thing. Our 2014 Euro election campaign should have been fronted by our MEPs, talking about our specifically liberal vision of the EU and the difference in EU policy resulting from electing Lib Dem MEPs rather than Tory, Labour or UKIP ones. The Westminster leadership should have been shunted to the sidelines, and we should probably have fought it by saying “Nick isn’t on the ballot paper,” in the same way as Sadiq Khan’s successful Mayoral election campaign essentially disowned his party leader.

  • Martin Clarke 15th Jan '18 - 11:51pm

    In my opinion any deal with freedom of movement would have to include the following in order to win over brexiteers:-

    1. Make freedom of movement expressly tied to a firm job offer (no moving here to look for work)
    2. No advertising of jobs solely abroad
    3. No benefits or government assistance of any kind
    4. Criminal record checks
    5. Automatic deportation if commit an offence which results in imprisonment

    Trouble is I doubt the EU would agree to this, but unless the deal is very similar to the above I can’t see how leavers will be won around, Even this may not be sufficient. I doubt they will care if the above also applies UK citizens as very few ever intend on living or working abroad.

  • Malcolm Todd 15th Jan '18 - 11:59pm

    This thread makes me want to cry. It’s every bit as much a fantasy as the dumbest Leaver daydream of “global” Britain trading with the world on whatever terms it wants. You’re all rewriting the EU in whichever way you think will make it palatable without taking any notice of the fact that the EU is profoundly difficult to reform and has 27 other members most of whom just don’t want to disturb sleeping dogs. Don’t forget that most of the supposedly simple changes you want to make will require treaty changes. Those require referendums in several countries. Sure, they’d like us to stay; but enough to bring that much grief on themselves? I don’t think so.

    What it all reveals is that whilst it may well be true that the Brexit “majority” is made up of lots of different minorities that want different kinds of Brexit – the same is effectively true of the Remain side. Which EU do we want to Remain in? How would we vote if the one we wanted weren’t on offer?

  • This is a summary of the *actual* reforms proposed by the Lib Dems in 2014 in the reform section of the Euro manifesto. It’s a pretty paltry list.

    (1) and (5) aren’t reforms of the EU. (2) is something of a chestnut and (3) is pretty non-specific (has there ever been a manifesto which didn’t call for efficiency savings!)
    (4) is arguably the only tangible reform. And abolishing that committee had IIRC already been called for by some EU sub-committee so its hardly mega-radical ground breaking stuff.
    It’s hard to see the circumstances in which (6) didn’t happen – and it would probably be manifestly illegal under EU law to not do that.

    1) An In/Out referendum in the event of proposals for any further significant transfer of powers to the EU,
    2) Liberal Democrats will continue to campaign to bring an end to the wasteful travel between the European Parliament cities
    of Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg
    3) We want to build on the savings already achieved and push for further reductions in European Union administrative costs
    including through cuts to travel and transport budgets.
    4) Liberal Democrats support an audit of existing European Union agencies and institutions to find ways to rationalise and collaborate
    over back-office functions in order to find savings including the abolition of the Economic and Social Committee.
    5) As the Euro-zone countries plan changes in their relationship through the planned Banking Union, we must protect British influence in single market decision-making, which could affect thousands of British companies and millions of British jobs. We can only do this as a full member of the European Union.
    6) Liberal Democrats will call for a guarantee in the next European Union treaty that member states both inside and outside the Euro-
    zone have a full voice in the regulation and application of the single market.

    Strengthening scrutiny at Westminster
    [Several good proposals by by definition not reforms of the EU]

  • Malcolm Todd: “You’re all rewriting the EU in whichever way you think will make it palatable without taking any notice of the fact that the EU is profoundly difficult to reform…”

    Yes, it makes me both laugh and cry to see so many individuals all solemnly listing their totally different multiple-point plans for EU reform. Yes, the EU is a supertanker, and it won’t simply spin around as soon as the Massive Liberal Democrat Party issues a command for it to do so. Nevertheless, I think Malcolm partly misses the point.

    First – The EU does change and evolve. Bringing in the euro was, after all, a very big step (backwards, sadly!). Treaty change happens, not quickly, but it happens. Campaigning for the change you want is not a lost cause.

    Second – Probably the most important effect of campaigning for change is to send the right message to UK voters. When Clegg called for ten more years of not much change, he threw away the votes of many semi-sceptical pro-Europeans. If we had made it clear that we would work, work and work for gradual change, we might never have lost that referendum.

    The biggest bugbear used to be the CAP. That seems to have subsided. Perhaps people have slowly recognised that a certain amount of subsidy to farmers is worth paying if it protects our environment and provides food security (which Brexit will lose us!) Maybe there is a lesson there.

    Now the bugbear is free movement. Never mind that the Brexiteers know we need cheap labour and intend to get it from places like Bangladesh. The EU do have an unreasonably inflexible position, and it is also hypocritical. If Merkel survives, it will be because some very nasty right-wingers in Hungary and the Balkans built steel fences and stopped the flow of migrants into Germany before their presence made Merkel lose even more of her erstwhile support. There’s a lesson there, too. Eventually the EU will discover the need for an emergency brake.

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Jan '18 - 12:44am

    “27 other members most of whom just don’t want to disturb sleeping dogs.” I suggest, Malcolm Todd, if you actually look you will see 27 states with a great many different interests, economic and political, each state as with Britain having particular wants and wishes, and probably as liable as Britain is to grumble about not getting everything they want. They stay together because co-operation and compromise between neighbouring countries gives us security, guaranteed human rights, the advantages of free trade, the enjoyment of shared values and much else. However, to be fully involved means contributing to the debate on the ways ahead for this live and developing organism, and we need to convince our public of our interest in and understanding of the issues involved, and of our determination to help with constructive development.

  • Malcolm Todd
    I agree. The problem is more fundamental than the limited ability to change the EU. It’s about the nature of those reforms . On one side you have the Less-EU groupings who want to restrict things like freedom of movement, remove the Euro and essentially make the EU more like the old common market. On the other you have the More-EU groupings, who want to deepen the union . The problem for those in the latter More-EU camp is that around half of Remain voters seem to belong to the former grouping.

  • Wg

    I’m guessing you must be too young to remember properly … but two minutes of Googling tells us:

    “The EU flag was designed in 1955, and officially launched later that year by the Council of Europe as a symbol for the whole of Europe.”

    “The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe officially announced the European Anthem on 19 January 1972 at Strasbourg: the prelude to “Ode to Joy”, 4th movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th symphony.”

    There is no defence force.

    See also:

  • Peter Martin 16th Jan '18 - 10:09am


    The idea of a federal organisation is that power remains with the constituent parts of an organisation. These parts then decide what powers they want to cede to the central organisation. This means that central organisation is severely restricted in what it can do. ??

    This is a nice idea but , unfortunately, not one borne out by history. A Federal Governement has to have overall authority. If any part of the Federation wishes to secede, the authority of the Federal Government is then challenged. The Federal Government has to make a decision about that. In 19th century America, the Confederate States decided to go their own way but the Federal Government, the Union, disagreed. A civil war was fought to decide on the matter.

    There are already Federal Governments in Europe. Germany is the obvious example. We know Angela Merkel as the head of the German Federal Government but most of us would be hard pressed to name any of the heads of the consituent parts. It would be pretty much the same story in the USA and Australia. We might know that the PM of Australia is Malcolm Turnbull but who knows that the Premier of NSW is Gladys Berejiklian? Has any ever even heard of her?

    A Federal Europe probably has to happen to make the EU function properly. The alternative is to ditch the euro and go back to what worked perfectly well in EEC days. But do we want to be a part of it? Do we want to have a PM who is a nonentity on the world stage? What would we do with the monarchy? At the present the monarch is constitutionally sovereign. That would not be the case if we were constitutionally in a similar position to the US State of California with respect to the US Federal Govt.

  • Peter Martin 16th Jan '18 - 10:33am

    @ Sid,

    The article in the link you reference makes the mistake of confusing the EU, which isn’t working out too well, with its predecessor organisations, the Common Market/EEC/EC which were much more trouble free by comparison.

    The EU has been created by recent European Treaties. Namely Maastricht and Lisbon. We’ve never had a direct say on those. There are good arguments, in a representative democracy, either way, for saying we should or should not have had that say.

    But it was our elected representatives who made that decision! They still have the constitutional right to ignore the result. But would you still be able to argue we weren’t lied to about the implications of our vote?

  • Peter Martin 16th Jan '18 - 10:55am

    @ Katharine Pindar,

    “They stay together because co-operation and compromise between neighbouring countries…..”

    There’s nothing wrong with compromise and co-operation between neighbouring countries. That happens in most places around the world. Between Australia and NZ. Between the countries of SE Asia etc etc. But that still doesn’t mean that we have to share Parliaments or have a single currency. The only reason for doing so is to go much further than just compromise and end up with a single country.

    This is the path the EU has chosen. We didn’t when we opted out of Schengen and the euro. We have to now choose whether to be a member of the EU as it actually is, and not the EU which we’d like it to be. The EEC doesn’t exist any longer.

  • @Sid Cumberland

    The original flag was designed and launched as a ‘flag of Europe’ – note Europe, not the European Union.
    It also has to be noted that the ‘EU flag’ would have been formalised in the failed EU Constitution; but the Constitution failed, a new ‘Treaty’ was imposed, and the EU Parliament decided that their flag must be restored as a symbol.

    Do you see what is missing here? Where are The People?
    And that has always been my biggest bone of contention with the EU – my argument is one of democracy.

    Maastricht told me that I was to become an ‘EU citizen’ – I would have liked to have been consulted, but I was treated as some kind of chattel to be bartered and passed about.

    Lisbon, apparently, gave the EU parliament more powers – powers from whom; they certainly didn’t come from an EU electorate who had no say on the Lisbon Treaty.

    The whole EU castle is built on very undemocratic sand – and the people of its members states get to pick the wallpaper every five years.

  • Alex Macfie 16th Jan '18 - 1:22pm

    Andrew Tampion: “abolish the current EU Parliament and if necessary replace it with MPs from the national parliaments to meet 2 or 3 times a year. ” Sorry but this is craziness. It’s how the first European Parliament was constituted, but was alwys intended as a stop-gap measure before direct elections. Do what you suggest and there would be no EU-level politicians directly accountable to the electorate.
    The original appointed European Parliament had the problem of dual, conflicting mandates. National MPs and MEPs have different jobs to do. It would be like having local council leaders appointed as MPs instead of direct elections to the national Parliament.
    Peter: You write “The Council of ministers is the only [reasonable] part [of the EU],” followed by “The unelected Commission has no place in a democracy. ” Here you contradict yourself. Government ministers are also not (directly, or at all if they come from the HoL) elected in the UK. And decisions in the Council are often made not by ministers, but by civil servants representing the relevant ministerial department, and in the UK they have little accountability to Parliament (in some other EU countries, the national parliament has the power to compel their minister to take a particular line in council). And the Commission is

  • Alex Macfie 16th Jan '18 - 1:23pm

    And the EU comission president is elected by MEPs. Unfortunately none of the main UK parties (inlcuding the Lib Dems) mentioned their EU Presidential candidate or their EU manifesto.

  • Malcolm Todd 16th Jan '18 - 1:47pm

    Peter Martin 16th Jan ’18 – 10:55am
    “We have to now choose whether to be a member of the EU as it actually is, and not the EU which we’d like it to be.”

    That’s it, in a nutshell. David Allen is quite right that the EU is reformable and that it’s worth fighting for change you believe in, even if it takes a long time. But the debate now is about whether or not to remain in the EU as it is now. Part of the case for that is about whether it is possible to bring about change; but no specific change that hasn’t been agreed to (or in most cases, even seriously proposed) by anyone can be presented as part of the future. That’s about as honest as saying “we’ll have free trade deals with the rest of the world and more money to spend on the NHS”.

  • Arnold Kiel 16th Jan '18 - 1:47pm

    Dear Rob,

    it is commendable that you, unlike most who fuzzily demand EU reform, specify your wishes. I do not agree with them, but there is no need to argue about that, because the solution is simple: Those EU reforms will happen, on which 27 or 28 sovereign nations agree, i.e. none. To me that is good, because between the UK, Greece, Hungary, Poland, France, Germany, just to name a few interesting cases, there is currently no constructive consensus.

    The unanimous decision making implies that nothing can be changed in times of strong divergence like these. Good. All you can do is leave.

    The UK could, of course, do many good things on its own: stop sending Ukippers to Brussels, engage, contribute, and talk about European successes back home. Just dreaming…

  • Sheila Gee – “Surely most can see by now, that the event that ‘baked the cake’, of an inevitable U.S.E, was the creation of the Euro currency?”

    That’s certainly an issue for the eurozone. There is considerable evidence that the idea of the euro was a deeply laid plot that would, inevitably and by design, within a few years cause imbalances that would precipitate a crisis the only resolution of which would be a shotgun marriage forcing its members into a centralised European super-state. That would happen irrespective of what their citizens thought because the economic damage of any other course of action would, at that point, be too horrific to contemplate.

    Well, I think they’re going to have to contemplate it because, irrespective of the economic damage, any eurozone super-state will prove to have a very short half-life in my view.

    However, there’s no chance that “in about 438 days” anything EU becomes optional. Shortly before Christmas the EU published its guidelines for the transitional arrangements for the two years or so after formal Brexit. Brexiteer (and one-time UKIP MEP candidate) Richard North points out that it will reduce the UK to a “vassal state”, obligated by treaty to obey all current and future EU rule-making yet have no say in any of it whatsoever.

    We know other EU countries would dearly love to get their hands on the City’s financial business, particularly in relation to the euro; if the UK is reduced to a ‘vassal state’ that would become as easy as stealing from a baby. I would add that it would also open the door to the EU asset-stripping the UK of much of its manufacturing industry. Moreover, contrary to what some argue, the EU holds all the cards – not least because the alternative is that we crash out without (among other things) adequate customs infrastructure, staffing or software to keep trade flowing.

    The plain fact is that May’s government is utterly incompetent with little or no grasp of the realities or complexities. Be careful what you wish for.

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Jan '18 - 4:38pm

    Well, clearly Gordon, the dangers are so great that we had better decide to remain! The ‘transitional arrangements’ where we would discover what we have lost should never happen. As others have said above, if we decide to remain, it will have to be in the EU as it currently is, and there are sufficient reasons for that. However, if we are to convince the Electorate, it will be as well to have some ideas as to how we wish it to develop in future, and not only in relation to restricting freedom of movement.

    Alex Macfie’s comments seem to me very relevant and interesting. It may well be as you suggest that the way forward to more involvement of state legislatures in influencing EU legislation would have to be through mandating ministers in the Council of Ministers, which you say is already the case in some EU states (and indeed was suggested in the previous thread where EU reform was discussed). However, accepting the complete independence of MEPs seems to me to involve a real surrender of national sovereignty. I would like to see it become accepted that they should be prepared to interact with the home legislatures, informing them, and consulting with their ministers and special committees. (It would be good if Rob, as author of this article, would join in with the commentary.)

    David Allen, your comment on the difficulty of moving the ‘supertanker EU’ reminded me of watching in the Cornish port of Falmouth little tugboats moving swiftly round and manoevring huge tankers into correct place in the harbour. Let us be such a tug!

  • Gordon
    “However, there’s no chance that “in about 438 days” anything EU becomes optional. Shortly before Christmas the EU published its guidelines for the transitional arrangements for the two years or so after formal Brexit.”

    With respect, I think you’ve missed my point. I really don’t care what the EU *thinks* about a two year transition!! I don’t care what Theresa May *thinks*, about a two year transition!!
    I only care about what is actually *on the UK Statute as Law*

    And what many here are still missing, is that the only thing presently on the UK Statute as law, is our ‘notice to quit’, Article 50, which means that I become, *legally*, a British citizen in about 438 days. Moreover, as I become a British citizen, there is no *Statutory* obligation for me to comply with ‘alien’ EU laws and regulations, any more than you could expect an American citizen, or Australian citizen to comply whilst on their home soil.

    So to be very clear; One minute past midnight on the 29th March 2019, I as an ex-EU citizen, hereby declare that I, as a British citizen, will refuse to comply or even countenance any fictional, transitional EU arrangements which have no *UK statutory parliamentary endorsement*.

    If I’ve missed some piece of UK legislation, which you believe can legally force a British citizen (whilst resident on British soil), to comply with EU law, then please point me to it?

  • Alex Macfie 16th Jan '18 - 5:19pm

    Katharine Pindar: If MEPs are not independent of national influence, there is no point in having them at all. This independence is what is called parliamentary sovereignty, and any parliament that is not sovereign (i.e. able to act independently, without compulsion from other arms of government) is not worth having. This is the case with all parliaments and assemblies at all levels of authority. National parliaments, regional assemblies and local councils are all independent of each other, in the sense that no members of one such body can tell members of another what to do, and nor can any executive authority.
    The independence of MEPs from national authorities is what gives them power to force changes in EU affairs. They do come under pressure from their respective national governments to ‘bat for their own team’. An unusually blatant example of such pressure was David Davis’ intervention when our Catherine Bearder and others voted to reject progressing Brexit negotiations. The usual response from MEPs can be summed up in two words, the second being “off”. It is a necessary part of European democracy that the directly elected representatives should be able to stand up to both national governments and the Commission. When the European Parliament voted to sack or reject the European Commission, this too was in the face of pressure from national governments to support their respective countries’ nominees.

    Of course, I would expect our MEPs to report back to their parties and constituents about what they are doing and why, and it may be helpful for them to explain the same to their national legislatures as well. However, I could not countenance any formal control over MEPs by national government minsters or parliamentarians, particularly if they come from an opposing party.

  • David Allen 16th Jan '18 - 6:22pm

    Glenn said: “The problem is more fundamental than the limited ability to change the EU. It’s about the nature of those reforms . On one side you have the Less-EU groupings who want to restrict things like freedom of movement, remove the Euro and essentially make the EU more like the old common market. On the other you have the More-EU groupings, who want to deepen the union.”

    Those are good points. However, they can be answered.

    There is widespread agreement in the UK that the euro, at least as presently constituted, was a huge mistake. Whilst there is widespread support amongst British Remainers for the general principle of freedom of movement, almost nobody wants to strengthen it, while many Remainers would support constraints on it – an emergency brake to prevent sudden massive population shifts, action against those seeking cheap imported labour, for example. Within this country, the pressure for reform has generally been against an over-confident self-aggrandising EU and in favour of pragmatism. If we had seen more of that pressure – and less of the Cleggite “the EU is just fine as it is” attitudes – then we might never have lost that referendum.

    Most of the “more EU” pressure comes from people like Macron and the Commission – and actually, much of it also does make sense. It was “more EU” pressure which brought in majority voting and made EU decision making less sclerotic. It is “more EU” pressure which might one day do something sensible with the euro – Restrict it to an inner core of countries who agree on real economic unification – and release countries like Spain and Italy from the harm which it does to them. Creating a better EU doesn’t just have to mean “more” or “less”. It can be “less” in some aspects and “more” in others.

    Sure, it’s difficult and imperfect, that’s life. Walking away from complexity, trying to wash our hands of reality, is an immature response. Like walking out of NATO because we don’t like Trump, and then finding Putin’s tanks on our lawn. Brexit is a disastrous pipe-dream made real.

  • OnceALibDem 16th Jan '18 - 7:46pm

    @Sheila Gee. Well when the Withdrawal bill passes into law it will in effect make all EU law British Statue law. On one level you are correct that you won’t have to comply with EU law but there will be a lot more Uk law to comply with!

  • So the last manifesto had 5 ideas for reform of the EU? For an idea of what actual Europeans look like when they are talking about EU reform, here’s a 64 page manifesto from Slovak liberal leader Richard Sulik.

  • nvelope2003 16th Jan '18 - 8:36pm

    Sheila Gee: It us up to you what you do in private but anyone who wants to export to an EU country will have to comply with EU regulations without our Government or people having any say in their formulation. I hope that makes you happy. You will continue to be as you are now a British citizen but with a little less power. In the meantime the supposedly sovereign British Parliament has lost its sovereign power as a result of the referendum and probably will never recover it. Many think that is to say the least unfortunate.

  • Denis Loretto 17th Jan '18 - 12:02am

    In this long thread everyone seems to be envisaging an EU which is more or less uniform despite the fact that recognition at high level in the EU of the need to envisage variations has been clearly indicated for some time. As long ago as the Council meeting in June 2014 the communique said “The UK raised some concerns related to the future development of the EU. These concerns will need to be addressed. In this context, the European Council noted that the concept of ever closer union allows for different paths of integration for different countries, allowing those that want to deepen integration to move ahead, while respecting the wish of those who do not want to deepen any
    further.” Up until then it was thought that only variation of the rate of “ever closer union” could be contemplated – not that there should be a right to opt out of that concept altogether. This reassurance was repeated in the much belittled package of “reforms” brought back by David Cameron prior to the referendum campaign.

    So here is a clear path for an EU of different layers or concentric circles or however you want to express it. The distinction between those wishing to remain in or join the eurozone and others does of course already make difference inevitable and this can be built upon. Now that events are moving towards at least a possibility of the Westminster parliament providing an opportunity of a rethink on brexit it is time for Liberal Democrats to be putting flesh on the bones of a two-tier EU, rather than trying to lecture the entire Union on how it should change its rules.

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Jan '18 - 1:05am

    Denis Loretto, well said, we should be thinking more now about what being in the outer tier of countries in the EU will mean, in terms of EU future development, if we stay in. The countries of the Eurozone, or at least the richer ones, may be forging more integrated systems at the same time as the outer-tier countries may be seeking more subsidiarity and greater national independence. How might that work in the context of the one powerful centralised system the EU has now? Could it mean the necessity of curbing development for both groups, or instead two separate governance systems in the long run? There will have to be much consideration of what the essentials of EU governance really are, and whether or what Treaty changes may need to follow.

    Without going so far in speculation, Alex Macfie, I am not convinced by your argument about the present inviolable independence of MEPs. The EU parliament is, it seems to me, in a different category from parliaments such as our own. It does not have the primary function of law making, and does not control the Executive as our Parliament ultimately controls the Cabinet, as was thankfully proved again recently. The Commission is not the equivalent of our Civil Service, but a power in its own right, possibly though I do not know if this is the case more powerful than the Council of Ministers. Altogether therefore, the ‘parliamentary sovereignty’ of the EU Parliament appears to be a fiction, and its members so lacking in relevance that they may as well indeed be made subject to legislative oversight by national legislatures. So should major reforms of the EU governance indeed be sought?

  • Alex Macfie 17th Jan '18 - 5:09am

    Katharine Pindar: The European Parliament can amend and veto legislation, with the same lawmaking power as the Council. Thus no EU law can pass without the consent of MEPs. Notably it can veto proposed international agreements, and sometimes this is the only independent legislative scrutiny they get; examples are ACTA and the original SWIFT data transfer agreement with the US.

    It has the power to sack the Commission, and to vote down a nominated team. It can only sack or veto the entire team. This is a weakness, but it presents the case for strengthening the powers of the European Parliament (i.e. giving it the power to sack individuals), not for making it a puppet Parliament in the hands of national legislatures. It is unlikely that MEPs would have voted to sack Commissioners or veto legislation if they were controlled by national legislatures, which would seek to ensure that MEPs were compliant to the agenda of their respective national governments. And this would usually mean protecting their countries’ nominees and Council positions. It would simply be an expensive mouthpiece of the European Council. And what would be the point in having separate elections for MEPs if they are simply told what to do by someone else?

    The EU works on separation of powers, so of course the way the European Parliament holds the Commission to account is different from how our national Parliament holds the Cabinet to account. If it’s like anything its like the way Congress holds the US President to account. But for this to be effective the Parliament needs to be powerful AND independent.

  • nvelope2003
    “It us up to you what you do in private but anyone who wants to export to an EU country will have to comply with EU regulations”

    If an American, Australian or British company are selling ‘widgets’ to the EU, you would quite rightly expect them to comply with the regulations stipulated by the EU.

    But you would not expect an American citizen in Michigan, or an Australian citizen in Melbourne to abide by EU law? So by what crazy logic do you expect a British citizen in Manchester to abide by EU law from April 2019, when they are no longer an EU citizen?

  • Peter Martin 17th Jan '18 - 10:40am

    @ Sheila Gee,

    You’re quite right to say “Since the Euro, the only reform now possible, is for power, sovereignty, money printing and tax management to head towards the centre of the EU, not away from it.”

    I’ve been banging on about this myself for some time now. It is quite ironic that the Lib Dems, erstwhile the party most committed to the decentralisation of power, has now hitched its wagon to an organisation which is doing, indeed has to do, just the opposite.

    It looks like the German Social Democrats will use their influence in any new coalition to give Emmanuel Macron the support he needs in this direction. Martin Schulz has addressed the question of possible reluctance of some EU members to go along with the idea of the USE. If they don’t like it they should leave.

  • allowing those that want to deepen integration to move ahead, while respecting the wish of those who do not want to deepen any further

    What about the wish of those who not only want to not integrate any further, but who think that the current level of integration is already too far and wish to integrate less?

    Can the EU contemplate not only different speeds and ‘stop’, but also a reverse gear?

  • Malcolm Todd 17th Jan '18 - 11:02am

    Certainly it can envisage a reverse gear. It’s usually referred to as “Article 50″…

  • Certainly it can envisage a reverse gear. It’s usually referred to as “Article 50″

    Not so much ‘reverse’ as ‘open the car door and leap out onto the verge’ that.

    What about a more gentle reverse gear? Backing out of some competencies while not leaving entirely?

    (I’ve never understood the argument ‘We can’t give Britain a better deal because then other countries will want a better deal.’ Um… then give everybody a better deal? Isn’t that by definition better, if everybody gets a better deal?)

  • OnceALibDem
    “Well when the Withdrawal bill passes into law it will in effect make all EU law British Statue law.”

    So any ire, should be directed at Westminster, where some (Remainer), MP’s are still foot-dragging and ‘faffing around’, with the Withdrawal bill, trying to stall it, and block the ‘re-badging’, of [EU], to [British] law, so it can become fit and proper for a British citizen in 2019, when we terminate our EU citizenship in 436 days’ time?

  • Sheila Gee: The point I was making was that as a member of the EU we are able to have an input into the making of the regulations but we will lose that right when we leave. In return we have to abide by their laws. The USA and Australia are not members of the EU so they do not have to abide by their laws but I expect that the people of Virginia and Tasmania do have to abide by the laws of the USA and Australia respectively whether they like it or not. Those states have not done too badly by being part of a wider community.

    The UK Government is proposing a transitional deal which seems perfectly reasonable when we have been a member of the EU for so many years. Many of those who voted leave thought we would leave the day after the referendum but that would have been impractical as anyone with any sense would have realised.

  • In return we have to abide by their laws

    Only if we are selling things to them, in the same way that anything we sell to the USA has to meet USA standards and regulations, anything we sell to Australia has to meet Australian standards and regulations, etc.

    I expect that the people of Virginia and Tasmania do have to abide by the laws of the USA and Australia respectively whether they like it or not

    That’s because Virginia and Tasmania are not independent states in their own right, but are component territories of larger entities. The UK is supposed to be an independent state in its own right, not a component territory of a larger entity, so if remaining in the EU means being relegated to the status of Virginia or Tasmania, then we must leave.

  • Peter Martin 17th Jan '18 - 11:47am


    “but I expect that the people of Virginia and Tasmania do have to abide by the laws of the USA and Australia respectively whether they like it or not.”

    You’re on the right track with this comparison. You might be happy for the UK to be the EU’s “Tasmania” but most of the rest of us don’t like this idea!

  • David Allen 17th Jan '18 - 1:13pm

    (Dav) “I’ve never understood the argument ‘We can’t give Britain a better deal because then other countries will want a better deal.’ Um… then give everybody a better deal? Isn’t that by definition better, if everybody gets a better deal?”

    It depends on whether we are talking about a zero sum game or a collaborative quest for shared gain. If a miracle drug can be developed by research collaboration, then everybody can share in a better deal. But trade generally doesn’t work like that. When tariffs are raised, importers lose while the exchequer gains. It’s a zero sum game. So with trade, there is no such thing as “everybody getting a better deal”.

    Brexitland has kind of declared economic war on the EU. If Brexitland were to gain a better deal than they have now, then the rest of the EU would have a worse deal. They don’t want that, of course. So we inevitably get into an economic tug-of-war. The EU have more muscle, they will pull harder, and they will win. If we don’t like that, then we should never have started this economic war in the first place.

  • nvelope2003
    “The UK Government is proposing a transitional deal which seems perfectly reasonable when we have been a member of the EU for so many years.”

    A transition period is perfectly reasonable for those companies and public bodies which actually *need* that length time in order to transition. But there are likely some small companies that have either no, or a very minimal connection with the EU for provision of their product or service. So their transition period requirement might be no more than a couple of days for some minor software upgrade.

    “Many of those who voted leave thought we would leave the day after the referendum but that would have been impractical as anyone with any sense would have realised.”

    I doubt you will find anyone who believed that the day after the referendum they would have effectively left their EU citizenship behind them. It is a fact however, as anyone with any sense would acknowledge, that at the end of Article 50 we as *individuals* will by default, have ditched our EU citizenship behind us. Indeed, by October of 2019, we can thankfully document that very fact with a new British passport if we so wish.

    And whilst that fact is clearly causing agitation in some quarters, it remains the case that the transition period required for an *individual* to shift from being an EU citizen to a British citizen is nowhere near two years.
    Indeed, the only transition time required for the sole individual re-acquiring their British citizenship, it is arguably no more than the half-second ‘pop’ of a champagne cork in the early morning of the 30th march 2019?

  • Peter Martin 17th Jan '18 - 1:59pm

    @ David Allen,

    You seem to understand that everything isn’t a “zero sum game”. Yet you claim that:

    “If Brexitland were to gain a better deal than they have now, then the rest of the EU would have a worse deal.”

    The WTO has done a remarkable job in the last 40 years or so in reducing tariffs around the world. Trade has increased. Everyone has had a better deal. Tariffs generally are a bad thing. Anyone who knows the history of the Liberal Party will know the political and intellectual battles fought for Free Trade against those who favoured Protectionism.

    If we can negotiate as many Free Trade deals as possible, including with the EU27, then everyone benefits, including the EU27.

  • Dav 17th Jan ’18 – 11:11am………….(I’ve never understood the argument ‘We can’t give Britain a better deal because then other countries will want a better deal.’ Um… then give everybody a better deal? Isn’t that by definition better, if everybody gets a better deal?)………

    It’s not about a ‘better deal’; it’s about a ‘special deal’…Despite ‘Brexiteer’ claims, the EU is all about compromise ( free trade/free movement, etc.)…What the UK seems to want are all the advantages with none of the disadvantages (as we see it)

    Why should other members compromise their own interests if leaving can offer the leaver a more favourable deal…What ardent leavers fail to acknowledge is, that if everyone left to pursue a unique relationship, there would be no EU to have a relationship with…

  • What the UK seems to want are all the advantages with none of the disadvantages (as we see it)

    Well, yes. And the argument against this is that if the UK got all the advantages with none of the disadvantages, then other countries also would want the advantages without the disadvantages.

    To which I say: um, good? If other countries can have the advantages without the disadvantages, then let’s do that?

    Because it’s not like a lot of the disadvantages aren’t completely unnecessary to being in a successful free-trade union. Take the Social Chapter, for example. There’s no need for a free trade area to have a Social Chapter. So we could drop the Social Chapter and still have the advantages of being part of the free trade area.

    And if letting Britain do that means other countries want to do it to? Let them! Why not? Then more countries get the advantages without the disadvantages, and that’s got to be good, right?

  • Why should other members compromise their own interests if leaving can offer the leaver a more favourable deal

    Because the thing is, it often seems like it’s not the other members whose interests would be being harmed, it’s the central EU’s interests which would be being harmed.

    It’s as if all the states of the USA wanted a better deal, in which each of the individual states would be better off, but the federal government would lose a lot of power. So of course Washington, D.C. objects.

    That’s how this argument seems to me: it’s not the other nations who are scared of Britain getting a better deal, and that causing a chain reaction: it’s in the other nations’ interests for everybody to get better deals. But the big loser in this situation would be Brussels, as it found its aims to become a federal government a la Washington, D.C., with a foreign minister and an army and so on and so forth, slipping forever out of its grasp.

  • Arnold Kiel 17th Jan '18 - 3:48pm


    from my very limited understanding of leavers I conclude they consider four elements of the current “deal” bad: the net contribution, free movement of people, common standards, and the ECJ. Of these, only the first is objectively bad. The other three make good business sense, leavers just have a psychological problem with them.

    So a good “deal” (the concept of a partnership never came to their transactional minds) would be as before minus these four bad things. The EU cannot accept this, let alone make this universal, for very good reasons:

    1. Ending freedom of movement of people would cause great economic damage to both importers and exporters of foreign labor. Specifically, it would preclude ambitious and talented Europeans from poorly governed countries from prospering.
    2. Abolishment of common standards would create an extremely costly product-testing and -certificaion nightmare; it would destroy efficient supply-chains, and would lead to an explosion of national compliance-cost. It would in effect close the common market, something even most leavers consider a good thing.
    3. Abolishing the ECJ would have many of the same problems, because an unenforcable level playing field would quickly cease to be level, resulting in 2., above.

    Economists call this the tyranny of little decisions: if everybody gets what he/she considers a “better” deal, it destroys the basis of all good deals.

  • from my very limited understanding of leavers

    ‘Limited’ would be a… generous way of putting it. ‘Non-existent’ might be more accurate.

    Do you deny that there is no reason why a free trade area should have a Social Chapter, and therefore it is silly for the EU to tie membership of its free-trading area to signing up to one? And that if the Social Chapter were made optional, so each country could decide for itself whether to sign up to it or opt out (a proper opt-out, not the opt-out-in-name-only the UK had), then that would be a better deal for all countries?

    It would be a massive blow for the central EU apparatus, of course: akin to the US federal government allowing individual states to not be bound by laws passed by Congress, which would make a nonsense of the US legal system. But, we keep being told that the EU is not a federal superstate, but rather an association of sovereign states free to set their own policies and compete with each other, so why is that a problem here?

  • Andrew Melmoth 17th Jan '18 - 4:39pm

    – Dav
    People want the rights guaranteed by the Social Chapter and they can only get them if everyone agrees to play by the same rules, otherwise you get a race to the bottom. But please go ahead and argue for stripping British workers of their rights and protections. I can’t think of a quicker way of discrediting Brexit.

  • People want the rights guaranteed by the Social Chapter

    If people want them then they can vote in a national government which will put them in domestic law, can’t they? I don’t see what they gain in that situation from having to sign up to them as part of the EU package.

  • Arnold
    Over half of remain voters also want to end free movement. Support for it is a minority neo-liberal hobby horse.
    Personally as a leave vote. I don’t like the idea of the eu, I don’t support free movement, the single currency. the idea of a shared European culture. the need for political union, and so on. I think it’s a bad organisation based on wrong-headed ideas. But alas we’re stuck with parts of it as a commercial/financial reality and so I reluctantly favour a Norway style half-in rather, than half-out mid-way point for now.

  • I meant half out, rather than half in.

  • Andrew Melmoth 17th Jan '18 - 5:01pm

    They gain the security that those rights won’t be undermined and undercut by competition by other European countries.

  • Arnold Kiel 17th Jan '18 - 5:40pm


    I, e.g., want a social chapter. And the EU could not have established this requirement without the approval of the British Government. That means, I only want to buy products, whose global supply-chain is, e.g. free of child labor. If the UK exited such rules, I would want to have British products produced in violation excluded from my market. Many people would think likewise. Consequently, we would want all British imports to be audited with respect to their social supply-chain conditions, and UK companies wishing to sell to me would have to produce ample documentation to prove this. What a great advantageous proposal. What else would you like to opt out from?


    because they were wrongfully told that less immigrants will improve their lives when the opposite is true.

  • Peter Martin 17th Jan '18 - 8:18pm

    @Arnold Kiel,

    “…..talented Europeans from poorly governed countries”

    You’re quite priceless. If you’d said the poorer of the European countries that would have been fair enough. But in your world, they are only poorer because they are poorly governed! Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland must be poorer than England because the government is worse. Portugal, Spain, Italy are poorer than Germany again because of poorer Government? Presumably you think countries like Germany and Austria are well governed?

    True, we’ve had historic examples of poor Government in these places but surely that must be true of Germany and Austria too. We don’t have to be experts in 20th century history to know all about that. At the end of WW2 Germany was rescued, and IMO rightly too, by the Americans. America, and to a lesser extent, the UK created a market for German products. The economic thinking was somewhat wiser in those days. Everyone understood that if Germany had debts to pay in dollars it couldn’t pay except by selling stuff in America for dollars. America had to start to run a trade deficit to create a market for German exports so those dollars could be earned.

    True, there was an ulterior motive. The USA wanted a strong bulwark against the Soviet threat. But even so, present day Germany should consider just how fortunate it was that the western allies didn’t grind their economy into the ground. They might well consider that it’s not in their present day interest to grind the economies of poorer EU countries into the ground by persuing demands for unrealistic levels of economic austerity on the peripheral EU countries.

    In other words, when someone owes you money, don’t fling them into a debtors prison. Instead give them an opportunity to earn the euros they need to repay you! Run a trade deficit not an 8% of GDP surplus!

  • I think the “race to the bottom” argument is disingenuous. Minimum wage in Bulgaria is 1.38 UKP per hour and in the UK it’s 7.50 UKP per hour. The exact package of social protections that go along with that is a drop in the ocean and the insistence on legislating it at the EU level is motivated by politics not economics.

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Jan '18 - 10:05pm

    Peter Martin, I must protest. You are nit-picking from one of Arnold Kiel’s generally well-argued comments, embroidering the theme of ‘poorly governed countries’, which may well not have been one of his best phrases, but was among several useful points. A bit earlier you gleefully took up one of Sheila Gee’s points about the logic of Euroland acquiring more economic links and heft, yet again raising the spectre of a USE which you know very well would not include those outside the EZ, may never happen, and if it did might only include the richer EZ countries, also quoting again the wishes of Martin Schulz, whose party did badly in the elections and whose own youth wing is doubtful about further coalition, as if his wishes were likely to be heeded. Please argue fairly.

  • @ Dav

    There is an argument for the Social Chapter of the EU. The Single Market is not just a free trade area it is an area where businesses compete across countries as if it was one country. Therefore there should be no advantage from setting up a company in the UK rather than say France or Germany. The same laws should apply to companies across the whole area. Labour laws should be the same across the whole area. Trading standards should be the same across the whole area.

    If say Germany has better labour protection laws than the UK, then it is in the interest of Germany to get the UK to have the same labour protection. If the UK has better trading standards than France then it is in the interest of the UK to get France to have the same trading standards. For a modern society it makes sense to equalise at the better standard levels across the board.

    The question for the EU is what areas of diversity should there be across the EU so that no country gets a trading advantage.

    The EU institutions often seem to want to limit diversity so things are the same across the whole EU area and this is often is seen as pushing for centralisation.

    For us in the UK there is a great lack of understanding of what standards we have given to the EU and what the quid pro quos were. This has been a failure of the press and communication.

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Jan '18 - 10:40pm

    Alex Macfie, sorry that I could not reply earlier to your comment to me posted at 5.09 am (! I fear you have a sleep problem?) but I have had to be busy or out all day till now. This is a really worthwhile discussion, I think. I note that you avoid mentioning a rather essential point, that MEPs cannot INITIATE legislation, which makes their role much less significant. You acknowledge that the power to sack the entire Commission is a weakness, because highly unlikely to occur, but I contend that it is also difficult to imagine that MEPs in practice, given their different political groupings as well as their different nationalities, could ever agree to sack a Commissioner. Or agree on much else, indeed, I suppose, other than the function you mention of amending or even vetoing legislation – a largely negative function. I don’t see how in practice they can be ‘powerful and independent’. I suggest you are also extending my idea of national legislatures having greater access to and influence with their own MEPs to ‘them being told what to do by someone else’, which was not at all what I was proposing.

    It seems to me they can be more relevant if in regular touch with their own legislatures, in respectful collaboration if you like, because it would bring them closer to what they have not got now, the democratic backing of their constituents. In the UK at least voters could be better informed, and have more chance to have a say in what their MEP was doing and saying, if the MEP met and had discussions with the local MPs and sometimes with a relevant Commons committee, and reports might then be published on line about their activities. If they are to continue, they surely need to become more meaningful to their constituents.

  • Arnold
    No. it’s because cultures are more deep rooted and to an extent tribal than internationalists think they are. I think some liberals have fallen into the trap of forgetting that nations have physical heft, with all kinds of nationally based systems of governance and awkward lumpen masses who get in the way of ideological daydreams about globalism by doing things like voting nationally in national elections in nation states. In others words nations are not just economic hubs with fluid interchangeable populations. Endlessly pushing the idea that they are through the advocacy of things like mass immigration is a hobby horse and one with virtually no electoral traction anywhere to the point that it’s self-defeating.

  • Arnold Kiel 18th Jan '18 - 5:07am


    thank you, and sorry if I might appear unfair below (I am now prevented from going back to sleep as soon as I wanted to).

    Peter Martin,

    I was addressing the UK’s irrational xenophobia, primarily aroused by Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians (and cultivated by Farage and May). These are horribly governed countries. But to be complete: also Italy and Greece are poorly governed, but Londoners don’t mind friendly and qualified waiters and baristas.

    Young talented people leave their country not because they are poor, but because they are poor and without perspective (which, of course, is all Germany’s fault). Just for the record: I continue to insist that what is true for the British poor must also be true for Greek politicians: if you default on your mortgage, you lose your house.

    How kind of the Americans and British to switch from their fabulous Chevys and Austins to scrappy Mercs to help Germany out. Unfortunately, there is no foreign market demand for anything Polish, Romanian, or Bulgarian other than for their young ambitious people.

    The UK was, until recently, well governed, meaning, making the best out of a given situation (loss of industrial competence). Germany was governed no better, but without this industrial deficit, therefore the better outcome. You are right there: quality of governance cannot fix (but it can destroy) everything.

    Wales and Scotland are now better governed than the UK as a whole (again, subject to economic circumstances), NI as bad as the UK, but benefitting (still) from factual economic integation into the Irish Republic (now again O.K. governed). Brexit will take care of that, i.e. dragging NI down to its low intrinsic potential. The only difference between these regions and England is London, especially the city of London (Government deserves credit for both, enabling this sector in the big bang, and destroying it now).

    Good for you that you do not regard the UK’s NW to SE movement as migration or free movement (which it is). Otherwise you would surely campaign for an Englexit and control of the Caledonian canal.


    the question is: should politicians amplify (as most and you do) or transcend this xenophobia (which you call deeply rooted culture), and can you afford losing your only growth-driver and key supply to the healthcare-, housing-, and hospitality-industries, which are, incidentally, among the few growth-sectors in the UK’s imbalanced economy?

  • Arnold
    I don’t think it is “xenophobia”. I think the problem for internationalists is that elections are national and so is the electorate.
    I also suspect that liberal internationalism can be rather too close to utopianism much like evangelical religion or Marxism. Lots of earnest belief, lots of pieties, and lots of disappointment when it comes up against the reality that people are not being converted on righteous path to salvation.

  • Arnold Kiel 18th Jan '18 - 8:06am


    I am a liberal internationalist, and at the same time a capitalist and atheist. I believe these values should be argued-for, because they make nations rich and free. It would be a rather easy sell, if politicians had the courage and stamina to argue for what is right, instead of blaming foreigners (individually and institutionally) for their national failings.

  • Arnold.
    I don’t think politicians have that much power of persuasion and that in a functioning democracy they are easier to replace than the electorate. Obviously, I’m not an internationalist and don’t see internationalism as innately good. I am atheist too, but not because it’s a moral argument . I just don’t believe in the whole god thing. As for capitalism I see it simply as a convenient way of exchanging goods and services. I don’t really see it as a value system, because fundamentally capitalism is amoral.

  • The Single Market is not just a free trade area it is an area where businesses compete across countries as if it was one country

    Right, but my point is there’s not reason it has to be that. We keep being told that the nightmare scenario of a United States of Europe is never going to happen, so we don’t have to leave to prevent the UK being sucked into such a thing against the wishes of most of its people; and what better way of proving that than by abandoning this idea of ‘as if it was one country’ and allowing countries to compete for business?

    One country could offer the cheapest workforce; another the least onerous tax regime; yet another could have expensive workers and higher taxes, but attract businesses because it has the best infrastructure and international connections (you could call these countries ‘Poland’, ‘Ireland’ and ‘the UK’ if you wanted). These would all be viable strategies and allowing countries to compete on them would be compatible with having a free trade area.

    But if you insist the rules must be the same everywhere, you make it harder to argue that the USE is not a real danger.

  • Peter Martin 18th Jan '18 - 9:40am

    @Arnold Kiel,

    You still don’t show any signs of appreciating the difference between micro and macro economics. Countries can’t be compared to householders. Countries can only involuntarily lose territory by military action. So they cannot go bankrupt, and “lose the house” in the way you and I could. Neither can they control their budgets in the way you imagine. When the 2008 crisis hit all governments saw their taxation revenue fall. So if they also cut their spending to try to match their falling tax revenue, their tax revenue will fall even more quickly and what was a recession quickly turns into a depression.

    Modern day South Korea is essentially a creation of the USA. Before the Korean war there was little or no demand for anything Korean. Just like you think there is now no demand for anything Bulgarian. That had to change for geo-political reasons. This was possible because there was an open market in the USA, and the allies of the USA, for Korean products. The USA simply ran a trade deficit in the post war period which helped out its allies and also helped itself. If you’re getting more real stuff in as imports, than you have to ship out as exports, you have to be doing better. Right?

    In the same way Germany needs to adopt a more expansionary policy and run a trade deficit too in the same way as did the USA. It’s not a difficult thing to do.

    I know us Brits aren’t perfect when it comes to race relations but I don’t believe the word ‘xenophobic’ is in order. The UK has always tried to assimilate all immigrants. Germany, on the other hand, for years continued with the pretence that Turkish and other workers were ‘Gastarbeiter’ and would eventually return. Even second generation immigrants weren’t easily given German passports. I know things are changing for the better there, so we should both avoid such words. I’d just make the point that the areas of highest support for Brexit weren’t in areas of high immigration but in areas that have suffered from high levels of economic austerity. Similarly the areas of highest support for the far right.

    That’s the real problem both in the UK and the EU.

    BTW The migration within the UK is still migration. It happens because there is insufficient fiscal equalisation between the SE and peripheral regions of the UK. Its the same economic process that is at work in the EZ only not as severe.

  • @ Arnold Kiel

    What criteria do you use to determine if a country is badly or goodly governed?

    The UK has been badly governed since 1979.

    By the way, economic migration is a bad thing even if it happens within the UK or even within England.

    @ Dav
    “what better way of proving that than by abandoning this idea of ‘as if it was one country’ and allowing countries to compete for business?”

    If each country has different rules then there is no single market.
    (It is often forgotten that the single market was particularly supported by the UK under Thatcher and was seen as particularly advantageous for the UK.)

    It should be possible to have the single market and not have a single currency and have some economic policy diversity. There does not have to be a Federal government for the single market to exist and to have common rules. It would be more difficult to have the single market if there was no supra-national law court to ensure all countries complied with the laws of the single market.

  • Arnold Kiel 18th Jan '18 - 7:26pm


    there is no EU rule that precludes wage-, tax-, or infrastructure-competition. It is just about minimum social-, safety-, and environmental standards.

    Peter Martin,

    countries’ houses are their sovereignty. Again, as in everyday real live, nobody is sovereign who cannot foot his/her bills. How many Bulgarian generations do you intend to waste until they become South Korea thanks to charitable German trade deficits? By my critique of British affairs, I do not wish to imply a negative comparison with the country that issued my passport.

    Michael BG,

    you are being very harsh. I was ok from Thatcher to Cameron; they mostly did the right things given their economic circumstances. The key problem is that the UK had lost it industrially, and crushing unions was necessary but not sufficient.

    But you are being consistent, because if you reject moving people to wealth, you must believe that wealth can be moved everywhere. If you believe that, you must be against Thatcherism and austerity. It is just that all observable evidence speaks against your belief. Remember Athens, Carthago, Rome, Alexandria, Manchester, Detroit? Should people wait for centuries until their time comes (for a while)?

  • Wealth seems to move to places that welcome it Arnold. By welcome it I mean invest in people and infrastructure. If you sit there just hoping it will turn up it is very unlikely to. So to move wealth to Manchester we need to invest in education and infrastructure, something Thatcherism and Austerity are totally against; they think some invisible hand will do the heavy lifting.

  • The problem brave Brexiteers have is they are obsessed with Europe. What they fail to understand is most of us didn’t really care about the EU, it was there it gave us many advantages and a few disadvantages but unlike them it was not our obsession. We cared more for sorting out the problems of the UK, funding public services, having a functioning democracy and facing up to the reality of the country we are. But no their obsession had to become the priority above all other priorities in their minds leaving the EU cured all ills. In reality we are now faced with Brexit day after day, government is obsessed with it and is failing to deal with Brexit or anything else. Like a mouse in the hypnotic gaze of a snake, they can’t move, they can’t even squeak other than to say Brexit. So congratulation my brave Brexiteers your obsession has consumed us all and while it continues the rest of our problems will receive no attention or action. Leaving the EU will cure all I know you will say, but in reality it will not cure anything and only add to our problems ( a reality you can’t face or accept, but a reality that will continue to roll over us) .

  • Thanks to all who commented and it’s good to know that a few were in agreement. Problem is the majority did not address the issue of what approach we need to take if there is a 2nd referendum. At present the lack of ideas forcefully promoted infers that we think there should be no change. “Vote for us and it won’t make a difference” is hardly a rallying call

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Jan '18 - 9:33pm

    No change in what, Rob? You have in fact hosted an illuminating debate about what reforms and development might be desirable in the EU of the future. It would have been good if you had joined in, when you could have shaped the discussion to your liking, or perhaps taken it even further forward.

  • Peter Martin 19th Jan '18 - 12:04am

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    Do you think the USA runs a trade deficit for “charitable” reasons? It’s entirely a matter of choice. It does it primarily to provide a market for its chosen allies around the world. If countries are in favour they’ll get a trade deal or ‘most favoured nation’ status. If not they won’t. It’s also good for Americans. They are simply handing out their own IOUs ie dollars, and getting real things in return. Any country running a permanent trade surplus against America can’t spend those dollars. If they did they wouldn’t, by definition, be running a surplus.

    I can’t quite see the point myself. Why would any country want to do this? But Germany does it all the time. Maybe you can enlighten me?

    I don’t understand the rest of your comment.

  • Peter Martin 19th Jan '18 - 12:22am

    @ Frankie,

    “The problem brave Brexiteers have is they are obsessed with Europe”

    Really? I’ve been thinking just the same about Lib Dems. There was a posting recently that 2018 had to be more, for the Lib Dems, than about the EU and Brexit. But guess what? Nearly all of the comments under it were about, er, the EU and Brexit.

    There are some on either side who are “obsessed”, but mainly voters see the arguments on both sides. They might have given the EU a 6/10 rating and voted Remain. They might have said 4/10 and voted Leave. They might have said 5/10 and either abstained or spun a coin. Whatever, they had moved on by the time of the 2017 election and didn’t want to go over the same ground all over again.

    That’s why Labour did surprisingly well be simply avoiding talking about Brexit and the EU. Not surprisingly the Lib Dems didn’t do too well at all because they hadn’t moved on from the arguments of the previous year.

  • Peter Martin 19th Jan '18 - 12:46am

    @ Katharine,

    I’m sorry you thought I was being unkind or unfair to Arnold Kiel. I’m quite an easy going sort of person really. I can be friends with anyone. Except if they are are cruel to children and animals or use phrases like ” crushing unions was necessary” and make calls that our country should “unconditionally surrender to the EU” !

  • Arnold Kiel 19th Jan '18 - 1:42am


    I totally agree with you. But wealth measures friendliness by the speed of its growth. If private capital avoids places, publicly financed education and infrastructure are just outbound vehicles. Brexit is, as you clearly point out, rather unwelcoming to foreign wealth.

    Peter Martin,

    I was trying to square your idea of Bulgaria turning Suoth Korea with your criticism of German surplusses. I know it makes no sense. I very much doubt that the US trade deficit with China was a conscious choice to support a “chosen ally”.

    On unions: I am all for them, if they are interested in the prosperity of workers and the health of the company. Unfortunately, it wasn’t like that in the UK. I consider this a failure of management, btw. But as things were it was unions or companies, unfortunately.

    On your favourite quote: maybe you’ll understand in 10 years time, when the full damage of extremist British politics (currently on the right, next on the left) will become evident. Mayism and Corbynism in the name of sovereignty. Even you will see the sad joke this is if your country will have become one.

  • @ Arnold Kiel

    There was nothing good about the Thatcher government and very little good about the Blair government or even the coalition government. ALL UK governments since 1979 have not followed the correct economic policies and so have harmed the people.

    You bet I am against Thatcherism and austerity and so should all liberals.

    Are you really saying it would be a good thing for over 50% of the UK population to live in London and South-East England?

    I learned that Carthage was destroyed by Rome and Rome conquered Athens (I don’t remember it destroying Athens like it did Corinth). I don’t remember who destroyed Alexandria; perhaps you are referring to its replacement by another Egyptian city in the 9th century CE.

    I am sure Detroit would be a more prosperous city if in the 1970’s the US government had managed to get more businesses to invest there. If there had been strong regional development policies.

    You must be reading a different history to me if you think the people forced to move during the agricultural and industrial revolutions wanted to. Being forced by economic circumstances to move is always a bad thing. I don’t understand how a liberal could think otherwise.

    @ Rob Wheway
    “the majority did not address the issue”

    Lots of comments strongly disagreed with what you think is needed to reform the EU so we could win a referendum on the deal verses staying in. However, you have not engaged with any of them. You have just dismissed them. They on the other hand had engaged with your topic.

  • there is no EU rule that precludes wage-, tax-, or infrastructure-competition. It is just about minimum social-, safety-, and environmental standards.

    Great. But what part of being a free trade area requires, say, a Working Time Directive, or the establishment of Works Councils? It seems to me you could have a perfectly functional free trade area without having federal legislation in those sorts of areas. NAFTA doesn’t have rules about the members states’ employment laws, does it? So why should the EU?

  • Arnold Kiel 19th Jan '18 - 9:25am

    Michael BG,

    I find it entirely liberal to let individuals choose between staying put or moving ahead. In your logic, China should have stayed an agricultural subsistence country forever instead of urbanizing. Urbanization, progress, civilization, and liberalism are available only in a package. Individual freedoms were won in the cities. It is a fundamental pillar of the US’ economic strength that entrepreneurial capital moves on, between loctions and sectors, without the Government wasting money at unsuccessfully trying to stem this trend. I applaud Thatcher to Cameron for directionally doing the same. May’s “a country that works for everyone”, just like Trumps “the forgotten will be forgotten no more” is just empty talk. Luckily, there is no money available to be wasted on hopeless regions. Their fate is sealed (especially after Brexit), and like it or not, the young and bright will continue to come SE (and the others have a dismal birthrate) because it makes economic sense for them and the country. Just to be clear: poor regions must receive adequate social services, but, please, no Government-financed reindustrialization-attempts. It never works. Just look at Wales, Andalucia, Southern Italy, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Normandie… hundreds of billions wasted. Besides, the historic window in which factories meant jobs and therefore their location mattered socially is closing.

    My message on the old global centers, irrespective of the cause of their demise was: they never come back.

  • Peter Martin 19th Jan '18 - 9:39am

    @ Arnold,

    German GDP is approximately €2.83 trillion. The German trade surplus is around €230 bn or around 8% of GDP. It’s not really a problem for the UK or the USA because we issue our own currency and can just sell you Govt bonds (IOUs) so you can earn a tiny bit of interest by saving your money. It’s more of a problem for your trading partners in the EZ because they are locked into a system where euros disappear into Germany but don’t come out. They can’t create new ones, so they have to ‘borrow’ them back in an attempt to keep their economies functioning. A surplus isn’t like a profit. A profit can be spent and re-invested. A surplus can’t. Otherwise it isn’t a surplus. Saving is fine if its going to be spent at some point but it causes problems if it isn’t. It’s all explained in the parable of the bees. Is building a huge stockpile of dormant euros, the best use of German resources?

    If the German government reduced taxes and increased demand it could engineer say a €100 bn trade deficit. Similar in % terms to the UK or US economies. If you don’t understand how to do this yourself, employ some British or US economists. There’s plenty of euros in the German kitty to pay their salaries!

    This would make over €300 bn of difference to Germany’s trading partners. With the right economic management there would be no reason for German industry to be any less productive. Those extra euros might not turn Bulgaria into South Korea but they would help improve their economy enormously. If the EU was healthier , economically, then Germany would benefit even more. You might even get some of your loans back!

    Incidentally China runs a trading surplus of about 2% of GDP. If you can’t bring yourself to be like America maybe you could be more like China? It’s an interesting question why China and the USSR have been treated so differently by the US. But, quite obviously, that decision was made years ago by someone. Probably the Nixon administration.

  • Arnold Kiel 19th Jan '18 - 9:40am


    as the UK’s productivity-deficit is a well-established fact, what would be the benefit of unrepresented Britons in 60-hours sweatshops competing with Bulgarians doing the same? More poverty for the 99% and more profits for the 1%.

    Do not confuse an FTA with a common market; they have very different benefits (as the UK insists on learning), and require very different levels of harmonization and enforcement.

  • Arnold Kiel 19th Jan '18 - 9:53am

    Peter Martin,

    I appreciate your repeating your standard lecture for the 10th time and do not wish to be impolite, neither to you, nor to the few remaining readers or the original author of this thread. Therefore, I am refraining from giving you my standard answer which you have also read about 10 times already.

  • Do not confuse an FTA with a common market; they have very different benefits (as the UK insists on learning), and require very different levels of harmonization and enforcement.

    What is it about a common market, then, which requires directives on things like working time? Is it simply in order to be ‘an area where businesses compete across countries as if it was one country’?

    If so, why do we want that? Why can’t we have an area where businesses can compete across countries as if they were different countries, but with tariffs and non-tariff barriers removed (which the EU isn’t very good at, of course, given the number of non-transferrable qualifications, and countries where special licences are required to engage in certain professions that act as de facto non-tariff barriers).

  • Peter Martin 19th Jan '18 - 10:12am


    This thread is about the reform of the EU. I agree with you, but for different reasons, that meaningful reform is just going to be too difficult. You’ve claimed I’ve had ten tries at explaining to you why the problems of the EU are largely caused by German economic thinking , if thinking is the correct word, and ten times I’ve failed. Maybe.

    Hopefully, Emmanuel Macron will be much more successful, but I doubt it. There’s something about the German psyche that makes them good at building cars but absolutely hopeless at creating functioning economic systems. They can’t seem to get past the economics of the Swabian hausfrau.

    Until and unless that changes, there’s really no hope for the EU.

  • Peter Martin 19th Jan '18 - 10:26am
  • Dav,

    just view the EU as a comfort-cartel for advanced, old, saturated, pacifist, socialist societies. That is why there is no better place to live on this globe. Its chances to endure are under threat, and only a common defence will work. Your joy of the outside-in view will be very shortlived.

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Jan '18 - 7:06pm

    Arnold, just one small point. ‘Individual freedoms are won in the cities’, you wrote this morning, linking together urbanization, progress, civilisation and liberalism with the growth of cities. I think those links are rather dubious. Even allowing for the fact that ‘progress’, as with ‘civilisation’ and ‘liberalism’ are all mighty subjects for debate, you must admit that the prosperity of Athens depended on the free men having slaves, and dependent women, just as the prosperity of the new cities of America must surely have depended partly on the slave trade. Even Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Surely successful urbanization has usually been built on the rise of the wealthy at the expense of the poor? So it is with London today, and we must restrict that unbounded expansion of capitalism, whatever happens with Brexit, and fight as a party against the grotesque inequality of our society today.

  • @ Dav
    “but with tariffs and non-tariff barriers removed”

    The parts of the Working Time Directive which apply in the UK are because the UK government agreed for them to apply. It can be argued that the laws regarding working conditions are a non-tariff barrier to fair trade. You could argue that no laws governing working hours, rest periods, meal breaks should apply. However, I think it would be sensible to get all countries in the Single Market to agree to the same laws to apply to all workers so there is no benefit from having your business based in Germany rather than the UK in the same way as there are no working rules benefit from having your business based in England or Scotland.

    @ Arnold Kiel

    You are really saying that you think it is liberal for people to be forced to move to better themselves. You think it is liberal for people’s choices to be limited when it is possible for governments to run their economies in such a way that people can have a much freer choice of where they live. You seem to have confused market forces with liberalism.

    Why is liberalism not available to those people living in rural areas?

    Capital is located where it is most beneficial. Governments can change where these areas are and all do to some extent. I am not aware of any government which would want all of the world’s population to live in a section of their country, which you mistakenly think is what a liberal government should want.

    No liberal should say there are “hopeless regions”; in the same way as no liberal should have a view of humanity which values one human being less than another.

  • A common trade area (which is much more than a trade agreement) must have minimum standards and part of that is labour rights. It was perhaps not surprising that Britain failed to meet even those minimum standards under the conservative governments of the eighties and nineties. Countries can of course go much further than minimum standards and many do, that’s democracy. What countries cannot do is to stay part of a trade framework ( such as WTO world trade for example) but refuse to meet the minimum standards and regulations of that body. By the way Britain created worldwide standards and also European ones. My understanding is that PM May has agreed to continue to meet all minimum European standards in the future, regulatory equivalence, but without Britain having any say in what those future standards are. Makes Brexit completely pointless really.

  • Peter Martin: “There’s something about the German psyche that makes them good at building cars but absolutely hopeless at creating functioning economic systems. They can’t seem to get past the economics of the Swabian hausfrau.”

    KKKlansmanrant: “There’s something about the West Indian psyche that makes them good at athletics but absolutely hopeless at creating functioning economic systems. They can’t seem to get past the economics of slave labour.”

    Oh gosh, the second statement I have posted here is a piece of disgraceful racist nonsense! Is the first one any better?

  • Arnold Kiel 20th Jan '18 - 9:29am

    Katharine Pindar,

    your comment deserves a thoughtful response, which I find difficult because my knowledge of history is rather poor.
    I was addressing Michael BG’s view that migration is always bad by responding to him that it is part of human nature, e.g. urbanization. Now my clumsy historical excourse: 1789 France was run by 500.000 clergy- and noblemen. It is probably fair to say that the establishment of modern democracies started with the other 98% of the population (the so-called Third Estate) wrestling power and landownership away from these two groups. This process was neither started nor advanced by peasants, but in the cities.

    The concept of equality (economic and otherwise) is, unfortunately, a rather late addition to the progress of civilization, as can be seen by any traveller’s sightseeing schedule.

    I do not think that equality is served by “restrict(ing) that unbounded expansion of capitalism”, but by the way you redistribute its fruits. Capitalism, to add another excourse, is nothing but the principle that the person that risks his/her wealth in an enterprise is entitled to pocket its success and must bear the risk of loss. Without this principle, there would be very little wealth to share.

    Indeed, “successful urbanization has usually been built on the rise of the wealthy”, but it does not have to be “at the expense of the poor”. This is not a zero sum game, but a question of societal balancing. Historically speaking, today’s UK does a much better job at that than many of us think today. The “grotesque inequality of our society today” is so only to a 21st century eye.

    I would agree that some more redistribution is needed in today’s UK. Increasing the UK’s state quota by 5 percentage points, to about the EU average, would amount to GBP 100 Billion or less than GBP 2000 per capita. This shows you that in order to meaningfully change inequality, a rather massive additional burden on the rich would be required. I would advocate that, but must add that you absolutely need happy capital(ists) also.

    Michael BG,

    all empirical evidence speaks against Government’s ability to relocate wealth-creation at their will. It is extremely expensive, succeeds rarely, and if it does, takes decades. Big cities exist for a reason; the UK’s productivity deficit incidently does not exist in London.

  • Peter Martin 20th Jan '18 - 9:39am

    @ David Allen,

    Yes I take your point. However, it’s really just a cultural issue. It’s often pointed out that the German words for debt and guilt are the same. The usual explanation is that German people are paranoid about the value of money after suffering from the well known hyperinflation of the Weimar years. The rise of Nazism is often attributed to the same cause, although the evidence is more that this was caused by the very high unemployment of 30s when prices and wages were falling. This debt-guilt equivalence is at variance with the workings of a modern fiat monetary system.

    It’s not hard to find similar negative views about debt everywhere. People don’t readily understand that for every financial asset there has to be a financial liability. If we want to have positive numbers in our wallets, bank accounts, pension funds etc, someone has to hold the negative ones. Ultimately that has to be government.

  • Katharine Pindar:
    Giving the EP’s power of legislative initiative is something that I think should be part of an EU reform package. But in practice the Westminster Parliament isn’t much better, as most business is decided by the government; while backbench MPs have in theory some powers to propose new laws, in practice these are only likely to pass if supported by the government.

    I think you are wrong on whether MEPs would sack a commissioner. In 1999 they nearly did, but the Commission resigned en masse first. This was over allegations of fraud, mainly against commissioner Édith Cresson. In 2004, MEPs again threatened to veto José Manuel Barroso’s entire first slate of nominees rather than accept the nomination of Italian centre-right politician Rocco Buttiglione to the civil liberties portfolio, due to Buttiglione’s socially conservative views. Once again, the Commission backed down.

    And I don’t think that the perceived irrelevance of MEPs in the eyes of voters is through want of collaboration with other tiers of government. Obviously they do liaise with their counterparts in national government and parliament, as this is all part of getting things done. But when the party in the European Parliament takes a different line from the party in government, I would expect MEPs to follow the EP line and explain why this is the correct path. For instance, Chris Davies publicly opposed the UK government line on tar sands, as presented by environment minister Norman Baker. It wasn’t that Chris was opposed to the Coalition; simply that he thought our government was wrong. Chris once referred to the European Parliament as a “coalition-free zone”, meaning that our MEPs were free to put forward the undiluted Lib Dem line on issues, unbound by the straitjacket of cabinet collective responsibility. But we didn’t make anything of this in our Euro election campaign in 2014; had we done so, we might have saved a few more of our seats.
    No, the reason MEPs are perceived as irrelevant is media bias: quite simply the media ignores MEPs unless they are called Nigel Farage or Dan Hannan. We should have done more to challenge this media conspiracy of silence. Instead we validated it through the Clegg-Farage debates.

  • Peter Martin 20th Jan '18 - 10:10am

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    “all empirical evidence speaks against…….”

    These kinds of phrases are best avoided. Other examples would be “Everyone knows that….”, “It is indisputable that …..”

    If you do have some evidence that Governments cannot influence regional development then let’s hear it. Lets have a reference or a few examples. Often the ways it happens aren’t that direct. Industry doesn’t move because it is told to by Government. It could be offered a tax incentive- that can work except that the EU has largely outlawed these measures.

    Cambridge is at the centre of a thriving high tech industry. So we can ask why that might be? Could it be due to Cambridge having a well known and successful university , much which is still funded by public money? So Cambridge becomes a good place to locate and recruit specialist graduates. National Government is such a big player in the economies of all developed countries that its decisions on where to spend money will always have a large effect on the local economy.

  • Peter Martin,

    I am tempted one more time: you advocate every Government running a budget deficit; you are also against the EU SGP which tries to keep total debt directionally in line with growth. Therefore, you are in favor of increasing the world’s public debt infinitely both absolutely and as a % of GDP. I always thought a trend that cannot go on will not go on. What would happen in the next global financial crash with no credible lenders left? Is people’s belief in printed paper also limitless? I rather stick to the Swabian hausfrau.

  • I always thought democracies developed from local/national assembly and petitions, with the seats of power gradually learning to accommodate wider voting rights because of things like organised labour and other economic pressures. Interestingly The Cossacks had a system of regional representation. The main reason for democracies concentrating in cities in Britain and in Europe was probably because they were where power tended to concentrate in form of the clergy. One of the old definitions for a city is that they have to have a Cathedral.

  • Peter Martin 20th Jan '18 - 10:52am


    It is possible for countries like Germany not to have a budget deficit because Germany has a large influx of euros into the economy. If Government in Germany ran a deficit two things could happen. There could be some extra inflation and/or there could be an increase in the amount of goods imported by Germany. The first wouldn’t be good. The second would.

    So let’s just consider what happens when a country has balanced trade. Over the whole of the EZ this going to be close to what happens. On a world scale, of course, it has to happen – on average. Then, the amount of money leaving the country is exactly equal to the money coming in. In those circumstances the deficit of the government is equal, to the penny or eurocent, to the surplus of everyone else in the country. So if everyone wants to save 5% of their income (which many would consider to be a good thing) the government has to run a 5% budget deficit (which many would consider a bad thing and which is outside the limits of the SGP). So we have contradictory ideas on the nature of savings and debts which need to be reconciled.

    The problem with the SGP, or maybe just one of them, is that it doesn’t allow for the wish of the domestic population to save their euros.

  • Peter Martin,

    Germany ran a budget dedficit for forty years until 2015. The budget surplus has only come about in the last couple of years in large part due to historically low interest costs on debt service. The federal surplus is earmarked for refugee support payments.

    The European Commission has criticised the ageing Germans for saving too much Your analysis would suggest they are not collectively saving enough, hence the budget surplus insead of a deficit. Most commentators want Germans to spend more domestically to rebalance trade, not save more.

  • Peter Martin 20th Jan '18 - 4:28pm


    I haven’t checked your claim but, assuming that it is correct, it just goes to show that a deficit for Govt is quite natural and isn’t going to lead to hyperinflation. If Germany as whole runs a trading surplus them so too does the German Federal Govt and/or the German private sector. In other words either or both have to be net savers.

    It’s not correct to say that German private sector is not saving enough. They can save or desave as they see fit. If they save more the Govt saves less and vice versa. It’s possible that one can be in deficit and the other in surplus but between them, they have to be in surplus if the external account is in surplus.

    Most commentators do, as you say, want Germans to spend more. Theoretically that can be either Govt or the Private sector. But, ultimately, that really needs to be Govt to avoid the creation of a credit bubble. In other words, the Federal Govt should go back to doing what they have always done and run a deficit. And not just a small one!

  • One of the main criticisms of the EU was that legislation was imposed by “unelected bureaucrats” As a member of Coventry Remain campaign as an independent (not a member of any party for 6 years) I was appalled at the uselessness of the campaign. The scare stories looked like lies (and turned out to be lies) and there was no significant defence of the democratic procedures by MEPs even though they were elected to the parliament. Most were and still are well meaning complacent and incompetent plodders.

    This could be improved by better linkage between MPs and MEPs. This surely an uncontroversial proposal, of little cost which if transparent would enable the public to understand the democratic procedures (albeit with their limitations) It would also counter the Brexit deceit about the lack of democracy.

    It is amazing that besides Katherine there has been little comment on what is an obvious deficiency in our procedures. MPs and MEPs talking to each other in a public forum hardly seems contentious.

    We also need to ask why are all parties’ MEPs so ineffective. One significant reason is that because there are so many and because the media need to be fair, they do not get regular coverage. If there were only a couple in London it is likely they would get about as much publicity as the London Mayor. EU matters would get more and better informed debate in the public arena.

    Both of these ideas would mean that forward looking politicians would be attracted to be candidates for the EU Parliament. Being a complacent plodder would no longer be an option.

    People are realising that Brexit is much more problematic than they were promised. To win a second referendum we only need to persuade 1 or 2 in every 50 who opted for brexit to change their mind. We won’t do it if we continue to be complacent about the EU

  • @ Arnold Kiel

    I live in a town Basingstoke which was developed because of government action. There have been many areas which have been regenerated successful. Liverpool is a successful example According to Wikipedia based on the successes of regenerating German cities after the Second World War. In 1981 20% of the population of Liverpool was unemployed. According to Wikipedia since the mid-nineties Liverpool’s economy has grown faster than the national average. Therefore your view of the powerless of government to improve the social and economic conditions of a particular region or city is wrong

    You also seem to not understand that the major role of government today is to control capitalism, not abolish it, but ensure it benefits all of the population.

    You are advocating despair. Despair has no place in liberalism. Liberalism is optimistic and about improving society.

    I note you failed to address my previous comments regarding it being illiberal to support people being forced to move for economic reason, why liberalism can’t exist in rural areas, and how it can be liberal to write off a region? Your argument that Capitalism can’t be controlled and history is the only guide to what can be done in the future is not liberal, it sounds very conservative to me.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Jan '18 - 6:42pm

    Alex Macfie: “But when the party in the European Parliament takes a different line from the party in government, I would expect MEPs to follow the EP line…” The difficulty I have with that, Alex, is, ‘the EP line’. How is it determined? By the Council of Ministers? By the Commission? Or in the case you cite, by a hard-working Liberal Democrat MEP? Chris Davies would have to convince sundry other MEPs from different countries and of different party groups, to get the policy he advocated accepted. One can guess that an MEP who bothered to work up a good case on an environmental issue would gain acceptance, and I know Chris was indeed applauded for his intelligent research and advocacy, but it must surely be difficult to get EP agreement on issues, because of the diversity of the MEPs. That is different from the case of MPs in a national legislature. In the UK, the Government is meant to be carrying out some policies agreed in an election manifesto, and presumably that is the broad principle pertaining to all the EU countries. It doesn’t always work out like that, as the Liberal Democrats found to our cost in the Coalition, but there is some semblance of a known programme to follow. Even if MEPs were to be given the right to initiate legislation, how could they agree on a programme?

    I take your point about the Parliamentary oversight of individual Commissioners, though it does seem rather limited to exceptional cases. But I continue to maintain that MEPs should be expected to interact much more than at present with their electors, in a reformed EU. The Media uninterest in anything but Farage/Clegg type debates is the situation here at election times, as you point out. But I would hope for a continuing dialogue and consultation and reporting back to voters between elections, to rouse interest in what they are doing, and the Lib Dems if we stay in the EU should be the first to ask more and better communication from MEPs, and as you suggest, should help publicise their activities. The work of Chris Davies for one should have been well-known. But let our MEPs, if any, be expected actively to promote their voters’ interests, and keep the MPs in their regions well informed.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Jan '18 - 6:57pm

    Arnold, your defence of capitalism is under such sustained and well -argued attack that I won’t attempt to join in! Thank you for the courtesy of your reply to me, and I am glad to read that you also think there should now be some redistribution in the UK to reduce inequality, by increasing the tax burden of the rich.

  • @ Rob Wheway

    It is good to see you finally entering the discussion, even if very late. When I click on your name LDV tells me you are a member of Coventry Lib Dems and previously a councillor. Perhaps you would like to explain how this fits with you stating, “As a member of Coventry Remain campaign as an independent (not a member of any party for 6 years)”?

    There is a complaint that EU legislation is imposed by “unelected bureaucrats” when the truth was the UK government agreed with the legislation being passed. It is this failure by all governments and the media to explain that the EU Parliament does not have the final say, it is the Council of Ministers which does where qualified majority voting takes place which is based on population size and not a simple majority. If every law proposed for the EU was debated and voted on in both houses of Parliament then people might understand that EU laws were not imposed upon us, but were agreed by our MPs and Lords. There is already an European Scrutiny Committee, but I don’t think many people have heard of it, and it doesn’t appear on the News. Why do you think having MEP’s report to a Committee of the UK Parliament would make any difference to the coverage?

    You are wrong to think that reducing the number of MEPs would help the situation. There are only 3 MEP’s for North East England and only 4 for Wales and only 5 for the East Midlands. Do these MEPs have higher profiles than your 6 (pre-2009).

    Why do you think Liz Lynne (according to Wikipedia the 9th best UK MEP according to Open Europe think tank) and Phil Bennion were ineffective MEPs. The reports I received from Chris Huhne, Sharon Bowles and Catherine Bearder kept me informed of what they were doing in the European Parliament and I expect if I had watched the regional political TV programmes more I would have seen more of them. (My UK MP only sends me an election address during a general election, so why would any of my MEPs send me anything considering how many electors they have – over 2.3 million votes were counted in my Euro constituency in 2014 and 2009). Small constituencies are best!

  • Arnold Kiel 21st Jan '18 - 8:49am

    Peter Martin,

    I had previously pointed to Wales, Andalucia, Southern Italy, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Normandie… Cambridge University was founded in 1209, arguably before the concept of private capital even existed.

    Michael BG,

    I am sure Basingstoke is wonderful, but one does not fail to notice that it is less than an hour from London, Heathrow, Gatwick, Southhampton. The problems start 2 hours north or west.

    FT March 16, 2016 (about Liverpool): “Since 2010 nearly 26,000 private sector jobs have been created, but during the same period 20,400 public sector jobs have gone and the government has cut £650m from grants to the city region’s six authorities. This equates to £329 a head, the most in the country.” Admittedly not the most recent news, but any Liverpool (a big city, btw.) recovery is hardly a Government achievement.

    I have quite elaboratedly conceded the need to retain, control, and share the benefits of capitalism. I also tried to explain that liberalism, now available evrywhere, is a city-product, while you continue to insist that industrialization, history’s greatest wealth generator, was just bad, illiberal, and enforced migration.


    it is quite fashionable to attack capitalism, but rarely, including on LDV, well argued. You all agree that a GDP of is not enough for every Briton to live well (I hope to have shown that redistribution alone will not cut it). One would have to argue how to increase that substantially without capitalism. I am looking forward to that argument.

  • Peter Martin 21st Jan '18 - 9:35am

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    Normandy is a strange example. Why should a region on one side of La Manche/The English channel be any less well off that a region on the other side? Both are within striking distance of their respective capital cities. The people will be genetically almost identical! So maybe the difference is connected with government?

    Generally speaking the wealthy areas in any country/currency union just happen to be where Government is located. As an example of that, Canberra in Australia would be a nondescript country town (if it existed at all!) were it not the home of the Federal Govt. As it is, it has the best schools, the best road system, the lowest levels of unemployment and the highest per capita income in Australia.

    In any country, which has previously also meant any single currency zone, there is always a common taxation system. So, naturally, the richer areas pay more into the kitty and get out less than the less affluent regional areas. This, to some extent, keeps the regions going. Germany, in DM days, wasn’t any exception. Munich would effectively be subsidising Berlin in the days when Bonn was the capital. If the Federal govt had left everything to market forces, the rational economic decision would have been to evacuate Berlin and let the DDR have it.

    But it doesn’t make any sense to abandon territory in that way. The responsibility of any central Government is to counteract the natural tendency of money to gravitate to other money. It doesn’t benefit the already wealthy areas if there is a high influx of people from the regions and and it doesn’t benefit the poorer areas to lose the most able of their population.

    Sure if people want to move they can and they should. There’s many people who were born in London and the SE of the country who’ve left and need to be replaced. So providing the movement is not too asymmetrical, I can’t see any problem. It’s when there is high level of asymmetry, coupled with the imposition of austerity economics, that the trouble starts as we have seen in the recent UK referendum on the EU. The rise of the far right in Europe is just part of the same problem.

  • Peter Martin 21st Jan '18 - 9:46am

    @ Katharine,

    Neither the Liberal Democratic party not the Labour Party are anti-capitalist parties. The distinction between capitalism and socialism is somewhat arbitrary. Most economies are a mix of the two. Even the USA has large parts of its economy under Government control. So we can all have our opinions on what the mix should be. We’ve had growth when we had the gas, electricity, the post, the railways etc nationalised and we could do again. Whether we have a better chance with the government in charge is political question. If the right policies are followed we can have a successful economy with either a larger or smaller govt sector.

    The important thing, which I’m sure that all on the left and centre left, would agree on is that markets should be made to serve the population on not the other way around as Arnold seems to argue.

  • Dear Michael BG
    No contradiction your Sherlock Holmes type investigation flawed – I thought it quite obvious – at the time of the referendum I was not in any political party and had not been for 6 years. I therefore was in the remain campaign as an “Independent”. I then joined the Lib Dems over a year later just before conference. I became a Coventry City Liberal Councillor in 1985 which was headlined in Liberal News as “The breakthrough of the year” A few years ago I was a Wyre Forest District Cllr for the Liberal Party.

    I can hardly be accused of entering the discussion late when I started it (and it has had lots of attention) My work and other commitments do mean I cannot spend hours following the debate

    I was quite clear that I was criticising the performance of MEPs of all parties. I know Liz Lynne and Graham Watson and would not accuse them of being lazy I feel sure many MEPs are hard working. The point is the MEPs generally have been ineffective.

    Now with UKIP falling apart where is the hard hitting response from Lib Dems?

    UKIP have always been empty vessels. If they had anything useful to say now, having won the referendum, would be the time they would be making the biggest contributions to the debate.

    I believe the MEPs generally have been ineffective because they have negligible impact on the national debate. The regions covered are so large that casework, leafletting and traditional campaigning are not significant vote-winners. They need to be on the media.

    I believe the the MEPs are ineffective because they don’t attract regional and national media attention because there are too many of them. Then because they get little attention they do not attract the “Big beasts” of politics. Can you name any well known and effective politician who opted to be an EU candidate? No one springs to mind except perhaps David Steel who stood for an Italian regional list (I think??)

    The parties also do not help. We see very little campaigning linkage between MPs and MEPs. MEPs are left to beaver away and rarely challenged or congratulated in a campaigning way which would attract the media.

    People have made many interesting comments in this LDV debate

    What however is needed is a greater focus on what we will say in the 2nd referendum to persuade people that we can be depended on to be constructively critical of the EU. Just giving the impression that we are happy for it to stay the same will not do

  • Alex Macfie 21st Jan '18 - 5:38pm

    Katharine Pindar: By the “EP line”, I mean the position that the MEPs in our party group (ALDE) decide on. And, of course, this is decided in the European Parliament. The EU separation of powers means that neither the Council nor the Commission (which are both nominally non-partisan bodies) have any say in it, and it’s the job of MEPs to hold both the other bodies to account, regardless of the party label of the ministers or commissioners. However, it’s worth noting that party discipline is much weaker in the European Parliament than in our national parliament, and so by Westminster standards, practically all MEPs are party rebels. This is both because each party group is actually a collection of like-minded national parties, and because there is no payroll vote (again, due to Separation of Powers). This means that MEPs are far more independent-minded than Westminster MPs could ever be.
    Whereas the government usually has an in-built majority in the Westminster Parliament, neither the Commission nor the Council can count on the backing of any group of MEPs. This means that MEPs have a lot of practical power to change legislation, and they do this among groups on an issue-by-issue basis. So yes, MEPs reach majority decision without difficulty, but the composition of each majority may be different.
    European and national parties do have manifestos for European elections. There were separate Lib Dem and ALDE manifestos for the 2014 election; unfortunately the party chose not to use either in its election campaign, or to mention its candidate for President of the Commission.

  • Alex Macfie 21st Jan '18 - 6:05pm

    Rob Wheway: I absolutely endorse your comment above:

    We see very little campaigning linkage between MPs and MEPs. MEPs are left to beaver away and rarely challenged or congratulated in a campaigning way which would attract the media.

    There is a big problem of lack of coverage of MEP activities. But I do not agree at all with your diagnosis that there are “too many MEPs”. There are about 8 times as many Westminster MPs as there are UK MEPs, and there isn’t a problem of lack of coverage of what happens in Westminster! Reducing our contingent to the size you suggest (15), and presumably those of other countries in proportion, would mean that MEPs would be overworked and would not be effective at all in holding the Commission or Council to account. It would also The problem is the political parties and the media choosing to ignore the European Parliament, something that would probably be even worse if there were fewer MEPs.
    This institutional bias against the European Parliament is also probably why it doesn’t attract what you call “Big beasts” from UK politics. This isn’t a problem in other European countries. Several former EU Commissioners and former Prime Minsters or party leaders have gone on to become MEPs. Guy Verhofstadt, Jacques Santer, Emma Bonino, Le Pen père and fille, to name a few. The problem you cite is specific to the UK; the other European countries much more attention is paid to the work of MEPs, and elections to the European Parliament do focus on the party manifestos and Commission President nominees. It’s just in the UK that we have a political culture where only what happens in national government is considered to matter at all.

  • @ Arnold Kiel

    Liverpool’s recovery started in the 1980’s and took off in the 1990’s. Your quote from the FT just shows how wrong the coalition government’s economic policy was.

    You have not shown that Liberalism was a city product. I am sure that the Liberal party won seats in rural areas in the nineteenth century as the vote was extended to agricultural workers. There is nothing about Liberalism which means it can’t be applied to rural as well as urban areas.

    I have never stated that the agricultural and industrial revolutions were bad. I have stated that if a person is forced to move for economic reasons this is illiberal. It is therefore the role of liberals to reduce these economic forces which force people to move (while I recognise it is difficult to reduce them to nothing). Your position seems to be that being forced by economic forces to move is a good thing and is liberal. I don’t understand how being forced to do anything can be called liberal. Again you seem unable to engage with the points I am making. Do you really believe that unrestrained capitalism is a good thing for everyone and liberals should take no action to counter the bad effects of unrestrained capitalism?

    The GDP of the UK is actually about £2,600,000 million. The population of the UK is about 65.6 million. There are about 24% of the population 19 or under and 17% over 64. If everyone 19 and under had an income of £4420 (£85 a week) this would cost £69,589 million (rounded up); if everyone over 64 had a guaranteed pension of £6396 (£123 a week) this would cost £71,328 million. This would leave £2,459,083 to be divided between 45.264 million people of working age. If every one of these people was guaranteed £30,000 a year there would still be £1,101,163 million for some to have an income above £30,000 a year and for some pensioners to have more pension. Please can you let me know why a single person of working age can’t live well on £30,000 a year and why a couple with two children can’t live well on £68,840 when average earnings are about £27,600?

  • @ Rob Wheway

    Thank you for making clear you politician history. Why should I guess when you can tell me the truth? It seems you were not a Liberal Democrat councillor and you had left the continuing Liberal Party by 2010. (Were you their President 2009-10?)

    The media ignores what MEP’s do and therefore having fewer of them would not change it. Generally the media doesn’t cover what Parliament does it only covers events where the government might be defeated or there are lots of protests. At least if every EU law had to be passed by both houses of Parliament no one could say that we didn’t agree to the EU laws, which is the real issue.

    I expect that not only our MEPs but Green ones, and UKIP ones are active within their area where they have the most support. It is not possible to force Labour and Conservative MEPs to work with their MPs locally especially where they are most likely to win or lose on national vote rather than what they do locally.

    You are correct we do need to talk about what changes we would like to see to the EU to make it more likely we could get the British public to vote to stay in. However, the big issues are the free movement of labour and ensuring the public know that they are still in control of what EU laws apply here.

  • Peter Martin 21st Jan '18 - 6:48pm

    @ Michael BG

    I think your GDP is slightly too high. Maybe the GDP is US$2.6 trillion? But nevertheless your point is well made. At some point we do have to get away from the notion that the only way that those at the bottom will get a bigger piece of cake is to make the cake bigger.

    We heard this a lot in the early days of Thatcherism. Since then the GDP has increased by some 250%. So the proverbial cake is much bigger but the social problems that were there in the early 80’s haven’t diminished. And they won’t diminish until we act to to ensure fairer shares for all.

  • Peter Martin 21st Jan '18 - 6:56pm

    How many people on this blog can name even one of their MEPs? I like to think I’m reasonably politically knowledgeable but I’ve no idea about any of them.

    If I asked 100 people on the street I wonder how many would be any wiser than I am?

  • Alex Macfie – thanks for the information. It is interesting to note that in other countries prominent politicians do stand for EU elections. It is a particular problem in this country though Nigel Farage has demonstrated that it is possible to get coverage so why are our MEPs incapable of being as good at making the EU more interesting. I think all parties have been guilty of failing to engage constructively with EU issues and give it a high enough profile

    – Michael BG – Sherlock Holmes you are not
    I could NOT have been a Lib Dem Cllr in 1985 because merger with the SDP had NOT taken place. In addition I clearly stated I was a “Liberal Cllr”
    Likewise I stated that I had been Wyre Forest Cllr for the “Liberal Party” so again I told the truth and did not “leave you to guess”
    I continued to be in the Liberal Party until 2010 (and yes had been president). I left in 2010 which is consistent with my statement “a member of Coventry Remain campaign as an independent (not a member of any party for 6 years)” i.e. 2010 to 2016 is 6 years as stated.
    After working with the local Greens and Lib Dems in the Remain campaign I joined the Lib Dems just before the Autumn conference of 2017.
    At no point did I suggest or infer that I was or had been a Lib Dem Cllr.
    May I suggest that you read what I have said rather than “guess” at things I did not say.

  • I sent this to David Cameron 31 May 16
    The “remain” campaign should concentrate on long term interests not on scares.
    Our international role has been that exemplified by the BBC World Service where we recognised our privileged position and determined to make a valuable contribution to the world.
    The suggestion that we leave the European Court of Human Rights because we don’t like a few decisions is silly. Like Manchester United leaving European competitions because of couple of dodgy refereeing decisions.
    This approach has been the same to the EU where the attitude is one of us aggressively “standing alone” against Europe. There are things wrong with the EU but an approach based on working with other countries to improve the EU would have been in the spirit of our historic role.

    Our isolationism is strange as we are the best connected country in the world.
    We are in: United Nations, Commonwealth, EU, NATO.
    English is the international language. Our future international standing can be based on being the best networked country in the world. If we leave the EU our international standing is diminished

    We receive respect from other countries but the warmth and high regard is diminishing. The arrogant approach to other countries is having its effect

    If we are to maximise our pivotal role then our leaders need to change the negative attitude to a much more collaborative approach.

    The UK was formed of different countries joining together and we have benefited.
    We led the world with the Industrial Revolution but would we have been so successful if we had tried to prevent migration between our countries?

    These are lessons that we can pass on to the EU.
    An obvious one is that power has been concentrated in, Westminster and that the nations of the UK had powers increasingly taken from them. Thankfully we now have devolved governments. We are addressing this democratic deficit within our own countries.

    The repetition that we are belligerently “standing alone” against other countries gives our children the idea that foreign countries, and therefore foreigners, are antagonistic towards us and should be treated with distrust. This cannot be healthy for our future generations.

    I urge you to base the campaign on Britain’s valued role in the world as a well-connected mature democracy whose networks mean we can contribute far more to international relationships than our size and power alone permit.

  • @ Peter Martin

    I think you are correct. I was looking for GDP in pounds and found it in dollars instead, but didn’t notice. So Arnold Kiel’s £2,000,000 million is likely to be close to correct and instead of £1,101,163 million being left for some people to have higher earnings than my minimums there would only be about £501,163 million. But as you say even with a diminished balance it would be possible to “share the cake more evenly” and I would consider every one well enough off.

    @ Rob Wheway

    I think you might have misread my comments on your comments. I was thanking you for setting the record straight so I wouldn’t have to guess. I was stating you were telling the truth and so I wouldn’t have to pretend to be Sherlock Holmes and guess. (I know when merger happened.) I did not imply that the time between 2010 when you stopped being President of the continuing Liberal Party and 2016 when the EU referendum was, was less than 6 years. You seem to be over defensive of your membership of the continuing Liberal Party. It does not bother me in the slightest. I am only interested in clarity, which I was thanking you for now providing.

  • Katharine Pindar 22nd Jan '18 - 12:21am

    Rob Wheway, it is a pity David Cameron did not listen to you in 2016, then. Thank you for initiating this thread, but it is true you were late to the discussion, and perhaps we would have got further towards deciding what we would like the party to say to voters about EU reform and development if you had been able to engage in it earlier, as it seems to me all authors of articles should be prepared to do. As it is, it appears the posters here agree that it would not be a good idea to reduce the number of MEPs, but we don’t agree about the powers we think the EU Parliament should have in future.

    Alex would like strong independent MEPs, while Michael wants laws passed by the EU Parliament first to be debated and agreed by the national legislatures. I would like there to be a strong Minister for Europe with a big department and a powerful committee in support. I agree with the view that there should be more linkage between MPs and the MEPS, and I would like MEPs to be also in touch with their voters through social media reportage. It is a problem not only that we have as a country been fairly indifferent to what MEPs are doing, but also failed in the party to publicise their work, and it seems we need to improve all these communications.

    But, Alex, I am still not convinced by your argument about the MEP ‘line’. In saying that you mean the ALDE line, you immediately raise the question of how much weight the ALDE group has in the Parliament, how it combines with other groupings to agree on policies. I assume Lib Dem MEPs are unlikely to have agreed on policies with UKIP MEPs, so there could not be a combined British line. I continue to doubt therefore whether the EU Parliament can be effective in policy-making, and tend to agree with Michael (if I read you aright) that control of ministerial decisions in the Council of Ministers is more significant than trying for control of MEPs. But how would a powerful new Minister for Europe relate to our Prime Minister in the Council of Ministers? I am aware I have much to learn about how it all works, instructive as this thread has been.

    Finally, I believe our party will need to give some thought as to how the structures of government in the EU can be adapted to having a flourishing outer tier of states existing alongside a thriving Eurozone collection of states, if we achieve our aims.

  • Katherine Pindar – Thanks for your helpful comments. Unfortunately my work means I am often not able to respond each day.

    My feeling is that we do not need to go into a referendum having a lengthy manifesto for every jot and tittle of the EU. What is needed is a few key pointers which indicate that we are committed to improving democracy of the EU.

    Practical proposals for improving the linkages between MPs and MEPs is a case in point. Once pointed out it is blindingly obvious to the public that it has been missing and would improve public understanding of and engagement. It would cost virtually nothing and with a bit of goodwill could be started without the need for constitutional changes. Crucially it would indicate our direction of travel.

    Reducing the number of MEPs would show a commitment to reducing costs and being prepared to propose changes in the EU. I still think it would improve media coverage and attract more able politicians. It would also encourage them to concentrate on strategic issues rather than small matters like apple varieties which can’t be sold or on “straight bananas” (Ok I know latter is perception). Cutting costs would also chime with public perceptions that the EU wastes money.

    Scrapping the Council of Ministers and putting everything through the EU Parliament would be a more radical proposal. It would make the procedures much more transparent. It would show a clear commitment to improving democratic processes – clearly in tune with our outlook.

    It is vital we go into a 2nd referendum clearly positioning ourselves as wanting significant improvements in the EU.

    Going on as we are continues the complacency demonstrated before the referendum and looks if we have ignored the electorate.

    UKIP is in shreds, Labour is split, Tories are in a negotiating mess – there is no better time to make some positive ideas which will put us into the driving seat and attract people back from brexit – it will only take a very small percentage to change the result dramatically.

  • Peter Martin 22nd Jan '18 - 1:31pm

    @ Rob Wheway,

    I could be persuaded to support Remaining in the EU if there was some sensible way that EZ countries were allowed to balance their trade. Outside the EZ they could allow the value of their currency to vary and so re-adjust their economy to changing circumstances. If they were outside the EU completely they could even impose tariffs, subject to the rules imposed by the WTO.

    They can’t do either of these. When countries like Greece and Spain have Balance of Payments problems, as they inevitably will if they share a currency with aggressive exporters with much more powerful economies than their own, like Germany and Holland, all they can do to stem the outwards flow of euros is to depress their economies so that fewer imports can be afforded. It’s not good for them and it’s not good for their trading partners.

    Now I know very well that we don’t use the euro, but if we are part of a trading bloc which has severe economic problems, then their problems are our problems too.

    If I want to campaign to change all this, how do I go about it?

  • @ Rob Wheway

    You have failed to address the two big issues which are generally accepted to have persuaded the British public to vote to leave the EU.

    You have not addressed the problems which come with reducing the total number of MEPs. We have 73 MEPs if we divide the number by 4 we get 18. How would you distribute them? Would Northern Ireland have 1? Would Wales have 1? (If so there is no PR.) Ireland has 12, divided by 4 leaves 3. If they wanted some limited PR they would need to make their three constituencies one. Belgium would have even greater problems. Would their German speaking representative have to be abolished? France has 74 MEPs divided by 4 makes 18. How would you split these 18 across their 8 constituencies? Would the European Parliament be a better place if there was very little likelihood of us getting any MEP’s elected?

    To abolish the Council of Ministers would remove any British block vote. The critics of the EU would be correct; we would have given up control.

    However, both suggestions would need a new treaty and I can’t imagine the other 27 countries agreeing.

    @ Katharine Pindar

    I did not specify any order for when proposals should be discussed. I would expect the order to be the same as present with most proposals starting in the European Parliament. Every EU nation would not be able to vote for change in the Council of Ministers until their national parliament has agreed the wording of the law being changed. It is likely this would increase the ping pong between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

    Katharine, I see no need for a Minster for Europe. The EU Council of Ministers is an ever changing body made up of the government minister(s) of each nation who has (have) responsibility for the area being discussed. This is why Theresa May as Home Secretary had experience of meeting her opposite numbers in the 27 other EU countries and why Vince Cable has the same experience of meeting his opposite numbers.

    If every EU law had to be agreed by the European Parliament and the national parliaments I think there might be more discussion across the parliament groups to ensure the wording can be agreed as well as the public being more aware of what was being proposed.

  • @ Peter Martin

    I am not sure how much influence the UK has on the rules for the Eurozone. Your best bet might be to try to convince each member party of the Progressive Alliance of Socialist and Democrats that the Eurozone needs reforming as you set out. The parties which are members of the Greens-European Free Alliance and the European United Left-Nordic Green left might also be worth convincing.

  • Hi Peter Martin – I think you are suggesting a complete breaking up of the EU. Funnily enough that’s a tad further than I had been contemplating. Intellectually it is worth testing an idea to destruction or to a new world order but I am not up to that job at moment.

    Hi All
    I should make my position on referenda clear. I have never advocated them but as we are in a mess after one it seems we need a second to sort things out.

    In a democratic debate you can agree “yes but . . . ” “yes but only if . . . ” “No unless we delete lines 32-34” etc.

    It is a dynamic process in which ideas are shaped by debate, problems are raised and solutions offered, compromises are made, people change their minds on the basis of the arguments put forward, hopefully a consensus emerges etc

    The referendum did not allow this and so the result is without any depth of meaning. It means we are in a mess. The result gave no indication whether people wanted a hard, soft or even wobbly brexit. People had no option to say they would want to remain if the EU would address certain issues.

    Most MPs then treated the result as final which it was not. A referendum only gives advice to Parliament and this one was flawed as it gave very little advice. This has been demonstrated by UKIP which it is clear has no idea on the way forward. If it had any ideas it would be putting them forward now – and it is not

    We need to develop an alternative consultation strategy to referenda. It must give opportunities for different options to be suggested, modifications recommended etc. It might involve town or constituency meetings. It could involve the local media – I did write a publication a few years ago for the Liberal Institute which advocated “Public Access Broadcasting” I am happy to send a copy should that be helpful. Email me at [email protected]

  • “Most MPs then treated the result [of the referendum], as final which it was not. A referendum only gives advice to Parliament and this one was flawed as it gave very little advice.”

    Didn’t Cameron spend £9.4 million in advice?
    Nowhere in that leaflet to every household did it say the government would take the vote result as advice, indeed quite the opposite. It was very explicit, in stating that the government ‘would implement the result’ that voters made.

  • Peter Martin 22nd Jan '18 - 7:52pm

    @ Rob Wheway,

    Why do you think I’m suggesting a break up of the EU? Sure, that’s one possible solution. If something isn’t right, if it isn’t working properly, then scrap the entire project and start again. The other option is to fix the fault.

    We could scrap the euro, without scrapping the EU, and go back to what we had in EEC days. If all countries could float their currencies that would, IMO, be enough. The EEC worked well enough in its day. Alternatively we could make the EU into a fiscal transfer union. Just like the USA is a fiscal transfer union. The USA works well enough too.

  • Constitutionally any referendum is only advice to Parliament – there is no way it can be anything other.

    Please show me where the referendum made clear whether it wanted a soft or a hard brexit. Unless you are sure which one it cannot be implemented

    The following fairy tale may help to explain

    Fairy Tale

    Once upon a time 100 people got on a coach to go to Brighton. The trip cost £35 each.
    When they got to the M25 the driver thought he’d check that everybody still wanted to go to Brighton. So he took a vote and found that only 48 definitely wanted to go to Brighton and 52 didn’t want to. He wasn’t sure what to do so he carried on driving round the M25.
    He thought it would be a good idea to ask the 52 who didn’t want to go to Brighton why not.
    A few said that if they left the trip they’d get all their £35 back. Even when they were shown on the ticket that they would only get about half of it back they carried on saying that they would get all their £35 back. That was very silly wasn’t it?
    Another few said they had heard a rumour that Eastbourne might perhaps be nice. They didn’t know if it was better than Brighton but thought it demonstrated that there was at least one alternative possibility.
    Someone else said he had heard a man on a train say that Bognor Regis was good and “he seemed to know what he was talking about” so a few thought that Bognor Regis could at least be considered.
    A large group were fed up with the trip to Brighton and felt that if they stopped going to Brighton something better would turn up. They weren’t sure where it would come from so the driver kept going round the M25.
    Another large group thought that if they went to Brighton the trip would be spoilt because a lot of other people would jump on the bus and it would be too crowded. Sadly a few of this group thought this meant they could be rude about people who were of a different religion or spoke another language. That’s not very nice is it?
    This group wanted to go somewhere even better than Brighton but they weren’t sure where it would be. They were just looking for a popular place that wasn’t attractive to visitors!
    So the majority had got what they wanted and they all lived happily ever after going round and round and round the M25.

  • Peter Martin 22nd Jan '18 - 10:10pm

    @ Rob Wheway,

    When we all first got onto the EU bus it wasn’t called that. We were all told we were going to the Common Market. We didn’t have any vote or any choice in the matter. Unless, perhaps, we emigrated to somewhere like Canada. But then, once we were actually there, we did have a vote and by that time the Common Market was better known as the EEC. Most of us thought that as we were already shopping in the market, and it wasn’t too bad, we might as well vote to stay.

    Later on the EEC became the EC and then the EU. What had started off as a Market had morphed into a Union with the signing of the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties. “Hang on!” a few of us said. We didn’t vote for that. We didn’t have a vote straightaway, but later when we did and voted to Leave the objections started. “Ah but you didn’t say where you wanted to go”, those who wanted to stay said. “In that case, we don’t have to go anywhere at all!”

  • Katharine Pindar 23rd Jan '18 - 2:14am

    Rob Wheway, thank you for the amusing story, it was good to have a laugh! (Please note in passing that my first name has an ‘a’ in the middle, not ‘e’.) I think the story not only suggests the confusion of the voting for the 2016 referendum – and of course we need another one, that is party policy and not being debated here – but also to me the difficulty of the multi-faceted EU actually getting things done. It’s a wonder that so much good policy on social and environmental issues was agreed and passed. It must be reckoned effective, and I’m not sure that we have come up with any suggestion of development that would make it more so.

    I suppose we need to consider the essential functions of the EU. We seem to want it to be more democratic, for instance by having laws considered in national legislatures before being passed by the EU Parliament. I suppose that would mean proper consideration, not just the waving through of changes by Statutory Instruments, but inevitable delay in completion would then have to be accepted. To have definite liaison between MPs and MEPs would increase the democratic input, as would my idea of the MEPs being expected to communicate with their voters by social media, We would not be looking for increased efficiency by those means, but more national control, and thus some satisfaction of the much-expressed idea of greater national sovereignty.

    Michael BG, thank you for clearing up my confusion about the Council of Ministers. That is I suppose an effective system, if it involves relevant national ministers meeting each other to consider particular areas of policy. I am still inclined to want some central oversight in national legislatures, though, through a designated minister, department and scrutiny committee. As to initiation of EU policy, and the role of the parliament, I remain personally on a learning curve!

  • @Rob. Except it’s the drivers not the passengers who have changed their mind (or revealed their original intent). The EU bus is now going to a completely different place to what people were told when they got on it in 1975 – so you shouldn’t be surprised if they are willing to risk jumping off the first time they get a chance in such a long time.

  • Hi Richard S
    It doesn’t alter the fact that the referendum did not inform parliament as to the desired destination.

    It does emphasise the lack of informed debate as the EU changed and also accounts for some of the frustration

    Hi Katharine Pinder
    Sorry my speling isnt alweighs gud
    With my surname I should be more sensitive

    Hi All
    Almost all of the other countries of Europe were overrun by foreign armies at least twice in the last century. That is the reason they want closer union – to ensure peace. It’s very understandable and should not be seen as some great plot to take sovereignty away from the UK. That’s why we should change the tone of our discussions with them – which was one of the points I made at the start of this debate

  • Peter Martin 23rd Jan '18 - 11:28pm

    @Rob Wheway,

    “Almost all of the other countries of Europe were overrun by foreign armies at least twice in the last century. That is the reason they want closer union – to ensure peace. ”

    Except Spain, Portugal, and Ireland maybe? Germany was only ‘overrun’ once. And then only partially. In 1945 by the Russians. I think it is safe to assert that the western half was more liberated than ‘overrun’.

    So are we saying that Russia needs to be included in “closer union” too? After all the highest causalities, perhaps about 25 million dead, plus at least the same number again of serious injuries, occurred on the Eastern front with fighting between Germany and the USSR.

    Europe is supposed to be the most civilised of continents. How is it that most other neighbouring countries in the world get along fine without resorting to serious military conflict but we can’t trust ourselves not to start killing each other unless we have this “ever closer union”. ie have a common Parliament and share a common currency?

  • Alex Macfie 24th Jan '18 - 7:09am

    Katharine Pindar: Of course there is no possibility of a “combined British line” in the European Parliament, as that’s not how it works. And actually, if MEPs did habitually vote en bloc by nationality, then there’d be little point in having elections to it. You vote for representatives of one party because you think that once elected they’ll act differently and vote for different things from the other party. Having them then all vote the same way rather defeats the point of it. The only reason that MEPs of one country are likely to vote the same way is a specific issue where the position is part of the national political consensus (for instance, Scandinavians against legalising drugs and pro women’s rights, and Maltese against legalised abortion).
    The ALDE group usually holds the balance of power in the European Parliament, between the centre-left S&D group, which includes UK Labour and the centre-right EPP, which does NOT include our Tories (who belong to a much more right-wing group, ECR). Although much is made of political differences between the Lib Dems and more classically liberal parties like the FDP, the ALDE group is actually more conherent than the two big European party groups. It tends to vote with EPP on economic issues, and with S&D on social issues. It is on the winning side in more European Parliamentary divisions than any other group, so it is certainly influential in shaping EU policy within the European Parliament.

  • Peter.
    I sometimes think that EU is the result of a kind of deep historical yearning to get back to an idealised mythical past when Europe was “unified” by rule from Rome, that glosses over the collapse of the ideal in the first place.

  • Katharine Pindar 24th Jan '18 - 9:42pm

    Alex Macfie. Thank you for that useful information, Alex, about the standing and influence of the ALDE group and others in the EU Parliament. I was aware that the Conservatives had joined a more right-wing group than might have been expected. But you rather confirm a lurking doubt I had about ALDE, if they tend to vote with that centre-right EPP group on economic matters. That’s a bit disquieting, isn’t it, if the neo-liberal economic theory is still being upheld by Liberal Democrats who belong to ALDE? It’s all very well to hold the balance of power if they represent us as we would like. (Actually I’ve just joined ALDE! Better in than outside, I suppose, but I am centre-left. )

  • Edward Nicholson 23rd Mar '18 - 9:45pm

    The argument that the only issue over Brexit is “immigration” or “freedom of movement” is totally false.

    There is another argument to consider. Namely, I don’t think it is my best interests to have a system that applies single laws across such a large area. Even the US doesn’t do that, each state has it’s own laws (granted many comply with federal statute, but many do not).

    Also, there is the issue of the EU wanting to deploy it’s own “armed forces”, arguably made up of member nations forces, but ultimately answerable to the EU. Sorry to say, but the UN fills that role, for better or worse.

    So, it may be said that people who voted for Brexit, didn’t do so because of immigration, but ultimately because they would rather be governed by people who are local to them. This does not imply racism, merely a preference for politicians who have a ready awareness of the problems the average citizen faces.

    Also, if you consider the fact that Greece, Spain and Italy are all provably, worse off economically, after joining the EU single currency and single market, you begin to understand why the argument is not as simple as “all the foreigners are coming over here taking our jobs”.

    It is also, perfectly reasonable, that apart from the Lib Dems kow towing to a Conservative majority, the reason why they lost most of their voters, and seats, is because they cannot these simple truths.

    Best regards,

    A brexit voting leftie liberal.

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