On the referendum #4: An Exploratory Committee and the beginning of a NO campaign

Yesterday, a cross-party group of MPs announced they have formed an Exploratory Committee to help the formation of a professional NO campaign.

Their statement is below with the text of stories in the Sun and Times. Comments [in square brackets like this] are from me. I briefly mention my role at the end.


Statement on the formation of an Exploratory Committee for the EU Referendum

The following have agreed to form an Exploratory Committee for the EU Referendum:

Steve Baker MP

Douglas Carswell MP

Kate Hoey MP

Kelvin Hopkins MP

Bernard Jenkin MP

Owen Paterson MP

Graham Stringer MP

 

The Government is committed to renegotiating the UK’s terms of membership of the EU and to a referendum on UK membership before the end of 2017.

There must be reform of the EU and fundamental change in our relationship with the EU.  The Prime Minister set this objective when he described the renegotiation in his Commons statement of 23 March as “an opportunity to reform the EU and fundamentally change Britain’s relationship with it.”  However, there is little if any indication that the government is even asking for significant reform or fundamental change.

In particular, there is no sign of any proposals either to end the supremacy of EU law over UK law on ever wider matters, or to resolve the question of what should be the relationship between the Eurozone and non-Eurozone states.  This EU supremacy arises from the 1972 European Communities Act, which incorporates all the EU treaties from Rome to Lisbon.  In order to match the Bloomberg commitment, that “it is national parliaments, which are, and will remain, the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU”, the UK’s national Parliament must be able to decide such vital matters as the level of UK taxpayer contributions to the EU budget, what regulations should apply to UK business, how to control immigration from the EU, and the UK’s trade relations with non-EU countries.

Without this, we believe that the best interests of the UK, Europe, the wider world, and the cause of peaceful international cooperation, would be advanced by the UK leaving the EU and pursuing a different relationship with our EU partners.  We still hope, and urge, the government will listen to, and understand, these concerns.

The referendum will be a historic turning point. Both sides will require the creation of substantial organisations to provide voters with a real choice. There are therefore many issues that need urgent attention, including –

  • Legal issues arising from the Referendum Bill (eg. rules for ‘purdah’, the impartiality of EU and government institutions and broadcasters, funding limits, designation of IN and OUT campaigns, etc).
  • How an OUT campaign might best be formed and run to inform the public about the issues.

We are therefore forming a cross-party group to consider these questions. This is not the ‘OUT’ campaign, but we are seeking urgently to provide resources for crucial thinking and to promote cooperation amongst those who might contribute to an OUT campaign.


The Sun, page 1

TOM NEWTON DUNN, Political Editor

Senior MPs from three different parties have joined forces to launch the campaign for Britain to leave the EU, The Sun can reveal.

The Tory, Labour and UKIP MPs’ new group is a major moment ahead of the landmark In/Out referendum, to be held in as little as 12 months time.

David Cameron suffered a major blow last night when three of his most senior MPs revealed they will lead the campaign to pull Britain out of the EU.

Owen Paterson, Bernard Jenkin and Steve Baker also accused the PM of selling Britain woefully short in his bid to renegotiate our membership.

His former Environment Secretary, the ex-shadow defence secretary and prominent backbencher are acting after becoming convinced their party leader is not asking for enough powers back from Brussels.

A total of seven senior Parliamentarians have formed the Exploratory Committee (ExCom) to put together the No campaign and call on Brits to back a Brexit in the landmark nationwide vote.

Also in the group is ex-Labour Home Office minister Kate Hoey, UKIP’s Douglas Carswell and veteran Labour MPs Graham Stringer and Kelvin Hopkins.

The Sun can also reveal the group have been meeting in secret for a month since the general election.

And the MPs have already won major cash funding promises for a No campaign.

Multi-millionaire and former UKIP treasurer Stuart Wheeler has pledged significant support, and conversations are under way with other big donors.

The ExCom’s seven members issued their first joint statement last night, saying: “There must be fundamental change in our relationship with the EU.

“The Prime Minister set this objective

“However, there is little if any indication that the government is even asking for significant reform.

“Without this, we believe that the best interests of the UK, Europe, and the wider world would be advanced by the UK leaving the EU and pursuing a different relationship with our EU partners.”

They added: “We are seeking urgently to provide resources for crucial thinking and to promote cooperation amongst those who might contribute to an Out campaign”.

The group plan to launch the No campaign formally in September.

In a humiliating snub to Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader has not been asked to be a member of the committee.

[It is not a ‘humiliating snub’ to Farage. The group is a group of MPs. By definition Farage could not be on the group. I am sure that the NO campaign will want to work constructively with Farage and that he will think the same. Anything else would be pointlessly destructive. A successful NO campaign will require people with profoundly different views to cooperate in persuading people to vote NO to Cameron’s deal.]

One of ExCom’s first priorities will be to take on the powerful pro-EU business lobby, lead by the CBI.

They have identified outspoken business leaders who want to remain in the EU instead of pro-EU politicians as the most potentially persuasive voice for undecided voters.

In another worry for the PM, who has declared he wants to stay in Europe, Justice Secretary Michael Gove’s friend and former special Dominic Cummings is coordinating the group’s efforts.

Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of the Eurosceptic campaign group Business for Britain, said: “It’s absolutely right there is a professional, cross-party campaign for ‘Out’.

“If Britain can’t secure the changes we need then it’s vital the case to leave an unreformed EU is made loudly and clearly.”

Mr Cameron will continue his renegotiation talks today with meetings with the leaders of Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

The PM put his case to Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny in No10 yesterday, who promised to be as “supportive and constructive” as possible.

But the European Parliament’s firebrand boss sparked fury by declaring “Britain belongs to the EU” before his Downing Street talks with Mr Cameron yesterday.

Ultra-federalist MEPs leader Martin Schultz, a German socialist, also warned the PM would not be able to reverse Brussels’ landmark pledge for “ever closer union”.


The Times, p. 17

Tim Montgomerie, Sam Coates, Ashley Cowburn

A cross-party group of MPs backed by a major Ukip donor is preparing to launch the campaign to take Britain out of the European Union.

Secret meetings between three Tory MPs, three Labour MPs and Ukip’s only MP have been held every week since the election. They have agreed to form a committee that they hope will form the basis of the “no” campaign.

Tory MPs on the “exploratory committee” include Owen Paterson, the former Cabinet minister, Steve Baker, chairman of the Conservatives for Britain group, and Bernard Jenkin, the veteran Eurosceptic campaigner. Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins and Graham Stringer represent Labour while Douglas Carswell attends with the knowledge of Nigel Farage, his party leader. The Ukip donor Stuart Wheeler is one of a number of cross-party funders, according to the group.

Dominic Cummings, a former adviser to the Cabinet minister Michael Gove when he was education secretary, has been recruited to oversee the committee.

[No, I am not ‘overseeing’ anything. See below.]

In a launch statement, understood to have been agreed by all seven MPs, they say that they cannot see how the renegotiation will deliver fundamental reform of Britain’s relationship with Europe. It says: “There must be reform of the EU and fundamental change in our relationship with the EU.

“The prime minister set this objective when he described the renegotiation in his Commons statement of March 23 as ‘an opportunity to reform the EU and fundamentally change Britain’s relationship with it’. However, there is little if any indication that the government is even asking for significant reform or fundamental change.”

The MPs add: “In particular, there is no sign of any proposals either to end the supremacy of EU law over UK law on ever wider matters, or to resolve the question of what should be the relationship between the eurozone and non-eurozone states.”

This is a significant hardening of language by Mr Jenkin who, until now, had made it clear he would wait to see what David Cameron achieved in his renegotiation before setting out his position. Separately, Mr Jenkin yesterday poured scorn on Mr Cameron’s drive to stop migrants claiming tax credits. Speaking at the launch of a pamphlet, he said the ban “offers zero hope of achieving the objective of fulfilling our manifesto commitment to cut net migration to tens of thousands. These irrelevances are just distractions. They are throwing sand in our eyes.”

Martin Shulz, the president of the European parliament who met Mr Cameron yesterday, said the tax credit ban was unachievable.

Mr Cummings’ group [it is not my group] plans to target the CBI and other business groups that have been speaking out in favour of continued EU membership.

Mr Cummings ran the Business for Sterling campaign at the turn of the millennium which helped to end the CBI’s cheerleading for Britain’s membership of the euro. He believes the campaign to keep Britain in Europe faces an uphill struggle to win over the public on immigration and Britain’s £11 billion net contribution to the EU.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Eurosceptic group Business for Britain, said: “It’s absolutely right there is a professional, cross-party campaign for ‘out’. If Britain can’t secure the changes we need then it’s vital the case to leave an unreformed EU is made loudly and clearly.”

The businessmen Lord Sainsbury of Turville and Roland Rudd are working with the European Movement to discuss the shape of the “in” campaign.


My role.

I ignored the election because I don’t think any of the main parties are structured such that they can think and act properly on the most important things (this is entangled with Whitehall’s dysfunction and is only partly a function of the EU). Four weeks ago I was studying and working on projects outside politics.

A few people called me including Matthew Elliott and Bernard Jenkin to discuss the EU referendum. I’ve gone to lots of meetings, talked to people about possible lessons from other things I’ve done like the euro and North East referendum campaigns (and mistakes we made), how a professional NO campaign should be structured etc.

Contrary to some media reports, I am not ‘running’ anything. Contra the Times, I am not ‘overseeing’ ExCom. (ExCom is a set of meetings, it is not an organisation, and I do not chair it.) I go to their meetings, listen, and give advice. I am talking to people about whether they would be interested in leaving their job to work for a NO campaign and how they think it should work. It is extremely hard to create political organisations that can take decisions fast and effectively so getting the foundations right is vital. Also, building a national network of small businesses to make the case for NO in their community, so essential to winning a referendum, will take time so people need to start now.

I will not be ‘running the NO campaign’. I am helping people get something started because I want to see the arguments put to the public in as sensible a way as possible. Soon I will return to my studies.

Why do I want Britain to leave the EU?

The EU suffers a combination of huge debts, mass unemployment, a rapidly ageing population combined with unsustainable pension obligations, and an anti-entrepreneurial and anti-technology culture. It has created a euro that damages prosperity, undermines democracy, and encourages extremism. Its dysfunctional bureaucracy is manipulated by corporate interests who like to use the EU machinery to crush competition (just as people from Adam Smith to the democratic left have warned about big business). From public procurement to international trade, our membership undermines good government and sensible policy and wastes billions annually. It is so bureaucratic and slow-moving that it cannot adapt quickly to challenges and is the opposite of the sort of agile institution necessary to cope with contemporary and imminent global challenges – for example, it is so slow moving that it remains stuck with agricultural subsidies dreamed up in the 1950s and 1960s that raise prices for the poor to subsidise rich farmers while damaging agriculture in Africa.

Meanwhile, we need new forms of governance to cope with the spread of markets and technology. We need global cooperation on many issues including profound technological changes such as genetic engineering and robotics. Such cooperation is undermined by the dysfunctional and parochial EU.

Whether they abandon the euro, muddle on, or make a great leap forward to the long planned political union, Britain will do best for herself and Europe and by removing itself from this experiment and showing an alternative path. We could help strengthen international cooperation on the biggest issues facing humanity. By demonstrating the success of a different approach, we could have real influence, rather than the chimera of influence vainly chased by the Foreign Office from meeting room to meeting room since the 1970s – a chase that simply led to concession after concession rather than influencing Brussels to change path.

A NO vote will force a profound rethink of how we organise politically and enable us to develop new systems based on decentralised cooperation and distributed decision-making. This is vital given all the problems the world faces. My 2013 essay and this blog (here) described many of these problems and suggested some ideas about how Britain could place education and science at the heart of its national policy instead of EU membership. This would be far preferable to our current behaviour –  petulant and embarrassing whining and obstructionism on the euro-federalist project, combined with a complete lack of useful alternative ideas born of post-Suez Whitehall defeatism.

We can do much better…

5 thoughts on “On the referendum #4: An Exploratory Committee and the beginning of a NO campaign

  1. Please stop blogging on the strategy and Tactics of the No Campaign, as you’re going to give away all our tricks to our opponents! ‘In’ are so organised already – watching Emily Thornberry and Laura Sandys it’s clear they’ve had the same briefings, talking about social Europe and maternity leave etc. We’re standing still.

    So please stay involved. This is going to be so hard to try and stand up against the EU, the Govt and Big Business. We need everyone we can get.

    Completely agree re political organisation. That seems to be by far the hardest thing for the No to put together, as they need to be able to operate on all forms of media. We need to pressurise the BBC to have equal representation on opinion forming programs like Question Time (At least half panel should be Outers) and Newsnight (not to have Open Europe speaking for Out), and also need to keep the populist parts of the media on side by working on relations with the Murdoch Press. The FT and Economist are lost causes. Even the Telegraph and the Speccie will probably not attack Cameron in the way we need to if we’re going to win.

    All the UKIP shenanigans this week show how hard it is for opposition movements to organise well, be united AND stay in touch with reality. You are kind to Farage in your blog, and he has suffered terribly for his views at the hands of the establishment, but I can’t help feeling we will look back on his unresignation as an awful moment for us. Having Suzanne Evans as the leader of UKIP and softening the attitude of the UKIP political aids would have helped enormously.

    One thing about this referendum – it is incredibly revealing of character. The site of Ken Clarke defending the decision to remove Purdah on the Daily Politics is so disgusting it makes me physically sick. And where are the Lib Dems or Labour in this? Are they now in favour of the Govt buying elections?

    Our opponents are not only European Nationalists, they are Anti-Democrats.

  2. Pingback: On the Referendum #5: reports of an anti-EU advertising campaign; Greece, the euro, and predictions | Dominic Cummings's Blog

  3. Pingback: On the referendum #10: Do you want to be a hammer or an anvil? Building a team for the NO campaign | Dominic Cummings's Blog

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