In this, the first of several Brexit notes, we take some broad swipes at two Brexiters and look at the first polls since Cameron’s Brussels deal
Gove and BoJo
His speech has been lauded. It shouldn’t have been. As eloquent as it might have been, and as true as some aspects were, it was littered with hyperbole and fibs. The sort of fibs that conservative eurosceptics for years have been uttering. Let’s take a look at a few bits:
“We can take out our anger on elected representatives in Westminster but whoever is in Government in London cannot remove or reduce VAT, cannot support a steel plant through troubled times, cannot build the houses we need where they’re needed and cannot deport all the individuals who shouldn’t be in this country”
VAT: This is quite an appalling lie in two respects: Firstly, the idea that VAT would be ‘removed’ by any party is absurd. Second, more importantly, the EU has no competence in the area of tax and cannot demand any member to abolish it. There are coordination schemes between EU member states so that companies do not have to charge VAT twice in two different countries where a single product is sold (ie. sales taxes would be levied on different parts of a supply chain that spans across countries). Being part of such coordination schemes is one of best common sense aspects of transnational cooperation. The EU also has no competence to demand or stop changes in the level of VAT. Simply not true.
Steel plant bit: This point is much more complex, but no less duplicitous. What’s Gove’s saying is that the government cannot provide investment subsidy to ailing industries. This concerns EU competition law and specifically state aid law. This begs one obvious question: since when have Conservatives given a toss about this sort of government intervention? Nuclear power is one example where they are, but this is exception – this is the party responsible for the dismantling of so much of Britain’s industries of this type in the 1980s. This nuclear example helps in felling Gove’s point. The European Commission launched a state aid investigation. It was a clear an obvious breach of EU state rules, yet the Commission found in favour of the project declaring there was no state aid breach (this has been challenged by other member states however). If the government managed to put together a Chinese investment package for Britain’s steel sector we’d go through a similar state aid investigation process, the outcome of which is far from certain. Now – the point here is that EU intervention on this state aid front is very serious, but only for those on the left. A Tory is never going to throw money at a steel sector it was responsible for dismantling in the first place.
Deportations: The most truth is found in this bit, but is laced with a lot nonsense. The issues of deportation have mostly come however from the European Court of Human Rights – NOT an EU institution. Those of us who know that the ECHR and charter has nothing to do with the EU will be reminding people of this up to June 23rd. It is however true that courtesy of free movement of persons provisions (one of the four freedoms that make up the rump of EU law) do stop a member state deporting an EU national from the UK.
Boris: It appears that Gove and Boris will be campaigning together to deliver more nonsense like this above. Boris demanded from David Cameron that he affirms the supremacy of parliament. This was never possible in an EU polity where the supremacy of EU law, itself in place since the Van Gend en Loos decision in 1963, is sacrosanct. The rumours this morning of Boris’ intentions to join the leave campaign are not surprising however, as he knew his demand was an impossible one to satisfy. As impossible as it would be for him to become Prime Minister without the eurosceptic rump of the Tory party by his side.
Survation has been the first to produce the post-deal polling on the Brexit question. Here’s the toplines.
If there was a vote the UK’s membership of the European Union on June 23rd, with the question “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” How would you vote?
Leave 33% Remain 48% Undecided 19%
Among respondents who had seen or heard of David Cameron’s renegotiation.
Leave 35% (+2) Remain 43% (-5) Undecided 22% (+3)
This is interesting for one reason: Most of Survation’s polls have shown a very tight race. Even the second question, concerning the details of Cameron’s deal, is not particularly tight compared to its previous polls. Now, a large pinch of salt should be taken with the second question. People lie, and people may not even understand the details of the deal. Plus, as the Financial Times has argued, the details of the benefits part of the deal won’t matter for the referendum. That bit was for Cameron to try and persuade as many of his own party not to desert him. For everyone else, the top question is the one that matters.