Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg during first of the two debates on Europe. Photo: Getty
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Why does Nigel Farage want us to follow the lead of countries that are smaller than Bristol?

Eurosceptics harp on about the need for democracy. But the Swiss, like the Norwegians and the Icelanders, choose to eat food from a table at which they have no seat.

“If it is good enough for Iceland to do it,” Nigel Farage remarked in the first of his two televised debates with Nick Clegg, “I’m damned certain the British with 64 million can do even better.” The Ukip leader was referring to a free trade agreement that the Icelandic government signed with China in April 2013, despite the tiny Nordic country not being a member of the EU. Is this what proud British Euroscepticism has been reduced to – comparisons with Iceland? Together with Norway (population: five million) and Liechtenstein (population: 36,000) – those two powerhouses of the global economy – Iceland (population: 326,000) is a member of the snazzily named European Economic Area. The EEA is, in essence, the faux-EU, the geopolitical equivalent of a knock-off Gucci handbag. Rather than having all of the pros of EU membership with none of the cons – as some British Eurosceptics disingenuously suggest – EEA membership guarantees some of the pros and most of the cons.

Take Norway, often cited by the anti-EU brigade as a possible model for Britain. Despite being outside the EU, Norway has had to implement 75 per cent of its laws – 6,000 pieces of legislation. “We have been more compliant than many EU member countries,” the premier Erna Solberg, leader of the Conservative Party, has confessed. (In the 1990s, Norway was known as the “fax democracy”, with Brussels simply faxing new directives for the Norwegians to follow.)

It’s not a cheap deal, either. Norway’s total financial contribution to the EU each year is about €340m – which, per capita, works out to be slightly higher than the UK’s.

As for the “free movement” of workers that so upsets Tory backbenchers, the non-EU Norway, like the non-EU Iceland, is a signatory of the Schengen Agreement, which scrapped internal borders – unlike the UK, an EU member, which opted out. Is it any wonder that a government-commissioned report concluded in 2012 that Norway had seen “extensive Europeanisation” over the past two decades and that it was an “illusion” to believe it was outside of the EU?

Forget Norway, then. How about the wealthy, dynamic, free-market Switzerland (population: eight million), which arranges its own bilateral deals with all its trading partners, including the EU? The Swiss negotiate on an individual, case-by-case basis and are under no obligation to implement all of the EU’s internal market legislation. What’s not to like? Boris Johnson is so keen on the so-called Swiss model that he coined the term “Britzerland”.

But wait. First, Switzerland has a free trade agreement in goods with the EU but no agreement on services – including, astonishingly, on financial services. Remember that the UK accounts for a third of the EU’s wholesale finance industry. Want to try selling the Swiss option to the City of London now? No? I didn’t think so.

In 2009, the Swiss government ack­nowledged: “The existing [EU] barriers to market access place Switzerland at an economic disadvantage.” It added: “Switzerland loses out in terms of jobs, value creation and tax receipts.”

Second, whatever happened to no taxation without representation? Although it is outside the EU and outside the EEA, too, Switzerland contributes about €450m a year to the EU budget.

Third, Swiss sovereignty is overrated. The country relies on roughly 120 separate bilateral agreements with the EU and it is expected to adopt every single EU regulation in each of those areas – again, without any say on their shape, structure or content.

Eurosceptics harp on about the need for democracy. But the Swiss, like the Norwegians and the Icelanders, choose to eat food from a table at which they have no seat. They have no spots on the European Commission, no members of the European Parliament, no invitations to the Council of Ministers, no judges on the European Court of Justice. Yet, to varying degrees, they submit to EU legislation over which they have no votes, no vetoes and very little influence.

The simple truth is that whether the UK is inside the EU or out, we’ll have to follow EU rules and regulations. Eurosceptics say they like the EU’s single market but don’t like the EU’s regulations. What they seem unable – or unwilling – to understand is that there is no single market without regulations; it is the regulations that make it a single market, rather than a continent-wide free-for-all.

And it is the single market that gives EU member states power, clout and influence on a global scale. Do we want to negotiate with the Chinas and Russias of the world as part of a 28-member bloc of 500 million people? Or quit the biggest single market in human history in order to emulate Iceland, a country with a population smaller than Bristol? Eurosceptics bridle at being called “Little Englanders”. Yet their obsession with the likes of Norway, Iceland and Switzerland suggests the label may be an understatement. Tiny Englanders, perhaps?

The EU is far from perfect. It does need to change – to become less austerity-focused and neoliberal, for a start. The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy needs reforming and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement with the US, which will empower unelected corporations at the expense of elected governments, needs rewriting. But you don’t win a fight by leaving the ring. You get in, stay in and keep fighting your corner.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the political director of the Huffington Post UK, where this article is crossposted

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 10 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Tech Issue

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Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn sitting down with President Bernie Sanders no longer sounds so outlandish

Both men have a certain authenticity and unpretentiousness that their rivals lack.

Unlike many of us, Bernie Sanders never doubted Jeremy Corbyn. The week before the general election, the independent US senator from Vermont was addressing a crowd of progressive voters in Brighton during a whirlwind tour of the UK. An audience member asked him what advice he might have for the leader of the Labour Party. “I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn needs my advice,” Sanders replied. “I think he’s doing quite well.”

The week after the election, a delighted Sanders invoked Corbyn’s election performance in a New York Times op-ed. “The British elections should be a lesson for the Democratic Party,” he wrote, urging the Democrats to stop holding on to an “overly cautious, centrist ideology” and explaining how “momentum shifted to Labour after it released a very progressive manifesto that generated much enthusiasm among young people and workers”.

Sanders and his growing movement in the United States offered more than mere rhetorical support for Corbyn.

With the help of former members of the senator’s presidential campaign team, Momentum – the grass-roots organisation set up to support and defend Corbyn in 2015 – ran 33 training sessions across the UK, preparing thousands of Labour activists.

Momentum’s national organiser Emma Rees says that the Sanders people made a “significant contribution” to the Labour campaign with their emphasis “on having empathetic conversations that focused on the issues the voter cared about, and actually trying to persuade voters on the doorstep rather than just collecting data”.

“In the final stage, I recruited a bunch of former Bernie volunteers from around [the United States] to . . . help get out a last [get out the vote] texting assignment,” recalls Claire Sandberg, who was the digital organising director for Sanders and spent the 2017 election campaign working with Momentum in the UK. “It was an amazing thing to see them volunteering . . . while we were all asleep the night before election day.”

Is it really surprising that Sanders supporters, thousands of miles away, would want to volunteer for Corbyn? Both men are mavericks; both have a certain authenticity and unpretentiousness that their rivals lack; both, in the words of Emma Rees, “have inspired tens of thousands of people to participate in the political process and to realise their collective power” and they want “to transform society in the interests of ordinary people”. Perhaps above all else, both men have proved that left populism can win millions of votes.

According to the latest polls, if another election were held in the UK tomorrow, Corbyn would be the winner. Sanders, however, has a much higher mountain to climb in the US and faces at least three obstacles that the “British Bernie” does not.

First, Sanders leads a growing grass-roots movement but does not have the support of a party machine and infrastructure.

Corbyn may have been a backbench rebel who voted against his party whip more than 500 times before becoming party leader, but he is a lifelong Labour member.

Sanders, on the other hand, is the longest-serving independent politician in US congressional history. He declared himself a Democrat in 2015 only in order to seek the party’s presidential nomination and promptly declared himself an independent again after he was defeated by Hillary Clinton last summer.

Such behaviour has allowed establishment Democrats to portray him (wrongly) as an opportunist, an interloper who is using the Democratic Party as a vehicle for his own benefit in a country where third-party candidacies cannot succeed.

Second, Sanders has to confront an even more hostile and sceptical media than Corbyn must. Under US law, Fox News is under no obligation to be “fair and balanced” towards Sanders – nor is CNN, for that matter.

Thanks to the UK rules on broadcaster impartiality, however, Corbyn was “able to speak directly to the voters who still get their news from TV instead of the internet”, Sandberg notes. “In contrast, Bernie was completely and totally shut out by broadcast media in the US, which considered his campaign totally irrelevant.”

Third, Sanders failed to connect with minority groups, and especially with African Americans, whereas black and Asian British voters flocked to Corbyn – a veteran campaigner for the anti-racism movement.

Two out of every three ethnic-minority voters voted Labour on 8 June. “Bernie would’ve won [the Democratic nomination] if he’d had a message that resonated with 50 per cent – just 50 per cent – of black voters, because Hillary got upwards of 90 per cent in many states,” the activist and journalist Naomi Klein, who is a supporter of both Sanders and Corbyn, told me in a recent interview for my al-Jazeera English show, UpFront, which will air later this month.

Nevertheless, she is confident that Sanders can learn lessons from his own campaign for the 2016 Democratic nomination, and “build a winning coalition” next time which ties together the narratives of financial, racial and gender inequality.

Just as it was a mistake to write off Jeremy Corbyn, it would be wrong to dismiss Bernie Sanders.

Despite media bias, and even though he doesn’t have a party machine behind him, Sanders today is still the most popular politician in the United States. And so this may be only the beginning of a new, transatlantic partnership between the two self-declared socialists. Those of us on the left who grew up watching Reagan and Thatcher, then Clinton and Blair, then Bush and Blair, may wish to pinch ourselves to check we’re not dreaming.

“I think by 2021,” Sandberg says, “we may see Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn sitting down with President Bernie Sanders.”

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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