Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference on March 21, 2014 in Perth. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Labour's poor Euro election result will intensify shadow cabinet row

The party finished just one per cent ahead of the Tories.
 

Owing to its strong performance in London (where the result was interminably delayed due to Tower Hamlets), Labour has narrowly beaten the Tories into second place in the European elections - polling 25 per cent to the Conservatives' 24 per cent - a dismal result.  It was bad enough to become the first main opposition party not to win the contest since 1984, but it's even worse for it to barely avoid third (although I warned of the danger two weeks ago). The Tories may have finished third in a national election for the first time in their history but they will be delighted to have run the opposition so close.

Here's the final result:

Ukip 27.5 per cent - 24 seats (up 11)

Labour 25.4 per cent - 20 seats (up 7)

Conservative 24.0 per cent - 19 seats (down 7)

Green Party 7.9 per cent - 3 seats (up 1)

Lib Dems 6.9 per cent - 1 seat (down 10)

SNP 2 seats (N/C)

Plaid Cymru 1 seat (N/C)

Labour sources are emphasising that the election tends to favour eurosceptic parties but expect plenty in the shadow cabinet to reply that it should have expressed more scepticism. As I've previously reported, senior figures, most notably Ed Balls, were angered by Ed Miliband's failure to put the need for EU reform at the centre of the campaign. Having accepted the promise of a more sceptical stance on Europe as a quid pro quo for Miliband's refusal to guarantee an EU referendum (which a majority of shadow cabinet ministers were in favour of), they felt the Labour leader failed to follow through on his commitment by barely mentioning the issue.

The argument from the Miliband camp is that it made sense for the party to focus on the "cost-of-living" issues - housing, prices and wages - on which it polls best. But that judgement will be questioned today. The result will also bolster those, such as Balls, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham, who argue that the party needs to be far more vocal on immigration.

The European elections are a historically poor indicator of the general election result. In 1989, the Greens finished third with 15 per cent of the vote but won just 0.5 per cent at the national contest three years later. In 1999, William Hague's Tories triumphed but went down to a landslide defeat against Labour two years later. Ukip polled 16 per cent in 2004 and 17 per cent in 2009 yet failed to exceed three per cent in the subsequent general elections.

But Labour's defeat has deprived it of what would have been an opportunity to project Miliband as the next prime minister. With just under a year to go until the general election, the party is desperately short of the momentum it needs to be confident of victory next May.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty.
Show Hide image

The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.