Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Brexit may be our only salvation

I am a Brexiter chiefly because I believe in democracy. Political agendas should come from the bottom and be subject to robust debate and voted on. Where the EU is concerned, the agenda comes from elsewhere. It's a technocratic grand design and tends to be enacted without real participation from civil society, and unless it's particularly odious such as the Article 13 business, we don't really have a clear idea of who is doing what to us and why. By the time we get to know about it, it's already too late and once passed into law there is not a lot we can do about it.

It wouldn't be nearly so bad were it just a customs and regulatory union but it's supreme powers go well beyond that and it always wants more power over more things. That is the only direction of travel and the more power it has the less power we have. Little by little we sleepwalk into a prison of invisible governance. Eventually there comes a point where citizens are reduced economic units grazing on the land with no real stake in how they are governed and no real say in who they are governed by.

Generally speaking Brexiters are poor at communicating this rationale. Eurosceptics have the right instincts but have done a poor job explaining it and in the case of the Farage Party, they have such a poor grasp of the arguments that they make us all look like prats. Thanks to them it's embarrassing to be a leaver.

Worse still, being conceptually in favour of Brexit is one thing, but then there's the question of how the UK operates after we leave the EU in a global legal order dominated by trade and regulatory superpowers. On that score, all we get is bloviation, bluster, assumption and fantasy from the Brexiter corner. It is not so much Brexit that's at fault, rather its execution by people who seriously don't have the first idea what they are doing and won't listen to reason. They have some distinctly faulty notions about global trade and it's going to hit us hard when these notions collide with reality.

Much has been said of the gravity model, where most of your trade is always done with your nearest neighbours, necessitating closer customs cooperation and regulatory harmonisation, but Brexiters have never really understood the utility of regulation seeing it as a burden on business rather than a means of facilitating trade and increasing export potential. They instead point to the far east which is seeing a faster rate of growth than the EU. Another misreading of trends.

Complicating it further for the, the previous decade was said to be the decade of hyperglobalisation as we saw container shipping massively expanding, bringing all manner of cheap tat in from China while we offshored labour to India and elsewhere. Arguably it did a great deal of damage, perhaps leading us to where we are today, but those trends are yesterday's news. An article by Finbarr Bermingham sheds some light on it.
"Hing Chao, executive director of another Hong Kong shipping company, Wah Kwong Maritime Transport Holdings, said that “the shift of manufacturing away from China to cheaper, regional markets in Southeast Asia has arguably led to more intraregional trade, which is backed up by the continued growth of intra-Asian container demand”
A few years ago, the major liner companies were predominantly focused on ordering larger and larger container vessels from shipyards, but recently this trend has stopped, and recent activity has been more focused on smaller feeder-container vessels,” he added.
This shift away from globalisation was laid bare by a study of 23 industry value chains across 43 countries released by McKinsey Global Partners in January. It found that in the mid-2000s, globalisation reached a turning point and that between 2007 and 2017, exports declined from 28.1 per cent to 22.5 per cent as a share of global gross domestic product (GDP).
Emerging economies over this time were building stronger domestic supply chains, reducing their reliance on imported goods, while their consumer markets became more important. Over the past decade, emerging markets’ share of global consumption rose by 50 per cent, McKinsey found.
Trade based on labour arbitrage – that is, companies taking advantage of cheap wages in developing countries – became less prevalent, declining to less than 20 per cent over the same period. Leaps in the development of digital platforms, automation, artificial intelligence and the internet of things, meanwhile, meant that the necessity for huge production facilities in low-cost manufacturing hubs has been reduced. “In some scenarios, these technologies could further dampen goods trade while boosting trade in services over the next decade,” read the McKinsey report.
In industries such as automotive, computing and electronics, supply chains “are becoming more regionally concentrated, especially within Asia and Europe”, with companies increasingly looking to make their products close to market to be better able to cater for changing patterns in consumer demand and to reduce disruption from political risks such as the trade war, which is known as near-shoring.
It's actually worth reading the whole thing as I can't reproduce it all here, but near-shoring is becoming increasingly important. As much as anything, it helps is as much of a value chain as possible resides in a singular regulatory ecosystem. And as far as that goes, the EU is the most advanced of all. Any way you look at it, there just isn't a sensible argument for leaving the single market, especially if trade in goods is moving to a more regional model.

In the last couple of decades we have relied on China, Vietnam and others as a source of cheap manufacturing labour, but with technology improving in leaps and bounds, especially in 3D printing and automation, anything from clothes to electronics can be produced closer to home. To an extent this trend has already reached the UK which is partly what makes us a specialist economy in high tech services which again is not in any way helped by leaving the regulatory union. 

Meanwhile China is asserting its own influence in the far east, in a space race with the USA for regulatory dominance where the UK, on the opposite side of the planet, has no real influence on regulatory matters or much else for that matter. No amount of positive thinking changes the facts on the ground.

This is where the Brexiters come seriously unstuck. Their knowledge of trade and trade systems is pitiful, exemplified by one Jacob rees-Mogg. In this game knowledge is power, but we're going into a sword fight armed with a butter knife. We have embarked upon this enterprise with no plan and no clue and no realistic destination. The Tories have put their faith is a US FTA as their plan A, but already the wheels are falling off. Liam fox has in recent weeks poured cold water on the ERG's trade ideas, pointing out that a quickie deal with the USA is highly unlikely. Such a deal would struggle to be ratified on either side of the Atlantic.  

But now that Brexitism has become a cultlike religion, Richard Tice of the Brexit Party accuses Fox of having "gone native". "He’s sipped from Remoaner establishment’s cup of gloom. Believe, lead and we thrive". This attitude is standard in the Brexit Party but it's pretty much what Brexiter Tories think too. There is zero chance of a rational debate. We just have to believe harder.

Due to the politics of the situation, though, we are leaving the single market and will likely leave without a deal. All of these bad ideas now have to be tested in the real world. I strongly suspect it won't take long for Britain to realise its error. Not only will our "global Britain" ambitions hit the rocks, we also lose all of our access to emerging new markets in the EU as it improves the short sea shipping frameworks.

The essential problem here is that the core objectives of Brexiters don't sit well with the world as we find it. Ideally we want to retain the best possible trade relationship with the EU, participating in the single market but with regulatory autonomy and only limited integration. That, though, is not on offer. You have either the EEA, which is full regulatory alignment on matters pertaining to trade (and a good deal more) or you have an FTA which is in no way comprehensive enough for the UK's needs. The only way to achieve that limitless sovereignty as imagined by Brexiters is to have no formal trade relationship with the EU at all - or with anyone else for that matter.

As this blog has outlined, the best way forward was always the EEA Efta option, in that EU rules would not have direct effect and it would end the supremacy of EU law and gives member states a limited right of refusal. That, though, is not brexity enough for Brexiters so now we're going to bodge it and end up having to rebuild our EU trade relations over the next twenty years which will likely culminate in a single treaty framework, almost as comprehensive as the EEA but without the Efta break from the ECJ. Possibly even associate membership of a sort.

There are some of my former allies who campaigned for EEA Efta but have now concluded that with the Tories having lost the plot and with no hope of an intelligent resolution that it is better to remain. They've given it up as a bad job. I have toyed with that idea myself but I happen to think the stakes are higher.

Brexit started life as a desire to "take back control" and fundamentally at the grassroots level it is a democracy movement - one that does not see a future in "ever closer union". That movement, however, was skilfully hijacked by the Tory right as a vehicle for a "free trade" agenda, advanced by Tory leaning ideologue think tanks working in the interests of their US donors. Grassroots Brexiters are really more interested in the ongoing culture war, so when it comes to the detailed trade arguments, they adopt the mantras of the Tory right wholesale since their own cupboard is bare.

This radical economic agenda has been stalking British politics for a long time now. There is no popular mandate for it and were it to appear on any manifesto it would lose elections. But for as long as it is tied to the Brexit movement, it has the smokescreen of being a democratic movement.  

It's my belief that it will take something like a no deal calamity for Britain to have the internal reckoning we've been overdue for some time. In the end, as much as the ERG have been pushing us toward no deal, this is a systemic breakdown of a totally dysfunctional political system.

Here it should be noted that Parliament has had ample opportunity to get its act together. It has been given numerous opportunities to avoid no deal, not least by ratifying the withdrawal agreement. But since they are collectively determined not to carry out the verdict of the people, they have played double or quits. That tells my side of the argument that our so-called representative democracy is not remotely representative. Something is wrong with the way we choose MPs. 

But for the other side of the argument, there are questions as to why parliament has been so utterly sidelined and how powerless it has proven to be in holding the executive to account. Though it has much to do with the low calibre of our politicians there are also serious constitutional problems we need to address. If there is one thing leavers and remainers can now agree on, it is the need for far reaching constitutional reform.

Before we can get to that debate though, we need to clear the air. Crashing out of the EU will certainly accomplish that much. The free market Tory right will then be a spent force in politics, leaving the rest of us to pick up the pieces. With the Tory right then discredited and universally hated, the parameters are then set for a new national conversation.

Some might conclude that the price of this reckoning is simply too high, in that it costs us anywhere up to half of our exports and at the very least decimates the economy. The question on my mind, though, is whether we can afford not to. If we don't go through this then the chances are that nothing at all will change and if there is any political or constitutional reform, it will comprise of tinkering around the edges leaving the same dysfunctional institutions more or less as they are.

The question then becomes one of what happens when you have an establishment and ruling class running the country as normal with only general elections as our means of influencing government? 

Being that the culture of Westminster (including the media) produces certain groupthinks and behaviours, along with an institutional consensus that is alien to the values of the country, there is nothing to stop the narcissists and control freaks in Westminster handing yet more power to Brussels while imposing their authoritarian decarbonisation agenda upon us while continuing to ignore all of the acute trends that brought us to this point to begin with. A serious country cannot be governed by virtue signalling egotists.

Fundamentally I am opposed to a no deal Brexit, but no deal itself is the the ultimate product of our decrepit political system and is therefore evidence that a sensible and managed departure was always too much to hope for in that it is beyond their abilities. Should we remain in the EU then as much as the central dispute over our membership is not resolved, the window for meaningful change also closes.

There is no doubt in my mind that no deal will be the ground zero for a new era in our politics. It won't be pretty, and will come at enormous cost to our economy and our international standing. It will takes years to recover from, and perhaps our exports may never fully recover. It will be a long process and a bitter political feud seemingly without end. We will have reignited politics in a way not see in my lifetime. I offer no guarantee of a positive outcome, but at least we will have started a meaningful democratic process to decide who and what we are; to resolve the gaping identity crisis that Brexit has exposed.

An EEA Efta Brexit would have sufficed were it not that our politics is corrupted beyond repair. But I never anticipated they would screw it up this badly or that the media would drop the ball as much as they have. The inadequacy of our media is as much a facet of our democratic atrophy. It lacks seriousness, gravitas and any sense of societal responsibility. Brexit is the storm that brings down the tree that was rotting from the inside out. Superficially it looked in good health, but collapsed when abnormal pressure was exerted upon it.

It may be that politics can still salvage the situation and we may yet pass a withdrawal agreement but hopes of that are fading when we have two talentless imbeciles in the running for the Tory leadership. It says a lot about that state of the parties that Corbyn, Johnson and Hunt are really the best they can dredge up for leadership. Of itself that is sufficient evidence to suggest we need a far more radical rethink of British governance and even question whether the UK as a single entity is even still a viable concept.

Whether the middle classes like it or not, Britain is going to have to undergo a prolonged political and economic overhaul. There are too many trends that indicate our current way of doing things is utterly unsustainable - from the emerging pensions crisis to home ownership, legal aid and the collapse of criminal justice system and the societal fragmentation caused by massive immigration. And that;s before we get on to discussions about the future of the NHS and the welfare state. There is no way our politics is intellectually equipped or mature enough to address these issues even if they cared to admit them.

Sooner or later, all the problems our establishment have been in deep denial about will bubble to the surface, and then it becomes apparent that we can no longer afford to live as we are. Whatever the cost of Brexit may be, it at least marks a (relatively) peaceful transition to whatever we are to become. It may well prune GDP to see us become a mid ranking power permanently but if the alternative is decades more of managed decline while we cede more of our democracy to managerial technocrats in hock to any passing globalist fad then I'll take it.

Part of me wishes we didn't have to do this. I could certainly do without it. Who doesn't like a quiet life? But then in recent years it has become apparent that Brits will defer to just about any authority and submit to all manner of nannying and authoritarian measures for the sake of peace - to the point where we don't even realise we live in a bureaucratic cage. We are apathetic, cowardly and decadent and our politics is a reflection of that. I think it high time that quiet life Britain has enjoyed was disturbed for a while. It may be our only salvation.  

Monday, 15 July 2019

Britain's war for democracy

One tweeter this evening has it that "Brexit is only tangentially about the UK's constitutional relationship with the EU. It is really about values and society, and a step on the road to dismantling the values and protections, espoused and guaranteed by the EU, that underpin the UK's society".

To a point this is absolutely true but with one small modification. For "UK's society" read "establishment". EU membership ensures that whatever happens at elections, the status quo is locked in. The people do not define the parameters of their society. The EU treaties do. British voters do not define their own rights in the workplace, and as to values, our values are whatever is imposed upon us by our "liberal" overlords.

We don't even debate such things any more. Government is something that is done to us rather than something we have any real involvement in. We call ourselves a liberal democracy, where despite the histrionics, we still have a free media and free speech but it is barely part of the democratic process. We can have full and frank national debates about things but as far as it has any influence on outcomes, it's all wasted breath.

Here it's worth taking a brief tangent to a Douglas Murray piece that neatly encapsulates part of the problem. The piece suggests there may be a rise in homophobia touching on the idea that tolerance is wearing thin - not of homosexuals per se, rather the constant barrage of establishment finger wagging; "a positive bragging about a commitment to gay rights (sometimes described as ‘woke capitalism’) – is one that disturbs some of us who do not share the presumptions of inevitable progress. As Pride day has moved into Pride week and now Pride month there has (in the UK at least) emerged a sense of over-reach".

There was never going to be universal agreement on these such matters. The best the gay rights movement was ever going to achieve was equality in the eyes of the law and public tolerance. You can force people to comply with law, but you can't impose morality. The moment you try is the moment any progress on tolerance starts to regress. This is especially so when the LGBT lobby has become a trojan horse for the trans agenda which not only seeks the equality they already have, but demands government enforces a way of thinking on matters that are scientifically debatable.

There is a certain 1984 quality to this debate where those who put their heads above the parapet are unpersoned and we are to be conditioned into saying two plus two equals five. What's frightening is that in the event of a Labour government, this agenda could very well find its way into law. Between you and me I think the liberals will lose this one as it's a bridge too far even for our own narcissistic politicians.

Generally, though, if there is a bandwagon passing, our politicians will climb on it to parade their right-on credentials. This is especially so with climate change where we see senior politicians queueing up round the block to have their photo taken with Greta Thunberg, presumably to be down with the kids who are fed a steady diet of climate change propaganda through schools and television. They can't convince adults so they hope to re-educate the youth in service of their agenda.

Of course, if this stuff worked, the wave of climate change propaganda before the euro-elections would have returned a far larger number of green MEPs. Nobody is surprised, though, that it didn't. We're not stupid. 

There's nothing they would like more than a parliament full of climate believers to rubber stamp any number of aggressively authoritarian measures, but for some reason the public just aren't buying it.  That, though, does not present any real obstacle. With EU heads of state ever keen to prove they are part of the progressive mainstream of Europe, they will sign conventions and make pledges directly, some of which don't even see the light of day in national parliaments.

Whatever the fad, be it a Robin Hood Tax, minimum wage, smoking bans, open borders, you name it, whatever it is, it will happen, and the public has no meaningful means of veto. We are at the mercy of the preening politicians.

This goes some of the way to explaining why some liberals were genuinely shocked by the Brexit vote. "What has become of my country!" they shriek. As it happens, not a lot has happened. It's just that our liberal media and political class never rub shoulders with anyone remotely normal who does not reside in their self-satisfied bubble or subscribe to the social convenient groupthinks therein. If you travel through life thinking the projected self-image of the establishment is a genuine reflection of social values in the country as a whole then I imagine Brexit was a big shock.

Our political class, and indeed the EU, not only believes itself to be the embodiment of the enlightenment, they see it as their divine right to condition the public into thinking like them. We are but savage primitives who need the guidance of our moral superiors. This is why the EU is so important to them. If their agendas can be elevated to be enshrined in EU law, then it is out of reach of democracy. That which is transposed into law will never be repealed by a popular vote.

Worse still, these people can't ever entertain the idea that they might be wrong - and believe anyone who might disagree with them to be morally or intellectually deficient and in need of further correction. It is interesting that in the wake of Brexit, the Eurocrats have concluded that it's  not their values or their approach at fault, rather Brexit and other manifestations of dissatisfaction with the status quo are somehow the result of dark media and internet manipulation.

Further discussion with any remainer will usually reveal a certain mindset. Particularly in respect of workers rights. There is a sense of disbelief that working class people would reject the rights and perks gifted to us by the munificent EU as though we weren't capable of fighting our own battles prior to EU membership. They can't imagine even for a nanosecond that we might prefer to define our own laws.

My own view on this is that I preferred things the way they were before a number of EU interventions where there was a working balance between employer and employee, with the implied threat of union action if ever the balance was disturbed. There are a number of unintended consequences of EU interventions which then spawn the further regulation to deal with the fallout. I am not at all surprised to see now that the traditional permanent job in a number of trades is vanishing altogether because of it.

Then there's the gender equality agenda. Paternity leave and all that. These things are all relative to culture and really ought to be decided at the lowest level possible. Moreover there is no hard definition of what constitutes gender equality. Traditionally women got lumbered with the housework and men got machine-gunned to bits in France. But now we have we have equal pay, and more or less the same opportunities, only there are certain differences in gender that lead men and women to make different choices. It evolves, where men are expected to do more at home and women are freer to pursue careers, but the delicate balance cannot be proscribed by a technocratic definition of equality. Family life comes with certain obligations.  

This, though, won't stop our rulers from pushing the groupthink that there is a meaningful gender pay gap and that their definition of equality can be superimposed on different cultures. Again the values we live by are not derived from the public. As much as that is not going to work in the UK, it especially won't work overseas where international organisations from UNECE to the WTO are looking to impose their equality agenda on developing nations in total defiance of the local norms. Unintended consequences there always are.

Though on a technical level Brexit very much is "about the UK's constitutional relationship with the EU" - but it extends to a matter of values because there is no longer any clear line of delineation. Our disconnected and aloof elites come together in Brussels to do to us via the EU what they could never do to us directly. The problem is as much a domestic one in that our values are not their values. We are ruled, not governed.

The reality is that Britain is a far more socially conservative country than our rulers believe it to be, and though we have tolerated the moralising and finger wagging for a long time (not least because we don't get a say in it), when given a chance to offer our verdict, you cannot be surprised if it returns a leave vote. The leave vote was less an endorsement of Farage and Johnson as it was a rejection of the status quo and the "liberal elites". Now that we have voted to leave we now see the likes of Gina Miller and filthy rich QCs taking politics into the courts to remind the people who's boss. And it isn't us.

A number of milestones have brought us to this point. Remainers wonder why Brexiters don't seem to care about the enormous damage a no deal Brexit would inflict, often telling us that nobody voted to be poorer. Of course there are plenty of Brexiters who do think the WTO is a viable destination and that the economic cost is mainly "project fear", but it wouldn't change any minds were that not the case. Parliament, by way of doing everything in its power to prevent Brexit of any kind, is moving to assert is supremacy over the people. No deal was never the preferred option, but parliament's treachery popularised it.

That's what makes this fundamentally about values. Our membership of the EU is a constitutional matter and the choice of who governs us ought to be sacrosanct. One of the very few matters that can only be resolved by way of referendums. That fundamental choice is being denied in order to defend an established order based on their values and not ours. That is fundamentally an attack on democracy itself.

For government to be legitimate the laws must reflect the values of its people. That is not possible when you have aloof, out of touch elites with values alien to our own. Our politics cannot begin to address real world challenges when it has only a passing relationship with the real world. Partly we have arrived at this point because the establishment is too cowardly to admit there are problems because the contradictions of liberal orthodoxy would start to unravel if they did - so we carry on sweeping acute problems under the rug.

Primarily this is a battle for the people's sovereignty. If the people themselves are not sovereign and law is not derived from that power, then you don't have a democracy. Brexiters understand this. They understand that these things are more important than shorter queues at the airport and freedom for rich kids to take an internship in Germany without filling in any forms or paying for roaming charges. They recognise that trade is subordinate to the fundamental constitutional contradiction at the heart of this dispute.

Fair criticisms can be levelled at Brexiters for not knowing or caring how trade works or not particularly caring how much damage a bodged Brexit will do, and certainly they have told their fair share of lies in respect of the WTO option, but these are issues all to be revisited once we have something akin with a legitimate democracy - however long that may take. If and when we get to that state I will probably find myself in opposition to the likes of the Tory right and Ukip 2.0, but the matter of values can only be resolved through a genuinely democratic process.

Only when you have a constitution that flows from the people can there be unity of purpose and only then can the divisions begin to heal. For as long as Britain remains in the grip of a ruling class who continue to deny us a say in who governs us and continues to impose its values on us, we will be a starkly divided country and one that is weaker for it. Economic damage can be repaired but if democracy is defeated, this culture war will rage on until there's nothing left to salvage. 

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Brexit: Spiked gets it wrong again

"Brexit has ruthlessly exposed the poverty of mainstream left-wing thought which is now mobilised against Brexit itself" , says Tim Black of Spiked Online. "Not all of the left is anti-Brexit, of course. But certainly the UK left’s leading proponents are, from the Corbynised Labour Party to the pundits and academics who so ostentatiously style themselves as left-wing, radical and sometimes even Marxist. The poverty of their thought lies principally in their embrace of conspiracism". Says Black:
The basic conspiracist logic always persists, unaltered and compelling in its simplicity. There is a ‘cadre’ of bad people who are the agency behind the scenes, the power behind the people, the not-so-great men making history. And they are manipulating a mess of resentments in order to realise their vision of an utterly deregulated free market, a neoliberal utopia. Or something. ‘This, after all, was the point of the exercise’, says one pundit about Brexit, as if it was all just one big ruse.
It is not, however, a "left-wing" conspiracy theory. Those making this argument were a few months late to the party. The way in which the nexus of Tory "free market" think tanks in conjunction with their media connections have gradually manipulated the narrative is something this blog has reported on for quite a long time now. And I am certainly not left wing. I have a serious loathing for the British left.

Of itself, Brexit is a fairly pedestrian proposition. Britain has never been wholly at ease with its membership of the EU and has never supported the direction of travel of the project. Leaving was only ever a matter of when, not if. If we'd been given a say in the matter sooner, we'd have departed a long time ago. 

What brought us to this point, though, was a sustained campaign eating away at the Tories' capacity to win elections outright on the presumption that the Tories were the party most likely to hold a referendum on EU membership. Insofar as there is an authentic voice of Brexit, it is the demand to reassert national sovereignty and a repatriation of decision making. 

That movement, though, was hijacked. In an alternate universe where Farage and Ukip weren't criminally inept, Ukip would have planned for a referendum and ensured they were ready to turn their entire movement into a referendum fighting army. They would have secured the designation of lead campaign group in the referendum and been able to set the agenda. That, though, didn't happen. They were too busy infighting. 

What they failed to notice is how the Tory think tank nexus, in conjunction with ERG MPs, had headed them off at the pass. In anticipation of a referendum, Matthew Elliott had built up a network of sock puppet campaigns and quasi-thinktanks all of which would be used to lend weight to Vote Leave's designation application and channel funding to it. Ukip weren't smart enough to protest.

When it came to it, the only other serious contender was Arron Banks' Leave.EU and when you look at the designation applications side by side, it is not difficult to see why the Electoral Commission went with Vote Leave Ltd. The Leave.EU application was sloppy and amateurish whereas Vote Leave's had dotted every i and crossed every t. Elliott has worked the system over a number of years and knows exactly how to manipulate it.

From that point, the people's movement was left out in the cold; to run their own sideshow campaign funded by Banks, Tice and a few others. Vote Leave, though, had control over the official narrative. They appointed Boris Johnson, they engineered the message, and more importantly, had control over who said what - and who could speak on behalf of Brexit. To date, that's pretty much still the case. Though Vote Leave is defunct, the Tory Brexit blob own Brexit.

Through their chumocracy they used the Telegraph, Sun, Mail, Spectator and Daily Express to promote their no deal mythology, promoting their house experts Minford, Howe, and Singham. BrexitCentral, the hellmouth of ERG propaganda, has become the official voice of the Brexit blob and any voices with different ideas on how to deliver Brexit have been quite deliberately excluded from the debate. 

Were it that Spiked had done any thinking of their own instead of parroting the received wisdom of the Brexit blob, they too would find themselves out in the cold. This is done with the full cooperation of the media. Christopher Booker found himself demoted with his column relegated to the back pages the moment he started saying inconvenient things about the so-called WTO Option.

But how do we know there is an agenda of an "utterly deregulated free market and "a neoliberal utopia"? Well, quite simply, we can do what Tim Black of Spiked has evidently not done. We can simply read the articles they publish. More or less every week there is a Brexit blob affiliate published in the press telling us that we have nothing to fear from no deal, including one Brendan O'Neill - the useful idiot. 

Similarly, we know that the ERG want a no deal Brexit because deregulation has always been part of the Tory Brexit canon. That is their central reason for opposing an Efta EEA Brexit or any Brexit deal that sees us retaining regulatory alignment. Since there is no mode of Brexit save for no deal that gives us total regulatory autonomy, they have thrown all their propaganda efforts at downplaying the enormous risks, and talking up the potential of unilateral trade liberalisation.

What Tim Black fails to appreciate is that this conspiracy is not a secret and it never has been. It's there in plain sight. They've used their position inside the Westminster apparatus to give their cronies access to the media and a chance to get their feet under the table in the department of trade and DExEU.

This, to a point, is just how British politics works and has for all of time. Despite social media, television is still king in politics and it is still the London political apparatus that decides who gets a platform. We like to think we are all independent freethinkers now but on the whole we are just as susceptible to narrative manipulation as ever we were. The lie by omission is still the most powerful tool in the box and so long as they have the power to freeze out alternative voices, the public can be steered into binary paradigms.

So who is really driving this agenda? There are those like Owen Paterson, John Redwood and to a point Rees-Mogg, who genuinely do believe what they say. These are not intelligent men. They are men of scripture. And then there are the surfers like Boris Johnson who exploit it for personal gain and fulfilment of personal ambition. Behind the scenes, though, there are opportunists lining up to exploit a no deal Brexit ie. "buying the dip". Most of all, it cannot have escaped anyone's attention the ERG's sense of urgency in going after an FTA with the USA.

All the best advice in various trade committees said that the UK first and foremost needs to secure its future relationship with the EU, thereby easing the process of rolling over existing third country deals. Beyond that, we need to find our feet and build up a core of trade experience by going for deals with smaller countries before attempting to tackle the USA.

That, though, was not in keeping with the ERG's timetable. Much of their vanity think tank funding comes from US interests, and the links between Washington think tanks and the IEA are more than coincidental. The IEA serves as the conduit for US corporate interests. This is what puts Shanker "snakeoil" Singham in the frame.

The direction of Brexit is now nothing at all to do with sovereignty, democracy or any of the principled arguments around identity and nationhood. It's an entirely ideological economic agenda based on a fundamentally flawed understanding of international trade and regulation. The ideologues are steering the ship but the disaster capitalists and media barons are fuelling it. 

In this, the left-wing Brexiters have been brought along for the ride to give the outward appearance that this transcends the left-right divide. Lefties have talked themselves into the idea that there can be no socialist utopia unless we break from any competition rules. Whether that's true or not is neither here nor there. They're in the passenger seat and will be thrown under the bus the moment we leave.

As to the Brexit Party, to date they still don't realise how Brexit was stolen from the eurosceptic movement and having done no thinking of their own, largely go along with whatever the Brexit blob says. Farage doesn't do detail and the complexities of trade, regulation and globalisation are way beyond the comprehension of his new intake of acolytes. They don't understand it, can't cope with the contradictions and dislike having their simplistic ideas challenged.

If Tim Black does have a point, it is that the remainer left have gone into overdrive by gold plating and sexing up conspiracy theories. There is an element of truth in number of allegations but through Carole Cadwalladr, they have constructed a spiderweb conspiracy and set about a splattergun media campaign in desperation to make anything stick. 

This is what fundamentally discredits them so that the likes of Brendan O'Neill can openly mock them. There are serious causes for alarm in the way that the IEA and the ERG have been operating behind the scenes but now anyone raising that alarm is now written off as a conspiracy theorist. Cadwalladr has done enormous damage not just to her cause but journalism in general.

Had Spiked ever understood the game in play they'd have objected to the hijacking of Brexit by the Tory right. Instead, they have played useful idiot to the ERG - an unwitting mouthpiece of Ultra Brexit propaganda. Were I a left wing Brexiter I might have found it highly suspect that the left and right of Brexit were feeding from the same trough for economic arguments. That Spiked is de facto a sock puppet of Tufton Street tells you justy how successful the propaganda really was. They are tools in every sense of the word. 

The kingdom of the blind

Twitter is alight with praise of Andrew Neil for exposing Boris Johnson's total ignorance of GATT Article 24. But as usual the media through its own ignorance lets him off the hook. What was a relatively mild mauling could have been an evisceration - but sadly, Andrew Neil is only marginally less ignorant than Boris Johnson. Another hack who has yet to master the basics... 

It should be noted that the tedious row over Gatt Article 24 is yet another decoy. Supposing both parties did agree to use it as an interim measure, it doesn't even begin to address the issue of border formalities and regulatory barriers that make up, substantially, the larger part of the problem. It is a total red herring. By falling for the A24 decoy the debate is still confined to the matter of tariffs (exactly what the ERG wants). Johnson is not interested in whether A24 actually works. All that matters is the rank and file continue to believe it does. That is the deception in play. 

Then for all this gushing congratulatory praise of Neil, the circle jerkers seem to forget that Neil is chairman of the Spectator which regularly publishes breathtakingly dishonest "we have nothing to fear from no deal" pieces - and Fraser Nelson's tongue has taken up permanent residence up Johnson's bottom. If there is a fraud on the throne it's because they put him there.

This seems to have escaped the attention of the great and the good who tell us this morning that Andrew Neil is the greatest interviewer in the business. If that be so, it is only by contrast with the daily barrage of mediocrity we are subjected to. Perhaps this really is the best on offer. But that goes a long way to explaining why we got to this point to begin with. This is as much a failure of media as it is politics. 

Friday, 12 July 2019

Will Theresa May have the last laugh?

I'm all doom and gloom on this blog. I think we will leave the EU without a deal because we lack the political talent to do anything else. But then British politics of late is highly unpredictable and set to be more so when you throw in a wildcard like Boris Johnson - a man who for whom yesterday's promises mean nothing.

The narrative in the Tory ranks is that we are here because "traitor May" always wanted to stay close to the EU and being a remainer at heart sought to freeze out Brexiters, leaving her stooge Olly Robbins to sell us down the river. I've never bought into this bullshit. Theresa May made her share of unforced errors but I never doubted her sincerity in seeking to fulfil the Brexit obligation.

At the beginning of the Article 50 process, May was sounding robust enough in setting out her red lines. Leaving the single market and the customs union and ending freedom of movement were indeed her stated aims and that was the genuine intention. She's the one who closed down the single market option and set upon her imaginary economic partnership proposal.

The fundamental misapprehension at work was assuming the UK could take a blank slate approach to EU relations, devising entirely bespoke mechanisms for trade integration, oblivious to the fact that the Eu system is a long established system of rules that the EU not only doesn't want to compromise but also couldn't if it wanted to.

It took some months for this reality to sink in. The think tankery tasked with overcoming these roadblocks proposed all manner of things from a "Guernsey option" to a "hoods only single market" encompassing a "common rulebook, culminating in her Chequers proposal. This drove the Brexiter brigade mad with rage who called it BINO. But then they were always going to do that. Any nod to reality would always see Mrs May labelled a traitor.

Of course, they needn't have expanded the energy in that Brussels was always going to say not o any such proposal not least since the UK had already agreed to the sequencing where the full details of the future relationship would not be discussed until we formally left the EU. The UK's bad faith attempt to circumvent the sequencing wasted months of negotiating time.

Eventually most of the decisions were made for us. Brussels took the view that the UK was never going to comprehend their objections or come up with a viable proposal and for as long as May's red lines remained in place, the only workable solution was the withdrawal agreement as it now stands. We are now faced with a take it or leave it ultimatum. Brussels is not bluffing.

Enter Boris. The rank and file of the Tory party think that the problem was May's lack of backbone and we can still have a mutually acceptable deal if only we send a PM who believes in Brexit. Where they get the idea that Johnson believes in anything at all is another question entirely. But no matter how macho our approach, the facts on the ground don't change. The EU believes it has done all it can to accommodate the British position and has stretched its own rules as far as they will go. It has made political promises to Ireland and it is not going to let the British tail wag the dog.

The coronation of Boris Johnson doesn't change any of this. The clumsy and issue illiterate proposals of the Alternative Arrangement Commission offer nothing the EU can agree to, and to incorporate any such proposal would require the EU to reopen the withdrawal agreement which is will not do under any circumstances. To do so would be to risk the whole deal unravelling.

No doubt Johnson will take an aggressive theatrical approach but this will likely be met with a dead faced stare from Brussels. British exceptionalism does not go down well with Brussels. It never did and it especially doesn't now. That then shunts the issue back into the British political arena where Johnson either has to shit or get off the pot. Though it's difficult to see how parliament can prevent a no deal Brexit, if there is even a symbolic vote of protest, Johnson may well u-turn and seek yet another extension. He will take the path of least resistance depending on what the polls say.

Johnson plays a good game when it comes to telling the grunters what they want to hear - but he isn't one of them. Johnson is an opportunist who will turn on a sixpence if it is politically expedient. Nothing he ever says is bankable, and he can't not be aware that a no deal Brexit comes with enormous risk. His sole motivation is his ambition and as a galactic narcissist he'll have his legacy in mind. Will he really want to go down in history as the man who wrecked Britain?

It is certainly not outside of the realms of possibility that Johnson will betray the party faithful. Committed Brexiter he is not. He then finds himself in the precise position his predecessor found herself in, with only two choices left - ratify or revoke. Brexit then depends on ramming May's withdrawal agreement through the Commons where even the ERG will have to hold their noses and vote for their man. Politically it's difficult to see how they can do anything else having put so much stock in him.

One wonders if we first have to go through the theatricals of securing a largely meaningless edit to the political declaration to "satisfy" the ERG, but they will in effect be voting for the same deal they have implacably opposed for the last year. Tory sheep will of course go along with it and hail it as a great victory but the headbangers will still cry betrayal. That may yet pump more life into the corpse of Ukip 2.0. Johnson may well deliver Brexit, but not the one they had their hearts set on. The hollow laughing sound from the back benches is sure to be Theresa May. 

Brexit: Resigned to the inevitable

There have been plenty of dire warnings written about the danger to democracy of the UK doesn't leave the EU. I've written a fair few of them myself. Some even predicting low grade civil unrest. Some even read like implied threats. We should not underestimate the strength of feeling. But then one gets a sense that the tide is shifting.

On Twitter, leavers overwhelmingly support leaving the EU without a deal. Every online poll puts the WTO option in the lead. This, though, is a self selecting minority on hardcore Brexit activists. More reasoned minds are taking a second look. Many supported of the EEA Efta option are now backing remain over no deal. If we did end up remaining, more than a few leave voters would heave a sigh of relief. I'm not one of them though. Remaining isn't much of an answer.

Ever since the Brexit vote, the EU has been keen to show to the world that Brexit is not a mortal blow and that Britain's departure will not monopolise the EU's agenda. The vibe post euro-elections is o onwards and upwards - back to business. They're getting busy with other things.

Among those things are moves toward greater defence integration, consolidating their trade powers and making big moves  toward tax harmonisation. In many respects the EU is showing a vitality we have not seen for some time and it certain is getting its PR act together. While the UK is struggling to roll over FTAs with minor countries, the EU is making big moves, pouring cold water on the Tory "free trade" delusions. Almost as though Brexit never happened.

You might have thought a major member deciding to quit the Union might have given them some pause for reflection but that has never been one of the strengths of the EU. The show must always go on and the answer to any problem is always "More Europe". One might then ask what role there would be for the UK remaining in the EU when at heart it doesn't want to be in the EU. The gradual shift toward remain is less to do with a new found enthusiasm of the EU, rather it is resignation to the fact that our own government cannot execute Brexit without bankrupting the country.

At some point there would need to be a referendum to confirm the UK's remain position which would hardly be a landslide in favour of remain. It would play out in much the same way as the last one with the remain camp displaying all of their worst attributes leading to yet another anti establishment surge. I can't imagine that there would ever be a positive mandate for continued membership but remain would scrape a win. We'd be reluctantly accepting that though we don't want the EU there's nothing we can usefully do about it.

That then puts us back at square one which then establishes a populist party akin with Ukip as a permanent feature in British politics and puts us in a permanent state of culture war. The same stalemate that brought us to this place to begin with. All the while the EU races ahead with Britain as the unwilling ball and chain.

I am still of the view that Britain cannot begin to progress until this schism is resolved. Our centre of political gravity will always be London and we will always have a more transatlantic outlook. EU politics is something we don't engage in, don't understand and show little interest in. Britain has to find its own role in the world and for too long the EU has theen the sticking plaster in the absence of any bigger vision.

The problem with Brexit, however, is that we still do not have a vision or a credible destination or any idea what comes next. Brexiters have never devised an alternative path for the UK. As far as they are concerned, leaving is the alternative and instead of policies and ideas we get mantras like "sovereignty" and "free trade". This is enough for them to win a vote but not enough to win the argument.

 As it happens I would rather not leave without a deal but what I think is neither here nor there. That is the current trajectory and Britain will have to learn first hand from its miserable failure. Only when we've got the bad ideas out of the way, clearing the air, can we shove the noisemakers to the side and have a serious conversation about the future of the country. It looks like we have to let the wreckers have their way for now. Only when they stand utterly discredited can we progress.

If there is one argument for a no deal Brexit is that it serves as a much needed humbling. Much of where we are stems from an overestimation of Britain's power and importance on both sides of the debate. Leavers think we hold all the cards and they need them more than we need them while remainers think we are important and powerful because we are in the EU when in reality our international voice has been impotent for quite a long time. Brits really do suffer from their narcissistic delusions. Brexit is a much needed corrective. We can only agree on a realistic role for Britain if we have a realistic self-image.

For a while now we've been telling ourselves that as the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world, we are a powerful influence in world and EU affairs. The latter is the remainer delusion. We don't influence the EU. We send our own functionaries to the EU who then go native to the point where there is little observable difference. The EU has a life of its own that is not in any way affected by shifts in politics.

I have no doubt that a no deal will at the very least decimate the economy, but as a first world nation and a sophisticated economy of 65m people, we can only go so low. It is as a midranking power we are more likely to get back in touch with who and what we are.

Remaining in the EU is an answer to our immediate problems but it isn't a very good one. It just means putting all the structural and cultural problems back on the shelf and pretending they aren't there, limping on as we are with nothing resolved. The state of our politics alone tells you why that is unsustainable. As bad as Boris Johnson is, you only need look at the opposite benches for a sense of perspective. Even if Labour ridded itself of its leadership problem it is still essentially a party of imbeciles and preening narcissists. Britain is just about functioning in that the bins get collected but if we scratch the surface we find a decline and dysfunction in just about every area of governance.

What's lacking in our politics is a sense of drive and purpose. Our politics and culture is decadent while society is fragmenting with nothing on the horizon to arrest the decline. We can ride it out as we are for a few more years, a couple of decades even, but the longer we kick all these issues into the long grass the greater the future repercussions. Britain's politics and its institutions are not in any shape to meet the challenges of this emerging century. The knowledge, vitality and vision has evaporated leaving the dregs to fight over the scraps.

This week I remarked that there's only really one reason to welcome Boris Johnson as PM. He's the perfect figurehead for an utterly degraded politics of a politically immature, decadent country informed by an ignorant and incurious media. The ideal captain to steer the Titanic to the bottom of the sea. Though I may feel a sense of urgency in preventing a no deal disaster, when I look at the alternative, there's a strong argument for letting the chips fall where they may.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Brexiters don't understand the EU and they never did.

The fundamental error in the estimations of Brexiters is that the current impasse is part of ongoing negotiations. There is a presumption that the EU is so desperate to avoid a no deal Brexit that all we need do is hold out until we are teetering over the edge and the the EU will cave into the UK,drop the backstop and adopt the non-proposals of the Alternative Arrangements Commission.

As ever the logic behind this is that the EU exports more to us than us to them and German car makers and French farmers will race to the rescue in pressuring heads of state to change their stance.

That’s really where we are. Three years of intense public debate and the collective level of understanding in the leave camp has not advanced even an inch. Nearly all of the technical and trade debate has passed them by entirely. To them this is just one giant game of chicken. All we need do to persuade Brussels to create a gaping hole in its customs frontier and its decades old legal order is elect a more macho PM who will fly to Brussels and slap his dick on the table.

There is some irony herein that the very reason no deal is not leverage is the ultimate reason why we must leave the EU. Brexiters should instinctively understand this. The EU will always put its own dogma and it own legal order first and foremost with the interests of member states being a distant second. Brexiters are assuming that EU heads of state will put their own national interests ahead of EU unity. Our own experience with successive governments indicates otherwise and in the case of a departing member, the opportunity to cannibalise UK market share has greater potential gains than bending to BMW’s lobbyists.

There have been occasions when the rules have been bent for expedience but this is a far greater test of the EU’s values and its resolve. As much as it cannot make concessions it would not even grant to members, the EU is not likely to give way to the posturing of a man like Boris Johnson who is deeply loathed in the EU. The UK’s petulance and posturing cannot be seen to be rewarded.

The chief reason that the EU cannot yield is entirely a matter of image. Brexiters hoped that the UK’s departure would start a domino effect. This was largely wishful thinking on the part of extremists who not only want to leave the EU, but also to destroy it. The EU cannot give of any vibe that Brexit leaves it mortally wounded and is keen to progress with other business. It has made a huge show of its most recent advances in trade, proving itself to be a virile operator and to rub the UK’s nose in it since Brexiters have made a big show of their “free trade” credentials. As much as the agenda cannot be seen to be dominated by Brexit, the EU itself wants to move on with life sans UK. It won’t let Britain derail its ambition to move beyond Brexit. 

Then, as outlined at length, the EU knows quite a lot about what’s going to happen in the event of no deal. They know what any realist knows. Firstly they know that those quickie “bumper deals” spoken of by the likes of Boris Johnson and Richard Tice aren’t coming any time soon. They also know that the UK losing most of its authorisations to operate in the single market will touch just about every corner of UK commerce, piling on compliance costs and logistics overheads. They also know that the immediate imposition of tariffs will see UK prices skyrocket across the board and that for all the witless bluster of ERG MPs, the UK is nowhere near prepared for the wave of complications thrown up by a no deal Brexit, many of which are still at this point unknowable.

They know that it won’t take long at all for the job losses to mount and for the public mood to turn sour. They also know that British politics is currently unstable and we will see a general election within the next twelve months. Unless one is called before the bad news starts to snowball then the Tories are likely out on their ear - by which point the UK will be screaming for a deal and the EU will be negotiating with an even less competent UK government. The balance of leverage will be entirely in their favour and and will be able to set take it or leave it terms, which most certainly will include something close to what we now call the backstop.

As much as anything, we really don’t need to game the EU’s response to Boris Johnson. We have already been here. Parliament has refused to ratify the withdrawal agreement, Number Ten has asked the EU for something other than the backstop and the EU response has been much the same each time. There are fundamental principles any alternate arrangements must satisfy and nothing as yet presented by the UK indicates that the issues have been adequately understood. A change of prime minister does not change this. The EU position does not change simply because Boris Johnson (allegedly) believes in Brexit.

This has all been detailed previously by this blog along with Ivan Rogers whose intimate knowledge of the EU is not in question by anyone remotely serious, but Brexiters still buy into the mythology that the EU is economically vulnerable, on the brink of collapse and likely to suffer more from no deal than the UK. This is an unshakable article of faith with which there is no reasoning. And believe me I have tried. This debate has long since moved beyond the rational.

Were one to be charitable to the Brexiteers, they are looking at this in much the same way the UK has always viewed the EU - through the commercial lens, believing that the EU can’t afford not to have a trade deal with us. To a point that is true in the longer term but the EU knows that at some point there will be a deal because Britain simply cannot operate without formal trade relations with its superpower neighbour. But this misunderstands the nature of the beast.

The EU never has been a mere trade bloc and doesn’t think in solely terms of trade or immediate economic concerns. You can only see rationality in the EU’s behaviour if you see it for what it is, which is more akin with a religious cult than a trade bloc. The idea behind the project always takes precedence. When you observe the EU through that lens all this talk of gambits and standoffs as though we were haggling for a carpet looks all the sillier. It will endure whatever it has to endure to prove the greater ideal has longevity - which is all the more reason why it can’t make fundamental concessions. The UK never has understood this and to date still doesn’t. It is perhaps that, most of all, that demonstrates better than anything why we do not belong in the EU.

The EU is not the only threat to democracy

I own about a dozen academic tracts on globalisation. Most of them are dense, badly written and and not intended to communicate anything to anyone. Usually they are impenetrable, littered with unnecessary jargon and a third of the book is taken up by references. These books are not designed to be read. It's academic vanity publishing - and at the prices they're asking, it's more about ripping off university libraries.

Only very occasionally do you comes across a good one that's at least written to be read. They all say essentially the same thing though; that sovereignty as a concept as commonly understood by most is obsolete - and in some respects an anachronism. There is a natural atrophy as economies become ever more intertwined and interdependent and we must simply come to terms with "divided sovereignty" where nation states lose a measure of their external sovereignty while retaining domestic sovereignty.

This is certainly not the case with the EU where we submit to a set of supranational decision mechanisms where internal matter are uniquely influenced by EU law to an extent known or tolerated nowhere else on earth. It suits europhiles, however, to massage this notion that matters within our own borders are entirely the competence of the national government.

On the base level external sovereignty is limited by way of devices like customs and regulatory unions, where interactions with third actors can only be conducted through a central entity acting on behalf of member states. For a time there was a degree of delineation between those matters regarded as purely domestic and matters international. The encroachment begins with regulatory harmonisation for the purposes of trade governance.

Until that point, the encroachment on sovereignty is barely noticeable except to industry specialists and officials. The process happens without wider public awareness. If they get an inclination as to what is happening, they are unlikely to fully comprehend why. What was done to the UK to bring us in line with the single market was a stealth revolution in commercial governance.

For the most part, the public doesn't care. There's the low level complaining by small business at the cost of compliance but compliance brings its own commercial benefits. The trade off is tolerated. Only when more visible measures came into play, did we start to see outright objections, notably the Metric Martyrs case as street traders were prohibited from advertising goods in imperial measures. This is when the technical encroaches on the cultural. Similarly with product labelling.

There are, of course, clear advantages to the harmonisation of regulation for the expansion of trade and had the EU limited itself to matters of trade we might, perhaps, not be where we are today. The scope of the EU vastly exceeds trade governance, encompassing workers rights and environmental protections, advancing agendas that compel governments national and local to abide by rules and commit resources to meet quotas, targets and political objectives decided at the very highest levels, often behind closed doors, with no meaningful civil society consultation and very often subject to the fads of narcissistic politicians trying to outdo each other. That which is now described as "virtue signalling".

In this equation it suits progressives to nurture the narrative that sovereignty is obsolete as it's considerably more convenient to establish agendas at the global and regional level where like minded jet-setters can impose their morality and their ideas without having to persuade anyone, argue a case or bump into the awkward democracy thing. It is then fashionable to market the idea that sovereignty is a throwback. Brexit is what happens when the masses think otherwise.

This is where another key deception creeps in. We are told that outside the EU we become a rule taker rather than a rule maker. To a point this is true - but only to a point. Supposing that the UK enters an FTA with the EU (now increasingly boilerplate) we commit to non-regression on environmental and social matters (defined largely by the International Labour Organisation and global conventions on climate change etc) and technical governance in respect of standards, where again the nexus of international organisations plays a major role. As such, there is no such thing as EU standards.

The "rule taker" myth has become a powerful weapon in the remainer arsenal but even the full single market package of regulation (EEA) pertains mainly to trade and technical governance which accounts for only a quarter of the EU acquis. What is described as "EU mission creep" has taken the EU beyond trade governance to the point of being a supreme government in all but name. It's easier to list the areas of life where the EU doesn't have regulatory influence. As one Tweeter put it to me just recently "I'd rather have no say in a quarter of the rules than 1/28th of a say in all of them".

But then remainers would argue that the UK has a disproportionate influence in the EU on account of what it brings to the table in terms of aid spending, expertise, defence and intelligence assets etc. But also because it leads by example. That tends to be the winning factor in the exercise soft power. But if that is true of the UK in the EU then it is also true of the UK in the WTO, ISO, UNECE, FAO and WHO.

The surface level of trade debate tends to view the WTO as the playground of giants, but it's actually around the edges where we find the incremental projects that drive trade forward in between major multilateral accords, where the UK is a leading participant - especially in standards proliferation and development. Standards are very often decided by the agreed best practice rather than "might is right". Smaller states often do not have the capacity or on intellectual resource to be players n the standards game, but even in a no deal situation, the UK by way of being a first world advanced economy still has a contribution to make. There's a lot to be said for the first mover advantage which requires an agility the EU is inherently incapable of. A structural defect, one might say.

Obviously there are losses of national influence associated with Brexit both in the EU and other international forums. The EU is also a soft power superpower and is even in the process of reshaping eve the WTO in its own image. Again this is an example of how leading by example enhances influence. The EU has made multilateral WTO agreements central to its trade operations with EU FTA tracts now replicating WTO conventions verbatim. As much as it wants to be seen as a good actor, the long terms strategic objective is total dominance over the WTO agenda.

This is a problem. The WTO ecosystem is every bit the same sort of intellectual domain as the EU. Rootless internationalists raised on the same narrow groupthinks who see entities like the WTO as a vehicle to advance other agenda, not least equality and climate action and UN Sustainable Development Goals. Global governance becoming global government.

This is where the wheels start to fall off. Part of the reason the US is (rightly) a blocker at the WTO is that the WTO is gradually morphing into a supranational power which the US sees as a direct threat to its own sovereignty and counter to its own strategic aims. This attitude predates the Trump experiment and though Trump is very much the wildcard, the current tone is fairly consistent with America's aggressively self-interested trade policy.

Similarly, part of the reason the US does not adopt UNECE standards in the same way the EU does is chiefly because the EU dominates UNECE through block voting where the US has only one vote. Consequently the EU's abuse of power is a blocker to a truly global standards system. The US will not enter any multilateral framework where the EU can exploit this advantage. If the WTO and affiliate organisations continue on the current trajectory, reinforcing the WTO's power, then the US will bring it down and we're back where we started save for a rump WTO serving as a puppet of the EU - as the UN has been to the US in the past.

America, though, is far from alone in its mistrust of the emerging global government. African states find that trade with the EU comes with far too many peripheral conditions pertaining to pollution, climate, human rights and labour standards. Not only is this already central to the EU's thinking, seeking to export its own values through trade, it wants the power to double down on this folly. The net result is African states bypassing Western institutions entirely in favour of no strings attached purely commercial endeavours with China. The aggressive moral imperialism of the EU may well contribute to the retreat of western soft power. While the EU is praised by its admirers as being the white knight in international politics and the standard bearer for global progressivism, the reality is unfolding somewhat differently.

By way of overreach it now faces challenges on two fronts. Brexit won't be the first rebellion against the EU's sovereignty destroying mission creep but there is also the problem of its immediate neighbours. The EU has been long trying to rationalise the Swiss deals, instead preferring a single treaty apparatus.

Brexit adds some complication to this. The EU can make no concession to Switzerland that the UK can use as leverage. This causes the EU to take an unusually aggressive stance with Switzerland, applying the full force of its own leverage. There it bumps into Switzerland's constitution where the public have a veto. What should now be close to a conclusion could drag on for several years and the EU is not making any friends in the process.

The EU has largely convinced itself that might is right and it can throw its weight around without consequence. It also believes it has no choice and is seeking to further its own geopolitical clout through trade. It can only do this by further supplanting the presence of member states on the world stage where the EU's agenda very well may clash with the traditional foreign policies of former colonial European powers. As with the Libyan intervention, the likelihood of a unified and coherent position among the EU27 is somewhere around nil - unless there is a further push toward federalisation. Eventually the project runs out of road.

The success of what has become a system of global governance has largely depended on slow and subtle integration which can be achieved without obtaining democratic consent. Now that it's out in the open, it's becoming more ambitious and more power hungry. Moreover, it becomes more dangerously disconnected from the public.

The EU often advertises its "civil society engagement" but their definition of civil society is different to yours and mine. For the EU civil society is super NGOs comprised of national charities and pressure groups, most of which are in receipt of direct or indirect EU funding coupled with other captured institutions. Academia especially. A continental groupthink of brainwashed wonks who never had a real job, shuttled between Brussels, Strasbourg and Geneva. Consequently they do not quite reside on the same planet as the rest of us.

The outcome of this is yet more agreements and directives compelling states to commit hundreds of billions to what are essentially vanity projects not tempered by any kind of democracy. Certainly the recent zero carbon initiative qualifies. This translates into more taxes, energy hikes, and aggressively authoritarian measures from banning plastic straws through to draconian lowering of local speed limits though to putting trackers in cars. All based on junk science. The climate agenda then becomes a Trojan horse for just about any sociopathic malthusian measure which they can then impose on us without having to either explain or seek consent. There is a limit to what the public will tolerate as we now see in the UK and France.

But then Brexit of itself brings little remedy to this in that our own government would not hesitate to sign up to these measures even without the EU and if the EU had never existed we would still be facing a variant of the same problem, with measured cooked up by global elites casually sweeping democracy aside. Unless the UK enters a constitutional reform programme to recognise that the people are sovereign and to give them a direct veto, government will continue to be something done to us rather than being a participatory process where they actually have to win the argument.

There are those who think Brexit is a return to national sovereignty. This is only partially true. As it happens, the EU is not the only global actor seeking to make sovereignty redundant. They say it's obsolete because they've decided between them that it is. The battle for sovereignty one that is never truly won outright. The threats to national democracy continue to evolve and we need continued vigilance to ensure what little is clawed back is not once again given away by a political establishment in Westminster that is equally disconnected from the public they notionally serve. Without a constitutional overhaul there is a serious danger that Brexit makes no difference at all.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Well and truly stuffed

Rather than watching the great ITV leadership debate I was instead driving over to the Fens to collect a dead raccoon for the girlfriend's latest taxidermy project. Certainly if I was after any sort of engaging Brexit debate, the dead raccoon would have more insight to offer than Boris Johnson even after being in the deep freeze for the last two years.

This is actually where Twitter comes in handy. You don't actually have to watch the thing to get the gist of it. Most of the key quotes tell you all you need to know. Jeremy Hunt plans mobile checks on the Irish border, saying the technology already exists, while Boris Johnson also says the solutions to frictionless border exist. If they're not ready by October 31st then it goes into the implementation period.

Of course, even the dead raccoon has grasped that there is no implementation period if there is no deal and as far as border technology goes, the Brexiter mythos has been debunked countless times. In a literal sense, yes the technology does exist but there is no known framework for it to operate in that would be agreeable to the EU and certainly nothing that satisfies the regulatory aspect. But as we know, the debunking of these zombie arguments counts for nothing when you're dealing with a belief system and when those who most need the information will never see it having constructed their own heavily policed echo chamber.

So on the one hand we have a candidate who thinks the hocus pocus of Shanker Singham is the basis for a renegotiation with the EU and one who is telling straight up lies without a hint of shame. Neither candidate offers us a viable or even realistic approach. Then for Boris Johnson to claim that £39 billion would instantly be available in the event of a no deal Brexit tells us that this whole charade is more about manipulating the clueless few rather than persuading the masses of anything. Why then the media is providing a platform for it escapes me. We don't actually get a say in the matter. We are not participants.

It's actually the format that tells us more about what we are watching. ITV has elected to present it in the format of a tawdry Saturday teatime game show, reminiscent of Catchphrase in the 90's. Low budget, lowbrow and little more than chewing gum for the mind. We've somehow managed to utterly trivialise the most significant and consequential event in our nation's history since World War Two.

What we're actually watching is peak decadence. A moral and cultural nosedive. It's almost an argument in favour of no deal. British politics has run as far as it can go in its current form. If Johnson really is the best our politics can dredge up then there's nothing left worth salvaging and if this sordid spectacle is what passes for debate then what's the point? There would perhaps be a glimmer of hope were there anything approaching an alternative on the opposite benches, but Labour is also a spent force with nothing to say worth hearing. Diane Abbott is starting to look like the thinker in the bunch.

Still, the evening wasn't entirely wasted. I now have a dead raccoon in the freezer which prompted an interesting conversation about taxidermy regulation, where taxidermists need a licence to own certain dead animals under annex 4 of the Habitats Directive and in order to comply with a number of EU regulations concerning illicit trade in wildlife. It may well be that leaving without a deal means we are no longer authorised to export as A10 certification is no longer recognised. Just another example of how EU touches on just about every area of technical governance - yet charlatans still tell us no deal does not create complications. The smaller day to day complications could end up killing more trade than the headline industries we panic about. Come Brexit day, it won't just be the raccoon who's completely stuffed.

Waiting for reality

The Independent reports that "WTO director general Roberto Azevedo has now baldly stated that the mechanism – which his organisation oversees – cannot be invoked unless the parties involved have reached agreement on a future trade deal. He told Prospect magazine that Gatt 24 only applies in the period between a deal being struck and its full implementation. "If there is no agreement, then Article 24 would not apply, and the standard WTO terms would," said Mr Azevedo. 

As it happens, the Brexit headbangers have, for once, grasped that Article 24 cannot be invoked unilaterally. I'm not sue that anyone is still claiming that it can. There is just the belief that the EU will come around to it if we withhold the £39bn.

Where they get the idea that the EU will allow itself to be blackmailed like this over what is a relative pittance, one cannot say. Moreover the EU has made promises to Ireland, and the world is watching to see if they remain true to their word. Brexiteers may not appreciate the importance of reputation in international affairs but the EU does. Moreover, the EU is not at all inclined to throw the UK a bone, especially if it requires a raft of concessions it wouldn't even grant its own members. We can, therefore, safely assume that Brussels will not be chasing after us.

It was always safer to assume, even before Sabine Weyand's remarks, that the EU's price for returning to the table after a no deal Brexit would be a backstop agreement not far removed from the one presently on the table. GATT Article 24 may then serve as a rudimentary salvage device but would still come nowhere close to a solution. In no way does it address the torrent of regulatory issues the UK will face as a third country. 

We are told that there is further mitigation by way of "mini deals" but these exist only in the imagination of Brexit headbangers. There exists a series of unilateral contingency measures subject to reciprocal action, but these are only deals if you go as far as redefining the meaning of the word. No doubt they will be extended by way of a WTO waiver or similar device but these are only sticking plasters. What then follows is years of negotiation to rebuild something close to a functioning trade relationship.

We then have to consider how the EU will approach it. The Brussels view is that current relations with Switzerland are too messy and it is not keen to replicate the experience - to end up with a sprawling array of agreements and regulatory instruments. The preferred end state is a single treaty that will supersede any interim fixes. The extent of those interim fixes will be wholly contingent on the UK's attitude. If it's a continued belligerence, with the view that the UK is entitled to special treatment, we'll be waiting a long time out in the cold.

Of course, such warnings fall on deaf ears. Anything now said by anyone who isn't a true believer is all part of the global conspiracy against Brexit and this fantasy construct that the EU will come running remains the central pillar of the Brexiter belief system. Devotees will do no thinking of their own. They have a choice of "experts" and they will choose the experts whose views align most with their own. So long as they have someone to wheel out in front of a camera with sufficient prestige they won't even bother with the finer points of their own arguments.

Mercifully it won't take until Halloween before the wheels start to fall off. Boris Johnson will soon come unstuck when his negotiators are escorted to an empty room in Brussels and shown where the coffee machine is. They will not be joined by their Brussels counterparts. Negotiations are long over. The EU won't come running to prevent a no deal Brexit any more than it will after the fact. There is no bluff to be called. We will, however, go through the motions where Johnson will accuse Brussels of intransigence and play the victim, bolstering support among his own ranks for a dramatic walkout.

At that point we get to find out who is right about parliament's powers to stop a no deal Brexit. I'm of the view that parliament has already blown it and even if they could stop it, I doubt they could get their act together sufficiently in order to pull it off. Our fate, therefore, is entirely contingent on what sort of mood Johnson is in on the morning of October 31. A whim rather than a decision. This is no way to run a country.

For the time being we just have to suffer the charade of the Tory leadership contest and go along with the pretence that it isn't a coronation, but anyone who lives on planet earth as already tuned it out. Not one of the contenders offered a viable Brexit plan. It was only ever about flattering the Tory membership and pandering to their delusions. We've been on course for failure for some time now. We're just waiting for politics to catch up with reality. Everything else is noise.  

Monday, 8 July 2019

Something quite rotten

The Spectator is a participant in a sustained campaign of lying. Of course they are wholly entitled to take a pro-Boris editorial line, as they always have, making excuses for his personal and political failings, but their persistent propagandising over no deal eventually starts to look like something more sinister.

From August, 2017, we get this from Liam Halligan entitled "No deal with the EU? Sounds like a good deal to me", followed by this deeply stupid outing from Brendan O'Neill. Then as recently as August 2018 after considerably more debate with more facts coming to light, The Spectator still wishes to impress upon us that "a no-deal Brexit is nothing to fear".

This month, though, we get a double bill, with David Paton asserting that "A Halloween no-deal Brexit is no longer a scary prospect" and Robert Tombs presuming to tell us that Ivan Rogers has got it all wrong. As ever it relies on the same handful of lies and sleight of hand techniques that chiefly rely on the ignorance of Spectator readers.

All of these issues we have been over countless times but still they persist. Even if I had the boundless energy required to offer a detailed rebuttal to every single claim, the same handful of lies and distortions remain the currency of choice within the Tory bubble. The Speccie has institutional prestige of its own and Fraser Nelson is regarded as a clever fellow, and the authors are carefully selected to add further gravitas to what they know to be outright lies.

Generally speaking The Spectator is read by card carrying members of the Tory party, who rely on the Speccie, The Telegraph and not much else for information. It is a coordinated and cultivated orthodoxy in the fullest knowledge that it will not be met with any scepticism. Increasingly politics seems to be geared around making the wider public politically homeless so that the decisions are made by the obedient few. They who think what they are told to think. 

There is now a cottage industry of fact checkers and Twitter hounds who will keenly demolish such offerings from the Spectator, but are never likely to be seen by they who live inside the walled garden, which alarmingly seems to include a number of MPs. It was once the case that if you did read The Spectator you were by extension part of an elite, party to the court gossip in circulation. Now though, it is an elite ignorance over which the Speccie's gatekeepers hold sway.

I struggle to think why any editor would knowingly engage in such a campaign of deception when the stakes are so high. One might hypothesise that habitual party loyalty drives it, largely because the consequences are not theirs to contend with. A failed education policy here and a botched policing policy there has no real impact on them so why ever should they take responsibility for what they publish? Here though, the matter is hardly inconsequential. This one turning point decides our economic and soft power standing probably for the next generation. Are they really so foolish?

One could very easily speculate that there was a more devious agenda at work; that they deliberately intend to crash the economy in order to get richer, or perhaps they just can't see beyond the next election and being so utterly blinkered believe Boris Johnson really is their saviour. Either way, The Spectator is abusing its position. If the supposed intellectual pillar of British conservatism no longer feels an obligation to establish the truth and they sleep well at night knowingly manipulating their readers, then there is something rotten at the heart of it.

Just for once I wish these people would simply tell us the truth. I could at least understand it were there was a steadfast moral principle driving this; that British territorial sovereignty must not be compromised for the administrative convenience of the EU, or perhaps an argument for protectionism, but dressing up no deal as a risk free and desirable outcome is twisted beyond the joke. It smacks of arse covering; to provide a thin pretext for a policy failure - one which they simply lacked the talent to avoid. Perhaps that is what makes Boris Johnson the ideal figurehead for this enterprise. Rather than being the culmination of a systematic failure of politics they can just blame it on Boris being Boris. They can try it, but we shan't forget who put him there. 

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Why the Brexit Party aren't Nazis

Twitter remainers are getting very silly now. They're comparing the Brexit Party to Nazis. Particularly in the wake of their back turning stunt in the European Parliament.

As ye know, I am not a huge fan of the Brexit Party, but unless I missed something they are not planning on the eradication of an ethnic minority or invading half of Europe. But then there are some other crucial differences we must explore.

For starters, Hitler had a plan. He knew what he wanted to do and why. He had a big idea to sell to the masses and an intellectual foundation for his movement - albeit the most evil set of ideas in all of history. Not so for Ukip 2.0. They know they want Brexit but largely as an end in itself rather than as a means to achieve something.

The closest the Brexit Party has to a plan is a ragbag collection of recycled "policies" lifted from the back of a cereal box. Cutting foreign aid and introducing an Australian points based system for immigration is not really a plan or a big vision. It's managerial tinkering and wholly in keeping with the model of government we presently have. They make a big deal of withholding the £39bn from the EU to invest in public services which at best could be described as timid accountancy - as risible as it is.

And say what you like about the Nazis, the did have snazzy uniforms. The closest we have seen to uniform dress of late is the Lib Dems in the "Bollocks to Brexit" t-shirts. Not in the same league methinks. For a supposedly "far right populist party" the Brexit Party is very probably the most beige enterprise to hit British politics since John Major's Cone's Hotline.

It's true that Farage and Hitler are both said to be rabble rousing and inspiring orators, but Hitler had a ruthless entourage known for their cold blooded competence. Not so Farage  who seems to attract gormless disciples rather than colleagues and generals. Competence is not high on the list.

The crucial difference though, is that the Nazis knew what they were doing at this point in their development. They were destined to take power because they wanted it enough. The Brexit Party doesn't. I seriously doubt if they want power at all. They are happier in their comfort zone as a protest party. If they have power then the betrayal narrative collapses as they would be in a position to do something about it.

One even suspects that quite a few in their number would be privately jumping for joy if Boris Johnson did pull a fast one and revoke Article 50. As much as it keeps the Ukip 2.0 gravy train rolling, they get to keep their MEP salary and title which affords them prestige and media appearances. These dismal no marks will melt back into obscurity if we actually leave the EU.

Had there been any serious similarity between Ukip 2.0 and the Nazis then there would have been a plan, there would have been a manifesto, and a long term vision. Had they accomplished that much, not only would we already be out of the EU, they would be a serious proposition for government with a chance of actually transforming the country according to their designs. Instead it's the same dismal band of fumbling amateurs already making complete prats of themselves in full view of everyone - and the results will be much the same as last time come the general election. To build a movement as the Nazis did, they'd need to have a clue between them.

Far from building a national movement and building on the momentum of the 2016 referendum, the Brexit Party is the same old faces talking to the exact same constituency and will hit the electoral glass ceiling for the same reason Ukip did. It turns out that populism just isn't that popular. It gives the remainers something to do though, so there's that at least.