Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Ian Dunt: lying bastard


By now, Brexit watchers will be familiar with the name Ian Dunt - habitual remoaner and editor of Politics.co.uk. He's spent months telling us that we are steaming head first toward hard Brexit - on the basis of no real evidence whatsoever. Today he picks up on the news that Liam Fox intends to peruse a copy and paste approach to WTO schedules. He's one up on most of his fellow hacks in that he has a working understanding of what they are and why they matter to Brexit.

To make a short point first off, the process of divvying up quotas and becoming our own distinct entity on the WTO is key to becoming an independent nation - and in so doing is a heavy hint that we are leaving the customs union. Between that and the "great repeal bill" proposed by May, which does the opposite of repealing laws, we can take it as read that hard Brexit is not on the cards.

Dunt gives us his own spin on why the government is using the cut and paste approach.
"Any member state at the WTO can trigger a trade dispute with the UK if they feel they have been unfairly treated by a change in its arrangements. And Britain is about to change its arrangement with everyone. It is a major economy extracting itself from a massive trading block. Those disputes are likely to either be resolved by sanctions or concessions on tariffs. If Britain were to lose several of them it would basically be trading under the conditions of injured foreign parties.

So instead Britain will try to rock the boat as little as possible. It will copy and paste all the EU tariffs, whether they suit us or not. It will protect produce it has no intention of making and leave many it does make without protections."
This is exactly right. Course, Dunt only knows this because I ridiculed him when he made the oft repeated claim that we would require the approval of all WTO members in order to break out of the EU system. He resisted at first but did eventually read the Leave Alliance monograph on this very subject and has since corrected his narrative. Got to give him some credit for that. How rich it is that he then goes on to say:
"None of this will be mentioned by the Brexiters, of course. In public they puff out their chests and accuse critics of not believing in Britain and thumb their nose at their European counterparts. But in private, well away from prying eyes, they delicately and loyally replicate all of the EU's trading arrangements, just so they stand a chance of setting themselves up in a viable manner at the WTO."
None of this will be mentioned by Brexiteers huh? That's funny because unless I am mistaken, The Leave Alliance were the first to even make mention of it - in Flexcit. Dunt's whinge though is that the administrative act of leaving the EU leaves the existing schema in tact and doesn't change anything.

Firstly one would note that the WTO separation process is the one part of the Brexit process that could see the Brexit talks stall and cause us to fall out of the framework without an agreement. That's ultra hard Brexit. So it stands to reason that for the purposes of getting out we would seek the least controversial approach. For one who has been screaming that we should avoid a hard Brexit, it's a bit rich to squeal like a teenage girl when the government takes the first sensible public measure toward Brexit.

He whines that this does not bring about the "confident, independent, global trading nation Fox and the other Brexiters are always talking about". A moronic statement if ever there were one. Quotas are not the only bartering chips and this is something that can be addressed post-Brexit. The process of trade and seeking out new more favourable agreements is a post-Brexit activity - and for now our main concern should be a forensic and surgical Brexit which reduces the uncertainties and risks. Would Dunt have us do it some other way?

But this is why I no longer have another nanosecond for remainers. You can equip them with the information, but they then use bits convenient to their narrative, while ignoring the bits that are not, and continue to look for the cloud in every silver lining.

As yet Dunt has made no mention of the globalisation of regulation - another topic central to Brexit - and it is a theme he will studiously avoid when it comes to it, even though he has been taken to task over it before. To then say what Brexiteers will or won't say is pure chutzpah. But so long as he has his fawning groupies to shore up his flagging credibility he can keep lying.

If there is a broader point to make about this process it is that it most certainly is a suboptimal deal to get in the first round - and nobody I know is going to claim otherwise. What is being done is specifically to avoid a cliff edge and if we didn't want to run the risk of being lumbered with quotas we didn't want we should never have done anything quite so foolish as to join the EEC in the first place. None of this will be mentioned by the Remainers, of course. (to borrow a phrase).

It should also be noted that European agriculture has been in desperate need of reform for a long time and as members of the EU there has been limited scope for doing that. Now that we are free to barter there is nothing stopping us entering a consortium to add pressure from the outside - which has been successful in the past. Something else Ian Dunt will conveniently forget to mention when the time comes.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Looking forward

Whether or not we should have had a show trial over the right to invoke Article 50 is not really of interest to me. There is one inescapable truth to this. Parliament voted by a wide margin to pass the decision to the people having failed for decades to resolve the matter themselves. You can call that advisory if you want but politics is politics. You don't mess with it, and increasingly, it looks like they won't. I don't think anyone is in any real doubt now that we are leaving the EU.

I should be more offended by this trial than I am since it's an example of how meek parliament has become - that it takes a private citizen to do their job for them. But that is also why I am not so troubled by any of this. It's exactly what you would expect from an end of the line establishment which has long since forgotten its purpose and who it serves. Look at the Limp Dems and the shell of a Labour party and we can see that this parliamentary democracy of ours really is on its last legs.

And it's not so rosy for the Tories either. Mrs May has a modicum of political competence but her supporting cast in this carnival of the bizarre is distinctly underwhelming. When David Davis looks like the competent one you know they are in serious trouble. This is why I can relax about the whole thing.

One way or another we are leaving the EU and it will either be a long and messy process or they will see sense and go for the EEA. In the bigger picture, that doesn't matter. We will have managed Brexit away into a convenient box. But that will have left a considerable scar on our democracy. We will have seen the unvarnished truth that our parliamentary democracy simply doesn't function anymore. We'll get our Brexit and we'll slowly realise that the EU is no longer the backstop excuse, for either side, when things don't work. The buck stops with parliament. That's the point when politics gets very interesting. Things are not going to be the same - and that's what I actually voted for.

Soft Brexit: take what's on the table


Keeping up a blog is a serious pain in the backside. It is a compulsion that borders on mental illness - and some would probably say I crossed that line some time ago. It certainly is a mugs game at the very least, having to work twice as hard to do that which most paid journalists do half as well. If I had any sense at all I would train myself not to give a solitary shit about politics and get on with something more profitable. EUreferendum.com has demonstrated in spades that there is little to be gained financially from being right.

It may well be that I heave a sigh of relief and pack up blogging on the day Mrs May triggers article fifty but I have a feeling it's a case of once a blogger, always a blogger. Until that day though, the fight does on. In this, one of the least satisfying things about blogging is the constant repetition of the same points. If you're bored of reading the same thing over and over, how do you think I feel?

That is why when Borg Brende, the Norwegian foreign minister, trots out his usual mantras, it is an absolute joy to see others picking up the slack. In this instance, Phil Myth gives the subject both barrels.

In Phil's final paragraph he remarks that Leavers should not characterise the EEA as a betrayal, but as proof positive that Project Fear’s central tenant – that the EU and the single market were one and the same – was as false as they always claimed it was. That is the very essence of Brexit - that we do not need political union in order to enjoy a high level of customs cooperation and regulatory harmonisation. That's free trade to me and you.

What makes it especially urgent is that this time the threats are now very real. Yesterday we heard from Airbus Group Chief Executive, Tom Enders, telling us “All our planes’ wings – I’m talking about more than 1,200 wings a year – come out of our English plants. What’s at stake is the continuation of our investments in Britain. A soft Brexit in which Britain keeps in or close to the EU’s single market would retain many trade and business benefits it had as member".

And there you have it from the horses mouth. Airbus could not be more of an EU company if it tried, having invested heavily to impress upon is that political union was necessary for their continued presence in the UK, but after the fact are now telling us something quite different - that political union is not central to investment. What was then "project fear" is now project fact. We do not need political union to prosper but we very seriously do need a high level of customs cooperation and regulatory convergence to keep the many thousands of jobs related to the single market here in the UK.

The remainers for years trotted out their "three million jobs depend on the EU" mantra - and now we have them bang to rights that they were in fact lying. What we said is that those jobs depended on trade - and were keen from day one to make the distinction between the EU and the single market. Now that the referendum is out of the way the remainers need to admit they were lying, but hard Brexiteers also need to acknowledge that the single market is not something we can very easily dispense with.

In a lot of respects, as an engineering company, Airbus is not especially affected by Brexit in that much of its activity is governed not by EU regulations but by international standards but Airbus does depend on a high level of mobility for European workers. You can make the case that British industry needs to start training its own aerospace engineers but as a matter of fact, Airbus does precisely this and still cannot meet its own demand. There are also a number of other customs mechanisms that Brexit could potentially impact for Airbus. Hard Brexiteers are being cavalier with tens of thousands of highly paid jobs that Deeside and Bristol depend on.

In a lot of respects the threat of an ultra hard Brexit is already slim and we would only end up with a WTO option Brexit if both sides made a monumental pigs ear of it. A lot of the histrionics are entirely unnecessary. We are seeking a negotiated exit and the concerns of the banks and large manufacturers like Nissan and Airbus will be heeded. We are looking at a considerable level of regulatory convergence and it is a certainty that we will remain more integrated than most Brexiteers would like. The obvious point for me is that seeking an agreement other than the EEA is futile and dangerous.

One of the most compelling reasons to leave the EU, the customs union especially, is that the EU takes several years to conclude comprehensive trade deals. There is no reason to believe that our Brexit deal would be any different. All the while we would remain in the EU, increasing uncertainty and running the risk of being sucked back in. The EEA represents the best shortcut to leaving while covering all the necessary bases that companies like Airbus need to continue investing in the UK.

Ultimately we voted to end the supremacy of the EU and to end the political union. A soft Brexit would very much achieve this from the very outset. We would still adopt some rules from the EU but we do retain the right to say no (unlike EU membership) - and if "taking back control of our laws" is what motivates you then the right to say no is that exact control.

The way things are now, and the way trade works, there will never be a time when we are not adopting rules and standards from global and regional bodies, and the only way to end that is to be fully isolationist. That is the one thing all leavers said we wouldn't be - so it's time to make good on our own rhetoric and accept that soft Brexit is sufficient for the time being. There is no perfect Brexit settlement and holding out for perfect when adequate will do would be an act of self-sabotage on the part of leavers that we will all live to regret.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Lite blogging

There are some days where I really don't want to write a blog and this is one of them. You would think I had something to say about the Supreme Court shenanigans but I'm struggling to care. The reason being that one way or another we are leaving the EU. Either Mrs May wins her appeal or she doesn't, in which case it goes to parliament.

If the latter is the case then Labour's opposition is largely ineffectual and it's difficult to see how parliament can bind Mrs May in any negotiations. There is an outside chance that they could frustrate the process but I don't fancy their chances come the next general election. If you're after worthwhile commentary I would suggest you go here.

The real news of the day is the news that Liam Fox will pursue a copy and paste approach to the WTO schedule dilemma. The first sign of sanity yet. Meanwhile, Johnson and Davis are in talks with Norway. Borg Brende is spinning his usual myths. You have no idea how much I don't want to write another article about Norway so here's one of the seventeen million I have already written.

Hopefully back on form soon. This week I am tasked with the dismal job of earning a living. Has to be done I'm afraid.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Nick Clegg paradox


When it comes to a grasp of the issues, Nick Clegg is about 90% there. But on this particular matter, 90% might as well be 0%. There are certain key nuances to the EEA which change the entire nature of the debate and because he speaks only from a remain perspective, and because he is on record repeating the many myths about the Norway Option, it makes Nick Clegg the very worst possible defender of it.

Clegg alludes to the fact that freedom of movement is not set in stone but fails to point out that the EEA rulebook is considerably thinner than the EU acquis. He also fails to point out the globalisation aspect and sees the EEA as a backwater rather than a springboard.

And that is a problem if the Lib Dems are setting themselves up as the voice of the obstructionist remainers. It pretty much makes the EEA politically toxic. The option itself is hated among the majority of leavers, not least because they have, hook, line and sinker, bought the remainer narratives about it.

That puts us all in very dangerous territory. It forces the government to double down on seeking any solution but the EEA and consequently has them fumbling around in the dark for something politically palatable when the options are few. What that likely means is further delay and an attempt to bring about some kind of bespoke agreement that is the EEA in all but name.

But at this point we have to remind ourselves that much of this speculation is done without any reference to what the EU might do and what it is prepared to tolerate. When it devotes several years to large and comprehensive trade deals, one would be surprised if the EU is willing to let something like Brexit drag on forever. It could be that the EU bails us out by offering us an ultimatum of EEA or nothing. That is now our best hope.

The necessary point to make is that if we seek a bespoke deal then we are looking at extensive talks where we go well beyond the negotiating period as mandated by Article 50, the consequence of that being that we remain in the EU the whole time, opening up many opportunities for talks to fail and for the whole Brexit enterprise to fall flat. It is in the interests of Brexiteers to take what they can in order to get out then worry about the rest later.

If the EU does not now box us into the EEA, I can see us making a total pigs ear of Brexit. According to the Times, the Brexit department is giving some consideration to the moonshine nonsense of Shanker Singham of the Legatum Institute. Unless there are adults in the room to pour cold water on this wishful thinking of a "prosperity zone" encompassing English speaking nations, along with an unspecified Brexit settlement, we will end up having to hit the pause button half way through and go back to the drawing board for an emergency patch.

However, there is also the distinct possibility that this is a Legatum Institute PR stunt, whereby "the government is considering" means their nonsense report is stacked on a desk with a dozen others. Until Mrs May comes out with a definitive statement on her negotiating position, there is nothing to fix the debate, leaving it wide open to rumour and snake-oil nostrums.

My bet for the moment is that the government is still intent on keeping tight lipped over the single market and there is a strict embargo on any kind of leak to that effect. It really feels to me like the key ministers are no closer to having a clue and even Theresa May is not nearly as informed as she needs to be. They are not up to the job - and we are in really serious trouble if the closest thing we have to informed is Nick Clegg.

That said, I still think we are set for a soft Brexit. Whether Brexiteers like it or not, they have a bitter pill to swallow eventually. We're just waiting for the government to decide what to call it.

Yes, the single market sucks. Here's why we should stay in


This week on the blog has been almost entirely devoted to the matter of the single market and our continued membership of it. It has been my aim to cover as many bases from as many angles as possible. If anything it will save me from further repeating myself. One thing I have learned though is that the response to them on Twitter invariably comes from those not inclined to read such articles before commenting so I am, for the most part, wasting my time.

Those who do insist that we should leave, again without bothering to read my arguments then present me with the usual fluff from Civitas and various mainstream media sources. Typically the Telegraph and City AM. It is interesting that they decry mainstream media most of the time, except for those occasions when it reinforces their beliefs.

In terms of the specific criticisms made, there is very little to argue. The single market most definitely is bureaucratic and expensive and in some respects deeply corrupt and overly centralised. Less so as a non-EU member but all the same, if you were starting from scratch you would first look at other ways of achieving the same thing. The single market is very much a legacy project.

I take the view that we should never have joined it. The reality though is that we did join it and experienced a good deal of pain to reach a state of compliance. Now that we have, we do not want to repeat the pain of remodelling to an entirely new regulatory regime, not least when it would add very little value. Now we are tasked with making good of what we have.

Just the act of leaving the EU ditches a lot of the unnecessary supranational nonsense that we will all be glad to see the back of, and if we stay in the EEA what we would be left with is just those parts necessary for the functioning of the European trade system - the single market.

The core of that regulation is no longer strictly EU law. During the referendum we hear all manner of nonsense about Norway being subject to "fax democracy"- waiting by the fax to be told by Brussels what the rules are. This was never true. It's amazing that so many on the leave side have swallowed it wholesale since it is a piece of remainder propaganda. Norway has always had the means of opting out and decisions are arrived at through the EEA secretariat.

What is less noted is that the EU goes through much the same process in the creation of its own technical rules. This blog has rehearsed those issues too many times to count, but the fact is that most of the rules pertaining to just about every corner of the economy you can think of come from international regulatory forums where the EU is just as much a rule taker as everybody else. Where there isn't a global standard, the EU standard becomes the global standard and vice versa.

While the legacy body of law is very much rooted in the EU, moving forward the rules we would adopt via the EU would be rules we would adopt in any configuration, in or out of the single market. This is why the oft repeated myth that Norway has no say is trite piece of spin. Norway is very much involved in the process at the top tables before law gets anywhere near the EU - many tiers above the European Parliament. Norway is then able to vote of its own accord and is able to veto any modifications made by the EU when it comes to direct adoption.

As eureferendum.com notes, entirely of its own volition, Brussels has ceded legislative authority over vehicle construction and safety, and on vegetable and fruit marketing standards, and is now a law-taker in these spheres. It has not made new laws here for many years.

Add to this the WTO TBT and SPS agreements, and the Vienna and Dresden agreements on standards, and we see that much more of the Single Market acquis has been ceded to regional and global organisations – to say nothing of the global nature of financial services legislation. For all that has been written about the single market over the last two years this is one facet of the debate that mainstream interests steadfastly refuse to acknowledge.

And in case you need that spelling out, that means we are witnessing the emergence of a global single market with the WTO acting as a central arbitration mechanism. One other body, less spoken of, but equal in stature is the World Customs Organisation which is devoted to enhancing systems for customs cooperation, and in the fullness of time will make the EU entirely redundant. To depart from the European single market in order to set about regulatory divergence would in fact be akin with pulling out of a global system of rules devoted to free trade.

In this you might wonder why we should keep the EU as an intermediary. The obvious answer is we shouldn't, but at the same time there is no particular rush. I would ask why go through all the pain of detaching ourselves when the EU is gradually dissolving its own authority as the global system matures? 

In the meantime, our strategy should be to use our foreign and aid policy to bring developing nations up to the global standard, using our own expertise so that we build a core of allies well disposed toward the UK for when we have major disagreement with the EU at the top tables.

In a lot of ways the EU debate is entirely obsolete and has been upscaled to the global level. This is a lesser acknowledged element of globalisation that few, even in the big leagues, pay any attention to. The ever narrow hang ups about the UKs continued membership of the single market do not take into account the direction of travel and unjustly occupies too much of our attention. 

In more ways than one there is no urgency in leaving the single market. We have already severely weakened the EU by voting to leave. The rump EU is going to have to think very carefully about its own future and whether it can continue with its current DNA. There are stresses and fragmentations happening Europe wide where the EU might well be forced to become an entirely different animal. The federalist ambitions will go into the dustbin. I think it's just a waiting game. 

When that happens we will see the EUs trade exclusivity obliterated as more nations demand special conditions and exemptions and realise Britains model is in fact superior. We are often told that the Norway Option is suboptimal, and indeed it is, but it is a question of what we can evolve it into and how we can exploit it to our advantage. If we're canny about it, we can shape the single market in ways we never could as EU members while enjoying an unprecedented right of refusal. Who knows, by the end of the process, we might have the European free trade zone we should have had to begin with!

We heard all the baloney during the referendum that we should stay in the EU and help reform it. That was always a nonsense. The structure of the EU was designed from inception to resist any such reforms. The founding fathers knew full well it would one day face such a test. The single market, however, is not the property of the EU, it is fluid and is slipping out of the EUs control. We can give it a helping hand to become bigger and better, and there's nothing the EU can do to stop us. Why would we pass up an opportunity like that?

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Brexit: a question of visions


Whether or Brits knew what they were voting for really depends which prism you look through. On the more superficial level voters knew they were voting to leave the EU. For the most part they were voting to end the EUs supremacy over the UK and to restore full sovereignty. This we take to mean control of our laws, borders and budgets.

Based on the information in the public domain; that put forth by the media and that which both campaigns specified, this included leaving the single market. I'm not going to pretend for a moment it is any other way. I could, with a degree of sophistry make a convincing case to the contrary, but there is plenty on record, in terms of what both campaigns said, and in terms of what the public understands the single market to be, that leaving the single market was part of the deal.

That was not, however, any mention of a timescale. The government has a mandate to leave the EU and the single market. In the first instance there can be no dispute that, as a matter of fact, the majority voted to leave. Since I am not playing silly buggers, I do not accept the inclusion of those who could not be bothered to vote in any estimation. Such is the domain of bigots like AC Grayling.

And while you could make the case that a vote to leave is a vote to leave and that largely implies as soon as possible, the feasibility of full separation in a single bound is somewhere around nil.

The hard Brexiteer position is that because we would transpose European law onto our own statute book, it is only a matter of forging a conformity agreement and a deal on tariffs, without addressing the multitude of other issues which are equal in stature. The mistake is the belief that the sundries are merely an after thought and not an essential component of a sophisticated trade system. When confronted with the complexities they offer up simplistic solutions based on half understood notions, in a field which already confounds some of the best expertise in the land.

I am now of the view that no single individual short of a superhuman can have a comprehensive grasp of every area of concern. There are trade negotiators who will have an in depth insight into patent law and those who will have a deep understanding of banking regulation but each of these specialists will have little idea how that relates to customs systems and the free movement of goods, nor will a constitutional expert have much insight into how the day to day application of regulation works.

Then there are economists who can bore for Britain on the subject of tariffs and trade imbalances but theirs is a narrow field which seldom ever crosses over into the political and the practical and it seems uniformly that economists have a blind spot for the practical purpose of regulation. This is not solely an affliction of those on the leave side.

So that then brings about a deeply technical and political question of how we leave the EU. In that, what people didn't vote for is every but as important as what they did vote for. What I am pretty certain most did not vote for is the entire trade system grinding to a halt and airliners being refused boarding permission. So straight off the bat we can discount any unilateral moves.

And though people might have voted to control immigration they did not vote for measures that would necessarily restrict their freedom to travel. I would also imagine that people voted with the idea that food prices would come down and not go up. So we are now very much into the realm of guesswork where it becomes deeply political, with claim and counterclaim over what each course of action is likely to achieve. The only legitimate arbiter of this can be the elected government.

That puts the government in the unenviable position of having to reconcile a number of impractical and in some cases unreasonable demands with political and economic reality. While Mrs May would find it very easy to placate the lunatic fringe of her party she would enrage the house of commons and at least half of the population. Though it would be popular with the most vocal of Brexiteers, the actual real world consequences would be popular with no-one at all.

Similarly, were Mrs May to take the path of least resistance, staying in the customs union she would quickly find herself looking for another job. It is therefore an absolute certainty that Mrs May must make a deeply unpopular choice that will please neither extreme. As it happens, that's usually a sign that you are doing the right thing. The media may howl and moan, but they will highlight the deficiencies of any deal on the table and will take great pleasure in stoking up protest.

The majority though, are those who are going about their business and getting on with it and expect Mrs May to do the same. The most vocal in this are those most keen on impressing their narrow ideology on all of us and those are the people best ignored. What we can take as read is that most reasonable people want an orderly transition out of the EU without interrupting normal business too much and not in a fashion that could threaten their jobs.

In this we have started to see a softened line from the remainers, with even Chuka Umunna calling for an end to calls for a second referendum. That is indeed progress. If the very worst of the worst can agree that we must move forward on the verdict without further delay then we can now begin to seek out a consensus.

And that really has to be how we must play it. We cannot airbrush remainers out of this equation since they make up roughly half the country. Had Vote Leave produced a plan and not run such an odious campaing based on a number of falsehoods and fabrications they would have more of a say but as every effort was made to avoid having a plan, it follows that Vote Leave Ltd don't get a say.

The short of it is that none of us ever gets all that we voted for. That is a facet of any democracy and it is unrealistic to expect that every demand can be met. We can only take a particular step if there is a clear and obvious rationale for doing so, and thus far, the case made for leaving the single market is shockingly thin and is unlikely to deliver the outcomes expected of it.

As much as Brexit is a process, so is democracy. By leaving the EU we are in the very first instance ending the supremacy of the EU and terminating political union. That is the very essence of eurosceptic demands - which will be met at the end of the Article 50 process. That is the political aim we have all shared for many years. The economic agenda though is far less clear cut.

The economic visions have yet to be defined and that is a national debate we must have not only before Article 50 is triggered, but also for a long time afterward. In this the hard Brexiteers have some soul searching to do. They tell us that they seek a global Britain based on free trade and openness, yet their first demand is that we erect extensive non-tariff barriers with our nearest and most valuable trading partner. This combined with substantially closing off freedom of movement is entirely incompatible with their own rhetoric.

Further to this we hear more and more talk of protecting our own industries from competition, subsiding businesses to stay in the UK and a number of other measures that are antithetical to economic liberalism. Though this can be expected of Ukip, which is drifting ever more to the old left, the Tory right, supposedly economic liberals, seem to be undergoing a metamorphosis to something else entirely.

Of course we know the real answer to this question. The eurosceptic narrative has not reformed in more than twenty years and the arguments are determinedly bogged down in the matter of tariffs which are no longer central to the debate. We are dealing with dinosaurs in every respect. Throwbacks to the Thatcher era.

There was a time when I fully supported this agenda but really one has to change when the facts do. Since much of eurosceptic thinking is founded on articles of faith, they are unable to slaughter their sacred cows even if that endangers the entire Brexit enterprise.

In the modern era, being truly open and economically liberal requires continued regulatory harmonisation which is more essential to the proper functioning of trade than eliminating tariffs. To that end our ambition should be to equalise all other relationships and bring them up to single market standard. We can already do this with a number of developed nations who are already operating to the global standard, but we can also use our economic development budget to bring developing countries up to single market standard and in so doing challenge the EUs dominance of the single market.

That is what our mission must be and for a time that requires that we stay in the single market so that we can evolve it and make it so that leaving it is entirely unnecessary. That is the global leadership Britain has always shown and that is what I voted for. Instead, the old school eurosceptics are effectively offering up a dismal introverted vision of Britain which doesn't cooperate on regulations or standards and lives in a closed and claustrophobic world of its own. As a Brexiteer I most certainly did not vote for that. That is an even narrower vision than the European Union.

How to stop being wrong about the single market


I have become increasingly annoyed with repeated assertion that staying in the single market is not Brexit. The insistence that we must leave it comes from hardline Brexiteers who believe that taking control of our laws and immigration requires that we leave. This is actually a testament to how effective the remainer propaganda has been. Few believe the nonsense put our by Vote Leave because of their flagship campaign slogan, the infamous £350m, yet untruths about the single market survive in tact.

This is not helped because neither these remain camp nor the leavers are in any rush to challenge this mythology. Particularly those leavers who are only too happy to see us leave the single market.

In order to bring clarity to this we must first set out a few definitions. The single market is, broadly speaking, an area of common regulation and customs cooperation. Those wanting a more precise definition would do well to read the recent Leave Alliance monograph.

The single market comprises of the EU member states and those countries in the European Economic Area (Norway etc), who are categorically not in the EU. In that regard the single market is a cooperative venture and though it is heavily influenced by the EU, it is not the property of the EU. The EUs own internal market is what belongs to them.

The EU internal market is the foundation of common regulation with a good deal more added which makes up the EUs overall body of law. It expends well beyond what is required for the fee movement of good and services. That is what we are leaving.

In that regard, the EEA was developed as an interface to the EUs internal market as a basis for close cooperation. Decisions regarding the functioning of the overall single market are made by a process of co-determination. Despite what has been said, EEA members are not under ECJ jurisdiction.

The question therefore, is what would happen if we did leave the single market as well as the EU. Immediately it would have a detrimental effect on trade since we would no longer enjoy the free movement of goods. There is more to it that simply dropping tariffs.

A better question is what we would gain from it leaving the single market. If we are talking about taking back control of our own laws then we would have that within the single market. From the very first day of Brexit a number of powers are returned to us over multiple policy areas including trade, aid, agriculture, fishing, home affairs, employment, justice, foreign and defence. The only real gain in leaving the single market is the ability to depart from the technical regulations that allow for free movement of goods inside the single market.

That puts us in the position of producing goods for the domestic market and running a separate production line to meet the export standard - to no commercial advantage. This is further complicated by way of the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade which compels us to adopt all of the global technical standards and regulations. Without which we could not export at all.

We would, by way of conforming to the global standard, also be nominally EU compliant. In other words we would be making the same things to the same standard, but out of the single market there would be no formal recognition of this, thus would have to pay tariffs to export the same goods. The only way to avoid tariffs is to be formally compliant - ie be in the single market or similar.

Personally I can see no real value in leaving it. It is unlikely that most Brexiteers able to identify any specific sets of base level single market regulation they would change, and if they could it is doubtful that which they do identify would, on balance, make leaving the single market worth the trouble.

The only tangible benefit to leaving the single market is an eventual reduction in payments to the EU. Hard Brexiteers believe these payments are merely a market entry fee and thus extortion, since other countries with access to the single market do not pay. Except that payments to the EU go toward a network of decentralised agencies which are essential to the functioning of a sophisticated trading system. We pay because there is every advantage in cooperating to ensure the safe passage of goods.

The other reason we pay is because Europe is our closest neighbour and customs cooperation costs money. Hard Brexiteers have it that neither Canada or the US pays to have access but then we are not their closest neighbours and have no hard borders with us. The US and Canada spend vast sums on customs cooperation between them for the same reasons the EU does. The idea that free passage of goods happens without extensive expenditure is for the birds.

Consequently, if we did leave the single market we would have to spend the money on domestic enforcement of standards and we would have to beef up our ports and customs. That means not a single cent of the comparative pittance we send to the EU is going to go anywhere near the NHS.

So all things considered there is not a lot to be gained by leaving the single market. The bone of contention seems to be immigration or rather the free movement of people. In this, many are all too ready to believe that freedom of movement is non-negotiable. Nothing in international politics is non-negotiable and there are precedents which establish that there is flexibility in how we manage immigration in the single market.

If it follows that we would want free movement of goods, then it follows that we would want, to a degree, free movement of people. If I produced a specialist airline component of a scientific instrument I would want to send specialist technicians to aid in their installation. Were I not able to secure a base level of free movement without having to fill in forms in advance I would likely lose business. An element of free movement is essential to the functioning of a free market.

What has people concerned is the threat of large scale unchecked immigration exploiting single market freedom of movement. The principle of freedom of movement was established a long time ago before the advent of a global migration crisis. This is made all the more acute by the war raging in Syria. Having had a number of troubling images beamed at them, voters are worried.

But what we must note is that if we really did have open borders with Europe then the camp at Calais simply wouldn't exist and there wouldn't be an enormous fence. Britain already has agreements whihc prevent non-EU citizens making it to our shores and for the most part they are successful. The maintenance of which does not come for free - one should note.

It is these images which have been exploited by the media, presenting the more egregious symptoms of the crisis as a large scale looming threat which could destabilise the country. That is a nonsense. The basis of the objection is the nationwide institutional memory from the Labour years where there were sudden influxes from accession states. Such is not to be repeated. What one would not is that assimilation happened fairly quickly and for the most part is less of a problem than thought. The main concern is non-EU immigration.

The questions is whether we should let a false narrative concocted by the media influence our policy making. In a perfect world we would not but in the real world the issue is politically sensitive and we must take such feelings into account - not least since the working classes are the ones most likely to feel the negative externalities of immigration.

In that regard there is nothing stopping us coming up with a modified proposal in order to stay in the single market, which would likely be accepted since leaving the single market also has considerable costs to the EU. It should also be noted that the devaluation of the pound will have more of an impact on casual movements of labour than any single policy. 

The short of it is that absolute control of our laws is neither practical or necessary and the act of leaving the EU without leaving the single market returns all the powers that matter. In terms of customs codes and trade we become an independent country in our own right and political union comes to an end. That is what I voted for and see no reason to go to the further trouble of leaving the single market when the advantages are so few and so marginal.

Even if we do leave the single market, there will necessarily needs to be a high level of regulatory harmonisation and a convergence of customs systems and even if we were to revert to the state we were at before freedom of movement, that was still a considerably liberal system.

Thus, any arrangement we negotiate would have to aim to me very similar to single market membership. Those who would have us break away entire need to explain why the extended uncertainty is worth the trouble. The EEA agreement took eight years to fully agree and it is unlikely that we could build a similar bespoke agreement in less time.

It should be noted that we could not leave the EU until such a time as an agreement had been secured - and so insisting that we aim for a bespoke agreement sees us remaining in the EU for longer, increasing the risk of talks collapsing and increasing the risk of staying in the EU. In that regard it is deeply ironic that remainers should now be pushing for the single market while the Brexit headcases are doing their bit to keep us in for longer.

It is sad to see that this debate, for all the volumes that have been written on the subject is still marred by a fog of incomprehension. In this, it is easy to see where the fault lies. To understand a beast as complex as the EU one must break it down into its constituent parts. As with any problem you have to understanding the distinct elements. There has been a deliberate conflation of the issues from day one.

Most of the supposed advantages of the EU are in fact the consequences of economic and technical, not political integration. It has never been the case that we needed be a subordinate to a supreme government of Europe to enjoy the freedoms we have. Politicians have sought to conflate the EU with the single market in order to sow confusion. It has worked. The result being a debate mire by misapprehension with each side doing the other's work for them. I have never known anything quite so bizarre.

In that regard, the lie that is central to this confusion - that the EU is the single market - is far greater than a marketing slogan on the side of a bus. Worse still it distracts us from the reason we are even leaving the EU. Our political union with the EU is the very thing that prevents us nurturing the same level of economic and technical integration with other countries as we have with Europe.

Because the EU functions as a bloc, it tries and fails to advance that agenda, but is held back by the lack of a common position inside Europe. This is why TTIP is most likely dead and CETA is no foregone conclusion. The confusion that exists over the single market is magnified many times across the entire continent and beyond.

As eureferendum.com notes, we cannot afford to be bogged down in this debate over the first steps of Brexit. This interminable squabbling is clouding the bigger picture and losing sight of the fact that single market membership is only a stepping stone to our full departure, whereby we can use our independence to evolve the single market and make it wider and more inclusive. It is not the sole property of the EU and outside the EU, possibly as part of Efta, we can restore the regional balance as well as kick starting out stagnant export sector.

The hang ups about the single market are really the domain of political nerds. The public has only a thin grasp of what it really means. We have media that is not interested in informing the public and lacks the capacity to do so. In all this our sense of purpose is lost and and we risk embarking on a Brexit that is not instrumental to a longer term vision.

That is ultimately the consequence of campaigning for Brexit without a plan, campaigning for a departure rather than a destination. If the government is unable to find that clarity of vision then we should at the very least stay in the single market until such a time where we can see a way forward. Anything else would be a wanton act of political vandalsim.

It's time to ignore the Brexit headbangers


Over the last week or so I have produced a series of articles making the case that we need the single market as part of our departure agreement. Such invites howls of rage from Ukippers. It doesn't matter how clearly and concisely you make the case, you simply cannot get them to engage in reality. If you can get them to even read the article before they go off on one then you're doing well.

But then we've had this from the right of the Tory party as well. People who don't know and don't want to know. There is no reasoning with the unreasonable. And that is why the hard Brexiteers should be ignored. There is no reason why they should be indulged on any level. If they are not even open to discourse, and if they are not interested in reaching agreement then they have absented themselves from the debate.

We should treat this the same as not voting at all. Not voting is a conscious choice. If you don't vote then you resign yourself to the decision that others make in your name. The same dynamic applies in finding a path out of the EU. There are those who would have us negotiate a bespoke deal and there are those who are pushing for an association agreement. I profoundly disagree with what they propose but at least they are making a case of their own rather than demanding the impossible and the improbable.

The fact is the government cannot entertain the ideas of the hard right. Not even slightly. They are so out there that there is no conversation to be had. It is driven entirely by emotion and wilful ignorance. It is nothing more than a tantrum from religious fanatics. We would do ourselves a disservice to even acknowledge it.

By now we know certain things about the direction Brexit will take. We know that we will use Article 50. We know that we will transpose a large tranche of EU law onto our own books. That tells us that we will seek a mutual recognition agreement on standards at the very least. But then we know that there are supplementary aspects to this which must be taken into account and they will be.

We do not know how far the government has progressed in identifying all the areas for debate and discussion but we do know that list will be thorough by the time it is compiled. We know there will be a mixed bag of priority concerns in which we will seek continuity, not least on tariffs and border checks. We know that the government is not seeking to erect new barriers to trade. In this we must take Mrs May at her word when she says she seeks the maximum possible access to the single market.

The only thing we don't know is whether or not it has yet dawned on the government that we need most of what is presently in place to continue on the same basis in order to safeguard the economy. The banks have made their thoughts clear and so has the automotive industry. Yesterday the British Banking Association suggested that banks will leave unless Brexit is staggered over a number of years. That is how it will likely play out. I cannot imagine any other constructive way to do it.

By the time we have compiled our list of ongoing concerns it will, by function if not by name, be as close to single market membership as it gets. The only question is how we bundle it up and what name we give to it - and whether the government realises it has a get out of jail free card in the European Economic Area.

That is really what this debate is about. We can either expose ourselves to a great deal of risk and uncertainty to achive more or less the same thing or we can bite the bullet and take the politically unpopular option. In this, though the single market may be the least popular option, it is preferable to the alternatives which would be profoundly unpopular in practice. The government should take no notice of the protests. Governments in the past have not been deterred from taking unpopular decisions in relation to Europe. Why should doing the same bother them now?

The only absolute certainty in this is that we will not be taking the advice of hard Brexiteers. They have nothing of value to offer and they are not saying anything worth hearing. They have studiously avoided presenting a plan of any kind, and in place of one have depended heavily on petulant outbursts, none of which can be taken seriously.

In the final analysis Mrs May has no need to consult them. She has enough remainers in the house of commons on her side to carry her through and at last polling the extremists could barely scratch a single MP. They now have no real leverage, their protest party is a shattered husk, their funding dried up and their activist base dispersed. Mrs May can do as she pleases, and it's about time she did.

The Brexiteer MPs have shown themselves to be lacking a solitary clue between them, Johnson has exposed himself as a flim flam artist, Fox a fool and Davis as a puppet. The rest of them are the dregs of right - the no-hopers whose careers are behind them. It's time for Mrs May to put them in their place. Britain did not vote for what they propose. Nobody sane wants to slam the door on Europe and nobody believes their panglossian nonsense. The PM needs to put her foot down. This has gone on far too long.

A speech for Mrs May


It seems to me that the government is trying to avoid the one get out of jail free card they have because politically it is unpalatable. This is a mess of their own making. The only way out is to show some political backbone. 

Mrs May has stated that she does not seek an off the shelf solution, but that was before certain realities came to light. Now she is painted into a corner. Her only way out now is to stand up to her sizeable lunatic fringe and save face with the electorate. To that end I have written a speech she would do well to give. 
___

Brexit means Brexit. By a small but decisive margin Britain has voted to leave the EU. That decision has sharply divided the country. The question is now one of how we move forward together while honouring that verdict.

For whatever reasons, one thing that unites those who voted to leave is the belief that Britain must be an independent sovereign nation. But those who voted to remain value the open relations we share with our European allies. There is no reason why Britain cannot be both sovereign and open.

To that end, we must seek to reconcile the irreconcilable. It starts with the recognition that Brexit is a process, not an event. Forty years of social, political and economic integration is not undone overnight. It will take many years to complete the process. In the execution of this we must reassure our allies that we are open for business. We must end the uncertainty.

When I first said that Brexit means Brexit I said that we would seek a British option. That has not changed. But there is a momentous task ahead of us with only a short time to negotiate. That means we will need a number of transitional measures. Our most important goal is to ensure that we retain the best possible access to the single market for our goods and services.

Consequently Britain will seek to retain membership of the European Economic Area until such a time where we have prepared the ground for our eventual departure from the single market.

From the very first day of Brexit a number of powers are returned to us over multiple policy areas including trade, aid, agriculture, fishing, home affairs, employment, justice, foreign and defence. Before we can take on these responsibilities we will need to prepare the ground and rebuild our domestic capabilities. For that reason we will negotiate a number of interim measures to allow for the safe handover of powers.

In this we recognise that many who voted to leave seek an end to freedom of movement. We have to respect that. There are a number of precedents that says we can change the nature of it. But we should also be mindful that Britain prospers by having a liberal arrangement with the EU and we would never want to be closed off from our friends, colleagues and family. We will seek to negotiate a fair settlement. We do not accept that anything is non-negotiable.

There are those who would have us slam the door on Europe. That is not in our interests and that would be counter to all of our best traditions. We seek the best of relations with our European neighbours in all things. We will continue to cooperate on a number of platforms in several areas of policy. To that end we will make a fair financial contribution in those areas where working together brings the best value for Britain.

In any relationship there must be compromise. Give and take. In respect of that we will maintain a degree of regulatory compatibility and we will, by mutual agreement, seek out areas of common practice. But this does not mean giving up our sovereignty. 

Sovereignty means many things to many people. In this context it ultimately means the right to say no. And it is on that principle which we voted to leave. But we should also note, in the spirit of cooperation that just because we can say no, it does not mean we always will. We must still seek out a common path for peace and security in Europe and tackle those threats to our common values of democracy, free speech and friendship.

Brexit is a question of forging a new relationship with Europe. One that is built on mutual respect - as a partner not a member. Britain must find its own path in the world seeking permission from no-one to act in its own interests. It is the feeling of the electorate that the EU is not the means through which we can achieve our goals. By leaving we can be a better friend to the EU, acting in support on the global stage when we need to but standing our ground when necessary.

We intend to seek a settlement that will allow us to be that close ally. We will seek to safeguard good relations, recognising the massive contribution EU citizens have made to our economic and social life. In this we will be firm but fair. We know we won't get all that we want, and it would be wrong to suggest otherwise, but we will achieve an agreement that restores Britain as an independent nation.

Our goal must be to bring about an amicable agreement that will settle a long running dispute, not just with Europe but within the country as well. This is an issue that has plagued several administrations and it is long past the time we brought resolution to it. It's time to part with the past and begin building a new Britain, healing the rifts and uniting the country.

Beyond Brexit we must once again show leadership and demonstrate that peace and prosperity is achieved through openness and cooperation. We will take our place alongside the EU in all of the global institutions and we will speak in our own name in our own right. We will show that Britain is ready to do business and that we seek the same level of friendship with others as we have with Europe. What we have achieved in Europe we will export to the world, and once again be a Britain we can all take pride in. 

Like it or not, we need the single market


If you want goods to travel across borders without delays there must be an understanding that goods conform to a certain standard. For goods to be certified there must be standards, audits and inspections. Goods are made to a standard so that manufacturers and producers become trusted operators. That is how they are able to transport goods anywhere in the single market.

Standards and regulations are not plucked out of the air. They are the product of many years of development drawing on the best expertise available. Enforcement of these standards requires a large estate of inspectors and testers. The surveillance systems that safeguard against fraudulent or harmful goods is what allows us to buy with confidence.

Having established these systems we have sophisticated supply chains whereby hazards are removed and consequently insurances are cheaper. And though this creates a good deal of paperwork, most of which is now electronic, the costs are manageable compared with a free for all whereby anything can be shipped regardless of how potentially dangerous it is.

We have these systems to ensure that electrical goods meet certain safety standards. Because of this, instances of house fires have plummeted over the last twenty years and are now a rarity. It is also the reason childrens toys do not have lead, formaldehyde and other dangerous substances in them.

In this, there is good money in circumventing these systems and fraudulent goods can make it on to our shelves. It is only because we have a Europe wide surveilance system that we manage to stop the counterfeiters. We are actually quite good at it now. Food fraud, using relabelled condemned produce would otherwise be a serious problem. There are similar systems in place to prevent harmful medicines and banned products entering the supply chain. It is also the reason we have safe cars on our roads and your chances of surviving a serious incident have never been better.

But this could only happen through a sophisticated network of customs cooperation, linking in with laboratories and policing agencies and standards bodies. This is why the EU has a number of decentralised agencies, some of which are based here in the UK. In order to integrate with the EU we have closed down much of our domestic capacity in order to do it on a joint basis. We have leases, we have future commitments and ongoing projects. All of this could be considered as part of the single market - the most sophisticated trading system of its type.

There are two things one immediately notes about this system. First that none of this comes for free. This is why we pay into the EU budget. The second thing to note is that were we to withdraw from this system, as indeed many on the leave side propose, we would have to set about a number of corporate scale de-mergers. In order to "take back control" we would first have to rebuild our domestic capacity.

But then there some other considerations. In some respects, not least the automotive sector, there is no value whatsoever in "taking back control". We have pooled resources to avoid expensive duplication. Since we will never set about developing a unique regulatory regime for UK vehicles, requiring a duplicate production line, there is no point in breaking away from European and global cooperation programmes.

What we can reasonably expect from Brexit is that it will take quite a long time to organise and plan - and that we will wish to continue particpation in a number of major endeavours. Norway does and so does Israel. And in this we cannot assume that any of it will come for free. Why should it?

And since we will want to continue sending goods over borders without being stopped for inspection and without paying tariffs, it stands to reason that we would want an extensive agreement with the EU. Before embarking on such an undertaking we would first have to define those areas where continued cooperation is in our best interests and those areas where we wish to "take back control".

What we must keep in mind is that in those areas where we do take back control there is a penalty for disengaging with the EU and if we do then we must pay to do our own thing while, for a time, paying to honour our previous commitments. Simply ripping up contracts and agreements is not an option.

In this there has been no serious analysis from the mainstream leavers largely because they think leaving the EU is as simple as knocking up a quick agreement on tariffs and going on our merry way to sunlit uplands. Consequently, they themselves cannot name which areas we would wish to continue particpation in because you can't even get them to acknowledge these issues exist.

What they would find if they did any such analysis is that it is in our best interests to maintain most of what we now call the single market, jettisoning only a number of peripherals which offend conservative sensibilities. I cannot imagine any circumstance where we might wish to continue participation in the European Institute foe Gender Equality, but that's just me. I can however see a strong case for continued participation in the European Medicines Agency along with our common aviation and space efforts.

Whether the EU is of a mind to let us pick and choose is the real question. They already have a comprehensive framework for non members to interface with the single market. The EEA. Why would they wish to negotiate another one specifically for the UK when the EEA agreement took eight years? The system is flexible enough for us to negotiate country specific protocols, so why even bother scrabbling for alternatives?

And if it follows that we would want free movement of goods, then it follows that we would want, to a degree, free movement of people. If I produced a specialist airline component of a scientific instrument I would want to send specialist technicians to aid in their installation. There would be exceptions and exemptions with regard to citizenship rights but an element of free movement is essential to the functioning of a free market.

Whether you like it or not the answer is staring us in the face. We must maintain single market membership for the short to mid term - and even in the long term a high level of cooperation and integration is both necessary and desirable. Anything else is just the politics of of the wilfully ignorant.

Whether or not Brexiteers demand that we voted to leave the single market is neither here nor there. The fact is that we are already in it. What is done is not easily undone and certainly not in a hurry - and if we wish to retain hassle free trade with our closest neighbours then much of what we have built in terms of systems and physical assets must remain in place - and with that goes certain political and financial obligations.

The only way we can satisfy the hardline leavers is to pull the plug on all of it, all at once, shattering all good will with our neighbours and plunging our trade into chaos. Our economy would take a massive hit for no long term economic benefit, and it would ruin our standing internationally as well as well as turning our credit rating to junk status. Whatever you think it is you voted for, I'm pretty sure you didn't vote for that.

In this we have two choices. We can have a long drawn out messy divorce, where we remain in the EU until we have brokered a bespoke deal, or we can get our now with the EEA deal that is already available to us. If we opt for the former, there is a greater risk of talks collapsing and a greater risk of remaining in the EU with diminished standing within it. Pragmatism demands that we remain in the single market and if we wish to be further out we will have to gradually evolve out.

While leavers don't like the compromises the EEA requires of us, it stands on one virtue - that it is the fastest route to ending political union and minimises the danger of being sucked back in. From the very first day a number of powers are returned to us over multiple policy areas including trade, aid, agriculture, fishing, home affairs, employment, justice, foreign and defence policy. For now, I think that is sufficient.

Since none of what we pay will ever be spent on the NHS, and it was always the case, I have to ask what is it you so desperately want to take control over that you'd risk us staying in the EU? If making a few compromises now is what it takes, then that really is what we must do. If the Brexiteers wanted it some other way, they should have had a plan. Had they done so they would be in a better position to dictate terms. If now they don't like what is on offer, that is a mess of their own making. 

Friday, 2 December 2016

Brexit: austerity is a lazy excuse


Much though I have a special loathing for the Guardian I have a tolerance for John Harris. He has done something most of his colleagues have not done in a very long time. He has stepped outside the M25 and talked to working class voters. His short film is stylistically patronising, as though he were on an expedition into the hinterlands to meet the natives. There is something quite condescending about the man.  

What we can instantly see, which should come as no shock to anyone who doesn't work for the Guardian, that leave voters are not a bunch of slobbering fascists. Harris though has typically sought to seek out evidence of the generational divide and the subtext is that the reasons people voted to leave were not connected to the EU. He paints Brexit as an inchoate gripe against modernity.

Owen Jones is probably giddy with self-satisfaction at the thought that neoliberalism and austerity is responsible for Brexit. It isn't though. If you go strolling through a backwater housing estate in the shires you may get a snapshot of working class disaffection but it's never going to give you a complete picture.

The one revolution which is as much a curse as it is a miracle is the internet. Small town retail has zero chance of competing and thanks to the internet, though we decry the loss of libraries, the footfall tells another story. And we cannot say that this is austerity at work either. There is still plenty of money sloshing around in local authorities, it's just a matter of who is spending it and who gets to decide what it is spent on.

All too often spending priorities are dictated by central government along with the methods and processes. This is why we have generously salaried council CEOs running the show and not councillors. Further to this, largely as a result of Blairism, most social activity has been brought under the mantle of government, bureacratised and then destroyed. What isn't vanishing into public sector pensions is spent on maintaining corporate style administration in the name of efficiency.

But when councils make efficiencies what they mean is they are making civic administration more convenient for them, removing humans from the process. This isn't austerity or neoliberalism. This is just what happens when we attempt to legislate our way to prosperity - so that everything becomes and entitlement and everything must be monitored and registered and everything. Heaven forbid people might be allowed to spend their own money and organise for themselves.

The consequence of this is that councils spend more on IT consultancy than they do on maintaining the street furniture and all the details that make a place not look like it is long abandoned. The lazy narrative of austerity just doesn't cut it. Notwithstanding the financial crisis councils are still massively richer than they have been at any point prior to the crash, and if they were capable of organising themselves (and at liberty to do so) then we would see a lot of priorities change overnight.

Half the problem is that the money is taken out of the neighbourhoods it is supposed to serve. We have police and officials who don't even live in their own patch and consequently miss the basics and things are left to rot. The local knowledge is missing along with the institutional memory.

And of course thanks to stranger danger and the constant fear that everyone is a criminal or paedophile the idea of communities organising for themselves and maintaining their own facilities fills officialdom with dread. Consequently nothing ever gets done and nobody is ever to blame. "Tory austerity" is the convenient scapegoat.

Leftists watching John Harris's film will conclude that the thick plebs have voted for more austerity and that their gripes have nothing to do with the EU. But of course behind all this bureacratisation is regulation and directive, all of which is way out of reach should community groups want to change them. We have a system of government that was designed to edit the people out of decision making. Managerialism.

The problem with managerialism is that it is remote and it is money hungry. Nobody especially noticed when councils had more cash than they knew what to do with circa 2003-2008 but systems like that are vulnerable to even the smallest of cuts and you can but your left arm that bureaucrats will cut playground repairs before they slash their own worthless nonjobs.

As far as John Harris's film goes, you might conclude that voters didn't really know what they were voting for. I don't think that's true since Harris has carefully selected his cast. My experience is different. But let's take him on his own evidence. What these people do know is that they want change and voting in elections hasn't made a difference.

As yet we do not know what changes Brexit will bring. What we do know though is that it will require a root and branch reappraisal of how we do things at every level and local and national governments will have to make some hard choices. That may mean more cuts, but that might be what it takes for people to start fighting back. When that happens our politicians will no longer have the lazy excuse that they are not allowed to change the rules. The power will be in their hands.

Broadly speaking, on the evidence presented, the direct links to the EU are subtle and well hidden, but the EU is a symptom of a mentality in government and the EU is a very visible piece of a large system of governance - and the supreme authority at the centre of it. Brexit is a big step toward shortening the chain of accountability.

For years now we have seen newly restored local facilities plastered with EU flag plaques telling us how the munificent EU takes care of us. These are largely facilities that should have been maintained as a matter of course and would not have been allowed to slip into disrepair had the power not been revoked from the people in the first place.

Above all, if we take the film as an honest piece of journalism, people miss the days where there was a sense of community pride and valued facilities were not allowed to slide into disrepair. There was a shared sense of responsibility for common property and local official were accountable by name. Now that we have turned local government into regional development quangos there is no longer that sense of ownership and working for the council is just a job like any other office job. Being a council official is no different to working in a Green Flag call centre.

In this you can argue that leaving the EU is not a remedy to this, and indeed you will get no argument from me. Brexit is the catalyst for a much longer process of reform and renewal. It is only the first step to taking the power back. Power must be taken back form Brussels and London and indeed the council offices of Sleaford.

The link between the EU and the gradual hollowing out of public life and the centralisation of power is not incidental. The tentacles of the EU have crept into every area of governance and it puts a straitjacket on our local authorities. From waste disposal to house building, we are not at liberty to innovate. That has caused a gradual ossification of government eating at the morale of councils and subsequently the people. Councillors are increasingly placemen resigned to the status quo and have become apologists for a dysfunctional system over which they have no authority.

Perhaps the gentle folk of the hinterland don't know what they have voted for and perhaps things will get harder for them, but they have voted against this rotten, lonely and sterile prison we have built for ourselves. The economists may say we are wealthier on paper but wealth is no measure of community and contentment. When you reduce people to the status of hapless animals to be monitored and farmed you can for a time create an environment where they are materially better off, but the dead hand of bureaucracy can never replace community. If you can understand that much you will understand the Brexit generational divide.

Community is something that is spontaneous and needs no planning form a central authority. It doesn't need health monitoring and diversity officers. Civilisation can run along perfectly well without it. We do not need our betters to rubber stamp every last thread of human activity. We do not need to nationalise compassion and kindness. If people are left to manage their own affairs they will manage. People do not want to live isolated lives fumbling for meaning in a world where everything is done for them.

For three decades public administration has been formalised, centralised and taken out of reach. It has reached critical mass and robbed people of their purpose and crushed their spirit. Not only does it not work, it also makes us poorer in the long run. Government is spending 45p in every pound without ever seeking our consent. That is the mindset in governance we must push back against. It starts with leaving the EU - and now we must go the rest of the way.

The assumption that Brexit is a result of "austerity" is the typical leftist mentality at work. It is the lazy assumption that we would not have voted to leave if only government would continue to firehose money at the public sector. That is the purpose behind John Harris's film. In order for the left to regain relevance they need to repackage their same old snake oil. We should call it out for what it is. Bullshit.

It's time to go to war with the legacy media



The single European Act did to small businesses what Mrs Thatcher is said to have done to the mines. About the same time we watched our fishing fleet being dismantled for what we were told was the greater good. For those not already decided, the early nineties is when many made up their minds about the EU. Brexit has been a long time coming.

Since those times the effect of the EU has been far less visible with fledgling industries wiped out at the stroke of a pen by unelected officials. Just small rule changes have ruined businesses from farmers to boat-builders.

For the most part it goes unnoticed because our politicians, Labour especially, aren't all that interested in the EU and neither is the media. The parliamentary European Scrutiny Committee has for many years been a back room hobby horse affair when it should have been central to parliamentary activity.

For a long time now MPs have been interested only in showboating and virtue signalling, following the fads of the day and the media considers the day to day activity of the EU barely newsworthy. Consequently it has been many years since I have considered either the Times or the Telegraph as especially relevant. My daily read for some time now has been Euractiv.

For all of my life, decisions vital to the stability and prosperity of the UK have been made in the background without media or parliamentary attention. It then sticks in the craw to have these "flailing dilettantes" telling us that continued membership of the EU is in our best interests. In fact, I don't think I can name a single MP who brings any EU expertise to the table.

You might expect the man in the street not to know the technical difference between the single market and the customs union, but at this stage of the game, MPs not having their ducks in a row is inexcusable. Worse still, even the state broadcaster cannot even get the basics right despite a wealth of knowledge now available on the internet.

As to the rest of the press, they have a serious nerve. It cannot have escaped your attention that they are shrivelling into irrelevance yet have the audacity to interrupt our reading with pop-up boxes telling us that "good journalism costs money", imploring us to either subscribe or disable our ad blockers. They are right. Good journalism does cost money. So why would I sink any of my own money into vessels who have abandoned the practice entirely?

Both the Guardian and the Telegraph have idly repeated the meme that Norway has no say and adopts all EU laws. Without any attempt to verify or investigate this received wisdom they have tainted the debate and by so doing have toxified one of the only safe avenues out of the EU. The entire debate is marred by sloppy incurious hackery and disingenuous spin.

And this is really what makes Brexit necessary. For years, the real business of government has been out of sight and out of mind, so that our media and politicians are at liberty to shirk their obligations and squander their time. We need politics back where we can see it. It is my hope that once Westminster is once again tasked with adult politics it will demonstrate how manifestly incapable they are and how completely inadequate our parliamentary system is. It is that which will bring about the change we need as voters wake up to how poorly served we are.

In the meantime, we haven't the luxury of depending on our media. All I can do is implore you to help hasten its demise. Make sure you use an ad blocker, block their Twitter feeds, read and share independent blogs and ignore the legacy media. The best thing you can do is get informed and stay informed. From the outset the blogs have made the running in the EU referendum and it has taken the legacy media three years to catch up.

A little over a month ago I stated my intention to draw down this blog and slow the pace a little, but it has become clear the battle for Brexit is not over - and I am not going anywhere until the job is done. Interest in the subject has not dropped off and hits this month have been the highest ever apart from June (for very obvious reasons). With your continued support I still feel there is value in maintaining this level of activity. Brexit will happen but it is up to us to shape it. We cannot entrust that task to the media.

Good job Richmond, good job!


The question on my lips this morning was "who the hell is Sarah Olney?". Now I know. She is the Lib Dem MP for Richmond. She is a well spoken, politically presentable accountant. But also extraordinarily thick. And while I have absolutely no time for Julia Hartley Brewer, she has done us all a favour in exposing her as a risible person and a political lightweight. But then that goes with being a Lib Dem I suppose.

She is one who thinks that the public did not know what they were voting for in June. In this one can only assume that these snobby liberals don't actually get to meet any actual working class people. Though it's not exactly a wide sample, I had a brief conversation with a bloke in the pub last night. And though the "bloke in pub" summons up images of a ranty ukipper, this particular chap, remarked that he would be perfectly happy if the EU were just a marketplace but he voted to leave the political union.

I happened to be having a pint with the local ex-Ukip candidate and we both turned to look at each other in surprise. Typically you wouldn't expect to hear that point being made, nor would I have expected to have such a high brow conversation in a Bradley Stoke pub. After taking to Ukip twitterers for an entire year my expectations have lowered somewhat. The shoutiest tend to be the stupidest.

It turns out that I really do need to get out more because ordinary people, and this chap couldn't have been more ordinary, actually do have a very well developed sense of what they voted for. For sure he had some pretty tedious remarks to make about Muslims and I really couldn't be bothered to argue but he had grasped the one point that seems to escape liberal, affluent west London.

It turns out the average voter doesn't care about roaming charges or the convenience of popping off to the continent. This average man voted on a point of principle. And this lies at the root of Brexit and the revolt against the powers that be. When you have Owen Jones, Polly Toynbee, Ian Dunt and all the other wet lettuce forelock-tuggers speaking in your name over what is best for you, the two fingered salute is entirely rational. Having some air-headed liberal patronising you and second guessing your vote is quite offensive.

The point of principle on which we voted, is that Britain should not be subordinate to a European supreme government. This is something they are quite adamant about. The Ukipper objection to the single market option is that they believe that the ECJ still has jurisdiction. It doesn't but that is how the Norway Option has been described by many in the media on both sides of the argument.

While sovereignty is fluid concept and there must always be compromises, what leavers absolutely do not want is the EU having supreme authority over the UK. In this they have been told that there are major economic consequences. Just about every prestigious institution made their dire warnings. Yet they were ignored. And why is this?

The snobby liberal believes that the working class are too stupid to understand and have been brainwashed by the right wing media. Except that if you actually talk to an average voter, they know there will be economic consequences. Most believe that in the long run they will be better off for it, and while you can argue that this will not necessarily be the case, that is the gamble voters are willing to take on the basis that the status quo is not delivering for them.

You could argue that leaving the EU is a bit drastic and that it is not the fault of the EU, but there is no other alternative at the ballot box. At the last election we had the blandess of Ed Miliband and his dismal unambitious centrism or the blandness of David Cameron and his dismal unambitious centrism. The third options were even worse.

And in this, for all their faux concern for the working class, they are now more likely to vote Tory than ever before. That should come as no surprise. At the last election Ed Miliband ran on a platform of snobby paternalism. We were told that Britain is suffering under grinding austerity and the working classes were in need of rescue by their betters. Risible. The picture of Britain painted by those on the left, one of Dickensian poverty, simply does not exist. The existence of food banks is not a sign we are in terminal poverty. It is a sign of a healthy society in which voluntarism and charity delivers for the poor.

It would be wrong to say that extreme poverty does not exist but it exists in clusters for a number of nuanced reasons to which the answer of "more welfare" simply isn't the solution. Times are tough and the economy is more stagnant than figures suggest and voters want to see that cycle broken but that is not a cry for more handouts. They want jobs and a return to prosperity. They want manufacturing jobs. This is what they tell me when I talk to people.

Whether or not Brexit can bring this about is debatable and I would suggest not for the time being, but if you really do know Brits then you won't have any trouble understanding what is happening in politics right now. Brits are aspirational and proud people. They know they don't want hand outs and they know they don't want to answer to Brussels.

There isn't a far right backlash nor is Britain becoming more intolerant. Brits just have this curious notion that the government should act with consent and do as instructed. Liberals see it the other way around. The liberal bubble dwellers think that anything to the right of their dismal right-on narrative is extremism. There is a massive gulf between their reality and the one the rest of us inhabit. For as long as the left continue to view ordinary voters as stupid and extreme, they will continue to be wiped out.

Far from being the beginnings of a fightback, Olney is a blip. If the Tories had fielded just about anyone other than Goldsmith they would have retained the seat. Goldsmith is an odious, useless creature and Richmond is well rid of him. To see his political career brought to a humiliating end is most gratifying. If anything Olney is another nail in the coffin of centrist liberalism. Having this hapless moron telling us plebs that we didn't know what we voted for and should go back and think again is Christmas come early. So thank you Richmond. Nice one. You're the ones who are stuck with her though. Tough break!