Monday, 14 January 2019

Brexit is the fight for the sovereignty of the people


In a lot of ways I simply inherited my euroscepticism in the same way that northerners have family traditions of voting Labour even if the candidate is a hatstand. It was never obsessive for me until about 2008 when various strands came together.

This was around the time of the banking crisis and at the height of my foaming libertarianism. By this time the then Labour government was in its final leg, more unpopular than ever and embattled. This was when energy prices were at the centre of a major political row, and I remember a pivotal Radio 4 interview where a junior minister came on to exalt the virtues of switching suppliers. Telling someone on a token meter that they can simply switch suppliers to end the rip off is pretty much "let them eat cake" territory.

If there is one overriding quality to the Blair-Brown regime it was arrogance. They considered themselves untouchable and able to do as they pleased. For the entire time Labour was in office my vote was utterly meaningless. Our democracy is only a democracy to the extent that we can elect our dictators to sit for a term of around ten years. Between the milestone elections they can ram through pretty much any legislation they like without fear.

What we needed at the time was a major renewal of our energy infrastructure but primarily it needed to focus on affordable energy, not least since we were staring down the barrel of a major economic contraction. You would think that a Labour government, supposedly the servant of the working class and the destitute would have prioritised cheap energy. But no.

2008 was the height of climate narcissism. They would toddle off to their world stage jamborees to compete with other global elites to see who can impose the most draconian limitations on growth be it through energy targets or green taxes. Government by virtue signalling. This brought about the Energy Act 2008. One of the largest spending programmes in recent history.

As with all government spending programmes this was less to do with achieving the actual objective as creating makework jobs and meeting globally mandated targets set down in treaties. There was also a major EU dimension. It contained everything from creating a single European energy market through to carbon capture storage and smart meters.

Though such may have appeared in a Labour manifesto, the agenda is not one that is legitimately derived from its membership, rather it is all part of the grand designs of the European Union, implementing Paris accords and UNECE frameworks.

If you go back to the beginning of the referendum campaign, there was a debate about how much of our law is really made by the EU. It was a futile debate in that a percentage tells you nothing about the scale and gravity of the rules that make it on to our statue book. But one of the distoriting factors is that so many of our laws presenting as domestic initiatives are laws implementing directives, frameworks and targets which have a profound effect on national and local government and policy outcomes in respect of utilities and transport.

This is what we call the "hidden Europe" phenomenon where EU incursions are reported as domestic politics which is why there is such colossal ignorance as to the full extent of EU integration. When you understand that dynamic you start to realise that government is something that is simply done to you rather than having any meaningful democratic impetus.

By 2008, the Tory party was then gearing itself up for their crack of the whip being that Gordon Brown was the PM that nobody wanted. His tenure was an inheritance. Being that the Tories had to shake off their stodgy image in order to get anything close to fair media coverage, David Cameron went on bunny hugger, essentially telling us that if we voted Tory then we were in for much of the same. This did not go unnoticed by actual conservatives who buggered off and voted for Ukip. Which is why he ended up in a coalition with Nick Clegg.

This proved one thing. General elections were little more than an electorally mandated reshuffle where we can change the faces but the agenda remains the same, and for as long as we were in the EU then we could expect more of the same vanity spending and legislation geared an implementing ever closer union.

It is interesting that Brexit should be blamed on austerity when in fact it was Britain's high tax, high spending that really piled the pressure on household budgets. The genius of it all though was that state mandated spending was paid for through stealth taxes through our bills which allowed politicians to blame the energy companies for skyrocketing bills.

To put this in context this was right about the time when Labour had just opened the doors to eastern Europe, vastly underestimated the numbers that would come, and having ratified Lisbon without a referendum, while amalgamating local government to become part of the vast quangocracy geared toward implementing edicts from Whitehall and Brussels.

We received the message loud and clear; that government could do as it pleases to us and did not feel the need to consult us, and we would never be allowed a meaningful say in anything it does. And they liked it that way.

Fast forward to 2019 and the mentality is much the same. Having been used to decades of marginalising the voice of voters, using our money to spend on their boondoggles and flights of fancy, they are having trouble coming to terms with the idea that they have to take the wishes of the public into account. Brexit more than anything interrupts the habits of government. Democracy is the disruptive element and they really don't like it. They consider it a distraction that gets in the way of their business. 

More than anything Brexit has revealed the snobbery of the establishment in that it challenges what they believe to be their divine right to rule. Right now MPs are conspiring to prevent Brexit by any means necessary even if that means nullifying the first meaningful vote we've had in decades. They want things to go back to normal - back to doing as they please and ignoring the oiks with their primitive ideas about sovereignty and democracy.

We have been told by remainers that parliament never lost its sovereignty. To a large extent they are right. Parliament used its sovereignty in the service of the EU agenda ad decided to serve the Brussels machine rather than the people. Who cares if they can't afford to heat their houses?

The problem here is that the people themselves are not sovereign. Under EU rule, with the collaboration of our quisling parliament, we are just economic units and the only objective of governance is GDP growth. Culture, tradition, identity, community and family are alien concepts and where labour is concerned, actively harmful. We must instead learn state dependency under a monoculture.

Though we did eventually chuck Labour our, what we got was a continuance of the progressive liberal regime, and though it was led by Tories who made some rationalisations to the state, what is common described as austerity is little more than accountancy. The left have capitalised on it to promote the evil heartless Tories narrative but essentially the approach to government is much the same and it will continue to work in the service of the neoliberal EU.

As much as the Tory Brexiter "free trade" agenda is wholly unconvincing, trade and free markets was never the rationale for leaving the EU. Primarily this is a question of who our government really serves and who it is accountable to.

As Brexit fatigue creeps in, there are days where I wonder if any of this is really worth the bother, but then I cast my mind back to the televised leaders' debates. I keep coming back to that because it was another one of those totemic moments revealing the politico-media establishment in all its trivialised out of touch glory.

If we let them get away with stopping Brexit we know exactly what will happen. Within six months they will have bruised it under the carpet, and we may get one or two tinkering reforms such as a valueless people's assembly (a super-focus group) and a few more directly elected mayors, as though such could ever mollify a public who are so utterly sick of them all.

Progressive liberals complain that Brexit has unleashed a tidal wave of intolerance, but what is has really done is brought back real politics to the fore - the kind of politics their regime has managed for so long to keep a lid on. Now that's happened, they desperately want it to go away.

Brexit, more than any one single factor, is the fight for the sovereignty of the people over their rulers. It is part of the centuries old struggle to make servants of our masters. For too long British votes have been treated with contempt. Our wishes have been swept aside in pursuit of the grand delusions of our narcissistic elites. They raid our wallets with impunity to impose their authoritarian designs upon us; to build a global order primarily for the convenience of capital. Our voices do not matter a damn.

They will smear us, slander us, call us far right, and use any tactic to marginalise our voices. They have long believed the running of the country is none of our business. Should they succeed in killing Brexit, they succeed in killing politics entirely. The corporate takeover of Britain will be complete and our figleaf politics will become even more of a meaningless appendage than it already is.

Voters often wonder why we have the worst crop of politicians in living memory. It is no mystery. When a public get used to the idea that their voices don't matter, the process of electing representatives is as meaningless as tossing a coin into a wishing well. Were that we had politics of substance we might very well pay more attention to who we elect. Until we do, we can only descend further into mediocrity and democratic oblivion.

Can Britain cope with no deal?


This evening I was earnestly asked if Britain can cope with no deal. Firstly we must define "cope". We coped with the bubonic plague. We coped with the Blitz. We coped with Noels House Party and two decades of Neighbours. Britain can take anything. This, though, is a question of where we want to be strategically on Brexit day.

So what do we know about what happens?

In respect of customs the Commission has said "all relevant EU legislation on the importation and exportation of goods will apply to goods moving between the EU and the UK". Inside that innocuous statement lies a universe of regulatory controls which are understood by view and businesses have been left to fend for themselves. It is the lack of preparation and overall lack of understanding that will create the chaos more than any one single factor.

We have been given reassurances that the customs IT is ready and that we have the people on standby. The last time we visited this subject we found that the system due to be installed was based on the current regime and Brexit was never a consideration at the design phase. Given that rules of origin apply and a whole host of other customs formalities, I take no reassurance from the government. As a former data applications designer it is my view that there is zero chance the software could have been adapted in time. The larger the system, the bigger the problems and the slower the development.

We know that some freight will need to be diverted because Calais does not have the correct inspection facilities and the facilities that exist elsewhere have insufficient capacity. Even if the EU is generous in its rate of inspection we are still looking at a complete change to a long established business model. We are adding delays, increasing voyage times and piling on costs in terms of tariffs, overtime and red tape. We also know that haulage capacity is threatened if a fifth of the fleet is sitting in a queue. Any business based on rapid transit is stuffed. Shortages are a real possibility.

Meanwhile, Brexiters tell us that flights will continue as normal, but again the Commission been clear. It has adopted some contingency measures to avoid full interruption of air traffic between the EU ain the event of no deal. These measures, though, "will only ensure basic connectivity and in no means replicate the significant advantages of membership of the Single European Sky". That means cabotage is stuffed. Costs of air freight will increase.

We know that (because of EU regulatory frameworks) a lot of specialist companies will have to resubmit their goods for authorisation and certification. In many cases this is largely a paper exercise and easier for those companies who already have partners of subsidiaries on the continent. There is, though, a worrying complacency and even if they can re-authorise their goods, That's no use if they can't ship goods cost effectively.

We have heard a number of cleverdick nostrums from Brexit, from Article 24 WTO, through to fantasies about revitalising regional ports. Though I would like to believe it, I have seen nothing at all compelling. I am somewhat well versed in the mechanics of EU regulatory systems and WTO law, and Ukipite grunters recycling BrexitCentral mantras tweeted by Jacob Rees-Mogg are not something I can take remotely seriously.

We know that with the cessation of freedom of movement, with licences and qualifications no longer automatically recognises then everything from fishing to engineering services are affected. So too is transport of live animals which has implications for horse racing. Every conceivable area of the economy is then without transboundary regulatory cover and business have to spend enormous sums navigating the labyrinth of red tape and and restrictions. Nobody can really quantify the the secondary impacts. For some there will be marginal impacts, but for others it will be an existential threat. 

Perversely, all this adjustment means major movements of money and heightened activity in the real economy which all goes to GDP, so while GDP may be telling us one thing, indicating growth in some sectors, the real story may be that  whole sectors are collapsing. 

With adequate preparation it is possible we can avert the immediate headline impacts of no deal Brexit. I do not, though, believe that there have been adequate preparations in that your preparations are only really as good as your understanding and the quality of information in the public domain, which has been poor and there have been false messages fed into the system at the highest level that we are more prepared than we actually are. 

For sure, aircraft won't fall out of the sky and and we won't have outbreaks of super-gonorrhea except for the normal levels found inside the incestuous Westminster bubble. What we can say, though, is we will experience a breakdown of normal operations in government as civil service staff are reassigned to cope with the problems it creates. As much as competence is thin on the ground, it is surely to get worse.

As to how long this lasts is anyone's guess. Within six months we will at least have an idea of what the template for the new normal is which will then take up to three years to properly establish. That's a long time for businesses to tread water. SMEs will take the biggest hits. Meanwhile, there will be implications for the energy market thus we can expect to see steep rises in the cost of electricity. Business will have to absorb those costs.

This, though is not the major concern. The questions is then what we do as an alternative to the single market, whereupon we are reliant on securing inferior FTAs to the ones we already have, requiring concessions we would not ordinarily make, adding further competitive pressure to UK industry. Agriculture especially. We will find out just how hollow the Tory "global free trade" mantra really is.

There are then the geostrategic implications of having severed all of our formal relations with the EU. This will probably lead to renewed calls for Scottish independence. We will also have to bail out a number of essential services hit by extra demands upon them. Very possibly we'll be looking at IMF loans and downgrading.

Much of the impact will only become known to us after the fact. For every headline issue we know about there will be secondary and unpredictable effects. Much of EU governance is invisible governance and you don't really appreciate that it exists until it stops working. This is why many are so cavalier about our ability to cope.

So can Britain cope? Well, yes, we can bugger on through all of this. It will be hard and we will discover the real meaning of the word austerity. More than likely defence will be first on the chopping block because it always is. Frigates will be cancelled, fewer F35s and less outings for our aircraft carriers. Public pay will also take a hit. As to fixing potholes and maintaining parks and public spaces, fuhgeddaboudit! Britain is too immature to to tolerate cuts to entitlements so everyday maintenance will take the hit. Somehow, we will come to terms with being a much poorer country and then at some point we will go grovelling back to Brussels for any deal we can get.

Economically, and from a trade perspective, there is nothing at all to be said in favour of no deal. This is why The Leave Alliance plan took the view that Brexit would have to be a process rather than an event and to limit the harm done by it we would need to retain the single market in the longer term with a view to reshaping it. We lost that argument which is why we are now here. 

In terms of exit it now comes down to two options. May's deal or no deal at all. May's deal ensures we have a transition so that we can prepare for the impacts of leaving the single market and will then lead to the negotiation of a new trade framework which will likely comprise of a core FTA, a convoluted form of customs union and a number of bilateral agreements on everything from fishing to air services. It will entail the adopting of a number of EU rules, largely based on global standards and conventions we would adopt anyway.

The deal is far from ideal and a customs union is a bitter pill to swallow, but Brexiters refused to engage in the process and offer up real world alternatives so it was left to Number Ten to triangulate and by fumbling through the process, this is the only deal on the table. The negotiations are over. It very much will soften the blow, and will at least keep us in the game so we can plan our next move. 

The point here is that no deal is not good. It is avoidable, therefore it must be avoided. We can all grumble about elements of the deal and were I inclined I could write a comprehensive demolition of it - and do a better job of its worst critics. But in the end I am a pragmatist, and I cannot imagine anything about the deal that makes it worse in practice or in principle than no deal at all. Technical and binding legal integration is a facet of all modern trade agreements. This is how the world works and taking an absolutist line over it is not only profoundly ignorant, it is also economic suicide and will involve a great many more humilatons in the future.

With no deal comes economic uncertainty, recession and a hollowing out of good governance. Moreover it brings long term political instability - which for some may well be the objective, but there is no guarantee of a future remedy and political dysfunction could very well become the new normal for a generation. Greece, Italy and Spain and never fully recovered and oddly, no deal would make us more European in a sense of becoming more dysfunctional, lawless and corrupt. But hey, if that's the will of the people, who am I to argue?   

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Prestige: the British disease


Were it not for the plummy accent and the dated attire, Jacob Rees-Mogg would just be another Tory backbencher as mundane as his ERG colleagues. The caricature, though, is a well crafted gimmick that affords him inexplicable popularity. Perhaps it speaks to the British perception of itself in the world. I'm sure somebody has a good answer but it beats the hell out of me.

He seems to have a following of those who style themselves as traditional conservatives in a time when conservatism is thin on the ground. If that be so, then Tories have been distracted by the appearance rather than the substance, in that there's nothing especially conservative about the hard right economic radicalism he's pushing for. The Singapore on Thames fantasy is closer to ultra liberation dogma.

Somehow, Rees-Mogg has become the high priest of no deal Brexit, where he has a devoted following of people willing to believe anything he says. Certainly his composure carries some weight. Sadly people still assume a smattering of Latin is a mark of education. It is only really an indicator that prestige education is a finishing school.

Brits, sadly, are suckers for this. Genuine expertise carries little weight. Rank and title is all that seems to matter. MPs especially are victim to this. Rees-Mogg believes that the utterances of the president of the port at Calais is gospel despite the official legal position stated by the EU in the Notices to Stakeholders. Primary sources don't matter if you can wheel out a CEO to tell you what the score is.

This is not limited to Rees-Mogg. Throughout the course of Brexit, we've seen bosses and mandarins from all sectors up before select committees. This has largely demonstrated how little awareness there is in senior positions. That much any normal person knows. Bosses don't concern themselves with the minutiae of how things work. But since MPs are reassured by prestige they believe what they are told.

This is one of the fundamental problems in British politics. MPs do little reading of their own and rely on people telling them how things work. If you give them anything to read it has to be brief, lightweight and large font. Mostly they rely on oral evidence and if they are to repeat an opinion then that opinion needs to come from a QC, professor or CEO.

One of the thinks I thank Brexit for is that the worlds professor and QC have become meaningless. It is no indicator of intelligence, ability or knowledge. Sadly, though, individuals are all too happy to invoke a QC or professor when they say something in alignment with their own scripture. Either that or you find someone saying what you need them to say and invent a title for them. This is as much a part of the tribal dynamic that afflicts Westminster. Each side builds up their own sacred scriptures invoking the prestige of their vocal supporters.

This is also why think tanks are a problem when they call themselves institutes. The institute For Government, for example is an imposing building just off the Mall, dripping with prestige by way of its proximity to Downing Street. In actuality it is little more than a youth club for denizens of the bubble - with minimal adult supervision. Most of its staff are teenage gophers starting out their careers as hacks and political wonks.

Being that it, like the Institute for Economic Affairs (a lobbyist for US corporate interests), by name alone it has an ill deserved weighting. That they tend to produce is self-referential, based on orally received evidence and referring to previous derivative work without going to primary sources. This is how they recycle the same errors. Generally there are none within this network who have ever worked in the real economy and probably never will.

The more I have come to understand the toxic influence of prestige, the more I have grown to despise the Westminster establishment. It irritates me that self-styled anti-establishment Brexiters are one minute talking about overthrowing the establishment one minute and in the next, they're retweeting Andrew Neil, the Spectator, the IEA and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

To me, the dysfunction of our politics is more than a little to do with the worship of prestige. It afflicts the media, politicians, higher education and public debate in general. Westminster is a highly toxic concentration of it, where the boundaries between each pillar of the establishment are ever more blurred.

The mismanagement of Brexit, as much as anything, is down to the inept intelligence gathering where nobody who really knows how anything works gets anywhere near the decision making apparatus while chancers and blaggers from within the circle jerk have unparalleled access to persons and offices on influence.

For this there really is no remedy. If you concentrate power and centralise the decision making, you will also concentrate media attention and the legions of parasites close to the centre. The only remedy is to break decisionmaking out of the bubble and put the power back in the hands of the people. As long as we are ruled from the centre we will continue to be victims of this phenomenon.

We can't kick the can down the road any more. MPs must back the deal.


Twitter is hugely predictable today. Foaming ultra Brexiters waffling about betrayal. The brainwashing is complete. So the legend goes; any deal is a bad deal. Baker, Mogg and Paterson are in full flow with their campaign of systematic lying. The WTO has become a mythical construct capable of overriding any problems. A magical wishing well.

Meanwhile Mrs May is doing a little spinning of her own, essentially threatening Brexiters to voter for her deal, saying that no Brexit is more likely than no deal should there be no agreement. She may may be right but with the situation being so fluid, she has no more idea than anyone else.

In respect of this the Brexiters are playing a dangerous game in that they are playing double or quits, gambling the win they have in the hope of securing their WTO utopia. Should they lose the prize I will be saddened, but will have little sympathy for them or their shortsighted supporters. Here I am not inclined to speculate either way. It has all been said. We simply have to wait and watch how it unfolds.

In many ways it would be easier to blog Brexit if I could get carried away by talk of plots and coups, but since much of it is rumour and media fabrication, when you filter out the noise, today is just another quiet Sunday. There will be more wailing through the course of tomorrow, with yet more calls for a nebulous people's vote and more pompous demands to overrule the plebs. Brexit blogging has become as mundane as writing the weather forecast.

For all that there is intense bickering from within the bubble, out in the country things are as you might expect them to be. The public is weary of our politicians, tired of hearing about Brexit and very much want to get it over and done with one way or another.

I think perhaps that sets the tone either way. This is also why the UK is lost if we do not leave. Leavers are kidding themselves if they think there is going to be a mass yellow vested protest. There may be a few weeks of troublemaking and we may see one or two large crowds but we won't see anything like a poll tax riot or a million strong protest in Trafalgar Square. The "neon nazis" in yellow vests will try to kick something off, but everyday leavers will want nothing to do with it. Who wants to be associated with them?

One would like to think the masses would be so enraged they would bring the country to a standstill but it's only really the headbangers relishing the prospect of a no deal Brexit. Port chaos and shortages is not really high on anyone's list of things to experience. After three years of relentless Brexit coverage I think there'll be a shift of mood and a sense of resignation to remaining.

Remainers would be delighted by this but it is not without consequence. Parliament will rapidly sweep it under the rug and with Ukip now defunct as a movement, co-opted by the Tommy Robinson clan, there's nothing to stop the establishment glossing over the whole incident. Politics then returns to normal as we approach a general election where all the Tory tribalists, once infatuated with Rees-Mogg, will get back to sharing memes about Corbyn's sympathy for terrorists and Labour's antisemitism. The right once again becomes a stop Corbyn movement.

Course, this all depends on whether it's a Brexiter leading us into the next general election in which the general election could become a re-run of the referendum, only this time there would be no Article 50 process. The Tories would not necessarily win. If that happens then Brexit is dead and buried.

If the referendum is mentioned at all thereafter, it will be pious lip service to the need to address the causes of Brexit, which in the mind of Labour is all about austerity and thus an excuse to abandon fiscal discipline and return to firehosing welfare at the plebs while the debasement of Westminster continues. they will need to come up with a big initiative such as a "people's assembly" which is essentially a super focus group tacked on to the Westminster bubble. Something else for hacks to scribble about.

The longer term consequence of this is that our zombie economy limps on with all the continuing pressures on housing, transport and health with nothing of consequence being done about it, while we rack up a future pensions crisis. the establishment will continue to address the symptoms rather than the causes while voter participation collapses. Many will simply conclude as I have that voting is a waste of time. The adults will leave the children to it. That has consequences of its own.

Further into the future we reach a stage where so little works and politics is so deeply despised that we really will start to experience civil disorder. Not in a yellow vested sense; rather we will see a change of public attitude and an increased lawlessness. The denial of Brexit will leave a scar on the psyche of the public. Public courtesy will go out of the window where politicians and public officials are concerned. The police too.

It is said that the British do not riot. They plot. Here I expect there will be fertile grounds for a new Ukip style movement, but this time it won't play the game by the rules as Ukip did. It may take them another twenty years but next time around, knowing what transpired over Brexit, there will be no trust. No referendum. It will be a brute force political movement.

What remainers don't seem to comprehend is that remaining does not solve anything. As much as it it provides a life support machine to a broken political establishment, it simply passes the problem to the next generation. Hopes that Brexiters will die off are overly optimistic. This whole debacle has will prove to be a serious recruiting sergeant.

In respect of this I could almost talk myself into no deal Brexit now. At least then we have a controlled demolition and can begin the process of rebuilding. I just haven't given up hope of there being a deal. May will surely lose her vote on Tuesday but that won't be the last of it. She is already playing a game of brinkmanship with MPs. She will toddle off to Brussels to seek further assurances and when the vote goes for a second round, enough MPs will chicken out for it to scrape through. Tuesday is far from the end of it.

There will, of course, be much clucking about betrayal should the deal pass, but this is only really down to the effectiveness of the no deal propaganda that has the Tory party grassroots salivating for armageddon. The Brexiters will whinge come what may. Even if they get what they want and things do go to hell in a hardcart, they will still find someone to seethe at rather than taking responsibility.

For all that the deal on the table isn't what Brexiters hoped for, it is the Brexiteers who are chiefly to blame. Had the ERG come up with a deliverable plan from the very beginning they would have been able to call the shots. Instead they've huffed and puffed from the sidelines, making an irrelevance of themselves. Certainly May has played her role in that the deal itself is a piece of electoral triangulation but a plan with cross party backing could very well have been the artefact to beat her with.

As it stands we are not in any shape to cope with no deal. It creates too many administrative problems that will saturate the absorptive capacity of government. Devising a system to replace the Dover-Calais system that has evolved over decades is of itself a conundrum that ideally requires years of planning and phased implementation. This can only be done inside the framework of a deal. We need the transition lest we be facing more hell than we can handle.

There are now 74 days to go before the deadline. What little preparation we have in place is wholly inadequate and I am far from convinced that ministers have fully understood the implications. There has been a concerted effort to downplay the impact of no deal so business have not been given the information they need. The only kosher information in the public domain is the EU's Notices to Stakeholders and unless you know what you're looking at it's difficult to see how much of it plays out in the real world.

It is this lack of preparation and overall lack of understanding that will create the chaos more than any one single factor. In respect of customs the Commission has said "all relevant EU legislation on the importation and exportation of goods will apply to goods moving between the EU and the UK". Inside that innocuous statement lies a universe of regulatory controls which are understood by view and businesses have been left to fend for themselves.

Meanwhile, Brexiters tell us that flights will continue as normal, but again the Commission been clear. It has adopted some contingency measures to avoid full interruption of air traffic between the EU ain the event of no deal. These measures, though, "will only ensure basic connectivity and in no means replicate the significant advantages of membership of the Single European Sky". Precisely how extensive "basic connectivity" is, they do not say, but it is likely to have a dramatic impact on the airline market and the cost of air travel and freight. Anyone looking to the skies to avoid logistical disruption is in for a shock.

With the costs of shipping goods to the continent skyrocketing and services trade hindered by the cessation of recognition of qualifications and right to work inside the EU curtailed, we are likely to see a wave of job cuts across the country inside the first six months and a slow bleed from there. This is not something we should wish upon ourselves.

Whatever the relationship we end up with, one way or another, it will lead back to highly integrated systems and shared regulation. That's just how the world works. We either accept that reality now or we find out the hard way of taking the full brunt of Brexit and having to rebuild our relationship with the EU entirely on the EU's terms. No deal cannot stay no deal. 

With the window now closed for any plan B, the deal on the table is the deal we are stuck with. Whether MPs have noticed or not, the negotiations are over. It is therefore down to MPs to decide whether they are going to honour the referendum and do the right thing or whether they are going to gamble either with the whole economy or with democracy itself. Should we remain we are kicking the can down the road and inviting much worse than we have seen up to press.

Voting to leave was not an instruction to terminate all external relations with the EU. To say that any deal is a betrayal is just another lie in a long line of them - and perhaps the most cynical one to date. There is, therefore, only one thing for it. May's deal. Like it or lump it. 

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Why Remain failed and keeps failing


Remain lost the referendum. Theirs was a pretty odious campaign of hectoring and catastrophising. They were penned in by the inherent bind created by the EU. Had they launched into a full blown europhile federalist love-in they'd have lost by a far larger margin. Instead they had to pretend the EU was something other than what it is and instead focus on the perks and benefits and the economic necessity of it. The problem there being that they were defending a status quo which not only isn't working, the incumbent establishment is, shall we say, not popular.

Ever since the referendum the full post mortem effort went into what happened on the leave side and it soothes them to believe the referendum was won through the skulduggery of Vote Leave rather than their own failings.

What's interesting, though, is that they have mounted a far more effective campaign since the referendum. They managed to build an impressive resistance army with branches across the country (albeit the wealthier areas) and showed themselves capable of mobilising huge numbers of people.

There is, of course, a vast amount of money behind this operation. They've chewed through millions in advertising and the "people's march" can't have been a cheap enterprise. That, though, I believe was the swansong of the mass remain movement. Since then their efforts have tailed off, more recently with the "Bollocks to Brexit" bus tour, which by the looks of it turned into a massive flop.

The faulty assumption there was that bus tours of nobodies are in any way effective. They weren't effective during the referendum and even less so after the fact. The only reason the media bothered to show up for the red bus was down to their bizarre infatuation with Boris Johnson.

One of their more intelligent moves this time around has been to rely less on celebrities and politicians, and instead putting their own activists front and centres. Or it would have been a smart idea were it not for one small factor. They're all jerks.

Be it "EU supergirl" or the odious "Femi" (iconic morons), remain activists have a habit of being sneery, smarmy and breathtakingly condescending. It does seem to be an affliction of the remain cause. Having teamed up with Remoner-in-chief, James O'Brien, they are all tainted by association.

They mistake they make is to argue points that leavers on the whole aren't making. They lecture us on how immigrants aren't taking our jobs and that the money we pay is only a small fraction of the budget, and they can barely conceal their contempt when they belittle the notion of sovereignty. To a large extent they are talking among themselves. The legacy remain campaign has become a mutual emotional support group. Not once has it attempted to listen or engage. Instead it lectures and scolds.

There is also something distinctly middle class about the remain movement. There is a strong Waitrose Warrior vibe emanating from it. Even now they're busy telling the world that the leave vote was a wave of xenophobia stoked up by demagogues and a "far right" press. No doubt there was some of that but most leavers I talk to knew well in advance how they were going to vote - and it's primarily because of what the EU is. ie not satisfactorily democratic or accountable.

Ultimately, though, the remain campaign is lacking a certain authenticity. The "people's march" smacked of astroturfing and it continues to be a Londoncentric liberal progressive enterprise just when liberal progressivism is about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit. Behind the scenes of all this we have the deeply obnoxious Andrew Adonis and the batshit crazy AC Grayling heaping on the insults while Gary Lineker and JK Rowling, multimillionaires, belch out their loathing of the plebs on a daily basis.

There's one factor they all underestimated. Outside of the Twitterverse, most people are simply getting on with their lives, hopelessly bored of Brexit, simply wishing our politicians would stop pratting about and get it over and done with. Ordinary Brits are far more resilient than is assumed and they are doing whatever needs to be done. They know one thing that remainers don't. You can't just ignore a referendum. Especially not that one - when not only the EU's legitimacy is held in question, but also when British democracy itself is on trial.

For all the petulant wailers the BBC can wheel on to current affairs programmes, Brexit just isn't the end of the world. Rightly people are concerned, but it is generally understood that we have crossed the event horizon and the change people vote for, be they right or wrong, must be delivered. For all the millions of pounds and man hours the legacy remain camp have squandered, politicians know what is at stake - and the Brexit voting public have had their patience tested to the max.

Friday, 11 January 2019

How the EEA option was killed


As most will know, I was an EEA advocate. The window for that kind of Brexit is now closed. We poisoned the well. I can;t say exactly when the option died but I think Nick Boles's Norway then Canada nonsense killed it stone dead.

Such an approach sounds superficially pragmatic but like most things it falls over on detail. The whole point of staying in the EEA is to avoid erecting complex barriers to trade. Without such a foundation then third country controls apply. If the destination is then to leave the EEA inside a decade then one might simply ask "what is the point?".

Such a plan is also completely impractical. It makes several assumptions about the ease of moving to the EEA failing to acknowledge that the EEA would need extensive configuration for the UK and require a number of add ons to make it work. In that regard, the latter day EEA advocates are every bit as dishonest as the ERG - downplaying the complexity and building their plans on a foundation of fantasy. Naturally Norway then Canada as an idea got short shrift from the PM of Norway.

Telling us that he had listened to critics, Boles then went back to the drawing board to produce "Norway Plus". As with all Brexit concoctions the "plus" is entirely nebulous, but largely indicating a customs union that somehow isn't a customs union. There are ways around doing it that way but you need to have a command of how the system works - which none of its advocates do.

This then throws up a huge question mark as to how it can be incorporated into the stack when to be in Efta you can't be in a customs union. This leads to more convoluted talk about a special derogation for the UK from Efta or an alternate pillar. This to me misses half the point in that it leaves us with a foot in both camps when really if we are to go in the Efta direction it should be with a view to contributing to the life of Efta as a full and committed member with a view to strengthening its independence from the EU.

From a geostrategic perspective this makes the most sense in that there are obvious merits to being a counterweight to the EU. It also softens the blow of leaving and avoids the cliff edge business will experience when excluded from services markets and facing the full brunt of EU official controls.

Alas, it was not to be. The Remainers lied through their teeth about it, refused to compromise and poisoned the well, all the while the Brexit blob did their own bit to sabotage the option at every turn through their respective propaganda channels. Though the option is the most sensible and most pragmatic, it still does not enjoy popular support. It's a niche corner of the debate.

Even now, whenever I make mention of the EEA option, a Brexiter will pipe up with the mantra that "Norway is not Brexit". Such inconquerable stupidity is impossible to combat when the option has so little exposure and no credible advocates in the public eye. Stephen Kinnock for a time made a half decent go of it, but his name further toxified the option for obvious reasons, even though he was, to a point, well intentioned.

The final nail, though, was Norway plus. Parliament is not trusted in the slightest and Brexiters believe that a close relationship (or at this point any relationship at all) is a means to park Brexit so as to rejoin at a later date. This idea has taken hold to the point where the petition for no deal has reached 325,000 signatures. Depressingly, such a body blow to the UK is probably the fastest route to a reaccession application whereas Efta would end up a permanent home since there would be no economic or political imperative to rejoin.

Being that Norway Plus is an even bigger ask that just "Norway", tying us to EU trade policy, it was never going to win over any Brexiter in parliament having set their hearts on a "free trade" agenda. The same reason Brexiters are militantly opposed to May's deal. The debate has fixated on tariffs and FTAs and if there's a wrong end of the stick they will grasp it with both hands. For an EEA option to succeed it had to have competent defenders and cross party support. It also needed the support of high profile leavers. Boles and his gang have made that impossible.

This has not been at all helped by the opposition whose own muddle leads them down the path of political triangulation. Labour does not want to lose its northern working class base, so in the belief that freedom of movement cannot be controlled within the EEA, and a systemic misapprehension of what a customs union does, they have set their stall up against the EEA, while demanding a largely pointless customs union.

Now we're in an even bigger mess since Theresa May, also conscious to end freedom of movement at all costs, but also keen to avoid border controls has conspired to cook up another customs union that isn't a customs union (which actually is). What she hopes the media won't notice (which they probably won't) is that a customs union does next to nothing to ease border friction. Official controls are nothing to do with customs unions.

Were we able to disregard the politics of Brexit and the inherent misconceptions, EEA would be an entirely viable, completely logical and eventually beneficial way to manage the process. It keeps the business end of trade integration but politically we are free agents able to forge our own relationships elsewhere. Politics, though, very much intrudes and there is no outright majority for anything.

Now though, talk of a plan B is not only too little, too late, MPs don't seem to have read the writing on the wall. The EU has had enough. Negotiations are over. The deal we can have is the deal on the table. The book is closed. MPs on all sides, though, seem to think that we can vote down the deal and go back to Brussels with yet more half understood notions, going round in yet more circles, not listening to what we are told.

At this point I have every sympathy with the EU. Were it that the UK had an unambiguous idea of what it did want, and a workable, viable proposal, with majority backing, there would perhaps be a reason to entertain a reset. That, though is not the case. The government is still fumbling around in a muddle and knows only what it doesn't want. The British government has a track record of not hearing what it is told and failing completely to understand the EU's position. Further talks are simply not productive. The EU wants to see the back of this.

This singular fact has escaped the attention of MPs who think there is no risk attached to voting down Mrs May's deal and they can keep buggering about. They also seem to think that their tinkering with amendments can prevent an accidental Brexit. They have misled themselves, beliging that we can unilaterally rewrite the rules of Article 50. They will, therefore, vote down Mrs May's deal which presents an imminent risk of leaving with no deal at all.

Central to this is the dysfunction of parliament, but also our media. Though MPs have research staff and the resources at their disposal to get good answers, they have failed to adequately utilise them. Instead their understanding of the technical issues comes from gossip. They rely on our media whose own understanding of the issues is weak and is responsible for much of the errors surrounding the EEA option. It doesn't particularly help that the newspapers themselves have abandoned any obligation to inform and are willing participants in disseminating disinformation.

The media has been unable to adequately report on the consequences of no deal, often trivialising or sensationalsing them, and the right wing press pretends there are no issues at all. The lack of urgency, therefore, has allowed the situation to drift and only now is there is sense of panic. At every test both our politics and our media has failed.

At the root of this, though, is something more fundamental. On every level our political establishment has been operating in the dark since day one. It is oft said that Brexiters are ignorant of the EU and how it functions but EU ignorance is near universal. The EU as a governance operating system was installed slowly, by stealth and its mechanisms were designed by commission officials to a deliberately ambiguous blueprint. To understand how we get out requires under understanding of what it is that we've got ourselves into.

Being that those still in parliament who ratified the Lisbon treaty never bothered to read it, much less understand it, have never really understood its constituent parts. Ratifying it was largely a giant tribal virtue signal and its full implications were never fully debated and public debate was muted. Opposition came from the same eurosceptic obsessives because they saw it for what it was. MPs looked at the direction from which opposition was coming and elected to ignore it.

Being that MPs were only too happy to hand over powers to Brussels, they have never taken the time to understand the system and they haven't now since most of them have focussed much of their effort on preventing Brexit from occurring. There was never any sincere effort to understand the EEA option because they were never willing to countenance any alternative. In respect of that, the Brexit headbangers are right. Those MPs who have converted to the EEA option are largely remainers who see EEA as a damage limitation exercise rather that a springboard to something more ambitious.

What afflicts Westminster is a smallness of thinking. Remainers just want the status quo because it doesn't disturb the status quo and allows them to carry on as before, free to indulge themselves in their own narcissistic delusions while Leaver MPs, many of them carpetbaggers have no idea what to do with Brexit now that they have it.

Free trade is a late addition to the Brexit cause and is largely a post-hoc justification - and a weak one at that. To them the buccaneering global Britain mantras seems like a big vision but without detail and a plan it's just a pipedream. Dropping out of the EU just to jet off round the world signing identikit FTAs is not only a regression from our current position, it's also lacking in ambition. The tories have a completely two dimensional idea of what trade is and a massively inflated sense of national importance.

The big idea behind Brexit is not free trade. Rather it is an attempt to reclaim government for the people. The Brexit debacle shows why that is necessary. Sweeping trade liberalisation measures as proposed by the Tories involves opening ourselves up to the full force of global competition with few safeguards. To do so involves sweeping aside the concerns of citizens on everything from competition through to food standards.

Brexit as is stands on a foundation of intellectual sand, and depressingly, Brexit has no competent defenders in the public eye. They have no idea what is regulated or what they would regulate differently or how any of it can bring any remedy to the social and economic problems we face. None of the nostrums about deregulation or tinkering with tariffs is of any major benefit - especially so when divergence from our nearest and largest markets puts up barriers to it.

Brexit rams a lot of stark issues into the pubic eye and highlights the need for urgent and radical change. Remainers preferred it before the referendum when they were able to ignore the acute issues and set their own political priorities, and they would really rather not think about any of this. Now that it;s happening, not unreasonably they expect that the Brexiters might have some convincing answers. And they really don't. It is, therefore, no surprise that the incumbent establishment has gone into hyperdrive to stop Brexit.

Being that they have at times come very close to succeeding, the details of Brexit and indeed the consequences slip to the edges as this becomes a culture war between those who want to be an independent country and those who do not. With such an odious establishment imbued with a sense of its own superiority, and the belief they have the god given right to overrule voters, Brexit has become a fight to the death where there is simply no room for compromise and no basis for trust. Politically, this is a civil war, and only when we are standing in the ruins will anyone be interested in a pan.

Now that the EEA option is dead, there is really only two possible outcomes. Either Mrs May will somehow bulldoze her deal through at the last minute or we leave without a deal. Our democracy is in no shape to tolerate Brexit being stopped. Leavers have waited a long time and worked hard for their prize and have had to defend it every step of the way. Should their hard won victory be stolen from them by an establishment held in deep contempt then we unleash all hell.

It is not impossible that if Mrs May's deal passes then we could pivot to a version of the EEA, but the combination of the withdrawal agreement and an FTA with all the trimmings is in some ways preferable. The impact of leaving the single market is serious but there are then more opportunities for democratic renewal and fewer constraints on what national and local democracy can do. We will regret the loss of trade but it's tolerable. I can't see any customs union lasting forever, especially as the technology to phase it out develops.

The one ting I am certain of here is that if there is no deal then our political woes are only just beginning. No doubt every faction will be on the warpath and looking for someone to blame. I won't be blaming any single faction. It will be a failure of our media, our politics, our institutions and our leaders. We all all carry some responsibility for our predicament. That is part of democracy. The people bear the consequences of their choices. It is not the function of our politics to protect us from ourselves as authoritarians like David Lammy would have it. We are not children.

Ironically, such a failure of politics would exemplify why change was necessary. The fact that it could come to this is perhaps an indication of why it must. Our politics is not fit for purpose, it lacks the talent and the knowledge to manage change effectively and it resists democracy to the death. We should also not forget that it was this parliament that introduced  this liability in the first place by taking us not Lisbon without consent. They did this to is. Whatever comes after must ensure they never get the chance again.

Britain's sham democracy


The Daily Mail reports today that "Redundancy packages for two executives at the centre of council mergers will cost taxpayers almost £1million. Nine local authorities in Dorset will combine to form just two in April. 

Senior staff losing their jobs are being handed payouts which vastly exceed a cap on the public sector’s so-called ‘golden parachutes’. Jane Portman, the managing director of Bournemouth Borough Council, is to receive a pay and pension redundancy package of £473,000, it was announced yesterday. Debbie Ward, chief executive of Dorset County Council, has been awarded the same amount after leaving her post in November".

You would think this would be bigger news, but it's not big news because this is run of the mill. I've been keeping an eye on this exact sort of story for more than ten years now and this is only newsworthy by way of the figures involved being marginally higher than usual. It occasionally makes the news but generally doesn't make it past above local coverage. As offensive as it is, nobody has lifted a finger to do anything about it. 

These sums of themselves are offensive in that nobody in local government management is worth that much and especially not for midranking authorities in the rural shires. But when you account for the fact that council at the bottom end is still more than £1000, that's hundreds of households threatened with bailiffs and imprisonment if they don't cough up to finance these parasites.

Some 2.2 million people were visited by bailiffs in the last two years. Citizens Advice have found that one in three people have seen bailiffs breaking the rules, 40 per cent have suffered intimidation and there has been a 24 per cent increase in problems since the Government’s reforms were introduced in 2014. The reforms themselves did nothing to address the problem of bailiffs being self-regulating and accountable to nobody, further entrenching the rip off fee system. 
 
What's interesting in respect of these grotesque payouts is the circumstances where Parliament, without seeking local consent, has passed legislation for Dorset's nine councils to merge into two unitary authorities. Under the plans, due to come into effect in April, Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch would merge. A second council would be formed from Dorset County Council, East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, Weymouth & Portland and West Dorset. Why council mergers go anywhere near Westminster for approval escapes me.
Christchurch Borough Council formally opposed the plans and launched a legal challenge but in a joint statement, the leaders of the other eight councils described the passing of the legislation as "an historic day for local government" in the county. "These two new councils will have a stronger, co-ordinated voice when bidding for government funding and investment for things like road improvements, housing, schools and economic regeneration; the things that benefit an area for all those living within it".

This is very much part of the problem with our so called "local" government. We are seeing them merging to become corporate scale entities more akin with regional development agencies than democratic units. Local government is now structured for its own convenience, further excluding public participation, creating greater distance from those it serves and gearing itself entirely for chasing central government grants. Local government is therefore not financed locally, therefore it does not answer to local people. It simply does as it is told to meet the funding criteria.

The consequence of this is managerialism where complaints, concerns and requests vanish into vast anonymised systems where nobody is ever accountable and issues are simply given a number and farmed out to subdivisions and contractors. There is no applied local knowledge or institutional memory. The police service is going much the same way.

Were there any genuine participation where the public themselves had authority over local budgets, not only would there never be approved for these grotesque payouts, the job of town clerk would never have become an executive role in the first place. Instead, our remote system of government has become a remote, corporatised quangocracy involving vast sums of money over which we have no say.

This is particularly an issue here in Bristol with a mega council of its own, where the remedy was thought to be the introduction of an elected mayor to give it a figleaf of democracy. What we end up with though, is just another layer of cronyism appropriating funding for their pet vanity projects, oblivious to the fact that this money actually has to come from somewhere - and that somewhere is us. We can vote the mayor out but the problem is... we have to vote another in. 

If there is a lesson from Brexit it is that people feel they have no control over how they are governed. Government is something done to you rather than anything you have an active say in. The EU was part of the problem in that our mega "local" authorities have to divert funds to pursue targets, quotas and policies imposed on the UK by Brussels. Brexit brings some remedy to that, but if the public cannot define their own authorities and dictate its priorities then it is not democracy, local or otherwise.

If the drivers of Brexit are to be addressed then this is central to the problem. We need real local democracy, yet the process is in reverse. Not only are we losing control over local services, we are depoliticising them, turning citizens into cash cows to feed the voracious appetites and egos of greedy executives and and the circling private sector vultures surrounding any corporate scale enterprise.

Depressingly, there is little recognition of what needs to be done. The modern Labour party is obsessed with renationalising things for its own sake, mainly for ideological reasons and having total state control over them. It is a solution to no problem.  

What was fundamentally objectionable about the EU was that it mistrusts democracy by design, where the "democratic" arms of the system serve only as a figleaf for a largely managerialist enterprise. Britain seems to have adopted that culture of governance wholesale where power travels ever further toward the centre.

Though we see token calls for more localism and more consultation, it tends to result in yet another tier of elected dictators like Andy Burnham running their own little fiefdoms inside merged authorities nobody really asked for. Notionally it creates a "a stronger, co-ordinated voice when bidding for government funding" but the North of England will still be running dilapidated pacer trains ten years from now. 

This is perhaps the most toxic legacy of the EU. It is so long since we had anything close to meaningful democracy that nobody under fifty remembers what it looks like. Nobody recalls that parishes had their own dedicated officials, policemen and public servants. The popular perception of democracy now is that every once in a while we go out to uselessly vote for a representative whose powers are limited. So when we ask for more democracy, central government takes that to mean more empty voting rituals.

True democracy is when the people have power over their institutions and a real say in the big decisions. As we have it now, our local authorities are merged without a referendums, council taxes go up without referendums and we have no say in what we pay our local public servants. Party politics on a local basis is just a flag indicator as to the political bent of the candidate. We do not vote for local manifestos, and with massive councils districts have to compete for their priorities to be addressed. They cannot raise their own finance to manage their own affairs.

Democracy in Britain is a sham. It is not even worthy of the name. We may have ended the occupation of the Brussels machine but the mentality lives on. Brexit may well be a reason to cheer but it only removes some of the obstacles to meaningful change. To go the rest of the way, we face a longer, harder battle. Elected bureaucrats are every bit as bad as unelected ones. We need to rebuild democracy ground up and put Westminster back in its box.

The nature of the beast


Most people have no idea what the EU is or how it functions. Remainers don't know or care. It's just a thing in the background that gives them a few added perks and underpins the current economic and political settlement which they don't want to meaningfully change. They might say they do but in the end, they still support centralist ideas and statist economic planning - and the rejection of the EU just means we need to throw more welfare at the plebs. Governance is just a matter of mucking out the lepers once in a while.

Leavers, however, they have no idea either. They think the EU is a big club of political elites and we pay a membership fee to be part of a bloc that makes petty regulations for us. They think we can swan off and keep our £39bn and everything will function as before. Keeping the trucks rolling is just a matter of both sides agreeing to be nice to each other - and if the EU puts up barriers, then that's a politically motivated blockade. 

But that is the EU really? Primarily it is a political project with a single destination in mind; Ever closer union. Whether this can ever be fully realised is a matter of debate built the apparatus of the EU is geared toward pressing toward that objective. Some people support it but those who understand the implications for democracy do not. If we are working toward ever more European homogeneity of law then ever more competences will be beyond the reach of democratic influence. 

That of itself is reason enough to leave. That has never been in doubt in my mind. Moreover, the fact that it is a system of governance and indeed; a government, and that nobody properly understands it is all the more reason to call it a day. 

Where Brexit is concerned, though, what matters is the practical consequences. There are plenty of good practical reasons not to leave. Remaining therefore is not a positive proposition. It is simply pragmatism. We surrender to pragmatism and accept the political dogma that goes with it. Except there's the human factor. We are not cold pragmatists. The politics of it matter, democracy matters and the sanctity of the nation state matters. We are humans, we form communities based on values and geography and they become natural cultures. The EU is an artificial attempt at union - and it never works. 

But if we have decided to prioritise politics over pragmatism, there are still issues to address. That means we have to understand our way out of this mess and that means understanding what the business end of the EU is. So what is it? 

Depending on who you talk to the EU is a socialist empire or a neoliberal empire or some other variation. It's a political inkblot test based on your own political bent. In reality though it is a business operating system for Europe. Or more accurately, the single market is. This is why Brexiter claims that everything will be fine without a deal are delusional. 

It is not the case that the EU simply makes laws for us. Those laws are part of an integrated system for the enabling of commerce. The workers rights it awards are nothing to do with caring for European citizens. It's about creating a level playing field for business so that the rules are uniform throughout. Once they are uniform, they are beyond our control and will be negotiated downwards in international trade talks. Workers rights become a tradable commodity. The presence of rules on workers rights is why the progressives have been hoodwinked.

What the Brexiters don't seem to comprehend is that we are not a country linked by a single treaty connection to the EU. Membership is a million strands of integration. We do not have a relationship with the EU. We are the EU. We no more have a relationship with the EU than I have a relationship with my right leg. It is a part of me. 

The process of becoming an independent nation, therefore, is a process of delicate microsurgery in which we also need to decide what it is that we do need to collaborate on for the level of commercial activity we want to preserve. That is a far more difficult question when we have our own red lines - but the EU has its own red lines too. It wants to preserve the integrity of its commercial operating system.

The Brexiteers will call upon arcane WTO nostrums as to why things will carry on as normal but what they fail to understand is that the EU is the regional trade boss. It can do what it pleases according to its own set of rules and if the UK feels it is mistreated, not only does it have to bring a case to the WTO and finance it, it must be prepared to wait the years it takes to resolve such issues. Their faith in the WTO is misplaced.

There is no way to make them understand. Getting people to think in terms of systems is difficult. Most people assume that commerce simply just happens, but the EU is just one node in a complex and diverse system of rules and that moving out of one regulatory ecosystem does not put us into an unregulated wild west. Even the EU is bound by regional and global obligations.

Whatever your view of the EU, it is a system that have evolved over 40 years and commerce has evolved inside that ecosystem. Much of the trade we enjoy only exists because of the removal of bureaucratic barriers created by national differentials. The single market has progressed things and to a large extent we are enriched because of it. The desire to leave it may be understandable in that it is an all or nothing approach, but only a fool thinks we can function without a formal trade relationship with our nearest and largest partner. 

We don't deserve this insult


So in this pivotal moment in British history, who does the BBC think we need to hear from? A Corbyn activist, a Guardian hack, a Tory radio presenter, Toby Young, a 90's pop singer and the ever vacuous Jo Coburn. The living manifestation of the Bubble. I have to ask what value does this add to the national debate? What does it offer serious adults?

If the BBC serves any function at all then it is to inform the debate. This does not in any way fulfil that public service obligation. What we see here is creatures of the Westminster bubble invited on the basis of their availability and media recognition.

No doubt the diversity quota and editorial balance policy is in action here but this is condescension. If the referendum told us anything it is that the public are information starved. Everybody thought the campaigns were lacking gravitas and seriousness. The entire debate was dumbed down and trivialised by TV producers who seem to think we can't cope with mature and serious debates featuring knowledgeable people - and that it needs to be sensationalised and cheapened.

Right now it would be good to hear from a parliamentary process expert and a trade analyst and a customs regulation specialist. But what do we get? Generic airheads from the media circle jerk who add precisely nothing and hold zero expertise. All BBC producers are interested in is manufacturing clickbait clips and engineering rowdy conflicts, serving up politics as entertainment. Obligation to inform is nowhere on the list. This is Westminster bubble masturbation.

I don't give a tinker's damn if a TV programme has the right gender/ethic/ideological balance. I just want to hear serious people with worthwhile contributions cross examined by people with gravitas and rounded competence unlike the airhead presenters we have to endure. Instead it gives houseroom to Owen Jones who is expert in precisely nothing, lobbyist prostitutes like LowFactChloe, and the idiot Bastani as though these people had any practical knowledge or experience of anything relevant to the somewhat urgent unfolding events.

Never have we been so poorly served by the BBC, and yet the likes of producer, Rob Burley, evidently don't seem to think there is a problem - and are only too happy to trivialise politics. Just so long as it keeps generating noise they think they're doing their jobs. Not only is it sickening, it's also hugely damaging to the national discourse, where people are so starved of adult politics they've forgotten what it even looks like. The media is no longer equipped to handle anything remotely serious or treat it with the urgency it deserves.

Being that TV politics is the prism through which most people still see the Westminster bubble, it's very possible that BBC producers (and the crap they serve up) are more responsible for the leave vote than any one single factor. How could we feel anything other than contempt for them when viewed through that lens? The BBC did a more effective job for leave than anything allegedly cooked up by Cambridge Analytica.

Brexit may have brought an end to politics as we know it, which is something to be thankful for, but if there is any hope of salvaging the mess that follows, then the next "people's revolt" should be directed at the BBC, not because of bias, but because it is institutionally incapable of producing content of value. It is an indulgence in triviality. Its vacuous and banal productions reflect the quality of the people who work within it. It is an expensive luxury we can no longer afford.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Coasting into the fire


One of the functions of this blog is to tell you what's going on. Well, I'm sorry, I haven't a clue. The whole thing is going to hell in a handbasket. The no deal propaganda has worked hook line and sinker on the Tory membership, there is no backing for May's deal in parliament (it would seem) yet MPs don't want no deal and one imagines the remainers don't either. Meanwhile Nick Boles is facing deselection for pushing his Norway Plus agenda. It's fragmented every which way when the mirror was already shattered to a million pieces.

Meanwhile, we're getting blathering about "postponing" Brexit (Art 50 extension) or revoking the Article 50 notification. I don't see the former being accepted by the EU-27, while I don't think May will go for a revocation. As ever there is a certain solipsism in Westminster, believing that we can extend Article 50 but if I'm reading the mood right, they will only extend for ratification. there is no mood for yet more buggering about. That leaves us with no deal.

Ordinarily MPs might bottle it at the last minute and back May's deal, but there doesn't seem to be an awareness that voting May's deal down increases the risk of no deal. MP Emma Reynolds tweets "Spoke in today's EU debate against the PM's #Brexit deal. I cannot in all conscience vote for a deal which will make my constituents poorer and the economy smaller. Also warned against dangers of a no deal Brexit". This is essentially saying "I don't want this grenade to go off in my face but I've pulled the pin out anyway".

On every platform the Brexit debate has degenerated into petty squabbling while the no deal propaganda machine continues to pour in the poison, where it now seems that accidental Brexit is the more likely eventuality. One might speculate that Number Ten believes the EU will then reopen the books instead of letting the full consequences take hold. We are then in post-cliff edge "managed no deal" territory - which is highly unlikely given the complexity of such arrangements.

Here we bump into the golden rule of politics and especially the golden rule of Brexit - never think rationally about irrational circumstances. With so many competing agendas and no majority for any of them, absolutely anything could happen. The only thing one can do is to continue to inform the debate. Even that, though, has limited uses.

As one tweeter puts it "Loads of reasons to stop Brexit but no reasons to stay in the EU. It's a culture war". This is where we are at. There is so much political bad blood that facts have ceased to matter. Ordinary people will be caught up in the crossfire. For some it will screw them literally overnight. Whatever mitigating measures there may be, there is no evidence that we are sufficiently prepared and if the ferry saga is anything to go by, this government simply hasn't understood the nature of the problems.  

Another tweeter, Alex Dale, remarks "It’s sobering to think that before Brexit our elected representatives were carrying on just as incompetently as they are now, but keeping on the down low". That, however, is only part of the problem. They can handle one crisis at a time. Usually the crisis is one of their own making like Universal Credit, and the entire apparatus of politics goes into the scrutiny of it. In this instance they are being tasked with managing change to systems they as yet do not know exist and will manage it with the level of incompetence we have become accustomed to.

In the first instance all the energies will go on the more visible aspects. We won't see a total grounding of aircraft but some services will be closed off. The Commission has adopted two measures that will avoid full interruption of air traffic between the EU and the UK in the event of no deal - but in their exact words "These measures will only ensure basic connectivity and in no means replicate the significant advantages of membership of the Single European Sky".

This lands them with the main headache of what happens at the ports, where, for whatever mitigating measures there are, we most certainly need a transition period - but there isn't going to be one. It will take several months to organise a new regime to navigate EU "official controls" where during that time orders will be unfulfilled, contracts will be broken and businesses will go under. 

Being that I am somewhat familiar with the rules I am often told that "you might know the rules but on the ground business always finds a way". Indeed it does but with the added costs, delays and overall confusion as to what the new regime even looks like, only the most resilient will survive. It could be several months before we establish a new normal. 

The problem here is that the most visible symptoms will get the most urgent treatment and the bulk of intellectual resource. Everything else will have to wait its turn or in the case of lower priority sectors, be hung out to dry completely. Ferries and ports are the big sexy issues insofar as logistics are ever sexy, but as this blog continues to point out, much commercial activity does not depend on logistics but is part of a huge integrated regulatory system for the facilitation of commerce and when you start pulling on particular threads, the whole thing starts to unravel.

Here, fishing is my go to example. With fishing boats unable to land their catches in EU ports, no longer having access to EU processing facilities, and existing UK facilities being configured for existing markets, nobody can quite predict the effects - not least since the UK has different consumer habits. This could see some classes of boat sitting idle until the new system of rules is fully implemented. 

The problem with much of this analysis is that it relies heavily on the word "could" which Brexiter generally take to mean "probably won't" which is a result of media misreporting and trivialisation. My worry is less about the known effects as the unknown effects - the secondary impacts where few will have foreseen any impact at all. If people voted for change then we are going to have all the change we can handle. 

This is where the absorptive capacity of government will be saturated. Officials in education, justice and welfare are among staff in five government departments being asked to take up new roles within weeks. None will be replaced and the secondments are expected to last at least six months. Whitehall sources said ministers were being told to reduce demands on their departments. the normal functioning of government will collapse.

Moreover, these secondments are likely not going to be particularly effective. You can't just slot in and take on Brexit related work at a drop of a hat. Many of these regulatory systems take years to understand. If you're even well versed in the basics you're doing quite well. As to having a command of how and where they are implemented in real life, fuhgeddaboudit!

Much of this depends on the competence of government and whatever levels of cooperation we can expect from the EU. The EU will face pressures from member states and it will have its own self-interest to safeguard but the contingency measures recently announced are limited in scope and represent only a fraction of the concerns covered in the Notices to Stakeholders.

In terms of the Notices, they are reasonably explicit, giving only limited space for mitigation, with only limited bilateral powers for member states. From the beginning of negotiations the EU has acted in the defence of the integrity of its systems and will continue to do so. 

I never imagined it would come to this. It was logical to assume that with a parliament broadly against Brexit that they would have been able to organise themselves to avoid no deal at the very least. It seemed like a safe assumption but I don't think anybody truly anticipated this level of disarray. Emily Thornberry has been on the BBC Question Time programme yet again demonstrating she still doesn't know what a customs union is.

Politically the fallout will be intense. Certainly passionate and highly emotional. For me it will be something of a vindication. But it will also be a time to take scalps. The ERG MPs have been on record plenty of times to tell us we have nothing to fear from no deal. There is a long list of editors, journalists, MPs and think tank hacks who have added their prestige to the no deal case. Their names will not be forgotten.

When couriers, drivers, farmers and car workers are out of work, they will want answers. The ERG will attempt to shift the blame, once again using their propaganda vessels to call the imposition of controls a "blockade". Hardliner Tory tribalists will fall into line with this narrative and accept no responsibility. The EU, though, is not going to take the blame and the ERG have made far too many bold claims to evade responsibility. 

At that point I rather imagine the likes of Redwood, Paterson and Rees-Mogg will be looking over their shoulders and checking under their cars. If Ms Soubry thinks she has it bad now, the Brexiters will need armed escort and there will be more than cross words. Unlike Soubry, they won't enjoy it. This time there will be no wave of disapproval and very little sympathy. If Mr Rees-Mogg comes a cropper I certainly won't shed any tears. A man who has directed a systematic campaign of political lying, toying with the livelihoods of ordinary people is very much the author of his own demise. 

We've been told that much of this is little more than Y2K scaremongering and yet even with official impact assessments and explicit legal positions being available for months, the lie that it will all be fine has endured. There has been a determination to believe that the warnings are all just one great big remainer establishment conspiracy. I'm told more people would have listened to me were I not so abrasive but it wouldn't have mattered if I had a million followers. This fever stalking the land has to come to its own conclusion.

There will be a great deal of karma to come in the next few months. Should we leave without a deal there is no question of Mrs May staying prime minister, and by then the Brexiters will not be in anyone's favour. The Tories will be too weak to cling on to power and a general election shortly after surely must follow. For all that Tory tribalists have been telling us for months that voting for May's deal will see a Corbyn government, they are about to see how no deal is a fast track to a full term of Corbyn.

My own view is that Mrs May's deal is still the way forward. I'm no longer debating its flaws or merits. It is the deal on the table and if nothing else it buys us a transition. It is not going to be renegotiated, there is no plan B, and for a long stretch of time Efta will be off limits to the UK until it is suitably humbled. I'd rather we didn't end up in a customs union but that miserable consequence is something leavers must accept responsibility for having failed to plan or offer a viable alternative.

It could be that Mrs May's deal will fail the first vote, but that is by no means the end of it. There could be a bit of theatre and some horse trading, and on a second pass, with no deal looming, MPs might actually read the writing on the wall. There is a last ditch effort by the ERG to force a no deal Brexit but May has just enough political capital to fend it off. I live in hope. 

Most of all this will be a test of British society over and above the government which has already failed. This will be hard times for a great many people and though we may save our £39bn, tax receipts from the collapse of EU trade will mean there is far less in the kitty and with government putting out brush fires it will be unable to respond to the new problems it creates for itself. The people themselves will have to do the heavy lifting. 

There are those who insist that May's deal is not leaving the EU, but we very much are leaving the single market (which they also said was remaining) and that will have profound implications businesses in nearly all sectors. It will impact their recruitment and their ability to operate. It will impact investment and curtail a number of government infrastructure projects. It's going to change a lot about how things get done and local authorities are going to have to do more with less.

One way or another, life as we have been used to is going to come to an abrupt end. Either in 77 days or some time after that. Politics as we know it is done for. That much I do not regret. There will have to be a reckoning though. Too many lies have been told and too many will be avoidably made to suffer. If the one lesson we learn is to never overestimate the competence of politicians - and never to trust them, then perhaps this alone makes it all worth it. 

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Britain needs a reboot - but Brexit is only the start


The Brexit debate is primarily surface level politics. It discusses everything from "enforced austerity" through to the EU army, the Euro crisis, and all the classic arguments about democracy and sovereignty. You know the list. Increasingly it's a meme war over subjects barely related to the UK's current status in the EU. Increasingly the EU is a proxy issue and the mechanics of it are seldom ever debated. After all, who is really interested in ship scrappage regulation?

Central to the UK dispute is a culture war between the progressive liberal consensus (and toxic marriage of media and politics) versus the plebs who've had enough of their bullshit. This is fundamentally why I am in the Brexit camp. But this isn't going to be resolved without a fight to the death and the economy will be the first casualty of war.

Brexit, especially in leaving the single market, breaks us out of a full spectrum regulatory regime evolved over forty years encompassing everything from fishing through to digital services and breaking out of it puts up a firewall between us and the EU. UK businesses are frozen out of automatic participation. Anyone wishing to trade inside the EU will have to navigate labyrinthine red tape and they can expect the cost of doing business to skyrocket.

For some businesses it is simply a matter of finding an importer on the continent and re-certifying products. They may have to rethink the logistics but continuity is not impossible. For providers of services, however, things are made a lot more difficult. Without the right to operate legally and without certifications and visa arrangements, service provision will prove impossible to maintain. Contracts will end and there will be legal disputes.

This is where Brexiters have been cavalier. They make many assumptions about trade and commerce, unaware that it is the regulatory constructs and cooperation agreements that facilitate this commerce. The ease with which we can trade now is a result of being inside what is essentially a European business operating system.

Debate about trade tends to be superficial and with headline Brexit impacts relating largely to Dover-Calais logistics, this unfortunately distorts the wider trade debate as many assume the fullest extent of trade is getting tins of beans from point A to point B. Things like intellectual property, digital rights, transferable qualifications and trade governance issues in respect of standards don't really get a look in. 

It's one thing to trust in the resilience and adaptability of the private sector but for the majority of Brexiters I talk to it's a matter of blind faith and any warning given is treated as exaggeration, problematising or simply an attempt to keep us in the EU. There is a belief system and most are completely ignorant of how the system works and have only a primitive understanding of how it all interacts.

This is really not something that can be explained in a series of tweets. Moreover, I think you have to have a particular kind of brain to be able to conceptualise multi-tiered systems. I don't say this as a boast but I'm naturally attuned to it. By trade I was a database application developer and though relational database principles to me are primary school stuff, some people just won't ever get it. People are wired differently.

When you have a system this complex, it is easy to understand why the EU doesn't allow the sort of cherry picking the UK demands. Much of the system is indivisible and it doesn't work when you pluck out the bits you fund inconvenient. I liken it to deleting library files from a computer. You think you are saving space but when you start deleting application files without knowing what they are and what they do, you soon find things just don't operate as they should. My dad certainly found this when I tinkered with his PC as a teenager. Lessons were learned. Eventually.

With trade, it gets even more complex when you take into account that every sector has multiple dependencies and impacts upon them have cascade effects. A blow to beef farming has ramifications for feed cropping. There are secondary and tertiary sectors all of which are in some way affected.

There is an assumption among Brexiters that commercial pressures and complaints from within EU member states will compel the EU to ease restrictions on UK trade but the EU is very much a creature of rules and has only limited ability to take unilateral action. Moreover, it will keenly guard its system integrity. It may ease the rules in places for the benefit of Ireland but if the UK leaves a gaping hole in EU finances it will not look to do the UK any favours. It will only act in its immediate self-interest.

Moreover, as the UK diverges from the EU regulatory system, the EU will use its own regulatory and soft power to frustrate UK efforts, especially if they feel that the UK is acting in direct competition or acting in such a way that EU regional and global objectives are in some way undermined. It has raw clout that the UK does not.

When most people conceptualise the UK becoming an independent country, they do so in a superficial way - thinking that keeping our £39bn (chump change) and making all our own laws is largely free of consequence. In reality though, becoming a distinct entity severs thousands of microfibres that link UK commerce to the rest of Europe. We are closing off our own markets to the EU and the EU does likewise. We may spout the rhetoric of being open for business but the real world practical effect of leaving the EU regulatory ecosystem is akin with turning up to work and finding your user rights restricted.

It is also assumed by Brexiters that the relaxation of border controls is just something that happens by mutual agreement. Frictionless trade, however, is the product of the regulatory system. We have not eliminated border controls, rather we have distributed them away from the borders, while toughening up our external frontiers.

The notion that we are then open to the rest of the world, is to an extent correct in that we do not have to impose the same strict frontier controls that the EU does, but then the risk of UK produce contaminating the purity of the EU market is increased thus we can expect more restrictions, inspections and delays to commerce with the continent. Even with an FTA with the EU there will be barriers to commerce.

To a large extent the critique that the toughness of EU frontier controls diverts and deters trade is entirely correct. We are about to find out first hand how difficult it is to trade with the EU as a third country. For whatever freedoms to trade we may gain from Brexit, it is difficult to envisage any combination of free trade agreements that can compensate for the loss of EU trade.

The gains from "trading with the rest of the world" a likely to be minimal since we already have, via the EU, extensive agreements with key partners. A flagship FTA with the USA is good propaganda, but will hardly compensate for losing single market participation. We are losing a wealthy consumer market on our doorstep and that is going to hurt. It is possible that the UK could, free of the EU, develop new markets for itself but it will take time and cost money. The question before us now is really one of whether we can afford the body blow of "no deal".

The warnings over no deal are widely mocked by Brexiters largely because they have been sensationalised, misreported and trivialised by the media. This gives Brexiters the ammunition they need and cause to ignore the warnings. Moreover, through cynical manipulation by the media, many Brexiters now believe that any deal with the EU is somehow a betrayal of Brexit, which has not in any way been helped by remainers who would have us stay in both the single market and the customs union. Even Theresa May's deal is described as BRINO. This very blog has (unfairly) described it as such.

On closer inspection, though, there are certain realities to take into account. The non-regression clauses are to a point neither here nor there. Interestingly the EU today announced a "new" series of measures on ship recycling. It's worth a quick look at the actual regulation. It is mainly based on The Hong Kong Convention, adopted on 15 May 2009 under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization. It's taken them this long to implement it. IMO, ILO, OECD feature heavily and is mostly based on the HKC enforced under Paris MoU and SOLAS regime.

The UK, whether we leave with or without a deal, will be independent signatories to all of these global conventions and had we never been a member of the EU we would have to construct legal instruments and rules to bring them into effect. Since we are adopting the EU acquis as part of the Brexit process, it may be some years before we revisit or reform them simply because the government will have bigger fish to fry and more urgent problems. It will take a future task force to rationalise and clean up adopted regulation.

Having the powers to interpret such global conventions according to our own designs (the global standard will be the benchmark upon which the EU judges in respect of non-regression) certainly gives us scope to develop our own markets, especially being out of the single market - and though we will have a customs union of a sort, regulatory initiatives and access to UK markets through mutual recognition etc are hugely more pertinent to trade than tariffs. Since the EU always negotiates downward and preferences are likely to be extended to the UK, the problems with May's customs deal are overstated.

We do not, as yet, know what the future relationship looks like but it is highly likely it will comprise of an FTA along the lines of Japan or Canada. That is the logical conclusion. We can also reasonably assume a form of maximum facilitation at ports and bilateral air services agreements. It won't be the single market and there will be a cliff edge of a sort but not nearly so severe and nothing that would introduce the risk of cascade failure as no deal does.

If there is one particular merit to the deal on the table, it is that we live to fight another day. The political declaration has standing and there is enough EU codified dogma to hold them to in the future, and we are certain to end up revisiting the relationship since external relations are always evolving as the Swiss experience shows.

My view is that leaving the single market is a regrettable mistake and it will have a major impact on UK trade. I do, though, understand politically why leaving it is necessary. For all that I have argued for it to soften the blow of Brexit, many of my critiques of the EU also apply to the EEA. We would need to either radically reform EEA or leave it eventually (in the worst case scenario).

The fact of the matter is that even with no deal, absolutely sovereignty is still constrained by a number of external factors and commercial imperatives will largely dictate high alignment with the EU as our nearest and largest neighbour. Brexit does not change geography nor does it make us a free agent. the question is whether there is anything to be gained from such a violent upheaval as leaving without a deal. And there really isn't.

This blog has argued that there may be certain social and political gains from such a revolutionary exit (the hair shirt Brexit) but the outcomes are no means guaranteed and there is a strong chance that the economic hardship caused by it would see us grovelling back to Brussels in no time for a deal even worse than May's. Political renewal is by no means a certainty either. The establishment could easily limp on and continue in its maladministration.

Politically, Brexit has turned toxic. The divisions highlight the sense of entitlement, snobbery and connivery of the establishment (that progressive liberal consensus) and our political class is hated more than ever. This battle is going to run and run and Brexit in any form is unlikely to bring any remedy. Only a radical reboot of politics such as the Harrogate Agenda is likely to bring the country back together. 

On that note, by March we will know one way or the other what sort of Brexit we get. On that day The Leave Alliance is all but defunct since we will have formally left the EU. Negotiations on the future relationship will certainly be worthy of discussion but that part of the process will be dry, technical detail, largely tracking that which is already in EU FTAs and bilateral cooperation agreements. 

The politics of that will likely be hyperventilation over irrelevancies where Brexiters whinge over aspects of the deal even though they appear in CETA which is what they said they wanted. March, therefore, will be the time to relaunch Harrogate Agenda activities. With Brexit in the bag, the ground for new ideas is fertile and there is every chance it can gain momentum.

If nothing else, Brexit has revealed how utterly dysfunctional Westminster has become. It and the media has failed every test along the way. These failures have brought us to the brink of no deal and may yet produce that outcome. It is intolerable that it should continue this way. It is this system that allows politicians to do this to us in the first place. If the people had meaningful control over their politics we would never have been so deep in the EU that it could have come to this to begin with.

For all the talk of new parties, it won't meaningfully impact politics if one came along. As Ukip demonstrated, the higher the monkey climbs the more you see of his arse. Sending deadbeat drongos to Westminster to do our politics is simply not a model that works regardless of the rosette they wear. Parliament already has the full spectrum of morons. Putting them all in one room and giving them the power to decide what we can eat, drink, think and say is not only stupid. It's demonstrably dangerous.

Westminster has far too much influence over our lives and increasingly involves itself in things that are either none of its business or that which ought to be decided at a local level. Westminster should concern itself mainly with defence, trade and external affairs. Health, education, taxation and much else should be done according to the wishes of the public, and to their own designs rather than those of Brussels or Whitehall. We only have a politically disengaged public because they are used to their votes and voices having no effect. Only by truly democratising and localising governance can we make our democracy truly participatory.

The culture war we see unfolding is primarily a consequence of an alien political culture imposing its ideas and values on the rest of the country. Our politicians believe they are there to rule us rather than serve us. They use our money to pursue their own narcissistic and meddlesome agendas and apart from a largely meaningless voting ritual every five years, we have no say in it. We cannot meaningfully hold them to account.

If democracy is to be meaningful in the UK then we must be governed by consent. It is that fundamental lack of legitimacy that Westminster and Brussels suffers from. Government is something done to us rather than something we have a stake in. Unless Brexit delivers meaningful change then all of this pain will have been for nothing. While Brexit is a starter for ten, it is by no means enough - but the rest is up to us.