Wednesday, 14 November 2018

I'd have settled for a compromise, but this is capitulation


I've flip-flopped on a number of issues over the course of this blog. At one time I was ambivalent about freedom of movement and broadly in favour of it, but settled on the notion that the current form of it must end. I've been adamant that a no deal Brexit is a very bad thing, but at the same time almost willing it to happen. The one constant is that I think the EEA represents the best available compromise.

Sometimes my position can change by the day. Yesterday, albeit without having seen the gory details, I was reluctantly supportive of the deal as it was rumoured to be. Today I am implacable opposed to it and I think if it's this or no deal then, miserable as it is, no deal is what it has to be.

I make no apology for my flip-floppery though. I can say with some pride that I have attempted to explore every avenue of Brexit in full and attempted to reconcile the issues in ways few other have. The issues are not always clear cut, it's difficult stuff and some of the trade-offs cause me to question some of my longest standing views. Sometimes you have to argue the opposite case just as a thought exercise. What I have detested most in both remainers and leavers is fixed positions unwilling to explore other possibilities and alternative ideas.

This has caused me many a fall out with Brexiters who have taken an absolutist line on everything and have made no attempt to understand the issues or even entertain the idea that they might on some level be wrong.

In part, the reason I do this blog is is that writing about something is the process of understanding something. Very often I don't fully understand my own impulses and ideas until I have brought structure to them. I publish my thoughts in the hope that you may take some benefit from seeing the thought process.

Blogging Brexit is difficult in that there are so many unknowns and much of what I do is speculation. It is informed speculation but even informed speculation from the best of us can be wildly wrong, especially where political predictions are concerned. There are plenty of times I have been wrong and probably more often than not. Predictions are indeed a mugs game. As the process evolves, though, more of the unknowns become known. This is how our thinking evolves.

Central to this whole dilemma is that the UK exists as an entity in a world of complex international agreements - bilateral and multilateral. Each bring their own benefits but also constraints on what is generally understood as sovereignty.

The globalist liberal believes in the maximum facilitation of trade and freedom of capital and subsequently goods and people. This comes with considerable economic benefits. It also comes with problems. The other side of the argument are those who fetishise national sovereignty who, like me believe it is essential to the defence and exercise of democracy.

One can take that view and be broadly in favour of international cooperation but stop short of supranationalism, which though described as pooling sovereignty, is in fact the transfer of political authority. That is my beef with the EU. The more power it has the less power the people have. That is the principle at stake.

That principle, though has to be reconciled with the real world where trade superpowers set the regulatory agenda, frictionless trade does not happen without regulatory harmonisation, and as a smaller economy, less powerful than the EU, and the EU as our single largest trade partner will continue to call the shots in one form or another. Trade gravity is one of the few unarguable truths in economics.

That then presents us with a number of unpalatable choices and dilemmas when the ideal balance is not available to us. We therefore have to evaluate the remaining options and that is not easy. This is easy for remainers who tend to view this entirely through an economic prism. It is far more difficult to crack when you factor in the political, cultural and democratic concerns.

Remainers will generally compartmentalise. Speaking from experience, they tend to fetishise the economy over all other concerns, not least because the current economic settlement works in their favour. They argue that the economic settlement (the EU) is not the cause of the political and social dysfunction in the UK. That is a more difficult question address.

Remainers will say that much of what is done to us is primarily the actions of the UK government. That is their conceptual error. The EU is the UK government and Westminster is the national administration putting into effect measures and legislation agreed at the EU and global level. What appears to be domestic law is very often the implementation of directives and conventions.

This can dictate anything from product labelling through to the structure of utility markets through to labour rights, waste disposal and public transport. There are many tiers of invisible but important aspects of governance that place obligations on national and local authorities and directs large parts of their spending and the manner in which they execute policy.

Over the four decades of EU membership we have seen a radical transformation of governance which has become more proscribed, more remote, more centralised and more immune to democratic inputs. Gradually the value of voting and democratic participation is diminished and our ability to innovate in policy is reduced.

We Brexiters therefore take the view that political authority must be returned to its proper place be that Westminster or at the local level. Pragmatists can compromise on common standards and conventions for the free movement of goods, and only the most obtuse would seriously object to common trade governance. What is intolerable is integration, standardisation and harmonisation for its own sake or for the sake of the European ideal to homogenise. It transfers authority to Brussels over things can and should be decided domestically.

It is by that measure we must assess any withdrawal agreement with the EU. Being that the purpose of Brexit is to repatriate political authority then we must also be able to meaningfully diverge and design our own laws according to our own values and economic objectives. We should, therefore, be seeking a balance between our commercial interests and restoration of democratic control.

Trade, however, is more complex than cross-border trade in goods, and as much as it is governed by the EU it is also governed by a series of regional and global rules. We may wish to simplify relations but there is no simplifying the inherently complex. We uphold certain shared values and standards and we agree not to engage in anti-competitive practices. These are the values which underpin a global order we have created and participated in for some seventy years.

It therefore stands to reason that any enhanced treaty with our nearest trade partners and closest allies would extend beyond the remit of food safety controls, banking rules and transboundary anti-pollution measures. The Prime Minister is right to say that we desire a deep and special partnership.

The operative word there is partnership. We respect their sovereignty and vice versa. So can that be said of the withdrawal agreement? Absolutely not. Primarily the UK seeks to restore control over who and what comes into the UK and on what terms. As part of a full and permanent customs union there are extraordinary constraints on UK policy. This also comes with a number of non-divergence obligations and further commitments to implement EU social and environmental law with the ECJ as the ultimate arbiter.

Intellectually, democratically and morally this is not consistent with Brexit. Rather than attempting to reconcile the issues it simply removes us from the decision-making apparatus while locking us into many of the tiers of governance that are not required for the functioning of trade. We should also note that this agreement is only the withdrawal agreement and there is to be a future trade component of the relationship which will also concede to more regulatory measures again with the ECJ as supreme authority.

There is every advantage to having a deep and comprehensive economic and social partnership with the EU. The concessions we make though must be in the mutual interest and where possible preserve jobs and trade. It is actually a feat of legal engineering that Theresa May has managed to concede to just about everything except those measures that will protect trade. Not only does it unplug us from single market participation, it prevents us from exploring mitigating policies and agreements with other countries.

Being that I have attempted to reconcile the issues and have strongly argued against leaving without a deal I am not being obstinate by saying this is BRINO. Few can say they have invested more energy in comprehending the issues and unlike the Ultras I do see the need for compromise. But this isn't compromise. Not only is it a capitulation, it goes further than that to make the UK a supplicant.

Being that that the case, the so-called WTO option, which I had previously considered unthinkable, now seems infinitely preferable. We did not do this thing for £350m a week to play with. We did not do this thing for Boris Johnson's "bumper trade deals". We did this to return powers to their rightful place to address the democratic deficit here in the UK so that once again our democracy means something. Should we agree to this deal we defeat the purpose and the spirit of Brexit. What the EU is saying here is that in or out of the EU, if we want trade with the EU then we must do away with democracy.

I have repeatedly stated that the UK could not survive as a trading nation by relying on the WTO Option. The Leave Alliance said "It would be an unmitigated disaster, and no responsible government should allow it". There is but one caveat though. If the ultimatum is between trade or democracy, then we must choose democracy. If this is the only deal then Theresa May was right. No deal really is better than a bad deal.

The devil's in the detail - and it stinks


We really wanted to give Theresa May the benefit of the doubt. The devil, however, is in the detail. The NI protocol. If you add it all up, it's a full and permanent customs unions with all the trimmings including the common commercial policy with permanent lock-ins on a raft of regulatory measures. Worse than EEA by a country mile.

The sleight of hand is that it remains in place until "alternative arrangements" are agreed for Northern Ireland knowing full well that if existing EU CU law is applied in full as the baseline then there is no legally viable alternative. Once it's done, it's done.

The basic test is whether the deal allows the UK to repatriate political authority and frees us to reform economic and social policy through our own democratic institutions. It doesn't. We stay aligned across the full spectrum with the ECJ as the supreme authority. We don't like to use the term BRINO because ultra Brexiters will wail and say any deal is BRINO, but if it walks like a duck...

We take the view that the only reason we would sign up to binding commitments in this way is to minimise the economic harm. But being that we would be outside of the EEA thus subject to standard third country controls, we remain subject to EU political control but without any of the economic benefits. We lose UK services access and free movement of goods and by being further locked into the EU regime we lose any of the necessary autonomy to mitigate.

Here May has conceded on her red lines to put the ECJ in charge of a whole raft of policy areas allowing it to countermand any policy decision the UK might make. A full and deep customs union very much does place asymmetric limitations on UK external policy. We detest the overused term "vassal state" but that's really what this smells like.

When The Leave Alliance proposed the EEA option we took the view that there was a hard separation between the ECJ and the UK. It removes ECJ direct authority. We took the view that that the EEA would mitigate the worst economic impacts, staying aligned only in those areas relevant to European trade while maximising our liberty to trade independently. We understood that there would be compromises but at the very least those compromises would safeguard jobs and trade. This deal does not do that. 

The root dilemma of globalisation is trade versus sovereignty. We recognised there would be binding constraints on the exercise of sovereignty but we did so with the view that we were maximising our trade with the EU by doing so. This deal is the mirror opposite. It is all the impediments to sovereignty while the EU is able to cannibalise UK market share and we cannot pursue a full and active independent trade policy. 

Theresa May said no deal is better than a bad deal. We struggled to imagine any deal worse than no deal but if anyone could accomplish such a feat it was Theresa May. Our view has always been that every effort should be made to ensure we do not leave without a deal but we are left to wonder why we would submit to a deal which gives the EU control but does not safeguard jobs.

A customs union is of limited use in this regard. The majority of third country controls related to regulatory concerns and are not alleviated by a customs union. The extended regulatory provisions for Northern Ireland will likely become the baseline for the whole UK but unlike Norway we would have no role in the process. This really is "fax democracy". 

More crucially, any deal should not be judged strictly by which rules are adopted. What matters is the mode of adoption and the systems of arbitration. There is also the question of safeguards and exit procedures. It is on these questions the deal must be judge, in which we are not remotely satisfied. Likely we will adopt rules verbatim without the safeguards and opt outs afforded by the EEA Efta system.

In the coming days we will see attempts to characterise this deal as an amalgam of the Turkey option or the Swiss option. It is neither. It is an incoherent Frankenstein deal that in no way satisfies the objectives of Brexit, fails to honour promises and doesn't even mitigate the economic disruption. 

Unlike may of our fellow leavers we have kept an open mind and stayed open to the possibility that Theresa May would stick to her guns. In the final analysis, though, she has completely and utterly folded, handing away our every advantage to produce a deal even we would find it too obnoxious to ratify. This deal stinks. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

The deal we deserve


I don't envy any MP having to make the call whether to support the deal said to be on the table. Not least least since nobody has actually seen it. Never in the field of British politics has so much been written by so many about so little. If it does exist, though, it is likely to sub-optimal - but it was never really going to be any other way. This question is fundamentally is a balance between principle and harm reduction.

I start from the basis that no deal is a very bad thing. Repairing the damage could result in a web of asymmetric agreements in the EU's favour and any future administration, probably even weaker than this one, would feel there was no choice but to accede to EU demands.

There question, therefore, is whether it would be worse than the withdrawal agreement on offer. And the answer is probably yes. Here you have to look at what we'd be signing up to. I don't imagine the rumoured deal is much different in substance to the draft we saw in March. The technicalities may differ but in essence it is the same beast.

So what is it? Put simply it is the bare bones of trade governance, enough for the EU to relax its third country controls along its frontier in Ireland. Here we have MP and professional moron, Steve Baker, remarking "Quite how the Withdrawal Agreement has gone from 130 pages in March to over 500 now, I don’t know".

Well I do. Trade governance by its very nature is complicated and wide ranging and there are a number of legacy issues that cannot be left unaddressed. Trade cannot operate in a legal limbo and we have political and moral obligations as a departing member. 

In respect of that, there are a number of areas where the EU retains the right to interpret its own rules and retains exclusivity over decision making - particularly in respect of controls on goods in Northern Ireland. This is a dilution of UK sovereignty. The question for me is to what extent does it particularly matter? Sub-optimal yes, but tolerable. 

As to the rumoured UK wide customs union, more than likely ti will come with aspects of the Union Customs Code and a myriad of other customs stipulations. It will have an impact on the scope of future trade policy but by no means prevent us from having an independent trade policy. The trade debate is far too hung up on tariffs when the real cost of doing business is non tariff barriers. We already enjoy minimal tariffs with much of the world. The difference is likely to be marginal. Turkey still does FTAs and even with zero tariffs so does Singapore. 

Essentially the agreement is a piece of legal technology to achieve a number of mutually agreed ends. You don't have to like it (I certainly don't) but within the confines of reality this is how these things are done. EEA Efta was a better approach being that it is a whole UK solution that does not require a customs union, but Brexiters wailed about that and they will wail about this even more.

A typical example is Chloe Fuckwit from the Taxpayer's Alliance. She grunts "I really don't think politicians understand the scale of anger there will be in the country if they try to keep Britain in the EU by the back door. People aren't stupid. You can call it Brexit, but if we've signed up to be a rule taker from Brussels, we're chained to the EU".

This is where I think Brexiters are unfair to Theresa May. In her own flailing and inept way she has tried to honour the spirit of the referendum. She ruled out the EEA because she bought into the mythology surrounding it, largely thanks to her advisers. Having done so she was left to reconcile the technical issues with the available remaining options. The deal as we now understand it is really the only way to crack the nut. 

The fact is that the EU is our single largest trade partner, the gravity model in goods applies, and regulatory harmonisation is the bedrock of frictionless trade. Boris Johnson et al routinely gloss over these facts of life to tell us that a simple FTA is sufficient in nature for the whole relationship with the EU. This is the persistent Brexiter lie.

What we have not seen in discussion since Barnier rejected Chequers is what the core trade relationship will look like. We have to assume that the baseline is a standard comprehensive FTA along the lines of Canada or Japan, government by the same strata of WTO rules. Clearly this is insufficient if we are to avoid customs problems at Calais and elsewhere. May will need to commit to rudimentary regulatory harmonisation at the very least - as can be found in EU FTAs. Japan, for instance, has now adopted UNECE automotive regulations in full.

Once we have secured a withdrawal agreement, it is likely that in transition the EU will be able to go further than previously stated for maximum facilitation of trade in Calais. We probably cannot say the same for services. It will, though, result in a degree of "rule taking" and the main topic of discussion will be the extent of ECJ influence and the kind of arbitration systems therein. It won't be Chequers, but when added to the Northern Ireland backstop (assuming it is activated) it will be a Frankenstein variant which Brexiters will say amounts to the same thing.

Following on from that we will see the relationship evolve with further rule taking to restore a degree of market participation along with a string of supplementary bilateral agreements so that what we end up with is not entirely dissimilar to Switzerland but without the Efta advantages. One way or another the UK will still be caught in a tangled web of complex EU red tape because that is the nature of the beast and that is how it goes when you are the junior partner in an agreement with the EU. 

There is only really one window left to avoid this and that is to agree to the backstop as is but make damn sure it never gets activated and then join Efta and adapt the EEA agreement. Brexiters will likely see this as an attempt to rejoin the EU and that is what their propaganda will say. They will still have some traction in that the worst effects of Brexit will be held off by the "vassal state" transition. They will probably succeed in once again defeating the option.

But is this "BRINO"? No. Even with a labyrinthine array of binding agreements, out of the EU is out of the EU. Even with extensive adoption of EU rules on goods and trade, it is still only a fraction of the EU acquis and still based on global standards, Codex, UNECE, ISO etc. It's going to be messier, it won't be "full sovereignty" (insofar as such a thing exists) and it will mean massive job killing red tape for business. It's either that or no deal at all and lose the vast majority of our trade with the EU.

What we are left with is really the consequence of Brexiters failing to produce a plan and ruling out all of the viable alternatives and ducking the difficult questions leaving poor old Theresa May to reconcile the irreconcilable while taking abuse from both sides. The Brexiters opted out of the adult discussion and they even resigned their cabinet posts. They opted out so in my view they don't get to wail about the outcome if they don't like it. 

Brexit was always a matter of choosing from a limited array of modes for the new relationship. By ruling out the Efta EEA option we have chosen vassalage over partnership. The only alternative is isolation under WTO rules and a collapse of UK exports. Every option has its trade offs but the Brexiters refused to engage thus it was decided for them. This is exactly why The Leave Alliance said we needed a plan from the outset.

The idealist in me wishes things were different. But they aren't. There are bitter pills to swallow. The nihilist in me is hoping for a no deal precisely because it will humiliate the Tory right and the Brexiters while also bringing misery to the remainers. A political version of a high school gun massacre. But the adult in me says that this deal, imperfect though it is, is about the best balance of obligations we can get given the constraints we have placed on ourselves. If Brexiters hate it, it is more their own fault than that of Theresa May. 

All on track at the WTO


I just watched the UK's ambassador to the WTO, Julian Braithwaite, giving evidence to the International Trade Committee in respect of the separation process at the WTO. He gave a cautious but upbeat performance. It didn't tell us anything we don't know. ie much of what we see written about this process is pure histrionics. Uncertified schedules will not meaningfully impact any of our future negotiations and the Article 28 process will ring-fence any active concerns. There are roadblocks to the UK's accession to the Government Procurement Agreement but nothing at all insurmountable.

Nothing said here is anything we didn't anticipate and certainly there is no cause for alarm. Everything appears to be on track but the finer details still all depend on what the final relationship with the EU looks like. What we did not get to hear, though, is very much about the process of rolling over our bilateral agreements and any progress on that score. I'm surprised there isn't more concern in respect of this being that nothing, as I understand it, is in the bag.

What strikes me about this, much like every other committee meeting I've watched throughout this process, is how much of a waste of time it is. MPs present don't really know what it is they are hearing, they're barely even listening and true to form ask largely useless and irrelevant questions. In this case the replies from Julian Braithwaite were at least interesting. The history of the appellate body dispute fills in a few gaps but it's not remotely pertinent. Parliament does have a singular talent for wasting people's time.

It would have been useful to ask questions about our wider Geneva participation, particularly since Julian Braithwaite is tasked with anything from the WTO to the ITU and all points between. It's all very well having a conventional trade policy with a to do list of FTAs but the UK will have to go the extra mile in exploiting the other avenues in the Geneva system. This is an aspect of trade and regulatory diplomacy our MPs are completely ignorant of.

All the same, the one utility of this meeting is that it should put to bed some of the tedious dramatising of the WTO process which is exploited unreasonably to paint Brexit as a failure. Scepticism is one thing but the relentless negativity is uncalled for. There will be Brexit dramas but they are not to be found in the WTO... for now. 

Cultivated ignorance


`Fintan O'Toole is quite jaunty today
When future historians try to understand how Britain ended up with a choice between chaos and becoming a satellite of the European Union, one question will stump them. Were these people telling deliberate lies or were they merely staggeringly ignorant? Where does mendacity stop and idiocy begin? Historians generally have to assume that people in power have a basic grasp of what they are doing, that their actions are intentional. They may use deception as a tactic and they may be deluded in what they think they can achieve. But they must, at least at the beginning, have some grasp on reality – otherwise they would not have achieved power. Yet, for the poor historians trying to make sense of Brexit, this assumption will be mistaken.
He goes on to write a who's who of Brexitmongery which I could easily expand upon because the list is extensive. I would make special mention of Suzanne Evans, Andrea Leadsom, Kate Hoey, Gisela Stuart, John Redwood, Peter Lilley and Steve Baker. These are not by any estimation clever people. But being thick is not really the issue here. What we are looking at here is a cultivated ignorance. 

There are two prevailing factors in Brexit ignorance. When it comes to the technicalities they are both complex and boring. You are doing quite well if you've you've managed to work out what rules of origin are and if you've managed to work our exactly how they work then in Brexitology you walk among the gods. As to working out what forms and certifications are needed for the transport of goods, why would anyone know that unless they did it for a living? Nobody sane would want to know and this is all far beyond the ken of your average politician.

But then nobody else really knows how it all works either. I have a better grasp than most but there is still more to learn. There are no experts on trade simply because the field is too big for any one person to grasp it all. The way we imagine it works is not the way it does work and unless you understand the rationale the logical can seem distinctly illogical and even irrational. 

Typically the ultra Brexiter likes to bleat on about "mutual recognition of standards". That's not how it works but it is entirely reasonable to assume that's how it should work and it seems unreasonable that two western powers with a discerning consumer base would not agree to recognise each other's standards. Moreover, if it could be made to work like that then it's nice and simple. Half the problem with the EU is its lack of legitimacy not least because even its own advocates have no idea how it functions in practice. 

Here it is somewhat unfair to pick on Brexiters in that the remainers are not on the spot. They don't need to explain how it works. They just know that it continues to work if we stay in the EU. Were they pressed they would have similar comprehension issues. The Brexiters, though, are the ones pressing for change so it is for them to explain how and why Brexit is an improvement. 

Here you bump into all kinds of problems if you've made Brexit an economic argument. Which the Brexiters have. They now have to prove it when none of the evidence is in their favour. There is no economic utility in deregulation, there is no "Brexit dividend" from saved financial contributions and there are no "bumper trade deals" that will in any way compensate for the loss of the single market. CANZUK is a non-starter, there is no restarting the Commonwealth and a US/UK deal does not look promising. 

For two years now, the Tory Brexit philosophy has been under a barrage of relentless criticism and not a single trade professional thinks they have credible ideas. Not one. All they have is a self-referential claque of toryboy "free market" thinks tanks creating a smokescreen of jargon and bluster. It was intellectually bankrupt from the beginning and it's certainly hitting the rocks now.

What's worse. They have no fallback position. They've made their promises of sunlit uplands and told us that getting a deal will be a walk in the park. They are not in a position to change tack and if they do the whole enterprise comes crashing in on them. All that's left to do is to hold the line just long enough to see it through to the bitter end. 

For sure, the Nadine Dorries's and Hoeys of this world are thick as a box of hammers and they will continue to believe that Brexit is a miracle cure but Johnson, Baker and Davis et al know full well the cupboard is bare when it comes to economic arguments. All they can do is lie. This is now a full blown propaganda war and the Tory Brexit apparatus is using tribalism to its full advantage. 

Here, though, O'Toole is only look in at a piece of the picture. Talent on the other side of the house isn't exactly brimming either. Emily Thornberry can no more describe the function of a customs union any more than I can tell you how the Large Hadron Collider works. Institutional knowledge of the EU throughout is minimal. 

The question for future historians, therefore, is how can our parliament have transferred so much political authority to a remote entity it does not scrutinise, does not understand and does not engage with in any meaningful way. Partly there is a domestic political atrophy but a large part of it is that politicians are only too happy to offload anything complicated to Brussels. 

For years our politicians have been telling us that the influence of the EU is benign and barely a factor in domestic affairs and they believe it because the extent is obscured by way of domestic law bringing EU law into effect. This is a whole tier of invisible governance they are barely aware exists. Only now that we are leaving with so much at risk has it become apparent just how much the EU does have directive control over.

Being that neither our politicians or our media are keeping tabs on the EU or in any way holding it to account, and lacking the knowledge to adequately interrogate it, there is no possible way that this pillar of our government can possibly be legitimate. The institutional ignorance of the EU makes its own case for leaving it.

This blog has long remarked that Brexit is far from the cause of our political dysfunction - rather it has exposed it. It has pulled back the curtain to reveal a political class devoid of knowledge, vitality, curiosity and gravitas. How we got here will be the real puzzle for historians and somehow I doubt that EU membership is incidental to this hollowing out of our politics.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Coasting over the cliff


The rationale for leaving the EU has not changed in decades. It is as sound now as it was in 1975. If you know what democracy is then you know the EU is not a democracy. You know it is a sovereignty leeching technocracy and if you've looked in any detail at the functioning of the EU then no amount of a remainer sophistry is going to persuade you otherwise.

Unlike Tory Brexiters I do not pretend that Brexit is an economically positive move. I cannot credibly argue that case nor would I seek to. I do, however, think it is a necessary precursor to far reaching reform of British democracy. The EU underpins a political and economic status quo and meaningful change is not possible without removing the EU element.

I take the view that the test of a democracy is the ability of peoples to organise and force change and that system must be able to respond in good time. To win even marginal reforms of EU policy can take a matter of years. Reforms to posted worker rules and fishing discards took the better part of a decade. That to me is intolerable and inadequate.

Brexit, therefore, is the process of returning political authority to its rightful place. Unless that political authority rests with the British public then we cannot say that our system of government is democratic. Brexit is also a corrective. Political authority was passed to the EU without consultation or consent. We undo what was done to us without having a say.

These arguments, though, were not at the forefront of the Brexit debate. Vote Leave turned the referendum into a tawdry campaign centred on financial contributions and immigration. In doing so they elected not to exploit three open goals. The first being that the EU steadfastly refused to contemplate meaningful reform. The second being that our own establishment wouldn't even ask for meaningful reform, and the third being that our prime minister, having secured nothing of value, proceeded to lie about it.

To say that the reforms were bogus and to exploit those open goals would have meant the largely Tory Vote Leave outfit attacking a Tory prime minister. Being tribal animals they would never do this. They instead co-opted the referendum to put themselves in pole position to push a programme of radical economic right policies for which there is no mandate under the 2016 referendum - which was nothing more or less than an instruction to leave the EU.

The question of how we leave was then an open book, especially since Vote Leave declined to outline a plan of any kind. It  stands to reason though, that any exit must be compatible with the intellectual objectives of the leave movement, which primarily is control of our own laws and the removal of EU political authority.

Here though, the principles of Brexit bump into the realities of the world as we find it in which regulatory harmonisation is a precursor to frictionless trade and in this the EU is the regional regulatory superpower. Trading with the EU requires a number of compromises. We must also be mindful that the vote was won by a narrow margin because even though the economic concerns are subordinate to the principle, they are not by any means irrelevant.

There are those who would disagree with me who think we should leave at all costs and any price is worth paying. In spirit I stand with them but in practice we need a deal and I don't think we should suffer more than we have to to secure our objectives.

The problem, though is that all of the compromises are to some extent unpalatable. An FTA essentially leaves Northern Ireland inside the EU customs territory and subject to EU rules without a say and though customs formalities along the Irish Sea can be kept to a minimum, the DUP, rightly in my view, are dissatisfied with any deal that dilutes UK sovereign territory. The Prime Minister is also of that view even though she has, foolishly, boxed us into that corner.

There are then only two intellectually coherent approaches. Either we retain the EEA which does require some serious compromise from leavers or no deal at all whereby the UK calls the EU bluff and we find an alternative solution to the Irish border outside of the confines of Article 50. Economically this option is, to put it lightly, economically undesirable.

Being that Mrs May took the EEA off the table some time ago and with the likes of Nick Boles further discrediting the option, a Norway type settlement has never looked more remote and though it is my preferred solution (if suboptimal) I have given up any hope of it becoming a reality. It has faced a pincer movement between the leave and remain extremes each reciting the same mythology which has been impossible to overcome, not least due to the idleness of politicians and the ineptitude of the media. They poisoned the well some time ago.

With that option off the table I am somewhat ambivalent to the whole thing now. Insofar as it matters, Northern Ireland being tied to food safety rules and EU customs procedures is hardly anything worth going to the barricades over. It's really a matter for Northern Ireland to reconcile. As to a UK wide customs union I still fail to see what that would accomplish. It is certainly not intellectually in keeping with the intellectual basis for leaving.

With politics being what it is though, it would seem that any compromise is likely to hit the rocks and face opposition from at least one of the factions. Designing a mutually agreeable solution that could garner the assent of parliament was always a tall order. For the EEA to have worked it would have required decisive leadership or for parliament to assert its sovereignty.

Mostly though, with one or two honourable exceptions, our MPs have been inept. They have failed to assert their own authority at every turn and now events are setting the course for us, which on present from looks like we are crashing out without a deal and barring an unprecedented shift in parliamentary dynamics, there is little to prevent it from occurring.

Being that I have written extensively on why this would be a very bad thing, I really should be taking it more seriously but I think the window of opportunity to turn it around has closed. The fever has to burn itself out and we are not going to see any sense at all until there are observable consequences. Only then, when the ultra Brexiters stand discredited and the current administration ejected, will there be any kind of narrative coherence which ought to dictate our next moves. At that point EEA Efta will look a lot more attractive than it does now. That will be the last opportunity to revive the option.

Until then we have to tolerate the immense tedium of Article 50 bickering, the political infighting and rows and then the equally horrifying and amusing plunge over the cliff. I say amusing because the far extremes of both sides will get an enormous dose of what they've had coming for a while. Their arrogance and petulance will be richly rewarded. The public too will find there are consequences for electing any quasi-sentient hatstand with a red or blue rosette.

Whichever way this goes now, we are on the eve of a political reckoning. It is one long overdue and the consequence of thirty years of misrule and political debasement. This is payback for all the issues we have swept under the carpet and politics is about to become quite ugly. This is judgement day for the British establishment. This is why I won't lift a finger to prevent the inevitable. If an orderly exit is not possible then let there be disorder. We need to put this to bed once and for all.

No deal: switching off the machines


If no deal turns out to be the only option the UK is in uncharted waters. Nothing quite like this has happened before. All plans go out of the window and how it unfolds is impossible to predict. We can extrapolate what would happen in theory from the EU's Notices to Stakeholders but the reality will pan out differently.

The first flashpoint is obviously the EU frontier in Ireland. Neither side wants to put up barriers of any kind and it is likely that neither will. There is then something of a legal limbo to be resolved. Whichever way you look at it, no deal cannot remain no deal. There will have to be formal agreements hammered out between the UK and EU.

Here we can expect a degree of flex from the EU simply because it will look after it sown immediate interests. The UK is a major exporter of medicines and it does not bode well for the EU if it causes medicines shortages in EU member states. It will, therefore, look to ensure that medicines previously cleared for sale will keep their authorisations. I have in passing seen some allusion to this.

Some things are going to be sorted out with relative ease within weeks. In other cases it will be some weeks or even months before there is any change to the system simply because it will be unclear what the exact legal position is and will need clarification from the EU.

In other regards I am reminded of the scene from Ghostbusters where the lowly city engineer is instructed by the environment official to switch off the Ecto Containment Unit. He knows it's probably not a good idea, there isn't a good reason for doing it, but the law is the law and he must do as instructed. A bureaucrat's gotta bureaucrat.

At this point much will come down to politics. Being that the EU frontier in Ireland has direct consequences for a member state the EU will act in support of whatever Ireland decides. That will have certain mitigating effects for the UK.

As to the tales of long queues at the ports, a lot will depend on planning, where it will be possible to keep imports flowing just so long as we keep the roads clear of exports which won't be cleared for sale anyway. Here it should be noted that not all exporters will experience much more than temporary interruptions and re-obtaining product authorisations for every day products isn't that much of a big deal. For some it will be worse than predicted and others will be wondering what the fuss is about. A lot will depend on what can be sorted out politically in the immediate aftermath.

This, though, is all speculation. Within the confines of Article 50 we are told that much is not possible but both parties free of the Article 50 constraints will be at greater liberty to forge remedial fixes and a transition of a sort may well be on the table. If the UK wants anything more than what is in the EUs immediate enlightened self-interest it will come back to matters of financial settlements and backstops. One thing is clear. Negotiations will continue in one or other form.

For a while now I have been less concerned the immediate headline effects than I ma the longer term outlook. Tory Brexiters seem convinced that a series of mini deals after the fact will keep aircraft flying and trucks rolling but they underestimate the complexity and the speed at which the EU can operate. A limbo will exist for months and in some areas years. The speed of the system patches will be prioritised according to the EU's needs, not ours.

Here we have to keep in mind that the politics will be markedly different. No doubt Theresa May will have resigned and the ERG Tories who told us everything would be fine will get nowhere near the leadership. I do not anticipate a general election because no Tory will be in a rush to hand the keys to Number Ten to Jeremy Corbyn. If the Tories are going to be kicked out, parliament will have to do it.

It will take some time for UK politics to resolve itself and it may be bogged down in useless bickering before we see any coherent narrative emerging. By that point minds will focus as to the urgency of forging a new relationship with the EU. How the EU responds then, and what it is amenable to is anyone's guess.

Being that our politicians will still be none the wiser they will be calling for an emergency customs union agreement, still failing to understand how little it would fix. If, though, that was the direction of travel, something could be ready to sign within a year or two. By then most of the JIT exporters will have already relocated or gone under.

Meanwhile parliament will be busy trying to make repatriated EU law function without being part of EU/EEA systems. Fisheries and other complex regulatory sectors will be in a state of dysfunction for years. Being that EU fishing interests will want to resume fishing in UK waters, the UK can make certain offers to incentivise EU cooperation.  The smart thing to do will be to make exploratory moves toward Efta. Whether or not that flies again depends on the politics. The ERG Brexiter complaints will cease to be relevant.

My disclaimer for this post is that your guess is as good as mine. I have no crystal ball. I'm just working on the assumption that politics will kick in and we will see a good deal more pragmatism after the fact when both sides realise it is not in their interests to allow the situation to worsen. But then by the same token I could be completely wrong and the obstinacy and petulance of both sides could set in for some years to come - and then we really are stuffed.

In a lot of respects there is no real plan of action simply because we do not know the full extent of the impact and you cannot plan for chaos. You can only prepare for it and react to it. At that point it will come down to the ingenuity and dedication of public servants from the customs officials through to the environment agency. We are better in their hands than our politicians.

Over the longer term we will normalise trade relations and within five years we will at the very least have an FTA and like Switzerland we will spend at least a decade rebuilding trade links, adopting rules in much the same way, until our relationship is a similar spider's web and though Brexiters may wail, they won't be in a position to complain. The public will not be sympathetic.

My preference is that we pick up the threads to join Efta and take up a role inside the EEA, and that will be easier when the delusions of Tories in respect of a US trade deal lie in tatters and their lies in respect of the WTO option are exposed. I will continue to make the case for Efta come what may. It is our best insurance against rejoining the EU. The only thing I can predict for sure is that it won't be boring.

All over bar the shouting


I do not think there is going to be a deal. Hopes have not been high for a while but somewhere along the line I think I gave up any hope of a negotiated outcome. I think the exact moment came when Erna Solberg shot down the EEA as a temporary option. She left the door open for the EEA as a longer term solution but with MPs Freeman, Boles and Morgan persisting with "Norway for now", totally ignoring what Solberg said, they are digging the grave deeper for the EEA.

Typically they came late to the party (it was already too late), knowing nothing about the EEA or how the system works, ignoring all external inputs and criticisms, and in a single stroke destroyed much of the options credibility. As bad as that was, Boles now claims to have evolved the plan, but is essentially persisting with the idea that the EEA is plug and play and that it can serve as a short to mid term solution. Nothing anyone says will deter them.

The essential problem is that the EEA does not cover a number of competences which cannot be left without the cover of a formal agreement , not least customs, agriculture and fish. This all needs to be negotiated inside the framework of the EEA agreement and there is a lot of work in shifting the legal and diplomatic focus to the EEA construct. Boles seems to think that it can all be resolved with a few splashes of Tippex and without full cooperation from the EU.

It wouldn't be so bad if Boles had at least "evolved" his position to at least take into account what Solberg has said, but a bubble dweller does what a bubble dweller does. He still thinks it can be used as a bridge to nowhere believing the essential functions of the EEA can be replicated in a future agreement - which they cannot for all the same reasons that a Canada deal is not viable.

The short of it is that the EEA can only work if the UK is a full and committed member securing the confidence of all other stakeholders. The belief that UK will be allowed to monopolise the EEA institutions and facilities for its own temporary convenience is an arrogance worthy of a Tory Brexiter.

But then we know all this. We have been here before. We've been over this ground countless times and the only constant is that nobody is listening. Even those critics who are unduly polite are wasting their time. What's more is that this avenue needed far broader support and much earlier on. MPs should have got to grips with the issues long before Article 50 was triggered and EEA needed to have overwhelming support around the time of the Lancaster House speech. Time is a factor here and the windows were squandered.

Being that we are now held hostage to Mrs May's red lines and boxed in by an unpalatable ultimatum over Northern Ireland, there is nowhere this can go. Any deal has to be mutually agreeable and has to win the assent of parliament which looks highly improbable. Tory hardliners might well turn on a sixpence in the final hour but there is now a strong chance it won't even get as far as a "meaningful vote".

Between ow and there there is to be a verdict on whether Article 50 can be revoked unilaterally. I doubt it can but my opinion is nether here nor there. The decision will fall one way or another and that will be that. If it be the case that it can be revoked then we face an almighty row and calls for another referendum will grow ever more shrill and tedious. It's going to get seriously boring.

Whether there will be moves to extend talks is anyone's guess. This all now falls to politics which is highly unpredictable. We are all now passengers of events and the lack of coherence we have seen will likely persist until the clock runs out.

The tedium, though, creates its own dynamic. Brexit stories are getting further and further down the book, as well as shorter. The media has doubtless sussed that people are switching off. Just about everybody wants it to be over including me. I no longer care how we leave just so long as we do. We have run out of road for a smooth departure and there isn't enough institutional knowledge to bring any clarity to it. Without political coherence it was always going to come down to the binary extremes; Remain or departure without agreement.

Being that both outcomes are equally undesirable it comes down to a simple estimation of which side most deserves to lose. Which sin is greater? The ignorance and arrogance of leavers or the ignorance, petulance of remainers.

But then there's that elephant in the room. Remaining doesn't resolve anything at all. It cannot be swept under the rug and our membership would enjoy no legitimacy. At best the remainers can only buy time and in the meantime things get quite ugly indeed. If they kill Brexit they kill hope. They kill faith in democracy and and those who have lived so long without a voice will realise that they live in a system where they remain voiceless. Whatever the book price on a no deal Brexit, the price of betrayal is unimaginable.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Keeping the peace


With Remembrance Day now passed and the politicians have congratulated themselves for their non-contributions I begin to wonder what will keep the peace in the future. I am of the view that wars are part of the natural cycle and are part of a Darwinian population stress response cycle where every so often faltering economies go to war to dispose of their redundant male population.

When I look at the battle of the Somme and Stalingrad there is something almost lemming like in the way that men are forced to run toward certain death. You either face the guns of the enemy or face execution at the hands of your own. And, as ever the wealthy and privileged find ways to excuse themselves.

I often find myself wondering what I would do or would have done had I been called to serve. It's difficult question in hindsight in that we take for granted the information we now have access to. Many of the men who gave their lives fought the enemy on the basis of reasons they were spoonfed. It's funny how the winning side is always the righteous side. Ultimately, though, it is workers on both ends of the bayonet.

Personally I'm not big on obedience and even less enthusiastic about committing suicide because I'm ordered to. If I am asked to lay down my life it must be for something. I most certainly would fight in the defence of my country. Were it a civil war, I know I would object to foreign intervention just as the Iraqis did. It would be our fight and no-one else's.

But then the weapons of war have now changed. It is difficult to imagine a world war in a world of nuclear weapons. All out war has been replaced by different forms of war - be they information wars and subterfuge through to sabotage and economic war. There will never be another D-Day. Wars will be fought in forgotten pockets while the rest of the world looks the other way. And our turn will come.

A civil war in the UK has for most of my lifetime seemed unthinkable. It seems unthinkable for the Western Allies. But then since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the old order has exponentially disintegrated. America is not a country at peace with itself and there is a hidden epidemic of homelessness and a drug problem as acute as ever it was. America could once again tear itself apart.

America would be the one to watch since the UK tends to adopt a pastiche of American cultural strife. Economically when America sneezes, Britain catches a cold. The same is true of culture. It didn't take long for the absurdity of the SJW fad to reach our shores. Meanwhile the political gulf that exists between the governed and the governors is drifting toward breaking point. This to me is why Brexit is a necessity in that our democracy itself is on trial. It may be our only way to avert a civil war.

That said, though, a civil war is inevitable on a long enough timeframe. Unchecked migration certainly laid the foundation for the sort of racial tensions we see in the USA, and if the UK is to have such a war then it will unfold in much the same way Yugoslavia did where likely there will be a massacre of Muslims. In such times we deny our own humanity and no country it beyond a holocaust of its own. Savagery is part of what we are.

On some level we all know that history will repeat because that is what history does. It is why we are inherently suspicious of expressions of nationalism. It is precisely that mentality which has sustained the EU being that the EU, at its core sees national sovereignty as the cause and the medicine is the removal of it - to weaken national bonds and replace it with a larger sense of pan-European identity.

Superficially it's a good idea because the USA is held together the basis of a shared national delusion. The difference, though is that it has a shared culture of its own and a shared history whereas the EU is still a union of distinct nations with near unbreakable national bonds. The fragmentation we have seen in recent years is in part a consequence of EU surpanationalism as it has gradually dissolved meaningful democracy across the continent.

For all that remainers would have it that Britain is turning toward fascism, there is plenty evidence to suggest this is more acute inside the EU, particularly as EU nations are pressured to accept unwelcome immigration which fundamentally changes their cultural make up. It is viewed as an attack on identity because that's precisely what it is.

For a while now we have seen concern at the rise of "identity politics" but to a large extend all politics is identity politics. We cast our votes according to the class, clan or tribe we most identify with. It is made worse when identities are threatened.

Successful democracies are those which moderate the worst excesses of tribalism, muting the winner takes all nature of power. This is something the USA did very successfully with it constitution and it is it something the UK has enjoyed for centuries, united in its accomplishments. As those bonds weaken over time, we see a resurgence of sectarianism and factionalism. For all that we are told that Brexit could see the break up of the Union, it is EU membership that has weakened us to such an extent. There may be no way to put that genie back in the bottle.

What the EU could never accomplish is win sufficient legitimacy for its artificial identity. There are those who say they identify as European and that identity is intrinsically linked to the political institutions of the EU, but those who say that are few and have likely not given it much thought. It is more virtue signalling to their domestic liberal tribe. It's transient, it's wafer thin and fickle. Without that binding and sincere sense of identity, nobody will volunteer to die in a flooded ditch for the EU.

Should the EU ask us to fight, to lay down our lives, I would refuse. The rogue non-state actor which is the EU External Action Service makes enemies of its own. Are they my enemies? Will I fight them because I am told to? No. I will not fight in their name nor fight to defend the EU construct. It is a parasite leaching its reason for being from the memories of the great wars.

If there is one ting worth fighting and dying for then it is democracy. The idea that peoples united in their own values, history, heritage and identity should form their own institutions over which they are their master is one superior in nature to all that has been tried. At the heart of it is rule by consent. Something else the EU fundamentally lacks.

The bankruptcy of the EU is the presumption that peaceful cooperation between nations cannot happen without surpranationalism. It therefore seeks to deny us our organic identities and remove our capacity for self governance. Fundamentally it does not trust democracy. If then the peoples of Europe are not able to build societies according to their own values and be subordinate to values imposed upon them (however benign they may be in intent) there will be friction that sees the return of toxic ultra-nationalism.

That I know of, no political construct has ever lasted without the consent of its people. That which was born of deception and conceit can only ever lead to division, fragmentation and conflict. It cannot act with legitimacy or moral authority. It cannot speak in our name. The essential problem is that the EU will never be loved. At its high point it has been tolerated and enthusiasm for it is largely limited to its denizens and dependants. It is a narcissistic projection and a decadent indulgence of peacetime. The question now is if we wish to preserve the peace can Europe any longer afford it?

As much as war is a part of the natural cycle, so is reinvention and renewal. The best way to stave off war is to allow the organic development of the demos and to abide with its wisdom. An artificial system that has locked in a particular order for decades is one that will forever seek to deny and frustrate change. For a time it may have provided a degree of stability and certainty but there comes a time when that certainty is the enemy of evolution.

If the weapons of mankind have made the great wars obsolete then perhaps there is hope for us. If we can evolve beyond the great wars then perhaps we can evolve beyond the small wars. For that we need to appreciate that there is no force stronger than the desire to be free and for freedom we would pay any price. What freedom we have was bought with blood. It was not gifted to us by supranational constructs.

Dictatorships never see themselves as oppressors. Thy cling to control because the ends always justify the means. They may do it through force of arms or they may do it by way of invisible bonds. What was once done by Blitzkrieg is now done by the union of political elites. That is how we become slaves to their order. That is how we are demoted to the status of serfs. We cease to be masters of our own future. In their arrogance they sow the seeds of conflict.

Democracy is not a serious of elected committees and remote assemblies. There is more to citizenship than a purple passport and a blue flag. There is more to participation than casting a vote. Democracy is the exercise of vital powers by the people for the people. Only when that sacred right is celebrated and defended can there be true peace between nations. There cannot be peace when our supreme government in Brussels fears democracy more than it fears its enemies. 

Trampling on dignity


I am glad Remembrance Sunday is done and dusted for another year. So much of it is utterly self-serving. There are distinct camps from those who believe the larger you poppy the greater your respect and those who wish to set themselves apart with a white poppy, each failing to grasp that the whole point of the standard poppy is a unified symbol of remembrance to which you ascribe your own meaning. The moment you deviate from that you destroy the whole point of it.

Moreover I increasingly find myself revolted by the remembrance industry which has become an all year round affair whereby the emotional incontinence wrapped up in it all leads to a from of remembrance kitsch to the point of morbidity. To a point I have to bite my tongue because it's a matter of live and let live. I'm a minimalist and perhaps a little of my distaste is touch of snobbery, but each year the whole jamboree feels more like a self-indulgence.

Worse still it provides ample opportunity for cheap political point scoring capitalising on the solemnity of it. It ranges from the tawdry tabloid (just what was Jeremy Corbyn wearing?) through to the EU's most revolting appropriation of it to shore up its own fundamental lack of purpose. What's worse is that not only are we obliged to emote, one should also be seen to emote, which to me feels oddly un-British.

There is then the gathering of preening insincere world leaders united in their faux solemnity which is never an edifying spectacle when you look at their respective track records and the way in which they so wantonly dispose of the democracy we fight so hard for. And of course there are those remainers remarking on the absence of a British delegation to the service in France as though the UK has erased itself from the "world stage" by leaving the EU.

I happen to think this was an astute move (provided it wasn't an oversight). For two decades now we have seen gatherings of politicians on the "world stage" each there to parade their own virtues to each other, failing to realise how despised they are by their own electorates. If a politician alone is loathed there can be few things more loathsome than a gathering of them, cheapening what should be as dignified as possible. It is the perception that "world leaders" are more at home with each other than their own citizens that feeds the populist narrative.

It think there is something unhealthy about the way remembrance day has become a month long "festival of remembrance", robbed of its gravitas - and now every bit as commercialised as Christmas. Almost as though the nation is unable to move past is former glories.

Like much else in modernity it taken on a life of its own, detached from its meaning, hollowed out and exploited. Perhaps if it were the case that any of the lessons were learned it would be easier to swallow, but time and again we fall victim to the narcissistic delusions and self-importance of our politicians riding on the back of that righteousness they parade every November. It seems to me like the last remaining way to dignify Remembrance Day is to simply not participate and keep it a private affair. The remembrance industry has merged into the trivia of the entertainment industry. It's gone rotten.

Only Brexit will do


We have heard much of the delusional Brexiters. Mainly the Tory ones whose grasp of international trade matches my grasp of quantum physics. Their ideas are decades out of date and completely removed from reality. Locked into their own delusions they will march us over the cliff.

Lining the streets of their suicidal parade are the remainers who suffer from a similar state of delusion, ignoring the politics of the situation and the timing to perpetuate the hope of another referendum. Each are unshakably wedded to their positions, each oblivious to the consequences of their intellectual bankruptcy. This is against a backdrop of a Labour party caught up in the nostalgia of 1970's socialism, while the Conservative party is adrift from its moorings, directionless and without purpose.

It's easy to take potshots at leavers being so poorly represented by lamentably stupid politicians, but at least fifty percent of the problem is a total absence of coherent and informed opposition from any side.

Today on the Andrew Marr television programme we see Emily Thornberry stating "We have talk about the importance of being in a customs union" and "We have talked about the importance of having a British style FTA which is based on the rules of the single market". These are not the words of someone who has done the groundwork. This is not someone who has a grasp of the issues. 

If only it were just Thornberry though. This is about as good as it gets. Not only are our politicians unaware of how the system works, they have made no effort in two years worth of debate to find out. They have just about grasped that no deal would be a bad thing, but not enough to put a deliverable alternative on the table. 

We have the Tories cooking up plans (using the word loosely) without any reference to anything Barnier has said or might say, we have remainers completely ignoring the procedural impediments to a second vote, and more generally are politics is far too ensconced in its own myopic fixations to present us with a relevant manifesto for the future. none are awake to the dangers or indeed opportunities presented by Brexit, and none are offering solutions to any of the problems we actually have.  

Our politics exists in an impenetrable bubble of its own self-regard where good ideas go to die. The only time fresh thinking works its way into the bubble is when one of their number sees fit to plagiarise it having misunderstood the fundamentals of it. When it then falls apart they blame the ideas they have stolen rather than their own incomprehension and incompetence.

I can't say exactly when British politics lost its thread but it certainly has much to do with the hollowing out of parties turning them into empty vessels with marketable brand names. There is little in the way of democratic impetus. This is how Momentum was so easily able to capture the empty husk of a Labour party. It also coincides with the arrival of politics as a career path and I am not the first to note that many of the denizens of the Westminster bubble have the prerequisite Oxford PPE degree. Authentic democracy it is not. 

From this morass it is unlikely that we will ever see principled or courageous leadership. That dies with Mrs Thatcher. Westminster has since become a greasy pole for sociopaths and chancers. Morover it has been taken over by spoiled brats. Telegenic entitled know-nothings. Think tanks are now little more than a political creche. They do not invest in research nor is there a premium on knowledge. It is simply a matter of conformity to scripture. 

British politics is rotten to the core. But it also extends into the symbiotic media attracting an array of equally moronic pundits, none of whom are capable of adding value and exist mainly to generate web traffic. Intelligent and measured voices have no place because they do not generate controversy. 

Of course, the public are half of the problem. The trends I note as a self-publisher are informative. Cheap shots and generic campaign fodder will generate three times the hits an analytic piece on trade will get. Audiences demonstrate to me almost every day that they do not like their ideas challenged and they certainly don't want to think.

Much of what happens in our politics is little more than displacement activity. Certainly the legacy remain campaign is indulging in their second referendum fantasy mainly because they have no idea how to better direct their intellectual and vast financial resources. God forbid they would do anything constructive like accepting that we voted to leave and pushing for an equitable outcome the majority can support.

But then when there is such a disconnect, I don't blame them. After all, my blogs on the subject are largely to mark time until something actually happens. There are only so many times you can say that the media has it wrong, we are nowhere near a deal and time is running out. An article written in January could just as easily have been written yesterday for all the difference it makes. We get the occasional nonentity resignation to distract us but it does not change the course of events. 

And that has me wondering if the reason our politicians engage in perpetual displacement activity is because their actions have no impact on events either. They are certainly not applied to anything presently run by Brussels. 

Over the last four years of campaigning I have had thousands of conversations with hard leavers and ultra remainers whose views cannot be reconciled with my own but the one thing virtually all of us can agree on is that our zombie politics has lost the plot completely and something vital is not working. This was certainly true before the mass adoption of internet and the proliferation of social media, but now it seems we are all o the same page. We must have far reaching political reform.

Typically that brings up the go-to ideas of abolishing the Lords and proportional representation, neither of which really get to the essence of the problem. The chief complaint about the Lords is that they are not elected and PR fixates on the means of electing. Our understanding of democracy has been reduced to simply holding periodic voting rituals. We could make both of these changes but we still end up with MPs in London going native to the bubble and we still have a vacuous and out of touch media.

We have seen attempts to democratise and devolve, namely metro-mayors and elected police chiefs, but all we have succeeded in doing is creating a number of grubby little fiefdoms which add no value at all to civic administration. They simply absorb and squander money. Until is is widely understood that democracy is the ability of the people to organise and take control of their own institutions then every attempt at democratic reform will fail.

Part of the problem here is that we are no longer in the habit of democracy. We have been coerced into believing that the state should be our provider with minimal public intervention. The participation of citizens in the running of things has been actively discouraged as local government has morphed into a quangocracy. This, I believe, is the influence of EU managerialism - re-purposing local and national government as agents of EU integration. 

It is this managerialism that has gradually sapped the vitality from our so-called democracy and has ossified because the economic status quo has enabled people to take less of an interest in how they are governed and the state is sufficiently well resourced not to call upon the public to participate. It then runs public services for its own convenience and local governance becomes little more than accountancy, revenue generation and debt collection. It prefers it that way. The cumulative effect of this is a public disconnected from government at every level and vice versa.

Being that there is then no feedback in the system the gulf becomes ever wider and more acutely disconnected. There is no means of correction and little in the way of accountability. Statutory obligations and EU targets dictate what and how it spends it time and money and the public have no authority over it. 

This allows government, national and local, to set its own agenda which is usually nannying, hectoring and absurd hobby horse politics and eco-fads that only a bureaucrat could ever think worth our time. Over the years we have become gradually accepting of this, resigning ourselves to the role of non-participating serfs whose only role is to finance it. The social consequence of this is the obliteration of community - particularly in those areas where quangocracy has replaced social enterprise.  

For years we have sustained this and could sustain it for some years to come by remaining in the EU but all the while as we lose our democracy and as we add ever more pressure to already creaking systems, things simply stop working without the means to arrest the decline. More is spend on entitlements, perks and salaried non-jobbers than actually getting things done. Naturally we won't see any serious attempts at reform from those within the system because the inefficiency and lack of accountability is in their direct personal interest.

The pushback we then get from our local government is that the gradual decay and dysfunction is the result of cutbacks and a starvation of funds even though the state is already taking nearly half of our total income through one tax or another. Our bloated and creaking system of government is one that we can no longer afford and it is no longer in our interests to maintain it. Since it will fight us to a standstill to stop us reforming it and do everything it can to prevent us having a say it the running of it, it seems we have no choice but to torpedo it.

This is why I am convinced that Brexit and only Brexit is sufficient a catalyst to bring about a complete rethink of government and democracy as we know it. And if we are going to rebuild it it must be rebuild to our own designs rather than the integrationist agenda of the European Union. A bit of creative destruction is long overdue.

We are told that remaining in the EU is necessary for our economic wellbeing. This overlooks the fact that the anaemic growth we have is largely underpinned by immigration. This we are told puts no pressure on roads, rail, sewers, water, education, healthcare and housing. Strangely, a sceptical public do not believe them. They must be racist or something!

As weak as the economic status quo is, immigration is used to mask faltering economic policies and the more egregious breakdowns we see ie Somerset flooding and Grenfell, a totemic of a system that simply isn't working. These incidents are the consequence of years of neglecting the basics. Whatever it is we are doing we need to do it radically differently. And that is not possible if Brussels is creating the governance frameworks and we cannot reform them locally.

But then I am less concerned with the economic arguments. The economics will attend to themselves when we have resolved the political dysfunction. With a political deadlock trapping us in a centre left social paradigm and a liberal economic regime devoid of public consent, it is a matter of urgency that we reboot our politics. We then also have a chance at resolving some of the social problems that welfare serfdom has exacerbated. 

The essential problem of our system of government is that its base assumption is that the people cannot and should not take responsibility for their own affairs and that their poor choices should be subsidised. For as long as we maintain the economic and political status quo we will lock in the inherent dysfunction while providing no incentive to correct it. 

Economically, socially, politically and democratically Britain is stagnating. The central problem is an obsolete politics set in its ways that wouldn't change even if it could. We have seen in recent years that elections make no difference and that whoever we vote for we will still be ruled by the same deadbeats and wastrels whose loyalties will always be to Brussels rather than the people. We are told there are things we could do instead of Brexit - but we won't - and that's half the problem.

We are told that Brexit creates great uncertainty. That much is true. I don't know what politics will look like even three months from now or what the country will look like in two years or even ten years. And I'm ok with that, because remaining in the EU means I can tell you exactly what things looks like. Pretty much the same as now but with the vitality gradually draining from all areas of British life, as political competence seeps away and things that should work break down so slowly that we can't ever remember that things once did work. If that is what political certainty means, you can keep it. 

Remaining would bring about the end of tolerance


It is difficult to discern what sort of deal is emerging with the EU. Having painted herself into a corner Mrs May now faces the impossible task of appeasing all the disparate camps in the UK while coming up with something acceptable to the EU. Brussels is not making this any easier. She has one road available to her but she won't take it so now we simply wait for it all to fall apart. Those of us still making the case for the EEA are wasting our time.

For some time now it has been futile trying to influence the process. The vitality of the Brexit debate has died and most now realise that the die is cast. How this ends nobody knows. It either seems like Mrs May will cave in to EU demands and only if it can scrape through the commons is there any chance of a withdrawal agreement. Alternatively we simply run out of time.

Since any form of compromise is likely to enrage the Brexit blob and the DUP, May will need the opposition to carry any deal through. Being that Labour is in a similar state of disarray and with MPs not fully understanding the consequences of voting any deal down, it may be that a deal of any nature can secure the assent of parliament. My gut feeling is that we will leave without a deal.

I will have mixed feelings about this. The intelligent thing to do is join Efta and stay in the EEA but that, for now, is very much off the table. Nick Boles saw to that. My second choice would be an FTA, which is certainly more in line with the mainstream of brexitism, but given the array of non tariff barriers we would be subject to it is likely to have roughly the same impact as no deal at all. If we are to take that hit then we might ask why we would agree to a deal that carves up the UK.

As to what happens if we do leave without a deal, much of the warnings describe what should happen in law when in becomes out and one turns to zero. The most obvious flashpoint being the EU frontier in Ireland. It will still be the case that neither side wants to put up any kind of barrier and that will be the first political discussion after the fact. Here the EU will be forced to bend its own rules because politically I don't see how it can do anything else.

By that point both sides will agree to some form of informal transitional period just to understand what needs to be done and how. Outside the confines of the Article 50 framework, and with the UK as a third country, both are free to be more pragmatic than at present. In short, it will be very bad but not as bad as some predict. It is at this point I start to ask if it could have been any other way. And the answer is probably not.

The essential problem is that when all the basics are settled politicians have the luxury of coasting. Politics for some years now has been on autopilot. They have just enough competence to react to a crisis but not enough to manage change - especially large changes thrust upon them. We have lost that institutional ability. Certainly where technical and market governance is concerned, our own politicians have very little input. The levers of power are not connected to anything. Brexit changes all of that.

What lies before us is a political reckoning. A long overdue democratic correction. Regime change if you prefer. And yes, it's going to be a bloody expensive and disagreeable thing. It is going to cost a fortune and take years to sort out. Why? Because politics as we know it is over. It it cannot be sustained. It is at the end of its useful life. So too is the economic order the EU has underpinned. For there to be a new order then there must necessarily be a period of disorder to weed out the nonperforming elements in both our economy and our politics.

The forces of remain are the forces of the status quo. There is low low they would not stoop to if allowed so as to stay in the EU. They would scrub out the 2016 referendum in a heartbeat, gloat about it and call it a victory for democracy. They would sweep it all under the carpet and pretend nothing happened - and then all the things they said we should do instead of leaving the EU... they will set about not doing them, returning to their usual corrupt and depraved habits.

So if, as a remainer, you are dreading what is to come, take some solace in the fact that they don't get to win this time. For sure, leaving and leaving with out a deal is going to be an ugly business, but it is at leas politically constructive. From there we can rebuild and reform. Were they to get their wish and defy the vote they would unleash an ugliness not seen in the UK in living memory.

Remainers do like to preen about Britain's projected self image of being a liberal and tolerant country. As do we all. But it is liberal because we are tolerant. Brexit is a test of that tolerance. Those who voted to leave expect and demand that we leave the EU. Nothing more, nothing less. After that we come together to work out what next. If, though, that basic instruction is disregarded then tolerance will evaporate.

MPs are not presently held in the highest esteem. Rightly so in my view. They wail about discourteous language and uncivil conduct, but it is their ignorance, hubris and mendacity which invites it. They are the architects of their own misery. What one can say with near certainty is that without the tolerance we enjoy now, uncivil debate will be the very least of their problems.

For a long time now there have been millions of people shut out of our so-called democracy, left voiceless by their political parties and denied a say in a vital constitutional issue. We waited twenty years to have a say and we had to fight every step of the way to get it. Now that our voices have finally been heard, if the reply is that our voice will not matter, will not be heeded under any circumstances, then all bets are off. Britain becomes a far more hostile place.

Voters will generally conduct themselves as asked if the basic social contract it upheld. Those things we do not do and those things we do not say are not done and not said for the sake of keeping the peace. Rip up that social contract then the unsayable becomes sayable, the unthinkable becomes worthy of consideration. This is not a cat we want to let out of the bag because the cat will then uncork a genie who will open a pandora's box.

The surest way for everything we value to be destroyed is for a constitutional vote to be ignored. Trade deals can be rebuilt, so too can relations with the EU and Europe. Economies can recover, remodel, rebound and eventually thrive. What is not so easily repaired is the social contract. As much as the EU is not viewed as a legitimate government, any future domestic government would struggle to govern by consent especially when doing the bidding of Brussels.

Those pushing for a second vote take us for fools. They dress up their motives in sophistry and obfuscation and they can even justify it to themselves. The motive, though, is afar from honourable, and even those arguments that scan still cannot conceal the fundamental dishonesty at work. It is as transparent as glass.

The legacy remain movement has poured millions and countless hours into delegitimising the 2016 vote. They have hyped to the hypnotic properties of internet adverts, overblown financial irregularities (despite remain having spent more) and pointed the finger at Russia. Anything but address their own shortcomings. But at the end of the day, 52% of us, of our own volition voted in good faith.

By a series of connivances remain could engineer another vote. They could even win it, but not by a margin that puts the issue to bed. The precedent would be an interesting one - showing how keen remainers are on EU referendums when they produce a vote they like - but it would be years or perhaps never before we were invited to have a say again. That there tells you everything you need to know about the legitimacy of our relationship with the EU.

One way or another this issue needs to be settled because it has festered for decades and will likely fester a good while longer if we do not act now. Eventually there will come an equilibrium in our relationship with the EU in terms of trade and harmonisation. It won't suit suit the extremes of either end of the debate but at least it will enjoy the legitimacy EU rule has not. That is the basis for the longevity of our future settlement. Should we remain in the EU this question goes unresolved. Any certainty won by deception and betrayal is temporary at best.

Democracy is in part a continuous battle of ideas. It behaves the same way markets do. Artificial distortions can moderate and mediate. But they also prevent market corrections. The longer distortions remain in place the more violent and unstable the correction. Politics is much the same. Deny the people a voice for long enough and eventually it will explode in your face. Brexit it the safety valve. If that voice cannot find expression through the vote then it will find another way. And then the politicians have to re-learn why we have votes in the first place.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

The case for a second vote is intellectually and morally bankrupt


People didn't vote for this kind of Brexit we are told. Nowhere on the ballot, though, were voters able to specify what form Brexit would take. That much can only really be worked out between parliament and the executive. Bizarrely though, we now have Dr Phillip Lee telling us "As a doctor and an MP, I believe we need informed consent from the British public on Brexit – that's why I'm backing a Final Say".

So if informed consent is required for an exit treaty, why was it not required for Lisbon? If we are saying then that informed consent is required for complex treaties then Lisbon does not have it and it is, therefore, a parliamentary obligation to undo it.

The Lisbon treaty was a profound shift in our EU relations, giving the EU a formal legal personality to become essentially a surpranational government. We were told, though, that Lisbon was just a tidying up exercise and nothing we plebs need to worry about. In reality they knew exactly hat it was but they weren't going to give us a say precisely because they knew full well we would say no. They weren't worried about consent then, informed or otherwise. 

Here, though, there is need for discussion as to what constitutes informed consent. We can be informed of something and still elect to disregard such warnings - which indeed we did. We were told that any number of things *could* happen. Voters had to weigh that up against other concerns and preferences. Either we respect that verdict or we don't. Phillip Lee evidently does not. 

Arguably we can say we now know more about what will happen which is largely incompatible with what leavers thought we were getting. I certainly do not consent to a deal that carves up the UK customs territory or one that leaves us part of the EU customs territory. Assuming I did get a chance to vote on this deal I would still be forced to vote for it for the simple reason that the establishment would take a no vote as a mandate to remain. They have then used one vote to annul another and we remain in a political entity which never had original consent and one we voted to leave in a vote unrelated to the deal.

Here though, we simply have to go back to basics. The original vote was a basic binary question on who governs us. Not at all complicated even though the consequences of that decision are. This question, though is more clouded. Being that most MPs cannot adequately describe the function of a customs union or even explain the deal or even tell us what the longer term relationship looks like, how then can we be asked for consent? 

The brass tacks of this is that MPs want us to vote again because they never wanted to leave and they don't like the look of the consequences of leaving. They are second guessing us. The consequences, though, are not necessarily consequences of leaving the EU. Most of what we are talking about in terms of fallout is what happens if we leave without a deal or if we leave the single market.

Here, MPs could, had they got their act together, forced the issue. They could have forced an EEA vote or they could simply have toppled the government and formed a government of national unity. They did not. They gave their tacit consent through their inaction for the government to get on with it. The consequences, therefore, are consequences not of our decisions, but theirs. Instead of using their time productively they spent the whole time wailing about losing the original vote. Now they want us to save them from their mess. 

Moreover, were they not supine creatures wedded to their tribal constructs, those who did not like the present direction could have broken away from the Tories and Labour and put up their own agenda for the 2017 election some six months after the Lancaster House speech. They've had plenty of opportunity to wield their own powers. As to the deal itself, why do they need us to vote when they have the power to vote it down?

If they are taking it as a foregone conclusion that the public would reject a deal (the only reason they even want such a vote), then they should simply cut to the chase and reject it themselves. Which they probably will when they get the chance. The question then is what does that solve? Mrs May then has to scrap her deal or resign, all the while the clock is still ticking. That then begs the question of what sort of deal parliament would assent to assuming the EU agreed to extend the talks. 

But then the people's vote brigade know that there is then a danger we would crash out without a deal. which is why they're are legal moves to clarify whether we can unilaterally revoke Article 50. That is their nuclear option - to attempt a parliamentary coup and stop Brexit. 

That's when things get interesting. They can say they have done what a parliament is supposed to do and stop very bad things from happening. But then for all the fannying around and the wasted time, we are still looking at a scenario where parliament has countermanded the verdict of the people. We then remain in the EU with negative consent. So what then? Another in/out referendum or simply deny us a say ever again? Nothing is resolved. 

The popular narrative will then forever be that there was a twenty year long campaign to secure and win a referendum on EU membership only to have it reversed by a parliament that never sought consent to take us in. What then can we say about UK democracy and the legitimacy of the EU? How can the EU project the image of liberal democracy when even its own members are held in it against their will? Forced to remain simply because departure proved too ruinous for politicians to ever swallow it.

Constitutionally it would fly in that parliament is sovereign, not the people (which is why representative democracy is not really democracy) and they could simply do what they always planned to do and wait until the opposition literally dies off and then no living person ever remembers not being in the EU. They then go ahead with a new treaty that erases member states as independent countries.

The problem with that is that this whole Brexit episode has given euroscepticism a shot in the arm and so would a reversal of the vote. The independence movement lives on for another generation. As economy conditions worsen, which they are set to irrespective of Brexit, the "populism" unleashed in 2016 with gather apace and we will be back here again and again and again until finally we leave. Leave has always been a certainty.

There question, therefore, is one of whether we do bottle it and pass on this problem to future generations or whether we resolve this now. For sure, it's going to be a very messy business but you have to ask why that is. It's twofold. Our politicians, without seeking consent, have gone ahead and transferred political authority over the governance of the nation to Brussels and placed all of our external relationships under a single treaty framework. That is the systemic vulnerability they created.

Leaving did not have to be an economic calamity. There are ways to do it safely but in the end we lacked the political coherence and competence, not least because those responsible for doing this to us never had any intention of respecting the vote. Leave voters are especially uncompromising precisely because there is no trust in our politics. That is more serious and dangerous than Brexit is said to be. What do you suppose happens when you tell them we're not leaving because MPs don't like it?

The point of a having votes to to change the regime without bloodshed. This is why for all its faults it is the best system we have. Britain, for better or worse, has voted for regime change. As much as the EU was on trial in 2016, so was the establishment. It deserved to lose and it did lose and it must step aside and make way for change. To obfuscate and cloud the issue further only serves to delay the inevitable. If we are saying that the 2016 vote can be disregarded then we are saying votes cannot change the regime. From that point hence, democracy is over.