Thursday, 13 December 2018

Brexit: don't wake the sleeping dragon


About three years ago, a certain stockbroker known to many of us on Twitter nailed the central Brexit factor. The prize, he said, will go to those the voters despise the least. I wholly concur. The vote was not an endorsement of the Vote Leave message or even a vote of confidence in the likes of Boris Johnson. It was a rejection of our political class.

This is why I think remain would lose a re-run of the referendum. Not only have they learned nothing, their behaviour is worse than ever. Nobody disputes that the leaver brigade are a band of incompetent charlatans but somehow the remainers still manage to be worse. We can put up with a certain crookedness from politicians. It goes with the territory. One thing we can't stand, though, is smarm.

Long time readers of this blog will know I dish it out to both sides. Farage I think is the rank incompetent whose ego has paved the way for the disintegration of Ukip, but even then he's not a savvy operator and quite a bit naive. His Tory counterparts, however, are pondlife. Redwood, Rees-Mogg, Paterson, Hannan and Baker are not only ruthless ideologues, they are also pathological liars. No lie is too big and any lie will do.

The supporting cast do not come off well either. Liam Halligan is a deeply unpleasant individual, as is Peter Lilley, Matt Ridley and the Tory think tank set - Singham, Littlewood etc. The Brexit blob. Given that they have pushed us to the brink of oblivion one could very easily conclude that I'm on the wrong side.

Further down the chain we have the likes of Gisela Stuart, Kate Hoey and Frank Field. I do not regard them as mendacious. They are sincere. Rather they are easily led and easily exploited by the Tory Brexiters. I know they mean well but by supporting the Tory blob, they are complicit in a massive deception. There is a lot to despise about the Brexiters; the intellectual paucity, the duplicity and the borderline criminality.

All of that though, pales in comparison to the Remain brigade whose contempt for democracy is total. They regard themselves as intellectually and morally superior in every way. They are share a mile wide paternalistic streak; believing the plebs to be hapless dupes taken in by the Brexiters and must be saved from their own ignorance.

The great thing about humans though, is that though not all are blessed with intellect and are not exposed to the information they need, most of us are equipped with a razor sharp bullshit detector. And that's why the remainers lose every time. James O'Brien, for instance, is a shrewd propagandist - master of misdirection and the lie by omission. Like Adonis, Campbell, Dunt and Umunna, there isn't a sincere bone in his body. They feel entitled to crush the 2016 vote and would do so even if leave had won by a far larger margin.

I am often chastised for attacking my one side, but I don't see the Brexit blob as being in any way on my side. The enemy of my enemy is not my friend. To a large extent they are all the product of the same Westminster bubble culture and it's largely a coincidence that we are on the same side of the Brexit argument.

Central to the Brexit vote was the gulf between London and the regions. The dysfunction in our politics stems from an aloof and remote political class ensconced in its its own sordid little nest - whose values are alien to the rest of the country. If you've understood the problem then you despise them all in in equal measure. They are all in the business of manipulation and have no scruples about it. When you realise the self-serving games in play, they are all equally disgusting.

That, though is the very nature of politics and that is what happens when decision making is centralised in London. This is why I've always taken the view that Brexit is a good start but not the end in itself. This is primarily about the people asserting their sovereignty and putting the power in the hands of the public - and EU membership is a barrier to accomplishing that. Brexit is an anti-politics vote.

Sadly too few Brexiters have realised that that the self-styled progressive remainers are not playing by the rules. The Brexiters maybe crooks and self-serving shits, but the Remainers are engaged in a highly organised, well funded jihad against democracy. These people are the establishment, they know Brexit is an existential threat to their order and there is no limit to how low they will sink. They feel wholly entitled to stop Brexit by legal chicanery and they have the money, position and power to try.

The more gullible audiences love them for this. Remainers like to think they are the intellectually superior side of the argument but through arrogance and overconfidence they've started to believe absolutely anything if it fits the narrative. They've also convinced themselves that their referendum loss was more to do with that bus than their own failings. This is their weak spot. Arrogant to the core.

If there is any part of me that thinks we should leave the EU without a deal, it's the part of me that recognises we are already deep into a culture war and we are up against a tyrannical and wicked tribe of elites be they professors, QCs, media personalities and politicians. They are every bit as fanatical as the SS and capable of equal atrocities. Their mob behaviour would gleefully bring down the full weight of authority on the individual to silence them. This is why the stakes are so high and why the situation could become deadly if we don't leave.

In many ways, the EU has become a proxy issue in this culture war and it is why, to a large extend, rank and file leavers do not care a jot about the economic consequences of leaving. I can actually respect that. I detest the London Brexit blob who spin an elaborate web of lies to tell us that the WTO option is entirely viable. That is both dishonest and wrong. To say though that the principles of Brexit trump economics, though, is a wholly coherent view. It is also rational and not too far from my own view.

For me, if there is a way to do this without torching the economy then I would rather we did it that way, and would prefer evolution over revolution to wrest power from the incumbents, but I don't discount the nuclear option if the situation calls for it.

In this I have sufficient self-awareness to realise that my own side has some ugly elements, much of it on display at the pro-Brexit march last week. I do not, though, see them as "far right". It's a far more authentic voice of dissent than the highly orchestrated "people's march" aka The Waitrose Warriors. Authentic is ugly.

One of the first observations in the Twitersphere was that the Brexit march - made up of working class Ukip elements, was mostly white men of a certain age. That is what the business end of raw politics looks like. Though the march doesn't have the numbers to show to the camera, this rabble is but the tip of a rather large iceberg. When the remain activists show up in force, that's all of them. My side, however, is a sleeping dragon. One which has shown extraordinary patience.

Far from being "far right", this is the unsanitised politics that has simmered below the surface of the UK's progressive veneer for two decades. It's a pissed off and neglected working class who have endured insult on top of insult, and betrayal after betrayal. This is why the stakes are so high. Brexit is the one safety valve - and though it may cost the economy, the cost of erasing their votes is potentially explosive.

The remainer jihadists are ultimately servants of the status quo. The regime has successfully suppressed dissent for decades and kept the working classes bottled up and voiceless. This is how they like it and they very much want to keep it that way. The system serves them well and any upset to it is a threat to their gravy train. They won't go without a fight.

The mistake they make is to believe that leavers believe what the London Brexit blob believe. When they say that Brexiters are dinosaurs pining for the loss of empire (and all the other cliches) they may be accurately describing a handful of Tory backbenchers, but in doing so they gravely insult those of us who voted to leave for entirely honourable reasons. It is that fundamental misconception that feeds their own sense of superiority and entitlement. It is why they are actively despised - and more so than the Tory Brexiters.

As we approach the endgame, the fighting is as bitter as ever, and there is no mood for compromise. The remainers have stepped up their dirty tricks and the Brexit blob are ramping up their lies. The biggest losers are those caught in the crossfire. But this transcends Brexit. This is a fight to the death. One side has to lose and nothing is resolved until they do - much like any civil war. Moreover, there is no end to this unless the remain establishment is usurped.

The reason being that the UK is becoming ungovernable because the views and values of the metropolitan ruling class are so estranged from reality. This is especially evident in Radio 4 comedy output - tin eared, snobbish and vindictive. It's the cliched scripture of the chattering classes. The snobbery of the Hay-on-Wye set.

Unless and until we have a politics that reflects the values of the nation rather than the empty media driven triangulation, we will continue to see the mood sour and real politics will turn ugly. The sight of Ukip marchers brandishing a gallows is a taste of things to come. Unless there is real change, the sleeping dragon will arise.

No deal: a kiss of death for aerospace


The Rolls Royce story yesterday was instructive. They are moving their design approvals work to Germany. They say it won't involve that many job losses - but that's only really the tip of the iceberg for the sector.

Passenger aircraft go through a series of maintenance checks at depots in the UK. There are deep inspections and none of this can be done without authorisations and certifications. That's the sort of services trade in danger by leaving the EEA and especially so with no deal.

Then, if one of these inspections finds a patch of corrosion in the wing, that section of rib or stringer has to be cut out and replaced. A designer has to come up with a solution that not only fits, but also can withstand the stress. They also have to work out the fatigue life of the repair - ie how many flight cycles before it needs replacing. All of this work has to be carried out inside a certain framework of standards and authorisations. If that recognition vanishes, UK repairs are not insurable.

It also means that none of the engineers are certified to actually do the work. Airbus can choose to be regulated by EASA - and it will but you need a formal agreement to do it. Rolls Royce is just talking about new design work but repair design is a major sector. Similar systems exist in the nuclear sector - and maritime and anything that is safety critical. With the UK not being part of the EU regulatory ecosystem and with spares crossing borders incurring tariffs to complete the work, you are looking at major overheads.

Imagine, for instance, that an aero engine is removed from an aircraft at Dublin airport and then sent by road to Belfast for servicing. Barring any parts used, this would be a services transaction, with the return of the engine to the Republic entirely dependent on conformity with EU law.

At a more pedestrian level, we might see ordinary cars driven across the border for servicing, as well as tractors and other agricultural machinery, and even small marine craft, to say nothing of electrical appliances and the like. Without an agreement on the provision of services, customs officials might even find themselves examining the maintenance books of ordinary cars, turning back those where work has not been done in accordance with EU law.

So there is actually a good chance that in the aerospace sector a few thousand engineering jobs and the IT staff that support it would vanish overnight. EU won't be in a rush to help us fix that as Germany will be happy to cannibalise UK market share.

For all the baloney that Rees-Mogg and Redwood spout, even if they were right about the ports (which they ain't), trade is more than just logistics and it's services transactions like this that make up the the lucrative work for SMEs. Even mundane things like passenger lift repair and maintenance is worth more than the entire fishing industry and without an agreement on Mode 4 movement of workers, they can;t send out qualified engineers.

It's not that big a deal for Rolls Royce because their design approvals are on new products and assemblies so they don't have that much work in that respect but for everyone else whose work depends on recognition within the EU regulatory ecosystem - they are screwed.

You can say that the predictions never came true when we voted to leave the EU, but on this stuff it is cause and effect. Removing licence to operate has real world effects. This is more physics than astrology. Adding it all up and I can very easily see it killing 1m jobs. And don't forget this is high skill work that pays decent wages in the regions which sustains the local economies of already clapped out places like Derby and Hull. It actually provokes many of the economic factors that led to the Brexit vote.

Britain as a services economy has depended on being part of the EU regulatory ecosystem and thirty years of our commerce has evolved inside of it. To date I have not seen any Brexiter plan saying what any of this trade pivots to as a substitution. And there's a good reason for that. These are morons who two years ago didn't even know what a non-tariff barrier was - and a completely ignorant of services trade. Talk about services and they assume you mean the City of London and banking services.

Typically Brexiter trade literature is the output of Toryboy think tanks with teenage interns for researchers and morons like Kate Andrews who think reading an Ayn Rand/Adam Smith book makes one qualified to speak on trade. This is much to do with the intellectual atrophy inside the UK political system, where narrative conformity is prized over knowledge - which is why they have idiots like Low Fact Chloe to spout vacuous nonsense. Brexit blob devotees lap it up.

You can blether about sovereignty til the cows come home but 100% sovereignty is pointless since the average punter doesn't give a monkeys where airline safety rules come from so long as they work. We can "take back control" of that stuff but it excludes us from markets. With this stuff the EU doesn't do equivalence or mutual recognition. You either do the work to their rules or it simply isn't valid. So unless we have a negotiated exit with formal arrnagements for the continuity of services trade, you can kiss goodbye to those jobs.

Braindead Brendan strikes again


I wish I didn't know a damn thing about trade and international relations. If I knew absolutely nothing about how the world works behind the scenes I could churn out issue illiterate toss just like Brendan O'Neill. I would be a lot more popular. That is not to say he doesn't serve a function. If ever I need to know what morons are thinking I can always consult Spiked Online which appears to be doubling as the National Database of Stupid Opinions.
May survives because the Conservative Party lives in dread of what might happen post-May. It is not faith in May that drives them; it is fear of life after May, of the debates and tensions that would ensue and the decisions that would have to be made. This is a party opting for stasis over a shake-up; for bad, uninspiring leadership over change; for the safe, deadening rule of the technocratic May over the political endeavour of choosing a new leader and a new direction. It is telling that May played precisely on those fears in her address outside Downing Street earlier today. Ousting her would be a ‘risk’, she said, and would unleash ‘uncertainty’. She knows her party. She knows its cowardice. She fed off her MPs’ preference for the semi-stability of an indecisive PM over the unpredictability of having to think and act to change things.
Superficially it checks out which is what makes O'Neill such a successful populist, but when you inject a dose of Planet Earth it starts to fall apart. Here you have to look at the pieces on the board. On the one hand you have a pack of foaming remainers who would undo Brexit in a heartbeat - unleashing a chaos of its own - or she could turn the whole show over to her lunatic backbenchers.

O'Neill is absolutely right. It is a dread of what would happen next. Had May lost, none of the alternate options are good. No doubt the oaf Johnson would throw his hat in the ring, which is presumably why he has a haircut last week, or one of the ERG brigade which isn't a very good idea. The problem though, says O'Neill, is this:
"at precisely a time when Britain needs courageous, ideal-driven politicians, we have cowardly technocratic ones. In the wake of a mass democratic vote that requires confident leaders to see it though, we have leaders who rule by default and compromise on command. It is hard to remember a time when the disparity between the public’s political energy and the political class’s moral lethargy has been so pronounced. We vote for radical political and national change and they can’t even even bring themselves to change party leader. The political elite is not up to the momentous task of Brexit".
It's hard to dispute that our elites are not up to the task of Brexit and the deal on the table is indeed a cynical piece of triangulation but ideal-driven politicians in this context are even worse. We have no shortage of MPs who bleat the usual platitudes about sovereignty who would pull the plug on Brexit talks and happily sever all formal relations with the EU.

However confidently and courageously they do it, they still have to reconcile the fact that our nearest and largest trade partner still exists and still wields power as a regulatory superpower. Trade and international cooperation is all about rules and the UK still has to find its way in the world as a mid ranking trade power.

The crucial difference between May and the ERG loons is that Mrs May is actually tasked with doing the job. Some months ago she gave a speech to the world outlining how we would be leaving the single market and the customs union. That was principled and sincere. She then bumped into the reality that the EU does not do equivalence deals on regulation in order to keep lorries rolling.

She then bumps into the Northern Ireland conundrum where we find that the EU will not relax its frontier controls without a number of assurances. She then realises that regulatory harmonisation is the WD40 of modern commerce. It becomes abundantly clear that that there are compromises to be made and difficult dilemmas.

She has to keep in mind that irrespective of our decision to leave the EU, we are dependent on food imports and we need to maintain our exports in goods and services and if we want to pay for the functioning of government then we need a trade deal. We can be as bold and courageous as we like but that fact does not go away.

It's all very well saying we will take control of our fish but unless the EU has approved our fisheries plan on sustainability grounds there's nothing at all that compels them to allow the sale of UK fish in their market. So what practical application does that sovereignty have? No point taking fish out of the sea if nobody gets to buy them.

O'Neill, though, does not recognise this reality - much like the ERG brigade. His is a world where the tiers of intricate controls to keep out disease, pollution and adulterated food simply happen by accident. Inside that belief is the further belief that the EU can and will make one off exceptions for the UK so the UK can do as it pleases. Bold and imaginative it may be. Realistic it is not.

It;s one thing to have bold ambitions - and Brexit certainly is that - but without a plan and a clue as to how to get there then it's just a pipedream. Moreover, if you're going to do something upon which the international standing of the country rest on for the next half century, it's a pretty good idea to check if those ambitions are realistic and deliverable. This they have not done.

What our Tory Brexiters have in mind is a unilateral free trade agenda to make us a Singapore on Thames. It sounds rather attractive on paper, but this is all based on the suppositions of Tory think tankers who, up until 2016, had no earthly concept of non-tariff barriers. Suddenly we are to believe they are trade experts and such piffling details are minutia and not the primary preoccupation of the entire trade discipline.

We may well have voted for radical change but not all radical change is good. Driving a bulldozer through my house would be a radical change but there isn't much to recommend it. There is nothing at all that gives credence to the crackpot theories of the Tory right and no responsible government should even contemplate them.

What's more is that we are dealing with a singular dishonesty here. When we factor in all the complications and dilemmas, the choices become far less attractive and difficult to reconcile with the sentiment of 2016. Anyone approaching this with any honesty finds themselves deeply conflicted. I know I do. O'Neill's solution is to join in with the liars and pretend that none of it exists and is merely an invention of bureaucrats looking to justify their existence.

Worse still, there is not a lot else Mrs May could have done for the simple reason that O'Neill and his acolytes would call any deal BRINO and cry betrayal without once acknowledging the constraints of our predicament. You cannot expect an honest Prime Minister when the Brexiters themselves are playing a dishonest game.

When you play this game it is easy to denounce politicians as unimaginative treacherous technocrats but the reality is that Mrs May is taking it seriously while the Brexiters are not. I think she has been badly advised and made avoidable mistakes but this is as much to do with having the ERG breathing down her neck threatening to topple her if she attempts a workable compromise.

The further dishonesty is the repeated assertion that the narrowly won 2016 referendum was a mandate for the most extreme Brexit possible. Here O'Neill plays the classic Brexit blob card that any Brexit that isn't self-immolation is just not Brexit. Who the hell does he think he is? Not he or any of his office juniors speak for me.

I'm not enthused by Theresa May or the deal on the table. It depresses the hell out of me to think that this is the best we can accomplish but having ruled out all of the viable alternatives this is what we are lumbered with. O'Neill's clan have called Efta a BRINO, toadied up to the IEA and the Civitas and taken the Koch brothers shilling. Spiked has never shown the remotest interest in getting the best deal for Britain - instead preferring to sing their populist marching songs about the establishment elites.

We can all play that game. It's easy to do, takes no real talent and it's a damn sight more popular than explaining to people why international rules on shipping ballast water contamination matter. It requires no personal development, no grappling with dilemmas and brings the adulation of the herd. It's cynical, dishonest and it's parasitic.

Brexit could certainly do with an injection of vision and passion - but it must be tempered by intellect and pragmatism. This is beyond the capability of politics as we know it. More depressingly, it is likely to stay that way when the bubble is populated by men such as O'Neill. He may be appalled by the narrowness of vision and the cowardice but it's really just a mirror reflection.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

It's game over for the ERG


Mrs May is victorious. For all the wailing the Ultras couldn't pull it off and now they're spent. The acres of press speculation were all for naught. So much time utterly wasted. This has been a Westminster bubble preoccupation - and elsewhere there is little appetite for a change of leadership.

Now, though, they reckon May has no chance of getting the deal through. I think she can - and Brussels will give her a hand. May has reasserted her authority and she has more backing that the bubble thinks she does. The country wants this settled. There is no appetite for dragging it out over what are seen as arcane points of detail. A deal is a deal.

The upside is that the second referendum and the unilateral revocation are dead. All that effort has gone into those options and they have got nowhere other than to have made a lot of noise and confuse the issues. It also means no deal is averted. The process of exiting the EU continues and though I'm no fan of this deal, that's a good thing.

It was little short of a month ago when this blog called for Theresa May to walk away. I had hoped that if this deal could be killed then there would be another window of opportunity for the Efta option. For the time being, though, that optionis stone dead. Parliament has been unable to to form up around an alternative. It really is May's deal or no deal.

On that point, even prior to the referendum The Leave Alliance view was that "unequivocally, that the UK could not survive as a trading nation by relying on the WTO Option. It would be an unmitigated disaster, and no responsible government should allow it". In the cold light of day that is still my view. Moreover, if there is a serious danger of leaving without a deal, I fully expect parliament to mobilise to ensure there is no Brexit at all.

The point I would stress here is that Brexit was always going to be a process rather than an event and it was never going to be done in one go. This was the whole reason for selecting the EEA as an avenue for departure. That reality has not changed and there's the obvious point that there is no fixed solution to this. Our European relations are a continuum. 

Many look upon the so-called WTO Option as a final fix but it can never be the case that we have no formal relations with our nearest and largest trade partner - especially as an ally. A no deal Brexit would not be sustainable and we would have to reconstruct relations over time. This would likely not play to our favour. At least this way, we are formally leaving the EU with channels open to continue evolving the relationship.

The narrative in the bubble is that the political declaration is nonbinding - but in international politics these declarations do mean something and they create obligations. If they didn't we wouldn't bother with them at all. We should also note that we have time to devise alternatives to ensure that the backstop never comes into play. The options are few and the Ultras will wail but by then, most will have realised that wailing is all they do. 

There has also been a lot of misdirected hyperventilation over the deal itself. I am guilty of such myself. For all that the deal leaves us with an unnecessary customs union, it does leave the single market. Though I would prefer it the other way around, given my critiques of the EU, a harder Brexit such as this is more in line with even my own views. It ends the EU's direct influence over our internal markets and ends freedom of movement. 

As to the non-regression clauses, as a matter of continuity we are already naturalising most EU law and ofg what the EU has asked of us, it only really enshrines our obligations under existing global conventions on trade and the environment. We have a lot of work to do before we get round to tinkering with such rules anyway. In the longer term the UK will bump into the constraints of the EU relationship but eventually the EU will not see it as a political imperative to retain that kind of influence. Much of their concern comes on the back of what a radical takeover of the Tories would do.

The bottom line is that the deal does two things. It gets us out of the EU and averts an unmitigated disaster. It will still hit us harder than an EEA Brexit but that will all depend on what the trade relationship looks like - which will probably go further than an FTA insofar as it can. As to whether Brexit is brexity enough, we should not underestimate the political fact that we will formally be out of the EU so far as the rest of the world sees it. 

If I thought for a moment that a no deal Brexit was salvageable I would not be backing this deal. I don't deny that there are mitigating measures but if your central policy revolves around damage limitation and civil contingency measures then it's not a very good one. It becomes a zero sum game for both sides and full of acrimony and pettiness which is not where we want to be with out closest allies. The pettiness from Spain over Gibraltar gives us a taste of what that would look like.

On this I actually wish I could join in with the Brexiter foot-stamping demanding a no deal Brexit but I cannot do so convincingly because I do believe it would be disaster. The mitigation measures mooted by the ultras deal on with keeping trade in goods rolling but it says nothing of the intricate and critical regulatory systems upon which so much depends. I do not dispute that Brexiters knew what they were voting for but I say with absolute certainty that most of them do not understand the full implications or the granularity of EU integration. 

We are not unplugging from a mere trade deal or an alliance. The EU in ever sense is a system of government and in advocating instant termination we would be breaking a number of important arrangements on anything from energy to national security. If even half of the scare stories are true - and there is every reason to believe they are, then we have more problems that we can possibly cope with. It is beyond the absorptive capacity of government. Whatever financial dividend from Brexit there may be (which was always a fiction) it will be spent on emergency measures. 

On this I don't hope to persuade Brexiters of anything. The EU has made its legal position clear on what happens without a deal and I am inclined to take them at their word. Brexiters, though, insist that this is all bluff and German and French industry will bring pressure to bear on the EU to force concessions. I'm not willing to bet the farm and the fishing boat on that assessment. Having written over a million words on Brexit and trade and waded through FTAs and agreements in order to understand the system I will go with my own analysis over that of a naive Brexiter. 

This is not a matter of rune-reading and economic forecasting. This is more a case of physics than astrology. If the EU says we have no rights within a particular market then that does have quantifiable implications for our services and exports. If airline repair organisations are no longer certified then aircraft repaired by them are uninsurable to fly. If safety equipment is no longer certified work can not go ahead. Without visa arrangements technicians cannot be dispatched to perform repairs. These may be peripheral issues to moving lorries between Dover and Calais but they mount up to a magnitude more economic activity. There is so much more to trade than logistics.

It's so very tempting to give the EU the two-fingered salute and tell them where to shove their deal. I would so love to do that but for the UK to do so alone, in peacetime, in respect of a relatively benign alliance would set in motion a series of volatile events where the UK would not enjoy much room for manoeuvre. The EU is, after all, a trade and regulatory superpower and one quite capable of boxing us in if we give it cause to. We are also not operating in a vacuum. There is an international legal order to observe and Brexit does not give us the free hand many think it does.

When it comes down to it I am not prepared to stake the future of the country on wildly naive bravado from ordinary leavers and certainly not on the issue illiterate and thoroughly dishonest shtick from the Ultras. Nor am I in a rush to give way to my own nihilism that says let it all burn. The stakes are too high. 

I am of the view that a negotiated Brexit at worst puts us in a limbo but one from which we can recover at a later date where we are then in an optimal position to promote a new model for Europe. The writing is on the wall for the EU. As a trade arena few can deny its benefits but in the end it is the political integration that will destroy it. From the outside we have the ability to build support for a new framework for European relations - possibly involving Efta - but we can't do that if we're a bankrupt dysfunctional mess.

I do not discount the future possibility of the UK taking its place in Efta but for now now we have poisoned the well. It does not enjoy backing of leavers and while we are still inside the Article 50 framework and remainers still smell an opportunity to remain, they won't back it either. It's on the backburner and will remain there until the transition is over. The support for it in the Commons is too little, too late. 

Before the UK can move forward we need a sense of political coherence and a unity of purpose. For a time that is impossible and a no deal Brexit would exacerbate many of the economic stresses that contributed to the Brexit vote. We therefore need to see this process through and get ourselves to the other side before we can take stock. 

I am fully aware of the flaws in Theresa May's deal but it is the deal all the same. The EU is not going to reopen the books on it for a new leader - especially when the UK is still negotiating with itself. It would have been nice to have a dog in the fight in yesterday's leadership contest but the Brexiters to this day still do not have a coherent and deliverable plan and that was always the problem.

In the end the ERG proved to be toothless, gutless and hypocritical. At any point in the last two years they could have made their move but they never had the numbers for their extreme agenda and they knew it. They were always going to fold. They could, had they the political foresight, have killed the remain movement stone dead by adopting a pragmatic plan, but instead chose to push it right to the wire with an agenda no moderate could support. Never once did they give us a vision or a realistic alternative and May's deal is ultimately the consequence of their own intransigence.

The battle for the outcome of Brexit was well before the referendum. Battles are won or lost before they even begin. It's all a matter of preparation. Eurosceptics never agreed what form the future relationship should take and most never gave it a moment's thought. It took until well after the referendum before lead Brexiters could even get their heads round the notion of non-tariff barriers. Brexit's thought leaders have repeatedly proven themselves out of their depth and resorted to buster and bluff in place of argument. Every opportunity along the way to take the initiative was squandered and every avoidable mistake was made. 

At some point we have to take ownership of those mistakes and stop pretending it can be done some other way. There were other ways to crack the nut but Brexiters wanted it all their own way immediately, never once bowing to reality and demanding the impossible. This deal is the culmination of that supreme arrogance. I had hoped for better but now we are out of options and it's the only deal on the table. Brexiters are advised to take the win they have while they have it.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Brexit: why we fight


A while ago a friend of mine came down to go and have a look at the tank museum down at Bovington. The subject of Brexit came up - probably because it's not unusual for me to offer an opinion on the subject. I had some difficulty explaining the rationale for Brexit. My friend isn't especially political but he is smart enough to know that the usual shtick about taking control of our money, borders and laws isn't of itself a convincing argument.

That much is the basis of an argument but not a particularly sophisticated one. What we pay to the EU is not in government terms a vast amount, nor is it dead money, and it's difficult to persuade a young and commitment free bloke that freedom of movement is a bad thing. Then, as far as most people are concerned, we do make most of our own laws.

To really get to grips with it you have to pick it up and look at it from all angles and know something about it. The problem there is that most people don't want to know anything about it because, to anyone normal, it's pretty boring stuff. Certainly international trade is dull as dishwater and most people don't really care about technical regulation unless it affects them directly.

This was a particular barrier in the referendum where people would come to me asking how it would personally benefit them. That wasn't an easy question because I couldn't say that they would have more free stuff because we'd have more money to spend. That would be a lie and not a very convincing one.

Even now remainers are exploiting this weakness in the leave case. We are giving up on tangible and explainable entitlements and benefits for intangible concepts, many of which don't really seem worth the bother. It's difficult to sell people on the notion of democracy when most people don't think of democracy as much more than voting occasionally.

Moreover, most people do not notice the impact of the EU. It isn't reported and much of its output is concealed by national politics. Where directives are concerned most of what ends up on the statute book looks very much like domestic measures unless you know what you're looking at. Insofar as most people are concerned the EU makes no difference to their daily lives. This is why the issue was never really a burning passion save for a sizable minority of obsessives like me. You then have the problem of the status quo. If you're doing ok right now then there's no real reason to rock the boat. Things could be better but if you're on to a good thing, why risk it?

Generally I have a hard time articulating a case for Brexit in person because you first have to set out all of the parameters which leads to a number of interesting diversions. But that is half the point. It is difficult to separate out the issues because it is all connected. This is why blogging is a more effective communication tool.

Britain is presently in the midst of an economic, social and political malaise. Remainers would argue that this is nothing to do with the EU and it's more to do with the problems in our own system of government. The problem with this argument, though, is that the EU very much is our system of government. It's not called a political union for nothing. One is an extension of the other and the system is indivisible.

One of the big factors in play is how the EU changes to culture of government by defining the methods and processes along with setting legal paraters, standards, quotas and targets - which very much turns government into a machine for delivering on those requirements rather than responding to needs of people.

When we needed measures to bring down home heating costs what we got instead was a raft of new measures to meet EU requirements which substantially added to our bills. At the time the government was able to capitalise on the anti-Bank and anti-corporate sentiment of post-crash politics and blame it on the energy companies and greedy shareholders. Behind the price rises, though, was government meddling at the behest of the EU. The same can be said of the Water Framework Directive.

Many of these policies have nothing at all to do with addressing our immediate needs, rather they are big ideas starting life in the global organisations, adopted by the EU Commission as a means to further integrate utilities and government procurement with a view to further liberalising services and expanding the scope of the single market. Then, of course, some of it is geared to meeting international climate obligations which, depending on your point of view, is fine - but not if it means the poor having to ration their electricity usage and grannies freezing to death in winter.

We should also not forget that these measures are often gold plated with the vanity hobby horses of the EU and national politicians and seldom does it come cheap. They don't seem to be constrained by the notion that somebody (us) has to pay for all of this. This comes to the tune of hundreds of billions of pounds and very often meeting legally binding targets takes priority over fixing acute problems which leaves us with the double whammy of having to take emergency remedial measures.

This leaves the UK with an inordinately large tax bill where our tax freedom day isn't until the end of May. It wouldn't be so bad were we actually getting Rolls Royce services for our trouble, but the NHS is in permanent crisis, adult social care is collapsing and local government is neglecting the basics to meet its pension and welfare obligations.

This matters because the basics are important. Noise enforcement and housing inspection is (believe it or not) an important part of immigration control. Without prosecuting landlords for overcrowding (often detected by way of noise complaints) we find that immigrants are able to substantially cut down on their living overheads in order to undercut the natives.

The problem with all this, though, is it is all highly debatable and difficult to prove. What is EU influence and what is domestic misrule? This is a tidy little arrangement in that the EU gets to blame member states for failures but take credit for successes and vice versa. The point, though, is that there is no clear line of accountability and that stands in the way of meaningful and responsive reform. when we do identify issues that can only be resolved at the EU level it takes the better part of a decade and nearly as long to lodge it on the agenda.

The point here is that the influence of the EU is profound and insidious. It already legislates for anything even remotely technical from fishing all the way through to energy markets and building standards. It then makes interventions in labour law - not especially to protect or enhance our rights, rather it is a means of creating an EU wide level playing field for the facilitation of freedom of movement. That is not without its social consequences. All too often it is judged on intent rather than outcome.

There are then more visible ways in which the EU governs us. Smokers will notice this especially. The recent introduction of retail controls mean it is no longer possible to buy a small pouch of tobacco. This is problematic for those trying to give up smoking. These are things that really should be decided nationally but once they are decided at the EU level - not least of the facilitation of trade, it is all but impossible to change the law. So how can you call it democratic?

The things about these little incursions into our lives is that they are everywhere. They are many and subtle, not least in terms of internet regulation (that infernal and pointless cookie warning), right through to copyright controls which effectively hand ownership of the internet to a handful of media giants.

Were I to compile all the examples known to me then this would be a considerably longer post but the impact of the EU is not trivial - nor is there any particular constraint to it. Notionally there are measures to prevent the EU taking power without a new treaty but it only takes a few ECJ rulings here and there to change the definition of things in order to widen its competences. Trade is always evolving and provides the EU many opportunities to expand the scope of what is covered in FTAs thus bringing more areas under the mantle of EU exclusivity.

Notionally we ought to be able to veto trade deals that do this but of course our politicians generally won't and even when such deals like TTIP are torpedoed, the EU has ways of smuggling them in piecemeal by the backdoor without anybody really noticing. One could even say that headline FTAs are decoys.

Gradually the EU is salami slicing British sovereignty and in ways we have yet to fully comprehend and to an extent that goes far beyond what was ever discussed and without the knowledge of our political class. For al the talk of becoming a rule taker after Brexit, as members we adopt rafts of EU rules automatically via statutory instrument and nobody is monitoring it on this side of the channel. the European scrutiny committee is one of the worst attended.

It's not for nothing that people feel they are no longer in control - because in truth they are not. The smoking ban came, devastating UK nightlife and it was beyond our power to secure derogations. It really ought to be a local matter. But it isn't. Whether you agree with the ban or not is neither here nor there. It's an example of something with serious fallout and serious social implications that we the public had no say in.

We can then expand this to grumbles about EU rules allowing larger lorries on our roads driven by foreign drivers, causing more accidents and undercutting UK hauliers. Any remedial measures we might take can be overturned by the Commission or the ECJ because that is where the supreme authority resides. We are just not in control of our country and it's only going to get worse especially as the global network of treaties and conventions ossifies. We are building a global technocracy over which the people have no authority.

The ultimate consequence of this is a politically disengaged public where we get used to the idea that when something is going wrong that's just the way things are and we have to get used to it. As demoralising as that is, that mentality also extends deep into local and national government. We simply tell ourselves that this is one of the sacrifices we make in the greater good - being part of a club that makes us richer. But does it? Evidently not for half of the country or more.

Back in the days of Ukip, it was described as a single issue party banging on about "Europe". The point though, was that "Europe" never was a single issue. It's every issue and everything it touches has implications for something else be it an economic or a social cost. Freedom of movement has had its own social implications - especially for the bottom two deciles and where you have a single market in people and goods you have single market in crime - from Romanian pickpockets to industrial scale counterfeiting and fraud.

The point for me is that all of the trade advantages of the EU can be done through normal intergovernmental processes without the transfer of political authority. We do so, though, because the EU is not primarily a trade entity. It is a political project which views national sovereignty as an impediment to accomplishing its political and economic goals - and once it gets the power it never gives it back. The consequence of that is a nation unable to swiftly correct and improve laws when errors occur. That almost saw North Sea cod fished to extinction.

The case for EU membership is largely a narcissistic and superficial one and one easily communicated. Were it not for the fact that leading voices for Remain are so utterly snobbish, condescending and authoritarian, there is a good chance they'd have won the 2016 referendum. The case for exit was poorly made and miscommunicated, precisely because it cannot be conveyed well with empty platitudes and slogans. One can almost see why strategists settled on such a banale phrase as "take back control".

Though the mechanics of trade have changes and the political landscape has shifted, the argument against the EU is the same now as it was in 1975. The EU has only one destination and that is to become a fully fledged government with minimal democratic oversight and one which  will always prioritise its founding ideology over the needs of people. It is not just anti-democratic. It is anti-human.

If we believe that government should be by the people for the people, and that there should be no higher authority, an entity such as the EU ought to be viewed as intolerable and monstrous.  Its success has depended entirely on its gradual encroachment and its superficial appearance of a democracy - (the whole point of its faux-parliament). We have hollowed out the definition of democracy to such an extent where we no longer know what it is. But when you ask in what way can the people meaningfully organise to propose, amend or repeal law in the EU and the answer is stark. Not by any measure do I recognise it as a democracy.

It is for these reasons I am not at all persuaded by the economic arguments. GDP may be a concern but it cannot be our overriding consideration. The right to meaningfully express ourselves through the vote is something we have always considered worth fighting for and dying for. It's a troubling sign of the times that we would trade it away for the sake of anemic growth inside the EU. Leaving the EU may come at a high price but we do so to preserve something of far greater value. 

Decline and fall


The political settlement we have - what I describe as the social democratic liberal consensus (for want of a better term) is one derived from the aftermath of WW2 building on interwar ideas. The EU and global order has grown up around what was established in 1948. It's dying.

This is what we are seeing in the USA and sweeping through Europe. Every administration that has stood since the war has been built on the authority and gravitas established at the birth of the UN on the back of America's moral victory in WW2.

Through old age, corruption and hypocrisy and wit the internet shining a torch on their frailties, we have pulled back the curtain and what is seen cannot be unseen. They now stand without gravitas and they themselves have robbed high office of dignity and prestige. The West, therefore no longer has moral foundation from which to project and promote its own values. Along with the decline in economic power, the West no longer calls the shots which is why we see Turkey turning away from the western alliance.

Russia is able to probe the weaknesses of Western society largely because we lack a moral centre and will do all that we can to avoid any war even if it means peacemeal capitulation to its peripheral military and political aggression. We will roll over. Increasingly we find our own political establishments are unable to exert their authority not least because their metropolitan values are alien to the people they govern - which is partly why the Visegrad states are in conflict with the EU executive.

Resistance to the EU's moral imperialism is commonly described as populism and nationalism, but ultimately it is an upsurge of national democratic sentiment against an alien value system that many see as an occupying force.

With the EU being a collaboration of political elites with authoritarian, paternalistic "progressive" values it seeks to impose their morality and their rule of law on peoples who are largely powerless to oppose them. There is nothing we can do to stop the creeping technocracy

The more visible encroachments are things like the tobacco products directive - relatively unimportant in their nature, but hugely significant in terms of where political authority resides. We now have a bad an unreformable piece of law. For euro members, though, this authority extends over entire budgets and essentially removes political authority from the people in the running of their financial affairs. What's more, the EU wants more power and more control. More Europe! is always the answer.

Consequently we increasingly ruled and micromanaged from afar by an unresponsive government with aliens values whose morality is imposed upon us - right through to demanding that member states take their quota of immigrants. This is not government by the people for the people. This is pure technocratic managerialism, designed to keep democracy in check, designed to control our decision making and place constraints on our government at all levels right down to bin collections.

The emerging chaos we see is the conflict between democratic will and the system imposed upon us. It extends far beyond trade governance and creeps into every area of life - where nation states and even councils can only work within the confines of what is still allowed.

The prestige and authority of this system is entirely borrowed from its founders based on their political and moral accomplishments - and has nothing of its own to stand on. As history fades, so does their authority. We are witnessing the end of the twentieth century order.

The europhiles, therefore, are the ones in fear of losing their empire - they are the dinosaurs clinging on to the past, they are the ones most afraid of democracy because the end of the EU means the end of their means to control the narrative and our choices on every level.

The EU system is top down governance which no longer commands legitimacy or respect. The only thing it has is authority by way of the collusion of political elites whose own legitimacy is in question. That is the Brexit flashpoint. For all that remainers tell us that our problems are not caused by the EU, our problems are caused by our system of government and the EU pretty much IS our system of government. Behind most major domestic acts are a raft of EU diktats.

We are told that the 2008 energy act was a piece of domestic law. Superically it was but it implements measures demanded by Brussels in order to liberalise energy services across the EU and to create a single market in generation. Whether that is good or bad is neither here nor there. It is not without merit but the point is that our parliaments are puppet parliaments doing as they are instructed, implementing the will of the Commission to an integrationist agenda - without consent.

We therefore have no clear line of accountability - nobody really knows who is responsible for what and even our own polity doesn't understand how any of it works - from fishing through to energy generation. We're on autopilot with nobody in the cockpit.

Now that we have voted to leave we see how debased our politics has become - devoid of knowledge and ensconced in their own warped little bubble, oblivious to the concerns of real people - chasing after their own narcissistic delusions. In effect the levers of power are no longer attached to anything. This clueless rabble is no longer in control of anything and things only work because they run on long established systems. But soon they will break down because the institutional knowledge is gone.

The EU, therefore, serves as a life support machine for a decaying and spent political system at the fag end of its useful political life, with no idea how to revive itself and incapable of generating ideas. Our party system is broken and our politics is not fit for purpose. The top-down centralised rule of elites no longer works. It's been decaying for decades. All of our policies are sticking plasters for structural problems they lack the courage or imagination to address. It's all falling apart and we all know it can't go on like this.

This is ultimately why remainers are wasting their time. They could, through acts of chicanery prevent us from leaving the EU - but they cannot fight the tide of history and those sticking plasters will come unstuck eventually. There has to be a democratic correction.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

The edge of chaos


It's always fun to capitalise on French rioting. It certainly gives political writers something to do. The yellow vest movement has exploded into a general protest largely to the point of incoherence where anybody with a gripe can don a vest and start burning cars. You can read into it whatever you want to read.

Some would have it that we are looking at the imminent demise of the EU since the mood has spread to neighbouring countries, but I rather suspect this will peter out by next week and that will be it for a while. I could be wrong and this go run for months on end but even then the French police will have got into the groove of asserting their authority and working out what is peaceful protest and what is wanton vandalism from crusties in need of a bath.

If we could call it anything, though, it is an anti-politics protest and we have not seen the last of the general sentiment of discontent. Meanwhile, we can say a similar feeling is growing here in the UK. It does not manifest in quite the same way though.

Predictably the pro-Brexit march yesterday turned into a Tommy Robinson parade reportedly attended by anywhere between three to eight thousand depending on who you believe. It doesn't matter. People will always construct their own narrative in accordance with the version they are most comfortable with.

Naturally the remainers are out in force on Twitter telling us their march was bigger. This, though, tells us nothing. The "people's vote" march was highly organised and orchestrated and financed by you know who. More to the point, waving placards is just not how leavers do things. We never have. Every street demonstration over the last two decades has been a damp squib.

For starters leavers are fragmented a dozen different ways. In the 2014 Euro elections there were at least eight anti-EU parties standing in the UK. The only thing we ever agreed on was a fundamental dislike of the EU. But that's indicative of how leavers roll. We don't stand around waving placards. We organise (badly) on a budget of peanuts and we put up candidates - and that's how we got here.

Even now with the suggestion that Brexit hangs in the balance, we still won't bother to turn out to London - partly because most ordinary leavers wouldn't want to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukip/EDL types. It's not really what we're about. We have patiently done things the way they are supposed to be done and that's how we'll keep doing it.

More to the point, I don't think it's necessary. Being that the legacy remain campaign is largely a lefty progressive outfit it is adept at making noise and saturating the media with polls and soundbites. They can very easily create the appearance that the mood has shifted but still there is no real evidence of that and were there another vote, Remain certainly could not be complacent about it. I still think they'd lose again.

What they're not taking into account is that is that this whole experience has created a core of seasoned keyboard warriors and it's organic in ways that the remain effort is not. Over the last two years the EU itself has given us plenty of ammunition and we have all the footage we need of various remain politicians and activists parading their extraordinary arrogance and condescension.

But then, for all that, I don't think any of this really matters now. They could reverse the 2016 vote but our destiny is still departure for the simple reason that the progressive regime across the west is dying. Merkel is going, Macron is toast, the UK centrists are a spent force and Trump will probably win a second term - especially if Clinton is in the game. This is no temporary thing either. I think we are seeing an epoch shift.

We could see an establishment fightback but I do not think it would do them any good. Their authority is draining and we have seen through them. Their greatest asset was the veneer of gravitas which is now shattered. Their legacy regime was built on the accomplishments of Churchill and Roosevelt. It once had towering prestige, but now it's spent and it's financially and intellectually broke.

What we are seeing now is a grubby race to hold on to the status quo. I've long concluded that the legacy remain campaign is nothing at all to do with EU membership. It's not the EU they value. They evidence shows they don't even care. What they want is to hang on to their systemic entitlements and privileges, refusing to admit the status quo is living on borrowed time.

You have to ask where was this rampant europhillia before the referendum? Why were turnouts 35% in euro elections? Why did they mainly return Ukip MEPs? If there was a strong sense of EU identity then there would be evidence of a European demos - and there isn't. The remain movement is just a tantrum from a middle class having their toys taken away.

What really bothers them is that they are losing control over the narrative. They hate that Brexit has empowered ordinary people and they're worried that their last instruments of control are slipping from their grasp - hence the legal jihad against Brexit and the censorship. The tin eared globalists terrified their world order is collapsing in front of them and believe that democracy opens to door to ignorant savagery - despite the murderous consequences of their own policies.

What we are seeing is the swansong of the twentieth century order and the wails of a cosseted class desperate to hang on to their privilege. The problem they have, however, is that the current economic model is totally unsustainable. Every policy they have is a sticking plaster which can no longer conceal the crumbling facade and the gaping inadequacies of our system. We are going through the motions until the whole thing implodes.

Here we can tell a lot by the state of our media. There was apparently a Channel 4 debate yesterday featuring the same old tired faces. I live and breathe Brexit but even I didn't bother to tune in. The only function television interviews and debates serve in respect of Brexit is to remind us how profoundly ignorant our politicians are - which is actually nothing we didn't know - so what on earth is the point?

Then there's a mad piece in the Times about how "leader" Johnson would go to Brussels and demand negotiations on a free trade agreement by 2020 or he withholds half the £39bn. It's absolute gibberish, but because Johnson says it, they print it. The front page story on the Sunday Times didn't even last the day before being debunked. The papers aren't even pretending to publish news any more. It's just gossip of the day. They have no idea if it's true and I don't suppose they care. Their purpose is to fuel the gossip, which then generates more gossip which keeps the machine ticking over. It is of absolutely no interest to anyone outside a two mile radius of Westminster.

As much as the gravitas has gone from our politics and media, so has the sense of purpose. What passes for research is almost entirely reliant on secondary sources. Prestige is valued over knowledge and of what little real debate there is, the objective is to make sure the other side loses no matter the cost to the country. 

The essential problem for remainers is that they want to put everything back how it was - to go back to that illusory time of political competence and national self-confidence. But we can't. We have pulled back the curtain and what is seen cannot be unseen. This incoherence cannot carry on forever and sooner or later it has to fold in on itself.

To me it's now a wonder that anything works at all, but when you look at it, the main reason things work is because most of our critical systems are run out of the reach of government and are working to long established technocratic systems, many of which are underpinned by EU technical governance. It's Britain life support machine for an ailing and broken system of government. Once you switch it off at the wall the patient cannot live. 

This is the core dispute among pragmatists. Some of us think that it is overdue and very necessary to have this out, let it fold and rebuild, whereas pragmatic remainers with no love of the EU want to prop it up for as long as they can. Part of me doesn't blame them. But the real question is whether we can afford any more of this systemic neglect? I don't think we can. It's those Grenfell moments that show us that the fundamentals are no longer sound.

Of course, there is always the possibility that I'm being overdramatic. The Winter of Discontent was more serious and closer to political collapse than this and just four years prior, France was on the brink of revolution. The forty or so years of stability we've had are more than likely an aberration. The sense I get, though, is that there are too many common themes emerging all over the West for any of this to be coincidental. There are larger forces at work and a shift in the tides of power. Nobody knows how this ends and what's going on is a lot bigger than Brexit.

Here I am not devoting too much time or attention to speculation simply because the situation is too fluid. Every day throws up a new set of possibilities. I'm now leaning toward the view that the EEA option is for the foreseeable future dead in the water so it's either going to be May's deal or no deal And we cannot progress to the next stage of the national conversation until we know. So we wait. We know as little as we did last December.

Even when we know how this phase ends we will still be in a limbo and lost in a cacophony of impenetrable noise and I really don't think we will see any coherence until we are smacked with the reality of our predicament. Between now and then we are in the same cycle of bickering and fighting where most of or energies are ill-directed and unproductive. 

Right now we are all bearing witness to the final months of an expired political settlement. Our political parties do not represent the divisions of opinion nor do they represent any coherent body of people. Politics is atomised every which way and comprehension is thin on the ground. We are short of leadership, short of ideas and short on political talent. We are taxed to the hilt and nobody knows where the money is going because it sure isn't going on public services. Most of us are only one missed paycheque away from oblivion. We are at the edge of chaos. 

It is in this morass the reason for our EU departure become abundantly clear. The economic turbulence we seek to avoid is unavoidable. EU membership isn't going to shield us either way and there is no question of achieving a new economic normal until there is a new political normal. What the UK needs is a free hand to rebuild without constraint and without the divisive thorn in our side.

Forty years is a good innings but now we are heading into a wholly different era. It's time to let go of the past and accept the federalist project failed. As much as we need a new Britain we need a new Europe. We need a new model of democracy and a new way of doing politics. Britain is disintegrating because there is no longer a sense of national purpose. Brexit gives focus to our politics and once again opens up the debate about who we are and what we want for our country. Only when we have answers to those questions can Britain be at peace with itself. 

Saturday, 8 December 2018

A dose of what we deserve


Economically, no deal is suicidal. It is possible that we can avoid many of the headline impacts with adequate preparation but I seriously doubt we have made adequate preparations not least because our own government has not fully understood the scope and scale of the problems. I don't put any stock in government reassurances.

I base my assessment on the EU's Notices to Stakeholders which clearly outline how UK exports will be affected and which cooperation frameworks will end. It's going to cause major problems end to end. The severity will depend a lot on the remedial measures taken by the government and whatever residual cooperation we can secure from the EU - which won't be much.

I could outline the possible problems but we've now had months of warnings and they are taken no more seriously now as before. It is a total waste of breath. Most people in this game believe what they want to believe from sources that align with their prejudices and they are not inclined to examine the facts for themselves. Many simply believe that the worst effects won't be allowed to happen or that we will somehow muddle through.

Supposing our response to the first wave of problems is adequate we can avoid jams at the ports, but only by putting strict controls in place which will see a rapid decline in the volumes of exports. Talk of a "managed no deal" is closer to civil contingency than international relations.

Nobody should be willing this situation into being. It's a last resort and it does not pan out well long term. More than likely it sees the UK grovelling to Brussels for whatever scraps it feels inclined to give us and entirely on their terms.

The reason the Brexiteers want it so badly is because they don't understand the EU and they do not understand trade. They do not understand that border controls are made up of several layers of regulatory systems all of which have evolved over decades. They see this only as costly red tape. they do not understand that this red tape eliminates trade friction and that it facilitates high volumes of exports.

They also think that we will have a leaner economy if we scrap all this red tape and believe our exports will continue as normal. They do not understand that much of our trade is only possible because of various tiers of cooperation. If the EU no longer recognises things like safety certifications then much of our services trade is hit as hard as our exports in goods.

I have tried to explain this. I've pointed people to detailed articles explaining how the system works. I've tried breaking it down into colourful analogies. I've written countless articles on the subject. But Brexiters don't want to know. They will ferret into the bowels of BrexitCentral for an article written by a London Toryboy economist or a businessman who claims to understand the system - and their word trumps mine because it's all about title and prestige - and it fits in with what they want to believe.

Here, though, I am not going to single out leavers because this is pretty normal human behaviour - which is why I tend to avoid humans wherever possible. People are generally quite stupid and when there's a group of them their collective IQ does not rival a potato. Remainers are every bit as bad for arrogance, petulance and galactic ignorance.

What's interesting about both sides is that they've each constructed their own elaborate fictions and will tell virtually any lie in support of them. The right wing think tanks have taken their fair share of flak but the remain think tanks are every bit as crooked and dishonest. This is why if we crash out of the EU without a deal I'm not going to have any sympathy at all. In fact, I'm going to love it.

I'm going to enjoy watching the government fall to bits but I'm especially going to enjoy the bluster and deflection from the likes of Redwood, Baker and Hoey. They are never going to take responsibility or own up to their ignorance and though they will attempt to blame the EU, it will be brutally apparent that Tory "fwee twade" theories were a crock. Politically it will cost them. They will hand Number Ten to Corbyn.

What I'm going to enjoy most of all is the wailing of remainers. Ordinarily they would be entitled to complain since they never wanted any form of Brexit, but they have told lies as big as those of the ERG and have spent the whole time coordinating outrageous propaganda against the Norway option which could have preserved much fo what they value about EU membership. On that score they are singing from the same hymn sheet as the ERG. There is no difference in their rhetoric.

We've seen all the classic canards trotted out, especially over the last week about Norway being a passive rule taker, and the origin of all this traces back to a handful of self-serving academics and EU focussed think tanks. They've been operating a scorched earth policy from the beginning and they'd rather see the UK crash and burn that see an orderly exit. They won't be able to complain because no deal is exactly what they've been rooting for. 

The best part about this is that the internet never forgets. I know roughly who has said what and when and I'm going to take enormous pleasure in reminding people what they said. It's going to be a huge humiliation for the pig-ignorant bubble dwellers and the snidey toads who've given me so much grief over the last four years.

If nothing else, a no deal Brexit will be a huge humiliation for our political class on both sides and they will all get the misery they richly deserve. They'll be scraping egg off their faces for years to come. A big part of me thinks that's probably going to be the biggest benefit to Brexit of all. It's going to be a huge bucket of cold water splashed over the delusions of our political class and a hard slap in the face to remainers who refused to act with honour. Politically it's a massive dose of disinfectant.

As it happens I would rather not see the UK heading into serious economic hardship, but a very big part of me thinks it might well be worth it for the public to wake up and realise how badly served they are by their media and their politicians and how wrong they were to take any of them on trust. As a basis for rebuilding a post-Brexit Britain, that's a bloody good place to start.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Brexit is bigger than all of us


I'm at the brink of giving up trying to make any sense of Brexit. It is fragmented every which way. Even my corner of the debate in pushing for the EEA has been hijacked by a set of carpetbaggers pushing for "NorwayPlus" which superficially is in my corner but like everything else it all turns on the detail and the EEA Efta option is a very different animal to whatever Boles/Kinnock are pushing, not least because their definition mutates seemingly by the day.

This is where I become increasingly frustrated because the distinctions are arcane but crucial and not communicable through the medium of tweets. This has been much of the problem from the beginning. These issues are complex and even when you understand it there is still more to learn.

Here it is quite easy to understand why leave has always been on the backfoot. As much as the arguments for leaving are complex and multifarious, so are all of the remedies. The Remain brigade can easily trot out all of the headline perks of EU membership but the philosophy of Brexit is harder to communicate, more so in a debate environment full of disinformation, and the benefits are far less tangible than the rights and advantages of EU membership.

In a lot of ways it's not surprising that Leave has had to compete on Remain's turf, resorting to cheap sloganeering. The philosophy of Brexit is not really something that fits on the side of a bus. What makes it even worse is that there are no leavers that I know of inside the bubble who really get it either. They mouth the usual platitudes about sovereignty but there's no real thought going on there.

Worse still we are dealing with an opposition that does not value democracy. They think they do but democracy is one of those things we all talk about but few have ever given any real thought to what it means. Most remainers I talk to point to the fact we have euro-elections and laws are voted on in the EU parliament and the presence of those voting rituals qualifies as democracy. There's the textbook version of how laws are made and then there's the real world where nothing is ever straightforward, often opaque and subject to corrupt lobbying influences.

The result of this fragmentation is two sides talking past each other while the wider public is bewildered and increasingly bored of it. There are days when even I don't want to know. With the public sharply divided and no political coherence, events will drift until a last minute decision has to be made - and we are still none the wiser as to what that will be.

Meanwhile, much of the detail has become irrelevant - or at least secondary to the politics, largely because leaving has now become a point of principle against a breathtakingly arrogant and contemptible remain establishment who will use any dirty trick I the book to ensure Brexit does not happen. On both sides attitudes are hardening where the consequences don't matter just so long as the other side loses. This is why we see a renewed effort from the legacy remain campaign to trash the EEA option. It would give both sides much of what they value but this is no longer about outcomes.

This is where I need a reality check. Though the EEA is the logically and intellectually sound avenue, I know I am in the minority and a hugely outspoken one. Nobody wants to be told that compromises are necessary and nobody wants to be told that things are more complex and involved than they appear. And that goes for both sides. The detail is entirely subordinate to the politics. And I suppose that's really how it should be. A voting public is entitled to reject expertise and vote on instincts.

This is the fundamental flashpoint in our politics where europhiles tend to believe votes should be advisory and subordinate to the verdict of experts they approve of. This is the condescension and authoritarianism of Remain and the EU in general. Being that I have played my part in making the case against them, I can't really complain when my own assessment is summarily rejected also.

In some ways this is healthy. In a technocracy the public are excluded from the decision making thus take no blame - thus evade responsibility for their choices. The prevailing attitude among remainers tends to be that because Brexit has bad consequences the public should have their verdict overturned. This is essentially to treat voters as children.

In the end if a Brexit is a bad call then it is a call that is owned by the public. The consequences are theirs to absorb and to battle through. If they have said that is a price they are willing to pay and a risk they are willing to take then it is not for anyone to second guess that. Not even parliament - especially when there are few MPs commanding anything like the same electoral mandate.

Relatively early on in this process, just after the referendum, some of the smarter ones in the commentariat realised that we're damned if we do and damned if we don't. Parliament could exert their authority  to stop Brexit but being that this is now a point of principle, doing so would set a dangerous precedent for democracy.

Here I think Douglas Murray is on the money when he asks "If Brexit is blocked, will it ever be worth voting again". That has been my view throughout. We probably won't see French style riots. Brits will simply conclude that the whole thing is a stitch up and the voting rituals we partake in are empty and meaningless. That sets a dark backdrop.

In the event of pulling the plug on Brexit, the remainers will be cock-a-hoop. Through one side of their mouth they will speak of reconciliation and addressing the "legitimate grievances" of the plebs (resulting in regional funding grants that will vanish into the coffers of development consultancies) and out the other side of their mouth they will gloat and rub our noses in it. They more or less control the media narrative and will spin the line that Brexit was high fantasy, undeliverable and the referendum was a mistake never to be repeated.

Here I cannot think of a better way to crush the hopes and aspirations of leave voters who will quietly seeth. But as a tweeter noted earlier, the British don't riot, they plot. And plot they will. Politically that spells trouble, but I see graver consequences in the meantime as a new anti-establishment movement builds.

I think it was yesterday The Sun alluded to the possibility of another Jo Cox style slaying - which predictably resulted in the faux outrage of MPs and polite society - chastising The Sun for saying what quite a lot of us are thinking. Many have waited decades to have a say and to be finally heard. The leave movement campaigned over decades through legitimate channels to win in a referendum that was as clean as clean can ever get in modern times, and if playing the game by legitimate means doesn't work then some on the fringes will obviously conclude that extreme measures are necessary.

In fact, the faux outrage that someone would even raise it as a concern tells you a lot about the censorious nature of the great and the good. This is amplified by Twitter where the remain mob increasingly mobilise to shut down voices they disapprove of. This is the creeping authoritarianism of the establishment where we will see the full force of the state brought to bear on private individuals for the sole purpose of shutting them up. Society cannot function in this way. With half the country deprived of a voice and browbeaten into silence, without a democratic safety valve, the rage will manifest elsewhere.

At this point we will see the state realising the dangers. MPs will be escorted by bodyguards and we will increasingly see armed police on the streets. This time the threat won't be jihadists. It will be lone wolf right wingers - and they will go for soft targets because there is a higher chance of success. That is why I suggested to certain lefty QCs that defying the 2016 vote might not end well for them.

It is far from hyperbole to say that this is a test of democracy itself. The establishment could overturn the vote and buy the status quo a temporary reprieve but the undertone would turn sour. If you thought the rhetoric of the referendum was ugly then you ain't seen nothing yet. They way certain individuals are having - not least Alistair Campbell et al, I wouldn't be remotely surprised to see one of their number cut down before their time - and more than a few wouldn't be sorry to watch it happen.

Remainers will say that this "implied threat" further underscores why the establishment should not cave in, but that's really not how the public will see it. A Sunderland fisherman doesn't buy that he was hypnotised by a bus or a Russian bot and all they will see is that they won the vote, London didn't like the result so decided to ignore it. That is what popular folklore will record. And they're not wrong are they?

The entire effort of the legacy remain campaign is with a view to not only reversing the 2016 vote, but to reassert their control over the narrative and once again bury dissent. In other words, a return to the status quo where they only ever pay lip service to the concerns of working class people.

This underscores how ensconced they are in their own self-righteous bubble. We only need to look to France and and recent troubles in Spain and elsewhere to see that there is something more fundamental going on than Brexit, and Brexit is a symptom rather than the cause. For the UK, Brexit may well be just enough to channel that anger, which makes it all the more important that we leave.

The hard truth of it is that the 2016 status quo has gone forever, and more to the point, it had been living on borrowed time for a while. Had there been no referendum, Ukip would still be growing as an anti-politics party. Conceivably it could have in the future formed part of a coalition that would have seen us leaving the EU anyway. Our departure was always a matter of when, not if.

With such high stakes it is not surprising that the average voter doesn't give a monkey's about customs controls and vehicle safety regulation. This is detail that can be sorted out after the fact. Whether or not we are in a better position once it's done is really neither here nor there. I am certain that if we do not have a smooth and planned departure than we are in for a rough old time of it, but at the same time, this may prove to be future proofing for that day when the EU does implode. It may not be soon, but there is a lingering stench of death about the EU recently.

I am of the view that economic turbulence is an certainty - and not just for the UK. The tides of global power are shifting but in Europe especially we are seeing a political reordering which transcends technocracy and for a time business is going to be a secondary concern to building a new political consensus in the continent. It is unlikely that we will see economic revival until we have a new political settlement.

In respect of that, it scarcely matters what mode of departure we choose. There's a huge shit sandwich in front of us and we all have to take a bite. In the worst case scenario, a crash and burn Brexit, it is going to have profound consequences for the economy, politics and society in general. The greater the shock the bigger the changes we are likely to see - and some in my estimation will be quite welcome. GDP may be limping along but our society has never felt sicker. What we know, though, is that politics will eventually find an even keel and the economy will adapt. It always does.

This, fundamentally, is what I think Brexit is really about. It's about killing off a long in the tooth political settlement that no longer works and is seeking sustaining the unsustainable to the detriment of everything else. We are at a point where a change of management through general elections is not capable of dislodging the establishment groupthinks. Brexit is the nuclear button.

Remainers know this full well which is why they are trying to stop Brexit by any means necessary. They know this marks the end of the liberal consensus era (or whatever you want to call it) and with that goes all their means of control and all of their taxpayer funded perks and sinecures. They tell us that they really will listen this time if only we stop Brexit, but this has become a matter of trust - and they have pushed their luck once too often.

In fact, the absence of compromise in the whole Brexit debate is ultimately the product of that lack of trust. As much as the political establishment has bounced us deeper into the EU without consultation or consent, there is a widely held suspicion that even Brexit is just going through the motions and we will once again be told our voices don't matter. With the legacy remain campaign using its position of power to sabotage Brexit, there is no basis on which to strike a mutually agreeable compromise. It is this contempt for democracy that has fed the Brexit hardliners.

Remainers tell us that we Brexiters don't care about the economy or the consequences of Brexit. Some don't but for many it is simply a matter of priorities. For those whom the economy does not serve well, the principle of self-rule and self-determination comes far above whether London commuters can get their fruit yoghurts all year round. Ultimately this stuff must take a back seat. It's time to stand up for principles. Attempts at compromise get nowhere.

Over the course of the last four years I've had an assortment of people trying to persuade me to moderate my tone, and there's the usual shtick that if only I was a little more temperate then more people would listen but Brexit has shown that grovelling sycophants haven't got anywhere either largely because our politicians and media are incapable of acknowledging anything outside the bubble until one of their gatekeepers allows it to exist. But then I am also reminded that what is happening is bigger than all of us. It's bigger than Brexit and it's bigger than Britain and it's bigger even than Europe. It shows us how pathetic our attempts to control things really are.

What is happening here is the dawn of a new age in modern history. The nations of Europe have lost their way and their peoples are lacking purpose. As much as our economies are stagnating, so are our cultures. Our technocracy and affluence has abolished cultural and economic revolution and it is stifling us politically and spiritually.

The human mind is not designed to be caged in this way. All of the West's cultural exports have been the product of technological and social revolutions and this is how we grow and evolve as a species. Every now and then we need to tear down and revinvent for the sake of our own vitality. That is party why democracy is so necessary so that we can do it without bloodshed.

The mounting problems we face cannot be solved by more of the same thinking. We cannot expect good ideas and especially not  radical ideas from an establishment which is profoundly risk averse and one which only thinks as far as the next general election. A party only ever has a short window to do necessary and unpopular things and even then, opposition ensures it never happens or is watered down to the point of uselessness. Eventually systems and policies become so sclerotic that only factory reset can reinvigorate them.

One thing Brexit has shown us is that much of the reason our politicians (and most of our civil service) have no idea how anything works is because our systems of administration are so old and have been on autopilot for so long that nobody even remembers why they are there. We have lost that institutional memory which is why there is now so much redundancy in our governance. I encounter this often in business where process and procedures are done for the sole reason that they have always done it that way and nobody has ever questioned it. Government is much the same. This is also true of our politics.

As much as nobody truly comprehends how the EU system works, our own archaic system of politics belongs to another age and has its own inherent legacy processes, few of which are still relevant and produce their own internal dynamics that lead to the groupthinks we find in the British establishment. This is ultimately the cause of the gulf between the governors and the governed. This has created the widening rift in our society as politics is viewed as venal, self-serving and corrupt. It is not an unjust assessment.

In the end, only something seismic can dislodge our routines and reinvigorate politics and government. Until we do that we are not going to remedy our economic and social stagnation and if that is really what we want then it follows that there will be a period of uncertainty and economic turbulence. Brexit really comes down to whether the people think it worth the hassle. With a long campaign of finger wagging and condescension by the establishment, the public concluded that it is.

This, though, is why they have spent so much energy fannying around, attempting to demoralise the public. That is the consent they seek. They are satisfied with browbeaten resignation as the basis for their continued rule and to a point it appears to be working. But to undo what has been done they would need another referendum where we would have a repeat performance from the same troupe of miscreants and still we would conclude they are worse than the Brexiteers whose popularity is only a means to an end.

This is why I am ultimately sanguine about any outcome now. We can debate the timescales but I know a few things are indisputable. We will leave the EU, this regime will collapse and the democratic reckoning will happen one way or another. It cannot be stopped. The debate as to what mode of Brexit we have is really just haggling over the price. I'd prefer we didn't pay more than we have to, but in the end I think it urgent and necessary, so whatever the price may be, I will learn to live with it.

Jo Johnson: a liar like his brother


Jo Johnson today asserts that the UK in the EEA would become a rule taker and have to take up the role of a lobbyist camped outside in Brussels. Like his brother, he has shown an impressive capacity to lie.

Certainly the UK would have less direct involvement but that is not to say that EEA states are not consulted and even at the adoption stage, laws are configured for the specific member. That is the whole point of the EEA system architecture. It is far from automatic adoption.

As to becoming a lobbyist, this overlooks that we already are a lobbyist in the EU because we still have to push hard for the agreement of other member states when the oppose the UK agenda. In respect of that we would still have an active diplomatic corps working in Brussels.

On things like technical regulation what matters is the level of expertise you bring to the table and the UK's input would be considerable. They UK would still be able to shape the rules it adopts. And importantly, it's 73% fewer rules than being an EU member.

A non-member can have an impact in a policy area if it prioritizes, and explains its domestic constraints. If the UK picks its battles well there is every reason to expect cooperation from the EU - and the EU can be held to its own legal and political declarations.

Norway’s experience shows outsiders can influence the EU particularly in policy sectors where it is a ‘super power’ – such as oil/gas, but often such influence depends on successfully aligning with the interests of key member states.

This is where it is best to argue in line with what is best for Europe and the EU, not on the need for special exceptions. That is what gives Norway a respected voice inside the EU. We would still enjoy more economic clout than most EU members.

Too much emphasis is placed on us not having a vote, but votes are only a bit part of the process and rules don;t even go to a vote unless there is a consensus - and would not do so with major objections from the UK. Especially if the UK threatens non adoption.

The political processes in the EEA have been reduced to crass reductions such as the "rule taker" myth - but the process is considerably more involved and if EEA states really were passive rule takers Norway would have left by now.

This is where we see dishonesty in equal measure from both leave and remain inclined think tanks. They lie through their teeth about the EEA option in ways that would make even Boris Johnson blush.

It should also be noted that of the rules we do adopt, most of them are built on global conventions and international standards and so the UK is trading EU level influence for an enhanced say at the top tables. Cutting out the middleman. (The EU itself is a "rule taker").

The EEA will sometimes mean adopting rules we don't want but it's a case of win some, lose some, where we concede on some issues to build political capital for those occasions where we would set red lines. This is not too different to how it works as members.

The myth that we would be waiting by the fax machine to be told what to do is a lie as old as the EEA itself - invented by Norwegian europhiles with a view to bounding Norway into full EU membership. It was a lie then and it's a lie now.

We should also note that the EEA acquis is primarily technical governance and seldom anything worth going to the barricades over. This is a small price to pay for continued preferential participation in our largest market. As an equitable compromise there is no better.