Thursday, 17 January 2019

A question for Paul Embery

Readers of this blog will know have I little time for the bubble Brexiters. Very often I'm asked if there are any Brexiters in the public eye that I do respect. The answer is no. There is a groupthink in full effect and it is impenetrable. I do, however, keep tabs on other independent campaigners and I have a lot of time for Paul Embery, a Firefighter and Labour trade union official. The reason I'm making this post a personal address is because I'd like a reply from someone who isn't a moron. And Paul isn't.

Last night he tweeted:
Question Time audience in Derby - a working-class, Labour city - just cheered the prospect of 'no deal' to the rafters. Labour is playing with fire. It may never recover the support of people like these if it lets them down.
Now I am reasonably certain that nobody in that room has heard of Rules of Origin. If they have then I am absolutely certain that one of them know how the system works because most of the trade wonks I know only sort of get it. Basically unless the sum total of a product can be proved to be comprised of between 40 and 60 percent then it does not qualify for the tariff exemption.

I pick that example because it's the lead walking point in wonk land. Being that Derby is home to Rolls Royce and Toyota. This matters to them. Moreover, if there's no deal then there are any number of conformity and certification issues and even if RR and Toyota can get around them, it may not be so easy for the hundreds of suppliers which tend to be mid ranking SMEs. 

As Paul probably knows, most families are only one paycheque from oblivion. Worst case scenario, no deal will simply force these factories to relocate. More optimistically, there is still a very real possibility of a suspension of production. That's seriously bad news for contractors.

Much like where I live, in the shadow of Airbus in Filton, these factories not only sustain the high paying jobs directly associated with them, they also sustain the secondary industries and the communities. This could do to Derby what the closure of mines did to a number of northern towns, where evn to this day the name Thatcher is akin with Satan himself.

Even if we assume the best case scenario, it can only take a couple of months without work for families to crack under the pressure. A missed mortgage payment and a lapsed credit card is all it takes.

If you take the view that Labour is supposed to be the champion of the working class, if these events transpire (and my analysis rather indicates that they will), how can they roll over and allow what is, at its core, a Tory ultra liberal free trade agenda whose chief advocate (Patrick Minford) believes will necessarily lead to losing these industries and doesn't even view it as a bad thing?

I feel it is somewhat dishonest to take the "voter knows best" view here. Certainly the constitutional question of whether we should leave can only be answered by a public vote, but the question of how we leave entails a myriad of questions pertaining to regulatory and customs mechanisms that most are barely even aware of. Were it that the good people of Derby were fully informed of what is almost certain to tranpire, would they still be salivating for a no deal Brexit?  

We can take the view that the media has been saturated with no deal warnings and so the public are most certainly aware that risk is involved, but much of this has been misreported and trivialised by a media with no obligation to inform, while the pro-Brexit Tory apparatus has shamefully scraped the barrel for any source they can find to downplay the concerns of genuine sector experts and practitioners.

This is not something that is subject to opinion. The EU's own Notices to Stakeholders outline the official legal position of the EU and there is a more explicit press release explaining how all of the official controls will come into play in the event of no deal. This cannot be dismissed or downplayed. It is a primary source. Should we trust that or the opinion of a port boss or leave backing CEO?

In spirit, I absolutely understand the impulse to give Brussels the two-fingered salute but my five years of writing about trade and regulatory systems in depth leads me to the conclusion that must still have a deal. As a left winger, does it not concern you that you are singing from the same hymn sheet as Jacob Rees-Mogg and John Redwood and that this agenda's only advocate in the Labour party is Kate Hoey, who is, to be frank, thick as a butcher's turd?

I down with the democracy and sovereignty as far as it goes but this is an imperfect world where the very nature of trade is binding agreements and coordinated cooperation that necessarily has an impact of the exercise of sovereignty. That is the world as we find it, and only backward kleptocracies operate on WTO terms alone. There is no example of two developed nations trading without formal relations.

Does the leave vote really trump the modern realities of international trade? Can we really so casually cast aside all of the norms of international relations? Do we really wish to dispense with the deep cooperation we have with the EU that sustains so many high value industries? If such can be avoided by concluding a withdrawal agreement, is it not a massive failure of politics and government to allow such needless self-harm?

Theresa May's deal is imperfect. It carries a great deal more obligations than I would prefer. It does, however, end freedom of movement and it does leave the single market by way of leaving the EEA. At the very least it starts the ball rolling on what was always going to be a long exit process. Are its inadequacies really so intolerable that we must risk the livelihoods of ordinary people when it is entirely avoidable? 

In a world where absolute sovereignty is a chimera, and leaving without a deal more than likely does expose us to many of the forces of globalisation that contributed to the leave vote in the first place, do we not have an obligation to demand this process be taken more seriously? Can we afford to be so cavalier? 

The assertion that nobody voted to be poorer is one that carries little weight for me. Politicians do not have the right to second guess us in respect of who governs us, but is it not foolish to cheer on the one option that absolutely guarantees we will be poorer? As someone who lost a great deal when Airbus made cutbacks, that is not a fate I would wish on anyone.  

Brexit: victims of our collective delusions

The easiest thing in the world to do is write critiques of the EU. In essence it has become the engine of globalisation but moreso; the vanguard of global technocracy, using its trade clout to bring about an expansive global system of rules which increasingly mute the exercise of national sovereignty.

The problem critics face is that this level of stability and integration has obvious merits. Individual freedoms are the bipodict commercial freedoms as the EU has shown. This is the strongest and most persuasive argument for remainers.

The difficulty that leavers face is a more difficult dilemma. The desire for a departure from the EU based on the principles of sovereignty and self-rule bump into the everyday reality that much of our exports only exist because of a high level of trade harmonisation. The refusal to incorporate this reality into their thinking, believing that much will function as it always has, is why they do not anticipate the seismic shock that Brexit, especially in the event of no deal, will inevitably bring.

Much of our commerce works within a system of rules where unless you were in some way exposed to them through employment or politics, you would never know they were there. Ordinarily intelligent people have no concept of the multiple tiers of invisible governance that facilitates trade in goods and services.

Brexiters believe that any warning is media connivance with the forces of Remain and that any expert testimony is the bias of a privileged and entitled class who don't want oiks interfering with the running of government. To a large extent that much is absolutely true. There are no public trade experts that I know of who favour Brexit because if you look at it solely through that professional prism, any objective mind would conclude that Brexit is not a good idea or at the very least would conclude that the alternatives offered up by the leading Brexiteers lack accuracy and substance.

There is, of course, plentiful reason to disregard to ignore expertise. Trade experts like any other clique form their own respective groupthinks and collective blindness. Their professional function is to examine means to promote trade and stimulate growth. There is, though, far more to life than GDP and is is more to societal well being. We must also note that GDP is also a poor measure of success. Here I turn to a fascinating article by Geoff Gilbert of
The conventional wisdom says that if you oppose free trade, you must support protectionism or economic nationalism. This is misleading. There is no such thing as “free” trade. People create all of the systems that govern our political economy. These systems inevitably favor certain human activities over others, and we can design them to act any way that we want. The important question is: For whom are trade policies “free”? Put another way: Who do trade policies favor?
“Free” trade is free only for capital owners: the plutocratic few who own and control multinational corporations. When countries enter into free trade agreements, the governments of both countries effectively agree that their laws will not favor businesses from their country over businesses from any other countries. The main way that free trade does this is by attempting to reduce all tariffs to as close to 0 percent as possible, to eliminate import quotas that countries can use to limit the amount and types of goods imported from specified countries, and to discourage countries from more directly subsidizing their own businesses. 
Far from promoting freedom for everyone, “free” trade empowers multinationals from the global North to control the world political economy in two important ways. First, free trade facilitates global North multinationals to maintain the unequal trade they established with the global South during colonialism. This increases inequalities of power and wealth between global North and global South. Second, free trade empowers global North multinationals to plan the world economy alongside global South multinationals, the junior partners of the global North multinationals, and to pit working-class people in the global North and global South against one another.
The whole article is worth a read and though written from a US perspective, much the same can be said of the EU. I alluded to this dynamic earlier in the week commenting how Nigeria was suspicious of EU free trade deals and how India is taking its own protectionist measures to stimulate its own domestic industrial development and to protect their own internal market.

It can easily be argued that the aggressive trade policies of the USA and the EU have done a great deal to destabilise Africa, undermining development by dumping their own surpluses. It can also be argued that this is a driver of mass migration which could very well be an existential threat to the EU.

There is also the question of who makes the rules. Though EU regulations are generally assumed to be of EU origin, many of them simply enact global treaties, standards and conventions forged in largely unknown global bodies, reported on by few and barely understood. These are very much hives of corporate lobbying, corruption and maladministration. The WTO is far from the vanilla enterprise its advocates believe it to be. Meanwhile the EU itself is the hellmouth of corporate lobbying

This is barely acknowledged in the public debate. Remainers see EU is a big blue blob of virtue on the other side of the channel because the media would never scrutinise EU in the way it chases after every Westminster triviality. There is no meaningful scrutiny of it, which allows such infantile perceptions of it to evolve. To their minds, says Sam Hooper, Brussels is a refulgent land exclusively populated by altruistic public servants workin’ and co-operatin’ across national borders for the Greater Good, while Britain is a parochial and benighted place, land of Gammons and the Evil Tor-ees.

Leavers, rightly, despair are the naivety and lexiters are aghast at self-styled left wing progressives who worship at the altar of this profoundly neoliberal enterprise. Remainers speak of how the EU enshrines their rights but EU freedoms are primarily corporate freedoms. Those "rights" remainers wail about are for the convenience of business so it can replace workers on a whim and toss them aside without consequence. The "protections" are mere PR padding. Only real democracy can safeguard rights.

The problem leavers must confront, though, is that many of these malign forces are only partially remedied by Brexit. Unfortunately the EU does not stop existing after we leave. It is entirely capable of exerting its influence and any relationship with the EU necessarily requires conforming to its various regulations and processes if we wish to maintain our comprehensive commercial relationship with it.

I despair on a daily basis the level of debate among Brexiters who simply assume that German car makers will race to our rescue and push the EU into relaxing its system of controls we have developed jointly over the last three decades. The unwillingness to confront the technical dilemmas, believing it can all be resolved politically fails to understand the nature of the beast. It can and does break its own rules, but in the case of the UK, there is a certain churlish desire to ensure that the UK suffers.

In spirit, I am with the no dealers. I very much understand the impulse to give Brussels the two fingered salute. But then by the same token, the consequences of doing so are too grave for such a cavalier approach. It is also wholly unnecessary.

To my mind, Britain has obligations. Agreements and plans have been made and cheques have been signed. It is not in our interests to harm the EU. It is not in our political or economic interests to do so. A withdrawal agreement to deal with the legacy issues accumulated from forty years of membership necessary and it follows that such an agreement will have binding commitments. Some will be a bitter pill to swallow. As much as it is necessary to uphold our international reputation, it is also necessary if we wish to proceed to the next stage of the game and negotiate a replacement framework.

The end point of the Brexit process is to return political authority over who and what comes into the country. That much in theory can be done overnight, but when immediately putting us on to a crisis footing, the urgency of the situation may force us into choices we would not otherwise make, forcing the exact exposure to global forces we seek to guard against. We must therefore act with care.

The realities of modern trade dictate that absolute sovereignty will always be a chimera. The Brexit process, therefore should focus on that which is immediately important. We are never going to tick all of the boxes and some will never be satisfied. It is useless to try. Though leaving the EU is the primary objective in the process, we must still take into account the practical realities of this undertaking not least because it has ramifications for our standing in the world after Brexit. A weakened UK with a tarnished reputation will struggle to recover its position.

The question of whether we should leave the EU is a no brainer. Trade and commerce must always be subordinate to democracy and it is intolerable that so much is done to us without a people's veto and no domestic scrutiny. The question of how we leave, though, is one that requires pragmatism and realism. On that score, the Brexiters have vacated the field. They cannot, therefore, be surprised if the remainers take charge. Leaving without a deal may be the expedient route, but to pander to the ideologues is a failure of statecraft which the nation will not forgive. 

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Westminster is tone deaf on Brexit

Now that May's withdrawal agreement is on the rocks we now see politicians digging deep for whatever nostrums they can cook up to try and resolve the dilemma. It is a shallow process of triangulation that seems to have forgotten what Brexit is about. That is the problem with outsourcing a people's revolution to the incumbent establishment. It doesn't know why it is doing what it is doing so we can't expect it to understand the impetus behind it. To understand that, you have to go right back to basics. 

Once upon a time there was a political party called Ukip. It's still limping on in the background seething about Muslims. Before it became the Tommy Robinson fan club, though, it stood for something. A larger ideal than keeping out foreigners. The clue is in the name. The United Kingdom Independence Party.

Its founders and its dedicated army of activists believed that Britain should not become enmeshed in the machinery of the EU lest it would mute Britain's voice and castrate our democracy. This is as much to do with how Britain sees itself.

We are told by the likes of Fintan O'Toole that we never really got over winning the war and we mourn the British empire. They can say what they like. For us leavers it's simply a matter of wanting to speak for ourselves. Self-determination is one of the higher principles of international law enshrined in the charter of the United Nations. At one time in history we viewed this sacrosanct, yet in the postmodern age, ideals of sovereignty and self-determination are viewed as archaic and quaint.

In respect of that, Labour's call for a permanent customs union is in open defiance of the principles of Brexit. It is an instrument of accountancy but one which hinders the UK's ability to develop its own free standing relationships with the rest of the world.

Viewed solely through the prism of accountancy it is a fairly sensible call to make. If our only concern is GDP then the evidence stacks up against Brexit and suggests that if we are to do it then a customs union is probably in our favour.

This, though, is not a matter of accountancy. It's about accountability. There is no question in my mind that the UK will struggle to match the trade deals we already have via the EU. It is very possible some of them can be configured to suit the UK better but the net effect of Brexit is likely to mean less favourable terms overall.

The Tory Brexiters believe that Brexit ushers in a new dawn of free trade, unleashing Britain's global prowess on the high seas of commerce. To a large extent it's Thatcherite nostalgia remembering that the UK had its fingers in many pies internationally. Any chronicle of late twentieth century Britain is peppered with it favour international scandal, be it the ill-fated Westland 31, Pergau Dam, Iraqi super gun and Mark Thatcher's colourful career. Britain was a player.

The true nature of trade in this century, though, is far less exciting. It's a process of interminably dull meetings in Geneva on anything from radio bandwidths to BSE controls. It would have to work hard to be duller than it is. Gone are the days of signing dodgy contracts on the deck of a media moguls yacht.

What should concern us about the Tories, though is their eagerness to open the floodgates to international competition potentially without reciprocality. It's ironic that they should wail about the spectre of a customs union that would leave us without defences when they themselves favour unilateral trade defence disarmament. If your main concern is stopping the Tories from doing any such thing then I suppose a customs union makes a lot of sense.

This is essentially why the Europhiles want to remain in the EU. They don't like raw democracy and they are only too happy to ensure that the UK government is constrained. This is essentially what the EU was designed to do. It's a feature, not a bug. But what that means is that the laws we live by started life deep in the bowels of the Commission and never appeared on any political manifesto.

In this, it's actually the Tory Brexiters who have betrayed Brexit. They have appropriated it for their own ends when ultimately the reason we are leaving the EU is because we are continually subject to radical change without ever having been consulted - be it Lisbon or freedom of movement. Government is simply something that is done to us. For the Tories then to hijack Brexit in pursuit of their radical free trade agenda, is yet another example of how the sovereignty of the people is undermined.

If we recall the referendum, the basic premise of Vote Leave was "take back control". That would imply that the UK should be in charge of its own trade relationships in that a nation that does not decide who and what comes into the country and on what terms is not really a nation at all. It's province.

This goes toward demonstrating the point that so much as EU membership is a wholly unsatisfactory position to be in, Brexit without more radical democratic reform is not much of an improvement. Unrestrained elected Tory globalists are every bit as bad as unrestrained unelected EU globalists.

For me Brexit couldn't be less about trade. Trade is important but when trade is increasingly about global governance, it is a matter of the domestic democratic defences we have against unwelcome change and the further privatisation of governance. As an EU member, and under the current regime, all human considerations are subordinate to trade flows and GDP. There is a cultish devotion to growth and rule by spreadsheet.

Routinely we are told that we did not vote to be poorer. Whether we did or did not is neither here nor there. We voted to take back control, to have more of a say the ultimate destination ought to be a people's veto on any radical political proposals. If then the consequences of that is that we are poorer then so be it. Materially the UK has never been better off, but the Brexit vote would seem to indicate that voters put a premium on democracy.

Just lately we have seen proposals coming from somewhere on the left for a "people's assembly". It's bound to have originated from a London think tank, because only the bubble could produce such a bland an unambitious proposal. The notion that a super focus group tacked on to our ailing and decrepit Westminster system is a figleaf of reform rather than meaningful structural changes to the distribution of power.

Much has been said of parliamentary sovereignty over the course of Brexit, but recent events show that very occasionally Parliament does wield its own power. In this instance to ensure that we do not take powers back from Brussels and to ensure we do not take back control. The sovereignty of parliament, therefore, is used to subordinate the sovereignty of the people, because parliament, and the wider establishment is still the servant of the Brussels machine and the neoliberal globalist agenda. (Parklife!)

Being that this Tory government, and in fact the Labour party, (and parliament as a whole) is no longer driven by principle, the Brexit process has become little more than an exercise in management. That is ultimately the toxic consequence of EU membership. This is how it has changed the culture of government. It is no longer servant of the people.

The damage is done by Brexit is really only the consequence of correcting that which successive parliaments have conspired to do to the people without their consent. Even now the legacy remain campaign does not speak for the grand European vision. It simply doesn't want to suffer the consequences of this undertaking. To a large extent, nobody else does either. I could certainly do without it. I simply view it has necessary and something we can no longer postpone.

The Brexit process, therefore, should fix on the principles and objectives. That was the rationale behind Flexcit in that we took the view that what was done to us has to be carefully unpicked over a longer process, mindful that it was the inadequacies of the Westminster system that allowed them to do this to us in the first place, which is why we integrated The Harrogate Agenda into our Brexit plan.

Navigating the Brexit process is an unenviable task for any government. Many of the dilemmas are inherently irreconcilable and in most cases something has to give. The higher principles must be observed but they cannot be absolute in a world that turns on binding agreements and technical integration. We therefore have to prioritise according to what ultimately matters to people.

In respect of that, we must have control over our external relationships and our immigration. Our labour laws and social rights must be the property of the peoples themselves and not enshrined by agreement with a foreign entity. This is primarily a question of British people reasserting their right to govern their country, re-establishing the idea that this land is our home and not just a scrap of land we graze from to be opened up to the world and to any incomer.

It is the established norms derived from self-rule that makes Britain what it is. That is why we are a safer, better country to live in than most. It's why we don't have armed police and it's why women are free to go where they please and dress how they please. This is something we have evolved over centuries through our faith, through our literature and through our culture. It means something and cannot be casually cast aside on the altar of globalisation. Moreover, it is ours, and parliament has given away powers that were not theirs to give away. Brexit is our reminder to them that they serve us. The message doesn't seem to be sinking in. 

Bitter pills

So I've been on the telly again. Gradually getting the hang of it. It is, though, a reminder that television is a poor medium through which to convey information. The parameters are already defined by the interviewer and you have very limited time in which to get over complex points and much of what needs to be said remains unsaid. That is why I will always be primarily a blogger.

Being that you never know exactly what will be asked, one has to rehearse a few points beforehand just to dredge it from the back of one's memory so to have instant recall if asked. The one thing I can't do, however, is communicate the detail. Presenters can't cope with it and will interrupt. This is why I have got elongated sentences without a breath down to a fine art. One has to make the best possible use of the time.

That said, it is interesting to hear the case without the detail and the nuances as it zooms out on the argument considerably. It reminds me that we can get too hung up on the details dispensing with the tolerable in pursuit of good. As I remarked, the withdrawal agreement, should it pass, is just the divorce papers dealing with the hangover issues of having been a member which will, over time, be of diminishing importance. If Brexit is an investment in the future then we should not get too hung up on the interim.

The ultimately folly of Brexit negotiations has been the attempt to find a perfect Brexit that pleases everyone. Such is not possible. Given the state of our politics there was always going to be a bitter pill to swallow. As I remarked on Sky News, though, all of this can be revisited in the future. Our relationship with the EU will be an ever evolving continuum. What matters is what leverage we have when the time comes. We must be in a position of relative strength.

This is ultimately why I believe every effort must be made to avoid a no deal Brexit. As stated many times, no deal cannot remain no deal and we will be in for far less favourable terms if we are n economic distress and out with the begging bowl. It is, therefore, strategically necessary to swallow the bitter pill for the time being.

Though some may rejoice that May's deal was rejected, I am now deeply concerned that it gives politicians a window of opportunity to make it immeasurably worse. Whatever transpires in the coming days and weeks, it will be necessary to remind our politicians of the ultimate principles of Brexit; the desire to be an independent country.

In respect of that, it is also necessary to be mindful that our objective was never going to happen overnight. Any withdrawal agreement should be taken for what it is. The formal treaty to end our membership of the European Union. What all that the hardliners tell us that the deal (in whatever form it may take) is not Brexit, insofar as international law and international perspectives are concerned, the UK will no longer be a member of the EU and will be treated accordingly. What matters is how we build on that.

For the time being we have an open door with Brussels to work toward a mutually agreeable relationship. All we need do is honour our political and moral obligations. In international relations this matters. Should we walk away from our obligation to resolve the legacy issues we cannot then expect the EU to be so flexible in the future. Nothing is served by creating an atmosphere of mistrust and antagonism.

It is a certainty that any deal will involve binding commitments, and redlines will be crossed. That is largely a consequence of our own political dysfunction and the intransigence of the Brexiters. That cannot now be avoided. If, however, there's a deal that allows us the time and space to get out without the drop off, then we are still in the game. We at least then get to learn how to walk before we start running. For all that the Brexiters want it all now (and I very much understand the sentiment) it's worth remembering that we have waited decades for our prize. A little while longer won't kill us.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Sorry Brexiters, but Britain does need a deal

If you were to look at Nigeria and India you would not find sufficient in the way of trade instruments to say that there is a comprehensive relationship between them and the EU. So if somebody said they trade on WTO terms, it's not strictly true, but by contrast with Norway, for example, then it might as well be true.

Nigeria is an interesting one in that it is militanly opposed to a deal with the EU. It has not ratified the anything but arms agreement so, as I understand it, it doesn't benefit from any tariff preferences. It has also rejected a comprehensive deal with the EU in fear of exposing itself to competition, believing such a deal would jeopardize the industrialisation of the country.

This is very much a valid view in development circles, where the dumping of western surpluses undermined the stimulation of domestic production which helps it to build a tax base that allows it to develop away from being reliant on mineral and oil contracts which are generally the prime source of corruption. Also, if citizens themselves do not finance their government they have no stake in it. They have perhaps learned from the Kenyan experience. Senior figures within UNCTAD have also made similar warnings against trade with the EU. 

As to India, even as a larger country, is similarly suspicious and is highly protectionist where services are concerned. It is also looking to develop its own technologies for strategic reasons. India has been keen to exclude foreigners from its defence industry, recognising the need to develop its own front line fighter - also with a view to defence exports in the future. The HAL Teja is their flagship project. It isn't very good and doesn't compete with western rivals but it is an all India accomplishment into which they are developing their own avionics and software. India has long term strategic goals and is not keen to open up its markets.

Being a massive country, with a population of a billion people, generally India doesn't need trade. In terms of what it looks for, it seeks out high value remittances. Kerala state in 2012 received the highest remittances of all states US$11.3 billion which is roughly equal to the value of trade in goods with the UK. It supplies IT technicians and engineers to the middle east. India is much more interested in visas - which, given the current climate, is not politically viable for the UK.

What we have, as members of the EU, is not so much a trade deal as an integrated relationship. Hundreds of separate strands of cooperation from ESA through to Erasmus facilitates major commercial exchanges. This is further facilitated by freedom of movement, regulatory harmonisation and recognition of professional qualifications and licences, without which, many business transactions would not be possible. Such measures enable transboundary service provision.

To say that we can trade on WTO terms is absolutely true. If businesses are prepared to suffer the tariffs and navigate the mountains of red tape then trade is still possible, though difficult to do competitively. That's fine insofar as trade in goods goes but we are a services economy and trade in services depends on agreements on everything from intellectual property to insurance and much else.

It's one thing to not want to be a part of the EU and to reject its destination of full political union, but binding and comprehensive agreements encompassing commitments to harmonise on standards and customs formalities along with antt-fraud, money laundering and counterfeiting measures are a fact of life. This is the WD40 of modern commerce. 

Crossing borders on the continent is a part of everyday life so energy, telecoms and transport integration makes all the sense in the world. So too does regulation on pollution which has transboundary implications. Rivers and air especially. Though the UK does not need to be integrated to the same extent, it makes sense for the UK to coordinate with our neighbours on all of these concerns.

The EU is by design a system that creates interdependency, not least as a deterrent to war. That's all well and good but it is a sovereignty inhibitor and I very much support the view that not only has it gone too far, we cannot allow it to go further, especially when it is now openly talking about removing unanimity on tax issues. This is ceding far too much political authority to a government that is not meaningfully accountable. Brexit, though, does not make the complexities of modern governance go away.

Since roughly half of our overall exports are with the EU and since, by way of the trade gravity principle, it will continue to be an important trade partner, we need to keep customs formalities and border formalities to a minimum. That requires agreed frameworks and since the EU already has frameworks agreed between the EU27, and cannot unilaterally make concessions to us under WTO rules, Britain has little choice but to align with the EU in or out of it.

Alignment, though, or even similarity is useless without formal recognition of such. That is why we need a comprehensive deal. Without these instruments we are unable to participate in highly regulated European markets on anything from financial services to airline repair. Without a deal we are to a large extent needlessly excluded from those markets - losing a lot of high skill, high tech, high pay jobs in the process.

Having left without a deal, not only do we find ourselves on the wrong side of third country controls, we also find that our opportunities to trade elsewhere are similarly contingent on making unpalatable concessions. It's the nature of the beast. There we will find the rest of the world has its own red lines much like India and Nigeria. 

In respect of other potential trade partners, we already have comprehensive agreements with them via the EU. At best we will be able to role most of them over but it is unlikely that there will be any improvements. Certainly nothing that would be a game changer for the UK for the simple reason that free trade deals generally aren't. Increments in trade come from multiple activities between governments and do not yield immediate results. The belief that Brexit heralds a free trade bonanza is simply not credible.

The inherent conflict of international trade is sovereignty versus integration. The more integrated you are the less opportunity for the meaningful exercise of sovereignty. In this equation there are no absolutes for a liberal democracy. Belarus has virtually no integration and fiercely controls its borders. The result being that it hasn't bounced back from Soviet occupation and by most measures is regressing.

Being a Brexiter and mindful of the consequences of hyper-liberalisation imposed upon us by what I term "spreadsheet sociopaths" I recognise probably better than most why there is a need to take back control. Much of what is done to us is done without consultation or consent and we are spectators in our so-called democracy. A balance has to be struck which is primarily what Brexit is about.

I am well aware that the democratic principles must be upheld and indeed take priority over the economy, and I am implacably opposed to those remainer politicians who believe that our wishes and concerns are subordinate to GDP. Still, though, we are a highly developed economy and as an island we are absolutely dependent on trade. We still have to reconcile our democratic demands with the realities of the world as we find it. 

This then is a question of priorities. It isn't that big a deal if Northern Ireland is still using EU meat hygiene rules? Minimal checks on freight between the Britain and Ireland is nothing worth going to the barricades over. Suboptimal it may be, but is the alternative really a price we want to pay? 

The fear that the backstop entails a customs union is rightly the cause of some alarm. That we lose a good deal of sovereignty over tariffs is a bitter pill to swallow. That, though, does not stop us operating an independent trade policy not least because there is a great deal more to trade than tariffs. Britain as the second most open government procurement market is in a position to leverage reciprocality where the EU negotiates tariffs downward. We are not without our own defences and in international relations, reciprocality tends to be the norm.

On thing to note in respect of Brexit is that any deal we may strike is not set in stone. Bilateral relations are always evolving as the Swiss experience demonstrates. Customs technology will evolve, and sooner or later the question will again arise as we find our feet as an independent country.

As it happens I am not the biggest fan of this deal. I don't think it has any fans at all but it does have the merit of a transition period in which to prepare and it does afford us a window in which to devise an alternative to the backstop. It keeps us in the game and ensures continuing good relations with the EU. Were there no deal at all, relations would rapidly sour and the process of recovering our trade would be longer and far less amicable.

The question of whether we could have got a better deal is now something of a moot point. The Brexiter MPs built their own reality and expected the EU to bend to it. Having deluded themselves they used their considerable influence to convince others (quite successfully) that the WTO is a miracle solution, so it was left to Theresa May to triangulate a deal while trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. This deal is ultimately the product of that. 

Now that negotiations are over the deal stands as the only deal on the table. MPs have been clear in their rejection of it but cannot unite around an alternative and none of their proposals obviate the need for a withdrawal agreement. The time for them to come together and work through a solution was well over two years ago. Only now we stand on the brink have the decided to get their act together. It's too little, too late.

There comes a point where we must accept that our own political disarray is the single most responsible factor for this situation. We must also accept that we are out of time. It is time to own our errors. We either accept that and use our position of relative strength in the future to evolve the deal and correct the mistakes of the May administration or we simply crash out and have to rebuild from scratch in a far weaker position in a state of greater need. Strategically, no deal is unthinkable.

The headbangers will claim that any deal is a betrayal of Brexit but that is a fundamentally dishonest position. The vote to leave was an instruction to leave the EU entity comprised of the Treaties. There was no implied mandate to impose a radical free trade agenda nor was there a mandate to terminate all formal bilateral relations with the EU. To appropriate the votes of leavers in support of this profoundly dishonest agenda is not only undemocratic, it is also criminally irresponsible. The price of no deal will be one we can ill afford. The damage it inflicts will make £39 billion seem like chump change. 

So now what?

We have a bit of a problem. May has suffered a resounding defeat. There is now to be a vote of no confidence though it is widely assumed the government will survive it. Speaking to the house Theresa May took a more conciliatory tone, inviting a cross party effort to seek a resolution but there's one small problem. The deal is not up for negotiation.

No doubt we will see a flurry of activity with all corners submitting their little nostrums. The Boles clan are now pushing Common Market 2.0 while the Brexiters will no doubt recycle some or other nonsense from the IEA or Economists for Free Trade. All of them missing the point.

The point here is that the Political Declaration is the space given over for the destination. It is deliberately vague to allow options when we get as far as scoping the future relationship. That is its inherent value. As such no options are off the table provided there is a withdrawal agreement in place to address the matter of financial obligations, citizens rights and the Irish border.

Those seeking to "bin the backstop" are out of time and out of luck. We have already been through this mill and the backstop is what it is precisely because the UK government could not come up with a viable alternative. Now, the only way to avoid it is to agree to the withdrawal agreement, then press on with holding the EU to Article 19 of the Political Declaration. "The Parties recall their determination to replace the backstop solution on Northern Ireland by a subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing".

There is, in my view, only one way to make that a reality and that is a variant of the EEA option. Beyond that, the best we can hope for is an FTA with maximum facilitation with a view to dismantling the backstop as the system matures. To assert that Common Market 2.0 or whatever it is they are now calling their mangled Norway enterprise can serve as an alternative to May's deal is to once again disregard the sequencing of Article 50. We are going round in circles.

Now that the deal is defeated we will dance our last little dance in Westminster, only to have the facts spelled out by Brussels once more. Whatever Britain may want, it is not going to get it without first agreeing to the backstop as is. The only thing that would surprise me at this point is if the EU even agreed to change the font.

Though there is talk of extending Article 50, it is difficult to see what purpose this would solve in that the EU is not going to reset talks. Pulling on any thread risks unravelling the whole deal and we are back where we started, with months more of the same bickering and infighting. I can only see Article 50 being extended on the nod for the purposes of ratification.

This then takes us right up to the wire, where Mrs May will have to resurrect her deal to once again put before parliament, with nothing to show for whatever transpires in the meantime, where MPs will have to decide once and for all whether it is this deal, no deal or one last ditch attempt to remain. Parliament will then have to decide once and for all whether it is going to honour the 2016 vote or not.

Whether the fear of no deal is sufficient to focus minds remains to be seen. If MPs are still struggling to understand the sequencing and believe that this defeat is a carte blanche to start over then it is unlikely they understand the risks of the game they are playing.

Much of the day has been chewed up with debate about the deal, and everyone can come up with a reason to hate it, but the fact remains that it is the only deal, and if we want to progress Brexit to the next stage without crashing out then it remains the only choice. It all now depends on that penny dropping.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Brexit is the fight for the sovereignty of the people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can Britain cope with no deal?

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

So what do we know about what happens?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Prestige: the British disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Why Remain failed and keeps failing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 11 January 2019

How the EEA option was killed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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