Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Brexit: Resigned to the facts


I was considering writing a long article on how a no deal Brexit plays out. I thought better of it. We have been through this mill countless times. There's no point.

I have often questioned the utility of Twitter. I've been on it almost every day for four years now. I have watched every twist and turn of the public debate and bore witness to every twist and turn. I have seen every combination of every stupid argument - and I have seen the lengths people will go to to deceive themselves. I have seen breathtaking dishonestly and bloodcurdling lies. From all that the one thing I know is that when it comes down to it, most people will believe what they want to believe.

As we draw closer to the moment of truth, the rebate reaches fever pitch - to an intensity to rival the last days of the referendum. Minds are not going to be changed. If anything the debate is regressing. The only relief is the knowledge that in a hundred days this will all be over and we will see who is right. It's my best guess versus your best guess.

My best guess is that forty years of technical and legal integration suddenly unplugged overnight will cause many of the problems we anticipated and many we did not. We have seen through the course of Article 50 talks how the EU will close ranks on the UK, we have seen how it will prioritise its own legal order over an above real world outcomes and there is little reason to believe it will be any more pragmatic after the fact.

Moreover I place my faith in the analysis conducted by EUreferendum.com. Being Richard North's son I know how he thinks. After every sentence he's thinking "Can I argue this point?", "Does this hold true?". He is not man trying to convince anybody of anything. He is a man who simply wants to know. He writes to understand and the blog is your invitation to observe. A man of ruthless self-discipline and unmatched intellectual rigour. He can get things wrong when it comes to political predictions but on technical issues I will take his word for it over any of the slovenly con artists in the ranks of the Brexiteers.

And though I do defer to his work, I recall that I've served this cause for twenty years and know a few things if only through hazy recall. I also know how trade works. This is not from following prima donnas on Twitter. Long times readers can attest to the fact there is an audit trail here of a deep study into how they system works. Like my father I do not see this as a game. I do not see it as my role to dredge up a piece of trade technobabble to counter the latest remainer scare story. I simply want to know for myself.

We can argue that in the event of no deal, with meticulously executed planning, the UK can avoid many of the headline impacts. We have left it too late though. Moreover, the notion that no deal is mitigated by a series of subsequent mini deals gravely underestimates the depth and complexity of the remedial measures we would have to take. We would need an EU approved fisheries plan to resume trade and we would be looking at lengthy negotiations to re-establish air services agreements. Brexiters seem to think this can all be scribbled down on a napkin.

Repeatedly I am assured that EU member states still want to do business with us. I am sure that they do - but there is a certain presumption at work here - that the EU will ride roughshod over its own system of rules and that it won't use its leverage to extract concessions from the UK. I am also highly sceptical of the notion that we are able to reciprocate against any new barriers to trade.

Moreover, I've studied the Ultra Brexiters - both the leaders and the grass roots. They are blinded by their faith. Most of them have fallen for the expert misdirection of the propagandists. Still they trot out the same banale tropes about tariffs, completely ignoring the bigger issues - because it's complication and they simply don't want to know. Their worldview is built on a series of decades long assumptions that make up part of their identity and much of their social setting. Letting go of it is just too hard.

I'm well aware of this dynamic. I once thought as they do - but when you've successfully challenged your own dogma there is no going back. Once you let reality intrude everything becomes a lot less certain. The ultra Brexiteers have never had to reconcile the intricate trade-offs because never once have they recognised the dilemmas exist. The arguments made by Brexiters for no deal are almost entirely based on blind faith and they have shown a cavalier disregard for the consequences.

I myself have flirted with the idea of no deal simply because part of me is resigned to it, and part of me thinks it's necessary, if only to blow a hole in British politics as we know it, but I have never once pretended it is not without grave economic and social consequences. It would be just reward for the remainers whose petulance and dishonesty has led us down this path. It will also explode in the faces of the ERG MPs. It will bring about a crucible. A long overdue political reckoning.

That, though, is the only thing going for it, for which we will pay an unimaginable price. Politically, socially and economically, it will take decades to recover. There are no sunlit uplands, no fast lane of international trade unshackled from the binds of the EU. Even if we avoid the headline impacts of leaving without a deal, we are still frozen out of European markets.

I good go to some lengths to evidence my claims but if there is one thing I know as an experience publisher, the more detailed your argument, the fewer people will read it - and there is one absolute certainty - that if it doesn't tell the audience what they want to hear then they will disregard it entirely. They won't take it from trade professionals or academics, they won't take it from remainer politicians and any Brexiter who breaks ranks with the narrative is mistrusted. I've been called a remainer countless times.

A madness has descended on this land. One that is beyond our ability to control. Presenting rational arguments to irrational people is fruitless. This is a fever that ha to run its course. It looks to me like Theresa May is going to play it right to the wire, to spook parliament into backing her deal. It might work. It might not. Parliament is fragmented every which way and she cannot count on the support of ultra remainers or the ERG. If it passes then it scrapes through on a wing and a prayer.

If the deal falls flat then we will descend into political and economic chaos. Within weeks the government will fall, the Tory party will be broken and there is every reason to expect a general election. the results will be inconclusive. Even at this time, Corbyn's Labour is limping in the polls. We are looking at political uncertainty not seen in the UK in living memory.

There is one and only one reason to Back Theresa May's deal and that is that it keeps us in the game. The deal is not the end point and leaving the EU was always going to be an evolutionary process. I have made it quite clear on this blog that the deal is suboptimal in every way - but it is the only deal on the table. For me it accomplishes one thing - and that is to take the first step to leaving the EU.

The argument as to why we should leave the EU was always a slam dunker. The question of how is a far more involved debate and the question of where next is an open question. On that score, leavers simply haven't won the argument. The woolly aspirational guff from the ERG is dangerously out of kilter with reality and the deal is at least an insurance policy against their delusions. It then presents us with a window to turn this around once we are out from underneath the sword of Damocles.

The ambition of the Brexiters is to have a far looser and simpler relationship with the EU. In spirit I sympathise with this view. In reality though, transboundary concerns with our largest neighbour dicate a highly involved relationship and it is never going to be simple because the issues themselves are not simple, highly technical and deeply political. It is therefore unrealistic, nay deluded, to believe that we can sever all formal relations as a permanent settlement to the European question.

Some have remarked that I've gone quiet over the Norway option. Some still hang on to the hope that if May's deal is defeated then there is another opportunity to advance the EEA idea. I have made that case on this very blog. Now though, my feeling is that if this deal is defeated, any deal is defeated. The EEA option cannot withstand the weight of propaganda against it at this late stage. We needed significant parliamentary backing long before now. The option is dead for the foreseeable future.

It is, therefore, decision time. Do I give way to my inherent nihilism in the hope of creative destruction? I think not. Revolutions of this nature are wildly unpredictable and the stakes are too high. Tearing it all down is easy. Building something in its place is not.

My closing thoughts of the year are that the deal on the table, for all of its potential traps, is as good as it gets for the moment. Both sides know that the backstop is politically unsustainable and though the political declaration is said to be non-binding, politically and morally it is, in much the same way as all international conventions are. Whatever happens is not permanent not least because there is no permanence in European relations. It is a long continuum.

Brexit of itself, especially leaving the single market, is enough to be getting on with. It already creates a space for political renewal and creates enough problems of its own. If Brexit is fundamentally about sovereignty then this deal goes a long way toward that goal. The rest we must accept, not only as a recognition that absolute sovereignty is a nebulous concept but also as the price for Brexiter intransigence. They actively resisted having a plan and chose instead to wail from the sidelines. The destination is one of their own making.

And then ultimately, of all the rules, regulations and international conventions I take my guidance from, there are still none more relevant than the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition. The third rule is "Never spend more for an acquisition than you have to". Should we bide our time we can get what we want, but to walk away now is to pay a price we simply cannot afford. Only a lobeless idiot would gamble a £270bn a year trade relationship for the sake of a one off payment of £39bn.

You can argue the toss about the arcane points of principle of the backstop, and whinge about non-regression clauses, but this is the world as we find it. Most people don't care about aviation safety rules or what food safety regime we use just so long as it works. I'm not going to go to the barricades over that and it's not why I got into politics. If, at the end of the day, your trade and economic policy involves mobilising the army and breaking out the civil contingency plans, then it's fair to say it needs a bit of a rethink.

When the tale of Brexit is told it will be a tale of squandered opportunities and wasted time. A better deal was always possible but pragmatism and ambition were crushed under the weight of propaganda from both sides. The remainers ideas were limited by their stunted horizons, unable to see anything beyond Brussels. The Brexiteers made an irrelevance of themselves by refusing to acknowledge reality. It therefore fell to Theresa May to reconcile the irreconcilable to the best of her limited abilities. This she has done. You don't have to like it, because I sure as hell don't, but for now, this is the hand we are dealt.

Leaving without a deal is not just a matter of whether we can keep the trucks rolling. This is about safeguarding dialogue with the EU ensuring that there is a basis for amicable future relations. The ramifications of an embittered and acrimonious breakup are serious. It has has grave and long lasting geo-strategic consequences. We have to be mindful that whatever our view of the EU, it still exists and will continue to exert power in the region and beyond, It is still an entity with which we must contend. 

For all the dire warnings, some verging on the ridiculous, we have to keep in mind that the media is largely unable to cope with the detail of any given story and will trivialise and sensationalise it in order to generate clicks. It is that lack of seriousness that allows Brexiteers to write it all of as "project fear". 

Behind each and every one of those stories, though, is a legitimate concern based on the legal standing of the EU, as set out in the EU Notices to Stakeholders. We cannot know the full extent of the impact but even if much of it is hyperventilation, it's the slow degrading impacts of economic isolation from Europe that will take the greatest toll. Like in war, the humble AK-47 accounts for a higher body count than the A-Bomb.

Every Brexiter, myself included, feels the impulse to tell the EU where to shove their deal. There would be considerable momentary satisfaction in doing so. My feeling, however, is that our own supine and servile political class will be grovelling to Brussels in no time, and without fanfare will sign up to more or less the same terms and conditions. The more volatile our exit, the more pain we endure, the greater the likelihood of total capitulation down the line. For that reason I am backing Theresa May's deal. For all of its flaws, no deal at all is too rich for my blood. 

Monday, 17 December 2018

Tell the fat lady... she's on in five


EUreferendum blog picks up on the shenanigans in parliament today. I'm afraid it passed me by completely. For all that I am focussed on the Brexit debate, the dramas of Westminster seem barely relevant - elevated to a level of importance only by the legacy media whose output increasingly does not intrude on my reading of daily events and could not be trusted to get it right anyway.

We're living in two different worlds and the two are splitting further apart by the day as the playground in Westminster gets more and more surreal. They could very well to drop us into a "no deal" because they're so far detached from reality that they won't even understand what is happening until it has happened. This is a terrifying situation, where our political classes have totally lost it. They are not even close to understanding what is happening in the real world.

If this is how it plays out then I expect there will be hell to pay. People will want answers and they'll want to know why we are in such a mess. As ever we'll get the classic establishment narrative that the plebs were taken in by charlatans when we should have been listening to the experts. What won't factor into their thinking is why the experts weren't believed when it mattered - which is a whole other story. I will be here to remind them that the expert class did knowingly lie through their teeth to close down all alternatives to remaining.

I do have to hand it to the Ultras though. They've played a blinder in totally dominating the leave message, and saturating the debate with pro no-deal propaganda - but the real question is why has it not been adequately challenged in the media? Should the worst happen it will be the collective failing of our self-involved politico-media class.

Again though, I come back to the thinking that it is this very political dysfunction that makes Brexit necessary. If it wasn't Brexit then it would be something else to bring it all crashing down on us. It should be recalled that whatever price we pay for leaving the EU is the price of our political incoherence. There was always a plan in circulation to minimise the risks of leaving and to ensure continuity of trade but politicians and media who knew about it chose to ignore it because it did not originate from within the Westminster bubble.

Ultimately our politics is in the habit of electoral triangulation. They will never do the right thing if it loses them votes. Moreover, we could not expect them to do the right thing when they haven't the first idea what that even looks like. We might often remark that we would get better results from parliament if we just dragged people in off the streets - but given how debased the party system now is, that's more or less what we've got. For many constituencies the MP is the one person who bothered to apply to the party most likely to win. We are simply not intellectually equipped, politically, to make a good go of such an undertaking.

The story of Brexit, when it is told in the future, will be one of a political class crippled with indecision, paralysed by the enormity and boxed in by their own incomprehension. It will also be the story of how scum floats to the top. Of our 650 MPs, we only ever hear from a handful of them, and though we have some eye wateringly stupid MP's, we have heard so little from the silent majority whose own voices have been subsumed by ideological zealots on both sides. Again this down to the facile media fixation with confrontation between extremes.

As noted in yesterday's post, part of the reason our political class is despised is partly because we only seem them through the prism of our media. Television interviews are an alien setting, and when we see them at work, it's usually only at PMQs where any right thinking person would be disgusted. It's really at the committee level where we get to see who is worth their salt - and having sat through my fair share of trade committees I find they perform no better there either.

Some of the best performances have been by some of the Northern Irish MPs, not least because the outcome of this process affects them in a profound way. For all others, there is still a sense of disconnect. Some may have worked out that Brexit has implications for the flagship factories in their backyards but on all other concerns it is largely beyond their abilities. They don't know what questions to ask (or who to ask) and they don't understand the answers they get.

Part of the problem is that it wouldn't make any difference either way. The PM is deep in her bunker surrounded by gatekeepers who police what information they see. The best advice of experts does not get as far as the PM unfiltered and the fate of the nation rests on the leanings of the PMs advisers. We are not privy to their thinking at all. This explains the completely irrational rejection of the EEA option. The consequence of this is the further up the chain you go the less likely you are to meet anyone who knows anything. It is not at all surprising that Sir Ivan Rogers quit in disgust. I would.

This, though, is why I could never side with remain. If I wanted an easy life, the smart thing to do would be to vote remain, tune politics out entirely and get on with a much more lucrative and rewarding life doing something else entirely. EU membership at least ensures the shelves are stocked with the essentials. The question is whether that status quo, with a politics so fundamentally broken is sustainable.

If there is any genius to the EU system it is that it contains politics in a bubble of its own ensuring it can't go too far off the rails. It's got to the point where not only can parliament not exert its ultimate sovereignty, it doesn't want to either. They much prefer to churn over the same old territory while ducking the mounting and acute problems, to which their sticking plaster answer is unending immigration. For as long as the system is propped up with only the occasional hiccup there is no sense of urgency in addressing them. We have a largely indolent political class living the high life at our expense.

It would be easier still for the electorate resign itself to this dysfunction. They almost did. Leave won by a slender margin and were there a second vote they could likely be browbeaten into submission. Our political class finds it too boring and complicated to bother with so why should we go through the economic turbulence? But then, of course there is a reason to rock the boat as Sam Hooper points out.
Automation, outsourcing and globalisation have incrementally, relentlessly eaten away at the idea of a steady, 9-5 factory or retail job being sufficient to raise a family or buy a house. Millions of people who in decades past went through an education system which prepared them for little else now find themselves having to learn new computer or service-based skills from scratch, with almost no support or coordination from local or national government.
Even university graduates find that their degrees are of increasingly dubious value, and are obliged to virtually fight to the death for a coveted place on a corporate graduate scheme. The losers go back to live with their parents or work in minimum wage drudgery, wondering why their BA in critical gender theory hasn’t proven to be the passport to the slick professional city life they crave. Call centres and giant Amazon distribution centres have become the new dark satanic mills of modern Britain. Our present education policy should be focused entirely on this looming precipice, yet we distract ourselves by arguments over grammar schools or whether boys should be allowed to wear tiaras and tutus in class.
Social mobility in the UK is collapsing as a result of numerous pressures while our political class is not moved to do anything about it, which of itself is problematic, but this supine and politically inert culture is also giving way to a moral collapse where we are more vulnerable than ever to the perverse agendas of the degenerate left. 

To resign ourselves to the status quo would be an act of extraordinary national cowardice on the part of its politicians and its people. There is no doubt in my mind that a no deal Brexit will exacerbate many of the problems affecting the regions, but in many respects it will be a gentle shove to a system already standing to the brink. For all that we have heard threats of Airbus's imminent departure from our shores, crucial high skill work has been bleeding overseas since before Brexit was even a thing. As much as UK wage costs are high for every pound that goes to the employee, another must go to the treasury.

It would be nice to believe Tony Blair when he says we could call the whole thing off and entrust our rulers to make recompense, but they are capable only of the same thinking that brought us here to begin with. There is no basis on which to trust that they won't sweep it all under the rug and get back to the business as usual of managed decline.

It is very likely that the loss of single market participation will make it impossible for manufacturers to operate inside EU value chains. It is very likely that much of the defence spending that props up the regions will be cut and councils will yet again have to rethink their priorities. They can no longer afford their white elephants and flights of fancy. Politicians for the first time this century will have to address how we go on to meet the challenges of the new global era.

We are told Brexit is likely to trash our university sector. I'm hard pressed to find anyone who cares. They have abdicated their role in society to become creches for privileged children to keep them safe from the adult world for just a few more years - churning out PPE grads to be fed into the Westminster machine having never accomplished anything in the real world. All the while the lesser renowned institutes serve as a means to mask youth unemployment while offering them little in demand in the private sector.

It seems that the ones most concerned about the impact of Brexit are those most concerned with the impact it will have on a bloated and underperforming state apparatus. The very same apparatus that underpins their status and privilege. The same apparatus that underpins the makework jobs while our infrastructure crumbles and we squeeze ever more people into smaller and smaller spaces. 

Brexit is very much a kill or cure proposition but on present from, with the politics and media we have, we were on a certain death trajectory anyway. Brexit creates a policy space where the old simply cannot continue. In a very real sense Brexit forces us to rethink every level of government. That is exactly what I voted for. 

Whether we leave the EU with or without a deal is now n the hands of the gods. The die is cast and the outcome largely depends on the dregs of competence still left in the Westminster system. It is beyond our influence and probably always was. Soon we will know and soon the truth will out. The deceitful will get their just desserts and on that day politics will never be the same again. Who says there are no benefits to Brexit?



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Sunday, 16 December 2018

The politico-media nexus is the cancer at the heart of British society


When the real story of Brexit is told (if ever it is) it will be an account of how a self-absorbed, self-regarding and trivial media class failed every basic test of competence. It starts with a collective inability to recognise and process nuances.

The first taste of this was early on in the referendum was Carolyn Quinn of the Radio 4's Today Programme jetting off to Greenland to explore "the practical process by which Britain would exit the EU if UK voters opt to leave and looks at the experience of Greenland, which quit the EEC in 1985".

Where to even start? This is long before the single market was established in the UK, before we evolved JIT supply chains inside it and before Maastricht, Lisbon and the dreaded Article 50. It is difficult to imagine anything less useful than going off on a jolly to Greenland. 

This was compounded by a nasty piece of hackery shortly afterwards by the BBC's Jonty Bloom, entitled "How does Norway's relationship with the EU work?". Again, another jolly at our expense to tell us nothing and get the fundamentals wrong. Thus it was lodged that Norway has no say in the rules". 

Though the origins of this mythology go way back, this was at a crucial point in the campaign where one would have thought, having a public service remit (and at such a crucial time), the BBC would have taken a little more care. Instead, this slovenly and wholly inaccurate narrative plagued the debate throughout with those same mantras oft repeated by Andrew Neil and Laura Kuenssberg.

This has been the problem with Brexit throughout. Narratives are established and take on a life of their own, and the media is only interested in the competing narratives of the political extremes. Thus remainers were able to say that a Norway Brexit would be pointless, equating it with being an EU member with no say, which in turn became ammunition for the Ultras pushing their no deal agenda. 

Once such a narrative is established, it is all but impossible to dislodge it. Only when the truth gets some recognition from within the bubble does it gain any traction. In this instance, its sponsorship has come too little, too late - and from the wrong side of the argument. The impasse was never going to be broken without a leading leaver to back it. 

But then half the problem here is that those entrusted to interrogate politicians lack the intellectual equipment to challenge untruths. Just yesterday we saw Rebecca Long Bailey telling us that Labour would renegotiate a customs union with a say in trade deals. This slips by without challenge, as do the various assertions from leave MPs that we already trade with the rest of the world on WTO terms.

Even after three long years of intense debate with Radio 4 being at the razor's edge of the national debate, John Humphries still doesn't have a functioning notion of the difference between the customs union and the single market. Robert Peston routinely belches his incomprehension into Facebook. Faisal Islam still struggles with the very basics. Brexit is simply beyond their abilities. 

What makes this all the more infuriating is their inability to learn. As we have seen, each of the options periodically enjoys a few days in the spotlight where the media will recycle the same tired talking points but learn absolutely nothing in between so that each time we go through the mill, rather than advancing the debate, overall understanding is regressing. 

There are one or two semi-capable reporters in the BBC ranks. John Campbell, BBC News NI Economics & Business Editor, very occasionally produces reportage of value but relies almost entirely on remain inclined testimony, largely from Twitter "experts" which amounts to quite scraping rather than going to primary sources. What we get, therefore, is the prestige opinion which is just as prone to dishonesty and factual error.

It is this intellectual malaise that runs right the way through the politico-media establishment. This is why so many politicians and hacks have fixation with customs unions as the basis of any solution to the respective Brexit dilemmas. We get Raphael Hogarth of the Institute for Government boasting that we need a customs union because he's been to the Norway border to see for himself. This is highly typical London think tanks who employ arrogant teenagers who don't know how to think.

This is where I lament that we do not live in the times of the vikings where we would could raise an army, march on London and leave no man or woman alive. It's pointless singling out any one faction because they all suffer from the same disease. Information is transmitted orally, there is very little actual research and most of what they think they know is derived from secondary sources which only carry weight because of their institutional prestige. It is, therefore, highly unlikely that they were ever going to get the right answers.

Then, of course, the media suffers from the obsession with youth. We see a procession of telegenic, twenty something policy juniors on television spouting absolute crap. The national debate is frames by morons for morons - made worse by the fact that television producers are also unsupervised children. Experienced journalists cost too much. It is amidst this morass that agenda driven factions can advance their agendas without challenge.

This then creates a feedback loop where politicians who get their information from this same media go on the media to recycle the same errors adding their own in the process. Westminster then becomes a pocket of unreality as half understood concepts are fed into electoral analysis resulting in entirely warped triangulation - which explains Labour's dogs dinner of a Brexit policy (whatever that is this week).

The depressing part about all this is that there doesn't seem to be a way to fix it. This is about as good as it gets. This is a consequences of the internet, the twenty-four hour news cycle and the auto-cannibalism of corporate scale media. For as long as voters are passive recipients of news from the television, ever keen to be entertained by low grade Sunday morning political magazine programmes, this does not improve. 

Between this and the utterly valueless exercise that is Question Time, where an ignorant public interrogate equally ignorant politicos and z-listers, there is no readily available channel of reliable or useful information. As Eureferendum notes, much of the Brussels news we get is little more than what is spoonfed to hacks in the pigpen. We are no better or worse informed than if we simply read the EU's own press releases. The rest is supposition, innuendo and fabrication.

Though I can never prove it, a large part of me believes that the media is as much responsible for BRexit as any other factor. Perhaps more so. The unedifying spectacle of televised leaders debates in the 2015 election reduced our politics to a glitzy game show - and the referendum coverage took much the same tone. These are people we don't want to hear from, who can't tell us anything, in a format that is objectively disgusting. For all the wailing we have heard from the establishment about "fake news" it is little wonder that the inquisitive would seek news from elsewhere.

Leave won the referendum not because of any bus or sophisticated Russian bots. What won it for leave was a wave of revulsion at our politics - of which the media is a major component - where it revealed itself to be lacking all authority and gravitas and unable to treat adult issues with any seriousness.

There was a time where both the BBC and ITN enjoyed a certain level of respect. Their pompous intro music and their formal format gave them a certain gravitas which has since been eroded as new more often takes on the form of informal sofa chats where everything is softened to present the human interest side of a story, treating viewers as imbeciles. We used to have Brain Walden. Now we have generic vacuous blondes and Andrew Neil.

There is now something quite slovenly about our media which is indicative of a media class that does not see its own faults and believes itself to be the height of excellence. It has no concept of how it underperforms and does not respond to external impetus. Like politics it has become a closed loop of the profoundly ignorant, parasitic in nature and completely tone deaf. 

It is not coincidental that the our media's vitality has expired around the same time as our politics. The two are symbiotic. Co-dependent even. One sordid nest of incompetence cannot exist without the other. There is a revolving door between the media, think tankery and politics, it's all part of the same culture and its value system is entirely alien to normal people. Not for nothing is the Brexit vote almost entirely the regions versus London.

One would surmise that with most of our politics, particularly for England, being funnelled through Westminster, with all the major decisions taken there, London becomes the be all and end all of politics which produces vacuous clones and ambitious sociopaths. This is where Brexit could be our last chance to turn things around. In an Observer piece this weekend entitled "the baleful distraction of Brexit" it wails that:
Brexit has paralysed British politics: it has left the government utterly incapacitated, ministers warring and both main parties riven by splits. It is absorbing every shred of political energy; in the words of one official, it has wiped the policy grid clean. Yet in every nook and cranny of the state – from understaffed hospitals to the schools sending parents begging letters for financial support – there are problems that demand urgent focus and resource. We also face huge social challenges that require action now, from how to care for an ageing society to how to prepare for the impact of technology on the world of work. All this is going ignored, with detrimental effects on people’s lives.
What it fails to note is that all of these problems existed long before Brexit was ever a thing, and even before the banking crash - before austerity was even a word in regular use. Moreover, nothing Westminster was ever likely to do was ever going to resolve it. They are only capable of more of the same. Public debate on all of these issues is as ill served by our politics and our media because it is conducted in that same pocket of unreality and subject to all the same distorted media narratives.

I am, therefore, not in the least bit concerned that Brexit "wipes the policy grid clean". That's partly what I hoped for in voting to leave. If parliament cannot cope then it will have to devolve (return) these such matters to their rightful place in local government. It is only by having local politics of consequence can we expect to have local media of any worth or intrigue, and in cutting Westminster out of the loop, we also cut out the bubble dwelling media. What is needed then, is a new framework for real local democracy and self-governance.

The basic problem of British politics is that we invest our hopes in a corrupted government machine to provide solutions to problems it is in no position intellectually or politically to resolve. We are then angered when it doesn't deliver. It is unrealistic, though, to believe that there are central government solutions. We are only going to solve these problems through meaningful democratic participation - which is not Westminster.

This week we have seen the People's Vote brigade rolling out Tony Blair. One of the most scummy fork-tongued Remain narratives employed by Blair and his fellow quislings is that if we stop Brexit we can focus on the "real issues" instead. We are to simply roll over and entrust the same old faces to deliver a "new deal". But we know how that goes; more patronising makework schemes and "regeneration investment" - most of which is consumed by consultancy firms via a regional quango - and as ever the answer is to firehose more welfare at the plebs.

They think Brexit only happened because of "austerity" - not because we are utterly sick of the lot of them. They think they can once again dip into our wallets to dish out electoral bribes and we'll be ok with them pissing on our votes. They reckon we didn't really mean to leave the EU - and that it's just the underlying issues *they* need to fix. It doesn't occur to them that the underlying issue is the fact that we hate them and their EU vanity project. It's all just a management and PR problem to them.

They genuinely think we're too bovine to care about things like self-determination,. democracy and accountability - and we'll pack up and go away if there's a top up of regional funding. We all know nothing would change if we trusted them. As much as anything, we voted to leave precisely because we have an establishment that will continually do as it pleases and ignore the rest of the country when we protest. Even now they don't get it which is why they can so casually talk about overturning a vote.

They don't recognise that Brits genuinely want regime change and a chance to reshape Britain - and all they offer us is more of the same - more taxes, more authoritarianism and more paternalistic meddling while they heap on the insults. The fact that these well compensated individuals parade Blair, Major, Adonis and Campbell on our screens honestly thinking it will win people over tells you everything you need to know. They've never even met a working class person outside of London. Or at all for that matter. Just like our media.

I have a deep well of disgust for the Westminster bubble. It is a cancer at the very heart of British society. I do not believe anything can be resolved until we carve it out. I can very easily understand why so many would riot if their Brexit vote is stolen from them. Brexit is our one and only chance at meaningful change - and if it doesn't happen then we are still at the mercy of a system that treats us with contempt. With the death of Brexit is the death of hope for a better country. The country is finished if this really is the best we can do.  

Flashpoint


The above petition is doing the rounds on Twitter. Petitions come and go but most of them wither on the vine. This one has skyrocketed in just a few hours. Ground zero appears to be the Westmonster website, along with endorsements from Kate Hoey et al. The no deal propaganda has gone into overdrive. We are looking at a near total polarisation of the issue - especially on Twitter. 


Twitter polls are so far from scientific that they may as well be disregarded but even so, it is clear there is no sympathy on either side for May's deal. What is interesting though is the government petition heat map which tells its own story. It's an all England affair. Or rather all England against the capital. 


This is, of course, little more than rune reading, but it certainly sets the tone for the politics of Brexit. What it tells us, if anything, is that if May's deal does go ahead (or indeed any deal) the Brexiters will cry "betrayal" at every turn. That much has been evident for quite some time now which is why we needed strong leadership willing to speak to the nation rather than pandering to any one wing.

I won't be at all surprised if we now leave without a deal. Neither side is going to give an inch and for all that the Brexiteers are pumping out breathtakingly dishonest WTO claptrap, the remainers are still engaged in their jihad against the Norway option. There is no longer any compromise. One side has to lose and with democracy itself on trial, it's going to have to be the remainers.

Meanwhile, I'm detecting an odd change of mood. The legacy Remain campaign has faltered. The "Bollocks to Brexit" tour bus is the object of ridicule, with hardcore remain campaigners now heading into Ukip Calypso territory, while the People's Vote operation is rolling out the widely despised Tony Blair. It's highly likely that, were there a second vote, having learned nothing, Remain would once again lose.

This is all against a backdrop of widespread protests all over Europe, with it now converging on the European Commission building in Brussels. One gets a sense that this is now entirely in the realms of the political and there is no mood to hear more of technocratic solutions. Something is definitely up and the EU is not covering itself in glory. 

One also notices a distinct twinge of scorched earth petulance ot the remain camp - which we have seen before, but yesterday I observed an Economist hack telling us that they now support the breakup of the UK so that Scotland can rejoin the EU. There's also a surge in this sort of unhinged lunacy...


Perhaps we leavers could help out by wearing striped pyjamas and a little yellow star? 

It was about this time last year when we found ourselves at this impasse, and for all the hectares of articles written, we are still no further forward with no better idea of the outcome. The only difference being that we are edging ever closer to make or break time. It all now rests on whether there can be last minute edits to the deal and what parliament will do. It could all come down to the toss of a coin. 

This is no longer a matter of trade and economic outcomes. This is fundamentally a trust issue where the entire British establishment is on trial. they are damned if they do and damned if they don't. There is no outcome that does not lead to a worsening of this deep rooted political crisis. Being that there no majority for any particular outcome,there is talk of putting it back to the people, but but it can only be a May's deal vs no deal vote or a straight in/out re-run. There is no outcome that can unite the country. What was started in 2016 does not conclude any time soon. 

Friday, 14 December 2018

Brexit: big, bold and definitely not boring


Almost every week there's a dreary article about how Britain is an irrelevant old soak, pining for the days of empire, populated by hapless dupes who fell for the siren calls of populists promising to make Britain great again. Last time it was Fintan O'Toole, this week it's Ryan Heath of Politico Europe.
Brexit is the story of a proud former imperial power undergoing a mid-life crisis. The rest of the world is left listening to Britain’s therapy session as they drone on about their ex-spouse, the EU: When will they stop talking and just move on?
The promise of Brexit at the time it narrowly passed in a national referendum in June of 2016 was that it was a way for Britain to feel big again — no longer hectored by the EU bureaucracy in Brussels, no longer treated as just one of 28 members in an unwieldy confederacy. "Britain is special," the Brexiteers assured British voters, who cast their ballots accordingly.
This is apparently cutting edge analysis - or at least he thinks so. The thing, though, about this achingly unoriginal analysis is that's very much the view from within the bubble. Heath goes on to postulate why Britain's attempts to negotiate Brexit have hit the rocks. He puts it down to a sense of self-importance and exceptionalism. Central to this analysis is a sneer at Britain. It has little to do with diagnosing the issues, rather it is a tribal song to signal virtue to other self-styled liberal internationalists.

What we are seeing though is the fundamental incompatibility between British and European politics. You actually have to go further down the chain to the lesser intellectually endowed specimens within the Tory party. Just a few days ago we say Esther McVey confidently asserting that we could get tough with Brussels, threaten to withhold our £39bn and demand a free trade deal. 

Throughout the Brexit talks we have seen British politicians talking about the process as though we were haggling for a carpet in an Arabian souk. There is no inherent understanding of the EU and it systems, and though everyone wags the finger at the Brexiters, this ignorance is universal throughout the entire politico-media bubble. Mrs May's attempt was not much more advanced, seeking to sweep the process aside and make a grandiose offer in her Florence speech. May simply didn't know what she was dealing with. 

Part of the reason for this is that the EU simply does not feature in the the British political debate. Anything remotely technical is cleaved off and pushed through to Brussels. The last time the EU featured heavily in parliamentary discourse was at the time of the Lisbon treaty ratification. Our politics simply isn't involved in the running of the EU so there is no collective knowledge and little in the way of institutional experience. Nobody knows how any of it works or why we even did it this way to begin with. 

Consequently it have never been truly understood that a deal with the EU has to fit in with a system of regional and international rules - many of which are beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. The situation is not helped by having possibly one of the worst crops of politicians in living memory. Theresa May is only PM because she's the closest the Tories have to a heavy hitter. Consequently we have a collection of intellectual pygmies going up against the EU Commission which is ruthlessly organised and experienced in these such negotiations. Lambs to the slaughter.

What we see from this is that the EU prioritises its own system of rules and principles over and above all other concerns. Britain just doesn't see why the EU cannot flex or why the EU shows little in the way of pragmatism. The EU is a rigid technocracy whereas on the UK side, what we are seeing is pure politics. This is partly to do with the fact that the EU was designed to contain and replace politics. We have amateurs up against some of the best thinkers in the business.

It also goes off the rails because Brexit is something our establishment really does not want to do. They are attempting to triangulate - to do what they can to minimise the damage while ensuring they get re-elected. Nobody in the EU has to worry about that. Being that immigration featured prominently in the referendum campaign, on the worst possible advice, May ruled out the EEA option, leaving her with little to play with in order to reconcile the issues. 

Not only was May obliged to take the themes of the referendum into account, she also had a clan of Brextremists with a gun to her head throughout. Ideologues with poorly defined notions of free trade and a razor sharp propaganda division working on their behalf. Not at any point has there been a unity of purpose and parliament has been fragmented and atomised every which way so that no one idea commands anything approaching a majority. Again, this is not a problem for the EU. 

In hindsight it is difficult to see how it could have panned out any other way. I had expected, with parliament being overwhelmingly remain inclined, they would eventually coalesce around the EEA option, but Labour's own internal conflicts have resulted in a similar incoherence. The parties no longer adequately represent the divides in the country. How can a largely metropolitan London party serve its own liberal interests while also representing the white working class of Rotherham? Simply, it can't. This is made all the more acute by the fact that the political class is not trusted and actively despised.

And therein lies the fundamental flaw in the analysis of Ryan Heath. The electorate aren't dupes suckered in by Boris Johnson and his bus. Britain's relationship with the EU has always been one of resigned necessity. It has never enjoyed enthusiastic support in the country, yet our political elites continue to use that lukewarm consent as free licence to take us ever deeper in. But there was always at least a third of the population who would have voted to leave in a heartbeat.

What won it for leave in the end was a wave of revulsion at the condescension, hectoring and snobbery of our political class. The vote was not an endorsement of the Brexiter rhetoric, rather it was an opinion poll on politics as a whole. Though a significant feature in the debate, the EU was as incidental to the Brexit verdict as it generally is in British politics.

The self-serving narrative that we are pining for the days of empire presupposes that the majority are even old enough to do so. Most of the colonial blazer wearing Ukippers died off through the nineties. If anyone has an over-inflated view of Britain's significance, it's the bloodthirsty centrists who are always first in the queue to drop bombs on Arabs.

Ultimately the perception that the EU is an unresponsive, remote, technocratic behemoth is one that has panned out to be entirely justified. As much as Cameron barely asked for EU reform, he came away from Brussels with nothing worth having. Now, with May conceding as far as she can, we find Brussels unwilling to lift a finger to get the deal over the line. Their reasoning may be sound and they have some justification, but ultimately the EU is willing to harm its own trade to prove a point. A world apart from the florid partnership rhetoric of the EU.

Far from being in the midst of a national identity crisis, this is primarily a revolt against politics as a whole and Brexit is very much the timely kick up the backside. Too much as been neglected for too long while a narcissistic and self-involved political class parade their virtues on the world stage, involving us in ever more wars and signing us up to yet more expensive obligations and binding commitments, Meanwhile our concerns ignored and our voices overruled. The EU is totemic of that as Labour connived to ram through the Lisbon treaty without a referendum and opened up our borders without a national debate.

For some time now our politics has been an ideas-free morass, devoid of vision and easily distracted by trivia and all the while the culture of our politics has become so estranged it dare not even debate contentious issues. Now that same hollowed out politics is tasked with a serious undertaking like Brexit, it has proved beyond their abilities.

If there is any whiff of exceptionalism and revivalism it is a consequence of our politicians having no fundamental connection to voters, and a similarly low regard for them as Heath, so their hamfisted attempts to relate to us borrow from Trump's revivalist rhetoric.

Were it that the UK were negotiating bilateral relations with another country we could expect that our flexibility and pragamistism would be an asset. But that's not what we are dealing with here. The deal itself is a technical adaptor into a hard coded regime designed from inception to keep goods and services out. It was never capable of respecting our sovereign decision and politically it doesn't want to by way of being wedded to its own dogma.

This is less to do with English exceptionalism as it is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the EU is. That is as much to do with our political class and the EU itself operating in the margins of ambiguity. Eurosceptic in 1975 warned that should we become enmeshed in their apparatus our political institutions would be hollowed out and robbed of their vitality - and how right they were. 

Now that we are leaving we find we have dismantled our trade and diplomatic expertise, and the committee system shows how parliamentary evidence gathering has withered now that our own political machinery no longer concerns itself with technical governance. It is so long since our politics was tasked with policy of consequence we have lost the capacity to do it at all.

This is ultimately what Brexit has exposed. The Brexit vote was the storm that blew down the tree that had rotted from the inside. And it's probably not even exceptional. Member states have delegated the entire Brexit process to the Commission, largely because they take no interest in it. They are similarly insular for the same reasons. Were any other member to leave it would expose a similar state of decay. 

This to me points out why Brexit is so very necessary. Taking back control is not just a matter of repatriating lawmaking. It is about restoring responsibility over trade for external affairs to Parliament - and though we presently lack the skills and the knowledge, it is something we will have to rebuild over time. In respect of that it is better to be a mid ranking power in command of our own affairs than a disengaged province of a technocratic hegemon unable to decide who and what comes into the country.

It is not exceptionalism to believe that the UK can be a self-respecting and respected independent nation, nor is nostalgic to believe that Britain has a role to play globally in the myriad of international forums, both as a knowledge leader and a military power. It is not "inward looking" to have horizons beyond Brussels and it isn't xenophobic to respect that Britain is a home rather than a business park open to all comers.

It has long been by view that the EU has been a crutch for the British political establishment and a life support machine for our stagnating economic model. Breaking free of the EU and correcting the error of 1975 was always going to come at a price - and we pay a far higher price because of what our forty year long stasis has done to our politics. It is better, though, that we do this rather than wait for it all to fold in on itself.

Ryan Heath writes Britain off as "small, boring and stupid". There is a distinction though between Britain and our political class (of which he is a part). "I’m thoroughly bored by it all" says Heath. This says more about him than Britain. Britain has decided to undergo a massive transformative undertaking in defiance of its own rulers, to carve out a new future outside of the European groupthink. It's a big idea, it is anything but boring, and probably the most intelligent move we've made for decades.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Brexit: don't wake the sleeping dragon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No deal: a kiss of death for aerospace


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Braindead Brendan strikes again


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

It's game over for the ERG


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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