Thursday 31 August 2017

A downfall we deserve

Returning to remarks made Guy Verhofstad, I was struck by his version of events when David Cameron went to renegotiate UK membership with the EU. Referring to a recent Telegraph piece by William Hague implying that the EU forced the UK out, Verhofstad asserts "I was in the room at the time of the renegotiation and substantial additional exceptions were offered – a new special status of EU membership, with an opt-out from the core principle of “ever closer union” and an emergency brake on benefits for EU workers. I even offered to work with the UK to develop a new form of associate EU membership, but UK ministers rejected it, as they argued that it would mean losing the UK’s seat at the top table. If this is not showing flexibility, I do not know what is".

I cannot be sure exactly how trustworthy Verhofstad's remarks are but if they are true then, in a way, it demolishes the argument that we could have stayed in the EU and reformed it - simply because our establishment, even under the threat of Brexit, would never even ask for it.

This builds on a number of themes in my thinking of late. One of the more convincing remainer arguments was that the EU was not really the source of our problems, rather it is the overall ineptitude of UK domestic governance and the dysfunctionality of our politics. Both are acutely observable right now. The second point commonly made was out lack of engagement in the EU process.

One wonders if the UK could have secured reforms to broken EU policies had we even tried. I recall that in a select committee meeting last year that Owen Paterson spoke of attempts to get a fundamentally bad aspect of the Habitats Directive amended. (Crop rotation I believe).

To cut a long story short, he was told categorically that he could forget it. It took several years to reach an agreement and nobody was keen on reopening a Pandoras Box for renegotiation. Open it up to one amendment and then everybody else wants one and it must then go through the legislative process again. So bad one-size-fits all policy stays in place without the possibility of reform with no opt outs.

I do recall, however, that Ed Davey as energy minister had a wholly different experience. I suppose it all depends on who is asking and what they are asking for. As to whose testimony you believe, you pays your money, you takes your choice. Either way, we can conclude that reform is difficult and that very often our own politics is the broken link - and one thing Brexit does achieve, if nothing else, is remove their go-to excuse.

Prior to the referendum it could be said with ease that I knew more about the EU and its workings than most. That is no great achievement. Most people have next to zero idea how it works and dont; want to know. Of those who do, it tends to be remainers, who hold an uncritical and largely theoretical version of how it works. I think it dishonest to say that the referendum was an informed debate. On that score, we are told that we shouldn't leave because voters did not know what they were voting for. But by the same token, if that be true, then we had no business being in it at all.

Even now, as we race toward an unholy mess of a Brexit our own government is incapable of understanding that which it is subscribed to - and there is little sign that our MPs have much of a grasp of it either. It would appear that the EU as a construct is totally alien to British political culture. It is too self-absorbed and insular to engage in issues of substance.

I rather expect that as a leading campaigner (so I am told) that when Brexit goes tits up I will take rather a lot of abuse for being the midwife to a stillborn. I do not, however, accept the blame. This blog is on record for opposing the appointment of Vote Leave, the individuals involved and the manner in which Brexit is being executed. I did not vote for this government and have spent every day since the referendum attempting to inform the debate in the frankest of terms.

In this, I would observe that the same incompetents in charge of Brexit are the same incompetents in charge of everything else. This dysfunctionality is scarcely new and has been self-evident to anyone paying attention. Brexit drags it into the light of day.

If our politics was working then much of what has been written would by now have filtered through into the high offices of the land and we would be seeing some of that expertise influencing the proceedings. But this isn't happening. The system is impervious and immune to external inputs. This is as true of everything else as it is Brexit, hence why successive governments have failed to address any of the systemic societal problems.

Moreover, the ultimate blame lies with Parliament. This government does not sit with a majority. It would only take the defection of a handful of MPs to bring this government down. It could either bring about a coalition government led by Labour or force another election. The very least they could do is bring down May - or threaten to unless Davis is replaced.

If our MPs were sufficiently informed and suitably concerned by the drastic consequences of a no deal Brexit, they would already be making noises. If they are going to act then it needs to be soon. Very soon in fact. But as a point of fact our MPs are not sufficiently informed and are not sufficiently concerned enough that they would break from their tribes for the good of the country. That, more than anything is a sign of a political system that is not fit to govern.

Now that we have arrived at this juncture it is likely we will feel the full force of an ignominious retreat from Europe. Not because of Brexit of itself. There was nothing preordained about Brexit being a disaster. This is entirely a consequence of our political culture - the one that created the conditions that led to the Brexit vote to begin with.

I take no pleasure at all in predicting a bloody mess. Even for one who has a strong affinity with the doctrine of creative destruction, this may be a bridge too far. But in the final analysis even the EU cannot protect us from a fundamentally spent political system. Continued membership of the EU is only really delaying the inevitable. British politics as we know it has to die in order for it to reinvent and Brexit makes that possible.

I think it was in the mid-nineties that, alongside many of my countrymen, I decided that voting was a futile endeavour. For the better part of twenty years any vote would still result in an establishment government which subscribes to the social democratic consensus. One that is unwilling to take any of the radical measures necessary to kickstart productivity, continuing to pile on a toxic blend of its own legislative creations along with EU entitlements - which ultimately hit the poorest the hardest.

For just a very brief moment in time it looked like Ukip could rattle that settlement into action. That though, did not transpire. It wouldn't have made a difference if they had. We have seen how this plays out. The SNP had their surge, they had their chance to whine and rock the boat and then they were irrelevant, having accomplished nothing. The system knows how to deal with political insurgency.

The short of it is, only something big, only something radical, and only something carrying a serious threat was likely to break that political slumber. Now it has, it is faced with the first and only real test of its mettle in forty years. It will fail. It is then up to us to get rid of it. And if we don't, we will have the government and the country that we actually deserve.

Brexit: last chance saloon

If Brexit has taught me one thing it is that one can dislike a person and everything they stand for and still find cause to agree with them. Today we see Stephen Kinnock picking up on the possibilities of the EEA. Meanwhile I am finding myself ever more tolerant of Chuka Umunna and Keir Starmer. Compared with the Tories, there is the makings of a semi-competent Brexit cabinet there. What I did not expect, though, was to find myself in full agreement with Guy Verhofstadt writing in the Telegraph. Says Verhofstad;
UK ministers seem to want to devise a new customs union and seek to recreate all of the EU’s structures, in order to continue to benefit from the best elements of the EU, without it being called the EU. This is not serious, fair or even possible given the negotiating time remaining – now significantly limited by the UK’s own decision to call a general election after the triggering of Article 50. The UK has informed us it is leaving, which we regret – but all we have ever asked for is that this disruptive decision is implemented in an orderly fashion and that we first agree to the divorce before planning a new future together.

The EU can be bureaucratic but, from day one, the EU-27, the European Commission and the Parliament have been fully transparent about their negotiating positions and mandates. It is as if we are now told we are too efficient. It is in the interests of the EU for us to secure a close relationship, but we must first agree a methodology for the settling of accounts, secure the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and have a frank discussion about the Irish border. This is not a ploy to derail talks, but an inevitable consequence of the Brexit decision. It’s time for UK politicians to be more honest about the complexities Brexit creates and for them to recognise that other governments also have obligations to their own taxpayers.

The discussion papers rolled out by the UK over the summer are helpful and welcome, but only a more serious engagement with the financial consequences of Brexit and the other divorce issues will unlock discussions about the future relationship, which I hope will be a close one. Given the current pace of talks there is a real danger that sufficient progress will not be made by October. It would be a very risky strategy to burn negotiating time now in the hope that individual EU leaders will ride to the rescue; it was EU governments who defined Michel Barnier’s negotiating mandate.
As the costs of Brexit become clearer, I have no doubt the hardliners who promised the British people utopia will once again seek to blame Brussels for a lack of progress in the talks. But is a further poisoning of the atmosphere really in Britain’s interest? Our continued relationship is too important for our citizens and our firms to be jeopardised by dramatic political gestures. A divorce is never easy, but a strong future partnership is in the best interest of us all.
Foaming europhile and federalist though Verhofstad may be, there is nothing especially controversial written here. It is the consistent message we have heard from the EU from the beginning. The one message that is not getting through to our government. David Davis seems singularly incapable of recognising that no new relationship can be contemplated without addressing the administrative matters to hand. Verhofstad's closing remarks differ little from my own observations.

There is, however, a question of sincerity hanging over David Davis. Though incompetence cannot be ruled out, this could just as easily be the Brexiteers giving the EU the runaround to give the outward appearance that a serious negotiation is under way, all the while the right wing press build on the narrative that the EU is refusing to cooperate. Looking at the Brexiter sentiment in the Telegraph comments and on Twitter, as a strategy, it appears to be working. Davis does not need to fool you or I. He only has to convince the Brexit faithful that no deal is possible so as to justify walking away.

I sense we're on the cusp. The next few weeks will be decisive. Either the UK will decide to change tack and take a more emollient line at the next negotiating session, and we start to make progress, or we will go under. As things stand we are in the last chance saloon, and still haven't even decided whether to order any drinks. We need greater events to take a hand - something that precipitates the collapse of the May government. Short of that, we are royally screwed. 

Wednesday 30 August 2017

A rocky road ahead for the EU

If I have learned anything about the EU it is that long term speculation over its future is, more often than not, wishful thinking. Over the years I must have published dozens of my own prognostications of varying accuracy but I think it safe to say that all of them have been wide of the mark. I think it goes with the territory of being a eurosceptic. Even now hard leavers will retweet anything that suggests the EU's imminent demise.

In more recent month and years I have taken the view that the EU will linger on and slide into irrelevance. For the last few months, EU watchers have been wondering if the EU will make an intervention in Poland over its judicial reforms. I am now seeing indications that it won't. The EU may be putting a brave face on Brexit, sending out messages of renewed vigour, but anything that could be interpreted as an overt intrusion on national sovereignty from now on, especially in the wake of Greece, will only serve the agenda of eurosceptics.

Meanwhile there is an argument still to be has as to whether Eastern European member states will take a share of refugees. For the moment Hungary and Poland have right wing leaders who will not give way to the suggestion. It would be that a new government will give ground, but that will be seen as a domestic betrayal which will store up consequences for the future in the same way that it has in the UK.

This brings us to a surprisingly thoughtful article in the Financial Times, which suggests that Brexit very well could be a long term threat to European unity.
Poland and Hungary, both run by ultra-right governments, have also been distancing themselves from the mainstream. The EU has launched a sanctions procedure against Poland in protest at reforms that would leave the government largely in control of the judiciary. Poland and Hungary are also both refusing to accept their share of refugees. Listening to Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, one wonders how long his country will want to stay in the EU. When Hungary ceases to be a net beneficiary of EU funds, his Euroscepticism may no longer be tempered by financial considerations. Once the UK leaves and stops contributing to the EU budget, the assessment of the pros and cons of EU membership, especially by non-eurozone countries, will change.
In that respect Hungary is not alone. A number of satellite members view the EU as a practical necessity and a source of funding. When that funding slows and the accession development funds dry up, questions will be asked. Britain is not the only country in the midst of a political realignment.

The FT seems to think that Brexit will be the barometer when it becomes clearer what the consequences of leaving are. In that regard I think the EU is fairly safe in that we can say that Brexit is not going to be the roaring success that Tory Brexiteers believe it to be. All the same, though, the writing is on the wall for the EU. It must reform and there must be a fundamental change in the nature of the organisation.

It is expected that Macron will lead the charge for reform but there is reason to doubt his sincerity and his credibility. A multi-speed Europe is a perennial idea that never seems to come to anything. It would be hugely ironic if Brexit were the catalyst that finally brings it to fruition.

What commentators tend to miss, though, is that the architecture of the EU from the ground up is designed to fend off reform. Moreover, if junior members think a two speed Europe means missing out on anything then they are likely to torpedo it. Consequently reform may be thwarted by the EU's own bureaucratic inertia.

Thus the EU will linger on in a state of paralysis until it lacks the moral and political authority to do much beyond the humdrum of trade negotiations, and even then, trade exclusivity may not last as a concept for much longer.

Ultimately the founding vision of the EU is tarnished. It lacks the momentum and energy we saw around the launch of the Euro. It's most enthusiastic proponents are on the defensive trying to shore up something that has lost touch with what it wants to be, and dare not aspire to be more than it is.

I'm wouldn't place any bets on a dramatic break-up of the EU, and I can't even be sure that we will see other members leave, but Brexit leaves the EU a weaker, less confident, less capable entity where the balance of power shifts toward members who have traditionally been subordinates out on the fringe.

It is a largely Western European interpretation that the EU is the plaything of the Franco-German axis tempered by Britain, but now the UK as a power is departing, others will move to fill that void and remind France and Germany that they do not call all of the shots. Only one thing is certain. The beast with which we must contend will be a very different animal to the one we are leaving.  

A question of continuity

So Liam Fox wants to copy and paste existing EU trade deals. A few thoughts on that. Firstly, if you're a remainer and find cause to whine about this, grow up. Seriously. It's perfectly sound. This was always the most obvious approach to separation and it's an entirely sensible approach.

The problem with it is that it can only really replicate the tariff aspects of EU trade agreements. That's because the rest of the content functions through EU agencies, committees and working parties. We would have to either scrap those aspects or nominate and existing dispute resolution body.

As to the sections on regulatory harmonisation, this activity can be kicked up to global regulatory bodies. And yes, that is feasible because that's exactly what the EU does. eg Vehicle standards kicked out to UNECE.

For the most part little renegotiation is required. This can all be done by exchange of letters. Because we are maintaining current WTO schedules it isn't difficult - but all will have to be revisited eventually. As to MRAs and customs cooperation, that's all going to depend on what the Brexit deal looks like. This will shape the outcome.

What this approach does not cover is cooperation agreements between EU agencies and international regulators. Inter-agency deals and MoUs will be the most difficult to replicate because we have no equivalent bodies. This is where we will have to either establish new relationships or negotiate with the EU to participate in theirs.

So in the round, as an approach it's only half the job and there is still a lot of work to do. Thankfully this is less of a headache because this the one aspect of Brexit where we do have some very good people on the case.

If this process can be completed then even a no deal Brexit will retain some basic trade functionality. That is not to say that WTO option is not a disaster. It just means we won't have to resort to unilateral trade liberalisation. As far as it goes, it's the right approach but only goes some of the way to replacing our existing relations. No panacea.

I do have to say though, of Vince Cable especially, that the reactionary criticism over this is irrational, unhinged and totally unwarranted. Brexit scepticism is fine. Whingeing is pathetic. Yes, some third countries can choose to frustrate the process if they want but they go to the back of the queue. Trade is a two way street. It's a zero sum game if third countries choose to frustrate the process - which is why the hyperventilation is largely just remainer gaslighting.

As usual we're getting the "why leave the EU if we can only copy the deal the EU has?". This is disingenuous and dumb. This is the process of exit. This is the preparatory work we have to do before we start building new relationships. This is necessary for immediate continuity. Once we leave we will individually seek out refinements and progressions.

Tuesday 29 August 2017

Brexit: the sound of white noise

There is a debate on Twitter. The chatter is about transitional agreements and the single market. None of this is going to matter unless we resolve the immediate issues - which nobody seems to want to talk about. Unless a framework for the financial settlement can be found, along with a solution for Northern Ireland then we are looking at a tsunami of trouble coming our way.

This doesn't seem to be registering and the debate is distracted by trivia. The Telegraph is pushing the right wing narrative that the EU is refusing to negotiate and Brexiters are in a world of their own. The serious issues are lost somewhere in the white noise.

When it's like this I usually find it wise to retreat from the field and let the noise-makers make their noise. To quote Homer Simpson, "if you can't win, don't try". This, though, puts me in a peculiar no man's land where I have virtually nothing to say at a time when so much needs to be said.

It seems all but inevitable that the Tories will blow it. Their entire concept of how to conduct these talks is flawed. They are playing crazy-bad games that we cannot possibly win. Consequently I think we are in the end game. It's really only a question of when talks fail and whether anything can be salvaged.

We now know from experience that the political bubble is largely impervious to external stimuli so much of the debate is falling on deaf ears, and there is next to no chance that we will see a last minute Damascene conversion from the Tories. So all we can do is wait here in limbo. Until then all we can do is watch the outward signs of a collapse of confidence in the UK.

Many have asked me recently what my choice would be if this comes to a choice between the WTO option and remaining. I'm evasive in answering that because I think both are miserable choices. I do not, however, think we will get that choice. If the Tories blow it then everything we have warned about will come into play.

Should that happen then we will go into a political meltdown. We lack the direction, leadership and competence to be able to craft any kind of adequate response. There is no serious preparation in the works and there are no serious proposals on the table as to how we manage the fallout.

Just recently I have been exchanging thoughts with Dr Mike Galsworthy, a leading remain campaigner. Surprisingly, we agree on quite a lot in that the motives behind the leave vote can scarcely be attributed to the European Union. The EU in many ways has been a convenient scapegoat and a go to excuse for our own political inertia.

Remainers would argue that the issues are entirely domestic thus there is no need to leave the EU. This is where I disagree. As politics has turned inward and insular - cut off from reality, we see that politics is incapable of crafting an adequate response to any of the serious underlying societal issues. There is no drive, no vision, no competence. The same disconnect between the Brexit debate and government exists on every single issue.

In that I might even argue that the EU is the only thing propping up any kind of functionality in governance. It is just competent enough to slow the rate of decay so that we don't notice what's happening to us. This is why I think we need the wake up call. The EU is acting as a life support machine for a patient that isn't going to recover without an entirely new treatment.

The reason I am talking to Dr Galsworthy is that he is, I suppose, my opposite number. Being a self-starter, Scientists for EU was his initiative, and commanded a very respectable body of support. He was, however, frozen out of the campaign by Stronger In, in much the same way that The Leave Alliance and others were deliberately kept at bay by Westminster bubble dwellers who wanted to own the campaign. It is interesting how his experience mirrors my own.

The political bubble, as we have previously discussed, functions entirely on prestige. One glaring example of this could be found on Twitter today. Oliver Norgrove, formerly of Vote Leave, had his latest blog republished in The New Statesman. Not wishing to discourage Oliver, but none of the points made are anything especially new, and indeed other bloggers have been making these same points for months. Oliver though, being a former Vote Leave staffer, has that glimmer of prestige.

It doesn't matter that Oliver is quite young and had a non-strategic role in the campaign - and in fact was quite junior. All that matters to the media is that he carries a scintilla of official Westminster bubble institutional gravitas. Nothing outside of the bubble exists. That is true of Brexit and it is true of everything else. Though I am extremely pleased that Oliver is getting this exposure, I am also quite annoyed because it tells us that those of us toiling in obscurity have largely been wasting our time.

Right now we are seeing a gradual drip of reasonable competent material coming out of the Institute for Government, but nothing to date matches the depth and and quality of that as produced by several months and years previously. You have to be a denizen of the bubble to get any kind of traction.

What that means is that the points do gradually filter through but the process takes too long and that which does filter through is detached from the originators, riddled with error, diluted and considerably less detailed.

We therefore have an establishment functioning way behind the curve where nothing exists until they discover it, and only if it has some kind of official sanction from within the bubble. The only shortcut to the filtering process is if an FT hack plagiarises your blog. Then we have the distorting factors where the debate is clouded and warped by private commercial interests like Legatum Institute - pushing their poison to anyone who will listen.

So what we have is a detached, aloof and warped political debate that is insulated from any authentic voices. Power is centralised, in the hands of a few and we have no checks or balances to keep it on an even keel.

It has been like this for as long as I can remember. I suppose this is how power games work. Human nature even. But now, we can no longer afford it. Brexit tells you that. Shaping the decisions made in our name is impossible. It is beset by corruption, nepotism and cronyism.

Very often people talk about the need for political reform. Lords reform, proportional representation, run-off voting - none of which represent any real deviation from the norm. The problem is not the voting rituals - it is the concentration of power in London - and the fact that the people have no useful exercise of power for themselves beyond appointing a new witless biped every five years.

As much as this political decay is what will ultimately bring us crashing on to the rocks of Brexit, it is also responsible for nurturing the conditions that triggered it. For years the political establishment has done as it pleases without consent or consultation both in connection with Europe and in domestic policy. From the smoking ban to the ratification of Lisbon to the Iraq war - and all points between, voters have no real say in what is done to them. The referendum was the first real chance we have had to speak in decades.

I am of the view that if we cannot achieve a negotiated settlement that sees us form a new relationship with the EU then I will settle for the second prize - a collapse of British politics. Should we leave with EU without a deal then very rapidly the supermarket shelves will empty, flight-plans will be diverted, prices will skyrocket and the value of the pound will plummet further. Our exports will be in chaos and Operation Stack goes into effect. No government can survive that.

Should these events transpire then we will see a total collapse in confidence in Westminster. We can already see the signals. Corbyn's Labour is level pegging in the polls, but on the whole, neither party commands the trust of the public. The system is at tipping point already and Brexit will give it that little shove over the edge. After that, all bets are off. Politics as we know it is over. A new era of political turmoil begins.

It is said that if we crash out without a deal then Britain will take a substantial hit to its credibility and lose its standing in the world. Personally I think we are already there and it is only the EU that has sustained our delusions of grandeur. The signs have been there for some time. Britain was sidelined inn Syria and had little of value to contribute during the Ukraine crisis and we made a bloody mess in Libya.

If Brexit achieves anything it will shatter our collective delusions about ourselves, our place in the world and our mythical "Rolls Royce civil service". It will show that Westminster is no longer capable of governing even the basics. Then we will have a reckoning. If we do not rid ourselves of the cancer in Westminster then we will not survive as a nation - and will not deserve to either.

Monday 28 August 2017

EEA: putting the power back where we can see it

A very clever fellow, a remainer, put it to me very recently that we should think of sovereignty as gold coins of power – you can either hoard them like a miser (mine all mine), or invest a sensible proportion in systems which buy you an increase of power to act in the wider world (on behalf of your citizenry & businesses).

One would be inclined to agree. Every single treaty we make is, to an extent, a binding restriction on the exercise of absolute sovereignty. Each interaction is a sovereignty spending decision.

But that to me does not describe the EU relationship at all. To use the framework of this analogy, this is not the UK expending its sovereignty, rather it is granting licence for the EU to spend it on our behalf. This becomes more apparent when you examine the EU's interactions in global forums where the UK has no means of voting independently.

You could liken this with hiring a fund manager - but with this fund manager the terms of the contract can be unilaterally amended (ECJ rulings) and all the while you have no idea what you are invested in, nor the terms of the contract. You only find out what the small print says when it is too late to change anything.

This is why the EU is intolerable to a democracy. Democracy is the safeguard measure; the agency of the people to control what is done in their name. If that agency is removed, and the people have no power, they have no control, thus do not have democracy in any meaningful sense.

That is where the EEA option is the superior model. It really is about "taking back control". When the EU brings a new piece of legislation into being (likely adopted global standards), it is not automatically adopted by Norway. There is a constitutional process whereby the Norwegian parliament debates and decides whether or not to adopt a measure. We know that there is a penalty if they do not adhere to single market rules, but ultimately it is their decision to consider the balance of trade-offs according to their own strategic trade goals and domestic values.

Effectively there is a firewall which preserves agency and repatriates the "sovereignty spending" decision to domestic assemblies - where the process is more understood and likely to garner more media attention. That way, the foreign aspect becomes domestic politics. Restoring the media input is the crucial part of democratising the process.

As much as anything this is about the future. One thing about the Lisbon Treaty, which I have only recently understood, is how the EU effectively becomes merged with the frameworks of the WTO in terms of trade. Every post-Lisbon trade treaty is now effectively a formalised commitment to converge on WTO regulatory aims. Any future relationship with the EU would be on those exact same terms.

It therefore makes the "Norway has no influence" meme obsolete. You will have read arguments that the Norway option is "fax democracy". As others have noted the fax machine is long redundant which gives you some idea how old those arguments are.

In the new order, government is more like your solicitor who goes to court to argue your case and bargain for you. You might argue that the EU is a bigger law firm with better lawyers, but in this analogy, the EU is the solicitor representing several clients and does not necessarily have your interests in mind - and is not giving your case its full attention.

We are told that Norway has no formal say in whether an EU law passes. I would point out that the substance of the law has already been debated by international standards bodies long before it enters the EU legislative process - and early participation in shaping the law matters more than simply rubber stamping it into being. Going to the top tables directly with our own representation is far more significant.

Combined with the ability to refuse adoption, or register exceptions to it in the treaty, it means that we have a much more controlled process where consent must be sought. In the EU model, if you lose a vote, you're still lumbered with bad law. Law you don't get to change.

This is not to say that we cannot licence sovereignty to the EU for mutual advantage if we choose to, but the notion that all of it, all the time, is ceded to the EU is one that I simply cannot live with, especially knowing that the transfer of sovereignty is always away from the people.

We all want the maximum level of cooperation, freedom and collaboration, but ultimately the off-shoring of decision making by recognised, understood and accepted parliaments is an abdication from good governance. This to me explains how our own parliament could have withered so very badly over the years. I believe Brexit will restore some of its vitality. It is on that singular principle I believe the UK must leave. We must repair our own democracy and that is not going to happen without a seismic catalyst like Brexit.

Saturday 26 August 2017

Tories must decide if country or party comes first

If you have given any serious consideration to Brexit then you will know that a no deal Brexit will be a disaster for the country. Trade would come to a standstill and Britain would lose all of its formal trade relations, not only with the EU but with the rest of the world. Put simply, no responsible government should allow it.

We are, however, gradually creeping up on the possibility of it happening by default. We should by now have seen some progress toward resolving some of the more basic issues, not least the financial settlement. Instead talks are hanging in limbo with no outward sign that the government is engaging. Instead it is seeking to reorder the sequence of talks when the EU is not any position to do it even if it wanted to.

The problem lies with the arrogance of one David Davis who believes this is a stand-off in which the EU will blink first. Categorically, it will not. We are, therefore, on a collision course with a the hardest of hard Brexits. In the absence of any serious and relevant proposals from the UK it is a certainty that these talks will collapse.

The first order of business for parliament should be to demand that Davis takes the talks seriously and present a workable framework for the immediate issues. If he is unable to do his job then this government must fall.

These talks will define British standing in Europe and the world possibly for the next century. Should we leave without a deal then it would be a hammer blow to the UK economy - but also our national credibility.

In normal circumstances the idea of a Corbyn led government would be unconscionable. Offensive even. These are, however, not normal times. For whatever economic policies Corbyn may have in mind, it is difficult to imagine a deliberate policy that could be worse than a no deal Brexit.

Though the country would undoubtedly suffer from a socialist agenda, as indeed any country would, it represents the lesser of two evils. As a conservative minded person it brings me no pleasure at all to say this. I don't like it, but there it is. 

Today we learn that Labour has adopted a pro-single market stance. Though this is not relevant to the immediate phase of talks, it at least tells us that Labour recognises the folly of a hard Brexit. This is a position that could win the support of a considerable number of remain inclined Tories. It is now for them to act.

We are already in the last chance saloon and the EU will not be minded to extend talks for the benefit of a Tory government which is incapable of treating the proceedings with due respect. The only likely reason the EU will commit to extending talks is if there is a new government. That is the only way we can buy time to avoid a calamity.

If this means the collapse and possible death of the Conservative Party then so be it. Britain can withstand Corbyn but it is not prepared for a systemic collapse of trade. It is time for Tories to decide whether their clapped out tribe is more important than the future prosperity of the country. Since it is unlikely the Tories can win the next election they have nothing to lose by doing the right thing. Bring this government down.

Friday 25 August 2017

A Brexit wake up call

Farmers Guardian reports that the European Commission has failed to re-authorise the Red Tractor assurance scheme, along with four different schemes from other member states, despite the application for re-approval being lodged six months ago.

The unexplained gaffe has meant farmers whose grain was destined for the biofuels market have been left in the lurch, with some having to fork out for interim storage. The NFU has demanded that the Commission urgently publish its decision on a temporary solution or full approval.

NFU combinable crops board chairman Mike Hambly said: "This current situation is a good wake-up call to Defra, the Department for International Trade, the end consumer and also farmers. No paperwork or tick in a box equals no trade, and it worries me it could happen in many ways, be that through chemical re-registration being missed or even a change in labelling. The importance of these things needs to be absorbed by us all and we need to be active in pushing for timely action to prevent issues rather than waiting until they become a major financial burden".

Though no cause is given for this oversight, one could almost imagine this being a less than subtle hint from the EU. If it isn't then it should be taken as such regardless. We have outlined a number of areas where trade could come to a grinding halt should we fail to reach an agreement - only to be told by hard Brexiters that we are exaggerating - and that it's all just a "millennium bug" panic. Categorically, it isn't. 

From air travel to chemicals registration, if the certification system is not in good legal standing then trade simply does not happen. Now imagine all of these problems hitting simultaneously. Not good is it? How many times does it have to be said?

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Still more heat than light

The EU has said that there will be no talks on trade or transition until "satisfactory progress" has been made on the financial settlement, citizens rights and Northern Ireland.

A lot of us Brexit geeks have always been sceptical as to how rigid that would be in that you cannot really talk about NI customs and borders without widening the scope to talk about trade. It would appear though that the EU is not minded to budge on this even an inch.

The problem with the NI border is that it would also form the outer frontier of the EU. Even with a customs agreement and the single market it would still have to be a policed border. It cannot treat any part of its frontier differently otherwise it has porous borders.

So what is to be done? Well, in a nutshell, excluding things like EU citizenship and "social Europe", to all intents and purposes, I suspect NI will be staying in the EU. It will be a UK sovereign territory but those system pertaining to trade will remain the same, under shared rule but largely with ECJ oversight, perhaps shifting to an Efta court model later down the line.

That means seaports on mainland Britain will be the border frontiers with Northern Ireland and that is where we will have to install customs controls.

Only when we know what the UK trade deal is will we know how extensive those will be. If we want to keep a light touch then that will require a customs agreement and, yes, the single market. The more divergent we are from the single market, the more stringent the inspections and controls will be.

If that isn't EEA-Efta then it will be a system that borrows heavily from EEA in order to keep our position in the EU aviation market and SPS regime etc. There is talk of using the Efta court by association rather than joining Efta. This is dumb in that we'd be reinventing the wheel but, you know, politics.

This is all on the working assumption that the government doesn't throw a hissy fit and walk out - and that there is actually time to complete such a deal. We have already wasted several months. To progress we will have to cave in on the financial settlement without much ado, likewise with citizen's rights and not make too much of a fuss about Northern Ireland. Since it is a quasi-independent province anyway, I hardly see that it matters.

So now we have some clarity we know that it can go one of two ways. Either it's going to be the total self-immolation Brexit that keeps me awake at night, or something close to the one I envisaged where as far as the average punter is concerned, bugger all changes on day one. I'm putting even odds on it. The government is on a learning curve and the pennies are starting to drop. If they get their act together by spring then we *might* just pull it off.

Of course that kind of settlement will absolutely infuriate the Brexit taliban which is why they are mobilising all of their assets to push for the hardest Brexit possible. There is still everything to fight for. I do not intend to let these sociopaths win.

Monday 21 August 2017

Westminster is dying - and we should let it die

Sam Hooper today writes how the dark forces of socialism are on the march, poised to topple a flagging Conservative party. Meanwhile, he asks, "what are we conservatives doing to retool ourselves to better fight the next general election? We are creating juvenile Jacob Rees-Mogg fanclubs on Facebook, engaging in pointless speculation about a cast of future leadership contenders all alike in blandness, and spending more time trying to ingratiate ourselves with the Tory party machine in constituency and at conference than figuring out what we should actually stand for, and how we can persuade others to stand with us".

There was a time where I too might have mused over the future of the Conservative Party. In the early days of the Cameron regime I penned a rant or two about how Conservatism needs to get back to its roots of small government, low tax and liberal pro-growth policies. It wasn't so very long ago that the thought of any Labour government, let alone one led by Corbyn, would be unthinkable. That would ordinarily prompt some urgency in contributing to this debate.

Now though, I don't care. Let the chips fall where they may. It doesn't matter. Some would have it that a Corbyn government would the the fast-track to economic and political ruin. That is not a sticking point for me in that I think we are headed there anyway. Why put off the inevitable?

When you look around the usual Toryboy suspects on Twitter, they're still bleating about the same hobby horses they made their names on over a decade ago - and haven't grown since. That actual grown-ups would be cheering on Patrick Minford is really all the proof you need that statecraft is no longer an instinct within the Tory party.

Ultimately the Tory party is not capable of governing in the national interest simply because its denizens do politics, not policy. The IEA, for instance, wouldn't have the first idea how to craft a policy of any kind. Like Ukip they believe a stated objective is a policy when in fact policy requires some kind of inclination as to how one might achieve certain ends.

The adoption of a unilateral free trade approach tells you the thinking in play. Trade is the art of making careful individual decisions designed to increase wealth and prosperity. Strategic decision making. Each of those decisions must be evaluated for the public good - not just in terms of their GDP value. There are political, environmental, social and defence concerns all of which must be considered. That which makes a country what it is.

Unilateralism is a total disregard for any of those delicate and careful decisions - policy-making without risk assessment. The consequence of that is sweeping, unpredictable, often devastating change - the damage from which is often irreversible. People who want unilateralism abandon any concept of strategy. This is not how responsible democratic governance works. Governance has to be by consultation and consent.

By the same token, the Labour party has its own distinct nostrums based on their own obsolete ideas with no idea how to implement them. I'm at a loss to decide which of them is worse since we are basically dealing with children whoever we elect.

During the 2015 election I ran a running critique of Ukip's performance throughout, pointing to their manifest deficiencies, but two years on from that I realise that Ukip was the canary down the mine. It would seem that all of politics is imbued with the idea that statecraft comprises of silver bullets and miracle cures. All you have to do is win the power and start pulling levers. We see this reflected in Rees-Mogg who clings on to silly notions of deregulation - along with the same old tiresome canards from libertarians.

And then there are other clues round the edges, with Hilary Benn asking in all seriousness whether drones could be used to drop aid over Syria. Him, Diane Abbott, Rebecca Wrong-Daily, Rees-Mogg, Emily Thornberry - these are profoundly unserious people. I cannot name a single MP who holds my confidence as an actual adult who resides on this planet. Moreover, this is not confined to politics either. Our media is in a similar state of decay and television news has lost the plot entirely.

It feels to me like every corner of public life is in a state of terminal institutional decay. Academia has lost the plot, the police have lost any semblance of prioritising ability, and if it weren't for IT running half of public administration we would now be in a very serious mess.

Britain has a disease. It is a toxic combination of slovenliness, indifference and apathy, the hallmarks of which can be seen in every tier of society. The gormless excuses we've heard for failing to tackle the Rotherham scandal, the inability to adequately respond to Grenfell, all points to a corrosion of civic governance.

In a lot of ways this is exemplified by Brexit whereupon we have seen the blind leading the blind from the get go, with the media all at sea, and government unable to bring any kind of clarity to the situation. Key figures are still unable to adequately define the customs union. Making as success of Brexit now seems utterly improbable.

We cannot go on like this. A political collapse is imminent. I have doubts that this administration can see out its term, and if Corbyn can hang on to his leadership by keeping his mouth shut, a Corbyn government is an inevitability. One which will very rapidly hit the rocks.

I think that the UK is only capable of taking stock when it is actually forced to confront the consequences of the systemic rot. There is no obvious cure. We just have to let the fever take it's course and wait until it breaks.

In that respect I am not interested in saving the Conservative Party. It does not deserve to survive, nor indeed does Labour. If the whole Westminster system slides into the Thames I couldn't care less. Representative democracy as we know it has withered, the system is spent, and the sooner it collapses, the sooner we can start rebuilding. Whatever fate awaits us is one well deserved.

Friday 18 August 2017

America: a nation at war with its media

I watched a video on Twitter today of a very attractive black girl. I mention that she was black largely because she was talking about race. She said that she doesn't feel threatened by the KKK. She points out that the KKK have been of a similar size and scope, holding the same meetings all throughout Obama's presidency. She is most likely correct.

So why is it suddenly an issue? Simply, because the media wants it to be. Why? Because Trump is president. And if there is one hallmark of the Trump presidency it is his war on the media in the name of ordinary Americans who can see the divisive motives of US left wing media.

We have had our own version here were the left mobilised to paint Ukip as though they were the second coming of the Gestapo. Here I must admit to contributing to that a little. I was of the view that a Ukip led referendum would lose - so I did what was in my power to push them into that corner.

In the end, it didn't need my help. Being completely oblivious to how politics works, Ukip walked into every trap. It is not a racist party but it is a party of working class people with blunt and unrefined views. Without any media management ability and lacking sophistication, it largely destroyed itself.

But in a way, what made it successful, to a point, was its unwillingness to play by the media rules - to be brash and uncensored. But the left also saw that as an opportunity to weave a narrative that fascism was on the rise.

The main reason it hasn't boiled over as it has in the USA is largely because Britain is a smaller country thus the clashes are small and so barely newsworthy. Douchebag vs Douchebag on the streets of Newcastle doesn't rate. But with the same dynamic on a similar percentage in the USA, it's big enough to make a splash on YouTube. Nevermind that the Charlottesville right wing protest had attracted morons from all over the USA.

But now the narrative is embedded that fascism is on the rise, all thanks to Trump - and that America is more divided than ever. This is largely a self-fulfilling prophecy in that the promulgation of this lie is its own feedback loop. That is why we are seeing a USA wide movement to remove statues.

As to the politics of that, there are better commentators than me to talk you through it. Personally I am against the removal of civic monuments. The moment you cave in, there is no telling where it stops. Some or other invented reason could just as easily lead to the removal of the Statue of Liberty.

But this to me puts me firmly in the Trump camp. The media is on nobody's side but its own, seeking to distort and defame for its own entertainment. Its monopoly position is driving the USA, once again, to civil unrest, but this time over entirely imagined oppression.

For all that we can cite the thinkers of the past on matters of free media, I imagine they never envisaged anything quite like the internet or monopoly mass media long departed from the values of the fourth estate.

A healthy society is one where there is a media which at least recognises its own obligations to intellectual honesty. USA media has long since given up any such obligation. This above all is what motivates the alt-right. The more dishonest and devious the US media becomes, particularly in whitewashing genuine threats to public order, the stronger it becomes. That is also particularly true of European media as it sighs a collective meh at increased frequency of Islamist atrocities.

And so it would seem that the USA has to resolve its own conflict - not between the people and their president, but between the people and their media - a battle in which the president, ineloquent and uncouth though he may be, is on the side of the public, not the press.

President Trump has condemned the KKK and racism. Not in good time, but as far as the presidential record goes, the words were spoken. That is what history will record. Media inquiry though was entirely disingenuous in asking if he had ulterior motives for not mentioning specifically one or other particular splinter group - playing their sick little games.

In spirit I side with Trump on this, although for this fight America needed a smarter, cleverer, more eloquent leader. It is America's loss that they have such poor leadership in such a crucial battle. It means that this presidency will not win the battle. It will take another movement to dislodge US media bias - and until then, we cannot expect America to be at peace with itself.

I suppose I should say something.

So the news of the day is that our friends at the Toryboy IEA think tank have published a post-Brexit trade report. Never have I seen a report so universally panned. And rightly so.

It's actually nothing new. It's the usual garbage about unilaterally abolishing all UK tariffs - because protectionism is baaaaaaad, m'kay.

But then of course if you do that then you actually have nothing to trade with. It's a bit like nuclear disarmament. We could scrap all our Trident submarines but then we'd be in no position to barter for gradual nuclear decommissioning.

Aaaand, as per, it overlooks the fact that we already have a number of FTAs via the EU where tariffs are zero, including all lesser developed countries. The remaining non-agricultural tariffs average 2%. Dropping the remaining tariffs to zero pretty much wipes out UK farming.

Today, not being on form, I really can't be bothered to go into the details of it but even by Toryboy standards this is piss weak. This is what happens when you're too busy sucking on Lord Lawson's flaccid little member to read a book on trade.

But then I am reminded that the report is not actually aimed at us mere mortals. This is just scripture to reinforce the flagging Tory right - once more telling them what they want to hear. As usual, this is not about intelligent policy-making - this is about preserving ministerial access - and in so doing, driving Britain off the cliff.

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Brexit: they know not what they do

I want to see an orderly Brexit. I don't especially mind if things end up not changing very much on the ground. It's easy to get carried away with the revolutionary potential of Brexit, but without any real vision behind it, I think, short of a crash and burn Brexit, things will stay pretty much the same.

I can live with that - and it's not all for naught. At the very least, ad the end of the process we will not be a member of the EU. After a feat of legal engineering, the UK will be a distinct customs entity with the EU having no direct jurisdiction over the UK. The shared acquis will about to about a quarter of EU membership, much of it for the purposes of trade continuity - and rules we would adopt by way of international obligations anyway.

This satisfies my requirement that the UK is immune from the EU's dogma of "ever closer union", and we would have a district foreign and trade policy. We might then expect that we will still have a form of freedom of movement, with notional limitations, which will anger many, but the formal construct of EU citizenship will have ended - thus ending the encroachment of the EU on non-trade related policy. In all the ways that truly matter, we would be an independent country and further divergence would indeed be possible if ever there were the impetus.

What stands in the way of this entirely acceptable settlement is a feedback loop in the bubble, where remainers and Brexiters share equal blame. This article by Jonathan Portes and Anand Menon is a lovely example of that working in practice.

They note that: "some Leavers, either for principled or tactical reasons, see an extended transition period on these lines as a betrayal. Jacob Rees-Mogg, for example, claimed that “If we are subject to the rules of the Single Market and the regulations of the Single Market, and subject to the fiat of the European Court of Justice, we are paying for the privilege and we can’t do free trade deals with the rest of the world, then we are in the EU.” This is clearly wrong in legal terms—it is quite conceivable to be in both the Single Market and the Customs Union without being an EU member state. Which does not, however, prevent Rees-Mogg’s view being widely held".

Now why do these two morons think might be? Well, just look at the previous paragraph. 
The problem here is obvious—any “off the shelf” model looks, in economic terms, very like existing EU membership. And in political terms it looks even worse: during the referendum campaign, both Remain and Leave dismissed—crudely but not inaccurately—the “Norway model” as “pay but no say.” And indeed EEA membership implies not only accepting free movement, but also acceptance of EU law, and continued payments to the EU.
As notes (for the billionth time), one of the great lies perpetrated by remainers and "Ultras" alike is the claim that pursuing the "Norway" (Efta/EEA) option would require us (the UK) to continue obeying EU laws, with "no say" in their creation. That never was true, even within the constraints of the EEA institutional arrangements. Something this blog has also detailed countless times. Nor indeed would we pay anything like what we pay to the EU presently. We would pay for those services we use and the ventures we participate in, and possibly the EEA grants mechanism, but that is the fullest extent of it. 

The "pay but no say" meme is without a doubt the singular most irritating feature of this whole debate. In significance it is as big a lie as the egregious £350m - but in effect is worse because it lives on. Between this and the continued muddle as to the function of the customs union, there is no clarity in the debate - which above all is the retarding factor. This is ultimately what makes the hardest Brexit more likely. Sloppy, disingenuous hackery from people who really should know better by now.

Tuesday 15 August 2017

Once more round the bend

I know, I know, I'm supposed to be blogging every last twist in this carnival of incompetence. I just can't this week. The will is there but my hands shrivel with repetitive strain as I set about writing the billionth explainer on customs systems and why the government doesn't have a clue. Honestly, my brain is going to capsize. But with today's release of a position paper on the customs union, I ought to say something.

Firstly, this is completely out of sequence with ongoing negotiations, and if anything this is for domestic purposes, submitted to the EU so it can be taken as an official government position rather than the daily noise of speculation.

Secondly, it is total garbage. We are still seeing a conflation of the customs union with customs cooperation. It seeks to retain single market frictionless trade without making any mention of the single market. Dishonesty and ignorance in equal measure.

Encouragingly, the document has already been eviscerated on Twitter and though the media is still behind the curve, along with our politicians, even if there is some disagreement on terminology, nobody is convinced that this is a serious proposition. This latest drivel indicates that we should prepare for the worst. If the government hasn't understood the basics by now, it is never going to.

In this I have become somewhat jaundiced with the whole debate. This is far from the first time there has been a flurry of activity - and though each time we get a little closer to collective understanding, there are still opinion gatekeepers who, with applied ignorance, reset the clock to zero. As bad as that is, even if there were a unified consensus view in the Twitter thought engine, it is speaking mostly to itself.

What I have noticed is that if explainers are pitched at the remain inclined then they get a lot more mileage - but the state of the debate is so binary that anyone voicing serious concerns grounded in reality is still branded as a remoaner. Consequently this debate is going nowhere.

I could use this post to eviscerate the content of the position paper, but doubtlessly we will see the definitive demolition job on later today. No doubt we will revisit this again and again and again.

Saturday 12 August 2017

Remaining doesn't fix anything

I'm feeling slightly guilty for my lack of blogging productivity. There are Brexit related stories but as ever it's only rumour, gossip and speculation. I'm not going to invest the energy in reacting to it when the bottom line is that we still don't know anything of the government's plans and there is still no chance of them getting a grip. 

Supposedly things are going to pick up next week when the government publishes its position papers which I suppose I will have to churn through but one already suspects that whatever they have dreamed up will be something the EU cannot and will not agree to. In a week where many are comparing Brexit to the battle of Dunkirk, I rather expect it's going to end up looking more like Stalingrad. An ill-conceived strategy, under heavy fire, bogged down and forced to retreat. 

The lack of clarity and a plan will see this going round in circles, held back by Tories who haven't grasped the basics and never will. That means a lot could happen in the next few months. 

We could end up crashing out of the EU, or there could be a move to oust May and possibly even another general election. A vote of no confidence could set that ball rolling. I don't know. Your guess is as good as mine. All the while there are those in some quarters watching to see how the disarray can be exploited to keep us in the EU. I think that would have to be negotiated with the EU and I expect there would be a price tag. 

Doubtlessly this would be celebrated by the remain crowd but I actually don't think it would do them much good. The current disarray over Brexit is the product of a collapse of political competence. This isn't a sudden development. Brexit, being the first major political challenge for a very long time, has exposed how utterly weak our politics is, with our media not far behind. 

Should we end up remaining in the EU then it will be an admission that we are not remotely equipped to pull off something like Brexit. As much it would enrage half the country I think it would be demoralising in more subtle ways. The only catalyst for change will have been quashed, leaving us to persist with this utterly broken system - to be ruled over criminally inept quarterwits. 

In some respects I think that could even be worse than a no-deal Brexit. For sure the shelves would stay stocked and the lorries would keep moving and the pound may recover (slightly) but I wouldn't see political confidence returning to the UK. Brexit has exposed the UK as a politically spent country. 

We were told that Brexit has divided the country, but again I would point out that those divisions were already there. I can only see those divisions becoming more sour should we remain - and without an impetus for change, our political class would seek to gloss over it and return to their business as usual. They were already held in deep contempt before the referendum. Imagine what would happen then.

I don't want to speculate but we would be forced to confront the reality that our government is incapable of delivering change. At that point disaffection would turn into outright hostility. We would still have a major political crisis on our hands and one that could turn deadly. Looking across the pond we can see that America is not a happy country and on the brink of something ugly. I think that could happen here. 

The ultimate conceit of the remain brigade is to say that Brexit has unleashed political turmoil. You could only say that if you weren't attuned to what was going for the last decade. This hasn't appeared out of nowhere. The referendum just opened the pressure release valve. 

The fact that remainers say this stuff is actually indicative of the mindset. I've seen Twitterers posting pictures of the 2012 Olympics opening - nostalgic for Britain's image as a progressive modern country - now dragged into the dirt by unthinking plebs manipulated by a big red bus. But that is remainer narcissism all over. 

The 2012 Olympics were crass. A Blairist veneer of "cool Britannia" - choreographed by Danny Boyle - a fawning self-congratulatory display of leftist emotional incontinence. If you ever wanted a totem of British vanity and self-absorption, that was it. Not surprising that those who believed that bogus self-image would be shocked and surprised by Brexit. 

As much as there is a political disconnect in the UK, there is also a cultural one. The government and the BBC projects a metro-leftist value system - one it imposes on the rest of us. Their values are not our values - and the EU is an extension of that. The self-image of the EU as a progressive and benevolent entity is one that very much suits the narcissism of our own rulers. 

This is not without harm. In the rush to broadcast their right-on credentials they will leap on any bandwagon going. More often than not this results in a number of financial obligations we can ill afford. We sign up for targets on renewable energy, we sign up to conventions of foreign aid, we commit our forces to misadventures like Libya. 

And what has that delivered? Farm land plastered with solar panels, useless wind turbines, colossal and destructive waste on foreign aid, and an accelerated migration crisis which is still murdering thousands of people every year. 

Course, if you're a shallow liberal europhile then all this is fine. Renewable energy is universally good, as is immigration - and foreign aid is above criticism. It's usually a remainer who will tell you how proud they are of our aid spending - because it's oh-so-progressive and compassionate (regardless of how much is wasted and how many people it kills). But, hey, it's a binding target so it's not up for debate - so you better learn to love it. 

Ultimately these people are people who see no connection between intent and consequence. The same people who believe you can wave a magic wand and legislate poor people into wealth. The same people who push for increases in minimum wage and then are surprised when their local supermarket is 100% automated. 

What makes people so angry is that those who make these policies and sign us up to these rules are the ones least likely to be affected by it. The ones who suffer the direct consequences in higher energy bills, problem immigration, higher taxes and fewer jobs are those who have the least say in it. And of course if they do get angry, well it's because they're just working class racist thick plebs who lack sophistication and compassion. 

What makes Brexit necessary is to deprive our politicians of the means to impose yet more burdens upon us. The public cannot afford any more of the same and the country cannot afford it either. Moreover we want accountable politicians and we don't want them signing away powers. We don't want binding targets we can be sued for not meeting. We don't want EU funded astroturf NGOs dragging the government to court on the basis of junk science - because we are the ones who pay the bill.

This is why remaining in the EU is so bloody dangerous. The politicos will carry on telling us how we need to "engage in Europe" and will go on with their right-on bidding wars, doing exactly as they please, driving up our bills and piling on the national debt. All the while, the many issues not connected to EU membership go unaddressed. If we remain in the EU the cultural and political gulf that exists between our elites and the public will widen. 

Though I have not been impressed with Theresa May and her "Brexit means Brexit" mantra, her conference speech last year was the right tone, if not actually the right policies. I think Theresa May does get it. She is right about citizens of nowhere, and the fact that the "liberal" left went into full hyperventilation mode tells you she was over the target. May understands that the government very seriously needs to pay attention to what Brits are actually saying - and any conservative party that wants to stay in government needs to start offending wet-lettuce metro types. Too bad she's chickened out.  

Ultimately right-on opinions are socially convenient. Nobody calls you a bigot or a racist or a luddite if you go with the flow and duck the issues. There is even social reward for conformity. That's why the weak minded and the moral cowards tend to be remainers. It takes guts to say that climate change targets (irrespective of the science) are bad news. It takes guts to say that yes, there are social problems from immigration. It takes guts to challenge the consensus on foreign aid. 

The politicians duck it because talking about these issues means saying inconvenient and uncomfortable things. All the while, the cynical and morally debased left go out of their way to paint anyone expressing unrefined and inconvenient views as "far right" to the point where no politician dare break the liberal consensus. There is no faster way to end a political career. The consequence of this is that predators remain free to roam the streets of Rotherham and the anger intensifies. 

While that is not directly connected to the EU, the EU is paralysed by a similar political correctness and metro-liberal agenda. This is why conservative Eastern Europe is starting to pull away. Meanwhile, because the EU suffers from the same disconnect, it assumes the feedback it gets from EU funded astroturf NGOs is genuine public sentiment. The tail is wagging the dog and policy continues to widen the cultural gulf between the government and the governed. 

The EU genuinely thinks the peoples of Europe are clamouring for it to do more on climate change and toughen up recycling targets and gender equality measures. It is subject to is own insular obsessions. Politically correct fads. Meanwhile it is ignoring what people actually want - ie sorting out the ever more acute migration crisis and reforming the trade policies make it worse. It is incapable of responding. 

But go go ahead remainers. Kill Brexit. Tell seventeen million people that their vote didn't count and that change isn't going to happen. Tell the politicians carry on as they were. Keep brushing it under the carpet. Keep wagging the finger at uncouth working class people. Keep piling on the debt, keep ramping up the bills, and see where that gets you. Go on, I dare you. You'll be the midwife to something far worse than Ukip - and I might even vote for it - if that is what it takes. 

Friday 11 August 2017

A new remain party? You should totally do that.

There is talk among remainers about setting up a new party with a single aim of returning us into the arms of the EU. The basic problem with this is that single issue parties are the home of monomaniacs, bores and bigots. They also tend to be at the furthest extreme of their particular brand of politics.

For remainers that could go one of two ways. It would either be a vessel hijacked by political failures like Nick Clegg or it would languish as a minor party of middle class snobby liberals who can barely conceal their contempt for the working class.

For this I'm going by a recent Bristol for Europe meeting in which the room was full of educated professionals who spoke of the need to make the little people understand why the EU is so wonderful and to build an inclusive movement.

The basic problem there is that you can't really build a broad alliance with people that you actively despise. The seething contempt for the elderly, the assumption that leave voters are stupid and uneducated, and the belief that Brexit was basically a dislike of foreigners is actually boorish in a way that even Ukip could not muster.

If remainers actually did congregate into a visible movement it would look just as sad and obsessive as Ukip did - with a similar lack of self-awareness. Like the kippers, if you taunt them enough, pretty soon the mask slips and all the bigotry and venom comes out all at once.

Course these days it is far more acceptable to sneer and abuse ordinary working class people so it gets a free pass from the media, but ordinary voters would notice that foaming europhiles are complete douche-bags. 

The worst thing about remainers is that they genuinely do see themselves as superior intellects and believe that the little people have an obligation to listen to them. This came over loud and clear during the referendum which is why I suspect remain managed to lose.

From my interactions on Twitter I have come to learn that Remainers are capable of mobilising in ways the right never can. All the remainer gurus have a following of acolytes and admirers and have built an impressive echo chamber for themselves. Were one not mindful that Twitter is a broadly left wing bubble, one might get the impression that public opinion has changed.

On the whole I think it probably has drifted toward remain, but not by much and it could just as easily drift back again depending on how the EU is perceived during Article 50 talks. More likely if there is a public facing movement of foaming europhiles.

Another aspect of remainers I notice is an overbearing smugness. The worse they are the more followers they seem to attract. They mistake this for broader popularity but like the leave side, the pool of followers is interchangeable and transferable and largely persuades nobody. Brexiteers have gone quiet because it's best to just leave them to it.

In all respects a renewed remain campaign would over play its hand. As much as they have a blind spot for their own self-righteousness they also have an extraordinary naivety. Brexiteers are the ones generally regarded as stupid, and for the most part I would agree, but when it comes to the inner workings of the EU the ignorance spans the divide evenly. This is where they make exploitable mistakes.

What remainers lack is any sense of scepticism. In their binary minds the EU is a wholesome union of developed nations - entirely transparent with minimal corruption and entirely democratic. To them the EU is not a physical thing, rather it is an ethereal concept that sits over and above the grubbiness of the nation state. This is why they avoid me like the plague. If they step to my house they get an education.

The other thing that betrays their naivety and total lack of scepticism is their insistence that we should defer to experts. I have always been of the view that experts should be challenged, questioned and probed. Brexit especially has reinforced this in that we have a small army of academics wading into the subject, usually law professors, who actually know very little outside of their narrow specialism - and erroneously believe their specialism affords them the necessary prestige to speak on any and all issues. To assume that someone who has institutional prestige is necessarily infallible is possibly the most bovine a person can be.

Of course the opposite of that is the Brexiteers who tend to disregard anything anybody says for any reason. That is when scepticism becomes anti-intellectualism and contrarianism (See Brendan O'Neill). It's up to sane people to meet somewhere in the middle.

Basically remainers are awful and stupid but a wholly different kind of awful and stupid to the Brexiteers. Both mindsets are dogmatic, crushingly tedious and blinkered - and the more exposure they get the worse they become. For that reason alone, I would welcome a remain party. The more we see of these insufferable, selfish, patronising arseholes, the better.

Thursday 10 August 2017

Always bet on Tory incompetence

It is hard to look at Brexit with any sense of optimism when there is such a fundamental lack of competence at the heart of government. If they were at all attuned to the the inherent risks in the process we would now be seeing government policy coalescing around the EEA option. Instead we are locked into the idea that only a bespoke FTA can be called the one true Brexit.

This raises questions as to how quickly this can be done. There is an assumption that our existing alignment makes this a quick an easy process. One wonders how anyone could think this since there is no evidence of the EU having ever made anything quick and easy.

First of all we would have to negotiate a framework for negotiations. We would have a long list of areas for discussion on anything from pharmaceuticals to aviation. Like the current "negotiations" this would not be a case of negotiating anything. Rather it would be a sequence of capitulation.

When it comes to the sale of medicines in the EU, you are part of the EU system on EU terms or you are not. If you are not you are then treated as a third country where there is little scope for preferential treatment. There can be limited process specific mutual recognition agreements to lubricate third country interactions - such as conformity assessment, all conditional on a number of factors, but this does not amount to unfettered market participation as before.

The same applies to the REACH system for chemicals. You are either in it or you are not. The same applies to the Single European Sky. You are either in it or you are not. So then the whole process becomes a series of ultimatums. We can either accept the rules of the system or we accept massively inferior market access. The latter meaning bespoke provisions, largely stacked in the EU's favour at a pace set by the EU.

Since the UK is likely to kick up a fuss about any involvement of the ECJ we are then forced to design a unique set of protocols for dispute resolution and a system of arbitration. This is politically contentious and difficult to agree, and mode more difficult by the absence of competence on the part of the UK. Our muppets don't understand how the system works and if they don't by now then they never will.

The only way this will go quickly is if the UK concedes to every single point and opts for full participation in EU systems on EU terms. That would be the smart thing to do, which is why we can assume that is not going to happen.

Only when we know what the final agreement looks like can we design any kind of plan for implementation whereupon we will need to acquire all of the necessary facilities, people and systems in order for the change to happen.

If asked to guess I would say that just the negotiating alone, assuming all went to schedule (fat chance) without any hitches would take four years - and then we are looking at a number of years before we are ready to "take back control". We would have to do it on a staggered basis with the framework from transition largely being EU membership with no voting rights.

In this we must note that none of this even starts until the Article 50 talks have concluded and so with the best will in the world, we will not be ready to make any substantive changes until 2024 with an open ended completion date. Looking at it optimistically. This all hinges on whether the repeal bill can be made to function. Without the EEA, and without knowing what the final administrative framework looks like, we can't say with any certainty whether it will.

What you have at the end of that is a gigantic mess leaden with complexity and uncertainty where there is absolute no guarantee of "frictionless" trade. We still need a customs agreement and though we can guess what that would look like, you can count on the Tory right making it more difficult than it needs to be.

The gist of it is that if we don't crash out without a deal and we don't choose the EEA then we are looking at a very long and very slow process, the nature of which we can only speculate for a destination nobody can yet define save to say that it will fail to deliver the benefits of the single market.

This is all predicated on the assumption that the Tories do not make a monumental pigs ear of it, meanwhile we cannot say what is likely to happen in domestic politics which could possibly derail or delay the process. Whether lame-duck May can hold out until the next election is an open question.

Th shortcut to all this is to simply stay in the EEA, not least because it massively simplifies the repeal bill process, but also because it avoids the need to negotiate new provisions on trade systems as it leaves economic integration intact. Since we are not going to get better terms by negotiating a bespoke deal there is simply no point in trying.

This would make the Brexit process a lot faster - and we would be out a lot sooner and then able to configure the EEA agreement through protocols and annexes to the Agreement. The immediate benefit of the EEA is that business would then know the new framework and would have a lot less to prepare for and we would see a return to some degree of normalcy.

Sadly though, unless there is a radical shift in political tides, this rabble will dither until we are at a standstill. I'm betting on a crunch point where it's crash and burn - or just call the whole thing off. By that point, if the public have a say in it, then it will be the latter. The Tories are the remainers best asset.

Ultimately what we are looking at here is a clash of perceptions of Brexit. The Brexiteers view Brexit as an event - one in which all the reforms happen all at once and as part of the exit process. This has never been a realistic proposition. There is simply too much complexity for any one administration to cope and too much donkey work to do before you can get down to the more exciting business of reform.

The Tory mantra is that we should look at Brexit as an opportunity, not a damage control exercise. That is the fundamental flaw in their thinking in that this is a process where we must first manage the administrative task of exiting - and that very much is a question of damage limitation. This is where there is no room for big visions and ideology. This is the tedious, dull and procedural part - and if we treat it as a game seeking to win the advantage then we will lose.

The aim of the leaving process is to get us into a position where things are more or less the same, having minimised the economic harm and physical disruption, after which we have the necessary powers to reform and diverge where desirable. That is the advantage of the EEA. The other way means that we are forced to change everything all at once whether we want to or not, whether it works or not. I can't see it being anything other than messy and damaging.

I still think there is a possibility of an EEA Efta solution in that there is an upcoming danger zone where the lack of coherence and a ticking clock will force the Tories' hand. If not to expedite the process then to salvage any kind of credibility. We must endure a crisis or two before that happens.

This is why you won't find me spending too much time speculating as to what a bespoke agreement  looks like. The EEA is the only possible way we can successfully complete the process and if we go down the avenue of a bespoke agreement then it will become bogged down in ideological disarray to the point where walking away is the only means of leaving. After which, Britain is so irrecoverably screwed that any models we dream up now will be wasted energy.

For now the only certainty is extreme incompetence guided by wilful ignorance. That is the only thing that brings any kind of predictability to this process. If you want to know what the Tories plan on doing then just think of what might work and then try to imagine the absolute opposite of that. Then imagine how they could even manage to fuck that up too.