Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The ridiculous Abi Wilkinson

The government is refusing to release studies of the economic impact of leaving the EU. There is a bandwagon debate about it. Whatever excuse the government gives we know that the real reason they won't publish is because the official report (if it's any good) would tell us what we already know; that no deal is a non-starter with catastrophic impact - and the EEA as the least damaging and most viable path. It would tell us that the government is acting contrary to its own advice.

Having such a document might well be a useful stick with which to beat the government but I don't see that it would do much good for the simple reason nothing else has. Positions are more entrenched now than at any point previously and all the classic zombie arguments still refuse to die.

What is bizarre, though, is the pretence that we are all in the dark unless the government publishes these studies. There have been countless studies on the subject from various sources, all of which say the same thing. The narratives have remained pretty much identical since before the referendum and the consequences are well known yet Abi Wilkinson of The Guardian talks as though she just arrived on planet earth.
If democracy is genuinely to be respected, there needs to be a public debate. Every one of us has a stake in the future of this country. Every one of us deserves a voice in a process that will shape the rest of our lives. To enable that, the 58 government studies on the predicted economic impact of Brexit need to be made public. Farmers and other small business owners need to know how different deals will affect the viability of their businesses. We need to know how different options will affect pensions and the NHS. Which is likely to preserve the most jobs?
The lady has failed to notice that there has indeed been a public debate. One that has raged for more than a year now. It has been (literally) a full time occupation for me to debunk the torrent of crap coming from the ultra-Brexit camp. Moreover, businesses are not passive actors in this. They have their own lobby groups each of which have done their own analysis, complimented by the mediocre works of the CBI, IFS and IfD - all of which have been widely available. Businesses are already voting with their feet. All the signals are there.

As is so typical of our media, an issue is only of importance as and when they deign to grace us with their wisdom. Hitherto now to Ms Wilkinson (as we can see from her profile) has had very little to say on the matter. Only now we are staring down the barrel of a no-deal Brexit with obvious ramifications for her pet hobby horses does she choose to take an interest - and only in the context of a tribal Westminster bandwagon.

With an issue of such epic significance with major ramifications for just about every policy discipline, and hard choices for public spending, you would expect that Brexit would be of primary importance to those who claim to care about social welfare. Brexit should have been an obsession for the left to ensure that jobs and livelihoods were protected, yet collectively they still do not have a coherent position on the subject and are waiting to be told by a government report what to think.

Just recently I have dwelled upon how our media and politics has become self-absorbed and insular, failing to notice anything outside of its own myopic fixations, unable to break from its tribal habits. Our media is utterly failing in its duty to inform - and like Ms Wilkinson, sits passively on its hands.

From the 100k extra hits I've had from Wilkinson this month, she has shown that she has had the power at any point to raise a multitude of urgent issues with respect to Brexit, and could have found the details on this very blog.

Had she taken an interest she might even have noticed that leave voices outside the bubble have been screaming from the rooftops about the dangers of the WTO option - and how the government is being misled. But it's only when she noticed her cosy little world might be disturbed did she choose to take an interest. And that, Ms Wilkinson, is why your ilk are deserving of what is about to transpire. You cannot say you weren't warned and you can't say you were kept in the dark. Your ignorance is entirely through choice. 

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Sorry remainers, my vote is worth the same as yours

There is something of an ill natured debate on Twitter following some or other nonentity MP saying that remain voters are, statistically, better educated. Our entitled academic class is feeling under siege. It's true that the ratio of graduates may be tilted in favour of remain but that is no indicator of intelligence or indeed education.

For starters not every intelligent person gets the opportunity to go to university. I was eventually able to give it a crack but found it woefully under-stimulating and had no intention of jumping through hoops and sitting through lectures covering that which is either self-evident or basic level stuff. It wasn't worth the money then and it certainty isn't worth it now. Moreover universities are geared to group work which I'm just not wired for. I went my own way.

If I took one lesson from my university experience is that it's an exercise in learning how to limit your thinking and conform. Some of the most credulous people I know are graduates simply because they check a source of institutional prestige rather than validity of argument. It is assumed that if a work has gone through an insular peer review system then it stands up to wider scrutiny. In theory it should, but in practice it doesn't.

Worse still any kind of qualification can lead to intellectual atrophy. Learning is a lifelong process but many take a degree as a licence to stop learning. Ukip MEP Julia Reid has a PhD in pharmacology but bizarrely is one of the dimmest specimens I have ever encountered. Similar can be said of John Redwood.

Intellectual curiosity is something you either have or you don't. Meanwhile applied functional intelligence can be found everywhere. The science and maths applied by ordinary people to their interest in motor-sports, football and horse racing forever impresses me - and for all I can programme complex database systems the discipline of music or engineering escapes me entirely.

Intelligence manifests in many ways. I look at it as more of a mixing desk than a volume dial. Education is another matter. I never completed my A levels. I don't think I managed a year of sixth form before I was asked to leave. I was bored rigid and stifled. I wanted to get out into the world.

For a number of years I bounced between jobs trying to find my place but in so doing I've seen inside banking, manufacturing, aerospace, chemical processing, utilities and retail and even tried a short stint in the Territorial Army. That didn't end well as you might imagine. I've stood for parliament, I've flown gliders, represented myself in court challenging a law, and now I'm a political writer. I didn't see that coming. 

By 2004 I was one of Blair's mature students progressing to become a "dole queue creative" where I learned web design, photoshop and photography. More than I ever learned at university. The old man was horrified at the time but I have to laugh since the chief beneficiary of my internet abilities was him and eureferendum.com.

For a while I was lost. I did a number of private software contracts and one contract made enough money to take a couple of years out where I spent my time producing techno and touring as a DJ. I've seen how deep that rabbit hole goes and I've stories to tell. I've had junkies and perennial street dwellers for friends. I've seen the ugly consequences of the welfare state. I am well placed to comment on that.

I sometimes wonder if I would be richer and better off had I chosen a conventional path. I had the intelligence if not the patience. But I wouldn't trade my experiences for an LSE economics degree and when it comes down to it I have a better grasp of trade and Brexit than pretty much every wonk in the business.

Though at 38 I'm no longer a spring chicken and knocking on the door of middle age I'm a well rounded person with plenty to say for himself and I know when some shitbird politician is shooting a line. I've seen every kind of bullshit there is. I've lived in four major cities, lived in the countryside and lived by the sea. I might not have seen the world but I have been in every town and every county at least once. I know this country better some hack who never ventures outside the M25.

I know plenty of graduates who went through the system. They did their A levels, got their degree, did their gap year, got their mortgage with a loan from the Bank of Dad, and went on to become thoroughly two dimensional people with wholly pedestrian views, largely inherited from their parents.

My adult life started from a damp terrace in a rainy Northern mill town. I've see how good it gets, I've seen how bad it gets. I've earned top money in my field, but I've also seen absolute rock bottom. I've been an adult for twenty years now. My experience is rich and varied. I still do not have a qualification to my name and would I seek to correct that. It is of no importance to me. I will argue any point on any grounds and if I don't win then I will hold my own.

So am I saying I'm special? Nope. That's the point. I'm really nothing special - but a crappy degree doesn't make you anything special either. A few years extra remedial schooling a specialist area doesn't even begin to compete with a life well lived.  

17,410,742 people voted the same way I did. They may not be graduates but they are the aerospace technicians who keep the airliners running, the programmers who keep the systems online and the mechanics who keep your car on the road. More importantly they are the citizens of the UK who have just as much, of not more experience of living on this island than you. And that is what makes them the experts.  

The subtext of this debate is that the plebs are thick, racist, and don't know what is good for them - and should doff their caps to their betters. It implies that somehow my vote is worth less than than theirs; that somehow being able to conform to the institutional restraints of modern day British society is a measure of intellect. Well, baby, it ain't, and if you want to put that to the test, come play me, but you better bring your A game. 

Saturday, 28 October 2017

It's the end of the line for the Britain we know

Nick Cohen in The Guardian muses on the lack of coherent opposition to a Brexit going off the rails. "Where are the heroes who will lead the Brexit retreat?" he asks. Cohen observes:
There are deeper reasons for the breakdown of politics, which makes less comfortable reading. Labour MPs from northern England and Wales and Tory MPs who campaigned for Remain are not backing Leave now because they respect their leaders. Nor have they converted to the view that Brexit will enrich their constituents. They can see what liberals have missed: despite inflation and the fall in living standards, support for Brexit remains resilient. Until the polls move towards Remain with strides rather than baby steps, the politicians won’t move. And by the time they move, it may be too late.
It is a most curious thing. There have been some attempts from Steven Kinnock and Chuka Umunna (among others on the left) to constructively engage in the issues. The problem, however, is that the left is having a personality crisis and is indulging in political navel-gazing.

The Labour party is notionally led by Corbyn and McDonnell fronting Momentum which could not be less interested in Brexit. Meanwhile, left wing voices worth hearing have gone AWOL. The Labour brat back has nothing to say for itself. There is nothing it can usefully add to the debate.

Insofar as the Labour machine does have any thinkers, I might venture the name James Bloodworth, but his name does not pop up in Brexit debate. It could well be that Nick Cohen is the closest there is to an adult on the British left. Albeit a supercilious, smug son of a bitch. 

Meanwhile, being a creature of the right I would have noticed if there were warning sounds coming from the Tories. But for the wails of Anna Soubry, there are no vocal Tory soft Brexiters making their names known. All the while as EUreferendm.com describes, the media has totally lost it.

Collectively our political machine doesn't know how to handle something like this. This is well outside of its comfort zone and it turns on a level of detail that simply cannot command their concentration. We are, therefore, in a very peculiar limbo, much like the election where Brexit just doesn't rate.

Much of this has to do with the uncertainty and not having any greater clue as to the direction of Brexit than we did over a year ago. Having exhausted itself churning over the same material for months on end the media is drifting back toward business as usual as though nothing ever happened. There is a serious under-appreciation of the dangers ahead and should it slide off the rails entirely they will not know what hit them or why.

Those of us attuned to the consequences are in a state of utter dismay. I know my opposite number on the remain side, Mike Galsworthy, is equally bewildered and dismayed. Unlike the good doctor and Mr Cohen, though, I am not in the least bit surprised. Brexit did not unleash this. We have been on this path for a long time. To understand it you have to track the cultural decline in politics. Take a look at this very short clip...

You know what that is right there? That there is an adult. One with dignity and gravitas. Say what you like about her politics and her legacy but that is an adult declining to debase herself at the whim of the media. Now fast forward to 2014...

You know what they look like to me? Dickheads. And you know why that is? Because, objectively, they are dickheads. These people do not command respect. There is no bandwagon they will not jump on and no virtue they will not signal. And look at the company they keep...

And it degenerates into...

Folks, we have simply forgotten what serious politics looks like. I've been pilloried for suggesting that our society has become shallow, infantilised and decadent but how am I actually wrong? I have alluded to the fact that we might very well be deserving of the WTO option, but looking back over the last five years of politics and I'm actually willing on a giant meteorite strike.

I can't say exactly how it happened. This is one of those chicken and egg scenarios in that our politicians and media are locked into a terminal feedback loop and a total collapse of politics is really the only possible destination. It just isn't capable of delivering good governance. Idiocracy is now.

But as much these morons like to wag their fingers at us these are people who actively despise us. The condescending snobbery from all quarters of the remain camp gives you some indication why the public would reject all the warnings and vote against the status quo.

As much as policy and governance has degraded, our political culture has sunk about as low as can be tolerated. The politicians and the hacks would prefer to drop Brexit and resume their moronic posturing but I sense there is a mood afoot where the public are no longer willing to tolerate this asinine circus. We are tired of being treated like infants by our media and political establishment. The public show far greater wisdom and maturity than they. 

If Brexit goes the way in think it's going to go then it is going to be pretty much an economic 9/11. I'm still doing what I can to avert it, but with politics being in such disarray I think we are probably pissing in the wind. I think we started something that cannot be controlled and cannot be predicted. I think this has to play out to its depressing conclusion because it is the only thing that will bring minds into focus.

Whatever happens next is less to do with Brexit than the fact that we are at the fag end of the post World War Two political settlement. We have rinsed this about as far as it can go and it is desperate for renewal.

The current order is unwilling and unable to deliver change. There are too many vested interests in the status quo. Academia does not want to be disturbed, political incumbents want to stay on the gravy train. The haves only pretend to care about the have-nots. They have said it clear as day. They think the lower orders are ignorant and racist and really shouldn't be allowed to vote.

Well, we've heard them on FM. Message received. So when faced with a stark choice between a fresh start or maintaining the order upon which these loathsome creatures depend, you can't be surprised if we plebs are happy to let it all slide into the sea. You're not all right, Jack.

The immigration issue will keep coming back to haunt us

I HATE writing about immigration. There is no way to write about it without somebody making out you're a goose-stepping footsoldier of the Third Reich. In this I have learned to be a lot less guarded about what I say simply because however cautious you are the left will always seek to misframe it, so what the hell is there to lose?

In my earlier post I pointed out that the immigration that bothers people is not from the EU. I am told this is potentially contentious. I really don't think it is. I think it is self-evidently true and it's stupid to deny it.

I do not think leave voters are nativists as some assert and many will be just as concerned about the rights of EU citizens as remainers. In fact, I know when I go up to Bradford at Christmas I will end up in some grubby town centre pub and at least two of the people at my table will be Polish. Over the years Poles have very successfully integrated.

The reason for that is because they will go to the same raves and rock nights as everybody else. It is, however, still a surprise to see an Asian face in a metal club or techno night in Bradford. You'll see the occasional Sikh but I struggle to recall ever seeing a Muslim. With a truck load of caveats I would still say that the UK is not successfully integrating Muslims.

Typically when I bring this up on Twitter I get shouted down by Waitrose liberals and the ultra-PC, who are typically Londoners who won't recognise what I describe from my experience in West Yorkshire. Similarly medical and legal professionals will know Muslim professionals and will, perhaps disingenuously, use that to say that there isn't a problem.

The experience for working class people, however, is somewhat different. I was hounded out of my first flat by a local Muslim gang who threatened to kill me. It's not safe for girls to walk through certain parts of town in a miniskirt on the way back from a nightclub. You'll be spat at for walking your dog.

And I just know leftists will leap on that and say that is true of white neighbourhoods or some other disingenuous and predictable lie, but what we are dealing with here is a very specific that is related to the Rotherham scandal. It's about primitive attitudes (to women especially) that are really not welcome in this country. I have even heard it said that the young girls in Rotherham were "leading on" Muslim men. Such is the depravity of the modern left we can no longer make these distinctions without being the subject of a witch hunt. They have turned closing down debate into an art form.

But the point here is that if we end freedom of movement as a consequence of Brexit then the same people who were pissed off about immigration before the referendum are still going to be pissed off. You only need to take a peek inside the Ukip twittersphere and it's mainly about Muslims.

As it happens we have to be quite clear that it is less an issue of Muslims as it is people from primitive tribal regions with a totally different set of values - which is why we see intermarrying and a thirty percent higher probability of birth defects in children form that strata.

Similarly I think people are entirely justified in asking precisely why we are admitting people who will wear the burka. There is quite obviously no chance of integration here and no attempt either. Moreover it is likely to get worse. The Pakistan government is accused of 'mainstreaming' misogyny after legally endorsing honour killing advocates. Pakistan is regressing. How is it that we are currently undergoing a moral panic about sexual harassment and this issue isn't even on the table?

But then I am only looking at one aspect of the problem informed by my own experiences and wider reading. In fact, the real problem is that there isn't single problem - but a series of micro problems. In Southall, in West London, the Sikhs are said to be the problem, in North London and Brixton, the Jamaicans are the problem, in East London it's the Bangladeshis, and in Bradford, it isn't actually Muslims but tribal Kashmiris who are the problem (who just happen to be Muslims).

There is, however, one common issue - that where ethnic groups accumulate and are allowed to reach a critical mass, the rate of integration slows down and even goes into reverse. But that isn't a numbers problem. It is a concentration issue.

It remains to be seen whether you could manage the "ghetto phenomenon", but arguably if you addressed that, there would be less objection overall to immigration. It's only when immigrants are visible that you tend to see opposition, and where they accumulate in their own ghettos, they are highly visible.

Now call this xenophobia if you will, but actually caution of that which is alien is a normal reaction. It is part of the natural human defence mechanism. This is overcome over time as trust is established. But how can those bridges be built when there are barriers to integration which are unlikely be resolved?

All the while over that last two decades we have seen back street mosques popping up many of which have to be monitored by MI5. Why do we want this? Why should it be tolerated? Why invite more of it? A society that doesn't get a handle on this is a society with a deathwish.

So one then might suggest that EEA freedom of movement would be tolerable if there were a very serious gesture from the government to indicate that this kind of immigration and the loopholes that enable it will be resolved. As yet no Pole as gone on a knife rampage or blown themselves up at a children's pop concert.

Would this mean we then had a discriminatory immigration system? Yes. And I don't honestly think the majority would give a solitary toss. Part of the reason Labour fails to connect with its base is that it would rather be seen to be politically correct to avoid upsetting its metropolitan middle class liberal vote than actually representing the dispossessed. It can never bridge the two constituencies.

What I do not understand, is how the supposedly non-racist metropolitan middle class liberal vote can back Corbyn, who is only leader because of a capture of Labour by Momentum; an antisemitic cult on the far left which is actually in bed with antisemitic and deeply corrupt Muslim activists. It's not actually difficult to see why working class Northerners are not rushing to back Labour.

Tangentially, yesterday I noted that councillors in Lancashire County Council voted to ban unstunned halal meat from being served in schools. I happen to disagree with it but that is surely a signal. This tells you that the beef (scuse the pun) is not to do with Polish farm labourers. Citizens are wondering why the halal meat section in their big brand local supermarket is bigger than the rest.

As much as the issue of the EU has been the thorn in the side of the Tories for the last two decades or more, the issue of Muslim immigration is also a perennial issue and a continued source of anger among deprived Northern communities.    

Time and again we hear the same platitudes, the favourite one being "we need to have an honest debate" but actually we don't get anywhere close to an honest debate without people being branded far right - to the point where people dare not put their heads above the parapet. There is an establishment collusion to stop that debate from happening. It's thorny and nobody in mainstream politics wants to touch it with a barge pole. It's pure political cowardice.

With so many then silenced and with no palatable options at the ballot box, you can hardly be surprised when there is a referendum that you get a surge of protest votes. The referendum was as much a referendum on the status quo as anything else and the public voted for change.

Though the mandate was to leave the EU there was also a substantial part of the vote that was undeniably linked to the issue of immigration. So the question is whether we continue to ignore it or whether we takes steps to address it. Since there had been no meaningful action on it previously, a Brexit vote was returned. I won't say that it was primarily about immigration but I would be dishonest to downplay it.

So now, we are either faced with the grim prospect of a hard Brexit, controlling the wrong kind of immigration - or we can stay in the EEA if the real message is honoured. We have previously discussed the application of Article 112 of the EEA agreement as a means to modify freedom of movement. Supposing this can be done, I still do not think it will be enough. It will smell a lot like a fudge and let's be honest, it is.

So a new deal needs to be made. If we do not want to lose the substantial trade we enjoy by way of being in the single market, there need some credible and serious proposals on curbing non-EEA immigration. Politics will only become more toxic if there isn't meaningful action.

The challenge of post-Brexit politics is one of how to reunite the country; closing the culture gap between the ruling class and the public. If we continue to kick the can down the road then I can very easily see that another large terrorist atrocity will be the final straw. That "islamophobic backlash" that liberals wring their hands about is more likely if there aren't visible changes to the social landscape after we leave the EU.

How you go about this fairly and humanely is entirely a different debate and there are tools at our disposal that need not be draconian. But if I have learned anything about politics in recent years it's that it only takes a million people to vote this way or that for the results to be profoundly different. The pivotal constituency in this instance could take us down a very ugly path. It is therefore a question of heading it off at the pass rather than sitting on our hands. Kicking the can down the road is what brought us to Brexit. I dare not think what would happen if we kick the can down the road once more.

To solve the immigration problems we are going to have to look far beyond sterile, tired ideas such as repatriation. We need to look at the root causes of failure to integrate - community-by-community - and take whatever action is needed (general, targeted or both) to address the actual, real problems, rather than what they imagine to be the problems. One thing is clear; we must act now.

Running on empty

Though the frequency of posts on this blog has declined I am as busy as ever in the service of the cause across a number of platforms. Those of you who follow on Twitter will know how effective threads have proven so I have concentrated a lot of effort there. Having done so I have been able to shape and influence the debate - more so than during the referendum. This comes at considerable cost to me and it occupies most of my time. As to whether I continue is really up to you. You know I hate asking - which is why I don't ask as often as I probably ought to. But now I am asking. If you can donate, please do. Thank you.

Brexit briefing

I have been asked to contribute to a Parliamentary briefing on the matter of the single market. This is my current thinking on the matter.

With regard to being a rule taker, that is an inevitability of modern trade. That is going to be the case whether we are in an FTA or a more comprehensive relationship like the EEA. With an FTA it tends to focus mainly on harmonisation of standards. EU FTAs are themselves written with a view to upholding the obligations of the WTO agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). The tract inside EU FTAs is very often prose lifted verbatim from the WTO TBT agreement. What one immediately notices is that the EU is converging on global standards from OIE/Codex/ILO/IPCC/UNECE/ISO. This convergence is what allows for mutual recognition agreements on things like conformity assessment and recognition of qualifications.

Irrespective of our relationship with the EU we will use the standards from those global bodies as the basis for all domestic regulation. There is, therefore, little point in leaving the single market or substantially diverging.

The Tory assumption is that because we are already convergent on the EU there should be no difficulty in establishing a network of mutual recognition agreements for the purposes of trade continuity. This is a grotesque oversimplification. Alignment on standards is only a starter for ten and it does not imply frictionless borders. They assume that the EU will allow us free access without formal structures for harmonisation but the EU is not in a position to make any special exceptions because of rules on preferences set by the WTO.

If we want to maintain frictionless borders then we will need regulatory union and a customs agreement that deals with Rules of Origin. This will require that we track the common external tariff. Any new third country agreements will likely have ramifications on the frequency of inspections to check that the UK is not being used to circumvent single market protections. This is why a customs agreement is also necessary for frictionless borders.

Had we never joined the EU we would have an FTA that broadly covered most of the above. The crucial point, however, is that we are not starting from scratch. Reverse engineering is no easy feat.

Just about every area of technical governance is regulated by the EU Acquis. Simply copying and pasting all that regulation on to the UK statute book does not mean we automatically have a functioning regulatory regime. EU regulation has multiple dependencies on other standards and sub regulation and names a number of systems, authorities and agencies. To fully repatriate every area of governance we would have to edit out all of those references and build domestic administrative bodies.

Naturally this is going to be time consuming and expensive and there is precisely zero chance that this kind of legal engineering can be completed in a short implementation period. We would have to rebuild our institutions, equip and train them while rewriting the syllabuses in technical colleges etc. Divergence means that officials will have to re-qualify. Insurance companies will demand it. This is what happened when we joined the Single Market. Meat hygiene inspectors were suddenly told they had to re-qualify. 

The Tory ultras are presently pushing for divergence as quickly as possible and they seek to put sunset clauses on the EU rules we adopt. The reality, however, dictates that we cannot repeal any of this legislation until we have a fully functioning domestic regime with all the appropriate institutions and agencies. We are looking at a number of years to do this. There are no short cuts. So this is not a question as to the respective merits of the EEA, rather it is a practical necessity to maintain membership of it (and the institutions therein) in order for us to gradually diverge without a cliff edge.

There are a number critiques of the EEA option. All of them look at the option in isolation rather than looking at it in the context of the Brexit process. The EEA is a tool, not a destination. To understand this you have to properly understand the exit sequence. This is where MPs are utterly failing.

First we have to deal with the phase one issues and the terms of separation. The future relationship (whatever that may be) will have to be negotiated inside an interim framework, one which more or less mirrors EU membership. Only when you have something to implement can you then begin an implementation period.

For Brexit we can either choose a deep and comprehensive FTA (DCFTA) or we can go down the EEA route. The former is the longer more uncertain path. We would be opening every single one of the three hundred subject areas for negotiation. What we will find when we do that is that a DCFTA doesn't come close to our needs and if we want enhancements then we will have to make major concessions.

This will be a deeply political process both at home and among the member states. That will make a slow process slower. All the while we are in a state of Brexit limbo. We can avoid this entirely and have a "clean Brexit" by adopting the EEA. That dictates that we continue to be members of various EU agencies such as the EMA. That then commits us to financial obligations but David Davis has already alluded to the fact that we will continue contributing to some EU bodies whatever happens.

Currently the debate is distracted by what sort of interim period we will have. As much as the language is muddled, this is irrelevant. For a number of technical and legal reasons the interim framework has to be EU membership in all but name. There will be no divergence in this period nor will we be signing any new third country FTAs. It is impossible. What concerns us is the framework for divergence. This is what May is calling the implementation period which is different to the interim period. 

Because we have to develop our own domestic governance capacity we have no choice but to use the EEA acquis and maintain membership of EU bodies simply so that the regulatory regime functions. Were we to simply copy and paste EU regulations they simply would not function. Regulations are not simply technical by-laws. Regulations are regulatory systems.

Additionally, until such a time as we are freed of EU it is a requirement that we have a dispute resolution system. This will be an essential instrument for the process of divergence (which will trigger disputes of its own) and for all other matters in the future. So we have the option of using Efta or we can spend some considerable time negotiating a new framework for dispute resolution but it will have to mimic the Efta model because nothing else works. It is either that or maintain ECJ rule. Like it or lump it.

In effect the EEA Efta model is a matter of technical necessity if we want a well structured Brexit avoiding all the cliff edges. This is why all of the criticisms of the EEA option are utterly irrelevant. We know it is suboptimal but it hands down beats the alternatives. I know of no other practical way of doing it. I suspect that we have already missed the boat on Efta membership therefore we have to look at a shadow EEA with a form of associate membership of Efta in order to use Efta courts.

So then we get to the question of how we get from the EEA state to the next state (whatever is negotiated). Even Brussels doesn't have a good answer to this. I take the view that we stay in the EEA framework and simply evolve our relationship over time rather the making a leap to a different structure. I do not see the point of a bespoke DCFTA. In form and function the EEA model does what we want. It fulfils in spirit the relationship outlined in the Florence speech. It carries more obligations than May intends but she is living in a fantasy world anyway. 

This is where you have to turn it around on opponents and spell it out. Any which way, we are going to end up with a deep and elaborate treaty with the EU with its own court and membership of a number of EU bodies. It might as well be the EEA for all the difference it makes.

As much as the EEA option simplifies any implementation, it does not require substantial legal engineering and we do not have to transpose all of it on to the UK statute book. It can stay where it is. For whatever differences there may be between a new Florentine fantasy relationship and the EEA, they can be engineered into country specific protocols in the EEA agreement. The EEA agreement is a system for EU relations. It is configurable and there are opt outs and exceptions. It does not contain regulation rather it points to EU regulation with EEA applicability. It is therefore also possible that we could have an EEA style agreement that does the same but that is reinventing the wheel. 

Ultimately it is the technical reality that dictates the EEA as the only viable instrument, otherwise you are making it ten times more complex and drawn out than it needs to be. The biggest and most attractive feature of the EEA agreement is that it gets us out without getting bogged down in minutia. 

So to win this argument you first need to make it absolutely clear that there is zero chance of the process being concluded inside Article 50. David Davis and Theresa May continue to pretend that we can fast track a bespoke deep relationship and have it all tied up in two years. As much as this is a ridiculous fantasy, it is also a lie. We are looking at five years at least to build a bespoke agreement and many more to implement. EEA Efta shortens the process and simplifies the implementation.

Ultimately it's as the old saying goes. The best way to survive a knife fight is not to get in one. The same is true of EU negotiations. An off the shelf solution avoids having to negotiate things we definitely do not want to end up negotiating.

Addressing the issue of being a rule taker, firstly the EEA acquis is substantially less than the whole EU body of law. It pertains mostly to technical governance and it embodies the standards from OIE/Codex/ILO/IPCC/UNECE/ISO which we would adopt in any case. This is the critical component of the whole argument since we are routinely told that we would have no say in the rules. Being that the EU itself is a rule taker we would simply shift our lobbying from Brussels to Geneva to ensure that we shape the rules that the EU adopts. I cannot overstate the significance of UNECE and ISO.

The Tories think that ditching the EEA means we have total sovereignty. They are dreaming. We are not going to diverge substantially. Business doesn't want it and they will continue to work to global standards regardless because insurers and commercial contracts will demand it. There is no economic value in divergence and all you get for your trouble is more red tape and more barriers to trade. All you actually achieve by leaving the single market is losing substantial market participation.

The only real fly in the ointment is the matter of freedom of movement. Now in this, there is a means in EEA Article 112 but it is a hard sell. Everybody is determined to ignore it or shoot it down. It is true that politically it would complicate matters with the EU and if we were to try that on I rather expect we'd be hit with a number of vetoes elsewhere. So this becomes a matter of political strategy.

The way to tackle it is to make a big deal of the fact that there is no concept of EU citizenship in the EEA. That substantially changes the nature of freedom of movement. That is a considerable legal distinction. What we would need to do is tell the public the priority is to complete the technical process of leaving before we address matters of immigration. What we then do, once we have left the EU and started work on implementation, is start a big programme of immigration reforms.

I won't go too deeply into this but ultimately the immigration that bothers people is not from the EU. A very big gesture will have to be made to compensate for maintaining a liberal EU immigration regime. People will expect to see a change in the balance of immigration so some of the loopholes will have to be closed to slow immigration from south Asian countries - and we will have to substantially liberalise borders with Canada, New Zealand and Australia, even if we have to do it unilaterally. It will improve attitudes to immigration. It's as much a matter of changing perceptions.

The most important point I would make is that we are very seriously running out of time. The absolute priority is buying ourselves more time and forcing the government to admit that the process of leaving will take substantially longer. The nature of our future relationship is a secondary matter to the successful conclusion of Article 50 talks. That requires that the government properly engages in the phase one issues as per the EU sequence. We then have to establish the shape of the framework for the interim period with open acknowledgement that this is continuity membership without voting rights. Only then can we seriously talk about the future relationship.

The danger right now is that the government has a seriously flawed idea of how the mechanics of Brexit works and is seeking to do far too much in an unrealistic time frame. I am unable to say if it is a genuine misapprehension or an elaborate web of lies. My worry is that when Barnier once again reiterates that the deal the UK seeks (as outlined in Florence) is not possible under the aegis of Article 50, it will be presented as evidence of EU intransigence and subsequently used as a justification to walk out of talks. They will get away with that if the public continues to believe Article 50 is the whole process.

It is fundamentally important that MPs understand that we are looking at a long and delicate process that will take a number of years. The Tories are trying to rush it because they want it done and dusted before the next election. They are playing fast and loose with the future of the country. It is therefore incumbent on the opposition to seek to educate all involved on the timeframe, the structure and the constraints. The lack of coherence and comprehension is inexcusable.

Once we conclude Article 50 talks we are not up against the clock and there is then space for a more reasoned debate about the future relationship. Presently it is a luxury we do not have. The immediate mission is to expose the government's misapprehension of how the talks work. If we can get that kind of clarity and we progress to the interim phase then the arguments for the single market will make themselves. We will then be in a phase where the agenda is dictated by technical realities.

Securing the interim period (continuity membership) is the immediate goal for the opposition. All they then have to do is run the next election on a platform of Brexit competence with a view to staying in the single market. By that time attitudes will have shifted and they will walk it.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Brexit: breaking the social deadlock

There are two Brexits. There is the culture war Brexit and the technocratic Brexit. There is very little overlap. The former has no knowledge of the technical issues and prefers to ignore them. Brexit is just a stick with which to beat their opponents with. Consequently, as the culture war is so heavily polarised, they favour the hardest Brexit possible. These tend to be the robotic Tory tribalists who tweet Guido Fawkes blogs.

Their adversaries are the pompous celebrities, hard leftists and the Guardian brat pack. Owen Jones et al. These are the politically correct ghouls engaged in witch hunts against not only right wing figures but also political rivals in their own camp. The whole damn thing is a sordid cesspit. But this is what currently passes for political discourse.

On the whole, if I had to pick a side it would still be the right, ghastly as they are. As footsoldiers in the culture war they only really understand the classic divides and when it comes to that I will always be on the opposite side to Jeremy Corbyn and the antisemitic cult that is Momentum.

The problem, however, is that this kind of skirmishing does the right no favours at all. The left have successfully dragged them down to their level. They can scream from the rooftops that Corbyn is a socialist and a pretty foul one at that but it won't matter. Similarly anyone with any political nous can tell that Corbyn is a political lightweight and unencumbered by knowledge of any kind. It's not even going to matter that the modern left are depraved. There is plenty to vote against, but the tories are similarly unattractive.

As you know I am no great fan of Jacob Rees-Mogg and I worry when the anti-abortionist Catholics are on the march. Similarly the free market theologians are just as dangerous as the Momentum crowd. I am very much a advocate of competitive markets and the private sector, but I am also primarily interested in good governance, maintaining the balance of interests. This doesn't factor into current right wing thinking. The only measure of a policy for them is how much the far left hates it. It may be a useful weathervane but that is not a basis for government.

By my reckoning, once this lot deliver a pig's ear of a Brexit, and with a party remodelled to the designs of Matthew Elliott, the public will roll out the red carpet for Corbyn. And to be honest, I don't blame them. It's coming anyway so we might as well get it done and dusted.

This, though, will not be a mandate. Rather it will be the stay at homes who decide the next election. I will be one of them. I will never vote red, but I can't vote Tory and the Lib Dems are an utterly ineffectual mess of virtue signaling opportunists. I will have to endure whatever democracy coughs up. One way or another, by voting to leave the EU we have provoked a political reckoning and the next few years are not going to be pretty.

But then I am not complaining. This is what I voted for, in part at least. I did not expect that Brexit would be this badly mishandled. I had expected that certain realities would present themselves which would dictate the course of events. What I did not anticipate is how detatched from reality Wesminster has become. I have always known about the disconnect and the remoteness of the establishment but since the referendum it has become even more impervious to outside stimulus.

I suspect the reason for this is that even a glimmer of reality is disruptive to their narrative and so they have circled the wagons. Meanwhile an easily distracted and woefully under informed parliament flounders, unable to bring any coherence to the process or usefully apply influence. The whole of Westminster has become self-absorbed and insular to the point where only something like a no deal crash and burn Brexit will bring them into focus.

Even then I expect them to fight like rats in a sack. The government will be forced to step down and perhaps the ultras will be pushed out of the way, or perhaps the hard right will gain control. I can't say. What I can say is that the public will be furious and they will have no patience for the Tories. The following election will return a verdict of "anyone but them".

Ultimately we are at the the very fag end of the post-war political settlement. I rather suspect the EU has been the life support machine and now we are unplugging it, we are having the long deferred democratic correction. There is a long and arduous process to go through, including a failed Corbyn government in order to weed out the garbage. Effectively we will have to rebuild politics from the ground up. 

Before we can do that we need to have this out. This corrosive culture war must play out. In this, the economy is a distant secondary concern. Too much has stagnated for too long and the political impasse is gradually corroding the social fabric.

I saw one such example of this dynamic today. A new NHS-funded scheme had planned to pay a private Airbnb-style company to cut costs of accommodating hospital patients. Through "CareRooms", the NHS would have paid home owners up to £1000 per month to host patients. The aim is to reduce the number of patients remaining in hospital, or other care settings, for the duration of their recovery.

Now I think this is a cracking idea. After all we use foster homes to get kids out of institutions. It provides a decent supplementary income while cutting costs to the NHS, and if the inspectorate is any good, chances are the recovery environment will be far better than some grubby council home staffed by unskilled illegal immigrants sharing the same bogus work permit.

The idea would need some refinement and could only be used in certain cases, but there is a good chance it would see a better surgery survival rate as private homes are not breeding grounds for MRSA etc.

There is another reason why I love this idea. There is a pensioner loneliness epidemic - and there are plenty of retirees with spare rooms who could usefully offer their services. Just because you are retired doesn't mean you are decrepit. The extra income would be valued, it is communitarian in nature, and in some way goes toward restoring the voluntary ethos that New Labour destroyed.

So why isn't it going ahead? Well, you guessed it the NHS socialist cult whined about it. And what was their imaginative solution? Yep. Piss more money way on the NHS. That's always their answer. Anything that isn't the monolithic mega state employing their own is a threat to their powerbase.

This dynamic goes for free schools, playgroups, hospitals and the rest. Everything has to be stamped, sanctioned, numbered and approved by the state and social entrepreneurship is stamped out under the guise of health and safety.

At the heart of it is a deep mistrust of people. Childminders have to be state registered. It's all professionalised now where working mums have to fork out minimum wage. The informal, community based support networks have been replaced by the state. This didn't exist before Tony Blair. Gradually we have been conditioned not to trust the community and instead delegate to the state.

The consequence of this is ever more creeping control and surveillance of the public. It dictates where and how we can interact, it now polices thought, and controls what we eat, drink and smoke. We are managed like cattle. Admittedly things are better since the days New Labour and the financial crisis. Austerity has significantly reduced the state's ability to interfere.

I have always been of the view that government should need the money it gets - and not get the money it "needs". If you want to have anything like a functioning community then the public must be allowed to be involved and encouraged to do so. That though is not how big government thinks.

I would ask why are we farming out park maintenance to large contract firms when they could be maintained by community groups and schools? Why can't volunteer groups work with the Environment Agency to build natural dams to slow flood water? Why are the public not involved in managing their surroundings?

I think this is what Cameron tried to sell with his Big Society vision. I was totally on board for that. Getting the public re-engaged and active is no bad thing. As I keep pointing out the biggest killer of men my age is either heart attacks or suicide. And what are men my age doing?? Sitting indoors playing computer games with the curtains drawn while many of the mums are single and children grow up without dads.

And then I also note some other corrosive habits we have picked up. When the local school near my parents house finishes for the day, the road is choked by cars occupied by waiting parents. They turn up twenty minutes early just to get a parking space. Could they not have walked? They used to. I hear plenty of this selfish behaviour. Doctors being bullied until they prescribe antibiotics or antidepressants, and nurses assaulted in A&E.

And then sometimes I listen into my colleagues whenever I work an office contract. I don't take very kindly to hearing some obese slobbish woman in a full time professional job phoning to complain to the school that she has to pay for a school uniform (after announcing to the office she's just been to Barbados). And then a teacher friend of mine tells me she has parents dropping their children off in pyjamas expecting the teachers to dress and feed their offspring.

Now I know this is anecdotal stuff and I'm starting to sound like Victor Meldrew, but as a people we really are the most selfish, overindulged and petulant bunch. Our society is morally, socially and physically unhealthy because our every whim is fulfilled which in turn stops us thinking long term. It makes us feckless and frivolous. This is why the UK has the worst savings rate in Europe. We expect to be catered for.

Brexit is going to drive a horse and cart through that. Every branch of government is going to have to reappraise what it can be expected to do and Brits are going to have to get used to being told no. No more dumping granny on the council, no more universal freebies, and yes, if you miss a hospital appointment you will be expected to pay. Maybe you won't get to run two cars, and maybe you'll have to walk to pick up your offspring from school - and maybe even talk to other parents. 

Humans are a surprising species. It is interesting how we rapidly adapt. Left to their own devices they will eventually organise for themselves. Humans do not waste away without a monolithic state to wipe their backsides for them. We saw in the wake of the recent Manchester atrocity how people utilised social media to offer a bed for the night, and how taxi drivers took people home for free. It is at these times we see people at their best. So much as the left whine about food banks they are a manifestation of public decency that we should celebrate. This would happen more were we to roll back the state. 

Being in the EU may well have made us wealthier but I do not think it has made us better people. When I look at the entrepreneurship, gumption and self-reliance of the Polish immigrants in the UK I see all of the qualities that have been eroded in British culture. Their very presence is an indication that we have delegated hard work to immigrants and now the natives are the ones "left behind". I see a culture that has had it too good for too long.

As a society we are not used to having to make the sacrifices many immigrants do to get ahead. We are too used to our creature comforts. We are wedded to convenience and we expect to be catered for at the expense of the state. It is hard to see how a culture in such decline can remain globally competitive.

It is interesting that my remarks the other week triggered such widespread outrage – even attracting the ire of The Guardian. People are very attached their entitlements and the good things in life. But what if the good things aren’t good things? What if family, community, self-reliance and personal growth are better? I rather expect that it is – and I wouldn’t mind giving it a try.

British politics become little more than a procession of grievances where people try to shift their own burdens on to others in the name of “compassion” and “fairness”. As a wealthy nation we caved into this to become a nation of victims and deserving cases. Governance has become a horse trading act between competing interests for electoral advantage. If bringing this to an abrupt halt is the one thing Brexit does achieve then, for me, it cannot come soon enough.

All the economists are telling us that leaving the EU is a mistake. The more I learn about trade the weaker the economic case for Brexit is - and it was never that good to begin with. But then I have been aware of that since before the referendum. Perhaps in the longer term Brexit will produce new habits that deliver different results, and we may restore our trade, but I wasn't thinking of the national GDP when I cast my vote.

For me Brexit is about kicking off a social and cultural revolution. A revolution that rocks the public out of their political slumber so that they come together and demand better. After a decade of political turmoil we'll start to work it out. 

Ultimately the status quo was incapable of delivering radical economic and social reform. Good ideas are killed stone dead by the social orthodoxy. The reactionary knee-jerk reaction to social innovations that do not involve the state make any kind of progress impossible. Consequently public service groan under pressure while placing unsustainable obligations on the next generation. All the while the status quo prices the young out of the market for pretty much everything.

Reaminers tell me there were other ways to go about it but it was never going to happen. The politicians are shallow and gutless and afraid to treat the public like adults. The only way to break the deadlock is for a seismic shock like Brexit. The people as much as our politics needs a kick in the complacency. 

I expect that the coming years will see a number of political rows over how we reorganise society. Unions will have to get back to doing what they did. Rights and entitlements will have to be fought for and won rather than imposed by the EU. We will decide and broker our own rights. We will become political again and in so doing we will transform ourselves from docile herd to a human community. 

It might not pan out they way I hope but this is at least an opportunity to build a country that we can all live in and one more at peace with itself. I am routinely told that Brexit has divided the country and broken our politics. I do not subscribe to this view. As a political animal I have been acutely aware that this country has been divided for some time and Westminster has been its own insular bubble for all of my adult life. Now we have an opportunity to correct that. However much I may regret the circumstances of Brexit, I would have regretted passing up this chance alot more. 

Monday, 23 October 2017

Brexit: further down the rabbit hole

Today Theresa May told the Commons "Both sides recognise that the timetable was set out in the Lisbon treaty, which does indeed refer to the future relationship. The withdrawal agreement can only be considered and agreed taking account of the future relationship. It is important that we negotiate that future relationship, so we have both the withdrawal agreement and the future partnership, and the implementation period then is a practical implementation period."

It is still the case that this government believes the whole shebang will be wrapped up inside the two years of Article 50. But then, as is the convention now, May is contradicted by Barnier only a few hours later. Barnier said negotiations over the future would be highly complex and would take many years before they could be put to the national parliaments for ratification. He said: “The two phases are difficult. The second will be very different and will last several years".

Barnier gets it. May does not.

This puts us in dangerous territory. The Brexit Taliban are already plumping for a no deal exit and this is confirmation that May's quickie divorce is not going to happen - and her Florence aspirations are not deliverable. Barnier, not for the first time has driven a horse and cart through May's misconception. Just three weeks ago he stated it as clearly as could possibly be said.
We have little time between now and October/November 2018 to reach an agreement on the orderly withdrawal and – as the British government has requested – a possible transition period, for which the conditions have been clearly defined by your resolution in April, again today, and also by the European Council's guidelines.

This period will be short and supervised, and will involve the full regulatory structure, as well as budgetary and legal conditions, and the role of the European Court of Justice. It was your request to have a short transition period. It is our right to say that this will be subject to the conditions of the Single Market. We were not surprised by this request for a transition period. We foresaw it. We will discuss it at the appropriate time, and that time has not yet come. I would need a mandate for this. I would like to tell Mr. Farage a simple legal point: the trade deal you want cannot be signed by a Member State of the Union. You need to have legally left before we sign this trade deal.
The only thing that has thus far prevented this flaring up into a major row is that May continues to ignore every message from Barnier - and our media is incapable of recognising the significance of what has been said. Eventually May will have to come to terms with reality but until then we are in a bizarre state of denial while the clock ticks down to zero.

As to the implications of Barnier's musing that we will end up with a Canada deal, he is only really taking Mrs May at her word. If May is intent on total regulatory independence, leaving the single market, ending freedom of movement and ditching the customs union, a more generic FTA is all that really remains.

Though this is more in line with the aspirations of the hard Brexiteers, they had not envisaged such a deal taking years nor have they ever acknowledged the complexity of such a process. Any process that takes us beyond the next general election is one that gives Labour an opportunity to change tack toward the single market. Being hostile to the idea we can expect the ultras to sabotage the process to ensure that we leave without a deal.

It is only a matter of time before the elephant in the room becomes visible. There was never any chance of concluding a bespoke Brexit deal in two years. When confronted with this reality the Tories will seek to blame EU intransigence and claim they have no choice to to walk out. God help us now - because nobody else will.

Friday, 20 October 2017

The biggest Brexit fantasy of all

It is oft said that the Brexit Taliban are fantasists with a wholly unrealistic view of what can be achieved. If anyone was living in a fantasy world it is me and my fellow travellers who believed a successful outcome was possible. In a hypothetical world of competent government a measured and intelligent Brexit was indeed possible, but that is on a planet that isn't this one. For it to succeed we would need a media that is a magnitude better than it is and a government substantially less incompetent.

Regular readers will be aware that I now put the chances of a successful conclusion to Article 50 talks at less than ten per cent. I have seen no signals that suggest adequate progress is being made, nor do I see so much as a glimmer of understanding from our  government. If David Davis does have a command of the issues then he is a master at concealing it.

What we should be mindful of, however, is that the public face of Brexit is worlds apart from what is likely happening under the hood, much of it is happening behind closed doors, and many decisions are made in private. We are not privvy to the thinking of the officials involved.

Today there has been the suggestion that some progress is being made and that there are means to unlock the talks, namely a suggestion that scoping for the future relationship will take place under the aegis of Article 50. This has been described as an olive branch from the EU which would seem to suggest the EU is keen for things not to go off the rails, but I think this more an act of sympathy than a result of UK political pressure.

This, though, does not really solve anything in that there will still be no agreement without satisfactorily resolving the three phase one issues, and even scoping talks on trade will come to an impasse since this government has only a vague idea of what it wants and that which it does want is neither practical nor possible.

We should also note that whatever is agreed for Northern Ireland will have major ramifications for the future trade agreement and that will box the UK into a corner of accepting a substantial raft of EU rules if not the entire EEA acquis. This is where the Brexit Taliban will throw their toys out of the pram as like an artillery barrage.

Owen Paterson is leading this charge, repeatedly making mention of mutual recognition of standards and conformity assessment, implying that we should have a free hand in being able to set our own regulations without reference to the EU or consultation with it. As much as this does not facilitate frictionless trade, it is not happen. The EU cannot make such an exception for the UK.

All the EU is able to do inside the aegis of Article 50 is give us some indication as to what a transition will look like and what freedoms we will have inside it. This again is likely to disappoint the ultras in that they believe they will be able to substantially diverge during the next negotiations while signing new free trade agreements.

I cannot see this happening under any circumstances since it would weaken the integrity of the single market outside of any formalised framework and there is a good chance there will be few if any free trade agreements to bring into effect. The shape of any FTAs will largely be dependent on the sort of future relationship we have and no third country will enter discussions until they know what Brexit looks like in finality. Any deal they strike will have ramifications for their EU trade and will need to assess it accordingly.

The more we talk about trade the more the the Ultras will be confronted with the legal and practical fallacies of their their position. The only way they will get the autonomy they speak of will be the WTO option, but that comes at the expense of most of our EU trade and much beyond. Rather than accepting the inadequacies in their own position they will further blame EU intransigence, expanding the narrative to present it as though the EU were seeking to keep us under their control.

All the while the politics on the domestic front will continue to deteriorate and the fleeting goodwill we see on display today will rapidly evaporate. The ignorance of our own government combined with the infighting will continue to obstruct any progress and it is likely that we will simply run out of time about the same time as the EU loses all patience.

Having said that, I am not known for being especially optimistic. I may well have miscalculated somewhere or there may well be a miracle waiting to happen. I do not know. What I do know is that the any measures to unlock talks can only really kick the can down the road. The only way I see a successful conclusion is if this government gets up to speed and tunes into reality. But that really is a Brexit fantasy. There is nothing to suggest that could ever be a reality.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Brexit: the anatomy of failure

Pascal Lamy, former World Trade Organization director-general, has said "The fundamental difference between the UK vision of what this is about and the Franco-German view is that the British still think this is a negotiation. It is not a negotiation. It is a process to be managed to minimise harm. It involves adjusting." Of the UK he said "They still seem to believe they can buy something with the money they have to pay. The truth is there is nothing to discuss. The only question is how much do you owe".

To the uninitiated this may sound belligerent, but in actuality this is smack on target. To even call it a negotiation allows the media to use all the associated lexicon such as ploy, gambit, brinkmanship. It plays well for their agenda of turning everything into a dramatic showdown. That same mentality is one shared by our politicians and that is why we are getting nowhere.

Where the Northern Ireland and citizen's rights are concerned, this is really a matter of joint problem solving. There are only limited options in this so in fact anything that works is what will likely be agreed. The problems start when one side has a limited grasp of how regulatory systems work in practice. Red lines cannot be accommodated and that leads to accusations of intransigence.

On the matter of Northern Ireland, from the outset we are asking the EU for a fudge. The settlement requires an unprecedented relaxation of border controls. Were this to happen inside an FTA then third countries could very well demand the same. That is why the NI agreement has to fall inside a dedicated arrangement as part of the divorce.

In order to safeguard the integrity of the single market, and ensure the settlement is not used as a back door to evade single market controls the UK will not be permitted to substantially diverge from the EU customs regime. Whatever is decided here will have ramifications for the final trade agreement after Article 50 talks.

Being that this government is badly advised, none of their proposals will be workable for the NI settlement or indeed the wider future relationship. To keep customs checks to a minimum it follows that we will have to maintain most single market rules in relation to goods. This is likely to provoke the ire of ultra Brexiteers who believe that the EU can and will grant the UK special dispensation to diverge on standards without coordination or consultation.

This cannot happen. If the UK chooses to depart from the approved practices of the single market then the EU is obliged by its own rules to increase the tempo of inspections. We should also note that conformity to standards alone is insufficient for a light touch customs regime.

The only way we are going to come to an agreement is by recognising the facts on the ground. From there it is a matter of working our the finer details so that we can successfully implement it. There is little room here for ideological red lines without reversing decades of progress. The more we seek to diverge the more red tape we are likely to introduce.

By now we should have the outline of a working template. That much, at least, should have been prepared before triggering Article 50. Instead the government has been unable to offer anything substantive and the issue has all but dropped off the radar. In order to reach agreement the UK contingent must first be patiently trained in the facts of life - which is something they will resist to the last breath. This is where talks are most likely to stall.

On the issue of citizen's rights, this is where we all want the same thing, but we must take care to ensure that any protection of rights does not introduce a parallel legal system that could lead to discrimination or prevent policy autonomy in employment legislation. That is the one area where we can expect the EU will complicate matters. It is easy to see why this is a red line for the UK. Again this is further complicated by Northern Ireland.

One would, therefore, think that the matter of the financial settlement would be the easiest win. Since much of what we agree to pay is that which we would have paid anyway it is difficult to take issue with it, and if we do want to continue a £240bn a year trade relationship then honouring our commitments for the rest seems like a no-brainer. Again though, this is complicated by hard liners who think we owe nothing and that we can trade on WTO rules alone. Penny wise and pound foolish.

Ultimately the only way the UK can get as far as discussing a future relationship is by effectively conceding on most of the issues without complaint. It is in the national interest. This, however, requires a level of understanding that simply isn't there. If the Commission is still having to take the UK contingent through the Janet and John basics with the aid of crayons and fuzzy felt then there is no likelihood of resolving anything inside the two years.

We do not know to what extent progress is being made. It is difficult to separate the politics from the reality in that the politics is in an entirely different universe. Most of the detail is not in the public domain and we can only hope that there is a functioning adult on the UK side. If what is happening behind closed doors is in any way a reflection of what is happening in public then this will drift to the final hour and it will require an extension.

But then, as much as the technical issues make agreement unlikely, it is increasingly likely that the politics will derail talks. In Theresa May's Florence speech she committed the UK to sticking to the current financial framework until we have formally left the EU. This was the fullest extent of the financial offer. In no way does it cover in any honest sense the full obligations. Deliberately so.

May's speech was designed to forward a proposal to be negotiated within the framework of Article 50. A deep and comprehensive relationship. This is entirely in abstract to the sequence of Article 50 talks and was a deliberate attempt to abandon the sequence of current talks.

The ploy is to get the EU to skip the details of the exit settlement and jump ahead to matters of the future relationship. The Article 50 sequence, however, is not plucked out of the air. There are certain formalities which must be observed before talks can progress. No substantive talks on trade will happen until we have formally left the EU. That was always the case and was never going to change.

The Tories are now spinning this by saying the EU is engaged in extortion by turning down May's "reasonable" offer - and is refusing to talk about trade until we agree to part with more money. This is the essential dishonesty of the Tory ploy. The Florence proposal was a deeply cynical ambush to which the EU cannot agree and has already refused. So long as the Tories can keep massaging the "extortion" and "intransigence" narrative, they can manufacture consent to do that which they have been itching to do from the beginning. Walk away.

This works because most observers cannot see why we should pay any amount and are routinely being told that we can trade just as easily on WTO terms alone. Being it politics they are happy to lie about this. You only need fool some of the people some of the time.

What makes this worse is that the media, through some misguided obligation for balance, is unable to categorically say that WTO rules in no way facilitate the kind of frictionless trade upon which much of our industry depends. The media is also unable to understand the basic sequence of the exit process and so they are looking for signs that the EU will open up to talk about trade.

This precipitates a torrent of speculation, building up a parallel universe that has no relation to what is happening in reality. This adds drama to what is essentially a stalemate until the Tories get to grips with reality. With ministers, MPs and journalists all believing in this false reality, there is no coherence and the falsehoods that the Tories depend on take root.

At best the EU is only able to discuss an interim agreement which is likely to be membership in all but name to cover the period from the date of exit until a newly agreed relationship begins. Talks over future relationship will not happen inside Article 50 talks.

Should the EU expand Barnier's mandate to talk about interim agreements, the Tories are in for a shock in that will will not permit any substantial divergence from the EU and will be on their terms alone. The UK will likely still be bound by the Common Commercial Policy and there will be no new third country free trade deals signed in that period. This arrangement, though, will not be signed off unless the three phase one issues of northern Ireland, Citizen's rights and the financial settlement have been agreed.

With that in mind there is precisely zero value in the Tories attempting to change the sequence. There is nothing to be gained by it. There is no avoiding any of it so they have only two options. They can get to grips with reality and properly engage or they can walk out and leave all of the talks to collapse. It will most likely be the latter because with a media as hopeless as ours, and with so little comprehension in government, it is difficult to see how it could go any other way. The only thing left to do is try to gauge how and when it fails.

In this, your guess is as good as mine. They might conclude that they cannot agree and then agree to not have an agreement, instead focussing on doing the bare minimum to prepare for a no deal scenario. There may be an implementation period to make the necessary adjustments, but I don't see that happening unless the UK agrees to pay something at least. I do not envisage this being the case since any hint that this is happening will likely bring down May and her government.

It may be that all sides agree to an immediate and early termination of talks, but this would have to bypass parliament entirely, so again I don't see that happening. More than likely we will go the full two years and drop out by default. There is nothing that compels the government to ask for an extension.

Right now I do not see any chance of these talks concluding successfully. As much as we are short on competence I do not get the impression that the government is acting in good faith and with so many deliberate lies being fed to the public about the viability of leaving without a deal, it rather looks like we are being pushed over the cliff - whether we want it or not.

The Spectator is an affront to decency

Liam Halligan is a practised liar but this latest piece in the Spectator has to be worthy of some sort of prize. He rolls out all the classic canards, none of which stand up to close scrutiny. We are used to this. This is conscious and deliberate dishonesty from the Brexit ultras - and no matter how flimsy the foundations, they continue to repeat the same lies.

Halligan asks "If trading under WTO rules is so bad, how does the UK already sell the majority of its exports beyond the EU, largely under such rules?". The simple answer is that it doesn't. All of our external trade relations are through EU trade agreements.

We should also note that UK-EU trade is on a wholly different level to everyone else in the world. For instance, how many ro-ro ferries are there plying the Atlantic, delivering perishable goods for immediate consumption and JIT components for retail sale and to supply manufacturing plants?

This kind of trade is only made possible by way of having no formalities at the borders. This is how goods arrive at their destination only a few hours after dispatch. This is not just a question of conformity to standards. Even fully compliant products shipped from the United States are subject to lengthy and sometimes intrusive border controls. Fortunately, with the longer shipping time, document checks can be made while the goods are still in transit, but it is still the case that trade with the US and other distant partners is in containerised or bulk cargo.

The nature of our trade with the EU though is the vast bulk (well over 70 percent) is in driver-accompanied loads. It's through the Channel tunnel or by short sea shipping, with no customs formalities of any nature. That trade was built up after we joined the EEC, and is basically a child of the Single Market. The trade relies on speed of throughput at the ports. There are not the facilities or infrastructure to deal with border checks. It couldn't survive the uncertainties of a rigorously policed border where lorries are routinely delayed by hours and can be held for days.

Time and again have we been over this and to adequately dismantle every claim in Halligan's article would take all night. But then that is all part of the strategy. The time and effort required to refute bullshit is a magnitude larger than it takes to produce it. What is new, though, is a particular twist of language - a distortion of reality.
Once the drama of Brexit is over, beyond March 2019 and any subsequent transition, WTO rules can be used as a ‘platform’ to cut an FTA with the EU under less time pressure, making a better deal more likely. While some UK firms worry that WTO rules will hurt ‘complex supply chains’ across the EU, most manufacturing components are zero-rated so would not attract any tariffs. Our EU deficit also means, under WTO rules, that the UK pays less in export tariffs than it receives, creating several billion pounds in net revenues for the Exchequer each year. The surplus could be used to compensate sectors like cars and agriculture, where tariffs on UK exports are likely to be higher.

‘No deal’ — trading with the EU with no FTA — is an entirely coherent position. It is very different from just ‘walking away’, which means failing to settle administrative issues such as mutual recognition agreements on exports. No one is advocating such an approach. It is unthinkable that existing and uncontroversial EU protocols granted to countless other non-EU members would not apply to Britain. For Brussels to deny such rights would breach WTO and EU treaties, while incensing EU businesses and voters by threatening billions of euros of profit and countless EU jobs.
As is typical with the Brexit ultras, in order to push their poison they have to redefine language. In Halligan's mind,"no deal" means no formal FTA but a successful completion of separation talks with an implementation period. The embedded lie here is that mutual recognition agreements are part of the exit settlement. Categorically they are not. These would have to be part of a formal post exit FTA. There are no default privileges and those granted to other countries are inside the formal agreements, not as part of WTO rules. The absence of which is what interrupts supply chains. Whether tariffs are payable is entirely secondary.

Halligan then blithely asserts that "When it comes to lurid scare stories about planes not flying, Europe’s ‘Open Skies’ agreement applies to many non-EU nations and those outside the single market. The UK boasts a huge aviation industry, with numerous EU-based airlines using our airports. That gives us much leverage". It is true that non-EU countries participate in the EU aviation market, but not without a formal agreement. Having no deal with the EU most certainly means the UK loses all of its participation. Aircraft will be grounded.

What we are looking at here is a sustained campaign of political lying that far exceeds any claims written on a bus. This isn't an innocent misconception of how things work. This is a deliberate re-framing of issues and redefining of language in order to turn cat into dog. That is what makes The Spectator complicit in steering the UK toward an economic calamity. This is not mere opinion. They are engaged in propaganda. Nobody with integrity could have published this.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Brexit: taking the power back

All too often people tell me that much of what is wrong with the UK is nothing to do with the EU. These are the same who tend to argue that EU membership has little impact on our daily lives hence there is no good reason to leave. I wholly resent that.

The subtext of this argument is that is that we should only be concerned with conventional domestic politics and completely disregard the EU because its influence is not overt. We plebs should confine our concerns to the mundane politics of schools and hospitals.

Except of course the bulk of EU governance is that which is largely invisible to us. This is anything from directives on water and energy to workers rights, all of which have a profound impact on labour market fluidity, utility bills and council tax.

In this the EU may not tell us what to do directly, but it can define the parameters a policy must fall within. It narrows the scope of what can be done, therefore places limits on local authorities and obliges them to prioritise things that would otherwise be lower down the agenda. A good deal of local authority and national agency activity is implementing policy according to targets and quotas rather than any particular practical or urgent objective.

Very often it is difficult to tell where UK policy ends and EU directive begins. This then begs the question as to whether UK authorities are working in the service of the public or working to implement EU ideals or harebrained regulatory objectives. That raises further questions as to whose  interests are served since very often regulatory agendas at the EU level can be captured by corporates and NGOs alike. To whom are they accountable?

Over the course of the last three years we have seen a number of self-important "fact checkers" attempting to debunk myths about the EU, very often struggling to tell what is a Whitehall initiative and what is genuinely from the EU. There are then times when it is an EU directive or regulation which is simply badly implemented. Conflicting objectives or just run of the mill incompetence.

Very often the EU is unfairly scapegoated but then there are other times where the EU can blame member states for what is essentially bad EU policy that was never going to work. The blame game works both ways. Half the time it is impossible to tell who is accountable for what.

Then there are times when we find we are seeking integration and standardisation at great expense for its own sake. On the continental mainland there might well be advantages to standardising approaches to infrastructure, but the UK in more ways than one is an exception by way of being an island and one where transboundary travel is less frequent and for most through a single entry point.

It is this overall confusion that allows ministers to shirk accountability. Policies that lie beyond our control mean that some issues are never adequately addressed and we are forced to take expensive remedial action to deal with the consequences of ill-thought out policies. The hidden cost of EU membership. The EU might not be directly to blame but it can be a causal influence to a degree that few fully comprehend.

Though leaving the EU will never simplify complex systems of governance, we will at least know who is to blame, and there will be no excuses to evade urgent remedy. Nor will ministers have to jet off to Brussels to persuade twenty seven other members that we ought to be allowed to modify our approach to landfill sites or inshore fishing. The public are rightly tired of being fobbed off with excuses and tired of being told things are not directly in our control.

This dynamic has its more obvious examples. Onshore wind turbines are unpopular with a large part of the public and though there is no EU instruction to build them, the obligation to source from renewable energy, combined with the practicality of other means, dictates that we get wind turbines whether we want them or not. We despoil treasured wilderness simply because there is no other cost effective means of meeting an arbitrary target.

That is one of the more visible symptoms of being in the EU that the public understands, but it runs much deeper than that with the EU having influence on technical governance to a massive degree. This is why leavers are suspicious of the EU because we simply don't know to what extent ideological measures are pushing up the cost of living.

More to the point, with parameters on things like energy being dictated by Brussels our decision making is hobbled therefore so is our democracy. While we are working to EU directives politics is unable to function as it should. Immediate practical needs and demands form the public are secondary to EU objectives.

We are told that leaving the EU still means we would adopt a good deal of EU law, but in the round this is mainly concerned with product directives and issues pertaining to trade. It is a sacrifice of direct sovereignty but largely in the greater good. Brexit is about removing EU influence from those areas such as utilities which are largely none of its business. Brexit removes a whole layer of unwelcome and unaccountable government.

For the most part the EU has no direct power over the UK in terms of being an executive, but it does shape the decisions taken in our name and increasingly robs the public of their power to influence policy. Though I don't wake up worrying about the Large Combustion Plant Directive or the Water Framework Directive, I do worry about the CCJ threat on the doormat over my water bill - and I do wonder why year on year I pay more for energy.

You can argue that the EU is not responsible but if I ask you to prove it, the moment you try you'll run into a barrage EU regulatory frameworks and directives. You'll then have to outline why it is in our interests for this level of authority to lie in the hands of Brussels and not local authorities.

Ultimately if we want to stop the rot we first need to shorten and clarify the chain of accountability. We must then restore the means to unilaterally repeal bad and obsolete law and delete those measures which exist only for the purposes of political integration. Eliminate the roadblocks and you eliminate the excuses.

The balance between trade and sovereignty is a fine line to walk and the trade-offs will continue to plague policymakers. There will always be debate about where the line should be drawn. What we can say, though, is that continued membership of the EU will gradually result in ever more competences being transferred to the EU to the point where they are beyond the influence of those we consciously elect.

The way remainers talk you would think that democracy and sovereignty were entirely meaningless and inconsequential concepts. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we are not able to usefully shape the rules by which we live on a national and local level then the agenda is being steered by others who do not value our lives, landscapes and habitats as we do. Things we value are merely assets and liabilities on a Brussels ledger.

Brexit is not a nationalist ideology at work. It is simply a recognition that people who live and work here are the best judges of who should govern and how, and that nominally efficient technocracy will never value those things that make us unique, nor will it respect those things that transcend GDP growth in importance.

We are told that we leavers are not rational in placing politics ahead of economics. This is another view I resent. Ultimately humans are not rational. And that's a great thing because humans at their most rational are barbarians. It is cold rationality that said it was cheaper to send fresh slaves to the gulags than sacks of food. The things we value very often are not rational and based entirely on sentimentality. And thank god for that. What a sterile place this would be otherwise.

Remainers think they are owed a cold and rational data driven reason for wanting to leave the EU. They are owed nothing of the kind. We stand on the principle that if power does not reside in the hands of people (and their politics) then we do not have democracy. Those who think it dispensable for the temporary certainty of the status quo are foolish - because the noose of invisible government will slowly strangle the vitality from our politics and demolish any semblance of accountability. For that we will pay.

I am far from alone in voting for Brexit despite the costs that come with it. We are simply correcting the mistakes of several administrations who traded away power that was not theirs to give away. There was always going to be a price for that - but that is what we eurosceptics have always warned about. Now that Brexit is upon us, it is incumbent on us all to make sure we don't pay a higher price than we have to in order to retake that which is ours. It may come at a high cost but in the end democracy is priceless. It is not for sale at any price.