Thursday, 29 March 2018

Brexit realists must reclaim the argument


As a thought exercise I sat down to come up with fifty distinct reasons to leave the EU. It wasn't that difficult and that was without climbing heavily into the details - and nowhere on that list was immigration. What those reasons are, for the purposes of this post, is neither here nor there. The question is more one of which of those issues is resolved by Brexit?

That's where Brexit becomes problematic because some of its worst facets remain the same long after Brexit and are in fact amplified for the UK by way of having left. For instance, EU trade policy becomes no less murderous and its protectionist tendencies will likely be worst after Brexit and we will feel the consequences of them more acutely.

 A common theme running throughout was how the EU limits our abilities to decide things unilaterally, but that is without examining the consequences of what happens when we do act unilaterally without the necessary clout to handle the repercussions. Regulatory divergence, for instance, is one of those things where we can nominally repatriate the power but there are few advantages in actually diverging.

The therefore find that the gains from Brexit are very often only in principle or only theoretical. We will, for instance, have the power of veto in a number of forums, but in all likelihood will seldom every deploy such measures. This is the Norwegian experience with the EEA where it finds it must build up political capital by choosing its battles carefully. Win some, lose some.

Meanwhile there are obvious trade-offs like fishing where we could fetishise sovereignty and control to the max but find our market for fish substantially diminished. The same goes for agriculture and aviation.

The essential problem with the EU is that it takes all of these considerations and places then under a single treaty framework which leads to a gradual transfer of authority where we eventually find that the levers of power in Westminster aren't attached to anything.

Nowhere is this more observable than in the domain of trade, and especially WTO affairs. Ronald Stewart-Brown commenting in 2008 on the failed Doha round had this to say about it:
… it needs to be emphasised, the UK no longer has any meaningful existence in the world of international trade negotiations as it has ceded Brussels controls of most aspects of its trade relations with third countries apart from currency and trade promotion. While she retains nominal WTO membership, it is now in reality little more than a region of the EU in trade policy terms, with the periodic right to nominate one of its nationals as EU trade commissioner.
In the early days of UK membership, when EEC decision-making on trade policy was primarily inter-governmental, the Department of Trade and Industry was a leading and respected player in EEC trade policy matters. But as EU trade policy decision-making became more supranational so DTI trade policy expertise gravitated to the commission in Brussels. The dropping of the word trade from the department’s title when it was renamed last year as BERR (the department of business, enterprise and regulatory reform) says it all.
Gradually we find we are being erased as a nation state in all the ways that matter in international arenas, and at a pace so glacial we barely notice that the machinery of the EU is taking over, making our own politicians puppets to be paraded to give the illusion of influence. This is why the argument that British influence would decline if we left the EU was unconvincing. The damage is already done. 

We are told that the EU amplifies our influence, but only in so far as our agenda chimes with that of the Commission and to an extent the Council, but that is where we see a globalist groupthink take over where our respective establishments are unlikely to oppose any initiatives, especially if it be an act of global virtue signalling. If the UK found itself wanting to go in a different direction to the herd (and the fact that it never does is part of the problem) it would find it has no more influence than being a lowly pipsqueak member state.

But then by the same token the UK cannot expect to wield massive influence as an independent member of the WTO either. Multilateralism hinges on building consensus and choosing alliances. Brexit goes some way toward making that possible but again the potential is only theoretical simply because Brexit does not change the Westminster groupthink or break its habitual conformity. 

To get the benefits of being an independent state we have to start acting like it - and there is no outward sign that much as sunk in. In fact, it is telling that British trade wonks fancy their chances of a career by jumping ship to Brussels think tanks because their dogmatic mindset matches that of the EU.

One of the biggest problems arising from Brexit is that the UK has forgotten how to act as an independent nation and no longer has any concept of what is in the direct national interest. Trade wonkery in Europe has gone native and unlike the USA its denizens posses not a shred of patriotism. that's what makes UK academia, trained in the doctrines of Brussels, next to useless, bordering on dangerous.

The worst of the damage from Brexit will come as a result of playing the game by the old rules with UK politicians still failing to come to terms with the fact that the UK is not the power it believes itself to be - an illusion that the EU has sustained for the last four decades. 

Worse still we have yet to realise that the EU has acquired its own distinct trade personality and a patriotism of its own among its own officials where we will find that the EU is no ally in trade affairs. When it comes to something like expelling Russian diplomats in response to the Salisbury poisoning, we can expect some token solidarity but that does not happen in the realm of trade. We are going to have to get used to the idea that the EU is not interested in cooperating with third countries, nor will it be looking to do us any favours.

Moreover the UK will find that it is not nearly as popular among its former colonies as it belies itself to be, with former Commonwealth nations having trade concerns of their own, not least new regional trade initiatives in Africa where we could very well see Africa become a fourth standards superpower in the years to come. 

The point here is that in order to maximise the utility of our new found sovereignty and independence we will need entirely new strategies where we shall have to look at how mid ranking nations operate, rendering much of our EU experience obsolete. 

In this we find we can no longer afford the pretence of an ethical trade policy. It already looks like the UK will break from the EU intention to curb palm oil imports from Malaysia and Indonesia. Our ecological pretensions outside of any global framework will have to take a back seat. 

That is perhaps one of the more bruising consequences of Brexit in that it will shatter our self-image as a moral actor under the EU umbrella - however bogus that may have been. That, I suppose is no bad thing. A trade first trade policy might be a welcome novelty instead of the finger-wagging and preening we see from the "international community". 

What is clear is that of itself, Brexit achieves very little and puts our establishment way out of its depth, having to confront a world of labyrinthine complexity when it can barely master the basic definitions of the EU apparatus. How well we do will be entirely contingent on how well we can re-focus our civil service and change the institutional mindsets within it. 

The mood in international trade has, since Trump and Brexit taken a more aggressive turn, which has the potential to turn into a global trade war. Though nobody wants this, trade is very much back on the agenda and very much en vogue and will be the driver of international conversations in the next decade. It could very well serve as a cleansing forest fire as the global economy adapts to a new phase of globalisation.

Again this will require a new mindset. Being that we are but a small ship in rough seas, our safety net is not the EU, rather it is strengthening the global institutions and multilateral frameworks in whatever way we can. As much as the WTO serves as a stabilising factor, we must be cautious not to row back on the progress in global regulatory harmonisation. Noises from the Tories about slash and burn deregulation are entirely the wrong signal to send.   

It is these considerations that should steer our approach to Brexit. The mantras from the Tory right about taking back control of our laws, money and borders may well be what the public assumed they were voting for but there are real world practical limitations where more control in theory means substantially less in practice. Options are restricted, choices narrow and consequences more severe. 

The USA can afford to fetishise sovereignty in that it is a superpower that to a large extent does not need trade outside of a foreign policy - but if the UK turns down that path it will find that sovereignty without the power to wield it is meaningless. 

As a leaver I accept that Brexit comes with limitations and will likely slide to become only a mid ranking power, but I see that more as a political and cultural realignment that is long overdue and one which confronts a number of our long held delusions. I see that as healthy. The question is whether our political class can also be disabused of its pretensions. As a Scotsman said to me just recently, England is a country in need of liberation from the British. He's not wrong. These delusions have long fed a residual self-image that has caused us to meddle where we shouldn't.

As much as Brexit has robbed our political class of its veneer of competence and alerted us to the state of our political atrophy, in will in turn we a wake up call to a country that has been asleep at the week, disengaged from international affairs and all to happy to delegate governance to Brussels. Lifting the veil of Brussels exposes a whole universe of global governance that we must navigate as an independent actor. We may not be in any shape to do that presently, but at least acknowledging it exists will be a start. 

There are those who will regard any Brexit as a failure - and if the mantras of the Brexiteers are the benchmark by which we consider Brexit a success then Brexit will fail. The challenge for Brexit realists, therefore, is to reclaim the argument and make it clear that Brexit is less about restoring a perfect indivisible sovereignty, rather it is a matter of repatriating the decision making. 

Brexit has never been an economic proposition and it was a politically motivated folly by Vote Leave Ltd to ever pretend it was. This was primarily about democracy, warts and all, and the legacy of Vote Leave will have been to sour the appetite for that worthy goal. 

The only way Brexit could ever deliver on what was promised, or provide remedy to any of our complaints about it is for the EU to stop existing. Though I certainly wish that were the case, such wishful thinking has no place in the Brexit process. We shall have to contend with the EU whether we like it or not - and that reality is not going away any time soon. 

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Morons of Brexit


Being that we are a year away from Brexit, as a blogger one is semi-obliged to mark the occasion, but then since everybody else will doubtlessly feel obliged to fill space I figure I won't add to the problem by generating more pointless noise. Instead I thought I would outline what I have to put up with which might explain my current attitude to, well, just about everybody.

To start with I need reiterate where I'm coming from. I am of the view that the EU sucks the big one. Call it what you want but ultimately it's just another government and one even less democratic than the one in London. We should therefore not be content to suffer this. We should leave the EU - but we have to have something to put in place of membership.

In this we must be mindful that the sovereignty as imagined by Brexiters doesn't exist and there is no mode of Brexit that delivers any of the promises made by Vote Leave or Brexiters in general. That much is a demonstrable fact as outlined over the last two years on this very blog.

So what what, of itself, does Brexit improve? Well, nothing. EU membership is merely a symptom of a glacial political decay in London, which has in recent years and months begun to accelerate exponentially and Brexit merely affords us a window to do something about it.

But this is why I do not find common cause with my fellow Brexiters. There are three basic types of Brexier. There are those who think Brexit is the answer to all our problems and the EU is the cause of them. I cannot even begin to bridge the gap between me and those people. There's just no conversation to be had there that doesn't end with me banging my head on the desk.

Then there are the Brexiters who can only see Brexit in binary terms and anything other than a complete severance of all relations with the EU is a betrayal of Brexit. These tend to be the morons who read Spiked Online, who on the face of it seem intelligent enough to grasp the mechanics of Brexit - but in practice prove to be no more sentient than the average Brexit knuckle-scraper - only they'll quote John Stuart Mill at you for completely tangential reasons as a means of establishing their superiority - and to disguise the fact that they don't wish to be sullied with things like details.

Then there is the somewhat more reasonable type who can at least acknowledge that we need a negotiated exit but believe all the answers to all the questions can be resolved by "creative thinking" without regard to planet earth and the rule of law. Some seem to think that Brexit also means the EU stops existing altogether and we can go back to year zero like the last forty years didn't happen. I could make progress with those such individuals if only there were an eternity to go through the issues with them individually.

Then there are London Brexiters who manage to combine all the toxicity of the above but are imbued with an unshakeable view that the entire leave movement revolves around Vote Leave and denizens of London Tory circle-jerkery - with no concept of anything existing outside London, how much damage they're doing, or precisely how stupid they are.

I am told if only I was a bit nicer and didn't go out of my way to alienate these people then they would be a bit more receptive to my message - but we have been over this time and again. It doesn't matter how well argued or well referenced an argument is. It does not make a dent on well worn tribal narratives. I am, therefore, doubling down on my attempts to alienate as many people as possible just to see if there is anybody sane left at the end of the process.

As it happens it tends to be the non-obsessive remainers who are most receptive to what I write and even though they are not necessarily my target audience it is nice to know the effort is appreciated by someone. But then it's not just Brexiters who inhabit the moron column. Remainers have become super-unhinged this week.

Remain-world is an increasingly weird place where, according to them, we are all brainwashed by a bizarre combination of a red bus, Russian bots, big data directed marketing and spooky algorithms. We could not possibly have arrived independently at the conclusion that the EU blows goats.

Like the ultra-Brexiters, there is no possibility of sane or honest dialogue. There is now a multi-million pound "Stop Brexit" industry that chases after every parked car and believes absolutely anything it is told no matter how absurd. They are now the mirror universe Ukip. Lord Adonis is the new Nigel Farage.

What's super-moronic about this bunch is the apparent view that we should "stop Brexit to fix Britain", and though by my own admission Brexit of itself accomplishes bugger all, even if we could sweep it all under the rug we would be unleashing all kinds of hell. The least clever idea of all the options.

Worse still, Twitter has become so polarised that anybody sane has tuned out of Brexit completely - and I don't blame them because my own sanity is hanging from a thread - and many would argue I have already gone three-sheets-to-the-wind mental. They might not be wrong.

In fact, it probably is me who is the deficient one here and probably the biggest moron of all. Anyone with any sense would have moved on to do something more productive than argue with any of them. Politics is one field where the accumulation of knowledge is wasted energy and is in fact a career disability.

Every day it gets harder to say something original about Brexit and the only thing that keeps it in the public eye is the occasional manufactured outrage - which is increasingly jumping the shark and heavily dependent on recycled material. I have now seen every permutation of every stupid argument and every form of self-deception and mental contortion there is.

That is not to say that there isn't further debate to be had but we cannot expect a seismic change in tone until we have formally left the EU and trade talks begin. After which we can expect a new mutation of moronics - where the dishonest meets the profoundly stupid. Having left the EU there will be those on both sides seeking to push their preferred outcomes, each in respect of their own dogmas rather than what represents the best settlement for the UK.

Top of the moron mountain, though, is still our media; the Pestons, Marrs and Kuenssbergs of this world who clutter up Sunday morning television - who only carry an air of competence by way of on-screen comparators - a bizarre subspecies of moron that we elect for reasons that completely escape me. Though Westminster is a veritable moronathon it still doesn't compete with our media which seems to exist solely for the purpose of misinforming politicians who listen to nobody else but the media.

I can, therefore, conclude that my existence as a Brexit blogger is possibly one of the most futile pursuits known to man. The only man I know of with a more bleak destiny is the driver of Elon Musk's roadster coasting toward the abyss of deep space - and being but a mere mannequin he still knows more about Brexit than our entire establishment combined. At this point I wouldn't mind his job but no swap would be on offer because he sure as shit wouldn't want mine.

Monday, 26 March 2018

The London Brexit luvvies need to grow up or shut up.


Here is a reason why you should despise the flappy-mouthed London Brexit luvvies. Galileo is Europe's own global navigation satellite system, designed as a competitor to the United States’ GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, and China’s Beidou. Plan is for Galileo to be fully operational 2020.

There's a lot of UK money invested in it and a lot of high quality jobs dependent on it. We have also geared a lot of our defence toward being part of that system. Nobody wants an EU army but we are not a superpower and we can no longer afford to maintain a standing army and a vast fleet of ships so, we do look toward defence cooperation.

Being that the EU has decided to amalgamate its industrial defence policy the UK has no choice but to talk to the EU one defence matters. Brexit does not make the EU disappear. The post-referendum question has always been one of what sort of relationship we want with it.

The question here is whether we want to divest from the Galileo system, and if so what do we replace it with and if not, what level of usage rights do we want, how much are we prepared to pay and if we are prepared to pay should we be satisfied with mere observer status without any technical or political input?

Grunting slogans like "Leave means leave" and "I know what I voted for!" does not answer these questions. In this there is a greater philosophical question in that if we do decide to ditch Galileo then we face the choice of going cap in hand to the USA or significantly downgrading our military capabilities to being just a national defence force. Did the referendum provide an answer to that question? No.

Similar questions have to be asked and answered in respect of Europol and Euratom. In an ideal world these would be agencies independent of the EU for multilateral cooperation irrespective of political union. But they aren't. They are EU institutions and they exist whether we want them to or not.

So while the likes of Claire Fox, Brendan O'Neill, Julia Dunning Kruger and the London Brexit circle-jerk shout slogans, cheering on their binary Brexit they completely concede the battleground to remainers and civil servants on all of these issues - leaving it to the adults who have to contend with these realities - and with no political input will simply concede to leash agreements overseen by the ECJ.

As each of these technical questions emerges officialdom will simply conclude that they may as well take the path of least resistance because nobody is going to notice, nobody is going to care, and little by little they rebuild every strand of EU membership - simply because there were no alternative ideas on the table. And then those same Brexit luvvies will cry betrayal and complain that we are run by technocrats.

And here I have to admit to something. When it comes to Galileo I have no idea if we should maintain our share of it. It has its roots in military me-tooism - another bauble of superstate pretensions not dissimilar to the already obsolete A380. But here's the thing; whether we want it to exist or not is by the by. It does exist, we paid for it and we don't have an alternative idea on the table.

Extrapolating this, we can apply the same concerns to customs cooperation, air travel, agriculture and fishing. What good is sovereignty without the power and the capital to wield it? Why pull a fish out of the sea if there's no market to sell it to?

I have reasonably good answers to a lot of these questions but I'm wasting my breath and my time. I can write a boiler plate rabble-rousing Brexit blog along with the best of them insisting that democracy is respected, but the need for international cooperation does not evaporate with Brexit and Brussels is still the regional superpower.

By insisting that Brexit is a binary estimation and only the total demolition of UK-EU economic cooperation qualifies as "full Brexit" we stand to lose a great deal. For what exactly?

We are told Brexit is for democracy so that we are free to decide things for ourselves, yet the people at the forefront of these arguments are those who take zero interest in any of it and are entirely at ease with these decisions being delegated to others. What then was the point? If it is all to be conceded to technocrats why did we even bother?

Brexit is a decade long trek through a minefield where a wrong step could very well be a disaster. If we concede the territory to the ultra-Brexit zealots, the kind the London luvvies are only too happy to cosy up to, then there's a good chance of regulatory collapse and the loss of all formal external relations - leading to a decade long depression - and all of the miserable consequences therein.

But then there is also the danger that leavers take so little interest in the details that we end up with Brexit in name only, tied by a million threads - done so discreetly that no Brexiteer will even notice what has been done to them.

This requires that those who pushed for Brexit take an active role in scrutinising it instead of throwing a toddler like tantrum at every concession and crying "betrayal".

The fact is that we do need an enhanced relationship with the EU, we will be paying into the EU budget, we will have shared jurisdiction in a number areas of cooperation and we will be adopting rules be they European or international - because that is how the world works. To insist that none of this is necessary and that "we voted for Brexit" - with no regard to the real world dilemmas of globalisation - is just teenage petulance.

Ultimately we wanted this revolution and now we've got it. What we end up with really all depends on what we say and do now - and choosing allies with care. Right now all we're doing is handing the keys to the country to the disaster capitalists on the Tory back benches and their useful idiots in the Westminster bubble. I guarantee you that is not the Brexit any of us voted for.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Vote Leave: nest of vipers


The frustrating thing about Brexit is that it goes from zero activity to a fog of issues - not all of which can be addressed so one has to pick one's battles. That means I am temporarily going to be distracted by legacy issues rather than watching what is happening with Article 50 talks. That would be the unfolding Brexitgate story.

An investigation by Carole Cadwalladr has "revealed" something I thought everybody already knew. But that's how it goes. The media has no institutional memory and things are only a scandal when they decide they exist. This latest fishing expedition is a classic media feedback loop where so many decoy rounds are fired that it's impossible to tell what the central issue is.

One suspects the Guardian has gone a-la-carte where the legacy media will pick up whatever sounds the most plausible. The usual wibble about data analytics has been and gone and the story now seems to settle on the testimony of a whistleblower in respect of some accounting irregularities - which could very easily land the directors of Vote Leave deep in the meekrob. Essentially Vote Leave is guilty of something but nobody has yet pinned it down.

Naturally Brexiters on Twitter have gone back into fight mode sending up a barrage of whataboutery, where again mention is made of the government's £9m booklet delivered to every house along with every branch of the state becoming the mouthpiece of Brussels. There is no question that the leave campaign was massively outgunned by pretty much every metric, but none of that matters if, in law, Vote Leave did indeed break the rules.

Being that Vote Leave was a pretty squalid organisation headed up by people who would sell their own grandmothers I have no problem believing they did break the rules. The Darren Grimes angle for starters seems a little off. You don't transfer the better part of a million quid to a child unless you're up to something nefarious. No adult would allow themselves to be used in such a way.

As to the wider implications, there will no doubt be some, and the political ramifications will cast a long shadow. What it won't do, as remainers hope, is stop Brexit. Too many wheels are in motion and those in power presently will do pretty much anything to frustrate the process until we are formally out.

What it will accomplish as a side effect is something this blogger welcomes with open arms. Finally it will shine a light on the sordid nest of Tory think tanks and their respective sock puppets, and their funding. This is where yet again a number of open secrets once again become scandalous "revelations". One such example being that Labour Leave was in fact a Tory sock puppet funded by the usual suspects. Shocked! Shocked I tell you! as the late Helen Szamuely would have said.

We are also told that JCB are reported to have given nearly £2.5 million to the Conservatives last year alone, as well as donations to Vote Leave, Grassroots Out and Brexit think tank the Bruges Group worth a total of £643,000. This is the JCB pushing for hard Brexit which would explain why overgrown schoolboy, Robert Oulds, of the Bruges Group pulled out of The Leave Alliance to go the full kiptard.

Though this could all be very damaging to the Brexit cause, I would point out that it is less to do with Brexit as it is the Westminster culture - particularly on the Tory right. I am totally in favour of Brexit but I won't defend any of the London Brexit think tanks or Vote Leave personnel because as much as I voted to expose the incompetence of Westminster, people also need to know how corrupt it is.

The Bruges Group, Taxpayers Alliance, Institute of Economic Affairs, Freedom Association, Civitas and the likes have always shared the same handful of donors - and they would all sell their own mothers to maintain their place in the power nexus. They are the Tory establishment. It's all part of the same Tory circle-jerk, which includes Conservative Home, Tim Montgomerie, Fraser Nelson, the Telegraph editorial staff, and all of the other brown-nosers who pollute the media with Brexit bullshit.

They've been waiting for years for an EU referendum. They always knew there would be plenty of money sloshing around and plenty of opportunity for getting their hands in the till. Vote Leave was their animal. They moved in and hijacked the campaign with the help of the Electoral Commission.

This is what they planned to do all along. Half of the sock puppet think tanks owe their existence to what was always going to be an inevitable EU referendum. Most of these organisations are AstroTurf with a public front but survive mostly private money - much of it undeclared.

This is why Ukip didn't get a look in. The left reckon Farage was "establishment" but he was never in the gang. He wasn't "one of us" - nor was Arron Banks which is why the real grassroots outfits were frozen out. There was a Westminster coup and the leave campaign was stolen. Then, as you know, half the parasite Brexiter MPs saw Vote Leave as a career opportunity - Johnson especially, and these people didn't care whether we won or not. I've seen planes land backwards and water flowing up hill but I will never see a Tory with convictions.

In the end it seems the Tory Brexit mafia have no interest in taking back control, except for themselves, just long enough to bring about a firesale of UK assets and then hand the mess that's left to the Labour party and let Corbyn carry the can.

But they could never do it alone. They need their useful idiots like Julia Dunning-Kruger and Brendan O'Neill to polarise the debate for them - to manufacture public consent for a self-immolation Brexit. And that's why they hire presentable (but compliant) little girlies to do their dirty work for them.

My own estimation of where Brexit is going is increasingly bleak. There may be opportunities down the line to try and salvage this mess but for the moment there is such disarray, institutional paralysis and a sizeable dose utter boredom, that a trainwreck Brexit is more likely than ever - if not by design then by accident. With Brexit's useful idiots doing the work of the Tory Brexit mafia, sane Brexit has few allies and remainers are so wrapped up in Cadwalladr's smokescreen that they think reversing Brexit is actually possible.

With so little attention focused where it needs to be with no coherent political will to stop us going over the cliff, it seems all we can do is look on with impotent resignation. What it will mean is that when it happens it won't just be the remainers out for blood. There will be very serious questions asked and the Brexit Taliban will have a lot of explaining to do. Since these people have done me no favours and are owned nothing by leave voters, I see no obligation to defend that particular little dungheap. 

If Brexit achieves anything at all it will be to expose just how sordid Westminster really is. Moreover it exposes one simple truth. That power resides in the hands of a the few and that our democratic process is an illusion. Of what little democracy there is it has proven incapable of defending the common interest and has failed to assert itself at every test. We have a hopelessly inept Londoncentric media with the narrative completely controlled by just a handful of politicians and moneymen. For all that we have spoken of defying the establishment, the Tory establishment has succeeded in appropriating Brexit for its own ideological ends - but mainly out of self-interest.  

One way or another we are going to have a reckoning. Many of these malevolent forces have been stalking politics for decades waiting to strike. We were always going to have to fight them. It is a pity that it will have to come to economic ruin and all out political war to rid ourselves of them.

What happens from there I cannot say. There is little to salvage from the wreckage of the Tory party and the Labour party is already quietly imploding. That kind of political incoherence cannot last forever. Order will have to reassert itself somehow - and when faced with a trainwreck Brexit, public tolerance for incompetence will not be vast. That will be the pivotal point and a doorway to a new era in British politics. If we want a say in what that looks like then now is the time to expose all the skeletons in the Westminster closet. Consequently I am taking no prisoners.  

Whose truth is it anyway?


A fascinating aspect of Western political discourse in recent months has been the contortions and mental gymnastics performed by our governments to explain why the public keep voting for the wrong people. Americans voted for Trump and Brits voted for Brexit? What on earth is wrong with them?

This week we've been treated to a full spread by The Guardian detailing how big data analytics were used to brainwash the masses. This though is a conceit. There is no genuine attempt to establish whether such techniques actually work, rather it is a concerted effort by corporate media to question the legitimacy of democratic outcomes - and overturn them if they can get away with it.

If it isn't "sophisticated targeting techniques" then it's Twitter bots financed by the Russian mob. The various theories now flowing from the legacy media now look as absurd as any conspiracy theory once found written in block capitals and green text in the early days of internet.

The one truly unapproachable concept for our ruling class is that they might not be the virtuous people they imagine themselves to be and that the public rejection of them is a consequences of their failures over decades. They see themselves as entitled to power and believe it is for the greater good if the choices of the public are moderated by their betters.

We are routinely told that the public did not understand what they were voting for, that they were brainwashed by computer algorithms and that somehow we are too deficient intellectually to be able to choose our own destiny. The rejection of a supreme government for Europe is supposedly more to do with ignorant and racist northers and their dislike of foreigners than the fact that the EU is a remote technocratic bureaucracy that doesn't respond to democratic inputs.

For those who lost the vote, this narrative is powerful. It's useful for three reasons. Firstly it absolves them of any obligation to examine their own failings and secondly it allows them to believe that they are the victims despite them being the incumbent establishment with a near total control over the institutions.

The third reason is the most useful of all. All over the word the legacy media and governments alike are finding they are losing their monopoly over political discourse. They are used to controlling the flow of information and being able to transmit their own narratives without any serious challenge.

The internet, however has upset the balance whereby people can organise, communicate and disseminate alternative ideas - ideas which have toppled the Western post-war political order. 
It is, consequently, an existential threat to them, thus they need a pretext to regulate and censor it. What you and I would call "free speech" they call "fake news". Fake news is just a euphemism for messages they do not control.

This is not to say that there are not malevolent forces out there producing fraudulent content and disinformation and it is worth the intellectual inquiry just to understand the nature of it, but when it comes to "fake news" the leading manufacturers of it are the legacy corporate media themselves. They are in the business of manufacturing controversy and have long dropped any pretence of impartiality.

What makes that a bigger threat to democracy is one element. Prestige. Our traditional media is comprise of trusted brands, some of which have existed for more than a hundred years. The BBC also enjoys the authority and gravitas of being an arm of the British state. Though its reputation is tarnished on the domestic front it still carries a great deal of inherited prestige abroad.

In the age of internet, reaching a mass audience is far easier than ever it was if you can afford it. But that does not necessarily mean your message will be believed. This is why I am not especially worried about big data analytics being used as the basis of targeted campaigning. There is scant proof that it works. What worried me is the traditional means of propaganda; the art of repeating and reinforcing that which your audience wants to hear under the banner of a trusted media brand.

This is especially prevalent in the UK where we have maybe half a dozen editors giving houseroom to a handful of select political wonks, MPs, and authorised opinion gatekeepers to push a number of bogus concepts into the debate where their institutional prestige gives them credibility they would otherwise not have. They engineer particular talking points leaden with plausible sounding jargon and consequently their notions spread through Twitter like a mutating virus.

The scary part about it is that is does not actually require a mass audience. It need only infect the Westminster groupthink and the consumers of its output. Since the Westminster bubble is its own sealed off ecosystem and its denizens selected because of their conformity, misapprehensions and lies take on a life of their own, accumulating their own power - and the more it is repeated the more prestige it acquires. That is a magnitude more powerful than any article of what is called "fake news" promoted through social media platforms to a mass audience.

In this the media has weaponised suspicion of big data campaigning and the internet, to promote the idea that the legacy media is more worthy of trust. Being that few understand how it works and who is behind it is easy to plant the idea that its intent is malevolent. What should concern us more is how corporate interests are effortlessly able to buy their way into traditional media and control the narrative in the halls of power.

What we see before us is a battle for hearts and minds in which the establishment is seeking to fend off the disruptive influence of free speech and the free flow of ideas which challenge their monopoly. They're afraid. If ideas can flow freely then there is a danger that they will keep voting for the wrong people. The success of their efforts hinge on convincing voters that votes the establishment disapproves of fall short of being legitimate. 

In the end Donald Trump did not win the presidency because of Twitter bots or targeted advertising. He actually lost the popular vote and if the US presidential elections worked on the same lines as referendums then he would have lost. Trump is ultimately the inevitable consequence of a remote self-interested Washington establishment locked into its own consensus where elections don't seem to change anything. 

Brexit is exactly the same. We have seen prime ministers come and go but with policies locked in by EU directives there is no chance of meaningful reform or radicalism in government. The entire framework of European and global rules is designed to restrain democracy, to preserve a particular order - none of which is accountable to the people. We see politicians signing trade deals in the greater good with zero regard for the collateral damage. Jobs wiped out at the stroke of a pen in the name of "free trade". 

This is the dilemma of globalisation. All the studies show that free and fair trade increases overall wealth but at the same time increases inequality. It's always the bottom two deciles who experience the pain - be they miners, steel workers or shipbuilders. The working classes always pay the price of economic revolutions. Now they are asserting themselves and the establishment is not at all happy about that.

This is what now bitterly divides the West. Our expert class tell us that their way is best because their spreadsheets say so. The public look around them at the street level and how atomised we have become, lacking any sense of control and increasingly discouraged from democratic participation. Borders become fluid, communities diluted and cohesion evaporates. The West has never been more culturally fragmented. 

As to who is right, nobody can say for sure. In any political dilemma there are always winners and losers. It's just that the losers from this iteration of history are nearly always the same. Since the economists have a habit of getting things badly wrong and failing to predict the fallout of their decisions, the expert class has no god given right to be taken seriously. There is really only one way to settle it. Democracy. This time around, those who are used to winning find themselves on the losing side - and they will use every dirty trick in the book to ensure it never happens again. 

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Spiked Online: useful idiots of the disaster capitalists


I am glad we are leaving the EU. It isn't a democracy. Sure it has voting rituals but it is not responsive to what people want and if people cannot organise and change things through the institutions of government then it's just a self-serving dead weight bureaucracy.

Many on the centre left would argue with that. Plenty of NGOs won't see the problem. They see themselves as part of grassroots civil society, they have access to the levers of power and they get an audience. There are two basic reasons for this. NGOs have a sanitised reputation (regardless of how evil the consequences of their activities are),  and secondly they are telling the EU what it wants to hear, lending legitimacy to its predetermined agenda. It's politically convenient to both.

This is why the centre left does not want to leave the EU. It robs them of a cosy relationship with those in power and a lot o prestige in the process. It makes them accountable which is the one thing they do not want to be.

Of course the public could organise and form trade associations and parties but simply getting elected into the European parliament does not achieve anything. In a proper parliament the party that wins the most seats has the power to set the agenda. Not so in the European parliament which is a subordinate to the other institutions. There is, therefore, no coherence. It does not represent anyone and serves only its integrationist agenda whether the people of Europe want it or not.

In recent years we have seen right wing and "populist" parties gaining seats in the European Parliament but not influence. The EU sees this as a contaminant and takes measures to ringfence their influence and control their funding. They view it as an inconvenient blip to be contained until it blows over. The threat can be neutered and eventually continental populists get used to the high life and go native.

The UK system isn't much better, but the referendum shows how smaller movements can threaten the incumbents and spur them into action. The Tories had to respond to the Ukip threat or be consumed by it. That is accountability and democracy in action. That, though, is only at election time. The rest of the time we watch helplessly as the nest of miscreants in Westminster indulge themselves in fads and virtue signalling - often with lethal consequences. That is why Brexit is not enough.

As it happens the UK power system works in much the same way. Political campaigns outside of London tend not to exist without a sponsor inside the system and are only recognised if their agenda is convenient to the establishment. It has a way of appropriating grassroots campaigns and movements, hijacking them and exploiting them for their own ends. Brexit is one such example where the disaster capitalists have "taken back control" to the exclusion of all but the most useful idiots.

What Brexit should be is a repatriation of vital powers for the people but instead we find that power being accumulated by the Brexit blob in Westminster for an agenda that would never win a parliamentary majority. I have of late taken to calling them Brexit luvvies - a circuit of the Brexit campaign aristocracy pushing their half-witted narratives, rewriting history as they go, claiming the Brexit mandate as a mandate for the most hostile and damaging Brexit imaginable.

Like all other tribes within the bubble it requires conformity whereupon they will roll out the red carpet to anyone who conforms to the narrative and the naive who will lend them legitimacy or further prestige. This is why you can often find the idiots from Spiked Online and members of their respective knitting circles sitting on the same debating panels as the quarterwits from the IEA, TPA and whichever Tufton Street sock puppet has media attention.

Being that they have fame within the bubble and are suitably sanitised they are afforded slots on Radio 4, Sky News and the likes, not least because they are free airtime filler - and being in London they are convenient. The debate, therefore, is dominated by a very narrow London clique reciting the same handful of mantras, who have no understanding of the games in play and no idea what is at stake.

The devil here lies in the detail - but detail is not something our flappy mouthed London luvvies would ever apply themselves to hence the public debate is (deliberately) lamentably shallow and still at the Janet and John level where any concession to Brussels is a "betrayal of Brexit" and anyone who thinks a self-immolation version of Brexit is not a good idea is an anti-democrat seeking to "undermine democracy".

The essential problem is that the likes of Spiked et al have an infantile understanding of Brexit. Brexit may very well repatriate certain powers but there seems to be the belief that Brexit also makes the EU vanish into the ether - as though having been a deeply integrated member of the EU for forty years presents no issues and that we need not concede anything in order to have a relationship with it.

As much as the UK is safeguarding its own sovereignty the EU is doing likewise. It has a system for the control of goods within its market and as a sovereign entity it sets the terms and conditions of market entry. Should it make concessions to the UK it would be granting sole authority to the UK to relax its own controls thus weakening the overall integrity of the EU system. This it will not do so their view is that Britain as the smaller, weaker side in this negotiation should adopt and maintain EU rules if it wants free movement of goods.

This is not unreasonable. In an ideal world we would like a less formal arrangement but the EU is a system of rules. Moreover it is understandable that the EU would be reluctant to revise its rules (even if it could) when we have the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg publicly salivating at the thought of slashing regulation and unilaterally dropping tariffs. Why would the EU want that system vulnerability?

So we have basically three options. EEA, FTA or no deal. The option which satisfies the London luvvies is the one that sees all of our JIT production lines and manufacturing destroyed, a vast regime of customs red tape, a substantial loss of EU trade and massively diminished participation in European markets.

The airheads of Spiked will say that none of the gloomy predictions have thus far come true thus we detail oriented people must again be exaggerating and scaremongering. Except that we are not talking about economic guesswork here. We are talking about the global rules based trading system where choosing not to abide by the rules means the loss of various rights and permissions which can only result in more overheads for business and substantially fewer options to sell into the European marketplace.

We could go ahead and do this to ourselves, and that is what Spiked et al would have us do. Having done no research of their own, not really being the type of people to do that kind of thinking, they are up the creek without a paddle when asked to tell us why we should do this. Consequently to fill that void in their arguments they depend on the Brexit luvvies - all of whom subscribe to the demented foamings of Patrick Minford and the snake oil of Shanker Singham.

The long term consequence of this is a Brexit so harmful, so painful and needlessly aggressive that the public mood sours very rapidly demanding that relations be restored whereupon we will have to go crawling cap in hand to Brussels and beg for whatever scraps they feel inclined to give us.

There is only one way to avoid this. We could have opted for a partnership with the EU by retaining our EEA membership but this enrages the Brexit Taliban who won't rest until they can bring about the great Brexit firesale of UK assets. Being that Mrs May is at their mercy she can only really go through the motions of a negotiation as we drift toward the miserable consequences of her self-imposed red lines.

The Spiked morons will, of course, bitterly complain that the transition is a vassal state status but this really is the consequence of not thinking through the options and refusing to engage in the details. Having so successfully turned opinion against all of the viable options what we are left with is what we are left with.

What follows will be a wafer thin FTA only marginally better than a no deal scenario, with substantially reduced aviation rights, a raft of new customs red tape, no free movement of goods, a wet border between us and Northern Ireland, long tailbacks at the ports and of those rules we do adopt to expedite the recovery, they will be adopted verbatim without any political or technical input. So much for sovereignty.

What makes Brendan O'Neill's clan all the more contemptible is that they will complain about the consequences whatever happens, oblivious to their own role in bringing it about by lending legitimacy to the Brexit Taliban.

For all that O'Neill regularly chastises the "chattering classes" when it comes to Brexit he is the epitome of it. The indolent class of hack who wafts into the debate without the first idea of what is happening or why, adding their considerable ignorance to the mountain that already exists while taking no responsibility for the inevitable consequences of their choices.

From the beginning they have denounced those who take the time to study the options and issues as "technocrats" and "middle class" as though knowing what you're talking about is class betrayal. So well engineered is this narrative conformity that they whole sorry lot of them are unlikely to ever meet anyone who knows what they're talking about let alone listen to them. Consequently the London bubble suffers from a epic case of Dunning Kruger Syndrome as it bleats its betrayal narrative.

This is ultimately another example of the intellectual poverty of the eurosceptic movement. Rather than Brexit being a means to an end it has become an end in its own right with no thought as to what we actually want to achieve with that reclaimed power - failing to recognise that EU membership is a symptom of the dysfunction in our politics. We should, therefore, not be surprised to see a bunch with revolutionary pretensions cosying up to the the disaster capitalists of the hard right who have no intention of returning any power to the public.

The long term consequence of this is that very little will be resolved politically, with Westminster returning to its usual habits, on a leash to Brussels and no better off for it. This is exactly what The Leave Alliance was warning about which is why we have always seen the likes of the TPA, IEA etc as part of the problem. Politically the UK is trained to be subservient to London, actively seeking the attention of politicians and the media rather than building movements and going around them.

This is why I have some considerable respect for Momentum. I don't like their politics but the way in which they have ruthlessly exploited the institutional weaknesses of the Labour party instead of toadying up to the incumbent powers within it is admirable. If only eurosceptics had sought to do likewise. Instead we have simply handed the power to the Tory right and the Westminster politico-media circle-jerk. For all the talk of bringing down the establishment all Brexit will really achieve is to change the management of the establishment where democracy will be as inert as ever it was.

The insistence that every issue is binary and that any pragmatic compromise is a betrayal is ultimately teenage petulance - which runs deep on the leave side. That has been the most useful propaganda weapon for the Tory right.

The fact is that we have a right wing coup in process, seeking to exploit Brexit for their own purposes. These people have been lurking in the undergrowth waiting for an opportunity to strike. We were always going to have to fight them and Brexit merely defines the battlefield but, depressingly, all our allies seem to have gone native - blissfully unaware of how they are exploited. Because of that we shall soon be back to square one. If anyone is betraying Brexit it's the useful idiots who horizons extend no further than Westminster.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Brexit's shifting goalposts


Time for a Brexit history lesson. Us old school leavers bumped into the remain canard that "three million jobs" depend on the EU time and again over many years. So well worn were the arguments that Remain scarcely dare deploy that line during the referendum.

It was was easily countered by way of saying that those jobs depended on trade with the EU, not membership of a political union. So there was always the historic inference that we wanted the maximum trade cooperation possible.

If asked if we would support a Brexit that would necessarily result in new barriers to trade, pretty much every leaver would have said no. The inference is that we would look to safeguard those three million jobs.

To that effect every Vote Leave politician or spokesman at some point in the campaign cited Norway as a means of market participation. We know of no exceptions. Prior to the latter days of the referendum there was never any fierce opposition to Efta.

It is actually a relatively recent thing that only the hardest Brexit qualified as "The One True Brexit". It comes from a very small band of ultra "free market" Tories masquerading as liberals in the form of the IEA/TPA and all of the Tufton Street sock puppet organisations.

Though they always struggled to produce credible intellectual material they have proven adept at manipulating the debate. With their considerable influence over the Daily Telegraph editorial line, and their powerbase in the ERG, they have warped the debate.

Having sympathisers at Conservative Home, they have gradually fed in their poison, littered with jargon so as to sound plausible, but ultimately they are pushing the most extreme Brexit possible with zero regard for those three million jobs.

With the aid of their useful idiots at Spiked Online and their respective knitting circles, they have successfully steered the narrative so that even the suggestion of remaining in the EEA is akin with heresy against democracy.

Over the last few months we have witnessed a London leaver bubble evolving which relies on the ignorance and bovine conformity of those they attract to their cause. "It's no longer left vs right" they tell us earnestly. "It's democrats vs antidemocrats".

This is of course, utter bollocks. There is a growing contingent of largely voiceless leavers who see merit in an EEA solution, but we are not useful to the narrative. Meanwhile there are MPs like Stephen Kinnock who've done their homeworks and seen the strategic value in it.

For sure there are still remainers in the public domain who will do anything to sabotage Brexit and we have sympathy with the view that they are antidemocratic, but to engineer it into a binary paradigm is the most dishonest trick tory leavers have pulled to date.

The useful idiots of Spiked Online etc will back them because they have given the matter no strategic thought and still cling on to the 1970's notion that Brexit will deliver absolute and undiluted sovereignty.

Of course, we adults know that all trade agreements and every international accord is on some level the expenditure of sovereignty for economic gain. It's a trade off and it always was. Undiluted sovereignty exists nowhere in the real world.

The Leave Alliance took the view that in order to safeguard jobs and trade we would need a model that preserves single market participation but one with a firewall to end the ratchet of the EU. Our studies pointed to EEA not only as the best means but also the speediest exit.

But by way of having a stranglehold over the narrative - largely thanks to a Londoncentric media, the Brexit ayatollahs have managed to conflate the EEA with EU membership and are capitalising on the ignorance of the media.

In fact, the Tory Taliban would have got nowhere without the manifest ignorance of leading leavers - many of whom still think the WTO option is viable. Even Kate Hoey, nominally a socialist, sent copies if Liam Halligan's ultra hard Brexit book to her colleagues at Christmas.

This is the Minford model - the one that basically assumes that if we unilaterally liberalise on all trade barriers, demolishing agriculture and manufacturing and automotive sector, we can deregulate and London becomes Singapore on Thames.

But even assuming that weren't demonstrably nonsense how is it compatible with the inference that our mode of Brexit would safeguard the jobs of the working classes who depend on single market trade? Answer: it doesn't.

There is something inherently evil about any sect, party or group who would seek to reduce any political dilemma to binary outcomes and denouncing the other as a malevolent force, but that is in effect what the Tory right have done. Quite successfully.

As far as we are concerned the decision to leave is not all that controversial. The goals of the EU never enjoyed majority support and never will. We got the mandate to leave, but nowhere does it say the lunatic fringe of the Tories get to dictate everything after the fact.

The short of it is that without the EEA there most definitely will be new barriers to trade and substantially reduced market participation and there are no "bumper trade deals" that will compensate. It's time to call the Tory right out for what they are. Liars.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Still no closer.

There was an announcement of some sort today from Barnier. Precisely why escapes me because there is still no agreement on the backstop position for Northern Ireland and the rest is roughly what we already assumed it was. We still don't know any more than we did yesterday and if this was going to be a long article it would look very very similar to the dozens I have already written.

We basically know that there will be a two year vassal state transition, but that brings little comfort to those who have examined the issues who cannot in any way imagine how the process would be complete, let alone implemented in two years. Moreover, we have no more idea of what will happen in respect of border controls generally, so the Institute of Director's boiler plate assertion that business leaders will welcome this can be thrown out.

If there is anything noteworthy it is that the Twitter half-life of Brexit announcements is now a matter of hours - not least since we have all seen the leaked material previously - and even that didn't tell us anything we weren't expecting.

We are told that the UK has won a concession - that it can conclude trade agreements during the transition- but nobody with a grasp of the basics anticipates this "freedom" to be used in any meaningful way - save for the patch up job of existing agreements we enjoy via the EU.

Being that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, the omission of a conclusion on the backstop position for Northern Ireland means that I cannot see that anything at all has been achieved save for once more kicking the can down the road.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Dismal inevitability.

Bored as most of you are with Brexit, I get the distinct impression that the government has also run out of steam and is marking time until the inevitable deadline where it simply signs what is on the table.

We will drift toward the last possible minute, filling up the timetable with distractions in between, doing anything to keep Brexit off the agenda. That therefore leaves only a short window for protest, after which May will flex her minimal authority and sign the deal.

She will then instruct her party apparatus to sell the Northern Ireland arrangement as a "common regulatory area" which in effect will be single market and customs alignment. Since it's that or WTO oblivion, she'll have to put it to the commons an depend on opposition MPs.

That then provides the backstop which can only really be overridden by a new trade agreement, whereupon the framework set out in the negotiating guidelines suggesting a base level FTA will leave the NI arrangement virtually the same.

In other words, the script is already written but she has just enough wiggle room to kick the NI issue into the long grass until after we leave. She will then rely on the flim flam of Brexiters to muddy the water on the matter of customs at Calais.

The writing, however, is on the wall - that if we have a base level FTA with only minimal customs cooperation then we are looking at the carnival of delights with rules of origin and vehicle tariffs - along with BIPs for food exports.

That reality has not dawned on this government which still believes an alternative is possible and that the EU will fold at the last minute. It won't. The EU has designed its framework in accordance with May's red lines and if she won't back down, neither will they.

There is the outside chance that Verhofstadt's association agreement bandwagon will gain traction and there may be a political opportunity for both sides to change tack, but my bet is that Brexiters will choose that ditch to die in.

The impression I get is that the EU parliament's fondness for an association agreement is not shared by the Commission or the Council who will simply be seeking to reward May with the full consequences of her decisions.

Again there won't be much actual negotiation on this. The frameworks for nuclear and aviation cooperation are pretty much settled and we will get no more or less than any other third country. For border inspections we might just be able to leverage a Switzerland solution.

Inevitably that does mean a wet border between us and Northern Ireland but that is the consequence of leaving the single market. That also means the loss of self-authorisation for circulation of goods in the market without inspection which means masses of red tape for UK exporters.

What that means in practice is long tailbacks at the ports whereby it becomes impractical to send driver accompanied loads and we will depend a lot more on container freight and costs of exporting will skyrocket.

I now think we have missed the window for an EEA solution simply because the government hasn't the intelligence to understand why we need it nor the skill to pull it off. It would need entirely fresh thinking.

What we can then expect is a wave of business relocations and considerable job losses. It's difficult to quantify because we don't know how resilient exporters will be to the added costs and red tape. Some will adapt but can expect far fewer continental sales.

Impact assessments tend to be pessimistic and underestimate the resilience of UK businesses but to be clear, this is absolutely not good news for the economy. Exporter of goods and services will take a substantial pruning. I don't see any silver lining.

Many expect fishing will give us some leverage, but its more politically significant than financial so it won;t buy us much - but that does mean we can expect a reciprocal access agreement. The fishing lobby is going to be very disappointed.

From my cursory glance at the negotiating guidelines we can expect that there will be some concessions on ECJ on food safety measures and very possibly aviation, and EU will dictate the ROO framework unless we can buy a workable alternative.

This arrangement will satisfy those who insisted on a "clean Brexit" except for the zealots who demand nothing short of WTO ruin. The rest of us will then have to put up with their mess. It will then be for them to explain why our exports tot he EU are decimated.

Throughout they have insisted, in contradiction to all professional evidence, that this mode of Brexit would retain free movement of goods. The game then will be one of blame deflection - with the narrative of EU "punishment beatings".

Whether they get away with it or not is really down to the gullibility of the public. At that point it won't especially matter. We'll be stuck with it but May will have at least stayed true to her word that Brexit means Brexit.

Shortly afterwards the Brexit recession begins and then we see the real political fallout of our decisions. You can then expect an implosion of the Tory party and extremely sour relations with the EU. One thing I can promise you... it won't be boring.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Trouble at the borders

Friday, 9 March 2018

Sam Hooper: on point

If you read one blog today, make it this one. That is all.

All at sea on fishing


Fishing was always going to be a big row in Brexit because its one of the most emotive issues - touching on matters of territory, identity, heritage and sovereignty - but especially because it was one of the most visible symbols of what was done to the UK without consent.

Effectively the EU in conjunction with the British government did to the fisherman what Mrs T is said to have done to the miners. Anyone alive at the time will have vivid memories of family boats at the wreckers. It left a deep economic and emotional scar on coastal towns.

Consequently it attracts a lot more political runtime than it should, and the fishing lobby are expert at playing the victim. Possibly they are the most politically overindulged constituency there is because they are totemic for eurosceptics.

But like Mr Corbyn and his silly notions about reopening mines, what has been built over the last 25 years is a single market in fish of amazing complexity, hooking in with a number of environmental objectives derived from EU and international law.

Moreover this hooks in with a major global industry where 38% of workers in the North Sea fleet are from outside the European Economic Area. Its a dangerous job that increasingly does not attract British youth. Fish processing for export is worth more to us than fishing itself.

So this idea that Brexit means that once again British harbours will be bristling with masts and alive with bearded Scotsman singing sea shanties is something of a romantic delusion. Nobody wins from the British fish for British fishermen mentality.

And then if we want a market for all that processed fish then naturally we would wish to avoid tariffs and non-tariff barriers so whatever regime that follows will have a great deal of legacy conformity. There will be no miraculous deregulation.

Where it gets intensely political is over quota allocations where the UK will nominally be back in control but for a number of years will have to respect that quotas are bought and sold under a particular framework and foreign boats will have legacy rights.

We should not, therefore get carried away with the idea that there will be a great renaissance for British fish. Even if we took a nationalistic protectionist path with a view to consuming more domestically, we'd likely be no better off for it.

Once again I would remind you that fishing is worth less than a billion as an industry and is a fraction of our GDP and overemphasis on fishing is a huge distraction from the bigger issue of the single market which is worth £240bn per annum.

In this, EU member states have their own interests to protect. As much as our land trade has built up around free movement of goods, EU sea trade has built up inside the framework of the CFP. That is an ace in the hand but it doesn't buy much in the grand scheme of things.

We should note, though, that fishing is just as political for EU member states an cutting off fishing access is PR the EU does not want. It is therefore some leverage. The thing to watch for eurosceptics is not UK gov bartering quotas away. That was always going to happen. Trade is trade-offs. What matters is repatriation of control of British waters and the sole right to legislate over it.

On this we may wish to enter a bilateral accord with an independent body but if it falls within the EU stack of governance under ECJ then that to me is a big no. We do not, however have a free hand because we are bound by a number of global accords, not least on conservation.

I have seen accusations that the EU is seeking to cherrypick, but the reality is that the EU is the larger, more powerful side of this negotiation and it is we who are petitioners. We do need to get real about this.

In my view it would be a mistake to treat fishing as a bartering chip in respect of unrelated concerns. The reason we have a CFP is deliberately to keep it siloed from other concerns. We are opening a can of worms if we break that convention.

This is really why I think we should stay in the EEA, so that current trade is protected and we are not held over a barrel and then we have an entirely different framework for negotiating a gradual dismantling of the CFP.

We should not in any way underestimate the complexity of fishing regulation and unpicking the CFP is a feat of legal engineering requiring a whole new set of domestic institutions for which we are not yet equipped. It will take some time and will have to consult the industry.

The fatal mistake would be to enter discussions about fishing with the notion that Brexit is in any way restorative. What was done is done. There is no going back. Nor especially do we want to be lumber with the costs of whole system administration. It pays to share.

If anything, Brexit is a chance to modernise, and to an extent remove the blocking commercial interests so that we can have real reform. That, though, is not guaranteed. That said, whatever we come up with will struggle to be worse than the CFP.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Things which are not surprising.


On this of all days you might expect me to have something substantive to say - but really there is nothing here which could not be anticipated. As outlined countless times, if we want the benefits of the single market then you have to be in the single market. If not, then there's not much the EU can do to accommodate us.

Since the EU is taking us at our word on our red lines, all it can really do is drop heavy hints to hammer the point home. Free movement of goods is an outcome of a regulatory system and you are either in it or you are not. Since we have chose to be out of it, the only remaining option is precisely that which The Leave Alliance set out to avoid.

Unless I'm mistaken the EU is apparently proposing an association agreement whereby we adopt most of the regulatory controls on goods under ECJ supervision and are still subject to third country controls. Precisely what we were warning from the very beginning when we first launched Flexcit. 

Politically this deal is not acceptable but it's the only thing on offer so we have reached something of an impasse. Either Mrs May makes a u-turn on the EEA or meekly shackles us to the ECJ. This is, of course, assuming talks do not collapse over the matter of Northern Ireland. 

No doubt this offering from the EU will be ignored and the government will persist with the line, for the time being, that this is still a negotiation - and will continue to press on managed divergence until there is a formal and explicit rebuke. That's when things get interesting. 

The ultimate irony in all this is that the government has been told "no cherrypicking" by the EU, failing to appreciate that with the EEA being an adaptive framework, the way to actually cherrypick from the single market, as indeed EEA members do, is to be in it. 

One might almost get the idea that a Brexit plan was a good idea - but Vote Leave, Farage, Cummings, Hannan, Banks, Bannerman, Hoey, Stuart and the rest thought better of it. It would seem their toxic blend of arrogance and ignorance is about to be rewarded. 

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The legacy of the EU is political atrophy

Yesterday I wrote a piece on how eurosceptics neglected to provide an intellectual foundation for Brexit and now that we are here we find their vague aspirations have been thwarted by the encroachment of globalisation. This was met with nods of approval from remainers.

ll the ideas of the Tory right simply do not stand up to scrutiny and day by day their flimsy "free trade" ideas crumble. Twenty five years have past since even their most modest of ambitions were achievable. They've been badly caught out.

But then we all have. There's been nothing less edifying to watch than remainer MPs scrambling to tell us we should stay in the customs union without even being able to define it. Collectively our polity kicks around terminology like a infant walks around in mummy's high heels.

Even those of us whose job it is to know these things still fumble with it. There is a vast bureaucratic machine made of hundreds of separate mechanisms and not only do we not know their function, we have even less idea of how they interact.

It was interesting listening to Barnier's adviser last night (Stefaan de Rynck) who seems to regard the single market legal entity as a thing of beauty. And in many ways it it is. It may look like a legal jumble but to the technocrat it's a frontline legal technology.

The success of the machine is how it has sidelined politics and to a large extent made it superfluous; redundant even. So when you have a system running in abstract of politics, irrespective of voting rituals we may have, it is not controlled or influenced by democratic inputs.

Worse still, the technocrats would rather it remained that way. Politics is messy and slow and to their mind nothing is served by having ignorant politicians poking around inside the machine. A view I have some sympathy with.

But if it's not driven by politics and politics has little input, what is our politics even for? And when it is not tasked with running the apparatus of governance it withers and retreats into its own dismal fixations of increasingly diminished significance.

And that is what we are left with now. A redundant polity ill-equipped to manage change, terrified of it and desperate to avoid taking any responsibility. Brexit is a rude interruption to their narrow tribal bickering.

So the cultural problem is twofold. This is why we can't blame everything on the EU. On the one hand we have eurocrats who don't want democratic input, and domestic politicians who have no interest in it and no aptitude for it.

So that collective slumber of the eurosceptics who took their eye off the ball is one shared by the entire political apparatus, the thinks tanks and the media, who focus on the narrow and immediate with no vision extending beyond the horizon of the next elections.

Consequently the system is left unscrutinised, unmonitored and taken for granted in the assumption that it is working for the greater good. It would seem, however, that slightly more than half of the population have a different opinion.

Successive generations of politicians have gradually ceded control to the point where the levers of power are not actually attached to anything. Everything is locked up in a system of directives, rulings and regulations, and beyond reform.

Here we find that reform is only theoretical. No one nation on the instruction of its peoples can act and even acting in collaboration the interests of the people have to be reconciled with incumbent commercial interests. Quotas, subsidies, tariffs etc.

And so with reform proving impossible our politicians get in the habit of of blaming the EU and gradually things start to degrade - lacking the vitality and ambition that healthy politics brings to governance systems.

We were told that Brexit would make us inward looking, yet we find trade; a core instrument of international relations, is shrouded in mystery in Westminster. We do not engage in the subject matter because it's outsourced to Brussels. We're on autopilot.

In respect of this it's a wonder anything works as well as it does. But then with a chain of accountability so clouded, and no political intelligence, there is a good chance we wouldn't even know if these systems were failing until the failure is critical.

That is indeed the danger of continued EU membership. When systems like this fail they fail hard and Brexit has wonderfully illuminated the stark fact that our politics is incapable of adequately responding.

It's not just the Brexiteers who went to sleep for the last two decades. We all did. As a nation we became self-absorbed and insular, dismantling our foreign office and consular services, culling our navy and pruning governance to feed our voracious appetite for entitlements.

Consequently what we are left with is political cannibalism, where authority is transferred to Brussels while our own politics strip mines what is left to hand out to its respective constituencies. That is how a vibrant nation quietly dies.

Quelle surprise!


Above is a bucket of ice cold water on Tory trade ambitions. The USA does not do competition and it does not look to trade unless there is an opportunity to offload agricultural surpluses. Since there is no question of deviating from standards, no public will to do so, and too much at stake in respect of EU trade, it is unlikely that a deal with the USA would be ratified even if there is one on the table. Our own farming lobby would see to that. Little by little, reality is beginning to bite.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Rebels without a clue


The one component missing from Brexit is an intellectual foundation. Eurosceptics once had one. There was a committee meeting in a Salisbury farmhouse twenty years ago and that's the last time we collectively gave it any thought.

At the core of it, the one thing we all agree on in the Benn/Foot angle on democracy - but there has never been agreement on an alternative vision. The old boys wanted the Commonwealth whereas some wanted to revive Efta.

A common strand has been an aversion to regulation and red tape and collectively eurosceptics have never really understood the economic utility of regulatory harmonisation. It was largely seen as a sinister integrationist device.

To a point they were right. An economic foundation was only the first step, upon which they would build their superstate. The regulatory frameworks were inferior to those of the UK - which is why so much UK law informed single market rules.

The problem we have is that we decided collectively that we hated the EU, we wanted out of it and spent the next two decades scheming on how to get us out. Through general economic dissatisfaction and discontent with immigration it built its own momentum.

To a large extent Brexit is something that sort of just happened. Now that it has, the eurosceptic aristocracy have been put on the spot. They wanted it so the government looks to them for direction. "You wanted this. Now what?"

And now that we are here all the towering figures of euroscepticism find that the cupboard is bare. We haven't updated our ideas or our understanding since the 90's and our solutions do not account for 25 years of integration and globalisation.

We are therefore in quite a pickle as we have no real world deliverable answers and of the few options available, none of them fully satisfy any of euroscepticism's core demands. The world moved on and we didn't.

So really we have won yesterday's war - only fifteen years late. All the options that would have been available to us pre-Lisbon are now impossible and the advancement of EU systems pretty much shafts the idea of leaving the EU regulatory sphere.

Meanwhile we face the double coffin lid whereupon we punch through the layers of EU political integration only to find an elaborate web of global conventions and rules which constrain the EU in much the same way.

Arguably we are moving toward a model of a global single market of rules and regulations, pointing to the obsolescence of the EU - but we are a long way off accomplishing that so we will remain heavily influenced by the EU.

And though we have always argued that the EU is a mess of protectionism - which is indeed demonstrable, being outside of those protectionist barriers puts us in a tiny European minority. That would not have been the case prior to enlargement.

Rather than accepting the reality of our predicament, the eurosceptic (Tory) aristocracy are hell bent on fighting for those yesteryear solutions with no reference to reality and will tell any lie to get it.

Being that they are London based they dominate the Television Brexit debate and the second generation latecomers (Spiked et al) who have never thought it through have hitched their wagon to the mainstream eurosceptics. They're being led up the garden path.

By and large they have done no thinking of their own, gladly repeat obsolete mantras and and prate about "free trade" without having the first idea what that actually means or the consequences of it.

The skill of the euroscpetics is that they have made the issue of the single market part of a culture war where otherwise intelligent people demand that we leave it simply because the opposition wants us to stay.

With both sides having lied about the EEA it is seen as staying partially in the EU - and thus not honouring the referendum. Lies do indeed have consequences. So here we are headed out with no satisfactory answers to any of the difficult questions.

Unless that argument can be resolved then we will leave the single market, we will see NI remain in the EU customs territory, a sea border and the end of free movement of goods with a meagre set of post-Brexit trade options.

Ultimately the Brexit debate has been dominated by dinosaurs who don't understand how trade works thus are plumping for the UK to hit the self destruct button backed by nihilists who would gladly trash the economy to stick it to the EU.

There are certainly days when I have some sympathy with this view but this ultimately decides the UK's political and economic standing for the next fifty years - thus it is a matter of urgency that the Brexit Taliban in the Tory party are defeated.

Give us this day, our daily thread

Just lately I have not invested the same level of energy in this blog since hits have levelled out and I have all the reference essays I need. I get more traction with Twitter threads so it makes more sense to invest my energies there. Below is a typical example of a Twitter thread. Largely a repetition of what I have already said countless times, but part of the job is repetition, no matter how tedious it gets.

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For the moment the Torybots (compliant activists) are satisfied with Mrs May's proposal. To the uninitiated it sounds like a reasonable proposal and if there weren't already an established system for movement of goods it would be but as a real world proposal it just won't fly.

What Mrs May is asking for is an overall weakening of the EU system, placing authority over its lowest market entry requirement in the hands of the UK government - a non-EU member. This it cannot do.

In order to have free movement of goods you need a number of secondary mechanisms, not least recognition of qualifications and authorisations. Simply relaxing borders is not a legal option. It isn't going to happen.

While the politicians are distracted by the red herring of customs unions, ultimately the instrument central to free movement of goods is the single market. there is no renegotiation of its core features. You are either in it or you are not.

So all Mrs May really has to do is answer a very basic question. Do you want free movement of goods? If the answer is yes (which in part answers the NI question) then we have no choice but to remain a party to the EEA agreement.

If the answer is no then she must invest to ready the UK for standard third country controls whereupon food and general goods must face a whole raft of inspections and red tape. Self-authorisation for circulation of goods in the market comes to an abrupt end.

Since the UK will then seek to keep inspections to a minimum, it will still have to be careful where and how it diverges, not forgetting our international obligation to conform to global standards. Consequently those "bumper trade deals" will not materialise.

Significant divergence leads to a higher risk of regulatory contamination for the EU. It will therefore use its alert systems to determine how invasive inspections of UK goods are. This adds considerable costs for exporters as the exporter bears the costs of inspections, lab tests and the consignment delays. This effectively wipes out JIT exports which have grown specifically because of frictionless trade.

We then find ourselves having lost substantial trade with the EU but still obliged to uphold existing standards and ensure our regime is still roughly in keeping with that of the EU. Substantial divergence will not be possible - which business doesn't even want.

In terms of subsequent deals with other countries we are then left with very little to play with save for marginal tinkering with tariffs - which will be something of an irrelevance since we have tariffs agreements with most of our major partners via the EU already. There is no compelling evidence that leaving the single market will afford scope to enhance trading relationships and no third party agreements can possibly compensate for the loss of EU trade.

A single market settlement may well be suboptimal but I think of it more as a line in the sand that says "this far and no further". It is then a firewall against "ever closer union". That would be a a sufficient compromise.

Short of that we are going to end up spending a small fortune on systems to manage any new trading relationship which would result in more barriers to trade. A collapse of tax receipts and increased red tape would then wipe out any supposed "Brexit dividend".

There are plenty of good reasons for terminating political union and becoming an independent country, but needlessly severing our real world economic integration for a mythical "regulatory sovereignty" just doesn't make any sense. If we want a whole-UK settlement that preserves UK trade, protects jobs and avoids substantial disruption at the borders then we have no choice but to remain members of the single market. I cannot see any advantage in doing otherwise.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

The politics has been decided, but economics remains an open question

Mrs May has said our regulations would remain "substantially similar". Though this does not confer any special rights, it will be the foundation of any new relationship with the EU. This prompts remainers to ask what the point of leaving is.

That actually underscores why remainers have not understood what the EU is. Were it just a regulatory union (a single market) we would not in all likelihood be leaving it. Were it simply there for facilitation of goods and services there would not be sufficient reason to object.

The EU was never intended to be just a trade bloc, and it's only really British politicians who have pretended otherwise. It was always destined to be a supreme government for Europe expanding far beyond the domain of trade.

The single market (of which 3/4 Efta states are a member) is a regulatory union based on a body of law which represents only a quarter of the entire EU acquis. The rest is to serve the function of building and expanding its political power.

The obvious complaint being that the more power it has the less nation states have and the more remote the decision making, whereupon it imposes one size fits all political ideals on a diverse set of cultures. This makes meaningful democracy impossible.

I could expand on that and we could be here all day but I feel that question was settled by the referendum. Voters may not have been aware of how the system works but they knew enough to know they didn't want to be part of the political union & have the EU as their government.

So that leaves the question of how we leave and what relationship we want. This is where Brexiters lose the plot in wanting absolute sovereignty over every last detail. That's where I part company with eurosceptics. It's a matter of proportionality.

I'm never going to have strong opinions on aubergine marketing standards and it really doesn't bother me that we have a uniform set of rules for the manufacture of cars. In the grand scheme of things it's not that important.

So really this is a question of what we are prepared to go to the barricades over. This is where there are philosophical debates to be had about the nature of the UK legal system and how the EU system of rights tramples too much on our ability to govern ourselves.

It's fine to have a Europe wide system of values but as they ossify we find that translates into a number of entitlements and intolerable restraints on democracy to the point of absurdity. We then becomes victims of the letter of the law and ill served by it.

I have no objection to economic and regulatory collaboration - which is an essential component of modern trade and there is every advantage in sharing the load for European defence - but not if it involves the wholesale transfer of political authority to the EU.

To my mind the EU represents too much power in the hands of too few in a framework that will never respond to democratic demands for reform and will never have the self-awareness to realise its own role aggravating divisions.

For the most part the Remain campaign centred on the economic advantages of the EU but what we find is that we can have all of that as a participant of the single market without being under the political control of the EU apparatus.

The reason they focused on the economic (and still do) is simply because the core proposition of dissolving the nation states of Europe to create a federal Europe is simply not wanted by the vast majority of Brits.

You can demonstrate how the UK frustrates that agenda by way of being a member but political integration is in the DNA of the EU and no euro-election is ever going to change that direction of travel. We can dictate the pace but not the destination.

I can therefore see every reason for leaving the EU but virtually no advantage to leaving the single market. The economic arguments for Brexit are flimsy - but then Brexit isn't and shouldn't be an economic proposition. It is fundamentally about democracy.

This is another area where I part company with Tory leavers. There are many good reasons for leaving the EU but "free trade" isn't one of them and teenage libertarian fantasies based on a woeful misapprehension of how the system works is not a sound basis for public policy.

We are then in a position of choosing the mode of economic partnership with the EU whereupon we must decide whether we wish to maintain free movement of goods and services and whether we are prepared to accept the obligations that go with it.

Being that the single market is the most advanced regulatory union in the world, one which gives consumers the confidence to buy goods on trust, its inherent value is far more than the sum of its parts. That is why the EU opposes any cherrypicking of it.

There are many valid criticisms of it, and still it is fair to say that there is a democratic deficit, but in my view the EEA represents the best compromise available and one which would facilitate Brexit without the economic harm we are sure to endure otherwise.

Many argue that it does exclude a number of goods, very often for less than honest reasons, but in a world of predatory operators and criminal gangs, we are better with than without. To date, I have not seen a compelling reason to leave the single market.