Friday 31 August 2018

The EU isn't collapsing... but Europe is.

The EU is many things to many people. Some think it is a pillar of the twentieth century peace architecture. It isn't and it never was. It was always parasitical and using the mood and post-war political momentum to advance an idea of a united Europe. The problem, however, is that it was a bad idea for the simple reason that there is no particular desire for a politically united Europe and one could only ever come into being through the collusion of political elites.

Over the decades our political elites have built both the EU and the WTO with only one purpose in mind. To eliminate national sovereignty and to prevent political change. That's why it's a crap idea. You cannot prevent political change and, more to the point, it is human nature to desire change.

The reason Brexit is happening ultimately boils down to one singular factor. Societal boredom. It wouldn't matter if the EU was perfect. Humans need to innovate, experiment and evolve. Everything changes, nothing last forever and to all things there is a time. The EU was the brainchild of anonymous officials in the previous generation and its survival depends on the the officials of today having absolute power over us. Every generation needs its own idea yet my generation is expected to maintain the ideas and the constructs of the last.

Being that the EU is a sophisticated and influential construct it has withstood a number of body blows and will likely survive more. It withstood the financial crash of 2008 and it will withstand Brexit. There are those on my side of the argument whop would have us believe that the EU is collapsing but I think this is wishful thinking. For as long as the EU is useful to the power-brokers in Europe it will continue to exist. Institutionally it is safe as houses.

We Brexiters, however, continually point out to those who like to abuse language, that the EU is not Europe. And while the EU perseveres, Europe is gradually imploding. Poland is not a country at ease with itself and for all that remainers wail that the UK is undergoing a swing to the far right, the UK doesn't even know the meaning of far right when contrasted with Poland, Hungary and Austria. The UK manifestation of "far right" is a handful of grunters holding banners in Newcastle on a wet Saturday morning.

The thing about being "far right" is that it actually requires a lot of energy and commitment and for reasons I do not fully understand, Brits are just not that politically committed. Perhaps it is the weather? It is part of our residual self image from World War Two that we are generally disapproving of racialist movements. More likely, though, we are simply politically lazy, which is both an asset and a liability.

From a distance we have viewed the EU as a utilitarian relationship where even now the main arguments for remaining are almost entirely economic arguments. Very few actually buy into the EU big idea and those who do are in some way employed by the EU machine. For mainland Europe, however, economic and political union seems far more logical since crossing borders for a great many is mundane daily routine rather than a novelty.

The problem, however, is that the EU is very much a commitment of mainstream politics and the EU does little to address the concerns of ordinary people and in many respects the EU exacerbates the local problems, be it immigration or liberalisation of markets. The EU likes to claim credit for successes but blame member states for the fallout, whereas member states do the opposite. This is not sustainable.

With geopolitical pressures from every direction and resurgence of old grievances, the EU can only really put out brushfires but is unable to offer a Europe-wide remedy. This is the problem with having such a diverse demos. Brotherhood and unity did not work on the scale of Yugoslavia so it is somewhat demented to believe it can work on a continental scale. Consequently while the political classes are ever more convergent, this cannot be said of European peoples. Government is going one way and the public is going the other.

Being that the UK is not invested in the single currency and holds a number of opt outs it stands to reason that the least interested would be the first to depart. An island nation has no need of microscopic levels of integration. Ireland is only an enthusiast because subservience to Brussels is a safeguard against London rule. On recent form I can't say I blame them. Many in Scotland want a divorce and the only surprise here is that we haven't seen a credible Yorkshire independence movement.

Something is happening that we cannot yet explain. The reaction to hyperglobalisation seems to be a demand for hyperlocalisation where the EU's subsidiarity principle is not sufficient in that under such a system the people themselves are not sovereign. The bureaucrats are the ones deciding who gets to decide what. As an idea that was never going to succeed.

Whenever I make the argument for more local and regional autonomy people often scoff that I want to return to the Heptarchy of yore. As it happens, I don't think that is a bad idea. The UK has a common language, culture and heritage but we do need a model that recognises that the regions are distinct with politics vastly differing from London. Our power pyramid needs to be inverted EU membership is incompatible because the real power resides with EU institutions. For as long as we are members the people cannot be sovereign.

Many predict the demise of the EU. I don't think they are right. Like the Commonwealth I think it will fade into obscurity as Europe leaves it behind. Its institutions will remain for as long as they serve a function but unlike the Commonwealth we won't even have a quasi-Olympics held in its name. It will simply linger as a redundant enterprise until a new idea puts it out of its misery.

All the mainstream political political energies of the next decade will go into shoring up the worn out European ideal but gradually they will cease to be the mainstream and democratic movements throughout Europe, though cast as populist, will take Europe in a new direction. What that looks like is anyone's guess but the writing is on the wall. The peoples of Europe are moving on, evolving and real politics is reawakening. The EU was always capable of withstanding the financial crash, and it can withstand Brexit. It cannot, though, withstand democracy - not least because the EU is designed to prevent it. That was never going to be tolerated.     

Thursday 30 August 2018

Vacating the field

News that Frank Field has resigned the Labour whip should give Labour pause for thought. I've heard Field described as a socialist a non-socialist could vote for. I completely agree. That he is a Brexiter is nether here nor there. He has a track record as a dedicated constituency MP and a thinker.

Field won the respect of (c)onservatives during the Blair era when he came out against the rampant welfarism that had taken root. This was a man who had studied the root causes of poverty and had a genuinely devotion to tackling it. His proposals, though, did not get very far. They were incompatible with the Labour strategy of building a welfare client base. And this tells us all we need to know about Labour.

It tells us that Labour sees the role of the state to be a universal provider. They are not actually interested in solving poverty, rather they think the poor should have enough to get by on from the state and that will keep them voting Labour. Power for its own sake. Though Blairites are now described as centrists there is actually only one crucial difference between Blair and Corbyn. Blair thought it necessary to do those things one has to do to win elections.

At the centre of the Labour philosophy is the notion that the world is one giant conspiracy against the poor. Talk to any leftist for long enough and soon they will go off on a rant about the Rothschilds which is a veiled version of "the joos control everything". It's the politics of petulant teenagers.

These sorts of theories tend to go hand in hand with crackpot 9/11 conspiracy theories because it's born of the belief that the that somebody is in control of everything. This explains leftist politics. They think that since everything can be controlled then it should be controlled by the state. Since it can't be controlled everything goes to hell when left wing governments try it.

This sort of politics, though, has always gone hand in hand with antisemitism, and even if Corbyn wasn't an antisemite, a Labour leader subscribing to the politics of petulant teenagers will mainstream antisemitism and put antisemites closer to power. The real question, therefore, is why on earth did it take a man like Frank Field this long to resign the whip?

Wednesday 29 August 2018

Brexit: the importance of taking back control of trade

In the wake of Mrs May's trade mission to Africa we see all the predictably tedious debates unfolding about EU protectionism whereupon the Brexiters will claim EU tariffs freeze out African producers, to which the remainers reply with references to the Everything But Arms agreement. The Brexiters then point to some obscure example of milled rice or processed coffee subject to EU rules of origin and then the trade nerds pile and bore us all to death.

Both sides are missing the point on this. Tariffs are not the barrier. Take, for instance, EU inspections for Citrus Black Spot - a fungal disease in fruit. Typically reports cite "EU regulations" as the reason for import restrictions. It isn't that. It's an EFSA risk assessment leading to a higher rate of inspection creating delays that cause South African growers to voluntarily terminate trade even though it meets the standards and qualifies for trade preferences.

The South African view is that the risk assessment criteria is the product of internal lobbying and is scientifically questionable. The Spanish government's position will undoubtedly be the product of lobbying by the Valencian Growers Association AVA-ASAJA. They have identified the weak spot in the system that allows them to push for EU level protectionist measures.

What we find is that, notwithstanding cooperation agreements on standards convergence, the risk assessment criteria is still more a political than scientific issue, it rests largely with the Commission, and though the IPPC can investigate, it can only challenge the validity of the risk assessment process rather than the actual verdict. If the process is found to be transparent and the specialists are sufficiently qualified then there is little anyone can do.

This is where it's possible to overstate importance and usefulness of certain institutions and instruments within the trade ecosystem. Though WTO members can normally raise issues for consideration, panels must be formed, investigations undertaken and hearings scheduled. The process is time consuming and expensive thus, in most cases, an EU decision to exclude produce is usually final.

The EU, therefore, does not need to tinker with tariffs. If it wants to exclude produce on protectionist grounds there is little to stop it from doing so and plenty of means to do it. Out side the EU, the UK could very well operate an independent risk assessment system and one less vulnerable to industrial lobbying. The issue, therefore, becomes one of whether the EU assessment of our own risk assessment system has ramifications for our exports to the EU. Consequently every decision made in respect of third countries has to be stress tested against its potential impact on UK-EU trade.

The EU can subsequently make demands for standards improvement but then when it comes to standards improvement under the aegis of an EU cooperation agreement, we often find the goalpost shift time and again on the whim of EU producers - which is why we still manage to exclude Argentinian beef exports some twenty years after the BSE scare. That issue will run and run and will remain a talking point of trade debate for a decade or more.

What we have here is an attempt by both sides to extract simplistic narratives from what is inherently complex and far more complex than even I imagined. The remainers are making hay of it in pointing out that the "deal" struck by May is nothing we didn't have via the EU. This completely misses the point.

For now the main mission is to ensure trade continuity and if Mrs May has succeeded in rolling over agreements then that is certainly not a bad thing. Obviously these agreements will need revisiting and there is scope for future refinement and that will happen in due course. What it means is that the UK will have its own offices dedicated to managing trade relations with third countries. The UK already has a dedicated unit for trade with China. We will see more of these established over time. This is the process of repatriating trade policy thus reclaiming an essential instrument of foreign policy. And that matters.

Theresa May is reported to support South African land reform but it's worth examining what she actually said. "The UK has, for some time now, supported land reform that is legal, transparent and follows a democratic process," May said. "I welcome the comments he has already made about approaching land reform, bearing in mind the economic and social consequences - and that land reform will be no smash and grab".

Having direct control over our bilateral trade relationships means that we can take our own decisions in respect of any potential illegal land expropriation. One of the great evils of the EU is that it has turned trade into a technocratic discipline entirely divorced from politics. Member states, therefore, are reduced to making impotent statements in the face of human rights abuses and any action we would ordinarily take unilaterally has to be cleared with Brussels. It then depends on other member states and their overseas interests. Here we find that "European solidarity" is only skin deep - especially if it trespasses on France's colonial interests.

Having repatriated trade, public campaigns can compel our own politicians to take political measures. We are are a market of 65m wealthy consumers. Of itself that is influential when dealing with developing countries. Not so though if domestic political pressure is inert. I am just old enough to remember when grassroots politics did speak of imposing trade sanctions and lobbying for them. Brexit once again puts trade back into the political realm and once again becomes a policy tool of substance. The amalgamation of trade policy in the EU means trade is a foreign policy weapon of the EU elites, but not the people. We cannot instruct or demand that the EU acts.

Brexit does not necessarily mean better trade deals. It is possible that they can be bettered configured for the UK economy. Some will be better, some will be worse, but the point is that we will have greater control over our external relations and be able to take measures against predatory practices without first grovelling to Brussels. There is nothing to stop us coordinating our actions with the EU, but nowhere does it say we have to be subservient.

Though I am an advocate of multlateralism and and the global rules based system, the left wing critique of it is essentially correct in that it seeks to strangle national sovereignty in trade affairs, essentially making it a corporate playground immune to any kind of democratic impetus. Trade is ringfenced from politics.

While that essentially provides stability in global trade, and consequently is a pillar of the peace architecture, it once again raises the question as to whether globalisation is compatible with democracy. Being that the EU is a middleman, muting the voice of member states, our foreign policy will more likely reflect that of the technocrats over the peoples of Europe.

We are often told that sovereignty is an archaic concept and increasingly meaningless in the modern world. This blog has also made that argument. That is not to say, though, that it is useless, or that we should tolerate any further erosion of it.

The EU has sanitised trade and removed politics from it. The political engagement we see is anaemic campaigns from NGOs and lobby groups in respect of GMOs and "chlorinated chickens". This is a pastiche of politics. Trade and aid are fundamental tools of foreign policy and foreign policy must serve the people, not the the ambitions of a supranational proto-state. If we do not have control over these things then we are not a country in any meaningful sense and our elections aren't worth a damn.

May's great deception will end the Tories

Whether intentional or not, pretending the Chequers deal is "Brexit in name only" is a strategic masterstroke on the part of the ultras. It makes it look like Brussels is playing hardball even when Theresa May has capitulated to their demands. It plays into the narrative that Brussels is not an honest broker and isn't doesn't even want a deal. It even serves May well in that she can say she made her best possible offer and still she was slapped down.

It's actually so ingenious one could even speculate that May never intended to present a plan the EU could accept. Either way as political scheming goes this up there with the most devious. It doesn't need to fool everybody. It only need fool the party faithful and that doesn't take much doing. The public will believe whatever they are told. They were told David Cameron had "used the veto" which passed into common legend without question.

What we can expect from here on in is every branch of government parroting the same handful of talking points. We've been subjected to a barrage of pro no-deal propaganda from the Tory apparatus for a while now - but from today the government is a willing participant in the deception and is setting the EU up to take the blame for failure. Everything else is pantomime.

A more generous assessment would be that the government is simply preparing its own strategic backstop, ensuring all the excuses are in place, but still hoping for a final hour breakthrough. That being the case there is a danger the government creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where it believes that no deal is survivable thus will let it happen. 

Should we leave without a deal a lot will depend on the success of whatever contingency plans are in place. We don't have much of an idea what such plans look like in that the government is keen to keep a lid on it and the specifics are only really known to the civil services. No doubt there will be political orders in place to ensure the headline impacts are kept to a minimum.

This will likely prove futile if airlines are grounded. About 40% of the UK’s trade by value travels by air, which indicates how critical this mode of transportation is to the domestic economy. If we find ourselves in that position then it really is game over for the Tories. There's no coming back from that.

The greater worry is that it may take some time to realise the seriousness of our predicament. Trade in overseas services is not counted in GDP and restrictions on movement and loss of single market rights may take a while to filter through into economic metrics. It is entirely possible that the economic activity in mitigating the effects of Brexit could well prop up GDP for a while.

In this I am reminded of the scene in A Bridge Too Far where Major General Robert Urquhart details his method of retreat by placing the dead and wounded on machine-gun posts to give the impression that his forces were still in place, while the main force slipped away quietly in the night. He describes this as like a collapsing paper bag.

For a while it may look like things are holding up and the press will run a barrage of optimistic stories failing to spot the underlying trends which will point to a longer term collapse of trade. Unemployment is a trailing indicator and the first wave of job shedding will with nothing in comparison with the longer term bleed.

Even if by some miracle Brexit preparations prove adequate we will still find business caught unawares, many of whom have simply assumed the government will sort something out and that the consequences of no deal are so dire that neither side would allow it to happen. That complacency runs all the way to the top of the business world. 

The next few weeks will feed that false sense of security as we see a drip of reports that trade deals will be rolled over with third countries. Businesses who don't trade with Europe will assume Brexit doesn't affect them. They are in for a few nasty surprises.

At this point I think our fate is sealed. Complacency runs deep and there is no chance of sufficiently popularising the EEA option in time. Remainers have thrown all their energy into remaining while leavers are now determined to leave at any cost. Elements of the remainer media are half-heatedly unspinning the myths they created about the Norway option but it's too little and too late. All the while no warning, however drastic, will deter the Tory ultras. Events have taken on a life of their own and the fever has to burn itself out.

What happens thereafter is really anyone's guess. Tory excuses won't last and the party will likely rip itself to pieces. The political incoherence we see now will look like relative stability in contrast. The power will form up around anyone with a coherent recovery plan and the public will even stomach Labour if they come up with something halfway achievable. The only certainty is that the Conservative Party as we know it is a dead man walking. 

Right now politics is held together only because the consequences of Brexit are hypothetical, highly debatable and not yet upon us. We won't know until we know. When we do, the whole political landscape will change. There will be a political bloodthirst on all sides and the Tories will have to account for their arrogance and dishonesty. Since the internet never forgets, the Ultras will have uncomfortable questions to answer. Brexit will be a graveyard for the careers of Tories.

Brexit is going to redefine politics. Moreover it will be a reckoning for our media too. All those thinks tanks and Tory publications who told us we can trade on WTO terms will have to account for themselves. This will haunt them for years to come. They can't say they were not warned. They can't say none of this could be predicted. They can't say it wasn't their fault and the EU is not going to take the rap for it. There is no passing the buck on this one. It is ironic that we should have fought for Brexit for greater political accountability because the first to be held accountable will indeed be the Brexit ultras. It's quite delicious isn't it? 

Monday 27 August 2018

Brexit: the end in sight

It slipped my attention that a few days ago this blog reached its third anniversary of commencement. It has been something of a rollercoaster. This last year has been especially arduous as we all find ourselves unable to influence events while this government drifts ever closer toward calamity. No progress has been made since December and we have regressed ever since.

Now it looks like there simply isn't going to be a deal. Theresa May cannot get Chequers though without splitting the party, but then anything she tries will have the same effect. There is nothing she can offer or concede that will keep the party together. Equally, if she walks away from the talks, that could be extremely damaging and threaten the Tories electoral chances.

Thus, what she is most likely doing is engineering increasingly frenetic talks which she will run right to the wire, giving the impression she is actively seeking a deal. This will go right to the 11th hour on 29 March, on the basis that she can also seek an Article 50 extension to get the ratification. But, when it fails at the eleventh hour, we automatically drop out of the EU. There is a "no deal" by default.

It will never go to parliament, there will not be a vote, and no chance of a referendum. She will then position the failure as down to the "intransigence" of the EU. She will make out that she was "this close" to a deal, but the EU pulled the plug. At the same time, the legend will be pushed that a "no deal" is benign - that the effects are tolerable. Thus, it will be made out that any and all serious consequences will be deliberate "punishment" by the EU.

This will invoke the "Blitz spirit" and unite the Tory party against a common external enemy - and there will be a majority of Tories who will happily believe that "Brussels bullies" are going out of their way to screw the UK. It's desperately shallow and predictable. The book is written and now they are playing out the chapters. As to what happens then is anyone's guess.

In the three years running this blog I have seen plenty of self-declared experts come and go. The one flaw they all share is their belief that their small piece of the puzzle is the whole picture. As a rule those who know about trade know very little about the EU and vice versa. Your view of Brexit, therefore, really depends on which expert you choose to believe.

I myself am not an expert. I have but one superpower and that is knowing a bullshitter when I see one. In this endeavour I happen to think there are no absolute experts because the subject matter is too wide, hugely unpredictable and there is always much more to learn. If you have a comprehensive list of what you don't know then you're doing quite well.

More to the point, we are in uncharted waters here, especially in the the even of no deal. Hitherto the EU has been a creature of rules but in a crisis we do not know how it will react or what pressures will be brought to bear. Much of our working assumptions are on the basis of what the law says but come the day we will see politics coming into play.

Of immediate concern will be the Northern Irish border, where neither party is in any particular rush to install border infrastructure. A thread by Dimitry Grosoubinski, an informed trade commentator on Twitter, echoes our view that those "WTO rules" are not necessarily a show stopper and his blog further outlines why uncertified schedules are not the drama that many pretend they are.

What matters is how prepared we are for such an eventuality in terms of our exports and arrangements for the myriad of peripheral issues that could see airlines grounded. Only a fool would believe that a collapse of the existing legal order has no real world consequences.

The Tories probably think that if they can bluff their way through the initial impact then they are shielded from electoral oblivion as the nation reels at the prospect of a Corbyn government. If not, then the subsequent economic harm can be blamed on Corbyn and his left wing politics. More than likely Corbyn would exacerbate the problems.

That, though, is a huge gamble because it hinges on no deal being a drama free walk in the park and it also assumes that the wider public can be taken for fools. There are enough people who won't buy the line that the EU is to blame and the EU isn't going to lie back and take the rap. Moreover, even if the headline impacts turn out to be overstated, the impact on Brexiter sacred cows like fishing will be extremely bad press for them.

In the meantime the media will churn over the prospects of a leadership contest but I suspect Mrs May will cling on at least for the duration of Article 50 talks. It is then a question of who takes the reigns the day after. One suspects Rees-Mogg is playing the long game and does not want the poisoned chalice, leaving the way clear for the narcissist Johnson.

By this point politics is back with a bang. There will be massive disapproval of both parties with no obvious alternative. The next election will be decided by an accident of numbers as disaffection rises. The credibility of the Brexiters will be spent, the centrists will have no answers and nobody will command an outright majority. By then it will be abundantly clear that politics as we know it just doesn't work. That is why we need to be talking about alternatives. This is the end of the line for politics as we know it.

Sunday 26 August 2018

Britain's split personality

Britain lives a double life. There's the country it pretends to be; the image it projects to the world, and then there's the country that it actually is. It expends an enormous amount of energy pretending to be something that it isn't. It's exhausting.

If you go on Twitter and run a search you will find thousands of variations of the same tweet. "I want my country back as well. I want the open, tolerant, diverse, understanding and intelligent country that put on the 2012 Olympics back. Not this race to the bottom of the pack insular idiocracy we've become".

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

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

Moreover, so much as you can fill a stadium for a fireworks display, the actual sports events struggled for attendance. We all knew that would happen long before the event and there's a very very simple reason why. It's not actually sport, nobody cares, it's boring and is little more than a fascist exercise in eugenics as the inimitable Doug Stanhope explains. The whole jamboree cost a king's ransom for little more than an iconic overhead shot of the NHS logo in a stadium. Albert Speer would be proud.

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

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

And what has that delivered? Landscapes plastered with solar panels and useless wind turbines, colossal and destructive waste on humanitarian aid, and an accelerated migration crisis which is still murdering thousands of people every year in the Mediterranean. So progressive.

The ultimate conceit of the remain brigade is to say that Brexit has unleashed political turmoil. You could only say that if you weren't attuned to what was going for the last decade. You would have to be a Londoner to say anything even approaching that stupid. 

One thing I don't do on this blog, unlike, is pepper my posts with data and links to EU law. This is more an opinion blog and I make certain assumptions about my readers. Very occasionally though I am reminded that not everyone has read the back story and any single post out of context can look, well, a little unhinged. 

Last October one of my posts went viral, attracting nearly three hundred thousand views. It was especially irritating because it was a post written during a bout of writer's block where I had to produce something, anything, just to keep the blog running. Far from my best work. 

The post, detailing why I think Britain needs a cultural reboot, was picked up by The Independent, the Guardian, Vice and the FT and held aloft as though I were some sort of psychopath. Perhaps I am, but it doesn't mean I'm not right. I just wish it had been one of my better attempts. 

It's not a new theme for this blog - that the UK is suffering from a self-absorbed soul sickness that is changing the character of the nation. I've always instinctively known that something isn't quite right. The clue comes from this report in the Independent, noting that "half of millennials take out car finance to match their social media dreams".

The money-quote is this; "Dr Dean Burnett, author and neuroscientist, said: “In the current economic climate where traditional milestones like owning a home or securing permanent employment are increasingly out of reach for the younger generation of millennials, it seems that other factors are influencing decisions like car buying. Social status in an increasingly interconnected world is becoming far more important as a result".

The research comes after separate data found most Britons nationwide are "trend spenders", those who are ruled by their heart when it comes to money and don’t feel worried about loosening the purse strings as long as they can maintain their lifestyle.

This rather supports my view that the generation following mine is largely cash rich but asset poor, but essentially squandering wealth and never acquiring the maturity that comes with owning assets. I think that is reflected in our politics where we spend vast sums on projection of an image. It suits our narcissism and the more we squander on "progressive" causes the more we feel entitled to lecture the rest of the world. 

One of the remainer tropes I keep hearing is that Brexit diminishes out position in the world, reducing our international status. Again this is a conceit. We've bought our own propaganda. We look at picture of David Cameron parading alongside other global leaders at a G20 summit and see ourselves as part of the big gang but in reality, nobody gives a tinker's toss what Britain says. 

Saudi Arabia doesn't. India doesn't. Japan doesn't. America certainly doesn't and nor does Russia, yet we call urgent crisis press conferences in front of Downing Street to make grandiose and self-important speeches like in a bad James Bond film, harking back to the days when Britain was a power in its own right. That Britain is at all influential, in or out of the EU, is a facet of our residual national self-image.

Brtiain is like that guy in the tracksuit from the roughest street on the estate who drives a fifteen year old BMW and thinks himself superior to to the frugal pensioners next door who own a brand new Nissan hatchback. Utterly conceited with absolutely no self-awareness. 

The real Britain is more akin with the above illustration, which just happens to be the high street where I grew up. It's a poster-child for the decline of the traditional working class, and whenever Channel 4 needs to go on a poverty safari, it's always high on the list - and they have the same handful of grunters on speed-dial if they need to cast someone to have a moan about the local pakis.

Here I could knock out another spiel about the march of globalisation and the impact of online retail and social media and how it has changed the face of our towns, but you know that shtick as well as I do. It explains why these places are shitholes but it doesn't change the fact that they are shitholes and no modernisation of the bus station with EU funding is going to change that essential dynamic, nor does an EU funded statue stop Dewsbury being a festering jihad incubator.

So what's to be done? Well, buggered if I know, but I'm reasonably certain clearing the streets of feral Pakistani rape gangs would be a start. Doing something abut the cost of housing might be an idea. You cannot hope to cultivate a society of conscientious citizens when you've removed all the basic incentives to becoming one.

Britain's conceit that it is a modern, progressive outward looking country is one that has only really taken hold through a barrage of propaganda and being that our politicians and media live in side an impenetrable bubble of smug BBC addled self regard, it is really only they who were surprised to discover that Britain is a deeply divided country and one ill-at-ease with the pace of change. Only by burying the authentic, but politically inconvenient voice of the working class have they been able to convince themselves that Britain actually is what it pretends to be. 

What remainers want more than anything is to make this beastly Brexit go away. Why? Precisely because it has shattered their illusions. It's a cold bucket of water over their presumption. They want to sweep it all back under the rug and go back to dreaming that reassuring comfortable dream.

The problem, though, is that when you live a dual identity, it's increasingly difficult to reconcile the two and eventually you run out of energy and resources to keep up the pretence. That's where Britain is at now. A mid-ranking power with militaristic ambitions far beyond its capability or capacity to sustain, up to its neck in debt, overextended on future commitments and in total denial about it. 

We are, therefore, storing up a perfect storm for the future, unless we come to terms with the fact that we really are a spent rainy little island gorging on the last of its imperial prestige and revelling in its own mythology. Remainers and Brexiters alike are each caught up in their own romantic ideal of Britain, neither of which reflects the reality. 

The Brexit we are going to get is one far removed from the one promised the the Tories. I'm actually counting on it. It will put an end to a number of individual and national bad habits and force a lot of debates we've been avoiding. In the coming few months and years we are going to see British politics at its worst but I also believe we are going to see the British people at their best. If there is one thing our history tells us is that our legends are born of adversity. I don't think a little adversity would go amiss.

The months since the referendum have brought to light many divisions and internal stresses. It has exposed just how much our ruling class holds us in contempt. It has exposed the fragility of our supply chains and brought home how the EU has wormed its way into every facet of governance. It has thrown our stagnant party system into disarray. It has exposed the criminal ineptitude and dishonesty of our media. It has dragged the corruption of the Tory right into the light of day. We've had more street marches in a year than we have seen in the last twenty. 

That right there is democracy happening right in front of us. What we are witnessing, probably for the first time in my adult lifetime, is politics of consequence. Everything that has been done to us in the last two decades is coming back into question. Politicians will have nowhere to hide. They will have no more excuses. There is no retreating to their political safe space. For once in their lives they now have to face a reality they cannot escape from. Get the popcorn in. This is going to be great!

Poisonous propaganda from the Observer

Today The Observer repeats a singularly poisonous piece of remainer rhetoric.
The reality is that the Brexiter fantasy of regaining control harks back to a time when Britannia ruled the waves. There’s no such thing as 19th-century-style national sovereignty in an interconnected world where economic success is built on international trade. The future lies in more, not less, intergovernmental co-operation and the European Union – for all its faults – is the most functional model of that. The reality is that the UK is giving up membership of the world’s most significant trading bloc – in which it has exerted real influence for a decade – in exchange for having its terms of trade dictated by other governments.
Sovereignty is one of those words that keeps popping up. It's a tough one to call in that there are clear examples of national sovereignty overriding citizen sovereignty, and national sovereignty can often be a barrier to enjoying greater freedoms through increased cooperation and trade. Thus from the outset it is necessary to recognise there can be no absolute sentiment on the notion of sovereignty.

A great deal of the regulation does not involve sacrificing one party's interest for the benefit of another. When you are driving south and I am driving north, it is in the interests of both of us that we comply with a convention about sticking to the left hand side of the road. A direct analogy to global law is the regulation of satellite orbits by the International Telecommunications Union. No one wants to put up a satellite that will bump into another one.

It is, of course, never that simple in that as regulation becomes more complex, there are always winners and losers, thus the process must be transparent and fair and where possible, democratic. This is where I have always found the EU wanting. But then scrutiny is not always possible.

I have been an advocate of greater parliamentary scrutiny on treaties in the past, but in practice a treaty in its final form is the only document that can be pratically scrutinised. Consequently a large deliberative assembly can only ever add reservations and exceptions which may not be agreed, and the whole process can then stall depending on the veracity of parliaments objections - leading to many years of delay and reduced growth while banking up requirements for new agreements as industries grow and develop. That points to the necessity for a better consultative process.

As this blog continues to argue democracy is more than just periodic voting rituals and where trade is concerned it requires much more civil society involvement and more input from stakeholders - consumers especially. The outsourcing of trade, though, tends to shift trade debate into the technocratic realm where the public are barely aware of the processes and what is being negotiated in their name. This is also why our own MPs are trade illiterate. Brexit is already restoring trade debate to the UK. Putting the process back where we can see it.

The Observer has it that the future lies in more, not less, intergovernmental co-operation, which is absolutely true, as per the illustration above. Intergovernmental cooperation on standards and trade governance is at the centre of world trade affairs. There is no reason, though, why we should not have the ability to refuse rules.

More or less every binding agreement results in limits to how sovereignty is wielded. What matters is who is making the decisions and in what circumstances. By leaving the EU we repatriate the decision making over what we adopt. Presently much of our EU technical governance arrives on the UK statute book via statutory instruments and the process is automatic.

We must also note that the EU is supranationalism not intergovernmentalism and very often on technical matters we are overruled without a means to appeal by the ECJ. Moving out of the EU means the UK retakes its own vote and regains the right of initiative on all of the international bodies from which the EU draws many of its own regulations. A quick glance at the EU-Japan FTA shows the influence of these bodies. 

But then pragmatic Brexiters are not going to go to the barricades over common vehicle safety and vegetable marketing standards. Trade governance is tolerable, but we reject utterly the notion that any supranational organisation should have supremacy over justice, labour rights and home affairs. Arguably we may lose some sovereignty in adopting EU food safety rules (most of which are based on best practice) but we regain it in areas of domestic governance, retaking powers that should never have been given away.  

The Observer asserts that the UK will have its terms of trade dictated by other governments. Nowhere does it say parliament must ratify a deal, and in fact various noisemakers are already making themselves heard over "hormone beef" and "chlorinated chicken". Parliament will assert itself and the UK industry lobby will also make its thoughts known. 

Decision making over trade will reside in the UK and parliament will be the supreme authority in trade matters. Moreover, nearly all modern trade agreements seek out fair trade which is why they have safeguard measures and continued communication through the supporting institution of the agreement. Outside the EU we are free to trigger safeguard measures unilaterally.

The Observer is right to note that a no deal scenario is considerably worse than a negotiated trade relationship, but the tiresome "rule taker" mythology oversimplifies the issue. Global efforts on trade harmonisation will require a number of compromises in the future and there are indeed limitations to sovereignty but that is a different question to being a subordinate of a supreme government with direct authority to overrule.

In matters of trade the EU is a single customs entity, replacing member states in world affairs, and very often speaking for them without member state consultation. This is also true of foreign policy where increasingly the EU pushes its own expansionist agenda. Brexit is about reasserting the UK as a distinct entity. It may not enjoy the same power, but we trade power for sovereignty and control over our own affairs without supranational interference.

Having left the EU we will be faced with some uncomfortable dilemmas and trade-offs and in some cases none of the options will be optimal. That applies to all mid ranking powers. It is, though, not strictly an economic question and one of who and what we allow into the country. That is popular sovereignty and most Brtexiters understand it, and in the age of hyper-globalisation, more necessary than ever. 

Saturday 25 August 2018

Shrill warnings from remainers are self-defeating

I've made a point of listening to Jason Hunter just recently, if only to know where the man is coming from. He knows a thing or two about trade but I don't take him entirely seriously because he's an authoritarian europhile and a little economical with the truth. Either that or he has not fully understood how the WTO works.

In the above video he asserts that the UK made it illegal to fall back on WTO rules. He says if we drop out without a deal we cannot strike any new deals with other WTO members. His basis for saying this is that the absence of border controls in Ireland, and subsequent law preventing their installation, would be in contravention of the WTO obligation to measure, control and check the value of goods crossing the border.

This is actually a mischaracterisation of the WTO which is common to both sides, where very often people assume the WTO is an authority much like the EU able to enforce its own rules. It isn't. As noted over on eureferendum, from which I quote heavily in this piece, it's not that clear cut...

Firstly we would note that a no deal Brexit is wholly unprecedented. We really are in uncharted waters. Should it happen we are up to our necks in complexity but we need to be clear on what the real issues are.

As such, the WTO relies on negotiation as its main tool and regards the treaty law as a adjunct, to be used when all else fails and then only to achieve an effect. It is not a legal authority which regards the rule of law as a sacred principle or any part of its duty implementing the letter of the law.

Reflecting this, many of the WTO treaty provisions (and their predecessors in GATT) are not actionable merely on evidence of a breach. The WTO Agreement sets the additional test of requiring the aggrieved party (or parties) to have suffered injury – known in technical terms as "nullification or impairment".

In those circumstances, where the UK is maintaining the status quo, one has to ask whether any of the erstwhile third countries are materially disadvantaged. And, if they feel they are, their option is to go through the dispute procedures, potentially taking several years before an actional judgement is made, which in any event only allows the aggrieved parties to impose sanctions which have an effect on the target county similar to the damage originally sustained.

One can easily imagine the situation where the UK will take the political judgement that it should waive WTO rules. And even if it is later found to be in breach, such modest sanctions as may then apply – some time in the distant future – are nothing compared to the damage that might otherwise have been caused.

Similarly, if the UK decides to invoke the national security exemption, its lawyers will doubtless be able to keep any complainants tied up in the minutia of international law and WTO precedents so that, by the time anything is resolved – if, indeed, it is – the crisis will have been long past.

What needs to be conveyed, and with some urgency, is that – beyond the short-term effects - the main impact of a WTO "no deal" Brexit will be to cripple our export trade with the EU – slashing the current £270 billion of goods sold to a fraction of that level, a level unknown and not possible to estimate.

For very obvious reasons, the UK will be less inclined to restrict EU imports – not only will it have less legal justification, in a country which is only 60 percent sufficient in food, it cannot afford to turn away supplies from EU Member States – and will not find it easy to source alternatives.

Crucially, this means that many of the headline effects of Brexit will not materialise – or are capable of mitigation to such an extent that they will scarcely register as much more than minor perturbations. The really damaging effects will be longer-term and far less visible, the cumulative effect discernible only from periodic trade statistics.

As with Ireland, with a modicum of planning, and the use of the Civil Contingencies Act, there is no reason at all why there should be a logjam at the ports or queues of lorries on the M20. The question is whether the government is making adequate plans. Dominic Raab seems to think that if we're nice to the EU and don't erect any barriers to their goods, they'll be nice to use and not erect any against ours. We can just carry on as normal and pretend Brexit hasn't happened.

If they have convinced themselves that the EU will play nice, a "no deal" will hold no terrors for them and they'll let it happen in the expectation that the UK can continue as before. This is actually the most terrifying of all scenarios as it means that the government will not make anything other than token preparations and will have no mitigation in place.

The point I keep making, however, is that even if we do make adequate plans and evade the immediate headline impacts, a no deal Brexit cannot stay a no deal Brexit. We will have to have some from of formal relations with the EU. The question is one of whether we do it as part of a formal exit process or whether we let it all go to hell and the grovel back to Brussels with the begging bowl. The longer term consequence of no deal is to become the "vassal state" we sought to avoid. 

Continually we hear the glib assertions from Brexiters that some consequences are so bad that neither side would let it happen, but that presupposes a level of competence which is simply not evident. But supposing they are right, what could very easily follow is a collapse of the UK's export trade with the EU and the rest of the world. The effects would be devastating but may take a few months to become apparent. That alone is reason enough to avoid a "no deal".

Tactically Jason Hunter is making a major mistake. Grave warnings over the economic impacts are not working. All they do is harden resolve. As predicted only yesterday, the response to such warnings is yet more naff scribblings from the likes of Brendan O'Neill. 

Hunter can do the rounds of every media channel confidently demolishing quarterwit Brexiters, further enhancing his wunderkind reputation among the remoaners, but it is not at all productive. This government is not going to legislate for a new referendum of any kind and if the warnings are not credible then they will allow a disorderly exit to happen.

No dire predictions will be taken seriously by leavers. The more shrill they are the less they will be believed. They won't even take it from me with a twenty year track record as a leaver. It is therefore necessary to talk up the merits of the one Brexit deal that can win over moderates on both sides. 

The continuity remain camp is making more noise than it has for two years, successfully dominating Twitter, but they haven't noticed that HMS Remain is a sinking battleship. Realists must now accept that Brexit is happening and stop self-indulgent re-fighting the referendum. We are not short of self-serving media whores. What we need is people who can progress the debate out of its current cul-de-sac. 

I'm just not a European

Many times have I been described as a "europhobe". Truth be known I am more euro-indifferent. I'm not tuned into European politics, nor European culture especially. I'm an americanophile. I love its history, culture and its films. I feel a kinship with America that I simply don't feel for Europe. I could feel at home there. If I were to emigrate it would be to somewhere on the East coast. New York makes me feel alive in ways London does not.

Europe on the other hand doesn't entice me at all. I don't see how I could fully participate in the economic and social life of a European country without learning the language and I wouldn't want to simply exist as a disconnected resident. And this is the problem I have with freedom of movement. We call it EU citizenship but it seems to be missing the citizenship. A report in the Telegraph says it all in one short paragraph.
The appeal of Britain could easily be dented by working in a Sports Direct warehouse in Nottingham. Not for Raluca Neag, a 30-year-old Romanian migrant. "I got paid the minimum wage, but it helped me to save enough to buy a house in Romania after two years of hard work in the UK,” she says. “It has been tough, but it paid off because myself and my husband have a lovely little home now that we bought with the money outright". 
Here I ask myself if this is a reciprocal opportunity. Where can Brits go to earn enough to make a housing deposit for a home in the UK? Romania does not come top of my list of places where a man might make a fortune unless you're into organised crime. As Paul Embrey notes, the story illustrates perfectly how open borders allows business to exploit cheap labour and force down wage rates by shunting workers from low to high-wage economies.

More crucially, though, this leads to the UK being the business park of Europe where individuals come not to be part of the economic and social life of the country, rather for financial opportunities. That's not citizenship. And one might very well ask how someone affords to save for a house while working minimum wage in the UK. All the evidence points to EU workers being able to unfairly, often illegally, cut down on cost of living overheads. Meanwhile on Twitter we see precisely what europhiles mean when they say they are "European citizens"...

Now for me, citizenship of a place means pitching in come what may. Citizenship is a shared experience. Not so for the citizens of nowhere who up sticks and swan off when the going gets tough. A reply to the above tweet was illuminating.
Personally I would never abandon my country for any reason, the worse the country gets the more I will fight for it, I would never run off at the slightest bit of trouble as I am not a coward and will not teach my children to be either.
I concur. This country is my home and I too will fight for its future. That is citizenship. Frankly, if our "EU Citizen" above feels that way then I encourage him/her to go along with anyone who thinks like them. Ridding the UK of sanctimonious turds who think so little of us might well be the first tangible benefit of Brexit. Similarly I'm not especially sympathetic to those whose citizenship is threatened. If you've been here for twenty years you could have applied for a British passport at any time.

Ending freedom of movement is not a primary motivator for me, and I would hope to see a liberal post-Brexit arrangement, but the remainers who declare their intention to quit the UK demonstrate exactly the phenomenon this blog explores in how the EU weakens national bonds. It undermines the very notion of citizenship. 

Britain has undergone a transformation over the last two decades. It's a faster pace of life with much less certainty and security and thanks to freedom of movement our communities are more transient and there are obvious pressures on housing. Much of the dynamism in our economy is built on a foundation of low wage exploitation and what we do not pay for convenient consumables we end up paying in other ways. The economic arguments made by remainers are all in defence of the status quo but one can very easily see why those on the breadline feel they have little to lose by voting to leave. 

Ultimately freedom of movement was one of the many propaganda devices of the EU to promote a sense of "europeanness" but I'm afraid it just didn't work on me. The promise of shorter queues at the airport is not grounds enough to give up control over our borders and workplace rights. I do not feel the need to be in a political union to appreciate European countries or indeed their peoples. I'm even glad some of them choose to make a life here. There is no reason why we cannot enjoy the best of relations with Europe without being a subordinate of a supreme government. 

Our "EU citizen" above says "My future is in the civilised EU not a small insignificant racist country like the EU". I wish them well, but it it rather looks to me like the resurgence of fascism is more of a serious threat in Hungary, Italy, Austria and Poland than the little old UK. Britain remains one of the most tolerant countries in Europe and one that will still be an attractive destination for much of the world after Brexit. One can imagine it only becoming even more tolerant with fewer self-important europhile bigots to contend with.  

Only a new moral vision can reunite Britain

It's the same the world over. Political leaders compete for victim status by dredging up ancient injustices, demanding reparation or restoration. It's the song of Hungarian and Polish ultra-nationalists, South Africa's ANC and all points between. South Africa is now the one to watch. President Cyril Ramaphosa believes South Africa will become unstable if the state does not expropriate land without compensation.

Addressing black commercial and emerging farmers at a gala dinner he said "If we do not address it‚ it is going to cause instability in our country. If there is any risk‚ it will be around the land issue. Many of you as farmers would like access to land. It is necessary that we should do this to give access to those among us that want to work the land‚ so that we can heal this festering wound of the past. The only way to heal that wound is to give land to our people".

We know how this goes. This ends with displaced white farmers, murders and the outcome is bankrupt farms, looted and and plundered, and shortly after the farms become derelict and produce nothing. And then it's always someone else's fault.

Debate in the West is also equally predictable. The left will write apologia for it while those on the right remark that under apartheid the white rulers could at least keep the light on and keep farms productive. They are right but then so are the left in that the apartheid regime was an instrument of oppression and economic exclusion. Not much of a choice is it? Racist subordination or the rule of violent fascist kleptocrats.

As ever the populists always go for the simplistic explanations. Right wing whites will say that the blacks are simply too primitive to run a country. I hate to say it but there is some truth in that. Or rather their politics is too primitive. South Africa is tribal as tribal gets and factional rivalry is no way to run a country. To successfully run a modern country it requires government to act in the common good rather than using the apparatus of state to enrich one's own tribe. 

Very often these populist measures are deflection. White farmers are scapegoated for the mismanagement and corruption of successive governments. Government does not function because tax collection is poor, paying tax for the ruling class is optional and enforcement of the law is practically non-existent.

You only need look at South African utilities to see why there is growing resentment. According to the Ridge Times, South Africa is facing six forms of electricity theft resulting in an average loss of up to R20 billion ($1.5 billion) per annum. The local publication states that bypassing of electric meters and consumers, mainly in informal settlements, illegally connecting themselves to the national grid are the two types of electricity theft most common in South Africa.

Vandalism of utility infrastructure, cable theft, the removal of oil from substations, the selling and use of illegal prepaid vouchers and non-payment of electricity tariffs are some of the factors characterised as electricity theft. Debt collection is poor and maintenance is substandard. Similarly South Africa is in a perpetual water crisis where we find out of date infrastructure, massive waste and supply unable to keep up with ever rising demand.

The problem with tribalism is that the style of governance is winner takes all. Once in power they feel no obligation to rule for the good of all. The most successful countries are those with lasting institutions that run impartially where there is a constitution that forbids the apparatus of state being used for political gain. This is actually why the UK and the USA are so successful. We view any abuse of the system as corruption and no politicians is above the law. 

The gradual erosion of such institutions is why the West is regressing. In the US we see increasing political tribalism largely thanks to identity politics and the victim-hood Olympics played by the American liberal left. It focuses on the grievances of groups rather than ideas held in common irrespective of faith, race and gender. Politics is the atomised along these separatist lines which then gives way censorship, the blaming of the other, and the need for "restorative justice" - which isn't justice at all. More often than not it's just legalised theft.

This is now deep set in US politics, particularly academia and media and depressingly these American fads tend to be contagious. The UK exhibits some of this same identity politics and Canada has apparently lost its marbles. If it takes root, the I expect we are only forty or fifty years away from our utilities being in a similar state to  that of South Africa. It really depends on the resilience of our institutions, all of which are facing multiple stresses. 

As to how we arrest the decline we have to look at how we managed to transcend our own tribal instincts to begin with. This is why the story of the USA is so fascinating. America was built on a moral vision nurturing a common identity. Truth, justice and the American way! The land of freedom and opportunity. 

Several events in its recent history have battered that self-image, not least Vietnam and Iraq, both of which have left a scar on the American psyche and Western leftists have used the sins of the West to demonise patriotism. Using Hollywood as their instrument of subversion they have gradually undermined the sense of national confidence to the point where Western leftists welcome the destruction of the West and believe we deserve it. National suicide as an act of atonement.

This is not unique to the US either. The entire European Union was founded on this same bankrupt ideology, equating the rise of German fascism with nationalism, deriding any expression of patriotism and uncouth, parochial and small minded. This is very much the establishment consensus view, so prevalent that conservatives are afraid of their own shadow. 

The European Union has sought to replace national identity with a sense of European identity, with the ultimate aim of dissolving the nation state. To a point this has already happened. The EU is its own legal personality and where trade is concerned, the EU is a single customs entity, and is increasingly developing its own foreign policy to supplant those of member states. 

Being that Italy and Germany were responsible for the rise of Fascism and still bear the shame, its elites still uphold the view that expressions of national sovereignty are a threat to the peace. For obvious reasons Britain does not feel that same sense of responsibility. 

Having weakened the bonds of the United Kingdom with instruments such as regionalism and the funding and revival of regional languages the EU has brought the UK to the brink of balkanisation. It has made us smaller and more tribal. As Scottish and Welsh differences have been massaged we have seen a growing resurgence of English identity which is a relatively new thing. Separatism is growing across the continent. It would seem the old world is disintegrating.

Meanwhile, when we look the the far east we see a new energy in younger countries like Malaysia where we see a healthy nationalism used to unite the distinct tribes. There is a concerted effort to seed a sense of Malaysian identity so that it can overcome the tribal factionalism that has dominated its politics. If it succeeds it has a better chance of improving its civic governance.

Good government depends on effective and fair administration working in the common good seeking to mute the excesses of our tribal instincts. The best way to do this is through a unifying moral vision with the consent of its people. It is that fundamental lack of consent that explains the UK's turbulent relationship with the EU. Our elites have sought to replace our union, born of a shared history and common language, with an artificial one by stealth.

I have never known Britain more divided. The union of  the United Kingdom may not even survive the breakaway from the EU. Through devolution we have nurtured divisions and we cannot discount the malign influence of Twitter in exacerbating tribal identity politics. We are atomised in every imaginable way and our communities are scattered to the winds. Our politics will only stabilise when we rediscover what unites us.

While the EU may massage our international pretensions the truth is that the nation state is the only effective arena for democratic politics. Attempts to subvert the nation state have created exactly the divisions the EU was invented to resolve. That fundamental breakdown of what binds us is ultimately the cause of our institutional decay. Brits may look at South Africa with a sense of superiority, but unless we can arrest the decline, South Africa is a sign of what is to come. 

Friday 24 August 2018

Lost in Brexit Limbo

For all that we've had eight months of noise from the government since we last made any substantive progress we still know nothing about what the government is playing at. We do not know the endgame and there are too many elements in flux to call it.

This is not helped by our coprophagiac media, for whom the Chequers plan is still a chess piece on the board, oblivious to the fact that Barnier has, in so many words, already ruled it out. The big league TV news correspondents are not equipped to assess the situation so they feed the cycle of misinformation that distorts the public debate.

The Brexiters I largely filter out are now convinced that Chequers is a May-Merkel conspiracy to remain in all but name, and there are still those in the media equating Chequers with a "Norway style deal". There is, therefore, a sizeable demographic who see events through a warped media prism and their version of events is happening only in a parallel universe somewhere.

But then we can't expect the media to know what's happening when the "government" doesn't actually know. There isn't a single government view. There are different views which change over time. At the heart of this, the government is presented with a problem which, in its terms, is insoluble. They are, therefore, thrashing around, more or less in the hope that something will turn up. This latest insanity from Dominic Raab is very much part of the continuum.

Raab seems to think that if we're nice to the EU and don't erect any barriers to their goods, they'll be nice to use and not erect any against ours. We can just carry on as normal and pretend Brexit hasn't happened. They can play this right down to the wire.

If by then they have convinced themselves that the EU will play nice, a "no deal" will hold no terrors for them and they'll let it happen, in the expectation that the UK can continue as before. This is actually the most terrifying of all scenarios as it means that the government will not make anything other than token preparations and will have no mitigation in place. They have no idea what will hit them.

It is ironic that the Tory Brexit blob should expend so much effort in promoting the WTO option when really all they need do is let events drift to their depressingly inevitable conclusion. Perhaps this is why BrexitCentral is now run by teenage interns. Spending money on it is overkill.

We are, therefore, in a bizarre no mans land where none of the power brokers, in so much as anybody is able to wield authority, is working on real world answers. Mrs May is caught up in her Chequers delusion, the Tory right is obsessed with "WTO tariffs", Raab is looking for a "no deal" deal, and the remoanoids are busy campaigning for a referendum that isn't going to happen. The only person working on a final solution is Jeremy Corbyn, and it's not related to Brexit.

It's a question of who has the power

Every now and then I mention that the EU is not a democracy and then my Twitter notifications are clogged up for the next hour by remainers telling me the MEPs are elected and yadda yadda yadda. It's an indication of how far we have drifted from democracy that the public, and quite a few politicians, equate empty voting rituals with democracy. This is where I come back to that speech by Michael Foot whose politics are a million miles from my own.
People didn't fight for the vote just to have the fun of electioneering. They wanted to see that the vote that they used at the ballot box could change things, stop things, alter things, remove governments when necessary. That's one of the principal reasons for having a vote. But that's not going to happen if we're gong to stay in the Market and if we become enmeshed in the whole of their machinery and apparatus - because what will happen then is that you can go an have an election in this country in which you can vote out the government here - but you won't be voting out all the governments that meet in Brussels to decide what is going to happen to us. [...] It is that precious inheritance given us by the people who fought for the right to vote, fought for the right to form trade unions, fought for the right to establish their own institution, fought for the right to have an elected house of commons which should be the supreme authority in this country and answerable to nobody else. It is those things that are at stake in this campaign. We will have plenty of problems to solve after June the Fifth, but let us make it clear that, not merely to our own country, but to the other countries that we believe here in Britain we can solve these problems by using the strength of our democratic institutions instead of casting them aside in this trivial wanton way. 
This is right at the heart of the Brexit debate to which all other issues are fringe. This is what modern politics has lost sight of. This is where you have to ask a very simple question. How do I, an EU citizen, influence EU policy?

I know I can influence the UK debate. This blog has made some humble breakthroughs where I have heard my words spoken in the House of Commons. I have seen my suggestions translated into policy and I know I have some high profile readers on occasion. Blogging is an essential part of democratic participation - especially when we have such an inept media. This blog makes a contribution. Politics is decided by those who show up.

With persistence and patience, with only modest resources, it is possible to influence British politics. There are many questions to be asked as to have we can improve that, but it remains the case that we can at least make a small difference.

I cannot, though, say I could ever hope to influence the EU. For starters there's that language thing, and the fact the supreme government is in another country and overseas. To influence the EU you have to know the right people and have the necessary prestige. To me the EU is an unresponsive corporate machine and there is no interaction with it. I do not connect with it. The "rights" it bestows upon me are not useful to me and the unintended consequences of them can be entirely counterproductive.

There are plenty of people who will tell you they can influence the EU (and they really have) but what they all share in common is that they have bought into the EU wholesale and have gone native. As we head into the most critical point in Brexit negotiations, they are the ones gaslighting for the EU.

These will be the bland, compliant functionaries of the Jo Cox ilk. Fully signed up to every soft left agenda of the NGOcracy and politically correct to to the core. Exactly the sort of people who will tell the EU exactly what it wants to hear - that we should have more EU regulation, more power for them and less for us.

Ultimately the EU only hears that which it wants to hear. Every single one of our MEPs could belong to a eurosceptic party, and irrespective of how effective they were, they would still not influence the technocratic agenda of the EU and would not be in a position to block initiatives even if they voted unanimously.

Were I, however, to turn up to Brussels dressed in a blue and yellow leotard singing Ode to Joy, scribbling crayon drawings pleading for the EU to do more to reduce fossil fuel usage, I'd be on the cover of every glossy internal PR rag and eventually given a cushy Eurocrat job - on a very tidy salary. Not for nothing do NGO wonks have a life of frequent expenses paid travel to Brussels and Strasbourg to attend workshops and jamborees.

Ultimately the EU will never get the message because it's just not receptive to inputs contrary to its fanatical devotion to ever closer union. Consequently, it can only ever become more remote and out of touch. There is nothing to interrupt the the closed circuit. It pays NGOs to lobby itself to the point where it's stuffed to the gunwales with conformists, and then wonders why the public do not relate to it.

There is a well trodden career path for those who want a ride on the gravy train, but from the outset requires that all critical faculties are suspended and all scepticism to be spoken only in private. After forty years of membership we now have a well pensioned legion of Euro-aristocracy who will take their message of brotherhood and unity out to the plebs.

Having cemented itself so deeply into the civil institutions of the UK it enjoys unparalleled influence over UK political culture which explains the gulf between the establishment and the electorate. They inhabit entirely different worlds. The public may demand reform but David Cameron showed us that our establishment would never ask for reform and wouldn't get it if they did.

We could organise through parties and force our government to take a position, say on limiting EU migrants, but if another country disagrees then that's the end of the debate. If we want to deport rough sleepers who come here without a job in mind, the ECJ has the last word. No campaign you or I mount makes a difference. The EU successfully mounted a silent coup, taking control of the UK.

Very often I am told by remainers that if they have to choose between the EU regime and one of the Tory right then they prefer the devil they know. Some people are satisfied with the dead hand of technocarcy and are often well insulated from its consequences. For them there is no reason to rock the boat and every reason to frustrate democracy. That is the fundamental divide in Britain.

This is why it matters that the referendum mandate is carried out. There is a very simple premise here. If a winning majority vote cannot change things and if those in power do not respect the vote then we'll have ripped up the social contract.

I was part of a movement that mobilised over twenty years to force a referendum, doing what you're supposed to do to bring about political change. If we're saying that can be casually swept aside because it inconveniences the incumbents then we have to explore other means to remove them. None of them are good.

Talking past each other

The biggest mistake made by the London Brexit blob was to fight on the opposition's strongest turf; the economics of leaving. This blog has been fairly straight up saying that there will be considerable short to mid-term economic consequences and has been saying for some time now that the Tory "free trade" shtick is pretty thin gruel. It was always going to come back to bite them and finally we are starting to see people waking up to the dangers of a no deal Brexit. The ultra Brexit blob is now taking a pasting whenever they appear on the media.

Once you shred their WTO assertions they really have nothing to fall back on except deflection and bluster. It finally looks like their big lie tactic is folding. They are gradually losing the propaganda war. Whether or not this has any impact on events in the real world remains to be seen. We still have no clearer idea how this plays out and the closer we get to Brexit day the more unpredictable it becomes.

The problem, though, is that whatever consequences might arise from no deal, the media will trivialise the reporting of it which allows the likes of Brendan O'Neill to run another tedious "project fear" article, and pretty soon we are back to square one where any hint of serious analysis is written off as remoaner propaganda. It's easy to do when Remainers very often miss the subtleties of the warnings and they always go overboard. It's the reasons why Carole Cadwalladr is not taken seriously. 

Here I would observe that had Leave bothered with a plan (something more credible than "just leave") we could have neutralised the remainer histrionics early on. They are playing a different game though. On a long enough timeline the intellectual basis for a no deal Brexit would collapse simply because there are no facts to support it but the ultras only need to hold the line for a few more months. They don't even need to win over the wider public. They just need the Tory grassroots to keep the faith which is entirely achievable.

Here the remainers blow it. The more extreme the leavers get, the more shrill the remainers become. Positions become entrenched, the debate becomes polarised and any sort of sensible plan withers on the vine as moderate voices are drowned out. 

Meanwhile, this is a tidy little ride for the media who like to set up biff-bam confrontations between the extremes. This is why we'll be seeing a lot more of Jason Hunter up against one of the intellectual pygmies from BrexitCentral. Hunter has become the wunderkind of the remain luvvies as he effortlessly demolishes Brexiters. Having an adequate command of the basics he projects a cultivated image of a super Brexit nerd and his fawning sycophantic followers lap it up.

This is actually typical of the media. The BBC is not the only offender. These viral confrontations bring in the hits and junior producers are lavished with praise for their initiative. There is no obligation for quality debate among equals. This is just airtime filler.  

This is also highly typical of the remain herd in that they have their fleeting love affairs with articulate remainer campaigners who pop up out of nowhere and are richly rewarded for actually saying nothing new at all. There is nothing Hunter is saying that we haven't been saying for the last two years, but he'll do the rounds of the media until they get bored of him "taking scalps".

The debate, therefore, has become entirely self-serving while remainers delude themselves that a second referendum is within their grasp and subsequently ignoring anything going on in the real world. We are, consequently, wasting the short window we have to lodge the one solution that can avoid a bloody mess and satisfy the referendum mandate. Instead of seeking solutions this has become a fight to the death and a zero sum game. Once more our politics has failed us. 

Vote Leave cheated? Oh bore off!

Never a day goes by when somebody doesn't whine at me about Vote Leave's conduct during the referendum. "Vote Leave cheated!" they demand. It's such a frightful bore. Moreover, it tells us that remainers still don't understand why they lost. Ultimately Remain ran the worst campaign I have ever seen.

Remain, though, was not without assets. It had just about every authoritative source going for it. The IFS, Barack Obama, the entire edifice of academia, HM government, the banks, all the major corporate manufacturers, the boss of the WTO and an army of economists. Even the LSE set up its own Brexit unit which as far as I know did not declare any of its spending.

In the end, all the arguments were heard and voters made their choice accordingly. It would be a gross insult to say that voters are such zombies that their entire worldview was upturned by a pop-up ad from Vote Leave. Unless you can show me deliberate ballot box tampering, the referendum is about as fair as these things can be. What remainers fail to to understand, however, is that Vote Leave should have won by a far larger margin. It was their fault that we didn't.

I hated Vote Leave and a lot of people reported to me that they refused to hand out any of their material. The £350m slogan was transparent, condescending and indefensible. Even Vote Leave politicians had to squirm when presenters brought it up on television. It wasn't a good look. I have also seen figures that indicate the rhetoric on immigration actually drove away the ethnic minority vote. Had we a competent campaign it would have exploited the open goal left wide open by David Cameron.

When David Cameron went to Brussels to reform the EU he highlighted much of the problem with our EU membership. He gambled that tinkering with benefit entitlements for EU migrants was enough to appease the middle of the road sceptics. That was a huge error of judgement not least because he was asking for so little.

What he actually got from Brussels was a giant "nothing burger" with a side order of nothing. Cameron was told that the EU is what it is, there is no reforming it, there is no renegotiation, even to keep the UK in it. They were as resolute in upholding the treaties as they are now during Article 50 talks. It tells us that the EU cannot be reformed, our relationship with it cannot be reformed, and more to the point, our establishment wouldn't even ask for substantive reform.

That right there made the entire case for us. That's the whole package right there. An immovable entity that won't listen to the concerns of the public and an establishment that takes us for fools. Cameron then went on to campaign on the back of his "reforms", repeating the slogan of "stronger and safer in a reformed EU". Having come away with nothing he spend the remainder of the campaign lying about his accomplishment. Cameron's whole credibility was on the line.

Vote Leave should have exploited this to the max. The points were unarguable. Cameron was lying, the EU had not made a serious offer and we were not going to get EU reform. Vote Leave, however, was financed by Tory grandees who wouldn't sign off on a blue on blue campaign. Being tribal beasts they didn't want to split the party and the survival of the Tory party took precedence over actually winning the thing.

So Vote Leave ditched its best campaign asset to instead run with a massively flawed concept which few believed then and nobody believes now. All the while we had Leave.EU making noise in the background, producing odious and utterly embarrassing material which wasn't going to convince anybody who hadn't already planned on voting out.

Throughout the campaign Vote Leave was a brake parachute rather than a booster rocket and we would have done just as well had Vote Leave never even existed. Perhaps better. Vote Leave ensured that only the Tory clan got air time to the exclusion of all the grassroots campaigns which is why it now finds the Leave message eviscerated at every turn.

In the end the vote was lost in the final three weeks as the remain message became ever more hectoring, shrill and spectacularly lacking in judgement, putting the likes of Geldof and Izzard front and centre while intellectual pygmies like Caroline Lucas and Leanne wood went out of their way to label leavers "far right". To the have The Spectator wagging the finger at leavers as though we were to blame for the actions of a nazi murderer was the final insult. A two fingered salute was the only possible response.

Having witness such a dismal campaign from Vote Leave I fully expected to lose the referendum. I didn't even stay up to watch the results. I woke up just in time to see the final announcement. I couldn't quite believe it. As a campaign it certainly didn't deserve to win. What happened was a shift in public mood and that cannot be attributed to Vote Leave's undeclared spending. Something more potent happened.

In the end, voters chose to disregard the official warnings from the great and the good. This was an act of political instinct over a constitutional matter and the promise of £350m for the NHS was far from the public mind. As much as anything it was an opinion poll on the status quo. Our politics, our media and our economy. They voted for change and little since then convinces me they were wrong.

I won't defend Vote Leave. If there were irregularities then those responsible should be held to account, but don't tell me I should be punished and my vote revoked because of it. Like many I made my mind up years before. If you want to talk about cheating, our whole history of EU membership has been one con after another, not least cheating us out of a referendum on Lisbon - a treaty our politicians didn't even bother to read. If we're keeping score, this makes us about even.