Friday 30 November 2018

The dangers of undermining democracy

I'm away for a couple of days so unable to blog in any detail - though I will have quite a bit to say when I'm back at it. I do, though, think that this Twitter thread by @Sage_Opinion deserves an airing because it's absolutely on the money.
Über Remainers are playing a very dangerous game. Despite their attempts to conceal the true nature of their actions, they have clearly been attempting to subvert democracy for their own benefit. If a section of society is left with the impression that their involvement in a system of democracy is pointless, that they are second class citizens and being ignored by a dishonest and corrupt political class, then an environment has been created that has the potential for civil disorder or worse.

When people no longer feel like a valued part of a society, they no longer feel obliged to follow the rules of society. If frustration builds to anger and resentment, but based on experience, political / democratic activity within a corrupt system is viewed as pointless, then no release valve exists for the anger, that will be directed at the establishment and it's privileged class of supporters.

At this point, the establishment and it's supporters who conspired to subvert democracy, will discover what happens when you corrupt the system and leave angry people no peaceful,democratic means to bring about change. Dear Remainers, don't say you were not warned.
I'm just parking this for the moment because it's a theme I will expand on, including some of their more obnoxious tactics, linking in with how sees how things can rapidly fall apart.

This is not to say that I think the legacy remain camp will succeed in stopping Brexit but the government should also take note before it signs any deal with the EU. A betrayal will have lasting repercussions.

Wednesday 28 November 2018

Efta is the best way to ditch our EU political baggage

The only consistent view of mine throughout is that Britain should take up a leading role within Efta and retain the EEA agreement - and that the so-called WTO option is a really bad idea.

I am on record as saying the WTO option would be an unmitigated disaster - and not only that, we would end up grovelling back to Brussels, where to reopen talks we would pay a high price and end up a vassal state. So it then comes down to an estimation of whether you think that deal would be worse than Mrs May's deal. To me it doesn't feel like there's much in it either way so the gamble of no deal may open up alternative and unanticipated avenues. Perhaps even a chance to push for Efta.

Right now it's all beginning to feel a little futile. The ultras are resurrecting their dismal "world trade deal nonsense" and all the while Kinnock and Boles are making a terrible job of pushing the EEA option, making avoidable errors and making it even harder to sell. Meanwhile there is the morass of politics adding its ignorance to the mountain that already exists. Just when you think things are starting to take shape it all falls apart again and the debate is back to the beginning with nothing learned by anyone.

The one constant is this is the ever more irritating remain initiatives, all of which come to nothing, wasting their time and ours. The latest wheeze is another round of economic projections telling us that we will all be poorer. It didn't work in 2016 and it doesn't work now. It's so eye-wateringly tedious.

According to Sky News, 51% of us now think staying in the EU would be best for the economy. This statistic on its own is meaningless. I have no doubt that in the short to medium term remaining is better for the economy - but of course, this is not an economic proposition and it never has been. This is, though the swansong of the remain effort. They calculate that as Brexit ennui sweeps the nation, coupled with a dismal deal, we might simply cave in and grudgingly resign ourselves to EU dominion. 

They might actually be right. If they got a re-run of the referendum we could see a swing to remain but they'd win it by a similarly pitiful margin. Certainly not by enough to say that the EU was a genuinely legitimate government. The issue would remain an open question. Long term investment would think twice about the UK as a destination because Brexit is a political artefact that won't go away. 

Course, there it that small problem that there isn't going to be another referendum so there's really not much more to be said about that. If anything, the timing of these new economic forecasts is simply to drum up support for Theresa May's deal. Strategically it's a bum idea because it merely reinforces the remainer view that we should remain and they think that if the deal doesn't pass then there's a shot at a referendum. Meanwhile the leavers think that voting down the deal brings us closer to their holy grail of no deal. 

If by some miracle the deal does scrape through parliament (which I don't discount), the essential message from Parliament is  that they have prioritised GDP over and above the desire to "take back control". And this is the fundamental dysfunction in our politics. The managerial mindset runs deep and their horizons stop at Brussels. As to what happens if the deal doesn't pass, Christ alone knows. There is, therefore, only one thing left to do - and that is to keep making the case for a deliverable, intelligent, forward thinking Brexit. 

Even if May's deal does pass there is still every point in pushing forward the Efta case which then becomes stronger as it is the only starting point to ensure that the ball and chain backstop is ever activated. We must keep in mind that the EU quite keen on the idea of activating it because it means it can trade access to our markets without us having a veto. Efta is our best defence against that. 

Still, though we will have the remainer foot-draggers, slave to EU dogma, but in every respect an Efta future is better for the UK than EU membership. As much as it preserves much of the economic cooperation with the EU, it's a a new beginning and a chance to develop Efta into something more agile, more democratic and something that we can enthusiastically embrace rather than being depressingly resigned to it. 

The one reason the remainers lose is because they are unable to offer us any kind of vision. They have to keep the debate in the confines of economics because the vision on offer is the same old stagnant federalism - which has ramped up ever since the UK announced its departure. The mask has slipped. Even though there may be a small majority from propping up a decaying status quo, it's only a very small minority of flag-waving euro zealots who actually embrace Europe's big idea.

Most who voted to leave realised they were voting for something seismic. Few can have been unaware that the 2016 vote was for a major shift of direction. All of the warnings were heard. We heard the same projectstions as now and still voted to take the risk. I am certainly not alone in believing that Brexit will cause short to medium term economic pain but always believed the position was recoverable. 

If we look at it strictly in terms of temporary costs then yes, it's a poor decision, but it really depends on the outcome. I take the view that if the UK has a new destiny, a reinvigorated politics and is free from the majority of EU rules so as to innovate in policy then, in the grand scheme of things, it is a worthy investment. We'll have resolved a decades long dispute and found a home more befitting the UK.

If in the case of Efta EEA we maintain the economic cooperation and access to services markets, the economic argument for EU membership melts away meaning the Europhiles would have to sell us on the federalist dream - which isn't going to happen. It's a rotten idea and it always was. This is why the remainers are still spreading poison about the Efta option. They know that if we can leave and we can do so while maintaining our economic standing then their crusade is stone dead. This is also why they want a customs union. If they can hobble Britain then they think we'll beg to rejoin.

For all that we have heard about the Brexit extremists (and yes the ERG are extremists) it never occurs to them that their whole ethos; to transfer ever more sovereignty to remote and corporate domain, eroding our domestic democracy with a view to abolishing all the powers than meaningfully make us a nation, that they too are extremists. So much so that they will use any means at their disposal to overturn the 2016 vote. If they could have done it through the courts they would have by now. Ideally any new settlement should leave both sets of zealots out in the cold. Even combined they are the minority.

I am told that the Efta option is dead, but it's one that keeps rising to the surface because to this day it's the only plan that actually covers all the bases while delivering Brexit. Being that the game isn't over yet, there is every point in pushing for it. It remains the right answer. This ain't over until it's over. 

Tuesday 27 November 2018

The optimal Brexit

I'm probably preaching to the converted but this is another post about the so-called Norway Option.

To explain the option we have to go right back to basics. Brexit is all about choices. Trade with the EU comes with obligations. The more market freedoms you want, the more obligations there are. Being that the EU accounts for almost half of our trade, any deal is going to come with obligations - some of which we would prefer not to have. That was always going to be the case. To completely remove EU influence would result in substantially less trade with the EU. That is a fact. It is unarguable.

Then when it comes to trade is is also one of the few unarguable truths of economics that you do the most trade with your nearest neighbours. The Gravity Model. Moreover our relations with the EU go far beyond trade in goods. It is a rich market of trade in services and we have multiple tiers of intergovernmental cooperation on anything from fisheries protection to intelligence sharing. A comprehensive relationship was never going to be a simple and easy affair.

Our trade in goods, though, is what pushes us in the direction of the Norway option. Over the last thirty years we have seen an explosion of trade through Dover which is facilitated by low customs friction. Border formalities are kept to a minimum. Mistakenly, politicians believe that the customs formalities are removed by a customs union. This is incorrect. Almost all border inspections are eliminated by a system of rules that make up the single market. The customs union is only a minor component.

The option faces opposition from all sides. Opinion varies among leavers. Some think regulatory harmonisation is not required for frictionless trade and that technology can eliminate most of the customs issues. Whether or not this is feasible in practice is neither here nor there. The EU has said no. Were the UK to diverge from the EU regulatory ecosystem, the EU would be allowing the UK the unilateral right to set the lowest bar of market entry. This would open the EU up to challenges at the WTO.

Then there are those leavers who believe we can trade on WTO terms alone. This is an article of faith. It has no basis in fact. there are no WTO rules which compel the EU to relax its standard third country controls. This would result in losing more than a third of our overall trade with lasting economic repercussions.

Ultra remainers also oppose the EEA Efta option. They see it as inferior to EU membership and will spread a number of lies about the option which further poisons the debate. Anyone giving the option a fair hearing will see that is it an equitable balance of obligations. Ideological opposition tends to ignore the practicalities of modern trade. Unfairly, the option is characterised as Brexit in name only - or worse; that the UK would be a passive recipient of all the rules with no say. The myth that refuses to die.

The debate largely turns on the nuances of the EEA system which is an adaptive framework overseen by the Efta court and the EEA Efta secretariat. There is dialogue at every stage and when laws are adopted members can secure their own opt outs and exemptions. No two members have the same EEA configuration and it represents only a quarter of the EU body of law. Presently the balance of power is in the EU's favour but the UK's membership of Efta would, to a point, rebalance the equation.

For whatever complaints one might have about such an arrangement, the alternative for securing frictionless trade is to adopt EU rules verbatim, as indeed Switzerland does, but with direct ECJ applicability. They do not have the Efta system as a firewall. Putting it bluntly, if you don't like the EEA option, you are entitled not to, but the alternatives are worse.

So what's all this Efta Plus business? This is MP Nick Boles totally misunderstanding how the system works - telling us we need the EEA and a customs union or a "customs arrangement". We have heard a number of MPs and hacks telling us that the EEA Efta solution alone doesn't solve the Northern Ireland border problem. This is a particularly poisonous groupthink grounded in a fundamental ignorance of how the EEA system works.

Firstly joining Efta would rule out a customs union, so Boles and Co believe a confected version of Efta can be bodged. If they understood the system they would see why it isn't necessary. By joining the EEA system we would then look to incorporate a number of added tools and components in much the same way Norway has. The UK would adopt the Union Customs Code.

Here the debate is behind the times with many repeating half understood mantras recycled from the referendum when there have been a number of new developments since. All goods moved within the EU have a customs status of either Union or non-Union goods. Union transit (UT) is a customs procedure used to help the movement of non-Union status goods between two points in the customs territory of the EU. As of last year, Common transit extends UT to include the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries of Switzerland (and Liechtenstein), Norway and Iceland.

Between that and a number of political and legal obligations within the EEA agreement to simplify customs formalities, there is enough there to form the basis of a UK customs protocol attached to the EEA. The EEA Agreement embeds tariff-free arrangements, and customs cooperation (and Rules of Origin), while adopting the EU's tariff schedule unilaterally gives us the effect of a common external tariff from which we can diverge where appropriate.

For what it actually solves, a customs union would be absolute overkill and contrary to the aims of Brexit. This is why I am no fan of Nick Boles. His ignorance is regressing the debate while making the option far less attractive to leavers who would otherwise compromise.

Many chime in remarking the Norway still has a border with Sweden but this fails to note that we are not proposing the Norway Model, rather we are using Norway as a baseline template. Our relationship would have to go further but certainly not as far as a customs union. Even now the customs formalities at the Norway border a minimal and of the checks that exist, they pertain mainly to the VAT border - which is nothing at all to do with customs unions. There are peripheral issues that would need to be resolved but there is nothing that necessitates a full blown customs union and certainly not one of the kind that appear in the withdrawal agreement backstop.

In every way the EEA option is more equitable and more in line with what leave voters want when compared with Theresa May's deal. Though it does not deliver on all of what we would wish for but the Brexit as promised by Vote Leave is not deliverable, impractical and when all factors are considered, highly undesirable.

So about the fly in the ointment. Freedom of Movement. There is a pathway to make a suspension of FoM permanent starting with the Article 112 safeguard measures. This has been subject to much debate as to how possible it is. Whatever I say there will always be someone ready and willing to gainsay. I therefore take the line that we must deal with the issues in the order or importance. The Ashcroft polls after the referendum pointed to immigration being the secondary concern. We must therefore concern ourselves primarily with delivering a stable and sustainable exit from the EU.

When that is accomplished we can then examine the options. My own view is that Article 112, though justifiable, would be a last resort and we should seek out a consensus view with Efta states to come up with a system of reforms with the implied threat of the nuclear option. Either way, we should cross that bridge when we come to it. 

The plan put forth by Nick Boles is an irritating distraction dressed up as the EEA Efta option but in truth, it's a mishmash of poorly conceived fudges to problems he doesn't understand and can't be bothered to explore. This is typical Westminster bubble stuff. If there's a wrong end of the stick they will grasp it with both hands.

The EEA option is not, as Boles would have it, a matter of simply shifting from one side of the EEA table to the other. The UK will need negotiated protocols on everything from fishing through to customs cooperation. To do this it will require full cooperation from the EU and it must be done in good faith rather than seeking to hoodwink the EU with loopholes in the system. Boles damages the case by pretending we can fudge it. If we do this then we have to do it as a full and active participant of Efta, fully committed to advancing the interests of Efta.

In respect of that, the merits of moving to an already respected bloc with considerable clout of its own, should not need further argument. It beats Theresa May's vassalage by a country mile. Of all the available options it is the only one we can truly say is in the national interest. Hardliners on both sides of the debate will wail about it, but the one thing in they have in common is the complete absence of a viable counter proposal. That should really speak for itself. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg - the man who wrecked Brexit

It's no secret that I despise Jacob Rees-Mogg with every fibre of my being. He falls into that particular category of Brexiter where you can never be quite sure if he's stone stupid, lying or both. But he is a svavy operator. He is not above pushing a dishonest narrative to garner support for his agenda. This is quite common to all of the Tory brexiters but JRM is the very worst of them.

This is once again relevant because the UK is poised to end up in a customs union if May's deal limps through parliament. I'm not going to argue that this is undesirable but yet again it has sparked off a debate about the nature of our future trade policy - where a customs union will have serious implications for the nature of any independent trade policy.

A customs union by its most basic definition is an agreement to harmonise external tariffs but the EU goes much further in demanding the adoption of the Union Customs Code and alignment with the Common Commercial Policy and it is that latter component which is more obnoxious. It really does cede a lot of power to the EU. Precisely how that works outside of the treaties really remains to be seen. I don't have the necessary understanding to appreciate all of the implications but it will dramatically reduce the scope of any future FTAs and put the UK at a distinct disadvantage.

It can be argued, however, that it will make it far simpler to roll over existing deals and preserve much of the trade status quo insofar as we can while being outside of the EU regulatory union. With the EU now including UNECE automotive type approvals in FTAs you do at least have a shot at protecting the automotive industry. Here May's advisors have probably calculated that losing car factories will be more unpopular than upsetting a pack of Tory backbenchers with a tariff fetish.

The short of it is, the public don't care about trade. They probably should, but it's boring so they don't. That's a fact of life and it only ever becomes political when the public get wind of a half understood food standards scare. Chlorinated wombats etc.

In principle, though, this is not Brexit. If the aim is to restore political authority over who and what comes into the country and on what terms then this really isn't it. This is primarily about protecting the corporates because no government wants to see headline departures of Nissan and Airbus. Furthermore, if that is the aim then the general approach here is to preserve the existing centrally planned economic order. It can be preserved but at an enormous cost in sovereignty as is commonly understood. It is no exaggeration to call it vassal state stuff.

Essentially the government is playing it as safe as possible and that is entirely the fault of Rees-Mogg and his ERG clan. If May's advisers are worth their salt they have probably told her that giving control of trade policy to the likes of Rees-Mogg would be akin with handing a loaded revolver to a toddler.

The narrative goes that the beastly EU is a protectionist cartel that impoverishes the third world and diverts trade. That case can be argued but for none of the reasons Rees-Mogg and co think. They are tariff fetishists. They have it in their heads that tariff reductions are the be all and end all of trade and that liberalisation is the silver bullet. It really isn't.

The dishonest ploy used by Rees-Mogg is to cherrypick EU tariffs to weave a narrative that the EU charges eyes-watering percentages which makes imported produce more expensive for consumers. But the baseline tariffs only apply in a very select set of circumstances given the EU has hundreds of bilateral and multilateral agreements on tariffs.

The argument that these tariffs keep Africa poor is entirely bogus. If anything it is the system of interwoven agreements that preserve a trade preferences for Africa and were we to unilaterally liberalise then Africa would be facing the full force of global competition when they are not societally equipped to cope with it. They are called developing countries for a reason.

Very often the likes of Rees-Mogg will plug out a particularly high tariff - very often an obscure number. They are usually the outliers and generally if a curiously high tariff exists it's there for a reason which can often be counter-intuitive. The point being that the global system of tariffs is a delicate balance of interests and tinkering with it is not as simple as many believe it is. If there were sweeping policies we could employ to improve things, there's a good chance we'd already be doing it.

Worse still, the ERG are fixated with the idea that trade deals should be simplified and that the bulk of EU agreements are little more than administrative fluff for the benefit of bureaucrats, failing to note that measures in FTAs are there for the purposes of trade facilitation. They believe the Department for International Trade can be a rapid fire FTA factory, churning out simpler and more effective agreements. They are not on this planet. They don't understand the system and they don't want to either. This is pure ideological zeal at work.

More to the point, though a customs union does curtail our ability to forge FTAs, the actual value of FTAs is massively overstated and provide only marginal increments in trade that consumers would struggle to notice. It's only when you have massive shifts in trade such as joining a single market do you see any tangible evidence of change. The fixation with FTAs is all but irrelevant.

For a time now global trade growth has reached a plateau. There haven't been many game changers such as containerisation and even that trade has its normal ceiling. This is essentially trade normalisation. It's about as good as it gets until the next game changer. Changes in the shipping markets, largely to do with multifunctional sulphur limits could very well shift a lot of sea traffic into the air. Smaller consignments travelling directly to regional airports. The challenge for trade policy, though, is to maximise the profitability of value chains.

This is where things get interesting. Here we are looking to remove corruption, fraud, counterfeiting, food adulteration and spoilage/waste. This then becomes a matter of trade infrastructure and harmonised customs systems. Trade facilitation. And though trade facilitation refers to improvements in customs formalities it can be expanded to include a development policy to improve access to markets. This can mean anything from traffic signalling to reduce port congestion, port dredging to increase port throughput, and basic road maintenance.

The thing about this though is it requires intergovernmental coordination and lots of investment. International development should be and is a core tenet of the trade discipline, often overlooked because FTA chatter is more politically entertaining. It's slow and it's difficult to measure the cumulative effects and it is not necessarily value for money. This is a nut we have yet to crack.

And how is this reported? You guessed it. "Britain spends £4 billion on fixing POTHOLES in India" says the Daily Wail. Being that this feeds into the populist narrative, the likes of Rees-Mogg make all the pleasing dog-whistles to cut back on foreign aid and therefore discounting a major facet of trade policy. It;s an important part of streamlining value chains and increasing their profitability and the ERG would happily trash it. And the sick irony of this? This should have been our trade focus all along - and there was nothing much stopping us doing any of this in the EU.

Ultimately it is economic partnership agreements where the UK stands to make the most gain but we cannot seem to move the debate beyond FTAs. This is where the EU really does freeze out third world produce - sometimes for protectionist reasons but then mainly for food safety reasons. Not for nothing does it keep a close eye on Indian seafood imports.

This is where the UK should be pitching in to ensure developing world producers can meet the standards. Instead Rees-Mogg wants regulatory independence precisely so we can barter on standards. Tory trade thinking is totally obsolete. He's the Jeremy Corbyn of commerce.

So while the ERG prattle about not having the power to strike FTAs, they are fixating on only one component of trade among several different avenues spanned across a number of international forums where the UK could and should be flexing its regulatory diplomacy muscles. If you put any of this to an ERG MP you'd be met with a blank stare.

Frankly, nothing is served by putting these wreckers in charge of anything more complex than a TV remote. The fashionable "free trade" dogma circulating within the bubble is both dangerous and destructive and though it does rather go against my sovereignty principles part of me is relieved to think their crackpot theories will not be implemented. They don't actually mind if we are a vassal state just so long as we are a vassal of the USA and flogging off British assets to their American sponsors.

From a trade perspective there is nothing to be said for the kind of deregulation they seek, there si no value at all in leaving the single market and they're not going to get anything out of FTAs that we don't already have. Tory Brexitism is intellectually and morally bankrupt. There are plenty of good reasons to leave the EU but "free trade" is not one of them.

This then begs the question as to what do we actually achieve with Brexit if we are staying in the customs union. The answer is not very much save for the loss of trade that depends on the regulatory union of the single market - which is not likely to be replaced by any combination of substitutes even if we did leave the customs union. It should also be noted that trade is substantially more than shipping tins of beans from point to point. The EEA facilitates a vast array of trade in services.

Ultimately the only intellectually coherent Brexit is Efta EEA in that it would maintain most of the trade we enjoy with the EU with sufficient protections so as to ensure our own market share is not cannibalised by the EU and we are then free to look at trade avenues elsewhere complementing the efforts of the EU. We should still be looking to closely collaborate with the EU on trade even with an independent trade policy. It is in our mutual self-interest.

The chances of this happening, though are vanishing. The Tories have done a supreme wrecking job with their anti-EEA propaganda and Rees-Mogg's lies about trade have proven highly effective among the Tory grassroots. Having closed down the one sensible viable option, with Ukippers making it doubly impossible by conflating EEA freedoms with open borders, I don't suppose it's politically possible. Theresa May certainly thinks so.

So now when faced with the intellectual bankruptcy of Tory trade theories, no get out of jail free card and a gun to her head, there was little else she could do but to sign this monstrous deal which, impressively, is even worse than EU membership.

The only alternative to this dismal fate is no deal at all, where Britain loses all of its formal trade links and ultimately ends up grovelling to Brussels for any kind of restoration to normality the moment the Tories are ejected. The price of that will be roughly the same as the deal now on the table - only by then we really will have lost the likes of Nissan etc. There are societal arguments for doing so, but there is no economic argument in the world that credibly supports the WTO option.

Regular readers will note a tone of conflict here in that none of the likely options are especially attractive and if it isn't Efta then none of the Brexit avenues on offer are in the national interest. The whole Brexit enterprise has hit the rocks and its architects are the ones chiefly responsible for that. If at this point the ERG find their prize snatched away from them, they have only themselves to blame.

Monday 26 November 2018

A bit of a ramble

I don't really have much directly to say about Brexit today. I should but I don't. I will post on those lines when I have a clearer picture of what is happening. Today I just have an incoherent ramble touching on a number of themes to which you can ascribe your own meaning. I'm in an odd mood.

When I was made redundant from Airbus I felt a sense of great relief. I was glad it was over. I always knew there would come a point where my usefulness would end and that my uselessness would be noticed, and I had a well of anxiety wondering when the axe would fall. By the time it happened, though it was most certainly a lucrative and cosy deal, I didn't really care. Once the worst has already happened, there isn't much else to worry about.

The reason I lost my passion for the place was ultimately down to the bureaucracy. I am a problem solver and the only time I'm really at my best is when I am tasked with bringing order to chaos. This is a great irony in my life because I am a horrendously disorganised, chaotic and ill-disciplined person. Yet, for some reason, if your department or company is a mess, I will fix it. When given the freedom I do not fail.

In the end though, my improvements were gradually sabotaged as corporate governance got wind of them. They cited data security risks and conformity problems. As far as the codified standards go they were probably right but at no point was there any risk assessment as to the likelihood of a breach or whether the material passing between servers was in any way commercially sensitive.

As it happens the data was generic schemas, all of which are already available to China and are issued to aircraft operators so the need for military grade security is really just the self-serving interests of those who create the standards. Nothing in it was that important. If it was they wouldn't let a pleb like me near it and there's scant chance it would have given Boeing a competitive advantage because they are every bit as bureaucratic and leaden as Airbus.

Toward the end of my assignment with Airbus I increasingly found myself in meetings of no value with highly paid middle to upper management discussing quotas on server storage space and FTP protocols, none of which necessitated the involvement of qualified aerospace engineers. This was bicycle shed syndrome writ large. A total waste of my time and talent.

But this isn't unusual. I experienced roughly the same at Scottish and Southern Energy. The only value from that experience was pumping an energy trader for information on all the horrors of the wind turbine scam. But this is where I run into problems. My brain can't cope with it.

As a rule I always get fired from corporate postings. HBOS, SSE, Atkins Global etc. I don't just get fired. I get marched off the premises on the order of the very high-ups. It's a reputation I take some pride in. When I piss them off, I REALLY piss them off. My departure from Airbus was the only fond and equitable departure I have ever known. Probably more to do with my long service. Another career first.

What it comes down to is that every corporate in interview continually asserts their uniqueness. They ask me why I want to work for their company and I am expected to reel off a list of reasons why I find their dull enterprises more distinctive than the next. I don't honestly see a difference. One bureaucracy is much the same as the next. The methods and tools may vary slightly but it always comes back to bicycle shed syndrome and normal human psychology.

There are some cultural variations. A Scottish or Yorkshire corporate will be run much the same as a Victorian mill, seeking to control employees down to what they do on a weekend, right through to the aerospace/defence sector which is so laid back that it's astonishing anything gets done at all. If you want anything done after 1pm on a Friday you're shit out of luck because there's no-one there to ask.

The reason I'm telling you all this is that I present myself as an expert on bureaucracy. Most people only work for a handful of companies in their lifetime, but I've done most types in all sectors of all sizes. From a dismal direct marketing company in Ross on Wye to the largest asset management firm in the world. The one universal truth about all of them is that they are all subject to the same petty enforcement of conformity.

If the system worked at all people like me would be screened out and blacklisted. But it doesn't work and a shark like me exploits the vulnerabilities of their weak and broken system. They say the UK has a skills shortage but it really doesn't. We have a crisis of recruitment competence.

Just the other day I had a recruiter call me to say he had a job I might be interested in. He was vague about the details so I asked him what skills the job wa demanding. He said it was a developer role. Ok, fine, but developer could mean anything from full stack application developer to app designer to database developer. He tried to bullshit me saying "I can see that you have a long career as a developer" meaning that he had read neither the job description or my CV. He'd basically done fuzzy matching by scanning for keywords and it was clear he knew nothing at all about the development discipline.

This is far from out of the ordinary. This is the new normal which is why I just as readily hang up on recruitment agents as I do double glazing salesman. It is never productive to indulge them and go through the motions unless they state off the bat that they have a role that exactly matches my experience. This is why I am sceptical at reports that the UK has a skills shortage. I think the talent is out there but corporates can't find it precisely because they do outsource recruitment to quarterwit recruiters who use intellectually subnormal screeners. Either that or nineteen year old interns with the IQ of a haddock.

This is a symptom of the WTO-EU influence. We insist on services liberalisation and the outsourcing of government contracts globally. That means bogus shell companies like Serco and G4S and other preferred bidders can submit their bids for government contracts, largely because they do have all of the bureaucratic conformity bases covered. They won't recruit for a project until they have actually won the contracts. This system I know all too well. The consequence of this is JIT recruitment where recruiters not only look to recruit from within the free movement area, but also globally. There is no corporate longevity. Just a brand.

One thing I noted about the CAD section of Airbus was that the technicians were largely Indian and Indonesian. The less technical but well paid jobs were reserved for a particular class of well groomed graduates who care not for aviation (as was once a prerequisite to realising the dream of flight) but simply want to maintain a projected lifestyle and drive a Mercedes on the lag on a low interest rate. The credit score goes to those most able to conform - and to those with the credit rating go the spoils of conformity.

The recruitment trend here is opting either for foreigners who come in at the lowest price or white middle class men who largely please the unconscious biases of overpaid HR people. This is ultimately why we don't see investment in apprenticeships and training - because business hires on spec and free movement is an indirect corporate subsidy. No need to train and develop the natives. Just pay sufficient taxes to make sure the progressives can run their welfare farms and preach their faux concern for the working class.

What depresses me is that these are the motions I must go through to land a job that I know eventually I will be rejected from simply because I do not slot in easily to the barren corporate landscape and the longevity of any posting is dependent on whether I give a shit if they succeed or not. Airbus obviously worked because of by fascination with aviation.

Every now and then I am able to land a plumb job on a decent rate and if I could conform a little better I could do this my whole life - making a tidy living but using a tenth of my ability. Family men have to stomach it but it would probably drive me to suicide. I've already seen too much and I don't fit in because I cannot fake sincerity. If I'm working with a bunch of miserable drongos I tend to project a field of poisonous resentment. In respect of that I am pretty much unemployable. It's really only when I have a supervisor who is similarly cynical do I have a chance of surviving in the corporate domain.

Most people get around this by starting their own business. My auntie Cilla, who is similarly rebellious, was fired from every job she ever had but eventually cut out a living as a tattoo artist and made her name as one of the best in the business. And that's no BS either. She really is good. Me though, I am no businessman. I tried to go independent but found key clients to be control freaks, unwilling to listen to my qualified advice and singularly reluctant to pay their bills on time. One client threatened to sue me because I "lost all her icons" when she'd basically logged into the wrong account. As you can imagine I don't have the patience and I do not allow anybody to speak to me the way she did.

I would be a great deal more successful commercially if I was just a little bit more normal. But I'm not. I am very probably on the Aspergers scale and that much is apparent to anyone who's met me. This is why I do not suffer the idiocy of politicians and it is why hacks, policy wonks and other luminaries go out of their way to pretend I don't exist. I am, therefore, at a loss as to how I can apply myself in such a way that I can pay my bills. This is why I rely on your generous donations. I use this blog to outline my thinking in the hope that you gain some use from it.

The point of this post, though, (if there is one) is that I have seen the light. I have seen how bureaucracy stifles innovation and progress first hand. The standards we talk about in theory facilitate trade but in reality, for most businesses they are fruitless expense - and the victory of the EU was to impose its order on Europe - that everything should be stamped, sanctioned, numbered and approved before it can be allowed. And that is why the West has lost its fundamental dynamism and why social mobility has ground to a halt. The whole system serves to defend the inherent inefficiency and kill off individualism.

The theory of international trade that I myself preach is ultimately a micromanagers charter which is not in any way compatible with normal human existence we find in Africa which is why the EU is such a massive deterrent to African trade. They don't have the means or expertise to conform and they don't want to either - which is a massive opportunity for China and it's why we are losing so much influence and business to them.

So in this (temporary) moment of self-reflection I feel that any move toward a Brexit deal that somehow protects jobs and trade is really only a temporary fix which cannot arrest the decline trend. Eventually Europe is going to have to reinvent to compete. When businesses move out of the UK there is only a fifty-fifty chance they will move to somewhere in the EU. Chances are they will clear off completely to China. Europe is an experiment in affording ourselves luxuries and entitlements to which we are not owed - with absolutely predictable results.

Now on a slight tangent, that will only really seem relevant to regular readers who have followed my thinking, not only is there an economic dysfunction, there is also a deeply rooted societal dysfunction. Today I learned that the number of boys being treated in hospital for eating disorders is at a record high. In the last seven years, the number of boys going into hospitals in England, Scotland and Wales has nearly doubled from 235 in 2010 to 466 in 2018 - coinciding with the news that a school in Brighton (quelle surprise!) has 40 children who don't identify with their gender.

Everywhere I look I see signals of a decadent, morally bankrupt society where the excesses of what we call liberalism point to a very serious Romanesque decline where we invent ever more elaborate means to excuse what is very clearly a disturbing development in the social life of the country. The economic model, Taylorised to the point of oblivion, combined with a collapse of morality and social mobility has created a morass to which there is no solution - even if we had a politics capable of recognising, let alone addressing the problems.

Combined with the rise of censoriousness and polarisation of politics, and the debasement of the media, there is no possibility of coherent debate and I really feel that nothing short of a fundamental political reset can arrest the decline. Between you and me, I think the West is finished. Some would say deservedly so.

Of course all my rambling has to be reconciled with the real world and I must come to terms with the fact that I am just evolutionary ballast - which I can deal with since all the married men I know are utterly bored and miserable - but when you have a society where men are robbed of their status you can't be at all surprised when the whole thing falls to pieces, women marry the state and men don't take up their responsibility. Since the war we've had generations of fatherless children and state paternalism and here we are. A broken society where men are turning themselves into cosmetically enhanced eunuchs.

Meanwhile, my social media is regularly punctuated with the news of yet another suicide of a friend. Sometimes close, sometimes peripheral - but I do seem to be losing too many people to entirely avoidable circumstances, all of which relate to the isolation and loneliness of modern regulated society. I might contemplate it myself were it not for the fact that too many arseholes would take satisfaction from it.

So the point, you ask? Yeah, I don't really have one. It's why I entitled this post "a bit of a ramble". You either see a point or you don't. It's no skin off my nose either way. What passes for normal service will resume tomorrow. Maybe. 

Friday 23 November 2018

The end is not in sight

24th June 2016 should have been a day of celebration for me. I predicted that we would lose but awoke to the news we had won by a narrow margin. It wasn't much cause for celebration though because I knew there would be a long fight ahead of us and I knew we would be fighting a battle on two fronts. We would have to fight off the Brextremists while keeping the remainers at bay.

Through force of argument and persistence the EEA Efta option has more support than ever but it's still too little and probably too late. We've been outgunned by the weight of ultra Brexit propaganda which has been unquestioningly soaked up by leave activists.

I am angry about this. Seething in fact. It is now apparent to anyone with inquisitive mind that the Tory Brexiters are intellectually barren. Having totally dominated the Brexit narrative they have tainted the whole cause. The average voter could justifiably conclude that the Brexiters are a pack of idiots and dinosaurs lacking a clue between them. If by some sequence of events we end up staying in the EU the consolation prize will be taking some small pleasure in their defeat.

For me though, with Efta off the table, any outcome looks pretty miserable. No deal is not something to be welcomed. Leaving without a deal would simply be an admission of our political failure. A consequence of the collapse of political competence in the UK. The ultra Brexiters will welcome it initially and hail it as a great victory but I won't.

That is not to say that I won't take some pleasure from it. The remainers will hate it and my inner nihilist will enjoy the whole shebang sliding into the sea, and then I get to enjoy reality driving a horse and cart through all of the ERG's half baked theories. It will destroy the Tory right and take down the rest of the party with them. I will raise a glass to that.

The real lose-lose is if May signs this infernal deal. Nobody wins from that. Moreover it resolves nothing. The boil is not lanced and we are back to square one. Remainers will hate it, leavers will hate it and it locks in the political stagnation. I predicted that any deal that wasn't EEA based would be bad but even at my most pessimistic I never imagined May would come back with such an abortion of a deal.

The sad part is that Theresa May could very easily dump it were there a consensus on what to do instead. Those trashing May would have a stronger position if they had a viable and deliverable alternative in mind. The ERG cretins don't and the Labour is still in total disarray and still struggling with the basics. The only glimmer of support for the EEA option has come from Stephen Kinnock who has performed admirably but it was only ever going to get traction if adopted by a leaver.

We have seen some attempt to revive the option by Nick Boles who actually made it worse for us by presenting it as a temporary option which was ruled our by Norway. That has done considerable damage. Ever since then the commentariat are spinning the line that there are now no other options, airbrushing Efta out of the picture - all the while Theresa May has raised the spectre of remaining should her deal be rejected.

Were one at all conspiratorial one might say that this was always the plan - to come up with a deal so foul that even Brexiters would think remaining is preferable. It hasn't worked. I have been one of the most vocal opponents of leaving without a deal but I'm now taking the view that we might as well bite the bullet. Aside from Efta I don't think there is an option without grave consequences.

Should we remain I imagine politics becoming more toxic than ever. The establishment will write the history of the Brexit saga and I know exactly the tone it will take. We'll see a condescending LSE piece saying "The Brexiter's romantic notions of sovereignty and free trade were never deliverable and the public were deceived by charlatans and chancers who in the end couldn't deliver the goods". They will find a way to make it sound fifty times more smarmy, and the collective establishment gloat will deepen the hatred of them. It won't be long before MPs start getting credible death threats.

All this, though, is going over old ground. I've expanded on all of this in previous essays. It all boils down to one strategic failure on the part of leavers. Fundamentally Brexit is complex. Knowing what you want is one thing but knowing how to get it is another. This is something leavers cannot seem to muster.

This is where we needed to out-expert the experts. It shouldn't be that difficult since remain experts are generally lazy, made more so by the lack of challenging argument from the leave side. They have their own fair share of bullshitters. Instead of commanding expertise though we've seen a torrent of drivel from the London Brexit camp and most of it is either outlandishly ridiculous or just flat out lying - denying that there even is a cliff edge. It's sickening.

More nauseating is the procession of quarterwit youngsters representing the leave case on the television; telegenic morons parroting Tufton Street talking points fronting for a pack of cobwebbed Tory inbreds. The national debate is polluted by their ignorance and the media, itself lacking any expertise, fails to challenge them every single time. Deeply contemptible.

With each day that passes, the victory of 2016 feels more like a pyrrhic victory. I always sensed it would be. Between a mendacious and self-serving London Brexit bubble, a cynical and shallow establishment and a media so indescribably awful there was never a hope of cutting through the noise. The whole debate has been a circus viewed entirely through a media lens and quite deliberately polarised. The media is as much a part of the problem as our politics.

Though history is written by the victors, it's difficult to say who will be the victors in this fight. The victors only get to write the history when all is said and done. What we can say with certainty is that this is nowhere near over and whatever the outcome of this spell in British politics, it is only the end of the beginning. There is no new settlement until the poison is cleared out of the system. On the basis of what we have seen thus far, that won't be soon. Brexit may certainly have been a catalyst moment, but it brings no resolution.

Thursday 22 November 2018

The rotten state of Britain

The philosophical argument for Brexit has not changed in all the years we have been in the EU. Many of the concerns articulated in the 1975 campaign have turned out to be entirely valid. For me the point that the EU is an anti-democratic sovereignty harvester is unarguable. The democratic principle underscoring the leave movement is timeless. In a world of globalisation where the EU is continually redefining the scope and breadth of trade, affording itself power over ever more competences without even a debate, it becomes especially relevant. All our laws are becoming bartering chips.

Remainers tend to view the EU as a benign entity upholding the values of Western progressive liberalism. It's all nonsense of course. The nations of Europe are still as fractious and combative as ever they were. The EU is just a continental scale virtue signal on the part of its political elites. The reason the EU is suffering from "populist" revolts on all sides is because the values it projects are not the values of the people.

Meanwhile, at the business end, the EU is a gigantic nexus of corporate lobbying so as to rig the rules in their favour. Our democracy is stolen from us one sliver at a time. This is the opaque side of the EU which is seldom ever discussed or debated not least because this inner workings are simply not reported much less understood. Any news I get is from specialist watchdogs. Rarely does it break into the mainstream. Only when there are major scandals do we get to hear about it - and that's really only the tip of the iceberg.

Irrespective of the intellectual foundation for Brexit, though, and how ever sound the principle, we still have to operate in the real world where regulatory horse trading is a fact of life and regulatory harmonisation is the WD40 of modern commerce. Consequently, though the question of why we should leave is easily argued, the question of how we leave is not.

Devising any exit strategy must take into account certain basic facts of life - namely that the EU is our nearest and largest single trading partner, it is a regulatory superpower and that isn't going to change any time soon. We therefore find that absolute adherence to principle is a seriously expensive business. It's one thing to say that economic concerns are secondary to the democratic principle - a point of view I happen to hold, but that is not to say that economic concerns are irrelevant.

Here we have to go right back to basics and ask what Brexit is about. It is the consensus view of leavers that the EU is a political project primarily concerned with political integration which uses trade and harmonisation as a means to that end. Continued membership involves the further transfer of political authority. This is more acute for Euro members who must now submit their budgets for approval by the unelected Commission. At the last definitive polling, Brits have said they want no part of this.

Here it is necessary to separate out the political from the economic. The UK needs an enhanced relationship with its largest and nearest partner. In this we need to respect that the EU will safeguard its own sovereignty and will not relax its third country controls compromising the integrity of its regulatory ecosystem for the sole benefit of the UK. Moreover it cannot show the UK greater preference under the WTO system. If, therefore, as the weaker side of the equation, the UK wants greater freedoms to sell goods in the EU market then we must submit to its terms.

To be strictly intellectually consistent with Brexit, to remove EU political authority from the UK, a bare bones FTA is really the only choice. That, though, is not sufficient for the UK to maintain the levels of trade it has grown to depend on. The only elegant solution here is Efta EEA since there is then a firewall between the UK and the ECJ. Here the UK could take up a leadership role within Efta and further develop the EEA to become a powerful non-EU bloc.

Any such vision is absent from this entire process. What we are seeing is a hamfisted piece of electoral triangulation, with a spent administration attempting to reconcile the needs of business while trying to appease the leave voting public. This results in a wholly inadequate agreement which pleases nobody and doesn't even protect our trade. Moreover, it is wildly inconsistent with Brexit if the aim was to remove the political authority of the EU. This is essentially the dead hand of managerialism - the form of government which has dominated for most of my adult life.

Somewhere along the line politics died a death. Vision and principle no longer get a look in. Our politics has been sanitised and reduced to the level of resource allocation. Gone is any sense of purpose. Our politics and our institutions no longer have a moral mission. Moreover, the UK is in the midst of an identity crisis struggling to define its place in the world.

The perhaps explains the rampant nostalgia in our politics. On the left we have Corbyn and McDonnell, both of whom fantasise about general strikes and workers pouring out of the factories to mount mass demonstrations - failing to note that the factories, mines and shipyards are no longer there.

This, though, is not limited to the left. The right also pines for days of yore with an almost religious devotion to the ghost of Thatcher. In many respects it is as though our entire politics when into stasis a the end of the Eighties and now we have voted to leave politics has stepped out of the cryochamber with a deep amnesia.

Though the nation may be divided, almost all of us now recognise that we need new ideas and a new politics - and the vessels we usually look to for political ideas are totally spent. This is as much to do with the culture of modern politics which is mainly conducted in London, mainly by politics professionals who have never spent a day in the real world and have never been north of Oxford.

This is especially problematic for the UK. We really did pick an inopportune time to go into a deep political slumber. Rather a lot has happened in the last twenty years which rewrites to book on most of what we know about trade, economics and the world in general. We have been to the brink of financial collapse, we have seen the mass adoption of internet, media has changed, work has changed and we have seen a massive expansion of global governance. Our politics isn't remotely equipped for these challenges.

Traditionally think tanks have taken up the role of policy and parties have their own favoured sources but our think tanks have now become little more than glorified lobbyists and propaganda bureaus. They are not intellectually equipped to produce policy, not least because the UK government has surrendered so many competences to Brussels that we have simply lost any domestic capability in these areas. Anybody with any capability goes to Brussels. London think tanks are for political wannabes and party hacks.

This is where the UK has been badly caught out. The right have been chomping at the bit to leave the EU for decades but really have no idea as to how that gets done or what to do when we've done it. They have attempted to fill in the blanks with free trade mantras but nothing that withstands any serious scrutiny. For all that the right have lambasted Corbyn for his political obsolescence, the right have nothing much original to say for themselves either.

Then there's the parliamentary system itself which is fundamentally broken. It lacks the information gathering processes and its committee system does not feed into policymaking at all. They serve as platforms for grandstanding politicians and vanity parades for persons of institutional prestige within the bubble. Essentially the politics we know is rotten. Brexit is the storm that blows down the tree that has rotted from the inside.

In many respect Britain is teetering on the edge of becoming a failed state. Certainly we are wealthy one with the intellectual resource to rebuild but things have been on autopilot for so long that we no longer have a functioning idea of how any of it works and even those who are supposed to know struggle with the basics. All the difficult stuff is determined elsewhere and arrives on our statute book via Statutory Instrument without so much as a press release.

This to me is one of the more perverse effects of EU membership. For a long time the status quo has masked a decline in political capability leading to a bread and circuses form of politics unable to exert any moral authority on account of its narcissism. It is generally repellent which is why the establishment lost what was essentially an opinion poll on their performance in 2016.

In all respects our politics has lost its vitality and in so doing has lost its ambition. We hear the Brexiters trotting out their global Britain mantras but it is little more than hollow rhetoric from a band of deadbeats who still think the UK wields enormous trade clout in a world where even the tide is going out on the EU as a trade superpower. They have no idea what they are doing but posses a dangerous talent for deluding themselves.

At this point you may be wondering when the adults step in to take over - but that's the problem. Anyone with any serious talent goes nowhere near politics - especially when it prizes conformity over knowledge. British politics is the one place where expertise is utterly valueless - especially so if it is saying something that politicians do not want to hear. The other end of that spectrum is Brussels where the technocrats have the rule of the roost - which tends to produce equally catastrophic policies. We do not seem to have a happy medium.

I can't say which way Brexit will go from here. The deal on offer may scrape through parliament, or we could very well find ourselves ejected without any formal agreement. What we do know, though, is that the political crisis is far deeper than any of us realised and there is no hope of a return to prosperity until we have addressed it. In respect of that, no deal at all might very well be preferable.

Remainers complained that Brexit will see parliament tied up with Brexit related politics for the next ten years or more. That much is a certainty. I this time we will be re-learning the art of self-governance, rebuilding our domestic competences and rethinking long settled policies. That is no bad thing and it's at least half the point of Brexit. At this point, though, it's looking like a kill or cure proposition.

The very least we can say about Brexit thus far is that is has woken the public up to how broken our politics is. It's turning into a pretty miserable affair. Just the other day I spoke with a lukewarm supporter of Brexit who said they now wish it had never happened. I have some sympathy with that view in that there is some comfort to be taken in the illusion that things are less broken than they are, but with politics this broken it is our duty and our responsibility to fix it.

Brexit is one of those issues where if you don't see the problem, the chances are, you are the problem, or a component of it. What remainers want is less to do wit their love of the EU as it is their fondness for the status quo. There may be one or two things they want improving or changing but on the whole they are happy with the state as the controller of all things and want to see more central economic planning. What they really want is to continue propping up a failing system and they don't see that it is failing.

Wherever you look you see signs of the dysfunction. People aren't saving, they don't have pensions and everyone is looking to the state to underwrite their choices. Meanwhile the state sustains a massive zombie economy. And for all that, our schools are rubbish, our health system is not coping, policing has all but collapsed and the the gulf between London and the regions, financially, politically and culturally widens by the day.

There are even symptoms on the micro level. My local council has seen fit to replace perfectly adequate wheelie bins with ones half the size. The result of this is bin bags piling up by the side of every bin. For all that we have outsourced more council functions, we are paying more than ever for fewer services while it fails to manage even the basics. No doubt the EU landfill ban and recycling quotas have a lot to do with this.

Very often I'm asked how Brexit will make us better off. I have never made the case that it will. I have never seen it as an economic proposition. More than anything I see Brexit as an opportunity to arrest the decline and free us to take whatever measures are necessary. Britain needs a complete rethink of how we run our affairs and the freedom to innovate in policy. We should not need to grovel to Brussels to change the way we manage public assets.

Much of our dysfunction is blamed on austerity rather than the EU which to me is a cop out. If firehosing the public sector with cash worked then the so-called populist movement in the UK would not have gained traction during the Blair era. The systemic dysfunction in our governance is not a matter of funding. It is everything to do with the culture of our politics and the total absence of meaningful democracy on any level.

More to the point, if our politics is dysfunctional that could be said to be a symptom of a dysfunctional society - one which has grown used to politics as a from of entertainment, picking their team as one might pick a football club to support. The tribal mentality on display is much the same. We have a pastiche of democracy with minimal public participation and we have forgotten what it means to engage with politics.

As disruptive and expensive as Brexit is, I think the verdict speaks to a more primal instinct among voters that we need more substantial change than simply a change of government. A general election does not afford us scope to change the underlying paradigm. Brexit does. It is certainly no guarantee of future prosperity but if done right will put the power back in the hands of the people so that they may be authors of their own destiny. If then this administration fails to deliver Brexit, then we will be back here again eventually for one simple reason: Things cannot continue as they are. 

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Brexit's missed opportunity

I have long suspected May would have to cave in to the EU and breach at least one of her red lines in order to secure a deal. I previously took the view that the smart thing to do would be to accept the backstop but have a plan in mind to make damn sure it never gets activated. The problem, though, that having ruled our Efta, any future package is going to have to replicate the effects of the backstop in full to avoid its activation.

What it looks like to me is that the backstop makes so many stipulations to quite deliberately put us in the position where the the backstop must be activated and when that happens it will be permanent.

That then leaves us with a deal that leaves us tied to a whole raft of EU governance with direct ECJ applicability but with none of the present trade advantages of the single market. This allows the EU to keep the UK on a tight leash, preventing us from diverging in any meaningful way or exercising national sovereignty while also being able to cannibalise UK market share in everything from financial services to manufacturing. It's an ambush.

Faced with the obliteration of no deal, with May now probably having an inclination as to how bad it would be, she has likely arrived at the view that she has no choice. In broader philosophical terms no Prime Minister of any country would willingly sign up to such an ambush but it's either that or go down in history as the PM who smashed the British economy. As it happens, the effect is much the same only May is opting for slow bleed rather than sudden death.

This is where the ERG Brexiters have failed badly. They could give May a get out of jail free card if they have a viable alternative. But they don't. They are instead clinging on to a number of entirely bogus notions - none of which stand against the barrage of scrutiny. They are a busted flush.

They could, if they wanted to, pivot to Efta EEA and that would make it easier for Theresa May to pivot to it, but they won't do that because they are in thrall to a number of obsolete ideas about deregulation and still wedded to the empty rhetoric of "Global Britain". Mrs May, therefore, has to choose between two equally unappealing destinations.

As to whether the deal makes it through parliament is anyone's guess. I rather suspect it will. Parliament is remain inclined and though they hate the deal there are enough of them sufficiently anti-no deal to reluctantly sign off on it. Meanwhile, among the remain commentariat, Efta will take a temporary leave of absence from this reality because it suits them to pretend there is no alternative which strengthens their case for remaining. Or so they think.

Whether or not signing the deal kills off the Efta option in terms of the future relationship I do not know. It certainly complicates matters. It would have been easier had we set upon that path to begin with. But then who am I kidding?

Efta EEA is eminently sensible in that, though it binds us to a degree of EU regulation, it does (unlike May's deal) safeguard jobs and trade. It is far from the glorious return of sovereignty but it is a starter for ten. and there is at least a firewall between us and the ECJ. Still though the Brexit blob trot out the same old complaints still oblivious to the fact that any future agreement will involve some level of regulatory subordination and if we are not in Efta then the ECJ will call the shots and we will adopt the rules verbatim.

In ordinary circumstances Efta would be a no-brainer and the logic of it when measured against the alternatives wins hands down. There are two problems though. Remainers, leavers and the EA are all determined to skirt around the fact that there are controls on freedom of movement in the EEA. everyone is determined to believe that substantial reform of it is not possible.

There are two routes to ending freedom of movement in the EEA. We can either follow the Liechtenstein process (Article 112) or we can work with the other Efta members to work up a new proposal. Efta with the addition of the UK is a power in its own right, giving us more leverage than we would have standing alone.

Nobody, though, is thinking long term or in terms and still determined to view Brexit as an event rather than a process. Everybody seems to think it can all be wrapped up and finalised in a few years when the the truth of the matter is that any relationship with the EU will be an evolving continuum.

The second major problem is that even though the weight of argument points to Efta, the grassroots leavers have bought the ERG propaganda wholesale, believing that technological unicorns solve the Irish problem and that no deal is some form of mythical "world trade deal" and our ticket to economic renaissance. Nothing is going to persuade them otherwise. Not the EU notices to stakeholders, not expert testimony, and certainly nothing produced by the UK civil service. All trust in media is gone too.

But then the remainers are every bit as intransigent and two dimensional. There has evolved a claque of remain inclined Brexitologists who have made a massive meal of the Northern Ireland issue, turning it into a cottage industry and even the brighter ones are still massively overstating the significance of the custom union. Between the EEA and the Union Customs Code, enough of the bases are covered for Northern Ireland and anything outstanding can be dealt with in an NI specific protocol.

Central to this is a total lack of understanding of what the EEA is. They haven't explored it and they don't want to know how it works or how it can be developed. They simply reach of the cliches, assuming the EEA is the Norway model, failing to understand that no two EEA states have exactly the same configuration. This is why they continue to bleat "but Norway still has customs checks".

Worse still the EEA Efta option has been tarnished well ahead of the game. A mythology built up around it during the referendum and little can be done to overturn it, not least when the BBC "reality check" hacks continue to reinforce the myths. Even when faced with May's deal where we actually do accept the rules with no say and with direct ECJ effect, they will still say the same of the EEA. It didn't help that remainers immediately after the referendum reached for the option, not because they thought it was a good idea, but because they saw it as a way to put the genie back in the bottle. This makes leavers instantly suspicious.

So here we are, amidst a perfect storm or arrogance, ignorance and intransigence. In all likelihood, give or take a bit of drama, resistance to the deal will buckle. We may see a bit of manufactured shuttle diplomacy to give may a fabricated handbag moment, carefully orchestrated with the EU, and this will be beamed into televisions up and down the land and the public will believe it just as they believed David Cameron used the veto.

I take the view that if May signs the deal then we will move on to the next depressing inevitability as May (or whoever replaces her) goes down the path of an FTA, further walking into the ambush and solidifying the grip of the so-called backstop. T'here could be the opportunity to pivot to Efta, but I see the same boneheaded obstinacy even when we reach the moment of truth. It is therefore in our best interests to walk away, whereby the consequences of no deal will dissolve the resistance to Efta, not least because the ERG Tories will stand discredited and disgraced. We can only progress when those pieces are off the board.

Sadly we won't walk away. I know this because anything I think could, should or will happen generally doesn't. There is enough of a track record of Westminster/media incompetence to expect the worst and if they can find a way to make things worse than they need to be, they will. Short of a miracle we are destined to become a vassal state colony of the EU for as long as it exists or until the establishment in the UK is dislodged.

The opportunity missed here is that the UK could have slotted into the Efta community and resumed cordial relations with the EU while being free to seek trade opportunities elsewhere, taking up a leadership role in Efta and a number of other forums. We'd have secured a viable all round compromise that allows us to settle the question and move on from the European question. Instead we will likely enter a new, more toxic phase where nobody is satisfied and nothing is resolved.

This is why it was necessary to have a Brexit plan and face up the the uncomfortable realities of trade in the modern age. This is something Rees-Mogg and his merry band of miscreants refused to do from the get go, preferring instead to weave a mendacious fiction that has led us all up a blind alley. They will seek to deflect the blame on to the EU and Theresa May, but it is their intransigence and dishonesty that has engineered this series of events and in the end May will do the only thing she could do. The fault is theirs and theirs alone.

Monday 19 November 2018

Whatever it takes, Britain will be free

Should Theresa May sign the deal on offer, Britain will be a colony of the EU. When that happens there will really only be one man to blame. Nigel Farage.

Ukip wasn't always centred on immigration. There was even a time it didn't want to talk about immigration at all. I think was in 2005 or thereabouts, I was at the Ukip conference in Scarborough. Nobody on the platform really mentioned immigration until they took questions from the floor.

Eventually somebody asked the inevitable question and there was audible clucking from the floor. The membership were acutely aware that the media were present and did not want to do anything that would tarnish Ukip as a racist party. I don't recall what was said but Farage wasn't comfortable giving a reply. He skirted around it. It wasn't until the BNP started hoovering up votes in the North that Ukip pivoted to immigration just to sweep up the votes at the euro-elections. It worked. But it wasn't a good idea. 

One can easily argue it was the move that landed Ukip as a feature of mainstream politics. Arguably the only way to grab media attention was to become the bogeyman. But in so doing Farage sacrificed sustained growth of an anti-EU movement to rapidly bloat it as an anti-immigration populist party - almost to the point where leaving the EU was a peripheral policy. Fast forward to today and we now find there are two miserable consequences of this.

It is only in the last three years that the so-called Norway option has been out of favour with eurosceptics. Rejoining Efta was always a eurosceptic talking point and Norway was always held aloft as an example of how it could be done. Being though that Farage had wedded the cause to immigration control, those arguing for it are a growing, but outspoken minority.

Having taken the one viable avenue off the table, we are now faced with the grim reality that any comprehensive agreement with the EU will leave the ECJ as the supreme authority over trade and regulatory affairs. Here Theresa May has done the electoral calculus and believes that she can fudge Brexit just so long as freedom of movement comes to an end. She might very well get away with it too. 

Here the Brexiters can wail all they like but the government will press ahead with it, most likely with the backing of the establishment, largely because the Brexit camp have no workable alternatives. Having ruled out the EEA option the cupboard is bare and they are left to hold a crumbling line in pushing for no deal. 

This again is the fault of Farage. By rights, with Vote Leave having been an artificial establishment construct with no grassroots support, the designation for lead campaign should have gone to Ukip. Ukip should have been ready to drop everything and pivot into a nationwide campaigning machine. That didn't happen.  

It didn't happen because Ukip simply lacked the expertise, the talent and organisational ability required to pull it off. The 2016 Ukip was a talentless rabble largely a consequence of Farage having surrounded himself with acolytes and yes men. This allowed the radical wing of the Tories to swoop in and hijack the campaign to push for their hard economic right revolution. That Ukip have simply gone along with it speaks to the lack of strategic acumen. Little do they realise that their movement was stolen from them.

Though the original sin was that of Farage, the movement as a whole is guilt of failing to plan. Having won the referendum, leavers should be calling the shots but since they didn't have a plan and cannot muster a single issue literate spokesman, they are left to stamp their feet in impotent rage as their accomplishment is stolen from them. All the while, their tactical mistakes could very well lose us the prize. 

Having persuaded themselves that only no deal honours the referendum, the Brexiters now push for an option so extreme that remainers who ordinarily would have reluctantly gone along with Brexit are now more vocal and motivated than ever. Though they recognise May's deal for the monster that it is, they will back it if push comes to shove. 

It is difficult to say which way this goes now. The deal on the table does not enjoy much in the way of parliamentary support, but it could still squeak through with some skilful parliamentary manoeuvring. The establishment can convince itself that the 2016 vote has worn out and so long as they throw us the bone of limits on freedom of movement they can go back to business as usual. 

We then know exactly rhetoric they will deploy. Matthew Parris has probably already written it: "Brexiters complain that their Brexit wasn't delivered - but there was no Brexit that could deliver on their promises of unicorns". That then closes the book on the issue and they will ensure leavers take the blame for our predicament. We are then back to square one. 

In fact, the establishment will grow to like the vassal state deal more than membership in that it doesn't mess with the status quo, but it neuters leavers very nicely in that they can simply say we have left the EU and this is as good as it gets. I suppose our crucial error was pushing for a referendum at all. One largely suspects that the establishment would always collude with the EU to keep us on a tight leash. If voting made a difference they wouldn't let us do it.

One could actually get quite depressed about this but then I remind myself that one way or another Britain will be free of the EU. They can fudge Brexit but we will simply chalk it up as yet another betrayal in a long line of establishment stitch-ups over Europe. They may be able to bury it for a while but they can't kill it, and the referendum has certainly been an excellent recruiting agent for the cause. This is essentially a battle of wills between democrats and the establishment. There is no doubt about it. We will win eventually.

Over the course of the Brexit saga I must have had a thousand conversations about the EU. Most of them repetitive and dull as dishwater. Remainers tell me that what's wrong in this country is not the fault of the EU. To a point they are right. The EU is not the cause of our problem, rather it us a symptom of it.

We have a democracy-phobic establishment caught up in its own sense of infallibility and moral fortitude. It is dazzled by the bright shining lights of the EU believing it to be the alpha and omega of internationalism and liberalism. It suits their vanity. They never hesitate to hand over powers because the ends justify the means. The EU will adopt every passing humanitarian fad and our politicians fall for it every time. It is pure, unadulterated narcissism.

At the heart of this is a paternalistic establishment which believes in the supremacy of technocracy over democracy. The most they can understand is GDP as the sole measure of wealth and wellbeing. Everything else comes a distant second. They are not going to let people like us make our own choices. 

This shows in the way they have responded to Brexit. Brexit to them is just a massive inconvenience - a disruption to the schedules programme. Their politics isn't about ideas. It's just about taking office and having their go at telling people what to do and imposing their values on us. They take us for fools which is why they think they can fudge Brexit. 

They have, however, made a fatal miscalculation. We see right through it. Moreover, they have run out of political authority and they are simply not equipped to produce solutions for a number of ever more acute problems. The centre cannot hold.

Were you to tune into a James O'Brien radio show (the new Lord Haw-Haw) you'll here him disingenuously asking "What is it we want to be free from? clean beaches and workers rights and freedom to live and work anywhere in Europe?". Or words to that effect. But the urge to be free is the urge to free ourselves from our establishment - to decide for ourselves who and what comes into the country and on what terms. Presently we are held hostage not by Brussels, but by our own establishment.

In any debate with a europhile you can point out that the EU is not a democracy. They then point out that the UK has its own democratic deficiencies as though that somehow excused it. But no Brexiter is going to argue that point. We know our system is not democratic and that is the problem. Not only will our politicians not do as instructed, they have put their powers away in the Brussels locker to ensure that they couldn't even if they wanted to. 

The struggle for democracy is a thousand year long story in Britain. The battle is never won but the trend is toward ever more democracy. For a time we have settled on this system of Westminster representative democracy, which as it happens is not democracy at all and is wholly obsolete. As much as it is obsolete it is also broken. It perpetuates the bubble effect whereby its values are alien to our own. If then we are to make major reforms to our democracy, so that the wishes of the people are heard, respected and implemented, then leaving the EU is a prerequisite.

Here the establishment will fight tooth and nail to prevent it. It wouldn't be much of an establishment if it didn't. Being that it won't honour the referendum result is all the proof you need that we are not a democracy. It further underscores the need to remove them not least because if we don't they will continue to give powers away. May's deal ultimately surrenders the last of our sovereignty and they will cave into it just so long as it keeps them in power. 

Our struggle for democracy is a long war. Brexit was D-Day. All we did, though, was establish a beachhead. We face a long and bloody battle to victory and the enemy won't go without a fight. They will use every weapon they have. Through the incompetence of the Brexit blob in London it looks like our D-Day is turning into our own Market Garden. We could very well lose this battle, but the war goes on.   

Friday 16 November 2018

The Great Brexit Betrayal

A reader asks "Will there ever be the realisation that the Brexit job is being badly done because it was a bad idea to begin with?".

The answer is no because it isn't a bad idea. It's a very seriously good idea to resolve a political issue which has fragmented British politics for decades. It's a wholly positive thing to realise that the mistakes made by previous generations of politicians need correction. Britain has never been at ease with EU membership and we've only been able to stay in this long through a series of opt outs and fudges made by our politicians, largely as a nod to the fact they were doing this to us without consent.

Part of the reason it's being done badly is also the reason Brexit was necessary. The essential problem we have from both Labour and the Tories is that neither are prepared to embrace the principle of Brexit - which is primarily the repatriation of political authority over competences given to Brussels.

They have more or less grasped that we need a deal to mitigate the economic costs of doing so, but being so devoid of principles they are prepared to sacrifice sovereignty for GDP. Not at any point have they attempted to balance the dilemma.

This is what happens when the establishment is in thrall to bland managerialism believing that the function of the economy is to supply government with money. They don't understand Brexit because they do not understand that we would prioritise differently. That primarily is the cultural gulf between us and them. They say we should remain so that we can instead address other problems, failing to realise that they and their twisted priorities ARE the central problem.

It is their belief that their top down paternal centralist spending agenda must be safeguarded and democracy can be allowed just so long as it does not disturb their agenda and upset their priorities. They reel off a list of things we *could* be doing if we weren't busy with Brexit. Why sure we could, but we won't. And they expect us to trust them when they say they really really will fix things this time if only we give them another chance.

They want to remain because remaining is the easy thing to do. Brexit is a hassle, Brexit is a disruption, Brexit is boring, and most of all Brexit is far outside of their comfort zone. Normally all this complicated stuff about logistics and trade is taken care of by the little grey people while they bicker about welfare handouts. They are not used to thinking in strategic terms about the direction of the country and our place in the world.

Brexit has caught them totally off guard. They don't like or understand Brexit. they reach for simplistic answers; it was the Russians, it was the bus, the people are thick, the people just don't like foreigners. They tell themselves all sorts of things - that's it's really just NHS waiting times or austerity so we'll see an array of spending gestures and sticking plasters thinking that will be enough of a decoy to allow them to fudge Brexit. 

This is ultimately their style of government. There's no big ideas about how to bring down energy prices. The structure of the energy market is largely dictated by Brussels. The system of targets and quotas largely dictate they type of generation and the details are all worked out by the civil service. It a lot of ways we have replicated the EU system, of government where after the instructions from Brussels have landed, civil servants and private consultants work up a proposal and then it is put to the house for rubber stamping. 

Our politics is no longer in the business of researching and innovating in policy. It waits to be told what to do and the job of politics is merely to find ways to finance it. Politics then becomes a scrap over funding peppered with the odd hobby horse initiative to ban something. For all that remainers have wailed about us becoming a "rule taker" what exactly do they think parliament has been for the last forty years? 

That we have marginal technical input at the EU level and some power of veto is really neither here nor there. The fact is that our own politics is not setting the agenda or the priorities. You cannot, therefore, say that we have meaningful democracy.

You can always tell in any Brexit the ones who don't understand the EU. They speak of it as though it were a separate entity running in parallel to our own government rather than an intrinsic part of it. That's why they don't understand the extent of its influence thus do not admit it. This is the essential misapprehension that leads to remainers claiming we do not need to leave the EU in order to reshape the order of the UK and our institutions. They are oblivious to the invisible bars and the constraints on the exercise of vital powers.

The 2016 referendum was as much an opinion poll on the establishment as it was a vote on EU membership. The two issues, though, are not unconnected. There is a reason why our politics is a hollow sham. There is a reason it has lost much of its intellectual prowess and gravitas. There is a reason we have seen an atrophy of institutional skills. The real business of policy and governance is not done in Westminster. In part this is what has killed our politics. Lobbyists, NGOs and unions now focus their attention on Brussels rather than London. They have learned to cut out the middleman.

The cumulative effect of all this is that the levers of power in London are not attached to anything. Our votes are increasingly meaningless and our politics becomes ever less substantial. Politics then becomes a circuit between television studio and meeting room.

Here you only have to look at the committee system. I've watched a fair few of them over the course of Brexit. Ambitious wonks and academics use them for their own personal YouTube PR and politicians use them for grandstanding, but nothing they touch on ever translates into policy and their conclusions and recommendations don't feed into anything. It is a total waste of everyone's time. Throughout, the system is totally robbed of its vitality, inquisitiveness and urgency. 

The Brexit deal on offer does not honour Brexit. Theresa May has instead produced a piece of electoral calculus. She thinks so long as we retake fishing and end freedom of movement we won't make a fuss. The non-regression clauses mean she can say that rights are protected - thinking this will buy off some of the dissent on the Labour benches. 

Meanwhile, Labour enters the same bidding war, unable to say what they would do differently, unable to even explain how they would protect jobs. Labour want a permanent customs union (not even knowing what it does) because they've calculated that Labour voters are only interested in handouts and don't care a jot about trade. What we see is bluff and bravado but there's no thinking going on. Nobody is is asking whether the deal actually honours the fundamental sentiment of Brexit. 

Essentially both parties don't mind if we remain an occupied territory and will gladly compromise UK sovereignty territory just so long as they don't have to lift a finger. They care not for principle. They are bereft of imagination, ambition and integrity. They are only interested in whatever it takes to limp across the finish line at the next election. They are not remotely interested in delivering Brexit and they never were. 

Essentially they are anxious to get back to business as usual. They think that come Brexit day, the new agreement will slot into place, the trucks keep rolling and so long as that happens and they keep the worst of it out of the headlines they can go back to their usual routine of grandstanding and virtue signalling. The less brexity Brexit is, the happier they will be.

We have yet to see how this plays out. We do not know if the deal will make it through parliament. It does not enjoy much support so we can expect a full establishment media propaganda campaign and maybe a few shuttle trips to Brussels for some last minute theatre, fabricating a great victory, which the Tory establishment will praise - as ever they do, and parliament will fall into line. That's usually how they pull off a euro-scam.

They can try it. It might even work. For a time. If they do, though, they will have signed their own collective death warrant. Our relationship with the EU is one betrayal after another - and time and again they lie without shame. This time they will discover that there are limits to our patience. Our votes will go elsewhere.

Additional: The Leave Alliance is funded entirely by your donations. Please give if you can