Monday, 15 April 2019

Brexit on the doorstep

Serious politics has gone on holiday. You can tell by the way that run of the mill idiocy has a longer Twitter shelf life - and the idiotic remarks of David Lammy are still providing endless entertainment. One might be inclined to point out that the ERG are not remotely comparable to the fascists in that the fascists at least had an idea of what they wanted and a plan to get it.

This is where Twitter ceases to be a valuable tool, and instead becomes a warped parallel universe bearing next to no resemblance to politics on the doorstep. And speaking of which I had a knock on the door today from the local Conservative Party candidate, Chris Wood. He was collecting signatures to have a nearby road opened up to join Filton Avenue. I used up some of his time to, naturally, have a bit of a natter about politics.

Where it comes to local politics, I'm not at all partisan. Any sentient adult will do and since Wood has made the effort I see no reason not to vote for him. If I wanted to make a statement in respect of Brexit then I can vote for one of the Brexit parties in the Euro-elections. As far as local issues go, Brexit could not matter less. If the man is elected I'll be bending his ear about the stupid decision by South Gloucestershire council to give us all half size wheelie bins meaning I have rubbish sat by the bin for half the week.

But then of course there is very probably an EU dimension at work here probably to do with recycling quotas, where the council is primarily tasked with implementing agendas than actually doing the jobs we pay them to do. The chances of actually getting a decent sized bin back are somewhere around nil. One cannot, therefore, be surprised that interest in local politics is minimal. We even find that in some parts of the country there is a shortage of parish council candidates. The position has little carries little in the way of prestige and involves listening to people like me moaning about the bins.

If there is any point in candidates going through the motions locally then it's to get their face known and to climb the greasy pole inside the local party to have a shot at selection when a parliamentary seat is up for grabs. This perhaps explains why many of our MPs are of a particular sort. Nobody would spend the years on this stuff if they didn't have more ambitious ideas. Local politics is just a stepping stone and if you have eyes on the big job then you need to do the groundwork in an established party.

This then has the obvious knock on effect of constituents treating their MPs like glorified social workers and one cannot be surprised if the quality of national politics is then degraded and trivialised. Many of our current MPs would make excellent parish councillors but have no business at all in the national legislature. They are profoundly unserious people.

It seems to me that if we want national politics of consequence then we have to start with local politics of consequence, and that means putting real power back in the hands of people so that if we decide, for instance, that we want a bin you can actually put things in, then we don't have to ask London or Brussels for permission to do it.

It is perhaps that centralist culture within government that has done more than any one single factor to undermine people's faith in politics - undermining the notion that they have the power to influence what happens locally and nationally.

This is why international trade is more important than ever. With ever more subjects brought under the heading of trade concerns, from local government procurement through to product labelling, in or out of the EU, we will find that our powers in our own democracies are limited and often subordinate to economic concerns. This brings the central dilemma of globalisation right to our doorsteps.

Though we do not as yet know what our relationship with the EU is to be, it should be these concerns that inform our thinking on how we leverage Brexit to bring about more meaningful democracy and more responsive government. We may very well sleepwalk back into a similar system of constraints that render Brexit futile. Without a destination in mind, we could repeat the same old errors.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Britain must have an independent trade policy

James Kirkup, writing in the Spectator gives us a round up of why he thinks Brexiter trade delusions do not pass muster. This is the same Spectator that saw fit to publish Liam Halligan's piece entitled "No deal with the EU? Sounds like a good deal to me" and "Why a no-deal Brexit is nothing to fear" by David Collins - and many more like it along with apologia for Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

As it happens the Kirkup piece has a decent enough grounding in the Janet and John stuff (compared to the rest of the legacy media dross), though spoiling it beyond credibility by describing the EU as a free trade deal. But this really is the sort of discussion we should have been having many moons ago while the Spectator was polluting the debate with its poison.

A prestige vessel like the Spectator really ought to have shown better judgment but having done the bidding of their mates in the IEA and the Tory party, there is zero chance of its editors ever taking responsibility for the damage they have done. They will hide behind the excuse that they seek to publish a range of opinions. That may well be a laudable goal but at the same time the Spectator really ought to be setting an example by at least publishing material with a passing relationship with verifiable facts.

But none of that matters now. We have crossed the event horizon. The narratives are now so deeply entrenched that this kind of discussion is largely pointless. Brexit is now a revolutionary movement and these such populist orgies are never all that interested in the finer details. In the end, the propaganda won out. People still, sadly, place their faith in titles of good standing and prestige and the Spectator certainly played its own role in persuading the Tory grassroots that no deal was a viable outcome. 

As it happens, though, as readers of this blog will know, there are ample avenues for the UK to pursue an independent trade policy and so long as we do safeguard our trade with the EU by leaving with a deal we could very well have a more responsive trade policy interwoven with our foreign and international development policies and there is even a case to be made that a diversified approach to trade could be mutually beneficial to the UK and EU.

That case, however, is no longer worth making. It looks very much like we are leaving without a deal in which case we are in damage control mode and will be unable to finance an active trade and development policy. Moreover, good ideas simply won't see the light of day for as long as the political mainstream is dominated by the likes of the Spectator. If they get anywhere close to an interesting contribution it will be years late and thin gruel, much like Kirkup's latest effort.

We have to assume, though, that while it isn't explicitly stated in the article,  the article seeks to address the matter of the Tory demand that we avoid a customs union at all costs. That's something they are right about albeit for the wrong reasons. The textbook definition of a customs union would not stop us operating an independent trade policy, but a customs union with the EU would come with all the bells and whistles which very much would. 

What that means is full alignment with the Common Commercial Policy which would not only stop us operating independently, it would also leave us politically bound to the EU - impacting major areas of domestic policy and more broadly our foreign policy. We cannot expect that Brexit will give us an entirely free hand being that the nature of trade is interconnectedness, but a customs union with all the trimmings would leave us more of a supplicant than before.

This is fundamentally a question of who gets the final say over what happens in respect of our trade. As an EU member, the ECJ is always the supreme authority and with the definition of what constitutes trade ever expanding, requiring ever more European level coordination, we are drifting toward a scenario where nationally and locally we will have no meaningful democratic inputs on the laws we pass.

This is the question that lies at the heart of Brexit. The EU most certainly is a trade superpower but in whose interests and in what ways can it be held accountable. Those are questions that have never been satisfactorily addressed. The discussions on Brexit are less about trade as to what sort of place we want our country to be where the economics arguments are a secondary concern. But in order to bring about the society we wish to see (an argument not yet concluded) we lack the means to build it if every policy decision must first be cleared with Brussels.

The EU certainly does contribute to an economy where we have high availability of cheap goods and services but the price of this is a more transient society with less secure work where people are increasingly treated as commodities. This is undermining traditions, weakening communities, diluting local democracy, and increasingly basic expectations of life for many are now a pipedream. 

Whether or not Brexit really gives us the tools to address these issues is neither here nor there. Whether the EU is the exact culprit of our many maladies is yet another irrelevant question. Brexit has put these vital questions back on the political map and at the centre of public discourse after decades of a prevailing orthodoxy that "the science is settled" on our approach to economics and trade liberalisation, despite it leaving so many behind.

You'll get no argument from me that the Tory free trade dogma is wholly deluded, but that seems to be something of a moot point since it looks like the Tory party is not long for this world. The debate about whether we align with the USA or enter a visa arrangement with India is one still to come. For the first time in my lifetime these such issues will be the subject of public debate and lobbying by civil society. Trade no longer belongs to the wonks and the civil servants. It's been put back in the public domain where we have a greater chance of influencing it.

The net effect may well be a weaker Britain in the trade leagues, but one that is more agile, more responsive and able to forge sectoral alliances independently so as to table its own agendas. Market size is not the only governing factor and though larger states have greater leverage, the ultimate veto rests with parliament on who and what comes in. Of course there are trade offs but at least there is a debate about it. We then become responsible for our own decisions rather than government being something that is simply done to us with no warning. 

Brexit does mean the UK will have to get used to its new status as a mid ranking power, but one more able to shape its own external relations and one capable of defining its own cultural parameters, safeguarding that which makes this country a decent place to live. If this were just about trade then there is no real case for leaving the EU - but as any Brexiter will tell you, this isn't about trade. But trade is one of those instruments we have outsourced to Brussels without our consent and to the point where we, the public, have less control than ever. That above all is why we must have an independent trade policy. Brexit has always been a question of who governs us. 

Bigger than Brexit

As EUreferendum notes, the real business Brexit has been abandoned, now serving only as a backdrop to our domestic politics. "Even the European elections, if they happen, will be seen more as an opinion poll on the state of the parties, rather than any expression of choice as to who we want to represent us in Brussels".

To a large extent the whole process is a soft re-run of the referendum where remainers will be keen to show that they have the numbers, so we could very well see a far higher turnout than usual. Or not. Either way it doesn't matter. There is still that 2016 referendum result and it isn't going away. The Tories will surely take a pasting but unless there is new leadership, I cannot see how the result can influence the direction. There is still only one game in town and that is the withdrawal agreement until such a time where it is formally rejected again.

Between now and then we can expect to see an orgy of populism. The Brexit blob have a new heroine in JRM 2.0 and as ever it won't take long for them to be worshiping at the feet of their new messiah. We're in for weeks of the same old tedious mantras while the movement converges on no deal as the only outcome they will accept. This then becomes an existential matter for the Tories which means at the very least, any consensus reached with Corbyn in respect of a customs union will see them collapsing in the polls.

This all begs the question of how the Tory party gets rid of Theresa May and who she is replaced with, but with the withdrawal agreement being non-amendable, as stated countless times by Brussels, a change of leader with a new fantasy solution for the backstop is not going to get anywhere. Being that revoking Article 50 is only a remote possibility, no deal does seem like an inevitability. In the end it will be down to the political incoherence of Westminster rather than a deliberate act. Remainer MPs ought to realise the only sure fire way to avoid no deal is to ratify the deal but they won't, so that is that.  

For such pivotal and historic times, politics ought to be more interesting than it is but the political machinery has turned away from dealing with the grown up issues and instead defaults to ideological trench warfare with the only objective of making sure the opposite extreme loses. From an anthropological perspective one supposes it has some intrigue but it offers us nothing we have not seen in abundance for the last three years.

As far as Joe Public is concerned, and as far as the know-nothing leaders of the Brexit insurgency are concerned, business can simply muddle on through without formal trade and regulatory frameworks and there is simply no teaching the unteachable. This is now a battle of political wills and the livelihoods of ordinary people are just a casualty of war. The Brexit Party clan and their sympathetic pundits are isolated from the consequences of their ignorance so it is unlikely they will ever take any interest in the grubby details. 

If then we take it as read that we are crashing out without a deal the the intellectual effort needs to go into how we rebuild our European relations. The EU has said it will do all it can to ensure there is no border in Ireland but will have to bend and break a number of its own rules to do it and will need a series of WTO waivers. It won't like having a gaping hole in its legal order and its customs frontier and its first priority when the UK asks the EU back to the table will be to address that concern. 

Then, of course, we are looking at something akin with the backstop, and then in respect of our mainland trade with the EU, issues such as VAT, tariffs, SPS controls and customs don't go away. All of this will need formal interim arrangements and will need to be firmed up over the years. Somehow we need a new template for cooperation on everything from fishing to transboundary pollution and space policy - the minutia that Brexiters refuse to trouble themselves with.

The prevailing attitude seems to be that we will sort something out - and though the optimism is commendable, nothing in international trade negotiations happens quickly except for failure. We are looking at three to four years just to rebuild the basics. Considerably more to get back to anything we might describe as normality. 

Were we negotiating inside the framework set out by the withdrawal agreement we would be doing so from a position of relative economic health, but with the UK excluded from a number of lucrative markets, not least in services due to work visa restrictions and certification problems, our need will be more urgent whereby we end up making concessions on everything up to and including fishing. There will be plenty of bitter pills for Brexiters to swallow as a consequence of their wilful ignorance.

Were it that we had politicians capable of learning and understanding these issues, there perhaps might be time to bring the debate back to sanity, but there is no hope of that when there are votes to be gained by playing to the gallery. Constructive engagement is wasted breath. The force of raw politics is just too strong. It is now a revolutionary force and we are all going to have to pick up the pieces when the damage is done. 

In respect of that I can well understand how this became a revolutionary process. The remainers have become ever more authoritarian and nasty and the mask of progressivism and tolerance is slipping further by the day. As objectionable as I find the Brexiters, if I have to pick a side then I'm still for Brexit all the way. It was perhaps too much to ask that we approach regime change in an orderly fashion. British politics has long been too degraded to handle something like Brexit and politicians on the Brexit side of the debate are far from immune to its effects. This is no longer just about leaving the EU. 

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Brexiters for Remain

They say that battles are won or lost before they even begin. On June 22nd, 2016 I predicted on this blog that we would lose the referendum. Prior to the big day this blog charted a dismal campaign over many months where the leave campaign made every possible error. In the end we didn't win it. Remain lost it. That, though, was no real cause to celebrate. A day later I wrote on this blog "They will use every means at their disposal to keep us on the EU leash".
They will try as Cameron did, to present a new deal which they say is out of the EU but not actually out of the EU. And once again they will use every mechanism of state to commend it to us. They are not going to go without a fight.

So while you may celebrate the referendum victory, we are not out of the danger zone yet. All we have done is establish a beachhead. We have not yet taken the power back and there is a long road to travel before we have. That is why those who campaigned to leave the EU must keep up the pressure. We must demand of them that Brexit does actually mean Brexit and that we will not tolerate any funny business.
That much I was right about. We may have won the battle but we have not yet won the war. But then the reason we are here is very much down to the mistakes made in the early days - running a campaign based on lies on a foundation of intellectual sand, and without anything resembling a workable plan. Had the leave campaign come up with a prospectus to take us beyond the referendum, they would have greater credibility in calling any deviation from the prospectus a betrayal.

But then that was not the game of the Tory Brexit brigade. By keeping it vague they could use bait and switch tactics and shift the goalposts along the way so now they are saying virtually any deal is somehow a betrayal of the One True Brexit, which is, you guessed it... no deal. Having decided to play double or quits, the ERG have been every bit as instrumental in delaying Brexit as the remainers, putting the whole enterprise at risk.

But now I find myself in the most bizarre position of all. Having been a prolific campaigner for Flexcit centring on an EEA Efta approach, I was repeatedly told that Flexcit is not Brexit, and that the EEA was BRINO. The consequence of chucking out an option like that meant that the government would be free to devise its own vision of Brexit - where each of the red lines has gradually crumbled as we crash into the rocks of reality. 

So now it is down to three possible options. No deal, May's deal or no Brexit. I am of the view that if we crash out without a deal it won't take very long for the penny to drop that we cannot function as a third country with no formal agreement with the EU and in order to reopen talks we will need to accept whatever conditions demanded by Brussels meaning that our exports take a shellacking only to end up with a deal similar or worse than Theresa May's.

The Brexit blob, though see things differently. Being that they have written off any no deal warnings as "project fear", we are only one political act away from leaving without a deal and sailing off into the free trade sunset. There is not a lot I can do to dissuade them of this, and were I resigned to it I would just put my feet up and let them learn the hard way. Except, of course, this affects me and I am not giving up without a fight.

But then of those Ultras who are coming round to this uncomfortable reality, they now tell me they would rather remain than accept May's deal on account of it having too many ties to Brussels and no unilateral means of exit. So the plan The Leave Alliance put forward (which was a softer Brexit than May's Brexit) wasn't good enough for them (even though it would have us out by now) - and now when the going gets tough, they're the ones resigning themselves to staying in the EU. 

This is one of those "turns to camera" moments for me. I can scarcely believe the stupidity and futility of it all. Nobody wants to leave the EU more than me and now I'm the one being "betrayed" by the very people who have stamped their feet and whinged for the last three years.

Then we get the Julia Dunning-Krugers of this world telling us that May's deal is not Brexit at all and that Brexit has been completely betrayed. According to her #Standup4Brexit following, anything resembling a customs union is not leaving the EU, despite the fact that the deal is not actually a customs union, is transient in nature and with formal ambitions to replace it in the event of its activation.

All May's deal does is put nominal restrictions on which tariffs we can tinker with which we need to keep roughly where they are for the next ten years or so anyway just for the purposes of rolling over third party agreements. It is but a sliver of the EU machinery and May's deal, suboptimal though it may be, definitely is Brexit and starts the long process rolling. 

At work here is a refusal to understand that Brexit is a process rather than an event and that a no ties, no deal scenario is not only optimal but also not sustainable. This simply does not bear any resemblance to the reality of modern trade. You can then perhaps understand why I am in no rush to support a Brexit party when they have converged on this deeply flawed idea that will result in a worse outcome than May's deal or very possibly lead to not leaving at all.

We are, therefore, in a position where the debate is now almost completely polarised between two equally flawed positions, both of which lead to a decade or more of political and economic turmoil and instability. Remaining is not without its risks. Those of us who do want to see a managed departure without hammering our exports and destroying our international relations seem to be in the extreme minority. I might even be the last person alive who is actually serious about leaving the EU. The way the Brexit blob are acting, you could be forgiven for thinking this was all just one giant practical joke. 

Friday, 12 April 2019

It's party time!

So Farage has launched The Brexit Party. My first thought is that he wouldn't have to had he not made a massive pig's ear of Ukip. He could have built a sustainable organisation but instead he built a cult of personality and surrounded himself with quarterwit lackeys. There was nothing else it could do but implode only for the brand to be hijacked by the Tommy Robinson brigade so as to concentrate full time on grunting about muslims.

Moreover, the main reason we are even considering euro-elections is precisely because the leave movement didn't have a plan which is very much the fault of Farage and it was his lack of leadership that allowed Vote Leave Ltd to steal the campaign away from Ukip.

If there is a reason to vote for a Brexit party, or any party at all it escapes me. As much as I do not wish to lend legitimacy to that entity by voting in its elections, it is little more than opinion poll. I suppose there is some merit in a show of force to remind politicians at home that leavers mean business, and if you feel that way out don't let me stop you, but I'll be sitting this one out.

I could be persuaded to vote were any of the four Brexit parties actually constructively engaged in seeking a viable outcome but this will be the same jamboree as usual with Farage, Tice and Ms Rees-Mogg grunting the same empty slogans and demanding to leave without a deal. There's no way I'm voting for that. These are people who have gone to extended lengths to ensure they own the narrative and undermined any hope of securing a viable Brexit outcome.

Then of course, if there is to be a vote in the European parliament, the remainers will vote against the deal that takes us out of the EU and so will the Brexity mob. It's going to come down to how desperate the others are to get rid of us. And then if we do end up remaining there's is no utility in having thicko Ukippy MEPs who don't apply themselves.

We should also note that this is all well downstream of the real business of Westminster. In order for the European parliament to have its say, parliament needs to ratify a withdrawal agreement which probably won't happen, except in an emergency vote at the last minute, but in all likelihood it will end up with the usual fannying around until October when it comes down to a coin toss of no deal versus revoke. There will be no further extension.

Between now and then, anybody serious about leaving in a controlled and orderly way must make the case for the withdrawal agreement, suboptimal though it may be. What the Brexit mob want is to be out and out now with no ties to Brussels. This is a pipedream and one that will do enormous damage, leading to an even worse deal than the one on the table.

If we leave without a deal, the moment the penny drops that we are a third country and will be treated as such, it won't take very long for the government to collapse, and then the next administration, in a blind panic to restore any kind of trade functionality will be over to Brussels with the begging bowl, where to even start the talks the EU will present us with a bill along with no deal reparations, and a demand we sign up to a variant of the backstop.

The Brexit blob has convinced itself that we have nothing to fear from no deal - and if the Brexit Party sees fit to put the idiot Tice front and centre then we can say this is not a movement with an intellectual foundation. It will be every bit as inept and risible as Ukip and if this is the best they can come up with after being outplayed at every turn then it deserves to lose. They've learned nothing.

Being that politics is now atomised every which way I do not see that I have a dog in the fight and it all seems rather futile. Sometimes all you can do is watch and let it unfold. Then it will be left to the rest of us to clear up the mess they make of it.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Still none the wiser #74

Leavers are said to be incandescent with rage at new delays. I wouldn't know because I only see leavers on the internet where everything is warped and strange. I often write like I'm the only leaver who thinks we do actually need a deal and that leaving without a deal would be a major economic and political failure - but I can't be the only one.

I'm actually at the point where I'm not sure if I should be angry or not. This morning I stumbled on this post I wrote at the beginning of December which probably pinpoints the exact moment where I had "no more fucks to give". It details the full spectrum of failure by the foolish Brexit blob - and the only thing I can really add to the post is that, had Brexiter MPs engaged with reality and constructively engaged in the process, a deal could have passed - and we would have been out of the EU on schedule.

The fullest implications of this delay are not yet fully understood. Says Bruno Waterfield, "31 Oct is not a final, final Brexit date (not least because its All Souls Day). There's a scheduled #EUCO on 17 Oct that could extend. 31 Mar 2020 is still the default end date - as before an expected April #EUCO to thrash out 2021-2027 EU budgets".

Typically, better analysis will appear on but then the substance will fall through the cracks by morning and the entire debate then becomes about Euro-elections and the leadership of the Tory party. The substance of any deal, Brexit fallout and other such piffling concerns will evaporate. What it means in cruder terms is months more buggering about, the same moronic arguments about customs unions, the same tedious mantras that May's deal "is not leaving" - and a strong chance the deal will get worse so that it still doesn't pass and then we are back here again whenever the real deadline is. 

Here we should not forget that the rage fest on Twitter has virtually no relationship with real world events. The grunter wing of Brexit were still tweeting "Chuck Chequers" even until recently, long after Chequers was even a thing. The same will apply here where remain and leave trench warfare troopers will rehash the entire leave/remain debate, all the while the EU continues the process of isolating the UK from EU institutions so that when they do call time on further fannying around, Britain will drop out without a deal if it has not then got its act together.

That is not to say that Brexit couldn't be stopped somehow. I've ruled things out as impossible before and then parliament goes ahead and does it. Their capacity for treachery and stupidity knows no bounds. I just don't know and I'm not prepared to speculate until I've seen where the battle lines are drawn. I will still make the case for leaving but this now feels like a tiresome chore foisted upon us by Brexiter MPs who have squandered every chance we had to get out on time. 

As to the soap opera of who leads the Tory party, the EU is still immovable on the backstop and the deal is still non-amendable and is likely to remain that way so it matters not who is captain of the Titanic. If there is to be a deal then it's a slightly modified version of the political declaration attached to the same deal - and if parliament wilfully obstructs it again and again then there is nowhere left to go. No deal is still a realistic prospect despite the PM's every effort to stop it from happening. 

So essentially, though this is a new chapter of the Brexit process, the closing scene of the first act, we are still essentially non the wiser, not knowing how, when or if we leave while politics continues to implode and the media retreats further into its comfort zone of confrontation, soap opera and airtime filling trivia. If there is anything to be incandescent with rage over then it is that. But that is the new norm, so how can I waste the energy?


Following on from last night's analysis, we now get the speculation over the respective courses of action. If Brexiters are serious about leaving then they have to swallow their respective whinges and back the Withdrawal Agreement sometime before June. They could continue to play silly buggers but that pushes it it right to the wire. There can be no further extension after October for various procedural reasons where it's then either no deal or revoke.

If they are going to do that then they need to ensure there's a PM who definitely will not revoke. This cannot be said of May. She will put it to parliament and wash her hands of it. It is unclear, though, how the Tories will rid themselves of May. There is also talk of a snap election which would be electoral suicide for the Tories so I personally rule that out. With votes going to Brexit parties, and remain votes consolidating on Labour who would make vague noises about a referendum of some kind, we'd probably see Labour take a slim majority.

In the meantime we are sure to see all the same noises about putting it back to the people, but as yet we are not told precisely what it is we are putting back to the people. If it's going to happen then the wheels need to be rolling on the process by August. I don't see that happening but stranger things have happened.

All the while we should recall that the deal is not going to change so even though indicative votes are mooted once more, any conclusion can only augment, not replace the withdrawal agreement. Parliament will expend massive energy on the usual displacement activity to accomplish nothing.

Were I a betting man I would say that if the withdrawal agreement hasn't succeeded thus far then it's not going to, especially if remainers see a window to stop Brexit. They will play their double or quits games same as the ERG. So really it smells like we'll be here again in another six months facing the final dilemma, a last ditch attempt to ratify the deal and then if that fails whatever happens, happens on the toss of a coin. I have absolutely no idea.

The only certainty is that between now and then we'll get all the Brexiters who wailed at The Leave Alliance plan squealing at the consequences of having no plan at all. They will cry betrayal, but ultimately this is a mess of their own making. They cannot say they were not warned. 

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Revoking Article 50 is not an option

As hopes for a sensible negotiated Brexit drain away, some are starting to ask if revoking Article 50 is the only option left. I don't think it's an option at all. Leaving aside the political fallout, it does not conclude the process. The matter has to be resolved so that the UK and the EU can progress. It is not sustainable for a country to be a member in open defiance of a democratic consultation.

As much as this is toxic to the UK, the EU then loses what little moral authority it has overseas. It's hard to preach the virtues of democracy when a major member is there by way of political connivances. If Britain is to be there then there needs to be a renewed positive mandate. That means another referendum at some point.

If that happens then there is a strong chance it returns exactly the same result in which case all we'll have done is prolonged the uncertainty and instability. Should it go the other way then it won't be by a particularly large margin. It won't be a positive mandate either. It will be a reluctant admission that we are essentially too incompetent to leave. The EU is then essentially a prison.

At that point British politics turns more sour than it has ever been. Something worse than Ukip of yore will sweep the boards at Euro elections and it is difficult to see how any government can ascent to further integration. Britain then assumes a role as permanent blocker to EU progress.

On the domestic front, we are then set for a decade or more of political turmoil. Brexit was a safety valve against a populist uprising but if we don't leave the such a political revolution is inevitable. Prior to 2016 Ukip existed only as a pressure group to chip away at Tory support in order to force their hand. All that time the Tory party was on life support and the referendum offer in 2015 is pretty much the only reason they are now in office. The Tory party was allowed to live on the proviso that it got us out of the EU. That deal is now off.

In many respects we'd be hitting the rewind button on politics to 2014 where all the popular resentment would be concentrated in eurosceptic parties, only this time there will be nothing on this earth that would tempt any leaver to vote Tory. Brexit then becomes a permanent feature of British politics and there is no political stability until the issue is resolved. We then have to go through all this again, only next time around there will be no Article 50 process. We'll just leave.

Revoking Article 50 is only a sticking plaster. A temporary life support machine for a politics in freefall. It is a mistake to assume that revocation brings us back to unity and political coherence. What existed before was only a veneer. A mirage. There is no going back. As Latimer Adler points out, "the coming realignment of British politics will not be class-based as historically, but along different fracture lines: London vs The Country, Meddling vs Freedom, Academics vs Workers, Meeja vs The Rest, Remain vs Leave". Brexit will be the festering sore at the centre of it all. It is a fundamental question of values.

By that point remainers have a serious problem. With the auto industry in a global recession and Brexit remaining a political artefact, we will gradually see a slowdown of investment and businesses quietly decamping from our shores. With Brexit an ever ready possibility and political instability being the new normal, most of what remainers said would happen if we left will happen anyway. This creates a problem for remainers in that the EU was supposedly the safeguard against.

What has made Britain an attractive proposition all these years is less the EU as it is the political stability. It's impossible to do business when you can't take any long term decisions. For as long as we remain in the EU, we are only one election away from a radical leftist or populist party, where even if we remain in the EU, the threat of tax hikes and political turmoil will lead to lukewarm investment.

Further still, Brexit has exposed a deep rooted political incompetence and now it's out in the open we will start seeing manifestations of it everywhere we look. Remainers are going to have to carry the can for that. The incompetents screwing up everything they touch will be the same politicians who connived to keep us in the EU. The culmination of all this only ends up back at the same old arguments, meanwhile, precisely nothing is done to address any of the drivers of Brexit.

When we voted to leave in 2016 the lines of British politics were redrawn for good. Remainers claim that Brexit won't fix anything but remaining in the EU definitely won't. Brexit is going to jam up the works here and in the EU and Britain is not going to be a popular member. Britain will have to veto any further integration and that will seriously sour relations. Leaving is the only long term path to amicable relations.

The only way I see us moving forward is by biting the bullet and leaving. There is a hell of a mess to clear up, especially if we leave without a deal but it does at least lance the boil. If Article 50 is revoked then we will be bogged down in Brexit indefinitely, going nowhere and tearing ourselves to pieces. MPs are going to have to face facts. May's deal is the least worst option.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Peter Oborne is wrong

Peter Oborne has come out as a reluctant remainer in the face of the government making a total pig's arse of Brexit. He's probably not alone. We are at the end of the line and we now have to hold this thing up to the light and say what we see.

In most respects I find it hard to disagree with Oborne in that much of what he says has already been charted over the course of this blog. The ignoramuses in the Brexit campaign aristocracy have made endless misleading and false claims and it is hard to argue that there is any geopolitical or economic merit to Brexit as envisioned by the lead Brexiters.

Oborne is right to cast a critical eye on Brexit's remaining supporters. On the one hand we have foaming rightists whose economic arguments are not supported by any sane or honest analysis, and then on the left it's a ragbag of radicals from the Corbynistas who see Brexit as a prerequisite for full socialism, and then there's the infantile Spiked brigade who've persistently refused to engage with the subject matter on an adult level.

Brexit has been dogged by saboteurs throughout the process but I can think of no political cause in living memory so prone to self-sabotage. The ERG would have a far more legitimate claim to betrayal had they at any point worked up a deliverable plan instead of doing everything in their power to bring about a no deal scenario. Not at any point have they constructively engaged in the process or recognised the realities of modern trade.

Through their respective propaganda vessels they have poured substantial resources into promoting the idea that we have nothing to fear from no deal, enlisting their friends in the Spectator, The Telegraph and even The Times to deliberate pollute the debate and obfuscate on critical points of detail. They cannot then be surprised to see that the whole of the Westminster apparatus works to frustrate their agenda. The ERG are the ones who made this a winner takes all fight to the death. They are the ones who gambled our win to say double or quits.

The ultimate absurdity here is the belief that having no deal with the EU is a sustainable place from which to operate internationally. The Brexiters have played on public ignorance of trade, skilfully confining the debate to tariffs on goods which barely scratches the surface of what is an academic and professional discipline in its own right.

Here Brussels has made itself clear. The EU will do the bare minimum to preserve its own commercial interests but will act to preserve its own territorial sovereignty and the integrity of its legal order. They would find means to avoid a hard border in Ireland - not least because they have made explicit promises to Ireland in respect of that. This, though, will require that they bend every rule in the book to make it work. That presents them with a problem.

If the UK leaves without a deal then there is a gaping hole in its customs frontier which the Tories can very easily weaponise. Up with this they will not put. The precondition of restarting talks on a formal relationship for the future will be something akin with the backstop and they will use all of their soft power and weight as a trade superpower to ensure we sign on the dotted line before they talk turkey. We'll be hanging out in the breeze, hemorrhaging jobs and investment until we do. This could have been avoided by taking the EEA Efta path at the very beginning but Brexiters wailed about that saying that it was not Brexit. Another spectacular own goal.

Whether we sign May's deal now or crash out on to WTO terms, it will be the case that Britain will have an inferior and asymmetric trade relationship with the EU. That is jointly the fault of the ERG and Theresa May with her irreconcilable red lines. That is the consequence of entering this undertaking without vision, ambition or even half a clue. At every turn ignorance has won out.

Were I viewing Brexit solely through the prism of economics, disregarding all other factors, then I would find myself resigning to the depressing conclusion that we have squandered the window for a successful Brexit, and we as a movement were largely defeated by own own incompetence and dishonesty. That is Oborne's very pragmatic conclusion. 
Finally – and without naming them – I must state that there are many MPs (and not a few journalists) still marching under the Brexit banner who will read this article with a sympathy and support they do not feel able to declare. They too have changed their minds. I have, and must say so. Fair enough (you may think), but where is the ringing declaration of love for the European Union? We have seen the passionate beliefs of the Brexiteers. Where’s your own positivity? Where your matching passion for Remain?
I have none. Only a deep, gnawing worry that we are making a significant mistake: a worry that is growing by the hour. Call that negative, if you like, but precaution is negative – yet it is part of our kit for survival.
This is where I part company with Oborne. Every single argument rests on the fact that whether we like it or not, the EU has us by the balls. That fundamentally describes our entire relationship with the EU. We have always viewed it as an entirely transactional relationship out of resignation. It is that same resignation that has seen us sucked ever deeper into the EU where we have sleepwalked into a supreme government for Europe - which has massive powers over how we are governed, and substantially more than any of us ever realised. It is that precise resignation and defeatism that led to what we were warned of in 1975. This is why the issue still festers and divides our politics. 

Much of what has been done to the UK is largely irreversible. There has been a quiet revolution in trade and governance. We have moved from fumbling democracy to ruthlessly efficient managerialism where all concerns in respect of identity, heritage, culture and democracy are entirely subordinate to the four freedoms - and though these care dressed up as individual freedoms they are ultimately the four freedoms of capital which always drives a bulldozer through democracy.

There is no winding the clock back, there is no great restoration, but at the very least Brexit is drawing a line in the sand and sets us on a path of restoring the people as the supreme authority. That does not lead to sunlit uplands nor does it bring about a renaissance in free trade. It will cost us greatly. Brexit is a seriously expensive business. That, though, is not reason enough not to do it.

One can pick fault with the withdrawal agreement as it stands, arguing that the EU retains control in a number of key areas. I liken it to erecting scaffolding in order to deconstruct EU membership a piece at a time where the control the EU has wanes over time as the legacy concerns become less relevant. The EU can be trusted to honours its obligations under the political declaration and eventually the backstop will be replaced. Politically it could not be sustained and neither side is especially keen on it. All bilateral relationships evolve and ours with the EU has always been a continuum.

Hardline Brexiters, though, are still insistent that May's deal "is not Brexit" but in truth, though the EU holds us to maintaining certain standards and requires that we coordinate our trade policy with the EU (which we would end up doing anyway) it still removes most of the EU's power over domestic governance. We would still, in the eyes of the world, be a distinct entity to the EU. Out is out. 

Here, though, it is not the ERG standing in the way of leaving with a deal. The ERG are certainly a nuisance but it's parliament as a whole steering us to the edge of the cliff, hoping that the terror of no deal will be enough to put brakes on Brexit for good. Economic blackmail. And it worked on Peter Oborne.

I take the view that if we leave without a deal then it won't take very long for there to be a wider realisation that a deep and comprehensive relationship with the EU is both inevitable and necessary and if we have to rebuilt that relationship from the ground up then so be it. As much as it will discredit the ERG ultras, ultimately the blame for the damage will rest squarely with Parliament as a whole and as much to do with them playing the same double or quits games as the ERG. 

I didn't vote to leave the EU because I thought it would be good for the economy. A long time ago I probably believed that it would be, but those days are long over. Fundamentally it is a question of what the EU really is. It may not be a federal superstate and may never become one, but it's ninety per cent of the way there and increasingly acts like one on the global stage and is largely accountable to no one. Democratic safeguards are non-existent. 

The fact of the matter is that Britain has finally decided to resolve the matter of its uncomfortable and divisive membership of the EU. It is essential we find a way forward everyone can live with. If we do not now commit to that process then we will never be given another choice. That singular fact is perhaps the most glaring and most urgent matter to resolve. Democratic politics is supposed to be about choices where the people have the power to make them. Here we're saying we have no choice and we will rob the people of the power to make that choice. 

That Brexit is going to end up more expensive than it ever needed to be is not the fault of Brexit as an idea. There are a multitude of reasons why this process has unfolded so badly, and all of the key players on both sides share in some of the blame. It points to a deep dysfunction in politics and media and a more worrisome chasm of values between our political class and the country as a whole. It is the intransigence of our establishment that has brought us to this point. they are the ones making us pay more for Brexit that we ever had to. 

We could defer this decision and attempt to sweep it all under the carpet as though it never happened, but it wouldn't resolve anything, and there is no reason to believe we will handle it any better the second time around. Opinion is too atomised and the complexity is beyond the ken of our low grade politicians. We cannot be held hostage to their galactic incompetence. In so doing we would be admitting that this shambolic managed decline is the best Britain can aspire to. That is not an admission I care to make.

Britain is a first world nation of sixty-five million people. We can and should be self-governing. We have a long way to go before we can call ourselves a democracy but we won't get there unless we are able to choose who governs us. It really comes down to whether you believe that the UK has the intellectual and material resources to make a go of it. Though the former is certainly not evident in our ruling class, the human capital of this country is enormous. We do have the talent if only there is the political will.

If it is not already abundantly clear, it will soon become unmistakably necessary to have a fundamental clearout in Westminster. Brexit will be that catalyst. The process has already started. The Independent Group will likely lose most, if not all of their MPs and it won't take very long to dispense with the Brexiteer deadbeats too. 

Britain's social, political and economic problems are not going to be solved until we reboot our politics and if our politicians must grovel to Brussels for permission to make meaningful changes to the way we do things, then politics will remain in its current stagnation. However expensive you think Brexit may be, the cost of flushing our democracy down the pan is unthinkable. Sooner or later there is a price to be paid. 

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

No deal cannot be stopped

Twitter is an interesting place as I write this. The penny hasn't dropped for either side. The Brexiters are fuming and the remainers are celebrating, and neither has a clue what's actually going on. The Cooper bill, passed by one vote, cannot stop a no deal Brexit. The Bill requires the PM to ask the Council for an extension. It makes no provision for her failing to get one, other than for her to ask again.

The noises from the EU do seem to suggest a longer extension is on offer, but on the other hand May has ruled out a long extension and she is not planning on holding European elections. The EU is probably only making such noises because it knows it is not going to be asked and/or that the UK won't qualify. Juncker is saying that the Westminster parliament must ratify the deal by 12 April. Without that, the UK doesn't qualify for an extension. Accidental Brexit looks like a safe bet barring a miracle.

Course, there's no point trying to tell Brexiters this because they are in full flow outrage mode about the death of democracy and all that. This is the shtick they thrive on. It's like crack to them. It will take a couple of days before some of the brighter ones catch on. Meanwhile remainers will be making prats of themselves thinking their new heroine has bought them a reprieve. The only guaranteed way to avoid no deal is to ratify the withdrawal agreement and Cooper's efforts will give parliament to confidence to vote it down yet again - which all but guarantees no deal.

Though instructions have already been issues to returning officers in respect of euro-elections so they can be held, Mrs May will have to give a firm commitment to the EC that they will be held, yet she is saying in public that she doesn't want to hold them. If they take her at her word, then they won't go past 22 May, but then she is indicating that she only wants up to 22 May and then the second condition of the Council decision cuts in - she must have a "way forward" - which includes a cast-iron commitment to the withdrawal agreement - something she can hardly do if it's put to parliament again and it junks it.

Basically, unless parliament ratifies the withdrawal agreement by Monday it's game over - although they could extend it to the Friday with a conditional "written procedure", saying that the UK leaves on the Friday 12 April, unless parliament ratifies. Beyond that, it's going to take an almighty fudge to stop us crashing out.

Ordinarily you might wonder what induced parliament to waste time on such a fatuous exercise. But it's exactly what it looks like. In three years, they've learned nothing and, after all this time, still haven't worked out how Article 50 functions - much less the EU. They can't get it into their brains that Westminster can't tell Brussels what to do. No wonder they're so comfortable with the idea of staying in the EU. The idea of supremacy of EU law simply hasn't got through to them.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019


I'm skipping out on the soap opera today. You've seen the news. You know as much as I do. May is doing everything in her power to get her deal through before admitting defeat and dropping out on to WTO terms - and all credit to her for doing so. I don't have high hopes, but she is doing her job to the best of her limited abilities. 

Naturally Twitter is outraged at the Cooper wrecking bill launched today. The bill is impinging on Crown prerogative. Even if it was passed by parliament (both Houses), the PM could instruct the Queen to withhold Royal Assent. Then, in any case, the final action is not within the gift of the UK government, requiring the assent of the EU-27. Pretty much the only opinion that counts right now is that of M. Barnier. 

Beyond that there is not much else to say that would warrant an 800 word essay. More than anything there is an overwhelming sense of frustration and boredom. The Brexiters are out for blood but when are they not? It's got to the stage where I'm not exactly sure what precise thing they are angry about. Brexit reporting is becoming so utterly tedious, routine and predictable that I'm thinking of outsourcing my blog to India.

We're basically in extra time where May has ditched her own party to try and get Labour votes to pass her deal. It's that or the deadline expires. It's now in the hands of remainers as to whether we leave with a deal or not. Everything in between is noise.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Indicative of nothing

Parliament has yet again decided that it cannot decide. But then it It wouldn't matter if parliament had voted in favour of a zeppelin scale inflatable giraffe this evening. Nothing on that voting slip is a substitute for a withdrawal agreement even if that's what some MPs and BBC hacks believe.

Even if it were binding on the government - which is isn't, the political declaration already allows for all of the options presented thus if parliament is unwilling to ratify the withdrawal agreement - which is non amendable - there simply isn't any point in extending. May will be going to Brussels empty handed either way.

The only news, therefore, is that we are nowhere closer to a managed withdrawal and in extra time we still have no more idea of our mode of departure than we did three years ago. For the political anoraks there is the news of Nick Boles's departure from the Tory party, further whittling down the government's authority, but if Twitter is anything to go by, he won't be missed except by middle of the road no mark remainer MPs.

One supposes that it's noteworthy that the non-solution of a customs union came within three votes of passing, meaning it could come before the house a third time but still only as an indicator and still not enough to convince Brussels of anything. It still looks like we are on for leaving without a deal on the 12th unless by some miracle MV4 passes between now and then.

What really matters, though, is the view across the Channel. Nick Gutteridge of The Sun tweets "EU diplomat on indicative votes: ‘We‘re slowly switching off. April 12 is looming large and that’s now our real focus. We had low expectations but had hoped tonight would provide some clarity on a way forward. Yet again no agreement on what HoC wants, only on what it doesn’t.’"

The main story in my view is largely how the media and MP collective's understanding of the issues has regressed from an already weak position. Media coverage is now actively misinforming the public to the point where there is no possibility of coherence from anywhere inside the bubble. If these indicative votes are indicative of anything it is only indicative of the complete disintegration of British politics. But then that is not exactly news. 

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Distant realities

There is the Westminster reality and then there is our reality. In our reality parliament has totally failed. We're out of time and out of options and unless parliament ratifies a withdrawal agreement it looks like we are sunk.

In the other reality, the one inhabited by MPs and hacks, they can return to work on Monday to peruse an array of options from the menu to go back to Brussels with. Here we have George Freeman calling for a "Brexit war cabinet" as though we have all the time in the world. This comes alongside renewed calls for a customs union.

The bizarre thing here is that a customs union is not an answer to anything. It isn't an alternative to a withdrawal agreement and comes nowhere close to solving the Northern Ireland conundrum. Moreover, the MP collective has not selected the option on its merits. The respective arguments for and against don't even get an airing here. Rather they see it as a political object with far less baggage than the single market as a sweetener to try and keep the game in play. 

This tells us that they are not actually serious. This couldn't be more half hearted. It's a last ditch attempt to find a consensus on the back of last weeks indicative votes despite them being incoherent and inconclusive. They don't seem to care what passes just so long as something passes. They've given up the ghost completely. 

If we had anything like a functioning media they would be calling out the ridiculousness of this latest wheeze but with they themselves having so little of use to do, it is yet more fodder for their ongoing soap opera, allowing them to fill space in speculating who may or may not vote for it and for what reason. To employ a well worn cliche, this really is rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.

If anything, this latest twist in the saga is yet more evidence of the dysfunctionality at the core of politics. You could say that this is just how consensus politics works and this is just how high level politics gets done. That may be adequate for run of the mill politics but Brexit requires a level of leadership and direction that this parliament is incapable of reaching. Brexit is not a matter for tribal horse trading but this really is the best we can do.

It may be that MPs do manage to reach a consensus on a customs union this week, but it doesn't give Mrs May anything to work with. It could mean that converts to her deal find themselves yet again voting it down. It does no provide a conclusive basis on which to move things forward and gives Brussels nothing to work with either. For May it's as good as going empty handed.

Typically, parliament is rushing round trying to do all the things they should have done before this process even began. The more urgent things become the more divergent their reality becomes. Only when it comes crashing down on them will it shake them out of their complacency. 

Friday, 29 March 2019

Nothing much to celebrate

Some have remarked that I've been a lot quieter than usual just lately. I've been lurking in watch mode rather than voicing my views. To a very large extent, I'm not exactly sure where I stand on current events as they are unfolding.

Yesterday there was a pro-Brexit march in Westminster but as a leaver I wanted nothing to do with it. Aside from the fact I think we should leave the EU, I have nothing in common with these people. When I look at these people waving their placards I see all the people who have bought into every passing narrative engineered by the London Brexit blob and speakers at the event will no doubt have trotted out all the hackneyed cliches I see daily on Twitter. I'm just not interested.

Ultimately these are people who will cheer on the day we leave without a deal. People who have disregarded the complexity from day one in favour of populist slogans. It's everything I detest about the self-regarding Brexit blob; reducing a complex issue into a binary narrative.

It seems fitting that carpetbaggers like Claire Fox and Brendan O'Neill should have been speaking at the event. These are people who at the very beginning turned out with "Invoke Article 50 now" placards; a sure sign that they had neither understood the process nor given it a nanosecond's thought. Then after nearly three years of intense debate, all the complexities and nuances still managed to escape these people having used every platform available to them to trot out the same crass mantras about having nothing to fear from no deal where every legitimate concern is rubbished as "project fear".

It's actually got to the point where if I meet a Brexiter outside of the internet I don't want to discuss Brexit at all. They tend to be followers rather than thinkers. They pin their colours to the mast of any passing ship. First Farage was the messiah, then Boris Johnson, then Jacob Rees-Mogg, and for some reason they always seem surprised when they turnout to be know-nothing charlatans.

Any which way you look at it, leaving the EU without a deal is a massive failure of politics. It doesn't solve anything. There are a multitude of transboundary concerns from fishing through to space policy, pollution and trade that need to be addressed. All of this still has to be negotiated and with UK-EU relations at an all time low, with minimal trust between the two, rebuilding relations is going to be long and arduous and will likely not look much different to the withdrawal agreement presently within our grasp.

If anything I am aghast at the whole jamboree. No dealers like Rees-Mogg and Jonathan Isaby (editor of BrexitCentral) suddenly turn tail and support May's deal while devout remainers vote it down thus making no deal a near certainty. The dishonestly, mendacity, opportunism and downright stupidity is infuriating.

We can't even say the best efforts of a dedicated few have been thwarted. Nowhere in the debate is there any learned coherence to be found. On the one hand we have grunting jingoistic morons like Mark francois and on the other we have tin-eared snobby bigots like Anna Soubry and Chuka Umunna. These people have nothing to say to me. There are some who have picked up and run with the EEA Efta cause but understand too little and come to it too late, failing to grasp that we don't get anywhere near an EEA outcome without ratifying a withdrawal agreement.

But then of course, with Brexiters being a baying mob who insist that anything that isn't a WTO Brexit isn't Brexit at all, they are going to cry betrayal whatever the weather so there is no compromise to be had. This speaks to the propaganda power of the Brexit blob. Even if there were an honest broker on the leave side pushing for Efta EEA, they'd be facing deselection motions at home.

In the end the whole process descended into madness. In the beginning it was reasonable to assume that with a majority of MPs being anti-Brexit that they would at least do the bare minimum to avoid no deal if they didn't manage to unite around a softer Brexit. Turns out even that was overly optimistic. With politics being as broken as it is, there was never any hope of them making a good go of it.

When Brexit day arrives I can't say I will be in the pub celebrating a job well done. Brexit day serves only as a marker on a much longer road, and by leaving without a deal the road back to unity and stability is far longer and fraught with more risk. If politics couldn't handle the routine work of passing the necessary bills to get us out of the EU then they will seriously struggle to repair the damage we're about to do to ourselves.

With that, I'm suffering from a sense of total resignation. There is no single point of failure here and no single group or person we can point the finger at. This is a total systemic and institutional collapse encompassing all of the parties, both houses of parliament, think tanks and academia and the entirety of the media. With a mess like this, where does one even start?

Before we address the next phase of Brexit, whatever that may be, we are certainly going to need a general election. The fragile Tory/DUP alliance has all but fallen apart, and neither of the major parties can keep a coherent front bench together. Government has lost all political and moral authority and we cannot progress without a clear out first. My own preference is that we wait awhile, just to let some of the consequences of no deal sink in.

For now the Brexit blob are heroes to leavers but it really won't take very long for the more egregious no deal narratives to fall apart. By way of unilateral EU contingency measures we might very well evade some of the headline effects of Brexit, but there is still a great deal of complacency and it won't take very long for our regulatory systems to start falling apart. A lot of long held assumptions will hit the wall and soon after the Ultras will have a lost of questions to answer.

Sadly, though, a general election really only goes part of the way. The likes of Rees-Mogg will somehow manage to cling on to their seats and an election doesn't really address the fact that parliament as an institution is a clapped out anachronism in desperate need of redesign. An exchange of politicians will bring little remedy.

Many have remarked how this is the worst crop of politicians in living memory where somehow  we are ruled by some profoundly stupid people. This is a matter for some investigation. It's very possible that our system of politics turns otherwise accomplished and intelligent people into morons. A fair few of them are lawyers, doctors and business professionals. Why does our system turn them into gibbering imbeciles?

But then here we might have a far graver crisis. In this I might paraphrase philosopher and comedian, George Carlin. "Everybody complains about politicians. Everybody says they suck. Well, where do people think these politicians come from? They don’t fall out of the sky. They don’t pass through a membrane from another reality. They come from British parents and British families, British homes, British schools, British churches, British businesses and British universities, and they are elected by British citizens. This is the best we can do folks. This is what we have to offer. It’s what our system produces: Garbage in, garbage out. If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you’re going to get selfish, ignorant leaders".

Ordinarily the party system should filter out the worst of them but when you're recruiting from a limited stock, and throwing them into a system that more resembles Hogwarts than an actual legislature, where to get anywhere you have to partake in the media circus, it doesn't seem like politics is salvagable without the use of a bulldozer.

Brexit was always going to be a long and difficult process, but it would appear things were far more broken than any of us realised. Now we face an arduous task on three fronts - rebuilding politics, the country as a whole and European relations - starting from a position of total chaos and economic turmoil. There is no putting the genie back in the bottle. We may never fully recover from this.

What should be remembered, though, is that as much as our politics was living on borrowed time just waiting to be upturned by a thing like Brexit, much of the defects were structural and decaying from the inside. The same can be said of our zombie economy. Our short termist politics is incapable of addressing long term strategic endeavours. This is what has to change.

The fact we all have to face is that this is all going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. There is a lot of anger at the prospect of remaining in the EU and some of the footage is an indication of what could explode if we did remain, but leaver and remain voters alike are going to be united in the near future in their indignation at a politics that has failed them so very badly.

Politics for this term had only one job: To leave the EU as per the instruction of 2016. It was their job to find a settlement we could all live with. With the public sharply divided on the EU, but with no positive mandate for it, the task for MPs was to heed that message, to come together to find a new way forward. Instead we are to crash out of the EU having completely failed to rise to the occasion creating the gravest national crisis for generations.

Between now and then, the next few days will see parliament flailing around to try and salvage what is left of the process, but when they are so far from understanding the issues and regressing by the day, any further technical discussion seems like wasted breath. They needed to be on top of all this before they triggered Article 50. They needed to have their indicative votes long before now. If clarity of purpose has evaded them for the last three years then it likely will not arrive by the deadline. All we'll get is irrelevant squabbles over undeliverable plan Bs.

This we have all seen before. We've been through the mill so many times, with the media polluting the debate with its ignorance and malicious actors deliberately pushing falsehoods and outright lies to willing audiences ever keen to have their prejudices validated. The voice of reason never stood a chance. The noise was impenetrable and the spoils went to those who banged the drum the loudest. Sooner or later, though, those who have brought us to this point will get all they deserve. I may not be cheering on Brexit day, but I will certainly have my fun in the very near future.

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End of the line

Brexit day. Supposedly. There's no getting around it. Theresa May's deal is a long way from what anybody wanted. According to reports, there were cheers from Brexiters outside Westminster when it was announced that the deal had yet again failed to pass. But now it all hangs in the balance. The legal default may be no deal but we have a little while to go before we know exactly which way this goes.

As a long time Brexit campaigner you might expect of me that I would be joining the protest outside Westminster, but this is as much the failure of Brexiters as it is parliament as an institution. I'm not wasting my money to wave flags at a Tommy Robinson jamboree or listen to witless speeches from the likes of Claire Fox of the Spiked ilk who have contributed precisely nothing to the debate over the last three years.

Moreover, leaving without a deal is not something to be celebrated. Terminating all formal trade relations and cooperation accords with our nearest and largest neighbour in peacetime is far from an accomplishment. No deal cannot stay no deal and in due course we'll be back in negotiations with the EU where the preconditions will be to implement the backstop as is and to cough up the £39bn - so we haven't actually achieved anything except to kick our own exporters in the balls.

Though there is much blame to go around, I can no longer single out any one culprit. In the end the ERG didn't come close to winning parliament over to their ideas, but parliament have enabled them through their collective ignorance, indolence and disarray. They could at any time have asserted themselves to hold the executive to account but passed up every opportunity to do so. We have drifted to this point by way of not making any affirmative decisions.

Ultimately, though, this comes down to a schism between parliament and the public. Parliament just won't do what is required of it to deliver on the 2016 vote. They could have leveraged the softer Brexit they prefer. There have been a number of votes on the EEA Efta option, but instead have kicked the can down the road as often as Mrs May has. It was always going to be pushed right to the wire. Now we are at the wire, it comes down to a face-off between no deal and no Brexit. Essentially this is economic blackmail hoping that enough moderate leavers will chicken out. I think it's a little late for that.

As ever, though, the decision is not wholly our own. Brussels will have it's own views in due course, and whatever their verdict will be contingent on Mrs May going back to them with a coherent and decisive message. There is no reason to believe such will be forthcoming. Brussels may very well conclude that there is no mileage in letting this drag on.

The next few days will be telling. The government and parliament both have their work cut out but if they've not yet realised the urgency and gravity of their inaction by now then they probably never will. An accidental Brexit where we simply run out of time and options looks more likely than ever.

If by some means we do end up remaining then I will be torn between two narratives. On the one hand it will be a victory for a newly established ruling class who were never going to let us leave, but then at the same time, with no deal having such profoundly damaging consequences, it is arguable that parliament has done its job. No deal does not have majority support in the country.

Brexiters have held all the top job jobs, had every opportunity to engage in the process and present plans of their own. They could even have voted for May's deal when it mattered. They played for double or quits and there was every possibility they could lose. There was a win within their grasp and they threw it away. All the while, the astonishing ignorance and frivolousness of Brexiteers has undermined their own case through the course of negotiations. Never was a win so readily squandered.

As it happens, though, it really all rests on what Mrs May does next. She would be crucified by her own party were she to revoke Article 50 and there is no apparent support for another referendum. It looks like she has nowhere to go. Parliament's vote has now given control over the Brexit process to the EU Council and Commission. This is the end of the line. Whichever way it goes, this chapter ends in failure.

Next steps

Wednesday, 27 March 2019


So now we're in trouble. Unless parliament ratifies the withdrawal agreement Mrs May has nothing to take to Brussels and no way forward that could secure an extension to negotiations. Parliament will not make an affirmative choice so it comes down to the default option. No deal. Revoking Article 50 is an option but one that carries enormous political risks and sets the UK down a volatile path.

Being that the Conservative party largely favours no deal, the they'd be looking at an extinction level event were they to revoke Article 50 so it looks like we will leave without a deal largely for the short term survival of the party. I say short term because it won't take very long for voters to work out that the Tories who have long preached that there is nothing to fear from no deal have been engaged in a systematic campaign of lying. 

At that point we will set upon a nationwide enquiry as to what went wrong. The last three years of politics will produce a lifetime of lessons. This is not only a failure of the Conservative party but politics as a whole. Parliament as a whole did not want to leave the EU without a deal and on multiple occasions expressed that through multiple votes. Those pushing to leave without a deal were outnumbered five to one.

There is no single factor that brought us to this point but it has a lot to do with the state of the House of Commons. MPs acting in concert could at any time have asserted themselves but for the last three years have failed to unite in order to bring the executive to heel. What we have seen instead is a disorganised and atomised rabble each talking past each other, and mainly concerned with saving their own skin come the next election.

But then a a major factor here is that parliament has never really accepted that the UK voted to leave and though MPs have made all the right noises about respecting the vote, they've been biding their time, waiting for an opportunity to derail Brexit. By fighting to preserve the status quo they never invested any energy in imagining any alternatives and instead continue to impress upon us that Brexit is bad nobody voted to be poorer. With each extreme drowning out the middle, all they succeeded in doing was to harden opposition. 

Then, of course, there was the media who have been equally guilty in failing to grasp the issues and treat them with the seriousness they require. There was a time when I would attack the media for its inherent biases, but bias is no longer the central problem. It's the insular and trivial approach to reporting complex matters. All they do is regurgitate talking points and they wait to be spoonfed rather than investigating the issues. I can think of only two reporters who aren't a total waste of time.

There is then the complete collapse of politics as a whole. Not at any time have we seen a coherent opposition. The Labour party no longer functions as a single party. They never accepted Corbyn's leadership (if you can call it that) and at no tie has the opposition had sufficiently adequate command of the facts in order to embarrass the government despite the goals being wide open the whole time.

The problem for Labour is that it has never especially cared about the EU as an issue. It's an issue that has long split the Conservatives and Labour have kept an artificial consensus running as a political weapon. Labour is really only interested in doling out welfare to its respective client votes and has no instinct for statecraft. Now that the EU has become the defining issue, Labour has nothing useful to say about it and in order to keep the alliance between London progressives and the working class northern base, they have avoided taking a firm stance, hoping to be the beneficiary of whatever mess the Conservatives make of it.

This dynamic, I suspect, is largely to do with our EU membership where the longer term strategic decision making on anything from energy to agriculture is done in Brussels, reducing our national parliaments to term administrators there to balance the budget. Politics as as we know it just isn't set up for a long term complex process like Brexit. The mindset of MPs doesn't extend beyond the next general election and they only ever turn their attention to the vote winning subjects, ever chasing headlines and publicity.

It would help if MPs were at least up to speed with the issues but the information channels have long since been corrupted. We now have an activist media and our think tanks have become lobbyists, stuffed to the gunwales with narcissistic twentysomethings who wangled the right internship through family connections. The Westminster apparatus is largely steered by know-nothing chancers with Oxford politics degrees.

There is no single factor that has brought us to this point. Rather it is the culmination of a host of issues brought to the fore by Brexit. It was already apparent but Brexit is beyond their abilities and it really shows. Worse still, it's not going to improve any time soon. No matter how much of a hash they make of Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn is still just enough to stop Labour taking power and we'll be stuck in limbo with a hung parliament for a long time to come.     

This raises serious questions about their collective ability to respond to the many problems created by Brexit, especially in the event of no deal. You can't really expect the system to solve the problem when the system very much is the problem. Worse still, they're never going to admit that. It's going to take a lot more than Brexit before we see the return of good government. We may not see it again in our lifetimes.

Though I have never been especially convinced by any economic case for Brexit I have always seen it as a catalyst in that you have to expose the problems in order to address them. But without the necessary power and those with power obstructing meaningful reform, it seems to me that it's going to get a whole lot worse before it gets any better. Voters have to realise for themselves that it's the system at fault rather than who we actually elect.

If we leave the EU without a deal, and at this point I rather expect we will, there will be plenty of wailing from the media and politicians alike, none of whom will examine their own role in bringing this about. They have unparalleled access to knowledge and expertise, they've had all the time they could possibly need and they've had three chances to ratify a withdrawal agreement after voting by a huge majority to set us down this path.

Notionally, MPs are there to serve as goalkeepers to stop bad ideas. Collectively they have enormous power and where they choose to exercise it they can even bring governments down. Instead they've spent the whole time indulging in insular tribal bickering. They didn't have to like Brexit but it was ultimately the legitimate verdict of the public. Had they accepted that and applied themselves, they could have been calling the shots. Instead they dithered and allowed events to overtake them.

Of itself Brexit was never much of a remedy to anything, but one thing is clear; we are not going to resolve anything until we address the deep set political dysfunction. Brexit has become that window of opportunity. The public are in part at fault for this mess in that they have delegated politics to politicians and taken their eye off the ball. If there is one thing Brexit teaches us it is that politics is too important to be left solely to the politicians. Now it's out in the open - and very soon we will feel the real consequences of that negligence, we will see a unified demand for change. That above all is the real Brexit dividend.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Taking out the garbage

For a while now I've been beset by a certain zen like calm. Imperturbable even. It's not that I've stopped caring. This is something else. I liken it with having ascended. A popular theme in sci-fi is non-corporeal beings who've shed their physical bodies to exist on some higher plain of enlightenment where the matter of corporeal beings are not only of no concern, but also off limits.

This is how I feel about the Brexit debate. I've seen just about all of the bullshit from both sides and I'm not impressed with any of it. The right wing arguments for Brexit are crap and the left wing arguments are no better. They trot out the classic tropes about enforced austerity on Greece, and even if I did have any sympathy for Greece, it's just not relevant to our predicament.

I think I have tried and tested just about every argument for Brexit over the course of this blog and I've found most of them unconvincing. Even a few of the stronger arguments have been a casualty of reality over the last two years. This, though, is the process you have to go through to be able to speak with conviction. It doesn't do to spout any argument that suits your case. You have to at least believe your own shtick otherwise what's the point?

But then so much as I can dismantle most of the Brexit arguments I'm still not hearing a compelling case to remain. Nor will I. Aside from propping up the existing regime for a few more years, electing to ignore the structural economic problems and underlying social injustices, there's not much in it.

I'm never going to be persuaded by the supposed perks and benefits for EU citizens not least because most of them are irrelevant to me or can be achieved by other means. This is also the wrong way to look at it. I've turned down jobs before even though the offer a highly attractive benefits package. The decision was taken on what the job actually was rather than the perks they offer. The EU issue is the same. We have to look at what it actually is.

In short, it's a globalising non-state superpower and what it ultimately wants is more power. More power for it and less for us. National democracies are subordinate and actual expressions of democracy are unwelcome and untrusted. It is a power hungry paranoid out of touch entity and it's ultimately more answerable to lobbyists and the NGOcracy than it is to us. It is an affront to democracy and that is the whole of the argument. This is not something any healthy democracy should wish to enmesh itself in.

Beyond that, it's a values thing. If you want to live in a top down technocracy where politics is reduced to consultative exercises for show, so that we are all free to live obedient little lives with professional politicians closing down ever more freedoms, then the EU is a nice and easy off the shelf answer. If however, you believe that the imbalances and problems can only be solved by the people through their own institutions then Brexit, no matter how expensive and inconvenient, is just one of those unpleasant chores like taking out the garbage.

Like most other household chores it's nothing to get excited about. It's just one of those things you have to do and if you don't attend to these things then nobody else will. You can put it off but before you know it you're up to your knees in rubbish and the place is beginning to stink. It's true we could have done it more intelligently without splitting the bag open and spilling garbage all the way out to the bins but we are at least getting the rubbish out of the house.

Now that the decision has been made to take out the garbage, there doesn't seem much point in re-arguing the case. The children are perfectly entitled to make a loud case for living in squalor, and we adults are entitled to ignore them. There is nothing more to be said about it unless those tasked with this chore elect to let the children have it their way. At that point, the debate is no longer about Brexit.

At that point it becomes a question of whether we are a democracy at all and if we are not going to be one, where the votes of working people only need be taken into account provided they say the right things, what legitimacy does government have? By annulling the votes of seventeen million people we are creating a permanent ruling class where the people have no say in who governs them. At that point, the EU has effectively achieved its long term ambitions. The UK becomes a post-democracy society under permanent EU occupation.

From then on, that zen like calm will evaporate. The divisions illuminated by Brexit will become the permanent fault line in British politics. A war will break out between those who are allowed a say and those who are not. Then we begin a new era of overtly hostile politics that will make their EU victory taste more bitter than defeat. British politics can just about withstand Brexit but if votes no longer count then all bets are off.

Back to reality

I almost feel guilty for taking a week off at such a crucial stage of Brexit. I'm glad I did though because it doesn't look like I missed much. For there to be anything worth saying we need to know which direction we are going in and for that parliament would have to make an affirmative decision - which it has not done. It has done everything to avoid making one so we are drifting further toward an accidental Brexit.

Taking time out, though, was valuable. I've been our exploring the Fens and the Norfolk coastline, catching only glimpses of the news and being too busy for Twitter. Like a normal person. That was instructive. If anything it's a reminder that Twitter is only really important to people who use Twitter.

For the most part I even managed to miss out on all the noise about the supposedly million strong protest in London. I certainly didn't miss anything. There was nothing to say about it. It was about as big as the last one and equally incoherent. Apart from being a generic whinge to stay in the EU, it had nothing to say for itself. I managed to catch a few of the vox pops where again Guardian reading simpletons saw fit to tell me I didn't know what I was voting for.

It would have been an opportunity to roll out all the stereotypes about Waitrose warriors, but we've all done it before and there is nothing at all original to say about it. Nor is there anything to say about the five million strong petition. Paul Embrey said it best. "Sixteen million were willing to walk or drive to a polling station to say the same thing. Hardly significant that a third of them have clicked on a mouse to tell us they haven't changed their minds". Within a week, nobody will be talking about it. 

For sure it all had a novelty value for a bored media that needs something to chew on but for the rest of us getting on with our lives there is essentially no change. The remainers were always going to have a massive coordinated whinge in the final hour but the rest of us still expect our votes to be respected and the verdict of 2016 to be honoured.

The far bigger news of the week was the administrative delay where it looks as though the EU has given up any hope of the UK ratifying a withdrawal agreement or coming up with a viable proposal in order for the deal to pass. There is a short window for parliament to get its act together but if it hasn't by now then it never will. The EU now believes the UK will leave on April 12 without a deal.

Instead of seeking to avert such an outcome there seems to be a prevailing sense of futility so our media has retreated to the comfort zone of leadership contests and no confidence votes. We are marking time until fate makes our choices for us. 

If this is how it unfolds then this will be a failure of every political institution. Future historians will puzzle as to how something so undesirable could have happened when almost universally opposed by every branch of politics. It really comes back to the basics. Any idea will prevail in the absence of alternative ideas. 

When parliament voted for Article 50 they knew they couldn't get away with ignoring the referendum. Even now, the majority of them understand that this is now bigger than the Brexit issue. This is a full blown constitutional crisis where democracy itself hangs by a thread. The power, though, was always theirs to avert it. They could have ratified Mrs May's deal or they could at any point in the last three years have developed a more attractive proposal. But they didn't.

There have been pockets inside the Commons pushing alternate plans, but with the opposition writing themselves out of the process, the Lib Dems hell bent on remaining and various MPs attempting to sabotage the process the whole time, they cleared the way for the worst plan of all. The ERG will profit from parliament's own inertia.

If anything I should have stayed on holiday for another week. This slow motion trainwreck is now beyond anyone's ability to influence or control. The ones who thought they could influence and control it saw fit to exclude alternative voices from the debate thinking they knew it all so this mess now belongs to them. They're welcome to it and much deserve it.