Thursday, 27 June 2019

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

A YouGov poll now puts Remain on 51%. Pretty much within the margin of error. There is no guarantee Remain would win a second referendum, especially with Leave starting from a far healthier position than it did in 2015 when, if memory serves, it was somewhere around 36%.

Were there to be a re-run of the referendum, it would likely play out in exactly the same way. Remain would have all the economic arguments on its side but the face of Remain would still be the same old faces, issuing the same threats and looking down their noses at the oiks. They haven't learned anything and they never will. It all comes down to whoever the electorate despises the least.

This is where a certain amount of self awareness is a crucial weapon. Most leavers I speak to who've interrogated the subject in any depth will freely admit that Nigel Farage is "a bit of a nob", and it can't have escaped the attention of any upright walking person that Boris Johnson is at best a shambles of a man. The leave vote has never been an endorsement of them or their politics. Rather they are figureheads who seem to bring out all the worst traits in the metro left remain camp. A form of Trumpian judo.

That the remain vote is twitching into the lead, though, is neither here nor there. Unless or until there is a fresh vote, the 2016 referendum sands as the only official count and it doesn't look to have shifted. the country is still sharply divided and with around half the country wanting to leave, EU membership just isn't sustainable. It doesn't have enough popular consent.

Of course, remainers would equally say that Brexit also lacks that clear mandate, especially when it is such an open ended question upon which there is no agreement. At least the status quo (what's left of it) sustains a relatively functioning economy and a political settlement that is appalling but arguably tolerable.

But then I would argue that it is no longer tolerable. The Westminster bubble has not yet been popped and its decisions simply do not represent or reflect public sentiment. The decision waved through parliament (without a national debate or serious parliamentary scrutiny) to commit in law to a zero carbon target is precisely the sort of narcissistic and dangerous behaviour that brought us to this point in the first place.

As it happens, I am a climate sceptic. I don't think the science is sufficiently well developed and the "project fear" scare stories are entirely agenda driven. It gives politicians ample excuse to close down human liberties and tax us into the stone age. But you don't have to be a climate sceptic to see that government without informed consent is no basis for a modern democracy. One wonders if we would be leaving the EU had there ever been a referendum on Lisbon or EU enlargement or freedom of movement.

The problem being that our political apparatus is susceptible to any passing virtue signalling fad from the supposed gender pay gap through to climate change. It is not without consequence. It leads to politicians making life more expensive and less equitable, while a value system is imposed on the public that is alien to their own. A moral dictatorship. One that is gradually defining any speech it doesn't like as hate speech and anything remotely conservative as "far right". If they cannot use the domestic political apparatus to push through their agenda then they'll go around it by way of the EU.

This has a corrosive and cumulative effect. Being that it is essential a left wing/progressive agenda, there is no limit to the depravity in attacking all societal norms, to the point where we're putting serial rapists in women's prisons because they self identify as female, and undermining women's sports by allowing self-castrated men to compete. Speaking out against this is, of course, a form of bigotry that can lead a person to be deplatformed, unpersoned or even fired. The same can be said for climate sceptics or anyone who questions the left wing orthodoxy.

This is partly why I don't care if the climate bedwetters are right. If the only way for humanity to survive is to surrender its freedoms to an all powerful state that controls what you say and think, then it's time to call time on humanity. Extinction is preferable to slavery.

Left to its own devices, our establishment would virtue signal its way to bankruptcy as it commits us to unworkable renewable energy and carbon capture storage, driving up energy costs and driving polluters to China while the economy contracts under the weight of green taxes. We are then in no position to exert soft power or economic pressure. Put simply, we cannot afford the status quo.

Moreover, the prevailing orthodoxy does not believe in immigration control, does not believe in borders and would reduce us all to transient nomads grazing from the land but with no spiritual connection to it nor authority over it. It is a sterile ideology contrary to human nature. Anti-human in fact.

It comes as no surprise that the left across the west want us to declare a "climate emergency" but it's the perfect pretext for their economic and social agendas. Much like a tinpot dictator declaring "temporary" martial law and suspending elections for "national security reasons". But that's all ok if we're saving the planet, right?

This weapons grade institutional virtue signalling is the very essence of Western decadence we cannot leave unchecked. This is, in part, why Brexit has become a culture war where leaving the EU is only a secondary objective. The primary now being to ensure the left loses and loses big. For the headbangers even a WTO Brexit is not hard enough.

As I've remarked before, Britain is in a state of civil war. It has not yet come to a shooting war, and I pray that it won't, but like all civil wars, the economy takes a back seat until there is a final political resolution and we cannot progress until there is an outright victor. This is a fight to the death.

There are those among the metro left who now indulge in a from of nostalgia for the pre-Brexit days. They hark back to 2012, the year of the Olympics (peak narcissism), where progressives bought into the self-woven mythology that Britain was a broadly progressive country sharing in the values imposed on them by their rulers and broadcast by the state media. A Utopian bubble of self-regard where reality never intrudes. One in which Ed Miliband is the voice of tempered reason.

In 2016, though, the oiks found a voice and the fightback started. It was a rude awakening for the liberal progressive establishment who never imagined for a moment that the voiceless majority thought differently to them. Ever since they have gone into overdrive to put the genie pack in the bottle. But it hasn't worked.

Instead of accepting the result of the referendum and worked toward a constructive outcome they have mobilised every arm of the establishment to try and prevent it and waged a legal jihad on Brexit and Brexiters. Both sides have fought each other to a standstill, and with parliament having defeated Theresa May and the withdrawal agreement, we are now coasting idly toward a Boris Johnson premiership and a no deal Brexit.

Of course, it takes two to tango. The Ultras weren't satisfied with their referendum win. They had to make it a game of double or quits in pushing for the suicidal WTO option. Anyone who would have settled for a managed departure was pushed into the remain camp. The remainers, though, lacking self-awareness or any finesse, have bungled it.

The consequence of this is a Brexit we will never fully recover from for reasons I have outlined elsewhere. It's easy to blame Rees-Mogg and the the ERG, but the root of this lies with the narcissism of the progressive left. Brexit is far from unique. America is undergoing a political reckoning, as is the UK and France. This will spread.

What makes Brexit unique is that it has far more dangerous consequences than political revolutions elsewhere in the West. Successive governments have tied us to ever closer union and ever more political and economic integration, and in their hubris believed it would be irreversible. They tied up all of our external relations into a single treaty framework. A single point of failure ensuring that Brexit was so costly that electorates wouldn't dare vote to leave. It almost worked but they underestimated precisely how repellent they were.

The consequence of this is that Britain's political reckoning will be far more costly than it ever needed to be, and with the consequences being so damaging, our politics could be in a state of flux for decades to come. Political dysfunction may well be the new normal for this next chapter of Britain.

Ultimately, the UK as we know it is at the end of the line. Our outmoded way of doing politics has outstayed its welcome and outlived its usefulness. As much as it is no longer capable of providing answers to the challenges we face in the new century, it is the cause of much of our problems. Brexit is really just the moment the camel's back snapped. The EU has successfully masked the hollowing out of British politics but now we've pulled back the curtain. There is nothing left to salvage.

What we see is an entitled and privileged ruling class, whose behaviours are reinforced by our ancient political institutions, which were designed around a system of feudalism. It has never been a democracy and it has no intention of becoming one. We can use the vote to limited effect to select our dictators but we the people are not in control. We are spectators while politicians from either wing of the establishment impose their agenda upon us. this applies as much to the ERG with their "fwee twade" delusions as it does the climate bedwetters and welfare patriarchs of the left.

What comes next is really up to us. The fallout from a no deal Brexit should provide fertile ground for new ideas and new political movements. That, ultimately, is the Brexit dividend. Brexit will only have failed is we allow what comes next to be rebuilt in the image of what came before. If Britain is ever to be a democracy then this is the reckoning we must have. There can be no economic or social revival until this war is resolved.

Economic prosperity depends almost entirely on political stability. The prosperity we have enjoyed was always time limited. As our politics has decayed, we see more and more signs that the essentials are breaking down. Legal aid has all but collapsed making a fair trial (a central tenet of any enlightened culture) an impossibility. Grenfell Tower told its own story, not just in terms of the fire itself, but also the fraud and theft in its wake. These are the signs of a society in terminal decline. Brexit may not be the solution, but it does at least start the ball rolling on a process of renewal. Whether it succeeds or fails is really down to us. We cannot look to our rulers to save us.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Brexit: into the abyss of no deal

The way it's going, it looks like leaving without a deal is a dead cert. If things were polarised before then it's incurably polarised now. The fever is full blown. Nothing anybody says is going to make a difference. The headbangers have decided that no deal is the only way.

Only now we are at this critical juncture are we seeing the kind of issues based scrutiny that we should have seen three years ago. Even this dimmest of beeboid hacks are shredding the assertion that GATT Article 24 is a viable option to salvage a crash out. It's all too little and too late. What happened to this thirst for detail when MPs were bleating all the classic memes about the Norway Option ("fax democracy" etc)?

Were that people realised just how bad no deal were likely to be there would be a far more forceful public outcry but throughout the media has trivialised the issue, turning credible warnings into clickbait scare stories thus undermining their own credibility. Worse still, even if the media did get a grip, I fear they've left it far too late now. We are past the point of no return.

From what we know of Boris Johnson's intentions there is no possibility that a new deal will be struck with the EU, especially considering that the alternate proposal is a non-starter. Meanwhile there is nothing parliament can do about it. Dominic Grieve has tabled another motion that will fall flat yet again if it is even passed and with the parliamentary constitution being what it is, even if principled remainers quit the party or passed a vote of no confidence, the timing ensures that no deal is still the only likely outcome.

If there is a silver lining to any of this is is that Boris Johnson's premiership is likely to be mercifully short. Possibly even the shortest in British history. At the best of time Boris Johnson would be wholly unsuited to the position, but in the wake of a no deal Brexit, with a barrage of problems hitting the news, it will become abundantly clear that this profoundly unserious man is out of his depth and that nothing can be salvaged unless he is removed. He will be widely viewed as a political vandal. At that point even some of the Brexit headbangers might wake up.

But then we head into a new stage of the propaganda war. Already ERG Tories are attempting to shift the blame for no deal to the EU - and after the fact, the media will likely report any new third country restrictions as either a blockade or "sanctions", whereupon the Ultras will weave a narrative of victimisation. They will use the full weight of their influence to duck responsibility.

Depressingly it will work on the headbangers who already believe in the betrayal narrative and that May was a secret remainer working to keep us tied to the EU, with Raab pushed out as she conspired with the civil service to deliver BINO. They won't need much persuading that it's all the fault of the EU.

I live in hope, though, that the truth will out. One by one the promises will collapse. Fishing for Leave has long believed that no deal means the entire quota for British fisheries can and will be divvied up between British boats and we'll see a renaissance of British fishing. This will be one of the first delusions to hit the wall as it turns out we can't sell into the single market.

We still don't know exactly what the situation at the ports will be, but even if preparations turn out to be adequate, we will still be drowning in a number of problems even the keenest of us did not anticipate. Just about every sector will be affected and keeping the ports open won't be enough save the Tories' bacon.

The real question is one of how far things will deteriorate before we are back at the table in Brussels. This all depends on resolving the political quagmire in Westminster. There will need to be a general election sooner or later. Probably later because the public are not going to tolerate any more scheming by the Tories. The situation is then highly unpredictable with too many unknowns to speculate. The worry is that even a general election will not bring any coherence to Westminster politics and until there is a decisive direction, British industry will be hung out to dry.

It could even be some months, or well over a year before a renewed conversation with Brussels happens. When that happens the issues will be much the same as now, and the more acute our predicament, the more the EU is at liberty to make demands. The Brexiters will stand utterly discredited and though they will stamp their, the urgency of the situation, and Britain's lack of apparent choices, will ensure we sign up to whatever is put in front of us.

Today Brexiters are tweeting that the EU has sought to formalise the various trade agreements in a new treaty, which would effectively lock Switzerland into the single market and oblige it to accept new rules as and when they are brought in. Amid frustration at the amount of time it was taking for the Swiss to sign the treaty the EU threatened last year that, unless a deal was done, it would no longer recognise Swiss stock exchange rules that permit the cross-border trading of shares.

Naturally the Breixters are holding this up as an example of the EU being a "bully", along with all the usual canards, but this does not help their case. This is what real leverage looks like. Switzerland is in a position to push back to a large extent in that only the relevant sector is affected. The decision is theirs as to whether they accept the trade offs. The UK however, will be in a state of emergency and time is a luxury we will not have if we are to prevent a further exodus of jobs.

Whether it is right that the EU applies this kind of pressure is neither here nor there. The reality is that it does and that is a reality with which we must contend. With the UK having torched all of its formal trade relations, burning up all goodwill in the EU in the process, our situation will be quite grim indeed. By the time the EU has finished with us, Brexiters might well be wishing they have ratified Mrs May's deal when they could.

The effects of no deal will be far reaching. Most of the no dealers have a deeply naive view of the EU. It is a deep rooted system of government that has worked its way into just about sector. Terminating that system without understanding how it works and what it actually does - and just how deeply integrated it really is, is a recipe for disaster. It is a great irony that Brexiters long warned that this is what the EU would become, only to be met with ridicule from europhiles. Now that it has actually happened, the ones in the deepest denial are the Brexiters themselves.

Likely it will take decades to recover from crashing out of the EU. The trade aspect alone will take some years to address before we turn our minds to the peripheral, but highly important matters of intergovernmental cooperation. It has taken twenty years for Switzerland's relations with the EU to get to where they are now. The UK will be starting from scratch and with domestic politics in flux. If anyone thought no deal was a way to get it all over and done with, they were sorely mistaken.

As much as British politics has developed its own schisms, we still have the blame game to come and there is a good chance that both Labour and the Tories will disintegrate with no viable movement to fill the void. There is every likelihood that the political vacuum will be persistent for more than a decade, much like Italy.

I have long felt that Britain's stability and prosperity was living on borrowed time. Successive governments have abused their power and taken advantage of political apathy to dilute democracy and do as they please. They've played a dangerous game of Jenga and now it's all about to come crashing down. Though that may sound satisfying to those of us who are sick of them, the price is sustained decline. Britain has turned a corner and there is no going back. 

Britain's EU membership is only partly the cause of our problems. Mainly our EU membership is a symptom of the problem; an establishment that does as it pleases without reference to public sentiment and abusing media affiliations to advance propaganda narratives. The Brexit Tories will be no different. Whichever wing of the establishment is in charge, the effect is much the same. No Deal Brexit will be Boris Johnson's Lisbon Treaty: Something done to an unwitting public without informed consent. Ironic that the final betrayal in our rocky relationship with the EU will be one executed by Brexiters themselves.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Claire Fox: the ultimate hypocrite

There is a particular type of Brexiter I utterly despise. Every day I deal with run of the mill kiptards who think leaving without a deal and bucking out on to WTO terms is a walk in the park. Mostly they're noise to me. People of average intelligence, starved of information and bombarded with propaganda will end up with stupid opinions and that's just part of life. There is no hate here for me. These people are what the mute button was invented for.

What really gets my goat are those who trot out the slogans who should know better but enjoy the rhetorical sport of arguing the toss as though it were wholly inconsequential. Julia Dunning-Kruger is especially guilty of this, as is Claire Fox. These are people who argue that there is no hard or soft Brexit, just Brexit. Soft Brexit, according to scripture, is not Brexit at all.

It takes some nerve to say that when leading campaigners from the Vote Leave camp, from Kate Hoey to Arron Banks, Nigel Farage, Daniel Hannan, Campbell Bannerman and Owen Paterson, have all been on record pointing to Norway as a viable and desirable option. The internet never forgets. It's all there if you go looking for it.

More than that, there has been three years of debate over the respective merits of Efta/EEA and even if you take the view that the so called Norway Option isn't Brexity enough for you, it certainly is Brexit and fulfils the 2016 mandate in that the ballot paper was simply an instruction to leave the EU. Norway, quite famously, is not in the EU.

At any point, Fox could have examined the debate, but like her fellow Spiked travellers, everything has to be made binary. No nuances, no grey areas. Everything is black and white. She is by no means stupid (so I am told) so we are dealing with a particularly lazy, ignorant and dishonest individual. Soft Brexit very much was an option and the best of an array of suboptimal outcomes.

What I find, though, is that those who attempt to remove nuance from a debate, attempting to polarise it, are seeking to manipulate those who listen to them and trust them. The hallmark of a demagogue. They rely on simplistic and pleasing soundbites that carry weight with your average grunty kiptard, but to anyone else who has properly interrogated the issues, it's intelligence insulting. Speaking of which, Claire Fox is the ultimate hypocrite. Writing in The Spectator she observes:
Until six weeks ago, I had the privilege of being a commentator who could sit on couches endlessly pontificating. Now as a politician, I’m the target of my fellow commentators. They either discuss me in my absence or ask a series of staccato questions with little room for context or nuance.

Maybe I’m fair game. After all, I have spent two decades as a Radio 4 Moral Maze panelist interrogating witnesses. This, perhaps, is my comeuppance. Yet what I’ve learned about the way the broadcast media works in recent weeks bothers me and I’ve been asking myself a question: what good does it do if journalism is reduced to demanding politicians ‘answer me – yes or no’? What do we lose when the media’s attitude to anyone who wins election is to deny them room for intellectual reflection or the chance to properly explore and think through ideas?
I mentioned this concern to one radio producer and she assumed it was because voters would expect simplistic answers, deliverable outcomes and ‘populist’ slogans from politicians. Ordinary folk, in this view, are not interested in complexities or subtlety.

But that assumption is telling and wrong on two counts. It is not the voters who insist on a black-and-white, one-dimensional approach; it is often the media who assume that anyone elected automatically becomes a robotic parroter of party-line soundbites.
Except that Claire Fox herself has no interest in nuance whatsoever and has deliberately set about making the issue black and white. Her assertion that soft Brexit is not Brexit is very much a robotic soundbite. There is a whole world of debate about Efta, one which she has, of her own volition, opted out of. She then presumes to speak on behalf of all who voted Brexit when she aligns herself with a party pushing for no deal.

She then goes on television, from a position of total ignorance, to tell us that "no deal presents us with more opportunities" while having nothing of relevance to say when asked about the Norway Option. I would very much like to know what these opportunities are because reading through the EU's Notices to Stakeholders, they make for pretty grim reading. "Crashing out" is an entirely accurate description of no deal. Disconnecting the UK from the regulatory ecosystem its trade has evolved inside and whacking us with tariffs is a hammer blow to the economy.

But then from the YouTube clip, you can see she's one of the lightweights who has made no serious attempt to examine the issues from a technical perspective. Like Gisela Stuart she blathers about democratic renewal, as though Brexit of itself were a wonder drug. The naïve belief that cutting all ties with the EU frees us to act unilaterally without consequence. The critical error made by nearly all Brexiters is assuming the EU is the cause of the problem rather than a symptom. The EU certainly is an impediment to the exercise of sovereignty but Brexit in the first instance merely transfers the power from an unaccountable dysfunctional government in Brussels to one in London. The public are still powerless spectators.

So very often the likes of Fox brush off the trade debate (as demonstrated) as a peripheral concern, but had she bothered to avail herself of any of the deeper analyses, she would have bumped into the central dilemma of globalisation, where trade and technical governance are intimately linked and harmonisation through binding treaties, regionally and globally is the main way to maximise trade (upon which jobs depend). There we find there are no satisfactory answers to the trade offs between democracy, sovereignty and trade. There is always a compromise to be made - which is why you might actually want to think hard about the form Brexit takes. Embarking on such an enterprise without a destination in mind most likely leaves us worse off and no better off in the sovereignty stakes.

It actually comes as no surprise that Fox has joined the Farage party. Her horseshit suits his. It is a party without an intellectual foundation that relies entirely on soundbites and outsources all of its thinking to the Tory Brexit blob. They always thought detail and planning was superfluous. "Invoke Article 50 now" said Fox. We don't need no stinking plan or any fancy book learnin!

How's that working out for you?

Monday, 24 June 2019

A fundamental lack of democracy

It was back in 2017 when Mrs May went to Florence to deliver a speech that it became obvious that something was very wrong at the heart of government. May was very much in a world of her own. The sequence of exit process had already been defined. We would negotiate a withdrawal agreement and then negotiate the future relationship in the so-called transition period, which May, for her own reasons insisted on calling it the implementation period even though there would be nothing then to implement.

The speech was an attempt to circumvent the sequencing to skip straight to negotiating a bespoke partnership agreement. She failed to understand that firstly, the sequencing was not a matter of negotiation, and secondly, that there were practical and legal reasons for the EU to do it this way.

More than a year of negotiating time was wasted while May laboured under these misapprehensions while MPs on all side of the house similarly struggled with the basic terminology. The basic problem was that our political apparatus was not even listening to Barnier, let alone understanding what was said.

I can't remember exactly when the government resigned itself to the reality, but then we moved on to a new set of misapprehensions such as a common rule book (aka Chequers) and no matter how many times Brussels said no, for good reason, the message simply didn't sink in. We then experienced the exact same dynamic with MaxFac for Northern Ireland. All of these nostrums fell flat simply because any solution had to take into account the existing EU system and the inherent limitations on the EU. It could not make exceptions to the rules for a non member and certainly it could not weaken its own customs frontiers for the sole benefit of the UK. That's just not how the system works.

Two years on and we are no further forward. Theresa May eventually admitted defeat on all counts and came back with her withdrawal agreement (pretty much the only viable solution) only to be met with outrage from her party. This cost her the premiership. That's what happens when you open the curtains to the light of day. May might well have caved into reality but the ERG did not.

Enter Johnson. Being a man who does not do detail and a man who has paid no attention to anything over the last two years (except for job openings in Number Ten), it's like the last two years never happened. With May out of the way he can resurrect all of the non-solutions favoured by the ERG and tell everyone he'll get the deal Mrs May could not. This is in defiance of all the diplomatic signals from Brussels, whose diplomatic signals have consistently said that the deal is not open to negotiation and that MaxFac, if ever it is to work, is not going to happen without a withdrawal agreement and a backstop.

Essentially the Brexiters have chosen the man who makes the noises they like to hear and Johnson knows it. He will make those same noises for as long as it takes to collect the keys to the Downing Street residence he covets. It'll work too. His only opponent doesn't seem to be in the running and the leadership contest is a weak charade to give the appearance that this is not yet another coronation.

The question is what happens then. Patience in Brussels has expired. They've been through this mill before, waiting for the UK government to come up with realistic proposals and getting nowhere. They will not be minded to entertain fanciful notions from Johnson, especially when he has no actual grasp of what he's even asking for. To that extent he is a puppet of the ERG machinery.

Johnson is labouring under the misapprehension that the relative pittance of £39bn is in some way leverage and the threat of walking away will see them coming back to the table and agreeing to scrap the backstop. Categorically the £39bn is not leverage, not least since it is not paid as a lump sum and does not leave a substantial hole in their budget. Nor is the EU going to scrap a backstop it is politically invested in which actually works in favour of IEA unicornery.

And this is the essential problem with British politics. It lives in a world of its own. We have long spoken about the disconnect between the bubble and the rest of the country, and that has had its own corrosive effect which in many ways played midwife to Brexit. Our political apparatus is only dimly aware that anything outside Westminster exists and hears no voice but its own. Of itself that was problematic but when you introduce a seismic enterprise like Brexit, this self-absorption has become dangerous.

But then Brexit is not the only example of this in play. Yesterday MPs waved through a change to the Climate Change Act without a substantive debate committing us to a new zero carbon target likely to place hundreds of billions worth of obligations on the taxpayer. With virtue signalling aplenty and with no apparent opposition, MPs have written a blank cheque for herds of white elephants and subsidy driven boondoggles. Very possibly even more insane than a no deal Brexit.

Yet again parliament has proven that it has learned nothing. It has once again railroaded a piece of legislation through under the radar (while the media is distracted with something else), while the public remain unaware of the consequences for them having never consented to it. This is why Brexit is not enough in that so much as the EU is not a democracy and capable of imposing similar legislation by the back door, our own establishment needs no help and there are no real checks and balances against a political apparatus that is completely out of control. The public can no more stop them from doing this as they can stop Boris Johnson taking us out of the EU without a deal.

In both instances, those driving the agenda have relied on a devious campaign of outlandish propaganda, manipulating their supporters in the exact same way. Put simply, the UK can't survive much longer as functioning nation with a governing entity that simply does not reside on the same planet as the rest of us. They say democracy is not a spectator sport, something I have always believed, but we have all been reduced to the status of spectator, powerless and voiceless as our ruling class are in the grip of insanity. Democracy this is not. Our establishment carries on regardless working to its own agenda without a care in the world and certainly not caring what the public might actually think.

Rank and file Brexiters are sorely mistaken if they believe Brexit will solve anything. It has certainly shone a torch on the inadequacy of our politics, but EU membership is only really a symptom of a far deeper malaise rooted in an obsolete dysfunctional model of politics. It's going to take a lot more than Brexit to dislodge it, and if yesterday's shameful behaviour in parliament is anything to go by, not even Brexit has given them pause for thought. They continue to push their narcissistic authoritarian agendas on us as though nothing happened in 2016.

At one time I argued that a no deal Brexit might well be the shock to the system we need, one that will kick them in the complacency. But that, I fear, will still not temper them. All we'll have done is torched our exports and sent our politics into freefall while good governance disintegrates and we fall prey to the demagogues and charlatans. I once thought Brexit would go some way toward arresting the decline. If we leave without a deal then it's a good chance Brexit will serve as an accelerant. If there is a way out of this mess, it's going to take something far bigger than Brexit.

The Johnson Deception

Today the Alternative Arrangements Commission published its interim report on border measures for Northern Ireland. As you might expect there is plenty wrong with it. That's ok though. It doesn't need to pass muster with anyone serious. What matters is there is a report in the public domain, leaden with institutional prestige, which will then be reported by Guido and BrexitCentral (their PR stooges) and will be believed by the Brexit devotees, and seemingly Boris Johnson.

Nobody outside a small claque of wonks will actually read the report and hacks won't dig further than the press release. The more adventurous ones will read the executive summary but won't have the knowledge to adequately interrogate it. You can try to debunk it but as we have seen with other strands of ERG mythology, these zombie arguments do not die.

The report itself is essentially repackaged tract from Shanker "snakeoil" Singham, which has been debunked elsewhere but if you can put some distance between the author and heap on the prestige, it will remain a political artefact. It doesn't matter that it will crash and burn at first contact with reality just so long as it provides a smokescreen for Johnson and the ERG.

Typically, the Twitter trade wonks have piled in to offer us their "takedowns" after attending the launch, but fail to realise they have been used as part of the deception. The more energy they spend on technical refutation the more they lend to the idea that this report is a serious offering. It ought to be viewed in its proper context as a political device, produced by a charlatan who will make the report say whatever the ERG want it to say. 

As ever, I am told play the ball, not the man, but politics is as much about the games in play and the participants. Here we have a man with no discernible customs or regulatory expertise producing recycled pap, re-badged yet again and made to look like it's the product of a team of experts. In any field other than politics this would be regarded as misselling and fraud with a view to deceiving.

When we get down to it, as Eureferendum notes, the report is a mere stage prop. Boris Johnson has set about selling us on the idea that he will renegotiate our terms of exit - and so long as enough people buy it, his fanboys will have the ammunition they need, and when it fails, they will blame the "intransigent EU" rather than the inadequacy of the British position. 

Somehow Johnson believes that even though we've run MaxFac up the flagpole during negotiations and finding no salutes, the threat of no deal will be enough for the EU to suddenly abandon a position it has held throughout. The EU is not going to abandon the backstop in favour of half baked ERG/IEA nostrums that couldn't be delivered this side of 2030 even if they were remotely viable. In respect of that, it wouldn't matter if the Alternative Arrangements Commission report weren't a steaming turd. As the basis for a new approach with Brussels it simply will not work.

It ought to be the case that trade wonks realised the deception in play and blew the whistle on this charade, but to do so would see all the invites to the prestigious shindigs dry up. ie the ones that make them feel important. Similarly, the media should also have realised the deception in play and should by now be screaming from the rooftops that Johnson's scheme can only result in no deal. That they haven't is just another failure in a long line of failure from the people who sought to own the debate. Britain's downfall will be as much their fault as that of Boris Johnson. 

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Brexit: a journey without a destination

After nearly half a century of EU membership our systems of government have been transformed beyond recognition. We are forever subject to new rules having no idea where they come from, no ability to remove them and no meaningful say in their development. Be it 50mph speed limits or the smoking ban or the supremely irritating cookies permission check on websites.

Sometimes they are measures taken by our own government but very often there is a hidden EU dimension where you need to know where to look to find it. Though the Energy Act of 2008 is notionally a piece of UK law, much of it is there to meet EU and international obligations. The chain of accountability is blurred and as ever, there is insufficient scrutiny, realism or scepticism applied. The British parliament is very often just an implementing agent for the EU supreme government.

By way of implementing EU directives on everything from planning to government procurement, we have overwritten the previous culture of government with something quite alien which silently removes democratic inputs. I was brought up to believe that democracy is not a spectator sport, but whatever this system we have is, ie. not democracy, most certainly is a spectator sport. We can comment on it, complain about it, but not influence it.

Many believe that Brexit is the ultimate remedy for this. If only that were true. It might have been had we left two decades ago but those now running the apparatus of government, to a larger extent, have never known it working any other way - and most see not immediate need to change it. Introducing democracy into a well oiled and relatively efficient system of governing is mightily inconvenient.

That silent transformation will be the lasting legacy of EU membership, where correcting it requires firstly that we understand precisely what was done to us and why, and then have an idea of what it is we actually want to change. On both counts the Brexit movement has failed to adequately fill in the blanks.

The average Brexiter (and those who ought to know better) seem to think that Brexit of itself is a rebirth of democracy and self rule, but unless we uninstall the EU software, all we are really doing is handing over the management of the system to authoritarian technocrats based in London rather than Brussels. Taking back control it is not - and there is little to suggest that "faceless unelected bureaucrats" in London would do things any different or better. The mentality is uniform throughout.

Then, as much as EU membership comes with restraints on the exercise of sovereignty, so too does participating in the nexus of international organisations, where we soon bump into the reality that the EU is many respects is only a middle man drafting implementing instruments for global conventions and Brexit by no means gives us a free hand unless we reconsider a number of international treaties and agreements.

This is a factor that has not yet been acknowledged by the public Brexit debate, largely because it cannot cope with having an extra dimension added to it. Remainers generally aren't remotely interested and Brexiters do not like the narrative upset that Brussels is the source of all evil - and that Brexit is the wonder drug that will set us free once and for all.

These are realities the Brexiters would have bumped into had they put any serious thought into what comes next. We hear all the usual platitudes about returning powers to the regions and decentralising power, but the nature of modern international relations is binding commitments which compel local and national governments to act inside a predetermined set of parameters. Unless there is a recognition that the people are sovereign, with a system to ensure governments cannot sign up to such treaties without explicit consent, it won't take very long for us to be back where we started.

This is where the remainers have a germ of a point. Brexit headbangers rail against the undemocratic EU, but where exactly is the democracy in the WTO? Remainers, though, are not quite honest here. WTO rulings/articles do not have direct effect nor are they especially binding in the way that the supranational EU is, but part of the reason the USA is blocking the WTO is because there are fears the WTO is becoming something it explicitly said it wouldn't be. They have a point. It started as a system of trade governance but there is now considerable mission creep - especially in the realms of international development and the slow infusion of the climate change agenda.

It should also be noted that the WTO does not work in isolation. It has multiple partnerships with other international organisations ranging from the International Maritime Organisation through to the International Telecommunications Union. E-Commerce and IP concerns are becoming central concerns in trade, leaving the tariff obsessed Brexiters playing in the shallow end of trade.

What we see emerging is a global network of agenda setting organisations, whose activities are even more obscured than those of the EU, where lobbyists and super-NGOs operate with virtually no public scrutiny. Thanks to Brexit, the WTO is the more famous of these bodies, but prior to 2016, most would be only dimly aware of its existence and couldn't tell you with any clarity what it actually does. The WTO, though, is only the tip of the iceberg.

As with most international bodies, if you want your voice heard, you have to participate and play by the rules. Though many of international conventions are not legally binding as such, if you want to press home your own international initiatives, you don't really have a choice but to comply. This is the essence of soft power in the international arena. I will if you will.

The danger here is that without the EU as a focus for our Whitehall technocracy, it will simply redirect its attentions to global bodies and in twenty years or so we will be having all the exact same arguments about sovereignty and national identity etc. There is that famous Peter Shore speech doing the rounds among Brexiters in which he asks if Australia would allow Japan to make their rules. As it happens, there is a debate in Australian politics very similar to our own Brexit psychodrama regarding the adoption on rules and standards, many of which go beyond the realms of trade governance. This is very much a global dilemma. I was recently directed to this report which estimates 55% of Australian standards adopted in 2016-17 were adoptions of international standards.

Then we must look at who is setting the rules at the global level. For now the EU is the dominant actor, not least in terms of its regulatory expertise and its trade clout. One way or another, the EU will be influential in terms of UK technical governance whether we have a deal with them or not.

Among the Brexiters there is a two dimensional view that one is either in the EU and regulated by the EU or one is a free agent with unrestrained national sovereignty able to act unilaterally without international consequences. This is prevalent among the Brexit headbangers who believe that no deal is the only means of leaving which satisfies the referendum mandate. Three hundred areas of sectoral cooperation and integration can be jettisoned over night without alternate arrangements and so far as they are concerned, trade in goods and services function as normal - provided we can get a quickie deal on tariffs.

This is the fundamental self-deception of Brexiters whose failure to acknowledge the realities of global governance may well see all their best hopes for Brexit fall flat. As much as the UK needs a coherent plan for democratic reform internally, taking into account the inherent conflicts with intergovernmentalism, and unless there is an intellectual foundation for our post Brexit strategy, then we find ourselves reacting to brushfires we could and should have anticipated, but didn't, and then walk into every ambush set for us.

In the absence of an intellectual foundation, having failed to properly examine the issues, the debate in respect of what happens post-Brexit is hopelessly naive, believing the UK can deregulate with reckless abandon and set its own standards, subsidising and bailing out wherever we see fit, as though it carries no penalty in terms of access to EU markets.

As far as Brexit goes, it goes along way toward repatriating the decision making where the respective trade offs will be debated by our own politics, but very often our choices will be few and unpalatable. By botching Brexit in the first instance (leaving without a deal), the UK will rapidly find itself making concession after concession to the point where we find ourselves adopting EU rules verbatim and will likely end up as quasi-members of the CFP and CAP along with much else which will poor cold water on the ambitions of Brexiters who thought Brexit was a window for industrial and social renewal.

As ever, the central fault in Brexiter thinking is the belief that Brexit is a singular event rather than a process, believing that once the event has occurred we are free agents in the open seas. This strand of thought does not recognise the necessity for regulatory harmonisation and cooperation nor does it see the utility in trade cooperation. They are working to entirely obsolete notions as though the rest of the world went into stasis when we joined the EU and when we rejoin the world we simply pick up where we left off. Consequently we are undertaking a journey with no destination and no plan that will survive first contact with reality.

Ultimately the Brexiters have been fighting their crusade for so long they have forgotten what it is they really want to achieve. Brexit in and of itself has become the holy grail and one suspects the moment we do actually leave, many of its crusaders will down tools to whinge about something else. We've seen that already in that what was left of Ukip abandoned any interest in Brexit to focus entirely on grunting about Muslims. It's only because we haven't actually left yet that the movement has a second lease of life. There is no apparent interest in shaping Britain toward any loftier objectives, largely because there aren't any. So long as they can say we are out of the EU then it's mission accomplished.

Being that there is no post-Brexit agenda, and certainly nothing that acknowledges the real world, there is a goodly chance this is all for nought. Until we address what was done to us, and set about reversing it, then the establishment will go into damage control mode and will see to it that though we are out of the EU, the power will still remain in the hands of the unaccountable few.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Brexit: the long war

As I understand it there are four weeks left of this Tory leadership race left to endure. With something like three out of four Tory members backing Johnson, this is just a timewasting charade. The Tories know it, the public knows it. So too does the media which is now completely distracted by trivia. This is almost understandable given how tedious it all is, but these are news organisations whose job is to report news - and there is no shortage of that of you look outside of the Westminster bubble.

The central problem here is that our media class is not interested in reporting actual news, not least because that takes actual work. Westminster soap opera is far more entertaining for them and there is a massive demand for court gossip. It's ideal fodder for the ideological trench warfare that replaced our politics. Even the Americans have more substance in their politics of late. It seems we no longer do politics of consequence.

Instead of a debate on events in the Persian Gulf, Hong Kong, or even France, we are left to opine on whether it's right to frogmarch a ginger eco-loon out of a private dinner. As to the alleged shenanigans over at the Johnson residence, I scarcely see that it matters what happened. Nobody would be remotely surprised if we added wife beater to Johnson's CV but Tories will still make excuses for him and they'll still want him as leader. He's going to have to murder someone before they care. As one tweeter remarks "I suspect if he was caught on film having sex with a donkey Tory geriatrics will be complaining about the presence of a the film maker". Quite!

The only thing passing for serious debate in respect of Brexit is yet another tedious argument about the application of GATT Article 24, which is another zombie argument, dug up for another spin round the block by Duncan Smith and the never knowingly correct Campbell-Bannerman. There is now a queue of trade professionals and Commission wonks lining up to tell them they are wrong, but this has no bearing on the debate because this is all about shoring up the belief system among the no dealers that everything will be alright on the night.

How ever many times these little nostrums are debunked, nothing penetrates the wall of propaganda. Even if the no dealers were to finally admit Article 24 was no basis for a transitional measure, they would simply invent something else. 

All of this, though, is somewhat irrelevant. Everything really depends on what Boris Johnson actually does and the collective hunch, chiming with my own, is that Johnson will do whatever is necessary to save his own skin, and when brought up to speed with the facts of life, there is no guarantee he will allow us to simply drop out without a deal. I've been wrong before but where Johnson is concerned, nothing he does surprises me.

Between now and then we have conference season followed by "silly season" where year on year it becomes harder to tell the actual difference. None of the essential facts of the game have changed and are not likely to between now and October. The withdraweal agreement is not up for negotiation, the backstop is here to stay, there is no "managed no deal" and on Brexit day we become a third country and are treated as such by default. Until our politics is able to confront these home truths, we are simply waiting for the train to hit the buffers.

What many forget, though, is that the government is now down to a working majority of under ten MPs, five if I recall, and if it looks like Johnson is about to take us out without a deal then it only takes five remainer Tories to derail the whole show. In any case, Johnson may wish to renew his mandate by calling a general election anyway. How that plays out is anyone's guess.

Recent YouGov polls suggest the Lib Dems and Brexit Party have overtaken both Labour and the Tories but I don;t buy it even for a nanosecond. I don't see that the Brexit Party is sufficiently different from Ukip, or any more organisaed or credible, and I don't see it withstanding the barrage of negative press. I don't see them doing much better in 2015 where the court sage Matthew Goodwin was predicting a Ukip "earthquake".

If anything I see a migration of swing voters from the Tories to Lib Dem, which will be the real story of the election as the Brexit parties slug it out between them. It's difficult to see how Labour will fare given its own internal contradictions and its inability to take a coherent stance on Brexit. They have made lukewarm noises about a referendum but will crumble when pressed for details and the remain vote will likely migrate to the Lib Dems too. Those wondering if their 2016 leave vote is safe won't risk voting for Labour either.

If I was a betting man I might put money on a hung parliament. If Farage does manage to inflict serious damage on the Tories then we are looking at a seriously fragile coalition where the price might well be a second referendum. This worry is probably why cautious leavers will think twice about voting for Farage. Farage is in no position to deliver Brexit, but Johnson is. Whether he will or not... your guess is as good as mine.

That said, when it comes to this stuff, it's all empty speculation to fill space. Everything depends on the sequence of events and whether the remain wing of the Tories have a single backbone among them. Labour may even be forced to get off the fence. Stranger things have happened. All I know for certain is that Johnson is a Battle of the Bulge scale gamble for the Tories. Johnson has been able to bluff his way through his career, but one wonders whether even he can survive his own unforced errors when at the centre of national attention. 

One might have thought that as we got closer to Brexit day things would look a little clearer. Just last week it seemed a near certainty that we were leaving without a deal but when you factor in that Johnson has no convictions whatsoever, and is an unpredictable shambles of a man, not even Brexit is a certainty. With this level of uncertainty and with there being no fixtures in parliament, the situation defies any prediction.

As to how any of this plays out in the long term, very often it is signals on the edges that give us more of a clue. The news today that trial speed limits on the M4 of 50mph are to be made permanant is much more significant than just a local news story. The BBC reports "Temporary 50mph speed limits on two stretches of the M4 - introduced to cut air pollution through built-up areas - are to be made permanent. The limit was reduced on the motorway and on stretches of A-road in December 2018 in an attempt to cut nitrogen dioxide emissions. The High Court had ordered ministers to act after they failed to meet EU targets on air pollution". This was a case brought by a campaign group ClientEarth.

If there ever were a reason to vote to leave the EU then, with caveats, it's measures like this. Many argue that it's not the EU that does these things to us. Rather it's our own government. That is the central deceit of the remainers in that the EU is "our own government". Our system of government has been transformed so that private lobby groups and NGOs can bring their agendas to court (very often financed by the EU), more often than not based on junk science and weak statistical extrapolations, so that we end up with impositions such as this which are on the face of it article of UK law but in essence are a consequence of EU membership. The EU just doesn't leave fingerprints at the crime scene.

Naturally this will eventually go nationwide, very probably without any new laws being passed or any serious debate in parliament, basically allowing the safety zealots to do to us what they've been itching to do for decades, resulting in slower roads with more accidents (and probably more pollutions). Another example of how politics is something that is just done to us rather than a process in which we participate. Just like the smoking ban and much else.

This is ultimately the piss off factor where the moralisers and fanatics can impose their will on ordinary people, bringing about yet more petty rules, fines and taxes, usually inviting harassment by bailiffs and vehicle clamping - so it become another one of those things where we simply obey for the sake of an easy life. Eventually it sucks the life and vitality out of everything. In respect of that Boris Johnson does tap into an electoral instinct when he talks about petty rules from Brussels even if he gets the details wildly wrong, often weakening the case.

The problem, however, is that Brexit brings little remedy to any of this in that what what done to the UK in terms of changing the culture of governance is not so easily undone, and with many of these "EU targets" being the product of international climate conventions that we will be signatories to in our own right, the petty jobsworth haven we have created over the last four decades will be one of the main legacies of EU membership that wouldn't be erased even if we do leave without a deal, and definitely not if we leave with a deal.

To that extent, Brexit is only a partial diagnosis for what ails this nation. Leaving the EU is a worthwhile starter for ten if we want to be anything even approaching a democracy, but as we have seen in recent weeks with all the "Climate Emergency" histrionics, the mindset of the technocrat authoritarian is here to stay until we have major structural reforms in our politics that go beyond the mere method of voting.

To a large extent, winning the 2016 referendum was not enough. This is something we recognised in Flexcit, which incorporated the Harrogate Agenda. The administrative exercise of leaving the EU is only the beginning and we have a long fight to take back control of the country. It was never solely a matter of taking back control from Brussels, rather it's about taking back control from the spreadsheet sociopaths who have so successfully exploited EU membership to sideline meaningful public participation in politics. To win that battle we have to make people realise that the empty charade we have now is nothing even approaching democracy and that we are so far from democracy that we've forgotten what it even looks like. What was done to us took decades and will take decades more to undo.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Johnson might well throw the ERG under the bus

It's interesting that Brexiters should be so keen on inflicting Boris Johnson upon us. Everyone elese has been subjected to a purity test. By current Brexiter standards, because I think our long term interests lie with a ratified withdrawal agreement, I am no longer a leaver. I am disqualified. Similarly Rory Stewart is also disqualified for much the same reason, as is anyone who has floated the EEA Efta option despite it being a favoured option of leading Brexiters prior to the referendum.

Yet if there were ever a man who required much closer examination it is Boris Johsnon. A man who with no principles, only ambition. Of all the leadership contenders, if any of them were likely to sell Brexiters down the river, it would be Johnson. He is on record as having said contradictory things to MPs to secure their votes, and though he says Theresa May's deal is dead, one wonders what his tune will be when the facts of life are spelled out to him by Brussels and Downing Street officials. This is not a man who can be trusted.

In all likelihood he will go to Brussels with a set of wholly unrealistic demands only to be rebuffed, so then he can at least blame the "intransigent EU", then start making all the noises about leaving without a deal. That subsequently animates parliament, where members of his own party may even threaten to resign the whip. Given that nothing the man says is ever sincere there is no reason to take him at hios word that we will leave at the end of October. Ultimately he will do whatever it takes to save his own skin even if that means asking Brussels for yet another extension.

Being that Downing Street is adept at engineering high drama in respect of Brussels negotiations, we might very well be subjected the usual theatre and media noise where a minor rewording of the political declaration which Johnson's supporters will dutifully describe the Emporers new clothing as a "major breakthrough". That then may be just enough for the withdrawal agreement to scrape over the line.

Famously, Johnson is not a man of detail, nor is he likely to care about, or pay attention to warnings over the consequences of no deal. But he might just pay attention to his political advisers when his popularity starts to slide. If the Tory leadership contest has served any function at all it is to expose the no deal arguments to yet another battering, where public understanding is starting to snowball and even our utterly inept media has grasped some of the basics. Johnson's no deal ideas may play well with the party faithful but may see an exodus of swing voters to the Lib Dems who (apparently) took as many votes from the Tories in the Peterborough by-election as the Brexit Party.

If it in any way looks like the threat of no deal destroys Johnson's general election prospects, he will throw his ERG supporters under the bus without hesitation. It's the old cliche; if a week is a long time in politics then four months is an eternity. If the Tory party puts it faith in a sociopathic liar, they must accept the risk that they might very well get burned. Johnson will operate a Boris First policy and as ever will show no loyalty or gratitude to anyone.

As someone who would rather leave with a deal than without, there would be a certain poetic comedy in a man I totally despise shafting the ERG and saving the UK from no deal oblivion. I would then have to credit him as the man who pulled the UK back from the brink while all his vocal supporters quietly seethe in the corner. A situation so blisteringly ironic, and so ridiculous that I certainly wouldn't rule it out. There are few certainties in politics but the one thing you can always guarantee is that Johnson will put himself first. That will be the pivotal factor in whatever happens next.

The intellectual bankruptcy of the no dealers

Roughly speaking no dealers can be divided into two camps. Liars and morons. The liars tend to be Tories and the morons tend to be Brexit Party. Tories will tell any lie and no lie is too big. Brexit Party morons just tell you things they wish were true but actually aren't. Neither can be productively argued with.

It starts with having a particularly two dimensional view of the world. The base assumption is that trade deals relate mainly to trade in foods and that free trade deals are primarily a matter of tariffs. Here is where we have to assume these people are morons because there has been three years of public debate about this and all of it has passed them by.

Worse still, they haven't given any real thought as to what they seek to accomplish. We know they want to leave the EU and they don't want to pay "huge sums" to the EU and that we should "make our own laws" and control our own borders. That's as deep as it goes.

As important as it is to have a general destination in mind it is also useful to have an idea of where you don't want to end up. For instance you wouldn't want to leave in such a way that leaves you with no leverage and accepting the same rules you hoped to get rid of without a say in the matter.

Many argue that this is exactly what May's withdrawal agreement does. They are, to a large extent, correct. There are non-regression clauses and a few ambushes that will give the EU considerable powers over our future decision making and will place constraints on how we exercise sovereignty.

Some call the deal Brexit In Name Only on account of the backstop approximating a customs union and the requirement to align with EU regulations. This does their own arguments a disservice. The EU is considerably more than a mere customs and regulatory union, and wouldn't be nearly so offensive to democrats if it were. If it were just a system of trade governance I might have thought twice about voting to leave.

There are two factors at work here though. Firstly the EU is protecting its own sovereignty in that the UK could very easily threaten the integrity of the EU system of rules and undermine it. Secondly, the EU takes the Tories at their word. They have openly talked about diluting standards and weakening regulation and since the Tory right are calling the shots right now, the EU is taking defensive action.

Essentially the EU is cautious about the UK because our politicians speak openly of ripping up agreements and abrogating international obligations. They want to ensure that we can't - or at least if we do, the EU is protected. If Brexiters don't like the deal they should examine their own rhetoric since 2015. Careless words have consequences.

Howsoever, the deal could best be described as a scaffolding for the gradual dismantling of membership, where in the first instance not a lot changes. We use the systems and institutions established in the agreement to evolve our way out of the EU where we can transition into the new relationship without the hammer blow to British jobs and exports. The deal is suboptimal but that's only to be expected when doing a deal with the regional trade superpower. The advantage is theirs.

But in evaluating the deal, it cannot be looked at in isolation. One must compare and contrast with the alternatives. I won't go into it but we could have derailed the sequencing of Article 50 talks by knowing what we wanted beforehand and made moves toward an EEA Efta deal which might well have avoided a backstop row. That opportunity was squandered early on as Theresa May bowed to pressure to "invoke Article 50 now" with no destination in mind.

So now the options are pretty much May's deal or no deal. This is where Brexiters depart from reality. For sure, no deal does release us from any legal financial obligations in the future, and there are no binding ties that constrain our law making. Mission accomplished right? Not quite.

The UK has been part of the EU regulatory ecosystem for three decades and our business models have evolved inside that framework. It covers everything from waste export licences to fisheries management plans. It's easier to list what isn't licenced or in some way regulated by the EU. Unplug from that ecosystem and authorisations are terminated overnight. Of particular concern is trade in services.

In the digital age, data is everything. And if you want to bid for EU services contracts you need a data adequacy agreement at the very least. We would need to comply with the EU's own GDPR requirements in order to continue trading. Some believe it is an exaggeration to say this trade would end overnight but that has to be the working assumption where the EU's Notices to Stakeholders say authorisations end and where there are no official contingency measures.

When you pull the plug on hundreds of commercial activities, pretty soon you find yourselves in serious trouble. The EU has done just enough to ensure rudimentary air services continue and that controls at the ports are phased in gradually so as to avoid long tailbacks, but the tariffs we will incur and customs formalities we face at the ports are less than a tenth of the issue.

Though we can look forward to developing trade opportunities with New Zealand and Peru there is still the question of what we do in the meantime having torched all formal trade relations with the nearest and largest market which accounts for nearly half of our trade.

Here we bump into yet another no dealer contradiction. Apparently we can trade as normal without a deal since most countries trade with the EU on WTO terms (not actually true). Yet, at the same time, they tell us that we can trade as normal by way of WTO Article 24 until a new deal is in place. Leaving aside that Article 24 has a number of conditions to satisfy it, and that it must be by mutual agreement, and that it does not cover the full scope of trade and regulation, there is a tacit admission that no deal is not a viable destination. We do actually need a deal.

So once we have excluded ourselves from lucrative EU markets, burning EU goodwill in the process by leaving a gaping hole in their Irish customs frontier, we will find the EU in a less than cooperative mood. And since the UK will be hemorrhaging exports and jobs, our need will be somewhat more acute than theirs. At that point we will have handed all of the leverage to the EU where it gets to dictate the terms. The deal then on offer will look much the same as the one we have just rejected only EU member states will have spent the time in between cannibalising the UK's market share and we never fully recover those exports.

And in case you were wondering, that future FTA will also come with its own conditions. We must submit a fisheries management plan before the EU will accept our exports, and with any deal having to be ratified by member states with their own red lines, it is a given that fishing rights will be on the table along with much else. By the time we're done the fisheries chapter will look much the same as the CFP only we'll have no means of veto and no say in the rules. Another reason why Efta EEA was the smarter option.

Then there is the aforementioned GDPR compliance where the UK will find itself caving in on a system of rules the Brexiters had hoped to get rid of. In no circumstances will we be making all our own laws. That's just not the way modern trade functions. Regulatory harmonisation is the WD40 of trade by way of it removing administrative barriers.

In the meantime, the EU is always making new laws. As Ivan Rogers notes, no deal is not a destination. "It is simply a volatile and uncertain transitional state of purgatory, in which you have forfeited all the leverage to the other side because you start with a blank slate of no preferential arrangements, and live, in the interim - probably for years - on a basis they legislate - in their own interests".

If the objective of Brexit is ultimately sovereignty, then no deal is actually the worst of all worlds. To avoid falling into this trap you have to recognise and acknowledge certain realities. When you do it becomes abundantly apparent that international trade agreements necessarily are an impediment to the exercise of sovereignty and in most instances, it is the larger partner calling the shots. That's why it might have been a good idea to know what we wanted before triggering Article 50. An equitable relationship is not impossible, but leaving without a deal is a fast track to the kind of "vassalage" Brexiters have persistently wailed about.

In no time at all the UK will be grovelling to Brussels for any deal it can get. Even if a quickie deal (no such thing) with the USA doubled our trade with them (highly unlikely) it would go nowhere close to mitigating the loss of the single market. The Brexiteers may well have their hard man for the interim but it won't be long before he, and the Conservative Party are out on their ears and then it will be Labour government or Lab/Lib coalition doing the negotiating. One rather suspects Brexiteers are not going to like the outcome.

As a matter of fact an ordinary FTA is not going to be an adequate basis for the future relationship with the EU. An FTA can only go so far in terms of customs cooperation and there are numerous non trade related strands of cooperation that will ultimately result in a new treaty with the EU that in the end, looks a lot like associate membership. Having squandered our best chance of operating as independently as possible in the modern arena by ruling out Efta, the UK will be bound to the EU by thousands of strands, but with wholly inadequate democratic safeguards and still under the rule of the ECJ. Exactly where we did not want to be. We'd have all the burdens of the single market with far fewer advantages. As to operating an independent trade policy, fuhgeddaboudit!

If we were ever to get anywhere close to the sovereignty and independence as imagined by Brexiters, we'd have to build up a European consensus to take other EU member states with us to build a Europe of intergovernmentalism and cooperation. We needed a bigger vision than Brexit. We needed to use Brexit as an opportunity to reshape Europe, but Brexiters only think in narrow terms of moving tins of beans over the channel. Cementing Efta as a powerful player in the European regulatory ecosystem would have been our best shot, creating a viable alternative to EU supranationalism. The isolationism, petulance and rank stupidity of the Brexiters, however, means the UK will be out on its own and doing as it is told.

Undoing what was done to us by generations of politicians was never going to be a straightforward or even quick process. In failing to produce a vision and a plan, the Brexiteers are on course to do yet more damage. Assuming this grim chapter does not lead to us rejoining the EU, it will take decades more to recover from. All because the Brexiteers preferred easy answers and the soothing songs of demagogues and frauds.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

The anatomy of failure

The Conservative Party has not been electable in its own right since Margaret Thatcher. It limped through the Blair era offering up deadbeat after deadbeat, none of whom could inspire the nation. Only when New Labour had truly outstayed its welcome did voters take a punt on the Tories and even that wasn't enough to win outright. It took the offer of an EU referendum for the Tory right to give the Tories an outright mandate.

For that time I was politically aligned with the Tory right. I simply didn't bother voting until the promise of a referendum came along. I was far from alone. This is why so many leavers regard the 2016 vote as sacrosanct. It's the only time we've ever been given a say in who runs Britain.

Those who still bothered to vote voted Ukip, not especially out of any devotion to Farage, rather as a means to an end. This is why remainers to date fail to understand leavers. They seek to understand the "populism" of Farage and Johnson but such men don't matter. For eurosceptics it has always been about the cause, not the man.

If remainers really wanted to understand why they lost and keep losing, it is more to do with what they represent. A narcissistic, patriarchal, out of touch and aloof establishment that is simply incapable of listening. That primarily is why remain lost the referendum and they still don't understand it because they lack that essential self-awareness. They pay lip service to the needs and wants of the so-called "left behind" but off camera there's a strong whiff of oikophobia.

Blair and Brown epitomised this and to a large extent, so did David Cameron whose first instinct was to shed the hard right of the party by moving the party to the then centre ground of hugging huskies. That centre ground, though, was a media construct believed only by MPs. The real centre ground was elsewhere and shifting to the right.

There's a reason the Daily Telegraph went from an almost plausible newspaper to a right wing comic. Its main competition came from Breitbart. When Telegraph Blogs shut down the readership decamped to Breitbart and took the advertising revenue with it. You don't survive in that business unless you're telling your readers what they want to hear. It is there that the right wing sentiment festered.

Now the tables have turned. Those who were without a voice for so long now control the destiny of the entire country. Our fate is to be decided by a few thousand Tory members terrified of Farage's shadow. The Tories have a gun to their heads.

For most leavers nothing has changed. The establishment and the media remains as repellent as ever it was, and various attempts at sabotaging Brexit only goes to demonstrate that if we do not leave the EU then a large constituency is, in effect, permanently disenfranchised and have no meaningful say in who runs the country. That is what makes this a fight to the death.

This is also part of a wider culture war where the progressive left have used their position to make even the mildest conservative views synonymous with the far right, thus giving them all they excuse they need to shut down debate, deplatform and demonetise conservative commentators. Brexit is very much part of that culture war against a progressive agenda that holds power over all the important institutions up to and including the BBC.

This culture war, though, is now totally out of control. In just about every online poll I've seen, no deal seems to be the preferred option of Brexiters, and though they don't represent the country, they are the ones influencing the decision makers. For them it is no longer about Brexit or the search for a viable destination. This is only about ensuring the remain establishment loses. It is that sentiment upon which frauds and charlatans have been able to piggyback their radical no deal economic agenda. This unhealthy culture war has made us susceptible.

As it happens, I really can sympathise with that Brexiter nihilism. Though I am absolutely certain that no deal is a disaster for the UK economy, the thought of sticking it to the remainers; the snobbish, nasty, ghoulish authoritarians who despise democracy, is quite a pleasing one. The only problem is that nobody wins from a scorched earth approach.

Parliament should have realised this early on. Remainers should have recognised that in the face of their 2016 defeat, remaining in the EU was not, politically, a viable option. While they said they respected the vote, the closer we get to D-Day, the more they reveal that they never had any intention of respecting the vote. The moves to outlaw no deal are less to do with stopping a no deal Brexit as they are playing for time in the hope of revoking Article 50.

In that time we have seen a legal jihad against Brexit waged through the courts, and parliament has failed to back any destination for Brexit, and though they are now in full panic mode over Boris Johnson becoming PM and leaving without a deal, the power to avert it was theirs all along. All they had to do was ratify the withdrawal agreement.

The reasons for failing to do so vary. Remainers would have it that the deal in no way represents what was sold to the public. That's as maybe but as they would be the first to point out, the Brexiteers never defined a specific destination and what was sold to the public is not necessarily what they bought. Vote Leave may have set out its own stall but people voted to leave for a variety of reasons. Parliament does not get to second guess us.

Moreover, this is parliament going back on its word. They voted to hand the decision to the public. The decision was made and their only task was to implement it. Instead they've spent the whole time trying to stop it, squandering every opportunity to shape the process by way of their own supreme arrogance and total ignorance. Remainers have a hand in bringing us to where we are now.

It should not be forgotten that it is this same arrogance that has brought this saga to such an unhappy end. British voters had freedom of movement imposed on them without consent. It was never fully debated, nor did many even realise what was happening until it was too late. We were also denied a vote on the Lisbon treaty as politicians downplayed its significance and belittled eurosceptics as conspiracy theorists and "fruitcakes" while the BBC piled on the insults through their "comedy" productions.

Ultimately the remainers remind me of the toddler who torment the cat to the point where it scratches the infant who then goes running off to mummy. Years of abusing power and privilege while gradually disenfranchising ordinary people has spectacularly backfired on them. They thought they could do whatever they wanted in perpetuity, piling on the taxes and condescending to us at every turn, handing ever more power to Brussels and in their extreme hubris never imagined their would be consequences.

Well now there are. they've pushed their luck once to often and now it looks like we are leaving without a deal, wrecking the UK's international standing, demolishing its exports and handing all the leverage to the EU. Brexiters didn't do that. Parliament won't ratify a deal, we've exhausted all the extension possibilities and now, unless you know different, no deal remains the only way to leave. Parliament closed down all the options one by one and now we are on the brink.

We can go to town in slamming the Brexiteers for their profound ignorance and Theresa May certainly prepared the ground for failure, but on closer inspection Brexiteers don't have the monopoly on ignorance, not least with remainer MPs still after all this time unable to tell the difference between a customs union and the single market. Moreover, the conflation of the two is in part deliberate since, for the purposes of electoral triangulation, nobody wants to address the elephant in the room that you only get near "frictionless trade" by staying in the single market.

At every turn MPs have failed to get to grips with the issues and be honest with the electorate. Then there's the media problem. The media as a whole, already mistrusted by Brexiters (with good reason), managed to trivialise the effects of no deal and failed to adequately explain the consequences, not least because your average prime time hack is no better informed than our quarterwit MPs.

There have been several points of failure during this process which are all to do with the culture of our Londoncentric politics. Our media is not interested in anything outside the bubble. It is only interested in those with status or prestige; those who hacks think can give them the insider scoop. In reality the information they needed was right in front of them all along, freely available. All they had to do to ask the right questions was to avail themselves of it. We then get into a cycle of self-reinforcing coprophagia where the excretions of Peston, Robinson, Kuenssberg, Marr et al are readily consumed by MPs. The blind and deaf leading the blind and deaf.

With so much broken in our politics, with so much of it conducted through the medium of television, and the propensity of TV producers to prefer readily available telegenic know-nothings over genuine expertise, there was no chance of the public ever being able to make informed opinions before or since the referendum. I can count on one hand the number of times where TV panels have had even a vague clue how the system works. Instead of expertise we are subjected to partisan celebrity columnists and radio presenters.

From the beginning I have been keen to stress that the decision to leave the EU is wholly separate to the question of how we leave. With the UK being psychologically unsuited to EU membership, and the EU being antidemocratic in nature and wholly unaccountable, the decision to leave it, for me, was always a no brainer. What was done to us was done without explicit consent and it was done through subterfuge and connivance. That made this as much a battle for British democracy as it was a fight to leave the EU. An ugly but necessary thing to do.

Never though, did I anticipate the exit process being so badly mishandled. Though I never had much faith in politicians, I believed there was a degree of residual competence. That, however, was a just an illusion. Our politics is in the habit of being told what to legislate for and the parameters therein, and so long as it doesn't have to manage change of any significance it can just about stay on top of things. What our politics is not equipped for is real change largely because nobody currently in politics has ever been tasked with it. It used to be that ideas and paradigms would change between general elections. That has not been the case for nearly thee decades.

Being that politico-media class is now so utterly venal, narcissistic, self-absorbed and short sighted, it would seem there was never any possibility of getting Brexit right. The looming disaster is a culmination of decades of institutional decay which hasn't really been noticeable or even of consequence while Brussels has been in control. Now that we are making our own decisions we find the decision making apparatus has rusted and siezed. That is not the fault of Brexit or Brexiteers. If you're looking for someone to blame, you should blame the politicians who did this to us in the first place.

Fantasy and falsehood: the new political norm?

It's sort of obligatory to blog an Ivan Rogers speech. This one, as ever, is a glorious bucket of cold water over the delusions of the no deal Brexiters. It is, of course, nothing new to this blogger, or indeed readers of this blog, but we shall give it an outing all the same. Were I you I'd skip this post and read the whole thing. Of particular relevance though are two passages. Firstly this one.
There is one final final fantasy in the “clean break” cupboard. Namely that a Canada style FTA was always on offer from Presidents Tusk and Juncker. And was somehow wilfully spurned by the previous Prime Minister and her dastardly fifth column entourage as they sought ways to enmesh the UK for evermore in the nets of the EU. But this too is just the purest nonsense.
It is the view of Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson that all we need do is scrap the withdrawal agreement and go for the deal that was on offer in the beginning. This is a particular fiction that has haunted the debate for months. The only way to an FTA is through a withdrawal agreement and that was agreed in the sequencing very early on. But such a deal, says Rogers, is not the walk in the park the ERG imagine it is.
Of course the EU would negotiate a Canada Dry deal (that joke was running in Brussels well before I left in January 2017) with Great Britain. Why would it not? It would be hugely asymmetrically in the EU’s interests. Sorting all the key issues in goods, in which they have a massive trade surplus with us, and screwing us on market access in services, in which we have a major surplus with them.
What is not to like from their viewpoint? As they actually negotiated the Canada deal, unlike U.K. politicians, they know what is in it. And they know the UK will, when it comes to it, want very appreciably more, because it does huge multiples of the trade Canada does with the EU, and is a huge services economy. So they know that when it comes to it, London will in practice have to offer a great number of concessions to get the sort of deal it will want. Because although the Institute of Economic Affairs text which may well be the next PM’s wish list was badged as Canada +, it is in practice an incoherent mishmash of virtually unchanged Single Market access where we most want it –which we shall not get –and a juridical relationship which meets European Research Group fantasies, which we shall not get either.

The likely next Prime Minister’s people now go round the City excoriating the absence of any seriousness from Prime Minister May on services. I completely agree with them, as it happens. But unless the new Prime Minister is prepared to reverse his predecessor’s stance on free movement of people, and risk pushing his new found friends back into the Brexit Party, this is just whistling in the wind. We are going to get standard third country equivalence treatment and learn to live with it, unless the free movement issue is reopened. No senior politician on either side here dares say that in the City or elsewhere of course.
This is why we needed to stay in the single market and deal with the matter of immigration separately through a new process. By seeking a bespoke agreement, even in the best of circumstances, the UK will be up against far bigger guns than anticipated. The UK will be forced to make a number of unhappy compromises. Any future trade deal will need to be ratified by EU member states and it won't go anywhere near ratification unless their red lines are addressed.

Here we will see Spanish demands for fishing rights as a starter for ten. With the UK in no position to set terms we will likely become a quasi-member of the Common Fisheries Policy with no say in the rules, thus slaughtering a Brexiter sacred cow in the process.

But as Rogers remarks, no deal will stick the UK in a legal limbo which is asymmetrically in the 27’s favour, and it will sooner or later sober up and conclude this is politically and economically unviable, and be in such a rush to get out of it, that the EU can dictate terms.

The theme of Rogers' speech is pretty much the same as usual. There is a complete refusal to confront the realities of our predicament while politicians continue to pretend to their followers that up is down and black is white. This is especially the case in terms of the Tory leadership contest.
With a “new deal” impossible by October 31 -and all know full well it is, whatever they profess to believe -we shall seemingly eitherhavea Prime Minister fully aware that “no deal” can be the only outcome on that date, hoping that the 27 deliver it for him, and genuinely not intending to seek an extension.

Or we have a PM who fully intends to seek an extension, calculating –wrongly, I fear-that, unlike his predecessor, he can deliver a Withdrawal Agreement with alternative arrangements to a backstop embedded in it, or guaranteed to come into force before it was ever triggered.

Or we have a PM who privately knows that the Withdrawal Agreement will not be reopened, but thinks he can sell it unchanged, accompanied by a changed destination in the Political Declaration, with some brio, charisma and bluster, to a Commons some of whom are desperate now to get anything over the line.

Or we have a PM who intends to make what he knows to be unnegotiable demands in order to have the pretext to go for an election which enables him, once the demands are rebuffed, to go to “no deal”if he can change the composition of the Commons to back it. If it is the last, once you go to “no deal”, everything I have outlined earlier applies and we discover, painfully, that it is not sustainable and that the only route to a loose preferential trade deal lies by agreeing precisely what we are rejecting now. But with a lot more money.

As we now, for the second time in 3 years, see a new Prime Minister elected by a small group who think it falls to them to determine what the “will of the people” is - a peculiar view of liberal democracy in my view- perhaps we can dispense with the fantasies and falsehoods, and learn which of these 4 propositions we are facing this autumn. 
But of course, we shall not dispense with the fantasies and flashoods. Rogers asks "Why does this generation of UK politicians seemingly find it so difficult to think its way into the shoes of key opposite numbers, and work through how exactly you would play this if you were them?" Quite simply because they'd have to acknowledge anything outside the Westminster bubble exists.

We are now in a state where any political debate, on virtually any subject, is incapable of looking outwards. British politics has never been more self-absorbed and insular and never more short termist. No politicians is looking further than the next general election and the only goal is to cling to power for its own sake for as long as possible. All that matters is tomorrows headlines and whether the party faithful sing along to your tune. 

Rogers now believes no deal is the most probable outcome largely because it's the path of least resistance. I am of a similar mind. As I wrote earlier it may act as the much needed humbling Britain needs and deserves and serve as an urgent wake up call for our political class, but now there is that most frightening question. What if it doesn't? If fantasy and falsehood remains the norm for British politics then we have seen the last of good governance in the UK where sub-mediocre politicians are as good as it gets and Britain enters a new political dark age.