Monday, 30 September 2019

Brexit: the battles to come...

For the purposes of this hypothetical no deal scenario I'm going to assume there has been a general election in which Boris Johnson has won by a small but functioning majority. By all rights Jeremy Corbyn should have resigned but hasn't. Dysfunctional opposition is here to stay. We have left the EU without a deal.

Chaos at the ports was not what was anticipated. Third country measures are not yet ready on the continent and the EU's unilateral contingency measures, along with well executed marshaling ensures port operations are stable albeit with reduced volumes of freight. Airlines function more or less normally since most have already moved their operations to the EU.

The Tories will claim that there was undue panic. In this post I will not dwell on the secondary economic effects which are sure to be far reaching. The concern here is the immediate political confrontation with the EU.

The EU has made a number of assurances to the Irish, including (if memory serves) a direct promise from Juncker, that there would be no border in Ireland. This is where we see what it really prioritises - single market integrity or the Good Friday Agreement. I don't put much stock in the latter argument but they clearly do so any attempt to impose any kind of controls is going to raise eyebrows in Dublin. Perhaps the Irish government will change their tune to save face, but the Irish people will certainly notice.

Either way, the lack of an agreed protocol will be a matter of serious concern for the EU. It's not an acute concern in terms of regulations and standards in the short term but has the potential to pose an existential threat to the single market. One suspects it will take a little while before the full effect of tariffs on UK produce is fully understood so the Tories are likely to operate under a false sense of security believing the EU will approach them first. Arrogant brinkmanship does seem to be their thing.

This is where the EU can afford to wait us out. Sooner or later the government comes under intense pressure to sort out come kind of trade relationship. Being that the Tories still have only a wafer thin grasp of trade issues, operating from the same set of flawed assumptions, they will seek an interim "mini deal" on tariffs from the EU. No doubt the term Article 24 shall be uttered.

This is where the EU throws a bucket of ice cold water on Tory assumptions when it declines such an offer without first agreeing to backstop mechanism to close the hole in the EU customs frontier - the terms of which shall be dictated not negotiated.

At this point the Tories are going to look like total clowns in that they'd have blown a withdrawal agreement by way of refusing a backstop and would lose too much face politically if they then caved into EU demands. So we then have a standoff. Tories will convince themselves that they just need to wait until those "German carmakers" put pressure on the Commission. Which won't happen.

As this drags on, confidence in the UK starts to slide as does Johnson's popularity and standing in the polls. The Tories then face a wipeout in local elections. Soon after, Johnson begins to lose votes in the commons, facing pressure to step down. By this time the secondary impacts of Brexit begin to catch up with him and we see a number of blazing rows as we watch a number of sectors in crisis while the response from ministers is vacillation and bluster. At that point the letters to the 1922 committee start rolling in and we face another Tory leadership election.

My bet is that someone like David Gauke will be the immediate favourite since he looks like the only vaguely sentient adult in the room. The closest we'll get to a unity candidate. Likely it will be a coronation rather than a drawn out process since neither the party nor the country is in the mood for a tiresome section ritual. This time we will see a sense of urgency. Or at least I'd hope so.

Following the coronation we will see a more emollient tone from Number Ten but the EU will be in no mind for a protracted negotiation on the NI issue and will set the backstop mechanism as the ultimatum, along with whatever provisions are required to settle the issue of citizen's rights and the financial commitments. That will be the down payment just on an Article 24 agreement on tariffs. There follows the longer and much more fractious question of trade and the future relationship

A leading demand will of course be an agreement on access to UK fisheries and possibly Gibraltar which is sure to be a humiliation for the Brexiters. This may prove to be a sticking point that sees negotiation stalling. And it won't be the first of its type since every member state will have its own pound of flesh in mind. The UK is then forced to make a succession of embarrassing concessions and climb down on just about every red line. We'll keep trying to double spend the UK market access leverage we have but it won't work.

You can see where I'm going with this. Likely it will be years of bickering, stalling, internal debates and major rows culminating in an election defeat for the Tories, putting Corbyn in Number Ten. Unless. The best way to survive a knife fight is not to get into one. This is why we really should look at the EEA as a readymade (or ready for tailoring) basis for future trade and cooperation. It certainly requires concessions from Brexiters but will avoid the major humiliations and delays that go with a bespoke relationship. It wall also dampen calls for readmission to the EU.

Since it looks like we are leaving the EU without a deal, anyone with an interest in limiting the damage to our trade and international standing needs to be thinking about a rescue plan for Britain - and in my view EEA Efta is still a no brainer. We might find by then the pre-Brexit resistance to such an option from both sides subsides when we see for ourselves the realities of no deal. We had best hope that such an option is still a possibility and that the EU recognises the danger of an impoverished and humiliated basketcase on its doorstep. We're going to need a lot of goodwill that we are not in any way due or entitled to.

All that's left is the consequences.

Today I'm supposed to be chattering about Boris Johnson and whether he did or did not grope a female journalist. Or at least I think that's the story. I couldn't be bothered to check. It relates to an event from some years ago which was not brought to the attention of the police thus was not regarded serious enough to waste anyone's time with. Number Ten has denied the allegation but then Boris Johnson is a liar so we can safely assume that he probably is a lecherous sex pest.

That, though, is all part of the persona, and if it was to have impacted his career then it would have by now. The is a man who effortlessly grazes his way through the corridors of power with those around him making allowances for him. That's how he became PM. We are told that "Boris is Boris" with a casual shrug as though that were meant to explain or comfort. Boris is Boris, sure. Which is another way of saying he is a conniving, dishonest, thieving, boorish snake in the grass. This is not news.

This court gossip, though, is of no real interest to anyone. Nobody outside the media bubble cares. On some level we should care that the PM is a pig but there has been such an assault on basic standards of decency in politics over the years that this doesn't register. But then the central reason no one cares is because there are bigger fish to fry. I'm not interested in lurid tales from Westminster court prostitutes. The only thoughts on my mind is if, when and how Brexit is being delivered.

With the Remain clan in parliament moving to install a dictatorship headed by the reanimated corpse of Margaret Beckett with Jo Swinson pulling the strings, I couldn't give a tinker's toss if the PM is the devil himself. I can write excoriating pieces about Boris Johnson til the cows come home but ultimately the alternatives are a magnitude worse.

There are times when I have suggested that a no deal Brexit with a government led by Boris Johnson would be worse than Corbyn. I was drifting to that point of view about this time last year - but Corbyn's Labour have seemingly entered a race to the bottom. Vile as Boris Johnson may be I would rather stomach whatever he throws at us than tolerate any of the garbage on the opposite benches. 

And it seems, if the polls are anything to go by, the nation agrees. That is why parliament has no intention of letting Johnson have a general election. We are now at a point where we have to pick the least worst option where the least worst option is still unimaginably bad. Johnson appears to be doing everything possible to avoid striking a deal, further antagonising Ireland, failing to present any serious alternate proposals and driving us irretrievably toward the cliff edge.

Meanwhile it seems that parliament has lost the plot entirely. Generally I take the view that parliament is there to serve as a goalkeeper against abuse of power so I should've in theory been against prorogation. The line I took was that it didn't matter because they wouldn't do anything remotely useful with the time. I was right. For all the fuss about the supreme court ruling last week there is no sense of urgency from MPs and nobody is calling Johnson out on the inadequacy of his Brexit strategy. The only Boris Johnson story that should concern the media today is his complete miscalculation that he can handbag the EU into a last minute deal. Anything else is light entertainment and trivia.

One suspects, though, that MPs themselves have no idea what's going on outside of their insular little circus. Justine Greening in the Guardian calls on Boris Johnson to disclose what he is currently negotiating, failing to note that Johnson isn't negotiating anything. There are currently no official negotiations. There is only posturing about the backstop - for which he has no viable alternative proposal. There will not be a deal come the October Council meeting.

The reality is that our neither our media nor MPs have the first idea what to do or even what they can usefully do to stop no deal. Hence the trivia and displacement activity. But then to be quite honest with you, I have no idea what can be done either. There is some vague hope in the Kinnock amendment of resurrecting a deal but if (and it's a big if) it can be utilised, parliament will more than likely squander the opportunity and bring us right back to this limbo. Very probably they blew it when they elected for a third time not to ratify a withdrawal agreement.

You can then forgive Boris Johnson to some extent in seeking to sideline the so-called "surrender act" so that we do leave on Halloween. There is zero chance of parliament ever getting its act together and there doesn't seem any sense in wasting another nanosecond of our time with this endless futile bickering. The Article 50 process has failed, the media has failed and parliament has failed. All that's left is the consequences.  

National unity? Are you having a laugh?

Talk today is of a "national unity" government led by Margaret Beckett. Not sure how they see this playing out. The theory is they would seek an extension for however long it takes to hold a second referendum. This presumably would follow Labour's notion that there should be a credible leave option.

They would soon find that the only leave option they could take to the public was the withdrawal agreement as is. The EU is not going to reopen negotiations not can it accommodate any of Labour's fantasies so we'd be going to the polls over a leave option that leavers widely believe is a stitch up in a referendum that nullifies the first.

Here we would see a partial boycott since many would already have given up on voting. A second referendum in itself is a signal that a vote will only be respected provided it goes the right way. In this instance we would probably see remain win by way of a smaller turnout.

This time, there would be no question of legitimacy, no enquiries into spending, no moral panics about targeted advertising. They'll have the result they want and that will be enough for them to put it to bed.

Though such a referendum would in all respects lawful they will never be able to argue it was fair or legitimate. It would provide the leave movement the fodder it needs to mount a full scale anti-establishment culture war. Not only would the referendum be held in question but also the legitimacy of Westminster itself - having essentially had the first referendum overthrown by a coup, installing an election dodging rogue parliament.

Sooner or later there would have to be a general election, only this time the Tories would have to adopt an unequivocal Brexit position. No referendums, no negotiations. Just out. I think that would probably win by a landslide. It wouldn't even be about EU membership by that point. They can dig up all the Boris Johnson scandals they like. It won't make the slightest difference. Even I, fundamentally opposed to no deal and a Boris Johnson "hater", would vote Tory just on principle.

For a remain vote to be seen as legitimate it would need to win an unarguable majority far exceeding 17.4m voters. I don't think that's possible. At one time they might have been able to leverage that kind of support having worn down the opposition, but staging a coup led by a band of hasbeens and rejects, championed by Tony Blair, John Major and all the other establishment deadbeats would be unimaginably toxic.

Anything short of a full on landslide for remain sends the message that we have a ruling class in which half the country is effectively disenfranchised. This is simply not sustainable. Personally I don't rule out a low grade civil war unless we find an outcome that brings closure. But at the very least we are looking at a decade or more of political instability and uncertainty - especially when the question of Brexit continues to loom large for business.

As much as the UK is then in a state of political deadlock, it can no longer be a functioning EU member. Without a legitimate basis for membership and zero mandate for any further integration, the British question brings all EU business to a grinding halt - especially with a permanently hostile contingent of British MEPs.

Again we would soon bump into the reality that EU membership for the UK is not sustainable. The leave movement, with an army of new recruits, disgusted and outraged by the establishment stitch up  would keep a vibrant strain of euroscepticism alive only this time we will have established a political fact. We as a nation do not respect referendums. The establishment doesn't and voters no longer respect them either. They didn't respect ours so we won't respect yours.

The attitude on the remain side here is quite interesting. They don't actually have a problem living in a politically dysfunctional country at eachothers throats just so long as we are in the EU. They reckon it's better to be divided inside the EU than divided out of it. At least something of the status quo is kept ticking over.

One could could almost respect that point of view from an entirely practical point of view, but it does seem to confirm that EU membership is as I have often described it; a life support machine for a vegetable patient. Yes, we can stay in the EU, resolving nothing politically, with the boil continuing to fester but if that's our answer to the Brexit question, then we must accept that this morass of dysfunctionality, bitterness and division is the new normal.

This is not to say that Brexit of itself will bring the nation back together but it is at least a new conversation as regards to a new relationship with the EU and a new political settlement. We may very well be poorer because of it in the midterm, but nobody is getting any richer or safer by maintaining the status quo. As Britain further toxifies inside the EU the economy will stagnate and the mood will turn further sour.

What's missing in the current debate is an understanding that we need a solution that brings closure - and though remainers will wail bitterly about any Brexit, most will eventually get used to the idea. Leaving, preferably with a deal, is the only way to break out of the deadlock.

MPs, of course, haven't realised this and have instead used this time to frustrate every mode of exit. They have likely squandered all their chances to leave with a deal and all the wailing about no deal comes far too late. Johnson's last minute handbagging strategy is sure to fail and there is no new deal in the offing. Moreover, thanks to tribal games on the opposite benches, they still wouldn't vote for any deal so the cliff edge still awaits.

As it happens, parliament has probably left it too late to make its move. It is doubtful a "unity government" could ever command the confidence of the house and I think most moderate MPs recognise the danger of a new government acting without a mandate from the public. Would they really be so arrogant?  A cynic would say unequivocally yes, but I'm not so sure.

MPs really only have two options. They can either call an election, risking a Johnson landslide, where they lose control of the agenda - or they can seek to further strangle Johnson in this current deadlock until the next extension expires. Either way, it doesn't look like they can stop Brexit. The only way to avoid no deal is to ratify any deal, and if they haven't the wits to do that then whatever else follows is richly deserved.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Is there a role for women in politics after Brexit?

Bit of a tongue in cheek post this - but having watched parliamentary debates featuring Paula Sherriff, Jess Phillips and Jo Swinson this week I do start to wonder if there is a role for women in politics after Brexit. It's just becoming more and more apparent that women can't cut it in modern politics since they can't control their emotions over colourful metaphors and hurty words. If we have to stop everything every time they have emotional episodes then we can't get any grown up work done.

Right now we are in the midst of a constitutional crisis that was deemed so urgent that there was a legal campaign to recall parliament yet we ended up having a three day debate over the meaning of the words "surrender" and "humbug" because of an outcry from wobbly-lipped wimmin.

I don;t know what's happened in recent years  but I was brought up to respect women politicians, seeing their participation as entirely normal and nothing out of the ordinary. Our then PM, Margaret Thatcher, never once let her voice quiver with emotion to make a cheap point. Somewhere along the way, probably down to all women shortlists, we've ended up with manipulative fishwives who only seem interested in bins, babies and benefits. Deliberating over complex matters of statecraft are far beyond their minuscule abilities.

Don't get me wrong, I fully understand that female MPs are more vulnerable since they're easy targets for psychopaths but I'm pretty sure they are self-radicalising. If that's not the case and it's really everyday metaphors and the occasional hurty word that puts women at risk then we have a problem. We can only delete so many words from the English language and there's no way we can ban metaphors and analogies.

No doubt there are moves to open up a Ministry of Hurty Words but since words have different meanings in different contexts we are soon going to find that MPs can only conduct Commons business through the use of Semaphore flags and interpretive dance. The latter could prove problematic for less nimble types and some gestures could be viewed as microaggressions. Frankly I am shocked and appalled that Labour MPs are now regularly clapping in the house of commons when it is widely known that jazz hands are the accepted convention now. 

As it happens debates probably would be improved by way of using semaphore flags in that there are fewer opportunities to virtue signal and the slower nature of debates would significantly reduce the output of the Commons in terms of legislation but that then excludes the blind and partially sighted.

All of this is going to prove far too impractical. The obvious answer is that if women can't get a grip of their emotions (and there is scant evidence that they any longer can), then we are going to need some system of segregation where matters of secondary importance are given to women to sort out in a separate chamber. Until such a move is made I can't see myself voting for any female candidates.

All the blubbering and histrionics we have seen of late has chewed up far too much media and parliamentary time at a time when the stakes have never been higher. Hysterical women using emotional blackmail and temper tantrums just isn't productive. We can't have crucial debates over international trade if they're going to interrupt every five minutes to cry about something. 

Prior to Brexit when the important decisions were made in Brussels by faceless bureaucrats we could afford to have the odd token female to make parliament look inclusive but now we are repatriating important matters of state we can ill afford the time consuming distractions of wimmin's issues and make time for their melodramas. Is it time to simply admit that women can't cut it in politics anymore? They don't seem to be able to win seats without positive discrimination and without men making allowances for them. Is it time to put our foot down?

Friday, 27 September 2019

All hell let loose

This week there is a distinct change of mood on Twitter. The Brexiters are running with the "surrender bill" meme capitalising on the suspicion that it's a mechanism to derail Brexit, further massaging the people versus parliament narrative. It's working too. There's a lot of people who hoped it would get to this point and have been nudging it along because Brexit has long been a vehicle for the culture wars which have now overtaken the central issue of EU membership.

This has now turned toxic where the worse one side gets the worse the other side gets, feeding off each other. And main reason for that is it's good sport - much more interesting the ploughing through the incomprehensible details. All the while the media cashes in on it. Another reason is that it fills the long spaces between significant events along the way - which are very often too boring to distract from the everyday bickering that people seem to quite enjoy. I've indulged a little myself this week and as much as it's fun, it's a good deal more popular than dry observations about process. People use politics for their weekday entertainment.

That, though, is pretty much how it's been for years and it wouldn't be so bad were there not a looming cliff edge with grave consequences. But now we've all taken our eye off the ball, as indeed has the media. Brexiters wail that remainers are attempting to sabotage any deal but if that's true they may as well not bother. The UK doesn't have an alternate proposal to the backstop that meets the "legally operable" criteria and we are not going to see any credible "concrete proposals". Only decoys.

Worse still the narrative has been twisted to the point where any deal at all is somehow a betrayal of Brexit. One suspects part of the reason is that those behind the Brexit Party recognise that if there is a deal they need to keep a grievance alive lest they vanish as rapidly as Ukip did. They've built up a movement and they want to stay in business after the main event. I've long remarked that the ERG only care about Brexit insofar as it affords them an opportunity to impose their radical economic agenda. One could be forgiven for thinking that Brexit is also an accessory for the Brexit Party who have a long term populist agenda of their own.

Still, though, I do not expect a deal largely because we lack the wits to do anything else. When it does happen it will probably be a result of an accident of events where at every major test the political process and the media has failed. It could have been prevented and it didn't have to be like this but remainers behaved in such a way that stopped caring about the consequences of no deal. Quite understandably they take the line that no deal is better than no democracy.

We are now at a point where the SNP have hinted they would be open to a coalition with Labour to form a "unity" government. I don't think that would ever actually happen but the very suggestion of it, putting a hard left party in power with the intention of stopping Brexit (while trying hard not to be seen to be stopping Brexit), is so repulsive that even I prefer no deal as an outcome.

The problem here is that there are a number of possibilities and conflicting narratives that it's increasingly difficult to know who stands for what and what the government thinks it's doing. There are days where I lose sight of the big picture because the gulf between the Twitter debate and reality widens by the day - and if you're in the game you can't help but get swept along with it. If you want to know what is going on you're best staying away from Twitter and media in general.

All this noise, however, is extremely useful to the government not only because it's bolstering support for Johnson, it's also a distraction from what seems like a deliberate wrecking policy. The media believes there are negotiations in process and we're heading for the final showdown in Brussels. Even members of the government seem unaware of the deception in play.

What happens next is really anyone's guess and I have never known the situation so unreadable. All we can say for certain is that the longer this drags on the more toxic it's going to get. The only relief is the knowledge that if there is an extension it is sure to be the last. Soon parliament will make its move but I have it feeling it will be as cack handed as everything else they've tried, further feeding the (justifiable) perception that parliament is the "enemy of the people".

These simplistic narratives take hold largely because most people struggle to cope with all the different strands and they like clean binary narratives which is why, I suppose, that is what the media keeps serving up. There is more reward for doing so and plenty of material available to paint the picture. Parliament's confected outrage episodes and the finger wagging from the great and the good is doing nothing at all for the reputation of politics to the point where I start to wonder if there is anything salvageable at all.

I suppose part of the reason I've thrown caution to the wind and joined in with the mudslinging this week is because I don't see an outcome other than no deal, it can't be stopped, and since it's inevitable I might as well have a little fun at remain's expense. They are as guilty as anyone for bringing us to this point. It remains the case that no deal is a self-defeating mess that will cause untold damage but at this point I prefer that to remaining in this atmosphere where I wouldn't rule out a state of low intensity civil war.

If there's one certainty in all this it is that politics as we have known it is dead - and that's no bad thing. Adversarial politics is now alive and kicking and all the politics put into stasis by EU membership are being dragged back out into the light of day. We can now see what they're all made of and we're going to have it all out once and for all. Chaos, for the time being, is the new normal as we start the long process of rediscovering who we are and what we're about. That is a large part of what I voted for. After this toxic episode there is no going back.

Physician, heal thyself.

In amongst all the blether about the tone of recent rhetoric a few facts are going missing. MPs are largely responsible for the poisonous state of politics. What MPs don't seem to comprehend is that we could clean up the rhetoric and speak only in sterile faux-polite terms but they would still be despised to the core because they continue to behave with unrestrained contempt for voters.

Leave voters are getting restless out of boredom and frustration. They simply don't trust that Brexit will happen and MPs are giving them no reason to believe it will after three years of parlour games and obfuscation. What exactly do MPs expect?

MPs tell us that they respect the vote but they simply want to stop a no deal Brexit but how can that be true when they have rejected a withdrawal agreement three times and voted down all of the options for a future relationship? What basis for trust is there?

But then leavers haven't been honest either. Pre-2016 we just wanted Brexit, but now we're saying only no deal qualifies as Brexit and we have a government that is not making a sincere effort to secure a deal, constantly shifting the goalposts.

But now we have a Labour party implying they won't vote for a deal because of imaginary hurty words from the PM, so they are playing silly, dangerous partisan games of over a matter of paramount national importance. Even if BJ did get a deal they won't vote for it.

So with a parliament with a track record of blocking departure at every turn, a Labour party playing silly buggers and a Lib Dem party that would delete the referendum without even consulting the public, what left is there apart from no deal in order to honour the vote?

I would like to think the withdrawal agreement could be resurrected and if MPs have any sense at all they will grasp any chance with both hands but it now appears they are too senseless to realise that if they don't, no deal is still the legal default.

So really it seems like the only option is a general election but they won't do that because they know damn well the Tories will probably win - so instead they're keeping us locked in this destructive limbo - which is causing trust in parliament to collapse.

At this point we should be seeing them realising the dangers and getting their act together, but instead they're regressing. They wailed blue murder about prorogation but then bunk off on Thursday afternoon til Monday after lunch and then expect us to take any of them seriously.

Since parliament cannot and will not get its act together we are forced to conclude that the article 50 process has failed and parliament is simply not up to the job. It is therefore a bedblocker incapable of adding value to the process.

So now we've run out of road. There is only one more extension left which they won't do anything useful with - bringing us down to only two options; no deal or remain - which is the long game they've always been playing - so no deal looks like the only legitimate option left.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

All heat and no light

So parliament is back in session, almost as though nothing happened. And for all the actual use they are, nothing might as well have happened. It's been a day of preening, gloating and virtue signalling in Westminster with the opposition showing all their worst qualities, once again attempting to police language, once again invoking the corpse of Jo Cox, conveniently forgetting that she was just another "progressive" trougher with anodyne banal PC europhile views who'd have jumped ship to the Lib Dems by now along with all the other losers.

But for all the remainer hyperventilation over prorogation one should remember that parliament, in effect, has already nullified the 2016 referendum by reclaiming the right to decide if we leave or not. It has refused to ratify a withdrawal agreement, voted down every alternative mode of exit and seeks to prevent leaving without a deal. The power to decide, therefore, has been stolen from the people by a rogue parliament that won't submit to an election. It is they who suspended democracy.

The likes of Miller and Maugham can't stop Brexit in the courts (much though they would like to) but everything they do is geared to frustrate the process to buy MPs time to overthrow the referendum. Protectors of democracy they are not. They're just showing us that politics can be bought if you can afford it.

As to where that leaves us, it looks like Johnson will probably have to ask for an extension as per the Benn Act (as was the situation before prorogation). There won't be a new deal to vote on it's difficult to see Johnson resurrecting the withdrawal agreement. Parliament is going to have to force it - if they can. Your guess is as good as mine. But unless and until they ratify a withdrawal agreement, no deal remains the legal default and a further extension beyond the next, I reckon, will simply not happen. This process will have run out of road. If there isn't a successful conclusion to the Article 50 process by January then it's game over.

But then there's the possibility of a general election in any extension, where it looks like Labour has just committed electoral suicide in announcing a unilateral policy of freedom of movement for all along with ending all immigration detention - flinging the borders wide opening and giving all incomers a vote. Nobody in their right mind is going to vote for that. It really says something about the state of intellectual collapse in the Labour party that they thought for a moment that was a winning idea.

So with this singular act of electoral and perhaps existential self-obliteration, and with the Brexit party starting to piss off leavers with their ill directed hostility to Johnson, it could very well be that Johnson walks the next election. But then that could also be the reason why parliament will do absolutely anything to avoid an election. Remain is done for if Johnson gets his own mandate.

At that point, it seems like the only thing the desperado remainers can do is attempt to form their own absurdly named "national unity government" which has virtually no chance of succeeding. In fact,now that I think about it, it would be quite comical if they did somehow manage to suspend Brexit and rig a referendum. All they would succeed in doing is pissing off every single leaver and anyone who calls themselves a democrat. Eventually there would have to be a general election where a Tory party could sweep to power on a promise of leaving the EU. The remainers seem to think stopping this attempt at Brexit buries the issue. It really doesn't. Brexit is here to stay and that's all we'll have for politics until the matter is settled.

On the whole Brexiters ought to feel quite buoyant. The main reason remain lost the referendum was primarily their lack of self-awareness. It was always going to be won by the side least despised by the public. And they just don't learn. Tonight when we get more finger wagging from Labour miscreants over prickly language, with Yvette Cooper asserting that "The language Boris Johnson uses is designed deliberately to escalate tension, division & hatred" I can only really say to them that it's remainer behaviour that escalates tension, division and hatred. It's the arrogance, the hubris, the narcissism, the inanity, the grandstanding, the stupidity and the hypocrisy. If they don't like the language, it's for them to have a shred of self-awareness.

It would seem that prorogation and the supreme court ruling has played out well for Boris Johnson in allowing him to massage the people versus parliament narrative. Public patience is at an end and even remain voters are starting to tire of underhanded shenanigans from remainers. Johnson may be cornered in parliament but he is winning the propaganda war in the country, with approval ratings exceeding those of his counterparts.

In any case, though, it does not look like we are going to get a sensible outcome to any of this. The Tories have dubbed the Benn Act a "surrender act", implying that the act takes no deal off the table thus rendering his attempts to secure a deal inert. But again this is the leverage delusion in believing that no deal will bring the EU round at the last minute - despite there being no signals whatsoever to suggest they will. Coupled with his impossible demands based on "alternative arrangements" that fall foul of EU law, there is no chance of success in this round or in any possible extension.

If there is anything to be said for leaving without a deal it is that it's a reset button on the negotiation process, but at unimaginable cost. Brexiters may win this battle but there are more to come and the damage done by this state of all out war ensures Johnson will not have an easy ride of it. This victory may end up tasting as bitter as defeat when the EU is dictating what happens next when the penny drops that no deal cannot stay no deal. That's when the ultra Brexiters have to face the music for what they have done.      

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

The sound of white noise

The response to yesterday's ruling has been highly charged and emotive. Brexiters are talking about it as though the referendum verdict of 2016 has been overthrown. The are manipulators who very much want to stoke that narrative but that is not the case. The Article 50 clock is still ticking. All that's happened is that the judges have ruled that Boris Johnson doesn't get to freeze out parliament. You may disagree with that ruling but that's how it is.

Here it is important to remember that those pushing the narrative that the judges have overturned Brexit are also mainly those who have redefined Brexit to man leaving only without a formal exit agreement. The same people who will say that Brexit has been sold out if Boris Johnson does produce a deal with or without a backstop. So I'm not joining in with the outrage choir just yet. I still want to see a negotiated exit - forlorn hope though that may be.

That is not to say I don't feel the same anger coursing through my veins. All of a these sideshows, distractions and parlour games are tiresome - this one especially when it's the loathsome Gina Miller and Jolyon Maugham steering it. These people are certainly not democrats and would snuff out our votes in a heartbeat if only they could find a way. Everything they have done thus far is to find a way to stall Brexit in the hope that remainer MPs can pull off a coup.

But of course remainer MPs have failed to do this and they too can only stall Brexit. To me it looks like the only way they can stop it entirely is to take the power for themselves and I don't see any realistic circumstances where that would happen. The battle lines are drawn and though the media bubble suggests that Johnson's position is untenable, my hunch is that he can successfully massage the people versus parliament narrative. That might well have been the whole point of this prorogation exercise. Some have suggested there is a game of 4D chess in play.

What happens next I cannot say. I can speculate with the best of them but I'm really hoping MPs realise the danger here. Brexit isn't the product of a one off vote in 2016. It is the victory of a decades long campaign - into which a great many people have invested their lives. 2016 was the first time they cast their vote in the belief that their vote would matter and that voting could change things. Further shenanigans could inflame this to boiling point. Patience is at an end.

We have seen a parliament all to ready to tell us what it doesn't want, playing the long game, keeping us locked in this limbo. It's difficult to see them as anything other than wastrels, tyrants and narcissists. They themselves voted against a withdrawal agreement and now they feel justified in doing virtually anything to prevent a no deal Brexit thus, in effect, preventing us from leaving. More significantly, parliament is reclaiming the right to decide on this issue which defacto erases the 2016 vote.

It is interesting that this passes without the forelock tugging from the great and the good, departing from the convention that referendums are implemented, yet feel the need to get the supreme court involved over prorogation and other matters. The process and procedure is defended but the basic premise that the the most votes wins is jettisoned.

But again, this isn't quite so straightforward when the Johnson administration is engaged in a sham negotiation, playing idiotic brinkmanship games, misleading parliament and the public, having set course for a no deal exit come what may that would do irreparable damage to the economy and much else. Parliament is obliged to do something. They just can't seem to agree on what that something is at a time when the options are few. It does seem like they have squandered their last opportunity to prevent a no deal Brexit.

Meanwhile, this is all against a backdrop of MPs playing silly tribal games which turns any otherwise intelligent adult into an imbecile. They seem to function in a parallel universe with zero self-awareness and seemingly no sense of urgency. Faith in politics and trust in the system is collapsing. All the political norms are disintegrating before our eyes.

If at this point you've lost the thread of all this then don't worry because there isn't a thread to follow. This is a textbook definition of a mess. Anyone seeing this in cut and dry binary terms does so because they have subscribed to one of the two opposing us and them narratives - both of which require an abridgement of the truth, eg the notion that fifth columnist remainer judges are colluding with MPs to stop us leaving.

If anything this all this shows that the British constitution, such as it is, is stressed to breaking point by Brexit when two factions playing an intractable game of tug-o-war. Something has to give. We should by now have left the EU but now instead we are mired in complexity where it really is tempting to disregard all nuance and join in with the tribal mudslinging. But I don't think that gets us anywhere. There are still a few events to unfold before making the final call. There's the October Council meeting and the decision over an extension when a deal does not materialise. Until then everything between is likely to be distorted noise and we can expect no coherence - especially not from the media.

Yesterday I had a Dutch new crew come to the house to do a long interview on Brexit with a view to explaining the nuances of the situation. They explained how they only get the extreme positions through British media and wanted to me explain it in a more measured way for the benefit Dutch audiences. But, of course, it was asked of me that I skirted over the details. And therein lies the problem. Brexit turns on detail and media doesn't want to know. They want to simplify that which is inherently complex where the detail makes a world of difference to overall perception.

This is how we got here to begin with. Everything has to be filtered and softened for mass consumption, treating audiences like fools and withholding critical information in the process, presenting entirely as a two sided argument. Everything else falls between the cracks - including, it seems, our collective sanity.

Playing with fire

I'm not a constitutional expert. There are a million opinions today and adding my ignorance to the existing mountain is of no value. But then I don't especially care about this particular distraction. Obviously it does raise some interesting constitutional questions about the order of things that will need to be addressed in the future. Not least the question of why parliament needs the likes of Gina Miller to do their dirty work for them. Why can't they assert themselves if parliament is sovereign?

But the main event is still Brexit. The question now is what parliament can usefully do with the time they've been granted. There's no new deal to vote on, and no deal is still the legal default having failed to ratify a withdrawal agreement, so it seems their options are limited. It is unlikely they can force a fresh referendum so the best they can do is dive in with a vote of no confidence to force an election.

That then makes it all about timing, raising the question of whether an extension is needed. I think it safe to say that the EU probably will grant an extension albeit with a sense of exhaustion just to evade blame for the failure of the process, but I suspect we shall soon be back here again. I think Boris Johnson will probably win a general election simply because a Corbyn government would be unimaginably awful. Moreover, Johnson now has his people versus parliament narrative.

That then means Johnson has options. With a loyal majority and with some of the deadbeats kicked out, a deal of some kind can be passed if presented to parliament, or he can simply wind down the clock again with nothing much to stop him. Either way it would render this whole Miller charade a complete waste of time. And that smells about right doesn't it? It fits with the pattern of wasting time and accomplishing nothing.

The bottom line here is that the remainers just don't have the unity, coherence or the numbers to stop Brexit. There is only one way for them to stop Brexit and that is to take power - which just isn't going to happen. But say I'm wrong about this. Just imagine what happens if a LibLab coalition can be cobbled together. There's no way they can revoke without a referendum and it's difficult to see what any new referendum would ask that would pass the fairness test.

Conceivably they could connive to keep us in the EU and they would do so without hesitation, or any self-awareness as to the "optics" of that - a government that couldn't win an election outright conspiring to overthrow a referendum to force our continued membership of the EU despite a majority having voted to leave. I can think of no better way to start a long war in British politics where their victory would eventually taste as bitter as defeat.

At this point, the EU will be considering carefully if it even wants a disruptive, obstructionist and resentful member. Remaining is as much a non-solution for the EU as it is the UK. It doesn't do much for the EU's international standing when one of its leading members is held hostage by its elites. The British problem then becomes a permanent feature in all future dealings. This is not sustainable.

Whatever remainers think it is they can accomplish with all these underhanded shenanigans, what escapes them is that they can only really force us into a temporary situation. The genie does not go back in the bottle. In respect of that, they are as guilty as the Brexiteers in failing to have a plan and no viable destination. This whole debacle has been a shot in the arm for the eurosceptic cause and the constitutional sore is only going to get worse. We will be back here again only next time it won't be strictly a matter of EU membership. It'll be an all out war that makes 2016 look like a minor bar brawl.

Ultimately the only way to break this political stalemate is to leave the EU. We cannot progress until we do. Until the question is answered once and for all Britain will exists in a state of limbo suffering from a corrosive uncertainty and a toxified politics. This boil needs lancing lest the patient go septic. Remainers really haven't thought this through.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Labour: an absence of leadership and a surplus of cowardice

Labour's non-policy on Brexit has won out at their conference. For now. But even our media can see that it's a wholly unworkable position and that, fundamentally, it stands on a foundation of political cowardice. It is not leadership. The sad part is that a better man than Corbyn could perhaps inject some leadership into this. What we need now more than ever is for a candid appraisal of the issues.

It would have to start from the anchoring premise that we held a referendum and Remain didn't win it. That is a political artefact that isn't going away however much certain people may wish it would. Through various parlour tricks it is conceivable that the referendum result could be overturned but you still wouldn't have a positive mandate for our continued membership and certainly not consent for the destination of the project. The democrat and the pragmatist recognise that Britain's future must take a path other than EU membership.

True leadership would face down the petulant metropolitan remain camp and stand up for the fundamental principle that the verdict of the British people must be respected. All the equivocation and second guessing in the world does not change the fact that those who voted to leave expect and demand that we do leave.

But then the leave side needs a few home truths too. Namely that British trade has ballooned inside the single market (over the last three decades especially), and leaving the most sophisticated market governance system ever devised without a plan and without a negotiated replacement schema is quite simply crass. We stand to do long term, possibly irreparable damage to the economy for no discernible gain.

What we're going to find by leaving without a deal is that the UK is excluded from a number of lucrative markets by way of being detached from the European regulatory ecosystem, but being in such a position of legacy dependence that we couldn't diverge even if we identified areas where we usefully could. Which are seemingly few.

But there is no chance of leadership from Corbyn or indeed anyone in Labour for one simple reason. You need credibility to lead and to lead you need to have the fullest possible understanding of the issues which Labour demonstrably does not. In spite of three years of debate, Labour politicians are still paddling in the shallow end, believing we can have a customs union (for whatever use that might be) where the UK has a say in EU trade deals. This is irrecoverable issue illiteracy.

Furthermore, were Labour in power they would face the same dilemmas and the same constraints where any flights of fancy they may have would be shunted into the political declaration. Labour hasn't managed to grasp even the basics of Article 50 sequencing, failing to realise the distinction between the withdrawal instrument and the future relationship. Much like the Tories the Labour party has suffered from a dangerous intellectual atrophy.

There are several other holes we can pick in the Labour position but it ultimately comes down to Labour trying to ride two horses, unable to reconcile the irreconcilable. Falling back on lazy stereotypes, there's the leave voting northern working class base and the London metropolitan remain bubble of Blairites and "toytown revolutionaries". Where Brexit is concerned, and indeed much else, there is no way to marry the two disparate factions. One side has to lose. Corbyn would rather make no decision at all than risk alienating on of the factions.

But this is hardly cutting edge observation. We could have said this of Labour at any point in the last four years. Labour has evolved into a paternalistic entity comprised of privately educated, wealthy "progressives" who seem to think the working class need them as their white knight protectors - even to the extent of protecting them from themselves and their under-informed voting habits. All it needs to survive is the bovine passivity of the traditional base which they have long taken for granted. That applecart is sure to be upset by the Farage party.

Leadership would require a coherent position but more importantly, a decisive one. Presently Labour is leaving Brexit an open question whereby they would overturn the 2016 referendum to negotiate an imaginary deal that no self respecting leaver could ever vote for, or remain - which is ultimately stacking the deck - ensuring enough people lose faith in the vote to ensure remain wins. It's both lazy and cynical. Courageous it is not. Leadership it is not.

If Corbyn really were intent of speaking for the many rather than the few, he would speak for those who voted to leave and those ordinary remain voters who accept that leave won the vote. The clear majority here are those who think the referendum must be delivered and we should have a close trade relationship with the EU. But they don't seem to have a dog in the fight. Westminster parties speak only for the dogmatists and radicals on both sides while Labour dare not put its head above the parapet.

By now, anyone who has given the issue any serious consideration has concluded that the EEA Efta path is the only sensible foundation for a way forward and one that moderates on either side of the debate could live with. I think even I could hold my nose and vote Labour were they to speak for the unrepresented majority (though I would need to take a shower afterwards and burn all my clothes).

To credibly argue the EEA case, though, you need to really understand the nuances of how the system works in order to defeat the critics and the propagandists. This is where Labour would again fall over simply because our politicians don't do detail. Information is transmitted orally, they rely on the legacy media to inform them and editorial standards have collapsed to the point where they mythology is impossible to dislodge. It would take a herculean intellectual investment by Labour to carve through the noise and lead the way.

But that's just not going to happen is it? Because let's face it; the collective IQ of the Labour front bench would not rival that of a potato and there isn't a scintilla of integrity among them. Labour is a write off of a party that can no longer offer anything of value. All it has is foaming antisemitism and the usual leftist politics of envy. It is an empty husk, eaten alive by political termites. That is Corbyn's legacy. At at time when Britain most needed a coherent opposition and leadership, Labour went AWOL and into self-destruct mode. Corbyn's negligence and cowardice may very well earn him the title as the worst politician in British history.

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Saturday, 21 September 2019

Clueless or delusional. Who can say?

I really struggle to work out what is going on. It's one of two possibilities. Either this administration is just giving the EU the runaround having always intended to leave without a deal, or it is as we are led to believe; that Boris Johnson does want a deal and believes this inept posturing will somehow lead the EU to offer us a deal more to our liking.

To be it seems more like the former in that opposition to the backstop is entirely confected. If they are so confident that alternate possibilities are available then they should have no problem signing up to a backstop. It feels more like there is a hidden agenda based on more fundamental opposition to a withdrawal agreement of any kind.

This is largely to do with the knee-jerk reaction to provisions within the withdrawal agreement. We are subject to a number of competition rules and rules on procurement and the likes. What is less understood is that the provisions are there for the purposes of the transition or for business started inside the existing framework to conclude. This is all with a view to these provisions being replaced by measured outlined in the future relationship. In effect, the withdrawal agreement is scaffolding for a gradual dismantling of EU membership over a period of time as opposed to a bulldozer demolition as favoured by Brexit radicals.

That is not to say there aren't nasties in the WA that would make any Brexiter wince, and the single customs territory defined in the backstop is a customs union in all but name - largely as a consequence of Theresa May's botched general election. This could be dialled back to the original proposal but still the government seems to want to sabotage it entirely.

What we are seeing here is an attempt to resequence Article 50 talks once again, shunting the NI issue into talks on the future relationship whereupon any NI protocols cease to be a backstop. Theresa May tried this stunt a number of times and Johnson is no more likely to pull it off. Ireland wants an insurance policy therefore the EU does.

What the Brexiters can't cope with is the fact that any agreement on regulatory harmonisation for Northern Ireland will lead to the tail wagging the dog, stymying Brexiteer ambitions of total regulatory independence. Itis still an article of faith in the Brexit mind that such a thing is desirable and beneficial, having never understood the trade utility of common regulations. Three years of intensive trade debate has made no impact on their collective understanding.

This morning, though, we are reminded by UNECE that the origin of flagship "EU rules" is not in fact the EU. Vehicle regulations and emissions standards are very much the product of global regulatory efforts, along with much else that renders redundant the notion of regulatory independence. We are, therefore, making a colossal pig's ear of Brexit in order to chase a mirage - an unobtainable and largely useless version of sovereignty that exists only in the imagination of Brexiters.

This is ultimately why the Brexit radicals are calling for no deal. It's escapism. The real world cannot bend to the Brexiter sovereignty delusion (a pillar of eurosceptic thinking) so they retreat from reality altogether. And this is the reason I dislike prominent leavers. They're lazy. Anyone can construct a crowd pleasing argument against the EU which they'll do ad nauseam for popularity, but it takes intellect to come up with a viable destination. When you ask them, the cupboard is bare.

Instead of concrete plans we get the usual blether about independence, supremacy of our courts, parliamentary sovereignty and freedom to make our own trade deals without asking Brussels - but the fact of the matter is that the EU is a global regulatory superpower capable of exerting considerable power. If we want a comprehensive trade relationship with the EU then it necessarily requires a high degree of legal and regulatory alignment where every subsequent deal with a third party must take into account binding commitments we have already made.

If though, we are saying that the price is too high and that we value agility and sovereignty over a comprehensive relationship with the EU then that largely implies we will exclude ourselves from lucrative European markets - which is a wholly respectable point of view, but not without credible ideas to mitigate the massive losses that go with terminating our involvement in the single market. This is where we really see the intellectual paucity of the Brexit blob as it recycles the same tired ideas such as free ports and deregulation - none of which can be construed as a credible strategy for this century.

It now looks like we are steamrollering toward a no deal Brexit largely because two administrations now have proven themselves completely incapable of comprehending the nature of the EU's red lines. They simply do not understand the EU - what it is, how it functions and why it cannot show the flexibility demanded of it. 

Just recently an IEA wonk tweeted "Are the EU going to risk future trade with Europe’s 2nd biggest economy, UK, in order to safeguard a border which sees just 1.6% of Irish exports & imports...and risk the construction of border infrastructure & the bona fides of the GFA?' As it happens, you're not a proper eurosceptic unless and until you understand why the answer to this question is yes. And that really is telling. It tells us that the Tory version of Brexit is not rooted in classic euroscepticism. Classic eurosceptics instinctively get why the EU won't bend. Rather it is now a radical right wing economic experiment based on some loony tunes idea of how modern trade functions.

Unfortunately for all of us, there is no running away from reality. For sure we can refuse to ratify a withdrawal agreement and even make it look like the EU's fault (which is probably the objective of the Johnson administration) but soon after we bump into the cold reality that we do need a comprehensive relationship with the EU not only as our neighbour but also as the global trade and regulatory superpower. At that point we have to confront all the same uncomfortable dilemmas - only from a position of desperation where the balance of leverage is entirely in the hands of the EU.

Again we see the main conceptual error on the part of the Brexiters in viewing Brexit as an event we can soon after move on from as opposed to a long and detailed process. That, fundamentally, is what motivates their opposition to a negotiated exit. They want it done and dusted, failing to recognise that our bilateral relationship with the EU is an evolving continuum and that membership needs to be replaced with something. If they refuse to confront that reality then others will - and they are going to like it a lot less than the withdrawal agreement. 

This week it seemed like the penny had dropped, but we still see no sign of a sincere effort to secure a deal. We can only really conclude that this "negotiation" is a sham or the the prime minister really doesn't have the first clue what he's doing. In the fullness of time that will become clearer, but it scarcely matters when the effect is much the same. 


Additional: You may have noticed that productivity on this blog is not what it was but then there is so little original to say at this point. This, though, is the calm before the storm. There will soon be much to say. All the while this blog still requires considerable effort to maintain, and at cost to myself. It is supported entirely through your donations and I haven't asked in a while. Please give if you can.

Friday, 20 September 2019

No change.

While the Telegraph and others continue to indulge the myth that we are edging closer toward a deal, the UK position remains the same as does the EU position and there is no meeting of minds. Steve Barclay has once again reiterated the UK's impossible demands. This is going nowhere.

This brings us to the question of an extension. Methinks that Boris Johnson will have to go through the motions under the Benn Act, though at this point I wouldn't be at all surprised if he didn't. The bigger question is whether the EU would even grant an extension.

As much as there is no sign of serious engagement from the Johnson administration, the only reason to delay further is to wait out a general election to see what happens then. But would talking to a new administration produce different results? After all they'd be dealing with Comrade Corbyn whose own command of the issues is not in any way an improvement. He wants a customs union where the UK would have a say in future EU trade deals and a "close relationship with the single market". Neither of these demands can be accommodated. They are not on this planet. 

In the event of a Corbyn government, EU negotiators would yet again have to spell out the Janet and John basics to a clueless British government that has no idea what it wants to accomplish or even what the basic components do. More likely, though, they would yet again be dealing with Boris Johnson where the outcome is much the same. The only reason to give an extension is so to absolve itself of any blame.

Beyond that there doesn't seem any reason to extend. Even if Johnson's demands were met there is no sign of coherence from the commons and no guarantee a deal would be ratified. There is nothing in it for them. There is only an outside chance of Brexit being reversed and if that happens the EU is stuck with a politically dysfunctional member which at heart is not on board with the project. There is also the small matter of the EU being as bored and frustrated with this as the British public are. They have better - or certainly more productive things to be getting on with.

My hunch is that they will extend but with a sense of weary exasperation but there is no chance the time will be used productively either by parliament or the executive. Number Ten is never going to get to grips with the issues and nor is parliament. That Labour still doesn't have a coherent Brexit position tells you all you need to know. Nothing has been learned.

That is ultimately why failure is inevitable. Public debate doesn't take on board anything nor does it reach any settled conclusions. Somebody high profile will yet again suggest emulating the Swiss border and we'll go all around the houses yet again debunking it, for something like the ninth time. The media will run with it simply to fill airtime - adding further confusion in the process. If there is an argument for "clean break" it is only that we lack the talent and coherence to do anything else.   

Meanwhile there is a belated realisation in the wake of Cameron's memoirs that the EEA Efta option was always the most sensible way to do it but that realisation has come far too late to be of any use. Ultimately MPs were too invested in stopping Brexit to turn their attentions to viable outcomes. When we do crash and burn it will most certainly be a collective failure. Both the media and politics can take equal share of the blame.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Course Oblivion.

I always said that history would be kinder to Theresa May than her party. The Brexiters assumed that the problem was that Theresa May just didn't believe hard enough - so they replaced her with someone who did - or at least enough to suit their career ambitions.

Now, though, it seems the penny has dropped that things are not as simple as assumed and you can believe in Brexit as hard as you like but it just doesn't change the facts on the ground. For all that Mrs May made her own unforced errors, when you crunch the same set of variables with the same red lines then you come out with much the same result.

This much has been painfully obvious to anyone who follows the technical side of the debate and the only real room for manoeuvre now (assuming it's not too late) is to wind back the quasi-customs union to an NI specific territory. A dogs dinner of an idea necessitated by May's botched general election forcing an alliance with the DUP. But now the DUP seems to be softening their message as even they've probably realised that no deal is a supremely bad idea.

Whether this shift in attitude can be translated into a meaningful change to the withdrawal accords remains to be seen. Though the mood on the EU side is one of exasperation, I get the feeling that they would grant a further extension but Johnson will have to convince them that there is a point to it and that he is sincere about a deal when presently there is no outward sign that he is.

Then there's the question of whether Johnson can get away with it having promised Brexiters that we will leave come what may. Johnson has painted himself into the corner. There is just no possible way to know what will happen when Johnson himself does not know and wings every major decision at the last minute. He's made all kinds of promises but we know that promises are meaningless to this man and  he still has o face down parliament. Christ alone knows what MPs have in mind.

Meanwhile, the trench warfare on social media continues unabated, recycling the same tired bickering now that Labour has clarified a policy of sorts on a second referendum. Ordinarily, being so desperate for anything newsworthy, it would have warranted a post of its own but it's barely worth speaking of.

Corbyn, as before, seeks a customs union and a "close relationship with the single market". This is on account of him having no idea what a customs union does, believing it to accomplish more than it does. As to a close relationship with the single market, this is for the birds. You are either in it or you are not.  There is nothing about this position that stacks up. It's issue illiterate and ultimately gutless - especially since Corbyn has declared neutrality in a second referendum on his deal.

Beyond that I am not going to rehearse the arguments about second referendums. Not least because it's all contingent on variable such as a general election which aren't even in play yet. There's plenty of time to go over all that again later. My brain my capsize if it comes to that. Suffice to say there is nothing new in the remainer arguments that necessities such a vote and no concrete reason to overthrow the first vote.

One would have hoped by now that there would be at least some clarity on which way this is going but without more encouraging signals we have to stick to our assumption that this can only end in failure. Today is just another breadcrumb on the yellow brick road to oblivion.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

The sound of pennies dropping

Though the Guardian is more famous for its madcap social justice editorials and its wonderfully out of touch middle class forelock tugging, as far as Brexit coverage goes, it's the last remotely credible news outlet. There isn't much to add to this latest piece in respect of events in Luxembourg yesterday.
Johnson has talked, repeatedly, of “real signs of movement” in Berlin, Paris and Dublin on getting rid of the backstop, the perennial obstacle to a Brexit agreement. “A huge amount of progress is being made” in the negotiations, he insists.
For EU officials, the regular meetings with Johnson’s special envoy do not even qualify as “negotiations”. There are grave doubts, after his suspension of parliament and failure to advance any concrete proposals, that the prime minister wants a deal at all – and, should one be achieved, that he could get it through parliament.
Ideas for an all-Ireland regulatory regime for food and agriculture, which No 10 thinks would go a long way to replacing the backstop, fall far short of the requirement to protect EU markets from dangerous goods, fraud or unfair competition.
And as Bettel’s exasperation made clear, officials in Brussels, and leaders in national capitals, are running out of patience. Hopes that Britain might eventually give Brexit up as a bad job and remain in the EU are giving way to prayers that it won’t.
Many now dread the prospect, remote as it may seem, of a second referendum. “Why on earth would you want a country so bitterly and hopelessly divided to stay?” asked one diplomat. “The wounds are going to last generations. How damaging would that be to Europe? Come back, maybe – but leave and sort things out first.” 
The EU27 members do not trust Johnson, but many have little confidence in Jeremy Corbyn or in the quarrelsome tribes of remainers either. Certainly, they would rather have a deal: no one wants the chaos and economic pain of no deal, or to be seen to be giving Britain a helping hand over the cliff.
But that deal clearly cannot come at any cost. Twenty-six member states will, first, never abandon Ireland when it insists on the need for an operable backstop because, despite the clout of Germany and France, the EU remains a club of small countries, most with populations smaller than 10 million. 
Equally important, the European priority remains – as it has since June 2016 – the integrity of the EU single market. EU businesses are lobbying their governments, but not in order to persuade them to offer the UK a favourable deal so that sales of BMW cars and prosecco are not hit too hard. 
No, European businesses want their governments to avoid any risk of British companies retaining privileged access to the single market while undercutting them by disobeying its rules: a weakened single market is a far more damaging prospect than even a no-deal Brexit. 
For all those reasons, the EU would, on the whole, prefer Britain to leave now, if possible quite soon. And as Bettel’s irritation showed, it is fast tiring of a psychodrama that is costing it time, money and anxiety, and that is none of its making.
With the Tory press buying the notion that we are "edging closer toward a deal" the Guardian is right to point out that no such negotiations are underway. The situation has not changed. The EU has always said ti will consider legally operable alternatives to the backstop but at no time has the UK submitted anything to meet that criteria.

There is, though, good reason for that. There isn't a viable alternative to the backstop and Number Ten knows it. The backstop represents the bare minimum required for the EU to relax its frontier controls. Though conceivably there are ways of cracking the nut through a mixture of instruments, nothing presents itself as immediately operable and not without cumbersome bureaucracy and complex overlapping systems that would not be ready to deploy in time. Certainly the UK is unable to present a more practical solution.

But the main thrust here is that the EU has all but run out of patience. Brexit is absorbing more of their runtime than they would prefer, proving to be a major and unwelcome distraction to which there is no satisfactory outcome on the horizon. As much as they do not welcome Brexit, they're now doing the thinking that the ultra-remain Lib Dems have not in asking whether the UK could any longer be a viable member of the EU. There is no way the EU agenda can progress when the UK is in a state of perpetual deadlock of the issue. Calling off Article 50 does not make Brexit go away.

The BBC report on events, though, is telling when it remarks that "it's important to remember that Mr Juncker and European Commission negotiators don't have the legal power to change the Brexit deal, even if they wanted to. That power lies with the EU national leaders".

Were we charitable we could say that the Guardian is dumbing it down for the benefit of their readers, but the power lies with the European Council, an institution of the EU. There is an essential failure to understand the nature of the EU. They think of the European Council as a "summit" of Member State leaders. They do not understand that it is a formal institution of the EU, subject to its laws and bound by its objectives.

If there has been one constant throughout Brexit it is a deep rooted failure to understand the functioning of it on the British side. It starts with our media extending all the way into the executive. We saw this with repeated attempts by Theresa May to subvert the already agreed sequencing of talks - particularly with her Florence proposal, believing the EU capable of abandoning its process and procedure.

This flaw seems to be presenting in Boris Johnson who is seemingly operating under the illusion that the EU can throw process under the bus to conclude a deal a the last minute - believing no deal to be a credible instrument of leverage. With that assumption baked in there is no possibility of successfully concluding the Article 50 process. "German carmakers" are not clamouring for a deal and will not ride to the rescue. 

This has been a conceptual misapprehension throughout starting from the man in the street going all the way up to the prime minister. The British political mind simply does not grasp what we are dealing with. The EU is not a nation state capable of agreeing an outcome and instructing its civil service to implement it. The EU fundamentally is an operating system of rules and processes where compromising that system of rules raises an existential question. For that reason it will place the principle before the commercial pragmatism that Britain expects of it.

It is perhaps that one fundamental clash of approaches that alone makes British membership of the EU untenable. As "part time Europeans", not at all on board with the underlying destination of the project, we have hit a roadblock where neither the UK nor the EU can progress until there is a final resolution to it.

The only remaining question is how we get there. It would seem that with a PM who doesn't have the first clue what he is doing, and an opposition incapable of arriving at a coherent direction, promising to be equally problematic should we remain, the penny has dropped that Britain is not psychologically equipped to be an EU member. The blame for this mess, therefore, is not those who conspired to get us out. Rather it rests with those who attempted to push the British square peg through the EU round hole. 

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Treading water

Blogging is hard at the moment. There is no shortage of noise but very little to say unless you want to join in with the ideological trench warfare that has broken out between the two Brexit camps. With the Lib Dems having declared war on Brexit they've become the home for the archetypal Waitrose warrior remoaner so we could have enormous fun at their expense but it doesn't actually add value and it's pretty much covered by Twitter.

Course we could follow the theatricals of Brexit negotiations, but as EUreferndum points out, there are no negotiations to speak of. A deal is not in the offing and despite media speculation to the contrary, circumstances have not changed nor has the EU's position. Noises have been made about reconsidering the backstop if the UK comes up with a workable proposal but that isn't going to happen.

Initially I had thought that the Johnson administration was going all out for no deal but it seems they are instead playing chicken with an oncoming reality juggernaut. Johnson thinks he can "handbag" the EU at the last minute and come home victorious. But procedurally, or by any other measure, that's just not how this works. Johnson will come away with nothing so we now wait to see what the situation is regarding an extension and an election.

There is plenty of speculation to be had there - especially so since general elections are the comfort zone of pundits. I'm happy to indulge as and when we get to that point, but I'm not going to sit here dreaming up phantom scenarios that may never happen. But what now can be usefully said when it has all been said and the nation is bored rigid with it all?

There is something to be said about the deterioration of both politics and the media - with politics now polarised to the point of self-destruction while the media indulges in its own set of fantasies. But this is hardly new either.

So what about conference season? Conferences have long been the domain of anoraks and social climbers and have very little to say worth hearing. Whatever policies they might dream up have only a limited shelf life in that Brexit will choke up the machine and divert funds they would otherwise use. As to the Lib Dems, they have to convincingly explain how you put the country back together after nullifying the 2016 referendum. They appear not to have thought about that.

As it happens, I still think we are odds on for no deal. The closer we get to Brexit day the more ghastly theremainer bunch get; oozing self-righteousness, snobbery and entitlement with zero self-awareness. I don't see any scenario where they could hold the balance of power.

One thing that did catch my eye today, though, was a clip from an interview with Harriet Harman following noises about her replacing John Bercow. She says "It would show parliament has changed if a woman was Speaker." - She asserts that if parliament decides on a man to be the next Speaker of the House of Commons 'it will render women in politics invisible'.

Leaving aside that we've had Betty Boothroyd who was admired and respected, this is absolutely quintessential Westminster bubble stuff. Self-absorbed, narcissistic, issue illiterate and breathtakingly banal. This is ultimately why so many seek to use Brexit to punish the establishment. This is what we are all sick of.

And then there's Labour's muddle on Brexit. Corbyn is under pressure from the London metropolitan wing of Labour to come out as an all out remain party, but Corbyn is acutely aware (or should be) that if he does so, he'll be alienating the northern leave voting working class base. Since there is no outright position that allows him to ride both horses, Labour has to keep it deliberately vague. 

In many ways Labour's identity crisis represents the wider identity crisis in the country and since one side has to lose, politicians simply duck the issue. The only reason we have remained in the EU this long is because politicians have fought to keep the issue at bay, never allowing it to become a primary issue. Our EU membership has a certain Dorian Gray dynamic where our EU membership presents as a glossy young facade while the real portrait in the attic is a snarling, decaying ogre.

This to a large extent explains why things are such a giant mess. We are finally having the national debate we should have had at least a decade sooner but at a time when our politics is the least equipped for it. Two decades of rolling and cameras in parliament has debased politics to the point where Westminster antics resemble those of a sixth form common room and more akin with the European Parliament - lacking legitimacy, gravitas and credibility.

As has become usual to say now, there is nothing for serious commentary to say until this phase reaches a conclusion. Both leaving and remaining have seismic consequences and one way or another, there will be a lot to say after the fact and either way we won't have heard the last of Brexit for some time to come. Between now and then, we are just treading water. 

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Yellowhammer: noise we didn't need

If you're doing any sort of contingency planning then you look at the worst case scenarios. And then you plan to mitigate them. I'm not full conversant in what has been done but it looks like we shouldn't have much of a problem with incoming goods and until such a time as mainland EU is fully prepared to impose full third country controls (and while the UK is policing access to the ports properly) then outgoing won't be too problematic.

Many of the headline scares exist from more than two years ago - before the announcement of the EU's own unilateral contingency measures which will be reciprocated. The scares, though plausible at the time without some acknowledgement from government, have been obsolete for a while now.

Moreover, anyone in business who wants to stay in business has already done the necessary work to ensure they can still export to the EU - whether it be setting up importer offices inside the EU or finding a freight forwarding company to assist. Production lines have built up stockpiles of components and rearranged their scheduling so as to avoid the ports on Brexit day until there is a clearer idea of what is happening. It's probable that just enough has been done to offset the worst of the immediate headline effects of no deal.

Course, that doesn't stop pundits and politicians alike hyperventilating over the Yellowhammer report - which is widely dismissed by Brexiters as "project fear", while inventing imaginative reasons why none of it can happen. But it's all noise. What we should be worried about, and what we are not even discussing is the secondary impacts which stand to have a greater overall impact on jobs and trade.

Yellowhammer might read like a bedtime horror story but it's the EU's Notices to Stakeholders (NTS)(published more than a year ago) that makes for the most gruesome reading and if you know what it is you're looking at then that's the stuff that should keep you awake at night.

The EU's unilateral contingency measures really only deal with the high end stuff to ensure basic transport connectivity and whatever else is necessary to look after its own interests, but the NTS details all the different sectors where the UK no longer enjoys the same market participation rights which sees commercial operations brought to a standstill. We take an immediate 20 percent hit when we lose mutual recognition, and our services will be slashed.

Much of this has been misreported or trivialised by the media, looking at stories in isolation from aircraft repair approvals to farm waste removal. the media has been unable to stitch together a clear picture of the kind of behind the border disruption not directly linked with import/exports that business will face in the event of no deal.

Then, of course, there is the longer term picture of what happens in the economy when all the third country controls are in oerationand we are subject the the EU's standard tariffs. In overselling Brexit doomsday, all the remainers have succeeded in doing is to harden opposition - resulting in the sort of trite, idiotic dribble we see from Spiked Online today.

Instead of a cool headed look at the issues all we have seen from politicians is hyperventilation over issues they haven't examined, don't understand and even after three years of debate still haven't noticed. The Yellowhammer report is just a stick to beat the government with - typically confusing activity with productivity.

Though the debate has long been highly polarised we have now reached a state of total polarisation with two camps largely talking only to themselves, with media output now having zero infomation value. All we have is noise where the most ignorant have the loudest voice. That more than anything is the main reason we are probably leaving without a deal.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

An abuse of the mandate - (or why Brexiters should get real)

I'm the last one to defend parliament - especially given its recent juvenile conduct but we need to separate the issues here. The public was handed the decision as to whether we leave the EU. It was a long running fundamental constitutional question that could only really be resolved by the public. The question of how we leave, though, was a matter that could only be resolved by a representative body.

In this, parliament has been obstructionist throughout - to the outrage of leavers. The extent to which MPs have simply been trying to kill off Brexit is a matter for some debate but the fact remains that Brexiters have not been playing an honest game. There are four basic models Brexit could follow but ever since the referendum Brexiters have insisted ever that the most extreme and the most damaging is the only model that honours the referendum result.

They have done so in a completely cavalier fashion. MPs have had good cause to ask serious and searching questions of the Brexiters and what they get in response if fact free flim-flam. Debunking Daniel Hannan has become a cottage industry. Not a single word from the lips of John Redwood is bankable. When it comes to prolific works of fiction Shakespeare's got nothing on advocates of the WTO option.

Then when it comes to the more technical debates we are told that anything from blockchain through to ANPR cameras will do the job - and can be implemented without a transition - completely ignoring the regulatory aspect of frictionless borders. There's just nothing these people say that can be taken seriously and that is rightly a cause for concern for MPs.

I've watched countless committee meetings watching inquisitive MPs like Rachel Reeves coming at it cold asking hard questions, wanting to be convinced but finding the answers wholly unsatisfactory. Had I not been passionately involved in the campaign to leave the EU the answers given by Brexiteers would have made a militant remainer of me. When these people aren't being spectacularly ignorant they're lying through their teeth.

I think it highly uncharitable to think that the majority of MPs are acting in open defiance of the referendum. A great many do respect the result but cannot in good conscience roll over and let the Brexiteers do as they please when their case stands in such a flimsy foundation. The stakes are too high.

And if there's one thing MPs know better than anyone, if there is a sustained campaign of lying then there is an unspoken agenda. And we now what that agenda is. To the ERG, Brexit is less about national sovereignty and democracy and more about a radical right wing economic adventure where the classic democratic arguments serve only as a smokescreen. Their intent is to embark upon aggressive deregulation and unilateral trade liberalisation using the 2016 vote as a mandate without seeking a new one for their agenda.

On that there has been extensive debate where again we find the Brexiteer arguments wanting. Deregulation is part of the libertarian right canon, long baked into Tory scriptures but has long been obsolete. Modern trade is all about regulatory harmonisation for the facilitation of speedier more profitable supply chains. Deregulation and divergence is a wholly false economy and involves painful and expensive change only to find goods have less export potential at the end of it.

As to unilateral trade liberalisation, we are talking about massive, sweeping, unplanned change with no risk assessment. There's no way that ends well. It's just another deep rooted Tory superstition that the current tariff regime is a "protectionist racket" - overlooking the labyrinth of free trade arrangements the EU has with just about every major economy.

So here there is nothing to enthuse Brexit sceptics. No reasons why they should green light this course of action when it is abundantly clear that the Brexiteers are playing fast and loose with the truth and quite simply do not know what the hell they are talking about.

As it happens, had there been the outright hostility to the referendum result that Brexiters now claim exists, we might perhaps be out of the EU already. Given the mood at the time they had no choice but to trigger Article 50 but they could well have united to insist on EEA Efta form the beginning but even Brexit sceptics reluctantly agreed that freedom of movement must completely end, mindful of northern Brexit voters whose votes they depend on. Had Labour ever investigated the possibilities of EEA Article 112, this might well have gone a different way.

It is something of a Brexiter conceit to say that MPs are wholly and unequivocally against Brexit. I have made that argument myself more than a few times but it's a bit of lazy shorthand. Plenty of MPs theoretically want to deliver Brexit but they just can't agree on a way forward. All that they can agree on is that they don't want a no deal Brexit because there's nothing much to be said for it and it is an abuse of the 2016 mandate.

Ok so many of the scares are increasingly risible. We're not going to impose additional customs measures on incoming goods so the likelihood of medicines shortages is minimal and the EU's own contingency measures, (which will be reciprocated) will ensure basic connectivity for the essentials, and planning will ensure the ports stay clear even if that means diverting trucks or stopping them setting off. That's all fine. We can ensure there isn't a Brexit day meltdown. But longer, term, taking into account all the secondary effects, there is nothing to be said for it.

As remarked almost every other day, no deal cannot stay no deal and we must have a comprehensive relationship with the EU. Crashing out puts us in a state of limbo, handing all the leverage to the EU, and it will take some years before we are even negotiating a new trade framework - with the precondition that we submit to an accord on NI that looks pretty much the same as the backstop. A self-defeating mess.

I have argued that no deal is essentially what it must be if MPs cannot agree and there is no other way to leave - but there is a deal on the table. For sure, Brexiters hate it but they're going to hate anything that doesn't deliver the great Brexit pipe dream. they tell us that "May's deal is not Brexit" but that's a wholly dishonest claim. It just doesn't deliver the Tory wet dream Brexit - which they are by no means owed on the back of the 2016 referendum.

The mistake of parliament was the failure to realise that the withdrawal agreement was pretty much the only option by the time they'd ruled out all the other avenues. It was their failure to get to grips with the issues early on that brought us to this point. Incompetence rather than outright malevolence. The Ultra remainers couldn't even muster double figures when they broke away to start their own party.

When It comes down to it, MPs are thinking about the harm a no deal Brexit will do. This is not a matter of crystal ball gazing. We are not talking about the economic guesswork that said there would be a recession immediately after the referendum. Here we are talking about cause and effect whee the EU's own Notices to stakeholders explicitly list all the areas where the UK is frozen out of lucrative markets. The absence of a data adequacy agreement alone is a serious dent for UK digital services providers. Even if we disregard the worst of the scare stories as "project fear" we are still looking at a deeply damaging, long lasting hammer blow to jobs and trade.

In respect of that, despite my involvement in euroscepticism since back when Alan Sked was leading Ukip, I think I would have joined Tory rebels in doing virtually anything to try and prevent, or at least delay a no deal Brexit. For as long as there is a chance of a deal we have to keep rolling the dice.

Of course Brexiteers will wail to the rafters about this but like all spoiled children in the midst of a tantrum, you ignore them. What they want is not a viable or desirable destination. At this point they just want a Brexit day for its own sake so they can put on their party hats and bunting just "own the libs". But that is not remotely in the national interest and celebrations will be short lived.

Ultimately Brexiteers may have won the vote but they certainly didn't win the argument for no deal and have utterly failed to persuade decision makers and likely never will because there has never been such a far reaching radical proposal built on such flimsy foundations. Brexiteers can't seriously expect MPs to roll over and let it happen. The mandate doesn't stretch to that.

Brexiteers could and should have anticipated maximum resistance to the path they have chosen. Had they set out a plan and a clear set of objectives and a credible pathway to accomplishing them then MPs might well have reluctantly gone along with it but instead they are being asked to green light a self-inflicted disaster that doesn't have majority support in the country or in parliament and the whole basis for doing so is a grunt of "democracy".

Well as it happens, we have representative democracy and that is not cancelled out by the referendum. We might perhaps wish it come other way but there is a line of delineation between the issues. The public had their say but parliament still has a role to play and if they did roll over to allow a minority of headcases to dictate the agenda then we would consider it negligence.

I am still of the view that if parliament can't get its act together then we still have to leave with or without a deal, but it looks like MPs have bought us a little more time. Whether they use the time intelligently remains to be seen but I'm happy if we tell the fat lady to hang on a while longer.

This perhaps does put Brexit at risk but in the end Brexiters should have appreciated that this one be a long process. Instead of building a consensus they have done everything possible to antagonise resistance, using a form of electoral judo to leverage public anger against remainers. As a strategy it could very well work - but there was also a high chance of it failing. They took that gamble with open eyes. It's their can to carry.