Brexit and some alternative facts

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. (anonymous, often misattributed to Eric Blair aka George Orwell)

The truth is usually more complex and subtle than the simplistic soundbyte beloved of politicians and media headline writers. Fake news is not necessarily the problem; misinformation can be spread because the basic assumptions are incorrect, the background has not been thoroughly investigated or it is just speculation masquerading as fact.

The following are a couple of quite significant examples.  However, please don’t take my word and incomplete knowledge of these subjects for granted.  A much better source is Eureferendum.com and the original source documents.

Control of EU Immigration Requires Leaving the Single Market – NOT TRUE

How often have we heard or read this, but it is not actually correct.  The Single Market (aka European Economic Area), created by the European Union (EU) and to which the members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) also belong has free movement of goods, persons, services and capital as basic principles (set by the EU). The conditions of access of members of EFTA to the single market are set out in the Agreement on the European Economic Area which also includes free movement as a basic principle.

However, the EEA Agreement also includes an opt-out which can be applied unilaterally by members of EFTA (see Chapter 4, Safeguard Provisions, Article 112), but obviously not by Members States of the EU.  It states:

  1. If serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectorial or regional nature liable to persist are arising, a Contracting Party may unilaterally take appropriate measures under the conditions and procedures laid down in Article 113.
  2. Such safeguard measures shall be restricted with regard to their scope and duration to what is strictly necessary in order to remedy the situation. Priority shall be given to such measures as will least disturb the functioning of this Agreement.

This opt-out is intended to be temporary (until a permanent solution is implemented), but nevertheless can be invoked and maintained in the absence of that permanent solution.  It has been used already by Liechtenstein to control immigration and Iceland to control capital flows in the wake of the financial crisis.

The EU negotiators are already setting terms for the EU-UK negotiations – NOT TRUE

How often has the media reported that this or that person, with an appropriate grand EU-related title, is already laying down tough terms for us? In reality, at the moment there are no negotiators as such – just political nominations by various posturing organisations within the EU set-up and their self-important leaders or other politicians. The small print of the Lisbon Treaty Article 50 states:

  1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
  2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union states:

  1. Without prejudice to the specific provisions laid down in Article 207, agreements between the Union and third countries or international organisations shall be negotiated and concluded in accordance with the following procedure.
  2. The Council shall authorise the opening of negotiations, adopt negotiating directives, authorise the signing of agreements and conclude them.
  3. The Commission, or the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy where the agreement envisaged relates exclusively or principally to the common foreign and security policy, shall submit recommendations to the Council, which shall adopt a decision authorising the opening of negotiations and, depending on the subject of the agreement envisaged, nominating the Union negotiator or the head of the Union’s negotiating team.
  4. The Council may address directives to the negotiator and designate a special committee in consultation with which the negotiations must be conducted.
  5. The Council, on a proposal by the negotiator, shall adopt a decision authorising the signing of the agreement and, if necessary, its provisional application before entry into force.

Clearly negotiations are with the Council (of the European Union) who nominates a negotiator and, at the time of writing, they haven’t done so, officially at least.

To sum up, all is not what is reported or stated to be true facts and because they are repeated so often, if not vehemently, it is easy to be taken in.

A wake-up call from the Brexit vote

“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”  John Adams

The vote to leave the European Union on 23rd June and its immediate aftermath have tossed the pieces of our country’s political kaleidoscope into the air. Whilst it is still too early to know where they will all eventually land, the Brexit earthquake has created an opportunity to renew our country’s democracy and to show that good government is still possible. However, it has also revealed the obstacles that such a renewal would face.

Playing fast and loose

Many politicians, their sycophants and other members of the ruling establishment were (and presumably still are) prepared to throw responsibility, integrity and good judgement to the wind in pursuit of a political objective or their own narrow self-interests. No holds are barred and the end justifies the means.  We suspected then and now know that ‘Project Fear’ was largely a work of gross exaggeration, if not of fiction. Yet such gross deception would never have happened if the individuals concerned had acted with any sense of integrity, honour, duty and professionalism. Thankfully, there were a few – but alas not many – dissenting voices on the remain side who refused, in spite of establishment pressure and groupthink, to participate in acts of deceit and manipulation of the electorate.

Boldly go where facts, knowledge and analysis are missing

We now know that many politicians, members of the ruling establishment and their fellow travellers in the mainstream media are prepared to make authoritative policy statements with only a superficial knowledge of the subject or issue – in other words, behaving like proverbial fools who ‘rush in where angels fear to tread’. Obviously, they are highly likely to get it wrong often but yet they deliberately shy away from detailed statements based on facts, knowledge and thoughtful, perceptive analysis. Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne have shown, by hamstringing the Civil Service over any sort of BREXIT plan, just how little the political establishment actually knows or understands.

Poor democrats and worse

The ruling establishment has shown itself to be willing to undermine or circumvent the democratic process. Thus we see Remainiacs (with deep pockets) involving themselves in legal action (dressed up in sophistry), while some politicians are still trying to ignore or reinterpret the Referendum result.  Many also do not appear to have grasped that, whatever justification they may give for their statements, they are not entitled to ignore the democratic will of the electorate. The desire to strengthen democracy and restore the sovereignty of our own Parliament was one of the major factors in the decision of many leavers to vote for independence from the EU. In the wake of the result, these opponents of democracy talk down our country’s prospects in the media, using often spurious or selective ‘evidence’.

Out of touch ruling Élite

The ruling establishment’s agenda – supported by much of the mainstream media – is not shared by many of the electorate. Consequently, many voters, particularly the socially conservative, patriotic, individualistic, financially prudent types, feel that they are no longer represented and have no voice in the ‘corridors of power’.

The establishment generally comes across as having a set of common values, views and interests, including: globalism and destruction of national identities; remaking society into a sort of permissive, compliant image; intolerance of nonconforming views; pursuit of increasing statist or corporatist control. They view the electorate, who do not share these values, as wrong, ill-informed and/or misguided and in need of re-education. Furthermore, they never consider that their condescending attitudes are the root cause of the electorate’s ‘obstinacy’, as they would call it.

Some Implications

The gap between ordinary people and this self-selecting élite is vast. The two groups have very different philosophical outlooks and interpret the world in totally different ways. The élite live in a bubble, consisting of people who largely share the same views, self-interests and questionable assumptions – especially when it comes to the electorate and the opinions of ordinary people. In their isolated world, spin (with its abandonment of precise language) and the resulting superficial depth of thought have replaced humanity, patriotism, experience, actual knowledge and careful analysis.  Their objectives – pursuit of globalism and corporatism, self-interest etc. – are as likely as not to be working against the wishes, aspirations and best interests of much of the electorate. Consequently, we, the ordinary people, need some form of protection.

Traditionally, in our country, protection against abuse of power has been provided by the workings of democratic accountability and transparency and by longstanding systemic (Parliamentary and legal) checks and balances.  However, this approach requires all parties concerned to ‘play the game’. When a ruling élite effectively controls the apparatus of government and gains a stranglehold over economic forecasting and the media, as we are seeing, these protections can be ignored and dismantled.  This process is a slippery slope which can result in our becoming playthings for their sociological experiments  – reduced to nothing more than a resource to be exploited.  As democracy dies, so too do its checks and balances. Like a political version of Newton’s Third Law of Motion, extremism, inhumanity and intolerance rises on all sides to fill the gap.

In conclusion, democracy, like freedom, has shallow roots and must be constantly re-invigorated to remain healthy. The traditional methods of democratic renewal have been education, respect for just laws and active involvement by the electorate. If these tools are not regularly used, our ruling élite will accrue yet more power to themselves and our democracy will slowly wither away.

An open letter to a high-profile remainer

If we all write to our opponents, they may start thinking a bit more seriously about future membership of the European Union, giving us a far better chance of winning the coming referendum.

The following letter highlights risk management. There is a strong case for spreading its message  because we traditionally are far better at risk management and the EU is a failing political/bureaucratic experiment that encourages irresponsible behaviour and mutualises the resulting problems making them far worse.

Dear Mr Cameron,

I read with some concern a transcript of your recent speech (9th May on strength and security) which supported remaining in the European Union (EU) and highlighted the risks of leaving.  Whilst to paraphrase Mark Carney on the Andrew Marr Show, 16th May, highlighting risks is necessary in order to mitigate them, nothing is being said about the risks of remaining.  Could this be that whilst we traditionally are rather good at risk management, the risks arising from remaining within the EU are beyond our capabilities of risk management or mitigation? Thus the Public could be unaware of serious risks of remaining which cannot be effectively mitigated, whilst also being fearful of leaving under an erroneous impression regarding its riskiness?

I find developments within the EU, as reported recently in the Daily Mail  and the Daily Telegraph, rather alarming; hence my raising the subject of risk management and mitigation. We are not being asked to remain in the EU as it is now, but an EU which is highly unstable and on a trajectory to create a superstate.

From a risk management perspective, the EU, by extending its powers and adopting ‘one size fits all’ policies that apply to all member states, faces serious risks whereby some Member States will be extremely adversely affected. Some examples of this are the €uro and mass migration. Also there is a tendency to mutualise local issues or problems to all Member States making the results far worse, where previously these problems did not exist, such as with certain ECJ rulings.  It would appear, then, that the EU is inherently much poorer at risk management and mitigation than we are.

Can the EU become much better at risk management or even reform?  Professor John W Hunt, concluded on the basis of his studies of organisational behaviour in the EU and other international bodies, that reform always gets pushed to the bottom of the pile. He noted: “International bodies rarely have a power base of their own….. To justify themselves, these highly paid, often initially idealistic staff spend their time developing yet more ideas that can’t be implemented. The result is the worst of all worlds, there being nothing more cynical than a bunch of rich, demoralised ex-idealists.” Thus it is reasonable to assume the EU will largely remain unchanged, unreformed and poor at risk management.

I would be happy to discuss this further because we really do need an intelligent debate on all the serious risks not just those of leaving (which can be mitigated), but also those of remaining (which cannot).

You should, after an examination of all risks and their risk management, including those of remaining, heed the words of a great former Conservative Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury:- ‘The commonest error in politics is sticking to the carcasses of dead policies. When a mast falls overboard, you do not try to save a rope here and a spar there in memory of their former utility. You cut away the hamper altogether. It should be the same with policy, but it is not so. We cling to the shred of an old policy after it has been torn to pieces, and to the shadow of the shred after the rag itself has been torn away.

Juries, Democracy and the European Union

When it becomes serious, you have to lie. Jean-Claude Juncker President, European Commission

Whilst we recognise the role of juries in dispensing justice – namely establishing the truth and working together with the state, their role in facilitating democracy is less well known. Without juries and jury trials our understanding of democracy, especially the concept of the sovereignty of the people, would be very different. Perhaps our ‘democracy’ would have already come to resemble the European Union’s version – a figment of the ruling establishment’s imagination under which the sovereignty of the people something that, if it is recognised at all, can be ignored when inconvenient to their aims.

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about the influence of jury service on the education of citizens in social responsibilities towards society in his book in Democracy in America. Yet jury service goes further because it is an acknowledgement that the state cannot operate alone. The citizenry are required to  participate actively and the collective decision of the jury (about truth and therefore, guilt) is the correct one. The state in particular recognises the skills (listening, analysis and consensus evaluation), trustworthiness (honesty and integrity) and commitment (to justice and the rule of law) of the people.

The electorate is a somewhat larger jury, whose ability to determine the right political party (or parties) to form the government is largely accepted by everyone. Without this longstanding tradition of an active, participatory citizenry forming juries, whose collective judgement is ‘truth’ (hopefully based on factual evidence) and respect for the rule of law, there can be no functioning democracy as we understand it.

Historically there is also a close connection between a ‘jury’ and the limitation of state power. In Magna Carta (1215), in the forerunner of a rudimentary Parliament we find a council of 25 nobles established to keep the sovereign in check. There was also a real jury (of fellow men) to prevent abuse of absolute power through imprisonment of freemen.  In time, as jury trials evolved, the need to review evidence and establish the facts became the foundation of determining guilt or innocence and therefore of dispensing justice.

The Roman law, which had considerably more influence on the Continent, was somewhat different from our common law in establishing guilt or otherwise. It amounted to listening to the rhetoric of the ‘for’ and ‘against’ orators (lawyers etc.) and accepting the better presented argument. The classical definition of rhetoric was ‘the art of pleading well’. Establishing ‘facts’ as such did not come into it. Our modern understanding of ‘facts’ became commonplace only after 1660 with the founding of the Royal Society.  Previously ‘facts’ were deeds, derived from the Latin facio ‘I do’, and this older usage of the word still occurs in expressions such as ‘accessory after the fact’.

Currently, the electorate cannot operate as a jury in determining the most appropriate form of government and rule of this country in the EU Referendum (UK-based democracy or Brussels-based authoritarian corporatism) because it is being denied the necessary factual evidence.  The state, in the form of the government apparatus has prejudiced its judgement by distorting the evidence, instead of working with the jury (the electorate) to further democracy,. Consequently we are left, as in Shakespeare’s, works to establish the truth for ourselves through tokens or signs and the rhetoric or claims being proposed by the advocate, as in the Roman law tradition.

In summary, our view of democracy, sovereignty of the people and the need for the electorate to be able to judge on the basis of facts is not necessarily shared in the ruling establishment of the EU because of their different historical evolution and precedence. Part of this difference comes from the world of Roman law and the reduced role of trial by jury which, where they exist, is much more limited. Electorates can in the EU’s strange world be legitimately misled by rhetoric (or deceived by lies) since the most eloquent are the final arbiters of truth. And as we regularly see, the will or sovereignty of the people can be ignored in a way that is naturally alien to us arising from our longstanding traditions.

Could we ever change this different EU vision to more closely align with ours? In effect, to achieve a paradigm shift of assumptions, objectives, knowledge and experience amongst the ruling elite? Mr Cameron’s brilliant Oxford-educated rhetorical skills (the triumph of style and superficiality over logic and substance) have failed so far.  So he, his cronies, fellow travellers and the ruling elite have turned on us, spreading fear and despondency in order to get their way and in doing so are prejudicing the operation of democracy.  The jury can no longer have any reasonable doubt – the facts so far don’t speak for remaining.

The EU – very risky to your wellbeing and pocket

The EU – a club of former countries that encourages irresponsible behaviour and mutualises the resulting problems, making them worse

In the current ‘debate’ (or, perhaps better, the current game of fear messaging and deceit) about our membership of the European Union, (EU), the subject of risk management is largely ignored.  Yet this somewhat arcane subject  – very mysterious to politicians – is critical to understanding what we are letting ourselves in for.   Its inclusion completely changes the actual or residual risks we face.  Its omission by Mr Cameron and many other senior politicians is completely irresponsible. We could pay a very heavy price in future if we opt for the most risky option in the mistaken belief that it is the safest.

From prehistoric times, even our most intellectually challenged Homo Sapiens ancestors quickly learnt that life is full of risks.  Hunting and progress needed successful management of these risks, whether it was avoiding being trampled by woolly mammoths, getting hurt by chipping flints or being burnt when cooking over an open fire.  If our early ancestors had been ruled by someone like Mr Cameron, his Project Fear would have led to our early extinction because of dire warnings about messing with fire or the dangers of leaving our prehistoric EU cave.

Today, any business activity or enterprise, investment, not to mention scientific experimentation and medical progress, will inevitably involve both risk taking and successful risk management if it is to achieve results. Government is no exception; Some policies come with a possible downside in the shape of unwanted or undesirable consequences. If there is a strong likelihood of this happening, risk management is necessary to mitigate these risks and avoid mistakes becoming disasters.

Of course, government incompetence, malevolence and greed is in itself a risk which needs to be managed. It isn’t easy to do this.  Parliamentary democracy is a step in the right direction, as in theory, our MP goes to Westminster to act on our behalf and use his or her brain to do the best for us and protect our interests. The nation state also acts as a tool of risk management since the more diverse a population in culture, heritage and history the more difficult it is to avoid serious risks of downsides to some. In this country we are very privileged that,  over centuries, laws, checks and balances have evolved, somewhat serendipitously, to provide a decent level of risk control while at the same time reining in the government and the state.

In the real world (as opposed to the bubble which our ruling élite inhabit), we are actually world leaders in risk management. We have also pioneered many techniques for managing risks and have legal frameworks where responsibilities and accountability for so doing (i.e., a duty of care) are clear.  Policy risk management at national level is inherently easier than at EU level, hence residual risks can be made much smaller than the initial, apparent, risks.  The future outside the EU, should therefore hold few fears because we can manage risks as and when they occur.

The EU, by comparison, is a basket case for risk management. It is not just that its leaders ignore risk management;  the organisational structure of the EU makes the task inherently more difficult and the consequences of failure more severe.  As we will consider in more detail shortly, one-size-fits-all policies devised by remote unaccountable bureaucrats and enforced by judges (all ideologically driven), are a recipe for risk, mistakes and floundering about afterwards making the damage worse. This pattern is repeated time and again.

One of the more subtle consequences is that it encourages irresponsible behaviour by the unaccountable ruling élite, be they politicians, bureaucrats, big business, vested interests, special interest groups or corrupt individuals.  Rather than act in the best interests of ordinary people (the common good), they use the EU as a means to an end, to avoid responsibility, to exploit the people while following their own, self-interested agendas.

Commonly known as corporatism, it amounts to government by the few for the few and the re-distribution of existing wealth from the many to them.  From a risk management perspective, giving carte blanche to the EU’s ruling élite poses great risks to the wellbeing and prosperity of the many.  The Euro, EU energy policies and pricing, open borders and bureaucratic regulation as pursued by the EU have all had disastrous consequences.

Continuing EU membership is a systemic high risk proposition that can only get worse as its leaders recklessly pursue their goal of creating a superstate while at the same time increasingly expanding their unaccountable control of our daily lives.  Sadly, the damage spreads far and wide because of the contagion factor. A local issue which may crop up in one member state – or even one part of one member state – cannot be dealt with locally.

This is quite deliberate policy and results in us all being affected by events taking place far away of no direct relevance to us. One example of this is the Landfill Directive, which addressed the problems faced by Denmark and Holland, two fairly small, flat countries which had run out of space to bury rubbish. Our quarrying industry creates more than enough holes for this country to deal with our garbage, but EU legislation has forced us increasingly in the direction of smelly, air-polluting incinerators..

Sadly, all that Mr Cameron is doing through Project Fear is showing everyone that he knows very little about risk management and consequently is unfit to govern anyone or anything. This has been amply demonstrated by the devastation of the Steel Industry.

If we are to build a prosperous future for the UK, we need to be able both to take risks (business is always inherently risky) and to manage risks successfully. Mr Cameron’s ignorance is potentially very damaging to our future prospects. We could end up with the worst of all worlds, subject to a reckless EU while frightened to build a confident, prosperous and secure future for our country.

Photo by Oregon State University

Mr Cameron’s dream of social justice destroyed by the EU

All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs. Enoch Powell on Joseph Chamberlain

Recent events, including the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith from the position of Secretary of State for Work and Pensions dedicated to social reform, highlight the contradictions of our continuing membership of the European Union (EU). Membership is not a victimless crime, but instead one which causes great suffering for the most vulnerable and socially excluded in our society.  It also destroys the worthwhile political ambitions of ministers striving to make the UK a more just and socially mobile country, putting reforming Prime Minister and reforming Minister at loggerheads.

James Kirkup writing in the Daily Telegraph, on 20th March noted: ‘People close to David Cameron know that what really drives and excites him is not reforming the EU (whatever he says in public, the topic bores him) or balancing the budget. Those things may dominate his Government’s agenda, but friends say what raises his political passion is ‘social reform – ensuring that people born without his privileges can share a little of the riches he has known all his life”.

If we give Mr Cameron the benefit of the doubt and assume Kirkup is telling the truth, the Prime Minister should understand that his consuming passion cannot be accomplished whilst we retain EU membership for various practical reasons, some of which are illustrated below.

EU tax, waste and corruption, increasingly takes away much needed funding that could be better used here on the needy or facilitating social mobility, especially for the poorest.  Mr Duncan Smith resigned over the Welfare Budget being used as a ‘Cash Cow’ – effectively robbing poor disabled UK Peter to pay, bribe and subsidise rich EU Paul.

EU rules undermine new per capita wealth creation, the source of social mobility and generally rising living standards for all.  State welfare spending can only be funded by a highly competitive and ‘profitable’ private sector. Instead of new wealth creation, the EU pursues policies of re-distributing existing wealth (sometimes from the poorest to the richest through higher prices, taxes and subsidies to inefficient industries) and effectively of wealth destruction. Also, EU regulations increasingly restrict the ‘space’ and opportunist flexibility needed for businesses and people to grow and achieve in a fast moving, highly competitive world.

Uncontrolled EU migration places increasing strains on welfare budgets and critical national infrastructure.  These need long term plans, development and investment which cannot be made accurately where future demand is unknown.  With the increasing demands on the welfare state and no corresponding boost to wealth creation, the net result is an increasingly unaffordable drain on the productive economy.

The EU undermines motivation, self-reliance and prevents re-balancing the relationship between state and citizen. As EU control expands in domestic (national) income and expenditure it increasingly prevents change, adaptation to local circumstances and action in accordance with democratic mandates.

The negative effects of EU membership are occurring at a time when EU welfare state model(s) are becoming increasingly unaffordable, especially as the EU member states are becoming less competitive. The EU accounts for only 7% of the world population, 25% of world GDP but a staggering 58% of the world’s welfare bill. (For more information see Matthew Lynn writing in the Daily Telegraph on 23rd March Europe is now drowning under the cost of welfare bills)

As outlined above (and proven by recent events), continuing EU membership and a desire for social reform, especially to improve the lot of the most vulnerable and socially excluded, are incompatible. It is also unlikely that the EU could be changed to make these aims complementary.  The EU has shown a marked reluctance to engage in reform, to control its indulgent, ever-increasing budget or to fix problems largely of its own creation.  The EU’s meddling in domestic affairs is likely to increase as it pursues its aim of creating a single polity or Superstate, which will just create more problems.  So far, the EU’s track record has led to increasing levels of poverty for many, especially in southern Europe.  The failure of the Euro, increasing debts and uncontrolled migration affect the poorest most, making social mobility increasingly difficult.

James Kirkup also wrote in his article: ‘If Mr Cameron cannot make good on his fine words about One Nation and social mobility and equality of opportunity, and thus disprove the charges Mr Duncan Smith levels against him, then his life in politics has all been for nothing.’

So behind all the spin, Mr Cameron really does have a compassionate side and wants to make a difference. Unfortunately, he has chosen to fight for continuing membership of the unreformable, immovable EU, ruled by a privileged élite. He will thus  have sacrificed his dearest ambition on the altar of the failing European project and with it, his hopes of leaving a worthwhile legacy of social reform. If he is remembered at all, it will be as a Prime Minister who failed, and the socially excluded and most vulnerable in particular will have to suffer the consequences of his failure for many years afterwards.