Brexit: what we want and what we might get

The last week has seen the publication of a number of positions papers by the Department for Exiting the European Union, covering issues ranging from trade and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice through to the Irish border. You will find articles which review each position paper on the website.

Of course, what the UK government wants and what the EU will agree to may not be the same thing. Indeed,  at least one commentator is claiming that the position papers do not yet reflect a final government position but are but one side of “an internal debate within the Conservative Party.”

But what do UK voters want from Brexit? A survey by the London School of Economics and Oxford University asked more than 3,000 people for their thoughts – including both leave and remain voters.

The most interesting finding is the unity between remain and leave voters on a number of issues. Barely one third of those surveyed are keen on single market membership, ongoing EU payments, free movement and the jurisdiction of the ECJ once we leave. Significantly, this majority includes a number of remain voters.

Although there is widespread support for a free trade agreement with the EU (88%), 69% want customs checks introduced at the borders – some what contradictory stances!

What is more significant is that this survey offers little support for hard-core remoaners and remainiacs  who wish to stall Brexit. The referendum is now behind us; the majority of the population has accepted the result and wants to see the government make the most of the opportunity leaving the EU provides.

What sort of deal we will get, of course, is another issue. Analysis of the position papers published so far  do not give us any sort of detail about how deals on many areas are going to be concluded. We have seen what amounts to a UK wish list which the EU may well decide to refuse.

Still, amidst all the concerns about the lack of progress by the Department for Exiting the European Union, one good piece of news appeared today. Net migration (immigrants minus emigrants) has fallen by 81,000 from 327,000 to 246,000 in the year to March.  The number of EU nationals coming to the UK fell while over 33,000 more additional EU nationals left the country, including an extra 17,000 from the so-called EU8, the former Soviet bloc countries who joined the EU in 2004. 246,000 immigrants still equates to a city the size of Hull or Plymouth and is well above the Conservatives’ net migration target of under 100,000. This drop is nonetheless welcome. Many individual factors no doubt contributed to it, but Brexit would indisputably have been one of the reasons. Given that one  of the reason for the Brexit vote was a desire to end free movement and thus bring immigration down, it is encouraging to see that it has already had a benign effect – and without the Government even doing anything!

Photo by dullhunk

Where does Sturgeon go now Corbyn says Brexit means Brexit?

This piece by Brian Monteith of Global Britain originally appeared in the Scotsman and is used with  permission.

The Labour leader, from his new position of strength, is revealing his true Trotskyist approach on Europe, writes Brian Monteith

It was not just the Queen’s Speech that passed last week – the greater battle of the day was on a different field altogether – it was hard Brexit against soft Brexit, and it was hard Brexit that won resoundingly. The margin of 322 against 101 was larger than even that of the vote to invoke Article 50, despite Theresa May losing her overall majority, so what have we just witnessed, what is going on?

Thursday’s vote was not just a victory for May’s proposals on how to achieve Brexit, already laid out in her Government’s White Paper, but a resounding show of strength by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who afterwards dismissed three shadow ministers who dared to break his whipping for an abstention by voting for a soft Brexit. This is a new Corbyn, a hard Corbyn willing to deliver a hard Brexit. Clearly emboldened by his comparative success in the General Election (even though he lost more seats than Callaghan or Kinnock, who both resigned as a result), Corbyn is now revealing his true self – the blood-red socialist against the EU corporate state.

Corbyn’s past shows him as a man who voted as regularly against the empowerment of the EU to the cost of the UK’s sovereignty as any Tory Eurosceptic rebel. His reasoning was different, however, believing that the development of an EU superstate would enshrine open-season capitalism behind a high customs union wall that would diminish trade with the poor of the world. The trade unions would be emasculated and British workers would be impoverished as millions who could not find work in the African states denied tariff-free access to the single market would instead supply a steady flow of cheaper immigrant labour.

At so many levels – be it the EU’s privileged elite against the masses, those inside the single market against those outside it or those in the euro against those outside it, the EU is indeed a heady political cocktail designed for the few rather than the many.

Unfortunately for Corbyn, his election as leader of his party by its members and trade unions left him at the mercy of the overwhelming majority of the parliamentary Labour Party that supported the European project with an unalloyed devotion. His first act was to ditch his Euroscepticism and play for time, so he could gain strength. Hence his tussles with his former shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn. (Ironically it was Corbyn that better represented the views of Tony Benn on the EU than his son Hilary.)

The General Election has changed all of that. Now the majority of Labour MPs doff their cap to their leader, believing he has rejuvenated his party and may yet one day lead them to victory. And now from this position of strength, and with a manifesto that to all intents and purposes mirrored the Tory approach towards a so-called hard Brexit, Corbyn is able to drop his mask of europhilia and reveal his true Trotskyist approach by 
challenging once more the EU corporatist state.

Make no mistake, what this metamorphism means is that the UK is leaving the EU – and it will be Corbyn who will help the Tories do it.

Where does this leave Nicola Sturgeon when a hard Brexit is delivered? By that I mean the UK being outside the single market and customs union, with all immigrants from around the world treated equally, denying the special treatment given to people from the EU.

In Sturgeon’s own mind a hard Brexit might provide a fresh pretext for her to push once more for Indyref2 – but paradoxically it also makes the case for independence that much more difficult to win.

For an independent Scotland outside the UK but aiming to be back in the EU, a hard Brexit must mean a hard divorce with the UK, resulting in a hard border and, of course, giving up our fishing grounds that will have only just been won back.

While the newly liberated UK will be free to decide its own economic future, striking advantageous trade deals with the likes of India, China and the US (three of more than 30 already being considered) Scotland would be tied to the slowest growing economic region in the world and bound by all its growing regulation. In addition, by 2020 the EU budget will grow by more than 15 billion euros and plug the black hole of 10bn euros caused by losing the UK’s annual payment. Scotland would have to bear its share of the existing EU budget plus this additional 25bn euros.

Even a Scotland in the European Economic Area will not soften the blow. It would be like moving from the bridge to be shovelling coal in the boiler room.

Sturgeon’s Scotland will be just like Norway (in the EEA) or Poland (in the EU) – both sitting next to Russia, with border posts, different currencies and the possibility of a tariff wall – only the barriers will be between England and Scotland.

Where also does this leave the EU negotiators when they can see a more united House of Commons than even on the vote to invoke 
Article 50? Do they climb down on some of their more perverse claims? The signs are that they are already retreating on the demand for the European Court of Justice to have jurisdiction over EU citizens in the UK.

And if they do climb down and a deal is struck, where again does that leave Sturgeon? Would a softer Brexit not neutralise any pretext for a second Indyref? Will the Scottish public not ask: “Seriously, what is the problem?”

The votes on Thursday were probably missed by most people who are only given the glibbest of reports by our broadcast news, but they were momentous and have changed the nature of the Brexit debate substantially. It appears May did not need a stronger majority to deliver Brexit after all – it was Corbyn who has benefited and it is Corbyn who looks like making Brexit mean Brexit.

 

Photo by Ninian Reid

Reflections one year on Part 2: Re-kindling the radicalism of Brexit?

He’s almost old enough to be their grandfather. He’s hardly a charismatic speaker and by all accounts, something of a political anorak who isn’t very good at small talk. Yet the young people seem to love him, treating him to a hero’s welcome when he addressed the Glastonbury festival. How does he do it? What is the secret behind the Corbyn phenomenon?

The answer is that he epitomises the revolt against the “establishment” which has been such a feature of recent politics in a number of countries. A serial rebel against his own party who doesn’t have a posh voice, he chose to spent two years abroad doing voluntary service overseas during his late teens and didn’t read PPE at Oxford. He has never worked in a bank or in the City of London. He is also a vegetarian and doesn’t own a car. In summary, he is the absolute antithesis of a “Tory Toff”, although a quick glance at his wikipedia entry indicates that he was privately educated for a few years before moving on to his local grammar school in Shropshire.

Given the idealism and anti-establishment sentiment of many young people, it is perhaps unsurprising that Jeremy Corbyn has become something of a cult figure and role model – a man who has not let success compromise his radical principles.

Now I’m painting a very one-sided picture of the leader of Her Majesty’s opposition, with good reason. We need to ask why so many young people so enamoured with this anti-establishment figure when a year ago, so many of them shunned the biggest grassroots anti-establishment campaign of our lifetimes.

People will give you all manner of reasons for voting to leave the EU, but undergirding most of them was this same anti-establishment spirit. Is there anyone more “establishment” than  Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission? If politicians like David Cameron, with his aristocratic, privileged background, are widely despised for being remote and out of touch with normal people, how much more the MEPs and bureaucrats living their cosseted lives in the Quartier Européen in Brussels?

Goldman Sachs was a substantial donor to the Remain campaign and Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England also supported staying in, along with the voice of big business, the CBI. In other words, the financial “establishment” so despised by the young – and indeed, the not-so-young on the radical left – were campaigning for the same result as their fiercest critics.

The victory we won a year ago was truly a popular revolution. While we had some “establishment” figures on our side like Boris Johnson (You can’t get more “establishment” than Eton and Balliol College, Oxford!), the real credit belongs to the thousands of ordinary men and women who tramped the streets distributing leaflets, organised meetings in village halls, set up stalls in high streets  and won round their friends and relatives in conversations down at the pub or sitting round the coffee table. A handful of hard-working fishermen made a laughing stock of pop star-turned-establishment figure Bob Geldof when they sailed their boats up the Thames to the Houses of Parliament.

Yet, for all this, the images of victory which appeared in the press on June 24th were dominated by older people. One abiding memory was to hear an aged World War II veteran say ecstatically, “I’ve got my country back”, as tears ran down his cheeks. By contrast, the published pictures of despondent remainers predominantly featured the young – with the cameraman’s focus almost inevitably drawn to a group of very pretty girls!

While it was a victory over a class of people widely despised many of today’s young people, they themselves saw the Brexit vote as their future being stolen from them by their parents’ and grandparents’ generation, with their outmoded ideas and mindset.

If we are to change the mindsets of our young people, the Brexit vote therefore needs to be painted in its true colours. We fought the establishment and won. We were the underdogs. We were (and still are) representing ordinary people and fighting against substantial vested interest. Just look at the sort of people who are trying to derail Brexit – Gina Miller the investment manager,  Michael Young, the new interim CEO of the European Movement – a former senior executive of the British mining finance house and Westminster insider plus, no doubt lurking somewhere in the background is the sinister figure of Tony Blair, a man despised even more by the Corbynite left in his own party than by centre right.

I can remember lying awake at night during the Blair years shortly after being converted to the withdrawalist cause. The means of my conversion was being handed a printout of an article by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, which explained that the EU was actually financed by US spy chiefs. I was worried. If our EU membership was a collusion between the UK government and the shadowy American CIA, where was my opposition to Brussels going to lead me? Prison? A mysterious disappearance? Obviously, in hindsight, my concerns were considerably overblown, but it does underline the point that I and many other supporters of withdrawal felt ourselves to be engaged in nothing less than a revolutionary campaign against a powerful élite determined to pursue its agenda come what may.

Will the Corbyn bubble burst? Predictions to this effect have been doing the rounds ever since he was first elected and have proved wide of the mark, but if our young people do become disillusioned with him, there is another group of radicals that will welcome them on board. We voted to leave the EU to give the country a new future. Certainly for myself, this means a rebooting of our failed democracy and bringing power closer to the people though the introduction of binding referendums, allowing ordinary people not just to petition the government but to shape its direction and hold our widely distrusted elected representatives to account. Can there be any more noble anti-establishment cause than this?

Photo by DavidMartynHunt

Reflections one year on from the referendum

The morning of 24th June is a day I will never ever forget. By 4AM, I had given up any idea of sleep and was watching the results of the referendum on my computer as they were posted up on the BBC website. I had always believed that we could persuade our countrymen that we would be better off out of the EU, but David Cameron had gone for a quick cut-and-run campaign to minimise our chances of success. However, as soon as I saw the relative totals for leave and remain, my heart leapt. We’re going to pull this off after all! Less than two hours later, the number of leave votes passed the crucial 50% mark. “We’ve done it! We’ve done it, We’ve done it!” I shouted at the top of my voice. It was not yet 6AM and normally I would be much more considerate towards my neighbours, but after sixteen years of campaigning for our country to leave the EU, my overwhelming feelings of joy momentarily got the better of me.

Thankfully, my neighbours have never complained. Perhaps they are sound sleepers. Perhaps the soundproofing of our late Victorian semi is better than I thought. Whatever, I don’t think I will be giving a repeat performance!

I spent much of the rest of the day in a daze. We’re really going to leave! It was hard to take it in. This was the greatest day in our country’s history since the end of the Second World War and I felt a great sense of pride in having played a part, albeit only a very small one, in achieving this memorable result.

One year on from that incredible day, the memories are still fresh in my mind, as I’m sure they are in the minds of many other leave campaigners, but in the meantime, what a roller-coaster we have endured!  There was the court case brought by Gina Miller, the uncertainly about whether Mrs May’s European Union (notification of withdrawal) bill would make it unscathed through both houses of Parliament, the sense of relief when Article 50 was finally triggered in March as the Prime Minister had promised, the reluctance of the economy to tank in spite of the predictions of George Osborne’s “Project Fear” and most recently, the shambolic General Election which was meant to increase the Government’s majority but instead left the Tories turning to the DUP in order to maintain any sort of hold on power.

In spite of the chaos, the Brexit negotiations have started and we are still on course to heave the EU in just over 21 months’ time. Media reporting seems to have plumbed new depths since the election results were announced and it has been hard to distinguish the wood from the trees. Terms like “hard” and “soft” Brexit are bandied around often without any explanation, leading some concerned leave supporters to equate “soft “Brexit” with  not actually leaving the EU at all.

From what I can gather after reading complete articles, including actual quotes, rather than just the headlines, there are very few politicians who actually want to stop Brexit. Many more are concerned about the implications for UK businesses if we don’t end up with a decent trading arrangement. Such concerns are actually quite reasonable and do not in any way imply that they want us to stay in the EU.  Soundings from Parliament after last June’s vote indicated that the overwhelming majority of MPs accepted the result and would not wish to frustrate the will of the people. The General Election has not significantly altered this.

Of course, with David Cameron not having made any preparation for our voting to leave, the government and civil service are on a sharp learning curve and we still await evidence that they have got on top of the brief which the electorate gave them a year ago. Our biggest concern must surely be a chaotic – or more likely sub-standard – Brexit rather than no Brexit at all.

The main reason why I remain confident that Brexit will happen in some form or other  lies in the nature of the Conservative Party. The Tories were given a nasty shock two weeks ago. They went into the campaign expecting to flatten Labour. Instead, they only just limped over the finishing line. Most Tory MPs voted to remain last year, but the vast majority of the party’s activists and supporters are strong leavers. The Tories  hoovered up quite a few UKIP votes on a platform of leading us out of the EU. Given these issues, any backtrack on Brexit would precipitate the worst crisis the party has faced since 1846 when it split down the middle over the repeal of the Corn Laws. They dare not go there.

What is more, the party will be keen to renew itself well before the next General Election in 2022. While removing Mrs May now would only add to the sense of  chaos which has prevailed since the General Election, it is hard to imagine she will still be in power in March 2019, perhaps not even in March 2018. If the party is seeking a dynamic new leader to revive its fortunes, given the ultimate say will lie with its predominantly Thatcherite Eurosceptic activists,  Mrs May’ successor is likely to be an MP with proven Brexiteer credentials.  The party faithful will not make the mistake of choosing another Cameron.

This will not make his (or her) task any easier, but still gives me hope that in March 2019, that historic vote which brought us so much joy a year ago will be translated into reality and we will finally achieve that goal for which so many of us have been striving for so long.

People Power

The word “democracy” means literally “rule of the people” – or perhaps more loosely, “people power”. Those of us old enough to remember the 1970s comedy Citizen Smith will recall that the favourite rallying cry of “Wolfie” Smith,  the young Marxist who modelled himself on Che Guevara and was the self-proclaimed leader of the revolutionary Tooting Popular Front, was “Power to the People!”

Wherever Wolfie’s beloved Marxism has taken power, however, the net result has been anything but power to the people. Indeed, the country where ordinary people really have the greatest power, Switzerland, has been for many years at the very bottom of the league of potential Marxist revolutionary hotspots.

Your author is an unashamed fan of Switzerland’s political system – its decentralisation and above all, its use of binding referendums to step in where the country’s elected representatives fall short, thus clipping the wings of excessively ambitious politicians. No fear of a Tony Blair ever becoming Prime Minister in this bastion of Alpine tranquility.

Why, oh why, has this well-run country not thus far inspired other lands to learn from its example – especially given that mistrust of politicians is so widespread  – and not just in the UK?

In Germany, admittedly, referendums have a bad name because of Hitler’s misuse of them, intimidating voters and rigging the ballot in a 1934 plebiscite which granted him supreme power. However, this is like saying that all cars are a bad thing because some lunatic caused a motorway pile-up by crashing on the M4 at 120mph.

In this country, we haven’t held referendums in this country until recently and some people don’t like them because they are not part of our historical settlement. Clement Attlee, the Labour Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951, once said, “I could not consent to the introduction into our national life of a device so alien to all our traditions as the referendum.”

Things are very different now, however. In 1945, politicians were not treated with contempt nor regarded with anything like the same degree of mistrust as they are today. It’s time for a re-think on how we are governed and as part of this process, the role of the referendum has to be given careful consideration. It may not have been historically part of our political system, but attitudes do change over the years – after all, representative democracy, which we now take for granted, didn’t have a particularly good press as recently as the 19th Century. The historian Thomas Carlyle believed that democracy was incapable of addressing the problems of poverty and a benign dictatorship was the only answer.

What is more, recent referendums, including both the Scottish independence vote in 2014 and last June’s Brexit vote, have generated not only a renewed interest in politics but a desire to have a say in shaping the future direction of our country.

At the moment, all we, the general public, can do is highlight issues of concern, either by writing letters to candidates or addressing questions to them in public meetings. It has been particularly striking how many campaign groups have been providing guidelines for questioning candidates on the particular topics of concern to them, be it freedom, the environment, development on the Green Belt, hunting or whatever. We in CIB have been producing questionnaires on the subject of fisheries and civil liberties – two of our particular concerns.

Pressure does make a difference. We have recently seen the Conservatives climb down on the so-called “dementia tax” because it was so clearly going to be a vote loser. However, once we get to 8th June, our influence on the political process diminishes dramatically. Whatever the victorious party has or has not included in its manifesto, there is very little we can do hold it to account and stop it breaking its promises once it is in power. We can’t kick out MPs who are not up to scratch, so we’re stuck with them until the next General Election.

This is very unsatisfactory. After all, these MPs are elected as our representatives. We pay their salaries and what is more, after March 2019, they can no longer hide behind the excuse that such and such a course of action is not  possible because of our membership of the European Union.

It is impractical totally to replace representative democracy with direct democracy (i.e., referendums). Ancient Athens operated for a while as a direct democracy, but it was only possible because the franchise was confined to Athenian citizens who could spend quite a bit of time voting while the slave population kept the place ticking over. However, in the internet age, direct democracy has never been easier and Switzerland is proof that introducing a measure of direct democracy, far from being unworkable, destabilising or untenable without large numbers of slaves, results in a free and prosperous country.

Different people had different reason for voting to leave the EU. For me, not only was it a desire to rid my country of control from Brussels; it was the possibilities for change once this was achieved – including a much-needed reboot of the whole process of government in this country, bringing power closer to the people.

Of course, we’ve got to get out of the EU first and then we’ve got to elect politicians who are happy to do less and let us – the people – do more, but as a nation, for much of our history we have been up with the front runners when it comes to freedom and calling our rulers to account. Having slammed into reverse gear in 1973, we have a lot of ground to catch up. The federal Swiss model may not be appropriate in every detail for the UK, but it provides a good starting point for giving much more “power to the people” – in other words, capitalising on the renewed interest in shaping our political future which Brexit has created.

Photo by Wagner T. Cassimiro “Aranha”

What if we had lost?

It’s now over 10 months since the referendum. After the initial euphoria at the result, we enjoyed a brief and well-deserved break before plunging in to the next campaign – ensuring that we end up with the best Brexit deal possible. With Article 50 now triggered, however, the negotiations about to begin in earnest and memories of the referendum itself beginning to fade, it’s easy to forget how hard we had to work to achieve last June’s result.

Suppose, however, that it we had lost.

David Cameron had spelt out in no uncertain terms that this referendum, like Scotland’s vote in 2014, was a “once in a generation” decision. Admittedly, Nicola Sturgeon is straining every nerve to try to engineer a second vote on Scottish independence, but given that it was 41 years since our previous referendum on EU membership, we all knew that if our countrymen had voted to remain in the EU last June, we would have faced many more years of campaigning before a third vote would ever become even a remote possibility.

But just suppose a further vote had eventually been held in, say, 2025, what sort of state would our country – or indeed, the EU – be in by then?

We know that there was a great deal of unease on the Continent following the Conservatives’ 2015 General Election victory, which meant Cameron was going to have to make good his promise to hold the referendum. Laurent Fabius, France’s Foreign Minister, called his pledge “dangerous”. Until last June, Cameron had been described as a “lucky” Prime Minister, winning the 2015 General Election when many pollsters were predicting a hung parliament and securing the results he wanted in both the AV and Scottish independence referendums. Perhaps his track record helped calm nerves in Brussels and Berlin. After all, if remain had won, the implications for the EU would have been enormous.

A vote by the most consistently eurosceptic member state to remain in the EU would have been a green light for a further push towards federalism. Such a move may have initially been focussed on the Eurozone, especially given the victory of the enthusiastic federalist Emmanuel Macron in last Sunday’s French Presidential Election, but we would have inevitably found ourselves swept along in the federalist slipstream. Furthermore, even if voters in other EU member states voted the “wrong” way in any subsequent plebiscites, the EU could have pressed on confident that opposition could be muzzled. If even the truculent UK ultimately had decided to submit to the yoke of Brussels, the EU would have felt emboldened in the pursuit of its objective of creating a superstate. To put it another way, all 28 member states would have themselves been locked into an EU where the Jean-Claude Juncker mindset would have reigned unchallenged. “’If it’s a Yes we will say “on we go”, and if it’s a No we will say “we continue””, he famously said.

Now, however, there will be much nail-biting whenever a new treaty is put to a popular vote. The Brexit vote has shown that electorates are happy to defy a powerful combination of their own political leaders, businessmen and senior figures from both Europe and the wider world. The results of the Dutch general and French presidential elections may have been greeted with huge sighs of relief in Brussels, but it is worth remembering that in the first round of the French elections, 46% of voters opted for an EU-critical candidate. Macron’s victory does not imply a renewed love for the EU in France.

A remain vote would have bolstered the EU’s credibility in the wider world. It is doubtful whether it would have altered the course of events in Turkey, where accession to the EU now looks highly improbable following President Erdogan’s revisions to his country’s Constitution. It would, however, have strengthened the pro-European forces in Norway and Iceland. Maybe even the Swiss would have felt that sooner or later, they would have to join up. Instead, our vote to leave essentially buries the prospect of membership for Western Europe’s non-EU members and also makes the EU a harder sell in the Balkans and the former Soviet republics.

After all, although many of us are aware that one country, Greenland, had earlier left the EEC (as it then was), how many of us can actually remember it happening? It was a pretty minor piece of news at the time whereas the Brexit vote was splashed over front pages across the world, complete with pictures of either Donald Tusk or Angela Merkel looking distinctly gloomy.

The EU was never going to be the same after our referendum, however we voted. Its credibility would either have been boosted or dented.

As for how our country would have been affected by a remain vote, as Rupert Matthews pointed out, defeated leavers would have accepted the result with far more grace than the appalling behaviour we have witnessed from remainiacs like Gina Miller, Richard Branson and Tony Blair. We would have vowed to continue the fight but would not have accused voters in the opposite camp of being stupid. Nor would we have been cry-babies saying that the people didn’t know what they were voting for.

However, within a matter of only a few years, we would have seen much of our remaining distinctiveness gradually eroded. How long would we have been able to remain outside the single currency? How long before our armed services would have been absorbed into an EU army? What of the safeguards of our common law-based criminal justice system, so superior to the Napoleonic inquisitorial system of continental Europe, which the EU eventually would have replaced with a single criminal justice code? Would metrication have been pushed with renewed vigour?

Thankfully, instead of this nightmare scenario, we voted to leave and in so doing, besides the eventual benefits to our own country, we may well have put a big spanner in the works to the whole federalist project, for the good of the whole continent. As William Pitt the younger famously said 200 years ago, “England has saved herself by her exertions and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example.”