Re-booting our political system

By Niall Warry, Director of The Harrogate Agenda

In a recent post-mortem on the EU referendum on BBC Radio 4 entitled Two Rooms, remainers from Brixton and leavers from Boston shared their thoughts on the vote and its aftermath. There were obviously differences of opinion, but one common aspiration for both groups was to take advantage of the opening provided by Brexit to bring power closer to the people.

The Harrogate Agenda (THA) was founded in 2012 for precisely this purpose and on Saturday 1st October seven established and eight new supporters met in Warwick, in a workshop environment, to discuss the ‘Way Ahead’.  A few months ago, The Harrogate Agenda became involved, with full consent of our supporters, in the referendum campaign and along with the Campaign for an Independent Britain and several other groups, we became part of The Leave Alliance (TLA) which supported and promoted Dr Richard North’s Flexcit plan to leave the EU.

The Harrogate Agenda (THA) has six demands which, when enacted, will revolutionise the way we are governed in this country. These demands all evolve from the principle that ‘we the people’ must be recognised as sovereign. It is essential that our six demands are met to ensure we will remain outside the EU once we finally leave. At the moment, there is nothing stopping any future government taking us back in, without even consulting us. This is because sovereignty – or power – currently resides in Parliament. This makes a travesty of the claim that we currently live in a democracy, for demos means ‘people’ and kratos ‘power’. Without demos these is no democracy, but people without power is not democracy either.

The origins and location of sovereignty are rarely understood fully. In the beginning, people had power in their own hands but over time this power was eroded by sovereign monarchs whose decrees were absolute. Later, in this country, sovereignty was wrestled from the monarch to Parliament where it resides to this day.

The past and present incumbents in Westminster feel that the criteria for democracy are met because at General Elections power is temporarily handed back to ‘us’ to vote in the next government. However, our politicians conveniently overlook that they promise us the earth before an election and then happily ignore us once in power. We have little scope to hold them to account. In other words, our supposed “Representative Democracy” is a sham. The referendum result, where we voted against our government and the leaders of the Labour, SNP and Lib Dem parties, shows why things must change, with the recognition that sovereignty – and thus power – ultimately resides with ‘us’ the people. Our twenty-nine-page pamphlet which you can request from our website here explains how we believe this would work out in practise.

Our workshop last Saturday confirmed the importance of communicating our message on two established and one new fronts. First, there is the ‘bottom up’ approach consisting of any one of many possible types of meeting that can be set up at a local level. These range from organising a meeting with your own MP to giving a talk at schools or even organising meetings in village halls and similar venues. The second way of spreading the word is via the internet, including our new Blogspot, which can be accessed from our website. Also covered under this heading is the use of Social Media, especially Twitter. Third and lastly we considered the importance of working from the ‘top down’ which is currently an area that we had not previously considered. It is now our intention to create a think tank to explore the whole area of political power. This sounds ambitious and we are under no illusions that working from the ‘top down’ will take us a few years to become established and thus recognised. In the meantime, we will continue to develop our bottom up approach, using grassroots activists and the Internet to promote our cause.

So if anyone shares our desire to re-boot our country’s political system and see real power returned to the people, please get in touch with us here.

 

Mrs May keeps us guessing

It would have been a futile exercise to report every twist and turn in the recent debate about “hard” and “soft” Brexit. Far better to wait and see what Mrs May and her collegaues actually plan to do.

Yesterday, we were given some inkling as to her future plans, although it didn’t amount to as much detail as many would have liked.

There were, however, some encouragements in other areas. She made it quite clear that there was to be no second referendum and that those who wanted to challenge the result needed to wake up and smell the coffee:- “But come on.  The referendum result was clear.  It was legitimate.  It was the biggest vote for change this country has ever known.  Brexit means Brexit – and we’re going to make a success of it.”

This has been one of Mrs May’s stock phrases since taking office.  Yesterday, we came a little nearer to knowing what it actually meant. “There will be no unnecessary delays in invoking Article 50.  We will invoke it when we are ready.  And we will be ready soon.  We will invoke Article 50 no later than the end of March next year.” Fair enough. This is a confirmation of what had widely been expected. Thankfully, business will have less than six more months of uncertainty, for as well as a date being set, it is looks likely that by then, our exit route will have been determined.

But what will that route be? We were told what it would not be:- “It is not going to a “Norway model”. It’s not going to be a “Switzerland model”.  It is going to be an agreement between an independent, sovereign United Kingdom and the European Union.” Furthermore, alongside repealing the 1972 Accession Treaty, she intends to convert the Acquis into UK law when the Article 50 period is complete, so the WTO route looks to be off the table too.

So what does that leave us with? How is she planning to square the circle between trade and immigration control? There was not a great deal of detail:- “I know some people ask about the “trade-off” between controlling immigration and trading with Europe.  But that is the wrong way of looking at things.  We have voted to leave the European Union and become a fully-independent, sovereign country.  We will do what independent, sovereign countries do.  We will decide for ourselves how we control immigration. And we will be free to pass our own laws.”

On the one hand, she was quite clear that some restriction of freedom of movement will have to be part of any deal:- “We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration again” yet at the same time she insisted, “I want it to give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate in the Single Market – and let European businesses do the same here.

Still a bit opaque. The Liechtenstein compromise would fit all the criteria she listed. Another possibility would be the Australian model. In 1997, Australia’s government signed a joint declaration on EU-Australian relations, followed two years later by a Mutual Recognition Agreement. The UK could do likewise, or make a unilateral declaration, up to and including a commitment to full regulatory harmonisation. There don’t seem to be many other choices.

Mrs May is deliberately not giving too much away on the negotiating tactics, but she didn’t mince her words about the irreconcilable Remainiacs:- “When it legislated to establish the referendum, Parliament put the decision to leave or remain inside the EU in the hands of the people.  And the people gave their answer with emphatic clarity.  So now it is up to the Government not to question, quibble or backslide on what we have been instructed to do, but to get on with the job.

Because those people who argue that Article Fifty can only be triggered after agreement in both Houses of Parliament are not standing up for democracy, they’re trying to subvert it.  They’re not trying to get Brexit right, they’re trying to kill it by delaying it.  They are insulting the intelligence of the British people.”

In summary,  there were some good things in the speech and not a lot to cause major concern, although Richard North takes the PM to task for claiming we would make our own decisions about how our food is labelled, as those regulations originate with the World Trade Organisation, to which (presumably) she would still wish us to belong. That apart, it was a speech which certainly did not deserve the put-down in the Daily Mirror, suggesting that Mrs May was a prisoner of “ideological Tories who get out of bed every morning to wind back the clock to a bygone age.”  Such garbage is typical of those people who do not accept that it is the EU which is a relic of a bygone age. On the contrary, Mrs May wasn’t anyone’s prisoner. She was spelling out her own positive vision for our future in that speech. The Sun called her a “capable PM we  can be proud of.”  Well, she is continuing to wn over the doubters and  you could sense her genuine enthusiasm as she talked about her “ambitious vision” for post-Brexit UK and it’s good that she isn’t letting herself be rushed, but a little bit more detail about how we  are going to get there would be welcome.  Hopefully , we won’t have too long to wait.

Europhiles for a sovereign Parliament?

The Devil, we are told, can appear as an angel of light and keen Europhiles can masquerade as sturdy defenders of parliamentary sovereignty when it suits them.  Twice during the campaign, I heard senior Europhiles deplore the referendum for detracting from parliamentary sovereignty.  They said  that this sovereignty was a guarantee that the EU could never become the superstate which independence supporters feared.   As soon as such a danger became apparent, Parliament could repeal the European Communities Act 1972. All our groundless fears would be dispersed, they said.  But, of course, the EU would never become the superstate because of this unused reserve of parliamentary power. Whether this was simply calculated deceit of others or whether it was  genuine belief arising from self-deception, it was and is massive deceit on a Luciferian scale.

On July 11th 2014, CIB held an all day workshop in Derby on the  orderly exit of the UK from the political structure of the EU and the seamless continuation of trade relations through the existing structures of the European Economic Area and EFTA. It was a well attended meeting which included the late Peter Troy’s film The Norway Option and  presentations by Robert Oulds, Director of the Bruges Group and by John Harrison, an award-winning accountant, treasurer of CIB.

The editor of the Derby Telegraph gave it a generous amount of column space. This occasioned a response from a Mr Guy Dickenson who said that no such planning was necessary because Parliament could get us out “in the twinkling of an eye” by repealing the European Communities Act and that no further economic agreements with EU countries would be necessary.  He failed to make it clear that all laws passed under the European Communities Act would have to be kept in force for later amendment or repeal. Such was the second Act passed by the newly independent Irish Parliament in 1922 which retained all the laws from Acts of the British Parliament. Otherwise there would have been a legal vacuum.

I responded –

“Against all the evidence Guy Dickenson appears to believe that leaving the EU is simple. This completely overlooks the international complexities. For over forty years the British government has abdicated all of its most important functions to the EU in matters of trade.

Take but one example – the legal framework within which our aeroplanes fly between different countries,have access to their air space and use of their landing and airport facilities. This is now conducted under EU Regulation (EC) 847/2004 – something which required the amendment of around 1500 treaties between EU countries and other countries, as well as some 45  so-called “horizontal agreements” negotiated by the EU itself.

Unless all these agreements were renegotiated before Britain left the EU, British aircraft abroad and foreign aircraft flying to our airspace would be legally grounded the moment we left. There are certainly hundreds of other similarly complex agreements.

There are ways of doing this quite quickly as part of an “off the peg” package deal but it is not a simple matter…..”

Now (12th September 2016), the Europhile Mr. Dickenson has popped up again

“….the EU Referendum was neither illegal nor undemocratic  – but it did not amount to decision-taking.

Constitutional decisions are made by Parliament with absolute authority. Considering the slenderness of the Brexit majority, it might be thought that there ought not to be any irrevocable decision but options should be kept open.

In our jurisdiction the EU exercises power delegated to it by Parliament. Parliament can repeal any of its decisions, so there is no question of its sovereignty being at stake…..”

My reply, at some length, included the following

“.…it is not surprising to see Guy Dickenson appealing with breathtaking deceitfulness to the principle of parliamentary democracy in order to destroy it by continued subjection to the increasingly dominant, alien power of the EU…..

….The Foreign Office advised the government in 1971 (Ref FCO 30/1048) that parliament would retain the theoretical power to leave but, after thirty years of membership (even under the lesser powers of the then EEC in 1971), it would be increasingly impracticable to exercise it.  In 1971 the British Parliament still had the theoretical power to resume sovereignty over Canada but only passed Canadian legislation under the British North America Acts at the request of the Canadian government. It had the formal power to do otherwise but knew that, in reality, it could not.

In 1982 the British and Canadian parliaments passed the Canadian Constitution Act which definitively transferred sovereignty to Canada. Now Mrs May says that “Brexit means Brexit” and there will be a British Constitution Act (whatever it is called) – taking back to ourselves the power to decide our own future – in reality as well as in theory.

Rather like the Canadians, we will leave behind our colonial status in the EU project and resume the normal relationship of a sovereign good neighbour with European countries.

The Devil is also in the detail and the independence movement has never been very good at detail.  It has always produced stirring, broad brush pictures where “Britannia waives the rules” and our European and world trading partners obligingly conform to our requirements. We have been so taken up with our own constitutional concerns, as to overlook the revolution in the way in which global and not just European trade is now regulated.  No longer are customs tariffs the main problem. Providing assured, recognised, international  quality standards for the protection of human, animal and plant health and safety has become far more important. A country might have “access” to the EU market but unless its products were covered by a mutual recognition agreement, its trade would be so hampered as to be impracticable.  Every container would have to be inspected – a process which can take four hours – and in many cases be detained until safety tests were complete.  Queues of container lorries would stack up for hundreds of miles!  This is the reality of the undiluted World Trade Organisation  option.

The pills you collect from the pharmacy are subject to a whole sequence of safeguards. The efficacy of the medicine is proven in exhaustive trials,  the factory is inspected to a high standard,  the manufacturing process checked and the medicine tested for conformity with the formula. The packaging carries product and manufacturing labelling, identifying all this and the supply chain is controlled so that counterfeits cannot be introduced.  So whilst your pills may come from a different country each time, their efficacy remains the same. 

If, as some  suggest, we “rescind the treaties” or “repeal the European Communities Act”, then our status within the international legal basis of this certification no longer exists. So every “I” will need to be dotted and every “T” crossed before we do any such thing. The dangers to our own public health as well as to our European and other customers are simply too great to do otherwise.  To complete the Brexit negotiation in a time frame of just a few years, there simply has to be an “off the peg” or package deal of some sort. There is just not time to negotiate in detail on a case by case basis.

So far, the only scheme offered which fully covers these requirements is the EEA/EFTA option.  It was not until the onset of “Operation Fear” that I realised that Mr. Dickenson was egging on independence campaigners to advocate a  course of action which could be shown as bringing about exactly the chaos and disruption which the Europhiles threatened.  

In my long experience, the European Movement has always been good at setting up straw men to knock them down. He was, taking this a stage further , hoping to provoke unwise  independence campaigners to do the setting up for them by demanding unrealistic premature repeal of the European Communities Act or abrogation of the treaties.  

It is desirable that pressure should be kept on ministers to deliver the best possible BREXIT deal with all convenient despatch. It is understandable that parliamentarians, who have had to bite their tongues for years whilst supporting party and government committed to EU membership, should show some exuberance in demonstrating their opinions of the EU. But the statesmen and diplomats negotiating the deal will have to work within  the regulatory realities of today’s global market, of which the EU and other Regional Trade Agreements and procedures are a part.”

(see also http://campaignforanindependentbritain.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Monographs-1-5.pdf

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And on a lighter note –

WINNIE THE POOH will be joined this autumn by a new character, a penguin….

…though the mythic Hefalump has been replaced by another animal for Pooh to hunt: The Brexit.

“Tigger is very excited”, explains Pooh to Piglet, “but Eeyore says it’s probably dreadful. I think it might be invisible because Christopher Robin says that no one knows what it looks like. But Brexit most certainly is Brexit. That’s for sure”.   –  Sunday Telegraph 18 September

Cern – “ greatest discovery yet”

Scientists at the Cern laboratory in Switzerland believe the Hadron Collider has detected traces of a coherent plan for UK Brexit.

“If this is true, it surely is the discovery of the century . One that puts finding the Higgs boson totally in the shade. This is massive,” said one leading scientist.

“People have long theorised that a coherent plan for the UK exiting Europe could theoretically exist, but to have found proof of its existence now is something that no one expected”.

Other scientists were quick to urge caution, saying the supposed trace of a Brexit plan detected was so minuscule it would be ten years before they knew for sure what it was. Their official statement reads “It is too soon to say that we have discovered Particle 50.” – Private Eye no 1427,  16 September

 

Patriotism and freedom – A libertarian defence of national sovereignty

Philip vander Elst, a writer and former editor of Freedom Today, has recently produced this excellent and thought-provoking study which refutes any idea that patriotism is only appropriate for people looking back to the past. There is nothing selfish or bigoted about loving our country and its institutions.

It is a lust for power, not the existence of nation states which causes wars. Indeed, “national sovereignty and loyalty to the nation-state is one of the essential pillars of a free and peaceful international order.”

The author goes on to tackle the complex issue of immigraton and argues that “there is a strong and principled moral and libertarian case for acknowledging the right of individual countries to control their borders and the flow of migrants seeking to cross them.” In other words, a desire to restrict immigration is not necessarily racist.

The final point in the essay is that freedom is more compatible with a sovereign, democratic nation rather than a situation where people “are imprisoned within a world of monopolistic supranational regional power blocs, or worst of all, some monopolistic system of global government.”

In summary, an excellent rebuttal of the ideals of the European Project whose ideals still remain intact in the minds of some of its key players, including Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission.

It also offers a useful starting-point in trying to de-programme our young people, many of whom have had little exposure to the very valid arguments against the European Union.

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.