Ancient Loyalties

Time to declare a personal interest. I’m a historian and earn a living writing history books – check me out on Amazon – advising TV and film production companies and such like. So I love history. And now I’m going to impose on you a rather sideways look at the Brexit decision.

Looking back at the results, it was striking how the five nations of Britain voted.

England vote Leave, Wales voted Leave, Cornwall voted Leave, Scotland voted Remain, Northern Ireland voted Remain.

Now, this plays into one of my pet theories about Britain and British history. It is widely accepted that the various nations of Britain were fixed in the chaotic and violent years of the Dark Ages that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire. In AD400 the British Isles were divided into Roman-controlled areas south of Hadrian’s Wall, Pictish and Celtic tribes of varied cultures to the north of the Wall and a culturally united, but politically fragmented Ireland. Come the year 600 and all that had changed. The English, Welsh, Irish, Scots and Cornish were [more or less] where they are today.

How all this came about is a matter of bitter dispute among historians. Written sources for the period are slim, while archaeology can tell us only so much.

I have my own theories, of course. I believe that what had once been Roman Britain remained politically united rather more than has generally been thought. While the English flooded in and grabbed most of the land, leaving the Romano-Celts to inhabit Wales and Cornwall, there remained an overarching political authority. The English usurped what had been the Roman authority over all lands south of Hadrian’s Wall. They gave the office of governor their own title of Bretwalda and monopolised it for themselves. Quite what powers this title carried with it have always been rather obscure, as has the process by which it passed from one monarch to the next, but we know that it had a real power of some kind.

Crucially the title covered not just England, but also Wales and Cornwall. By the more settled times of the High Middle Ages, England had become a single kingdom and the King of England sought to exercise this power of the Welsh. That led to long wars and disputes with the Welsh princes, who sought to protect their own powers and rights. Those disputes ended when Wales was integrated into the English system of local and national government.

The point I seek to make is that culturally and politically England and Wales have a lot more in common with each other than either does with the Scots or the Irish. Those links stretch back centuries into the poorly understood Dark Ages, but they are very much alive today when it came to Brexit.

Photo by The British Library

Aspirations, but little detail

The Government’s eagerly-awaited white paper, “The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union” appeared yesterday. It consists of over 70 pages in total, although one or two pages are blank.

It has twelve sections, which are as below:-

1. Providing certainty and clarity – We will provide certainty wherever we can as we approach the negotiations.

2. Taking control of our own laws – We will take control of our own statute book and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the UK.

3. Strengthening the Union – We will secure a deal that works for the entire UK – for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and all parts of England. We remain fully committed to the Belfast Agreement and its successors.

4. Protecting our strong and historic ties with Ireland and maintaining the Common Travel Area – We will work to deliver a practical solution that allows for the maintenance of the Common Travel Area, whilst protecting the integrity of our immigration system and which protects our strong ties with Ireland.

5. Controlling immigration – We will have control over the number of EU nationals coming to the UK.

6. Securing rights for EU nationals in the UK, and UK nationals in the EU – We want to secure the status of EU citizens who are already living in the UK, and that of UK nationals in other Member States, as early as we can.

7. Protecting workers’ rights – We will protect and enhance existing workers’ rights.

8. Ensuring free trade with European markets – We will forge a new strategic partnership with the EU, including a wide reaching, bold and ambitious free trade agreement, and will seek a mutually beneficial new customs agreement with the EU.

9. Securing new trade agreements with other countries – We will forge ambitious free trade relationships across the world.

10. Ensuring the UK remains the best place for science and innovation – We will remain at the vanguard of science and innovation and will seek continued close collaboration with our European partners.

11. Cooperating in the fight against crime and terrorism – We will continue to work with the EU to preserve European security, to fight terrorism, and to uphold justice across Europe.

12. Delivering a smooth, orderly exit from the EU – We will seek a phased process of implementation, in which both the UK and the EU institutions and the remaining EU Member States prepare for the new arrangements that will exist between us.

After reading it through, the abiding impression it creates is that it has identified the key issues we will face in leaving the EU and also sets out in very broad terms what the Government would like a post-Brexit UK to look like. What is missing is the detail, including how we will arrive at the end point.

To take one subject which will be familiar to readers of this website – fishing.  All the White Paper tells us is that “it is in both our interests to reach a mutually beneficial deal that works for the UK and the EU’s fishing communities. Following EU exit, we will want to ensure a sustainable and profitable seafood sector and deliver a cleaner, healthier and more productive marine environment.” There is no detail regarding what is to supersede the Common Fisheries Policy, even though there would be huge problems if it were  repatriated into UK Law.

For instance, Regulation 1380/2013, the most important fisheries regulation, contains numerous mention of “union waters”. On leaving the EU, the waters up to 200 nautical miles from our shoreline (or the median point where we are less than 400 miles from another country’s coasts) will no longer be union waters, so a lot of re-writing would be necessary. Why bother, however, when the CFP and its quota system is so seriously flawed?  We can but hope that by the time negotiations get under way, the Government realises the importance of excluding fisheries legislation from any large-scale repatriation of the EU Acquis into UK law.

The White Paper raises the issue of the EU customs union and our future relationship with it. The Government has been very enthusiastic about wanting to make the most of our freedom to strike our own trade deals but there is very little detail about how it proposes to maintain trade with the EU. “There are a number of options for any new customs arrangement, including a completely new agreement, or for the UK to remain a signatory to some of the elements of the existing arrangements.”

The positive assessment of the UK’s involvement in Ukraine (under Section 11) does not make for happy reading, sadly. Now we are on the way out, it is time to leave the EU to its own empire building and to join President Trump in seeking rapprochement with Russia rather than than continuing foolishly and unnecessarily to antagonise Moscow.

Of course, this white paper has been produced to satisfy demands by MPs to be given some idea about the Government’s Brexit plans. The government has a bit of a tightrope to walk. MPs understandably don’t want to be left in the dark but at the same time, there are good reason for Mrs May and her team keeping their cards close to their chest so as not to give too much away to the people from the EU with whom they must negotiate.

On balance, however, anyone who has been listening to the recent speeches by Mrs May and her Brexit team would have not found much in this document which they did not already know. It defines the important tasks which needs to be addressed and paints a very positive vision of what life will be like once we’re out. How the Government will take us to this point is another matter and we hope more will be revealed soon as it cannot afford to get this wrong.

 

President Trump gives the EU (and other supranational organisations) a health check

During last year’s EU referendum campaign, Michael Gove said “I think the people of this country have had enough of experts.” In full, his words actually were “I think the people of this country have had enough of experts from organisations with acronyms saying that they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong“, but it is the first few words which made the headlines. In one sense, the American electorate showed a similar distrust of “experts” in rejecting Hillary Clinton, the classic political insider, in favour of Donald Trump, the only US president to date who had never previously held political office.

The new incumbent of the White House is thus a fresh pair of eyes and ears, unencumbered by years of working with people who have – at times subconsciously – adopted the accepted wisdom about certain aspects of today’s world order (including the role of certain supranational organisations), without question. He has therefore been able to come in as an outsider and give these organisations a “health check” from a refreshingly different angle. His diagnoses, however, have not been very welcome in some quarters.

Even before his election, his call for other members of NATO to pull their weight caused a few ripples of discontent, but few could dispute his logic- why should the USA continually guarantee the defences of countries who are not prepared to defend themselves? The chart in this article is a damning indictment of the USA’s partners’ stinginess when it comes to their armed forces. Only four other countries, including the UK, met the agreed target of spending 2%  of GDP on defence whereas America spent more than 3.5%.

NATO, however, looks likely to retain President Trump’s support, in spite of his description of it as “obsolete”.  What does appear obsolete is the “liberal interventionism” beloved of Tony Blair, which moved the goalposts of NATO’s original objectives and turned it into an aggressive force in the Balkans. for instance. Last week, in her speech to the Republican Party’s congress in Philadelphia, Mrs May received solid support for saying “the days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over.”   NATO needs a re-boot, but looks like it still has a future.

But what about the European Union? President Trump has continued to express the same support for Brexit he showed during the election campaign and has since made clear the degree of his distaste for the EU as well. Theresa May has already travelled across the Atlantic to meet with him while Angela Merkel has had to be content with a phone call. Trump’s dislike of bureaucracy has already manifested itself in a freeze on hiring federal officials except for the military. It is therefore unsurprising that he dislikes the EU.

In the words of  Ted Malloch, the new US ambassaador to the EU, “He doesn’t like an organisation that is supranational, that is unelected where the bureaucrats run amok and that is not frankly a proper democracy.” The appointment of Malloch, an American academic based in the UK, will not go down well in Brussels. He was a strong supporter of Brexit and is no admirer of the EU project, being quoted as saying “I helped bring down the Soviet Union, so maybe there’s another union that needs a little taming,”

Malloch also described Jean-Claude Juncker, the current President of the European Commission as a “very adequate mayor of some city in Luxembourg”. Given that it was the USA – or rather the American CIA, which was the driving force behind establishing what has become the EU in the 1950s, the language from Team Trump represents a significant change of policy towards Brussels. Anthony Gardner, the previous ambassador to the EU appointed by President Obama, has expressed concern at this change of policy. His statement that there was a “good reason” for the USA to support European integration will nonetheless cut little ice with the new President whose inaugural speech, peppered with references to “America First”, highlights his belief in the nation state as the best means of advancing the interests of its citizens.

The reaction in Brussels to the Trump victory and its aftermath has been pretty grim, especially as it has emboldened anti-EU parties in France, Germany and the Netherlands in a year when elections are looming in all three countries. As far as Brexit is concerned, however, the presence of a sympathetic President in the White House will do our country no harm. Mrs May handled her transatlantic visit well and even though it contained more symbolism than substance, that symbolism was very significant:- her successful meeting with the US President coming the same week as the Article 50 Bill was published has taken us still further past the point of no return even though we haven’t even formally begun the exit process.

It is not only the EU which may feel a cold blast from Washington. President Trump is rumoured to be planning a substantial de-funding of the United Nations – another supranational organisation which clearly doesn’t impress him.  There is some support for such a move in Congress. “The United Nations (U.N.) has proven to be an ineffective and wasteful bureaucracy. The U.S. bankrolls nearly 22 percent of the U.N.’s annual budget,”  said Representative Mike Rogers from Alabama. It is not totally impossible that the US may withdraw from the  UN completely, in which case, its very future may be in doubt.

These policies may sound radical, but it must be remembered that the decade following the end of the Second World War which saw the establishment of the world’s leading international and supranational organisations – NATO, the UN, the International Monetary Fund and at least in embryo,  the EU – is now a long time ago. In those days, there may have been widespread consent that these organisations were necessary to rebuild the world after one world war while helping to prevent another, but the world has moved on since the late 1940s and 1950s. What is wrong with someone asking whether these organisations are still fit for purpose or even necessary some 70 years later?  After all, many features of daily life in the late 1940s, such as Watney’s Red Barrel, rationing and the regular use of steam locomotives have long since disappeared.

Even President Trump will have to battle hard to overcome vested interest – the lobbyists of Brussels and people who have made a very lucrative career as supranationalist bureaucrats. Even so, no fair-minded person should complain that once in a while the whole world system should be given a health check, especially given the alternative is “as it was in the beginning (or at least the 1940s and 1950s)  is now and ever shall be. Bureaucracy and supranationalism without end. Amen.”

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Becalmed yet drifting apart?

After all the euphoria of the Brexit vote,  we have currently entered a more sober period where the complexities of devising a comprehensive leave strategy are keeping members of HM Government fully on their toes.

We have been forwarded a communication from Maria Caulfield, the newly-elected Conservative MP for Lewes in East Sussex, who is on the House of Commons Brexit Select Committee.  This was her summary of progress at the end of October:-

The Prime Minister has been clear that the country voted to leave the European Union, and it is the duty of the Government to make sure that this happens. The Prime Minister has also said that Article 50 will be triggered no later than the end of March 2017.
 
Nobody should believe that the negotiation process will be brief or straightforward. It is going to require significant expertise and a consistent approach.
 
The Prime Minister will lead our negotiations for leaving the EU. This will be supported on a day-to-day basis by the Department for Exiting the European Union. The Department will specifically be responsible for:
 
•             the policy work to support the UK’s negotiations to leave the European Union and to establish the future relationship between the EU and the UK;
 
•             working closely with the UK’s Devolved Administrations, Parliament, and a wide range of other interested parties on what the approach to those negotiations should be;
 
•             conducting the negotiations in support of the Prime Minister including supporting bilateral discussions on EU exit with other European countries;
 
•             leading and co-ordinating cross-government work to seize the opportunities and ensure a smooth process of exit on the best possible terms.
 
TIMEFRAME OF NEGOTIATIONS FOR LEAVING THE EU
 
The Prime Minister has said that Article 50 will be invoked by the end of March next year. By this point, Britain will begin its formal negotiations to leave the European Union. I believe that this will provide certainty for us as a country and will also provide certainty for other European countries on when this begins.
 
NEGOTIATIONS
 
I understand that this process will not be brief or straightforward. As I am sure you can appreciate the Government cannot provide a running commentary on every twist and turn of the negotiations but there will be numerous opportunities to debate this in Parliament, as there have been already. As a member of the new Exiting the EU select committee I will be scrutinising the negotiations at every stage and I am very keen to hear from constituents about the issues that concern them the most. I have already met with many constituents on this and will continue to do so but below are some answers to the most frequently asked questions.
 
GENERAL ‘RED LINES’ AND DEMANDS IN EU NEGOTIATIONS
 
The Government wants to give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate in the single market and let European businesses do the same here. As the Government is about to begin these negotiations it would be wrong to set out further unilateral positions in advance. At every step of these negotiations the Government will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the British people.
 
APPLICATION OF EU LAW TO THE UK
 
I am glad that in the next parliamentary session, the Government will bring forward legislation to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 on the day that Britain leaves the EU. This ‘Great Repeal Bill’ will end the authority of EU law and return power to the UK. The existing body of EU law will be converted into domestic law, wherever practical and Parliament will be free to amend, repeal and improve any law it chooses. As I am sure you can appreciate, the UK will have to continue to meets its legal obligations until it leaves the EU.
 
The European Communities Act 1972 also requires UK courts to follow rulings of the European Court of Justice. Some EU law, such as Regulations, can apply without the need for specific domestic implementing legislation. Other EU law, such as Directives need to be implemented in UK laws though domestic legislation. The European Communities Act provides the legal powers necessary for this to happen.
 
THE MODEL BRITAIN WILL FOLLOW
 
I want to be clear that the position we build outside the EU will be unique to Britain. My colleagues in Government are not looking for an ‘off the shelf’ deal such as a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit or a Norwegian or Swiss model. It will be an agreement between an independent sovereign United Kingdom and the European Union. I want that relationship to reflect the mature, cooperative relationship that close friends and allies enjoy.
 
STATUS OF BRITISH CITIZENS CURRENTLY LIVING IN THE EU
 
The Prime Minister has been clear that she wants to protect the status of EU nationals already living here, and the only circumstances in which that wouldn’t be possible is if British citizens’ rights in European member states were not protected in return.
 
THE FUTURE RIGHTS OF UK CITIZENS CURRENTLY LIVING IN EU COUNTRIES (E.G RIGHTS TO HEALTHCARE, PENSIONS)
 
At every step of these negotiations the Government has assured me that it will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the British people. As we begin these negotiations, it would be wrong to set out unilateral positions in advance.
 
THE UK’S ROLE IN REGULAR EU AFFAIRS
 
Britain will be leaving the EU in due course, but it will continue to play a full and active role inside the EU until it leaves. The UK has relinquished the rotating Presidency of the Council, currently scheduled for the second half of 2017, as we will be prioritising the negotiations to leave the European Union.

So far so good,  but a lot more detail is needed. Since Maria Caulfield sent this e-mail, there has been the court case whch resulted in a a defeat for the Government, We can but hope that the appeal will reverse the decision.  Rupert Matthews raised some interesting points about an earlier EU-related court action whereby the judge ruled that the Government was free to use prerogative powers to agree any treaty it liked (in this case, the Maastricht Treaty), unless Parliament had specifically restricted its powers beforehand. Unfortunately, doubts have been raised as to whether the Supreme Court will be even-handed and consistent. The Lord Chief Justice belongs to the European Law Institute and this has caused serious conern for many, especially after the rumpus which followed the  first court ruling where, rightly or wrongly,  the judges were accused of bias and being “enemies of the people“.

Following the judgement, Mrs May insisted that her Brexit timetable remained on track and that Article 50 would be triggered by March 2017 at the latest.  Yesterday’s announcement that plans to reform the House of Lords are being shelved can perhaps be viewed as a veiled threat to the Upper Chamber not to try to derail of slow down the process. Whatever, we can but hope that Mrs May does publish some more details of the Government’s exit strategy pretty soon. Much is clearly going on behind the scenes but there is a huge amount of ground to  cover before Article 50 can be triggered, thanks both to Mr Cameron’s refusal to allow the Civil Service study possible Brexit options durng the referendum campaign and the lack of unity on the Leave side about how best to achieve our goal. However, the absence of any announcement has resulted in far too much space being given to the most mischievous and destructive type of remoaner and resulting in a perception of the government being becalmed.

Mrs May and her colleagues know that they cannot afford to fail, especially after the forthright tone of her speech on 2nd October, saying  quite unequivocally, “Britain is going to leave the European Union”. At grassroots level, the Conservative party is overwhelmingly pro-Brexit. A botched job or indeed delay upon delay to Brexit would open the door to unparalleled  political uncertainty, whereas a successful  negotiation of independence would leave the Tories very well placed for a thumping majority at the 2020 General Election – a prospect with strong appeal for a party which has always had a huge thirst for power.  Mrs May, we can be sure, is straining every nerve to ensure that the considerable goodwill following her “coronation” is not dissipated. Her fine words, in other words, will hopefully be followed by some substantive plans before too long.

Meanwhile, events are conspiring to produce a sense of that the EU is becalmed too.  The decade 2011-20 looks likely to be the first in which the EU has made no tangible political advance. It is now nearly seven years since the Lisbon Treaty came into force and while the Five Presidents’ Report  – a framework for a new treaty – hasn’t been consigned to oblivion, the challenges any new treaty on closer union would face are immense, even without the UKaround to drag its heels.  In this decade, one small country, Croatia, has joined, but this has been more than offest by the UK’s Brexit vote.  The last time a country withdrew from the European Project was  1985 when Greenland left. However, the same decade saw both the Single European Act and the accession of Greece, Spain and Portugal.

As if to underline the degree to which the EU project is becalmed, tiny Moldova recently elected a pro-Russian president, Igor Dodon, after several years of rule by pro-EU Maia Sandu, a former World Bank official. Moldova, a former Soviet republic which borders Romania, signed an association agreement with the EU in 2014, normally the first step towards a fulll membership application. The election of a pro-Russian president suggests that there is now unlikely to be any progress in this direction for the time being, especially as he called for the repeal of the agreement during the campaign and instead to join the Russian-led Eurasian customs union.

This reversal comes only five months after Switzerland formally withdrew its membership application, following Iceland’s example last year. Meanwhile, Turkey, which applied to join the EU as far back as 1987, is looking less and less likely ever to join. Norway still retains its pro-EU government led by the Conservative Erna Solberg, but one reason for the enthusiasm of the Norwegian government to lend its support to David Cameron was a recognition that a vote for Brexit would be the final nail in the coffin of any hopes of Norway joining the EU. Essentually, these events, some of them seemingly small and insignficant, all combine further to tarnish the EU’s image.

Expansion and ever-closer union has been part of its DNA from the very start. Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister, gave a speech in Berlin yesterday where he warned that “Europe could die.”  His proposal was that France and Germany should lead a coaltion of the willing towards closer fiscal integration so that the European Project can regain some momentum. However, he will face problems selling this to his own countrymen and nothing will happen anyway before Italy’s referendum on constitutional reform on 4th December, which could bring down Matteo Renzi, the  Prime Minister, and create a further headache for the EU as the Eurosceptic Five Star Movement could find itself one step closer to power.

Even though we may find ourselves unable to  extract ourselves financially from the EU as soon as we would like, we are going to be watching these events as spectators. It came as quite a surprise at the time of the referendum result that the reaction in Brussels and other European capitals was regret, but no attempt to try to keep us on board.  Article 50 may not have been triggered yet, but the crucial blow was struck on June 23rd. it hit the EU hard and its subsequent energies have been devoted to cauterising the wound. Whatever the confusion in the UK about the government’s exit plan – or lack of one, everything is gearing up for the UK’s departure.

First came the resignation of Lord Hill, the UK’s Commissioner, the ncame the announcement that the UK was surrendering its Presidency of the EU Council, scheduled for the second half of 2017.   At the last European Council meeting, Mrs May was treated very much as an outsider. Obviously, as her task is to negotiate our exit, such a frosty reception ought hardly to be a surprise. However, what of those British officials who worked for the EU institutions?   They have been encountering a different attitude from their fellow-officials since June 23rd. “They tell tales of colleagues going for coffee when they speak at meetings, or being cut out of email chains. One official said he was treated like a bereaved family member — people avoid you, he said, because they don’t know what to say” says a recent article in the New York Times.

This is the bottom line. There can be no returning to the status quo before June 23rd. Whatever the struggles facing the government to formulate a coherent and comprehensive exit strategy, whatever the machinations of lawyers, Lords and a few incorrigble MPs, the UK and the EU are already drifting inexorably apart.

 

Photo by Toronto Public Library Special Collections

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.