Mrs May:- a product of the past

The Deeper Malaise behind Mrs May’s Inept Handling of Brexit

The European Union Carried on by Other Means

Mrs May is a product of the past and this shows in her poor political leadership and shambolic handling of the Article 50 negotiations, which are currently going in the direction of a Brexit in name only.  The past to which I refer is the culture of increasing political deference to the European Union (EU) and dependency which goes back to Edward Heath and has been continued by subsequent Conservative and Labour prime ministers up to the present day.  Over a period of years, it has evolved into a paradigm (or conceptual framework of ideas, assumptions and perceived wisdom) which set the direction for many subsequent policies and actions.  The only notable exception to this past paradigm is (perhaps) Mrs Thatcher who claimed to be inspired by free market economists Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. Unfortunately, only at the end of her premiership, for example, in her famous “no, no, no” speech  did she stand up to the EUs centralising control freaks and arrogant ideologues and only after being deposed from office did she advocate leaving the EU.

Escape from (conservative) Reality into the EU

At the heart of any notionally conservative party is a major dilemma for its strategists and leaders:- how to expand its popular base beyond the core support of the conservative minded, the sort of people who make up the majority of party members.  This means, in effect, developing a second unique selling proposition rather than making traditional conservatism popular among many.  Tory strategists believed that they needed to project an image, though not necessarily a reality, of eclectic, inclusive modernity.  At one time, the EU appeared to provide this modernity. It could, therefore, be accepted for political expediency even if it contradicted core values or British national interests.

The EU comfort zone for Politicians and Public Servants

For any prime minister, regardless of political label – and also for the Civil Service – the EU provides a useful comfort zone.  There is the appearance of eclectic modernity, a ‘world stage’ on which to strut, a means of escaping responsibility and the respectful acceptance by equals and their subordinates.  Simple, just follow the EU’s (mainly greater German) social, political, economic, regulatory, monetary and fiscal lead.  Who wouldn’t find this reassuring especially as it offers an escape from political turbulence and the need to be competent while providing a means of avoiding blame should any major mistakes become public?

The EU’s corrupting comfort zone

The uninviting (and courageous) alternative to the EU’s comfort zone requires a Prime Minister who is to be accused by opponents of being insular, parochial, jingoistic, elitist, ‘out in the cold’, ‘out of step’ with the EU and/or ‘behind the times’.  Small wonder Edward Heath’s successors became such EU-centric ‘modernity’ idealists who were prepared to deceive the public whilst selling out British national interests and sovereignty.  Mrs May would need to be a very determined person to escape the strong force of this ingrained political behaviour, going back over forty years.

The EU undermines UK Governmental competence

As ever more activities of government were transferred to the EU over the last forty odd years there has been a hollowing out of competence, though not necessarily of numbers, in the Civil Service. The result is that in many fields the expertise and motivation required by the government of a sovereign country no longer exists within the UK.  As a newly-independent country it will take time to re-establish missing expertise and then achieve positive results in our national interest.

The Referendum Vote for Brexit caused a paradigm shift

Times have changed.  The 17,410,742 voters who backed Brexit in the 2016 Referendum have decided the EU is not the future which they want for our country.  This is a major paradigm shift with wide-ranging long-term implications. The EU is now the past and modernity is being redefined as embracing exciting future possibilities outside its claustrophobic clutches.  The new modernity has not yet solidified into a paradigm and can potentially include anything from re-invigorating democracy with a more collaborative form of government to re-discovering world leading skills based on long standing national strengths, heritage and culture. For more on this, see The National CV .

Mrs May is failing to adapt to the new Brexit inspired modernity

Mrs May is having considerable difficulty elucidating a new post-Brexit vision to accord with the Referendum’s paradigm shift and resulting new modernity.   She is stuck in the obsolete paradigm. Dependence and deference to the EU is so ingrained into the structure of No. 10 Downing Street that Mrs May can’t let go of the past and the old EU-centric view of modernity.  There is little or no evidence of her using Brexit as a great facilitator for tackling the big issues facing our country. Instead, her mindset is  rooted in the spin, language, actions and policies of the past.

Talk of ‘A deep and special relationship with our European partners’ is more a cry for continuing belonging than a confident assertion of independence.  Worse still, the EU has been allowed to make the running with Mrs May, Mr Davis and the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union repeatedly caving in to its increasingly unreasonable demands. At the moment, the worst legacy of these cave-ins is the appalling Transition Deal which would make this country into a temporary then a permanent EU vassal state. There is also, to highlight a few others, the surrendering of UK fisheries, defence and defence procurement to EU bureaucrats and the enthusiasm to allow British citizens to be subject to the worst justice systems in the EU through the retention of the European Arrest Warrant.

The EEA/EFTA Paradox

Whilst obviously being unwilling to leave control by the political EU, Mrs May somewhat enigmatically chose to leave the existing frictionless trading simplicity of membership of the Single Market (and wider European Economic Area, EEA).  She has never explained why this reckless decision was made without a practical plan for leaving the EU which would still allow us to retain near frictionless trade.

However, gullibility and ignorance are hinted at in her Lancaster House speech 17th January 2017 where she appears to have accepted the disingenuous claims of the EU leaders regarding the inviolate nature of the four freedoms.  In reality, the EU is happy to break these principles when convenient so to do. For example, the EU’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement, Article 13 (Protocols NI) allows the EU or the UK, amongst other things, unilaterally to restrict immigration from the other party (to the agreement). In other words the EU can restrict immigration into the remaining Member States from the UK, and the UK can restrict immigration from the remaining Member States into the UK.

Nowhere to hide

A policy of spin and handing over more and more political decisions to the EU no longer cuts it post-Referendum.  Endless vacuous mantras and blaming the EU for failing to deliver a successful, opportunity filled Brexit is sounding increasingly unconvincing outside the Westminster bubble.  With time running out, the country needs to know the truth. Mrs May probably already knows what she must do to save Brexit from being in name only and to prevent trade with the EU facing severe disruption.  The only viable option is to re-join the free nations of Europe in The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) whilst temporarily remaining in the single market under much more flexible and favourable conditions in a bespoke version of the EEA Agreement.  (further information see  The EFTA/EEA Solution to the Current Brexit Impasse, Brexit Reset, Eureferendum.com, various posts on Campaign for an Independent Britain and affiliates)

Moving onto this escape route (from the EU with the least potential disruption to existing trade) in the coming crisis will need effective crisis management and something like a modern day Brexit Operation Dynamo.  Will Mrs May deliver or should the Conservative Party expeditiously choose someone else who can?

Drifting in Brexit Limbo

It is still government policy to seek a comprehensive partnership agreement with the EU as a third country. Already we are seeing lobbying for pharmaceuticals to continue participating in the single market. The government will concede on this if it does not want to lose our pharmaceuticals industry. No doubt our aviation sector will want to continue participating on more or less the same terms. We will be seeking to ensure manufactured goods and foodstuffs travel unhindered into the EU. The automotive sector will push for whatever it can get to avoid tariffs and rules of origin. And so on and so forth.

By the time this government gets as far as negotiating our future relationship, it will have a long list of things it wants to keep the same. We will also find that the practicalities of intricate policies mean that change is barely possible and largely undesirable. This sets the stage for a long and drawn out negotiation as to our future relationship.

But this time it will dawn on even the thickest of MPs that an interim agreement is necessary. That in itself would be a serious and lengthy undertaking. That is precisely why it is not going to happen. Why should the EU commit ever more of its runtime to negotiating two comprehensive and complex packages – one of which being time limited? The ultimatum will that be that we either drop out with no deal or stay in the EU on more or less the same terms until a future agreement can be concluded.

That is, of course, unless we move into the EEA/Efta position in order to expedite our exit. We will probably find this in itself is a major diplomatic and legal undertaking and once that is done we will find there is actually no point in reinventing the wheel, nor is there any particular obligation for the EU to bother. Moreover, Efta states have little to gain from the disruption for what is only a temporary arrangement. Their view will likely be that we’re either in or out.

It therefore seems obvious that the EEA should be our first port of call with a view to being a long term part of the single market, using the systems within the EEA agreement to tailor it to our needs. The alternative is to stay in the EU in a Brexit limbo, slowly bleeding from uncertainty only for us to pass some years later into an inferior relationship that we will have to rebuild over many years.

It would appear, however, that this realisation eludes the powers that be, and thanks to the power vacuum at the heart of government, we can expect this to drag on, feeding the uncertainty and eroding our choices. With all of our political capital spent, with our minuscule leverage squandered, we will be forced to take whatever we are given. That may even be a conversion of the interim EU membership into the permanent status of being a non-voting member. Precisely where we didn’t want to be.

It was always The Leave Alliance view that the EEA was suboptimal but it does have the chief merit of getting us out of the EU. We also took the view that the EEA, preserving most of the trade integration, would save us from the damage caused by uncertainty and the economic impact of leaving would be manageable. It seems, though, that this message, having met fierce resistance, will not get through.

Though the ultra Brexiteers share some considerable blame, it is as much the fault of the media who have been unable to grasp the mechanics of Brexit, along with a government which is impervious to messages from the outside. Ultimately this is the result of two factors.

The hard right of the Tory party are wedded to some woefully simplistic ideas as to how trade is done, taking their advice from Legatum Institute who will tell them pretty much whatever they want to hear if it means they get their feet under the table. Collectively they are fixated with tariffs and are unable to see the larger picture, treating non tariff barriers and regulatory systems as a mere afterthought.

In normal circumstances we would have a sufficiently competent media who could rip through this self-delusion, but having pruned their experience journalists, the closest the media gets to expertise is the Financial Times, itself incapable of bringing any clarity to the debate and largely tainted by a metropolitan bias. It has not earned the right to be heeded.

The second factor is that having deleted the discipline of trade from our political horizons by way of being in the EU we simply don’t have an institutional memory of it and our politicians haven’t in any way been connected with the real business of international trade negotiations. This is why we should never have joined.

Further still our post Brexit trade policy will be inept largely because it is viewed as a separate undertaking from politics, foreign policy and international development aid. It stands as an abstract pursuit, largely geared toward the maximisation of trade volumes, divorced from cultural and political objectives. It is an entirely technocratic domain.

Ultimately, Brexit is a mess of difficult choices and trade-offs between commerce and sovereignty. The EU is an elaborate and complex web of rules, many of them protectionist where moving to the other side of those defensive measures harms us considerably. As much as it is difficult to prove that new trade deals will compensate for lost EU trade, the EU has ways of making sure that they won’t. Rules of Origin being one of them. These are the realities we must face up to.

And herein lies the problem. For Conservative leavers who believe in “free trade”, Brexit is an economic venture and a chance to snub the EU. They fail to take account of the fact that the EU is a regulatory and economic superpower and the UK is not. They are working from a faulty definition of free trade and are failing to look at the bigger picture. This is why Brexit will hurt far more than it was ever meant to.

For us realists Brexit was never an economic silver bullet. The Leave Alliance was keen to point out that Brexit would be a process and that there would be an economic cost. The point though, was to end political union with the EU and to put the brakes on “ever closer union”. That is our first objective and the most important one. To end the supremacy of the EU in British affairs and to repatriate decision making. If we can make a good go of trade then that is a happy outcome, but that is more a long term concern. Our first priority is to get out of the EU with our hide intact and to ensure that we do not burn our bridges.

The chances of that now seem ever more remote. The appointment of Steve Baker as junior Brexit secretary, a man who calls for the EU to be “wholly torn down” is entirely the wrong message to send. Not least since he is a devotee of Legatum’s panglossian nonsense. Thanks to the obstinacy and ignorance of the ultra-Brexiteers, Brexit is going to hurt a lot more than it ever should have – if we manage to get out at all.

 

Photo by Smabs Sputzer

GMB Union puts pressure on Miliband over EU referendum,

From the Herald, Scotland

Ed Miliband is facing growing pressure after the leader of the UK’s second biggest union called for voters to be offered a referendum on the European Union.

Paul Kenny, the general secretary of the GMB, said the public should get a say on EU membership.

His comments follow warnings by Len McCluskey, the leader of the UK’s largest union, Unite, who told The Herald earlier this month that Mr Miliband’s refusal to offer a vote could cost Labour next year’s general election.

The calls intensify pressure on the Labour leader as his party holds its annual conference in Manchester.

Mr Kenny said: “I think people should have the argument about Europe. I think Labour should offer a referendum on Europe. I have always thought that they would.”

He warned that the issue could “hurt” Labour at the general election.

Mr Kenny said that the European Union of which the UK was currently a member had changed considerably in recent years – and that voters should get a say on the future.

It was time to have a discussion about “what the public’s views on the European Union are,” he added.

Mr McCluskey warned that Labour could lose the next general election if it did not offer voters an EU referendum.

He predicted that the party’s political opponents, including the eurosceptic UKIP, would paint Labour as unwilling to trust voters.

In an interview with The Herald he said: “He is going to be portrayed as somebody who is afraid of asking the British people their views, and we think that is tactically dangerous for him.”

Asked if the tactic could lose him the election, he said: “In a tight election, it could do, that is exactly right. That is our view. Which is why we would prefer to take a position of saying ‘let’s call a referendum’.

Mr Miliband has said that Labour will not hold an EU membership vote unless there are proposals to transfer greater powers from London to Brussels.

The move was designed to draw a line under the issue following arguments from some within Labour that the party should meet Mr Cameron’s referendum pledge – or risk being punished in May’s poll.

Othes warned that offering a vote could tie Labour’s hands unnecessarily after next May, and leave it fighting another lengthy and difficult referendum battle just months after the Scottish independence vote.

Mr Miliband’s stance appears to have the backing of business leaders.

Earlier this year Sir Michael Rake, the chairman of the CBI, told the Prime Minister that his decision to offer an In/Out referendum was causing “uncertainty” for business.

But others within the Labour movement are pressuring for Mr Miliband to perform a U-turn.

John Mills, who gave £1.5m to the party last year, is also putting money behind a lobbying campaign, Labour for a Referendum.

While many Labour MPs still believe UKIP party still poses the greatest threat to the Conservatives, there is increasing concern about the party’s growing popularity in some Labour-held seats.

Mr Cameron has previously said that he would campaign for the UK to stay in the EU.

He has also pledged to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with Europe before the 2017 vote.

But reports suggest that the Conservative leader could change his stance – and announce that he will back a Yes vote only if the UK gets a good enough deal from Brussels at his party conference next week