A project management view of Brexit

There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glorySir Francis Drake, 1587

As Mrs May’s intrepid Brexit negotiating team set fair for Brussels, carrying with them the hopes and fears of our realm, are they mindful of the six stages of many major projects? These are often written as:

  1. Enthusiasm,
  2. Disillusionment,
  3. Panic and hysteria,
  4. Hunt for the guilty,
  5. Punishment of the innocent, and
  6. Reward for the uninvolved.

Undoubtedly within their midst must be a project manager (or perhaps a project management team) well experienced in delivering complex projects for difficult customers on short timescales to wide-ranging specified requirements and within tight budgets.  He (or she or perhaps, they) will have his/her/their work cut out.

Brexit, especially the route the government has, for now, chosen) is a complex process requiring a multitude of different strands, including other associated and critical projects, to be pulled together. Worse, much is actually outside our direct control, involving activities ‘over there’ in the European Commission, European Parliament, and government departments or ministries within the 27 remaining Member States.  And even these will probably be receiving input from European Union (EU) agencies and external organisations (such as trade or commerce organisations) as well.  Herding the contents of a sizeable African game park or engineering a trip to Mars would probably be simpler and more predictable than project managing this lot.

Brexit, then, needs great project and process management. Unfortunately these are things we traditionally don’t do that well, relying instead on muddling through, a process of centralised micromanagement by a ‘great leader’ and minds being concentrated at the last moment. And our governments usually talk down the difficulties (and costs) involved in any major project, until bitten really hard by the facts on the ground. Think of the Millennium Dome, the NHS and HMRC Information Technology projects or the Nimrod AEW3 airborne early warning (surveillance) project?  To make matters worse, we often go for ‘re-inventing the wheel’  – and then find that it doesn’t work at the first attempt anyway.

Rather than try to project manage Brexit in its current form with all the complexity, unknowns and risks involved, much can be done to make the task easier and, therefore, the end result more likely to meet or even exceed expectations. Here is a helpful checklist:-

  • be realistic about what can or cannot be achieved  in a given timescale
  • take out as much of the complexity as possible and get control of as much of the overall project (including the EU’s contribution) as possible
  • find adequate, experienced, competent resources rather than ending up surrounded by sycophantic Yes men (or women) or Yes Minster (Sir Humphrey Appleby) obstructionists.
  • plan and programme before rushing in
  • monitor and predict the problem areas/activities well in advance and then proactively solve them
  • adapt and respond quickly when the unexpected occurs – as it surely will,
  • identify and attenuate undesirable/unwanted consequences (collateral damage)
  • avoid fudges or letting incomplete or wrong work carry on (as they will come back to bite you later)
  • use proven standardised methods, products and solutions, wherever practicable
  • to communicate and listen to the messenger rather than shooting him or her when the message is unpalatable
  • watch out for the subtle confidence tricks such as nonsensical excuses, playing politics and ‘moving the goalposts’
  • watch out for members of the team changing sides through regular interaction with the other (EU) side (assuming they are actually on our side to begin with)
  • keep good, traceable, up to date records from the very beginning.

This is pretty basic and obvious. There are plenty of standard techniques, textbooks and management tools around to help with project management. If the basics are not right, the more complex aspects become expensively ineffective.

Brexit involves negotiation which is widely assumed to require compromises such as meeting half way or quid pro quo. This can obviously set precedents that again come back later to bite hard. From a project management perspective, firm commitments and precise statements of the current status of the proceedings are more likely to lead to the desired outcomes – as far as our country’s interests are concerned – being achieved. This is also called driving a hard bargain or “statecraft”.  Perhaps Mrs May already has an experienced mentor for this important art in Donald J Trump, who has had a many years’ experience in dealing with truculent contractors and insular officialdom, having been taught some basic skills, on the job, by his redoubtable father.

All major projects eventually come to an end, usually in a far more imprecise and messy way than they started. And then the project team disbands, its members moving onto other things.  Presumably the same will happen years hence for the Department for Exiting the EU? – or perhaps not?  There can’t be many instances when civil servants have intentionally worked themselves out of a job in two years?

The final observation in this brief look at the project management of Brexit comes from Sir Francis Drake’s motto – Sic Parvis Magna, translated literally, as: “Thus great things from small things (come).”

When they say “Divisive”…

One of the words that has been bandied around a lot lately has been “divisive”.

We have all heard it, usually on the BBC from unreconciled Remain votes or from grumpy Hilary Clinton supporters. We are supposed to believe that there was something uniquely “divisive” about the decision to leave the European Union. Or, in the American context, something unbelievably “divisive” about the decision to put Donald Trump into the White House.

Note that the cry went up from the losers in both these nationwide votes long before anything had actually happened. Brexit was “divisive” before Article 50 has been triggered, let alone Britain actually leaving the EU. Similarly, Trump’s victory was “divisive” before he even got to the White House, never mind actually did anything with his new found power.

So, I’ve been thinking about these outcries from the defeated. Is Brexit really divisive? No, I don’t think that it is. So why all the talk about Britain becoming more divided?

I think that there are two things going on here.

First, it might be that some of the losers are seeking to undermine the Brexit victory (and probably the Trump victory too). By painting the decision as utterly disastrous even before it has taken effect, those who have not accepted the decision hope that they can overturn it at some point in the future.

But there is something else. Look at the people who are talking about Brexit being divisive. These are almost without exception the gilded élite. Those who went to good schools, effortlessly slipped into well paid jobs and now live in nice houses in nice neighbourhoods with nice social circles. They tend support a multi-cultural society, support decarbonisation to fight climate change and back the whole host of soft-left doctrines.

By and large these people have had their way in politics and in society all their lives. They like multi-culturalism and large scale immigration and bask in the advantages it brings, without having to put up with their children being elbowed out of the local school due to high demand for places. They can smugly impose decarbonisation policies secure in the knowledge that they can afford the higher fuel bills that they bring.

And now, just for once, they have not got their way. The great unwashed have risen up and rejected the European Union – another of the unquestioned shibboleths of the soft-left.

How awful. How shocking. How “divisive”.

Our friends from the gilded élite have, probably for the first time in their lives, realised that not everyone agrees with them. For the first time in their lives they have not got their way on one of the big issues in life.

I pray fervently that it will not be the last time.

 

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

The Foreign Secretary has a point

Germans often complain about the continued use of World War II imagery by some people in the UK. Yesterday, however, it was a Belgian, Guy Verhofstadt, who took exception to Boris Johnson’s warning to France’s president, François Hollande, not to respond to Brexit by trying to “administer punishment beatings” in the manner of “some world war two movie”.

Mr Verhofstadt called the Foreign Secretary’s words “abhorrent and deeply unhelpful” while later the same day, Malta’s Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, insisted that any future deal “necessarily needs to be inferior to membership”.

There is a flaw in this approach, however, and Mr Johnson, whether one approves of his rather colourful language or not, has hit the nail on the head.  Any organisation which seeks to punish  – or even to make life tough for – those who say “this isn’t working for me” has a big problem.

To illustrate the point, last Tuesday, BBC Radio 4’s Call You and Yours debated the  quality of public services in rural locations. One caller rang in to say that she had lived in the countryside for several years, but was moving back to a town because  rural life just wasn’t working out for her. Other callers, by contrast, said how much they enjoyed such a lifestyle, but no one picked on the woman planning to return to a town because life in the country didn’t suit her. No one would have dreamed of denying her the freedom to exercise a lifestyle choice.

By contrast, let us consider the organisations that do – or have – punished deserters and dissenters. To the Second World War POW camps mentioned by Mr Johnson. we could add the Spanish Inquisition, the former Soviet Union, North Korea and, of course, many Islamic countries including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Somalia, Sudan and Afghaniatan where apostates face the death penalty.

Are these the bedfellows which the EU wishes to keep? If the European project was really such a good thing, shouldn’t its member states be bending over backwards to help poor little UK make its way in the big wide world after voting to leave its kindly embrace?

The harsh truth is that any talk of inferior status for an independent UK reveals a great deal of self-doubt about the whole EU plan. But then, given that in 2014, the EU spent a staggering €664 million on propaganda telling its citizens – and indeed the world – what a wonderful organisation it is, Mr Muscat’s comments do not really tell us anything new.

This year marks 60 years since the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which formally launched what has become the EU. Everyone has had enough time to determine what they think of the project and surely after this time, it ought to be self-evident by now whether or not the EU is a good thing.  The size of its publicity budget, not to mention the EU’s own polling suggests that a significant and steadily growing minority of its citizens have already made their minds up in a way that is not to the liking of the Brussels élite.  Mrs May tactfully stated that she did not wish to see the EU unravel in her speech on Tuesday, but the question from a staff member of President-Elect Trump’s team about which nation will be next to leave  will probably prove to be nearer the mark.

Photo by BackBoris2012

What would leavers have done if we had lost?

The spectacle of the Remainers behaving like cry babies in the wake of the Referendum result on 23 June was pretty unedifying. One of my favourite memories from the night came at about 4am when Dimbleby at the BBC cut to the Remain HQ expecting their reporter there to introduce one or two senior Remainers to give their reactions to the unfolding events. Instead the place was empty as everyone had gone home rather than stay and face reality.

Once the disbelief had worn off, the Remainers moved on to blaming uneducated plebs for not understanding the issues, fighting like rats in a sack over who to blame and now seeking to overturn the will of the people by judicial means and in the House of Lords.

Now we see pretty much the same happening over in the USA. The same mix of Establishment figures, intolerant lefties and those living off government funds are reacting to the loss of a Clinton president much as our Remainers did here. Lots of abuse, insults and worse. The disbelief is still rife there, and there have been some very nasty calls for Trump to be assassinated and his wife to be raped.

In both cases the issues at stake were big, very big. So that has led some Remainers to point the finger and say that we Leavers would have behaved the same. Well, as Head of Campaigns at Better Off Out I sat in on some meetings where exactly this question was raised. What would we do if we lost?

Obviously I cannot speak for everyone, but the consensus seemed fairly clear to me. First, we would accept the result in that the people of Britain had voted to stay in the European Union. Second, most intended to take a break and see their families. Third nearly everyone was going to gird their loins and return to the fray.

There is bound to be a new EU Treaty in five or ten years’ time. Assuming that this would include drastic changes, we intended to argue that those changes needed to go to a referendum as it altered the relationship between the EU and UK approved by the people in 2016. Then we would campaign against those changes in the following referendum campaign (again assuming that they were serious enough).

What nobody ever even suggested at these meetings was that we should seek to go to law to overturn the referendum result. Nobody suggested that we should use Parliamentary procedure to slow down or halt the normal day to day business of the EU in the UK. Nor did anyone suggest a second referendum to ask the In-Out question again. Everyone was prepared to accept that we would have lost this battle, then prepare for the next.

It is against this background that we should view the behaviour of the Remainers. They are making little secret of the fact that they aim to overthrow the Referendum result. Using legal quibbles and delaying tactics in Parliament they hope to frustrate the will of the people. And these folk claim to stand for tolerance, inclusion and democracy?

The people have spoken. It is time to get on with it.

Contagion:- the real reason why the EU is concerned about Donald Trump

Boris Johnson certainly has a way with words.  He chose to absent himself from an emergency dinner  for EU foreign ministers convened yesterday (Sunday 13th) to discuss the consequences of Donald Trump’s election victory, saying  that they should snap out of a “collective whinge-o-rama”.

Some of Mr Johnson’s European colleagues talked quite openly of their “horror” at the prospect of a President Trump, echoing the tones of Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU Commission President, who said that “The election of Trump poses the risk of upsetting intercontinental relations in their foundation and in their structure.” In other reaction from the other side of the channel,  France’s President Hollande said that the Trump Victory “opens a period of uncertainty”.  Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to the USA, went further, saying, “‘After Brexit and this election, everything is now possible. A world is collapsing before our eyes.”  That Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, would react negatively, comes as no surprise, calling the Trump victory “another Brexit night” and claiming  that a “wave of protest” was engulfing established politics. Even his compatriot Angela Merkel, a woman not known for making extreme statements, congratulated Trump while at the same time hinted at her disapproval, telling reporters that his election campaign featured “confrontations that were difficult to bear”.

By contrast, Theresa May, gave a characteristically measured response to the Trump victory. Having made some critical comments about him when his candidacy was first announced,  she responded to his victory in a gracious way saying, “I would like to congratulate Donald Trump on being elected the next President of the United States, following a hard-fought campaign” and stated that she looked forward to working with him.

It is very clear that Trump the campaigner made all manner of statements that flew in the face of everything the EU stands for – his oppositon to mass immigration, his climate change scepticism and his desire for a better relationship with Russia for instance. However, the matter of how Trump the president will behave is almost irrelevant. The damage has been done and the real concern in Brussels is whether the sentiments that propelled Mr Trump to his unexpected victory will push the EU into a further and deeper crisis than the Brexit vote.
In other words, does President designate Trump make a President le Pen more likely? Will the Trump victory boost support for Alternative für Deutschland to such a degree that Chancellor Merkel’s power – or even her re-election prospects – may be dealt a mortal blow? Even before next year’s general elections in France and Germany, Austria is holding a re-run of its Presidential election on 4th December where Green candidate Alexander van der Bellen faces a stiff challenge from Norbert Hofer, whose Freedom (Freiheit) Party is another EU-critical anti-establishment party which so ruffles feathers in Brussels.

The same day that Austria goes to the polls, Italian voters will take part in a referendum on constitutional reform. Matteo Renzi, the current Prime Minister, has staked his future on securing a “yes” vote. A rag-tag group of 13 parties, including both far left and far right, oppose it and with Beppe Grillo’s Five Star movement among them, Mr Renzi may be defeated.

The phrase “the EU is in a crisis” has been repeated ad nauseam since the Great Recession of 2008. One of the Remain camp’s pleas during the Brexit referendum was that we shouldn’t be giving a further kick in the teeth to an already wobbly EU.

The problem is that the Brexit vote and the rise of politicians like Marine le Pen or Beppe Grillo are not the cause of the crisis but a consequence of it. In spite of the denials of some remainers during the referendum campaign, the European project always has been about the creation of a federal superstate. The evidence is there for all to see in the European Parliament’s visitors’ centre in Brussels, which contains a plaque saying “National sovereignty is the root cause of the most crying evils of our times….The only final remedy for this evil is the federal union of the peoples.”   Perhaps ironically, in view of the Brexit vote, these are the words of a British diplomat, Philip Kerr, later Lord Lothian.

In the early years following the signing of the Treaty of Rome, most leaders of original six participating countries and their supporters in countries keen to sign up – including Edward Heath in this country – supported the vision of a federal Europe with great enthusiasm.  One of the most enthusiastic federalists of the 1960s was Jean Rey, a Belgian lawyer and Liberal politician who was to become the second president of the European Commission in 1967.   I can recall being asked to translate a speech he made shortly afterwards and his enthusiasm for the project was self-evident.

Although a certain amount of wool had to be pulled over the eyes of the electorates of the original six nations in those early years, there was little resistance to the basic idea of a Federal Europe – at least, once the volatile and unpredictable General de Gaulle left office in 1969.

Fast forward to the last decade and that ability to inspire support for the federalist project so epitomised by Jean Rey just isn’t there any more. The two latest keystones in the integration process – the Schengen open border area and the Euro  – are widely unpopular, being blamed between them for a number of problems ranging from Italy’s poor economic performance to the attacks on women in Cologne in the New Year period.

The EU élite still wishes to push ahead with further economic and fiscal integration within the Eurozone. A recent interview with Herman van Rompuy, the former European Council President, is most revealing.  On the one hand, he says “The economic and monetary union and the single market will have to be deepened and/or completed. An emphasis on the EU’s military dimension has emerged as a genuine topic of interest for the very first time.” In other words, a further deepening of European integration has to be the way forward, but on the other hand, he admits that “I am not, however, urging immediate moves towards federalism or the United States of Europe…. The climate in Europe does not favour such a qualitative leap, even if there is a crying need for more ambition than at present when, in truth, there is no ambition at all.”

This is the heart of the EU’s crisis. The drive for federalism has run out of steam and even its most ardent supporters are admitting as much. Could the EU project ever change its objectives and come up with an alternative destination other than an United States of Europe? It’s hard to see how. So much has been invested into the federalist project. The whole structure of the EU institutions, the single currency and the open border area were designed with this end in view. If the EU powers-that-be decided that the end game should be scaled back to nothing more than a free trade area, just about everything would need drastic tweaking and downsizing as the whole structure of the EU is so cumbersome.

Given the number of committed federalists who are still very much on board, such Guy Verhofstatdt, the former Belgian Prime Minister, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the 1960s Marxist rabble-rouser turned Green MEP  or indeed Mr Juncker himself, such an abandonment of the original vision would be tantamount to a betrayal. The word “immediate” in Mr van Rompuy’s comments is perhaps the giveaway. What he is implying is “let’s bide our time. Let’s not push for closer integration when the mood is so unfriendly. Let’s hope that a few years down the line, hostility will have subsided and we can then press on.” This was essentially the way the UK was treated with our opt-outs. There was clearly no support in the UK for our joining the €uro when the single currency was launched but the unspoken hope was that one day, we would come to our senses, albeit one step behind the other member states.
The problem is that we never did and what if sentiment against further integration in EU-27  doesn’t soften either? No wonder the EU élite is nervous about the prospect of contagion from Brexit or the Trump victory spreading to the European mainland.
But it’s not just people like Marine le Pen or Beppe Grillo who will be making them jittery. The previously unthinkable is being thought in the most unlikely places. This article in the usually solidly pro-EU Irish Times is case in point.  Perhaps you’ve never heard the term “Eirexit” before  as the prospect of Ireland leaving the EU would have seemed unthinkable even a couple of years ago. After all, EU membership was widely viewed in Ireland as a means of further consolidating its separate identity from the UK following independence in 1922. Yet since our referendum, the writer informs us, “Eirexit has gained some momentum …. There is a small but growing band of public figures questioning the basis of Irish EU membership.” The article lists the various fringe parties in Ireland which  support withdrawal and devotes considerable space to a profile of Dr Anthony Coughlan, a veteran anti-EU campaigner whose analysis of the constitutional implcations of the Lisbon Treaty has been posted on our website and included in our booklet A House Divided as it is second to none.
The Irish Times article concludes asks “Are these a collection of disparate and peripheral voices, or do they reflect a population far less enamoured of Brussels than its political leaders?” That such a question should even be asked by a leading newspaper in a country like Ireland is an indication of how far the project has drifted since the days of Jean Rey or even Jacques Delors in the 1980s.  Just as the €uro was designed to be an irreversible currency union, the whole EU project was constructed without any reverse gear. It finally acquired an escape hatch in the shape of Article 50, but even here, Giuliano Amati, the man who claims he drafted this section of the treaty, never intended it to be used.
One does no wish to gloat over the soul-searching which has taken place in many European capitals in recent months. After all, a sudden collapse of the whole project would leave a dreadful economic and political mess whose ripples would be felt this side of the channel too.   For all its faults. one impetus behind the European project was a commendable desire to avoid the carnage seen in 1914-8 and 1939-45.
Unfortunately, the bad design and premature launch of the Single Currency, the failure of the Schengen area to cope with the refugee crisis – not to mention the deceit and democratic deficit which has charactised the EU since its inception – are all conspiring together to drag the EU into a greater and greater crisis. We can but hope that the end result will not be another European war which the EU was meant  to  prevent, but it would certainly be more helpful if our own pro-EU politicians like Tim Farron and Owen Smith could devote their energies to devising a way for the EU peacefully to dismember itself rather than talking about taking us back into a failing political union which may not even exist in anything like its current form by the time we next go to the ballot box.