Rejection of Theresa May’s little Englander ‘Brexit’ is splendid news

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph.

For liberal, free-market Brexiteers, the election shock is a gift from Mount Olympus. We are dancing cartwheels and quaffing our sparkling Kentish wines.

Theresa May’s plummeting star is an entirely unexpected chance to refashion British withdrawal from the European Union along different lines. It re-opens the possibility of a ‘Norwegian’ solution or close variant, an option that she shut down prematurely without debate because it limits her ability to control inflows of EU workers.

Mrs May sees Brexit through the fatal prism of migration, borders, and criminal justice – the déformation professionnelle of the Home Office – strangely oblivious to the immense economic risks of pursuing a narrow strategy to the detriment of all else.

Her vision is irksome to those of us who backed Brexit chiefly in order to restore the law-making prerogatives of Parliament, and to keep a safe distance from an EU that must evolve into a unitary political state if the euro is to survive. Such a destiny is self-evidently incompatible with British democracy and self-rule.

Mrs May is a Remainer who tries too hard to compensate. She has misunderstood the subtleties of Brexit, hijacked the Referendum for the better part of a year, twisted its contours, and seems unaware how her strategy is playing into a corrosive and false narrative taking hold in the world: that the British people are turning nasty and nationalist. So let us begin again.

The shrunken Tories will have to rely on the Ulster Unionists (DUP), who will not brook a hard economic border with the Republic of Ireland.

They will also have to listen more attentively to the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and with her triumphant vanguard of Westminster MPs. She is pressing for the “largest amount of access” to the EU single market.

The balance of political power has changed. To the extent that this safeguards the unity of these Isles – the foremost priority – it is a blessing.

The election was not a rejection of Brexit, as Europe’s press seems to suppose. Some 84% of votes went to Brexit parties. But it was certainly a rejection of Mrs May’s particular variant of Brexit. Call it ‘hard’ if you wish. I prefer to call it insular, pedantic, and illiberal.

The natural fit at this stage is the European Economic Area (EEA), the Norwegian option that was once held out as the Holy Grail by Brexiteers of gradualist philosophy, but was subsequently rubbished by the tub-thumpers and Burka banners. The party of this ideology secured 1.8pc of the vote on Thursday, nota bene. It has no legitimate veto over anything.

The EEA would in principle allow Britain to preserve open trade with the EU single market and retain passporting rights for the City of London, the goose that lays the golden egg for a very vulnerable British economy.

“We should use the EEA as a vehicle to lengthen the transition time,” said Lord (David) Owen, one-time Labour foreign secretary and doyen of the EEA camp.

“Theresa May’s massive mistake has been to allow talk of a hard Brexit to run and run, and to refuse to frame a deal in a way that makes sense for the Europeans. The logic of the EEA is irrefutable,” he said.

Lord Owen said the EU’s withdrawal clause, ‘Article 50’, is designed as a deterrent to stop any country leaving. It leads to a cliff-edge, facing Britain with a take-it or leave-it choice when the clock stops ticking. “This puts us in a dangerous position,” he said. The EEA is a way to overleap this Article 50 trap.

Meredith Crowley, a trade expert at Cambridge University, says the great worry is that tariff barriers into the EU will jump to 12pc or 15pc overnight on UK exports of cars, engines, auto parts, and a range of machinery, setting off an exodus of foreign investment. “Joining the EEA would shut that threat down,” she said.

Critics argue that the Norwegian route is tantamount to remaining in the EU, but on worse terms, with no vote over policy: “While they pay, they don’t have a say,” said David Cameron before the Referendum.

This is a canard. EEA states are exempt from the EU’s farming and fisheries policies, as well as from foreign affairs, defence, and justice. They are free from great swathes of EU dominion established by the Amsterdam, Nice, and Lisbon Treaties.

Above all, EEA states are not subject to the European Court’s (ECJ) limitless writ over almost all areas of law through elastic invocation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The ECJ would no longer be able to exploit the Charter – in breach of Britain’s opt-out under Protocol 30 – whenever it feels like it. We would no longer be under an EU supreme court asserting effective sovereignty. These are not small matters. They are elemental.

Yes, the Norwegian option is a compromise. We would continue paying into the EU budget. This would do much to defuse the escalating showdown over the €100bn bill for EU reparations, poisonous because of the way it is presented. The transfers would become an access fee instead. Norway’s net payments in 2014 were £106 a head. Let us not die in a ditch over such trivia.

Britain would have to tolerate relatively open flows of migrant workers. But contrary to widespread belief, the EEA does not entail full acceptance of the EU’s “four freedoms” – movement of goods, services, capital, and people. Nor does it give the European Court full sway on these issues.

The arrangement allows “a lesser degree” of free movement than within the EU. The language covers the issue of residence, an entirely different matter from the rights of EU citizenship created by the Maastricht Treaty. The EEA permits the sort of emergency brake on migrant flows that was denied to Mr Cameron in his last-ditch talks with the EU before the Referendum.

The point in any case is that the EEA would be a temporary way-station for ten years or so, giving us time to negotiate 80 trade deals with the US, China, Japan, India, Mercorsur, and others without a gun held to our head.

Britain is a contracting party to the EEA. The agreement is binding on all members, and entails rights under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Yes, we would need the goodwill of the EEA-trio of Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein, and the EU itself.

It is possible that some in the EU are now so intent on punishing Britain – or carving up post-Brexit spoils – that they would stop us pursuing this course. But that would be a hostile act. It would certainly clarify the issue. We would then know exactly what the real agenda was in Brussels. It is better to know this sooner rather than later.

There is no such thing as a soft Brexit. Wise statecraft can nevertheless work through this thicket. The EEA option is the best political solution on offer given the new circumstances. It is a graceful way out of the impasse for all parties, not least for a divided EU with a looming budget crunch and a mountain of other problems to deal with.

Tory ultras might balk at a settlement so far short of total liberation. I balk myself whenever I have to listen to the insolence of Jean-Claude Juncker. Yet Tory ultras did not win a mandate in this election for their hair-raising adventure into uncharted waters.

The vote changed the dynamics of Brexit. Compromise is now ineluctable. Jeremy Corbyn and his army of the young may have done this nation a favour.

The biggest losers

Following Mrs May’s response to the London Bridge terrorist attack, Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor, posted a tweet saying that “Mrs May is happy enough to tolerate the extremism of the Brextremist Lie Machine newspapers spewing hate day after day.”

Several newspapers picked this up, expressing horror that Islamic State-supporting terrorists should be equated to sections of our national press. Indeed, such was the storm of protest that Mr Campbell subsequently deleted the tweet, saying . “Previous tweet deleted. Agreed it was over the top”

But over the top or not, the damage has been done. We now know the truth. Such is the vitriolic loathing felt by remoaners like Campbell towards Brexit supporters that in his eyes, some of us are almost as awful as the men who committed the terrible atrocities in Manchester and London recently.

Mind you, there is perhaps good reason from Blairite remoaners to be feeling a bit miffed at the moment. Although unreported by the Press, one of the interesting asides of this general election campaign is that, whatever the result, the last few weeks have significantly damaged their chances of a comeback.

The Campaign for an Independent Britain, being a cross-party organisation, does not fly the flag for any one political party and has encouraged people to vote for fully-fledged Brexit candidates whatever their allegiance, but we can be quite unequivocal in our opposition to the Blairite faction within the Labour Party, which remains one of the biggest strongholds of irreconcilable remainiacs.

When Mrs May called a General Election in April, received opinion expected Labour to suffer its worst defeat since 1983, if not longer. The uncompromising Socialist agenda would deter most voters, Jeremy Corbyn would be forced to resign and Labour would tack back towards the so-called centre ground.

Things have not gone according to plan, however. Three days before polling day, a raft of opinion polls put the Tory lead between 12% and a mere 1%  – nowhere near the 20% differential at the start of the campaign. Averaging these out, Mr Corbyn looks highly unlikely to be marching into 10 Downing Street on Friday, but he could end up with a higher percentage of the vote than Ed Miliband in 2015 – certainly high enough to justify remaining in office and his party thus avoiding a third leadership contest in less than two years.

From the point of view of withdrawing from the EU, it is significant  – and welcome – that Corbyn has never made any statement during the campaign indicating that he will seek to challenge or reverse the Brexit vote.  Before becoming Labour’s leader, his anti-EU credentials were actually quite impressive and his pro-EU speech during last year’s referendum campaign was distinctly lukewarm and lacking in conviction.

Whatever one’s views of his position on other policy issues, we must therefore be thankful that his better-than-expected performance looks likely to leave the Blairites sidelined for a while – hopefully long enough to see us out of the EU. If these people equate a perfectly reasonable desire to join some 180 or so nations in being a sovereign nation once again with the murderous ideology of Islamic State, the sidelines – or worse –  is the best place for them.

Photo by University of Salford

The 2017 General Election we weren’t expecting

Since becoming Prime Minister, Theresa May has insisted that she wasn’t going to cut and run. Although the Conservatives have consistently held a substantial lead over Labour, she has resisted calls from within her own party to hold a snap general election and has been adamant that her government would run its full five-year term.

Her change of heart this morning therefore came as a bolt out of the blue. This was her statement in full:-

“I have just chaired a meeting of the Cabinet, where we agreed that the Government should call a general election, to be held on June 8th.

“I want to explain the reasons for that decision, what will happen next and the choice facing the British people when you come to vote in this election.

“Last summer, after the country voted to leave the European Union, Britain needed certainty, stability and strong leadership, and since I became Prime Minister the Government has delivered precisely that.

“Despite predictions of immediate financial and economic danger, since the referendum we have seen consumer confidence remain high, record numbers of jobs, and economic growth that has exceeded all expectations.

“We have also delivered on the mandate that we were handed by the referendum result”.

Of course, Mrs May cannot ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament. The Fixed Term Parliaments Act, passed under David Cameron in 2011, requires Parliament to serve a full five year term unless there is either a successful vote of no confidence in the Government or else two-thirds of MPs back an early election. Can Mrs May achieve that majority? With Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron and Nicola Sturgeon all enthusiastic to fight another General election, she stands a reasonable chance. However, assuming that every Tory MP will support their leader, this still requires every SNP and Lib Dem MP to do likewise along with at least 30 Labour MPs. If some MPs abstain and enough Labour MPs are fearful for their seats, achieving this figure may prove a bit challenging.

Presumably Mrs May and her supporters have been taking soundings, for if she fails to gain the necessary support, it would not look good for her, especially as she would then be going into the all-important Brexit negotiations from a weakened position. The only other alternatives for a snap election – calling a vote of no confidence in her own government or seeking to repeal the 2011 act, which would require approval of the House of Lords – do not look very likely.

Assuming that she does secure a majority, from the perspective of the Campaign for an Independent Britain, this will be a very different election from anything in the recent past. Being a cross-party campaign organisation, our focus has been to encourage voters to support candidates supportive of withdrawal from the EU, regardless of their party allegiance. With the vote to leave and the triggering of Article 50 behind us, the dynamics have changed considerably, particularly as many former remain-supporting Tories along with a significant minority of their Labour colleagues have insisted that they will honour last June’s vote and will not be obstructive of Brexit. Our task, therefore, will be to highlight obstructive individuals – either sitting MPs or candidates – while encouraging voters to support any candidate who is committed to the UK securing a good Brexit deal, whatever party they come from.

We can but hope that this election, rather than resurrecting the animosity of the Brexit campaign, will give us a Parliament which will carry out the wishes of the people as expressed last June and work constructively to secure such a successful exit from the EU that by the time the next General Election takes place, it will no longer be an issue for the UK electorate.

The options for our railway network after Brexit

With all the many complexities of securing a trade agreement and agreeing the terms of our divorce from the EU, the future for the UK rail network is not likely to be in the forefront of the minds of our politicians during the next two years – apart from perhaps the ruinously costly HS2 project.

Once we are out of the EU, however, a number of new options are possible for our railway network which would have been out of the question had we voted to remain.

Before considering these options, a couple of misconceptions need laying to rest. Firstly, the EU was NOT responsible for rail privatisation.  The late Bob Crow of the RMT union made this claim some years back, but Directive 91/440, the apparent culprit, talks of “separating the management of railway operation and infrastructure from the provision of railway transport services” (in other words. separating track from trains), but adds that while “separation of accounts” is compulsory, “organizational or institutional separation” was optional.

What it fact happened is that the UK began the privatisation process under John Major and the EU  adopted some features of the UK model at a later date. The complex and unwieldly franchise system from which our railways currently suffer, however, is also a creation of the UK government and nothing to do with the EU at all.

So once we are out of the EU what changes? Firstly, it becomes possible for Jeremy Corbyn to fulfil his pledge to re-nationalise the railways. It was one of the first promises he made on becoming leader of the Labour Party and one which would have been impossible as a member of the EU. Already, the track and infrastructure is in public hands with Network Rail having replaced the privately-owned Railtrack in the aftermath of the Hatfield accident of 2000, which was caused by a broken rail and which brought to public attention Railtrack’s poor stewardship of the railway infrastructure. Furthermore, some franchises, including the East Coast Main Line from 2009 to 2015, were taken over by the State when the operator felt unable to continue running them profitably. Stringent terms are attached to franchises, so in one sense, passenger train operating companies do not have that free a hand under the franchise system.

Mr Corbyn’s planned renationalisation would be accomplished by not renewing franchises at the end of their term and trains then being run buy the state. As more and more of the network  reverted to state control, outside the EU, he could then, if so desired, return our railway network to the monolithic structure of the British Rail era.

At the other end of the spectrum, outside the EU, it would be possible to return to the “vertically integrated ” railways which pre-dated the rail nationalisation of 1948, where privately companies owned their own rolling stock, track, signalling and stations. Given the requirement to separate  track from trains would no longer apply, it would make possible, at least in theory, a complete privatisation of the rail network and a much simpler structure, with the government playing a very minor role.

Of course, it would be possible to carry on much as things are at the moment – indeed, this will almost certainly be the case in the immediate post-Brexit period as there will be far too much else requiring the attention of the government and Whitehall.

In summary, therefore, Brexit makes possible a number of options which would not be on the table if we had voted to remain an EU member state. Public opinion on re-nationalisation is sharply divided and there would be complexities facing any reorganisation. For instance, what of specialist freight operators and charter train providers, most of which are completely privately-owned? While there is a considerable degree of support for taking scheduled passenger services on the UK’s main lines back under public ownership, only real hard-line left wing ideologues wold go as far as wanting to take the freight companies back into public ownership.

One welcome and uncontroversial benefit of leaving the EU would be the chance to replace the EU’s Interoperability Directives with something far simpler. These  pieces of legislation stipulate a very complex registration process for new rolling stock which allows locomotives, carriages and wagons to operate across international borders. Given the UK’s geographical location, a very low percentage of trains in this country are ever going to operate across international boundaries – only Eurostar services, car and lorry shuttles through the Channel Tunnel, international freight services and the very limited service across the Irish border between Belfast and Dublin.

It is utterly pointless therefore for an operator like Trans Pennine or Chiltern Trains, for example, to have to comply with this directive. Currently, under EU legislation, they are required to do so even though their services do not go anywhere near international boundaries.

What needs to be remembered in studying any policy area where the EU has either full or partial competence is that there is always a political element. Regular visitors to this website will be aware of John Ashworth’s stinging criticism of the Common Fisheries Policy. It was designed as a tool of integration and its potential to help build a united Europe was far more important than the effect it might have on actual fishermen – especially UK fishermen.

EU transport policy likewise has been designed to facilitate integration – in particular, the burgeoning network of high-speed railway lines being built to link major European cities. Our course, an independent UK may decide that we still think it is a good idea to have a high-speed network linking London with the North of England and Scotland, but as with other areas of post-Brexit policy, our prime consideration will be what is best for the people of this country. What this might entail will depend on who is in power, but at least future governments of whatever hue will have far more options as they no longer have their hands tied by the EU’s all-consuming desire to create a federal superstate.

Leavers worked very hard for years to secure Brexit – but we were also helped by a string of good luck

By Patrick O’Flynn MEP

A TV advert came out last year starring James Corden as a motorist driving through central London and finding that every single set of traffic lights miraculously favours him.

After cruising through about four sets in a row, a by-now-ecstatic Corden yells: “They call me Mr Green Light!” The advert serves as a useful reminder of how such a random thing as a run of good luck can change outcomes completely.

I was reminded of it while in Westminster last week to take part in the political circus surrounding the triggering of Article 50. Because, let’s be frank, our victory has only partly been down to our collective political genius. It has also depended on an almost freakish number of factors and events having fallen in our favour in the most fruitful sequence.

No wonder many Remainers cannot break out of outright denial about Brexit. It is an occurrence that has come at them at very high speed, leaving them with an acute case of political PTSD. I suspect many re-run what has happened in their minds every day and simply cannot fathom how it happened.

Let me take you through the sheer number of consecutive green lights we have needed so you can fully appreciate what I mean.

Green light number one was staying out of the €uro and that depended on Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party pressurising John Major and the other party leaders into supporting a referendum before entry. Had a stronger conviction politician such as Ken Clarke been PM at the time, there would have been no chance of a referendum lock on the single currency. But as luck would have it, Downing Street was occupied by a balancer rather than a leader, someone who responded to pressure. And as a result, the UK kept its monetary sovereignty and was able to observe the unravelling of the €uro experiment from the semi-detached sidelines.

The next green light was the failure of the Blair Government to impose transitional migration controls following EU enlargement in 2004. The bottom end of the labour market was flooded and talk of wage compression and pressure on public services took hold in working class communities.

Then came the failure of all the main party leaders to honour their commitment to giving a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Naturally a British rejection of Lisbon would have been hugely disruptive to the EU. But the treaty could surely have been repackaged for a second time with some more tweaks to reassure UK public opinion. But no, it was steamrollered through and as a result public resentment built.

The great financial crash of 2008 further built popular resentment against establishment figures and exacerbated the stagnation of living standards that oversupply of labour was already causing.

Then came another hugely important green light for Brexiteers – the formation of the 2010 Conservative-Lib Dem coalition under David Cameron. With Cameron already regarded with suspicion by the Tory base, the sight of him teaming up with Nick Clegg created the conditions for the rise of UKIP. And as well as transferring at least five points from the Tory score into the UKIP column, the very existence of the coalition also transferred ten points from the Lib Dems to Labour.

Another green light soon followed when the crashing of Lords reform by Tory MPs such as Jesse Norman gave Clegg an excuse to rat on boundary changes that Cameron was depending on for the 2015 election.

So Cameron, who like Major before him was a politician who responded to pressure and travelled light ideologically, was placed in the tightest of tight spots. What he had in addition – something the more cunning Major lacked – was a blithe overconfidence in his own ability to get out of such spots. Therefore, against the advice of George Osborne, he promised an In/Out referendum, confident that his brio would win the day, if and when that day ever arrived. A big green light for us there.

The lights were green again at the 2015 general election – with our First Past The Post electoral system delivering an unexpected outright Tory majority on a 37% vote share. Cameron was left with no excuse for not delivering the referendum.

Accordingly, 8th May 2015 was the first time that most people on the liberal left had even bothered to start contemplating having to win a plebiscite on EU membership. Up to that point most had dismissed the very idea of leaving as a fringe concern of a few right-wing Europhobes in the Tory Party and UKIP.

And even then, the early summer polls on EU membership showed Remain leads of 20-25%. Many pundits predicted a Remain landslide. So Labour and the Lib Dems felt able to take their eyes of the ball and plunge energetically into inward-looking party leadership contests. The prospect of a Leave referendum win was considered so remote that Jeremy Corbyn’s long-time opposition to the EU was barely considered relevant by pro-Remain Labour members as they voted him in by a landslide.

Are you getting the idea by now? They call me Mr Green Light!

And more green signals followed: not only did the more broadly appealing Vote Leave campaign win designation as the official Leave campaign (essential to keeping the dream alive), but the more immigration-focused alternatives were liberated to hit the segments of the electorate who responded to their blunter messaging. And nobody could claim collusion or choreography was going on between Vote Leave and Leave.EU because everyone knew that they really did hate each other.

Just as important was Cameron’s botched “renegotiation”. So cocksure was the then PM about his ability to win pragmatic voters around to Remain on economic grounds that he advertised in advance to his EU peer group that he would ultimately accept whatever they offered him. Unsurprisingly, a lousy deal was forthcoming.

Also, both David Cameron and George Osborne took bad reputational hits in the eyes of Labour-inclined voters in the months leading up to the referendum campaign they were destined to lead.

Cameron’s, one vaguely recalls, concerned a slightly trumped up story about his late father’s use of tax havens. Osborne’s concerned benefit cuts and blew up when Iain Duncan Smith resigned from the Cabinet in protest. The appeal of Osborne in particular to sectors of the electorate that Remain needed to turn out was much reduced. And while Osborne allegedly had been damning about the intellectual capacity of IDS, there is little doubt about who outsmarted whom on this occasion.

So Remain was left with a derided renegotiation and an undercooked campaign led by two Tory posh boys and involving almost zero input from the ambivalent leader of the Labour Party. Even during the campaign itself some crucial luck broke our way when postal vote ballots dropped on a day when record immigration figures led the news.

When polling day itself dawned it should have come as no surprise that torrential rain unloaded on London – depressing turnout in the Remain heartland.

So, my fellow Leavers, as well as recalling our heroic hard work and strategic brilliance, let us also try to understand rather better the trauma of our Remainer friends who were beaten before they even properly realised they were in a fight that they might lose.

One can only conclude that somebody up there must like us. I give you Article 50, courtesy of Mr Green Light.

This article first appeared on the Brexit Central website and is used by permission

Supreme Court’s ruling won’t derail Brexit

 

It has come as no surprise that the Supreme Court has upheld the original ruling by the High Court that Parliament must vote on the triggering of Article 50.

However, there was one crumb of comfort – the judges dismissed calls for the Scottish Parliament to have any veto over the deal.

With this verdict widely anticipated, we understand that the Government has already drafted an enabling act designed to provide minimal opportunities for Remain-supporting MPs and peers to table amendments and it is unlikely that Parliament will try to derail it.

There have long been concerns that the House of Lords, which has historically been predominantly Europhile, may seek to block Brexit, but a statement earlier this month from  Lord Fowler, the speaker of the House of Lords, provides us with some encouragement:-

“The Lords recognise the primacy of the Commons based on the fact that they are the elected chamber and we are not… In return most MPs value the check that scrutiny by the Lords provides. We are not here to sabotage legislation – we are here to improve it.” 

In Mrs May’s speech last week, she ruled out continued membership of the Single Market, but did not go into any detail as to how British products could  circulate freely “within”  EU, as she has mentioned several times – or indeed, what the transitional arrangement at which she hinted  might entail

Consequentially, Labour sources have indicated that while they would try to amend legislation in four areas, including  a demand that the Government sets out its plans for Brexit in full, the party would not try to block the triggering of Article 50.

Jeremy Corbyn, interviewed by Sophy Ridge for Sky TV on Sunday was adamant that “We accept the result of the referendum. Parliament must reflect public decision.” and added “I will ask Labour MPs to respect the decision.”

It is likely that the opposition to the enabling act will be greater than the 89 MPs who voted against the earlier vote on triggering Article 50. Nevertheless, for all the concerns expressed in some quarters about Mrs May’s speech, the remoaners’ tactics have won them few friends since June 23rd, which has taken away their credibility, regardless of the legitimacy of their concerns. The latest outburst, from the philosopher A C Grayling, who called for a general strike over Brexit, is all too typical.

So Mrs May’s timetable for Article 50 looks still to be on course. We should be on our way out by the end of March by which time we will hopefully know a lot more about how she plans to extricate us seamlessly from the EU.