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.

Brexit – media muddle and rubbish galore

At first glance, headlines in a number of papers proclaiming “No Brexit until late 2019” sound thoroughly depressing. Has some new hold-up to triggering Article 50 suddenly appeared on the horizon? Not at all. In spite of a spat between Boris Johnson and Liam Fox over whether the Department for International Trade or the Foreign & Commonwealth Office will head up UK foreign policy, Theresa May has insisted that  it is full steam ahead in the preparation for invoking Article 50 early next year and has told the two men to “stop playing games.”

If her plans go according to schedule, the two-year negotiation period would take us to early 2019. Factor in even a short delay in preparing the ground or a mutually-agreed extension to the negotiations and we will find ourselves in the second half of 2019 without having gone through the Brexit door.  With France and Germany both holding major elections in 2017,  it is quite likely that there will need need to be an extension even before the complexities of negotiating a succesful divorce are taken into account. A change of incumbent or government could result in previously-agreed changes having to be revisited if the leadership in either of those countries change – a distinct possibility in France, where President Hollande’s popularity ratings are very low.

Is business going to suffer as a result of June 23rd’s vote?  Well before the referendum, we predicted a short-term blip in the event of a Brexit vote, particularly a drop in the value of sterling. We pointed out that the economic gains were fore the longer term. House prices have fallen in the wake of Brexit, dropping by 2.6% in London and 2% in the South East. Is this a calamity? Ask any first-time buyer about the absurd prices they are having to pay to get onto the housing ladder and you will not hear any sadness on their part.  Another report claimed that businesses had become “pessimistic” as a result of the Brexit vote. Read the article in full, however, and it states that 36%  of companies are planning to increase staffing levels now compared with 40% before the referendum. A slight fall in optimism, but hardly evidence of widespread business gloom.

It is frustrating that some remainers still seem unable to accept that we voted to leave – and with good reason. Avinash Persaud, writing in the Economic and Political Weekly highlights the supposed correlation between voting to leave and lower educational qualification. Those of us with degrees who voted to leave are becoming utterly sick of being characterised as ignoramuses. If anything, the number of graduates who voted for remain is an indication of the woeful inadequacy of our educational system as opposed to any correlation between intelligence and support for the EU.

Mr Persaud, like many other commentators, also links support for Brexit to disenchantment with free trade and the reforms that began under Margaret Thatcher. This again is simplistic twaddle. During the course of the Brexit campaign, one of the most frequently repeated advantages of Brexit was the prospect of beginning to take control of our own trade and escaping the protectionism of the EU. I  for one was accused in one debate by my pro-EU opponent of advocating “Singapore on steroids”.

While the Brexit vote was strong in white working classes areas, the wonderful result on June 23rd was achieved by their alliance with frustrated small businessmen, some trade unionists, a few Labour MPs, a few more Tory MPs and a selection of educated professional types unhappy with the loss of our sovereignty, control of our trade and the top-down nature of the EU.

Of these unlikely bedfellows, the most uniquely British component is the strongly Eurosceptic centre right – one of the legacies of Thatcherism.  Peter Mandelson’s claim that Jeremy Corbyn somehow sabotaged the remain vote  just does not stand up to scrutiny.  Undecided centre-right voters were never going to be  won over by a Labour politician, whether Blairite of Corbynite. Somehow, Mandelson and his ilk still seem unable to come to terms with the fact that plenty of highly educated intelligent people studied the arguments on both sides of the debate and decided that we would be better off out.

Nor, sadly, are they giving up in their attempts to overrule the will  of the people. The European Movement, which was a recipient of substantial CIA funding in the past, is organising a  “March for Europe” on 3rd September. “We need to send a message that 16 million people voted to remain” says their propaganda. Well, we have a message for the European Movement:- over 17 million people voted to leave and we won. That’s called democracy.

Lord Stoddart, a patron and former Chairman of CIB,  recently issued a stark warning to Lord Mandelson and other  Europhile members of the Upper Chamber:-

“My colleagues in the Lords would do well to remember that the Brexit vote was the largest vote for anything in the history of our nation.  According to a study by the University of East Anglia, had Vote Leave been a political party, it would have won a huge landslide of 421 Parliamentary seats.  That would equate to 65% of all seats and 73% of seats in England and Wales.  Mess with this massive mandate at your peril!”

Photo by Brian Smithson (Old Geordie)

Peer’s shock at Labour joining PM’s ‘conspiracy’ against working people

THE PRESS OFFICE OF                                                           

The Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Independent Labour)                                                                                          

News Release

 

17th May 2016

 

Peer shocked to see Labour Party joining PM’s “disgraceful conspiracy of the elite against working people”

The independent Labour Peer, Lord Stoddart of Swindon has strongly attacked the Labour Party over its support for the Remain campaign in the debate over Britain’s future in the EU.

Lord Stoddart said:  “As a life-long Labour man, I find it shocking to see the Labour Party ganging up with Cameron and Osborne to talk Britain down in favour of shackling our country to the EU, an organisation which is hell-bent on destroying nation states in favour of a bureaucratic, centralised corporate state, in a country called ‘Europe’.

 “How can Corbyn and co expect to be treated seriously in their attacks on the Government whilst it is joining them in a disgraceful conspiracy of the élite against working people, engineered by David Cameron?  Labour has become wedded to what can only be described as a one party state and has betrayed the very people that they claim to represent.

“Labour supporters should vote Brexit on 23rd June, to save their country, their jobs and their livelihoods because their Party isn’t going to be able do it for them, if we stay in the EU.”