Brexit roundup – short-term problems; longer-term potential?

With Parliament  still in the Easter recess, things have been a bit quieter than usual on the Brexit front. However, the well-supported fishing protests last Sunday suggest that we are going to be entering a  period in which the Government will face ever-mounting pressure to try a different approach to securing some sort of workable short-term post Brexit arrangement.

The long term is not looking promising either. Given how readily Mrs May and David Davis rolled over, what is the likelihood of their resisting demands from Michel Barnier that the UK sign a “non-regression” clause in any long-term agreement, which would force the UK not to undercut EU standards on tax, health and the environment to poach investments. He has also insisted that access for EU fishing vessels must be included in any long-term deal. The “environment” issue is a red herring as many EU environmental laws owe their existence to UK influence, but why should we not determine who fishes in our waters? Why should we be denied the freedom to cut tax? The state in the UK is horrifically bloated, as in most other Western nations.  It needs to be shrunk drastically and were this to be undertaken, taxes would inevitably undercut those in many EU member states.

Going back to the transitional arrangements, a report from the House of Commons Brexit Committee has confirmed that if a “deep and special partnership” with the EU proved unsuccessful, EEA/Efta membership was an alternative that could be implemented quickly. Although the Committee is looking at EEA/Efta as a long-term solution (which it isn’t)  it would be a better alternative than the current proposals for the short term, which poses the question as to why Mrs May and her team are pursuing such a damaging alternative. Maybe they still believe that it’s worth enduring 21 months of humiliation because  there will be a marvellous deal at the end – a hope which is unlikely to be fulfilled. Barnier’s comments make it clear that he wants to deny us as much long-term freedom as possible.

A number of Commonwealth countries have been discussing a future trade relationship with the EU. The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that it would be “fairly easy” to negotiate “an improved approach on trade between Canada and the UK” after Brexit. The same article claimed that India is becoming less enthusiastic, no doubt due to  the recent statement by Theresa May that she still intended to reduce annual net UK migration to less than 100,000, meaning that India’s desire for more of its citizens to come over here as part of a new trade deal is unlikely to be fulfilled. Australia is also keen to start negotiations with the UK on trade, but pointed out that  if we stayed in the EU’s customs union after Brexit, we wold become “irrelevant”.

Meanwhile, disgruntled remoaners are still seeking to over turn Brexit by demanding a second referendum.  For all her failings in other areas of Brexit, at least Mrs May is standing firm on this. “Regardless of whether they backed Leave or Remain, most people are tired of hearing the same old divisive arguments from the referendum campaign, and just want us to get on with the task of making Brexit a success. And they’re right to think that. The people of this country voted to leave the EU and, as Prime Minister, it’s my job to make that happen.” she said in a recent speech to mark one year until Brexit day.

Mrs May is most definitely right in claiming that most people have had enough of Brexit controversy. Claims that some 44% of voters want a second referendum do not tally with real-life experience.  Given that the poll was conducted by a pro-remain group, Best for Britain,  a healthy degree of scepticism is justified. Mrs May has the support of Jeremy Corbyn in opposing a second referendum and it is doubtful whether those activists on both sides of the argument who spoke in debate after debate, criss-crossing the country and having to suspend anything resembling a normal life for three months would want to go through it again.

The clamour is coming from those who wouldn’t have to do the donkey work. The latest addition to the ranks of these good-for nothings is David Miliband, who called Brexit “the humiliation of Britain.”  Well, Mrs May does seem to be trying to do this at the moment, but a decent Brexit would be the absolute opposite – a chance to stand tall as a sovereign nation once again. there’s nothing humiliating about this.  One after another, the fears stoked up by remoaners are being debunked. The UK economy has performed well since the vote and only today, Andreas Dombret, Member of the Executive Board of the Deutsche Bundesbank, stated that despite attempts to lure parts of the finance industry to Paris or Frankfurt, London would remain Europe’s financial hub after Brexit.  A mass exodus from the City was always a concern during the referendum campaign, but such fears are unfounded.

In many ways, a healthy debate on how we leave  – i.e., the relative merits of the current transitional proposal versus EEA/Efta as a holding position will take the wind out of the remoaners’ sails and would cut their media exposure in favour of more important issues. However, one cannot overstate the importance of winning this debate. Brexit must mean Brexit (to quote Mrs May). Surrendering to the EU’s demands for a transitional deal would prevent us fully achieving the separation for which we voted in June 2016. This must not happen.

The fantasy of a “frictionless” trade agreement

Mrs May and Mr Davis’ oft repeated aspiration for ‘frictionless’ trade with the European Union (EU) via a free trade agreement (FTA) and mutual recognition of standards will in reality consign the United Kingdom to being a permanent EU vassal stateBrexit will be in name only, with “stay, pay, obey without a say” being the outcome of their mishandling the Brexit negotiations.  The transition agreement, which turns the UK into an EU vassal state thanks to completely caving in to unreasonable demands by the EU, is a forerunner of even worse things to come. The transition deal (partially agreed, although a long way from being ratified) is vastly inferior to the deal which they could have obtained, but rejected out of hand as far back as Mrs May’s Lancaster House speech 17th January 2017. We could have retained our membership of the Single Market (and wider European Economic Area, EEA) through re-joining, even temporarily, The European Free Trade Association, EFTA. This alternative, also known as the ‘Norway Option’, could have delivered practically ‘frictionless’ trade and a soft border on the isle of Ireland.

At the heart of Mrs May and Mr Davis’ highly risky, far-fetched and delusional approach to Brexit is a failure to understand the nature of the EU, the European Economic Area (EEA), EFTA’s working relationship with the EEA including the EEA Agreement, mutual recognition of standards and how world trade works.  They make the most basic mistakes and repeat factually incorrect or incomplete statements to support their contradictory desire to leave the Single Market while retaining the same level of market access through an FTA.  They appear unwilling to take cognisance of readily available facts that completely disprove their fatuous mantras.

The details of what will happen after the UK leaves the EU (and the EEA) are there for anyone to see on the EU’s dedicated website  – especially in the increasing number of “Notices to Stakeholder”s under Brexit preparedness) It makes somewhat chilling reading.  There is nothing equivalent on the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union’s website. Presumably either they haven’t done this vital work or have chosen not to share it – a truth too awful to tell?

Upon leaving the EU and the EEA we would become a ‘third’ country. We would then be subject to different requirements by the EU in order,  at best, to manage the risks (to consumers and others) of doing business with us (or any other ‘third country’ outside the Single Market or EEA) and, at worst, to erect protectionist trade barriers in favour of domestic EU enterprises.  From the EU’s perspective, they will not grant concessions to ‘third’ country suppliers outside their control which are not enjoyed by EU domestic suppliers, especially when these could increase risks or create an ‘unfair’ competitive advantage.  The EU also has to treat the UK the same as any other ‘third’ country in order to comply with World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreed requirements or principles.

The EU is developing the Single Market by harmonising standards, regulations, and enforcement or surveillance within a top down centralised legalistic and bureaucratic framework under their supervision and control. It is also a long-established declared ambition that ‘third’ countries (outside the EU, or wider European Economic Area, EEA) would adopt or follow at least some EU-style measures.  The EU’s approach (to products) is outlined in principle in COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE COUNCIL AND THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT Enhancing the Implementation of the New Approach Directives and in more detail in the EU’s Guide to the implementation of directives based on the New Approach and the Global Approach .

For the EU, mutual recognition of standards (which differ from theirs) has limited application, since it is not their preferred choice where harmonised standards (in their widest context) exist.  In any case, there is the practical complexity and increased cost of demonstrating equivalence and compatibility, which can be far from straightforward and unacceptable to consumers and users.  To take a simple illustration, traffic lights using green on top for ‘stop’ and red underneath for ‘go’ certainly provides equivalent functionality but are far from compatible and acceptable.  Also test values from subtly different tests may mean a product is (theoretically) less safe rendering it unacceptable or requiring expensive (or impractical) re-design, which in turn may invalidate other test results and/or existing certification/approvals.  (See also the Fallacy of Easy Mutual Recognition of Standards).

The EFTA/EEA option is not perfect, but is far more favourable to the UK’s interests than the transitional deal on offer or indeed, to what will eventually emerge as Mrs May’s FTA and ‘deep and special relationship’. Norway participates in the EEA through membership of EFTA. Actually it only implements EU legislation necessary for functioning of the EEA, which at most constitutes around 25% of the total EU acquis or system of laws. More than 90% of these EEA related laws reportedly originate in global bodies, meaning the UK would need to implement them anyway for global trade, unless we leave the World Trade Organisation (WTO), et al. Also the EFTA route to EEA membership gives members outside the EU a say in EU legislation affecting the EEA, is largely free (although ‘voluntarily’ Norway does contribute to regional development funds) and is outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). What is more, EFTA members make their own trade agreements with other countries.

Contrary to statements by M. Barnier and Mrs May about the four indivisible freedoms, EFTA/EEA membership contains the facility to control immigration. Two members of EFTA have unilaterally invoked Article 112 (the Safeguard Measures) of the EEA Agreement to restrict free movement – Liechtenstein for people and Iceland for capital. The UK could do so too if we retain membership of the EEA by re-joining EFTA.  Ironically, Articles 112 and 113 of the EEA agreement, which Mrs May rejects, are reproduced closely by the EU in their draft Withdrawal Agreement, Article 13 (Protocols NI), allowing the EU unilaterally to restrict freedom of movement (including immigration into the EU from the UK).

Continuing membership of the EEA solves the problem of maintaining a soft border in Ireland between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, thus avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK (something Mrs May has ruled out, for the moment).  It also gives us full control of fishing in our Exclusive Economic Zone.  The EEA agreement (for EFTA members) can be adapted to suit their interests.  Thus the UK (within EFTA) could get a bespoke version.  So we could ‘imitate, adapt and improve’ on the existing EEA agreement to suit our needs rather than follow an insular and amateurish effort to ‘re-invent the FTA wheel in a few months’ that isn’t going anywhere.

From the beginning, the EU negotiators completely dominated the Brexit negotiations. It was inevitable then that negotiating concessions (or cave-ins) would be made by weak, dithering and clueless Mrs May and Mr Davis to strong, decisive and professional M. Barnier and his team. Comparing the EU’s draft Withdrawal Agreement with the text agreed by the UK shows just how much the increasingly uncompromising EU is getting its way.  Worse still, the EU is getting away with demands that are over and above those necessary for trade, with more already in the pipeline (such as fishing, defence, defence procurement, locking UK into EU budgets etc.).  If you thought the Transitional Deal was bad, wait until you see the final withdrawal agreement and the FTA.

Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Juncker?

Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, delivered a speech to the European Parliament. on Monday March 12th .When he mentioned that the UK was going to leave the EU on March 29th 2019, some pro-withdrawal UK MEPs started cheering, which led Juncker to add “when you will regret your decision”. It is now over 18 months since the referendum and there is little evidence as yet of any serious voter regret.  Why should things be any different in a year’s time? After all, some of us have spent years, if not decades, campaigning to regain our independence. We’re not going to have second thoughts.

The immediate post-Brexit may be painful at first, particularly if the current muddle in the Government’s Brexit strategy is not resolved, but Brexit is like an operation to remove a malignant tumour – not going through with it would be far worse and lead to certain death.  The pain is a price worth paying.  Mind you, there is no need for the pain to be any greater than necessary. We certainly do not want to find ourselves stuck in a transitional deal on the EU’s current proposed terms which would both cripple our fishing industry  and make it very difficult ever to achieve a full and complete break. Reports that the Government and the EU are close to an agreement are thus a serious cause for concern.

Thankfully, transitional arrangements will only be signed off as part of an overall separation deal and we are still a long way from this being finalised. Our side is still struggling to move beyond soundbytes and wish lists.  Michel Barnier urged Theresa May to speed up the Brexit negotiations and define her vision for the sort of future relationship she wishes our country to have with the EU.  This does beg the question as to whether our team actually realises that the soundbytes and wish lists are nothing more than that. Could it be that, in Mrs May’s eyes, this actually is her vision?

Meanwhile, in spite of the lack of progress, the UK economy continues to defy the doom merchants. There is no question that predictions of economic meltdown before Brexit day have been proved totally and completely wrong. Even Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, was uncharacteristically upbeat  in his 2018 spring statement. Annual GDP growth of  1.5% or less in the coming years is not wonderful but it’s heaven compared with the  nightmare scenario portrayed by George Osborne a couple of years back.

Mind you, economic forecasting at the moment is completely pointless until we know  what the route to Brexit will look like. The better-than-expected performance of the UK economy to date does not in any way mean that we are guaranteed to sail out of the EU’s escape hatch in a blaze of glory. M. Barnier is  right – we really must come up with an exit plan that honours the mandate given by the British people on 23rd June 2016 and yet ensures that our businesses can continue to trade reasonably seamlessly with the EU if not on the same terms as before. So far, regrettably, there has been no sign of any coherent plan and the Brexit clock continues to tick. But regret our decision to leave? NEVER.

 

Photo by UE en Perú

The Beginning of the End for Britain’s Fishing?

Fishermen’s Organisation Fishing for Leave highlight that the leaked (and soon after published) Government DRAFT TEXT FOR DISCUSSION: IMPLEMENTATION PERIOD detailing the Government position on the Transition deal show a deliberate effort to fashion Brexit in name only.

The group accuses the government of engineering terms that fly in the face of the biggest democratic instruction in British history.

The document says the government believes-

The UK believes this document demonstrates that there is broad alignment between the UK and EU positions, with only a small number of areas requiring discussion.

Has enraged most Brexiteers who see this as a brazen confession that the government sees “broad alignment in position” as an admission the government is prepared to capitulate what they see as the EUs stringent transition terms.

The Terms of the transition as that although the UK will have officially left the EU and no longer be a member the UK will re-agree to obey all EU law after we leave. Many back bench brexiteers with Jacob Rees-Mogg heading them say Britain would be reduced to being some sort of ‘vassal state’.

Fishing for Leave say the document is a sneaky admission of the disastrous situation the government are digging not only fishing but the country as a whole

NOTES
The official terms in Article X+4 – Specific arrangements relating to Fisheries Policy – say;

[Paragraph 1] As regards the fixing and allocation of fishing opportunities … for any period prior to the end of the Period (i.e. the transition), the EU and the UK shall agree the fishing opportunities related to the UK prior to the decision-making process within the Council. The United Kingdom shall participate alongside the EU and other coastal States in international fisheries negotiations.

The changes to paragraph [1] are to clarify the need for agreement between the UK and the EU with regards fishing opportunities during the (transition) Period, in advance of the formal processes at the December Fisheries Council, in which the UK will no longer have voting rights. The changes also reflect the consequences of the UK’s status as a third country for participation in negotiations with other coastal states.

They say that the text above is an admission that the government has to engineer an arrangement to allow the UK as a non-EU member but an independent coastal state to surrender its fisheries resources and waters to the EU as part of a transition deal where we must obey the CFP of “equal access to a common resource”.

Many Brexit groups have highlighted because the UK is would not be a member of the EU it cannot be officially recognised by other non-EU nations as being party to deals they have with the EU.

Fishing for Leave cites that this would work in reverse on fisheries As the UK will no longer officially be an EU member the EU cannot officially act or speak on behalf of the UK in international agreements – such as international fisheries agreements

Alan Hastings FFLs spokesman said “Saying the UK and EU will participate at international negotiations is a way to ensure the UK signs off whatever the EU tells us. We then return home and have to surrender our resources to the common EU pot to be divided out under the same grotesquely unfair shares of the CFP to obey the transition arrangements between us and the EU”

“To give some sort of context as a rough legal comparison think of a husband (the EU) and wife (the UK)”.

“Although they are married (i.e. the transition deal) it is a matter of fact the wife (the UK) is a person/country in her/our own right (a coastal state). The husband (the EU) cannot sign for the wife (the UKs) inheritance (fisheries resources agreed international)”.

“However, as they are married (transition deal) once the inheritance (fisheries resources agreed internationally) are concluded the inheritance (our fish) belongs and is divided between their common household where the EU under the terms of the CFP only gives us half of what should otherwise be solely ours”.

FFL say this is why the government has made this provision and shrouded it in opaque wording.

NOTE
This is why DEFRAs official statement to the press when questioned below goes all fuzzy at the end.

Our proposal makes clear that when the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019, we will become an independent coastal state. The Treaties will no longer apply, we will no longer be a Member State, and we will leave the Common Fisheries Policy. 

“Our proposal means that during the implementation period we will sit alongside other Coastal States as equal partners in international annual quota negotiations. 

“We are expecting more detailed discussions on the text with the EU. The details of how this apply will be discussed there.”

Alan Hastings said on DEFRAs statement; “Yes, unequivocally, as a legal matter of fact, when we are an independent coastal state this confers the right to sit at the table and exercise sovereignty over our resources as the statement admits”.

“What the statement then fails to highlight is the government has built a mechanism to facilitate selling us out where we can surrender our waters and resources to the EU as part of the terms of the transition deal where we must obey the CFP thereafter – that is what is key”.

“The disgracefulness of this is amplified because they know and recognise that we will be an independent country but have deliberately contrived and decided to throw all that away to be trapped in the CFP. To sell our resources and fishermen out to the EU again but with just a different legal underpinning”.

“It is nothing short of evil, calculated maliciousness hid behind deliberately opaque wording and a PR exercise – those within the establishment who ore engineering something so heinous need to be called out”.

All fishermen’s representative bodies are aghast at the transition saying it could be used to finish of the UK fleet.  They question why fishing needs to be in a transition at all when the government recognises that we can walk away and be an independent coastal state with full control over all our waters and resources.

They are angry that the government failed to back Michael Gove’s and George Eustice’s calls to not include fishing in a transition and to leave the disastrous CFP entirely on 29th March 2019.

Alan Hastings concluded “We fear that the powers that be have laid the ground work to sacrifice Britain’s fishermen and coastal communities to continued demise trapped in the CFP where we will be another British industry consigned to museum and memory”.

Mr Davis’ Brexit bridge to nowhere

Some of us will no doubt remember learning the song Sur le pont d’Avignon in our French classes at school. If you are careful, the bridge in question, the Pont St. Bénézet, may be a possible venue for dancing, as the song suggests, but it no longer fills its original function of providing a crossing of the River Rhône as only four of the original 22 arches, which date from approximately 1345AD, are still extant. When the river flooded, the arches tended to collapse and by the 17th century, the authorities gave up their attempts to repair the damaged masonry, leaving its four surviving arches as a bridge to nowhere.

David Davis is now engaged in a hard sell, trying to convince MPs and the general public that his proposed transitional deal is a stepping stone to full severance from the EU. He called it a  “bridge to the future.” If this deal is agreed by our parliament and the EU, nothing could be a less accurate description. Like the Pont St Bénézet in Avignon, it is a bridge to nowhere.

Those Tory MPs making a statement on these lines (and there have been some recently who have use somewhat different terminology to say the same thing) have been denounced as “swivel-eyed” by Claire Perry, the energy minister. The uncomfortable reality is that from what we know of the terms of this deal, it is nothing less than an unmitigated disaster.

We can start with the words of the Brexit secretary himself. Here is his speech. He talks about “strictly time limited implementation period,” yet not only did Mr Davis not specifically mention 21 months but already, rumours are circulating that it may be extended to last for three years.

And during this period, for all Mr Davis’ evasive language and hard-selling, yes, Jacob Rees-Mogg is correct, we would be a vassal state of the EU with no representation yet forced to accept all its laws. Our friends in Fishing for Leave have analysed both Davis’ speech and the EU’s terms for the implementation (aka transitional) period. You can read the analysis of the speech here and a summary of the Commission’s recommendations to the EU council about the terms and conditions for the transitional arrangements here.

The European Council has now (today 29th January) published an annex to its guidelines of 29th April 2017 which covers the transition period. You can read the document here and an analysis of it here. “Vassal State” sums it up well. In case anyone is in any doubt, Clause 13 insists that during the transition period, “The Union acquis should apply to and in the United Kingdom as if it were a Member State. Any changes to the Union acquis should automatically apply to and in the United Kingdom during the transition period.” We’ve got to accept the whole caboodle and we don’t have any say in what may come our way. Davis assured the Select Committee that it takes a long time for new EU laws to pass through the system so it was unlikely that anything which was still only in the pipeline on Brexit Day would actually get through onto our statute books at the end of the transitional period. This is wishful thinking, The Common Fisheries Policy was rushed through in three months in order to be in force when the UK joined in 1973.

The Council document also denies us the right to sign any trade deals during the transition period without the EU’s permission. Clause 16 states:- “During the transition period, the United Kingdom may not become bound by international agreements entered into in its own capacity in the fields of competence of Union law, unless authorised to do so by the Union

The Council document interestingly did not repeat the Commission’s refusal for us to piggyback on any deals which it has signed with third countries. Clause 14 of the Commission document was  unequivocal: “It is also recalled that as from the date of its withdrawal from the Union the United Kingdom will no longer benefit from the agreements concluded by the Union, or by Member States acting on its behalf, or by the Union and its Member States acting jointly.” In other words, we would have to agree not to ask the countries in question if they still wished to keep the same trading arrangements with the UK. We would essentially be under “WTO rules” with the rest of the world. Is its absence a “concession?”

Whatever, we would be stuck in the EU’s customs Union. As we have mentioned countless times before, if we are in the Single Market, there is NO NEED to be in the Customs Union. The two are NOT joined at the hip. “Davis, come here, you bad boy. Your punishment is 100 lines; write out the following until the message sinks in:- we do not need to be in the EU’s customs union after Brexit. “

Add to this an insistence that the ECJ will have an ongoing role in the UK’s affairs (Clause 10 of the Council document) and a continuation of free movement of people (Clause 16). The Council document only briefly mentions the EU budget (Clause 17) but the Commission’s insistence on a payment into the EU’s coffers which is little different from our current payments as a member state appears to be implied.

Naturally, during this transition period, we will be subject to the Common Fisheries Policy (see Clause 21 of the Council Document) which is a disaster. Indeed, if it is extended beyond the current 21-month period, there will be very little left of our fishing industry, which would be catastrophic given that Fishing for Leave’s proposals would have turned the UK into a world leader in fisheries management and would have revived our coastal communities.

What is more, any concessions made to the EU in any transitional deal cannot easily be revoked when it is replaced by a long-term arrangement. Because this “transition” is part of a new treaty AFTER Article 50 terminates the current relationship, and because we will have agreed to replicate and adopt all EU laws, we will create a “continuity of rights” under Article 30 and Article 70 of the Vienna Convention. As this new transition treaty will not terminate with a clinical Article 50 clause where “the treaties (& obligations) cease to apply”, the EU will have grounds to argue that because we undid Article 50 and re-adopted the entire Acquis with no clear exit clause that their rights and obligations established under the transition treaty should continue past 21 months.

The EU may be eventually proved wrong to argue so, but protracted litigation on what is a grey area of international treaty law could tie this country in knots and quickly erode the minuscule resistance within the British establishment to concede to any EU demands.

To say therefore that this transitional arrangement is unacceptable, even if by some miracle a new deal could be signed in 21 months with no continuity, is hardly the language of “swivel-eyed loons.” It is merely stating what over 17 million people voted for in June 2016 – in other words, we must leave the European Union. Adopting the transitional terms on the basis of the Commission and Council documents would be like having a dance on Pont St Bénézet in Avignon – once the fun is over, your only choice is to walk off the bridge at exactly the same place where you walked on. In other words, we would not be out of the EU in any meaningful sense of the term – not in 2019, not in 2021, maybe not ever. It is a complete surrender – the worst of all worlds. The sooner the likes of Claire Perry, David Davis and indeed Theresa May realise this, the better.  If they don’t, their party will face the wrath of voters all too soon and could find itself in the middle of its worst crisis since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. Thankfully one MP has realised this. His colleagues need to  wake up quickly. It really is that serious.

 

Photo by Dano

2018: Must do better

After a week’s break – well, sort of – it’s back to Brexit with a vengeance. The big hope for 2018 is that the government will finally get to grips with what is involved in achieving a seamless divorce from the EU.  At the moment, we seem to be heading for a most unsatisfactory “transitional arrangement” which will see us still stuck in the EU in all but name for a further 21 months.  We would not be able to restrict freedom of movement, we would not regain control of fisheries and we would be stuck with every piece of legislation the EU cares to throw at us without any say in how these laws are framed.

It’s hardly surprising that Theresa May’s popularity is plummeting and public anger is rising as confidence in the ability of her team to deliver a decent Brexit is falling.  A poll conducted by YouGov found that six out of ten think that ministers are negotiating with the EU “badly”.

Two Brexit stories did surface during Christmas week – the welcome return of our traditional blue passports in 2019 and the proposal to award a knighthood to Nick Clegg. Enthusiasm for the former has been dismissed as old fashioned jingoism, but this is to miss the point. The production of our own passports without any reference to the European Union will be a powerful symbol that we are once again a sovereign nation, deciding our own laws and no longer being shoehorned into a madcap project which can only end in a catastrophic failure. The colour of the passport is irrelevant.

As for Nick Clegg’s knighthood, while he did serve as Deputy Prime Minister, viewed from a broader perspective, it is a reward for failure.  After leading his party into coalition with the Conservatives, the Lib Dems were decimated at the following general election. He failed to achieve his great ambition of bringing in a new voting system and then found himself on the wrong side of the Brexit campaign, losing his seat as a result. For anyone who feels that a reward to such an individual is totally misguided, you may like to sign this petition objecting to it. At time of writing, it has already gained over 45,000 signatures.

In 2018, it’s also important for us ordinary Brexit-supporters to up our game. Our enemies are still scheming. We were recently sent this link which comes for a pro-EU website urging people to spend their money supporting pro-EU groups rather than Brexit supporters. Companies and individual on both side of the debate are named. So although we believe it’s time to move on from the divisions of 2016, in the face of such malice, perhaps it behoves us to give our support to the likes of Wetherspoons, Tate & Lyle and Dyson rather than EasyJet or anything connected with the Virgin group.

We also need to up our game in explaining the real reasons for the Brexit vote, especially for the young. The appearance of this piece on the Huffington Post website a full 18 months after the referendum is very sad and deeply concerning.  The author, who identifies himself as a “millenial” still sees the Brexit vote as driven by nostalgia – particularly among older voters. The message still hasn’t got across that it was about re-joining the world instead of being stuck in the myopic, misguided and failing European project. Beyond the EU, the project is viewed negatively in a number of other neighbouring countries – including in some accession states. It’s not just old-fashioned English fogeys who don’t like the idea at all; plenty of ordinary people around the world share their disdain for the project.

The writer enthuses about proportional representation. People like him need to be told that if we really want to update our democracy, the answer is not to change the means by which we choose our elected representatives but the degree to which we can call them to account. Significantly, the best country in Europe, if not the world, to offer us a model for an advanced democracy fit for the 21st century is Switzerland, where “only a few lunatics” want their country to join the EU.

The young will be the main beneficiaries from Brexit. They won’t have to deal with the problem which has plagued us for over 40 years. They will be the main beneficiaries from the cut in migration – which is already happening – as fewer foreigners entering the UK will reduce the pressure on the housing market. Above all, they will reap the financial benefits, which are for the long term rather than for the immediate post-Brexit period. Rather than voting Brexit for selfish reasons, the older generation sought our departure from the EU for the good of their children and grandchildren as much as for themselves. The challenge for all of us in this new year is to get this message across. We too need to do better.

On that note, we in CIB wish you all a Happy New Year.