Monday, 23 October 2017

Brexit: further down the rabbit hole

Today Theresa May told the Commons "Both sides recognise that the timetable was set out in the Lisbon treaty, which does indeed refer to the future relationship. The withdrawal agreement can only be considered and agreed taking account of the future relationship. It is important that we negotiate that future relationship, so we have both the withdrawal agreement and the future partnership, and the implementation period then is a practical implementation period."

It is still the case that this government believes the whole shebang will be wrapped up inside the two years of Article 50. But then, as is the convention now, May is contradicted by Barnier only a few hours later. Barnier said negotiations over the future would be highly complex and would take many years before they could be put to the national parliaments for ratification. He said: “The two phases are difficult. The second will be very different and will last several years".

Barnier gets it. May does not.

This puts us in dangerous territory. The Brexit Taliban are already plumping for a no deal exit and this is confirmation that May's quickie divorce is not going to happen - and her Florence aspirations are not deliverable. Barnier, not for the first time has driven a horse and cart through May's misconception. Just three weeks ago he stated it as clearly as could possibly be said.
We have little time between now and October/November 2018 to reach an agreement on the orderly withdrawal and – as the British government has requested – a possible transition period, for which the conditions have been clearly defined by your resolution in April, again today, and also by the European Council's guidelines.

This period will be short and supervised, and will involve the full regulatory structure, as well as budgetary and legal conditions, and the role of the European Court of Justice. It was your request to have a short transition period. It is our right to say that this will be subject to the conditions of the Single Market. We were not surprised by this request for a transition period. We foresaw it. We will discuss it at the appropriate time, and that time has not yet come. I would need a mandate for this. I would like to tell Mr. Farage a simple legal point: the trade deal you want cannot be signed by a Member State of the Union. You need to have legally left before we sign this trade deal.
The only thing that has thus far prevented this flaring up into a major row is that May continues to ignore every message from Barnier - and our media is incapable of recognising the significance of what has been said. Eventually May will have to come to terms with reality but until then we are in a bizarre state of denial while the clock ticks down to zero.

As to the implications of Barnier's musing that we will end up with a Canada deal, he is only really taking Mrs May at her word. If May is intent on total regulatory independence, leaving the single market, ending freedom of movement and ditching the customs union, a more generic FTA is all that really remains.

Though this is more in line with the aspirations of the hard Brexiteers, they had not envisaged such a deal taking years nor have they ever acknowledged the complexity of such a process. Any process that takes us beyond the next general election is one that gives Labour an opportunity to change tack toward the single market. Being hostile to the idea we can expect the ultras to sabotage the process to ensure that we leave without a deal.

It is only a matter of time before the elephant in the room becomes visible. There was never any chance of concluding a bespoke Brexit deal in two years. When confronted with this reality the Tories will seek to blame EU intransigence and claim they have no choice to to walk out. God help us now - because nobody else will.

Friday, 20 October 2017

The biggest Brexit fantasy of all

It is oft said that the Brexit Taliban are fantasists with a wholly unrealistic view of what can be achieved. If anyone was living in a fantasy world it is me and my fellow travellers who believed a successful outcome was possible. In a hypothetical world of competent government a measured and intelligent Brexit was indeed possible, but that is on a planet that isn't this one. For it to succeed we would need a media that is a magnitude better than it is and a government substantially less incompetent.

Regular readers will be aware that I now put the chances of a successful conclusion to Article 50 talks at less than ten per cent. I have seen no signals that suggest adequate progress is being made, nor do I see so much as a glimmer of understanding from our  government. If David Davis does have a command of the issues then he is a master at concealing it.

What we should be mindful of, however, is that the public face of Brexit is worlds apart from what is likely happening under the hood, much of it is happening behind closed doors, and many decisions are made in private. We are not privvy to the thinking of the officials involved.

Today there has been the suggestion that some progress is being made and that there are means to unlock the talks, namely a suggestion that scoping for the future relationship will take place under the aegis of Article 50. This has been described as an olive branch from the EU which would seem to suggest the EU is keen for things not to go off the rails, but I think this more an act of sympathy than a result of UK political pressure.

This, though, does not really solve anything in that there will still be no agreement without satisfactorily resolving the three phase one issues, and even scoping talks on trade will come to an impasse since this government has only a vague idea of what it wants and that which it does want is neither practical nor possible.

We should also note that whatever is agreed for Northern Ireland will have major ramifications for the future trade agreement and that will box the UK into a corner of accepting a substantial raft of EU rules if not the entire EEA acquis. This is where the Brexit Taliban will throw their toys out of the pram as like an artillery barrage.

Owen Paterson is leading this charge, repeatedly making mention of mutual recognition of standards and conformity assessment, implying that we should have a free hand in being able to set our own regulations without reference to the EU or consultation with it. As much as this does not facilitate frictionless trade, it is not happen. The EU cannot make such an exception for the UK.

All the EU is able to do inside the aegis of Article 50 is give us some indication as to what a transition will look like and what freedoms we will have inside it. This again is likely to disappoint the ultras in that they believe they will be able to substantially diverge during the next negotiations while signing new free trade agreements.

I cannot see this happening under any circumstances since it would weaken the integrity of the single market outside of any formalised framework and there is a good chance there will be few if any free trade agreements to bring into effect. The shape of any FTAs will largely be dependent on the sort of future relationship we have and no third country will enter discussions until they know what Brexit looks like in finality. Any deal they strike will have ramifications for their EU trade and will need to assess it accordingly.

The more we talk about trade the more the the Ultras will be confronted with the legal and practical fallacies of their their position. The only way they will get the autonomy they speak of will be the WTO option, but that comes at the expense of most of our EU trade and much beyond. Rather than accepting the inadequacies in their own position they will further blame EU intransigence, expanding the narrative to present it as though the EU were seeking to keep us under their control.

All the while the politics on the domestic front will continue to deteriorate and the fleeting goodwill we see on display today will rapidly evaporate. The ignorance of our own government combined with the infighting will continue to obstruct any progress and it is likely that we will simply run out of time about the same time as the EU loses all patience.

Having said that, I am not known for being especially optimistic. I may well have miscalculated somewhere or there may well be a miracle waiting to happen. I do not know. What I do know is that the any measures to unlock talks can only really kick the can down the road. The only way I see a successful conclusion is if this government gets up to speed and tunes into reality. But that really is a Brexit fantasy. There is nothing to suggest that could ever be a reality.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Brexit: the anatomy of failure

Pascal Lamy, former World Trade Organization director-general, has said "The fundamental difference between the UK vision of what this is about and the Franco-German view is that the British still think this is a negotiation. It is not a negotiation. It is a process to be managed to minimise harm. It involves adjusting." Of the UK he said "They still seem to believe they can buy something with the money they have to pay. The truth is there is nothing to discuss. The only question is how much do you owe".

To the uninitiated this may sound belligerent, but in actuality this is smack on target. To even call it a negotiation allows the media to use all the associated lexicon such as ploy, gambit, brinkmanship. It plays well for their agenda of turning everything into a dramatic showdown. That same mentality is one shared by our politicians and that is why we are getting nowhere.

Where the Northern Ireland and citizen's rights are concerned, this is really a matter of joint problem solving. There are only limited options in this so in fact anything that works is what will likely be agreed. The problems start when one side has a limited grasp of how regulatory systems work in practice. Red lines cannot be accommodated and that leads to accusations of intransigence.

On the matter of Northern Ireland, from the outset we are asking the EU for a fudge. The settlement requires an unprecedented relaxation of border controls. Were this to happen inside an FTA then third countries could very well demand the same. That is why the NI agreement has to fall inside a dedicated arrangement as part of the divorce.

In order to safeguard the integrity of the single market, and ensure the settlement is not used as a back door to evade single market controls the UK will not be permitted to substantially diverge from the EU customs regime. Whatever is decided here will have ramifications for the final trade agreement after Article 50 talks.

Being that this government is badly advised, none of their proposals will be workable for the NI settlement or indeed the wider future relationship. To keep customs checks to a minimum it follows that we will have to maintain most single market rules in relation to goods. This is likely to provoke the ire of ultra Brexiteers who believe that the EU can and will grant the UK special dispensation to diverge on standards without coordination or consultation.

This cannot happen. If the UK chooses to depart from the approved practices of the single market then the EU is obliged by its own rules to increase the tempo of inspections. We should also note that conformity to standards alone is insufficient for a light touch customs regime.

The only way we are going to come to an agreement is by recognising the facts on the ground. From there it is a matter of working our the finer details so that we can successfully implement it. There is little room here for ideological red lines without reversing decades of progress. The more we seek to diverge the more red tape we are likely to introduce.

By now we should have the outline of a working template. That much, at least, should have been prepared before triggering Article 50. Instead the government has been unable to offer anything substantive and the issue has all but dropped off the radar. In order to reach agreement the UK contingent must first be patiently trained in the facts of life - which is something they will resist to the last breath. This is where talks are most likely to stall.

On the issue of citizen's rights, this is where we all want the same thing, but we must take care to ensure that any protection of rights does not introduce a parallel legal system that could lead to discrimination or prevent policy autonomy in employment legislation. That is the one area where we can expect the EU will complicate matters. It is easy to see why this is a red line for the UK. Again this is further complicated by Northern Ireland.

One would, therefore, think that the matter of the financial settlement would be the easiest win. Since much of what we agree to pay is that which we would have paid anyway it is difficult to take issue with it, and if we do want to continue a £240bn a year trade relationship then honouring our commitments for the rest seems like a no-brainer. Again though, this is complicated by hard liners who think we owe nothing and that we can trade on WTO rules alone. Penny wise and pound foolish.

Ultimately the only way the UK can get as far as discussing a future relationship is by effectively conceding on most of the issues without complaint. It is in the national interest. This, however, requires a level of understanding that simply isn't there. If the Commission is still having to take the UK contingent through the Janet and John basics with the aid of crayons and fuzzy felt then there is no likelihood of resolving anything inside the two years.

We do not know to what extent progress is being made. It is difficult to separate the politics from the reality in that the politics is in an entirely different universe. Most of the detail is not in the public domain and we can only hope that there is a functioning adult on the UK side. If what is happening behind closed doors is in any way a reflection of what is happening in public then this will drift to the final hour and it will require an extension.

But then, as much as the technical issues make agreement unlikely, it is increasingly likely that the politics will derail talks. In Theresa May's Florence speech she committed the UK to sticking to the current financial framework until we have formally left the EU. This was the fullest extent of the financial offer. In no way does it cover in any honest sense the full obligations. Deliberately so.

May's speech was designed to forward a proposal to be negotiated within the framework of Article 50. A deep and comprehensive relationship. This is entirely in abstract to the sequence of Article 50 talks and was a deliberate attempt to abandon the sequence of current talks.

The ploy is to get the EU to skip the details of the exit settlement and jump ahead to matters of the future relationship. The Article 50 sequence, however, is not plucked out of the air. There are certain formalities which must be observed before talks can progress. No substantive talks on trade will happen until we have formally left the EU. That was always the case and was never going to change.

The Tories are now spinning this by saying the EU is engaged in extortion by turning down May's "reasonable" offer - and is refusing to talk about trade until we agree to part with more money. This is the essential dishonesty of the Tory ploy. The Florence proposal was a deeply cynical ambush to which the EU cannot agree and has already refused. So long as the Tories can keep massaging the "extortion" and "intransigence" narrative, they can manufacture consent to do that which they have been itching to do from the beginning. Walk away.

This works because most observers cannot see why we should pay any amount and are routinely being told that we can trade just as easily on WTO terms alone. Being it politics they are happy to lie about this. You only need fool some of the people some of the time.

What makes this worse is that the media, through some misguided obligation for balance, is unable to categorically say that WTO rules in no way facilitate the kind of frictionless trade upon which much of our industry depends. The media is also unable to understand the basic sequence of the exit process and so they are looking for signs that the EU will open up to talk about trade.

This precipitates a torrent of speculation, building up a parallel universe that has no relation to what is happening in reality. This adds drama to what is essentially a stalemate until the Tories get to grips with reality. With ministers, MPs and journalists all believing in this false reality, there is no coherence and the falsehoods that the Tories depend on take root.

At best the EU is only able to discuss an interim agreement which is likely to be membership in all but name to cover the period from the date of exit until a newly agreed relationship begins. Talks over future relationship will not happen inside Article 50 talks.

Should the EU expand Barnier's mandate to talk about interim agreements, the Tories are in for a shock in that will will not permit any substantial divergence from the EU and will be on their terms alone. The UK will likely still be bound by the Common Commercial Policy and there will be no new third country free trade deals signed in that period. This arrangement, though, will not be signed off unless the three phase one issues of northern Ireland, Citizen's rights and the financial settlement have been agreed.

With that in mind there is precisely zero value in the Tories attempting to change the sequence. There is nothing to be gained by it. There is no avoiding any of it so they have only two options. They can get to grips with reality and properly engage or they can walk out and leave all of the talks to collapse. It will most likely be the latter because with a media as hopeless as ours, and with so little comprehension in government, it is difficult to see how it could go any other way. The only thing left to do is try to gauge how and when it fails.

In this, your guess is as good as mine. They might conclude that they cannot agree and then agree to not have an agreement, instead focussing on doing the bare minimum to prepare for a no deal scenario. There may be an implementation period to make the necessary adjustments, but I don't see that happening unless the UK agrees to pay something at least. I do not envisage this being the case since any hint that this is happening will likely bring down May and her government.

It may be that all sides agree to an immediate and early termination of talks, but this would have to bypass parliament entirely, so again I don't see that happening. More than likely we will go the full two years and drop out by default. There is nothing that compels the government to ask for an extension.

Right now I do not see any chance of these talks concluding successfully. As much as we are short on competence I do not get the impression that the government is acting in good faith and with so many deliberate lies being fed to the public about the viability of leaving without a deal, it rather looks like we are being pushed over the cliff - whether we want it or not.

The Spectator is an affront to decency

Liam Halligan is a practised liar but this latest piece in the Spectator has to be worthy of some sort of prize. He rolls out all the classic canards, none of which stand up to close scrutiny. We are used to this. This is conscious and deliberate dishonesty from the Brexit ultras - and no matter how flimsy the foundations, they continue to repeat the same lies.

Halligan asks "If trading under WTO rules is so bad, how does the UK already sell the majority of its exports beyond the EU, largely under such rules?". The simple answer is that it doesn't. All of our external trade relations are through EU trade agreements.

We should also note that UK-EU trade is on a wholly different level to everyone else in the world. For instance, how many ro-ro ferries are there plying the Atlantic, delivering perishable goods for immediate consumption and JIT components for retail sale and to supply manufacturing plants?

This kind of trade is only made possible by way of having no formalities at the borders. This is how goods arrive at their destination only a few hours after dispatch. This is not just a question of conformity to standards. Even fully compliant products shipped from the United States are subject to lengthy and sometimes intrusive border controls. Fortunately, with the longer shipping time, document checks can be made while the goods are still in transit, but it is still the case that trade with the US and other distant partners is in containerised or bulk cargo.

The nature of our trade with the EU though is the vast bulk (well over 70 percent) is in driver-accompanied loads. It's through the Channel tunnel or by short sea shipping, with no customs formalities of any nature. That trade was built up after we joined the EEC, and is basically a child of the Single Market. The trade relies on speed of throughput at the ports. There are not the facilities or infrastructure to deal with border checks. It couldn't survive the uncertainties of a rigorously policed border where lorries are routinely delayed by hours and can be held for days.

Time and again have we been over this and to adequately dismantle every claim in Halligan's article would take all night. But then that is all part of the strategy. The time and effort required to refute bullshit is a magnitude larger than it takes to produce it. What is new, though, is a particular twist of language - a distortion of reality.
Once the drama of Brexit is over, beyond March 2019 and any subsequent transition, WTO rules can be used as a ‘platform’ to cut an FTA with the EU under less time pressure, making a better deal more likely. While some UK firms worry that WTO rules will hurt ‘complex supply chains’ across the EU, most manufacturing components are zero-rated so would not attract any tariffs. Our EU deficit also means, under WTO rules, that the UK pays less in export tariffs than it receives, creating several billion pounds in net revenues for the Exchequer each year. The surplus could be used to compensate sectors like cars and agriculture, where tariffs on UK exports are likely to be higher.

‘No deal’ — trading with the EU with no FTA — is an entirely coherent position. It is very different from just ‘walking away’, which means failing to settle administrative issues such as mutual recognition agreements on exports. No one is advocating such an approach. It is unthinkable that existing and uncontroversial EU protocols granted to countless other non-EU members would not apply to Britain. For Brussels to deny such rights would breach WTO and EU treaties, while incensing EU businesses and voters by threatening billions of euros of profit and countless EU jobs.
As is typical with the Brexit ultras, in order to push their poison they have to redefine language. In Halligan's mind,"no deal" means no formal FTA but a successful completion of separation talks with an implementation period. The embedded lie here is that mutual recognition agreements are part of the exit settlement. Categorically they are not. These would have to be part of a formal post exit FTA. There are no default privileges and those granted to other countries are inside the formal agreements, not as part of WTO rules. The absence of which is what interrupts supply chains. Whether tariffs are payable is entirely secondary.

Halligan then blithely asserts that "When it comes to lurid scare stories about planes not flying, Europe’s ‘Open Skies’ agreement applies to many non-EU nations and those outside the single market. The UK boasts a huge aviation industry, with numerous EU-based airlines using our airports. That gives us much leverage". It is true that non-EU countries participate in the EU aviation market, but not without a formal agreement. Having no deal with the EU most certainly means the UK loses all of its participation. Aircraft will be grounded.

What we are looking at here is a sustained campaign of political lying that far exceeds any claims written on a bus. This isn't an innocent misconception of how things work. This is a deliberate re-framing of issues and redefining of language in order to turn cat into dog. That is what makes The Spectator complicit in steering the UK toward an economic calamity. This is not mere opinion. They are engaged in propaganda. Nobody with integrity could have published this.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Brexit: taking the power back

All too often people tell me that much of what is wrong with the UK is nothing to do with the EU. These are the same who tend to argue that EU membership has little impact on our daily lives hence there is no good reason to leave. I wholly resent that.

The subtext of this argument is that is that we should only be concerned with conventional domestic politics and completely disregard the EU because its influence is not overt. We plebs should confine our concerns to the mundane politics of schools and hospitals.

Except of course the bulk of EU governance is that which is largely invisible to us. This is anything from directives on water and energy to workers rights, all of which have a profound impact on labour market fluidity, utility bills and council tax.

In this the EU may not tell us what to do directly, but it can define the parameters a policy must fall within. It narrows the scope of what can be done, therefore places limits on local authorities and obliges them to prioritise things that would otherwise be lower down the agenda. A good deal of local authority and national agency activity is implementing policy according to targets and quotas rather than any particular practical or urgent objective.

Very often it is difficult to tell where UK policy ends and EU directive begins. This then begs the question as to whether UK authorities are working in the service of the public or working to implement EU ideals or harebrained regulatory objectives. That raises further questions as to whose  interests are served since very often regulatory agendas at the EU level can be captured by corporates and NGOs alike. To whom are they accountable?

Over the course of the last three years we have seen a number of self-important "fact checkers" attempting to debunk myths about the EU, very often struggling to tell what is a Whitehall initiative and what is genuinely from the EU. There are then times when it is an EU directive or regulation which is simply badly implemented. Conflicting objectives or just run of the mill incompetence.

Very often the EU is unfairly scapegoated but then there are other times where the EU can blame member states for what is essentially bad EU policy that was never going to work. The blame game works both ways. Half the time it is impossible to tell who is accountable for what.

Then there are times when we find we are seeking integration and standardisation at great expense for its own sake. On the continental mainland there might well be advantages to standardising approaches to infrastructure, but the UK in more ways than one is an exception by way of being an island and one where transboundary travel is less frequent and for most through a single entry point.

It is this overall confusion that allows ministers to shirk accountability. Policies that lie beyond our control mean that some issues are never adequately addressed and we are forced to take expensive remedial action to deal with the consequences of ill-thought out policies. The hidden cost of EU membership. The EU might not be directly to blame but it can be a causal influence to a degree that few fully comprehend.

Though leaving the EU will never simplify complex systems of governance, we will at least know who is to blame, and there will be no excuses to evade urgent remedy. Nor will ministers have to jet off to Brussels to persuade twenty seven other members that we ought to be allowed to modify our approach to landfill sites or inshore fishing. The public are rightly tired of being fobbed off with excuses and tired of being told things are not directly in our control.

This dynamic has its more obvious examples. Onshore wind turbines are unpopular with a large part of the public and though there is no EU instruction to build them, the obligation to source from renewable energy, combined with the practicality of other means, dictates that we get wind turbines whether we want them or not. We despoil treasured wilderness simply because there is no other cost effective means of meeting an arbitrary target.

That is one of the more visible symptoms of being in the EU that the public understands, but it runs much deeper than that with the EU having influence on technical governance to a massive degree. This is why leavers are suspicious of the EU because we simply don't know to what extent ideological measures are pushing up the cost of living.

More to the point, with parameters on things like energy being dictated by Brussels our decision making is hobbled therefore so is our democracy. While we are working to EU directives politics is unable to function as it should. Immediate practical needs and demands form the public are secondary to EU objectives.

We are told that leaving the EU still means we would adopt a good deal of EU law, but in the round this is mainly concerned with product directives and issues pertaining to trade. It is a sacrifice of direct sovereignty but largely in the greater good. Brexit is about removing EU influence from those areas such as utilities which are largely none of its business. Brexit removes a whole layer of unwelcome and unaccountable government.

For the most part the EU has no direct power over the UK in terms of being an executive, but it does shape the decisions taken in our name and increasingly robs the public of their power to influence policy. Though I don't wake up worrying about the Large Combustion Plant Directive or the Water Framework Directive, I do worry about the CCJ threat on the doormat over my water bill - and I do wonder why year on year I pay more for energy.

You can argue that the EU is not responsible but if I ask you to prove it, the moment you try you'll run into a barrage EU regulatory frameworks and directives. You'll then have to outline why it is in our interests for this level of authority to lie in the hands of Brussels and not local authorities.

Ultimately if we want to stop the rot we first need to shorten and clarify the chain of accountability. We must then restore the means to unilaterally repeal bad and obsolete law and delete those measures which exist only for the purposes of political integration. Eliminate the roadblocks and you eliminate the excuses.

The balance between trade and sovereignty is a fine line to walk and the trade-offs will continue to plague policymakers. There will always be debate about where the line should be drawn. What we can say, though, is that continued membership of the EU will gradually result in ever more competences being transferred to the EU to the point where they are beyond the influence of those we consciously elect.

The way remainers talk you would think that democracy and sovereignty were entirely meaningless and inconsequential concepts. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we are not able to usefully shape the rules by which we live on a national and local level then the agenda is being steered by others who do not value our lives, landscapes and habitats as we do. Things we value are merely assets and liabilities on a Brussels ledger.

Brexit is not a nationalist ideology at work. It is simply a recognition that people who live and work here are the best judges of who should govern and how, and that nominally efficient technocracy will never value those things that make us unique, nor will it respect those things that transcend GDP growth in importance.

We are told that we leavers are not rational in placing politics ahead of economics. This is another view I resent. Ultimately humans are not rational. And that's a great thing because humans at their most rational are barbarians. It is cold rationality that said it was cheaper to send fresh slaves to the gulags than sacks of food. The things we value very often are not rational and based entirely on sentimentality. And thank god for that. What a sterile place this would be otherwise.

Remainers think they are owed a cold and rational data driven reason for wanting to leave the EU. They are owed nothing of the kind. We stand on the principle that if power does not reside in the hands of people (and their politics) then we do not have democracy. Those who think it dispensable for the temporary certainty of the status quo are foolish - because the noose of invisible government will slowly strangle the vitality from our politics and demolish any semblance of accountability. For that we will pay.

I am far from alone in voting for Brexit despite the costs that come with it. We are simply correcting the mistakes of several administrations who traded away power that was not theirs to give away. There was always going to be a price for that - but that is what we eurosceptics have always warned about. Now that Brexit is upon us, it is incumbent on us all to make sure we don't pay a higher price than we have to in order to retake that which is ours. It may come at a high cost but in the end democracy is priceless. It is not for sale at any price.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Brexit: stupidity squared

There is now a wealth of material on the WTO option, or as we now call it "no deal Brexit". Most of it is crap because it understates the risks or uses non-committal language about the consequences. You won't find any of that here.

As you can see from the number of retweets on John Redwood's latest verbal incontinence, the view that we can waltz out of the EU without a deal is quite a popular one. We have gone to some considerable lengths to spell out in detail why this is a non-viable approach but recent comments on my Facebook (from those I considered to be switched on close friends) demonstrate that I have been wasting my breath.

It is commonly said that the UK can trade with the EU without a trade deal because the USA and China trade without having a deal, and even though you can take a screenshot from the EU treaties database which clearly demonstrates this not to be the case, it doesn't make a dent, as so ably demonstrated by our esteemed friend Oliver Norgrove.

There is just no way to drill it into people that without a deal from the EU we are so very totally, unequivocally fucked. Moreover the position is utterly absurd. Professor Steve Peers this evening notes that Brexiteers boast that leaving the EU means we are free to negotiate free trade deals - but if we don't need a trade deal with our nearest and largest partner then, by their logic, we do not need any at all.

Meanwhile we could spell out in detail the wider consequences (to the letter of the law) and a Brexit-o-mong will simply grunt "project fear". Stupidity of this magnitude cannot be corrected so I won't even try. I'm now at the point where I see a no deal Brexit as all but inevitable so all that's left to do is take names so we can hunt them down and cut their balls off when it actually happens. Particularly the oxygen thief editors who give this nonsense houseroom. Going to work on Fraser Nelson with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch is now on my bucket list.

But then it is a little unfair to focus entirely on Brexiteers since the retardation of the Brexit debate has been helped along by just about every self-proclaimed expert who has bleated the words "but Norway has to pay and still adopts all the rules". That's the remainer variant of "The USA trades without a deal". Each side has their own tiresome canards and neither side is interested in the actual truth.

Since both sides have gone out of their way the berate the Norway option, belching out falsehood after falsehood, both sides have made their own bed and deserve the consequences entirely. In this Brexiteer stupidity is matched by remainer mendacity. Again I could, and did, write any number of articles carving out the important distinctions but remainers tend to be equally incurious.

The only time the media can be bothered to check in on this blog is when it suits their agenda to paint me as some sort of vindictive psychopath. This is not a charge I actually deny. At this point, having seen this carnival of incompetence developing well in advance of the referendum, I'm really starting to think that if the good Lord will not spare us by way of a giant meteorite then the WTO option is next best thing.

Certainly Redwoodists and Moggites have it coming, then on the left, anyone who had a hand in putting Corbyn where he is, passively or actively, deserves a miserable life - and there is a special place in hell reserved for the cowardly and stupid Tory "moderates" who have sat on their hands all this time. And then we have this epic bellendery...

Just look at the state of it. And look at the number of retweets. Meanwhile, I took a lot of media shit last week for this post which basically suggests that Brits have become overindulged, spoiled, whiny, ignorant twats entirely deserving of their fate, but when you have the likes of Brian Cox, Owen Jones and Abi Wilkinson elevated to sainthood, and the above is what passes for patriotism these days, you are going to have to work hard to convince me I'm wrong.

In this I might paraphrase philosopher and comedian, George Carlin. "Everybody complains about politicians. Everybody says they suck. Well, where do people think these politicians come from? They don’t fall out of the sky. They don’t pass through a membrane from another reality. They come from British parents and British families, British homes, British schools, British churches, British businesses and British universities, and they are elected by British citizens. This is the best we can do folks. This is what we have to offer. It’s what our system produces: Garbage in, garbage out. If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you’re going to get selfish, ignorant leaders".

At any point could the aforementioned dickheads have retweeted one of my more technical pieces explaining the WTO option or the advantages of the Norway option, but the truth of the matter is that these people could not be less interested in detail and not in the remotest bit interested in expanding the debate.

Ultimately Brexit is an indictment on our politics, our media, our culture and those who enable them. I know it is unrealistic to expect competence and I am self-aware enough to know that there is nothing more stupid than people in groups, but by any measure, British political culture has atrophied beyond repair. If Brexit of any kind serves as a Ctrl+Alt+Del on Britain as we know it then I'm fine with it.

I do not argue that a no deal Brexit is especially desirable as some have suggested, only that it is high time the public faced the consequences of their personal negligence in what they choose to read and those they elect. Every effort was made on my part to avoid this dismal fate, but only now I am a choice target have I become a "top Brexit campaigner". That says more about them than it does me.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

March of the patriots

It is encouraging to see that some in the media are waking up to the implications of a no deal Brexit. We are also at a point where Tory Brexiteers are unable to share their wisdom on Twitter without being roundly ridiculed. There is barely any sport in it now. It feels more like mocking the afflicted.

Sadly I do not see that it will do any good. Positions are entrenched and for all that this blog and others have said, people who should know better still cling on to some deeply miscalculated opinions and nothing you or I say is going to change that.

This week's tiresome canard is that taking the threat of a walkout off the table weakens our negotiating hand. This is self-evidently ridiculous, but to those who still buy the notion that they need us more than we need them it is an entirely logical position. This level of incomprehension cannot be corrected. To do so would require one to individually explain the issues in their entirety which proves entirely fruitless since people have a habit of defaulting to factory settings however well you explain it.

This reminds me of something my dad has often said - that you don't attack the hard points. In Blitzkreig, you don't attack the Maginot line fortifications - you go around them instead. It makes no sense trying to get through to ideologues or those with no understanding. All that does is waste energy.

This is why I have an open dialogue with Dr Mike Galsworthy of Scientists for EU among other remain activists. At this point what matters is getting people up to speed and on the same page. It does not matter that we profoundly disagree on the matter of EU membership. Most can now agree in the round that the consequences of a no deal Brexit are something we would wish to avoid.

Ultimately this is no longer a remain/leave debate. This is about stopping a government doing irreparable damage to the economy and our standing in the world. In this we do not have time to explain the basics to people who are never going to grasp it. The mission is now to speak to any and all who comprehend the immediate danger in preparation of what is to come.

My view is now settled that there is not going to be a deal. People tell me I'm being too fatalistic but, thus far, this government has made every avoidable mistake and fallen into every logical trap. There is no evidence to suggest they have even the most basic grasp of what they are dealing with and there is no Westminster chatter that indicates a change of course.

I also believe that this government is not negotiating in good faith. The Florence speech was an ambush as a precursor to a walkout and Mrs May's trip to Brussels today appears to be part of the theatricals. It is a bogus last ditch attempt before concluding that an agreement is not possible.

In this we must make it quite clear that that a failure to engage, and a collapse of talks is malfeasance and incompetence to the extent that we should demand the resignation of the government and an immediate general election.

For some time now I have held the view that the only way we will see a reset to Article 50 talks is if this government falls. We cannot remain passive in this. I do not have confidence that there are sufficient numbers (or any) MPs who have enough grasp of the subject to be able to intervene effectively. Even the very best of them are lacklustre, and will miss the point. It is therefore incumbent upon the public themselves to act.

To that end all patriots leave and remain should be prepared to take to the streets. Nothing short of  a million people converging on Parliament will do. Should this government walk out of talks then that is a failure of government but also a failure of politics. Should we passively accept this then we would very well deserve whatever fate awaits us. If we are so indifferent to how we are governed that we can't put a million people on the streets of Westminster then there is little worth saving anyway.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Brexit is a political spring clean

Prior to the referendum we had a thing called certainty. Had there never been a referendum this would have carried on much the same as before. We would still be looking at the slow and inexorable rise of Ukip, but for the most part we could be sure that one mediocre government would be followed by another, knowing that the next would be marginally worse than the last.

Had things continued down that path we would have eventually seen a George Osborne government followed by a left of centre Labour; the dregs of the Blair era and its singularly talentless new blood. We could tolerate that safe in the knowledge that the political status quo would largely contain the amount of damage they can do. With so much governance now on autopilot, all any government can really do is squander vast sums on their ill-conceived fads.

Meanwhile we would continue to have that lingering debate about immigration, watching indifferently every summer as thousands drown in the Mediterranean. The left would continue in its politically correct denialism and Ukip would continue to make gains. We would still be seeing undue exposure given to the Green Party and Plaid Cymru. Politics less impressive than a sixth form debating society.

Not only do we not produce credible politicians anymore we've even forgot what credible politics even looks like. The unedifying spectacle of leader's debates on ITV at the last was enough to pray for a giant meteorite. You look at this people and wonder if they are even of this planet. Detached, condescending and shallow.

It was already clear that the party system was disintegrating and along with it, politics in general. All the while the media has totally lost it. One way or another we were careering headlong into a crisis of governance because there was nothing on the horizon that would have shocked them out of their self-indulgent complacency. The only thing keeping it alive the certainty of the status quo; Governance underpinned by the political certainty of EU membership and living standards within tolerance. Without sound fundamentals, this is fragile.

We had already reached a state of utter disaffection with politics ad it is not difficult to see why. Labour's value system is so utterly distorted that it cannot hope to ever represent the working class, meanwhile the Tories were little more than a managerialist outfit with no vision, no ideas and no momentum. It is impossible to say what would have happened but I rather expect the political stagnation would have been with us for many more years to come.

Enter Brexit. If I had to pick a single defining moment that turned the tide it would have been the unflattering spectacle of Bob Geldof giving the Thames flotilla the two fingered salute. Against a backdrop of a largely self-interested establishment looking after its own, little could more adequately summarise the attitude of our political and media class. Little wonder then that the two fingered salute was returned in kind at the ballot box.

So now we are looking at that same political establishment forced into doing that which it does not want to do while lacking the intelligence and integrity to deliver it. This is what makes it a near certainty that Brexit talks will collapse. They are just not up to it. The talent just isn't there. What's more, if parliament were functioning as it should there would by now be moves to intercept the government as it drives us closer toward the cliff edge. There is no sign of that.

As each day passes events look ever bleaker. The tone is souring, talks are in freefall and still the Labour party is absorbed by its own myopic fixations while the Tories tear themselves to pieces. Unless there is a sea change in Westminster, waking up to the imminent danger, we will leave the EU without a deal and usher in a decade of recession. I am already resigned to this. I have mentally prepared for it. The good times are over.

But then I do so in the knowledge that this has to happen. Of course nobody wants to see widespread unemployment and a disintegration of the economy but ultimately the seeds were already sown. Our politics and media is little more than a reflection of ourselves. Decadent, self-absorbed, childish and spoiled.

Just recently I heard it said that the EU was the three major powers of Europe combining to preserve the remnants of their respective empires. I think there is some truth in that. The EU as a trade power extends Europe's dominion over Africa. The EU is the instrument through which former powers exert their imperial pretensions. The WTO being one of its instruments. We are looking at the fag end of Europe as a global power as the rest of the world catches up and realises they owe us nothing.

So we have two choices. We can opt for the continued managed decline of insular EU politics or we can have a political spring clean. We need to pull the sofa out and hoover under it. We need to empty the drawers of our clutter and wipe the cobwebs off the widow sills. That is the chaos we are about to endure. But we must.

There is the pretence on the continent that Brexit has reinvigorated the EU and we often hear Macron cited as the new saviour for European Unity. This is self delusion. European politics is in a similar state of decay and France is most certainly not politically stable. Meanwhile Germany has its own reckoning to come. I would argue that Merkel is their Blair. We are a generation in front and Germany will have to face its own political reckoning when Merkel departs.

Meanwhile, the Visegrad Four continue to drift away from the EU with the EU unable to exert much in the way of political pressure. We see the same manifested in its response to the Catalonia crisis. It does to want to be seen as intruding on the sovereign affairs of its members but at the same time, if it is to live up to its rhetoric (and enforce its own treaties) then it must, otherwise the bluff has been called.

Europe is in a state of political flux. It comes as no surprise to me that Britain is the first to call time on the post-war settlement. Our state of political dysfunction is more advanced. But only by a few years. Without the UK the EU comes a very different animal, where its denizens will call for "more Europe" at a time when members are demanding less. One way or another Europe will have to reinvent. I do not think the EU will be part of its future unless we see reform that will fundamentally change the DNA of the EU entity. All the while the UK is taking a time out to address its own political problems.

This week in have been chastened by various media pondlife for my view that Britain must leave the EU even if it does lead to a catastrophic recession. I would prefer it to be another way, but ultimately we cannot resolve the economic until we have resolved the political. Our current politics is barely maintaining the status quo and it certainly isn't delivering for the regions of the UK as is evident from the Brexit vote.

What we we need is political vision combined with a sense of urgency that is presently lacking in Westminster. Only a crisis of this magnitude can precipitate that change. It will see years of political turbulence as politics reinvents. We'll have to put up with a Corbyn government and then we'll have to put up with whatever is left of the Tory party. But by then we'll call time on both of these empty husks. Neither has a solution befitting the modern age.

I don't know what will win out. It is impossible to say. Uncertainty is the new normal. But what we can say is that a new order will emerge - forged from the turmoil we are about to endure. That is the purpose of a revolution. And that is what this is.

I am told that this wasn't necessary and that there were other ways, but I invite you re-watch the 2017 general election leader's debate. There you will find the British political ailment distilled in its purest form. Then look me in the eye and try telling me a reboot isn't necessary. Our future is not safe in their hands. It's time to press the red button before fate decides to do it for us.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Brexit Ground Zero

There is sizable contingent of switched on people on Twitter devoting their attention to the ins and outs of Brexit negotiations. They are finally getting to grips with issues readers of this blog will have known about for several months now. This is why what is exciting for them is thoroughly tedious to me.

What makes it more tedious is that I know how this ends. I do not see a scenario where a deal is successfully concluded. To get anywhere close to a solution for Northern Ireland you would need a good deal more understanding that this government is presently capable of. What makes it worse is that even with perfect clarity the politics gets in the way. Then there is the more fundamental misapprehension at work that many are still under the illusion that the future relationship comes under the aegis of Article 50.

It doesn't. The government is pushing for that to be the case and many argue that it is the case, but the rules say it isn't the case and so does the Commission - and that is not going to change. That is why there is not going to be a deal. If you approach any task with a fundamentally skewed definition of how to approach it, there is no possibility of getting it right.

To salvage these talks there would have to be a recognition of the current misapprehension followed by a change in tone and a reset. What needs to happen is for the government to recognise that two years is entirely insufficient and submit a request to extend Article 50 - with a far less absolute termination point - which might then give them the headroom to talk more about transition. That will still require that we fully turn our attention to phase one issues. I would elaborate on how this could be done but it isn't going to happen.

So what is going to happen? Politics. Bickering, obfuscation, delay, finger pointing, procrastination then ultimately a crisis, followed by a showdown in which the UK walks away. I simply do not see the raw material for it to pan out any other way. What comes after that is yet more politics, but on the other side of the Channel as they decide how it is we fall. Will it be a sudden catastrophe or one introduced over a number of months?

Ultimately we cannot expect minds to focus until they see for real what no-deal Brexit looks like. Only then will it dawn on them what many of us have been trying to tell them. What happens then is a matter for yet more politics. Put simply, I am not taking these talks remotely seriously because the government isn't either.

Ultimately there isn't enough wisdom in the government nor talent in Parliament for this to go any other way. There isn't enough opposition momentum to bring the government down and tribalism within the Tory party means there won't be a rebellion. There is no reason to expect anything other than failure because there are no indicators that anything else could happen. Britain is about to become a global authority in crisis management. Let's hope that is an exportable service. 

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Brexit: the media dog that didn't bark

In a recent post (now gone viral) I outlined my current position that if a no-deal Brexit is what is coming then that is what I will take. I can't stop it. Economically it is nothing short of a catastrophe but if there is a bright side, it will unlock politics and give rise to a major cultural change and economic restructuring.

Admittedly it was one of my bleaker pieces but that's what it took for Sam Kriss of Vice to notice this humble blog. In what he thinks is an oh-so-clever evisceration of me, he rather demonstrates my point.

I certainly take no pleasure in the current mess. I have spent pretty much every single day since the referendum fighting for a measured, responsible exit settlement. I have made it my sole occupation and have made every effort to warn about the danger of the Tory Brexit zealots. Knowing them as I do I am able to offer something of a unique insight.

Jointly with we have also warned especially about the Legatum Institute and it's ambitions for Brexit Britain. If anything should have gone viral, it should have been that. Where was Mr Kriss then? Evidently not titillating enough for him.

In describing Leave Alliance efforts, Kriss says "They stood for a soft Brexit from the beginning, leaving the EU but retaining Common Market membership – the "Norway option", the kind of miserable compromise that interested absolutely nobody during the referendum, and still interests nobody now it's our last best hope".

I would not go as far as saying it was of interest to nobody. Leave Alliance research has consistently been ahead of the pack and it is only now that we are in negotiations with the EU that other outfits are catching up. Much that is presently in the debating window would still be unmentioned were it not for our work. What Sam Kriss means is that it was of no interest the the media. Certainly not when it mattered.

The Leave Alliance, and indeed this blog, has had more exposure since the referendum than before, and only recently because I have become ever more hyperbolic about a no deal Brexit. Tell them what they want to hear and they will come running. For them it has novelty because I come from the leave side of the divide. It has exploitable value.

One such example of this dynamic is in the International Business Times where I am elevated from humble blogger to "Top Brexit campaigner" no less. My post from the other day even managed to catch the eye of The Guardian, which is the first legacy media link to this blog. Novelty is all they are interested in.

This is the same media that has for the duration trotted out the same received wisdom about the Norway option - that Norway adopts all the rules and has no say, and that freedom of movement is not negotiable. The media has shown precisely zero interest in the nuances of that debate and has instead given aid to the Tory zealots by repeating those mantras.

It is also telling that Kriss would refer to the single market as the"Common Market". This gives you some idea of how little interest Kriss takes in the subject. That indolence is common throughout. Coverage of the issues has been universally vacuous. Even for the likes of Owen Jones, Brexit has been an adjunct to Labour's self-indulgent navel gazing.

Instead of leading by producing its own work or looking outside of its own claustrophobic bubble, our media waits for a sound-bite from a prestigious source - effectively outsourcing their own  thinking. Consequently the media late to realise the implications of a no-deal Brexit, and by way of its own slovenliness has closed down the debate on the one viable avenue that would avoid it.

Though the Leave Alliance is "a kind of motley residue of the Brexit movement" we were the only outfit to have a serious Brexit plan - and one that still stands as the only credible work from the leave camp. Again the media went out of its way to ignore it, preferring instead to give all the air time to Farage and the Vote Leave Tory brigade. It never occurred to the media that there may have been activity outside the Westminster bubble.

Throughout this, the media has been insular and self-absorbed, failing in its most basic obligations to journalism. There are any number of experts, friend and foe on Twitter, absolutely eviscerating every move this government makes. That, though, remains confined to another largely self-referential bubble and is yet another resource the media is failing to tap. They cream off the trivia accordig to their own narrow agendas. 

So with a totally inept legislature, swamped in the quagmire of its own incomprehension, and a media incapable of bringing urgency and substance to the debate, you will have to forgive me if I still think that the whole edifice of politics is too corrupted and warped to serve us as it should. That it chooses to obsess over Farage, Hopkins and Johnson on pivotal issues such as this would suggest that any capacity for an adult dissection of the issues is collectively beyond our grasp.

But then one reminds oneself that, dire though the media may be, it is little more than a reflection of the people who consume it. That a national, supposedly serious newspaper would find house-room for Abi Wilkinson (thanks for the hits btw) would seem to confirm my view that we have indeed become a nation of overindulged children. As much as that makes a no-deal Brexit inevitable, it is not much of a stretch to say it is wholly deserved. If sweeping these people into irrelevance is the one thing a no-deal Brexit does achieve then that, at least, is one thing going for it.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Brexit is a chance to unlock politics

During the general election the Tories put forth a policy that would see care costs deducted from assets. It was very rapidly labelled a "dementia tax". A lot of people didn't understand the policy and a lot more wilfully misrepresented it. I didn't happen to think much of the policy but I do recognise why there needs to be a policy because the model current policy is based on an unsustainable ideal of post-war health universalism. That's a problem.

The public demands top quality care and they expect the state to pay for it. What they don't want to acknowledge is the spiralling costs of it nor do they acknowledge that our expectations of the state far exceed what many will ever pay in. Meanwhile everybody expects and demands that the NHS can and should provide the full range of care for free without exception.

For as long as I can remember reform of this model has been the single most unapproachable topic. Nothing else quite triggers left wing histrionics like the suggestion that a Rolls Royce healthcare is not a human right. The consequence of this is that any reforms have to be done by the back door, very gradually while the system continues to underperform.

What we actually need is for an adult government to make the tough choices. While the NHS remains a sacred cow and while the public still have a childish sense of entitlement, there is no hope of ever stopping the rot.

The consequence of of the current political malaise is that while we still nominally maintain a free health care system is is one that is widely abused, taken for granted, and one that has to ration services to the point where you can't get an appointment within a week of needing one. The simplistic criticism is that the system is underfunded and would function better if only we firehosed more cash at it. Except that this isn't the answer, it doesn't work and we cannot afford it.

The same dynamic applies to pretty much every area of public service provision. Any reform or rationalisation is met with fierce political resistance and that leads to a political stalemate. At best a government gets to push through only one set of reforms in its lifetime. Very rapidly they run out of political capital.

This has been the state of play in politics for all of my adult life and it is so entrenched and tribal that we can never move past this permanent state of dysfunction. The moment a conservative government attempts reform, all the classic tropes are trotted out about uncaring, merciless "Tooories". Playground stuff.

I for one am tired of this. The motives behind Tory welfare reform are entirely honourable and though I do not hold Iain Duncan Smith in the highest esteem on matters of Brexit, his programme of reforms was timely and necessary. The left can trot out all the sob stories but this doesn't move me. The horror tales we hear are the outliers; generally those who fall between the cracks as governments attempt to transition one complex system to another. It happens.

There are occasional cases where benefits are stopped with a devastating impact on the individual and this is sold as though Tory ministers are personally responsible and the motive entirely vindictive. The likes of Owen Jones and other Guardian bimbos have made a career pushing this line. It's cynical and exploitative.

The motive behind this misframing is to preserve in aspic a creaking socialist system that primarily benefits the powerbase of leftists - which tends to be those who work within the system rather than those who depend on it. From health to housing, we have an entire cohort who disproportionately benefit from state spending precisely because they maintain this paradigm. They massage the narrative that people are helpless deserving cases giving rise to a culture of victim politics. The greater your victim status the more state largesse is lavished upon you.

And this goes someway to explaining yesterday's post which seems to have cause something of a stir. The short version is that I do see quite a lot of potential in Brexit to reboot British politics, not least because a trashed economy would finally settle this stagnant politics of ours. It would be the final big push to wean the British off the state.

I suspect the reason the post went viral is because it's probably the first time Grauniad hacks have seen honest Brexit motives out in the open. I see Brexit as taking toys away from spoiled toddlers - and if we can't stop a hard Brexit then there is still a lot to be said for going the full monty rather than preserving the dismal status quo of retail politics. I can see how it will culturally reinvent Britain.

One of the very worst aspects of New Labour was how it bureaucratised childcare, bringing it inside a regulated sphere so that struggling families have to pay exorbitant fees just to make sure their offspring do not stick forks in power sockets. It destroyed the culture of voluntarism and community based social initiatives - making childcare possible only for those who can afford it.

In every area of life the state has sought to insert itself to the point of making people hopelessly dependent on it rather than each other. Even the upper middle class dump granny on the council as soon as she becomes inconvenient - and naturally the state pays. We are culturally conditioned to depend on the state to the point where workers in Britain put less of their wages into savings than counterparts in nearly every other country in Europe. One third of Brits are fiscally illiterate. It makes us feckless, frivolous and selfish.

We are told that EU membership safeguards our prosperity. That is another way of saying it preserves the status quo. Well, sorry to break this to you, some of us (quite a lot of us in fact) voted to break the status quo. As much as I thnk British politics has exhausted itself, I think the culture of state dependency is toxic. I look around me and I see a system that has shattered the family. We have struggling single mums while we have a rise in single male suicides. What's wrong with this picture? 

For decades now we have amassed a herd of sacred cows which are beyond question – from the NHS to Trident, from education to dentistry, all are suffering from deeply entrenched political dogmas and withering on the vine because of it. We have social provisions that are not in any way costed and are increasingly unfair to the young. Britain is spoiled rotten.

Between the EU and our entrenched establishment we are incapable of making substantial and meaningful reforms and that which we now call radical is but meagre tinkering. I hold the view that important decisions have been deferred through political cowardice and it is holding back economic and social progress. It might well be that we do have to take a step backwards to reorder our economy to make it one more befitting a globalised world.

Much of the core arms of social welfare and state provision are the last remnants of post-war socialism. We are in denial over their effectiveness and everybody wants the cuts to happen to someone else. Since we have a political establishment incapable of taking those adult decisions, I do not mind at all if Brexit forces their hand.

Once the public is forced to rethink their choices, forced to look past the state to solve their immediate problems we have a chance at cultural reinvention. David Cameron could never bring substance to his "Big Society" ideals, but I recognised what he was getting at. I've even seen it in practice among the Polish community who help each other out in ways that we don't. The state as a backstop means we don't have to interact - and that is what has killed social entrepreneurialism. 

And this is at the core of Conservative values - encouraging people to be self-reliant self-starters, organisers and volunteers. It is the knowledge that this is the essence of personal growth and the bedrock of community. 

This is what Theresa May was getting at with her Citizen's of nowhere speech. She sees what I see. Frivolous, rootless people with no commitments and no sense of obligation simply because there is no imperative to be anything else. She quite adequately describes the self-absorbed whining entitled young remainer who is all too used to being able to graze on the land without any sense civic obligation. Shallow people who buy into the empty sloganeering of the EU. 

I am no slash and burn free marketeer as this blog has made very clear. I do not share the economic radicalism of the Tory right and if they get their way then it will be an economic calamity. I will continue to oppose their reckless approach - but I will not shed a tear if Brexit drives a horse and cart through the British state and shreds the political impasse. 

Without breaking the status quo we would continue in the deadlock of retail politics, continuing to prop up the great British ponzi scheme, robbing the youth of opportunity and vitality while imported labour leaves them trailing in their wake. Brexit gives the country the kick up the backside it has needed for decades. Britain has had it too good for too long and a bit of creative destruction is exactly the right medicine.

To this end I will take the hardship and all that comes with it for a chance at a society that is better than this. One where people look to themselves, their friends and families before they think about filling in a form. 

If I see any division in Britain it is between those who believe in the potential of people and those who do not. Those who think that we are hapless serfs in need of salvation and those who think we are better if we are put to the test. Those who think all human activity has to be sanctioned, approved and monitored by the state and those who think that people can get along without it. That is what makes Brexit a battle for the soul of the country - and the right side won. I don't doubt that Britain will be poorer for Brexit, but it will be a better place to live. 

Monday, 9 October 2017

I don't like this Brexit, but I will live with it

Now that we know there isn't going to be a deal we can at least narrow down some of the possibilities of what post-Brexit Britain looks like.

In the first year or so we are going to lose a lot of manufacturing. Virtually all JIT export manufacturing will fold inside a year. Initially we will see food prices plummet but this won't last. Domestic agriculture won't be able to compete and we'll see a gradual decline of UK production. UK meats will be premium produce and no longer affordable to most.

Once food importers have crushed all UK competition they will gradually raise their prices, simply because they can. Meanwhile wages will stay depressed and because of the collapse of disposable income and availability of staff, we can probably expect the service sector to take a big hit thus eliminating all the jobs that might provide a supplementary income.

Across the board we will see prices rising. There will be some serendipitous benefits but nothing that offsets the mass job losses. We will see a lot of foreign investment dry up and banking services will move to the EU. Dublin and Frankfurt. I expect that house prices will start to fall, but that's not going to do anyone any favours in the short to mid term.

Since a lot of freight will no longer be able to go through Calais we can expect a lot more use of the port at Hull so we may see an expansion in distribution centres in the North.

All in all we are looking at serious austerity as it will take a few years at least to rebuild our trade relations with third countries. If we go down the path of unilateral trade liberalisation then we will probably find it hard to strike new deals.

Meanwhile, since tax receipts will be way down we can expect major cuts to the forces and a number of Army redundancies. I expect to see RAF capability cut by a third. Soon enough it will become apparent that cuts to defence cannot go further so we can expect another round of cuts to council services. They will probably raise council tax to cope with it.

After years of the left bleating about austerity they are about to find out what it actually means. Britain is about to become a much more expensive pace to live. It will cause a spike in crime.

Interesting though will be how rapidly people adapt to it and habits will change, thus so will the culture. I expect cheap consumables from China will stay at low prices and they manage to circumvent the taxes and import controls anyway.

What I do expect to happen is a lot of engineering jobs to be axed since a lot of them are dependent on defence spending. It will kill off a number of parasitic resourcing firms and public sector suppliers. Basically it will wipe out the cosseted lower middle class and remind them that they are just as dispensable as the rest of us.

We can the expect to see a major rationalisation of the NHS and what functions it will perform. It will be more of a skeleton service than ever. I expect they will have trouble staffing it. Economic conditions more than any immigration control will bring numbers down to a trickle.

In every area of policy a lot of zombie projects will be culled and the things that survive on very slender justifications will fall. We can also expect banks to pull the plug in under-performing businesses. Unemployment will be back to where it was in the 80's.

The London economy will also change. Initially we will see an exodus back to the regions until rental prices normalise to the new conditions. Anyone who considers themselves "Just about managing" right now will look upon this time as carefree prosperity. There are going to be a lot of very pissed off people.

This will see a revival of local politics and national politics will become a lot more animated. I expect the Tories will be wiped out and we will have to put up with a Corbyn government for a while, but they will be tasked with making all the major cuts. We'll soon see how far their "compassion" really goes. Even if Corbs does manage to borrow, it won't go very far. It won't plug the hole.

Eventually things will settle down and we will get used to the new order of things. My gut instinct tells me that culturally it will be a vast improvement on the status quo. There will be more reasons to cooperate and more need to congregate. I expect to see a cultural revolution where young people actually start doing surprising and reckless things again rather than becoming tedious hipsters drinking energy drinks in pop-up cereal bar book shops or whatever it is they do these days. We'll be back to the days when students had to be frugal and from their resourcefulness manage to produce interesting things and events.

A few years in and we will then have started to rebuild EU relations, probably plugging back into Euratom, Erasmus, and a large part of the single market. It will take some time to plug back into the EU aviation market. The EU will be very cautious about what it lets us back in on.

Effectively we are looking at a ten year recession. Nothing ever experienced by those under 50. Admittedly this is not the Brexit I was gunning for. I wanted a negotiated settlement to maintain the single market so that we did not have to be substantially poorer, but, in a lot of ways I actually prefer this to the prospect of maintaining the 2015 status quo with ever degraded politics with increasingly less connection to each other.

I'm of the view that in recent years people have become increasingly spoiled and self-indulgent, inventing psychological problems for themselves in the absence of any real challenges or imperatives to grow as people. I have always primarily thought Brexit would be a reboot on British politics and culture. In a lot of ways it will bring back much of what is missing. A little austerity might very well make us less frivolous.

What I do know is that the banking crisis of 2008 set in motion a series of events whereby much of the corrective potential of it was dissipated with debt and spending, largely to preserve the political order. The disruptive potential of it was barely felt in the UK. Ever since we have stagnated and though the numbers on screen may tell a story of marginal growth, I just don't see it reflected in the world around me. I still see the regions dying out and London sucking the life and vitality out of every city, including Bristol. It reminds me that the wealth of a city is its people, not its contribution to GDP.

Ahead lies challenging times. It will not be easy. Those who expected things to improve will be disappointed. But then I have a clear conscience in this. I never made any big Brexit promises. I never said there would be sunlit uplands. I did not predict that the government would make this much of a pigs ear of it, or that we would be looking at the WTO option. I expected parliament would step in to prevent that. That it hasn't tells you a good deal about the state of modern politics.

And so with that in mind, as much as I would have had it go a different way, I think, given the opportunity to vote again I would still vote to leave. Eventually it gets to a point where any change will do. I prefer an uncertain future to the certainty I was looking at.


If you came here via the Guardian, read this.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Brexit: the Devil finds work

Raphael Hogarth of The Times tweets "It's amazing how immigration has completely receded from the Brexit debate, having been such a massive feature of the referendum campaign". Quite an astute observation.

One might suggest the reason for this is that the media finally has something to do. Just about every hack and wonk in the land is fixated by Brexit, following every twist and turn, diving into the details a each promoting their own take.

The media has only a certain amount of bandwidth and is usually only capable of handing one or two issues concurrently. If every there is a major terrorist incident, it will fill every page with every angle for days on end because it's easy and cheap copy. These things happen often enough that they have their own institutional routines and they know the drill. They know exactly what to do.

The rest of the time, when the news agenda isn't full they go flying kites to see what news they can provoke. The Daily Mail is especially good at this in that it will suggest that sausage rolls have been banned by a council to avoid offending Muslims, when in fact it will be a moronic decision by a head teacher and will have zero official standing. The article will say that much but that won't get in the way of a titillating headline.

Similarly it will take great pleasure in running a story on the number of schoolchildren who do not speak English as their first language. The statistic they use for the basis of an article will be a sample of London schools where unsurprisingly the majority will be of foreign origin. Here is the Telegraph doing exactly that. I didn't have to hunt to find that article and if I delve a little deeper I will find many more of its type.

So what triggers these articles? Is it actually news? No. It's just that on a slow day with nothing much to report, if there happens to be a report published by a think tank or NGO then it will have the media's full attention simply because it has nothing better to do. On any other day such a report would be completely ignored. It really all depends on how juicy the executive summary is. No hack is going to actually read it.

It is hardly surprising that in recent years the issue of immigration has been centre stage. Being it a thorny issue the main parties wouldn't touch it with a barge pole, but you could always count on Ukip to provide a headline or a pull-quote. That then gives room for policy hacks like Matthew Goodwin to promote their "left behind" narratives - and it gives the handbag-clutching left a "rise of the far right" meme to chew on.

The subject then becomes a cottage industry sustaining the politco-media bubble. Dispatches or Panorama will send a "research" team to Bradford or Burnley to find an ignorant northerner to moan about foreigners, while camera crews take poignant cut scenes of a long abandoned mill looming in the mist. It sustains the careers of journalism graduates hoping to make a name for themselves in television.

Ultimately it is the media who are primarily obsessed with immigration. It is their bread and butter. Newspapers are in the business of selling fear. In the same way that horror films are a timeless genre, newspapers like nothing more than to sow fear and prod the politicians into saying things outside of their comfort zone.

We saw in 2015 the feverish reporting of the "summer of death" in the Mediterranean. For weeks the media reported it as though it were something new when in fact it had been going on for some time and is still happening now. Since 2015 was an election year and Ukip was the media's favourite plaything, it's all we saw day in, day out. Fast forward to now and a hundred people could have died in the Mediterranean just today and it wouldn't rate as news. It might appear in a Reuters ticker somewhere but that's it.

As much as it isn't an election year, the media gets bored just the same as the public do. Even an Islamist terror attack has to be either in Paris, Berlin or on home soil for it to rate. Having used up all the platitudes and rinsed every narrative, unless there's human interest story, it slides to the bottom of the news agenda in twenty-four hours.

There is also another good reason why immigration doesn't rate right now. The media has had its pound of flesh. The story arc is over for now. There is no domestic political angle like Ukip.

Ukip is central to it as the party was largely the media's own creation. There is a Rite of Spring aspect where the sacrificial virgin dances herself to death. For the media, they've had a two-for-one out of Ukip. Ukip brought some intrigue to what would otherwise have been a distinctly tedious election between two virtually identical parties. Then they had a referendum to play with.

Arguably you might even say that immigration doesn't rate because Ukip doesn't rate. There is no story there except for those of us who like a bit of schadenfreude. The media caravan has moved on. We are back to what they love the most; Tory splits - and now a dysfunctional fag end government making a royal pig's ear of Brexit.

In fact, even Brexit doesn't seem to rate over splits in the Tory party. There is a very real danger of talks collapsing and  all the horrors that entails and yet Grant Shapps is somehow more interesting to them. Even the Labour party doesn't feature as a story.

Ultimately media follows power and power is centred in Westminster, so every single issue is viewed through the Westminster prism as to how it may or may not affect the next election. Since there is no election on the cards the only political event on their horizon is the possibility of a Tory leadership contest - and they will do everything in their power to make that happen. If immigration was a stick to beat them with then it would be in the news. But this time it isn't - so it isn't.

There is a feedback loop between the public and the media. The media talks about immigration and sets the talking point agenda and if sustained for long enough it drifts into the Overton window. But then it is just as readily forgotten by the public as they are given something else to churn over. They are every bit as fickle as the media.

At some point we can expect immigration to return as an issue but only as an adjunct. At some point a decision will have to be made on our future trade relationship with the EU and that will require an unpopular decision. The media will then resurrect immigration as a stick to beat the government with, ever keen to push a "betrayal" narrative. It's all good sport for the media.

That, though, is possibly why we will crash out of the EU without a deal. At some point a decision has to be made about the final sum we pay to the EU. The Telegraph and the Express will play their games and even a reasonable sum will be viewed as "caving in to Brussels". Political opportunists will use it to their advantage. This is why we have not, as yet, seen any progress in negotiations. Mrs May is kicking the can down the road.

Ultimately a no deal Brexit has become the most likely Brexit because it is the path of least resistance. As a path it does not not require any courage, no decisions have to be made and blame can always be deflected. With the help of the media, they might even get away with it. It really all depends on how keen media barons are on not having Corbyn in office. You would think, with what is at stake, that there would be some sense of urgency in sounding the alarm - but clearly cabinet splits are more newsworthy than whether we survive as a first world trading nation.

We should not be in the slightest bit surprised that immigration has dropped off the agenda. All too often the media's fixations and obsessions are a galaxy apart from the concerns of the public. The immigration debate has been an indulgence for a media that has not had anything of substance to cope with for more than a decade. The devil finds work for idle hands. I rather expect things would look very different indeed if we had a media that was interested in reporting news rather than manufacturing it.