Tuesday, 23 May 2017

In The Beginning There Was an EU Policy Document

After reading the woeful attempts made by Labour and Tory to plough a clear Brexit furrow, I decided to review a policy document that was clear, concise and logically coherent.  It turns out that the EU is pretty good at this.  In fact, the EU has been publishing its plans for the upcoming Brexit negotiations for some time now.  I recommend that everyone take a gander here to find out what transparent governance looks like.  I suppose it looks transparent, which ... doesn't actually look like anything at all.  Oh dear, I've got myself in a right wordy mix-up again. 


Let's forget my terrible metaphor for the moment and get cracking with a review of the EU's legally binding instructions for Michele Barnier.  These instructions describe the legal parameters of the upcoming UK/EU divorce talks from the perspective of the EU. They also provide an insight into the processes the  EU will employ to ensure that the EU is protected from the UK's bizarre behaviour over the last year or so.  Rather than go through the whole document I thought I'd just flag up some of the issues that will be most contentious for the next Tory government.  Boomshanka and simply enjoy.

 

Citizens' Rights


I've already blogged about the gap between the UK's view on citizens' rights and the position that the EU will likely take.   Neither Tory nor Labour are anywhere near the position demanded by the EU.  Labour, of course, think they can magnanimously grant rights to EU citizens in the UK on a purely unilateral basis without really specifying what those rights will be or laying down any legal foundation for the persistence of those unspecified rights.  The Tories, on the other hand, are extremely tight-lipped about any deal they will offer to EU citizens in the UK.  Neither party has ever gone as far as to publish any detail on how they intend to secure the rights of its own citizens living in the EU.   We can only be thankful that there is a grown-up in the room to take care of this on our behalf.

The EU's policy is centred around the principle of permanent residence rights.  EU law has long dictated that permanent rights of residence are secured after 5 years of legal residence. In the case of Brexit that five year span can be any window of time that starts before the date of withdrawal; that is, 31 March, 2019.   Anyone who qualifies for permanent residence on 31 March, 2019 should automatically be granted the status of permanent residence.  More crucially, anyone partially along the path to permanent residence should also be granted permanent residence after they have completed their 5 years of lawful residence.  That means that an EU national who takes up residence in the UK on 31 March, 2019 and legally stays for five years will be granted exactly the same status of permanent residence in 2024 as someone who qualifies on the date that the UK exits the EU.  This is huge stuff.  Really, this is not going to make the UK happy at all because they have variously briefed that the cut-off date should be either the date of the EU referendum or the date that the Article 50 letter was delivered.  Nobody in the UK has ever contemplated the possibility that permanent rights would be granted to individuals not yet resident in the UK.

What other details did Tory and Labour neglect in their manifesto pledges? Oh yeah, that whole stramash about the rights of EU nationals already resident in the UK to bring over their family.  The rights of family members to join someone already resident in the UK will persist even after the date of departure.  That means that anyone resident in the UK can legally bring over their wife or husband even if the spouse wasn't resident in the UK on or before the date of withdrawal.  David Davis must be having a heart attack at all this.  Keir Starmer is probably still trying to work out if this nugget means that "Brexit is settled" or if there is still room for a tiny bit of contention.

Brexit is definitely settled except for the really hard second part and the first part that is only marginally easier than that.
The EU puts great stress on the permanence of permanent rights.  They really do mean that permanent rights will last for the lifetime of the holder of those rights.  For example, an Italian working in the UK since 2004 will be able to return to Italy for 3 years, then work in France for a bit and then return to the UK with all of their rights in tact.  They will be able to repeat that cycle until they pop their clogs.  Now, the EU hasn't mentioned rights of access to graveyards but I fully expect there to be an addendum somewhere or other.  Permanence also means that rights that hold today cannot be taken away in the future. The right of access to healthcare or a state pension or unemployment benefit or education will persist for the lifetime of anyone who qualifies for permanent rights.  Someone call Liam Fox a doctor. What?  He is a doctor?  Really?  An actual doctor?  Well, I'm just glad he went into politics, then.

Governance of the Agreement


Theresa May has made a huge fuss about the UK withdrawing from all of the EU's governing bodies.   However, she hasn't made any plan for how to resolve disputes that arise from the Brexit agreement that she will eventually strike with the EU.  Let's imagine that a French radiographer applies for a job at a Birmingham hospital but is turned down on the premise that their qualifications are no longer recognised by the UK.   The EU, of course, is demanding that the UK recognises in perpetuity the qualifications of all EU nationals granted the status of permanent residence.  How would that radiographer pursue their case?  If it happened today they would take their case to the European Court of Justice.  What about after Brexit?  Well, the EU is demanding that the Brexit agreement will be governed by European courts and technical agencies.  As a consequence, EU and UK citizens caught up in this unholy mess will be able to take their grievances to European courts exactly as they do now. All they EU is saying here is that rights enjoyed today will be permanently granted.  This is going to lead to the strange situation where EU nationals resident in the UK have more rights of appeal than UK citizens.  It also leads to the conundrum whereby UK citizens resident in the EU have more rights than their contemporaries back in Blighty. This is what taking back control actually looks like.

The EU goes much, much further than anything I stated above.  They also say that EU citizens in the UK should benefit from amendments to EU law that are not yet implemented or even proposed.   If the EU changes the way that claims can be made to the ECJ or modifies a Directive that applies  generally to EU citizens then EU citizens in the UK should also benefit from those changes.  If they hadn't made this provision then EU law as it applies to the UK would be effectively frozen on the date of withdrawal.  In contrast, the whole point of permanent rights from the perspective of the EU is that their citizens can carry on living in the UK as though the UK had never left the EU.   That, after all, was the state they found it in when they arrived.

Transitional Arrangements


I think everyone now knows that the UK cannot achieve a smooth Brexit in the fixed two years allowed by Article 50 but what is to be done?  There's been a lot of talk about transitional phases from both sides but a lot of disagreement about what that means.  The EU is very clear that a transitional phase can only be granted if the UK maintains all of its current EU obligations for its duration.  If the UK agrees to this it will retain all EU Directives and Regulations; it will be bound by decisions from the ECJ; it will remain under the governance of European technical agencies; it will continue paying into the EU budget.  Theresa May's White Paper on Brexit makes clear that the UK will be free of all of its EU obligations on 31 March, 2019.  She has even made this a clear manifesto pledge but I seriously doubt she will be able to keep it because the UK badly needs a transitional phase to avoid regulatory and financial meltdown.

Theresa May finally wins the Political Maths Olympiad, Downing Street, 2017. 
 Why is there an election happening in the UK right now?  The answer is that it is politically easier to break a manifesto pledge at the start of a new government than right before an election.  If Theresa May had completed her term of office and ran for election in 2020 she would represent a government that had just signed the UK up to a further 3 years or more of EU obligations.  To some it might even look as though the UK would never, ever leave the EU.  Holding an election right now means she can break a key manifesto pledge almost immediately but go on to campaign in 2022 as the leader who heroically brought the UK out of the clutches of the dastardly EU.  Somewhere along the line she worked out that transitional arrangements are just as time-consuming and complex to negotiate as the UK's final departure from the EU.  Time limits being what they are, the only offer the EU could feasibly make is for the UK to follow its current legal template of EU membership for the duration of the transitional period.  She worked that out and then immediately called an election.  It's good that she worked it out but it would have been better if it had all made sense to her and her team of mega-brains about 9 months ago.

UK Debt


The EU has thought long and hard about the mechanisms that will be used to compute the UK's debt at the time of departure but have never actually published an estimate.  Meanwhile, all sorts of numbers have been carelessly thrown around by "journalists" and politicians for the last 9 months.  You've probably read that the EU will demand 100 Billion or that the UK can expect to pay 50 Billion.  There's never any detail to these stories so that debt might be euros or dollars or sterling or magic yo-yos.  The truth is that nobody knows the exact figure because it hasn't been calculated yet.

I've always found that my eyes glaze over whenever I start reading about finance so you might want to look elsewhere for detail on this topic.  As I understand it, the UK has short-term obligations and long-term obligations that the EU will expect to be honoured.  I would guess that both of these have a value that can be established reasonably well.  On top of that, there are obligations with uncertain value and specific Brexit costs.  The short-term obligations represent the money that we said we'd contribute to the current EU budget.  EU budgets typically span several years so we'll be expected to pay that even if we leave before the end of the term of the budget.   Long-term obligations are things like pensions for EU workers.  The UK is clearly responsible for a portion of the pension of all EU employees who worked for the EU during the UK's membership.  What about those obligations of uncertain value?  They are basically systems of loans agreed by the EU with money contributed by the member states.  The UK agreed to pay a share of those loans when it was a member so the EU will expect that to be honoured.  Those loans might be paid back in time, meaning that the EU could eventually pay back the UK's contribution to the loan.  Alternately, the loans might eventually be written off.  If you're still awake the specific Brexit costs are the costs of moving EU technical agencies from the UK.  The European Medicines Agency, for example, will need to move from its current headquarters in London.  There will be all sorts of costs involved:  obligations to pay rent and facilities charges under the current rental contract;  the cost of staff relocation; the cost of finding and renting a new office etc etc.

Despite UK bluster and tabloid protestations this is really happening.  It is unstoppable now.
 The final figure is going to be contentious.  The UK will obviously dispute its short-term obligations. I'm sure it will argue that its contribution to the budget should stop when the UK exits the EU.   The long-term obligations seem less contentious, especially as they include the pensions of UK citizens.  Having said that, I'm sure David Davis will find some way because he has a final figure of just 1 Billion (any denomination you like) in mind. Didn't Boris Johnson even say that the EU owes money to the UK instead of the other way round?  The loan contributions are particularly contentious because the UK will probably prefer to honour future losses rather than front the money right now.  We need to remember that the Daily Express will be commenting on the unfolding horror with its typical objectivity so keeping the immediate number as low as possible will be a clear goal  for UK politicians.  Finally, I'm quite sure that the UK will take the view that the EU should pay for its own technical agencies, thank you very much.  Good luck with that.

Wrap This Up Now!


I've only flagged up the areas that I think will be most politically contentious rather than the areas that might turn out to be the most complex to resolve.  For example,  I've not mentioned Northern Ireland or Gibraltar or how the UK intends to honour contracts the EU has with third parties.  Nothing I've seen suggests that the UK is prepared for any of these complicated issues.  All I've seen is the UK giving the vaguest promises possible that EU citizens will be allowed to "remain" in the UK and a one-sided yelling match about the UK's debt obligations followed by petulant sulks about how it's all terribly unfair.  None of this promotes the spirit of cooperation.
Are there concrete plans to walk out of Breixt talks?
 Will the UK really walk out of the talks?  The rhetoric coming from Tory HQ is so inflammatory it seems that agreement with the EU will be almost impossible. In the midst of all this bluster, there are all sorts of rumours flying around that the UK is not planning for meaningful dialogue but instead intends to walk out of the talks immediately after the German election.  The argument here is that the UK isn't prepared for talks because it always intended to storm out and blame the EU for its inflexibility.  David Davis helps fuel these rumours by continually saying that walking out the talks is a tactic he fully intends to employ if things don't go his way. "No deal is better than a bad deal", and all that.  Is this a realistic scenario?  I'd be inclined to believe these rumours if the UK was better prepared for the consequences of walking out of the talks.  The consequences would include an immediate hiring ban of foreign nationals; WTO tariffs; tens of thousands of customs staff; border queues;  immediate price rises;  nuclear plants without nuclear fuel; Channel Tunnel trains without qualified drivers;  planes without qualified pilots; cancelled operations; the cessation of pharmaceutical licenses; hazardous chemicals stuck in transit; tourists with uncertain hospital costs; the striking out of ongoing legal cases; UK data servers declared illegal; the City of London ceasing to function as a Euro clearing house; pensions stuck in limbo.  It is much, much harder to plan for the walk-out option so I really don't think this is a credible threat.  The EU surely know this.

The truth is that exiting the EU is a prescribed legal process and there isn't that much room for negotiation on the main points of the divorce.  Even the order of the talks (divorce before trade) is all written down in a way that follows the various treaties and constitutions of the EU.  Nobody can do anything about this even if they wanted to.  Sure, the structure of the UK's debt can be discussed and I'm sure there is wiggle room in the timing of the payments but the figure itself isn't really something the UK can alter on its own.  I'm sure there is even room for the foundation of a special court  to oversee the Brexit agreement instead of the ECJ.  The problem for the UK is that appointing and agreeing the powers of a new court will take up months and months of organisation.  While all that is going on the UK will not make any progress towards a Free Trade Agreement with the EU.  This is not a credible path.  The ball is in the EU's court and there is nothing that can be done about that.  Nothing at all.

This can all be avoided by voting Yes in a second independence referendum,

Terry

PS It is fascinating to watch the EU publish all of its policy on Brexit.  They have made clear what information will be placed in the public domain (almost everything),  issued legally binding guidelines to its chief negotiator,  and formulated an unambiguous policy of ratification.  The UK, on the other hand, wants everything conducted in secret.  It did issue a Government White Paper on Brexit but if we cast our minds back we'll remember that it read like a school project from an unsuccessful student. To add insult to injury, key statements were reversed within days of publication.  It is not a useful document unless Brexit leads to a shortage of toilet paper. The Government White Paper acts only as a guide for how not to write a Government White Paper. Finally, there is still no formal mechanism for the UK to ratify the Brexit agreement.  Both Labour and Tory have pledged a "meaningful" vote in Parliament but without any detail whatsoever on the choices that will be offered.  What a mess.

PPS Why wait for the German elections to storm out?  If they storm out before the election they leave the door open for a new German government filled with fresh faces to coax the UK back to the table.  Storming out after the formation of a new German government leaves that door firmly shut.  The problem with storming out is that the EU is legally bound by the instructions it has passed to Michele Barnier.  It can only negotiate within those parameters. We cannot expect the EU to come back to the table with a fresh offer because it cannot legally do that.  The UK already knows the EU's boundaries because they published them on a website for idiots like me to read and review.  The point of revealing their guidelines is to prevent the UK from storming out - if the UK does storm out in a strop it means that it entered the discussions in bad faith.  Let's see when the penny drops for  David Davis.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

(Tory) Experiment in Terror

Count to ten, breath deeply. Count to ten, breath deeply. Count to ten, br...... Ah, sorry, you caught me right in the middle of my calming exercises. Last time, when I reviewed the Labour Brexit manifesto, I ended up challenging my cherished readership to a fist fight. Labour are a figure of fun these days and their manifesto was a light and frothy comic vignette but just look where we ended up! Today, I will be reviewing the Conservative Brexit manifesto. This is an altogether darker affair. There's no need to worry about the threat of spontaneous violence today because a profound sense of melancholy took up residence in my soul. With each passing page of unfolding horror the light slowly left my eyes and my normally high spirits took a nosedive. I could feel an evil presence gnawing away at my humanity, urging me into a spiralling vortex of gloom. Enough of my fragile emotional state, what about that manifesto? Let's get cracking.


The first thing to notice is that Tories are very keen on strength. And stability. They mention how strong they are about 100 times throughout the manifesto (disclaimer: I gave up counting after 80 and extrapolated forwards to the end). The repetition verges on the fascistic at times, to be honest. The second thing to notice is that it is a very long manifesto but with a relatively short section on Brexit. In difference to the Labour manifesto, Brexit and the European Union crop up everywhere. Labour, on the other hand, barely mentioned Brexit outside a stand-alone section on their Brexit strategy. I think this is particularly revealing. Labour think that Brexit is a problem like any other facing the UK, while the Tories at least understand that no area of policy can ever hope to make progress without first resolving Brexit. In short, they get that everything now has a Brexit flavour and that the next UK government will be completely consumed by attempts to unravel its tentacles. Given that, I just don't understand why they've opted to make Brexit as complex as it could ever possibly be. Will it all be revealed by diving in further to their manifesto of doom? Nope.

The front cover of the Conservative 2017 manifesto.
 We actually already know the Tory manifesto on Brexit. They are going to leave the ECJ, the Customs Union, the EEA. They are going to leave all European technical agencies eg the European Aviation Agency and the European Railways Agency. They have even pledged to leave Euratom, which doesn't even come under the jurisdiction of the ECJ. This is the so-called hard Brexit. By exiting the Customs Union they have also inadvertently pledged to remove the UK from all trade deals that the EU has with third parties such as South Korea and Canada. The EU has trade deals with about 1/3 of planet earth so this is quite a bold and terrifying pledge, even though nobody seems to ever mention it.  They have pledged to remove the UK from all EU Regulations and Directives by replacing each and every one of them with domestic law and regulation. This act of legislative suicide has been labelled The Great Repeal Bill.  After they've done all that our relationship with the EU and the rest of the world will be indistinguishable from the kind that Belarus "enjoys". Don't worry, though, because there are opportunities. That's right, they have also pledged to parade around the world signing Free Trade Agreements as fast as they can with anyone who shares British values. It turns out that everyone shares British values, no matter how many people they have personally tortured with their own hands and no matter how oppressive and undemocratic they might be. They have also pledged a deep and special relationship with the EU, though they are short on details about how to make that happen. The Great Repeal Bill, removing the UK from all EU regulatory frameworks, will make that particularly difficult. None of these "opportunities" is ever specified, costed or given a timescale. Having said that, we know exactly which cliff the Brexit bus is heading for and we can roughly guess when the cliff-edge will be breached. The question is: is anything more revealed? Not much, to be honest, but their mindset is so terrifying that I'm compelled to continue
"We will ensure immediate stability by lodging new UK schedules with the World Trade Organization, in alignment with EU schedules to which we are bound whilst still a member of the European Union."
There has been a lot of speculation, leak and rumour about this but here it is in black and white: the UK will attempt to replicate the WTO schedule that it currently has through the EU. It turns out that leaving the EU doesn't really bring back any control because, make no mistake, the UK has been forced into this position. Even taking this neutral position is fraught with danger because of the way that tariff quotas are handled. Now, the EU has a number of negotiated tariff quotas with the WTO. This is especially true for food imports. Here's how it works: the EU might say that the first 1000 tonnes of quality beef can be imported at a low rate but everything beyond that must pay a high tariff rate. The UK takes a share of that quota but nobody knows exactly how much or how to measure it unambiguously. To replicate the quota as well as the tariff everyone needs to agree on how to calculate the share of the beef quota that the UK actually consumed. That might be averaged over 3 years or 5 years or the last month by any number of metrics you care to choose. The scope for disagreement is unbounded. Countries like New Zealand and Argentina will be very keen to force the UK to absorb as high a quota as possible because that will make their lamb and beef much cheaper in UK supermarkets. The EU will also have a say because a) they won't want their tariff quota reduced by the UK's departure and b) they will also want to export as much as possible to the UK at a low tariff rate. The UK will quickly find itself trading under multiple disputes. What happens then? Well, until the disputes are resolved the litigants are legally allowed to raise tariff and non tariff barriers to UK goods. So much for the joy of trading under WTO rules.
"We will seek to replicate all existing EU free trade agreements and support the ratification of trade agreements entered into during our EU membership."
Good luck with that. A trade deal with the EU is much more attractive than a trade deal with the UK. It is simply not in South Korea's interest to sign a trade deal with the UK under the same conditions and attached strings that it agreed with the EU. This is just not going to happen. What is going to happen? Well, the UK will only be able to sign any trade deals after it has left the EU and completed a trade deal with the EU and sorted out its WTO schedule. Until all of that happens, it is impossible to tell if any UK/A.N.OTHER deal is better than the status quo of no deal. That could easily take 10 years, which is equal to two UK governments. The UK, of course, could give away the family jewels to get some positive headlines. I fully expect them to do that but that is not a good move and not something to boast about. Be very afraid.
This, together with the development of stronger research links with the NHS, can help scientists and doctors design more effective and personalised treatments, and help maintain our position as the European hub for life sciences.
Once more, good luck with that. The European Medicines Agency is already making moves to relocate to a new host EU nation. When the UK leaves the EU it will no longer have access to any of the levers of pharmaceutical ratification in the EU. It's even worse than that, though, because the UK will have no technical body to oversee the regulation of drugs for sale even in the UK. Does anyone in their right mind think that the UK is now a more attractive place to do business, to recruit specialist staff, to access global venture capital? This is all going to move to the EU long before Article 50 is complete.  They are deliberately killing British industry but pretending it will all be perfectly fine.
"When we leave the European Union and its Common Fisheries Policy, we will be fully responsible for the access and management of the waters where we have historically exercised sovereign control. A new Conservative government will work with the fishing industry and with our world-class marine scientists, as well as the devolved administrations, to introduce a new regime for commercial fishing that will preserve and increase fish stocks and help to ensure prosperity for a new generation of fishermen."
This is bleak news if you are Scottish. Agriculture and fish are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. EU membership, however, led to many of those powers being devolved in turn to the European Union. Leaving the European Union should mean the transfer of all of those powers from Brussels back to Holyrood. What this says, however, is that all powers over agriculture and fish will go straight back to Westminster. They've thrown us a bone, though, because they are going to work with the devolved administrations. Thanks for that. 
"We will not bring the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law. We will not repeal or replace the Human Rights Act while the process of Brexit is underway but we will consider our human rights legal framework when the process of leaving the EU concludes. We will remain signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights for the duration of the next parliament."
Translation: "We're far too busy with Brexit to leave the ECHR but we'll be free to do it in 2020." Oh dear.  That Belarus mention earlier was quite apposite, wasn't it?  Belarus is the only European nation outside the remit of the ECHR.  If you want to know what happens when the police and the state and the justice system can do whatever they want without any checks or balances any google search on Belarus or Uzbekistan will soon illuminate the details.
"Under a Conservative government, British troops will in future be subject to the Law of Armed Conflict, which includes the Geneva Convention and UK Service Law, not the European Court of Human Rights."
Translation: "Just in case you don't think we're not serious about that whole ECHR thing, we're going to lay the groundwork with a few details here and there. You have been warned."  They're serious about leaving the ECHR, aren't they?  Brexit really is just the start of a process towards something far more sinister.
"The final agreement will be subject to a vote in both houses of parliament."
This is exactly the same as Labour because we're straight back to the whole "no deal is better than a bad deal". The choices available will never, ever be extended to the status quo of EU membership no matter how gloomy a post-Brexit UK starts to look.  This is terrifying.  Honestly, Westminster has taken leave of its senses. 

I think it's time to wrap this up with a quick reflection on the relevative merits of Labour and Tory Brexit plans. Labour are all over the place. They haven't grasped even the most basic aspects of the European Union or international relations. I don't think they even understand how potentially dangerous Brexit will be for the prosperity of the UK, for workers' rights, for basic freedom to travel and seek medical help.  None of that really matters because they have no chance of getting elected and I'm sure they'll have a new leader by autumn. The Tories, on the other hand, understand just a bit more and that makes them more dangerous.  In difference to Labour, I'm quite sure that Theresa May can indeed take the UK out of the EU.  Leaving the EU, however, is the easy bit; the hard bit is replacing all of its functions and institutions and trade deals and regulatory frameworks and its many, many advantages.  The Tories have no credible plan for any of that because they don't understand the consequences of their actions.  This makes them more dangerous and terrifying than Labour because they are about to drag us out of the EU into a regulatory and trading void.  Obviously, I'm not going to vote for either of these parties because they have both failed their Brexit homework. The Tories, however, have written something so terrifying that someone needs to call in a social worker.

Over and out,

Terry


PS This is the first year I have actually read a political manifesto.  Reading two horrors like these in quick succession is not an edifying experience, I can tell you!  Imagine doing this for a living.  Software development doesn't seem so bad now.

PPS 99.9% certain I'm going to vote SNP this time.  I haven't voted since 2005 and I think I voted Green. 

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Sorry for Laughing (at the Labour Party)

I thought I'd delve into the Labour Party manifesto today to see what they have to say about Brexit.  It is an unintentionally hilarious document and I recommend that everyone in need of a chuckle gives it a whirl.  If you're a purposeful individual with a busy schedule you probably don't have time to mine the deep comedy or savour its nuanced sense of confusion and befuddlement.  Don't worry, though, because that's why I'm here!  It is my pleasure to henceforth present the highlights.  In honour of my all-time favourite comedian, Stewart Lee, I have chosen to publish it in the form of a critical deconstruction of a comic text.  No, of course I haven't done anything like that at all. I've just picked a few quotes at random and ranted on a bit.  Honestly, it could have been any quote on any page and the rant would have been the same because it makes the same fundamental mistakes over and over and over again.  Please do be aware that I challenge readers to a fight about half-way through.  I don't know what got into me but I think it's time to put down that manifesto before I go completely postal.  Enjoy.



Let's start off with a quick rib-tickler before we move on to the main course.
"Britain needs to negotiate a Brexit deal that puts our economy and living standards  first.  That won’t be achieved by empty slogans and posturing. We cannot put at risk our links with our largest trading partner.  Instead we need a jobs-first Brexit that allows us to upgrade our economy for the 21st century."
This is the first mention of Brexit in the Labour Manifesto.  They decry the empty slogans of the Conservative Party but only a hearbeat before letting loose one of their own: "... we need a jobs-first Brexit that allows us to upgrade our economy for the 21st century .."  As slogans go, it's a cracker. I'm actually lost for words at the layers of deep irony.  Is Chris Morris involved in this?  Armando Ianucci?  Craig Brown? Somebody, somewhere is having a hearty chuckle to themselves.  Bravo.
"We will end Theresa May’s reckless approach to Brexit..."
What exactly is reckless about May's approach?  Oh yeah, it's the whole "no deal better than a bad deal" part.  May's approach is the equivalent of using the threat to give up your current job and live in a skip as a negotiating tactic to secure a job with a higher salary at a completely different firm. That is indeed quite reckless.  And idiotic.  The rational approach would be to acknowledge that the status quo is better than a bad deal and work from there.  That, after all, is the rule we all follow when bidding on ebay or buying a house or contemplating a job change.  I'd even argue that it's the default strategy for negotiating anything.  Sadly, neither Labour nor Conservative seem to be offering this as an option.  The Tories, however certifiably brain-wrong their approach might be, at least have a strategy to deal with an unacceptable EU settlement.  We all understand exactly what they plan to do. Labour, as daft as a brush, has no policy whatsoever for dealing with this situation.  They boldly assert that "Labour accepts the referendum result" yet have no credible plan to make it happen.  By rejecting the status quo and a bad deal they have left themselves with no negotiating position other than to accept whatever the EU offer and declare it a good deal.  I can barely get my head around this.  It is one of the stupidest things I have ever heard from a political leader (still not the stupidest but more of that later).  Now, it's not in any way a compliment but the Conservative Party actually have made pledges that will definitely settle Brexit.  Does that make them "better"?
"We will scrap the Conservatives’ Brexit White Paper and replace it with fresh negotiating priorities that have a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union..."
This sounds much better.  The only problem is that I read the entire Brexit section of the manifesto a few times and eventually concluded it was a rare example of a grammatically correct sentence that communicates zero information to the reader.  Here's the problem: the EEA isn't something you access in a limited way; nobody is allowed to pick and choose which benefits of the Customs Union they'd like to maintain.  Month after month after month the EU has been very clear that cherry-picking from the EU buffet is not an option.  Instead, The EEA is something you join; being inside or outside the EEA is a binary state.  To enjoy the benefits of the EEA you must first sign up to the four freedoms.  Correctamundo, that includes the freedom of movement of people.  I'll get to this later but the pitifully short Brexit section spends about 33% of its word count describing how Labour will guarantee to end the freedom of movement of people. Both Labour and Tories have both signed up to a fantasy where exiting the EU will leave everything pretty much the same.  Sure, a few details here, some legislation there but on the whole there's nothing to be scared about.  If anyone from Labour is reading this I'm going to impart some wisdom I learned as a lad.  It was passed down from father to son over many generations of Entoure and has served us well as an unofficial family motto.  Here it is: the only way to keep things the same is to actually keep things the same.  Enjoy and prosper.
"A Labour government will immediately guarantee existing rights for all EU nationals living in Britain and secure reciprocal rights for UK citizens who have chosen to make their lives in EU countries."
Hmm, it turns out nobody with influence in the Labour Party reads this blog.  I know that because I've already dealt with this affront to human dignity here.  They don't get it, do they?  Do I still think this will be the stupidest statement of GE 2017. Yes, I do. Oh, you disagree, do you?  Well, I don't have to explain myself to anyone. Right, let's take this outside. Yes, that's what I said. Outside! See how quickly things can escalate when you don't explain yourself clearly?  Just imagine Corbyn trying to get his head round the meaning of the words "continuation" and "persistent" in a meeting with Michele Barnier.  Now stop imagining that if you want to sleep well tonight.

What do Labour have to say about the ECJ?  I scoured the manifesto multiple times but I couldn't find anything at all.  That's right, not a single mention.  More positively, they do mention that they want to retain "access" to the European internal energy market, Euratom, Horizon 2020, European Medicines Agency and Erasmus.  Well, they won't be able to do all of that without accepting adjudications from the ECJ, Directives from the European Council of Ministers and Regulations from the European Parliament.  That's right, the UK will be forced to comply with foreign meddlers and EU fat-cats without the ability to influence anything.  There's simply no mention of the European Pensions Authority or the European Aviation Agency or how the UK will deal with the legislative nightmare of a Welsh train driver half-way through the Channel Tunnel when the clock strikes Brexit. There are close to 30 European technical agencies but apparently only two of them have any relevance to the UK.  Again, no matter how loop-the-loop it might be, the Conservatives have a plan for all of this.  Their plan, of course, is to withdraw from everything. Sure, it's mad, bad and dangerous to know but at least they gave it a passing thought and committed their conclusion to memory.
"A Labour government will end the uncertainty for our farmers and food producers by securing continued EU market access allowing British farmers and food producers to continue to sell their products on the Continent."
The EU has historically treated agriculture and fisheries quite separately from other areas of commerce. I think it all stems back to WWII and the years of austerity that followed. The Common Agricultural Policy, for example, accounts for approximately 39% of the EU annual budget. The EU, however, isn't the only trading zone that treats farmers and fishers as a special case. In fact, it is commonplace for FTAs to remove agriculture from the equation so that farmers may be protected in the name of food security. Even the WTO has historically adopted this approach, although it is trying to implement reform.  The idea that the UK can remove itself from the EU and the Common Agricultural Policy and the Customs Union (ok, we'll still have "access") but still carry on trading exactly as we do now is a fantasy.  Let's look at Norway for a second to see what is involved.  Back in 1992 Norway had no trade deal with the EU on agricultural products. Fast forward to 2007 and  Norway and the EU begin trade talks on farming and fisheries.  An informal agreement is reached in 2010 but it takes until 2012 for that to come into force.  That agreement, however, is far from comprehensive because they are still negotiating how to liberalise agricultural trade right now in 2017. There is even a plan to bi-annually review how to improve matters so this is far from over.  Norway, we need to remember, is a member of the EEA and is signed up to pretty much all of the EU Acquis communautaire.  What hope has the UK got?  Well, I would guess that the EU will only allow a comprehensive deal on agriculture if the UK adopts all of its Regulations on water quality, environmental protection, animal quality of life.  In short, they'll let us carry on selling them Aberdeen Angus tariff-free as long as we effectively stay in the EU.  Before I move on, there's that word "access" again.  No, I have no idea what they mean, either.  Do they mean a FTA?  Or membership of a specific EU scheme?  Or a magic land where food elves blow wizard dust on plants to make them tasty to eat?
"A Labour approach to Brexit also means legislating to guarantee that Parliament has a truly meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal."
I've kind of dealt with this already but I had so much fun that I'm going to give this another kicking.  What options will be presented to MPs?  I would guess the options are to either accept or reject the final Brexit deal.  Please help me out here because I can't think of any others. Isn't this exactly the same as Theresa May's "reckless" approach to Brexit?  I mean, the Labour Party are dead against that but here they are explicitly planning for it.  Giving MPs the choice to preserve the status quo of EU membership would be the sensible choice but we need to remember that "Labour accepts the referendum result".  They will never, ever give that choice to Parliament.  "No deal is better than a bad deal" turns out to be the Labour Party's manifesto pledge after all, no matter how many times they say it isn't.

I could have gone and on in this vein for quite some time but we all have lives to lead and dogs to walk. There are also friendlier blogs to read that don't challenge their readers to a fist fight so let's wrap this up. The Labour Party are a dead duck, an ex-Party, a confusion of MPs, a whirly-gig of wrong-headedness, and a challenge to Western traditions of rational thought. Please, please, please don't vote for them.

Over and out,

Terry

Monday, 15 May 2017

Scotland In EEA

Way back in the mists of time I wrote a blog post about the expected challenges an independent Scotland would face in trying to juggle trade with a post-Brexit rUK and a relationship with the EU 27.  I had intended to quickly follow it up with an exploration of the other options available to an independent Scotland and a discussion of all the pros and cons.  What happened instead is that I got dragged in to the annual work hell of preparing a tech demo out of thin air with a vague set of requirements that change on an hourly basis. Needless to say, that follow-up blog post never happened. I know there's an election going on and this might not be the most relevant topic I could choose right now but if I don't get this blog post out there it will fester in my list of half-written articles until it rots away to form a kind of digital manure.   Ok, I know it's all digital manure but, honestly, you should see the ones that don't make it to publication.


I'll just summarise the biggest challenge facing an independent Scotland to save everyone casting their memories back to the hopeful days of early spring.  The biggest challenge is that a post-Brexit EU can finally get on with the implementation of a multi-speed Europe.  They'll be able to do this because the UK will no longer be around to veto every single proposal for change.  The fear for countries that opt not to participate in deeper EU integration is that they get left behind and find themselves caught helplessly in the slipstream of the countries at the core of the EU.  Scotland could easily decide to participate in any or even all of the proposals for deeper integration.  The real problem it faces is that rUK will be diverging from the EU in almost every way possible from trade to social policy.  We need to remember that England will still be right there, just a little to the south and quite far to the right.  The border will still be there, too.  People will want to cross that border with their dreams and thoughts; with their business ideas; to meet and marry sex robots loved ones; with lorries full of gin and whisky; with poems and songs and paintings and witty anecdotes. The competing forces of EU and rUK will be felt most keenly at the border but anything crossing that border, be it data or a pension payment or an educational certificate, will be similarly affected.  The simple truth is that England will always be a key trading partner and adding friction to that trade would be a costly mistake.   What are the options?

There aren't actually all that many options that don't involve joining the EU and participating in whatever Scotland decides is to its advantage.  That might, of course, turn out to be a great option,  a terrific option,  the best option, a truly bigly option.  I'm not advocating not going down that route but there be dragons along there and other routes are available.  One other path for an independent Scotland is to charge along towards a full-on McBrexit.  That is not a serious choice and I invite readers to read anything I've ever written here to see why I think it should never be mentioned again.  What's left?  Scotland could follow Switzerland's template and negotiate a complex and inter-twined set of treaties.  That is also not a serious choice because the EU would never agree to that and it took Switzerland over 20 years to get to where they are today.  The very last credible choice is for Scotland to follow Norway's template and join the EEA but leave the European Customs Union.  This shouldn't be a surprise because I gave the game away in the title.  I did think about leaving everyone hanging on tenterhooks for a big reveal but it was devilishly hard to disguise the bleedin' obvious.

What are the advantages of joining the EEA only?  Well, the first one is that Scotland remains in the much-fabled Single Market.  Scotland's trading relationship with the EU 27 and the EFTA 3 (Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland) and Switzerland remains completely unchanged. This is great news if you are a hiring manager for the NHS and rely on European staff in any way at all because they will retain the right to work in Scotland with all the rights they have today.  It's also great news if you work for businesses that trade with any of the 31 EU/EFTA nations that will wave goodbye to rUK on 31st March, 2019.  It's also great news if you work as a legislator because the bulk of EU law will remain in force.  It's even better news for Scottish students who want to participate in the ERASMUS scheme.  The really big advantage is that losers like me who enjoy living in a country with well-tended bicycle paths will have no further need to complain and moan about Brexit.   More seriously, stability for a small country is extremely important, especially one that has just won its independence.  The backing of European legislation and its systems of checks and balances will be a huge advantage to a small nation undergoing rapid change.

Liam Fox (L), David Davis (centre),  Phil Hammond (r) at Singapore EXPO, 2019.
The real advantage of EEA membership is that it allows Scotland to strike its own trade deals.  Now, I don't mean that in the way that Liam Fox and David Davis mean it.  They frequently conjure up a picture of old conolialists dressed in khaki shorts,  parading around the world by Royal decree in a floating castle.  I only mean that Scotland can sign an independent trade deal with rUK.  It's really important to remove friction at the Scotland/England border and the only guaranteed way of doing that is to negotiate a trade deal.  A bit of background here is that EU membership can be viewed as the Venn intersection of the Customs Union and the EEA. The Customs Union involves collective bargaining so that tariffs applied to goods arriving from outside may be taxed a the same rate at every possible entry point.  There are huge advantages to Customs Union membership, especially for small European nations.  One might be that access to the EU is a huge win for nations wishing to gain tariff-free access to European markets.  This means that the EU has a bargaining power in FTA negotiations that could never be matched by any individual nation.  The UK, for example, is going to find out quite soon that China and India will expect an asymmetric trade deal in their favour that is roughly proportional to relative market size.  The other advantage of the Customs Union is that goods can move freely around the tariff zone without any further checks or delays or charges.  This is a huge boost for just-in-time manufacturing processes.  Nissan Sunderland springs to mind but this affects pretty much anyone making anything more complicated than turnips.  The disadvantage of Customs Union membership is that Scotland would be required to implement a customs border with rUK.   It will need to do this to prevent low-tariff goods leaking into the EU tariff zone through the Scotland/England border.  Nobody wants a customs border adding trading friction to your immediate neighbour so leaving the European Customs Union might be a favourable option.

Checkpoints at the France/Switzerland border.   The top of the photo is the runway at Geneva Airport. There is no obvious way to make this graphic more exciting.
There are, of course, disadvantages to leaving the Customs Union.  The first is that goods and services leaving Scotland for the EEA will need to prove country of origin so that goods from outside the EEA can be differentiated from tariff-free goods whose origin is inside the EEA. Goods and services from third party nations that have a Free Trade Agreement with the EU also need to be differentiated from goods from nations trading under WTO terms only. This adds an extra cost to Scottish trade with the EEA.  It is a cost that Norway already absorbs so there is good precedent for success but it is still a non-zero cost.  The second drawback is that Scotland will no longer participate in the trade deals negotiated by the EU.  That is actually a significant blow but let's think about this for a bit before letting leash a torrent of wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Now, I'm not an economist but I am an engineer.  If I want to optimise a system I always start with the biggest component.  If I can squeeze 10% extra out of that I've made a good win.  Even if I double the efficiency of the smallest component the gain will likely still be less than a meagre 10% win on the largest.  It makes sense to start with the big stuff and secure that before working down the list.  For Scotland that means securing trade with rUK and the EEA before worrying about South Korea and Canada.  Scotland can always attempt a trade deal with South Korea and Canada but we do have to be realistic about the asymmetry in market size.  A more appealing outcome would be to join EFTA and participate in the trading relationships negotiated collectively by Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Switzerland.


 I'd like to die peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather, not screaming in mortal fear like the passengers on his bus.

Leaving the Customs Union presents one final challenge:  it means leaving the EU, which means Scotland would have no democratic representation in Europe. A Scottish Government would have restricted input to shaping EU Directives adopted by the European Council of Ministers. Similarly, there would be no Scottish MEPs to forward Scotland's interests regarding EU Regulations in the European Parliament.  Personally, I'd say that the lack of influence at the Council of Ministers is the real issue rather than the European Parliament.  The ability to negotiate opt-outs will be limited yet the bulk of EU legislation will still apply.  How does that work?  The truth is that Norway/Liechtenstein/Iceland all participate in the consultation process that leads up to the publication of a Directive. Naturally, they have no vote on its adoption, even though there is some scope for input in its formulation.  The implementation of the Directive is then applied much more flexibly for EEA countries. They can even refuse to implement a Directive but statistics tells us that is a theoretical power rather than a real one. I know I'm skimming this a bit but I'm going to come back to it in a future post.

The real problem in all of this is that nobody knows where Brexit will lead and nobody knows how long it will take.  A timeline of 10 years doesn't seem unreasonable but towards an unknown goal. While the horror of the Brexit bus unfolds for rUK, an independent Scotland will need to do something quickly to secure its European trade and its rUK trade.  EEA membership combined with a rUK FTA seems like a good compromise that readily achieves both of those goals.  That doesn't need to be the end of the story, though, because EEA membership doesn't close the door to being a member of the EU at some point in the future.  Iceland, for example, is very likely to have a referendum on joining the EU.  It might be the case that rUK strikes a trade deal with the EU that would completely remove the need for a customs border between rUK and Scotland.  If that happened Scotland might then decide to re-join the EU.  I'd describe myself as a Euro-federalist so I need to cling on to hopes wherever I find them.

Over and out,

Terry

PS I skimmed over the processes and obligations of EEA/EFTA membership because I'm planning to write about that and EFTA in the next post.  It might be the next post or the one after or in about 6 months time.  To be honest, it might never happen at all. This blog has been terribly unreliable of late.

PPS The chances of rUK negotiating a trade deal with the EU that eliminates the need for customs checks is vanishingly small.  Theresa May has set out her Brexit objectives very clearly:  leave the jurisdiction of ECJ, leave the Customs Union, leave EEA.  More worryingly, the prospect of signing up to any European court in any form seems remote.  Under these conditions it is next to impossible to have a trade deal with the EU that is sufficiently comprehensive.  Any deal like that would require a change in government and a complete turnaround in political climate.









Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Confessions Of A Subject And A Plea For Forgiveness.

I hereby declare myself an enemy of the people. My crimes against the demos are manifold and span a number of years of shameful activity. It is my wish to list them now on this day so that I may first acknowledge my wrongdoing and then begin the process of atonement and rehabilitation.
I have sought to undermine the structures of society by cultivating liberal views on human rights issues including the rights of immigrants and religious freedom. I let myself be corrupted by a European lifestyle and furtively pursued the accumulation of foreign language skills to facilitate that corruption. I believed that democracy was defined by constitutional checks and balances to executive power.  I also believed that the judicial system and the rule of law was the best way to hold executive power to account.  Furthermore, in the selfish pursuit of a meaningful and purposeful career I became a citizen of nowhere.  In doing so, I made no attempts to conform to the model of a hard-working family.  My career was only made possible by the propagation of the lie that global collaboration is the single route to the advancement of mass market technologies. In return for my salary I turned a blind eye to the obvious truth that advancement can only be made by closing borders and protecting domestic markets from superior products and workers and ideas. The extravagant bribes paid to me in the form of a monthly salary came only at the expense of other workers who bravely exposed the lies of globalisation and European integration at great personal cost.  On many occasions I even participated in hiring decisions that made no bias towards UK candidates.  Instead, I believed that the principle of competitive advantage was a foundation of the 21st Century economy.  Only now can I see my folly.   Finally, I abandoned Albion to pursue my own selfish goals. I should have no right of return and beg for forgiveness.
I am an enemy of the people.
Forever in Brexit,
 
Terry Entoure

Well, there it is.  My confession.  I'm writing it now just in case I ever need to pull one out of the bag in the public glare of a show trial.  What do you think?  Will they rehabilitate me or send me to the gulag? I reckon I'm destined for a spell of political re-education. My crimes are just too great and span far too many years. This blog probably won't help my chances, either.

It's a weird situation that people like me are now the enemy.  People like me are now the enemy of those who claim membership of the "people" and those who speak for the "people" but probably don't self-identify as "people".  They could direct their anger at the CEOs of global corporations who depress their wages.  They could express fury at the repeated lack of government action to suppress speculation in the housing market.  I'm just going to throw it out there but is it too much to ask for them to focus their attention on the PPI scandal?  How about billionaires like Richard Branson who furtively shovel their money around the world to avoid paying taxes?  What about the procession of UK governments that rejected calls for a meaningful increase in the minimum wage?  No, they're not to blame, it's definitely those liberals with their fancy education and snooty jobs that nobody understands.  Remoaners, the lot of them. Yeah, it's definitely them. They just use big words that nobody understands and walk about telling everyone how complicated everything is and how you need a PhD these days if you're going to make any headway in quantum chemistry.  Rubbish!  Enough of experts!

People like me are now the enemy of the people. I'm a liberal; I'm educated; I like to use long words when they are helpful to understanding; I like to think I have niche expertise that can't be quickly mastered;  I think the best person for the job is the best person for the job; I believe in the rule of law;  I'm lucky enough to earn significantly more than average but nowhere near enough to have an offshore bank account or dodge taxes;  I have never, ever worn any clothing with a flag on it;  I would always choose loved ones over country;  I like crossing borders without needing a passport.

Things really have changed.  I find myself part of a shadowy elite group classed as an enemy.  Honestly, if you ever met me you'd be as amazed as I am. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage and the Daily Mail can express unconditional support for a fascist without challenge; newspapers can call out individuals as traitors for upholding the rule of law or merely expressing a political opinion that was the manifesto pledge of every major UK political party at the 2015 General Election; the Prime Minister rejects all accidental or uncontrollable contact with the population in favour of stage-managed events; those events are dutifully reported by a media that is either supine or far too close to the corridors of power to retain objectivity; a fever has gripped Westminster politics as politicians scramble to realign themselves with the new conensus despite not agreeing with it.  Something is happening and it has a disagreeable flavour so I'm going to keep that confession to hand. It might just come in handy one day.

Over and out,

Terry

PS It's of interest to no one but that tech demo is just about complete.  It has been a very stressful few weeks but life can get back to normal for at least a few months now.

PPS I absolutely love show trials. Hmm, that sounds a bit fascistic.  I meant to say that they make for fascinating history:  the Pendle Witch trials, Stalin's show trials, the McCarthy trials, Mao's cultural revolution. Who will play the role of Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General, when the UK finally waves goodbye to constitutional democracy?  I'm actually amazed Paul Nuttall didn't claim a spell as Chief Witchfinder on his cv.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Clowns To The Left

I'm afraid that this blog is still in stop-start mode. Late April and early May are always busy months at work because the middle of May is product launch season for my employer.  That means idiots like me get pulled in to frantic efforts to polish tech demos.  I really thought I'd managed to avoid it this year but it turns out the pull is so great that pretty much everyone gets sucked into the joy of overly ambitious tech demos for a capricious CEO.  There's also a General Election going on.  Now, I don't blog about party politics so my main topics of discussion probably don't seem all that relevant at the moment.  Nevertheless, the Brexit bus is still hurtling towards the cliff of doom and I think it's worthwhile to plot its progress.  As I don't have too much spare time and everyone is preoccupied with demos (see what I did there!) I thought I'd just write some smaller pieces for the next couple of weeks.   Dip in to any of the topics (or none) as they pique (or don't) your interest. Today's is about Keir Starmer and his monumental displays of stupidity.  Personally, I like to think of Keir Starmer as more of an art project than a professional politician. As soon as you look on his antics as kind of conceptual clowning it all starts to make sense.


A couple of posts ago I blogged about the endless complexity involved in guaranteeing the continuity of rights of  EU/UK citizens after the UK leaves the EU.   I also pointed out that the UK seems not to understand that mutual guarantees require binding legal contracts.  Parliament, for example, debated the issue of guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens in the UK without bothering to specify what those rights might be or giving any thought to the legal mechanisms that would be employed to guarantee those rights in perpetuity.  It was all a bit pointless and I'm actually glad that the motion failed because this is the sort of difficult job that needs the supervision of a grown-up.

Why am I rehashing a blog post from three weeks ago?  That is an excellent question and I'm very glad you asked it.  Well, the Labour Party have decided to make the rights of EU citizens a manifesto pledge. Keir Starmer has pledged that a Labour Government "will immediately guarantee that all EU nationals currently living in the UK will see no change in their legal status as a result of Brexit".   As it's the Labour Party I take great pleasure in declaring this the stupidest manifesto pledge of GE2017.  Now, you might think I'm a bit fast off the block there.  After all, the campaigns haven't even started yet. But you're wrong (and you're a grotesquely ugly freak). 


I don't know where to begin, to be honest, but let's just start at the beginning.  Which forms will an EU national have to fill out to prove they are living in the UK?  Will that be the current 85 page booklet required for permanent residency or will there be a special form introduced just for those caught up in Brexit?  I don't think the EU will accept that 85 page booklet and I'm convinced that will be a significant bone of contention at the A50 talks. Right, that means a new form will need to be introduced.  How long will that take?  He has to oversee the wording and translation of a new government form; hire and train staff to understand and assess applications;  implement a system of appeal and a strategy for managing failed applications;  print millions of forms and distribute them;  set up an online application system and help-desk; spread awareness about the process through social media and advertising campaigns.  He said he would guarantee those rights "on day one of a Labour Government". I don't think he'll manage that.  Do you?  Let's wind back a bit because I don't think Keir Starmer has ever considered that the EU will never accept its citizens having to fill out an 85 page booklet.  If he carries on travelling down that path he's actually going to overtake the speeding Brexit bus because he'll be encouraging EU citizens to fill out a lengthy form only for the EU to later force the UK to adopt a simpler test of residency rights.  Are clown shoes measured in UK or EU sizes?

How about that "currently living in the UK"?  That could mean anything but it definitely doesn't mean what the EU will want it to mean. The EU will push for all EU citizens resident any time before the UK finally leaves the EU to be given perpetual rights.  That might include the almost certain transition period that will take us up to 2022 or it might be curtailed earlier on March 31, 2019.  Either way, Keir Starmer's pledge doesn't go far enough. His wording suggests anyone taking up residency after June 9, 2017 will not get the rights of someone already resident in the UK.  He is nowhere near getting this right.  I'm sure he thinks he is doing the right thing but he's an idiot who should never be allowed to represent the UK in any capacity except for clowning.

 "..will see no change in their legal status as a result of Brexit".  Hmm, what to say about that? Well, of course they're going to see change in their legal status.  Will they still be able to vote in local elections?  Will they still be able to take cases to the European Court of Justice?  Will their working lives continue to be governed by the Working Time Directive?  Will they be able to apply for unemployment benefits indefinitely or will a time limit be applied?  Will they automatically be the recipients of changes to rights in the EU?  I could go on and on but I'm sure you get the picture.  If Keir Starmer launches his campaign in a multi-coloured wig and a giant red nose I wouldn't bad an eyelid.

Does any UK politician understand that the UK doesn't get to unilaterally decide the solution to any of these issues?  Answers on a postcard to the World Clown Association, Michigan, USA.

Over and out,

Terry

PS That blog post about Scotland's choices in the EU is still brewing.  I managed to write about half of it before tech demo madness disrupted my normally cushy life.  There'll be a few more short posts before the next big one. Maybe you even prefer the short posts?  Right, that's enough, I'm off to bed to prepare for another day of emergency coding.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Scotland In EU

This blog is normally the harbinger of doom and gloom on all matters Brexit. I don't know about everyone else but maybe it's time for something different.  Don't get too excited, though, because it isn't going to be all that much of a change.  Instead of the usual whining and complaining I'm going to gaze into the EU's crystal ball and conjure up a picture of what we could all soon experience as citizens of an independent Scotland in the EU.  Now, the departure of rUK will naturally lead to significant changes in the structure and mood of the European Union.  It seems timely to think about what it might look like and how those changes might affect a relatively small nation like an independent Scotland. Before going any further I must thank bjsalba for proposing this as an idea for a blog post.  If the post turns out to be sub-standard that is entirely my fault because the topic is pure gold.


Please join me on a mildly confusing journey of fact-finding and idle speculation.  Yes, let's all sit back and imagine a future where Brexit is complete (ok, it will never be complete) and Scotland is an independent nation in the EU (at least 150 times as likely as Brexit ever being complete).  That's quite enough preamble so let's dive straight into the hornets' nest of EU foreign policy.

Foreign Policy and The Big Three


If you came here looking for information about the pre-fame punk super-group and ego clash featuring Julian Cope, Ian McCulloch and Pete Wylie then I'm afraid you've made a terrible mistake.  Go right ahead and award yourself negative quiz points because that band was called the Crucial Three.  Oh, I bet you feel stupid now. The Big Three, in the context of the EU, describes the countries that have driven almost all crucial EU decisions on foreign policy over the last 40 years:  UK, Germany and FranceThese countries are the only EU members that have individual global influence, whether that be through trade or diplomatic relationships or military power.  Leavers who think that the UK was ever forced against its will into accepting EU policy have it completely wrong.  Just tell them Terry said so and they'll soon be eating a hefty slice of humble pie.

Yes, I know Humble Pie were a band but they had nothing to do with EU policy either.
It would be fair to say that very little of major significance happens in the EU without it being driven by at least one of the 3 "big" nations. Historically, the really big decisions were often initiated by the Big 3 at private meetings among themselves and then proposed to the remaining members of the EU.  Despite what many Leavers might say, the EU is not a dictatorship and nothing happens without first building EU-wide consensus through compromise and discussion.  It is still the case, however, that France, Germany and the UK have typically been the initiators and often worked in unison behind the scenes.  In some cases this led to tensions because the remaining 25 felt that their voice was being diminished. An example might be a Franco-German-UK meeting set up by Tony Blair to discuss Afghanistan back in 2001.  The uninvited nations felt that this was all just a bit too cosy and that they were being excluded from the decision-making process.  After all, there's a spectrum ranging from quickly outlining shared policy directions for future discussion all the way up to holding private meetings in a semi-public glare and then announcing the findings without airing them to colleagues for review. 

You're probably wondering what small countries get out of all this.  What is the value of being in a political union where all major policy is initiated by someone else?  Well, I don't think anyone would dispute that Slovakia doesn't have all that much power in international affairs. The same would be true for an independent Scotland.  Neither could ever have the power to drive forward a foreign policy initiative in the EU because they are far from having the power and influence to implement it unilaterally.  EU membership does, however, give smaller countries a chance to shape and amend policy.  That amounts to significantly more influence than they could ever have outside the EU.  There is also a strong sense of shared objectives in the EU.  For example, the will to protect the Eastern border of the EU is shared by Latvia and Lithuania and Sweden and Poland.  The UK's experience has often been that of 1 against 27 but that just isn't typical of the EU.  Small countries with a history of consensus politics have a lot to gain if they pick their battles carefully.

The EU recognised that this wasn't perhaps the most democratic path to policy proposals. As a consequence,  the Lisbon Treaty attempted to distribute power more evenly among the 28 members by introducing initiatives such as the European External Action Service.  Effectively, this applies formal process to what has been a haphazard and undefined route to major policy initiatives.  This is good news for small nations because they have more chance that their interests are translated into policy proposals.  The bad news is that a policy proposal is not the same as an implemented policy.  It is still the case that the decision to implement any given policy is left to variations of the Council of Ministers, where the Big 3 are very much still in charge.  An example might be the decision to impose sanctions on Russia by freezing assets and restricting visas.   The policy came from the EEAS right enough but the decision was ultimately taken by the Foreign Affairs Council, which is made up of the Foreign Ministers of all member states.

It is no understatement to say that the departure of rUK from the EU is a huge disruption to the historical balance of power in the EU.  What will happen?  Well, that is an unknown.  The Big 3 system worked because smaller countries aligned themselves behind larger ones - they got what they wanted through alliances with larger and more powerful nations.  The Baltic nations, for example, were typically aligned with the UK on most issues from attitudes to free trade all the way to sanctions on Russia. Would they align themselves around the interests of Italy or Poland or maybe even Spain?  There is definitely scope for another country to take the place of the UK as a Big 3 nation but that really depends on the attitudes of Latvia and Denmark as much as the attitudes of Italy and Poland.   This will likely sort itself out in time but right now it is uncertain what will happen.

Brexit means that Scotland will no longer be automatically represented by one of the Big 3.  Supporters of independence would probably argue that the UK poorly represented Scotland's interests in the EU so we're no worse off.  I would generally make that argument too but not on the narrower issue of foreign policy.  I would urge caution here because on issues strictly of EU foreign policy I would take the view that Scotland's interests have generally been in tandem with the UK's interests.  I can't imagine Scotland taking a radically different view from the UK, for example, on securing Europe's Eastern border or on peace-keeping missions in Georgia or the safety of international shipping in Somalian waters.  This presents a small problem for an independent Scotland:  how will it further its foreign policy interests through the EU after the UK leaves the EU?  Would it align itself around a more powerful nation in order to further its policy interests?  If so, would that be France or Germany? Would it join an attempt to promote another nation to Big 3 status? Could that conceivably be Italy or Spain? There is a lot to think about.

 European Parliament


The European Parliament  has 751 MEPs.  6 of those are from Scotland.  I'm pretty good at maths so I'm going to state here and now that 0.79% of all MEPs are from Scotland.   That doesn't sound very powerful, does it?  No, it doesn't but don't worry too much because the European Parliament works very differently from the way that foreign policy was governed by the Big 3.  What happens is that MEPs representing national political parties join supra-national groups in the European Parliament.  Labour, for example, sit with the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, a coalition of socialist and social democratic parties.  The Conservatives, on the other hand, sit with the
European Conservatives and Reformists, which is a relatively small coalition of anti-federalist and Eurosceptic parties.  Votes in the European Parliament are typically cast according to affiliation rather than according to nation.

Let's round that up to 1% and take the rest of the afternoon off.
How will the departure of the UK affect the balance of power in the European Parliament? As an exercise, let's see what happens if rUK MEPs are removed without having another election. The answer is that not much will be materially affected.  The UK currently has 73 MEPs in Strasbourg.  67 of those will have to find new jobs after Brexit because they represent constituencies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.   The loss of 18 Labour  MEPs is an approximately 10% loss to their European group, while the loss of 19 Conservative MEPs means a more significant loss of 26% of Conservatives and Reformists.  None of that really affects the balance of power too much because if we sort the groupings according to size the order of the largest 4 remains the same as it is now.  In fact, the largest political group in Strasbourg doesn't contain a single UK MEP.   The
European People's Party Group, containing MEPs from Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, can just ignore all this mess and carry on as normal.   One interesting result is the loss of 19 UKIP MEPs from Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy.  That would amount to a 42% reduction in the number of fascists, nationalists and generally unpleasant individuals in the European Parliament.

That's precisely the percentage chance he has of getting re-elected in an indy Scotland.
The next elections to the European Parliament are due to be held in 2019.  The EDFF could find themselves cursing Brexit because they might depend on Scotland returning David Coburn in order to maintain representation from a minimum of 25% of member states.  Anything below that 25% rule will lead to the loss of automatic funding and the probable disbanding of EDFF.  People of Scotland, you know what to do.  Anything could happen in 2019 but getting rid of David Coburn might turn out to be the single most noteworthy contribution that Scotland could make to the next European Parliament.  6 MEPs, after all, is the 6 that we've always had and is exactly in proportion with its population. 

Multi-Speed Europe

 

The idea of a multi-speed Europe is that Eurozone nations would forge ahead with deeper political integration, while nations such as the UK and perhaps Denmark and Sweden would retain a looser association with the EU.   As I'll explain later, this process is already in action and has been for several years.  The UK, however, was against the formalisation and acceleration of a multi-speed Europe because it was concerned that it would lead to the emergence of an inner core of EU nations making key decisions without UK consultation.  Even though the UK would never have participated in the initiatives of the inner core, their decisions could have had an indirect effect on the UK.  Moreover, the UK was obviously concerned about a loss in power over the basic function of the EU. Any inner core of EU nations would clearly be having regular meetings among themselves, thereby leaving the UK at the fringes of power.  As a consequence, the UK fought against the concept of a multi-speed Europe just as much as it did against any attempt to pull it into a tighter relationship with the EU.

The departure of the UK from the EU has not only revived the concept of a multi-speed Europe but it also allows the EU to implement reform at a much faster rate than previously.  The reason for that is that the UK has been the primary blocker of all EU reform since the introduction of the 2011 European Parliament Act.  This legislated to put every amendment to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to a UK referendum.  The UK public has never been known for its fondness of the EU so this effectively stymied all significant change to the most basic functions of the EU.  Every time a Leaver says that the EU needs reform please remind them that the UK was the country that has been extinguishing all thoughts of reform since 2011.

What does all of this mean for Scotland?  Well, it means that an independent Scotland will need to work out the level of EU integration that it wants to accept because the EU is going to forge initiatives that permit deeper integration whether we want that or  not.  This might sound a little scary.  We're all a little unnerved by change, after all, especially when we feel that we're not in control.  Is there anything that should unnerve an independent Scotland? To answer that question we need to first understand what deeper EU integration actually means and how the multi-speed EU is already a living, breathing fact.

The EU is defined by its opt-outs as much as its opt-ins.  Ireland and the UK, for example, are not signed up to the Schengen agreement of open borders. That's why you need to bring your passport if you fly from London to Amsterdam but you won't need it for the onward flight to Munich.   9 EU nations are still to adopt the Euro.  Denmark and the UK both have a formal plan not to join the Euro.  Sweden is in a slightly different position in that has an informal plan not to join the Euro but a formal plan that it will one day in the unspecified future have a schedule to join the Euro when the conditions are judged to be favourable according to any metric they choose that just happens to confirm their view that joining the Euro is unfavourable. What about the European Fiscal Compact?  This is a set of rules that, among other things, limits the budget deficit of any nation to 3% of GDP.   The Czech Republic seems to happily get by without having ever adopted the Fiscal Compact.  The UK also managed it, although it hasn't managed anything happily for quite a while now.  For reasons that I will probably never fathom Spain and Croatia decided not to participate in the European Patent system.  I think you'll need to ask them why that was a big issue for them.  Scotland might be interested in the Single Resolution Mechanism.  This is a set of rules governing the rescue of failing banks. Yes, RBS, that means you.  Both Sweden and the UK opted out of the SRM.   I'll finish off with the Charter of Fundamental Rights.  Neither Poland nor the UK ever signed up to any shared understanding of fundamental rights in the EU.  Award yourself a gold star if you've noticed the pattern that the UK hardly ever opts in. What about Scotland?  Would it follow the same pattern in a multi-speed Europe?

The ability to opt out of EU initiatives has so far been a contentious issue and one that has been driven mostly by the UK.  The point of a multi-speed Europe is that the EU doesn't attempt to drag nations kicking and screaming into initiatives that they don't want.  The level of integration, and the attendant level of influence, will be more of a voluntary affair. Nations have the choice of joining in with the dancing at the party or sitting at the edges complaining that they don't like the music.  In difference to the UK, Scotland has less to lose if it chooses to sit at the sidelines because it isn't likely to ever be the centre of EU power.  That is definitely an option.  At the same time, though, it could be argued that small nations get more from EU initiatives because it removes a lot of expensive bureaucratic burden and replaces it with a guaranteed level of competency, transparency and certainty that can be attractive to foreign investors.  The path of deeper integration is also an option.

The elephant in the room is that Scotland isn't located in Central Europe and it isn't surrounded with other EU member states.   Scotland will have to balance its relationship with the EU with its links to rUK.   That shared border is clearly going to become more and more difficult the more that Scotland and England diverge.  A balance will need to be found to stop Scotland being left behind in the EU but also maintain some degree of convergence with England and Wales and Northern Ireland.   This is going to be a tricky path to negotiate because rUK has shown its intent to reject the political direction of the EU, while the departure of rUK gives the EU a chance to accelerate its programme of reform.  rUK will be tugging at the left arm, while the EU will be pulling on the right.

 

 The Thrilling Conclusion


I finished the last section with a speculative comment that Scotland would need to balance its relationship with the EU and its relationship with rUK.  It certainly was a bit of a cliffhanger, wasn't it? I've got the hang of this writing lark and some time ago I worked out a sneaky way to keep the punters reading till the bitter end. That's exactly the kind of sophisticated literary device that you can expect on this blog from now on.   Now that you're all here let's see how all of that tension might arise and how it might be resolved. 

The EU is currently formulating the Single Digital Market.  The idea is that a single set of rules will apply to the storage, transfer, distribution, copyright and ownership of data. Moreover, digital products will be regulated across the EU just like childrens' toys and hazardous chemicals.  It will touch on other areas such as digital access and privacy as well as infrastructure to make sure everyone can participate. To make this happen there will likely be a number of EU Regulations to govern the flow of data across borders as well as a raft of EU Directives that will ensure harmonisation across all member states of the EU.  The Scottish Government will be expected to implement the technical specification of all sorts of Directives into domestic law.  That might, for example,  include a rule that data can only be hosted in countries that sign up to a minimum set of standards. Now, lets imagine that rUK has abandoned any meaningful controls on digital data so that it can sell off NHS data to US insurance companies. It has done this to such a degree that it can no longer participate in the Single Digital Market. rUK, of course, doesn't want the Single Digital Market to happen at all because it will make it harder to do business in the EU.  What kind of pressure can it apply to narrow the scope of the DSM?  It no longer has any say over EU affairs so what can it actually do?  Well, it can start applying pressure to the Scottish Government by hinting at future rUK policy that will make it harder for Scotland to do business in England.  The hope would be that Scotland would take that message to the EU and campaign for modifications and amendments.  Scotland might choose to do this on occasion without any prompting from its southern neighbour when it becomes clear that a predicted loss in rUK trade is more important than uptick in EU trade. Ireland is also likely to end up concluding that its link to rUK is worth an occasional bun fight in Strasbourg.  The EU might not take this all that well if they get the impression that rUK is attempting to undermine EU policy.  This kind of relationship can only end in late nights, tension and indigestion tablets. 

In my imaginary future, rUK might have left the EU but it will still exist and it will still share a border with Scotland and people will carry on moving their bodies and goods and thoughts and dreams across that border in both directions.   Scotland will have to perform a physics-defying balancing act because deeper EU integration means more EU trade but that might come at the expense of rUK trade.  This kind of points to Scotland opting out of deeper EU integration.  I would describe myself as a Euro federalist so this makes me sad.   The truth is that we have to deal with the facts as they are and not as we'd like them to be.  The fact here is that those idiot Leavers have made everything much harder and without any measurable or theoretical benefit.  I do hope they enjoy their evenings of lawn tennis now that they'll never have to share the court with an Austrian or a Finn.

You might have noticed another cliffhanger in that last paragraph there.  Opting out of deeper EU integration might make life in the EU difficult.  After all, that's why the UK was against the formalisation of the multi-speed Europe. What other options might exist?  Aha, find out next time (or the time after that depending on my mood).

Over and out,

Terry

PS The UK has completely blown its chance at influencing the new multi-speed Europe.  By leaving the EU, the EEA and removing itself from the purview of all EU institutions it no longer has the opportunity to pull in allies that could have coalesced around the principle of loose integration. If only it had retained EEA membership through  EFTA it could have attempted to pull in Denmark and Sweden by showing how looser integration could be done. Instead, it seems to have adopted the position of zero integration.  Nobody is going to be impressed by that.