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. 

8 comments:

  1. I must admit this is what I expected from the Tories. May and her crew have lost their senses and much of the UK is there with them. The consequences of what they intend to do will in time send shock waves throughout the UK.

    I have no idea whether people will eventually come to their senses. I really don't recognize the country I now live in.

    At least Scotland has an opportunity to dodge this catastrophe but I fear it will take a while for the penny to drop for a lot of people.

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    1. Perhaps they have an inflated sense of their abilities and think they can achieve the impossible. Mind you, that would describe all politicians.

      I'm not optimistic that the nation will come to its senses any time soon. The effects of Brexit will only really become apparent way after it is far too late to do anything about it.

      Scotland does have an opportunity to dodge the bullet. I'm really hopeful of that. There's just so much to go wrong and so much that needs to go right for that to happen.

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  2. I probably shouldn't have read this after midnight.

    I'm wondering how I will sleep.

    And added to the horrors you describe, I'm reminded that, unless she sacks them, the people who will be overseeing this nonsense are the buffoon Johnson, the idiot Davis, and worst of all, the disgrace Fox.

    We escape the worst of Tory rule in Scotland, protected as we are by Holyrood. But this chaos and mayhem is going to affect us without any deflection from our own government.

    Belarus ... my god, what did the English/Welsh do to us?

    But that was a first rate piece of writing, Terry. Nicely crafted, and you know, you made the horror story at least partially amusing in the telling of it.

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    1. Johnson, Davis and Fox but with Fox in a potentially more prominent role. Reports seem to indicate that Davis is by far the best briefed of the three Amigos. He never seems all that well briefed to me but just look at the competition. Johnson and Fox are reported to be as ignorant of the EU as they always were.

      Sadly, Holyrood has no real power of Brexit. It looks like the devolved administrations will have no say or input to Brexit whatsoever. The English and Welsh are going to drag Scotland along on the Brexit bus, even if Scotland reverts to stereotype and refuses to pay full fare.

      Many thanks for your kind words. I just hope my blog is easier to read than political manifestos.

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  3. Terry,

    Your blog is better than political manifestos.

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    1. That is the faintest of praise but I am happy to accept all praise!

      Who actually writes political manifestos? They are seriously weird. Bizarre language, odd phrases repeated ad infinitum, page after page of fluff and slogan. Call me naive but I was expecting graphs and charts, budget projections, costing tables, maybe even some political philosophy. The Tory manifesto was just 88 pages of verbiage almost completely without meaning. At least Labour had the decency to waste fewer words on their effort.

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    2. Well, that's becasue if they put any actual FACTS (as opposed to vague aspirations) in them, and were elected, they might be be expected to try to live up to some of them.

      Fluff and 'strong and stable' slogans...see, they catch on... are easy to duck out from under. I mean, what does 'strong and stable' actually mean?

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    3. I have a table that is strong and stable. It is also very heavy and too big and I'd like rid of it.

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