Monday, 28 November 2016

Not this again!

Today's Independent reports on a secret memo suggesting the UK is unlikely to stay in the single market.  I know this blog isn't terribly successful but it's hardly a secret.  I don't write memos, either. Ah, no, solipsism got the better of me there. This is most embarrassing.  Hmm, apart from my inflated self-regard what's going on?  It turns out that somebody in the UK Government has worked out what we all figured out for ourselves some weeks or months ago.

I don't get it, I really don't.  It's obvious that the UK is leaving the single market.  In fact, it's as obvious as the enormous pile of dishes in my kitchen.   As a matter of definition, the Great Repeal Bill means that the UK will
  •  diverge from the EU directives that describe the operation of the single market.
  •  no longer be accountable to European courts and institutions that oversee the implementation of the directives.
  • cease to be bound by crucial EU regulations passed by the European Parliament.
 If we don't formally leave the EEA we will just be unceremoniously kicked out. Unlike my pile of dishes, this should be all over the newspapers.  Oh well, I suppose the "journalist" at The Independent did their best and it was still better than any of the others.

Over and out,


PS I've been away on holiday for the last week.  Fear not, normal blogging will resume shortly.

PPS Attacking that pile of dishes right now.  I keep a tidy kitchen, you know.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Demagoguery and Ideological Narcissism

I want to quickly reflect on the utter madness of the leading Brexiteers.  They really still don't understand the scope of the challenge that faces them in the coming months and years.  So driven are they by ideology that they appear to have neither the time nor the inclination to pick up any book describing the workings of the modern world.  Is it lies or is it cynical political sloganeering?  It really doesn't matter because right now neither is helpful.

I'm going to look at a few of these common misunderstanding in turn.   Be warned that there are no jokes or pop videos today.  I am pretty much boiling with rage at the crass stupidity of the ideologues running the UK Government.  Honestly, my patience has run out and now I'm just an angry man frothing on the internet armed only with rational argument and facts.

If you're Scottish and read this without thinking independence is now the only path to preserve any base level of constitutional sanity and economic stability you need to see a doctor with high priority.  Just saying.

Article 50

Article 50 is only concerned with our divorce from the EU.  It is absolutely not concerned with our trading relationship with the countries of the  EEA (single market).  The timeline is that we leave the EU and then negotiate any trade deal in a separate round of talks.   While those trade talks are ongoing the UK will need to trade with the EEA under the rules of the WTO.

The only caveat to the above is that our divorce is concluded within the procedural two years of Article 50 and all parties agree to a deferred leave date.  This is simply not going to happen because the EU doesn't want UKIP MEPs in the next European Parliament.  Likewise, the UK Government is being judged on how quickly it concludes its European business. All sides want this concluded before April, 2019. 

Let's summarise this once more.  The UK is going to leave the EU with no specific trade deal with the member nations of the single market. Worse than that, all the trade deals the EU has with third parties will also no longer involve the UK.  These will all need to be separately negotiated after the UK has left the EU.  Almost nobody seems to get this point.  The UK Government doesn't get it,  the Labour Party doesn't get it,  the Liberal Democrats don't get it, the UK press doesn't get it.  Nobody gets it apart from the EU itself.  That's right, the EU understands this perfectly well. 

We are sleepwalking into a very, very bad deal because we haven't bothered to find out anything whatsoever about the EU.

Trade Deals 

Every time I hear a Brexit supporter discuss trade deals they start banging on about tariffs and how the UK can now negotiate lower tariffs to mutual advantage.  This is simply not the case.  Why?  Well, tariff rates are almost immaterial for developed nations because they all trade with historically low rates of import tax.  What, then, is the real barrier to trade?  You won't learn the answer in newspapers or from a "journalist". You definitely won't hear it from the leading politicians responsible for the future of UK trade.  We all know the answer, though, don't we?  That's right, non tariff barriers are the real barrier to free trade.  

A non tariff barrier might be a ban on the addition of specific chemicals used in paint.   Let's imagine two countries A and B have entered into a trade deal.  Country A might have a long-standing ban on a specific paint additive due to health or environmental concerns, while country B might have a more relaxed approach to poisoning the public.  How can paint manufacturers in country B sell their chemically-enhanced paint to country A?  This has all the hallmarks of an investor-state dispute.  It's time to call the lawyers.

Trade deals are complex because legal mechanisms are required to resolve investor-state disputes like the one described above.  If these disputes are not resolved with a formally agreed arbitration process there simply will be no trade whatsoever.  A dispute will occur every time two nations in a trading partnership have differing legislation about what can and cannot be sold in the shops.  A dispute will also occur when they have different regulations for labelling or require different testing regimes.  In fact, almost any divergence in any area of domestic policy from worker's rights to mains water pressure will lead to an investor-state dispute. These disputes can only be resolved with an independent legal process set out in the detail of the trade deal.

The effectiveness of a trade deal is obviously governed by the faith both parties place in the legal process that is used to resolve investor-state disputes.  For that to happen a lot of detail needs to be hammered out and agreed upon: how courts are appointed, the powers they will be given, the procedures and methodologies they will apply, the underlying principles that will guide legal judgements.  It seems that the UK Government doesn't get this point because they bizarrely think multiple trade deals can be completed by the time the UK leaves the EU.  They are also still labouring under the illusion that trade deals don't require the adoption of legal obligations that might run counter to local decisions.   They pretty much reckon you just rock up to the talks with a low tariff rate, open a bottle of imported prosecco and that's that.  With that attitude the chances of completing a meaningful trade deal with will be  close to zero.

The Single Market 

What is the single market? Boris Johnson seems to think it is some kind of enormous flea market where anything can be bought and sold without recourse to a shared understanding of common law.  In his mind, access to this mythical marketplace is all that is required and having picked the lock to the front door the embarrassment of Euro riches will continue to flow Westwards. Well, guess what, it doesn't work like that.  How does it work?  Well, the single market is a relatively successful attempt to unlock the global trade blockage caused by investor-state disputes.  In short, it works through regulatory harmonisation and mutual recognition. Regulatory harmonisation is achieved through EU directives that are absorbed into each nation's legislative framework.  Mutual recognition is achieved by regular checks on the way that each nation implements and applies the directives.  This system encourages free trade by having a single set of manufacturing rules instead of 28 sets of rules.  Even more importantly, however, it lays the foundations for fair trade.  For example, those troublesome investor-state disputes simply vanish because paint legally manufactured in country A can by definition also be legally sold in country B.

The single market is a complete system.  If you don't accept the rules of the club then you're not getting in.  It is that simple.  There can be no cherry-picking or special favours to the UK because, as I already said, the principle of fair trade lies at the heart of the EEA. Undermining the principle of fair trade would undermine the whole of the EEA.

The UK Government seem to think that they can get complete access to the single market without adopting the principle of freedom of movement of people in the EU.  This is but one of those pesky club rules.  At the very least they are aware that this might indeed be a rule, even if they think the rule will either be bent for mighty Britannia or is just not a very important rule.  It's clear, however, that they are completely unaware of all the other rules of the club eg the rules that govern cross-border pension transfers, the rules governing the movement of money and shares, the rules governing the safe disposal of batteries, the rules that tell farmers how they must treat water on their land and so on and so on.  How do I know that?  Four words:  The Great Repeal Bill.  The UK Government are going to mirror all of our EU legal obligations in a single tranche of UK legislation.  They are doing this so that they can modify them in the future as political will dictates.  That is obviously incompatible with membership of the single market, which requires that governments harmonise their regulatory frameworks with a standard set by the EU.  The UK Government clearly don't understand this at all because they are stumbling along the path leading to regulatory divergence.  A simple lack of understanding of the EEA is forcing the UK Government to leave it, whether it wishes to or not.

We can pretty much forget about the row over the freedom of movement of people.  It is a red herring that gets the ideologues hot under the collar but it is actually just one visible symptom of the UK Government's complete lack of understanding of the European single market.  Honestly, they have no clue and that misplaced arrogance is going to see the UK stumble out of the EEA without an economic parachute.


There is a massive trade vacuum awaiting the UK when it finally splits from the EU.  Perhaps this is too tedious for public debate but I'm prepared to bet it is just another hole in the Brexiteer's bubble world. What's the problem?  At the moment, the EU negotiates with the WTO on behalf of all EU member states.  That will soon end for the UK.  When that happens it will need to renegotiate its WTO position.  Even if the UK Government had formulated a strategic plan for its long-term trading interests it would take some time years to reach a compromise agreement at the WTO.   The problem here is that the WTO works on consensus and cooperation rather than a timetabled vote. While that consensus is being reached, the UK might find a ready consensus that it temporarily adopts its current WTO obligations.  What exactly are those obligations?  For example, how much of the EU quality beef quota will the UK adopt?  How could that value even be measured?  Would an estimation suffice?  Can the EU reduce its beef quota in line with the UK's adoption of its agreed share?  This is already a lot to decide.  It gets worse, though, because we can't start negotiating until we have left the EU.  I call that a trade vacuum because I'm not an economist and don't know the technical term for full-on catastrophe brought about by narcissistic lying demagogues.

The EU Negotiations

The UK Government believe that Brexit is the biggest crisis facing the EU.  It isn't.  The EU has to manage the refugee crisis, the Euro crisis, the democratic crises in Hungary and Poland, then there's Ukraine and Russia.  I could go on but I'm even starting to bore myself.  Brexit is just another problem to add to the list.  The EU is always beset with issues because by definition it deals with problems too difficult for individual nations to solve on their own.  It is well used to managing multiple crises and wouldn't have survived this long without cultivating that ability.  The UK, on the other hand, is genuinely in a crisis of unbelievable magnitude because its ability to trade with anyone at all is under threat. Even the constitutional arrangements that uphold democratic principles in the UK are under threat.  I'd certainly call it a crisis.  In short, Brexit represents insurmountable crisis for the UK but only a significant problem for the EU.

The way the Brexiteers carry on you'd think they had a gun pointed at the head of every EU Commissioner.   This simply isn't the case.  The EU has already begun the job of factoring in the cost of Brexit to their budgets and forecasts.  It could even be said that the EU is relaxed about the prospect of the UK's departure. Why?  Because the UK blocked pretty much all EU reform since Westminster passed the 2011 European Union Act.   How many times have you heard a Leave campaigner moan that the EU needs reform?  Well, the truth is that the UK was the nation that single-handedly blocked all that much-trumpeted reform by insisting on a UK referendum to ratify almost any change.  The EU can now get on with its European Army, tackle the Euro crisis with deeper political integration, and renegotiate the Lisbon Treaty without bothersome Brits getting in the way all the time.

The UK Government's lack of understanding of the EU will present further issues at the divorce proceedings.  The problem here is that the EU understands perfectly well the technical details of membership.  After all, it has just completed the accession of Croatia.  Only a few years ago it was Bulgaria and Romania.  It also has ongoing bi-lateral discussions with Switzerland to ensure that the bi-laterals reflect the rules of single market entry as applicable.  Complex details and their intertwined relationships are fresh in the mind of the EU Commission, the body which oversees all this detail.  Can we say that about the UK?  Certainly not.  Instead of an eye for detail we have chief cheerleader Michael Gove telling the UK to get on with it and why oh why all the fuss and nonsense, this is easy, just get on with it and leave.  This is going to be a problem because the EU will be seeking clarity on details way beyond the UK's knowledge.  The lack of preparation for Brexit is not only going to prolong the divorce talks but also undermine the UK's ability to negotiate the optimum settlement.  If it was a boxing match it would be stopped in the first round.
Nobody in the UK Government gets this at all.  They just can't see the reality of the situation.  The reality is that political motivations and the long-term economic gains brought about by preserving the EU's founding principles will override the short-term losses of the UK's departure.   David Davis, if you're listening, car safety standards are global rather than European so German-built BMWs will still be available for sale in the UK after Brexit.  The drop in the value of Sterling will surely be the biggest disincentive to UK buyers because a few % at the border is a relative drop in the ocean.  Does that hurt BMW more than UK consumers or the other way around?  He will never, ever understand this because he is a buffoon driven by his own arrogance.

Over and out,


Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The Brexit Trump

The Great British Brexit Debacle trundles on and on and on.  I'm sure we're all tired of this nonsense but we can't get a proper rest just yet because the barriers to Brexit glory have no end in sight.   What is the latest indignity to add to the litany of political misadventure?  It's the election victory of Donald Trump, of course.  I'm not going to dwell on the terrifying prospect of President Trump because this blog is really only about the EU and Brexit.  Having said that, "The Donald" might unravel the UK Government's plans for leaving the EU.  I suspect that Theresa May understands this but Nigel Farage most certainly doesn't.  What's going on?
Weirdly for a Republican, Donald Trump is actually an opponent of free trade.  That's perhaps not 100% accurate but it is fair to say that he can't point to a single US trade agreement he considers a good deal for America.  For many years now he has been consistently making the point that China joining the WTO led to the outsourcing of US jobs to Asia.  Likewise, he accuses NAFTA of having the exact same effect, but this time with Mexico as the beneficiary of US trade folly.  There is an argument to be had about the pros and cons of free trade but this is not one that the Brexiteers have been encouraging.  Liam Fox, for example, wants to leave the EU so that he can open the UK up to even more free trade.  In his ultra-libertarian fantasy the UK would use its post-EU freedoms to abolish all tariff barriers and lead the way as a beacon for "free and open trade".  This is the complete opposite of Trump and his proposed trade war with China and Mexico.
If Donald Trump wants to bring steel jobs back to the US he has a few options.  He could devalue the US dollar by borrowing huge amounts of money and spending it as fast as he can.  That might work. However, it is not only a risky strategy but also one over which he doesn't have full control.  Currency exchange markets, after all, are not controlled by politicians. The alternative is to raise tariffs on imported goods.  Raising tariffs is not a simple matter because the WTO is committed to lowering global tariffs.  Ah, but Trump only wants to raise tariffs on Chinese imports.  Could he do that?  No, he absolutely can't do that because WTO membership forbids discriminatory behaviour.  Leaving the WTO seems like the only solution.  He's pretty much said this quite a few times over the years.  Worryingly, The Donald isn't quite as inconsistent as he is painted.

Isn't it odd to see Farage out and out with "The Donald"? Farage campaigned to leave the EU so that the UK could sign trade deals till the cows come home.  Yet, here he is fannying around with someone who wants to rip up all existing trade deals and potentially leave the WTO. What's going on?  I'm guessing that Farage's real goal all along was to move the UK away from the European Social Model towards something much redder in tooth and claw. A special deal with the US is probably what he had in mind all along.  Alert readers will remember that TTIP stalled on the European side because many nations were worried about the threat such a deal would pose to workers' rights and environmental protections.  Without the EU and all its left-liberal concerns, the UK can now get on with the main act of becoming a virtual US state.  Great for Farage but not so great for Liam Fox.  Poor old Liam has so much personally invested in Brexit.  Specifically, he wanted to sail the globe on The Royal Yacht II shining the spotlight of free and open trade on everyone he met.  Ahoy there, matey, it all looks like a distant dream now.

This is all a bit of a mess.  On the one hand, we have Trump talking loudly about starting a trade war and complaining about trade deals being bad for US society.  On the other, we have a UK Government desperate to sign trade deals.  Any deal?  Yup, any deal will probably do because a US trade deal might be the only game in town if Donald gets his way.  This is not good news at all.

Over and out,


PS It goes without saying that I consider an independent Scotland in the EU to be the most stable path through what look like a turbulent few years ahead. 

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Director's Cut

If you dye a donkey's fur, put a saddle on it and enter it in the 3.30 at Chepstow does it become a horse?  What about if you tell all your friends that from now on you insist on being referred to as Farrokh Bulsara? Does that make you the lead singer of Queen?  Maybe you develop a stiff gait and a monotonic speaking voice.  Are you now a robot? How about if you have an established system of representative democracy and you run a referendum?  Does that make it direct democracy?  If you answered yes to any of these questions I am going to ban you from this blog until you receive professional help.

Yellow toreador jacket. Tick.  White trousers with red piping. Tick. Enormous moustache. Tick.  Wow, you are Freddie Mercury.
I live in a country that has a system of direct democracy.  A few times a year Swiss nationals get to vote on a wide range of initiatives.  If you feel strongly about something and can pose it as a question with a binary answer you can start up a petition.  With enough signatures the government are forced to add it to the queue, meaning that a date is set for your question to be put to the people.  If you're successful and your petition achieves a "yes" from more than 50% of the votes cast then the government have a fixed period to implement the initiative.  The government can't just do what they want, though.  They need to put their solution to Parliament, where elected representatives decide if they agree or disagree with the details of the implementation.   Any alarm bells ringing yet?  Madame, those bells are in your own head.  See a doctor immediately.

Hands up if you've heard of the Masseinwanderungsiniatitive.  Ok, don't all rush at once.   I know it sounds boring but it has a scary parallel with the whole Brexit mess so I think it's worth describing.  It also provides a demonstration of direct democracy in action with all its messy imperfections. Truth be told, it is a sad and tawdry tale so hankies at the ready. 

I've posted the text of the Masseinwanderungsinitiative below so you can see it in all its glory.  At first glance, it looks like someone put a lot of thought into it. There are several mentions of the Swiss constitution followed by carefully worded amendments to be considered by the electorate.  So far, all very Swiss.  What you probably don't realise is that it was actually proposed by a bunch of crack-pot loons for whom detail and consequence are just distant echoes from a parallel universe.

Die Bundesverfassung wird wie folgt geändert:
Art. 121 Sachüberschrift (neu)
Gesetzgebung im Ausländer- und Asylbereich
Art. 121a (neu) Steuerung der Zuwanderung
1 Die Schweiz steuert die Zuwanderung von Ausländerinnen und Ausländern eigenständig.
2 Die Zahl der Bewilligungen für den Aufenthalt von Ausländerinnen und Ausländern in der Schweiz wird durch jährliche Höchstzahlen und Kontingente begrenzt. Die Höchstzahlen gelten für sämtliche Bewilligungen des Ausländerrechts unter Einbezug des Asylwesens. Der Anspruch auf dauerhaften Aufenthalt, auf Familiennachzug und auf Sozialleistungen kann beschränkt werden.
3 Die jährlichen Höchstzahlen und Kontingente für erwerbstätige Ausländerinnen und Ausländer sind auf die gesamtwirtschaftlichen Interessen der Schweiz unter Berücksichtigung eines Vorranges für Schweizerinnen und Schweizer auszurichten; die Grenzgängerinnen und Grenzgänger sind einzubeziehen. Massgebende Kriterien für die Erteilung von Aufenthaltsbewilligungen sind insbesondere das Gesuch eines Arbeitgebers, die Integrationsfähigkeit und eine ausreichende, eigenständige Existenzgrundlage.
4 Es dürfen keine völkerrechtlichen Verträge abgeschlossen werden, die gegen diesen Artikel verstossen.
5 Das Gesetz regelt die Einzelheiten.
Die Übergangsbestimmungen der Bundesverfassung werden wie folgt geändert:
Art. 197 Ziff. 9 (neu)
9. Übergangsbestimmung zu Art. 121a (Steuerung der Zuwanderung)
1 Völkerrechtliche Verträge, die Artikel 121a widersprechen, sind innerhalb von drei Jahren nach dessen Annahme durch Volk und Stände neu zu verhandeln und anzupassen.
2 Ist die Ausführungsgesetzgebung zu Artikel 121a drei Jahre nach dessen Annahme durch Volk und Stände noch nicht in Kraft getreten, so erlässt der Bundesrat auf diesen Zeitpunkt hin die Ausführungsbestimmungen vorübergehend auf dem Verordnungsweg.

Switzerland has it's very own version of UKIP.  In fact, I would put it the other way round and say that UKIP is the UK's version of the SVP.  Anyway, the SVP backed a referendum question that aimed to place a cap on inwards migration.  This involved an alteration to the the Swiss constitution.  Annoyingly, I could only find the text of the referendum question in German so apologies to French speakers if you feel a bit left outPlease don't feel left out because it is actually quite dull.  It basically says that the constitution should be amended so that quotas are introduced for all inwards migration.  The initiative passed with 50.3% of the vote, leaving the government a difficult task.  The problem they face is that placing a cap on EU migration would endanger every single bi-lateral treaty that Switzerland has signed with the EU.  That amounts to about 120 intertwined treaties that have accumulated over a period of over 20 years.  None of this was mentioned in the initiative.  I'd say this is a problem without solution.  What's the word for that again?  Tip of my tongue...

What have the government done?  Well, first of all they decided they didn't want to endanger any of the treaties.  Maybe they decided that for themselves or maybe they took the view that nobody asked them to place national economic prosperity in jeopardy or maybe they were just unnerved by all the yelling and gnashing of teeth from Swiss industry.   I don't know the operation of their mind, I'm afraid.  In the end they came up with a fudge that encourages Swiss businesses to hire candidates already resident in Switzerland.  The EU made some positive noises about this and the Swiss Parliament voted in favour of it.  There's about 3 months remaining to finally implement the solution, which I guess will involve some kind of formal acceptance by the EU and the operation of a massive rubber stamp.  They should have a big party and get drunk on horrid Swiss whisky at the end of all this because I bet it has been a major headache for all involved.

What about that fudge?  It doesn't actually impose a quota on migration, does it?  To be perfectly honest, it makes bugger all difference.  That's probably why the EU made all those positive noises. It still leaves a question about democracy, doesn't it?  Has democracy been served here?  On the one hand, an elected government has proposed a solution and an elected parliament has ratified it. That sounds good.  On the other hand, the referendum result hasn't really been implemented as expected. Hmm, that sounds bad.  The good news is that Switzerland is an ordered society.  Bloody heck, it is nothing if it is not an ordered society. There's a system at work here with formal processes governed by a written constitution.  The system has been followed.  Nobody can argue about that.  Well, obviously, the SVP are spitting with rage but if they want to change the situation they are going to have to start doing a lot better in the national elections.  That's the system and if you don't like it I suggest you booger off and live somewhere else.  I believe I have just quoted official SVP policy.

What has all this to do with the UK?  Well, I just outlined the system of direct democracy as it works here in foggy Switzerland.  It is a formal system.  It is written down in the constitution.  In this system decision-making is driven by the people but the implementation details are left to the government, which works under parliamentary scrutiny.  When someone proposes a initiative without obvious solution the system works to encourage compromise and political consensus. Like all systems it is imperfect but it is an established system that is used many times each year with some success.  Let's compare that with the UK and its sorry attempt at an in/out EU referendum. Have they followed an established system?  Is there a firm set of constitutional procedures that can be followed to arrive at a legally approved outcome? Are we moving steadily towards compromise and consensus?  No, of course not. Why not?  Well, the UK is a representative democracy ill-equipped to deal with ad hoc extensions.

I used to vote in UK elections.  It's been a while but I think I remember how it works.  First, political parties publish a manifesto.  This document outlines key pledges that will be enacted if they win the election.  We're a naturally suspicious people so we also expect to see a plan for how they intend to make their dreams come true.  Electoral campaigns are as much about the pledges as the ability to realise them.  In the end, we all get to cast a vote for a representative of a political party.  I might decide to vote for a candidate because they have good hair.  The system certainly gives me that freedom.  Personally, I think great hair is important but it's not enough on its own.  It's good to know, therefore, that I can judge not only manifesto pledges but also whether I believe their plans are credible.  Maybe I'm really into yogic flying and agree with all the pledges of the Natural Law party but don't believe they have the necessary leadership skills for a prolonged levitation experience.  This is how it works. I'm just saying.

I agreed with everything they stood (levitated) for but they were too organisationally weak to get my vote.
Every single political party apart from UKIP stood in the 2015 General Election with a manifesto pledge to remain in the EU.   The public can't force Labour or Conservative to honour their pledges but history tells us that ignoring manifesto pledges or doing a bad job implementing them will be accounted for at the next General Election.  Douglas Carswell, the solitary UKIP MP, is actually the only MP in Parliament with a mandate to vote to leave the EU.  He is also the only MP with a mandate to vote to leave the EEA.   UKIP have made their position 100% clear where they stand on Europe and his constituents know that.   The rest of Westminster is not in this position because they pledged to remain in the EU and the single market and the customs union.  I expect them to honour  their manifesto.  Don't you?  Oh, but what about the EU referendum?  How does that fit in?  Nobody actually knows.  Well done, everyone.

Where do we stand?  Remain supporters think there should be a second referendum, while Leave supporters think it should be automatically enacted without delay or prevarication. They're all wrong, I'm afraid.  Remember, the UK doesn't have a system of direct democracy.  Running another referendum would just compound the madness.  We simply can't expect MPs elected on a pro-EU manifesto to turn around and vote to leave the EU. I'm sorry but that's not how representative democracy works.  If we start doing that it will make General Elections a complete waste of time.  Yes, I know they're mostly a waste of time but they're not a complete waste of time.  Are they?

What should happen?  Parliament created this mess so it has to come up with a plan to fix it.  Shoving it under the carpet like a February credit card bill is not going to end well.  The only path for Parliament is to proceed as though it does have a system of direct democracy on this single issue. That means Parliament gets to scrutinise the implementation of the referendum result because that is what actually happens in direct democracies.   How should Parliament arrive at a conclusion?  Well, MPs need to act in accordance with their election pledges because that is what actually happens in direct democracies.  Does that mean staying in the EU?  I would argue that it does but there's a readily available fudge.  For most people EU membership is a technical point.  What most pro-EU MPs really care about is membership of the EEA and the European Customs Union.  After all, these are the bodies that really make a difference to political hot potatoes like Nissan Sunderland.  The EU happens to be the Venn intersection of these two institutions but nothing says that you can't be members of both and remain outside the EUIf Parliament voted on this solution I believe that the referendum would be honoured to the letter and election manifesto pledges would be honoured in substance.  Obviously, this is bat-shit crazy but I would argue that everything about this is bat-shit crazy.  The only hope at this point is to minimise brainwrong. 

If you want to ban Europe stand for Parliament.  Be my guest.
If you're a hard-core Leaver and you're desperate to exit the EEA and the European Customs Union and the EU and the Erasmus scheme and you want to ban "The Final Countdown" by Euro-pomp hair-rockers Europe then I recommend you form a political party and make it a key manifesto pledge. Plan it out like everyone else and put it to the electorate for scrutiny.  I don't hold out much chance of success, though.  UKIP already tried that and managed to win just one lonely seat at Westminster.  Welcome to representative democracy.

Over and out,


PS This is all a bit worrying for Scottish independence. The UK has proven itself unable to handle referendum results that require positive action.  What can be done?  What alternative is there that works with the system of representative democracy that we currently have?

PPS Here in Zurich, SVP (Swiss People's Party) is pronounced ess fow (as in wow) pay.  Just like UKIP, they are an unbelievable rabble of comedy losers.  

PPPS Intractable!  I knew I'd get there in the end.


Sunday, 6 November 2016

The Missing Link

What's been going on in the Great British Brexit Debacle?  Quite a lot, actually.  The court case forcing Parliament to vote before triggering Article 50 has ended with a judgement in favour of a  Parliamentary vote.  This is huge news but doesn't yet mark the end of the story. Remember, lawyers and hourly billings are involved.  The Government will take the case to the Supreme Court and the whole thing will trundle on for a while longer.  It could even end at the European Court of Justice. Oh, the irony!  I do hope that Parliament will get its act together and start demanding a plan from the Government.  Here's an idea: maybe they could also read through it and offer some constructive criticism.  I don't want get too radical here but how about the opposition get on with the job of opposing?  I'm really hoping somebody with a semblance of principle tries to restore some sanity to this mess.  Remaining in the EEA springs to mind.  I certainly don't remember single market access being on the referendum ballot, do you? Dour Scot that I am, I'm starting to take the view that the madness has a strong forward momentum -  throwing a few ping pong balls at the juggernaut won't make any difference.

What else has been going on?  Well, something else did happen that is actually quite important, in my view.   It is becoming clear that talks to leave the EU must be completed before trade talks can begin.
Leaving the EU and negotiating trade relationships are quite separate things. I'm as guilty as everyone else of conflating these processes under the banner A50.  Let's set the record straight.  The first thing to remember is that the UK can't negotiate on trade with the EU until it has formally left.  There is no getting round this fact.  Facts are facts, after all. I know we live in a post-truth world but this blog is going to stick to the old-fashioned idea that facts should be revered.  Even just working out how the UK will leave the EU is a huge task:  there are legal obligations to be discussed, administrative frameworks to be dismantled, contracts to be signed.  There is truly a lot to be decided.  Thankfully, this is all ratified by qualified majority voting so there is a good chance that an agreement can be reached.  After the UK has left the EU it can then go on to negotiate trade conditions. It's clear to me that these are not independent processes because the manner in which the UK continues or curtails its ongoing obligations will have a huge influence on the trade talks.  A further problem is that all commercial negotiations are put to the EU veto.  That's right, trade talks involve a very different matrix of alliances and compromises from A50.   I haven't even mentioned yet that responsibility for implementing A50 and the subsequent trade negotiations might be handled by different European institutions. There is simply no way to bundle these two processes together. 

Take your time UK, the door's stuck.
I'm sure everyone reading this will have worked out the gotcha for the UK government:  immediately after we leave the EU we will have no trade deal with Europe. Worse still, we might even find ourselves leaving the EU without first sorting out our WTO commitments.  Tim Martin's assertion that we should just trade under WTO rules will look a bit embarrassing if that comes to pass.  In fact, the UK might not be able to trade with anybody in any way whatsoever if that really pans out.  I'm going to speculate that nobody wants this to happen, neither the EU nor the UK.  What kind of solutions are there?  I would guess that some kind of temporary associate EU membership will be arranged until this is all sorted out.   How many years will that last?  As  few as 5?  What about 10?  Should we count it in General Elections?  As with all things Brexit, nobody knows but leaving the EU is going to take a very long time, indeed.

A particularly stupid weasel.  Just look at it's stupid face.  No concept of international trade whatsoever.
I don't know about you but I'm starting to tire of pointing out the lack of attention to detail involved in this whole Brexit mess.  Team Brexit is so far from getting a grip on this I'm convinced they don't even have a todo list of detail that might demand their understanding.  If the UK government can't even figure out its own constitutional arrangements how do they expect to get their heads round the complexities of EU legislative bodies and their matrix of responsibility?  This is rapidly turning into a game of chess where only one player understands the rules.  Actually, that is a terrible analogy.  Let me try again.  This is turning into a game of chess where only one player understands the concept of rules or indeed has any grasp on the symbolic meaning of the pieces on the board.  Even the notion that a game is underway can't be assumed.  The EU might as well assume an opponent that is still to evolve the power of abstraction, like an elderly chaffinch or a particularly stupid weasel.

Over and out,


PS No offence to weasels or chaffinches but they are complete idiots. 

Friday, 4 November 2016

Poppers O'clock

When you live in a foreign country you quickly realise that your home nation is a weird place with odd traditions.  Guy Fawkes night is a good example.  Here in Switzerland we celebrate August 1st as the day that marks the first political union of Swiss Cantons.  The day ends with fireworks going off all across the country.  Swiss people can afford advanced pyrotechnics so this can be quite a spectacular and noisy affair.  It's a bit like Guy Fawkes night with the exception that it doesn't involve burning the effigy of a religious assassin who was brutally tortured before accidentally falling to his death on the steps of the hangman's scaffold.   The good people of Zurich somehow find it in their hearts to just enjoy the bangs and whizzes without the macabre back story.  It takes some effort but it can really be that simple.

I always win this game when I play it in Bern.
What else is weird?  Armistice Day.  Seriously, that is completely messed up.  I'd be happy for an annual reminder of how bloody horrible war can be if it meant that the UK stopped getting involved in horrible, bloody wars.  I don't need to be reminded that war is bad because the country listed on my passport is permanently at war somewhere with somebody:  the Greek Civil War,  the Malayan Emergency,  Korea, Suez, Aden, Falklands, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria.  Right now we're not technically at war in Yemen but we're doing everything we possibly can short of pressing the trigger. I don't think Armistice day is doing much good if its purpose is to stop us going to war.

Is this messed up enough for you?
What is the real purpose of Armistice Day?  I don't honestly know but I do think it a bit odd that it is only really commemorated in the Commonwealth.  You won't find anyone wearing a poppy in Munich or Zurich or Innsbruck.  There is no minute's silence in Begrenz. Is that because they've truly learned the lesson that war is bloody horrible and don't need an annual reminder?  I'm led to the suspicion that Armistice Day is an indulgence for the victorious.  A solemn parade of retired soldiers lends an air of nobility to something that is actually properly dreadful.  Without that air of nobility it might just be a bit harder to carry on going to war.  It might also be a bit harder to recruit the next generation of soldiers.  Victorious armies, after all, are bound to just carry on doing what they do best.  Is that what it's all about?  Is it effectively a recruitment and marketing campaign for the military?  Is the aim to lend a sense of purpose and solemnity to the war machine in order to lure teenagers away from their games consoles and snapchat sessions?  Not just the teenagers, obviously, but their parents, their teachers, and their neighbours.  Everyone needs to sign up for this to work.  Tell me I'm wrong.

How about this?  Is this messed up enough for you?
I like living in a country that doesn't go to war.  It means I don't have to bother explaining to anyone why I don't wear a poppy.  What exactly is that about?  Obviously, I do know the point of the Haig Fund.  I'm not completely stupid, you know.  I'm really asking why we raise money for soldiers who were involved in recent wars long after the years of conscription and compulsory military service.  Why do we do that?  Why?  If we are going to be permanently at war why doesn't the army just start an insurance scheme?  I am completely serious on that point.  Get the actuaries involved and work it all out with maths.  The modern army, after all, is a profession.  It should start behaving like one. There's really no need for any of this standing around in the freezing cold selling miniature plastic flowers for random amounts of loose change.  Just call up an actuary and cost it out.  It really is that simple. Do they buy their weapons with the same lack of attention?  Maybe they do. Who knows?

You're probably swearing at your computer screen about this mad loony lefty Terry Entoure.  Lock up the traitor!  Censor his vile words!  Well, I'm not really a lefty at all.  I'm actually a big believer in personal responsibility.  That's one of the things I really like about Switzerland.  In general, the people of Switzerland have a strong sense of personal responsibility.  Quite often that requires being forearmed with insurance.  If my flat goes on fire I have insurance.  If I lose my job I have insurance.  If I drop a piano on someone's foot I'm not to be sued into bankruptcy because, you've guessed it,  I have insurance for that too. I'm meandering now but my point is that soldiering is a profession and professionals should be responsible for their actions.  Nobody forces a civilian to join the army.  Nobody forces a solider to go to war.  Nobody forces a solider at war to stay there.  Every risk they take is a professional risk.  In the main, I have no doubt about their professionalism but only up to the point when they leave the army or get injured.  At that point, their profession becomes amateurish.  Surely the pattern is clear now.  Retired soldiers have a long history of needing extra help.  Soldiers who have been to war need even more post-career help.  Why has their industry not responded with a professional solution?  None of these problems are a surprise.  We've known about this since the foundation of the Haig Fund in 1921 but we've doggedly stuck to the philosophy of the workhouse.

How about this? Is this messed up enough for you?
Some professions are really quite odious, aren't they?  Entoure Snr had a friend whose son worked as a lawyer.  For a while his job was to apply legal sophistry in order to delay payouts to terminal emphysema sufferers who had contracted their disease from unwittingly breathing in asbestos dust. I could never do that for a living. I doubt I could sleep at night if I did. What about soldiers who have been to Iraq?  Or the pilots who bombed Libya?  They had access to all the information I had but somehow an uninformed idiot like me managed to work it out well in advance that these campaigns would not end well for the local population.  If I had been sent to Iraq I would have made it my highest high priority to work out if this was something I could morally support.  There's that personal responsibility again.  Maybe soldiers don't think about that.  Maybe they take a professional view of their task, just like that lawyer I mentioned earlier.  Does that make it better?  Does that absolve them of personal responsibility for what unfolded in Iraq?  I don't think it does.  Moreover, I think they're behaving quite a lot like that lawyer I mentioned earlier, while civilians caught up in the whole mess play the unlucky role of the terminal emphysema sufferers.   This is a deeply unpopular view but my empathy is always directed towards civilians caught up in war.  Their plight is more demanding of attention because they never had a choice.  They never had the opportunity to weight up the pros and cons (not that there are actually any pros to having your street shelled).  I'm always going to feel more for their situation because I'm able to put myself in their shoes far more easily than I can imagine being a soldier with a backpack of spare ammo and an earpiece for encrypted radio communications.  Despite that, I don't see any street campaigns with special privileges raising money to rebuild their homes or buy them artificial limbs. No, they're just left to get on with it without any help at all.

The worst part of Armistice Day is that nobody apart from swivel-eyed bloggers ever says any of this.  Right now, politicians of all parties are at serious risk of angina attack from their red-faced Armistice Day bluster.  They are furiously arguing that Armistice Day isn't political, each one louder than the last.  Of course Armistice Day is political.  It can't be anything but political.  Wars and armies and soldiers are driven entirely by politics and power.  Even the Swiss army, which is forbidden by constitution from ever operating outside the national borders, is political.  I think everyone is familiar with the idea that the winning side get to write history.  Nowadays, though, they also get to pretend that their actions were apolitical, that they were guided by the natural spirit of universal justice and truth.  It's only the losers that are stained by the ugly world of politics.  This kind of uncritical thinking starts wars.   In fact, wars are only made possible by that kind of uncritical thinking.

I'm led to the depressing conclusion that the only remaining force against war is the shock and awe of its financial cost.  I guess that's why nobody ever bothered to work it out.

Over and out,


PS Next post will be back to the usual boring EU blogging. What has Liam Fox been up to?  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Great British Insert Here For Ratings Boost

Last time I was in Scotland I was quite taken aback at the presence of the Union Jack in the most unlikely places.  There I was on a trip to Asda only to spy that all the potatoes were ceremonially wrapped up in patriotic plastic bags.  I guess you're just immune to this if you live in the UK but I'd never seen anything like this before.  By all means put a little logo on the produce so I know I can be environmentally friendly and buy locally grown food.  However, that's not much good if said British potatoes are grown in Kent or Suffolk.  That being the case I might as well buy Irish potatoes or even Norwegian ones. No, the enormous Union Jacks all over the potatoes were there to make me buy them as a patriot.  I know this because the Union Jacks were huge and took up most of the front of the see-through potato bags.  They were most definitely  appealing to my sense of national pride.  How were they to know that I had blogged repeatedly on the theme of British shame?  Well, they weren't to know that because even by my terrible standards these were posts with particularly poor visitor counts.
Where are they from?  I just can't work it out;.
 You're probably already used to going snow-blind from seeing the word "British "plastered everywhere but I'm most definitely not.  The prevalence of Union Jacks is the kind of thing you only really notice if you're not there very often.   I am here to to tell you as an infrequent visitor that something is definitely happening.  There is clearly a pattern to this and I would bet it could be measured by the number of column inches devoted to poppy arguments.  Now, I'm not Noam Chomsky with his giant intellect and his resources of eager graduate students so I'm not going to do that.  Instead, I turned to the world of TV to see if something is going on that can be measured.

British week on TV.  Every week is British week. Hey, it's Royal baking week!
 I watch TV through an app called Zattoo.  It lets you stream TV channels from France, Germany, Austria, Italy and UK to your computer or tablet.   All in all it has a lot of stations.  Around 12 of these stations are what we used to call "council telly":  BBC1-4, ITV1-4, C4, More4, C5.   It is remarkably easy to search in the app for keywords like "Britain" and "British".  This is exactly what I did for the two week period spanning 26/10 - 9/11.  In total there are 110 vain-glorious hours of TV fun with the word "Britain" or "British" in the title.  That's 110 hours over 35 separate shows in a fortnight.  I make that about 8 hours a day of dutiful viewing. I doubt you even get that much in North Korea.
  1. Great British Menu
  2. Rory Bremner's Great British Views
  3. Black and British: A Forgotten History
  4. Little British Isles with Alison Steadman
  5. British Touring Car Crashes and Smashes
  6. The Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance
  7. Secrets of Great British Castles
  8. The Great British Bake Off
  9. A Very British Pornographer: The Jack Kahana Story
  10. Sailor, Ships and Stevedores: The  Story of British Docks
  11. Messages Home: Lost Films of the British Army
  12. Birth of the British Novel
  13. The Great British Fake Off
  14. A Very British Murder with Lucy Worsley
  15. Secret Britain
  16. Little Britain
  17. Fabric of Britain: The Story of Wallpaper
  18. Good Morning Britain
  19. Castles: Britain's Fortified History
  20. Britain's Busiest Airport: Heathrow
  21. Britain's Greatest Bridges
  22. Countrywise: Guide to Britain
  23. Books That Made Britain
  24. Britain's Classroom Heroes
  25. Britain's Benefit Tenants
  26. The Untold Battle of Britain
  27. Britain's Natural World
  28. The Choir: Gareth's Best in Britain
  29. Britain's Whale Hunters: The Untold Story
  30. Britain's Pet Secrets with Ann Robinson
  31. The Daily Mirror's Pride of Britain Awards
  32. Britain's Ancient Tracks with Tony Robinson
  33. Britain's Body Image Secrets with Ann Robinson
  34. Britain's Adoption Scandal - Breaking the Silence
  35. Millionaire's Mansions: Designing Britain's Most Exclusive Homes
If you're a fan of Top of the Pops you'll know that BBC4 are repeating it week by week but with a 35 year delay so that we are currently reliving the heady days of New Pop from 1981.  Taking that as my cue I decided to search the Radio Times for a similar two week period spanning 31/10/1981 -13/11/1981.    If you're under 25 you won't believe me but there were only 3 TV stations back then and two were the BBC.  How did we live?  It was bloody horrible, I can tell you.  An example of the horror is that there wasn't a single magazine that listed both BBC and ITV shows (a magazine is kind of like a website but printed periodically on paper and available for purchase in retail emporia).  The upshot of this indignity is that I was only able to search BBC1 and BBC2 because I couldn't find the listings online for ITV.  Here's what I found.
  1. Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance
Yup, a single show with the word "Britain" or "British".  There were still plenty of shows about British life but they didn't bang on about it the way we do now. For example, plucked entirely at random, there was a show about self-help and mutual aid in Britain called "The Self-Help Society".  Does that sound exciting?  No, it really doesn't.  As I said already, life in 1981 was bloody awful but it was probably the highlight of the week back then.  In fact, I can picture it now -  Family Entoure huddled round the flickering box, feet warmed by brown slippers, sipping cheerily at hot cocoa, ready to lose ourselves in the fascinating history of mutual aid in Britain. Nobody would watch that now. Nah, that sounds way too dreary.  Hang on, I've got an idea.  What about "The Great British Self-Help Society with Tony Britton"?  Yes, that will lure them in.  Just append the word "Britain" to every single thing and plaster the entire country with Union Jacks.  That'll sort it out.

Something is going on, isn't it?  To this distant observer, Britain comes across as a country that is completely self-obsessed.  It's obsessed with its army, with its soldiers, with its military history, with its role in the war,  with its darkest hour, with its finest hour, with its bulldog spirit, with its role in the other war, with its lost empire, with its dead kings and queens, with its role in that other war and the other one and that other one that came before all the others.  Most of all, it's obsessed with cultivating a sense of specialness, a sense that it is not at all like its neighbours.  Britain is an arrogant teenager blissfully unaware of the feelings of others, completely lacking the power of human empathy.  Simultaneously, it is that annoying old pensioner in the post office banging on about how the past was better when they had the birch.  That bit in the middle of life where you do all your best living and loving are just the lost years for an army nation like Great Britain.

On reflection, Brexit was inevitable. This has been brewing for years and years. Leaving the EU was always inevitable because we're not like them others over there in any way at all.  We're special, right?   We have choirs and countryside and an army that we revere.  We have teachers and books and ships and bridges and  friendly violent criminals that were kind to their mums.  Nobody else has any of that.  Not France, not Germany, not them bloody Austrians. And we  have a language all of our own that nobody else can speak.  You heard me, nobody else can speak our language like wot we do. Queen's English, gertcha.  And we eat food but we ain't eating none of that foreign muck. British food, see.  British.  British. British. Capiche?

Over and out,


PS Something really is going on.   But what?  Is it chicken or egg? I really don't know cos I don't live there any more.