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,


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,


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.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

All Or Nothing

If two weeks is a long time in politics then I've been away for a very long time indeed. For reasons of confidentiality I can't go into the ins-and-outs too much here but I ended up entangled in an ongoing disciplinary procedure with a particularly disruptive work colleague. To make matters worse, I temporarily inherited another particularly disruptive colleague. These two managed to convince themselves that superstition can be applied to the world of scientific software with just as much validity as the principle of model prediction and validation. Dealing with their whining, complaints and persistent idiocy turned out to be such a drain on my energy levels that I've just not had any zest for Brexit blogging. Happily, the situation was finally resolved about a week ago, giving me the opportunity once more to spew my unwanted opinions all over the internet.

So much has happened in my absence (delivery of the letter setting out the UK's withdrawal from the EU; a formal request for a binding referendum on the question of Scottish independence; Michael Howard declaring war on Spain; and the release of the highly anticipated but ultimately disappointing collaboration between Chilly Gonzales and Jarvis Cocker) but it's still the case that nothing has actually materially changed. We're all psychologically preparing for war, of course, and "journalists" across the land are engaged in Top Trumps comparisons of navy fleets but apart from that life goes on and EU rules still apply.
Oh dear, oh dear.
I was going to use my comeback post for a forensic deconstruction of Theresa May's letter but I think it's a bit late for that now. Instead, I want to talk about something even less timely: the recent Westminster vote to secure the rights of EU citizens residing in the UK. Yes, I know this is old hat but something about that vote has been nagging away at my brain for some weeks now. It all became clear when I finally stopped to think about it a couple of days ago. What was it? Arggh, I've gone and forgotten it now. Oh, I do wish I could remember because the rest of this post depends on it. Oh yeah, I remember now. MPs are a shower of incompetent losers who couldn't organise an evening of craft ale appreciation in a business establishment wholly devoted to the manufacture and appreciation of niche alcoholic beverages.

Theresa May's Article 50 letter makes repeated assertions of the high priority that should be given to guarantee the rights of citizens caught up in this whole mess. It makes the point several times but in a very woolly way that is completely devoid of detail.
"The Government wants to approach our discussions with ambition, giving citizens and businesses in the United Kingdom and the European Union – and indeed from third countries around the world – as much certainty as possible, as early as possible."
"There are, for example, many citizens of the remaining member states living in the United Kingdom, and UK citizens living elsewhere in the European Union, and we should aim to strike an early agreement about their rights."
This is one of the few areas of policy deliberately mentioned in the A50 letter yet it is light on detail, to say the least. It merely talks of rights and certainty without laying out the extents of those rights or a preference for the form of the binding agreement that would provide certainty. My view is that this is a huge mistake because it gives the EU an opportunity to bog the UK down in technical detail and to tightly couple those rights to every other decision of the exit deal.  This kind of tactic will just frustrate the UK because it only really wants to talk about trade.

I now ask that everyone casts their mind back to the recent past when Westminster voted down a motion to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK.  It was cold, it was dark, it was a miserable night and it seemed as if the Tories couldn't sink any lower.   Two things emerge from this mind game: a) the Tories can always sink lower (war on Spain!) and b) it's just as well that Parliament voted this down because the motion didn't actually specify the rights that would be protected or provide any mechanism for the long-term protection of those enigmatic rights. At times like these I'm glad there are grown-ups in Brussels who can guide the UK through this messy and complicated process.  Let's spend some time looking at this in some more detail.

Imagine a Welshman living in Finland  but thinking of returning home in about five years. If it helps let's say that his name is Gwyn and he is a naval architect with particular expertise in solar-powered luxury yachts. As it stands, his right to claim and even move his accumulated Finnish pension is governed by the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority. This is one of the many agencies granted powers by the European Parliament to provide technical oversight over the function of the European Economic Area.  This sounds great so what is the problem? Well, the UK has now begun the process of withdrawing from all European technical agencies. All of the certainties about Gwyn's claim to private and state pensions and his ability to move them to back to the UK are now under threat. None of that can be resolved until the UK and the EU can agree a legal framework that sets out the reciprocal rights and management of pension funds.  It's not even clear if that will be part of the divorce discussions.  It actually occurs to me that reciprocal pension rights belong to the discussions that come after the UK has completed its withdrawal from the EU. Anyway, that is for the EU to decide because it is their club and they make the rules. I hope I'm giving you the impression that it's all a bit more complicated than that defeated motion in the House of Commons. Guaranteeing the rights of UK citizens in the EU or EU citizens in the UK is a task that spans almost every possible area of legislation. I would guess it amounts to tens of thousands of pages of legal documentation accumulated over the last 40 years. If you're still not convinced of the complexity involved let's try another scenario.

You can decorate your flat exactly how you want in the UK.
This time imagine Alice, an English legal translator living in Copenhagen. Alice has bought a modest flat off-plan that won't be completed until late 2019. Will she still be able to buy property in Denmark after the UK exits the EU? Denmark is particularly strict with property rights but EU nationals enjoy full access to the Danish property market due to the principle of non-discrimination that lies at the heart of the EU. I would guess that Denmark would like to restrict Alice's right to buy her dream home because the principle of non-discrimination no longer applies. The UK, on the other hand, has a particularly open housing market. It's fair to say that anyone with sufficient funds can rock up and buy a property anywhere in the UK. Having purchased their house they can do what they want with it. They can rent it out, they can leave it empty and treat it as an investment, they can use it as a holiday home, they can paint all the interior walls black and use it for satanic worship and diabolical magick exeriments. The UK will obviously want UK citizens to enjoy those rights in the EU. Well, I hope they want UK citizens to enjoy those rights and I sincerely hope they've thought about this kind of scenario. At the risk of boring everyone, I'm just going to reiterate that guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens is complicated and is tightly coupled to the entire exit agreement.

Still not convinced? This time we'll take a look at Bob. Bob has lived in Germany for 30 years, he's married and has adult children living and working in Germany. With all this Brexit madness going on Bob is thinking of applying for German citizenship. This sounds great until you learn that Germany has strict rules on dual citizenship. EU citizens are allowed to have dual passports but Bob will soon cease to be a citizen of the EU. What will happen? Well, let's see if Bob qualifies for dual passport status under German law. No, he doesn't because the UK allows him to renounce his citizenship and because he didn't grow up in Germany. If Bob wants a German passport he will first have to give up his rights to British citizenship, his rights to long-term NHS care, and his rights to a UK state pension. The UK, of course, is relaxed about citizens having multiple passports and I hope it will promote that principle for UK citizens living in the EU. Am I too hopeful?

For the international man/woman of mystery, a passport collection is a must-have accessory.
What have we learned? I think it's worth a few bullet points this time to make it look like I'm a serious writer with important conclusions.
  • Guaranteeing the rights of the millions of people caught up in the madness of Brexit will be complicated.
  • Legislating for those rights is tightly coupled to the rest of the exit agreement and can't be agreed in isolation.
  • Legislating for those rights spans almost the entire breadth of EU legislation.
  • Every nation in the EU has its own idiosyncratic way of granting rights to non-EU nationals and will want to apply that to UK nationals so that it may trade for something it wants in return.
  • The rights of citizens are so entangled with the rest of the legislative knot and so varied across the EU27 that they can't be granted unilaterally - this requires a reciprocal and binding agreement.
  • The rights of UK/EU citizens will likely still face significant uncertainty until the future EU/UK relationship is finalised in the year 2062.
What will happen? Several things can and probably will happen.  The first is that the EU can engineer as much technical complexity as it likes on the topic of reciprocal rights.  Moreover, it can do this in a way that makes it look concerned for the rights of its own citizens and for the legislative traditions of its member nations.  It will do this deliberately to make the UK ever more aware of the ticking clock and the distance it has to travel before it gets to discuss trade. In response, the UK will probably throw the rights of its own citizens under a bus because, let's face it, readers of the Daily Express don't really care if Alice gets to own a modest apartment in Copenhagen and they certainly don't care about Bob's passport woes.  They will remain indifferent to Gwyn's pension and probably think it serves him right if he is forced to endure reduced financial rights and ongoing uncertainty because that's what you get when you abandon Albion.

Oh dear, what a mess. The UK Government has shown itself once more to be woefully unprepared for the upcoming talks with the EU.  It can't even draw on the resources of all those super-brain MPs because they've proved themselves to be a shower of idiots unable to think beyond their own very generous and most definitely guaranteed pension scheme. 

Over and out,


PS I didn't even mention the rights of UK pensioners to treatment in the Spanish health system.  They have full rights at the moment that are independent of EU membership but that could easily change if the UK fails to secure the rights of EU nationals to the NHS.  If the UK can gets itself on a war footing over Gibraltar then some minor legislative changes to healthcare access is small fry.

PPS Next time a look at what life would be like for an independent Scotland in the EU.  Can it get any more thrilling?  This is the kind of thing you get from Terry Entoure when he's motoring at full speed.  You also get Terry Entoure talking about Terry Entoure in the third person, which is a hallmark of the serious and persistent blogger.