Thursday, 29 June 2017

The Brexit Principles

I'd say that pretty much anything good in the man-made world is driven by a clear set of principles. Video games might be designed around the idea that the player is made to feel like a hero; websites might be designed around the principle that every feature is no more than 2 clicks away; mobile phones might be designed so that they easily fit in a pocket or can go 24 hours without a charge.  Even the heroic Human League worked on the principle that they would never use "real" instruments; every electronic epic they recorded stemmed from that basic idea. I've worked on projects that started out with a set of principles but then, for all sorts of reasons, the team lost sight of them along the way.  They didn't turn out well. I've also worked on projects that never had any principles to drive them along. Hmm, let's not dwell on those for too long. In my experience, the most successful projects are driven by a fixed set of clear principles from start to finish.  What happens when those principles are absent or abandoned?  Well, the sad death of myspace and the cluttered pages of hellish design it served up act as the perfect example.

Look at the state of this!  No wonder everyone took to Facebook.
What principles lie behind the recent proposals to safeguard the rights of UK/EU citizens caught up in the UK's departure from the EU? The EU's proposal is the easiest to decypher. They started with the principle that anyone exercising their right to freedom of movement in the EU should carry on being able to exercise those rights in perpetuity. Every page of detail in the EU's proposal flows from that basic requirement. They have done this to such a degree that we should criticise their proposal only on its ability to produce an outcome that meets the basic principle of continuing rights. Describing the document as generous or humane is to miss the point because it is the underlying principle that is generous and humane rather than the technical policy details that will uphold the principle. We can argue all we like about the detail but the only meaningful test is whether it does what they want it to do.

What about those UK proposals? Do they also represent a set of principles? That being the case, what might they be?  I've been through the whole document a few times now and I'm struggling to understand the principles that underpin it. In difference to previous UK attempts at Brexit policy, the UK's proposals are clear and professionally written. There is still significant detail to thrash out but it is relatively easy to understand what the UK Government want to implement. The persistent problem is that it is much, much harder to work out why they want to implement that specific proposal. I know what they want to implement but I honestly don't know what they are trying to achieve.

Here's an example to illustrate my point. The UK have set themselves up for an argument about the cut-off date for permanent residence status, which they euphemistically call "setttled" status. Instead of choosing a specific date they want to negotiate a cut-off somewhere in-between the delivery of the Article 50 letter and the final date of departure. Why do this? What principle is served by having a vague cut-off date? How does this add certainty to the lives of citizens caught up in this mess? I honestly don't get it so maybe we should look at another example. The UK proposes that an absence of two years from the UK will lead to the immutable ending of permanent residence status. Why? Why two years instead of three or one? Who gains from this? Again, what fundamental principle is upheld by this detail? After all, this is likely to affect those who are most economically active because it will push out workers on extended secondments for international companies, academics on sabbatical, and people who can afford extended career breaks. Is that the goal? What is the goal? I don't know.

The government's confusion is further demonstrated by their rejection of the ECJ. They quickly make the point that they would accept an international court to adjudicate on disputes but fail to outline the principles that would be upheld by the court. The EU, of course, insisted on a role for the ECJ because it was the only path that followed the basic principle of continuing rights for UK/EU citizens. This is not just a technical point: rights only have meaning when they are legally enforced. Removing the legal backstop that has enforced the four freedoms since their inception diminishes the value of those freedoms.  A new court can only continue to uphold those rights if it makes exactly the same rulings as the ECJ.  Those rulings, of course, would need to be based on accumulated legislation and case history, which, in turn, reflect a set of underlying principles. The UK are just about prepared to subject themselves to a "neutral" court but they are completely unable to describe the principles that would drive the court's rulings. Another way of putting this is that they know they don't want a role for the ECJ but they're unable to express any supporting reasons. They are unable to do that because they don't know what they want to achieve. Literally everything bad about Brexit flows from that uncertainty.
David Davis would get got an F on this test.  
The cynical part of my brain thinks that the main principle behind the government's proposals is to engineer points of contention that play well with the Daily Express and the Daily Mail.   Let's imagine that David Davis concedes on the cut-off date (which he surely will). He will spin that as a grand gesture and boast about how fair-minded he is. I can already imagine the congratulatory headlines. Let's then imagine that a compromise is made on the wording of the role of the ECJ. That might involve the creation of a new court with a new name but one that will ultimately uphold all ECJ legislation and case history pertaining to citzens' rights.   The UK tabloids will then rejoice that mighty Britannia won the day, even though the EU would be the only side that had actually achieved any of its objectives. In difference to the EU, the UK can never truthfully boast of achieving its objectives because nobody knows what they are.

It's true to say that the UK has upped its game with its proposals for UK/EU citizens rights. I'm actually surprised they managed to produce such a professional document, especially given their history of appalling and embarrassing white papers.  I'm even more amazed that they published it in full for amateur bloggers to pore over and criticise. The fundamental problem, however, remains. That problem, of course, is that the UK doesn't know what it wants and therefore cannot express its desires as policy detail. If the UK can't even agree on a set of principles on something as uncontentious as maintaining the rights of its own citizens how can it expect to formulate meaningful policy on Northern Ireland or non-tariff barriers?

Over and out,


PS I was going to write a post about the rights the UK Government plans to rescind for EU citizens. That would have been a bit pointless because a) I'm a bit late and b) there are plenty of excellent articles already on the topic.

PPS The role of the ECJ is extremely important and I will be surprised if the EU budges very far on this. In fact, I'm surprised that the UK doesn't insist on a role for the ECJ because there are countless cases where the court has enforced the right of UK citizens to be treated in a non discriminatory way. It's almost as if they don't care about their own citizens living in the EU and are prepared to sacrifice their own people to make a cheap political point. Here's an excellent link about the role of the ECJ in securing the rights of UK citizens living in the EU27.

PPPS I don't know how long it takes to appoint a court, set out the legislation it will uphold, list the case history it will consider, appoint judges, and define its working processes. I'm guessing David Davis thinks this can be done in the blink of an eye.   My guess would be at the other end of the spectrum.   Really, he should move on as quickly as possible to the rest of the exit negotiations because they are more important to the UK's immediate prosperity. Arguing about the rights of citizens is just a mean-spirited exercise in wasting time.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

The State That We Are In

The moment we've all been dreading has finally arrived.  That's right, we're sending David Davis and his cohorts to begin negotiating the end of his political career and our livelihoods.  On this momentous occasion in the history of international relations I think a quick summary of the situation might be in order.  Let's face it, we're in a right old state.

As I write this pitiful précis the UK has no formal government and no hint of a plan.  To make matters worse a spate of resignations has left its negotiating team in disarray.  Despite all that our dear leaders plan to carry on as though they know what they are doing, even when they clearly don't.

The Prime Minister held a General Election solely to build democratic consensus for the hardest possible Brexit. She failed to get that consensus but decided to carry on as though nothing had changed.  The only tangible conclusion we can draw from GE2017 is that the specific flavour of Brexit proposed by Theresa May is not supported by the public.  It is not clear which flavour, if any, would find majority support but we know for definite that hard Brexit is not one of them.  The rational response would be to present a fresh set of options to parliament in order to buy in consent now that will be sorely needed later. There is nothing rational about the way Brexit has been managed so far.

Economic indicators since GE2017 have made clear that markets are much happier now they have reason to believe that hard Brexit is dead.  The problem is that Theresa May's coalition will  fall apart on any other path except for hard Brexit. The bizarre logic that arises from clinging on to power is that May will carry on the same path she was on prior to the election, despite the electorate having firmly rejected her flimsy plans. Hard Brexit might be theoretically dead because there is no democratic consensus for it but it isn't yet over in the eyes of May or anyone in her shaky cabal.  She fully intends to negotiate a position that will struggle to gain parliamentary support in the mistaken belief that she will not require that support.  The problem for May is that Brexit not only requires parliamentary support but also market and business support. A run on the pound followed by money taking flight to the safety of the Swiss Franc and the Euro would be enough to bring almost any government to a swift conclusion.

Special Brexit remix of "What's Your Flava?" by Bo Selecta hitmaker David Davis.

The UK has published nothing to formally indicate its red lines or its goals.  In fact, the UK has so far failed to participate in the formal exchange of briefing papers with the EU.  Given the disarray at the heart of UK non-government it would be surprising if they were anywhere near that level of preparedness. As it stands the UK will be limited to saying "yes" or "no"  to proposals put forward by the EU. I think everyone knows that is not the route to a successful outcome.  It's worse than  that, though, because Theresa May's pre-election red lines and her coalition deal with the DUP mean that  the UK can only say "no, nein, non".  The UK has literally nothing to negotiate because it failed to build consensus around an achievable target underpinned by a set of unambiguous principles. If you keep your cards too close to your chest sometimes you forget what's written on them.

The DUP will withdraw their coalition support for anything but the hardest Brexit. It will be impossible for David Davis to agree to almost any proposal put forward by the EU because it will violate the conditions of the DUP coalition and lead to the end of the government.  The conundrum is that the "negotiated" settlement that keeps the DUP on board will not ultimately find support from pro-EU Tory backbenchers.  Tory dissent would be manageable if they had a large majority but right now they don't have any majority.  Worse still, the Prime Minister looks weak and has lost the confidence of her own flock.  There appears to be no achievable outcome that isn't utter disarray.

The UK is woefully unprepared for what happens after it leaves the EU.  For example, the legislative void that awaits the UK is to be averted by the Great Repeal Bill, an enormous legal undertaking that will attempt to rewrite all UK legislation without reference to any European court, treaty or technical agency.  Unless this can completely clear the House of Lords and the House of Commons in time the UK will cease to function as a developed nation. To be honest, there is no chance at all that this will be ready in time and it doesn't look as though there has been much effort to achieve the deadline.  The UK's trading relationship is also in jeopardy.  On 31st March, 2019 all trading relationships enjoyed by the UK will cease. There will be a sudden introduction of tariffs and quotas on almost everything leaving and entering the country. Where are the customs officers, the electronic tagging systems, the infrastructure required to raise taxes or separate goods at their final destination from goods in transit? Actually, forget all that for a moment because the shock to the economy will be so painful it is hard to see how Sterling can remain stable. Foreign exchange dealers have already sent a shot across the bows but what will they do when confidence in the UK's ability to sell any good or service to anyone anywhere is completely undermined?

The UK's looming legislative void is further complicated by the need to sign more than 750 legal agreements with 168 nations just to tread water.   The reason behind this is that every single agreement that the EU had with a third party will be void for the UK after it leaves the EU.  One example might be the continuing presence of  UK nationals in sunny Switzerland.  What rights can I expect in a new treaty agreement?  Will there even be a new treaty agreement on continuing rights of UK/Swiss citizens?  This ought to be a top priority for Boris Johnson but he hasn't even once acknowledged the problem at hand.  To be honest, I'm not overly confident that the Foreign Office will get to grips with this in time.  Besides, we all know that Boris Johnson is the top priority for Boris Johnson.

The UK has already capitulated on the order of the talks.  The EU has maintained that trade talks can only start after the divorce talks have concluded.  The UK, of course, signed up to all of that when it agreed to the adoption of Article 50 and the legally binding processes that would be followed by any nation exiting the EU.  Nevertheless, as recently as a few weeks ago David Davis was still saying that the order of the talks would be the "row of the summer". Instead of picking winnable battles he opted to relentlessly batter away at a hopeless cause.  This makes him look stupid and weak but worse than that it makes him look as though he is entering the talks in bad faith.  Instead of building trust and consensus he has opted to send slogans straight to the front page of the Daily Express. And now he has lost.  What's next?  It might be the role of the ECJ, it might be the definition of permanent residence, it might be conditions of a transition phase.  It doesn't matter because every time he says "no" he takes the UK closer to the brink, while every time he says "yes" he takes the UK closer to the brink. Chess players call this Zugzwang.

The EU has published its negotiating guidelines in pain-staking detail.  It put together a working group, iterated on proposals, and sought democratic consensus from the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.  The EU has also appointed an experienced negotiating team and granted them the legal powers set out in the guidelines.  Are we hearing about disarray, disunity and resignations from the EU side?  No.  Are they clear about what they are trying to achieve?  Yes. Given the agreed legal limits of the negotiating team is there likely to be EU consensus on the outcome?  Yes.  It all looks so easy when political dogma is removed from the equation.

The EU will regularly publish the progress of the negotiations.  If David Davis was hoping that a cloak of secrecy would cover the hopelessness of his situation then he got it wrong.  We will be treated to a real-time glimpse of what it looks like to knowingly take one of the richest countries in the world to the brink of economic and democratic collapse.

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


PS I honestly can't see any positive outcome for Brexit.  Literally every path ends up in parliamentary deadlock but that won't do because the clock is ticking down to legislative chaos.  It doesn't matter if May is deposed or the coalition falls apart or Corbyn attempts his own coalition or an election is called and Corbyn wins it or an election is called and a different coalition takes power.  None of that matters because the fundamental problem remains the same:  it is impossible to deliver an outcome without first describing it and building consensus around that description.  Unless somebody can do that Brexit will either be cancelled just before the brink or it will go to the brink.   I don't mean to be too apocalyptic but this is a genuine challenge for the UK democratic process.

PPS David Davis has confirmed he will turn up in Brussels for talks but I'm not sure there is much point to that because he has no authority to negotiate anything and everyone knows that.  I publish my articles on a timer so anything might have happened in-between pressing the button to publish and actual publication.

PPPS Nothing serious is going to happen until the German election is over and the UK have something resembling a stable government. That's why tomorrow's talks are mainly lunch, a mysterious meeting called "working groups" and a press conference.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Everybody In The Labour Party (I Hate)

 I'm not usually stuck for words but I find myself completely lacking the vocabulary to express my anger at the current state of Brexit. I'm obviously angry at the Tory Party for creating this entire mess but I've made space for a special kind of contempt for Corbyn and McDonnell. In fact, my contempt for the inner circle dictating Labour policy is even greater than it is for Jack Straw. The election presented the Labour Party with the perfect opportunity to act as a genuine opposition to clearly harmful Tory policy but what have they done? What they have done? Well, they're propping up Theresa May and enabling her and her spineless puppets to carry on with the most extreme form of Brexit.

During the 2015 General Election both Labour and Conservative campaigned on a pro-EU policy. The EU referendum result pushed both parties to immediately reverse a policy that had been maintained without question over a period of several decades. They did this without properly asking their membership or their MPs. The Labour Party didn't even bother debating Brexit at their recent party conference. What kind of democracy is this? This is the unstructured logic of taking back control. It's bizarre to think that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition both campaigned to remain in the EU but are now fervent supporters of leaving the EU. In these circumstances it was right to have an election on the topic. In fact, it was the only democratic response. Obviously, they should have asked the electorate for their support before starting the exit process but that's the crazy world of Brexit for you. It might have been better, too, if the election had properly discussed the options and costs of various different approaches to leaving the EU. Oh well, another one will be along soon enough.

The electorate have rejected the form of Brexit proposed by Theresa May. She was quite clear that she sought a mandate for her policy and took the view that an increased majority would signify the will of the electorate. She didn't get that mandate but she's pressing on regardless. How can she do this? How is this possible in a mature democracy? After all, there are plenty of pro-EU MPs on the Tory benches who could easily derail any government that attempts to walk away from the Brexit talks. In fact, the Scottish Tories alone should be enough to bring hard Brexit to an end. In normal times this would result in government defeat and quickly lead to a vote of no confidence. Are we in normal times? No, because there is nothing normal in the illiberally stupid views of Corbyn and McDonnell. Instead of delivering a bloody nose to the government they are lending their support to the hardest possible Brexit. On their current path they will go down in history as the party that took the United Kingdom to a legislative and economic abyss.

The Labour manifesto on Brexit was vague and confused and, depending on your view, promised nothing to nobody or everything to everybody. It talked elliptically about "access" to the Single Market without ever specifying how that might be achieved. What about immigration policy? Nothing. Customs Union? Well, it is to be a "jobs-first" Brexit. Does that help? How about a policy on the continuing role of the ECJ and European technical agencies? Zilch. Farmers?  Dunno but something about "benefits" and "putting the economy first". Apart from a few pages of cheap sloganeering, it presented a world in which Brexit was barely important and was just another issue like council housing or police funding. None of this should be too surprising from the party that didn't even bother to debate Brexit at party conference. Did I mention that already?  From their relaxed attitude it would be easy to believe that Labour have a more positive view of Brexit and that they have left more options on the table. Anyone thinking that would be completely wrong.

It's easy to conclude that Corbyn is no fan of the EU. In fact, we only need to compare his limp efforts during the EU referendum with his animated campaigning during the General Election to understand that he doesn't much care for EEA membership. Viewing the entire world through a prism of outmoded class politics means he can only ever see the Single Market as a political fix for greedy capitalists.  He's also a politician so he's probably arrogant enough to think that he can single-handedly make it all better if only the UK would give him a chance to implement his policies on social and economic reform. Maybe he will make it all better (no, he won't) but eventually he'll be replaced by a Blairite or a Tory who will proceed to undo everything he just achieved. In this regard EU membership is the single mechanism that protects the UK from its own bungled attempts at legacy democracy. It provides a set of inviolable standards that are granted in perpetuity and cannot be reversed by the sudden swings from left to right and back again that are delivered by the FPTP system. Fall out of the EU and that is all gone.  In reality, the EU is the closest the UK will ever get to a constitution that sets out the rights and obligations of citizens and state.

We don't need to look for behavioural signals from Corbyn in order to conclude that Labour will support the Tories in facilitating hard Brexit. They didn't write down their policy anywhere but it certainly all dripped out over time. First, Kier Starmer made it perfectly clear that the ECJ would have no role in resolving disputes arising from citizens' rights. I can only guess that he means the UK will completely leave the jurisdiction of the ECJ. That position is perfectly aligned with Tory policy. If the UK leaves the jurisdiction of the ECJ then it also leaves  every EU initiative from Horizon 2020 to the Open Skies Agreement. Yup, that is also perfectly aligned with Tory policy. How about the Single Market? Well, McDonnell said he would never accept the freedom of movement of people. He said that about 9 months ago and he's still saying it now. That's right, a Marxist in the Labour Party is prepared to give more rights to capital than to working people.  Is that also perfectly aligned with Tory policy? Do I need to answer that one?

The Labour Party are useful idiots, which makes them dangerous idiots. If the Tories want to take us back to the 1950s, then Corbyn wants to take us back to the years of socialist reform of the years immediately after the end of the war. I have no desire whatsoever to travel backwards in time. That's bad for me because the gloomy choice of historical decade is all that separates Labour from Tory.

Over and out,


PS Class struggle is a fascinating topic. During Tommy Sheridan's libel trial I had lighthearted discussions with friends in which I would defend Tommy and his honour. I argued that Tommy had been stitched up by enemies he had made in the socialist movement. After all, socialists are always making enemies and falling out with each other. When he won his libel case he stood on the steps outside the court and said something like, "The working class members of the jury found me innocent of all charges". At that point I instantly knew he was guilty because instead of accepting the result as a triumph of the legal system he could only express it through it through the prism of class politics. Objective truth meant nothing in the face of class struggle. If we've learned anything from GE2017 it's surely that class politics are as irrelevant as a dial-up modem.

PPS Why are young people voting for Corbyn?  The one thing he shares with Theresa May is that his worldview is gloomy, depressing and outmoded.  I would genuinely welcome a leadership challenge. 

Friday, 9 June 2017

New Brexit, Same As The Old Brexit

I wanted to do a really short post about how the election result has fundamentally changed the course of the Brexit bus and how life as we know it will never be the same due to the surprise outcome.  Here's a quick summary of my thoughts so far:
Sorry you had to witness that outburst. I do feel better now but also a little ashamed that I let it all get to me.

Before I head off in search of a paracetamol and an emergency ukulele let's just peruse the facts of the situation for a quick second:
  1. Theresa May is still in place. 
  2. There are no real moves to depose her (yet).
  3. Fox, Hammond, Davis, Johnson are all still in place.
  4. Tory policy is still for the hardest possible Brexit.
  5. Labour and Conservative have policies on Brexit that lead to exactly the same conclusion.
  6. Nobody has properly considered the legislative void that follows the hardest possible Brexit. 
  7. The Brexit talks are about to start in 10 days time and the UK is just as unprepared as it was 12 months ago.
  8. Voters do not understand the decisions that are being made on their behalf because the UK's political leaders don't understand them themselves and refuse to engage with the problem.
  9. Alternatives to the UK's current path have willfully been ignored as though they don't exist.
  10. The election was the perfect time to do that but I suppose we'll have to have another now. 
Over and out,

PS Here is a pop song with semi-appropriate song title to help us all calm down and enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Blog Post For A Future Generation

How exactly will Brexit be resolved?  How will all this mess be tidied up so that we can all get on with our lives? What can you expect from the next few years if you have a one-way ticket on the Brexit bus?  How will the next generation react when the harsh realities of Brexit become clear? Will we just end up exactly where we started?  Well, if you came looking for definitive answers to any of those questions you came to the wrong place.  Despite my lack of predictive power I'm going to have a right old go at answering some of these imponderables in a wildly speculative post. Enjoy.

Full disclosure: normally I plan out my posts paragraph by paragraph, exactly the way I was taught to at school. You might not believe it but it is honestly the case that some forethought is involved in these blog entries. This time, however, I didn't actually know what I was going to write in advance of writing it because I really don't know how Brexit will be resolved. Yes, I know, how very apt!  What follows are my thoughts as they happened in real-time.  Let's find out together if planning is a good or bad thing in a kind of internet literary experiment.  Right, that's enough of this meta-blogging.  Let's get cracking.

Catastrophic Brexit

A catastrophic Brexit is the outcome that has been threatened by David Davis on multiple occasions. In this scenario, the UK simply walks out of the exit talks with the EU.   As a consequence, all treaties with the EU and all associated agreements with third parties will lapse on 31 March, 2019 without replacement or extension. Every single one will be void. The UK will cease to operate with any of the international legal relationships that define the developed world. Planes will be unable to take-off or land; the Channel Tunnel will be forced to close; money transfers will cease; the legal frameworks that protect business and consumers will no longer function; nuclear fuel and hazardous chemicals will be stuck in transit; the rights of citizens caught up in this mess will be open to abuse. Normal life as we know it today will no longer exist.

Optimal Brexit per Gove is found at 1.76 Farage. Any more and it's a catastrophe.
This is not a credible option because the chaos it would create would result in the rapid fall of the government. Honestly, I cannot envisage any government surviving this mayhem. Even if David Davis did adopt this strategy there would be enormous pressure on him to alter course before his intentions become reality. That pressure would come from the money markets, it would come from business leaders, lawyers, supermarkets, his own colleagues, farmers, Heathrow Airport, and me. That's right, Terry Entoure would blog about it in the third person and walls will tumble. Ok, a currency crisis would obviously be more effective but in my own mind it would be all down to me and my powerful words. Read them and be afraid, Mr Davis!

Catastrophic Brexit is unlikely to happen because anyone who follows that path will be ousted by the simple rules of power and politics. Does anyone remember the UK's dalliance with the Exchange Rate Mechanism? The money markets started gambling against official Tory policy, forcing the UK to prop up Sterling at great national expense. That policy decision was abandoned after just a few days due to the spiralling costs. Brexit poses far greater challenges than simply propping up a currency so David Davis or his replacement will be forced to compromise and negotiate.  Brexiteers can complain about the democratic will of the people all they want but it won't diminish the power handed to foreign exchange dealers through market deregulation in the 1980s.

Will any of this deter David Davis from carrying out his threat?  I think he is actually stupid enough to think he can walk away from the talks but his successor probably won't repeat the error.

Hard Brexit

A hard Brexit is the offical route of the Brexit bus. It is barely less catastrophic than walking away in a huff because it guarantees exactly the same outcome: the UK would cease to have the international legal relationsips that define the developed world. The problem here is that the red lines of the UK and the EU are irreconcilable. The EU demands that citizens' rights are protected by the ECJ, while the UK rejects a continuing role for the ECJ in any form. In fact, rejecting any role for the ECJ means that the UK cannot participate in any EU initiative from the European Arrest Warrant to the Open Skies Agreement. The EU also demands that any transitional phase be subject to the legal obligations of EU membership, while the UK demands an immediate end to the four freedoms. In addition to these red lines, the UK has some extremely vague policy that has yet to be expressed in the form of sentences and words and punctuation. It will take linguistics academics and behavioural experts years of research to work out exactly what the UK intends across many areas of policy. The Customs Union springs to mind as a good example. Will the UK be in or out or in an exotic macroscopic quantum state? Agreement to vague demands is just impossible.
My slides on superposition Brexit states.  Yup, completely meaningless.
The hard-core Brexiteers want the talks to be conducted in secret. It doesn't take a genius to work out that they don't want a ticker-tape of bad news to undermine their objective of a hard Brexit. That is not going to happen because the EU has published its guidelines on transparency. Instead of secrecy, we are going to be treated to a steady stream of official reports on the progress of the Brexit talks from the EU. The currency markets will respond immediately to any report that the UK will soon leave the EU by stepping into a legislative void. By threatening economic chaos the markets will put pressure on the government to solve the problem the way they want it solved.

It's my view that governments cannot survive the economic chaos of a hard Brexit. It's also my view that governments cannot survive even the imminent threat of a hard Brexit due to the immediate reaction of powerful currency markets. Whoever is in charge will either need to change their approach before it's too late or they will be kicked out by their own backbenchers. It's worse than that because altering course might also lead to the fall of the government. After all, Tory and Labour campaigned on a clear policy of the most extreme form of divorce and there will be residual feeling that it ought to be delivered. The next government, of course, will merely inherit all the problems of the previous. That cycle can only ever be broken by the formation of a government that agrees to compromise on almost all of the UK's red lines in order to achieve an orderly Brexit. Until that compromise is reached all that will happen is a cycle of governments armed with the same dogma that led to the fall of the last.

The key point in all of this is that the EU has planned for Brexit; it has published legally binding policy documents; its message is consistent with its own treaties and with the legal templates it has forged with third nations; it is united; everything the EU said last July on Brexit remains valid today. The UK, on the other hand, has come up with nothing more than uncosted policy statements presented in the form of snappy slogans. It has flipped and flopped and stumbled towards an indecipherable position that makes no rational sense. The inherent weakness of the UK's position means it will be first to compromise. It didn't need to be this way but here we are.

Why won't the EU be forced to compromise to the same degree as the UK? Well, it will be forced to compromise from its initial negotiating position but the limits of those compromises are set out in a series of legally binding policy documents. Michele Barnier might even take the view that the EU should compromise further but there's not much he can do about that because anything he does beyond his legal powers will be rejected by the EU. The EU has taken some months to get to its current position: policy proposals have been published, debated by the European Parliament and ratified by the European Council of Ministers. It is doing exactly what it did during the Croatian accession talks, the CETA trade deal, the South Korea trade deal, and TTIP. This is how it conducts its business. A common criticism of the EU is that its democratic processes are time-consuming but that works to its advantage in the Brexit talks: once it has chosen a direction there is no way to change it in time. The UK, on the other hand, has no formal policy documents outlining its negotiating strategy. All it has is a couple of White Papers of dubious quality and some campaign slogans. It is also the only side that is able to change direction rapidly due to its insistence that strategy is dictated by an unaccountable team. The principle of least resistance dictates that the UK will cave first.

Orderly Brexit

Sooner or later there will be an accumulation of pressures from money markets, from businesses moving their headquarters to EU soil, and from the City of London losing its EU passporting rights. Perhaps the UK will be heading towards a self-inflicted recession. Maybe it will already be in recession. Maybe the problem will be a recruitment crisis in the NHS or a brutal downgrading of the UK's debt. It doesn't really matter what crisis acts as the tipping point: a time will come when the UK will be forced to compromise on its red lines. It will probably require a change of Prime Minister, maybe even a change of government, maybe even an emergency election laying out the available choices. All of this will take time that is already in short supply so the UK will be forced to take up the limited offer of a transitional phase on the EU's terms. The UK will take up that offer and effectively remain in the EU until at least 2022.

I didn't mean that sort of orderly but actually it sort of works.
This vision of orderly Brexit is not good for the UK because it makes it look weak and disorganised. That is not a good look for a nation that desperately needs to sign a trade deal with the EU, sort out its WTO schedules, agree renewed trading relationships with all EU partners, and sign 750 legal contracts with 160 nations on everything from airline safety to passport recognition. It needs to do all of that by 2022 just to tread water.

The "orderly" Brexit described here will do significant harm to the UK's economy. It will limit the ability of the UK Government to borrow money on favourable terms; it will lead to uncertainty in business; it will reduce the tax take from financial institutions that successive governments have relied on; it will place restrictions on trade not seen since the 1950s. The UK's international reputation as a place to visit, work and conduct business will be damaged for the next generation.   More than any of this it will be a severe test for the limits of democracy in the UK. None of this is good.  This is not an orderly Brexit but it is the best we can hope for right now.

The Future

What happens after Brexit? Historians might note that the UK intially rejected the vision for the EU laid out in the Treaties of Rome in 1957. Instead of joining a trading block with strong intentions of closer integration and cooperation, the UK joined EFTA. The UK's sluggish economy resulted in an attempt to abandon EFTA after just 1 year of membership. Attracted by the stellar growth of the EEC, Harold Mcmillan applied to join up back in 1961. That was rejected by Charles de Gaulle, as was Harold Wilson's attempt to join in 1967. By the 1970s the UK was the "sick man of Europe". It's eventual accession to the EU and the opportunities it presented turned the UK into one of Europe's most successful economies. Will history repeat itself?

There is no question that EU membership has been an economic success for the UK. In a few years time, after the current wave of xenophobia was blown over, the EU will once again appear a more attractive option than going it alone. It will take a new generation of voters and political leaders but that is the most likely outcome. Maybe it will start with small items like closer cooperation on the protection of fishing grounds or maybe the UK will want a slice of the Single Digital Market. It doesn't really matter how it starts but one day we'll look back and realise that Brexit was all for nothing. How much damage could have been avoided if only that realisation had dawned as early as 2017? That's a moot point because right now Brexit is a process that we all have to go through. Almost nothing can stop Brexit because it has just enough momentum that it can't be stopped in time.

If you're Scottish, of course, the wilderness years can be avoided by voting for independence. We must never forget that.

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


PS I think the planned posts are better but I've always been one to prove a point even if it means a kick in the shins.  Can I be Minister for Brexit?

PPS Feel free to disagree with my analysis.  Maybe you think that the next government will stand firm or that the chaos will be containable. Please leave your views in the comments section.  If we still disagree then I'll see you in the car park outside Tesco at 8pm.  Oh dear, this always happens when planning goes out the window.

PPPS Switzerland took a hard look at their own equivalent of catastrophic Brexit and backed down long before it became a likelihood.  There's that famous European pragmatism.  Everyone used to think the UK were the kings of pragmatism.  What happened?

Friday, 2 June 2017

Addicted to Brexit: The 12 Steps To Confusion

I have to say that I really enjoyed my recent trip down memory lane.  It was fun to revisit some of the stories gustily delivered by the principle actors at Theatre Brexit.  In fact, it was so much fun that I thought it would be a right old laugh if I dredged up the 12 point plan that still forms the core of the Tory manifesto on Brexit.  Just in case you've forgotten about the origins of the 12 point plan, I should clarify that it was the summary of the UK Government's White Paper on Brexit.  Most of the MSM didn't bother with the White Paper itself and merely reported the points outlined in the summary.  In fact, pretty much ever major newspaper reported their take on the summary but not too many really dug into the hideous stench that lay at the core. Being an arch contrarian I naturally opted for a lengthy post about the woeful quality of UK Government communications in the 21st century.  The problem we all face is that the 12 point plan remains the only plan that the public at large have ever read or heard about.  Meanwhile, neither the UK Government nor the Tory Party have revealed any further detail about their plans for leaving the EU.  Astonishingly, just 3 weeks out from the start of the exit talks, it remains the case that the 12 point plan is all that we collectively have.  Let's give those 12 points a really good kicking.  Enjoy.
1. Providing certainty and clarity – We will provide certainty wherever we can as we approach the negotiations.

Hmm, certainty and clarity.   Certainty and clarity are two different things so let's break it down to make it easier for our overheated brains.  What remains certain about Brexit? Well, right now we don't even know for certain who will be the Prime Minister.  Will it be Theresa May? Will it be Jeremy Corbyn?  If Theresa May wins but performs poorly will she be deposed by her own backbenchers?  Will she use a fresh mandate as an opportunity for a Cabinet reshuffle?  Will David Davis still be in charge of Brexit?   Even this basic level of certainty has been thrown into doubt by Theresa May's bizarre decision to have an election, even though she said at the time of publishing the 12 point plan that she would not even consider an election before the end of the statutory 5 year term.  Bonkers.  

Clarity is a bit different from certainty because I could be certain about something but keep it a secret from everyone. You say furtive, I say I don't want to reveal my negotiating hand, let's call the whole thing off etc etc. What secrets are being kept from the UK electorate?  I could go on forever on this theme but I'm just going to pick immigration policy as a good example.  What plans are in place to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands?  Will the UK operate a special immigration system for EU nationals or will all immigration be rolled into a single process?  Will there be a quota?  Will successful migrants be able to apply for permanent residence?  If so, what conditions might apply?  How will the UK agriculture industry recruit low-skilled seasonal labour?  Will there be a special work visa?  How much will the visa cost?  How long will it last?  What conditions must be met to qualify as a high-skilled worker?  Will that be different for EU nationals?  Will EU nationals have to demonstrate English language skills to be allowed to work in the UK?  Will their qualifications still be recognised?  Will the UK propose a system of  mutual recognition of professional qualifications with the EU? If they don't do that how will the NHS carry on recruiting doctors and nurses and how will universities employ specialist researchers and academics?  This is complicated stuff but no answer exists to of these questions.  The Tory Party have an ambitious goal of reducing immigration but no plan whatsoever to make it happen.  They haven't even worked out how much any of this will cost. Isn't that the point of political manifestos?  Clarity would mean I don't have to write long paragraphs with a boring stream of questions. Clarity would mean there is a documentation I can download from the internet and peruse at my leisure.  Brexit is clear as mud.

2.Taking control of our own laws – We will take control of our own statute book and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the UK

I've posted quite a few times about the UK's lack of preparedness for what happens after leaving the EU. I've seen nothing to change my view that a legislative void beckons unless the EU agrees to a transitional phase of continued EU membership.   You're probably completely bored reading about this but please don't worry because I have some brand new crises to illustrate the legal nightmare that awaits.  

Withdrawing from the ECJ means that the UK also must leave the Open Skies Initiative.  As a consequence, UK airlines will no longer be able to fly between two points in the EU. If you've read about UK businesses moving their operations to the EU then it will be due to the UK leaving some initiative or other operated by the EU.  This is serious stuff but if that wasn't calamitous enough then withdrawing from the ECJ also means that the UK is no longer governed by the European Aviation Agency.  UK airlines will only be able to land in the EU if the UK reaches an agreement on mutual technical oversight of aviation safety. How might that be achieved without accepting the jurisdiction of EU courts?  I don't know the answer to that so we just have to hope that David Davis has a secret plan.  Can it get any worse?  Yes, of course it can.  The ability of UK airlines to fly just about anywhere is a consequence of mutual agreements between the EU and third parties.  Every single one of these contracts will need to be renegotiated, checked and ratified by national governments around the world.  The FT calculated 750 agreements that need attention before the UK leaves the EU.  This is a difficult task made even more difficult by the lack of a plan.
3. Strengthening the Union – We will secure a deal that works for the entire UK- for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and all parts of England. We remain fully committed to the Belfast Agreement and its successors.

That didn't happen, did it?  Every reader of this blog will be more knowledgeable on this topic than I am so I'm just going to shut up and move to point 4).

4.Protecting our strong and historic ties with Ireland and maintaining the Common Travel Area – We will work to deliver a practical solution that allows for the maintenance of the Common Travel Area, whilst protecting the integrity of our immigration system and which protects our strong ties with Ireland.

Reciprocal rights of UK and Irish citizens predated EU membership so this should be a fairly simple process of dusting off all the old legislation and bringing it back to life.  Will it be that simple?  I see that you're way ahead of me here because it will be anything but simple.  Irish nationals are now EU citizens and their residence in the UK will be governed by the agreement reached between the EU and the UK.   The EU has made clear that the Brexit agreement will be under the jurisdiction of the ECJNo matter which way Theresa May turns there's the EU staring right back and waving a massive legal document in her face.  The only way that this could ever become simple would be if Theresa May rejects all proposals for mutual rights of UK/EU citizens and then attempts a bi-lateral agreement with Ireland.  Good luck with that.

5. Controlling immigration – We will have control over the number of EU nationals coming to the UK

 It's true that the UK will have control over the number of EU nationals coming to the UK but how will that power be exercised?  I have no idea.  Theresa May has no idea.  David Davis has no idea.  If they had a plan they would have estimated its cost and put it in their manifesto.  Just as a side note, the UK has had complete control over the number of non-EU nationals coming to the UK since the invention of the modern passport. Did that work? No. 

6.Securing rights for EU nationals in the UK, and UK nationals in the EU – We want to secure the status of EU citizens who are already living in the UK, and that of UK nationals in other Member States, as early as we can.

This is the sum total of Tory policy on protecting the rights of UK/EU nationals.  The EU, meanwhile, has published their policy to a level of detail that exceeds the attention level of amateur bloggers.  I was hoping that the Tory manifesto would have addressed the EU's policy statements because it will be the single most important decision made in the Brexit process.   We have no idea what rights Theresa May intends to grant to EU citizens and even less idea how those rights will be upheld in perpetuity.  To be honest, she probably still believes rights can be granted unilaterally.  The Labour Party also think that so maybe that's the kind of chat they have in Westminster bars late at night. The mind boggles.

7. Protecting workers’ rights – We will protect and enhance existing workers’ rights.

I'd be inclined to believe this if Tory politicians didn't regularly pop up in the news with their ultra-libertarian fantasy of turning the UK into a low regulation tax haven

8. Ensuring free trade with European markets – We will forge a new strategic partnership with the EU, including a wide reaching, bold and ambitious free trade agreement, and will seek a mutually beneficial new customs agreement with the EU.

I'd be inclined to believe this nugget if David Davis didn't keep threatening to walk out of the upcoming divorce talks.  That was actually a lie because I know for a fact that the upcoming divorce talks will never mention trade in any form at all.  I'm not a genius or anything like that and I'm certainly  not privy to a secret source of insider knowledge.  All I did was open a web browser and read some text in clear English.  I did it last autumn, then I did it again at some point during the icy winter and I did it again as I wheezed through a bout of hayfever in early spring.  Each time the  message was the same:  first divorce, then trade.   If that wasn't clear enough the EU also published a series of policy documents on the Brexit negotiations.  These documents describe the legal powers granted to Michele Barnier and his team of negotiators.  They have not been granted any legal powers to discuss a trading relationship with the UK.  Do not expect any discussion about trade beyond a statement of intent to discuss it at a later date.  Those trade discussions will then be carried out by a different team with different powers and ratified by different democratic mechanisms.  Oh dear.

9. Securing new trade agreements with other countries – We will forge ambitious free trade relationships across the world.

Great, but when will that happen?  It definitely won't happen any time soon.  Nobody will sign a FTA with the UK until a) the UK has legally exited the EU b) the UK has agreed a FTA with the EU c) the UK has sorted out its WTO tariff schedules and resolved all subsequent disputes.  How long will that take?  5 years?  10 years?  I don't know and neither does David Davis.

10. Ensuring the UK remains the best place for science and innovation – We will remain at the vanguard of science and innovation and will seek continued close collaboration with our European partners.

I don't see that happening.  Does anyone think Brexit is a positive for science and innovation in the UK?  Will leaving Horizon 2020 and ERASMUS help?  Will making it harder and more expensive for European innovators to move to the UK be of any assistance?  Will the relocation of the European Medicines Agency to EU soil be a boost? Will UK technology companies benefit by not being able to participate in the EU Digital Single Market?  What will happen to the UK nuclear industry when it removes itself from EURATOM?  Will it be a positive when there is no agreement in place to move nuclear fuel or hazardous chemicals? Probably not.

 11. Cooperating in the fight against crime and terrorism – We will continue to work with the EU to preserve European security, to fight terrorism, and to uphold justice across Europe.

Hello, hello, what do we have here?  What?  The European Arrest Warrant comes under the jurisdiction of the ECJ?  Hmm, it's actually more complicated than that for the UK.  The European Arrest Warrant is indeed enforced by the ECJ and has been ever since the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.  The UK, however, negotiated over 100 opt-outs on crime and policing policy.  This was all agreed so that the treaty wouldn't end up being put to a UK referendum (the 2011 European Union Act meant that all treaty changes would be put to a UK referendum, effectively stifling all EU reform).  I mention this because one of the opt-outs was the EAW. Theresa May, then Home Secretary, initially argued that the EAW didn't provide sufficient safeguards for the arrest of UK citizens.  She then changed her mind and decided to opt back in to 35 of the opt-outs.  One of those, and easily the most controversial, was the EAW.  Parliament duly voted for the proposed opt-ins and the EAW took force in the UK back in 2014.

What will happen when the UK leaves the EU?   As a member of the EU, the UK had the option to opt out of the EAW but actively decided that being a participant in the EAW was to our advantage.  As Home Secreatary, it was Theresa May who argued for membership of the EAW. Is she going to argue now that the UK is better off removed from the EAW?  I don't think she is going to do that but to remain a participant the UK will need to accept the jurisdiction of the ECJ.  This time, however, she will have no power or influence over EU policy makers.  Is it still as attractive?  No.  Hmm, I think that means the UK will need to leave the EAW.  But we want to stay in.  Don't we?  Do we want to go back to the days of Costa del Crime?  I don't know any more.  I'm just glad we're nearly at the end because my head is starting to hurt. That's what Brexit does to you.

12. Delivering a smooth, orderly exit from the EU – We will seek a phased process of implementation, in which both the UK and the EU institutions and the remaining EU Member States prepare for the new arrangements that will exist between us.

Make no mistake, the UK needs a phased implementation because it hasn't done any of the work required to stand on its own two feet on 1 April, 2019.  The EU, of course, has written down all the conditions of a phased transition.  Guess what?  They involve following the legal template of EU membership:  the four freedoms, the ECJ, budget contributions etc.  I ask everyone to read over point 2) one more time and decide if there is a logical problem.

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


PS I opted for another post-modern essay title this time with cunning use of a colon.  Well, I liked it.

PPS I've blogged about this for 10 months yet fresh conundrums present themselves every single time I think about Brexit.  The mess appears to get bigger with every passing moment I spend on this nonsense.  Maybe I should stop thinking about it.  Maybe I'm the problem.  Maybe the pile of problems is caused by people like me. Stop! This is all getting too post-modern for my taste.

PPPS Leaving EURATOM makes no sense at all because EURATOM is completely independent of the ECJ.  Why leave?  I don't know.  The UK could easily remain a member without crossing any of Theresa May's red lines.   Is it because she was poorly advised?  Or because she misunderstood or rejected the advice?  I don't know.