Monday, 15 January 2018

The Worst Thing About Brexit

What is the worst thing about Brexit? Is it the xenophobia? The nasty strain of English nationalism? The return of a colonial mentality? Or is it the growing sense of mob rule? Could it be the bizarre popularity of 19th century mercantilism? If you're Scottish might it be the threat that Brexit presents to the devolution settlement? Or maybe you feel that your voice has been completely silenced? Perhaps you're concerned about a return to a society divided by class and ruled by self-styled country gents attired in mustard cords and union jack underwear? These things are all profoundly depressing but the worst thing by far is the fire-sale devaluation of expert advice.

The Cabinet reshuffle Theresa May really wanted to implement.Got any union jack pants, squire?
If you've ever read anything posted on this blog then you'll probably not be too surprised to learn that I trained as a scientist. I am definitely someone who values facts, documentary evidence and attention to detail. In fact, I might even qualify as one of those unhelpful experts who were inexpertly dismissed by Michael Gove during the EU referendum. Should he or his department ever require advice on hardware-accelerated interactive software or any of its applications I shall point him straight to my local ukulele club. I might as well point Michael Gove to some Swiss strummers because the real prize won by the Brexit campaigners was tacit public permission to form a government driven entirely by individual gut feeling.

Gove's remarks were far more than a throwaway riposte. The reality today is that the UK government is a collection of individuals acting on their own instincts without regard for facts, evidence or attention to detail. David Davis admitted that the decision to leave the Customs Union was reached entirely on "gut feeling". He then made a series of misleading remarks over the course of 15 months to give the impression that his department had completed a sectoral analysis of the impact of Brexit. He promised that would be done before starting the Article 50 process. In reality, his department has done no work at all beyond the collation of data already in the public domain and a sparse collection of references to EU Regulations and Directives that would be well-known to anyone working in their respective field. The sectoral analyses were bulked out with filler explaining that fishing businesses were mainly located near the coast and that the space industry was collaborative. Can we conclude that evidence is driving UK government policy? Not really, no. We might as well inspect the tea leaves.

Can it get any worse? Well, there is significant evidence that Theresa May confused the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the EU. During May's time as Home Secretary she repeatedly made disparaging remarks about the ECHR as she struggled and repeatedly failed to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan. The problem was that deporting Abu Qatada to Jordan would lead to his immediate arrest for historic offences and any subsequent trial would use evidence against him gained under torture. Deporting Abu Qatada to such a fate would be in breach of Article 6 and Article 3 of the ECHR, which respectively declare the right to a fair trial and prohibit degrading treatment. Theresa May's intentions were in clear breach of the ECHR. Her response was to hire more and more lawyers, at great expense, to try to find a way to legally subvert basic human rights. She went to court multiple times but each time she failed and became ever more frustrated. Oh how she must have hated all those annoying European judges and their concerns for human dignity. Eventually, she gave up and did what expert advice had told her to do on day one of this tragic affair - she sought legal assurances from Jordan that evidence gained under torture would not be used at Abu Qatada's trial. During this sorry process there was endless chatter from government insiders that the UK would suspend its membership of the Council of Europe, that the UK would leave the Council of Europe, that the UK should be free to ignore judgements of the European Court of Human Rights. The zinger is that until Thersa May claimed the CJEU as a red line she had barely mentioned it. Oh, Abu Qatada was found not guilty, if you're interested.

Can it get any worse? Well, when David Davis took office he thought his first job would be a tour of Europe to conduct trade negotiations with national leaders around the EU. He believed he would complete this by Brexit departure day. To be fair, he doesn't say that any more so I suppose he did listen to at least one expert on at least one occasion. Having said that, he could concoct a post-Brexit immigration policy based on a series of bi-lateral agreements with EU countries. He can do this because immigration policy and the rights of 3rd nation citizens to reside and work in EU nations is not an EU competence. I'm willing to bet that Davis doesn't know this because attention to detail is not his strong point. However, he should know this because UK immigration policy was at the heart of the decision to leave the EU. Moreover, he should know this because UK businesses are crying out for highly skilled workers from Germany and Denmark and Sweden. He should know all of this but he probably hasn't bothered to find out because the UK government has not yet formulated a post-Brexit immigration policy. That's right, 18 months after a vote to amend UK immigration policy there are zero agreed amendments to UK immigration policy.

Why are there no amendments to UK immigration policy? The answer is that ministers of the UK government cannot synchronise their intestinal tracts. Liam Fox says that the UK should import chemically washed chicken from the US then Michael Gove rules it out. Theresa May talks about transition periods and financial commitments on a public stage then Boris Johnson says the EU can go and whistle. Greg Hands proposes that the EU should remain in specific EU health initiatives regulated by the CJEU, despite CJEU being one of Therasa May's red lines. Theresa May signs an agreement with the EU to conclude Phase I talks then David Davis undermines everything by suggesting the detail isn't enforceable and the whole exercise merely a shared statement of intent. Theresa May underlines her pledge to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands then Amber Rudd initiates a study on the economic effect of reduced immigration. Let's not forget that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove failed to communicate the most basic government position on a UK national imprisoned abroad. In saner times any of these ministers would have been shown the door but here they are implementing their own policy in their personal kingdoms driven by their own gut feeling.

Instead of a functioning government with a defined set of manifesto pledges and evidence-base policies to realise them, there is a collection of mini-governments, each lording over their own fiefdom, acting sometimes in tandom, sometimes against the other mini-governments. Tory manifesto has been largely abandoned and in its place is a random number generator gone wild. The UK will seek bi-lateral trade deals with Pacific nations; the UK will join the Trans Pacific Partnership. The UK will protect the environment with bold environmental law; the UK will import hormone-injected beef and drive down costs. The UK will maintain the rights of workers; the UK will immediately repeal the EU Working Time Directive. The UK will maintain all phyto-sanitary standards to keep the NI border open; the UK will modify phyto-sanitary standards to align itself towards the US. The UK will maintain farm subsidies at CAP levels; the UK will abandon farm subsidies. The UK will strike trade deals and completely change its tariff structure; the UK will maintain its current tariff structure. The UK will be free to reduce VAT; the UK will maintain VAT at the EU minimum to keep the NI border free from VAT checks. This is not coherent governance.

Despite all this governmental chaos, the Labour Party is failing to take a lead in opinion polls. Why? Well, they are in a confused muddle very much the equal of the Tories. Their key policies change from week to week as Barry Gardiner and Kier Starmer and Tom Watson jostle for influence. The truth is that Labour have no substantive policy on the most pressing decisions to face the UK for 50 years. They would be equally terrible in power and the electorate know it full well. Does anyone buy their "jobs-first" Brexit? It certainly isn't backed by data or evidence. Once again, there's that Westminster gut feeling spewing its lunch all over partisan journalists at UK's tabloid newspapers.

This is by far the worst government and the worst parliament I have ever known. I might have disagreed with Margaret Thatcher's political philosophy, her manifesto pledges and the way she implemented them but she still ran a government with evidence and data. For example, her monetarist experiment of the early 80s was quietly abandoned when it was judged to have quantitatively failed.  It might have been abandoned far too late but at least someone was able to come to a judgement and someone was listening to it.  Are there any signs of this methodology today? Not really, no. Voters have no idea what they are voting for, the Prime Minister has no idea what her own Ministers are doing, those very Ministers are driven only by personal gut instinct. Meanwhile, expert advice has been decried as the intervention of saboteurs and rejected as unpatriotic. Everything is done with the justification of the "will of the people", yet nothing satisfies the "will of the people" because Brexit is nothing more than a battleground of ministerial influence and breakfast digestion processes.

There is no end to this. Brexit will trundle on and on for years to come, consuming logic and reason as it continues. If you're Scottish there is only one way out of this mess and that is to vote Yes in any future independence referendum. Good governance is important - it ensures prosperity, rights and opportunities for citizens. The UK is not going to experience any of that for many, many years to come. Where will it be by then?

Over and out,



  1. Like you, I can't think of a worse government in my lifetime.

    All governments have done some pretty horrendous things, and some have done good things along the way, but never has there been a bunch of such incompetents as this lot. I'd add that my mother agrees with that, so that takes the judgement period back ever further in time to the 60s.

    Weakness undermines an almost impossible situation as far as Brexit is concerned.

    The Brexit vote over the UK was 52-48. It wasn't really a convincing win, but it was a win, and it would have been hard for the government to decide in its aftermath that the referendum was only "advisory" and to ignore it because the monumental task of extricating the UK from Europe was far too complex.

    That's before you look at the component parts of the UK and how they voted.

    Northern Ireland voted 55-45 to stay in the EU; Scotland 62-38 and Gibraltar by some 96-4. A union of equals? Maybe not, and one of the best ever reasons for independence for Scotland, reunification for Northern Ireland and... who knows what for Gibraltar. It reinforces that in any "nationwide" vote, it is what England wants that matters.

    May has a divided cabinet of, from what I can see, second raters. Of course in a world where the president of the United States can call other countries "shit holes" it's probably not that scary to have Johnson as foreign secretary. Otherwise it would be. Gove seems to me to be an empty headed idiot.

    Experts are experts. Rather like Brexit is Brexit.

    They know things about stuff. Of course sometimes they get it wrong and experts don't always agree. Go into a common room of any university anywhere in the world and you'll find experts arguing over the finer points of subjects as diverse as...well as diverse as it is possible to be. But largely experts know what they are talking about.

    To dismiss them, as Gove did, is the work of an idiot.

    Her other top people are far from satisfactory, Fox is a joke, Davis is a lazy incompetent bullshitter, Hunt in despised by the doctors, nurses and other experts working for him.

    And the Cabinet seem to hate each other like poison.

    Weakness was compounded by the ridiculous and unnecessary general election May called (after she had promised not to do so), with the result leaving her weak and wobbly and obliged to pay somewhere between £1b and £1.5b of our money to the DUP to keep herself in power, thus tying her hands further in the already excruciatingly difficult negotiations between the UK and Eire, and putting seriously at risk 20 years of peace in Northern Ireland.

    This was relatively quickly followed by her disastrous party conference of lacklustre speeches, where she lost her voice and security was flawed.

    I'd have said that the writing was on the wall, except that half of it was on the floor by the time she stopped croaking.

    Her recent reshuffle didn't move a single BIG name (despite her efforts to do so) left in place serial failures like Gove, Johnson, Hunt, Fox and Davis the Sectoral Analyst extrodinaire.

    Quite apart from domestic blunders, like the disastrous health service crisis, the lack of movement on Grenfell Tower residents, honours for party donors and none for the emergency services who dealt with Grenfell, the scandal of the East Cost Railway giveaway, and today's news that one of their trusted outsourcers/contractors has gone bust, May still hasn't a clue what she wants from Brexit.

    And all this some 10 months before the final decisions have to go from Brussels to the supra-national, national and regional governments of the EU for consideration.

    Really, it is like living in a dystopian nightmare.

    The Scottish government has today published an analysis of the effects of Brexit on Scotland. (Given that neither Davis nor the semi moronic Secretary of State have bothered their lazy backsides to do so.)

    Scots can still avoid this mess by supporting and working for independence.

    1. I can only remember back to the 80s. I'm not surprised to learn this is the worst since the 60s. Has there been such a chaotic, indecisive government in the 20th century?

      The damage done to the processes of government and parliament will be long-lasting. I think this will damage the UK more than lost trade. A nation that cannot govern itself cannot prosper.

      Ta for the link about the Scottish government's Brexit analysis. I've skimmed through it. There is nothing to disagree with in there. Sensible stuff, thought through.

      I'm coming to the view that Nicola Sturgeon needs to be bolder here. She has made EEA for Scotland a red line but she hasn't spelled out clearly enough the price to pay for not fulfilling her conditions or a timeline when she will decide if her conditions have been met. There is just too much wiggle room and time really is running out. An independence referendum takes time to organise - maybe 13 - 15 months. Setting up an independent country takes time, too. I would reckon 2-3 years, at least. EU applications also take time because they can only be completed after the institutions of iScotland are in place. We're looking at a 5 year timeline. This needs to all be done before the UK substantively leaves the EU, which, as it stands, is in less than 3 years. We can gamble on an extension to UK/EU transition but even that means that the independence referendum needs to start its process right now if EU membership is to be seamless. Panic.

    2. I think it is only the fact that Trump, obviously massively more important than May in world terms, is a complete joke, that stops May being the most disastrous leader in a Western country ever. While Xi and Putin are probably laughing hysterically at Trump, the other leaders in Europe, certainly Merkel and Macron, must be convulsed at the Maybot's latest, more or less on a daily basis.

      I mean, can you begin to imagine a Merkel government in a mess like this so far into the negotiations?

      I'm afraid I agree that the time for debating in Scotland must be soon over. Nicola seems to have promised to respect the result of the 2014 referendum as long as we remain in the single market/customs union.

      I'm beginning to doubt that it is possible for the UK to do this, although Northern Ireland and Gibraltar both pose huge problems to leaving them. When it becomes clear she will have to act.

      I suspect that a referendum will be called later this year. We must all be prepared for it and ready to hit the ground running.

      If we lose this time, I doubt any of us will ever see an independent Scotland.

    3. I cannot imagine Angela Merkel ending up in the mess that Theresa May has so carelessly constructed. Anglea Merkel is a physicist and it is often remarked that she runs her government with scientific method. I certainly don't agree with everything she does but I do like the way that she seeks consensus and bows to it even when she stands in opposition.

      I very much doubt that Scotland can remain in EEA alone. UK government is clear that Brexit means Brexit for the entire UK in the same way - that was clarified to DUP when the Phase 1 Brexit talks were signed. It would then require someone on EU side to take up Scotland's case but that is not going to happen because it is not their responsibility to do so.

      I'm 99% certain that Brexit will go ahead and that Scotland will follow rUK out of EU and EEA. That means that the Scottish government's red lines have been crossed and serious political discussions about a referendum need to start asap.

      If we lose this time then it will likely kill the idea for the rest of my lifetime. But that's not going to happen, is it?

  2. I wish I shared your confidence that we are not going to loose another independence referendum. It is my fervent hope that we have one and win it within the next two years, but two factors in particular worry me.
    1) I don't think that enough progress has been made in convincing those banters who need to swing behind independence to get it across the line. There are many who have just stopped listening to anything about the constitution, Brexit, the horrific uk government et al, and others who still get there only information from media sources which are biased, lying tools of the deep uk state. That includes the BBC, and leads me to my next point.
    2) The deep UK state, which is both more sinister, and more competent (in an evil way) than the current uk govt. will throw every thing at stopping independence for Scotland. This will not only include propaganda. Black ops will be deployed. State agents posing as independence supporters will carry out false flag operations designed to get responses from extreme unionists like the people we saw in George Square after indyref 1, and then cry "civil disorder" and send in English police - they saw from Spain that they can get away with it.
    Attempts will made firstly to stop a referendum happening and then to interfere with it if it does.
    In the end I believe that they would probably use armed force, on the pretext of protecting nuclear bases etc,

    I still want to go ahead with independence. The alternative is much worse. I ask, though, are we ready for this? Have we got the guts? I do hope so.

    1. I'm not actually all that confident, to be honest. I am a dour Scot, after all.

      I'm more worried about communicating a simple message and less worried about the UK state. I'm primarily worried about communicating a simple message because it seems that the independence movement has splintered into sub-factions that don't get on very well and each want to add their own pet policies to the mix. Independence has become conflated with separate issues like safe spaces, international politics, identity politics. That makes me worried because it reduces the scope of a message that ought to have broad appeal, making it more like a political party. Political parties rarely achieve 50% in mature democracies.

      Do we have the guts? I don't know. I'm not there to answer that. I can only hope so and nothing can be gained by not trying.

  3. For banters, read voters. Damn autocorrect!

    1. Banters might be the perfect euphemism for voters these days.


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