The T–Word

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We are fast running out of measured words to describe the character and behaviour of the prime minister and his chancellor during this EU referendum campaign

There is one word which thinking Brexiteers will do almost anything to avoid using to describe an opponent, however much they may want to: the T-word. While sanctimonious, virtue-signalling EU apologists are often quite happy to sneer at eurosceptics and make baseless charges of xenophobia and racism (accusations which can do grave real-world reputational damage in the modern world), Brexiteers are generally much more reticent to to deploy their own nuclear word.

Why? Because it sounds hysterical. To use the word in seriousness or in anger suggests that we have lost our minds, that we are deliberately exaggerating, that we and our arguments should not be taken seriously. And so we suppress it. We sit on the T-word, lips clamped shut even as Remainers paint an offensively false picture of Britain as a weak an ineffectual nation, and even go as far as suggesting that other European nations would be right to “punish” us for daring to reject their vision of a common European state.

But it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid levelling the T-word at some – though by no means all – people on the Remain side. In fact, some people, through their abhorrent and irresponsible behaviour, seem to be going out of their way to live up to the word, to goad us into saying it. And sadly, senior members of the current government – including David Cameron and George Osborne – can now be included in that number.

As the Remain camp continues to slide in the polls, we have already seen David Cameron pledge – for no good reason at all – to take Britain out of the single market as well as the European Union in the event of a Leave vote, promising to implement the most irresponsible form of Brexit as a pure act of spite rather than through any democratic imperative (the referendum asks whether we want to leave or remain in the EU, not the EEA). And he followed that up with a shameful attempt to scare Britain’s pensioners.

But that is nothing compared to George Osborne’s indefensible decision to attempt to scare the British people into voting Remain by releasing a mocked-up “emergency budget”, detailing a catalogue of arbitrary and vindictive actions a future Conservative government would implausibly take to punish the British people for defying his will and voting to Leave the EU.

The BBC reports:

In the latest of a series of government warnings about the consequences of a vote to leave, Mr Osborne shared a stage with his Labour predecessor, Lord Darling, setting out £30bn of “illustrative” tax rises and spending cuts, including a 2p rise in the basic rate of income tax and a 3p rise in the higher rate.

They also said spending on the police, transport and local government could take a 5% cut and ring-fenced NHS budget could be “slashed”, along with education, defence and policing.

[..] Mr Cameron said “nobody wants to have an emergency Budget, nobody wants to have cuts in public services, nobody wants to have tax increases,” but he said the economic “crisis” that would follow a vote to leave could not be ignored.

“We can avoid all of this by voting Remain next week,” he told MPs.

This is blackmail, pure and simple. This is the prime minister of the United Kingdom threatening to inflict arbitrary and deliberate damage on the country in retaliation if we vote against him in the EU referendum.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is apoplectic:

George Osborne is disqualified from serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer for a single week longer.

Whatever his past contributions, his threat to push through draconian fiscal tightening in an emergency Brexit budget is economic madness, if not criminal incompetence.

Such action would leverage and compound the financial shock of Brexit, and would risk pushing the country into a depression. It violates the known tenets of macro-economics, whether you are Keynesian or not.

Alistair Darling, the former Labour Chancellor, has connived in this Gothic drama. He professes to be “much more worried now” than he was even during the white heat of the Lehman crisis and the collapse of the Western banking system in 2008.

So he should be. The emergency Budget that he endorses might well bring about disaster.  The policy response is the mirror image of what he himself did – wisely – during his own brief tenure through the Great Recession.

We all understand why George Osborne is toying with such pro-cyclical vandalism – or pretending to – for he is acting purely as as partisan for the Remain campaign. He has fatally mixed his roles. No head of the Treasury can behave in this fashion.

Absolutely. And the figures on which George Osborne has cooked up his Armageddon Budget are of course based on the most extreme and unlikely  Brexit scenarios, the Treasury having dropped the practical and popular interim EFTA/EEA option from its analysis because this Brexit method fails to bring about the kind of telegenic economic disaster the Remain campaign need for their propaganda.

But even if it were not in response to an incredibly unlikely and pessimistic set of economic assumptions, Osborne’s emergency budget would still be hugely irresponsible, as Evans-Pritchard points out:

This is a fiscal contraction of 1.7pc of GDP. It would hammer the economy just as it was reeling from the immediate trauma of a Brexit vote and the probable contagion effects across eurozone periphery, already visible in widening bond spreads.

It would come amid political chaos, before it was clear what the UK negotiating strategy is, or what the EU might do. It would be the worst possible moment to tighten.

The Treasury has already warned that the short-term shock of Brexit would slash output by 3.6pc, or 6pc with 820,000 job losses in its ‘severe’ scenario. The Chancellor now states he will reinforce this with austerity a l’outrance.

It is a formula for a self-feeding downward spiral, all too like the scorched-earth policies imposed on southern Europe during the debt crisis.

A funny time for George Osborne to finally discover fiscal conservatism, one might observe.

While many conservatives have rightly chafed at Osborne’s inability to get to grips with public spending, none but the flintiest ideologue would celebrate a significant, deliberate fiscal contraction at a time of political uncertainty and sensitivity. Osborne’s critics are right to castigate him for his profligacy with the International Development budget and unwillingness to tackle the real drivers of government spending (yes, including pensions), but fulfilling every single demand on the fiscal conservatives’ wish list in one spiteful go – and at the wrong moment – would be deliberate vandalism, pure and simple. And it shows that George Osborne is thinking politically at a time when Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer most needs to act like a statesman.

It is also astonishing that a chancellor who has been perfectly happy to falsely claim to be “paying down Britain’s debts” while actually still running a persistent budget deficit and adding greatly to the national debt should now propose to deal with any economic shock resulting from Brexit exclusively through fiscal tightening and not with increased short term borrowing. Again, this is only more evidence that Osborne has absolutely no core convictions or political philosophy of his own, save furthering his own power and thwarting his political enemies. Certainly the idea that the chancellor has somehow discovered strict fiscal conservatism now out of genuine principle is absolutely laughable.

But of course, this “emergency budget” is a political ruse, not a work of policy. For starters, in the event of a Leave vote, both the prime minister and his sorry chancellor of the exchequer will be sent packing from Downing Street back to their home constituencies almost immediately, to the sorrow of absolutely nobody. The Conservative Party will not tolerate their presence a moment longer. But more to the point, even George Osborne doesn’t believe his own apocalyptic predictions.

As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard points out:

There are quite enough dangers in Brexit already without adding more. What the Chancellor should do is the exact opposite: prepare an emergency stimulus of 1.7pc of GDP if need be,  targeted at critical infrastructure and strategic investment that pays for itself over time.

The money should be borrowed. As of today the Treasury can raise funds for five years at 0.66pc, for ten years at 1.12pc, and for thirty years at 1.94pc. These are lowest yields in our history, and they have been falling steeply over the last three weeks.  There is no sign yet that Brexit will trigger a ‘Gilts strike’ or a run on the British debt markets.

Mr Osborne could have taken advantage of these give-away rates to build up a war chest for any post-Brexit turmoil. He has not done so. Over the last three months the Government has raised just £36bn of its estimated needs of £131bn for this financial year. Either he is negligent, or he does not believe his own doom scenario.

[..] It takes a nuclear bomb or the Bubonic Plague to bankrupt a developed country that borrows in its own currency, has its own central bank, and has deep layers of wealth. Mr Osborne has not yet conjured either.

(Where I depart from Ambrose’s excellent response to George Osborne is his call for a national unity government drawn from all the parties in the event of a Leave vote, to guide us through the “turmoil”. To my mind, this could only make things worse, diluting the strategic direction of government by weighing it down with the statist, centralising baggage of the Green Party and SNP – though I concede that a unity government would help to dispel John McDonnell’s “Tory Brexit” line.)

So here we have a chancellor of the exchequer citing economic scenarios he does not believe (as evidenced by his lack of preparation for them) to produce a vengeful and counterproductive fictional budget in an attempt to frighten and bully the British people into abandoning their desire for democracy and self-government outside of the EU.

Brendan O’Neill’s response is best, condemning the Left’s complicity in this Cameron and Osborne-led campaign of intimidation:

Today in Kent, the establishment united, across party lines, to tell us that they will have no choice but to financially punish us if we vote to leave the EU. There will be severe budget cuts if you people vote for a Brexit, says Osborne. In short: we’ll hurt you, we’ll make your lives harder, we’ll inflict economic pain on you if you make the wrong political decision. How the left can line up behind this elite crusade that has now descended into blackmailing the poor and the plebs to support the EU “or else” is beyond me. The left has been dead for a long time, but its backing of the EU is the stake in its heart — after this it won’t even be able to pull off its zombie act.

So, back to that awkward T-word.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the crime of betraying one’s country”, or “the action of betraying someone or something”. If you were, say, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, that “someone or something” might reasonably include the British national interest and the wishes of the people to be represented and served honestly and honourably by their government.

David Cameron and George Osborne wish Britain to remain part of an ever-more tightly integrating, expressly political union whose ultimate intention is to merge the countries of Europe into a common state.

David Cameron promised to extensively renegotiate the terms of our membership of the European Union but came back with less than nothing – a reaffirmation of the status quo, contracted not with the EU but with current heads of government, whose successors are in no way beholden to honour what little was promised to Britain.

David Cameron, George Osborne and their allies in the Remain campaign have used every trick in the book to threaten, deceive and coerce the British people into voting to stay in the EU. They have abused the bully pulpit of government, ignored Electoral Commission recommendations, produced and distributed taxpayer-funded propaganda, peddled in subliminal messaging techniques to influence people to vote Remain, misrepresented what the European Union really is and misrepresented their opponents.

And they did all this while supposedly serving their country – Cameron and Osborne as prime minister and chancellor respectively, and many of their Remain allies as fellow MPs, all of whom also swore the parliamentary oath.

I have put off using the T-word on this blog, thus far – mostly because while I am but a mere blogger, I do still want to be taken seriously and have my ideas and opinions listened to rather than rejected as the rantings of a blind partisan.

I will again put off using the T-word today, even though there is no longer any doubt in my mind that the word is justified when used to describe specific people and elements of their conduct during this EU referendum campaign.

But the reckless behaviour of the prime minister and his chancellor of the exchequer now contravenes their fundamental duty to the people, not to mention the basic standards of human decency; even the most ardent Remain supporter will surely look back with shame on what is being done to tilt this referendum in their favour.

On this present trajectory, it may not be long before whole swathes of the British public (justifiably) begin openly using the T-word as an accusation levelled at the two most powerful political figures in Britain, as well as many of those who might plausibly replace them.

And if we reach that acute point, we will face an unprecedented crisis in this country.

 

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Ambrose Evans-Pritchard Makes A Most Honourable Argument For Brexit

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All the most eloquent cases for Brexit set aside the bleating of Vote Leave and appeal to the people’s understanding of the democratic case for leaving the European Union

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s measured and eloquent justification for his decision to vote Leave on 23 June, published today in the Telegraph, is a must-read example of the noble democratic case for Brexit.

He rightly eschews all of the nonsense spewed out by the official Vote Leave campaign, recognising that this has nothing to do with saving pennies here or there, and that the real basis for any decision on how to vote must be whether one is happy with the current direction of the European Union, and whether one believes there is any realistic chance of altering that trajectory.

And Evans-Pritchard, like this blog, firmly believes that the direction is indeed one we cannot follow, and that there is no such chance of changing the EU’s course:

Stripped of distractions, it comes down to an elemental choice: whether to restore the full self-government of this nation, or to continue living under a higher supranational regime, ruled by a European Council that we do not elect in any meaningful sense, and that the British people can never remove, even when it persists in error.

For some of us – and we do not take our cue from the Leave campaign – it has nothing to do with payments into the EU budget. Whatever the sum, it is economically trivial, worth unfettered access to a giant market.

We are deciding whether to be guided by a Commission with quasi-executive powers that operates more like the priesthood of the 13th Century papacy than a modern civil service; and whether to submit to a European Court (ECJ) that claims sweeping supremacy, with no right of appeal.

It is whether you think the nation states of Europe are the only authentic fora of democracy, be it in this country, or Sweden, or the Netherlands, or France – where Nicholas Sarkozy has launched his presidential bid with an invocation of King Clovis and 1,500 years of Frankish unity.

The following critique of the EU’s effect on national democracy is particularly damning:

The Project bleeds the lifeblood of the national institutions, but fails to replace them with anything lovable or legitimate at a European level. It draws away charisma, and destroys it. This is how democracies die.

“They are slowly drained of what makes them democratic, by a gradual process of internal decay and mounting indifference, until one suddenly notices that they have become something different, like the republican constitutions of Athens or Rome or the Italian city-states of the Renaissance,” says Lord Sumption of our Supreme Court.

And then:

It is a quarter century since I co-wrote the leader for this newspaper on the Maastricht summit. We warned that Europe’s elites were embarking on a reckless experiment, piling Mount Pelion upon Mount Ossa with a vandal’s disregard for the cohesion of their ancient polities. We reluctantly supported John Major’s strategy of compromise, hoping that later events would “check the extremists and put the EC on a sane and realistic path.”

This did not happen, as Europe’s Donald Tusk confessed two weeks ago, rebuking the elites for seeking a “utopia without nation states” and over-reaching on every front. “Obsessed with the idea of instant and total integration, we failed to notice that the citizens of Europe do not share our Euro-enthusiasm,” he said.

If there were more Tusks at the helm, one might still give the EU Project the benefit of the doubt. Hard experience – and five years at the coal face in Brussels – tells me others would seize triumphantly on a British decision to remain, deeming it submission from fear. They would pocket the vote. Besides, too much has happened that cannot be forgiven.

The EU crossed a fatal line when it smuggled through Lisbon Treaty, by executive cabal, after the text had already been rejected by French and Dutch voters in its earlier guise. It is one thing to advance the Project by stealth and the Monnet method, it is another to call a plebiscite and then to override the outcome.

The only vaguely objectionable part is when Evans-Pritchard fails to exhort others to follow his decision:

I urge nobody to follow my example. It ill behoves anyone over 50 to exhort an outcome too vehemently. Let the youth decide. It is they who must live with consequences.

On the contrary, people should be encouraged to follow the decision making process of somebody who actually recognises that the question before us is not a matter of penny-pinching, curtailing immigration, workers’ rights or any other particular outcome, but rather of determining whether the British people should make these decisions for ourselves or have them imposed upon us from a higher authority.

And “letting the youth decide” may sound magnanimous, but in fact it is only through the wisdom of age that we stand a chance of defending our liberties, as Pete North emphasises:

No. You see, the democracy we were born to was fought for and won with blood. It is not ours to give away. We are the custodians of it. And this is too important to be left to the youth, barely out of the state system, barely aware of what the EU is, how it functions or the devious tricks pulled on us to bring it about.

And when I think how dumb I was when I was twenty – and not much smarter five years later, I am inclined to trust in the wisdom of the elders. While they may not be the ones living with the consequences, we all have an obligation to ensure that which we pass on is something that will endure and sustain the peace.

Now look across the Channel and seriously ask yourselves if that political entity has the look of longevity about it. Look closely. Is that really the mess you want to hand to the next generation?

This point resonates strongly with me. As a teenager and into my first years at university I was an ardent euro-federalist, to the extent that the EU flag used to adorn the wall of my digs in Cambridge. I was not ignorant about how the EU worked, but I was ignorant about democracy – the arrogance of youth caused me to conveniently skip over the fact that the project I so admired was not the result of bottom-up desire among the European peoples for an overarching supranational government, but rather the manifestation of a very specific dream shared by a small number of European elites.

My attitude at the time: the EU is self-evidently wonderful, and too bad for those who disagree – they will come around when the project comes to full fruition and they are part of a powerful, prosperous United States of Europe. My attitude now, with fifteen more years of self-study, commercial awareness and general life experience, together with a greater respect and appreciation for democracy: quite the opposite.

The views of the young are important (at 33 I hesitate to include myself in their number), and in many cases their idealism is noble. But the fact that a seventy-year-old will not be around in thirty years to reap the benefits or negative consequences of this year’s EU referendum vote in no way means that their opinions should hold lesser weight. Wisdom, a greater sense of historical context and the desire to be a good steward to the best of our traditions and liberties are priceless attributes of older voters, and yes- sometimes parents and grandparents do know best, as those cheering eighteen-year-old europhiles will discover when they grow up and have families of their own.

Regardless – this minor point aside, this quietly eloquent case for Brexit from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is very good, and should encourage all thinking Brexiteers that they are right to focus on democracy and the supremacy of Parliament over and above all of the noise from the official Leave and Remain campaigns.

Now, if only Ambrose Evans-Pritchard could be persuaded to go on the stump with this argument…

 

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More Commentators Embrace The Norway Option As Part Of A Staged Brexit Plan

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At long last the penny has started to drop among serious influencers that a Brexit to the so-called “Norway Option” as an interim staging position is the only safe, stable and plausible Brexit plan on offer – regardless of whatever Vote Leave may say

Maybe it was Vote Leave’s alarming pivot back to immigration with the rollout of their Australian style points-based scheme, or maybe it was just the slow accumulation of tactical and strategic idiocy bordering on political self-harm.

But regardless of what it was that finally caused Vote Leave to hit rock bottom in the eyes of the commentariat, we should all be eternally grateful – because finally, serious and influential minds with serious bully pulpits are starting to look past the Boris clown show and talk openly about the Norway Option being the only sane Brexit plan capable of delivering a safe, stable process of withdrawal from the European Union.

First, last week, Allister Heath came over to the light side of the Force:

The core assumption of the anti-Brexit economists is that leaving would erect damaging barriers to trade; the pro-Brexit side must take on and demolish these arguments. The good news is that it’s quite easy to do so. The Leave campaign’s long-term aim is to break away completely from the EU. But there is no doubt that, were we to vote Leave on June 23, the UK would seek to adopt, as an interim solution, a Norwegian-style relationship with the EU which ensures that we remain in the single market, giving us plenty of time to work out new arrangements with the rest of the world.

That is both the only realistic way we would quit the EU – the only model, that, plausibly, MPs would support as a cross-party compromise deal – and the best possible way for us to do it. The Norwegians would welcome us with open arms, as their own influence would be enhanced, and other EU nations would seek to join us. Such a deal would eliminate most of the costs of leaving, while delivering a hefty dose of benefits as a down payment.

As part of the European Free Trade Association, we would remain in the single market, complete with its Four Freedoms, while withdrawing from agricultural and fisheries policies, justice and home affairs and the customs union. The City wouldn’t lose access and virtually all of the anti-Brexit scare stories would be neutralised, which is presumably why that option was mysteriously absent from the Treasury’s ludicrous analysis of the short-term impact of Brexit.

And now, Heath’s Telegraph colleague and International Business Editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has weighed in with a forceful case for the Norway Option as the only sensible plan for extricating Britain from European political union within the constraints set out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty:

The Leave campaign must choose. It cannot safeguard access to the EU single market and offer a plausible arrangement for the British economy, unless it capitulates on the free movement of EU citizens.

One or other must give. If Brexiteers wish to win over the cautious middle of British politics, they must make a better case that our trade is safe. This means accepting the Norwegian option of the European Economic Area (EEA) – a ‘soft exit’ – as a half-way house until the new order is established.

It means accepting the four freedoms of goods, services, capital, and labour that go with the EU single market. It means swallowing EU rules, and much of the EU Acquis, and it means paying into the EU budget.

We can quibble over the wording “much of the EU acquis”, as analysis puts it closer to reasonable-sounding 28 percent, but otherwise this is spot on. The article actually explicitly mentions Flexcit and the work of Dr. Richard North, as well as the recent welcome interventions from the Adam Smith Institute courtesy of ASI fellow Roland Smith. In fact, the Telegraph is becoming quite the incubator of serious liberal Brexit thinking of late.

In his latest Telegraph column, Allister Heath goes further and points out that the onus is in fact now on Remainers to explain what the European Union will look like in twenty years’ time given the various crises besetting it (and the EU’s instinctive ratchet towards ever more centralisation), and how voting to Remain could possibly be considered the “safe” option:

The EU was always intended by its founders to be a process – a mechanism by which formerly independent European countries gradually bind themselves together into an ever-closer union. Crises were seen as useful flashpoints that would trigger a further push to integration, and its central institutions were deliberately designed to seek and accrue power.

When I was growing up in France, it was made consistently clear that the EU was a political project that used economics as a tool of state-building; the single market was created because all countries have a free internal market, not because the EU’s founding fathers believed in international free trade. We used to be taught all of this openly and explicitly at school: the EU was the obvious, rational future, the only way war could be avoided and the best way to protect our social models from the ravages of “Anglo-Saxon” markets.

There are therefore two possibilities if we vote to stay: eventual abrupt disintegration, or further EU integration. If the latter, how many more powers will we give up when the next treaty comes along, and how much “progress” will be made in critical areas like a European army, tax harmonisation, and the centralisation of justice and home affairs? Why haven’t voters been told ahead of June 23?

The biggest, costliest and most immediate change after a Remain vote would be psychological. Forget about all the caveats: an In victory would be hailed as proof that Britain has finally ceased fighting its supposed European destiny. Our bluff would have been called in the most spectacular of fashions: after decades of dragging our feet, of being ungrateful Europeans, of extracting concessions, rebates and opt-outs, of trying to stand up for our interests, we would finally have hoisted the white flag. The idea that we would hold another referendum on the next treaty would simply be laughed out of town. Voting to Remain would thus be a geopolitical disaster for the UK, a historic failure.

Comfortable, middle-class voters who are considering sticking with the devil they believe they know need to think again. Voting to remain is a far greater leap into the unknown than voting to leave. It’s self-evidently normal to be independent and prosperous: just look at America, Australia, Canada or Singapore. But there are no known examples of a previously independent democracy being subsumed into a dysfunctional, economically troubled technocracy and doing well as a result. As mad gambles go, it is hard to think of anything worse.

And in a final coup, Toby Young has blessed the Norway Option on Twitter:

To which one can only say: Alleluia. Good. It’s about time.

Hopefully we are now witnessing the beginnings of a slowly building stampede away from the car crash of an official Leave campaign masterminded by Dominic Cummings and toward something better. Hopefully this is the result of serious people with pro-Brexit sympathies starting to realise that surely there must be something better than Vote Leave’s sixth-form level campaign about voting leave to Save Our NHS, doing some research of their own and finding that the solution was there all along in the form of the Norway Option.

There certainly now exists a wealth of independent research and writing advocating for the Norway Option as an interim staging post on the journey out of the European Union, and for the general principles enshrined in Flexcit. The tireless indie bloggers of The Leave Alliance can surely claim some much-deserved credit for this turn of events.

But will the eureka moments experienced by Allister Heath, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard and Toby Young be enough to make a material difference to the trajectory of the campaign? It’s a tall order – unless they do really represent just the beginning of a much larger landslide of Brexit-sympathising commentariat opinion away from the clown show.

A few columns are a good start, but they are nothing compared to the incessant Vote Leave campaign commercials now playing on YouTube, exhorting British voters to leave the European Union so that well-known NHS fanatics like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove can build a brand new, state-of-the-art NHS hospital on every street corner with the money that we supposedly save.

While we should be encouraged by this positive development and seek to exploit these endorsements, it does feel rather like establishment Brexiteers, in freefall and with the ground rushing up to meet them, have finally remembered to pull their parachute cord a mere hundred feet from the surface.

Action at this late stage is unlikely to significantly slow our descent, and our slim hopes of survival rest either in having our fall arrested by the branches of a major anti-establishment backlash, or by landing in the soft, distasteful swamp of stronger than expected anti-immigration sentiment.

Victory for the Leave camp is not yet impossible – all the more reason to keep fighting – but having waited so late to even begin to publicly embrace any kind of Brexit plan, neither is our fate squarely in our own hands.

 

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