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Theresa May’s Brexit Speech: Soaring Ambition On A Foundation Of Sand

A grandiose speech with little serious thinking to back it up

Well, if anything lures me back to blogging then it may as well be Theresa May’s speech outlining the government’s long-awaited plan for Brexit.

I must admit that I am rather conflicted. This blog is on the record as holding Theresa May in rather low esteem in terms of her commitment to small government, individual liberty and conservatism in general, but it cannot be denied – least of all by someone like me who routinely criticises political speeches for being dull and uninspiring – that from a purely rhetorical perspective, May’s speech was satisfying both in terms of emotion and ambition.

Here was a speech almost in the American political tradition – reaching back through history to affirm the roots of British exceptionalism, the challenge now before us and the promise that an even greater Britain can be ours if only we strive for it:

It’s why we will put the preservation of our precious Union at the heart of everything we do. Because it is only by coming together as one great union of nations and people that we can make the most of the opportunities ahead. The result of the referendum was not a decision to turn inward and retreat from the world.

Because Britain’s history and culture is profoundly internationalist.

We are a European country – and proud of our shared European heritage – but we are also a country that has always looked beyond Europe to the wider world. That is why we are one of the most racially diverse countries in Europe, one of the most multicultural members of the European Union, and why – whether we are talking about India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, countries in Africa or those that are closer to home in Europe – so many of us have close friends and relatives from across the world.

Instinctively, we want to travel to, study in, trade with countries not just in Europe but beyond the borders of our continent. Even now as we prepare to leave the EU, we are planning for the next biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2018 – a reminder of our unique and proud global relationships.

And it is important to recognise this fact. June the 23rd was not the moment Britain chose to step back from the world. It was the moment we chose to build a truly Global Britain.

The peroration was particularly good, as May eschewed the temptation to bribe the electorate with glib promises of riches today and instead asked us to consider the longer term good, as well as our place in the history books:

So that is what we will do.

Not merely forming a new partnership with Europe, but building a stronger, fairer, more Global Britain too.

And let that be the legacy of our time. The prize towards which we work. The destination at which we arrive once the negotiation is done.

And let us do it not for ourselves, but for those who follow. For the country’s children and grandchildren too.

So that when future generations look back at this time, they will judge us not only by the decision that we made, but by what we made of that decision.

They will see that we shaped them a brighter future.

They will know that we built them a better Britain.

When nearly every other major set piece speech in British politics is little more than a dismal effort to placate a restive and self-entitled electorate by promising the people Free Things Without Effort or Consequences (ask not what you can do for your country but what your country can do for you), here was a speech that set its sights a little higher and actually aspired to statecraft.

May’s criticism of the European Union and justification of the UK’s decision to secede from the EU was very good, particularly coming from someone who herself supported the Remain side and kept her head firmly beneath the parapet during the referendum campaign:

Our political traditions are different. Unlike other European countries, we have no written constitution, but the principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty is the basis of our unwritten constitutional settlement. We have only a recent history of devolved governance – though it has rapidly embedded itself – and we have little history of coalition government.

The public expect to be able to hold their governments to account very directly, and as a result supranational institutions as strong as those created by the European Union sit very uneasily in relation to our political history and way of life.

And, while I know Britain might at times have been seen as an awkward member state, the European Union has struggled to deal with the diversity of its member countries and their interests. It bends towards uniformity, not flexibility.

Without straying into undiplomatic language, May firmly placed responsibility for Brexit at the foot of a Brussels supranational government which is inflexibly committed to endless political integration by stealth, with member state individuality subordinate to European harmonisation.

The prime minister was also at pains to point out that dissatisfaction with the EU is by no means a uniquely British phenomenon, and that significant numbers of people in other member states hold many of the same legitimate grievances:

Now I do not believe that these things apply uniquely to Britain. Britain is not the only member state where there is a strong attachment to accountable and democratic government, such a strong internationalist mindset, or a belief that diversity within Europe should be celebrated. And so I believe there is a lesson in Brexit not just for Britain but, if it wants to succeed, for the EU itself.

Because our continent’s great strength has always been its diversity. And there are 2 ways of dealing with different interests. You can respond by trying to hold things together by force, tightening a vice-like grip that ends up crushing into tiny pieces the very things you want to protect. Or you can respect difference, cherish it even, and reform the EU so that it deals better with the wonderful diversity of its member states.

Of course this blog, unconstrained by any need for diplomatic restraint, would have gone further. Theresa May was at pains to state that a strong and united European Union is in Britain’s interest, which sounds magnanimous and sensible until you actually recognise the punch which is being pulled.

If the EU is an antidemocratic straightjacket imposing unwanted political integration on national populations who are ambivalent at best, why do we wish that the organisation prospers for decades to come? Do we not think our European friends and allies as deserving of democracy and the right to self-determination that we demand for ourselves? But this is nitpicking – the Brexit negotiations would hardly be served if May openly salivated at the prospect of the breakup of the European Union.

In her outreach to other European leaders, assuring them of Britain’s continuing goodwill, one almost hears an echo (okay, a very, very distant and diminished echo) of Lincoln’s first inaugural (“The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors…”) as May asserts that the UK government will negotiate in good faith so long as the EU reciprocates:

So to our friends across Europe, let me say this.

Our vote to leave the European Union was no rejection of the values we share. The decision to leave the EU represents no desire to become more distant to you, our friends and neighbours. It was no attempt to do harm to the EU itself or to any of its remaining member states. We do not want to turn the clock back to the days when Europe was less peaceful, less secure and less able to trade freely. It was a vote to restore, as we see it, our parliamentary democracy, national self-determination, and to become even more global and internationalist in action and in spirit.

We will continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends. We want to buy your goods and services, sell you ours, trade with you as freely as possible, and work with one another to make sure we are all safer, more secure and more prosperous through continued friendship.

You will still be welcome in this country as we hope our citizens will be welcome in yours. At a time when together we face a serious threat from our enemies, Britain’s unique intelligence capabilities will continue to help to keep people in Europe safe from terrorism. And at a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty.

We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.

All of this is good. So why am I not celebrating?

Because then the prime minister proceeded to outline her government’s plans and priorities for the upcoming Brexit negotiation. And at that point it became clear that we are not dealing with Abraham Lincoln but rather with James Buchanan.

In other words, the real problem with Theresa May’s speech came when she pivoted from the background context to the government’s 12-point plan (or exercise in wishful thinking).

Pete North says it best:

In just a few short passages May has driven a horse and cart through all good sense.

For starters May has misunderstood the exam question. The process of leaving the EU is to negotiate a framework for leaving and a framework for continued cooperation. Instead she has taken it as the process of securing a trade deal – which doesn’t even begin to acknowledge the depth and complexity of the task. Because of this Theresa May will ensure we pay the maximum price possible.

By any estimation there is no possibility of securing a comprehensive agreement in two years and if we reach any kind of impasse then all of the leverage falls to member states as we beg for an extension.

Worse still, May has fallen for the mantra that no deal is better than a bad deal and is prepared to walk away from the table. This would result in the WTO option and would be the single most egregious act of economic self harm ever recorded. As much as that is to be avoided there is now every chance that it will happen by accident as our time expires.

May has drunk deeply from the Brexiteer kool aid and Britain is about to find itself substantially poorer with fewer opportunities for trade. This will be the Tory Iraq. Blundering with half a clue and no plan and no real understanding of the landscape, resting the fate of the adventure on some overly optimistic patriotic nostrums that fold at first exposure to reality.

While the EU Referendum blog patiently explains why Theresa May’s declaration of intent is such a tall order:

Mrs May has set her face against a rational, measured Brexit and is embarking on a wild gamble, the outcome of which she has no way of predicting.

Such is her idea of pursuing “a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement with the European Union”, an undertaking which others have tried in the recent past – the most recent being Canada, which has spent eight years now in trying to bring an agreement to fruition, and we’re still waiting. The possibility, therefore, of the UK negotiating a deal (and getting it ratified) inside two years is, to say the very least, remote.

Nevertheless, there are those who think otherwise. They argue that, because the UK is already in the EU and achieved full regulatory convergence, transition from one type of agreement to another should be relatively straightforward and swift.

That, however, is completely to understate the complexity of modern trade agreements. In addition to regulatory convergence, there must be a dynamic arrangement that will ensure the automatic uptake of new regulation, and also the changes mandated by ECJ judgements. There must also be internal market surveillance measures, agreed conformity assessment measures, customs agreements, dispute settlement procedures, agreements on competition policy, procurement and intellectual property rights, as well as systems to deal with rules of origin.

These and much else, will require an institutional structure to facilitate communication and ongoing development, a form of arbitration panel or court, and a consultation body, which allows input into, and formal communication with the EU’s regulatory and institutional system.

And concludes:

This is my way of saying that to achieve a “bold and ambitious” free trade agreement with the EU inside two years is not just difficult. It is impossible. It cannot be done. And it doesn’t matter how many times it is discussed amongst the chattering classes, it still can’t be done.

It has been over eighteen months since this blog woke up to the fact that lazy Brexiteer tropes about quick-n-easy free trade agreements being the golden solution to every problem simply do not cut it in the face of such an unimaginably complex undertaking as extricating the United Kingdom from the European Union.

Since that time, it has become clear to me and many others that forty years of political integration cannot be unpicked within the two-year timeframe granted through Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and that any attempt to negotiate a bespoke solution within this timeframe would see us hit the deadline without a deal in sight, leaving us at the mercy of the EU27 as we scramble for an extension or risk going over the cliff and resorting to WTO rules.

But what has been clear to this blog (since I first read of the Flexcit plan for a phased and managed Brexit with an eye to developing the new global single market which must eventually replace the parochial EU) and to a growing number of Brexiteers remains completely opaque and mysterious to Her Majesty’s Government:

So as a priority, we will pursue a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union.

This agreement should allow for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states. It should give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets – and let European businesses do the same in Britain.

But I want to be clear. What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market.

European leaders have said many times that membership means accepting the ‘4 freedoms’ of goods, capital, services and people. And being out of the EU but a member of the single market would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement those freedoms, without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would mean accepting a role for the European Court of Justice that would see it still having direct legal authority in our country.

It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all.

And that is why both sides in the referendum campaign made it clear that a vote to leave the EU would be a vote to leave the single market.

So we do not seek membership of the single market. Instead we seek the greatest possible access to it through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement.

That agreement may take in elements of current single market arrangements in certain areas – on the export of cars and lorries for example, or the freedom to provide financial services across national borders – as it makes no sense to start again from scratch when Britain and the remaining Member States have adhered to the same rules for so many years.

But I respect the position taken by European leaders who have been clear about their position, just as I am clear about mine. So an important part of the new strategic partnership we seek with the EU will be the pursuit of the greatest possible access to the single market, on a fully reciprocal basis, through a comprehensive free trade agreement.

Okay, great. And you plan to accomplish this in just two years, at a time when we are rebuilding our national trade negotiation competency from scratch? And what about the numerous other aspects of our co-operation with Brussels that do not directly relate to the single market? What process is there to be for evaluating and renegotiating these?

Ministers clearly still view Brexit through the narrow lens of wanting to sever all of the ties that bind us to Brussels and hope that a “quick and dirty” free trade agreement will somehow be a good substitute for patiently considering and unpicking each individual strand of co-operation between London, Brussels and the EU27.

And unless Theresa May has another, top secret Brexit ministry devoted to unglamorous issues like mutual recognition of regulatory standards (rather than burbling inanities about tariffs) then we are in for a very rude awakening at some point within the next two years.

Look: I like the ambition and confident tone of Theresa May’s speech. I like some of the swagger and self-confidence. And if May had been speaking about any subject other than Brexit in this manner I would be on my feet, giving a standing ovation. But unfortunately the prime minister has chosen to be smug and blasé about the one topic where airy self-assurance alone cannot win the day.

The prime minister accurately summed up many of the problems with the European Union, and did a good job in reminding people what an indispensable country Britain really is to the future economic, cultural and geopolitical prospects of Europe. That’s great. But it doesn’t begin to explain how Britain is going to negotiate an entirely bespoke new relationship with the European Union within two years when far less extensive deals focusing purely on trade routinely take over a decade to complete.

Ambition is good, but it must be tempered with reality. When John F Kennedy dedicated America to landing a man on the moon and safely returning him to Earth before the end of the 1960s, the specific technologies and facilities needed to achieve the historic feat may not all have existed, but the competencies to invent and build them certainly did. Not so with Britain and the goal of a two-year bespoke Brexit deal.

Unpicking forty years of political integration within two years would be an unimaginably tall order at the best of times, even if the organisation into which we are subsumed had not gradually drained us of the critical competencies required to complete the task. Theresa May promising a clean Brexit given our current national capabilities and negotiating climate is like President Theodore Roosevelt promising a moon shot in 1903, when the Wright brothers rather than Wernher von Braun represented the pinnacle of aviation technology.

So mixed feelings. How nice to finally hear a political speech that is so outward-looking and ambitious in content, positive in rhetoric. How sad that this particular one is likely to end in disappointment and recrimination.

 

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There’s Nothing Virtuous About Being a Rootless ‘Citizen Of The World’

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Someone give that woman a medal

Most self-described citizens of the world are actually no such thing. They might enjoy the company of very similar people in increasingly similar global cities, but they probably couldn’t think of a single thing to say to somebody of different socio-economic status from a smaller town twenty miles down the road

Pete North explains perhaps better than anyone exactly why those people who style themselves as liberal “citizens of the world” are often no such thing – neither tremendously liberal, nor engaged citizens of anywhere, in any meaningful respect.

North writes:

In the end there is nothing especially virtuous about people who are well travelled and outward looking. A society needs all stripes to function. We need people to work the routine jobs and then we need a fluid workforce not tied down with responsibilities. Moreover, having dealt with more well pampered HR people than a person ever should, one thing I have noticed is that travel does not necessarily broaden the mind.

If you take an incurious person and lavish travel upon them you are wasting your money. Some of the most shallow, snobby and fatuous people I know would consider themselves liberal citizens of the world. Such people have no concept of what it is to be building or maintaining something with a long term plan. They latch on to the fashionable and socially convenient worldview that the EU is the manifestation of liberal values but it little more than virtue signalling.

And develops his argument:

What I find is that the broader your horizons, the harder it is to fit in wherever you go, and so there remains a polarisation between the settled and the travelled. It is then no surprise that there is an obvious demographic divide and opinion is split between the ages.

In this, the remain side of the Brexit debate seem keen to pour over these demographic studies to pathologise the leave vote, and consequently delegitimise it, as though you need to be of a particular set for your opinion to hold any worth. Democracy is lost on such people. The whole point of democracy is one person; one vote, where we take a sample of opinion and move together on the basis of compromise.

In something as binary as EU membership though there is only winner takes all. There is no third option on the ballot so we move with the majoritarian view which is to leave. For whatever reasons they voted for, they did so in accordance with their own views based on their own choices. Their worldviews are formed by what they see and hear in the media, but also in the street and in the workplace. They are the best judges of what is important to them. To suggest that choosing a more conservative lifestyle means you are not qualified to make such an estimation is to invite the very sentiment behind the leave vote.

What these people know better than anyone is that the frivolous and rootless people telling them how to vote are no better than anybody. I imagine the working classes would like nothing more than to live a more adventurous life but they don’t because they can’t afford it. It’s then a bit rich to tell them that the EU brings them freedom of movement and prosperity.

Earlier this year Theresa May said “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what citizenship means”. I smiled when I heard that. Nothing quite so succinctly demolishes the flimsy worldview that believing in the borderless homogenised EU, along with all the pompous garb that goes with it, is somehow enlightenment. May recognises that being a citizen is more than holding outwardly liberal views. It means making a contribution – to be part of something.

It takes no particular talent to drift through life going place to place – and in so doing all you’re likely to meet is others who have made the same choices or enjoy an extraordinary privilege. Far from broadening the mind it merely reinforces a particular mindset which is never exposed to the values of the settled community. It’s why self-styled “citizens of the world” have no self-awareness and do not for a moment appreciate just how naff they sound to everybody else.

In my experience, self-described citizens of the world have tended to describe their outlook in terms of what they get from the bargain rather than what they contribute to the equation. They call themselves citizens if the world because being so affords them opportunities and privileges – the chance to travel, network and do business. Very few people speak of being citizens of the world because of what they give back in terms of charity, cultural richness or human knowledge, yet all of the people that I would consider to be true citizens of the world – people like Leonard Bernstein or Ernest Hemingway – fall into this latter, rarer category.

What does it really mean to be a modern day “citizen of the world”, anyway, besides having a determinedly self-regarding outlook? Most of those who claim the title – either members of the ruling class or young hipsters whining that their futures and European identities have been somehow ripped away from them – are from the big cities, London most prominently. But to a large extent, many world cities are so alike in culture that one can negotiate and skip between them fairly easily,  even with a language barrier.

London has Starbucks, museums, galleries, bars and hipsters. So do Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Rome, Warsaw, Manchester, and everywhere else in Europe. In our interconnected world, large global cities are if not interchangeable then at least often share a common culture and vibe.

So you can successfully get smashed in Lisbon, Dublin, Stockholm and Munich? Congratulations, Mr. Citizen of the World. What do you want, a medal? Now go try to strike up a conversation with someone from your own country but from a different social class or region. Try going for a night out in Harlow or Wolverhampton or Preston. Your non-prescription hipster spectacles and quirky denim dungarees might buy you immediate entry to the trendy coffee shops of Amsterdam or the bars of Barcelona, but they’ll get you nowhere in Stoke-on-Trent.

And increasingly this is what it comes down to. We have a broad class of people with access to (and the desire to be part of) this emerging global tribe based in the top cities, and a class of people either cut off from this world or with little desire to participate in it. Now, we should certainly use economic policy to lift those who want to live more global lives into a position where they can do so, and avoid the urge to persecute or condescend to those who do not. But in general, we could all do with a bit less smugness and sanctimony from the Citizen of Starbucks Brigade.

For a start, the vast, vast majority of these people are such poor citizens of their own countries that they would feel adrift and culture-shocked, as though in a foreign land, if you lifted them from their home city and moved them to a smaller town thirty miles down the road. This is not some elite band of super-enlightened, non-judgmental, globally-minded, culturally-aware aesthetes, eager to experience new things. This is a pampered, cosseted tribe of relatively well-off millennials, many of whom are in thrall to the divisive Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, who barely understand their own compatriots yet arrogantly believe they are ready to be unleashed upon the world.

There is nothing particularly noble or praiseworthy about overcoming a language barrier to work and make friends with other people just like you who happen to live in other countries – which describes the vast majority of those people now tearfully painting the EU flag on their cheeks at anti-Brexit demonstrations and angrily declaring themselves “citizens of the world”.

Want to do something more challenging and actually worthy of praise? Try earning a reputation as somebody with friendships that span ages, social classes and other demographic indicators. Try living up to the ideal set by Rudyard Kipling:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch

And if you do so, you might not necessarily become a Man, my son. But at least you won’t be just another insufferable, identikit, cookie-cutter individual who conspicuously supports the European Union – despite barely comprehending what it really is – purely as a means of signalling your virtue to your insufferable, identikit, cookie-cutter fellow citizens of the world.

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Hysterical Remainers Are Inadvertently Making ‘Hard Brexit’ More Likely

Sam White has a great piece in Country Squire Magazine, in which he warns that the juvenile behaviour of bitter and hysterical Remainers is doing more than anything else to imperil the prospects of a smooth and orderly Brexit.

White writes:

One of the false charges levelled at Leave voters is that Brexit is an act of self-harm. That whatever reasons a person might have for voting to escape from the European Union, the amount of damage caused will always outweigh the benefits.

But from where I stand, the only masochistic inclinations come from hardcore Remainers themselves, as they attempt to hinder or halt a clean, well executed departure.

As they snipe and circle in a constant, bad tempered performance, drawing attention to their own discontent like hormonal adolescents, it becomes clear that they’ll try every trick at their disposal to oppose democracy.

An already impatient Leave camp is being made twitchy by the Remain contingent’s obstructive posturing, but can the Europhiles do any real damage?

The most vocal Remainers are so entrenched and irrational that they’ve actually shifted general opinion toward the very thing they’ve spent the past few months ardently demonising: a hard Brexit.

There are Leave supporters who’ve consistently argued that the only real Brexit is hard Brexit, and Remain have unwittingly reinforced this view. In fact, the idea of simply repealing the 1972 European Communities Act and walking nonchalantly away as if we’ve never heard of Article 50 now has a certain nihilistic, up-yours attraction. It’s the kind of thing Sid Vicious would do if he was in charge. Not so much a hard Brexit as a brick to the face Brexit.

That might give credibility to the charges of self harm though, and it’s unlikely our politicians would have the poised recklessness to pull it off. Instead, given the space to play smart, our negotiators would do best to take that most composedly British of approaches, and play the long game.

And were we united behind Brexit, they could do that.

However, with Remain jabbering and poking in the background like irritating, spoiled children, the considered approach becomes less attractive. What Brexiteer would feel comfortable with such a cautious route now, in the knowledge that amoral Remainers would have more time to subvert the plan?

Suddenly we’re a little less Roger Moore, and a bit more like John Cleese in Clockwise—quite prepared to steal a Porsche while dressed as a monk, as we race to trigger Article 50 before the entire glorious achievement can be stolen from us.

My emphasis in bold.

Sam White is quite correct. If we are determined to look at Brexit as a purely economic matter, as Remainers often seem to do, then right now there is no bigger threat than the possibility that the pro-EU crowd’s whiny filibustering might fuel a backlash which forces the government and MPs to take a harder (or more foolhardy) line in the secession negotiations than would otherwise be the case.

Pete North has previously picked up on the same danger, with reference to Nick Clegg an the Liberal Democrats:

And that is a problem if the Lib Dems are setting themselves up as the voice of the obstructionist remainers. It pretty much makes the EEA politically toxic. The option itself is hated among the majority of leavers, not least because they have, hook, line and sinker, bought the remainer narratives about it.

That puts us all in very dangerous territory. It forces the government to double down on seeking any solution but the EEA and consequently has them fumbling around in the dark for something politically palatable when the options are few. What that likely means is further delay and an attempt to bring about some kind of bespoke agreement that is the EEA in all but name.

As White notes, there is already a tedious contingent of Brexiteers, particularly online, who insist that despite the very clear wording of the referendum question, the British people also secretly gave an instruction to leave the single market, and that anything short of full and immediate divorce is some kind of dishonourable betrayal.

Throw in the fact that dishonest Remainers who only months ago were arguing that Britain’s prosperity depends on remaining in the political union have now retreated to the fallback position of calling for continued participation in the single market, and one can understand how the narrative of an elite anti-Brexit conspiracy is gaining traction and potentially leading to a hardening of stances among some Brexiteers.

White concludes:

Something these anti-democrats can never get their heads around is patriotism. The idea that a citizenry could be willing to risk a short-term financial hit in order to secure priceless, permanent sovereignty is apparently unfathomable.

They also have difficulty reconciling national integrity with being an outward looking, internationally-minded country, but of course there is no conflict between these things. Right now it’s the EU that appears stagnant and insular, while an independent, agile Britain looks fresh and ready to do business.

Perhaps it’s this intractable refusal to consider the value of nation states—in their most inclusive and forward thinking colours—that holds the Remainers back.

It’s true – many Remainers simply do not “get” patriotism, at least according to any reasonable definition of the word. Those who style themselves as “citizens of the world” are in fact no such thing. For as long as the nation state remains the basic building block of the global community and the ultimate guarantor of our rights and freedoms, permitting Britain’s sovereignty to be undermined is highly counterproductive.

But as this blog has argued, it goes deeper than that. It is not just that Remainers see concerns about self-determination and democracy as entirely secondary to short-term economic scaremongering concerns. It is that they are actively hostile to patriotism-based arguments, or indeed any harmless expression of patriotism.

And this haughty attitude risks fuelling a backlash which, when translated into domestic political pressure, may make it much harder for Theresa May’s government to pursue the kind of Brexit deal that we should be making.

 

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Why Should Brexiteers Be Magnanimous Toward Defeated Remainers? They Deserve No Such Goodwill

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Brexiteers should be magnanimous toward defeated Remainers? No, sorry. Remainers have behaved like deceitful, duplicitous, spoiled children both before and after the EU referendum, and have done nothing to deserve anyone’s goodwill

Peter Hitchens is both right and wrong in his latest Mail on Sunday column, in which he urges Brexiteers to show magnanimity toward defeated Remainers by swinging their support behind an interim Norway/EEA option for leaving the EU.

Hitchens writes:

Do you really think anyone in this deeply divided country has a mandate to go hell-for-leather for full immediate exit from the EU, regardless of costs and consequences?

I don’t. I think we might be very wise to settle for a Norway-style arrangement, and leave the rest for some other time.

A mandate is a mandate, but only because of the strange, rather illogical magic which says that a majority of one vote decides the issue. So it does.

But it doesn’t sweep away any duty to consider the defeated minority, our fellow countrymen and countrywomen, our neighbours, friends, colleagues, even relatives.

It may be that if the other side had won, they might have behaved badly towards us.

I have been in enough minorities in my time to have experienced that. But they would have been wrong to do so. And precisely because our cause is so good, we can afford to be generous in victory.

I get tired of the overblown shouting on both sides here. Anyone, even I, could see that a referendum was only the first step, and that lawyers, judges, civil servants, diplomats and the BBC would seek to frustrate a vote to leave.

That’s why I always wanted to take another, longer route out. I wasn’t surprised by the High Court decision that Parliament must be consulted, and I will be even less shocked if the so-called ‘Supreme Court’ takes the same view.

Hitchens is absolutely correct to endorse a Brexit model in which Britain retains our current level of access to the single market by continuing to participate in the EEA after our initial departure. One may not realise from listening to overzealous, hard Brexiteers, but this is nothing more than an acknowledgement of basic truth – that Brexit is inevitably going to be a process rather than an event, and that for this to work we need to find effective ways of tying the hundreds of loose ends created by severing ourselves from the EU in a way which minimises economic and diplomatic disruption while fulfilling the primary objective of leaving the political union.

But Hitchens is wrong to suggest that there should be any additional magnanimity toward Remainers, besides that which is absolutely essential for the interests of our cause. Lest everybody forget, Remainers have had their way exclusively for 40 years straight, with Britain participating as a paid-up member of the EU against the wishes of eurosceptics. During all this time there has been absolutely no magnanimity shown or generosity extended to those with doubts about the euro-federalist project, or concerns about the EU’s impact on democracy.

Brexiteers have been called “fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists” by none other than the former prime minister David Cameron, then leader of the party which by all rights should be most sympathetic to the eurosceptic cause. And Cameron was being positively polite in comparison to others. Furious Remainers, angry that their incompetent and small-minded campaign somehow managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory despite having the overwhelming support of the government, civil service and establishment, have been openly complaining that Brexiteers are the racist beneficiaries of a “post-factual” world where dark propaganda overshadows the EU’s inherent goodness (I debunked that lazy theory here and here).

And worse, Remainers have acted as though a nation state seeking to escape from a failing and spectacularly unloved supranational political union and reassert control over its democracy is not the result of genuine and valid political conviction but rather somehow the first step toward fascist tyranny.

I genuinely don’t know whether I have been more insulted by Remainers before the referendum or since it took place. During the campaign we had wall-to-wall Remainer scaremongering and the deliberate encouragement of public ignorance (with the false insistence that the EU is just about “friendly trade ‘n cooperation” and nothing more, that sure it has problems but the Magical EU Reform Unicorn will easily take care of them, and that anyone who disagrees is an Evil Uneducated Xenophobe).

And since the surprise victory for Leave, we have seen a parade of Remainer catastophising and hysterical garment-rending the likes of which have not been seen in my lifetime. Some of it has been dispiriting, coming from people whose opinions I used to respect. Some of it has been whimsical and borderline hilarious. But all of it has been wrong, and all of it has been offensive to Brexiteers, who have nonetheless fought the good fight despite the insults.

Hitchens goes on to sling some further insults at David Cameron, which this blog always enjoys:

People are already beginning to forget Mr Cameron. They shouldn’t. First, because so many who should have known better – Tory activists and then voters – fell for his marketing.

Second, because he is mainly responsible for the mess in which we now find ourselves. Try not to be fooled by this kind of person again.

And in the meantime, realise that, in these difficult times, we risk the sort of unforgiving, dangerous and destabilising divisions which are even now ripping through the USA. In such conditions, you may well get what you want, but only at a hard and bitter cost. Is that worth it?

Halfway out of the EU, which we can achieve now, may turn out to be a whole lot better than being halfway in.

But Hitchens mis-sells the EEA option, which is much better than being “halfway out” of the EU, as he describes it. Freedom from the EU’s political union, the “ever-closer union” ratchet, the ECJ and any future common taxation or military policies alone would be worth the effort. But as an EEA member (by rejoining EFTA and trading with the single market under that organisation’s EEA agreement) we would be subject to only around one third of current EU laws, many of which we would need to accept anyway in one form or another, in order to conform with global standards which the EU merely receives and rubber stamps. This is a lot more than some dismal halfway house, as Pete North eloquently explains.

This is political independence and breathing room for us to then consider how best to work with other like-minded countries and organisations to bring about the kind of non-parochial, global single market which could benefit Britain so greatly. By contrast, pushing for so-called “hard” Brexit not only glosses over innumerable complications, the ignorance of which could do profound economic and political harm to Britain were we to leave the EU without resolving them, it also makes Brexit less likely by alarming sufficient numbers of people that those who seek to stop Brexit altogether receive additional support.

Agitating for the hardest of hard Brexits is spectacularly unwise, inasmuch as that it would be an unnecessary act of deliberate economic self-harm – unnecessary because secession from the EU is eminently achievable without trying to undo 40 years of stealthy political integration in a fevered two-year bonfire of laws. And if recognising this basic reality seems like extending magnanimity toward Remainers, then let it be the only magnanimity they ever receive.

By now agitating for “soft Brexit” and Britain’s continued participation in the EU, Remainers are essentially exposing the fact that they lied continually throughout the referendum campaign. As this blog previously noted, during the referendum we were always told that leaving the EU would trigger all of these negative economic consequences. But now that Britain’s secession from the EU seems inevitable, Remainers have fallen back on the argument that it is leaving the single market which will cause us doom. This is actually much closer to the truth, but every day that they make this case shines a spotlight on the steaming lies and deceptions they told the British public during the referendum.

Therefore, if giving Remainers what they now want (continued single market access) still gets us out of the European Union in the most optimal way and exposes them as the shameless liars that they are, then I am more than happy to make that concession. But that is the only magnanimity that they will get from me.

Remainers have had things their way for forty years, never caring about the millions of Britons who dissented from the pro-EU political consensus, and often being actively hostile to us. Now that something has not gone their way for the first time in many of their pampered lives, I fail to understand why I am expected to sit beside their sick beds, holding their hands and reassuring them that I am not secretly part of a plot to bring fascism or splendid isolation back to the UK.

If that is what some Remainers seriously believe, then let them continue to think it. I hope that the gnawing concern gives them ulcers. I am done trying to reason with them. I am done placating them. I am done responding with reason when I am accused of ushering in the apocalypse, either through ignorance or malevolence. I am done extending the hand of friendship. No Brexiteer should feel compelled to defer to the delicate emotions of these selfish adult babies.

They had their way for forty years. Now we get to do things our way for a change.

Life is tough like that. Suck it up, Remainers. Enjoy the political wilderness – we knew it well ourselves, once.

 

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Oh, So Now You’re A Liberal?

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The vote for Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidential election victory seems to have wrongly convinced an entire army of snarling, leftist authoritarians that they are actually the virtuous defenders of liberalism

Is anybody else getting mighty sick of the constant parade of left-wing, Big Government-supporting authoritarians suddenly rushing to cloak themselves in the veil of “liberalism” as they struggle to process what they see as successive defeats in the EU referendum and the US presidential election?

I can’t think of a word that has been more overused by pundits since everybody got together a couple of years ago and decided that the related N-word (neoliberalism) was this season’s hottest fashion statement, and started accusing everybody whose views they dislike of being an Evil Neoliberal, as though it were some devastatingly intellectual insult.

Here’s the FT, weeping into their cornflakes about the supposed death-throes of liberalism:

Mr Trump’s victory, coming after the Brexit referendum vote in Britain, looks like another grievous blow to the liberal international order. Mr Trump must decide, by his actions and words, whether he intends to contribute to the great unravelling, at incalculable cost to the west.

And the Independent:

Democracy is changing, and not for the better, but those who believe in liberal values, tolerance and protecting the environment can learn from this setback and fight back.

The Independent, of course, promotes liberal tolerance through its courteous and magnanimous treatment of those who dare to dissent from its positions on social issues, climate change and global governance.

Here’s the Spectator:

In her concession speech, Clinton said her goal had been ‘breaking down all the barriers that hold any American back from achieving their dreams‘. This is the dream of liberalism, which seeks freedom from any social or economic constraint. Elites like Clinton feel confident that they can navigate a deregulated society in which class, gender, and race are all fluid. They support deregulated markets as well, confident that free trade and open borders will serve their own interests in the near term and the whole country’s in the longer term.

Freedom from any social constraint? Only if one happens to agree with the elite.

And the Spectator again, covering itself in even more glory:

The challenge to liberalism is still seen as an argument to be won rather than an irreversible sea-change. But, if anything, the scale of the problem has been understated. The core tenets of liberalism are freedom and equality, ideas that are under siege.

Oh, and let’s not forget the prime minister herself, Theresa May, speaking at the Lord Mayor’s banquet on Monday evening:

Change is in the air. And when people demand change, it is the job of politicians to respond.

But it’s also the job of all those in positions of influence and power – politicians, business leaders and others – to understand the drivers of that demand too.

And I think that if we take a step back and look at the world around us, one of the most important drivers becomes clear – the forces of liberalism and globalisation which have held sway in Britain, America and across the Western world for years have left too many people behind.

Let’s be clear: those forces have had – and continue to have – an overwhelmingly positive impact on our world.

It really has come to something quite strange when Theresa May – a flinty eyed authoritarian who gives me pause any time I check a book out of the library, lest her government use my borrowing history as a pretext for throwing me in jail next week – seeks to wrap herself in the mantle of small-L liberalism.

But now everyone seems to be at it, suddenly claiming that they are terribly “liberal” while the people they dislike are not. Politicians and pundits who only months ago could be found calling for people to be banned from entering the country due to their political beliefs are now rending their garments at the election of a man who suggested that people should be banned because of their religious ones. And in so doing, they declare themselves to be the defenders of liberalism, while utterly oblivious to the irony of it all.

People who wanted to usher in national ID cards, strengthen the surveillance state, extend pre-charge detention, ban UKIP voters from fostering or adopting children, throw people in jail for their Facebook and Twitter posts, arrest people for singing the wrong songs at a football match, ban advertisements for being offensive, hike taxes even higher on cigarettes or alcohol or ban them altogether, levy regressive taxes on soft drinks, erect safe spaces on university campuses, slap trigger warnings on academic syllabuses, shame or punish people for the Halloween costumes that they choose to wear, get people fired from their jobs for holding or expressing the wrong opinion, strangle religious freedom and force people to violate their faiths by positively affirming the actions and lifestyle choices of others – these people are suddenly all over the airwaves, lamenting that it is actually those Evil Brexiteers and Donald Trump supporters who have supposedly brought our previously-idyllic liberal age crashing down in flames.

Well sorry, but this pious, self-aggrandising argument is complete baloney. I can’t speak for Donald Trump supporters, not being one myself, but I am very adamant that my vote for Brexit was a liberal vote for strong, globally-engaged nation state democracy. I and millions of others voted to leave the European Union because it sought to impose a degree of supranational government upon us which far outweighs the limited extent to which most Britons consider themselves European and consent to such governance. I did so because I judged that my inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are to this day best defended by a strong nation state with a reinvigorated national democracy, and not a remote supranational union with some of the superficial trappings – but none of the spirit – of democratic accountability. Voting for Brexit was perhaps the most profoundly liberal thing I have done on my thirty-three years on this good Earth.

And yet now I am supposed to sit back while every two-bit authoritarian with a newspaper column publishes tedious identikit dirges alleging that I, a staunch libertarian conservative, am supposedly at the vanguard of a dystopian new illiberal movement sweeping across the world and shrouding humanity in darkness and uncertainty? Hell no.

If liberalism is so great – and by and large, it is – then it would be nice if some of liberalism’s new fair-weather friends tried to remember the ideology’s core principles once they have finished weeping about Trump and Brexit and turned their attention back to more mundane political events. Perhaps they might care to remember the term they so glibly appropriated next time they call for something they disagree with to be banned, or for somebody who offends them to be punished by the criminal justice system. What do you think are the chances that this will happen?

After a week of this incessant, tedious refrain about the “death of liberalism” from the commentariat, I have just about had enough of my liberalism being culturally appropriated by the snarlingly authoritarian Regressive Left. It is only in the reflection of Donald Trump or Nigel Farage’s wildest rhetoric that their own paternalistic, control-freakish, coercive instincts can be even semi-plausibly pitched as being remotely liberal, and those of us with long memories and functioning brains know these pearl-clutchers for what they really are – persistent, deadly enemies to true liberalism.

 

Postscript: In this excellent piece, Pete North slaps down the idea that the West is somehow turning its back on liberalism, drawing a crucial distinction between genuine small-L liberalism which is as popular as ever and its decadent, identity politics and victimhood culture-infused cousin which has indeed been rejected by the electorate.

Money quote:

In a liberal society we appreciate that we all have our distinctions and limitations and we recognise that nobody should endure discrimination or punishment for those facets which cannot be changed. Gender, sexual preference, skin colour. But it goes further than that. We try to open doors for people os that people can break out of predetermined roles and destinies. That to me is social progress, where nobody is limited by class and physical attributes.

But when liberals begin to attack the very foundation of our morality and our values and seek to replace them with an ultra-permissive, anything goes morality we lose any kind of cohesion and moral authority. Moral relativism takes hold to such an extent that we can no longer defend those things we value.

What the left have done is to identify all social norms as inherently evil – which has given rise to the cult of the self which in turn has spawned the now toxic brand of feminism we see on the internet and the perverse social justice movement which processes everything through the prism of identity. It centres around a certain narcissism whereby individual rights become entitlements on the basis of one’s sense of victimhood. From this is born the right not to be offended or triggered – and with that goes the death of free speech. Opposition is inherently oppression it seems.

And this is why the culture war of the last decade goes so heavily with what is happening on a more visible level in politics. In what is now seen as a backlash against political correctness, there is something more seismic happening.

And North’s conclusion:

But then this tyranny of what is laughingly known as progressivism is on borrowed time. It always was a moral and intellectual perversion and it was always a minority view. How it came to be one of the most powerful ideas of a century is for the historians but now it seems the majority have finally lost patience and stood up to the left. In this we are not turning our backs on liberalism. We are merely putting an end to the gradual erosion of those, dare I say it, traditional values on which our modern and open society is built. I think this is what makes Theresa May, herself a church and shires Conservative, the right lady at the right time.

The sad part of this is that there will inevitably be a tiny minority who think we are going back to the old days where rampant and open homophobia is acceptable and we will no doubt see an unfortunate spike in racist incidents. But it is a typical left wing lie to say that mainstream society has suddenly become intolerant and racist. That trick might have worked for the last twenty years but the election of Trump tells you that the majority no longer care what you call them. The more offensive to the left the better.

And it is so telling that across the USA we now see the left spitting venom. We now see the true face of the “tolerant” left in all its bile. We can see that it was never about advancing a better society for all. It was about the minority wielding power over the majority – to impose a twisted morality on society without its consent – from the United Nations to the local primary school.

I repeat: genuine, small-L liberalism has not been rejected by the people, and is only under marginally more serious threat from ignorant authoritarians like Donald Trump than it has been over the past decades from highly learned progressives who sought to impose their “progressive” worldview on an uncertain population while actively criminalising dissent.

Those weeping most loudly today about the supposed death of liberalism have often themselves done as much as anyone to damage liberalism themselves through their decidedly illiberal and intolerant past behaviour.

 

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