Budget 2017 Reaction

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This was a holding budget designed to buy the government some political breathing room, and so Philip Hammond kicked the can down the road on nearly all of the major fiscal and structural issues facing Britain

I intended this piece to be just a few disjointed thoughts reflecting on Philip Hammond’s Budget Statement and the boldness or cowardice of the Tories, but it gradually expanded to touch on issues of federalism and local government, and the counterproductive nature of the annual “Budget Theatre” itself.

A one-way ratchet to Bigger Government?

As Budgets go, this one was fairly bland and non-offensive. Contrary to the justified fears that Theresa May’s administration would be a one-way ratchet to Bigger Government, such ominous moves were largely missing from today’s statement – though of course we still have the highly un-conservative “Industrial Strategy” to come.

Equal to the challenges facing Britain?

It is hard to argue that this Budget in any way acknowledges the scale of the challenges facing post-Brexit Britain. A serious Budget which attempted to do so would have included a lot more on education and proposed a means to help re-train the many workers who will find their jobs outsourced or automated in the coming decades. £40 million to train new maths teachers is good, and any steps to improve Britain’s STEM output are welcome, but this does nothing to disarm the time bomb which will affect many of those already in the workforce.

A serious Budget would have done more than take tentative steps around the housing crisis, firmly addressing the supply issue now rather than tinkering with demand by abolishing stamp duty on properties under £500,000. It would have touched the third rail of British politics and defied the doctrine of NHS non tangere to meaningfully reform British healthcare and the way it is funded. It would have grappled with social care and the need to ensure that those who can afford to bear more of the cost of any care they require in old age.

But of course we got none of those things. And the great danger is that we will now never see these problems meaningfully addressed in the lifespan of this government. One can appreciate that Brexit is currently sucking much of the oxygen which might otherwise fuel other policymaking, but we should not have to choose between managing Brexit (which this government is also failing to do) and dealing with other long-term problems. It should not be too much to ask for the UK government to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Short-term thinking over long-term need?

A government’s first budget is normally a place where bad news gets dumped and difficult decisions made, the idea being that it is better to absorb public anger now and then win back favour with giveaways in the final budget(s) before a general election than have to anger people with harsh corrective measures later in the term. David Cameron’s government followed this approach, with Chancellor George Osborne doling out the harsher medicine (or plain confusion, in the case of the Omnishambles budget) in early years and then sweetening the deal prior to the 2015 election by pretending that he had solved all of Britain’s fiscal challenges and therefore had spare cash to throw around.

The fact that Theresa May’s government is not following this well-worn path is not a sign of some innovative new strategy – it is a sign of clear political weakness. The current Conservative government is already teetering on the brink, without a majority in the House of Commons and kept afloat in the polls only because of fear of Jeremy Corbyn. Philip Hammond therefore had no political capital to spend by irritating the electorate any further, or asking anything more of them; instead he was forced to try to accrue some political capital with a giveaway.

As I previously wrote:

Twice a year – once in the annual Budget and once in the Autumn Statement – the Chancellor of the Exchequer gets to his feet and delivers a refreshed set of economic policies in a big, set piece speech where he is essentially forced to favour tomorrow’s headlines over optimal long or even medium term decision making.

Nationally significant policies from every government ministry live or die by the concessions that their ministers are able to wrangle from a Chancellor who is forced by political reality to be more concerned with tomorrow’s Daily Mail headline than the state of our public finances in a year’s time.

Thus the annual Budget Theatre encourages short-term thinking. Whether one takes the Osborne approach or the Hammond approach, Budgets are as much about chasing favourable headlines and dominating the news cycle with positive coverage for a few days than they are about serious long-term strategic thinking.

Budget Theatre is a bad way of governing

This blog has long complained that this annual Budget Theatre, with all the speculation and press coverage surrounding it, is a really bad way to run a modern democracy. Why? Well, there are a number of reasons.

First of all,  as already discussed, the Budget spectacle encourages short-term thinking. Budget 2017 is something of a “giveaway” budget, with the government making concessions and seeking to tamp down public anger rather than taking difficult decisions in the long term. In short, it prioritises the political and tactical over the strategic.

Secondly, the Budget spectacle directly feeds into the Politics of Me Me Me, far more so than any other event, even general elections. During the build-up to Budget Day, the day itself and the immediate aftermath, we are encouraged by the media to think only about how the budget affects us and our wallets. This is understandable, since the Chancellor has the power to inflict severe pain or lavish great rewards on favoured groups. But it is also therefore an incentive for us to “ask not what we can do for our country, ask what our country can do for us”, to reverse John F. Kennedy’s exhortation.

As I wrote at the time of George Osborne’s 2015 Budget:

Having two occasions each year when an already-powerful chancellor in an already-centralised country like the United Kingdom gets to play with nearly all of the controls and levers which influence our economy – as though he were Homer Simpson at the controls of Springfield Nuclear Plant – only encourages meddling and tweaking of things that should properly be left to local government and individuals.

When you have direct, ultimate control over which families deserve help buying a house, which people should keep or lose their benefits or how much a person pays in sin taxes for their guilty pleasure, the temptation to use those powers is irresistible. And because of the ratchet effect, it is the easiest thing in the world to give away new perks to favoured interest groups, but nearly impossible to ever claw them back without being exposed to political attack. Even under this nominally conservative government, budgets and autumn statements have often been a one-way ticket to bigger government – or at least more activist state.

Unfortunately, Budget Theatre is inevitable when so many decisions affecting so many people are made centrally rather than locally, and applied at a national level rather than taking into account the specific and varying needs of different regions (or between the cities and the countryside).

And this leads on to my next point…

Britain’s overcentralisation disease

I continue to find it vaguely ludicrous that decisions about how much tax should be applied to a pint of beer or a litre of gasoline are set nationally in Westminster, and that we all have to tune in to the Budget Statement every year to find out what tweaks and incentives the Chancellor has seen fit to impose on our lives at the behest of the public health or environmental lobby.

Britain is a ridiculously over-centralised country in terms of governance. Devolution is a good thing in principle (though I would argue that we should move toward a federal UK with the same powers devolved to each home nation) but the net result of current devolution is that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have rightly floated off to do their own thing in terms of domestic policy while England remains overcentralised.

We need to move to a place where local authorities, ideally county councils, take over some of the tax-raising powers from Westminster and gain more control over spending in areas such health, transport and education. We need to stop fearing the “postcode lottery” and start welcoming it as a petri dish for testing new policies and encouraging healthy rivalry between regions. More decentralised taxation and spending would force local politicians to put their money – or their electorate’s money – where their mouths are. If leftist politicians want to hike sales taxes or fritter money away on white elephants they should be free to do so, and then answer to voters.

Finally, enhancing the powers of local government in England would increase the current woeful levels of participation in local democracy as the decisions made locally suddenly started to matter a lot more. And this in turn would see an improvement in the calibre of people running for local office, and serve as an incubator for political talent outside Westminster.

Of course, some of the blame for the current situation rests with the Thatcher government, which felt it necessary to de-fang many local authorities since they represented such an impediment to the government’s turnaround strategy. One can argue whether or not this was justified, but certainly the end result is a country where far too many decisions and policies rest with the Westminster government when they should really sit much closer to the people.

Conclusion

This year’s Budget could have been a hell of a lot worse, given Theresa May’s interventionist instincts and tolerance for Big Government. Fortunately, Philip Hammond seems to have resisted such pressures and delivered a Budget which – if Britain were operating in steady-state with no major challenges on the horizon – would have been largely inoffensive.

Unfortunately, Britain is not in a period of steady-state operation, where domestic and international issues are stable and a technocracy is more than capable of fiddling with the switches and dials to keep things running smoothly. On the contrary, we have entered a period of discontinuity, an abrupt departure from our previous national trajectory, when the old political consensus is revealed to have frayed to the point of uselessness and bold new policymaking is required.

As I recently wrote, a bold new programme of coherent, mutually-supporting policies is required to equip Britain to face these oncoming challenges. The Tories now have the slogan, but it remains painfully clear that they do not yet have the solutions, though various initiatives are now underway to come up with some original new policies.

But it will take their time for these policy groups – notably George Freeman’s Big Tent and Nick Boles’ Square Deal schemes – to come to full fruition and develop workable policies. And even then there is no guarantee that Theresa May or the next Conservative leader will approve of these policies and work them into their programme for government.

Unfortunately, as a nation we are treading water at the moment, neither swimming toward the oncoming wave or swimming away from it as it threatens to break over us. This was a holding budget designed to buy the Tories some political breathing room and perhaps signal that they are starting to comprehend  public dissatisfaction with the status quo, particularly on housing.

But without some kind of joined-up, comprehensive plan – and a coherent message with which to sell it to the public – it is hard to see the Tories winning the kind of electoral mandate or public support they need to be anything more than a caretaker government.

 

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Building A Britain Fit For The Future

Building a Britain fit for the future - new Conservative Party Tory slogan

Strong and stable, version 2.0

Word on the street is that the Tories have got themselves a shiny new slogan. Guido Fawkes reports:

Here are seven words you can expect to hear a lot more of over the next few weeks and months: Guido understands the new Tory slogan is “Building a Britain fit for the future”. Theresa May used it three times at PMQs on Wednesday, telling the Commons: “this government is building a country fit for the future”, “we are building a Britain fit for the future” and “We in the Conservative Party are building a Britain that is fit for the future”. This morning the CCHQ Twitter account used the same phrase.

As slogans go, I suppose that “Building a Britain fit for the future” could be a hell of a lot worse. It is certainly better than “strong and stable”, though according to Guido it seems as though the Tories are already in danger of wearing out their new slogan through enthusiastic over-use.

BABFFTF has potential because it at least acknowledges that we are entering a period of discontinuity – a time where the current system or political consensus is starting to fray and show signs of fatigue, where new and previously politically unfeasible policies are required to break the impasse or respond to the concerns of the electorate. The rise of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and the vote for Brexit are just two of the most prominent signs that we have entered such a time of discontinuity, with the pro-EU, centrist consensus adopted by Labour and the Conservatives through 2015 increasingly failing to address the hopes, fears, concerns and priorities of many people.

The problem, though, is that the slogan seems to have been trailed before the necessary supporting ideas – the vital national reboot checklist which can steer Britain through Brexit and on to the other challenges – have been developed. Now, it’s possible that Theresa May has been huddled in Downing Street with her SpAds brainstorming some breathtakingly original new ideas, and that we will all be bowled over when they are announced in the coming weeks – but it seems unlikely. Firstly, she would be breaking the habit of a lifetime (doing something bold and visionary) and secondly it is hard to tell when such inspired policymaking might have taken place given all of the shenanigans going on in her Cabinet.

While we can finally detect a few faint signs of new intellectual life in the Tories – notably the Big Tent programme launched by George Freeman, and the Square Deal initiative led by Nick Boles – these groups are barely getting formed, and are months away (if not more) from reaching full fruition. And as I have previously written (and will continue to expand upon in coming days and weeks), we are still missing anything like an overarching framework to diagnose the issues facing Britain, draw out the links between them and produce an electorally viable set of policies to tackle them. Discontinuity requires policymaking through extraordinary means; the same old processes tend to yield the same old solutions.

That being said, the Tories cannot remain silent altogether while they try to get their act together. It is good, in a way, that Brexit is currently consuming most of this government’s energy because that means that they have little time (and even less political capital) to push through some of the authoritarian, statist, anti-market policies which one suspects Theresa May would now be rolling out had she won a thumping majority. A de facto “first, do no harm” doctine has thus been partially imposed on this government, like it or not.

But still the Tories must do something, starting with the Budget next week, to show that they are starting to understand the depth of public dissatisfaction with the old political settlement, particularly on housing (since this is a vital policy area more separated from some of the others). Years of disappointment mean that I have zero positive expectations of Phillip Hammond when he gets to his feet to deliver the Budget next Wednesday. I fear that even if there is noticeable movement on housing, it will be a big sop to Labour by focusing on the building of new council housing rather than the big unleashing/encouraging of private development (upward, not outward) which we need. This is Hammond’s chance to prove me wrong, as well as everybody else who has lost faith in the current government being anything more than a very clumsy caretaker.

The pessimistic part of me still believes that a mid-term rescue for the Tories is simply impossible; that it will take a (hopefully) short, sharp spell in opposition to rid the current Tory frontbench of much of its dead wood and see some new talent push forward – hopefully talent less beholden to the current political consensus, and which wants to do more than simply make a few cosmetic tweaks to win back public opinion. Readers will no doubt correct me if I am wrong, but I cannot think of one example of a successful political turnaround that was driven by refreshed policies rather than the good fortune of events.

But a Jeremy Corbyn government is not something to be entertained lightly. The next government will likely set the tone and direction of Britain’s immediate post-Brexit years, and so will play a large role in stamping their imprint on whatever the new emerging political consensus or centre of gravity happens to be. After years of leftward drift under both New Labour and Conservative governments, it is important that the next significant course change is to the right. In a world of pure ideology one may well want the Tories decimated at the next election so that they can grow back stronger and with a renewed sense of purpose, just as controlled forest fires can ultimately benefit an ecosystem even as they destroy in the short term. But since we all have to live in this forest for the duration, dropping a match onto dry leaves by ushering Jeremy Corbyn into 10 Downing Street really must be an option of last resort.

Therefore let us hope that “Building a Britain fit for the future” and whatever quickly-concocted policies lie beneath it buy the Tories sufficient breathing room to attempt a more fundamental policy review – to create the new Stepping Stones report for 2018 that Britain needs to chart our way from one failed political consensus to a new one which addresses today’s challenges.

Let’s hope that it falls to conservatives to build the Britain of the future, and not Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

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Two Month Report Card – First Thoughts On Theresa May’s Premiership

After an assured and confident start, Theresa May’s government shows welcome signs of moving boldly, if not always in the right direction

To date, this blog has not wasted undue time speculating about Theresa May’s premiership and assessing her early performance – not least because we are only just starting to emerge from summer silly season, and there has not been much yet to judge.

But as somebody who would never have wanted a flinty-eyed authoritarian like Theresa May to become leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister of the UK, I must admit that so far I am cautiously impressed.

The relative silence from Number 10 Downing Street over the summer break was refreshing, and the fact that we were not bombarded with press releases, superficial policy announcements and a load of government spin showed the best side of Theresa May – the no nonsense, hardworking operator.

Such rows and dramas as did break out – like the childish playground spat between Liam Fox and Boris Johnson over responsibility for promoting Britain’s commercial interests – were slapped down quickly, while similar turf wars and petty rivalries between SpAds were frequently allowed to fester and spiral into damaging newsworthy wars under David Cameron.

Of course, the worst Big Government, security state instincts of Theresa May are never far from the surface, and soon this blog will likely be riding to battle against the government’s Investigatory Powers Act, due to return before Parliament soon.

And on the most important issue of Brexit, there is still no sense that ministers have even truly begun to wrap their heads around the complexity of what is to come, let alone have an appreciation of the key challenges and opportunities. Theresa May has made a rod for her own back by stating her commitment to significant up-front immigration reductions as a key part of the package, which only makes the vital interim EFTA/EEA transitory option (with controls on immigration in the line of the Liechtenstein model) that much harder to achieve.

And yet there is also good news on Brexit, not least the willingness of our allies in Canada, New Zealand and Australia to lend us the services of their skilled trade negotiators as Britain struggles to regain core competencies in areas of national sovereignty which we allowed to wither and atrophy during our EU imprisonment. Also somewhat heartening is the seeming enthusiasm and energy which the government is throwing into pursuing various assorted “trade deals”.

While the devil will be in the scope and the details, this newfound diplomatic vigour is encouraging to witness, and only emphasises why David Cameron and George Osborne had to go after fighting against Brexit and losing the referendum. This is no time for surly, sulking brooders more keen to prove their Brexit doomsday scenarios true than to faithfully serve the nation to be anywhere near the levers of government. Senior civil servants should take note.

The confident appearance at the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China, also marked a welcome break from the past. Gordon Brown’s desperate, fawning approval-seeking, so unbecoming to the leader of an indispensable nation, and David Cameron’s oleaginous Davos Man act, the coping mechanism of somebody who never really understood what it is to be a statesman, were both beneath Britain. By contrast, Theresa May looked every bit the equal of Barack Obama at their joint press conference, neither Blairite poodle nor Brownite starry-eyed fan. For a country which has too often punched beneath its weight diplomatically (thanks in no small part to our absorption within the EU) it is encouraging to see that Theresa May seems to be taking her marching orders from the British people seriously.

But these are only first impressions. The complexities of Brexit have yet to bite (those daily articles either celebrating the Brexit success or gleefully validating the apocalypse are mindless puff pieces from a Westminster media class which has no interest in getting enmeshed in the details, or learning from those in the know). The migrant crisis remains unresolved. ISIS and the threat of radical Islamist terror remain pointedly undefeated. Domestic policy needs to be given new direction and urgency – preferably, given the Labour Party’s ongoing implosion, in the opposite direction to the Cameron/Osborne march to the political centre.

Looking ahead, this blog hopes and expects to see Jeremy Hunt let off the leash and given authority to tear some much-deserved chunks out of the arrogant BMA and the junior doctors’ dispute which has been a grubby pay dispute and not a high-minded defence of Our Blessed NHS (genuflect) all along.

Sensible measures on tax reform would be welcome too – though the words “daring” and “bold” hardly come to mind when picturing Philip Hammond, it would be good to see the scope of Theresa May’s ambition extending not just to make Britain’s tax regime attractive to foreign investors, but also to rewarding and encouraging individuals and small businesses. The 45% top rate of tax, a partial remnant of the stench of Gordon Brown’s premiership, must certainly go, but we also hope to see something more ambitious than mere tinkering around the edges of the tax code.

A renewed commitment to national defence and the Armed Forces would also turn the page on David Cameron’s willingness to see the UK lose core capabilities. The NATO target of 2% of GDP to be spent on defence should be treated like a minimum requirement, not an aspiration or a triumph to be crowed about. For a seafaring island nation, the Royal Navy is worryingly undermanned, and may struggle to operate even one of its new aircraft carriers, let alone both. Unlike other European powers, our maritime patrol and coastguard capabilities are virtually nonexistent. These and other issues should be remedied.

One would like to add robust support for freedom of speech and civil liberties to this list, and an end to persecution of people at the hands of the criminal justice system merely for the beliefs they hold or the ideas that they express – but let us not kid ourselves. There is no sign yet that a popular rebellion against the state’s efforts to criminalise thought and speech is anywhere near gaining traction. In fact, even many of those who spend half their time praising free speech (when it suits their own purposes) are happy to turn around, play the wounded victim and demand that others are held to account for expressing speech which they dislike.

A nasty authoritarian streak runs through Britain, and by no means only at the level of the political elite. Go to any pub or hipster coffee shop and you’ll hear people of all backgrounds and demographics expressing outrage at something and suggesting that it should therefore be banned by the government. And while Theresa May’s Conservative government is almost certainly likely to be a disappointment on the issues of free speech and civil liberties, they will be no more of a disappointment than many of the British people themselves.

So here we are, nearly two months into Theresa May’s premiership and there are unexpected causes for optimism and good cheer in a number of areas. There are also, inevitably, areas where May’s instincts and political convictions mean that she must be watched like a hawk and opposed where necessary. But over two months since the historic EU referendum and nearly two months into a most unexpected new premiership, Britain does seem to be walking a little taller and more confidently in the world.

Long may it continue.

 

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Gibraltar Brexit Fears Are False, But Remainers Are Right: Our Foreign Policy Clout Has Atrophied Within The EU

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The government’s case for remaining in the European Union is based on an unedifying, unpatriotic and false misrepresentation of Britain’s supposed weakness and vulnerability as an independent country. But there is a small, disturbing element of truth to the Foreign Office’s scaremongering claims

One theme which has emerged consistently throughout the EU referendum debate is the degree to which the British government’s ability to conduct an independent economic, trade and foreign policy has atrophied through over-reliance on the European Union to manage our affairs.

This is primarily seen in the debate on trade – the future lies with the slowly emerging and hugely promising global single market, but on this most critical of issues, Britain has simply outsourced our own decision-making ability by vesting it in the EU.

To prosper in this globalised world, Britain should be exercising our full influence on key global bodies such as UNECE, Codex Alimentarius, the ILO, IMO and others, but since we allow the European Union to speak for us and interpret rules made by these bodies on our behalf, Britain’s ability to argue our own national interest has gradually withered through lack of practice.

We see the same corrosive forces at work in foreign policy. Nearly every pro-Remain intervention made by the hapless Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, has served to reveal not only his own incompetence in the role, but also the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s growing inability to robustly defend British interests outside the context of being an EU member state.

The latest example:

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has angered Brexit campaigners by claiming a vote to leave the European Union would put British sovereignty over Gibraltar at risk.

His shocking comments came in a joint warning with Gibraltar’s chief minister today, which has led to accusations of scaremongering from the out campaign.

The Rock’s Fabian Picardo even said the prospect of Spain wrestling back at least partial control of the Mediterranean island would be “back on the table” if the UK opts to leave the Brussels union next month.

His stark warning risks being seen as another example of the pro-EU camp’s Project Fear and comes as Mr Hammond visits Gibraltar to discuss security threats to the British Overseas Territory.

On his first official visit to the Rock since taking up the post in 2014, the Foreign Secretary said: “I genuinely believe that the threat of leaving the European Union is as big a threat to Gibraltar’s future security and Gibraltar’s future sovereignty as the more traditional threats that we routinely talk about.”

As is always the case with those on the Remain side, Hammond speaks as though Britain is entirely without agency, a passive blob to be moulded and shaped by outside forces rather than a powerful global player in our own right.

And yet there is some truth in Hammond’s pessimism. Having acted primarily through the European Union for so long, and with the EU’s Federica Mogherini a better known voice on the world stage than our own Foreign Secretary, it could almost be the case that Britain’s ability to wield our clout and influence on the world stage has atrophied to such an extent that the FCO is genuinely no longer capable of preventing foreign interference with a British Overseas Territory.

This is what the EU does. This is the modus operandi of Brussels – gradually assuming more and more of the day-to-day governing from national governments, until one day, quite unexpectedly, the national layer of government finds that it no longer has the technical capability or willpower to function on its own. But the answer is not to throw our hands up in acceptance of this state of affairs, or play the hopeless part of an insect stuck in a Venus flytrap. The answer is to extricate ourselves, and re-learn those skills and competencies which we shamefully allowed to lapse during our failed flirtation with supra-national government.

Pete North puts it best:

George Osborne has said of Brexit re-negotiations: “If we leave EU, the House of Commons is going to be doing nothing else for many, many years”. He’s right. The government will have to govern. It’s going to take years to undo the damage. We are going to take years rebuilding our domestic expertise and design new policy. The whole Whitehall establishment will have to be re-ordered and redesigned. The Foreign Office will have to get busy doing what they should have been doing for the last forty years.

We are going to have to have serious debates about fisheries management. We are going to have to rethink our rural policy. We are going to have to take a very close look at our energy policy. We will need a serious debate about foreign aid, immigration and trade. We are going to have to rethink the way we do nearly everything. Leaving the EU means rebuilding our capacity for self-government and we will have to muddle through that process, kicking out the failures as we go.

What it does mean is that we are not bound by EU directives and targets which means we are free to innovate in policy making – which means we may actually see some change because ministers are then responsible. The buck stops with them rather than idly shrugging their shoulders and saying “the EU made me do it”.

And furthermore, as this blog pointed out the last time our Foreign Secretary decided to be a spokesperson for Brussels instead of his own country:

If Hammond’s words are to be taken seriously, it means that he has presided over the worst diplomatic failure in recent British history – namely the failure of a declared nuclear power, as well as a leading military, economic and cultural power, to command such respect on the world stage as might survive us leaving a supranational arrangement which we no longer believe works in our favour. Is that really what the Foreign Secretary wants to tell the British people?

Europhiles and Remainers can’t decide whether Brussels is friend or frenemy; whether the other EU member states are dear friends who would be sorry to see us go, or bitter rivals who would seek to punish Britain for rejecting their vision of a politically unified Europe.

Is the European Union a cuddly, benign club of countries coming together to trade peaceably, or a snarling mob waiting to inflict “punishment beatings” and infringe on our sovereign territory if we cross them?

It’s about time that Remainers made up their minds.

 

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Cameron The Weakling

David Cameron thinks that publicly exaggerating and flaunting Britain’s supposed weakness and vulnerability will make people vote to stay in the European Union, while having no impact on perceptions of his own leadership

We have already been treated to the spectacle of our wobbly-lipped Foreign Secretary insinuating that he is so inept at managing our foreign relations and defending Britain’s interests that we would likely be “punished” by our European friends if we voted to leave the EU.

And now it is David Cameron’s turn to make an ostentatious public spectacle of just how weak and insignificant he believes we are as a country, and how hopelessly unable to defend the British interest he is.

From Michael Deacon’s sketch in the Telegraph:

Francois Hollande, the President of France, respects the British people. He respects their democratic right to choose how they wish to be governed. He would never wish to put pressure on them. And if, when the referendum comes, they decide that the UK should leave the EU, he will respect their decision.

But, he added casually, there would of course be… “consequences”.

He said the word many times. “Consequences.” There would be “consequences” relating to trade, “consequences” relating to immigration. “Consequences?” Oh, he was “unable to deny” there would be “consequences”.

Was it true, asked a journalist, that if the UK left the EU, France would abandon the deal that helps stop migrants crossing illegally from Calais to Britain?

Monsieur Hollande looked at the journalist equably. Well, he replied. Naturally there would be “consequences”.

All of this took place while our prime minister stood limply next to the French president at his podium, as though French special forces had kidnapped Samantha and the kids and were holding them at gunpoint in the background.

At what point does the dirge-like, pessimistic drivel offered up by the Remain campaign and spouted ceaselessly by loyal government ministers stop making the public question whether Brexit is safe, and start making them question why the hell we pay these people if not to aggressively defend our own national interest?

Not to get all Land of Hope and Glory here, but Britain is still a reasonably big deal in the world. A major economic power, the premier European military power and one of a handful of countries in the world with real expeditionary capabilities, and a cultural reach probably second only to the United States. Most British people know this, and do not buy into the miserablist, declinist view of Britain peddled by so many in the Remain camp.

David Cameron has clearly made a calculation that talking about the catastrophic consequences of Brexit on the United Kingdom will scare up a significant number of votes and thus undermine the Leave campaigns. Never mind that it makes him look like a liar for having previously suggested that he might recommend Brexit if he was not successful in securing his pitiful package of “reforms”. And never mind the galling spectacle of a British prime minister actively and passionately running down his own country for electoral advantage.

Allister Heath picks up on this same theme in the Telegraph:

But the Government and many of its anti-Brexit allies have gone too far: instead of carefully stoking the public’s understandable fear of change, and planting doubt in its mind, they have decided to wildly exaggerate the downsides of leaving. The hit to the economy could be greater than that from the Great Recession, we are told by some hysterical economists, and even that best-selling children’s books would no longer be written because, apparently, no non-British authors or illustrators would be allowed into the UK if we were not part of the EU.

These and many other of the similarly extreme claims that have been made in recent days are laughably implausible, even to nervous, swing voters; fear is only effective as a political strategy if it is credible. Even worse for the Government, it has also allowed a toxic narrative to set in: the idea that it would be powerless to stand up for Britain’s interests and look after our economy in the event of a Leave vote.

It’s all rather pathetic and defeatist. It would be too hard and time-consuming to conclude alternative trade deals, we are warned, and we apparently don’t have the requisite skills in the Foreign Office; there is nothing anybody could do to stop our companies, consumers and tourists being bullied and victimised by vindictive foreign governments; and we would be bulldozed by the angry bureaucrats of Brussels wherever we turn. Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, has claimed that British expats living in Europe would risk “becoming illegal immigrants overnight”, even though their status would in fact be protected under the Vienna Convention of 1969.

Project White Flag, as we should learn to call it, boils down to one long stream of nauseating, miserable, declinist negativity. Alarm bells ought to be going off in Downing Street: politicians don’t win elections or referenda by pretending to be weak and powerless, and by claiming to be at the mercy of foreign governments.

As this blog has repeatedly stated, the Remain campaign need to make up their minds. Is the EU a soft and friendly club of countries getting together to braid each other’s hair and co-operate on a range of mutually beneficial issues, or is it a snarling, angry organisation which threatens to rough us up if we attempt to leave? Are we in a happy marriage with the EU, or an abusive relationship?

And we British citizens also need to make up our minds about something. We need to decide why we should continue to tolerate having in office a prime minister, foreign secretary and other elected officials who hold our country in lower estimation than many of their own citizens, and who – by their own admission – have stated that they would be unable to aggressively defend our national interest in the event of Brexit.

Because we are rapidly reaching the point where the public may start to question the point of keeping a pampered man and his family installed in Number 10 Downing Street at all,  when all he does is openly boast about his inability to influence other nations and stand up for Britain.

 

David Cameron - Angela Merkel - Francois Hollande - EU Renegotiation - Brexit

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