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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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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This Generation Of Politicians Will Not Secure The Benefits Of Brexit

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Four months after the EU referendum, our leaders continue to shrink from the challenges (and opportunities) which lie ahead

As is nearly always the case, Pete North has the best analysis and summary of exactly where we are with our Brexit deliberations – and right now, the answer is rather depressing:

For several months we had the great and the good telling us how important the single market was and how valuable the EU was to the UK. Now that they are tasked with leaving the EU we see that they can barely define the EU and the single market let alone offer an adequate critique as to whether it is right for the UK.

Through successive treaties our parliament has idly signed away substantial areas of policy to be decided overseas with hardly any public scrutiny. It is therefore ironic that MPs now demand parliamentary sovereignty in scrutinising the terms of the exit arrangements when they showed so little interest in what they were signing away.

By voting to leave the EU we have caught the entire system of government off guard to show that is is totally ill-equipped to govern – and those claiming to represent us have failed in their duty to safeguard our democracy. Through forty years of negligence the UK’s trading relationship with Canada is decided not by Number Ten or Westminster. Instead it depends entirely on the Walloon assembly in Belgium.

And therein lies the inherent flaw in the EU design. The DNA is faulty. Introduce democracy and the whole thing grinds to a halt. Take it away and power ends up in the hands of the few. It cannot work and it cannot be reformed yet we have endured decades of politicians telling us otherwise.

One of the most depressing aspects of life post-EU referendum has been watching our national leaders shrink from the challenge of implementing Brexit. I don’t mean that they are all necessarily in denial, or that they wish to subvert the referendum result – but rather that their every public pronouncement suggests that many of them are simply not up to the task which lies ahead. Typically, this isn’t a question of intelligence, but rather a lack of imagination and ambition. And in truth, perhaps it is too much to expect the same politicians used to implementing EU decisions or operating within their constraints to suddenly step up and become adept drivers of a country suddenly without training wheels.

The debate has thus devolved into two rather tiresome strands – the one held by most Remainers, who have become intent on catastrophising Brexit at every turn and seizing upon every scrap of potentially troubling news as further evidence that the end is nigh, and the opposing, buccaneering view which loudly insists that everything can be wrapped up to Britain’s complete satisfaction by March 2019, and sees any questioning of this certainty as evidence of anti-Brexit treachery.

This blog falls down the gap between these two comically exaggerated positions, which is perhaps why I haven’t been writing about Brexit as much as I should have been lately. One can only slap down so much ridiculous establishment catastrophising of Brexit (now the nation’s fluffy kittens are in peril, apparently), while pointing out the need for a transitional arrangement and securing continuity of access to the single market still falls on deaf ears among those in charge, and only feeds the smug (but not entirely false) Remainer assertion that Brexiteers don’t know what they are doing.

And yet a transitional arrangement is exactly what we need, as Pete North explains:

What will become clear in due course is that Britain will need a continuity arrangement that sees little or no change to the labyrinth of customs procedures and regulations that make up the single market. Neither Britain nor the EU can afford to start tinkering under the hood of long established trade rules. The sudden collapse of CETA at the hands of a Belgian provincial assembly shows just how dysfunctional the system is.

If anything is inflicting damage on the UK it is not Brexit but the overall uncertainty over what Brexit looks like. This in part down to those media vessels determined to make Brexit look like a catastrophe and in part down to those politicians who have not bothered to plan for the eventuality. We are four months on from the referendum and key ministers are still struggling with basic terminology.

Brexit is by far the biggest and most ambitious thing that this country has attempted in decades – frankly, since the Second World War. It demands painstakingly extricating Britain from a web of agreements and schemes of a complexity befitting an organisation which still seeks to become the supranational government of a federal Europe. But to make it even more complicated, we will wish to maintain many avenues of cooperation after leaving the EU’s political union, meaning that a slash and burn of laws will not do – hence Theresa May’s much over-hyped Great Repeal Act.

As Pete points out, it is highly ironic that sulky Remainers are suddenly so interested in having Parliament examine every aspect of the secession deal (with the more juvenile characters, who clearly know nothing about negotiations, expecting to be briefed in advance) when over several decades they blithely signed away powers to the EU with barely a second thought, and certainly no real public debate.

It makes the Remain camp’s current favourite attack line – Brexiteers wanted to return decision-making power to Parliament, so why won’t they let Parliament have a say?! – especially cynical. But the argument is wrong anyway. “Returning powers to Parliament” is a handy catchphrase, but it is a glib one, always favoured more by eurosceptic MPs than the general public.

The current anti-establishment rage currently roiling Europe and America shows that political leaders have become too distant from (and unresponsive to) the people, no matter the level of power. Therefore, returning powers to the Westminster parliament is not enough – we need an end to British over-centralisation and the devolution of power back to the counties, cities, towns and individuals.

Sadly, the chance of meaningful constitutional reform taking place in Britain any time soon continues to hover around zero. And rather than Brexit being the catalyst for such change, as this blog once hoped, it now seems that an intellectually and imaginatively challenged political elite will hide behind the complexity of Brexit as an excuse to avoid doing anything else of substance. One can easily foresee a situation in a decade’s time where Britain is technically outside the EU but stuck in an increasingly permanent-looking halfway house, with acceptable access to the EEA but with none of the later work to move towards a global single market even started.

Would this be good enough? Well, Britain would be outside of the political structure known as the EU, which was always the base requirement – so if one is happy to shoot for the middle and accept the bare minimum then yes, it might have to do. But it would be an appalling failure of ambition, when there are real opportunities to improve the way that international trade and regulation works and to revitalise British democracy through wider constitutional reform.

But to realise great ambitions requires there to be half-decent leaders pointing the way. And looking at the Tory “Three Brexiteers” and the dumpster fire that is the Labour Party, one cannot help but conclude that great leaders – even just competent heavyweight politicians – are in short supply at present. Do you really see Boris Johnson’s name featuring in a future Wikipedia article about the great British constitutional convention of 2020? Or Theresa May’s? Jeremy Corbyn or Hillary Benn’s?

Do I regret my decision to campaign for Brexit? No, never. The European Union is offensive to any proper sense of democracy, or to the notion that the people of a sovereign nation state should decide and consent to the manner in which they are governed. Being rid of the EU (and hopefully helping to precipitate that hateful organisation’s eventual demise) is a solidly good thing on its own. But Brexit could be so much more than it is currently shaping up to become.

And perhaps this is the most damning thing of all about the European Union: the fact that 40 years of British EU membership has slowly turned the nation of Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee, Margaret Thatcher, Hugh Gaitskell, Tony Benn, Barbara Castle and Peter Shore – men and women of principle and substance – into the nation of Tony Blair, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Chuka Umunna, Diane Abbott and Owen Smith.

A nation simply does not bounce back from that kind of decline in the space of a few years, and the more that our contemporary politicians carry on about Brexit the clearer this becomes.

Assuming that Brexit goes to plan, it may not be until the next generation of political leaders come of age (at the earliest) before we can finally take full advantage of our newfound freedom.

 

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Brexit Catastrophisation Watch, Part 6 – Stay In The EU Or Kittens Will Die

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Hysterical Remainiacs are now warning that Brexit will endanger the lives of the nation’s pets and farm animals

For the past four months, the British people have been subjected to some ridiculously childish hissy fits and the incessant catastrophisation of Brexit by self-regarding EU apologists in the media. But this latest tantrum by Ian Dunt, editor of politics.co.uk, is on another level.

Ian Dunt already has great form in portraying the slightest move to limit the growth of the state or safeguard national sovereignty as being part of a plot by the Evil Tor-ees to kill the poor and chuck out every last foreigner, but his increasingly bitter and alarmist Brexit coverage is starting to make him look particularly ridiculous. Because Dunt is now claiming that among the many other evils of Brexit, spurning the EU and demanding self-government will also put “people and animals at risk”.

Yes. Going ahead with Brexit means that kittens will die.

Dunt explains:

Look at any part of British society and you’ll see the damage Brexit is doing.

Take veterinary services. Yesterday afternoon, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and the British Veterinary Association (BVA) wrote a letter to the prime minister. These are not radical organisations. They never really put out political statements of this sort. They stay in the background, concerning themselves mostly with relatively dry questions of policy detail. But they’ve been forced to issue a warning that Brexit – and Theresa May’s descent into anti-foreigner rhetoric – are putting people and animals at risk.

“Anti-foreigner”? Really? One can argue endlessly about the economic merits of Theresa May’s seeming determination to reduce net migration, but I challenge Ian Dunt to produce one example where the prime minister has actively sought to whip up anti-foreigner feeling in the population.

Wanting controls on immigration is not an extremist or unpalatable political viewpoint – many countries in the world (like Australia and the United States) don’t automatically accept anybody from their region or continent who wants to live and work. And at some point the British Left are going to have to take their collective finger off the nuclear button and stop screeching “racism” at anybody who dares to suggest that government should have control of who is allowed to come and settle in the country.

Regardless, Dunt continues:

Around half the veterinary surgeons registering to practise in the UK each year are from overseas – mostly the EU. Europeans are particularly prevalent in public health roles like the Government Veterinary Services. In the meat hygiene sector, some estimates put the number of veterinary surgeons who graduate overseas at 95%. And these people – the people who look after our pets, who check our food – are feeling increasingly uncomfortable in this country.

And this supposedly matters because:

The veterinary profession doesn’t just look after pets. It monitors and controls the spread of disease and assures the quality of the food we eat. If it goes into decline, the animals we love and share our homes with are in more danger. But there is also a very significant public health risk to go alongside the emotional one.

[..] while anti-immigrant newspapers and politicians whinged, immigrants were there: Treating your cat. Picking your fruit. Treating your condition. They are crucial to the running of this country and unless we start recognising that, it’ll be this country which suffers the consequences of their absence.

[..] The policy implications of Brexit are even more serious. In the future, the two organisations warn, “changes to the mutual recognition system or immigration restrictions could have a profound impact upon the veterinary workforce”. That means Britain may face a shortage of vets as it loses half its annual intake. It means a potentially catastrophic impact on TB testing and meat hygiene. It means abattoirs may be unable to export their products because the UK veterinary requirements are not recognised by European authorities.

So in other words, wanting to leave a deeply unpopular and dysfunctional continental supranational government is so terrible that it will kill our pets, causing us immense emotional harm, and also ensure that agricultural and food safety standards immediately fall off a cliff, leading to the immediate return of BSE and foot and mouth disease. Our democracy is hostage to the presumed fortunes of our household pets.

See? We warned you! Why didn’t you listen! Now Fluffy the Kitten is going to die, and it’s all your fault, you ignorant, hateful, xenophobic Brexiteer!

Will these histrionics from bitter, intellectually bankrupt Remainers never end?

The one valid point in this screaming tantrum of an article is that changes to (or severance of) the mutual recognition agreements governing veterinary standards or food safety – much of the latter of which actually falls under the purview of Codex Alimentarius – could cause real disruptions to trade. Too much of the political debate over Brexit has focused on buccaneering assumptions by government ministers and journalists that the avoidance of tariffs is the sole issue, when this is not at all true. The potential erection of non-tariff trade barriers by failing to extend mutual recognition of standards would have immensely more impact on British industry in terms of cost and complexity of doing business, and it is this which politicians need to wrap their heads around.

Dunt (inadvertently) raises an important issue here, and a timely warning. But his incessant, hysterical scaremongering (and pretence that there are no solutions or workarounds to the practical issue he flags) overshadows his argument. This is the polar opposite of constructive criticism – it is the kind of sulky fault-picking more worthy of a toddler than a grown man with a political website.

And yet I am coming to suspect that this is how it will always be. Never expecting victory in the EU referendum, I naturally didn’t devote much time to thinking about what it would actually feel like to be on the winning side, to finally overturn the 40-year pro-EU consensus. Now I’m starting to get an idea. And it is not pleasant.

Brexiteers had better get used to endless “won’t somebody please think of the kittens?!” caterwauling from aggrieved pro-Europeans, because it will probably last the rest of our lives. Even if Brexit ushers in the kind of democratic renewal that some of us hoped for – and even if we achieve secession from the EU on the most favourable terms possible – they will still criticise us and act as though we have ushered in an unprecedented calamity. And in the absence of counterfactuals, who can disprove Ian Dunt when in five years he whines that we would be enjoying hover cars and 200 year lifespans if only we had done the sensible thing, listened to him and voted to remain in the EU?

Brexiteers should settle in for the long haul. Yesterday it was Marmite, today it’s kittens and tomorrow it will be something else. And why? All because Ian Dunt and other pro-European can’t just bring themselves to say “I hate patriotism, I’m ashamed of my country, I feel more European than British and more than anything I hate the 52 percent of my fellow citizens for  defying my will and causing me not to get my own way for once in my life”?

Maybe therapy would help some of the Remainiacs-in-denial towards a necessary moment of catharsis. One can only hope so. Their endless hysterics and catastrophisation of Brexit makes them look far more stupid than it makes Brexit seem reckless.

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Brexit Catastrophisation Watch, Part 5 – Britain Stronger In Europe Tacitly Admit They Were Lying The Whole Time

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While advocating a “soft Brexit” as their fallback position, Remainers contradict themselves and expose the tawdry lies they told during the EU referendum

Even Open Britain, the shrivelled husk of Will Straw’s failed Remain campaign group Britain Stronger in Europe, has now effectively admitted that leaving the European Union need not be intrinsically economically harmful – thus undermining the central pillar of their case for staying in the EU.

The harsh light which Remainers are now knowingly shining on their prior scaremongering and lies is quite hilarious. By drawing a distinction between “hard” and “soft” Brexit and campaigning fervently for continued membership of the EEA, campaigners are effectively admitting that their many economic apocalypse warnings applied only to leaving the single market, and not the EU’s political union.

From an Open Britain campaign email sent to supporters yesterday:

Open Britain is campaigning for Britain to stay in the Single Market, which brings increased investment, trade, jobs and growth.

It seems the public agree. A new poll we commissioned has found that 59% of voters want the UK to stay in the Single Market, so there is no mandate for a destructive Brexit.

Now, MPs from Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are calling for a debate in Parliament. They are urging the Government to publish its plan for the forthcoming EU negotiations and to allow Parliament to approve it. A huge majority – 73% of people – support this.

Our future partnership with the EU should be not decided in secret but determined by democratic debate.

There is “no mandate for a destructive Brexit,” we are told. Well, that’s funny. Because not long ago, every Remainer in town – most certainly including Britain Stronger in Europe – was screeching about the automatic ruin which would befall Britain if we voted to leave the EU, regardless of how the Brexit process played out or whatever our eventual new trading and political relationship with the EU happened to be. For months we were told by sanctimonious Remainers that “destructive Brexit” was the only kind of Brexit available – yet now they acknowledge a benign version of Brexit and encourage us to adopt it.

Fast-forward four months and suddenly the story changes. Now, apparently, we need to fight tooth and nail to preserve our membership of and unimpeded access to the single market, because this is the lynchpin on which Britain’s economy rests. In other words, their entire economic scaremongering case was a giant lie.

Oh sure, they’ll come back and claim that most Brexiteers supposedly want a “hard Brexit” and that the major Leave campaigns envisioned Britain leaving the single market, which is why they felt justified in equating the European Union with the single market in their own campaign rhetoric. But this is the mealy-mouthed defence of someone who has been caught in a blatant lie. Remainers were desperate to bury the awkward fact that the EU and single market are not one and the same thing, and the fact that they did all they could to fudge the distinction (heck, they suggested that leaving the EU meant severing ourselves from the continent of Europe) shows that they were more obsessed with economic scaremongering than truth. It is Remainers, not Brexiteers, who dwell in a land of post-factual politics.

As this blog recently commented:

Funny. It’s almost as though [Remainers] are suggesting that leaving the EU needn’t necessarily mean “plung[ing] the UK into a period of recession and international decline”, and that Britain’s economic and diplomatic health is actually contingent on the kind of choices that Britain makes once we are free of the supranational political union.

Claiming that a mismanaged, uncontrolled or “hard” Brexit might cause serious economic harm is a perfectly respectable position. More than that, it is basic common sense. But that isn’t the argument that Remainers were making during the EU referendum campaign. No, they were claiming that any form of Brexit would be disastrous, that Britain leaving the European Union would be economically calamitous in and of itself, regardless of how Brexit unfolded or the model of our future trading relationship with the EU.

As it happens, this blog agrees with Open Britain’s revised position. Certainly as an interim measure Britain should remain in the EEA while working toward a longer-term solution which hopefully replaces the single market with a new framework which is more democratic and not part of a protectionist, beady-eyed, euro-federalist master plan. Given that the most skilled trade negotiators in the world (in which Britain is singularly lacking, despite generous help from our Commonwealth friends) take a decade or more to thrash out comprehensive bilateral agreements it is the height of idiocy to assume that a Brexit-inspired sense of urgency and the concerns of “German car makers” will get the job done in the initial two short years set out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

But why couldn’t the Remainers just be honest from the beginning, level with the British people and tell them that it is Britain’s uninterrupted EEA access, not our membership of the supranational political union, on which our economic stability depends?

The answer, of course, is that for top Remainers the EU referendum was never about economics. It was about their craven desire to live in an amorphous internationalist blob where the nation state is fatally undermined and the strongest level of government and identity reforms at the European level. That’s what they wanted but couldn’t say in public. And so instead they falsely equated the EU with the single market in an attempt to scare low information voters and assorted unthinking lefties that voting for Brexit inherently meant economic doom.

Now that the decision to leave the EU has been made, these disingenuous people are having to regroup and come up with a new argument – that it is our future relationship with the single market, not the EU, which will have the greatest potential impact on our economy and future prosperity. And just as even a stopped clock tells the correct time twice a day, this time they happen to be correct.

Unfortunately, changing arguments mid-stream also reveals that nearly everything that the Remain campaign said prior to the EU referendum was a deliberate, filthy lie.

 

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