Theresa May’s One Chance For Redemption: Sacrificing Her Leadership For A Sane Brexit

Theresa May - Brexit - Article 50 declaration signing

Theresa May will never be remembered as a great prime minister because she is timid, calculating and lacks any positive vision for the country. But she can still redeem her failed premiership by sacrificing it in order to achieve a sane Brexit

The fate of Brexit hangs in the balance, primarily because two equal and opposing forces are selfishly attempting to hijack Britain’s negotiating stance for their own purposes.

One one hand there are the Brexit Ultras (or the Brexit Taliban, to use the less charitable but evocative phrase) who insist, like religious fundamentalists, that theirs is the One True Brexit, the only route to heaven, while all other interpretations are dangerous heresy. These people – your Steve Bakers, John Redwoods, Jacob Rees-Moggs and Suella Fernandeses – do not see Brexit as meaning departure from the political entity known as the European Union. To them, Brexit means severing virtually all ties and treaties with the EU while retaining nearly all of the current perks, while making up for any economic shortfall by effortlessly completing a series of swashbuckling free trade deals with countries often far less important to the UK economy than our nearest neighbours.

But on the other hand, there are forces who are arguing passionately for a “soft Brexit” with strong and enduring ties to the Single Market, not because they believe in Brexit or have accepted it, but because they see this as the first step to reversing the result of the EU referendum and keeping Britain in the European Union (generally by means of a second referendum, which they believe – erroneously, I think – that they could win). These people are not to be trusted. During the referendum campaign they could be found loudly insisting that any change in Britain’s relationship with the EU would result in political isolation and economic Armageddon, yet now they claim (somewhat more plausibly) that it is only separation from the Single Market which will cause harm. Their old argument was therefore a lie, a fig leaf to justify their determination for Britain to remain part of European political union at any cost.

And sandwiched between these two fanatical, opposing forces, are the saner Brexiteers – such as those connected to the Leave Alliance – who have been arguing all along that Brexit is not a sudden event but a process of unpicking 40 years of political and regulatory integration, and that the best way to achieve our political ends without causing undue economic damage is by means of a transition that involves rejoining EFTA and trading with EU member states on the terms of the EFTA-EEA agreement.

At the moment, however, Theresa May’s inability to exert control over her own party means that the government’s negotiating stance is effectively held hostage by the Brexit Ultras, who see the slightest moderation on trade as a “betrayal” of Brexit, despite laws relating to the EEA accounting for just 20 percent of the total EU acquis. Despite having languished in the political wilderness for decades, getting 80 percent of what they want on the back of a tight referendum result is somehow not good enough for the Brexit Taliban – and their selfish greed for the full 100 percent needlessly imperils the whole endeavour, and our economy with it.

But it need not be like this. As Stephen Bush points out in the New Statesman, there is no shortage of MPs willing to work with Theresa May to achieve a softer, saner Brexit (at least for a transitional period) if only she was willing to work in a bipartisan way rather than remaining a hostage to her own backbenchers.

Bush writes:

As Parliament has ratified Article 50, passed May’s Queen Speech and thus lost control of its ability to directly influence the government’s negotiations, when the final Brexit deal comes before the House of Commons, the option they will be voting on will be “Theresa May’s Brexit deal or no deal”. As I’ve written on several occasions, no deal is a great deal worse than a bad deal. No deal means, at best, exit on World Trade Organisation terms, no deal to allow British airplanes to fly to the European Union or the United States, chaos at borders and an immediate and hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

This all has one massive upside for May: while there are many Conservative MPs who don’t accept this to be true, the opposition parties all know it to be the case. May will always be able to count on enough MPs from the parties of the centre and left being unwilling to make their own constituents’ lives drastically worse.

But the snag remains:

But that would require her to pursue a Brexit deal that wasn’t focused on keeping her government on the road –  one that saw getting the best deal as more important than preventing May being removed by her own backbenchers. The difficulty is that Theresa May displayed precious little desire to pick a fight with her own party before she threw away their first parliamentary majority in 23 years and she has even less of one now.

This is one of those times when a presidential-style system of government would actually aid Britain enormously. With a separately-elected head of government, more autonomous and less beholden to the rank and file of their political party, it would be easier to forge a winning coalition in Parliament to pass a more sensible, measured Brexit bill. Unfortunately, with the British parliamentary system, any attempt by Theresa May to make overtures to pragmatists across the political aisle would immediately put her premiership in grave peril. A leadership challenge would all but certainly be triggered immediately, and it would then be a race against time to pass the bill before the self-destructive forces at work within the Tory Party concluded their ghastly business and replaced May with a One True Brexit fanatic.

But at this point, there is precious little to lose – not for the country, anyway (though Tories with medium-term hopes for future political careers may feel somewhat differently). And there is precious little for principled conservatives to lose either, given that Theresa May’s government has given every indication from Day 1 that it intends to fight a rearguard retreating battle against encroaching statism rather than take it on with a bold, alternative vision.

The prime minister and her Conservative Party have had all summer to dwell on the reasons for their disastrous election campaign and their their growing unpopularity among people with their original hair colour, and to come up with at least a sketched outline of a new approach. And what was the best scheme they managed to cook up between themselves in all that time? A puny, derisory pitch to reduce interest rates on student loan debt, in the risible hope that doing so might win the affections of young voters currently seduced by Jeremy Corbyn.

The ambition has gone from this Conservative government, together with any semblance of intellectual rigour in their policymaking. Rather five years of Jeremy Corbyn, constrained by his own centrist MPs and a Tory party in opposition, than any more of this decay and damage to our reputation. At least the government’s approach to Brexit might be somewhat more pragmatic if led by people who do not expect the European Union to freely offer all of the benefits of the Single Market for none of the costs or commitments. And then, when Corbyn’s Labour Party have proven themselves to be a shambles in every other respect, the Conservative Party might bounce back into government under the direction of a leader more worthy of respect.

What great development are Theresa May’s supporters hanging on for? What great new policies or achievements do they imagine her accomplishing with her puny non-majority in the time before she is inevitably toppled by one of her Cabinet members? There is nothing. So better to bring the suffering to a close and stop deferring the inevitable.

If the prime minister were better advised, she might also see the advantages of this option. Theresa May is a weakened leader, barely in control of her directionless party which itself is unpopular with voters after seven wasted years in government. At present, her premiership is set to come to an ignominious close with no significant accomplishments to her name. But this need not be so.

In a final act of defiance – and as an extravagant and substantial gesture to help bring the country together after the EU referendum and its fallout – Theresa May should stand up to her backbenchers and to the Brexit Taliban, and work with willing MPs from the opposite benches to ensure that a more considered Brexit Bill is passed by Parliament. This need not and should not be a formal arrangement with the Leader of the Opposition, who will have his own motives. Jeremy Corbyn’s support remains shallow within the Parliamentary Labour Party, and willing supporters could be found by going round the Labour whips.

At present, the very future of Brexit is being imperilled by zealots who foolishly insist that forty years of political and economic integration with the EU be unpicked in the space of just two years. These people need to be sidelined, and if the price of doing so is the end of an otherwise hopeless premiership and the provoking of a long-overdue existential crisis within the Tory party then it is a price very much worth paying.

There is nothing else that Theresa May can do which would impact so positively on her legacy at this point. The prime minister should consider her options.

 

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The Left’s Self-Serving Hypocrisy On Immigration And Free Movement

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The Left’s extreme attachment to the principle of free movement of people speaks volumes about whose interests they really serve

This, by trade unionist and Blue Labour activist Paul Embery, really gets to the heart of the modern metro-Left’s extremist stance on immigration and free movement of people within the EU, so divorced from the fears, priorities and aspirations of the Labour Party’s traditional working class base:

“Access to the single market and freedom of movement are inextricably linked, and it would be wrong… to put the economy anything other than first,’ Diane Abbott told The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.

Leaving aside that there is, in fact, no inextricable link between access to the single market and free movement (she may be confusing access with membership), what is most striking is that Abbott’s argument here – that everything must be subordinated to economic imperatives, that policies must ultimately be judged not by their impact on society or quality of life but according to whether they boost GDP or make someone somewhere a fast buck – is the very embodiment of market-obsessed Thatcherism.

Abbott isn’t a Thatcherite, of course. Anything but. She is, on virtually all things, on the side of the angels in a head-to-head with Thatcher. Yet it is weird how, when it comes to the subject of immigration, she and so many others on the Left are willing to suddenly embrace the philosophy of a woman they have spent their lives opposing.

When did it become the norm for the Left to put the demands of the market above what was right for wider society? To allow the dictates of the balance sheet to trump all? To know the cost of everything but the value of nothing?

When Thatcher closed the mines and destroyed whole communities, didn’t she do so because she wasn’t prepared to ‘put the economy anything other than first’?

We can argue until the cows come home about whether particular policies or strategies do indeed bring economic advantages. But, for the Left especially, that should never be the sole consideration – and certainly not when those policies or strategies give rise to profound consequences for society.

It is certainly very telling when the Left pivots from disparaging corporations and viewing business as evil (their standard M.O.) to fawning over multinational corporations and anxiously tending to the every care and concern of their CEOs.

I noted this point over two years ago:

Isn’t it funny how the voice of big business – usually the object of scorn and hatred from the left – suddenly becomes wise and sagacious when the short term interests of the large corporations happen to coincide with those of the Labour Party?

Labour have been hammering “the corporations” relentlessly since losing power in 2010, accusing them of immoral (if not illegal) behaviour for such transgressions such as not paying enough tax, not paying employees enough money, paying employees too much money and a host of other sins. In Labour’s eyes, the words of a bank executive were valued beneath junk bond status – until now, when suddenly they have become far-sighted and wise AAA-rated pronouncements, just because they have come out in support of Britain remaining in the EU.

(In fact, I wonder whether the Left’s eagerness to talk about the economics of immigration is actually a classic piece of misdirection designed to sway conservative or swing voters; that in actual fact, they don’t give a hoot about the economy but rather want to ensure maximum immigration levels for cultural and political reasons that they dare not speak out loud. Why else would Diane Abbott of all people, hardly the sort of person who you would picture fretting about a multinational corporation’s labour costs and investment decisions, be speaking about economics, well outside her comfort zone?)

Embery is quite correct, though – the Labour Party did indeed once value additional metrics beyond raw GDP when evaluating public policy. This formed a large basis of their objection to Thatcherism, bordering on hatred. (While this blog remains convinced that the Thatcher reforms were entirely necessary and hugely beneficial on the balance, it must be acknowledged that too little was done to ameliorate the harsh impact of deindustrialisation on many Northern, Welsh and Scottish communities – the Left actually has a valid critique here, and a reasonably strong moral point).

Yet large elements of the Left, driven mad by Brexit, now seem willing to squander any moral high ground they may once have held by openly contradicting their former principled critique of the Thatcher government. According to the new post-Brexit leftist playbook, Thatcher was completely correct to sacrifice close-knit industrial communities in order to save the overall British economy. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, after all, and if a few livelihoods have to be crushed in order that the City of London continues to prosper then so be it. These are strange sentiments indeed to hear emanating from people who usually won’t shut up about how kind and compassionate they are.

It continually astonishes me that so many leftists – the type of urban, metro-left progressive who wear their political opinions like this season’s latest fashion and consider themselves to be super woke and compassionate – can be so callously disregarding and downright heartless when it comes to acknowledging legitimate concerns about immigration from an important segment of their collective movement.

And yet it should not be so surprising. Britain’s membership of the European Union, and free movement of people specifically, has greatly benefited this class of people – the young creative professionals working in the city and the Labour MPs who share the same outlook. These people have an extremely consumerist outlook on politics, always asking what their country or government can do for them rather than dwelling on their own responsibilities and obligations as citizens.

They are sworn adherents to the politics of Me Me Me. And a super-streamlined process for moving to another European country for work is to their great benefit, while the fact that many of the people for whom they claim to speak probably do not have glittering international careers in their future barely seems to register. This isn’t compassion – it is pure selfishness.

Embery goes on to make this very point:

How depressing it has been to witness so many on the Left fall into the trap of defending free movement almost unconditionally, presenting it as some kind of advancement for working people. One wonders whether they have ever stopped to ask themselves why the multinationals are so enthusiastic about it. In this case, they are guilty of defending a system which, in the quest for greater profits, commodifies humanity, uproots families and fragments communities. When that happens, the bonds of solidarity, mutuality and community are weakened, and instead we get loneliness, alienation and atomisation. ‘Migrants are not to blame,’ the free movement defenders will often retort. Well, of course they aren’t. But that was never the argument. It’s as meaningless as saying ‘The unemployed are not to blame’ as a response to opposition to unemployment.

A few other brave souls, such as Richard Johnson, have dared to tentatively make the same criticism of the Left:

People’s concerns about immigration haven’t been invented out of thin air. The real experience of immigration in Britain since the EU expanded into Central and Eastern Europe has been one of rapid change, over which people have felt little control. As Geoff Evans and Jon Mellon have shown, the salience of people’s concerns about immigration has closely tracked actual levels of net migration since 2004. Areas which saw the fastest increases in migrant populations were more likely to vote Leave. In areas where the migrant population increased by 200 percent or more between 2001 and 2014, there was a 94 percent chance of voting Leave.

[..] To oppose new controls on immigration is to speak for, at best, the 4 percent who want higher immigration and the 17 percent who are satisfied with current levels. It is not a 48 percent strategy; it is a 21 percent strategy. Too many in Labour seem to want the party to become the Lib Dems of c2005 – one which appeals to liberal, university-educated, cosmopolitans in big cities and university towns. It’s a fine strategy, but only if you want to win 60 seats in Parliament.

All too often, working class people only now exist in the eyes of the Labour Party to be used as convenient props when a political attack on conservatives needs to be made. The progressive left will happily get all weepy about the impact of gentrification and “social cleansing” on working class people, but then treat those same people like lepers if they dare to offer any political ideas or opinions of their own – especially those relating to Brexit and immigration. And almost nobody calls them out for this rank hypocrisy.

Thanks to Paul Embery for having the courage to do so. We may come from opposing sides of the political spectrum, but Embery clearly believes strongly in self-determination and the idea that British democracy should be accountable first and foremost to British people, not transnational elites or Labour’s progressive clerisy.

 

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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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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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