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Thursday 8 February 2018

If you read just one thing today, read this

I cannot write without subtracting from the clarity and cogency of AEP's column in the Telegraph today. Please, if you read just one thing today, read this.
As a private citizen, I have made up my mind. The current negotiations with the EU have become intolerable. Britain should walk away immediately. It should ask for nothing from Brussels beyond a smooth handling of the switch-over and common-sense treatment of technical issues such as landing rights, Euratom, and cross-border finance. It should withhold the exit fee until the EU has complied. 
Edit - just this once...

"The nightmare recurs. Call it the British Versailles. Theresa May is ash-white and exhausted after sixteen hours of cliff-edge talks. The grim ordeal lasts deep into the night on Friday, October 19.
Britain’s friends around the table at the Justus Lipsius – named after the stoic Flemish author of "De Constantia" – wince with pain and sympathy at the emotional spectacle. Yet they say nothing. The sum of the European Council is of a different character from its parts.

The document sitting before Mrs May spells out the terms. There is no bespoke deal, and no market access for services. The "Canada plus" model has degenerated into a deformed variant of "Canada colonial" with a permanent EU veto over larger areas of British law and policy. It is the worst of all worlds: a limited trade deal under draconian conditions. Medieval historians would call it suzerainty.

The ghastly error of British negotiating strategy is laid bare. Either Mrs May signs, or she walks away and invokes the sovereign fall-back option of the World Trade Organisation. But by then it is already too late for the WTO. The customs machinery cannot safely be activated in the four months left before the Article 50 process expires in March 2019. There is not enough time for the necessary global diplomacy. With Treasury warnings of a sterling crash and a "Gilts Strike" ringing in her ears, Mrs May buckles to overwhelming pressure.

It is a diplomatic defeat of the first order. It brings about three quarters of the alleged trend damage to UK economic growth suggested by Treasury forecasts – 6pc of GDP over the long run under a free trade pact – without securing the central objective of British parliamentary self-government.

Note that the alleged damage would be only slightly more at 8pc under a WTO clean-break, an option that would still be possible (only just) if set in motion today. So even if we accept the Treasury figures – as a Gedankenexperiment  – the difference between a WTO deal that upholds British independence and a "Canada colonial" deal that ties down the UK in perpetuity is barely noticeable when stretched out over fifteen years.

Perhaps my dreams deceive me. Perhaps there will be a fudge of sorts. But what if the nightmare comes to pass?  Paris and Berlin have not retreated one millimeter from their core condition: that there can be no deal on services unless Britain accepts the Norway model (EEA). The UK must swallow the single market package, with euro-judges, and open-door migration, and EU directives forever.

The torrent of leaked EU strategy papers from Brussels are a disturbing foretaste of the relationship that awaits the UK as a "demandeur", pleading for leniency from a position of psychological defeatism. They strongly indicate that the EU is not only insisting on an asymmetric deal that locks in its £80bn goods surplus with the UK, but also that Britain should be bound by sweeping extra-territorial control and should pay annual tribute for the privilege of its own infeudation. It is not a Canada option at all. Canada would have rejected such terms without compunction.

Theresa May hopes to muddy the waters, arguing that the summit "breakthrough" in December refutes the critics and shows that deals can be struck after all. The cold truth is that she gave way on almost everything, and agreed to pay an £50bn exit fee on EU terms, largely in order a secure a transition that does not even allow Britain to strike fresh trade deals with the rest of the world.
As we are learning fast, even this transition is toxic.  The EU’s text threatens suspension of market access, the imposition of tariffs, curbs on banks, and the loss of landing rights, if Britain drags its feet on implementing new laws over which it has no control or is deemed to have violated transition terms, with the EU acting as judge and jury.

This follows leaks of internal papers last week that spoke of Britain almost as a pirate state, so depraved that it might start poisoning its own workers in chemical plants or starting belching black coal smoke from power stations in order to gain a competitive edge after Brexit. 

The text leaves no doubt that the EU aims to control Britain’s future tax policies, regulations, employment laws, and industrial regime, in fine detail – beyond any normal governance codes set by the WTO and the OECD – and that this deviant island should be watched, coerced, and brought to heel. These demands are self-evidently at odds with the supremacy of Parliament. In my opinion the language is indecent.

Some on the Remain side might say "I told you so", but such an argument will not carry them far in British politics since most voters ultimately put some value on such old-fashioned notions of country and national honour. The tribe of footloose "Anywheres" with a high reflexive loyalty to the EU idea, to borrow from David Goodhart’s sociology, makes up 20pc of the population, and most would probably display deep reserves of patriotism if push ever came to shove. Real "Global Villagers" with few qualms about the humiliation of their own country are just 3p
My question to Anna Soubry and the hard Remainers in Parliament is how they imagine that Britain would function as a colony inside the EU single market over time, and under the sort of regime that Brussels has in mind. Is it not a formula for perpetual conflict? Is it not bound to further poison relations between Britain and Europe, and to compound error upon error?

I say this as somebody who previously supported a Norway model, at least for a decade until the UK had secured other trade deals and become less vulnerable. Yet events have moved on and trust has been shattered.  As ex-EU commissioner Lord Hill told the House last week, the status quo ante no longer exists.

The act of Brexit has itself changed the political dynamic in Europe, leading to a dirigiste, anti-market, anti-City, and anti-innovation lurch in Brussels – which must lower the EU’s economic speed limit over time, nota bene. It is therefore even more urgent for Britain to reassert self-government. “For an economy that is as dependent as ours on services, how could we in all seriousness subcontract all our rule-making to someone else?” he asked.

The leaked EU documents tell us that Germany and France will not allow the UK to have a Norway deal on anything like Norwegian terms because the UK economy is much larger and – in their mind – poses a much greater danger to the EU project. Our trading rights could be revoked at any moment without the normal protections of the WTO."

Wednesday 7 February 2018

There should be no online Safe Space for the political class

I suspect it is true that an individual's motivation to stand as an MP is a mixture of a desire to do good and make the world a better place and a desire for personal aggrandisement. The balance between these two drivers will be different for each MP. They are not necessarily contrary, nor incompatible. I have never had any desire to enter Parliament (except to visit its infamous bars) because I have neither the front nor the requisite talent for dissembling and neither a hunger for fame, power or wealth nor a skin like a rhino. I do though have a desire to do good and to make the world a better place, and that is why I write. We all do what we can.

Of one thing I am absolutely certain, and it is that no MP should end their life being butchered in their surgery car park, like the late Jo Cox, and no MP should go in fear of such violence and threat. We must rightly protect our MPs from crazed killers, terrorists, death threats and the vilest intimidation. We must also protect them from vexatious prosecution, civil or criminal, for what they say in Parliament - and for this we have Parliamentary privilege. Thus empowered, thus protected, they can go about their business, which is our business. 

However, every MP now sitting knew fully well that with their ambition would come both restrictions on how they can behave in their personal lives, and political abuse. Not one sitting MP was so naive as to believe they would be immune from vituperation, anger, frustration, contumacy, criticism, argument, dislike and insult. At one time this came only from journalists writing in newspapers and periodicals, and from crowds at public meetings. Now it comes also via social media. Well, that's a challenge, but not novel or different enough to require a new degree of protection for MPs. We can't create a safe space for the political class without also enacting censorship of valid commentary and opinion, however crude, however illiterate. 

Nor can blogs such as this be fora for prolix balanced consideration. One has a reader's attention for perhaps a minute, often less, and must be both succinct and direct, employ hyperbole and emotion, to opine clearly and memorably on any issue. I've tried equivocal posts, perfectly balanced posts, kinder gentler posts and they don't work. People don't read them and they don't attract comments. 

I wrote above that I don't have a hide like a rhino, and that's why I use a pseudonym. This way I can fully preserve free speech here in my little kingdom and anyone may comment just about anything without wounding the real me. MPs have no such padding. We must ensure that their legal protection from criminal intimidation, and their safety from physical violence, is as absolute as we can make it. But we must preserve also our right to call them fatuous, vacuous talentless sheep without the imagination to run a whelk stall, should we so wish.    

Monday 5 February 2018

Remainer elite frothing at the mouth in frustration

So, the two former heads of the civil service have been in the news to demonstrate the consummate professionalism, suave self assurance, nuanced diplomacy and utter impartiality of the Home Civil Service. Puce-faced with anger, one described the 52% of electors who voted for Brexit as being like Nazis in 1930s Germany; frothing at the lips, the other described voters with whom he disagreed as 'Snake oil salesmen'. 

Some professionalism. Some impartiality. If they've achieved anything, it's to leave the entire nation in no doubt whatsoever that our mandarin elite wants nothing more than to ignore the democratic will in just the same way as their close chums in Brussels. 

For anyone else on the leaver side, these crude and desperate ad-hominem attacks on voters are the forlorn actions of those who simply have no more rational arguments to muster. Phase II of Project Fear, like the doomed Ardennes campaign, has collapsed in the winter snows with Remoaner assets smoking and destroyed on the battlefield. 

As we close in on Berlin, their resistance will still be determined, their counter-attacks attritional, but ultimately vain and futile. As the realisation dawns that they have lost, their determination will grow to cause the greatest harm to the United Kingdom in their downfall. We must be both vigilant and tenacious in moving with alacrity to identify and counter such sabotage from wherever it arises - and that includes from within our civil service.