Category Archives: Politics

Brexit Cancelled!

Albion Estate Sign (1970) from Scarfolk Council

After a week’s intensive negotiation, Theresa May has agreed that Britain will do exactly what the EU tells her. The Guardian has a summary of the main points:

EU citizens

  • EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the rest of the EU have the right to stay. Rights of their children and those of partners in existing “durable relationships” are also guaranteed.
  • UK courts will preside over enforcing rights over EU citizens in Britain but can refer unclear cases to the European court of justice for eight years after withdrawal.

This is good, but we’re not out of the woods yet. The rights of EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens in the UK, are guaranteed and, quite frankly, the UK government could and should have confirmed this at the outset. I’ve seen elsewhere that Guy Verhofstadt is also saying that that these rights will also need to be guaranteed for future partners future free movement and residence of UK citizens all 27 Member States should also be guaranteed.

It’s becoming increasingly safe to assume that — regardless of the form of words used — freedom of movement between the UK and the rest of the UK will be preserved.

Irish border

  • The agreement promises to ensure there will be no hard border and to uphold the Belfast agreement.
  • It makes clear the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland, will be leaving the customs union.
  • It leaves unclear how an open border will be achieved but says in the absence of a later agreement, the UK will ensure “full alignment” with the rules of the customs union and single market that uphold the Good Friday agreement.
  • However, the concession secured by the DUP is that no new regulatory barriers will be allowed between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK without the permission of Stormont in the interest of upholding the Good Friday agreement.

In summary, Britain is leaving both the Single Market and the Customs Union. But will continue to abide by all of the rules laid down by both in order to continue to uphold the Good Friday agreement.

Where this becomes really interesting is when you look at the Brexiter fantasy of a buccaneering Britain striking its own trade deals. If Britain is outside of the Customs Union then yes, these deals can be struck — in theory at least. However, Britain can’t strike any deals that diverge from the Customs Union regulations.

In order to maintain this regulatory alignment, any trade deal is going to have to be validated by the EU. This gives the EU an effective veto on any deal that the UK tries to sign and means that the best that Britain can hope to achieve is a deal that replicates what the EU has already negotiated.


  • There is no figure on how much the UK is expected to pay but the document sets out how the bill will be calculated – expected to be about £50bn.
  • The UK agrees to continue to pay into the EU budget as normal in 2019 and 2020.
  • It also agrees to pay its liabilities such as pension contributions.

So much for “go whistle.”

Other issues

  • The two sides agreed there would be need for cooperation on nuclear regulation and police and security issues.
  • There was an agreement to ensure continued availability of products on the market before withdrawal and to minimise disruption for businesses and consumers.

This agreement keeps the show on the road for Theresa May and reduces the risk of a disastrous “no-deal” Brexit. It also means that Britain is heading for the softest of soft Brexits in which — like Norway — the UK continues to observe EU rules indefinitely but without any say in what those rules are.

The Brexit wing of the Tory party seems remarkably sanguine about all of this so far. I’m stocking up on popcorn while I wait for them to realise what they have just signed up to.

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Neither credible nor competent

So, on Monday, the wheels finally came off the Brexit bus with the DUP instructing Theresa May to take her carefully negotiated compromise off the table.

The biggest surprise to me was the number of politicians and commenters expressing surprise. The UK’s Brexit strategy — if you can call it a strategy — is a mess of contradictions wrapped up with wishful thinking. It was only a matter of time before their bluff was called and the emptiness of their proposals was exposed. And now that’s happened and the only reaction from the Tories is to engage in yet another round of bluster and blame-dodging.

Not surprisingly, there have been calls for May to go, with prominent Conservative party donor, Charlie Mullins pointing out that:

Theresa May has neither the power to do a good Brexit deal for the UK nor the authority to call off the madness.

I certainly agree that Britain needs a PM that is both competent and credible. But I can’t think of anyone in the Tory party who both fits the bill and would be willing to take over this ongoing disaster. Which, of course, is why May will remain in office (if not in power) for the foreseeable future.

And it’s not just in Britain that this Government’s incompetence is so painfully obvious:

While the next “final” deadline for stage one has not been defined publicly, several EU sources said the deal would have to be struck by the end of the week, with either Friday or Sunday as the last resort.

One EU ambassador told the Guardian the failure to reach a deal on Northern Ireland was a microcosm of a wider problem. “At root the problem is that [May] seems incapable of making a decision and is afraid of her own shadow,” the source said.

“We cannot go on like this, with no idea what the UK wants. She just has to have the conversation with her own cabinet, and if that upsets someone, or someone resigns, so be it. She has to say what kind of trading relationship she is seeking. We cannot do it for her, and she cannot defer forever.”

For weeks, European officials have walked a tightrope between sticking to the EU’s tough negotiating stance and seeking to avoid action or words that could destabilise the fragile May government.

“We have to treat the UK political system like a rotten egg,” said one EU source in the run-up to Monday’s talks, suggesting that if “the realities of the world” dawned too soon, the British government could become more fragile.

If reality did dawn, and if Britain had a Prime Minister with enough courage to be honest with both her party and her country, many people would be recognising by now that the time has come to stop pretending and call a halt to Brexit. It is not in Britain’s interest and the longer that May lets the bonkers wing of her party corral her into ever more unrealistic positions, the more harm it will do.

Of course, no-one is going to try to make the Brexiters face reality any time soon.

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The Tribes of Europe

Chatham House has published a study (pdf) (via Politico) that attempts to quantify the diversity of political views across the EU. They came up with six ‘political tribes’, or broad segments of the electorate with distinct attitudes about the EU:

  • The largest tribe consists of what can be termed ‘Hesitant Europeans’. They sit in the middle on many issues, and need persuading on the merits of the EU. They tend to be apathetic about politics, are concerned about immigration and tend to prioritize national sovereignty over deeper EU integration.
  • ‘Contented Europeans’ are optimistic and pro-European. Often young and broadly socially liberal, they feel that they benefit from the EU but tend to favour the status quo over further integration.
  • ‘EU Rejecters’ are angry about politics and the EU. They are least likely to feel any benefits of membership, and overwhelmingly view the EU as undemocratic. Most feel negative about immigration and are socially conservative.
  • ‘Frustrated Pro-Europeans’ want a more integrated EU driven by progressive values. They support the idea of richer states helping poorer ones, but are more mixed about immigration than are other pro-Europeans.
  • ‘Austerity Rebels’ want a looser, more democratic EU driven by solidarity, with powers returned to member states. They tend to think that richer states should support poorer ones, and that each state should accept its fair share of refugees.
  • ‘Federalists’ make up the smallest tribe. They support a deeply integrated ‘United States of Europe’, feel that the EU has benefited them, and are the most positive about immigration. They tend to be wealthier, older and disproportionately male, with strong and diverse social networks.

Obviously, there are many ways to slice up voter attitudes, but this looks like a perfectly valid one and an interesting attempt to go beyond the slogans and ask what people really think about the EU. The key challenge, as the report’s author notes, will be to engage the so-called Hesitant Europeans — the largest and most moderate group on the list.

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Quote of the Day: Freedom to do whatever you’re told

The US have already started their attack on standards, so chlorine chicken and hormone beef for the British Sunday roast post-Brexit? India will insist on visas that the UK can never give. Australia and New Zealand are a long way away and of very limited economic interest. And any deal with China will be a one-way street in terms of costs and benefits for the UK.

Phil Hogan, European commissioner for agriculture

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On referendums

Nick Tyrone on the 350 million pound problem:

And that’s the main problem with referenda: anyone can promise anything because there is no political cost to making promises that won’t come good.

I’m not sure about this being the “main problem” but it’s certainly one of the many significant problems with referendums.

Fundamentally, referendums are not democratic. In a democracy, no decision is truly set in stone — we elect a parliament and that parliament enacts laws. There is nothing to stop the next parliament from repealing every one of those laws if the electorate decides they were a bad idea. The problem with referendums is that they do fix a decision in stone and provide no mechanism for amending, adjusting or reversing a decision.

And, of course, referendum decisions are always binary — yes or no; leave or remain; stay or go. But reality doesn’t fit into neat little mutually exclusive boxes, so no referendum can ever fully reflect the range of opinions that people want to express.

For any democracy to function properly, we should be having fewer referendums — preferably none.

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Buying referendum results

Nick Cohen makes an interesting observation:

The report’s authors, Alastair Sloan and Iain Campbell, bring together what others have already discovered and add details of their own. Although it is packed with information, including responses from Banks’s lawyers, the argument boils down to this. In 2013, regulators in Gibraltar discovered that Banks’s insurance business had reserves far below what it needed. Yet a year later the apparently embattled Banks was still able to pour money into the propaganda campaigns that took us out of the EU. He gave £1m to Ukip in 2014. He followed up that small fortune with £9.6m to Leave.EU and Better for the Country Ltd, along with additional cheques for Ukip as the referendum drew near. How did he afford it?

In June, Lionel Barber, the editor of the Financial Times, raised the same question. After his paper investigated Banks’s real worth, Barber asked on Twitter: “How rich is he really?” Banks gave a Trumpian reply: “I founded and sold a listed insurance business for £145m! Not even mentioned – no FT, fake news.”

The report referred to is on openDemocracy and asks How did Arron Banks afford Brexit?

For the sake of transparency, we all have an interest in knowing where Banks’ Brexit budget came from.

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