Tag: European-Union

Brexit-Watch: Saturday 21 March 2020

Note: article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Saturday 21 March 2020

A weekend update on some recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines, choosing four which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant two or three paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.

(NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall.)

 

Far from requiring delay, coronavirus strengthens our hand in post-Brexit talksDaily Telegraph (£) 

Former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib is right to say Britain enters its COVID-19 emergency response in a stronger position than the EU. Not only do we embark on it with lower unemployment and lower public debt than the main EU member-state economies.  Having, correctly, not joined the Euro, we also retain our own currency and thus control over both interest-rate and monetary policy, giving us the independence and flexibility to cut rates and launch a monetary expansion quickly, as seen this past week.

When the EU bloc emerges from the Coronavirus crisis, it is likely to be in a weaker state, economically, than the UK.  To re-stimulate its economies, it will need more urgently a trade deal with the country with whom it enjoys a substantial trade surplus, and also be in far less strong a position to go on insisting on its shamelessly protectionist ‘level playing field’ regulatory equivalence.

We should, therefore, be pressing home our advantage, not to exploit, but either to try to conclude a Canada++ style Free Trade Agreement or, if rebuffed, to declare exit on WTO terms, on 31 December 2020.  We have the leverage, and we should use it, ruthlessly if need be.  There is no room for All-England Tennis Club etiquette here.  We are in a hard-nosed negotiation with an uncooperative foreign power, not a genteel game of mixed doubles where you wait politely for your opponents to recover before continuing.

 

The Budget, The Virus, and Post-Brexit Britain – Briefings for Britain

Assuming, firstly, that Britain’s overall Coronavirus approach, a mix of mitigation and suppression strategies rather than one or the other, actually works, and secondly, that the Brexit Transition is not extended, our first year fully outside the EU should see faster than normal growth. Paradoxically, the fastest growth should, all other things being equal, occur in the sectors which have taken the biggest hit from the virtual shutting-down of the economy, like the travel and hospitality industries.

However, since Professor Gudgin’s piece was written, the Chancellor has announced his £330 billion business assistance package, and the Bank of England has launched a further £200 billion of quantitative easing. The former will overwhelmingly be funded by additional borrowing, which eventually means increased debt servicing costs to be paid by individual and business taxes.  This makes it even more critical to secure a post-Brexit trade deal which doesn’t impose ‘level playing field’ regulatory cost burdens on British business.

 

Britain and EU exchange Brexit Agreement draftsReuters

In a welcome counter to the multiple calls for a formal postponement of the Brexit trade talks, and consequently, of the date of full-Brexit itself, Johnson this week published a draft Trade Bill, whose effect would be to expedite and facilitate Britain’s ability to trade with other countries outside the EU. In addition, draft legal texts were also exchanged between Britain and the EU itself on how the two parties would conduct business after the end of Transition.

From the texts, it looks unlikely that a delay would be productive in terms of any softening of Brussels’ intransigence.  Britain fundamentally wants a sectoral agreement under which some issues would be wholly excluded from it, whereas the EU wants an all-encompassing deal from which almost nothing would be excluded.  With the two sides as far apart as this on basic principle, it is hard to see what a delay would achieve.

 

We must question suggestions the transition period should be extendedBrexit-Watch.org

Given that European responses to the Coronavirus crisis are primarily being directed by member-states’ national governments acting individually, rather than centrally from Brussels, it increasingly looks a weak excuse for deferring full-Brexit. Apart from that, every extra month we stay in Transition means a continuing financial contribution to the EU’s coffers, taxpayers’ money which, one suspects, taxpayers would rather see being spent domestically in Britain on healthcare.

On Friday morning, former MEP David Campbell Bannerman raised a further powerful reason for not extending the implementation period.  Late on Wednesday evening, the European Central Bank unexpectedly announced a €750 billion stimulus programme of bond purchases, after its €120 billion big-bank stimulus package of only six days earlier had signally failed to reassure volatile sovereign debt markets.

If – or perhaps when? – the Eurozone collapses, suggested Campbell Bannerman, if still in Transition, Britain is in real danger of having to pay hundreds of billions through European Investment Bank liabilities and/or EU Commission decisions on EU ‘solidarity’. 

When Britain is already borrowing another £330 billion to prop up our coronavirus-hit economy, that prospect alone should be enough to rule out any extension.

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Brexit-Watch: Saturday 14 March 2020

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Saturday 14 March 2020

A weekend update on some recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines, choosing five which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant two or three paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.  (NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall.)

 

Don’t be surprised if this virus delays BrexitTelegraph (£)

From the moment COVID-19 Coronavirus appeared on the horizon as something likely to cause more than the usual winter virus disruption, its use as an excuse to justify delaying Brexit was probably inevitable. The infection potential of both non-essential travel and face-to-face meetings are the grounds most often cited, but it’s also been suggested that the Brussels negotiators may just unilaterally decide to suspend negotiations anyway. Purely for medical reasons, obviously. . . .

Both economically and politically, Brexit is the government’s Number One priority after the Coronavirus outbreak, and as the Prime Minister is not conducting them personally, nothing should be allowed to interrupt them. Meetings can continue via video-conferencing from sterile areas.  The texts of drafts of agreements or appendices can be exchanged by email.  If the EU’s negotiators refused to continue with them, then the PM must make it clear that no extension of the Transition Period will be sought, and that Britain will revert to WTO terms in the event that no deal is reached.

Had the Coronavirus outbreak occurred in 2022 or 2023, causing a global downturn one or two years after full-and-final Brexit, would anyone have seriously suggested reversing Brexit and rejoining the EU as a response to it?  Of course not.  Then there’s no reason to defer it now, especially as Britain remains under EU trading and other rules including the Common Fisheries Policy, and also subject to ECJ jurisdiction, until the end of the Transition Period, which the EU itself defines as ‘until at least 31 December 2020 (my italics).

 

Von der Leyen on virus: ‘EU will do whatever is necessary’EU Observer

Which may be: not very much, or not very much that makes a significant difference, anyway. The EU, at least as represented, in Angela Merkel by a lame-duck German politician, in Ursula von der Leyen by a failed German politician, and in Christine Lagarde by a French Eurocrat widely thought to be unsuited to her present ECB role, have by the latter’s admission yet to come together at all, never mind developed a co-ordinated response, let alone sold it to member-states. 

The EU’s institutional sclerosis, along with its lack of a practical either fiscal or monetary policy toolkit commensurate with its supranational pretensions, will almost certainly prevent it coming to either a swift, or especially effective, decision.  So far, for all its resolute declarations, it has dithered but actually done very little.  All that the competition-lawyer-pretending-to-be-central-banker Lagarde managed to do as Head of the ECB was to spook the markets.

The effect of that inaction is already being seen in individual member-states reverting to unilateral decision-making at nation-state level, or in Germany at even regional level.  Nation-state governments are re-asserting themselves and, more importantly, are being seen to respond to their citizens’/voters’ demands in a way that the EU either will not, or more likely institutionally just cannot.  Nation-state borders are back, as their elected governments reimpose them without even bothering to consult Brussels, such is the perceived urgency of protecting their own citizens.

The utility, even the concept, of pan-European supranationalism is being severely tested by Coronavirus.  Anti-democratic supranational technocratic government, open borders and free movement are all now effectively dead, which means the EU in its present form is quite possibly terminally damaged. 

As far as the Brexit negotiations are concerned, this should all strengthen Britain’s hand, and is another reason why the talks should not be allowed to be interrupted or deferred.

 

Macron orders closure of all schools in France and warns he may even shut the country’s borders to control Coronavirus Daily Mail

For the Macron who was once the Davos/Bilderberg globalist oligarchy’s poster-boy for both ‘enlightened’ government by supranational technocracy and wide-open borders, this is an embarrassing climbdown.  However, in the same broadcast as he used to announce it, he also warned against ‘nationalist withdrawal’ as a pitfall to avoid at international level in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, so policy-wise, he appears to be all over the place.

With Macron preoccupied with trying to reconcile securing the French nation against the Coronavirus outbreak with maintaining his EU-integration credentials, and both against the backdrop of difficult French municipal elections this coming Sunday and the next, his influence as one of the Intransigents on the Brexit negotiations is waning.

 

UK’s antivirus measures disguise radicalisation of Brexit FT (£) 

A slightly hysterical article from the FT‘s Europe Editor, claiming that Brexit is evolving into a project far more ‘extreme’ than even Leave-voters wanted in the 2016 EU Referendum, merely because Britain’s negotiators are concerned to ensure that it achieves visible separation from the EU’s political, regulatory and legal structures.

Barber quotes Britain’s withdrawal from the EU Safety Agency as evidence of this; yet goes on to conflate EU-centralised regulation of air safety standards regulation with ‘pan-European co-operation’, which clearly it is not.  Regulation is not ‘co-operation’.  It is to achieve the latter that we need to escape the former.

Barber then bemoans the UK’s alleged abandonment of Theresa May’s commitment to the so-called ‘level playing field’.  But the EU has made it abundantly plain that it interprets that phrase as UK perpetual alignment with EU rules, despite having no say in them and how they are formulated.  It’s hard to see his article in any other light than a polemic against any kind of Brexit which isn’t in-name-only.  Even after all this time.

          

EU’s demands in negotiations with UK revealed in draft treaty Guardian

The EU appears to have evidently learned very little, and therefore changed very little.  The draft continues to insist on ‘level playing field’ rules for (all) British and EU businesses, and also in regard to state-aid.  It maintains its previous demand for the ability of the European Court of Justice to hand down rulings binding on British Courts, and ongoing regulatory harmonisation with EU laws as they develop in other areas, effectively binding the UK to EU legislation, but with no input into it.

On fishing, it proposes ‘long-term’ (NB duration not specified) agreements on access to British waters but with each side’s percentage allocation also unspecified.  On security and intelligence matters, it requires Britain in effect to guarantee its continuing application of the European Convention on Human Rights, despite its manifest flaws, with data and intelligence sharing to be withdrawn if it does not.

The UK is expected to reject most of this as unacceptable, and rightly so.  The prospect of exiting the Transition Period without any satisfactory deal, therefore, goes up another notch, as does, inevitably, the futility and counter-productiveness of any extension of the Transition Period.

This in turn must prompt the question of whether it is worth Britain persisting in this charade at all, especially if it is to be prolonged on some spurious pretext using the Coronavirus outbreak as a transparent excuse. Better to abandon it now, declare negotiations at an end, prepare for a WTO/No-Deal exit from the Transition Period, and focus our energies on ameliorating the Coronavirus outbreak in this country.

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Brexit-Watch: Saturday 07 March 2020

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier today, Saturday 07 March 2020

A weekend update on some recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines, choosing four which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant two or three paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.  (NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall.)

 

Brexit row erupts after Barnier accuses UK of planning to ditch human rights commitmentPolitics Home

In a typically disingenuous combination of red herring and attempt to assert EU extra-territorial jurisdiction over the post-Brexit UK, Barnier has accused the UK of ‘refusing to continue to apply’ the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) after full-Brexit. This is arrant nonsense.

The ECHR is the creation of the immediate post-WW2 Council of Europe, is enforced by the Council’s European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg, and is separate and distinct from the EU.  The latter is not even a signatory to the Convention, merely requiring new member-states to be signatories, and the EU has no jurisdiction over it.

It’s conceivable however that, once freed of the obligation to be a signatory to the ECHR by virtue of its EU membership, the UK could decide after Brexit to enact its own Bill of Rights (possibly linked to a written Constitution) and, as part of that, withdraw from either the ECHR in full or merely from the jurisdiction of its ECtHR.

As Lawyers for Britain‘s Martin Howe QC explains, there’s a compelling case for such a move.  The Strasbourg human rights court has come to mirror some unsatisfactory features found also in the EU’s own European Court of Justice, principally a tendency to judicial activism rather than interpretation, introduction into European human rights law of concepts not present in the original text, and the predominance of the Continental Codified, rather than English Common Law, legal tradition.

Barnier in effect wants the EU to have the power to direct the democratically elected government of an independent sovereign nation-state on which international treaties and conventions it should or should not sign up to. That is an outrageous demand that deserves to be dismissed out of hand.

 

Paris versus London: the clash of the financial centresJohn Keiger, Briefings for Britain

Having failed, in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 EU Referendum, to persuade many, if any, City-based European banks to move their London operations to Frankfurt or Paris, the French are now coming back, but cloaked in the EU flag, for another attempt.  The possibility that this is sabre-rattling as part of French domestic politics’ general background noise to the upcoming French municipal elections this month, where Macron looks likely to be embarrassed at least, can’t be ruled out.

Despite the European Banking Authority having made the move, London’s sheer size, global reach, expertise, power and capacity for innovation as an international financial centre compared to Paris suggests this will be a futile quest.  Even if this were not a factor, the far more onerous and restrictive, and significantly slower-deciding and less flexible, regulatory regimes covering both financial services and labour markets would surely be a disincentive.

The threat to withhold passporting rights from UK banks doing business in France looks similarly unlikely to succeed.  The French may have introduced this whole issue into the negotiating mix as a giveaway to be traded off in return for getting something else.

 

Negotiating deals with both the EU and the US will be tricky for Britain: but it does have a trump card Shanker Singham, Telegraph (£)

The overriding difference between the two sets of negotiations is this: that while both parties in the UK-US negotiation will focus on economics and trade, both parties in the UK-EU negotiation will not.  For the EU, this deal isn’t about economics and trade, but about politics, in particular, Brussels’ semi-existential political need to try and limit the competitiveness of an ex-member on its north-western doorstep, even at the price of harming its own member-states’ economies. That is bound to maintain, if not incrase, its tendency to intransigence.

Britain taking up its seat at the WTO this week, for the first time as an independent member in nearly 50 years, has sent what ought to be a powerful signal to Brussels that, if it continues to try to insist on setting both our regulatory environment and legal order after Brexit, then we are quite prepared to walk away and go WTO.

 

We must not allow the EU to bind our hands in trade negotiations with other partners Stephen Booth, Conservative Home

In what’s been appropriately described as a ‘multi-dimensional game of chess’, and despite the demands likely to be made on our trade negotiating resources and expertise, for Britain to conclude, or at least substantially conclude, as many overseas trade deals as possible during 2020, in parallel to the trade-talks with the EU, must be an imperative.

In macro terms,  one vital fact should not be overlooked. Time is not on the EU’s side. The Eurozone economy is suffering its slowest growth in 7 years. Internally, its rate of GDP growth continues to decline, while externally, it accounts for an ever-diminishing share of global GDP growth.

EU quarterly real gdp growth 2016-19

EU declining share global GDP growth

Seeing the UK reach trade deals with the parts of the world which are growing, not stagnating, is essential towards disincentivising the EU from continuing to insist on its absolutist level-playing-field on, e.g.,  state aid, environmental and labour standards, an approach which is intended, not so much as to facilitate trade, as to protect its own heavily regulated economies from competition.

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Brexit-Watch: Saturday 29 February 2020

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier today, Saturday 29 February 2020

A weekend update on some recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines, choosing four which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant a paragraph or two of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.  (NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall.)

 

Dealing with the French: Frost versus Barnier, Bacon versus DescartesRobert Tombs at Briefings for Britain

Few are better qualified than Professor Tombs to expound on the historically different approaches to philosophy and law which govern the respective attitudes of the French and English towards the negotiating of treaties.  The former view the opening text as sacred, to be departed from only minimally, if at all: for the latter, it is merely a starting point from which give-and-take bartering can proceed towards, eventually, a mutually acceptable outcome.

Personally, I find it a curious paradox how, when it comes to the nuts and bolts of trade negotiations, it’s the British who are pragmatic and transactional, while the Brussels Eurocrats are institutional and inflexible: but that, when it comes to the philosophical question of EU membership per se, it’s the Eurocrats who are transactional, emphasising alleged economic advantage, while the British are constitutional, prioritising the principles of sovereignty, democracy and self-government over the risk of temporary economic disruption.

Anyway, to the schism identified by Professor Tombs must be added current domestic politics among the main EU protagonists. In Germany, Merkel’s originally anointed successor as CDU party leader and Chancellor having withdrawn, the contest has now degenerated into an unedifying struggle between two fairly unimpressive male apparatchiks.  In France, an already unpopular Macron faces municipal elections in late March from which he is likely to emerge weakened.

The two diametrically different approaches, coupled with more volatile both French and German domestic politics, could well turn the Brexit trade-talks into a dialogue of the deaf.  In which case, the likelihood of Britain deciding that further negotiation is pointless, and walking away to WTO terms, will become even greater.

 

EU’s uneven playing field revealed – Germans, Belgians, Italians, French are the worst offendersFacts4EU

This is about the EU’s restrictions on the power of member-states’ national legislatures on state-aid and competition. Yet despite the insistence by Barnier on ‘red lines’ for a ‘level playing field’ regarding his demand for continuing UK-EU ‘regulatory alignment’ after Brexit, the EU is, as ever, the greatest breaker of the rules it purports to impose on others.

Germany, France, Belgium and Italy all receive favourable state-aid dispensations at between three and four times the rate Britain does. Some ‘level playing field’. . . .  Moreover, identifying where responsibility lies for administering the rules is typically shrouded in bureaucratic obfuscation. It would be futile focusing on this area to the detriment of others in negotiation.

Once again, it’s possible to envisage this issue causing Labour some trouble domestically, especially if the party, though nominally united, has ongoing tensions between the soft-Left faction of presumed winner Starmer and the defeated hard-Left camp grouped around Long-Bailey.  Remember, Corbyn repeatedly appeared torn between his desire as a Remainer to stay within the EU’s ambit and his desire as a socialist to use taxpayers’ money to prop up failing businesses.

 

UK-EU: a question of trustFinancial Times (£)

Briefly, for those unable to breach the paywall, the article references the spat between Britain and the EU on the former’s accusation that the EU resiled from its offer of a Canada-style Free Trade Agreement, and the latter’s accusation that Britain is resiling from a previous agreement not to re-open aspects of Theresa May’s Political declaration. It goes on to regret the end result of the document supposed to guide the negotiations being at the centre of a feud.

It’s hard not to see a combination of naïveté and anti-Brexit EU-philia at work here.  These negotiations were always going to be conducted in an atmosphere of bad faith on the EU’s side.  The reason isn’t hard to discern.  Going back to Professor Tombs’ article, for Britain, these negotiations are transactional: for the EU, on the other hand, they are near-existential.

As the Bruges Group remarked this week. . .   

Indeed.  But that’s also slightly to miss the point.  The EU is conceptually incapable of treating us like any other country.  Alone among other countries who joined it, we have chosen to repudiate and quit their to them noble but to us neo-imperial Project.  For that, in their world-view, we are heretics who must not only be punished for our apostasy but be seen to be punished for it.  If that sounds quasi-religious, it’s because it is.  These negotiations were pre-destined to be acrimonious.

 

The UK and EU Negotiating Mandates ComparedGlobal Vision

It’s clear from this comprehensive, up-to-date summary, including all the developments of the past week, that behind the spin disseminated via the headline/soundbite-wanting media lie some potentially insoluble points of contention.

Fishing is the obvious and arguably also the most difficult one since, despite its relative insignificance economically, it is hugely important politically and even almost symbolically, given its public profile: one can easily see it being the bellwether by which the whole deal is judged.  The UK has rejected both keeping current levels of access for other EU member-states, and sequencing.  It could be the difference between an agreement and WTO.

The so-called level playing field and rules of origin issue, and I think we can expect EU obduracy on financial services, torn as it is between mercantilist envy of the City’s dominance and knowledge of EU firms’ dependence on it. Generally, if the EU refuses to budge on demanding its own legal order be supervening, the UK has made it clear there will be no agreement.  Don’t delete your online WTO guide just yet.

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Brexit-Watch: 22nd February 2020

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier today, Saturday 22 February 2020

A weekend update on some recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines, choosing four which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant a paragraph or two of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.  (NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall.)

 

The EU’s absurd and ever-changing position reminds us why Britain voted to leaveTelegraph (£)

Global Vision’s Shanker Singham on how, having originally offered Britain a Canada-style free trade deal with add-ons, the EU has backtracked to the extent of demanding a provision which it doesn’t insist on even in its FTAs with China and the USA: namely a guarantee that whenever the EU changed its laws, the UK would follow suit, in perpetuity.  This would in effect subordinate our own trade’s legal architecture to EU state aid rules and ECJ oversight.

Brussels also demands what it calls ‘dynamic regulatory alignment’; meaning in effect that, to secure a FTA, the UK would need to become a rule-taker from Brussels with no say in how those rules were set.  Both moves are perfect examples of the intransigence which caused us to vote to leave in the first place.  But Johnson will need to be watched to ensure there is no backsliding or dilution of our refusal to capitulate to this.

 

The EU isn’t interested in free trade with the UK, just political domination –  Briefings for Britain (formerly Brexit)

An argument whose first premise has been amply borne out this week by Brussels’ attempt to move the goalposts, firstly, by trying to hedge a Canada-style deal about with onerous conditions, in what looks like a naked attempt to hobble Britain’s ability to compete against an over-regulated, sclerotic EU.

Secondly, by Barnier’s ill-tempered refusal of a Canada-style trade deal on transparently spurious grounds of geographical proximity.  And thirdly, by even demanding the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece as part of any trade deal. 

With the growing presence of nation-state populists in both member-state and European parliaments, making Brussels desperate to make life outside the bloc as difficult as possible for Britain, the argument’s second premise is no less valid.

 

Post-Brexit funding row breaks out in BrusselsTimes (£)

Very much at the forefront of Eurocrats’ minds, in the sense of trying to show the remaining 27 member-states, by its treatment of Britain, just how difficult it will make life outside the bloc for any other country which decided to emulate Britain and leave, taking its contributions with it.  Brexit leaves a €75 billion-sized hole in the next 7-year budget.

The implications for member-states’ internal politics are significant.  Germany’s extra payments are 6 times France’s, and Merkel’s CDU is under electoral pressure from the Eurosceptic AfD.  France’s low-level Gilets Jaunes insurrection each weekend shows no sign of abating, and the Marion Maréchal (Le Pen) led Rassemblement Nationale expects to make big gains in this year’s French municipal elections.  Just to make life more difficult for Macron, the Dutch, with an economy only one-third the size of France’s, are objecting to paying EU contributions 70 per cent higher than France’s.

 

What Keir Starmer would mean for BritainFT (£)

To which headline must of course first be added the caveat: if he becomes Labour leader.  Admittedly, it looks unlikely that he won’t, but Rebecca Long-Bailey has the endorsement of Len McClusky’s Unite Union and, as far as I can establish, no candidate has ever won the Labour leadership without it.

In the short term, Starmer as leader will impact more on Labour’s internal politics than on the course of Britain’s exit.  Johnson has a compliant Parliamentary party with an unassailable majority, so Starmer won’t be forcing any change of policy.  He will however be far more soft-Brexity and even Rejoin-inclined than Corbyn, so could arouse some disquiet among Labour MPs in Brexit-voting seats who narrowly survived December’s massacre and could be the next bricks in Labour’s Red Wall to tumble.

What he will bring to the table, however, is a lawyer’s far greater ability than Corbyn possessed to absorb the fine detail of any agreements, and then subject Johnson to forensic questioning on them.  Boris is a big-picture blusterer, not a details man, so he could well under-perform when put under this kind of pressure.  Coupled with growing resentment at his eco-policies, this could well cause his popularity and approval ratings to dip.  So Starmer could impact internal Tory politics as well.

 

What these four articles taken together show is that the EU is visibly in big trouble on several fronts.  Not mentioned in any of the four above is the mountain of bank debt on the books of the ECB, which potentially limits it from engaging in any further quantitative easing to try and boost currently slowing growth in the sclerotic Eurozone. 

If only our own negotiators would recognise it, and leverage it to drive a harder and more advantageous deal for Britain.  Though if the evident intransigence of the EU is a guide, it surely increases the chance of our eventual exit on WTO terms.

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Hold your nose and vote Tory today. But not necessarily ever again.

It’s no more than the least worst option among poor alternatives but, solely to procure some – any – kind of Brexit at all, one must hold one’s nose and vote Tory today, even if never again.

Note: Longer version of the article also published at The Conservative Woman earlier today, Thursday 12 December 2019

What a thoroughly depressing, unedifying decision awaits us in this general election today. A choice between, on the one hand, a Tory Party which is likely – but no more than likely and certainly not guaranteed – to ‘get Brexit done’ as if it was merely a one-off event, a box to be ticked and then set aside: and on the other, a ramshackle Left-Green Remainer coalition under which it would definitely never be allowed to happen in any meaningful way, if at all.

Despite the pages of promises unrelated to Brexit in the various party manifestos, this is overwhelmingly a Brexit-dominated election. It’s taking place because of the need to break the deadlock imposed by a Remainer-majority Rotten Parliament that for 3½ years strove not to implement the very instruction which it asked the electorate to give it. It refused to approve both any deal, and no-deal. But it also usurped the power of the executive of the elected government to approve either.

So it’s with the withdrawal agreement now in prospect and its likely ensuing future trade agreement that consideration of how to cast our vote must start.

Despite the claims advanced in its favour, the extent to which Boris Johnson’s revised withdrawal agreement differs materially from Theresa May’s in areas like the Northern Ireland backstop, the scope and duration of the continuing post-Brexit jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and Britain’s ability to strike new trade deals with non-EU countries, remains a matter of debate.

It’s also reasonable to ask how, when May was faced with near-absolute negotiating intransigence from Brussels for over 18 months, Johnson was able to secure within mere weeks a revised withdrawal agreement which is apparently so changed from the original that it becomes not just acceptable, but praiseworthy. I suspect that may be because the EU always had a fallback position ready, but which it never had to deploy because May’s team were such inept and conciliatory negotiators, but it’s a factor which we should bear in mind.

For me, the most persuasive assessment is that which acknowledges that Johnson’s revised agreement is very far from ideal, but that it is nonetheless a significant improvement on its predecessor and is probably just about good enough to make it supportable: a position that would become stronger if a big enough House of Commons majority enables Johnson to stick to his pledge that there will be no transition period beyond the end of 2020, and that preparations would continue for a No-Deal exit on WTO terms on that date should it be necessary.

But there often seems not to be a big expanse of blue water between the May ‘damage-limitation exercise’ and the Johnson ‘something to get done’ approaches to Brexit. As the Daily Telegraph’s Jeremy Warner notes, doubts remain about Britain’s future relationship with Europe, and the possibility of a Johnson conjuring-trick that would leave many Brexiteers disappointed, can’t be ruled out.

So we aren’t home and dry yet, and anyone who believes that anything other than an outline of a comprehensive free trade agreement can be achieved by then is clutching at straws. Moreover, Brexit will be an ongoing process, not an isolated event: full divergence from 46 years of convergence will take years, not months. We won’t begin even to glimpse the final shape of Brexit until well into the second half of 2020.

We’re therefore being asked to take an awful lot on trust, with no guarantee that we won’t end up with some kind of BRINO-plus with extended transition. But, being realistic, of the Brexit policy alternatives that are likely to be in a position to prevail once the election results are in, this is sadly the least worst option.

Which brings us to that question of the big enough Commons majority alluded to above. In particular, Johnson’s curt dismissal of a tactical alliance with The Brexit Party to try and secure a solid pro-Brexit majority in Parliament by targeting Leave-voting seats, currently represented by Labour-Remainer MPs, which the Tories could never hope to gain but which a non-Tory pro-Brexit alternative just might.

I’ve written previously about the mistakes made and lack of nuance, driven by posturing and egotism, on both sides: and the argument that dividing the pro-Brexit vote between two parties risks splitting it and letting in a Corbyn-led government or coalition that will either cancel Brexit outright or dilute it to sham-status is perfectly valid. The boost in Tory polling numbers and corresponding collapse in Brexit Party support cannot be denied, although which is cause and which is effect might be a moot point.

But there’s also something else. Following the failure of that tactical alliance to get off the ground, the Tories’ purpose, it appeared, became not just to win those seats through their own efforts, improbable though that remains in some cases, but to destroy The Brexit Party or at least seriously damage its credibility in the process.

It was discernible how, during the middle weeks of the campaign, the Tories and the Tory-supporting media appeared to turn considerable firepower on to The Brexit Party for threatening to ‘steal’ its voters from one end of the Tory Tent, while much less seemed to be turned on to the LibDems for trying to ‘steal’ its voters from the other end of it. The Daily Telegraph even published a soft-focus hagiographic puff-piece on Swinson that would not have been out of place in the pages of Hello! magazine.

The allegations of senior Brexit Party figures and candidates being offered inducements to stand down may have faded from public memory, but that does not mean they didn’t happen. Some of those claims sounded more credible than others, but Brexit Party MEP Ann Widdecombe’s account to Julia Hartley-Brewer of the inducements offered to her sounds genuine.

We’ve been here before. Similar tactics were used against UKIP in the run-up to the May 2014 elections to the European Parliament: assiduous ‘offence’-archaeology to unearth candidates’ embarrassing past comments on social media: dire predictions of splitting the (then) pro-referendum vote: and noisy, suspiciously well-timed re-defections accompanied by apologetic recantations, by ex-Tory candidates. Wanting to leave the EU was the policy of ‘closet racists, fruitcakes and loonies’.

Brexit Party MEP Claire Fox recently wrote eloquently about the levels of vitriol thrown at Brexit Party Leavers by Tory Leavers, and the arrogant yet patronising sense of entitlement and resentment evinced by many Tory Brexiteers towards the perceived upstart challenger to their assumed sole ownership of the Brexit issue.

Urging voters not to vote for another party you perceive as a threat to you is an acceptable part of the democratic process. Demanding that other party withdraw from an election because you perceive it as a threat to you, however, is profoundly un-democratic. The overriding impression of the last six weeks is that the Tories, despite their pre-election blandishments, would prefer a small pro-Tory metro-‘liberal’ majority in Parliament to a larger pro-Brexit but not exclusively Tory one, with the former even at the expense of the latter, and the Brexit Party killed off. So what’s really going on?

At this point, we need to take a quick diversion back into recent Conservative Party history. The Tory high command were always reluctant Brexiteers. In his superb book All Out War, journalist Tim Shipman tells how George Osborne thought the idea of even holding a referendum on EU membership ‘mad’: ‘we should stop talking about it’ was his advice to David Cameron.

It’s widely suspected that the reason Cameron was driven to promise a referendum in his January 2013 Bloomberg speech was not the principled democratic one of giving the electorate the chance to have its first vote in 38 years on Britain’s continuing membership of the EU, but the narrow, partisan, party-management one of countering the domestic political threat then posed by UKIP and securing Tory Party electoral advantage.

It’s also widely assumed that the solemn promise to hold a referendum was included in the Conservatives’ 2015 general election manifesto for the same reason, and in cynically confident expectation that the outcome would be another Tory-LibDem coalition in which the promise could be discarded and the LibDems blamed.

As we all now know, the Tories unexpectedly won a majority, and the rest is history. But Cameron is still blamed by many Europhile Tories for allowing the referendum to happen at all. As Charles Moore recounts in the 3rd volume of his Thatcher biography, Heseltine’s and Howe’s attitude was always one of the EU question being too complicated a one to be left to stupid voters.

The 2016 Brexit vote was a multi-level, multi-purpose, demand. It was not solely a vote for one specific policy, namely, to leave the European Union, but something far more profound, deep-rooted and far-reaching besides: a revolt by the long marginalised and ignored against the deracination and effectively de-democratisation of politics by a centrist-consensualist, elitist, technocratic managerialism stretching back for 30 years or more: a demand for a reversion to an earlier, different, more participative way of doing politics.

Both Right and Left appreciate this. The vote and the insistence it be enacted is about cultural insecurity as much if not more than it is about economic security writes Gerald Warner at Reaction. Even that impeccably Man of the Left, Simon Jenkins recognises in The Guardian that this Brexit-dominant election is mainly about identity, not money.

To respect that deeper, wider demand by 17.4 million requires a proper Brexit to be the launch-pad, the catalyst, for an ongoing process of comprehensive democratic and economic repair and renewal, not merely a ‘get it done and move on’ tick in a box. And this is where the reservations about voting Tory today really start to intensify.

I’ve already written on both the doubts surrounding the kind of Conservatism and direction of travel Johnson would espouse and follow, and more recently on his comparatively underwhelming performance in his first five months as Brexit Prime Minister. Those doubts have not been assuaged by the criticisms of the somewhat defensive, safety-first, anodyne Tory manifesto as treating Tory voters with disdain.

So the gut-feeling this election morning is that the Tory drive to ‘get Brexit done’ by treating it as purely one-off, short-term transactional, rather than long-term transformational, is part of a cynical wider operation of which this election and Brexit are certainly part, but not the whole. The orchestrated rejection and disparaging of those who ought to be its natural allies on this, and the presence on Tory candidate lists of paleo-Cameroon, soft-Brexiteer party-insiders certainly points that way.

As I’ve hinted before, I suspect the Johnson/Cummings/Number Ten strategy is to do something which can plausibly be labelled as Brexit, so they can claim to have ‘got it done’ as if it was just a box to be ticked: then, having done that, get back to business-as-usual with our cartelised political system largely unchanged, ignoring the implied deeper demand of the Brexit vote and silencing the Brexit Party’s ‘Change Politics for Good’ advocacy of democratic reform, thus suiting the Westminster technocratic-government elite down to the ground.

Just under a month ago, polling guru Michael Ashcroft elicited this pithy reply when suggesting that, despite the disappointment of no Tory – Brexit Party tactical alliance, Leave voters should nevertheless hold their noses and vote Tory. I suspect the comment by “Patriotic Ally” summarises the thoughts of many.

Hopefully at some point in the future it will be possible for some of us to vote for the ‘Conservative’ Party without having to hold our noses. But, with their Brexit Party neutralisation operation having, according to YouGov’s final poll, largely succeeded, and their vision of Brexit sadly being the only one in serious prospect, then to have any chance of seeing any Brexit at all, that is what we must do today. But not necessarily again.

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Boris’ Interim Report: Must Try Harder

PM Boris Johnson’s performance against the eight benchmarks set him on appointment has been mediocre at best  

Note: Longer version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 04 December 2019

At the end of last July, just after Boris Johnson had been elected leader of the Conservative Party and appointed Prime Minister, I tried to speculate on the general direction of travel which his government would follow, not only on Brexit, but on other key policy issues.

Would he follow the robustly anti-leftist, pro civil liberties, free-trade, free-market, tax-cutting rhetoric of his leadership campaign? Or would he actually turn out to be more in the ‘Wet’ One-Nation tradition of ‘liberal’-‘progressive’ Conservatism? To serve as a benchmark, I suggested eight key tests by which we might judge whether he would delight or disappoint us.

Now, some might say it remains too early to judge: that the 5 months he has been in office have been overwhelmingly occupied by Brexit to the exclusion of virtually everything else, and that only after a period of government when it was no longer the dominant, almost only, issue would it be possible to make a more accurate assessment.

Well, maybe. But on the other hand, we do now have the two documents which will define the Johnson premiership in its entirety: firstly, his revised Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration and secondly, the Conservative Party’s election manifesto. So with these plus the experience of the past five months as a reference, how has he measured up against each those eight tests?

Will he ensure, come what may, including if necessary by proroguing Parliament to prevent its 70 per cent-plus Remainer majority stopping Brexit, take us out of the EU on 31 October, on a WTO No-Deal if Brussels maintains its intransigence, and with Britain as thoroughly prepared for it as possible?

This article isn’t the place for a detailed dissection of the pros and cons of Johnson’s revised Brexit deal. For me, the most persuasive summary of it is the one which acknowledges that, while it is far from ideal, it nonetheless is a distinct improvement on its predecessor and so probably just about good enough to make it supportable. But although the answer to the test question is clearly “No, because we have still not left the EU“, a reasonable case can be made that this was not for want of trying. 

On the legislative side, right up until the moment it was dissolved in early November, Johnson was faced with a majority-Remainer House of Commons, including members of his own party, which was not only determined to thwart it and to leave no avenue of Parliamentary procedure unexploited – however arcane and devious, and however potentially constitutionally illegitimate – in pursuance of that aim, but was also resolved to deny the electorate a chance to vote it out and elect a fresh Commons.

On the judicial side, he was faced with a blatantly politicised and judicially-activist legal Establishment which, by ruling the Prorogation of Parliament unlawful was prepared in effect to re-write the Constitution by arrogating to itself the power to amend it by inserting its own opinion into the political process.

Will he take, or authorise Dominic Cummings to take, an axe to the higher reaches of the Whitehall civil service machine which has proved so unwilling to accept our decision to leave the EU, and so hostile to implementing it?

There seems to be little evidence of it. Despite the misgivings surrounding Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill’s role, as May’ national security adviser, in the sacking of Gavin Williamson as Defence Secretary and informed speculation during the Tory leadership campaign that he would not long survive a Johnson premiership, he remains in place.

Although the Svengali figure of Olly Robbins who was May’s chief Brexit negotiator has left Whitehall, and the Brexit negotiating team was slimmed down, Johnson’s current Europe adviser is something of a former Brussels insider. While it’s obviously very useful to have someone familiar with the backrooms of Brussels, against that must always be the fear that he may have been institutionally captured.

Will he abrogate Britain’s accession to the UN Migration Compact, cynically signed by May largely under the radar in December 2018?

As far as I can see, he has not even mentioned it. In fact, the indicators appear to be pointing towards a significant dilution of his leadership campaign promises on reducing the scale and raising the quality of inward migration, despite the manifesto pledges about an Australian-style points system. Indeed, he has arguably retreated further.

In the Daily Telegraph of 14th November, the Editor of The Spectator, Fraser Nelson floated the idea of a Government amnesty for illegal immigrants. Given the close links between the magazine and Number Ten, I suspect it’s unlikely that the latter was wholly unaware of the proposal before publication. It could have been designed to test the waters of public opinion, or perhaps even to engineer an adverse reaction, so as to justify a harder policy line with which to chase ex-Labour voters in the Midlands and North.

The two main problems with such an amnesty are that, firstly, it rewards illegality – what signal does it send to the law-abiding migrants who have taken the trouble to establish themselves here legally? – and that, secondly, it acts as an incentive to anyone currently contemplating migration into Britain, illegal or otherwise, to do it before more robust controls are implemented.

In addition, and as Migration Watch’s Alp Mehmet explained at The Conservative Woman on 27th November, in a commentary of all four main parties’ manifestos, it is perhaps the Conservative Party’s, deferring to the financial strength of big-business on the one hand and the powerful Woke pro-immigration lobby on the other, which especially represents a betrayal of its Leader’s previous promises.

Will he instruct the new (Remain-voting) Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to unwind all the surrender to the EU of control over policy, rules and structures which govern the future of our Armed Forces?

Here the picture, albeit still mixed, is slightly better, although May’s deal was so egregious in this area that it never constituted a particularly high bar to clear.

As Briefings for Brexit’s and Veterans for Britain’s Professor Gwyn Prins’ comprehensive analysis shows, closer integration with the nascent EU Defence Union, even under Johnson’s modified proposals, still carries significant risks for future co-operation and intelligence-sharing with our non-EU Five Eyes Alliance partners, and although we do have an opt-out mechanism, this is exercisable only on a case-by-case basis.

Professor Prins makes a persuasive argument, however, that the overall geo-strategic objection to UK participation in the accelerating EU Defence and Security integration remains: that the project’s fundamental raison d’être is ultra-federalist and anti-Anglosphere in concept and purpose, being designed to detach the EU from the NATO and wider Atlantic Alliance. Remember, France’s Macron has declared NATO “brain-dead”, and implied that the EU sees the USA as among its own likely future enemies.

Will he abandon the futile drive for expensive Green renewable energy, concentrate on developing alternative energy sources that promise reliability of supply at lower cost, and formally abandon the Government’s ill-informed, scientifically-illiterate and economically-damaging commitment to net zero emissions by 2050?

In a word: No. Once again he has gone almost in the opposite direction. In arguably one of the most abjectly cowardly reversals of a decade-long policy seen in many years, Johnson has resolved to ban fracking, ostensibly in deference to what is a cynical misrepresentation and exaggeration of the “earthquake” risk, but actually because the Tories lack the political courage to oppose the well-funded Green eco-propaganda campaign against cheap, reliable energy.

As if this was not bad enough, the Tories have signed up to the same net-zero emissions target as all the Green virtue-signalling main parties, just at a slightly slower rate, with a dearth of consideration of the long-term opportunity cost of spending upwards of £1 trillion on attempting to retard, by a few months, whatever would almost certainly happen regardless.

Will he commit to rolling back substantial parts of Theresa May’s politically-correct, divisive left-‘liberal’ SJW agenda, like mandatory gender pay gap reporting, ethnicity pay disparity audits, and gender-change via box-ticking self-declaration? 

Johnson has been conspicuously silent on this since his accession to Number Ten, and the 64-page Tory Manifesto – long on worthy aspirations and anodyne platitudes but short on specific policy pledges which could be remotely controversial – which has been variously criticised as “defensive” and “safety-first” contains no references to these issues whatsoever. Given that this was the focus of a substantial part of the condemnation heaped on his predecessor, we have to assume that silence in this case equals acquiescence.

Will he guarantee to address the pressing issue of voter and electoral fraud, in particular the vulnerability of the lax postal-vote system to rampant abuse, and Leftist objections to making ID at the polling booth mandatory?   

Johnson pledged via the most recent Queen’s Speech to introduce mandatory voter ID to help combat electoral fraud – to a predictable chorus of specious objections from the politicians of parties which currently appear to benefit most from it, and their media cum quango-state backers – and this has been included in the Tory Manifesto, along with as yet unspecified measures aimed at “stopping postal vote harvesting”. This is at least a start, although much more needs to be done.

Will he address urgent constitutional reform, in particular the position of the unelected, anti-democratic House of Lords, the corrupt and cronyism-ridden Honours system, and funding from tax the current political activities of former Prime Ministers who, despite being rejected by voters, still want to remain active in public life? 

Not much, if anything, has actually been done in this area, though in fairness, little would have been possible with a gridlocked majority-Remainer, anti-Tory Parliament. The Tory Manifesto is more promising: it does at least pledge to repeal the disastrous Fixed Term Parliaments Act (FTPA). But both the role of the House of Lords and the relationship between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary are to be referred to a new Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission, which looks suspiciously like kicking the issue into the long grass.

It would have been much better to have adopted Lawyers for Britain’s Martin Howe QC’s proposal for a Restoration of the Constitution Bill to replace the current judicially-activist Supreme Court and repeal the egregious Benn Surrender Act usurping for Parliament the proper executive role of government, as well as repealing the FTPA.

On reforming the Honours System and curbing funding for the ongoing political activities of former prime Ministers, there has been neither mention nor action. 

Overall, then, Johnson’s is an underwhelming performance so far, notwithstanding the hype surrounding his “great new deal” and the constant “get Brexit done” soundbite. Those of us of a conservative – but not necessarily Conservative – disposition are, I think, entitled to start asking some serious questions about precisely where the Johnson-led Tories are going, not only on Brexit but on much else besides.

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Treat this Vichy Parliament with the contempt it deserves

Much huffing and puffing in indignation yesterday from Sarah Wollaston, the “Liberal” “Democrat” (well, this week, anyway – she does change parties so often) MP for Totnes, at PM Boris Johnson’s pulling out of today’s scheduled meeting with the House of Commons Liaison Committee, comprising the Chairs of all the principal Select Committees.    

Wollaston’s response unwittingly highlighted the questions hanging over the democratic legitimacy – or, increasingly, not merely the lack of it, but even contempt for it – of this Rotten Parliament, which has long exceeded either its usefulness or its ability to represent the electorate. She is a perfect vehicle to illustrate it.

Always more of a false-flag, closet Lib-Dem inside the “Conservative” Party than a true Conservative, she nevertheless became its candidate for the Totnes constituency via an Open Primary which the Tories managed to botch spectacularly, firstly by not sufficiently checking the politics of the actual applicants, and secondly by allowing anyone to vote in it, regardless of their political affiliation.

She initially declared for Leave in the run-up to the 2016 EU Referendum, only to defect noisily to Remain in mid-campaign, in what many suspected was a put-up job aimed at discrediting the Leave campaign by her ‘defection’. More recently, she has opposed a second referendum, before U-turning and demanding one. In the last 8 months, she has changed parties in Parliament twice, first defecting from the Tories to the ill-fated and serially multi-titled The Independent Group, and subsequently to the LibDems.

Yet despite having twice in effect repudiated the manifesto which she endorsed and was content to stand on to get elected in 2017, she resolutely refuses to resign and trigger a by-election so as to give the voters of Totnes the opportunity to decide if they still want to be represented by her in the House of Commons. And she has the gall to criticise the PM for an unwillingness to “face scrutiny“. The hypocrisy is off the scale.

Wollaston epitomises a Parliament that is treating the electorate, and even democracy itself, with contempt. As Prime Minister, Boris Johnson was entirely justified in reciprocating in kind.

But it shouldn’t stop there. Including the 21 Tory Continuity-Remainer rebels who have either resigned the Conservative Whip or justifiably had it withdrawn from them, there are now approximately 50 current MPs who have defected from the parties under whose banner they were elected in 2017. Like Wollaston, not one of them has had either the integrity or courage to return to their constituents and seek a fresh mandate for their changed affiliation – or, in most cases, for their 180-degree swivel from the platform on which they sought and gained office.    

It is time to start treating them with equal contempt. Not only the PM, but all ministers, should refuse to appear before the Commons Liaison Committee while Wollaston remains its Chair. They should refuse to appear before any Select Committee chaired by one of those 50-odd MPs, and refuse to answer any question asked by any one of them at any Select Committee hearing.    

This should be carried through to the House of Commons itself. Following the example which should immediately be set by the PM at Prime Minister’s Questions, Ministers should refuse to answer any question, even about their own Departments, coming from one of those 50-odd MPs. And their lack of democratic legitimacy, absent because of their refusal to obtain a fresh mandate from their constituents, should be cited as the reason, every single time.

This rolling disapproval should manifest itself in one other significant way, too. The PM, and all ministers (with other MPs whose democratic legitimacy, regardless of their party, is not in question encouraged to join in as well), should with immediate effect refuse to refer to any of those 50-odd MPs by the title “Honourable Member”. They are in no way “honourable”, and to continue referring to them as such merely compounds the contempt with which they are already treating their own electorates. Would a newly-elected Speaker really want to start his or her period of office by standing up for them?

This abject, quisling, Vichy-Parliament refuses to approve a Brexit Deal but also refuses to approve No-Deal. It claims to be acting on behalf of the electorate but refuses to submit itself to the verdict of the electorate by conceding a general election. And then there’s this:

It is treating both the electorate, and even democracy itself, with utter contempt. High time it received the same treatment.

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Parliament’s Day of Reckoning

As the one of most important days for UK politics and House of Commons history in years, possibly in decades, dawns, with Boris Johnson attempting to secure MPs’ approval for his Brexit deal, how does the parliamentary landscape look?

It’s worth bearing in mind, at the outset, just why we are in this mess. It’s because, essentially, we are saddled with a Remainer Parliament resolved to frustrate the expressed will of the electorate that delivered the largest ever popular democratic mandate for one specific policy in this country’s political history.

EU Ref by votes, regions, parties, constituencies, & MPs

Even on the basic party arithmetic, with no other factors taken into account, Johnson’s prospects for success in the Commons look very tight. The Government currently has an operational “majority” of minus 44, so in order to win, it broadly needs, not only to keep all of those in the Aye lobby, but also attract some others to it. The votes “in play” fall roughly into four key groups.

The DUP have officially rejected Boris’ deal “as it stands”, on the grounds that its revised Protocol covering customs, the NI-RoI border, and Transition arrangements does not fully assuage their objections to Theresa May’s original (non)-“Withdrawal” Agreement. However, it’s emerged in the past 24 hours that this may not be unanimous, and that some of the DUP’s 10 MPs may be prepared to concede pragmatically that this is as good as it’s likely to get, and thus support the Government. The support of former Northern Ireland First Minister Lord Trimble looks to be a major boost.

Then there are the 21 Tory-Remainer rebels from whom the Whip was withdrawn. Rumours abound that an increasing number of these may relent and vote for the Johnson deal, on the basis that it is at least a deal, whereas their objection was to leaving with no deal. But this group also contains a cabal of pro-Remain MPs, some of whose professed determination merely to prevent no-deal is a transparently thin veneer to cover their determination to prevent any Brexit at all, democracy notwithstanding. Some of them are either standing down as MPs or are likely to be de-selected, and so have nothing to lose.

Next come the roughly 80-90 MPs of the European Research Group and its so-called “Spartans” sub-set. Many of this group voted for Johnson in the Tory leadership election, after voting against May’s deal twice but voting for it on its third attempt. As Johnson’s deal, for all its flaws, is at least demonstrably better than May’s, their support, bar possibly one or two hold-outs, looks more or less assured, although, intriguingly, two ministers from this group were reportedly on “resignation watch” yesterday.

Finally come the prospective rebels from the Labour benches, a growing number of whom are already on record as saying they would support Brexit as long as there was a deal, and who may well decide the issue, one way or another. 19 of them wrote to the EU asking it to agree a deal so that they could vote for it. At the time of writing, Labour was threatening to impose a three-line whip, but many of them are likely to be standing down or de-selected in a Momentum/Corbynite purge anyway, and will quite possibly disregard it.

As a general observation, for many Remainer MPs, this is crunch time. Irrespective of the merits or demerits of Johnson’s deal, those Continuity-Remainer MPs from across all parties who have hitherto been insisting that they “respect democracy” and oppose only a no-deal Brexit are finally going to have to stand up and be counted on what their position really is. Not before time,  and for some, it could well be blood on the carpet.

One tweet by the Daily Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson perhaps sums this up. 

The arithmetic is complicated enough. Factor in the possibility of a wrecking amendment, and how it might play out, and we are into the realms of crystal ball gazing.

As this tweet from The Institute for Government’s Maddy Thimont Jack shows, MPs had already started proposing amendments to the relevant motion yesterday morning, the key one being (and little doubt exists that it would be selected by the pro-Remain partisan Bercow as Speaker) that proposed by serial anti-Brexit meddler and arch-Remainer Tory MP Oliver Letwin and signed by all the usual suspects:

The effect appears to be to force withholding of Parliamentary approval for the deal until the legislation to implement it has been passed. The immediate question which occurs is this: how can Parliament pass legislation implementing a deal which Parliament itself has not approved? Has Letwin, not for the first time, been too-clever-by-half?

Its ostensible purpose is to prevent Johnson’s deal being passed but the legislation to implement it being derailed, resulting in a no-deal Brexit on 31st October by default. However, there seems little room for doubt, given their past Parliamentary shenanigans, that the real aim of the cross-party anti-Brexit plotters clustered around Dominic Grieve is to trigger the Benn Surrender Act, and force Johnson to seek an extension to Article 50 until 31st January, thus giving the Remainer Alliance in Parliament time to force through legislation for a second referendum. The Letwin amendment is, in effect, a spoiler.

There are other possible options for die-hard Continuity-Remainer MPs to take, with outcomes ranging from another bid for a risibly mis-named Government of National Unity to an Article 50 extension even without triggering the Benn Surrender Act.

Contrast this reluctance and foot-dragging on the part of irreconcilably Continuity-Remain MPs with the attitude of the UK electorate, which now appears, and by a substantial majority, to want Brexit implemented on the basis of Johnson’s deal. The remoteness of this Rotten Parliament from the people it is supposed to represent grows more marked by the day. 

It must be said that, even if Johnson’s deal is approved today, and the implementing legislation follows in short order thereafter, the timing is still tight. The deal, as approved, still requires the approval of the EU Council of Ministers, and the European Parliament. Given their glacial pace, that has to be doubtful. The future of Brexit remains uncertain.

One thing however is certain. Today will show, once again, the sheer extent of the demos-phobia embedded deep in the psyche of the majority of MPs that the Brexit vote and its aftermath has exposed. Hopefully it will be the last gasp of the creatures before the swamp is drained.

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Is Boris’ Irish Border Backstop Plan Bluff or Breakthough?

Bluff – but bluff by whom, and targeted at whom? There are several possible candidates for both.   

Note: Extract from article first published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 15 October 2019  

Those, maybe, are the real questions, because this drama has multiple actors, all of whom have interests and agendas that may be colouring their reactions.

Though Boris has, since last Thursday remained fairly tight-lipped about the details, some kind of, in effect, double customs union, involving keeping Northern Ireland in a de facto, if not de jure, customs union with the Republic, appears to be the basis for this tentative rapprochement.

RoI-NI

But when 85% of Northern Ireland’s exports are to the UK, with only 5% and 3% to the Republic and the EU respectively, it’s hard to see why Northern Ireland would burden itself with onerous EU costs and regulations for such a small proportion of its trade, and risk disruption to the flow of the major part of it.

Which might explain why, as early as last Friday, the DUP’s Nigel Dodds had already rejected the double customs union as ‘unrealistic’, asserting that the Province staying in a full customs union with the UK was non-negotiable, and that for the ongoing ‘tunnel’ talks in Brussels to disregard this pre-condition would be counter-productive.

Presumably, Dodds had already perceived what other commentators have since come round to concluding – that, far from negotiating in good faith, the EU is actually trying to squeeze Northern Ireland into a NI-only backstop, a view which Barnier’s rejection of Johnson’s proposals and demand for more UK concessions does little to dispel.

The technical assessments of Johnson’s proposals are not especially favourable. Anand Menon of The UK in a Changing Europe reckons the long-term economic impacts are negative, and potentially more damaging than the deal negotiated by Theresa May, but the chart below appears to acknowledge that they do give the UK more independence and flexibility. ALR readers are recommended to visit the UKinCE website for themselves and make their own judgement of its pro or anti Brexit stance.

N Ireland May Deal vs Johnson proposals

Theresa May’s former Europe Adviser, Raoul Ruparel of Open Europe, however, is more sanguine. There are some concerns, he says, but they can be managed. ALR readers should visit OE’s website https://openeurope.org.uk and make their own judgement about its pro or anti Brexit stance, too.

As former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson points out, a double customs union would also potentially be a breach of the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement, and a violation of the Principle of Consent which was enshrined within it.

We also know, because former Secretary-General to the EU Commission Martin Selmayr was indiscreetly frank about it, that it has long been the EU’s position that relinquishing economic sovereignty of Northern Ireland is the price the UK must be made to pay for leaving the EU. It would be unwise to assume that the reactions of both Brussels and Irish Taoiseach Varadkar, who has shown himself regrettably ready to pander to nationalist Republican revanchism, scrupulously disregard this.

Bluffing about seeing a way forward would certainly be in Boris’ interest, and the Conservative Party’s. The almost exclusive focus of politicians, media and public on the Northern Ireland backstop serves to obscure the suspicion that, ultimately, he will try to get what otherwise is essentially Theresa May’s (non)-‘Withdrawal’ Agreement through the Commons. Its numerous flaws remain as serious as ever they were.

But Boris knows that, if he fails to achieve Brexit by 31st October, the chances of both his own survival and that of his government, are damaged. As political scientist and Professor of Politics at the University of Kent, Matthew Goodwin, points out, the votes which, because of May’s defenestration and Boris ascendancy to Number Ten on a Brexit do-or-die ticket, have come back to the Tories from the Brexit Party after its resounding victory in the European elections, could once again vanish.

Brexit Election Tracker Goodwin mid-Oct 2019

So he has every incentive to play up the chances of a deal after all, and exaggerate its significance, if it can be presented as something which warrants getting a soft-Brexit over the line. The recriminations can come afterwards.

Brussels and Dublin equally have an incentive, to understate  the significance. The EU will be calculating that, by playing hardball, it increases the chances of a Remainer Parliament, which has already passed the Benn Surrender Act, forcing Boris, failing a 31st October Brexit, to seek an Article 50 extension on humiliating terms, probably involving conceding a second referendum.

In short, almost none of the actors in this drama has an incentive to be 100% genuine. Safer, perhaps, to assume that none of them are?

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