Tag: Free-Trade

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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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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The Fight for the Soul of the Tory Party

By deposing the Leader and Prime Minister largely responsible for its current ideological paralysis, the Conservative Party must resolve its intellectual vacuum about what modern conservatism stands for

Note: this is the longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 1st October 2018

“There are some of us, Mr Chairman, who will fight, and fight, and fight again, to save the party we love”.

In 2018, 58 years after they were addressed by its then Leader Hugh Gaitskell to the 1960 Labour Party Conference, opposing its move towards the hard-Left and its embrace of unilateral nuclear disarmament, those words need once again be addressed to a party conference. Only this time, to the Conservative Party Conference, and moreover not by its Leader, but at her.

As if Theresa May’s duplicitous preparation and imposition on her Cabinet of her now justly infamous Chequers Plan were not bad enough, she has carried on championing it even after its crushing, personally humiliating dismissal by the EU.

May humiliated Salzburg Summit 3She continues to cling obstinately, not only to Chequers as the sole Brexit option she is prepared to consider, but also, incredibly, to Olly Robbins, her thoroughly discredited No 10 Brexit adviser, whose brainchild it was, and on whose ‘expert’ advice that the EU would accept it she persists in relying, to the exclusion of all others.

Yet not merely other, but superior, alternatives exist, being urged on her constantly by allies and opponents alike, which both better reflect the desire manifested in the Brexit vote for clear political, judicial and economic separation from Brussels, and give better opportunities for a newly-independent post-Brexit Britain to forge new trading links around the world.

The Institute of Economic Affairs’ Plan A Plus maximises the scope for eliminating damaging tariffs and regaining control over our fisheries, as well as facilitating new Free Trade Agreements with the world’s dynamically-growing economies outside the stagnating and scelerotic EU: Chequers keeps us tied into it as closely as possible.

IEA Plan A Plus Launch Sep 2018The Canada Plus arrangement gives us total freedom of control over immigration policy, and independence from the EU’s ‘Common Rule Book’: Chequers gives us neither.

Yet they fall on deaf ears. May has her Chequers Plan, she insists that nothing else is acceptable, and that, for her, is that. To the evidence, both that it is less popular than No-Deal, and that its unpopularity exacerbates that of herself and her party, she is impervious.Unpopularity of Chequers dealBut there is worse to come. May’s obdurate adherence to Chequers is being compounded by her acceptance at the very least, or even endorsement if not something more, of a grotesquely cynical ramping up of Project Fear.

The scaremongering operation born out of the Treasury’s pre-Referendum antipathy to Brexit is now being pushed once again by May in full Stockholm-Syndrome mode – on new ‘expert’ advice from her preferred source? – but this time against a No-Deal Brexit as an alternative to Chequers, as part of a deliberate “Chequers or Chaos” strategy.

We saw a foretaste of it in the run-up to the early-July Chequers Summit, with Airbus warning of an exodus from the UK in the event of No-Deal, very soon, curiously, after discussions with Business Secretary and arch-Remainer Greg Clark. But since then, there have been plenty other examples. To quote just two or three:

After having previously instructed them to spend their summer holidays touring Europe to drum up support for her Chequers Plan, May was in early September ordering Ministers to stress to the public that there was no alternative to it

Or try the Association of British Insurers’ warning that it would become illegal in the event of a No-Deal Brexit for insurance-based pensions to be paid to UK-nationality recipients resident in the EU. Fortunately, fairly easy to demolish.

Then, as recently as last week, May’s government theatrically appointed a Food Supplies Minister, “to oversee the protection of food supplies in the event of a No-Deal Brexit”. Such an appointment has previously confined to wartime and was not even deemed necessary in the rolling strikes and disruptions to distribution experienced in the 1974 industrial crisis and the 1978-79 Winter of Discontent.

In summary, not only do we have a Remainer Prime Minister sticking resolutely to a Brexit plan already rejected out-of-hand by an EU no doubt confident that further concessions can be wrung from a desperate Theresa May in deep political trouble, but shunning all other, and better alternatives. We also have a Remainer Prime Minister colluding in, if not directing, a co-ordinated attempt to frighten the British public into accepting it.Project Fear 2018

It’s perhaps hardly surprising that 56 per cent of those polled by Sky Data think Brexit will be worse than expected. The Remainer dominated media and political elite, including even the Governor of the Bank of England, have done little for the last 28 months except attempt to talk the nation into a state of catatonic panic. Mrs May must be so pleased.

Were Brexit the sole source of the Conservatives’ predicament, the crisis might – just – be containable. But overlying May’s Brexit shambles is the Party’s severe ideological vacuum, epitomised by the instinctively statist, authoritarian, May, devoid of any discernible guiding philosophy, personality, or leadership ability, and of which her self-inflicted Brexit shambles is arguably merely a part – its apparently total inability to come up with any ideas, vision or policies to counter the 1970s-throwback, reheated hard-Left socialism of Corbyn’s Labour.

Not before time, commentators have been lining up this past week to highlight the depth, and cause, of this malaise, and rightly condemn it.

In The Daily Telegraph, Allister Heath correctly laid the vast majority of the blame for Corbynomics being so ostensibly popular with Middle England on the faux-‘Conservative’ Party which has largely stopped countering it and in effect capitulated to it.

McDonnell’s Mad Marxism is very likely to be an electoral winner, warned Maggie Pagano at Reaction, not because of any intrinsic merits, but thanks to Theresa May’s Tories’ timidity & incompetence.

The Conservatives, observed Ryan Bourne accurately, also in The Daily Telegraph, have now spent so long agreeing with Labour’s negative portrayal of our economic system, and even imitating its policies, that they have now deprived themselves of any effective criticisms of them.

Ministers like Philip Hammond, noted The Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, are incapable of fighting back other than with left-wing prescriptions like surreptitious tax rises or expensive new spending projects, so that Corbyn is actually leading the nation’s intellectual conversation.

The Conservative Party must re-embrace freeing individuals & businesses from creeping Nanny-State paternalism & authoritarianism, in favour of aspiration, opportunity & meritocracy, pleaded former International Development Minister Priti Patel MP, writing in the Parliamentary magazine The House.

Red-Labour has been made electable by the pseudo-Tories, fumed Gerald Warner at Reaction, condemning the so-called ‘modernised’ Conservative Party for squandering the once-in-a-lifetime chance given to it by Brexit to cease being an empty, principle-free shell.

The Conservatives, fulminated The Spectator editorial in its pre-Conference edition, are functioning as Corbyn’s Useful Idiots: years of failing to make the case for basic liberty and the free enterprise system, of stealing Labour policies in pursuit of electoral advantage, have left them unable to explain why Corbyn is wrong.

And when usually loyal Conservatives like Charles Moore and Tim Montgomerie legitimately ascribe culpability for the Party’s ideological paralysis to May and call for her to go, in effect saying, rightly, that she is all but guaranteeing the advent of a hard-Left Labour government led by Corbyn and McDonnell, her days are surely numbered.

So in Birmingham, over the next two days, there are parallel Brexit and non-Brexit battles taking place. The unofficial, but never far from the surface, impending leadership contest is almost immaterial, because the ideological struggle over the shape, not only of Brexit but of Conservatism, will determine its outcome.

Will the Party continue on its present ever-Leftward drift, preoccupied with fashionably politically-correct social-justice and identity-politics, and convinced, bizarrely, that the only way to stop full-strength Corbyn economically is to offer diet-Corbyn instead? Or will it somehow re-discover the moral and intellectual firepower to oppose Corbynism absolutely and offer a distinctive and optimistic vision of a freer, less-taxed and better-off society?

For anyone wanting the latter, an irredeemably intransigent, incompetent, inflexible Theresa May, a disaster for her party, the country and arguably democracy itself, and who ideally should not even be giving the Leader’s Speech on Wednesday at all, must be forced to declare that it will be her last. If ever there was a need for a repeat-in-reverse on Tuesday of Macmillan’s Night of the Long Knives, it’s now.

Drastic though it is, the present circumstances do justify a palace coup – whereby she is told by a co-ordinated procession of individual colleagues visiting her one by one as with Thatcher in 1990, and in no uncertain terms, that the game is up: that she cannot lead the party through Brexit, much less into the next General Election which could follow a failure to get her Brexit deal through Parliament before March 2019: and that her only alternative is to resign, with effect from the conclusion of her speech, in favour of a pro-Brexit caretaker Prime Minister.

Labour Party Conferences may well be mainly characterised by a succession of extreme-Left demagogues delivering two-minute rants from the platform on arcane and largely indecipherable motions. But at least policy is discussed and even voted on, albeit after a fashion.

But in almost comically stark contrast, the obsessively stage-managed, anodyne, debate-free rallies of the slavishly-loyal, listening dutifully to ministers’ set-piece speeches, which now comprise the formal proceedings of Conservative Party conferences, have become notorious – rightly mocked even by The Daily Telegraph as merely “paying through the nose for the privilege of clapping”.

Conference audience dutifully applauding

If the Party, despite its current dire ideological and political predicament, yet again prefers to close ranks, eyes and ears, and contrives to hold a synthetically-orchestrated, reality-ignoring Conference: and if the pro-Brexit, anti-May dissenters yet again recoil from openly mounting a challenge, both to her conduct of Brexit specifically and her party leadership generally: then a Corbyn government is a near-certainty, and they will have no-one but themselves to blame.

That modern-day equivalent of Gaitskell’s “fight for the soul of the Party” needs to be taking place. In Birmingham. Here and now.

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The Salzburg Summit Winners and Losers

Who were the principal winners and losers from Theresa May’s Salzburg EU summit débacle?

Note: this is the longer version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 24th September 2018

In the city famous for its associations with The Sound of Music, the notes played at Thursday 20th September’s European Union Summit were discordant: not only because the would-be soloist Theresa May was unbelievably poor, but also because the Brussels Orchestra wanted her either to play a different composition altogether, or preferably not play at all.May Salzburg Summit 2

Over its four-and-a-half decades of European Union membership, Britain has often suffered frustrations and rebuffs at its tedious summits: the then PM Cameron’s total failure to return from the crucial one in February 2016 without even a minor concession he could implausibly present to UK voters as ‘significant reform’ was merely the most recent.

But in the entire history of its involvement, the malevolent ambush and abject humiliation calculatedly inflicted on Theresa May by the EU Summit in Salzburgin rejecting out of hand her Chequers Plan for Britain’s EU exit, was surely unprecedented, however much we rightly condemn both the origins and details of the Plan itself for their duplicity and excessive appeasement of, and concessions to, Brussels. 

But such situations always produce winners as well as losers. Who were the principal winners and losers from Theresa May’s Salzburg débacle?

The first big loser is Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab. Formerly a staunch Brexiteer, he agreed to take on the job at the Department for Exiting the European Union just after the resignations of David Davis and Steve Baker in the aftermath of May’s infamous Chequers Summit.

But he did so knowing the department had been cynically used by May’s No 10 Downing Street as camouflage for their covert backstairs operation to put together the Chequers Plan, presented to the Cabinet as a take-it-or-leave-it fait-accompli.

He also accepted the post in full knowledge that he would be required to progress and promote Chequers, which was already being comprehensively eviscerated for its lack of ambition and abandonment of the red lines which May herself had laid down in her Lancaster House and Mansion House speeches.

Three months later, May’s Chequers Plan, already (and justifiably so) politically toxic in Britain, and now comprehensively rejected by the EU, lies in ruins, to all intents and purposes dead. Whether Raab was motivated mainly by the prospect of promotion is almost immaterial. As bad judgement calls go, his was a humdinger, and it deserves to blight the rest of his political career.

Theresa's Puppet-Master Olly RobbinsA bigger loser than Raab is May’s No 10 Brexit negotiations adviser, former FCO mandarin Oliver Robbins.

As supposedly her ‘expert’ on the EU and thereby uniquely equipped to advise May on what the EU would or would not find acceptable, Robbins has long been suspected, not entirely without reason, of being opposed to Brexit notwithstanding the Referendum result, and therefore determined to influence an all-too-gullible and vulnerable to such influence Theresa May towards as soft-Remain, substantially-in-name-only a Brexit as possible.

It was Robbins who allegedly helped to devise, in secret, behind the backs of the public, MPs and even the Cabinet, and deceitfully using the Brexit Department as camouflage while disregarding its recommendations, May’s ignominious Chequers Plan: which was bounced on to the Cabinet, remember, with the peremptory instruction that it could not be changed, because it had already been agreed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

With the EU’s emphatic dismissal of Chequers, Robbins’ credibility is zero, his reputation for EU expertise deservedly joining in the gutter his reputation for a total abrogation of Civil Service impartiality and neutrality. The EU whose anti-democracy and technocratic authoritarianism he so obviously reveres has rewarded his misplaced loyalty and self-abasement in its cause by making a monumental fool of him. Clearly, he can play no further part whatsoever in any Brexit negotiations. Whether he can remain in Government service at all is dubious.

The main loser, of course, is May herself. For all the frantic spin of the 36 hours after the Salzburg Summit, attempting, with the connivance of the media, to present her simultaneously as both the grievously-wronged honest-broker and the re-incarnation of Boadicea, a Margaret Thatcher Mk II standing up for Britain against EU chicanery and intransigence . . . .Sun Front Page Sat 22 Sep 2018. . . . the inescapable fact is that she has been completely and utterly humiliated – exposed at best as a naïve, gullible ingenuée, and at worst as a devious, cynical schemer hoist on the petard of her own duplicity.

Let’s not forget just how and why we arrived at this embarrassment. It’s because Theresa May herself – whether out of ideological conviction or political expediency hardly matters – set out deliberately to deceive her Cabinet, MPs, party and country that she was pursuing in good faith the Brexit which 17.4 million voted for and which she largely pledged to achieve for them: while at the same time launching a secret backstairs operation to devise and advance her own much weaker Soft-Remain, Brexit-In-Name-Only Chequers Plan which not only reflected her own Remainer inclinations but preferred to appease an EU determined to ensure Britain must not be seen to benefit, either economically or politically, from Brexit.

It was, and is, gross constitutional treachery and political ineptitude, and that it has blown up in her face is poetic justice. Yet bear in mind, amid the spin, that she’s still a Remainer, she hasn’t junked either Chequers or the people who designed it, and she’d still revert to it if the EU accepted it. Her credibility too is at rock-bottom, and her position is even weaker than before. Hence the desperate, choreographed attempts to shore it up, to try and insulate her from irresistible demands for her resignation.

Johnson, Davis resign from Cabinet post ChequersAnd the main winners? Well, foremost, Boris Johnson, David Davis, Steve Baker. Leaving personalities aside, their resignations in protest at Chequers now look prescient, principled and justified. Paradoxically, the EU itself has proved they were right all along. Their positions, and credibility, have been strengthened.

ERG Davis, Paterson, Villiers, Rees-MoggNext come Jacob Rees-Mogg and the European Research Group of backbench Brexiteer Tory MPs. Their technical and constitutional objections to Chequers, and their warnings that the EU would not accept it, have also been proved right. Salzburg has vindicated them, and they too won’t be so easy for the closet-Remainer May-ites to dismiss in future.

After that come Tory members and activists in the country. Consistently opposed to Chequers in Conservative Home surveys, the latest of which shows a mere 10 per cent believing May should stick with Chequers, they have also been proved correct.  And this matters, because with a majority of Tory MPs being overt or closet Remainers, it’s grassroots dissatisfaction which provides the best chance of forcing May out.

History is replete with apparent defeats that subsequently turned out have been the springboard for ultimate victory. For both Brexiteers and Britain, Salzburg could well be another.

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