Sunday 8 July 2018

The day the dream died

There is an Indian proverb that says a woman conquers a man by her stillness.

Two women leaders of very different calibres, Angela Merkel, who is a very successful national leader, and Theresa May who is certainly not, illustrate the effectiveness of stillness and slowness in getting them what they want. Each made disastrous mistakes from which they cannot recover when they made uncharacteristically sudden and unheralded decisions (to let in limitless migrants and call the 2017 snap election).

The British cabinet's very long delayed decision about what deal they want with the EU means adopting something rather like the arrangement Norway has with the EU. This enables Norway to escape the common fisheries policy but means she obeys laws she does not help to make. Norway also has to pay vast amounts to trade with the EU and permit free movement by citizens of EU countries, things the British Government hopes optimistically to avoid.  

The very powerful senior civil servants of the Treasury, which is the centre of power in the British government, as I always feared and expected, have persuaded the
politicians to accept what is in effect associate membership of the EU, without any say in EU laws and decisions. 

We propose to leave and yet partly stay in the E.U.

Two years ago this seemed not unreasonable, to many who backed Leave, but after two years to think about it, and after Theresa May fought the 2016 election pledging to take us out of tbe Single Market and end free movement, it does not. It sounds a lot like giving up the idea of honouring the referendum result. 

And, even so, the E.U. are still going to reject the proposal.

At least we are leaving. Perhaps a future government will renegotiate the deal, whatever deal the EU chooses to make. 

Or perhaps we shall remain for decades ruled by the EU and taking no part in the rule-making. 

Importantly, at least outside the economic sphere Britain will be free to make her own decisions. Except that here we are subject to the European Court of Human Rights, not a part of the EU. 

The ECHR may be useful in countries with a weak democratic tradition, like Romania, but protecting human rights does not mean protecting traditional common law freedoms, like the U.S. Constitution does,  but requiring restrictions on freedom. The ECHR certainly does not protect freedom of speech effectively, for example.

Theresa May argued that Britain should leave the ECHR but changed her mind without explanation when she became Prime Minister.

The main points of the agreement the British cabinet agreed, in a twelve-hour meeting on Friday, that it hopes to make with the EU are as follows.

The UK and EU agreeing a "common rulebook for all goods including agri-foods", which will mean accepting EU rules we do not help make. It would make free trade agreements with non-EU countries virtually impossible. 

Why include agricultural produce, which stops free trade agreements with countries like the USA? Turkey has a customs union with the EU for non-agricultural goods and pays nothing for this privilege.

The UK Parliament would be able to choose not to incorporate future EU rules, but in fact would never diverge from rules because to do so 'would have consequences' and would mean a bureaucratic nightmare.

A joint institutional framework to oversee UK-EU agreements, with the UK agreeing to pay "due regard" to EU case law in areas where the common rulebook applies. This would mean accepting the supremacy of EU law and the EU court, the ECJ, in lots of areas.

A "facilitated customs agreement" would remove the need for customs checks at the border by treating the UK and EU "as if a combined customs territory".

The UK would then apply the EU's tariffs and trade policy for goods intended for the bloc but would be able to control its own tariffs and trade for the domestic market. I suspect this would mean copying EU tariffs in general.

    The four mistakes that brought us to this sorrowful place were these. 

    First, choosing a Remainer as party leader and Prime Minister, and an inept one at that, one whose words do not sing and who loves the nanny state. 

    Michael Gove is to blame here as he should have had the self belief to stand from the beginning rather than backing and then betraying Boris Johnson. 

    Secondly, Theresa May's unforced and unnecessary decision that we would not have a hard border between Northern and Southern Ireland. 

    Ireland was being used by Barnier as a bargaining tool. There is nothing in the Anglo-Irish Agreement that talks about the border and the border is not important. It's not even very important in Northern Ireland, two thirds of whose trade is with the mainland. The hard border worked fine from 1922 to 1965 - it will always be completely porous de facto.

    Thirdly, the fatal decision, on which the Treasury cunningly insisted, not to spend money preparing for leaving the EU without a deal. Unless you are prepared not to make a deal you are at the mercy of your counterparty. 

    The fourth mistake, of course, was the snap election last year, called without adequate preparation, which robbed the Conservatives of a majority and meant a very small group of extreme pro-EU Conservative MPs would prevent us leaving with no deal.

    In fact leaving in an orderly way without a deal was always a highly attractive option, but is now impossible.

    At a meeting of the Brexiteer cabinet ministers on Thursday, Michael Gove said, with great regret, that even if the House would pass the legislation leaving with no deal was now impossible for technical reasons, unless we had an interim period in which to get things ready and this the EU would not give us. 

    This was accepted and meant the Brexiters had no alternative to offer to the Treasury proposals when they went into the twelve hour cabinet meeting at which they finally agreed a Brexit policy. 

    The Treasury civil servants and Olly Robbins, the Europhile Permanent Secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union, routed them completely. 

    What should have been one of the greatest achievements in British history, unleashing enormous creativity and a benign revolution in thinking, is now a sad exercise in damage limitation.

    The EU will not accept this deal but the deal we shall have will presumably be even worse. If Brexiteers in the House of Commons were to rebel they would be defeated or would force an election that the now Marxist Labour Party might win. 

    For the first time since the election, thanks to the Brexit decision, Labour is today in a slight lead in the polls. So there will be no rebellion. Checkmate.

    Under a leader who thought Brexit a liberation how differently things could have gone. I had thought Boris Johnson not qualified to be Prime Minister two years ago but he would have been infinitely better than Theresa May. Michael Gove was my choice. 

    Or better yet, if he gave up his peerage and was given a seat in the Commons, Michael Howard. What this moment needed, of course, was a Margaret Thatcher, whose qualities I did not see in her day but which are now obvious.

    If we had not promised that there would be no hard border with Eire, we could have had the same deal that the EU signed - in the end, after years of negotiation - with Canada. 

    Enabling us to make trade deals with the world. 

    We still can, if we ditch the commitment on the Irish border. Since Theresa May has ditched most of her red lines why not ditch that? 


    1. Charles Moore/Brendan O'Neill

      They equate comfortable arrangements they have made for themselves in Brussels with the general good. They present their fears for their own comforts as things that should frighten the rest of us. This is not impartial calculation, but vested interest getting all hot and bothered under its vest.

      A true pragmatist thinks hard about the reality behind appearances. The Remainer pragmatists do not. They like the status quo. They do not try to imagine why so many of the rest of us don’t. In this sense, although they are full of information, they are impervious to the facts, which is a most unpragmatic state of mind.

      They are also, did they but know it, in thrall to a powerful ideology. It goes back to Plato. It holds that rightly guided, educated people – “people like us”, as our pragmatists might put it – must run things. Its modern form is bureaucracy in the literal meaning of that word – power held by the bureau, rather than the elected representatives of the people.

      This is a betrayal. A grotesque betrayal. It is a haughty rejection, in euphemistic language, of the great cry made by the 17.4m, which was for the recovery of national sovereignty and democratic authority. The electorate said ‘Britain should have control of its borders and laws’, and May says, ‘Actually let’s leave some of that control with Brussels’. This isn’t Soft Brexit; it is Remain by another name. When will our political leaders realise how serious, how historically serious, it is that they are reneging on the largest democratic act in British history? May should go.

      1. Thanks. I wanted to read Charles Moore's article which is behind paywall. Yes he is right. Plato was a fascist more than a conservative.

    2. The only viable route was EEA/EFTA. Even if you wanted a Canadian deal it could only be negotiated from within the EEA. All the Government had to do was follow Flexcit. But it was ignored and the result will be no deal and economic ruin for Britain - After which point Britain will still have to come to some deal - only in an infinitely weaker position than now. The fallout will be immensely beneficial to the EU because countries which might otherwise have left in the future will now never want to leave. It's ironic that Remainer lies and propaganda about Norway ("pay no say") ended up being repeated by Hard Brexit morons like Rees Mogg (who five years ago was in favour of remaining in the EU).

    3. "The ECHR may be useful in countries with a weak democratic tradition, like Romania, but protecting human rights does not mean protecting traditional common law freedoms, like the U.S. Constitution does, but requiring restrictions on freedom. The ECHR certainly does not protect freedom of speech effectively, for example." Excellent point.

    4. Robert Peston:

      Well it a massive distance from the kind of so-called “clean” break with the EU that most Brexiters either expected – or fought for in that momentous referendum of 2016. It represents, to use a word detested by the prime minister, a strikingly “soft” Brexit.
      It envisages the UK permanently collecting tariffs at our borders on behalf of the European Union, adhering to EU standards for the manufacture of goods and the production of food, and – in the case of disputes about whether those standards are being followed – deferring to the European Court of Justice.
      Now it is true that there would be a role for the UK in having “oversight of the incorporation of these [EU] rules into the UK’s legal order” (in the words of the government’s statement). And in theory parliament could choose not to adopt an EU rule it did not like.
      But, as the government says, if parliament said no to a new EU regulation, that would have “consequences” – namely it would damage the UK’s ability to trade with the EU, it could have a negative impact on security co-operation with the EU and it could introduce “friction” at our borders, with potentially destabilising effects on peace and stability in Northern Ireland in particular.
      Or to put it another way, parliament’s genuine power to design or influence vital rules affecting the quality and safety of the goods we make and buy, or the food we produce and eat would be very limited indeed.
      And to state the bloomin’ obvious, this was not how those who led the Brexit campaign, like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, said it would be.

    5. I do not, as you know, share your political views. However, I stand by my initial belief that Britain will leave with no deal, possibly in a fit of pique. The argument that it will take too long to prepare bureaucratically is false. The questions is rather one of how determined you are and single-minded in your vision. That the UK lacks a vision and a leader to drive it is the problem here, not bureaucracy. Exit was always going to require a war like focus. The British love a crisis and I suspect we are about to see how they handle a big one...

      1. I so hope you are right but I do not think you are.

      2. Tory Remainer MPs would vote down a hard Brexit. Corbyn wants a hard Brexit but will be partisan, like Wilson in 1972 over EEC accession and Smith over Maastricht.

    6. By European standards, Romania does not necessarily have weak democratic traditions. The liberal and conservative parties (Partidul Liberal and Partidul Conservator, respectively) were battling it out on the political arena from the mid 1800s until World War I, when more parties joined the mess and screwed things up. Nevertheless, there was a semblance of parliamentary democracy until close to World War II. After the Soviet imposed communist system was overthrown, the multi-party system and democratic process was reinstated with a relatively smooth transition, if we look at the big picture.

    7. CHARLES FITZGERALD9 July 2018 at 02:57

      The revolution really is a step closer now.

    8. Johnson and Gove were afraid to publicly carry through what they had agitated for and unloaded the task on the hapless May. Quite revealing.

    9. An outstanding article which is virtually perfect.

    10. A piece of purple prosed jingoistic rubbish based on a fantasy football Brexit.

      James A

      1. Absolutely. And a good thing too that the "dream" did die - after all we are living in the real world. Unfortunately some people will never be cured of the disease, but there is hope.

    11. Mrs May and Chancellor Merkel are not people whose political beliefs I share - I am an opponent of both these human beings.

      1. Regardless of what one thinks of Ms Merkel's policies, she knows how to wield power far more skillfully than Ms May, and certainly more adroitly than - ahem - many men.

    12. I might be just stupid but what is the Goddamn point of soft-Brexit?

    13. quite useful for a yank with no affection for brussels bureaucrats, who are apparently less common-sensical than ours.
      on the N.Ireland-Irish Republic border, i remain confused by all this hard and soft border stuff. just have UK customs officers placed in the Republic to pre-inspect shipments for N.Ireland and vice versa. of course, the real issue is that the Irish Republic’s economy is dependent upon its near total integration with the UK economy but with lower tax rates for businesses, that is, they care less about freedom of movement between the Republic and N.Ireland than they do about the trade between The Republic and rest of UK, in large part because the land border will always be porous, especially for people, as you note, while flight, sea, and cyber connections can be constrained. the hard border we have with Canada is a great model - people move very freely, if u.s. or canadian, goods and services less freely but very smoothly due to close cooperation of respective customs officials.

    14. "just have UK customs officers placed in the Republic to pre-inspect shipments for N.Ireland and vice versa"

      Good luck with that.

    15. Wonderful article. Gove didn’t stand until his wife told him to. As conceited as he is he needed his publicity loving wife to give him the necessary push. Someone must challenge her by the end of July. Let’s hope it’s JRM.

    16. These proposals therefore lead directly to a worst-of-all-worlds “Black Hole” Brexit where the UK is stuck permanently as a vassal state in the EU’s legal and regulatory tar-pit, still has to obey EU laws and ECJ rulings across vast areas, cannot develop an effective international trade policy or adapt our economy to take advantage of the freedoms of Brexit, and has lost its vote and treaty veto rights as an EU Member State.

    17. My first and last reaction to this exit has been 'Why' - why quit insidership; a phrase in the resignation letter is my answer: '[they now have a] a song to sing' - a line in the sand as any public gesture is.

      This is music, not rebellion ...

      Just a thought