Sunday 20 January 2019

The most fascinating moment in British history since the decision not to negotiate with Hitler in 1940

The solution to Brexit is not simple but the starting point is accepting a hard border with Southern Ireland. 

Sinn Fein/IRA will not start murdering people because of the border (which is not mentioned in the Good Friday Agreement). In any case, we cannot let IRA decide the future of Britain. Though this is what people in Parliament and in the media repeatedly argue that we should do.

Both the UK and Eire have said they will not have customs inspectors at the border, but it is it is not in the power of Eire to decide this. It is for the EU to decide how Eire controls her part of the EU border. 

And the EU has no choice either. The EU must insist on customs being levied at the border. That is what a customs union means. And a customs union is the essence of the EU ('the Common Market'). 

The good news, however, is that this can be done using electronic means.

Theresa May's proposal for leaving the E.U. was defeated by 230 votes, including that of the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, the biggest defeat by far that any government ever sustained in the House of Commons, at least since the records were destroyed in the great fire of 1834. 

Commentators (on Sky News for example) said that the defeat could be of that magnitude, but were obviously shocked when it was. I am not sure how much it matters and no-one knows what it means.

Was Mrs May's the best 'deal' that could have been made? 

Undoubtedly not and Theresa May's former Svengali-like adviser Nick Timothy is much to blame, as he is for calling and especially for losing the 2017 election.

The biggest mistake was to announce that there would not be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the South. 

Another mistake was using Article 50 at all. Britain could have threatened to prevent the EU working by using her veto until a deal was made with EU leaders. 

Another huge mistake was not to have accepted the offer by Donald Tusk of the Canada option. 

Or the Norway option would do, at least for some years, even though it involves free movement of EU people. But the Norway option is only a tolerable idea, crucially, with a hard border. Otherwise it means remaining in the customs union and being a vassal state. 

Staying in the customs union means in essence countries that made trade deals in the EU would automatically have free trade with the UK without our having any say in the negotiations. 

Many mistakes, but we are where we are.

The biggest problem was a Prime Minister who is unable to communicate a vision of why we should leave - in any case, she does not have one - or to make decisions about what sort of method of leaving she wants.

The deal negotiated by the Prime Minister, which is not a deal but a promise by the EU to negotiate a trade agreement after we waive our rights to 
£39 billion of our money (over which the EU has arguably little claim), is worse than staying in. This article explains why. 

However, the Tory Brexiteers mostly think staying in the EU is even worse while on the other hand t
here is, very unfortunately, very little chance of our leaving with no deal because the Prime Minister, most MPs and the civil service think that would be a disaster. 

They are almost certainly wrong and 'no deal' gets a lot of support in the opinion polls. It elicited a huge prolonged cheer from the audience on BBC's Question Time, the other night. But that probably will make no difference.

Which makes me think that a variant on Mrs May's proposals will be adopted by a House of Commons that does not want to leave at all but knows it must. This is why she sticks to her guns. 

Mrs. May's Plan B is a bilateral treaty with Eire - I cannot see this washing with the EU, for reasons I explained at the start. But it lets her run down the clock. Like Fabius Maximus, who gave his name to the Fabians, she is the great delayer.

The Prime Minister's chief of staff is Gavin Barwell, an ardent Remainer who tweeted on the morning after the referendum:
He is reported in the Sunday Times today as urging the Prime Minister to agree to remain in the customs union permanently. This is something Norway, Switzerland and Iceland wisely do not do. The Prime Minister listened instead to the Chief Whip who made the obvious point that this would destroy the Tory party.

But it is impossible for anyone to know what will happen. 

Another general election now seems to many attractive and to others unavoidable, even to Tories who are rightly terrified of Labour's Marxist leaders taking power. 

But on what platforms would the parties campaign? 

An election would make them decide. Or split.

The great John O' Sullivan writes interestingly about how an election would change things.

There are at least five solutions on the table, and three of them are arguably Leave or semi-Leave proposals. Of these, the so-called Canada Plus proposal has perhaps the best chance of adoption because it is the solution that least divides the governing Tory party even if it doesn’t attract many Labour votes. But none of them may pass muster.

What we may be moving towards, therefore, is a situation in which a Parliament and government that cannot agree on how to handle Brexit give the problem back to the voters by calling a general election. Brexit would then be the single most important election issue (in a way that May failed to make it in 2017).

If that happens, it will be the moment when a great deal changes. Almost all of this column has been devoted to parliamentary minutiae, the calculations of senior politicians, and issues such as the Northern Ireland backstop that are little understood outside the political class and sometimes only worth understanding for the purpose of logical destruction. Such issues shrink in importance or are seen less technically and perhaps more clearly when they have to be discussed in clear terms with the electorate. The backstop was a device, jointly developed by the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadhkar, and the EU negotiator, Michel Barner, to bully the Brits into going along with EU tariffs and regulations for fear of being blamed for unsettling the Good Friday Agreement that doesn’t mention them. It’s hard to believe that ordinary voters would be hornswoggled so easily. They would at least ask skeptical questions.

In an election, the voters — who have been unobserved off-stage during recent parliamentary maneuvers — suddenly become central players. Not only do they have very different concerns, but they force those concerns onto the agenda. That happened in the 2016 referendum when the voters increasingly discounted the Project Fear campaign that warned of economic disasters and insisted instead on getting answers to the question of how Britain could “take back control” and restore its self-governing democracy. Remain never developed effective answers to the sovereignty question (and it still hasn’t done so) because it doesn’t really believe it’s a serious or important question. From the standpoint of the political class, the EU is a means of acquiring control and insulating itself from interference by the voters in, ahem, elections. Among other people the voters want to control, therefore, are the U.K.’s own politicians.


  1. Now that the Withdrawal Agreement has been voted down, the UK is finally in a position to reboot its Brexit negotiations with the EU to provide for a proper and equal UK-EU relationship from the end of March. Here’s how it can be done.

    The EU has so far been seeking to shackle the UK to unacceptable terms under which the UK concedes sovereignty to the EU, preventing the UK becoming globally competitive again. In other words, the EU was in practice doing everything possible to wipe out any benefits from Brexit. No wonder Parliament rejected the EU’s deal. Now that the dynamics have changed, we need to re-evaluate some fundamental precepts behind the mistaken negotiating strategy that took the UK to the dead end it has found itself in.

    Instead of viewing the Northern Ireland border as an obstacle to a clean Brexit, which was how the EU depicted it in order to pack the NI Protocol with terms which would handicap future UK action, we must instead realise it can be the tool to unlock the current impasse. The EU, through Jean Claude Juncker and (in Ireland) Leo Varadkar, has made definitive statements that under no circumstances will there a hard border for Northern Ireland.

    Given the EU’s word that there can be no border in Ireland, the EU ends up as the demandeur for an FTA – to use their negotiating parlance. This means that it is the EU that must come to the UK to ask for its help in crafting an agreement, as a solution to their predicament. And just as under the EU’s attempted NI Protocol, the UK is not bound to agree to any such arrangements. The UK should merely respond that it is happy to oblige the EU, but only on condition that the FTA contain the mutually beneficial terms just outlined, – providing for a close economic relationship with soft-touch borders but which allows for the UK’s required, fully independent trade policy. Finally, the UK must insist that there is no reason that this agreement cannot be executed straight away since it essentially encompasses many of the existing features of EU membership, precluding protracted negotiations. This means no interim agreement, such as envisioned by the rejected withdrawal agreement, should be necessary.

    The EU places much store behind its international reputation and its desired positioning as a rules-based actor. It has rightly committed to ensuring there is no hard border in Northern Ireland. The UK has committed to the same. This fact must now be turned against the EU, as the EU once attempted to use it against us. It is their weakness, not ours. Rather than be disillusioned that that the withdrawal agreement was voted down, the UK government must immediately seize the opportunity to pressurise the EU into giving us what we want – and this time with trade negotiators with their eyes on the prize of an FTA and with the legal expertise and to secure it.

    1. it can never be an equal partnership. Economically, politically and yes even militarily the UK is inferior to the the EU block.

  2. Theresa May's proposal for leaving the E.U. was defeated by 230 votes, including that of the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, the biggest defeat by far that any government ever sustained in the House of Commons

    So wouldn't the best answer be for Mrs May to resign? Or call an election? You have a minority government with a lame duck prime minister who cannot command a majority in the Commons on the one issue she was elected to deal with? Doesn't that mean that the government has in effect lost its legitimacy and its mandate? Shouldn't the queen demand her resignation? Or simply sack her?

    In Australia in 1975 the queen's representative sacked a prime minister who had become effectively incapable of governing. If the Australian Governor-General had that power doesn't the queen have the same power? If not, why do you even bother having a monarch?

  3. No one wants her job.

    1. No one wants her job.

      Well yes, there is that. A new Tory leader would still be leading a minority government presiding over a Brexit settlement that will please nobody, and heading for inevitable defeat at the next election. If I were an ambitious Tory I'd be hoping not to be leading the party at the next election.