As we have been reflecting over the last few days on the success of the US mission 50 years ago to put man on the moon, it is worth reflecting on John F Kennedy’s role in that, and the role of leadership in bringing change.
JFK was far from a saint, but his ambition and inspiration set the scene for great task-focused independent decision-making and investment and innovation that made the moon landings possible and led to many consumer spin-offs that have underwritten the US economy for the last 40 years.
Without his incantation “We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy but because it is hard”, and commitment of government effort, Silicon Valley may well not have had the impetus and imprimatur for the ecosystem that encouraged so many different personalities and sources of capital and ideas to pull together to achieve the goal.
Although the world of trade, customs and regulation sounds more prosaic, the effect on UK prospects of doing these things well after we leave the EU, with authority and holistic purpose, could be equally dramatic. To paraphrase JFK, we choose to leave the EU, not because it is easy, or hard, but because our choosing matters.
Boris Johnson’s ability to reach millions of people makes him the man for our moment. Like JFK, he asks us to take responsibility for what happens, and deliver on the nation’s choice. Give each citizen agency, however big or small, inspire greatness in each individual, and the public good will be elevated.
Boris can unite the country with his optimism, can level with people and inspire them. He can reassure with action but also with words. PM Boris and his Cabinet communicating a positive vision that people respond to would be more than a breath of fresh air. They are the wind needed for our sails.
We need relentless optimism in our presentation of the benefits of a positive working relationship to the EU. Yes we would like to agree various things to make interaction work well when we leave, and we stand ready for such mutually beneficial agreements. The draft Withdrawal Agreement won’t pass though, as it rides roughshod over the independence our people directed, so we may need to come formally to those agreements after we leave.
We want the EU’s wonderful produce. We want to drive their cars. We want to contribute our creativity and commitment to Europe’s defence and its culture. We’d like our people to feel they want these things more, not less.
They should however complement, not constrain, our global and domestic focus that was the cri de coeur of the referendum. If the EU’s wish is to obstruct those things, then we will have to make other arrangements.
It does take two to tango, and the EU and UK need to trust each other. Clarity on what we want and what we will do are the first steps. After all, it is we who have made the move.
So we should accept the offer Donald Tusk made of free trade. We should agree to facilitate trade and cooperation on the island of Ireland without a hard border through the “alternative arrangements” we are working up that look to involve the Good Friday Agreement institutions. We should guarantee citizens’ rights, and talk about an appropriate financial settlement.
If we keep EU-level agreements autonomous and away from Investor State dispute mechanisms and investment provisions, they can be concluded rapidly without need for ratification by each EU Member State.
In any event, we should reciprocate the EU’s unilateral “no deal” contingency measures, which are actually types of deal that already cover for example air services, haulage permits and product acceptances to keep things moving in any scenario.
In the mean time, we should plan trade policy to move rapidly to improve trade conditions with the rest of the world after October 31st. We should prioritise benchmark comprehensive free trade agreements with Australia and Japan, and continued work towards free trade agreements with the US and key states that cover services, procurement and intellectual property intensive industries. Trade partners can make mostly low-tariff access to the UK, offered temporarily to all after October 31st, permanent and better by signing UK free trade agreements.
If Boris is chosen to lead, his Government must move at pace and in scale though, to change the game with respect to things in its power.
It must get behind our farmers with marketing support and tax breaks for local production and environmental stewardship, especially where EU market access or other pressures may be difficult.
It must get the Treasury to review and make forecasts using actual cost figures not unrealistic negative assumptions, and actively mitigate, defray cost of, and communicate business needs for new processes.
It must help EU traders navigate the need for new regulatory declarations and registrations and any related checks, and support business organisations in their efforts to do so.
It must support logistics providers, not just customs brokers and big companies, to facilitate trade by consolidating shipments, driving out costs and taking advantage of simplified procedures. Arrangements for pre-clearance and Transit in premises and logistics hubs and stops must be made, and communicated on the ground with traders and shippers so they will use them ahead of arrival at the Channel ports, to have smooth passage through them and beyond.
It must rapidly invest in people and systems for Border Force and HMRC, in their interfaces with counterpart agencies in the EU and elsewhere, and their resource needs. It must make sure procedural simplifications and mitigations work in the real world of logistics. Ease of use of new processes to manage the differences between jurisdictions should be the primary goal.
It should reduce VAT and excise rates to lowest neighbouring levels to reduce incentives for non-compliance.
The new Government should shock and awe with improvements to business conditions in the UK more generally.
It should introduce lower, flatter, simpler taxes, and proper incentives for hard work. It should raise NIC thresholds that discourage people from earning more. The safety net should be provided not just through general taxation and national insurance, which has become just another tax spent in-year, but also through progressive actual insurance of pooled risk, for example to fund social care.
It should incentivise saving and investment in UK operations that generate local jobs, skills and technologies – incentives similarly applied whether people are employed, self-employed or in corporate or partnership structures. It should make the UK the place of choice for people to keep and invest their capital, by transforming and broadening the capital and investment allowances system and treatment of onshore funds and their owners.
It should stand by sectors and communities which are in transition to different processes and opportunities, and back them with local infrastructure, skills development and incentives.
A relentless “can do” attitude and focus on the goal of making a success of independence, is how we will do this and deliver on people’s ambition.
Our country can do much to make this work – it must – and Boris is the one to lead it.
In return we should ask, as JFK did, what each of us can do for our country, to make it happen.
Despite the millions of words that have been bandied around since the referendum, there has been little or nothing said about one of the most important points in the debate: the fundamentals of the EU.
We know – don’t we? – that it was set up to foster peace and understanding in Europe so that the tragedies of two devastating World Wars would not be repeated. And, of course, over the past 60 years, the EU and its predecessor, the EEC, have maintained that peace.
Well, that is the rhetoric. The reality is somewhat different.
As the 1940s shaded into the 1950s, the threat of the Western European nations going head to head again diminished as a new threat emerged: that of the Russian Bear growling on the doorstep. And it was not the EU that contained the threat, but NATO. For 40 years the Allied Forces in NATO provided a protective shield on Europe’s Eastern border to keep Russia at bay. Even today NATO has the responsibility of maintaining a watching presence.
A further reality is that the underlying agenda behind the 1958 launch of the EEC was fashioned around support for French agriculture and German industry.
For me the first of those was highlighted in a lecture I heard in Arnhem as long ago as 1983. The speaker, a Dutch MEP, stressed that we had to support the Common Agricultural Policy because it was a “socio-economic policy”. That was at a time of vast mountains of butter and beef alongside wine and milk lakes. Meanwhile, Britain paid £4.3 billion into European agricultural coffers whilst receiving just £2.8 billion back. France paid in £5.2 billion, receiving £7.1 billion back.
Given Britain had a relatively small agricultural sector, that rankled until Margaret Thatcher went into battle with her handbag and negotiated a rebate. Then along came Tony Blair who agreed to give up part of that in rebate in return for reform of the CAP. We lost a great deal of money but, unsurprisingly, France dug in her heels, and the CAP reform never happened.
We then come to support for German industry, which has been well served by the introduction of the euro. A few years ago there was an article in Der Spiegel detailing a meeting that took place in a German government residence on one of Berlin’s lakes. Present were Chancellor Helmut Kohl, François Mitterand of France, Ruud Lubbers of the Netherlands and the EU’s Jacques Delors. The meeting was presented with a warning from the then President of the Bundesbank of the dangers of allowing Greece to join the single currency. Unfortunately for him, the minutes of the meeting had already been written with no mention of the warning.
So Greece was allowed to join the euro, which has been a disaster for them. However, is it too cynical to believe that Greece’s membership has meant that the euro has traded at a lower level than the D-Mark would have done? And that, of course, has been a huge benefit to German exporters. Indeed, Der Spiegel put that benefit at more than €50 billion.
And look at the financial situation in the EU today. Italy has a massive debt burden whilst the banks there are in dire straits. Two of Germany’s leading banks, Commerz and Deutsche, are not particularly healthy. Alongside that, the overall EU economy is reliant on quantitative easing.
Now even the once mighty German economy is showing signs of stress. It seems they are paying the price for putting so many of their eggs into the car manufacturing basket. Now the diesel debacle appears to be smashing those eggs – big time.
And across the continent, particularly in the southern countries, the high unemployment levels, notably those for youth unemployment, are ruining many lives. And all the while the gilets jaunes have been rioting in the streets of Paris for months.
Even more fundamental than all of that is the democratic deficit built into the structure of the EU. Let’s start at the top with those “Presidents” who form the de facto governing body. In Britain, in the unlikely event of any such people perching at the top of our democratic hierarchy, each of them would most probably been given the title of “Chairman” with a totally different connotation of authority and power.
In the EU, though, there are currently no fewer than five “Presidents”, three of whom, Juncker, Tusk and Verhofstadt, swagger around wielding immense power without seemingly being accountable to anyone. The European Parliament, although its members are elected, actually has very little power. Its role seems to be to comment on proposals from the Council rather than to initiate or amend, let alone reject them.
Moreover, the plenary chamber in which the MEPs meet is the size of a football pitch and is thus not conducive to anything approaching a robust debate. That is compounded by the fact that each of those MEPs is only allowed to speak for a very short time. The end result is that debates in the European Parliament are worse than watching paint dry. They are like watching paint when it is not drying.
Is it any wonder then that there is very little challenge of the power base and the prevailing ethos is one of “group-think”? That has the potential to be very dangerous.
Taking all this into account, if we weren’t already members of the EU, would anyone be able to present a valid case for us to join? Unfortunately, we are members, but having voted to leave, could anyone in their right mind now present a valid case for us to remain there?
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While Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt continue to battle it out for the Conservative crown, there is one striking consequence of unfolding events that is particularly bad for Britain. The European Union is being let clean off the hook.
We know only too well of the incompetent and duplicitous performance of our politicians who thought they could say one thing about respecting the result of the referendum, then do the opposite. One would have thought they would have learned a lesson from the stunning support for the Brexit Party in the recent European elections and the Peterborough by-election.
Sadly, it’s not the case. While the Tory leaderships contenders attempt to talk tough about leaving the EU by October 31st, they too slip into the mindset of trying to placate our ‘friends’ in Europe by effectively signalling they are desperate for a settlement. Having been handed the future of our country on a plate by the UK’s lamentable negotiations to date, the continuing mantra that No Deal must be avoided plays right into the EU’s hands.
In George Orwell’s words, ‘during times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act’. I believe that this is what the Brexit Party is doing, telling the truth and this is why it is being met with such resistance by the political establishment.
Over 20 years ago, in 1997, the Referendum Party, funded by Sir James Goldsmith, campaigned under the banner ‘Let The People Decide’. The mainstream political narrative at the time was that the Euro would bring better employment prospects and higher living standards to 300 million people living in Europe. But they were wrong. The reality is that the Euro was a last desperate attempt by the post-war elite who, having failed to deliver political union, foisted the Euro on an unsuspecting public to try and forge monetary union.
The Referendum Party won enough votes to persuade Mr. Blair, Mr. Major and Mr. Ashdown to abandon plans to surrender our currency which with the benefit of hindsight was a Godsend. The Euro is now grinding the weaker economies of Europe into poverty and curbing European growth which has halved since the 1990’s as a percentage of the world economy.
Our elected politicians have silently over many years transferred Britain’s sovereignty to the European Union beginning with the 1957 Treaty of Rome followed by the European Communities Act of 1972, the Single European Act of 1987, the 1992 Maastrict Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty of 2007. Had they signed up for the Euro as well, we would now be a vassal state, not a proud sovereign democracy.
I personally have never understood the need to conflate trade with the surrender of our sovereignty. After 1815 when we defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, Europe had a golden period of free trade until the Kaiser and then Hitler had an attempt at European domination.
The recent negotiation of our exit from the European Union has again demonstrated the misalignment between the current political establishment and the people. We hold all the cards, with our economy representing the same economic contribution as the 19 smallest members of the EU. We are the second largest contributor to the EU budget, our intelligence services are the best in Europe and we have a trade deficit of £96 billion with the EU.
In spite of this, we have allowed the EU to insist that we agree a financial payment (which ignores our capital contribution over many years) as well as other pre-conditions. Their treatment of us has been highly disrespectful and in breach of Article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty. Our Prime Minister ended up with a ‘pig’ deal which was neither ‘fish nor fowl’ and would have been significantly worse than staying in the EU. Our Civil Service has lost sight of who they serve and by whom they are paid. Margaret Thatcher once asserted that ‘advisers advise but ministers decide’ and it is evident that this has not been the case over the Brexit negotiations.
The logical and responsible solution now must be to make it clear to the European Commission that we favour a sensible and co-operative free trade deal that builds on the relationship that currently exists. This is in the best interests of both Britain and Europe. If this is not forthcoming, then we have to leave on WTO rules on 31st October 2019 following which, I believe, the economic reality of the weak European position will ensure that common sense prevails. Under no circumstances should we make further sorties to reopen negotiations and suffer the lack of courtesy that we have endured at the hands of Messrs Juncker, Tusk and Barnier who have clearly overplayed their collective hand.
The Brexit Party has enjoyed success because it aligns itself with the people who see all too clearly that the spotlight should remain firmly on the EU. The people’s voice has been strong and unequivocal. So should be our country’s in its approach to making Brexit happen. The people will not let the UK political establishment off the hook for failing to deliver.
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We Brexit Party MEPs may have turned our backs on the European Union’s self-proclaimed national anthem in Strasbourg last week, but no-one expected European Council President, Donald Tusk, to deliver the coup de grace two days later.
After weeks of internecine wrangling and secret deal-making, Mr Tusk swept into the Parliament chamber to laud the European Council’s nominations for Presidents of the European Commission, European Council and European Central Bank – and Foreign Policy Chief – announced just the day before. They include Jean-Claude Juncker’s replacement, Ursula von der Leyen, who wasn’t even on the list for the role.
It didn’t start well. MEPs from every political group, representing every part of Europe, complained bitterly about the Council’s lack of democratic accountability and process in making the appointments. Not a single speech supported the stitch-up, but not a single speaker had any idea what to do about it.
As the minutes turned to hours, the can got kicked further and further down the road. But up in the naughty seats where we Brexiteers have been exiled, we knew that it was time to launch our secret weapon.
Cue The Widdecombe, invented in Bath but modified over many years in Westminster.
It was carnage. In just 90 seconds, all thoughts of whether to have the Riesling or Chablis with lunch were blown to bits. The whole place erupted as The Widdecombe’s high, wavering sonic boom and relentless jabbing cut to the quick.
Frantic counter-measures of cat-calls and whistles were swept aside. In desperation, the Parliament President tried to call time. But too late, The Widdecombe went off with ‘Wir gehen! Nous allons!’ and just in case you weren’t entirely sure, ‘We’re Off!!’
It was a truly inspiring sight. And as the dust settled, our Liberal Democrat MEP colleagues inflicted further damage, thanking President Tusk for his patience with ‘our government and national parliament.’ Friendly fire is the worst. Having come through The Widdecombe, no-one wanted to face The Farage.
And what about Mr Tusk, who had taken heavy flak from the Parliament over the European Council’s undemocratic actions for more than two hours? Impenetrable and untouched, he left the Chamber saying simply that he was going to ‘reserve my comment’. He knew that the European Council had put the knife into the Parliament’s democratic hopes days before. Now, what about that Riesling?
The post Watching Ann Widdecombe’s debut in Strasbourg from the naughty seats was a sight to behold appeared first on BrexitCentral.
The EU is a union of countries, not people. This much is clear in member states’ priorities when deciding who gets the top jobs in the EU institutions. Geographical and political balance among member states is front and centre. Yet demographic balance, on things like ethnicity and gender, is often secondary. This despite them having equal weight in the treaties: “…due account is to be taken of the need to respect the geographical and demographic diversity of the Union and its Member States.”
EU leaders has just begun discussions proper at this week’s European Council meeting in Brussels on the important business of divvying up the ‘top jobs’. The presidencies of the European Council, Commission, Parliament and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs are all up for grabs, as well as the presidency of the European Central Bank (ECB). This is far from a straightforward process.
For a start not all of the roles are entirely in their hands. The President of the Commission also has to be approved by the Parliament. Complex wrangling is ongoing between Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, and leading parliamentarians to ensure the political groups are fairly represented in these posts for the next few years.
Yet even the roles which are in the hands of EU leaders are hardly any easier to decide. It’s not just the traditional political affinities of the individuals to consider. The treaties also state that geographical balance must be achieved as well. That means these roles can’t simply be dominated by the bigger, western member states.
Yet in all this horse-trading, it is easy — far too easy — to forget about one crucial factor: gender. The EU has a chronic gender problem. And the facts are striking.
There have been 13 Presidents of the European Commission since the inception of the European Economic Community in 1958. A woman has never held the role.
In the current Commission of Jean-Claude Juncker, just under a third of Commissioners are women.
Since the first European Parliament elections in 1979, only two of the 15 Presidents have been women, albeit that the first and most prestigious occupant of the role — Simone Veil— was a woman.
Of the 21 individuals who have held a position on the executive board of the European Central Bank (ECB), just three have been women. The President has always been a man.
And the European Council presidency, which has only been occupied twice so far, has always been held by men: Donald Tusk and Herman Van Rompuy.
None of this is to say that gender is the only diversity issue the EU has, far from it. But in itself it is pervasive and damaging to the credibility of the institutions. Not least it feeds into the narrative — popular among some of its most ardent eurosceptic critics — that it is still an ‘old boys’ club of backroom deals. Just look at the shadowy appointment of Martin Selmayr as Secretary-General of the Commission at the end of last year, which the European Ombudsman concluded ‘damaged trust in EU institutions’. The same applies when it comes to gender balance.
Already in the process to decide the top jobs, gender appears to be a second-rate consideration. Two members of each of the three biggest political groupings have been carefully chosen from the European Council to undertake talks on these posts. A careful balance has been struck of leaders from two northern member states (Mark Rutte and Charles Michel), two Mediterranean ones (Pedro Sánchez and António Costa) and two eastern ones (Andrej Plenkovic and Krisjanis Karins). Yet they’re all men.
Granted, only four leaders of the European Council are women, and one of those is Theresa May who is hardly going to get involved. But still, it gives a stark impression that for the men at the top of the EU — and it is mostly men — this isn’t a priority.
It might be argued that this is just ‘window-dressing’ and ultimately doesn’t matter. Yet backward views about the role of women in society remain widespread across the EU. A recent Commission report highlighted that a majority of respondents in more than half of EU countries thought that a woman’s most important role was in the home. In Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, as many as four in five people held this view. If major public institutions continue to look like boys’ clubs, is it any surprise that these views persist?
According to some reports, just one of the four top jobs may go to a woman, and the Commission presidency could remain a man-only zone. At this stage, these are only rumours, if highly plausible ones. Plus, the main contenders for the ECB presidency are all men too.
The EU treaties don’t explicitly state that gender balance must be maintained in the distribution of these jobs. But they do refer to a ‘demographic’ balance. For too long, EU leaders have ignored the particular demographics don’t fit with their political deals.
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The next Leader of the Conservative Party has an almost Herculean task in seeking to reunify a party which has been riven for many years by disputes over Europe and, most fundamentally since 2016, by whether or not to approve Theresa May’s so-called Withdrawal Agreement.
Looking at the six remaining leadership contenders, three of them voted to Remain in 2016 (Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid and Rory Stewart) and three of them voted to Leave (Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Michael Gove). I believe it is imperative that the final decision on who should become our Prime Minister, should go to our 130,000 or so members in the country. This is absolutely vital as, firstly, we had a coronation last time – and look what happened to that. Secondly, the new Prime Minister has to be able to stand in front of the 1922 Committee and tell my parliamentary colleagues that, whoever they voted for, as the new leader they now have a mandate from our party members and our MPs must give them at least a fighting chance to lead.
I cannot presume to say how 130,000 plus people are going to vote but, given that Theresa May voted Remain in 2016, I would be extremely surprised, to put it mildly, if our party members actually voted to choose anybody who voted Remain again in the final. After three years of effectively going around in circles, I think it overwhelmingly likely that our members will pick a Brexiteer by instinct. But which Brexiteer should it be?
The key questions in deciding who to select will be: how determined are they to leave the European Union by Halloween and what is their plan for doing so? If I have followed things correctly, only Boris Johnson and Dom Raab have said they are absolutely determined to leave on 31st October, whatever the circumstances.
The other candidates have tended to equivocate on this point and Rory Stewart has been the most hard over saying that he thinks to leave on 31st October, with No Deal if necessary, is unachievable. Michael Gove has certainly not given any promise to leave on 31st October.
The next critical difference is, what is the attitude of the candidates towards the Withdrawal Agreement – which has been voted down three times by the House of Commons and which the European Union have been absolutely adamant that they will not re-open. Other than Boris, all five of the other candidates have said, one way or another, that they would seek to revive the Withdrawal Agreement.
The only candidate to state that the Withdrawal Agreement is dead, is Boris Johnson (as for instance he did when he told the BBC’s Vicky Young on Politics Live on 15th January 2019: “I do think this deal is dead”).
It is a common misnomer that we need a Withdrawal Agreement in order to withdraw from the EU. We don’t. Parliament has already provided all the legislative authority for us to leave the European Union, when it passed an Act of Parliament to permit the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50, and when it subsequently passed the EU Withdrawal Act 2018, which is the piece of legislation under which we leave.
The legal default position under both EU law and UK law is that we now leave the European Union on the night of 31st October 2019. The only further legal requirement is that a Minister of the Crown physically signs the so-called “Commencement Order” to finalise the process. In short, no further legislation or even a Statutory Instrument is required in order for us to leave on Halloween. This is something the Remainers know but do not wish to advertise for very obvious reasons. When Michael Gove said in this week’s Channel Four News debate that “Parliament would have to vote to approve No Deal”, he was factually incorrect.
Given the history of all of this, I believe that any attempt to revive the Withdrawal Agreement is futile. It would, in effect be like a dog returning to its own vomit. Firstly, the EU have been absolutely emphatic that after all the time it took to negotiate what is in effect a 585-page draft Treaty, they have no intention whatsoever of reopening it. In this I believe they are telling the truth and this is not merely a negotiating tactic – they absolutely mean it. I therefore believe that any leadership candidate who thinks that they can somehow persuade the EU to do this, especially before 31st October, is completely kidding themselves.
Secondly, even if it were possible to persuade the EU to reopen the Agreement, and delete the backstop (or even put a time limit on it) that would then require the whole Agreement to be ratified in an Act of Parliament, the so-called Withdrawal Agreement Implementation Bill – or WAIB for short.
I have not seen the draft Bill but others have and I am told that it is almost half an inch thick. As we would require this to ratify the Treaty this would likely lead to between four and six weeks of absolute parliamentary trench warfare with crunch votes night after night and frequent attempts by Remainers to table wrecking amendments. In reply, no doubt my colleague, Sir Bill Cash would table a number of amendments of his own, which would likely enter the Guinness Book of Records! Even if we could generate sufficient parliamentary time to do this, I suspect the whole process would be an absolute nightmare and one which is hardly likely to reunite the party; in fact, by setting Tory against Tory once again, it would have precisely the opposite effect.
A much better approach was put forward recently by my friend and Deputy Chairman of the European Research Group, Steve Baker, in his very well-argued paper, A Clean Managed Brexit. In essence, this too agrees that the Withdrawal Agreement is dead and indeed that we should be perfectly plain about this to the Commission and the European Council. We should tell them instead that because it will never pass the House of Commons, we have decided to junk it completely and transition straight to the Future Relationship and indeed that achieving a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is now our desired end state – rather than leaving with No Deal.
Nevertheless, in order to maintain confidence in the democratic process in the UK, we must adhere to the deadline of 31st October at all costs, even if this means leaving with No Deal and trading temporarily on WTO terms – but with the clearly declared end state of an FTA rather than No Deal itself. Ironically, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, offered us such an option in March of last year but the Prime Minister (surrounded by her fanatically pro-EU Civil Servants) rejected the option out of hand.
Of the six candidates on the ballot today, the only one who accepts the reality that the Withdrawal Agreement is dead and that we need to transition to the Future Relationship, is Boris Johnson. Moreover, Boris has been utterly emphatic that such is the degree of public frustration, three years on from the referendum, that leaving the European Union on 31st October is now an existential necessity for the Conservative Party. Moreover, he has been prepared to withhold part of the £39 billion until the FTA is agreed – or perhaps even contest the final sum itself.
In summary, given that Theresa May was a Remainer, and that she promised 108 times we would leave the European Union on 29th March – but didn’t – it seems extremely unlikely that our members in the country will pick a final winner who voted Remain in 2016. Of the six candidates, five wish to revive the ill-fated Withdrawal Agreement, via one method or another, even though this seems to be flying in the face of providence, given that the EU are so emphatic that they will not reopen it. The only candidate who has had the courage – and frankly leadership – to acknowledge that the Withdrawal Agreement is dead, and to propose instead transitioning straight to the Future Relationship and arguing for a comprehensive Free Trade deal, that would allow us to trade to our mutual advantage with our European partners, with low or no tariffs, into the foreseeable future, is Boris Johnson.
In short, no deal is still better than a bad deal – but a trade deal is better than both of them – and we should leave the European Union on 31st October with that objective very firmly in our sights.
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I have an apology. I got something wrong – well, partially wrong. I argued on this site on March 14th, after the second defeat of Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, that the UK was bound to leave the EU on March 29th 2019 and that “At worst, we might see a short extension to prepare for ‘no deal’”.
I based my belief on what seemed a reasonable assumption that no Conservative Party leader would be as stubborn, unimaginative and self-destructive as Theresa May. I could not believe that any Conservative Prime Minister would go back on a solemn promise repeated over 100 times to leave and deliver on the referendum result. I could not conceive that a Conservative Prime Minister would seek to lead the party into certain defeat in a European election held after we were supposed to have left. Now, don’t get me wrong, being stubborn and unimaginative can achieve great things – but in this case the failure of the Prime Minister to ensure we left the European Union on March 29th has led the Conservative Party into an existential crisis.
However, what I did get right back in March was that the better part of the European Research Group and the DUP would not fold and that the Withdrawal Agreement was indeed dead. It is now stone cold. We are in a second and last ‘short’ extension until October 31st 2019 in which we should indeed prepare for No Deal.
The future direction of the UK’s EU exit policy is now subject to the Conservative leadership contest. In this context the publication yesterday of a key policy paper – A Clean Managed Brexit – by the influential Deputy Chairman of the ERG, Steve Baker, is particularly interesting.
The paper calls for a “Clean Managed Brexit” on October 31st 2019 and was supported by 14 senior pro-Brexit MPs spread across a number of the rival Tory leadership campaign teams. It therefore has both logic and political support behind it.
So what does it propose?
The key proposal that any aspiring Conservative leader should adopt is to make it the “unshakable policy of the Government to leave the EU by October 31st 2019”. This date is fortunately already set in EU and UK law. Given the deleterious effect the delays past March 29th have had on the Conservative Party, it is inconceivable that any serious Conservative leader could propose further delay. With the Brexit Party eating into the healthiest of Conservative majorities, MPs have got the message – there can be no delay.
That leads onto the method of departure and destination.
With only three months remaining for an incoming Prime Minister to prepare the country for departure, the paper accepts that the Government should now exit the EU without the negotiated draft Withdrawal Agreement. This makes sense for a number of reasons:
- The Withdrawal Agreement cannot get through Parliament in anything like its current form (the backstop is only one of a number of problems) and the EU has stated repeatedly that it cannot be re-opened. Given the European Commission will not have a negotiating team, and the obstructionist, nationalist policies of the Republic of Ireland, it is reasonable to take them at their word.
- The Withdrawal Agreement was designed to take the UK into the Chequers deal. That deal is dead and the implementation period designed to take us there is nearly half gone. The reasoning and philosophy underpinning the Withdrawal Agreement (rule-taking and customs union) has expired.
- Any redraft of the Withdrawal Agreement to make it acceptable would change it so profoundly that it would be easier to start from scratch. For good measure, Baker includes a number of changes required in an Annex. These range from removing the backstop to the role of the ECJ – and it is clear the EU could spend three months discussing each and every one of them. Time is at a premium.
Instead of straying into the political minefield of reopening the Withdrawal Agreement and attempting to remove the UK-busting backstop, the paper proposes offering the EU a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. The offer would include a new wide-ranging, zero-tariff, zero-quota free trade agreement of the kind offered by Donald Tusk in March last year. Baker proposes the UK takes the initiative and lays down its own text.
As a part of this and building on previous work, there should be indefinite alternative arrangements for the border around Northern Ireland: a WTO-compliant border, using currently-available administrative and technical procedures – but without any need for new technology. No new infrastructure or checks at the border will be required. Added to this, the UK should offer co-operation on defence and security, without prejudice to the primacy of NATO and unilaterally grant rights to the EU citizens in the UK.
While the aim is for free trade, the paper proposes planning for departure on WTO terms on October 31st 2019.
This leads to the future. The paper sets out how the UK should promote an ambitious free trade agenda: trade deals with the USA, accession to the Pacific rim TPPC to give access to Japan and Australia and a rollover of existing EU trade deals made on the UK’s behalf – while all the time using the UK’s new regulatory autonomy to promote a competitive pro-prosperity environment.
It is a pity the current Prime Minister wasted three years negotiating a plan to leave the EU that was never going to gain the support of her DUP Confidence and Supply partners, her party or Parliament. We have wasted three years and can waste no more. If trust in the UK’s political system is to be maintained, it is imperative that we now leave without further delay. To this end, Steve Baker’s paper sets out a practical and achievable route to leave and save the Conservative Party from potential extinction.
Is there an alternative?
When I predicted we would leave on March 29th, I based my prediction on a belief the Prime Minister would not actively set out to obstruct our departure. The next Prime Minister must therefore be committed to leave. If they are ,there is nothing Parliament or the EU can do to stop them.
Requesting further delays to re-negotiate the unnegotiable Withdrawal Agreement or seeking a longer transition to implement the harmful, fantastical Chequers end state is again a recipe for delay and obfuscation. We need a new Conservative leader sure and uncompromising in their desire to leave on October 31st – with a Clean Managed Brexit. We wait to see who will take up the challenge.
The post Steve Baker’s Clean Managed Brexit proposal provides an achievable route to leaving the EU in October appeared first on BrexitCentral.
There are now two truths for the Tories. Firstly, whatever else the European elections said, the one thing which is undeniable is that the Tory vote collapsed because we failed to leave the EU when we said we would. We’ve now said we’ll leave by Halloween – so we must, properly.
If that All Hallow’s Day truth scares you, then the second truth might send you send you all pangangaluluwa: that the more Tory leadership contenders insist that we cannot leave with No Deal, the more likely it becomes. What other conclusion can you come to if you accept the first truth?
I’m no Nigel Farage fan, but his threat to stand against Tories if we don’t deliver by 31st October must be taken seriously. Very seriously. If an army of Brexit Party candidates stands against Conservatives, then where will our votes come from? Blinkered Tories may not have noticed, but most of the Brexit Party’s candidates were Tories – Annunziata Rees-Mogg, David Bull, Richard Tice, John Longworth, Lance Forman, Ben Habib, Ann Widdecombe – do I need to go on?
Those same Tories may not realise that Conservative voters deserted the party overwhelmingly to vote “Brexit”. Some say that, in a general election, our voters will come back. Don’t bet on it, unless we’ve done what we’ve said we’ll do.
Of course, we could just leave under a repackaged Withdrawal Agreement, and it will all be OK, say some. This comes from those who say it was Theresa May who was the problem, not just her Withdrawal Agreement. Leaving properly will require more than that, if we are to get our voters back.
Voters aren’t stupid – they know that there will be compromises in order to leave, but Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement compromised in all the wrong areas, and remained firm in all the other ones. The fact that Steerpike’s article highlighting the massive problems with the Withdrawal Agreement remains as popular an article today as it was when it was published six months ago, shows the reach of its education, and demonstrates that voters will not be fooled with a duff deal.
So what is a leadership contender to do if they know that we have to leave before the night of the witches consumes the Conservative Party?
The sensible, pragmatic thing to do is to tell the EU that the best outcome for both the UK and the EU27 is for a new deal to be reached, along the lines of the one President Tusk is said to have offered in March last year. Of course, the details of that would take longer to negotiate so a one-line agreement under Article 24 of WTO would allow us to continue to trade with Europe on zero tariffs while we negotiate that free trade arrangement.
And here’s the Catch 22: Article 24 requires an agreement, a deal, between the UK and the EU. As long as Tory candidates insist that we cannot leave under No Deal, then the likelihood of the EU agreeing to even that will be minimised, instead preferring to think that, somehow, a coalition of Remain MPs will push us towards a referendum, no Brexit, or who knows.
The more people like Rory Stewart say he won’t work with other Tories; the more people like Jeremy Hunt say No Deal is a disaster; the more people like Lord Hague say we shouldn’t make promises about leaving the EU, the more likely that scenario is, given the first truth.
What is Hunt saying? That he will join a no confidence vote to deselect an incoming Prime Minister if that new leader pushes us towards No Deal? Surely not, but that is how some will interpret it.
Let’s end on a reassurance. Business is fine with No Deal. I can say that as a businessman. We know that there is actually no such thing as No Deal, and that there are already plenty of deals that will kick in if that eventuality comes to pass. And what do businessmen do in their day to day activity? They deal with and prosper with uncertainty. Some fail, but that’s only the ones who don’t prepare.
One further point: don’t let the CBI tell you that No Deal will be catastrophic for business. The reason for them saying this would take up another article, but take no lessons from the two people who head up the CBI – two active campaigners for Remain. If the CBI got their way, now that really would be scary.
The post The more Tory leadership contenders dismiss the prospect of No Deal, the more likely it becomes appeared first on BrexitCentral.
“Today we came here to partake in a political fight with our British Brexiteer friends”.
With these words, François Asselineau, the leader and founder of the UPR (Republican Popular Union), the French pro-Frexit party, kicked off the rally held in Central London on 29th March 2019, which gathered together nearly seven hundred French people supporting the 52% of British people who voted Leave, on the day Brexit was supposed to happen. You can watch it in its entirety here.
This rally, which was probably the biggest political event organised by a foreign political party in the UK since the end of WWII, had been organsied for months in the hope that Frexiteers could celebrate the official exit date of the UK from the EU in London. Several British political personalities from across the political spectrum, academics and business people accepted our invitation to speak and join us in our common fight to restore freedom and sovereignty to both our countries. Among them were Brendan Chilton (Head of Labour Leave), David Heathcoat-Amory (ex-Minister of State for Europe), Lord Hamilton of Epsom (ex-Minister of State for the Armed Forces), Kate Hoey MP (Labour), Jim Reynolds (Campaign for an Independent Britain), Sir Gerald Howarth (Leave Means Leave and ex-Minister for International Security Strategy), Dr Lee Rotherham (ex-Vote Leave), Professor Gwythian Prins (Emeritus Professor, LSE) and Lucy Harris (Founder of Leavers of Britain, and now a candidate for the Brexit Party).
Despite the obvious disappointment of not celebrating what should have been an historic milestone, the atmosphere was surprisingly warm and the British guests were impressed by the enthusiastic crowd who assembled in London to support the Leave camp. While most were from France, others came from across Europe and some even from Canada, China and the United States.
As emphasised by David Heathcoat-Amory, the decision of 17.4 million Britons was not an “isolated eccentricity” but instead part of a Europe-wide movement to re-establish democracy and self-government. Unfortunately, the EU does not like referendums that go the wrong way. And this is the reason why such an outcome was to be expected, according to Brendan Chilton. In reality, this attempt to reject the result of a popular vote against the EU was not the first: in 1994, the Norwegian people were called to vote for the European Union, having rejected it once in 1972. It was the same for the Danish people who were asked to vote for a second time after they initially rejected the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. In 2001 the Irish people said “No” by referendum to the Treaty of Nice and then “No” in 2008 to the Treaty of Lisbon. On both occasions they were forced to correct their “errors”. We should also mention the votes by referendum against the EU Constitution in 2005 in France and the Netherlands where both results were finally ignored. The history of the EU is characterised by a disdain for democracy.
“The EU is not un-democratic: it is anti-democratic. So the only solution is not to reform: it is to leave the EU”, said David Heathcoat-Amory, reminding us of the impossibility of changing the EU (that would mean abrogating Article 48 of the Treaty of the EU which requires that decisions must be taken unanimously between the 28 member states of the EU). If you want democracy, one must have the “independent self-governing nation state” and this is exactly what the EU is trying to dismantle – “not by violence, not by force but by bureaucracy, by rules, by regulation, by transferring the law making powers from the people to Brussels,” he continued. It is also worth noting that no other group of countries in the world has ever tried to replicate the EU’s model – adopting a single currency, a supreme court, a single defence policy and a law-making body for an entire continent. Instead, many alternative types of collaboration are used throughout the world: treaties, trade agreements and pacts entered into by free and sovereign countries.
But – beyond the anti-democratic aspects – what appears to be the most shocking thing is the obvious disregard, even contempt, from the EU elites for the people they govern. “When President Macron came to the UK in January 2018 he said that if a referendum was held in France, France would vote to leave the EU and of course that means he will not call in a referendum,” noted Lord Hamilton. As stated in Article 2 of the French Constitution, the nation state is “the government of the people, by the people, for the people” – our leaders seem to have forgotten this. Similarly, Brendan Chilton related the following anecdote when a few years back Tony Blair had stood in the same room as Prime Minister and said: “Only extremists would want to leave the EU”. But the choicest example certainly came from Donald Tusk when in February 2019 he promised a “special place in hell” for “those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan”.
Such statements from EU leaders are not unusual and reflect their impunity. As Dr Lee Rotherham reminded us, no-one is accountable in the EU institutions: “Who is responsible when a bad law is made? And how do we get to change it?” For these reasons, the UK decided to take back control.
The UK leaving the bloc in a good condition is probably what the EU elite fears the most. “If we give the Brits a good deal, other countries will follow suit,” confessed M. Barnier to Tom Enders (CEO of Airbus Group) as reported by Sir Gerald Howarth, who then added:
“They are seeking to punish the UK simply to prevent other countries like France, like Italy, like the Netherlands following our example and grasping the opportunity to free themselves from this 1950’s sclerotic defunct organisation”.
France will benefit from the lessons learned on the UK side if it wants to avoid a “Treaty of Versailles” (Brendan Chilton) in reference to a Withdrawal Agreement that demands 39 thousand million pounds from British taxpayers in return for a promised vassal state status.
We are together fighting the same battle for democratic Western values that are rooted in the bedrock of our civilisation. The UPR Gaullist party – with its 37,000 activists in May 2019 – will be leading the way in France, thanks to the support of their British allies. As stated by Lord Tebbit:
“Brexit is the ultimate expression of the kind of national sovereignty that General de Gaulle understood. It is the very expression of democracy that he fought to preserve. But it is not something that we aspire to jealously guard for ourselves. We want to share our new liberty with our old friends. Join us in our escape from The Bastille of Brussels. We shall eat cake together in freedom”.
The post We Frexiteers across the Channel share in your struggle for freedom from the EU appeared first on BrexitCentral.
If the most recent polling is to be believed, Thursday’s unintended and unwanted European Parliament elections will have been a disaster for the Conservative Party. We may well fail to have a single MEP returned. The Labour vote, too, will have been drastically reduced, as voters abandon the two main parties, principally in favour of one that has existed only for a few weeks.
The reason is obvious. Despite being told it time and again, the UK did not leave the European Union on 29th March. As soon as the Prime Minister opted to extend Article 50 and so necessitate the UK’s participation in these elections, the sense of betrayal – which had been long brewing – overflowed. When Mrs May compounded that sense by opening the door to a second referendum on Tuesday, it erupted. One by one, the 17.4 million people who voted to Leave the European Union had seen each and every promise which had been made to them since the referendum broken.
In 2015, the Conservatives promised that, if elected, we would hold a decisive referendum on the UK’s EU membership. The party was returned to government with more votes and MPs. When the then Foreign Secretary – a certain Philip Hammond – introduced the legislation to the Commons to bring that promise about, he exhorted MPs:
“…to give the British people the final say on our EU membership in an In/Out referendum… The decision about our membership should be taken by the British people, not by Whitehall bureaucrats, certainly not by Brussels Eurocrats; not even by Government Ministers or parliamentarians.”
The Government then spent £9.3 million of taxpayers’ money during the referendum campaign telling every household that: “This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.” After the referendum, in which more people voted to Leave than have ever voted for anything in British history, the 2017 Conservative Manifesto pledged that the UK would leave the Single Market, the Customs Union and the jurisdiction of the European Court. Page 36 said that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”
In her fateful “Charing Cross speech” this week, the Prime Minister’s “ten-point” offer starkly laid out the extent to which those promises have been reneged upon. The legally-binding Withdrawal Agreement remains unchanged, as she confirmed to me in the House of Commons this week. That means the Backstop remains, fundamentally altering the constitutional status of Northern Ireland by keeping it permanently locked to EU rules, overseen by the European Court of Justice.
The Prime Minister said that, should the Backstop be triggered, a disparity between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would be resolved by having Great Britain follow EU rules as well – simply multiplying the number of people sharing in the misery. In any case, we would remain aligned to EU rules for goods, severely hampering our ability to forge an independent trade policy. It was an interpretation of Taking Back Control warped beyond all recognition.
Mrs May’s decision that she was not now the person to find a new way forward was, of course, the correct one.
But her departure, and with it that of her Withdrawal Agreement, will not be enough on their own. The radical shifts in voting intention – even in long-held party allegiances – in recent weeks demonstrate that there is an accelerating appetite for genuine political change and realignment. If the Conservatives want to survive, we have to change course, deliver a genuine Brexit as we promised and demonstrate that when we make such totemic promises to the electorate, we will keep our word. We will simply not be listened to on any other issue until the UK leaves the EU and we fully take back control.
Immediate action is required on the part of the incoming Prime Minister. Of chief importance will be returning to Brussels to tell them that the current Withdrawal Agreement is dead and then seeking a wide-ranging, zero-tariff, zero-quota Free Trade Agreement, of the kind offered by Donald Tusk in March last year.
That offer initially foundered on the question of the Northern Ireland border. But the work of the European Research Group, built upon by the Alternative Arrangements Working Group alongside senior European customs professionals, has provided robust solutions to guarantee continued seamless trade based upon existing techniques and administrative processes. The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has expressed confidence that arrangements can be implemented to avoid new border checks. Even Michel Barnier has now confirmed that in any scenario the Belfast Agreement will continue to apply and “there will be no hard border” using our alternative arrangements.
There is, therefore, every reason that the UK and the EU ought to be able to come to a mutually-beneficial trading relationship. If, however, the EU refuses, then the next Prime Minister must be prepared to leave without a deal. The extraordinary success of the Brexit Party is testament to the public enthusiasm for this approach. Indeed, a recent ComRes survey found that two thirds of those expressing an opinion agreed that “if Parliament rejects the Withdrawal Agreement, then Parliament has to accept no deal as a consequence”.
There is nothing to fear from this “Plan B” outcome. First of all, the arrangements for the Northern Ireland border were devised without prejudice to the nature of the trading relationship. They are available and can be effective in any event.
Secondly, “no deal” is a misnomer. What we are really talking about is a WTO deal – leaving the EU without a formal Withdrawal Agreement but instead with a series of pragmatic mini-deals.
The WTO approach has often been criticised on the basis that very few countries trade on “purely” WTO rules. It is true that many micro-agreements exist between countries without a formal trade agreement, but it is important to keep these in perspective.
The EU does not, for example, have a trade agreement with the USA, but 147 side-deals are in place. Of these, most are multilateral agreements such as the Air Transport Agreement (to which the UK is also a party) and only 31 of the bilateral agreements have any relevance to trade.
The EU also has 97 micro-agreements in place with Russia, on which it is currently applying economic sanctions. It is surely ridiculous to suppose that the EU would be unwilling to replace many micro-agreements with the UK.
Indeed, as the former Brexit Minister Chris Heaton-Harris confirmed, unilateral and bilateral preparations for “no deal” are “well advanced”. The European Commission similarly confirmed in March that its preparations for “no deal” have been completed.
Air travel will continue. The EU confirmed in November that it would continue to allow UK airlines to fly over, land in and return from EU airports even if there is no Withdrawal Agreement, provided the UK reciprocates. Baroness Sugg, the then Transport Minister, confirmed this reciprocity in March when she told the House of Lords that: “Measures put forward by the UK and the EU will ensure that flights can continue in any scenario; deal or no deal.”
Medical supplies will arrive. The President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Professor Russell Viner, confirmed in a message to 19,000 doctors:
“I have been considerably reassured by governments’ preparations relating to medicines supplies…Governments, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the NHS have been working hard behind the scenes… and we believe that our medicine supplies are very largely secured.”
Cross-Channel trade will continue. The continuing Remain campaign has made particularly alarmist claims of a country completely cut off from the rest of the world, but they are nonsense. The Chairman of the Port of Calais, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, has robustly refuted suggestions of disruptions to freight. Xavier Bertrand, President of the Hauts-de-France region, dismissed the scaremongering completely: “Who could believe such a thing? We have to do everything to guarantee fluidity.”
Sensible measures can be straightforwardly implemented in the best interests of both the UK and the EU, mitigating any potential disruption.
Most significantly of all, it is important to remember than “no deal” need not be an end state. Indeed, even without a Withdrawal Agreement, both sides can agree to a transition period maintaining our current zero-tariff, zero-quota arrangements while a new trade deal is negotiated. Under Article XXIV of the WTO’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, this can be achieved by the UK and EU both agreeing to a Free Trade Agreement and notifying the WTO of a sufficiently detailed plan and schedule for it. As David Campbell-Bannerman has pointed out, such an “interim agreement” need be little more than an agreement to continue talks.
The incoming leader has, therefore, a clear remit on how to proceed. One thing is absolutely certain. There can be no further extensions to Article 50. Failure to meet the 29th March deadline has been near catastrophic for the Conservatives. Any further delay would surely prove fatal.
Any new leader must say, completely unequivocally, that we leave on 31st October at the latest, whether or not we have a new deal. We must seek to negotiate a wide-ranging trade agreement, but we must be prepared, if necessary in the interim, to go to WTO terms. We must also correct a significant mis-step by giving absolute clarity that EU citizens resident in the UK will continue to have the right to live and work here in any event.
The new Prime Minister and the new Cabinet will face a difficult task, but one which can be expressed very simply. If it wants to have any hope of bringing back the members and voters it is currently haemorrhaging, and if it wants to have any credible claim to believe in democracy, it must make good on the promises which the outgoing Government has broken. It must repair the trust which the mistakes of its predecessor have so profoundly eroded.
The post The next Prime Minister must ensure we are out of the EU by 31st October, deal or no deal appeared first on BrexitCentral.
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