First, Brexit as a constitutional event for the United Kingdom is significant, because of what it brings to an end. Those who claim that the EU is an emerging federal superstate are often told that this is not so, because the EU is sui generis. By this, they mean it is made up of sovereign states but it will not itself become a sovereign state, based on the old Westphalian model of sovereign states, because that is not how the world will be in decades to come.
We shall see over time if the USA or Russia or China subjugate their national sovereignty to international institutions – I suspect not – but there is no denying that membership of the EU requires the subjugation of the national legal order into the EU one.
In the UK, this led to a clash between the legal doctrine of the sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament, and the doctrine developed by the EU Court of Justice of the supremacy of EU law. Whatever the theory of the former, the UK has lived the constitutional reality of the latter. Assuming a clean break of some sort, that will come to an end.
Secondly, we can talk about how the UK constitution must adapt as we leave the EU. This will unleash some new constitutional uncertainties. The passage of the EU Withdrawal Act 2018 incorporates into UK domestic law all of the EU acquis, defined as “EU retained law”, so that there is certainty about continuity of the UK statute book as we leave the EU.
But the passage of that legislation through Parliament exposed many uncertainties: two in particular. One is what the role of our own courts will be. As a member of the EU, they were empowered to strike down UK statute law if they deemed it incompatible with EU law, even a new Act of Parliament. After we leave, Section 5 (1) is clear that “The principle of the supremacy of EU law does not apply to any enactment or rule of law passed or made on or after exit day”.
How our courts choose to interpret that provision will depend upon how explicit Parliament is when it legislates in future. Section 6 (2) says the Court “may have regard to anything done on or after exit day by the European Court, another EU entity or the EU so far as it is relevant to any matter before the court”.
Other uncertainties arise from what has happened to the UK constitution while we have been a member of the EU. Devolution was conceived while the EU largely controlled agriculture, fisheries, environmental policy and rules about state aid.
In the absence of the EU, these matters would be devolved by default. Clause 11 of the Bill, now Section 12 of the Act, became a vexed battle ground for who shall decide what after we leave. As the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has pointed out in our reports, the original idea of devolution in the UK was binary – a power is either reserved or devolved.
This leaves a constitutional and institutional void to be filled between Westminster and Whitehall on the one hand, and the devolved Parliaments and administrations on the other. The way it is filled will determine how control over some areas of policy is shared, in much the same way as the EU and the member states manage shared competences.
This is not just constitutional, legal or structural. It depends on developing a shared understanding about how things can best work, and on the building of institutional and personal trust.
Thirdly, there have been some significant constitutional events along the way towards Brexit, reflecting the political conflicts about Brexit.
One such is the Miller case, which in the end did not change very much legally, but led to Parliament overwhelmingly endorsing the invocation of Article 50, and of taking the UK out of the EU. Another is the parliamentary innovations employed to attempt to thwart Brexit. Again, these events reflect political tensions in a hung parliament, rather than any substantial constitutional change.
These things reflect the narrow, technical and legal questions on this subject, but it is more important to look at its wider, political aspects.
Our constitution remains largely uncodified, though there are more and more authoritative sources that compete with each other as we try to explain to ourselves what our constitution means – the Cabinet manual, a new edition of Erskine May, more court judgements, and so on.
In this, we like to think our constitution is more exceptional than it is. However, written constitutions are no guarantee of liberty or political stability. A written constitution does not create any more certainty about where powers should lie.
Just look at how the US Constitution has evolved: the separation of powers partly frozen in the time of its writing, but also providing for the massive expansion of federal government and in the political decisions taken not by the Executive or the Legislature, but by the Supreme Court. Each constitution is a living concept determined in the end by politics rather than law.
So in considering Brexit and the Constitution, we should bear in mind the politics: why people voted Leave, and what they were voting for or against.
First, we must set aside the idea that the result was some kind of constitutional accident, or the result of lies, or people not knowing what they were voting about. The vote could not have been more explicit about remaining in, or leaving, the EU.
If the bus had said £250 million instead of £350 million, it would not have appreciably changed sentiment, and many would argue that there were far more powerful untruths told by the Remain side, that for example there would be an immediate recession after a Leave vote.
And the notion in this referendum aside from any other, that a significant part of the population do not deserve to have their vote respected, demonstrates exactly the kind of we-know-better elitism which alienates voters from the EU.
We should look harder for the constitutional reason why the UK has rejected the EU (and would do so again with more force if we were to re-run the referendum).
We all agree that we want to preserve Western liberal democracy: for our people to enjoy individual freedom, freedom of speech and assembly, to participate in democratic decision-making, and to enjoy a fair share of the economic goods of liberal economics.
Vladimir Putin has claimed that liberalism is dead. We must contest this, but when he points out that “the obvious problem is the gap between the interests of the ruling elites and the overwhelming majority of the people”, it is hard to contest that.
People were voting to take back control, and they have a far clearer idea of national democracy and accountability than what they have experienced in recent decades.
The endless arguments about trade and economics which dominate the Brexit debate miss the point. Take VAT for example. The EU has blocked the UK from removing VAT from sanitary products. More recently, it required the UK to apply VAT to energy-saving materials, and to solar panels, contrary to UK government policy. Where is the democratic accountability in that?
It was easy to apply the same sense of outrage to questions like money and migration. Now add to that the sense that politics and business have enjoyed too cosy a relationship in the corridors of power in Brussels and in Westminster, where EU rules have too often been the excuse to protect the vested interests and the lifestyles of the decision-makers, and to ignore the wishes of voters – and it’s game, set and match to national democracy.
It should come as no surprise that the people wanted to challenge the constitutional settlement established under the EU. The EU is made up of national democracies, but is itself very far from democratic.
It is in fact surprising that it took so long, and it is still taking so long for the elites to realise that the future of liberal democracy must be founded on a more engaged, accountable and democratic constitutional settlement, based on the nation state and international cooperation, rather than rather less accountable and less transparent supranationalism.
The above was delivered as the keynote address to a conference on Brexit and the Constitution, hosted by UK in a Changing Europe, of King’s College London, held at the British Academy earlier this week.
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Born, bred and educated in the Netherlands, I have lived and worked in the UK since 1995. I have spent roughly half my life in each country. I feel at home in the UK as much as I do in the Netherlands and I am grateful to the UK for being so welcoming to me and appreciative of the skills and talents that I have offered. On the face of it, I could be a poster boy for EU social mobility and integration, were it not for one fact: I support Brexit.
Without a doubt, Brexit will make life more difficult for me. Not only will it make a little crack in my family, where my wife and daughter are British and the cat and I are Dutch, it will also make staying connected with family in the EU more difficult. But Brexit is about something far bigger than airport queues, blue passports or roaming charges.
If EU membership were solely about trade, remaining a member would be a no-brainer. But today’s EU membership is about ‘ever-closer union’, which means that there is in theory no limit to the policy areas that are eligible for harmonisation, provided the majority of Member States agree. For those not versed in EU jargon, harmonisation is a friendly term for ‘making things the same’. And by making things the same, it then follows that the power over defined policy moves from the Member States to the EU institutions. The European Commission functions as a corporate headquarters that exists to drive uniform policy and control the implementation by its subsidiaries (read Member States). Smaller countries like the Netherlands, whose economies are largely reliant on EU neighbours, may see the erosion of domestic power as a justifiable price to pay. They may even believe that power can be brought back at a later date if necessary. But it is totally logical that bigger countries like the UK, a major world economy in its own right, critically evaluate the merits of their EU membership in light of the direction the bloc wants to travel in.
Brexit presents huge opportunities for both the UK and the EU. The most important is that they can stop holding each other back. The EU can press on with ever closer union without the risk of a UK veto frustrating it. The UK wants to develop more bilateral trade deals, which the Customs Union prevents. Brexit means both get the freedom they need to implement their respective visions. And the brilliant thing is, at the same time they get the chance to agree on a way of partnering in any area they choose: a free trade agreement, a security partnership, aligned workers’ rights, citizens’ rights, the list goes on.
A prerequisite to a future partnership based on opportunity is that the UK and the EU make a clean break from each other. Some call this a ‘no-deal Brexit’ or a ‘hard Brexit’. I prefer to see it as a ‘clean-break Brexit’. The idea has stuck that a clean-break Brexit means that there will never be a deal. That is absolutely not the case. The reality is that making a clean break the starting point means that there is a major incentive to get a free trade deal in place quickly, to sign a security treaty pronto and to define other key areas of co-operation with urgency.
Instead of this positive approach based on opportunity, the process has been managed negatively based on risk. Fear has driven positions and decisions on both sides. The EU is frightened that other Member States might want to follow the UK out of the club, which betrays a lack of confidence in its own project. And the UK is frightened that Brexit may lead to economic harm, showing a lack of confidence in its own economic power and future potential. Both those fears are unfounded. But they have given rise to an overly complex and convoluted Withdrawal Agreement that was designed to mitigate all the risks that could be imagined, whilst capturing few of the opportunities. The predictable result is that it has completely stalled the withdrawal process and the very economic harm is being inflicted that it was designed to avoid. The key culprit is the absence of clarity.
I have so far spent over twenty years in international business. One thing I have learned is that whilst businesses generally have a preferred outcome to issues such as Brexit, the one thing more precious than their preferred outcome is clarity. When it comes down to it, businesses – and financial markets for that matter – will accept change as long as it gives them the clarity they need to build a plan that allows them to adapt. Put simply, if there’s no clarity, there can be no plan, there will be no investment and there will be no growth.
I remain a believer in the opportunities that Brexit provides for both the EU and the UK and I am keeping my fingers crossed that the upcoming leadership transitions on both sides will see a return to brave, confident and positive leadership that delivers clarity to people and businesses, so that we can all look to the future with optimism. A future that has the EU and the UK closely together, just not as joined at the hip as in the past.
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The world is certainly changing. That’s not a new phenomenon – it’s been changing now for four and half billion years. But for those of us who measure change over a period of our lifetimes, it is probably changing as fast as anyone can manage.
Yet the change is not just around how we earn a living (who would have thought you could make millions out of posting cute kitten videos on the internet?), or the threat to many people’s future (what do we offer redundant Uber drivers after artificial intelligence gives us driverless cars?). Much of the change will be about how we see ourselves in the world as traditional structures alter in the 21st Century.
The West has a rich and mature economy. We have a standard of living that half the world desires, a broadly stable population and high and stable GDP per capita. We enjoy high productivity. Yet the three things that are fundamental to strong and rapid economic growth – a young population, a growing population and a low starting point – are in abundance across the globe outside the West.
Markets such as Asia are developing fast. Africa, while currently offering little excitement as a destination for Western global traders, will grow at a rate that we risk overlooking, passing up an opportunity to secure ourselves opportunities.
And as economies grow and the economic balance of power shifts, how will the world look in a decade’s time? What will be the role of the US, with its interesting politics, its America First approach and reluctance to enter into plurilateral trade deals? How will it influence the world and play its part?
China is rapidly about to take on the mantle of the world’s largest economy – a position it has enjoyed for all but the last three or four centuries of the last three or four millennia. But China’s economy, as a controlled market economy, is not one we intuitively understand in the West, and its approach to global influence and investment is characterised by the Belt and Road Initiative. BRI seeks to help nations develop a strong infrastructure, but uses Chinese capital, Chinese constructors, Chinese labour and Chinese machinery. The recipients of this investment find themselves mortgaged to the Chinese – and the growth that comes from it helps China as much as the recipient. Yet are those of us in the West, committed to the OECD’s definition of international aid, just a little envious of the Chinese approach of aid tied to trade?
Meanwhile, Russia asserts itself quietly through covert influencing of the West, and looks to build its global presence again; India’s population and influence grow every day (aspirational British brands such as Jaguar are now owned by Indian investors); and smaller economies such as those of South East Asia gather together, strengthening their ties established 52 years ago via the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), a collective whose economy is expected to surpass that of the EU by 2050.
In this changing world, we need to recognise that the world looks towards Britain with a sense of affection, a recognition that we have a rich cultural history, a tradition of standing up for decency and honesty – and a brand in the Union Jack that sells across the world.
It is remarkable that Hunter wellies have franchises in Tokyo; that housing developments in the outskirts of Shanghai are modelled on suburban Home Counties towns; and that owning a British car – a Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Jaguar or Aston Martin – is seen as the global epitome of class and success (irrespective of who the investors are).
Institutions such as the Commonwealth bring together a diverse group of nations that have a common, British heritage and they are proud of that. But it is not all that simple.
A Thai banker or property investor would be understandably baffled that just a decade after the Asian banking crises in the late 1990s, Britain and America constructed their very own banking crash, having apparently not learnt a single lesson from recent history halfway around the globe. Similarly, as countries look to work together and form alliances, such as ASEAN, there is collective bemusement that Britain seeks to separate itself from what appears on the outside to be a good trading bloc. That confusion is only compounded by the extraordinary splits in the two main political parties and the possibly terminal drive to the left of Britain’s Labour Party.
As a former Trade Minister, my experience in the two years after the Brexit vote sums up how the world view has changed.
Understanding the importance of exporting
In the first few months after the vote, the wider world looked at Britain and asked the question: “What on earth are you crazy Brits doing?’, bemused by the decision to separate from a successful, complex organisation. But as time went by, the refrain changed to: ‘Actually, this Brexit looks interesting,’ as companies realised that if a UK bilateral deal with a third country was better than their own country’s bilateral, it was worth investing in the UK to take advantage of that opportunity.
But the third stage was more worrying. As people looked more closely at Britain, and the chaos of parliamentary splits, it has become more apparent that a guy who might introduce exchange controls, who might nationalise people’s investments, who might tax wealth, might just become a hard-left Prime Minister. Even if he doesn’t, the theory goes (for some), the Conservative Party might pivot left to counteract his influence.
This recent view of Britain, however, might give us a clue as to what lies ahead. Because while we introduce greater risks for ourselves, we also bring forward greater opportunities. As the geo-economic tectonic plates shift, we need to assess whether we leave ourselves more vulnerable by being outside a trading bloc, or more agile, nimbler and more fleet of foot to seize the advantages of global opportunities. So while the risks are greater, the prize is greater. The potential volatility increases.
And we need to ask ourselves just what our role should be in the wider political spectrum of a changing world.
In 1776, Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations. In it he argued that we should move from mercantilism (where we sold stuff to the rest of the world in order to secure greater gold reserves) and adopt free trade, where we exported our surpluses and imported those things that others made better or more easily than us.
This has been going on now for a few hundred years, and despite flirting with Marxism and socialism, we keep coming back to Smith as a way that works and a way that fits the human spirit. But we must ask ourselves: are we, the sons and daughters of Adam Smith, truly living up to his ideas?
In the broadest sense, the answer has to be yes. We are advocates of free trade and we pride ourselves on our ability to trade freely with the rest of the world. But there was a common refrain during the EU referendum in 2016. Some Brexit campaigners challenged that the EU was holding us back, that we couldn’t trade with the rest of the world because of the EU. In the fog of war, much is said, including myths that don’t bear up to the hard reality of fact.
The broadest measure of a country’s financial internationalisation is the current account – the measure of all money coming in and going out, whether from trade, investment, borrowing, dividends or remittances.
Of the G20 nations, the UK in 2017 had the third highest current account deficit, behind Turkey (5.5 per cent of GDP) and Argentina (4.9 per cent). At 3.7 per cent of GDP, our current account deficit looked shameful compared with China’s surplus of 1.5 per cent, Italy’s 2.8 per cent, Korea’s 5.1 per cent or Germany’s amazing 7.9 per cent.
Even looking at our export performance, far from being held back by the EU, our numbers held back the EU’s. Our exports of goods and services were the equivalent of 30.5 per cent of our GDP, leaving us a lamentable 28th out of 28 EU members in terms of export performance. France was not much better. But a broadly (very broadly) similar economy to ours such as Germany saw exports reach 47.2 per cent of GDP, while the star performer was Luxembourg at a whopping 230 per cent (which is what you get when you combine a tiny economy with a vast financial services sector).
Trying to understand what lies behind these figures is hard. While much was made of our enthusiasm to export more during the referendum, the experience of the Department for International Trade was that the demand for British brands far exceeded our ability to supply. An estimated 400,000 British businesses which had exportable products were not exploiting their overseas opportunities. In taking their products to market, it seems, British businesses do not instinctively look overseas.
When I served as Minister for International Trade, I addressed a Chamber of Commerce business breakfast of 100 or so attendees. Just 15 were exporting already and only half a dozen were looking to export. That was disappointing in itself. But when asked how many were importing, just three hands went up. This from a room of people who sit on Swedish furniture, watching American films on Korean televisions, listening to Japanese hi-fis, wearing clothes made in the Far East, driving German cars. Birmingham’s signature dish is a Balti. We all love a Chinese takeaway. The truth is, we engage with the world – but mainly when it comes to us.
Brexit’s opportunities and challenges
Brexit is the most brilliant opportunity for this country. Brilliant because it can be used as a focal point for us to redefine how we engage with the world. It is the match that lights the blue touch paper of our global rocket. While divisive now, it can be the unifier that joins us in this great endeavour to engage globally. It can define us as a global influencer for good.
But we need to think about a few things first.
In his book The Road to Somewhere, David Goodhart looks at ‘the new tribes shaping politics’. He raises the point that two thirds of all people live within 14 miles of where they lived as a young teenager.
There is, among as many as three quarters of us, a strong sense of place, of loyalty to the local community, of attachment to the locality that we value so much. What a wonderful aspect of our nationhood that we feel so paternal about our neighbourhood.
But there is another side to this. That sense of care and devotion also leads to a sense of protection, a worry that the local way of life might be harmed or changed. As politicians we see this in its simplest form when planning applications are made. Once built, a new development is accepted almost immediately, but not until after quite a protest.
In trade, this manifests itself in odd arguments. Take TTIP – the almost certainly defunct Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and the US. Hundreds of thousands of emails to MPs were generated complaining that TTIP would result in a sell-off of the NHS as US firms would buy up vast swathes of our much loved health service. Or the recent row when British firm DeLaRue lost out to a French security printer in winning the contract to manufacture our new, blue, non-EU British passports.
Those howling in outrage (including from DeLaRue) protested that it was an abomination that the French should have anything to do with our sacred and symbolic passport. The reality is that these agreements form part of the Government Procurement Agreement, a deal among nations to open up their government buying contracts to other nations, thus creating a more efficient and fair market. We could withdraw, but in so doing DeLaRue would lose far more international contracts to produce other countries‘ passports (and banknotes) than it would gain in keeping the UK’s blue passport. Similarly, companies selling medical equipment and services to US health operators would lose out if we closed our medical market to outsiders.
The same applies to consumer interests and standards. This debate manifests itself with the so-called chlorinated chicken. Under EU standards, chickens are reared in pens at a significantly lower density than American chickens. The result is happier but more expensive chickens. In being happier, there is less chance that our chickens carry campono bacteria, so they are washed in fresh water during preparation for the meat market. But in America, they are washed in chlorine (or the modern equivalent) to kill off the bacteria (something we humans do every time we go to a public swimming pool). Although this sounds unsavoury, it turns out that you are four times less likely to pick up a bug from an American chicken than a UK one.
However, if we maintain our production standards, we will make our home-grown chickens uncompetitive against those imported from outside the EU. The result will be that domestic chicken farmers fail due to a price war. ‘But,’ ask some consumers, ‘if there is cheaper chicken available, why should I pay more just to keep some local farmers happy?’
Similarly, a producer of a desirable product, currently facing barriers to entry in the US, might suggest that we open up our chicken market to US exports in return for his access to the US. And all the while we do these trade deals, we must concede that having just won back sovereignty from the EU, we are ceding just a little bit of our hard-won sovereignty every time we sign a new free trade agreement with another country.
So, the challenge we face as we turn our trading eyes to the horizon is to bring the nation with us. The Brexit dividend – global free trade – is one that is not as clear-cut as one might think. We abandon the European Court of Justice only to replace it with the World Trade Organisation courts. We extract ourselves from the Lisbon Treaty merely to create new, and many more, deals elsewhere. But it is a challenge we must embrace and win.
The aid debate
There is another argument that needs to be won: aid. One of the Conservative Party’s greatest achievements is reaching the 0.7 per cent aid target. Set by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD, the UK is one of just five members (of 30) who have achieved the target. This is something to be incredibly proud of.
But it is understandable that, in the latter stages of the austerity process, people challenge whether this money would be better spent at home. The ‘charity begins at home’ mantra is well used.
Yet consider something as simple as a person’s need for clean water. Every individual needs 1.5 litres a day of drinking water to survive. Two billion people across the planet have limited or no access to fresh clean drinking water, yet we Brits each flush 35 litres of water down the lavatory every day.
It’s almost certainly too simplistic an argument for a complex debate. But a UK shipbuilder recently challenged a decision by DFID to give a developing nation tens of millions to build a ship. “Why’, they reasoned, ‘didn’t DFID commission the ship from us and then give them the completed ship instead? It’s a very good question. Job creation in the UK and help to a developing nation. I struggled to find a good answer.
This brings us back to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. China’s money helps developing nations achieve infrastructure ambitions while helping China develop economically. It also secures a Chinese footprint that straddles the globe.
Of course, there is a reduced economic benefit for the receiving country as little of the investment money is spent locally. But China is expected to invest something in the region of US$1 trillion. That blows Western aid commitments out of the water.
Yet it has to be a good thing – a wealthy nation sharing its wealth with those who need it, creating for itself a new market, more global stability, lower migration. But with just one sixth of DAC members achieving the aid target, should we ask if there is something wrong with the target?
So the challenge for new Global Britain is this. First, we must come to an agreement that international aid is a good thing, and that we want to continue to give 0.7 per cent of GDP as Overseas Development Aid money (ODA). If we achieve that, do we want to be free to choose how we give it, tying aid to trade, by abandoning the DAC definition and our membership? Or do we remain in DAC and try to modify the definition of ODA spend, thereby encouraging others to up their contributions? Or should we be quiet and carry on as before?
I suspect that an ambitious, truly Global Britain may want to be an influencer. I suspect that we would proudly hold our head up high if we can change DAC to a more achievable definition, helping others achieve the 0.7 per cent target.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO)
A confident Britain should be looking to extend its reach further. An organisation such as DAC within the OECD is important, but it is already something where we have our own voice. In the new, post-Brexit world it is important that we look to speak up in forums where our membership has been subsumed by our membership of the EU. There is no better example than the World Trade Organisation.
The WTO, and its predecessor GATT, have been instrumental in reducing tariffs to trade. This has been a good thing, freeing trade and helping both consumers and producers within the 164 member countries. But in the last few years, the WTO has identified a fourfold increase in non-tariff barriers – even before we saw the locking of horns of the world’s two biggest economies.
The trade war between the US and China reflects nationalism in the US and game-playing by the Chinese. With the world’s second biggest economy (soon to be the biggest) maintaining it is still a developing economy, and the world’s current biggest economy introducing blatantly protectionist measures, it is clear that consumers will suffer. And not just Chinese and American consumers. When elephants fight, goes an African saying, it is the grass that gets trampled.
What is clear is that a confident Britain has a big role to play post-Brexit. But for its role to be clear and effective, it has to have a sound strategy. It is not good enough to simply say that we need to get our current account deficit down, or to boost our exports. Simply being an advocate of free trade is good in itself, but by itself it does little more than help consumers.
A grand strategy that draws together free trade, reform of aid and ODA, that brings with it the enthusiasm of the population of these great sceptre’d isles, will put Britain front and centre of a maturing and developing globe.
In working as global reformers and free traders, we will play a leadership role in securing a safe and reliable future for our global economy. In so doing, our people will be proud of our achievements, hold our head high as global leaders, yet certain of the security of their local communities.
Moreover, as we develop our own trade policy, and influence others, is now the time for the UK to seek to introduce our social values within trade deals? Workers’ rights, the rights of minorities, women’s rights and protections, animal welfare, tackling modern-day slavery, ridding the planet of plastic waste: these are just a small handful of many progressive policies that we are proud to have championed in the UK. Can we demonstrate, successfully, our ability to influence others to follow our leads though not just our new-found independent membership of global organisations, but by the choices we make when securing free trade deals?
Brexit is just the catalyst we need. The future is exciting. Now is the time to embrace it.
The above is one of more than 35 essays by Conservative politicians included in the new book, Britain Beyond Brexit, just published by the Centre for Policy Studies.
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The nomination of the EU’s new top eurocrats has, understandably, been drawing public attention to their track records. Potential Commission supremo Ursula von der Leyen, already tweeting pics of herself be-desked in her provisional Berlaymont office, has already come in for some stick. As Germany’s Defence Minister, she oversaw a military that was short on functioning planes, helicopters and armour. A shortfall in personnel left operational tour gaps for deployed troops breached. There was a scandal over the high cost of consultants. Her doctoral thesis came under review on the charge of plagiarism. And there was the handling of a scandal involving an extremist officer who faked being a Syrian refugee, facilitated by a system that didn’t even check if he could speak Arabic.
Such elements of their CVs will emerge naturally from journalists digging. What is less obvious is what their actual political views are on a range of EU issues that will cross their desk.
Here, happily, there is a body of useful documents for at least one of the nominees. Josep Borrell Fontelles has been put forward to run the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). In addition to his time in the Spanish Government, he is a former President of the European Parliament. Less well known is the detail that he was a delegate on the Convention on the Future of Europe, which drafted the EU Constitution that later became the Lisbon Treaty. And here, at a point in time when he was less under the spotlight and more in a position to express his deep personal views on where he thought the EU should be going, he proved very active.
Borrell’s output was normally co-submitted with his alternate, or stand-in. I count six papers and 107 amendments (I may have missed some: it’s an archived site with no search engine). This probably puts him in the top ten percent of delegates trying to amend the draft text. You can find the amendments here but your Spanish needs to be reasonable (which should prove no difficulty to the Leader of the Opposition) and your patience with the website boundless. For these very reasons, however, his proposals are easily missed and are thus worth here revisiting today.
So what are we to make of his approach to the EU? Provocatively, a prominent short paper dealt with an early controversy – the Pope’s call to insert a reference to Europe’s Christian values into the text. Borrell responded with a short submission leaving no room for ambiguity, entitled “Let’s Leave God Out of This”. His premise was that it was dangerous to include any reference to Christianity, in case the EU in the future definitively blocked Turkish accession (the inference being that this was likely). “God,” he provocatively writes, “is a recent convert. He was comfortable for centuries with slavery, yesterday He still blessed Franco and He has not been unaware of the Balkan tragedy.”
While this would not have won him plaudits from the Poles, other proposals would have gained friends elsewhere. He emerges as a supporter of “gender mainstreaming”, pushing the policy “in all policies and at all levels”, as well as adding a self-revising mechanism for the Charter of Fundamental Rights to allow the EU to gain an increased policy role in Reproduction and Gender Rights.
He was a peculiar and rare advocate of increasing the role of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), of which he is clearly a huge fan. This included, of all things, EESC policy input into a proposed common asylum system. Another competence he wanted to extend was a greater EU role in sport that would be incorporated more widely into other activities of Directorates-General, including specifically an EU role in dealing directly with those running sports bodies. Understandably, the prospect of Commissioners being responsible for dealing with the likes of UEFA proved to be the square root of quangocracy for member state negotiators, so that idea got nowhere. His support for adding Tourism to EU competences, on the basis that it related to economic policy, had limited success.
Here, he is evidently integrationist. He called for greater association of economic policy with social and employment policy. He proposed a Qualified Majority Vote (QMV) system endorsing greater EU revenue powers, mooting the levying of “European taxes of a progressive character”. Small mercies, perhaps, he is not being nominated today to run the European Central Bank.
On Article 50, intriguingly he sought to simplify the text in a way that, intentionally or not, reinforced the right of a state to leave. One amendment presumably contributed to the deletion of an ambiguity in the initial draft. This had allowed for notice to leave, once given under A50, to be followed by a potential reflection period on the EU side. This gap would have provided potential for Brussels to stall the process and encourage die-hard Remainers. Borrell’s amendment contrasts favourably with the forgotten submission from the UK Liberal Democrats, which allowed the Article 50 state only as a route into an “Associated Status”. Even so, Borrell also separately endorsed a new mechanism to permanently accelerate integration, by allowing a simple majority of MEPs and just a QMV endorsement from national governments to set up further drafting Conventions.
There is no doubt about it: Borrell was openly federalist. In one amendment, he proposes the text be changed, specifically stating the EU is to operate “según un modelo federal”. In another, he supports the (already otherwise castigated) concept of the ‘rubber clause’ allowing for integration on the hoof in any area – even if not provided for in the treaties – just so long as no-one objects. The federal ambition is explored more in the biggest document he signed up to. Here he talks of the need to
“create a political will to defend the general interest of Europe, arming itself with more powerful instruments in foreign and home affairs policy and in socioeconomic policy. It must clarify its powers and give the Union’s citizens the leading role. In other words, Europe can stay the way it is, which would really imply a step back towards the renationalisation of essential policies (agriculture, cooperation, foreign policy) or it could take a qualitative leap forward in political terms and make a determined bid for a federally orientated Europe that could genuinely be described as a Political Union.”
“We propose an institutional structure for the EU which converts it into a Federation of States based on the principle of the division of powers”.
This approached entailed the end of the veto. Institutions would federalise. The European Council (as a new Chamber of States) would elect a “Head of State” for 2.5 years, non-extendable. The European Commission would become the“Government of the Union”. There would be a new Chamber of the States, an appointed Senate. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) would become the “Constitutional Court”. The EU budget would be expanded, and raised in part from direct EU taxation.
Other elements included: a genuine statute of European citizenship; a European Constitution; greater direct legal effect for the ECJ, and more linkage with the ECHR; an increased EU role and budget for welfare; the Charter of Fundamental Rights to become legally binding; an EU minimum wage and “social standards”; considering abstracts such as “solidarity, universality, fairness, quality and access to essential public services” when working on Single Market policy; more powers to trades unions; the ECB to become beholden to MEPs, with more social spending; plus tax harmonisation , a new European Tax, and a new European Ecological Tax.
That’s already quite a list. But to these he added QMV in CFSP with a greater role for the Commission and MEPs; greater Justice and Home Affairs powers and QMV, more of an MEP role with Europol, the unification of criminal legislations, and the introduction of a European Prosecutor; and common migrant management. Which takes us onto the fact that Mr Borrell is now the nominated head of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy – and with it, why it is a very good thing that the UK is getting out of the EU.
To Eurosceptic Atlanticists in the EU27, there is one saving grace: Borrell aspires to pursue EU defence integration within a NATO framework, as least at this stage. But it is as a “NATO pillar with maximum identity”, intended to unite EU states to generate collective parity with the US contribution, and thus no real safeguard to nation states at all. He declares an ambition to deliver on an EU “Common Defence”, with active deployments in crisis missions, an independent EU rapid intervention force answerable to the European Council, and a defence industrial policy (the last of which he has ended up with). EU policy would include some caveats for traditional neutrals, but required them to accept that the “essential core” of defence should be through common processes, and associated with other EU policies in order to make the EU globally more credible. The resulting ambition was that
“The foreign policy reforms that the Convention must promote should aim to achieve the following objectives:
a) constitutionalise the CFSP as a lasting, democratic, common security policy, which addresses the underlying causes of insecurity and goes beyond the traditional military approach to security problems.
b) coordinate this policy with the policies on cooperation, trade and migration so as to create a genuine, all-encompassing, joint foreign policy, something which the Union does not have today.
c) provide it with sufficient economic resources.
d) ensure the EU acts with a single voice in international institutions and with its own legal identity (World Bank, IMF, United Nations institutions).
e) combine the diplomatic offices of each country in a single office representing the EU.
f) rule that member states may only act alone if their actions are in line with the common European policy or if the EU has no common position. They must inform the European Council of these initiatives”
His basic view on the global function of the EU is a bit of a mix. In order to defend “la independencia e intereses de Europa”, the EU has to actively promote its values in the world and establish a “just and democratic” international world order. Yet on the one hand he tried to insert a clause into the EU Constitution stating that the EU rejected the use of force as a means of conflict resolution; in another he successfully inserted a text change that added “Peacemaking” missions to the Peacekeeping activities of the EU.
His aspirations to jump from gradual Defence integration into a “Common Defence” are underscored by a number of proposed amendments. He sought to underline the link between Security and Defence policy functions. He pushed reinforced cooperation specifically in the areas of Defence capabilities building, and mission preparation. He sought in multiple amendments to turn Common Security and Defence Policy into an area of QMV. He also saw it as developing from member states formally committing themselves to converging over time in terms of policy and capability, under the leadership of a new EU Minister for Foreign Affairs – of which after a fashion he is now set to become, though not with the QMV to which he repeatedly sought to change the system. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a soon-to-be grandee in the European Parliament, he also sought to introduce a key role for MEPs in overseeing this new EU Minister.
Of course, these texts date from 15 years ago and his views may have changed since then – though from what I have seen of what’s happened since to other Convention delegates (both integrationists and Eurosceptics), their views have invariably hardened.
In any event, from this policy log drive we can observe an old EU insider who, while conscious of some of the democratic deficit associated with the role he now seems set to occupy, nevertheless is a longstanding advocate of the post having vastly wider and deeper responsibilities and powers. His track record should not inspire confidence that the EU’s Security, Defence, and Defence Industrial ambitions will remain circumscribed over the next five years. Particularly when one also considers another amendment he put down, seeking to award the EU a seat in its own right at the UN, Council of Europe, OSCE, and OECD.
If Josep Borrell is indicative of the future EU institutional leadership – and he is – then it is a good job that Brexit is happening when it is. Because with such people taking operational decisions in Brussels, the simple consequences of merely administering the EU will make it harder for countries to leave with every passing day.
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?
The post If we had never joined EU, there would be no valid case for becoming a member now appeared first on BrexitCentral.
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.
The post The British people will not let the political establishment off the hook if they fail to deliver Brexit appeared first on BrexitCentral.
Writing for BrexitCentral yesterday, Lee Rotherham hammered home the point that the soon-to-be-appointed Prime Minister urgently needs to install Brexiteers inside Downing Street and Whitehall departments in order to deliver Brexit. He wrote:
“If Brexit means Brexit, then change as sanctioned by the referendum must, by definition, involve change. Ministers should now start accepting that they are in the business of transformation… Delivering Brexit needs freshness. It needs empowered departmental leadership. It needs ministers who have not become entangled in the small print of the Dead Deal they have been advocating, or intellectually compromised by it. It needs actual Brexiteers.”
There is little doubt that Theresa May’s administration has throughout its three years had the feel of a Remainer Government grudgingly seeking to deliver the Leave result as instructed by the voters at the 2016 referendum. And that’s hardly surprising, given how few of its members actually believed in Brexit from the beginning and campaigned for a Leave vote.
The numbers are actually quite stark. Of the 93 MPs who were appointed by Theresa May to her first Government in July 2016, I calculate there as having been 73 Remain backers (78%), 1 Undeclared voter at the time of the referendum (1%) and just 19 Leave voters (20%).
Three years later and the balance has barely improved. Naturally there have been many resignations (although departing Leave-backing ministers were actually often replaced with Brexiteers). But today, of the 94 MPs currently serving as a Minister or Whip in the Government, they break down as:
- 69 Remain backers (73%)
- 1 Undeclared voter at the time of the referendum (1%)
- 24 Leave voters (26%)
However, of the 219 Conservative MPs currently residing on the backbenches, they break down as:
- 102 Remainers (47%)
- 112 Leavers (51%)
- 4 Undeclared (2%)
- 1 Did Not Vote (Kirstene Hair, before you ask)
This imbalance between an overwhelmingly Remain-dominated Government while Brexiteers make up the majority of Tory backbenchers is unsustainable and must be addressed as a matter of urgency by the new Conservative Prime Minister.
I therefore felt it would be a worthwhile exercise to draw attention to a number of the talented Brexiteers currently languishing on the government backbenches – whether or not by their own choice – whose skills and expertise could be used in government under the new PM.
I’m not going to get into earmarking people for specific posts and there will be others not mentioned below who deserve recognition. Furthermore, I should emphasise that I am not proposing a 100% Brexiteer government and there are many honourable former Remain-backers who accept the referendum result and will play important roles in the next administration. But I hope the following might provide some inspiration for the new Prime Minister as he assembles an administration committed to delivering Brexit.
First of all there are the many Brexiteers who have quit the Government specifically over the May administration’s handling of Brexit. Aside from Boris Johnson – who BrexitCentral readers know I hope will be the one making the appointments – from the Cabinet we also lost David Davis, Dominic Raab, Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom (as well as Priti Patel who quit for other reasons). From the Brexit Department itself, former ministers Steve Baker, Suella Braverman and Chris Heaton-Harris ought surely be due a recall to the ranks of the Government, while other Leave-backers to quit over Brexit itself were junior ministers George Eustice and Nigel Adams along with Whip Gareth Johnson.
Then there is a significant raft of parliamentary private secretaries (PPSs) who quit over government policy on Brexit. Ordinarily, these unpaid ministerial aides are the next likely candidates for promotion to the ranks of the government proper, but in each of the following ten cases their decision to resign has for the time being stalled their progress: Andrea Jenkyns, Conor Burns, Chris Green, Robert Courts, Scott Mann, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Ranil Jayawardena, Michael Tomlinson, Craig Tracey and Eddie Hughes.
Some more junior Brexiteer Tory MPs have opted to beaver away on select committees these last few years rather than find themselves obliged to toe the government line by taking a PPS job. Jacob Rees-Mogg is probably the most prominent example, but others who the new PM might want to consider fast-tracking to ministerial office include Marcus Fysh, Simon Clarke, Maria Caulfield, Henry Smith and ex-MEP Andrew Lewer.
But it’s not only those Brexiteers whose talents are yet to be recognised who the new Prime Minister should be looking at using: what about the wiser owls who have ministerial experience but who Theresa May either ignored or fired? Former Cabinet Ministers Theresa Villiers, Iain Duncan Smith, David Jones, Owen Paterson, John Whittingdale and Sir John Redwood all fall into this category, as do former junior ministers like Sir Mike Penning, Mark Francois and James Duddridge.
And finally, there is a clutch of long-serving Brexiteer MPs who have never served as ministers and instead directed their energy at other roles, for whom the assembly now of a new government might finally present the opportunity to serve as a minister. The 1922 Committee Chairman Sir Graham Brady considered a run for the Tory leadership but opted against doing so and ought to be in line for a government job, while I wonder whether senior select committee veterans like Sir Bernard Jenkin, Julian Lewis and Richard Bacon could be considered for a job?
Putting together a government is evidently a tricky business, managing egos and expectations, and likely disappointing a number of colleagues. Numerous factors need to be taken into consideration, not least regional balance and gender/ethnic diversity, but when many of us look at the new government to be appointed later this month, the one thing that we will consider first and foremost is: does this government collectively believe in Brexit and the opportunities it affords? The identity of those who the new Prime Minister appoints to his government will give us our answer and I hope to see many of those I have highlighted above being suitably employed.
The post We need a government that believes in Brexit: some advice on ministerial appointments for the new PM appeared first on BrexitCentral.
Throughout the negotiation of Mrs. May’s Withdrawal Agreement (WA), and her subsequent attempts to have Parliament approve it, the issue of the Irish border loomed large. In fact, it was the EU’s intransigence over the border issue that finally undermined the WA.
But it has now become totally clear that the EU’s position on the border was a falsity peddled in order to exercise maximum pressure on the UK while they negotiated the terms of the WA and then to maintain that pressure, via the backstop, while a free trade agreement was established.
The EU’s argument was essentially as follows:
Any Withdrawal Agreement must simultaneously assure the integrity of the Single Market and the adherence by the UK to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). It was claimed that the GFA requires that the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland be open at all times, thereby prohibiting border infrastructure/a “hard border”.
The argument continued that the only way to achieve this, without breaching the integrity of the Single Market, was to keep Northern Ireland within the Single Market (the backstop) until such time as adequate technology existed for customs controls to be implemented away from the border. The EU further insisted that, without its agreement, Northern Ireland would not be entitled to exit the backstop.
Had the UK signed up to the backstop, it would have been locked into the EU – possibly in perpetuity – without any say and obliged to adopt all EU laws as well as freedom of movement. As a result, it would have found itself without any negotiating position while the future trading arrangements with the EU were being established. It was the invidious potential effects of the backstop, amongst other things, that prompted many, including myself, to describe the WA as the equivalent of political and economic unconditional surrender by the UK.
But the EU’s position has now been busted.
First, the Good Friday Agreement does not require an open border. The only place in which the border features in that agreement is in the section on security. During the Troubles there were heavily fortified army barracks, police stations and watchtowers along the border. The GFA merely required the removal of these and the demilitarisation of the border. It refers to the normalisation of security arrangements. There is no suggestion that there should not be any arrangements for customs to be collected or passports checked.
Second, it is frankly impossible to close the 300-mile border. The notion is absurd.
Third, also from a practical perspective, the value of cross-border trade on the island of Ireland is about €2.6 billion per annum or less than 0.5% of total UK trade with the EU – it is tiddly in trading terms. Irrespective of the mechanisms put in place to collect tariffs, any customs leakage would not even amount to a rounding error in the accounts of either the UK or the EU.
And finally – and what has prompted me to write this article – is the declaration by the Irish Government yesterday that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, it would not implement a “hard border” and that customs checks would, as has been argued by the UK Government for years, take place away from the border. It has at last admitted that it can live without such a border.
This admission has revealed that the EU never actually needed the backstop. In that revelation it has proven itself to have always been in bad faith in its negotiations with the UK.
In commercial negotiations of lesser importance, such bad faith may have been tolerable, but this act of bad faith all but triggered a constitutional crisis in the UK. It is abhorrent that the EU held such a false position, given the enormity of the consequences. It proves that the institution is entirely untrustworthy. Armed with that knowledge, we must decline any further negotiations with it. We must simply leave the wretched institution at the very earliest opportunity.
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One of the pleasures of the Conservative leadership campaign has been the incentive to learn more about the candidates. In particular, I may not agree with much of the political philosophy of Rory Stewart, erstwhile contender and walking Darwin Award, but his books on Afghanistan and Iraq are a delight to read. They are not just earthy and grotty, but plant your sandalled feet in the dust rather than leave you up in a Nimrod looking down into his compound (as I once found myself – I expect he didn’t see us waving).
In his book The Prince of the Marshes, Stewart recounts an anecdote told to him by an Iraqi Marxist who had been in Cuba. When Fidel Castro was organising his Cabinet, he asked who knew anything about education. “I was a teacher, comrade,” said one guerrilla. “You are the Minister of Education.” And that appointment was settled. “Who is an economist?” Che Guevara raised his hand. “You, Che, are the Governor of the Central Bank.” Later, his colleagues asked Che why he had claimed to be an economist. “Economist? I though he had asked ‘Who is a communist?’” He was Governor of the Central Bank for eighteen months.
The tale is amusing and, today, salutary. In a matter of weeks we will know who has been elected to head the Conservative Party, and with it (barring constitutional speed bumps) become Prime Minister. There then immediately follows another critical moment where ministers are appointed who will reshape their departments, some of which are beginning to drift like the inflatable lilos of civil servants’ threatened summer holidays.
The decision on who fills these posts, and in particular those charged with navigating the core Brexit issues, will mark a pivotal point that will either invigorate or doom the Brexit process – and with it, the Conservative Party itself.
The Cabinet system has over recent decades tended to operate via one of perhaps four models. There has been the ‘sofa junta’ approach of Blair-Brown and Cameron-Osborne; the ‘Chairman’ approach of the old-style Cabinet from Margaret Thatcher’s first term and earlier; the more ‘Murdochian’ approach of later Thatcher years or of Gordon ‘Catch My Nokia’ Brown; and latterly Theresa May’s ‘Wrestlemania’ period, a minor foretaste of what Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure would be like if he applied Stalinist comitology techniques to the workings of the Privy Council.
Notwithstanding the example set by the combined slow-motion car crash and vehicle crusher of John Major’s premiership, reverting to a more traditional collegiate approach would likely best suit a Boris Johnson premiership. This would allow Cabinet members to get a grip on their departments, while giving them clear direction to hit set targets. However, this only works if the right people are picked to do the right job.
Remain Apologists pretend that Brexit has yet to be delivered because the task is inherently impossible. This is flippant defeatism worthy of pre-Thatcher Britain. One should rather focus on the deliverymen. Within Theresa May’s Downing Street, very few card-carrying Eurosceptics were listened to, let alone brought on board. Brexiteers trying to contribute were frozen out with a “We’re not doing it that way”. Policy work suggesting an approach based on a Free Trade Agreement and intergovernmental principles, rather than deep institutional affiliation and significant regulatory alignment, was considered out of bounds from the outset. The mission was treated as one of managing and minimalising change, rather than picking a strategic objective. The end result was the Withdrawal Agreement, a deal so profoundly flawed that the churn in Cabinet Ministers obliged to sell it reached rates reminiscent of Italy in the Seventies.
The Deal is dead. It is beyond repair. There is no hope of slapping on some hubcaps, swapping the exhaust, and pimping it up. Nor is there now time to begin the negotiations again from first principles, owing to the botched policy of deliberately running down the clock and then repeatedly pressing the snooze button.
If Brexit means Brexit, then change as sanctioned by the referendum must, by definition, involve change. Ministers should now start accepting that they are in the business of transformation and support rather than replication. To deliver, that means guaranteeing that, at each of the key trigger points between now and 31st October, their respective authorities, agencies and budget holders see their contingency plans green-lighted at the point where each, in turn, needs in advance to be set in play.
The Cabinet’s gone stale with the Withdrawal Agreement. Delivering Brexit needs freshness. It needs empowered departmental leadership. It needs ministers who have not become entangled in the small print of the Dead Deal they have been advocating, or intellectually compromised by it.
It needs actual Brexiteers.
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As we reach the concluding stage of the Conservative leadership election, with Tory members up and down the country starting to fill in their ballot papers, it is only appropriate that we at BrexitCentral should now formally take a view as to who should be the next Prime Minister – the Prime Minister to deliver on the historic referendum result of more than three years ago and get the UK out of the European Union.
First of all, we’d like to thank all the candidates who have engaged with BrexitCentral during the campaign. From the ranks of those eliminated earlier in the process, we were pleased to publish pieces from Matt Hancock, Mark Harper, Sajid Javid, Andrea Leadsom and Dominic Raab setting out their respective visions for delivering Brexit.
As far as Brexit is concerned, we feel the centre of gravity on the Tory benches has shifted during the course of this leadership election, with those actively opposed to No Deal under any circumstances now evidently reduced to a rump. Indeed, it is significant that both finalists – Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson – are committed to leaving without a deal if the EU refuses to come to a reasonable arrangement with the British Government.
Jeremy Hunt set out his big picture vision for Brexit for us here, and elaborated on this with a ten-point delivery plan last week. There is much to recommend in many of his proposals and, since there is no monopoly on good ideas, if he is unsuccessful, we trust that the victor will take the best aspects of his plan on board.
Hunt also deserves praise for being one of the first senior Remainers in the Government to declare that he had changed his mind on Brexit, as he did in an interview with Iain Dale on LBC in October 2017. He explained how the arrogant behaviour of the European Commission since the referendum had made him rethink his position, while also admitting that he was wrong to have believed the Project Fear predictions of short-term economic pain that we were told would result from a Leave vote.
It is both notable and regrettable that when asked whether she had changed her mind since the referendum, Theresa May repeatedly refused to answer the question, such as when she was probed by Jeremy Paxman on the matter during the 2017 general election campaign.
Boris Johnson, however, has been an unstinting and passionate advocate for leaving the European Union since a time when it was still an unfashionable, anti-Establishment view. As Mayor of London, he defied the call from Prime Minister David Cameron to row in behind the Remain campaign and became an energetic advocate for Vote Leave. (Indeed, it’s a pity that he did not take the helm of the ship of state when Cameron left office after the referendum, but let’s not rake over old coals).
And then, exactly one year ago today, Johnson again put his career on the line for the Brexit cause when he, along with David Davis and Steve Baker, resigned from the Government in protest at Theresa May’s unacceptable Chequers proposal.
In his pitch to BrexitCentral readers yesterday, Johnson explained that he feels “a deep sense of personal responsibility for Brexit” and that this is why he is best placed to see it through – an assessment with which we agree.
More than three years on from the referendum, Brexit must happen, and soon, or else there is a risk that what little remains of public confidence in the democratic process will evaporate entirely, with the traditional party system also obliterated as a by-product. Boris Johnson understands the urgency of the situation and his specific commitment to deliver Brexit by the hard deadline of 31st October makes it clear to us that he is the right candidate to replace Theresa May.
Moreover, we believe he would inject a much-needed dose of optimism and positivity into the Brexit narrative emanating from both Downing Street and Whitehall. Under Theresa May, far too many ministers and civil servants have not only been reluctant to embrace the opportunities presented by our departure from the EU but, in some cases, they have actively tried to scupper the delivery of Brexit and been allowed to undermine the UK’s negotiating position without any repercussions from Number Ten.
We anticipate that Boris Johnson would oversee a very different operation. It will be important for him to ensure that those around him in Downing Street, as well those appointed as ministers, are signed up to his vision and timetable for delivering on Brexit. Wider than that, he will need to be diligent in his choices for other impending appointments such as the next Ambassador to the United States and Mark Carney’s replacement as Governor of the Bank of England if the government is to present a cohesive vision for Brexit Britain.
There are of course many issues aside from Brexit that require urgent attention from whoever becomes Prime Minister, such as housing, adult social care and funding for those with special educational needs, to name but three. Many of the public are getting understandably and increasingly agitated that big issues like these are not getting the attention they deserve owing to the amount of bandwidth taken up in Whitehall by Brexit. This is why we judge the delivery of our departure from the EU by that forthcoming deadline of 31st October as promised by Boris Johnson to be all the more important.
Through twice winning the mayoralty of a Labour-inclined city as a Conservative and attracting support for Vote Leave from those of all creeds and classes across the nation during the referendum campaign, Boris Johnson has a proven record of getting the public behind him against the pundits’ predictions.
If ever modern Britain needed a Prime Minister who could bring people together for a cause, it is surely now and for the delivery of Brexit. Right now Brexit is unfinished business – and we believe Boris Johnson is the right man to finish the job.
The post Why we believe Boris Johnson is the right man to deliver Brexit appeared first on BrexitCentral.
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