Thursday, 9 August 2018

A letter to the PM - When All Trust is Lost

"Chequers will always be seen as a failure - but the way in which it was delivered is where the terminal damage has been done. As such, I cannot support your proposal as all trust has been lost."

All 'Civil Servant' and no 'DExEU'

The Letter

It's safe to say that the PM has over-promised and under-delivered when it comes to Brexit. It doesn't take yet another blog post on the matter to break down the detail as to why the Chequers proposal is such as disheartening episode in modern UK politics. Broken promises, loose interpretations and supine pandering to both the EU negotiators and everyone who lost in the 2016 referendum only scratches the surface. The public reaction has not been the resounding success that the spin machine at Number 10 would have wanted. Rather than a bold and decisive move forward to grease the rusted gears of the negotiation, it has been viewed as a cold execution of those with ambitions to get the UK anything but BRINO.

As the right-wing press rightly ridiculed May's efforts to deceive the public into thinking we were properly leaving, she hurriedly issued a letter through CCHQ to party members, hoping to drum up support for the farcical Chequers proposal. Having received my own copy of the letter today, I felt compelled to respond. Not to point out the technical inaccuracies and shortcomings of her assertions (others can do that much better) but to emphasise that for the electorate to compromise and follow her vision takes trust - a commodity which her recent machiavellian schemes have all but boiled away.

The Reply

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
c/o – Conservative Campaign Headquarters
4 Matthew Parker Street

9 August 2018

Dear Prime Minister,

RE: Your letter dated 3 August 18 – Chequers Proposal

I was grateful to receive your correspondence attempting to reassure members that the Chequers proposal was a good deal for the UK.

I’m sorry to say that I don’t agree with the upbeat assessment of what the proposal will deliver.

It is clear that a common rule-book for goods means the UK accepting EU regulation in a unidirectional manner. It is nice to know that the UK will reserve the ability to have the final decision whether to implement or not, but the implications of rejection are not clear. Needless to say, a parliament which is reluctant to properly implement the 2016 referendum result, backed by 17.4 million people, will not find it within themselves to resist piecemeal application of EU law or regulation in any capacity. To paraphrase - the will of the people to resist Brussels resides within the demos and not within Westminster.

This ‘common rule-book’ (read: large chunks of the EU Acquis) will apply across UK manufacturing regardless as to whether businesses intend to export to the EU or not. I suspect the alignment will not end there. A bizarre situation for a so called independent nation to be in which I can only imagine will generate a whole series of impediments to our global trade ambitions.

As for the Facilitated Customs Arrangement (FCA) which gets little mention in your letter - the proposal appears to be asking for a combined customs territory with the power to apply tariffs based on the ultimate destination, with the EU 27 having to adopt the same. This feels like a ham-fisted and demanding reaction to the NI border situation which the EU appear to be wielding, with some relish, like a weapon.

As an alternative, I think there would be wide-spread support for an FTA with a more pragmatic Max-fac solution to the NI border issue, even if that means an extension to existing the Customs Union whilst we implement. For whatever reason, this option appears to be being resisted.

Not being decisive at this point means that the political conflict that has enveloped the country for years now will continue ad nauseam. Brexiteers will never be able to say that a truly independent vision was ever properly tested. Remainers will be able to claim that danger was always around the corner and that we were never big enough to go it alone. It is a mistake because, in the eyes of the public, nothing has been settled and we’ve wasted an opportunity to end the argument with proper certainty.

My concerns now lie with the legal text we’ll agree within the Withdrawal Agreement later this year. Commitment to pay 39 billion pounds for anything less than a full trade agreement (such as a framework which defines little but a vague commitment) and legal inclusion of the NI backstop, risking dividing the UK or locking us into the Customs Union, would turn a bad story into a nightmare situation. One which would inevitably result in increased demands to validate whether it’s worth us leaving by virtue of another referendum.

All this is well and good and much of it academic, but the real issue with Chequers is the story that it tells the public about the inner workings of government - and by reference, what the government thinks about the people. Like the phrase or not, Dominic Cummings was right to crystallise the Vote Leave campaign around the slogan ‘Take Back Control’ - which I see the government have co-opted recently. The irony in this is that whereas Cummings was reinforcing the importance of people and their relationship to parliament, you as Prime Minister chose to reject the efforts of DExEU, headed up by the elected and accountable - in preference for the unelected mandarins of Whitehall. Clearly, one of the key messages that the Brexit vote delivered has not sunk in at number 10.

Furthermore, the way in which the Chequers proposal was foisted on DExEU at the last moment could suggest intent to deceive both Leave voting ministers in parliament and also those that voted Leave in the villages, towns and cities across the UK. We believed that we had taken back control - but once the ‘Potemkin’ facade of the DExEU was pulled down, we realised we had none.

To see Olly Robbins rather than David Davis sitting around the table at Le Fort de Bregancon is disheartening, but much as Robbins has become totemic with this sad story, ultimate responsibility lies at the door of 10 Downing Street. Chequers will always be seen as a failure - but the way in which it was delivered is where the terminal damage has been done. As such, I cannot support your proposal as all trust has been lost.

Your sincerely

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Aftermath part 3 - Screaming Child of Sovereignty

"The failure to make a dent with the economic argument has now forced Remain into coordinating other activities to engender a sense of chaos, with Remain politicians from all parties participating in the act to force the death of Brexit by a thousand cuts." 

Are Tory rebels colluding with Labour and the EU to undermine the government's negotiating position?

The joys of evidence

Human nature rarely follows an evidence based approach to issues. We don't consider a position in neutrality until the evidence leads us one way or another. Instead we take position based on our gut feel, shaped by our environment, the perceived expectation of peer groups and our own prejudices. To justify the integrity of that position, we will then find the arguments to suit.

Thus it is for Brexit. Rarely will you see anybody stand up in the Brexit debate and suggest that they've had to revise their stance because new evidence has come to light. Yet that is what the public are being asked to do by Tony Blair and his cabal of europhiles as they dangle the urgent need for another referendum before us. The irony is that the Tony Blairs of this world have failed to demonstrate the very behaviour that they demand of others.

As we remember, during the referendum campaign, project fear was force fed to the UK electorate, projecting near apocalyptic scenes in the event that we voted to leave. The viewpoint was reinforced from so many angles it was unparalleled in recent political history; certainly, in my lifetime I've never seen such a hysterical spectacle as everyone from the CBI to the President of the USA took turns in spelling out the potential disaster that fell before us. Yet although the pound tanked for a relatively short period of time, coming from a place where it was overvalued in the first place, largely the economy has done well - with the OBR having to upwardly revise growth projections significantly. Likewise, unemployment is at a record low rather than suffering George Osborne's predicted increase of eight hundred thousand job losses.

We simply don't have evidence of disaster, we have the exact opposite - grounds for some optimism. Yet the growing ultra-Remain position fails to look at this as 'new evidence'. Merely irritating noise that should be turned down and no-platformed.

Why? Because evidence is subjective material to be weaponised in propaganda as and when it suits the ideological agenda. You're expected to think again in light of 'new evidence' which has been curated by those with a vested interest in achieving their own personal political goals. They themselves won't countenance spending any of their time reconsidering evidence presented to them and how it effects their position. This kind of patronising 'all transmit and no receive' attitude should set alarms bells ringing. When it's one rule for them and and another for us, it suggests a dangerous sense of entitlement and one that ignores the democratic outcome of a referendum which hasn't gone their way.

Death by a thousand cuts

The failure to make a dent with the economic argument has now forced Remain into coordinating other activities to engender a new sense of chaos, with Remain politicians from all parties participating in the act to force the death of Brexit by a thousand cuts. This has culminated in an attempt to compel the UK into adopting a customs union with the EU, not for the good that it would do the country but rather we can surmise that it's an attempt to jam a stick in Theresa May's spokes.

Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke have tabled an amendment to the government's trade legislation proposing a UK / EU customs union. Labour have neatly changed their stance on the customs union to now accepting it, leaving Barry Gardiner with much red-faced explaining to do to the national press after he'd previously explicitly ruled the position out. The EU have drafted legal text which proposes a customs union with Northern Ireland, effectively forcing a border between mainland Britain, with the Good Friday Agreement being framed as collateral in this provocative game of brinkmanship. Amongst these well dramatised developments, a cacophony of think tanks, special interest groups and business organisations have also come out in well orchestrated chorus of concerned expert voices, demanding the satisfaction of a customs union to cure all ills and woes. The sock-puppet CBI, comfortably nestled with the EU's hand inserted in its posterior, is even taking out adverts on social media with a polemic view of the holy sanctity that a customs union would offer.

Never mind that 'the' customs union was intrinsic to the treaties of the EU, hence must be dispensed with as we leave. It's expected that before we've left, this element must be readopted, therefore immediately undoing the element of Leave which allowed the UK sovereignty over our trading matters. An EEA position or bilateral arrangements for Single Market access are contentious for some, but give arguably more benefit to the UK than throwing away the UK's ability to chart its own course on matters of trade. So why choose the customs union as the battleground on which to make the last stand?

Understanding that it's not the benefits of a customs union that they crave but the retention of a link which would act as a launch-board back into the EU, perhaps to coincide with the birth of associate membership, the customs union was likely seen to be the least contentious path. The Good Friday Agreement has been a useful tool with which to drive sympathy in this matter, with the prospect of a "hard border" seemingly threatening the progress it's brought about. Arguments about supply chains and UK jobs are also easy messages to convey to 'simple people'. All that comes without once having to have an adult conversation about immigration and whether we could constrain freedom of movement in the Single Market.

So is it fair to imply collusion of EU, Labour and Tory rebels? It would seem so. Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve met with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier at the end of January, accompanied by Labour's Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie and Stephen Doughty. Towards the end of February we had the Soubry amendment - and then within a couple of days (25th Feb 2018), Labour aped that sentiment with Corbyn vowing to be in 'a' customs union. A few days after that, the EU released their legal text maintaining NIs customs union status. All this accompanied by a backdrop of 'statesman-like' speeches from former Prime Ministers explaining to the electorate why they must think again.

[ - nb - It may be beneath John Major to comment on Boris Johnson's parallel between congestions zones and the Irish border, likewise I won't delve into the hypocrisy of calling for a free vote over Brexit after his own record with Maastricht -].

The other objective

A slow ride back to the arms of the EU would be considered a success for this cabal, but an opportunity is there to short circuit the whole process of reentry entirely, as all interested parties will be aware.

Remainers will muse, if the sense of chaos can be amplified in some way that undermines public confidence in our ability to steer a path through this, then perhaps parliament can demand that people be asked again whether they really want to leave. They could attempt this by defeating the PM over the customs union vote in parliament or by her being forced into declaring a unilateral hard Brexit due to lack of cooperation from the EU. I suspect that a hysterical response from many concerned parties is already in the can waiting to be sprung if that day materialises.

The whole exercise is a series of provocations devised to cause a reaction that can be spun into a disaster scenario requiring us 'think again' before the result of the first democratic exercise is enacted.


Yet it may well turn out to be true that Theresa May really is a bloody difficult woman. The reality is that she has already been provoked like this many times now over the last twelve months and instinctually she has never given the opposition any material to work with on this matter. No drama - no tears - no sudden panic or knee jerk reaction.

Perhaps she knows her craft better than people give her credit for. By refusing to pour petrol on the fire, she gives the opposition nothing to point and shriek at, carefully working towards a deal which will be acceptable to both sides, cooling the glowing embers of discontent. She's become accustomed to the vitriol of the press baying for more detail about the talks, throwing them a bone when it suits rather than feeling the need to constantly feed them with detail. And yes, as Michel Barnier repeatedly threatens, the clock is ticking. And the closer we get to that deadline the more that people will demand a satisfactory conclusion, not just in the UK where Theresa May is accustomed to the pressure, but also across the EU where Michel Barnier will suddenly find himself on the wrong end of a thousand megaphones demanding satisfactory solutions.

We may not agree with the specifics of our exit from the EU and it would be foolhardy to expect that in a party where Theresa May has to balance Ken Clarke with Jacob Rees-Mogg that we'll get everything we want from Brexit, but ultimately she's committed to honouring democracy. This is a notion that the Tony Blairs and John Majors of this world won't ever accept because they value their own selfish technocratic vision of the future over that legitimately won by a demos they so obviously despise. That is why they fail to understand the chaos of Brexit. They can only see it as a tool with which they can achieve their own ends, not the screaming child of sovereignty being reborn that it truly is.