The Bruges Group meeting 28 March 2018 – Too many loose ends remain untied

 Robert Henderson 
 
There was a healthy attendance for the first meeting of 2018
The speakers were John  Redwood and the economist and journalist   Liam Halligan.  They were both good value judged purely as speakers but I ‘m afraid Redwood did what I  have seen him do so often, namely, play the role of the big bad Brexiteer then collapse when it comes to the difficult questions. 
 
During his speech Redwood went on about how the UK would gain control of this and control of that  in the abstract, but there was little solid detail. In particular he appeared to have a blind faith in technology  (and God knows, we  have had enough public sector IT disasters to cure such blind faith)   to handle the border problems,   including that of the Northen Ireland /Republic of Ireland  border in Ireland.   This led him to advocate what was essentially an open borders immigration policy. 
 
Redwood  started from a position that the UK should restrict low wage, low skilled labour while encouraging the high skilled. He then tried to fit this into a regulatory system enforced by work permits. Anyone, Redwood  said, could physically come into  country but if they did not have a work permit they would not be able to work. This is living in cloud cuckoo  land because (1) many of the low skilled already work off-the-books and  cash in hand and (2) many more would be willing to do so under such a regime.  It is also improbable that EU members state citizens coming after Brexit would be denied all benefits, either because they have dependents or more probably simply because a liberal internationalist dominated  political class and media would prevent them deporting EU citizens in large numbers. 
 
But the really telling point was not in  Redwood’s  speech but during questions. 
 
I wanted to put two questions:
 
1. What if  Theresa May agreed to a treaty which either thwarted  Brexit  by surreptitiously stitching the UK back into the EU , eg, through membership  of EFTA,  or simply gave the EU too much and the UK too little, for example, agreeing to a long and potentially endless “transition” arrangement. Suppose  May  threatened to get or got the treaty  through Parliament with the help of remainers from all parties, what would you [Redwood] do then?   
 
2. What would be the legal position  if the treaty May agreed was rejected by Parliament?  Would that mean the UK left without a deal or would it mean that the UK remained in the EU? 
 
I was unable to ask either question but someone else asked Redwood  question 1. Redwood replied that he thought it best not address that question at this time. This brought murmurings of dissent from the audience which  prompted  Redwood to make the incredible claim that Brexit was  in safe hands with Theresa May and she could be trusted with the rest of the negotiations. Outright derision resulted as the audience variously reminded Redwood that May had a capitulated on every single policy to date – the money to be paid to the EU, the right of EU citizens to come to the UK and acquire a permanent right to stay during the transition period, fishing rights during the transmission period etc. Redwood just repeated what he had said. 
 
I  think it reasonable to conclude that if shove comes to push  over a betrayal of Brexit   Redwood cannot be relied on to end up on the Brexit side of the  ledger.
 
Question 2 – “What would be the legal position  if the treaty May agreed was rejected by Parliament?  Would that mean the UK left without a deal or would it mean that the UK remained in the EU?  ” remained unasked.  
 
Many leavers are assuming that if the treaty May negotiates is not accepted by Parliament then the UK will leave without a deal and trade  under WTO rules. But this may not be so. It could be argued, as remainers doubtless will argue, that Parliament has been given a vote on the treaty and that their rejection of the draft treaty automatically means the UK remains in the EU. The EU might well support the contention because it would suit their purposes. 
 
Liam Halligan was forthright in rebutting all the nonsense found in the mouths of remainers and painted a positive economic future for the UK outside of  the EU. However, he seemed much too sanguine when it came to his belief that the UK would leave without a deal. Much more more probable than that is May agreeing to a bad deal either out of panic  as the dealine for leaving approaches or because it secretly suits her remainer beliefs. 
 
The other questions asked by the audience concentrated heavily on the plans for  UK fisheries, the EU bias of UK civil servants  and the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) organisation  which is a nascent EU defence force. 
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Don’t listen to the ” keep Theresa May at all costs ” Brexit siren voices 

Robert Henderson 
 
There are plenty of voices saying stick with Theresa May because that is the best hope of achieving Brexit. This goes against all the evidence about her  intentions that we already have from her behaviour over the past eighteen months. 
 
 The danger with  May carrying on as PM is that  she will, either from panic (from time pressure and a terror of not getting any deal) or from a Machiavellian  desire to  surreptitiously sabotage Brexit,   lead us into a deal which is called Brexit but which in reality leaves us inside the coils of the  EU.  
 She has not stood firm on any issue. Her MO  is simple, make Brexiteer speeches for home consumption then cave in to EU demands when she goes to Brussels. To date she has committed the UK to paying £40 billion; agreed to a lengthy transition period; agreed that those within not merely the EU but the European Economic Area  who come before the end of the transition period  will have  the same rights as those who settled in the UK prior to March 2018;  conceded that UK control over UK fisheries will  not be established  until Brexit is complete (with plenty of hints that EU boats will still be able fish in British waters; given an unequivocal promise that there will be no hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and left the UK for at least another three years at the mercy of the European Court of Justice with an obligation to incorporate any new EU directives until Brexit is complete. 
 

I realise the dangers of unseating May,  but if she is  going to keep on throwing away Brexit item by item the idea that we should hold tight to nurse for fear of something worse  nurse  does not hold water.  Nor is it inevitable that Labour or a coalition of Labour and other parties would engineer a vote of no confidence if she left office.  Labour is  riven with  scandal  and ideology at present and it is telling that Labour have  not been able to build a healthy lead in the polls. Corbyn may be popular amongst certain sections of the public but he is mistrusted by many voters.      

 
There is no reason to believe  May will  not continue with the behaviour she has shown ever since the Brexit vote, namely, acting  in a way to sabotage it, from the initial delay in triggering Article 50 to the most recent concessions on  new EU migrants to the UK and fishing rights.  The details of the proposed transition deal will  give another  firm steer as to where she intends the UK to be going.  Even if it is only 2 years there could be a great deal of damage done  (especially in the area of immigration) . 
 
The other thing to bear in mind is that the latest  the next general election can be held is June 2021. Assuming that this Parliament runs its full course that could mean the election is  held only just after the 2 year transition period  ends or just before it has ended if the election is held earlier. It is also quite possible that the two year transition period might be extended or not start in March 2019  .  If Labour or a coalition of Labour and other parties wins that election it would be administratively easy even  at that stage to keep the UK in the EU because we would not have effectively left. 
 
If we are signed up to remaining in the EU by another name it is no good imagining that we can at a later date get a true Brexit because it is certain that after the next General Election there still  be  a remainer dominated Commons and a remainer dominated Lords plus all the dark state remainers in public service   and the mass media.

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Theresa  May and the attempted murder of Brexit

Robert Henderson

A  transition period lasting at least two years after March 2019 when the UK will have to abide by EU laws including new ones; a massive “divorce  bill” currently slated to be around £39 billion  and probably much more ; the European Court of Justice  (ECJ)  to  have a role in the UK justice system not only during the transition period but perhaps  for years after the UK has supposedly left the EU; the  cut off point for EU citizens gaining  rights of residence to be at least  March 2019 (and probably substantially  longer) ;  EU citizens with rights of residence in the   UK to  have  the right to bring in their relatives, spouses and even their   partners  to the UK   and  the UK and the EU to be in  alignment on standards and procedures  when it comes to trade  because of the “hard border”  problem between  the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.  All that and more tells the  story  of Theresa May’s rapid betrayal  of Brexit.

What has motivated the woman to dishonour the  Brexit vote  so obviously and emphatically?  It  can only  be attributed to one of two things  or a combination of both, viz:

  1. May is simply out of her depth and acted out of fear.
  2. May is an unrepentant remainer at heart who  is quite happy to see circumstances arise which allow Brexit to be effectively nullified.

It is unreasonable to expect May to be wholeheartedly working to achieve a true Brexit  because someone  fundamentally  opposed to a course of action will be unable to support  it  with  enthusiasm.  Indeed, it is more than  likely  that a person in such a situation will be secretly  pleased if the attempted course of action fails. At worst  the person will use their involvement in  the course of action to sabotage its  desired end.

It is also worth remembering that May  is the worst type of remainer, namely, a  cowardly one as  she showed with her near invisibility  during the referendum  campaign. That was the behaviour of an opportunist not  a person acting out of principle and opportunists can never be relied on to  do anything other than follow their own interest. May   well have decided that her own interest in this situation  is to actively  sabotage Brexit or at least to drag things out in the hope that, Micawber-like,  something will turn up to destroy Brexit. .

May’s  capitulation to the EU   should surprise no one who has followed her  ministerial career.  As Home Secretary May was constantly making encouraging statements   about reducing immigration but never doing anything to make reality match her words.  This habit of talking tough and then not seeing  a  stated policy through to  fruition extended to much of what she did. This is also how she has behaved  over Brexit, espousing tough slogans such as Brexit means Brexit and then collapsing in a heap  when faced with a hostile  EU.

Here is what May  said in her campaign to be Tory leader and PM:

“There will be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it by the back door, and no second referendum.

“The country voted to leave the European Union, and as prime minister I will make sure that we leave the European Union.”

And here she is on 11 December 2017 about her “offer” (in reality a modern Danegeld) of £39 billion to allow the negotiation of the UK’s  relationship with the EU post Brexit  to  begin:

““It [the£39 bn) depends upon a broader agreement being reached – as I have said, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed – so if there is no agreement then our offer also falls away.”

Based on her past behaviour can  anyone rationally  believe May  will  be willing to walk away with no deal?  Moreover, even if a hallway decent  deal is done on trade the  UK would still be left with all the concessions May has already made and some of those in themselves make a true Brexit impossible, for example, the alignment of the whole of  the UK with EU trading standards and procedures .

Remainer domination of the positions of power and influence

It is true that May is in a stickier position now than a year she was a year ago  because of the result of the General Election which  she called that  resulted in the loss of her Commons  majority.  But that is no excuse for her weakness when dealing with the EU for the  Election  did not fundamentally alter the Commons arithmetic . It is marginally easier now for the remainers to amend or  vote down legislation or pass motions  hindering Brexit but that is all.  Even if May had not called an election her Government would still have been  vulnerable to  remainer  attempts to destroy Brexit for  we have a Remainer dominated cabinet, a Remainer dominated Tory  Parliamentary Party, a Remainer dominated House of Commons and a Remainer  dominated House of Lords.

Nor is it just the those with a formal political position who have been grinding the remainer axe incessantly.  Tony Blair has made no bones about wanting to stop Brexit at any cost and Nick Clegg has come down in favour of a second referendum  and  advocated the votes of  the under 30s count double.

Outside of ex-politicians there have also been attempts to delay and complicate Brexit  by wealthy people such as Gina Miller who  forced a judicial review  which resulted in the Supreme Court forcing the Government to legislate before activating Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

It is true that remainer political and social dominance  gives them great opportunity to delay and chip away at the idea of a  true Brexit with practices  such as amending Brexit Bills to death. But that does not mean May has to cave in to the EU.  Rather  it should  be a signal to her to press ahead as hard and as fast as possible to thwart  remainer efforts to delay the leaving date and to obfuscate the nature of the referendum result by making bogus claims that the British had not voted for a hard Brexit (this is the remainers  post-referendum BIG LIE) when in fact  what the British  voted for was to leave the EU, no ifs, no buts.

Instead of acting decisively May  failed to activate Article 50 until March 2017. Had she done this immediately she became Prime Minister the UK’s  leaving date even under would have been July 2018. But not only was Article 50 triggered much too late it has become embarrassingly  apparent  since the  negotiation with the EU began  that there had been a complete  failure by the Government  to prepare for Brexit  either before or since the  referendum. That  is unforgiveable as both as a matter of administrative incompetence and indicative  of the remainer  belief that the referendum would result in a vote to remain in the EU and, when that did not happen,  that it would be possible to subvert the Brexit vote somehow, whether through a second referendum or by simply making a such a mess of the negotiation that the UK would  be left as a de facto member of the EU.

The dismal reality of the negotiation to date

The fact that Brexit exists because a referendum instructed  the Government to leave the EU means that the  UK side of the negotiation  should have the most crimson and indelible  of red lines. The Government and Parliament contracted out the decision on whether the UK  should remain in the EU by having a referendum. Consequently, the idea that this was just like a business negotiation where both sides hide their bottom line until the last moment  is simple nonsense.

The question on the referendum ballot paper was crystal clear, namely, Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?  This meant no membership of the customs union, no membership of the single market, no payments to the EU, no jurisdiction  of the ECJ over UK affairs,  recovery of UK sovereignty over her borders and fishing grounds  and the reestablishment  of  full sovereignty to  the  Westminster Parliament.  Those should all be absolute lines in the sand as mandated by the British people in the referendum.

May has completely ignored this mandate. To date the negotiation has consisted  of  the EU saying they want this and they must have that and   May caving in.  She has not  been willing or able to  make any meaningful stand against what the EU have demanded. She has also allowed herself to be   insulted   by both the EUI bureaucracy and EU politicians  In allowing herself to be insulted she has allowed  the UK to be insulted.

May’s  first mistake was to accept the EU’s demand that they set the agenda for the negotiations with  the UK.  This meant  agreeing   to pay a huge  amount of money to the EU,  a settlement of the Irish question  and the position of EU nationals in the UK and British nationals in other EU countries before moving on to trade.  This insistence by the EU contradicted their own  guidelines  for Article 50 negotiations. These   state : “2. Negotiations under Article 50 TEU will be conducted in transparency and as a single package. In accordance with the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, individual items cannot be settled separately. “  May should have called them out on this but failed to do so. The fact that she  did not do so means that the UK is already committed to much which is  to the UK’s  disadvantage.

May began the  detailed process  of capitulation in September  2017 when she offered £20 billion  as a “divorce settlement”  if a satisfactory  agreement  between the UK  and the  EU could be made.  She also made it clear that  the UK would meet all its obligations which would  include the UK’s share of   all spending commitments the EU had made up to 2020 and the funding of EU pensions to politicians and bureaucrats which could go on for many  decades.  By December 2017  the UK appears to have accepted that the Bill could be £39 billion with again probably more to come for EU spending stretching into the future and other longer term commitments such as EU pensions.

The striking thing about all these promises is that no detailed computation has been made public to show why the UK owes such sums or is obligated either legally or morally to make such financial provision .   This is unsurprising because there is a strong argument to say that there is no legal basis for any “divorce” settlement. The House of Lords  European Union committee reported  in  March 2017 that “We conclude that if agreement is not reached, all EU law — including provisions concerning ongoing financial contributions . . . will cease to apply and the UK would be subject to no enforceable obligation to make any financial contribution at all.”

The remainers are very fond on analogies in their” explanations” as to why the UK has to cough up huge amounts of money to the EU both before and after we supposedly leave.  Their favourite analogies involve members of clubs and their taking on obligations which they have to honour if they leave the club.

Here is  an example of what happens in the real world when a club member ends his or her membership. Suppose  a club has a membership fee of £500 a year. Its  executive board  decides to raise the fee to £750 pa to pay for a  new and bigger clubhouse. This is put to the members  who vote to go ahead with the plan.  Members who do not wish to pay a higher membership fee leave the club. No one expects them to keep on paying towards the  new  clubhouse. Nor, if the club has paid employees with a pension scheme run by the club would members who left be expected to pay  towards these  pensions. That is essentially   the position of the UK in relation to the EU.  We owe them nothing.

The negotiation – the strong cards in the UK’s hands which have not been played

If  May was sincerely behind Brexit  and possessed of a modicum or courage and nous she would have realised that  she had a very strong  hand to play because she was holding  these bargaining  cards:

1) The shortfall in the funding for the EU caused by  the UK’s withdrawal.

Instead of simply throwing this card away by adopting the favourite internationalist ploy of “setting an example”  by offering  £20 billion  (a ploy guaranteed to make the opposing side pocket the offer without giving anything in return  and then   ask  for more ),   May should have  not made any offer and instead have insisted that the EU provide a detailed computation of the net amount they were claiming the UK owed and most importantly  give  the legal basis for their claim.

2) There many more EU migrants living in the UK than British citizens living in other  EU countries.

Estimates vary but UK citizens living in other EU states may be as low as 900,00 and as high as 1.2 million.   The number of EU migrants in the UK could be as high as 3.7 million. Migration Watch UK puts the figure at 3.3 million.   The question of  how many have  the  right to permanent residence is complex  because of interplay of EU law with British law but it is a reasonable bet that the large  majority will qualify for permanent  residence status under current rules. Moreover, based on the UK’s  performance when it comes to deporting illegal immigrants it is stretching credulity to believe any UK government would be willing or able to deport huge numbers of EU state citizens.

The fact that there are three times the number of EU citizens in the UK  than there are  Britons  in the EU means that the UK has to bear a  vastly heavier  burden than any other  EU  country both in terms of  direct state funding for the support of foreign EU nationals – education, healthcare, in and out of   work benefits  and so on –  and the indirect costs such as depressed wages for many  native Britons and much higher housing costs.   This is not simply because there are three times as many EU nationals in the UK as there are Britons in the EU. The UK has to bear the entire burden of the EU nationals in the UK while the remaining EU states have only to take a fraction of the one million Britons living in  other EU states.

Then there is the question of children. The children of EU migrants with the right to residence in the UK will  themselves have the right to residence in the UK. Consequently, the gross difference between the numbers of EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU means that  EU nationals resident in the UK  are likely to produce many  more children than UK citizens in EU states. This effect will be amplified by  the differences in  the age profiles of EU migrants living in the UK and British citizens living in other EU countries. The age  profile of EU migrants in the UK is younger than that of UK citizens living in other EU states.   Consequently, they are likely to have more children pro rata than UK citizens living in EU countries.   As things stand these children will have the right to British residency regardless of where  they are born.

In a sane world the date at which EU immigrants should  no longer be able to claim residency in the UK should be the day after the referendum, namely, 23 June 2016.  Sadly, sanity is the last thing to expect of  the EU so the ongoing stream of immigrants from the EU into the UK  since the referendum  will have rights of residence. That immigrationhas continued to rack up some impressive  numbers. Even if the UK leaves in March 2019 that will mean thirty three months have passed since the referendum in June 2016. At  the level of EU immigration since the referendum  the net figure for new EU immigrants arriving in the UK   before March 2019 will be around 300,00. Moreover, if there is a transitional period when the UK remains a full member of the EU it could be much higher for there is no set period for the transition as yet and it is quite conceivable that any transitional period will be extended and extended. It is also a reasonable assumption that if it looks as though Brexit is to  be  emasculated or overthrown completely the volume of EU migrants will rise.   As for the  future  status of EU migrants in the UK, the EU are seeking  what seems to  be open ended ECJ  involvement in  decisions on how EU migrants in the UK will be treated.

Even if  UK citizens in the EU   are granted reciprocal rights those will only extend to providing the same standard and range of state support  which is granted to nationals in the country of residence of any British citizen who resides in the EU. This will be much less extensive and generous than that  which  would  have to be  provided by the UK to EU nationals in the UK.

It is also  unclear that Britons in other EU countries will be able to reside in any EU state after Brexit  or only in the EU state in which they have resided while the UK has been part of the EU. The joint agreement between the UK and the EU   states: “Union citizens who in accordance with Union law legally reside in the UK, and UK nationals who in accordance with Union law legally reside in an EU27 Member State by the specified date, as well as their family members as defined by Directive 2004/38/EC who are legally resident in the host State by the specified date, fall within the scope of the Withdrawal Agreement.”

That could be interpreted as meaning that Britons  who reside un an EU country will only have the right to reside in that EU country after Brexit.

Putting all these facts in the balance it is clearly not in the UK’s interest  to simply agree a reciprocal deal with  the EU over  British citizens in other EU countries  and EU migrants in the UK.  There needs to be a proper costing of the respective costs of migrants  to on the one hand the UK and on the other the EU. The cost of the EU migrants  in the UK would be vastly greater than the cost of British citizens  to other EU countries.  Far from accepting that the UK owes the EU anything May’s Government should push for payments from the EU to defray the  much greater costs of supporting more than three times the number of EU citizens in the UK compared with British citizens living in EU countries.

3) The UK/EU  balance of trade being much  in favour of the rest of the EU.  In  2016  other EU member states exported £82  billion more to the UK than the UK exported to the rest of the UK.  Perhaps even more significant the deficit in exports of goods was  larger being £96 billion  for it is jobs attached to the supply of goods rather than the provision of services which often get the most media and political attention because these are the  businesses which have large numbers of employees in one place, for example, car manufacturers.

4)  Ireland.  The position of the Republic of Ireland (ROI) could have been the  trump card in the negotiations.  The ROI  should have been told either you leave the EU when the UK leaves or there will be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the  Republic which would include an end  to the Common Travel area between   the Republic and the UK.

If  tariffs  were imposed by the EU  and reciprocal ones imposed by the UK this would cripple the Republic whose economy is very heavily dependent  on trade with the UK.

Northern Ireland  could be compensated for any loss of trade by the UK taxpayer  until their economy has rebalanced.  This rebalancing could happen by, for example, exporting much more of their farm produce to the British mainland.

5) The nervousness of the EU. There are very public  signs that the rest of the EU are distinctly nervous about the UK leaving without a deal. Once May had capitulated over  the shape of the negotiation she was shown on friendly terms with the EU negotiators and was reported to have been applauded at a dinner with other EU leaders.  This is best interpreted as  the EU political and bureaucratic elites considering  May to  be their creature whom they were determined to keep in office for fear that if her government falls  the chances of the UK walking away from a deal would increase  or a new government prove to  be less pliant to the EU will than that of May.

The future

If the negotiations continue as they have to date with May conceding ground time and time again the UK will probably be in a  Hotel California situation of booking out but never being  able to leave. Politics is a fluid business and  the longer the Brexit process continues the greater the opportunities for remainers to sabotage it.  Labour might win the next election with a promise to hold a second referendum to keep the UK in the EU or even stand on a platform which promises the cancellation of Brexit.   There may be some threat unrelated to  Brexit  such as another recession which might  frighten enough of the electorate into backing such a  Labour promise and,  in the case of a second referendum,   voting to remain.

It might be thought that the Labour  Party is in such  ideological disarray  on Brexit  – with  present or previous Shadow Cabinet members embracing everything from a true Brexit to cancelling Brexit –  that  electors would not take them seriously . But   Labour are not the Government and it is a truism that governments are more often evicted because of what they are doing or not doing than because an opposing Party has more attractive policies or more impressive personnel.

What should the UK do?  The only sane thing to do is to acknowledge what is obvious, namely, that the  leading politicians and bureaucrats of  EU have absolutely  no intention of behaving reasonably and  Theresa May  is either incapable of  withstanding  the EU’s  unreasonable demands or  is secretly colluding with the EU to sabotage Brexit. Having done that the way out is obvious, simply announce that the UK is walking away. Can the UK do  that legally under international law? Indeed they can  for no treaty is unbreakable if  one or more of the signatories to a treaty is seen to be  failing to meet  their obligations under the  treaty.  These obligations include acting in good faith  when  Article 50 is invoked.  No such good faith on the EU side has been forthcoming. Instead the EU representatives have not only made unreasonable demands such as those over the jurisdiction of  the ECJ in UK affairs after Brexit and claims for huge amounts of money  (some as much as 100 billion Euros ), they have also  regularly been humiliating May until  they thought they had disciplined her to their way of thinking and then made a public show of applauding her after that was accomplished.

Remainers   rail against their description as  traitors and Quislings.  Those remainers who have sincerely accepted the result  and have ceased to attempt  to prevent  Brexit certainly do not  deserve such names, but what else can those remainers who will never accept Brexit and do everything they can to overturn the referendum result by stealth or frontal assault  be reasonably called?  They  do everything they can to thwart Brexit by a mixture of interminable delay, calls for second referendums and  wilfully perverse  interpretations of the word leave such as claims that the UK could remain in the Single Market and the Customs Union  and still achieve Brexit.  That is a clear denial of democracy and what greater treason in a democracy is there than overthrowing  a  democratic vote?  And when the overthrowing is done with the purpose of ensuring  their country remains in the political grip of a supranational power, is that not  the act of a  Quisling?

There is a question  remainers should ponder long and hard. It is this, if they manage to sabotage Brexit either by  emasculating the process so that it is Brexit only in name or by simply reversing the result of the referendum,  perhaps by  standing on a general election platform  that one or more parties  would    annul  the Article 50  activation or by calling another referendum when the electorate are exhausted by the process of leaving (the favourite EU ploy to overthrow referenda which have the “wrong” result)  where does that leave the democracy?   If the results of  referenda, the purest form of democracy, are to be ignored or manipulated  out of all recognition,  what peaceful method of resolving political disputes is there where the politicians of any party with a reasonable chance of forming a government are largely of  one opinion and a majority of the electorate are of another?

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The logic of Brexit

Robert Henderson

Remainer  determination to subvert Brexit  is shamelessly alive and kicking. Since the referendum on 23rd June 2016 those who voted to remain in the EU have given a ceaseless display of antidemocratic and profoundly dishonest  behaviour in their attempt to overturn  overtly or covertly the result of the referendum.

The favourite tune of the Remainers is  “I respect the result of the referendum  but …”, the’ but’ being  variously that the “British did not vote to be poor”, the electors were suffering from  false consciousness , and the most absurd of all, that electors  made their decision to vote leave solely on  the leave side’s promise that £350 million a  week would be available to spend on the NHS. (This was a clumsy piece of leave information because the £350 million was what the UK as a whole paid as a net figure (after the rebate) to the EU each year and included money such as the subsidies to UK farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy.  Nonetheless, it was factually true in the sense that once  the money was not paid to the EU the British Government would be free to use it, with Parliament’s approval, in any way they saw fit.  What was a an outright and unambiguous lie  was the Remainer claim that the UK receives money from the EU each year.)

To give  substance to the Remainers wishes to stay in the EU  there has been calls for  a second  referendum once a deal with the EU is made (this is official LibDem policy); suggestions that if no deal is made after two years  the UK should remain in the EU (a surefire way to ensure that the EU will come to no agreement with the UK);   proposals to keep the UK in the Single Market and Customs Union (which would effectively mean no Brexit) either by direct treaty with the EU (SNP Leader’s policy) or through  the UK joining EFTA, and calls for Brexit to be simply  overturned, most notably by Tony Blair. Perhaps most dangerously  all the major UK parties now  have as their official policy a transitional period, including The Tories after Theresa May’s Florence speech.   This has real dangers  for Brexit because apart from committing the UK to at least another two years of paying into the EU, accepting free movement, being  bound by  new  EU  laws and being subject to the European Court of Justice,  thetransitional period could  turn into a permanent condition or at least be extended   so far into the future that a Remainer government might use to effectively  bind the UK  permanently into the EU.

To the domestic attempts to sabotage Brexit can be added the internationalist institutions which have  continued to fuel project fear with dire economic warnings, the most recent case being the  Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development  (OECD)  which urges a reversal of Brexit with a second referendum to improve the UK economy. .

More formally, there has been the legal case brought  by Gina Miller which  forced the Government to consult Parliament on the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. There  has also been the  failed attempt  by  Peter Wilding and Adrian Yalland  requesting the High  Court  to  in effect direct the Government to hold a Parliamentary debate and vote on leaving  European Economic Area on the grounds that that the issue  not  on the referendum ballot paper.  A third court case which sought to reverse the triggering of Article 50 was  started in the Republic of Ireland  with a view to getting a favourable judgement which would then provide a  basis for further action in European courts was started but stopped.  Doubtless there will be further legal attempts to interfere with what is a quintessentially political matter before Brexit is completed.

The   most serious current attempt  by Remainers to  delay and  sabotage Brexit  is to  try to amend the  EU Withdrawal Bill so that Parliament have the final say on whatever is the final outcome of the Brexit process.   There is also probably  something of the McCawberish principle of waiting for something to “turn up” in this attempt.

The remainers  attempt to  justify this behaviour on the spurious ground that the referendum  result was about returning sovereignty to Parliament. This is to ignore the logic of the referendum for the form of the referendum placed the will of the people over the will of Parliament and, indeed , of government.

Why Brexit is not like a business negotiation

A main plank of  Remainer cant is that the Brexit negotiation is just like any old  business  negotiation where the two sides come to the table hiding what their bottom lines are before agreeing to a compromise. But the  Brexit negotiation is very different because  the British people were offered a chance to vote to take us out of the EU by voting in a referendum.

That referendum was simple and   unequivocal : there were no caveats required   to make it valid such as requiring  a minimum percentage of the electorate voting about Brexit or a minimum percentage of those voting to vote to leave. It was a straightforward one-vote-is enough yes or no ballot.  The  question on the ballot  paper was  beautifully  straightforward : “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

Consequently,  the  leave result was an unambiguous instruction to  the Government and  Parliament to take  the UK out of the EU, no ifs,  no buts. The  vote  did not mean  deciding during the course of  the post-Brexit negotiation with the EU how many  of the EU  shackles which  currently   emasculate the UK as a nation state  should be removed and how many retained .  In short it   was simply  a question of leave meaning  leave,  just  as leave means leave when someone cancels their membership  of a club.

That being so the Government  is bound to have red lines and  cannot  go into the negotiations with a free hand  to barter away things as they might do in a business negotiation. The Government has no authority to pursue anything other than a true Brexit,   which means  out of the customs union, out of the single market,  away from the jurisdiction of the court of the European Court of Justice, control of our borders ,  free to make our own trade deals   and  paying no money to the EU.  Anything less than this would be a  betrayal of the referendum result .

The referendum was binding on the Government and Parliament

Remainers have also  tried to pretend that the referendum was merely advisory. Amongst the  many  falsehoods and deceits attempted by Remainers this is arguably  the most shameless because the position is clear cut.

The fact that the referendum was intended to be binding on both Government and Parliament  rather than merely advisory  was repeatedly  made unambiguously clear from well  before the referendum .   The Conservative General Election Manifesto of 2015  Page 72 said this about the referendum: “We believe in letting the people decide: so we will hold an in-out referendum on our membership of the EU before the end of 2017.”

In opening the second reading debate on the European  Union Referendum Bill on 9 June 2015, the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said “This is a simple, but vital, piece of legislation. It has one clear purpose: to deliver on our promise to give the British people the final say on our EU membership in an in/out referendum by the end of 2017.”

and

“Few subjects ignite as much passion in the House or indeed in the country as our membership of the European Union. The debate in the run-up to the referendum will be hard fought on both sides of the argument. But whether we favour Britain being in or out, we surely should all be able to agree on the simple principle that the decision about our membership should be taken by the British people, not by Whitehall bureaucrats, certainly not by Brussels Eurocrats; not even by Government Ministers or parliamentarians in this Chamber. The decision must be for the common sense of the British people. That is what we pledged, and that is what we have a mandate to deliver. For too long, the people of Britain have been denied their say. For too long, powers have been handed to Brussels over their heads. For too long, their voice on Europe has not been heard. This Bill puts that right. It delivers the simple in/out referendum that we promised, and I commend it to the House.”

In the light of this  MPs cannot have believed  that the referendum would  not be binding from the very beginning . Moreover, at the third reading of the  European Union Referendum Bill  the Commons voted 316 for and   53 against with 52 of those against being SNP Members.  Only one Labour MP voted against.  It was an overwhelming  acceptance, direct  or tacit,   by MPs of all parties barring the SNP  that the referendum was binding.

Finally, in the course of the referendum campaign the government spent £9.5million of taxpayers’ money on printing a leaflet and distributing it to all households in the United Kingdom.  It included these words:

“The referendum on Thursday 23rd June is your chance to decide if we should remain in the European Union.” (Page 2)

And  it went on to be even clearer and more emphatic:

“This is your decision.  The Government will implement what you decide.” (Page 14)..

The problem with Brexit  is Remainer politicians  still holding  the levers of power

We have a Remainer PM, a Remainer dominated Cabinet, a Remainer dominated Government,  a Remainer dominated House of Commons (with remainers dominant in the Tory, Labour, LibDEms and the SNP parties) and a Remainer dominated House of Lords.

A recent  report by the Daily Telegraph  found that the Cabinet is overwhelmingly Remainer. They asked all Cabinet members  whether they would vote leave  if another referendum was held. The result was :

– 16 Cabinet members either  refused to say whether they would vote leave  now or failed to respond to the question.

– Two Cabinet ministers who backed Remain,   Elizabeth Truss, the Chief Secretary of the Treasury  and Jeremy Hunt, the Health secretary,  said they would now vote Leave.

– Five other Cabinet ministers who voted Leave – Priti Patel, David Davis, Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox and Michael Gove –  said they would still vote to leave the EU.

The PM Theresa May  has  repeatedly refused to say whether she would be a leave voter if a referendum was held.

The overwhelming Remainer sentiment of those occupying the leading roles in the Government  automatically undermines the Brexit negotiations because the politicians of the  other EU member states and  the politicised  EU bureaucracy will think that at  best the UK Government will be happy to concede a great  deal  of  ground to the EU  and at worst will not push for a true  Brexit because their hearts are simply not in it.

The only way to change matters is to have a committed leaver as PM and a  Cabinet comprised only  of committed leavers. Anything less and  serious Cabinet disunity will continue.

Such a Government should lay down  the redlines listed above and commence immediately and with all speed the  preparation  to trade if necessary under WTO rules . That  provides a ready made template for our trade with the EU  . More boldly we could walk away from the EU now by invoking the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties which includes the provision to  throw aside a treaty where the other parties o the treaty are acting in bad faith. The fact that Article 50 exists means that the other EU members have to act in good faith over a member state’s withdrawal. Patently they are not honouring that obligation.  Bad faith is  shown amply by both Eurocrats and EU political leaders since the referendum decision.

Remainers need to think  about what  is likely to happen if a true Brexit is denied by the multifarious machinations which Remainers have attempted.  That would be saying to the British electorate it does not matter how you vote the only thing you will ever get is what the ruling elite wants. At best  British politics would be poisoned for a very long time  and at worst political violence  could result.

After more than half a century of internationalist politicians and their supporters in  the media, universities and the civil service  the concept of treason is out of fashion in  the UK.  But treason is a crime like theft or murder,  which always exists whether or not there is  a law on the Statute Book for it  is the ultimate betrayal. If Brexit is thwarted  the cry of  treason may  be on people’s lips again in earnest.

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Brexit and surviving Mrs Maybe

Robert Henderson

The shamelessly   anti-democratic remainers are queuing up to cheat the British electorate of Brexit. Those in the media and the likes of Gina Miller  shriek that a hard Brexit is dead and it is already  reported that remainer MPs from both the Tory and Labour parties are plotting to overturn  Brexit and Theresa May knows about it but does nothing.  May’s Chancellor Philip Hammond openly defies her on Brexit by saying that no deal with the EU would be a “very bad outcome”.

In Scotland the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon beats the same drum and the leader of the Tories in Scotland Ruth Davidson talks of legally detaching the Scottish Conservatives  from  the UK  Party whilst  insisting that a hard Brexit should be watered down and stating baldly that  the  13 MPs from Scotland who are now sitting in the Commons should vote according to their consciences not to the dictates of Tory Party whip.

There is also another possible legal challenge brewing with a  claim that the Act passed to allow the letter to be sent to the EU triggering Article 50 did not such thing because it did not  address the question of the legality of the UK leaving the EU.

More immediately worrying  is the proposed supply and confidence arrangement   with the Democratic Unionists (DUP)  of Northern Ireland  and the  concessions the  DUP will insist on and the knock-on effects with Scotland and Wales which will undoubtedly want  for themselves  whatever  the DUP gets or something of similar political value.    The terms of the arrangement have yet to be agreed,  but we can be sure that the DUP will insist on not having a hard border between the  Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland . Anything other than a hard border would utterly undermine one of the primary objects of Brexit, namely, control of the UK’s borders.  Nor is it certain that any deal will be made.

All in all a very pretty political mess with no risk free way of escaping.  Calling another election soon  would probably   result in  a Labour win or at least a Labour led coalition government.  At best it is unlikely that it would leave  the Tories in a better position than they are in.  Moreover, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act is still in place. To call an election before the end of the five year Parliament stipulated in the Act  requires a two-thirds majority of   the  full complement of MPs  (currently 650) whether  or not a constituency has an MP at the time of voting or whether an MP abstains.   In short at least 417 MPs  must vote for an election.   There is a good chance that neither  the Parties with seats  in the Commons nor many individual MPs with smallish majorities would want another election soon: the Parties because of the cost (if an election was held this year it would mean  funding three elections in two years) and   individual MPs for  the fear of losing their seats.

There is one way the Tories might be able to cut this Gordian knot because  they are so close to a majority in the Commons the Government is in a much stronger position than might be thought  from the media and general political  response following the failure of May to gain a majority .  May  or a successor could  try governing  without a majority.

The  number of MPs  needed for a Commons majority is pedantically 326. But this is misleading because the  seven Sinn Fein MPs will not  take their seats as a matter of principle (they refuse to swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown)and the Speaker only votes in the event of a tie (when by convention he votes for the status quo). Hence, the figure in practice for a Commons majority is  322. This means the Tories are a  mere 4 MPs short of a majority.

The Tories  could probably govern as a minority government without any support most of the time, because any defeat of  government legislation would require almost every non-Tory MP  to vote against the government. That is not easy to organise day in day out, week in week out.  Moreover, it is most unlikely that MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would want to hold up many of the  money Bills because that would mean their countries  would not get their  part of the money .  In addition, it is likely that the DUP would support the Tories on most occasions simply because they agreed with Tory policies and for the fear of something worse, that is, a Corbyn government. .

The main danger for the Tories  would be a  vote for a motion of No Confidence.   But it would not be easy to marshal the disparate MPs who make up the opposition.  It is possible that some Tories might abstain or even vote against on individual Tory policies , but improbable  that they would vote for a motion of No Confidence.

It is conceivable that a few  Tory remainers might cross the floor of the House of Commons and join a Corbyn  government. This idea  is unlikely  but  not absurd because Brexit is one of those rare defining issues which could cause remainer  Tory MPs to defect.  More probable would  be Tory remainers being willing to vote on  Bills put forward  by a Corbyn government which relate to Brexit.

But let us assume that a motion of No Confidence was passed, what then?  Could Corbyn form a government with a majority? He might well struggle because he  would have to take all the Ulster  Unionist MPs with him. Given Corbyn’s  record of  enthusiastically consorting with Irish Republicans of dubious provenance  it is unlikely he would be able to bring them on board even on the basis of confidence and supply. But even if he could cobble together a government of all MPs other than Tory ones,  it would be hopelessly  unstable because of the vast  spread of political opinions it would have to encompass and the fact that the Labour Party is nowhere near to being able to form a government on its own.   The proposed hook-up between the Tories and the DUP has a much better chance of surviving.

It is possible that no government could be formed which could command  the confidence of the Commons. That would create an interesting constitutional problem because the Fixed Term Parliaments Act  would mean that Parliament could not be dissolved unless two thirds of the Commons voted for it. That would mean that any new election could not be painted as the responsibility of the Tory Party as many MPs other than Tory ones would have to vote for it. That would remove part of the toxicity  of an early election for the Tories.

If May (or a Tory successor) could get through another 18  months in power that might be enough for the public to turn against Corbyn and/or simply get bored with his antics and those of the likes of McDonnell. It would also allow enough to time get the negotiations  for Brexit so well entrenched that it would be difficult to overturn them even if a different government took office. The fly in the ointment is of course the likely attempts at betrayal by the present Government or any successor government  headed by a Tory other than Theresa May.

If the Tory government does survive it must operate  for the foreseeable political future on the basis that Brexit comes before everything else apart from maintaining  the functions of the state and civil order. Any legislation in policy areas other than Brexit which is contentious should be shelved until Brexit is completed.

There must also be red lines drawn. One of the primary problems with May was her refusal or inability to spell out what she would and would not accept when negotiating with the EU.  The government whether led by May or someone else must make clear the following:

That there is no hard and soft Brexit there is simply Brexit

That the UK will leave the single  market.

That the UK will leave the customs union .

That the UK will have full control over her borders for people, goods and services.

That the UK will have full control of her territorial waters including those relating to the 200 mile limit.

That after leaving the UK will not be subject to the European Court of Justice or any other judicial body  linked to the EU or the EEA.

That the UK will not pay any leaving fee.

That the UK will be paid a proportionate share of the EU’s assets.

That would both reassure the majority who voted of Brexit and make any backsliding by the government very difficult.

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If a Eurofanatic wanted to design a plot to thwart Brexit ……

 Robert Henderson

If a Eurofanatic wanted to design a plot to thwart Brexit they could not do better than contrive the situation Theresa May has wrought. It works like this: 

Stage 1 call an unnecessary General Election when there is three years still to run before an election is legally necessary. 

Stage 2 produce a manifesto which  frightens huge numbers of an electorate, including the natural supporters of your party  by  (1)  promising to reduce pensions and pensioner benefits  and (2) threatening to make anyone who is infirm and aged use all their accumulated wealth to pay for their care until they are down to their last £100,000.

Stage 3. Do a u-turn on some but not all of the threatened charges made in stage 2 to give the appearance of government irresolution.  

Stage 4. Produce no policies which have a broad appeal and make what policies there are vague  and uncosted. 

Stage 5. Make the election all about the leader by sidelining other senior members of the party. 

Stage 6. Devise  annoying catch phrases such as “strong and stable”  and repeat them at every opportunity. 

Stage 7. Keep the leader away from any situation where they might have to debate or explain their position and ensure that the leader acts with the arrogant assumption that a huge win is assured. 

Stage 8. Allow no meaningful discussion of what Brexit will or should  amount to. Keep the leader uttering “Brexit means Brexit”  and  “No deal is better than a bad deal” .

Stage 9. Engage in attacks on the mentality of the leadership and  policies of the main opposing party.  

Stage 10. Having failed to gain a majority the leader should put it about using her subordinates that because there is no majority there is no mandate or practical way of effecting a “hard Brexit”,  by which is meant a genuine Brexit.

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Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland spending much more on public services than they collect in tax

Robert Henderson

The Office for National Statistics (ONS)  has produced  its first regional analysis of UK  public spending  and tax collected. The ONS describes the statistics as experimental and their  methodology can be found here at the beginning of the analysis. Hence, it should be treated with caution.  However, the figures given  by the ONS for Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland are probably broadly correct because the ONS  also give figures for English regions which vary widely and seem to correspond to the economic strength of each region. If the English region figures are broadly correct then so should be those for Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland as they are computed on the same basis.

The ONS  data  shows  public spending of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland considerably exceeds  the tax collected those countries.

Per capita their overspending is as follows in the latest year calculated (2015/16)

Scotland    £2,824

Wales         £4,545

N. Ireland £5,437

The total overspend in each country  calculated  by multiplying the per capita sum by the population of each of the three countries  gives these figures:

Scotland £2,824 x 5,373,000 (population)   = £15,173,352,000

Wales  £4,545 x 3,099,100 (population)       = £14,085,409,500

N. Ireland £5,437 x 1,851,600 (population) = £10,067,149,200

Total of public service spending by Scotland, Wales and N Ireland  over and above the money collected in those countries is £39,325, 910,700

England spent only  £599 per capita more than it collects in tax  in 2015/16.

The population of England is 54,786,300

The excess  of spending over revenue in England is s £599 x 54,786,300 = £32,816,993,000

Total excess of UK spending  over revenue is £39,325,910,600 + £32,816,993,000 = £72,140,190,600

England has 86% of the UK population and 44% of the excess of spending over revenue

Scotland, Wales and N Ireland have 14% if the UK population and 54% of the excess of spending over revenue.

The population estimates for  England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are taken from the  Office for National Statistics

The Treasury payments to each Home Country

The greater overspending per capita in Scotland, Wales and Northern  Ireland than in England  is not simply a matter of  the same amounts per capita being disbursed by the UK Treasury to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland  and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland  running up a larger deficit in their public spending than England because they are poorer than England and consequently generate less tax.  That is part of it but it is also a consequence of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland getting far more generous per capita payments, viz:

In 2015/16, public spending per head in the UK as a whole was £9,076. In England, it was £8,816 (3% below the UK average).  This compares with:

Scotland: £10,536 (16% above the UK average)  -and  thus £1,720 higher than   England

Wales: £9,996 (10% above the UK average)  -and thus £1,180 higher than England

Northern Ireland £10,983 (21% above the UK average)  – and thus £2, 167higher than England

The total difference between the  Treasury disbursement  to England and that to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland  can be calculated by multiplying by their populations  the  difference in the per capita  money Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland receive  compared to England, viz:

Scotland £1720  x 5,373,000 (population)   =  £9,241,560,000

Wales  £1180 x 3,099,100 (population)       =  £3, 656,938,000

N. Ireland £2167 x 1,851,600 (population) = £4,012,417,200

Therefore   for the year 2015/16 the total  Treasury payments to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland  over and above that paid to England was  £16,910,915,200. If the Treasury disbursements to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland  had been  reduced to the  same per capita amount as was  spent in  England  nearly £17 billion would have been knocked off  the UK government’s spending in 2015/16.

The money Scotland, Wales and  Northern Ireland receive and spend over and above that received and spent in England is partly funded by the English taxpayer directly or adds to the UK national debt which is serviced in large part by the English taxpayer. It is also true that if Scotland,  Wales and Northern Ireland  were independent countries they would neither be able to sustain anything like their current levels of funding for public services nor borrow anything like as cheaply as the UK government can (or be able to borrow at any price) to finance a large  deficit .

Posted in Devolution, Economics, Nationhood | 4 Comments