Friday, 16 November 2018

The Brexit deal


So, after 28 months of wrangling, excitement, two dedicated secretaries of state to accomplish it,  resignations, new appointments, secret briefings, an extra umpteen thousand civil servants at an estimated extra cost  of £500 a week, thousands of hours of mostly ill-informed speculation on the media, and gallons of printed ink:  we finally have the Brexit deal "on the table."

And, of course, it is entirely what was to be expected, and could have been predicted the day after Mrs May promised that  "the referendum result will be respected," come what may (no pun intended) no "ifs" no "buts".

Mrs May's decisions, then and now, are perfectly logical.  Her aim is to keep the Tory party together, if not exactly united, and it and herself in power.So, if  "I respect the result of the referendum," but she knows as a Remainer on which side the nation's bread is buttered,  then the logical thing to do is to leave the EU formally, but retain as many of the benefits of membership as possible by obeying most of its rules.

That, essentially, is what the proposed deal does.

There is therefore a sense in which Mrs may can be congratulated for sticking to her guns, but, as argued in an earlier post, this gives the UK the worst of both worlds: we remain tied to EU rules but have forfeited out tight to have any say in making them.

The whole Brexit fiasco has already done a great deal of damage to the UK.  The pound, considered a symbol of national virility for most of my career as a teacher of economics,  has already depreciated by 12%, so we are economically weaker.  Equally seriously we have dissipated our international reputation for decency, political and diplomatic maturity, and constructive pragmatism.  Most of our friends in  the world think we have gone bonkers.

The fault lies not just with the Tory party, which has allowed itself to fall into the hands of a small group, probably around 50, of rich and delusionally nostalgic egotists who, supported by a biased and largely foreign-owned press, wish to feather their own nests in a deregulated neo-liberal "free for all, "but with an Official  Opposition which has deliberately abrogated its duty to oppose.

This today from their 0n-line commentary:

 ". . . the Tory government fell apart yesterday as the Labour Party watched delightedly, popcorn in hand."  (Labour List, 16the November).

This simply is not good enough.

If Labour is serious about defending the conditions of their key working-class supporters, as well as the UK's international reputation, we "demand  better" as our latest Liberal Democrat slogan puts it.

At the very least we need the Official Opposition to come up unequivocally in favour of remaining in both the EU Customs Union and Single Market.

Better still would be an unwavering commitment for a "People's Vote."

But best of all would be for them to back a free vote on all options in the Commons, so that MPs on all parties can vote on what they know to be in the best interest of the country rather than their party, and put  put to the whole Brexit nonsense to bed  before Christmas

9 comments:

  1. At the very least we need the Official Opposition to come up unequivocally in favour of remaining in both he EU Customs Union and Single Market.

    That's basically May's deal, isn't it? Remaining in both the customs union and the single market.

    (I called it way back at the start: I said the EU would just refuse to negotiate in god faith, delay, delay, delay, and at the eleventh hour present us with a deal so bad we'd be mad to take it and hope by doing so they could bully us into backing down, giving up, and staying in. And that is exactly what they have done. But they have reckoned without the sheer bloody-mindedness of the British people: when faced with a bully, we don't back down, we stick to our guns come what may.)


    Better still would be an unwavering commitment for a "People's Vote."

    They can't do that because it would put the Labour party leadership in an impossible position: Corbyn couldn't get away with sitting on the fence last time, so he'd have to pick a side, and he wants to Leave, which would alienate most of his supporters. So they will do everything they can to avoid getting into that situation.


    But best of all would be for them to back a free vote on all options in the Commons, so that MPs on all parties can vote on what they know to be in the best interest of the country rather than their party, and put put to the whole Brexit nonsense to bed before Christmas

    I'm not sure that would have the result you want: I'm really not sure there's a majority in a free vote for Remain. A lot of Conservative MPs, remember, were elected on a manifesto of leaving the EU and in a free vote will want to honour the wishes of their electors. Not all, but a lot. And there are some Labour MPs who either want to leave on principle (eg Corbyn) or also represent leave-voting constituencies and want to respect the wishes of their electors (or, more prosaically, know they will lose their seats at the next election if they go against those wishes).

    Not that there's a positive majority on a free vote for any other outcome, either: certainly not for May's deal (most Labour MPs will never vote for a Conservative PM's deal, even if they aren't whipped to vote against, and both Leaver and Remainer Conservative MPs hate it). So we end up in the default course which is, thanks to legislation already passed, a no-deal exit next March.

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    1. Thanks for your detailed and reasoned comments. I think we are broadly in agreement on the facts of the story so far, but with differing speculation on how we got here and where we might be going.

      You claim that you predicted that "the EU would just refuse to negotiate in good faith." Who knows, but I think that is not the case. In my view the EU has been consistent in saying that we "can't have our cake and eat it." We are either Members with the advantages and responsibilities of membership or we are outsiders - "third countries" in the jargon.

      I agree with you though, that a "free vote" in Parliament would not necessarily produce a decision to Remain. Yes, many MPs, especially those with majorities of "Leave" voters in their constituencies, would be looking over their shoulders and reasoning as to what will save their skins and rather than be best for the country. But a like to think that most would do the decent thing and vote in the national interest rather than their short-term personal advantage. They are, after all, representatives elected to use their judgement, not delegates mandated to do as they're told.

      In an article in the Guardian last Friday (16 November) Nicky Morgan points out that:

      "After a weekend spent remembering the enormous sacrifice of our predecessors as they fought and died over a divided Europe, these issues have added poignancy."

      Sadly she fails to follow her own logic, but proposes to save her political skin by supporting Mrs May's deal

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    2. You claim that you predicted that "the EU would just refuse to negotiate in good faith." Who knows, but I think that is not the case. In my view the EU has been consistent in saying that we "can't have our cake and eat it." We are either Members with the advantages and responsibilities of membership or we are outsiders - "third countries" in the jargon.

      Exactly: the EU hasn't negotiated. It has simply repeated its demands, and the end result is a deal' which has all the responsibilities of membership but none of the advantages.

      That is of course its prerogative. No one has to negotiate. If a company offers an applicant a salary and they ask for more, the company is eniteely free to refuse to enter negotiations and just say, 'take it or leave it'. But if you don't negotiate and you give the other side the choice of either conceding entirely to all of your demands or walking away, you can't then be surprised when the other side simply walks away.

      But a like to think that most would do the decent thing and vote in the national interest rather than their short-term personal advantage. They are, after all, representatives elected to use their judgement, not delegates mandated to do as they're told.

      Are they? The most famous proponent of that view, Burke, found himself voted voted out at the next opportunity by his electors. Apparently they didn't share his opinion of his duty.

      Moreover, I often get the impression that what people who express that view really mean is that MPs should do the decent thing and vote as I think they should vote.

      I mean, imagine — to take some traditional conscience issues, which would usually be subject for a free vote — an MP voting on the issue of same-sex marriage, whose judgement was that it would be a bad thing for society, but most of whose electors disagreed. Or an MP whose judgement was that the death penalty should be re-instated, thought most of the electors disagreed. Or who thought that abortion should be further restricted, but most of whose electors disagreed. Would you be so quick to say that they should do the right thing and vote according to their judgement? Or would you say that they should in fact be swayed by the fact that their judgement was so out-of-touch with their electors and vote accordingly?

      Over 17 million people, two years ago, after careful consideration, decided they wanted the UK to leave the EU. Is it really the place of MPs — most of whom were, a year later, elected on a manifesto which promised to implement that command — to tell them they were stupid and misled and didn't understand the import of what they were voting for so they should be overruled by people who know better than them?

      And if they do, tell me: how can we ever leave the EU?

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    3. Again you put up a very persuasive argument, but:

      ‘Tis with our judgement as our watches, none
      Go just alike but each believes his own.
      Alexander Pope (Essay on Man,I think)

      You base your argument on the opinion (not a fact) that

      "Over 17 million people, two years ago, after careful consideration, decided they wanted the UK to leave the EU."

      "after careful consideration! Really?

      You discount the fact that some at least, were deceived by misinformation put out by a dishonest campaign which overspent its budget so acted illegally, and told blatant lies in an ill-conceived and inadequately designed referendum called, not for the benefit of the nation but in a misguided ploy to avoid a split in one political party.

      Yes, I know: just another opinion, but I find it a convincing one.

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    4. after careful consideration! Really?

      Yep.

      You discount the fact that some at least, were deceived by misinformation put out by a dishonest campaign which overspent its budget so acted illegally, and told blatant lies in an ill-conceived and inadequately designed referendum called, not for the benefit of the nation but in a misguided ploy to avoid a split in one political party.

      Rubbish. Check out the historical polls: for twenty years there's been a majority of just over 50% in this country in favour of either leaving the EU altogether, or remaining but only if significant powers were returned to Britain. The campaigns had nothing to do with the result: you'd have got the same result in any in/out referendum held since the mid-'90s.

      Plus, your argument basically rests on the idea that you are superior to Leave voters. They are stupid; you are clever. They were misled; you can see the truth.

      At least, unlike some Remainers, you don't say Leave voters are inherently evil; but I'm not sure that saying they are inherently gullible is much better.

      Have you ever considered that maybe Leave voters are not stupid and were not misled, but simply have a different value-system to you?

      And that Cameron didn't call the referendum to avoid a split in one political party, but because the general public was making it clear, through the rising vote for UKIP, that it was unhappy with the situation of Britain's membership of the EU?

      And what is democracy for, if not to make the government responsive to the concerns of the general public? In this case, over 17 million of them?

      If you don't trust the judgement of the general public — if you think they can be easily misled, if you think they don't understand what they are being asked — why let them vote? ~Surely the danger of them voting the wrong way is just too great. Why not just have a Committee of Experts run the country instead?

      Would that not — from your point of view — be a much better solution than democracy?

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  2. You flaunt that 17 million as though it were an overwhelming vote in favour of leaving. But put it in context and it is not so decisive after all. Yes, 17 million voted to Leave, but 16 million voted to Remain, and 12 million who were entitled to vote didn't. Add to that that the 3 million nationals of other EU countries living in the UK weren't allowed to vote, as neither were one and a half million 16 and 17 year-olds, four fifths of whom are said to be in favour of remaining. Further, both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted strongly in favour of remain as did Gibraltar (overwhelmingly, I think) so the whole thing looks more of a muddle than a decisive mandate.

    What's more,in the past two years quite a lot of the more elderly voters, said to favour Leave, will have moved on to more ethereal electoral rolls, while nearly all all those disenfranchised 16 to 17 year-olds will now have moved on to the terrestrial registers. This, and the modest shifts in public opinion shown by the polls as more and better information becomes available, indicates that "the will of the people" is probably now to Remain.

    I'm not aware of those historical opinion polls which you claim show a 50%+ dissatisfaction with the EU but I'm not surprised. British governments of both stripes have so often tried to shift the responsibility for unpopular policies on to the EU, making it a scapegoat and thus trying to escape blame themselves, and the largely foreign-owned press has been strongly biasses against the EU.

    What is true is that the EU was not a major pre-occupation of the Electorate (ranked in the mid teens, and well below, employment, NHS, cost of living ,etc) until Farage and Co began to stir things up, in what appeared to be dog-whistle campaign against immigrants.

    You say my views are elitist. I think it is more of case of trying to consider the broader aspects of the situation rather than banging on and on about just one feature.

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    1. You flaunt that 17 million as though it were an overwhelming vote in favour of leaving. But put it in context and it is not so decisive after all.

      You say that; but you know, don't you, in your heart of hearts, that if Remain had won with exactly the same figures, you'd be claiming it was a decisive margin, wouldn't you?

      What's more,in the past two years quite a lot of the more elderly voters, said to favour Leave, will have moved on to more ethereal electoral rolls, while nearly all all those disenfranchised 16 to 17 year-olds will now have moved on to the terrestrial registers.

      Wishing the death of those you disagree with isn't a good look, you know.

      This, and the modest shifts in public opinion shown by the polls as more and better information becomes available, indicates that "the will of the people" is probably now to Remain.

      I very much doubt that, as evidenced by the discussions around supporters of a second referendum as to how best to frame the question so as to split the Leave vote and end up with a way in which they can claim a Remain victory. A three-way question? A two-stage referendum? All they care about is getting the result they want, and they know that in a straight Remain / Leave choice, Leave would still win, and probably by an even greater margin this time.

      I remember during the campaign being told that there was no need to leave the EU to restore British sovereignty, because the UK was still sovereign, and the proof of this was that we could, if we chose, leave at any time. The proof that we didn't need to leave, you see, was that we could.

      Well, we chose to leave, and ever since then there have been attempts to thwart that leaving; from dire warnings that we actually can't lave, even though we were told we could, because economic armageddon will surely follow; to more direct exhortations to Parliament to simply overrule the vote to leave because the 17 million who voted for it were stupid and gullible. Because I was stupid and gullible.

      Surely you can see that all this only proves that — if the vote is overruled — then that will be the final proof that we doneed to leave, because it will prove that the claim that the UK is still sovereign within the EU because it is only a member voluntarily and could leave at any time, is false? And that therefore the more effort is expended trying to keep us in, the more it proves that we need to get out — and to get out as soon as possible, because it's hard enough now with forty years of legal and economic ties binding us together, and that every passing year will just make it even harder to finally break ourselves free of the EU?

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    2. The best future for safety, sanity and sustainable civilisation is ever closer union. Brexit, if it happens, (and 17m votes out of and electorate of 45m is insufficient justification) will be a step backwards, for the UK, for the EU, and for the world.

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    3. The best future for safety, sanity and sustainable civilisation is ever closer union

      That's what you think. I disagree. And, also, I think that even if you're right, defending British sovereignty and preventing the UK from becoming a mere province of a United States of Europe, with no more international import than, say, California has as a state of the USA, is more important.

      In a democracy we settle our differences on such important questions, both of fact and of values, by having a vote in which the both sides agree in advance to accept the result, whatever it may be.

      The only other method ever devised for settling such questions is civil war.

      Given you are advocating the abandonment of democracy, and therefore the return of civil war, I don't see how you can claim you are the one on the side of 'safety, sanity and sustainable civilisation'?

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