Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Yeah, Brexit it bad, but I'm still ok with it.

Last night I almost wrote a long piece on the politics of food safety risk assessment in the EU. There is not a lot of point though. Though I wish it were otherwise, the more effort and research that goes into a blog, the fewer people will read it.

What I did note, however, is unlike the USA where it's more science based, in the EU it's intensely political, almost entirely in the hands of the Commission and in places, as corrupt and protectionist as the EU gets. And it does beg the question as to whether we are better off out or whether we need to be in there to at least be able to defend ourselves in the few ways we can.

There are a lot of technical areas where I really have questioned the wisdom of Brexit. There are undoubtedly places where we will lose our voice in matters that have very serious ramifications for the UK economy and UK law. We do not get to legislate in isolation. EU law will continue to influence UK decisionmaking whatever happens.

By just about every technical and economic consideration we are on the back foot by leaving the EU. What makes it worse is manifest incompetence of our own government who will ultimately open the door for the UK economy to be cannibalised and UK market share in a number of sectors to be decimated. The subsequent expensive adjustments we will have to make will be all the pain of joining the single market with none of the benefits thereafter. And this is if we do actually leave with a deal. I'm not even convinced we will manage that.

One way or another this is going to be a very seriously ugly mess which will take a very long time to climb out of. There is also a very strong chance that we will be strong-armed into doing what we are told by Brussels more than we ever were as members. More so than if we stayed in the single market. 

Moreover, I am even less convinced it's a good idea when I look at my political allies. On the one hand we have the Kipper brigade and on the other, a snobby, aggressively arrogant, backstabbing, corrupt, self-serving Tory establishment impervious to reason, immunised to facts. I wasn't a fan of them before the referendum and I despise them with every fibre of my being now. Politically I have few allies.

But then I am reminded that while I have no love for my Brexiter compatriots, I have a deep seated pathological loathing of the opposition which cannot be remedied. The opposition being vapid, virtue signalling MPs, the entire media, all of the think tanks - and of course the EU which underpins the status quo, allowing these people to thrive.

There is no way you can expect adult decision making from this parliament and our media simply does not function as an informer. Brexit tells you that. Our MPs have zero comprehension of what is happening or why - and their only concern is to dilute Brexit to hold on to the status quo - which is already disintegrating.

Sooner or later, there's a giant shit sandwich on the horizon and we all have to take a bite. It as as I have thought for a very long time now. This political settlement is on borrowed time and I am astonished it has lasted this long. We are due a sort out.

In this my hatred of the anti-democratic EU is almost incidental. Not being in it is a happy event of itself just on principle, and in spirit, if not in fact, I am a hard Brexiter. Brexit in abstract of all technical concerns is a truly wonderful thing and one day soon I will celebrate. But this is as much a part of a culture war which is far from over. 

The societal divisions Brexit has shone a light on need resolving. The Tories most certainly have no answers but the nasty specimens on the left keep me awake at night. Ruthless, self-absorbed narcissistic socialist children with a zeal that puts the brownshirts to shame. 

Then, depressingly we have the second coffin lid to punch through. When we've left the EU it'll be interesting to see how reforms are constrained by those WTO rules Tories are so fond of. This generation's would-be eurosceptics will become the fiercest critics of the WTO and the "unelected bureaucrats" therein. A new crusade for sovereignty begins.

At the very least Brexit makes us a distinct customs entity and puts a stop to "ever closer union". We will have drawn a line in the sand but I have a feeling the Brexit process will make victory taste as hollow as defeat. Economically, socially, politically, we are headed for dark times.

The only comfort I take from this is that remaining would have been worse. I would rather be taking the first steps toward sorting it out than carry on having these moronic specimens carry on unchecked - taking us further down an avenue where politics is something done to us rather than being something in which we, the public, participate.

I am also certain that whatever Britain looks like in ten years, it will be one on its way to a new political settlement. One that is more befitting the UK in terms of its power, its place in the world and one that is better adjusted to the new century in ways that EU members won't be. Call it an instinct or a hunch - or even a reckless gamble, but I am firmly of the view that the Westminster-centric politics of the present will not survive Brexit. And that is the ultimate prize.

We have a loathsome left and the contemptible right and nothing to speak of in between. We learned from the Ukip and SNP experience that party politics as a model is utterly spent and the longer it lingers the more it is despised. If the Tories scrape a win at the next election it will only be to avoid the horrors of a Corbyn government. When he is gone, there will be no loyalty to the Tories. By then politics as we know it will be spent. From there, we start building a very different country.

What is certain is that Brexit will be an economic haircut. One which most certainly will force difficult choices as to what we can expect of the state and whether a take-all-you-can-get NHS and welfare system is sustainable. It will force the many white elephants on the drawing board to go in the bin and as it forces adult choices, the options will be limited for our wastrel politicians. It will be a wake up call for the public as much as the establishment.

For the time being we will linger in uncertainty. We still have a while to go before Article 50 talks are concluded and assuming we get that far we will remain in the EU on more or less the same terms until a new relationship is negotiated. We may yet see sense prevail and and make our way into Efta. That would be a win - but to get there will be a fight to the death. That seems a long shot right now but there is still everything to fight for. 

All I can say is that we have started something. Something big, something daunting, something significant that will consume British politics. Something that cannot be stopped. Something that pisses on just about everyone's bonfire. What's not to like?

Spiked loses the plot again

Says Brendan O'Neill of Spiked Online, "it is time we reckoned with the historic magnitude of what is happening in Britain right now. Democracy is being euthanised. This fact, this terrible fact, is too often obscured by the euphemism and cynicism of the anti-Brexit lobby, which is virtually the entire political class. It doesn’t speak in the language of dictatorship. It speaks in the pseudo-neutral language of ‘softening’ Brexit, of concession and compromise".

Essentially this is true. If you look at tonight's amendments to the Withdrawal Bill, we are not looking at informed attempts to preserve economic cooperation with the EU via single market instruments. Were that the case they would at least be using the correct terminology. Instead what we see is a dash for safety to evade any change at all.

This is essentially what makes it difficult to argue for continued EEA membership in that one's bedfellows are indeed those seeking to effectively erase the vote. Some, however, appreciate that real life gets in the way of the most noble of political ambitions - as we find with the Northern Irish border. Not so Brendan O'Neill.  

O'Neill has it that "The extent of May’s compromise was alarming, if not especially surprising. She erased all of her own ‘red lines’, particularly on the Single Market and the European Court of Justice. She conceded to the EU’s demand that if a suitable agreement is not reached on the Irish border, then the whole of the UK will remain aligned with the Single Market".

The fact of the matter is that it was never going to be any other way. Forty years of technical and economic cooperation are not erased with a single vote and sovereignty is not restored in a single bound. There are decisions to be made where we separate out the technical from the political. 

Our starting point is that we need a whole UK solution and one that maintains an open border in Northern Ireland without introducing any new barriers. Being that the EU has its own distinct legal personality, its own customs territory and is a sovereign entity, insofar as trade is concerned, it is already a "United States of Europe". It can and does dictate the terms of market participation and that is the source of its power. We are not, therefore, able to do as we please without due consideration for the sovereignty of our neighbours. 

Like it or not, the regulatory ecosystem of Europe is dominated by the EU and that is a fact of life with which we must contend. Where do we draw the line and how much is absolute sovereignty worth to us? Must everything be a matter for public consideration? How democratic must we be? 

For instance, what is Spiked Online's view on the management of ballast water discharges? Does it have a particular view on maritime surveillance? Or maybe the risk assessment criteria for phytosanitary protection measures? I perhaps missed the thundering Brendan O'Neill article where he skillfully dismantles the case for adopting UNECE standards on reflective strips for articulated trailers.

Perhaps Tom Slater has offered a view on aubergine marketing standards and the power rating for refrigerated ISO containers? These are quite obviously essential matters we must have full democratic control over and extensive public debate. We can't have faceless men in grey suits colluding to decide what radio frequency the Irish Sea coastguard services should use, can we?

Clearly an independent codetermination body like the Efta court insufficient. Down with this undemocratic nonsense! On reflection it's totally worth a hard border in Ireland so we can have referendums on the gradient of wheelchair ramps. I'm sure Spiked is itching to mount a campaign on the minimum fatigue life of fuselage fasteners.

The very idea of having to consult our neighbours and collaborate with them on common standards to avoid technical barriers to trade is an insult to our ancestors - they who fought on the beaches of Normandy to ensure those filthy hun could not impose their weather radar methodology on an unsuspecting public.

I'm glad Spiked is here to engage in these nuances - standing up for the huddled masses who for decades had their faces trampled into the floor by bureaucrats who won't rest until we all have the same non-glare wing mirrors. The man on the Clapham omnibus doesn't need elitist scientists working on disease control measures in plantlife. Who needs a common methodology on control of creutzfeldt jakob disease?

Time we turned it over to ordinary citizenry and spit in the faces of the elites. We take Gotham from the corrupt, the rich, the oppressors of generations - who have kept you down with myths of opportunity - and we give it back to you, the people. Gotham is yours. None shall interfere, do as you please.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Into the fire...

The latest negotiating guidelines have been published. They will not come as any surprise to anyone except Mrs May and her Brexit brigade. This was always how it was going to be. Things are, finally, about to get interesting. Maybe.

Brexit: the case retaining the EEA

If the UK is set on having only an FTA with the EU then it is seeking a relationship governed by a particular set of WTO rules. Preferences extended to the UK may well have to be granted to others holding an FTA with the EU. That means, even if the UK gets the best FTA of all, it is still going to be only marginally better than the second best. Warning shots have already been fired across the bow of the EU. 

In leaving the EEA (a deep and special partnership) the UK is moving into uncharted waters of negotiating an FTA that can never be as good. One where UK interests could very well be cannibalised. This is what makes retaining EEA membership a no brainer - not least because it is governed by different set of rules where WTO principles do not apply in quite the same way.

From an idealistic perspective, I totally understand leavers who prefer a Canada style FTA. It's the one mode of exit short of no deal that really honours the referendum as is understood by most who campaigned for Brexit. But let's head down real street.

It is conceivable we could cook up an FTA and even one that includes market particpation rights for airlines and services. It would avoid a calamity but would still be a huge hit to trade we would struggle to compensate for. Having left the single market, over the following years we would seek to rebuild a lot of the lost trade we threw away - and in so doing would end up like Switzerland, gradually ceding sovereignty on EU terms under jurisdiction of the ECJ.

One way or another we are going to have to respect EU conditions of market entry and the effects of that will be extensive. So really what we want is a means of adopting rules with a proper means of veto and adequate safeguards. That's Efta+EEA. The only other way to enjoy the same market participation is full adoption of the EU acquis, subject to the jurisdiction of the ECJ without any representation. This is the worst of all possible worlds.

What's important is not the extent of alignment, rather the shape and scope of those institutions and bodies formed for the administration of any future relationship. They must be independent, not the ECJ. This is why EEA-Efta is the obvious choice. Independent tried and tested frameworks.

This prompts Brexiters to argue that our ability to strike "trade deals" will be restricted. That much is true if you think only in terms of FTAs and deregulation as your means of liberalisation. There are problems with this approach. Relaxation of standards would have ramifications for the EUs risk profile of the UK leading to a higher frequency of inspections with all the costs and delays that go with it. Though the EU nominally opens its borders to competition there are any number of means for it to protect domestic producers.

One high profile example of this is EU inspections for Citrus Black Spot. Typically reports cite "EU regulations". It isn't that. It's an EFSA risk assessment leading to increased inspections. Delays causing South Africa to voluntarily terminate trade even though it meets the standards and qualifies for trade preferences.

Again on these such issues we find the EUs risk assessment is a means of creating barriers. The basis of the risk assessment being scientifically questionable and likely the result of internal protectionist lobbying. This is where the UK, retaking its own vote on global bodies can have an impact. The issue was referred to IPPC secretariat to establish an expert committee which will rule on whether the EU risk assessment is justified.

Moreover, our policy within the many global forums is crucial. The bottom feeders at the FT keep dribbling out tired mantras about "The Brussels Effect" but when it comes to the mechanics of trade it's the global standards that matter. Both parties in FTAs work toward aligning on OIE/Codex/IPPC. The EU-Japan economic partnership agreement re-announced yesterday is no different.

As we have discussed previously all modern EU FTAs are largely an affirmation of commitments under the WTO TBT agreement. Out of interest, it would be good to know why they go to the trouble. Having scoured several EU FTAs I notice massive duplication of WTO TBT tract. You could quite easily delete whole chapters of EU agreements without it making the slightest difference. 

The truth is that there are no grand gestures or shortcuts to trade liberalisation. There is no magic bullet to unlock trade. The sweeping unilateral gestures as preferred by the libertarian right are suicidal. Achievements in trade are incremental and the result of thousands of hours of backroom work over increasingly arcane aspects of standards and regulations. Moreover, nothing happens without considerable investment - not least to win backing of new multilateral initiatives.

Even if we do stay in the single market, maintaining the EEA acquis, we still have a lot of new scope in terms of how we interact globally - and the UK is not without allies in a number of standards bodies - who are not best pleased with EU anti-competitive practices. Our strategy should be to seek out and build sectoral alliances through Economic Partnership Agreements.

That requires considerable investment to increase and enhance the participation of LDCs ensuring that they can meet market entry conditions. We then strengthen the global rules based system while seeking to stack the deck in our favour.

The thing is about EPAs, however, is they are only as good as the scientific, technical and material resources your throw at them. That's why we need DfID to grow up and stop playing White Saviour Barbie. It must learn that if it is to exist at all then it is to promote the direct national interest. That means no more spending on UN gender equality window dressing and more spending on trade facilitation. We need to get hardass and lose the virtue signalling.

If we stay in the single market via Efta then we stay in the top ten economies and we stand a better chance of playing the EU at it own game - not least since the EU will be short of a net contributor. From there we can use any number of means to navigate the complexities of the system to grant access to the single market whether the EU likes it or not. It will be a soft trade war. And not before time.

It's actually about time that the EU was exposed for the fortress of bureaucracy it is. It talks about FTAs and reducing tariffs while using every means such as ROO and EFSA to stop competition. We can subvert this quite easily without breaking EU/WTO rules. Though the EU does have clout, the one thing the Northern Ireland issue shows us is that it does not have agility or flexibility. That is its greatest weakness and if we are savvy about it we can run rings around them.

Increments in trade will most likely come from new trade facilitation measures. Small but significant measures to increase profitability of existing value chains - not big headline EU deals. The EU will spend year upon year bogged down in talks to produce FTAs which only notionally add value, but the more they have the less they can afford to usefully service them. The UK does not have that problem. We can use our aid budget to finance them entirely legitimately.

The lazy mantra that the UK becomes a passive rule taker is largely gaslighting from remainers whose horizons extend no further than Brussels - most commonly people who have never bothered to read an EU FTA. With every FTA the EU signs it further reinforces the dominance of global standards and international forums. 

We also note that the buzzword in trade right now is Blockchain. The blockchain aspect is really just the technological platform but the methodology of Single Window is what should concern us. It is revolutionary. There is only so much we can do by tinkering with tariffs and standards. The big gains are to be made in customs cooperation, where again we find UNECE and ISO spearheading advancements. The frameworks are also crucial. Again we find in the EU-Japan agreement the WCO takes primacy. 

I was also completely unsurprised to find this tract:

Being that the UK is a first world economy and a scientific technological leader at the forefront of a number of industries, we are very often the first movers on a number of standards and BSI is a global standards powerhouse. Even if it were the case that that EEA members were "sitting by the fax machine" for EU regulations (which they aren't), the standards therein are not the exclusive domain of the EU. We are not helpless. 

Nobody should underestimate the scale of the challenge Brexit presents nor should we expect an easy ride of it. The EU will fiercely defend its own interests and it will seek to frustrate an independent UK trade policy. But we should also note that as the global rules based system matures the EU won't always get its own way and the leverage the UK can wield, along with Efta and those other states who may follow Britain's lead, means that there will be give and take between the UK and EU. It will vary according to the sector and the platform. With guile and patience we can still shape the rules of the game - possibly even to greater effect. 

For me the case for staying in the EEA has never been stronger. There are plenty of good reasons to leave the EU but deregulation is not one of them. There is, however, every advantage in being an independent actor in trade forums as a distinct customs entity - and from a sovereignty perspective, in the modern context, having the ability to say no matters more now than it ever did. The EU offers us no such protection and can railroad us into adopting job killing standards for entirely political reasons. 

Brexit will require that we think differently about trade, and it requires that we take off the Brussels blinkers and learn to think globally. There are a number of approaches and dozens of mechanisms other than FTAs to enhance and improve our trade. There is far more to trade than tinkering with tariffs and and there is still much to do. Measures to tackle counterfeiting and fraud between key trading partners can have substantially more impact than an agreement on tariffs. This all depends on a network of interagency cooperation where we would be foolish to turn our backs on the EU.

Whichever way it goes, the UK will be committed to spending considerable sums on cooperation. Brexit means we repatriate a lot of the spending decisions but the one thing we cannot afford to do is is neglect our participation on the world stage. The opportunities are there but we must be active players and we must be prepared to invest. 

If the UK leaves the single market, thereby voluntarily relinquishing substantial sources of income, we cannot expect to play high stakes games in the same league. Likely it will take decades to  recover lost influence and trade - if we recover it at all. Leaving the EEA most likely means becoming the supplicant of the EU that many,incorrectly, say Norway is. 

Taking our place in Efta means that we remain part of the European trade ecosystem but it formalises the natural drift between the UK and Eurozone EU and empowers both tiers to configure their interests accordingly. The EU is then free to further integrate while the UK can cast a wider net. It is a more harmonious configuration for Europe and beneficial for both. Neither is served by permanently weakening the UK. Leaving the EEA would be an unforced error - and a sledgehammer to miss the nut.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

A Brexit nontroversy

It is difficult for me to climb on the outage bandwagon with regard to the Brexit impact assessments. Supposing David Davis had released them in full they would have been one of two things. Either they would have been issue illiterate garbage dreamed up by the Legatum Institute or they would have been the sober works of a large consultancy firm working in close cooperation with the civil service.

Had they been the former, they wouldn't have lasted until lunchtime. It would have provided two or three days fodder for the chatterati and a bone for the remain-o-sphere to gnaw on for a few weeks until they worked out that it's something else that doesn't make a dent in public opinion. They would make such a meal of it, missing all the important points, adding to it their own conspiratorial histrionics to the point of absolute uselessness - embarrassing themselves in the process.

Had the assessments been something more substantial, all it would have told us is that the government is going against the best available advice in leaving the single market. We already know this. We know that if there is a substantial deviation from the EEA acquis then there will need to be firmer customs controls in Ireland or at the seaports to Ireland. We know that we would lose market participation rights in pharmaceuticals, chemicals and aviation. We know that we would be subject to standard third country controls to the detriment of UK trade.

Come to think of it, after a more than a year of intense public debate, it would struggle to tell us something we do not know. We have covered just about all of the bases. More to the point, the MPs presently expressing outrage would be no more likely to read the government's assessments any more than they are the wealth of material already in the public domain - much less understand it.

Consequently, one is not inclined to get excited. It would have achieved nothing. That David Davis has admitted detailed assessments do not even exist is not really any surprise either. I suppose one could be moved to to express disapproval that Davis has misled parliament, except that is now par for the course. It just doesn't rate that a politician is lying. There has been total transparency from the beginning. The whole thing looked like bollocks, we were expecting it to be bollocks and nobody is in the least bit surprised that it is bollocks.

The modern mode of politics has become a circus whereby the machine sets about wrong-footing the government - where if incompetence is exposed a minister is expected to fall on his sword. It's a time honoured approach, instrumental in bringing down the Major government as it found itself mired in sleaze.

The problem now is that ever since Blair, governments have learned that if they hang tight nothing actually happens. There is no consequence for failure and more often than not, failure is rewarded. The only time failure ever really concerns a government is if there is an election on the horizon and the opposition is in good form. The rest of the time they can do as they please. This is not a democracy.

Because we are hopelessly wedded to the current party system, where it is virtually unheard of for mid term shifts in party allegiances to collapse a government, we are pretty much stuck with what we've got - and the government knows it. MPs have it within their power to collapse the government and form a new unity government to make the decisions this government can't, but they just won't. They will allow the UK to drift over the cliff before they break ranks.

We are, therefore, in a bizarre position where the majority in parliament don't even want to leave the EU but will allow us to coast out on the worst possible terms simply because there wasn't the coherence to do anything else. That is a system that doesn't work. One that fails in its most basic obligations. Now we face the consequences.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Brexit roundup

Just about every other blogger and Brexit watcher will be reporting on the performance by David Davis today. I have to confess I didn't watch it. I cannot imagine anything less important than the Brexit impact assessments. MPs should by now have their own working outline of what could happen given the wealth of information now in the public domain. Nothing that would be in an impact assessment is a state secret. MPs are not being kept in the dark.

And though Davis coming clean and admitting that impact assessments done at the level demanded by MPs do not exist is seen as the main story, I am more concerned by the clip I saw with Davis talking about contingency plans in the event of no deal. He spoke in his usual cavalier way of the need for a number of bilateral deals to ensure the basics continue to function. He does not yet grasp that no deal means no deal(s). This is why Tories still believe that not reaching an agreement is not a big deal.

What I did make time go for, however, was the International Trade committee. I zoned out for much of it and at some point I will discuss some of the issues therein, but for the most part they were going over what is old ground to readers of this blog and EUreferendum.com. I did a quick Twitter thread on one of the issues. Retweets always appreciated.

What one notes is that the room was empty of journalists, and largely devoid of MPs by the looks. Notably no high profile Brexiteers, but then of course they, being Tories, already know it all. What MPs did find time for, however, was a packed meeting on Israel in Westminster Hall. As ever the Labour Party is completely unable to focus on anything other than its own myopic fixations and is easily distracted by trivia.

Meanwhile, it turns out on the Northern Ireland front, what we initially thought was progress is no progress at all. Instead of bringing clarity to the debate all it has done is reignite an entirely futile, wrong and pointless debate about the customs unions. It does not seem to have registered with them that we are leaving it regardless. The process of separating quotas and tariffs at the WTO is the mechanics of the UK becoming a distinct customs entity with its own customs code - ie leaving the customs union.

Meanwhile we still have grave warnings from MPs about the dangers of a hard border, when in fact, even when it was a hard border, it wasn't a hard border as such. The debate has lost any sense of reality. What we are looking to avoid is manned checkpoints controlling the movement of people - which is suggested by nobody, and insofar as movement of goods is concerned roadside equipment and preclearance is so noninvasive it would scarcely be noticed. It just means maintaining the EEA acquis. 

We are told that Norway does not have frictionless borders, but in fact it only has border posts on main routes. Norway has many unmanned crossings. They are treated as customs green lanes. It's just illegal to use them when carrying goods that need to be declared. For several years pole-mounted ANPR cameras at unstaffed crossings have been used and have proven effective in seizure cases of typical contraband - drugs/booze etc.

Over the years inspection frequency has declined by ever closer customs cooperation - and gradual alignment on agricultural products. The frequency of inspections entirely dependent on the level of divergence which dictates the customs risk profile. This is why trusted trader schemes and Authorised Economic Operator systems can substantially reduce the level of border friction. With investment both the UK and Norway could all but eliminate border checks under the EEA framework. 

This of course raises the question of how far we can diverge once we have left the EU. The short answer is, if we want to keep delays at the border to a minimum, then not a lot. That then leaves all the trade wonks at a loss as to what our future trade strategy looks like since they've got it got into their heads that they can full their boots with deregulation and tariff slashing. For as long as they keep the Brussels blinkers on they will find themselves short on options. 

As you can probably tell from my tone I am bored rigid with the whole affair. We have a while to go yet before it gets interesting. For the moment we are going round in circles. Yesterday proved that if you think we're making progress, just wait an hour or two.  

Monday, 4 December 2017

Drop the free trade mantra - it's dangerous.

One thing about Twitter is that it is very easy to get sucked into a bubble. It is natural to seek out like minded people. This is precisely why I have dumped just about everybody who comments on trade. Following other people means they set the agenda and you respond to it. What this has led to in Brexit terms is a self-congratulatory bubble of "Brexperts" who churn over the same issues ad nauseam, adding precisely nothing to our understanding, entrenching dogmas and repeating falsehoods. 

In deciding who to get rid off I ask myself if that person is in any way going to help me progress my case or is likely to inform it. In most instances the answer is no. The trade bubble is still uniquely obsessed with the WTO and for as long as the subject serves their agenda, it will be the only topic of conversation. 

The problem, however, is that the WTO is but one (largely stagnant) forum in a myriad of other influential bodies - all of which have major implications for trade. The WTO centres mainly on tariffs with a nod to standards and a framework for their application but the dirty business is done elsewhere. Non tariff barriers have been weaponised.

For instance, a standard on the maximum amount of a certain grain fungus per tonne is less to do with food safety as it is preventing Egyptian competition. Nobody comes into the world of food standards without a hidden trade agenda. Similarly Co2 and Sulphur limits on shipping has precisely zilch to do with looking after the environment. It's about the big boys with the new ships with newer engines shafting the midsize competition. So Codex and the International Maritime Organisation (to name just two) are places where corporates lobby to ensure standards protect their position in the marketplace. In many instances this is massively more significant than tariffs.

If the UK is not sending its own industry delegations and making good use of our own vote (and veto) then we are passively accepting the common EU position - set by people who actually believe Co2 limits have an environmental motive. The point here being that if your understanding of trade revolves solely around the WTO and the EU then you're ignoring the larger part of trade - and in so doing neglecting trade policy. The WTO is not the centre of the universe. It is an important and highly visible aspect of trade but it is far from the whole picture.

We are often told that the EU is a protectionist entity. Remainers deny this when in fact they should make very clear that it is protectionist and for good reason. Trade policy to protect legitimate traders from the predatory practices of nations who seek to damage competitors by unfair means. By its very nature, therefore, an effective trade policy is "protectionist". We must re-learn this discipline.

The conventional thinking among trade wonks and the bottom feeders at the FT is that the EU has its own gravitational pull in respect to standards and non-EU members are passive recipients. What is not spoken of is the EU's continued outsourcing to global standards bodies - or as I call it, The Geneva Effect. Though we will remain configured for enhanced EU trade come what may, we are not without a voice when it comes to setting those standards.

After we leave the EU we need to ensure that trade associations are taking a full and active role in standards setting with the support of UKgov. UK shipping and nuclear is well represented. I can't really say the same for other sectors.

How successful we are in shaping those standards depends not on the size of our economy, rather it is is the size of our market participation. Being in the top ten shipping services providers the UK has considerable influence and will not have any difficulty finding allies to frustrate the EU's invasive agenda. We can also say the same of our influence on the nuclear sector.

This, of course, does not apply to every forum and we will need to formulate approaches for each sector. We must have an adequate national strategy and we need to stop relying on generalists to do very specialised work. If we are going to be an independent country - we need to start acting like it.

Whether we are or we aren't more influential out of the EU is really besides the point. The UK needs an aggressively defensive posture in all of these forums if only to keep our head above water. We need good intelligence on all the standards bodies. From what I can see through my limited periscope the UK is only playing at it, flying the flag but not really understanding the highly consequential games in play.

Though it's fashionable to prate at length about the WTO, we are often reminded that the various WTO agendas are going nowhere. The framework is set, the appellate body is in a state of limbo and multilateral initiatives are glacial. There is plenty to gossip about but the real business is done elsewhere. 

Outside of the WTO the world of standards is not especially sexy and there is nothing earth shatteringly exciting about arcane subjects like digital standards, but then I am reminded of when the big players were competing for the standard width of the humble Compact Disc. If I recall it was Phillips or one of the big players who got there first and already had the production equipment ready to roll. They had intellectual property protections in place to prevent others capitalising on the technology and for a while their market position was unchallenged. This early participation matters more to a services and innovation economy far more than budging the price of coffee granules half a percent downard.  

We should, therefore, give a lot less attention to the timewasters who would distract us with their narrow perceptions. Moreover, we need to lose our phobia of protectionism. Nobody who speaks of free trade in international commerce is remotely interested in free and fair trade. They mouth the platitudes of free trade at all of the globalist jamborees like the World Economic Forum, but it's always best to watch what they do, rather than listen to their words. 

As the UK are newcomers to the modern world of trade I rather expect many corporate interests are salivating with glee to hear our trade ministers prattling on about free trade - without the first idea how the game is played and how devious it really is. It is worrying that when Liam Fox and other Tory ideologues talk about free trade they are entirely sincere. It's about the only time when Tories are sincere - and the last place where sincerity actually gets you anywhere. Unless we wise up, UK interests will very rapidly be cannibalised. 

Presently we are seeing something of a turf war evolving over the loyalties of LDCs. Brexit has triggered a vindictive streak in EU trade circles where the EU is seeking to head the UK off at the pass in any of its more creative trade endeavours. The UK can buy the loyalties of LDCs with development funding but it will have to outspend the EU and be prepared to make concessions the EU will not. That will be the decider as to whether the UK is able to wield influence in its own favour. If we unilaterally drop our defensive measures then not only will we harm our trade with the EU, we will have little to barter with.  

As with everything else, politicians are looking for big hitter headline accomplishments. The EU is no different in its never ending pursuit of the biggest deals ever. As much as this approach is inadequate for the EU, it is wholly redundant for the UK. Third countries will be gearing for trade with one of the trade superpowers, so any FTAs the UK has with them will have to slot in where the cracks appear. Our only hope is to have a savvy agenda, utilising the agility a cumbersome squabbling bloc like the EU could never hope to have. There lies our salvation. 

It is for this reason I have to tune out of the mainstream trade debate. The prattle therein is entirely self-serving for those whose very livelihood depends on the perpetuation of the FTA and WTO mythology. Our success depends on bypassing them rather than engaging with them.  

Thursday, 30 November 2017

The system did not have democracy in mind

Very occasionally I look at my Brexit compatriots and wonder why on earth I aligned with these muppets. I mean, they really do talk some crap don't they? By then who, honestly, has a working command of trade mechanics and how the EU works? In the grander scheme of things, hardly anybody. I could maybe scratch up about a hundred people from my bubble with a rounded command of the issues - and for all the remainers like to sneer, I don't think they have a particularly sophisticated idea either.

Consequently there are two Brexit worlds and never the twain shall meet. There is the philosophical Brexit, which in my view the leavers win hands down every time, and then there is the technocratic Brexit where it seems that leavers are genetically incapable of comprehending the issues. 

A glistening example this week comes from Brendan O'Neill, who, of late, seems to set the benchmark for Brexit stupidity. But then from a layman's perspective, he is absolutely right. The people of the UK have voted to leave the EU and to control their own laws accordingly. That in itself shouldn't be all that controversial but the mechanics of trade muddy the water. Northern Ireland, furthermore, just makes it impossible. 

In this it comes down to a choice. If the UK wants to diverge from the EU regulatory model then there must be a hard border. This is because the EU cannot compromise. It is bound by its own legal construct and then there is the WTO. The rules must be obeyed. This global order of rules is such an article of faith that it cannot bend to exceptions even in such a case where enforcement could very well lead to a political destabilisation and violence. That leaves only one thing left on the table. The Brits will have to lump it and carry on conforming. The system has thwarted democracy. 

It matters not that there is no particular value in regulatory divergence in this instance. What is said here is that when it comes down to it democracy has to take a back seat. The other message coming over loud and clear is if the UK does diverge then the EU will place the integrity of the single market over an above peace. So much for EU dogma. 

Of course, this is all highly subjective but the system we have built is so rigid that even having left the EU we find expressions of the democratic will come with such miserable consequences that we are bound forever to do as instructed. This is precisely where we didn't want to be, which is why we needed to leave far sooner than we actually will. The problem with carelessly allowing the drift into technocracy is that, as Brexit demonstrates, powers are much more difficult to repatriate than they are to give away.

Howsoever, we are where we are so it is is the job of politics and politicians to find a compromise. We have to somehow marry the technocratic Brexit with the philosophical Brexit in a game where neither side can begin to comprehend the other and we've put an impossibly short timescale on it. Why? Simply because some words written in haste on a page somewhere in the Treaty of Lisbon say it's two years. The system was never built with democracy in mind.  

This is why Brexit is only really the beginning of a far more involved process. We have spoken previously of the double coffin lid scenario where we punch through the layer of EU rules only to find we are tangle in a different web of rules and constrained in similar ways. We will also find that the WTO (combined with the rest of the UN regulatory system) means that sovereingty as imagined by Brexiters barely exists at all. 

As this global order ossifies we will find it takes on the same character as the EU, adopting much of the same dogma and operating according to the same set of globalist values, influenced and dominated by the globalist intelligentsia, all of whom subscribe to all of the same convictions from command and control quasi-liberal economics up to and including climate change. 

In this it's easy for the blowhards to denounce regulations as petty infringements on liberty but we are about to discover as we diverge the precise utility of it - not least as food prices start to climb. Many leavers will come to question whether that marginal increment in sovereingty was worth having to live without heating. 

That said, the UK is not the only one to run in the the limitations of democracy inside the framework of the current legal order. Certainly the Greeks have learned that expressions of democracy are next to useless as a member of the Euro - and sooner or later a refugee quota will test Easten European tolerance to the limit. 

In effect, we have spent the last half century building an elaborate cage of rules and systems for the better functioning of commerce while utterly neglecting the human propensity to break systems. Sooner or later, it will all come crashing in for no other reason than the fact that no system can ever withstand the human need to evolve and challenge the constraints placed upon us. It is the cycle of history. 

In this instance we are at the very end of the post war settlement. Though the WTO is a relatively young institution, it is the manifestation of a seventy year old system devised long before internet, containerisation and automation. Humanity is evolving to a point where the systems of yore and the economic models of the present increasingly have less relevance. Rather than asking where we go from here, our terrified establishments are doing all they can to preserve the old world.

As much as this is down to the fact that any new order will undoubtedly threaten their power, they simply have no idea what the new mode for humanity will be. Is it to be a technological anarchy they cannot control?  Can governments any longer hold dominion over us? They don't know and they are in no rush to find out. That is what they are afraid of. If governments are no longer at the centre of power then tyrants no longer have a means to control us. That is not in their grand design, and freedom is the very last thing they have in mind. 

A dose of the Brexit blues

Some readers will be wondering why I am not obsessively blogging every twist and turn of the Brexit process. I am watching it like a hawk and spend more hours on Twitter than any human should - thus have seen every possible opinion and every stupid misconception, but other than the provisional agreement on the Brexit bill and the unsurprising shape of the Northern Ireland "deal" there nothing much to get excited about.

The dregs of the ultras, notably the odious Liam Halligan, are still playing their mendacious games, piping out their poison to anyone who will listen, but there does now seem to be a broad understanding in the Twittersphere that the WTO option is not an option and anyone who suggests otherwise very rapidly provokes the ire of the ever growing crowd of brexitologists.

Today, though, there is some room for optimism. If reports are correct and there is indeed the basis for an agreement on the exit settlement and Northern Ireland then it is a signal that time pressures are focussing minds, and in the absence of better ideas the government is having to concede to the obvious. 

We are told that these such concessions "outrage" Brexiters, but it would appear that, as usual, it is only the unappeasable expending any energy over it. Tories can squeal all they like for the One True Brexit™, but the UK does not exist in isolation and its actions have consequences. If we turn our backs on regulatory cooperation we open a hole in the EUs customs firewall. It then has no choice but to police its frontier.

The EU will not make substantive concessions on the NI border because, when we leave, the border becomes the outer frontier of the most mature and complex customs and regulatory union on the planet. It cannot redesign it the for the sole benefit of a departing member. We have a choice of remaining in the single market or erecting a hard border with Ireland. It is that simple.

To make any kind of substantial concession for the UK so as to avoid a hard border the EU would have to revise its treaties, and any concession would then apply to all third countries. That is simply not going to happen. The UK will have to maintain regulatory harmonisation. This we have been over time and again, and as EUReferendum notes, the mechanics of WTO rules means we have obligations either way.

There will come a point in the very near future when there is something original and interesting to say, not least as discussions regarding our future relationship heat up, but for the moment I am living a in a day to day zombie state of lethargy, exhaustion, nihilism, serotonin depletion and relentless boredom - as is traditional for this time of year. Don't be surprised if I am not at my most prolific.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Best be leaving now

The European Commission has launched a public consultation to gather views of the broader public on setting up a European Labour Authority and the introduction of a European Social Security Number.
The European Labour Authority should ensure that EU rules on labour mobility are enforced in a fair, simple and effective way. Concretely, building on existing structures, the Authority would support national administrations, businesses, and mobile workers by strengthening cooperation at EU level on matters such as cross-border mobility and social security coordination. It would also improve access to information for public authorities and mobile workers and enhance transparency regarding their rights and obligations.
The European Social Security Number (ESSN) aims at simplifying and modernising citizens' interaction with administrations in a range of policy areas. An EU Social Security Number would facilitate the identification of persons across borders for the purposes of social security coordination and allow the quick and accurate verification of their social security insurance status. It would facilitate administrative procedures for citizens by optimising the use of digital tools.
Both initiatives were announced by President Juncker in his 2017 State of the Union address. Legislative proposals for both initiatives are announced in the European Commission's Work Programme for 2018 and planned to be tabled by spring 2018.
There are two ways to look at this. This could be viewed as the EU steaming ahead to do all that which it could not do with the UK as a member, much like PESCO. The other way to look at it is that this was always the direction of travel. UK membership only really governs the pace of integration and a "public consultation" means they are going to do it regardless of what anyone thinks. 

Either way, this is not the domain of a mere trade bloc. This is an instrument of an emerging supreme government, to which the UK would otherwise be subordinate. It is the foundation of Juncker's "Social Europe" meaning that social and welfare policy will gradually drift toward Brussels and far out of the reach of democracy. Of course, this would follow that much vaunted Brussels subsidiarity principle. You are free to have any have any policy you like, just so long as it stays within the parameters defined by the Commission and the ECJ.

And this is the thing with the EU. Once consent is established for the basic foundation, the ossification process begins to the point where you no longer have the power, reform is impossible and like trade and agriculture, it simply drops out of public discourse. Why debate that which cannot be influenced? This is how we drift from democracy to technocracy - and subsequently stagnation and disaffection. That is why I would vote to leave every single time. 

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Britain's moment of transition

There is a place about an hour from where I live. I go there whenever I have visitors or on a Sunday afternoon when I have nothing else to do. It's an aircraft museum dedicated to the the Fleet Air Arm - the air wing of the Royal Navy. It's a special place for me because it's a connection with the past and a small part of my identity. It invokes a certain sentimentality and patriotism - one which I am far from alone in.

When I was a boy I wanted to be a pilot, but not just any pilot; a Royal Navy pilot. I think it was a fusion of my love of all things aviation combined with the huge respect I had for my uncle who served in the Falklands conflict. That conflict was the last righteous victory of the British.

Though the Empire has long been dead, military power has remained in the landscape of the British psyche ever since. The Falklands was no different. Some of the most iconic and inspirational images in British media come from that conflict, notably the flotilla of small boats welcoming the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible back to Portsmouth. These images to this day contribute to the British self-image of a being military power.

The conflict to this day inspires many men my age who grew up learning about the daring raids by Vulcan bombers over Port Stanley. The Vulcan itself having an aviation pedigree going back to the Lancaster bomber - the instrument of our victory over the Nazis. It was also a victory for our fighter pilots who, in the spirit of their Battle of Britain forebears, fought bravely to fend off the aggressor and saved our ships from aerial attack. Britain, just for a moment, was reliving its glory days.

Notably the conflict was one where Britain stood alone. America did not come our rescue, nor did we enjoy the support of our European allies. By every measure, it was moment of great pride for Britain, one which cemented Margaret Thatcher's place in history and secured a long term in office for her.

Even by 1991, the UK still saw itself as a major military power - and when we committed our forces to Operation Desert Storm, our bomber pilots painted mascots on the side of their aircraft, as a homage to the bomber traditions of World War Two. As a boy I recall making dozens of plastic models of Buccaneers and Tornados painted in the desert camouflage colours of the first Gulf War.

At that time, most of our aircraft were cold war relics close to the end of their operational life. Many aircraft on their return to the UK were immediately retired to museums which continue to inspire children all over the country. 

Culturally, my generation were raised in the long shadow of World War Two. Growing up in the eighties much of the television we watched was influenced by it. From the many war films to the documentaries and memorials, we were saturated with the impression that the UK had fought and won a righteous war against an evil aggressor, and we stood apart in the world as a force for good.

Of course, any serious examination of the British Empire shows that Britain has plenty blood on its hands and a more objective, less sentimental look at at our past shows that we have much to answer for. That, however, struggles to compete with our collective self-deception of being a glorious victor in all things.

It is partially this powerful sense of identity that drives us to leave the EU. It bruises our national ego to admit that we are no longer a global power. Even now, our defence procurement is less about operational capability as it is power projection. This explains the purchase of two of the world's largest aircraft carriers.

The carriers themselves will carry the most advanced and most expensive aircraft ever to fly. They will be used in operations similar to those currently underway in Syria, where we believe we are righteous actors against an evil foe. Whether or not we are making things worse does not really come into it so long as it continues to massage our self-image as a global force for good. Never underestimate what a politicians are prepared to spend in the name of national vanity.

This, though, has defence analysts and armchair generals wondering how we can possibly finance the navy to do all the other tasks befitting a global pretender. Having invested so much in power projection, just about every other branch of the armed services will have to take a cut.

Britain has never really come to terms with the end of the Empire. Our Foreign Office officials, many my own age, many of them Eton and Oxford educated, are taught the works of Rudyard Kipling and tales of the Commonwealth. Our establishment simply cannot shake off its colonial mentality, nor cannot permit itself to acknowledge that the special relationship with the USA is largely a British delusion. This is why we continue to add our diminishing military capabilities to US adventures in the Middle East. This is why Britain is now about to get a rude awakening.

When Britain leaves the EU we will be forced to confront the reality that in terms of power and economic clout we are far less significant than we believe ourselves to be. The EU has been the life support machine upon which our delusions of influence depended. For this reason we have continued to behave on the world stage as though we still mattered when much of the world has zero interest in what the UK has to say.

In this regard, it is unsurprising that a feckless oaf such as Boris Johnson would have become our Foreign Secretary. He is the personification of Britain's self delusion. A boorish, spoiled, lazy yob born of the elites, who believes it is the duty of foreigners to simply bend to our will. There is a presumption that we can simply waltz into the WTO and dictate the agenda and all will bow before us.

Though our media treats this as an entertaining sideshow, internationally it damages our reputation, turns goodwill sour and diminishes our standing in the world. We will have to work hard internationally to recover from this damaging episode in UK politics. But then this is also a healthy process for the UK to undertake.

Britain's self-important self-image is one that has continued influence domestic politics but it is also a major reason why we invaded Iraq. We saw ourselves as the righteous saviour. It is also that same hubris which believed our forces would be effortlessly victorious. Instead we opened a can of worms which almost certainly contributed to the destabilsation of Syria, playing midwife to ISIS.

They say pride cometh before a fall but in the curious case of Britain, it's the other way around. We maintain our pride of empire long after we have fallen. Like cartoon physics we do not begin to fall until we look look down. That time is now upon us.

Britain is soon to find that when it leaves the EU it cannot resume its position as the head of a mighty Commonwealth. Like everyone else it will have to sing for its supper. It will be a Britain for the new generation; they whose grandparents never saw World War Two, for whom the Falklands war is just another conflict in the distant past, and for whom those museum relics are just "old planes".

I am the last of the Empire generation. The last to be touched by the legacy of World War Two. My Britain does not exist anymore and when I walk round the air museum I am walking among ghosts from a time when Britain ruled the skies and seas. Just as the mines and steel works are never coming back, the Royal Navy will never again dominate. That is the reality our political establishment has yet to fully realise.

On the left of British politics we have Mr Corbyn and his dreams of restoring the post-war socialist order, and on the right we have Tories still in denial as to Britain's position in the world. The left may chastise the right for this obsolete thinking but the Labour Party will be the first to deploy our aircraft carriers on a humanitarian bombing mission. We can no longer afford their delusions. If we want a Britain fit for the future we must rid ourselves of them. Our greatness lies in who we are to be, not in who we were.

Where next for UK defence?

Though I am a little late to the party I think it worth making mention of the PESCO agreement which some are describing as an EU army amidst a number of high profile denials.

This agreement takes formal defence co-operation in the European Union to a new level. Under PESCO, each country has to provide a plan for national contributions. The participants will be backed by a European Defence Fund that should be worth €5bn annually after 2020. The money will be used for weapons research and equipment purchases. 

Categorically this is not a "Euro army" but it is most certainly what the EU would call a tidying up exercise to formalise that which already exists, further moving the UK toward the fringes of European defence cooperation. Since the UK buys Apache, RC135, P8 Poseidon, F35, Chinook and a number of other high profile US toys, the UK has already chosen its defence partner, and that is not the EU. 

Whether or not the UK is involved in any future European programme to develop the next generation fighter remains to be seen. BAE Systems believes that it will in some way be involved. European politics being what it is, we can expect moves to isolate the UK and ensure any jobs from such a venture will stay on the continent. 

As to any operational cooperation, NATO will remain the common framework while the EU steams ahead with ever closer union. It is not a euro army but it is another subtle move in that direction. As is consistent with the EU modus operandi. 

In that regard I expect that if we see another action similar to that of Libya, the EU will be looking to keep command of such a venture in house, keeping NATO in the loop as a scapegoat for when it goes wrong. The framework itself will allow for member states to take the lead and for reluctant states to give the outward appearance of non-intervention while supplying material and logistical support under an EU flag. 

As with everything else the EU does, it will never formalise as a single command under an EU executive but it will go ninety percent of the way and fudge the rest. The EU likes to have plausible deniability. 

We can also say that member states will push back against full integration, not least France which will continue to exert its influence over its colonial interests. France will maintain independent defence cooperation with the UK as a means to avail itself of assets from Waddington and Brize Norton. The UK will naively oblige even though no such reciprocal support would come were we to mount a similar operation of our own. That is the French understanding of cooperation. 

As regards to PESCO, for the EU to have mobilised something so quickly after the UK's decision to leave the EU, it would suggest this has been in the works for some years already with the UK dragging its heels. For the EU to make big noises now is more a deliberate diplomatic signal. It wants the UK thinking about EU defence cooperation and whether we want to be on this particular bus. No doubt the EU does want some UK participation and it would be in our interests to maintain a high level of involvement. 

The short of it is that the UK cannot afford to operate a wholly independent military and that reality has influenced our defence spending for at least a decade. In taking on aircraft carrier capability it was always the case that we would have to specialise and look to foreign partners to play their role in Western defence. Consequently our amphibious capability is under the microscope and we can expect to see HMS Albion sold off. 

In this we have the option of European cooperation under the NATO banner or indeed further cooperation in CANZUK countries, which in a defence context makes a great deal of sense. As the UK specialises in carrier operations Australia makes up the shortfall in amphibious capabilities with two Canberra class Helicopter Landing Docks (pictured). We should also note that even though the UK is committed to a new fleet of frigates, in the wake of Brexit it is a near certainty that the number will be cut. It is therefore a necessity that we look to allies to mount a fully effective carrier battle group.  

The UK is far from alone in struggling to maintain operational capabilities and as we head into a new era of economic uncertainty (when are we not?) governments will want to spend more on domestic concerns. Defence cooperation, therefore, is just good sense. Duplication of NATO capability is a waste. 

Brexit most likely means the UK will be second in the pecking order for EU defence projects but then again this is largely a formalisation a the status quo. UK defence procurement will always look to preserve jobs in Yeovil before it looks to collaborative efforts - and our continued support of US military adventures means we will continue to gear our forces for US interoperability. 

In this respect we are seeing a continuance of old habits. Britain is psychologically separatist when it comes to defence. Our national ego, rooted deeply in our Eton educated establishment views European defence cooperation as inferior - with an ongoing (and not unjustified) suspicion that the French are not acting in good faith. Since we have gradually dismantled our aerospace sector, our preference will always lean toward US air power - usually for no better reason than they have sex appeal and the generals like mean looking toys. 

But this is ultimately why the UK doesn't really get the EU. Our defence establishment thinks in terms of NATO and the anglosphere - a large reason being historical alliances and our righteous victories. That mindset is to this day deeply entrenched and there is just enough pushback for the UK to never be a wholly committed European partner. It is too much of a bruise to the national ego to assume the role of a subordinate "partner" in Europe - especially when France is the military superpower inside the bloc. 

This is a view with which I have some sympathy. France is not a reliable or honourable defence partner. Cooperation with France in good faith usually results in the cannibalisation of UK defence assets and we watch the jobs move to France. French defence corporations are still very much French whereas BAE Systems is a global multinational with no particular corporate loyalties to the UK. 

In any estimation, the UK defence establishment has been in a state of decline for the last three decades and we are poised, eventually, to slide from the top ten arms exporters. We should note, however, that our strengths lie not in ships and aeroplanes (and all the toys which appeal to our national ego), rather the UK is a supplier of black electronic boxes upon which modern military depends. In respect of that, it is vital that the UK safeguards its position as a research and innovation powerhouse. 

The short of it is that the EU is now putting up walls to the UK - and though superficially that is a worrying development, it should also shake the UK out of its complacency and should also wake us from our naive belief that EU cooperation strengthens the UK defence sector. Little by little it is cannibalised by European actors for the greater glory of the EU. 

In a lot of ways defence cooperation and defence procurement is a bellwether for international relations. The UK psychologically and strategically has preferred to keep its options open, and given European history this remains the best policy for the UK. In this the EU is the inward looking isolationist and PESCO is almost certainly a step toward weakening NATO. It speaks to the EU's self-image as a rival to the USA as a military power.

Speaking more broadly we are presently watching a realignment in global power. The dominance of Boeing and Airbus is coming to an end. The structural inefficiencies have remained unchallenged for decades but with new markets opening up for smaller mid-range aircraft such as the Bombardier C Series and Embraer E-Jet family, and with China making impressive inroads into the sector, there is soon to be a genuinely competitive global aerospace market where Airbus will no longer enjoy regional monopolies. It can afford no more costly white elephants.  

The hegemony of both the US and Europe is coming to an end. We face a number of challenges to enhance our global competitiveness and in that, Brexit is one of the many triggers that indicates the end of the old world order. As daunting though this may be, it breaks the deadlock for the EU while forcing the UK to gets its skates on. Whether or not we can rise to this challenge remains to be seen. 

What we can say is that the UK has a number of difficult choices ahead and will have to abandon a lot of long standing assumptions. In seeking out a new role in the world it will open up a number of new avenues for cooperation. In this respect many Brexiteers are right. Though there is no scope for regulatory union and economic integration as per the single market, CANZUK does present itself as the UK's natural home for future defence cooperation. 

For the UK it was never a realistic proposition that we place all of our economic and defence interests into a single basket. One can see how it would make sense for mainland countries, with France at the centre, but the UK's future depends on its agility and flexibility. 

This does not rule out the possibility of operational cooperation with the EU and so long as we have assets like the QE carriers and Trident, we will continue to be an important part of the defence of the West. To that end the UK must work to ensure NATO remains the dominant framework. 

As ever, it must be said that the UK's post-Brexit fortunes are largely contingent on how Brexit is handled. Some have suggested that if Airbus is forced to depart from the UK it may look to move its design arm out of Europe entirely. The far east is certainly not short on engineering talent. While a hard Brexit has major economic ramifications for the UK, the effects on wider European trade are also substantial. The harder those effects the greater impact they are likely to have on European defence spending which could well torpedo EU ambitions in that domain.

The diplomatic signals with regard to PESCO from the EU are very much a sideswipe at the UK. This is to be expected. This has long been a faultline between the UK and the EU and the EU is keen to demonstrate that it is not a wounded animal. We should not, however, forget that a mishandled Brexit is a lose-lose for Europe and European defence and we should keep in mind that the EU, politics notwithstanding, is a hugely important ally. Either side would be foolish to lose sight of that. 

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Traitors, quislings and enemies of the people

The Daily Mail has one agenda only. To make money. It is better than all the rest at it because it knows the business better than anyone. It lives by the one golden rule of media which is as true in the internet age as it was in the age of the printing press. Sell the people their own opinions back to them. People love nothing more than to have their own opinions validated and shown to be mainstream rather than fringe.

So when the Daily Mail runs a headline like "Enemies of the People" it is largely reflecting the opinions of its core readership. And when it comes to the judges and various officials involved in the various attempts to forestall Brexit, the average readers probably does cast them as enemies of the people.

If you identify with a certain popular shade of Britishness then for decades you've watched a succession of governments handing over powers to Brussels without ever having a direct say in a matter which is of supreme importance to you. The message comes over loud and clear that the establishment is doing something to you, it isn't being honest about what is being done, and it does not want you to have a say.

Then comes a referendum - a free and fair vote, which was won by leavers, albeit by a small margin, in which the government was explicit that they would implement whatever was decided. We can equivocate but those are the indisputable facts of the matter. The ballot boxes were not tampered with and more people voted to leave than to remain.

And though you might say the public didn't know enough about the EU to make that call, it transpires that collectively we know little of the vagaries of the Westminster system or the broader UK constitution either. Hence why ordinarily sensible people of all persuasions get bent out of shape when an ill judged parliamentary amendment is voted down.

It is, therefore, from a position of ignorance, entirely understandable that ordinary people would see judicial activism as a complete betrayal of what they understand in the most basic terms, to be democracy - ie winning a vote. You might very well then see such people as enemies of the people along with the rest of the establishment which conspired to take us ever deeper into this wretched union.

And when it comes to the rhetoric, it is in keeping with euroscepticism from the year dot. In my more extreme youth I probably would have been seen calling such individuals quislings and traitors. And this is not exactly rhetorically inaccurate. Politicians whose loyalties serve a foreign agenda without the knowledge or consent of the people.

And now that I mention it, I'm being a patronising hypocrite because, though I have trained myself not to say these things, I still pretty much think that. I do see the EU as an occupying power and I do see the hardcore remainers and establishment figures as servants of that regime and the globalist agenda and though I have some fairly unpleasant bedfellows, I would still side with them on this issue every single time.

Had there been a referendum on Maastricht and Lisbon then I might feel differently about it. In fact, I am certain that Lisbon would not have even been ratified and we wouldn't even be in this mess. It is the hubris of our rulers that has led us to where we are and we are setting about correcting that.

So when it comes to the handwringing of our liberal establishment, ever more forthcoming in its belief that Britain is turning down a dark road toward fascism, I just have to tell them to get a grip. The post-referendum landscape tells you all you need to know. The majority of Ukip has drifted back to its natural home in the Tories and what is left of it is split between a fragmented moderate faction and one that is going all out against Islam.

The latter faction does not command much in the way of mass appeal and it barely has an organisation behind it. Ukip is yesterday's news. As to the Daily Mail, they're actually having a laugh. The public at large is not baying for the blood of Gina Miller and would not be able to name a single judge involved. The right wing are not going to go overboard nor are they especially agitated. Except the DM knows who precisely who will go overboard. Those same handwringing liberals.

As a permanent fixture in the twitterspehere I seldom ever encounter somebody of the right who shares these splash front page images. And if I do it is seldom ever to the extent that remainers and leftists do. The DM is a master at clickbait and it knows how to rattle cages.

This of course brings about yet more forelock tugging, worrying that such incendiary rhetoric  could result in the murder of another MP. That is to completely overlook the fact that Jo Cox was murdered by a self-radicalised psychopathic nazi who was reading far more sinister stuff than the Daily Mail. He most likely thought the Daily Mail was a left wing establishment rag. That is how extremists think.

The general public however, are just getting on with it and wondering why on earth the government isn't. Nobody is shining up their jackboots and flexing their red braces. There is, however, a disturbing trend in death threats being sent to MPs who register their objections Brexit. MPs may complain but they love any opportunity to play the victim.

As it happens, when the plod do track down these ranty losers, it's usually some ordinary tosspot with fairly pedestrian views who's had one too many on a Friday night and sent a poison pen letter to Anna Soubry. A night in the local slammer and a fine will usually set them straight. If the policing is good it results in a caution and nothing more is said. Very very occasionally there is cause to take it more seriously and the police have a good idea when that is.

The only time I can imagine such threats being much more serious is if by some means they do manage to overturn Brexit. The mood would be most sour indeed in that your average layman will never comprehend the many roadblocks that could have killed Brexit. They will just see it as an establishment conspiracy. They already think such is underway by way of a sustained media campaign to delegitimise the vote and blame it on the Russians.

But even then I suspect such threats would be empty. We would see some ugly incidents but things would most likely return to a depressingly pedestrian norm with an undertone of seething hatred for politicians. No uprisings, no civil unrest - just bitterness and acrimony. Why? Because we're not Nazis and we are not "far right" and we are not extremists. We're just people of the United Kingdom who do not want to be governed by Brussels.

Later down the line that resentment would fuel a new Ukip, only this time the gloves would be off. Last time around Ukip played it by the establishment's rules which saw it coming and was skillfully able to defuse it. What that will result in is a Westminster establishment becoming more illiberal and authoritarian simply because it thinks that is what is required in order to appease the public. They will do virtually anything except what they have been instructed to do - ie leave the European Union.

But then returning to the now, there is a more pressing political concern. Because the left and the remain establishment very much believe there is a seething mass of fascism they are taking ever more illiberal measures to police language and the debate in general. If anything feeds, validates and emboldens the sense of resentment it is precisely that sort of paternalistic intervention - where the establishment believes the plebs must be protected from harmful words and ideas. This we have already had two decades of, and it is, in part, a goodly reason why so many voted to leave.

If anything at all causes the UK to turn down a dark corner it will be an establishment that fails to learn the lessons and continues to treat ordinary people like halfwit pondlife. And if then they are still willing to use any and all means at their disposal to ensure that a vote has no meaning, then maybe they really are traitors, quislings and enemies of the people.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Brexit: In for a penny...

Ima gonna level with you. I now have a galactic knowledge of things I never wanted or needed to know about the EU. And this leads me to believe we are in a position where much of what has been done to us is pretty much irreversible without some pushback from other member states. This is not going to happen. This is what we eurosceptics were always warning about.

Consequently, unless we stay in the single market, we are totally fucked. We are looking at, in modern terms, an unprecedented decline in living standards. I don't like it, but there it is. If we had a halfway competent government, it would by now have realised this and we wouldn't even be having this conversation. But here we are.

There is still a chance that sense will prevail. The government may find itself boxed in on all sides. Myself and my fellow keyboard warriors are keeping up the pressure, but it is in the hands of the gods now.

But yesterday was a moment of clarity for me. An epiphany of sort. The budget told me one thing and one thing only. Brexit is bad, but remaining in the EU is absolutely suicidal.

Y'see it became clear to me when I saw that we are making a 40% cut to the FCO. Here we are about to enter a far less privileged arrangement with our nearest and largest trade partner and the Downing Street thinks we can prune the FCO and not make cuts to entitlements. That, people, is a political establishment that has completely fucking lost it.

If you are a bubble dwelling politico then any budget day is a political event. Not for this pussycat. To me they are always pedestrian managerialism lacking any political courage. This one was no different save for one fact. The only thing that made it remotely interesting; the fact that this budget is the last of its kind. The very last one where we can afford to ignore reality.

For the last decade or so we have pruned the RN, the FCO, DIT and all the instruments of international hard and soft power. This is so we can continue with the electoral bribes and keep shelling out entitlements. We live in an age so perverse where the government can spend 35% of tax receipts on welfare and we call this "austerity".

Brexit, as far as Downing Street is concerned, is just another procedural expense. But when it hits, it will be like they tripped a claymore mine. They won't know what hit them. If that doesn't wake them up then nothing will. Only then can we arrest the silent decline. And if it still doesn't register that we cannot go on like this (which is still possible given how bent out of shape things are) then we will go all the way south.

That would be bad, and it would render Brexit somewhat futile, but I'm still ok with that because without a disruptive event that was our destination anyway.

If all we have done is brought it forward then it will be us who deal with the consequences and picks up the pieces. We will, at the very least, have done the adult thing and not kicked the can down the road in the way that our politicians do. It won't be pretty, but at least we will not have shirked our responsibility as custodians of our democracy.

One way or another we have started something here. The protected class are afraid. They are doing what they can to avoid confronting reality - but they cannot, will not, and must not win. We have crossed the event horizon. Now we have to own the choice we have made. There is no going back. AlI I can say is... buckle your seatbelt Dorothy, because Kansas... is going bye bye.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Arresting the decline

If I were to pick a columnist who shaped my political views as a younger man it would be Philip Johnston of The Daily Telegraph who was writing for it back in the days when it was a still a semi-serious newspaper. 

Though it has been a very long time since I bothered to read it, it is interesting that he should have penned this article detailing how entitlement culture has a total grip on British politics. It slots in very well with some of the themes on this blog of late and is not too far dissimilar to what I would have written last night were I not stricken with the lurgy. 
The main reason why we have run an almost permanent deficit since the 1960s has been the explosion of entitlements that fractured the something-for-something contributory principle originally espoused by Beveridge. The state gives money to people because of who they are rather than what they need and irrespective of what they have paid in. And once commitments are made they are set in stone.
To give one example: when my children were young (not that long ago) there was no free nursery schooling; yet not only does this new entitlement continue despite our indebtedness, it has been expanded to curry favour with a particular group of voters. Woe betide any Chancellor who tries to cut it.
Over time such entitlements have supplanted contributory benefits and given rise to resentment among the people who pay the taxes to fund them, who are in turn dissatisfied with the standard of services they receive from the state.
In a non-collectivist world, they could get better schooling for their children and higher levels of health and social care for themselves if they could spend more of their own money on what they wanted rather than what they are given.
We should have started to uncouple personal welfare from public spending years ago as the country became richer, leaving the state to help only the very poor. Instead, radical ideas such as top-up education vouchers and treatment co-payments in health have been killed stone dead.
It is heartening that Mr Hammond remains focused on spending restraint; but like most recent Chancellors he misses the big picture, or is simply unable to redraw it. Mr Brown, in particular, went off in the collectivist direction, deliberately dragging ever greater numbers into the welfare net.
We are now in the perverse position of relentlessly cutting the things the state is supposed to provide such as defence, policing and infrastructure, while political parties vie with each other to promise more people more things that they could and should do for themselves.
Those who want to see the proportion of GDP taken by the state reduced to around 30 per cent, with commensurate tax reductions to boost productivity, choice and growth, are hardly heard from anymore. We are doomed to pile up debt while periodically chipping away at it without making a discernible impact. The entitlement culture has won.
I've been expressing similar arguments quite frequently of late - and in the Twittersphere this kind of thinking makes you some kind of monster. So in that respect entitlement culture has also won the battle of ideas. We are, therefore, doomed to watch the slow rot of the country while we cannibalise wealth. The politicians cannot arrest the decline because to do so would take a degree of political courage that simply isn't there. 

Consequently only a seismic political event can break the deadlock. That is why Brexit is so damn important to the survival of the nation. Unless we have this out we are done for. The status quo is certain death. Brexit is a window to turn it around. If Brexit is defeated, then so is Britain.