Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Brexit: wishing it were simpler


One of the more annoying canards from Brexiteers is that no other "trade deal" requires a court to sit in judgement over it. I think it was blogger Tony Edwards who remarked just recently that there can be no combination of words more imprecise and aggravatingly useless than the words "trade deal". No truer words.

There are of course many levels of "trade deals" but it would be better to call them intergovernmental relationships. Any relationship will begin with basic agreements, not especially detailed and largely open the door for the development of closer relations. A memorandum of understanding grows into a free trade agreement which can then evolve into something much more sophisticated like an association agreement.

In a more basic relationship disputes are resolved through normal diplomatic channels but the busier agreements may require a joint committee, establishing domestic offices to service that relationship. When things get as serious as a free trade agreement extending into areas of regulatory cooperation there is then a need for a formal dispute resolution system. These can vary and as yet there is no uniform approach - not least since the methodology of dispute resolution is always evolving as trade relations become more complex.

In the case of the EU-Chile association agreement there is an arbitration procedure - one of the first to specify fully open hearings. This is a method subsequently adopted by the USA. Where it gets more complex is that, as we have noted before, EU FTAs very often reproduce whole tracts of WTO law, particularly in regard to phytosanitary measures to protect humans, animals, and plants from diseases, pests, or contaminants. Increasingly EU agreements go much further, embedding large tracts of the WTO agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade.

This causes overlaps in terms of legal interpretations where WTO law cannot be disregarded and arbitration panels cannot rule in place of the WTO dispute settlement body. This creates a complex relationship between FTA and WTO law. As I understand it, dispute resolution has a sequencing order where complaints are first put through diplomatic channels and if no resolution can be found, a complaint is referred to the arbitration body and then the WTO as a last resort.

This is further complicated when dealing with agreements between two blocs where a far more sophisticated mechanism is required as the relationships are usually far more comprehensive - none more so than  the EEA agreement between Efta states and the EU. Originally Efta had a far more informal structure but with the EEA agreement it became clear that a more robust and authoritative system was needed to further relations with the EU. This brought about the creation of the Efta court.

The purpose of a court is to bring about some finality to ongoing complaints. Normally disagreements can be resolved through joint committees and normal diplomatic relations but if a serious complaint drags on, a referral to the court brings it into formal focus where the court must bring about a resolution in a timely fashion.

For EU members there is the ECJ but with Efta states being outside of the EU and not under ECJ jurisdiction the Efta court is used for ironing out serious issues which cannot be resolved through normal channels. The rulings themselves are not binding, but a failure to implement them carries consequences - usually retaliatory measures which can be justified either under the EEA agreement or WTO law.

A persistent canard of the single market debate is that Britain in the EEA would still be under ECJ jurisdiction. This is wrong and those who speak it often know full well that this is wrong and they are in fact lying. In most circumstances the Efta court has to take ECJ rulings into account - which for some is still a red line, but this is no different to the EU taking WTO rulings into account where there is overlap between WTO law and law set out by the FTA. The Efta court respects the ECJ and Efta member states respect the Efta rulings. In a theoretical and practical sense, sovereignty is preserved.

Some remark that Norway has never exercised any kind of veto - which as far as I know is true but there are two considerations to take into account. Firstly every day complaints are dealt with through ongoing relations through the EEA secretariat and very often there is no need to elevate it to a court, and secondly, with the UK being a larger and more diverse economy, and one with sufficient economic power to say no, the UK most likely would exercise its right of reservation - commonly described as a veto. This of course is not the only way for member states to secure resolutions in that there are country specific protocols and annexes in the EEA agreement which can be negotiated by other means.

The depth and complexity of an agreement largely dictates the shape and scope of any dispute resolution mechanism. As Britain will necessarily require a deep and comprehensive agreement with the EU it follows that whatever form our relationship takes, there will need to be an arbitration system and a formal means of bringing complaints.

Since we will need what is called "frictionless trade" and we are seeking to enjoy the same level of free trade in goods, that will require that we conform to EU import controls and the ECJ will be the means by which interpretation of the EU's own rules is done. That is currently the position Switzerland has to endure on animal product exports because there is no system of co-determination. This is what makes the Efta-EEA arrangement a superior agreement and one that gives more scope for the exercise of sovereignty.

While it is true that other countries have FTAs with the EU without a court system, they do not enjoy the same level of customs cooperation. Any partner wishing to enhance their level of cooperation will have to work toward harmonisation - and as the EU is the larger market, that relationship will largely be asymmetrical. That means they do as the EU says with little or no independent adjudication.

Brexiteers a plagued by a certain mindset. They believe a new relationship with the EU cannot and must not be complex, expecting all of the same advantages without acknowledging that there are systems involved in order to make it all work. To be fair, you can sort of see their point. Trade and customs rules and regulations are mind-bogglingly complex and only super-humans have a full grasp of how it all works. But the point being that when we need a relationship covering everything from fisheries to space policy, we will need the structures, systems and institutions that go with it. Only if we were considering breaking off much of our inter-EU cooperation could we arrive at a simpler framework.

This is of course is what Mrs May in her Lancaster House speech said that we were not going to do. The words "deep and special relationship" are her words and they are not chosen at random. A deep and special relationship requires an extensive agreement and if that isn't the EEA then it will have to be something similar - and there will have to be a dispute resolution system - and it will be one that takes its cue from the ECJ. This is why I think leaving the single market is a particularly stupid idea. we would be reinventing the wheel only to come up with something that wouldn't be nearly as fair and transparent as Efta. You really would have to be "thick as mince" to consider it.

Brexit: treading water


As I understand it, silly season is upon us. As ever I struggle to notice a difference. One would think there was a necessity to keep pressing on the Brexit front but it would seem the chatterati have lost interest and instead are gossiping about BBC presenter salaries. I wish I could join in but I really don't care. I have never bought a TV licence and I'm never going to.

Distressingly though, Brexit seems to have slipped from the agenda. All we're getting is amateurish recycled material, and even though it's important and it does need to be said by as many as possible, it is not penetrating the bubble and still there is no sign of sanity prevailing.

This makes it all the more difficult to blog in that it is incredibly difficult to write pro-Brexit material when the Brexit that could be good is slipping through our fingers by the day. It barely seems worth the trouble climbing into the detail in order to look for solutions and ideas when it looks like our sole activity on Brexit day will be disaster recovery. If this goes the way it looks to be going then all plans and big ideas will go out of the window.

I should take some heart though. Throughout we've been told that people would listen if only we were less abrasive, but now most of the media seems to be catching up along with many of the more neutral sources - and they are not getting through either.

It amuses me greatly that in last night's meeting of Bristol for Europe, apart from the whole remaining in the EU thing, there was little in Mike Galsworthy's analysis I could disagree with. It's going off the rails, the government hasn't a clue and it doesn't seem like anybody can get through. Galsworthy and his colleagues have produced endless reports and presented evidence to select committees and have got nowhere - and nobody can say Dr Galsworthy's behaviour is anything less than impeccable. He shows far more patience than I. 

Meanwhile the public debate, what's left of it, is still a jaded rehash of the referendum and it has not progressed even an inch. Die hard remainers are still calling us xenophobes and Brexiteers are still hell bent on the most suicidal Brexit possible having learned precisely zero about the process over the last twelve months.

It would seem the only way to communicate anything to anybody in respect of Brexit is to tell them what they want to hear and nothing else, which largely makes any communication utterly redundant. In the meantime, we're not getting anywhere close to the details. The bickering over the "exit bill" is only just beginning but this will be reduced to a tedious biff-bam showdown where the media gets distracted by the trivialities - and assuming our government is not crass enough to walk out, the UK will capitulate.

As far as I see it, this won't get interesting until we hit the wall of the Northern Ireland question. When that happens, that's when we will need to see some grown up decision making. There is no discussing that issue without raising the means by which goods will cross borders and that will have a considerable influence on where this goes. This is when the empty nostrums of the Tories will start to fall apart and it will become increasingly clear that our options are few. Hopefully that is when the noose of reality will tighten around the neck of David Davis.

Even that, though, at this point, seems overly optimistic. The Tories have demonstrated an impressive ability to evade reality even when the chips are down. It will probably take a major crisis for the penny to drop. That makes this a waiting game. We can do nothing but tread water until we know more. Anybody with any sense would go on holiday.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Behind enemy lines


This evening I attended a meeting of Bristol for Europe (BFE), a continuity remain campaign, featuring Jolyon Maugham and Dr Mike Galsworthy. First off the bat, BFE is part of a network of similar groups based out of major cities. 250 were in attendance, largely middle class and the well to do. Brexiteers have no equivalent. Their goal is unequivocal: stop Brexit.

As Maugham sees it, remaining is still a distinct possibility but only if a second referendum can be leveraged - requiring their campaign to play the long game - their biggest asset being the incompetence of this government. Meanwhile, he is exploring the possibility of a court case to carry over EU citizenship after Brexit for all living UK citizens.

Given the timescales I think he is grasping at straws and I don't think he has a hope in hell of bringing such a case. He is right in that government incompetence is their biggest asset but I think we're going to have to take the hit of a bodged Brexit before they can exploit that public mood. It will take a collapse of this government to bring about another referendum.

What I suspect is that we're in for a Tory self-immolation Brexit that will see the EU offer an association agreement in order to fix the immediate problems - which will be put to a referendum and it will pass by two to one. In the mean time, a lot of damage will be done and our new status will be worse than any relationship imaginable. The political cost will be high.

In that regard it is a mistake for continuity remain to push to overturn Brexit in that it only strengthens resolve among Brexiteers. The smart move would be to meet leavers half way and push for the EEA so we don't end up with a bloody nose.

On the whole I get the impression that Maugham is a Shanker Singham type - a fraud making a name for himself on the back of gullible devotees.  I don't think you can claim to be a democrat while engaed in malicious judicial activism. It is an affront to politics. 

As to Mike Galsworthy, actually a likeable and sincere guy, he acknowledged that a workable Brexit could be achieved but not under this government - and increasingly it looks like he is right. There is too much arrogance and not enough knowledge. What was interesting though was his observation that remain lost because the Stronger In campaign came out of nowhere, appropriating control of the agenda, squeezing out all grassroots campaigns while pretending to be an umbrella. This is why he set up Scientists for EU. The exact same reason we set up The Leave Alliance.

This actually tells us quite a lot about the state of politics where you have a referendum campaign appropriated by both wings of the establishment, each side having their cornerstone lies, talking about issues in abstract to what ordinary groups were concerned with, where the entire media debate happened in a parallel universe to the one happening online and in the pubs. This is part of the sickness in British politics which goes some way to explain why this government is singularly incapable of delivering a sane Brexit.

To his credit, Galsworthy remarked that the Brexiteers should be commended for our achievements in forcing this to the forefront of politics and giving everyone a real education in what the EU is, how it works and what it does. Something that has been buried for forty years. Lost on him, though, is the fact that should continuity remain succeed then everything gets brushed under the carpet and vital areas of policy go back on autopilot - while the morons presently incapable of delivering Brexit carry on making a pigs ear of everything else. The same people who sabotaged his and my efforts.

This is actually why I am still fighting for Brexit. This is more than about leaving the EU. This is about the reclamation of politics for the people. Remainers are utterly mistaken if they think that reversing Brexit will fix anything. The vote has exposed too many faultlines in politics which can no longer be ignored. To many these faults were already gloriously apparent which is why an establishment led remain campaign ultimately lost.

Ultimately Brexit has kicked off a long war - and though Brexiteers won the first battle, we have a long way to go and nothing is settled yet. Even if the remainers succeed, there can be no going back. We have certainly started something and it won't be resolved easily.

Monday, 17 July 2017

A Poseidon adventure


I spent a little while talking to a crew chief for one of the P-8 Poseidons yesterday. He's been on secondment to the US Navy, along with the rest of his squadron for a few years now. Britain is not due to operate the P8 until about 2020 but it was felt that retaining experienced ground crew after the scrapping of Nimrod was essential in order to retain and build on institutional knowledge.

Since 2010, British airmen have been working to support US operational squadrons with a view to bringing those skills back to the UK and training their replacements. Likely it would have cost considerably more to let all that knowledge go, and rebuilding squadron support from the ground up would have caused significant delays.

What surprised me was that the MoD had taken an eminently sensible long term view. But then this is actually the whole point of the P8 - to have a standard maritime patrol aircraft throughout NATO, one based on a commercial airframe, meaning these aircraft can be kept running all day, every day with spares and major overhaul costs kept to a minimum.

In that regard we have a NATO wide force all operating to the same standards, methods and practices but each free to innovate of their own accord. Each nation owns their own aircraft and are free to try out different ideas.

It's been a long time since I could say unequivocally that the MoD has got something right. I suppose this was a no-brainer though so even those without brains could not have screwed this up. What's interesting, though, is this requires a good deal of cooperation between Boeing, BAe Systems, the Royal Air Force, the US Navy, NATO, and all the contractors and families involved. Since a lot of it is highly classified this all has to work within a network of close cooperation agreements.

And that's really the point. As close cooperation and operational integration goes, it doesn't get closer than this. It's a true partnership between nations. Absolute cooperation in the common good, in the cause of peace and security. The deepest kind of international engagement. I must have been imagining it though. We all know that cannot happen without political union and being in the EU! So they say.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Incapable of honesty


A frank and refreshingly honest blog post comes from Oliver Norgrove, former media analyst at Vote Leave. That's what I admire the most in bloggers; self-awareness and integrity in ways our media cannot muster. Certainly not Alan Beattie of the FT. Norgrove gives us some indication as to the dishonesty at the heart of Vote Leave.
"By the time I was an employee at Vote Leave, I was still without any real knowledge of the EU's institutions and mechanisms, let alone trade and regulation (which are still every bit as mystifying to me). I remember around late April asking Matthew Elliott what the campaign's position on access to the single market was after leaving. He replied: 'we say that there is a free trade zone right across Europe, from Iceland to Istanbul, with no tariffs'. I suspected at the time that it wasn't nuanced or reflective of reality, but it sounded convincing so I was happy to go with it. The public, I thought, wouldn't be interested in reading about the different trading relationships that many of these countries had with the EU, so why not go with what sounded simplest?
This is in keeping with Dominic Cummings, who when quizzed by the economic affairs select committee attempted to deny we were even in the single market. Vote Leave was a singularly dishonest outfit from the very beginning. And that is so very typical of the breed. Elliott's brother in law, Allister Heath, sees no obstacle in effectively raiding our research, misrepresenting it and taking credit for it. Surprised he didn't end up at the FT. Says Heath:
The real reason why we – as a large and powerful economy – would have greater influence in EFTA than in the EU is that Brussels is increasingly not the place where big decisions take place. Rules are increasingly negotiated under the auspices of global bodies: automotive norms are determined by the World Forum for the Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations; food standards are determined by Codex Alimentarius; naval rules are under the aegis of the International Maritime Organisation; and the crucial new banking regulations are being determined by the Financial Stability Board. These regulations are then passed down, with the odd gold-plating, by the EU. These global bodies proceed by consensus, not qualified majority; we are currently represented by the EU at these meetings. A Brexit would allow us to have a seat at these top tables, and thus to disintermediate Brussels.
Quite obviously there is no other place this could have come from. The clue that Heath has no idea what he's talking about is the assertion that "naval rules" are under the aegis of the International Maritime Organisation. Naval? Pardon my French, but, for fucks sake!

The article itself was from before the referendum, but all the same, he was in a position to offer any one of the Brexit bloggers, who actually do know what they are talking about, a chance to make the argument. But that's actually not how these people operate. It's always been about preserving their little dung heap and reinforcing their dismal narratives - just as Alan Beattie has done in the FT. Self-serving parasites to a man.

We are constantly told more people would listen if only we were polite about them. It turns out they do listen - but only to the bits they want to hear. That's the basic problem. They are incapable of honesty, courtesy or decency. Why should we be polite to, or about them?

The Brexit that can work


I don't like the EU. I don't like the idea of it. I don't think it can ever be a democracy and I don't think it even wants to be. There are few, if any, means by which the people can achieve reform and for as long as the UK is structurally outvoted, too much of our law is beyond the reach of politics to a point where we can say that the UK is no longer democratic. The nation state is the only level where you can have meaningful democracy. I'm glad we are leaving the EU.

This, though, can go one of two ways. We can either make such a heaving pigs ear of it that Britain never fully recovers or we can recognise the limitations of our predicament.

When Brexiteers talk about Brexit they make some fundamental errors. They point to CETA as an example of a future trading relationship with the EU. But what one should note is that Canada is not twenty miles off the coast of the EU and indeed has never been in a forty year long economic and political union with it. It is far easier to enter such an arrangement than it is to leave one.

The second mistake is to assume that outside the EU you have sovereignty and inside you don't. The moment anyone enters a trade agreement where regulatory harmonisation is a feature, some control is ceded in the common good. Brexit is really about how much is too much. On that score I'm with the Brexiteers. The EU is a bridge too far.

The third mistake is to believe that the EU is bureaucratic tangled mess of regulations and red tape and that outside of the EU there's a light touch regulation world just waiting for leadership by a buccaneering Brexit Britain. I'm not sure if that was ever true, but if it was, that world has not existed since about 1992 - and since the birth of the internet and the dawn of hyper-globalisation, all the rules have changed.

But then it's not just the Brexiteers who have some daft ideas. Our remainer friends seem to think the fullest extent of international engagement is membership of the EU and somehow not being a member of it makes us some kind of international pariah. And as bad as Brexiteers are with their "regulation is baaaaad" routine, the remainers who insist that EU regulation couldn't possibly be anything other than wholesome and benevolent are equally absurd. When it comes to the far extremes of the Brexit debate I hold them both in equal contempt.

The fact of the matter is that that we can have extensive economic and customs cooperation with the EU and others without political subordination. Personally I can't see why you would want it any other way. What makes the EU toxic is that it is a centralising and homogenising force which takes no account of cultural and political differences to the point where it will use coercion to enforce its integrationist agenda. It is profoundly antidemocratic.

The problem for us, though, is that it will continue to exist long after we have left it. So really this process is a matter of finding a relationship that satisfies our desire for economic cooperation along with our need for greater democracy and self-rule.

This is going to require something that both sides have a phobia of. Compromise. On both sides you have conspiratorial nutcases. Remainers believe that we are some kind of backward Tory island populated by drooling racist savages - with our worst impulses held at bay by the benevolent EU, while the Brexiteers think the EU is basically the fourth Reich and run by Marxists who want to turn us all into androgynous clones with no genitals, slaves to our Muslim overseers. There's all stripes of stupid to contend with.

What we actually want though is a collaborative, cooperative and consultative relationship with the EU. As a member we are a legal subordinate - and that is why for many of us the ECJ is a bit of a red line. It's not that the ECJ is especially malevolent but it is an instrument of integration and a means by which the EU accumulates more power. Powers which are not given freely by way of EU treaties are taken by court rulings.

This has never sat right with me. There are of course plenty of examples where the UK does abide by supranational court rulings simply because we prefer the rule of law, but what we note about the ECJ is that it is an agenda driven court - and one which has sovereign power over us in ways that the WTO does not.

We are told that this political subordination is necessary for there to be economic cooperation but Norway shows us that is not true. It participates in the single market but adopts EU rulings via the Efta court, a non-binding court, where they are at liberty to disregard it if they are prepared to accept the inherent trade-offs.

Personally I don't see the problem with that in that we do want regulatory cooperation to an extent and though the powers of veto are not absolute, they are adequate. The independence and sovereignty gained by entering such an arrangement is more than just symbolic. It excludes the aspects of the EU acquis designed to bring about the vision of nation called Europe.

As much as this relationship is suitable it also take into account that the economic aspect of our relationship extends far beyond the movement of goods and services, encompassing hundreds of areas of cooperation where there is little to be gained from acting unilaterally and where there are greater costs to acting independently, often for little advantage.

The fact of the matter is that good regulation is often the product of good science. It costs money to produce and when these regulations are designed to protect us from transboundary threats, international cooperation is necessary and it follows that we would want collaborative institutions.

We are told that the EU is the manifestation of this but EU institutions are not collaborative. They are branches of the EU government which supersede our own. Again this is something of a red line for us. Cooperation we want, subordination we do not.

And then there is trade. The problem with the EU is that trade is view in abstract of foreign policy and has become a sanitised technocratic domain. Much of it is conducted out of sight and often disconnected entirely from broader foreign policy which hampers our leverage when acting internationally, denuding us of a vital tool. A nation that is not free to pick and choose who it cooperates with is not a nation in its own right.

This is why the EEA agreement is ideal for the UK in that it does give us the extensive EU cooperation we want but at the same time gives us back those vital powers to explore other opportunities using different methods to the EU. As much as I see this being beneficial to the UK, I also think it better for Europe if nations can play to their strengths and forge greater links with their more traditional partners.

Ultimately Brexit is about breaking away from ideological political union for its own sake. I see absolutely zero reason to bring an end to economic cooperation and no real value in erecting new barriers with our European allies. Were there the possibility of compensating by way of trading with the rest of the world, it would still be a shame to lose any trade or place restrictions on the freedoms we enjoy.

The problem we have is that those steering Brexit have a flawed idea of what Brexit can and should achieve. There are no economic admirals waiting in the wings for when we leave the EU. Whatever gains we make will be hard fought for and we can only prosper if they are in addition to the economic cooperation we have with the EU. The gains come from further cooperation and in many cases from collaborating with the EU, who should still be a close ally after we leave.

Prosperity does not come from salami-slicing economic freedoms, nor does it come from pruning regulations to the bone. Prosperity comes from lifting other nations out of poverty and enhancing their ability to trade. This is why we need a combined trade, aid and foreign policy where we don't have to seek permission from Brussels.

Britain now stands at a crossroads. Ending political union with the EU should not be all that controversial. We are still a first world leading economy, we are still signatories to multiple global conventions on everything from climate change to human rights and we are still, despite the wailing of remainers, a liberal country. What could hurt us though, is an unnecessarily hostile attitude to the EU and turning our backs on European cooperation. In that respect the remainers are right in that there is a strong element of europhobia behind Brexit - and it is that which will hurt us more than Brexit itself.

From the beginning I argued that leaving the EU would have an economic cost. The uncertainty would likely drive us toward a manageable recession from which we could recover - but this government is making that far worse than it needs to be by holding on to those dismal misconceptions outlined here. This insane drive for an absolutist sovereignty that doesn't really exist, in pursuit of an independence that is neither desirable or even possible in this interconnected world, is one that will ultimately destroy British credibility and ensure that we will likely never recover what we lose.

This is why the fight must continue to the last hour, to the last man. The Efta EEA solution is far better than either remainers or Brexiters paint it. It is neither a leash nor does it especially exclude us from influencing the rules - not least since the globalisation of regulation. What we lose in terms of EU influence we gain by way of being able to design our own path in the world. It makes the EU a partner, not a master.

As pointed out before, the EU is not the sole proprietor of the single market. It is a collaborative venture between Efta and the EU. It is a rules based system, largely based on global standards and one that has been enormously beneficial to the UK. Britain has always been about extending liberty and prosperity and there is no reason why we cannot use our new status to continue in that tradition. We can use our soft power and aid to ensure that more countries can participate in the single market to a point where the EU is no longer the dominant influence within it. As much as that is compatible with our own ends it also speaks to the spirit of EU cooperation with third countries - and there is a good chance we can do it faster than they can. 

If we enter Brexit in the spirit of continued collaboration and friendship then there is every reason to believe Brexit can be a success. An Efta EEA solution would maintains much of what we value while dispensing with much that we do not. Something that most of us can live with - save for the miserablists on either end of the spectrum who can never be appeased. This is the future I want for Britain, not the miserly, dated and clueless vision offered up by the Tories.

Ultimately Brexit can either be a catastrophe or the breath of fresh air we have all been waiting for. It's all still to play for. It really all depends on winning the arguments now and moving to stop the Tory zealots from smashing us on the rocks of ideology. If we fail to do that then the outlook is quite bleak indeed. Let's make sure that doesn't happen.

Sorry folks, but Brexit needs to happen


Yesterday I picked up on Nick Boles and his complete abdication from his responsibilities as a legislator. He's not alone in that. We've got MPs clamouring for us to remain in the single market without being able to muster a functioning definition of it it, and stern warnings that we must stay in the customs union regardless of not having the slightest idea of what a customs union is. Then on the Brexit side of the argument we have Brexiteers who, for all the tea in China, are never ever going to understand how international trade works. This is Operation Enduring Clusterfuck.

As we look on, examining the issues as they arise, we find a political class completely incapable of absorbing the details. That could be forgiven in ordinary circumstances but Brexit didn't arrive out of the blue. From the moment David Cameron announced a referendum the game was afoot. They've had two years to get to grips with the issues and still they have not yet progressed past Janet and John level. What is striking though is that they don't actually want to know the details, preferring instead to play their tribal games.

Over the course of these last two years I've had remainers tell me the problem is not with the EU, rather it is our attitude to EU membership. To an extent I've always agreed with that but more so than ever now. EU membership has always been treated as an adjunct to politics both by politicians and the media. If you look at what Brussels correspondents produce, it is mostly people focussed trivia. Even the European Scrutiny Committee was treated with casual contempt, largely serving as a talking shop for hardline eurosceptics. We have not engaged in EU membership - and we were never going to.

Our membership of the EU has simmered on the back-burner for year. The last time it attracted any major attention was during the ratification of the Lisbon treaty which secured minimal scrutiny, which is part of the reason we are presently in this mess. Our politicians are simply not interested in governing and governance.

What makes Brexit necessary is the need to expose this. We have a system limping along on autopilot and we are funding a Westminster political machine which is failing to do its job. It no longer has the capability. It is tasked with too much meaning their attention spans wander, and there is absolutely no possibility of them adequately focussing on any one thing. This is what happens when all of the power gravitates to the centre.

As much as this is evident in Brexit, it is pronounced in nearly all other affairs. Take the Iraq war. All the way through our political class was focussed on the domestic politics leading up to the invasion, engaging in just about any issue other than the actual warfighting. In the same way that our politicians abdicate their responsibilities to Brussels (and pass on the subsequent blame), responsibility for the conduct of the war was passed to MoD officials and the top brass. Having lacked the inquisitiveness to find out what was happening, the war in Iraq rapidly spiralled out of control, seeing some catastrophic military defeats - yet there was no real enquiry as to what went wrong. Even today we are fighting the consequences of those failures.

Similarly with welfare reform, we see politicians ever ready to cherry pick the sob stories for their own ends but who is climbing into the details and applying proper scrutiny to a system roll-out that is faltering on every level? No one. Politicians don't do detail and our media doesn't either.

There are some days when I wonder how things function as well as they do. Course we know the answer to that. Everything bounces from crisis to crisis and to save political face is fire-hosed with money. Hinkley Point power station is now expected to cost twenty billion. We have two largely useless aircraft carriers that will suck up most of the Royal Navy's operations budget - and it has taken ten years and hundreds of millions just to get the Eurofighter to fire a Brimstone missile. It will be ready to retire before it is fully strike capable.

As to Brexit, Brexit doesn't have to be a trainwreck but it's a safe bet that it will be for the simple reason that our government no longer does anything well. It's only through a last minute injection of vast quantities of cash that we are not looking at blackouts across the national grid. This political status quo is simply not sustainable. This is down to a culmination of poor choices over the years, driven by a political class more interested in virtue signalling than taking adult decisions - spending as though the financial crash never actually happened.

Looking at it as a whole I think we were always on course for a national humiliation. If anything the Brexit vote was public disaffection reaching critical mass, forcing government to put the brakes on everything and take a long hard look at itself. That moment of reckoning is not far off.

Very often I see tweets from remainers pointing out that Brexit is taking up time and resources that could be better applied elsewhere. Perhaps that is true but the stark reality is that the time and resources would not be put to better use. We would see the same continuity politics - venal, corrupt, incompetent. I would argue that there is no better use of time and resources than a full audit of the statute book and a deep and comprehensive examination of the constitution.

As it transpires, our politics is not up to the task at hand. They have yet to comprehend the enormity of the task, which is why we have fools like Nick Boles telling us we can transition overnight into Efta to stay for only three years. The fact that anyone thinks Brexit is going to happen in two years is alarming.

I had hoped, and indeed expected, by now that we would see minds beginning to focus, where the reality of our predicament would force politicians to face the fact that we need a soft Brexit. As a working assumption, with a remain majority in parliament, this seemed like a safe bet. The fact this has not happened actually demonstrates that politics is in a far worse state than even I imagined.

So it now seems that a calamity is upon us - and we are largely powerless to prevent it. Brexit has taken on a life of its own and parliament lacks the coherence and the moral authority to intervene. We are drifting to oblivion. What that tells you is that the Westminster system is spent. Between the corrosive effect of modern media and the natural atrophy caused by EU membership, Westminster has become a playground for posers, frauds and dilettantes. It is a toxic ecosystem of its own and it is chewing away at the fabric of the nation.

So now we are faced with a choice. We can either brush this under the carpet and reverse course or we can grasp the nettle and get on with it. If we opt for the former we are only delaying the inevitable. We can go back to pretending everything is fine and hold our empty voting rituals every five years but ultimately extinction is the only destination for this political settlement. The patient is too sick to live.

I now expect Brexit will be a pigs ear the likes we have not seen for a generation or more. Some commentators have compared it to Suez. It's going to be far worse than that. There is the potential for the total collapse of our constitution and the collapse of the current economic settlement. It doesn't have to be that way but when you take a look at these Tories it seems unavoidable.

Admittedly I am not enthused by this prospect but actually I don't see any other way out. As much as anything Ukip and the SNP show us that as a country we have forgotten how to do politics. Anyone can knock up a populist manifesto and bleat to the cameras but without a coherent plan they fall flat the moment they get anywhere near power. The larger they get the more they become what they seek to replace. You can change the people in the system but the system always wins.

So what are we going to do? Are we going to live out the fag end of "representative democracy" waiting for its inevitable implosion or are we going to take matters into our own hands? We can pass the consequences to the next generation or we can choose to be the the architects of change. It's that simple. This is our one chance to fix it - assuming it can be fixed. It's time to bite the bullet.

A milestone


Some moments ago I watched the blog hit counter tick over the one million mark. In commercial terms that's not a big number, but for an individual blog fighting its own corner, it's significant. This comes with no links from the legacy media, no retweets from MPs, just the support of you, the reader, for which I cannot thank you enough. If it says anything at all, it says I am here to stay. Like it or not.

Friday, 14 July 2017

A lazy and indifferent political class


Today, Conservative Member of Parliament, Nick Boles, shares his wisdom with us. In his closing remarks he tells us that "Leaving the EU is an enormous undertaking, the biggest since World War Two. It’s worth taking time to get it right so we can deliver the prosperous future that the British people want to see".

Who could disagree? He says:
Business leaders have recently asked for a long transition in which we stay in the Single Market while we work out the details of a new set of arrangements outside the EU. The open-ended transition that they propose would be a mistake as it would lead people to wonder if we were ever going to take back control of anything. But I think we should be doing everything we can to provide maximum reassurance to investors, and maximum time for businesses to adjust to life outside the EU.  So I favour a 3 year transition, starting in March 2019, in which we join the European Free Trade Association and become temporary members of the European Economic Area like Norway.  For those 3 years we would be outside the EU but in the Single Market, paying a contribution to the EU and accepting some version of freedom of movement.  These would all be temporary concessions buying us enough time to negotiate the detail of the new free trade agreement and other aspects of our long term partnership.  In March 2022, before the next election, we would leave the European Economic Area and start our new life as a fully independent nation, in control of our money, our borders and our laws.
You do have to wonder what planet they live on. It should be noted that just the process of joining an Efta EEA arrangement is in itself is a major legal undertaking that would likely take anywhere up to five years - and we haven't even started the ground work. Why would the EU, or indeed Efta, want to go to the trouble for what would be a temporary and disruptive process? Answer: they wouldn't.

More to the point, having done this, having given the UK a single market solution, the EU would not be obliged to invest any further energy in a bespoke FTA. Why bother?

As we have remarked before, he EEA agreement is not an FTA. It is a treaty system with country specific annexes so it can be tailored and the UK can register opt-outs and trigger safeguard clauses to reclaim those areas it wishes to exclude. To an extent, yes you can pick and choose parts of the single market - but only if you are in the single market framework. There are penalties for doing so but that is a matter for further negotiation - but that is the point of using it as both a transition and a destination.

This, though, would be very gradual process because anyone who has looked in all seriousness at the scale of the task knows there is no unravelling of forty years of political, legal and economic integration in just two or even ten years. We might prefer it another way but it is the only way to do it. If you want to ramp down from EU membership then your starting point has to be something as close to membership as possible.

But then Boles also says:
I am not an expert in the fine detail of customs arrangements and regulatory equivalence (and would rather chew my own arm off than become one.) But I believe very strongly that there is a right way and a wrong way of handling the Brexit negotiations. 
So here we have an Member of Parliament, sitting in a parliament whose only concern for the next five years is Brexit, one which Boles describes as an "enormous undertaking, the biggest since World War Two", who, despite having a staff budget to spend on research, access to the Commons library and all of the resources of the state - can't be bothered to familiarise himself with the issues.

As it happens I am not an expert (yet) on customs arrangements and regulatory equivalence - or at least not in the day to day sense, but in the context of Brexit I at least have a comprehensive idea of what lies ahead and how these systems work. It is one of the fundamental issues of Brexit - and that is why I now know more than I ever wanted to. 

Is that because I'm an academic surrounded by law books? Is it because I'm an LSE educated trade official? Is it because I'm a Westminster think-tank fellow in touch with all the best brains in the business? No, no and no. It's because I'm an active, inquisitive citizen taking part in our democracy. I do it at enormous cost to myself and will likely pay a price in the future for having taken so much time out of my career. And then Boles, paid £74,000, tells us he would rather chew his arm off than do his job. And they wonder why they are despised.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Blundering our way to oblivion


There is some media brouhaha about the repeal bill. They've reduced it to a party political issue. Doubtless it will pass for the same reason the Article 50 bill passed. They will huff and they will puff but if it doesn't make it into law then the bottom falls out of the process and we are irredeemably screwed. Porting EU law onto the UK statute book is a precursor for any kind of equivalence.

What these bellends have failed to comprehend though is that much of this law only works in conjunction with EU customs systems and EU agencies. You would need a task force just to re-write the rules on fishing alone.

To put it in more basic terms, re-writing 44 years-worth of laws in two years can't be done. It can only be made to work in conjunction with a trade agreement - the shape of which we do not know - and the further it departs from the single market, the larger the task and the longer it will take.

There are those who reckon Brexit is in peril by way of this repeal bill not being enacted. That's actually the least of our worries. The real concern is that the legal rewrite might not be ready for several years. It cannot work in isolation of new regulatory bodies and customs systems, none of which have been built yet. So we are looking five years at least before even one new system can take effect - if it's done in good time and we don't hit any walls.

This has been pointed out to these quarterwits plenty of times - they who insist that staying in the single market is not Brexit - but without the EEA agreement the chances of the repeal bill processing completing in good time (or even at all) are somewhere around nil.

In any instance this has to be phased in and will have to be done one sector at a time as new regulators and authorities come on stream but at present there is no groundwork that I know of that would indicate we have a handle on this. There doesn't even seem to be a recognition of just how much work is involved.

It would be fair to say that this administration has no idea what it is doing. Even the expert twitterers don't seem to have clocked just how absurdly complex this is going to be. Even if the government does have the good sense to stay in the EEA it's certainly no panacea. Repatriating agriculture, fishing and those areas not covered by the EEA is going to have to be done carefully and any new system, for the time being is going to have to be built in the image of the one that already exists.

About this time last year I said it would probably take more than decade to get fully clear of the EU. I now think it will take substantially longer than that and in terms of the exit that people assume is an exit is probably never gong to happen. It was always going to be a case of negotiating what sort of interwoven relationship we have and the basis for accepting EU law. The closest there is to optimal which properly satisfied my Brexit criteria is the EEA, but this government is holding out for a "clean break" which can only really happen by self-immolating. If that isn't our destiny then there's a strong chance things get so messy that we remain tangled in a Brexit limbo from which there is no escape.

Meanwhile, the government is actively considering a walkout over the exit bill. We can expect to see the Telegraph and the Spectator soft-pedalling the idea. They are living in a parallel universe. They see everything through an "evil empire" filter, where every action has an ulterior motive and the EU is determined to smash plucky little Britain into the ground. Sanity has left the building. It's absurdly childish.

Of late you will have seen me writing a number of pieces on post-Brexit trade, largely because it's infinitely more interesting than the day to day drudgery of Brexit, but increasingly it is all looking hypothetical. It's all based on what we can do with our residual influence assuming the budget is there to do it. It all depends on using the single market as a base platform and using our independence to build on it. If we do crash out then any trade strategy is next to useless because all of our efforts will be geared toward repairing the damage. Even if the Tory "strategy" works through to its conclusion we are going to take a hit that limits our options.

For the moment there is no way to say how this will play out. We can hope that the EU might take pity on us and railroad us into the EEA but our political class, including Labour, are so eye-poppingly moronic that they would even move to sabotage that. They are absolutely inadequate to the task at hand and there is no getting through to them.

On that score I am told that I would be listened to if only I were more respectful in tone, but actually I'm not on my own in saying how utterly bonkers this is. Twitter has some exceptionally smart people whom I grudgingly respect, who behave absolutely impeccably - and they're not being heeded either. Nobody is. As much as our political class is not capable of listening, they're not even in the same dimension. Tribal games take precedence and it wouldn't matter if I was Mary Poppins herself. They've decided they know it all and that's the end of it.

In that regard I have completely abandoned any pretence of politeness. It's not really in my skillset anyway. Blogging this is now more a matter of historical record than an attempt to influence. With every passing day the window to salvage this mess closes a little further and there's not a lot this little blog can do about it. All we can really do is tell the tale of how a nation lost its ability to govern and wrecked its economy through its own cowardice, ineptitude and hubris. After that we shall have to decide what to do with them. I have a few unpublishable ideas.

The Geneva Effect


It cannot be a coincidence that the Alan Beattie of the FT draws attention to The Brussels Effect this week. In fact I would go as far as saying the piece lifted ideas from this piece and this piece and this piece without attribution. Typically that is how lazy hacks operate. They will steal anything that isn't nailed down.

We've seen this kind of behaviour before. It comes from all sides. Routinely we see the Conservative Home jokers deploying technobabble to cover their own wafer thin narratives - concepts they would never have known about were it not for the work of EUreferendum.com. Like the FT, they cherry-pick the bits that suit their narrative while disregarding the hard won conclusions.

The reason the FT invokes the Brussels Effect is to point out that regulatory independence is something of a misnomer. This is not news to readers of this blog. We've been saying this for some years now in one place or another.

What the FT does not go into is the global dynamic where EU trade agreements are not geared to Brussels, rather they lock in their countries to using global standards and regulations. Something this blog has covered countless times. Further still, if you pick almost any technical regulation at random from the EU acquis you very often see it pointing directly at rules and standards set out by ISO, CEN, UNECE, IMO, FAO, WHO, Codex, OIE, ITU, ILO and others under the UN umbrella.

This further compounds the FT's dishonesty in that it still wishes to frame the debate about regulation in the Brussels context. The FT would have it that the Brussels Effect undermines the Tory position on deregulation, and indeed it does, not least because of the WTO TBT agreement, but as the Brussels Effect accelerates we find that the regulatory agenda slips further from Brussels and closer to Geneva.

Beattie says "The Brexiters’ plan to leave the EU envisaged Britain regaining sovereignty over its rulemaking. But it will have difficulty combining that freedom with still being able to trade freely and easily with the EU. Not just that, but the “Brussels effect”, whereby international companies adopt EU regulations across their global operations, mean many European rules are likely to prevail throughout the UK economy whatever the British government does".

Again this is another numbnuts who has never actually read an EU trade agreement. Looking at the EU-Singapore FTA, seven years in the making, the basis for "free trade" is regulatory convergence. In just about every comprehensive agreement you will find words to the effect of:
The Parties may agree on taking into consideration the glossaries and definitions of relevant international organisations, such as the CODEX Alimentarius Commission (hereinafter referred to as “Codex Alimentarius”), the World Organisation for Animal Health (hereinafter referred to as “OIE”) and under the International Plant Protection Convention (hereinafter referred to as “IPPC”).
This largely echoes the WTO agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (to which we are a signatory) which states:
Where technical regulations are required and relevant international standards exist or their completion is imminent, Members shall use them, or the relevant parts of them, as a basis for their technical regulations except when such international standards or relevant parts would be an ineffective or inappropriate means for the fulfilment of the legitimate objectives pursued, for instance because of fundamental climatic or geographical factors or fundamental technological problems.
In the provisional EU-Japan agreement we also see Japan being pushed to adopt not EU rules, but UNECE standards and regulations on cars. But this is the problem with the FT hacks. They are little Europeans whose horizons don't extend as far as Geneva. Brussels has become the centre of their world and nothing else beyond it exists. The only other people to hold such a simplistic and naive world view are the Brexiteers Redwood and Baker. Go figure.

For now the EU is still calling the shots in terms of registration and inspection system but increasingly we see the encroachment of the World Customs Organisation, and there will come a time when those states holding FTA's with the EU have the collective clout to out-vote the EU. Britain, being out of the EU will have its own vote, its own right of reservation and right of initiative and in some forums, free of the EU, we are set to enjoy considerably more influence.

Though this points to the futility of leaving the single market for regulatory sovereignty, at the very least Brexit gives us the right to say no and gives us an enhanced say in the creation of rules without being subverted by the ECJ.

Readers of this blog will need no explanation of how we can put this to use. The real question is when our lightweight media is going to catch up and wake up to the new reality. We might expect in a couple of years time they will raid the blogs once more - but only if it's useful to their agenda. Until then we just have to tolerate their galactic ignorance and their shameless dishonesty.

The wrongest end of the stick


The National Database of Stupid Opinions (aka Spiked) has said of the repeal bill that:
The government insists this is largely a ‘technical bill’ which will ensure that the rules we live under will be the same on the day after Brexit as the day before. Even existing rulings of the European Court of Justice will still stand, and enjoy the same standing as those of the (equally unelected, unaccountable) UK Supreme Court, subject to future judgements.

This approach risks reducing what Brexit secretary Davis hails as ‘one of the most significant pieces of legislation that has ever passed through parliament’ to a technical exercise in top-down continuity. It looks like a missed opportunity to implement the democratic changes demanded in the Brexit revolt."
That's exactly what I would have written if I knew absolutely nothing about trade, law and Brexit in general. The fact is that there is forty three years worth of rules, regulations, judgements and systems to dredge through. This is a feat of legal engineering that will take several years to complete.

In this, we can't sift through every single item and do an a value assessment on it. This is purely about achieving parity so that there can be convergence in those areas covered by a future trade agreement. You cannot have frictionless trade without regulatory harmonisation. Even if we were to go down the avenue of mutual recognition you would still need to start out from a similar base - and divergence would have to be done by way of negotiation.

Only when this process is completed with the final trade agreement in place can we start looking at those rulings and legal frameworks not covered by the deal and think about replacing them. In that respect there are going to be hundreds of areas of varying importance to take a look at, and some will have to stay exactly as they are - not least because a lot of technical regulation is written by expert bodies and it's actually pretty good.

More to the point, we have international treaty obligations we will carry over. Much of what is done in the name of the EU is the EU enacting certain global accords on things like climate change. These are accords we will continue to implement. Then there is the WTO agreement on technical barriers to trade which means the global standard must form the basis of our technical and trade law.

For now though, we have no idea what the final agreement is going to look like and if we want to port over a number of third country trade agreements it follows we will have to maintain a high degree of convergence.

The only way to leave the EU is to evolve out of it, and that means ramping down from the position we are currently in. The first step is the legal engineering to bring about parity. Because EU law, regulation especially, grants authority to EU agencies and recognises EU systems and databases, the law will have to continue recognising them until we are in a position to switch systems. In the case of aviation safety certification that could take anywhere up to ten years. Customs systems alone will take at least five years to develop.

The reason the bill grants extraordinary powers to the executive is because there will have to be fudges made just so the law makes sense. Not everything can be put in front of a committee for debate. We can expect the government to play fast and loose with this kind of power but the more egregious examples will be leaked and we can expect a lot of whistle-blowing. That was always going to be the case.

This process is not about implementing the changes "demanded in the Brexit revolt". This is about a seamless handover between jurisdictions and though everyone is complaining about it, there is literally no other way to do it. In any case, if you are scrapping a regulatory system, you have to have something to replace it with. For that you are looking at an extensive policy and systems analysis and you can't do it on the fly. To believe that we can is yet another naive underestimation of the depth of EU integration.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Brexit: an inevitable failure

Pic via UK Defence Journal

Blogging is a little difficult for me this week. I have written countless explainers and in-depth posts about trade and Brexit in general. There comes a point where there really isn't much point in repeating it. Every day it goes a little further off the rails and every day the case for Brexit looks thinner. Putting in any sort of effort seems redundant.

This is not to say there aren't things of note going on. The spat over Euratom would ordinarily be blogworthy but as usual the media is going round in circles, going over issues the blogosphere nailed many months ago. Since the media does not look out of its own claustrophobic circle there is little point in rehashing such material, and since it's going round in circles, the opportunity will no doubt arise again.

In many respects the entire debate is at a standstill. Reality is not filtering through and the groupthinks are proving inconquerable. All we can do is watch and wait for when these proceedings hit the wall.

The problems are as previously stated. The Brexiteers are only part of the problem. In the mind of a Brexiteer we are only a short hop away from a future as a buccaneering free trade country strutting its stuff on the world stage. We can sweep away tariffs, open up markets and prune away the deadwood regulations - and if that causes problems for EU trade, well, they can just reach into the bag of three letter acronyms and pretend there is a mechanism they can deploy to dig them out of the hole.

We've seen this before with the Conservative Home cultists and the crooked Shanker Singham. There is plenty in the bag to chuck up a smokescreen of bullshit - and with Brexiteers swallowing it wholesale and MPs insufficiently informed to call them out on it, it sails by unchallenged. Meanwhile our media asks why there are so few women on the negotiating team. That is the ultimate problem.

In this I am not the first to note that that a trainwreck Brexit would actually be one well deserved. With a government so utterly incapable of retaining knowledge we are just asking for it. As much as this is a characteristic of Brexit, this only exemplifies the deep rot within government.

Some years ago now, EUreferendum.com mounted a herculean campaign, without much input from me, to steer the MoD away from procuring lethal mine-magnet vehicles for the army. Eventually the MoD caved in and shelved a number of substandard trucks in favour of Mastiffs and other MRAPs, but this week we learn that the UK has ordered 2,747 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles in a $1.04 billion deal.

As has had to be spelled out countless times, mine and IED protection is built into armoured vehicles from the ground up. It's much the same as any design. Your design objectives have to be factored in from the very beginning. With mine protected vehicles the key objective is blast deflection, seeking to minimise the exposure to direct blast.

The key to this is a V shaped hull. This is something that was almost grasped by the end of the Second World War. These such design concepts appeared on vehicles during the Rhodesian civil war, but over time, we have forgotten the lessons. A price in blood was paid to relearn such lessons in Iraq and Afghanistan - and scores of soldiers died without good cause.

Less than a decade later and the army is making the same basic mistakes, falling for the glossy propaganda of the manufacturers as to its protective capabilities, without ever once doing its own assessment. Though cost is obviously a factor, this is not merely a matter of saving lives. This is about winning wars. As we have pointed out before, a shooting war can be won but it's no use if you're losing the propaganda war at home - and that is what makes the preservation of life essential.

It was a wizened retiree at my last place of employment who remarked that any institution is much like a jelly mountain. You can apply pressure to change its shape but that requires some considerable energy. The moment you release such pressure, even for a nansoceond, it will wobble back into its default form. There is no place this applies more than the MoD - but it is particular to government.

We could very well divert our energies once more to exposing this calamity but there is only really so much we can do. The only force capable of continuing to apply pressure is our media. But in order to do so it must have the institutional memory, knowledge and experience to play the game. It must also have a sense of priorities. We cannot hope for a successful Brexit if our media does not function. In that assessment, here is a screen-shot of today's Daily Telegraph. Judge for yourself...

Still no clue at the FT


James Blitz at the FT offers his "insight" on the state of play in the Brexit negotiations.
The way out of this dilemma is to use the transitional period as a financial tool. During that period the UK will have to pay the equivalent of its current contributions. In our view, the period is likely to be longer than the UK officially admits, simply for technical reasons. A five-year transition period could deal with all of the outstanding claims, leave enough time for an FTA to be negotiated and ratified, and give business time to prepare for the post-Brexit future.
So apparently five years is all that is needed to perform the legal engineering miracle of the Great Repeal Bill, rebuild all our domestic regulators, design and equip our own enforcement regime, our own market surveillance systems and customs software. Five years is apparently all the British state and UK industry needs to transition into an FTA, the contents of which are still a mystery.

In all likelihood we will get nowhere close to a finalised deal in five years. A transition period cannot even begin until such an agreement is concluded and then we are looking at ten years at least to have all the systems in place. Since a transitional status itself would take some years to negotiate there is only really one status we can have - EU membership with no voting rights for as long as it takes.

In that regard, this is in keeping with Theresa May's Lancaster House speech. She said we couldn't be half in, half out. It seems that we will be all the way in for a long while, until we are out. All the time in the world for Brexit to be parked permanently. Since David Davis doesn't know what he wants, what is needed, or how to get it, it increasingly looks like Brexit is a wet fart.

We are told that the debate on the single market is settled. David Davis thinks he knows how to get frictionless trade without it. He's grasping at straw, plucking concepts out of the air with zero comprehension as to what they mean. When it gets down to it he will hit brick wall after brick wall. Trusted trader schemes and AEO cannot happen without regulatory harmonisation, mutual recognition is not going to work and there has to be an arbitration body and that will be dominated by the ECJ. Since he doesn't want Efta, that's his only option.

This prompts some in industry to start asking what they can do to prepare for such an arrangement. I would venture that there is nothing to be done. We lack the competence and the knowledge to deliver anything other than a total shambles - one so unpredictable as to render preparation useless. With this level of upfront denial, hostility and ignorance, unless there is a change of tack, this can only descend further into farce.

The talented Mr Heath


This is what Allister Heath thinks a serious newspaper looks like.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Mark Wallace: dim as they come.


In a tragic display of credulousness Mark Wallace of Conservative Home retails his understanding of trade. He says that "Part of this trend for cherry-picking supposed facts to construct such a story involves the myth that the United States and others have somehow gone off the idea of striking trade deals with the UK, one of the world’s largest economies, after Brexit. That’s why the positive reports to the contrary from the G20 are important – as per the Sunday Times:
‘After talks with the prime minister at the G20 summit, the US president pledged to strike a trade deal “very, very quickly” after Britain leaves the EU.

Trump said it would be a “very, very big deal, a very powerful deal” that would be “great for both countries” before confirming that he was planning to come to Britain…
In a coded swipe at her mutinous ministers, May said China, Japan and India also wanted to do deals. “I held a number of meetings with other world leaders at this summit and have been struck by their strong desire to forge ambitious, new bilateral trading relationships with the UK after Brexit,” she said. “This is a powerful vote of confidence in British goods, British services, Britain’s economy and for British people.”

A senior government source said: “The president made clear that he believed the UK would thrive outside the EU.”’
Yesterday from Forbes.com we get a pretty decent idea of why a speedy US-UK deal is not going to happen. Of course, I would go further in pointing out that any deal has ramifications for EU trade because of the inherent risk conflicts, and even in the best case scenario a US-UK deal will come to little because of the inherent differences in regulatory culture.

Course this is nothing at all new to readers of this blog or anyone who reads outside the self-referential toryboy circle-jerk. That's why trade analysts are laughing at little boys like Wallace.

Meanwhile I'm taking flack on Twitter from Iain Martin among other toryboy hacks because I'm a big meanie to them. Apparently one is supposed to be appropriately respectful to foaming zealots who want to wreck the economy as fast as possible. That way they will drop everything and adopt your ideas. So I'm told.

It would seem that if you prick their fragile little egos they will ignore your point, even if the economy depends on Tories growing up and getting to grips with the issues. I suppose the poor little snowflakes must still think it's all about tariffs. After all this time they've still learned nothing. Still, must be difficult reading a book on trade with a toryboy dick in your mouth (figuratively speaking?). But that's what it takes to make it in the bubble. Can't let reality get in the way.

None so blind as a toryboy


Allister Heath (or one of his office juniors) has written about reviving the Brexit spirit.
Yesterday, Donald Trump said that America and the UK were working on “a very, very big” trade  deal, a deal that will be done “very, very quickly”. The president is known for hyperbole and there were, of course, no details, but this is exactly the kind of post-Brexit scenario that the British Government should be working towards – and on a global scale.
Erm no. This is not going to happen. But on we go...
Eurosceptics must revive the dynamic politics of last year’s compelling referendum campaign. Unfortunately, the Government has not been doing this. Since the election it has been rudderless and chaotic, allowing opponents of Brexit to dominate the public conversation. These refuseniks have been able to convey the impression that Brexit itself is now in doubt, or at least that Britain’s position is so enfeebled that only an extremely long and potentially permanent transition is necessary. 
This is chickens coming home to roost. The roots of this problem started with Vote Leave which was very much a Tufton Street takeover of the referendum campaign, which sought to exclude everyone who wasn't a Tory Brexit puritan. The reason opponents of Brexit have dominated the public conversation is because the Toryboy Brexit set are simply incapable of defending their piss weak position. Shooting down Troyboy Brexit drivel in City AM, CrapX and the Torygraph is now a cottage industry.

Worse still, the Toryboys have used their influence to undermine anyone on the leave side who isn't salivating for the most damaging Brexit possible. Over the last few months Heath has been undermining Christopher Booker, to the point of demoting him and relegating his column to the back pages. This is how these people operate. They are conniving shits with a long track record of this behaviour.

Then we've had Conservative Home running a year long campaign of disinformation. They know full well that what they write is dishonest garbage but, like the Telegraph, it's more about reinforcing the prejudices of readers rather than imparting useful information and winning the argument. Their stuff is so deluded that anyone remotely familiar with with subject of international trade and regulation is laughing at them. They are an object of ridicule. The only people who can't see it are the Toryboys themselves. They only read each other so why would they ever stumble across anything intelligent?

Ultimately it's the Toryboy set who are undermining Brexit by building a belief system. As a leaver I'm supposed get behind this and tell them how marvellous they are - and furiously retweet any bilge that Brexit Central stumbles across. Sorry. That's something else that isn't going to happen.

As to Brexit being in doubt, you don't have to be a refusenik to envisage a scenario where the government is so out of its depth that there is a coup to halt Brexit. It would be a rare thing for parliament to actually have the balls to assert itself, but this is certainly a time for surprises. It is already descending into farce, not least because this government does not have a plan. That's something else the Toryboy set can take a bow for. Heath and his compatriots plagiarised the bits that suited their bullshit and ditched the inconvenient truths.

As to Britain’s being "so enfeebled that only an extremely long and potentially permanent transition is necessary", it's not a case of being enfeebled. It's just that you can't unravel forty years of technical, political and economic integration in just a few short years. Brexit is a process, not an event. If you haven't understood this much then you haven't understood anything. And that really is at the core of the problem. They haven't understood it, they never did, and have gone to extraordinary lengths to deny the reality of our predicament. It is this fundamental error upon which all subsequent errors stand. Heath then tells us:
Labour and pro-Remain forces in Parliament threaten to undermine the Repeal Bill, the legislative device necessary for Brexit to happen, and the CBI protests that Britain must stay in the single market indefinitely – an unnecessary and wrongheaded idea. All this has to be countered by a serious and concerted pro-Brexit fightback. It is time for a reboot.
Hmm, well, see, the thing about a reboot is that you change things. You stop doing what doesn't work and start thinking about the nature of the problem. The fact that the CBI and just about every business lobbyist in the country is opposed to "hard Brexit" really should tell you something. If Tories can't win over business opinion then it can't win at all. That actually was the point of having a plan. He then says:
The argument for Brexit will not be won in a single battle but waged over several campaigns as part of an ongoing war. First, we need a new Brexit movement outside of the Tory government. Some of the seasoned campaigners who won the referendum need to be rehired and a large organisation created to constantly and forcefully put the intelligent case for a pro-growth Brexit. 
This is again failing to comprehend the concept of a reboot. Those same "seasoned campaigners" are the architects of this current mess, and what Heath (if he has written this) means by "a new Brexit movement outside of the Tory government" is yet another Tufton Street sock puppet pushing the same crap ideas. What will that achieve? It doesn't expand the base. It preaches to the home crowd. He just wants his brother-in-law (Matthew Elliott) to be given a job. 

This also fails to notice that they already have such an outfit. The Brexit Central/ConHome axis is attempting all of that - and is still failing to win the argument. These people are manifestly incapable of making an intelligent case for Brexit. As outlined in detail over the course of this blog, almost everything they believe in is demonstrably wrong. More than anything, the Tory right is engaged in a long campaign of self-deception and denial and now the wheels are falling off.

This drivel from the Telegraph actually isn't worth more of my time, but what this tells us is that they at least realise that their grand project is on the rocks and it needs saving. Yet, somehow they believe the same people who wrecked it are the people who can save it. Bizarre.

This all stems from a militant refusal to engage in reality and back a workable plan. Having refused to take on board the most basic concepts of Brexit they stand naked, exposed and ridiculed. They can't take on new information, they're bogged down in ideological quicksand and they can't get their lies straight between them. They've blown it.

As to who I mean by Toryboys, I mean the real thickos. That's Daniel Hannan, Mark Wallace, Paul Goodman, thieving Allister Heath, corrupt Steve Baker, inbred Matthew Elliott, and all the grubby, devious dick-smoking social climbers in the IEA/ASI. They wanted to own Brexit, and from their position in London they succeeded. These egotistical know-nothings thought defending their little dungheap more important than succeeding. Now it's crashing just like we said it would. Another teachable moment for those who can't be told anything. Good job, dickheads.