Posts Tagged ‘EU’

Binning Brexit must be the start of the change that we need

13/11/2018, 09:47:38 PM

by Jonathan Todd

In William Waldegrave’s admirably honest and bleakly comic memoir, he describes William Armstrong, the head of the civil service, suffering a nervous breakdown. Armstrong, when Waldegrave was working for prime minister Ted Heath, “talked apocalyptically of his control of the Blue Army in its war against the Red, then lay full length on the floor of Number Ten’s waiting room, at the feet of an astonished delegation of businessmen”.

“Could civil servant Olly Robbins prove Brexit’s unlikely hero?” asked a recent Financial Times profile. Of course, sadly, not. While we hope that the strain does not impact Robbins as greatly as Armstrong, Brexit is a joyless revolution, devoid of heroes.

Out of the crooked timber of Brexit, Immanuel Kant might have said, no straight thing was ever made. Nothing, as Jo Johnson stressed when resigning from government, has been fashioned from it to compare with the promises made in its name during the 2016 referendum.

Politics, eventually, catches up with policy. While Johnson’s departure may trigger bigger political events, it responds to a policy reality that has long been obvious: Theresa May is incapable of delivering a Brexit that won’t make us worse off and her Brexiter critics have no plausible policy for doing better. The political energy that pulses through Remain derives from a more coherent policy: staying in the EU via a People’s Vote, based on what is now known, not the false prospectus of two years ago.

The right policy is the right politics. Labour MPs in seats that voted for Brexit cannot advance a policy that combines Brexit with the brightest prospects for jobs and growth in these places. Because – as voters increasingly realise – no such policy exists, eroding the political case for accommodation with Brexit by these MPs. Especially when, among Labour voters, at least two-thirds in every constituency support another referendum.

The polling does not reveal a thirst for Lexit among Labour voters in industrial towns. Other voters in these seats may have more of a taste for Brexit – in many cases, for reasons far removed from the inclusion and internationalism that have traditionally characterised Labour. But – with every unfortunate story of redundancies attributed to Brexit – this taste is diminishing. In any case, while Brexit ought to be bigger than self-interested calculations, these voters are less crucial to the survival of Labour MPs than Labour voters.

From whom the message is clear: we want another say on the dud that we were sold.

No one any longer bothers to deny the defectiveness of Brexit. The case for persisting rests upon fulfilling 2016’s mandate (whatever that was). Or the fear of no deal, which, given the willingness of the prime minister to listen to the parliamentary majority against this, is misplaced.

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Brexit anxiety: Panic on the streets of London

23/10/2018, 11:33:22 PM

by Jonathan Todd

I don’t, unfortunately, think it is an exaggeration to say that I am terrified of Brexit. I burst in to tears – not something I do frequently – on the morning of 24 June 2016, a few hours before Jeremy Corbyn advocated invoking Article 50. It seemed to me that my country had invited catastrophe and now, sadly, I feel surer of that.

“There was always a core who could not accept the outcome; it has swelled,” reckons Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times. I am not sure that this is quite right and certainly do not consider myself part of such a grouping. While we should be vigilant to Russian interference in our democracy and Vote Leave broke electoral law, I do not question the legitimacy of the actions taken following the 2016 referendum.

Theresa May was perfectly entitled to set out her redlines, to invoke Article 50, and to proclaim, “Brexit means Brexit”. Albeit the redlines have been mugged by reality, her government has appeared unprepared for the consequences of Article 50, and “Brexit means Brexit” is no less a meaningless platitude than “a red, white and blue Brexit”.

In the face of this staggering incompetence, what has remained constant is not lack of acceptance at the outcome of the 2016 referendum but – pace Shrimsley – unease about where we are headed. No convincing leadership has emerged to meet worries about the ending of a relationship that has been integral to the UK for approaching half a century.

“The easiest trade deal in history” came to not be that easy. “The exact same benefits of single market membership” are illusive. Only Michael Caine is still saying that German car manufacturers will make everything ok.

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Devolve immigration policy to the nations and regions to answer the demands of Brexit

16/10/2018, 05:45:47 PM

This piece by Atul Hatwal is an updated version of his chapter in the Compass report, Causes and Cures of Brexit

“It’s like this mad riddle.” Thus spake Danny Dyer, the sage of Brexit. Our modern day Zarathustra wasn’t wrong and nowhere are the contradictions thrown up by Brexit more evident than on immigration.

How to ‘take back control’ of migration while not cutting numbers so precipitately that skills gaps cripple public services and drive businesses to the wall? Or that the EU’s red line on freedom of movement is so egregiously breached that the broader Brexit deal is derailed?

At the heart of the riddle is an impossible question on the right number of migrants to be allowed into the UK.

The most significant area of migration is people coming to the UK to work (as opposed to study, family reunion or asylum) and on this, whether Tory or Labour, the government has a choice of two policy options, both a wrong answer.

Option A: Set a numbers target that is so low as to be either unattainable or disastrous for the economy. The past eight years have tested this approach to the point of political destruction. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario more corrosive to trust in politicians on migration than the way the government has stuck to its target of cutting migration to the tens of thousands, while continually missing it by huge margins. It raises migration as an issue and then casts the government as incompetents or liars, not prepared to do what’s required.

Option B: Set a target high enough not to buckle public services or hit economic growth but one that then opens the government to charges of allowing uncontrolled immigration.

Labour’s proposals for an integrated work visa, where the current tiering system with its caps is scrapped, suggest the party is headed towards Option B.

The detail is yet to be fleshed out but this represents a positive move from Labour. However, it’s one that will not be without cost.

It’s inevitable the Conservatives would use this as a dividing line in any election and in the event of a narrow Labour election victory, there is a question as to whether this policy could be carried through the Commons given a significant minority of Labour MPs would likely rebel on the basis that this would not, in their view, honour the Referendum result.

Over the past few months, there’s been some recourse on all sides to try to focus on skilled migration while advocating for restrictions on low skilled migration, as an alternative approach. But this just leads back to the same underlying choices.

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People have the power on Trump and Brexit. But will we use it?

03/09/2018, 09:04:23 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“Ultimately,” as Edward Luce wrote in the Financial Times recently, “the American people will decide Mr Trump’s fate.”

Impeachment depends upon majorities in both houses of Congress. Which the Democrats do not have. But might after November’s mid-terms.

If Republican voters rally to an embattled Trump, they might retain both houses. Conversely, if the stench of corruption emanating from Trump drives an anti-Trump vote, the Democrats would triumph.

Beto O’Rourke, seeking to unseat Ted Cruz to become the first Democratic Senator for Texas in 25 years, describes the election as, “the most important of our lives”.

Like all Democrats, however, he is riding against the headwind of an economy enjoying (at least in the short-term) the sugar rush of Trump’s tax cuts. In which case, recovering one of the two houses might be a reasonable Democrat performance. Albeit this would leave them requiring Republican votes to impeach Trump.

These votes would only be forthcoming if Republicans deduced they would be in their interests. This would depend upon another people’s verdict: polling on Trump and impeachment.

While unpopular with the rest of America, Trump remains viscerally popular with his base. This is an advantage that he enjoys over President Nixon in the early 1970s, creating a firewall against elected Republicans turning against him.

Robert Mueller is methodically diligent, but the questions that hang over Trump are more political than legal.

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Stringer faces deselection battle over Brexit vote

29/08/2018, 03:51:58 PM

Over at the New Statesman, Stephen Bush has a story that Manchester MP and former minister, Graham Stringer, faces a deselection battle, following his decision to vote with the Government last month in opposing an amendment to the Trade Bill that would have kept the door open on a customs union with the EU. Stephen writes:

‘A motion brought before the constituency’s Broughton ward says that Stringer’s recent actions have “undermined the party and bolstered the Tories’ position”, and that the constituency party should start the process of removing him as the Labour candidate at the time of the next election, whenever that should be.’

Over the weekend, Stringer wrote an uncompromising piece for the Manchester Evening News restating his views:

‘It has always perplexed me that friends within the Labour Party with whom I generally agree on issues such as extending and enhancing democracy as well as redistributing wealth and income nationally and internationally, support the EU,’ he wrote. ‘The EU is an affront to democracy.’

Commenting specifically on last month’s vote, Stringer wrote that a ‘myth’ had developed ‘that a government defeat would have led to a general election.’ He made the point that the Government was defeated on the European Medicines Agency, but that didn’t result in a confidence motion:

‘It would have been even more surprising had Conservative and Democratic Unionist MPs voted for a motion of no confidence in their own government or for an immediate general election. These are the legally necessary hurdles to be passed before an early election can be called. The Conservatives and DUP revile Jeremy Corbyn – they are not going to give him a free hit.’

Clearly Stringer – and Labour’s other leading Brexiteers: Frank Field, Kate Hoey and John Mann – are in the overwhelming minority in terms of the parliamentary party. However it bears restating that 39 per cent of actual Labour voters opted for Brexit.

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Corbyn fiddles while Europe, and the world, reach for the matches

02/07/2018, 08:14:20 AM

by Rob Marchant

It is somewhat inevitable, in the current, febrile political climate, that Tony Blair’s few interventions elicit disproportionate responses in Britain. Even when those interventions conclude little that most Western commentators outside Britain, or a European historian of average talent, would disagree with.

In part, this is because in Britain the effective, yet unspoken, May-Corbyn alliance on Brexit has meant effective mainstream unity on that subject.

That is, the only senior politicians who speak out against it are either (a) the leaders of minor parties (Greens/Lib Dems/SNP), or (b) retired heavyweights not bound by the party whip. So it is easy for him to outweigh the rest of the pack.

Love him or hate him, of all those, Blair is unquestionably the heaviest, in terms of prime ministerial experience at least. Against fellow living ex-PMs Major, Brown and Cameron, he wins on years (10 vs. 7, 3, 6); general election victories (3 vs 1, 0 and 2); and was never defeated in either a GE or a national referendum either, unlike the others.

And his latest intervention is not just correct: even if you disagree with him on Brexit (which, according to the latest YouGov poll, now puts you with less than half the population), it’s difficult to disagree with what he says about populism and the similarities to the 1930s.

2018 is a genuinely scary time to live. Not just through the narrow prism of Brexit, through which it seems all political questions are currently viewed here, although that is arguably a major disaster in itself and not just for Britain.

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Labour should back a ‘cooling off’ referendum on Europe. After all we did it before

12/06/2018, 04:55:26 PM

by Joe Anderson

Armaggeddon.’ There’s not much ambiguity about the word.

That’s the Whitehall assessment if there is no exit deal or transitional arrangements as we enter the Brexit endgame.

Even on civil servants’ less cataclysmic judgment, there is a chance that the Port of Dover collapses on the first day we leave the European Union. Food shortages follow.

Is this what Brexiteers mean by ‘taking back control?’

Their starry rhetoric and inflated claims are dissolving day by day.

The boast that the US is poised to sign an early trade deal with us – always a wide-eyed assumption – has been utterly shattered by Donald Trump’s trade war – which now puts 30,000 British steel workers’ jobs at risk.

Now all the talk is that the Government’s White Paper setting out its final negotiating position will be delayed until after the European Council meeting at the end of the month.

Will the Prime Minister be applying for an essay extension?

The impacts of Theresa May’s rickety negotiation position will echo for a generation to come.

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The UK will vote to be inside the EU – eventually

05/06/2018, 08:31:35 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The UK will have another referendum on our membership of the EU. Rather than if this will happen, it is more a matter of when, on what terms, and in what circumstances.

This is because:

  • The referendums of 1975 and 2016 have established a de facto constitutional principle that the UK cannot move in or out of the EU without a referendum.
  • If this referendum does not come before March 2019, and the UK exits the EU at the closing of the Article 50 window, the UK will make right-wing and/or left-wing attempts to find a new place in the world, but neither will be able to turnaround the ongoing diminishment of UK living standards associated with Brexit, building pressure for a revision to the status quo ante.

There’s much to be said for the Ken Clarke view that referendums are defective instruments. It is difficult, however, to imagine circumstances in which it would be politically possible to reverse the verdict of 23 June 2016 without another referendum.

While Best for Britain is expected to publish its campaign manifesto on 8 June, calling for such, given the intransigence of Labour and the Tories towards a referendum, the likelihood remains that the UK will leave the EU in March next year.

45% of the public now expect that this will have a negative impact on the economy. Versus, according to the latest polling, 30% who think it will have a positive impact. Only 13% think it will make no difference to the economy. In contrast, 40% think it will have no impact on their personal finances.

“A recession,” Ronald Reagan said, “is when your neighbour loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours.”

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If MPs privately oppose Brexit, they should show some public leadership and make the case against it

31/10/2017, 11:03:14 PM

by Jonathan Todd

To begin with a confession, when I heard that Douglas Ross, the Conservative MP for Highlands and Islands, was running the line in a Champions League match in the Nou Camp, I thought, “wow, how impressive and exciting”. While the hinterland – to use Denis Healey’s term – of too many MPs seems offensively and dangerously shallow, this is elite, non-political activity.

The generally negative reaction to Ross, including the oh-so-funny brandishing of a red card by SNP MP John McNally in PMQs, has felt to me curmudgeonly and small-minded. It reminded me of Roy Jenkins’ autobiography:

“I am strongly against the current fashion for full-time MPs … Being a full-time backbench MP is not in my view a satisfactory occupation … Excessive attendance at the House of Commons, with the too many hours spent hanging around in tearoom or smoking room which this implies, either atrophies the brain or obsesses it with the minutiae of political gossip and intrigue.”

These words have become heresy in the not quite three decades since written. We’d rather atrophy Ross’ brain than test it alongside Lionel Messi.

Yet we need MPs with brains more than ever. We need them, too, to have the courage, reinforced by a confidence that, if necessary, they’d prosper in careers outside of politics, to use them.

Shackling MPs to the tearoom limits their horizons. It makes them more likely to feel that their financial well-being can only be maintained by securing re-election, heightening the probability that their only instinct will be to follow constituency opinion. If this is all MPs are, we might as well have a legislature composed of 650 local sentiment algorithms.

Political life is a vocation or nothing. There’s scant point to any of it without animating purpose. There’s no socially democratic aim served by Brexit. Thus, social democratic MPs ought not to accept Brexit, or to only secretly hope that public opinion turns against it; they should, instead, stand for their pro-EU convictions and seek to move opinion with them.

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J’accuse

10/10/2017, 10:10:00 PM

by Robert Williams

Almost the entire political class in the UK is a pathetic, cowardly disgrace. I don’t mean the committed Brexiteers, those anti Europeans who hate the idea of co-operation with our closest neighbours, and who fantasise about turning the UK into the 51st state of America, or some sort of low tax, low regulation, low quality, cheaper, nastier and colder version of Singapore.

Neither do I mean the strange group of Labour MPs, including the Dear Leader and his shadow chancellor, Dennis Skinner and Kelvin Hopkins, who believe in a left wing version of Brexit (“Lexit”) because they think the EU is a capitalist club, and they want to deliver “socialism” in one country.

These groups represent nothing but a tiny minority of their parties, and are even less representative of the country. They know this, which is why they scream and shout about the “will of the people”, deliberately ignoring the fact that the “people” amounted to 37% of the electorate voting to leave.

If you believe that leaving the EU will be a disaster, diminishing Britain permanently and wrecking our economy, those you should have real contempt for are the moderates. Some of these pro Europe centrist MPs, the vast majority in the Labour Party, and still making up the majority of conservative MPs, are now meekly and pathetically accepting that we will, in some form or another, indeed leave the EU.

It cannot be stressed enough that the Brexit referendum was utterly flawed and based on nothing but lies and fantasy. Young people between 16 and 17, most affected by the decision, were excluded from the vote. British expats were excluded from the vote. It was a non-binding referendum, won by a flimsy majority, following a campaign based on outright lies, misrepresentation, distortion, funded by extremely dodgy sources and with likely malign influence of American billionaires and Russian cyber bots.

Last year’s referendum was the most shameless example in British history of our democratic deficit.

And this was just the process. As events have developed the never ending stream of bad news about our economy, our credibility, our ability to take control of anything at all should be enough to make a sane and rational MP, to think again.

And yet we have the truly incredible sight of the weakest, most divided and intellectually enfeebled government in modern history, utterly clueless in what sort of Brexit they desire, who show not the slightest understanding of how the EU works, how trade agreements work, who can’t plan, prepare or negotiate, and are fast turning Britain into a banana republic, an international laughing stock.

And this is supported by the Labour Opposition, with the courageous exception of 52 Labour MPs who voted against the Brexit Bill. The rest really should know better.

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