Posts Tagged ‘EU’

The case for Remaining needs saving from Remainers

17/01/2019, 10:02:41 PM

by Kevin Meagher

There’s a fabulous scene in the recent Channel Four drama, ‘Brexit: The Uncivil War,’ where Rory Kinnear, playing David Cameron’s director of communications, Craig Oliver, storms into a focus group meeting of average voters and starts arguing with them in sheer frustration that the Remain campaign’s message just isn’t getting through.

As metaphors go, it’s just about perfect.

Stupid people don’t understand the issues or what’s at stake, so the swells need to barge in, shouting and finger-jabbing until the plebs acquiesce.

There’s no real mystery as to why the Brexiteers triumphed in 2016.

Remainers fluffed it.

Through the combination of a truly terrible campaign and their own unjustified sense of providence, they ‘lost’ Europe.

On the wrong end of a fair fight, Remainers have learned nothing and forgotten nothing from the experience.

All we have had for the past two years is incessant moaning about the manner of the loss, which, boiled down, usually amounts to “their lies were better than our lies.” Not to mention the daily epistles on Twitter from people like Andrew Adonis which long ago scaled the heights of self-parody.

We’ve had carping about the Leave campaign’s infamous bus and the hooky pledge to redirect the £350 million a week we contribute to EU coffers to the NHS instead. As though it’s the first porkie told in a political campaign.

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With each passing week, McDonnell becomes more like Brown to Corbyn’s Blair

07/01/2019, 10:41:33 PM

by David Talbot

In September 2015 Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party, was finishing his first speech to the party faithful. Embracing the mandate for change, Corbyn, with a wry nod halfway through, noted that “things can – and they will – change”. In the preceding three years, via an internal challenge and a general election, the nature of the Labour Party has been transformed in his image. Corbyn was of course in part elected, twice, as Labour leader precisely because he represented a riposte to the previous Labour governments and to, of course, the loathed Tony Blair. However, an aspect of the duopoly which so dominated the party throughout its years in government is set to be replicated, ironically, by those who have dedicated the most to repudiating him, his image and his governments.

John McDonnell was not a universally welcomed appointment when Corbyn gave his longstanding comrade the position of Shadow Chancellor over three years ago. The antipathy reached its peak during the botched leadership challenge to Corbyn during 2016, when murmurs reached a crescendo that his departure was desperately needed to restore some semblance of party unity. The fiery, left-wing firebrand made enemies in his own party as easily as amongst the Conservatives, his reputation as a deeply divisive and electorally poisonous figure seemingly cemented.

The scepticism extended as far as Corbyn’s innermost circle, who grew to distrust the Shadow Chancellor – an opinion also widely held amongst the trade unions who had dealt with him for decades. In his early throes he actively coveted controversy and attrition, from his ‘communist salute’ at the 2015 party conference to labelling Labour moderates “fucking useless” in their cack-handed attempts to dispose the new Labour leader. Since then, a transition has begun as ambitious and calculated as the work of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to transform the electoral prospects of a moribund party in the mid-1990s.

And it is to these two towering figures of the last chapter of the Labour Party that is becoming ever more prevalent for the new, Corbyn-led, chapter. The rivalry and trench warfare, often for the sheer sake of it, that came to characterise the then Labour leader and his Chancellor is fracturing into the open between Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor. Over the summer, when Labour descended into a bitter dispute over anti-Semitism, it was the Shadow Chancellor, through the pages of the Times no less, that organ of the establishment, who made it known that he disapproved of Corbyn’s handling of the sorry saga. As to with the terrorist incident in Salisbury, where McDonnell, not Corbyn, voiced support for the security services and stated unequivocally it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible.

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As the country contemplates “to leave or not to leave”, Corbyn’s position may just become an irrelevance

27/12/2018, 10:38:38 PM

by Rob Marchant

December has been a mad, rollercoaster month for British politics. The first half brought a good couple of weeks for Remainers. There were the three Commons defeats for May; and then the government’s own legal advice was finally published, which said that the Irish border question is essentially insoluble within any kind of Brexit. I mean, who knew?

And then there was the European Court of Justice ruling, saying that Article 50 was unilaterally cancellable by Britain. This means, as John Rentoul noted, a referendum is now more likely.

Then the vote on May’s deal was postponed and the PM herself survived a no-confidence vote from her Tory party colleagues. Though it was painted as bad news for her by the media, it also weakened the Moggite fringe on the right of her party, who underestimated her support and were made to look silly. It also still means she is not leaving No. 10 any time soon, not at least without a general election – which now looks unlikely after Corbyn’s crying off from a parliamentary no-confidence vote, an altogether different level of bad.

It is hard not to see all this as something of a victory for Remainers and moderate Leavers. But where does it leave us?

If there is a People’s Vote, the key thing, as always with referenda, is the question.

May has made it clear that there are three options: Remain, Chequers and No Deal. But Many commentators seem to miss the fact that a three-way referendum would be highly unlikely to be practical: it would both lack legitimacy and further run the risk that the public didn’t actually get what it wanted – and everyone would be unhappy. No, a referendum must surely have two clear options and so one must be taken off the table. But which?

  1. Remain vs Chequers: Remain wins, as YouGov’s polling shows.
  2. No Deal vs Chequers: unlikely to happen. A People’s Vote can only really become a reality if the pendulum has swung towards Remain – that is, if the government suffers public pressure to do so.
  3. Remain vs No Deal: if a parliamentary vote happens first, Chequers loses and there is a last-minute swing to Remain, it could be that this becomes the vote. In the end, no-one knows what would happen, because it is not the same as the hypothetical vote polled for here in a three-way poll. Removal of one option would probably affect the other two. Even then, Leave vs. Remain is still roughly 50-50, as it was back in 2016. One can’t help feeling that, if No Deal were the only option, some Leavers would back away and it only takes a few per cent to swing things for Remain.

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Could we please have a real-world Labour Brexit policy?

19/11/2018, 06:05:32 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Theresa May is right. It is:

  • Her Brexit
  • No deal Brexit
  • Or no Brexit

If you are not choosing from that menu, you are at an imaginary restaurant. Which five members of the Cabinet, the so-called European Research Group, and the Labour leadership, unfortunately, are.

There is, according to the BBC’s Europe Editor, zero appetite in EU circles to renegotiate May’s withdrawal deal. “We have a document on the table that has been adopted by the EU and the UK, and so for me, the question of further negotiations does not arise,” Angela Merkel said.

But Andrea Leadsom demurs. She aims to tweak May’s deal. John McDonnell goes further. He wants a completely different agreement by next March.

In the real-world, there are three possible ways forward:

First, May’s deal. The lack of advocates for this deal has reduced May to comparisons with Thatcher’s final days. It is also reminiscent of the period immediately after the 2010 general election. Then, as now, it was apparent that the prime minister did not have the numbers.

There is, however, a plausible argument to say:

While imperfect, this withdrawal agreement takes the UK out of the EU, we accept it and are focusing upon the long-term relationship between the UK and the EU, which remains to be determined.

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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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