Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Todd’

The UK’s decline will continue as long as our Brexit riddle is unresolved

11/06/2019, 07:00:35 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Brexit is bigger than Labour and the Tories. As it renders our domestic policy dysfunctional, shreds our external reputation, and holds our economy hostage, only the deluded think that Boris Johnson trumps Brexit.

Let’s face it: The UK is now a failed state.

At the heart of Brexit’s tremendous power is its meaninglessness. Professor Danny Dyer sums it up:

“Who knows about Brexit? No one has got a fucking clue what Brexit is, yeah. You watch Question Time, it’s comedy. No one knows what it is – it’s like this mad riddle that no one knows what it is, right?”

This riddle is subtly complex. It seemed straightforward at the 2016 referendum. Brexit means Brexit. Most MPs voted to trigger Article 50.

MPs so voted because they wanted to respect the referendum, but they cannot take this respect further without solving the riddle.

They cannot. If they could, cabinet would not divide over Brexit’s meaning, parliament would vote through a version of Brexit, and Theresa May would be triumphant.

The unsolved riddle leaves these stark realities:

  1. The EU are not going to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement and the chances of getting this agreement through parliament remain slim.
  2. The default position is that we no deal at the end of October. While the only thing that parliament can agree is its desire not to no deal, we may soon have a prime minister prepared to no deal and an EU, frustrated with the UK, willing to.
  3. There is no mandate for no deal. This was not promised in 2016.
  4. If a prime minister wants a mandate for an approach to Brexit that leaves open no deal and creates a parliament more likely to vote for their version of Brexit, they might seek this through a general election. But, as our two-party democracy transforms into a four-party circus, a general election now would be a lottery.
  5. Even in a less volatile climate, a general election would only solve our Brexit riddle if the parties stood on unambiguous and deliverable Brexit platforms. It requires a highly generous interpretation of their limited capabilities to think that they would do so.

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Our summer of terrible dilemmas

26/04/2019, 09:10:09 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The temperature is rising. On our thermometers and in our politics. We face a summer of terrible dilemmas.

Should the Democrats seek to impeach Trump?

“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” the Mueller report says. “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

Mueller does not exonerate Trump. Mueller also recognises the Justice Department guidelines debarring prosecution of a sitting president. Mueller has taken matters as far as he feels he could.

It is for Congress to take them further. To not do so would set a dangerous precedent, while to do so would go against political realism.

In the absence of Republican support, an attempt to impeach Trump would not succeed. It would energise Trump’s loyal supporters. It would detract from focus on issues – such as healthcare – that are more likely to help Democrats in next year’s presidential election.

Who should pro-Europeans vote for in the European election?

Pro-Europeans have had few better friends in recent years than Andrew Adonis and Seb Dance. They intend to seek election as Labour MEPs.

The Labour leadership has been less solid. Barely exerting itself in the 2016 referendum. Slow to interrogate that vote’s dark money. Quick to push the “jobs first Brexit” oxymoron.

Theresa May, pace the ERG, has not defeated Brexit. Nor has parliament. Brexit – its contradictions and conceits – is defeating Brexit.

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Can the Labour breakaway escape our General Melchett leadership?

18/02/2019, 10:57:03 PM

By Jonathan Todd

“If nothing else works,” General Melchett (Stephen Fry) insisted in Blackadder Goes Forth, “a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through.”

Donkeys again lead lions. Theresa May won’t face facts about parliamentary arithmetic. Jeremy Corbyn won’t face the facts raised by 7 ex-Labour MPs.

For Melchett “seeing things through” came at tremendous human cost. As business investment plummets and the UK’s international reputation degrades to the shambolically pitiable, May and Corbyn are also callously aloof.

Brexit does nothing to solve the problems of the UK, while creating many new problems. At a minimum, a “good Brexit” would avoid these new problems. More ambitiously, it would somehow address the problems that the UK harboured in June 2016. No such Brexit exists.

We might choose to minimise the scale of economic damage caused by Brexit (by staying in the single market and customs union) but this comes at the price of being rule takers to the EU. Since June 2016, Labour has never confronted this trade-off.

The Irish backstop features in debate in the UK as if the border issue is a potentially temporary challenge, but any future divergence between Northern Ireland and the EU customs union and single market likely necessitates a hard border.

If the UK were, for example, to have lower tariffs than the EU customs union, a Northern Ireland with an open border to the Republic would create a way to avoid tariffs when bringing goods in to the EU. If these goods were to fall below EU regulatory standards, this EU backdoor would undermine the single market, as well as the customs union.

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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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Labour Conference 2018: Time for a new direction on Brexit

24/09/2018, 09:44:22 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Labour Party conference meets amid the UK’s deepening constitutional and economic crisis. Merely by reiterating its long-established red lines, EU leaders inspired a haughty and incoherent speech from our out-of-her-depth prime minister, bringing the calamity of no deal Brexit nearer.

The message from Nigel Farage at the Leave Means Leave rally is clear: “No deal, no problem.” The message from Labour’s conference needs to be equally straight-forward: “No deal, no way.”

Brexit, as President Macron noted, “was pushed by people who predicted easy solutions.” Now the same people tell us not to worry about no deal. Surely the will of the people is not to be fooled twice.

The warning lights from Labour should be flashing brightly to avoid the kind of no deal scenario depicted in a Financial Times editorial in July:

“The UK would spill out of the EU on March 29 2019, guaranteeing chaos on all fronts. It would spell international isolation, as well as a shock to the economy and a political backlash. No competent government could contemplate such an option.”

Given this, the prime minister is wrong, pace her Friday speech, to assert that no deal is better than a bad deal. Labour must say so.

The prime minister is mistaken, too, to claim that EU leaders provided no explanation for their rejection of Chequers. It followed from their consistent position on the indivisibility of the EU’s four freedoms. We must hope that Labour, as an internationalist party, demystifies this hardy mysterious reality.

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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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Where would the UK be with any other Labour leader?

30/07/2018, 10:50:40 PM

by Jonathan Todd

A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of no deal Brexit. The building prospect of this epic disaster makes Theresa May’s triggering of Article 50 in March 2017, sixteen months in advance of anything resembling a united government position on the biggest decision facing us since World War II, recklessly premature.

Jeremy Corbyn demanded that Article 50 be triggered on 24 June 2016. As, in the period since, Labour has done no better than the government in offering up a Brexit plan likely to be compatible with the EU’s long-established and clear positions, we would now be over a month into the wasteland of Corbyn’s no deal if he were then prime minister.

Any other post-Michael Foot Labour leader, recognising that Brexit is incompatible with any viable Labour political economy, would have thrown themselves into the Remain campaign in 2016 with more gusto than Corbyn. We’ve got our party back, Neil Kinnock said when Ed Miliband became leader. But, despite their differences, all leaders from Kinnock to Miliband would, in the circumstances that Corbyn now finds himself in, be putting the national emergency of Brexit above all else.

Once we heard of “one of the easiest trade deals in human history” and Brexit with “the exact same benefits” of EU membership, now we are told of “adequate food” – but even this might prove overly optimistic. There will be, as Corbyn never tells us, no Brexit dividend, no £350m extra a week for the NHS. There will be, to almost recall a bleak Daniel Day-Lewis film, stockpiling of blood. No deal Brexit was meant to be impossible – don’t they want to sell us their prosecco? Not as much as they want to preserve the integrity of EU institutions, it, predictably, transpires – and yet, it looms ever larger.

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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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