Why has no other country tried to leave the EU?

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I had an interesting conversation the other day with someone from another EU country (Holland) and it led to something of a thought experiment. Why has no other country ever tried to leave the EU?

I mean its not as if euroscepticism is an entirely British phenomenon. There’s been several occasions where populists eurosceptic parties have held a majority in government, most recently in Italy for example. And polls show there’s a possibility such a thing could go through. Yet despite all the vitriol and anti-EU rhetoric they haven’t put their money where their mouth is and tried to hold a referendum and leave, Why? Well the answer tells us more about the UK than it does about the EU.

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Most EU states are governed by constitutions which would require a legally binding referendum be held, prior to leaving, as an absolute minimum. In fact in some country’s you’d have to get a supermajority to approve it (+50% of the entire population, not just those who bother to show up at the polls, by contrast brexit only got the support of 37%). This is in stark contrast to the UK, whose constitution is a bunch of vague guidelines written on goatskin, which seems to assume any politician is going to be an honourable gentleman who’ll put the country first. And if he breaks the rules he gets called a knave and doesn’t get invited to the Speakers annual garden party.

Hence many of the dirty tricks employed by the brexiters to win the 2016 referendum would not be available to continental eurosceptics, as such antics would get them into very serious trouble. Prison time sort of trouble. The UK’s electoral commission has found that the vote leave campaign broke the law during the referendum. The only reason why the result wasn’t annulled by the courts (and why Cummings, Johnson, Farage et al aren’t serving prison terms) is because it was a non-legally binding advisory referendum. Eurosceptics on the continent dislike the EU yes. But very few of them hate it that much that they are willing to risk ending up in a 6×6 cell, sharing prison showers with a massive tattooed guy called Bubba.

Furthermore with a legally binding referendum you’d probably have to specify what kind of brexit you were aiming for. Otherwise it might be at risk of court challenges before a vote is even held. This was another problem with the referendum, the question asked was too vague, you may as well have asked “do you hate the French?” or “is blue your favourite colour?”. This allowed brexit to become a blank canvas onto which unicorns could be painted. Hence brexiters could sell the idea of the UK leaving, yet keeping all the benefits of staying in, without it costing a penny.

Specifying which brexit you are aiming for would present a problem, because much as the UK brexiters can’t agree what kind of brexit they want, European eurosceptics are as equally divided. The odds are such a bill would fail at the first hurdle as they’d not be able to get behind a proposal through parliament to trigger such a referendum. And once they’d nailed their colours to the mast, polls do show that when presented with a specific brexit option (Norway for now, May’s deal, no deal) support ebbs away (as people are forced to weight up the pro’s and cons). And generally remain wins any side by side comparison (because it means accepting you are worse off out than in).

And as many EU states are federations (Germany and Spain for example) with regional assemblies, they’d have to find a way to resolve what happens if say Catalonia vote to stay and Andalusia votes to leave. Not least because in some cases these regional assemblies might have to approve of any referendum before it can be held (which they won’t do until all the what if’s are resolved), not to mention pass the secondary legislation afterwards to allow the country as a whole to leave. Yes there’s usually a way for central government to railroad things through but, suffice to say, this is opening a massive can of worms. One which is firmly labelled “do not open this can, national self destruction may follow”.

And of course even if you can get the initial bill through parliament, get the public to vote for it (by a significant majority) you’ve still got to go to Brussels and negotiate an exit. And for the UK this is where the fireworks started. Basically this means putting on hold all important business so you can conduct the negotiations and push through the supporting legislation to allow for leaving the EU.

The Tories have gotten away with various dirty tricks to drive through brexit, using the dictatorial Henry VII powers, cancelling votes at the last minute, moving forward a vote when you realise several pro-remain MP’s are off sick, bribing MP’s with promises of peerages, stacking the lords with peers to filibuster any anti-brexit legislation and of course more recently proroguing parliament (i.e. suspending democracy), an act now deemed unlawful as its likely the PM lied to the Queen. Very little of this would be legal in other EU states, nor would politicians find it so easy to get away with it.

And given that many countries on the continent have had more recent experience of living under a dictatorship (fascists, junta’s or communists) electorates tend to be a bit more sensitive about this sort of behaviour. Plus because many European government’s are elected by proportional representation, that means they are often coalitions. And the odds are good that such a coalition would fracture under the strain of an EU exit process. So its possible the whole thing will collapse before the process is complete.

Oh and a just for good measure a 2nd referendum afterwards might also be needed to confirm everything (as its likely what was promised will be different from what exit you actually end up with, or you need to confirm constitutional changes with a referendum). And obviously the whole reason why brexiters in the UK are resisting this option is because they know they will likely lose such a vote.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it would be impossible for any other European country to leave the EU. After all many held votes to join in the first place, or approve the various EU treaties. So with enough public support and goodwill its possible. But perhaps that’s the point, there just isn’t the support for leaving (with the possible exception of Italy). Getting the turkey’s to vote to put the charismatic Mr Fox in charge of the hen house is one thing. Getting them to vote for Christmas is an entirely different matter. And given that leaving sounds a lot like hard work (with the added risk of prison time), most populists would rather not bother trying and instead prefer to busy themselves collecting kickbacks and bribes.

But even if populist eurosceptics could drag their country out of the EU, what then? Who are you going to blame when things go wrong? The EU gets a lot of blame for things because its a cheap shot. They are a large faceless bureaucracy and an obvious scapegoat who isn’t going to fight back. And this cuts to the heart of populism, which is basically about avoiding responsibility and blaming others for your own misfortune.

The economy collapses because you voted in a bunch of incompetent politicians who borrowed heavily and spent like sailors on shore leave? Not our fault, its the fault of the EU (who bailed you out, how mean of them forcing billions into your country’s coffers!)….oh and of course recently arrived migrants, its their fault too. Can’t get a council house? Not your fault for voting Tory (who basically stopped building them in the 80’s and sold off most of the stock) its immigrants and refugees coming in and taking them (actually they are no less likely to get one than a Brit). Late for work? Not your fault, its those lazy immigrant bus drivers….and EU elf N’ safety….somehow! This is what populism is all about, blame somebody else for everything that’s gone wrong. Don’t take responsibility for anything.

So if you are out of the EU, and you’ve deported all the migrants, who are you going to blame when things go wrong? Now granted, its pretty clear Johnson’s plan is to blame the EU for the UK’s post-brexit economic misfortune. However the major threat from brexit isn’t the short term dip afterwards, its the longer term consequences. Its going to be a bit rich 5-10 years after leaving for the Tories to still be blaming the EU every time a UK firm goes bust or for a drop in life expectancy. At some point the penny drops and the odds are the UK will simply re-join the EU under terms less favourable than it currently enjoys.

And this is why, despite all the bravado from continental eurosceptics, there’s been no other attempts to leave the EU. They have better things to do with their time than destroy their own parties and getting themselves arrested. We end up with a cat and dog like situation. The cat and the dog don’t like each other, but they just find a way to get along with one another. Its the same thing with the eurosceptics and the EU. The eurosceptic little doggie is quite happy to bark all day, but his bark is worse than his bite. After all it wasn’t Farage who called the referendum, but Cameron (Farage was quite happy to stay on as an MEP and collect his generous salary).

The only reason therefore the UK is posed to leave without a deal….and the chaos and blow back that will inevitably follow, is because of its broken political system. Leave or remain, these flaws will still exist, even if brexit is somehow swept from the political agenda. This is why reform of the UK’s entire political system is what parliament should be devoting its time towards, rather than arguing over brexit. For it is a symptom rather than the disease itself.

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Pre-election analysis – the UK’s Trump v’s the rebel alliance

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So its possible we’ll have an early election, thought probably not as early as Boris Johnson wants. He seems to be hoping that by bringing a bit of Trump like behaviour to the UK he can get a majority, allowing him to force through the sort of brexit he prefers…..which might not necessarily be a no deal mind (if he’s got enough seats then he doesn’t need the DUP or the hard brexiters anymore, he could toss both under the bus and put forward May’s deal again, or the EU’s original proposal of leaving NI in the single market, negating the need for any backstop).

The odds are certainly in his favour, he’s 10% ahead in the polls and such tactics have certainly worked in the past, but its not that straight forward. In fact its a very risky gamble. As I pointed out before, such is the unfairness of the FPTP system its mathematically possible for the Tories to win a majority of seats with only 30% of the vote. However, its also mathematically possible for them to finish 10% ahead of anyone else and yet still not get a majority.

Certainly yes, Boris Johnson is good at one thing and it’s lying. He could sell a clapped out VW Bettle by claiming its actually a classic Porsche…which is pretty much a good description of his likely election strategy! However, the Tories have been trying to out UKIP, UKIP for the last two decades and failed every time. Farage, assuming he fields candidates (and given my point above he’d be very naive not to do so) lives in a glass house and can hurl rocks Boris can’t, while promising bigger and better unicorns. To return to my analogy about the used car, he’s going to be across the street at the election selling an actual Porcsche….which he doesn’t actually own…as he’ll basically be pulling the old pig in a poke scam.

So some significant number of voters will defect to the brexit party or UKIP (so even if the brexit party don’t stand, he’ll still lose some votes). And, as perhaps his recent walkabout should have highlighted, there are some UK voters who fundamentally won’t vote Tory. Even among some leave voters this would be unthinkable (in fact some voted leave to give Cameron & the Tories the two fingered salute). Go into the wrong bar in Glasgow, Leeds or Liverpool, tell them you are a Tory and you’ll hear a click behind you as they lock the doors, cos you ain’t leaving the place alive! Now whether this block of voters is 5% or 25% I do not know. But if I were Johnson I’d rather not find out the hard way!

At the other extreme his Stalinistic purges of moderate opponents is causing many to quit the party. Johnson seems to be confusing Tory members (who are pretty gung ho for no deal yes) with Tory voters (who are a completely different kettle of fish). Ruth Davidson’s quitting alone puts nearly all of the Scottish Tory seats in doubt. His own brother now quitting is also crucial, as he was one of the few moderate Tories left in a cabinet post.

And this business of sacking 21 further MP’s for doing something Johnson regularly did himself (including the father of the house Ken Clarke along with Winston Churchill’s grandson!) is going to have quite an impact. There is nothing to stop any of these MP’s (or other previous Tory defectors), from running again as independent Tory candidates. Or they might simply throwing their weight behind some pro-remain candidate in their constituency. Some Johnson crony parachuted in at the last minute is going to have a bit of an uphill struggle getting elected.

And losing votes from both ends is exactly the sort of scenario where the Tories could lose many of the marginal seats, meaning that they win the battle but lose the war (i.e. top the polls but finish well short of a majority). To make matters worse the election isn’t just going to be solely about brexit. Johnson and his puppet master adviser Wormtongue Cummings know this, so they’ve been trying to out Corbyn Corbyn, with lavish promises of money from heaven. Of course given that a hard brexit will depress the economy and pull down tax revenue, its hard to see how he’ll be able to afford current spending, never mind the sort he’s planning.

But while Boris is promising a few million here, a few there, Corbyn’s promising billions. And Corbyn can claim he has a plan to finance this, he’ll go for a softer brexit (or more likely none at all once his party and coalition partners have their say) and put up taxes for the rich. Now granted there’s a few holes in his proposals (which I’ve discussed before), but the Tories can’t get away with using the magic money tree jibe (not that they won’t try of course!), because they need a forest of them after brexit. So its not certain this tactic will work. It could leave them open to attack by lending more credibility to Corbyn’s proposals. And my guess is the public will find Corbyn’s proposals more appealing.

That said, certainly the Tories main election asset is Corbyn. Poll after poll shows that the public don’t like him, he’s not seen as a PM in waiting. And no I’m not a secret Tory or a lib dem (I usually vote either Green, SNP or labour). I’m simply reflecting the opinion of him you’d hear expressed in any working class pub, food bank or greasy spoon cafe. And these are the sort of people who generally vote labour. In Tory circles he’s the spawn of Satan. If there’s one thing that would cause moderate Tories and centre ground voters (who hate Johnson and don’t want a no deal), to lose their nerve and vote Tory anyway, its the thought of a Corbyn premiership.

And Corbyn’s policy of different forms of fence sitting on brexit (while thwarting efforts to block it) is going to be a major problem in any snap election. His official policy is to have an election, win it, negotiate a new deal with Brussels and put that to a people’s vote. The reality is that, while there will be differences between a Corbyn brexit and a May brexit no doubt (as he’ll go for a customs union, which negates the need for a backstop), the differences aren’t huge. Parliament is as likely to vote against such a deal as it was to vote against May’s deal. And a people’s vote will almost certainly result in remain winning by a large margin (meaning Corbyn then has to resign becoming the 4th PM brought down by brexit). And this assumes his party, who are overwhelmingly pro-remain, and his likely coalition partners (even more pro-remain) are going to be okay with putting his progressive agenda and all other business on the back burner for several years so he can sort out brexit.

The obvious hypocrisies of this policy will be exposed and his position will fall apart within the first week of any campaign, leading him to lose votes in all directions. The Tories and brexit party will say he’s pro-remain, the lib dems that he’s pro-leave. And how can we trust a leader whose still not made up his mind about something this important after 3 years? In which case, labour will haemorrhage seats to all its rivals and that could easily tip the scales Johnson’s direction.

The obvious solution therefore would be for labour to go full on pro-remain, forming an electoral alliance with the lib dems, greens and SNP. That would maximise his gains and minimise his losses. The trouble is that Corbyn lives in a bubble and doesn’t understand any of this. And he has a halo around him (as this piece perhaps shows), which stops his supporters seeing the blindingly obvious. If you’ve wandered onto any momentum blog or twitter feed recently they are wall to wall wailing against the lib dems. You’d swear a no deal brexit, austerity and privatising the NHS was their idea rather than the Tories.

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What remainers need……

And recall Corbyn has his own set of defectors, such as the Jewish MP who quit over anti-Semitism some time ago, who recently joined the lib dems. And he plans to field candidates against them next election, even thought they’ve little chance of getting elected….although they might help a Tory get elected in the process! In short, I get the impression that Corbyn and his red shirts are going to turn the next election into the Judean people’s front v’s the people’s front of Judea, with him and momentum playing the role of the crack suicide squad, with the Romans Tories looking on with bemusement.

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…..but what they might actually get

For the price of the inevitable defeat that will follow such a strategy is going to be high for labour supporters. Johnson gets in with a large majority and implements a hard right agenda that makes Corbyn’s hard left policies impossible to ever implement (as everything in the country including the NHS and public services will now be owned by US multinationals, plus they’ll bring in US style voter ID laws that make it difficult for young people or the poor to even vote). A big block of voters will leave the party in disgust and likely never come back (some polls have shown labour slipping to 4th place behind the lib dems and brexit party). He’ll have to resign, the Blairites will take over and his failure will be pointed to for decades as “proof” that such left wing policies are a route to electoral disaster (which I’d argue will be unfair, the problem is that Corbyn is just a crap leader, not necessarily his policies).

So it is all up in the air. Yes Johnson may succeed in turning the Tories into the US republican party under Trump. He might sell a plan to make the UK great again, which turns out to be a plan to turn the country into the 51st state and a somewhat poor and bankrupt one at that! Or he might find the electorate recoil in horror at such a thought and he’s simply given Corbyn the opportunity to sneak into power as head of a remainer rebel alliance. Delaying the election does on paper decrease the probability of the Tories winning, but it certainly doesn’t rule it out. There’s everything to play for, but do the players really want to play?

Brexpiling for no deal

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With no deal brexit looking very likely, the UK is being hit by another wave of brexit stockpiling. Wonderful how brexit created new words, brexodus (EU citizens abandoning the sinking ship), brexsplaining (trying to explain to some demented leave voter that unicorns don’t exist and the EU is not run by the lizardmen) and brexpiling, stockpiling for a no deal.

But, I’ve heard it suggested that we shouldn’t stockpile for brexit because it will effect the poor, who’ll not be able to afford to do so. And panic buying out of fear of shortages could become a self fulfilling prophecy. If everyone runs down to the supermarket and starts grabbing everything in sight, at the same time ports are struggling to ship in supplies, then there will be shortages.

My take on this is that actually stockpiling is perfectly sensible, just don’t go mad. Not stockpiling after all means you trust the nice man from the government to know what he’s doing. And as I’ve mentioned before, the maths don’t look encouraging. Although too be honest if you haven’t made provisions for a no deal brexit by now, you’ve probably left it too late.

I’ve always had a stockpile of food and other supplies at home (some tinned & freeze dried food, camping stove, head torches with spare batteries, med kit, usual) to cover certain contingencies, ranging from bad winter weather, power cuts, to me being lazy and not bothered to go out shopping. I’d argue this is something any responsible grown up should have. Although admittedly given that I do go camping from time to time, its not a like any of these supplies are going to go to waste.

What I’ve simply done is extend this floating stockpile to cover other items that might become scarce or expensive post-brexit (basically anything we are dependant on the EU for). I’ve done this by just buying two of any vulnerable items I happened to be buying, and gradually building up a floating reserve. I’ve also made sure to have an ample supply of items that will likely run out straight away such as Barry’s Tea, Tayto crisps, Irish mustard and a few bottles of any particular alcoholic beverages I might be partial too (got to get the priorities right!).

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The likely scenario, based on leaked government reports (so more project reality than project fear) is that after a no deal brexit there may be shortages of certain items for a few months. Notably anything perishable but difficult to store (fresh fruit and veg, bread, etc. in other words the stuff you can’t really stockpile), although more durable items (cereals, tinned or frozen food) will probably still be available. That said, there will be large gaps on the shelves (hard to be specific, pretty much everything from washing powders to medicines could be effected), as shops won’t be able to restock as easily as they used to before (given trucks will be spending several days in a queue at Calais). The number of choices available will diminish and prices will increase significantly, far more than the rises we’ve already seen.

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And no the government setting tariffs to zero doesn’t help much, in fact it could make things worse. The higher costs reflects not just the tariffs but the lower value of the pound (making it more expensive to buy things in from abroad), the cost of filling out all that extra paperwork and the cost of having a truck sit in a queue for several days. Plus the fact that trucking companies will be reluctant to have a truck effectively parked for several days when it could be making money, so they’ll charge more to do a cross channel run. The only thing setting tariffs to zero will do is make it harder to negotiate beneficial trade deals and screw over UK farmers.

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How serious any shortages become are largely dependant on the EU (if anyone’s taking control, its them). They are proposing to phase in certain measures gradually. Now they are doing so for their own benefit, so they’ll be acting unilaterally without consulting the UK. For example at some point they will decide that UK lorry drivers can’t drive on EU roads without an international driving permit….and there’s two different types covering different parts of the EU (which only covers them for a year), insurance with an EU based firm (more paperwork and more expense!)….and they’ll also need a community license, of which they only issue a limited number per year to non-EU drivers.

In addition there’s a certain X factor to be considered, as issues currently flying under the radar may end up having an unexpectedly serious impact. For example, a product that should be safe from disruption (whisky or beer) might be prone to severe shortages due to a lack of key ingredients (a brewer did mention to me he’s been stockpiling hops as his suppliers are in the EU).

And the government’s crowd friendly, but reckless decision, to bring in immigration controls immediately will probably have a range of serious consequences. As noted, the UK will be heavily dependant on foreign lorry drivers after brexit, so if they are also going to have to go through immigration checks, well you can add a couple of days onto that wait time (a delay of only a few minutes more per truck translates into a massive increase in the queue and hence it takes hours or days longer to get to the front). The UK’s food production is heavily dependant also on EU citizens, notably seasonal workers on UK farms. So any interruption to them coming over will have an immediate impact on food supplies (read a collapse in animal welfare standards followed by mass cullings, crops left to rot in fields, etc.).

And note these conditions won’t simply last for a few weeks or months and then everything will be fine. The worst of the shortages will hit shortly after brexit yes (likely in the run up to Christmas itself), but sporadic shortages will still be a thing afterwards. This will become the new normal. I’m just about old enough to remember what life was like outside of the single market and that’s what’s going to be imposed on us come the 1st of November.

So what we’ll be facing post-brexit will be sporadic shortages and sudden prices rises and a general lowering of standards. You’ll go to the supermarket one day and find they are out of fresh tomatoes, but the place down the road has them, but they are a bit manky or they are just very expensive. Next week, plenty of tomatoes (being sold at a discount so they can shift them before they go off), but no bananas and no aspirin.

What you want might not be available, so you’ll either have to wait (hence the value of a stockpile) or devoting your weekend and days off to shopping around. You might even need to wait until you are going on holiday to stock up (I recall the days as a kid when we’d be back and forth from Ireland to the UK with suitcases or cars crammed with contraband!). You can’t simply expect any more to head down to a supermarket and that what you ever you want will fall into your outstretched hand, at a low price and be of good quality.

Given those circumstances I think you can see the benefits of a well stocked larder. That way if for example you run out of bog roll (one of the items vulnerable to disruption) you’ll be able to avoid the indignity of having to wipe your arse with pages of the Daily Mail (I’ve previously worked out they provide the maximum sheets of paper per cost). Yes you’ll have to replenish your stockpile eventually, but it gives you a bit more flexibility as to when you choose to do so.

What’s that? We’ll get a super trade deal off the US and we can get lots of their cheap chlorinated chicken and meat pumped full of hormones (assuming we agree to sell Trump the Isle of Wight or something). Well you do realise that America is the other side of this thing called “the Atlantic”. It takes several days for ships to travel across and supplies can’t be disrupted by bad weather. And storms tend to be at their worst in winter, which is when the UK is most dependant on food imports. Furthermore most transatlantic shipping bound for the UK currently goes through Rotterdam. So until new port facilities are built, we’re stuffed. So in order to cope, it would be necessary to have large warehouses in the UK to create a floating stock of supplies, which will increase the costs and those costs get passed on to shoppers.

And the price we pay at the till is generally set on a supply and demand basis. Yes the retailer might be getting buying it cheap, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll sell it on cheaply. And frankly, some of that American food I won’t feed to a dog. And given that rules of origin labelling will have been done away with, it will be nearly impossible to tell what’s made in the UK or made in the US, other than buying directly off of farmers (at a farmers market for example, of course that’s kind of expensive). On the plus side, it might encourage more Brit’s to go vegan….if they can afford it!

In fact, given how dependant the UK is on supplies of fresh fruit and veg shipped in from the EU, its here where we are going to get screwed. The US has long subsidised unhealthy calories (i.e. meat and sugar) at the expense of healthy foods (I recall noting while I was there that a pack of burgers or Twinkies cost less than a piece of fruit), so they won’t be much help. Even those coming from beyond the EU are dependant on trade deals signed via the EU (which become void on the 1st of November). And a US trade deal could complicate things, as the US might block any such deals (fearing for example a route via which pathogens can work their way back to the US) and visa versa.

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Of course masses of people, notably those on low income, being forced by a lack of availability and high prices, to switch to a poorer quality diet, with more fatty foods, that isn’t as safe and of a poorer standard, that’s inevitably going to lead to more deaths. And we are talking thousands of extra deaths per year. That is the price of brexit (I don’t know, maybe after all the old brexiters have died off and the UK rejoins we’ll have to put up a monument to those killed by brexit).

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So yes the poor are going to get screwed by brexit, unfortunately that’s inevitable, nothing we can do about that, other than try to get brexit stopped (or contributing to charities). Stockpiling, so long as you’ve had the good sense to do it months ago, isn’t going to chance anything. What you are merely doing is creating a safety net to cushion the blow. But unless you plan on buying a lifetime supply of food between now and Halloween (or maybe take up squirrel hunting!) you can’t really stockpile your way out of this situation. Personally, I’m just going to make a habit of visiting the folks back in Ireland and bringing a bigger suitcase!

A spoiler alert for the EU elections

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The UK’s local election results (in England, Scotland wasn’t voting this time around) have shown a massive swing away from the pro-brexit parties, towards pro-remain parties. Now while it is certainly true that local elections tend to be fought over issues such as fortnightly bin collections and the cost of the Christmas lights, certainly there’s clearly something of a trend here that’s a bit too obvious to ignore.

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At the end of the day, even if you are voting on local issues, who do you want in charge of local affairs? The party that proposed brexit, got a deal and then voted against it. Or the party that backed remain, but voted in favour of article 50 and who has been sitting on the fence ever since, with the party leadership trying to come up with an excuses for why they should vote for a Tory brexit plan they all hate. Or maybe you’d rather put some grown up’s in charge instead? And its also worth remembering that as these elections didn’t include London or Scotland, its probable the swing on this issue is if anything understated.

This is exactly the point I’ve been making for sometime. Corbyn and May seem to think that if they can just sneak brexit through, that’s it done and dusted, all the 17 million or so who voted remain, many of whom can show very real personal loss and hardship brought onto them by brexit, will go away and shut up about the issue forever. Well obviously no, they won’t. As the economic impact of brexit takes effect it will mean that instead support for rejoining the EU will grow. Corbyn’s plan is to let brexit happen and then blame the Tories. But, as these results should make clear, the outcome of a Tory brexit is voters backing pro-EU parties, not other forms of euroscepticism.

So they’ve got the message loud and clear, we’ll be having a 2nd referendum then. LOL! Nope, both party leaders are arguing instead that a strong swing to remain indicates support for their policy. May wants a 3rd vote (or is it a 4th vote? honestly I’ve lost count!) on her deal (once she’s changed the font). Corbyn seems to think it means voters defecting from him to the lib dems and greens means they want labour to back May’s deal this time (brexiter logic, don’t even try to understand it!).

As I’ve said before, so long as Corbyn (aka Captain Ahab) is party leader, labour are a pro-leave party. He will prioritise getting brexit through over becoming PM or reversing Tory austerity. Even thought labour is overwhelmingly a remain party, labour voters need to remember you are essentially voting for a Tory brexit by voting labour. It doesn’t matter what you vote for at conference, or what’s in the party manifesto, Corbyn has consistently shown he will ignore both and push through his own agenda. And you can also be guaranteed, even when he does go, he’ll make sure his own hand picked successor (eurosceptic and clueless) takes over.

But, what’s really troubling me is the upcoming EU elections. I’d be inclined to vote Green party in these. While its claimed the UK’s EU elections operate on proportional representation, its a flawed version of PR, as it doesn’t include a transferable vote (and hence tends to favour the major parties). A party needs about 15% of the vote per seat in Scotland. And last time the lib dems and greens split about 15% of the vote between them (so no seats for either party).

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However, now Change UK threaten to split a pool of about 20% of the vote 3 ways. This means that when you add that to the SNP’s 40%, 60% of Scottish voters will likely vote for pro-remain parties. Add in labour’s 14% (Scottish labour is very much a remain party, even more so than in England) that works out at support at 74% for remain. However, thanks to Change UK’s spoiler action, its possible the seat allocation will split more like 50/50.

Why didn’t Change UK do an election deal with the other parties and run on a joint ticket? And worse still, while no lib dem or greens got elected in Scotland last time, several did get elected in English constituencies. Change UK spoiler action now threatens to cost these MEP’s their seats (in fact one of their candidates recently pulled out for this very reason, she doesn’t want to stand and help brexiters get elected).

Looking at the UK wide polls add up the pro-remain parties and they do have a lead (although a narrow one at that) and again you add in labour and support for remain represents a majority. But inevitably the media won’t report that. They will focus on seat allocation (which will likely split 70/30 in favour of leave) or which individual party got the most votes or seats (which will be Farage and his gallery of ghouls).

So my advice to anyone in the UK is don’t vote for Change UK. Check your local results and opinion polls and back incumbent pro-remain MP’s (in Scotland that would be the SNP, in England Greens and lib dems, in Wales Plaid Cymru). And whatever you do, don’t vote for labour either (the media will count that as a pro-leave vote). Certainly if there’s a big shift in support in Scotland, whereby the green’s stand a chance, I might well vote for them and I’d advise everyone else to watch the polls closely and do the same. But the priority this time is maximising the number of remain supporting MEP’s who get elected. Particularly when you understand what’s going on in the rest of Europe.

I appreciate what Change UK is trying to do. They know that the Tories are now just enablers of fascism and xenophobia. The nasty party. That Corbyn is a pighead numpty, who hasn’t changed his views on anything since 1970 and hasn’t got a clue how to win an election. However simply compounding the main parties mistakes while waving a pro-remain flag isn’t progress. A hard defeat might snap them back to reality and force them to change tactics (such as doing forging an alliance with the lib dems).

A not so slow news week

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Of course the big story over the last week was the arrest of Julian Assange and his removal from the Ecuadorian embassy. To be honest, the only thing that surprises me is that this didn’t happen sometime ago.

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There’s an accepted wisdom that if you are offered asylum by a country, you don’t make waves for them. After all they still have to have relations with the country whom you are fleeing from. And that’s assuming you are in the actual country, not in an embassy metres from cops who want to arrest you! And you especially don’t want to go interfering in the affairs of the state who is protecting you, that’s just common sense. One has to assume that the historic distrust of many Latin American countries towards the US (thanks to its past policies in the region) is why they held this off for so long.

Assange’s supporters claim the arrest was illegal. It wasn’t. Diplomatic immunity is a mutually agreed convention. If both parties opt to wave it (as often happens), then a protected individual losses their protection and can be arrested just like everybody else. Police can enter an embassy upon request. There’s also a claim that Ecuador has been bribed with several billion in funds. However, this likely refers to a loan granted recently by the World Bank and IMF. Many states contribute to these funds (including Russia and China) so this accusation doesn’t really ring true.

Assange also claims he only sought refuge because he feared being extradited to the US and facing the death penalty. It is illegal under EU law to do such a thing. In fact, by contributing towards brexit, he’s inadvertently made this more likely.

And that’s the problem. Julian has been very selective and applied political bias to the information he’s released. Wikileaks was rather quiet about anything damaging to Trump, but released those Hilary e-mails (which actually didn’t contain anything new) right at the time when they would inflict maximum political damage. By taking sides like this, its difficult for him to play the card of being the little guy against the machine. Because it looks more like he’s an enabler of the alt-right.

To be honest I don’t think the guy is the full shilling, even before he went into the embassy. As I’ve mentioned, several of his decisions were tactically stupid, arrogant and foolhardy. Even his decision to stay in the embassy is questionable. Given that his expulsion has been on the cards for sometime and the police outside were withdrawn sometime ago, why didn’t he make a break for it? The Colombian embassy is in the same building and there’s about a dozen other embassies in a 1km radius. If he was willing to risk a car or taxi journey he could be in the Australian embassy within 5-10 minutes.

And while yes some of these would have shown him the door, others would have had to apply a certain due process (notably the Australian embassy). This would have required the US authorities to declare their interest and make documents publicly available (which they probably won’t want to do). Also some of these embassies have underground car parks. Meaning they could spirit Assange into a diplomatic vehicle, drive to an airfield and put him on a plane out of the country.

So I’d argue these numerous blunders made by Assange suggest he’s might have some mental health issues. And obviously if that’s true then he can’t be extradited, either to Sweden, nor to the US. Thought I doubt his lawyers will be allowed to use that argument.

The black hole

Scientists have recently managed to photograph a black hole, where all matter and the fabric of spacetime breaks down. Its therefore the one place in the universe where you can escape news of brexit or Trump, hence NASA are planning a mission there as we speak and millions are ready to sign up.

Jokes aside, this is kind of a big deal. While scientists have long suspected the existence of black holes, the idea that vast amounts of matter could be compacted down to a singularity has never sit well with them. Even Einstein, while he accepted his own theories (worth noting that it was actually Karl Schwarzschild who first proposed the existence of black holes based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity), he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea (which probably explains his obsessions over quantum theory later in his career). But we cannot deny the vast body of evidence built up over the years. And now we have an actual image of one.

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And the heart of this story is an unsung hero in the form of a post-grad student from MIT by the name of Katie Bouman, who proposed the imaging method used to capture this image. Its an excellent example of how academia should work. A hypothesis is proposed and, regardless of who proposed it, its subjected to multiple layers of peer review and scrutiny. Assuming it passes, funds are sought, its implemented and we get back our results.

Inevitably the internet being the internet, and there’s people out there who resent anyone who is successful (particular if it’s a woman), Ms Bouman (we should probably should start calling her Prof Bouman, because if this doesn’t earn you tenure I don’t know what will!) has attracted a online few trolls. But then again, you can’t say you’ve had the whole internet experience until you’ve received at least three online death threats and attracted at least a dozen cyber stalkers. Maybe we can send them on the mission?

Brexit update – limbo until halloween

And speaking of black holes that nothing can escape, the UK has secured ANOTHER brexit extension till Halloween (insert brexit metaphor or joke of your choice!). But you have to kind of ask, what’s the point?

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The time allotted by the EU is too much for the brexit bigot brigade to bear (hence there will probably be a strong showing for far right parties in the upcoming EU elections). And yet too short to allow a 2nd referendum. It serves no real purpose other than kicking the can down the road and hoping the UK actually makes a decision.

I would also argue that the EU is being very naïve. Their assumption is that one of two things will happen. May will go and a Tory brexiteer will take over, who’ll leave the EU straight away and the EU just triggers its no deal contingency plans. Or there’s a general election, Corbyn gets in and he either asks for an even longer extension (to have a 2nd referendum), or negotiates a Norway+ style arrangement. However, neither is actually likely.

Firstly, while yes the Brexiteers are talking the talk on no deal, I’m not sure they are willing to walk the walk. Remember they want it to happen accidentally (either that or May’s deal is voted through by Corbyn). If they force it through, then they have to take the blame for it and that’s their career over. If some brexiteer like Boris took over, he’d also be faced with the same parliamentary arithmetic as May. Not enough support for either no deal or May’s deal.

So he’d probably try and sabotage the EU from within (much as Mogg recently suggested) in an effort to win a free unicorn off them and distract from his own short comings. We’d only leave when the EU basically voted to kick the UK out against our will, thus giving him cover to blame all that follows on them.

And while labour has been going up in the polls, that’s more a reflection on how badly May is doing and a strong swing to UKIP and other far right parties. The issue for labour in any election is it has no brexit policy and it can’t agree on one. A pro-remain policy is at odds with the views of Corbyn and his cabal. A pro-leave policy would anger the 90% of labour supporters who want a 2nd vote. And it won’t take that many of them to swing a few seats. As I’ve pointed out before, go through the article 50 petition signature stats, constituency by constituency and you’ll see that there’s more than enough who signed it to swing plenty of safe labour seats into marginals and put others seats they have to win beyond reach.

And even if he won, and that would take some doing, he’d be right back in the same position as May. Its some variation on May’s deal (which everybody hates), no deal (which would be a disaster) or no brexit (which nobody is brave enough to support). Corbyn can’t magically change anything. He’s not the 2nd coming. I suspect what those who vote for him would actually get would be more akin to this scene from the wizard of Oz.

How to infuriate the EU in 10 seconds

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The irony is that the UK has actually got some leverage over the EU. Threatening no deal was never going to work. The EU’s never believed the UK would actually be foolish enough to follow through. And, in any event, they’ve had three years to put in place various contingency plans to cope. And they are also aware how woefully inadequate the UK’s no deal plans are.

To draw an analogy, let’s suppose the Pope had a glass too many of the confession wine and went around waving a gun. You could quite safely call his bluff. He’s the Pope and a Jesuit, he won’t hurt a fly (mostly because the fly would probably win….that said I won’t bring up the whole pedo priest business!). On the other hand, if Chuck Norris did it….well you’d want to be careful (if Chuck Norris was the UK’s brexit negotiator, we’d be the only country left in the EU, because he’d have roundhouse kicked the rest out of the building, fact!).

No, the UK’s one trump card left is to threaten the opposite – revoking article 50, then have a 2nd referendum at some in-determinant point in the future. That would absolutely drive the EU, particularly the likes of Marcon, up the wall. They’d be rolling on the ground and chewing the carpet if that happened.

The EU is going to start its budget negotiations for the next seven years some time at the end of the year, which will carry on for about a year or so. The last thing they want is the UK to still be in the club, but the topic of brexit is unresolved. i.e. That the UK might trigger another referendum at any time. And, if that goes the way of leave again, another set of exit negotiations, right when they are squabbling over money and they need to know if the UK is out or in (else they don’t know how much everyone will have to pay).

But of course, nobody in the UK parliament will even consider that, as it would only work if they were willing to let this process extend will into the 2020’s (ignoring the fact its going to continue anyway into the 2040’s).

Worse out than in

The other issue with this long brexit delay is that it means that all of that stockpiling that went on, by the government, companies and individuals has been for nought. Yet, given that brexit (and no deal) remains a looming threat, such stockpiling will have to continue. No quicker than I’ve eaten my way through my stockpile of Tayto crisps, Irish biscuits and Irish tea, I’ll have to start all over again.

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But this is no laughing matter for industry, they’ll now be forced to keep a floating stockpile of spare parts and perishable items for the foreseeable future. What’s wrong with that? Well many UK companies operate on a system of Just In Time manufacture, which is simply incompatible with the needs for brexit related stockpiling. The whole point of such a system is to eliminate inventory. This saves on cost (as you don’t need to pay for a warehouse), improves quality control (any issues get spotted immediately and dealt with straight away) and reducing waste. Leaving the UK stuck in the brexit twilight zone for another 6 months is thus going to have a negative effect on the UK economy.

And another piece of brexit related news is that of how the UK is now officially worse off than if the referendum hadn’t happened. Even if we ignore the £1.5 billion spent on no deal planning (that’s now basically gone to waste), the UK has sacrificed 3% of GDP growth to not leave the EU. And recall back in the referendum when it was said brexit would cost every household over £4k by 2030. Well its already cost each household £1,500 already, which implies where ahead of the curve.

Yes, inevitably during the referendum Cameron told a few porkies. He implied for example that said £4k loss would happen immediately on the 24th of June. That there would be emergency budgets, etc. But the main threat of brexit, was always the brexit bear effect and that bear is very real and we’ve now seen its claws.

Norway minus

Given that soft brexit and the Norway model seems to be everybody’s preferred compromise, I have to ask, has anybody bothered to run this by Norway and the other members of EFTA? Because I think you’ll find the last thing they want (or need), is the UK coming in and demanding special treatment, like some spoiled toffee-nosed etonian.

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Why no deal is probably inevitable in one easy to follow chart

I was actually in Norway during the referendum (and I’d previously been in Iceland a year or two before) and they know why they aren’t in the EU. Its largely due to fish, which is 10% of Norway’s economy, 30% of Iceland’s and 50% of Greenland’s, but under 1% of the UK’s. And even these stats don’t do justice. You live in a village up north in these countries, you’ve got a steep mountain on one side (or a volcano!), the sea the other side and a small sliver of land on which to build a fishing port. Job opportunities in these communities involve A) fishing B) Tourism during the short summer or C) Marrying a puffin.

Thus these nations are all willing to accept being rule takers from Brussels, but not rule makers, so they can exert a bit more control over this one key issue. Their concern therefore is that the UK will try to push the sort of rhetoric we’ve heard from the brexiteers into EFTA. Or that the UK tabloids will just turn on them as their hate figure in place of the EU. And they just don’t want that in their little club house.

Now if the UK were willing to compromise, for example not bringing in any changes to immigration or welfare rules for some extending period, agree to some dilution of the UK’s voting power such that the other states can easily outvote it, that would probably work. But the UK is in this mess precisely because it won’t compromise.

So I’m not sure how that’s going to work. And single market membership won’t eliminate checks at the Irish border, we’d need a customs union as well. Like any of the brexit options, the Norway model amounts to accepting that the UK is worse off out than in and that’s the one unspeakable truth none dare utter.

Ourselves alone

There’s some who say that the solution is for Sinn Fein (which translates from Irish into “we ourselves” or “ourselves alone”) to come to Westminster and break the deadlong. Quite frankly, we’ve already got one bunch of terrorist supporting criminals in parliament (the DUP, aka the old testament with fortnightly bin collections), the last thing the country needs is another bunch. And I do not make these allegations lightly, Sinn Fein (like the DUP) have been recently linked to vigilante gangs, terrorists (obviously perhaps) and one of the largest bank robberies in both Irish and UK history.

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Aftermath of a recent vigilante raid by SF supporters in Co. Roscommon

So the last thing that parliament needs is for John Bercow to find himself refereeing kneecapping and arson competitions across the chamber. If you think the UK is in a crisis now, wait till SF show up. They have a saying along the lines of “England’s difficulty is Ireland opportunity”. They will try to be as disruptive as possible. Far from breaking the deadlock, they’ll flip flop either way on every vote on every issue to make sure nothing happens. Hell given the state of the building, they’ll probably start drilling holes in the ceiling (or calling in false bomb alerts). After all, they and the DUP have shut down parliament in Belfast over some dispute over the Irish language, for two years running now.

Furthermore, while SF will claim they don’t want to sit in parliament because it would mean taking the oath of allegiance, that’s just a load of BS. No, the real reason is that they’d have to take a position on something. And like all populists, they don’t want to do that (because then something might get done and they’d have nothing to whinge about!). Take their position on brexit. They are eurosceptics who want Ireland to leave the euro (and thus the EU), they want out of the single market, yet they don’t want a hard border, they won’t support any deal that gives Westminster any say over NI or Irish affairs and they don’t want no deal. And you thought the Tory Brexiteers policy was convoluted and hypocritical!

And if you think that’s bad, SF’s policy on pretty much every other issue is the same. Don’t take a position, because then you’ll displease someone. Like all populists they are the party of protest. They are against everything and for nothing. Urinating into ballot boxes isn’t allowed, so voting SF is basically the next best thing.

So no, the worse case scenario is for SF to show up. Hell I’d even include a bit in the law just in case, that if they do show up now they have to kiss her mag’s feet and give her a sponge bath. The best we can hope for is they bugger off and be themselves alone.

Breaking faith

Within conservatives brexit has taken on something of a religious status, a class struggle (the toff’s screwing over the working class, but getting them to vote for it first!). Fintan O’Toole’s talk on brexit kind of illustrates this narrative well.

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So any conservative coming out and saying that they were wrong about brexit is thus treated like a heretic. And this is rather vividly illustrated by a recent case study. Peter Obrone published an article in which he admits that he was wrong about brexit. It has turned the UK into a laughing stock and its quite clear the idea that we’d get a better deal outside than in the EU is false. Needless to say, this hasn’t gone down well with his fellow brexiters, as this piece from C4 news illustrates. I’m reminded of this song from the 90’s.

This is the problem. The reason why so many brexit voters cling to unicorns, or dismiss any negative news about brexit as “fake news” is that the minute they accept that the UK won’t be better off out of the EU, even if its only slightly worse off, their whole world view falls apart. It means that they voted to make themselves poorer and make their country weaker. That Farage, Johnson etal lied and they were fooled by those lies. Quite simply put, this makes them look stupid (as well as selfish, racist and unpatriotic) and their ego can’t take that kind of a hit. So they grasp for whatever fairy story that will magically make it all go away.

And we see the same in the US with Trump supporters who do not live in the same world as the rest of us. There is literally something wrong with their brains. Just take this piece where the relatives of Fox news viewers lament what happened to their family members.

Which illustrates the problem with any 2nd referendum. This lot aren’t going to change their minds no matter what. I’d guess, at best you’d get 60/40 in favour of remain and that’s if you are lucky. Similarly a Democrat victory in 2020 is by no means guaranteed and it will probably be by a tight margin.

The Atlantic city shuffle

And speaking of Trump, here’s an interesting article about the mess Trump left behind when his casino collapsed in Atlantic city. When the Trump Taj Mahal opened he declared it “the eighth wonder of the world”. But within a year it had gone bankrupt….only to then go bankrupt again! Yes, Trump managed to go bankrupt with his casino twice! And its likely that this was solely down to the mismanagement of the casino’s finances. In a casino, the house always wins, the casino owners are the only real winners….unless Trump is running one of course!

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In fact, its difficult to believe that even Trump is that incompetent. The suspicion is that Trump’s mob connections, used the casino to run a money laundering racket. In fact he was fined $10 million for various violations of anti-money laundering laws related to his casino’s.

Fortunately for Trump going bankrupt multiple times or breaking the law doesn’t mean he goes to jail. Nor indeed does it mean he losses a penny of his money, nor is he disqualified from voting (as happens to many African Americans after a slight misdemeanour) nor is he bared from standing for elected office. Like in any feudal society (such as Westeros!), there’s one law for the nobles and another for the rest of us plebs.

Parliament cracks on brexit

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The roof of the house of commons leaks – insert brexit inspired metaphor or joke of your choice below

One of the founding myths of brexit was that at the last minute, the EU would crack and give the UK everything it wanted. Instead the opposite seems to be happening. Boris & Mogg, having derided May’s deal as “worse than remain”, “a betrayal of leave voters” or that it would turn the UK into “a vassal state of the EUvoted for her bill last time ….which probably had something to do with her offering to resign (which just goes to show their motivations have always been selfish opportunism).

May meanwhile, apparently troubled by the risk of the UK breaking up in the event of a no deal, seems to be trying to prevent it (at last!) by offering indicative votes (which she previously whipped her MP’s against), considering a long extension, holding EU elections and opening talks with the spawn of satan the leader of the opposition comrade general Jeremy Corbyn.

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Now granted, these talks are unlikely to go anywhere, clearly the goal is to ensure labour shares the blame for whatever follows (be it no brexit, hard brexit or a long delay). And while Corbyn wants brexit to go ahead, he can’t be seen to support it. Allowing enough of his MP’s to “rebel” on key votes (e.g. stopping a peoples vote or even his preferred option a customs union) is one thing. But openly backing brexit would split his party, or force him to go along with what was agreed at conference, which was that if they can’t get an election labour backs a people’s vote (with remain on the ballot paper). And we can’t have that now can we (as remain would almost certainly win and Corbyn would have to hide in the woodshed again for 6 months).

And MP’s, aware that May is just winging it and Corbyn ain’t going to do diddly squat have panicked and are now desperately trying to get their own bill through parliament that will legally force the PM to request a long delay. Of course brexiters in the lords (where remain holds majority support) are trying to frustrate it and filibuster, complaining, with no hint of irony, of “the tyranny of the majority. Okay, so forcing a hard brexit that nobody voted for (only about 37% of the electorate voted leave, closer to 25% when we account for those who weren’t allowed to vote and support for May’s deal is as low as 6%), without any sort of consultation either with the opposition or remainers is implementing “the will of the people”. But a majority of parliament voting for something, that probably isn’t far off the majority opinion of people in the UK (delay brexit to avoid a no deal) is a tyranny. Asking the people to vote twice on something is undemocratic, but asking MP’s to vote on the same bill 3, or maybe even 4 times is okay thought. Conservative logic, don’t ever try to understand it.

But anyway, my point is, its all too little too late. May’s deal is basically dead, even if it goes through it might now be subject to legal challenges (as its questionable she’s followed parliamentary procedure). Any agreement Corbyn reaches with May will be meaningless, the withdrawal agreement can’t be changed at such short notice and the political declaration isn’t legally binding. May’s replacement could simply renege on anything signed. Pushing a bill through to stop no deal at this late stage has no real teeth (that would require a nuclear option to force the revocation of article 50 on the 11th of April if all else fails), it can be delayed for long enough to be meaningless.

And the EU has to agree to any extension. And May has asked for an extension, which the EU has previously turned down for solid legal reasons. If brexit is delayed until June 30th and the UK doesn’t hold elections for MEP’s, then what happens if the UK needs a further extension? After the EU’s elections, there will be nobody in a position of authority in Brussels to offer such a thing until mid July at the earliest. What if the UK were to revoke article 50 on the 29th of June and thus plunge the EU into a constitutional crisis? So no, its either a no deal brexit at the end of the week, passing May’s deal and then leaving on the 22nd of May. Or coming to the EU on the 10th of April with a solid plan, which would probably have to include participating in European elections and either a general election or referendum (or both). Pick one of three options. My guess? An accidental no deal is the most likely outcome.

What I’d argue has been laid bare here, is not how dysfunctional the EU is, but how broken the UK parliamentary system is (and I don’t just mean the roof!). To those who say brexit broke the UK parliamentary system, actually I’d argue it was broken all along, its just they’ve been very good at papering over the cracks until now.

They claim that the EU is undemocratic, when it is painfully obvious that it is the UK government that is undemocratic. The UK’s FptP system means an MP can be elected with just 25% of constituency votes. And a party can get a majority of seats with just 35% of all the votes (so about 25% of all voters once turn out is accounted for). Hell even Hitler had a stronger democratic mandate than many recent UK governments. And many stand in safe seats where losing is nearly impossible. Hence why several of Corbyn’s lackies (and several Tories) in seats that voted strongly remain, can back brexit and not have to worry about any blow back.

And of course nearly all of the real power in parliament lies with the PM, the leader of the opposition and (to a lesser extent) the speaker. Three MP’s, elected by a perhaps 30,000 votes each can basically overrule the votes of the remaining 50 million voters…and all three are among the safest of safe seats in the country (so its questionable if even their constituents have much of a choice!).

They claim that the EU is out of touch, yet it is clear that it is MP’s who are out of touch. While they squabble and play their games of thrones, the country is gradually descending into recession and despair. And its also painfully obvious that MP’s are utterly clueless not only as to how the EU works, but how their own parliamentary system works. Hence we have the PM trying to submit bills multiple times and having to be told no, you can do that. Or how every week the ERG quotes out of context some clause in EU or WTO rules, only to get smacked down by legal experts. Or on the remain side, an inability to properly organise a consensus around an alternative to the PM’s plans. And now they’ve probably left it too late to do anything, because IT TAKES TIME TO PASS A BILL! If they were serious about stopping no deal, they should have initiated this process back in December when May first delayed the first meaningful vote. Now its just pissing in the wind.

Of course the difference between the UK and either the EU or the national governments of many EU states is that, unlike the UK, they all have written constitutions. These documents lay out in clear detail what MP’s (or MEP’s) can do, what they can’t do, what are the limits of state authority, what is the position of the courts in all of this, when there should be a people’s vote, etc. And given that most elected officials across Europe are elected via proportional representation, this more or less forces them to work together. Consensus politics is the norm.

By contrast in the UK, its more normal for one party to govern, the other to vote against everything and whinge to the tabloids how the government is pandering to the EU and wrecking Britain. Then when the roles reverse, they spend half their time trying to unpick what the last lot did, while the other side nit pick and whinge to the tabloids that the government is pander to the EU and wrecking Britain.

So remain or leave, if there’s anything we’ve learnt from the brexit process began its that we need to take a leaf out of Guy Fawkes book. And I don’t mean getting rid of the building (that said its falling apart and would probably make sense to just demolish and rebuild it), I mean the UK’s system of government is fundamentally flawed. It needs to be completely torn down and replaced at every level.

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One possible solution?

A written constitution (which presumably will require a referendum to alter), proportional representation, a reformed judiciary, the elimination of numerous hereditary property rights, breaking the class system (which sees a disproportionate number of CEO’s and MP’s coming from a handful of public schools), replace the house of lords with a democratically elected upper house, changes to a massively unfair social welfare system (that doles out cash to wealthy pensioners without means testing, but drives genuinely poor people to food banks or forces them to sleep in doorways while their benefits are means tested).

I’d argue that if you want to waste 20 years of parliamentary time on something (and that’s about how long brexit and the post-brexit negotiations are going to take), leave the EU alone and focus on this project instead.

Ending the anarchy

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Back in the 12th century the UK went through a traumatic period in its history, known as “the Anarchy” where two factions of the ruling Normans fought for control of the country, each supporting rival rulers. In this 18 year period, the many commoners were left to fend for themselves, as the lords fought, brigands ravaged the countryside and “the saints slept”. Well brexit has now driven the UK into another anarchy, as effectively the country does not have a functioning government.

The latest nickname for May is LINO, leader in name only. Hard to nail down, but easy to walk over. She sits surrounded by a cabinet of fools, which she is not the leader of. The traditional UK policy of cabinet collective responsibility having been abandoned some time ago. Hell at one point last week the brexit secretary gave the cabinet’s speech in support of a bill, then voted against it! Ministers are united in their incompetence, for which none are at the slightest risk of being sacked over (like Chris Grayling, aka Failing Grayling, Calamity Chris whose cost the country over a billion through shear incompetence and still in his job).

And can you blame them. May spent the last few weeks going around, threatening her party, the ERG and the DUP with a long delay if they didn’t vote for her deal. But to no avail. And parliament then subsequently voted to rule out no deal (which makes sense as it might not be legal to implement it) and request a long extension from Brussels. Then came her cabinet meeting last week in which a bunch of her brexit supporting minsters shouted at her and threatened to resign. And rather than fire them all on the spot (as any actual PM would have done) she just sat their nodding and saying nothing, turned around afterwards and said, we’ll only ask for a short extension (so in other words the ERG & DUP now have absolutely no reason to vote for her deal), then tried to turn the people on their own MP’s, blaming them rather than her and the hard line brexiteers for the mess the country is in.

No wonder the EU thinks she’s lost the plot. I mean they tell her to show up with a plan to the summit in Brussels and she basically shows up looking like a kid whose dog actually did eat her homework, forcing them to come up with a plan for her. And while the grown ups did the hard work, she was forced to sit in windowless room waiting for several hours while the UK’s fate was decided by the EU (that’s taking back control!).

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And not to be outdone in incompetence, Corbyn, walked out of a meeting with the PM because Chuka Umunna happened to be there. That’s how childish things have become. I ain’t sitting in a room with him, he called me a big fat meanie…and he smells. Corbyn will sit in a room with Hamas or Sinn Fein, but coffee with Umunna is a bridge too far.

And Corbyn (plus most of the labour front bench) were not only absent from yesterday’s rally (biggest demo in UK history, I’d have been down too but that would have involved using Chris Grayling’s railway service!), but according to labour party members he sent a sneaky notice out to them advising them to work on local party affairs this weekend. I’ve never heard of a labour party leader advising his members not to show up to a protest…well other than Tony Blair of course!

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Such a large show of support for remaining, a million people, the largest protest in UK history (contrasting that with support for leave consisting of a few hundred following Farage on a pub crawl), should have politicians sitting up and taking notice. Not to mention the article 50 revocation petition which has attracted over 5 million signatures. Well think again.

Politicians are by nature very slow to change course. I’m reminded of the story of how in the command economies of the soviet union, they’d set up committees to decide on the latest fashions, but by the time they actually got around to producing the clothes, nobody wanted them, as they were now out of fashion. The only difference with the UK parliament is that its probably easier to unseat a member of the soviet politburo that it is a UK MP in a safe seat. Such is the unfairness of the UK’s FPtP voting system.

For any UK politicians looking to advance their careers, best to ignore the people (what have they got to do with anything? Hell many of them voted leave in the first place!), hooking themselves to the brexit wagon is the best way forward. You want to be a future Tory leader/minister? You’ve got to join the hard brexiteer gang. And in labour, you’ve got to join Corbyn’s cabal, proclaiming lip service to the idea of a people vote, while actively working to undermine such a possibility (he had his party members abstain from a vote on a people’s vote the other week).

And the only way this is going to change if MP’s are faced with the threat of losing their jobs, or seeing their party destroyed. This unfortunately is how UK politics works. Unless you are prepared to go all the way, you’ll be walked all over, just like PM LINO. The reason why the ERG and the DUP are commanding so much attention in the brexit process isn’t that they command a majority (even amount Tories), its because they are prepared to burn the house down to get their way. So remain supporters need to be willing to do the same.

Everyone in that rally, or anyone who supports a people’s vote, needs to go away and figure out who their MP is and consult their voting history. If they are a leave supporter, then you need to tell them (I’d show up in their constituency office) they have lost your vote, not just for the next election but permanently, unless they succeed in reversing brexit.

Consider that over 26,000 have signed the article 50 petition in Corbyn’s own constituency that’s not far off his majority of 33,000. Yes, if enough people in his constituency were to commit to it, one of the safest of safe seats would suddenly become a marginal seat. Corbyn could actually face a Michael Portillo moment of being unseated over brexit. And any labour party members need to quit the party (ideally by cutting your membership card in half in front of your labour MP). Doesn’t mean joining TiG, or the lib dems (although the greens are a close match), you can always rejoin later. But so long as you support labour, you support leaving at any cost, even if it means leaving with no deal. Only when confronted with the reality that they are going to get annihilated next election can we expect to see any change of course from either the Tories or labour.

And the sort of action needed? That means parliament needs to take control of the situation. Neither May or Corbyn can be trusted anymore. They’ve made promises and broken them, even going against decisions already made by parliament (which would technically put them in contempt of parliament) or votes at party conferences. And while I’d prefer a people vote, arguably the window of opportunity for that has now closed. I’d argue the only realistic option left is to simply cancel brexit altogether. If, after he’s finished his pub crawl, Farage wants to have another go, let him win a general election first and then have a 2nd referendum.

Erskine May and why no deal is so likely

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The speaker John Bercow threw something a spanner in the works as regards May’s plan for a third/fourth “meaningful vote” (which is seems to involve asking MP’s to vote on the same thing over and over again until they give the right answer). He pointed out that under parliamentary procedures (the so called Erskine May procedures) the government cannot put the same bill to parliament twice in the same session. Hence May must make significant changes to her bill (e.g. a people’s vote to verify it), hold a general election or withdraw it completely.

Naturally, this led to howls of discontent from the brexiteers about Bercow trying to abuse his position to kill off brexit, or how he’s sparked a constitutional crisis. Well actually, no. He’s doing his job, its clearly laid out in UK parliamentary procedure, in fact I recall mentioning this sometime ago on this blog. If anything one has to ask why he allowed the other votes on her deal to go through (I suspect the answer is that he knew it was a bit cheeky but was willing to give the government the benefit of the doubt just this once, but clearly not a third, fourth time). Indeed in most other EU countries, with proper written constitutions the speaker won’t need to make such a ruling, it would be automatic.

Which is what really worries me, as the reaction from May and her cabinet indicates they were clearly taken by surprise. Which implies that they simply do not understand UK law and parliamentary procedures. This has been evident from the very beginning of the brexit process, where by they have asked for things that are legally impossible or contradictory. And they’ve played fast and loose with the law, suspending votes at the last minute, offering what amounts to bribes to politicians to vote a particular way and even threatening the speaker with punishment if they don’t get their way. This in short is how we can get to within 11 days of the no deal cliff edge with no plan for how to get out of it.

And its not just Theresa May or her government, all of the brexiteers are guilty of a complete lack of understanding of the law. Take their latest obsession over the Vienna convention, which they argue allows them to violate the terms of the good Friday agreement. Well, that not what the lawyers say, if anything the opposite is true. But even if it were true, are they seriously proposing that they could renege on an international treaty on a Friday afternoon, throwing the island of Ireland into chaos, making all sorts of waves for both the EU and the US. Then on the Monday show up and expect everyone to carry on as if nothing happened and give them a trade deal. That’s not how the world works!

And with the UK’s fate now in the hands of the EU, it is all very worrying. As its possible that May is hoping she can use brinkmanship to force the EU and the EU heads of state into making last minutes concessions that they simply can’t make for valid legal reasons (their constitutions prohibit them from giving her what she wants, at least without some sort of legislation being passed….in 27 parliaments across the EU & the EU parliament in a little under two weeks…and some, like Ireland might even need to hold a referendum!). Hence why I’d argue that an accidental no deal is now the most likely outcome.

So while yes the UK now is in a constitutional crisis, its more a crisis caused by the fact the UK doesn’t have a constitution in the first place and that we’ve had a government who has taken the view that ramming brexit through overturns all laws, both in the UK and EU. That the “will of the people” takes precedence over all else, just to get May’s deal (which enjoys the support of just 6% of the public) through.

The supreme irony

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The UK government recently announced their plans as regards no deal and what tariff’s they’d charge. And they’ve proposed to drop nearly all down to zero, except those for agricultural products. This will disproportionally impact on Ireland more than any other country.

However, as the Irish PM noted, there’s a supreme irony here. A clause in the tariffs makes NI exempt from these, so Irish goods can cross into NI without being effected by any tariffs (and visa versa), unless they cross the Irish sea into Britain. So the customs border will now be at the Irish sea.

Of course, as you may recall, the EU’s original proposal to May was to put the customs border post-brexit, on the Irish sea. But May said no to that, in order to placate the DUP. And recall, the only reason the backstop exists, is because of this. So the brexiteers have spent the last few months arguing over something and refusing to back May’s deal, yet now they’ve essentially just caved in to the EU’s original proposals and not a peep out of either the ERG or the DUP. One is forced to the conclusion they only opposed the NI backstop because the Irish and the EU were in favour of it (which isn’t entirely true, the Irish and EU went along with it as better than the alternative of a chaotic no deal).

Of course there is a crucial difference, the EU’s proposals were carefully written by those very same Brussels eurocrats the Brexiteers love to demonise, in order to make sure that they were legally watertight (to prevent smuggling or abuse) and won’t be subject to legal challenge (at the WTO for example)….which is kind of what we need those eurocrats for! While by contrast, the Tories tariff proposals were hastily drafted on the back of a fag packet by some of the most incompetent people to ever hold public office. Hence these measures will likely prove to be wide open to abuse.

There would for example, be nothing to stop someone shipping Irish beef into NI, stamping “made in Britain” on them, then importing it all into Britain tariff free. Or cheating of cigarettes and alcohol tariffs and undercutting UK businesses. Any post-brexit immigration controls are now in name only, as the wide open Irish border makes it impossible to enforce them. And both the UK and Ireland will likely see disputes launched at the WTO claiming unfair advantage is being given. So while it stops a hard border for now, its a recipe for chaos long term and all but guarantees hard border eventually.

Meanwhile parliament has voted overwhelmingly against no deal and in favour of extending article 50, yet not providing any alternative to it. Which is like the Titanic voting for the iceberg to move out of the way. They’ve also rejected the option to vote for a 2nd referendum, largely because Corbyn won’t back it (I told you he couldn’t be trusted to keep his word). Which is a pity, because the UK now faces three options. May’s deal (which everyone hates, support runs currently at just 6%) or no brexit, or no deal by accident (which will likely lead to either of the other two once the economic consequences kick in).

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And contrary to their protestations, the real reason parliament don’t want to give the people a 2nd vote, isn’t because they feel support for brexit is as strong as ever (option polls say its faltering), or they fear the far right exploiting it (they are exploiting the chaos in parliament anyway!). No the real reason is that we’re in this mess thanks to the 1st referendum and many MP’s simply doesn’t trust the people any more. Much as I predicted prior to the referendum, the consequences of brexit are that the UK people will never be trusted by any UK government with a decision of this magnitude ever again. That in effect is what you voted for.

Brexit: How a country lost its mind

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I know I keep banging on about brexit, but the thing is it will directly impact people in the UK and beyond (the joke goes an Englishman, an Irishman, a Welshman, a Scot and an Ulsterman go into a bar, the Englishman decides to leave and all the rest have to as well) for decades to come, a reality a lot of people are very slow to wake up too.

For example, just this week the Irish government broke the glass on its emergency contingency plans for a no-deal brexit. They did this because they (and the EU) are responsible grown ups and, unlike May, they know they can’t simply wait and hide under their desk until the 28th of March, hoping a unicorn rides to their rescue.

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Buried amongst the many provisions of this bill is a clause which means all UK driving license holders cannot drive in Ireland in the event of a no deal brexit (nor in the rest of the EU without an international driving permit). While there’s been speculation about this, it confirms something that had been long feared. Hence all British living in Ireland  now have a little over month to exchange their licenses.

If this sounds unfair, consider that there’s the issue of how do the Irish police British drivers if their license is issued by a third country outside of the jurisdiction of the ECJ. Because in the event of no deal brexit I (on my Irish license in the UK) could literally drive past a speed camera at 100 mph, doing doughnuts while drunk as a skunk. What are you going to do, take my license away? How? My license is issued by a third country whose legal system is completely different from the UK’s and which treats evidence from things like speed cameras very differently (basically to a Irish court, what you’ve got is a picture of a car on a road, unless that photo clearly shows who is driving, simply assuming it was the license holder is applying a presumption of guilt and thus said evidence is inadmissible in court).

However, the official advice in the UK is that even in event of a no deal brexit, Irish (or EU) driving license holders will still be able to drive in the UK. In fact, we can’t exchange our licenses until or unless they expire, or you hit 67 (none of which is going to happen to me for sometime). So it raises the question, given that the UK government is so massively unprepared for brexit and my point above, is this really their final position? Because if not (I suspect its not), the implication would be that I should apply for a UK license right now and give up my Irish one, but that would mean I won’t be able to drive if I go back to Ireland.

Now consider that there are about 600,000 Irish in the UK, some of whom will also have Irish driving licenses. Even if only a small fraction of them are effected, say 250,000, how would the DVLA cope if all of us applied for a UK license next week?  And what about EU citizens? If say a million of them also now apply, can the DVLA cope with 1.25m licensing applications in a few weeks? Which raises the question of whether you’d want to risk posting off your license knowing it will get lost in a sea of post that will hit the DVLA (where talking about several shipping containers full of post on its way to Swansea).

And this isn’t really that serious for me, I don’t drive very often so I can cope without a license for a few months, or even semi-permanently. But spare a thought for someone who needs their car to get to work, or drives for a living (either a brit living in Ireland or an Irish trucker living in the UK). That means they can’t work.

And if incorrect government advice left someone unemployed surely that’s grounds to claim compensation. Can the UK courts cope with a few hundred thousand compensation claims? If a driver decides, not unreasonably, that they are going to keep driving on their EU license regardless. And if and when they are caught with an EU/Irish license, would those charges stick in court? (given that they’d been given incorrect advice and the government had proven itself woefully incapable of doing something as simple as issuing a driving license).

This is kind of the problem with brexit, right from the start the people in charge are utterly clueless and don’t know what they are doing. For example, they argued that in the event of no deal why we can avoid chaos at the ports by just waving trucks through, or maybe just those covering vital supplies like food. If the EU/Ireland chooses to put in place customs controls it will be them punishing themselves. And for 2 years everybody, the EU, foreign diplomats, trade experts, bloggers like me, the 3 blokes in a pub, have been screaming at them, no you can’t do that, it would be illegal and kind of stupid.

The UK would have to be willing to wave through every vehicle coming through every port of entry to the UK and remove all customs controls and tariffs (so you’re leaving the EU in order to have no trade policy and no border controls whatsoever?). Under WTO rules and international law, you can’t selectively ignore the rules for one category of goods, or goods from one country, but impose them on another. Someone, most likely a company in the UK (who won’t be able to compete in such a scenario) or a non-EU country (such as China or the US) will complain and sue the government (and the EU), probably within days. Hence in the absence of a trade agreement (and you’re not going to get that without paying the EU divorce bill), customs checks are inevitable.

And the government seems to have quietly caved in to this reality recently, announcing that they will be applying WTO tariffs on food for example. Of course this confirms that Northern Ireland and Kent are a month away from becoming lorry parks, that food prices are going to soar and there’s a real risk of shortages (due to growing seasons the UK’s winter crops aren’t due to be harvested until April…and without EU farm workers it won’t get harvested of course!). So we’re going to get the opposite of no checks and no tariff’s, everything’s going to be checked and charged, which raises all sorts of logistical questions, does the UK have enough customs officials to cope? What happens when companies in the UK dependant on trade with the EU go bust? (and sue the government no doubt!).

Expect the next iteration to be, this is very unfair I mean maybe we can let some goods in without checks or tariffs, after all its not like we grow lots of olives in the UK, or certain foods out of season, and its beneficial to keep tariffs and checks at zero on as much as possible….you mean you want a customs union? Don’t you think you should have said that like maybe two years ago, instead of chasing unicorns!

What’s that you say, invoke the blitz spirit, bring back rationing, keep calm and carry on. Panic and freak out is more likely the end result. Such a policy would be well to the left of Corbyn, akin to those of Maduro in Venezuela. Is anyone seriously suggesting that, having left the EU because it sets too many rules, the solution is to bring in a government that is so authoritarian it literally decides how much and what everyone is allowed to eat and who gets to starve. You know you’re in crazy times when the hard right of the Tory party are advocating the policies of Maduro.

And where is Corbyn in all of this? Busy trying to settle petty scores with his ex-Mp’s. I’d call it fiddling while Rome burns, but in truth Nero almost certainly never did that, so it would be most unfair to compare him to Corbyn. Nero might have been a tyrant, but even he knew that life is about priorities.

This is the problem with brexit and has been since the start of the referendum campaign. There is no plan, there never was one and there never will be. Because leaving the EU was an act driven by ideology, mostly by public school educated toff’s who’d been indoctrinated with a vision of new British empire, which will magically come about, if we get the pesky EU and its laws (and offshore tax investigators) out of the picture. In the absence of plans, the brexiteers (which includes Corbyn remember) have presented instead fantasy after fantasy, each of which in turn has been shot down, not so much by the EU, but by reality and pesky little “facts“.

And this is not going to end on the 29th of March (remember brexit is a process not a destination), it will probably continue for a decade, or however long it takes for the UK to break up. Faced with this, one has to question the wisdom of continuing. Whether or not revoking article 50 completely (no 2nd referendum, just withdraw it) is the most sensible solution. But unfortunately sense and reason departed this island sometime ago. The official motto of the UK these days has to be “go sell crazy some place else, we’re all stocked up here