Happy Brexmas

As the turkeys that voted for Brexmas celebrate the oven being lit, it is a good time to look hard at what Chief Turkey Farmer and Head Chef Johnson has in mind for the stuffing.

Leaving the EU didn’t have to be the end of the world. The EU had a lot wrong with it. Fisheries for example, although the UK Government were more complicit in encouraging non-British trawlers into our waters than they would want to tell you. The expansion to poorer Eastern Europe countries was a fatal mistake, draining them of their best skills and opening their markets for exploitation, whilst topping up the bank accounts of sometimes corrupt, sometimes racist, often homophobic, more often incompetent Governments. However, it had a lot of good points too with the Single Market of undoubted economic benefit to the UK. A Norway solution would have enabled us to continue to benefit from the Single Market whilst being able to develop our own trade deals elsewhere, for what that’s worth. We might also have been able to put conditions on any financial contributions.

The turkeys are cock-a-hoop at what they think are the benefits of free trade deals with the rest of the world. How misinformed they are. Free trade works when the parties involved are roughly on a par in terms of economic and industrial development. It works best for net exporters of goods and commodities. But 80% of the UK economy is services. Manufacturing, food, mining including oil, gas and coal, and so on represent just 20% now and our labour costs in those sectors are comparatively high. Free trade in goods and commodities with less developed countries with much lower labour costs will inevitably destroy what little industry remains in the UK. Take a look at the automotive industries in New Zealand and Australia to see the future of our car factories. Conversely, free trade with developed, high labour cost economies in the EU based on common standards and rules, has been very beneficial to the UK over the years. We really don’t want or need free trade with China, India, and Brazil. We really do need access to the EU for our services sector. We have a major balance of payments surplus with the EU in services and, in their own economic interests, I have no doubt that the EU plans to restrict UK access in that area.

Trump is the result of ill-considered free trade that has destroyed a huge amount of US industrial production. Make no mistake, Trump’s trade wars are very popular domestically and may yet see him re-elected despite everything else.

So right now we have a belligerent Chief Turkey Farmer and Head Chef declaring that the UK will not be tied to any EU rules. When it comes to services though, they are the customer and the customer is always right or they go somewhere else. When it comes to our exports of goods again, they are the customers and set the rules. We can, or course, set our own rules when we are the buyers but we don’t exactly have the capacity to replace EU imports with domestic production. Either way we have a very weak hand when it comes to negotiation with a trading bloc seven times our size. It is utter madness.

I fear it is necessary for Brexiteers to dip their toes into the pain that will be life outside the EU/EEA. Nothing other than the reality of a decimated economy will change their minds. For some, trapped in a fantasy where the British Empire is still there, just waiting for us to rejoin, nothing at all will alter their view.

In the meantime, despite his rantings, Farage’s joy is likely to be relatively short-lived. Leavers are predominantly older and Remainers predominantly younger, 80% of the 18-24 group. To put it bluntly, Brexiteers are a dying breed. Remainers will, in time, have enough political clout to reverse Brexit. I give it 10 years unless the turkey farmers realise that the Norway/EEA route is actually the best compromise. I will be in Trafalgar Square celebrating Brentry. But the EU also need to learn some lessons to prevent other nations following the UK out. It needs reform of fisheries and agriculture, to focus on people first, and to stand up against the “democratic backsliding” in Poland and Hungary. It needs to recognise that free movement of people works only where the push/pull factors do not result in mass migrations of skilled and educated citizens, causing major problems at both ends – Romania and the UK for example. These problems need real solutions.

Allocating Blame

As we take time to absorb the prospect of a 5 year far right Tory administration with a hefty majority capable of inflicting massive pain on the ordinary citizen whilst asset stripping remaining public property to assist in the re-election of Trump, it would be good to allocate blame.

Firstly to David Cameron for being stupid enough to call the EU Referendum, expecting an easy win but managing, in the process, to create such deep societal divisions that they will take decades to heal, and possibly not in my lifetime.

Secondly to Theresa May for being stupid enough to call a General Election thinking she could increase her majority and in fact losing it, forcing her to do a deal with the DUP Devil and her own right wingers. For being stubborn enough and putting herself above the national interest in not forming a national convention to agree a consensus path to EU Exit, instead setting red lines that precluded all hope of that consensus.

Third to Jeremy Corbyn for credibility-destroying fence sitting over a second confirmatory referendum and for not agreeing to a temporary Ken Clarke / Harriet Harman administration to deliver a second referendum. For stupidly agreeing to a General Election when it wasn’t necessary.

Fourth to Jo Swinson for also stupidly agreeing to that General Election, thinking naively that the Brexit Party would deliver the Lib Dems dozens more seats only to see that rug pulled away. And for stubbornly refusing to allow Corbyn to be a temporary PM to take over from Johnson when he was on the ropes and about to be knocked out.

Fifth to Nick Clegg for agreeing to that ridiculous PR Referendum that wasn’t PR and so enshrining FPTP that allows parties with a minority of the vote to get a significant majority of seats. Should have been top up seats like the other assemblies and parliaments. Tried, trusted, clearly works.

Sixth, to all the non-Tory/Brexit candidates that fought each other to allow Tory candidates through. Well done for that. Anti-Brexit parties actually got a majority of the vote but a significant minority of seats due to lack of collaboration.

Do I blame Johnson or Farage. Absolutely not. They are opportunists that recognised exactly how to destroy their opponents and win the seats even when not winning the popular vote. Everyone else played straight into their lying conniving hands. I could blame those who believed the lies but if we’re honest most people were not that stupid and knew they were being lied to – they just preferred those liars to the other ones. But I will blame, seventh, Labour party members who elected Corbyn as their leader twice, when a centrist Labour leader would have wiped the floor with Johnson and Co.

Tory Brexit Failures

I’m sick of Tory politicians blaming others for their abject failure to deliver Brexit. It is true that most Labour and Tory MPs signed up to Article 50 and stood on manifestos committing them to respect the results of the 2016 Referendum. However, bearing in mind that Brexit is not a binary issue, Labour did not commit to supporting a Tory interpretation of Leave into which they had zero input.

Had Theresa May been a collaborative leader, keen to find a consensus, we would now be in Transition, outside the EU, and negotiating trade deals everywhere. But she chose to design her own Withdrawal Agreement and blueprint for the future, adding red lines that no-one confirmed in a public vote. She reluctantly, at a very late date, decided to have talks with Labour but refused to budge on anything of significance – phoney talks for appearance sakes.

The sensible approach would have been an all-party constitutional convention to work through all the options and come up with a proposal that could be supported by an overwhelming majority of MPs, accepting that to Lib Dems, the SNP, and some others, any form of Leave would be unsupportable; nothing you can do about that. The Tories were not sensible though. They have tried to force through a hardcore Brexit that did not have a popular or parliamentary mandate and, thanks to Speaker Bercow, didn’t get away with it. Now they are keen to blame others for failing to back their narrow and dangerous extremism, including the latest Johnson wheeze to put a Customs border down the Irish Sea.

All Opposition candidates have a duty to counter these Tory excuses and point out their lack of collaboration and consultation with a broad spectrum of viewpoints is a direct cause of their failure to deliver a Brexit that a majority of people and MPs could support. They are the authors of their own misfortune and you cannot trust them any longer.

Time to Stop Playing Games

No.10 has let it be known today that a Brexit deal is “essentially impossible” after a call between Johnson and Merkel. We did know that Johnson’s strategy is to make a feeble attempt to look like he is trying to get a deal whilst sabotaging it at the same time. It looks like that game peaked a little early. Frankly, giving the DUP a veto over arrangements every 4 years was never going to fly. This disgrace of a Government and clown of a Prime Minister must stop pretending, stop lying to the electorate.

Merkel and the EU know very well by now that the one thing that will not pass the House of Commons is a Northern Ireland backstop. Tried and failed too many times. The EU and the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (who, incidentally, governs with about a third of the seats in the Dáil Éireann and has little in the way of a mandate himself) must finally accept that Deal or No Deal, Northern Ireland will not stay forever, on its own, in a Customs Union with the EU, and there will need to be Customs formalities, however light touch and away from the border. The EU must realise by now that the Tories have no electoral interest in Northern Ireland other than to keep the DUP on side. If the EU and Irish accept a deal without a backstop then we start talking about the future relationship, which can include a Customs Union. If there is a No Deal then that opportunity disappears. The EU, and especially the Irish, are themselves playing silly games.

It is absolute nonsense to suggest that terrorism will return to Northern Ireland because you set up a lorry park 5 miles from the border and require some trucks to lodge paperwork there whilst others continue to their destination and submit paperwork from their office online. Norway and Switzerland have land boundaries with the EU and are not in a Customs Union with the EU. It works. End of.

I have no real idea what Labour’s game actually is. I don’t think they know. The only thing I really know about Labour is that they need to replace Corbyn, and only a major electoral defeat is likely to shift him. Which is really bad news for those of us desperately keen to see the end of Johnson and his far right rump of a Tory party in power.

And finally, our own dear Leader, still insisting she can’t support a Unity Government led by Corbyn. What, even if she is in the Cabinet in a senior role, and he only has the confidence of the House to do two things: extend Article 50 and call an Election? She would sacrifice the future of the UK over a matter of personality? That too is a disgraceful petty game to play that could backfire very badly. The fact is, that tolerate him or loathe him, Corbyn is the Leader of the Opposition, has 245 seats (226 more than we do), and cannot do anything even vaguely leftish in the 3 to 4 weeks he would temporarily be PM for. So we need to stop with the silly games too.

I’m beginning to wish the SNP would put up candidates in every English and Welsh constituency. They appear to be the only realistic, practical and principled party and leadership at this moment in time. They may be playing games with Scottish Independence but not with Brexit issues.

Bottom line – with only a few weeks to go, Johnson should make his true position clear – he wants a No Deal to scupper the Brexit Party. The Opposition parties need to rally behind Corbyn, holding their noses if they have to, oust Johnson and authorise Corbyn to extend Article 50 and call an Election – no more. The Irish and EU need to understand that they can have a Deal with no Backstop or they can have No Deal with no Backstop. Either way, no Backstop. With a Deal they have another bite of the cherry with the future relationship and a transition period allows more time for practicalities to be ironed out.

There is a real danger for the EU, for Varadkar, for the anti-No Deal forces in the UK including our own Ms Swinson. That is that all the farting around and game playing does not stop Johnson and the No Dealers, we exit and. bar a short period of adaptation, nothing really bad actually happens. Like the Y2K Apocalypse that never was. Many careers will never recover though oddly Corbyn, a known true Eurosceptic, might just survive and prosper.

The Johnson “Plan”

Today Johnson presented a brief outline of his fantastic plan for a withdrawal agreement. It doesn’t appear to have gone down very well with anyone on the Opposition benches and our European friends don’t seem very enthusiastic either. I can’t say I’m impressed. I’ll be honest about my own position: I would like to be in the EEA / Single Market, outside the Customs Union. Norway. Second best, Remain though stop the silly Project Fear fibs and exaggerations. No point in a Turkey-style Customs Union as a Free Trade agreement is a lot more flexible. No Deal / WTO is not an idea I’d like to contemplate.

I’d make a couple of points though.

Firstly This “deal” isn’t actually a deal. Never has been. It is a divorce settlement designed to allow both parties to talk about a real deal whilst maintaining the status quo in a transition period. The transition period could go on for as long as it take to negotiate a free trade agreement. I never really saw anything really wrong with May’s Withdrawal Agreement. My only real objection was that May did not consult or collaborate, and that is wrong and undemocratic. If Johnson’s proposal is genuine (and that is a big “if”) then again I don’t really see much wrong with it. We can still then negotiate the softest of Brexits after a General Election results in his disposal.

Secondly, Norway is outside the Customs Union, Switzerland is outside the Customs Union. Both have free trade agreements but both must employ Customs formalities. It isn’t a problem in real life. You don’t see civil unrest breaking out on the Norway – Sweden border because there are some light touch border controls. You don’t see food rotting in trucks. Remain Project Fear is off and running again and undermining legitimate reasons to stay close to the EU. And the EU are playing that hand too. The Good Friday Agreement is a red herring – read it, look at Johnson’s proposal, find something specific in the documents that indicates they are incompatible. I haven’t found anything myself. People making the noises either haven’t read the GFA and are believing others. And the others have read the GFA and are making things up that aren’t there. With the Common Travel Area in force on the island of Ireland, so only commercial traffic is actually inconvenienced, there is no reason why the UK – EU borders can’t work like our friends in Norway and Switzerland make it work.

Johnson wants a No Deal for daft reasons I couldn’t even guess at. Call his bluff and accept this proposal. Have the General Election with no broken promises hanging over heads. Then negotiate a proven route to prosperity whilst trading (mostly) freely with the EU and doing trade deals of our own elsewhere, i.e. outside the Customs Union but inside the Single Market like Norway, Switzerland, Iceland.

What is the alternative? We all know Johnson has a cunning plan to use a loophole in the Benn Act. I’ve found one, there are probably others. We will be out on 31st October on his terms. Is that what Corbyn and our own leadership actually want? Teach Brexiteers a hard lesson maybe? I’m beginning to wonder.

A Plea to Jo Swinson

The press are now reporting another method by which Joker Johnson can bypass the Benn Act legally. I have my own theory but others are speculating he may declare a National Emergency and invoke powers under Tony Blair’s Civil Contingencies Act 2004.

I would also draw people’s attention to the current Private Eye issue and the article headed “ ‘No deal’ army. The navy and RAF are on call too! ” and evidence presented that when Johnson pulls his No Deal and Exit dirty trick, the military are preparing to take over councils and the Government will rule by decree.

There is only one way of avoiding this and that is a No Confidence vote followed by installation of a caretaker Government. It must be done quickly and we must put aside reservations about Corbyn, hold our noses, and accept him under strict conditions. If No Deal Brexit goes through because we did not remove Johnson when we had the chance, the Lib Dems will carry much, if not all, of the blame if the cause was our leader having a personality issue with Corbyn.

Corbyn For PM!

I could never vote for Jeremy Corbyn. I would prefer Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman as Caretaker Prime Minister. But at the end of the day, Corbyn does not have the Parliamentary numbers to implement any Labour policies if appointed as a Caretaker Prime Minister. He could only do as the alliance of Opposition parties and Independents instruct – extend Article 50, call an election. I would expect an interim Cabinet to consist of representatives of all the Opposition forces and for no tails to be wagging any dogs.

I can, therefore, see exactly where Nicola Sturgeon is coming from when she now sounds willing to accept Corbyn as the caretaker. It doesn’t make a jot of difference who the person occupying the PM’s office is as long as they deliver on the will of Parliament and then submit themselves to the will of the electorate via an election. Corbyn, like or loathe him, is the legitimate leader of the second largest party in the Commons and, by virtue of being Leader of the Opposition, the only real choice as an alternative to Johnson via the FTPA route.

I wish, therefore, that our party would now follow Sturgeon’s lead. Nominally at least we will still need to fill all the Cabinet posts and our leader, Jo Swinson, is entitled to a senior post. Home Secretary perhaps. I don’t think now is the time to throw tantrums about the Labour Leader. What do we really want right this instant? What do the TIGs and Independents or whatever they call themselves today really want this instant? What do the Independent Tories and the Nationalists really want this instant? It is all the same thing – extension of Article 50. What does it matter whether Corbyn is the vehicle for that? Or anyone in favour of a Deal and an extension? Or Larry the Cat for that matter.

Threats to MPs

There are a number of very disturbing headlines circulating that report that Dominic Cummings, advisor to Johnson, said, in response to disgusting attacks on our elected representatives MPs will stop getting threats and abuse if they “respect” the EU referendum result.

None of the reports use quotation marks that I can see so I assume these headlines are a precis or intepretation of words that are a direct quotation: “If you are a bunch of politicians and say that we swear we are going to respect the result of a democratic vote, and then after you lose you say, we don’t want to respect that vote, what do you expect to happen?”

I know what I expect to happen. I expect criticism with civility. I do not expect death threats. I expect the Prime Minister, his Government and his advisors who speak on his behalf, to lead by example and avoid aggressive dog-whistle rhetoric. I do not expect the effective Chief of Staff of No.10 to issue what amounts to threatening statements towards MPs.

There is a difference between the headline summaries and a verbatim quote of what Cummings seems to have actually said. If the headlines are correct then it is possibly the most disgusting and disgraceful statement ever to have come from an official source in my lifetime. It kind of suggests that someone is in control of, organising the threats and abuse, and if that person gets their way then they will call the dogs off. If the threats and abuse are not being coordinated how can Cummings possibly know that they will cease once the UK leaves the EU. Which also begs the question as to who is coordinating the threats and abuse. Maybe it isn’t coordination; perhaps it is encouragement or merely tolerance of abhorrent behaviour. There is a temptation to wonder whether “fake news” is involved in the reporting, except that the same headlines and conclusions appear in the far right popularist press as are reported in the more liberal media.

If the quote attributed to Cummings is a better reflection of his views, is that any better? Cummings actually undermines his own opinions. He apparently said both Leave and Remain campaigners have faced ‘serious threats’ of violence, which he said should be taken seriously. Well if implementing Leave solves the problem then Leave campaigners wouldn’t be the victims of the threats and abuse. Beyond that, no, as representative of the Government he should be condemning threatening behaviour, making it clear that it is illegal and the police will pursue those responsible, and saying that the expectation of the Government and civilised society is that differences are reconciled by discussion not by threats.

Cummings, as the architect of the current bear-baiting atmosphere in Parliament, must be relieved of all public responsibilities. I would personally like to see an investigation into whether any of his pronouncements amount to encouraging crime under the Serious Crime Act 2007.

Cummings aside, the inflammatory language of the Prime Minister and his Ministers is beyond the pale. If I have a criticism of Speaker Bercow at the moment, it is that he permits this language in the House of Commons on the grounds that it is not disorderly. Mr Speaker Bercow, you can leave a legacy by establishing a new precedent that members will not use inflammatory and uncivil language towards one another. How can “liar” be banned when “betrayer” is permitted.

I tried to think back over 50 years of being interested in politics and politicians. Enoch Powell and his Rivers of Blood speech was the only instance of such extreme inflammatory language I could think of. And Powell was dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet as a result. Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron, May – all have made cutting remarks about opponents, and have struggled at times to retain their temper, but none would ever stoop anywhere near as low as Johnson has this week, egged on by Cummings, and backed by this week’s lead apologist “Not So” Cleverley. Johnson has demeaned his office and is not fit to remain in his post. Even Amber Rudd, until very recently a close Johnson ally and personal friend, has turned on him and her conclusion is damning. In fact, if Rudd is right, then the police also need to be investigating Johnson for potentially encouraging the commission of a crime.

One last thing to remember in this affair. Whilst the abuse is real and the threats must be taken seriously, the perpetrators form a minute, almost imperceptible, proportion of the people of this country, even people angry at the lack of movement towards leaving the EU. The vast majority of people of all views are decent and would never dream of issuing threats or shouting abuse. Even 1 in 10,000 is 1 too many and these extremists must be prosecuted and jailed. But we are not on the verge of civil war or the collapse of society.

Leave Only Referendum

I think the Tories have missed a trick, and am quite surprised this wasn’t Johnson’s plan to solve the EU Exit conundrum.

Tories and Labour both stood on a manifesto promise to respect the Leave verdict. As we all know, the problem with that is that no-one knows what kind of Leave people voted for, and the range of options is vast. This fundamental flaw in the Referendum should have been addressed at the time by asking a second question: if the outcome of the first question is Leave, what sort of Leave do you want?

May could have corrected that oversight to solve her problems. But, as we all know, May was incapable of collaboration with anyone other than her own ego. Still, it isn’t too late even now.

I propose a second referendum but one that gives Leave options only. It should include at least the Norway/Iceland model, a comprehensive free trade deal only, and no deal. Maybe Corbyn’s Turkey-style Customs Union. There could be others. Preferential voting to arrive at a solution. Personally I’d give the vote to 16 year olds as they are old enough to marry and pay taxes. There’s also a case for mandatory voting but you can abstain (it’s a positive decision rather than apathy).

The proposal kills No Deal as this could never get 50% of the voting preferences. It respects the first referendum so difficult for Tory and Labour MPs to reject. It overcomes the inability of (any) Parliament to guess what the 52% voted for and deliver that. It starts to heal rifts as the outcome will be a compromise most people can live with, even if not enthusiastically. It’s the only solution that results in a clear statement of what “the People” actually want.

Sadly, serious proposals for a second referendum all include a Remain option. Believe me, if Remain got a small majority in a second referendum this wouldn’t end the debate. Brexiteers would probably get more militant rather than fade away. Such referenda solve nothing. A General Election will not produce a Parliament that can guess the intent of the 52% any more than the current set of MPs, though hopefully Rees Mogg and Johnson will personally be ousted by their electorates.

Solving The Johnson Riddle

I keep seeing Johnson repeating the mantra that he will comply with The European Union (Withdrawal) (No.2) Act 2019 but will still leave the EU on 31st October even without a deal. And then he smiles the smile of a Baldrick with a cunning plan. This seems to cause puzzlement amongst politicians as it appears contradictory.

There are 650 MPs, many of them ruthless, many of them lawyers, all of them supposedly clever. If I can work out the riddle, surely most MPs have worked it out too but don’t want to say so just in case it’s not the same cunning plan and they give him another idea. He may already have done a backroom deal with Orban to veto an extension request.

So you have to read the Act. It’s online and it’s a quick read. There is a massive hole in it that I spotted in seconds, re-read several times and was still there. The PM has to write the letter. The PM has to accept the extension offered, that runs from 11pm on 31 October. The PM can terminate the extension early if they get an agreement before 31 January 2020.

Johnson sends the letter and accepts an extension. But at 11:01pm on 31st October he can terminate the extension agreement early. Nothing in the Act prevents early termination without Parliamentary consent.

At this point all hell breaks loose but it’s too late, Johnson has kept his promise, and it’s near impossible to reverse out of. Why didn’t anyone spot this and close it off? The Government cannot terminate the extension period early without Parliamentary consent. There, it’s not hard.

The only way to be sure of avoiding the cunning plan is to hold the No Confidence vote and install a temporary caretaker PM.