Brexit – The Point

Every week has generated as much heat as light, so remarking on the Point of Brexit is not necessarily particularly easy. Still, let’s have a look at it and at the current options for the future.

The Point

As presented in 2016, the point of Brexit is to take back control of the country from the European Union, including the ability to strike trade deals, border control management and various economic and business regulations. This will instead be handled by the UK Government.

Exactly how this was to be achieved was always extremely clear – we would leave the EU, its organisations and its structure. This would leave us free to do our own thing as a nation – whereas staying within any of the organisations and structures precludes fully exercising this opportunity. This was before the UK became the sort of place where tower blocks burn down, legal residents are ejected to distant islands to die “at home” and the rail network spontaneously disintegrates, so it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Northern Ireland

This has proved to be a sticking point for some reason. Currently between Southern and Northern Ireland there remains the largely porous border from 1922, which has been entirely undefended since 1998 – although people passing over it are generally advised to have their passports to hand so that they can prove that they do not need to have passports should anyone ask. This is the Common Travel Area, and it goes some way to compensate for Dublin not having been allowed to have Ulster when it gained independence.

To maintain the relatively fragile peace of Ireland, it is considered beneficial if Northern Ireland remains easily accessible to the South for people and trade. Awkwardly, in the event of a “Hard Brexit” (as is required by the Whole Point), the trade will be moving between two countries with different customs procedures, trade deals and regulatory measures. This would mean that some third country could make steel mixed with asbestos in a dodgy plant on the cheap, export it to the UK under a free trade deal and then sell it to a country in the EU and ship it over the Irish border despite the EU having banned such products being imported directly.

So if the UK has its own free trade deals and regulatory systems then there has to be a hard border.

But Northern Ireland did not vote to leave the EU, which simplifies matters considerably. Rather than having the hard border on the south and west sides of Ulster, we can have it at Stranraer (well, Cairnryan these days) instead and sell Ulster to Dublin. This has the following benefits:

  • the Tory Government no longer having to justify being propped up by the Democratic Unionist Party;
  • the end of the Stormont constitutional crisis, as the Stormont representative assembly would Cease to Be;
  • uniform abortion laws across Ireland (recently current);
  • no hard border within Ireland.

The downside is that Dublin has to deal with the people of Ulster and it may be that neither side will actually find this to be a Good Idea, so currently this is instead being resolved by proposing a Soft Brexit.

Wastes of Valuable Time

So, we had a referendum to leave the EU, but in order to solve the relatively marginal problems of:

  • Northern Ireland;
  • Car and aeroplane manufacturers transporting bits of part-built equipment thousands of miles between factories for no reason at all;
  • International airline airspace access agreements;
  • Lack of queuing space for lorries at Dover;
  • Incompetent workforce establishment management by Border Control;
  • Student work visas

it was proposed that we should:

  • cease to send MEPs to the European Parliament;
  • cease to send a Commissioner to the European Commission;
  • cease to contribute to the European Council;
  • continue paying into the EU budget;
  • continue accepting EU migration;
  • remain within the European regulatory area;
  • remain a signatory to European free trade deals instead of striking our own

which all seems inclined not to fulfil the Whole Point.

Therefore this is not actually Government Policy. The Government is going to do something entirely different, but for a long time neither the British Public nor the European Union’s negotiating team were considered to have any need to know anything about it.

Various suggestions as to what Government policy will be or should be were made. The Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested a particularly silly one when he said that lorries from the EU should simply be waved through border control because we trust them while containers from, say, Brazil should be stopped and searched. He may not have noticed from rural Somerset that a major concern about the EU is migration of people who weren’t supposed to have got through the Union’s perimeter border and are now looking for somewhere to settle, and that tends to involve people packed into the backs of the lorries that he wants to wave through. It does not, by contrast, usually involve people hiding in sealed shipping containers for four weeks.

There were then suggestions that we should collect EU tariffs for the EU, which resolves the question as to whether the goods are bound for the UK or EU when they land in Felixstowe but also means that UK tariffs are inclined to be around the EU level, and the suggestion that we should voluntarily and without obligation just accept all EU regulation anyway.

The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union pointed out that all this stuff had to be considered because our border with Europe is Important, we do lots of trade there and we intend to continue having the EU as a major trading partner, which it was good to know he knew about though perhaps unfortunate that he found it surprising enough to need to talk about it. (Having gained this knowledge he promptly resigned.)

Eventually we got a Government deal, which seems to have involved a relatively hard Brexit but came with an insurance policy for Ireland – the dreaded “Backstop”. While nobody wants the insurance policy activating, because it just drags the whole thing out indefinitely to the detriment of all concerned, there seems no reason to assume that it won’t be.

The Backstop

This is the thing which stops us creating a hard border in Ireland by us being in a different customs arrangement with different trade deals to the Southern Irish. It is very annoying to the Brexiteers, who want Britain to be a great place that can dominate the world but who won’t be able to do this owing to them being trapped in a customs union with the EU until they solve the Irish Question.

Unfortunately a border in Ireland is an inevitability (unless we sell Ulster to the Southern Irish) owing entirely to a decision by King Henry II in 1171 to dominate the British Isles by invading Ireland. This was obviously a mistake, and it is possibly time for a Government Inquiry as to why that decision was made. Although the principal players are dead, most of the relevant paperwork will still be around somewhere.

Other EU countries thinking of leaving will find the whole business much easier because their Imperialist monarchs have mostly been discredited, as a result of which they don’t have awkward hangovers to deal with.

We are assured that the backstop is irrelevant because it will only come into play if a solution has not been found for the Irish border in time. As there is currently no outline for a solution to the Irish border, signing up for anything on this basis is rather like buying snake oil futures.

Ballyhack 1 JPG.jpg Picture of Ballyhack, in Ireland, in order to break up a long post a bit.

Tintern Abbey 8 JPG.jpg Tintern Abbey, built as part of the English take-over of Ireland which is having such far-reaching and unforeseen consequences for our ability to leave the EU.

No Deal

This is the “walk-away” option – or the “get chucked out of the negotiating room” option, depending on your view. It resolves the Backstop problem by smashing the Good Friday Agreement with a claw hammer and imposing a hard border on Ireland. Smashing the Good Friday Agreement will result in the IRA resuming their war of attrition, allowing us to look forward to:

  1. it actually not being safe to go down the pub at night, rather than the Government just saying it isn’t because the largely non-existent threat of Islamic terrorists makes them feel good;
  2. IRA bombs providing multitudinous opportunities for urban regeneration (much of the City of London and central Manchester was brought to you courtesy of IRA demolition of previous structures);
  3. the faint possibility of Boris Johnson having one of his houses blown up.

It has the small downside (apart from the death, destruction and general interest) that the Government is doing nothing to prepare for it, such as working up how to manage the Port of Dover when everything going through it ostensibly requires a full Customs check. (The airports are made considerably easier by some silly technicality of EU law which means that there will be no planes. No such comment was made about the international rail services, excepting that the French would be banning trains operated by a SNCF subsidiary from returning to France having entered the UK, as trains are presumably sufficiently backward to still be under Union Internationale des Chemain du Fer inter-operation arrangements and so don’t really care.)

It was for some while hard to see why we did not need to prepare for this option. The European Parliament has a final say on the results of the negotiations and could decide to reject the package, in which case the UK might well leave the EU with no deal. Happily things went in the direction of a thoroughly unobjectionable deal with the European Parliament will greatly appreciate, so this risk looked likely to go away. It then became a deal which the EU said was unworkable, but which they seem to be buying into enough to sign on a temporary basis.

It leaves the small problem that if the deal is so objectionable to the UK (being Remain in all but actual remaining) that it has to be dumped at the last moment then the Government has no fall-back position. Still, that keeps a nice little gun to everyone’s heads and stops excessive criticism of the Department for Exiting the European Union.

The other reason for not engaging in “No Deal” preparations is that it costs an absolute fortune (hiring border control officials doesn’t come cheap for a start) which is liable to turn out to be money down the drain that could have been spent, say, on homeless shelters.

What “No Deal” should look like will still need some negotiation. It may be an acceptance that both UK and EU have a shared regulatory system and therefore will be able to trade freely until one side makes a substantive change to their rules. Alternatively it may involve the EU treating the UK like a previously-unknown South Pacific island whose main export is asbestos fire-bricks badly made with child labour. We will find out which way things will go in due course.

Parliamentary say

Of course the UK Parliament wants the same rights as the European Parliament to vote on the final deal. The Prime Minister’s latest fudge is to not have the vote until it is too late to do anything about the result, owing to it being unlikely that the negotiating team could return to the table to whip up in three weeks the deal that has eluded them for two years. Consequently in her book the only option besides acceptance is the no-deal solution above; the People’s Vote campaign naturally prefer to suggest another referendum (see later), and are sounding peeving sensible at the moment.

The Labour Party Policy

The Labour Party has a policy, which is to negotiate a new better deal in about two weeks. This requires a General Election, for which they will have to present a coherent policy on Europe which might brass off one or more of the following:

  1. Labour-supporting Leavers;
  2. People who have some funny idea that it will all be over by April if nobody rocks the boat too much;
  3. Politically-aware students who don’t want to leave the EU and believe Corbyn agrees with them.

Aware of this, the Labour leadership are doing their best to say nothing, do nothing and blame Theresa in the vaguest terms possible.

Cancelling the Whole Thing

This is usually rejected on some spurious grounds that it will undermine people’s faith in democracy. It is not entirely clear whether the undermining is because the Government has held a referendum and then, after a great deal of faff, decided not to follow through the result; because the Government has shown itself not only to not be in control of its own affairs but also unable to take control of them; or because the Government was daft enough to hold a referendum where there was a 50% chance that it would get an outcome that it was unable to implement.

Exactly why this should particularly undermine faith in democracy more than anything else is not entirely clear. In 2015 we had a very hard-fought General Election which got a turnout of 66%. Of that 66%, the winning party – which campaigned for an EU referendum – got 36% of the vote (or 22% of the voting population). Admittedly it was propped up by the third-place party – which also campaigned for an EU referendum – which got 13% of the vote (or about 7% of the voting population), and therefore did more or less win the marginal 12-seat majority that it got.

Once a voter is confronted with a referendum which is presented as being Important (as opposed to some technocratic constitutional change like devolution or changing the voting system at General Elections) then they are sort of obliged to go and vote and do their civic duty, even if they know nothing much about it, have out-of-date information on what they think they know about it and have been told it will solve all their problems when, in fact, it won’t.

So, two anecdotes to demonstrate that the voters may not have been generally presented with useful information. The first is that during the referendum campaign one Mr Javid said that the reason why the Government couldn’t shore up Tata’s steel plants was because the EU prohibited economic aid to such companies and had recently decided not to slap tariffs on cheap environmentally-dodgy badly-made Chinese steel. The EU pointed out that it had almost resolved to apply these tariffs, but the UK Government had argued so vigorously for free trade that the idea had been abandoned. This does not say much for the prospect of the revival of steel mills and associated work that voters in Port Talbot, Scunthorpe, Redcar, etc. may have thought they’ve been promised. (Nor do the pro-Brexit economists who argue that what remaining tariffs and standards we have preventing the import of bargain basement knock-off steel for use in, say, tower blocks and rails will need to be abolished to ensure the country thrives economically after Brexit, thereby making Port Talbot steel really uneconomic rather than just marginally.)

A second anecdote relates to the European Parliament, which is a large and uninteresting organisation which UK media usually only pay attention to when one of the UKIP MEPs decides to have a rant about fat cats in the European Commission (or, occasionally, when one of the UKIP MEPs has a friendly chat with another UKIP MEP and leaves him unconscious across the landing). Between whiles it is held up as unrepresentative, irrelevant and ineffectual. It also, at least temporarily, blocked a major revision to EU copyright law (whether for better or worse is another matter).

In any event people voting for something does not, at least in this country, mean that they should consider themselves under any obligation to expect to get it. For example, things people did not vote for but got anyway:

  • MPs’ expenses covering such matters as duck houses and refurbishing the homes of fellow MPs;
  • Iraq;
  • Poll tax;
  • Student loans.

Not that this is in any way new. In 1127 some English nobleman called Stephen something-or-other swore an oath to King Henry I to support Henry’s daughter Matilda as the next monarch. When in 1135 Henry actually died Matilda was busy being on the wrong side of a Normandy rebellion, nobody really liked the bloke she’d been told to marry very much and England was clearly in need of Strong and Stable government, so Stephen turned up in London and had himself proclaimed King. (Not that this is a positive example either, as the result was a lengthy civil war while Matilda tried to persuade Stephen that he had made a promise and Stephen raised some arguments about how he had been under duress, or had not fully understood the question, or something like that.)

Of course the EU vote does raise a certain question, with the vagaries of the multitude of Leave figureheads and the failure of the negotiations to get what might have been promised, as to whether the Government has actually fulfilled the referendum result. Lord Farage, as he for some reason isn’t, is very keen on the idea that what is presented is a “Remainers’ Brexit“. Leaving aside that there is no such thing as a Remainers’ Brexit – those of us who undemocratically insist on suggesting that our vote was for an option that was cheaper, simpler and better in the predictable term are disinclined to view a fudged compromise as in any way reflecting our democratic will – this does raise the question as to whether the Leave voter will actually get what they thought they were voting for. After all, if pharmaceuticals from the EU cost much more than they did in 2015 as a result of currency fluctuations and import duties the £350million bonus for the NHS (which was denied after the referendum to be anything more than an example, and which could just as easily go on increasing NHS custom by building more roads for people to have pile-ups on) won’t produce many more nurses or hospitals.

Finally, whatever the merits of individual arguments and whether people understood what they were voting for, the 2016 referendum question was very clear. It was to settle one issue and allow everyone to moving straight on to other things. It has dismally failed at that. We are not nearing the end. We are not nearing the beginning of the end. We are not even especially close to the end of the beginning. The comparisons drawn by Brexiteers seeking to bring down the Prime Minister with the sacking of Neville Chamberlain in May 1940 suggest how far we still have to go. It will not be over in April. It will not be over next December. It will go on for years. General Elections will follow the mould of 2017’s by being almost entirely about the EU, with both parties doing their level best to lose and thereby get out of the problem. Any recession will be solved by threats to start re-joining negotiations. And all the other things that would represent part of a package of national renewal in the latter part of this decade have disappeared in the total Government logjam. We have been promised social care reform, transport upgrades and educational improvements. Most of it has vanished, and voting decisions on those matters will be seen through the prism of the series of single-issue General Elections to come on how to manage our evolving relationship with the EU.

It could all be over tomorrow. Regardless of Cabinet members wandering around muttering “but people might be upset,” it is hard to picture enough people being really truly upset enough to actually have a proper riot, and even harder to picture those proper riots being worse than those of summer 2011. (Boris coming to help the clear-up after such riots, as he did in 2011, would probably actually be a good pacifier and national re-uniter.) The people who watch all of current events with a feeling of exasperation, or wanting to know why it’s turned out to be such heavy weather, or who have given up and turned off, are really not going to burn down the local Town Hall in protest about the Government giving up and finding something more immediately relevant to deal with (like the state of the local High Street – there are places where people would struggle to find any shops to burn down anyway). Even the Prime Minister acknowledged – before kicking the can down the road for several weeks – that the matter needed tying up simply to deal with the national exhaustion with the subject. It is entirely arguable, with nobody really happy with the outcome of the negotiations, that the damage to democracy has already been done and that cancelling Brexit (as opposed to driving off a cliff) will be seen as a reasonably mature move in the general circumstances.

It’s not like we haven’t got MPs from the governing party (including two Brexit Secretaries) already going on about betrayals and demanding that their own Chancellor of the Exchequer resign because he suggested they might be a bit keen on Brexit. They can’t go much further should the Prime Minister kill the whole thing off, particularly as they’ve already used this year’s No Confidence vote. (To demonstrate the level of distraction from things that actually bother real people involved here, when last May the rail network fell to pieces these MPs were not exactly lining up to demand the head of the Secretary of State for Transport.)

Redhill 1 JPG.jpg Southern Region trains, hurrying through Redhill. Not as important as Brexit.

Second Referendum

The Second Referendum provides a useful cover for cancelling the whole thing if it goes the right way. Awkwardly for those who support it, most people would prefer to just live with the result of the first one (being poorer, and possibly dead if the Government stockpiled the wrong drugs and sent the carefully-planned riot control squads to the wrong place, if needs be). Of course the people who already have a mandate for Leave see no need to obtain a second – they argue very happily that they got said second mandate in 2017 despite a) nothing having happened then and b) that being more a referendum on whether the country wanted to be run by Jeremy Corbyn, which it turned out to be ambivalent on – so the argument for a Second Referendum is more raised by the Remainiac movement and is therefore patently an attempt to overturn the first one.

Well, let’s be honest – it is.

For all the complaints from Greek politicians about three-way referendums it would have to be a three-way job and an assumption made that voters can count to three for indicating their order of preference of the options. (As voters in London, Scotland, Wales and Ireland manage to do this perfectly happily one assumes that the politicians objecting to this idea are doing so on the basis that they think the voters, having voted Leave in the first place, are too stupid to count to three. Lessons may have to be held, possibly using the more educational sequences from Monty Python & The Holy Grail.)

The three options are:

  1. Remain
  2. The Government’s preferred negotiating position
  3. Leave with no deal.

Polling has suggested that option 2 would be eliminated in the first round of counting and option 1 would then narrowly win after second-preference votes were redistributed. (Therefore a correction to the above. The voter really only needs to be able to count to two, but also needs to be able to understand why an ability to count to three is not required.) This is also why the average leaver is either against a second referendum (because they have the result they want) or keeps quiet (because they’ve realised they didn’t want the result they’re getting and would rather keep quiet about this).

The Government does not want to promote a second referendum because a) it would look undemocratic, b) it would encourage arguments that it is deliberately setting up a bad deal to drive support to Remain and c) it would be awkward. (The glossy brochure of 2016 would have to be reissued with a cover of “Why the Government thinks we should leave the EU”, filled with lots of very expensive pictures of hard-working professionals and schoolchildren variously smiling or looking serious as the page seems to dictate.) The problem is that it would also be deeply amusing to see the Government forced to head off to Brussels one Friday afternoon in March 2019 to ask for its membership resignation letter back.

There is a smaller body of thought that we should have a second referendum without Remain on the ballot paper. It should be noted that a good 30% of the population (as an unscientific guess), being unable to see any difference between the two remaining options, will either abstain or vote to annoy Theresa May. A positive campaign for Theresa’s deal will be even harder to create than the positive campaign for Remain, and we would duly leave the EU with no deal, a hard border in Ireland and no trading partners – but the politicians happily arguing that this was what people voted for, and failing to appreciate that it was actually a vote for them all to be taken to the Maldives and thrown to the sharks. (Possibly, for maximum democratic effect, this option should also be on the ballot paper.)

On Second Referendums, we must note the enthusiasm of the Scottish National Party for them. If Alex Salmond had won his referendum by 52% to 48% and then found leaving the UK to be harder than he promised (if he actually lost his EU membership and access to the pound and had to accept a hard border and discovered the Spanish were going to fish his territorial waters without paying him), would the SNP top brass would be as keen on Second Referendums as they are at the moment?

Cancelling it without a referendum

This is at least quick, and Theresa May is going to resign anyway so may as well achieve something for her short-lived premiership. Rather like one of those anti-heroes in an adventure story who, after driving the plot along by allying with a patently evil dragon, finally realises that it may all have been a mistake and turns on the dragon – slaughtering it successfully, but dying in the process.

Dragon Norwich 1 JPG.jpg A dragon.

The ensuing General Election will probably be won by Jeremy Corbyn (who still won’t have told anyone what his policy for dealing with the EU is), but this will provide the Tory Party with time to schism in the peace of Opposition.

Results of Remaining after all

Well, the EU would have money again, so would now be able to afford its standing army but, unfortunately, stuck with a recalcitrant member that doesn’t want it and won’t contribute. Such things had the potential to mean that the resignation letter would be retained by the EU and the British Government would have to explain why the result of the highly expensive and deeply divisive Second Referendum was not going to be honoured. As we would still be in the European Convention on Human Rights we wouldn’t even be able to make up some farcical legal grounds to hang Boris, or carry out the mass deportations that the referendum was partly based on. Unfortunately the European Court of Justice has ruled that the morning after such a referendum the Prime Minister could simply ring up Donald Tusk and say it was all a mistake, so everything should be quite simple.

Some commentators (a recent Spectator article comes to mind) argued that the EU would expect us to metricate, join the Euro and get involved with Schengen as a quid pro quo. There are two reasons for not expecting this:

  1. The ECJ decision that the EU can make no such requests;
  2. The fact that any sensible EU person (and most of them do, on balance, seem reasonably sensible) would understand the need for a distinction between the UK ceasing to leave and the UK leaving, looking round, deciding that it’s cold outside and wanting to come back in. Making no distinction raises a risk of the latter option being chosen on the grounds that it can always be reversed which is a) expensive, b) long-winded and c) fraught with the risk that the UK will decide actually it’s quite pleasant outside, and perhaps some other people would like to come too.

There are some sundry objections based on the expenses imposed on UK firms by things like the Working Time Directive and the recent data protection laws, which do terrible things like stop companies working their staff to death on 130-hour weeks to fulfil a business model predicated on selling detailed customer data to Facebook.

Assuming that we get to stay after all in such a scenario, there will be the small problem that our EU agencies have already left. It is rather unfair to expect them to come back (given that the staff have presumably already been relocated and the office leases surrendered), but fortunately we may be able to get in some replacements, viz.:

The Industrial Wasteland Development Agency – to be based in Treherbert and study possible means of getting some sort of economic value out of areas where everything has gone except some of the people, justifying an improved road link northwards from Treherbert to the Heads of the Valleys road (via a tunnel or some such feature) and restoration of the through railway to Port Talbot via the Rhondda Tunnel (which it turns out, contrary to the lies of the 1960s industry top brass and politicians, is actually in excellent condition – for anyone who thinks our politicians could ever be trusted with running the nation).

The Ship Advancement and Design Agency – to be based in Barrow-in-Furness. As Barrow is rather long-winded to get to, and upgrading the main road is out of the question because it carves through the Lake District National Park, this will need to be accessed by an EU-subsidised hovercraft service from Blackpool.

The Ultra-Rural Area Development Agency – to be based in one of the more isolated locales in the European Union, i.e. Wick, Caithness. To allow EU bureaucrats reasonable access to Wick, the direct railway between Edinburgh and Perth will need re-opening, the Dornoch cut-off on the Far North Mainline building (obviously retaining the old route, this being EU gravy-train funded – why have one railway through the middle of nowhere at all when you can have two?) and certain unit planning and timetable enhancements making vis-a-vis the Thurso branch. The A9 has already been upgraded as much as the prevailing traffic levels justify.

This will have the added bonus of spreading the benefits of EU membership more evenly around the country, thereby making people happier about it in the future. (And it might make land and derelict houses around Treherbert, Barrow and Wick actually worth having.)

Helmsdale 1 JPG.jpg Typical housing in Greater Helmsdale, well within the Wick commuter belt – for people who think London is a bit full of derelict housing.

Things we can do next to make people feel better

We can spend our money from the economic growth caused by EU membership on re-opening a few thousand miles of railway, whose closure coincided (according to a Government report at some time or other) with the beginning of an economic decline in the countryside which may have caused people to become disaffected with the Government and their choice of economic structure, international relations and suchlike – when it was in fact all the fault of Government transport policy, which nobody ever pays any attention to. (Hence why they never understand why the economy’s tanking.)

The vigorous objections to the mass property demolition entailed in giving Louth its centrally-positioned railway station back, thanks to years of incompetent urban planning at all levels of government, should get everyone nicely united and inclined to forget about the whole Brexit business.

It would also be tempting to suggest that the Government should announce the electrification of the Midland Mainline and run this as a headline infrastructure policy through an ensuing “please beat us up” election campaign. Unfortunately the last two times the Government announced electrification of the Midland Mainline they then cancelled it during the ensuing election campaign (when they couldn’t actually tell anyone it had been cancelled because that would breach “purdah” rules) so it’s unlikely anyone would actually believe them.

We could also do fun things like take:

  • the money that the Government was going to spend on our own satellite system, having been told that we couldn’t use the EU one that we will once again have access to;
  • the money that we pay into the European Space Agency, so far as we do;
  • the money that we give to the Indian Government so that they can afford a space programme;

and actually play a decent part in the European space race again. This comes in handy for:

  1. National prestige;
  2. Miscellaneous scientific research;
  3. Repairing the satellite which we put up there in 1974 (Prospero) and can’t get at because the rocket programme got cancelled;
  4. Watching Putin;
  5. Developing our own nuclear warhead delivery system to save mark-up fees on buying one from the Americans when we come to replace whatever replaces Trident (whenever we get round to that).

While usually this writer promotes the benefits of the Wye Valley line (a reasonably-budgeted re-opening could bring Monmouth within 68 minutes of central Cardiff based on recent calculations) it will instead be suggested that the former Brexiteers might like to set their sights on the Findhorn Railway in Scotland. Aside from being a nice olive branch to the Scottish Government, the line is convenient for RAF Kinross and was much promoted during the great Imperial era of commentators and constitutional theorists like Walter Bagehot, of whom the Brexiteers are so fond.

We will leave aside the fact that the Findhorn Railway, whose sole recommendation was that it was privately funded by the people who thought it was a good idea at no expense or inconvenience to the people who didn’t, was quietly strangled by the Highland Railway after a mere eight years of operation on the grounds that it was a dead loss. To put this into context, Brexit has already been going on for almost a third of the period that Findhorn had passenger trains. Other lines operated by the Highland, but not considered by that company to be dead losses, included Inverness to Wick and Dingwall to Kyle of Lochalsh.

Helmsdale 2 JPG.jpg Regardless of the outcome, this view will probably remain much the same – it is unlikely that anyone will take the stresses of trying to close the railway, and equally unlikely that anything else will happen in the Strath of Kildonan.

Llandogo 3d JPG.jpg Train at Llandogo Halt, Wye Valley (larger version of the picture in the sidebar).

Livorno 2 JPG.jpg Centre of old fort in middle of Livorno (or Leghorn, as it is mysteriously known by the tourists).


Today’s Brexit Delights

At some point I need to start drafting another “Recap” post – at a moment when my next-door neighbour isn’t using a pile-driver on his fence – but for now today’s rows over Theresa’s deal, her threat of “back me or lose Brexit” to the Brexiteers which has made them call her bluff and emboldened the Remoan movement, the mass resignations and the (possibly temporary) constitutional crisis has left a certain air that GoComics has chosen a very good time to re-run a Peanuts story arc about Linus giving up his blanket.

It is all going very well and then Charlie Brown buys him a new one.

Which seems to annoy Linus, and so Charlie Brown goes to see his psychiatrist:

Which seems to summarise today really.

On a more positive note, there are rumours that Chris Grayling might resign. (Unfortunately this feels a bit unlikely, given that he was Theresa’s campaign manager for the last leadership contest, but he may feel that 2½ years of being Secretary of State for My Train to Work Being Cancelled for the 812th Day Running entitles him to resign in fury at some point and that this is as good a reason as any.)

This also seems a good time to promote the idea of making Ken Clarke Prime Minister should Theresa be forced to quit. (Aside from anything else, like that he seems a reasonably decent and normal bloke while not being barking mad really, unlike all the other blokes in politics who specialise in trying to seem reasonably decent and normal in a bid to cover the terminal insanity, it’ll really annoy the Brexiteers.)

Finally, here is a picture of a (rather small) tree. This tree is not bothered about Brexit. (I know. I asked.)

Tree @ Charlbury 1 JPG.jpg

Brexit Comparators

While I’m writing blogposts…

I have a walk to go on at some point so I haven’t time myself, but if someone out there has a few moments it might be amusing to see a comparison of the parallels (and differences) between Brexit and this bunch of “take back control” people in the USA.

Particularly amusingly, they do actually want to have their cheesecake and eat it.

(I presume they still do, although they lost their particular independence vote.)

The Case for the Remaniac

Ok, I haven’t posted anything for months (this is only the fourth post this year), but my politics on leaving the EU had to post this video which has been doing the rounds a bit in the last couple of days. In its simplest form, it is the key argument for EU membership – that we have this agreement with our nearest and largest trading partners which reflects our geographical set-up:

Dominic Raab is the Secretary of State for Leaving the European Union.

(Or Secretary of State for Spending a Fortune Getting What I Already Have, as the case may be.)

EU Negotiating Positions

The Torygraph is, perhaps optimistically, reporting that the European Union may be about to reorganise its stance on negotiating Brexit.

Broadly, and based on my understanding, negotiations since Article 50 was triggered in April have gone as follows:

  • Britain took the view that a contribution to the EU budget and ongoing costs was part of the final settlement and future relationship.
  • Whereas the EU took the view that the contribution to the EU budget and ongoing costs is part of past commitments and the final settlement is part of the future, so will be discussed in the future once the past has been straightened out.
  • So the Government decided to prove that the Prime Minister was about to be really really popular and win a huge Parliamentary majority for her negotiating position in a snap election, thus showing that Europe had to do what she wanted. Of course she then lost her overall majority, and made her Government look really not very brilliant by leaving a distinct air that the only reason she stayed in post was because nobody else in Parliament would be any better at the job. Evidently Tony Blair’s legacy to politics (not a career choice for anyone who knows how to make a difference, or do anything at all, with perhaps a couple of exceptions who are keeping their heads down) is ongoing.
  • Meanwhile the British position was compared to membership of a golf club, where members can resign their subscription and make no further contribution to the new clubhouse and revised green mowing arrangements (and play golf however they like).
  • Whereas the EU preferred the concept of a highly emotional and rancorous divorce, with alimony to be paid on an ongoing basis.
  • Britain made a very quiet and unspoken move towards the EU position that the divorce bill would be discussed first, followed (if the bill went well enough by, say, September 2017) by discussing the future relationship.
  • Britain then raised the suggestion of a transitional arrangement of some point for three years.
  • Whereas the EU began talking of a £100billion payout towards the hole left in the remainder of the 5-year budget (that Britain agreed to) as a result of Britain going.

It is the transitional arrangement which has become rather fun in all this. The transitional arrangement would of course involve paying the EU something, which obviously would most sensibly be what we would have paid anyway in exchange for most of the benefits of being inside plus most of the benefits of being outside. This would be a temporary semi-informal cake-and-eat-it scenario, with no immediate attractions for other members because a) it would largely be so they can have our money, and therefore unlikely to be repeated for Italy because the immediate cash savings following formal withdrawal would rather appeal to the EU; and b) after the three years we would be Out, without the benefits of being inside.

But if we’re going to pay what we would have paid anyway over those three years, we meet our commitments to the EU Budget and so there is no lump sum divorce bill.

This of course means the lump sum divorce bill is not relevant until it is decided there is no transitional period, but the transitional period is a technical affair that will lead from the In state to the Out state and the Out state has to be established before the transitional period can be properly considered. Thus the transitional period’s relevance doesn’t arise for some time, and the lump sum comes up when that has failed.

Perhaps more seriously, the lump sum has been progressively rising as the EU finds more and more costs that the UK will not be paying after April 2019. One major question which arises from this growing lump sum is whether the EU can afford the UK’s departure. Some months ago a bunch of Euro politicians were happily banging on about all the things they can do now the UK is off, overlooking that standing armies, worldwide diplomatic missions and proper integrated financial regulation are extremely expensive. If they are to be £100billion short of current spending in the 2020 Budget, the attitude should be towards retrenchment and lining up gigantic programme cuts that will make Tory austerity look like the insignificant fiddling of small but painful slashes that it is – not expansion of the Imperial power.

Britain meanwhile has been querying the lump sum and asking to see an itemised bill. From the response, it seems that people on the Continent are very honest. When you get your house rebuilt in, say, Belgium, it appears the builder will simply present you with a bill for €9000 and you simply sign the cheque, without asking the builder to point out what’s been done. In this country it would be called an excuse for embezzlement.

The problem for the EU is if at the end of September the view remains “No lump sum agreement by September = no deal”. Because if there is no deal, that includes no lump sum payment. By the end of this month, the EU would have committed to a position where in April 2019 we simply withdraw from the EU and begin the lengthy process of deporting the unattached EU citizens who, owing to the absence of a citizenship deal, no longer have any right of residence in the UK.

And the EU? Is, by its own maths, some £100billion out of pocket.

That’s not a good position for a bunch of supposedly brilliant negotiators to find themselves in – negotiating the other side into not paying you anything.

How you sell to your population that they are now £100billion poorer because you thought being paid by instalments over an extended period was an unacceptable compromise is an interesting question.

The solution is very simple – to forget the £100billion lump sum and focus on getting a transitional arrangement which will result in Britain paying that over a three-year period, very quietly and with obvious benefits to both sides. And, of course, with a recollection that this makes David Davis’s job much easier because he can go home and say “I got rid of that stupid bill today,” and after that can agree more or less any rubbish wanted.

It looks like some portions of the EU may be realising this. It would have helped of course if someone had suggested it more loudly at the outset.

EuroParl Strasbourg 1 JPG.jpg The European Parliament building in Strasbourg, showing the immense interest displayed by the citizens of Europe in their unified democratic institution. (At least, the interest displayed on a Thursday afternoon in September.)

Women-only carriages

This came up in 2015, when I wrote a long blogpost trying to delicately dismantle it that, in the end, I didn’t hit “post” on and which you have, therefore, not read.

Anyway, it has come up again:

Mr Williamson is obviously not a rail-using MP, otherwise while out and about on the trains around his Derby North constituency he would have encountered a certain operational flaw in his idea called the Class 153:
Knighton 1 JPG.jpg

So once this carriage is women-only, where do I sit? On the roof?


Result: NOC gain from Con

One has to congratulate Theresa May. Knocking 18 points off one’s own poll lead in seven weeks is a very considerable feat, as is arranging for a party that was entirely united around you 11 months ago to be entirely united in staying off the airwaves for the day except for periodic “sources suggest” ideas that you may be on the dole sooner rather than later.

Still, a few points are worth noting:

  1. The polls were actually quite useful. Normally they insist on saying “this will happen”. Because they were all experimenting after 2015, this time they were playing with different weightings of the results. Thus it was clear for all to see that if the youth vote stayed at home the Tories would get a majority of 80 and if the youth vote came out the Tories would lose their majority. The youth vote, thus feeling empowered, turned out in larger numbers than usual and the Tories lost their majority.
  2. Presidential campaigns do not go down too well.
  3. Neither do early elections, particularly ones called to prove a politician has power. Attlee was pushed into one in 1951 (and lost); Heath called one in February 1974 (and lost); May called one seven weeks ago (and, all precedent considered, has done extremely well).
  4. John Major-esque soapboxes and megaphones in high streets are better than choreographed events in warehouses with bored activists behind you waving vacuous slogan-cards. They can even get people to vote for disunited parties offering policies that haven’t won elections in years.
  5. Negative campaigning has been used on the sinking side of the 2016 London mayoral elections, the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 General Election. It may now be obvious to most people that it doesn’t work very well. First, it paints the negative campaigner as just being a whiner who doesn’t want the other side to get something (particularly awkward when the negative campaigner has called the vote and therefore has evidently only called it to stop the other side getting something). Second, the side who does want something tends to be more powerful than the side that doesn’t want them to have it (try reading a few books by manager Gerard Fiennes for practical demonstrations). Third, it leaves your voters with no positive reason to vote for you. Corbyn presented a wonderful sunlit upland where energy and rail fares are cheaper, university education is free for all, hospitals offer immediate service, schools are clean and effective, there are enough police around and the rich are being politely soaked. Theresa offered to devalue your house in your old age.
  6. Theresa was also very unlucky in her electorate. She got 13,650,900 votes, or a 42.4% vote share. In absolute votes this is almost what got Macmillan a 100-seat majority in 1959, though then it equated to a 49% vote share. It is about what Thatcher got in 1979 and more than Thatcher got in 1983, though without the benefit of a split opposition. It is of course some 500,000 less than John Major got in 1992 – the highest ever absolute vote total – which raises all sorts of questions as to whether spending a few months considering her wider legacy, her intricate policy positions and why people would be better-off all round at the end of her term of office might have actually seen Theresa become Britain’s Most Popular Prime Minister. As it is the honour remains with Major. Blair peaked at a shabby 13,518,167 votes, which combined with a split opposition and a 1% higher vote share to give him a majority of 179. In 2015 Cameron stuck at just over 11 million and 36% of the vote. May has therefore gained another 6% of the relative voters and another two million votes to lose a net 13 seats.
  7. What is striking is Jeremy Corbyn’s 12,858,652 votes, or 40% vote share. Gaitskill got 500,000 fewer votes in 1959, a higher vote share and three fewer seats in the days when the party still had a decent presence in Scotland. Callaghan shed a million more votes to the Liberals in 1979, but was rewarded with seven more seats (and the Liberals got eleven instead of the twelve they have this evening). It is four million more that Michael Foot got. Perhaps most strikingly it is two million more than Blair got in 2001, three million more than he got in 2005, four million more than Brown got in 2010 (but earning only a handful more seats) and three million more than Ed Miliband. He is the most popular Labour leader in over 16 years. In terms of absolute votes he is the most successful losing leader since Clement Attlee won the popular vote and lost the election in 1951. Any leader who won this many votes since then could reasonably expect to be the largest party.
  8. In traditional 1950s two-party politics a 49/ 46 vote split was common – still providing massive majorities. We are still in multi-party territory.
  9. Odd murmurings have floated around that this election proves centrist policies are good because the Nationalists (Tories) and Socialists (Labour) have both failed to win a majority. They have also got the highest absolute votes, highest vote share and highest turnout this millennium. This is a healthy democracy, if an indecisive one.
  10. The result is also likely to be good for Northern Ireland, as British majorities mean the separate Irish political system – and therefore the interests of the voters – can often be quietly ignored. Tonight the Democratic Unionist Party begin discussions on shoring up the British Government.
  11. The Lib-Dems are making a shaky return – popular vote is actually slightly down, but it is better targeted and has therefore made a net gain of seats.
  12. First-Past-The-Post has once again shown its power as an electoral system, taking two bad candidates and giving them impossible results. It’s strange how such a blunt system can do such a good job at capturing a mood – I’m sure I’m not the only one who wanted May to be untenable but Corbyn to lose…

Meanwhile I am off to write a re-make of Kind Hearts and Coronets about a Prime Minister who narrowly fails to get a majority so has small-majority opposition MPs quietly bumped off in the hope of winning the by-elections. I put this out there so that anyone who tries the same thing can sit comfortable in the knowledge that they will face the full force of copyright law.

Instead, why not consider the situation of this man, whose problems have been little discussed during the election: