South Welsh Transport

Newport M4 Deviation Scrapped

Yarooo!

This is one of the best decisions a politician has made for a really quite considerable number of years. Can we make him Prime Minister? He might can the Heathrow third runway for us too.

In view of the comment in the article from someone who thinks that this road would have made a substantive difference to her commute in from Monmouth, this post is also an appeal for me to be Prodded until I get round to producing a nice-looking PDF on what a re-opened line from Monmouth (May Hill) to Pontypool (trains to continue to Cardiff, possibly with peak additionals to Bristol) would look like.

After all, there is now £1,400,000,000 knocking around Welsh transport and the Welsh Government is open to spending it on public transport. We have the unusual support of the Taxpayer’s Alliance for local public transport and rail spending – albeit from the misplaced belief that the HS2 money would be available for local transport if that was cancelled. It is quite obviously the challenge for all of us to explain why this money should go on Welsh rail improvements rather than, say, on the Brexit department (which is very good at eating money).

To my frustration I am struggling to find the article (must have been a BBC one; don’t think it was this one) that suggested that if the money was ring-fenced for Welsh transport improvements there could be political support for the Severn Bridge Tolls to return – after all, if the improvements are going to be there we could just as well bring them back for public transport expenditure.

Also notable are all the people who believe a) that having a motorway near them is horrible so we need more motorways, b) they live next to a motorway so it is time someone else lived next to a motorway and c) if you build another motorway traffic on the existing motorway will dry up (there’s a nice graph with predictions on this last point here, albeit from a source with an inclination against road expansion).

Advertisements

Political Obituary: Theresa May

The ABBA musical version. There is logic behind this, and readers who have not been paying attention will be reminded of it later.

The resignation of Theresa May as Leader of the Conservative Party had become so inevitable that it was barely a surprise – the lectern went out for 10am and there seemed little else that she could be intending to announce. Perhaps a statement on Tuesday, formally taking responsibility for the Euro Election results that will be announced on Sunday night, would have been tidier. But today it was – the day when it was finally acknowledged that one cannot run a Government on the basis of refusing to resign.

Theresa May came to be Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury after the European Referendum of 2016. The Leave campaign ran a slick, professional operation largely not constrained by such inconvenient points as facts. The Remain campaign ran a fairly slick operation on the basis that you should maximise your opponent’s opportunities to punch himself in the face, avoid committing to anything and occasionally point out how dangerous the ideas being promoted by the other lot are. This is not the way to run a campaign to gain the outcome that you want in a referendum that you have called; it is rather better (or at least not much worse) to set out a positive stall for why you thought it was worth crushing the other side in the first place, and ideally not given them room to punch themselves in the face publicly anyway. And people do like some commitments, particularly if they’re kept afterwards.

Still, David Cameron made a hash of it and Theresa had kept a low profile throughout. Her purposeful march for the top job and inspiring slogan of “Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it” brought her party rapidly in behind her – as did the realisation that nobody else had any ideas. Ken Clarke calling her a “bloody difficult woman” gave her added bonus points for negotiations with Jean-Claude Juncker as to who has the bigger economy. Her low profile was put down to a lack of enthusiasm or strategic position rather than a natural inability to campaign. It at least avoided obvious gaffes like Sajid Javid wandering around wearing a “Remain” badge while saying that if we left the EU we would be able to prop up our steelworks. (It may be worth noting that our steelworks have just gone to the wall again and the Government has refused to prop them up. Meanwhile, membership of the EU would have allowed us to argue for steel tariffs on the Chinese on the grounds of environmentalism and workplace safety, which would have made our steel much more competitive.)

As Theresa seemed to have a plan, her opponents vanished before the leadership campaign could ascertain what that plan was (and had it turned out she hadn’t got one the only alternative would have been to elect Andrea Leadsom anyway) and she became Prime Minister to great popular acclaim, a programme of rapidly sending her opponents to a gulag and a speech which suggested a premiership that would reach beyond Brexit. Not bad for someone whose previous memorable act had been a pile of rubbish about a fictional immigrant and his cat, and who had helped wreck our EU membership by sticking to an unachievable immigration target obtained by picking a number out of the air.

Her first few months went quite well; her policy of threatening to drive EU immigrants into the sea if negotiations went badly had a pleasant hint of the 3rd Viscount Palmerston, if a little reminiscent of the vans she’d sent driving round London telling people to go home. (Why, and what they were supposed to do once they were back in their suburban semis in Watford, was not wholly clear.) Perhaps her position was best summarised by the Guardian‘s political sketch-writer as he described her first day in office in tones that sounded rather like admiration.

Not that she had lost too much time in stumbling. Cameron had been on the verge of signing a contract for the French company EDF to build an untested design of nuclear power station at Hinckley Point in Somerset. May lost no time in calling it in for review, which since it involved giving the French lots of money for the opportunity to irradiate Somerset and blame the Government seemed to be a sensible idea. After spending about two weeks reading it she signed it anyway.

Underneath there was a certain failure to accept that there were some 28 million registered voters who had not voted for major constitutional change; some never really minded, some would always be against it and some could be brought round if it rattled to a successful conclusion. It was perhaps with this last grouping in mind – and the politician’s eternal horror of zombie losers coming back to bite the winners’ heads off – that May lost very little time in initiating the Brexit process. The Government’s failure to announce what it thought Brexit should look like was justified on the grounds that it could not possibly expose its negotiating hand before negotiations started. This still prompted some relatively rapid cynicism that it couldn’t reveal its plan because it didn’t have one – a problem that was kept nicely under cover by a legal action against the Government unilaterally triggering Brexit in a Parliamentary democracy.

The Government lost the legal action, but May won the ensuing Parliamentary vote. In those dim and distant times when it seemed reasonable for the referendum to be accepted, even if the ensuing wipe-out of prospects for a generation while the economy rebalanced was annoying, it is intriguing as to why she considered the vote a problem. Similarly, it was dispiriting to see the popular press slating the judges and claimant for demanding that the niceties be observed – particularly as the judges were slated as “Enemies of the People” and May seemed to consider that this was appropriate language to use about judges. At any rate, she never suggested that the tone of discourse shouldn’t go in that direction and that her defeat was not unreasonable.

She similarly wandered around describing people who wanted to have the right to live and work in multiple countries as “citizens of nowhere” while repeatedly uttering that infuriating and divisive phrase “the country is coming together”.

At the end of March 2017 she triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, writing a letter which took us out of both the EU and Euratom – a move which had the bonus of stopping the UK building too many more nuclear power stations and warheads without foreign involvement. The letter is notable for how unprepared she was for writing it. The decision on how to manage the built-up body of EU was subject to White Paper that had not yet been published. A paragraph discusses the Irish border, but does not seem to consider this a major problem for future diverging regulatory arrangements. As a former Home Secretary who had not yet escaped her former role, the letter started by focusing on the security implications of the EU losing access to British surveillance efforts (which within three months would look like a pretty negligible loss anyway), though moves onto economic ties later. Discussions of the details of the Free Trade Agreement are both absent and dismissed as unimportant. She was criticised for approaching it from a standpoint of curtailing immigration ruling out staying in the single market and customs union, but there is no real point in leaving the EU and its opportunities to affect the rules of the single market while staying in the single market anyway. But she had submitted it, and the Press were satisfied.

Having gone and put in the letter just before the French and German elections, May decided to use the time productively by taking advantage of her 20-point lead in the polls. The party had apparently believed her claims that there would be no early election, so there was no manifesto and no plan for one. It was written in a hurry. It was bad. The lead policy was to use the 20-point lead to take social care by the horns, as a result of which the lead vaporised in a few days.

Her opponent, Jeremy Corbyn (who is a dismal failure who has only seen off two Tory leaders), had quite a good start to his campaign. His manifesto was unaffordable but looked good (and was strategically leaked, so we all knew what was in it and had got used to the ideas before the formal launch). He had a certain affability that May lacked. And he ran over a journalist just before the manifesto launch, which goes down badly with journalists but is oddly popular with the wider public.

Meanwhile Daesh, the Middle-Eastern terror group based on an extreme mis-reading of a warlord’s memoirs, decided to celebrate Ramadan by going around killing people. This added a certain feature to the election as politicians, in an entirely non-political manner, lined up to blame each other. Labour managed to get a distinctly palpable hit by blaming the failure to arrest the perpetrators before they perpetrated anything on the previous Home Secretary, the Right Honourable Theresa May MP, sacking large numbers of police officers. With that, and the social care, and some division over forms of Brexit, we went into an election where the Government had discarded a 20-point lead in favour of polls which went so far as to predict a Labour majority.

May lost the election. It didn’t matter. She announced she would set up a coalition with “our friends in the Democratic Unionist Party”, which came as rather a surprise to the DUP – she had not mentioned it to them before and they thought the Tories were aligned to the largely extinct Ulster Unionists. Still, the DUP know an opportunity to pump money into Northern Ireland when they see one – particularly when their power-sharing agreement with Sinn Fein has collapsed – and duly signed up to a confidence-and-supply agreement which turned out to be almost worth the paper it was written on.

With the election out of the way, things could start going wrong in earnest. She was not personally responsible for a West London block of flats burning to the ground, but was unable to doing the sort of humane reaction that Jeremy Corbyn could pull off. Corbyn not losing 200 MPs gave him an odd sort of bounce that gave his policies a bit of extra popularity – rail nationalisation getting particular extra coverage when May’s Secretary of State for Transport rose at the end of the Parliamentary year to announce that he had cancelled most of the investment programme in Britain’s railways back in February 2017 but had not felt it appropriate to tell anyone before. (He had been called “Failing Grayling” for many years, but it now started to stick more widely.)

Her conference speech did nothing for an air that either she or the party was in it for the long term – the stage set fell to pieces, she was frequently interrupted by a hacking cough and a comedian managed to get close enough to pass her a piece of paper labelled “P45” before being led away in handcuffs.

Negotiations finally started with the EU – and promptly stalled on the matter of what the UK’s outstanding committed contribution to the EU budget was. Discussions nearly collapsed before they had got onto anything substantive. The hillock was surmounted narrowly in late 2017 and matters turned to the arrangements to be in force immediately after the UK departed.

It was during this period that the Government was forced to give MPs a Meaningful Vote on the deal brought back. This was perfectly reasonable. The Government – particularly in view of the fact that it had no majority and was shored up by the DUP – could not be allowed to come back with a deal and say that it was going to happen. The problem was that time margins were going to be very narrow. Even at the time, it was pretty obvious that if the Government returned with a pile of tat and the MPs told them to push off there would not be much time left to organise anything else. A particular problem was that May’s narrow majority (accounting for the confidence-and-supply agreement) could be overturned if the opposition parties plus half-a-dozen Tory MPs ganged up on her. This was not the outcome promised when she called an election to allow her to steamroller the Labour party, the rump of the Lib-Dems and the assertive House of Lords. (It might have been preferable, in hindsight, to take the opportunity to abolish the Lords. With Brexit overshadowing things and the Lords annoying enough Tory backbenchers to top up the Opposition’s block vote in favour of such a move, it would probably have gone through on the nod.)

After a long time when the Government seemed to be avoiding falling apart too much, the Windrush Scandal broke out. It seemed that a large number of Imperial immigrants welcomed into the country in the 1950s, in the days when we did not have computer databases, had not been given computerised records to demonstrate their right to live in the UK. Upon encountering May’s “hostile environment” for illegal migrants when they turned up at their GP’s surgery for a check-up (feeling lucky about getting an appointment) they were reported to the Home Office and deported. Some subsequently died. Arguably May should have resigned for it, but her Home Secretary and one-time deputy Amber Rudd was persuaded to go instead. Happily for Rudd, it turned out the whole thing was an official misunderstanding and she was later reinstated to Cabinet.

This provided a distraction from Failing Grayling not having been keeping an eye on what his rail franchises were up to, preferring to shred their investment plans and carry out ad-hoc re-nationalisations, with the awkward consequence that a large portion of the rail network through a lot of safe Tory seats had just collapsed. Grayling said he couldn’t be expected to know anything about this, which while in keeping with Leave policy of “This country has had enough of experts,” (actually a fairly reasonable statement, but easily misconstrued) did raise certain questions as to what he was for, and if perhaps he should save the taxpayer some money by resigning.

May sat down with her Cabinet at an away-weekend in Buckinghamshire (where the Prime Minister has a country seat) to hammer out an EU strategy. With nine months to go this was not exactly an ideal time to produce a strategy, but one was produced which she claimed came with the backing of her entire cabinet. Later it transpired that the agreement was because the Cabinet had been told that if they disagreed they’d have to quit and if they quit they’d have to walk 2½ miles on a hot day to find out what the Sunday service from Little Kimble station is like, owing to them no longer being entitled to the Ministerial car which brought them to Chequers or the Ministerial ‘phone that would allow them to call a loved one for a lift. In view of how the rail network was performing under Grayling, it seemed preferable to smile and nod. Once back in London such problems were gone, and the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson duly followed the Brexit Secretary David Davis out of the door in less than 48 hours.

Her replacement Brexit Secretary lasted until Autumn and a discovery that Dover is a major port that would have to be considered in any customs arrangements with the EU. This meant that he was overqualified and, finding that reality was incompatible with the Brexit deal that he wanted, he was obliged to resign.

And yet, the hackneyed old phrase that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” seemed to apply in this situation. By the end of the summer, she was relaxing. She spent a tour of Africa doing little dance routines with the locals – almost more lovably for the moves being bad. Playing on this, the party put on ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” for her walk onto the platform to deliver her conference speech – and she jived on stage to it, confident that this part of 2018 could hardly go worse than 2017. It went down well. The Prime Minister does not have to be outgoing, but people like to believe that the Person In Charge is human on some level.

The deal finally came home in October 2018. It was not well-sold. Any message about its marvellous content (which omitted our future trade agreement because there had been no time to agree one) was swept aside in the face of the clause that dealt with the problem of the Irish border. This said that the UK could not leave the EU properly until the border was sorted. Theresa had apparently asked for it. In London, she was told it was terrible. A visit to Northern Ireland saw her tell the Irish that it was terrible, on which point they begged to differ. The DUP intimated that they could not support it; the Tory backbench intimated ditto; a December Commons vote on it (necessary if the UK was to leave in March) was pulled and the party decided to have a vote of confidence in her. She survived – quite well – and under party rules of the time was safe for another 12 months.

She got out of it partly by promising not to fight any more elections, which seemed a difficult promise to keep when heading into a year highly likely to feature a snap election. Aside from any sudden discoveries that it would help if the Government had a majority, the sharks were circulating and threatening a Vote of Confidence in the House of Commons on the performance of the Government.

Grayling kindly provided a distraction with his ferry contracts. To provide additional ferry capacity in case of queues at Dover after a no-deal Brexit, he asked some ferry companies to tender in a hurry to provide boats. Based on the responses he awarded three companies contracts. The Department for Tranport’s due diligence processes, never that widely-praised in the UK transport industry, came under fire when it turned out that one contract had been awarded on the basis that the financial backer had assumed the company at issue would arrange for the chosen UK harbour to be dredged and some ships to be acquired at some point before Brexit Day. After the backer realised that this probably wasn’t the case they withdrew and the Government had to justify the press criticism by cancelling the contract. Then Eurotunnel pointed out that they had a first-refusal right to provide cross-Channel transport by international treaty and had once operated ferries. The Government said that they had to let the contracts in a hurry and hadn’t had time to wait for Eurotunnel to find boats. Eurotunnel said that “No Deal” had been Government policy for two years, during which a proper procurement process could have been run, and on the back of this the Government folded and handed over £33million for capacity improvements to support Eurotunnel’s adaptation to a post-Brexit world – not, it was enthusiastically pointed out, as simple settlement of a legal claim. On this small legal nicety the Peninsular & Oriental Line proceeded to raise M’Learned Friends to sue the Government for their £33million state subsidy to adapt to a post-Brexit world, in accordance with EU rules on state support.

When the Meaningful Vote came round it was hard to believe the estimates as to how badly she would do – it was tempting to assume that in the end everyone would troop through the “Yes” lobby on the grounds that there was no other plan. But if that was the betting, it backfired badly. The defeat finally knocked Ramsey MacDonald off the platform of “Worst Parliamentary Defeat in Relatively Recent History”, with the Government managing the unusual achievement of losing by a greater margin than the number of votes cast for May’s flagship achievement – 432 against, 202 for, margin of 232. The pound showed some brief signs of recovery from its post-referendum doldrums, which have made the country attractive for foreign investors willing to buy heavily discounted assets in a nation on the verge of recession on the offchance that it’ll all be worth something again one day. The DUP refrained from following their confidence and supply agreement on the grounds that the deal did not comply with their Irish red lines, but backed her in the following confidence motion.

Her International Trade Secretary failed to provide a worthwhile distraction from this when his success at negotiating substitute trade deals was unveiled – he had made four. His negotiations with Japan were rumoured to have been difficult, with the Japanese having tried to get far more out of him (so far as the Government wasn’t already bending over backwards to subsidise Japanese industry anyway) than they had obtained in their deal with the EU. His deal with the Faroe Islands was subject to considerable amusement, although he has not managed to persuade his Home Office colleagues to adopt the Faroe Islands visa system of demanding that tourists justify their existence economically by carrying out unpaid labour (a policy which has received many plaudits from the left-wing press, so would be an undoubted vote-winner).

Further attempts to get the deal through the Commons were unsuccessful to a lesser degree, although still in Ramsey MacDonald territory. The second attempt, excluding abstentions, was only four votes worse than the great Parliamentary vote of 1640 when Parliament ordered King Charles I to have the Earl of Stafford beheaded if he ever wanted to see his tax revenues again. The Commons proved little help in suggesting alternatives, although both a customs union (waste of a good Brexit) and a second referendum lost narrowly enough to suggest that a proper whipping operation would have carried them over the line. With this done, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested that now everyone had finished playing the Government should be allowed to go back to ramming its deal into the Commons in the face of losses by a margin of 50 or so votes. This was inconvenienced by the Speaker prohibiting the Government from wasting Parliamentary time by bringing back the same motion every few weeks; his argument was on the basis of custom and practice dating back to about the time of the Earl of Stafford (which for some reason the Press claimed also hadn’t been used since then). Opposition parties suggested compromise, ideally about a year previously, and Corbyn invited cross-party talks.

The one thing that the Commons could agree on was that a no-deal Brexit was a no-no, so in the face of insistence by ex-Remain pro-Leave members of the Cabinet (rather overdoing their performances) that a no-deal Brexit was an essential negotiating tactic (presumably with the Commons, as the EU had stopped negotiating in October) two extensions were sought. The first was naturally short; there was some pressure for the second to be a year, but Grayling threatened to resign if it was more than a few weeks. Most people would have viewed the Government well rid of him, but May based her extension application on keeping him in Cabinet. It was one of the larger signs that she was too weak to carry on much longer.

May was saved from herself by an EU insistence that the country take part in the Euro-elections instead of ignoring the campaign on the assumption that something would come up by the 1st of July (when the new Parliament will convene, now complete with British MEPs). Her policy that the country would leave the EU on the 1st of July with a deal that wouldn’t pass, but couldn’t leave without a deal and couldn’t stay because of a shortage of MEPs, was liable to create the sort of farcical constitutional crisis rarely seen since Charles I invaded his own kingdom, paying both attacking and defending armies (at least until the defending one ran away); it was a problem that couldn’t even have been resolved with a new Calendar Act indefinitely postponing 1st July 2019 by inventing new months until the problem went away. It had the especially ridiculous feature that it would be entirely unnecessary and self-inflicted. She dealt with this sort of thing by making a TV address informing the public that she was on their side, unlike their elected representatives. Remarkably, and perhaps reflecting the contempt that the population held her in, no MPs were shot as a result of this ill-judged speech.

She limped on with a final decision to discuss the matter with the Labour Party, which wanted a second referendum and a customs union. It hid the sight of Failing Grayling cancelling his remaining shipping contracts at a loss of £80million and being sued by two bidders for the East Midlands rail franchise over whether he could make them liable for pension deficits. As May wanted her deal (there is no other deal available without starting over, which is not allowed) and believed a second referendum would be a breach of trust, there was only one way these talks could end. After six weeks all involved stopped pretending otherwise and May partially capitulated on the second referendum – although not enough to win over any Remain MPs. The response from an old party grandee – the great Michael Heseltine who had brought down Thatcher – was to announce that he was voting Lib-Dem in the Euro Election, obliging the party to suspend his whip. A second referendum annoyed the Leave side, and particularly upset those members of her Cabinet who believed that they were doing a very good pretence of being pro-Leave. She was invited into an office to meet some men in grey suits, who lightly drew to her attention that having to withdraw the whip from people who had nearly been party leader was deeply embarrassing. She would have to take the responsibility.

She nearly made it through the ensuing speech to the public without bursting into tears.

It was a late moment of humanity reminiscent of the moment when Gordon Brown walked out of Downing Street with his wife and two small boys, although while the small boys might have helped Comrade Gordy our outgoing Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury would not have got further by breaking down in tears more often at the despatch box. Generally she has played a shockingly bad hand as well as possible, with the main question being why she agreed to play it at all.

The contrast from 2016 in John Crace’s summary of her way of leaving office is striking – after many columns describing her as the Maybot and jokingly observing on a negotiating session that she was photographed holding with four plant pots. One of her bigger critics, in a rather satisfied manner, remarked that the ABBA-dancing prime minister had now met her Waterloo.

Ultimately her fate was settled by a combination of King Henry II’s bodged invasion of Ireland – occupying but not properly annexing it – and the activities of a Daesh bomber in Manchester. It is an unfortunate demonstration of the holistic approach to history.

She leaves no legacy, except a demonstration of what happens when you abandon ideas and reduce politics to spin, presentation and “policy-making by print deadline” for twenty-five years. The UK Government never managed to work out why it was in Europe, why this is a good thing and how to grasp the tiller to orientate development in accordance with the wishes of the second-largest economy in the group (although there were reportedly some ambitions for the 2017 turn at running the European Council, which was cancelled for obvious reasons). Nor did it ever challenge Press arguments to the contrary, with Blair’s enthusiasm for Europe being accompanied by a quiet hope that someone would spontaneously notice that the results spoke for themselves. Cameron’s solution was to create a new Eurosceptic European Parliamentary grouping – which has met with some success, possibly partly because his MEPs lost no time in handing it over to the Czechs (who know how to play politics). Having no ideas about what to do with a “Leave” vote or how to justify remaining anyway left May attempting to lose an election by presenting a manifesto devoid of popular memorable policies. Now she has crashed and burned, her apparent successors have no constructive suggestions; the only policies thus far mooted are a no-deal Brexit and the cancellation of High Speed 2. There is no suggestion that the tattered remnants of the party have any ideas for appealing to the wider country, though having lost the next election for being divided, incompetent and unable to solve actual problems will lose no time in blaming it on a failure to obtain a sufficiently hard Brexit. The noises from the membership suggest that Remoaniacs joining to argue for re-joining the EU, resuming the party’s social liberalism and supporting the poor in bettering themselves will be expelled for “entryism”, which does nothing to encourage anyone to dilute the current attitudes exuding from that direction.

The lobbying campaign for the pot plants to succeed her has, as yet, met with little success. Despite him having few obvious diplomatic skills and no obvious ideas for how he’s going to deal with the Irish Question, Boris is the front-runner – provided that he survives Labour realising that they could blame the London Crossrail debacle on him.

For some reason, May believes that there will be more female prime ministers of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the future. Unless Boris is overturned and a woman is elected in July, if Brexit goes through in October (especially on a “no-deal” basis) it seems rather more likely that she will be both the second and the last before Scottish independence. Still, she can dream.

The rest of us can dream back to the happy days of 2015, which will not be returning any time soon.

Blasts from the Past

Apropos of absolutely nothing, and therefore not publication of political matters during an election:

(Someone tell Heseltine to stop bringing down Tory female prime ministers.)

(Also interesting that John Major was not sufficiently in the public domain for Spitting Image to have decided what he should sound like.)

Election Literature 2019

To the delight of many, we are having Euro Elections on Thursday 23rd May this year. Voters will head to the polls to choose their preferred party to represent their region in the European Parliament, basing their vote on a range of environmental and regulatory considerations that are managed on a pan-European basis by the European Union – thereby ensuring that nobody has an unreasonable competitive advantage by draining their chemical factories into freshwater lakes, not installing safety facilities in blast furnaces or passing off other people’s academic literature as their own.

The ballot paper will list the usual local parties, but each has an affiliated overarching pan-European party which they will sit with in the European Parliament. The current leading party is the centre-right European People’s Party grouping that the Tories formerly sat with, although we have not been represented in this for most of the time since the 2009 election since the party no longer sits with this group. The Tories have more recently been replaced by a couple of Change UK members – whether they intend to stay in this grouping, or move to the Alliance of Liberals & Democrats in Europe, is another matter.

The Tories’ absence from the group is pretty irrelevant anyway, since the party appears (from comments by the party leader in March and my election literature collection) not to be fielding any candidates anyway.

Voters can find more about the policies at stake by watching one of the leaders’ debates, a list of which can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019_European_Parliament_election#Televised_debates.

And so to the parties, listed in alphabetical order and based on their election literature:

The Brexit Party

  • Summary: A single-issue name for a single-issue party, this organisation was the first to get a leaflet to me. Argues that the country has been “humiliated” by the discovery that its government has all the management and diplomacy qualities of a hamburger.
  • Position on Europe: Out – no reasons given, except that people voted for it in 2016 so it must be a good idea.
  • Will do if elected: Change politics.
  • Key non-Europe policy: None.
  • Quality of election material: Clear and organised. Turns out that people in other regions got the same leaflet promoting the same candidates.

Change UK

  • Summary: Formerly The Independent Group (and still advertising this on their election material), Change UK consists of the bunch of MPs who defected from their parties back in February.
  • Position on Europe: In, but does not seem to have any reasons for this.
  • Will do if elected: Reform EU laws, demand climate change targets, support free movement of people and fight for the NHS.
  • Key non-Europe policy: None.
  • Quality of election material: Picture shows a bunch of happy scruffy people taking selfies at a rally. Otherwise not badly designed, though nothing terribly inspirational. Picture on the inside of the Union flag being subsumed beneath the EU blue-and-stars may be misjudged.

The Green Party

  • Summary: The Greens are primarily a single-issue climate party with some other stuff tagged on. The party is keen to promote its previous achievements in Europe as a reminder that a) the EU does stuff; b) sending people with ideas can result in them causing it to do stuff; and c) some of this stuff (like fighting tax-dodging) may actually be quite useful.
  • Position on Europe: In – then they can continue pan-European fights on tax-dodging.
  • Will do if elected: Protect the environment and take bold climate action.
  • Key non-Europe policy: None (all is neatly tied back into Europe).
  • Quality of election material: Small, clean and green. Gets quite a bit in without being cramped.

The Labour Party

  • Summary: Jeremy Corbyn’s party wish to remind you – as he stares out benevolently yet seriously from the front of the leaflet – that this is all the fault of the Tories, and that this is a General Election (not, as you may have thought, a Euro Election).
  • Position on Europe: Close relationship with the EU best, or possibly an excuse for a General Election.
  • Will do if elected: “Make this country a fair one” (although not obviously using EU mechanisms, but presumably they are relevant somehow).
  • Key non-Europe policy: Invest in our economy and local services.
  • Quality of election material: Clean and red. Slight lack of contrast in places. Lacks any particular explanation of the party’s plans for its longer-term relationship with Europe post October.

UKIP

  • Summary: The UK Independence Party takes a rather harder line than Farage’s Brexit Party, proclaiming that “Brexit has been betrayed!” beneath a picture of the man who is presumably the current party leader. He does not look especially comfortable about this.
  • Position on Europe: Out – opportunity to re-state the 2016 referendum.
  • Will do if elected: Fight for Brexit.
  • Key non-Europe policy: None.
  • Quality of election material: Purple, but gets across enough of a message for a single-issue party.

Contrary to popular belief this election does actually matter, so don’t forget to vote for a party that understands this.

Much credit must be given to all parties (except Labour) for remembering this time that this is a Euro Election and therefore European matters should be the only things on the leaflet.

The stuff from last time (ah, sunny uplands!) can be found here.

Protests & Placards

After yesterday’s rather moody post, here is a thought-provoking and optimistic suggestion of something the Government can do to make people feel better about the (hopefully) imminent death of their flagship only policy:

Placard (s) JPG.jpg

(Genuine bodged placard, as not used on Saturday.)

Sticking to the theme, here is a futuristic picture of Tintern station with the track re-instated. (A rather old futuristic picture of Tintern station with the track reinstated, but producing a new one would take a while and show much the same thing.)

Tintern Old station 8 (m) JPG.jpg

Government Response to the Petition

British people cast their votes once again in the 2017 General Election where over 80% of those who voted, voted for parties, including the Opposition, who committed in their manifestos to upholding the result of the referendum.

This Government stands by this commitment.

Revoking Article 50 would break the promises made by Government to the British people, disrespect the clear instruction from a democratic vote, and in turn, reduce confidence in our democracy.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/241584

Dear Government,

The 2017 General Election was not a referendum on EU membership. It was an opportunity to express our opinions on which party we wished to form the Government, based on their overall package of policies and the apparent competence of their leadership (the result ultimately reflecting national confidence on the latter point).

Personally I voted on the grounds that you had promised to electrify the Great Western and Midland Mainlines, and seemed most likely to get on with this rather than starting your refreshed term of office by flogging the dead horse of rail re-nationalisation. I am deeply, deeply furious – to a degree that is practically irretrievable – that you had in fact already broken this commitment before the election was even called, did not bother to tell anyone this, and have not suggested that any of the lying MPs who inferred that this would happen in their election literature should face by-elections.

The double-standard is appalling – that because a minority interest gets a referendum it suddenly becomes more relevant than policies of actual use to the voters. Sheffield stands to gain a great deal more, rather more quickly, from faster, more reliable, newer, cleaner and cheaper-to-run trains to London, Leeds and Birmingham than it does from leaving the EU.

If the 2017 General Election was purely about the EU, not about the Prime Minister’s woeful record on law and order or about whether Jeremy Corbyn should get to be prime minister leading some kind of “coalition of chaos”, then it should have been run as a second referendum. Either that or the manifestos of parties promising to implement the EU referendum result should have made clear that no other policies would be taken forward over the next five years.

Instead we had misleading claims, apparently from cloud-cuckoo land, suggesting that the Government could cope with multi-tasking. In view of this, suggesting that the General Election in any way confirmed the referendum result demonstrates about as much relevance to the argument as if both major parties had pledged that the Moon would be made of green cheese.

The parallel is particularly relevant, given that you seem to be doing about as well at mining green cheese from the Moon as you are at dealing with Brexit.

It could be argued that “reducing confidence in democracy” is best done by making a complete hash of a key policy, smashing your Government and the constitution to smithereens and then arguing that you have to do this because we are a democracy. It suggests that if we were a semi-benevolent dictatorship ruled by an absolute monarch we would either not be leaving the EU or the absolute monarch would have done it in a way that suggested she knew what she was doing, and both options seem much more appealing than the one that we are obliged to live in as a quid pro quo for being ignored democratically.

I also look forward to your explanations for why half the Midland Mainline timetabled service will be cancelled from 1st January 2020 as a result of the inability to replace or modify the existing HST fleet in the wake of the unexpected cancellation of electrification. I am sure that users of the line will be very understanding about the abrupt reinstatement of the 1994 timetable (except with smaller trains) and how it marks an essential part of the development of our country in the wake of Brexit.

Leicester 3 JPG.jpg A HST at Leicester. As it has slam-doors, no internal automatic customer information system and no toilet retention tanks it will be withdrawn in accordance with accessibility legislation at 23.59 on 31st December 2019, leaving East Midlands Trains with nothing to operate its service. Not that it will necessarily be EMT’s problem, as there’s a franchise change due before then. The Government recently send along a Minister to an Industry Do to make a speech remarking on the wonderful impact that the replacement trains will have, which as no replacements have been ordered took the industry and observers rather by surprise – although most of them have now come round to the view that this is not a Government that does evidence- or reality-based policy. Fortunately the passengers crammed into 4- and 5-car Meridians on what remains of the service will be happy because we’ll have left the EU.

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).