So what happens next?

I confess I’ve not waded through the 585 pages of legalese that makes up the draft agreement of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU (thanks PCar for the link), but the reaction on Twitter tells me:

1. Free movement of people is ended.

2. The UK remains in the customs union indefinitely.

What’s interesting is Leavers are irate beyond measure which suggests, contrary to their portrayal in the media, they weren’t driven by immigration. If that were the case, they’d not be too disappointed with an agreement which halted free movement. That they are more upset about continued membership of the customs union suggests sovereignty and independence were equally as important as ending free movement. None of this should come as a surprise to those who know any Leave voters.

However, Remainers are equally unhappy, presumably because free movement will end along with a whole load of taxpayer funded schemes which prop up swathes of the middle class left. They’ll be joining Leavers in writing to their MPs urging them to vote against the bill when it’s put before parliament. Jeremy Corbyn, who must be relishing this, has already said he’ll vote against it so May is relying on Labour rebels to offset those in her own party. I think this vote will be the most heavily scrutinised in recent memory, with every MP’s reputation for the next few years depending on which way they cast their ballot. I imagine many of them didn’t get much sleep last night. This is how it should be, and for once it’s nice to see the public – both Leavers and Remainers – holding their representatives’ feet to the fire.

Here’s what I reckon will happen. The agreement will be voted down and May will leave; either she’ll resign or will be shoved out by her own party, along with anyone in the cabinet who assented to it. A general election will be called leaving the Tories with two options:

1. Pick a Remain leader and cabinet and we all start preparing for Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn.

2. Pick a Leave leader and cabinet, win the election, chuck the draft in the bin, and start negotiations again.

Much as though I’d prefer to see No. 2 happen, if the Tories had that sort of gumption they’d have done it already. Unless some have been working tirelessly behind the scenes preparing a realistic plan which can immediately be placed in front of Barnier, it’s just going to be more hot air before we crash out with no deal. I’d not be too disappointed if the Tories’ stated intention is to crash out with no deal, but if that’s what happens by default because they’re too hapless to get a plan together, it’s hardly a demonstration of the sort of leadership Britain will need in the near future.

So I suspect they’ll pick a total wet as leader who nobody will vote for and Corbyn will get in. From what I’m reading on Twitter, which to be fair is probably not a great representation, people are prepared to suffer a Corbyn government rather than continue to support the Conservatives, such are their feelings of betrayal. Oddly, I’m half minded to think Corbyn and Co. could negotiate a better deal than May’s managed. He’d certainly not turn up looking to please everyone, and idiotic his beliefs might be he might inadvertently get Britain out of the EU in a way which leaves Brexiteers satisfied.

What I’d really like to see, though, is the Metropolitan New Labour/Cameron remnants who think the EU is wonderful and the referendum an abomination forced to start their own party, in the same way UKIP was founded to represent those who wanted to leave. Thus far, they’ve assumed they can wrestle back control of the existing levers of power against the wishes of the people. Two anti-EU parties contesting a General Election would be the slap in the face they need to show them they’re no longer representative of the wider UK. There’s little that would make me happier than a bunch of whining London-based media types launching a party and seeing their ideas roundly ignored by all but themselves. They could even make Blair their leader.

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The French and Brexit

The other day I read a story in The Sun, which was repeated in The Express, saying French President Emmanuel Macron was threatening to blockade the port of Calais once Britain leaves the EU. I was going to write something in response but found no evidence in either article that Macron had said any such thing: it was merely speculation by some remainer politicians ramping up project fear.

It was nonsense, of course:

French officials have rejected suggestions they could resort to a “go-slow” policy at the port of Calais if there is no Brexit deal.

The UK’s Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab warned on Thursday of major disruption in a “worse case scenario”, which might force firms to use other ports.

But Xavier Bertrand, president of the Hauts-de-France region, said ensuring “fluidity” of trade was essential.

Another official said closing Calais would be an “economic suicide mission”.

As most of my readers know, I’ve been living in France since before the Brexit vote. Here’s the aggregate view of the French from where I’m standing: we don’t care. Now some might think the decision was stupid, but the French are no strangers to making silly decisions in what they perceive to be their national interest, and so can perfectly understand why a majority might have voted to leave. They also share the view of many mainland Europeans that Britain’s heart was never really in the EU project, they were always moaning and asking for opt-outs, and so perhaps they’re better off leaving. The subject of Brexit rarely even comes up; unsurprisingly, the French have other things to concern them.

So even if French politicians decided to punish Britain for leaving by causing chaos at the ports, this would be unpopular with ordinary Frenchmen who already take an exceptionally dim view of Macron. The French might burn a lorry load of British sheep on the motorway or illegally ban imports of British beef in order to protect their own industries, but they don’t hate the British to the point they want them punished over Brexit, let alone ports blocked which would hurt them as much as us.

Last weekend I met a bunch of Frenchmen to play some music, all of them over fifty. During the break the subject turned to politics, and they expressed their dissatisfaction with the ruling classes in France and Europe generally. I understand the younger generation have grown up brainwashed on EU propaganda, but rather than resenting Britain, I think a lot of French and other Europeans have more in common with Brexiteers than we think. Not that you’d know this listening to politicians or the media: their view of Europe comes from people of exactly the same privileged social class as them, only sitting in a different capital city. That they’re seriously suggesting the French are going to blockade Calais shows how little they know about the countries they’re fighting to maintain their partnership with.

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All Mouth, No Trousers

I’ve written before about the Republicans and Obamacare:

If we are to believe the words that come out of their mouths, the Establishment Republicans were vehemently opposed to Obamacare and longed for the day they could repeal it. But if that were the case, they would have spent the necessary time and effort to come up with a viable alternative and presented that to the public loudly and often during those five or six years that they were in opposition and Obamacare was in force. Only they didn’t: for all their talk in the election about repealing Obamacare, when it came to the job of actually coming up with an alternative, they didn’t have a clue.

I suspect the Establishment Republicans are terrified at having to come up with a genuine alternative because it will involve hard work and taking on the enormously powerful vested interests that make providing healthcare in America almost impossible.

I compared the above with the Tories’ dithering over Brexit, but 18 months on the comparison is even more apt. Here’s an article in The Telegraph:

Every weekend it’s the same. Theresa May is on the brink. Tory Brexiteers are poised to strike. They’re just two letters away from a vote of no confidence. The end is only days away. Mrs May is doomed.

And then… nothing happens.

Every weekend. Every single weekend. Honestly. The Prime Minister’s backbench critics like to call her “weak”. Perhaps they could tell us: what word should we use to describe people who endlessly declare they’re about to depose her, but never go through with it?

A few weeks ago, Boris Johnson looked poised to launch a leadership bid, depose the hapless May, and sit down with the EU for some serious negotiations on Brexit. Instead, as the article says, nothing happened. The contribution to Brexit of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the man in whom many placed their highest hopes, is to moan about things on Twitter. Even his biggest fans are unable to contain their disappointment:

If Johnson, David Davis, Rees-Mogg, and all the others wanted to be taken seriously they would have drawn up a document of what they would present to the EU, publish it, and be on every television show and in every newspaper talking about it non-stop. That would give people something to vote for, instead of holding out hope over some vague rumours that one of them is going to grow some balls and usurp Theresa May. Hell, the backbenchers should have been doing this since the morning after the vote. What else were they doing? They’re no different from Paul Ryan’s Republicans, moaning incessantly about Obamacare but when asked to present their alternative, they don’t even want to try.

This is a colossal failure on the part of the Conservative party, who deserve to be consigned to the dustbin of history. It’s also a colossal failure of the Labour party, who should have capitalised on this long ago instead of playing teenage Trots with the magic grandpa. But I suppose if there were any serious leaders in either the Conservatives or Labour, Theresa May would never have become Prime Minister and we’d not be in this mess in the first place. It’s hard to imagine a time when the political landscape was so bereft of anyone with an ounce of competence or leadership skills. I suppose we ought to be fortunate that, with a few exceptions, the EU members states are in much the same boat.

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The People’s F*ckup

On the subject of Brexit this is good, especially:

Meanwhile our elected representatives were doing no better, having been so softened by years of out sourcing decisions to the EU or arms reach quango’s that they had no vision nor skill of state craft to call upon, knowing only how to tinker with trivia whilst hoping no one rocked the boat they flailed around hoping that sound bites would once more get them through the day. These people we have for years elected to represent us, despite our wide-spread belief that they were dishonest, dishonourable and incompetent are revealed to be exactly as we judged them when we returned them to power time and again.

Read the whole thing.

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Brexit as a sideshow

I have an inkling that Brexit might be viewed by future scholars as the largest distraction in history. Consider this story:

The European Commission has told Italy to revise its budget, an unprecedented move with regard to an EU member state.

The Commission is worried about the impact of higher spending on already high levels of debt in Italy, the eurozone’s third-biggest economy.

Italy’s governing populist parties have vowed to push ahead with campaign promises including a minimum income for the unemployed.

The country now has three weeks to submit a new, draft budget to Brussels.

The Commission said the first draft represented a “particularly serious non-compliance” with its recommendations.

Now I knew some branch of the EU could fine countries if their budget deficits exceed certain thresholds, although the Stability and Growth Pact mysteriously got abandoned when it was France and Germany, rather than Spain and Portugal, that were found in breach. What I didn’t know is that EU member states had to submit their budgets to the EC for approval, and they could be rejected if they weren’t to the Mandarins’ liking. Now Italy has joined a club with certain rules, but how many Italians were aware their own elected government can have their budgets rejected by Germany the European Commission? Was this explicitly made clear by the politicians who signed them up, or are many only just finding out now? How many Brits were aware their governments’ budgets are subject to approval by Jean-Claude Juncker’s mob?

I once worked for a company who didn’t bother with job descriptions for many of its employees, and their employment contracts were shoddy at best. None of this mattered while things were going well and everyone was happy in their position, but as soon as circumstances changed these documents suddenly became rather important. Similarly, I don’t suppose the EC approving member states’ budgets was a problem so long as they just rubber-stamped them; now they’ve decided to reject Italy’s, the whole setup is going to get examined and I suspect it will be found wanting. I don’t know what the Italians will do, but this was their initial response:

“This is the first Italian budget that the EU doesn’t like,” wrote Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio on Facebook. “No surprise: This is the first Italian budget written in Rome and not in Brussels!”

His co-deputy PM Matteo Salvini added: “This doesn’t change anything.”

“They’re not attacking a government but a people. These are things that will anger Italians even more,” he said.

I doubt this will cause Italy to leave the EU, but it is one more enormous crack that has appeared in the whole edifice which those sitting atop the walls seem unwilling or unable to see. The EU’s censuring of Poland and Hungary is another example, as was their callous disregard for ordinary people in Greece. Britain leaving is a huge blow for the EU, but it’s not their most serious threat. That is populist governments getting elected in member states who then refuse to leave, but disobey, cause trouble, and eventually pull the whole thing down around them. If the EU Mandarins had any sense, they’d make the Brexit transition as painless as possible for both sides and get to work shoring up the foundations of what’s left. I have a feeling Brexit is just a sideshow for what’s coming.

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Portugal, Jobs, and Banks

I’m back from Portugal, where I spent almost the entire time in dingy bars watching the world cup and drinking heavily with an American mate, joined briefly by a Venezuelan ex-colleague who happened to be transiting in Lisbon airport on his way back to Angola. I saw a tiny bit of Porto and nothing at all of Lisbon, which made me rather glad I’d been there before. That said, I had a great time: catching up with friends and getting drunk in foreign countries is as good a holiday as any, even if it could just as well take place in your basement. The first thing I’ll do today is eat a vegetable: I don’t think I saw one the whole time I was there. I consumed copious amounts of pork, bacon, sausage, potato, and grease though. I was also offered, quite brazenly, all manner of illegal drugs in the street of Lisbon, something which didn’t happen last time.

Anyway, this morning I found this on my Twitter feed:

It’s the second story I find interesting. Leaving aside the high probability that not a single person working at The Times knows the first thing about fruit picking and they’re likely just repeating whatever they’ve been told, since when was a job being fun a requirement to taking one? It’s little wonder we rely on foreigners to pick fruit if the local youth are permitted to refuse jobs and collect welfare because the work being offered isn’t fun enough for them. Perhaps The Times, rather than engaging in Brexiit scaremongering, could have gone into the reasons behind this extraordinary sense of entitlement in today’s unemployed and reflected on their role in supporting the various governments under whose watch it developed.

Incidentally, the chap I was drinking with in Portugal works in banking and, according to him, the giant American banks are shifting thousands of jobs from London to Paris. I asked how they’d cope with the unions and labour laws, and he said they’ve done their homework and they’re simply not going to deal with the unions. If they run into any labour disputes, they’ll simply up and leave. I have every reason to believe what my friend says is accurate, but I suspect these banks have been lured in with promises of special dispensation and once they’re installed the reality is going to hit them right between the eyes. I wonder how long it will be before the CEO of an American bank realises by law he must form a work council:

Any company with at least 50 employees must set up a works council (CE). This committee is composed of representatives of the staff and trade unions, with a mandate of 4 years maximum. It is chaired by the employer. It has economic, social and cultural attributes. To carry out its missions, it has hours of delegation.

We’re not in London any more, Toto.

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Answering Questions Nobody Asked

Writing in Prospect Magazine, Oliver Kamm takes eight hundred words to explain what is obvious to most:

Public opinion is right. The government has no plan for Brexit because Leave campaigners themselves had no plan for it. Theresa May is winging it. There was no vote to leave the single market or the customs union, yet the prime minister insisted on a maximalist vision of departure from Europe that will require reimposing a hard Irish border and will damage economic growth by constraining flows of goods, services, investment and labour. May’s very act of triggering Article 50 when she didn’t know what her European policy was, as well as her vainglorious decision to hold an unnecessary election, has brought British policymaking to a state of stasis that inspires pity and derision among our European partners.

Yet there is no obvious appetite to revisit the referendum vote. Around two-thirds of voters (in the Comres poll) believe the country should accept Brexit and “move on.” What’s the explanation, given that the government doesn’t command public support or respect in its handling of the process?

So the public don’t like the way May’s government is handling Brexit, but they don’t want to reverse their decision to leave? Well yes. What they want is a government which handles Brexit competently. Is this so difficult to understand? When people complain about the state of the NHS, they’re not saying they don’t want healthcare. When the public complains about the way their local council handles rubbish collections, they’re not calling for rubbish collections to be abolished.

But Kamm, living as he does in a Metropolitan media bubble and heavily invested in the status quo of the Establishment (of which he is very much part), can’t understand this. What’s more, he’s assumed everyone else can’t either, so he’s penned this piece. He does offer us an explanation, however. The TL:DR version is:

Firstly, Leave voters are stupid and don’t understand the consequences of Brexit. Secondly, May and Corbyn are making it unreasonably difficult to simply reverse. If only the plebs were as smart as me.

Tell me I’m being unfair.

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If gates are left open, people will walk through them

This, from Brendan O’Neill, is worth a read:

[T]he political elites cannot come out and say ‘We no longer want Britain to be a democratic sovereign nation’. So they developed a pseudo-progressive language to describe and justify their weakening of British sovereignty. They claim to be post-borders. They argue that the nation state is over. They say any defence of the nation is nationalism, and nationalism is dangerous. They insist that in a globalised world it is futile to try to erect borders against flows of people or goods or capital, and so on. And they seem ignorant of the message that their anti-borders, anti-nation political myopia sends to both the British people and the world at large. It tells British people their views don’t really matter, certainly not as much as cleverer people in Brussels. And it tells the world that Britain is a pretty porous place, not really that keen on protecting its borders. That it is a post-country, effectively, beholden to external influence and flows rather than being assertively, democratically sovereign. Perhaps now we might think about the kind of message this self-denuding cult of post-nationhood sends to more confident nations like Russia.

Indeed, we should not be surprised that a nation whose political and intellectual elites continually say ‘We are post-nation and we are open to the flows and fluxes of the globe’ might also find itself more open to the opportunism of states that have scores to settle here. After all, we effectively said: ‘We have no borders.’

I have to say, having seen over the last few years acts of despicable violence carried out on British soil by people who were in every meaningful sense foreigners (and in some cases unequivocally so), I find the outrage over Russians running about killing people a little…inconsistent. If Putin were a little less pasty and a bit more Muslim, I doubt we’d be making such a fuss. I’d find all this tough talk over Russia a lot more convincing if we’d not been so pathetically weak in every other area of national security, protecting the public, and looking out for our long-term interests.

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Testing Times

Okay, so I’ve spent the morning trying to think of a reason why Putin would order this hit on Skirpal in a way that implicates Russia. Let’s look at something Jean said in the comments:

Quite simple people – as much as Putin would like to see NATO gone, he is far more interested in breaking up the EU. After the last expansion of both organizations, in 2004, he was asked whether he would cooperate with both and he replied that he couldn’t imagine not working with them. He changed his tune in 2005 after the EU commission starting talking about bringing an anti-trust case against Gazprom.

Perhaps unfairly I initially dismissed this, but let’s suppose he’s she’s right. From an outsider’s perspective, Britain and the EU are at each other’s throats, trading insults and seemingly as divided as ever as the Brexit negotiations lurch on in fits and starts. It may suit Putin to test the EU’s commitment to Britain and measure their hostility to Russia. Would the EU rush to Britain’s aid in the wake of a hostile Russian act, or will they mince their words and do nothing? The former would require principles and the belief that Russia is indeed a threat to Germany or France (the rest of the EU doesn’t count). The latter would be driven by EU hatred of Britain over Brexit and Germany’s considerable commercial interests in Russia. It’s not difficult to see how this will play out. I’d not be too surprised if Macron denounced Russia, whatever else you may think of the young French president, he doesn’t just say what everyone else wants him to. But this is weak sauce:

Mrs May spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday and “discussed the wide pattern of aggressive Russian behaviour and agreed that it would be important to continue to act in concert with allies to address it”, her spokesman said.

What allies? Germany? Heh.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the use of any nerve agent was “horrendous and completely unacceptable” and officials were in touch with the UK.

Downing Street said the incident was not an “article five” matter – a reference to Nato rules which say an attack on one member constitutes an attack on all.

No? Why not? I don’t think going to war with Russia is a good idea at all, but if this is a direct attack on the British people by the Russian government, as we are being told, then why does this not trigger Article 5? I know the answer: Article 5 is to be triggered only when it suits the geopolitical interests of the US. Which is fair enough, they’re the ones who will do the bulk of the nuking and the fighting.

So what will the Americans do? This is what the BBC reported:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US agreed with the UK that Russia was likely to be behind the attack.

“We agree that those responsible – both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it – must face appropriately serious consequences,” he added.

“We stand in solidarity with our allies in the United Kingdom and will continue to coordinate closely our responses.”

Naturally, many people who think any hesitation on Trump’s part to launch an all-out nuclear strike on Moscow is proof that he’s Putin’s puppet, but we can ignore these idiots even though they’re many in number. But I don’t see why America is under any obligation to get involved here. Britain isn’t a particularly great ally of the United States right now: the public have generated considerable noise in letting Donald Trump know he won’t be welcome should he visit the United Kingdom, and he should expect mass protests of a size not seen since the Iraq War demonstrations. John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, has publicly stated that he would oppose the current US president from addressing parliament, and both Theresa May and Amber Rudd saw fit to chastise Trump for daring to retweet a video which made Muslims look bad. Sadiq Khan seems to think the office of London’s mayor has a foreign policy element, and that should be directed at criticising Trump. Then yesterday a credible story circulated that an American citizen had been denied entry into the United Kingdom because her Austrian boyfriend says mean things about Muslims.

At this point, Donald Trump would be forgiven for thinking Britain should deal with its own problems for a change. The Russians have attacked you? Oh dear. Perhaps you ought to have focused on Russian agents running around your cities with nerve agents instead of endlessly insulting me and telling me what I can and cannot share on Twitter. If I’m honest, I hope he says just that (see bobby b’s comment here, too).

So this issue is going to severely test the relationship Britain has with the US, as well as what remains of their relationship with the EU. Even if Putin was not behind this attack, he will be paying serious attention to what each leader says, and what actions they’re prepared to support. It seems an overly complicated and risky way to go about it, but perhaps this was his plan all along? We’ve got to consider it. Let’s see what the Russians say today in response to May’s demand for an explanation. I may have to acknowledge Jean called this right from the start.

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