Petty Cash

This is dumb:


The convention has always been that EU countries do not charge citizens of other EU countries for any registration or regularisation process, nor do they charge for visas and residency cards for non-EU spouses of EU citizens. I expect this was done because the marginal cost of waiving the fees is vastly outweighed by not having millions of people bitching about having to pay to exercise their rights under EU law.

With Britain set to leave the EU, the Home Office needs to come up with a way of regularising the presence of approximately 3m EU citizens who currently have a right to be there. A simple registration process is the best way to go about it – sorry, mass deportations are not going to happen – and it is in everyone’s interests to make this as painless as possible. Imposing a £65 charge was stupid to begin with, and scrapping it the most sensible thing to do: it would cause far more resentment than it’s worth, and £200m is chump-change considering half the country seem happy to hand over £39bn without so much as a parliamentary debate. It comes across as petty and vindictive, and makes for very bad politics.

France has advised all British citizens to apply for a residency permit within 1 year of March 29th, and is not charging them a processing fee. From what I’ve seen, their approach has been calm, measured, and sensible. Perhaps some Frenchmen have taken to Twitter demanding Brits be charged 65 euros for the trouble, but if so I’ve not seen them. Unlike certain Brits, I don’t think the average Frenchman is interested in punishing foreigners for being caught up in political events outside their control.

Yesterday I submitted my documents on the second attempt, and at least this time it was successful. It wasn’t without complications, though. Firstly, I got a different fonctionnaire, so of course the required list of documents changed. Fortunately, I’d brought “spare” documents with me just for this eventuality, and two of them were needed. Secondly, when I handed over my income tax statements – which are not on any list, but nevertheless a requirement – I was told they were incomplete. I opened up the French tax website, logged into my account, and showed her exactly what was available for me to print. She looked blank and said “normally there are several pages” and “I need the one they sent to your home”. I said I don’t receive paper copies, I’d opted for the electronic version only and this is all I have. So she processed my application, gave me the receipt, but told me I had to come back with my proper tax statements which I could get from a building over the road. Fortunately Annecy is small, and everything beside each other.

I crossed the road, bracing myself for a battle with bureaucrats in the tax office; the prefecture closed in half an hour, and I had no appetite for coming back another day. I spoke to the lady at reception and explained everything, and she said “Oh yes, there’s a room over there where you can log in and print it out.” To my astonishment, there was: a room with two or three computers and a printer which cost nothing to use. I logged into the tax website and discovered that while everything else was identical, there were more pages to my tax statements when going through their own system. Weird, but I didn’t care: I printed everything off, crossed the road back to the prefecture, and handed them in at the counter I’d been sat at 15 minutes before. Job done, I think.

Everything in France is either insanely complicated or surprisingly easy and you have no idea which it will be until you try it. This was a mixture of both, but at least they didn’t charge me. Britain shouldn’t charge EU citizens either.

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Miller-Domi Baby

So let me get this straight. The British people voted to leave the EU in the June 2016 referendum. Gina Miller, a random person who didn’t want Britain to leave, challenged the authority of the government to invoke Article 50 without primary legislation subject to a parliamentary vote, and won. A little later, Dominic Grieve, a Tory MP who also didn’t want Britain to leave, attempted to scupper a hard Brexit by ensuring parliament has a “meaningful vote” on any final agreement negotiated with the EU. At the time, both Miller’s victory and the requirement for a meaningful vote were seen as setbacks for those wishing to leave the EU.

Only now it is the meaningful vote that has scuppered an agreement which would have seen the UK remain tied to the EU in perpetuity. Had this meaningful vote not been imposed, Theresa May’s government could have unilaterally signed the agreement and outflanked all but the most concessionary of Brexiteers. The European Court has ruled that Britain can withdraw Article 50 unilaterally but, thanks to Gina Miller’s fine efforts, that will almost certainly have to be done via primary legislation subject to another parliamentary vote, which would fail.

If Britain does indeed leave with no deal on 29th March of this year, I believe hard Brexiteers ought to crowdfund a bronze statue of Gina Miller and Dominic Grieve for services to their cause. It could never have been done without them, and they are owed a debt of gratitude.

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Sam Hooper on Brexit

This, on the subject of Brexit, is an excellent post:

Spare a thought for poor Ryan Heath of Politico EU. He simply finds Brexit – and specifically Britain’s ongoing debate about the nature and timing of our departure from the European Union – too boring to deal with anymore.

I’m very sorry that Ryan Heath finds Brexit so boring, and one country’s lonely attempt to address the preeminent challenge of the early 21st century a bothersome distraction from the true job of a Politico journalist – breathlessly reporting court gossip and revealing who was spotted dining with who at whichever Michelin-starred restaurant in Brussels or Strasbourg.

And:

If Ryan Heath spent less time airily declaring his boredom, he might dwell on the fact that Brexit – in all its halting, stop-start awkwardness – is the first significant attempt by any country to answer the question of how a modern nation state can reconcile the technocratic demands of global trade with the need to preserve meaningful democracy. On this key question, Britain is currently the laboratory of the world. No other first-tier country has dared to touch the subject with a ten-foot bargepole.

Ryan Heath thinks that Britain has made a fool of herself by taking the plunge and voting for Brexit in an attempt to address these looming challenges. That may be so. But what has any other country done to address the pressing challenge of adapting democracy to work in a globalized world? What has the United States done under Trump? Germany under “leader of the free world” Angela Merkel? Or France under the establishment’s beloved Emmanuel Macron?

It is easy to laugh and cast judgments at Brexit’s many pitfalls and the…significant intellectual and personality flaws of those who claim to be leading and speaking for it. But it is much less funny when one is forced to acknowledge that other countries still have their heads in the sand and are not even attempting to answer these increasingly existential questions, despite facing exactly the same democratic pressures and rifts as Britain.

Go and read the whole thing.

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Time to get serious

I’m disappointed but not surprised to wake up this morning to find Theresa May is still leading the Conservative Party, having seen off a vote of no confidence by a 2:1 ratio. In my opinion Theresa May is an appalling prime minister even if you disregard Brexit: she’s a nannying, authoritarian, dimwit with no vision, no principles, and no charisma who sees the British population as little more than a nuisance. Add to that her handling of the Brexit negotiations – which appear to be a mixture of devious cunning where Britain’s interests were concerned, and incompetence and capitulation in front of Barnier et al. – resulting in a deal which nobody is happy with, and she is likely to go down as the worst PM anyone can recall. That nobody among the ruling classes can mount a challenge to her, either within the party or from the opposition benches, almost beggars belief.

But like I said, I’m not surprised. The yawning chasm that’s opened up between the ruling classes and the majority population has been evident for some time, and that 200 Tory MPs have given their blessing to Theresa May and her Brexit deal merely confirms the people’s parliamentary representatives have no intention of representing anyone’s interests but their own. In some ways, last night’s vote is a good thing in that it may ram  home this point to those who for some reason thought differently. How anyone still believed it having watched Blair and Cameron rule Britain for a combined 16 years is anyone’s guess, but here we are. In short, May winning the vote demonstrates how utterly bereft of talent and competence Britain’s ruling classes have become, and it’s interesting to look at why.

Those 16 years I mentioned earlier explains a lot about where we are now. Both Blair and Cameron epitomised prime ministers for whom the big decisions over governance were solved by a combination of a collapsed Soviet Union, unprecedented wealth due to globalisation, and a handing over of major policies to the EU. Neither man had to tackle a single, difficult domestic issue: even the NI peace process was mostly wrapped up by the time Blair took office, allowing him to claim credit for it. From 1997 onwards, Britain was rich, peaceful, and faced no serious threats – except, in hindsight, from its own government. This allowed people like Blair and Cameron, who lacked any principles save for a desire to be in power, to tinker and meddle and make changes on the fly, many of which had devastating consequences down the line. Where previous prime ministers had to deal with the Soviet-backed communism, independence of the colonies, general strikes, deindustrialisation, and the oil embargo Blair and Cameron busied themselves banning foxhunting, creating thousands of new petty crimes, foisting political correctness on critical institutions, and micromanaging people’s lives. And while they did this, the majority of the population didn’t weep with despair and head abroad like I did – they stood and cheered, and said “Ooh, what a nice man!” Until Blair joined in with the wrecking of Iraq, anyway.

The irony is many of those people who voted for Blair and Cameron are now bitterly disappointed at the current situation, both leavers and remainers who think May’s deal is abhorrent, albeit for opposite reasons. Well, what did they expect? The British population allowed the ruling classes to be captured by a bunch of wet, unprincipled, and not especially bright charlatans, and were happy to let them rule provided they were doing all right regardless of the long-term costs. Whenever somebody with even a whiff of intelligence, backbone, or principles showed up on the political scene, the middle classes would clutch their pearls and launch into a frenzy of virtue-signaling (nowadays they just start shrieking about Nazis). And now, finally, the British ruling classes have been given a genuinely difficult, statesman’s task and they are simply not up to it: May has proven hopeless, and her closest rivals can’t even inspire enough colleagues to get rid of her. What does that tell you about the substance of Johnson and Rees-Mogg?

It’s time the British public got serious. Over the next few months the ruling classes will be found wanting once more, unable to make difficult decisions: May’s deal probably won’t pass a parliamentary vote, and a general election will be called where people are given a choice of another loser Tory or Jeremy Corbyn. This will being about a disaster no matter who wins, and this might – might – bring to the fore a different sort of politician, one we haven’t seen for a long time in Britain. How the population reacts will be crucial, and there will be howls of anguish from the metropolitan elites and a subsection of the middle classes who would prefer politicians stick to banning sugary drinks and shutting down hate speech on Twitter than actually governing. These voices will need to be shouted down with full force if Britain is going to change. But I’m not even sure it wants to.

In short, the public are going to have to start making difficult decisions. The trouble is, like Blair and Cameron, they’ve never had to. Can they learn? Time will tell, but if they can’t they might as well stay in the EU and let someone else rule over them. It’s going to be a testing twelve months.

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Conflicts of interests

Nothing in this report surprises me:

A rift was growing between Britain and key allies yesterday as European diplomats pushed back on calls for a firmer response to Russia’s weekend naval clash with Ukraine. The fracture in the Western alliance sets the stage for tense exchanges when European, US, and Russian leaders meet at a G20 summit in Argentina later this week.

Anyone want to guess where the fault lines lie? Here’s one side:

Britain, Poland, and the Baltic States have urged other members of the EU 28 to impose extra measures when existing sanctions against Russia are renewed in December.

The calls have been backed by the US.

And here’s the other:

France and Germany, which brokered a ceasefire and tentative peace accord between Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and Petro Poroshenko, the leader of Ukraine, in 2015, are understood to fear such a move could split the bloc and further inflame tensions.

So much for solidarity over the Skripal poisoning, then. One of the most bizarre spectacles in recent times has been the European media and its gullible consumers portraying Merkel and Macron as standing up for Europe against the Putin bogeyman, while Trump is portrayed as a Russian puppet. Yet whenever it comes to actual policy, Germany and France fall over themselves to avoid anything which might damage the commercial interests of their major firms in Russia, and the same media utters not a peep.

Regardless of what the correct approach to Russia is, the double-dealing on the part of Germany and France – saying one thing, doing the other – is inexcusable. Last week Macron was saying he wants an EU army to protect against, among other things, Russian aggression. Merkel’s approach to NATO, Trump, and Russia requires contortions which are seriously impressive for a woman of her age. The hypocritical, self-serving behaviour of France and Germany who, when it suits them, demand ever-more cooperation and integration from smaller EU states is one of the strongest arguments in favour of Brexit.

On that subject, I’m reminded of something I wrote in a post in April last year:

The Baltic states are completely reliant on Nato to keep the Russians out, which in this case means the United States. However, in diplomatic terms (and probably  a token military one as well) it also means the Brits. If we can imagine a scenario in a few years time when the Russians are massing tanks and troops on the borders of Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania on some pretext and revving the engines noisily, Britain will be one of the countries they will be pleading with to intervene (meaning, persuade the United States to intervene). How Britain responds ought very much to depend on how the Baltic states behaved during the Brexit negotiations.

I’ve noticed that Estonians and Lithuanians have said very little during the Brexit negotiations, and the Latvians have been urging caution. I’m sure it’s occurred to them that with Britain out of the EU they suddenly become a lot more vulnerable to malign Russian influence, be it commercial or even military.

This is why I think the EU will ultimately fail. The European continent, and the islands off it, do have genuine shared interests and concerns but the EU is structured along very different lines. These conflicts are now coming to a head, and at some point in the near future people are going to be asked hard questions as to which alliances matter most to them. I expect it will take some pretty ugly scenes before they find an answer.

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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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