Jun 102017
 

As usual, the speech by Liberal Democrat party leader Tim Farron at the National Liberal Club after the General Election received little media coverage. The full transcript (see Mark Pack’s blog) is well worth reading. Here is the last part of it:

Nick Clegg is a giant of British politics, a friend and a hero to me and to countless others. Not only did he lead our party into government for the first time in generations, he did so in the most difficult of circumstances and for the most noble of reasons.

Our party paid a political price for joining the coalition government, but it is nothing compared to the price our country would have paid if Nick had not shown the steel and determination to do the right thing when it was needed most.

In 2010 our economy was on the edge of a precipice. Because of Nick Clegg it survived and flourished.

Theresa May called this election expecting it to be a coronation. She took each and every one of us for granted in the most cynical way possible. Like David Cameron before her, our Conservative Prime Minister rolled the dice and put the future of our country at risk out of sheer arrogance and vanity.

And now in her diminished state, she reaches out to the right to form her own coalition of chaos. Theresa May has done the opposite of what Nick Clegg did. She put her party before her country. She has been found out. She should be ashamed.

We will now have a government that is weaker and less stable at a time when we are about to embark on the most difficult and complex negotiations in our history. Theresa May promised strong and stable leadership. She has brought weakness and uncertainty. If she has an ounce of self-respect she will resign.

The Tories have taken our country for granted too many times. Whatever happens in this coming parliament, the Liberal Democrats will fight for you, your family and for your community.

And if Theresa May, or any other Conservative, approaches the Liberal Democrats and asks for our support to deliver their agenda, let me make our position clear: no deal is better than a bad deal.

There will be no deals, no coalitions and no confidence and supply arrangements. If the Government puts a Queen’s Speech or a Budget in front of us, we will judge it on whether or not we think it is good for the country – and if it isn’t then we will not support it.

This parliament faces a challenge greater than any for generations – Brexit. And yet, both the Conservatives and Labour went to great lengths to make sure this election was about anything but.

Their plans were paper thin. Their ambitions built on little more than platitudes. Now they must lay their cards on the table. Brexit is about to get very real – and its consequences will be felt by every single person in this country.

One thing that is clear from the result of the election is that the mandate Theresa May sought for her extreme version of Brexit has been rejected by the British people. It is simply inconceivable that the Prime Minister can begin the Brexit negotiations in just two weeks’ time. She should consider her future – and then, for once, she should consider the future of our country. The negotiations should be put on hold until the government has reassessed its priorities and set them out to the British public. The British people have a right to expect that our Prime Minister will explain to them what it is that she seeks to achieve.

Meanwhile, the negotiations had been due to begin on 19 June – the same day as the Queen’s Speech, in theory. This seems to be unlikely now.

Speaking on German radio, Commissioner Gunther Oettinger said the EU stands ready for Brexit talks, “but the next few hours or days will indicate if the other negotiating party can even begin talks because without a government, there can be no negotiations.”

Theresa May’s speech after returning from sharing her intention to try to form a Government with the Queen was as delusional as the promises of the Leave campaigners. Shortly after saying that she would be staying in power with the help of the 10 DUP MPs, DUP leader Arlene Foster said that they would enter talks to explore ‘how to bring stability to our nation’. Earlier in the morning, she had said that it would be difficult for Theresa May to continue as Prime Minister.

Since then, the world has been trying to work out what the DUP stands for. This is perhaps the most authentic analysis. In particular, “The DUP’s key concern is the effect of Brexit on the Irish border. Although the party is very pro-Brexit, they none the less want to allow travel and trade between the two parts of Ireland to continue unimpeded.

On 29 March 2017, Theresa May set the 2-year clock ticking on negotiating the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. It would have been less risky to have done so after having had a General Election but she decided to do it the other way around.

Ironically, the 27 other EU Member States are now more united and in a stronger negotiating position than the UK Government. Moreover, they have already put all their cards on the table (based on the broad intentions stated by Theresa May). The General Election result was a clear rejection of the ‘hard Brexit’ she had proposed.

Even with an agreement with the DUP, the Conservatives would have a tiny majority in Parliament. The chances of getting anything like a ‘Great Repeal Bill’ through Parliament as Theresa May had been proposing would seem to be remote. We should be grateful to Gina Miller’s Best for Britain campaign for contributing to preventing a Tory landslide. The question now is what all these pro-EU MPs should do.

Various things are on the horizon now for the Conservatives.

Having announced a deal with the DUP before she had actually negotiated it, Theresa May is now almost obliged to promise them whatever they ask for – including staying within the EU Customs Union to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is a poor negotiation strategy – one we should hope will not be applied in negotiations with the EU.

Some in Theresa May’s party already seem to be preparing to replace her. With all this going on, not to mention the possibility of another General Election after summer, it does not seem useful to start negotiating with the EU27. With the SNP, Lib Dems and Greens in Parliament all against Brexit, if they are joined by pro-EU Tories on a vote-by-vote basis, mathematically, the only way in which Brexit could happen is if Labour formed an alliance with the Tories.

Meanwhile, the Article 50 clock continues to tick. As long as a new Government is not formed, the Brexit negotiations will need to wait. And perhaps that could be an indefinite wait, in the absence of a strong and stable Government.

Let's make June the end of May

Jun 082017
 

On 6 June 1944, the largest seaborne invasion in history began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control and contributed to the Allied victory on the Western Front. Just over 73 years later, courtesy of Theresa May triggering the Article 50 procedure to leave the EU and calling today’s General Election, Britain now finds itself looking over the precipice, away from most of its allies.

The official exit poll predicts a hung parliament: 314 seats for the Conservatives and a possible 314 seats for a ‘progressive alliance’ of Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrats. The Brexit negotiations are due to resume next Tuesday and the UK already lost 4 weeks’ preparation time due to the General Election. The deadline to complete the negotiations remains 29 March 2019.

If the exit poll is close to being correct, the Conservatives could lose 16 of the 330 seats they had won in 2015. This is rather more than the condition Theresa May had set for leaving Jeremy Corbyn (or rather, in practice, Keir Starmer) to lead the Brexit negotiations.

Of course, the exit poll after the UK Referendum on 23 June 2016 had predicted the opposite result to the Leave vote which emerged by the morning. Still, for now, this does not appear to be the resounding mandate Theresa May had called for to enter the negotiations with the EU27 for the UK to leave the EU.

Some thoughts from Tagore:

Man loses his true stature when he fails to unite fully with his fellows. A complete man is one who has this capacity for union, a lone individual is a fragmented being. We know that a child dreads ghosts only when he is alone. This is the lone person’s fear of his own weakness. Most of our fears are replicas of this fear of ghosts. — The Co-operative Principle, 1928.

Jun 082017
 

As you will have understood from this series of blog posts, I will be dismayed but not surprised if Theresa May and the Conservatives win this General Election, in spite of all the gaffes and scandals which emerged during the election campaign. The song ‘Liar, Liar’ in the video above reached Number 2 in the UK music charts on Monday, in spite of being banned from being played by radio stations.

The future based on hate that Theresa May promises is not only outside the EU Customs Union without freedom of movement but also with a clampdown on the internet, a collapsed NHS, an unworkable approach to social care and an inadequately resourced approach to dealing with extremism and terrorism. In short, it is a dystopian future which few would want to be part of.

So why would people vote for it? I was reminded today that people’s level of trust in Government, judiciary and media has fallen sharply, particularly in the past year. They need someone they can believe in who could lead them through this. Hence Theresa May’s repeated use of the phrase ‘strong and stable leadership’ and branding the opposition as the ‘coalition of chaos’, whether in interviews, speeches and in campaign literature. She has also promised to fight injustice and make the UK ‘a country that works for everyone’. Although this encouraged some to refer to her as the ‘Maybot’, these repeated soundbites were no doubt deliberate from a psychological perspective.

As with the UK Referendum last year, we all suffer from three intrinsic biases: personal bias (influenced by our own experiences as we grew up), education bias (since western education focuses on reading, writing and arithmetic instead of opening the mind to learning) and media bias (where only extraordinary activities receive the attention of journalists). Unconventional ideas are rejected without analysis. This is how those who stir up people’s anger against the establishment gain their popularity. Of course, in this case, it is ironical that Theresa May is the establishment!

Perhaps the only unknown factor is whether young people will actually go and vote. If they do, they might save themselves (and the rest of us) from the authoritarian rule without human rights that Theresa May would like to have a mandate for.

In addition, with so many other problems facing people in the UK, it could have done without diverting scarce resources to negotiating Brexit – an expensive activity which I am sure will be regarded in years to come as an act of self harm by the UK. All to settle a catfight within the Conservative party that got out of hand, as the European Parliament’s Chief Negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, put it.

Maybe the UK will recover from the experience, one day sooner or later. Here is a poem from Tagore, as I near the end of this (almost daily) series of pre-election blog posts.

Through the troubled history of man
comes sweeping a blind fury of destruction
and the towers of civilisation topple down to dust.
In the chaos of moral nihilism
are trampled underfoot by marauders
the best treasures of Man heroically won by the martyrs for ages.
Come, young nations,
proclaim the fight for freedom,
raise up the banner of invincible faith.
Build bridges with your life across the
gaping earth blasted by hatred,
and march forward.
Do not submit yourself to carry the burden of insult upon your head,
kicked by terror,
and dig not a trench with falsehood and cunning
to build a shelter for your dishonoured manhood;
offer not the weak as sacrifice to the strong
to save yourself.

Jun 072017
 

After the London Bridge terrorist attack, Theresa May found the culprit – the internet:

“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed,” May said. “Yet that is precisely what the internet and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide.”

“We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning,” she continued. “We need to do everything we can at home to reduce the risks of extremism online.”

As I mentioned in my previous post, she seems to have found the need for more investigative powers rather than providing more police resources to investigate the information available with their existing powers. Maybe she should read the investigation into funding of extremist groups whose publication she appears to have blocked for the past two years … .

Seven years ago, media companies had the same idea to propose laws for the UK to control the internet and block disruption of their rather old business model. My contribution was to draft and submit a motion to the Spring conference of the Liberal Democrats on Freedom, creativity and the internet. Thanks to the support of a dedicated group of Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidates and activists led by Bridget Fox, Julian Huppert and Mark Pack, the motion was passed unanimously and remains the party’s policy. Subsequently, as MP for Cambridge, Julian Huppert successfully blocked Theresa May’s ‘Snooper’s Charter’ during the last Parliament. However, it became law after the Conservatives won the 2015 election.

Science fiction writer, journalist and digital rights activist Cory Doctorow has written this article for Boing Boing called Theresa May wants to ban crypto: here’s what that would cost, and here’s why it won’t work anyway. It says more eloquently than I could what I had intended to say about this. If you click on the image above, you can sign up to support the Liberal Democrats’ campaign to ‘Save the Internet‘ (again).

Tagore’s most famous poem from the English Gitanjali expresses why Theresa May’s ‘Thought police’ idea is the antithesis of what he believed:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Jun 052017
 

In my previous post, I asked whether controlling immigration would make the UK and better, safer place.

The other belief stirred by certain UK politicians and media is that controlling immigration from the EU would reduce the risk of terrorism. Really? 52-year-old Khalid Masood, who carried out the Westminster Bridge attack in March, was born in Kent. 23-year-old Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who attacked the Manchester Arena last weekend, was born in Manchester. Both had been reported to the security services for their beliefs. This analysis illustrates how Salman Abedi fitted the profile of other terrorists.

In the wake of Saturday night’s London Bridge attack, Theresa May said yesterday that “terrorism breeds terrorism“. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that extremism breeds extremism.

Most of us cannot imagine how anyone could attack fellow human beings with vans, knives or bombs. However, in Tagore’s Nationalism in the West speech a hundred years ago, he noted that:

When we are fully human, we cannot fly at one another’s throats; our instincts of social life, our traditions of moral ideals stand in the way. If you want me to take to butchering human beings, you must break up that wholeness of my humanity through some discipline which makes my will dead, my thoughts numb, my movements automatic, and then from the dissolution of the complex personal man will come out that abstraction, that destructive force, which has no relation to human truth, and therefore can be easily brutal or mechanical.

Take away man from his natural surroundings, from the fullness of his communal life, with all its living associations of beauty and love and social obligations, and you will be able to turn him into so many fragments of a machine for the production of wealth on a gigantic scale. Turn a tree into a log and it will burn for you, but it will never bear living flowers and fruit. This process of dehumanising has been going on in commerce and politics.

It seems to be time to ‘follow the money’ on this issue. Last week, Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, called on Theresa May to publish a report into the foreign funding of extremism in the UK. He reminded her that Saudi Arabia “provides funding to hundreds of mosques in the UK, often espousing a hard-line version of Islam”.

Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary

He said, “The Conservatives have broken their pledge to investigate funding of violent Islamist groups in the UK, seemingly because they were worried about upsetting their dodgy allies in the Middle East.” Home Secretary Amber Rudd had said during last week’s Leaders’ Debate that arms sales to Saudi Arabia were good for industry.

Tom Brake added, “This short-sighted approach needs to change. It is critical that these extreme, hardline views are confronted head on, and that those who fund them are called out publicly.

“If the Conservatives are serious about stopping terrorism on our shores, they must stop stalling and reopen investigations into foreign funding of violent extremism in the UK.”

After the Brussels attacks just over a year ago, our friend Leo Cendrowicz investigated in this article for the Independent how Saudi Arabia’s influence and a deal to get oil contracts sowed seeds of radicalism in Belgium. According to Belgian opposition politician George Dallemagne, Salafist clerics at the Great Mosque of Brussels have tried to undermine attempts by Moroccan immigrants to integrate into Belgium.

“We like to think Saudi Arabia is an ally and friend, but the Saudis are always engaged in double-talk: they want an alliance with the West when it comes to fighting Shias in Iran, but nonetheless have a conquering ideology when it comes to their religion in the rest of the world,” he said.

Mr Dallemagne has sponsored many resolutions in the Belgian parliament aimed at loosening ties with Saudi Arabia, and reducing the Salafist influence in Belgium. “We can’t have a dialogue with countries that want to destabilise us,” he says. “The problem is that it is only recently that authorities are finally opening their eyes to this.”

As Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has pointed out, Theresa May rejected warnings from the police that cutting police numbers would increase the risk of terrorist attacks and that her Prevent anti-terrorism community engagement strategy is not trusted. And, of course, when all else has failed, the superficially easy solution is to propose to control the internet.

To return to Tagore’s Shyama, with which I ended in my previous post, after Shyama hears why Bojroshen has been imprisoned, the Companions sing about the oppression of the innocent:

The locking up of the good at the hands of the cruel – who will stop it? Who?
The flow of tears from helpless, distressed eyes – who will wipe them away? Who?
The cries of distressed people sadden Mother Earth.
The attacks of injustice are poisoned arrows –
Under persecution from the strong, who will save the weak?
Whose generosity will call those who have been insulted into his embrace?

Jun 052017
 

News of Saturday night’s terrorist attack on London Bridge emerged just as I was finishing this post. I decided to defer its publication and return to the topic of terrorism in my next post.

UK Border Control at Eurotunnel Calais

This was the UK Border Control at the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais on Friday night. Every single vehicle is stopped and passports of all the occupants are checked and scanned. For over 20 years, I have crossed this border many times when driving between Brussels and London.

However, for most Europeans, this type of border post is an unusual sight.  Since the Schengen Agreement was signed over 30 years ago, between most of the other Member States, you hardly notice the border as you drive through it on the motorway. The Schengen Area now covers 26 countries including Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Only Ireland and the UK have opted out of the Schengen Area, which is why this border post exists. Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania are currently preparing to join the Schengen Area. This video illustrates what it is like to jog between two countries without border controls: Belgium and the Netherlands.

The experience at Calais has changed over the years and became especially sad in 2014-15 when refugees camped at the nearby ‘Jungle’ would try each night to smuggle themselves onto a Eurotunnel Shuttle. Several of them lost their lives in the attempt and there was a time when we would see some of them (usually men) making the two-hour trek in small groups in the dark along the motorway hard shoulder as cars and lorries whizzed past them, sometimes jumping into slow moving lorries. We have not seen any of them for over a year but the triple fencing topped with barbed wire and bright floodlights around the Eurotunnel terminal area are still there.

It seems hard to imagine that this border could be any more difficult to get through if the UK were to leave the EU. The only thing that might happen is that this border control, complete with the No Man’s Land between it and the French border control, might itself be sent back to the UK by France’s newly-elected President. The squalid conditions of the Calais Jungle have been an embarrassment for France and Calais in particular.

One of the main arguments of Leave campaigners was that the UK needed to “take back control” of its borders. Take another look at the photo above. The UK already has control of its borders. What they meant is that the UK should be able to refuse entry to whoever it wants. And it cannot do that to EU citizens … although benefits to EU citizens face some restrictions if they are unemployed for more than 3 months.

In September 2015, Hugo Dixon analysed whether or not the UK would have better control of its borders inside or outside the EU. He drew attention to the Dublin Regulation, under which “the country where asylum seekers arrive has to process their applications. If it grants them asylum, it is responsible for looking after them. The refugees are not free to travel where they like. But if they do end up somewhere else in the EU, that country can then send them back to the country where they first sought asylum.”

Nonetheless, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have both advocated excluding the free movement principles of the EU. The remarkably united reaction of the EU27 has been to refuse access to the Single Market without the free movement principles.

If the UK is outside the Customs Union, the Calais border control would shift to Dover and there would be no possibility to send refugees back to another EU Member State where they had claimed asylum – something which the UK had done with 12,000 refugees between 2003 and 2015. Regarding another border between the UK and the rest of the EU, EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier has said he will try to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. However, this may prove difficult as “customs controls are part of EU border management”.

Thanks to Leave campaigners, many people in the UK have been given the impression that controlling immigration would reduce pressure on the NHS and other public services, make more jobs available to Brits, avoid taxpayers’ money being abused by immigrants claiming benefits and reduce the risk of terrorism. Each of these beliefs is not supported by the statistics. In addition, the eligibility rules for benefits for EU nationals were tightened in 2014 and confirmed by the European Court of Justice as being in line with EU law.

And yet, for some years even as Home Secretary, Theresa May has been pushing an arbitrary and hitherto seemingly unachievable target for net migration. Could it be that the anti-immigration rhetoric of certain UK politicians has fanned the flames of terrorism?

My first feature-length film was Rabindranath Tagore’s dance-drama Shyama. In it, Tagore addresses a number of issues which are as topical today as they were in 1939, when he wrote Shyama. A year earlier, Tagore had written Prayashchiththo (Penance), which reflected his deep concern with both the increasingly turbulent atmosphere in pre-Independence India and the rise of Hitler in Europe.

In Shyama, in casting the character of Bojroshen as a foreign merchant, Tagore may have been referring to the persecution of Jews by Hitler at that time. When Shyama asks why Bojroshen has been imprisoned, the King’s Guard replies:

There has been a theft in the Royal Treasury.
We need a thief, no matter how, we need a thief.
It doesn’t matter if it’s just any man, we need a thief.
Otherwise we will lose our honour.
Who better to accuse than a foreigner … ?
Jun 022017
 

While preparing to turn Brits into Europe’s untouchables, Theresa May spoke to President Trump and expressed her “disappointment” that he had just binned the Paris Climate Accord. Meanwhike, the leaders of France, Germany and Italy warned the US President that the Paris Agreement could not be renegotiated.

French President Emmanuel Macron recorded this speech in a language which the problem child running the US could understand:

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also explained the situation during a discussion in German:

Meanwhile, weak-and-wobbly Theresa May probably felt that she could not afford to upset President Trump. What if that could damage trade relations with the UK’s second biggest trading partner after the EU? After all, who else would trade with the UK after the ‘hard Brexit’ from the EU that she has been advocating?

Of course, there’s always scope for arms deals with Saudi Arabia. During Wednesday evening’s leaders’ debate, when challenged by Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas about why the UK was selling arms to countries on the UK’s Human Rights watchlist, Amber Rudd (substituting for the debate-allergic Theresa May) observed that these were good for industry.

As the saying goes, beggars can’t be choosers – “people with no other options must be content with what is offered“. And yes, thanks to David Cameron’s need to solve a problem within the Conservative Party and fend off the threat to it from UKIP, the UK is now set to have no other option but to sacrifice any moral principles it may once have had. It’s not exactly the best starting point for negotiating with the EU … .

Rabindranath Tagore first became concerned about man’s impact on the environment after seeing an oil spill at sea on his way to Japan in 1916. This was decades before an environmental movement emerged in the West. Over 100 years later, President Trump still fails to get it – unlike the leaders of almost every other country in the planet, except Syria and Nicaragua. President Trump’s short term aim of creating a few jobs in the US coal industry in places like Pittsburgh somehow became a higher priority.

We’ll always have Pittsburgh – New Yorker cartoon by Kim Warp

And yet the two biggest drivers of the migration of which President Trump and Theresa May are so fearful are war and climate change. As former US Vice-President Al Gore pointed out recently, climate change helped cause Brexit. The civil war in Syria followed the worst drought there for 900 years, which forced 1.5 million people to move from the countryside to the cities. Then popular nationalists started to use psychological operations techniques to play with people’s fears.

Following the announcement by President Trump to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk resigned from his involvement in the presidential councils.

In a speech at Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in Berlin a couple of years ago, he had noted that: “Today’s refugee problem is perhaps a small indication of what the future will be like if we do not take action with respect to climate change,” stated Musk during the recent speech. “Today, the challenge is in terms of millions of people, but in the future, based on what the scientific consensus is, the problem will be in the hundreds of millions and much more severe.”

Jun 012017
 

Andrew Neil “interviews” Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron

With Brexit-vision, intolerance seems to have become the ‘new normal’. Take, for example, the so-called “interview” of Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron this evening by Andrew Neil. You can read the full transcript on the Spectator blog (remembering that Andrew Neil is the chairman of the Spectator, among other things).

There was a time when interviewers used to ask questions and listened to the reply before following it up. If the reply was drifting away from the question, of course, the interviewer should intervene. Maybe Newnight’s Jeremy Paxman was the first to develop this more aggressive TV interviewing style. Even so, if the interviewer does more talking than the interviewee, maybe it ceases to be an interview?

It seems that Brexit-vision has led to the phenomenon that Tagore described in his speech Nationalism in the West: “the idea of the Nation is one of the most powerful anaesthetics that man has invented. Under the influence of its fumes the whole people can carry out its systematic programme of the most virulent self-seeking without being in the least aware of its moral perversion, – in fact feeling dangerously resentful if it is pointed out.”

Meanwhile, after hiding behind her settee last night, Theresa May emerged to present her Brexit-vision, as did Jeremy Corbyn. Considering that neither of them have a plan for Brexit or indeed any vision which acknowledges the real impact of Brexit, their ability to waffle as if life for British people will continue as normal is impressive. The BBC perceived a “clash” but the difference between their policies is fairly marginal, especially since both are playing to the now fashionably intolerant Brexiteer voters. The “clash” was rather that they just hurl personal abuse at each other – in the truly constructive tradition of Labour and Conservative politicians.

Theresa May also avoided journalists’ questions.

Of course, many on social media were asking  “where’s Theresa” yesterday evening. After Tim Farron picked up on this during yesterday evening’s debate, he asked the audience “Where do you think Theresa May is? She might be outside your house sizing it up to pay for your social care.” Labour student Christopher Knott and his friend Christian Calgie, a Conservative supporter, decided to check that she wasn’t on their doorstep.

Even the official Twitter account of the US TV series House of Cards joined in:

Of course, the US House of Cards has been struggling lately to present its viewers with something even more scary than the actions of the real US President.

May 312017
 

As Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas pointed out this evening: “The first rule of leadership is to show up”. Apart from Theresa May, the leaders of all the major political parties (plus UKIP) took part this evening in the only televised Leaders’ Debate of the UK General Election campaign. Amber Rudd, whose father passed away on Monday, was obliged to represent the absent Conservative “leader”.

Looking back a year ago, during the EU Referendum campaign, Theresa May sat on the fence and only eventually emerged to support the Remain campaign.

David Cameron resigned after the Referendum. As the Conservatives’ main Leave campaigner, Boris Johnson appeared to be the most likely successor to lead the Conservative Party … until Michael Gove stepped into the race, somewhat treacherously. With these two safely out of the way, Theresa May became the Conservative leader and Prime Minister without any election.

This reminded me of the rise of the “hero” of the BBC’s House of Cards political series, Francis Urquhart – although there was at least a leadership election in the fictional story.

UrquhartNot feeling guilty, I hope. If you have pangs of pity, crush them now. Grind them under your heel like old cigar butts. I’ve done the country a favour. He didn’t have the brain or the heart or the stomach to rule a country like Great Britain. A nice enough man, but there was no bottom to him. … So let’s not indulge ourselves in any squeamishness — alright? Because this… is just the start.

Theresa May then appointed Leave campaigners David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox to take care of Brexit and the UK’s international relations. As their campaign had been based largely on undeliverable promises, it was a bit like leaving the Keystone Cops to reorganise the police force.

Before doing that, she could have called a General Election to obtain a democratic mandate. But she didn’t.

After doing that, she could have launched a debate in Parliament about what to do in the light of the Referendum. But she didn’t.

Instead, while sterling continued to trade around 10% below its value before the Referendum, she did nothing. Eventually, she started repeating the meaningless phrase “Brexit means Brexit”. Perhaps she wanted to put people into a trance … .

She also fought a court case to require Parliament to decide on launching the Article 50 procedure, and not just her. When she ultimately lost at the Supreme Court, she rushed a back-of-the-envelope Act through Parliament.

Then, a few days after triggering the Article 50 negotiations, she called a General Election. She presented herself as a ‘strong and stable’ leader and taunted her opponents as the ‘coalition of chaos’.

Meanwhile, the Keystone Cops have shown little evidence of having a plan.

Some pointed out on social media that someone else had once promised strong and stable leadership back in the late 1920s. And people voted for it.

All this and various U-turns during the election campaign so far suggest that Theresa May is far from strong and stable. Rather, she seems to be cold, calculating, controlling, secretive and closed. Together with the Keystone Cops, they look like the real coalition of chaos leading the UK over the Brexit cliff, while forcing the elderly to pay for their social care and axing free school lunches for primary schoolchildren … although they would offer children free breakfasts – kind of.

May 302017
 

Former MEP Andrew Duff is credited with the formulation of “Article 50”. He has written a fascinating 4-page discussion paper entitled Brexit: Time for plan B for the Brussels-based European Policy Centre.

The likely disagreement

He analyses the diametrically opposed negotiating positions of the UK and the EU27 (links to which I included in my blog post yesterday). He reminds us of Theresa May’s vacuous ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’ soundbite, which is as uncosted as the Conservative party manifesto.

He concludes that the talks between the UK and the EU27 could break down before they reach the end of Phase 1 – namely “sufficient progress” being made on agreeing the principles of the three key issues regarding citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and maintaining a soft border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“No deal”

In that case, the UK would leave the EU at midnight on 29 March 2019 (2 years after Theresa May’s Article 50 notification letter) without any agreement or transitional arrangements. You only need to look at the trade data to realise that the UK would have a lot more to lose than the EU27 if this were indeed to happen.

In 2014, total exports of goods and services to the EU were £228,893 million and total exports of goods and services worldwide were £515,191 million. This made exports to the EU 44.4% of the total. The US is our next biggest export market, accounting for 17% of the total. – The Pink Book, Office for National Statistics, October 2015, Table 9.3.

From midnight on 29 March 2019, the UK would then trade with the EU under WTO rules. The implications of that were set out in the UK Government’s pre-Referendum paper Alternatives to membership: possible models for the UK outside the EU :

  • WTO rules represent a minimum threshold. It would be the most definitive break with the EU, offering no preferential access to the Single Market, no wider co-operation on crime or terrorism, no obligations for budgetary contributions or free movement of people.
  • If we did not manage to secure an agreement on better terms, we would be forced to revert to this model. This would cause a major economic shock to the UK, with serious consequences for companies, consumers, jobs and prices.
  • The UK would face immediate and heavy costs to our trading relationships, both with the EU and with the wider world. If reciprocal tariffs were introduced on imports from the EU, these goods would become more expensive.
  • UK nationals would not have the rights that they currently enjoy to live, work and travel in the EU.
  • Under WTO rules neither the UK nor the EU could offer each other better market access than that offered to all other WTO members.
  • Our privileged access to 53 markets outside the EU through the EU’s Free Trade Agreements would be terminated. We could seek to negotiate new agreements, but this would take years. It would be difficult to replicate the terms that we currently enjoy.

Moreover, the UK would no longer be a member of the European Investment Bank and, if it fails to pay what it owes to the EU, which other country is ever likely to trust it with a trade deal?

The rosy ambition of the Leave campaigners for the UK to negotiate trade agreements with its former colonies presumes that the latter have forgotten their past, usually-unhappy experiences under UK rule. Shashi Tharoor’s comments at the Oxford Union a couple of years ago (see the 15-minute video above) illustrate why these former colonies fought for their independence from the UK to “take back control”.

Even Brexit Minister David Davis has said that “If we fail, the consequences for working people will be dire.”

The only plan B which could save working people in the UK from Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn

At a live event in Brussels earlier this month, Martin Selmayr, the Head of Cabinet of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, was asked (see the video of the event from 43:15) whether a new UK Government could withdraw the Article 50 notification made by its predecessor. His reply was that it could not be withdrawn unilaterally without the agreement of the other Member States but that, if that situation were to arise, the other Member States would probably not insist that the notification could not be withdrawn.

For the UK, this would seem to be the only viable Plan B which would be in the best interests of the country. After a Referendum called in the best interests of the Conservative party (not the country) and a General Election called in the best interests of the Conservative party and Theresa May (not the country), this plan B could only happen if there is a majority of anti-Brexit MPs elected to the House of Commons on 8 June.

Come to think of it, since neither Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn seem to have much of a plan for Brexit, shouldn’t this be the UK’s plan A?

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