“No deal” is easy

Philip Hammond, the chancellor, has said it is “terrifying” that one of Boris Johnson’s close allies, Jacob Rees-Mogg, believes a no-deal Brexit will boost the economy.

Look, this is not difficult.

Leave tomorrow with no deal. Declare unilateral free trade. Watch the economy grow. Preferably abolish corporation tax and get to work abolishing regulations, too. “Trade deals” are unnecessary since people trade with people and all governments can do is get in the way.


Ursula von der Leyen

Guido reports on Nigel Farage’s response to Ursula von der Leyen, the former German defence minister, nominated by the European Council as president of the European Commission, now seeking confirmation from the European Parliament. He makes various accusations. Politico has extensive commentary on the subsequent debate. Her opening statement is recorded on Europa.eu.

Some things I have been able to glean:

  • She wants to ratchet carbon emission reductions. I think that in a growing economy this will happen anyway; the EU will no doubt think that it needs to enforce it. “I will introduce a Carbon Border Tax to avoid carbon leakage”. That seems like something the UK might do well to opt out of, especially if we can get rid of Theresa May’s ridiculous carbon pledge too.
  • She wants to “finally complete the Capital Markets Union” to help small-to-medium-sized enterprises. This is ostensibly to make cross-border investment easier, but I somehow doubt it involves reducing regulations.
  • She wants to “reconcile the market with the social”. This sounds very much in line with demands to redefine growth and capitalism. In other words it is socialism.
  • She wants international “tech giants” to pay their “fair share” of tax in Europe. So there will be reduced investment by mult-national companies in Europe.
  • She is in favour of an EU standard of minimum wages negotiated by trade unions, which is somewhat at odds with her desire to decrease youth unemployment.
  • She is very keen on the rule of law. Good. “I fully support an EU-wide Rule of Law Mechanism.” I have no idea what that is, though.
  • I find it interesting to compare “a fully functioning Schengen Area of free movement, the key driver of our prosperity, security and freedoms” with “a reinforced European Border and Coast Guard Agency”.
  • She will be happy to grant more delays of Brexit.
  • She wants the EU to make more foreign policy decisions, and mentions the European Defence Union. I believe this is what might become an EU army, although it is so shrouded in technobabble I am not entirely sure. Leyen has written enthusiastically about an army, however.
  • “I support a right of initiative for the European Parliament.” A criticism of the EU is that the people’s directly elected representatives cannot initiate legislation. I am ambivalent about this, however, since I imagine it will lead to even more legislation being passed.

I stand by my assertion that inside the EU the state is guaranteed to get bigger and more intrusive.

In defense of Boris

Media attacks on Boris Johnson continue. As far as I can tell nothing so far has really stuck, and by now all the ballot papers must have been posted so he is going to be Prime Minister anyway.

I have heard it said that “Boris once had a journalist beaten up”. It turns out that is not the story at all. We can hear some of the phone call. Boris’s version of events is that a friend called who wanted the journalist’s details so that he could have him beaten up, and Boris merely humoured the friend by saying he would find out his address, not knowing the private phone call was being recorded. I have seen plenty of people claiming that Boris did in fact hand over the journalist’s details, but no evidence of such. He once made light of it on Have I Got News for You. There does not seem to be any wrongdoing here.

Online commentary suggests his prank call by Vovan & Lexus made him look foolish and incompetent. Having listened to the entire call, it seems that while he believed the call to be genuine, he shows nothing more than professional courtesy to the callers. He realises something is up towards the end of the call, when he says, “thank-you for that interesting tidbit of information”. This is British for, “you are obviously talking nonsense”. Amusingly enough,

prankster Vladimir Kuznetsov said he and his partner were surprised that Johnson turned out to be “a smart diplomat, an intellectual.”

He added it was “the first time we spoke to someone who is not an idiot.”

So where is the real dirt on Boris? I am surprised by a lot of the objections about him from the left: he is far more liberal than Theresa May. Then again, the furore over his promise to re-examine the sugar tax tells me the left is far more interested in economic authoritarianism than they are personal freedom.

One concern is that he steals a lot of thunder from the Brexit Party, but that he will somehow finesse a not-quite-Brexity-enough Brexit. I do think Nigel Farage will keep him honest on that front, though.

Good arguments against Brexit

It is useful in honest debate to not only observe the principle of charity, but to seek out the best of one’s opponents’ arguments.

One of the best arguments I have heard against Brexit is that Westminster is no bastion of freedom and the EU keeps its worst excesses in check.

The Home Office is no friend to freedom. Immigration restrictions abound: I hear of papers presented at conferences with their lead authors absent because of problems obtaining visas; I have met Indian computer programmers who have to pay a health surcharge to come and work here; others are messed around to the point that it is no longer worth it. There is no shortage of enthusiasm for homegrown meddling, be it a new Office for Tackling Injustices or sin taxes or filtering the Internet.

The inhabitants of Westminster are not exactly opposing bad ideas from the EU, either. GDPR and the copyright directive were met with support.

The EU does at least have a somewhat liberal outlook. The freedom to work in and trade with a large number of neighbouring countries is a huge benefit. The way that the referendum campaign for leave was run certainly attempted to appeal to those who might favour restrictions in the movement of people and goods. Left to their own devices, civil servants and politicians in Westminster might find more opportunity for meddling and restricting. There is no reason to believe that things will automatically get better.

I disagree with that assessment because I am an optimist.

Things will not get better inside the EU. The EU is almost impossible to change. A grass-roots campaign to oppose some new regulation has almost no chance of succeeding. First of all people would need to become aware of the incoming regulation in plenty of time, not when it is already a fait accompli as tends to happen. And then any campaigning would have to happen across multiple languages and cultures with different attitudes requiring different marketing strategies. It does not work. Instead the EU is a mysterious black box periodically emanating unpredictable decrees.

So we have to get out. And then the real work will begin. But at least Westminster is tangible. We do get to hear about bad ideas before they happen. There is a sense that writing to one’s MP has some small effect. Grass roots campaigns do change things. Outside the EU there is hope. Inside the EU the state is guaranteed to get bigger and more intrusive.

Ongoing realignments

If the Great Realignment is coming, it is interesting to attempt to date its appearance on the horizon and chart its trajectory.

Ostensibly politics are aligned on a left-right axis with the left being opposed to economic freedom and the right being opposed to personal freedom. However this may not have been true since Thatcher and Kinnock were replaced by the likes of Blair and Cameron. Since then, both parties have become increasingly authoritarian, with ever less to choose between them.

It does not seem so long ago that the Labour Party elected Jeremy Corbyn as its leader, and how we all laughed that it meant the end of the Labour Party. The new axis of alignment would be revealed by the nature of their replacement.

Then the referendum happened, and Theresa May happened, and it does not seem so long ago that we were worried that if the Conservatives made a mess of Brexit, we would end up with Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. Should that occur, politics might realign along a comrade-traitor axis.

Today the end of the Labour Party may be in sight again, though this time around I am less certain. For now, politics seems aligned mostly along a leave-remain axis. The two main parties ought to be the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats. But realignment takes time and we are stuck for the moment with Conservatives and Labour sort of wanting to leave but not really.

Soon Boris will be Prime Minister and it will be November 1st. If we are still in the EU on that day, it may not be long until the two main parties are the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats. If remain (or a remain-like version of leave) ultimately wins, some combination of the old three parties will likely remain, the Great Realignment will be cancelled, and ever ratcheting authoritarianism will return.

If somehow we leave the European Union decisively, how quickly can we move on? Will the argument be between those who want to protect industry from trade and keep out immigrants, and those who want to keep regulations and taxes in line with the EU?

Or will one of the sides be tempted by the growth to be had by freeing trade and attracting investment with easy movement of people and goods across borders, fewer regulations and lower taxes?

I would like to think that having discarded EU authoritarians, we can get to work on Westminster authoritarians, and that British political debate can centre around discussion of the role of the state, along an authoritarian-libertarian axis. A debate which, of course, the good guys will win.

Is Boris ‘the man’?

Boris Johnson, however, has been an unstinting and passionate advocate for leaving the European Union since a time when it was still an unfashionable, anti-Establishment view. As Mayor of London, he defied the call from Prime Minister David Cameron to row in behind the Remain campaign and became an energetic advocate for Vote Leave. (Indeed, it’s a pity that he did not take the helm of the ship of state when Cameron left office after the referendum, but let’s not rake over old coals). And then, exactly one year ago today, Johnson again put his career on the line for the Brexit cause when he, along with David Davis and Steve Baker, resigned from the Government in protest at Theresa May’s unacceptable Chequers proposal.

Jonathan Isaby and Matthew Elliott

BrexBox – the Brexit Party disintermediating Old Media

One of many drivers of the Great Realignment is that trying get hostile and highly partisan ‘old media’ to carry your message is now just an option, rather than the only game in town.

A case in point is the Brexit Party launching a YouTube based channel to get their message out themselves, disintermediating the likes of BBC and C4