Category: Brexit


Two polls out tonight. One clear message.

One by OpiniumResearch, fieldwork 24-26 July changes with respect to 5th July:

CON: 30% (+7)

LAB: 28% (+3)

LDEM: 16% (+1)

BREX: 15% (-7)

GRN: 5% (-3)

And one by DeltaPoll for the Mail on Sunday:

CON: 30 (+10)

LAB: 25 (-1)

LIB: 18 (+2)

BRX: 14 (-10)

CUK: 2 (-2)

The fearful symmetry of that +7, -7 and +10, -10 is burning bright in the tangled forests of polling data. I rejoice.

I do not rejoice for the Conservatives, or mourn for the Brexit party. When the Tories’ voters deserted them en masse for the Brexit Party just before the European Parliament elections I was happy for the same reason that I am happy now: those splendidly disloyal voters were sending the message “We voted to leave the European Union. Forget building high speed railways or cancelling them, or whatever other scheme you think matters, we want Brexit. And we will vote for whichever party has the best chance of getting it done.”

Edit: Good grief, there have now been four polls published tonight. They’re like No. 9 buses, you wait ages then four turn up at once. The two later polls did not give such dramatic rises for the Tories, but one of them, by ComRes, yet again followed the pattern of a rise for the Conservatives precisely mirrored by a fall for the Brexit Party. Only YouGov did not follow this pattern. It showed a rise for the Conservatives and a fall for the Brexit Party, all right, but they were not quite equal. I repeat: it is not the rise or fall of either party that interests me. What interests me is that this demonstrates there is a most un-blocky bloc of voters for whom Brexit is the key issue.

In recent weeks there has been a slew of comments from the Remain side that asked, with a pitying shake of the head, what would the poor shambling Leave voters actually do if Article 50 were revoked? Get out on the streets with their Zimmer frames and riot? (The search term riot Zimmer frame Brexit gets 51,600 results. Recycling is all very well, but someone needs to donate them a second joke.) Well, besides the route taken by one Brexit-supporting old girl who won’t see seventy again – become an MEP and make Greens cry – there is always the option of swing voting.

The ruling class of an unrecognised state

In today’s Sunday Times, Matthew Goodwin reviews, favourably, The Great Betrayal by Rod Liddle. Goodwin writes,

Brexit was always destined to bring Britain to a constitutional crisis. After all, it was the first moment in British history when a majority of people outside of parliament asked for something that a majority of people who had been elected to represent their fellow citizens in parliament did not want to give. This profound disconnect is why, as my academic colleague Vernon Bogdanor argues, what happened on that fateful day in June 2016 is probably the most important constitutional event in Britain since the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. In one fell swoop, the shock vote left a lot of people who were used to feeling like winners suddenly feeling like losers and a lot of other people who had grown used to feeling like losers suddenly feeling like winners — at least for a while. For all of these reasons, what happened next was never going to end well.

Here I must interject that “it” has not ended yet. But Mr Goodwin is on to something with his focus on the shock and disbelief felt by those whose previous experience of electoral defeat had been the relatively trivial one of seeing “their” party dislodged for five years by some very similar people from the other party.

Just after the referendum Rafael Behr wrote a piece for the Guardian called “How remain failed: the inside story of a doomed campaign”. Behr, a convinced Remainer, saw the same phenomenon then as Goodwin sees today:

But over the course of the campaign, the most senior remainers found collegiate sympathy in a shared world view. As one put it: “We were the pluralist, liberal, centrist force in British politics.” Pro-Europeanism became a proxy for the fusion of economic and social liberalism that had been a dominant philosophy of the political mainstream for a generation, although its proponents were scattered across partisan boundaries. These centrists were the ruling class of an unrecognised state – call it Remainia – whose people were divided between the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems; like a tribe whose homeland has been partitioned by some insouciant Victorian cartographer.

And yet I suspect from his more recent writings that Mr Behr regards talk of a “deep state” as Trumpian paranoia.

Culturally, and in some respects politically, I am closer to the ruling class than to most of those who wounded it so deeply on June 23rd 2016. Goodwin goes on to write,

Liddle chiefly rails against what one might call “double liberalism”, the relentless pursuit of social and economic liberalism and all that flows from it


On economics, meanwhile, most people worry about the growing gap between the rich and poor, between London and the regions, and have no problem with more equitable taxation and nationalisation.

I would put “equitable” in quotes and I do have a problem with nationalisation. I would be quite happy for our relentless pursuit of social and economic liberalism to end by successfully catching them both – though I mean “liberal” in the old sense. I would know the right answers to the questions on the Remanian citizenship test. I even believe some of them. But however wise and sensible and liberal it is, I do not accept that the “ruling class of the unrecognised state” is entitled to hold on to power after being voted out.

What would Boris lose by calling an election timed to take place just AFTER 31 October?

There has been speculation everywhere that Boris Johnson will call an election in order to get a parliamentary majority to secure Brexit. Some have said he would need to make an agreement with the Brexit Party before the election, others that the pact would need to come afterwards – but most of what I have read seems to assume that the order of events in the plan is: Call election > Win election (possibly with help) > Leave EU.

Have I missed something? Because it seems to me that Mr Johnson would get a better shot at all his goals by calling an election timed to occur just after Brexit.

The entry for Dissolution of Parliament on Parliament’s own website says,

What happens to Parliament at dissolution?
Parliament is dissolved 25 working days before a general election at a minute past midnight.

The formal end to the parliamentary session is called ‘prorogation’. This may take place a few days before dissolution.

So Mr Grieve’s ingenious scheme to make it harder for Parliament to be prorogued is rendered void. While MPs are locked out of the building, the gears turn unimpeded and eventually the great or terrible hour strikes.

House of Commons
When Parliament is dissolved, every seat in the House of Commons becomes vacant. All business in the House comes to an end. MPs stop representing their constituencies. There will be no MPs until after the general election.

And until after Brexit.

MPs can come into Parliament for a few days after dissolution to clear their offices.

Those who wish to be MPs again must stand again as candidates for election.

They will be standing and campaigning for a seat in the post-Brexit House. The whole political environment will be different, and much more favourable to the Conservatives. If Brexit seems inevitable, much of the justification for the Brexit Party’s existence melts away, and so does the incentive for pro-Remain parties to unite in an electoral pact to stop Brexit. To an exhausted electorate “Rejoin” is a much less appealing message than “Don’t leave”, and the attitude of the major opposition parties to it is more split. The Liberal Democrats would want it, but Labour, especially if Mr Corbyn is still at the helm, would probably be happy to kick it into the long grass as a vaguely worded aspiration.

Role of the Commons Speaker at dissolution

The Speaker is no longer an MP once Parliament is dissolved.

Like every other MP, the Speaker must stand for re-election. The Speaker will stand as ‘Speaker seeking re-election’.

However, the Speaker retains responsibility for the management of the House of Commons as they remain the chair of the House of Commons Commission until a new Speaker is elected.

In the circumstances I have described Mr Bercow’s long-delayed departure would be seen by the Tories as the icing on the cake.

It might be that Mr Johnson could be stopped from holding a general election by the opposition voting to deny the government the two thirds majority that the Fixed Term Parliament Act requires it to have to call an election. But when I try to imagine Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell going through the division lobbies to deny themselves the chance of power, or stranger yet to protest that they do indeed have confidence in a Johnson government, I cannot make the vision form.

I probably have missed something quite obvious. Tell me what it is and I will get on with my day.

Brexit radicalisation and the prime reason thereof

Most Leavers wanted a Good Deal, rather than No Deal, but then realised all the deals that were actually acceptable to the UK establishment were entirely about ensuring Brexit-in-name-only. The gulf between rhetoric and action became so wide that distrust in Westminster and its institution became near total. It is this collapse in trust that has driven support for a No Deal/WTO Brexit, not a fundamental desire on the behalf of most Brexiteers to leave the EU with No Deal. The birth and meteoric growth of the Brexit Party is a direct product of this collapse.

I am strongly of the view that if a deal with the EU could be reached that left the UK free to make whatever trade deals it wished with agreeable third parties, very few Leave voters would oppose it.

The key element needed is it has to be a deal that does not permit EU institutions and EU regulations any authority whatsoever over the UK except when it is trading with the EU (either directly or via automatic harmonisation of UK regulations with EU regulations, which would the very definition of a ‘Brexit’ that was Brexit-in-name-only).

“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.


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.