Category: European Union

European Union

Righty ho, Guy

Just when the Remain side had got some traction for their line about the evils of inflammatory language with that embarrassingly crude tweet from Leave.EU that called Angela Merkel a “kraut” and invoked the two world wars, along comes this soon-to-be-viral nugget from the European Parliament’s Brexit Co-ordinator.

The Independent – not the Express, not the Telegraph, not the Mail, the extremely pro-EU Independent – reports:

Brexiteers ‘are the real traitors’, EU’s Guy Verhofstadt says.

The European Parliament’s Brexit chief has branded Brexiteers “the real traitors”, in a significant escalation of rhetoric from Brussels.

Speaking in a debate in the EU’s legislature Guy Verhofstadt accused Boris Johnson of blaming everyone but himself for the situation the UK found itself in.

“The real reason why this is happening is very simply: it’s a blame game against everybody. A blame game against the European Union, against Ireland, against Mrs Merkel, against the British judicial system, against Labour, against the Lib Dems, even against Mrs May,” he said.

“The only one who is not to be blamed is Mr Johnson himself, apparently. But all the rest are the source of our problems. That is what is happening today. All those who are not playing his game are ‘traitors’ or a ‘collaborator’, or ‘surrenderers’.

“Well in my opinion, dear colleagues the real traitor is he or she who risks bringing disaster upon his country, its economy, and its citizens, by pushing Britain out of the European Union. That is in my opinion, a traitor.”

Let us hope the Liberal Democrats invite him back soon to do some more campaigning for them, so we can see how that line goes down on the doorsteps of Britain. Even in Camden it might be a hard sell.

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore”

Earlier today Robert Peston, the Political Editor of ITV News, tweeted:

This feels very big. PM spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at 8am this morning. According to Downing Street source, she told the PM that there will be no Brexit deal with the UK unless Northern Ireland is in the customs union “forever”.

The source insists that the word “forever” was repeated on multiple occasions.

A short while later Kate McCann of Sky News responded:

A Number 10 source on PM call with Germany’s Merkel: “If this represents a new established position, then it means a deal is essentially impossible not just now but ever. It also made clear that they are willing to torpedo the Good Friday Agreement.’

James Forsyth of the Spectator has relayed a statement from what I suspect is the same “contact in No. 10”:

‘The negotiations will probably end this week. Varadkar doesn’t want to negotiate. Varadkar was keen on talking before the Benn Act when he thought that the choice would be ‘new deal or no deal’. Since the Benn Act passed he has gone very cold and in the last week the official channels and the backchannels have also gone cold. Varadkar has also gone back on his commitments — he said if we moved on manufactured goods then he would also move but instead he just attacked us publicly. It’s clear he wants to gamble on a second referendum and that he’s encouraging Barnier to stick to the line that the UK cannot leave the EU without leaving Northern Ireland behind.

There are quite a few people in Paris and Berlin who would like to discuss our offer but Merkel and Macron won’t push Barnier unless Ireland says it wants to negotiate. Those who think Merkel will help us are deluded. As things stand, Dublin will do nothing, hoping we offer more, then at the end of this week they may say ‘OK, let’s do a Northern Ireland only backstop with a time limit’, which is what various players have been hinting at, then we’ll say No, and that will probably be the end.

Varadkar thinks that either there will be a referendum or we win a majority but we will just put this offer back on the table so he thinks he can’t lose by refusing to compromise now. Given his assumptions, Varadkar’s behaviour is arguably rational but his assumptions are, I think, false. Ireland and Brussels listen to all the people who lost the referendum, they don’t listen to those who won the referendum and they don’t understand the electoral dynamics here.

If this deal dies in the next few days, then it won’t be revived. To marginalise the Brexit Party, we will have to fight the election on the basis of ‘no more delays, get Brexit done immediately’. They thought that if May went then Brexit would get softer. It seems few have learned from this mistake. They think we’re bluffing and there’s nothing we can do about that, not least given the way May and Hammond constantly talked tough then folded.

So, if talks go nowhere this week, the next phase will require us to set out our view on the Surrender Act. The Act imposes narrow duties. Our legal advice is clear that we can do all sorts of things to scupper delay which for obvious reasons we aren’t going into details about. Different lawyers see the “frustration principle” very differently especially on a case like this where there is no precedent for primary legislation directing how the PM conducts international discussions.

We will make clear privately and publicly that countries which oppose delay will go the front of the queue for future cooperation — cooperation on things both within and outside EU competences. Those who support delay will go to the bottom of the queue. [This source also made clear that defence and security cooperation will inevitably be affected if the EU tries to keep Britain in against the will of its government] Supporting delay will be seen by this government as hostile interference in domestic politics, and over half of the public will agree with us.

We will also make clear that this government will not negotiate further so any delay would be totally pointless. They think now that if there is another delay we will keep coming back with new proposals. This won’t happen. We’ll either leave with no deal on 31 October or there will be an election and then we will leave with no deal.

‘When they say ‘so what is the point of delay?’, we will say “This is not our delay, the government is not asking for a delay — Parliament is sending you a letter and Parliament is asking for a delay but official government policy remains that delay is an atrocious idea that everyone should dismiss. Any delay will in effect be negotiated between you, Parliament, and the courts — we will wash our hands of it, we won’t engage in further talks, we obviously won’t given any undertakings about cooperative behaviour, everything to do with ‘duty of sincere cooperation’ will be in the toilet, we will focus on winning the election on a manifesto of immediately revoking the entire EU legal order without further talks, and then we will leave. Those who supported delay will face the inevitable consequences of being seen to interfere in domestic politics in a deeply unpopular way by colluding with a Parliament that is as popular as the clap.

Those who pushed the Benn Act intended to sabotage a deal and they’ve probably succeeded. So the main effect of it will probably be to help us win an election by uniting the leave vote and then a no deal Brexit. History is full of such ironies and tragedies.’

Bear in mind that all this comes from anonymous briefings to Lobby journalists. But if even half of it is true, that word “forever” will probably go down in history as sounding the death knell of a Brexit deal.

Dear Santa, I have been good. If I can’t have Brexit, this is what I want for Christmas.

Senior Government figures are considering a series of proposals to “sabotage” the EU’s structures if Brussels refuses to agree a new deal or let Mr Johnson deliver Brexit without one.

Two Cabinet ministers told this newspaper that they were among those backing a more “aggressive” approach towards Brussels.

It is understood that plans under discussion include blocking the EU’s 2021-27 budget, which is due to be agreed early next year, and nominating a British commissioner who would cause disruption within their portfolio.

Senior ministers discussed the prospect of sending Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit Party, to take up the role.

BBC accurate, but for the ‘but’

Jacques Chirac, the former French president who championed the EU, but whose later years were blighted by corruption scandals, has died aged 86.

This sentence from today’s BBC red-button news seems an accurate summary – except that I am puzzled why the word ‘but’ connects the descriptions of the two main interests of Monsieur Chirac. Surely ‘and’ would have been the more appropriate conjunction.

We have had enough of experts. Yes, really.

Michael Gove’s famous or infamous quote about having “had enough of experts” has often been held up as an example of anti-intellectualism. Perhaps if Faisal Islam had spent less of the next half minute in outraged repetition of the words “Had enough of experts?” he might have heard what Gove said next about the particular experts in question having been wrong before. FullFact belatedly acknowledged that the full quote about specific experts with a bad record was a good deal less incendiary than the truncated version about experts in general, when the site made this correction:

We’ve updated this piece to source the full quote from Michael Gove. Previously it read “People in this country have had enough of experts.”

But you know what? Even the simplistic, cut-off-mid-sentence version of Gove’s quote does well enough. The referendum result demonstrated that a lot of people had had enough of anything billed as expert opinion in the field of economics, and no wonder. Predictions of equal accuracy to theirs could have been obtained from expert astrologers. Matthew Goodwin has written a piece for UnHerd that talks about why the record of economic and political experts is so dismal:

How political bias blinds us: Ideological cocoons prevent experts from seeing, and engaging with, the wider world.

When the referendum arrived in 2016, another survey of nearly 600 experts delivered a remarkably clear view. Nearly 90% expected Remain to win. Just 5% felt that Brexit was the most likely outcome. Journalists were noticeably worse: 97% predicted Remain and just 3% Brexit. And most expected Remain to win by at least 10-points. There were simply too few people willing to question and challenge the herd thinking.

“lt will take time for full realisation of this to sink into party headquarters…”

“lt will take time for full realisation of this to sink into party headquarters…”

The Spectator, 21 July 1973

“The full realisation of what?” I hear you ask. Here is the context:

The Government managed to get its wretched little European Communities Bill — under which this monstrous regimen of bureaucratic Brusselsdom was statutorily but unconstitutionally allowed to assume sovereignty over us — through Parliament by arguing that the fears expressed by anti-Market MPs were groundless, and that in practical terms Britain’s entry into Europe would increase rather than decrease British control over Britain’s future. We were not, according to this glib and ignorant hypothesis, so much losing sovereignty as gaining power. Daily, the disproofs of the daft hypothesis mount.

The public knows this already. It never liked the Common Market, and now it realises that the experiment is a disastrous flop. lt will take time for full realisation of this to sink into party headquarters; it will take it even longer to sink into our most Eurofanatical MPs; it may never sink into this particular Government. But sooner or later there will be a government and a House of Commons united in their determination to restore to themselves (and thus to the people), the powers of decision foolishly and ignorantly ceded by this Government and this Parliament. The sooner such a government is in power the better, for the less difficult will be the unscrambling process. it is not, as the Labour leadership still seeks to pretend, a question of renegotiation. It is a matter of repudiation; and the first party which appeals to the country on a clear policy of repudiating the Treaty of Rome will be rewarded with office by the public whose voice will have at length been heard and heeded.

That realisation took longer – one suspects – than even The Spectator had anticipated.

Interesting that mention of “power”. That was precisely what Lord Heseltine said in an interview with Michael Portillo for a Channel 5 documentary on the EU just a few weeks ago. Did we ever get any?

Also interesting is the talk of “repudiation”. Repudiating a treaty is a big deal but it is not difficult to foresee the circumstances in which a British government might do precisely that.

Yours,

Phineas Phosgene

Herr Oettinger seems a bit confused

Herr Oettinger doesn’t have any input into what the British credit rating is. The European Union doesn’t, nor even the European Commission or the European Central Bank. Any and all of them can refuse to deal with Britain, the British Government, and of course we all desire that they do. But a credit rating is not something determined by a government in the slightest. It’s a market response.

Tim Worstall

Brexit punk!

The Guardian’s John Harris is a lefty, a Remainer, and a fine journalist. He saw Brexit coming, and, little though I agree with his political views, I think he sees a certain raw truth about our new Prime Minister in this piece:

“Boris Johnson is channelling a punk ethos to force through Brexit. It could work.”

Not a headline one sees every day. Mr Harris writes,

This is an increasingly familiar populist trick: encouraging a set of voters to relish taboo-busting as a kind of surrogate for a lost sense of economic agency and power. This version of taking back control is not to do with jobs, wages or houses, but the licence to say anything you want, whatever the consequences. Anyone who is offended is dismissed as a puritanical defender of joyless political correctness.

Punk spirit, cavalier style and wilful provocation will all inform the manner in which Johnson and his allies frame their greatest challenge of all: how on earth to deal with the very real crisis of Brexit and honour the Halloween deadline that the Tory party has so stupidly fetishised. And they look set to play a crucial role in gaining consent from those who have most to lose from crashing out of the EU. Faced with a set of impossible challenges, Johnson will present himself as the flamboyant, verbose, rule-breaking Englishman, positioned against the washed-out logicians of the EU machine, who were never going to help in the first place.

I heard they were going to get the bus out of mothballs, the bus, the £350-million-for-the-NHS battle bus that has caused such outrage, and drive it round the country all over again. Back in 2016, the only effect the suggestion that our departure from the EU would mean that we could pour yet more money into the black hole of “our NHS” had on me was to make me a fraction more likely to vote Remain. But upon hearing this news I still thought, yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah, please, dear Lord, let me be there when they take it through Cambridge city centre.

Oh God save history / God save your mad parade / Oh Lord God have mercy / All crimes are paid / Oh when there’s no future / How can there be sin / We’re the flowers / In the dustbin / We’re the poison / In your human machine

First time round, I wasn’t a fan. But it’s growing on me.

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

and

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.