THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

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An awkward silence

So much is going on in our land and yet I have little to say. I used to be known in my circles for having an opinion on everything. I rather despised the kind of indecisive person I now find myself to be. So this post is unique among all the hundreds I have written here. I am not telling you what I think. I am asking you what I should do. I am lost. Please guide me.

I have never before been in the position of not knowing how to vote in a General Election. It has been a long time since I was young and daft enough to identify with the programme of any prospective government, but I have always been pragmatic enough to know which would do the least damage. This time I just wish all the rascals could lose. The conduct of our politicians, civil servants and the rest of the Establishment has destroyed my last vestiges of faith in our democracy. I feel that voting at all will only give credence to a monstrous lie.

I have donated to, and am a registered supporter of, the Brexit Party. It has done a remarkable job of holding the government's feet to the fire over Brexit but the public now seems (perhaps from sheer exhaustion) to want to believe the Prime Minister's propaganda. Running a full campaign won't "split the Brexit vote" because the Conservatives are proposing Brexit in name only. It won't "cost us Brexit" because the Conservatives have already done that. It just risks validating the Goebbels-grade lies of the Remain ultras by making it seem that the vote to Leave was an aberration.

If the Conservatives accepted Nigel Farage's offer of a "Leave Alliance", voters in the naturally Labour seats in the North that are BXP's best hope would just view their candidates as Tories in sheep's clothing and vote accordingly.

If Labour win, it will be bad for our economy. We will also lose our place in the councils of the West. It will not be possible, for example, safely to share intelligence with a country led by someone sympathetic to our enemies. Other Western intelligence services will use us only as a channel for what the Russians call мистификация (mistifikatsiya – i.e disinformation). Anything they are prepared to tell us will be, by definition, untrue because they will expect it to be promptly passed to Corbyn's "friends".

The only reasons (for me) to vote Labour would be (a) to punish the Conservative Party for the appalling mess it has made of the last few years and (b) to give a younger generation stupidly scornful of the lessons of history modern proof of the economic and moral dangers of socialism. That the single most stupid idea in the history of political and economic thought is popular among the young is so horrifying that enduring a few years of it in practice might be worth it to try to save them.

There is no reason to vote Liberal Democrat. None. My only purpose in mentioning that abomination of a Party is to experience, briefly and nostalgically, the sense of political certainty I used to enjoy.

In my London constituency, with a high percentage of Remainers (and a minority of voters actually born on these windswept islands) a vote for the Brexit Party would be a protest. Most of my fellow-voters here have neither an understanding of, nor an affection for, the traditions, ideas and legal principles upon which our country was built. The contest will therefore be between the third-rate Leftist sociology lecturer (apologies for the multiple tautologies) who is the current Labour MP and whatever candidate the Liberal Democrats put up. It was a Conservative seat when I moved here eight years ago, but the Tories have no chance in this Brexit election.

Brexit apart, there is simply no point in a Conservative Party that has abandoned all the distinguishing features of conservative thought. I hate it more than the others because it's the party that ought to reflect my economic views most closely, but now doesn't. I expect to be despised, betrayed and robbed by the others. It hurts more from them.

It has abandoned its principles in the fruitless pursuit of votes from Guardianisti. As any fool might have predicted, however, they simply continue to characterise as "cuts" and "austerity" increases in government spending less than they claim would have been made by their tribe. The Conservative Party has increased public spending, increased public debt, sucked up to the merchants of division purveying identity politics and – in relation to Brexit – has betrayed democracy. It's not even a patriotic party any more. What the hell is it for?

Even if I overcome my hatred and revulsion, a vote for the Conservative Party will be wasted – and not just in my constituency. If the Party wins a majority the Brexit mess will continue for years. The Withdrawal Agreement is not merely unsatisfactory, but only (and few voters seem to grasp this) the first stage in a process of negotiating unequal treaties with the EU that will continue for years. Brussels has no incentive to move quickly as it earns massively from our continued membership without (once the WA has been signed) having to take any political account of our views. I simply don't trust the Conservative Party to conduct those continuing negotiations in our best interests. There is certainly nothing in its behaviour for the past four years that suggests it knows, or cares, what those interests are. The most perfect personification of a modern British Conservative is John Bercow. Need I say more?

The only reason to vote Conservative is to wipe the smug smiles off the sneering, contemptuous faces of the anti-democrats who have sabotaged the biggest, clearest political decision of my lifetime. However that pleasure would only last for the few weeks before it becomes apparent that we are not breaking free from the EU and that we will be held in the closest possible regulatory alignment with it so as to ease re-entry to full membership in future – without any of the opt-outs we currently enjoy.

Once more, in this election, whomever I vote for "Party X" will win. The only thing I can be sure of is that no candidate with any chance of winning will have the slightest respect for justice, fairness and morality – as I understand them. So what, gentle readers, should I do?


Inflammatory speech? You ain’t seen nothing yet, mofos!

To call the Benn Act the “Surrender Act” is to incite violence against those who enacted it, according to Labour. The Act was designed (as its sponsors would tell you) to ensure the UK does not leave the EU without some variant of the “withdrawal agreement” previously “negotiated” by Mrs May and thrice rejected by this Zombie Parliament. That agreement was famously described by former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis as;

”...a deal that a nation signs only after having been defeated at war”

So, if accurately describing an Act of Parliament is all it takes to provoke anger against you, perhaps that anger is righteous? If you are prepared to enact all sorts of radical policies on the basis of mere pluralities, but thwart the decision of an actual majority of the British People, then perhaps you have invited their wrath?

Neither the Conservative Party nor Labour has, since the War, ever secured a majority of the national vote. The Conservatives secured 55% in 1931.

Labour’s highest percentage post-war was 48% in 1951. The Conservatives’ highest share of the vote was 49.7% in 1955. Neither has achieved 52% post-war and no likely victory in the imminent General Election will give a popular mandate approaching that.

If the Liberal “Democrats” win a majority in Parliament and revoke the Article 50 notice, 40-something percent of the electorate will have thwarted 50-something percent. The anger then would be hard to contain and would be stoked to dangerous levels by the smug triumphalism of the Remain Ultras and the EU imperialists. You saw their sneering grins outside the Supreme Court this week. You saw Verhofstadt’s tweets. Imagine them if they win.

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The Referendum was necessary precisely because the constitutional issue of EU membership cut across party lines. A big majority was secured for Remain in 1975 (including my very first vote) because the “Common Market” was seen as a benign liberalisation of international trade. Discontent was seething at the steady mutation of that Common Market into a proto-state. No government had ever asked the British People to approve that change. Most indications were that they wouldn’t have approved.  

Leavers ranged from libertarians like me, through patriotic statists of right, left and centre to the hard left of the Labour Party and indeed the Communist Party. Reasons for leaving ranged from principled objections to an over mighty state to a desire to escape EU restrictions on “state aid” that prevented an even mightier state. That’s why, when Remainers ask “...but what do Brexiteers want?” we can’t answer with a political programme. Our only honest answer is “...whatever the future political direction of the UK might be — it should be decided by people we can sack if they annoy us.”

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Boy oh boy, are the people in charge in both Westminster and Brussels annoying us now! We want an election to sack as many of them as we can. For so long as they deny us that, they are relying on our decency and good manners to sleep easily in the beds we have feathered so lavishly for them. They’d better hope we are more decent than them and have far better manners than they have exhibited in their sneering, supercilious and dismissive campaigns against us. And far better manners than Labour’s Shadow Chancellor.

7A26A39F-3140-4ED0-846D-F57D378F9C62The violence of his discourse makes “humbug” seem rather gentle, no? But then it is always “one rule for us...” with them. 


A fantastic day for democracy?

So says Anna Soubry, an MP for a party with literally zero support. Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition leader with the lowest approval rating since records began, agrees. On the back of the Supreme Court’s apolitical decision, would-be plutocrat Gina Miller smugly continues her well-funded political assault on the biggest democratic vote in the history of our nation. She does so flanked by the leaders of minority parties too “frit” to face an election. This is democracy Jim, but not as we know it.

The law is now clear. The PM erred. I am sure he will respect the decision. That legal judgement is one thing but the jubilant fake-democrats’ equally clear determination to use it to thwart our decision to leave the EU is another. Please don’t quote me that “no mandate for no deal” nonsense, by the way. No deal acceptable to Parliament is on offer and they are doing all they can — in active concert with the other side’s negotiators — to prevent the government achieving a better one.

They will accept nothing short of stopping Brexit. All else is lies, mystification and agitprop.

Several of them referred reverentially to the Supreme Court as the “highest court in the land” but that is a blatant lie. They are straining their every sinew to ensure that our highest court continues to be the European Court of Justice, that our highest political authority remains the EU Council of Ministers and that our government is the EU Commission. These self-proclaimed “democrats” are today celebrating the chance this decision gives them to fight for our judiciary, legislature and executive to remain on foreign soil unaccountable to the British people.

That’s not a fantastic day for democracy but it is a great day for fantasy democracy, fake democracy — for Britain remaining a colony of a foreign power. Because if your Supreme Court is in another country, that’s what you are — a colony. As Tony Benn warned decades ago and as Guy Verhofstadt recently confirmed to rather surprising wild applause at the LibDem Conference, the EU sees itself as an empire. The days of European imperialism are not over, it seems, until the failed imperial powers of the past have another go. 

Unlike the Remain ultras, I can accept a decision I don’t like. The court’s ruling surprises me in light of the Bill of Rights but I am no constitutional law expert and I now accept our constitution is as they say. I have nothing to say against the judges concerned. I won’t reargue a case determined by the court I (unlike Anna Soubry et al.) believe should be the highest in the land.

It changes nothing as to the political and moral rights and wrongs of Brexit however. 

Those calling for the PM’s resignation are hypocrites. He has offered to resign by calling an election. Knowing they would lose, these triumphant “democrats” refuse to let him do that. They don’t want to back him, but they refuse to sack him. Knowing a new Parliament would (if the Conservatives see sense and act in concert with the Brexit Party) be solidly for an immediate Brexit, they prefer to hold him in place and try to use him as their puppet.

The court’s decision is disappointing but the Millerite thugs’ hypocrisy, elitist disdain for the British people and cynical hostility to true democracy is drearily predictable and utterly infuriating to decent patriotic Brits. They are playing with fire and I hope only they get (metaphorically) burned. 


It's no longer about Brexit

I joined the final leg of the March to Leave from Fulham to Parliament Square today. I did so with a heavy heart. Parliament is unable to agree terms to leave the EU, but unwilling to leave without an agreement. That is currently the only way available to it to implement the people's decision. While it's not ideal, I don't fear it. We could save ourselves the severance payment agreed (for no good legal reason) by our Prime Minister. Every business I have inside information about is prepared for it and I have very little sympathy with any businesses so imprudent as not to be.

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If we leave with no deal on April 12, negotiations on future relationships can begin in earnest with our trading partners, including the EU. They can be conducted – as they should be –  by an independent British Government. Given the drafting of Article 50, which is designed to disadvantage a country giving notice to Leave, this was always likely to be the best interim outcome. I would have gone straight for it had I been in Mrs May's kitten heels, using the notice period entirely to prepare for a no deal exit and declining seriously to discuss the future relationship until those preparations were satisfactorily in place. Like those prudent business people in relation to their own affairs, my first concern would have been to prepare for the worst before aiming for the best. 

I made my living negotiating agreements. I have many friends who did the same. We are all of the opinion that, had the UK taken this approach, we would have been spared the humiliation of watching our PM shuttle back and forth to the EU as a supplicant. Instead an orderly queue of the EU's five presidents (none elected) would have formed up outside Number 10.

I am now more concerned with the threats to our nation's democracy that Brexit has revealed than about Brexit itself. This morning I was so concerned that I told Mrs P the Second this march would probably be my last political act. I was despondent for the 17.4 million voters urinated on from a great height by our political class. I was angry at our far-worse-than-useless mainstream media which has vilified, smeared and defamed them for the last three years. I was fearful for all of us – Leave and Remain – whose future mode of government is at stake. 

I am less concerned, upset and angry this evening. Why? I met my people. Not the savages the BBC and Guardian say they are but sensible British folk. I saw no extremists. I met no racists (in fact the marchers were diverse). We talked to each other as we marched; far more in sorrow and sincere concern than in anger. We even discussed our worries for our European neighbours in the chaos the mishandling of Brexit has caused. When provoked by Remain counter-protesters I feared that less temperate elements among us might give the media what they were loitering in the hope of  filming. Instead we just made an "L" sign on our foreheads and chanted "Losers" at them. Even they (mostly) smiled.

I always knew in my heart that the Establishment media portrayal of Leave voters was just a succession of vile smears, but when you swim in a sea of lies it's hard not to get wet. Today did me a lot of good – and not just because of healthy exercise in beautiful sunshine. 

As Nigel Farage said in Parliament Square, this is not about Brexit now, it's about "who we are". Yes, we have been sorely disappointed by our political class. They have sold us out and betrayed us but they have also taken the scales from our eyes. Those of us who have long said that, under an over-mighty state, unsavoury types are bound to be drawn to lording it over their fellow men while living on them as parasites were considered cynical at best and extreme at worst. Now all living generations have learned that we were, if anything, too kind in our assessment. Brexit has been an education and three charming Yorkshire ladies in the pub at lunchtime readily agreed with my prediction that the British people will not allow our discredited political class to talk down to us again.

They have been exposed as charlatans at best and idiots at worst.

It’s about democracy now. Political sophists have quibbled about what democracy really means in this context and I confess they had befuddled my thinking. I learned from the  people I marched with today that— whatever it means — it’s not this. "They've cheated us", one lady told me and I think she spoke for many – including many decent Remainers prepared to abide by the majority decision. It’s not cricket to ignore the most significant popular vote in British history. It just isn't.  Whether Britain will do better or worse economically outside the EU was not even discussed today. Instead we worried about saving our country whose legislators have shamefully turned their backs on us. 

During his short speech in Parliament Square (not on the same stage, though the Guardian would like to deceive you, as Tommy Robinson and UKIP) Mr. Farage quoted (without attribution) the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis who said recently on Question Time that this is a treaty that:

"would only be signed by a nation defeated at war"

The marchers had already cheered the news that May's treaty had been rejected for a third (and surely a final) time. Farage promised that, if we didn't leave on the new date of April 12 (and he admitted he feared we would be betrayed yet again) that he would return to politics to fight the European Parliament elections. We are not going to give up, he told us and in the end, we are going to win. I hope he's right but my confidence is shaken. After all, I had never imagined Parliament's Remain majority would dare to defy the people as they have. 

The options now are:

  1. We leave with no (finalised) deal on April 12, or
  2. The EU allows an extension on terms that will include our staging elections to their fig leaf of a pretend parliament and (probably) another referendum.

I believe Farage's new Brexit Party would win the ensuing European Parliament elections dramatically. So does he and he hopes the EU Council will fear that outcome sufficiently to refuse the extension. As for a second referendum he believes that Remainers disgusted by the Establishment assault on democracy would boost the Leave vote so that we would win with an increased majority. 

After the march and before the speeches I adjourned to the pub with an agreeable  chap I had walked the final miles with. We were joined by another chap up from Dorset. Both were business people. Both, like me, had (unlike most of our political class) actually engaged in international business. None of us were unduly concerned about leaving with no deal. Business, we agreed, is done in spite of government not because of it. It’s the politicians who are (a) in a mess and (b) – as always – vastly over-estimating their own economic importance. 

One of my companions wryly observed that it might even be better for the country's economy if the Brexit saga dragged on for longer as it was preventing the idiot politicians from screwing other things up at their usual rate. In such company my faith returned. We Brits are ill-served by our politicians (who isn't?) but there's damn-all wrong with us as a nation – however bad we may look in the world's eyes right now.

Gentle readers, do you agree?


Conservative Renaissance Conference 2018 organised by .@ToryProgress

I am not sure how I ended up on the mailing list but I was invited to this event today so I went. Part of me wants the Conservative Party once more to fulfil the function it did in Margaret Thatcher's time – as a radical opponent of Big Government, dedicated to free markets, deregulation and privatisation. I encounter the occasional member from the libertarian wing like Dan Hannan or Syed Kamall and hope springs once more in my naive breast. I had met Kamall at a Libertarian Home meeting. I found him somewhat wanting ideologically, but the fact he showed up raised hopes. It was his name on the programme and that of David Campbell-Bannerman MEP that made me decide to risk wasting a Saturday that could have been spent on my pleasures. 

The name of the organising group – Conservative Progress – should have tipped me off. Progress is a good thing, just like being social. But organisations that use either word in their titles are usually to be avoided. This one was founded by two enthusiastic young politicos named Nabil Najjar and Luke Springthorpe and describes itself as follows:

We are a grassroots organisation founded by Conservative activists for Conservative activists. We host events that are relevant and engaging, and offer training that is beneficial to developing activists. We also promote and share good practice and offer a platform for the views of conservative minded political activists.

Most of the people at the conference were either pro-Brexit, or were Remainers who accepted the referendum result. The Soubry Faction was not in evidence. So the discussions around that issue were both illuminating and encouraging. Suella Braverman MP, Under Secretary of State at DEXEU, assured us that there is "a lot of unity" in Cabinet on Brexit and that the legal agreements to give effect to it are about 75% complete on terms that Parliament should be able to approve. She pointed out that if Parliament didn't, the only alternative would be a "no deal" Brexit. That would leave us dealing with the EU (as many countries successfully do) on WTO terms. 

Even more encouragingly, as he's not under Cabinet discipline, Campbell-Bannerman was just as optimistic. He said the EU has offered a free trade deal on better terms than with any other country and that we should simply accept it. He said the legal terms were "about 80% agreed". He was as relaxed as I am about a "no deal" exit but said that as a good "Canada++ free trade deal" was on the table, why not get it done? For me, accustomed to the views of the BBC and others longingly predicting the catastrophic outcome they desire and to those of Brexit bloggers fearful of betrayal, this was worth losing a few hours with my hobbies.

The rest of the speeches were less edifying. I was clearly not among the classical liberal elements of the Party. James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, for example remarked that "Conservatives would find it hard to accept" his idea of capping development land prices at, say, ten times their agricultural value. Damn right they would. Price controls are economic idiocy that lead to shortages, rationing, violent expropriation and corruption. No true Conservative would find it easy to accept such wickedness. But no-one in the hall seemed to share my concerns. 

The logic behind Mayor Palmer's dottily immoral idea was that, if the Party can't solve the problem of millennials not being able to afford to buy houses, they will be lost forever to Labour or the Liberal Democrats. So to hell with the economic principles that a true Conservative Party would exist to preserve. Let's instead be "pragmatists" (as I have remarked before, Tory code for "unprincipled shits") and bribe young voters. I tried frantically to intervene during questions but the young moderators preferred mostly to call upon people of their generation; often friends whose names they knew. So I did not have chance to point out that while Mayor James and his colleague from London were blaming development companies, land banking and (God help us) "capitalism" for the housing shortage, the solutions are in the hands of national and local government. 

Real estate is not really a free market anyway. If a piece of land is worth £x without a planning permission and £20x with one, then most of the value of a development site is within the gift of the planning authority. This is why real estate is the most corrupt area in most economies across the world. If a piece of paper issued by a modestly paid local official is worth more than land; for most of human history the most fundamental of all economic assets, then that official is – shall we say – always going to be treated very well. The only reason planning engenders less corruption in Britain than in the other countries where I have worked (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia and China) is because there is a legal presumption in favour of development that complies with published zoning plans and the appeals procedure is efficient. A bribe would get your project approved perhaps six months more quickly here and that time certainly has economic value. But usually not enough to risk gaol and disgrace. That, and not any moral superiority on our part, is what keeps us from the crookedness common elsewhere.

In London in particular the solution to the housing crisis is greater density. Our Capital City is far less densely built than, for example, Paris or Berlin. Where I live in Ealing, the world's first suburb originally spawned by the world's first metro - the District Line, one might almost be in a village judging by the terraced villas with their poxy little gardens and the grander homes interspersed amongst them. At the same distance from the Place de la Concorde as Ealing is from Trafalgar Square, you would be among high rises. Yet Ealing's planning policies forbid them and make even more modest multi-family housing more difficult to build. And the same Conservatives in Name Only who were blaming greedy development companies for pricing housing out of young hands campaigned on a slogan in the recent elections of "Keep Ealing low-rise." The other local politician on the panel understood this well enough to propose massive densification of public housing (occupied by Labour voters) but not for the private housing occupied by his own. How little like a true Conservative did he sound when proposing to build lots more council flats at subsidised rents mostly paid by welfare benefits to solve the housing crisis? I leave it to you to imagine.

Of course, to densify London would involve upgrading roads, sewers and utilities to support all the new residents (or the more widely dispersed millennials released from their squalid house shares). Yet when Labour has periodically set the economy ablaze and the voters have called in the Conservative Fire Brigade to quell the flames what has it done? Has it reduced the ranks of public servants doing pointless jobs? Has it reined in public spending and reduced taxes? Has it withdrawn from all the busy-bodying and prod-nosing begun by its Labour predecessors? No! It has usually just pushed back all the infrastructure projects the construction of which is one of the few valid jobs for government. Keep the "Diversity coordinators" and spend millions on "Public Health England" to nag us about our diets. But let the roads degenerate to Third World standards and let fatbergs block the Victorian sewers.

Even more terrifying than the support from Comrade Mayor Palmer was the wild enthusiasm for Penny Mordaunt MP, Secretary of State for International Development. Mordaunt is a great speaker and I tip her as a future PM. She had the room eating out of her hand by saying all the right things if you believe that the State can ever be an efficient and honest dispenser of largesse to the world's poor. If you believe that nonsense, however, you're not a true Conservative and should not really have been in the room, let alone cheering her on. She was all for clever targeting of aid; directing it to relieve pressures that might otherwise lead poor people to become economic migrants for example. But she was naively confident that, six months into her brief, her talent was such that all British aid was now finding its way to deserving recipients. This, despite the fact she admitted that on her first day her department could not account for where any of it had gone until then!

She began by talking about how generous Brits are in donating to development and poverty relief charities but then, like any Socialist would, set about conflating the generous nation with its ugly, nasty guard dog, the State. A true Conservative would stop taking money from poor people in rich countries to give to rich people in poor countries and would let taxpayers make their own choices about charities to support. Ms Mordaunt is no true Conservative in that respect and neither were any of the people in the audience judging by the rapturous applause her meretricious speech received. 

The "Blue Labour" jibe against the "Conservative" Party seems well justified on today's showing. The people I spent today with were well to the left of any Labour government to date. They were only "Conservative" by comparison to the current Labour leadership, but then by that comparison Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin could have joined us. My subscription is up for renewal and I can't imagine I will stay a member.


The Moggster reminds us what Brexit is about

As resolve seems to be weakening, here is the Moggster explaining to the Oxford Union just why we are leaving the economically-destructive, anti-democratic, extremism-inducing shambles that is the European Union. Note there is no mention of immigration nor any hostility to our European neighbours. Actually, he expresses affectionate concern for them. His speech is about the things that motivated me to vote "Leave", namely concern for justice, democracy and fairness and fear that damned institution's manifold idiocies will cause more economic catastrophes like that in Greece, and bring back the political extremism to which the Continent, with its top-down Roman Law approach, is so prone.

 


European Union demands are more imaginative than legal

European Union demands indefinite right to remain for unborn children of EU nationals in UK.

Ignoring, for the time being, the demands on immigration, it seems that the EU has finally given some workings on their calculation of financial demands on "divorce" (as they emotively choose to characterise our leaving their political club).
“financial settlement should be based on the principle that the United Kingdom must honour its share of the financing of all the obligations undertaken while it was a member of the Union. The United Kingdom obligations should be fixed as a percentage of the EU obligations calculated at the date of withdrawal in accordance with a methodology to be agreed in the first phase of the negotiations”. 
Readers will be aware of my cynicism about the binding nature of International Law, but clearly Britain is going to comply with the governing treaties for diplomatic purposes so, ultimately, this is a legal negotiation, based upon their terms. I have only one question therefore. Where in the treaties governing the relationship of the member states of the EU is the above "principle" stated? Spoiler alert. It isn't.
 
I made my living as a negotiator. There's always a ritual dance. No-one opens with what they expect to get, but this is a joke that destroys the EU's credibility as a negotiating partner. It is a signal of bad faith and an insult to the British people.

Legal analysis vs bluster in the Brexit negotiation

The current public discussion about the so-called "divorce bill" or "financial settlement" claimed by the European Union in relation to the UK's termination of its membership is ill-informed on a cosmic scale. I decided to flex my neglected skills as a retired international lawyer and do a bit of research.

The EU has yet to produce any legal justification for its claim. It is simply asserting, as a negotiating position, that it will discuss nothing else until a payment has been agreed. This is an oddly weak stance. If there is a legal basis for the claim, they don't need it signed off in advance. It would simply be a contractual consequence of the treaties. The European Court would rule if the principle or amount were disputed.

To someone who negotiated for a living for decades, it has the aroma of, to be polite, bravado or, to be less polite, something else beginning with a "b".

That impression is reinforced by the fact that the EU has not produced its calculations. According to press reports it is demanding between sixty and one hundred billion Euros. Nor has it offered any legal analysis. We are told that the British government has clear legal advice that no such payment is due. Of course it won't publish that advice until the EU has offered some justification. 

Lawyers for Britain (disclosure: a campaign group in support of Brexit) has however commissioned and published a counsel's opinion by Martin Howe QC entitled The withdrawal of the UK from the European Union: Analysis of potential financial liabilities. The full opinion can be downloaded here. I have also hosted a copy of it on this site and put a link in the sidebar. It is well and clearly written. I suspect many of my esteemed readers will actually enjoy reading it even if they are not accustomed to such documents. 

For now, I will cut to the chase however and quote the conclusion of pages of dense analysis: 

For the reasons set out in this paper, there is a powerful legal case that the UK will not owe the EU any monies on withdrawal, and will be entitled to a net payment representing the value of its capital in the European Investment Bank.

Those readers who, like, me, actively want a "hard Brexit" should take the following comfort. If the EU's negotiators stick to their present position, there can be no further negotiation. The UK will exit without any agreement. It might even be possible (though I doubt any possible government after the election would have the testicular fortitude to go for it) to dispense with the two year notice period and stop subsidising our Continental chums sooner.

We would then trade with the EU on World Trade Organisation (WTO) standard terms, which will allow either side to impose tariffs averaging 2.3% on imports of non-agricultural goods (agriculture is a pampered business everywhere and the WTO has failed to broker any agreement to reduce protectionist tariffs). Britain is of course free to impose no tariffs on EU goods. The WTO sets a maximum, but no minimum. In my view that is precisely what we should do. It helps our consumers not one jot or tittle to pay more for our Audis and Camembert. As a supporter of free markets, not crony capitalism, I favour the consumer over the producer every time.

One can love capitalism without loving capitalists - or at least not loving them more than ones fellow humans in general.

It is likely of course that the mercantilist, anti-free market, corrupt crony capitalist EU will impose such tariffs. It will be true to the antiquated and discredited ideology that made us want to leave. However the adjustment in the value of the pound sterling (the genius of the Free Market at work) has already more than covered the effect of WTO tariffs and the Government has (rashly and wrongly in my view) promised British farmers that they will be compensated from public funds for any negative effects.

Much as I disapprove of that, it will cost far far less than our payments to the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which routes subsidies not just to jolly Continental peasants but to rich people such as the French, Austrian and German partners in the international law firm to which I used to belong, who owned farms and vineyards not to feed and cheer the masses, but to garner CAP subsidies from their far poorer fellow-taxpayers. 


Of Brexit and Divorce

I spent most of my career working in Continental Europe. This is not a "some of my best friends are Jewish" thing (which they are by the way) but most of my best friends are Continental Europeans. As the farcical Brexit "negotiations" continue, my personal Facebook page is therefore full of their whingeing, sniping and moralising about Britain's supposed "rejection" of Europe. Perhaps it's as well I have retired as a lawyer because my advocacy skills and negotiating experience are not good enough to persuade them that is NOT what is happening.

Only this morning, for example, one of my German friends wrote the following

Hmmm, folks when I look back at my divorce, it was not easy and I could not terminate my contract and run away, just to get the state of freedom (I have taken over responsibility during the time of marriage and felt to take care of it). In addition, how to explain such behavior (give notice and wait until the term of notice expired to get freedom and feel not any longer responsible for the everything I did together with my partner in the past) .... maybe somebody of you can help me how to explain this to my kids?

The "divorce" analogy keeps coming up in the Brexit debate but it could not be more false. The British people were persuaded to confirm Britain's entry into the "Common Market" (as the EEC was routinely described at the time) on the basis that it would have economic benefits. It was not a marriage. It was a "trade agreement" (that much misunderstood term which socialists and other statists seem to think means "an agreement authorising trade" whereas in truth – since trade is a basic human activity that needs no permission – means "an agreement to reduce government interference with trade"). The EEC as it was at the time was routinely spoken of as "the Common Market" and it takes very little research to find the press coverage, speeches and pamphlets of that era promising that it was nothing more than that. Here for example is an extract from the official government leaflet distributed before the 1975 referendum;

Remember: All the other countries in the Market [my emphasis] today enjoy, like us, democratically elected Governments answerable to their own Parliaments and their own voters. They do not want to weaken their Parliaments any more than we would."

Fact No. 3. The British Parliament in Westminster retains the final right to repeal the Act which took us into the Market on January 1, 1973. Thus our continued membership will depend on the continuing assent of Parliament.

"Fact No. 3" remains true as a simple matter of British constitutional law. Parliament is sovereign. It can do anything it damn well pleases (alas in many ways, but hurrah in this one). This is why I have said before that our Article 50 notice, observance of the two year exit period and participation in the farcical "negotiation" (which Juncker is trying to turn into a ritual humiliation to deter others thinking of leaving) is pure politeness. I think we should go through these motions because we have an interest in promoting the myth of "International Law." It's a myth very largely of our devising and is a  useful diplomatic construct to avoid conflict in future. However, if I were leading the negotiation on the British side, I would be watching like a hawk for a gaffe by Juncker and his team that would allow me to walk out without further ado. I have enough confidence in the abilities of our Civil Service (if not our politicians) to hope that is what the person actually leading the negotiation is doing. 

To return to my German friend's emotional plea on Facebook, I am astonished that a citizen of the greatest industrial power on Earth; a wealthy nation with a strong economy and vibrant culture would think of his country in such an odd way as to compare it to a spurned wife.  To me it seems frankly degrading but then "victimhood" is now in many ways the highest aspiration of modern Westerners. Perhaps this is Germany's Rachel Dolezal moment in which it sheds its unloved identity as a privileged white nation with a history of racist aggression and joins an "oppressed minority" in favour of which one must now positively discriminate?

If you insist on thinking of it as a marriage, then let's at least perfect the analogy. Britain was a reluctant bride. We didn't find the other member states attractive and were very reluctant to get in bed with them, but we wanted the financial benefits that the relationship promised to bring. Whereas my German friend seems to see the 27 as a spurned family to be supported by the errant, unfaithful husband, we see ourselves as a disappointed gold-digger who has been ****ed long enough by this ugly old brute and wants out.

In this week's Spectator there is a review by William Cook of a book called The Shortest History of Germany by James Hawes, which seems to go some way to explaining why Germans and Brits see Brexit so differently.  I have bought it and will be reading it but here's a passage quoted in the review;

…the solutions nations seek are shaped by past experience, and in this respect Germany and Britain could scarcely be less alike. Germans have been familiar with federal institutions ever since Charlemagne. Germany has only been a nation since 1871 and its experience of nationalism was a disaster. History has taught the British that we’re best off one step removed from Europe, whereas it has taught the Germans that they’re far better off as part of a supranational superstate. Really it’s a wonder that we agree about anything at all…

I have failed so far to persuade my Continental friends but I shall persist in explaining that we have not rejected Europe. We have not fallen out of love. We are not a heartless brute of a faithless husband casting one German wife and 26 children out into the cold to starve. We are their friend and want to remain so. We have done them much good in the past and will do them more. We will buy their Audis and their Camemberts just as we always have and will holiday in France and make pathetic schoolboy attempts at their language for their amusement while they relieve us of our money. Our rejection is not even of the "Common Market" as it was sold to us (though we have to leave it because they have tied it together with the rest of the plan) but of the federal dream (to them) and nightmare (to us) of a United States of Europe.

 


Of happiness and hope

I am in the middle of what seems to be a month long celebration of my 60th birthday. I am jollier than I would have expected, having eyed this approaching milestone with dread. Of course I SHOULD be jolly. I am a privileged Westerner, living a life he never dreamed with a loving family and affectionate friends. But I have political reasons too.

The fall of the Berlin Wall was the key political event of my life. Like most of us, I had never dared to hope Communism would fail in such a clear and comprehensive fashion. I moved to Eastern Europe in 1992 and, as a specialist lawyer, helped my real estate clients build on its ruins. The transformation we helped the people of the region achieve was spectacular. If we compare living standards in Poland when I moved there in 1992 with today only a fool or knave could deny the powerful virtues of capitalism. The transformation is greater than even an enthusiastic free marketeer like me would have predicted. 

I lived in that optimistic environment for twenty years - never really understanding how naive Fukyama's analysis of "the end of history" had been. Back in the West, however, our Marxist academics regrouped. They began to focus even more on "cultural Marxism"; on fomenting other social conflicts to create a perceived need for a controlling elite at the helm of a powerful state. I firmly believe that such a state has always been their one true goal. It enables them to live high on the hog in the parasitical, hypocritical idleness that Marx himself achieved as he sponged off his naive bourgeois friend Engels, rogered his servant girl and bilked his creditors. All else has always been bullshit.

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 08.59.32

I gradually realised that the true outcome of the Cold War might be as this cartoon cleverly presents it. Out of that dark realisation this blog was born. Essentially a solution-oriented, problem-solving, optimistic person, I told myself it was better to light a candle than curse the darkness and spent a serious chunk of my life arguing whenever I could against our fifth columnists in academia. In the last year, the academic Berlin Wall has begun to crumble too. I wish I could claim that we had won the political argument but I think something far more fundamental is going on. There is a shift as profound as when the Labour Party replaced the Liberal Party in mainstream British politics and King Edward VII told his mother that "we are all socialists now". 

I suspect the Left's first real strategic error was its bizarre embrace of Islam. You don't need a degree in politics to notice that Muslims are socially-conservative, anti-feminist to the point of misogyny and - in the cultural Marxist jargon - "homophobic". Leftists in academia, contemptuously ignorant of religion, seemed to view them as just more poor immigrants to vote reliably for the continual expansion of the state. They arrogantly bent their own logic to welcome a clearly anti-progressive force into their ranks. The error might not have been obvious in their ivory towers, but it was pretty clear on the streets of Luton and Bradford. The credibility of leftist academics began to crumble. 

Other errors too numerous to mention followed as the academic bubble drifted further from reality. Most decent, practical people could not be bothered (who has the time if you have actual work to do?) to contest their ideas, but the perception grew that - however many black friends you had - you were going to be called racist. That however much you loved your mum and treated your lady friends with respect, you were sexist. That however little you gave a damn about what your homosexual friends and colleagues got up to in private that you were homophobic. And that pointing out the threat Muslim immigrants presented to Western values made you islamophobic. It became clear that the names you were called were just part of an academic game. They had nothing to do with truth.

As the fifth column's influence intruded even into popular culture, people who lived in the real Coronation Streets and Albert Squares noticed that their on-screen equivalents were becoming preachy purveyors of condescending agitprop. I had long stopped watching the BBC's news and current affairs output because I could not stand the primary school teacher tone it adopted. The same tone was now to be found from Emmerdale to Gallifrey. 

Just when I thought we were all going to drown in cultural Marxist condescension however, the dam broke. Despite being told precisely what to think by an united elite singing the same, well-rehearsed tune and utterly confident of success, the British people found their voice. On the day of the Brexit referendum they raised their traditional battle cry of "bollocks to the lot of you!" Even better than that moment has been the torrent of condescension that has followed, laying bare the contempt in which our would-be masters hold us. Cheated of the cushy "jobs" and lavish funding for policy-based evidence making "research" the EU had provided, they could not conceal their impotent rage. It has been delicious.

As has the aftermath of the election of President Trump in the USA where similar forces are at play. I have concerns about the current POTUS's grasp of economics and wouldn't like him hanging around my daughters (but ditto JFK and Bill Clinton and we all survived them). Trump is no libertarian and is politically as far from me as Clinton. However he seems strong on the defence of the West and - even better - has made noises about defunding academia. If he achieves the latter he may, for all his vulgarity, prove to be the King Jan III Sobieski of our day. 

Even more encouragingly, just as when I was at university in the Seventies, the key voices in public discourse are not now from the Left. Rather they are such delightful people as the dangerous faggot, Milo Yiannopoulos, the factual feminist Christina Hoff Sommers and my current favourite, the softly spoken Canadian Professor Jordan Peterson. The ever more authoritarian attempts to suppress dissent in academia have put feminist icon Germaine Greer on the "no platform" list and made apparent to even a casual observer how dangerously far political correctness has gone and just how sneeringly arrogant and condescendingly  authoritarian its proponents are.

So I am politically happy not because anyone I approve of holds political office anywhere, but because I have hope for the future. The ideologues who failed in their overt parasitism in Eastern Europe and China are failing in their covert version in the West and for the same reason. Their ideas conflict with reality.

The chess game in the cartoon is not over yet. I shall be following the next moves with gleeful anticipation.