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If it’s Leave, what then?

By Guest
June 14th, 2016 at 7:45 am | Comments Off on If it’s Leave, what then? | Posted in EU

The outcome of the referendum on June 23rd is still uncertain. As it has been throughout. The main difference is that it is now uncertain leaning to Leave, rather than uncertain leaning to Remain. We know this from the polls. From the reported state of the postal votes coming in. And on the ground from relative campaign activity.

If that is the outcome, it is not I think an overstatement, to suggest large parts body politic will be suffering something akin to psychic shock. We can already see evidence of this in the way the Prime Minister’s faction is behaving. They have started fighting the likely post-referendum battles through personal attacks on Boris Johnson. Something largely unhelpful to the Remain cause now. And long-term more dangerous than that.

If Leave win. It is not at all clear what the public has voted for… It is entirely clear what they will have voted against. The EU. But not which of the umpteen possible Brexit scenarios is preferred. Or who they’d prefer to try and achieve them.

In that regard Remainers should perhaps start thinking about which Eurosceptics they want to win the fall out.

The worst option would be to attempt to ignore the vote. This is the ‘Norwegian option’. Where the establishment saddled their public with a bad deal similar to full membership, in the hope of a rethink.

The continuing absence of Norway from the EU following referendums in 1972 and 1994 should tell you just how effective that strategy will be. Not to mention how badly that move will sit with the British public.

I strongly suspect, for example that a large part of the growing Leave vote is one of utter contempt for those that govern us. British and European. The Referendum has created a safe way of expressing that contempt, that doesn’t involve electing Nigel Farage or Caroline Lucas Prime Minister.

If the response of Parliament is contempt in kind. Which along with Norwegian deals, includes any scenario that doesn’t involve the swift resignation of the then self-discredited Prime Minister. That Farage option, or worse, will come back. The inexplicable desire of sane people to vote for hollow populists in the US, France, and other places, will become our problem as well.

Which is why the Cameron’s sanctioned personal attacks on Johnson, and possibly others soon, are so dangerous. Whatever one may think of Johnson’s opportunism. He’s not Donald Trump. And has rather been a fairly reliable tribune of the liberal centre ground tradition in the Conservative Party. He is not a fool. And he would be very unlikely as Prime Minister to saddle the UK with a Cabinet of fools, hell bent on proving the Treasury’s melodramatic forecasters right.

The same is true of Gove, and a number of other Vote Leave luminaries. All those wise enough to keep UKIP in their heritage theme park Britain box. Rather than let Farage use the Referendum as a personal platform.

The most dangerous outcome of the referendum then is if the centre-ground, divided on this one issue, decides to form a circular firing squad. Discrediting one another so bitterly and viciously that the next Prime Minister ends up being someone far less able or palatable. The sort who genuinely believes Mexican walls can be built in the Channel. Or heaven help us Comrade Corbyn, a man who still thinks Venezuela is a progressive paradise.

So like it not, on a Leave vote, the Remainers would be well advised to accept the outcome, and fight for the least unappealing regime change. In order to get the best Brexit possible. Many of the other alternatives are far worse.

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The Out-Inners

By Guest
February 27th, 2016 at 9:12 am | Comments Off on The Out-Inners | Posted in EU

The most moderate part of the Leave coalition is I think well represented here by Michael Howard. People who would like to be in a very different European Union, but are genuinely sceptical about whether this EU can ever get there. Boris Johnson is also in this camp.

Within the context of the Referendum their central hope is that a vote for Leave will finally persuade the EU to offer a form of associate membership they can accept. This is also what Dominic Cummings (the Campaign Director of VL) means when he talks about a second referendum.

Cameron is at the very mildest end of this point of view. He has after all used a single referendum threat to get change. He thinks the double-referendum bluff, is just that, a dangerous bluff. He earnestly believes that negotiation and compromise are the only route to successful reform. He worries that a Leave vote would be final, not a prelude to further deal-making.

Both have a point. Cameron’s analogy of improving your marriage by seeking divorce is a good one. It doesn’t happen. Equally though international diplomacy is not a marriage. It’s transactional. It’s ‘speaking softly and carrying a big stick’.

Out-Inners see a calm debate with a Leave vote at the end of it as in that tradition. They regard Maggie swinging her bag for a rebate, or De Gaulle’s empty chair as evidence that in the main European Leaders are “weak, weak, weak…” and respond mostly to the stick not the soft voice. They don’t think the answer to a bad marriage is a Directive on harmonised sleeping arrangements.

The problem though is that other member states may look at the Referendum and see British diplomacy as ‘screaming hysterically and carrying a bendy banana’. Possibly with a blond wig on it.

Those pro-Europeans regard Brexit as welcome and long overdue. They see the manner in which the UK blocks EU nation-building, taxes, common institutions and other federal goals as insuperable. They are UK-sceptics and want us gone.

In that divorce the ex is already repainting the walls as you walk out the door. Ta ta Britain, we’ll leave the tunnel open so you can visit the cheese. Those pro-Europeans are not a large group. But they’ll have a few new recruits on June 24th if we vote Leave.

Beyond that there are then very practical issues around what new deal the Out-Inners might agree. They don’t have homogeneous political views or reform ambitions. They would have enormous domestic fights to get some things like the Common Agricultural Policy or migration policy changed. None of them for this reason is prepared to stay exactly what renegotiation they would have gone for if in Cameron’s shoes. None of them knows if they could have got it.

For neutrals between these campaigns what we can say is that the Out-Inner strategy is a gamble. It’s risky. It’s not one I want I someone who finds some aspects of the EU nearly as unappealing as some aspects of Westminster.

Out would most likely mean out. The double dip is not I think a gamble worth taking.

Team Cameron’s Negotiations

By Editor
November 10th, 2015 at 12:06 pm | Comments Off on Team Cameron’s Negotiations | Posted in EU

I note with interest that team Cameron has been making a big thing of welfare exemptions as the ‘really difficult’ element of his renegotiation package. I’m not sure he’s right.

Two elements are fairly easy.

Boosting competitiveness – that’s just the normal business of the EU, and the pro-market crowd currently dominate the Commission. Since Cameron doesn’t have a deregulation shopping list, any trade deals or single market directives are going to be claimed as a win there. He’ll even be helped by grumpy pro-European socialists complaining about how well he’s done at ruining the EU in this regard.

Ending ever closer union (for the UK) – also easy. It’s a semantic point open to interpretation. It will not be hard for other member states to agree the UK (and others) can have a rewording at the next treaty negotiations to reflect their real relationship. A partnership of European nations, or something similar.

The welfare issue may not be as easy, but then the PM has built a ‘four-year exemption’ into his opening bid, which will no doubt be whittled down to 1 year and claimed as a mighty triumph. It is also an issue that has more to do with the design of the UK welfare system (based on residency not contribution). It would be very easy to exclude non-UK residents from immediate access to all welfare benefits if the UK had more of a continental style social insurance model. Cameron could get what he wants by reform at home. What happens here may end up being a bit of both.

What he won’t get is the 4 year deal without conceding something in return. Eastern Europeans in particular will not accede to something that is a naked bid to discriminate against their citizens. It will be interesting to see what he offers.

The most difficult elements though I suspect are more around the protection of the non-eurozone states from eurozone decisions, and any brake to EU Directives from National Parliaments. Not because these are particularly difficult concepts, but because they actually require a vast amount of legwork in the detail of treaties and Directives in order to implement.

Anything involving changing voting procedures and decision-making in democracies is difficult, and usually runs into a lot of vested interests when what you’re up to becomes clear. Think House of Lords reform as an example. Obvious, should have happened years ago, everyone agree’s the current system is rubbish, but few agree on what should replace it. I sincerely doubt Cameron has a magic associate membership formula that everyone will buy in to quickly.

Detail is not Cameron’s forte. It is on the other hand a speciality of the Commission and various insider groups who are going to run rings around the British if they’re not very careful to specify exactly what it is they need to change. And not leave loopholes.

The nearest equivalent we have to this element of the renegotiation is the English votes for English laws debate. There the Conservatives took one look at what would actually be required to put the matter on a statutory footing (a revision of several hundred Acts of Parliament) and ran screaming for a clever procedural solution.

They are unlikely to be able to pull that off in Brussels. Or if they can, it will be so flimsy, it will be an open goal for the Leave campaigners to shoot at. Not least because whatever is achieved will be an agreement in principle, not a real deal.

So I suspect Cameron is setting up welfare as the big ask because he can win something there, and the last thing he wants is to draw attention to the really messy constitutional reform process that will bore the public while motivating his opposition to scream betrayal and failure. We shall see.

Liberalism and the European Union

By Alex Chatham
June 2nd, 2015 at 2:30 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in EU

The European Union is not a very liberal organisation. It is constantly on the look out for ways to interfere with how people live their lives and how businesses run their affairs. Membership does commit members to the rule of law and a single market.

If if the EU isn’t the organisation liberals want, would it be best to leave?

Out of the EU, Britain may find itself even less liberal than it currently is as it throws up a protectionist blanket to protect British jobs. The country could find itself adhering to directives it disapproves of just to access trade with Europe. And it would have give up the opportunity to  push the EU in a more liberal direction.

There are no easy answers to these issues. What they do is force liberals to think hard about what their political philosophy is all about.

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The EU Condemns Drone Strikes

By Sara Scarlett
March 1st, 2014 at 6:33 am | 4 Comments | Posted in EU

Excellent news from the EU!

European Union Members of Parliament condemned the use of drones in targeted killings in a vote of 534 to 49. The vote proposing a ban referred to the drone strikes as “unlawful.”

Not just a victory but a landslide victory.

I once heard drone strikes described as ‘surgical.’ They are the exact opposite. They are notoriously  imprecise, killing nine innocent civilians for every one ‘bad guy.’ The callous disregard of human life in affected areas can only serve to breed contempt and make us less safe. If the powers that be ever update the Geneva Conventions, I hope this type of warfare is explicitly acknowledged and condemned.