Bristling Brock speaks out...


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What do we make of the in-fighting amongst senior Conservatives that sends a message around the world that they are divided, suspicious of each other and highly territorial ?  But the other message it sends is that the government aren't managing the Brexit process at all well.

If we were to be charitable, we might say that Brexit is a situation without precedent and that everyone is having to get to grips with it from scratch.  Perfectly reasonable, you might think.  Yet this is the biggest thing in at least a generation to challenge Britain and there is only one shot at it.  This is far too significant a process to be negotiating with one eye looking behind for the wielded dagger, or at least the suspicion of it.  That suspicion says much; it says that the divisions within the cabinet are clearly evident, that there is no cohesion of thought within the cabinet, that there is, in reality, no universal game-plan that has the backing of the cabinet and, probably most significantly, that there is both dissatisfaction and a lack of confidence in the PM to effectively manage her team and the diversity of feelings about Brexit strategies.

William Hague puts it succinctly: 'Get a grip on this or else Jeremy Corbyn will be shortly in No. 10' (my para-phrasing).  The last time I heard an equivalent declaration of major importance was that reportedly made by the dour but clever Hugh Dowding at the onset of the Battle of Britain: 'This is a battle we have got to win, or else we'll be watching jackboots marching up Whitehall before the end of the month' (again, my para-phrasing).  Perhaps not militarily equivalent but Brexit, and the conditions of Brexit represent our current day crisis of national importance.  We have to get these negotiations with the EU on a footing where we display the leadership, make the running and get the deal that is good for Britain (without that being callous enough to damage the EU's status with the remaining 27 members).

Mrs May is shortly heading for Florence where, reportedly, she will give some definition to what Britain's game-plan is.  That she's going to do this in a sort of neutral political environment rather than in the heartlands of European politics tells us that she is already afraid of confrontation with both EU and other European leaders and perhaps equally afraid of rolling Britain's dice in its one-shot throw and ending up with a dud deal.  I've previously joined in the speculation that the deal she'll try for is a continued membership of the single market and customs union over a transitional period beyond 2019 - a strategy that will continue to cost Britain an approximate £40 billion a year and keep us tied to the European Court of Justice's control of our legislative affairs, continue the free movement of labour and, for all practical purposes, keep us within the EU political club and on the road to European federalism.  Is this what the 2016 referendum was about ?  I think not.  

This is, of course, until Friday, speculation.  But what if this were to be the game-plan to be presented to the EU ?  It would be a major coup for Philip Hammond in The Treasury, and perhaps Mark Carney at the Bank of England as this policy would, in their eyes, offer business the ongoing stability it says it needs to continue trading with the EU bloc and keep confidence in sterling high. This may or may not be the case, the reality is though that they don't know any more than anyone else as to what will happen post-2019 should this be the way the government take us.  Their's is speculation just as much as that of the hard Brexit camps speculations on a clean and timely separation and forging a trade path with the rest of the world.

What is key to this as far as I'm concerned is this: 'The referendum was created by the government, approved by parliament, legally put on the statute book and the choice given to the electorate, the outcome of which would be deemed legally binding.'  The electorate were asked to make a simple 'Leave or Remain' choice and they chose Leave.  That was the majority vote and was a legally enforceable decision.  There was no option in the referendum to say that we might like to be half-in or half-out of the EU, we voted to be fully out.  With the caveat that there would need to be some provisions of membership that couldn't be exited overnight we have, nevertheless, had since March, 2017 when Article 50 was triggered (and in practise since June, 2016) to formulate a process and exit plan that fulfilled the requirements of the referendum.  We, specifically our government, have not done that.  What we, again, specifically our government, have done is panic and consult with the vested interests that represent Remain and say 'What do you want us to do !'  Why would they do that you may ask ?  Well, they do it because that's where their money and support come from.  Remember that the financial services sector now accounts for 80% of our GDP (compared with manufacturing industry accounting for that percentage 50 years ago) and as we all know, money makes the world go round.

We should not ridicule the importance of the financial sector too much (though it is saddening to see some of the key architects of the 2008 crash still picking up their substantial pay-cheques) but we could have had the sector encouraged to work with government to formulate strategies for that post-Brexit moment when we would be free to trade with the rest of the world rather than imagining the EU was the be-all and end-all of our existence.  But that opportunity has probably slid by now and we await the PM's declarations in Florence.

I am, nevertheless, afraid that we will capitulate to EU pressures.  If that is the case it will be a sad day for democracy, honesty and truthfulness.  Brexit will not have been delivered as it should and the electorate will have every right to feel betrayed.  And it will probably open the path to No.10 for Jeremy Corbyn.  And that will just compound the felony.

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I'm starting today's little storyboard with a repetition of my earlier plea to halt the extended badger cull.

Since the cull extension was announced last week we have seen some of the most vicious and deplorable killing and maiming of badgers.  The cull gives licence to anyone with a gun or a club to indulge their nastiness on defenceless and truly guiltless creatures and the human race is done no credit for its behaviour in this situation.  I am both disgusted and cynical enough to see that the free, open-house policy on 'kill a badger' has appealed to the lowest forms of our society, those that take violence against the defenceless as a pleasure - in short, the least worthy of humankind.

There is no causal link between badgers and bovine TB.  Cattle are themselves the natural carriers of the disease and badgers have become the fall-guys for ill thought out attempts to eradicate the disease.  This is a government sop to an influential rural lobby and they should be ashamed of themselves for endorsing this sort of free-for-all killing spree.  Stop it, stop it now and prosecute the thugs who have been given licence to engage in this needless gore without hesitation.   We are better than this and the lowest common denominator should not be our measure of civilisation.

In the political world I see that Vince Cable imagines himself as the next PM.    That's come from left-field, hasn't it ?  As to how he's come to that conclusion is anybody's guess but he seems to believe that the LibDems are going to suddenly launch themselves into the sensible centre ground and reap all the votes of the disenchanted masses and cancel Brexit.  Almost Messianic, you might say.  Well, good luck to him in that but I liken his ambition to that of Cnut trying to turn back the waves - all a bit pointless....

The other notable Brexit argument - yes, all the talk of Brexit is now classed as an 'argument' - is that between Boris Johnson and assorted other Theresa May supporters over the cash-back remarks first unleashed during the referendum campaign and now, again, back in the news.  Perhaps it doesn't really matter what the exact sum of money being paid into the EU's weekly budget that we make rather it is the principle that - whatever the figure is - it will be a sum that can be spent by our government and not that of the EU once Brexit has been finalised.  Mr Johnson has always been careless with his choice of words but his sentiment is right on this occasion and, if this is a ploy to seize the leadership of the Tory's then it is only our news crazed media that sees the connection.  Notice how Mrs May remains in the shadows, neither condemning or agreeing his comments - and that is because since the election you will have seen more government ministers and spokespersons on tv, in the newspapers and on social media than ever before.  That is her response to allaying the accusation of being a lone-wolf, Maybot style leader and it is right that her ministers should be given freedom to express their views and widen the arena.  I see absolutely nothing out of line in Johnson's comments.  

What remains disturbing, however, is the prediction that Mrs May's Florence speech on Friday will give ground to the EU by agreeing to continued payments for access to the single market during some imprecise transitional period.  This is a departure from the ethos and intent of Brexit as it was voted for and will, if it happens, be taken as a significant betrayal to the majority who voted 'Leave'.  The comments by Amber Rudd that the PM is in the driving seat of Brexit ring hollow if we start to capitulate our negotiating position now.  As this blog has pressed for before, grit, toughness and strong negotiating is required - not a tail between the legs and head bowed approach.  Where is Nigel Farage ?  If you're out there reading this, get back into the fray quickly and before our sad negotiating position worsens.

Looking at some of the commentary upon Brexit in the wider sense, much of our news seems to be dominated by the notion that immigration was and is the central focus of those who voted 'Leave' in the referendum.  It further insinuates in many quarters that those who voted 'Leave' have no other concerns about the EU and are at the bottom rung of the 'understanding scale'.  Added to that, the older population have been getting it in the neck for seemingly acting selfishly in voting for Brexit.  The very fact that commentary of this nature is still being bandied about is possibly an illustration of not just the political divisions that exist around Britain but also about the geographic divisions and social divisions that have become more obvious during the last ten years or so.  Do not make the mistake of thinking that 'Leavers' are unenlightend or ignorant, or selfish or even just north of Watford Gap - for they are not - any more than thinking of 'Remainers' as some sort of Metropolitan elite, better informed, and much wiser and with the vested interests of the south-east at heart - for they are also not this.  Both descriptions are both correct and incorrect for they embrace a wide variety of types with no singular name tag that fits all.  We are a diverse nation with a vast spread of views and feelings - and we fit into both camps of this important national 'argument'.  We should try and accept the decision of the referendum and work together to ensure our government fulfils its duties - that is the biggest risk to all of us.

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Having spent some time reading Vince Cable's theme for the LibDem conference - yes, it is conference season yet again - it brings to mind how we exercise democracy inBritain.  The LibDem theme is, of course, to abandon Brexit forthwith and rekindle our membership of the EU as if nothing had happened to bring the Brexit phenomena about in the first place.  Now everyone is entitled to their views and they are equally free to express them (though that is not strictly correct when you consider a range of politically correct subjects that are a legal taboo to talk openly about) but where does democratic right extend to when, in this example, there is an open rebellion against a legally mandated choice to pursue Brexit ?  In days past, such a rebellion might have been seen as treason and the perpetrators would have ended up in The Tower of London.  That's a bit Draconian by today's standards but how far do we accept that freedom of speech is within the realms of public interest.  Now that's another thorny debate as the notion of freedom of speech should, in a true democracy, be inviolate and as extensive as it needs to be.  But let's face it.  We don't actually live in a true democracy, we live in a controlled democracy that espouses those areas of free speech that can be uttered upon and those that can't.  As per my bracketed comment above, there are now extensive restrictions on publicly airing views on race, gender, sexuality and umpteen other so called politically correct themes that are deemed not to be in the public interest.  Some would argue that these topics may even be official government policy.  But their very existence and the expression of vociferous indignation when anyone raises these topics is a sign that we do not enjoy full democratic rights.

So, back to the LibDems and their reversal policy on Brexit.  As a partial democracy, how far should we go along with political dissent ?  That's a bit like asking 'how long is a piece of string ?' but there surely has to be some limitation, some parameters that contain the public platform opportunity for such declarations ?  This is not to say that the LibDems should be gagged, far from it, but we are talking of a constitutional matter, legally sanctioned by parliament, promoted by a previous government and voted on freely by the entire electorate.  In any legislative process there are going to be those who end up on the wrong side of the outcome and we might describe this as the outcome of majority democracy - for we have little else by which to manage our affairs either at home or abroad.  But should we let the LibDems campaign on public platforms to reverse that outcome ?  Politicians generally are permitted a broader remit to expound their views and we may think this is no bad thing as it let's us understand what they're about more clearly (though clarity of understanding on what most politicians declare is a rare thing).  The question is, how far should they be allowed to argue their point when the majority position of the electorate is being compromised and divisions within our national negotiating position exacerbated ?  I don't have an answer to that but I am made uneasy by the continuing preparedness of minority stakeholders to try and sabotage the Brexit process without any deference to the legality of that process.  We are, indeed, in uncharted waters here, but made more troublesome by wave-makers.

I have previously urged the government to put more grit into their stance on Brexit and I still hold that view, but the more dissent that is aired the weaker our negotiating position with the EU becomes.  Dissent and rebellion by its very nature is a debilitating dynamic that dilutes our efforts to get the exit arrangements we need.  If this were to result in a wishy-washy deal with extended 'membership' of the EU then the dissenters will have won and democracy of any sort will have failed.  Remainers should have their views heard but when this starts to damage the very purpose and outcome of a majority voted for arrangement then we are putting our democracy very much on the line.  Democracy will mean nothing if 'back-doors' to circumventing it are without locks.

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