Bristling Brock speaks out...
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Well, Mrs May will be swatting up on her Italian pronunciation and prepping for her big speech, nay, announcement in Florence. As usual, there has been much speculation (or even leakage) about what she will offer the EU as an inducement to engage in trade discussions post-Brexit. In some respects I really hope she can pull this off and get the leap forward that the negotiations are sadly in need of but, like most things in life, there is a cost which will be likely both financial and political.
The financial cost could be anything from the reported 20 billion euros a year for three years continued contribution to the EU to the £40 billion suggested elsewhere by the media. In essence, if this all comes about, we'll be still paying a levy into the EU purely for the privilege of having access to the single market and customs union along with some continued interference in our legislation by the ECJ and ongoing free movement of labour. All in all, doesn't actually sound like a deal at all and will annoy the hard Brexit camp and likely a good proportion of the electorate that voted for severance rather than lingering and acrimonious divorce. This is certainly not what Brexit was supposed to be about but in the spirit of conciliation we perhaps need to recognise the impact of Britain's departure upon the EU budget and the downturn in European affairs that would result from a rapid cessation of payments. If I was a cynic - who, me ? - then it could be argued that that is Europe's problem and not ours. After all, Article 50 includes no requirement for a continuance of financial contribution. However, we clearly want to stay friends with Europe and it looks very much as though we are going to have to pay them to still play marbles with us in the playground.
The political cost to Mrs May and her government could go in several directions. If there is a public outcry at the deal she offers and a constitutional uproar over how Brexit should be conducted then there will be great pressure to dissolve parliament and have yet another general election. This is what the Labour Party (and no doubt the LibDems) are hoping for - they see this as the best opportunity for them to deliver the coup de grace to the Conservative government and walk into No. 10. Alternatively, if Mrs May just scrapes through this ordeal but emerges somewhat more bruised than she already is, whilst the government may survive, a leadership challenge might well oust her. A third option might be somewhere in between - a general discontent over the deal might, in fact, be overruled by the EU itself. The presumption that the cards are exclusively in British hands is wrong - no deal will be struck unless the remaining 27 EU states approve it, and if that approval didn't quite quickly follow Mrs May's offer then, again she would be in a politically untenable position and would likely need to tender her resignation. Whether that could lead to a general election or just a leadership election is something of a fluid debate these days - but it all could happen.
What we are seeing in this highly controversial episode in our affairs is the impact of lobby's and pressure groups upon government actions. It's not new and has probably gone on in modern times since parliament became the superior governmental force at the time of the Civil War. So there's no surprise that the influential and wealthy elements of our world will be at work manipulating the best options for themselves. The question then becomes, is what's best for them in any way beneficial for the country ? Now there's a thorny bucket of hawthorns for you to consider dipping your arm into. I suppose the true answer to that is that nobody actually knows until it's happened and that is probably the single biggest concern in the whole Brexit debate - do we actually trust, or indeed wish to trust, those vested interests that can sway governmental policy for their own ends in the belief that there will be some collateral benefit for the population as a whole ? I'm afraid I haven't got a crystal ball (waiting for one at Christmas) but what I do see is that the hopes and expectations of what Brexit was originally conceived to be will be somehow diverted, re-directed and compromised - in this instance, what you see isn't going to be what you get.
Let us see what Mrs May declares in Florence...
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Change is endemic and it just happens by natural forces throughout our societies. Some of it is welcome, some not and some 'just appears' as if by magic - the internet, for example. That's one that never ceases to amaze me.
The current scramble in the Labour Party - sensing Tory blood on the air - to prepare for a quick election before the scheduled 2022 affair are making amendments to their party structure, their NEC and so forth, to ensure that Corbyn remains at the helm whilst pacifying his many opponents. They see a possible collapse of the Conservative government looming and are licking their lips in anticipation of making a landslide switch in electoral behaviour to their own favour. Well, it is possible. Recent political behaviour by the electorate has taught us one thing if nothing else, that they are fickle, prepared to switch loyalties and occasionally support populism. No wonder the strategists in the Labour camp are gearing up. They believe their time is approaching. But why, you might question ?
Much of Labour's excitement seems to stem from the likelihood of the Conservatives failing to negotiate an acceptable deal on Brexit and that by popular demand they'll be forced to 'go to the country' again to seek a new mandate. Here Labour believes it has the edge, and there are many indicators that would underscore that sense of confident excitement in their ranks. The political pendulum has certainly started to swing in their direction almost irrespective of whether anyone actually thinks they are a better governmental bet or not. Key segments of the electorate has shown anger and distrust over the government's ineptitude over Brexit and Labour have seen that distrust as sufficient ammunition to start preparing for a new election campaign. It's that fickle electorate at it again ! It's also a bit like watching a boxing match with the original favourite (the Tories) suddenly taking a series of unexpected blows that leaves him on the ropes and his opponent (Labour) gleefully dancing around and looking for new places to land the killer blow. The upsetting thing about this analogy is that it is mirroring our political reality quite closely and the Tory government has painted itself into the corner of the ring and is open to attack not only from the opponent in the ring with them but from the crowd outside baying for blood. And let's not forget the new edition of the LibDems, equally eager to see that Tory blood being spilled and taken advantage of. Lions and hyena's come to mind.
We are definitely in uncharted waters and almost anything in the political arena could happen. What will that be, we may all wonder....
On a different note, what extraordinary, violent weather and natural phenomena the Central American belt seems to be being ravaged by. If nothing else can be gleaned from this then the one lesson for Mr Trump is that he should not walk away from the Paris Climate Agreement. Nobody can say the agreement is the bees-knees in sorting out global climate change because it isn't, but it is a stepping stone to further collaboration between nations and wider attempts at reducing the man-made contribution to the problem. Even Mr Trump should not be as brazen to imagine that this does not concern the US.
I was, perhaps unreasonably, amused to read of the Russian helicopter incident during the current Zapada 2017 war games being held near to St Petersburg. Very unfortunately, an attack helicopter fired a live missile at a clutch of vehicles on the ground believing them to be the designated target. Oops ! Wrong target, that was actually a bunch of Belorussian observers seeing how the big boy Russians do it. Equally fortunately, nobody seemed to get killed but a handful of observers were hospitalised. Now here's the tickling bit - Russian media reveals that the video whizzing around the world was actually from 'another incident' some years ago and was nothing to do with Zapada 2017 which is being run extremely efficiently and according to plan ! Yeah !!!
Staying on military matters and back to Trumpland we are seeing the presidential rhetoric getting testy once again with new threats to wipe North Korea out and naming and shaming his top four worst enemies of mankind - obviously North Korea, Syria, Iran and Venezuela. Needless to say, his aggressive comments have rocked the UN and spawned a wave of criticisms worldwide. With guys like this around, why are we worried about Brexit ?
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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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