Those Brexit Negotiations – abridged

Summarised version of the UK approach to Brexit Negotiations.

Hello, Mr Barnier, we’d like to begin Brexit Negotiations

Excellent, as you know the clock is ticking, we need to draft our agreement so all 27 member states can absorb it and give sign off.

All 27? Can’t we just agree it here with a handshake?

I’m afraid not. What is your position?

Well, we thought we could go it alone…

Well, no, you didn’t.

We did, we told the public we could go it alone…

Actually, with respect, you told the public that German Car Makers would force all 27 sovereign nations to agree to a UK deal, but let’s not split hairs…

Yes, well, it turns out we can’t go it alone

We know, go on

In fact, it’s looking pretty dicey for us right now, the UK public expects and all that…

The UK public expects you to honour impossible promises based on blackmail & arrogance, yes I can see how that might be difficult, anyway please continue

So, obviously we need to leave…

Why?

Because we promised the UK public…

…the impossible? Yes, you said, OK never mind, this is not our concern, so what do you propose?

Well, after due consideration we realise we still want all the benefits of the Single Market & Customs Union…

You mean you want to stay in the Single Market & Customs Union?

No, no, we have to leave them, but we still need them. We promised the public you see…

I’m not sure I understand…

We want to create something very similar to the Single Market & Customs Union, only not called the Single Market & Customs Union

I’m getting a bit lost…

Yes, we’re thinking of calling it the “UK-EU Unified Market” and “UK-EU Union for Customs”

The UK-EU…this seems like an awful lot of work for no benefit…

But it’s OK, it’s only temporary

Only temporary? How long do you expect this to last?

We’re not sure – between 12 months and forever (but please don’t tell anyone I said “forever”)

But why? Why on earth are you going to all this trouble?

Well, between you and me, to save face, you see we promised the UK public…

I’m sorry, to save face?

Yes, we have an international trade minister, and he can’t start his job looking for new Free Trade deals until this is in place

New FTA…I’m sorry, back up a second, what are you talking about?

Yes, we also need this new “Union for Customs” to have a clause which lets us set up new Free Trade Deals

But none of our other 27 member states can create new trade deals whilst in the Customs Union, that’s why it’s a Customs Union

No, No, a “Union for Customs” – it’s quite different

Mon Dieu, and these new trade deals that you want to negotiate, whilst in these duplicates that we have to help create, presumably they’ll be with countries we trade with already?

Err, yes…

So you might actually undercut us and/or take away some of our market share?

Possibly…

So let me summarise: You thought you could blackmail us, but found out you can’t.  You’ve finally realised you actually need the Single Market, Customs Union & other institutions (or at least the “benefits” – which is the same thing) but you can’t tell the public that, because you made impossible promises.

So, as an alternative, you want us to help duplicate (and pay for) large parts of these institutions just so your politicians can pretend the UK has left the SM & CU. But you only want these “duplicates” to be in place for a temporary period. Meanwhile, you ALSO want to be able to negotiate new trade deals with our customers, something our 27 members have agreed not to do (as did you by the way).  If these new trade deals are successful & you are able to take some of our potential market share you’ll cut and run, but if not, you’ll just continue this temporary arrangement which will essentially undermine our existing institutions.  And all of this costly fudging & duplication is at no benefit to us and possibly no benefit to you, but is being proposed simply so you can “save face”.

Do I have this more or less right?. 

Well, there is some benefit – you do have a large trade surplus with us…

“We need you more than you need us”? Don’t be ridiculous. Why on God’s earth would we agree to this?

Well, if you don’t, we’ll tell the UK Media that you are stubborn and unreasonable.

Why should we care about that?

I’m not sure…

You do realise that we’ll tell all 27 nations & the world the truth, that the UK has unrealistic expectations from any trade negotiations and cannot be taken seriously?

Well, we are about to sign a huge trade deal with the USA…

(Barnier raise an eyebrow)

Never mind…anyway, good discussion, very frank, excellent.  So…what are your thoughts

Non, of course non, how could it be anything but non?

But what do we tell the UK public? We promised…

That’s not really our concern.
I’d suggest the truth, but I doubt your government would survive it. Good Day

Ok…thanks…err can I have the last croissant?

Labour Brexit Position? It’s easy

Much has been made recently of the Labour Leadership’s confused Brexit position.  The general line from Corbyn supporters is “Brexit has happened, it can’t be stopped, what can we do?”.  Many Labour Remain supporters believe that the result must be respected, whatever the cost, and that therefore the Leadership is just respecting democracy.

However, the reality is Brexit is a truly terrible development for the UK.  It’s been driven by people who didn’t even understand how the EU operated and had no plan for it’s success.  Fundamentally, on every level and in almost every aspect it will damage the UK politically, culturally & economically, especially because its complexity has been drastically underestimated by its leaders.

Finally, the people Labour say they support will be most affected.  The rich will be insulated but the average working family will see significant pressures across the board and the inevitable slowdown will reduce the tax base and therefore impact public services such as the NHS.  Simply put, a future Labour government can invest to address the systemic issues in the UK, or it can manage Brexit and it’s negative impacts over its term in office, it can’t do both.

Fortunately however there is an obvious position for Labour to take, one that is in line with existing policy, has already been raised & which respects the referendum vote, namely a pain free, cost-less Brexit.

 

This is based on an honest assessment of what people were promised, what they actually voted for, and what they expected, rather than politicians selectively deciding what the result represents.

To determine this we need to look at what Vote Leave promised.  So for example we have Sir Digby Jones promising that “not a single job would be lost” from Brexit.  We have Andrea Leadsom promising “No impact on UK economy“.  Michael Gove saying there’d be a few “bumps in the road” & finally Boris Johnson with his “sunlit uplands” & “even better deal than we have now” rhetoric.

Yes, the £350 Million on the bus has been derided but it’s also important, because the consistent message was that Brexit would cost us nothing, not a single penny.  The only impact would be a return of up to £350 Million per week depending on how trusting of Vote Leave you were.  Overall the message was they need us more than we need them and therefore we’d either stay in the SM or get an even better deal.

Remainers & Labour supporters will say “yes but that was all Leave lies” – and it may have been – but the voters believed it.

kaufmann_1-768x534
Poll taken just after the referendum

The above poll shows there is no majority for prioritising immigration control over economic cost.  The poll below from the Telegraph shows a majority believing either in “Cake & Eat it” or “Norway” with only a small minority favouring hard brexit.

pollsimple
Telegraph poll on Brexit outcome

And voters still believe in a “cake and eat it” pain free brexit.  This recent poll shows a majority want the Single Market, but also shows that a majority don’t want the requirements of the Single Market (contribution and FoM)

poll

So a pain free brexit was promised and no significant poll since the referendum has shown that a majority “voted to be poorer”.  Yes there are some polls showing a significant number of older leavers are prepared to accept Brexit at any cost, but not a majority overall.  In fact all polls indicate that significant people believed the “pain free, cost free” message from Vote Leave.

In fact arguably the cost aspect overrides the other aspects of Vote Leave promises.  Vote Leave never once promised to reduce immigration by an number whatsoever.  They said they would “control” via a “points system” (which was abandoned days after the result) but never promised any reduction whatsoever.  They were however explicit that leaving the EU would be cost free and repeated this in effect every time they used the “£350 Million” message.

000a VL-002 leaflet

Where does this leave Labour?  Well it’s very simple – Labour don’t need to oppose Brexit, they just need to say “we support the Brexit Vote Leave promised and people voted for, a Brexit that has no cost to the economy and has no significant impact on jobs”.

When pressed on this (for example on questions such as Single Market & the Customs Union) they could say “look at the polls, no one voted to be poorer, people expect what they were promised.  Vote Leave won and therefore Vote Leave’s vision must be implemented”.

If pressed again with the question “but a pain free Brexit is impossible” Labour could answer “Look, Johnson, Leadsom, Gove & others are all still in the cabinet.  Davis promised the exact same benefits as we had previously.  Theresa May must believe they are competent otherwise they wouldn’t hold Cabinet jobs – so ask them how it’s delivered”

If asked “you are blocking Brexit” the response would be “How are we blocking Brexit if we ask the Government to deliver what people voted for?  Labour cannot collude on a hard brexit which will cost people their jobs or impact the economy.  The Vote Leave Leadership are in Government.  They promised a cost free Brexit, we will support them if they deliver it”.

This position has no cost to Labour and significant benefits.  The onus is pushed onto the Government to either deliver an (impossible) cost free Brexit or explain why they can’t.  No-one can criticize Labour for demanding what the voters asked for and no majority of voters will say “ah OK, we didn’t realise Vote Leave were lying to us, we’re now happy to accept a very costly Brexit”.

Of course, a cost free, pain free Brexit is impossible – Vote Leave wildly overestimated our bargaining position and/or expected we’d stay in the Single Market.  Their rhetoric has locked the Government into an intractable position.  But that is their problem because they allowed their foolish leave leaders to promise the unattainable.  This is how Brexit dies, the government is forced either to adopt a soft to no Brexit position or to explain to the electorate why Brexit will cost the country dearly.  It will choose the former as the least worst option for the Party’s survival.

Labour could do this tomorrow – it would unite the party, protect their constituents and it would fall to the Tory party to explain to Northern Labour marginals why Brexit is actually going to be far more costly than they believe.

It’s a simple, effective, bullet proof message consistent with previously stated Labour policy which would protect the country from the worst excesses of Brexit without damaging the party.

So why aren’t Labour doing it?

The Corbyn/Remain Supporter Dilemma

Extended version of a twitter post.

I’ve potentially been a bit obsessive about Corbyn & Brexit and many have said “why attack him, he’s a decent stick, why not turn the fire on the Tories instead who are actually running Brexit”.  It’s a fair comment however the reality is Brexit (certainly hard brexit) as it stands is likely dead unless Labour supports it as there’s not enough pro brexit Tory MPs to get it through the house.  That said, although it’s a moveable feast at the moment, economically, Labour policy is also Hard Brexit – namely no Single Market & no Customs Union.  There are many sensible voices in Labour who are pushing for a more moderate Brexit and these should be encouraged however, equally, there is a block of Labour MPs who are lining up against free movement of people – this is deeply worrying as it puts parts of Labour (and even Corbyn) within spitting distance of UKIP.

flowchartThere is also for me personally another angle.  If we’re honest Corbyn displayed no great political intelligence over 95% of his political career and if his name hadn’t been added to the ballot “for balance” 3 years ago he would have stayed where he was, an obscure back bencher.  His appeal & capabilities (beyond his policies which are understandably popular after 7 years of austerity) come down to 2 things, his ability to campaign & gain support (which is considerable) and his honesty & integrity.  He is supposed to be a different kind of politician – honest, straightforward, a different type of leader.

If he doesn’t actually display this integrity, if he doesn’t speak up for what he believes in then all that’s really left is a politician with little actual talent other than an ability to campaign.

In any case, for pro European (or even former pro European) Corbyn supporters, it’s important to assess where he actually stands on our place in Europe.

 

Historical Attitude – for balance I need to include this article which indicates that Corbyn and his “campaign group” had accepted by and large EU membership back around 2000.  This did give me pause and there are some very strong arguments however although he may have accepted EU membership back in 2015 or prior in the same way he accepted capitalism as being just part of the scenery, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t hardened his stance since the referendum.  Corbyn does have a historic antipathy towards the EU and would have seen it as a block to the future he wanted for the UK, albeit an immovable object prior to 2015.  In practical terms there is a world of difference between a 40-year backbencher who saw the EU as being inevitable and a current party leader who sees an opportunity to implement a socialist vision now that leaving is a strong possibility.

So “acceptance” of EU membership prior to 2015 is probably largely irrelevant.

 

Remain Campaign – He did have a poor campaign which is understandable given his attitude but should in all honesty be problematic for a Remain supporter (or indeed, anyone who values integrity in their politicians).  At the time, there were many apologists who were desperately blaming the media for his lack of visibility but having seen him fight 3 campaigns for himself with gusto it’s clear he just didn’t bring it.

Given that so much of his support base is heavily pro-remain (and young, and therefore most impacted by Brexit) yet believed (and still do) that he really was pro-remain this should be deeply concerning as it goes to the heart of his integrity – if he couldn’t campaign enthusiastically for Remain it is not OK for him to do so in a 50 50 fashion, he should have been honest and simply stepped aside for someone who could match the hopes of his supporters.

This is the integrity dilemma – clearly he can campaign, and campaign effectively even in the face of a hostile media.  It’s clear now that he didn’t for Remain.  This isn’t to say he’s wholly to blame for the loss, the reasons for Remain losing are far more complex.  But it does call into question his integrity if, at best, he simply wasn’t that bothered about a cause many of his supporters cared passionately about but didn’t have the honesty to say so.

In fact no-one could honestly describe Corbyn as straight talking once you watch his dodging & equivocation over Brexit.  The position shifts, questions are dodged, and overall the meaningless “tariff free access” mantra is repeated.  It’s understandable that he wants to avoid direct questions and fudge the issue but it’s hardly in line with his “straightforward” image.

 

Article 50 & “Opposition”- It was said that he was “opposing” the government and putting them under pressure when he called for Article 50 to be triggered.  There are several problems with this:

  • He should have known, as any informed person did, the catastrophic consequences of triggering Article 50 immediately and without preparation. If he didn’t it means he’s incompetent. This pressure was not in the interests of the country
  • Brexit was not government policy at the point of the referendum result, it was simply the result. So, the right approach would have been to take stock and understand what the result meant.  To immediately put the government under pressure on an approach they had been forced to adopt by the public was not “opposition” but simply a case of putting party before country
  • However, when it did come to “opposition” on Brexit, when it counted, Corbyn has utterly failed to do so. He has supported, even with the Whip, every action the government has taken and his Brexit policy is practically identical in economic terms. To say he was “opposing” when he pushed for A 50 trigger when he’s not “opposing” now is problematic

Put simply, he has never effectively opposed when it comes to Brexit & calling for Article 50 Trigger was either incompetence or party before country.  Much noise is made but the reality is Labour are fully aligned with the Government on major brexit policy.

 

Current Status re Brexit for Pro-Europeans – Whatever Corbyn’s attitude pre-referendum all of his actions since have been those of an enthusiastic brexiter.  There are many neutral lines he could have taken such as “we cannot support a Brexit that costs jobs” but he hasn’t.  He’s actively spoken against the single market and now FoM.  There is clearly a battle going on in the Labour party between the moderates and the Corbyn hard Brexit camp & we are also seeing Vote Leave type disinformation on “cake and eat it” deals coming out.  I’ve had several conversations with Corbyn supporters who don’t seem to realise they are repeating the exact position of Vote Leave, namely that a bespoke deal without Freedom of Movement is attainable and that the EU will bend to accommodate our demands (mostly because Labour’s attitude is more approachable).

This is doubly concerning because we see many of his key supporters such as Owen Jones transparently re-positioning into a “we must accept Brexit” outlook.  Barry Gardiner, someone who clearly stuggled to maintain his moderate (and honest) Brexit line against internal opposition has now moved to a brexit stance arguably even more extreme than the government.

 

The best and most honest judgement at this point is that Corbyn is a barrier for pro-Europeans.  It is perfectly reasonable to choose Corbyn over Europe, and many have, but this should also be problematic for former remainers as they will know his hard Brexit will damage the economy and make his vision undeliverable without huge borrowing and risk.  Without the promise of the vision, and without the integrity & honesty, what do you really have?

Therefore, in all conscience you cannot be simultaneously a “remainer” & a Corbyn supporter.  The 2 are incompatible.

Brexit is dying – don’t worry about how we finish it off

Firstly, to use a painfully overused phrase, let’s be clear – Brexit is likely already dying.  This may not seem obvious right now for reasons I’ll outline below but let’s take a reality check:

  1. All Brexits are damaging – some, such as staying in SM & CU are less so but all will cost jobs & have an impact on the economy
  2. There’s a weak majority in Parliament, so Labour support will be needed to pass any Brexit
  3. But Labour will have to justify supporting an economy and job damaging Brexit, difficult given their membership
  4. The great British public are fickle – they were promised a free Brexit, not an economy damaging one and long term prosperity promises won’t override short term pain

In the end a deal may or may not be struck but it won’t be great, and meanwhile the bad news will unfortunately but inevitably build.  This isn’t pessimism, it’s sad realism – Brexit is based on foolish assumptions about trade and the UK’s place in the world, and is being led by people who are simply not up to the job.  This in turn will have a knock on effect on all aspects of British life.

However….

There are vested interests on the left and right who want to keep Brexit alive.  They don’t have any good news that people will really care about and the arguments about sovereignty & “independence” will likely fade when reality bites.  So they instead will say “Brexit is settled”, “we voted, get over it” and will put up all kinds of barriers to debate around ending Brexit.

Seventh, sorry, but I’m convinced that overturning the referendum result would cause catastrophic, possibly irreversible damage to our democracy. It’s quite clear that one of the factors which drove Leave was disillusionment with the political elites. If a referendum result presented as the definitive word is overturned, what exact message will that send out? That you can vote for something, but tough? Imagine 52% voted for Remain and the government went, sorry, but tough, we’re leaving anyway?

The above from Owen Jones is a classic case in point – the language is of “overturning” the referendum and undermining democracy.  Why would anyone do that?  Similarly there is talk of riots and civil unrest if the result is reversed.

Fundamentally, Brexit vested interests in Labour & Conservatives will try to drag you into the problems of a 2nd ref, new election or parliament vote.  They will point out all the issues with these 3 methods (which are significant), make stopping Brexit appear impossible and therefore Brexit itself inevitable.  They will say Article 50 can’t be reversed or that there is no going back.

 

Ignore them.

Because the method of ending Brexit doesn’t matter at this point.

And discussing how hard it is to end Brexit serves Leavers, not Remainers.

 

The reality is there’s only hard Brexit on the table at this point but the route to pushing it through has been lost.  Theresa May didn’t hold the GE to strengthen her hand in Brussels nor was it directly because she wanted to crush Labour – she realised that she needed a strong buffer of Tory MPs to push through the upcoming poor deal.  That spectacularly backfired and now, although Corbyn has done an amazing job of hiding his tacit hard brexit support, cracks are starting to appear – Labour cannot be seen to wave through a damaging brexit a full 2 and half years after the vote.

There is only one way of ultimately stopping Brexit, and that’s when a majority of the public turn solidly against it.  And as events progress they almost certainly will.  The bad news will build and the reasons for voting leave will fade.  The humiliations for the government will grow and the transparency of the EU will give them no place to hide.  Meanwhile business will vote with their feet.  It will become obvious to the majority that Brexit is a bad idea.

Or it won’t, but all we can do is keep repeating the message – we were lied to, Brexit is damaging, and it can be stopped.  Getting pulled into rat hole discussions on how to end it only makes it seem more difficult.

So honestly, don’t worry about how Brexit will be stopped – once sufficient public opinion has built against it our MPs will find a way to stop it because they cannot push through a bad Brexit against the public wishes and survive. 2nd Ref, vote or GE, it doesn’t matter because a way will be found.  And as said below:

richard

Because finally, the reality is 80% of people won’t care about how Brexit is stopped, they’ll just want it stopped.

So, my suggestion?  Forget the how, the how doesn’t matter – just keep fighting & keep the message strong – Brexit is fundamentally wrong on all levels, bad for the country, based on lies and must be stopped.  Transparency and debate on Brexit itself is the way forward, not pointless “do we keep asking till we get the right answer” discussions.  Ignore the naysayers, they’re not on your side.

Dear Owen…a response

Over the last few days I’ve potentially been one of the “vocal but unrepresentative minority of Remainers” who has given you a hard time over your brexit position.  I did give a tweet response to your article “Why I’m a remainer who accepts the result” as shown below, because I felt, and still feel, that you were raising straw men rather than discussing your own radically changed position (and, in my opinion, complete passivity) towards the brexit process.

 

That said, I’ve seen your piece described as “powerful” & “well argued” – with respect I don’t believe it is, hence this follow on blog.  I’ll try to be brief.

Xenophobia & Racism

The official Leave campaigns made the strategic decision to wage a poisonous xenophobic campaign which scapegoated migrants and refugees

As you stated in your blog this was and remains a major concern, in fact for me it’s one of the principle reasons to fight Brexit because of what a win means to these people and what it says about the UK.

However, we’re already seeing the same low level migrant bashing emerging from the left.

What there wouldn’t be is the wholesale importation of underpaid workers from central Europe in order to destroy conditions, particularly in the construction industry.

foreign workers would “come here on the basis of the jobs available and their skill sets to go with it”

These are direct quotes from Jeremy Corbyn.  Below is a tweet from Paul Mason:

nason

FoM is progressive by definition, it gives agency and freedom to the individual.  There may or may not be exploitation of workers but that must surely be addressed via the employers, however it appears Labour now wants to fix this by taking away the rights of the exploited.  It should also be said that one of the worst aspects of Thatcherism is how it had a tendency to see workers as simply a flexible resource pool, to be dipped into as needed.  How is it progressive to take agency & freedom away from foreign workers?  What happens if their job disappears, do they get deported?

The point being is this is victim blaming and immigrant bashing, the implication is that foreign workers can and are overwhelming & undermining us (and “wholesale importation” is an ugly and dehumanising phrase).  The exploited are being targeted because of their exploitation.  Overall this can literally be interpreted as “British jobs for British workers” & Mason’s tweet is so wrong on so many levels that I’m not sure where to begin.  Fundamentally, to shore up their vote, Labour are dabbling in the language of UKIP & reinforcing the divisive language of the referendum.

 

Polling concerning Remain Voters

You’ve quoted this poll in defense of your position, i.e. most people are now in favour of Brexit being enacted and so your position is reasonable. This in my opinion is flawed on 3 points.

  1. The poll has been discredited.  The “Remain” option is confrontational as it begins with “ignore the result”.  Very few people would be comfortable with selecting “ignore the result” as their preference.
  2. The poll only covers Brexit, not its form.  It doesn’t for example say “I choose a brexit which favours economy over immigration control/I choose a brexit which favours immigration control over economy”.  These are the very real choices as you will be aware, & without asking them the poll is not helpful in any way.
  3. Even if a majority favours Brexit, so what? You’ve been in a minority position your entire political life, yet it hasn’t stopped you fighting for what you believe in.

 

Onto your 8 points.  For clarity, I’ve taken the first line of each of your arguments as the header.

“First, questioning the intelligence and ability of the electorate…”

It’s not “elitism” to say the majority of people don’t understand Brexit, it’s a simple fact. I’ve been actively following it for 18 months & I don’t think I’ve scratched the surface.  Our chief negotiator & Leave campaigner didn’t understand Brexit. You may as well say it’s elitist to say the public don’t understand brain surgery.

It’s not that the public are stupid, or lacking in ability, it’s that Brexit is hellishly complex and its impacts are far reaching. To pretend otherwise is populism.

 

“Secondly, describing the referendum as advisory…”

I’m actually with you on this one though I know others feel passionately about it.  Yes, technically the ref was not binding and yes it was set up badly (no 60% or 2 thirds majority) however I personally agree the debate has to move on, though I respect others feel differently.

 

“Third, the referendum result is illegitimate because of the lies of the Leave campaign…”

Those who led the leave campaign, who based their entire campaign on lies and stirring up bigotry in this country, that’s who we’re taking on…how dare they, how dare they”

Your words Owen, from the “March for Europe” where you spoke passionately about the many lies of the Leave campaign for 2 minutes.

You’ll be aware that Leave lied on “an industrial scale”.  You’ll also be aware of the biggest lie of all which was that Brexit would be free, that the only net result would be a £350 Million weekly bonus for the NHS.  You’ll be aware that even the Leave campaigners didn’t actually believe we’d be heading for this Brexit.

You cannot fail to be aware of what happens when the results of those lies crystallize, when job losses begin and living standards fall, and people who were misled blame the EU (and in some cases EU citizens here) rather than the people responsible.

Yet you’ve moved from that passionate decrying of Leave lies to the limp “Unfortunately there are many elections — let alone referendums — across the world (let alone this country) which are full of lies”.  You are even hinting at the Leave false equivalence of “well Remain lied just as badly”.  They did not, you know they did not.  Most remain predictions are coming true if they haven’t already, almost all Leave predictions have so far proven false.

This is poor – you need to explain how the person on that video passionately decrying leave lies is the same person as the one who now implies “well, lets face it, everyone lies and it could be said Remain was just as bad”.

 

“Fourth, imagine if Remain had won by 52%…”

I’m not sure what your point is here.  The result was close, the referendum should have been set up with a clearer majority for change and if Remain had won Leave would now be demanding a rerun.  Honestly, so what?  Brexit is a mistake & it needs to be fixed regardless.

 

“Fifth, I’m accused of hypocrisy…”

Today:

If I can campaign against the government which came to power in the last election, why can’t I campaign against the referendum? The critical difference is that, in our democracy, parliamentary elections are inherently transient….That is not the same as a one-off referendum on a single issue, where the result was accepted in advance by all key protagonists on both sides

In September last year, in the above video:

You don’t have an election where 1 party wins & the other party says “OK we’ll just shut up now for the next 5 years”

Fighting Brexit was apparently legitimate and in fact you, in that speech, to all those people, drew a direct equivalence between elections and the referendum.  Now you passively accept it.  What’s changed, because, honestly, it looks a bit like hypocrisy.

 

“Sixth, would you support decriminalisation of homosexuality if the majority voted for it?…”

Yes, fair enough, this is probably an unfair & too personal comparison however the point stands. This thread posits an entirely reasonable analogy around the NHS:

The point being there are many feasible issues which may have been won on a majority referendum but which someone such as yourself would not accept lying down.  If the majority voted to sell off the NHS, bring back hanging, stop same sex marriage or a host of other issues you would still fight those decisions.  Yet on Brexit you’ve completely caved, not only on the issue itself but even how it plays out and the route we take.

 

“Seventh, sorry, but I’m convinced that overturning the referendum result would cause catastrophic, possibly irreversible damage to our democracy…”

You keep using this “overturn the referendum” language and I admit I find it interesting.  The implication again is that the majority would be ignored by brute force.  But few people are suggesting this.  Remainers fully understand that the public need to be convinced that Brexit a) is a bad call for the UK and b) can be reversed.

Yes of course ignoring the result would cause damage to our democracy.  Equally however, so will pretending (as both major parties are) that we can have our cake and eat it – the illusion cannot continue and the longer it does, the harder the disillusionment will be later.  Honesty, openness and transparency are all that remainers are asking for from our representatives.  To be blunt, if you’re not part of this drive, if instead you adopt the party line of “brexit is settled”, you’re part of the problem.

To reiterate, you persist in using the confrontational “Overturn the Referendum” language, when most remainers accept that it’s not the referendum that needs to be discussed but what happens next.  This feels like you have moved into the Leave position of saying that resisting Brexit in any way is undemocratic.

 

“Eighth, didn’t Labour’s unexpected successes have a lot to do with Remainers?…”

It did, of course it did. The figures show it & it’s disingenuous to say otherwise.  Elections are complex but tactical voting played a huge part in this election.  I’ve personally had 10-15 twitter conversations with Labour supporters who were convinced, beyond doubt, that Corbyn’s Labour is pro soft brexit or even pro remain.  I was told to “have faith” and to “wait and see” on many occasions and by some senior Labour figures.

 

 

To summarise – your overall concern about Xenophobic messaging is actually being reinforced by Labour figures today. Of your 8 points

  1. is a straw man
  2. is fair comment (in my view)
  3. is undermined by your own previous comments
  4. is unclear (in my view)
  5. yes, you do appear hypocritical based on your previous comments
  6. is demolished once sexuality is substituted for another possible issue
  7. is a straw man
  8. is plain disingenuous

Ultimately Owen, the concern is your move from passionate fighter who spoke at the March for Europe rally to passive observer.  You accept Brexit and have nothing to say (at least recently) on what form it should take, despite this being the most important political question of your life time.  Your article says nothing about the single market, the customs union or trade (the words don’t even appear) and simply list all the reasons why it’s OK for you to be passive.

 

There is a massive disconnect between the words of the passionate speaker at the march for Europe and the passive observer we see now, all the “Brexit fighting” links you provided are 12 months old and only highlight your current relative silence.  Specifically therefore your 8 arguments must be seen in the context of who is saying them and what they said previously.  The situation if anything is worse now than it was at that march, so what’s changed your view?

The fact that this has happened at the the same time as it’s become clear that Labour are adopting a hard brexit approach is the real story, and goes to the heart, frankly, of your credibility.  When seen in this light, I’m afraid that your blog comes across as weak self justification for simply adopting the line of your leader.

Dear Owen….

Note: Owen responded to his critics which led to this follow on blog.
Owen, I appreciate I and others have been giving you a hard time over the past few days.  I suppose if I’m honest I’ve been hoping to get an explanation, you are after all a considerable voice for the Left so your tweets and articles matter.

So perhaps it’s fairer to simply ask you directly, what has changed your mind so drastically in the past 12 months on Brexit?  Why did you pivot from fighting it to actively supporting it?

You spoke, as we know, at the large “March for Europe” last year.

That march was the most obvious outpouring of grief, anger but also hope from remainers, particularly young remainers and you spoke passionately for several minutes.  Yet in the past few weeks you appear to have changed your stance almost completely.

At that speech you said:

Those who led the leave campaign, who based their entire campaign on lies and stirring up bigotry, that’s who we’re taking on

And you were right to say so, in fact if anything the lies of the Leave campaign have become even more obvious since that day.  Yet, actually, your position now is that the referendum is a democratic event which must be respected without question despite those lies.

You also said:

You don’t have an election where 1 party wins & the other party says “OK we’ll just shut up now for the next 5 years”

Which is also true and a perfectly respectable position for a life long activist who has pushed against the tide his entire adult life. Yet, here again you are now saying that the referendum is NOT like a GE and therefore we should in fact essentially shut up basically forever.

At that rally you said it was up to all of us to fight for our relationship with Europe, to fight for our future.  You’ve been almost silent on the EU since it became clear that Corbyn wanted out of the Single Market.

Finally, you spoke with some passion of the xenophobia stirred up by the Leave campaign, the immigrant bashing and scapegoating.  Today we’re greeted with this headline:

Corbwh

Now, yes, perhaps Corbyn’s comments were more nuanced (though frankly not much) but this headline is straight out of the UKIP playbook – it continues the fake narrative that we’ve been overwhelmed and undermined by cheap foreign labour.

Corb1

You’re a bright chap.  You know that the above headline language, even if taken out of context, is damaging and negative.  It is literally “coming over here and taking our jobs”.

So, it’s a simple question – you cannot hold these views AND believe the things you said back in September, so what happened to change your mind?  You must accept its a fair question, if you’re going to speak at public “remain” events and then have a radical change of heart to the point that you’re essentially saying resisting brexit is undemocratic, the lies of the Leave campaign no longer matter & it’s OK to now say immigrants are stealing UK jobs (I appreciate you haven’t said this but nor as far as I know have you condemned it so far) then it’s reasonable that we know why.

Because if you can’t explain it, does it mean that your position is simply defined as whatever Corbyn thinks at any one time?

Chuka & the Whip – a Logical Analysis

Who benefits from Labour’s continuing ambiguity on Brexit? The country, or the party?

A few days ago Chuka Umunna put forward an amendment to the Queen’s speech with the aim of securing our place in the Single Market & Customs Union.  Jeremy Corbyn instructed his MPs to abstain on the amendment though 50 MPs “defied the whip” and voted in support.  There’s been much discussion about whether this was foolish, vain, badly timed or actually necessary at this stage, given that the Conservatives are widely seen to be under pressure & the Labour party is trying to hold onto a coalition of pro & anti brexit voters. Much of this discussion however has taken place from a Labour party and not a national perspective.

This blog attempts to look at the position logically from a national rather than purely Labour party view.  Firstly, it’s important to lay out some basic assumptions.

There is no “cake and eat it” Brexit – There is no special deal available from the EU that does not include membership of the Single Market & Customs Union.  Therefore if we do not join both of these the UK will suffer significant economic damage.

Clearly the UK voted to leave & clearly immigration is an issue for the UK.  There is an argument which says membership of the SM & CU means we haven’t really left.  That doesn’t change the facts.  At some point the UK will need to choose between prosperity & “controlling immigration”, or, alternatively, the choice will be made for them by our political class.  But there is no middle ground, no “near exact benefits deal” that excludes FoM.  And all parties know it.  Therefore continued fudging around “the best deal” is a political device used by both major parties which actually does the UK no favours whilst it continues.

Labour’s Pro/anti brexit dualism dilemma is wholly it’s own fault – Yes Labour has brexit seats in the north and remainer seats in the south and therefore it’s played a skillful game of playing to both sides.  But this was a cynical decision it took, no-one forced Labour to play both sides.  Therefore, it’s ultimately up to Labour how it solves this problem because at some point it will have to disappoint 1 of these 2 groups.

The interests of the Labour party & the National Interest are not the same thing – Yes the Labour party has issues and yes it needs to sort itself out however at this time more than ever the national interest must override party interest – country before party.  Getting the Labour party into a majority government may be the single aim of party loyalists but it does not in itself end or mitigate Brexit, nor is it necessarily the best thing for the UK at this time.  In actual fact the most useful government right now would likely be some form of multi-party coalition that had a clear mandate to minimise or stop brexit and a balanced view on how to take the country forward.

The clock is ticking – Article 50 has been triggered and the clock is ticking.  It cannot easily be stopped or pushed back, if it can be at all.  There’s simply no time for Labour or the Tory party to “play the long game” as we should have started negotiations proper with a decent and well thought out plan 3 months ago.

 

So, to summarise, Labour must at some point in the near future come down on  being in or out of the SM & CU, and in doing so accept that it will disappoint its Leavers or Remainers.  The current behavior of both parties (“ambitious trade deal”/”exact same benefits”) is simply designed to delay this point as long as possible however this serves the individual parties interests and not the UK.  On the contrary, whilst this continues the UK economy is being damaged and we are looking increasingly ridiculous to the rest of the world.

If that in/out decision is proving impossible that will only be because Labour was dishonest with its voters at a colossal scale.  Labour activists will say this fudging was necessary however given the levels of dishonesty the British public has been exposed to these past 2 years that is arguably unforgivable and certainly not a “new kind of politics”.

 

So, was Chuka Umunna right in raising the amendment? To address that we need to consider it under 2 separate scenarios, is Corbyn a secret soft brexit/remainer or is he a secret hard brexiteer?  I have my own views on this but others have argued differently so we’ll consider both.

 

Corbyn is a secret soft brexit/remainer

In this instance the argument goes that Chuka has jumped the gun and ruined the long “soft brexit/remain” game that Corbyn & Labour are playing.  However if we examine this we have to conclude that, given there is no middle ground & we are in the SM & CU or we are out, the Labour party is essentially deliberately misleading its Leave voters.  Furthermore it’s doing this not in the National Interest but in the Party’s interest, in order to hold on to leave seats as long as possible.

Therefore, in essence Chuka & the 49 rebels were attacked for not colluding in an ongoing & drawn out evasion with the public in general and leave voters in particular, solely because Corbyn and the Labour party want to keep misleading Leave voters for as long as possible.  It’s important to emphasize this – Labour supporters appear quite comfortable with this “necessary” deceit but this will only create feelings of betrayal and disenfranchisement which will cause significant problems later.  Corbyn was supposed to bring a new honesty into politics.

 

Corbyn is a secret hard brexiteer

This is even more straightforward.  In this instance Corbyn and therefore a large part of the Labour leadership are resigned or happy with leaving the SM & CU, are deliberately misleading their remain voters and so there is no long “remain” game to disrupt.

There is however a long “leave” game to be disrupted which Chuka tried and hopefully succeeded in doing.

 

In summary, the Labour party are leading on either Leavers or Remainers as there is no middle option that satisfies both.  Furthermore by doing this they are putting party before country at a most crucial time and are playing a very dangerous and irresponsible game at a time when the UK is very vulnerable and in desperate need of honest leadership.  The fact that so many Labour supporters accept this cynical “Party first” attitude is worrying.

At best, this misdirection is leading to soft brexit/remain, and Chuka & co have been penalised for interrupting a cynical, self serving ruse which will only create further distrust and anger with Politics, at worst it’s leading to a Labour driven hard brexit, and anyone with any sense should be thanking the 50 MPs profusely.

My own personal view?  Corbyn is a hard brexit supporter, it’s not even really a secret to non Corbyn supporters and as such, Chuka should be applauded for trying to flush him out.