Why is Corbyn Pro-Brexit?

Jeremy Corbyn, despite what many supporters believe, has historically been opposed to the EU.  When this is discussed however generally rail nationalisation is raised as an example and it’s then pointed out that the EU doesn’t prevent state owned railways.  It’s then also pointed out that Labour policies aren’t really that radical and that many Scandinavian states have similar left wing policies.

This leads to the hope that either a) Corbyn isn’t really pro-brexit or b) as soon as he understands that he can nationalise the railyways or utilities or have a larger State under the Single Market rules he’ll be OK with the EU again.

The mistake here however is in assessing “Corbynism” through a 21st century political lens, in thinking of his beliefs in terms of “normal” 21st century economic thinking.  This is a flawed approach as Corbyn’s ideas were formed in the 1970s and haven’t changed much since and in fact his traditional aims & objectives go further than nationalising the railways or even the power companies.  Labour is a socialist party, however “pure” or “traditional” socialism isn’t just about equality or improving the social contract.


In fact, the traditional aim of socialism is to control the “means of production” or “the commanding heights” to quote Lenin.  This wasn’t even an unusual policy for Labour back in the day.

In July 1945, Labour came into power totally committed to nationalization and determined to conquer the “commanding heights” of the economy, having borrowed the term from Lenin by the mid-1930s

Tony Benn, a key socialist from Labour’s past and Jeremy Corbyn’s guru, advocated a break from the EU back in 1975 (source: Wikipedia) for this very reason:

The Secretary of State for Industry in the Labour government, Tony Benn, wrote a paper …in 1975, …  “It described … Strategy B which is the real Labour policy of saving jobs, a vigorous micro-investment programme, import control, control of the banks and insurance companies, control of export, of capital, higher taxation of the rich, and Britain leaving the Common Market“.

With Britain in economic crisis in October 1976, Benn put forward the (Alternative Economic Strategy) …  “the protectionist course which is the one I have consistently recommended for two and a half years…protectionism is a perfectly respectable course of action. It is compatible with our strategy. You withdraw behind walls (in a “Siege economy”) and reconstruct and re-emerge”.

Yes it’s true that this was 40 years ago, but this is how far back Corbyn’s political roots go.  It’s well known that he strongly admired Tony Benn and his policies and has carried most of them forward.


What would this “State control” mean in practice? To take an example, if a major car manufacturer pulled out of the UK as a result of Brexit, a “Jobs first Brexit” might actually take over the car plant and pump in Government money to keep the plant going.

This would be Corbyn’s approach – you might even agree with it. The issue though is that now the state is supporting Car Manufacturing.  Other car companies would be at a disadvantage.  Steel production would follow, then Banks & perhaps Insurance Services and other service industries, the new “commanding heights”

This may be a society you are happy with, millions would be.  The Labour Leadership would be.  It’s one way of “fixing” things in our society.  But it’s not compatible with being in the EU or the Single Market.

Corbyn quote2

This is because problems arise when you try to sign a trade deal (with the EU or anyone else) or try to attract inward investment.  The UK economy is no longer a level playing field and cannot therefore operate fairly in the Single Market.  Other countries would not sign comprehensive trade deals with a county which is subsidising its industries – they simply wouldn’t be able to compete with state supported UK companies and trade is ultimately about competition.

This matters if you want to be an outward facing country however it doesn’t necessarily matter if you want to create a “socialism in one state” bubble society.

This is the root of why Corbyn, McDonnell and others are opposed to the EU and always have been at a very fundamental level. This “traditional socialist”,  heavily subsidised government owned economy just wouldn’t work within the Single Market, it would create unfair competition.  It’s also why comparisons of Corbynism with Scandinavian countries are a false measure.  Corbyn thinking is more geared towards the original Venezuela model even if Labour party policy appears non-radical.

Therefore, talk of “he wouldn’t be that crazy to push for a Hard Brexit, it would cause major economic harm” is well wide of the mark.  If you believe that the economy is fundamentally unfair & broken, top to bottom, in its assumptions & operation then you will be entirely comfortable with a period of destruction if you believe a better society will arise from the ashes.  Of course your supporters may not be entirely comfortable with that future or the interim pain which is why its not shouted from the rooftops as a plan.

The reality is, most of us assume Corbynism is about more money for NHS, Tax credits, welfare.  It’s not.  Corbyn & his team believe UK society is fundamentally broken and needs to be reformed along pure socialist lines to address its issues.  You may well agree however it should be noted such a model has never worked well in other countries, and such a country would find it hard to function as a trading nation (as part of the WTO for example).

It may be a “fairer” society, but it would also likely be a poorer one, with far less opportunity & flexibility. However it is a model, very different from ours, and our society does have issues.

The point being, don’t expect Corbyn to change his mind any time soon on the EU, or think that the ability to nationalise railways will convince him.  His antipathy towards the EU is long standing.  In fact it’s ironic that now both the hard left in Labour and the hard right in the Conservatives want to leave the EU for the same basic reason, to radically alter how our society & economy operates (Singapore low regs/low tax economy vs State owned bubble society).

For the past 2 years Jeremy Corbyn has attempted to give the impression of being pro-european because it was needed to maintain his position, but supporters need to look back to his past as his (now deleted) history says otherwise.



The Brexit no-one wanted

Twitter thread in blog form by request:

1 of the most bizarre aspects of the UK’s current direction is that none of the Brexit Leadership expected this hard brexit.  Looking back prior to the referendum, there were 2 schools of thought from Brexit leaders, and this drove 90% of their thinking:

  1. We would stay in the single market in a Norway style model
  2. We’d use our trade deficit to force a free trade deal

So, for Norway/Single Market model we have for example Nigel Farage putting this forward as our preferred approach and Dan Hannan, actually campaigning for the EEA/Norway approach, including Free Movement which, at least in April 2015, he saw as a thing to be protected.


As for the 2nd approach, forcing a deal – how many times did Leave tell us “they need us more than we need them”? It was a continuous narrative, such as the below from Chris Grayling:

The Germans are not going to stop selling us BMWs, nor are the French going to stop selling wine, cheese and apples just because we are not in the EU. It is not in their interests.

There were essentially 2 promised Brexit outcomes, Single market membership or something even better – the “cake & eat it” option.  The day after the outcome, Johnson said  in this telegraph article:

I cannot stress too much that Britain is part of Europe, and always will be. There will still be intense and intensifying European cooperation and partnership in a huge number of fields: the arts, the sciences, the universities, and on improving the environment. EU citizens living in this country will have their rights fully protected, and the same goes for British citizens living in the EU.

British people will still be able to go and work in the EU; to live; to travel; to study; to buy homes and to settle down. As the German equivalent of the CBI – the BDI – has very sensibly reminded us, there will continue to be free trade, and access to the single market

Few of us would be able to reconcile that sunlit uplands picture described only 12 months ago with the high risk, potentially highly damaging Brexit described by Theresa May a few days ago:


It is hard to believe that the referendum would have been won for Leave if the Leave leadership had used the words May used in her speech to describe the risks of Brexit.  As for other Leave leaders such as David Davis, he didn’t even appear to understand how the EU or trade deals work and thought we’d be writing new ones in months.

davis july

but no-one, absolutely no-one in the Leave leadership at that time expected us to be where we are now, facing a hard brexit with a total lack of a plan and few options.

And of course where are the Leave leadership now? Grayling, Stuart, Farage, Carswell, Leadsom, Fox have all gone quiet or disappeared.  Steve Hilton, Cameron’s old PR geek, was all over our screens prior to June 23rd and hasn’t been seen since. Davis has moved from supreme (though misplaced) confidence and now changes his position every few months as reality dawns on him.


Johnson & Gove, having got the fright of their lives by actually winning, disappeared,


reappeared and managed to excuse themselves from leadership in an almost comedy fashion.  They both now bluster and snipe from the sidelines making no sensible contribution to the debate.  As for May and Hammond, both were Remainers and May can’t even say that Brexit is a good idea.

But no-one put forward this hard, self harming Brexit, not a single person either previously or currently involved in Brexit leadership had ever seriously suggested a “no deal” crash out of the EU either as part of the referendum campaign, or in the first few months afterwards.

Now of course we in the process of rewriting history.  We’re being told “People knew what they were voting for”.  But that’s a lie. Most people on the leave side believed we would get a near pain free exit.pollsimple

The majority of Leave voters thought they were voting for a no downside/all upside  cake & eat it Brexit or an EEA/SM model, and any suggestion that it might be difficult was dismissed as “project fear”.

So what are we left with? An election called not to strengthen the government’s hand in the negotiations with the EU (who have no interest in the Tory majority) but instead to enable the forcing through parliament of the inevitable poor/no deal which will result. But more importantly, a Leadership who do not believe in Hard Brexit (perhaps do not believe in Brexit at all) but must push it through, backed by a vote for soft brexit which in turn was based on lies & misrepresentations.  Furthermore, the race is on to convince the public that:

  1. the upcoming pain is the EU’s fault and not the leaders of Brexit who lied to them and
  2. they actually voted for the pain in the first place

Before that pain becomes too pronounced.  Unfortunately in many cases the Leave voting public would rather not accept they’ve been fooled, it’s far easier to believe they expected this all along.

However the fact remains, we’re heading for a future that no Brexit leader wanted and almost no-one voted for, almost out of embarrassment.

PS. This point is important.  When anyone, Labour or Tory, says “we will end FoM AND get a comprehensive Free Trade Deal”-they are lying to you, its that simple.  There is no time or inclination by the EU to agree a significant free trade agreement that does not include free movement.  “Best Deal for Britain” or “A Brexit that protects jobs and the economy” are the same lie if both deals exclude freedom of movement.

PPS – old blog which highlights the bait & switch of the Leave Leadership, a longer (older) version of the above.

David Davis & Brexit Negotiations

Consistent message from Conservatives is “Vote for May to get a steady hand during EU negotiations”.  But of course it’ll be David Davis who’ll be our chief negotiator, not May so how much faith can we put in him to get us a good deal? Presumably, a key requirement for success in that deal would be that Davis is on top of his brief & has a full awareness of the scale of the problem in front of him.  So let’s chart his journey.

As recently as May 2016 he was proposing bi-lateral agreements with EU countries.

Post Brexit a UK-German deal would include free access for their cars and industrial goods, in exchange for a deal on everything else.  Similar deals would be reached with other key EU nations. France would want to protect £3 billion of food and wine exports. Italy, its £1 billion fashion exports. Poland its £3 billion manufacturing exports.

Such bi-lateral agreements are illegal under EU law.

Following the referendum in a post on conservative home  he then turned to non-EU deals:

So be under no doubt: we can do deals with our trading partners, and we can do them quickly.  I would expect the new Prime Minister on September 9th to immediately trigger a large round of global trade deals with all our most favoured trade partners.   I would expect that the negotiation phase of most of them to be concluded within between 12 and 24 months.

So within two years, before the negotiation with the EU is likely to be complete, and therefore before anything material has changed, we can negotiate a free trade area massively larger than the EU.  Trade deals with the US and China alone will give us a trade area almost twice the size of the EU, and of course we will also be seeking deals with Hong Kong, Canada, Australia, India, Japan, the UAE, Indonesia – and many others.

By this reckoning the first major trade deals would be due in 4 months and in fact the entire article gives the impression that Brexit is simple and straightforward, and could practically be all over by Christmas.  Around 2 months later Davis changed his position somewhat and was saying  this:

Before article 50 is triggered [it] will be a rather frustrating time as we won’t be saying much. After, I expect it to be a more open process…It may be the most complicated negotiation of all time. By comparison, Schleswig-Holstein [a 19th-century political conundrum] is an O-level question

The question has to be asked – how did he not know this 2 months earlier given that he’d been campaigning for Leave for several months beforehand?  This is particularly concerning as the last cabinet post Davis held between 1994 & 1997 was Europe Minister in Major’s government and therefore was surely best placed to be informed on how the EU and our relationship operates.

However, by January, Davis was confident again and was saying that the Government had a plan to deliver a deal with the “exact same benefits” as the single market:

What was on the ballot paper was leaving the European Union. I am afraid that it is very difficult to see how we can leave the European Union and still stay inside the single market, with all the commitments that go with that. What we have come up with—I hope to persuade her that this is a very worthwhile aim—is the idea of a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have, but also enable my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade to go and form trade deals with the rest of the world, which is the real upside of leaving the European Union.

This despite all evidence indicating that this was impossible given the government’s self imposed red lines on FoM & the ECJ.  Just over a month later he appeared to change his position again as he was telling the cabinet to prepare for the unlikely possibility of UK not getting a Brexit deal.


(The contrast in the 2 news items is interesting). As minister in charge of Brexit, it would seem reasonable for Davis to ask his team to evaluate the impact of a no deal scenario on the UK given that he believed it was a possibility.

When asked whether the Government had made an assessment of the economic impact, he said: “Well, it made an estimate during the referendum campaign, but I think that one of the issues that has arisen is that some of those forecasts don’t appear to have been robust since then…

But not since then. Under my time, no”

Apparently not, a month later Davis admitted no such impact analysis had been carried out.  And yet, despite this lack of analysis, Davis is now threatening to walk out of the EU negotiations.

Before summarizing, it’s worth mentioning 2 additional points to give some further background.  Before David Davis became an MP, he had only one significant career position, at Tate & Lyle:

Davis worked for Tate & Lyle for 17 years, rising to become a senior executive, including restructuring its troubled Canadian subsidiary, Redpath Sugar.[4] He wrote about his business experiences in the 1988 book How to Turn Round a Company.

Tate & Lyle are one of the few major companies to support Brexit, as it wants to displace home grown sugar beet with imported sugar cane.  A second point is that Davis was instrumental in derailing identity cards in the last Labour Government.

As Shadow Home Secretary, Davis turned the Conservatives away from the Labour Party’s plan to reintroduce identity cards,[9] citing spiralling costs and libertarian issues. He turned initial Conservative support into one of concern and abstention, making the final change to one of opposition much easier. Davis believed that once the true cost and unreliability of the ID card scheme was explained to the general public, they would turn against it.

Whatever your views on ID cards, if the UK had them they would help us implement the same Freedom of Movement controls as other countries in the EU, such as the requirement to prove you can support yourself after 3 months:


It should be noted that these are the same controls the UK government under May as Home Secretary failed to implement.


David Davis & Brexit – a summary

So let’s summarise:

  • Prior to campaigning being an MP, Davis spent 17 years as an Exec at a heavily pro Brexit company.
  • He was then Europe Minister for 3 years and so therefore should presumably have gained some insight into the single market & how it operates.
  • He then campaigned for Leave for several months which should have given him further insight.

However, when we look at the last 12 months alone:

  • In May 2016 he proposed illegal and impossible bi-lateral deals with EU countries such as Germany
  • He then proposed in July 2016 a hopelessly naive and technically illegal trade deal plan that would see all major trade deals signed between September this year and September 2018.
  • By September 2016 he finally admitted that Brexit would be complicated, the most complicated negotiation of all time.


  • But by January 2017 he was confident enough to tell Parliament that we could get a deal with the exact same benefits as that which we had now.
  • In February 2017 he reversed again, and was telling his cabinet colleagues that they should prepare for a no deal brexit.
  • But in March 2017 he admitted no work had been done at all to assess the cost of this no deal outcome.
  • However in May 2017 he said he was prepared to walk away from negotiations, even though he promised the exact same benefits as an outcome previously and even though he had not (apparently) costed the impact of such a walk out on the UK.

Finally, and ironically, prior to this period he was instrumental in blocking one of the major initiatives that would have allowed the UK to manage FoM in the same way as our European partners, arguably one of the key drivers for Brexit.

As so much in Brexit, it’s useful to draw real world parallels.  Consider an executive in a large UK organisation.  Say that executive had consistently over promised and under delivered, had set impossible targets and then failed to meet them before radically readjusting them downwards. Furthermore, imagine the reaction if that Executive had utterly failed to carry out any impact analysis on future plans.  What are the chances of that Executive keeping their job under those conditions?

Such a poor performance in the real world would have been addressed months ago. However in the surreal world of Brexit we are expected to trust this man with the most complex negotiation in history.


To be blunt, if you vote Conservative then David Davis will be in charge of Brexit negotiations.  In turn this means that we will likely be walking out of said negotiations sometime in the next 12 months.  Davis, with the help of the pro-brexit press, is already most likely setting us up to follow the path of least resistance (and most destruction) – a walkout which he can blame on the EU.  Any other option involves hard work, compromise and competence.

There is absolutely no evidence that things will turn around or that Davis will suddenly apply himself to the reality of the UK-EU situation.

Walking away with no deal is the most stupid thing to do and is therefore consistent with Davis’s actions so far.

When is a Majority not a Majority? Brexit and Korean Restaurants

Note: Credit to an article on infacts. for inspiration.

When is a democratic vote not a democratic vote? When there’s 3 or more options but only 2 on the ballot paper.

10 work colleagues, who don’t know each other particularly well, find themselves in the pub round the corner from the office and after a few drinks decide to go for a group meal.  The 1st, Abby, says “Well I’ll say up front, I’m easy, I’ll go with the flow”. Euan sitting in one corner with 3 others says “How about Korean?  We’ve all been to the local one and it’s great”.

Unfortunately the other 5 (Libby,  Joe, Jane, Harry & Brian) say “no, not Korean.  Definitely not Korean”.  “OK, fair enough what do you suggest?” ask the Korean food fans. “We’re not sure, but we know we all like the same kind of food and we definitely don’t like Korean”.

“OK, but you have to choose” say Euan and the Korean 4 “You have to pick a restaurant”.   “We have chosen” say the other 5, “We’ve said we don’t want Korean”.  Well, the Korean 4 don’t want to make a fuss, none of them know each other except through work after all.  They agree to let the majority decide and so the 5 have a chat amongst themselves.

Suddenly Joe and Jane pipe up “We’ve heard of a great place, the ‘Your way’ Cafe – there’s no menu, you can have whatever you want in any style you want”.  Euan asks “The what cafe?  Are you sure that’s a real place?”.  “Yes” say the 2, “Libby, or possibly Harry, one of them anyway told us about it”.  Euan turns to Libby and Harry who are suddenly looking a bit embarrassed.  “No, not me, it must have been you Harry” says Libby, to which Harry responds “Nope, not me, I never mentioned it.  Are you sure it wasn’t you Libby?”.

Harry, Libby and a close friend looking shifty

But before any more questions can be asked Libby says “Actually, I really fancy Chinese”.   “Wait a second I thought you said you all like the same food?” exclaims Euan just as the final 2 in the group, Harry & Brian, say “Actually, we just want to carry on drinking, we’ve had a few drinks now and we don’t want to eat at all.”.

So now the Korean 4 are getting a bit annoyed. “Look, hang on, we only backed down on the Korean because you all said you wanted the same thing. This is a flawed vote.”.  “Of course it isn’t” say the 5, “None of us like Korean so we get to choose”.  “But you all said you liked the same kind of food, that’s why you got to choose.  3 completely different options, one of which isn’t even food related, are not ‘the same kind of thing’!”.  However the 5 now all say to the other 4 “oh come on stop whining, we voted and you lost, get over it”.

The Korean 4 are a bit nonplussed, they don’t mind being in the minority, but they do mind not getting to choose the restaurant when they appear to be in the majority.  Meanwhile Joe and Jane are having trouble finding the “Your Way” Cafe on Trip Advisor.  “Try ‘Your Style Cafe’ “says Jane, glancing at Harry & Libby who in turn find something interesting to look at on the bar floor.

The Korean 4 look at each other in confusion, how did this get so complex? Then Libby sidles over and says to the 4 “Look,  Korean is quite similar to Chinese, why don’t you say you want Chinese as well and then we’ll have a majority of 5.  The 4 are a bit shocked – “Excuse me?  You said you didn’t like Korean, you’re the only one who wants Chinese, and now you want us to change our vote so we do what you want?  Why don’t you change your vote and go with the majority?  Do you really hate Korean so much?”.  “Well”, says Libby, “Truth is, I don’t mind Korean, but I just really fancy Chinese so I said I hated it”.

So now the Korean 4 have a chat about their options.  They’re starving, they know that Libby the Chinese fan wants to eat, they’re pretty sure the “Your Way/Style” people are hungry as well (though it’s not 100% clear).  They suspect that even easy going Abby wants some food.  Its only Harry and Brian who are definitely not hungry.

So what should they do, they ask themselves.  They realise in hindsight they should have been more firm and pinned the other 5 down on what they definitely wanted, rather than what they definitely didn’t want, because 4 would then be a majority given all the options now on the table. It’s a bit late now though and anyway the other 5 don’t seem to recognise that the original vote was flawed.  They can’t go with the “Your Way/Style/Kidding” 2 as that restaurant doesn’t appear to actually exist.  They could all say they’ll settle for Chinese, but that doesn’t seem right either as only 1 in 10 definitely wants that.

It’s a pickle.  Whilst they are pondering their options Libby pipes up and says “Come on everyone, lets go for a Chinese, its a good compromise for….”

“I’M NOT EATING ANY EFFING FOREIGN CRAP, we’re carrying on with the drinking” says Brian from the corner, talking over Libby and everyone else.

Everyone is a bit surprised.  Brian hasn’t said much all evening but there’s about 8 empty glasses in front of him. “Do you know him well?” whispers one of the group. “No, not really, I think he’s from HR” says another “He’s a bit of a drinker apparently, can get a bit aggressive I’m told.  There’s rumors of a few fights and such like”.

Suddenly the atmosphere has changed.  Everyone just thought they were going for a meal but now it seems the evening has taken a different turn.  “OK, hang on now” says Euan, “I know we can’t agree on a meal but most of us are definitely hungry, we want to eat something”.

“No, Brian’s right” says Harry, whose lost interest on whatever was on the floor and seems more confident now that Brian has spoken. “Let’s just go for a drink, everyone likes a drink, we don’t want the evening spoiled with a silly argument do we?  I can see Brian really wants a few more shots, lets just do that shall we?”

The 10 start to leave the bar.  The “Your Way/Style” 2 are a bit annoyed now and start a minor argument with Libby and Harry “Look, one of you two definitely mentioned this Cafe”, but the 2 just shake their heads and say that Joe and Jane must have misheard them or something.

And so as they all head off to the next bar for 2 for 1 Jägerbombs, the Korean 4 are left wondering how a majority can still lose a democratic vote, how 20% of the group got to decide the plans for the evening and why everyone is going along with a plan that will probably end in tears.

Brexit battle over? Not even close

Brexit: May should invoke Article 50 ‘within weeks’, says John Whittingdale

Scary headlines are coming thick and fast for those of us who are not exactly excited about Brexit, in fact many people are thinking it’s all over for Brexit bar a few minor details.

But it’s not, not by a long chalk.

Whittingdale can huff and puff, Redwood can agitate that we should just send a letter to the EU and walk away, polls can be quoted, the Express can have shouty headlines like “Trigger Article 50 and stop all these delays over Brexit”.

None of it amounts to anything.  The PM cannot trigger article 50 and start the negotiation process until the legal challenge currently underway runs its course sometime in December when the inevitable appeals are heard.  It’s currently 50-50 perhaps that the Courts will decide an Act of Parliament is required.   Even then, May has already said she won’t trigger Article 50 until early in the new year.

It may even start later as “Ministers are now thinking the trigger could be delayed to autumn 2017,”, not only because of the Elections happening in Europe but because the Brexit departments in the UK just can’t get the staff and may not be ready until then.

Then we have the 2 year Article 50 process itself, and the associated trade negotiations.

Once these are under way, surely there is no turning back?  Well, lets make no mistake, triggering A50 is a big deal politically as a statement of intent however, it’s at least evens that we could back out – withdraw our intention to leave – if (when) negotiations started going badly – and return to full EU membership.

That means 3 years – potentially almost 3 years before Brexit can move beyond the point of no return.

6 months, maybe 18, maybe even 36, for all of us to help reveal the foolishness and lack of credibility of this activity.

Anyone who is in a position of knowledge and/or authority or even an MP (it appears the latter doesn’t necessarily imply the former these days) should know this, and therefore anyone who tries to imply anything different can safely be dismissed as a blusterer or an idiot.

And anyone trying to rush things through before we are ready to start negotiating is putting their ideology above the national interest.

So, the next time we see Redwood or the Express or the Mail or anyone shouting “Brexit now, get on with it” – just see it for what it is, a desperate attempt to create noise & distraction and to keep momentum going for Brexit, in the absence of any real progress by the departments involved. And why?

Because they are all worried about the emerging picture, the interventions by Japan, the inevitable impact on the economy from the uncertainty.  And so they are looking to create enough noise to distract people from realizing that Brexit is really very,very silly.

Let’s not let them. This is just the beginning.

P.S. just a personal theory, but you may be wondering why May has introduced the controversial idea of Grammar schools when she has such a slim majority.  Why introduce something that has such a high chance of creating division and heat at a time like this?  It’s almost like the time Osborne announced the (now failed) Academies plan, at the end of a badly flawed and ultimately rejected budget  

Liberal Brexit – It’s Democracy, Jim, but not as we know it

Roland Smith, a fellow of the Adam Smith institute and a self described Brexit “Liberal Leaver”, has produced 3 documents which together present the mainstream Liberal Leaver position.  But what is this position, what compromises are its supporters comfortable with in order to bring it about and what does this say about the democratic validity of the referendum result?

There is a subgroup of the Vote leave “intelligentsia” known as “liberal leavers” who favour a very particular Brexit approach, namely the Norway (or EEA/EFTA) model. Supporters include Daniel Hannan MEP , almost certainly Boris Johnson and certainly Roland Smith, fellow of the Adam Smith institute. This group also extends into the Leave Alliance, which has put together “the Flexcit plan” (though, apparently all is not well in the group).


The core of the intended plan (which has been championed by its supporters for several years) is that the UK would move to a Norway style model as an interim step to minimize economic & social disruption.  Once established, the UK would begin to write new trade deals.

One of the most complete discussions of the approach is provided by Roland Smith in 3 documents, the Liberal Case for Leave,  Stuck in the middle with EU and Evolution not Revolution.

This post isn’t about the pros or cons of the Norway option (Nick Clegg has already produced an excellent paper on this), instead its purpose is to highlight the democratic anomaly the UK finds itself in as a direct result of the Leave Campaign’s deliberately vague approach, and how liberal leavers are prepared to exploit this anomaly to drive a minority position.  Roland Smith’s papers will be the backdrop to this and most quotes are from those papers.


Project Vague

The deliberate vagueness of the Leave campaign is almost comically illustrated in this exchange which happened a few weeks after the vote.

What price a free trade deal-01

Essentially, the Leave vote is completely divided.  The most informed (Liberal) Leavers are pushing for an EEA/EFTA (Norway) approach,  other leavers believed the Vote Leave hype and think we can end immigration, increase wages, invest in the NHS and essentially ignore globalization.  A number of  hard brexiteers in the Tory Right believe we should simply cut loose from the EU, absorb the significant economic damage, have a regulation bonfire and turn the UK into a globalisation paradise.  And finally there are the EU haters, economically secure in their isolation they care little for the economics and just want Brexit at any cost.  There is no consensus or democratic majority in the Leave position.

And meanwhile Remainers look on in despair as facts and pragmatic reality are displaced by populism and post-truth politics.  This is the democratic anomaly, a win for Leave that makes no sense because there is no majority in the winning camp.


“Famously Anti-Democratic”

Indeed (the EU) is famously anti-democratic. It is not a “bottom up” organisation but a “top-down” one, ignoring national votes and preferences at will (especially national referendum votes that go against it) and regularly thwarting the will of the people through its institutions.

Before I discuss Smith’s (and other liberal leavers) approach to this anomaly I’d like  to highlight the above statement made in his 3rd paper.  It’s a concern often repeated by other leave supporters, liberal or otherwise.

Despite this and other criticisms, the aim of Smith & the Liberal Leavers is to retain a very close relationship with the EU including full membership of the single market and therefore full freedom of movement and a re-calibrated EU contribution.  The only practical  difference would be that the UK would be free to create its own trade deals.  The problem is, this is not what a large number of Leave supporters voted for.


However, although Remainers might take this option as the least worst alternative to EU membership, this position goes directly against the wishes of the vast majority of the Leave vote. How therefore does Smith plan to address this crucial division in his winning camp?  By bypassing it.


Pushing towards EEA/EFTA Adoption

We can look to the section “How exit would happen” in Evolution not Revolution for insights, this outlines the series of events the author hopes will lead to this Norway style option following Brexit.

Any Leave plans or intentions that were aired in the referendum campaign will fall away on 24th June and it will then be in the interests of the entire governing party to strike a pragmatic Leave deal

So in other words the £350 M savings, controls on free movement, NHS investment, elimination of the EU contribution and all of the “Take back control” rhetoric can immediately be jettisoned once the Leave win is secured.

That brings us to…those who see this referendum as a proxy vote on limiting free movement. In the event of a Leave vote, Conservative Leavers will repeat that this is their goal but getting there will be “a process” to ensure a “safe ordered exit”… Further checks on free movement will be addressed as part of a next step.

Those Leave voters who are focused on Free Movement will need to be placated…though actually, when discussing a table showing EEA characteristics the author says:

Notably, freedom of movement for EU/EEA nationals is shown in green, indicating that it’s a good thing.  That’s because, largely, it is….(The Norway model) would keep the good things from the EU – genuine cooperation in a series of areas, and yes even free movement  .

So actually, Smith would prefer that this key concern for many leave voters is permanently shelved.  The “EU contribution” would also continue, rebadged, but essentially the same.

Remember, Smith is talking here about his fellow leave voters, who he and other liberal leavers joined with to get the win. Discarding plans announced prior to the vote immediately after the vote is won and postponing or ideally shelving key issues for those voters sounds an awful lot like  “thwarting the will of the people” and “ignoring preferences at will”. In fact arguably as immigration was seen as the key issue this could be seen as ignoring the spirit of a “national referendum vote” if not actually the vote itself.


Civil Service analysts will be clear that Brexit can be complex and risky if bungled…and they’ll be seriously up against the clock. Not only from the two year time limit set by Article 50 … but also the political need to achieve a deal within the electoral cycle and the pressing need to address “uncertainty”.

All of that would kill any prospect of a bespoke deal – desirable though that may be – … Instead they would look at existing “off the shelf” and de-risked models and quickly conclude the most optimal way to exit would be to take up a position inside the European Economic Area (‘EEA’), (and) European Free Trade Association (‘EFTA’).

Finally we see a recognition that leaving the EU is incredibly complex, that no possible “Bespoke” deal is possible and that the Civil Service analysts (“unelected UK bureaucrats?”) will drive the government into a Norway style arrangement.  There will be no choice, the government’s hand (and therefore the country’s) will be forced.  This in turn sounds a lot like a “top down organisation…thwarting the will of the people through its institutions.”




So where does this take us?

We already know that Vote Leave ran a distinctly dishonest campaign, we can get into whether £350 M is worse than £4,300 or not but the central point is that Leave presented no plan, no blueprint and essentially kept everything vague.  Although it would be unfair to say that all Liberal Leavers connived in this lack of clarity (many in fact spoke out against it) it’s also fair to say that at least one Liberal Leaver, Dan Hannan, played his cards very close to his chest.  If you support Leave and the result, you have to be more or less comfortable with this deliberate lack of detail.

We also know that there is not even a consensus within the Leave Leaders.  This recent article in the Financial Times by former Chancellor Lord Lawson advocates forgetting the single market completely, and he is not alone in that view.  John Redwood MP and others are agitating for immediate Article 50 activation.

There is clearly an excessively divided leave constituency.  “Brexit means Brexit” means any one of 6 different models and is the singularly most inane political statement for a generation.  The Government is spinning at the moment trying to reconcile this divide.

But most importantly, we know that unrealistic expectations have been set for one particularly large group of leavers who still believe in the inflated image of the UK’s bargaining position given to them by the Leave campaign and therefore are convinced that the UK can strike it’s own bespoke deal.  This group also prioritizes ending FoM and the EU contribution above everything else (in fact May has made immigration her red line), yet these 2 items will be largely unaffected by a Norway model.

So we have a divided leave leadership, a divided leave vote, a 48% remain vote who only barely lost to this divided leave vote and in the middle, Mr Smith and the Liberal Leavers who perhaps hold 10-20% of the vote, very much a minority position.


Mr Smith recognizes that most of his fellow voters have been gravely misled.  However, to address this, he is prepared to simply bypass them, by means of an inevitable bureaucratic process which will force the government to abandon any Leave promises made and to adopt, after all the talk of the greatest democratic event in UK history, his 10% minority liberal leave outcome.

Further, in an attempt to push this model through Smith and other Liberal Leavers are looking to Remainers to form a post brexit coalition in order to override their fellow Leave Voters:




Apart from the fact that there is no evidence that Remain will swing behind EEA this intent by 10% of the winning vote to cajole the 48% losing vote in order to override the remaining 42% winning vote is deeply undemocratic and utterly shocking.  In fact the liberal leave camp look on their fellow voters with anything from mild annoyance to open contempt.



Which brings us back to the core issue I have with these papers and in fact the Liberal Leave approach generally.  I’ll repeat that comment on EU democracy, the same complaint made in effect by Hannan, Johnson and many other Leave Leaders:

Indeed it is famously anti-democratic. It is not a “bottom up” organisation but a “top-down” one, ignoring national votes and preferences at will (especially national referendum votes that go against it) and regularly thwarting the will of the people through its institutions.

Lets examine that.

We have the vague Vote Leave campaign which has created this splintered Leave vote. Some Liberal Leavers may have had concerns with the campaign however now we have a willingness on their part to exploit it, to jettison any promises made and to postpone or even ignore core issues raised by the winning vote.  We have moves in some Liberal Leave quarters to corral the Remain vote in order to override fellow Leave voters who foolishly believed what they were told by their leaders and weren’t sophisticated enough to see it was all a bit of a con.


And finally we have active support for a bureaucratic process, driven by institutions (Civil Servants or if you prefer “Unelected UK Bureaucrats”)  which will force all sides into adopting a minority position of 10% that wasn’t even on the ballot paper.

What was that about the EU being famously anti-democratic? That “liberal” title is looking a little suspect as well.

There is evidence to indicate that, given the distinct choice between the EU and Norway models the British public would have chosen the EU, most likely because they would see little difference between the 2 and any differences would be perceived as negative. Certainly in a 3 way vote of Hard Brexit, EEA/EFTA and EU then EU would have come out on top.  Unfortunately the public were never given that choice.


Conclusion – what of Democracy?


The referendum result is already undemocratic simply because there is no consensus or majority position on what Brexit looks like. In fact there is little common ground in the winning camp, nothing to say what the 52% are for, only what they are against. The May government has filled this vacuum by assuming immigration is the primary issue, a decision which may lead to economic disaster for the country.

If the country is forced (albeit for pragmatic and/or desperate reasons) into a Norway model this is doubly undemocratic, as the wishes of Remain and a significant number of Leave voters (pulled in for their vote and then discarded) are dismissed for an outcome supported by perhaps 10% of the population.

To put this more simply. Liberal Leavers are saying they have won, and having won they are happy to dispense with the priorities of the vast majority of their fellow winners.  Further, they are now saying to the losing side “Join us, or there will be a hard brexit that neither of us want”.  You have to admire their cheek if nothing else.


Liberal leavers are now talking of EEA as a “compromise”, something we can all get behind.  This is deeply disingenuous as they have been pushing this agenda for 4 years.

Yet by any measure the Liberal Leave position is far closer to the Remain position than any Hard Brexit position.  Forced to choose between Hard Brexit and Remain, liberal leavers would likely choose Remain which is why it’s Remainers rather than other Leavers they are reaching out to.  In any functioning democratic process the 10% would align with the 48%, not the other way around.  It is ironic that those who criticize the democracy of the EU are happy to see the will of 10% override 90% and can be so dismissive of their fellow voters.

However, Liberal Leavers talk of Remainers “accepting the result” – on the contrary, Liberal Leavers need to accept that we all potentially lost on June 23rd.  The smooth transition into an EEA model long campaigned for by this group is simply not going to happen and instead the country is at risk of significant and potentially long lasting social and economic damage as the government tries to put the square peg of controlling free movement in the round hole of keeping the Single Market.  For various reasons the Vote Leave campaign has made a move to a Norway model (already far more complex than the Liberal Leavers predicted)  difficult if not impossible, even if Remainers were to accept it.

Whatever the outcome, Remainers cannot easily reach out to hard brexit supporters, it is up to Liberal Leavers to step up and engage, to help the rest of their constituency understand that Hard Brexit would be deeply damaging.  Bypassing them is not a solution.

In the meantime this fractured vote, and the willingness of certain people to exploit it in order to force a result only a small minority wanted, is deeply damaging for the country and our democracy. A group that joins with one side only for as long as necessary and then plans to discard that side and its objectives, preferably with the help of the losing side and a bureaucratic process it knew would freeze out its fellow voters, has no place criticizing democracy of any kind, much less the EU.