Saturday, 5 November 2016

The Big Lie and how it got found out.

There is no doubt that the British public was lied to during the Referendum campaign.  It wasn’t just the threat of millions of Turkish immigrants or the £350 million a week that would be saved.  The great lie started with David Cameron and has now been repeated by Theresa May and her band of over-excited Brexiteers.  The great lie was that the result of the vote would be the definitive decision about whether we stayed or left the EU.

 What was obvious to anyone who bothered to look, was that the referendum result was not intended to mandate government to declare Art50 without further recourse to Parliament.  In the forums of this paper and the Times I, and many others, before the Referendum and since have made this point and been loudly rubbished.  But three of the most senior judges in the land agreed. The decision to leave the EU is down to Parliament not the Executive.

Before they voted, MP’s were briefed about the status of the Referendum 2015 bill as follows:

'It does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented. Instead, this is a type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions. The referendums held in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1997 and 1998 are examples of this type, where opinion was tested before legislation was introduced.'

Given its status, even those MP’s who had a real concern about the wisdom of a vote such as this, were prepared to give their consent.  But Cameron, for his own political purposes, maintained that the result would be definitive as far as the Government was concerned he, of course, was presuming a vote to Remain.   After losing the vote the ‘Brexiteers’ had their hands around his delicate parts and it is said that when you grab a man by his delicate parts, his heart will surely follow.  To hold his party together Cameron had to make the claim it was a done deal and Parliament had no further role in the decision to leave.  He and his successor were wrong, the basis of the original vote was clear and the courts have reaffirmed that the execution of Article 50 is the province of Parliament and not the Executive. 

There is only one reason, in my view, why the Supreme Court will not uphold the decision of the Crown Court.  The judges may well address the question whether Article 50 is irrevocable and seek a ruling from the European Court.  This is the big-money question.  If it is irrevocable then it must be Parliament’s decision. through a legislative act, when and whether to commence the process of leaving the EU.  If it is revocable, and the evidence taken by the House of Lords and indeed, the comments made by Lord Kerr suggests that it is, then Parliament can wait until it knows how the EU will respond to the proposals put to it by the UK Government.  Those proposals will need to be argued out in Parliament but, if Article 50 is revocable, then the Government’s negotiating position is immeasurably stronger.  The only ones who do not want this issue tested are the hard-line Brexiteers – they do not want any deal with the EU.  They want out, completely and irrevocably.  

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If Article 50 is revocable then a decision point will come:  do we stay in the EU on negotiated terms or do we leave on negotiated terms?  That would be the point at which a clear and definitive question could be put to the British people in a second referendum.  We would then know what the stakes are and this time Parliament, could decide to make the Referendum result binding.   If those who voted for Brexit are convinced of the strength of their case, then what is there to be afraid of? 

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Tuesday, 13 September 2016

A comment of mine in the FT

David Allen Green wrote an interesting article in the FT where he expressed surprise at the lack of a view in Brussels about how the EU should deal with Brexit.  For me, it wasn't a surprise.  Here is my comment and some of the follow-up:

David, I wonder if your search for answers was doomed from the start.  They have not begun to think about the issues in any meaningful way in Europe.
Of all the major states of Europe, the UK is still the one country that has both a legal and a political system based on confrontation and contesting arguments.  In both our law and our politics, the side with the best story is the one that wins - even if all that is being told is fiction. With our first past the post system, even one vote confers a democratic mandate. 
This concept of democracy has blighted our understanding of the European project and the way decisions are made in Europe.  If you start from a premise that power is shared and that decisions are made by agreement and hard-won consensus then it is easy to see why no one as yet has a firm view on what Brexit might mean in Europe - the process of consensus building has not begun.  
The UK's trajectory has been away from the Union from the moment we joined in 1972.  We find it hard to conceive of a democracy apart from our own, or of a concept of a unified state that is not like the UK or the USA where the locus of power lies in the centre.   Indeed, the citizens of the UK or, to be more precise, England, would be happier if we formalised our current position as the 51st state of the USA.  We may believe that the Referendum was a clear decision that our politicians must follow no matter what the outcome.  It wasn't.  In Europe, their negotiating position is what all the member states are willing to accept.  What individuals might think is of interest but of no significance to the outcome.
ciwp1
@ProfBob  Would you call the Eurozone, e.g.,  a "unified state" without a central power locus?
(fair comment btw, though as a unionist Scot, I would not make your "correction" for England. Some English people just don't have enough awareness of the RoUK.)
ProfBob
@ciwp1 @ProfBob  That's a good question and I think the answer is no and that, again, is our problem in understanding the Euro and how a common currency could work without a controlling centre of political power.  The Eurozone is dominated economically by France and Germany and they will be powerful voices in any debate but I do not see any direction of travel towards what we might think of as a federal state.  
On Scotland - having studied there and hoping in the near future to return to live,  I am always surprised by the strength of its cultural links to the continent.  Perhaps in the UK we should think of emulating the EU model where England cannot simply overrule Scotland, Wales, and NI by force of Parliamentary arithmetic.
Kieran
@ProfBob An excellent analysis.  I'm always struck by how British Eurosceptics, so critical of the 'democratic deficit' in the EU, are generally so supportive of the status quo in the UK, including fptp, House of Lords and lack of a devolved government.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

What a question? Brexit, infidelity and conspiracy ideation

Jane overheard some gossip – she knew the people involved were unpleasant and spiteful, but they were discussing her husband.  She realised, with horror, they were talking about an affair they believed he was having with a work colleague.  Shocked, Jane hired a private detective to investigate.  She was upset and simply asked the detective to discover whether her husband was in a relationship with someone else, yes or no? 

A week later, the detective gave her the answer she didn’t want to hear.  That evening, after a blazing row, her husband stormed out of the house. Two years later they were divorced.   Those were two very unhappy years for Jane, she had been married to her husband for 43 years and they had grown together.  They had, it is true, forgotten their first flush of romance and like so many relationships, at times, it had been very hard work.  They had worked together for several years and many of the ideas that had helped shape her husband’s business had come from her.

She bitterly regretted what had happened.  She was now too old, she felt, to start again – her youthful vigour was long gone.  She also had doubts about the so-called affair and wondered if it was innocent after all.   Her husband, deeply hurt by her lack of trust, refused to discuss it.  But, the process was inexorable and the sad day arrived when her divorce was declared absolute.   A chance encounter with one of the gossips was the final straw – ‘oh Jim wasn’t having an affair, we knew you were listening and we thought it would be a laugh to wind you up’.  Jane was distraught, her happiness had been shattered.   Life would never be the same.  What went wrong?

As we read this very sad story, we wonder how it all came about.  Are there any parallels with the EU referendum?  After all, little stories often have big lessons.

Here are some obvious ones: are you asking the question in the right way and for the right reason?  Was asking a detective to get the answers better than discussing the issue with the person involved?  Was listening to spiteful gossip a sensible basis for taking action?  Was worrying about what Nigel Farage or Ian Duncan Smith were saying or up to, a sufficient reason to promise a referendum on EU membership?  Is the question to be put meaningful? A ‘relationship’ has many nuances of meaning likewise ‘Leave the EU’ is deeply ambiguous and poorly defined.   Do you know how you will react no matter what the answer?  You have to think through the consequences.  Saying ‘relationship means relationship’ is about as meaningless as saying ‘Brexit means Brexit’ – all it signals is you haven’t a clue what to do next. So plan for the consequences.  Finally, do you really want to know the answer?  In the end, the collapse of Jane’s marriage was founded on a lie.  Britain’s vote for Brexit was largely based on a lie.

So what should Jane have done?  I leave you to figure it out.  But what is clear is that she should not have given way to paranoia.  Challenge the gossips, call them out.  What should David Cameron have done before calling a referendum:  sought the will of Parliament – after all they are our elected representatives and it is there that evidence based discussion and debate can occur.  He listened to the Farage’s of this world and gave them far too much importance.   UKIP was more of a threat to Miliband’s Labour Party than to the Tories.   But, you have to debunk the conspiracy theories upon which UKIP and the ultra-right thrive.  Scratch many a UKIPPER and you will find someone who signs up to a similar list of conspiracies. Favourites are:  the science of global warming is a hoax; the government persuaded the IFS, the IMF and the Bank of England to peddle fear.  Germany and their puppets in the EU are hell bent on creating a federal Europe.  There is a plan to wave Turkey through the formalities of becoming a member of the EU unleashing a ‘tidal wave’ of impoverished Turks on the working class heartlands of the UK.  The list is endless.  The basic UKIP ideology is riddled with what psychologists call Conspiracy Ideation.


The referendum was won on a mix of Conspiracy Theories, Lies and Governmental ineptitude.  The problem is: when people are anxious they succumb more easily to the nonsense that UKIP peddles.  How could Jane have unravelled the mess?  How can Theresa May do likewise?  The answer is to focus on the source of the problem: work to reduce the paranoia and the anxiety.  Seek ways to raise the incomes of the marginalised and their sense of inclusion in the UK.  Ruthlessly debunk the myths that UKIP and the rest rely upon to peddle their xenophobic agenda.   Then, seek an agreement with the EU such that both parties gain from the new relationship rather than lose.  There is a win-win and smart politicians, shrugging off the sniping from the loony right, need to find it.