Tuesday, 4 December 2018

The Last Days Of The Brexiteers

As the UK Parliament begins five days of debate on whether and, if so, how the UK might leave the EU, four things tell you that we are seeing the last days of Theresa May and her merry band of Brexiteers. 

At stake is whether the UK (a) crashes out of the EU with no deal and has to rely on World Trade Organisation tariff rules ("No Deal"); (b) exits on the basis of May's daft draft Withdrawal Agreement and a vague commitment to a future trade deal on uncertain terms that won't cover everything yet binds the UK to follow EU rules with no influence ("May's Deal"); or (c) does not exit at all ("No Brexit").  

Here's why the result should be No Brexit:

How dumb would any Member of Parliament have to be in order to deliberately vote to make the economy smaller?  That can only mean less money for everyone, whether they're workers or benefits recipients. Investors would reduce their investments in the UK because they would see lower returns from a less valuable economy. There'd be less money for both state pensions (because the tax take would be lower) and private pensions (because pension funds would see lower returns like other investors). An ageing population and stricter controls on immigration would mean higher taxes on a declining number of people in work (and fewer carers for the old folks).

Anyone feeling the pinch now will know Brexit Britain would be a far worse place to live.

The UK Can Revoke Article 50 Notice On Its Own, Free of Charge

The government has wasted a fortune on 5 QCs trying in vain to stop the European Court of Justice ruling on whether the UK on its own can cancel or revoke its notice to leave the EU. This morning, the Advocate General filed her opinion which recommends that the court find in favour of that claim. She says the UK can unilaterally revoke its Article 50 notice any time before it expires, by notice to the European Council, following UK parliamentary approval. 

The ECJ usually follows the Advocate General's opinion.

That means it is highly likely that the EU will be bound to accept that the UK Parliament can direct the government to notify the European Council that the Article 50 notice is revoked, in which case Brexit is over, free of charge. Simplez! 

And the Brexiteers' legal problems don't end there...

The Government's Own Legal Advice Does Not Help The Brexiteers

May's draft Withdrawal Agreement says that if the UK and EU can't agree a future trade deal within 2 years, the UK will remain in a customs union with the EU that it can't escape without EU agreement. Brexiteers suspect it might never escape (the 'backstop').

May claims this is just paranoid and the EU also wants the backstop to be temporary. But she's raised suspicions that this is yet another pork pie by refusing to release the legal advice on her daft Withdrawal Agreement, on the basis that disclosure is "not in the public interest". This is tosh. Not only is it perfectly normal to release the full terms of legal advice given to ministers (including the papers requesting that advice), in order to allow their decisions to be challenged by judicial review; but any client can also waive the right to claim legal professional privilege if disclosure of the advice would help it's case.  

So the mere fact that the government has refused to disclose the legal advice allows us to infer that, at the very least, the disclosure would not help the case for accepting May's Brexit plan. 

Huge momentum for a People's Vote, Remainers Are Younger

Even if MPs don't have the cajones to do their job and simply direct the government to revoke the Article 50 notice, they can very likely rely on a referendum to give them a clear mandate to do so. 

The Labour Party says it should first go through the charade process of trying to win a vote of No Confidence in May's government to trigger a General Election, failing which it will seek a People's Vote. But given that a No Confidence motion requires more support, the odds are they'll have to go with a People's Vote.

The support for Remain has likely increased significantly.

Lastly, any referendum tends to be a vote on the government. In 2016, the government of the day was on the Remain side of the debate and it's been suggested that many Leavers voted against the government out of protest at their being 'forgotten' rather than because they really wanted Brexit.  But this government would be on the Leave side of a People's Vote and has been so obsessed by Brexit that it has failed to solve people's problems from 2016 - and, if anything, has made those problems worse. Any 'protest vote' would therefore favour Remain.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

The Short Tale Of Brexit Britain's First Unicorn!

While UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, the White Queen tours the nation selling jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today, the Brexidiot European Research Group Tweedle brothers added to the general confusion by proudly revealing the first of many often-promised unicorns. 

Tweedlesmug and Tweedlejohnson announced the eagerly awaited development in a hastily convened joint press conference in Looking-Glass World before a crowd of 700,000 people shouting "No Brexit":
"With careful in-bweeding," the brothers read in unison from a prepared script, "an old bwidle and a thingy we found in mater's drawer, we have finally managed it. Behold, Bwitain's fiwst unicawn!!"
With that, the brothers tugged aside a curtain to reveal the product of their efforts.

The End.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Easy As 123: Politicising The BBC

The BBC's Brexit logo speaks volumes

The reason that the BBC finds itself 'politicised' in this way is not because the BBC is 'biased' - at least not in the sense of simply taking one side in any given debate.  It's down to how the BBC frames its coverage of major events in the first place.

The BBC seems to take its editorial course from what the UK government (in this case) has decided to do. It then seeks to maintain 'balance' by covering all sides in the debate about how the UK should do what the government has decided, leaving behind the question whether the UK should be doing the thing at all

Viewing the whole Brexit scenario through the BBC's lens, therefore, means that the numerous investigations into collusion between Leave campaigns, where their funding came from and how they abused people's personal data become irrelevant to the BBC's Brexit coverage. So, too, are marches to secure a 'People's Vote'. Because those things relate to whether the UK should leave the EU, not how the UK should go about leaving - even when stopping the process remains an option.

This is not to say the BBC completely ignores the Electoral Commission fines, Information Commissioner fines and the launch of investigations by the National Crime Agency, the Metropolitan Police and the Financial Conduct Authority into the affairs of Mr Banks and various other members of the Leave Campaign and Brexit community - not to mention all the lies, distortion and gaslighting that was involved. But the BBC treats these as historic issues related to the EU referendum, electoral reform, how personal data might be abused in elections more generally and, perhaps, the role of truth in politics. From the BBC's standpoint, they shouldn't form part of its Brexit coverage because they don't relate to how the UK leaves the EU. 

This is appalling for at least four reasons. 

Primarily, it becomes really easy for the UK government to "get the BBC on side" and use its vast resources as the government's own public address system when attempting something that is likely to prove hugely complex and controversial. The government simply has to decide to do it: invade Iraq, trigger Article 50 without a plan for how to leave the EU, ignore the Good Friday Agreement... 

Secondly, the BBC's editorial choice minimises dissent by removing the oxygen of publicity from those who are sceptical or critical of the government's decision; and diverting it to those who are broadly supportive of the outcome, even if they wish to quibble over how the government achieves that goal. This allows the likes of Andrew Neil to treat the diligent efforts of Carole Cadwalladr and other investigative journalists as irrelevant, at best.

Thirdly, by moving the focus away from how the government made its decision in the first place, the BBC's emphasis risks burying evidence of corruption and so on. The end has justified the means. This encourages the likes of Andrew Neil to declare that continuing to investigate evidence of corruption and other criminality in relation to those means is somehow 'mad'.

Finally, the BBC's approach means that its reputation (and licence-fee payers' investment in that reputation) is horribly exposed to the downside of major events - or the reversal of the government's decision. The bigger the downside, or the more significant the reversal, the greater the damage to the BBC's reputation. 

What should the BBC do?

Avoid setting its editorial policy to simply accord with what the UK government (in this example) wants to do - even if that is, or is presented as, "the will of the people". 

The BBC's role should simply be to educate "the people" about the options, their implications and consequences of decisions taken. This is not about being able to say "I told you so" - it's about the BBC re-establishing and maintaining its role as an apolitical, trusted source of news and information, so that the people aren't so easily hoodwinked.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

UK Govt Gives Consumers and Cross-border Traders a Dose Of #BrexitReality

Friday is never always the best day for the UK government to call people's attention to important issues. And so it proved with the critical alert on the impact of a 'No Deal' Brexit on your consumer rights. But just in case you did happen to be more concerned with wrapping up your week or queuing all day for a phantom train to your weekend destination, here's at least one key paragraph amongst all the gumph pearls of bureaucratic wisdom:
As the UK will no longer be a Member State, there may be an impact on the extent to which UK consumers are protected when buying goods and services in the remaining Member States. The laws of those states are similar but may differ in some areas to UK law both as respective laws evolve over time as well as due to differing levels of harmonisation between Member States in some areas. UK consumers will also no longer be able to use the UK courts effectively to seek redress from EU based traders, and if a UK court does make a judgement [er, judgment for court decisions], the enforcement of that judgement (sic) will be more difficult as we will no longer be part of the EU. In addition, there will no longer be reciprocal obligations on the UK or EU Member States to investigate breaches of consumer laws or take forward enforcement actions... UK consumers would need to seek redress through the courts of that state rather than UK courts.
There's also some fantastic news for consumers and businesses on some specific areas:
  1. Alternative Dispute Resolution and Online Dispute Resolution;
  2. Package travel;
  3. Timeshare;
  4. Textile labelling; and
  5. Footwear labelling
some of which is in Annex A.

Of course, the paper omits any helpful links to warnings from the governments of the remaining 27 EU member states to their consumers about dealing with UK traders. I guess that information is being held back for another Friday...

Monday, 8 October 2018

In Brexit Britain Retail Will Be Mainly Online

When high street goods retailers call for increased taxes on e-commerce to subsidise their local business rates, you know their business models no longer make sense. Online retail sales now represent 17% of total retail sales in the UK, up from 5% in 2008. E-commerce is steadily taking over and UK consumers cannot afford to resist. Consumer debt is at its highest in history. So, add the rise in zero hours contracts with a Brexit headwind, and the shift to mainly online sales of goods should happen even faster. That in turn should boost the market for online sales more generally.

In typically populist fashion, all the usual suspects are blaming someone else. Tesco’s CEO has dubbed his plea for a 2% tax on any goods sold online an “Amazon tax”. He reckons this would raise a meagre £1.25bn but wants that spent on lowering the business rates for his physical stores. In other words, like newspapers, he doesn't make enough through his own online sales to subsidise his own under-performing bricks-and-mortar. 

Such a small sum will barely touch the sides within Tesco, yet it will increase all consumer prices for the ever-increasing volume of online sales. But the UK's over-indebted consumers simply can't afford that - and even if unemployment remains low, the number of zero hours contracts has tripled to account for a quarter of employment growth, and 2.8% of overall employment.
Similarly flawed is the UK Chancellor's populist "threat" that tech companies face a “digital services tax”.  It sounds good, but will be futile to protect UK offline retailers and simply raise consumer prices that won't be affordable.

The problem is high street retailers' failure to adapt to the long term trend of rising online sales. You can't blame that on the tax system. Taxes are something businesses have to factor into their planning, not the other way round. And taxes should be technology neutral, rather than making consumers and taxpayers subsidise legacy technology over innovative competition.

So, the sale of goods on the UK high street is doomed as we know it. But as they adapt or fade away, e-commerce for goods should boom. That will boost the market for directly related online services, such as point of sale finance, as well as the market for online services more generally.

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