Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Should Parliament Perpetuate The #Brexit Scam?

The Supreme Court judgment on the UK Government's plans to ignore the constitution is a good read. 

The Government's case was that "the 2015 [referendum] Act was enacted on the assumption that the result of the referendum would be decisive."  

Er, that's it.

That was plainly not the case, merely outrageous political positioning by the Brexiteers.

The Supreme Court judgment explains why the referendum could not be decisive (at paras 91-92) and why the 2015 referendum Act was flawed (at 118-119).  

Basically, if the Tories had wanted the Brexit referendum to be decisive (i.e. for Brexit to proceed immediately on a 'Yes' result), they would need to have included in the 2015 Act the detailed changes to the law to permit that to happen.  The 1975 EC referendum Act, for example, had no such details and was therefore properly presented by ministers at the time as being only advisory. They knew that more complex legislation had to follow if the UK were to join. Indeed, so did Cameron's government. The Supreme Court found that in 2011 the government had agreed with the proposition that "Under the UK’s [constitution] Parliament must be responsible for deciding... action in response to a referendum..." (see para 125).

Clearly, the Brexiteers concluded they had little chance of being able to frame the necessary detailed legislation to leave the EU, and just wanted to snatch a quick result. So they decided to copy the original 'simple' EC referendum Act of 1975 and claim (however wrongly) that the referendum on this occasion would be decisive. Others clouded that issue by 'promising' to abide by the outcome, even though the referendum result could only have political significance, rather than any legal status. They then drove around in their big red bus, blithely misleading people about the alleged benefits, and dismissing expert analysis of the major problems associated with leaving the EU.  No doubt they did this in part to secure their own electoral future(s), but you can tell from where they are now that the lead Brexiteers were not roundly congratulated by their Tory colleagues for their conduct and its consequences.  As the Supreme Court noted (at para 124):
"...the referendum of 2016 did not change the law in a way which would allow ministers to withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Union without legislation... unless and until acted on by Parliament, its force is political rather than legal."
The question now is whether Parliament should perpetuate the scam. 

There is much hand-wringing about the 'will of the people' (well, 52% of them, anyway) but little apparent appetite among MPs for recognising that the 48% were not fully informed and calling a halt to plans to trigger Article 50 unless and until the government can explain the detail.  MPs are best at ducking issues, not addressing them.

But the fact that Brexit continues to divide the country should tell them all they need to know: when in doubt, don't do it.  They might vote it through, but no one will thank them for the consequences.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Meet The Schadenfreuders

As the majority of voters in the western liberal democracies - ironically labelled the "liberal elite" - work their way along the 'change curve' after shocks like Brexit and the rise of Corbyn, Trump and others, their initial shock, denial, anger and blame is giving way to resignation and acceptance... and with it a little pleasure at the growing misfortunes of the 'winners'.

I'm the first to admit that the premise of "Lipstick on a Pig" was that 'people power' would be wielded more wisely than the power of the institutions they topple.  Yet I also pointed out that we are badly short of scepticism, that democracy should be a messy process, and that greed and stupidity are still winning. Pragmatism, after all, is not a destination but represents the constant struggle of "intelligent practice versus uninformed, stupid practice".

So it's all part of the familiar trends toward greater personal control that the Brexiteers can't agree what Brexit means; Corbyn is not proving the electoral champion that his supporters had believed; and Trump has had to concede that the US will in fact pay for any 'Wall' along its southern border, in the hope that Mexico will pay later... 

In other words, the recent populist 'victories' have merely wrung the same old institutional failings out of the same old political parties. And those who fell for the latest examples of 'stupid practice' will need to learn that lesson before we will begin to see the triumph of intelligent practice from genuine 'facilitators'. 

The question is how many more opportunities for schadenfreude there will be in the meantime...

I love the Germans. They've got a word for everything (as Nigel Farage will surely know).

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Rolling Out The #Brexit Pork Barrel?

While Brexit confusion continues to reign, most people seem focused on how the UK plans to negotiate with the EU, rather than what the government plans to do for those in the UK who will suffer.

Size matters in trade negotiations, and it's clear that the EU and many other trading partners will simply set their own terms in any deal with Little Britain. 

That's why Theresa May keeps using the weasel words 'the best possible deal'. She doesn't know what terms will be offered and won't be able to change them anyway.

That's also why, when faced with acting as the Tories' human shield in such futile discussions, the UK's chief negotiator quit.

So it's the resulting domestic negotiations over who bears the impact of Brexit which should be occupying most people's attention now. 

The Tories may have blundered into Brexit, but they regard continuing anti-EU sentiment and the total meltdown among opposition parties as a vast political opportunity.  Word has it they've come up with a political list of about 50 sectors and related regions, ranked by how badly they'll be affected by Brexit and their need for pork barrelling financial support if the Tories are to win the next General Election:
216... "Lord Bridges confirmed the Government was carrying out such an analysis. The Government had looked at over 100 production sectors. It had then consolidated its analysis into 51 sectors, taking into account “the size and contribution that each of these sectors makes to the economy”, and “the way those sectors are treated in EU law and how future negotiations might bear down on them”. The 51 sectors were not necessarily “the most important or the biggest”, but focusing on them had helped the Government to get the information into “a manageable format”" [emphasis added]
Car makers/workers are clearly very high on the list, for example, because they employ a lot people (soon to be robots anyway?) assembling cars from imported components, so they were urgently promised total government support.  Since Leavers are against even remaining in the EU Customs Union, that open promise means taxpayers will pay the car makers' additional import/export costs - which could be a lot of pork from the barrel a big subsidy. 

Now that the lid is off, you can bet that plenty of others are rushing to Downing Street (by car, not train) for their share, hence the Tories desire to avoid a 'running commentary' on their Brexit plans.  They'll want to 'hold all the cards' and 'keep them close to their chest' - setting the lobbyists against each other and distracting everyone else by re-announcing old trade deals and hinting at 'negotiations' with Brussels.

Meanwhile, Rome will continue to burn as the domestic issues queue up like so many strike-bound trains and A&E patients. But the Tories will blame the EU for those, too, just as they did with their 'promise' to "spend the £350m a week on the NHS".  Rest assured it'll be the EU's "harsh trade terms" that are the cause of all the May-hem...

In fact, I'm sure the Tories hope they'll never have to mention an opposing political party again.  From now on it'll be the Tories v Brussels, and any potentially shaky non-beLeavers will simply get a little meat from the barrel see the benefits of "the best possible deal for Britain".

Or will they?

The biggest challenge to the Tories' plans is hard economics, not Brussels or the Corbynistas. There's been 'no money' available in the UK public sector since 2010. So a worse trade deal with the EU means having to find extra money for the pork barrel to compensate those hit by Brexit.  

But writing blank cheques to uncompetitive industries is not sustainable, and certainly won't go down well with pesky foreign bondholders or the IMF. Remember 1976 and the eventual battles with the coal miners? Or the fury over the bank bailouts? If you're looking for a current case study, keep your eye on developments in Greece.

So maybe those hoping for a bit of R&R by topping the Tories' Brexit Pork Barrel Support list should indulge in a little "Relocation and Retraining" instead...

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