Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Brexit Needed Your Fully Informed Consent

In 2016, the Swiss parliament realised the people had made a terrible mistake in a narrow, binding 2014 vote to impose quotas on EU workers.

While Switzerland is not an EU member, it's the EU's third largest trading partner after the USA and China - so more important than the UK on its own - and has a free movement agreement for all EU citizens, meaning EU citizens can live and work there.

The EU was not intimidated by the Swiss vote in 2014. The EU (including the UK, even after the Brexit vote) continued to insist that any attempt to restrict free movement of EU citizens would automatically exclude Switzerland from the EU single market. Imposing quotas would end all of Switzerland's 120 trade deals with individual EU members and result in exclusion from the EU’s chemical regulation, research and education programmes.

So the Swiss parliament decided not to implement the quotas on EU workers. Voters had not been informed of all these consequences of voting to impose the restrictions. Conservative politicians were outraged, but that was felt to be a price worth paying to protect the Swiss economy.

UK citizens are already personally familiar with the need for consent - especially where that is the basis for processing their personal data under the Data Protection Act 1998. Indeed, the UK government was instrumental in developing the new, more stringent General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and has committed to retain it post-Brexit

Where consent is relied upon for the processing of personal data, it must be a "freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of the data subject's wishes... a statement or ... clear affirmative action [which] signifies agreement to the processing of personal data relating to him or her."

The UK's own EU referendum was a non-binding vote and a simple Yes or No to leaving the EU.  No one would argue that any voters were really "informed" as to the consequences of Brexit. Only a few of those consequences are clear 18 months later.  Many people are very angry that they were misled by Leave campaigners who claimed that leaving the EU would be easy, that it would cost nothing, that there would be new trade deals by now and the UK would be able to spend its EU contributions on the NHS instead.

But it is clear that the EU does not feel the need to compromise with the UK - after all it didn't need to for Switzerland.

On this basis, the non-binding referendum vote to leave the EU was not fully informed and Parliament should now now decline to proceed with it. The Article 50 notice to leave the EU can and should be withdrawn.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Mau-Mauing The Brexiteers

In 1970 a group of indignant, physically intimidating citizens gathered in San Francisco's Office of Economic Opportunity to confront a useless bureaucrat over the fraudulent failings of the Office's poverty relief efforts. The bureaucrat's initially condescending approach soon turned to humiliation and he ended the meeting with a pathetic promise to call his absent boss for some real answers the following morning. Satisfied with the bureaucrat's humiliation, however, nobody turned up to hear him make the call. 

Re-reading Tom Wolfe's famous article on the confrontation last night, it struck me as something of a parable for the campaign against Brexit, and yet revealed a key difference that firmly points to that campaign's success. 

Wolfe called his article on the confrontation in San Francisco "Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers" in reference to both the intimidation by Kenya's anti-colonial Mau Mau Uprising and the tendency for public officials and politicians to send an underling to 'catch the flak' rather than face it themselves. He ends it with the observation, however, that the bureaucrats were ultimately successful. The flak catcher caught the flak and everyone went on with business as usual.

Brexit was billed by the Brexiteers as a poverty relief effort, but we've since discovered it was riddled with fraud, from the claims that there would be an "extra £350m a week" to be spent on the NHS, to the claim that the Tory leader could send the Article 50 notice without reference to Parliament, to the claim that the notice could not be withdrawn and the Brexit process stopped, to the notion that the UK would not need to settle its membership tab on the way out, to the claim that new trade deals would be easy... to the now utterly hollow claim that "Brexit means Brexit".

Such lies and misinformation have cast the Brexiteers as very, very low grade officials indeed. Whether or not you applaud their elevation to cabinet minister by a weak (and faux-Remain or closet Leave) Prime Minister, that step has at least highlighted their total and complete incompetence to lead or achieve anything. Years after launching their mendacious campaign to 'free' the UK from some imagined EU 'dictatorship' they are yet to offer any concrete details for an EU trade deal, let alone a 'Global Britain'. They have even failed at the first hurdle, skewered by their bizarre denial that the UK would need to settle its membership bill before leaving. These people are simply living a fantasy.

The indignant citizens actually confronting these bureaucratic flops are an intimidating bunch. They draw strength from representing at least 16 million people, for a start. They also tend to be the very people whom the Brexiteers must have been relying on to actually achieve the impracticable task of unwinding over 40 years of British efforts to make the UK a key player within the European Union. Beyond the disaffected UK civil servants there are millions of importers, exporters, manufacturers and their workers throughout British industry, investors and investment managers, QCs, judges, academics, teachers, nurses, doctors, students... a whole civil society of people who understand how the UK works, the value of its EU membership and that it does not work in isolation and who consider themselves EU citizens as well as UK citizens. They are angry and they are fighting for their rights and in many cases their homes.

But the key difference between the #StopBrexit campaigners and the indignant citizens who gathered in the San Francisco Office of Economic Opportunity in June 1970 is that no one is letting the hapless Brexiteers off the hook.  Unlike short-sighted Leave voters and the dormant botnets of the Leave campaign, their Twitter accounts are very much alive and connected to ongoing investigations, court proceedings, official complaints and petitions. They are relentless in challenging the hollow rhetoric flowing from the Brexiteers. And unlike the Brexiteers, anti-Brexit politicians are not fighting for their credibility - they can safely rely on inertia and the vast weight reality, statistics, events and common sense to expose the Brexiteers' feeble lies and misinformation on a daily basis. They are not satisfied with the mere humiliation of May, Johnson, Gove, Davis, Fox and their supporters and apologists (including the Labour front bench!). No, they are turning up the next day, every day, day after day, demanding answers and an end to Brexit.

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