What I’ve Got Wrong About the Brexit Process

While the overall destination of Brexit was reasonably foreseeable what has caught me out is the lack of will to decide on a long term destination for the U.K. The willingness to fudge and to postpone making any choices that entail any trade offs has been spectacular. Even now the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration Leave almost anything on the table from Norway to something more like Canada. Issues around the border in Ireland are significantly due to the limits on the fudge the EU is prepared to accept where they apply there.

Surprised by May

I honestly thought she was smarter than to trap herself into corners with red lines like she did, alienate “people of nowhere” and to fail to listen to the experienced advice around her like Ivan Rodgers.

The other surprise was May’s decision not to reach across to Labour to make them complicit in the deal and to provide her with more routes through Parliament. There were two main opportunities to do this; after the referendum and again after the general election. She could have said “Things have changed”, acknowledged her lack of majority and sort to find a compromise option. She could then have shared blame for aspects that were softer than the ERG wanted, could have blamed Labour if the walked away and critically potentially had a majority without DUP or ERG. The only thing she would have lost would be being able to act as if Corbyn was unfit to be near responsibility, a threat to be used against all who oppose her except Labour, maybe that was too high a price for her to pay.

Sufficient Progress (December 2017)

That this stage was crossed without it seems the DUP or the ERG understanding the contents and melting down at that point was a surprise as the now unacceptable Withdrawal Agreement was essentially set out at that point. It did also seem at times like May didn’t understand what it meant either as she claimed the backstop was something that “no British PM” could agree to despite having done so in December 2017 and then proceeding to do so again in December 2018.

I think it was this deceit as to the meaning of the agreement then (possibly self deceit in some cases) that allowed it to work. I think calling it fudge has even too kind, it has been many faced lies to different groups.

It should also be noted that in the originally declared negotiation plans there was no “sufficient progress” stage. The idea was to wrap up the withdrawal agreement over the summer of 2017 to be agreed at the October 2017 summit so that discussions could move onto the future relationship to get that tied up before the U.K. enters transition so that business could plan. Does anybody remember that now?

Withdrawal Agreement

I didn’t think the deal would be done especially after Salzburg.

I got this wrong because I took May’s vehement rejection of the backstop at face value (duh) and didn’t think that she would do a deal that the DUP couldn’t accept which left me unable to see how a deal could be done.

Common Theme - May

She constantly acts in ways which I struggle to see the logic of whether I look at her aims as being for the country, her party or even herself. I just don’t get her. Does she see something or know something I don’t that allows a logic to be seen? Or is she always just hanging onto power and party unity hoping that something will save the situation. That is one of the really scary and unpredictable things at this point. I don’t know that she wouldn’t really try to drive the country off the cliff. She doesn’t give the impression of being in control of events.

I thought there was a fair chance that when she lost the vote in the Commons she would take it to the people in a referendum but she would really come at it from the side of “Parliament is blocking your Brexit, I need your help to deliver it” rather than from a position of preferring a remain vote. But having delayed the vote that leaves less time for that referendum and does more damage to business in the meantime.

With the latest no deal planning and spending it is either an awfully expensive bluff (and given there is now both a deal and an option to revoke an unnecessary bluff) or she is serious that she might try to leave without a deal (which is scary crazy).

What I might be wrong about

I’m pretty confident that the Labour leadership will vote to avoid a Brexit on this deal or a no deal. While there are some dispiriting statements from Labour (often Barry Gardiner but depressingly I hear Diane Abbot was bad on migration this week)I still think that they are necessary positioning to enable them to oppose the deal without being against the idea of Brexit. The sheer weight of many people I respect being so sure Corbyn (or Seamus Milne) are die hard Brexiters does give me pause but I don’t see the evidence in recent actions and statements so I stick by my judgement.

No Confidence in Brexit - Parliament could Take Control

This is an outline proposal of mechanism for Parliament to really take control if it becomes necessary. I don’t think this is most likely route to an informed consent people’s vote but this is the last ditch restoration of Parliament’s control that could become necessary in the New Year.

This sets out a route that could remove everyone’s worst fears in voting no confidence in the current government and get the country through a referendum and allow parties to restore themselves before an early next election later.

BBC Complaint - Planned Marr interview of Aaron Banks

This is a copy of a complaint I've submitted to the BBC about their plans to interview Aaron Banks (the Leave.EU funder now under investigation by the National Crime Agency).

The Marr show is the wrong place to cover Banks. It is too general and get to know you to interview someone accused of serious crimes. A live interview where he can’t be fact checked and be asked to provide evidence is a mistake.

Labour, Brexit and OFOC

I’ve been meaning to set out my views about the Labour’s position on Brexit and the in my view frequently unfair and very often plain wrong views of it from much of the hard remain community (to which I myself align). Yesterday there was an excellent and civil discussion between Femi of OFOC and Owen Jones who is closely aligned to the Labour leadership.

I am a Labour member who has also funded OFOC but was very frustrated recently by the attack posters they created aimed at Labour shadow cabinet individuals that I felt were highly counterproductive.

The thread is here, you may want to focus largely on Femi and Owen’s comments themselves.

My summary of the key areas of disagreement are:

  1. The extent of the damage any Brexit would do and how it would prevent Labour making their desired changes to the country.
  2. The likelihood of a remain success in a People’s Vote.
  3. The possibility of a People’s Vote triggering a far right surge.
  4. The effect on the path of the Brexit process that Labour coming out explicitly for a People’s Vote would have.

Now on some of these points I lean more to Owen’s view and on others to Femi’s view.

May’s Trump Opportunity

Theresa May is unlikely to to be able to talk Trump around back to the international system of rules and organisations and back towards human rights. She is also unlikely to be able to talk him down from the trade war that he has declared with the rest of the world. Without the USA as a trustworthy partner the precariousness of the UK’s currently planned place outside the EU is crystallised and it could become a moment of opportunity to change course.

The opportunity comes in how she responds, either in the closing press conference of the visit or within the days after Trump departs. This is an opportunity for Theresa May to say something resembling the following and potentially go down in history as one of this country’s greatest Prime Ministers (unfortunately from my point of view preventing a Corbyn government).

Things have changed the world is not the one in which a majority voted for Brexit, and this presidential visit has made clear to we no longer have a reliable partner for free trade across the Atlantic, that nationalism and even facism rising across the world and the current US government. Given this changing world it is time to rejoin forces with our strongest allies for a rules based global order, democracy and human rights. It is no longer even clear that we can rely on the systems of the WTO to enable trade to continue effectively.

Given this I have today spoken to my fellow leaders across Europe and received agreement to withdraw the Article 50 notification which I have now done. This means any Brexit will be substantially postponed and for the next few years we will return to our full place in in the EU to strengthen the values we hold dear across the continent of Europe and beyond. We will remain in the EU until at least the next election in 2022. 

Now this does not mean the end of Brexit. We will keep DExEU operating to plan in detail how to implement Brexit effectively. We have learned a lot from the negotiations so far that will assist in this planning and legislation will be prepared so that when a future Parliament decides to proceed the bulk of the legislation can be in place before we again start an Article 50 process. They will also be producing a series of different proposals and the OBR will provide associated forecasts for their impacts especially in the run up to the next general election. The full information will be available for all parties and the public to read an understand.

I realise that this delay to Brexit will be disappointing and frustrating to many of you; this was not the news I wanted to deliver to you but global circumstances have changed and we must adapt our plans. Let me be clear, this is not the end of Brexit; all parties will have opportunities to set out their plans in their manifestos for the 2022 election based on the reports produced by DExEU and the OBR.

The collective sigh of relief that would come from across much of the country including virtually all of industry would audible from across the Atlantic although there would be a scream of rage from about fifteen percent of the country and the right wing press but I don’t believe there would be any substantial civil unrest and the papers would soon return their attacks to Labour. There would be a Tory leadership challenge but I think Theresa May would survive. In Parliament either the DUP or the Tory Brexit ultras would have the power to bring her down but to what end? The outcomes would either be Theresa May with a bigger majority or a Corbyn government for whom Brexit would be a low priority and if they did pursue it (unlikely I think if they went into an election more Brexity than the Tories they would lose).

Well, I can dream can’t I? While I think this is possible and would be good for May, the country, the government and Europe it is still a vanishingly unlikely fantasy and I’ll be out on the 13th July joining the protests against the criminal in the White House. 

Can Brexit actually happen?

TL;DR - Not impossible but probably less than 50% chance.

As I see it now it will be very hard for any government to deliver an actual Brexit through the Houses of Parliament. It is hard to see how the current government could reach a good negotiated outcome with Brussels given the red lines announced about the needing power to make external trade deals combined with the need for a frictionless Irish border and what are the likely red lines of the DUP. On the other hand a no deal exit will bring down the government, whether for an interim coalition, a new election or possibly a referendum on the no deal outcome.

On the other hand it is also fairly hard to see how Brexit could be completely avoided, some scenarios outlined may provide a path to remaining or a very soft exit. 

I'll try to set out some scenarios but these are turbulent times and it is pretty much wild guesswork but I want to illustrate how hard it will be for Brexit to actually be delivered.

Steve Keen - Where I disagree

This post is about me capturing my thoughts about the work of Steve Keen and the those areas where I don't completely agree. It is because I largely agree that I am bothering to write this and explore the areas of weakness I think I see in his arguments and proposals. I don't intend to include a full summary of his main theories, there are numerous videos on Youtube that can be viewed that do a better job of explaining them than I would do and you can also find his manifesto (although some of the ideas may have progressed since then. I'm also in places going to suggest work that I think should be done, I have no expectation that Steve Keen or anybody else will do this work because I would like to see it but it is what I think would help convince others.

I'm a big fan of Steve Keen's work. Both `Debunking Economics` and `Can we Avoid Another Financal Crisis` are excellent, I support his Patreon and have been to a couple of his talks. I'm completely convinced of his core contentions about the nature of banks and their creation of money, necessity of government deficits and the critical importance of private debt and particularly it's rate of change to the economy. I especially like the data based work that showing the corelations and the simulations using highly simplified, understandable models that produce dynamic behaviour that seems to show similar behavior to the real world. His descriptions of mainstream economics are almost unbelivable to me, I struggle to understand how anyone puts up with the limitations of equilibrium analysis as anything other than a massively simplifying assumption to calculate limits of possibility and that they don't include banks and debt in their models is fundamentally incredible but does appear to be true.

My Actions Since the US Elections

I'm extremely concerned about the election of Trump and what it means for democracy and liberty across the world especially coming on top of the Brexit vote in the UK (I'm British and live in Britain). I felt the need to step up and do something, more than just voting at election time. These are my choices, there is no one true way to fight for the future and resist the apparent regrowth of facism (and its less loaded names of Populism and "Alt-Right") across many parts of the world.

Despair and hopelessness is not the answer, those of liberal, left and even centre views must stand up and take actions where they can, however small. Complacency and hopelessness are both forms of acquiescence and will only enable those looking to create hate and division.

I wrote previously about the causes of the Brexit vote and how I felt that I should have done more, now I'm actually taking steps, small though they are. I plan to up my efforts further as the next election approaches.

How much action you can take will clearly depend on capacity, financial, time and emotional and it is important to focus on and look after the people nearest too. I'm not asking anyone to follow my actions but it would be great if you did. Also to focus on the local and within reach and trust that others will take action within their countries.

Concrete Actions

  1. Joined the Labour Party. I agree with the current leadership more than with any in my adult lifetime and we need more than ever to build institutions that can offer real alternatives for change and developement of those parts of the population most left behind, and in particular to reduce inequality.
  2. Supported the #StopFundingHate campaign with Tweets to and in response to John Lewis and others. I've also emailed BMW (I have a car on order) asking whether they advertise in the Daily Mail, Express or The Sun expressing my concern about the pattern of hateful, dehumanising othering of migrants refugees and foreigners generally.
  3. Joined Liberty. I should have done this years ago. I've admired the group for some time and particularly found myself agreeing with almost everything I heard Shami Chakrabarti say on the radio while she was running it. The tipping point was their "See you in court" tweet about the outrageous Investigatory Powers Act (was IPBill until passed, now IPAct) that legalises surveilance powers (and hacking powers) that would make the Starsi envious. I've also set up a regular payroll giving donation to their charitable arm the Civil Liberties Trust.
  4. Also triggered by the IP Act I've switched back to Andrews and Arnold internet for their robust attitude to filtering and surveilance. I moved away for a time when I moved house due to get subsidised installation from BT, moving to Plusnet for FTTC service a year later, I was out of waged employment trying to get some of my own projects off the ground and the costs Andrews and Arnolds at the time were too high for the daytime data I needed. They now have a Terabyte plan at maybe 50% more than I was paying but it has the benefit of IPv6 as well as the freedom (and costs) of not being a BT group company.
  5. I emailed my MP (Michael Gove) to request an appointment at his constituency surgery as I want to express concern about the data sharing with the US under the Five Eyes inteligence agreement (UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) and ask him to push for data sharing to be minimised and targeted as once it is sent there is no way to have it deleted if conditions with the US worsen. He has said I should write to him expressing particular concerns that he can pass on to the Home Secretary. I haven't yet done that though I intend to browse the codes of practice and construct a response though I don't think it will get very far.
  6. Bought the Better content blocker for both iOS and OS X.

Existing Political Actions

There are other things that I do that are not new, I don't support any Murdoch entities so I would not have Sky or buy The Times or Wall Street Journal. I also extremely minimise my use of Facebook. I do exist on Facebook but I only log in every couple of months and have explicitly (excluding the information revealed by who my network is) posted less information to Facebook than in this one blog post.

I did become a Guardian supporter last year but I withdrew in disgust at their position on the IP Bill. I'm still considering whether to disregard that to support their journalism and campaigning generally. Owen Jones in particular has been doing some good reports.

To Those in Positions of Power

Especially if you are in are in a position of power and influence consider what actions you can take now to create the frameworks for human rights protection. Dispose of unnecessary personal information. Also think about how you could best throw a spanner in the works if necessary, whether by resigning, operating incompetently, delaying responses, causing additional work. Also decide now what warning signs to look for that there is a real problem. It won't be a sudden obvious change from valid constitutional government to dictatorship it will come fairly slowly with progressive steps and shifting goalposts and norms. What once would have seemed outrageous and impossible will seem like a small shift and you must remember what the situation was, can be and must be again.

Tactical Political Lies

There is a dangerous form of political lying where the aim is not to have the lie believed but for it, corrections of it and discussion about it. This post is about the art and power of the lie, it isn't meant to reopen Brexit discussions but be a warning for future cases.

We need to recognise that in a world where everyone is seen as liars that there is no longer shame in lies. We need to fear the world where the middle ground between groups is seen as truly moderate or the location of truth especially when one or more sides are extreme.

Why the Brexit Bus slogans were a success

  1. They weren't a complete lie, there was a gain of truth in a bucket of deceit as it did represent the amount that would go to the EU if the UK didn't receive a rebate.
  2. "Balance" meant the media felt it had to find something the Remain campaign had said that wasn't 100% accurate to report along side it, even though it wasn't the central message on the side of the campaign bus in 6ft high letters.
  3. If you aren't used to government spending and how it compares to actual NHS spending it sounds like a lot of money. And even the corrected to post-rebate figures it still sounds like a lot of money. Creating these discussions about whether it is £170 million or £350 million per week was a victory for the Brexit campaign.
  4. Hundreds of millions is the most that people can really picture and in some ways sounds more impressive than £18.2 billion. Making it a weekly or daily figure made it more effective than just giving the annual total (£18.2 billion is £350million times 52).
  5. The secondary point that the money "could" be spent on the NHS creates at least three additional points of debate to take up airtime. Firstly that the Brexit side can't have any power over that, secondly what else it might be spent on (this brings the assumption at least for the argument that the money could exist) and finally whether it is what any particular politician would spend the money on.
The Brexit campaign changed the slogan from £350million per week to £50million per day to bring it back into the news again. That it was a lie had been pointed out and discussed, they chose to stick with it even when repainting the bus. They chose to reinforce and keep the lie rather than step away, they didn't care that the lie was called out, it was meant to be!

The bus in £50m per day form.

Trump

I feel the Trump statements about Mexican criminals are a very similar case although it may have been less calculated. The response to a claim that most were criminal the media then reported the inaccuracy by providing data on the numbers that do commit crime which while provably not "most" (a very long way from it) may be a big enough number that persuadable voters still get the impression that many are. The existence of a discussion of the number of illegal immigrant criminals is a victory for the anti-immigrant candidate, the more air time it takes the less other stories get, healthcare.

Proper Response

While I recognise the effect and the nature of these lies I don't know what the response should be, either from the media or the opposition. The left I feel is mostly too honest to practice this trick and different wings within the left would attack each other if they used it. I think the best that they can do is to put pressure on the media not to spend more time than absolutely necessary covering the issue.

The media is the part with the power, they need to get better and resisting the manufactured story, quickly point out that the information is incorrect and move on rather than getting rounds of pundits to discuss exactly how it is wrong. If one side to an argument is lying more than another then they must say so.

Interviewers and presenters have to feel confident to call out lies the very sentence after they they have been uttered, and not feel the need to give a right of reply. Only that way will politicians avoid the lies during discussions. As it is it seems that if they put at least two lies in a sentence one, if not both will go unchallenged.

Watch and Be Aware

Vigilance to lies and deliberate deceit is all we can really do but unfortunately they are effective.

Blame for Brexit


Short version

Boris and Cameron
Leave campaign lies (Boris and Gove)
Right Wing Press (Mail, Sun, Express mostly, also Boris)
Broadcasters interpretations of impartiality
Politicians blaming Europe
Governments since the 80’s allowing increased inequality
Myself

Long version

I’m angry and disappointed about the vote for Brexit even a week later. I still hope that it won’t actually happen but I struggle to see which political leader might stand up and say it shouldn’t happen (or engineer a situation for another referendum). I have a long list of people that I’m angry with about getting us to this situation. They aren’t principally the people who voted, I’m more disappointed and sad about that but those both who have lied to achieve the referendum result and those who built the situation that led to the result.

The principal blame must lie with the immediate causes of the referendum and the result. Two Etonian, Bullingdon boys have brought us here, despite neither (I believe) actually wanting to leave. Both gambling the country’s interest for either their own or their party’s benefit. David Cameron feeling the need to offer the referendum both to hold some unity within the Conservative Party and limit the impact of UKIP in the election. I think that he almost hoped for another coalition with the Liberal Democrats who would have blocked the referendum. Boris Johnson on the other hand calculated that campaigning for remain would boost his popularity with the Conservative membership. He expected to lose but with a higher profile and having been on the correct side for most members. He saw that as the route to the Conservative leadership when after winning the referendum David Cameron stepped aside in a couple of years time. They should both be ashamed of themselves for taking such a big gamble with the country, with people’s livelihoods and lives. Their actions, more directly than others I will list led to this, which make break the union (with Scotland), diminish Britain in the world and do much harm beside. I feel no pity for David Cameron, he gambled not just with his future but with ours, not for the country’s gain but the Conservatives. Besides this both these characters will come up again in this blame list for other aspects of the blame.

The Leave campaign told mendacious lies and gave misleading information throughout the campaign. Most clearly the £350 million per week for the NHS. Not only are the payments to the EU less than that (after rebate) but much of that amount is spent in the UK in various ways anyway. In addition to the outright lies there were huge amounts of wishful thinking expressed as fact, the assertions that the UK will get a good deal with all the benefits and non of the responsibilities of a European state which is simply unrealistic; access to the single market will have a code whether it is free movement of people or a potentially increased contribution to the budget. They also accused the Remain campaign of “scaremongering” but the interesting thing is right or wrong the estimates now the vote has taken place are at least as bad suggesting that the estimates were really believed. Boris, Gove and many others are smart enough to have known that much of the campaign was based on lies. They fought a dishonourable campaign and it is isn’t OK. They should feel ashamed of the lies and I hope that they will be held to account by the leave supporters but I fear it will be forgotten or excuses will be found.

The press, particularly The Mail, The Express and The Sun but also to lesser degrees The Times and The Telegraph have day after day for several decades been publishing negative stories about Europe, some spun, some given undue prominence and some outright lies. Of course Boris also has personal responsibility in this area too, almost having invented the genre of borderline truthful stories and even complete lies, to the extent that he was sacked from The Times. The power of Murdoch and Dacre is undemocratic and damages civil society. In my view there need to be real constraints on the concentration of media power. Despite falling circulations the papers have a significant impact in setting the agenda for TV, Radio and online news. It isn’t just the impact of individual articles but the daily drip of xenophobia, anti-European and anti-immigrant stories and headlines that distorts views.

The broadcasters and their interpretations of impartiality are also to blame. The belief that if one economist or businessman speaks for Remain that one must be found to speak for Leave. If the overwhelming majority is on one side there should not be a need to provide balance, in fact balance is bias when it isn’t representative. There was similar with regard to the fact checking on broadcast TV of the campaigns. There seemed to be a need to balance the comments between the sides event when the mistruths were imbalanced. e.g. Leave’s £350m pledge is bad maths. In’s claims that it will cost everyone x per week is well within the range of most forecast but some disagree. They need to be stopping every interview or speech every time a lie is told, they need to give numbers of lies that can different for each campaign or candidate in an election. Too many were left with the belief that they “are all as bad as each other” and that isn’t good enough. Broadcasters must be clear about who is lying most and ideally call out each specific lie. If that interrupts every interview then so be it, politicians will learn that lying in those situations doesn’t work. There is also an education problem about the EU that the broadcasters could help with, there seems little awareness that the most power lies with the member states in the Council of Ministers where the elected leader of each country has a democratic say and much of the rest lies in the European Parliament and between the two they appoint and direct the European Commission. It is a democratic institution and while not a perfect seems like a better attempt at democracy than the UK Britain with the over-mighty Commons, the unelected Lords and the monarchy.

Politicians have been blaming Europe, for all sorts of things for decades, often when it is only an excuse. In other cases I suspect that the British government has laundered unpopular policies it wants to introduce through the EU so that it can be blamed despite the fact that the British government introduced it. The other unhelpful behaviour is the treatment of negotiations where the presentation is of battling over red lines and Prime Ministers acting as if they are saving us from something awful rather than discussing how by working together they can make things better for every country. The EU policy is rarely explained, justified and celebrated by the politicians.

Much of the Leave vote came from disadvantaged areas, there are large parts of this country that have been left behind as economic growth has focused on the richest and on London and the South East. Much of this is the result of government policy and inaction over my entire lifetime, at least back to Thatcher. The destruction of industrial communities, the high unemployment (acceptable cost for low inflation), sale of government assets, particularly the council house stock that has been hugely depleted without adequate investment to rebuild. This then plays into the immigration issue because housing is expensive and council homes unavailable. Solving the employment issue and people feeling prosperous is going to be harder especially with increasing automation of many jobs. My blame in this area definitely includes New Labour which always allowed itself to be too constrained, it felt the need to join the attacks on those claiming benefit, to penalise and in place vilify. They failed to rebuild the social housing, preferring to support home ownership and the rising debt that went along with it leading to the credit crunch (the Torys had the same policy and would have done no better).

And the final person I blame is myself. I didn’t actively engage with the remain campaign, I didn’t go door to door. All I did was wear an IN sticker when was being handed out near work, send a couple of tweets (probably ineffectual as most followers agree or are outside the UK anyway), discussed it at work (between a number of us we persuaded one wavering voter) and with some friends (I don’t think I shifted the couple of leavers although may have reinforced a couple of votes). I could and should have done more which is why I’m on the list.

Short version

Boris and Cameron
Leave campaign lies (Boris and Gove)
Right Wing Press (Mail, Sun, Express mostly, also Boris)
Broadcasters interpretations of impartiality
Politicians blaming Europe
Governments since the 80’s allowing increased inequality
Myself