Homeward Bound

I very gratefully got a lift home from Salisbury yesterday, another volunteer. Of course, the subject got onto our forthcoming election. She quite openly said that she intended voting Liberal. I made the same point I made on here a few weeks ago, that I thought every party was pretty fatally flawed, so I would spoil.

The reason, by the way, that I think the Liberals are fatally flawed, is because we [i.e. the UK] had a plebiscite to decide an issue, and the Liberals have said openly that they will do the opposite of the result. So, I’m left wondering how much they respect the whole electoral process.

The subject, inevitably, turned to Brexit. The Liberals, after all, are overtly anti-Brexit, it is their flagship policy. I’m not sure, these days, if they have any others. This woman advocates another plebiscite. I mean, we don’t have to have a view on Brexit in this case, we can argue it just on the basis of what we want out of a political system. I said: for starters, there is no precedent for voting many times on the same issue. Second, when you decide that some plebiscites count and others don’t, I think you’re on a slippery slope. Who decides, for a start?

There were various arguments about the result of the plebiscite being too close to determine policy. Something I happen to agree with. But you have to say all this before the actual plebiscite. When you don’t think of it until afterwards, it’s just sour grapes. In fact, if the plebiscite had been taken more seriously by its organisers, there was every opportunity that we could know a lot more than we do.

There was that old refrain, what is there to fear? The fear, dare I say it, is obvious, at least to me. That we will have become a society which ignores the result of the ballot-box.

Then the comment that gave the game away. There are more youngsters now, and fewer oldies, so there is a chance that the result will go the other way. So, rely on the electorate changing, until it becomes sufficiently proportioned that we can get our way! Every election is a snapshot of people’s views at a particular time. For better or for worse. If people are not happy, they can change their minds next time around, as I am sure will happen in this case.

Fortunately, by that time, I was home.

About Turn

All the news programmes here are predicting a general election here soon. It’s quite perverse, because Boris Johnson is now saying he wants an election. The reason? Because he won’t get anywhere with the current numbers in parliament. Conversely, the opposition parties, who you’d think would always want an election, are wanting not to trigger an election. At least, not until the no-deal option is taken off the table.

I have to say, I’m with them all the way. I speak as somebody who supported Brexit, as somebody who still supports Brexit. A very soft Brexit which reflects that 48% of us wanted to remain in the EU, that, actually, a lot of things we have taken from the EU, like standards, are good things. Of course, we will diverge over time, but certai ly in the first weeks and months it should not be possible for anybody to see the difference.

Having decided to quit the EU, I wouldn’t have objected to a process in which we gradually split apart, in a managed way. That would have taken as long as it took to keep control of events. But no, the ideologues felt it had to be sorted within a couple of years, so triggered Article 50. So I’m quite sad that that chance to keep control of events was missed.

I’d also go so far as to say that it should have been announced that there would be some form of deal very early on. At that stage, terms would still have been negotiable, but it could be a declaration of intent. The question you tackle first is the future of immigrants in both the EU and the UK, to provide certainty. If you are a government, your people are your main priority. So I’m quite sad that that chance to secure people’s futures was missed.

Businesses. Probably a bigger subject altogether, but again, the goal should have been certainty. So I’m quite sad that that chance to firm up our trading relationship was missed.

I have to say, though, that it is not just the UK side which made me sad. Does anybody remember the £39bn? What was that for? At the time, nobody knew. Nobody explained. Was that for outstanding commitments? If it was, fair enough, but that was never explained to us. And our House of Lords seemed to think we didn’t actually owe anything. You know, you wouldn’t even pay your hotel bill without knowing what you’re being charged for.

So, to agree an amount, with no detail about what was, this was almost as though a number had just been plucked out of the air. For which the EU is equally culpable. Both parties must agreed this number, after all, and agreed to make it public without a word of explanation. So I’m quite sad that that chance to inform people what the money was for, was missed.

Maybe the sum was just monies owed? If so, wouldn’t it be a good idea for the EU to amend its rules so that countries could only leave at the end of a budget cycle? Another chance missed. On the same kind of thing, wouldn’t it have been a good idea for the EU to understand what had caused Brexit in the first place? To hopefully head it off when the Italians, or the Greeks, decide that they want to come out? Chance missed.

And then the events of last night. Dare I say it topped the lot? I couldn’t say I particularly give a monkey’s what the Conservative Party gets up to, but even I think it is madness when you end up suspending two former finance ministers, plus many former cabinet ministers, over this issue. For a guy without a majority in the first place…how did Johnson think it would end?

I despair. I feel let down, although I’m not really surprised. I suppose I’m not really in any different a situation to all those people who saw their futures inside the EU. I’ve got no problem with politicians’ final goal to be outside of the EU, but this whole exercise could all have been done so much better. It’s not unreasonable to start to wonder about Brexit itself, not because it’s a bad idea, just for the inability of the politicians to get the job done.

I realise that this post is something of a rant, but that’s exactly what I feel I need to do right now.

Backstop

I was fixing the links on my posts yesterday. My “politics” page had a link on it which claimed to be a link to a post on Theresa May’s deal. In fact, the post was a critique of May herself, and didn’t really touch on the deal. So I just wanted something in writing which reported my thoughts. They’ve fleshed out a bit since I first became aware of the deal, but only really because the guts of the deal took time to filter out.

I would have gone with the deal. To put it into context, though, I’d have been happy with a very soft Brexit. The key issues for me were around governance, not day-to-day issues. A lot of things done by the EU have been positive. I do think that the agreement left a lot of things unsaid, though. But they could be discussed later.

One of the things that it did say, and something which has proved very contentious since, was about Northern Ireland. Again, bear in mind that my version of Brexit would have seen the UK very much in harmony with the EU, so the Irish border would never have been an issue, but…

I think you have a couple of over-riding concerns there, but only really a couple.

Primarily, there is a border there between the UK and the EU. Rules, regulations, standards even, must be assumed to diverge over time. Also, in respect of the Anglo-Irish agreement, that there would be freedom of movement across that border.

On Day #1, there is no problem, but, as I say, we have to allow for things to diverge (or for politicians to want some divergence to happen, at any rate.

So, we assume divergence. In the future, things could be so different between us that either the EU or the UK might want to put checks in place, to ensure that everything coming in is up-to-scratch. Both might have different rates of duty, so there might need to be some form-filling. Rather like VAT currently.

The solution? Well, the UK have said that “technology will sort it”. The problem is that this is all a bit untested. In any case, nobody has taken steps to introduce this technology yet, so even if it were possible, people might have their work cut out. As I say, on Day #1 is won’t matter, nut on Day #2, it might.

So the EU have raised the question “what if your untested solution doesn’t work?” And they have proposed the solution known as the “Irish Backstop”. The plan is basically that, in the absence of a working solution, the UK keeps Northern Ireland aligned with the Republic, so everything remains homogeneous. I mean, we can handle things like different tax rates, because that happens now. But, there is no duty now, so what if you need to cater for duties? And, what if you want to check goods (or people) as they arrive in your bloc?

Their proposal seems reasonable enough, but at that point, politics takes over. Northern Ireland’s unionists say “well, we can’t have NI being treated any differently to the rest of the UK”. That’s their main mantra. Conservatives are unionists also, although they are mostly English, so their fervour may be diluted. But, in principle, they sympathise. The Democratic Unionist Party is also propping up the Conservative government at the moment, so that adds an extra dynamic.

So, the implication here is that, if the EU want Northern Ireland to remain aligned, then that means that the whole of the UK must remain aligned. To some people, that’s not Brexit (although exactly what Brexit was, was never defined). For me, I have no problem with alignment, in any case neither do I have a problem that Northern Ireland is treated differently, to me the Irish Sea seems an ideal place to perform checks, if they ever need to happen. but to some people, this is a showstopper. Dare I say that not wanting to perform checks might be driven by cost as much as it is by principles? The UK is, after all, in quite a safe position as regards the standards of goods coming in from the EU – you wouldn’t really expect 27 member states to change direction because 1 member state decides to leave. But there are very real fears about the relationship going the other way, because who knows how UK politicians see our future?

The critical thing is that this was not just the EU’s suggestion, but it made it into the deal that Theresa May agreed with the EU and then asked the British parliament to approve. They rejected it, was it three times?

So, that’s it in a nutshell, and the reason why some people are up in arms against the whole agreement (or should I say, disagreement?).

There is also the side-issue raised during the Tory leadership, just really that timescales now are so tight, that there’s very little time to change anything. Anything substantial, at any rate. The EU have said “if you don’t like the backstop, then propose something else instead”, but nothing else has even been forthcoming. Of course, we can argue still more about why timescales are so tight, but they are. The UK public elected a Conservative government in 2017, and they must have known then that Brexit was the key task, so we only have ourselves to blame. We are where we are.

Doesn’t look like ending anytime soon.