Over the past week a fair few people have tweeted that it’s time for those on both sides of the Brexit debate to do more to respect the other side. Most of these comments come from the make-the-best-of-Brexit sort of people, many of them formerly soft Remain people who think there is no option now but to just get on with things.
This sounds like a pleasant idea I suppose, at least in the abstract. But in the actual everyday debate about Brexit it is, for any self-respecting or moderately sensible individual, no viable way to behave.
Let me just take four examples of what some prominent Tory or Tory-leaning Brexiters have come up with in the last three days.
Nick Boles MP and his “Better Brexit”, Sunday:
This morning I am launching a new campaign for a Better Brexit https://t.co/fSSEhJLTYH I explain why in today's Sunday Telegraph https://t.co/LHbyw62fBB
— Nick Boles MP (@NickBoles) September 2, 2018
Ex cabinet minister Damian Green, Monday:
Damian Green, tells BBC @BBCr4today "Michel Barnier doesn't' have a plan" for Brexit". "The only plan on the table is the Chequers plan".
— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) September 3, 2018
Andrew Lilico, today:
People say "transition" is needed for customs procedures & IT systems. These are all "expand to fill the time provided" matters. We could have systems in place in five minutes. They'd be inefficient systems. But it's better to be out earlier with inefficient systems than to wait.
— Andrew Lilico (@andrew_lilico) September 3, 2018
Dominic Raab replying to Emma Reynolds MP, today:
MP Emma Reynolds asks about EU warnings on UK-content in auto manufacturing for rules of origin purposes.
Brexit sec Dominic Raab says she should be "showing a bit of mettle and standing up for this country."
— Matthew Holehouse (@mattholehouse) September 4, 2018
None of these statements deserve any of our respect whatsoever. Each statement or proposition is demeaning to any thinking person reading it, the argumentation so hopelessly weak so as to not even be adequate in a first year essay at the elite university (Oxford) all four of these men attended as undergraduates.
Each in turn.
Bowles has at least put a little effort into his “Better Brexit” plan. They even have a website. “Humiliation” is the seventh word of the text, and it goes downhill from there. It rejects a Brexit transition… which was the UK’s demand, accepted by the EU side. It refuses to pay what the UK is already due to pay into the EU budget until 2020 – and you want to win friends? It proposes to exit the EU Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies in March 2019. How is planning for new regimes for these sectors going? And then it goes on to propose temporary EEA membership, something that is legally rubbished by Jean-Claude Piris here. And it even has time for the EEA red herring on Freedom of Movement. There is no way in the world this is going to fly. Next.
The Chequers “Plan” Green mentions is 3 pages of A4. It is here. It has taken the UK 742 days since the referendum, and 464 days since triggering Article 50, to even come up with that. And anyone who has followed even the basics of the negotiations on Brexit can confirm that the EU side is better prepared and better organised than the UK side, and has been planning from the off for all sorts of eventualities. Green is hopelessly in denial of reality. Woeful.
Then there is Lilico. Britain – having imposed on itself a deadline for its exit from the EU by itself having chosen to trigger Article 50 when it did – is now just going to have to make the best of it, whatever last minute changes it will have to do to its customs regime. There were some pretty brutal reactions. This is an ideologue, wanting exit for his own obsessed reasons, incapable of understanding the complexity of what he is asking for, and lacking any compassion for or reflection about how a non-functioning customs regime is going to damage the UK economy and people’s lives and livelihoods.
And then there is Raab. Asking a question about supply chains for the auto industry, a major practical Brexit headache, is not standing up for the country. And he is the Minister responsible for Brexit!
Is anyone telling me any of these four men with their four positions outlined here deserve any of my respect whatsoever?
For me it is completely the opposite. A MP, a former Minister, and a current Minister, and the supposed leading intellectual light for Brexit, come up with such complete and utter rubbish. Arguments and statements so poor it takes a matter of minutes to take them apart completely.
Respect this? Seriously? Never in my life are you going to get me to show anything but complete and utter contempt for this sort of stuff. And it worries me profoundly that people behaving like this are anywhere near political power in a country of 65 million people.
“Ah you’re just a Remainer” someone will surely say. Well, no, actually, that is not the point. There are leave people I respect. When he is not ranting or reactionary, Pete North deserves some of my respect. Take this thread of Pete’s on standards for example – this is excellent stuff. He and his father Richard have thought through all the different aspects of Brexit, and have a framework for a plan that makes the Chequers proposal look horribly weak. Taking apart their arguments, and those of Oliver Norgrove as well, takes time and patience.
Therein, ultimately, lies the root of my anger, my burning frustration.
It is not Leave or Remain.
It is about being serious, about addressing the multitude of Brexit issues with the meticulousness, attention to detail, to law and to international relations, that such a complex undertaking demands.
Leavers (other than the notable exceptions above), if you want my respect, do not take me for a fool. Do not just whine I am a Remainer. Instead focus on making Brexit work, practically, and show how what you are proposing is not going to damage people’s lives. Until you do that I will, rightly, treat your approach with the contempt it deserves.
I pick up on Edward Spalton’s “rubber stamp” point – the most annoying thing about the EU is that, the UK parliamentarians, who now appear to know absolutely nothing about the EU, are the very people who have signed up to successive treaties.
Why is it not beyond common sense to realise that people have had no say in the creation of the EU, its treaties, or its laws?
This – to me, anyway – is the whole reason for voting to leave.
Having spent the last five years of my forty six year opposition to membership of the European project on studying and attempting to promote the complex process of a smooth decoupling from the EU, I find the strident assertions of the “ultras” or hard brexiteers rather trying and difficult to respect. Lilico even outbids Peter Lilley who said that he would need ten minutes to do the job!
Since Mrs. May’s Lancaster House speech in January 2017, it has become increasingly obvious that the process is in the hands of amateurs who have never bothered to study the way the EU works. It was at that time when our very experienced Representative in Brussels Sir Ivan Rogers resigned and urged his colleagues to speak truth to power, especially when the truth was unwelcome. Not a lot seems to have got through. He has since produced some very useful papers but I doubt whether anybody in government will heed them.
The main motive for leaving the EU is constitutional not economic. As long ago as 1960 the Lord Chancellor Lord Kilmuir wrote to Edward Heath that “Parliament must resign itself to becoming a rubber stamp” if we joined the then EEC. Heath’s deceit that there was “no essential loss of sovereignty” was maintained in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary for two generations and finally rumbled in the referendum. The people in Parliament now are mostly those who didn’t mind too much being part of a rubber stamp. The EU actually made their lives easier. Most of the primary legislation was done for them. The “ultras” never took the advice to “go home and read the treaties” so are still pretty much still at sea.
Just before the referendum PADDY ASHDOWN spoke as follows “I will forgive no one who does not respect the sovereign voice of the British people once it has spoken. Whether it is a majority of 1 per cent or 20 per cent, when the British people have spoken, you do what they command. Either you believe in democracy or you don’t” .He has since called for a second referendum! I find it very difficult to respect him and those like him.
At least Jean Claude Juncker was open and honest in his contempt for voters when, before the French and Dutch referendums on the EU constitution, he said “If it’s a Yes we say “on we go” and, if it’s a No we will say “We continue”. I can’t say I truly respect him. He is a foe to democracy but I think he was speaking the truth about his motivation and that of the EU institutions. That is why I and many others want out – even though the national leadership has turned out to be dire.
No, the process is not in the hands of amateurs. The process is in the hands of very clever people – cleverer than most of us – who want Britain to stay in the EU and, understanding that they lost the referendum, are trying to arrange a Remain that looks like Leave. They are not stupid or incompetent – you mustn’t ever say that, as it lets them off the hook. They are intelligent people who have been educated at elite institutions – and they are traitors.
Another problem is that on the Brexit side, there are people who want a Leave that looks like Remain – in some cases for what they think are pragmatic reasons, based on a detailed understanding of the way European institutions work formally and a belief that we will have to extricate ourselves gradually; and in other cases for political-economic and commercial reasons, based on a belief that the Single Market is the best platform for free trade and we should stay in it. Both positions are mistaken. The first is based on a lack of awareness of, or a refusal to see, the big picture and the deep ideological nature of the European Union and its project of integration. Any attempt to impose a halfway house will keep us in it de facto. There must be a clean and immediate separation, with a restoration to Parliament of its sovereignty over the key competences. The second is based on an incomplete analysis that either doesn’t, or refuses to, acknowledge the costs and burdens of staying in the Single Market as opposed to being outside it, and really is just an ideological belief in Europe or a lack of confidence in Britain (or both) dressed up as ‘expert’ opinion.
Leave should mean Leave. I agree that we should adhere to Article 50 as that is a treaty obligation we have entered into and we must honour it. We must also honour any financial and other commitments we have made, and also any moral obligations that we consider should be honoured. If that means we pay until 2020, I will accept that. There should be no attempt to antagonise the EU or its Member States. But that being the case, on 29 March 2019, we should leave the European Union, the Single Market and the Customs Union completely. We are not obligated to negotiate or agree any free trade agreement with the EU, and in my opinion we shouldn’t. We should simply leave and the time between now and the 29th. should be occupied with arranging with the EU and particular Member States whatever facilitation is necessary to ensure continuing trade and interchange with the Member States.
Of course, right now that is not really what is happening for the reason given at the outset of this comment, but the traitors – leftist Fifth Columnists – who are currently running the government are subject to Parliament and there is always the chance that their machinations will be frustrated and we will drop out on the 29th. March 2019 – and if that happens, I would find that very welcome.
It all depends what you mean by “educated”. The British tradition has always been for amateurs to be ministers, backed up by knowledgable professional civil servants. The sort of education which such politicians and top civil servants ( and many of the top
media folk) now receive has caused considerable problems for us, delineated in a recent book” THE BLUFFOCRACY – How Britain ended up run by eloquent Chancers” (authors Ball & Greenway) . I recommend it.
With regard to Mrs May, anybody with a passing knowledge of the EU could tell that her Lancaster House speech of January 2017 had been written by people who had no idea how the EU worked. The policy of ” having our cake and eating it” was never going to be achievable. It was widely reported that she only took advice from a very small coterie under the thumb of her Special Advisor, Nick Timothy.
Our highly experienced Representative in Brussels, Sir Ivan Rogers, resigned. In his farewell letter to colleagues, he urged them “to speak truth to power” especially when it was unwelcome. From observation, not a lot of speaking or listening has gone on since.
Sir Ivan recently gave a significant speech to the British/Irish Chambers of Commerce and I recommend that to anyone who wished to make a realistic assessment of the diplomatic and trade situation. It’s on http://www.eureferendum. com.
I have studied the ” Dark Side” of the EU and translated the Europaeische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft papers of 1942, as well as interviewing Lord Walsingham who was in the German Department of the Foreign Office in 1950 when MI6 knew that France and Germany had added secret clauses to the European Coal & Steel Community Treaty. They would subsidise each other’s heavy industry when in competition with Britain. The Walsingham video and EWG translations can be found by Googling ” Edward Spalton Witness to History” . The witnesses are Lord Walsingham and the papers themselves – not me.
When I translated them in 2002, my views were close to yours. But it is no longer 1942 or 1950 and we have to deal with the world and the EU as it is. Otherwise we become like those doubtlessly brave and honourable Colonel Blimps who opposed the replacement of the British soldiers red coat with khaki and of cavalry with tanks –
@ Edward Spalton
Of course politicians are amateurs – but I prefer that. I like the English/Anglo-Saxon way of doing things. I’d like our politicians to be even more amateur than they are, and preferably, hold Thirds in Land Economy from some Oxbridge college that their dads went to, only meet in the Commons once in a blue moon to get drunk and discuss some topic they know nothing about; and possibly declare war on Belgium as a practical joke on Germany, before going home again. The salary we pay them should be nothing more than a bribe: the purpose of the bribe being that they stay out of our lives and avoid political law-making as much as possible. That’s true liberty.
I like the fact that we’re pragmatic, commercial and down-to-earth in Britain, especially England, and that we respect personal liberty. It’s a unique part of our national personality that I should like to see revived. I disagree with you slightly about what the British tradition is, though this is a mere quibble: my understanding is that the Senior Civil Service was traditionally rather dilettante. The mandarin is a modern phenomenon for Britain, starting with Thatcher, or perhaps Heath. (Of course, I could be wrong, in which case I happily bow to your superior knowledge).
I disagree with professionalism. I am suspicious of technocracy. I prefer amateurism in all things where possible – especially in the machinery of government, where I think there should be as little expertise as possible. Those who disagree with me and who want their civil servants to have political science doctorates from INSEAD, with an MPA from Harvard Kennedy School, and an internship with Nick Clegg, can have their directorate in Brussels and can go and move there. This is England. This is a free country, not an open funny farm for the latest ‘in mode’ sociological experiments.
Your comment seemed reasonable enough until you started with the Colonel Blimp caricature. I can honestly tell you that I have never met one in relation to the Europe issue (or really, anything else), and I have wide experiences. If what you’re getting at if that we’re a bunch of ideological sovereigntists, then I would see nothing wrong with that. Sovereignty matters. And in case you were thinking of it, I also see nothing wrong with the Little Englander epithet – it was once an honourable appellation for somebody who believed that Britain should mind its own affairs first. We need some of that attitude again, I believe.
I accept that the greater knowledge and academic brainpower tends to be on the Remain and Flexcit side. I would never dispute that really, though they are not without their faults. I think Dr North’s work (and also the writings of the other North) are extremely impressive; I have read the Flexcit document and the monographs carefully, and I still look at their blogs for information and to keep myself informed. But I am also capable of making up my own mind, and I think the Norths suffer somewhat from that fault that you often find with the brainy and those with a vocational acuity – an inability to see the wood for the trees, a blind eye for the ‘big picture’.
I recall in a past life when I buried myself in my profession, read all the books, became genuinely skilled and learned at what I was doing – to the point that my opinion in my field was sought after by my peers and superiors – I sometimes had this fault of being too focused on the little things and not seeing the big picture. It had to be pointed out to me that I was sometimes causing frustration and blocking things; I came across as needlessly negative. Sometimes you can ‘know too much’ – or, maybe a better way to put it would be that ‘you need to know what you need to know’ and a lot of failure is down to not understanding this.
I may be a dim, provincial Hard Brexiter, but I can see the EU clearly for what it is and will brook no quarter. Sometimes you do need that attitude in a negotiation – and in realpolitical situations too. It’s not nice or pleasant but it can be necessary. And it’s nothing to do with any Colonel Blimp.
Thank you for your very full reply. As a fellow, provincial, non academic, pro sovereignty, corn merchant and miller( rtd), who has frequently been called a “Little Englander” and worse, it struck many chords with me. I too prefer the ” unofficial English Rose” to the parks of Berlin where ” tulips bloom as they are told”
( Rupert Brook). The trouble with our rather pleasant amateur approach is that it is put into effect by people with ( maybe) a PPE ( Oxon) degree whose event horizons are limited to the next cabinet reshuffle or ( for the more farsighted) the next general election. Against Enarques of a technocracy with an event horizon of decades, uncomplicated by the intrusion of vulgar democracy, they don’t stand much of a chance.
I think, to draw a parallel you would like to take them on with a frontal assault, uphill, over open ground against prepared positions with bands playing and colours flying whereas I prefer the more strenuous, less romantic manoeuvre of outflanking – which is likely to lead to far fewer economic casualties. I hope that’s not unfair and do not doubt that we share the same objective. It is just the route and the steps to get there which differ.
To avoid overwhelming the generous hospitality of this blog, maybe you have time to Google some of the following.
” Edward Spalton Generations Betrayed YouTube ” a pre referendum ( 2015) video which starts with my experiences debating in schools and moves on to tactics for leaving the EU . ( 22 minutes)
” Edward Spalton Third Country” – uncovering the amateurism of David Davis and,
If you are a real glutton for punishment
” Edward Spalton The Miller’s Tale” four episodes from 1958 to 1981 of personal and business experience which shaped my evaluation of the EU project.
Excellent post as usual Jon. That said, while Raab, Lilico and Green are clearly just ridiculous – I have retweeted Boles’ straw-clutching idea (it doesn’t deserve to be called a plan.) That’s not because I think it is well thought through. It is too glib in too many places with assumptions about everyone else doing just what we want – which is so typical of the English view of the world.
Rather, it is at least a move away from the cliff-edge “we’ll be fine if we just jump” talk and the cakeism of Chequers. It is also at least a move towards something that, IF it could be made to work, MIGHT go someway to resolving this mess while reducing the harm that is being done and will be done to the UK economy.
Not perfect by a long shot – but I think we have to take any and every opportunity to change the direction of travel. That’s why I will keep pushing the EFTA/EEA/CU idea – even though I have read the detailed article by Mr Piris (who knows far more than me). Because it seems to me that he is saying there are legal difficulties but the main problem is political (I have asked him to clarify this but no response as yet).
I suspect that if we signed up to the Withdrawal Agreement as it stands – including the backstop and transition but said to the EU please help us move to an EEA status under the EFTA governance pillar they would help. It could replace the transition – and not be time constrained – and perhaps make the backstop redundant. It might also open up the possibility of creating a special economic status for NI – UK territory but ‘One Ireland’ economy.
I know for ardent Remain supporters this is not acceptable – but I’m am not convinced there is any hope of preventing Brexit on 29 March 2019 – as such we must find a way of avoiding disaster and staying as close as possible economically to our main market. A prolonged EFTA/EEA style membership (perhaps through a separate, bespoke Association Agreement) might give the nation time to settle down and start dealing rationally with the world again.
“Punish” was the first word the EU used.
The EU really said that? When? Where?
As you appear so certain in your comment, then I’m sure you have evidence to hand of this horrid turn of phrase!
And by that I mean an official written communique from either the European Council or the EU Commission, not some rehashed article from the usual suspect sources.
Cheers fella, I look forward to being shown up on this one . . .