Category Archives: Europe

The Brexit transition deal debate: an exercise in futility

 

by Brendan Donnelly, Director, The Federal Trust

15th August 2017

 

On almost every day since Theresa May went on holiday in late July, the British public has been treated to the contradictory and often self-contradictory thoughts of various ministers about the desirability, inevitability or unacceptability of a “transition” period after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. Apart from its very public and divisive nature, this debate has been remarkable in a number of respects. It is bizarre that such a fundamental discussion within government is only now taking place, more than a year after the EU referendum; the terms of the debate have remained notably confused and ill-defined; the controversy has been pursued with an insular indifference towards the views of the other members of the EU, and it is unclear towards what final goal this period of transition should serve as a preparation. This whole strange episode, which now appears to have run its course in time for the Prime Minister’s return, has reflected many of the underlying incoherent self-deceptions of the Brexit project.

The year-long reluctance of the British government seriously to consider the need for transitional arrangements of one kind or another sprang from two fundamental misconceptions. First, it believed that it could persuade its European partners to agree within two years of the Article 50 notification not merely the immediate changes relating to British EU withdrawal but the entire structure of the UK’s future economic relationship with the Union as well. Liam Fox was particularly given to forecasting swift and simple progress on this issue. Second, David Davis and his colleagues had persuaded themselves that when the UK left the everyday economic activities of British exporters and importers would be minimally affected.  In its own interest, the EU would do everything it could to maintain as far as possible existing economic and trading relations with the UK.  The ‘tottering’ economies of North Western Europe, on this often hubristic analysis, simply could not afford to be deprived of unrestricted access to the British market for their exports of cars, prosecco and cheese.

The dawning realization that these blithe assumptions were fundamentally flawed is essentially what has given rise to the recent frenzied discussion about a “transition period.” It will be politically and administratively impossible to negotiate and ratify by March 2019 a comprehensive agreement regulating the future economic and political relationship between the UK and the EU. The EU would certainly prefer to minimize the disruption caused by British withdrawal from the single market and the customs union. But it will insist adamantly that the new relationship should be distinctly and demonstrably different to the status quo. There must be no “cherry-picking” and no continued British enjoyment of the benefits of membership without its accompanying obligations. It had until recently been the unspoken assumption of British ministers that clever negotiating on their part might well enable them to leave the EU in March 2019 with an overall agreement in place. This agreement would allow the UK to retain undisturbed most of its trading cake with the Union without having to swallow free movement or the continued jurisdiction of the ECJ. The abandonment of this chimera has been the insight which has triggered this summer’s confused ministerial discussion.

Change and no change

To her credit, in recent months Mrs. May had on several occasions spoken of the possibility of an “implementation period” after the UK left. In this she was more realistic than some of her Ministers. This concept of an “implementation period” seemed however to be based on the now discarded hypothesis of a Brexit negotiation concluded in March 2019, ushering in a phased progress over a limited number of years towards the new definitive trading relationship. The phraseology of an “implementation period” has therefore more recently been abandoned (no doubt to resurface later) and the dispute between ministers has revolved around the issue of a “transition period.” This phrase has manifestly meant different things to different speakers. At one stage it appeared that this might involve British membership of the European Economic Area; at another an arrangement for the UK similar to, but not identical with membership of the EEA; at yet another an unspecified bespoke arrangement for the UK that might or might not involve its remaining for some years in the single market and/or customs union; this “transition” might have lasted many years, very few years or an indeterminate number of years. The concept of a “transitional period” was publicly attacked by some ardent Leave supporters as an attempt to sabotage the Brexit process. It was lauded by William Hague as a necessary condition for making Brexit work. A final shift of the kaleidoscope has seen Philip Hammond and Liam Fox contribute a joint article to the Daily Telegraph setting out their joint view of the “transitional period.” This apparently means the UK definitively leaving the single market and customs union in March 2019 but then entering upon a “time-limited interim period” during which British businesses will be able to trade and to hire workers within the European market on a similar basis to now.  Everything will therefore change and everything will remain the same. It remains to be seen how our European partners will react to this latest metaphysical whimsy from across the Channel.

It has indeed been striking how little interest has been demonstrated by British Ministers and other politicians in the likely views of other Europeans regarding implementation, transitional or interim periods for Brexit. Each of these concepts represents a network of overlapping challenges for our partners, which they are unlikely to regard in the same light as do British Conservative politicians. If the UK were to ask for an extension of the two year period for negotiations before leaving the EU, it might well be possible to secure one. Any request from the British side to do so seems however to be excluded by the latest article of Messrs. Fox and Hammond. Equally, it might also be relatively easy to secure an EEA-style arrangement for the UK in the immediate aftermath of leaving, and this would be a transitional arrangement that would certainly reduce for all involved the economic mayhem of Brexit. It is however doubtful whether Liam Fox in particular could ever accept such an arrangement. Anything beyond the EEA or a near equivalent is however likely to prove an unattractive prospect to our partners. They will be particularly reluctant to endorse any transitional arrangement that appears to reward the UK, even temporarily, for its decision to leave. It is an illuminating commentary on contrasting attitudes to be found in the UK and elsewhere in Europe that this reluctance will be seen by many Conservative politicians as simple vindictiveness.  When the UK vigorously pursues its own perceived interests, that is standardly seen in this country as patriotic self-assertion. When the EU pursues its own interests wholly different considerations appear to apply.  With the possible exception of the current right-wing Polish government, all EU member states regard it as being in their high national interest that the EU should maintain its solidarity towards the outside world, of which the UK now wishes to form part. It was always naively optimistic of some British politicians to believe otherwise.

Quo vadis?

Even if the EU were more prepared to help the British government out of its largely self-generated difficulties, one fundamental question remains unresolved: what is the final destination towards which a transitional arrangement is conceived as a path. This summer’s debates have provided no clarity on that issue and indeed it is impossible that they should do so.  Most of those who voted for Brexit last year did so in the belief that it would be possible to restructure in a more favourable way the balance of rights and obligations in the UK’s economic relationship with the EU. No such offer is or ever will be in prospect. Within the Conservative Party, there are those such as Philip Hammond who recognize this reality and seek to mitigate the damage which Brexit will inevitably cause. Others, such as Liam Fox, continue to believe in the unvarnished Brexit prospectus, in which leaving the EU is of itself such an economic and political prize that it must never be put in question by issues of mere short-term economic management. As long as the British government and the Conservative Party are divided in this fashion, it will be impossible for any coherent long-term approach to Brexit to emerge.   In their joint article last weekend, Mr. Hammond and Dr. Fox have claimed to be seeking an interim arrangement to soften the effect of Brexit. It is almost inconceivable that these two ministers could agree on terms of this interim arrangement that would be acceptable to our partners. The brand-new British proposal for a customs union which is not a customs union vividly illustrates this difficulty. Nor is there any reason to believe that our EU partners will be willing even to discuss interim arrangements for the longer term before the pressing issues of the Brexit “divorce” terms have been settled. These seem as far from resolution today as they were when the negotiations began in June.

The former Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, recently spoke of the need for the British government to have a “Plan B” if its Brexit negotiations lead to no agreed outcome. This apparently reasonable remark failed to take account of the fact that leaving the EU is itself a “Plan B” reflecting the failure of “Plan A,” which was to Remain.  The Conservative Party is after its summer debating school as far as ever from agreeing on what this “Plan B” should be. Against this background, the display of rhetorical unity affected by Philip Hammond and Liam Fox holds a much more important message for Mrs. May than it does for Michel Barnier. For many years the Conservative approach to the great national question of Europe has been inextricably intermingled with its own internal feuds, rivalries and personal ambitions. The Fox/Hammond Pact is an obvious scene-setter for the Party’s next act of self-laceration, with Mrs. May as its principal victim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No good choices for the British government in the Brexit negotiations

 

by Brendan Donnelly, Director, The Federal Trust

20th July 2017

 

David Davis has been criticized in some quarters for spending only two hours in Brussels this week negotiating with Michel Barnier before returning hurriedly to London. This criticism is misplaced. As Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Mr. Davis needs to exercise the closest possible control on all the negotiations relating to Brexit. Most of these negotiations are currently taking place in London, within the government of which Mr. Davis is a member. The EU’s negotiators have, as is well known, been able to impose on the negotiations in Brussels a “sequencing” of topics to be discussed. Similar “sequencing” applies to the London end of the negotiations.  Mr. Davis needs to conclude his Brexit negotiations with his colleagues in London before he can rationally engage in  Brexit negotiations with Mr. Barnier.  These negotiations in London show little sign however of coming to any early conclusion.

Opponents of Mrs. May and her government have been understandably critical of the Conservative Party’s failure to evolve, more than a year after the referendum of 2016, a coherent negotiating strategy for Brexit. For these critics, the picture of Mr. Davis in Brussels earlier this week sitting opposite Mr. Barnier, the latter apparently consulting his copious files, while the Secretary of State had no documents of any description in front of him, eloquently summarized the different levels of preparation between the two sides. A favoured cliché of continental commentaries in this context is that the British “do not know what they want.”  This particular accusation is incorrect. The British government knows exactly what it wants, which is systematic “cherry-picking” of the perceived advantages of membership of the European Union combined with the systematic unpicking of the obligations of such membership.  This after all is what they promised the electorate in last year’s referendum campaign. It is of course true that the British government has not yet found any plausible negotiating strategy for bringing this happy combination about. There are however powerful political and psychological reasons why Mrs. May and her colleagues are reluctant to admit that no such negotiating strategy exists indeed or could ever exist.

With rare exceptions, advocates of Brexit during the referendum campaign last year presented the situation of the United Kingdom outside the European Union as being unambiguously better, both economically and politically, than the damaging vassalage of membership in the Union. Nigel Farage was, to his credit, one the few on the “Leave” side of the argument who sometimes accepted that there might be some trade-off between economic and political components of the Brexit equation. The present Conservative ministers David Davis, Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and Michael Gove all painted in particularly glowing colours at this time last year the beguiling economic and political future they saw for the United Kingdom outside the European Union.  It is precisely this unqualified enthusiasm for Brexit, both in their public utterance and probably also in their private thoughts, which now makes it so difficult for them to adopt any coherent or plausible negotiating strategy for the Brexit negotiations in Brussels. To adopt, or even to envisage the compromises necessary for agreement with the rest of the EU, would be a recognition that Brexit was sold to the British electorate on a false prospectus. Far from improving the United Kingdom’s position in the world, Brexit can only diminish it.

Whatever the details of the negotiations in Brussels, the British government is confronted with three basic options for its future relationship with the European Union. It can opt for minimum change from the status quo; it can opt for maximal change from the status quo; or it can opt for a half-way house between the two. None of these options is attractive and all are demonstrably inferior to the present state of affairs. It would make no political sense to leave the European Union simply to enter into a similar,  but less empowering arrangement along the lines of the EEA; it would make no economic sense to substitute in less than two years time for the sophisticated and well-established legal framework of the  European Union the sketchy general principles of the WTO; and an uneasy compromise between these two extremes would almost certainly take many years to negotiate and would be neither economically nor politically persuasive. In reality, its commitment to the Brexit option leaves the British government with no attractive strategy in its negotiations with the rest of the European Union. It is a misconception to imagine that it is simply bureaucratic unpreparedness that is holding back the United Kingdom in its present painful negotiations with Mr. Barnier and his team. It is rather the nature of the Brexit project itself, which simply presents the British government with a range of symmetrically uncongenial options. None of these options corresponds to the optimistic basis on which British withdrawal from the European Union was advocated in the confused and misleading referendum of last year.

If Mrs. May had won in the recent General Election the substantial overall majority for which she hoped, she might have found it possible at least temporarily to choose one of the three basic options for Brexit and work towards it. Her personal authority might well have allowed her to suppress opposition from within her own party to whatever unsatisfactory path she had chosen. Her diminished stature as a result of the electoral debacle of 8th June means that no such option is open to her. Her Party must inevitably default back to unending internal conflict about which approach to Brexit is the least harmful. This is a conflict that can never be resolved, because, as Doctor Johnson might have put it, the tenement-dwellers are “arguing from different premises.”  There is no meeting-point between the economic calculations of Philip Hammond and the political motivations that drive many of his most Eurosceptic colleagues in the Conservative Parliamentary Party.

Now that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has been triggered, the inevitable incapacity of the Conservative Party to fix and pursue a course towards Brexit has a disturbing consequence unforeseen by the authors of that Article. As long as it is the present Conservative government that is conducting the Brexit negotiations, the United Kingdom is condemned to the hardest of hard Brexits, in a way entirely welcome to the most radical Eurosceptics of the Conservative Party. A catastrophic and chaotic Brexit, which can be blamed to an ignorant British public on the supposed intransigence of Mr. Barnier, is likely to be an altogether more palatable prospect for Messrs Fox, Johnson and Davis than a protracted negotiation which provides as daily object lesson in the self-harming absurdity of Brexit.  The Conservative Party will in the last analysis always be immune to pressure from its negotiating partners in Brussels. It is too busy negotiating with itself to pay excessive heed to Mr. Barnier and his colleagues.

It might have been hoped that in a mature Parliamentary democracy such as the United Kingdom, the toxicity of Conservative divisions over Europe would have provoked within the party or among the parties of opposition some elements of self-healing resistance.  An optimistic observer might well see in the indecisive General Election the first steps towards questioning Mrs. May’s commitment to leaving the single European market and the Customs Union as building-blocks of Brexit’s meaning Brexit. A more pessimistic observer might see by contrast a depressing absence of coherent and principled opposition to Brexit from the Labour Party in particular. The Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey was recently reduced to defending Labour’s European policy as “having our cake and eating it,” while Tony Blair showed that the avoidance of hard choices remains his favoured mode of European policy by the disingenuous claim that our European partners were weakening in their commitment to free movement. As the negative consequences of Brexit become daily clearer over the coming months, the Labour Party will undoubtedly wish to exploit the growing embarrassment of the Conservative government in this area. But the hostility of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to the European Union is long-standing and well-documented. Their reinforced position at the head of the Labour Party will act as a major barrier to the emergence of a Labour European policy fundamentally opposed to Brexit rather than looking simply to mitigate its perceived worst effects.

The former Governor of the Bank of England, Lord Leigh-Pemberton, was fond of saying that anyone could predict the future, but it was much more difficult to know when and how it would happen. His dictum is particularly applicable to the Brexit debate. Many analysts expected the internal contradictions and incoherence of the case for Brexit to have manifested themselves more quickly than has turned out to be the case. Few commentators could have predicted that Mrs. May’s lost Parliamentary majority would have ushered in such a now daily growing assault from business, academia and civil society on the rationality and even achievability of British withdrawal from the European Union. This assault is likely to persist and even grow in ferocity. It may well be that in six months time the trickle of voters changing their mind about Brexit identified by the opinion polls will have become a torrent. If that is so, the natural expectation must be that this recasting of public opinion will have measurable political consequences in each of the main parties. When it seems prudent to do so, the great majority of the Labour Parliamentary Party and a small minority of the Conservative Parliamentary Party may well be willing to give public expression to their rejection of Brexit and the irrationality that sustains it. The past year has been rich in sensational political developments.  A united front of Parliamentarians finally willing to fulfil their traditional role as guardians of the national interest by declaring that “enough is enough” on Brexit is an entirely conceivable next twist of the kaleidoscope.

 

 

A chaotic Brexit is still a possibility

A chaotic Brexit is still a possibility

 

 

by Brendan Donnelly, Director, The Federal Trust

28th June 2017

 

 

The terms of the political debate about Brexit in the aftermath of the General Election are gradually becoming clearer. Since the project of Brexit is an essentially irrational one, its discussion will always tend towards paradox and conundrum. Nevertheless, the weeks since the General Election have clarified the choices with which the British government and other political actors are likely to find themselves confronted over the coming months. How they will react to these choices remains as much a matter of speculation as ever.

The major theme of Mrs. May’s European rhetoric during the election campaign was that of resolute determination to extract the maximum number of concessions from her European partners in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations. A reinforced Parliamentary majority would supposedly help her in this endeavour. An important and contradictory minor theme of her election campaign was however that of her need to enjoy a strong majority in the new Parliament in order to lessen her dependence on the most radical Eurosceptic elements of the Conservative Parliamentary Party. This mixture of messages was opportunistic in its attempt to appeal to a variety of potential Conservative voters.  It also prefigured one possible outcome of the Brexit negotiations, whereby the Conservative Prime Minister of the day will be driven by economic and political reality to uncongenial compromises, but will need to conceal these concessions by a show of belligerent self-congratulation. Unfortunately for Mrs. May, the disastrous outcome of the election she provoked has strengthened her negotiating hand neither with the rest of the European Union, nor with potentially recalcitrant elements of the Conservative Party.

Ironically, this recalcitrance within Mrs. May’s Party has come since the General Election most notably from an unexpected source, namely that minority of Conservative MPs who remain doubtful about the whole concept of Brexit and who fear the economic dangers implicit in a chaotic British withdrawal from the Union. There seems little doubt that their most prominent representative, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, would have been dismissed from office had Mrs. May won a resounding victory on 8th June. Her weakness after the results of the General Election became known prevented her from carrying out this dismissal. Mr. Hammond has used this reprieve to stake out an approach to Brexit very different in tone and potentially even in substance from that of Mrs. May before the election. Unlike the Prime Minister, Mr. Hammond has never affected to believe that British withdrawal from the European Union is an opportunity containing promises of a better tomorrow. He sees it rather as a problem to be managed in a way doing the least possible economic damage to the United Kingdom. The slowing down of the British economy in the first half of this year has served to reinforce and make more credible his reservations.

In essence, the indecisive result of the General Election has made it possible for Philip Hammond and those who support him to provide some check at least to what had seemed an irresistible momentum within the Conservative government towards a non-negotiated British withdrawal from the European Union. While publicly endorsing Mrs. May’s desire eventually to leave both the European single market and the Customs Union, Philip Hammond has put back into the mainstream of Conservative thinking the concept of a substantial transitional arrangement before these desired goals are achieved. He does not appear to share the Prime Minister’s view that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” His preferred formula is that “no deal is better than a deal that punishes the UK.” Mr. Hammond is unlikely to believe that the UK’s European partners genuinely want to punish the United Kingdom. Like Mr. Tusk, he knows that the British government is doing a good job of punishing the UK already by pursuing the nonsensicality of Brexit.

It would however be wrong to forget that Mr. Hammond and his supporters only constitute one wing of today’s Conservative Party. Mrs. May’s new ministerial team has had to find room for such prominent Eurosceptics as Michael Gove and Steve Baker. For a number of reasons, the most radical Eurosceptics within the Conservative Party have decided in the short term to acquiesce in Mrs. May’s continuing leadership of the Conservative Party; they have tolerated the major concession made by the British side on 19th June, that of accepting the EU’s preferred timetable for the Brexit negotiations;  their major representatives such as Dr. Fox no longer regard as taboo the possibility of a limited “transition period” after March, 2019; and Mrs. May’s government has been allowed to make an  initial offer to its European partners on the subject of reciprocal rights for British and EU citizens after Brexit.  But it would be optimistic in the extreme to imagine that the power of radical Euroscepticism or the determination of its many representatives within the Conservative Party have been broken by the results of the General Election.

Ironically, the agreement to discuss in the first stage of the Brexit negotiations only the issues strictly relating to the UK’s leaving the European Union may give the radical wing of the Conservative Party its best chance to seize once more the political advantage. Mrs. May’s initial proposals concerning the reciprocal rights of EU and British citizens after Brexit have met with a distinctly cool response from her European partners. The proposals had by contrast been seen from the British side as a “generous offer,” an obviously self-serving description that did not long survive contact with negotiating reality. This underlying difference of perception does not bode well for the further course of negotiations. When these negotiations turn to the so-called “divorce bill,” the domestic difficulties faced by the Conservative government in coming to any agreement with its European partners will be extreme. It would be amazing if those favouring a non-consensual Brexit in the Conservative Party did not use this element of the Brexit negotiations as a substantial stick with which to beat both the European Union negotiators and any British ministers set upon compromise in this thorny issue.

Although in terms of overall government expenditure the sums involved in the European budget are small, they have always produced disproportionately fierce political controversy, especially in the United Kingdom. The “Leave” campaign during last year’s referendum effectively exploited the resentment of wide swathes of British public opinion that the UK has always been a net contributor to the EU budget. Any conceivable compromise on the financial settlement for Brexit will be ripe for damaging exaggeration and misrepresentation in the Eurosceptic press. It is almost inconceivable that a weakened Mrs. May, or indeed any other Conservative leader, would be able to persuade the Conservative Party to accept a financial settlement involving at the least many tens of billions of euros.

If the field of the financial settlement is one on which it is advantageous for them to fight, the more far-sighted radical Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party may also realize that all later alternative fields will be increasingly problematic for them. Once the European Council concludes that “sufficient progress” has been made on the initial issues of Brexit, including the financial settlement, negotiations will begin on the future trading relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. The remorseless progress of these detailed negotiations, carried out in the fullest glare of publicity ensured by the EU’s negotiators, is likely over time to reveal in the starkest terms the true absurdity of the Brexit proposition. During the negotiations with Mr. Barnier and his team, it will become clear to the British public that in these negotiations the British government is confronted with a limited and unpalatable range of options. It can choose a merely damaging Brexit, changing as little as possible, as slowly as possible of the present economic and trading relations between the United Kingdom and the European Union; or it can choose a disastrous Brexit, sweeping away to the greatest extent possible the basis on which commerce has been conducted between the UK and the EU over the past forty years and creating an unpredictable economic environment in which the only certainty is that the immediate future will be worse than the recent past.  If the second phase of the Brexit negotiations ever comes into being, they are likely to provide a daily demonstration of the implausibility of the goal of “making a success of Brexit.”

There is an added attraction for the most uncompromising advocates of an unnegotiated Brexit if they can prevent the British government from ever proceeding to the second phase of the Brexit negotiations. It is that such a course of action will facilitate the marginalization of the House of Commons in the Brexit process. An impasse in the negotiations, if continued until 29th March 2019, will ensure that the United Kingdom leaves the European Union on that date, without need for any Parliamentary involvement beyond occasional crocodile tears in the House of Commons from British ministers lamenting the intransigence of their European negotiating partners. If this intransigence could be presented as manifesting itself particularly in the financial settlement for Brexit, the government would feel itself on strong domestic political ground to exercise intransigence of its own.

Over the past year, an interesting development in the use of the term “hard Brexit” has occurred. Originally, the term referred simply to leaving the internal market and/or leaving the Customs Union when the UK left the European Union. Many representatives of the “Leave” camp during the referendum specifically disavowed any such intention. Under predictable pressure from her backbenchers, Mrs. May then made clear at the beginning of this year that she favoured leaving both the internal market and the Customs Union. The term “hard Brexit” then metamorphosed into one still signifying leaving the internal market and Customs Union but doing so without any agreement between the UK and the EU to replace these long-standing pillars of their economic relationship. There will undoubtedly be within Mrs. May’s Conservative Party many and highly-paced advocates of precisely such a course. Continuing stalemate in the first phase of the Brexit negotiations might well be their preferred option for bringing that about.

It is clear therefore that the General Election has not banished entirely the possibility of a “hard Brexit” as recently redefined. If the first phase of the Brexit negotiations does seem to have arrived at a definitive stalemate, possibly towards the end of the year, the Conservative Prime Minister of the day will be faced with challenging Parliamentary arithmetic.  The DUP has undertaken to support Conservative policy on Brexit, but might well baulk at supporting the reintroduction of customs and other barriers at the Irish border, a direct consequence of a “hard Brexit.” The SNP as a whole and the great majority of Labour MPs could be expected to oppose the emerging Conservative failure to move to the second phase of the Brexit negotiations. The Conservative leader will need the Conservative Parliamentary Party substantially united at his or her back. As ever, much will turn on the decisions of the now small minority of pro-European Conservative MPs. It has been estimated that there are some thirty Conservative MPs unwilling in any circumstances to tolerate a “hard Brexit”. If that is so, they may find themselves challenged to show their true colours rather sooner than they would have hoped, at the beginning rather than at the end of the Brexit negotiations. This will be an unwelcome and unexpected development for some of them. It is not however always possible to put an end to a long period of procrastination at a time of the procrastinator’s choosing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dilemmas of Brexit have not been changed by the election

The dilemmas of Brexit have not been changed by the election

 

 

by Brendan Donnelly, Director, The Federal Trust

13th June 2017

 

The parallels between the European referendum of 2016 and the General Election of 2017 are striking. Both were risky and avoidable events, called into being exclusively by the perceived political advantage of the Conservative Party. They were both carried out with complacent incompetence by the Prime Ministers of the day and led to precisely the opposite outcomes to those desired by Mr. Cameron and Mrs. May. Mr. Cameron’s foolishness paved the way for the potential national catastrophe of Brexit and cost him his Premiership. Mrs. May is not expected to remain long as Prime Minister after the electoral humiliation of 8th June. It is however too early to calculate with precision all the consequences of a minority Conservative government in a hung Parliament. Those who now see a possibility of “softening” or even preventing entirely the looming disaster of Brexit may be premature in their optimism. A yet more disorderly and damaging Brexit is a distinct possibility emerging from the election of 8th June. Continue reading The dilemmas of Brexit have not been changed by the election

After the election comes the painful Brexit reality

After the election comes the painful Brexit reality

 

 

by Brendan Donnelly, Director, The Federal Trust

 

 

It should have come as little surprise that the election called by Mrs. May, supposedly to set the tone for the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, should have contained so little serious discussion of that crucial issue. Opinion polls have long demonstrated that the European Union is a matter of consuming interest only to a small portion of the electorate; the main party of opposition, the Labour Party, has naturally wished to focus its criticism of the government on policy areas in which the Conservative Party is generally regarded as weak, such as the welfare state; and the Liberal Democrats, who had entered the election campaign with high hopes of garnering an “anti-Brexit” electoral bonus, are still too politically enfeebled to be able to generate a European debate within the electoral campaign by their own efforts. It is not only Mrs. May’s European partners who are indifferent to her claim that a reinforced Parliamentary majority will help her in the Brexit negotiations. It appears the British electorate do not care much either. Continue reading After the election comes the painful Brexit reality

The Brexit election will not make Brexit easier for Mrs. May

The Brexit election will not make Brexit easier for Mrs. May

 

by Brendan Donnelly, Director, The Federal Trust

 

Announcing her decision to call for a general election in June, the Prime Minister claimed that “every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger when I negotiate for Britain with … the European Union.”  Although she did not say so, Mrs. May reportedly also believes that an increased Parliamentary majority after the election will strengthen her hand in dealing with internal dissent on the European issue within her own party. Mrs. May’s hopes are likely to be disappointed in both cases. Continue reading The Brexit election will not make Brexit easier for Mrs. May

Pointless soft Brexit, suicidal hard Brexit

Pointless soft Brexit, suicidal hard Brexit

 

 

By Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

 

In a controversial article last week the associate editor of the Financial Times Wolfgang Muenchau asserted that after the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty it was now inevitable that the United Kingdom would leave the European Union. Those who had voted “remain” in last year’s referendum should renounce their anger at and resentment of the present government’s negotiating tactics. They could more usefully devote their energies to reappraising the unsuccessful arguments they had put forward in last year’s referendum. They could thus prepare themselves better for future debate about eventual British re-entry into the European Union.   Wolfgang Muenchau is a respected and influential commentator, but on this occasion his arguments are unpersuasive.  The fortnight since the triggering of Article 50 has shown with embarrassing clarity the frivolous and incoherent nature of the whole Brexit project. It is a strange conclusion to draw from these developments that the United Kingdom cannot in any circumstances abandon the self-damaging path on which the Conservative government, or more precisely a segment of this government’s supporters, have set themselves. Continue reading Pointless soft Brexit, suicidal hard Brexit

Article 50 and the dictatorship of the “democratic” majority

Article 50 and the dictatorship of the “democratic” majority

 

By Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

 

During the EU referendum of last year, there was much talk of the supposed estrangement between British voters and their political representatives. The narrow victory of the Brexit camp has since often been cited as proof of this estrangement, given that the overwhelming majority of Parliamentarians favoured remaining in the European Union. If there was indeed some gap of political preferences on the European issue between Parliamentarians and voters last year, this gap has now been replaced by another, more flagrant asymmetry. Voters wishing to leave the European Union may have been statistically underrepresented in Parliament in 2016, but those wishing to remain in the Union or to leave only on consensual terms are in 2017 deprived of any effective Parliamentary representation whatsoever. The Conservative government has met disturbingly little Parliamentary opposition in its chaotic course towards the most disruptive of Brexits. Almost without exception, Parliamentarians have allowed themselves to be cowed into submission by the novel and dangerous concept of the “popular will” supposedly manifested in the advisory referendum of 23rd June 2016. Continue reading Article 50 and the dictatorship of the “democratic” majority

How long will Parliament ignore the 48% ?

How long will Parliament ignore the 48%?

 

Brendan_Donnelly

 

 

by Brendan Donnelly, Director, The Federal Trust

 

David Jones, the Minister for Brexit, assured the House of Commons this week that it would have the opportunity to vote on the treaty negotiated by Mrs. May’s government to bring about British withdrawal from the European Union. This assurance provoked mixed reactions. It helped to suppress a brewing Conservative revolt, but was widely criticized on the Opposition benches as giving no meaningful choice to the House of Commons, since the Minister had made clear that Brexit would anyway proceed, irrespective of the outcome of the Parliamentary vote. Both the welcome and the criticism for Mr. Jones were equally illuminating. Neither his supporters nor his critics seemed to recall that Parliament has the right to decide for itself whether it wishes to vote on the Brexit treaty and that it is up to Parliament to decide what the consequences of any such vote might be.  Parliament does not need to be dependent upon more or less tasty morsels from the governmental table furnished by Mr. Davis. The willingness of many Parliamentarians to subsist on a constitutional diet determined by the government well reflects the indecent haste with which they have rejected (at least for the short term) the chance offered it by the Supreme Court to play an autonomous role in the UK’s proposed withdrawal from the European Union. Continue reading How long will Parliament ignore the 48% ?

Ireland faces heavy costs for Britain’s Brexit folly

IRELAND FACES HEAVY COSTS FOR BRITAIN’S BREXIT FOLLY.

John-Palmer-200x200

 

By John Palmer

 

In the complex and sometimes arcane debate about the British government’s Brexit crusade, little attention has been paid to the consequences it will have for our neighbouring island, Ireland. In government circles there appears to date to be only limited awareness of the future implications the UK’s departure from the EU could have on future Anglo-Irish relations. Continue reading Ireland faces heavy costs for Britain’s Brexit folly