Some modest optimism in Paris

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Decoding Altrincham

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After 5 resignations, Jacob Rees Mogg has just threatened the Prime Minister in a curious way. He asked whether it was time to write “to the member for Altrincham”, who is Graham Brady. Brady is the chairman of the 1922 committee which oversees a leadership bid. In other words, a direct challenge from one of her own on a difficult day. Astonishing!

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Aaron Banks and Andrew Marr

The details about Mr Banks’ apparent deception of Parliament along with the opening of a police investigation mark a new stage in the misery of Brexit, but not really one we could not have anticipated. It is surely right to ask whether, if the Leave campaign was funded with dodgy money, it is time to call for another properly organised referendum. This would not be a second referendum or even a referendum about the preferred exit details, but rather an entirely new process as the previous efforts are rendered null and void by potentially criminal activity.

We could run the same question again, and see what happens this time. There is now good reason to rerun, and more than that, we now have enough evidence to know what both “Leave” and “remain” might mean in practical terms. Somehow, I suspect the result would no longer be in favour of Leaving. But if “Leave” is so confident it is right,(Farage says “Leave would win by a much bigger margin”) it should be prepared to be tested again, when the competition can be properly monitoring and judged to be fair.

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Indeed, before Banks, the Electoral Commission had already castigated the Leave campaign. It found that ‘Vote Leave’ officials were guilty of overspending £449,079.34. A criminal offence. More than that, the Facebook fiasco during the Referendum debate still threatens a £500,000 fine from the Information Commissioner. To cap it all, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on ‘Fake News’ concluded Russia has engaged in ‘unconventional warfare’. So there are three strikes and all pointing to wrongdoing to secure a Leave vote.

When MPs and Councillors are found guilty of electoral fraud, they are suspended and  in the case of Bob Spink, for instance, given a prison sentence (admittedly suspended). In the case of the Leave campaign, no real action is taken.

This is what happens as a rule: four people were jailed and a fifth person was given a suspended prison sentence for electoral fraud after a local by-election in Maybury and Sheerwater in Surrey in 2012: Shaukat Ali, Parveen Akhtar, Shamraiz Ali, Sobia Ali-Akhtar and Abid Hussain, from New Haw, were charged over claims that postal votes were being fraudulently submitted. They were all convicted of conspiracy to defraud at Reading Crown Court. Shaukat Ali was jailed for 15 months, Parveen Akhtar and Sobia Ali-Akhtar were both jailed for nine months, and Shamraiz Ali was jailed for six months. Abid Hussain was given a six-month prison term suspended for 18 months.

In other words, in normal cases of Electoral fraud, there are consequences for the people who tried to benefit from criminal activity. The electoral result that was skewed by their malpractice is voided, the people involved punished and the election run again.

Not so with Brexit. Not so for those involved in damaging the integrity of the Leave Campaign.

One might argue, of course, that there were only a few “bad boys of Brexit”…

But so far, nothing is emerging about naughty Remainers. Their campaign, which was almost successful was not dogged by suspicions of outside interference, the abuse of facebook, or proven overspending. Now, finally, at the 11th hour, the Banks’ stuff emerges.

Now is the time to act.

Today the Observer ran an article exposing what seem to be dodgy dealings in the Banks’ empire. Allegedly, Eldon Insurance employees were made to work on the Leave campaign, some against their will. Together with the racism that invaded the campaign, some of it apparently printed by Rock services, and much of it informed by the darker forces allied with UKIP, the questions surrounding Mr Banks at least demand a proper debate before it is too late and we are fully committed to Europe in the half-way house peddled by Mrs May’s Chequers’ agreement.

As for Banks’ performance on Andrew Marr, well- the question was asked: “Where did the 8m come from?” and the answers that emerged were a mixture of obfuscation, aggression and arrogance that had Marr floored (“this is what you do, you smear other people” was what Marr was left to observe).

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But Banks says he would have voted remain if he had known what a Leave vote might mean. This from the man who is alleged to have bullied his staff into working for the Leave campaign. If there was another vote today, in other words, the leading Leave campaigner would be voting to remain. That beggars belief!

Banks is a great puzzle. A former vacuum machine salesman, he amassed a fortune quite suddenly and then bankrolled UKIP. His CV needs a good deal of explaining- he may or may not have worked for Norwich Union or Warren Buffett and he may have made £100 million out of his sale of Brightside, though records suggest the figure was closer to £22. His mother-in -law, Olga Paderina, says today that he has done nothing wrong. Nevertheless, a cloud hangs over him.

If Banks is dodgy, and it remains to be seen- any trial will be too late to repair the damage he has done.

The risks of Brexit alone, with or without Banks, as they have emerged, might make it expedient to hold another public vote.

In any other situation we would have called time. Instead, we persist with a charade that we are doing “democracy”. We are not even doing that.

There are a number of ways to analyse the events of 23rd June 2016. the Brexiteers might cite the 263 that voted to leave in contrast to the 119 that voted decisively to remain. That would be a 68.85% majority vote. But this is never the figure put forward. Instead, people concentrate on the overall percentage of voters throughout the kingdom who voted to leave. That is just 17,410,742 votes.

In other words, with 51.89% voting leave out of a 72.21% turnout, that is not even a 50% majority. This is hardly decisive.

My friends in the Leave group, particularly from UKIP, tell me that should the Leave vote be ignored, there will be riots in the streets. I suppose that is a threat and we should not give in to that sort of thing. Maybe they will turn on Aaron Banks now he has said he would vote to Remain.

But much more than all that, the possibility that there was major wrong-doing behind the campaign makes the strongest case for pulling the plug now. We cannot do so after March. Stronger than expedience, stronger even than resisting bullies who threaten disorder is we do not do what they want. No. If we do nothing about electoral mal-practice, we condone it. That means the integrity of our political system is under threat.

 

Vague and woolly

Today, the Guardian writes more on its campaign to get Mrs May to grant residence to EU Nationals in the UK. It is an issue, I think, that we have already mismanaged and may continue to do so.

In fact, we have very little to lose and much to gain. Here is the calculation: if it only takes 5 years to qualify for UK citizenship, then taking into consideration the 9 months we will have already had, after two years of negotiation, and a further 2 years of transition, almost all EU nationals resident here when the referendum took place,  would qualify anyway to stay. An announcement at this stage, therefore, simply shows our good-intent. Signally, the process of applying for full-time residence in other EU countries is by no means as simple.

In other words, if someone currently here as an EU national, wants to stay, the opportunity is available; if someone does not have all the paperwork now, they will have it in a few years’ time. To offer unilateral residence is simply to bypass that process, but it shows goodwill and that is sorely tested at the moment. We need that goodwill.

Of course, the 85-page document that is currently being used by the Home Office is both confusing and off-putting and I am sure a much simpler, stream-lined application process could be developed: anything that cuts unnecessary bureaucracy cuts further expense.

Meanwhile, Do-gooders on the left wring their hands in despair at our lack of progress, but the Guardian also goes on to record the thoughts of ms in’t Veld – on the face of it, this is an important intervention by a Dutch MEP but here is what was actually written:

Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch MEP who is leading a European parliament taskforce investigating the residency issue, said the UK government had acted “immorally” in failing to offer security to those who had made Britain their home.

“We are receiving so many emails every day from people in the UK and elsewhere worried about the future that we cannot answer them individually,” she said. “This is immoral. And if this leaked document is right, then it has backfired.”

sophies-choice-int-veld-by-timIt is a bit rich for Ms in’t Veld to point the finger and say we have behaved immorally or that our schemes have “backfired” – when the EU is open to the self-same charges! This may be about our failure to offer residence to EU citizens in the UK but Mr Junker, equally and signally, has failed, thus far, to offer any comparable residence to British subjects currently living in the EU. Indeed, to make matters worse, Mr Junker has actually allowed what amounts to threats today to be issued by an EU committee. And while there is a gathering clan of elected officials militating for EU nationals to be granted residence here, I note no similar clamour in Europe to promote the cause of our own UK nationals there.

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When it comes down to parity, maybe Mrs May’s caution is justified because there is nothing positive in what the EU proposes.

This is what the European parliament’s committee on legal affairs is suggesting-  that Britons resident abroad will find their position increasingly difficult:

“specific entitlements acquired validly in the past” – such as a pension or ownership of a property – may continue to apply, “it cannot … be considered that a person who is no longer an EU citizen will have unrestricted rights to live, work and study in the EU, or benefit from social security arrangements such as reciprocal healthcare entitlements, unless specific provisions are made.”

But I do not think this is about parity. It is about what Mr Cameron would have said was “doing the right thing.” The moral prize is still there for the taking but the failure to demonstrate good-will  on both sides is a worrying indication of the way negotiations might go after March. If nobody yet has the courage to take the moral high-ground on this, what will follow is nastiness.

At the end of the article, the Home office is quoted thus:

“This government has been clear that we want to protect the status of EU nationals already living here and the only circumstances in which that wouldn’t be possible is if British citizens’ rights in European member states were not protected in return.

“The prime minister has reiterated the need for an agreement as soon as possible as part of the negotiations to leave the EU. The rights of EU nationals living in the UK remain unchanged while we are a member of the European Union. EU nationals do not require any additional documents to prove their status.”

It all looks very worrying.

We should really be capable of making a distinction between what is morally right, what is politically expedient and what is legally binding. In this instance, it is probable that we will draw three different conclusions about the same issue. What worries me is that both the Home office and the EU are ignoring the first category – the moral case is not about a negotiation or about a trade; it is an absolute commitment to care about those who have made their home among us.

The matter of EU Citizens in the UK

I am delighted that this issue is receiving more and more attention and support. I hope the Prime Minister will take note and act appropriately. If Mr Junker and his cohorts wish to bargain with people’s lives in this way, we in the UK should make it clear that there is a moral high ground and we have taken it. I am astonished m. Junker did not seize such ground himself but I am deeply disheartened that Mrs May has, even now, left it so long.

We need to reassure EU citizens resident here at the time of the Referendum that, whatever the outcome of future negotiations with the EU, we acknowledge and confirm that their faith in Britain was not and will not be misplaced.

Here are my scribbles during the lunchtime news a few minutes ago. I am afraid I am so busy with Edward Lear, he has crept into this page anyway… Apologies.

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Despicable?

Today Gina Miller who led the Supreme court move a few weeks’ ago is on TV again saying that Politicians of various hues have exacerbated the problems of brexit, mostly by demeaning her “legitimate concerns” about the way Brexit is triggered.

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In fact, she has been proven correct. At least legally as justices have ruled that article 50 of the Lisbon treaty cannot be invoked without the approval of Parliament as a whole. No doubt the Government has allowed for this ruling so nothing will be delayed in the Government’s overall plan.

However, I have never quite understood the nature of the national debate that has taken place since the Referendum. If the Referendum was actually so decisive, I do not understand why politicians of almost every background have been so feverish to rehearse again and again the varied reasons for leaving the EU. It is actually as if even the winning side cannot quite believe what happened or why.

The actual debate that should have been happening over the last few months has been ignored so I want to spell it out. 48% voted against Brexit on 23rd June. (out of 30 million voters or 71.8% turnout). This was exactly the percentage breakdown in the referendum held in Greenland that led to their exit from the EU in 1982. In England and Northern Ireland, the leave vote was less marginal, with 53.4% and 55% respectively voting for Brexit, though in contrast Scotland voted decisively to remain by 62%- not a marginal decision at all and something that should be respected. But I am confident that among that 48%, there was a high proportion of voters who, like myself, feel that the EU as it currently stands is in serious need of overhaul and that Brexit was only one of a number of fixes that we can all agree is needed. Indeed, I have not spoken to anyone in the UK or in mainland Europe who “hand on heart” thinks the EU is currently doing the best job it can.

Rather than bullying those who lost the Referendum and branding them “remoaners” or whatever, we should have spent the last few months enlisting their support, and persuading those who like Mrs May voted to remain that their views would still be represented in the triggering of Article 50. Article 50 is not an either/or scenario. It is one solution to a problem that an overwhelming majority of people in Britain and abroad have identified for years. It is just one solution of many and it is the solution we voted for in the summer. There is no need to gloat or to silence those who did not agree with Brexit. Instead, clever politicians would take these people along with the popular mood.

As for the fate of EU citizens currently resident here- (currently increasing at a rate of 184000 a year) if the negotiations linger on for maybe two years after the allotted negotiation period, by no means an impossibility, so five years from the referendum date itself, then anyone who was legitimately here in June will have a right to full residence anyway. There is a simple solution!

But instead of looking for solutions and fostering collaboration, we have been encouraged into a disturbing climate of “them and “us”. We can do better than that!

There is still time to change!

 

The Immanent Gove

Michael Gove today penned a piece in the Times suggesting that he had access to Mrs May’s latest thoughts, indeed the very words she might utter in only a matter of days.Quite apart from the irritation of finding senior politicians jumping on the bandwagon of false news, his piece simply repeats arguments that were surely sorted out at about 8am on 24th June.

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I think much of what he thinks the PM will say will remain wishful thinking, but it is still deeply mistaken and misleading.

I think Mr Gove’s greatest mistake lies in a misunderstanding of what it means to lead the country, something he aspired to do and that Mrs May is now doing. Mr Gove thinks that what matters is “the truth”, but truth is a relative and constantly changing concept. What matters instead is “responsibility”, or “trust”. I think this is a single concept though expressed in two words. For it is not possible to have one without the other. It is something Mr Gove failed to earn and, moreover, a concept that is much bigger than the referendum and certainly bigger than Brexit. It is about doing the right thing at the right time and with confidence. Today, when Brexit is presented, a number of politicians, and certainly Mr Gove, seem to abandon not only reality and rational thought but also a belief in the primacy of Parliament for naive demagogy as if they are still not sure they won, and have to rehash the same arguments over and over again.

Put bluntly, has Mr Corbyn not been a sufficient warning to you?

Mr Gove sets the tune of his piece by referring to Ronald Reagan and Mrs Thatcher. Reagan’s plan for the cold war- “Simple — we win; they lose.” But that is not quite how it panned out, was it! Let’s look back a little further:

While France and America embraced revolution, Britain quietly changed from one leader to another. The “glorious revolution” may not be quite all it was cracked up to be, but it demonstrates a way of behaving that Mr Gove absolutely forgets. Revolutions, if pursued relentlessly, are out for blood and that has not been the British way. We want to forge a quiet rethinking of the status quo, and if possible, seemlessly merge from one form of rule to another, maybe, if absolutely necessary with a mild embellishment to the union flag.

Mrs May is quite right in repeating her mantra that “Brexit means Brexit” just as she is quite right in being tight-lipped about exactly how that will play out. Even if she triggers the process in a month, we still must wait two years for that act to play out, and during that time, much of the Europe we know today will have changed beyond recognition. Catalonia lingers, Le Pen lies in the penumbra of perceptual power and Germany smoulders with discontent to say nothing of Greece, badgered and badgered until it is made to feel like a poodle puddled in the Aegean. The only thing that we can be certain about is the Responsibility Mrs May has been given as our leader and the trust we place in her.

What I find most disturbing is the claim that we know what “the electors wanted” when they voted for Brexit. The fact is, we can never know just as we can never know what they wanted when they voted for Mr Corbyn. All we have is the result which in and of itself says nothing about immigration, control of borders, the single market, hard or soft Brexit. It is simply a mandate for leaving the current arrangement, a recognition that the EU as it stands is failing. A referendum is not a result in itself – it needs interpreting and circumstances will change. That is inevitable.

Also, though I hesitate to point this out, the Brexit vote was far from uniform throughout the country and a clever Brexit will allow for, and placate the 48% who voted to retain our place in Europe.

But I hope we are fast approaching the day when we will stop hearing what Politicians think the electors voted for. No one really knows. Equally the obsession with anticipating the way we leave Europe needs to stop. We need to leave the negotiating team to do its job.

The obsession, drummed up in part by people like Mr Gove and Mr Farage, about how we leave in fact allows Brussels to avoid the full force of the blow of that Referendum decision. Indeed, this obsession gives a platform to Mr Junker, who rather than falling on his sword as one of the architects of modern Brussels, can join Gove and Farage and pontificate about HOW we should be going. What folly for Junker to be mocking Milord, when his own house is burning down.

Mr Gove gave a tv interview a few weeks ago and demonstrated what a thoughtful, centred man he really is. I do not understand, therefore, why he needs to play to the gallery like this when what we really need is his keen intellect and analytic support at the centre of Government. What Mrs May does not yet say is that any form of Brexit means a re-ordering of Europe because she knows the European project is bigger than the EU. Because the future of Europe and the role it will play beside us is as much our concern as the manner in which Britain will be defined two years’ hence.

John Donne writes,

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No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:

Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.