Stay Calm & Think Straight

2016 is becoming a Year to Remember. 100 years on from the momentous events of 1916, which reshaped life in our islands and determined what were then our immediate futures, our world is changing dramatically again.

Our vote to leave the EU, rather than remain and reform it, has both reflected and exposed that institution’s weaknesses which could now prove fatal to it. Why should we care? We are off to paddle our own canoe and ensure a glorious future in splendid isolation from our friends and allies in Europe!

The EU, and its fore-runners, were set up after the II World War primarily to prevent European nations from ever again taking up arms against each other. The collapse of the Soviet Union offered us the chance of bringing into this union for peaceful coexistence, the countries of central and eastern Europe and also Russia. This worked for some countries but has not been successful in bringing in Russia and that is now a huge problem. I am sure that we should have tried much harder with Russia.

This problem is not ‘over there’ and it is a mistake to think that will be of no importance to us here in the new ‘on our own’ UK. 

Russia is working to re-assert itself and events in the Crimea, Ukraine and Syria, and possibly Moldova and Bulgaria, show us quite clearly that it has a developed a combined political and military strategy for achieving its goal.

Is there a red-line that Russia will not cross in fulfilling its European ambition? I suspect not – success feeds on sucess – unless one is imposed by NATO and the EU and, most importantly, by the USA. Does its ambition to dominate Europe reach as far west as the UK? Of course it does. History tells us, many times over, that one cannot defeat the rest of Europe if one fails to take the UK and fails to avoid US involvement through the UK.

US President-Elect Trump likes President Putin and warns of a possible US disengagement from NATO. This could be read by Russia as turning a blind eye to its European ambitions. 

Could Europe resist Russia without the US; probably not and then definitely not without the UK. What would be the cost to us in the UK of turning our backs on Europe as the US turns its back?  In a word: horrendous. 

This must be a real worry for Theresa May’s government and, actually, is of unbelievably huge importance to our future; possibly greater in its impact than Brexit. 

We need to get our heads out of the current popularist, xenophobic and isolationist sand before it  is too late. We need to stay calm and start thinking more strategically about the West’s collective security. 

The Great Disappointment!

Apparently, we voted for Brexit because we wanted less immigration, better control of our bordets, and more access to trade (and, instantly, greater wealth) and a more secure future. We did not want to agree to the free movement of labour to secure access to the single market. So ….

We have had to promise India that we will speed up (fast track) visas for its citizens who wish to come to the UK before trade discussions can begin. The Government has admitted that it is difficult to control our borders. The pound (£) has collapsed and things are beginning to cost more. Those with savings, hard won, see near to zero interest rates. Those with mortgages see house prices falling. Those on benefits see them being cut. EU subsidies across the board may not be replaced by the UK Government. Neither Islamist terrorists nor the Russians have magically   disappeared. In addition, the Government is effectively challenging the Judiciary and trying to by-pass our Parliamentary democracy.

All of this – The Great Disappointment – is somehow the fault of the Remainers and not a Government without a Brexit plan that it can outline to its people. Oh and by-the-way … it is now clear that the country is more or less equally divided over Brexit. Thete is no overwhelming majority in favour of leaving.

Over to you Theresa May once more. General Election on Brexit?

Where is the UK Going?

Our highest legal authority, independent of government, received a legitimate request to consider whether Article 50 could be triggered by the Prime Minister without her taking this constitutional issue to Parliament. After much careful consideration, its ruling was that it could not. This ruling did not strike down the Referendum result, it simply pointed out the necessary legal process for moving forward.

This decision has sparked a hugely emotional and bewilderingly ill-informed reaction by Brexiters. This is another step towards overthrowing our age old system of Parliamentary democracy and, indeed the rule of law. It is frightening and bodes ill for us all. This is a serious challenge to our country.
This mob-mentality reaction has been fuelled by the increasingly right-wing press and many within the Tory-right even within Government. This collective reaction, possibly coordinated, could be seen as having the smack of treason.
It is time to calm things down and look again at the facts and not the emotion of Brexit in terms of our political systems and culture. The misinformation and lies that framed the Referendum have poisoned the current debate. We need to get beyond these.
Theresa May for God-sake show real leadership now.

What about Ireland and the Border after Brexit

After a long and distressing history of famine, uprisings and wars of independence, civil war(s) and general discord, Ireland has been relatively peaceful and prospering for some time now. At the heart of this transformation is the Peace Process in Northern Ireland and the opening of its border with the Republic. The latter has been made possible and easier by the UK, Northern Ireland and the Republic being together in the EU.

With a Brexit, the Border becomes an issue once again and this throws the question of a peaceful prosperous Ireland into question. This is a serious question for all three parties involved and while it is in most peoples’ minds in Ireland, it seems not to demand the attention of the Government in London.
The Border is long and wild in many places. It is extremely difficult to police as we know from the time of the Troubles. If it is not policed effectively, then there will be an easy route from the continental EU through the Republic into Northern Ireland and the UK. If it is policed effectively, then the economies of both parts of Ireland will suffer.
There are not many solutions to this problem. 
The Government could build a Trump-like wall along the Border and station the Army there. This would be at an enormous cost economically and in terms of relations with the Republic. It would take forever to complete. It is a non starter; an unpleasant fantasy that would be very damaging to propose seriously.
Lesser versions, involving fences, checkpoints, police presence and such, would be no less damaging and would be less effective.
So there are probably just three ways forward. 
First, we could scrap Brexit or negotiate something sensible within a soft Brexit deal. 
Second, given that we will never manage to control immigration, even outside the EU, we give up on this issue and leave the Border open: no negotiations just leave it as it is.
Last, we remove the Border and continue with the Brexit. Logically, there are two possible ways of doing this. The first is that the UK and Republic join together again in a federal state of the British & Irish Islands. I cannot see that happening although if it did we might retun the Referendum!
The other is to allow Northern Ireland to become an autonomous state within the Republic. This has been suggested by Sinn Fein (!). In essence, we would all agree to transfer Northern Ireland as it is from the UK to the Republic. Although I cannot see this happening, it is more likely in my mind than the previous suggestion. Ireland would remain in the EU and Britain, as it would then be, would leave the EU with no Border to worry about. But ….

Perhaps this might spur the SNP Government in Edinburgh to accelerate its independence agenda and in someway align with Ireland. What then for Wales? And …. London as a Free City?
The unravelling of the UK is not now a fantasy thanks to the Brexit vote. There are many in the Celtic countries and in London who might see the Brexit as a window of opportunity to reshape the political geography of our countries. Probably the main drivers would not be the brash nationalism that underpinned the Leave campaign in England but an imaginative economic solution to a real threat of disaster.
Interesting to think these things through and wonder. Is the Government too complacent in relation to the integrity of the UK? Does it simply see this issue as Theresa May getting the better of Nicola Sturgeon? I hope not.

Richmond Park

The by-election in the Richmond Park constituency in south west London is going to be very interesting. 

One must admire Zac Goldsmith for sticking to his promise to resign if the Government opted for Heathrow over Gatwick. It did and Zac Goldsmith walked. He walked to talk to his constituency party and it agreed not to oppose him if he stood as an Independent in the resulting by-election. He is very popular in Richmond Park and holds a massive majority there. So all looks settled then? Not necessarily.

While Zac Goldsmith says the by-election will be about Heathrow, his Lib Dem opponent says it will be about Brexit. She may well be right. Both she and Zac Goldsmith fought against the Heathrow decision but were on different sides of the Brexit debate. Zac Goldsmith, like Boris Johnson, passionately wanted the UK out of the EU and now argues for a hard Brexit. His Lib Dem opponent, like 70% of the people in Richmond East, fought for us to remain in the EU. So I am led to wonder if Zac Goldsmith understands that even big majorities can disappear in by-elections as we have just seen in David Cameron’s old constituency. He must also know that the Lib Dems held his seat until 2010. 

If Labour did not contest the Richmond Park by-election then the fox would truly be among the pigeons. I do not suppose that being publically supported by UKIP will help Zac Goldsmith much.

I wonder whether Theresa May is watching these events unfold with some trepidation? There are many different ways for ordinary people to oppose the proposed Brexit: voting against it in elections is one. That is proper Parliamentary democracy.

There Are Four Countries in the UK at Present

There are a number of things that the present Government appears blissfully or deliberately unaware of. One of these is that the UK is not just England. There are four countries that together make up the Kingdom and there are four countries that are involved in the Brexit. Sadly, for the three that, taken together, did not vote to leave the EU, the future they did not want is not rosy.

For Northern Iteland, Scotland and Wales, Brexit spells real economic hardship for many reasons, several quite different from those affecting England. There is a scenario that basically says “when you are forced against your will to suffer, you might as well suffer to gain your freedom”. It has happened repeatedly in history and will happen again.

Could we see a Brexit from the EU bring about a Celtic exit from the UK? This is a possible development as several pieces of that particular jigsaw are already in place: three national Parliaments (or similar), a Scottish Referendum on the books and an All Ireland agreement. Theresa May can dismiss this sort of talk as fanciful and aimed at undermining Brexit. She may pour scorn on the Celtic nations and dismiss their leaders in doing so but this will only anger and encourage them to seek a different path going forward.

My early warning of a United Kingdom giving way to a Little England seems a little more real now. 

The way forward?

The UK is now entering the uncharted waters of the Brexit ocean and starting to experience the first indications of the turbulent journey ahead. However, still basking on deck in the false promise of the post Brexit economic situation, the population seems strangely unconcerned about the challenges of the journey ahead. So far, not so very far, nothing much has changed. Life goes on. Like the passengers on the Titanic on its maiden voyage, many believe that nothing could possibly go wrong!  Although nothing much has changed so far, this does not mean that the iceberg lurking on the horizon has melted away.

What do we know?

We know that “Brexit means Brexit” and that  this statement is somewhat vacuous and probably deliberately so. 

We do not know what the Government’s Brexit strategy is. However, we do know that three hard-line Brexiteers lead on this important issue. They do so against a background of increasing divisions in the Government over support for them. 

We do now know that whatever they decide on our behalf may be put to Parliament. We also know that if the Referendum was repeated now, there would probably be a different result as the Leave majority seems to have melted away. 

We know that the Leave campaign lied to the country over key issues. 

The UK government will not be able control immigration after Brexit and could cut off its nose to spite its face over the free movement of labour. The EU will not look after us economically after we slap it in the face. Other countries will not rally round to immediately save us. Our economic future looks in jeopardy for some time to come along with the incomes and jobs that it supports. Russia and IS will not stop threatening us and, quite to the contrary, will see us in our self imposed isolation as an easier target.

How did we ever get to where we are now? Is there a way forward that saves us? There may be.
Let the Brexiteers lead us to a hard Brexit deal and present it to Parliament. Let us hope that Parliament sees sense and throws it out and that Theresa May then sacks those who negotiated that deal. A General Election could then be called. As things stand, Theresa May will be returned with a secure majority and she will then be empowered to renegotiate a soft Brexit to save the UK. Perhaps she could even turn the ship of state around and sail back towards the calmer seas of good sense.

The hard line Brexiteers fear this scenario and, supported by much of our self-serving press, rage against it. This is a clear sign of their insecurities. That seems to be their main contribution at the moment. They must fear for their own futures.

The key to developing this possible scenario is Theresa May: captain of the Titanic or saviour of the UK? A Prime Minister of some greatness and with a real future or another great disappointment?