Category Archives: Brexit

Net migration in the tens of thousands? If only!

immigrant photo
Photo by Matias-Garabedian
I’ve no idea why people are saying May will struggle to bring net migration down to under 100,000 per year.

The way Brexit is going, I bet it will soon be in negative territory for the following reasons:

  • Many EU citizens will go home or move to other EU countries where they feel welcome.
  • Many UK citizens will follow their jobs abroad.
  • When the UK economy collapses, the number of people wanting to come here will fall like a stone.
  • When UK universities lose many of their best staff because of the removal of EU funding, foreign students will go elsewhere.

(Of course some UK pensioners will return from abroad, too, but there are many more EU citizens in the UK than UK citizens in the the rest of the EU, so that won’t cancel out anything.)

Obviously, this is going to be disastrous, and soon people will start waxing poetically about the good old days when immigration was high and life was good.

However, as a result May will easily meet her net migration target. Unless she cancels Brexit, of course – so the fact she’s reaffirming the net migration commitment is yet another sign she’s hellbent on a hard Brexit.

Last vote ever?

It felt really important and weird to cast my vote today, because I realised that it could be the last time in my life that I’m able to do so.

It takes a bit of a perfect storm, because it requires all of the following to happen:

  1. Brexit really happens and never gets reversed.
  2. Either (a) we never get another independence referendum, or (b) we get one, but the UK government changes the franchise to exclude EU citizens, and Scotland votes No again.
  3. EU citizens get removed from the electoral roll when Brexit happens. I don’t think the Scottish Government would be happy with this, but Westminster could force it through.
  4. I don’t apply for naturalisation.
  5. I don’t move to another EU country.

But what about Danish elections? Well, Denmark disenfranchises emigrants after just two years abroad (and I believe it was just six months when I left), so I haven’t voted in a Danish election since 2001, three months before I moved to Scotland. Since then, I’ve been restricted to voting in elections for the council, Holyrood and the European Parliament, as well as the first independence referendum. I can’t vote in Westminster elections, and of course I couldn’t take part in the Brexit referendum, either.

(The bit about voting in UK elections is of course different for Irish and Commonwealth citizens in the UK, who have full voting rights for historical reasons.)

I guess it doesn’t really matter, but it does feel a bit weird not to know whether I’ll ever vote again. I hope I will.

The lack of smoke-filled rooms

smoking photo
Photo by paulbence
The famous FAZ article made a really good point, namely that Theresa May seems to think the Brexit negotiations will be similar to the justice and home affairs opt-out:

[May] defended her vision by making references to a previous experience with European negotiations – she argued that protocol 36 had been dealt with in the same way. While the protocol had meant a lot on paper, it changed little in reality. Now Juncker’s people’s alarm bells were ringing. They had feared something like this, and now it had happened.

Protocol 36 is an addition to the Lisbon Treaty, the last of the great reforms of the European treaties. It summarises various special provisions, one of which concerns the Brits. They had reserved the right to opt out of all policies in the ares of justice and home affairs. Back then, this agreement was sold as a defence of British sovereignty. However, London had immediately opted back in to two thirds of the fifty affected acts of law — out of pure self-interest. This had been kept fairly quiet. May imagined future relationships with the EU in a similar way. While she wanted Britain to make an official hard cut she wanted the country to still be included in matters of its own interest.

However, I believe she learnt two lessons from the Protocol 36 negotiations, not just one. The first lesson was the idea that you can just leave and then opt in to whatever suits you – basically Europe à la carte. The other lesson was that you can talk very loudly and publicly about leaving, and then quietly rejoin a lot of it in a smoke-filled room afterwards, without the British public ever noticing.

In fact, this seems to have been the UK’s favourite way of doing things in the EU over the years. In public British politicians will blame the EU for everything the voters dislike, and they will completely forget to say that they agreed to it themselves during late-night negotiations in Brussels.

It seems most of the UK’s politicians and journalists therefore believe Brexit will be done exactly like this. For instance, London-based newspapers have been repeating ad nauseam that Brexit negotiations won’t start in earnest until after the German elections, because in the end Brexit will come down to a deal between May and Merkel (or Schulz, if he becomes chancellor instead). No matter how often the EU negotiators say that they’re ready to start, and that they will be conducting the negotiations, not the leaders of the 27 other EU countries, it seems nobody believes them. In fact, I guess May thought it would be quite harmless to hold a general election at the moment because nothing important would be happening anyway.

This is an error, however. While it’s true that really big internal discussions normally get thrashed out by the heads of state in smoke-filled rooms late at night in Brussels, this is basically the equivalent of a family gathering. It’s not how the EU operates externally. For instance, trade negotiations are conducted by the European Commission, not by a huge group of prime ministers.

Because Brexit is turning the UK into a third country from the EU’s point of view, the UK will not be in the room when the other 27 countries (and the representatives from the European Parliament) get together to approve the deal that the European Commission has negotiated with the UK.

Of course Germany might have some specific concerns, but they have to a large extent already fed that into the EU’s negotiating guidelines. Furthermore, many of the other countries will have equally strong priorities, and they’re likely to veto any deal if it doesn’t suit them. It’s not simply a case of making a deal that suits London and Berlin.

The sooner Theresa May gets through her thick skull that Brexit isn’t an internal EU negotiation in a smoke-filled room that has to result in a compromise that everybody can live with, the better. The other countries want to get the best possible deal for them, and a deal that demonstrates clearly that leaving the EU is a bad idea. They also realise that the UK is more likely to succeed if they are allowed to play the other countries out against each other, so they have quite deliberately agreed to let the Commission handle all the negotiations.

Accusing the EU of trying to influence the election, as Theresa May did today, isn’t going to help at all. It’s just going to infuriate the very people she’ll be negotiating with, so it simply increases the risk that the UK will leave without a deal. It most definitely won’t make Merkel take over from the Commission’s negotiators. That’s not how the EU deals with third countries.

The prodigal son

may pole photo
Photo by Calamity Meg
I expect the UK (or perhaps I should say South Britain, as I expect Scotland and Northern Ireland will have left by then) will in a few years’ time realise that Brexit was a colossal mistake. The size and location of England, as well as the population density and the age profile, combine to make it a very bad candidate for becoming a European Singapore or Hong Kong, and so long as the European Union exists, there probably isn’t any realistic alternative to membership if the country wants to be prosperous and moderately powerful.

However, it’s also very clear that the UK hasn’t had a good time in the EU. Instead of being a leader, it has normally been found on the sidelines, asking for exemptions or demanding to get its money back. As we all know, it’s impossible to play a leading role in a club while never taking part in anything.

Because of this, if England in a few years’ time realises that Brexit has been a terrible mistake and that they should reapply for EU membership, I hope they will also understand that staying out of Schengen (the passport-free area), the Eurozone and many other parts of the modern EU was a colossal mistake, because it prevented the UK from being a leader, and the English don’t want to be part of something where other people are setting the rules.

As we all know, there are currently many problems with both Schengen and the Euro – the former didn’t cope well with the refugee crisis, and the latter needs a deficit transfer mechanism – so if in five or ten years’ time the EU receives a membership application from South Britain that says they’ll join absolutely everything so long as certain problems are fixed, together with good and constructive suggestions for how to fix them, I believe everybody in the EU will be delighted.

Perhaps this seems rather far-fetched given the Brexit dystopia that Theresa May and her strong and stable government are dragging us into at the moment, but who knows? Once Scotland and Northern Ireland have left the United Kingdom, and once it has become abundantly clear to everybody and their hamster that Brexit has been a calamity, hopefully the Conservatives and UKIP will become unelectable, and new, pro-European parties can rise from the ashes. It certainly is already the case that Brexit is causing more people to read up on the EU than ever before, and that’ll be the first step in rebuilding the relationship.

I don’t see why the English shouldn’t be able to learn to love the EU. The half-hearted way subsequent governments have dealt with Brussels, staying out of this and refusing to pay for that, has been a disaster, and Brexit is simply the natural conclusion to a disastrous relationship. If instead the Westminster government starts talking up the EU and being pro-active, trying to lead Europe by example, I think everybody – the English, other people on these isles, as well as other Europeans – will be delighted. England may yet turn out to be Europe’s prodigal son.

The Brexit dinner

A translated version of FAZ’s Brexit dinner article – click on it for a larger version.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s devastating description of the Brexit dinner is really worth reading (click on the photo for a larger version).

It really worries me that Theresa May seems to be saying the same to EU officials that she’s saying in public. I had been hoping she’d be a bit more clued up behind closed doors, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. She seems genuinely to believe that the EU will allow the UK to have its cake and eat it.

What will happen when she realises that the EU won’t give in? Will she walk out and slam the door? The fact that the EU’s negotiators are starting to think that this is more likely than not is not good. Especially because Juncker was very clear that the EU will not want to agree to a free trade deal if the UK has just walked out without paying a single penny.

Scotland needs to have a really good plan for what we do if that happens. If there is a deal between the EU and the UK, there probably will be a transitional period lasting three years (so until 2022), and that would be a convenient time frame for Scotland to transition to independence within the EU after a referendum in late 2018 or early 2019. However, if the UK crashes out without a deal, there won’t be any transitional deals, and it will become much more urgent to escape the UK and get back into the EU before the Scottish economy gets completely ruined.

A different problem mentioned in the article is what will happen to EU citizens in the UK (assuming that there will be a deal after all). It mentions that May doesn’t think it’ll be complex – the UK will simply treat EU citizens as other foreigners (presumably with Indefinite Leave to Remain).

The reason the EU negotiators weren’t happy with this is because they want to preserve the principle of equal treatment. Here’s what the European Commission’s negotiating paper said on this topic:

The Agreement should safeguard the status and rights derived from Union law at the withdrawal date, including those the enjoyment of which will intervene at a later date (e.g. rights related to old age pensions) both for EU27 citizens residing (or having resided) and/or working (or having worked) in the United Kingdom and for United Kingdom citizens residing (or having resided) and/or working (or having worked) in one of the Member States of the EU27. Guarantees to that effect in the Agreement should be reciprocal, and should be based on the principle of equal treatment amongst EU27 citizens and equal treatment of EU27 citizens as compared to United Kingdom citizens, as set out in the relevant Union acquis. Those rights should be protected as directly enforceable vested rights for the life time of those concerned.

In other words, the EU wants the UK to treat EU citizens who have at some point been resident here the same as British citizens. As an EU citizen myself, I obviously hope the EU will win this fight.

I fear, however, that this will be just another issue that the negotiators will find it hard to reach an agreement on, which again increases the risk that the UK will leave the EU without any deal at all on 29 March 2019.

Why do people believe the Brexplanations?

eu flag photo
Photo by Sebastian Fuss
It’s becoming clear that the EU is coming together again, after suffering from a spell of rightwingitis. As Joris Luyendijk wrote:

But then Europeans started to vote. First Austria chose a Green president over a nationalist one. Then the populist PVV party of Geert Wilders received a paltry 15% of the vote in the Dutch general elections. And now the unapologetically Europhile Emmanuel Macron has come out on top in the first round of the French elections, setting him on course for victory against Marine Le Pen next month. The next European elections are in Germany, where all traditional parties are solidly pro-EU. The new Eurosceptic party Alternative für Deutschland is mired in divisions, infighting and confusion.

Even Donald Trump seems to be realising that the EU isn’t going away and that a trade deal with the block is much more important than a quick deal with the UK. (It took him a while, though. Apparently Angela Merkel had to tell him 11 times that he couldn’t do a trade deal with Germany.)

However, the London-based media seem to have painted themselves into a world where Brexit is the new black, so having talked up Le Pen for ages, they’re now struggling with finding a way to explain Macron’s victory in the first round. It seems to be some sort of ‘Brexplaining’ that somehow tries to find ways to confirm that Brexit was the right move, even to the extent where they’d argue that black is white. As part of this, they need to argue that the EU is falling apart, which it isn’t.

The countries of the world seem increasingly to be heading in two different directions: Some are aiming for a centrist, open, liberal vision, and others are choosing illiberal authoritarianism. The former group includes most EU countries and Canada, while the latter includes Russia, Turkey and Theresa May’s UK. (I’m not entirely sure what’s happening in the US – Trump seems slowly to be shifting away from Bannon’s vision, and it’s not very clear what’s replacing it.) The SNP and the other pro-independence parties are clearly in the former camp, too, which is why EU membership is such an obvious move for an independent Scotland.

What really frustrates me at the moment is that too many members of the public are buying these Brexplanations. If people realised what Brexit really means, the Tories would be lucky to get 10% of the votes in June’s general election.

I must reluctantly accept that they think Theresa May is the best person for the job at hand. As the Guardian wrote:

Most voters conclude that strong leadership is needed more than ever. [In] focus groups conducted this week, after Theresa May’s shock announcement, […] one voter commented: “If it’s 27 against one, we need our strongest people at the table.” Another said: “I’ll be voting for strength, direction and whoever will represent the UK in the best light possible.” To those swing voters, May looks a lot like that leader.

The thing is that to people on the continent she doesn’t look strong, just xenophobic and mad, whereas they love Nicola Sturgeon (and to some extent Tim Farron, if they know him).

It reminds me of an interesting tweet about Donald Trump I saw a while ago:

In the same way, the Brexplainers are telling us that Theresa May is strong, organised and leading the country to a bright future, when she’s really weak, disorganised and leading us back to the 1950s (just with more unemployment).

It’s really important at the moment to supplement your diet of UK media with a selection of other sources. Google Translate is not perfect, but it’s good enough to allow you to understand most of a newspaper article, so do spend a bit of time glancing at for instance German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Polish and Finnish newspapers from time to time, in addition to Irish newspapers and other clued-up media in English, like EUobserver. They’ll tell you what’s really happening instead of feeding you bizarre Brexplanations.

What is happening at the moment is that the EU’s economy is starting to grow steadily again, and all EU countries agree that Brexit has to be seen to be a bad move, so that no other country gets tempted. There are two options for the UK – either it becomes a tax haven with low taxes and no welfare state, or Brexit gets reversed (or at least ends up with a soft, Norwegian-style solution). So long as the British public are buying the media’s Brexplanations, we’ll remain headed for a disaster, and Scotland needs to get out before it’s too late.

Will you stop fighting, children! I want unity!

cane school photo
Photo by theirhistory
Theresa May seems to hate dissent. She wanted to push through Brexit without parliamentary approval, and she was happy to go to the Supreme Court to get her way. When she failed, she insisted on getting the shortest possible Brexit bill passed without any changes, and she now wants to call a general election because too many people are asking awkward questions in the House of Commons.

There are of course other reasons for holding a snap election. Firstly, there are rumours the police are close to launching court cases against a number of Tory MPs because of election fraud. I’m not sure whether the cases will still go ahead, but even if they do, they’ll carry much less importance when the parliament they were related to has been dissolved. It also gives the Tories the chance to deselect those MPs before the election.

Secondly, there is a Brexit-induced recession on its way, so the current polling figures are probably as good for the Conservatives as they’ll ever get.

Thirdly, the opposition in England is in all likelihood at a low ebb. Surely they’ll start unifying again in the near future, whether under an existing banner (Labour or Lib Dem) or under a new one (Whigs).

However, I still think it was Theresa May’s authoritarian tendencies that made her go for it. A very large part of her speech today was about the division she’s facing in Parliament:

At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not. In recent weeks Labour has threatened to vote against the deal we reach with the European Union. The Liberal Democrats have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill. The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain’s membership of the European Union. And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.

Because what they are doing jeopardises the work we must do to prepare for Brexit at home and it weakens the Government’s negotiating position in Europe. If we do not hold a general election now their political game-playing will continue, and the negotiations with the European Union will reach their most difficult stage in the run-up to the next scheduled election.

Every vote for the Conservatives will make it harder for opposition politicians who want to stop me from getting the job done. Every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger when I negotiate for Britain with the prime ministers, presidents and chancellors of the European Union.

(And no, I don’t know either how she can say with a straight face that the country is coming together, when it’s clearly not the case. I presume she’s spending most of her time amongst older people in the Tory shires, where you probably can get that impression.)

If Theresa May wins this election, my prediction is she’ll become even more authoritarian than before. George Saravelos from Deutsche Bank seems to think that May will use an election victory to (1) allow a three-year transitional period before Brexit kicks in, (2) sideline her pro-Brexit backbenchers, and (3) start compromising in the negotiations with the EU. I don’t believe it. The Tory rebels are pro-EU today, so it’s clearly not the backbenchers that are forcing her to be tough, and she has ruled out transitional periods and sensible compromises that even the toughest Brexiteers would have agreed to.

This Brexit belongs to Theresa May, and she’ll use an election victory to make it harder than ever. My best guess is that she wants Brexit to be such a shock to the system that it’ll allow the Tories to completely dismantle the welfare state before 2022 (which is when the next general election will now take place).

Scotland needs to escape this madhouse before it’s too late!