A Call to Arms – 10 days Left to Save British Democracy

The British people are now facing an internal political provocation the like of which hasn’t been seen since the English Civil War. It is a threat to stability, democracy and the very foundations of our nation. Astonishingly, it is seated in our parliament – the very implement by which the people consent to be governed. Only now parliament is acting autonomously. It is no longer an extension of the people’s will. It is an autonomous power house of individuals acting way beyond their mandate in the manner of a tinpot Junta. There is no longer any people’s consent, and that means that our democracy has failed and imperilled the very glue that binds us together as a nation state. The people need to take back control before it’s too late. There are potentially only10 days left before we are engulfed by a calamity far worse than anything caused by Brexit.

Let’s remind ourselves how we have arrived at this epochal moment. On an issue of national importance MPs referred the matter back to the people for a decision. Regardless of whether the referendum was advisory or not, leaders of all parties, MPs and the British Prime Minister said the question was a once in a generation matter and the result would be respected. Legislation was passed making it so. ‘The Government will do whatever you decide’ rang in the ears of those who dutifully entered the polling booth to make their mark. Not one person doubted that this promise would be honoured.

Now move forward 3 years. We have a parliament of Remain MPs who have colluded with the EU to prevent the result of the referendum being implemented. The joint strategy is to delay Brexit until they can claim that the clear mandate provided by the referendum has expired. At that point, they will try to implement a second referendum, probably with a fixed question and an expanded electorate including people who shouldn’t be entitled to vote. Because of the vagaries of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, we have a cabal of backbench MPs effectively running a proxy government introducing laws such as the Benn Act for which they have no mandate. They have been aided by a partisan judiciary and a Speaker who drives a car with a ‘bollocks to Brexit’ sticker on it. He has overridden decades of parliamentary procedure to allow the cabal to implement laws that are not only unconstitutional but profoundly undemocratic. MPs were elected on manifesto promises to implement Brexit and those promises are now being ignored. MPs can only claim the legitimacy afforded by the people’s consent within the scope of their election promises. If they act outside those promises they are acting as individuals not as agents of the people. The situation is especially bad as these MPs are also protecting their unique position of power by preventing a general election. The gas has been turned up on the pressure cooker and the safety valve has been blocked. It is dictatorship. Not so much ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ but ‘Bollocks to the People’ .

And so we come to the denouement. On 19th October, Parliament will sit in a special emergency session. This might well be the moment that Remain MPs attempt to seize control of the order Paper and introduce another illegitimate Bill, this time mandating a second referendum. Nobody can be sure that Remain MPs have the numbers to succeed but you can be sure that they will be egged on and emboldened by thousands of PeoplesVote campaigners who are planning a demonstration in London that day. If such a Bill was to be enacted the effect on our country would be truly disastrous. Democracy only works with losers’ consent. Without that consent we have no demos, and without a demos we are no longer a nation state. For most people, their vote is their only means of effecting peaceful change to their lives. Take it away, and they will look for other means as shall I. This challenge to our democracy is existential for our country. It is the most serious challenge since WWII, and nothing is more important. These MPs must be challenged or the people will once again be subjugated with no voice. Every Leaver needs to protect their vote. It is a call to arms.

So what must be done? Well the first question I would ask is where is the Leave leadership? Effective action needs effective organisation. MPs must be stopped from pursuing this disastrous course of action. Prevention is better than cure and prevention can only be ensured by peaceful direct action before this vote takes place. If Leave voters and organisations don’t act now to nip this in the bud then the chances of a violent backlash later are greatly increased.

Stand up and be counted. Don’t be a serf.

The Stand Firm Campaign

I’ve had a great idea and you can all help with very little effort. Read on.

As we get towards the end of the Article 50 talks, it is increasing clear that the EU is determined to ensure that the UK remains within its economic sphere of influence. Their negotiating objectives are as follows:

  1. Destabilise a weak and divided British parliament by making a draft deal so bad that the UK decides to revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU.
  2. If the UK does successfully leave, ensure that any deal:
  • Preserves the political integrity of the EU27.
  • Protects the £95bn EU surplus in goods.
  • Prevents UK developing a competitive independent trade policy over which Brussels would have no political or economic control.

The vehicle for achieving this is the much discussed Northern Ireland Backstop in the draft Withdrawal Agreement which sees the UK accept different regulatory arrangements for different parts of the country. For Northern Ireland, it means rule by Brussels in ‘the’ Customs Union without any Northern Irish representation in the European Parliament. For GB, it means “a” bare-bones Customs Union that will emasculate any idea of an independent trade policy and make non-reciprocal free-trade access to the UK market an attractive bargaining chip during EU trade talks with other countries.

Now there is much more to the Withdrawal Agreement that makes it wholly unsatisfactory, including finance and the ECJ, but the purpose of this blog is to highlight just how dangerous the domestic political situation has become for Brexiteers and to announce a peaceful campaign called Stand Firm.

As we approach 29th March without a deal, many Remain MPs are increasingly using the lack of a deal to argue for Article 50 to be delayed. Make no mistake, a delay is merely the first step to revocation which is the ultimate aim. Why else would the same MPs be publicly supporting People’s Vote on their social media? There is therefore an urgent need for Leave voters to apply pressure to MPs to prevent a dishonest attempt to thwart the referendum result. In ideal circumstances, Leave voters would take to the streets in a peaceful demonstration but many cannot afford the time or cost of travelling to London and some fear that the event could become hijacked by extreme elements with less benign intentions.

The Stand Firm campaign requires no organisation. It is a popular movement requiring no top-down direction. It envisages that all Leave voters make a silent declaration that they want Brexit delivered on time and regardless of any deal with the EU. There is no travel involved. All they need to do is put a Union flag in their front window, car or garden. MPs do travel around their constituencies and would soon notice a sea of colourful flags all directing the same message. And the idea could so easily spread without leafleting. Someone puts up a flag, a neighbour asks why. One flag becomes 2, two flags become 4 and before long whole streets would be bedecked in red, white and blue all shouting the same message: we want brexit delivered on time and under all circumstances.

So go an buy a flag. Cloth ones on poles or sticks are great but card or paper ones in front widows will do. At the end of this blog there is a link to a pdf file you can download and print. Also use the hashtags #StandFirm and #FlyTheFlag in your twitter feeds. I am sure Leave voters want to stand firm. We need to make sure Parliament does too so spread the word.

Leavers Need to Wake up or Lose Brexit

I rarely blog these days but the situation with brexit is so dire that I have been forced out of hibernation. Brexit is slipping away and Leave voters don’t seem to be noticing. If they don’t wake up right now then brexit will be lost within a matter of months as I shall now explain.

Theresa May’s recent Chequers Plan has scotched any idea that this government intends to deliver the brexit May outlined in her well-received Lancaster House Speech of January 2017. The Chequers Plan is indeed, in Boris’ words, a turd of a deal that no amount of polishing can improve. It is Brexit-in-Name-Only or BRINO and it represents a most despicable betrayal of May’s own promise made on the steps of Downing Street when she reaffirmed that ‘Brexit means Brexit.’ Never has a political statement been imbued with such dishonesty, and that it came from a British Prime Minister is an utter disgrace. Much has been written about the Chequers deal, and I urge leave voters to read about it carefully to fully understand the duplicity within it.

Outside of the BBC and the rest of the mainstream media, May’s betrayal seems to be quite well understood, but where does this leave brexit and where are we heading? To answer this, we need to examine the EU’s objectives, and in my view they have 2 alternative plans. It is debatable which is Plan A or Plan B but for brexiteers it doesn’t really matter. In the first plan, the EU intends to prevent the UK from leaving the EU. In the second, the UK leaves the EU but as a politically and economically-emasculated vassal: a taker of EU rules but without a voice.

The loss of the UK is a massive economic and political blow to Brussels, and so the prevention of brexit is not an unreasonable EU preference for me to propose. The EU could achieve it by drawing out negotiations to force a no-deal situation safe in the knowledge that there is absolutely no way that this current UK parliament would allow a no-deal brexit to occur. It is a Remain Parliament and if it was bolstered by Project Fear2, market destabilisation and the well-funded and organised Remain Campaign, MPs would vote against a no-deal brexit and instead send the Government back to Brussels for an extension to Article 50. This is the Remain Campaign’s strategy, and it is supported (openly in many cases) by the majority of MPs. However, in these circumstances, the EU would only grant an extension to talks on condition that the UK holds another Referendum or a General Election. EU officials have already said as much informally. A further referendum or General Election is the Remain Campaign’s main objective as it could easily result in a turnaround of UK policy as voters caved in to overwhelming pressure and general weariness.

In the EU’s second case, Brussels allows the UK to leave with a deal but one which is leaving in name only, that undercuts UK competitiveness and emasculates our trade policy. This is the deal that is currently on offer from Theresa May with her Chequers Plan. The result of all this is that the UK is hurtling to a situation where the only 2 choices to be offered to parliament in the autumn are No deal or BRINO. In either case, the EU wins and Brexiteers lose.

Some have suggested that there should be a Summer Tory leadership change, and that a third country, Canadian-style, free trade agreement would then be offered to the EU along with a pragmatic arrangement for the Irish border. I would support such an arrangement but there are 2 points. First, it is unlikely to be accepted by the EU because of the political and economic freedoms it would afford the UK as a competitor. In this instance they would be more likely to revert to their no-deal/Remain preference. Second, a Canadian-style deal with all the freedoms of brexit might also fail to pass muster in the UK Parliament. Remain MPs might well prefer instead to vote with the EU for the no-deal/A50 extension option. If you don’t believe me, consider the closeness of the recent parliamentary vote on the Withdrawal Bill amendments.

What all this means is that brexit is looking decidedly shaky. So what can be done? In my view, the only way that brexiteers can avoid May’s BRINO and at least get an acceptable deal on the negotiating table is through a leadership change. This will only occur if the Tories feel the electorate and membership is slipping away to UKIP (or a similar party) so brexiteers should do everything within their power to add to that sense of fear. But a change in leadership is insufficient because it doesn’t solve the parliamentary arithmetic. Parliament needs to be directly braced by leave voters otherwise MPs will engineer an undesirable outcome that results in Remain. I’m afraid that all this means peaceful but angry street protest is now the only option, not in small numbers but as a massive show of strength. It is only by seeing the strength of leave voters’ feelings that MPs will step back from reneging on the result of the referendum. Without a General Election, it is the only way of influencing MPs given the time remaining.

Street protest is not straightforward, however. It needs to be properly organised by a well-funded unified leave campaign, with broad appeal and headed by a big hitter. If a protest was not well-attended it would prove to be counter-productive and play into the hands of the Remain camp. The demise of VoteLeave was a disaster for brexiteers. It has left us with small groups, each with their own supporters but no unified message and no means of reaching the ordinary folk who voted to leave but generally take little interest in politics. We need Beryl from up the road to notice her vote is being ignored and to feel angry enough about it to jump on a train to London with her (metaphorical) pitchfork. That requires somebody with panache and powers of persuasion to reach out beyond the already-committed. There are not many leaders about who can do this and many readers will have their own preferences.

For those like me who are already concerned and want to do something now, I do believe we should lobby groups and individuals to form a central leave campaign. The big hitter can come later if necessary, but the unified campaign infrastructure must be put in place now and as an emergency measure as time is so short. So if you care, get writing to your local association, paper and MP. In particular, target groups like LeaveMeansLeave or, within parliament, groups like Mogg’s European Research Group. Ask them to form a properly funded unified campaign. Tell them to form a parliamentary caucus outside of existing party structures and party whipping. Ask them to look for the great leader, and most importantly, ask them to adopt a more active posture that enlists the help of leave voters. We need to get on a war footing before its too late and we need to inject some urgency into matters.

If we don’t do this, it could all be over by Christmas bar the shouting.

Is Theresa May About to Betray Brexit?

Ten months ago, I wrote a blog, posted here, describing how the EU and the Remain camp would try to reverse brexit by undermining business confidence and by delaying our exit through intractable negotiations. Since talks commenced, matters are proceeding much as expected. I was initially encouraged by May’s declaration that brexit means brexit but it is becomingly increasingly clear that the statement was meaningless and designed to provide political cover for prevarication. I’d like to say upfront that I really hope that the analysis in this blog is wrong. I really do, but for the life of me I can’t stop thinking that a great brexit betrayal is at hand.

The EU has laid down a staged approach to talks that guarantees that substantive issues on a future UK/EU relationship remain undiscussed. Instead they will only talk about exit issues and the purpose of this is threefold. First, staged talks ensure that politically difficult matters are discussed first. This allows them to highlight the costs of brexit in a way that feeds into campaign hyperbole by Continuity Remain. Second, they ensure that progress is slow by whittling away at the time remaining before the Article 50 deadline of March 2019 and the politically unpalatable prospect of leaving without a deal. Finally, and most importantly, the approach ensures that nothing substantive about our future relationship is discussed. This is important because brexit is about the future not the past. If matters are agreed about our future relationship then it lends legitimacy to the idea that brexit will inevitably occur. The subtext is that so long as nothing is agreed about the future then brexit might still be avoided. President Macron is already talking about a place for the UK in a reformed EU.

So if that is the EU strategy then what of May’s public statements including her recent speech in Florence? Some commentators have suggested that by verbally schmoozing the EU she is attempting to reach out directly to the member states and to by-pass the Commission and Barnier. In fact, she is playing their game. By focussing on what is effectively a standstill transitional arrangement she again avoids the substantive question of our future relationship. If you think about it, it is illogical to talk about a transition when you have not yet agreed the final destination. Importantly, she described the transition arrangement as being ‘under the same terms’ as at present with continued market access. Lets look more closely at that statement by examining how preferential trading could continue after March 2019 when according to Article 50 the UK must leave the EU.

I was very much struck by this article by consultant economist/trade expert, Derrick Wilkinson. In it, he explains that under WTO rules, the UK and EU could only legally continue to trade under preferential arrangements after brexit if the 2 sides had entered into a Free Trade Agreement beforehand. Importantly, he says that this has to be more than just a statement of intent, it has to be pretty much agreed in detail. Thus, under his analysis, the transition cannot legally be used to start talks about trade. It must be an implementation period for an agreement made in detail and before the March 2019 deadline. There is no sign whatsoever of the EU and UK attempting to write a FTA by March 2019 and by ‘conceding’ discussions on May’s requested transition arrangements without an end-state the EU will be able to spin out matters even longer. So what other options for trade exist? Well if it is to occur under preferential terms, and given that May has already discounted the Norway option, there is only one and that is continued membership of the EU by an agreed extension to Article 50 talks which would be just the start of endless delays, uncertainty and ultimately the great brexit betrayal.

I can hear some readers thinking, but what about “no deal is better than a bad deal”? Isn’t that evidence that May wants a FTA agreed by March 2019 or we’ll walk and trade under WTO rules and tariffs? It might have been a convincing threat 6 months ago but the amount of work needed to prepare our ports and customs’ systems for ‘no deal’ is immense and the moment to start making preparations for this has now passed.

In sum, I fear that the EU will continue to prevent the negotiations progressing to a stage when brexit agreements become irreversible and implementation inevitable. Theresa May either through choice or ineptitude has got the country into a position where the only choices available to us are a FULL trade deal (not going to happen), No deal (for which were not prepared) or continued EU membership by an extension to Article 50.

The electoral consequences for the Conservative Party of this situation will be grievous. And I for one won’t care.

Watch The Article 50 Pea Very Carefully

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In my last post I discussed how the EU, aided by a vigorous UK Remain Campaign, will use time and well-judged leaks and statements to destabilise UK markets, reduce business confidence and undermine political support for brexit in the UK. The aim will be to persuade the British electorate to change their minds, possibly in a new referendum or perhaps after a general election held under adverse circumstances. In that blog, I mentioned that the reversibility of Article 50 would become a key plank of the EU’s strategy, and I predicted that the EU’s lapdogs within the UK Remain Campaign would seek to have the matter determined in the European Court of Justice.

Sure enough, today we see an article in the Daily Telegraph confirming my prediction. Jolyon Maugham QC is one of the key Remain lawyers in the recent High Court action and he has been unstinting in his opposition to brexit. He claims to be merely protecting the sovereignty of parliament but his actions and statements are unmistakably political rather than altruistic. His comments in the Telegraph confirm my worst fears and I would like to explain why.

The High Court ruling is important because it requires that Parliamentary approval is obtained before Article 50 can be triggered by the Government. However, the basis of its judgement touches on the key issue that will become the critical political focus for the next few years: the reversibility of Article 50. The ruling stated that the triggering of Article 50 required parliamentary consent because an Article 50 declaration cannot be reversed and so the very act of triggering it would result in inevitable changes to the law which can only be done through legislation and not by royal prerogative. Now Brexiteers might be comforted by the idea that Article 50 cannot be reversed but the matter will not end with this ruling even if it is upheld in the Supreme Court case on 5 December.

In fact, this ruling temporarily suits the Remain Campaign because the effect of a Parliamentary vote in both houses could be to introduce long delays especially if, as the Telegraph article suggests, the Regional Assemblies/Parliaments also have to provide their separate consent. Delays are the key to the strategy of making the UK electorate change their minds. The longer matters go on, then the more opportunity there is to disrupt brexit talks and foment resistance at home. In the worst case, an intervention by the Scottish Parliament could result in a massive constitutional crisis which could cause huge political instability and shake the foundations of our country to the core. The High Court ruling is only a temporary staging post, however. The Remain/EU strategy will only work if Article 50 can actually be reversed, and in this regard British court rulings will eventually become irrelevant as the reversibility of Article 50 is a matter of EU law and it will be decided in the ECJ. If you read the Telegraph article it is clear that this has been the Remain plan all along. It is ironic and sheer legal hypocrisy that the reversibility of Article 50 can be used in the British courts to support one phase of the EU/Remain strategy (delay), and then taken to a European Court to turn the idea on its head for the longer term EU objective.

There are some who suggest that the Prime Minister should not be appealing the High Court’s decision in the Supreme Court. I think there are 2 ways of viewing this depending on how much you trust her intentions. If she genuinely wants the UK to leave the EU then it could be sensible to get as many of the legal arguments out of the way before Article 50 is triggered as protracted court actions will be more toxic once talks are under way. Alternatively, it may be that as a weak Remainer, complexity and delay might suit her and it may eventually become clear that, contrary to her public statements, she is actually complicit in the EU’s strategy of keeping us in. At the moment she has the benefit of my doubt, but I remain open-minded.

The sad fact is that the legal machinations are completely beyond the control of ordinary voters. That said, a political battle of gigantic proportions is already under way and it is one that will determine the outcome of the brexit war and the complexion of British politics for a generation. Leavers must brace Theresa May’s spine and this will require mass overt action on the streets to remind all MPs and peers that not only should the outcome of the referendum be respected but that when the people are asked a question through a democratic medium then they expect their answer to be put into effect. It is not enough for leavers to sit quietly at home moaning until it is too late. The Remain strategy is already in play and they will marshall the full force of the establishment. We need to oppose it with all the vigour we can find because there is more to this than just brexit. There is a fundamental principle at stake.

How We Could Lose The Brexit War

Brexit

After the stunning victory of the Leave Campaign in the EU Referendum, I decided to take a sabbatical from blogging. The result was sufficiently decisive for it to seem that brexit was secure and my confidence was boosted by Teresa May’s remarks at the Conservative Party Conference. I don’t think I have been alone in this complacency. By 23rd June, many voters were fed up with the campaigns, and after carrying out their democratic duty at the polling stations, many joined me in a summer of quiet reflection on a sunbed. The leave campaigns folded or went very quiet, and even though a core of Remainers continued to voice their discontent, it did seem that they were shouting into a strong wind blowing the UK towards the exit door. It was only after the recent ruling at the High Court that my reverie has crumbled, and after a few days of careful thought I have decided that brexit is indeed fragile and unless leavers wake up to the risks we could easily lose, not the arguments, but the outcome. Brexit does not necessarily mean brexit and it could yet be lost.

To some extent the ongoing court action is a bit of a sideshow with one important exception that I will cover later. There is very little chance that MPs will overtly defy the people but they may well demand concessions from the Government as payment for their assent to trigger Article 50. The Government has highlighted that if they are forced to reveal their negotiating position before talks start then their hand will be weakened. To my mind, this slightly misses the point. At some stage the government will have to tell the EU what it wants from the negotiations and the strategy will then become clear. The real risk is not this but the long-term political furore and instability that will accompany domestic debates on, for example, whether the UK should remain a member of the single market. To explain this we need to look at the EU’s likely strategy.

Make no mistake, the loss of the UK from the EU would be a gigantic political blow to the project. It may not necessarily be an economic blow depending on the residual trade agreement but politically it is huge. If the EU tries to punish the UK in a final settlement then both sides will lose economically. On the other hand, if the EU allows the UK to leave without serious economic penalty then other member states will soon start to question their own position. They will look at the UK and ask why they should accept the downside of Brussels’ rule if it is possible to trade successfully as an independent nation? Trade through the Single Market was deliberately built into the EU treaties as a fundamental lever to engineer a political union. Any unravelling of the Single Market will therefore be a direct assault on the long-term strategy of the project and will not be tolerated by Juncker and his colleagues. If mutual economic damage is to be avoided they will therefore conclude that a better strategy will be to persuade the UK to change its mind.

The foundations for such an EU strategy are the courts, time, the markets and the remain campaign (including some of its British MPs). It was central to the recent High Court judgement that Article 50 cannot be reversed once triggered and this will again be addressed when the Supreme Court meets on 5 December to consider the Government’s appeal. Whilst the ruling is convenient for the Remainers’ current campaign, I fully expect that in a volte-face Remainers will later contest the irreversibility of Article 50 as a matter of EU law (and huge irony), in the European Court of Justice. It is an important judgement, and central to my argument that we will be forced to change our mind about leaving. Watch carefully: if Gina Miller and the same applicants take the matter to the ECJ then the overall strategy will be laid bare.

A ruling by the ECJ will take a number of months even under an expedited procedure. By that stage I expect Article 50 will have been triggered and negotiations will have commenced. In my view, there is only one tool to achieve a UK rethink and that is market instability. I expect the EU to try and drag out any talks for as long as possible. Simultaneously, a drip, drip of careful leaks will be used to undermine business confidence, the markets and the pound. Unattributed comments will be downbeat about future prospects and politically sensitive sectors of the British economy (such as banking and motor) will be targeted for special treatment and dire warnings. Talks will seemingly become intractable and business confidence in the UK will come into the cross hairs. At some stage over the next 2 years, a weaker pound is going to feed through to higher prices in the shops and it could have wider effects on interest rates and investment depending on how the government and the Bank of England manage the situation. Growth, that great political football, could reduce and will become a hostage to outside interference. In these circumstances, a further run on Sterling fomented by EU politicking could quickly erode market confidence and result in severe instability. The longer that talks go on, the more likely this scenario becomes.

The financial situation will be exacerbated by simultaneous political instability fomented by the Remain Campaign and aided by special interest groups and experts such as the OECD and IMF. As markets take fright, increasingly loud calls will go up for a change of direction, a second referendum or a new mandate. Remainers and big business with vested interests will protest, MPs will waver and the media will start to take sides with whoever seems to be winning. With such a slim majority, May will struggle to steady the ship. On the other hand, a General Election in such circumstances could quickly become a proxy for a second referendum and I believe the outcome would be highly unpredictable with widespread tactical voting making the result very hard to foresee. Many have said that May would have a clean sweep but I think political and financial events could quickly change that notion. The margin of 52 to 48% is conclusive but not huge, and under difficult economic circumstances there could be many leavers who decide to switch sides even if that meant voting tactically in a general election.

The only way around this is for the UK to seek a quick brexit even if that means a slightly sub-optimal final deal. The damage caused to the UK economy by a quick deal would be far less than the protracted car crash I described earlier. The UK should set hard deadlines for the different stages of the talks and be prepared to walk away at the first sign of EU bad faith and revert to red lines. Simultaneously, the UK should seek allies for a fair break within the European Council. We are far more likely to prevent the scenario I have described by careful diplomacy with other heads of state than by attempting to engage with the Commission and European Parliament. Heads of State will be more likely to be interested in the hard economics of a deal whereas the Juncker crowd and MEPs will remain fixed on their long term strategy for the EU. It is interesting to note that Juncker is aware of this likely tactic and has already tried to take steps to rein in other EU leaders and bolster the role of the Commission and Parliament in the negotiations.

There is one further tactic that May might consider if she really wants to deliver brexit (and I remain open-minded whether she really does), and that is to hold a General Election now rather than later under the adverse circumstances I described. She could get the UK Court cases out of the way, trigger Article 50 and immediately seek a mandate for the talks. The current circumstances seem relatively benign and with the Labour Party in disarray she might well increase her majority significantly. However, the time for an early election is very soon, not later and there is still a risk that it could become a proxy for another referendum. It is a hard call to make.

As for Leavers, we need to prepare for the coming battle. With the demise of VoteLeave and with UKIP somewhat in disarray there is a desperate need for leadership and an active campaign that will again attract cross-party support. Change Britain are forming the basis of a campaign but it is at an early stage and Leave.EU have declared this week that they are returning to active campaigning. There is a planned march on Sunday 4 December. I’m not keen about marching on the Supreme Court so I was glad that the date for the march was brought forward to the day before the judges start sitting. It is far more important at this stage that Leavers make a strong political point to Parliament that we are ready and determined to protect our vote. I hope some readers will also attend. We need to re-establish our networks and prepare because the coming political battle will be far harder than the one we fought earlier this year.

The Rest of The EU Referendum Campaign

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When the awful murder of Jo Cox MP was announced yesterday, I decided to stop campaigning for a while out of respect for her husband and young family. After 24 hours silence, I have decided to rejoin the fray because notwithstanding these terrible events, the country is still faced with an historic referendum that will determine the future strategic direction of the country for many years to come. It is therefore right that the democratic process continues although both sides may have to make changes to the tone of their campaigns and to recognise the public shock and anger that this attack has stirred.

Disappointingly, it seems there are some that are seeking to make political capital from this attack and in particular from conflicting reports that the assailant shouted ‘Britain first’ during his attack. I have two points about this. First, speculation about the details of the attack are unhelpful and could prejudice future legal proceedings. Trials can collapse if they are seen to be prejudiced by prior media reporting and therefore journalists and commentators should tread warily and avoid speculation. In my experience, witnesses to traumatic events can often give different and conflicting accounts of what they saw or heard despite trying to provide an honest recollection or perception of events. Often, it is only after a full investigation that an accurate picture can be established, and it is therefore important to let the police do their work without any media interference, speculation or comment based on rumours or only a partial view of the facts.

My second point is that whether or not the attack was politically motivated is largely irrelevant to the referendum question before the country. The question is not about political violence. It is solely about our membership of a European political institution. None of the subsidiary issues connected with the question should be affected as a result of a young mother with altruistic views losing her life on the street whilst honestly serving her country. Even if Jo Cox supported the Remain side of the campaign, it is right to say that her death does not automatically make the Remain argument correct even though we all feel complete compassion for Jo’s friends and family. It would be a terrible blow to our freedom of speech to allow her murder to stifle or constrain the debate on a national matter of such importance. Moreover, if we allow fear and violence to affect the discussion we play into the very hands of those that would seek to use violent or undemocratic means to undermine our parliamentary process.

Having said that, egged on by an ever-hungry media, the mood in the country does seem to have changed in the last 24 hours, and the Leave Campaign needs to modify its approach not only to respect the new mood but also to ensure that its message is not lost in a chorus that will likely try to convince voters that to vote leave is somehow to condone the events in Birstall. It is a matter of tone rather than substance. Most Leave supporters won’t change their minds but a soft centre ground could easily switch sides unless matters are handled sensitively. Here are 4 ideas in no particular order:

This week, the Leave Campaign seemed to gain real momentum in the polls and was starting to set the agenda. Any delay in campaigning is to the advantage of David Cameron and his Remain campaign. It will allow them time to regroup and to lead the discussion when it recommences, probably with an attempt to gain the moral high ground. The campaigns should start again as soon as is decently possible to limit this effect.

The immigration debate needs to be couched in terms of parliamentary accountability. Fear mongering about migrants should be avoided throughout social media. The main argument is that immigration is a matter that should be decided in our own national parliament rather than in Brussels. In many respects, this tragedy has put into sharp focus the good that MPs can achieve if empowered, and the Brexit debate should concentrate on why it is better to have that power residing in Westminster rather than elsewhere. I have always held this view about immigration and parliamentary accountability but it is not universally shared within the Leave Campaigns.

Attacks on the establishment will need to be handled very carefully. Individual MPs acting for constituencies are not in my view ‘the establishment’ and it is wrong to question their motives or honesty. It is when they act collectively within the Party system and as governments that much political honesty is lost especially when they act beyond their authority within unelected institutions that wield far too much power. That said, blatant examples of individual political dishonesty, double standards or duplicity are still fair game but the way that they are challenged needs to be thought out carefully.

Arguments about whether the Remain side are trying to weaponise the death of Jo Cox are counter-productive and waste valuable campaigning time. It is better to concentrate on getting out your own campaign message rather than to play on the home territory of the opposition. It is always better to turn the opposition’s negative campaigning into a positive argument for your own side of the argument. Support for our parliamentary process is a good example of how you can do this. Now more than ever, the Leave Campaign needs a positive message delivered confidently in measured terms and with a smile. There should be no anger: leave that behind.

It is therefore a matter of emphasis and tone, and I would urge all Leave campaigners to think carefully before they press the ‘send’ or ‘tweet’ button. Undecided voters and soft Leavers need to be very carefully handled between now and the vote next Thursday. It would be a shame to lose this argument through ill considered behaviour or arguments.

The Leave Campaign Is Missing a Trick

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The problem for the Leave campaign at the moment is that we are trading blows over tactical issues rather than focusing on the big strategic questions that should rightly be addressed over such an important matter as our EU membership. As well as putting voters off our message, it suits the Remain campaign because it allows them to dribble out daily stories over the dire consequences of leaving which support their overall strategy of Project Fear. They can’t run a positive campaign because they know that it would open up to scrutiny all manner of things about the EU that are a complete anathema to voters. The response to this from the leave camp has been disappointing and it has lacked coherence and impact.

To my mind, the two big questions that need answering in this poll are: Where is the EU heading and what should be the UK’s future relationship with it? These are weighty questions with a lot of component parts which themselves are important to voters. However, by plunging into the minutiae of democracy, immigration and economics, the Leave campaign has not sufficiently highlighted that the EU’s overall direction of travel is towards a superstate. Number 10 is desperate to avoid any attention on the future EU because they know that if the subject was properly examined then voters would stampede towards the Brexit. It also explains why Remain has gone very quiet about David Cameron’s EU deal because they know that it affords no protection against future EU state-building, and any decent forensic examination would reveal that under the deal’s terms we are likely to be left half-in and half-out, marginalised, paying the bills and with less political influence than if we were properly out and back at the global table.

By constraining the debate in this way, the Prime Minister is being intellectually dishonest because our EU membership is indeed important and merits a proper strategic debate about our future place in the world. But he knows that if he can use the minutiae to distract attention away from the EU super-elephant in the room then he will be able to avoid the really big questions about our future.

I hope that the Leave campaign picks up on this because I really do think that the core leave vote will be insufficient. By all means, talk about immigration, democracy, sovereignty,cost etc but do it within a very clear framework of the future shape of the EU rather than as piecemeal vignettes. The Five President’s Report may seem dry to most but if presented effectively, items like the report and today’s leak in the Times about a planned EU Army could allow us to highlight the overall direction of EU travel and to develop some overall coherence to our arguments.

Milliband’s Elitist International Order – Built on Political Hubris

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Image from jessescrossroadscafe

So the former Foreign Secretary and failed labour leadership contender, David Miliband, thinks that Brexit would be “an act of arson on the international order”.  In making his statement today Miliband joined his predecessors at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by trying to reinforce old-fashioned ideas about the international system that come straight out of discredited academic papers from the 1990s.  I have touched on this matter before in a previous post about the FCO’s vision of the world and how the mandarins’ model of the ‘international system’ is introducing dangers with implications for instability and civil disorder.  In that post I examined how many proponents insist that globalisation makes the Westphalian model of nation states irrelevant.  It is a thesis that promotes the idea of supranational organisations like the EU and world governance but I also explained why it is doomed to fail.  What’s interesting about Miliband’s intervention, though, is that it demonstrates the disconnect between those politicians who promote such ideas and the ordinary voters.  Most people abhor the idea of supranational governance and their loss of sovereign power so why is it that political leaders seem so attached to the idea?

The answer of course is political hubris and vanity.  Such arrogance is often concealed by obtuse discussions and deliberately obscure terminology.  It relies on a strategy that the people will follow along meekly because it’s to do with matters that ‘they don’t really understand’. This is what is meant by political elitism.  Such politicians are certain in their stance because ‘they know best’.

Of course, the backlash against political elitism is building in the EU.  Right across Europe so-called populist parties are on the rise as voters kick back against their lack of representation and effective disenfranchisement. They don’t want decisions taken so far away from them that their vote feels valueless and ineffective.  They want to be able to influence their own lives through the ballot box not be subjugated by people that don’t really represent or consider their views.

Such a disconnect may seem astonishing but it is really a function of human nature as I shall explain.  People are generally proud of their work and like the warm feeling of common endeavour such that they tend unconsciously to promote their own organisations and seek to increase their influence and power by empire building.  This is particularly a feature of governmental organisations and ministries of state but also of non-elected bodies who are nonetheless increasingly influential.  We have all seen and understand the term ‘institutional creep’.

With this in mind, it is easy to understand that when politicians meet under the umbrella of, say, the EU, they can easily be caught up in comfortingly fuzzy feelings of groupthink which lead them to forget that they are representing people rather than the group they are working within.  A classic example are the views of some MEPs but it also includes national politicians who forget themselves in forums such as the council of ministers.  The reason this phenomena is so dangerous is that whilst the politicians are elected, the organisations they attend are often not.  As I write, my iPad has flashed up a dark warning about Brexit issued by the IMF.  Elected to intervene in our rerferendum?  No.  Elected to manage a world economy? No.

The international order that Miliband refers to is increasingly elitist and representative of itself rather than ordinary people.  I am not an anarchist, and I accept that there needs to be forums for solving international problems.  But these need to be cooperative rather than executive forums which represent the views of voters, not self-serving, self-licking lollipops dishing out elitist diktats to those that ‘don’t really understand’.  The only way of correcting such political hubris is for voters to deliver a sharp and painful yank of the chain.  The reason that referendums are hated by the elites is that they offer ordinary voters the opportunity to rein in politicians that have exceeded their authority. The UK’s EU referendum is one such moment.  Our British democracy and rule of law has been a shining example across the world.  It is now time to reclaim that example, deliver a sharp shock to the elites’ international order and show that true peace can only occur through proper representative government not an old-boys club. We must vote to leave the EU and call a halt to this inexorable slide towards subjugation and the democratic abyss.