Archive | February, 2016

A view from a Brexit neutral

29 Feb

I have this from the blog of:

Please excuse me for borrowing this entry.

Being neutral about Brexit

20th February 2016

I used to be a Eurosceptic and in large part I remain one; I am now just as wary of the bullshit from Westminster and Whitehall as I ever was of the bullshit from Brussels.

There is a lot for a small “l” liberal to dislike about the European Union.

Whatever “internationalist” credentials it has, they are off-set by its protectionalism against the rest of the world.  Its decision-making and policy-making have no transparency, and nobody seems ever responsible for anything. There is nothing “democratic” in any meaningful sense about any part of the EU which has genuine power. [**]

And, as I set out in the New Statesman in 2012, the EU has the habit of taking the credit for what has been achieved by other international arrangements, such as NATO and the ECHR.

It has always seemed strange that the big “l” and big “d” Liberal Democrats ever found anything liberal or democratic about the EU.  Perhaps it is all behind the scenes (which rather defeats the point).

But those (supposedly) in favour of UK “sovereignty” are often full of bullshit as well.

The current prime minister promotes the sovereignty of parliament whilst, in practice, encouraging departments to push through as much legislation as possible (and certainly not just EU-related legislation) as statutory instruments and other secondary legislation, which will rarely have any proper scrutiny.

In the UK, especially in England, most legislation is executive-driven, and at speed; the parliamentary stages are as much ceremonial window-dressing as the royal assent.  Even legislation which affects fundamental rights is just forced through, and only then if officials cannot get away without legislating.

And it is next-to-impossible to shift the public policy of any government department. Whoever wins the general election, the same senior civil servants (and those who influence them and have access to them) remain.  Things rarely change, as ministers come and go.

It is all an illiberal and undemocratic mess.

The only sensible response, it seems to me, is to strengthen the rights of the individual against the “state” – whether it be domestic or EU – both in being able to challenge decisions and laws in the courts, and to have access to a transparent policy-making process.

And so it is difficult to care ultimately about Brexit.  Both sides are alarmist, and both can pick out the weak spots in the other side’s positions whilst being blind to their own.

This is why this blog is neutral – as long as UK remains part of NATO and the ECHR.

It is not that I don’t know or care about UK and EU law and policy – I follow it all carefully and even advise on both domestic and EU law. I just cannot see what real difference the result will be from a liberal perspective. The illiberal – and undemocratic – misuses of public power will remain.

And to those in favour of Brexit who say ‘at least it will be “our” politicians who will make the decisions, and we can turn them out’, I reluctantly reply that this may be mere sentimentality. One can wish this is true, but sadly it is not.

In practice, policy-making and law-making in Whitehall and Westminster is just as illiberal – and undemocratic – as it is in Brussels and, if you take liberalism seriously, there is nothing to choose between them.


To get alerts for my new posts at Jack of Kent and the FT, and anywhere else, please submit your email address in the “Subscribe” box at the top of this page.

**An earlier version of this post made a statement about the EU’s accounts not being signed-off by auditors; I have been told this is a “zombie fact” and so I have deleted it whilst I look at it again.


Declining gracefully

17 Feb

When this country was at its greatest, in Victorian times, we had a virtually open border. There were waves of immigrants who flooded in to areas like the East End of London. Almost all the major ports had large numbers of immigrants. They almost all started at the bottom and worked hard to create a better life for themselves, and the culture and economy of the country was much enriched by their presence.

Political agitators, like Karl Marx found a home here, whereas he could have been imprisoned in France or executed in his home state of Prussia. I’m sure that he was watched, but he was allowed to work and live in safety. Would a modern government let him in?

Whatever else you might think about the Victorians it cannot be denied that they had a breadth of vision entirely lacking in modern Britain. These days many little Englanders whinge about foreigners taking our jobs and houses. This is a distraction from our real problems. We have started to become a pessimistic, inwards looking and repressive society.

If we really want to become a great country again it will not be done by battening down the hatches, but by looking outwards and taking our responsibilities to the world seriously.

Times have certainly changed, and we no longer have an empire to rule, thank heavens. We still punch above our weight economically and militarily, but we are too dependent on the financial services sector and on London. The rest of the country is starved of resources and has huge untapped potential.

One of the greatest issues to address is the non-payment of tax by multinational corporations. Currently most European countries compete to offer the best deals for companies by offering tax dodges, especially Luxemburg and Ireland. A new initiative in the European Union would force these companies to pay their taxes where they earn their profits, and Europe as a whole is too large a market to ignore. If we pull out of the EU we can kiss good bye to this tax windfall.

Europe is a large enough block to resist outside forces. Currently the decline in Chinese financial growth is causing panic in trading rooms worldwide.  And when the US sneezes Britain catches cold. There is far less instability if we belong to a larger grouping.

We cannot return to some mythologized golden age, but we can regain the sort of attitudes that made us great as a nation. Burying your head in the sand will not do it.


16 Feb

I find it ironic that during the last EU elections UKIP had a high turnout and became the largest party from the UK with 24 seats. There was much celebration in the UKIP camp. This election was held using a form of proportional representation. During the last General Election, in May 2015, the same block turned out to vote, but other parties supporters also bothered to vote in the traditional first past the post system. The result was a single UKIP MP in Westminster, Douglas Carswell. And he was a sitting Tory who defected to UKIP shortly before the election. Even the leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, failed to get elected. UKIP supporters were incandescent with rage that they could raise 3,881,099 voters and have only 1 MP while the Liberal Democrats had 2,415,862 votes and 8 MPs.  Unfair, isn’t it?

This means that the UKIP MEPs have much better representation in the European Parliament, than they do at Westminster. But the European Parliament is an institution that they loathe and wish to leave.  So much do they want to leave that they very rarely turn up for debates or votes and offer no new policies or revisions of existing legislation. Yet they still manage to trouser the generous salaries (twice as much as a Westminster MP) and the expenses offered.  And these MEPs, because of their absence are NOT representing their constituents in any meaningful way. Three of the five worst attending MEPs are from UKIP. Overall they are the laziest party in the European Parliament. What a waste of space and money they are. It really is a national disgrace. Someone should do something about it. They have absolutely no respect for the people they claim to represent.

So, are UKIP supporters angry about these lazy, self-serving bigots getting onto the gravy train? Absolutely not, they think they are wonderful. Why are they UKIP supporters not jumping up and down demanding that their MEPs work for a living? They really are a bunch of skivers. So far as I can tell, UKIP voters are like chickens voting for Colonel Sanders.

Myths and Lies

16 Feb

EU MYTHS top ten

1: The EU Wants To Ban Coffee Machines

New rules designed to make domestic appliances more efficient came in on January 1. Last year, they were interpreted in some parts of the media as a death sentence for the humble coffee machine. Not so, says the European Commission – it’s just that any coffee machine made after 1 January 2015 must have an energy efficiency option allowing the hotplate or element to go into standby after a certain period. Older machines are unaffected.

2:The EU Wants To Ban UK Number Plates

It was widely reported that the European Parliament was poised to axe British number plates, ban personalised ones and standardise plates across the EU. The Commission calls the reports “an absurd fantasy” and says such a change would be “legally impossible”. Instead, it says, the legislation was for simplifying the process of transferring vehicles within the EU, including a proposal for an optional temporary EU-wide plate.

3: The EU Wants To Dig Up Your Garden

In March last year newspaper reports claimed EU inspectors were preparing to raid British gardens in order to destroy people’s plants, criminalising those with rhododendrons in the process. The Commission says this is untrue and that the new rules are aimed not at garden plants but at invasive plant and animal species like Japanese Knotweed, which has damaged the Olympic stadium, hogweed and tiger mosquitoes. It says monitoring these species will be down to individual countries, not “EU inspectors” (a post which, it says, does not actually exist).

4: The EU Wanted To Ban Curved Bananas

The grand-daddy of all ‘bizarre EU diktat’ stories – but, according to the European Commission, not really true.  Several newspapers reported in September 1994 that the EU was to ban curved bananas. The EC says the rules only apply to green, unripe bananas, and that the banana industry and national governments asked for such quality control regulations.

5: The EU Wanted To Ban Bagpipes

In 2005 it was reported that bagpipes would be banned under new EU noise pollution laws which would not allow noises louder than 87 decibels. However, the Commission says this is only designed to protect workers using loud machinery for eight hours or more continuously. Should bagpipers wish to perform for a continuous eight hours at more than 87 decibels, a risk assessment would have to be carried out on, for instance, the hall’s acoustics in order to minimise echoes.

6: The EU Wanted To Ban Prawn Cocktail Crisps

The threat to one of Britain’s favourite crisp flavours emerged in 1993. But the European Commission insists it never had any intention of banning them. It says that while collating information from national governments on sweeteners and flavourings in different foods, UK negotiators gave an incomplete list. When this was pointed out, the list was amended.

7: The EU Wanted To Ban Double-Decker Buses

Stories appeared in 1995, and again in 1998, suggesting the EU was planning to scrap double-decker buses. The European Commission says that while it is trying to make buses and coaches safer and more accessible to people with disabilities, it has no plans to try to outlaw traditional double-deckers.

8: The EU Wanted To Ban Firemen’s Poles

Reports in 2002 said Eurocrats were ordering firefighters to use stairs rather than the traditional pole to get to their engines, apparently as part of a plan to cut accidents and compensation claims. The European Commission says that while the UK has adopted general provisions on health and safety at work, the EU has never tried to ban what it calls the “essential apparatus” of firemen’s poles.

9: The EU Wanted To Ban Mushy Peas

The perfect accompaniment to fish and chips looked doomed in August 1995 amid reports that Eurocrats were planning to outlaw mushy peas. The European Commission did issue guidelines on which food colourings could and could not be used. But three – E102, E133 and E142 – survived and can be used in tinned “processed mushy and garden peas”.

10: The EU Demanded That Pigs Be Given Toys

Reports in 2003 said a new ruling from Brussels would mean toys would have to be put in every pigsty in Britain to keep animals happy and stop them chewing each other. The penalty for failing to do so was reported to be three months in prison. The European Commission says this is not true – the “manipulable material” required in pig pens should be straw, hay or compost, not toys. It says the ruling has been demanded for years by the industry and retailers, and that punishment for non-compliance is up to national governments.