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Sending naked negotiators into EU conference chamber

Now we know. Brexit campaigners won the referendum by lying and dissembling but had no idea what they were asking people to vote for: no vision of a future outside the EU. And they had no leadership capable of working out and articulating what they wanted to happen so they have outsourced the job to the people who wanted to remain.

Tomorrow we will see a woman Remain campaigner — albeit a less than enthusiastic one — become our prime minister having promised “Brexit means Brexit”. The trouble is that we have no idea what she thinks Brexit means and I doubt if she has either. And how can we trust Theresa May who has so readily switched sides in  a fortnight — it is like the old joke about the politician who was challenged and said: “If you don’t like my principles I have others.”

There is no vision. There cannot be a realistic one because we do not know how the various members and organisations of the European Union will react. At one extreme there is possibility of being outside the EU relying on World Trade Organisation rules to conduct our business. At the other, we could be offered something like the Norwegian deal which would include associate membership of the Shengen area.

We will be sending negotiators into the conference chamber naked. The referendum result throws away our leverage for change.

The position is not so far removed from that Aneurin Bevan faced in 1957 when he addressed the Labour Party conference on nuclear disarmament:

I knew this morning that I was going to make a speech that would offend, and even hurt, many of my friends. I know that you are deeply convinced that the action you suggest is the most effective way of influencing international affairs. I am deeply convinced that you are wrong. It is therefore not a question of who is in favour of the hydrogen bomb, but a question of what is the most effective way of getting the damn thing destroyed. It is the most difficult of all problems facing mankind. But if you carry this resolution and follow out all its implications — and do not run away from it — you will send a British Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, naked into the conference chamber. … And you call that statesmanship? I call it an emotional spasm.

Whoever accepts the post of foreign secretary in the May administration will know that quote from one of the most memorable political speeches in post-war Britain. George Osborne is being tipped for the post — if it is him we can celebrate a brave man.

With the Labour Party dysfunctional, failing to provide opposition, May has adopted policies put forwards by Ed Milliband before his failure to win the last election led to his resignation. The Guardian reports today that she has also adopted his slogan about a “country that works for everyone rather than a privileged few”.

For her proposal about workers in the boardroom we need to dig further back in labour history. The system which supported German post-war industrial resurgence was put in place with the help of British trade unionists led by Vic Feather, later General Secretary of the TUC.  The Tablet, in a 1987 article, commented:

… it is one of modern history’s crueller ironies that the reconstruction of the West German system, on the ruins left by Nazism and war, from which its excellence today derives, was carried out with the help of British TUC advisers led by Vic Feather.

If May succeeds in this ambition she will have done something which has not been done by any of the post-war British labour governments.

Jeremy Corby has accepted May’s policy of Brexit means Brexit (“We have to respect the decision that has been made“) as, seemingly, has a majority of the parliamentary labour party. His stance on the  importance of maintaining the free movement of people, now seems to be the most fruitful area for opposition to the new government.

But would even that survive the removal of Corbyn as  leader? The opposition can hardly survive a new leadership battle at a crucial time in British politics. Even with the summer recess coming up the opposition needs to be hard at work on its strategy not squabbling: the new government will certainly be doing its preparation.

At present the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Greens are providing real opposition but they cannot fill the vacuum created by a fractious (and irresponsible) labour party.

 

Pro-European national weekly newspaper launches from East Anglia

Archant, the Norwich-based regional publisher, is to launch a pop-up newspaper aimed at the 48%, the remain voters. The first issue will come out on Friday and will be distributed in the areas with the strongest remain votes.

The company with a turnover of £122m a year is the fifth largest regional publisher in the UK. While Norwich voted remain, its East Anglian stronghold, where it publishes both the Eastern Daily Press and the East Anglian Daily times, voted 56,5% leave and 435% remain.

The launch of the New European is clearly to test the market with four weekly editions (Archant is a very commercial company) and will only continue if there are sufficient sales. The launch indicates that there are people in the company who believe our future is in the European Union and are prepared to put in put in the money need for the test marketing.

Here is the press release:

The New European, a weekly newspaper aimed at people who voted Remain, is being launched by Archant on Friday 8th July.

The paper will offer those feeling dismayed and disenfranchised by Brexit a non-political focal point, bringing together the extraordinarily broad spectrum of people who feel a real sense of loss after the Leave vote victory.

Conceived as a “pop-up paper” aiming to capture the zeitgeist and act as a chronicle for the extraordinary events of the summer of 2016, the title will be delivered to market faster than any other British newspaper in history – just nine days from concept to newsagent.

The New European represents both a markedly different approach in terms of content and readership, but also a wholly new business model for print and its place in an increasingly digital world.

The newspaper will initially run for just four issues, with any subsequent print runs being decided by reader interest. Every issue will be a collector’s item. After the fourth issue, every week’s sale will be a referendum on the next.

Available nationwide via the website, the paper’s retail distribution will be focused on London, Liverpool, Manchester, the south of England and other strongly remain voting areas.

The first issue will contain exclusive articles from leading voices in the UK and Europe, including:

  • Tanit Koch, Editor of Bild, Europe’s most-read newspaper
  • Saul Klein, leading European VC and partner with LocalGlobe
  • James Brown, former Loaded and GQ editor
  • Wolfgang Blau, ex editor of Zeit Online and former digital director of The Guardian
  • Simon Calver, partner with BGF Ventures and former CEO of Mothercare and LoveFilm
  • Annabelle Dickson, leader of the Westminster political lobby for regional newspapers
  • Football writers Steve Anglesey and Paddy Davitt
  • Peter Bale, CEO of the of the Centre for Public Integrity who broke the Panama Papers global exclusive
  • Ahmed Osman, renowned European fashion writer

Matt Kelly, Chief Content Officer and launch editor of The New European, said: “We are currently in an extraordinary period of time in the UK, with all of society seemingly in a state of flux and turmoil. I believe the 48% who voted to Remain are not well served by the traditional press and that there is a clear opportunity for a newspaper like The New European that people will want to read and carry like a badge of honour.

“We value expertise and have some of the world’s best brains in their areas writing for us. And it is also a politician-free zone. They are banned.

“It will be an eclectic and energetic mix of content – not just about the Brexit issue, but a celebration of why we loved Europe so much in the first place. There’ll be plenty of humour in there too – god knows we could all use a laugh these days.”

Will Hattam, Chief Marketing Officer, said: “This isn’t just another national newspaper, it’s a new type of publishing product. As a pop-up publishing project this is a truly innovative approach to reaching new audience segments by extending our established expertise in creating high-quality, engaging content into new areas.

“What’s exciting is that the story of this paper isn’t yet written – its sprung into life, driven by the events of the last few weeks, and will continue to serve its audience as long as they want it to. There’s no ongoing commitment, just an opportunity to explore new boundaries in newspaper publishing.”

The New European will be published by Archant and will be priced at £2 per issue.

More details are available here.

I will be asking my newsagent this morning to reserve my copy.

Guardian too quick to accept the inevitability of Brexit

I am disappointed by the Guardian’s editorial position over the aftermath of the referendum. It has effectively thrown in the towel and accepted Theresa May’s “Brexit means Brexit” line. Here is an extract from today’s leader:

Almost half of those who voted sought to continue our membership. The Guardian was one of the most determined voices on this side of the divide. But we, like the rest of the 48%, must now respect the verdict that we dreaded. You assumed that British pragmatism would triumph….

…we need time. Britain voted against membership; we did not vote for an alternative. The public has not fully confronted the choice it faces between turning its back on the single market, or accepting continued EU migration in whatever form.

This effectively leaves the 4,109,592 people (many of them Guardian readers) who have signed the parliamentary petition for a new referendum  without a voice in mainstream media.

We can respect the vote but it is not binding on parliament or the prime minister, whichever has to decide. The decision is a sovereign one and it has not been made yet as David Cameron has kicked the can down the road to his successor.

Nick Clegg has called for an election before Article 50 is triggered in an article for the Guardian today.

On another page, the paper reports an anonymous group of clients has instructed solicitors at Mishcon de Reya to try to ensure article 50 is not triggered without an act of parliament. It reports:

One of the grounds of a likely challenge to the referendum is that it is merely advisory and the royal prerogative cannot be used to undermine parliamentary statute.

Another legal challenge is being crowdfunded. It very quickly hit its target and is not accepting further money at the moment.

Tony Blair also weighed in yesterday suggesting the will of the people could change. This is the Sun’s view:

REMINIAC SNEERING Tony Blair sparked fury yesterday by hinting Britain should be allowed a second Referendum because people are entitled to change their minds.

Ten days after the referendum there is a growing realisation that the alternative of remaining in the EU is a viable option. The decision on triggering Article 50 has not been made and if parliament is truly sovereign  it may never be made.

The Guardian has called this one too early.

The Conservative party is outsourcing sovereignty to 0.002% of the people

The Conservative party is outsourcing sovereignty. The 150,000 party members (0.002% of the UK population) will have the final say on who will be the prime minister will have to take one of the momentous decision in British History.

David Cameron had passed the responsibility to accept the result of the referendum and start the process of leaving the EU by notifying the European Council to his successor. It is a sovereign decision to be made by the prime minister: there is no provision for votes in he Houses of Parliament.

It is right that party members choose their leader. But choosing a prime minister who will take, what looks like being, an existential decision for the UK is another matter.

The front-runner to replace David Cameron has already announced what her decision would be. Teresa May said yesterday: “Brexit means Brexit.”

Prime ministers also have the right to declare war without the approval of parliament but this has been strongly challenged particularly since the Iraq war. In 2005 Clare Short (Labour) introduced a bill to requiring parliamentary consent to armed conflict and was supported by senior figures in all parties. It was talked out.

This issue will return next week with the publication of the Chilcot report.

Except in cases of urgency, it is now difficult to imagine a prime minister declaring war without first having a debate in parliament and vote, even it was not binding.

Yet there is no suggestion of a vote on triggering Article 50 to exit the EU. Labour has joined the Conservatives in saying the people have spoken and their will must be respected.

Well, 37 per cent of the population have voted in favour of leaving without knowing what leaving will mean. The capital city and two of the four countries of the union have voted to remain, a division which in normal circumstances would lead parliament to be very cautious about making a final decision.

At the very least, the new prime minister should seek confirmation of her or his role by calling a general election before making a decision on triggering article 50.

If that does not happen our democracy means very little.

 

If a golf club can re-run a ballot on women’s membership why should the government not announce a new EU poll

18th_Hole_at_Muirfield,_The_Open_2013_Muirfield golf club is to hold a second vote because the decision six weeks ago not to admit women members has “damaged” its reputation. If the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers can decide on a second vote, why can the UK government not follow their example on the infinitely more important issued of EU membership?

The Muirfield rules sensibly require a substantial majority to change from the status quo (unlike UK referenda rules) and the resolution to admit women narrowly missed it. Now the members are being asked to vote again.

According to the Scotsman newspaper:

The first Muirfield vote was influenced by a “no” campaign, which cited slow-play worries, lunch concerns and fears about making ladies “feel uncomfortable”.

Similarly, last week’s EU poll was influence by silly scares and downright lies. So I ask Parliament to give us a second vote or, better, do their job of representing the whole population and pass a resolution saying Article 50 should not be triggered.

 

Could this be the new UK flag?

Flag without Ireland

Talk of a break-up of the UK has focussed on Scottish independence. But could Northern Ireland be the first to leave?

Although Northern Ireland voted to remain the chances of the six counties with their unionist tradition has always looked unlikely to leave the UK. But might that change if there is no Brexit-lite deal, no access to the free-trade area and border posts along the border with the Republic of Ireland?

It would not present many of the problems Scotland would face have membership of the EU. Northern Ireland would not become independent but transfer its allegiance from London to Dublin. And so remain in the EU.

The Irish Republic already claims the six Counties, there is an apparently good relationship between the NI administration and Dublin, legal ties and citizenship rights as well as strong trade relationships.

Sinn Féin has called for a border poll but is probably putting down a marker rather than expecting anything to happen quickly. Nothing will change quickly but if Brexit negotiations do not go well the prospect of a united Ireland will grow.

Farage speech in Euro parliament makes Brexit-lite deal harder

Whether we like it or not Nigel Farage has joined Nicola Sturgeon in filling the vacuum that is Westminster politics after last week’s EU referendum.

His nasty, rude, ill-mannered rant in the European parliament yesterday looks like an astute move to ensure there are no concessions on offer in negotiations following the triggering Article 50.

Farage wants out to mean out — no Brexit-lite deals for access to the free trade area which would also mean freedom of movement. Yesterday he did his best to alienate his fellow MEPs who will have a final say on any deal on offer. Who would want a deal with a county where Farage has emerged as a significant leader?

But he probably did not mean to advance the chances of a break-up of the United Kingdom. The standing ovation for Scottish MEP Alyn Smith can only improve the climate for talks in Brussels today between the Nicola Sturgeon and the parliament president Martin Shulz.

Boris Johnson and the Poisoned Chalice

Slowly the shape of what will happen after the Brexit vote is emerging. There are unlikely to be any negotiations before Article 50 is triggered and the leaving talks can start only then.

The EU will make a take-it or leave-it offer on future arrangements which must be approved by all EU members. The words coming out of Europe suggest this will, at best, be along the lines of those given to Norway. They could hardly offer anything better so the UK could be faced with probably making a similar contribution to EU funds and joining the Shengen area.

The alternative would be operating outside the free market on WTO rules which include tariffs.

If those options continue to look likely there is one other course the new prime minister could take: an announcement that Article 50 would not be invoked. Some in Europe might not like that very much but it would preserve the status quo, albeit with less bargaining power than before.

It was noticeable how often David Cameron answering questions in the Commons this afternoon said: “That will be a matter for the next prime minister to decide.” You could almost hear him adding “thank God”.

Whoever becomes prime minister will be accepting a poisoned chalice. Is Boris Johnson up for that?

Is Merkel trying to give UK time to reconsider Brexit vote?

I may be reading more into the words coming out of Berlin this morning than are really there but they seem to hint that Angela Merkel want’s to give the UK a chance to reconsider Thursday’s Brexit vote.

This comment is from Peter Altmaier, Mrs Merkel’s chief of staff (Guardian):

Should we just be saying: we’re sad that the referendum has ended this way, but now you have to go? I am not sure that would be the right step. Because at this referendum something has happened that I never imagined: on the hand, the sad result is that there were 52% of said they wanted to leave.

But on the other hand –and that’s something that I as a European find deeply moving – even in this country that we often thought of as deeply eurosceptic and not truly European, there has been an incredible turning towards Europe by millions of people … As a European, I feel a responsibility towards those people.

This contrasts with the draft resolution to be put to the European Parliament which demands immediate triggering of Article 50.

Personally I am not turning towards Europe because I have always faced that way. I just hope everyone in the UK we will have time to reflect on the implications of the referendum result. For some reason many went into the polling stations without realising they were partaking in one of the most momentous decisions in British history.