Next PM – runners, riders and the fallers

Boris has achieved what few have been capable of, uniting the parliamentary Conservative Party against continuing his tenure in Number 10. Who will follow him?

Having survived a vote of no confidence a few weeks ago, ostensibly having the backing of the majority of Tory MPs, we are now left with a leadership campaign with currently 11 candidates, representing different factions within the party. The fragments have reappeared.

Several potential candidates who might have been expected to stand and who have done in the past have not gone forward. One wonders how bruising previous campaigns have been. This leadership race brings forward more candidates to signal their aspirations up the greasy pole. There will be further opportunities to bargain for positions in the new regime.

Of course, some will be weeded out by the process. Rules put forward by the 1922 Committee will ensure that the number will be reduced before reaching the first hurdle.

An observation is initially, the list of candidates is probably the most diverse of any leadership race in British political history, several candidates having been born outside the country or of the next generation. Other than Jo Swinson, neither of the other parties can boast anything other than a white male as party leader.

Whoever is elected from within to become the next Prime Minister, there are three different audiences to be considered, MPs, party members and ultimately the electorate. Already we have seen some hints as to the X Factor nature of the campaign, the background stories making for prominent headlines. Are these presented with a view to perceptions of the third audience, currently some of them fitting into the “who?” category for public profile?

There may be some horse trading with promises of ministerial roles or honours but for the time being, what will be in the open is policies. Other than generic, occasionally nuanced, tax cutting, these will be more detailed as time goes by. There are of course the issues of the day, Russia, the cost of living and managing Brexit perhaps uppermost.

So, to the candidates, listed traditionally in alphabetical order of surname as an attempt to minimise bias.

Kemi Badencoch

Born to Nigerian parents, Badenoch had an international education before finally settling permanently in Britain from the age of 16. She may be considered as one of the “who?” candidates yet few who have witnessed her performances at the despatch box would contest her parliamentary skills.

Her range of briefs has been impressive although opponents will brand her views on LGBQT+ and inverse racism as controversial. An ardent Brexiteer.

Suella Braverman

Braverman is supported by arch Brexiteer, Steve Baker, himself an accomplished performer who highlights Braverman’s resolve. She describes herself as a “child of the British Empire, with parents from Mauritius and Kenya.

Her performances at the despatch box identify her as a competent, composed, articulate performer, in command of her brief. Her challenge is to make the final two.

Rehman Chishti

For public profile, Chishti is an almost definite to fit into the “who?” Category. Born in Pakistan, his back story is one for the X Factor, not having seen his father, a figure in the regime of Benazir Bhutto, until coming to the country at the age of 6.

He is a lawyer by background, having worked part time in “normal” jobs to finance his training. Holding PPS and junior ministerial positions, he is a rarity in professing to vote for Brexit after listening to the majority in his constituency.

Jeremy Hunt

Having run for the role previously, Hunt will be best known as the longest serving Health Secretary. In this role, he oversaw the dismantling of Lansley’s hard fought healthcare reforms, having given the role of NHS supremo to a Special Adviser on health to Tony Blair.

Many will see him as the statesmanlike figure amongst the contenders, more for being recognisable perhaps than for his achievements.

Sajid Javid

Among the top X Factor back stories, Javid makes much of his humble family roots and rise to success with German and American banks, the latter a time at which he held non-domicile tax status in the UK.

He can boast a range of ministerial appointments, having resigned his last two, Chancellor and Education, in protest at measures taken by the current Prime Minister. Some might argue that he had “gone native” at HM Treasury. Others might argue the benefits of his being something of a political chameleon having been an ERM sceptic yet a Brexit remainer.

Penny Mordaunt

Mordaunt comes from the French for biting sarcasm yet Penny presents herself as a uniting candidate. Diplomatic missions researching the potential PM are equally likely to find her in a swim suit for reality TV or impish challenges from her Royal Navy reservist contacts.

For the third audience, she appears to be approachable and living in the real world. Whilst she hopes to make a splash, she may have set herself up for another belly flop. Despite her range of ministerial appointments, finding an aura of gravitas might be her biggest challenge. Her aspiration may be to be the modern Jim Hacker.

Grant Shapps

Shapps is one of two candidates with a background in the Jewish faith but the only one with a rock star father. Perhaps that is where he gained an aptitude to capture a public profile beyond his mundane department.

He is mired in controversy, including a bullying scandal as Chair of the Conservative Party and maintaining a second job under a pseudonym. One wonders if his leadership bid is merely another tactic to raise his profile.

Rishi Sunak

Sunak has been keen to highlight his background with parents who came to Britain to make a better life, his father a GP, his mother a pharmacist. He has paved the way for being a tax cutting leader by increasing the tax burden on individuals to record levels.

With a slick image, it remains to be seen how the thirs audience will judge him. For many, he is the Covid Chancellor with a reputation for ignoring the 3 million entrepreneurial self-employed. For many more, he will be remembered as the Chancellor who raised taxes whilst leaving the bulk of income to his grand households untouched, due to his wife’s non-domicile status.

The dream candidate perhaps – for Labour?

Liz Truss

To start with the negative, Truss’s past includes an extra-marital affair, not unusual for a politician. Many have proved themselves to be detailed, competent and highly principled on affairs of state.

Truss is amazingly unique, a Remainer given a Brexit brief and delivering beyond expectations. Britain now has trade deals with more external countries than have any members of the EU. She may be short on charisma but is immense on delivery. Whether she makes the final two is down to MPs.

Tom Tugendhat

Like all MPs, Tugendhat has a high profile in Westminster as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, generating widespread respect in the corridors of power. His family background includes a French mother, the paternal line apparently of Austrian Jewish descent, although he educated at the Catholic Ampleforth College.

If he makes it to the third audience cut, his profile as a Lieutenant Colonel as a reservist might be expected to be prominent, his having served in conflict in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nadhim Zahawi

Zahawi has made an interesting start, having been move from the position in Education to become one of the three who have held the office of Chancellor, his . Born in Iraq, his business background has been very much to the fore. His supporters will point to management skills, not least in dealing with the Covid vaccination roll out.

For whatever reason, allegations have appeared to suggest that he is currently under investigation by HMRC, which in itself is not a suggestion that he has done anything untoward. However, the third audience will repeatedly be made aware of Zahawi’s temporary solution to exorbitant household fuel bills, having eventually had to repay £4,000 for heating the stables on his property.

With a field so large, some favourites will emerge. We may never know some of the deals that go on behind the scenes. If those choosing the new leader were to consider the third audience, then Truss’s record of delivering on trade deals might put her into the running. Sunak is currently the bookies’ favourite. Unless the demographic of Conservative Party members has changed significantly in recent, don’t be surprised, should he make the final, to see Hunt take the reins, or should that be reigns?

Health and Social care Levy – a view

The government has addressed the issue of social care, acting at almost unprecedented speed, some might say haste. Depending on perspectives, a tax has been increased, alternatively, a new, tax, the Health and Social Care Levy, has been created, as announced by Jesse Norman, Financial Secretary to the Treasury.

There is little argument against the need for additional budget for social care. It can be argued that the NHS is a victim of its own success in extending life expectancy. National Service Frameworks (NSFs) were introduced around the turn of the millennium. One of the outcomes was to reduce the rate of cardiovascular deaths from heart disease in those aged under 75 by 40% in ten years.

The ageing demographic profile led to an increase in demand for health and social care, although it is recognised that a significant element of social care provision is focused on the young, for example with learning and mental health difficulties.

Other conditions that rise with the increased life expectancy include hips fractures, the mortality rate having declined in the last couple of decades, in part due to improved medical and surgical interventions. Hip fractures are estimated to cost around £1 billion p.a. Stroke care is estimated to cost £3 billion.

Undoubtedly, the greatest cost is dementia. Surprisingly, in the various documents that were released, there seems to have been little effort to identify the costs. However, the Alzheimer’s Society estimate a total annual cost of £34.7 billion, a part of that being a provision for unpaid carers, or £32.250 p.a. per patient. The number of patients has been projected to double to two million by 2050.

Alzheimer’s Society provides further estimates of average life expectancy; four to eight years after diagnosis although this can reach 20 years.

There are obvious unknowns, for example it may be that medical interventions under research might reduce the burden of disease. On the other hand life expectancy might increase.

The speed between the announcement of the latest proposals and the vote is down to the procedure for raising a new tax, therefore a fiscal measure and subject to a Ways and Means process. Ordinarily, one would expect reform of a system to be subject to consultation before the budget has been allocated. The process chosen allows for interim revenues, averaging £12 billion p.a. to augment the current NHS budget.

It would seem to be a legitimate concern that the pace of implementation has allowed insufficient time for proper discussion. It may have also allowed insufficient time to prepare the argument fully, an argument used by back bench Conservatives to abstain or vote against.

What might be interpreted as a further example of haste is in the Treasury‘s accompanying document which contains three graphs apparently designed to demonstrate a “progressive” approach to the effects on income, expenditure and wealth relative to deciles of the population.

The more detailed Build Back Better document also highlights two case studies, seemingly designed to present the same message.

Yes, like many taxes, they can be progressive up to a point before becoming regressive. One does not have to look to far to see the obvious flaws, partly based on income levels. It might be helpful to take a different perspective, considering the Health and Social Care Levy as a wealth insurance policy.

For those with low incomes, below the new levy threshold, living in rented accommodation and with assets of less than £23,250, no levy is paid and social care is received. 100% of wealth protected.

At the top end, high earners will be taxed on higher pensions and dividend income, ostensible paying much more. However, when bringing wealth into the equation, income from interest or from a property portfolio has their wealth insured subject to an excess of £86,000, perhaps close to 100%. If the amount is held in liquid assets, their home will be protected.

Then there are those deciles in the middle. Anyone with an average retirement income will have to have £86,000 in liquid assets, potentially double for a couple, to pay for the first stages of care. If not, the asset of the family home would have to be sold to pay for the first stages of care, or an equity release scheme could be utilised.

Contrary to the principles of the Levelling Up agenda, this will have greater impact in some areas than others. An example used in the House of Commons by an abstaining Conservative was in County Durham where the average house price was reported to be £120,000, the patient and partner potentially having to downsize to a £60,000 home (minus transaction costs such as estate agents and conveyance fees) or more likely, face increased costs with rented accommodation, wealth insurance provision being nil or even negative.

Yes, the levy is progressive at the extremes but is regressive in the majority of the range. The wealthy will benefit at the cost of the middle income earners and wealth holders.

Any economist will refer to Adam Smith’s cannons of taxation. Although there have been some variations over time in interpretation, “equity” or fairness is a popular version.

It is a matter of debate whether it is fair for the younger generations to shoulder a burden of the revenue raised, particularly when their parents held no liability for loans for tuition fees. It could equally be argued that university provision was less back then.

On a geographical level, there is also a debate about whether there should be regional variations in asset levels, given that the South East has experienced vastly higher property price growth which over time, hence the levelling up agenda, has been reflected in income and wealth generation.

Perhaps a bigger question is whether the new levy is actually fit for purpose in the amount projected to be raised.

Other financing options had been explored by a Select Committee, which if presented with after the reform bill, apparently due in October, at a second reading may have led to other taxes being hypothecated. An example, given the potential impact on the housing market, being Stamp Duty, CGT is another, even a new wealth tax to provide wealth insurance.

On a more pragmatic level, it has been noted that the new levy was not presented during the debate by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, at time of writing being unexplained. The breach of a manifesto promise and introduction of a new tax will surely see history reflect on his absence. The debate was concluded by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

On this occasion, the Treasury has not covered itself in glory, the impact analysis being shallow and hardly worthy of the reputation of excellence enjoyed in the past. However, as George Osborne demonstrated over Brexit, they are the behest of their masters, not the taxpayers.

As Harold Wilson said, a week is a long time in politics. There are many weeks before an election has to be held.

Soled out or turbot charged?

Brexit has finally come to an apparent conclusion. The deal was struck on Christmas Eve between negotiating parties, if not by those who will need to ratify. The debate has already begun on whether the UK’s fleet has been soled out or if, to corrupt a promise from Boris, the industry will be turbot charged. The answer may be hidden in the sands of time.

In recent history, there have been some notable landmarks to changes in fishing water access. A sensible starting point was the London Fisheries Convention in 1964, allowing signatories to fish in each others’ waters from 6 to 12 miles from the coast. Under the terms of the convention, the British government gave notice to withdraw in 2017, the process completed in 2019.

Membership of the European Economic Community came into effect in 1973, with Ted Heath’s government famously including fishing as a shared resource, a measure introduced by the EEC in 1970, coinciding with membership applications.

In the meantime, Iceland had noted fish stock decline outside its own territorial waters, which had been 12 miles from 1961 to 50 miles in 1972 then 200 miles in 1975. What had been an active fishing ground for UK trawlers became severely limited, then closed off completely.

A British response was to extend its own territorial waters or Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to 200 miles, as did the rest of what was by now the European Community (EC) in 1976. Spain, later to become an EU Member was given limited fishing rights in EU waters in 1980 prior to joining in 1985. Through the 1980s, a number of Spanish vessels had registered in the UK, indulging in the practice of “quota hopping”, effectively taking British quota in UK waters, landing catches in Spain.

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was established in 1983, covering conservation of stocks, vessels and installations, market controls, and external agreements with other nations. Provisions were made to review policies every 10 years. The concept of Total Allowable Catch (TAC)was introduced, effectively a quota system.

The UK government of the 1980s sought to curtail quota hopping through the introduction of the merchant Shipping Act 1988, specifying ownership requirements for British registered vessels. This led to the notorious legal challenge from the Spanish Factortame company, brought under EU law. Ultimately, the Factortame case became key in aspects of law where the EU could be argued to have supremacy over member states’ law.

The 1990s saw several developments in CFP evolution as overfishing became apparent. Notably, efforts were made to reduce fleet size. This can be argued to have been a landmark time as boats were decommissioned whilst quotas became transferable, influencing access to British waters. The concept of Maximum Sustainable Yield was adopted as a feature of EU policy on which to base TAC and quota decisions in 2010, implemented from 2015.

In parallel, the United Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was being developed, consolidating maritime law. Whilst signed originally by 117 nations in 1982, it originally came into effect in 1994, currently with 168 parties having ratified, a further 14 signed and awaiting ratification.. This convention covers different aspects of marine law, including mineral extraction as well as fishing.

So what did our government seek to achieve?

Ostensibly, control of our laws, borders, money and waters. On the latter, Boris claimed the starting point was to regain an unrealistic 80% of EU quota in these waters over 3 years, the EU to limit losses to 15% over 14 years.

UNCLOS gives us definitions of maritime boundaries. It also recognises the migration of fish. It

gives us provision to negotiate fishing access to waters of other countries who share migratory fish stocks. It also requires us to establish general obligations for safeguarding the marine environment. Yes, in theory we can exclude others from our waters 100% which is impractical if we are to safeguard migratory stocks.

The current UK government has made post-Brexit agreements with other nations; Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Norway and now the EU. The EU ostensibly prefers multi-annual agreements but have agreed year by year deals too.

Perhaps expectations had been unduly raised, whether by the media or by the government. Would we exclude the EU totally from our waters? If so, would we expect to be totally excluded from Norwegian stocks which may have spawned in British waters? Of course, the media can pick up on any angle it chooses. Does the government have a duty to correct? Were the real objectives hidden from the EU?

Regular readers of these pages will have noted advocacy for a diplomatic approach, to assist our future partners in managed reduction of fishing access. By taking the stance of moral superiority, diplomacy would hopefully lead to positive compromise on other issues. It can be argued that a responsible British government would not seek to destroy coastal communities in neighbouring maritime states overnight.

In any event, had these negotiations failed, the default position would be UNCLOS. British trawling capacity has been reduced over the years. We would be unable to manage stocks effectively in the short term, the fleet size being insufficient. Tariffs would also have been applicable to exports.

The “deal” as announced gives a reduction in EU fishing access of 25% over 5.5 years, 15% of that up front for 2021, the remainder phased in, the beneficiaries ultimately British trawlers. It is a challenge to find out what that means in practical terms, given the fragmented ownership of fishing quotas. There is a lack of total clarity from the published agreement and difficulty in compilation of landing data in other countries, both EU and outside.

The government press release line is that British quota in British waters will yield an extra £146 million to the British industry. That would apparently take the UK catch from less than half to around 2/3rds. Given the ONS figure of £437 million (if this is the correct measure to take) as the British value of catch in 2019, that would mean an increase in revenues to the UK fleet of 33%, apparently significant to produce extra investment in capacity over the next 5.5 years.

That ONS figure presumably does not count catches landed in other EU27 countries rather than in British waters since a large part of imports are caught in UK waters, landed and processed in the EU before re-export. Other data sources suggest much higher figures,

There are of course other unanswered questions, perhaps understandable for a deal finalised on Christmas Eve, with publication rushed to Boxing Day ready for a vote two working days later.

The published deal includes quota allocations for several species in several different fishing areas from 2021. The first big question is that since 2020 figures for catches are still being compiled, there may or may not be a different basis for allocations. EU catches in British waters have grown faster than the domestic fleet over the last decade. If based on 2020 quota allocations, there is reason for the British to be disgruntled.

Elsewhere, those EU trawlers are still entitled to access to territorial waters, i.e. within the 12 mile limit, if their quotas date back to 4 years between 2012 and 2016. If those years were used in determining quota allocation, that would seem to give the British fleet more advantageous terms than if later figures are taken.

The detail of those fish species and grounds is presented in percentage terms rather than absolute values. Further analysis is required. It is almost certain that not all fishing areas are equal in value.

There are almost certainly quirks too, some of which may give a clue as to what sort of negotiations took place within the EU 27. The EU allocation in the Western Channel area, remains at around 90% of previous cod quota allocation for the 5.5 year duration, clearly not a 15% reduction by any measure.

Does that mean that there have been bigger cuts in other species in other areas? This is where the French have had high quota, Macron having been vocal on the issue, perhaps understandably given CFP quota cuts in the Western Mediterranean as well as issues in the Bay of Biscay and the Iberian Atlantic coast. We may never know the trade offs made behind EU closed doors.

What is for certain is that those who wish a supper of Cornwall caught cod are more likely to find it in a Provencal dish in a restaurant overlooking Mont St Michel than battered with chips overlooking St Michael’s Mount.

It remains to be seen whether chip shops around the country can expect to serve British cod and haddock instead of current imports from Norway, Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, even Russia.

Perhaps parliamentary debate might answer whether we can finally reintroduce the Merchant Shipping Act 1988. If the totemic moment can be reversed, that would surely be a clue as to whether control has reverted to the UK.

Similarly, there are fishing practices that we may wish to see outlawed, notably pulse and super trawlers or catching in MPAs. The proof of the fish pie is in the eating but it would appear that there is nothing to stop either, within certain constraints.

Those Russian super trawlers no longer have a connection with British waters since we are no longer EU members. The British registered Cornelis Vrolijk has an estimated 23% of English quota. There would seem to be a case to argue that it would not be discriminatory to also ban those super trawlers from Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Lithuania.

Sovereignty may not be complete in British waters but if our legislators can move decisively and constructively to support sustainable fisheries, then the compromises made can at least be sellable. Given that the UK has never had prioritised access to such a large area of fishing, the sector, the EU being its largest export market with no threat of tariffs on an industry that exports 60% of its current output.

The final verdict will depend on perspective. The outcomes are not as fantastic as claims made prior to the agreement but have merit. For many, higher quota in a shorter period of time would have been considered achievable. The downside of alternatives has been minimised although the opportunity may not have been maximised.

There would appear to be significant gains for the British fleet with the opportunity to invest. Compared to the alternative, there are tariff free markets in which to sell catches not widely consumed domestically or products of higher value. Potential hostility has probably been avoided in export distribution channels. Ultimately, it remains to be seen what advantages British governments will take from new found apparent freedoms.


Kissing the Barnier Stone

Michel Barnier gained attention over his public summary of Brexit negotiations. Whilst progress has been made in some areas, the blame for stumbling blocks was firmly laid at the door of the British government. Where do we go from here?

On the other hand, the UK negotiator, David Frost took a lower profile approach, issuing a written statement, confirming the same stumbling blocks of the “level playing field” and fisheries. However, he welcomed the common ground, understanding of not being subject to the ECJ and was altogether more optimistic about striking a deal.

It is not entirely clear who Barnier’s comments were aimed at but his statement can be seen from different perspectives. He is an employee of the European Commission, working to a mandate provided by his political masters. That mandate can be seen as a shopping list provided by the leaders of 27 nations.

The EU tends to advertise itself as perhaps the largest free trade area in the world, by value at any rate. Outsiders might regard that as Fortress Europe, free to trade internally but with barriers against the outside world in the form of tariffs, quotas and regulations whilst striving to maintain a captive internal market. Both views have some validity.

The EU also has several vested interests. The Commission, or civil service, are well paid to protect industries from outside competition. There is plenty of incentive to create a perception of strength. It might be a mistake to cast the UK as a smaller, less powerful entity, although in terms of population, the EU is significantly larger.

In reality, the EU maintains a significant trade surplus with the UK who are among the largest export markets for each of the 27 remaining members of the EU. The links over the last 47 years have been increasingly deeper. Of all new cars on British roads, more than 4 out of every 5 are built within the EU27. Tariffs have made the UK dependent on EU agriculture in the short term.

The protectionist measures to reduce competition from elsewhere in the world can be argued to have stifled productivity growth in some industries such as agriculture. At the same time, the existence of the Euro currency has helped the richer parts of the EU to maintain an artificial price advantage, weakness deriving from the poorer southern EU.

In short, Barnier’s negotiating mandate may be geared towards seeking to maintain advantage, keeping the benefits to the EU of British membership, making claims to protect their export markets but without recognising why Britain voted to leave.

In summary, there are several reasons why the referendum vote went as it did. Rather than maintaining a focus on a slow growth, introspective community, Britain has traditionally had a more global trading view, reflected by a multi-cultural society. The ethnic mix in the EU parliament has been significantly diluted by the absence of the UK who had the highest number of minority ethnic MEPs.

The Commonwealth provides an attractive market with development opportunities for the UK whilst assisting development of poorer nations, through trade rather than protectionism, exploitation and according to some charities, agricultural dumping.

The reality that the EU’s internal bodies do not seem to accept is in their starting point. They seek to maintain what they have, without recognising the liberties that Britain espouses, rather than seeking an improvement on the default position of WTO rules.

As for Britain, we seek to support developing countries, with orange juice at world prices rather than protected Spanish prices, rice too, not at Italian prices but world prices, providing a market that rewards their output.

The proposed British tariff schedule has already been published. On the whole, tariffs will not be charged on goods that we do not produce ourselves. What tariffs remain can be used as leverage in promoting free trade deals elsewhere in the world.

Indeed, as Britain seeks those free trade deals, EU businesses are welcome to relocate to the UK in order to provide lower priced goods to those who agree free trade deals with us. Should we reach an agreement, for example, with the USA, then motor manufacturers may choose to avoid the 10% or so reciprocal tariffs in the world’s largest single national market.

Barnier described the UK position on fisheries as “unacceptable”. The legal reality is that by leaving the EU, we become an independent coastal nation with the UN laws that apply. British fishermen might argue that the Common fisheries Policy was unacceptable in giving EU nations rights over our waters. Apparently, international law is unacceptable to Barnier.

Should the EU continue to insist on maintaining the same rights to British waters as allowed under the Common Fisheries Policy, then there is the very real prospect of what is referred to as “no deal”.

One of the pawns used in Brexit negotiations is the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland was a part of the “shopping list” provided by EU27 members.

In the event of “no deal”, there would be a very real threat to a large part of Irish agricultural exports, notably cheese, other dairy and beef products, the UK being their largest export markets. Irish Cheddar with tariffs of over 30% would make them uncompetitive in the UK.

As for the automotive industry, a 10% higher price for BMWs, Mercedes and VWs for example might well make them cheaper to source from South Africa, Brazil and India respectively. The domestic market for British produced Jaguars, Nissans, Toyotas and any new investors provides an opportunity for investment within the UK.

Of course, businesses seeking to sell from the UK into the EU will have to meet the standards decreed by the EU. However, we can seek different standards, not worse, not necessarily better, but different. If the EU does not agree to recognise those, we do not have to provide them with a continued export surplus.

As an example, Britain has a minimum wage higher than many EU member states. If the EU is not prepared to recognise our standards, then we do not have to accept goods from those parts of the EU with a minimum wage of less than 25% of the levels in the UK.

So how can we expect negotiations to continue?

Of course, on behalf of the EU, Barnier can not be seen to give in to the reality of an independent nation gaining by extracting themselves from the EU. In the short term, they can not be expected to yield to unrealistic demands under international law. The price of losing the trade surplus would decimate EU economies, particularly among those countries that sell motor cars or agricultural goods into the UK market.

For the current British government, not regaining the status of independent coastal state would be political suicide. There can be no movement on this issue. A diversion of trade away from the EU27 and towards other existing partners, let alone new partners, has plenty of attraction, not least in global fair trade with emerging partners.

One simple solution is to agree a series of treaties on areas of common interest, such as security and exchange of intelligence. As for trade, pragmatism must surely take over at some point.

Both sides present an almost Doomsday scenario, that if a deal is not agreed within a few months, then “no deal” would become a reality. It would appear that the UK can be more relaxed about this than the EU27, already taking steps towards trade agreements with other parties. Britain has a more recent history of supply side measures compared to the protectionist role of the EU.

However, as these pages have already highlighted, should both parties be prepared to emphasise that there are areas of agreement, there is another way.

Article XXIV of the WTO allows for the status quo to be maintained on trade whilst negotiations continue for a reasonable period, up to around 10 years. The status quo could be a simple agreement not to impose tariffs and quotas, accompanied by a schedule of talks to reach agreement within the 10 year period. All it takes to avoid a dramatic restructure of trade is a finger of fudge.

Incidentally, Cadbury’s fudge production was relocated to Poland in 2010, now made “under license from Cadbury UK”. An offer to use political license in Brexit talks would surely be seen as conferring an element of loss minimisation to the EU. Failure to agree would almost inevitably lead to significant job losses, particularly among the nations with the more fanciful shopping lists of claims on the UK.

Perhaps it should be remembered that the EU had 23 sets of negotiations “on hold”, most of them for a number of years. Any agreement reached between negotiators does not necessarily ensure ratification by all the parties within the EU, notably the European Parliament. Article XXIV might be seen as providing some sort of certainty for the medium term.

Reports suggest that neither side is totally logistically ready to press ahead with “no deal”. Perhaps we can expect the pragmatic alternative to be newsworthy in the autumn.

Cummings – another view

Whilst my stance before his statement was defend Cummings, his own statement shifted my perspective. An analysis follows from Cummings’ own defence.

Yes, for ordinary people, under the circumstances, if there was a facility available to isolate in one of three farm houses as compared to being holed up in a London house, there are merits in the argument to go North.

There are however some key decisions that open up questions, as well as his role and the environment in which he was working.

He is to be commended on a performance worthy of a SpAd, out-Campbelling a model for spin. For someone in such a role, what is left unsaid is perhaps more important that what has been said.

In the environment, his boss, as well as other cabinet colleagues, had already gone down with coronavirus symptoms. His wife was also showing such symptoms. As was later shown, he was a high risk and went down with it himself. His own endorsement was to “stay at home”. He was also in the ideal place to establish how quickly the onset of symptoms is likely to affect one’s own abilities.

We do not know if Cummings himself had shown any symptoms when making the decision to drive North, whether this was a deliberate omission or not. What we do know is that he claimed to have symptoms the day after he arrived in County Durham (if not before).

Among his wife’s symptoms included vomiting. He made the decision to take the five hour drive, presumably having assessed the probability that the need would arise to stop. He claims that the journey was made in one stint.

It would undoubtedly have crossed his desk that facilities have been made available for hauliers and other employees who needed to drive should have stopping facilities available. This in fact appears to be one of the considerations made by the SAGE group, whose meetings he was reportedly in regular attendance.

Commercial health and safety requirements typically suggest that on a journey of that length, two stops should be made. The Highway Code has its own guidelines. A journey of that length requires two stops of 15 minutes each.

In short, such stops may create the risk of passing on the virus. Impairment of ability to drive, through headache, fatigue, blurred vision, nauseous feelings and others make him a danger to both his family and other road users, particularly if he does not follow the Highway Code. His car becomes a lethal weapon through his own potential negligence.

In his statement, Cummings states that at midnight preceding his dash, he was in a meeting at number 10. He was also at work the next morning, slipping out to go home before resuming his role back at Number 10.

The Highway Code advice includes to Get a good night’s sleep before embarking on a long journey” and “A minimum break of at least 15 minutes after every two hours of driving is recommended”. According to his own evidence, Cummings did neither.

The second key decision was to test his eyesight and ability to drive back to London in a drive to Barnard Castle. As an experiment, it was a risk. Cummings stated that symptoms showed that he needed to take a break. His wife was in the car and one might assume she provided back up for the drive back to the farm.

The key omission is why such a caring, protective father should take such a risk of taking his son in the car when there were two nieces available to look after his son back at the farm, a journey that, if Cummings is to be believed, was not essential for his son even if it was dubiously essential for the father.

An analysis of the geography surrounding the Barnard Castle area, through Google Maps and Ordnance Survey maps show the most obvious parking areas nearby were the other side of Barnard Castle to Cummings’ route in from the North East. The nearby picturesque River Tees valley is surrounded by woodland areas to the North West and West to South, including the picturesque High Force and Low Force waterfalls unless he parked close to the town centre.

Did he find an alternative wooded beck? If not, his drive would appear to have been almost double the half hour that he claimed, given his possible approaches from the North East, through several villages with 30 mph limits, would make a half hour for over 30 miles in excess of A class road speed limits.

By this time, Cummings suggested that he took medical advice, although he neither detailed, nor was challenged, in what form this advice was taken and from who. A GP? A SAGE member? Neither did he say that having demonstrated further symptoms of nausea, he double checked that advice.

Finally, the red herrings. Steve Baker’s intervention highlights that this is not about Brexit (indeed, my own position is well documented). These incidents draw on different perspectives. Should he have made either journey, given the rules he had a hand in crafting when at least his wife, if not he himself, were highly probably carriers, even if the farm had greater appeal.

A further doubt has been cast by his wife’s report, that Cummings was effectively in bed for 10 days although in his statement, he suggests that he picked up his wife and son from hospital on the 7th day following his hasty retreat from London. Would either of his nieces been to drive whilst he was apparently significantly impaired?

On to the press, is it a red herring to show “journalistic” activity outside his house AFTER the story had broken?

The press have certainly been negligent failing to identifying the omissions and provide answers.

Cummings is of course welcome to respond as to whether or not the Barnard Castle trip was in breach of rules which he had a hand in creating. He is also welcome to elaborate on his calculation of the risk of both passing on coronavirus during the five hour drive (plus stops?) as well as to what extent symptoms may have been expected to make him a potentially mortal danger to other road users. He most certainly should explain why his son was part of the Barnard Castle trip and cover the other inconsistencies in his own crafted statement.


Theresa May used to tell us “Brexit means Brexit”. However, she never really told us what Brexit means. In truth Brexit is like a rainbow, a range of colours, opinions and viewpoints. If we can define a rainbow, can we define a Brexit? Can it ever be touched?

On our political spectrum, the reds, yellows and greens are all in favour of some sort of Remain or further vote. The current debate over defining Brexit is at the blue, indigo and violet end of the spectrum.

To be able to see a rainbow depends on perspective. In the morning, they will appear towards the West, in the evening to the East. The phenomenon results from the sun being behind the viewer, its light being dispersed by water droplets. As the viewer moves towards the rainbow the end seems to move further away, not unlike the political scenario as we potentially reach the end of the day as an EU member.

The current dispute seems to centre on whether or not we should leave with or without a Withdrawal Agreement. Boris says that means Brexit, Farage doesn’t agree.

So how can we define Brexit?

If we go back to Theresa May, her focal point was “control of our money, laws and borders”. Some will have different views over levels of control. Another angle that might follow in a quest for a definition could include the question ‘when?’.

As a reminder, the process of leaving the EU started with a referendum in which the electorate made a choice, to leave. The process is governed by the EU club rules, specifically Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

We have seen that the process allowed for two years, subject to extension, to negotiate terms of exit. Failure to agree would mean leaving on WTO terms. Extensions mean that as we have moved closer to the rainbow, so the ends seem to have also moved.

Boris has pledged that there will be no more extensions. If the election allows him to stay keep that promise, the Article 50 period comes to an end on 31st January 2020. If by that date either the WA is ratified, or Article 50 has lapsed, then it can no longer be revoked under EU law. To regain membership, a new application has to be made under new terms (under Article 49) with many more impositions.

The UK will have left the EU. However, the UK will not have full “control of our money, laws and borders” – yet. Boris might be right but so too might be Farage.

Under the WA, the UK leaves with a transition period, guided by the Political Declaration, the latter not being (totally) legally binding. The current target for an end date is 31st December 2020. During that time the UK and EU can trade on existing terms with a view to completing a new free trade deal. If all goes to plan, then 1st January 2021 would see a cleaner break, with the exception of exporters to the EU27 meeting their standards.

Farage advocates leaving, as some would say without a deal. That would mean trading on WTO terms immediately when the Article 50 process comes to an end. He has suggested that his leaving date would therefore be the end of May 2020. To achieve that, the EU27 would have to agree a further extension of Article 50.

As a part of the Brexit Party launch campaign, Farage and his team have highlighted where, under the WA, the UK does not have complete control. He has further complicated the scenario by emphasising the suggestion from Michel Barnier that it would take at least three years to complete FTA negotiations, hard for some to believe, given current close alignment and the recently completed CETA template.

There is an obvious contradiction that might be explained as the opening less well directed salvos of an election campaign. However, he is correct in saying that there is not complete “control of our money, laws and borders” until the conclusion of Article 50 and/or, if ratified, the transition period.

Just for a moment, assuming that public utterances from the leading UK figures genuinely reflect the positions that will be adopted when candidates are administratively finalised, the differences would appear to be Brexit by one definition on 31st January 2020, not by the other definition until 31st May or 31st December 2020 depending on whose decision, possibly with consent of the EU27.

The comparative envisaged end dates, between Boris and Farage are from four and seven months, unless the real world gets in the way. The material difference is whether or not we ratify the WA.

So what of the real word?

Naturally, the first consideration is the EU themselves. We know that they have agreed to the WA. Would they agree to the Farage suggestion to delay a further four months? This is subject both to conjecture and political will on both sides.

Farage seems to give credibility to Barnier over the time scale for FTA negotiations, Boris sees “no reason whatsoever” that such negotiations should be extended beyond December 2020. Barnier may be right, on the other hand, he could be laying down the foundations for a negotiating stance.

Perhaps Mr Farage will come to explain why when the EU27 will not agree for three years, they will agree within a five month extension? Does the answer lay in GATT Article XXIV?

On money, the UK would be bound to the conditions first formalised by Article 109 and Protocol J of the Maastricht Treaty with regard to overall policy.

Yes, if we leave without the WA, there is a strong argument, endorsed by House of Lords select committees, that the balance of the divorce bill does not legally have to be paid. There is a moral issue as to whether the UK should honour terms agreed in the EU budget cycle to the end of 2020.

During the transition phase, if there is one, of course the UK has no say in laws that the EU might pass. If the transition period does in fact end after December 2020, then in theory, subject to any FTA, those could be repealed by a British government in 2021. In any event, to export to the EU, goods will have to meet EU standards. EU businesses would also need time to adapt.

Whether or not the EU would agree to invoke GATT Article XXIV in the event of a trade deal not being agreed by the end of 2020 is open to conjecture. The same criterion applies if the UK leaves with “no deal” after 31st January 2020. A flip side to the coin is that when free to negotiate FTAs globally, the bargaining hand of the UK could be argued to provide extra leverage in a fair deal with the EU.

When it comes to borders, of course the UK is outside the Schengen area. The difference between both sides of the Leave debate becomes that seven month period for free movement within the EU.

Similarly, fishing may be subject to the same time scale, subject to what may have already been agreed for 2020 under EU and international law. More clarity is needed.

The same applies to other issues. Is seven months enough for the EU to formalise military structures, at least sufficient to invade, for example, Montenegro, Egypt or China? If invaded, of course NATO is more relevant.

There is the question of Northern Ireland too. Boris would argue that the WA provides the country with the best of both worlds, having a foothold in both the UK and EU. There is no formal representation at EU level. There are extra barriers, however minimal, on trade between Northern Ireland and the UK mainland.

A host of other issues need to be explored; security, policing among them. Some provisional arrangements have already been negotiated such as haulage.

Voters will come to their own judgement on whether they want to shut one door before others open. Boris can claim to leave four months or more sooner, Farage can claim to leave seven months or more sooner.

Ultimately, the strength of the UK hand will depend on parliamentary arithmetic. Events since 2017 have shown how weak a negotiating position can be when a handful or nonconformists can delay, obstruct and derail a government’s policies.

The irony is that by each colour seeking to appear too strong, the blues, indigos and violets may yield their pots of gold to the rest of the spectrum. Leave might be six months down the road under Corbyn, it might be never under him or any form of coalition.

Leave means leave – or does it?

Brexit election

The general election has finally been called. Of course a general election should be about more general issues but will Brexit dominate the agenda? The early stages suggest that this will be the defining issue.

Looking back at previous elections, 2015 provided a surprising Conservative majority. Many aspects may have tipped the balance but Cameron’s EU referendum promise can be argued to have been decisive.

In retrospect, May’s 2017 election has been widely interpreted as a vanity project, seeking to capitalise on a healthy lead in the polls. Ultimately, it may have been the student debt vote that swung in, ostensibly at the last minute, that led to her minority government.

She was finally derailed by her “no deal is better than a bad deal” mantra, a stand that was only “in the abstract”. May lost the support of the ERG wing of her party, one person’s “extreme”, another person’s global free traders.

Now, the 2019 election became inevitable, the minority government leaking former ministers, later back benchers, at an alarming rate. Those rebels who had supported May’s withdrawal agreement, keeping the UK closely aligned to the EU, were unable to unconditionally support the new Boris Withdrawal Agreement.

The Boris deal provides a few changes, most notably removal of the back stop but with a (possibly) temporary solution that Northern Ireland has a foot in both the UK and in the EU Single Market. The long term view in the accompanying Political declaration is towards a free trade agreement (FTA) rather than close alignment.

So where do the parties stand on Brexit now?

The Liberal Democrats have been quite open in seeking to revoke Article 50, to remain in the European Union. They are also home to six former Conservative MPs as well as four from Labour. It remains to be seen how they would realign once Brexit has finally reaches the next stage of voting as well as economic policies should the next parliament run for the full five year turn.

It will be remembered that the current Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, was one of the most supportive of Conservative policy during the 2010-15 coalition, regularly voting against her party manifesto commitments. It might be that her chameleon-like status affords the opportunity to form other alliances in the event of another hung parliament.

The most obvious potential is with Labour, whose position has moved in the last thirty months from respecting the result of the 2016 referendum. Currently, the line is that they would seek to negotiate a third new “credible” deal before holding a second referendum. Although Corbyn maintains silence on how we would vote, leading members of his party suggest that they would vote against whatever they manage to negotiate.

Completing the UK wide Remain line up are two separate factions, the first of which is The Independence Group, made up of four former Labour MPs and Anna Soubry who are firmly in the second referendum camp, at least for the time being.

Others are predominantly former cabinet ministers who will have claimed to be standing as independent candidates, serial rebels against the Boris deal, advocates of taking “no deal” off the table and orientating towards Remain.

The Leave side is more coherently summarised as the Conservatives and The Brexit Party. Ostensibly, the former line up behind the Boris deal, the latter to leave on WTO rules. The differences between those positions becomes more nuanced depending on interpretation of the agreements, the WA and PD.

Farage and his cohorts have argued that the Boris deal is not really Brexit, that the UK remains under the control of the EU in many regards, through treaty commitments and through adherence to adjudications from the European Court of Justice. He stipulates that the UK does not regain control, the EU can still lay traps.

On the other hand, Boris might argue that his deal gives a managed exit. Total independence is not gained straight away but allows for a negotiating period, during which time the UK can also negotiate trade deals around the world, something that can not be done as a full member of the EU.

At the risk of oversimplification, potential compromise may be somewhere in between with two key components. The first is a gamble on EU27 strategy, the second in answering the question “when?”.

The Farage case is embedded in the assumption that free trade with the EU27 may continue as currently if both parties commit to the FTA. In that case, under WTO rules, GATT Article XXIV can be invoked. This allows for a reasonable period, notionally up to ten years, for the FTA to be finalised. If there is no agreement to pursue Article XXIV, then the UK leaves with trade barriers. Farage seems that to follow the line of EU officials an FTA would in any event take at least three years to negotiate.

Certainly, the WA and PD allow for talks to be extended to 31st December 2022 and potentially beyond. The initial time scale is that a decision must be made by July 2020 if an extension is to be sought beyond December 2020.

Therein lies a potential compromise but it should be born in mind that the current legal default position is that the UK leaves the EU on 31st January 2020 on “no deal” or WTO rules, unless alternative arrangements are agreed in the interim.

So what is that compromise? Quite simply, that a Conservative government under Johnson would adopt the position that a trade deal can be broadly cut and pasted from the Canada deal, to be agreed by 1st July 2020.

Already, according to news outlets, a ‘Downing Street source’ has “categorically ruled out extending the transition period”, presumably subject to the outcome of the election.

Both the UK and EU27 are currently aligned, so to maintain trade on current terms is simple. An agreement to invoke GATT XXIV extends the negotiating period but outside the PD. The Brexit transition period ends on 31st December 2020 with minimal risk.

To illustrate the point, fishing may be a workable example, again arguably slightly oversimplified.

Under the Boris solution, the UK does not regain control over fish stocks until January 2021. If an FTA is agreed before then, fish sold into the EU27 are free from tariffs. If GATT Article XXIV is invoked, those sales are tariff free for a longer period.

The Brexit Party position would give control over fish stocks after 31st January, subject to challenge under international law but also subject to any five month extension proposed by Farage, were the EU27 to agree.

There may be a higher risk that GATT Article XXIV might not be invoked. There may also be a potential saving of around £10 billion on the “divorce settlement”. However, other industries may face greater risk.

In the meantime, breathing space is added for negotiations on other international FTAs which in turn might provide leverage for a beneficial future relationship with the EU27.

So what of the chances for electoral success?

Much depends on the potential for electoral pacts. On the Remain side, we have already seen that the Liberal Democrats stand aside in Beaconsfield to enhance Dominic Grieve’s chances of achieving success as an independent. His 65% rating last time, against Lib Dems 15% may give him a chance but those 65% voted for him as a Tory. He could be subject to Brexit Party and Tory candidates.

Similarly, Antoinette Sandbach stands as a Liberal instead of Conservative. Her vote as a Tory was 57% against Lib Dems 6%. Both she and Grieve are in constituencies that were marginal in the referendum.

The Brexit Party won most votes at the MEP elections, Lib Dem second with Labour third and Conservatives fifth, even behind Greens. A low turnout then, followed by subsequent changes in the political landscape provide no guarantees. Tactical voting may become the norm.

Polls will emerge in the coming weeks as to how loyal supporters are in different parts of the country. The perceived industrial Labour North is also home to majorities of Leave voters. For once, there could be scores of four way marginal seats.

Unless those electoral pacts develop, the outcomes are possibly the least certain in history. For the time being, Boris leads the polls but so did May at this stage in 2017. Instinctively, Leave have greater potential to unite although the diverse Remain side have the less nuanced divisions.

It may be that the outcome leads to balances of power held by the smaller constituent members of the United Kingdom, Scotland and the independence argument, Northern Ireland with the Irish Sea border, an element of Welsh nationalism perhaps?

On other issues, there are different alignments. The Brexit Party have more in common with the Lib Dems than they do with other parties. Boris has signalled his own end to austerity and stressed the public service element. Labour have produced one of the most idealist and economically illiterate agendas ever. If they keep us in the EU, their nationalisation policies will be inoperable under EU competition rules.

Ironically, the state of the parties could lead to a stronger Brexit. They could also lead to the most European political modus operandi of coalition government and alliances that the UK has experienced.

One thing is for certain, those who choose to study politics have never had it so good.

Four legs

Again and again the House of Commons declines the opportunity to hold a general election. Ostensibly no vote will pass. The House is in paralysis. Why do they perpetuate the situation?

As ever, it is worth reviewing how this came about, the history going back to the general election of 2015. To the surprise of many, David Cameron won a majority. It seems reasonable to assume that the main reason for gaining at the margins was the shift of votes from UKIP to a party offering a referendum on membership of the EU.

The referendum that followed, surprising to most but to Cameron in particular, a majority of those who voted chose to leave. The Prime Minister, who declared he was not a quitter, quit. Theresa May took over and called another general election in 2017. It is a matter of history that she came to lead a minority government, reaching a confidence and supply agreement with the DUP.

In the interim, on 1st February 2017, MPs had voted by 498 votes to 114, a majority of 384, to back Article 50, the mechanism by which the UK can withdraw from the EU. Parties promising to respect the result of the referendum gained 84% on the vote in the 2017 election.

Theresa May had her own reasons and convictions for side lining the process that had been carried out by the DExEU department she created. Having not only said but also included in the manifesto “no deal is better than a bad deal”. She later admitted tat she was talking “in the abstract”, a political term for crossing fingers behind one’s back when making a statement.

Having totally failed to make the much repeated promise that the UK wold leave the EU on 29th March 2019, she failed, to be succeeded by Boris Johnson who promised to leave the EU on 31st October 2019, “do or die”, “deal or no deal”. There are a few days left before that deadline passes. Indications are that Boris might join that line for Conservative non-quitters.

In simple terms, those failures have come about because our representatives in the House of Commons can not agree to a deal, neither can they agree to leave on WTO terms, otherwise described as “no deal”. Those who can not agree break down into different groups.

Both the SNP and those who were elected as Liberal Democrat MPs can have a clear conscience. Both wished to remain and continue to argue the same case, against the democratic mandate. The latter call for a further referendum but maintain that they will only respect one outcome from that.

Labour’s position has shifted to an extent, although they can claim to have sought a customs union based solution in their manifesto. The current stand point might seem confusing but seems to be that they wish to take “no deal” off the table, then negotiate a fresh deal that they will oppose, ultimately seeking to remain.

Some might note that the parliamentary Labour Party are at odds with the votes expressed in their historic heartlands, South Wales, the North of England and coastal communities.

It may seem unfair to consider the South East based Labour MPs as the elite; privately educated Jeremy Corbyn, Surrey born Lady Nugee who prefers to go by her non-titled name, Emily Thornberry, London born Hilary Benn, Oxford educated Yvette Cooper, Diane Abbott and Keir Starmer. It has long been recognised that “four legs (are) good, two legs (are) better”.

The balance of power over Brexit has, in reality, been held by a small group of Conservatives who have abandoned their manifesto commitments. Some have crossed the floor to the Lib Dems, such as Oxford educated Sam Gyimah and doctors Sarah Wollaston and Philip Lee.

The final wedge under the Brexit door came from another elitist group, notably including former Oxford educated ministers such as Hammond, Grieve, Gauke, Ken Clarke, Harrington, Stewart and Vaizey, along with Cambridge educated Greg Clark and Letwin. It is almost as if there was a snobbery about the Oxford educated classicist and scholarship boy, Boris Johnson.

Until given the opportunity to vote for an election, Labour had admirably made the case for one. The current Prime Minister has not been mandated by the electorate as whole, even though his adherence to manifesto commitments has arguably been greater than either his predecessor or the Labour Party.

Corbyn’s attitude that he wants “no deal” to be taken off the table has only succeeded in keeping “no deal” on the table. Even when the prospect of a further referendum was tabled for indicative votes, it failed.

Parliament has become a place where nothing can be achieved. It is as if achieving nothing maintains a status quo, where a minority elite will not put themselves to the public so that they can preserve their own status, where they are more equal than others.

There is of course a vested self interests that politicians of virtue would eschew. A salary of almost £80,000, plus expenses which may benefit family members, is also maintained. Of course they do not consider that each week that they delay an election adds £5 (index linked) per week to their final pension.

The world of Westminster and maintaining their status quo is a long way from the rest of British society who have embraced lessons from around the globe.

British businesses have learned from the American W Edwards Deming who inspired Japanese production methods base around Kaizen. The same principles have been applied to successful British sport, Frank Dick in athletics, Tour de France wins, Woodward’s rugby world cup victory, a cricket world cup, the Premier League and a surge up the Olympics medals tables over more than a decade.

A general election gives an opportunity to move on, to ditch a political culture where the lack of achievement is considered an achievement. Stopping progress is a political ideal.

Yes, the British people may vote for more stagnation. On the other hand, we may vote for progress, for promises to be honoured and to punish those who have rejected a democratic mandate. Progress scored a success in 2015. Stable can be argued to have been a failure in 2017.

In the real world, the country needs a direction to attract investment, create jobs and opportunities for the future, to maintain existing markets or to target and support growing economies, in turn providing prospects for our future growth. Stagnation and non-achievement restrict progress.

Our politicians have repeatedly denied the chance for us to give our verdict.

It has to be said that for those who live in the smaller three constituent nations, there may be different priorities.

For the UK as a whole, if we want to remain we can vote Lib Dem. If we want to fudge and then remain, assuming the EU27 will allow us,we can vote Labour.

If we want to leave with a deal of sorts we can vote Conservative. If we want to leave without a deal or do not trust other politicians to respect a democratic mandate, we can vote Brexit Party. The Herculean British people can have an opportunity to clean the Augean stables of the elitist faeces.

MPs don’t matter, the British people do. Four legs are stable, two, after imbibing in subsidised bars, can be distinctly wobbly.

Brexit witching hour

Our man Rex seeks to establish the Brexit agenda for the week ahead.

The last week of October promises to be a fascinating, indeed crucial, week in the quest for Brexit. What will happen? We don’t know for sure but there is a timetable, of sorts.

There are four key outcomes to look for:

1. Extend the Brexit deadline

2. Leave without a deal

3. Leave with a deal

4. Revoke Article 50

Under the Benn Act, on 19th October Boris Johnson did as required, sending a letter to the EU which requested an extension to the Article 50 notice until 31st January. The EU27 have been considering the request, yet to produce a formal response. This would seem to be the main consideration for the weeks ahead.

If the EU27 agree to an extension until 31st January 2020, according to the Act “the Prime Minister must, immediately after such a decision is made, notify the President of the European Council that the United Kingdom agrees to the proposed extension”, regardless of any conditions attached.

If any other date were to be proposed, then a debate must be scheduled for Wednesday.

Perhaps it goes without saying that any prospective motions or amendments calling for a further referendum are dependent on an extension. Legal challenges can not be ruled out.

Monday 28th October

The UK awaits a response from the EU. In order to extend the Brexit deadline, all 27, as well as the UK, have to unanimously agree. Weekend speculation has centred on the French withholding their agreement, allegedly until a the House of Commons agree a date for a general election or the latest withdrawal Agreement is approved.

Under those circumstances, the Conservative government may again seek to call for a general election. If they do, under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, the House must produce a two thirds majority.

On previous form, that majority will not be achieved, key to the decision being Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. The declared standpoint is that “no deal” must be taken off the table before they agree. Given that position, it may seem unlikely that Her Majesty’s most Loyal opposition will not bring a vote of no confidence, which requires a straight forward majority.

The Benn Act provides for a motion to be debated within two days or by 30th October at the latest, that motion relating to the EU27’s response to the request for an extension to the deadline.

Tuesday 29th October

Much depends on what may happen on the previous day. The UK may have received the EU27’s response to the Article 50 extension letter, it may not.

Given that the House of Commons has demanded more than three days to debate the latest WA, if the EU27 have not responded, this is the last day to start the debate. Even so, that gives little time, possibly only minutes, for the House of Lords, to scrutinise.

There is also the possibility that a vote could be held on the prospect of a general election.

Wednesday 30th October

Events are still dependent on whether the response from the EU27 has been decided upon and communicated to the UK.

The keynote debate of the day has been decided by British law, in the form of the Benn Act. The motion reads: “That this House has approved the extension to the period in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union which the European Council has decided.”

Not to debate the motion would put the whole of the House of Commons in breach of UK law. The motion must be debated whether or not the EU27 have reached a decision and whether or not that decision has been conveyed to the UK.

Obviously, the EU27 are not bound by UK law. Even had Hilary Benn and his supporters set a final date for them to respond to the letter of 19th October, there is no compulsion for them to do so in European law.

Much as the House of Commons has given the people plenty of amusement, it must surely appeal to the sense of humour of the EU27 to watch the House of Commons debate a response that has not been made.

If there is nothing to approve or disapprove, it will be interesting to see which way the vote goes, whether there is a majority for nothing or against nothing.

On the other hand, if a letter has been received from the EU27 offering a conditional extension, let’s say to 31st December 2099, whether or not a WA has been agreed by then, it would also be interesting to see which way the vote goes.

There is also the possibility that a vote could be held on the prospect of a general election.

Thursday 31st October

Today has already gone down as Boris Johnson’s “do or die” day.

Under the Benn Act, the EU27 have until 22.59 hours to agree to an extension of Article 50, the Prime Minister being required to accept “immediately”. As has been identified in many arenas, the EU has a habit of agreeing to things at the eleventh hour. In this event, of course Brexit will be delayed.

Today is also the last day that Article 50 can be revoked. It is also the last day that the WA can be agreed by Parliament, both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Both courses of action require the Queen to be available.

It is also the last day that “no deal” can be taken off the table, which may lead to a further vote on a general election.

If no extension has been agreed, revocation of Article 50 has not been agreed, and no WA has been agreed and ratified, both by Parliament and the European Union, the legal default position remains that the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

In that event, at or after the eleventh hour, there is still the opportunity to avoid imposing tariffs and other barriers to trade, invoking GATT Article XXIV. Of course, it may have already been negotiated, even provisionally agreed, between Boris and the EU27 that both parties exchange letters, copied to the World Trade Organisation, announcing an intention to seek a free trade agreement.

This will also be an opportunity to ascertain what Boris meant by “do or die, deal or no deal.” Perhaps, like his predecessor, Theresa May when saying “no deal is better than a bad deal”, Boris was “talking in the abstract” and has an Halloween costume already lined up.

This is also the day that John Bercow stands down as Speaker of the House of Commons. Tributes will be made for his contribution in upholding integrity, clarity and professionalism in Parliament’s quest to ensure democratic accountability to the people.

1st November

The first Witching Hour after Halloween takes place between 3 and 4am.

5th May 2022

Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, this is the scheduled date for a general election, unless the Act is repealed before then or a general election has taken place beforehand.

Decisions, decisions, Brexit made simple

Ostensibly, Brexit is drawing to an end game. Boris pledged to achieve this by 31st October, “do or die”. Decisions have to be made but what decisions and by who? This is an attempt to make the issues simple, despite the complications.

The latest Withdrawal Agreement (WA) provides changes to the original, notably the removal of what was known as the “back stop”, sold as an insurance policy to maintain the integrity of the Single Market for the EU but in reality, at least from the British perspective, an apparently irrevocable chain that could not be broken.

Further developments came in the Political Declaration. In essence, the future relationship between the UK and the EU to be based on a free trade agreement (FTA) rather than a customs union. The difference between the two is essentially that the UK has more freedom in dealings with the rest of the world.

So who makes the decisions, according to Article 50 and international law? To make matters simple, the process differs on the type of decision but decision makers are essentially the same. It is noted that the WA and PD are an agreement between two parties, the WA being legally binding.

On the side of the EU, decisions are made by the European Council, the ministers of the governments in the EU27 countries. To agree a deal or treaty, the decision is made by the Council on the basis of a majority under qualified majority voting (QMV) subject to the later approval of the European Parliament and in keeping with paragraph 2 of Article 50.

By contrast, a decision to extend the time scale, as has already been exercised twice requires a unanimous vote by each of the 27 member states.

The other party to the agreements is obviously the UK. Article 50 tells us that “Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements” and is supported by the Vienna Convention. The government, the executive, is responsible for negotiating treaties, in the UK subject to the approval of parliament, the legislature.

In the short to medium term, there are three potential outcomes, characterised as to leave with a deal, to leave without a deal or to revoke Article 50 and to remain. In practice, to leave with a deal sets up the negotiating process over the future relationship, characterised by the PD.

The first decision for the EU is how to respond to the request for a further extension. It will be recalled that the Benn Act provided for an extension to be requested, the letter containing the request unsigned by the Prime Minister and accompanied by a covering letter.

The response from the EU could be an unqualified yes, if ALL national leaders of EU member states agree according to paragraph 3 of Article 50. The same unanimity is required for any conditions that might be attached to any agreement to extend. The Benn Act suggests that the Prime Minister complies, however outrageous those conditions might be.

A lack of consent means that the UK would leave with “no deal” on 31st October unless there are further changes within the UK, specifically revocation of Article 50 and remaining in the EU. It should of course also be noted that the EU27 are not bound to reply immediately.

Ostensibly, the EU27 can not make that decision face to face until the provisional date of 28th October for a further summit. This could be overcome by a form of proxy discussion, through member state ambassadors to the EU.

Politicking for beneficial status on any issue by any individual member state can not be ruled out. In short, an extension can not be guaranteed, perhaps unless the conditions are merely technical. No reply before 28th October puts pressure back on the UK to agree the deal, or otherwise.

The British end of the process started with the first Saturday sitting on the House of Commons since 1982. There have been several delaying measures deployed since the first Brexit date of 29th March 2019.

It has been speculated that further delaying tactics might include amendments leading to a second referendum, People’s Vote or confirmatory vote, depending on political party. Logistically, given the time scale for this to happen, any such prospect is subject to extension by the EU, perhaps for several months. The EU27 may have no desire to subject themselves to such uncertainty for a prolonged period.

Some decisions over the WA have of course been approved, the European Council have agreed the WA and PD as it stands during their summit on 17th and 18th October. The decision is now for the UK parliament to agree or disagree with the current WA, scheduled to take place this week.

Further amendments may be laid. Whether the EU will agree to make any changes is subject to conjecture. Those who seek a further referendum may be thwarted, counter productively making “no deal” the most likely outcome. Beyond those projections, all other issues become matters of conjecture.

If there is no agreement beyond a technical extension, what happens next?

The Remain side of the argument have limited time to revoke Article 50, although it can be done. Those who hide behind a further referendum would be flushed into the open, are they false objections or is their aim really to revoke?

As already stated, the default position if the WA is not approved is currently “no deal”. If approved, what happens next?

The PD then comes into force, then decisions have been moved to the future. The provisional deadline for the end of a transition or implementation period is 31st December 2002, with provision for extension until 31st December 2022, potentially beyond. The next decision date becomes July 2020.

The range of possible outcomes becomes much wider. It may well be dependent of a future general election. Given that the current government is in a technical minority, there are decisions to be made by opposition parties. As has already been exhibited, the opposition can continue to keep a minority government in situ, alternatively, they are free to put themselves to the voters.

Current polls would suggest a Conservative majority. Potential electoral pacts confuse the issue more. Alliances between the Remain wing could lead to a murky coalition. Conversely, a Conservative alliance with the Brexit Party could lead to yet another outcome.

Whatever the rainbow of the House of Commons might present, then next July could lead to a delayed version of “deal or no deal”, to take effect from 31st December 2020. Alternatively, the can could be kicked to December 2022 or to infinity and beyond.

Even in the event of a fall back position of exercising GATT Article XXIV, the fresh back stop would become maintenance of existing arrangements for a  notional 10 years.

There are further considerations to add to uncertainty. Article 50, as already stated, provides for a process “ in accordance with its own constitutional requirements”. This is in keeping with international law, specifically the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Although the EU is not a state in its own right, many members of the EU are signatories, not least the UK.

In essence, the role of the government as the executive is recognised. For Parliament to make its own amendments and direct the executive as it has done cold be argued to be unlawful. Indeed, the Speaker, John Bercow’s, own behaviour could be argued to have been in contravention of precedent, therefore the constitution. Even a second, third and fourth extension of the WA could be argued to be unlawful, with question marks over the ECJ’s direction of considering ever closer union is ambiguous.

Domestically, as highlighted by the architect or proxy architect of the Benn Act highlighted a requirement under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act that any treaty should be laid before the House for 21 days before it can be ratified. Unless Parliament the measures to shorten the time scale, the deal would inevitably be ruled unlawful.

It may be reasonable to surmise that if the Boris deal is not to be agreed, with appropriate provisions made, then those who have tried to hinder “no deal” have in fact created one of the outcomes they sought to avoid, arguing against limited time when their bill was pushed through in more or less one day. A further referendum appears to be dependent on every single EU member state allowing a further extension of dubious lawfulness.

Whatever its imperfections, and there are many as would be agreed by all sides in the debate, the Boris WA becomes the only compromise solution that allows all parties to claim adherence to manifesto commitments.

Those in the House of Commons, possibly soon to be re-branded as the Tower of Babel, now appeal for extra time to debate what they have been debating since 23rd June 2016. They may well have been thwarted by the terms of extension as imposed by the EU. Finally, we seem set to decide between “leave with a deal”, “no deal”, Remain and GATT Article XXIV – perhaps.