Oompah oompah …. Juncker

As Theresa May has finally triggered Article 50, Juncker and other key EU personnel have made their thoughts known. Are they worth listening to?

He is quoted in various media outlets as saying: “Britain’s example will make everyone realise that it’s not worth leaving … On the contrary, the remaining member states will fall in love with each other again and renew their vows with the European Union…. Half memberships and cherry-picking aren’t possible. In Europe you eat what’s on the table or you don’t sit at the table.”

His remarks are widely interpreted as intending to punish Britain for daring to leave.

On the other hand, one of his fellow EU presidents, Donald Tusk started off by taking a different approach, saying: “Therefore we must to do everything we can to make the process of divorce the least painful for the EU”. He has since apparently retrenched into the Juncker bunker.

To add fuel to the fire, one of the EU’s chief negotiators, Michel Barnier is also reported as suggesting “complete uncertainty about their rights and their future, the reintroduction of binding customs controls on trade from day one of the UK’s withdrawal, which will inevitably slow down trade and lead to queues of trucks at Dover, serious disruption to air traffic”. He has also suggested that negotiations on substance will not start until Britain meets a “divorce bill” of around £50billion.

Juncker may for a moment wish to remove his blinkers. There has been a lot of falling out in the EU already. Greece has already fallen foul of austerity measures as a result of a system that favours the industrial North as compared to the Mediterranean fringes.

Elections, both in the Netherlands and France have already highlighted a groundswell of unrest among European peoples.

It should not be forgotten what the European Union really is. It is a collection of 27 member states with a nominal parliament. The parliament can not actually put forward legislative programmes. It is the unelected EU Commission that does.

Some states have benefitted, notably Germany whose manufacturing output is effectively underpriced by being part of a euro currency zone comprised of underperforming nations. Estimates suggest that German goods are 15% cheaper in international markets than they would be had Germany not aligned itself in system of stagnant and uncompetitive economies.

Juncker may suffer from disillusionment that the rest of the EU, suffering through austerity, will fall back in love with the supranational body that has caused individual nations’ citizens to suffer considerably.

When it comes to diet, we can sit at our own table. Nowhere else in Europe seems to have a penchant such a hearty start to the day as a full British breakfast. Our table might just be better stocked.

As for Barnier, what he seems to be suggesting is of questionable legality and certainly not in keeping with the EU international treaty obligations agreed in Lisbon, specifically Article 8 which reads:

“The Union shall develop a special relationship with neighbouring countries, aiming to establish an area of prosperity and good neighbourliness, founded on the values of the Union and characterised by close and peaceful relations based on cooperation”.

Is Barnier really suggesting that the EU can not be trusted to keep its own word? Can the EU be trusted in any other international negotiations such as CETA and TTIP?

It is also worth reflecting on the “worst case scenario”, that of falling back on WTO rules. This is a phrase which can be used with different emphasis. In practice, Theresa May has suggested that no deal is better than a bad deal for Britain. It is the “worst case scenario” in international law, not the worst case in the worst of all possible worlds.

For the EU, firstly, to place artificial border controls might be interpreted as a possible breach of those WTO rules. Secondly, this would reveal the true nature of the EU as a protectionist, inward looking and totalitarian regime.

There is a third element too. In order to cause queues at Dover, then the nations who host cross channel arrivals, specifically France and Belgium, would have to be complicit in those breaches of international law. If speaking figuratively, then the same applies to other countries with sea ports such as Spain and the Netherlands. Each individual country would have to authorise illegal acts in international law.

As for the airport threat, this covers every country in the EU. With competition in international markets for inward investment, any artificial barriers to trade will hardly be encouraging to those companies who seek as a basic minimum the rule of law as a criterion for investment. Add to that the £50billion or so that British tourists spend in the EU. Who will go on a holiday where planes might not even land?

Barnier seems to implicitly accept that by putting up such artificial barriers, stating the authority of the EU is akin to accepting that Rotterdam may be a sacrificial lamb. Britain’s exports, 56% are outside the EU, might no longer be routed via the Netherlands.

If the EU wants to start a trade war, then so be it. The EU can demonstrate to the world what an unreliable partner it can be. EU citizens, all of who live in democracies, can express their own discontent when British people decide to drink wine from Australia or the American continent in preference to French, Spanish or Italian varieties.

This brings us back to other political considerations. Theresa May has already hinted that it has been Frau Merkel who has delayed discussion on reciprocal residential rights. There are further suggestions that it is Frau Merkel who has been holding out for the “divorce settlement”. Remember that she is the leader of a country that persistently fails to meet its financial obligations to treaty commitments such as NATO.

On the settlement, there are still several issues to be discussed. We do not know how the £50billion figure was arrived at. As a top three contributor to EU funds over the years, the UK has been a significant investor.

Yes, there may be a claim for pension entitlements but let us not forget that the contracts for the likes of Lords Mandelson, Kinnock and Hill have been contracted to the EU, not to the UK. The EU might just be highlighting their own irresponsibility in not funding pension obligations.

There may also be scope for counter claims, notably returns on our input into the European Investment Bank where the clue is in the word Investment. The initial input should be refunded plus any return. If there is no return, then the EU shows itself up once again as incompetent.

There are also returns to investments in science and intellectual property which is held by the EU. Has the EU wasted funds or are we due a return?

There is also the matter of our investment in the institutions of the EU. Perhaps we should expect a few floors of the EU buildings which we can convert into flats, hotels and retail premises in the heart of Europe? We could make a profit out of EU officials and MEPs’ expenses.

Can we even trust the EU figures? It will not have escaped the attention of anyone that EU accounts have not been signed off for decades. Financial accuracy, prudence and diligence are not EU traits.

Let us also suppose for a moment that the media are correct in assuming that Merkel is behind the threatened impasse. If the rest of the EU were to suffer from reciprocal barriers to trade, the rest of the EU would surely become aware. Merkel would face the prospect of being regarded across Europe as a worthy successor to Kaiser Wilhelm II and his Germany’s pariah in the 1930s-40s.

Thankfully, the Germany of today is a strong democratic nation, aware of its industrial strength and with an electorate that can remove Merkel herself.

The German people will be aware that Germany’s biggest trade surplus in 2016 was with the UK. German output is higher value than French cheese or wine. Around 80% of UK car purchases support hundreds of thousands of jobs in the German car and components industries.

There is an alternative route. The EU can respect the people rather than the German autocrat and Brussels bureaucrats. Whether or not Merkel is removed in her forthcoming election, people still need jobs, whether Polish shoemakers, Mediterranean farmers, vintners and cheese makers, car workers from VW, BMW, Mercedes, Dacia and Skoda.

There is a constructive way forward as proposed by Theresa May.

Europe’s citizens deserve better than the so called leaders. They have the opportunity to direct their politicians to stick it up their Juncker. Barnier can and should be persuaded by the Council of Ministers to put the interests of EU citizens and economies before self preservation of a EU Commission. The ivory tower is no place for a Tusk!

Come on EU, Tusk was right first time. Make the process painless. You have a vibrant market and a gateway to the world on your doorstep. Listen to Theresa. If you want to prosper with us, you just May.

Why the Lords must be overturned

The House of Lords has sent back the Article 50 bill with two amendments. The first concerns the rights of EU citizens. The second was to give parliament a “meaningful say” in any deal that might be reached. The proposed amendments can be seen here.

The first of those amendments gives the government 3 months to bring forward proposals with regard to protecting both EU and EEA citizens resident in the UK.

Interpretations have suggested that if passed, this amendment automatically guarantees those rights. In practice, any such proposals might be dismissed. There are certainly grounds for further debate on those far those rights may extend.

If the amendment is seen to be binding, then opponents may argue that the government’s hands are tied in any negotiations. Effectively, a unilateral pledge is made to the EU with no reciprocal arrangement being guaranteed to British citizens resident elsewhere among the remaining 27 countries.

In practice, Theresa May has commented in parliament that most leaders within the member states support reciprocal rights with a handful of nations holding out until Article 50 has been enacted in a statement of intent to leave the EU. Informed sources suggest that central to this stance is Frau Merkel.

Most EU states have a vested interest in British citizens continuing to live in their countries. Take, for example, Spain and France, retirement locations where local communities survive through accommodating well pensioned retirees. There are of course associated tourism benefits.

Frau Merkel faces her own elections this year. It would be a strange argument to have accepted refugees but to deport people from a rich and high growing economy that provides inward investment, not least with the trading partner that gives Germany its biggest trade surplus (Statistisches Bundesamt (Destatis), 2017).

In practice, it is highly probable that EU members will choose to reciprocate. Few political figures in the last century have sought to displace long term residents, from outside their countries. Stalin, Hitler and Idi Amin spring to mind, none of who were bound by EHCR.

There is of course a perverse situation that could theoretically arise. Should a future British government decide to erode the rights of British citizens, with the wording of the amendment, EU residents could maintain a higher level of rights in perpetuity.

The second amendment is potentially much more debilitating to negotiations. During the Lords debate, it was recognised by those on both sides that the wording is “defective”.

When launching the white paper in January this year, the government committed to inform parliament as negotiations progress. There already exists a mechanism for the ratification of treaties, namely the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. Both elements effectively make the amendment unnecessary, unless of course there is a more sinister motive.

What the amendment provides is for the approval of BOTH houses of parliament, that is to say the Commons AND the Lords. Moreover, the approval of BOTH houses is required should no deal be agreed and the decision is made to leave the EU anyway.

This is deeply flawed in many ways. It has already been argued in many spheres that the unelected Lords are granted an effective veto over any terms negotiated.

Consider for a moment who voted for this amendment. It was proposed by Lord Pannick, defender of BHS tycoon/typhoon Philip Green and supported by the Liberals, who gained 8% of the vote in 2015. Similarly, the Labour peers whose party attracted 30% of the vote, fell in line. Many of these, appointed by Tony Blair, also draw EU pensions, including the likes of Kinnock, Mandelson and Lord Harrison (former MEP) who described the majority of the referendum electorate “blind Brexiteers” and the Commonwealth a “corner shop”.

A significant handful of Conservatives also fell in with the Liberal amendment, as with some of the cross-benchers, not to mention abstentions. Among these, a significant proportion have families who derive income from the current arrangement with the EU, either in CAP payments or pensions from service in Bruxelles.

If successful in gaining the final say, what are the implications should they continue to thwart the will of the people? Perhaps we could take a clue from those Lords such as Ashdown, Pannick and Heseltine, that the ultimate goal is to maintain membership of the EU.

Scenario 1 is simple, the Lords agree with any deal that the government might negotiate, therefore no problem. With the Lords as currently constituted, the probability of this happening may be low, especially if the EU negotiators see a chink in our armour and insist on a bad deal for Britain.

Scenario 2a is therefore that the government negotiates what they perceive to be a satisfactory deal, 2b is that terms can not be agreed so that we revert to no deal and fall back on WTO rules. The Lords can veto either situation, based on current wording.

Article 50 provides the possibility of an extension to negotiations, with the proviso that all 28 nations agree. Again, there is a further range of scenarios.

Scenario A is that an extension is agreed. Scenario B is that Britain reapplies to remain a member of the EU. From a position of weakness, the terms of membership may be even worse than before. This would take us to 2020, when under the terms of the Fixed term Parliament Act, a general election will take place.

Scenario C is that if any of the 28 says no to an extension the EU is in a position to insist that Britain has to fall back on WTO rules anyway. The Lords then has a veto on an impossible decision, rendering itself totally without credibility. Luxemburg, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Greece or Wallonia each has more power over our future than does Parliament.

The most likely outcome is no deal, on the basis that somewhere along the line the EU will be in parallel negotiations over budget with 27 nations. As Theresa may quite rightly says “no deal is better than a bad deal for Britain”.

The net effect of the Lords’ amendment could be to put the country in limbo, at the mercy of others. The Remainer lords will have created the uncertainty that we were told to fear during the referendum campaign. The 300 or so peers must not be allowed to win.

 

Ultimately, the solution would rest with the outcome of the 2020 general election. The Labour party would have to decide between the Remainer rump or to heed the will of the people. The Liberals would have to hope that the people accept EU membership on worse terms than before and prefer the wrecking amendments of their lords.

As for the Conservatives, before the referendum, the majority of the parliamentary party were ostensibly Remainers. Now, the majority ostensibly support the will of the people. They will all have to retire or face the judgement of the country based in the position they take up at the conclusion of Article 50 talks.

There are of course other possibilities. Other leaders or even parties may emerge, just as UKIP once did and Sir James Goldsmith did with the Referendum Party.

After experiencing the chaos potentially caused by this Lords amendment, constitutional reform, i.e. abolition of a totally unelected second chamber (with the exception of hereditary peers who choose between themselves) would certainly be a vote winner.

Any such alternative party would also need a coherent strategy towards EU relations, unless Luxemburg, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Greece or Wallonia has already taken the matter out of our hands in 2019.

Either consciously or inadvertently, the House of Lords has created the potential for chaos and fundamentally weakened the country. MPs can oppose the amendment. With a majority of 14, it only needs 8 Conservatives to switch sides to carry it. Kenneth Clarke has already ignored one whip. The country then becomes dependent on other MPs with a conscience.

The early part of the week commencing 12th March sees the bill return to the Commons. MPs can still be lobbied. Who should prevail, the unelected House of Lords or the will of the people as expressed in a referendum? There is still time to have your say and contact your MP.

Final say – House of Burkes

The Lords met again to debate the Article 50 bill. The day was dominated by two Liberal Democrat amendments. The scene was set for entertainment and drama. The ultimate decision would be if the people or parliament should have the final say.

One amendment passed, one failed. Elsewhere, it was fun to see different perspectives of democracy from self-proclaimed democrats, particularly the Liberals who have been in the losing side in 2 referenda in around 5 years.

The first of those amendments was introduced was on providing a second referendum, this time on the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations. The second was on giving Parliament a meaningful say in approving any deal.

Lord Newby hesitantly introduced what was technically Amendment 3. Much of the debate wandered into whether the decision made by the people on 23rd June last year. Apparently, all referenda are advisory if they produce the result that any given Lord may prefer. David Cameron’s assertions, backed by his government’s propaganda, told the public something else.

Support for a second referendum came from all around the house. There were different perspectives, however. Those against the amendment were keen to highlight that the first referendum was in 1975. The second had already taken place last year.

Supporting the amendment, a number of speakers were keen to point out that such matters are “too complicated for the people”. It is always an education listening to the Lords to be reminded of the words and philosophies of Edmund Burke.

Those Lords who had been in the ‘other place’ during their careers were keen to regale us with their experience as well as why they are “representatives” rather than “delegates”.

It may surprise those sitting on the red benches that democracy has moved on somewhat since 1774. During the 19th century, more men were given the vote, even if they did not own property. By the time we got to the 20th century, even women got in on the act. Education is now open to all. We even have referenda nowadays.

In the event, Amendment 3 was defeated before Lord Pannick took to the stage over Amendment 1, allegedly ensuring that Parliament has the final say. Pannick will be remembered as the smart lawyer who took part in the legal challenge over the Article 50 process.

It was revealing that both sides of the debate agreed that the wording of Amendment 1 is slightly less than perfect. Lord Lawson highlighted this admirably, pointing out Pannick’s legal skills. Loose wording, so it would seem, presents a two year ticking time bomb.

A fellow Conservative, Lord Hogg, was among those prepared to dismiss slack wording in order to establish a principle. This is the same Hogg whose expenses claims, apparently including moat cleaning and piano tuning, gained such notoriety. Hogg did not declare his interest in CAP subsidies. On the same day, his daughter Charlotte faced calls to resign her position as Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, over her failure to disclose a potential conflict of interests.

In the meantime, the veteran swashbuckler, Lord Heseltine, declared his intent to rebel with the phrase “the fight back starts here”. He is another who benefits from CAP. Later in the evening, he was lose his five jobs advising the government. Perhaps he will need to up his Lords’ attendance record from 2.7%.

It is always fun to listen to those former Honourable and Right Honourable members of the Commons whilst researching their expenses history in the other house. Among those was Baroness McIntosh who famously claimed for Jayes Fluid twice in a week from a shop which is a four hour round drive from her former constituency home, yet close to her own private properties.

Had she really not made up her mind? Baroness McIntosh is still due an EU pension from her time spent as an MEP. Her previous significant rebellion as an MP was against expenses reform in 2008.

Another trend to delight the audience is Lord Ashdown’s increasing tendency to vehemently defend what start of as “misquotes”. When read to him verbatim, he embarks on debate ranging beyond the amendment. During his time as a Royal Marine, Ashdown will have learned of the benefits of a smoke screen.

At times, the drama turned to pantomime, notably with the contribution from Lord Pearson, one of three UKIP Lords. Outnumbered 34:1 by Liberal peers, it might have been unsurprising to hear the calls of “oh no we don’t”. Perhaps he should have advocated proportional representation in the Lords, given that his party secured over 50% more votes than the Liberals?

Given the nobility presented on the day, there was one notably chivalrous moment. Baroness Deech expressed a mistrust of the remaining 27 EU nations. When challenged, she gave supporting evidence of what she had read in the papers.

In the face of being metaphorically slapped down, up stepped Lord Lamont to provide concrete quotes from key EU negotiators and politicians from the 27. his gallantry calmed the house.

Other highlights, surprisingly to some, came from the clergy. The Archbishop of Canterbury sought to reduce division. Once again, The Archbishop of York is developing a habit of appealing to common sense and explaining the existing constitutional safeguards that made the amendment unnecessary.

The summaries made perfect sense.  Some Lords do not trust the government or the people to make the right decisions. Some Lords do not trust the 27 EU states. Some seek to create a legal quagmire which will keep their practices in gainful employment whilst others will seek to use procedure to get their own way, whether the people like it or not.

The Lords decided that no further referendum was required but BOTH Houses should have the final say on approving a deal – if there is one.

Ultimately, the elected representatives in the Commons will decide. Those who go against the will of the people will have to seek re-election. If they fail, they can always be elevated to the House of Lords.

Rights of EU citizens after Brexit (HoL debate)

The House of Lords has entered the second day of the second reading of the Article 50 debate. There have been some fascinating contributions, some expected, some unexpected. One in particular stood out.

It has been an interesting week for the House of Lords, starting with Monday’s BBC documentary Meet the Lords. There have been suggestions in the media, allegedly emanating from sources close to the Prime Minister, that should the Lords seek to delay invocation of Article 50, reform of the upper chamber will inevitably follow.

Debate on Wednesday afternoon centred on what is technically called Amendment 9b. The decision of the Lords is whether the Commons should be demanded to provide a guarantee for the rights of EU nationals currently resident in the UK.

The “noble lords” who support the amendment certainly have a noble case. Central to that is that people should not be used as bargaining chips as the UK seeks to reach a deal with the EU. We should end the uncertainty for existing EU residents.

There are some very practical considerations too. Many British businesses employ nationals from elsewhere the EU. In particular, the NHS is dependent on doctors from the EU and indeed elsewhere in the world. Wholesale change within a short time period would contribute to uncertainty in the provision of services.

It is certainly right that those who have  contributed to Britain’s economy and welfare are respected and reassured.

A range of debate from the other side was presented. Among those, the headline grabber was Lord Tebbit who controversially referred to why the debate was about protecting the rights of “foreigners” when perhaps A British government should support the rights of British citizens resident in the EU.

One of those is Lord Lawson, currently living in France but returning to contribute to this debate. He guided listeners to the words of the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu. The latter was arguably the star of the day.

In summary, the Archbishop started by telling us that he voted Remain. He moved to Britain in 1974 when Idi Amin kicked out Ugandan Asians. Sentamu himself opposed Amin’s behaviour, hence his arrival here.

He presented the historical context of section 9 of the Magna Carta as a basis for British law; no person would be excluded except by the law of the land.

Sentamu proceeded to give yet more context. Article 50 is the start of the Brexit, therefore the negotiation, process. An intervention challenging the “moral high ground” gave him the opportunity to develop further.

In practice, any decision to remove the rights of EU nationals would require further legislation. In the event of a decision to remove those rights, such legislation would have to be presented to Parliament, both the Commons and the Lords. It is unlikely, perhaps inconceivable, that such a bill would succeed. No British government should ever sink to the levels of Idi Amin.

Sentamu’s contribution was powerful in many ways. Even those of us who are convinced atheists have to recognise the simplicity, the clarity and the democratic process encompassed in his arguments, even if we supported the rationale behind the amendment.

What Sentamu has also done, probably inadvertently, is to provide a case for the inclusion of clergy in any reformed House of Lords. His was a voice of reason.

As for the debate, those who have been resident for more than 5 years have the right to permanent residency. Article 8 under European Court of Human Rights those with family here also have rights.

The accompanying Article 50 white paper confirms that it is the government’s intention to secure the rights of both EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals resident elsewhere in the EU.

In the event, the amendment was approved by 358 to 256, a total of 614 Lords (perhaps more) have claimed their £300 attendance allowance and expenses. There were 2 more unelected Lords than elected MPs who had voted in the Commons process.

The elected house will be justified in overturning the Lords’ vote. British law already provides protections for EU nationals living here. The EU may seek to deny reciprocal rights. If they are to seek to deny British nationals abroad those same rights, then we can be delighted to have voted in a referendum not to be a part of a totalitarian EU that seeks to emulate Idi Amin.

As the process continues, we can thank God, if he or she exists, for the guidance of those such as the Archbishop of York.