Withdrawing from Galileo: Brexiteers acting as if we are being expelled from the EU

Why is it that some of the Brexiteers are acting with the stridency and anger that would be appropriate if the UK were being expelled from the EU? Is this a tacit recognition that what they have got is not, in fact, what they were asking for?

The latest example concerns the UK’s departure from the Galileo satelite navigation system.

Former Science Minister, David Willetts, was strident on the Today programme, which was picked up with predictable force by The Express. His point is that the UK has already contributed a great deal to this, both in terms of money and technological skill, and would be willing to pay for continued participation.

But there is a rub. Part of Galileo will deliver satellite navigation which is available generally, but part of it will include encrypted resources for military use. After Brexit (if it happens) the UK would be a “third nation”, outside the EU. It would be crazy to think that the EU would be willing to share its defence facilities with a “third nation”, except in the sense tat a nation might share some things with allies in NATO. To give away core defence capabilities would, and should, provoke the same horror and anxiety as if (say) the UK handed over its defence capabilities to the USA.

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Trump’s failed promises, and imperialist fantasies around Brexit

The news that Trump plans to use trade talks with the UK to force the NHS to pay more for drugs should surpise no-one. But the fact that people thought he would do anything else exposes the fantasy of Britain as an imperial power at the heart of the appeal of Brexit.

From Daily Express 14 November 2016

This week a story re-appeared about Trump wanting to force the NHS to pay more for drugs, as part of a possible trade deal between the UK and the US.

His argument seems to be that putting “America first” means stopping foreigners “freeloading”. The actual point is that the NHS (via NICE) operates as a single payer, and so has more muscle than the fragmented US system, where payments are made by individual health insurance companies.

That is in stark contrast with Nigel Farage’s attempts to claim that Trump would be a president who would take the UK “to the front of the queue”.

Farage being wrong is hardly news-worthy. But this calls to mind some perceptive comments in the first chapter of Nick Clegg’s How to stop Brexit, where he points up the string of things which have led to the imagination of Britain being an exception — not least the fantasy that we alone won the Second World War (which ignores the fact that we were in deep trouble until the Americans joined in). Continue reading “Trump’s failed promises, and imperialist fantasies around Brexit”

Rex Tillerson: a veiled attack on Trump, and a cultural problem

Speaking at the Virginia Military Academy commencement, former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson’s comments on truth have been heard as a not-so veiled criticism of Donald Trump’s questionable grip on truth and the corrosive effects of that on democracy. Tillerson is right, but he also highlights a very Western approach, which is becoming a big part of the problem.

Rex Tillerson, former US Secretary of State

Tillerson’s words

come across as wise and measured. He speaks of technology, of the need for truth, and for the protection of freedom of speech. He also speaks of globalisation and the changes it is bringing.

The crux of his comments on truth is the much-quoted phrase “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”. But that quote comes from St John’s gospel. It is both a statement on freedom, and something deeply rooted in the Christian heritage of the West.

Tillerson goes on to talk about “allies who share our values” and others. Inadvertently, he highlights one of the key anxieties of globalisation. Freedom and truth are good things. Christianity is also the bedrock of Western society. But, despite the West’s now-complex relationship with its Christian heritage, religion is part of a “double inscription”: on the one hand, it shapes the way we view the world, and our experience of the world shapes our religion. It is extremely hard to step outside this. Even Westerners who reject Christianity tend to get up in the Christianity they are rejecting (or its mirror image).

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Time for Labour to become an Opposition on Brexit

Substantial Labour gains in the local elections in 1995 were the first clear indication of the landslide that brought labour into overnment in 1997. The 2018 Local elections haven’t matched that, despite the mess the Tories are clearly in over Brexit. What’s going on?

Andrew Adonis, speaking at the Institute for Government

Comments since the Local Elections have highlighted the significance of Labour’s failure to make substantial gains on Thursday, which is particularly striking given the savaging that the EU Withdrawl Bill is getting in the upper house.

Lord Adonis (@Andrew_Adonis) captured it sharply in a tweet as the result was sinking in:

Labour’s big weakness, & why we did so poorly on Thursday, is being a Vacillation not an Opposition on Brexit. Oppositions never win power as handmaiden of the government’s big policy. If people really want Brexit & think it is/was a success, they will mostly vote Tory

While @tony_nog was even sharper, writing on Election day:

So….will probably regret saying this….
But if Labour don’t make significant gains tonight, they’re are never going to make gains anywhere, ever, under the current leadership & #Brexit stance

Why vote for #brexit lite if Tories are offering full fat over the cliff Brexit?

I have speculated that Labour might be in a careful shift on Brexit, which could enable them to come round and bring at least some of their Leave-voting supporters with them. It’s worth hoping.

But Adonis has a point. The nature of Tory support has been changing for several decades, at least since the cultural shift when Margaret Thatcher succeeded Edward Heath. When the phrase “Basildon man” was coined, it caught a sense of traditional Labour voters switching to the Tories because Thatcherism was speaking to their aspirations. They were voting Tory out of a sense of where they wanted to be, where voting Labour would have reflected where they were.

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Plastics pledge: another reason for the single market

At the end of April, the leading UK supermarkets signed up to the Plastics Pledge, which aims to have all plastic packaging capable of being re-used, recycled or composed by 2025. In itself this is good, but it also gives a snapshot of the value of the Single Market, and the other side of those maligned “regulations”

Few people can be unaware of the growing publicity around plastic in the environment. It‘s great that our plastic bags and or drink bottles don‘t fall apart on us, but not at all great when the same plastic harms wildlife in the sea or in landfill — pictures of the stomachs of dead sea birds clogged with plastic should ring alarm bells, but plastic broken into tiny pieces is a serious problem, and much harder to address.

Addressing this is problematic. For an individual supermarket chain to act means they risk pushing up their costs. It is possible to offset that by appealing to the increasing numbers of environmentally-conscious consumers, but it is still a risk.

Greenpeace’s Plastics Pledge is a good idea. Tesco, Sainsbury‘s, Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl and Waitrose, are all supporting it: working together means that none of them lose ground to their competitors over this.

But there would be a strong case for legislation over this, so no business has a competitive advantage from ruining the environment in this way. The problem is that, if the British government acts alone over this, it risks putting British business at a disadvantage. In effect, this is the same problem as for an individual business, but pushed up a level.

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Are Liberal Democrats getting the messaging wrong over Brexit?

Recently, an active and experienced Liberal Democrat campaigner challenged me over the party’s messaging on Brexit. He suggested that this was coming across as confused. My first instinct was to defend what we have been doing, but on reflection, I think he has a point. The aim of this article is to ask the question a little more widely.

Liberal Democrats: proudly European

From the inside

My impression is that the Liberal Democrat parliamentarians and media office have been doing an outstanding job in trying to hold the government to account in the mess over Brexit, and of making people aware of this. I was in the debate at Conference which affirmed the Liberal Democrat policy of seeking a referendum on the deal, and can see the wisdom of this, but can also see that it can need explaining — which is a hostage to fortune.

From the outside

But, I’ve had people on street stalls ask me what our position is before signing a petition for a people’s vote on the final deal. I’ve had people read that text and still want to check that this means they are signing something against Brexit. That comes across as a measure of the anxiety and paralysis Brexit is inducing.

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Getting it wrong over the Skripal assassination attempt

The attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal has sparked outrage, but are we in danger of responding in a way that actually does what Putin wants, the British Government needs, and helps no-one?

Sergei Skripal

The bare facts of the story seem straightforward. Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia were found seriously ill in Salisbury on 4 March 2018, suffering from the effects of a nerve agent Novochok, known to be made in Russia. Skripal is a former spy, in the UK after a spy swap. The strong implication is that Russia has a motive to seek his death, and used means closely linked to them (which looks as if they were not trying to hide their tracks).

The ensuing controversy has seen the death linked to Russia, with the implication that there is confidential intelligence information to support this assertion. There are parallels with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. For its part, Russia denies the claims and has taken the issue first to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN Security Council.

The storm has seen over 100 Russian diplomats expelled across the world, and the UK shift from adversarial language towards the EU to seeking help in a diplomatic response.

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Brexit on the streets in Bishop’s Stortford

On 31 March, as part of the Liberal Democrats’ national Europe Day of Action, Hertford and Stortford Liberal Democrats were out in the market place in Bishop’s Stortford.

This was mainly about talking with people about Brexit and hearing their concerns — though we also collected 136 signatures on a petition for a referendum on the final deal.

At a principled level, it’s essential to talk with people who voted Leave if there is to be a realistic prospect both of reversing Brexit and healing the divisions this saga has exposed.

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Was Corbyn right to sack Owen Smith, after he advocated a referendum on the final terms of a Brexit deal?

One answer is horror: there’s a compelling case for asking the British public whether the Brexit that is negotiated is what they actually want — not least because the dishonest and contradictory messages from the Leave campaign mean that many who voted Leave will find a large gap between the deal that is offered and what they thought they had voted for.

Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith: rivals in Labour’s 2016 leadership election

But an Exit From Brexit means healing the deep divisions that it has exposed, not just a narrow vote the other way in a referendum. That means bringing across many of those who voted Leave, and engaging with why they voted that way. Many voted Leave out of fear, and they still have reason to be afraid. That is particularly the case in the Labour heartlands.

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Not dead yet: the Good Friday Agreement

Recently, various pro-Brexit voices have been claiming that the Good Friday Agreement is dead. There is certainly a big danger of it being a casualty of Brexit, but it is certainly not something to be sacrificed. Instead, it’s worth thinking about why it is under strain — in order to save it.

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness, former adversaries working together after Good Friday Agreement

The Good Friday Agreement, signed on 10 April 1998, was a remarkable achievement. After an extended peace process, which had built up sufficient trust to make a breakthrough possible, it finally brought a way to share power between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, ending decades of armed conflict.

The problem was, and is, that there is legitimacy in the claims and the stories on both sides. Finding a route to the point when both communities can co-exist peacefully is the sanest way to peace. My reading of the story is that the fundamental change that made this possible was that the UK and Eire had both been in the EU for long enough for people to get used to it.

It is possible for communities to co-exist on a day-to-day basis, but the fundamental question which is hard to fudge is “on which side will you be if there is a war?” In other words, “Will you fight for Dublin or for London?”. Peace is possible when there has been enough peace and stability for long enough to mean that question is not at the back of people’s minds.

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