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”

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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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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False allegations against Jeremy Corbyn: chaos as things shift on Brexit

On 26 February, Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech saying that Labour favoured remaining in customs union with the EU. The week leading up to that was dominated by said an absurd, untrue, and ultimately retracted, allegation that he had spied for Czechoslovakia. It seems like a testing of absurdity on the way to a wise position on Europe.

In the foreground was the media storm which ended with Jeremy Corbyn winning an apology and payout from Tory MP Ben Bradley over his “Wholly untrue communist spy tweet”.

Andrew Neil’s brilliant interview with Steve Baker MP, demonstrates the ridiculousness of the allegations.

This is so absurd that the question it raises is “Why on earth did anyone believe it?”

In the middle of the storm, one comment caught my ear — Jeremy Corbyn saying that he had spoken with Czech diplomats because he wanted to hear both sides in the Cold War. An individual backbench MP won’t have had a huge effect, but advocating peace rather than war, and talking with the other side rather than demonising them, sounds like the conduct of a wise statesman.

So, why has this story blown up now? There is a political answer, and a below-the-surface one.

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On the streets in Ware with East Herts for Europe

I was out today with a group of people from East Herts for Europe in Ware. In among the leafleting and gathering 161 signatures on a petition for referendum on the terms of Brexit (once the government actually works out what those are, and actually manages some meaninful negotiations). There were some fascinating conversations.

Some of the people from East Herts for Europe out on the streets of Ware on 24 February 2018

In the referendum campaign, I was focussed on Cambridge, but friends in Hertford and Stortford talk of street stalls getting significant opposition. The case for Europe was worth making and clearly needed to be made. The constituency was the closest in the country to 50:50.

Now the feel is different. It’s unwise to draw any conclusions from those who didn’t want to stop and talk, but conversations today were rich. Some shed light on people’s real worries over Brexit, and others on their attachment to it.

Messages of support for Remain

There were people who stopped to thank us for being visible. There were stories of people feeling gutted by the result and of people from elsewhere in the EU feeling unwelcome since the referendum.

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A snapshot of the chaos of Brexit

A few months after the referendum I gave a conference paper where I suggested that Europe has been so important to the UK for so long that the referendum and its result had had a profound effect on the British political system, leaving it struggling to cope. The week of the World Economic Forum gathering in Davos has provided a striking example of this.

The systemic problem

In the background of that paper was the thought that stable systems need some form of containment. That applies at lots of levels, from a small child feeling safe in the containment of its mother’s arms, through to people feeling an anxiety over immigration feeling the need for a country’s borders to be enforced to make them feel safe. Containment is particularly important when people feel vulnerable. It can be about actual physical needs, but is much more about managing anxiety. Some of this will seem irrational, but it makes sense if it is thought of as managing anxieties that are hard to express. Immigration is a good example because the economic evidence that it helps the economy, boosts living standards and doesn’t cost people their jobs doesn’t communicate at the same level as the raw emotional fears in people for whom life is uncomfortably fragile.
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