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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

A humbling must come to pass

It is rarely that I agree so strongly with a fervent supporter of the European Union. Nesrine Malik of the Guardian argues that “the Brexit reckoning must happen” on the grounds that

A humbling must come to pass. From the beginning, Brexit created its own momentum. Once the question was asked – in or out? – all the grievances, justified or not, could be projected on it, with “in” being widely seen as a vote for the status quo. Within this frame, nothing else matters – not economic predictions, not warnings about medicines running out, nor threats of the need to stockpile foods. The remain campaign could not have done anything differently: it lost the moment the question was asked.

And so, maybe, in the end, we will finally believe that immigration is necessary for an economy and an NHS to function, that the inequality between the south-east and the rest of Britain is unsustainable, that our political class is over-pedigreed and under-principled. We might even believe that other crises, such as climate change, are real, too.

Maybe, in the end, the country outside Europe will find its stride by confronting its issues rather than blaming them on others, and forging its own way. But there is only one way to find out. What a shame Brexit is that path – but better to have a path than none at all.

She is right about our political class being over-pedigreed and under-principled, right that unless Brexit happens the country will be torn apart by claim and counter-claim as to what would have happened, and right that a humbling must come to pass. Let us go forward together and find out whose.

A question for the seven MPs who have quit Labour

Those people who voted for you a couple of years ago thought they were electing Labour MPs. Given that things have turned out differently, and that your opposition to Brexit was a major motivation for your departure, should not each of you be confirming that you still have the people’s mandate by submitting to a People’s Vote, sorry, by-election?

The response demonstrates why it needed to happen

The launch of Turning Point UK felt to me like an important moment.

Douglas Murray agrees:

Earlier this week I made the usual mistake of looking at Twitter and saw that ‘Turning Point’ was trending. This is unusual in Britain. Turning Point is a very successful organisation set up in the US to counter the dominance of left-wing views on campus. It turned out to be trending because of the launch of Turning Point UK this week. In essence the response to the launch of Turning Point demonstrated the need to launch Turning Point in the UK.

This is also how I now feel about the Brexit vote. The response to that also explains why it needed to happen.

Samizdata quote of the day

O Lord our God arise

Scatter her enemies

And make them fall

Confound their politics

Frustrate their knavish tricks

On Thee our hopes we fix

God save us all

– the little-used second verse of the National Anthem, quoted in a 2015 Independent article entitled “God Save the Queen lyrics: The troubling words of the National Anthem that are being ignored”.

To be clear, this is not the verse dating from 1745 containing the line “Rebellious Scots to crush”. That was never official anyway. I just thought the lines about politics and knavish tricks somehow seemed appropriate to our current situation.

Who are you trying to fool?

On July 29th 2004 John Kerry accepted the Democratic nomination with the words, “I’m John Kerry and I’m reporting for duty.” Then he gave a little salute.

Odd, even for Americans, who I know from The Brady Bunch sometimes call their own fathers “sir”. By Kerry’s own account he had committed atrocities during his naval service in Vietnam. His view of the US Navy was such that on April 23 1971, as part of an anti-war protest by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, he had thrown his medals – or possibly just the ribbons – over the fence in front of the US Capitol.

Never mind whether the claims by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were fair or not, the metamorphosis of medal-throwing Kerry to reporting-for-duty Kerry would have been a propaganda own goal even if that group had never existed. Because who on Earth did he think he was appealing to with the salute? As I said in 2006, “What a low opinion of Republicans Democrats must have if they thought that throwing them this little crumb would be enough to gain their votes. Look, he’s a soldier. You like soldiers.”

The Brexit saga has had its own little “reporting for duty” moment over the last week. Gina Miller (remember her?), the Labour peer Helena Kennedy, and the Conservative peer Maurice Saatchi (remember him?) launched yet another anti-Brexit campaign, “Lead not Leave”, billing it as a form of Remain that Leavers could get behind.

It did not go well. Within hours tweets were flying about saying things like,

Christ alive! Just had a glance at Lord Saatchi’s draft Bill for @thatginamiller’s Lead not Leave campaign. Reading this, I can only assume it’s a plot by someone with an obsessive hatred of Germany to guarantee that the UK leaves the EU. Have a look. Dreadful bullshit. 1/

That series of tweets by Steve Bullock @GuitarMoog described a speech in the House of Lords by Lord Saatchi that has now been deleted from the “Lead Not Leave” website. Here it is. Among other things it said that the UK should demand as a condition of it consenting to remain in the EU that the UK should have equal votes in the EU to Germany, despite having a smaller population. The little matter of gaining the agreement of the EU to this drastic and morally unjustified change was not covered. Why should the Germans put up with the UK suddenly deciding they should be put back on probation, as if World War II happened last year rather than a lifetime ago?

And what an insult to Leave voters to assume that all that was needed to get them on side was to insult the Germans. You don’t like Germans. Here’s some anti-German stuff. Now get with the program.

Borders and Brexit

Here is a good, succinct demolition of the argument that if the UK leaves the European Union on World Trade Organisation-based terms, rather by some “Brexit-in-name-only” fiasco, there will need to be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. From the very start, I have suspected this issue was being exaggerated considerably by those trying to derail UK independence from the European Union, and the detail here proves it.

This is all contextual: where there are amicable relations, technology, goodwill and a certain degree of co-operation, it means border posts and the rest are not needed, or not used all the time. A case in point is Switzerland: it has access, via scores of bilateral treaties, to Europe’s Single Market, but also has the freedom to do its own trade deals with nations far beyond Europe. When I have driven from France to Switzerland, or over to Germany, there were no border controls I was aware of. Switzerland is in the Schengen Agreement area, which removes the need for passports. Now there’s no theoretical reason why the UK could not also come to a specific agreement on such a basis with Ireland (although it might still reserve the right to require passports to be produced where necessary).

Sometimes situations can change: a few years ago, after the 2015 November mass murders in Paris, border controls were enforced on the Swiss-French border. Also, there are customs checks but these don’t all require “stop at the border and let a bloke search the truck” sort of process. This Q&A guide is an example of what happens.

Now, this being a classical liberal/libertarian blog, some people are going to complain that there are any kind of borders, requirements of passports, period. As a minarchist (minimal state, not anarchist) I take the view that one cannot have a jurisdiction of law without knowing what the boundaries of that legal network are, and so there is a border, even if only expressed as a squiggly line on a map, rather than a wall, fence or something more technically snazzy. England has its Common Law, while the continent has a Civil Code (Napoleon and the Roman legal heritage) and there is therefore a boundary between them, even though in many ways mutual recognition/equivalence agreements can and do take quite a lot of the friction out of where these codes come into contact. (There are some parts of the world with both legal traditions at the same time (such as Malta, which was once run by the French before the Brits kicked the buggers out). And these boundaries may also require people to prove where they reside as citizens, if only to know that they cannot run away from certain legal agreements they have entered into by fleeing to another jurisdiction.

The game goes on

Earlier this afternoon Guido posted a list of the amendments* to be voted on in Parliament this evening:

(a) Jeremy Corbyn – calls on the PM to rule out no deal while, predictably, keeping all options on the table

(o) Ian Blackford – notes that the SNP don’t like Brexit, calls for no deal to be ruled out and Article 50 extended

(g) Dominic Grieve – suspends normal Parliamentary procedure on six dates in February and March allowing MPs to hijack Brexit

(b) Yvette Cooper – suspends normal Parliamentary procedure on 5th February to allow MPs to bring a Brexit-blocking Bill in

(j) Rachel Reeves – calls on the PM to seek an extension to Article 50

(i) Caroline Spelman – notes that Parliament rejects leaving without a deal

(n) Graham Brady – calls for the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border

As Guido said,

However, of all the amendments, only Grieve and Cooper have any legal effect as they would actively change the Standing Orders of the House, upending centuries of precedent. All the others, including Brady, are only statements of the Commons’ preferences.

The votes have now taken place. All the amendments failed except Spelman’s and Brady’s. That is, the only amendments that passed were to authorise the writing of two new (and largely contradictory) entries on Parliament’s wish list. I was glad to see that the amendments by the Tory Dominic Grieves and Labour’s Yvette Cooper, both of which aimed to stop Brexit by procedural tricks, were voted down by larger than expected majorities, including fourteen Labour rebels voting against their Whip on the Cooper amendment.

Much of what we saw tonight was tail-covering. Spelman’s amendment passed so that if No Deal happens and the zombies come, MPs can say, “Don’t blame me, I voted against zombies”.

Regarding the successful Brady amendment, the EU side has repeatedly said it will not re-open negotiations, so I assume its main purpose is to put the guilt of being the last people to say “No” onto them.

All in all, not a bad night’s work.

* “Amendments to what?” you ask. No idea, unless “Theresa May’s Brexit Plan” is the name of a Bill.

Why should she care?

Mike Smithson of politicalbetting.com says that:

The Telegraph is reporting details of at telephone conference call earlier this evening by about a dozen ministers who are pro-European. They include Amber Rudd and Greg Clarke the Business Secretary.

Basically they want the PM to commit to securing her Brussels deal within just two weeks. If that doesn’t happen then they will resign.The paper’s Steven Swinford notes:

“Ms Rudd and other Cabinet ministers have previously warned that as many as 20 ministers could quit so they can support the amendment tabled on Tuesday by Yvette Cooper, a senior Labour MP.

In the old days a Prime Minister who had ten ministers quit on them would have resigned out of sheer embarrassment, but given that Corbyn remained as leader of his party despite at least twenty of his Shadow ministers resigning the day after the referendum, why should Theresa May care about the loss of a mere ten?

It will save her the trouble of trying to keep sweet those foot-stampers who issue such meaningless demands as wanting “the PM to commit to securing her Brussels deal within two weeks”. If she were capable of securing a deal just by “committing” to it she would have done so by now. Unfortunately for her, deals involve two sides, and she has even less power over the EU side than she does over the side jokingly referred to as “hers”.

I am sure Mrs May will find ten up-and-coming MPs willing to take up the vacated positions.

While on the subject of deals with two sides, another politicalbetting.com article well worth a read is this one from Alastair Meeks: “Disastrously successful. The EU’s Brexit negotiation”. It starts with an apology for “going all Godwin on you” and then launches into a discussion of the Treaty of Sèvres after WWI. Never heard of it? You’re not alone; it was so harsh to the Turks that Atatürk and the Turkish nationalists rose up in outrage and overthrew those who had signed it. It was never implemented. As Meeks said,

The best outcome is one that will actually stick, not the one with nominally the most favourable terms.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The World Economic Forum in Davos is precisely where one would expect to find the kind of people that want to overturn the EU referendum result. Davos types wouldn’t just cancel referendum results they don’t approve of. If they could if they would cancel the people.”

Douglas Carswell

You and whose army?

Here is my cunning plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

Don’t build one.

The UK doesn’t want it, Ireland doesn’t want it. Problem solved, I’d have thought, but the EU does not agree:

No-deal Brexit would mean hard Irish border, EU confirms

The EU has injected further pressure into the Brexit talks by confirming it will enforce a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event of a no-deal outcome, despite the risk this would pose to peace.

It will enforce? Er, with whose… personnel will that be done?

Why are people cheering for no deal?

Because they’re thinking about it the wrong way, says Anand Menon in the Guardian.

There are moments in life when your heart sinks. I had one last night, right at the start of my terrifying debut on Question Time. Isabel Oakeshott had just said we should leave the EU with no deal. And the audience cheered. Not a subdued, start-of-the-evening, not-quite-warmed-up cheer. But a roar. A loud one.

Professor Menon goes on to give his reasons. They are quite well expressed, and it is good to be aware of opinions contrary to ones own, so I do urge the generally Leave-supporting readers here to take a look.

Now, having said that, will I get away with pretending that my main reason for posting this was something other than the fact that the moment he’s talking about during last night’s Question Time put an enormous silly grin all over my face?

(Hat tip to Guido for the video clip.)

Edit: Take a look at the comments to that Guardian piece in order of numbers of recommends. As I said, Professor Menon himself seems well meaning, but many of the most popular comments talk of their fellow citizens as a Victorian “Nordicist” would speak of the Andaman Islanders:

The Brexit mindset is anti-intellectual – the Brexiteer is proud of their ignorance.

Reasoning with them is useless.

A case in point, Brexiteers (and yes, I am generalising here) claim to be anti-elitist yet put their trust in Boris, Farage and Rees Mogg – the epitome of privilege and elitism.

Think I’m being rude? Good.

That was from someone calling themselves “stinky”. As I write this that comment had received 126 upvotes. There are times when I think I should give in to the Guardian‘s constant begging and give them some money, just to ensure that as many people as possible read these comment threads. As the next comment says, “When people ask me why they should support Leave, I tell them to read the comments on a Brexit CiF article.” Lord knows the British electorate has some wrongheaded views, but it has shown before now that it instinctively knows one of the great truths of politics: that it is unwise to place yourself in the power of those who despise you.

Lord Deben on how (not) to influence and work for a better world

I think that this is a very revealing Tweet about last night’s House of Commons EU vote, from Lord Deben, formerly John Selwyn Gummer, and not in a good way:

So we leave all decisions to others and remove our major opportunity to influence and to work for a better world. We decide we are indeed just a nation of shopkeepers whose customers and suppliers decide and we obey. That instead of being the driver of the EU. What a come-down!

Lord Deben thinks that “we” were “the driver of the EU”, to which I would say that this “we” was only … a very few of us, and that also other EUropeans did quite a bit of driving. And, Lord Deben thinks that the best way to “influence and work for a better world” is to do politics, and EU politics at that.

Does Lord Deben think that Britain leaving the EU is not going to have any “influence” upon the world? I put it to him, as my trial lawyer ancestors would say, that this will have a big influence, provided only that it does happen. Just not the sort of influence that Lord Deben will like. It’s a lot to hope for, but I really do hope that Lord Deben is, approximately speaking, right about the sort of nation that Britain will become. Although, I can’t remember ever having “obeyed” a shopkeeper, unless they were the kind that collaborate with people like Lord Deben to restrict me in what I can buy.

When I think of the good that has been done for the world by inventors and entrepreneurs, and yes, shopkeepers, I think that Lord Deben’s is a very restricted view of the world and its possibilities.