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Stephen Davies on Brexit and political realignment

Writing books about “current affairs” is tricky. If you write your book while whatever you are writing about is not yet over, you are liable to be wrong-footed by later events, especially if you thought it was over.

But if you wait until you are sure that whatever it is has finally finished, your book is liable to be lost in a throng of rival books on the same subject, written by people all of whom, like you, know that it’s now or never, and at a time when whatever happened is now pretty much obvious to all. But what if you are spot-on about what is happening while it is still happening, but you wait until the dust settles? Then you miss your chance to have been “prophetic”. “That’s what I said!” works far better if you actually did say it, loud and clear, before it all became obvious.

Stephen Davies latest book, entitled The Economics and Politics of Brexit: The Realignment of British Public Life, is a rather cunning answer to this dilemma.

Davies has written a book about a process which still has a way to go, but also about one of the consequences of this process which is already very clear. The larger process is the political realignment which Britain is now still in the thick of. But one of the many consequences of this realignment has now been pretty much settled.

→ Continue reading: Stephen Davies on Brexit and political realignment

Brexitalgia

Posted to Samizdata by me on 23rd June 2016: “Well, I dunno”. The link to an image of the Daily Mirror‘s cover for that day showing a deep dark well with the slogan “Don’t take a leap into the dark – vote REMAIN today” seems to have died, but it can be seen in this collection of front pages from that day compiled by the Atlantic. I was not despairing but definitely a little pessimistic, as were many of the commenters.

But in the wee small hours of June 24th things began to look different: “Well, well, well”.

And in the bright fullness of day: “Now is the winter of our discontent, or perhaps just two very English words”.

The European Digital Identity is born

The Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age loves the idea:

Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age said: “The European digital identity will enable us to do in any Member State as we do at home without any extra cost and fewer hurdles. Be that renting a flat or opening a bank account outside of our home country. And do this in a way that is secure and transparent. So that we will decide how much information we wish to share about ourselves, with whom and for what purpose. This is a unique opportunity to take us all further into experiencing what it means to live in Europe, and to be European.”

However Laurie Clarke of TechMonitor is not so keen:

“The EU digital ID scheme could be a boon for SMEs but a security nightmare”,

Today, the EU announced plans for a bloc-wide digital identity scheme that will allow citizens to use public and private services online. The digital wallet would store payment details, passwords and digital ID cards, and be interoperable across the 27 EU member countries. But the scheme is yet to settle on technical standards, and could be besieged by privacy and security concerns before it gets off the ground.

The EU will reportedly force a structural separation preventing companies that use the system from repurposing customer data for other commercial activities, such as marketing. It also stressed that users of the digital identity solution will be in control of their data. But the melding of public and private services could pose privacy concerns in future. Privacy advocates have repeatedly warned about the potential for digital ID cards to erode civil liberties – particularly when data collected by the scheme ends up being used for immigration control or policing purposes.

On the security side, “This puts an awful lot of sensitive data in one place,” says Marcus. Cybersecurity threats have been growing over the years both from commercial and government-sponsored hackers, which could threaten the digital ID scheme. “This is a high-value target, both for criminal gangs and for governments. If this data gets out in the wild, it would be bad.”

Some of the responses to Ursula Von der Leyen’s tweet are less enthusiastic still. Someone called “Tom” says,

This would sound like an impending Orwellian nightmare if not for the inevitable certainty that the Commission will find a way to f*** it up.

Europe’s vaccine mental breakdown

“On the surface, it is hard to understand why the EU is resorting to such extreme measures. According to the consultancy firm Airfinity, even if the EU does ban exports, it will gain only an extra week of supply, while the British will lose two months. The political and economic price will be high. The EU will trash its reputation as a place in which to do business. Why base a plant in somewhere such as Leiden if the authorities will seize control of production lines whenever it is convenient? If these contracts get overridden by bureaucratic fiat, then so can any other agreement. (After all, if the AstraZeneca deal with the EU was legally binding, the company would have been hauled before a judge in Brussels by now.) The EU risks turning itself into a pirate state, for very little gain, which helps explain why smaller countries that depend on multinational investment, such as Ireland, have become nervous. Blind panic is the only explanation that makes sense.”

Matthew Lynn.

In the past, some classical free market types preferred that the UK stay in the EU as the lesser of two evils, and although I think they were misguided, I understood that basis of such a concern (loss of free movement, etc). Given the behaviour of the EU over vaccines, including an obvious contempt for private property, contracts and so forth, the classical liberal case for EU membership looks very ragged now. At the very least, the risk-reward trade-off of being in such a bloc must have shifted. I wonder whether one or more of the smaller nations might bug out if this sort of shit continues. And I am sure some Scottish voters, tempted by independence but concerned about what it means to stay in the EU and be under its single currency, are now thinking.

Eureka!

In 2012 scientists found the Higgs Boson. In 2015, after fifty years of trying, they finally found gravitational waves.

In 2021…

Leave camp turned Brexit into a religion to capture votes, study finds

Vote Leave turned Brexit into its own religion to capture supporters, a recent study by the universities of Birmingham and Warwick has found.

Researchers said slogans such as “take back control” used the NHS as the country’s Holy Grail that could be rescued from European forces threatened by Britain’s unique historical place in the world.

They also said Brexiteers focused on secular theological concepts such as sovereignty and nation to engage voters.

A study found it. It is Science.

Health is the war of the state

The Telegraph reports:

EU threatens war-time occupation of vaccine makers as AstraZeneca crisis spirals (£)

“The EU sledgehammer is coming down. The European Council is preparing to invoke emergency powers of Article 122 against AstraZeneca and Big Pharma within days.

This nuclear option paves the way for the seizure of intellectual property and data, and arguably direct control over the production process – tantamount to war-time occupation of private companies. This is Europe First pushed to another level. It takes the EU into the territory of 1930s methods and an authoritarian command economy.

Charles Michel, President of the European Council, is being badgered by member states to take action before the escalating vaccine crisis mutates into a political crisis as well and starts to topple governments. He is offering them the most extreme option available in the Lisbon Treaty.

Article 122 allows the EU to take emergency steps “if severe difficulties arise in the supply of certain products”, or “if a Member State is in difficulties or is seriously threatened with severe difficulties caused by natural disasters or exceptional occurrences beyond its control”.

Begun the vaccine war has.

Newsflash: Empire now says Order 66 “was a silly mistake”:

“EU backtracks on decision to block supply of vaccines to Northern Ireland”, the Irish Independent reports.

The EU has backtracked on a decision to block vaccines being transported into Northern Ireland.

The move followed hours of diplomatic chaos after it emerged the EU triggered an article of the Northern Protocol which introduce check on good entering Northern Ireland. This would have allowed EU authorities stop the importation of vaccines manufactured on the continent entering Northern Ireland.

[…]

There were frantic phones calls between Taoiseach Micheál Martin and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen when it emerged vaccines could be stop from moving between the EU and Northern Ireland.

There was also significant backlash against the EU from both sides of the border when the decision emerged.

A Government source said the Taoiseach had not being given any advance warning of the EU decision to invoke the article in the protocol. The source said the article may have been inadvertently triggered by “someone who did not understand the political implications” of the decision.

Ursula von der Leyen speaks about creating a “truly global common good”

When a politician says the words “common good” it is usually with a very specific meaning, and this use of the phrase by Ms von der Leyen is no exception:

“The EU vows to force firms to declare what vaccines are being exported to the UK as Ursula von der Leyen says she ‘means business’ about getting bloc’s ‘fair share’ – despite warnings a blockade to help shambolic rollout could ‘poison’ relations”, the Daily Mail reports.

Ursula von der Leyen today vowed to make firms declare what vaccines they are exporting to the UK as she scrambled to contain a backlash at the EU’s shambolic rollout.

The commission president said a ‘transparency mechanism’ is being introduced as she insisted that the bloc ‘means business’ about getting its fair share of supplies.

The sabre-rattling from Brussels, which comes amid growing chaos and protests across the continent, has incensed senior MPs, with warnings that the EU could ‘poison’ relations for a generation if it blocks some of the 40million Pfizer doses the UK has bought ‘legally and fairly’.

But “Is the EU to blame for AstraZeneca’s vaccine shortage?” asks Robert Peston in the Spectator.

Short answer: yes.

The important difference between AstraZeneca’s relationship with the UK and its relationship with the EU – and the reason it has fallen behind schedule on around 50m vaccine doses promised to the bloc – is that the UK agreed its deal with AstraZeneca a full three months before the EU did. This gave AstraZeneca an extra three months to sort out manufacturing and supply problems relating to the UK contract (there were plenty of problems).

Here is the important timeline. In May AstraZeneca reached an agreement with Oxford and the UK government to make and supply the vaccine. In fact, Oxford had already started work on the supply chain.

The following month AstraZeneca reached a preliminary agreement with Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy, a group known as the Inclusive Vaccine Alliance, based on its agreement with the UK. That announcement was on 13 June.

But the EU then insisted that the Inclusive Vaccine Alliance could not formalise the deal, and the European Commission took over the contract negotiations on behalf of the whole EU. So there were another two months of talks and the contract was not signed until the end of August.

What is frustrating for AstraZeneca is that the extra talks with the European Commission led to no material changes to the contract, but this wasted time that could have been spent making arrangements to manufacture the vaccine with partner sites. The yield at these EU partner sites has been lower than expected.

UPDATE: It’s hotting up: The Daily Mail reports, “Now EU wants our vaccines: Brussels demands Covid jabs made in Britain are sent to EUROPE as one lab warns banning exports from the bloc will mean NO more doses are made”

The arsonist warns of the danger of fire

The Times reports,

The European Union is not immune to “the danger to democracy” unleashed by Donald Trump and must “rein in” the internet to prevent the spread of conspiracy theories and misinformation, Ursula von der Leyen said yesterday.

Shades of Ben Tre. Or of a mirror-universe version of the most recent episode of Star Trek Discovery: “That Hope Danger Is You”.

“In Europe, too, there are people who feel disadvantaged and are very angry,” she said. “There are people who subscribe to rampant conspiracy theories, which are often a confused mixture of completely absurd fantasies. And, of course, we too see this hate and contempt for our democracy spreading unfiltered through social media to millions of people.”

She said that “we may not succeed in convincing everyone” to abandon conspiracy theories, such as those of QAnon, through rational debate, and signalled that regulation and censorship of the internet was needed. “There is one thing that we politicians can, and must, do: we must make sure that messages of hate and fake news can no longer be spread unchecked, since, in a world in which polarising opinions are most likely to be heard, it is a short step from perverse conspiracy theories to the death of police officers,” she said. “Unfortunately, the storming of Capitol Hill showed us just how true that is.”

The speech showed the growing willingness within the EU to directly regulate or censor content circulated on internet platforms rather than leaving decisions, such as banning Mr Trump, to private companies. The EU is discussing new digital policies that would have major implications for Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, including greater privacy and antitrust regulation as well as control over content.

“We must impose democratic limits on the untrammelled and uncontrolled political power of the internet giants,” Mrs Von der Leyen said. “We want it laid down clearly that internet companies take responsibility for the content they disseminate.”

I could be persuaded that internet companies should have to decide whether they are platforms or publishers, rather than the present system of allowing them whichever status benefits the US Democratic party this week. However this is not a move to limit the untrammelled and uncontrolled political power of the internet giants. They’ll love it. It is a move to limit and trammel further the already slight power to influence politics held by ordinary people.

The “UK affairs” tag has been added to this post solely so I can add this to my list of reasons to be glad that the UK has left the European Union.

Trouble comes to the EU from three directions

“The EU is a divided house”, writes John Keiger at the Spectator:

A 2019 German think tank report, entitled ‘20 Years of the Euro; Winners and Losers’, costed the single currency’s impact on individual states. From 1999 to 2017, only Germany and the Netherlands were serious winners with the former gaining a huge € 1.9 trillion, or around €23,000 per inhabitant.

In all other states analysed the Euro has provoked a drop in prosperity, with France losing a massive €3.6 trillion and Italy €4.3 trillion. French losses amount to €56,000 per capita and for Italians €74,000. Without fundamental reform the nineteen-member single currency’s divide between high-debt, high-unemployment southern states and their low-debt, low-unemployment northern counterparts will widen. The next crisis will come as the ECB’s quantitative easing programme ends and southern debt ceases to be sucked up by the Bank.

“The EU’s China deal is bad for democracy”, writes Edward Lucas at the Times:

The deal itself is quite narrow. It replaces and amplifies multiple existing agreements, with the aim of protecting investors against arbitrary treatment. Their bugbears include mandatory joint ventures, which China uses to steal technology and other secrets, and subsidies for local competitors. China has also made a mealy-mouthed commitment to make “continued and sustained efforts” to ratify International Labour Organization conventions that underpin free trade unions and prohibit slave labour.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may have given away a bit on this front but has gained far more on others. Hopes of a global stance against Chinese bullying are dashed. Australia, the subject of ferocious pressure, is left marooned. Countries mulling how far to stand up to China will draw their own conclusions: Europe talks about values but self-interest trumps solidarity.

The deal exemplifies the gap between the EU’s foreign policy aims and reality. The European Commission claims to be “geopolitical”. In 2019 it deemed China a “strategic rival”. Yet the mercantilist influence of big business, particularly in Germany, steamrollers ethical and security concerns.

“EU’s coronavirus vaccination strategy in chaos as supplies run short”, write Oliver Moody and Charles Bremner, also in the Times:

The European Union’s vaccine strategy has been criticised as “clearly inadequate” after a first week of inoculation on the continent was marred by logistical mishaps.

President Macron reprimanded his ministers over France’s sluggish start after only 400 people received the Pfizer-Biontech jab in the first six days.

A senior German minister and the German-Turkish scientist who developed the Biontech vaccine questioned why the EU had not amassed a sufficient stockpile of the only vaccine it had licensed. Brussels has ordered up to 300 million doses of the jab — barely enough to cover a third of the EU’s 450 million residents — but turned down an offer of an extra 500 million doses, according to Der Spiegel magazine. This has left the bloc dependent on a range of vaccines that have yet to be licensed, including those from Sanofi and Curevac, which are not expected to be available until at least the second half of the year.

But the EU has survived many predictions of its demise, and it is not the only union of nations under strain. “With Brexit, the UK may be bolstering the EU and seeding its own disintegration”, writes Andrew Hammond in the South China Morning Post:

Within the EU, for instance, there are several key debates about the 27-member bloc’s future well under way, including rebalancing the union given the new balance of power within it, and whether the EU now integrates further, disintegrates or muddles through.

For instance, with the UK no longer in the Brussels-based club, the EU 27 has already made significant steps last year towards greater federalism. One example is the new €750 billion (US$825 billion) coronavirus recovery fund, a major political milestone in the post-war history of European integration, which saw the continent’s presidents and prime ministers commit for the first time to the principle of jointly issued debt as a funding tool.

What do you think will happen to the EU? What do you want to happen? Views from citizens or residents of EU countries would be especially welcome.

Now that the EU is sorted, time to focus on opposing state overreach in Westminster

The next political war is at hand, but for tonight at least…

Enraged is not a good way to end the year

So I will post this without comment:

The New York Times Helped a Vindictive Teen Destroy a Classmate Who Uttered a Racial Slur When She Was 15

May better times lie ahead for all reading this. It is a relief that Brexit is done. Boris’s deal is far from ideal, but there were times during the last four years when I would have counted us lucky to get the referendum vote honoured at all.

Happy New Year!

“They will now start to understand what leaving the EU really means…”

I had been assured that the reason so many unfortunate lorry drivers were stranded in Kent unable to cross the Channel was that President Macron of France had closed the border for fear of a new strain of Covid. But who I am I to argue with Guy Verhofstadt, until recently the Chair of the EU’s Brexit Steering Group, who tweets,

We forgot what borders look like.
Some thought they would remain open with or without the EU.
They will now start to understand what leaving the EU really means…

In other news:

Brexit trade deal expected within hours – the Guardian.

Brexit deal now imminent – EU sources – the Irish Independent.

Brexit deal ‘done’ with Boris Johnson planning a statement tonight – the New European.

Update: Brexit deal ‘agreed,’ two senior EU diplomats tell DW – German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.