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Mr Frisby and the rats of IN

Guido gleefully points out that this song by Dominic Frisby is currently the second best selling album on Amazon music. Presumably he just means UK Amazon, but that is quite an achievement. I am getting automatically generated adverts for it. Yours for a quid! However please note before you serenade the street with your new purchase that it is a tad sweary. Honestly, there’s about seventeen million F*** O**s in it.

It will not be news to regular readers of Samizdata that Mr Frisby is both a respected financial writer and an entertainer so good that he can make it despite being an open libertarian. Brian Micklethwait (repeatedly), Johnathan Pearce, Patrick Crozier and Rob Fisher have all posted about him. My finally joining the club to say he has a nice voice and a cool hat is something of an anti-climax. But he does have both of those things. And I get the feeling he’s a sporting bloke who will forgive me for being the millionth-and-first person to make irrelevant mention of this book just because it has the name “Frisby” in it. I also recommend the book, which I loved as a child and now I come to think about it as an adult has an almost John Galt vibe to it.

You go, Jezza!

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn has “stomped out” of a meeting of party leaders called by Theresa May to discuss the latest Brexit developments. The old boy left in high dudgeon when he saw that Chuka Umunna was there representing the Independent Group of MPs. Mr Corbyn didn’t think Mr Umunna should have been allowed in because TIG is not yet a proper party. Which it isn’t, but one cannot help finding it odd that after seeing fit to meet the IRA, Hezbollah and Hamas in the name of “dialogue” Mr Corbyn should cavil at a few minutes sharing the same air as a former member of the Labour party.

No skin off my nose, tho’. It all makes sense if we assume that he still is the Brexiteer he was for forty years. A stopped clock is right twice a day. He wants No Deal but with May taking the blame if it goes wrong.

Meanwhile Whatsername is due to address the nation. Overdue. You can look at some nice wood panelling on the YouTube livefeed here or the Reuters one here.

Ooh, noises! I just heard noises!

Update: Steps! She’s here… she’s boring.

“You’re tired of the infighting, tired of the political games…”

Not to mention tired of you.

OK, some quite good sense on the damage to trust if Brexit stopped.

Not prepared to delay Brexit past 30 June. Nothing new.

Wha… what? She’s gone away. Was that it?

No Deal would be the best option for Theresa May

I agree with Ross Clark of the Spectator who says, “John Bercow is right to block a third vote on May’s deal”. I have no idea why the Speaker has suddenly decided he cares about Erskine May after all. I doubt the reason for his change of heart is a good one, but he is right to say that repeatedly bringing the same question to the House after it has been rejected violates the letter and spirit of the rules. The EU’s fondness for playing the same trick when it came to referendums was one of the things that first turned me against it.

(By the way, the Wikipedia entry for Erskine May the person rather than the book is currently rather amusing:

Thomas Erskine May, 1st Baron Farnborough, KCB, PC (8 February 1815 – 17 May 1886) was a British constitutional theorist. This derived from his career at the House of Commons.

Erskine May much like Lord Voldermort (Tom Riddle) concealed part of his soul into a book this was later found by the current Speaker of The House Commons John Bercow who upon opening the book was taken back to the past to observe both Theresa Mays twice failing ‘Meaningful Votes’ Bercow received the message and realised it was Theresa May all along who opened The Chamber of Lies, though this time it wasn’t follow the spiders, it was follow democracy.

Not done by me, but I like the style of this unknown Wikipedia editor.)

It seems that the effect of this decision by the Speaker is to make it harder for May to kick the can down the road. Deprived of the option for more back and forth over the ill-named Meaningful Votes her remaining options are: to ask the EU for an extension of the withdrawal period (which would only be granted if something significant like a general election or another referendum were put in place), to revoke Article 50, to do some blatant procedural trick like proroguing Parliament and immediately recalling it – basically pressing the “restart” button on the House of Commons – or to throw up her hands, say “**** it, I tried”, and to go for No Deal.

As far as I can see the best option for her personally, never mind the country, is No Deal.

Whatever she does will make many people angry. The question is which set of people’s anger would it be the best strategy for her to avoid?

If she revokes Article 50 the fact of doing it will delight Remainers. But the sort of people for whom that matters most now are also the sort of people who are committed anti-Tories. They won’t be delighted with her – nor with her party. They will judiciously register their opinion that at least the sorry cow did the right thing in the end and then vote Labour or Lib Dem or for the Independent Group if it stands.

The same goes in diluted form if she goes for more extensions and delaying tactics. They may frustrate Brexit in the end, or result in Brexit in name only, but the sort of people who will be happy about that won’t thank Theresa May or switch to voting Tory. But the sort of people who will be utterly infuriated by either the revocation of Article 50 or the death of Brexit by a thousand cuts very much will blame Theresa May and very much will switch from voting Tory. A substantial majority of Conservative voters are pro-Leave. Members of local Conservative Parties are overwhelmingly pro-Leave. Potential Labour-to-Conservative swing voters are also very much pro-Leave and are swing voters because of that very issue.

I do not know if May has any last scraps of ambition to continue as an MP. I would guess that all that matters to her now is her legacy. But whether she sticks around for the voters of Maidenhead or not, if she fails to deliver Brexit her legacy will be the destruction of the Conservative party. Its most committed supporters are exactly the group who care about Brexit most. If she does deliver it these people will still not think much of her but they will judiciously register their opinion that at least the sorry cow did the right thing in the end and then continue to vote Conservative.

I have not so far discussed how the predicted awful effects of No Deal would affect Theresa May’s calculations of her own interests. I have said here that failure to deliver Brexit would destroy the Conservative Party. Many of the comments I read on the internet take a completely different view. They say that the economic harm inflicted by No Deal would be the thing that destroys the Tories for a generation. This prospect is seen as the silver lining to the dark cloud of No Deal by many Remainers. But would it? I mean, even if we accept for purposes of argument that the effect of No Deal would be to mess up the economy, a thing I very much doubt, would the economic mess destroy the Tories? I do not see that as likely. When Labour mess up the economy the usual effect is to make people vote Conservative to repair the damage. In any case no one can accuse Theresa May personally of having wanted a No Deal. Like most Conservative MPs (as opposed to party members), she has possibly gone beyond the call of duty in avoiding one.

Please, EU whatever you do, don’t get tough

“I’ve got you this time, Brer Rabbit,” said Brer Fox, jumping up and shaking off the dust. “You’ve sassed me for the very last time. Now I wonder what I should do with you?”

Brer Rabbit’s eyes got very large. “Oh please Brer Fox, whatever you do, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”

“The briar patch, eh?” said Brer Fox. “What a wonderful idea! You’ll be torn into little pieces!”

Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, A Georgia Folktale, retold by S.E. Schlosser

*

Brexit: Brussels gets tough with ‘disruptive child’ UK, writes Andrew Byrne in the Sunday Times:

The EU’s latest thinking is contained in a document circulated among ambassadors on Friday night. It confirms legal advice that the UK must hold European parliament elections in May if it wishes to remain beyond that point. It also contains the starkest warning yet of the threat to the EU’s legal order if this requirement isn’t met.

In essence, the paper identifies a July 1 tripwire that would automatically terminate the UK’s membership and trigger a no-deal expulsion. Unless the UK had taken part in Euro elections or approved May’s deal by that time, both sides would be powerless to prevent it.

That sharpens a three-way choice for MPs: back May’s deal this month and seek a short two-month extension, opt for a long-term extension and organise European elections in May or face a no-deal exit.

This analysis piles yet more pressure on both Eurosceptic and pro-EU MPs to back May’s deal this month. That outcome is favoured by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator. He fears that anything longer than a couple of months risks unravelling the 585-page withdrawal agreement his team spent two years working on.

Hardline Brexiteer MPs will be pressed to approve the deal to avoid Euro elections and stop Brexit slipping from their grasp. Other MPs will come under pressure to back the deal early to avoid the tripwire. EU officials hope a parliamentary majority can be cobbled together – perhaps through a series of indicative votes – by late May.

While some European leaders still toy with the idea of reversing Brexit in a second referendum, the risks of a rogue UK remaining in the EU after June and disrupting its agenda alarms others. The latest advice argues that the EU cannot impose restrictions on UK involvement in EU decision-making if it extends article 50.

Officials also fear a prolonged UK membership could see dozens of British Eurosceptic MEPs descend on the European parliament. That has added to a broader exasperation among officials who want the UK to leave quickly.

Brexit: what happens now?

I went to the Mail for a simple explanation, but they didn’t seem to know.

What happens now May’s deal has FAILED? Brexit could be delayed or ‘cancelled’, Remainers might trigger a second referendum… and the PM could be forced to QUIT

Do you?

My comments on social media to a True EU Believer

I wrote this on Facebook today in response to a guy arguing that the EU was necessary for the following reasons:

As global trade widens and becomes more complex, rules must be harmonised and we need large bureaucracies to enforce this, so the UK should be involved, to influence this necessary process:

The UK’s own democratic arrangements are poor or not working well so why is the EU so bad?

We need to regulate even the most basic items, such as how lightbulbs are made, because, er, fair trade.

The costs of all this EU stuff are well worth it because it stopped a war for the past 70 years between the major continental powers. So stop going on about free trade, silly rules and farm subsidies. Look at the bigger picture.

As you can detect, I am not impressed by these statements. This was my response:

A few things: it is a big claim that the EU (or what used to be the EEC) has been the major reason for stopping Germany from invading France yet again after 1945. I would argue that the “glue” of the EU has had some positive impact, but surely, the fact that Germany was utterly destroyed in 1945, split in two, and that the Western powers faced the Soviets, and were protected under the NATO umbrella, was the key to why there wasn’t another continental war. And even if all the red tape, rule harmonisation, costly farm subsidies and all the other palaver was justified as a price worth paying on that basis, why would the UK, which wasn’t a defeated power and with a different history, want to subsume itself into a federal project? It does not follow at all. The case is not made. De Gaulle was also correct in his “non” to UK entry in the early 60s as he rightly feared that his Franco-German compact would be bent out of shape.

As global trade expands and the world becomes “smaller” with the Internet and jet travel and containerisation, it doesn’t require ever larger, more elaborate bureaucracies of transnational states to be built. In fact, what things require is more, not less, devolution of power, more variety, and less one-size-fits-all thinking. Why should complexity require more centralisation, rather than less?

The idea that we need single EU rules on how lightbulbs and other materials of the modern world are made is not justified on the basis of protecting “fairness”, and in fact all too often, such regulations are imposed and lobbied for by industry groups knowing that they raise barriers to entry against cheaper or different manufacturers, and reduce competition. Unless there are very clear-cut safety issues, I invariably smell a rat when people defend government bans on certain mechandise by talking about “fair trade”. It’s protectionism with a nice tie.

My position is not an “anarchist” one. It is more in tune with a general classical liberal approach to business, government and diplomacy, and above all driven by scepticism about big projects to reshape very old institutions and national loyalties. The launch of the single currency was an exercise in hubris, the results of which are still with us.

Take-home fact: Members of the European Parliament cannot, as far as I know, repeal a directive once it has become law. Nor can MEPs initiate a new law on their own, as an MP can. The MEPs are pale shadows of truly effective legislators and the democratic deficit in the EU is unsustainable.

Lawyers for Britain on the poisonous choices ahead

Martin Howe QC has written an article on the choices facing Parliament with regard to ratifying Mrs May’s agreement (as amended) or extending the Article 50 deadline, the Trojan ass beloved of Remainiacs.

Essentially, he sees the worst option as approving Mrs May deal with its indefinite nature, subjugation to the ECJ as an arbitration mechanism and no exit clause (but I think a suitably-phrased Act of Parliament and, in the event of any nonsense from over the water, a few well-aimed cruise missiles as an ultimate fallback would do). I fail to see the disadvantage of breaching such a bad treaty, President Trump is a great one for saying that this arrangement is screwing us, so screw it and if you don’t like it, tough.

A short extension would be a nonsense as the European ‘Parliament’ will take a break from rubber-stamping or worse, gilding (never ‘gelding’ it seems) the legislation put before it so that elections may be held, and it is needed to ratify the final Withdrawal Agreement. It would give three weeks for more procrastination and delay (which is the whole point of Mrs May’s premiership, in case anyone hasn’t noticed).

As Mr Howe notes of the FFC:

The Prime Minister’s statement to the House of Commons on 26 February 2019 opened the door to a “short, limited extension to Article 50 not beyond the end of June” if the House again rejects her deal on 12 March. She thereby abandoned her commitment, repeated in the Commons more than 100 times, that the UK will leave the European Union on 29 March 2019.

Without any apparent consciousness of the irony, she told the House that she would stick by her commitment to hold a vote on extending Article 50 “as I have [stuck by my] previous commitments”.

Mr Howe sums up the advantage of a 21 month extension over Mrs May’s ‘deal’.

A long extension of 21 months would have the same practical result as the “implementation” period in the deal, except the UK would be much better off than under the deal because we would still have a vote and representation in EU institutions and the European Parliament.
Unlike the deal, we would be free to leave on 1 January 2021 without being trapped in the “backstop” Protocol.
Our financial liabilities during the 21 month extension would be the same as under the deal, but unlike the deal, we would have no obligations afterwards.
Unlike under the deal, we would not be subject to indefinite ECJ jurisdiction after 2020.

As Mr Howe notes:

When you want to get someone to do something by threatening them, the normal protocol is that you threaten them with something which is worse than the thing you want them to do. However, in this case, it is the other way round. The ‘threat’ is manifestly more advantageous in every way than the thing the threatener wants the threatened to do (vote for the Theresa May deal).

Would an extension be granted by the EU?

… there are severe difficulties in the way of getting such an extension in the first place. The EU is wary of the problems which would be created by holding the European Parliament elections in the UK. The Conservative Party should be not simply wary, but alarmed across the board, at such a prospect, since a decimation of the Conservative vote in the face of Nigel Farage’s reinvigorated Brexit party cannot be ruled out. And if the Brexit party establishes itself with a big vote in the European Parliament elections, it will not go away and will be a real vote-splitting problem for the Conservatives in by-elections and at the next general election – an even greater problem than UKIP was in the past.

The EU may well not be willing to agree to an extension. It only takes one member state to veto it.

So this is where the Conservative Party has taken the country, to a point where threats of something better that a final outcome are being deployed with a view to getting the worst possible deal for the UK? And our best hope may well be another EU member government deciding to put a stick in the spokes of the extension? Could, say, nice Mr Orban be our saviour? We might see just how far the euroscepticism of some European politicians will take them.

A Brexit photo

Today I was at Euston tube station, and found myself admiring the antique signage on one of the platforms, the Northern Line I think, done with painted tiles, rather than with a printing press or with electronic wizardry as is the way such things are done now. Way Out signs are not what once they were. So out came my camera.

At this point I realised that there was some weekend, Brexit-related fun to be had, by including also part of the bit where it said, in much bigger letters, “EUSTON”:

If only the way out of the EU was turning out to be as simple as exiting from Euston tube station.

Deleted by the PC Media, and about time too

Matt Kilcoyne of the Adam Smith Institute writes,

The Guardian’s anti-Brexit fake news

An article, since deleted, made nonsense claims about the treatment of EU migrants.

and

When you try to find the article now you get a page that says it has been removed (rather amusingly, the related stories are eight other removed articles). The Guardian, unwilling to admit to its failures, claims that the piece was ‘taken down because it was found to have been based, in good faith, on outdated information’. This was after 16,000 people had shared it.

What happens when a stab in the back myth isn’t a myth?

In the light of Theresa May offering MPs a vote on delaying Brexit, which is being joyfully and rationally welcomed by Remainers as the crack into which can be inserted the political lever to renege on delivering the referendum vote entirely, this twitter thread from Matthew Goodwin is timely:

One critical point about vote for #Brexit is that it marked the first moment when a majority of British people formally asked for something that a majority of their elected representatives did not want to give. It was always destined to lead us here

Contrary to popular claims, we now know from a dozen + studies that Leavers knew what they were voting for. They had a clear sense about how they wanted to change the settlement; they wanted powers returned from the EU & to slow the pace of immigration

We also know that for large chunks of the Leave electorate this vote -a rejection of the status quo- was anchored in high levels of political distrust, exasperation with an unfair economic settlement & a strong desire to be heard & respected

I do not think that it is hard to imagine what could happen if Brexit is delayed, taken off the shelf altogether or evolves into a second referendum that offers Remain vs May’s deal, which Leavers would view as an illegitimate ‘democratic’ exercise

We have evidence. (1) Professor Lauren McLaren has already shown that even before the first referendum people who wanted to reform the existing settlement but who felt politicians were unresponsive became significantly more distrustful of the entire political system

(2) Professor Oliver Heath (& others) have found that as British politics gradually converged on the middle-class at the expense of the working-class the latter gradually withdrew from politics, hunkering down and becoming more apathetic

This is partly why the first referendum was so important, where we saw surprisingly high rates of turnout in blue-collar seats. Because for the first time in years many of these voters felt that they could, finally, bring about change.

And we’d already seen an alliance between middle-class conservatives and blue-collar workers to try and bring about this change when they decamped from mainstream politics in 2012-2015 to vote for a populist outsider

So I think that we do know what the effects of a long/indefinite delay to Brexit, or taking it off the table altogether, will be. Either we will see a return to apathy & ever-rising levels of distrust which will erode our democracy and the social contract from below, or …

Another populist backlash, anchored in the same alliance of disillusioned Tories & angry workers who -as we’ve learned- are very unlikely to just walk quietly into the night. If anything, this will just exacerbate the deeper currents we discuss here

I have one thing to add: if the establishment (which includes MPs of all parties) demonstrates that campaigning for forty years for a referendum and finally winning it does not work, it will not only be the populist Right who learn the lesson. The radical Left and the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English Nationalists will also learn that the strategy of peacefully winning consent from voters is a mug’s game.

A humbling must come to pass

It is rare 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?