BACK TO THE FUTURE – Part 2 The past is a foreign country – Remainers and Leavers are in for surprises

December 9th, 2018

In the previous article I highlighted how UK politicians have become so entrenched in their  insular debate that they are effectively ignoring the significant changes sweeping Europe.

One can argue that our MPs primary focus has become to smash the other side rather than look at what is best for the country. So perhaps they should take some time to look beyond these shores and see how the politics are lining up.


Congratulations! We are staying in! Enjoy the champagne because tomorrow a decades long hangover begins.

The UK can expect few favours

After the initial euphoria of Remain the long slog begins. The EU will be happy with those individuals who fought for it but the UK as a whole can only even be viewed with suspicion, non U,  a country on the periphery.

Only the big jump to Schengen, currency and total integration can change this and perhaps not even then, we are gens non grata. Much as Remainers like to tell Leavers they own Brexit, Remainers will now own Bremain. That will not be a comfortable position especially as the rest of the EU will be telling you to be on best behaviour and not let the side down.

Someone will have to sell an unpopular  dish

For a start off the core countries and the Commission will continue to push for more integration irrespective of British sentiment.  It is inevitable that at some point the nation’s sacred cows will be ordered to the abattoir something a surly unbelieving electorate will baulk at. 

This will be worse if the EU follows its normal modus operandi of ignoring dissent or judicial sleight of hand.  The EU has few active advocates in our political classes and lots of foot dragging ones.  Remain will not stop the Europe headaches it will simply spread it across the political spectrum.

Europe has been made an issue

52% of the population voted to Leave. If the politicians reverse that choice British politics will change. This was one of the few times the have nots beat the haves. The establishment threw everything into its campaign and lost now they will have fixed the outcome. 

This is not healthy. UK politics will be faced with a discontented disengaged electorate which treats politicians with contempt and which like the Continent, finds itself increasingly attracted to non-traditional politics. UK politics may become more European but not in a good way

European politics is in flux

And that bad way might just be the future. Across Europe the voters are not happy; a much larger Eurosceptic bloc seems on the cards for the next EU parliament. Traditional parties are struggling to maintain support even in national elections, in a protest vote for Europe this could get much worse.

Ironically in remaining, a sceptical UK vote could make this problem even more acute. Already the ghosts of Nigels past are stirring and they have been presented with a rich new seam of discontent to mine.   

Summing up if Remainers get their wish they will need to work hard to keep the public on side this is an uphill and thankless task. They own all the problems and get little thanks for the successes.


Commiserations! You snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.  But cheer up there has never been a better time to be in Europe. You can party like it’s 1945.

British Eurosceptics are no longer alone

The days when the EU Parliament was filled with project zealots may soon be coming to an end. In just about every European country there is now a sizeable bloc of Eurosceptics.  The days when sceptical Brits were something of an oddity are behind us. To succeed however Leavers need to understand European Eurosceptics quite often like the EU.

What they don’t like is the commission and its incessant need to boss countries around. If Leavers understand that, then major reforms of the EU may at last be possible and the Commission and its desire for closer union brought closer to the will of European electorates. Even   in the core countries politicians are struggling to stay the pace with Macron’s France looking the weakest link. The inevitability of Union is no longer quite so inevitable.

Leavers will have a warmer welcome than Remainers

The European parliament will in all events get a meaningful opposition rather than the traditional stitch up between the EPP and the Socialists. Now oddly might just be the time to have the UK at the centre of those countries who wish to change direction. While Remainers from UK are beyond the pale to core countries, in scepticland Leavers have kudos from having upset the whole apple cart. 

One thing the sceptics can be certain of is that the commission will continue to feed them issue that upset the voter. Partly it is what comes with having to govern but it is also the style of an establishment that has been used to getting its own way. Time to buy a yellow jacket.

Leavers mount a credible threat to the EU

Finally the leavers may just be able to protect the UK national interest assuming our politicians don’t give it away. A large curmudgeonly member state  who has previous for leaving might just make European politicians think let the sleeping dog lie. This approach will never work with a Remainers PM but with a Leaver that’s a different call. In as much as the UK has been through mangle on Brexit, the EU is in poor shape to kick the problem off again, it has too much else on its plate.

So summing up Leavers may actually have an easier time in the EU than Remainers. The winds of change are blowing and suddenly there are more like minded people to work with. If Leavers combine with others Eurosceptics there may actually be a chance to reform the EU. No the same as leaving of course but perhaps more liveable nonetheless.

Whether Remain or Leave though the UK has yet to take full account of the changes of the last two years. Europe will remain a dividing issue more so as the political class has invested so much emotion in to the issue. Time to stop our insular spat and look at what the neighbours have been up to.



BACK TO THE FUTURE – Part 1  Europe has changed – We can’t put  Humpty together again.

December 9th, 2018

In the first of a two part series, Alanbrooke looks at our relationship with the EU.

As the Brexit debate rolls on the recent ruling by the ECJ Advocate General that the UK can unilaterally revoke article 50 brings a new angle to proceedings. Suddenly it is a lot easier to stay in.

The uncertainty around how to stay in the EU and under which terms looks a lot clearer and in some ways simpler. So set aside the mechanics of how, what would remaining actually be like ? This is a two part post – the first looks at the changes in Europe since the leave vote and the second looks at how remaining will impact Remainers and leavers.

There is a certain irony to the UK remaining, in that events in the EU are largely being ignored, Europe is little more than a bit player in the UK debate.  Really only Ireland has had much coverage in the UK’s internal wrangle and that as a convenient pool of mud to fling at the other side. 

So first let’s refresh ourselves on the Europe we voted to leave. At the beginning of 2016 the advocates of international liberalism were in firm control of the West. David Cameron had just been re-elected; Mutti Merkel presided over a successful Germany and a recovering EU led by her placeman Jean Claude Juncker. In the USA Obama looked ready to hand over to America’s first female president while a twitter happy property developer showed just how out of touch the opposition were.

That world has all gone.

And by gone it’s not just the personalities, but the assumptions and policies which backed them. 2016 is in some ways as significant a year as 1989, a year when the mould broke.  And break it did, first with Brexit and Cameron’s departure and next with Trump; worse in the following year Frau Merkel became a casualty as her electorate tired of her. Suddenly all the old certainties were gone and the peasants were revolting across the Western World.

And that revolt was triggered by much the same factors in all countries.   Stagnation in standards of living for ordinary people, the impact of globalisation on jobs and on job security ; then add in immigration and  a political class which had lost touch with voters. In essence a system which worked well for those at the top of society was not working at all for those at the bottom and they made their discontent known.

The reaction to the referendum result in the UK was shock. Remain didn’t expect to lose nor Leave to win. Then all hell broke loose, the PM resigned, a snap election, a messy result : the body politic turned on itself and the UK settled down to two years of trench warfare with neither side conceding much bar  introspective wrangling over Brexit minutiae to the exclusion of everything else. And that’s the weakness of the UK’s position. A world has changed around us and we are not giving it much thought

The lie of the land in Brussels today is  of both the familiar and the new.  A UK staying with the EU will face several key factors

The will of the commission and the ”core” is for ever closer union

There still remains at the heart of the EU project the will to make a union with all the infrastructure of a state – currency, parliament, army, taxes – controlled by a central body. British politicians howl at this prospect and ridicule it, but the trend of the EU has only ever been in one direction, few powers are ever handed back. This will remain a constant feature of staying in the EU a steady creep of centralisation pushed by core countries.

Long Term the Euro is unsustainable in its present form

This might sound like a side issue to a country outside the Euro but the Euro is probably one of the largest risks in staying in the EU. The severe imbalances within the currency are creating the conditions for the Union to fall apart. Previously within the ERM there was an adjustment mechanism which allowed imbalances to be corrected. Now values are fixed which gives a huge advantage to the Germanic countries while impoverishing the Latin south. Something must give or the Union wort work and if it breaks the UK will be dragged in to the maelstrom.

Perfidious Albion

Staying in, leaves the UK in a slightly awkward position. A large and important member but one which can never quite be trusted. If things were a little terse before the vote they will be even more so when staying in. All talk of influence and soft power should be forgotten as someone once said can you imagine an EU with a British President?

The old problems are still there

The cocktail of issues which in the UK led to Brexit are still present in the EU and if anything greater. Immigration, the impact of globalisation, political alienation are all core issues across Europe. The UK  debate ignores that these are also the conditions  in Europe and this will lead to a very different political climate in the next decade. What if post the EU Parliament election in 2019 we are not returning to a government of Macron Merkel and  Juncker  but of Le Pen, Farage and Salvini ? Whatever way you look at it, it is hard to see how the next EU parliament  will not be a very different creature. We have given this very little thought,

These are the realities of the EU today. One side of the EU is desperately seeking to hold together a model it has pushed for years while the other is seeking a completely new model. In between there is a struggle for what Europe is about. But the hard fact remains we can’t go back in time and even a child could tell us it is too late to put Humpty back together. 



The first months of a Corbyn government

December 9th, 2018

It’s objectively clear that there is a genuine possibility of a Corbyn government within months, possibly even weeks. That might be after an election, or it might be simply that the Conservatives lose the will to govern: there is a limit to how long governments can function with every vote at risk of failure, and yielding to a minority Labour government which is also subject to hostile majorities at every turn may seem a lesser evil.

But there’s been very little discussion of how it would pan out. The 30-35% of the population who really like him and/or are simply Labour expect it’ll be wonderful, interestingly without many specifics. The similar number who intensely dislike him or Labour think it’ll be Venezuelan chaos. The reality is as usual likely to be somewhere in between.

The obvious question is Brexit. Depending on the circumstances in which Labour took over, there might be some tweaking of the Withdrawal Agreement – notably getting rid of the red-line objection to permanent customs union and quite possibly signing up to something close to free trade.

And even if the WA has passed, there are years of negotiation to come on the political agreement. I’d expect the end result to be something that feels like membership while being formally outside. A big difference is that Labour will want the issue settled, whereas the Conservatives seem willing to discuss it indefinitely.

Like most new administrations, Corbyn could expect a honeymoon period, reinforced by the hysteria of some of the accusations. Merely by being polite to the Queen, refraining from doubling taxes and not declaring war on Israel, he can clear the “not as bad as they said” bar fairly easily.

Moreover, Labour has had its internecine warfare phase that the Tories are having now, and nobody enjoyed it. Few MPs, however privately sceptical, will want to be the first to move to overthrow the new government. Ostensibly, there will be a period of relatively stable government, and nearly everyone will find that a blessed relief.

Problems will arise with the first Budget, which on any reasonable reading will need to have Lib Dem and SNP consent, not to mention quietly dissident Labour MPs. Looking ahead to that is making McDonnell, who is the key policy strategist, so markedly pragmatic. He will benefit from the fact that expectations are both fairly low and quite inchoate.

Nobody has wet dreams about immediate water nationalisation, nor is any other single difficult policy a must-have-now priority with most Labour voters. Higher taxes for the very rich, easing of austerity at the bottom and the shareholding scheme (which has significant benefits for public finances) will be enough the first time round. Add the first steps to state ownership of water and some pointed distancing from the excesses of Mr Trump, and most supporters will feel it’s a good start.

What then? Another election, I’m afraid. I can’t see a loose coalition carrying on indefinitely, and going for a majority in the honeymoon period, while the Tories are still trying to decide what they’re for, makes sense. If Labour gets it, though, the time for excuses will be over, and supporter expectations of nirvana will start to collide with reality.

I don’t expect it to be easy, but nor is it likely to be chaotic. A seriously left-wing government which is also cautious is unusual, and it’s hard to predict how much rope supporters will give it. But the number of people of any persuasion who expect the current Government to survive indefinitely is small.

So we’re probably going to find out.

Nick Palmer

Nick Palmer was Labour MP for Broxtowe, 1997-2010.


Prodi’s assertion that the EU will negotiate further if MPs reject the deal makes TMay’s task even harder

December 8th, 2018

This is about identity not the economy

Tomorrow’s Observer is carrying an interview with former EU President, Romano Prodi, suggesting that Brussels will be ready to negotiate further if, as is expected, MPs vote down TMay’s deal on Tuesday.

The prime minister has, of course, used the consequences of the EU not being ready to offer more if the deal goes down as a key point of pressure trying to bring into line wavering Conservative MPs. So for this to be said in many ways undermines her strategy.

The paper reports that Prodi thinks it wlls till be possible to find a negotiated settlement in the increasingly likely event of the deal being thrown out by MPs. The report goes on:

“..Asked how he expected the commission to respond after the vote, Prodi said: “Negotiate. We must keep free trade between us because it is in the British interests and European interest. The UK has no alternative – the EU is a large part of its trade. Always the problem of Northern Ireland, but it is possible. Common sense helps.”

On the EU’s insistence there could be no more negotiations, Prodi added: “Look, when the British parliament has still to vote you are obliged to be in this position. But then of course the day after you start dealing. This is politics.”

Of course that is right but it is very difficult given the views of the EU27 to see how something else could be forthcoming. In an astute point Prodi concluded:

The problem of Brexit is not a problem of the economy but a problem of identity and that problem of identity is still on the table. And because it is a problem of identity it is also difficult to have a solution where you have a free flow of migrants.”

“[A second referendum] will be nasty,” Prodi added. “It will be on migration because the British economy [since the referendum] suffered but not so much, not a tragedy. But a little less growth doesn’t change anything in debates about identity.

On Betfair it is now just an 11% chance that MPs will vote for the deal.

Mike Smithson


Is France the next to fall to populism?

December 8th, 2018

How far do the Yellow Vest protests go?

Emmanuel Macron was always an unlikely revolutionary. Graduate of the ENA, high-flying civil servant, investment banker with Rothschilds, and later Minister of Finance and the Economy: his was the model of an insider’s path to power. And yet En Marche was a revolution of sorts. Despite Macron’s own background, his election was in its own way a rejection of the status quo. His style, however, was never fitted to that role – if it was even a role he accepted, which is doubtful.

Instead, perceptions of Macron’s straight-talking have morphed from a refreshing honesty to an out-of-touch arrogance with remarkable rapidity and his approval rating has dived from a net balance at the start of the year to the wrong side of -50 now. That might not be quite as bad as Francois Hollande registered at times (one poll once found only 4% with a positive opinion of the former president) but it’s still awful – and it is worse than Hollande scored at the equivalent point in his presidency.

Hence, relatedly, the Gilet Jaunes protests. Ostensibly, these were about fuel tax rises but in truth the anger runs much deeper, hence the continuance of the protests despite the cancellation of the tax rise. Indeed, that lack of both a focus on a specific grievance and of a national leadership to the protests is what makes them particularly dangerous.

    The fact that the opposition is seemingly as much to a way of politics as to an individual policy is a serious problem for the government, in that it cannot easily be appeased by a U-turn.

If the protests are to peter out, the more likely causes will be bad weather and Christmas rather than anything political; Macron is fortunate that this has happened now rather than in April or May. Even so, without addressing the deeper grievances, they clearly have the potential to spring back up again later.

Similarly, while the lack of a political leadership to the protests is in one way an advantage – there is no direct physical threat to the government in the same sense that there would be in an attempted military coup, for example – that also makes them more amorphous and impossible to settle through direct negotiation.

And of course, France is a country rightly renowned for its revolutionary edge, if for the wrong reasons. Forget 1789. Forget 1968 even (though the parallels are potentially there). At the last presidential elections only last year, some 40% voted for either the populist hard right under Le Pen or the populist hard left under Melenchon in the first round. A lot of people are very disillusioned with politics-as-normal and have been willing to cast their votes accordingly.

Where does France go from here? My guess is that without a revolutionary leadership to the protests, the violence will continue for the time being until it becomes clear that they’re futile, that the state isn’t going compromise on essentials and that life has moved on. Macron, however, has suffered a blow from which he will find it hard to recover. His popularity is probably shot permanently and a large part of his authority with it.

For the time being, he remains less unpopular that just about any other serious candidate for the presidency in 2022 but he’s now in a position where someone could easily do to him what he did to Fillon in 2017 – though those with more knowledge of French politics than me will need to identify potential candidates. More seriously, if Macron no longer has any credibility as a candidate from the outside (and it’s odd that he ever did), and the Republicans and PS have not recovered from their battering last year, where then to the voters turn? The populist surge running across much of the West is far from exhausted and France is as susceptible to it as anywhere, in its own way.

David Herdson


EU and Whose Army?

December 7th, 2018

There is no subject that will more rapidly inflame the jowls of a Euroskeptic than that of the EU Army. It is often employed as the trump card that will instantly and irrevocably end all discussion of further European integration.

The basis of this antipathy has never been fully established but seems to be founded, in the first instance on misguided fealty to NATO and, in the second, to the exceptionalist view that no other European nation than the British can field an effective fighting force. However, the fact remains that, for a significant proportion of the British population, the notion of EU owned and operated armed forces causes revulsion and symptoms of physical distress.

So in light of the UK’s troubled relationship with the EU it is worth examining the EU’s currently military disposition, its future intentions and how that might affect the UK.

Army of One

The notion of an autonomous EU defence policy was created in the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the Maastricht Treaty. At that time the EU had a civil war with occasional outbreaks of genocide erupting on its southern flank in the form of the Yugoslav civil war. It was felt that the existing security framework of the ECP was ineffectual and not suited to the febrile times in which Europe now found itself.

The original notion of the CFSP was that EU and NATO forces would be ‘separable but not separate’. NATO would remain responsible for the territorial defence of Europe while the EU would eventually take the lead on peacekeeping and police actions with member state forces being assigned to each entity as necessary.

This situation obtained until the Lisbon Treaty which created the position of the High Representative and the External Action Service. There was no longer going to be a common security policy there was going to be an EU security policy – an important difference. Since then we have had the establishment and rapid growth of the EU Military Service. This organisation is headquartered in Brussels and is currently running six separate operations outside Europe. It is intended that the EUMS will be capable of brigade level executive action by 2020.

Thus the idea that the armed forces of the EU have been developed in secret and only now sprung on the the British people is entirely false. The strategic goals and the direction of travel have been readily apparent since Maastricht.

To its critics the development of the EUMS and the associated structures is a sign of the EU wishing to mantle itself with the trappings of the nation state. This may even be true to a minor extent but it is a happy byproduct rather than the main motivating factor. There are two driving forces behind EU military integration: the strategic and the economic.

Call of Duty

There has always been an influential strand of thought in Europe that may be crudely termed ‘Gaullist’. This philosophy holds that NATO constrains European strategic autonomy and that, instead, there should be a strong and independent Europe de la défense. This school of thought has flowered again since the end of the cold war. For post of the post-war period the US and Europe shared a common strategic goal of opposing the Soviet Union. This allowed Europe to benefit from the presence of significant US forces in Europe.

The strategic interests of the US and Europe no longer align in the same way. The US is now looking anxiously west, across the Pacific, for its rival while Europe looks east where a tattered yet belligerent and unstable double headed eagle hones its talons.

The US is no longer as heavily vested in the defence of Europe as it once was and that effort is rapidly sliding down the scale of American priorities. In a decisive break from the separable but not separate policy the EU is going to have to take responsibility for its own territorial integrity.

The situation has been described with typical erudition by the French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Dans ce travail, nous devrons suivre un fil d’Ariane : celui de l’autonomie stratégique de l’Europe et des Européens. Car il nous revient, au sein de l’Union européenne, d’assurer la sécurité de notre continent et de nos concitoyens.

In this effort we must follow the thread of Ariadne: that of strategic autonomy for Europe and Europeans. Because it is up to us, in the European Union, to ensure the security of our continent and our fellow citizens.

Money for Nothing

The second and equally important compelling factor for European defence integration is financial. Modern weapon systems are fantastically complex and expensive. They require large numbers of technically adept personnel to maintain and operated. With a few exceptions no European nations have the capacity to design and field these systems outside multinational cooperative structures. The result is that no single country can provide a full spectrum of defence capabilities. Each must therefore bring something to the EU military alliance that can strengthen the whole.

Combined EU defence spending is second only to the USA but the fragmentation of that investment across 27/28 (delete as applicable) countries means that resultant military force produced is not of a similar scale.

We Happy Few

Notwithstanding its neurotic gyrations over Brexit the UK shares, perhaps to an even greater degree than some of its continental neighbours, these two issues of strategic autonomy and effective defense spending. An EU military alliance, if effectively funded and operated, is a far better defender of British strategic interests that NATO which utterly dominated, to a degree that is not readily apparent to most, by US interests.

The EUMS is not geographically limited in the way that NATO is by Article 6. This was a provision inserted by the US as it had no appetite for defending the colonial possessions of the UK and France. For a salutary example of how NATO membership does not always serve British interests remember that the Falklands War would never have happened if Article 6 did not exist.

The defence challenges and strategic goals of the UK have more in common with Denmark than Hawaii. Membership of a European defence structure recognises this in a way that NATO membership never can.

There is not going to be an ‘EU Army’ in the sense of a unitary force structure and forces with no chain of command back to national governments any time soon or perhaps ever. There is, however, going to be increasing and accelerating integration of defence efforts through EU institutions.

The UK is going to be involved in the EU defence structure after Brexit because its strategic situation compels it to be so with shared imperatives and goals. It’s is just going to have a much reduced voice when it comes to shaping those structures.

Dura Ace

Dura Ace is a pb.com regular and ex-RN officer who was censured for stealing a tuk-tuk while on active duty.


The curtain-raiser to Tuesday’s vote – Monday’s ECJ ruling on whether Article 50 can be revoked

December 7th, 2018

With exquisite timing the European Court of Justice will give its verdict in the article 50 case at 8am on Monday morning just a day before the big vote in House of Commons on the deal that would seal Britain’s exit from the EU. The court will rule whether or not the UK can revoke its decision in March 2017 to give notice of its plan to leave.

We’ve already had a hint of the way this might go with the assertion on Tuesday from the Advocate General that article 50 could be cancelled.

In an excellent post this morning the QC who has been leading the fight, Jolyon Maugham, sets out the main reasons an ECJ ruling could change the whole Brexit debate because until the assumption has been that Article 50 with its rigid timetable ending on March 29th cannot be revoked. He notes:

“..First, importantly, as the parliamentary chaos grows after Theresa May loses her ‘meaningful vote’, MPs are going to begin the search for a safe haven. They need a good enough, least-worst option which they know is open to them. The judgment means they will have it: we can remain…

..Second, it neuters arguments that we can’t remain without giving up our rebate, going into Shengen, adopting the euro and so on…

..Third, it moves us in the direction of a softer Brexit. MPs who wanted to remain might have supported the deal to avoid no-deal but can now chase what they really want.

Fourth, it squeezes Labour into a corner. Jeremy Corbyn had hitherto been able to keep a lid on pro-Remain pressure in his party by arguing that it was not legally possible. But that ground has fallen away from under his feet.

Fifth, it places the decision directly into the hands of MPs. Brexit – for some – was about a perception that our national sovereignty was diminished by EEU membership..”

An indication of the case’s importance was the huge effort that the Government made to stop it progressing. For so much of minsters’ argument has been based on the fact that this cannot be revoked. There was no alternative. Well there might be.

Roll on 8am on Monday morning.

Mike Smithson


Remember this from June 23/24 2016 – the final 12 hours on the Brexit referendum betting markets

December 6th, 2018

As the polls closed punters rated Remain as a 93.5% chance

With Brexit totally dominating the political scene at the moment I thought it might be useful to look back to the night of June 23rd 2016 when the referendum results came in and how the betting markets reacted.

Just before the polls close the then UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, conceded defeat. YouGov published a poll taken during the day showing with a clear lead and news of these figures appeared for hours at the bottom of the screen on the main TV channels. On the foreign exchanges the pound soared and so did the betting. Remain appeared a certainty as the chart shows.

Because the totally different exit polls had proved right at the previous three general elections many were attributing to YouGov the same level of credibility.

The first actual results came in just before 0100am from Newcastle. This had Remain ahead but not by the margin that had been projected for a big metropolitan with its demographics.

Then Newcastle was followed by Sunderland which showed a Leave lead in excess of projections based on its demographics.

In spite of this the Betfair exchange remained stubbornly showing Remain as strong odds-on favourite. Then as other results came in the pattern was broadly the same and the narrative moved to wait for some London results.

I wasn’t convinced. The word from the weekend beforehand was that the postals were going particularly well for Leave and I was ultra cautious. This was something that we couldn’t publish on the site and I had no way of knowing whether those with this information were giving the proper picture. It made sense though because the profile of postal voters meant they were most likely to be Leavers

What is intriguing about the chart is that in the early hours of the morning there was a double crossover. Leave became favourite just after 0300 but then it moved back to Remain as the first London results came in. That soon switched back with the realisation that this was not going to be enough.

Tens of millions were wagered that night. From a selfish PB and betting point of view I’d love another referendum.

Mike Smithson