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Westlake Legal Group > EU Referendum

Nick Hargrave: In an age of post-truth politics, moderate politicians must prepare to work across party lines

Nick Hargrave is a former Downing Street special adviser, where he worked under both David Cameron and Theresa May. He now works at Portland, the communications consultancy.

It’s a common trope that we live in an age of post-truth politics. It increasingly appears that politicians have impunity to say things that are either demonstrably false or – more often in the UK at least – promise a future that is not supported by a rational reading of the evidence at hand.

The EU referendum and the subsequent process after serve as good exhibits for the prosecution. The Leave side of the fence is probably the more egregious with the £350 million red bus, the promises that a free trade deal with the EU would be the easiest such undertaking ever and – most pressingly now – denunciations of those who suggest that a ‘No Deal’ Brexit would come with a cost.

The Remain side of the divide is not without fault either though; lest we forget the ‘punishment budget’ that never happened, the pre-referendum modelling on the impact of the vote that ludicrously assumed no policy response from the Bank of England – not to mention every piece of bad economic news now being held up as a ‘told you so’ with no examination of whether the real cause is Brexit or not.

We should not of course  hark back to a mythical golden era where those with power dispassionately handed down truth to the people. From the hagiographical Anglo Saxon Chronicle in the ninth century to the 1945 General Election campaign, where our wartime hero, Winston Churchill, said that a British Gestapo would be needed to implement Labour’s policies – politicians of the day have always presented their interpretation of the truth to try and win support.

It is all a matter of degrees. But nonetheless it does feel like something has changed for the worse in politics in recent years. Certainly since the extension of the franchise in the nineteenth century, I do not think there has been a period in modern British history where politicians pay such scant regard to objective evidence and where the general public are willing to suspend disbelief in response.

The causes for this are well-rehearsed enough; the explosion of the internet in the past 20 years that has given the charlatan and the populist an unvetted voice and forced ‘moderate’ politicians to engage in an arms race to catch up; a declining trust in traditional sources of authority because of the profound economic effects of the financial crisis, globalisation and automation; the exponential growth of data, meaning that it’s easier to build a surface argument no matter how flimsy; a news cycle that moves so quickly that the best and speediest rebuttal in the world still comes too late; an increasing divide on values which means people shut out information that they don’t want to hear.

Less well tested is how we might rectify the situation.

There are two options. We can accept that, short of banning the internet and censoring political discourse, there is very little we can do. We are at the mercy of events and will have to accept a mid twenty-first century characterised by demagogues winning elections and referendums, chaotic policy making, a gradual erosion of the global rules-based order – with evidence only coming back into vogue after a series of shocks and recessions that lead us to see the error of our ways.

There is another school of thought though, which I much prefer – if only because the alternative is unlikely to be peaceful or economically stable. While there is no silver bullet, there are certainly things we can and should do to raise the standard of political debate in this country.
First, we need better politicians who the public are willing to trust in a face-off with the charlatans of the hour. Part of this is about getting people who have genuinely achieved things outside of Westminster into the Commons, and speak with gravitas and knowledge of what the real world is like. We could frankly do with more Andy Streets and Geoffrey Cox’s going into the frontline.

But there is more to it than that. We should also be honest that self-defined moderate politicians of this era stick to the line too much, and are obsessed with repeating back what they think people want to hear. As someone who spent several years in the bowels of Downing Street and Conservative Campaign HQ, raised on a diet of Clinton 1992 and Blair 1997 as model campaigns, this has been a humbling and gradual realisation. Most effective public policy is difficult and involves trade-offs; campaigning is very different to governing.

There is no better illustration of this than the current mess we have reached in the implementation of Brexit where our political leaders were not honest about the compromises needed to give practical effect to the referendum result. The temptation to boil political communications down to a form of cereal marketing will always be there. But I suspect that future leaders who level that there are no moral absolutes or easy answers will do better than is commonly supposed; the electorate are many things but they are not stupid.

Second, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that there needs to be greater regulation of the veracity of claims made by registered participants in political campaigns. There are important free speech considerations here and unregistered mendacious participants will still slip through the cracks online. But a more developed regulatory regime would nonetheless remind mainstream politicians that they should not stoop to this level.   One could, for example, trial a role for the Advertising Standards Authority – who currently cannot adjudicate complaints and impose sanctions on electoral material – in an upcoming campaign in the UK.

Finally, and perhaps a little uncomfortably, we have to get better at working on difficult issues across traditional party lines. If we are constantly saying the other side have nothing good to impart then there are consequences. The electorate do not know who to believe. They think everyone is as bad as each other. The door is opened to those who take the easy way out and propose mythical ‘unicorns’ rather than evidence-based solutions. Cross-party coalitions on issues such as fixing social care, an honest conversation about the right balance of tax and spend to fund twenty-first century public services – or dare I say it implementing a version of Brexit that respects the narrow mandate of the referendum – would lend credibility to viewpoints because they don’t look politically driven.

Some will of course cry ‘establishment stitch-up’ and ‘Westminster cartel at its best’. It will be the responsibility of the moderate politicians of the future to demonstrate that evidence, and developed understanding of the issues at hand, remain the most reliable route to improved living standards and a better tomorrow.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Not yet angry – but patriotic and bewildered. Fear of betrayal is the dominant emotion at the Leave Means Leave rally

An orderly queue formed last night outside Methodist Central Hall for the Leave Means Leave rally. As we entered we were handed small Union Jacks to wave during speeches by Kate Hoey, Rocco Forte, Iain Duncan Smith, Tim Martin, Nigel Farage and Esther McVey.

The Labour people who gave out Union Jacks to the crowd which applauded Tony Blair’s entry into Downing Street in 1997 were onto something. Here is a delightful way to demonstrate patriotism.

But last night’s crowd, about 2,000 strong, rather than celebrating victory, were anxiously hoping to avert defeat.

The mood of these Brexit supporters has not yet turned angry. It is one of bewildered patriotism. For although they won the referendum, they now question whether they can trust the very politicians to whom they decided to return power.

As the man sitting next to me put it:

“I just don’t think it’s right that we have to concede a second referendum. People had a choice. They voted as they did. I think it’s right for the country to leave the EU, personally.”

He is 45 years old, has a job in insurance, and had never attended such a rally before. His tone was modest, almost apologetic, yet conveyed a sense of incredulity at the outrageous injustice which may be about to be perpetrated.

All six speakers wrestled with the paradox of a Parliament most of whose members yearn to avert Brexit, even though it gives more power to Parliament. Hoey, a Labour MP since 1989, warned that “the great betrayal has begun” and is now “moving apace”.

Richard Tice, the clean-cut Englishman, somehow reminiscent of an American evangelist, who runs Leave Means Leave and introduced the speakers, insisted “we can begin to smell” the betrayal. He urged people to chant “Let’s go WTO”.

Forte, who spoke as a businessman, said “I have not known such defeatism…by the ruling class…since the Seventies” [applause]. He described the elite’s lack of belief in the British people as  “almost treasonable”.

A heckler interrupted at this point by shouting very loudly. He was quite near to me, but I could not make out what he was saying. Forte, being somewhat inexperienced as a public speaker, fell silent, and members of the crowd started shouting “Out, out, out”.

Tice poured oil on troubled waters by saying, “We respect the right of free speech and we urge them to do the same”, for apparently there was more than one protester. The heckler near to me was ushered from the hall and someone shouted after him “At least you can leave”, which produced rueful laughter.

Duncan Smith started with some jokes, including the funny story he told when interviewed by ConservativeHome in 2013, and went on to talk of “this enormous Establishment plot” to tell us “we are a miserable little nation” and “a hopeless little island”.

He added that Parliament “doesn’t represent the British people any more”. But he and the minority of MPs who think like him “will not rest” until Britain is “fully free once again”.

Tim Martin, founder and Chairman of the Wetherspoon pub chain, bore as he came on stage a fleeting but disconcerting resemblance to the satirist Craig Brown.

Martin’s main message was “don’t believe Project Fear”. He recalled that car manufacturers said “they’d all f*ck off to the continent” if Britain didn’t join the euro.

And he reported that “if you really want to annoy people”, you should “try going into a pub in Sunderland” and asking people there if it was true they “didn’t understand” what they were voting for in the referendum.

This produced laughter of the usual good-natured yet rueful kind.

Farage received the most enthusiastic welcome of anyone: a standing ovation before he had said a word.

He walked to and fro across the front of the stage, his amplified voice painfully loud as he warned that “we tonight here in Westminster are in the heart of enemy territory”, for “our political class” never respected the referendum result “from day one”.

Theresa May’s deal with the EU “looked more like a surrender document” [applause], and was the culmination of “50 years of lies from the British Establishment”.

He fears the whole referendum battle will have to be fought all over again, urged everyone to prepare for it, and concluded: “Next time, as far as I’m concerned, it’s no more Mr Nice Guy.”

One could not help suspecting that as in the first referendum campaign, Farage being nasty could have an off-putting effect on those voters who do not already agree with him.

McVey delivered an apologia for her time in government: “We thought we could trust our MPs.” On realising last November that the Prime Minister’s deal failed to honour the referendum result, she resigned.

And that was that. The event lasted two hours, felt decorous and respectable, and can be watched on Youtube. The audience was almost entirely white, but mixed by age and sex. It wanted to feel reassured that Brexit is going to turn out fine, but none of the six speakers could set at rest the fear that Parliament is about to refuse to do what the people have voted for.

The drawback of upholding an old-fashioned belief in parliamentary sovereignty turns out to be that a majority of MPs would much rather we had remained in the EU.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Simon Allison: Parliament is deadlocked. Only the British people can now deliver a final say on May’s deal.

Simon Allison is founding member of Right to Vote, author of Brexit – a Betrayal of Conservatism? and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

Right to Vote, a new grouping of Conservative MPs and grassroots activists who are calling for the voters to be given a Final Say over the Brexit process, was launched this week. We’ve called it Right to Vote because we think that voting on the final outcome of the EU talks is the right thing for people to do and indeed, something that they should – and must – have a right to do.

There’s no question that people are bored to tears with hearing about Brexit, and sick and tired of politicians on all sides telling them half-truths about it – and in some cases, blatant untruths. To make matters worse, the people paid to solve the country’s problems, our MPs, have managed to get themselves into a state of total gridlock, in many cases just scoring political points while time ticks away on saving our future.

What people actually want is for our MPs to set out a clear way forward for the country. That means telling them the truth, however unpalatable and difficult that may be. In fact, if you look at the times when the Conservative Party has defied the odds to win elections, in 1979, 1992 and 2015, our success has been based on levelling with the people of the United Kingdom.

So: let’s face facts. The Prime Minister’s Brexit deal is dead. She is calling on MPs to unite around a new solution, but there’s no Commons majority for any form of Brexit – not for the Prime Minister’s deal, not for ‘no deal’ and not for a Norway-style arrangement. While many moderate Conservative MPs like the idea of a compromise based around some form of Customs Union or EEA/EFTA solution, they miss the fact that the reasons why the public didn’t swing behind Mrs May’s deal are the same reasons that they wouldn’t back that kind of compromise.

It would still leave us as a rule-taker not a rule-maker, leavs us paying £39 million without any guarantees about the final deal and we’d have to go on bended knee to persuade such global powerhouses as Norway and Liechtenstein to let us in. The whole thing would frankly be a humiliation for a world power like the UK. From a Party perspective, it opens up the prospect of internal war without end around the contents of a final trade deal, almost certainly dominating this Parliament and most probably ensuring a crushing defeat – even to Jeremy Corbyn – in 2022.

Instead, giving people a Final Say is a swift, fair and democratic solution to this sorry saga, allowing us to get back to meeting the challenges that in part fuelled the Brexit vote in the first place.

If you believe some on the Party’s far right, this makes us traitors and saboteurs, unrepresentative of true conservatism; many of the Conservative MPs supporting a Final Say are receiving threats of deselection by their constituency associations. But we must not confuse the anguish of hardened activists with the underlying views of the voters. Indeed, across all the seats that elected Conservative MPs at the last election, new research suggests that an average of 55.8 per cent of voters support a new public vote.

Indeed, if the Conservative Party is going to return to its election-winning positioning as the party of common sense, there are two key facts which it must recognise. First, that the Brexit side of this discussion, after nearly three years, can’t decide what Brexit means, making it somewhat difficult to implement and, second, that as of today Remain leads Leave by 12 per cent in the polls.

Against that background, to deny the electorate a say and, instead, delivering a Brexit that does not command their support would be a betrayal of the United Kingdom and a suicide mission for the Conservative Party. The right path for our country also happens to be right path for our Party.  We, as Conservatives, ought to lead the way in trusting the people with this – not to be forced in to doing so because there is nowhere else to turn.

The Right to Vote campaign has one clear aim: to secure a Final Say vote. This is about breaking the deadlock in Parliament. This is about securing consent for the next chapter in our great country. It is time to trust the people and let them really take back control.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Stewart Jackson: Don’t be tempted to pivot to a customs union, Prime Minister – the consequences would be dire

Stewart Jackson was MP for Peterborough 2005-17 and Chief of Staff to David Davis 2017-18.

As expected, Jeremy Corbyn’s No Confidence motion tabled yesterday served to unify and focus the Conservative Party on the existential danger, not just to our party but to the whole country, of a red in tooth and claw Labour government. In that sense, it rather backfired.

Perversely, it has ramped up the pressure on Corbyn to enunciate a clearer position in response to the defeat of the Prime Minister’s unlamented Withdrawal Agreement, between the Europhile majority of his party pressing for extension or revocation of Article 50, a Norway model soft Brexit, or a second referendum, and the millions of Labour voters who supported Brexit. I cannot see that Corbyn will move much, because he still commands the trust and support of the Labour membership and influential figures like Len McCluskey and because he believes that the EU is a plutocratic capitalist cartel dedicated to neoliberalism and doing the bidding of rapacious multinationals – a view he’s held since about 1983.

Labour’s introspection has bought the Prime Minister some breathing space. Although as a result of John Bercow’s decision to disregard Commons precedent and rip up the rule book to allow the Remain ultras like Dominic Grieve to circumscribe the Government’s room for manoeuvre in last week’s business motion, she has only four more days to outline what her Plan B might be.

My own view is that her tenure is strictly time limited, but my instinct is that she probably has one more pivotal Commons vote left before the pressure from the 1922 Committee and the Cabinet for her to step aside and let another leader take over will become insurmountable.

She’s been lucky, too, this week with her Remain opponents. Remain true believers are as fractious and impatient as anyone else – witness the spat between Nick Boles and Grieve over which (wrecking) Bill to present in the Commons – Boles’s quirky EU Referendum (No2) Bill or Grieve’s second referendum Bill? It’s a microcosm of the fight between the Norway crowd and the ‘Peoples’ Vote’ (sic) supporters. Neither has or likely will have a majority in the House of Commons, and Boles’s effort seems to have blown up on the tarmac via a big raspberry from the Liaison Committee. Nevertheless, the aim of most of their advocates is to delay and then kill Brexit.

For all that, Theresa May would be wise to avoid jumping out of the frying pan of a calamitous Commons defeat into the fire of a full-blown Tory civil war. The lack of a clear policy position after Tuesday’s vote appears to have emboldened some of the Cabinet to disregard even further collective responsibility. They now argue – both in code (“reaching out to other parties”) and explicitly – for a deal with Labour, involving reneging on our explicit 2017 General Election manifesto commitment to leave the Customs Union. Indeed, to the contrary, some ministers are wholeheartedly embracing the idea of one. This was always the position of people like Greg Clark and Philip Hammond, but they now feel they have license to sell this unappetising prospect in plain sight.

‘Pivoting’ to a customs union would be a very bad idea for a number of reasons. Labour have no coherent Brexit policy and the customs union demand is only the least worst part of an incredible smorgasbord of opportunistic waffle. The Opposition really isn’t interested in anything but precipitating division and open warfare in our party, and certainly not in developing a coherent and pluralistic policy which can pass the Commons. Secondly, a customs union as a discrete policy is a terrible idea, as consistently and eloquently argued by Greg Hands – primarily because it would undermine a key rationale by Leave voters for supporting Brexit, the aim of allowing the UK to strike new, lucrative global trade deals after our exit from the EU.

Most acutely, Conservative MPs should understand the peril of shredding a policy which the Prime Minister has publicly endorsed over 30 times, when faced with a Party membership and wider electorate warming to No Deal/WTO and still irked by the debacle of Chequers and the Withdrawal Agreement. A Party faithful willing to believe that we can still strike a Canada Plus style deal with the EU. And why wouldn’t they? This week David Davis, Dominic Raab, Arlene Foster and Peter Lilley launched A Better Deal, which offers a reasonable alternative strategy for the Prime Minister when she returns to Brussels in a few days’ time. Together with enhanced No Deal planning, it is at least as good as any other course of action, not least because it was the basis of the Prime Minister’s policy outlined at Lancaster House, Florence and Mansion House and at last year’s General Election.

Signing up to a Customs Union would be such an egregious capitulation that it would endanger our local government candidates in May, and were we foolish enough to extend Article 50 to necessitate by Treaty obligation participation in the EU Parliament elections (as Boles’s bill demands), it would invite a populist upsurge of unprecedented severity.

Conservative Associations are much less deferential, more activist, and frankly more Eurosceptic now, and they’d scarcely wear such a retreat from our solemn promises. MPs who supported it would struggle to justify their decision. Remember, recent polling shows that people’s attachment to getting Brexit comfortably outstrips their attachment to even the best and most diligent local MP, and to political parties generally.

Finally, it’s as well to consider Scotland as a terrifying morality tale. In 2010, Labour polled 42 per cent there and took 41 seats – most of them won very handily. Just five years later, motivated by bitter disappointment in the wake of a fractious and unpleasant referendum campaign and a feeling that “the Establishment” had cheated them of their dreams of self-government and independence, a significant bulk of their hitherto most loyal voters turned on their own party, leaving that party with just one seat and less than a quarter of the votes.

Couldn’t happen again? Don’t bet on it.

If May takes the path of least resistance by adopting a Customs Union post-Brexit to get any deal through the Commons, she risks not just a terrible party schism but electoral Armageddon.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Jeremy Hunt: This deal is a compromise, but it honours the referendum result – and it must pass

Jeremy Hunt is Member of Parliament for South West Surrey, and Foreign Secretary.

For once the cliché is justified: today really is an historic day. The House of Commons is about to vote on an agreement that would change our national destiny and take Britain out of the European Union in just 73 days.

It took a remarkable sequence of events to get us to the verge of leaving the EU after 46 years. There was a referendum that most experts predicted would deliver a victory for Remain. There was an election that left us without a majority. Even so, we now have a 585-page Withdrawal Agreement, negotiated and concluded with 27 countries. It has compromises but not even the Prime Minister’s fiercest critics would doubt her dogged determination that has got us to this point.

But it is clear the opponents of Brexit are not giving up. On the face of it, all the cards are stacked against them. At the 2017 election both the two main parties pledged to leave the EU. They are up against a Government and a Prime Minister committed to delivering on this. And most importantly of all, those who want Brexit stopped are up against the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU, more than for any other cause or party in British history. Like many who campaigned to remain in the EU, that for me is the single biggest reason we must honour the mandate: as one of the oldest parliamentary democracies in the world it would be a devastating blow both to our national cohesion and our global reputation if the political class succeeded in unpicking what the people had told it to do.

It is of course perfectly principled to take a different view. But the effect of changing the parliamentary rules to prevent No Deal would – whether intended or not – also allow Parliament to stop Brexit altogether. Because you cannot just change the rules of Parliament on one specific issue: once the precedent has been set they can be changed on any issue.

This kind of asymmetric tactic to delaying or stopping Brexit would be significant for two other reasons: firstly because the most likely outcome would not be a decisive shift to a different kind of Brexit, rather a move to constitutional stalemate and Brexit paralysis. Businesses up and down the country desperate to plan would instead be condemned to months more uncertainty. But secondly – and much more profoundly – it would directly pit the will of Parliament against the will of the people.

We have never had a written constitution and that has given us admirable flexibility to move fast at crucial moments. But it has always depended on restraint from parliamentarians, recognising that our role is not to impose our will on the people but to remain faithful to our democratic mandate. After a referendum in which all major political parties promised to honour the result, failing to do so would lead to a potentially irreparable breach of trust.

So why vote for this deal? It has compromises and elements that make many people – myself included – frankly uncomfortable. Yet it does contain much that Leave voters were demanding: sovereign control over immigration, leaving the CAP and the CFP, no large annual membership fees, and only the most limited role for the European Court of Justice. At the same time, it protects businesses and jobs that depend on trade with the EU in the way any responsible government would obviously seek to do. And with skilful negotiation, an independent trade policy will be something we can achieve.

The risk is that by opposing it in the hope of something better, we end up with the worst possible outcome: no Brexit at all.

Why is that? Because those seeking to reverse the Brexit decision have a simple three part plan: defeat the Government in the meaningful vote; then use the deadlock to extend Article 50 and push for a second referendum. It is not scaremongering to point this out: the first part may happen tonight and then with the amendment planned by Dominic Grieve for later in the week Parliament could require the Government to adopt the second.

If Brexit were then to be reversed in a second referendum, how would we look the 52 per cent who supported Brexit in 2016 – and went on to vote Conservative in the 2017 General Election – in the face? They trusted us to deliver Brexit – and we would have failed.

I have many colleagues and friends whom I respect enormously who have taken an honourable decision to accept that risk, but I cannot. This is our moment to deliver on what the British people asked us to do and we should seize it.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Guto Bebb: Conservative MPs’ opposition to this deal is about far more than just the backstop

Guto Bebb is MP for Aberconwy, and a former defence minister.

Two months have now passed since the Prime Minister published the Government’s Brexit deal. In that time, I’ve spoken to colleagues and constituents; to friends and family; and reached an unavoidable conclusion: this deal is not in our national interest.

Conservatives from John Redwood to John Major agree that this is a bad deal. Whilst much of this unhappiness has centred on the vexed question of the Irish border and the backstop, colleague after colleague has made it clear that this is a bad deal for Britain for reasons that go way beyond the backstop. Never mind the backstop, most of us think it’s a bad deal full stop.  I anticipate that the comments within the letter sent by the President of the European Council and European Commission, released this morning, will change little.

Steve Baker, deputy chair of the ERG, wrote last year about his opposition to the deal, “In the end, it’s not really about the backstop.” This is, by far, the majority position. In the People’s Vote campaign’s analysis of the public statements made by the 100-odd of us Conservative MPs who are against the deal, just 13 of the colleagues who made negative comments about the deal wrote that their opposition was predicated solely on the nature of the backstop.

The rest listed several reasons why the deal is unacceptable. Seventy-two colleagues cited that the deal does not meet the promises made in the 2016 referendum – nor come close to doing so. The British people were told that Brexit would allow them to “take back control”, yet this deal, as my colleague Sam Gyimah made clear, involves the UK surrendering our voice, our veto and our vote – likely for a period of time far longer than any backstop or transition period.

Forty-one colleagues wrote about the uncertainty that this deal entails. It settles nothing. It merely ties up the terms of our departure, leaving the UK to pay a £50 billion divorce bill while postponing the difficult decisions until after we are out and have given away our money. Our future relationship with the EU is sketched out in a vague ‘Political Declaration’, a short document which guarantees nothing and will result in many more years of arguments and disagreements with the EU and throughout this country. Successive governments will travel back and forth to Brussels struggling to make sense of a deal that makes no sense for Britain. It is a deal that heralds a new era of ‘Brexternity’.

It is also no surprise that our analysis found that many members of our party, the Conservative and Unionist Party, cannot vote for this deal that threatens the integrity of the United Kingdom. Again, it is not just the backstop that puts strain on the Union, it is the large swathes of the deal. The consequences of the agreement reached on fisheries, and the safeguards for Northern Irish economy but lacking elsewhere, will turbocharge calls for Scottish independence. Whilst at the moment there are majorities against Irish unification and Scottish independence, a poll by Deltapoll earlier this year found that there is a majority for Scottish independence and Irish unification if Brexit goes ahead.

The numbers of colleagues implacably opposed to the Prime Minister’s deal, and the sheer variety of reasons why, make it impossible to see how it can ever be passed. The country needs another route forward.

Our options are limited and not pretty. We could leave with no deal, which many colleagues, myself included, consider a form of ‘national suicide’ and simply will not let happen.

A Norway+ relationship in reality amounts to EU membership minus any control or influence – something nobody wants nor voted for.

Then there’s an unappealing, messy, Frankenstein customs union relationship suggested by the Labour Party.

Or, as I think is likely, if Parliament cannot find a majority for any of these options, and is unable to make a decision, we could agree to let the people decide. Given how far the reality of the Brexit options are from what people were promised in 2016, this would not be a democratic scandal as some suggest. Given gridlock in Parliament, it is a pragmatic solution to a constitutional, national crisis.

It might be politically uncomfortable to tell the people that we politicians have failed, but the public are not stupid, they have seen forging a successful Brexit is far harder than anyone could have anticipated. They have seen the limits of what type of exit deal can actually be negotiated. They have seen that Parliament and politicians simply cannot agree a way forward, and know that we cannot just crash out.  Many colleagues, backbenchers, ministers, and Cabinet ministers, are sympathetic to the idea of returning to the people. But there is a risk we end up in a second rate end state if they do not make themselves heard.

We have an impasse in Parliament, and will soon have a full blown national crisis, if members of Parliament, particularly on the Conservative side, do not provide the pragmatic, democratic solution of another referendum.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Peter Bone: I helped move Cameron’s Government to deliver the referendum. And this deal doesn’t deliver on the result.

Peter Bone is a member of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union, and is MP for Wellingborough.

All my political life, I have been campaigning to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union superstate. Quite simply, I believe that the United Kingdom should be a sovereign nation making its own decisions.

In 2011, I was behind the motion that we should have a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union. This was opposed by David Cameron’s government and, winding up that debate, I suggested that MPs should put the country first and their Party second. The vote resulted in 81 Conservative MPs defying a strict three-line whip to support a referendum.

In 2015, with my colleagues and Parliamentary neighbours Philip Hollobone and Tom Pursglove, I held a ballot in North Northamptonshire to find out whether local people wanted to leave the EU. This was the biggest vote on the European issue since 1975, with 100,000 ballot papers distributed across Wellingborough, Kettering, Corby and East Northamptonshire. The result was that 81.1 per cent voted to leave.

In December of that year, along with Tom, I co-founded a non-party political Leave campaign – Grassroots Out. I travelled to every corner of the United Kingdom, speaking to people from all areas, ages and backgrounds. I held grassroots events in village halls and at street stalls. I addressed major rallies of thousands of people at venues in every part of our United Kingdom. I knocked on thousands of doors talking to people who were energised by this great democratic event.

On the 23rd of June 2016, the people of the United Kingdom voted by a substantial majority to leave the European Union.

Unfortunately, more than two years on from that great debate, the Prime Minister’s proposal does not deliver the Brexit that 17.4 million people voted for. Let us look at what people told me mattered to them.

First, they wanted an end to the free movement of people from the European Union. They thought it unfair that people from the EU could come to this country and enjoy the benefits of our public services when they had no connection with the United Kingdom, yet at the same time skilled workers, such as doctors, from outside the EU, couldn’t get in. They wanted to see a fair immigration policy based on merit not where you come from.

Theresa May claims that her deal ends free movement, but this is palpable nonsense. The Commons was promised an Immigration Bill more than a year ago. However, it was only last month that we got a White Paper on what might be in the Bill. If the government was planning to end free movement when we left the EU, we would have had such a Bill by now.

The non-binding political declaration, which is just a wish-list, talks about ending free movement, but of course we have no detail of our future trading relationship, and it is highly likely that the Government will trade off ending free movement for a trade deal. The one thing that is certain is the Prime Minister’s plan does not guarantee the ending of free movement.

Second, they wanted an end to billions and billions of pounds paid each and every year to the European Union by UK taxpayers. Last year, we gave the European Union a net £9 billion contribution.

Since we have been a part of the European project we have given a net subscription fee of over £210 billion. If that money had stayed in this country, we could have improved our public services, cut taxes and lowered national debt. This cost might not have been so bad if we had had a trading surplus with the European Union, but of course this is not the case: they sell £100 billion of goods more to us then we do them each year.

Under May’s plan we would pay a minimum amount of £39 billion to the EU for the transition. That equates to £60 million for each constituency in the country, just think what a difference that could make! However, the £39 billion is only the start. Her plans allow for a further extension of two years for the transition period which would cost a further £20 billion.

In addition, we don’t know how much we have to contribute each year in any future trading relationship. So, it is reasonable to expect that the Prime Minister’s plan will cost in excess of £60 billion. That is hardly stopping paying billions and billions of pounds each and every year to the European Union.

Third, they wanted us to make our own laws in our own country. Clearly, our citizens want to return control to Parliament. They want to elect their politicians to make laws which are in the interest of the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They also want the power to be able to throw out those politicians through the ballot box. Simply, they want sovereignty returned to our country. They are fed up with laws and regulations made by European bureaucrats who are not subject to scrutiny or to election by the people.

May’s plan would sign up to accepting laws made by the EU, with no say in making them. The worst part of this being that we have no unilateral right to end this arrangement, and we could become a permanent rule-taker, not rule-maker.

Fourth, they wanted us to be judged by our own judges, not by a foreign court, as our judicial system is the envy of the world. Our judges are of the highest integrity and calibre, and they make their decisions based on the law of the land and never for political reasons. Yet at the moment our Supreme Court is subservient to the European Court of Justice whose judges are appointed for political reasons. They have a long record of producing dubious decisions which seem to be based more on politics than the law. What the British people want is a set of properly qualified judges, solely interpreting the law of our land and making their decisions purely based on the evidence they have put before them. That is what we have with our judicial system and that is not what we have with the ECJ.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s plans would have us in a transition period for up to four years, during that period we will be subject to the rulings of the European Court of Justice. What is worse, is that we will not have any say in how the laws are drawn up, and we will have no presence in the ECJ. Even after the implementation period, if the Northern Ireland backstop kicks in, we will still be subject to European rulings on vast swathes of the law and regulation that affect us. So clearly the May’s proposals do not allow for our own judges to judge our own laws.

The Prime Minister’s proposal might be the worst deal ever for this country. It is certainly not the Brexit that people voted for. As Bill Clinton might have said about Brexit: It’s the Sovereignty, Stupid!

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How Trump appeals to unspeakable emotions

Denial: The Unspeakable Truth by Keith Kahn-Harris

Anyone who takes the faintest interest in politics is bound to wonder why, while behaving in a manner so loutish, shameless and disrespectful of conventional wisdom, Donald Trump has managed to form such a close bond with the American public.

Keith Kahn-Harris touches only in passing on that question, yet succeeds in casting much light on it.

His book has the merit of being short. He examines a phenomenon – the yearning to deny various commonly accepted positions – which could have spawned a treatise of inordinate length.

He manages to write not much more than an extended essay by selecting only a few examples of denial. These include denial of the Holocaust, of the harm done by tobacco, of the link between HIV and AIDS, and of man-made climate change.

One may question how much in common with each other these denials have. The Holocaust has already taken place, while climate change is to a large extent a series of predictions about the future.

And denialism (a term he admits to be “terrible”) as a form of non-argument, where one refuses to listen to the opposing point of view or to take into account strong opposing evidence, and is instead driven by inner compulsions of one’s own, has also been seen quite a bit during our own referendum campaign.

In his frivolous youth, Kahn-Harris tells us in his preface, he developed a love of “nonsense dressed up as scholarship”, and revelled in the “portentous ludicrousness” of books such as Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods, which in the 1970s contended that aliens had visited earth and inspired the glories of ancient civilisations.

Kahn-Harris’s Jewish upbringing meant he was conscious of the Holocaust from an early age, but when he heard of people who denied it had ever happened, this too “was all a big joke to me”.

It is easier to be heartless in one’s teens than later on, when he begins to worry that those who challenge “real scholarship” are helping  “something deeply poisonous” to grow, and to produce “diseased fruit in our ‘post-truth’ age”.

In some ways, I prefer the earlier and more heartless Kahn-Harris, who shrieks with laughter at the flat earthers and other cranks he comes across. For as he himself says, these people yearn to be taken seriously, and one should be wary of paying them that compliment.

But one advantage of taking them seriously is that he starts to see that they are not just liberals who have somehow gone astray, and only need a bit of education in order to enable them to perceive the truth:

“Denialism is not a barrier to acknowledging a common moral foundation, it is a barrier to acknowledging moral differences… Denialism arises from being in an impossible bind: holding to desires, values, ideologies and morals that cannot be openly spoken of.”

Later on, Kahn-Harris remarks that “all denialists share a burning desire to continue to appear decent while rejecting the path of decency”.  They cannot say what they really want, and

“politics becomes a kind of shadow play, in which – shorn of of real discussions of real differences – all that is left is a battle over who can really claim the mantle of righteousness, who can rightly claim to embody the values we all sign up to.”

We are all, he points out, anti-racists now. The anti-Zionist Left vehemently rejects any idea that it might be anti-semitic. Holocaust deniers similarly reject with indignation the charge that they hate Jews, and indeed find themselves adopting the ludicrous position that Hitler was pro-Jewish, for after all, in their version of events, the Nazis were not actually evil and the Jews were not actually killed.

Kahn-Harris sees “the pathos, the desperation and the fierce hope” that undergird denialist tracts – qualities one is liable to miss if one just debunks such works as ludicrously unscientific and unscholarly.

And here one starts to see Trump’s appeal. There is no way to be a polite racist. It is an inherently rude position, and in, for example, his attacks on Mexicans, Trump embraces that rudeness, revels in it, is authentically and genuinely loutish, appalls respectable society and thus convinces his supporters that he is on their side.

I have just been reading about the Mexican War of 1846-48, in which the United States made vast gains of territory at the expense of an enfeebled Mexico, which was provoked into war, fought bravely but was thrashed by well-led American forces with superior equipment. It was in many ways a disgraceful affair, and people like Abraham Lincoln said at the time that it was disgraceful.

But at the same time, a strong moral case was made for the expansion. It was, the Democratic Review declared in 1845, “the fulfilment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.”

The war was popular – democratic, one might say – and no one supposed afterwards that these gains stretching all the way to the Pacific, including what became the states of California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico, and a southern border pushed down to the Rio Grande, should be handed back.

One of the heroes of the war, General Zachary Taylor, who had no political experience, was adopted as a presidential candidate in the election of 1848, which he proceeded to win.

Kahn-Harris does not go in to this history, and if he had done his book would have become unmanageable. But he does observe that denialists have beliefs which used to be regarded as morally defensible and now are not.

In the old days, one could win presidential elections thanks to one’s heroic record in unequal wars waged against native Americans and Mexicans. Today one cannot advocate that kind of thing. But Trump, with brutal skill, knows how to show whose side he is on. He is a more traditional figure than his opponents, whose outlook is usually bounded by their own lifetimes, tend to realise.

Throughout his essay, Kahn-Harris touches on the pleasure to be derived from shocking people, behaving in an outrageous fashion, claiming to be in possession of arcane information, and throwing one’s opponents off balance by saying things they never imagined could be said. Trump has a genius for that kind of performance.

At  the end of his essay, Kahn-Harris admits his book has not been particularly helpful in showing how denialism should be dealt with. He attempts, rather unconvincingly, to frame messages for Holocaust deniers and global warming deniers.

But his purpose is to understand, not to cure, and his essay can be recommended not just to anyone interested in denialism, but to anyone dismayed by the narrow limits within which our political debates take place.

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Brexit: The Uncivil War. Graham gives us Cummings Agonistes – and a Tory work of art.

“Coming to a television set near you: Farage the movie,” the Daily Telegraph reported in August 2017.  “A major Hollywood studio is poised to sign a deal with Nigel Farage and Arron Banks to make a £60million, six-part film of Mr Banks’ best-selling diary of the referendum campaign “The Bad Boys of Brexit”.  The script is nearly finished and shooting will start in the New Year. The series will air in April, once the deal is signed next month at a meeting in Los Angeles.”

Eighteen months on, there’s no sign of the film.  Instead, we have a drama centred on the man who can claim instead to be the real winner of the EU referendum – Dominic Cummings.  There really is a God after all.  Or, if there isn’t, at least there is James Graham, who wrote Brexit: The Uncivil War, shown yesterday evening on Channel 4.

A virtue of his film is that it gets Banks’ measure, accurately nailing him as a comic sideshow. And an even bigger one is that it gets the referendum campaign’s, correctly fingering Cummings as the man who made the difference.  Had he not been appointed, Vote Leave might well not have won official designation.  Had he been deposed from it, the organisation would have collapsed.  There would have been no Take Back Control.  And, like it or not, that’s what the British people were persuaded to vote to do.

Banks has complained about the drama, though he may not yet have seen it.  So has the woman who has done so much to project him – Carole Cadwalladr.  He doesn’t like being played for laughs and she doesn’t like it side-stepping her conspiracy theories.  These were nodded to in the closing credits, and then a bit, but otherwise mostly avoided.

In a sense, though, one sympathises with both of them – at least, if one is hoping for documentary rather than drama.  We could offer a list of corrections and clarifications.  Douglas Carswell didn’t avoid parts of his former constituency.  Michael Gove made his mind up far earlier than the film suggested (though he kept quiet about it).  Cummings himself uses focus groups to test voter opinion, not random visits to pubs.  But all this would be beside the point – like expecting a piece of poetry to be a chunk of prose.

No, the real weakness of Brexit: the Uncivil War emerges from its greatest strength – that’s to say, putting Cummings, portrayed with eerie verisimilitude by Benedict Cumberbatch, at the centre of the film. For Graham balances out Cummings with Craig Oliver, then David Cameron’s Director of Communications.  This neat piece of parallelism sets them up as the contending antagonists of the drama.

But Oliver wasn’t really Cummings’ real-life equivalent.  George Osborne was Remain’s chief strategist, if anyone.  And he is missing from the film altogether in fictional form.  So for that matter is Jeremy Corbyn.  Indeed, the film is largely blue-on-blue action.  Back in the real world of the referendum campaign, Corbyn’s lethargy depressed Remain’s Labour vote, just as Farage’s energy, over a longer period, helped to deliver Leave’s core support.  Graham’s palette is striking for the absence of red.

Again, it’s worth stressing that art isn’t fact.  None the less, a structural flaw in a drama’s foundation can collapse it – especially, perhaps, if it looks back to recent events.  Some will say that the film fails to stand up because it has too much to say about Cummings and too little about others, or about the case for and against the EU itself: that it’s real title should be Vote Leave: the Uncivil War.

Others will claim, we think with justice, that the campaign didn’t pit head, in the form of rational Oliver, against heart, in that of romantic Cummings, as Graham seems to suggest.  Rather, two different emotions went head to head: fear and anger.  The drama shows a lot of the stoking of one but little of that of the other – Project Fear.  The balance between data and message on the Leave side is better, but it was the latter that counted most (at least, if you agree with Oliver which, in part, we do).

None the less, Brexit: the Uncivil War has an emotional strength at the heart of it: it gets why so many people voted Leave.  The focus group scene in which a woman makes it clear that she feels, ignored, by-passed, and treated as if she has no value – and will back Brexit in consequence – had the power of truth.

It’s a force that drives the progress of the plot, from Cummings stumbling upon “Take back control”  as a winning slogan through the failed coup to depose him through the campaigning switch to immigration to the very end.  A mention in dispatches, and then some, for Roy Kinnear, whose Oliver is a sleek fictional foil for Cumberbatch’s angular Cummings.  Graham may be a man of the Left, but something else entirely comes out of the near-final scene in which they square off against each other over a pint.

“You won’t be able to control it either,” says Oliver of the forces that Cummings has helped to unleash.  In the film, the latter can almost hear them, so finely-tuned are his sensibilities.  The drama begins with him picking up noise like a wireless picking up a signal – straining for it with a concentration that is almost clairvoyant.

Later in the film, he lies down, his ear pressed to the ground, in order to hear it better.  The noise is voices.  What are they saying?  Cummings may not be sure, but Graham seems to be.  Surly, turbulent, angry, swelling to a roar – this is the clamour not of a queue waiting to vote, but of a mob pitching the mighty from their seats.  We have before us not so much the ballot box as Pandora’s box.

Graham is not a Conservative, but this sensibility – this fear of riot, of disorder from below, of revolt – has been linked to the Right of politics for longer than the Left.  He might not thank us for saying so, but he has, in one sense at least, produced a Tory work of art.  There are worse ways of sketching a first draft of history.

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