Tagged: Brexit

Blair on Europe – almost right, but not quite

Tony Blair’s speech on Europe seemed to me to confuse two quite separate issues.  The first issue, on which he is absolutely right, is that  “the people voted without knowledge of the terms of Brexit”, and that “The road we’re going down is not simply Hard Brexit. It is Brexit At Any Cost.”  Accepting the (questionable) legitimacy of the Brexit vote is not equivalent to accepting the Government’s recipe for implementation.  The second issue, on which he is not right, is to assume that the alternative is to vote again and this time to vote the other way.   The main alternative is surely to address the terms of exit differently, including the extension of rights to EU nationals in Britain, membership of the EEA, and – probably most important – democratic deliberation at every stage of the process.   As Blair himself says,

it isn’t a question of just ‘getting on with it’. This is not a decision that once made is then a mere matter of mechanics to implement. It is a decision which then begets many other decisions. Every part of this negotiation from money to access to post Brexit arrangements is itself an immense decision with consequence.

There are however points on which I would part company from Blair altogether. One is his acceptance of the view that “Immigration is the issue. ”  It is for Theresa May, but this wasn’t a vote on immigration – it was only a vote where that played a part.  The other is his dismissal of the relevance of the ECJ, where he says:  “I would defy anyone to be able to recall any decisions which they might have heard of. ”    Try  Rüffert v Niedersachsen, 2008 C‑346/06, where the ECJ judged that national governments could not use contracts to  enforce collective wage agreements; or  Bundesdruckerei v Stadt Dortmund 2014 C549/13, which stopped German authorities from insisting that the minimum wage should be paid.  These decisions were appalling – quite as bad as the Lochner v New York in the USA, where dissenting judge Justice Holmes was moved to comment that the Constitution of the United States “does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics.” I wouldn’t expect most critics of the EU to be able to cite the specifics either, but they understand the general tenor.  The ECJ has been part of the neo-liberal domination of the EU, that has done so much to undermine the European ideal.   

Brexit: the UK government alluringly takes off the first veil

The Government’s White Paper on Brexit has appeared, too late for the vote in the House of Commons but at least in time before the committee stage.   It has a few surprises; the biggest one to my mind was to discover that Ireland is no longer really part of the EU.  Here is one of the graphs that leaves out Ireland:

Here’s another:

The document explains that Britain has ‘historic ties’ with Ireland as well as the free movement of “goods, utilities, services and people”.  It will be intriguing to find out how that works without implying the movement of goods, utilities and services from Ireland to the rest of the EU.

It also seems that Britain already has a unique relationship with the EU, which looks like this:

The Government claims that “It is in the interests of both the UK and the EU to have a mutually beneficial customs arrangement to ensure goods trade between the UK and EU can continue as much as possible as it does now. ”  Other stakeholders in the EU have already made it pretty clear that this is not their view, and it’s not going to happen.

Why the Brexit bill should be opposed

I’ve not commented before on the woes of Her Majesty’s Opposition, and I don’t want to get distracted by their internal politics now. But the Government’s proposed bill to prepare for Brexit is sinister, and regardless of what people think about article 50, all good parliamentarians should oppose it.

The Government had intended to act by virtue of prerogative powers, and the Supreme Court has told them it’s illegitimate. The Bill does not say that article 50 will be invoked, or that Parliament wishes to give notice to the EU. Instead, it invests the power to decide in one person, the PM. The aim of the Bill is to forestall Parliamentary debate and to restore the government’s decisions to the realm of the prerogative. This is clearly designed to nullify the force of the Supreme Court’s judgment. The diminution of Parliament is inconsistent with parliamentary democracy.

Planning Brexit: the government’s assault on democracy

The Brexit process has been marked throughout by a thoroughgoing disregard for democratic principles and political legitimacy.

First, the referendum vote excluded more than a million British citizens with a direct interest in the issue.  That decision was upheld in court, which meant that it was legal, but it meant at the outset that the process was neither democratic nor legitimate.

Second, the process to date has overridden the rights of the minority.   James Madison argued, in the Federalist Papers, that every majority had to be understood as a coalition of minorities, and the convention of majority rule was based on respect for the rights of the minorities that remained.  That principle is fundamental to liberal democracy.  The government has a duty to find a resolution of the vote that will maintain the fundamental rights of the citizens who it is bound by law to protect.  However, nothing in the debates, and nothing in the government’s current plans, has given any attention to the issue.

Third, the government is proceeding without respecting its previous undertakings to consult directly with devolved governments.  This, again, is not about the legal point; it’s about legitimacy.  Ms May’s administration has been messing around for six months, and now they have the gall to claim that there isn’t time.   A decision to consult is not a commitment to agree.  It is disturbing that the consultation has not taken place.

Fourth, the government has proceeded in a way which is inimical to democratic conventions.  It is disgraceful that they should have tried to go ahead without parliamentary debate, and no less disgraceful that it should have taken a citizens’ challenge to establish the obvious principle that they do not have the power to wipe out existing laws or citizens’ rights by fiat.   The most surprising thing about the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller is that it should have to be said at all.

Remaining in the EEA was held up as a prospect in the referendum.

It’s being widely reported that Theresa May is going for the “hard’ Brexit, arguing that in the referendum people made a clear decision to  leave the EU behind altogether.  That’s not how I remember the debates. While the EU referendum was going on, we were constantly being told that leaving the institutions of the EU would not mean that the UK didn’t have access to the European single market.   For example, the pro-leave Bruges Group put out a video, fronted by Norman Tebbit, arguing for Britain to work through the European Economic Area.  A spokesman for the Bruges Group argued on that video:

“Britain could still remain a member of the single market, which is the European Economic Area, or EEA, which allows for free movement of goods, services, capital and people.  And that means that as far as business is concerned, businesses will trade as they have before.  But the difference will be that regulations will no longer apply to 100% of the UK, but only, if you want, the 9% that are directly involved with export.”

Michael Gove – remember him? – argued, in The Telegraph on 22nd June:

There is no trade-off between any of this and greater prosperity; in fact, the very opposite is true. The premises of Project Fear – that Brexit would trigger economic dislocation, a trade war and a recession – are utterly bogus. We would join the European Economic Area in the short-term, like Norway, retaining access to the single market, before negotiating our own, à la carte deal with the EU …

A YouGov poll, shortly before the vote, claimed that most people in Britain favoured the Norway option.   Now, of course, none of this is equivalent to an election manifesto, and there is nothing here that today’s politicians should need to feel bound by.  But it does reflect on the mantra that we’re hearing that people voted to get out and so the route is all very clear.

Amendment 882: preserving the fundamental rights of European citizens

The petition I submitted to the European Parliament in July has not yet been approved  for public view, but an interesting proposal has been made by a Luxembourg MEP, Charles Goerens.  The Constitutional Affairs committee is considering  the EU’s institutional arrangements, and Goerens has proposed the following amendment to their report:

Motion for a resolution, Paragraph 37a (new)

37a Advocates to insert in the Treaties a European associate citizenship for those who feel and wish to be part of the European project but are nationals of a former Member State; offers these associate citizens the rights of freedom of movement and to reside on its territory as well as being represented in the Parliament through a vote in the European elections on the European lists.

My petition, provisionally numbered 0922/2016,  had stated

As citizens of the European Union, the status of British nationals is protected by the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Citizenship is the right to have rights. If European citizenship is truly fundamental, not just a conditional privilege, no European citizen should have it withdrawn without consent or treated as if it never existed. When the UK ceases to be a Member State, the Parliament, as the guardian of Fundamental Rights, should ensure that European citizens of British nationality who wish to preserve their fundamental rights are able to retain their citizenship.

Goerens’ amendment, though it does not refer to the EU’s obligations under the Charter, is a substantive response to that.    As the amendment is framed, however, it asks for Treaty change, and it does so in relation to a document which seeks nothing less than a fundamental review of the Lisbon Treaty.  This is likely to be a slow and difficult process, if it happens at all.  In so far as the Charter of Fundamental Rights is already part of the constitution of the EU, Treaty change should not be necessary.  The EU should do what it has already undertaken to do.

A petition to the European Parliament

I have prepared a petition on change.org, as the first step to presenting a petition to the European Parliament.  Here is the text.

Our European citizenship is a fundamental right. Please defend it.

We are citizens of the European Union. In the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, the Union committed itself to the principle that each and every citizen has basic rights. However, the treaties did not directly create distinct legal protections of the status of a citizen, which were considered to be sufficiently protected by the actions of Member States, and Protocol 30 specifically reserves judicial processes relating to such rights to the United Kingdom. If the United Kingdom ceases to be a Member State, British nationals may no longer additionally become European citizens.  It does not follow that the fundamental rights currently held by British nationals should be treated as if they never existed.

The EU needs now to consider how to deal both with the rights acquired by UK citizens and those acquired in the UK by citizens of other countries. Citizenship has been described as ‘the right to have rights’. If the rights of citizenship are truly fundamental, no person who currently enjoys the status of a European citizen should have their citizenship removed. No process which denies European citizens the right to have rights can be considered consistent with the Charter.

The consent of the European Parliament is required before any agreement with the departing member state can be concluded. We therefore petition the European Parliament, as the guarantor of EU citizenship, to safeguard the fundamental rights flowing from EU citizenship both for us and for those elsewhere in the EU. We ask the Parliament and the institutions of the EU to ensure that British citizens who are currently citizens of the European Community, and who wish to preserve that status, should on application be able to retain European citizenship after the UK ceases to be a Member State.

Please sign the petition by following this link.

I have had the advantage of comments and phrases from Tony Venables and Richard Upson.  The next stage will be, after signatures are in, to present this to the online petitions web-page fo the European Parliament.  It is difficult for people to register their support (it took me a day to get my first log in), which is why this is starting on change.org instead.

I’ve been asked – why start another petition, when others were off the blocks first?  The answer is (a) because this is going somewhere different – the European Parliament – and is the only one currently aimed there and (b) it refers to European principles.

What happens to European citizenship?

Decisions have consequences.  Like many others, I’m deeply unhappy with the vote to leave the EU, and have had to think about the implications for myself and my family.  The first and most obvious solution is to seek to be part of a country that does want to be in the European Union.  I did not vote for Scottish independence last time; I will next time.

I have also been looking at the implications of the withdrawal of European citizenship.  Citizenship rights are part of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. (The UK did not opt out of the Charter.  The protocols on the UK say that judicial and legislative powers relating to those rights rest with the UK.)

It seems that there is no legal basis to continue to hold European citizenship when the UK leaves – which rather undermines the description of citizenship as a ‘fundamental right’ in the Charter.  (See for example comments by Steve Peers in the seventh question he addresses.)  That does not mean that there is no moral or political argument, or that the process is impossible.   In some other realignments citizens have been given options to retain citizenship on application – many people are currently taking advantage of the arrangements  in Northern Ireland.  The European Parliament has consistently pressed for European citizenship to be treated distinctly from nationality in the member states, and I am considering a petition to the Parliament on that basis.

They’re voting to take my rights away. And yours.

The polls have shown a marked increase in support for leaving the European Union.  The tone of the debate about Europe has been disturbingly negative.  Beyond that, it has become increasingly bitter and unpleasant.  The arguments in favour of staying have focused on the potential horrors that would visit Britain if we left; the arguments in favour of leaving in particular have plumbed new depths for untruthfulness and xenophobia. It seems likely that voting on the European referendum will be determined by people’s emotional reaction, and there is a strong possibility that this will result in secession.

If the UK leaves, UK citizens will lose their rights as European citizens.  Those rights include rights to representation within the EU, the right to move and live freely throughout the EU, reciprocal rights to public services, and consular and diplomatic protection from other EU countries when outside Europe.

There is something deeply flawed about a process that claims to be democratic but implies that a majority decision would deprive a minority of their rights.  If the vote is to leave, expect this one to come to court.

Vote Leave summarises its campaign: muddled, mendacious and offensive

The Vote Leave campaign has just offered us a referendum broadcast, which was aired on Radio 4 this evening.  Here is the full text.

“On the 23rd June there is a referendum to decide on Britain’s future membership of the EU.

This is your chance to Vote Leave and save the £350m a week we pay for Britain to be a member.

Vote Leave to spend that £350m on our priorities like the NHS.

Vote Leave to regain control of immigration and borders.

Vote Leave to stop future migrants from countries like Turkey, Serbia and Albania entering Britain freely.

Vote Leave and we can have a points based immigration system like in Australia.  It is safer and more humane.

Vote Leave to deport dangerous criminals and terrorists who threaten our safety.

Vote Leave to let Britain negotiate its own trade deals with the USA, China and India.

Vote Leave to stop British taxpayers bailing out countries like Greece.

Vote Leave to prevent unelected EU politicians passing laws for Britain.

Vote Leave to end EU law overruling British Law.

Vote Leave to stop paying corrupt expenses like £11m a year on a chauffeur service for MEPs.

Vote Leave to stop EU workers undercutting British workers.

Vote Leave to take back control.

Vote Leave on the 23rd June.”

There are thirteen claims in that list.  Four are questionable:

  1. Developed countries with open societies cannot in general control  immigration by policing the border – consider the position of the USA, which has millions of unregistered residents.
  2. Any money not spent on the EU is unlikely to be spent on the NHS; it will have to be spent on replacing the kinds of things the EU does (such as support for agriculture and promoting trade).
  3. MEPs can claim expenses for travel; this is part of the expense they incur, not corrupt practice.
  4. Isolation is not self-determination, and leaving is no  guarantee that Britain will ‘take back control’.  The UK will lose its present control over EU practice, and will have to accept EU conditions to continue trading with the EU.

Five are (more or less) true, but they might not be understood in the same light by everyone:

  1. Britain could introduce a points-based points scheme – but its current scheme for non-EU immigration suggests it is more interested in direct financial contributions.  The Australian approach to immigration favoured by UKIP is not exactly perfect  either.
  2. Britain hasn’t been faced with supporting Greece in the Euro, but that’s not the main point.  Members of the EU are committed to supporting countries in trouble, because that is implicit in solidarity, and almost every country in trouble will have been badly managed at some point.  Some of us think that mutual support is a good thing.
  3. Some EU workers can undercut UK wage rates, as the UK can undercut wage rates in much of Northern Europe.
  4. Britain could negotiate independent trade deals, given time.  Whether these would be favourable to Britain would remain to be seen.
  5. EU law can in certain circumstances trump UK law.  We’ve been required, for example, unwillingly to remove gender discrimination from our benefits and pollution from our coasts.

Four of the points made it the broadcast are just plain wrong:

  1.  Britain does not pay £350m per week to be a member.  (The figure disregards the rebate.  This is like saying that you have just spent £3 on a fizzy drink which was actually reduced to  £2, because the label included the price before the reduction.)
  2. Turkey, Serbia and Albania are not members of the EU.  Whether they become members depends on agreement of all countries, including Britain.
  3. All laws passed in the EU have to go through the Council of Ministers, all of whom represent elected governments.  That is not to say that they pass laws for Britain.  The system of regulations and directives works by asking national parliaments to introduce laws compliant with the treaties.
  4. The UK already has the power to deport dangerous criminals, European or not.

The frequent repetition of bogus claims looks like a deliberate and knowing attempt to mislead.  Add to that the snide, offensive comments on migrants, applicant countries, ‘corruption’  and the association with criminals and terrorists: Vote Leave comes over as something very unpleasant.

This is my 700th entry on this blog.