Tagged: Brexit

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.

Additional note:  This video, linked to on the Guardian website, offers clips of Carswell, Farage, Daniel Hannan and Ruth Lea making contradictory statements about whether we would be in or out of the EEA and the customs union.  There was never, as people are now claiming, a clear agenda to leave all these arrangements behind.

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.

 

Europe: an update of the arguments

I promised when I first posted about this in February that I’d update the arguments as we went along, and I’ve been doing that.   This is the latest version.

Good arguments to REMAIN

(and what I see as the counter-arguments)

Good arguments to LEAVE

(and what I see as the counter-arguments)

The EU makes it possible to control things which are beyond the scope of national governments – including the environment, trade, multi-national corporations.

True, but the EU’s track record on international regulation has not been good – often because of obstruction by the British.

THE EU has a ‘democratic deficit’; it is remote from the people it serves.

More than half-true – but in the UK, the same is true of almost every tier of government, including local government.  Democracy is an argument for more engagement in the decisions that affect us, not for withdrawal from those decisions.

The EU has defined and raised  minimum standards across Europe, e.g. on the environment, transport, water quality.  Without it, standards will fall.

No counter-argument.

 

In some fields the EU has promoted a ‘race to the bottom’, undermining citizens’ rights.  Examples include the rules on public services and the bar on living wage contracts.

In any federal system there will be decisions that member states might disagree with.  The test is whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Britain’s diplomatic influence is magnified by the EU. John Major has given a series of examples – including sanctions on nuclear development and the protection of the Kurds – where the UK took the initiative, the UK could not have done in its own right, and where the USA eventually followed suit.

Major’s specific  examples are powerful, but the EU is primarily focused on European affairs, not only foreign policy.

 


Europe is also a social project which makes life better for its citizens, for example through travel, residence abroad (more than 2 million Britons live in other European countries) and social protection.

There has long been a consistent political majority against ‘Social Europe’ and the project has stalled for many years.

Some shockingly bad decisions by the European Court of Justice (e.g. Rüffert v Niedersachsen, 2008 C‑346/06) have revealed a structural weakness – there is no obvious way to revise and correct defective federal laws without revisions of the treaties.

This could also be seen as an argument for extending the powers of the EU to facilitate the review of federal legislation.

The EU has created rights for its citizens across Europe, such as rights for workers, for women and in consumer protection.   Without it, rights will be eroded.

This is largely true, but the counter-argument is the ‘race to the bottom’: the EU has also undermined significant rights, such as the enforceability of collective wage agreements.

The free movement of people within the EU has been chaotic.  The principle has been undermined by the combination of enlargement and the abandonment of basic planning and population management to cope with social change.

This is a problem of free markets.  Social and economic development depend on establishing a common framework, not on laissez-faire.

The EU is the UK’s largest trading partner and UK industry and finance will have to comply with its conditions to maintain access.

No counter-argument.  If the UK becomes, like Norway, only a member of the EEA, it will also have to accept free mobility of labour.

 

The EU’s handling of the Greek crisis reveals a deep malaise –  narrow financial interest,  some bad behaviour on both sides of the argument, bullying of the weaker party and a disregard for the welfare of European citizens.

Without regulation and agreed procedures, the bullying will get worse.  This is an argument for stronger regulation and clearer rules, not for leaving.

Britain’s economy depends heavily on the provision of services to other countries and many of those  services (especially finance) could as effectively be provided elsewhere.  Leaving threatens an economic catastrophe for Britain which the IMF has warned could go beyond that to engulf the world economy.

The counter arguments are weak.  The defence that Britain is too big to be allowed to fail is naive, as is the emphasis on the size of the economy, which is based on book values rather than an analysis of prospects.

Bad arguments to REMAIN

(with counter-arguments)

Bad arguments to LEAVE

(with counter-arguments)

The EU has brought peace to Europe.

True, but it doesn’t follow that the UK’s presence is central to that.

The EU undermines national sovereignty.

Sovereignty is all about the authority to make laws – rules of recognition, change and adjudication.  The EU safeguards  the rule of law throughout Europe.  

The EU wants to be a superstate.

The EU aims to develop the rule of law at a different level from the nation state.  Many British politicians don’t understand that other governments don’t work the way they do: most have shared competence at different levels of government.  Other federations are not centralised.

The EU promotes liberal markets.

The EU is wedded to a model of ‘structural adjustment’ that has been discredited in other international organisations.  European markets stand in need of regulation and consideration of the consequences of collective actions.

The EU stops the UK from controlling its borders.

The UK cannot expect in a  modern, open, connected society to govern EU or non-EU migration at the frontier.   In most European countries, migration isn’t mainly controlled at the border: it’s controlled through employment, access to housing and services.

 The USA wants Britain to remain as a conduit for furthering US interests.

It’s difficult to see what’s in this for the UK or for Europe.

Leaving means that the UK will be able to act as it wishes and negotiate arrangements in its own interests.

It won’t, either with Europe or (as Obama has made clear) with America.  Negotiations will be difficult and slow.  The EU nations will favour trade in areas  where trade runs in their favour (e.g. cars) while blocking other imports (such as foodstuffs: the example is the previous French ban on British beef, blocked by the EU).

The UK can make the EU better through positive engagement.

The UK has often  made the EU worse.

 

The EU has promoted trade rules which exclude or  disadvantage developing countries.

This is a fair criticism of policy, but it is an argument for changing that policy rather than for leaving.

The EU is stopping the government doing what it would otherwise do over issues like human rights and workers’ rights.

There is a confusion here between the EU and the European Court of Human rights: but in so far as this is true, it is an excellent reason to remain.

 

There is something deeply wrong in principle with the idea that a majority can vote to extinguish rights valued by a minority.   This is particularly important for British citizens living in other EU countries.  Many British citizens who are resident in the EU are ‘under-registered’ and those who have lived in the EU for a period over 15 years are being denied a vote.  The process is flawed.

Europe: Good and bad arguments

The European referendum is off to a cracking start, but as is often the case, there are some fairly bad arguments out there, on both sides. This is a first attempt to winnow out which are the good arguments – that is, arguments with some justification – from the bad ones.  I’ll try to revise this as the case develops.

Good arguments to REMAIN

(and what I see as the counter-arguments)

Good arguments to LEAVE

(and what I see as the counter-arguments)

The EU makes it possible to control things which are beyond the scope of national governments – including the environment, trade, multi-national corporations.

True, but the EU’s track record on international regulation has not been good – often because of obstruction by the British.

THE EU has a ‘democratic deficit’; it is remote from the people it serves.

More than half-true – but in the UK, the same is true of almost every tier of government, including local government.  Democracy is an argument for more engagement in the decisions that affect us, not for withdrawal from those decisions.

The EU has defined and raised  minimum standards across Europe, e.g. on the environment, transport, water quality.  Without it, standards will fall.

No counter-argument.

 

In some fields the EU has promoted a ‘race to the bottom’, undermining citizens’ rights.  Examples include the rules on public services and the bar on living wage contracts.

In any federal system there will be decisions that member states might disagree with.  The test is whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Europe is also a social project which makes life better for its citizens, for example through travel, residence abroad (more than 2 million Britons live in other European countries) and social protection.

There has long been a consistent political majority against ‘Social Europe’ and the project has stalled for many years.

Some shockingly bad decisions by the ECJ (e.g. Rüffert v Niedersachsen, 2008 C‑346/06) have revealed a structural weakness – there is no obvious way to revise and correct defective federal laws without revisions of the treaties.

This could also be seen as an argument for extending the powers of the EU to facilitate federal legislation.

The EU has created rights for its citizens across Europe, such as rights for workers, for women and in consumer protection.   Without it, rights will be eroded.

This is largely true, but the counter-argument is the ‘race to the bottom’: the EU has also undermined significant rights, such as the enforceability of collective wage agreements.

The free movement of people within the EU has been chaotic.  The principle has been undermined by the combination of enlargement and the abandonment of basic planning and population management to cope with social change.

This is a problem of free markets.  Social and economic development depend on establishing a common framework, not on laissez-faire.

The EU is the UK’s largest trading partner and UK industry and finance will have to comply with its conditions to maintain access.

No counter-argument.  If the UK becomes, like Norway, only a member of the EEA, it will also have to accept free mobility of labour.

 

The EU’s handling of the Greek crisis reveals a deep malaise –  narrow financial interest,  some bad behaviour on both sides of the argument, bullying of the weaker party and a disregard for the welfare of European citizens.

Without regulation and agreed procedures, the bullying will get worse.  This is an argument for stronger regulation and clearer rules, not for leaving.

Britain’s economy depends heavily on the provision of services to other countries and many of those  services (especially finance) could as effectively be provided elsewhere.  Leaving threatens an economic catastrophe for Britain which the IMF has warned could engulf the world economy.

The counter arguments are weak.  The defence that Britain is too big to be allowed to fail is naive, as is the emphasis on the size of the economy, which is based on book values.

Bad arguments to REMAIN

(with counter-arguments)

Bad arguments to LEAVE

(with counter-arguments)

The EU has brought peace to Europe.

True, but it doesn’t follow that the UK’s presence is central to that.

The EU undermines national sovereignty.

Sovereignty is all about the authority to make laws – rules of recognition, change and adjudication.  The EU safeguards  the rule of law throughout Europe.  

The EU wants to be a superstate.

The EU aims to develop the rule of law at a different level from the nation state.  Many British politicians don’t understand that other governments don’t work the way they do: most have shared competence at different levels of government.  Other federations are not centralised.

The EU promotes liberal markets.

The EU is wedded to a model of ‘structural adjustment’ that has been discredited in other international organisations.  European markets stand in need of regulation and consideration of the consequences of collective actions.

The EU stops the UK from controlling its borders.

The UK cannot expect in a  modern, open, connected society to govern EU or non-EU migration at the frontier.   In most European countries, migration isn’t mainly controlled at the border: it’s controlled through employment, access to housing and services.

 The USA wants Britain to remain as a conduit for furthering US interests.

It’s difficult to see what’s in this for the UK or for Europe.

Leaving means that the UK will be able to act as it wishes and negotiate arrangements in its own interests.

It won’t.

The UK can make the EU better through positive engagement.

The UK has often  made the EU worse.

 

The EU has promoted trade rules which exclude or  disadvantage developing countries.

This is a fair criticism of policy, but it is an argument for changing that policy rather than for leaving.

The EU is stopping the government doing what it would otherwise do over issues like human rights and workers’ rights.

There is a confusion here between the EU and the European Court of Human rights: but in so far as this is true, it is an excellent reason to remain.

 

I have previously made my own position clear: I identify myself as a European. A vote to leave would be a vote to deprive me, and anyone else who votes for Europe, of our rights as European citizens.  I will vote to remain.

Europe: I’ve already voted

David Cameron has committed his party to a referendum on Europe. He proposes to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership; the subject of that renegotiation will be put in a referendum to the British electorate, who will be able to decide whether or not Britain remains in the EU. Those are much the same terms on which the previous referendum took place in 1975.

There are some common misconceptions about the 1975 referendum. I voted in that referendum, and being a dreadful hoarder, I still have copies of the leaflets and posters from that campaign. I can remember no point at which it was ever suggested that this was about nothing more than trade. The Government’s pamphlet, Britain’s New Deal in Europe, explained that the aims of the European Community were

  • to bring together the peoples of Europe
  • to raise living standards and improve working conditions
  • to promote growth and boost world trade
  • to help the poorer regions of Europe and the rest of the world
  • to help maintain peace and freedom.

According to Cameron, “today the main, over-riding aim of the European Union is different: not to win peace, but to secure prosperity”. That doesn’t look so different to 1975.

Cameron argues: ‘Put simply, many ask “why can’t we just have what we voted to join – a common market?” ‘ Is that what we voted on? The European Community of the time was clearly a federalist project, and the European Peoples’ Party, which the Conservatives were aligned with for many years, was federalist in principle. The leaflet for the “Yes” Campaign, delivered to every household, has admittedly only one very oblique reference to “European economic and political integration” (in a quotation from the Australian Prime Minister). The leaflet for the “No” campaign, however, was much more direct: the Common Market, they argued in the second sentence of a long pamphlet, “sets out by stages to merge Britain with France, Germany, Italy and other countries into a single nation”.

Neither of these pamphlets is available anywhere else on the Internet, so I’ve scanned the text and included them here: Why you should vote YES and Why you should vote NO. It’s striking how little the arguments against have moved in nearly forty years.