You are specifically considered a person liable to removal

 

When the Lords began to debate the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which the Government feared it might try to sabotage, Theresa May exercised her right to sit on the steps of the throne and observe. Her expression said, “Don’t you dare.”

They did dare, but it availed them nothing. The miserable scrap of legislation to which our future was consigned got through unamended in the only place that mattered. The photograph of the Prime Minister perched on the regal step went round the globe and told the story of what Britain under her government was becoming: tense, watchful, repressive, interested solely in the outcome, never the proceedings.

A few weeks ago Dr Eva Joanna Holmberg, a Finnish historian married to a UK citizen and working on secondment from the University of Helsinki, received a letter from the Home Office. It said, “You are specifically considered a person liable to administrative removal under regulation 23(6)(a) as you have failed to evidence that you are exercising Treaty rights in the United Kingdom.”

Dr Holmberg telephoned the Home Office, was referred from one phone line to another, and in the end hired a lawyer.

The Home Office had sent out 100 such letters to EU citizens, telling them they must pack their bags and leave within a month. It subsequently admitted its mistake and is said to have reimbursed the letters’ recipients for the legal expenses many of them incurred. It wasn’t the first time this kind of thing had happened. Stories of similar letters being sent to EU citizens who were unwise enough to apply for the right to remain in the UK had been surfacing ever since the Brexit vote.

To say it was a “mistake” is not an explanation. How could such a mistake have been made in an organisation that understood the law as it currently relates to EU citizens? They have a right to be here until March 2019. Everyone in the building must know that.

Clearly the letters had already been drawn up, and one presumes they were sent out when someone pressed the wrong key on a computer. But doesn’t anyone check what goes out? And for what contingency were they drawn up? The language is not just bureaucratic and inhuman: it is chilling. The “specifically” is truly frightening. This is no way to address the citizens of a friendly country who have been working here and paying their taxes. This is the way you might address a population you wish, if possible, to remove from the face of the earth.

There is much about the Home Office that is baffling. Why, for instance, when it has long had the power to send EU migrants home after three months in the UK if they do not have a job, has it never done so? I heard a Government spokesman repeatedly dodge that question from a BBC interviewer last week. I was unaware the Home Office had that power. So, I would bet, were most people. Is it conceivable, I wondered, that the Home Office was unaware it had that power? Is it possible it knew it had it but was unable to exercise it? (Why?) Is it – a darker thought, I have them sometimes – possible that it knew it had it, could have exercised it, but chose not to? Again, why? – but the answer in this case is surely not innocent.

Again, how can it possibly have believed the number of overseas students who overstayed their visas to be in the region of 100,000 when it turns out to be roughly 1% of that? 100,000 was indeed the estimate of the National Office of Statistics, and how that office came up with such rubbish is another good question, unless it got it from the Home Office in the first place, which, given that the N.O.S. is a Government entity, is entirely possible. If it didn’t, and since the number of overseas students is part of the Home Office’s core business, you would have expected it to find the figure rather high and check it, wouldn’t you?

But no, you would expect it to know. Why did it have to accept a figure from the National Office of Statistics? Why didn’t it have its own records?

And here we come to a curious and important point, which probably also explains the failure to send unemployed migrants home after three months. The Home Office doesn’t keep records of immigrants entering the country. It relies on guesswork and something called airport surveys, presumably supplemented by the Tarot.

The courts, which do know how to count, say that approximately 48,000 overseas students have wrongly been sent home without completing their courses – “in some cases sacrificing a lifetime of earnings and borrowings from a poor family” (Vince Cable, quoted in The Independent, 27 July).

And since the Home Office has proved so hysterical about numbers of overstaying students, so inept at policing unemployed immigrants and so clueless about who is allowed to be here and who is not, would you expect it to be a reliable witness about the effect of immigration on wages and employment? No, and you would be right. When Vince Cable was Business Secretary, he saw no less than nine academic studies which showed that the effect of immigration on wages and employment was negligible (The Independent, 6 Sept.)

The studies were suppressed by Theresa May, Home Secretary at the time. “The results were inconvenient,” said Mr Cable.

What is it with Theresa May and the Home Office? Other ministers are given a department, serve for a few years at the head of it, and then move on. Theresa May has not moved on: she has taken the Home Office with her. Her refusal, as Prime Minister, to budge on the inclusion of overseas students in the immigration total, her silence on the true numbers who overstay their visas, her continued suppression of the reports Vince Cable saw, are only a few indications of how completely she has identified with the Home Office’s goals and culture.

She is extremely reluctant to distance herself from her former Department, however incompetent its behaviour and however thuggish its methods. When she moved to Downing Street she took her two Home Office policy advisers, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, with her, and only the debacle of the general election campaign forced her to part with them.

It is as if she found something in the Home Office that complemented her personality. In its repressiveness she found reassurance, in its narrowness comfort, in the rigidity of its categories of inclusion/exclusion a certainty that steadied her. For she needs steadying: she vacillates, which is why she has to be inflexible.

Yet all of this does not explain the obsession with immigration, which, after all, is only one of the Home Office’s concerns. It does not explain why nine academic studies had to be suppressed because they were inconvenient.

On 16 March the London Review of Books published an illuminating piece by David Runciman, “Do your Homework.” It is partly an essay and partly a review of a biography of Theresa May.1 It said some remarkable things:

[May] “takes a position and then she sticks to it… Many of the positions she adopts are ones she has inherited, seeing no option but to make good on other people’s promises.

“…She came into a department that was pre-committed by the Conservative manifesto to bringing immigration down to the ‘tens of thousands’… Her colleagues, including Cameron, didn’t seem to have thought about whether this was a realistic target and assumed that if it wasn’t it would have to be fudged. May had no intention of fudging it, to the increasing consternation of the people who had landed her with the task. It is far from clear she believed it was a good policy. That wasn’t the issue. It was now her policy and she would see it through.

“…Unnervingly, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that her embrace of a hard Brexit, prioritising control of immigration over membership of the single market, is her way of finally completing the task.”

Those paragraphs explain a great deal, but not all. You may, if you believe immigration is at a dangerous level, sacrifice everything to bringing the numbers down; but if evidence emerges that the danger and the damage have been greatly exaggerated… then why go on pretending that the situation is worse than you know it to be?

The Home Office is paranoid: that is apparent. That is why it is so ready to believe nonsense. It’s not hard to see how in a large organisation there would be opposing currents, sections working in ignorance of what other sections were doing, and so on. It’s not impossible to see how, collectively, a sort of willed paranoia could develop.

But Theresa May is an individual. An individual, surely, is not capable of willed paranoia, which is a conscious desire to believe oneself to be persecuted while knowing one is not.

Why did she suppress those studies?

To whom were they “inconvenient”?

We ought to know the answer. She was running the Home Office when she put them in a locked drawer. Now she’s running the country.

 

1 Theresa May: the Enigmatic Prime Minister, by Rosa Prince. Biteback, Feb. 2017

 

The height of pavements

 

In the spring Theresa May called a general election she didn’t have to call, because she thought it would consolidate her power. She needs to be in control of things. She miscalculated, and lost her overall majority. She shored it up again with a hefty bung to a Northern Ireland party mainly known, on this side of the water, for its bigotry. She doesn’t really care, as long as she hangs on.

Now the selection of MPs to sit on a little-known House of Commons committee is due. It has nine members. Before it was dissolved prior to the general election, five of these were Conservative, three Labour and one SNP. The numbers at the time reflected a Conservative majority. The Conservatives no longer have a majority. They are clinging to power thanks to their grubby deal with the DUP. Obviously the composition of the new Committee must take account of this. Mustn’t it?

But Theresa May needs to be in control.

The obscure committee whose membership comes up for consideration this month is the Committee of Selection. It does what its name implies. It nominates the MPs who will sit on the House of Commons select and standing committees. Commons committees review Government legislation and they are powerful. One of them, I notice, is the Committee on Statutory Instruments. It is in its remit to “draw to the special attention of the House” any Statutory Instrument as to which “there appears to be doubt about whether there is power to make it,” or that “its drafting appears to be defective.”

A statutory instrument is secondary or delegated legislation (an Act of Parliament is primary legislation), and it offers Government a quick means of getting business through the House: there is less debate, less scrutiny. Statutory instruments are not very democratic but, as the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, remarks in an outspoken lecture, Ceding Power to the Executive (2016),1 it is not in the interests of democracy to get clogged up with matters like the height of pavements, either.

But now we have Brexit, a very tight time-frame and an obsessionally-controlling Prime Minister. And a Bill has come before the House for its second reading which, short of a declaration of war, could not be more important.  It is the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, otherwise known as the Repeal Bill, of which the first clause is, “The European Communities Act 1972 is repealed on exit day.”

This repeal will drop the UK into a legal abyss, because it renders null all EU legislation which is incorporated into British law, and there is very great deal of it. The remainder of the Bill is therefore devoted to closing up the abyss. The first step is to transfer or copy all the relevant EU law into UK law. Roughly half the Bill is taken up with detailing how this is to be done (it is complicated; there are many categories of EU legislation and they have been incorporated into, or given effect in, British law in different ways).

The problem then arises that much of the transferred law will not work, because it is linked to an EU institution with which the UK no longer has a relationship. Means have to be found, therefore, of amending the “deficient” law so that it continues to be workable. This will be done through statutory instruments. They will allow ministers to alter the legislation to make it fit for purpose, without trying to push an enormous number of new Bills through Parliament.

There are two types of procedure for doing this: in the Affirmative procedure, both Houses must approve the statutory instrument; in the Negative procedure, it becomes law without a debate or vote, but it may be annulled by a Resolution of either House (however, this has not happened since 1979). Parliament cannot amend an S.I.

The Repeal Bill sets out which categories of legislation will be subject to the Affirmative procedure and which to the Negative. This sounds obscure but it matters very much: over the “Negative” regulations, which are not debated or voted on, Parliament will have almost no control. They are known as “Henry VIII powers.” It appears that most of the legislation will be of this kind. The Bill thus hands discretion and control to Government ministers over a vast quantity of law-making.

It is estimated that about 1,000 S.I.s will need to be created.  A major revolt, which may include some Tory MPs, is brewing over the Bill, which comes to the vote on Monday night (September 11).  There is a shocking discrepancy between, on the one hand, the task the Government has set itself and the means that would be appropriate to performing that task (full debate in  both Houses), and the means the Government is actually proposing to use. Statutory instruments are very well suited to determining the height of pavements: they are not suited to determining workers’ or consumers’ rights, or overturning or curtailing major legislation formerly passed under full legal safeguards by the EU and incorporated by Act of Parliament into British law.

The Government is relying on the fact that the “Henry VIII powers” are unchallenged. The name has been much bandied about; it makes picturesque a dry and difficult subject, and it is, in its peculiar way, convincing. We all know what kind of monarch Henry VIII was, and when we read that a Henry VIII clause is one which enables the Government to repeal or amend an Act of Parliament through secondary legislation, with little or no Parliamentary scrutiny, we are not a bit surprised. An Act that Proclamations made by the King shall be obeyed was the no-nonsense title of Thomas Cromwell’s Bill put before the Commons in 1539.

Well, that’s that, then, one might conclude. We should have got rid of the things by now, of course, but we don’t always remember to throw out the rubbish. It’s part of being British.

We did throw it out, actually. The Act was repealed immediately after Henry’s death in 1547. In any case, an admirably robust Commons amended it to such an extent that by the time it came before the Lords it merely gave statutory force to matters which already fell within the royal prerogative. “What we call Henry VIII clauses were no such thing,” says Lord Judge in his 2016 lecture. “They were no more than a wish list. The King’s proclamation could not change existing laws, in particular could not alter any Act of Parliament.” (My italics.)

So why are we stuck with them? Lord Judge does not answer this, and perhaps the answer lies in the national psyche. They survived in the woodwork, but for centuries were used with extreme caution. Then suddenly, in the 20th century, something changed. “What was once a small stream of delegated legislation in 1929,” says Lord Judge, “has become an inundation. Since 1950… some 170,000 statutory instruments … have been laid before Parliament. In that time 17 have been rejected by one or other House… It is one in ten thousand, 0.01%… It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Parliamentary processes are virtually habituated to approve them.”

S.I.s have become a flood because they are so extremely convenient to Government. This is not just a power-grab, although it is that as well. It’s that there isn’t enough time. Many S.I.s come before House committees rather than the Chamber, but the committees don’t have enough time, either. “If [the Commons] worked twenty-four hours a day for every day of the year there would still not be enough time” (Lord Judge).

Thus, Brexit has landed us with yet another intolerable trade-off. This one is between time and democracy. “There is no alternative to a Repeal Bill if the Government plans to deliver Brexit”, says Joelle Brogan in a blog for the LSE website.2 “However, the expediency of the Henry VIII powers … to remedy and prevent ‘deficiencies’ in the law …does not and never should be to the sacrifice of individual rights and the rule of law.”

Individual rights go to the heart of it, for many objectors to the Bill. Corbyn focuses on workers’ rights such as paid leave, health and safety protections and parental leave. More than 70 NGOs, trades unions and charities, including Amnesty, Liberty and the Friends of the Earth, have joined a formal alliance to scrutinise the Bill. The environment is felt to be particularly at risk (Defra estimates that 80% of its activities are affected by EU law).

Many MPs are angry, too, that the Bill explicitly denies any role to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, a removal which “substantively weakens the protection of rights in the UK,” says Joelle Grogan. And there are the devolved administrations, to which the Bill devotes much attention (basically, it tells them there is nothing they can do about it). Many powers which will be “repatriated” from Brussels by the Bill are devolved powers, but the Bill will not return them to the devolved administrations, it will return them to Westminster.

The battle in the Commons is under way. David Davis has reassured critics that important legislation will be debated. He points out the sunset clause of two years on the Henry VIII powers. He demands that MPs “respect the will of the people.”

Meanwhile Amber Rudd, Leader of the House, has tabled a motion that would ensure the Government has a majority on all standing committees. It proposes to change the rules so that “where a committee has an odd number of members, the Government shall have a majority.” This would effectively get around the Committee of Selection and make sure the Government’s legislation on Brexit could not be challenged by any of the Parliamentary committees.

It is reported in the Independent (September 9) that this plan was hatched immediately after May’s failure to get a majority at the general election, and that the DUP’s support for it was secretly agreed as part of the DUP deal with the Government.

The motion comes up for a vote on Tuesday evening.

 

1www.kcl.ac.uk/…/Ceding-Power-to-the-Executive-the-resurrection-of-Henry-VIII

2 blogs.lse.ac.uk/…/07/…/legislation-that-is-and-is-not-the-deeply-problematic-repeal-bill

 

 

A modest proposal

 

 

 

Goodness knows what it took, but it’s done. The Labour Party has made up its mind.

Up to a point. It still hasn’t said what kind of Brexit it wants. Presumably that is still being argued about. What it proposes is that any deal should only come into force after an interim period of up to four years. All parties now accept the need for such a period, although four years is too long for the Tories. But the important part of the Labour proposal is that during this transition things will carry on just as they are now. The UK will stay in the single market. It will stay in the customs union.

Common sense has triumphed. Two cheers for Keir Starmer, who got the policy through shadow cabinet. One cheer for Corbyn, for letting it through.

Does this sound grudging? Common sense appears to be a wonderful achievement only in the most dismal of contexts, but Labour’s performance for the past 18 months in relation to Brexit has been worse than dismal, it has been a betrayal of the electorate. If the party has now started to rise to the challenge, this is the bare minimum that is required. The great merit of it is that the first step it has taken is in the right direction. It might, Heaven help us, have been the wrong one.

Interestingly, it finds itself in step with Guy Verhofstadt, who said this week that he foresaw a transition period that would be “a prolongation of the existing situation, of the status quo.” However, the Brexit co-ordinator of the European Parliament wasn’t commenting on the Labour announcement, he was commenting on the snail’s pace at which the British negotiating position is advancing.

A transition period is a buffer, and if what is threatened comes to pass we shall be profoundly grateful for it. It grants more time before the axe falls – on businesses, EU citizens, the European Arrest Warrant and everything else that’s under the blade. It grants more time for the country to come to its senses.  However, its granting is not guaranteed. Twenty-seven member states have to say “yes” to an interim period for the UK while it sorts out its marbles. A few weeks ago this looked a near-certainty, but if Government ministers going on using words like “blackmail,” perhaps it will not be so certain. The third round of talks has not gone well.

Moreover, it’s not so simple. We can’t just say, “We would like another two years (or three, or four) please, while we transition out of the EU”, without getting the instant reply, “Transition to what?” Yes, we can probably postpone going through the departure gate, but we can’t postpone choosing our destination. Until we choose our destination, we can’t negotiate the postponement. The transition period doesn’t solve any of our most pressing problems, which are to do with the difficulty – for the Government, the impossibility – of making decisions; it just promises an easier path to implementing those decisions, once taken.

Hence the suggestions, from Starmer and others, that the Labour Party might seek to remain in the single market and customs union after the transition period is over. The suggestion is sensible, would make it much easier to negotiate a transition, and if the UK adopted it there would be far worse places we could be. The trouble with it is that, on the one hand, it would drive hard-Brexiters into a frenzy and might lead to the horrifying spectre of a Tory party led by the undead Jacob Rees-Mogg, while on the other it wouldn’t cut anybody’s mustard: it would leave us subject to the ECJ or a close imitation of it, liable to pay into the EU budget and, crucially, lacking a seat at the discussions which decide EU policy.

All these things have been true from the start, because Brexit is essentially a trade-off. The Labour Party’s announcement accepts this reality, and very welcome it is, because the Tories have always refused to grasp that Brexit is anything but a cake. Thus a small, well-defined patch of clarity has appeared in an area of dense fog. Naturally it is being fought tooth and nail by the forces of fog. “Brexit betrayal!” screamed the Express on Monday, when one would have hoped the cognitively-impaired were with everyone else at the beach.

Among Remainer MPs it spells hope, of course. At last an alternative to the Government’s suicide bid has declared itself. There is a side to be on. There is a lobby to go through. This translates into leverage. There is a spring in Anna Soubry’s step.

And it’s just in time, because the show in Brussels is not a cheering spectacle.  David Davis has raised his sights but not his game; he doesn’t really have one, which is what Michel Barnier has been subtly telling him. Davis’s department has produced a clutch of policy papers covering issues that include the Irish border, the customs union, nuclear safety, data security and the ECJ. Davis is very proud of them, but he seems proudest of their number. He has got it right, for once: their number is the most impressive thing about them.

All the Brexit papers the Government has issued so far are curiously alike. They offer pockets of earnest detail inside shrouds of pious aspiration. They set forth irreconcilable aims and, instead of explaining how these can be mutually accommodated, simply ignore the contradiction. They are strong on insistence, weighty with unnecessary background and totally lacking in argument. This is what EU officials mean when they say the British documents are vague and have no substance. But they have to be like that: the Government is still trying to construct a fantasy land that will pacify its right wing while not alienating business, finance and industry, which tend to see through fantasies. And now it has to flatter Europe as well, at least on paper. It cannot resolve the conundrum it has set itself, but it has to say something. The result is many pages of empty verbiage and the compulsive repetition of formulaic phrases such as “deep and special”, “seamless and frictionless,” like prayers which might save the soul. These inane doublings run through the documents like a vein of fool’s gold.

David Davis is out of his depth. It is the most fundamental of all this Government’s problems that it cannot recruit a first-class intellect to deal with a set of issues that require a first-class intellect: it cannot because its cause is shabby and shallow and no mind of the necessary calibre would have anything to do with it. The EU, by contrast, can take its pick from the sharpest brains of a continent renowned for producing them. Someone should have thought of this before.

So there is the hapless but defiant (“Who Dares Wins”) Mr Davis, dimly aware that the depths are beyond him, the detail escapes him, and he controls nothing… what will a military man do? Evade. Distract. Force the enemy to fight on as broad a front as possible.  He demands not only that the discussion at once include trade talks, but that it move on swiftly to include everything else as well. For good measure, he demands flexibility. This does not mean flexibility in its usual sense; it is another way of asking the EU to drop its requirement that the past be settled before the future is discussed. He has been given his answer many times.

M. Barnier could have observed that if Mr Davis is not able to talk about the three things he is asked to talk about – citizens’ rights, the Irish border, the bill – there is no likelihood he will be capable of talking about anything else, but he did not. He simply said UK positions on the separation issues were necessary in order for “sufficient progress” to be made and that “we need UK papers that are clear.”

Indeed. We do. Jean-Claude Juncker also finds the UK documents unclear. He has read all of them carefully, and he finds every one unsatisfactory. It must strike him as particularly unsatisfactory is that the most urgent one, the paper on the EU bill, is not there. Mr Davis has not produced it.

This is being called negotiation.

It is becoming clearer that the Government’s true Brexit strategy is bluff. Davis is the man for that, he has the personality and the front, but the question remains, what is the point?  Since every other end but economic disaster is better served by the negotiations it refuses seriously to engage in, it looks likely that its aim is merely to survive to the next election – and, with luck, beyond. Its first hurdle, in that case, is not the 3rd, 4th or 5th round of talks, but the Conservative Party Conference.

In the light of that, the Labour Party’s modest proposal appears a triumph of statesmanship.

 

 

 

A hundred donkeys, a hundred pounds of flour

 

Estimates vary, but the British Army puts the length of the Irish border at 303 miles.

That’s roughly four times the length between its end-points measured in a straight line. The border is wiggly. At one point it doubles back on itself in a noose that draws part of the Republic into a narrow-necked peninsula. It follows lanes and abandons them for fields; it tracks the line of a shed and then plunges into a bog. For many miles it traverses water. It is invisible: you need a good map and good boots if you want to follow it.

There are more than 200 official-marked crossing points. Garrett Carr walked and canoed the length of it last year (The Rule of the Land, Faber 2017), and marked on his map the unofficial crossing–points he found: a stile, a home-made wooden bridge, a plank across a stream. He found 77.

On the ground, all the crossings are unmarked. Only the speed limits change, from kilometres to miles or vice versa. The signs, the checkpoints, the customs posts, they were all dismantled following the Good Friday Peace Agreement. Nobody wants them back. The border meant men in masks; random terror; death.

That was during the Troubles. In its early years, the border offered a living to smugglers and harmless amusement to everyone else. Goods were cheaper in the north but tax had to be paid if they were taken south. “In those days,” says Carr, “smuggling was mainly about butter, tea leaves and the occasional cow.” He tells of a more ambitious project involving a hundred donkeys each carrying a hundred pounds of flour (eight shillings a sack cheaper in the north), and a great many Irishmen  armed with sticks. Naturally they were ambushed by Customs. The battle went on all night and there was a terrible mess in the morning.

A favoured item for smuggling was shoes. This explains a sentence that baffled me in H V Morton’s In Search of Ireland (1930), in which Morton meets a group of bus passengers who have left their shoes under a hedge in Donegal.

After the Troubles started, smuggling changed. “Sacks of flour are transformed into crates of guns,” Carr writes, “or wraps of Semtex, or a young man with his wrists tied together.”

Nowadays it’s diesel, cheaper in the south because, even within the single market, countries can set their own fuel tax. However, it’s farm diesel, which has the highest differential, and farm diesel is dyed, and in Northern Ireland and the Republic it is dyed different colours. So the dye has to be removed, and this is done with bleach and cat litter, which results in the appearance of five–foot plastic cubes full of blackened cat litter leaking awfulness in remote laybys.

Does David Davis have any idea what he is getting into?

The British Government has just published its position paper on the Irish border. It is 30 pages long and presents, like all its Brexit papers, apparent clarity covering deep confusion. On the necessity of keeping the border invisible, because any visible change would imperil the Peace Agreement, the Government is adamant. Nor can it ditch the Common Travel Area, which has been in force since 1925, allows free movement  between Ireland and Britain for citizens of those countries, with reciprocal rights of residence, and is also a foundation stone of the peace:

“The UK can provide a clear assurance that the Common Travel Area can continue to operate in the current form… without compromising in any way Ireland’s ability to honour its obligations as an EU member state…”

So the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system “will not impact on the ability to enter the UK from the CTA free from routine border controls.” But what about non-Irish EU citizens who have made their way to Ireland?

This is crucial and the reply is astonishing: “Controlling access to the labour market and social security have long formed an integral part of the UK’s immigration system… This range of control mechanisms means that the UK is confident it will be able to: maintain existing movement to the UK from within the CTA without requiring border controls; respect Ireland’s ongoing free movement obligations; and put in place a new UK immigration system and controls for EU citizens” (page 11).

The Government apparently thinks it can prevent unwanted migration simply by checks on employers and social security.

As it moves from immigration to customs the paper has a bad attack of nerves:

“Establishing clear principles now will help shape potential technical solutions, and, as the Irish Government has said, recognises [sic] that this issue requires a political and not just a technical solution…” (etc.)

It pulls itself together enough to enumerate nine essential points to be addressed. Number seven is how best to respect the integrity of customs unions on both sides of the border. The solution, says the paper, “will need to go beyond any previous precedent.”

That applies, it turns out, to every problem leaving the EU customs union presents.

Reference is made to the Government’s Future customs arrangement paper, recently published, which Michel Barnier said would not be considered until the “divorce” was settled. Some of the “facilitations” set out in that paper would be essential to the “highly streamlined customs arrangement” being proposed, says the border document. In other words, “You’ve got to read that bloody paper on customs whether you want to or not.”

We will see whether cheekiness works.  The “highly streamlined arrangement” is one of two alternative options put forward and would be partly based on new technology. There would be continued waivers of entry/exit declarations for goods moved between the EU and UK, and exemption from customs checks for smaller traders. These comprise up to 80% of the businesses that trade across the border. There would also be identification of “trusted traders” on either side of the border who not do not qualify for cross-border exemption. Declaration requirements would be reduced for them. Why they would be trusted is not explained.

That’s Option 1. Option 2 is a completely new arrangement in which everything stays the same. Goods moving between the UK and EU would be treated as they now are for customs purposes. “There would be need for a robust enforcement mechanism that ensured goods that had not complied with EU trade policy stayed in the UK.” (Chlorinated chickens piling up at Holyhead? See below.)

“This could involve, for instance, a tracking mechanism, where imports to the UK were tracked until they reached an end user, or a repayment mechanism, where imports to the UK paid whichever was the higher of the UK’s or EU’s tariff rates and traders claimed a refund for the difference between the two rates when the goods were sold to an end user in the country charging lower tariffs.

“…Traders…would need to be able to track goods or pass the ability to claim a repayment along their supply chain in order to benefit from tariff differences between the UK and EU for rest of the world goods… This partnership would need to cover all goods…” (page 17. My italics.)

Chlorinated chickens pop up under “Sanitary and phytosanitary measures for agri-food,” (SPS). This unappetising heading will also presumably cover GM crops. At present, the whole island of Ireland is treated as one for epidemiological purposes. That will change. “While the UK will have greater flexibility in relationship to designing our own approach to SPS checks” [i.e., we are going to let this rubbish in], “the Irish side of the land border will continue to be subject to EU regulations” [i.e., it’s the EU’s fault].

“One option… could be regulatory equivalence on agri-food measures, where the UK and EU agree to achieve the same outcome and high standards… This approach would include “dispute resolution mechanisms” [the ECJ?], and “could ensure there would be no requirement for any SPS or related checks…”

“It is also important to note,” chirrups the document, “that the UK is in a unique position; the Repeal Bill means that the UK is starting from a point of full regulatory alignment on day one after leaving the EU.”

Then what the hell is the point of leaving?

This question, which must never be asked, sits at the centre of the Government’s paper on the Irish border like the black hole at the centre of the galaxy, silently drawing all things unto it. The paper circles around it, moving from one micro-solution to another, churning out “seamless and frictionless” “and “new, deep and special” (page 15) as inevitable by-products.

What the Government desperately needs is what it already has. The customs union. But it has to leave the customs union in order to make the fabulous global trade deals it is always talking about.

It has to make the trade deals because it is leaving the single market and the world’s largest trading bloc. It needs the single market for a long list of reasons (security and nuclear safety are two), but it has to leave the single market because that allows freedom of movement from the EU and it believes Leave voters voted on the basis of controlling immigration. (Even if they didn’t it doesn’t matter, because Theresa May is fixated on immigration and because if she didn’t leave both the single market and the customs union the Daily Mail would tear her throat out.)

So it has to leave the customs union but it can’t. It would lose too much. The incessant reiteration of “seamless and frictionless” says so. But it has been told it won’t get seamless and frictionless outside the single market and the customs union, and it must know it won’t if it has half a brain, because from the EU’s point of view there’s no earthly reason why it should and a very powerful reason why it shouldn’t. And it has until October to resolve this dilemma and October is five weeks away.

In desperation, it is trying everything, including asking for more time at both ends of the process, and weaving thickets of tracking mechanisms, exemptions and abilities to pass on refunds that will make it look as if it’s implementing EU requirements when it isn’t, or that it isn’t when it is, in order to delay the moment when it has to say whether it’s in or out.

None of these inventions will work anyway, because technology fails and people cheat. And if the Government thinks it can prevent smuggling across an Irish border, it does not – I say this with great affection for the Irish people – know much about the Irish. It should read Garrett Carr’s book.

When Alexander the Great was shown a knot that could not be untied, he cut it with his sword.

 

 

 

 

On second thoughts

 

With Blair, it’s Iraq. With David Cameron it’s that, for the paltriest of reasons, he called a referendum that had huge implications for the country and failed to win it. With David Miliband, it’s … what, exactly? He didn’t do anything. Something was done to him, most people say. Yet he is, all the same, cloaked in an event he can’t shake off. It is clearer than he is.

I am the only person I know who thought that Ed Miliband had a perfect right to stand against his brother for the Labour leadership. I did not see why family should be more important than policy. However, sibling rivalry has always attracted interest: the Bible is replete with examples we are not supposed to follow. Cain killed Abel. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, having first put him down a well. Jacob took advantage of Esau’s hunger to buy his birthright for a bowl of lentils, and then tricked him out of his father’s blessing, which meant his inheritance.

Ed was condemned, in suitably Biblical terms (“Judas”), and probably no more would have been heard of it had he lost the contest for the leadership, but he won. Five years later he lost the general election and was condemned again, but by that time his brother David had left Parliament and was in the USA heading the International Rescue Committee. There he has remained ever since, occasionally expressing an opinion on Labour politics but keeping a low profile.

His absence hasn’t done him any good here: it may be discretion, it may have been the only thing he could do, but it feels like hiding. Or sulking. He’s like a Prodigal Son who hasn’t been prodigal.

From time to time people say, in a slightly puzzled way, “Pity about David Miliband,” rather as if he had been run over by a tram while trying to stop a dogfight. The implication is that it’s a silly waste, we could do with him. He has experience, certainly: he was Tony Blair’s Policy Chief, then Secretary for the Environment, later Foreign Secretary under Gordon Brown. Well, he’s gone.

Or has he? A hard-hitting article appeared under his name in the Observer at the weekend. It says harsh things about May’s Brexit, urges a cross-party “fightback”, and demands a second vote between EU membership and whatever alternative is negotiated.

There has not, so far, been much fuss about it, so presumably it’s thought that nobody’s listening. It is August, after all. (Why did he choose August?) And he has been away for a long time. So perhaps he doesn’t count. Normally, it is not permitted to ask for a second vote on Europe. The Government’s position is that the people have spoken and they must never be allowed to speak again. To say otherwise is to invite demonisation as an anti-democrat.

It’s a very good article: clear, uncompromising and broadly-based. There are excellent reasons why the referendum result should not be accepted as the last word on the subject. I wrote about them on 8 March, www.foxoutinfront.com/the-will-of-the-people (see also foxoutinfront.com/say-you-like-it ), and won’t repeat them here. Of these many reasons, David Miliband focuses on only one, the most important one. It is, in his words, the campaign’s “complete… refusal to describe, never mind debate, what would replace the status quo.”

Miliband is deeply invested in the American political scene (he expected to be offered a high-ranking diplomatic post in the Administration if Clinton had become President*), and turns to America to illustrate his point about Europe. “Support for Obamacare is growing, dramatically, because the alternative has finally been spelled out… The case against the EU depends on avoiding a discussion of the alternative. It is the equivalent of voting to repeal Obamacare without knowing the replacement. It is a stitch-up.” (My italics.)

He is surely right, and the illustration of Obamacare is helpful. But the sentence I have italicised makes clear just what an enormous swindle the referendum was. The fault in the first instance was David Cameron’s, for setting the ballot question; the void left by the question was never filled by the Remain campaign; the Leave campaign saw their chance – a campaign entirely negative, targeted on the EU – and gleefully took it. The losers were the British people.

Miliband considers Brexit “an unparalleled act of economic self-harm,” but believes that it was a big mistake to reduce the referendum to the economic question.

“The EU represents a vision of society and politics, not just economics… The real truth about the single market has been lost in translation. It is not just a market. It is a vision of the good society. Rights (and holidays) for employees, limits on oligopolies, standards for the environment are there to serve the vision. The single market stands against a market society.”  (My italics.)

This aspect of the EU is well understood and appreciated in Europe. Britain has relegated it to the dustbin. We should be ashamed of this, and worried about what has influenced it. It has impoverished the debate to the point where it is not reality that is being debated; and it makes us look what we are in danger of becoming, a small, narrow-minded nation.

“The EU is not just a group of neighbouring countries,” Miliband reminds us. “It is a coalition of democratic states which pledge to advance human rights, the rule of law and democratic rules. That is not a threat to Britain; it is the team we should be in.”

And, going back to the Atlantic Charter, agreed between Churchill and Roosevelt in 1941, he says, “The insight was simple. Globalisation without rules and institutions would not mean more control for ordinary citizens. It would mean less.”

Put that on the buses.

Finally, he quotes Eisenhower’s brilliant insight, never more apt than now, “If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it.”

How this article has been received in the Labour Party I do not know, but I imagine they will deal with it by ignoring it. Jeremy Corbyn, believing himself within striking distance of Downing Street, will not even want to think about a second vote. Nor, should David Miliband fancy his chances of returning to British politics, will he find the party readily making room for him. The left doesn’t want another Blairite on the scene, particularly a clever one with experience of high office. And why should the Blairites welcome a returning hero who will think he has a right to lead and who moreover isn’t that much of a hero, not after an absence of …

In fact it’s only four years. It seems longer. It seems longer because it’s seven years since he lost the leadership battle to his brother. He remained an MP until 2013.

Seven years is a long time. But it is also a fairytale period. It’s transformative. In seven years one can experience a radical change of mind. David Miliband has gone a long way away from us: if he had taken a post under Clinton he would have had to take American citizenship. He must have been willing to do that, ready to turn his back on Britain. It would be understandable. Rejection by his brother, rejection by his party; in the end he would have seen it as rejection by his country. Rejection is a hard thing to handle, and the easiest way to handle it is to reject the rejecter. And he has his pride. After all, he was the older brother and the senior politician. Probably quite a lot of pride.

Is he ready to change his mind?

Also, if we are to apply the highest standards, is it quite good enough? The article he has written is wise, mature and shows a breadth of political thinking. Are the same qualities apparent in his behaviour? Or does he have the same, almost impermeable, membrane between the good bits and the bad bits that most of us have? It matters. It matters if he’s coming back.

He has given no clear signal either that he is or that he isn’t. It seems that he cares deeply about what is happening in Britain but not deeply enough to get involved in it. Perhaps it really is too hard to get over, all that Biblical stuff. And it’s possible that saving refugees is the best thing he could be doing. Yet I have a feeling he doesn’t think so.

Situations like this are resolved in the heart, not the head, or not resolved at all. This one needs resolution.

There is need, in the Britain of 2017, for a political intelligence like David Miliband’s. There is need for strong leadership. Blair has the qualifications, but he can’t do it. Iraq is always ahead of him.

Here is a glimpse of how deeply deception, confusion and contempt for the public have penetrated our politics. This is David Davis, talking on Tuesday’s Today programme about the opaque document on the customs union which his Department had just published.

“You will find it difficult sometimes to read what we intend,” he said, apparently unaware that the population has been unable to read what the Government intends for more than a year. “That’s deliberate.”

Oh, I see.

David Miliband, come home. Forget everything else. The house is on fire.

 

* The Telegraph, 29 April 2016.

 

Five green bottles?

 

Poor EFTA. Nobody loves her for herself alone.

EFTA is the European Free Trade Association. This is immediately problematical, because isn’t the European Union a European free trade association?

Yes, and that is the reason for EFTA.

The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1951; it established the European Steel and Coal Community, which united the French and German coal and steel industries. Its members were West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Britain was invited to join, but declined.

In 1957, the ESCC evolved into the European Economic Community, with a customs union working towards the abolition of internal tariffs. The success of this approach speedily became apparent, and Greece and Turkey applied for associate membership. The British government, fearing economic isolation, took the lead in organising a looser free trade association among other European countries.

This was EFTA and, when it was established in 1960, it had seven members (“the outer seven”): Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Finland joined a year later.

EFTA had a combined population of 90 million; the EEC (“the inner six”) had a population of 190 million. Harold Macmillan decided EFTA was too small for Britain’s interests and, 18 months after it had been set up, applied for Britain to become a full member of the EEC.

Ireland, Denmark and Norway followed suit. That would have reduced EFTA’s membership to six, but General de Gaulle, now President of France for the second time, was not sympathetic to Britain’s application and vetoed it. Ireland, Denmark and Norway promptly withdrew their own applications to join the EEC.

EFTA was now back at eight.

Four years later, a British Labour government under Harold Wilson again applied for membership in the EEC. Britain was in a parlous economic state by this time and appealing to the IMF for help. De Gaulle again opposed the application, although he did not veto it. It was put on hold.

Within a year, de Gaulle had resigned as President, and serious negotiations about Britain’s entry began. Treaties of accession were signed with the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway in 1972. Norway’s population rejected the terms in a referendum. The UK and Denmark left EFTA.

EFTA was down to six.

In 1994, the European Economic Area was created in response to the desire of EFTA countries to share in the benefits of the single market.  It was designed to incorporate all EU and EFTA member states. There are obligations: one of them is a contribution to the EU budget, another is acceptance of the jurisdiction of the supra-national EFTA Court, which is not the European Court of Justice but tends to follow its decisions. Five EFTA states concluded that they would be better served by going the whole way, and applied for full EU membership. They were Sweden, Austria, Finland, Switzerland and Norway (again).

That reduced EFTA to two: Iceland and Liechtenstein, which had just joined.

Then Swiss voters rejected the EEA in a referendum, and Switzerland’s pending EU application was put on ice. (It is still on ice. Switzerland has since negotiated a highly complex series of bilateral deals with the EU.) Norway, asked for the second time to ratify a treaty with the EU, declined a second time. It is back in EFTA, as is Switzerland, although Switzerland is out of the EEA.

That brought EFTA’s membership to four, where it remains, in spite of a blip in 2009 when Iceland, hard-hit by the global financial collapse, applied to join the EU. It withdrew its application as its economy recovered.

This small group of small countries (total population 13.6 million), which Harold  Macmillan decided was insufficient for Britain’s needs, and which countries pop in and out of as a way-station to better things or as a haven until the weather clears, is now the last hope of Remainers who have almost given up and the first straw clutched by Leavers who are starting to see that they will have to compromise on something if the economy is not to sink under them.

There is quite a lot in favour of EFTA – for a start, access, as a de facto member pf the EEA, to the single market. This would preserve Britain’s trading relations with the largest trading block in the world and avoid the necessity of negotiating trade deals, which by common consent usually take at least four years, with approximately 100 other countries by March 2019. (With virtually no trade negotiators. The UK hasn’t negotiated a trade treaty since 1973. This isn’t a steep learning curve, this is an overhanging cliff.) It would preserve our freedom to travel and work in Europe. We would not have to worry about the safety of our nuclear installations (thanks to Euratom). We would be free to negotiate our own trade deals outside the EU if we wanted to, because the EEA does not give access to the customs union.

And it would be a civilised arrangement. This is what is implied when people call it the “Norway option.” Norway is a fine and friendly country, with which we have much in common (fishing; a monarchy; Vikings; an honourable record in “the war”). We also have in common that the Norwegians rejected the EU – not once but twice. Oh, it’s a splendid place.

There have been Norwegian voices, however, suggesting that Norway doesn’t want us take the Norway option. These voices express the view of Harold Macmillan, that Britain is just too big for the boat. The latest figures for the combined GDP of EFTA are 924,970 million euro. The latest figures for the UK’s GDP are 2.6 trillion US dollars.

There are other disadvantages. Because the EEA does not give access to the customs union, it would do nothing to solve, for instance, the difficulties of car manufacturers, whose industry requires the continual export and import of parts. Nor, for the same reason, would it help with the thorny (and urgent) question of the Irish border. On the other hand, it does require observance of many EU regulations, it requires a contribution to the budget and, crucially, it allows for no input into the EU decision-making process.

This is why, in 1995, Sweden, Austria and Finland became full members of the EU. Why settle for less, pay into the pot, and have no seat at the table?

True Brexiters, of course, want none of it. They have turned their backs on the single market, the customs union and the European Court. This is not a rational position, but at least it’s clear.

To whom, then does the Norway option appeal? To millions of people horrified by this Government’s hellbent pursuit of a hard Brexit. But, while you may end up profoundly thankful for a life-raft, it’s idle to pretend that a life-raft is really where you want to be. Remainers are at best lukewarm. Some Leave voters would settle for it, but many are suspicious: they think it’s a Trojan horse for remaining in Europe, and they’re right, because the more we focus on retaining some of our ties to Europe, the more obvious it will be that the best deal, the obvious deal, is to remain inside.

A further possibility, the “Swiss option,” is sometimes trailed. Britain would be in EFTA without being in the EEA. But Switzerland’s deal with the EU, although it does not involve jurisdiction by the ECJ, does impose some EU regulations, restricts single market access in services, which comprise the majority of British exports, allows unrestricted immigration, and requires a contribution to the budget. It took many years to negotiate and comprises around 120 different bilateral agreements.

(What?)

There is legal opinion that the UK may not in fact automatically leave the EEA when it quits the EU, as the Government asserts, and risks being taken to court in The Hague if it does not give the other members of the EEA 12 months’ formal notice of withdrawal (Independent, 12 August). This is required under Article 127, which the Government does not intend to follow because it wants to avoid a Common vote which would essentially be about membership of the single market. James Chapman, former aide to David Davis, told the Guardian on Wednesday, “There is no majority in Parliament for leaving the EEA, so the Government is going to have to shift its position.”

We’ll see.

What is Britain going to do? The cabinet is all over the place. The country is divided. Theresa May goes on another walking holiday. The EU has started to wonder whether we are not mad after all but playing a very high-stakes game of poker.

We aren’t. The stakes are high, but the players are engaged in blind man’s buff. They didn’t think it would be like this. They thought they were going to get cake.

The weeks go by.

Her ambition is vague and indefinite, wrote Ezra Pound of a young woman who sent him letters from a convent. She will neither stay in, nor come out.

So it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five green bottles?

 

Poor EFTA. Nobody loves her for herself alone.

EFTA is the European Free Trade Association. This is immediately problematical, because isn’t the European Union a European free trade association?

Yes, and that is the reason for EFTA.

The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1951; it established the European Steel and Coal Community, which united the French and German coal and steel industries. Its members were West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Britain was invited to join, but declined.

In 1957, the ESCC evolved into the European Economic Community, with a customs union working towards the abolition of internal tariffs. The success of this approach speedily became apparent, and Greece and Turkey applied for associate membership. The British government, fearing economic isolation, took the lead in organising a looser free trade association among other European countries.

This was EFTA and, when it was established in 1960, it had seven members (“the outer seven”): Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Finland joined a year later.

EFTA had a combined population of 90 million; the EEC (“the inner six”) had a population of 190 million. Harold Macmillan decided EFTA was too small for Britain’s interests and, 18 months after it had been set up, applied for Britain to become a full member of the EEC.

Ireland, Denmark and Norway followed suit. That would have reduced EFTA’s membership to six, but General de Gaulle, now President of France for the second time, was not sympathetic to Britain’s application and vetoed it. Ireland, Denmark and Norway promptly withdrew their own applications to join the EEC.

EFTA was now back at eight.

Four years later, a British Labour government under Harold Wilson again applied for membership in the EEC. Britain was in a parlous economic state by this time and appealing to the IMF for help. De Gaulle again opposed the application, although he did not veto it. It was put on hold.

Within a year, de Gaulle had resigned as President, and serious negotiations about Britain’s entry began. Treaties of accession were signed with the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway in 1972. Norway’s population rejected the terms in a referendum. The UK and Denmark left EFTA.

EFTA was down to six.

In 1994, the European Economic Area was created in response to the desire of EFTA countries to share in the benefits of the single market.  It was designed to incorporate all EU and EFTA member states. There are obligations: one of them is a contribution to the EU budget, another is acceptance of the jurisdiction of the supra-national EFTA Court, which is not the European Court of Justice but tends to follow its decisions. Five EFTA states concluded that they would be better served by going the whole way, and applied for full EU membership. They were Sweden, Austria, Finland, Switzerland and Norway (again).

That reduced EFTA to two: Iceland and Liechtenstein, which had just joined.

Then Swiss voters rejected the EEA in a referendum, and Switzerland’s pending EU application was put on ice. (It is still on ice. Switzerland has since negotiated a highly complex series of bilateral deals with the EU.) Norway, asked for the second time to ratify a treaty with the EU, declined a second time. It is back in EFTA, as is Switzerland, although Switzerland is out of the EEA.

That brought EFTA’s membership to four, where it remains, in spite of a blip in 2009 when Iceland, hard-hit by the global financial collapse, applied to join the EU. It withdrew its application as its economy recovered.

This small group of small countries (total population 13.6 million), which Harold  Macmillan decided was insufficient for Britain’s needs, and which countries pop in and out of as a way-station to better things or as a haven until the weather clears, is now the last hope of Remainers who have almost given up and the first straw clutched by Leavers who are starting to see that they will have to compromise on something if the economy is not to sink under them.

There is quite a lot in favour of EFTA – for a start, access, as a de facto member pf the EEA, to the single market. This would preserve Britain’s trading relations with the largest trading block in the world and avoid the necessity of negotiating trade deals, which by common consent usually take at least four years, with approximately 100 other countries by March 2019. (With virtually no trade negotiators. The UK hasn’t negotiated a trade treaty since 1973. This isn’t a steep learning curve, this is an overhanging cliff.) It would preserve our freedom to travel and work in Europe. We would not have to worry about the safety of our nuclear installations (thanks to Euratom). We would be free to negotiate our own trade deals outside the EU if we wanted to, because the EEA does not give access to the customs union.

And it would be a civilised arrangement. This is what is implied when people call it the “Norway option.” Norway is a fine and friendly country, with which we have much in common (fishing; a monarchy; Vikings; an honourable record in “the war”). We also have in common that the Norwegians rejected the EU – not once but twice. Oh, it’s a splendid place.

There have been Norwegian voices, however, suggesting that Norway doesn’t want us take the Norway option. These voices express the view of Harold Macmillan, that Britain is just too big for the boat. The latest figures for the combined GDP of EFTA are 924,970 million euro. The latest figures for the UK’s GDP are 2.6 trillion US dollars.

There are other disadvantages. Because the EEA does not give access to the customs union, it would do nothing to solve, for instance, the difficulties of car manufacturers, whose industry requires the continual export and import of parts. Nor, for the same reason, would it help with the thorny (and urgent) question of the Irish border. On the other hand, it does require observance of many EU regulations, it requires a contribution to the budget and, crucially, it allows for no input into the EU decision-making process.

This is why, in 1995, Sweden, Austria and Finland became full members of the EU. Why settle for less, pay into the pot, and have no seat at the table?

True Brexiters, of course, want none of it. They have turned their backs on the single market, the customs union and the European Court. This is not a rational position, but at least it’s clear.

To whom, then does the Norway option appeal? To millions of people horrified by this Government’s hellbent pursuit of a hard Brexit. But, while you may end up profoundly thankful for a life-raft, it’s idle to pretend that a life-raft is really where you want to be. Remainers are at best lukewarm. Some Leave voters would settle for it, but many are suspicious: they think it’s a Trojan horse for remaining in Europe, and they’re right, because the more we focus on retaining some of our ties to Europe, the more obvious it will be that the best deal, the obvious deal, is to remain inside.

A further possibility, the “Swiss option,” is sometimes trailed. Britain would be in EFTA without being in the EEA. But Switzerland’s deal with the EU, although it does not involve jurisdiction by the ECJ, does impose some EU regulations, restricts single market access in services, which comprise the majority of British exports, allows unrestricted immigration, and requires a contribution to the budget. It took many years to negotiate and comprises around 120 different bilateral agreements.

(What?)

There is legal opinion that the UK may not in fact automatically leave the EEA when it quits the EU, as the Government asserts, and risks being taken to court in The Hague if it does not give the other members of the EEA 12 months’ formal notice of withdrawal (Independent, 12 August). This is required under Article 127, which the Government does not intend to follow because it wants to avoid a Common vote which would essentially be about membership of the single market. James Chapman, former aide to David Davis, told the Guardian on Wednesday, “There is no majority in Parliament for leaving the EEA, so the Government is going to have to shift its position.”

We’ll see.

What is Britain going to do? The cabinet is all over the place. The country is divided. Theresa May goes on another walking holiday. The EU has started to wonder whether we are not mad after all but playing a very high-stakes game of poker.

We aren’t. The stakes are high, but the players are engaged in blind man’s buff. They didn’t think it would be like this. They thought they were going to get cake.

The weeks go by.

Her ambition is vague and indefinite, wrote Ezra Pound of a young woman who sent him letters from a convent. She will neither stay in, nor come out.

So it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five green bottles?

 

Poor EFTA. Nobody loves her for herself alone.

EFTA is the European Free Trade Association. This is immediately problematical, because isn’t the European Union a European free trade association?

Yes, and that is the reason for EFTA.

The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1951; it established the European Steel and Coal Community, which united the French and German coal and steel industries. Its members were West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Britain was invited to join, but declined.

In 1957, the ESCC evolved into the European Economic Community, with a customs union working towards the abolition of internal tariffs. The success of this approach speedily became apparent, and Greece and Turkey applied for associate membership. The British government, fearing economic isolation, took the lead in organising a looser free trade association among other European countries.

This was EFTA and, when it was established in 1960, it had seven members (“the outer seven”): Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Finland joined a year later.

EFTA had a combined population of 90 million; the EEC (“the inner six”) had a population of 190 million. Harold Macmillan decided EFTA was too small for Britain’s interests and, 18 months after it had been set up, applied for Britain to become a full member of the EEC.

Ireland, Denmark and Norway followed suit. That would have reduced EFTA’s membership to six, but General de Gaulle, now President of France for the second time, was not sympathetic to Britain’s application and vetoed it. Ireland, Denmark and Norway promptly withdrew their own applications to join the EEC.

EFTA was now back at eight.

Four years later, a British Labour government under Harold Wilson again applied for membership in the EEC. Britain was in a parlous economic state by this time and appealing to the IMF for help. De Gaulle again opposed the application, although he did not veto it. It was put on hold.

Within a year, de Gaulle had resigned as President, and serious negotiations about Britain’s entry began. Treaties of accession were signed with the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway in 1972. Norway’s population rejected the terms in a referendum. The UK and Denmark left EFTA.

EFTA was down to six.

In 1994, the European Economic Area was created in response to the desire of EFTA countries to share in the benefits of the single market.  It was designed to incorporate all EU and EFTA member states. There are obligations: one of them is a contribution to the EU budget, another is acceptance of the jurisdiction of the supra-national EFTA Court, which is not the European Court of Justice but tends to follow its decisions. Five EFTA states concluded that they would be better served by going the whole way, and applied for full EU membership. They were Sweden, Austria, Finland, Switzerland and Norway (again).

That reduced EFTA to two: Iceland and Liechtenstein, which had just joined.

Then Swiss voters rejected the EEA in a referendum, and Switzerland’s pending EU application was put on ice. (It is still on ice. Switzerland has since negotiated a highly complex series of bilateral deals with the EU.) Norway, asked for the second time to ratify a treaty with the EU, declined a second time. It is back in EFTA, as is Switzerland, although Switzerland is out of the EEA.

That brought EFTA’s membership to four, where it remains, in spite of a blip in 2009 when Iceland, hard-hit by the global financial collapse, applied to join the EU. It withdrew its application as its economy recovered.

This small group of small countries (total population 13.6 million), which Harold  Macmillan decided was insufficient for Britain’s needs, and which countries pop in and out of as a way-station to better things or as a haven until the weather clears, is now the last hope of Remainers who have almost given up and the first straw clutched by Leavers who are starting to see that they will have to compromise on something if the economy is not to sink under them.

There is quite a lot in favour of EFTA – for a start, access, as a de facto member pf the EEA, to the single market. This would preserve Britain’s trading relations with the largest trading block in the world and avoid the necessity of negotiating trade deals, which by common consent usually take at least four years, with approximately 100 other countries by March 2019. (With virtually no trade negotiators. The UK hasn’t negotiated a trade treaty since 1973. This isn’t a steep learning curve, this is an overhanging cliff.) It would preserve our freedom to travel and work in Europe. We would not have to worry about the safety of our nuclear installations (thanks to Euratom). We would be free to negotiate our own trade deals outside the EU if we wanted to, because the EEA does not give access to the customs union.

And it would be a civilised arrangement. This is what is implied when people call it the “Norway option.” Norway is a fine and friendly country, with which we have much in common (fishing; a monarchy; Vikings; an honourable record in “the war”). We also have in common that the Norwegians rejected the EU – not once but twice. Oh, it’s a splendid place.

There have been Norwegian voices, however, suggesting that Norway doesn’t want us take the Norway option. These voices express the view of Harold Macmillan, that Britain is just too big for the boat. The latest figures for the combined GDP of EFTA are 924,970 million euro. The latest figures for the UK’s GDP are 2.6 trillion US dollars.

There are other disadvantages. Because the EEA does not give access to the customs union, it would do nothing to solve, for instance, the difficulties of car manufacturers, whose industry requires the continual export and import of parts. Nor, for the same reason, would it help with the thorny (and urgent) question of the Irish border. On the other hand, it does require observance of many EU regulations, it requires a contribution to the budget and, crucially, it allows for no input into the EU decision-making process.

This is why, in 1995, Sweden, Austria and Finland became full members of the EU. Why settle for less, pay into the pot, and have no seat at the table?

True Brexiters, of course, want none of it. They have turned their backs on the single market, the customs union and the European Court. This is not a rational position, but at least it’s clear.

To whom, then does the Norway option appeal? To millions of people horrified by this Government’s hellbent pursuit of a hard Brexit. But, while you may end up profoundly thankful for a life-raft, it’s idle to pretend that a life-raft is really where you want to be. Remainers are at best lukewarm. Some Leave voters would settle for it, but many are suspicious: they think it’s a Trojan horse for remaining in Europe, and they’re right, because the more we focus on retaining some of our ties to Europe, the more obvious it will be that the best deal, the obvious deal, is to remain inside.

A further possibility, the “Swiss option,” is sometimes trailed. Britain would be in EFTA without being in the EEA. But Switzerland’s deal with the EU, although it does not involve jurisdiction by the ECJ, does impose some EU regulations, restricts single market access in services, which comprise the majority of British exports, allows unrestricted immigration, and requires a contribution to the budget. It took many years to negotiate and comprises around 120 different bilateral agreements.

(What?)

There is legal opinion that the UK may not in fact automatically leave the EEA when it quits the EU, as the Government asserts, and risks being taken to court in The Hague if it does not give the other members of the EEA 12 months’ formal notice of withdrawal (Independent, 12 August). This is required under Article 127, which the Government does not intend to follow because it wants to avoid a Common vote which would essentially be about membership of the single market. James Chapman, former aide to David Davis, told the Guardian on Wednesday, “There is no majority in Parliament for leaving the EEA, so the Government is going to have to shift its position.”

We’ll see.

What is Britain going to do? The cabinet is all over the place. The country is divided. Theresa May goes on another walking holiday. The EU has started to wonder whether we are not mad after all but playing a very high-stakes game of poker.

We aren’t. The stakes are high, but the players are engaged in blind man’s buff. They didn’t think it would be like this. They thought they were going to get cake.

The weeks go by.

Her ambition is vague and indefinite, wrote Ezra Pound of a young woman who sent him letters from a convent. She will neither stay in, nor come out.

So it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five green bottles?

 

Poor EFTA. Nobody loves her for herself alone.

EFTA is the European Free Trade Association. This is immediately problematical, because isn’t the European Union a European free trade association?

Yes, and that is the reason for EFTA.

The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1951; it established the European Steel and Coal Community, which united the French and German coal and steel industries. Its members were West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Britain was invited to join, but declined.

In 1957, the ESCC evolved into the European Economic Community, with a customs union working towards the abolition of internal tariffs. The success of this approach speedily became apparent, and Greece and Turkey applied for associate membership. The British government, fearing economic isolation, took the lead in organising a looser free trade association among other European countries.

This was EFTA and, when it was established in 1960, it had seven members (“the outer seven”): Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Finland joined a year later.

EFTA had a combined population of 90 million; the EEC (“the inner six”) had a population of 190 million. Harold Macmillan decided EFTA was too small for Britain’s interests and, 18 months after it had been set up, applied for Britain to become a full member of the EEC.

Ireland, Denmark and Norway followed suit. That would have reduced EFTA’s membership to six, but General de Gaulle, now President of France for the second time, was not sympathetic to Britain’s application and vetoed it. Ireland, Denmark and Norway promptly withdrew their own applications to join the EEC.

EFTA was now back at eight.

Four years later, a British Labour government under Harold Wilson again applied for membership in the EEC. Britain was in a parlous economic state by this time and appealing to the IMF for help. De Gaulle again opposed the application, although he did not veto it. It was put on hold.

Within a year, de Gaulle had resigned as President, and serious negotiations about Britain’s entry began. Treaties of accession were signed with the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway in 1972. Norway’s population rejected the terms in a referendum. The UK and Denmark left EFTA.

EFTA was down to six.

In 1994, the European Economic Area was created in response to the desire of EFTA countries to share in the benefits of the single market.  It was designed to incorporate all EU and EFTA member states. There are obligations: one of them is a contribution to the EU budget, another is acceptance of the jurisdiction of the supra-national EFTA Court, which is not the European Court of Justice but tends to follow its decisions. Five EFTA states concluded that they would be better served by going the whole way, and applied for full EU membership. They were Sweden, Austria, Finland, Switzerland and Norway (again).

That reduced EFTA to two: Iceland and Liechtenstein, which had just joined.

Then Swiss voters rejected the EEA in a referendum, and Switzerland’s pending EU application was put on ice. (It is still on ice. Switzerland has since negotiated a highly complex series of bilateral deals with the EU.) Norway, asked for the second time to ratify a treaty with the EU, declined a second time. It is back in EFTA, as is Switzerland, although Switzerland is out of the EEA.

That brought EFTA’s membership to four, where it remains, in spite of a blip in 2009 when Iceland, hard-hit by the global financial collapse, applied to join the EU. It withdrew its application as its economy recovered.

This small group of small countries (total population 13.6 million), which Harold  Macmillan decided was insufficient for Britain’s needs, and which countries pop in and out of as a way-station to better things or as a haven until the weather clears, is now the last hope of Remainers who have almost given up and the first straw clutched by Leavers who are starting to see that they will have to compromise on something if the economy is not to sink under them.

There is quite a lot in favour of EFTA – for a start, access, as a de facto member pf the EEA, to the single market. This would preserve Britain’s trading relations with the largest trading block in the world and avoid the necessity of negotiating trade deals, which by common consent usually take at least four years, with approximately 100 other countries by March 2019. (With virtually no trade negotiators. The UK hasn’t negotiated a trade treaty since 1973. This isn’t a steep learning curve, this is an overhanging cliff.) It would preserve our freedom to travel and work in Europe. We would not have to worry about the safety of our nuclear installations (thanks to Euratom). We would be free to negotiate our own trade deals outside the EU if we wanted to, because the EEA does not give access to the customs union.

And it would be a civilised arrangement. This is what is implied when people call it the “Norway option.” Norway is a fine and friendly country, with which we have much in common (fishing; a monarchy; Vikings; an honourable record in “the war”). We also have in common that the Norwegians rejected the EU – not once but twice. Oh, it’s a splendid place.

There have been Norwegian voices, however, suggesting that Norway doesn’t want us take the Norway option. These voices express the view of Harold Macmillan, that Britain is just too big for the boat. The latest figures for the combined GDP of EFTA are 924,970 million euro. The latest figures for the UK’s GDP are 2.6 trillion US dollars.

There are other disadvantages. Because the EEA does not give access to the customs union, it would do nothing to solve, for instance, the difficulties of car manufacturers, whose industry requires the continual export and import of parts. Nor, for the same reason, would it help with the thorny (and urgent) question of the Irish border. On the other hand, it does require observance of many EU regulations, it requires a contribution to the budget and, crucially, it allows for no input into the EU decision-making process.

This is why, in 1995, Sweden, Austria and Finland became full members of the EU. Why settle for less, pay into the pot, and have no seat at the table?

True Brexiters, of course, want none of it. They have turned their backs on the single market, the customs union and the European Court. This is not a rational position, but at least it’s clear.

To whom, then does the Norway option appeal? To millions of people horrified by this Government’s hellbent pursuit of a hard Brexit. But, while you may end up profoundly thankful for a life-raft, it’s idle to pretend that a life-raft is really where you want to be. Remainers are at best lukewarm. Some Leave voters would settle for it, but many are suspicious: they think it’s a Trojan horse for remaining in Europe, and they’re right, because the more we focus on retaining some of our ties to Europe, the more obvious it will be that the best deal, the obvious deal, is to remain inside.

A further possibility, the “Swiss option,” is sometimes trailed. Britain would be in EFTA without being in the EEA. But Switzerland’s deal with the EU, although it does not involve jurisdiction by the ECJ, does impose some EU regulations, restricts single market access in services, which comprise the majority of British exports, allows unrestricted immigration, and requires a contribution to the budget. It took many years to negotiate and comprises around 120 different bilateral agreements.

(What?)

There is legal opinion that the UK may not in fact automatically leave the EEA when it quits the EU, as the Government asserts, and risks being taken to court in The Hague if it does not give the other members of the EEA 12 months’ formal notice of withdrawal (Independent, 12 August). This is required under Article 127, which the Government does not intend to follow because it wants to avoid a Common vote which would essentially be about membership of the single market. James Chapman, former aide to David Davis, told the Guardian on Wednesday, “There is no majority in Parliament for leaving the EEA, so the Government is going to have to shift its position.”

We’ll see.

What is Britain going to do? The cabinet is all over the place. The country is divided. Theresa May goes on another walking holiday. The EU has started to wonder whether we are not mad after all but playing a very high-stakes game of poker.

We aren’t. The stakes are high, but the players are engaged in blind man’s buff. They didn’t think it would be like this. They thought they were going to get cake.

The weeks go by.

Her ambition is vague and indefinite, wrote Ezra Pound of a young woman who sent him letters from a convent. She will neither stay in, nor come out.

So it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five green bottles?

 

Poor EFTA. Nobody loves her for herself alone.

EFTA is the European Free Trade Association. This is immediately problematical, because isn’t the European Union a European free trade association?

Yes, and that is the reason for EFTA.

The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1951; it established the European Steel and Coal Community, which united the French and German coal and steel industries. Its members were West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Britain was invited to join, but declined.

In 1957, the ESCC evolved into the European Economic Community, with a customs union working towards the abolition of internal tariffs. The success of this approach speedily became apparent, and Greece and Turkey applied for associate membership. The British government, fearing economic isolation, took the lead in organising a looser free trade association among other European countries.

This was EFTA and, when it was established in 1960, it had seven members (“the outer seven”): Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Finland joined a year later.

EFTA had a combined population of 90 million; the EEC (“the inner six”) had a population of 190 million. Harold Macmillan decided EFTA was too small for Britain’s interests and, 18 months after it had been set up, applied for Britain to become a full member of the EEC.

Ireland, Denmark and Norway followed suit. That would have reduced EFTA’s membership to six, but General de Gaulle, now President of France for the second time, was not sympathetic to Britain’s application and vetoed it. Ireland, Denmark and Norway promptly withdrew their own applications to join the EEC.

EFTA was now back at eight.

Four years later, a British Labour government under Harold Wilson again applied for membership in the EEC. Britain was in a parlous economic state by this time and appealing to the IMF for help. De Gaulle again opposed the application, although he did not veto it. It was put on hold.

Within a year, de Gaulle had resigned as President, and serious negotiations about Britain’s entry began. Treaties of accession were signed with the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway in 1972. Norway’s population rejected the terms in a referendum. The UK and Denmark left EFTA.

EFTA was down to six.

In 1994, the European Economic Area was created in response to the desire of EFTA countries to share in the benefits of the single market.  It was designed to incorporate all EU and EFTA member states. There are obligations: one of them is a contribution to the EU budget, another is acceptance of the jurisdiction of the supra-national EFTA Court, which is not the European Court of Justice but tends to follow its decisions. Five EFTA states concluded that they would be better served by going the whole way, and applied for full EU membership. They were Sweden, Austria, Finland, Switzerland and Norway (again).

That reduced EFTA to two: Iceland and Liechtenstein, which had just joined.

Then Swiss voters rejected the EEA in a referendum, and Switzerland’s pending EU application was put on ice. (It is still on ice. Switzerland has since negotiated a highly complex series of bilateral deals with the EU.) Norway, asked for the second time to ratify a treaty with the EU, declined a second time. It is back in EFTA, as is Switzerland, although Switzerland is out of the EEA.

That brought EFTA’s membership to four, where it remains, in spite of a blip in 2009 when Iceland, hard-hit by the global financial collapse, applied to join the EU. It withdrew its application as its economy recovered.

This small group of small countries (total population 13.6 million), which Harold  Macmillan decided was insufficient for Britain’s needs, and which countries pop in and out of as a way-station to better things or as a haven until the weather clears, is now the last hope of Remainers who have almost given up and the first straw clutched by Leavers who are starting to see that they will have to compromise on something if the economy is not to sink under them.

There is quite a lot in favour of EFTA – for a start, access, as a de facto member pf the EEA, to the single market. This would preserve Britain’s trading relations with the largest trading block in the world and avoid the necessity of negotiating trade deals, which by common consent usually take at least four years, with approximately 100 other countries by March 2019. (With virtually no trade negotiators. The UK hasn’t negotiated a trade treaty since 1973. This isn’t a steep learning curve, this is an overhanging cliff.) It would preserve our freedom to travel and work in Europe. We would not have to worry about the safety of our nuclear installations (thanks to Euratom). We would be free to negotiate our own trade deals outside the EU if we wanted to, because the EEA does not give access to the customs union.

And it would be a civilised arrangement. This is what is implied when people call it the “Norway option.” Norway is a fine and friendly country, with which we have much in common (fishing; a monarchy; Vikings; an honourable record in “the war”). We also have in common that the Norwegians rejected the EU – not once but twice. Oh, it’s a splendid place.

There have been Norwegian voices, however, suggesting that Norway doesn’t want us take the Norway option. These voices express the view of Harold Macmillan, that Britain is just too big for the boat. The latest figures for the combined GDP of EFTA are 924,970 million euro. The latest figures for the UK’s GDP are 2.6 trillion US dollars.

There are other disadvantages. Because the EEA does not give access to the customs union, it would do nothing to solve, for instance, the difficulties of car manufacturers, whose industry requires the continual export and import of parts. Nor, for the same reason, would it help with the thorny (and urgent) question of the Irish border. On the other hand, it does require observance of many EU regulations, it requires a contribution to the budget and, crucially, it allows for no input into the EU decision-making process.

This is why, in 1995, Sweden, Austria and Finland became full members of the EU. Why settle for less, pay into the pot, and have no seat at the table?

True Brexiters, of course, want none of it. They have turned their backs on the single market, the customs union and the European Court. This is not a rational position, but at least it’s clear.

To whom, then does the Norway option appeal? To millions of people horrified by this Government’s hellbent pursuit of a hard Brexit. But, while you may end up profoundly thankful for a life-raft, it’s idle to pretend that a life-raft is really where you want to be. Remainers are at best lukewarm. Some Leave voters would settle for it, but many are suspicious: they think it’s a Trojan horse for remaining in Europe, and they’re right, because the more we focus on retaining some of our ties to Europe, the more obvious it will be that the best deal, the obvious deal, is to remain inside.

A further possibility, the “Swiss option,” is sometimes trailed. Britain would be in EFTA without being in the EEA. But Switzerland’s deal with the EU, although it does not involve jurisdiction by the ECJ, does impose some EU regulations, restricts single market access in services, which comprise the majority of British exports, allows unrestricted immigration, and requires a contribution to the budget. It took many years to negotiate and comprises around 120 different bilateral agreements.

(What?)

There is legal opinion that the UK may not in fact automatically leave the EEA when it quits the EU, as the Government asserts, and risks being taken to court in The Hague if it does not give the other members of the EEA 12 months’ formal notice of withdrawal (Independent, 12 August). This is required under Article 127, which the Government does not intend to follow because it wants to avoid a Common vote which would essentially be about membership of the single market. James Chapman, former aide to David Davis, told the Guardian on Wednesday, “There is no majority in Parliament for leaving the EEA, so the Government is going to have to shift its position.”

We’ll see.

What is Britain going to do? The cabinet is all over the place. The country is divided. Theresa May goes on another walking holiday. The EU has started to wonder whether we are not mad after all but playing a very high-stakes game of poker.

We aren’t. The stakes are high, but the players are engaged in blind man’s buff. They didn’t think it would be like this. They thought they were going to get cake.

The weeks go by.

Her ambition is vague and indefinite, wrote Ezra Pound of a young woman who sent him letters from a convent. She will neither stay in, nor come out.

So it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Give us back our dirty beaches!

 

The BBC hates unoccupied airtime. On radio, we only get “dead air” just before the bongs that precede the main news. Then, of course, it isn’t really unoccupied airtime at all: it is vibrating with the anxiety of the nation, waiting to be told that Big Ben is still there, war over North Korea has not broken out, we do not yet have to eat chlorinated chicken.

So the two minutes of “slow radio” introduced into Sunday morning’s Broadcasting House is a small revolution. It is not silence, but it isn’t really “radio” either. It is a two-minute clip of something unremarkable, that turns out, as you listen to it, to be something beautiful. Once it was a train clicking over points. Once it was a waterwheel turning. Once it was a dog sleeping. The listener is drawn into it. It becomes deeply restful. It is probably doing more for the nation’s mental health than the rest of the BBC’s output taken together.

Last Sunday (July 30), it was a cascade of birdsong from a forest in Poland. The Białowieża Forest is one of the few remaining primeval forests on the planet, and home to numerous species including bear, lynx, bison, and rare birds such as the black stork, pygmy owl and three-toed woodpecker. Logging, which started more than a year ago with encouragement from the Polish Environment Ministry, had just been stopped. It was stopped on the orders of the European Union.

The EU is much concerned with the environment, although, founded on the desire to make war between Germany and France impossible by uniting their coal and steel industries, it came late to the natural world. In the 1950s and 60s, the level of environmental awareness was not high. This was a time when organo-phosphates were used with abandon and nitrogen was heaped on to soil to “boost fertility”, sewage was pumped into the sea, smog blanketed London at regular intervals and only a wild eccentric would ask for organic vegetables.

In the 1970s the EEC began to take piecemeal measures to combat pollution. They paved the way for Article 25 of the Single European Act of 1987, of which the first aim was “to preserve, protect and improve the quality of the environment.”

That is still the first aim of Article 191 of the Lisbon Treaty.  The three aims that follow are: “(2) Protecting human health; (3) prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources; and (4) promoting measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems, and in particular combating climate change.” (Emphasis in original.)

The EU directives on the environment cast a wide net: habitat, birds, flooding, groundwater, landfill, urban waste water, noise, recycling of electrical equipment, environmental impact of infrastructure projects, quality of bathing water, renewable energy, air quality, carbon capture, nitrate pollution, and more. They establish the “polluter pays” principle. They are incorporated into British law in various ways and with varying degrees of flexibility. They are extraordinarily thorough.

The Bathing Waters Directive (Dir.2006/7/EC) gets it right at the start: “Water is a scarce natural resource, the quality of which should be protected, defended, managed and treated as such. Surface waters in particular are renewable resources with a limited capacity to recover from adverse impacts of human activities.”

Exactly. When did we last hear such clarity from a regional water authority in Britain?

Also: “The public should receive appropriate and timely information on the results of the monitoring of bathing water quality and risk management measures… New technology that allows the public to be informed… should be applied.”

Excellent.

Then, a warning: “Since the objectives of this Directive … cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can be better achieved at Community level, the Community may adopt measures in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity… This Directive does not go beyond what is necessary in order to achieve those objectives.”

Aha! This is the point at which Brexiters raise the alarm. Here is interference with our liberties. Freeborn Englishmen are entitled to their dirty beaches.

There then follow many clauses on monitoring, assessment, what constitutes a “bathing season”, how many samples shall be assessed and how frequently, how bathing water shall be classified (very simply: poor, sufficient, good and excellent), what measures shall be taken if it is classed as poor, how the public should be alerted and kept informed, how the results of the monitoring are to be reported to the Commission, at what depth samples are to be taken for microbiological analysis and how the sample bottles are to be sterilised. And much more.

There are people who want Brexit so that they can roll back the EU’s regulations. From glancing at this one Directive, one can see why. One can also see why they shouldn’t get their way.

The cornerstone of the EU’s nature conservation policy are, jointly, the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) and the Wild Birds Directive (2009/147/EC). The Habitats Directive is built around the Natura 2000 network of protected sites, which encompasses more than 18% of the EU’s land area and almost 6% of its marine territory. More than 1000 species, many of them threatened, are protected, and over 200 types of habitat. The Wild Birds Directive protects all wild birds species naturally occurring in the EU, with special concern for the habitats of endangered and migratory species.

In the UK these Directives place 283 species including otters, nightingales and pine martens under protection, and safeguard 653 natural havens including the oaks of Windsor Great Park and the woods of the Wye Valley.

The effect on the UK of the EU’s environmental legislation has been “overwhelmingly positive,” say the Friends of the Earth in a paper titled The Implications for UK Environmental Policy of a Vote to Leave the EU.

“In the 1970s and 80s the UK earned the unattractive reputation for being “the Dirty Man of Europe; we had the highest sulphur dioxide emissions in the EU and our seas were akin to open sewers. Policy was dictated by so-called ‘sound science’, with action taken only when incontrovertible damage had been proved… Policy makers would react to problems only as they emerged, in a fragmented and ad hoc way. Perhaps the most damaging was the voluntaristic approach to regulation adopted, with close relations between policy-makers and those they sought to regulate.”

Membership of the EU, says FoE, has resulted in the introduction of new regulatory agencies like the National  Rivers Authority and the adoption of strict emission limits. “We have been obliged to change approaches to sewage treatment and releases of nitrates, and the quality of beaches and bathing water has improved.”

Indeed. Tourists are back on the beaches, and no longer gesturing at the sea in disgust; there are salmon and otter in the rivers. Species continue to go extinct at a horrifying rate, partly as a result of destructive farming practices, but the EU works with farmers to educate them in land use that favours greater biodiversity, and gives grants of up to £150 per hectare to encourage the return of conifer plantations to broadleaf. There are success stories: Bitterns and the Large Blue butterfly are back from the edge of extinction in the UK; there are 1600 breeding pairs of Red Kite.

The bad news is air quality. Yes, sulphur dioxide emissions have fallen, but “the UK Government is facing heavy fines over its failure to meet its obligations.”

This document was published in 2013. More on air quality below.

Anyone who read with a sinking heart the paragraph above that starts “In the 1970s and 80s…” can be forgiven, because it’s clear where we’re headed. Brexiters are nostalgic for a vanished past: this is that past. Just how much we will regress depends on what kind of Brexit we blunder into: the much-touted “Norway option” would oblige us to observe a number of EU environmental regulations, but NOT those on habitat, wild birds or bathing water. Back to dirty beaches, the shooting of birds of prey and the felling of ancient oaks? If the talks fail, as the head-bangers would like them to, we will only have to maintain those environmental standards that are forced on us by the terms of a trade deal.

The UK is perfectly capable of looking after its environment without interference from the EU, Brexiters will say. But it has shown little sign of wanting to do so. It opposed the classification of tar sands as “highly polluting,” tried to undermine energy efficiency targets, and wanted to block a pesticide ban intended to protect bees. The British Government has been taken to court twice over air quality; now, threatened with fines of £300m. by an out-of-patience European Commission, it has rushed out an announcement – which would be laughable if it were not tragic – that new diesel vehicles will be prohibited in the UK in twenty-three years’ time.

Twenty-three years? There are 23,500 premature deaths per year in Britain from nitrogen dioxide pollution caused by diesel traffic, many of them deaths of children.

Well, they shouldn’t be so selfish. All they have to do is hang on until 2040 and they will be perfectly all right.

The far-right Polish government, which bears more than a passing resemblance to our own, maintains a two-finger stance towards the EU although it is highly unlikely that it would seek, like Britain, to leave (it gets too much in subsidies).  Latest reports are that it has returned to logging in Białowieża Forest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What exactly are these pills?

 

In The Third Man, the hero, a guileless American, arrives in post-war Vienna to meet his friend, Harry Lime, who has offered him a job. He is told, first, that Lime is dead, and then, by a British military officer, that he was a criminal, a racketeer. Go home, says the officer.

The American doesn’t. He is convinced his friend was innocent, and stays in Vienna to clear his name. But Lime is still alive, and the American, at the end of the film, joins the chase and shoots him dead.

Something very serious is needed to account for this reversal, and something very serious is revealed. Harry Lime was not just a racketeer. He sold adulterated penicillin on the black market and children, as a result, suffered terrible brain damage. We are almost shown them, but not quite (this film was made in 1949): the camera tracks down the hospital ward and shows us the reactions of the other characters. We imagine. It is enough.

The cleverness of this element of the plot is how plausible it is made by the context. A black market is one of the products of civil chaos, and civil chaos is a product of war. In such an environment, everything becomes corrupted, starting with commerce and ending with conscience – or the other way round. And because it is a commercial transaction, the fact that it is evil is masked.   Commerce is just commerce, isn’t it? Caveat emptor.

Civil chaos also results from misrule. In Haiti, which has been misruled, often grossly, for most of two centuries, some cough medicine which did not do what it said on the label went on sale a few years ago in the poor districts of Port-au-Prince, and killed some of the children who took it. It wasn’t the first time this sort of thing had happened. Respiratory infections, along with many other ailments, are endemic in the slums; poverty is institutionalised by inequality of staggering proportions; with inequality comes contempt for the poor. The rich five per cent buy their drugs in Miami. Visiting Haiti, I was advised to look carefully at any medicinal products I bought.

We are accustomed, in this part of the world, to being able to trust a pharmaceutical product. It may not do all it’s claimed to do, but at least we can be sure that it is what it says it is. We may not like animal testing, but at least we know there has been testing, and some identifiable regulatory body has overseen it. We can assume, on the whole, that we – or the NHS – are not being monstrously overcharged for drugs we need, and that we will have access to them within a reasonable time of their reaching the market.

For ensuring the smooth running of this system we have been largely indebted, since 1995, to the European Medicines Agency (formerly the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medical Products). At its offices on Canary Wharf, this decentralised EU agency evaluates and regulates the safety of medical products across the EU, ensures universality of standards and that medicines are not duplicated (thus saving a lot of money). The British regulator, the Medical and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), is fully integrated into it. Thanks to the efficiency of the EMA’s single market, patients in Europe are able to access new treatments and medications roughly six months to a year sooner than those in Canada and Australia.

John Major lobbied hard for the EMA to come to London, and since then it has played an important role in Britain’s participation in Europe-wide medical projects. It has been central to the UK’s reputation in scientific development. The wish to be physically close to the regulator has drawn research organisations and drugs manufacturing companies to settle in London. The EMA employs about 900 people, and receives a constant flow of professional visitors who account for 30,000 hotel bookings per year. It is one of the institutions that make London a world city.

And now it’s going, another victim of Brexit. As an EU agency, it has to be located in an EU member state. A decision as to which country will host it is expected in October. Member states have until the end of July to submit their bids. One of the main criteria is good transport links. The competition is keen. Ireland is one of the favourites.

If there is a perfect illustration of the own goal that is Brexit, the departure of the EMA is it. It is not simply that the UK will lose the revenue and prestige that is involved in hosting this important agency; it is also that, because it is subject to the European Court of Justice, British health services and manufacturers will lose access to it and the market it regulates. That market accounts for a quarter of all global pharmaceutical sales, and it is idle to pretend that British pharmaceutical companies will be not be seriously affected by being excluded from it.

The most important consideration, however, is the effect on the NHS, patient health and public safety. On 4 July the Government addressed this. It issued a statement of its desire to retain “a close working partnership” in respect of medicines regulation after Britain leaves the EU. It laid out three principles: that patients should not be disadvantaged, that innovators should be able to access the UK market as quickly and simply as possible, and that Britain would “continue to play a leading role in both Europe and the world in promoting public health” (MHRA website).

Informed readers of this announcement were not impressed. Perhaps they had noticed the lack of detail, a persistent feature of Government communications.   A letter of 12 July (www.abpi.org.uk/barner-davis-joint-association-pharma-letter), addressed to Michel Barnier and David Davis by representatives of the European and British pharmaceutical and life science industry, stressed the high degree of integration of the industry across Europe and the “sophisticated system of legal and regulatory arrangements between EU institutions, Member States and national competent authorities.”

“It is important,” the letter continued, “that there is as much certainty as possible, as early as possible, to enable the pharmaceutical and life science industry to transition smoothly into the new framework, ensuring there is no disruption to patient access to medicines.”

In a later paragraph it was more explicit: “In the case of an unorderly withdrawal there is a risk that all goods due to be moved between the UK and EU could be held either at border checks, in warehouses or manufacturing and/or subject to extensive retesting requirements… This would lead to a severe disruption of most companies’ supply chains, which would lead to potential supply disruptions of life-saving medicines.” (My italics.)

The authors of the letter pleaded for more time to prepare for the safe disentangling of the industry’s “sophisticated system of arrangements”. They fear they won’t get it, and with reason. The hard-line Brexiteers are suspicious of a transition period, and Theresa May will not allow a co-operation agreement that is subject to the loathed ECJ. And if the talks collapse because David Davis and his team are too dogmatic, unprepared or concerned with what is going on behind their backs in Westminster to carry them through successfully, then all bets are off.

It would be comforting to think that behind the scenes the Government is beavering away at making a success of our departure from the EMA, but the language it has employed in its statement is the same as the language it uses to talk about any aspect of Brexit – vague, bland, empty. It has talked of a “close working partnership” with the EU in relation to the Irish border, security and the European Arrest Warrant, Euratom, the single market… it knows only one note and untiringly sings it.

It appears ignorant of science and to regard it as secondary. In February, MPs from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee called on David Davis’s Department for Exiting the European Union to hire a chief scientific adviser as a matter of urgency. The Department has still not done so. “The scientific community in the UK is frankly very worried about Brexit,” said Andrew Steele, chairman of the Science is Vital campaign group this week.

David Davis was photographed sitting at a table innocent, on his side, of any scrap of paper, at the negotiations on Monday. Michel Barnier, who had a sheaf of them, is acutely aware of the clock ticking: Davis seems not to know there’s a clock. He left the talks within an hour to return to London. If he is aware of the urgent need to make plans so that patients can get the right medicines, and don’t resort to unlicensed products because they’re all that’s available, he has given no indication of it.

We’re still a long way from Haiti. But the signs are ominous. Dereliction of duty in high office. Incompetence. Cynicism and a culture of lies. Indifference to poverty. The abomination of Grenfell Tower.

The road down which the signs point goes straight to Port-au-Prince.

 

Rope of sand

 

An aeroplane is a beautiful thing, I’ve always thought. The idea so simple, so bold. The design pared down to necessity. Fuselage, wings, tailplane, fin. Even the tailplane can be dispensed with; so, almost, can the fuselage. Then the aircraft is a flying triangle with a cabin thumb-pressed into its leading edge. You can’t do without the wing. If it doesn’t have wings, it isn’t an aeroplane.

Michel Barnier has been talking about Airbus.

At Broughton, Flintshire, the Airbus factory employs around 5,000 workers. They make the wings for Airbus aircraft including the A380, the largest passenger aircraft. Other factories in Spain, France and Germany are involved in making components, processing or assembly. In the course of manufacture the wings for the A380 cross national frontiers several times before ending up in Toulouse, where they are installed in the airframe. It’s a perfect example of what the single market makes possible.

Once the UK leaves the EU, said M. Barnier, businesses like Airbus which rely on integration with continental Europe will face new constraints as they move parts and staff between centres of production. He added a warning about red tape over VAT and “very cumbersome” customs procedures. “Only a combination of the customs union and the rules of the single market make it possible to trade freely without friction between our countries,” he said.

He was speaking to a committee in Brussels, but he was addressing the British Government. He said he feared that the truth had still not sunk in in London. He had reason to think so. Theresa May, although all around her were in disarray and her Chancellor was in open revolt, was continuing to proclaim that the UK would leave the single market, the customs union and the jurisdiction of the ECJ, while talking about trade “as frictionless as possible” and an Irish border visible only to the wee folk.

“As Brexit approaches,” says a paper by Thomas Sampson, Assistant Professor of Economics at the LSE  (‘The referendum one year on: trade and the single market,’ published by the website The UK in a Changing Europe), “the UK is facing more challenges than opportunities. From an economic perspective, the question is not whether Brexit will harm living standards, but how large the cost will be. Following the general election, the Government needs to ask how much voters are willing to pay to assert their sense of national identity.”

Some hope. The Government’s survival depends on not asking that question.

The Government is asleep and dreaming. In the dream, it is trying to perform one of those impossible tasks set for human beings by malicious spirits, like emptying a lake with a thimble. It needs to reconcile two irreconcilable things. It cannot do it, but it cannot wake up, either. If it woke up, it would have to relinquish the idea that is the very foundation of Brexit. Sovereignty.

It’s a fine word. Weighty, dignified, with the patina of ages on it and a thrilling flash of gold. Try to grasp it, and it’s as slippery as an eel. What does it mean?

“The authority of a state to govern itself,” says my Concise Oxford Dictionary (2006). The UK in a Changing Europe borrows this definition, but adds, “… and determine its own laws and policies.” This last phrase is superfluous, because if a state has authority to govern itself it has authority to determine its own laws and policies. That phrase has been added in the light of our relations with the EU.

My old Shorter Oxford (reprinted in 1970 from the edition of 1944) is surprising. It says “Supremacy in respect of power, domination or rank; supreme dominion, authority or rule.” It is a more pragmatic definition; it has a certain bleakness. It contains no reference to the right  to rule.  I thought about 1944: a year of blood and iron, and not much political squeamishness. Power is basically what sovereignty is about: the word comes through Middle English and Old French from Latin super, meaning “above.” Its use will have changed as the world changed, from the Middle Ages onward.

“Authority… to determine… laws and policies” is centrally what’s at stake in the Brexit argument. Leave voters say with passion that Britain must “take back control”: that control of our laws and our borders and our fishing rights and just about anything you care to name was lost when we became part of the EU. They are partly right, although they are also deluded. They are right that something was lost. They are deluded in that they think it could have been held on to. They think there is such a thing as untrammelled sovereignty. So does a two-year-old, but in most cases the belief does not survive because, if it did, the individual who held it would not.

The same is true of the state. Any state is bound by treaties: trade agreements, alliances, pacts of defence or aggression, agreements about the shared use of rivers and airspace and the correct behaviour of ships at sea. Each one of these limits its sovereignty. Nobody makes a fuss about this. It is understood: treaties are made because they benefit both parties. Except in the case of the EU, where, for some reason deep in the British psyche, it is not understood at all.

The Brexit press howls about “Brussels telling us what to do!” as if Belgians were landing on the beaches and goose-stepping to the town hall. What they are complaining about, usually, is the mass of regulations, governing trade and commerce but also workers’ rights, women’s rights, the treatment of animals and much more, that issue from the EU treaties. Yes, there is a lot of it. There has to be: it is an attempt to create uniformity of standards, including safety standards, across 28 member countries so that trade, travel, study and other civilised activities can be carried out with equal facility, and equal protection under the law, in all of them. That is a staggering, and noble, ambition.

You wouldn’t think so.

In the areas it covers, EU law takes precedence over national law. This causes Brexiters to foam at the mouth, but what other arrangement do they think is possible? If every national court could defy the ruling of the EU court when it pleased, the Union would fall apart in five minutes. In any case, virtually the entirety of domestic law is unaffected by EU law: it applies to matters that arise out of the various EU competences, and Britain, along with every other member state, has had a voice in creating the legislation and has a judge in the court.

Any other club or association we joined would infringe on our sovereign rights in the same way. NATO does (we have obligations). The UN does (we don’t always honour our obligations, but we don’t object to the principle of their existence). It is mysterious why the EU excites this mixture of hysteria and venom. It is bizarre that, while accepting that there are benefits to membership of NATO and the UN which make membership worthwhile, we as a country cannot make the same calculation about the EU.

Nor, apparently, can we summon the grace to remember that we were not press-ganged into this club, but joined it voluntarily. Indeed, at the time, in some desperation.

Lastly, there is a point so obvious that it seems to have escaped almost everyone. The proof that we did not lose our sovereignty to the EU is that we are free to leave it.

The Government will not talk about any of this: it is afraid of analysis and hides from reality. Theresa May has thrown in her lot with the dreamers. Whether she is herself a dreamer, who knows? But in Hamburg she has been parroting the same old stuff about frictionless this and seamless that while proclaiming that Britain will abandon every institution that guarantees that seamlessness, including the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

She says this is what “the people” voted for. They didn’t. They were told Britain would not have to leave the single market. As for the ECJ, I would bet that half of the Leave voters had never heard of it, and of those who had, most thought it was the same as the European Court of Human Rights. What they voted for was sovereignty.

They had only the most confused idea what it meant.  It was a word of mystical significance. No-one had explained to them that the splendour of that word could not find a home in the messy compromises of a modern state, let alone coexist with the sort of trading privileges which they took for granted and which underpinned the economy they depended on. No-one explained that we had not lost our sovereignty, we had merely done a trade-off. No-one ever said, “This is what can be achieved if we leave, and this is what it will cost.” Lies were told instead. It will be easy. We will be richer. There is a magical cake that can be both kept and eaten.

Tregeagle, in Cornish folklore, was sentenced to weave a rope of sand until the Day of Judgement. Doggedly, Theresa May weaves her rope. She cannot stop. If she stops, it will be clear that there is no rope, there is only sand.

Weave. Weave.

 

 

… and what about the tokamak?

 

photo by Barbara Peluzo

 

You can be sure the knives are out when the former chief of staff for the Minister for Brexit briefs against the Prime Minister.

James Chapman said David Davis had been “hamstrung” in the Brexit negotiations by Theresa May’s intransigence and that unless she showed more flexibility she would find it difficult to get Brexit through Parliament (BBC news, 30 June).

What had hamstrung Mr Davis, he said, was the Prime Minister’s hostility to the European Court of Justice. This court has featured several times in the fox blogs and will continue to do so unless Mrs May undergoes a Damascene conversion. It oversees transactions between European member states. It will therefore have a role to play as Britain withdraws from the EU. If we want to hang on to bits of the EU because the bottom will fall out of Britain if we don’t, it will go on having a role to play. This is simply a fact.

Mr Davis has tried to deal with his dilemma by trailing the idea of a new international court, consisting of British and European judges, to replace the ECJ. It will be subject to the same objections as the ECJ, however; it will not be a sovereign British court. It will be a fudge and an obvious one, it will be costly to set up and there seems no reason why the EU should accept it. But it will save the Prime Minister’s face. This is what Brexit has done to British politics.

It appears, meanwhile, that Mrs May will let Britain fall apart at the seams rather than concede ground on her “red line.”

A seam that particularly concerns Mr Chapman is Euratom. It should concern us all.

Euratom’s full name is the European Atomic Energy Community, and it was signed into existence on the same day in 1957 as the European Economic Community, from which it was legally separate. The reason for the separation was so that any potential opposition to atomic energy in the Community’s populations should not turn into opposition towards the Community itself. It is still separate, but nearly all its members are EU states.

Euratom’s purpose, explains Clare Moody, MEP (Guardian, 1 Feb.), was “to create a single market for … knowledge and resources in the peaceful pursuit of nuclear energy.” The European’s Commission’s webpage, (https://ec.europa.eu>EuropeanCommission>Horizon2020) says its aims are “to pursue nuclear research and training activities with an emphasis on continually improving nuclear safety, security and radiation protection, and notably to contribute to the long-term decarbonisation  of the energy system in a safe, efficient and secure way.”

What is wrong with that? Even if you think nuclear power is an invention of the Devil, a viewpoint with which I sympathise, we are stuck with its lethal waste products, and the more protection we have against them the better. One would think.

Theresa May doesn’t think so. The treaty with Euratom will lapse when the other treaties lapse, on our exit from the EU, and she will make no attempt to keep Britain in.

Why not? The clue is in Clare Moody’s phrase, “a single market for nuclear knowledge and resources.” Single market? Absolutely not. It will let immigrants into the country. They happen to be, as James Chapman points out, scientists earning six-figure salaries who pay a lot of tax, but that makes no difference. Not only will they be boosting the immigration  total, but the ECJ will  be involved in seeing that we treat them properly. That’s the clincher.

Safety is not the only thing that Euratom concerns itself with, although it accounts for the first two of its main priorities. Notably, it inspects all civilian nuclear facilities. It regulates the transport and exchange of nuclear materials. It is, Clare Moody states, the legal owner of all nuclear material, and is the legal purchaser, certifier and guarantor of any nuclear materials and technologies the UK purchases.

“This means,” she says, “that 21% of the UK’s electricity generation is based on our membership of Euratom.”

Does that mean that leaving Euratom will threaten our electricity supplies (which are not robust in any case)? The Commons cross-party Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee thinks so. Its chairman, Iain Wright, said the continued operations of the UK’s nuclear industry were “at risk.” The Committee recommended delaying departure from Euratom until alternative arrangements were in place, to minimise “disruptions to trade and threats to power supplies” (Guardian 2 May).

Government ministers assured the Committee that guaranteeing the UK’s supplies of nuclear fuel was a “high priority”, but gave no indication of how they propose to guarantee them.

The Committee was also concerned that Brexit might result in the removal of key standards, that the UK could become a dumping ground for energy-inefficient products, and that it might end up in the position of a “rule-taker” – unable to influence rules and standards it has to comply with. So much for sovereignty.

Euratom supports and regulates the medical applications of radiation, including the secure supply of radio-isotopes (priority no. 4 in the European Commission’s list). The Government has not announced what, when we leave the regulatory framework, it intends to do about this, either.

And then there’s JET (Joint European Torus). JET lives at Culham in the Oxfordshire countryside and, without disturbing the cows, generates temperatures exceeding those in the centre of the sun. It is a tokamak (the word is Russian and refers to its shape), looks like a cross between a ring doughnut and the spaceship Discovery One and is an experimental fusion reactor. It is a project of Euratom.

JET and the more advanced ITER, in France, for which it carries out testing, have been in development for a long time and not yet achieved nuclear fusion that yields usable amounts of energy. However, if this goal can be attained it should produce abundant electricity without radioactive waste. That is a prize worth going for. Nuclear fusion, which fuses together light atoms, in contrast to fission, which splits heavy ones, might be the energy of the future; it is already part of the science of the future. JET receives generous EU funding, too: 56 million euros per year. Do we really want to bail out of it, with all its opportunities for training new scientists, its challenges, and the benefits that will come from contribution? Theresa May does, if being under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice is the price for staying in.

There are other costs associated with leaving Euratom. One is a matter of hard cash: we will have to pay for all those nuclear materials and bits of hardware that are located in the UK and which at present we do not own, before they are transferred to us. The bill will be included in the “divorce settlement” which has to be negotiated. (Someone will have to explain to the Daily Mail why we have to pay for this stuff and aren’t being given it.) We will have to create new regulatory structures and a mechanism for reporting to the UN through the International Atomic Energy Agency, which at the moment the EU performs for us. We will have to create nuclear transport arrangements.

There will be the cost of setting up the new international court to replace the ECJ, if it happens, although that will presumably be shared between the multitude of other competences over which the ECJ has jurisdiction. (Or will it?  Will there be one court for Euratom and another for fisheries, a third for dealing with the European Search Warrant and a fourth for citizens’ rights..? Nothing is beyond the insanity of Brexit.)

And this is without calculating the EU funding we will lose for research and development, and the economic effects of losing what has been described as a trillion-pound market.

“It’s madness,” said Vince Cable. “It’s bonkers,” said the former director at Culham, Dr Steven Cowley. No matter. Theresa May holds to her course.

Behind everything lurks a darker question which no-one wants to ask. Do we trust our government with matters of safety, of regulation, of transparency to public scrutiny? I would be surprised if, after the events of the past month, one person in a hundred could be found who said “Yes.”

Inept, arrogant, intent on cost-cutting, ideologically opposed to regulation, pathologically secretive, this government has been revealed as incapable of discharging its responsibility to its citizens and incapable also of acknowledging its defects. We are expected to trust it to take on the oversight and regulation of an industry which requires the highest possible safety standards and which, privatised as far as it can be by past administrations, has often failed to meet those standards and whose failings have been routinely covered up. And this while it is attending to the thousand and one other things mandated by its pointless Brexit.

Are there any takers?