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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Snap!

 

I’m not going to be calling a snap election. 4/9/16

There is not going to be a general election. 30/3/17

We agreed that the government should call a general election… 18/4/17

We should be used to this sort of thing by now, but many people seem surprised. “She has gone back on her word!” they exclaim. She has been doing it since June 23.

Naturally, it’s somebody else’s fault. It’s everybody else’s fault. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP. “Unelected members of the House of Lords.” There isn’t really anyone else, is there? Well, Caroline Lucas, but even Theresa May can’t pick on a target that small. They are all “our opponents.” They are getting in the way of Mrs May’s Brexit. They have to be rendered impotent by the power of the thumping majority she hasn’t got but will have after the general election. It is in the national interest.

This is a piece of opportunism – the Labour Party is at least 20 points behind the Tories in the polls and can hardly go lower – dressed up in the usual hypocrisy, and there is no need to think further about the reasons the Prime Minister gives for it. The reasons she doesn’t give are more interesting. One is the stranglehold a cabal of extreme right-wingers is widely assumed to be exerting on her policy. According to this assumption, one of two things will happen after the election. The first is that May will use her increased majority to cut the ground from under this cabal and go for a softer Brexit, while also being in a better position to sell to the electorate the compromises she will inevitably have to make with the EU. The second possibility is that an increased majority will enable her to go for an even harder Brexit than is being advertised.

Short of treadmills and a diet of bread and dripping, it is difficult to see what the second might entail. In Europe, where they still bask in the rays of the Enlightenment, there is hope that May would prefer the first option; however, in Britain, where that sun set last June, we understand too much about British masochism and British perversity, and we have read Orwell and know that a nightmare can always get worse. And dripping, after all, is as British as a blue passport.

Certainly – and she isn’t saying this, either – an election win, with any majority, will give May the mandate she lacks for Brexit at present. As an unelected Prime Minister, she would always suffer from the perception in some quarters that she wasn’t quite the full pound sterling. As an unelected Prime Minister pushing through a variety of Brexit that was not voted for, and almost certainly wouldn’t have been, had it been on the ballot paper, she is particularly vulnerable.

Another reason passed over in silence is that already, before the talks have started, Brexit is cracking like old concrete. Both the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency will re-locate from London to continental Europe despite the Government’s attempts to keep them here. They will take more than 1,000 jobs with them, and a great deal of international prestige. Adding to the Government’s discomfiture, the other 27 member states unanimously agreed that trade talks with Britain cannot start until the exit terms are agreed. May’s diplomatic strategy of glower-and-threaten has largely contributed to this outcome.

And there’s everything else. Prices are going up. Immigration is not going to fall by much. The line of car manufacturers wanting a special deal to keep jobs in the UK is growing; farmers are demanding from the Government the subsidies they used to get from the EU; research scientists want the funding they will lose to be replaced; the environment can’t just be ditched although there are people who think it can; there are even the arts, shivering somewhere in a corner… And there’s only one source all this much-needed largesse can come from, which happens to be also the only source that can keep the poor old NHS afloat (remember the NHS? it was on the side of a bus once)… Where is all this bad news leading?

To an election, quick, before the damn’ thing comes off the road.

That can’t be faced. Instead, we’re told that negotiations are going to be “more difficult than the Government expected.” If it didn’t expect them to be difficult, the country is in serious need of a new government anyway because this one is incompetent. But then, we knew that. We knew from its backtracking, its refusal to answer questions, its complacency, its frequently-revealed ignorance and the seemingly endless blunders of Boris Johnson.

However, this government is far worse than incompetent. There is a flavour in Theresa May’s announcement that is frankly inadmissible in a democratic country. She cannot tolerate dissent.

In recent weeks Labour has threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach with the European Union. The Liberal Democrats have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill.

The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain’s membership of the European Union. And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.

…If we do not hold a general election now, their political game-playing will continue…

The BBC’s Nick Robinson bravely challenged her on these statements, asking her how many times she had been defeated in the House (none), and pointing out that the opposition had a duty to oppose. He also reminded her that debate is normal in a democracy. Her response was typical. She denied that she wanted to crush opposition, paid lip service to the freedom to challenge the government, said that the problem was the stated intentions of the opposition parties, and went back to talking about the best possible deal. In sum: denial, a momentary hint of a dystopia in which it is criminal to think against the government, and a triumphant return to the usual meaningless fudge. The issue itself, resting on an examination of her words, was evaded. This is the May steamroller.

The future is not bright if a Prime Minister with no respect for democratic norms is returned with a large majority. Any voter who does not want to be ruled by an autocrat with an apparent sense of divine mission would be wise to vote in such a way as to avoid this fate, whatever they think about Brexit. It’s true that, in the electoral system we have, the effect of a vote is very often not what the caster of the vote intends, and there isn’t time before June 8 to reform the voting system. But the redoubtable Gina Miller, whose courage gave MPs an opportunity to challenge Article 50 which they then threw away, has some good ideas about that. See http://bit.ly/2omfK1l

Meanwhile, a bit of harmless fun can be had from the latest emission of fog from Downing Street.

The Government has the right plan for negotiating our new relationship with Europe…

Oh good. What is it?

Let everybody put forward their proposals for Brexit …

Fine. You start.

We want a deep and special partnership between a strong and successful European Union…

Deep and special, strong and successful… What we are being offered is a pizza.

As for the “opponents” who threaten to wreck Brexit: they are, of course, shadows on the wall. She put them there because she needs opponents but she has none. They rolled over. She rolled over them.

There is one point on which I agree with Theresa May.

We need a general election and we need one now, because we have at this moment a one-off chance to get this done.

Yes. We do. So let’s do it.

 

It’ll be fine

 

I hope John Le Carré’s writing about this.

It is hard to know what motivates Donald Trump, other than the desire to be King Kong on the Empire State Building. His speeches are so swaggering, the approach so scatter-gun, that the guiding sense is difficult to unscramble. But a few facts have emerged like rocks in a raging sea, and they are: (1) he favours a rapprochement with Russia; (2) he hates and fears China; (3) he dislikes and wants to break up the EU; (4) he has threatened to re-think America’s commitment to NATO. To these may be added, (5) Russia also would like to see the break-up of the EU; (6) Russia would like to see the disintegration of NATO.

In view of all these, it really makes no difference whether, as alleged, the Russians have dirt on Trump and are in a position to blackmail him, because he is not behaving like a man who needs to be blackmailed. He is behaving like a willing partner. Or, perhaps, like a man so entranced by himself that he needs only to have his self-delusion fed. However, it’s clear that he has to shoot down the dossier story (“Fake news!” “Enemies of the people!” “Pile of garbage!”) because it is simply too dangerous, and too shameful, even for a man of his brazenness. Never mind golden showers, this is alleged treason.

Nevertheless, his administration’s links to Russia are proven, and so are both Trump’s and Putin’s hostility to the European Union. That would be bad enough. Conspiracy theorists are much derided, but if this isn’t a conspiracy already it could become one at any moment. Factor in the mutual approval between Trump, Putin and the far-right nationalists trying to get elected in Europe,  and you have what looks like a fifth column being prepared in situ. For what? A conflict of ideologies, at the very least.

Add to that the rumblings about pulling out of NATO – now soft-pedalled, but for how long? – and the implication is that Trump would not fire a popgun to stop Europe fragmenting into dictatorships under, probably, Russian influence.

How would getting out of Europe help him? He is not interested in saving money for its own sake, because he is boosting the military budget by 10%. But it would play well at home, with the sort of people who hate foreign aid. And it would free his hands. Because, if you add to the above scenario one in which Trump’s hostility to China is untrammelled by ties to Europe, while Russian ambitions have been directed westwards towards a Europe that has lost its political identity, you are looking at the perfect springboard for an attack on  China.

None of the above is fanciful. The pieces are all there on the chessboard, and the opening moves have been made.

What follows is not an argument for NATO, but an argument for facing realities. Trump’s attitude to NATO is, on the face of it, both reasonable and consistent with his isolationism. He has said the European members must pay their way. All American presidents have said that since NATO was formed, but this one has found a new tone. America spends 3.6% of its GDP on NATO; of the other 27 member countries, few (the UK is one) put in even the 2% that is asked for. One might think that “Pay up or lose it” is fair enough if we all want to benefit from the presence of American bases, American bombers and missiles, American troops, American radar, American satellite and listening stations, American nuclear weapons…

Do we? There is a view of NATO which points out that it is an expansionist alliance, that its advance into former Soviet territories in breach of a promise made to Gorbachev by the Western powers in 1989 has hardened Russian attitudes to the West, and maintains that the USA uses Europe as its aircraft carrier. The internet is shy of saying how many US bases there are in Europe, but the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases lists ten in Britain.They are ambiguous entities: accepted but not by all, and both visible and invisible. There is a vitally strategic NSA communications station at Menwith Hill, which is shrouded in secrecy in spite of the fact that its enormous white golf balls can be seen for miles over the Yorkshire Dales. Nobody talks about it, and if you ask you will be genially told that it is an RAF base. And indeed there are RAF personnel there.

The USA has the largest military in the world and aims to keep it, because it may soon not have the largest economy in the world. To imagine that America has been pumping dollars into the North Atlantic alliance as an act of altruism towards a part of the globe of which it is sentimentally fond is…well, sentimentality. Every American base outside America is a bridgehead, and every Supreme Commander of NATO (SACEUR) has been an American.

If America withdraws from NATO, what is going to happen to all those bases, all that hardware, all those weapons? It is inconceivable that any President, and particularly this President, will abandon his bridgeheads. Trump may not want to point his missiles at Russia any more, but he isn’t going to ignore Iran. In any case, it wouldn’t sit with what else is happening. New bases are being constructed or updated for cyber warfare. The “intelligence fusion centre” at Croughton, near Milton Keynes, is one; it hacked Angela Merkel’s phone.

So is America advancing, or retreating into isolation? In Asia it is advancing like a forest fire: China is encircled by newly-built bases off Korea and Japan.  So let’s suppose the most important European bases stay (no-one is going to ship Menwith Hill home, if only because it is perfectly located for radio communications; then there is the radar at Fylingdales, incorporated into the US National Missile Defence system). If the smaller ones are repatriated, that leaves a network of military installations across Europe that are essential to US strategic interests but of no benefit to the host countries. No benefit, because the link that bound America to the defence of Europe is broken.

This sort of arrangement is usually only seen in an occupied country. However, that is beside the point. The point is that every military base is a military target. If you leave the target there, but withdraw its protection…

No, no, that can’t happen.

And even if it does, we have our own independent nuclear deterrent.

Forget it. It is not independent. It can’t be used without the guidance system, which is American-controlled.

And Europe, of which Britain is geographically a part, whether Brexiters like it or not, will be in the eye of the storm.

What are Britain’s leaders doing about all this terrifying stuff? Withdrawing from the EU. Kicking and sulking, as they always have, at any mention of a combined European defence force. Protesting anxiously at the possible break-up of NATO without saying anything remotely intelligent about it. Continuing to vow friendship with the strongman in the White House, which will not save Britain because it can’t, but can and will further alienate Britain’s European allies. Continuing to stick the knife into the EU in any way possible: if divide and rule is not an option, then divide and confuse, divide and hurt, divide and perish if necessary, but always divide.

Well, it worked in the past.

It’ll be fine.