It’s time we had an open, frank and honest discussion in society about sexual abuse

It’s time we had an open, frank and honest discussion in society about sexual abuse. We see chasms in British politics, in global politics, as though abuse were a Left/Right issue not a humanity issue. Not so long ago, I’d have been able to say things like ‘all sexual abuse is bad’, ‘people are innocent until proven guilty’, ‘false accusations are bad’, ‘sex abusers should be locked away for the protection of the public’, ‘an oops-my-hand-slipped consent violation is very bad, though still lower on the scale of seriousness than a stranger raping someone at knifepoint’, ‘whether someone’s guilty doesn’t depend upon their political beliefs but their actions’ and so on, without batting an eyelid. To paraphrase the American Declaration of Independence, those truths really should be self-evident. Yet, in our increasingly-polarised society, they don’t seem to be.

This isn’t a theoretical discussion. This isn’t something rare, happening to people you’ve never met. In my (largely people from outside politics) circle of friends and acquaintances I know several
women and a couple of men who’ve been seriously sexually assaulted; others who’ve experienced harassment; people whose lives have been torn apart by false allegations, and situations where a manipulative thankfully-now-ex partner has threatened to make false reports of sexual abuse as a means of exerting control over the relationship. When I was teaching, I thankfully never personally knew a case of abuse – but friends of colleagues and colleagues of friends did. Many teachers live in constant fear of false accusations being made by someone not yet fully cognisant of the gravity of the accusation they’d be making. Careers ruined, families torn apart, yet child protection must rightly always be paramount.

We should all be on the same side. There cannot surely be more than one person in a thousand who could possibly disagree that we should render the innocent blameless and punish the guilty; society should be united. Yet it isn’t. Nor is everything quite black and white; take the Ched Evans case for example: found guilty of rape, but overturned and acquitted on appeal. His actions deeply immoral, but legally did not meet the requisite standard for a conviction on the offence of rape. Is the law wrong? Is it outdated?

Conviction rates for rape are appallingly and terrifyingly low; recent cases show the dangers of trying to artificially increase them. When documents demonstrating innocence fail to find their way into the hands of the defence, it shows something wrong with the system. Jimmy Saville never had to live with the consequences of his serial sexual offences; Cliff Richard must forever live with the consequences of false accusation and trial by media, reputation forever unfairly tarnished.

In America, battle lines were drawn on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. The Left condemned him guilty as charged; the Right claimed evidence exonerated him. Rewind 20 years for the converse: remember the Right condemning Bill Clinton; the Left defending him? Should your views on the behaviour of Trudeau or Trump really depend upon political allegiance rather than facts? Shouldn’t the outrage be proportionate to the offensive behaviour, not to the colour of the rosette? Power corrupts; positions of power create potential abuse of that power. They attract potential abusers. Genuine – serious – abuse by MPs and MEPs goes unpunished; yet, colleagues who’ve tried to dismiss an underperforming or disloyal staff member frequently find themselves instant subjects of retaliatory accusations.

What should be legal, and what should be illegal? How to react to those behaviours which aren’t illegal per se, but are socially unacceptable? For anyone who struggles with the concept of this immoral/illegal distinction, imagine a serial liar: immoral, but hardly a criminal. How can we balance protection against false accusations with condemnation of true ones? How do we deal with the fear of coming forward when convictions are so difficult, yet maintain our proud national tradition of innocence until proven guilty? How do we stop innocent people like Cliff Richard being condemned in the court of public opinion, whilst the guilty all too often fail to face a court of law?

Worse still, we can’t consider any of these questions in a vacuum. They’re all intertwined with each other. How do we cut the Gordian knot and make sure we only condemn the people who deserve it, without ruining innocent lives in the process? I don’t have all the answers but one thing I do know: this matters. A lot. And the way we’re going about it is only going to make matters worse, not better.

I’m sick of seeing people claiming that ‘Britain is a Christian country’ in order to excuse hatred and vitriol directed at Muslims

I’m sick of seeing people claiming that ‘Britain is a Christian country’ in order to excuse hatred and vitriol directed at Muslims. Yes, I’m a Christian, and yes, I stuff things up from time to time like we all do. I’d never claim otherwise.

Are Christians being persecuted in many Muslim countries at the moment? Yes. They’re also being persecuted in India (Hindu), China and North Korea (atheist) and many other countries too.

If you’re truly a Christian, what actually is your response to such persecution? Last night, I happened to watch a harrowing hour-long film about the life of Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian citizen who had dared to preach Christianity during Communist rule. His 14 years in prison included medieval-style torture and beatings, burning and branding, being locked in an ice box, years of solitary confinement and threats to his family; his wife suffered broken ribs when she was thrown into a freezing winter canal by prison guards. After his release from prison, he could never again walk normally due to the brutal beatings to his feet. Others were killed or died in prison. When testifying to the U.S. Senate, he lifted his shirt to show scars from his torture.

Yet throughout, he professed nothing but love for his Communist captors and torturers. Why? Because, as he said, he was “looking at men… not as they are, but as they will be…I could also see in our persecutors…a future Apostle Paul..the jailer in Philippi who became a convert.”

You see, his actions reflected what Christianity actually is: when the Bible says ‘bless those who persecute you’, it means something profound to those who’ve been tortured for their faith. It’s just words to those who wish to use the word ‘Christian’ tribally as though it were ‘us versus them’, the religious equivalent of a Newcastle-Sunderland football match.

Early this month, I happened to meet again with some Christian pastors from Algeria, a majority-Muslim country. I’ve done some work along these lines in the European Parliament, trying to raise awareness of how Christians in that country are being harassed by their government. Churches are being banned or de-registered; licences required to import Christian materials aren’t granted. Some are thrown in jail for daring to insist upon freedom to practice their faith. In Pakistan, Asia Bibi faces the death penalty for a trumped-up charge of insulting Islam.

These are the people actually facing persecution. If you’d expect anyone to be bitter or angry towards Muslims, it’d be them. Thing is, they’re not. I asked the Algerian pastors what more people in churches in the UK could do. Their answer was surprising: they said we should engage more with Muslims, to talk to them, to break down barriers and to show them by example that Christianity means something to us. Perhaps that’s why so many Muslims in Algeria are converting to Christianity; Christians there are so abundantly welcoming of them.

You’d think that Muslims converting to Christianity would be something that those seeking a ‘Christian country’ would applaud, but I’ll tell you now that it won’t be achieved through hatred.

Now, I’m not by any means blind to the serious issues we have as a society. You’ll find no greater advocate than me of serious punishments being handed down by courts to those who commit acts of terror or violence, to those evildoers in grooming gangs who abused our children. Whilst as individuals the hardest thing to do is to forgive, that task is made easier when we have justice and sentences which fit the crime. Far too often it doesn’t; that’s where society often breaks down. Hiding from tough questions (although the majority of child abusers are white British, a disproportionate number of grooming gangs are from mainly-Muslim backgrounds) won’t make matters any better either; society needs to act.

But whilst it’s fair and reasonable and right and true and just to demand that society protects us from injustice, it’s immoral and counterproductive to go in for hatred of a whole religion. If you’re not prepared to love your neighbour as yourself, whether your neighbour is white British or Muslim, then you’ve got no business describing yourself as Christian. Please stop culturally appropriating the word ‘Christianity’ for your own ends.

We live in an Alice-in-Wonderland, topsy-turvy world where those seeking to overturn the result of the biggest vote of the people in our history brand themselves as the ‘People’s Vote’

In our Alice-in-Wonderland, topsy-turvy world where those seeking to overturn the result of the biggest vote of the people in our history ironically brand themselves as ‘People’s Vote’, the traditional response of Brexit supporters has been incredulity. The actual proposal – for a second referendum on our EU membership – has escaped scrutiny. Let’s set the ball rolling.

Would a Remain vote in a second referendum even result in Remain? There’s a court case going to the European Court of Justice at present, asking it to rule whether it’s even legal for the UK to unilaterally change its mind about invoking Article 50 and leaving the EU. There’s certainly nothing in the Treaties authorising that. What if the EU didn’t allow the UK to change its mind? What if it sought to impose punitive conditions on the UK for doing so?

How do they propose that everything should be done in time? At present, pro-Remain campaigners are spending vast unregulated sums of money seeking to shift public opinion. The Electoral Commission requires 6 months between calling a referendum and it taking place, to ensure a semblance of balance. In a referendum, campaign rules regulate spending. TV airtime was required to cover both sides equally. (Remain and Leave each had minor quibbles about the other side’s spending and co-ordination, though the big picture was that Remain outspent Leave by 3 to 2; the minutae will be argued for years, each side claiming victories as appeals go to higher and higher courts). How could legislation possibly have time to go through Parliament and a referendum be held fairly long before March 29th giving time for the European Parliament to sign off on any deal.

Extending the Article 50 deadline doesn’t help much either. That requires all 27 EU countries to agree to an extension. There are European Parliament elections in May. Those elections are planned based upon the UK having left, with all the seats re-allocated. The EU won’t allow their own elections to be utterly ruined by Brexit uncertainty. They might agree to a 4-6 week extension, but that’s about all.

Let’s suppose that a vote were held, with inconclusive results. Suppose they overruled the Electoral Commission, ignored balance requirements, and secured a tiny Remain majority on a low turnout on a snowy day in February, with far fewer people voting than in 2016. Would that legitimately overturn the biggest vote in our history?

What is the position in the event that Leave wins a second referendum? Will the European Parliament vote for a deal in the run-up to a UK referendum? Knowing my MEP colleagues, I seriously doubt it. In all likelihood the European Parliament wouldn’t vote until after a UK referendum. What if a UK referendum approves the deal, but the European Parliament rejects it? Would campaigners then call for a third referendum? How? When?

What if the second referendum were not based upon a clear, agreed deal? In that case, we’d have a carbon copy of 2016. ‘We don’t know exactly what Brexit will look like’ was their argument last time. It didn’t work, but they’d re-hash the same. Indeed, the mere potential of a second referendum is already emboldening the EU to offer a poor deal.

Finally, what of the social consequences of their actions? People’s Vote campaigners claim the original referendum campaign was based upon lies (I should probably avoid churlishly pointing out that they should know, because they told most of them). If the referendum in 2016 was acrimonious, what do they suppose a further referendum now would be? Do they not think it would be far, far worse?

Would they accept the result if Leave won again? Many of them claimed during the last campaign that they would, then accepted it publicly, but have since reverse-ferreted. Even if they did somehow pull off a Remain victory, at what price? 10 million or more committed, unwavering, Brexit voters would never trust democracy again.

Those campaigning for a second referendum should think very carefully: they propose a recipe for constitutional chaos. In the meantime, they’re torpedoing negotiations. The more traction they gain, the stronger the EU’s side of negotiations, and the worse deal we’ll get. If the UK is browbeaten into a poor deal, they need only look in the mirror to find out why.

The few Labour politicians that have dared to brave the abuse and speak out on anti-Semitism within Labour have done a great service to their Party and country

In one of Aesop’s fables, a man is considering a purchase of a donkey. The owner allows him to take it for a trial. As soon as the donkey enters the stable, it went straight up to the laziest and greediest donkey there. The man immediately rejected the donkey. The owner protested that he hadn’t even tried it out yet. The purchaser replied ‘I could see the kind of beast he was by the kind of companion he chose for himself’.

Back in 2014, a Labour politician closed his speech by quoting the fable. “By their company shall you know them”, he finished, attacking my own former party after providing a list of examples of people who had made unsavoury comments. It was easy to respond: we kicked them out. We did not tolerate such behaviour; we didn’t stand for such company. Sadly, my former party changed: it now courts the types it used to expel; sadly, I had no choice but to go Independent. Recently, his words have become poignant and keep coming back to mind.

Last week, I had occasion to participate in an event at a Jewish community centre in London. The security levels: bag searches, metal-detecting wands, counting people in and out of the building – is this what our society has become? Is this how concerned our Jewish communities have had to become about their future? Hatred of the Jewish people has been a hallmark of far-Left and far-Right for generations. That of the Nazis is well-known; that of the Communists, less so. Jewish people were persecuted under the Bolsheviks and then under Stalin. The Soviets denounced anti-Semitism publicly, then used the term ‘anti-Zionist’ as cover for anti-Semitic activities and persecution of Jews. The so-called ‘Doctors’ plot’, where Stalin ordered the arrest and torture of Jewish doctors on false charges of conspiracy to kill high-ranking Soviet officials, was planned as cover for the mass deportation of Jews to forced-labour camps in Siberia. Soviets and Nazis both believed in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that  Jewish agents secretly control Western governments.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and we see ‘Israel’ and ‘Zionism’ used as proxies for anti-Semitism. This is why the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism is so important. It catches those anti-Semites who use a ‘bait-and-switch’ approach. It delineates reasonable democratic debate about the policies of Israel’s government from anti-Semitism. When Jeremy Corbyn refuses to adopt that definition, I worry.

When Jeremy Corbyn was present at a wreath-laying event for the Munich terrorists, even accepting his claim that he did not personally lay a wreath, the company he keeps is cause for concern. When Jeremy Corbyn travelled to Qatar in 2012 for a conference with a convicted terrorist, Husam Badran, alarm bells ring. When Jeremy Corbyn praised the release of Hamas terrorists on Iranian State TV, should we not be worried? When he is pictured next to Maher Al-Taher, a senior figure in a proscribed terror group (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) are we supposed to not bat an eyelid? When he writes in the Morning Star (originally set up by the Communist Party of Great Britain) of a ‘long meeting’ and takeaway dinner with Holocaust-denier leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashal, what then? Then, a video emerged of him saying “This was dutifully recorded by the thankfully silent Zionists who were in the audience on that occasion, and then came up and berated him afterwards for what he had said. They clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony.” Endorsements from Nick Griffin (ex-leader of the BNP) and David Duke (ex-leader of the Ku Klux Klan) don’t help him much either.

Left-wingers often (and not always unfairly) accuse Donald Trump of two things: firstly, of engaging in whataboutery – diverting attention from one issue by asking ‘what about’ a different, often unrelated one. Secondly, they claim there’s so much material that the public become desensitized to the latest gaffe. Such criticisms apply equally to Corbyn. When asked to condemn, for example, IRA violence, Corbyn’s choice of words is telling: he condemns ‘all violence’ – refusing to single out the terrorist activity. When he responds to questions about anti-Israel terrorism by diverting attention to Israel, it’s classic whataboutery.

A few Labour politicians, like Anna Turley, have dared to brave the abuse and speak out on anti-Semitism within Labour. I may disagree with them profoundly on other political issues but they have done a great service to their Party and country. From personal experience, I know there comes a time when a party can move so far away from what it used to believe that you can no longer remain in it. Until that time, please continue to speak up – loud and clear. What must not happen, is for this to be swept under the carpet yet again. By their company shall you know them.

Mainstream politicians of all sides have made a dog’s breakfast of Brexit

On June 23rd 2016, the British people took the historic and momentous decision to leave the European Union. Here in the North East, over 58% of those who voted chose to Leave. That decision wasn’t taken in a vacuum: it came after the 2014 European elections were won by a Leave-supporting party, and the 2015 General Election was won by a party promising a referendum on EU membership. During the campaign, Remain outspent Leave by a 3:2 ratio. On top of all that, the government spent over £9 million on a propaganda campaign promoting a Remain vote. It had an impact: those who read it were more likely to vote Remain. At the General Election in 2017, over 84% voted for parties pledging to implement the referendum result.

The priorities were, to me, pretty clear during the referendum campaign: regain full control of our ability to negotiate trade deals with other countries, end EU law and EU courts overruling our own, stop sending the EU vast sums of money, regain control over EU immigration, and regain our sovereignty. The mandate from the referendum was, in my view, pretty clear: the government should seek to negotiate a deal with the European Union for the closest possible neighbourly arrangement which respected the freedoms we’d voted to regain.

The Conservative-led government was hopeless from the start in negotiations. It allowed itself to be bullied by the European Union rather than standing up for itself, paralysed by fear. The European Union is negotiating fiercely; the United Kingdom is not.

The Labour Party, as Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, has one main job: to point out to the government when it’s being stupid. When the government agreed a £35+ billion ‘divorce bill’, despite no legal obligation, gaining nothing concrete in return, Labour didn’t demand we go back to the negotiating table. In the European Parliament, Labour even voted with the EU’s side of negotiations against the UK’s.

We’re stuck with an incompetent Government and an incompetent Opposition. A further General Election would cause chaos, but resolve nothing. Conservatives (beset by infighting over Brexit) are opposed by Labour (beset by infighting over anti-Semitism and Brexit). Against this backdrop came Theresa May’s Chequers fudge. Even arch-Remainer Nick Clegg summed that up as ‘whatever Brexit means, it cannot be this’. The government’s opening salvo in negotiations concedes far more than you’d expect to concede in a final deal. The European Union, sensing weakness on the UK’s part, even poured scorn on that offer.

When challenged about Remain politicians attempting to undermine Brexit, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier insisted that the EU’s position hasn’t changed throughout negotiations. What a remarkable admission: in over 2 years, they’ve made no single meaningful concession. Would that have been possible without UK remain politicians egging the EU on at every stage, providing support and encouragement for the EU’s stance against the UK’s?

Now, we have a new problem: the so-called ‘People’s Vote’ campaign – the bizarre notion that an issue decided by a European Election, a referendum, and two General Elections, requires another referendum to see whether we want to overturn our original decision. Even if they succeeded, they’d lead to unrest, national disunity, and demands to make it ‘best of three’ to settle a 1-1 tie.

The EU wants us to Remain; such campaigns encourage them only to concede nothing in negotiation. The very people who dislike referendum results now, ironically, demand another referendum to re-ask the same question.

Mainstream politicians of all sides have made a dog’s breakfast of Brexit, lacking reasoned opposition since UKIP went over to the dark side, to borrow a Star Wars metaphor.Right at the start of the process, Theresa May said ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’. We can’t have a referendum asking the same Leave/Remain question that’s been repeatedly answered ad nauseam. Apart from anything else, the Electoral Commission now expects 6 months’ notice to be given of a referendum. With Parliament entering its summer recess, a referendum couldn’t realistically be called until a couple of weeks before Brexit anyway. This mess is, broadly speaking, the result of Remainers negotiating Brexit. But we are where we are.

Perhaps there’s one solution: why not ask a new question of the British people, putting whatever awful deal the government negotiates to the test? Brexit is a settled question democratically; the type of Brexit is not. ‘Do you accept the government’s proposed Brexit deal, or would you prefer to leave the European Union without a deal?’ – would at least ask the public something new. As a bonus, it’d finally give the EU a reason to negotiate in good faith. They wouldn’t make concessions unless they think there’s a genuine chance of a no-deal scenario.

Benefits of Brexit

I’ve recently been challenged by a constituent to name one clear, tangible benefit to local people of leaving the European Union. It reminded me of the need to write this article: to talk not just about implementing the referendum result, or sovereignty, or democracy – but also about practical benefits to local people and businesses. I’ve split these benefits up into different categories.

This is a ‘work in progress’ – lots to add later.

A: Benefits of not having to fully comply with European Union legislation

 

1. The EU Procurement Directive won’t be able to force us to give State contracts to overseas businesses

At present, we have to put contracts out to tender – often awarded on the basis of price. This means that local businesses often lose out on getting contracts, and creating jobs.

Of course, there may be times when it’s actually in our best interests to award a contract to an overseas firm. But in a lot of marginal cases, the advantages to jobs and the local economy will far outweigh the disadvantage of an additional (say) 1-2% on cost.

2. We won’t have to comply with the VATMOSS legislation, boosting jobs

I’ve had various businesses in my constituency contact me, explaining that the legislation makes it very difficult for them to trade with other European Union countries. This requires businesses (even if they’re below the VAT threshold) to charge VAT at the applicable rate in the country they’re selling to within the European Union.

One North East business owner, who sells low-cost technology (e.g. mobile phone apps) told me they were likely to have to stop selling to the EU because compliance costs outweighed the benefit of low-volume sales to other EU countries. Instead, they now trade more with America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (English-speaking nations make it easier to sell their products).

Another North East business, below the UK VAT threshold in the UK, told me that by the time they’d added 25% Swedish VAT to their products and postage, they could no longer sell to other EU countries competitively. They had to downsize as a result.

These examples aren’t unusual; I received quite a number of letters and emails from businesses in the North East about the same issue.

Even the EU’s biggest fan, Guy Verhofstadt, has criticised VATMOSS.

3. Compliance costs will be lower outside the European Union…

…and I’m not referring to workers’ rights, etc.

Take,  for example, the new GDPR legislation. I spoke recently to the principal of an accountancy firm which has had to spend substantial amounts of money on consultancy, take employees out of the office for training on the new legislation, and make substantial changes to the way they deal with clients. None of this has made the slightest tangible difference, but the overall cost of compliance is a substantial portion of the annual turnover of the business.

4. We won’t have threats like the Copyright Directive to the free functioning of the Internet

….and no, I’m not against copyright enforcement.

However, requiring ISPs, search engines, and social media platforms to use automated crawlers to delete content suspected of being copyrighted will result in the removal of substantial amounts of legitimate content as well.

5. We won’t have to comply with EU State Aid regulations…

Sometimes it’s necessary to take rapid action to protect local businesses. When SSI in Redcar closed, there were many reasons: the strong pound (at the time), China dumping steel below cost price on world markets, high energy prices, etc.

In such situations, it’s often appropriate to give State Aid to allow a business which should be profitable to survive a tough time (and when the State Aid is less than the redundancy/unemployment payments the State would have to make if it didn’t).

However, Articles 107 and 108 of the TFEU prevent the UK from giving such State Aid without the EU Commission’s approval. The UK government could hide behind that, didn’t ask for Commission approval, and SSI went under – costing thousands of jobs both directly and in the supply chain.

The blame here should be attached both to the UK government, and to the EU institutions.

With Brexit, the UK will also regain the power to enforce its own trade defence mechanisms, which would have avoided the delay whilst 28 countries all negotiate what to do. Different countries took different approaches; the result was paralysis at a time when we couldn’t afford it.

6. Brexit should finally end the madness of double-testing products

I visited a business in the North East which lost a significant proportion of its turnover once the EU’s Biocidal Products Regulation had kicked in. The problem: products which had already been fully tested to some of the highest standards in the world required re-testing because of new EU legislation requiring testing to take place at EU level. This led to the disappearance of some products from the market which could not justify huge fees being paid. This was exacerbated by an inability to receive the supposed ‘discounted’ rates.

Jobs were lost as a result in the North East.

This is nothing new; the REACH Directive had a similar impact on chemicals. Products which had already been tested to British standards required re-testing to EU standards, even when the EU standards were lower than the UK ones. This led to products disappearing from the market (Cutlass, for example).

7. Brexit means we don’t have to comply with rules restricting ‘natural monopolies’

There are certain ‘natural monopolies’ in the country – the postal system, for example: it’s inefficient to have competitors duplicating the same work. In these situations, privatisation basically doesn’t work well and national ownership makes sense.

EU legislation has watered this down. There are many examples of this, for example:

i) Postal Services Directives 97/67/EC and 2002/39/EC leading to Post Office closures

ii) Directive 2002/77/EC required the splitting up of the Directory Enquiries service, which has led to consumers being ripped off for £11+ for a 90-second phone call

iii) Directive 91/440/EC impacts upon the UK’s ability to organise the railways, leading to the current mess of a system. (With this benefit of Brexit, there are caveats: it’s very much also the UK’s fault through underinvestment and mismanagement)

B: Areas where the UK will be free to act differently

 

1. The North East is a strong fishing region. Outside the EU, our fisheries will recover through reclaiming our 200-mile limit

Since joining the EU, our fisheries have been decimated. EU quotas have proven to be completely ineffective, leading to the ‘discards problem’ amongst other issues – where dead fish are thrown back into the sea to avoid breaching quotas. The various attempts at EU level to resolve this problem have failed.

In the meantime, EU-flagged vessels have the right to a majority of the value of fish in UK waters. Furthermore, the system of sales means that much of the ‘British’ quota in our own waters still goes to foreign vessels.

Outside the European Union, conservation can be managed more effectively (Australia, for example, does this much better than the EU) – for example limiting time at sea rather than type of catch – whilst also giving North East fishermen more work because EU nations won’t be allowed to overfish our waters.

Defenders of the EU point out that fish don’t respect national boundaries. This is a red herring; they don’t respect EU boundaries either, and much of our boundaries are with non-EU nations (Norway, Iceland).

2. We can negotiate our own bespoke trade deals with third countries

This should be an obvious benefit, but one question often asked by people who are pro-EU is this:

Why would we get better deals as one nation than the whole EU27 put together?

The answer is that the issue isn’t about ‘better’ deals but ‘more appropriate’ deals for the UK. Let’s remember that:

i) The EU27 economy is the world’s second-largest; the UK economy (treating the EU as one) is the world’s fifth-largest

ii) The EU27 economy is only around 5 times the size of the UK economy

iii) Therefore, there aren’t many bigger trading opportunities available for third countries; the ‘bulk buy’ argument rarely applies

iv) The EU27 is incredibly slow at negotiating trade deals; getting in there first provides huge opportunities

v) The EU27 has to negotiate its own negotiating position with the Member States; therefore, individual national interests often conflict – the negotiating position itself is often a compromise

vi) The UK would be able to negotiate far quicker and realise the benefits of trade deals before the EU27 does (noting that the European Union is likely to be only the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2050 according to Commission figures)

3. The net EU membership fee

The UK will, ultimately, save the net (not gross) membership fee paid to the European Union. The ‘Boris bus’ £350 million per week figure should not have been used (as I pointed out during the referendum campaign). The £180 million per week (or so) net fee is a genuine saving once any ‘divorce bill’ has been paid for the first couple of years.

Pro-EU advocates in the North East claim that the North East is a ‘net beneficiary’ of EU funds. Whilst this is not actually true, even if it were true, it would be irrelevant: the UK could replace every penny of EU funds and still have the £180 million left over.

This is actual cash; whether GDP rises (as I believe) or falls (as Remain adherents suggest) the £180 million per week would still be there.

I also believe that EU funding could be better spent directly by the UK rather than on EU-determined projects, as I argued in more detail in Britain Beyond Brexit.

4. VAT

The EU-mandated VAT is one of the most inefficient forms of indirect taxation on the planet, costing billions every year to businesses and the Treasury through costs of compliance, fraud, etc.

Outside the European Union, the UK will be free to choose a fairer and simpler form of indirect taxation.

 

C: I disagree with the premise that immigration control isn’t a benefit of Brexit

 

One of the key problems with uncontrolled immigration from the EU is that an oversupply of unskilled and semi-skilled labour drives down wages. Even if there existed a reasonable mechanism by which the UK might enforce the permitted restrictions on those who do not find work in the UK, uncontrolled immigration does lead to lower wages (hence, why it tends to be supported by big business).

By prioritising skilled immigration over unskilled, this downward pressure on wages will be reversed – whilst developing the skills base within the economy.

 

Freedom of religion threatened in the UK – why it matters

This morning, I’m at a cross-party conference in the European Parliament on freedom of religion in Europe. Hearing this morning first from Hendrik Storm, the CEO of the Barnabas Fund. Other speakers include representatives of the office of the Bishop in Europe (Church of England), evangelical street preachers and the British Pakistani Christian Association.

Christians do indeed face intolerance and intrusion for religious beliefs; I don’t decry the more-documented struggles faced by adherents to other religions – but issues relating to Christians are often ignored, and it’s absolutely right that these issues should be raised.

The problem is that nobody is really talking about (for example) arrests of street preachers, or the hostile level of questioning aimed at Christian politicians in the UK where a similar level of scrutiny isn’t applied to other faiths (or even to atheists).

Tertullian, in the year 189, said “It is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature that every man should worship according to his own convictions”.

The very first article in Magna Carta relates to freedom of religion. The Act of Toleration (1689) further guarantees the freedom of worship and the freedom to choose or to change one’s beliefs.

There’s a strong overlap between freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Neither permits the commission of crimes, or to interfere with other people’s actions.

Freedom of speech does not, for example, entitle you to:

• Incite violence, terrorism, rioting, or murder
• Commit perjury in court
• Shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre
• Commit treason by giving national secrets to an enemy
• Demand that someone else must assist you by publishing your ‘free speech’
• Verbally abuse medical professionals, police officers, or others merely doing their jobs in the service of the public

That’s why we have legislation such as the Official Secrets Act: to clarify what freedom of speech means in practice. It is not an absolute, inalienable right – but rather, something which is permitted to the maximum extent possible without interfering with other people’s quiet enjoyment of their own lives.

George Orwell, incorrectly, said in 1984 that ‘freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4’. He was wrong; it entails the freedom to be wrong – to say that 2+2=5. The argument ‘you’re wrong; therefore you must be silenced’ is far more pernicious because it requires someone – usually the speaker, or even the State – to become the arbiter of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

Conversely, the European Convention on Human Rights does not stick to the appropriate limits for ensuring that one person’s freedoms do not impact upon others. Article 9(2) states: “2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

Those limits including vague phrases such as ‘public morals’ provides for a coach and horses to be driven through this supposed protection. The protection is so watered down as to be worthless.

I’m reminded that, for example, in 2004 the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee rejected the appointment of Rocco Buttiglione because of his theological belief. The same ‘European’ machinations which had underpinned the setting up of the EU, now excluded those who hold to a clearly-held religious belief. By that standard, they would have excluded also Tim Farron, former leader of the Liberal Democrats.

If someone’s personal religious beliefs do not prevent them from doing a job, they should not be excluded from that job for the same reason. That is the definition, surely, of religious discrimination.

Nor is it applied equally: I have not heard such questions asked of other religions. Here, though, I differ from the alt-right view: I would rather protect the freedom of belief of Christians than seek to utilise this as a stick with which to beat others. I don’t ask ‘why don’t you also attack other faiths?’; I ask ‘why do you single out Christians?’.

There is a substantive difference between the two: one seeks to meet a wrong by implicitly proposing a second wrong; the other speaks of fundamental freedom.

There appears to be little in the way of protection of conscientious objection. Belgian and Swiss medical professionals have been, effectively, told that they must perform assisted suicide. Midwives in Sweden have been told they cannot hold to their religious beliefs preventing them from carrying out abortions; in March this year Sweden’s social democrats sought to ban all religious schools.

In France, legislation is effectively making criticism of abortion illegal. German and Austrian churches and religious sites have been attacked, like in Rome in 2016. In Spain, the criticism of modern ‘gender ideology’ landed even cardinals in trouble.

Now, as regards some of the above, I don’t necessarily hold to all of the principles described.

That doesn’t matter: people should be entitled to hold to their religious views and to live their lives free from discrimination! I don’t have to agree with your conscience to support your freedom of conscience.

This isn’t a political football with which to beat left-wingers, or those who hold to other faiths. It is about the defence of the freedom of religion of Christians, even those who interpret their faith differently to I.

So here’s the test: is the response one of love, or is it one of hatred?

I worry – a LOT – when people utilise the word ‘Christianity’ in the tribal way that someone might support a football club; the labels ‘Catholic’ or ‘Protestant’ having been used in the past (e.g. in Northern Ireland) to justify actions antithetical to Christianity.

As Jesus said (John 13v34-35), the appropriate response is one of love not hatred: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Likewise, in the letter to the Romans, Christians are commanded to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”

Those whose actions are born out of such love, such care for humanity, have my unequivocal support. Those who see it as a proxy war for something else do not.

For honesty about mental health, try 2am

At the time of writing it’s 2am, sometime during Mental Health Awareness Week, and nobody understands me. I see the world differently to most people; if you want, you can stick a label on it and call it Aspergers. Some people don’t like labels, and others don’t like that particular label; for me it’s merely a convenient shorthand. I’m writing this article not from some desire to have a rant, but to help people understand the silent struggles people face with mental health on a daily basis, or at least to explain different perspectives for seeing the world. (Being in politics doesn’t make anything any easier; I receive unsolicited hostile and abusive messages on an almost-daily basis. It is what it is; I often respond, and engage – one person recently went from calling me every name under the sun to thinking I should be Prime Minister. He’s wrong about that, too, but it’s more affirming.)

This afternoon I was at the gym, keeping fit and keeping the 4 stone I’ve lost well and truly off. My personal trainer, a former champion boxer, made me fire jabs, hooks and uppercuts into the pads. My foot movement needs work. Mainly, I just don’t ‘relax’ enough whilst training. Relaxing doesn’t come naturally to me. Later, he decides to showcase my mathematical skills to another client. He asks me 79×82. Caught off guard, it takes me too many seconds to fire back 6478. The thought process comes naturally to me, in a way it wouldn’t to most people. I know 79×81 must be one less than 80×80, so that must be 6399. I add another 79 in my head to get to 6478. A brief check on a calculator shows I’m correct. That’s the good part, the ability to calculate, to concentrate, to work incredibly fast on things that others would find more difficult. There’s an enormous flip side. Every time I meet a new person, or have a new social situation that most people would take in their stride, it exhausts me in the way that a Maths exam would exhaust most people.

These mental health issues are all around us; my trainer has his own struggles with depression but they don’t define him. Awareness is often just the understanding that, in any group of people, there are different perspectives, genuinely different reactions and ways of seeing the world. This evening I was out for a steak with a dozen or so people, some new. That’s when the hard work started: an unfamiliar environment, some unfamiliar people, and a table large enough that there’s no simple social ‘rule’ to tell me when to talk to the people to my left, to my right, and opposite me. I think I did okay, but I can’t be certain. One new person at the table was from Spain; I exchanged a couple of minutes’ conversation in Spanish before switching back to English: did I get the balance right, being welcoming without excluding others at the table from conversation for too long? No time to think about that, as conversation and food orders continued: such questions fell to the back of my mind, but they always come back later. At 2am. Sooner or later, I have to ‘process’ these questions.

I chatted to someone who had an interview booked in on local radio; knowing the presenter, I gave a little advice. It seemed sensible, but I volunteered the information without being asked: that, too, gets processed in the early hours of the morning. I wouldn’t sleep otherwise. Throughout the evening it’s more of the same: standard banter amongst same-sex company, questions of when to speak and when to remain silent, trying to decide whether to utter every pun or joke that comes into my head. Each decision has its own ‘action replay’ in my mind hours later. Did I speak too much, or too little, tonight? Perhaps every other person at the table would know the answer to that question; to me, it’s a puzzle.

When I was teaching, simple affirming phrases (which can sound patronising if you’re not very careful) like ‘that’s okay’ could be very useful: nothing’s wrong, no unwritten social etiquette has been ignored, and the student can relax about whatever’s just happened.

It’s just a different way of looking at the world. Earlier this week, someone abruptly told me that I don’t ‘suffer’ with Aspergers. There are positives and negatives, that’s true, but the negatives have a habit of closing in at 2am. Even that word is now controversial; it’s a precise enough label but it’s still a label. Frankly, semantics bothers me less. Who I am matters far more.

I wouldn’t change what I’ve done today: whether it’s going to the gym or socialising, I have to keep stretching myself. Mental health issues are about that: wherever possible, not giving in to the overwhelming urges to stay at home or to eschew social situations. Struggles both visible and invisible; some days, it’s enough to just stay on the pitch.

 

Who’s really letting Brexit down?

I’m going to apologise in advance for the length of this post, but it’s worth deconstructing this article in some detail. I’m writing about an article written by a Professor of Organisation Studies at the University of London. It’s somewhat instructive because it encapsuates how Remainers are currently thinking, and arguing.

I reproduce the article, by Christopher Grey, in full here in quotes – together with responses throughout.

During the Referendum, Brexiters offered a political message which took a traditional and familiar form: if you vote for us then various (supposedly) good consequences will follow.

Response: That’s not necessarily unfair in and of itself, but Remainers offered a political message in equally familiar form: if you don’t vote for us, then various (supposedly) disastrous consequences will follow.

It is easy to imagine what they would be saying now if any of these were evident; if companies were announcing new investments because of (not despite) Brexit; if foreign direct investment were booming in anticipation of Brexit, rather than tanking; if countries, especially Commonwealth countries, were champing at the bit to make new trade deals with Britain; if ‘German car companies’ had ‘within minutes of the vote’ to leave demanded a fantastic ‘cake and eat it’ deal and if the EU had rolled over to give it; if the Irish border was unaffected, as Brexiters had claimed it would be; or, even, if the negotiations were proceeding as smoothly and easily as they had promised.

Response: This is a rather negative perspective. Compare the Treasury projections with reality: we were told by Remain that by now, we’d have 500,000-820,000 job losses. Actually there are a record number of people in employment. We were told that GDP would fall; it has consistently risen. We were told that house prices would fall; they’ve consistently risen. Claims of the end of Western political civilisation as we know it, or threats of World War 3,  have been proven – as should have been evident at the time – to be arrant nonsense.

But of course none of those things has happened and so, since winning the Referendum, the Brexiters’ message has changed in a very fundamental way. The new message takes several but each has the same dialectical structure: to decouple the vote to leave the EU from the consequences of leaving the EU.

Response: But of course, none of the Remain predictions has happened and so, since losing the Referendum, the Remainers’ message has changed in a very fundamental way. The new message takes various forms, but each suggest that the Brexit vote should be overturned.

It’s too late now

The first, and simplest, form is that the vote has now been held and so we must just live with the consequences. In that narrative, all debate and discussion ended with the Referendum. Remainers must get over it, leavers must be happy whatever happens. It’s a position exemplified by a recent tweet from the pro-Brexit journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer in response to being sent data about foreign direct investment since Brexit: “Mate, I really don’t care. This question was asked and answered two years ago. Move on with your life”.

Response: This is a total misrepresentation. My position (and, incidentally, the position of many Remainers who now accept the referendum result) is that the Brexit vote was the once-in-a-lifetime decision which Cameron and others said it was. Debate and discussion should continue, but it should now focus around a different question: Whether you like or dislike the referendum result, how can we best make it work for the UK?

Simple as it is, it’s also naïve. Politics doesn’t work like that, as Brexiters should appreciate not least since on the night before the 2016 Referendum Nigel Farage declared otherwise and, on the night after the 1975 Referendum, so did Enoch Powell. In this if in nothing else Enoch, to coin a nasty little phrase, was right.

Response: Trying to associate Brexit with Enoch Powell through ‘guilt by association’: a clever technique of divide and conquer. But it’s also misleading: the notion that an issue isn’t dead, as in 1975, and that it will be fought in future, is very different from refusing to accept a referendum result and agitating against it from the first few days.

Not only does politics not work like that in general, but it especially does not work like that in this case because, much as Brexiters dislike it, winning the vote was just the first and easiest part of a process which, in one way or another, will last for years. Hence they make a second claim.

Response: It is indeed a process; Remainers should be participating in that process rather than trying to undermine it.

It’s not up to us

The second version is a denial of responsibility, with the central idea being that leave voters and their leaders have done their part simply by delivering the vote to leave. It is up to the politicians and the experts to now make it happen. This, too, is misguided. As I have written elsewhere, their victory was in many ways a disaster for Brexiters in that it meant that they are now responsible for whatever happens. Not just responsible, but uniquely responsible. They were warned over and over again of the consequences and insisted that these warnings were not just wrong but malevolent, self-interested fearmongering. So, now, they and they alone, own the consequences. Remainers have absolutely no responsibility to try to ‘make Brexit work’ or to ‘get behind Brexit’ (whatever those things would mean in practice).

Response: If Leavers were actually in power, responsible for delivering Brexit, then there might be a point here. But they’re not – now, Leavers are being expected to carry the can for every mistake made by a Prime Minister who supported Remain, who replaced a Prime Minister who supported Remain. The Leader of the Opposition supported Remain, as did the Leaders of the third and fourth parties at Westminster. It’s Remainers who are delivering Brexit.

Why claim Remainers have no responsibility? Every Remainer who said during the referendum campaign that they’d accept the result should be accepting the result. David Cameron said that if the British people wanted Brexit, then we’d have Brexit.

From Prime Minister’s Questions – “If the British people vote to leave the European Union, will the Prime Minister resign, yes or no?”

David Cameron – “No.”

Pretty clear that he was going to stay on to deliver Brexit, but he didn’t. Instead, he plunged the Conservative Party into chaos.

It hasn’t been done properly

That denial of responsibility feeds into the third emerging Brexiter narrative. It is that there was nothing wrong with the decision, but that the way it is being delivered by the government is what is causing the problems.

Response: Instead, Professor Grey prefers the alternate suggestion that Leavers must be responsible for a Remain-led government’s delivery.

This is evident in, for example, Daniel Hannan’s recent attempt to deflect blame for the policy he advocated for so many decades. It has many variants, from the outright mad (‘we should just have walked away the day after’) to the more sophisticated complaints about specific decisions, such as the timing of the Article 50 notification. It is fair comment that the government have approached Brexit in an inept way, making what the respected (and by no means anti-) Brexit commentator David Allen Green of the Financial Times has called numerous ‘unforced errors’.

Response: At last, some common ground – the government have approached Brexit in an inept way.

Nevertheless, there are two obvious objections. First, that no one – not least the Leave campaigners – has ever specified a way of undertaking Brexit which does not damage the UK, whether economically, politically or strategically.

Response: This redefines ‘which does not damage the UK’. If I gain £10 but lose £4, then overall I’ve gained £6. What we should be looking at is the net impact of Brexit; maximising positives and minimising negatives. There’s a current focus on trying to replicate achievements.

Second, that every mis-step the government have made has been as a result of pressure from, and has been cheered on by, the Brexit Ultras. That includes the dogmatic ‘red lines’ laid down by the government, the premature triggering of Article 50, and, for that matter, the subsequent calling of a General Election to ‘crush the saboteurs’.

Response: This is nonsense. Notice the author’s logical fallacy of ‘poisoning the wells’, labelling those who disagree as ‘Brexit Ultras’, which serves only to mask the problems with his argument.

The Remain government failed to prepare for Brexit pre-referendum, arrogantly assuming there would be a Remain vote. Then, on June 24th, the Prime Minister resigned. The new Prime Minister failed to devote sufficient resources to Brexit. The United Kingdom, on triggering Article 50, accepted the EU’s uncoupling of the financial settlement from any trade deal. It accepted the EU’s definition of ‘sincere co-operation’ without demur. It conceded from the outset partnerships in all of the UK’s areas of strength, without seeking anything in return from the EU’s. None of these blunders were supported by most Leave campaigners.

This narrative is a familiar one in business, where any and every failed management fad is defended by its advocates on the grounds that all would have been well but for ‘inadequate implementation’. It’s equally familiar in far Left politics, where each failed attempt to implement communism is explained away by saying that it wasn’t ‘proper’ communism.

But in this case it goes further, and links back to the second narrative, in that Brexiters continue to claim victimhood at the hands of the elite, refusing to accept that having won the Referendum and having a government now pursuing what they voted for, they are the elite, and they are the ones implementing Brexit.

Response: If the original premise were true, this would be fair comment. But it wasn’t, so it isn’t.

A fair criticism of Communism though…but see what the author’s doing? Having compared Brexiteers to Enoch Powell, he’s now turned to comparing them to Communists. A subtle way, perhaps, of trying to imply that those who disagree with him must be extremists? 

It’s the Remainers’ fault

The fourth excuse is that all would have been well but for Remainers who are accused, variously, of sabotage, treachery and of talking Brexit down. Often, it’s a variant of the paranoid idea about the elite – meaning the Civil Service, Judiciary, BBC, CBI, IoD, House of Lords but not, mysteriously, the ex-public schoolboys, millionaires and hedge funds that support Brexit. Sometimes it’s the entire 48% of voters who didn’t back Brexit.

Response: There’s a certain chip on the shoulder here. Interesting, isn’t it, that Remain was supported – financially – by top bankers and the political establishment. The millionaires who supported Brexit? Sure, you can mention them all you want – but what about the billionaires who backed Remain? Everyone from Richard Branson to George Soros, from Goldman Sachs to Citigroup or JP Morgan. If you don’t like language such as ‘sabotage’ then fair enough, but in certain situations it’s fair – for example:

1. British Remainers voting against the UK position and in favour of the EU’s, in the European Parliament.

2. Those who constantly talk down Britain’s prospects of negotiating any movement from the European Union, and say that either publicly or to the European Union’s institutions themselves. That hardly makes it more likely to gain concessions in negotiation.

There are daily examples of this claim, but taking just one, that of Leave means Leave co-Chair John Longworth in August 2017, is instructive. The usual suspects are named, in this case for their “pretence” that Britain must pay a “divorce bill” (i.e. settle its outstanding commitments to the EU). But, of course, it wasn’t a Remainer pretence, and four months later the payment was agreed.

Response: The ‘divorce bill’ lacked legal basis. The UK could legally (but not morally) have walked away without paying a penny. The UK made substantial concessions; I don’t necessarily oppose the making of concessions when something tangible is obtained in return. The concern was that the payment was agreed without equivalent concessions on the other side. I gave evidence to a House of Lords Select Committee on this in some detail.

The more general issue is that, if Brexit were the self-evidently great idea its proponents claim, it would hardly matter what Remainers did or said. For that matter, within minutes of the vote, before Remainers had had time to engage in any of their nefarious sabotage, Sterling suffered a catastrophic collapse (which in any other circumstances would have led to a political crisis) as the currency markets priced in their prediction of what Brexit would mean.

Response: Before the referendum I predicted the drop in sterling, and also its subsequent recovery. Interestingly that recovery is ignored in the article. I also predicted that this would have a positive impact on manufacturing.

But this article does something else: it moves the goalposts from ‘on balance, Brexit is a good idea’, the referendum outcome, to ‘Brexit is so self-evidently obvious from every possible angle that there is nothing to debate’. Having done so, it expects every Leaver to defend the latter. It’s a nice bait-and-switch, but the same tactics could be applied – with devastating effect – to Remain.

It’s the EU’s fault

The fifth narrative is possibly the most dominant of the post-Referendum excuses made by Brexiters. It is that the problem was not with the decision to leave, and not solely (or even primarily) with the British government or with Remainers, but with the EU who have decided to ‘punish’ Britain for leaving. Such claims are invariably nonsense since they ascribe to the EU the consequences of having left the EU (and, in this sense, are another denial of responsibility). To take just the most current of numerous examples, Brexiters claim that the border controls, especially in Ireland, are something being threatened by the EU rather than being ineluctable, legal consequences of leaving the single market and any customs union.

Response: There is objectively an element of this; I’ve seen it for myself. I sat in the Conference of Presidents meeting, with the leaders of the big political groups from the European Parliament, on the morning of June 24th. The hostility towards the UK for daring to vote Leave was palpable. They were crowing about the drop in sterling, delighting in that temporary blip. The ‘punishment’ narrative has something to it, because there is a fear amongst EU members that a successful Brexit could lead to other countries following suit, but actually I don’t think that’s the main issue. The bigger issue is that the UK’s negotiation has been pathetically poor. That’s the feedback I get from the EU side of negotiations: they expected the UK to be far more professional than they are.

There are many things that could be said about this punishment narrative (see here), but the core difficulty with it for Brexiters is that they repeatedly promised that Britain held ‘all the cards’ and that ‘the EU needs us far more than we need them’. If that was right, then no punishment would have been possible. If it was wrong, then the vote did indeed have consequences embedded within it, consequences which were concealed from voters by the Leave campaign.

Response: Leave campaigners rather expected the government would play the cards that it holds, rather than discarding them. The concern about ‘punishment’ is that the EU is acting not in accordance with its own self-interest, out of protectionist fears.

Did Leave underestimated the negativity from the EU side? Possibly – and that’s the closest thing to fair criticism in this article so far. But if Leave did underestimate that, then two things follow:

1. The EU is, unexpectedly, ignoring Article 8 of the TFEU which requires them to use a spirit of neighbourliness and co-operation.

2. A Union which seeks to punish those who leave is more akin to a protectionist racket; such a punishment would actually be an argument for getting out of there.

It’s not about practical consequences, it’s about philosophical principles

Alongside these five narratives – and perhaps in recognition of their paucity – some Brexiters run a sixth. Here, the attempt is to claim that those who voted leave did so on the basis of a commitment to ‘sovereignty’ in the abstract. So consequences don’t matter, since this was a purely philosophical vote. I can (just about) imagine that this might be true for a few leave voters, though I would argue that they are wrong, but it clearly wasn’t what was proposed to the British people by the Leave campaign, which instead made arguments about immigration and NHS funding, and made claims that leaving would be easy precisely because they knew that if voters thought otherwise then would be disadvantageous to their cause. A pure sovereignty argument would not have needed to make such claims.

Response: Sovereignty was one factor in the Brexit vote. Negotiating our own trade deals with third countries was another; immigration was another; regaining control of the membership fee was another; ending the jurisdiction of EU courts was still another.

I don’t think anyone reasonably expected there would be no bumps in the road, but it’s somewhat disingenuous to attack Leave’s honesty here whilst Remain’s doom-and-gloom ‘Project Fear’ took negative campaigning to a new level never before seen in British politics.

As the practical consequences of leaving the EU mount up, and can no longer be dismissed as Project Fear, what Brexiters are trying to do is to counter the argument that ‘no one voted to be poorer’. This is the real meaning of the claim that the vote was about the principle of sovereignty and not practical consequences since, of course, if it was about principles it can be claimed that leave voters accepted that it meant they would get poorer. And it’s probably true that some did. But it certainly isn’t true of the majority of leave voters, even as regards immigration. Yet not only do Brexiters deny this, but some even claim that impoverishment and hardship will be desirable, in some way creating a national renewal by returning to the ‘Dunkirk spirit’. But, again, there are good reasons why this was not put on the side of the Leave campaign bus: almost no one would have voted for it.

Response: See above; the practical consequences have so far actually been the reverse of the Remain predictions. Therefore, we’ve been offered new predictions which we’re also expected to treat as gospel.

Personally, I’ve always expected there’d be a certain ‘adjustment period’ – that the full benefits of Brexit would take a couple of years longer to be fully realised.

But this notion that Brexit will leave everyone poorer, overall, is based upon further Treasury projections. The problem? That previous Treasury projections predicted economic chaos by now which hasn’t happened. The same methodology will doubtless lead to the same errors. Such projections risk becoming ‘the boy who cried wolf’.

Why does this matter?

Precisely because the vote to leave the EU was the beginning of a process – the process of Brexit – rather than the end of something, the way that Brexiters are now attempting to decouple the vote from its consequences is crucial.

Response: It was indeed the beginning of a process, a process which should (see above) be approached in good faith.

Brexiters are trying to use the Referendum vote, close as it was, to mandate as the ‘Will of the People’ anything that they say it means. This is most obviously true in terms of the ‘Global Britain’ agenda of free trade deals around the world. There is much that could be said about that (how does exiting the FTAs that the EU has help it? how does leaving the single market help it?) but, those things aside, how does the Referendum mandate it? For, given that in some, perhaps large, part it was a nativist and protectionist vote it mandates the precise opposite.

Response: Leave were consistently clear about this throughout the referendum campaign. The argument ‘how does exiting existing FTAs to negotiate our own bespoke ones instead help the UK’ was a standard Remain argument during the referendum. The mandate here is clear; it’s sophistry to suggest otherwise.

In this sense, there is a massive political fraud underway at the moment, and, actually, it isn’t remain voters who are primarily its victims but leave voters. They are being told that their concerns about immigration and globalization are going to be ignored. I happen to think that their concerns about immigration were misplaced and their concerns about globalization irrelevant to the Brexit debate. But I am not so dishonest as to pretend that the vote was not about those things, whereas many Brexiters are.

Response: The vote was certainly, for many voters, about immigration. Globalisation, though? As a Leave campaigner, I don’t think I uttered that word once during the campaign – and I don’t recall others doing so.

Thus the day after the Referendum Daniel Hannan said that the Leave campaign “never said there was going to be some radical decline” in immigration, and last March David Davis said that immigration might even rise. Both pretend that all that matters to voters is that Britain decides its own immigration policy – that all they care about is ‘sovereignty’ – rather than actual numbers. As for globalization and free trade, it’s notable that just about every Brexiter now talks as if having an independent trade policy were the main rationale of Brexit. That was mentioned during the Referendum, but it certainly wasn’t presented as the central argument for Brexit – whereas immigration was – and it certainly wasn’t explained that such a trade policy will entail the relaxation of immigration controls.

Response: Hannan and Davis have been quoted out of context here; the criticism of their comments is justifiable to an extent but overblown. The independent trade policy was a key plank of the referendum campaign, but not the only one.

That is only one aspect of the even greater dishonesty of Brexiters. What they are really trying to argue is that the vote mandates them to do anything they want. That is an even bigger, and even more dubious, proposition than that the Referendum vote set in stone the ‘will of the people’ with respect to EU membership. Precisely because leaving the EU has such far-reaching ramifications not just for economics but for geo-politics, it can be claimed that anything done post-Brexit is mandated by the Referendum result.

So this is where Brexiters are now. All the pre-Referendum swagger has gone, all the promises made have evaporated. In their place are a series of absurd and indefensible arguments. But it is important to understand that these arguments, even if they are often run together, contain two fundamentally different claims. One is that whatever happens now is not the fault of Brexiters. The other is that Brexiters have been given a blank cheque to do whatever they now want to do. These claims are linked in that both treat 23 June 2016 as a frozen moment, denoting either the end of their responsibility for the consequences or the beginning of their freedom to define the consequences. Whilst different, they are linked in their boundless dishonesty, since neither claim was entertained, let alone endorsed, by the Referendum.

Response: a) Leavers aren’t arguing that they can do ‘anything they want’. This is creating a straw man.

b) If the 2016 referendum had existed in a vacuum, arguing against a set-in-stone ‘will of the people’ might make sense. But there has been a General Election since the Brexit referendum; these issues were debated. The Conservatives and (in effect) Labour proposed leaving the Single Market and Customs Union. There is now an additional democratic mandate for Brexit.

c) Even if this were really a concern, what would the appropriate recourse be? Not a referendum to attempt to overturn the referendum result, surely: that’s the one certainty in this, how people voted in 2016. A referendum, say, between a deal-Brexit and a no-deal Brexit might help to clarify matters – but that’s not what the Remainers are arguing for. They accuse Leavers of wanting a blank cheque, but they don’t propose writing in the cheque; they propose tearing it up altogether.

But they are also linked in another – probably more important – way. They are profoundly unrealistic. For politics did not stop on 23 June 2016. On the contrary, it began a period of political dislocation that will last for many years, perhaps decades, to come. Brexiters seemed to imagine that by winning the vote that would be an end to it. It’s already obvious that this is not so. If Brexit does go ahead, the Brexiters will, rightly, be held responsible for every consequence that flows from it. That is the significance of the narratives they are already putting forward to deny that the vote had consequences: it’s not simply that they don’t want to take the blame, it’s that they don’t want to take the responsibility.

Response: Why is it obvious that this is not so? Because people like the author of this article are not prepared to accept the referendum result. It’s unprecedented really in British politics: nobody is still suggesting AV, after it was defeated in a referendum – electoral reform may be on the table in general, and rightly so, but not AV. After the 1975 referendum, nobody tried to sabotage the Common Market – but they did campaign against further treaties which went beyond what was agreed in that referendum. Extra powers for Scotland and Wales were approved in referendums; both sides accepted the result. Even the Scottish independence referendum led to the SNP taking independence off the table for a while.

The ultimate truth about Brexit is that through a series of accidents a protest movement with wholly unrealistic and disastrous policies unexpectedly and unwillingly became a government set upon delivering them. The Brexiters are now running away from the consequences as fast as they can. The tragedy for our country is that, in one way or another, we are stuck with having to deal with them.

Response: Once again, we have this suggestion that the government is somehow run by hardline Leavers. It is not: the Prime Minister and Chancellor are both Remainers. Until the other week, so was the Home Secretary. Only one of the four great offices of State has been consistently been held by a Leaver. The suggestion of a government run by hardline Leavers doesn’t become true just because the article’s author repeats it over and over again.

Why am I now an Independent? I’m not prepared to excuse the cesspit of Party politics

An American Marine, in Vietnam and seeing for himself the unspeakable brutality of the actions he was required to participate in, baulked at what he had just done in the first few days. “This is war. This is what we do”, he was told. Slowly, gradually, perhaps almost imperceptibly, he came to see it as normal – to believe it. The actions of the Americans in Vietnam, the actions of the North Vietnamese forces, were nothing substantially different from previous wars: what had changed, perhaps, was the reporting of it. War had always been brutal, but never in that way had it been beamed back into people’s homes and seen on their television screens. Yet that extra glare of publicity perhaps did one thing. The use of napalm against civilian targets is now banned, as is US use of Agent Orange. War, however unspeakably cruel it will always be, is perhaps less so than before.

Politics, of course, does not match such levels of barbarity. Nothing could. For all the negative stereotypes around politics, for every cynical viewpoint expressed by a non-voter that ‘they’re all the same’, ‘they’re all in it for themselves’, ‘they’re as bad as each other’, ‘they care only about getting votes’ or ‘all they do is attack each other’, I always used to argue fervently against it. We can change things, and it doesn’t have to be like this. The nastiness, leaking, briefing and counter-briefing, attacking opponents for the sake of political point-scoring, Machiavellian plotting, seeking to generate and exploit scandal, deliberate twisting of words out of context, and all the toxicity associated with modern politics could be beaten.

Then, and I keep trying to pinpoint when, something changed. Soundbite politics had been around for a while already, but now the negatives took over. Perhaps it was the mass use of social media, opening it up for all to see. A Twitter-based assault on someone’s integrity in 140 characters (as was then) could not be proven wrong without a detailed response. It could come at any time of day or night, retweeted by thousands before the victim was even aware. A lie, it is said, can be half way around the world whilst the truth is still putting on its boots. Never was that more apt than when describing social media.

Or perhaps it was the election of Donald Trump – which left the Right feeling they could say anything they wanted, however offensive, ‘because Donald Trump could get away with it’, and which sent the Left into an existential paroxysm of anger, vented at anyone who got in their way. Maybe it was Jeremy Corbyn’s takeover of the Labour Party, leading to Momentum and a ‘newer, kinder politics’ which was ‘kinder’ only in the sense that the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984 was responsible for lies. Could it have been the reaction to the Brexit referendum, where instead of working together to make it work, many on the losing side of the referendum threw a tantrum – and then many on the winning side responded by throwing their own tantrum straight back at them?

Most likely it was gradual, a combination of all of the above. Right now, the harsh reality is that there exists no political party of any substance worthy of a vote. Politics has become dominated by ‘whataboutery’ (mention a scandal about one party and instead of answering, it will direct you to a similar scandal about its opponents which it considers to be worse), fake news (inventing statistics, or treating proven-false predictions as gospel) and tribalism (to the point that some politicians will refuse to make friends with people of different political views, perpetuating an echo chamber and promoting misunderstandings).

Even deciding which Party is the ‘least bad’ has become difficult. Democracy, the ballot box, must always remain important: it’s what we fought those wars in the first place to defend. It’s why my great uncle died hours after being rescued, a PoW forced to work on the Burma railway, why my grandfather never slept after the horrors of World War 2 and why my great-grandfather fought in every major battle on the Western Front in World War 1. So we mustn’t drift into not voting; even a spoilt ballot would be better than that. And maybe, just maybe, the added spotlight on the wrongs of politics will – as it did with the evils of war – lead over decades to a change, to people not getting away with what they did before. But if you ask me why I’m now an Independent, it’s very simple. I’m not prepared to excuse the cesspit of Party politics. I’m not going to use the puerile defence that “This is politics. This is what we do.”