Sunday, June 26, 2016

Let them eat principles

Oh dear. Just had a lovely week away in the Highlands, for the first time in 20 years. Unfortunately, recent events have rather pushed that out of my mind, but hopefully jules will provide some pictures in the near future.

Before that, however, the referendum. I can't avoid the conclusion that it's a massive problem and many people have made a huge mistake in voting Leave.

Most glaringly, there is no exit plan. That was, of course, fairly obvious before the vote itself, but the full extent of the problem was perhaps not sufficiently clear to all the electorate. Various factions have suggested that we might be able to negotiate some sort of associate membership a la Norway - i.e. still pay a fee and obey the rules including freedom of movement, in exchange for access to the single market. But have no say in the rules. That's clearly a worse option than where we were before last Thursday. Alternatively, we could simply terminate the relationship, and suffer WTO trade tariffs. Like, say, Japan, or the USA, or China. It's hard to see the UK being considered a viable base for international Europe-focussed financial or manufacturing industry under those conditions, as it is presently. Some banks are already planning to move jobs.

The Irish question hasn't been addressed at all, as far as I can tell. It seems near-inevitable that Brexit will rip up the Good Friday Agreement, since that is underpinned by free movement over the border and the primacy of the European Convention on Human Rights. Sinn Feinn are already agitating for reunification, and I can't blame them at all. Even a prominent Unionist politician is openly encouraging Northern Irish to apply for Eire passports (another outcome of the GF agreement) and the Belfast PO quickly ran out of forms. The Good Friday Agreement, which successfully drew a line under 100 years of terrorism and violence in Northern Ireland and the mainland UK, was the one remarkable achievement of an otherwise unremarkable Major administration and it's a great shame to discard it so casually and with so little forethought. I'd think the best outcome we could hope for there would be a relatively straightforward and peaceful reunification process for Ireland as a whole, but there will be a whole lot of unhappy people whatever happens, and the peace there was fairly fragile in the first place.

Scotland has a more straightforward position. If Sturgeon can get pre-agreement on some reasonable EU membership deal (which seems to be on the cards), then the second referendum for independence will be a shoo-in. The pro-EU vote north of the border last week was far stronger than the pro-UK vote was last year, and it's inevitable that a lot of the no voters from last time (when the UK was firmly in the UK, and an independent Scotland would have had no easy route to EU membership) will change sides now.

Not all Brexiteers are ignorant racist bigots, of course. But their votes have provided support to ignorant racist bigots who are already demonstrating in cities with hate slogans and chants, and distributing hate literature (not just according to the Guardian, but the Indy too). The intelligent, informed Leave voters (they do exist, we've met a few) seem convinced that "sovereignty" is the answer to just about everything. I'll be ok of course, I've not got a job to lose and will still be able to afford Booths artisanal sausages for tea. But a whole lot of people are going to find that sovereignty neither pays the rent nor puts food on the table. The economy will probably recover over time, and there is more to life than money anyway. More sadly, future generations may find that they are unable to enjoy the freedoms that we took for granted, such as the ability to hop over to France on a whim to work a season in a ski chalet, for example. Scientists are uniquely fortunate in being able to work pretty much where they please (visa requirements are usually quite easy for us to satisfy) and living and working aboard is in principle a very worthwhile and positive experience that I'd recommend to all. It would be a shame to make it the preserve of the privileged few. All the other stuff like environmental protection, workers rights and conditions (e.g. the contract stuff - which is just one minor case study), safety standards, and the rest are unlikely to be stronger out than in. The typical business lobby's whine "it will make us uncompetitive" has much more validity if we can only impose regulations unilaterally, rather than simultaneously with our largest trading partners. I should also mention the Calais border moving to Dover, the million pensioners in Spain who will need to come back for their free healthcare (a great swap for a couple of million young EU workers)...the list really is endless. 40 years of ever-closer collaboration will not be easily unpicked.

I'd really be interested to hear if Brexiteers think that the outcome has been good so far, or if they expect it to be good in the foreseeable future. Having both major parties in total disarray is great political theatre but is perhaps not the best background from which to enter 2 years of critical negotiations and push a lot of detailed legislation through parliament. Did anyone actually vote for this? It's amazing to see the string of idiots who are regretful that they won.

A few days before the referendum Nick Barnes predicted on farcebook that Cameron would immediately invoke Article 50 if he lost, but that always seemed improbable to me - so much so, that I bet him 10 quid (Nick's limit, not mine!) that it wouldn't happen within a week. All three options remain possible as I write (i.e., either he does, or does not, or something obscure and legalistic happens that makes it impossible to judge the outcome fairly) but Cameron's clearly stated intention is not to trigger it, but leave it to his successor. Which always seemed obvious to me - he can't now avoid going down in history as the twat that loaded the gun but he can at least avoid being the twat that pulled the trigger. Boris Johnson has already stated he is in no hurry either, but wants to make progress on negotiations first. This is patently ridiculous, as the rest of the EU has no reason to negotiate anything until A50 has been invoked. It is possible that the EU will lose patience and find a way to unilaterally start the process (as has already been threatened). Or else the forthcoming Tory leader will wake up in time and smell the coffee and realise that it's a completely unwinnable proposition. BoJo clearly never wanted to win the referendum in the first place and has no strategy, no goals, and no policy for the situation that he's landed us in. So much for his political instincts. He even spent yesterday playing cricket.

I can't help but conclude that the best outcome would be for the new Govt to reject the referendum result (and fight an election on that basis). There is no good exit plan or outcome that I can see. Of course it would inevitably destroy a few political careers and we'd have a bit of rioting, but that's better than the alternatives.


26 comments:

rumleyfips said...

I feel sorry for the real losers; football hooligans. They will go all sad when they are turned back at the frontier. No mayhem for you !

andthentheresphysics said...

I can't help but conclude that the best outcome would be for the new Govt to reject the referendum result (and fight an election on that basis).

Not only would this - IMO too - be the best outcome given where we are now, there's also a chance that, if they did so, the net result could be quite positive. I think this whole mess has made more people realise that there are some pretty fundamental problems in the UK that are independent of any problems with the EU.

MikeR said...

I think that until Remain supporters do a little better job of understanding Leave supporters than by calling them racist bigots, they have little chance of heading them off. We in the US went through/are going through the same process with Trump supporters. They have really big concerns, are not generally racists, and we ignored them till now.
One would have thought that continuing to ignore them isn't really an option, but the evidence shows that it clearly is an option. I can only think that most people are really really not good at understanding any point of view but their own. Just look at the betting markets just before the Brexit results came in - you could get 20:1 odds against Leave! Crazy - the polls were dead even.

James Annan said...

Heading them off what, Mike? Until some leaver comes up with a plan, there's not even anything to talk about. I only hope they make some attempt to come up with a plan before trying to invoke article 50, so we can see what they actually hope to achieve. Preferably, a more competent plan than Johnson's suicide note in the Telegraph recently.

MikeR said...

"I only hope they make some attempt to come up with a plan..." Not sure what your point is here. There is no "they". It wasn't an organization or a political party, it was a whole lot of people who don't want to be in the EU. That's how referendums work. Presumably the next step is that some new government forms, then tries to figure out how best to proceed.
I guess you're upset by what happened, but I don't see that it's helpful to make unreasonable complaints. Not every democracy allows referendums, but those that do need to deal with the results when the country is given marching orders by a plurality of its citizens. Isn't hoping that it doesn't happen - or supporting such, even more so - kind of like wishing that you could run things and didn't have all these annoying people voting? That strikes me as more dangerous than any referendum.

James Annan said...

It is certainly up to those who argued for and voted for exit, to decide what they actually mean by exit. The best plan I can come up with is to re-label our existing status as "special non-member with identical rights and obligations to member states".

The underlying problem is that the people were asked a stupid question. It's as if they voted for unicorns, then demanded that someone else (the govt) gave them unicorns, and complained when the govt didn't actually manage to do so.

Voting for unicorns doesn't make them exist.

MikeR said...

Not sure why you say that. "Get out of EU". They can invoke article 50, they can perhaps just withdraw from the treaty... Then Britain will need to rework out its relationships with the EU countries and the surrounding countries. What unicorn doesn't exist? The single thing they voted for is very doable. The next government will have to work out the many consequences - but that's what the voters chose.
Again, referendums tend to be like this. Truth is, voting for a politician is like this too. The voter can't decide everything that that representative (or that party) will do; usually no one politician agrees with them on everything anyhow. They just pick one that they think is more in the direction they want to go. The rest is up to the representative. It's not a complaint against the voters that they don't have a plan _exactly_ how to rework National Health Care or whatever. They are choosing a direction, and giving marching orders.

James Annan said...

Yes, in theory we could just invoke A50 immediately. In fact, we could probably just revoke the treaties as fast as the paperwork can be dealt with, no need to take 2y over it.

Do you think that's either in the interests of the country, or in line with the wishes of the 52%? You may have noted, the referendum question was not "shall we invoke article 50 by the end of June 2016?", indeed the time scale was not even hinted at. Most voices on the leave side promised that they would maintain access to the single market.

MikeR said...

"Do you think that's either in the interests of the country?" No idea? Nor do I have any idea about the true wishes of the 52%, aside from what I said already. They want out.
As I said above, we in the USA went through a very similar process with Trump supporters. The rest of us were having a nice election about economics and foreign policy and stuff, and a huge chunk of the country showed up and said, "Uh, No. Immigration is the most important issue to us, and you can't ignore it any more." Does that mean that they have a coherent policy on how big a wall to build or whether to deport illegals? Surely not. That doesn't make them incoherent, just very very disruptive to what the rest of us wanted to do.

jblblog said...

Right, so, in other words, lots of people are racist assholes, and it's really important to take them seriously and treat them nicely and consider their policy proposals carefully, except you also don't know what they are, just that they are driven by xenophobic animus. Sounds great!

MikeR said...

"so, in other words, lots of people are ..." Thank you for illustrating what I said. People are really bad at understanding those they disagree with. You don't even know that you're getting it totally wrong.
But a hint: Conservatives have zero problem understanding the Leave point of view. Zero. Even if they're aren't racists or xenophobic.

James Annan said...

Mike, it's really great that we've got you here to tell us what we don't understand. But clearly, there is no Leave point of view. There are about 17 million different points of view, all mutually incompatible, many hopelessly incoherent, and the vast majority of which are incompatible with reality. The most realistic view was probably Boris in the pre-leave days, believing that a substantial minority leave vote might put pressure on the EU for futher reforms. He didn't actually want to leave the EU, but rather hoped to burnish his credentials with that wing of the conservative party.

MikeR said...

James, I'm not from Britain, and can't speak for the British. But the basic point of view isn't hard to understand - for a conservative. "Who in the world would want to be ruled by these people?" http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/03/opinion/sunday/the-myth-of-cosmopolitanism.html
I don't know if I can find an analogy that will work for you. In the United States it would be, Say that the whole country was under the effective control of Texas and the Midwest. And the people in, say, New England, New York, and California, had a vote on whether to separate from the country that was controlled by Texas. And you would explain to them how much better the economics is this way, and how much it helps with the exchange of scientists, how complicated it would be to travel there or back...
And you would be bewildered when they said, Stop. We're not going that far. We're not going to be ruled by Texas. Full stop. We don't believe most of what you say anyhow, since you clearly have a whole different view of the world if you're even talking this way. But we aren't Texas, we don't think like them, we don't agree with most of what they want, and we'll have to work out the consequences later. In the meantime, Bye!
And the people in Texas are bewildered in turn: This absolutely makes no sense. Who wouldn't want to be part of our almost-perfect union! Even if not perfect, all right-thinking people basically see this union as a step forward. They must just be a bunch of haters and xenophobes, also somebody fooled them into voting this way. No one could really believe the stuff they're saying...
(Make up your own analogy, plugging in some country that you really don't think you would live under.)
I'm sure there are 17 million variations, but that seems to be the general idea.

MartinM said...

We weren't being 'ruled' by anybody in the EU.

MikeR said...

"We weren't being 'ruled' by anybody in the EU." No? They couldn't make regulations that you must follow, even about your local business, and that you can't override? James posted earlier about exactly such a rule, having to do with the conditions of hiring of professors. He happens to like that rule, but it wasn't done by Great Britain, it was fiat from the EU. That's what he said he _liked_ about it: there, problem fixed! Say he hadn't liked the rule? Say he hadn't liked the last 217?

Similarly, there are a lot of people upset in the United States about rules coming down from the federal government that they hate and can do nothing about. Not just disgruntled people scattered here and there, but a whole block of the nation - the "flyover country" between the two coasts. They are mostly outvoted by the more populous two coasts. So nothing they can do, except rebel, or vote for Donald Trump in the hopes that this fast-talking billionaire will somehow turn out to be their friend.

This is how you lose a country. This - and turning around _after_ they vote and telling them that they're idiots and bigots. Makes them feel like the folks on the two coasts really respect them and love sharing a country with them. Or the folks in the EU.

James Annan said...

Mike, the point you may be missing is that we are the EU, and it is us (in part). We are a member of the club. We are not ruled by faceless bureaucrats from elsewhere, rather we help to appoint them to make collective decisions together with our neighbours. We may not agree with every decision (we do not have a majority vote) but we do agree with the vast majority. Apparently we were on the losing side on about 50 votes in recent years. But that's 50 out of 2500 decisions! And some of these were utterly irrelevant to us, like regulations on olive oil production (we produce none) or the bluefin tuna recovery plan - honestly, does anyone care *that* much?

A much more relevant version of your analogy might be to consider the case of Texas (or consider your own state, if it's different) wishing to secede from the union - and, importantly, wishing to set up its own laws on all matters including migration across its borders. Currently, Texas is basically ruled by the federal govt (though it retains some local powers over law and finance). But it's a participant in the federal govt!

I was happy to tell people before they voted that they were unrealistic in their ambitions. I know someone who voted leave in the expectation that nothing would happen in their lifetime - look forward to meeting them again and asking how they feel. Someone else voted leave because they wanted a complete break from the EU with no formal relationship - but no politician is contemplating that, trying instead to set up an EU-lite arrangement. I do think these people were ignorant and clueless in basing their decisions on a magical belief in wholly implausible outcomes. That's one reason why leave got so many votes, people invented their own fantasy outcome and thought "yes, I'll have that" without bothering to consider whether it was remotely achievable.

MikeR said...

"Mike, the point you may be missing is that we are the EU"
Exactly. You feel that way, and the Leave people don't. Any government depends on the "consent of the governed". The reason the United States stays together is that most of us do feel that we are one. When we don't feel that way - and for some parts of the country that is not so far off - no economic arguments will help. Half of the United States did feel unrepresented 150 years ago (including Texas); the result was a bloody Civil War with scars lasting till today.
Again: you feel that way and the Leave people don't. That's the reason.

jblblog said...

Your sense of compassion for the underrepresented slaveholder of 1860s is very touching, and totally convinces me that racism really has nothing to do with it.

MikeR said...

"Your sense of compassion for the underrepresented slaveholder..."
You can't deal with an analogy without insisting that the details be the same?
And if it had been the other way round, with the slaveholders controlling Congress and the states that couldn't stand slavery wanting out, would that somehow make it easier to grasp?

Alastair said...

"I can't help but conclude that the best outcome would be for the new Govt to reject the referendum result (and fight an election on that basis). There is no good exit plan or outcome that I can see. Of course it would inevitably destroy a few political careers and we'd have a bit of rioting, but that's better than the alternatives."

If that happened the UKIP would romp home with a large majority in parliament. With our first path the post system, the percentage of UKIP's seats would be similar to that achieved by the Scot Nats in the last election when they won over 90% of the seats in Scotland after only 45% of the vote in the previous referendum.

But then who knows what will happen next!

James Annan said...

A UKIP landslide is as plausible as a LibDem landslide (because they are the only mainstream pro-eu party). Ie, not.

James Annan said...

FWIW I do expect the libdems to gain votes in the next election, whenever it is (and ukip if it looks like the tories are backsliding) but most voters are fairly tribal and consistent and the eu isn't an over-riding issue for many anyway.

jblblog said...

MikeR, to extend your last comment, it is also true that if xenophobia and racial resentment were not intimimately tied up with both Brexit votes and with conservatives my more generally, then it would be difficult to sustain the contrary view. This counterfactual, like the one you propose, is not interesting.

jblblog said...

For "conservatives my" please read "conservativism."

MikeR said...

jpblog, while I don't agree with your comment at all, I do think you should be commended on putting together the most remarkable collection of double- and quintuple- negatives I've ever seen.

jblblog said...

Thank you ;). (Except for the spelling of my username.)