Archive for the 'BREXIT' Category


To get the tone right it has to come from the top

Friday, December 15th, 2017

Cyclefree on why this is so important

During the 1983 campaign, Saatchi suggested a poster showing Michael Foot on Hampstead Heath with his walking stick looking like a scruffy old man and the caption “Even Pensioners are Better Off under the Conservatives”. Thatcher was furious, refusing to use it, calling it disrespectful and undignified.

Similarly, in 2005 Labour withdrew two proposed posters which were criticised for recycling, whether intentionally or not, anti-Semitic tropes in the way they portrayed Michael Howard and Oliver Letwin. (Darkly ironic this in light of the current Labour party’s difficulties with the same issue.) Both parties’ leaderships realised that while winning is the most important thing in politics, how one wins also matters. Tone matters, not just for the campaign but, more importantly, for how the winner governs in the years long after the details of the campaign have been forgotten.

And so, alas, to the referendum campaign. Whatever the arguments about Farage’s posters about Turkey or queues of migrants, even those in the official Leave campaign felt uncomfortable about them, and not simply because of factual inaccuracies (most election campaigns are full of statements which would hardly win the George Washington Prize for Truthfulness) but rather because of the unpleasantly chauvinistic message, all too horribly reminiscent of the way certain groups have been picked on in the past as the source of a country’s problems, without whom all would be sweetness and light.

Wishing to control immigration into a country is a respectable position which does not – and, critically, should not – depend on saying hateful things about those you wish to exclude. Indeed, doing the latter, as Farage did, coarsened and debased an argument which, more than many others, needs to be made from first principles rather than in ad hominem and abusive way. Equally, those who deplore how Farage made his arguments would do well not to give the impression that seeking to control immigration, ipso facto, makes a person racist or fascist or a Nazi. All countries (and associations of them, including the EU) have some form of control over who is let in, however unevenly enforced.

Even so, these posters might have been forgotten or implicitly repudiated if May’s government had in its first few weeks and months consciously sought to adopt a conciliatory, friendly and welcoming approach to those left bewildered (at the very least) by the result. And chief among these were the EU citizens who had come here, legally, in good faith, to work and contribute and their families, spouses, friends, colleagues.

Not to mention those who felt that there was no existential conflict between their identity as British citizens and as EU citizens and resented being forced to choose. As well as others from immigrant communities, who worried that they too might, if the wind changed, be picked on. In truth, everyone is in some way part of some minority. So when politicians start adopting a hard-line “us and them” tone it creates a nervousness in more voters than just those being explicitly targeted.

It should not need saying but the vote was, for many, a difficult and finely balanced decision. Calling those who voted to Remain “traitors” or “saboteurs” or implying that they had no loyalty to Britain by voting to Remain in an organisation, membership of which had been British policy for decades and was supported by every major political party, was not calculated to heal the divisions caused or exposed by the referendum. And even if some of those who voted Remain wanted to find a way to ignore or reverse the referendum result, it would still have been better to remember Churchill’s dictum: “In victory, magnanimity”. Or, ironically enough, the prayer that Thatcher quoted when first elected PM.

The referendum brought a fair amount of discord. There has been little attempt to bring harmony in its wake. Indeed, there has not been much realisation that this should even be attempted. Easy to blame this on the government’s small majority or on May’s fear of her ultra-hard Brexit wing or on the annoyance caused by those who disapproved of or wished to subvert the result or on the stupidly triumphalist tone of some of the winners. But the government should have been bigger than its opponents. It should have realised that implementation of a difficult decision in an almost equally divided country would require enormous goodwill from as many people as possible, both in Britain and abroad.

It should have sought to preserve the reality of Britain as a country which, for all its faults, has generally rejected nativist, race-based “blood and soil” concepts of belonging, rather than appear to give succour to those who seem to want to turn back to an era when there was an “Aliens” passport queue at British ports. It should have realised that its own long-term self-interest, let alone the country’s, required it to reach out to the voters of the future.

Perhaps Conservatives need to be reminded of what Burke told them – that society is a partnership not only between those who are living – let alone only those living who support your particular view of the world – but between those who are living, those who are dead and those who are to be born. The Tories may have forgotten this but the young, who turned away from them at the election, did not and are making their voices heard as loud as any newborn.

So, what now? It may be too late for May to do this. She has enough to do trying to implement Brexit. What of her obvious (at least in their own minds) successors? I will stick my neck out and say that none of them will do. They are already yesterday’s men and will be even more so at the time of the next election, leadership or general.

The next successful Tory leader, the next successful PM (the two are not necessarily the same) should – maybe ( if we’re lucky) even will – be the person who realises that reaching out to those who feel left behind by the referendum result is necessary, as necessary as implementing the wishes of those who voted to leave because they felt left behind. A person who can find a way of defining what a successful post-Brexit Britain might look like, who realises that the young will be those largely creating that Britain and can find a way to help them do so successfully.

A person who finds the right tone to speak to all the country and not merely those who vote for his/her party, who finds a way to answer peoples’ concerns about immigration, change, globalisation and all the rest without doing a bad impersonation of failed or toxic politicians of the past or nostalgically wishing life would go back to how it used to be.

A person who perhaps in themselves and their experiences until now embodies what a successful, prosperous Britain less divided than now might be like.

Perhaps something for ambitious politicians to ponder over their holidays?



The real problem for TMay from last night’s vote could be when the Brexit bill goes to the Lords

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

The revolt could give their Lordships more confidence to make their own amendments

James Forsyth’s latest Spectator podcast makes a very good point about one consequence of last night’s Commons rebellion – it will make it much harder for the bill to get through the Upper House unamended.

It is clear that there is a fairly strong majority amongst against Brexit amongst peers but the government always felt that if Lords received the bill which had not been altered against its will it would be harder for the unelected peers to overrule what MPs had decided.

That has now changed thanks to the success of the rebellion last night and we could see a tricky period as an emboldened Upper House seeks to make its impression on the legislation.

It only requires one amendment opposed by the government to get through the Lords and we get into ping pong between the two houses of Parliament.

This was very much realised in Mrs Mays statement when she called the general election last April.

Another problem that the government might have is that there are now three investigations going on into aspects of the leave campaign. As well as the two into the funding by the Electoral Commission another one is being undertaken by the Information Commissioner relating to the use of data.

If these start to be upheld then you can hear the argument developing that the Leave victory, by 1.9% above the 50% threshold, does not have the same democratic legitimacy as has been suggested.

Mike Smithson


Paying the price of TMay’s GE17 gamble. Tonight the saboteurs struck back and won

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

We all remember the memorable front page of Dacre’s Daily Mail the day after Theresa May called her snap general election in April.

For the whole point of building up the number of Tory MPs was to give TMay The Commons numbers so that those who were in disagreement, particularly those within the party, were unable to impede what she was doing.

It all seems so easy then. The Tories had a small majority and TMay was expecting that with 20%+ poll leads the size of the Tory Party at Westminster would be enlarged to deal with rebellions on the Brexit bill.

In spite of a heavy whipping operation tonight’s Conservative rebellion, backed by LAB and other opposition parties, overturned the government on a key part of the legislation. Essentially the PM’s hands are being tied and her scope for action is there much more limited. It will be very hard to turn that round.

In spite of being in the minority the progress of the Brexit bill through Parliament has until tonight been relatively easy for the government. They have been lots of votes but prior to this evening these have been dealt with relatively easily .

The difference with the latest measure is that the proposer was Dominic Grieve the respected former Tpry attorney general and they focused on a single issue which ultimately was about the power of parliament.

Parliament is now going to be involved a lot more in the final decision on the deal something that Team Theresa had been trying to avoid.

Mike Smithson


For the first time in over a year more people now think the Britain will be better off out of the EU than remaining

Saturday, December 9th, 2017

Controlling immigration seen as more important than free trade

Fieldwork for the poll took place at the end of last week before this week’s events.

Mike Smithson


Why are the Eurosceptics not kicking up more of a fuss?

Saturday, December 9th, 2017

May looks set for an easier ride

The Conservative whips are doing their job well. Evening after evening, the government records consistent majorities in the teens or twenties as it protects its Brexit Bill unamended through the Commons. More innovatively, we saw this morning a flurry of tweets and statements from Tory MPs and ministers lauding Theresa May for her tough diplomacy in delivering a good interim Brexit deal. That helped set the news agenda.

To some extent, there was merit in that praise. The circle on Northern Ireland seems to have been squared (though the extent to which this hasn’t just been achieved by squinting and believing remains to be seen), the Brexit divorce settlement, while large, isn’t as high as some had predicted, and the deal on ex-pat rights seems fair. All negotiating teams have signed off and most seem content, if not happy.

Well, almost all the teams. The DUP still isn’t entirely satisfied and has warned that there’s “more work to be done”. More intriguingly, the Conservative Eurosceptics have been surprisingly quiet. This was the fourth plate the government needed to keep spinning (alongside the EU, Dublin and the DUP), and the assumption was that they’d vehemently object to any agreement that didn’t deliver on the Leave objectives of being out of the EU in fact as well as in law: no longer subject to EU law or EU courts and able to freely determine policy, regulations and trade deals – objectives essentially inconsistent with what the EU and the Irish government would accept.

In the end, that divide couldn’t be bridged and Davis and May have signed up to Brussels’ demand for regulatory alignment. The crucial paragraph is number 49 and it deserves quoting in full:

The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border. Any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching requirements. The United Kingdom’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. Should this not be possible, the United Kingdom will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.

Two points need drawing out here. The first is the word ‘guarantee’ in the opening sentence. This alone ensures that the final deal as respects Ireland will involve continued regulatory alignment and that EU rules will have to be adopted in N Ireland and, by extension, across the rest of the UK given the commitment that there’ll be no border on the Irish Sea. Ironically, while there’s a provision for the N Ireland Assembly to diverge from those regulations, there’s no equivalent provision for Westminster to do so, other than in following Stormont’s lead.

The second point is that the fallback position of “full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union” gives the EU enormous bargaining power. Why would it agree in Phase 2 to anything other than that fallback state, when it gives it everything it could ask for? Whatever words are found to determine a final Article 50 deal, the substance is set in that paragraph.

It is true that a narrow interpretation of the provision would mean that only a few areas would be affected by the need for alignment. The history of the EU suggests that a narrow interpretation will not be their favoured one. Just about anything could be considered to “support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement”. I strongly suspect that across large sectors of the economy and beyond, the UK will continue to be a rule-taker from the EU.

This, however, is not the Brexiteer line. Boris Johnson (who is, admittedly, tied to the government line), tweeted that “Theresa May [is] totally determined that ‘full alignment’ means compatibility with taking back control of our money, laws and borders”. This is glaringly inconsistent. How on earth can you simultaneously maintain alignment with someone else’s laws and have control of your own? It’s about as much use as a steering wheel on a train.

So, what’s going on? Why the silence? (It’s not in fact wholly silent from the Leave camp: Nigel Farage and others of a UKIP persuasion have been ranting merrily but for the moment, UKIP is off-stage; it’s the Tory MPs who count on this score for now). One answer is that my interpretation is wrong: that the repercussions of the concessions aren’t so wide-reaching but even if that’s true, others – The Telegraph and the aforementioned UKIPpers, for example – have reached the same conclusions so that wouldn’t explain why the MPs wouldn’t too.

Nor, I think, is it that they are keeping their powder dry until October next year when the final agreement is due to be reached (though I suspect it will go well beyond then and through to at least February 2019, plus another two to two-and-a-half years’ transition), for two reasons. Firstly, the earlier an intervention is, the easier it is to change the direction of Brexit; and secondly, despite Friday’s Report including the classic EU line that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, paragraphs 49 and 50 imply a unilateral commitment from Britain, irrespective of the final settlement.

The only answer that really makes sense to me is that the supposed hard-liners are not, in fact, going to push their demands and that in the end, they’ve accepted that just about any Brexit deal – and specifically, this Brexit-light deal – is better than no deal. Put more favourably, they’ve accepted that this is about as good a deal as they’re going to get without pressing the nuclear option and that in reality, the nuclear option is not on: the pain and the blame would be too great.

If that assumption is right then that means that May’s position is a good deal stronger than it was at the start of the week, it means that she will probably serve through to the final Brexit talks at least, it means the shape of Brexit is already defined, and it means that 2018 is not going to see huge splits on the government benches over Europe. There will no doubt be spats over details but it won’t be a re-run of either the referendum or the Maastricht debates.

It also means that we should be looking to 2019-21 as the period when the Tories change their leader, with the summer of either 2019 or 2020 being most likely. That gives all the more reason to follow the golden rule of Tory leadership contests (particularly with the current market as it is): lay the favourite(s).

One other feature of continued regulatory alignment ought to be mentioned: it will make rejoining a lot easier.

David Herdson


It is now five months since “right to Leave” had lead in YouGov’s Brexit tracker

Friday, December 8th, 2017

Could this swing back following today’s deal?

Ever since the referendum PB has been monitoring the regular tracker that has been issued at regular intervals by YouGov. The wording is in the chart above which seeks to show the trend since Britain voted to leave.

What I have done is to take the average monthly “right to leave” figure and deduct from it the average “wrong to leave” number. I am using monthly averages in order to illustrate the trend.

What is clear is that since the June General Election there has been something of a change of mood although the scale of that is not that great.

But you have to go back to the general election month itself to find average “right to leave” leads.

The interesting question now is where will the tracker go following the developments today in Brussels. My guess is that we could see a narrowing given the fact that there has been a degree of support amongst leading Conservative figures for what Mrs May has achieved.

There is, of course, a long way to go and moods can swing very much one way or the other.

Note that this polling question should not be interpreted as how people would vote in a fresh referendum if there was one. It is asking those sampled to reflect on what they think in hindsight.

Mike Smithson


TMay has probably ensured that she’ll remain as PM until Brexit

Friday, December 8th, 2017

The Brussels deal – the betting reaction

Like all negotiations this one went right to the edge. Something had to be agreed by this weekend to ensure that things moved to the next stage, but both the EU and the UK have been flexible and Mrs. May can take some credit.

The initial reaction from CON MPs was positive for her suggesting that she’ll be able to carry on until Brexit.

On the currency markets, always a sure indicator, the pound has edged up against both the dollar and the Euro because there is a bit more certainty.

The issues relating to Northern Ireland have effectively being put on one side with a formula that meets the needs of the politics of the short term.

Given that it is now a bit more certain that Mrs May is going to survive the next 18 months until Brexit actually happens this could allow other potential contenders to establish themselves in the Conservative leadership betting markets.

On Betfair the odds on Jeremy Corbyn becoming next PM have taken a little bit of a knock because today’s developments will probably lead to more stability in the Tory party as well as allowing other potential CON leadership contenders to establish themselves.

Mike Smithson


New Northern Ireland poll finds more saying they’d prefer to join the Republic than leaving EU & remaining in UK

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

The above findings by Northern Ireland’s leading pollster are quite dramatic because they suggest that a significant proportion of the Protestant community said that they’d preferred to stay within the EU even if that meant uniting with the Republic.

What is clear is that the position represented by the DUPis is not that of the overall population of the Province.

But because of TMay’s precarious parliamentary position Team Arlene wields an awful lot of power and ministers must be careful not to do anything that has any chance at all of re-igniting the troubles.

This poll will be discussed further on the PB/Polling Matters podcast due later.

Mike Smithson