Where’s Baldrick when you need him?

Surely one of Baldrick’s¹ ‘cunning plans’ can be no more preposterous than what Prime Minister (but for how much longer?) Theresa May² has tabled as her (non-negotiable) Brexit deal, or how the country will prosper post-Brexit?

I actually tweeted the other day that, for once, I was in agreement with Boris Johnson. Heaven forfend! He derided Theresa May’s Chequers Plan as ‘deranged’. I completely agree. But so are the ‘Titanic’ plans he and others have proposed. He’s also pretty deranged himself. Brexit and its adherents deserve to be taken down a peg or two in this video (that I came across on Facebook). The depiction of Jeremy Corbyn fiddling while the Titanic sinks is precious.

Almost everyone seems opposed to ‘Chequers’ – many of the PM’s own pro-Brexit MPs, as well as Remain MPs of all parties in the House of Commons. And, perhaps most significantly, those representing the EU in this Brexit negotiation (is it really a negotiation?). Everyone is getting brassed off by the whole Brexit process. Realistically, Chequers is dead in the water.

Brexit and the status of post-Brexit Britain has essentially become a belief system. Theresa May has accused those opposed to her ‘Chequers Plan’ as playing politics with the future of the country. But that’s what it’s been all about since before the referendum – appeasing the hard right of the Tory Party. No wonder Guy Verhoftadt made these comments yesterday in the European Parliament, in response to the latest proposals from Home Secretary, and Bromsgrove MP, Sajid Javid, about post-Brexit immigration and status of EU nationals.

Immigration was one of the key concerns that swung the referendum to the Leave side. Nevertheless, Conservatives continue to misunderstand how free movement can (and does) operate elsewhere in the Single Market. Just watch this interview yesterday with two Young Conservatives at the party’s annual conference in Birmingham.

And Theresa May’s stance and strategy on Brexit has been aided and abetted by the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s equivocating leadership. He’s more interested in a General Election that, he believes, will sweep Labour into power, him into No 10 Downing Street, to implement its hard left agenda that the country will probably be unable to afford post-Brexit, and I guess the majority of the electorate would not support in any case.

In terms of what happens post-Brexit, the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and his European Research Group (ERG) of right-wing Brexiteer Tory MPs continually refer to the WTO option, as though membership of the EU is simply about trade. They never mention, never mind discuss, the implications of falling out of all the agencies that regulate (and mostly improve) our lives today – aviation, medicines, security, science, etc., to name just a few. Who knows what will be the consequences when we are no longer a member deriving the benefits of common regulations and standards.

From many statements I have heard from the likes of JR-M (a rather wealthy hedge fund manager as well as an MP) and the remarkably under-qualified Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox (a medical doctor by training), they have pretty limited understanding of how international trade works, especially under WTO rules, nor how trade negotiations are conducted. It’s illuminating therefore to listen to a seasoned trade negotiator explain the consequences of operating under WTO rules.

The UK expects to strike free trade deals all around the world as soon as it leaves the EU in March 2019. Well, the only free trade agreement (rather than ‘freer’ trade deals as most are) that we are likely ever to secure is the one under which we currently operate, in the Customs Union and Single Market as a member of the EU. Beyond that, it is pie in the sky. Maybe this should become the Brexiteers anthem (with apologies to Queen). Anyone for JR-M or BoJo in drag?

Anyway, to return to the ERG. I’m pretty certain they have no idea what the word ‘research’ actually means, nor what it entails. It’s certainly based on empiricism and a rigorous analysis of data and facts, something that seems to be lacking in much of what they have proposed. They also appear to have a serious problems with experts, people who actually do know what they are talking about, and have experience managing the very challenges the country faces as Brexit approaches.

In general, I have given up on BBC Radio 4’s Today program that I used to listen to religiously first thing in the morning, while supping a cup of tea in bed. Yesterday, however, I switched on and was fascinated to hear a Canadian trade expert, Christophe Bondy, talk about the signing of the new USMCA (US, Mexico and Canada) trade agreement. He was interviewed by the program’s business news presenter, Dominic O’Connell.

Dominic O’Connell (L) and Christophe Bondy (R)

Mr Bondy is an internationally-respected lawyer, now resident in London, who had held senior positions in Canada’s trade negotiations for USMCA, and even the Canada-Europe (CETA) deal that is being touted by so many Brexiteers as the model to follow, and knows what he is talking about. He has an impressive CV, one that not even the likes of JR-M can dispute.

Describing the Canada-USA trade negotiations as ‘bloody hard’, the discussion inevitably moved on to Brexit. It’s worth a few minutes of your time to listen to what Mr Bondy had to say.

Not only did he imply that the UK is not equipped to take on the task of negotiating ‘freer’ trade deals (just imagine the resources Canada deployed for USMCA), but by no longer protecting our biggest and closest or ‘home market’ of >350 million (i.e. the EU) we would enter into any future negotiations from a position of weakness, with a ‘home market’ of just 65 million. This is an approach that just doesn’t make sense from a trade point of view.

JR-M et al. take note!

So what now? One pace forward, please, Baldrick!


As a postscript, I should just mention that in a recent Brexit post I did state that I didn’t expect to write much more on this topic. I just couldn’t help myself.


¹ For my followers overseas, I must explain. Baldrick was a character in the four series comedy program Blackadder aired by the BBC in the 1980s. Baldrick (played by Tony, now Sir Tony, Robinson) was the dogsbody of the main character Edmund Blackadder, played by Rowan (‘Mr Bean’) Atkinson. Whenever a difficult situation arose from which Blackadder and Baldrick had to extricate themselves, Baldrick had his ‘cunning plan’, always and immediately dismissed by Blackadder.

For Baldrick and Blackadder read Theresa May (and others) and Michel Barnier (the EU Chief negotiator)?

In the context of this blog post therefore, a ‘Baldrick cunning plan’ is probably no more silly or outrageous than any other that I’ve yet heard – apart from remaining as a member of the European Union.

² Theresa May came on stage at her party’s annual conference today to give her keynote speech ‘dancing’ to the ABBA song Dancing Queen. I wondered if the Tories got permission to use this track. Embarrassing, to say the least.

‘Leave’ is not in my vocabulary . . .

uk-and-eu

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

That will be the question (approved by Parliament) that the British electorate will be asked in a ‘once in a generation’ referendum on our membership of the European Union (EU) on Thursday 23 June later this year.

And my response?

voteI’m 67 years old. I’ve been a proud ‘European’ much longer than not, since Edward Heath took the UK into the European Economic Community (EEC) in January 1973. In fact, half the UK population has only ever experienced life as a UK member of the EEC or its successors, the European Community (EC) and, since 2009, the European Union.

Has that diminished my pride in being a UK national. I don’t feel that I have lost anything of my Britishness by also being part of the EU. In fact, I believe that our nation has been enhanced by being a member of the EU.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no apologist for the EU. The workings of the Commission, and the seemingly endless stream of directives and regulations—not, by any stretch of the imagination, always clear or even necessary perhaps—have built up a legacy of resentment. Not just in the UK but in other member countries.

But I do feel that after more than four decades our place should remain in Europe. It’s not just about safety and security. The economic considerations are enormous. And although the referendum campaign is less than two weeks old, I’m already annoyed by the ‘Leavers’ continually claiming that the ‘Remainers’ are using scare tactics. The Leavers—latter-day Creationists—are asking to take a leap of faith that the other 27 countries of the EU (after a departure of the UK) would bend over backwards to accommodate us. Pie in the sky, in my opinion. Is it scare tactics to insist they clarify what would be the actual consequences of leaving the EU?

I certainly support the BRITAIN STRONGER IN EUROPE campaign.

stronger

Environmental and human rights are stronger by being a member of the EU. One of the more powerful arguments I heard on the radio recently was by Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress who stated that workers’ rights in the UK were stronger because of our EU membership. Would these be eroded if the UK left the EU? Almost certainly, given the overall policy perspectives of this Conservative government. Furthermore, the immigration and benefits arguments are overplayed, and represent a minuscule cost apparently compared to the overall economic status of the country. Given the political focus on immigration by UKIP and others I fear the referendum is taking on an unsavory perspective.

Our science base is stronger by being a member of the EU, a position supported by many of the most distinguished British scientists. We relinquish science funding and easy collaboration through the EU at our peril.

scientists for EU

But perhaps this whole EU Referendum has more to say about the state of the Conservative Party—which is hopelessly split (and may not recover whichever way the referendum goes)—and the jockeying for power among politicians (including failed ones like Ian Duncan-Smith) with super egos, or foolish individuals like Nigel Farage. I just wish that those on the Remain side in the Conservative Party would also make their arguments from a positive standpoint, as well as demanding the Leave side clarify what OUT would really look like. As for the Labour Party, even though it is almost unanimous in its support for the Remain campaign, I despair of Jeremy Corbyn. What a lacklustre leader! He needs to be out there campaigning actively for continuing EU membership.

Whatever arguments are put forward, and however hard the Leave campaign might try to persuade me otherwise, I’m definitely . . .

IN

. . . and, rather than carping from the sidelines (a ‘tradition’ of successive governments over the decades) we will need a UK government (of whatever persuasion) as an active member of the EU, working positively on the inside, delivering liberal doses of British pragmatism to bring about the real reforms that will benefit all member states.

I really hope that the UK will, after 23 June, still be one among 28. If we vote to leave the EU, I fear that we might end up a lonely and increasingly insignificant small island looking longingly at what might have been. That’s not a prospect I relish during this next stage of my life.