Blog

10 april 2017, going it a loan

Britain and the union have set out their initial positions on uk withdrawal. They are some way apart. Despite wanting a "deep and special partnership", the uk confirmed it does not want to remain in the single market. Though that is unambiguously the best economic outcome, the three political stooges of parliamentary control, paying in big money and free movement of people made it impossible. The same logic may seem to rule out joining the eea too, though I continue to suspect that if we do actually exit, that's where we'll go (see 11 june 2016, building the post brexit boat). Britain is also leaving the customs union, as, again politically, a whole government department has been pinned on britain making its own way in the world. Hence this week's trip to indonesia (which accounts for 0.1% of uk exports). As for britain's largest trading partner, the eu (45%), when to start negotiating that deal is the first big negotiating point. London wants discussion to start immediately; the eu insists on sorting out the divorce terms first - or in eurospeak "satisfactory agreement on the arrangements for an orderly withdrawal". They specify those all-important withdrawal arrangements: the status of individuals and their families; legal certainty for businesses (presumably including financial services passporting rights); britain's leaving bill (big issue alert); ireland; uk sovereign territory in cyprus (yes we have some, and yes it's going to get tangled in too); uk and eu representation in international fora (see powerless europe); relocating uk-based eu agencies; the ecj/commission docket on the day of exit; and dispute resolution. The uk also linked the economy (where britain's hand is weak) with security (stronger), though two can play at that game, as the eu did, mentioning gibraltor. As everyone has an ultimate veto, more issues will bubble up. On the taxing question of the rights of eu citizens in the uk and vice-versa (see 18 march 2017, I am a european citizen), agreement is achievable, but don't expect anything soon, as the eu guidelines inevitably insist that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed (and duly not vetoed by the european parliament and ratified by all 27 other member states). It is also flagged that everything eu-side will be on the basis of a single unified position. This may be the draft's most toxic principle, as once something is negotiated and agreed by the 27, it is highly unlikely britain will shift it. How strongly the eu sticks to this may be the most important determinant of all, and so far it's been pretty cast-iron solid. Finally, it is also set out very clearly that "a non-member of the union... cannot have the same rights and enjoy the same benefits as a member". Only now, decades on, might the uk begin to understand what those rights and benefits are...

25 march 2017, eu can check out any time you like...

The brits have always been sceptical. Their delegate at messina in 1955 left before the famous political declaration that 2 years later created what is today the eu, saying "I leave because you will never agree, and if you agree you will never implement it, and if you implement it, it will be a disaster". They only joined in the 70s when stuck in the economic doldrums while europe's benelux writ seemed to be spreading the german economic miracle across the continent. Back in the early noughties, when my job was the first half of the "prepare and decide" policy on joining the euro, it was clear the uk would only sign up when, again, the uk economy seemed to be heading terminally south whilst the euro area was soaring. That has not yet happened. Indeed, far from just standing at the back as a rather dazed eu celebrates 60 years, britain has taken the unprecedented step of trying to leave altogether. In this case, the disaster will befall everyone, but predominantly impact the smaller and weaker party. Back in euroland, french and german elections look set to underpin renewed and perhaps even strong, pro-eu leadership. With europe nearing the end of its decade of eurosclerosis, sunlight may at last be gingerly peeping through, even as the grey clouds of trump, putin and the rest threaten renewed storms. Indeed, external threats often cause communities to get bound more tightly together. As for blighty, striking off in its red, white and blue (now-german) mini coopers, don't lose hope that once it becomes evident in a few years what a catastrophic proposition leaving actually is, the politics of common sense and self-interest may reassert themselves (the negotiations can theoretically go on endlessly). Otherwise, the sooner everyone starts redesigning europe's outer area for us to dock into the better (see 11 june 2016, building the post-brexit boat). It's all rather hotel california, though the bill for checking-out is going to be rather substantial and an early point of great contention. Divorces are never swift or easy, and sometimes so hard the couple just ends up getting back together...

18 march 2017, I am a european citizen

The first words on my passport are "european union". That's odd, as a passport is a primary embodiment of nationality. Yet, though few of us realise, since 1992,we have all been dual citizens (see the state we're in), thanks to the maastricht treaty's bold assertion that "citizenship of the union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a member state shall be a citizen of the union". I am proud and appreciative of my european citizenship, which gives me the right to move freely to, and reside and retire in, 27 other countries, to vote and stand as a candidate in local elections there and to access diplomatic services in parts of the world where britain lacks them. Essentially, it means I can live in another eu country and claim the same rights as anyone there. That's why guy verhofstadt's idea about brits keeping their eu citizenship has a serious foundation. Sure, you only acquire eu citizenship by your country becoming a member of the eu, but no-one has yet tested whether your country leaving automatically removes your citizenship. In fact we may, as individuals, have acquired rights, as might non-uk eu citizens living here. Its a universal legal principle that once an individual acquires rights (by whatever means) and exercises them, they cannot be easily removed and this does not automatically happen when the power that granted them seeks to reverse. Unlike any other international treaty, it is a long-established principle that eu law can grant individual rights, going right back to van gend en loos (see court in the act, for the lawyers amongst us), buttressed by the eu charter of fundamental rights. Whether the uk's "great repeal bill" can remove these rights, granted as individuals by the eu during a period when the uk gave them the power to do so, is an open question. Article 50 only mentions the treaties cease to apply to the state; nothing about its eu citizens. Other international law might help, notably the vienna convention, which states (article 70) that termination of an international treaty 'does not affect any right, obligation or legal situation of the parties created through the execution of the treaty prior to its termination.' As with most things though, determination of this question is likely to be political and subject to negotiation. It is worth reflecting that verhofstadt leads brexit negotiations for the european parliament, a body which has a total brexit veto and has never been shy of using leverage to get what it wants; indeed that is its modus operandi for building its power over decades. What better cause than its citizens' rights for a body of the people's representatives to pick as its battering ram ? Watch this space...

19 february 2017, not there yet

Well obviously he-who-must-not-be-remained got there before me (well done, tony), but I'll happily jump on that bandwagon, as just like the last-tory-remainer standing ken clarke, I too somehow missed out on that great epiphany on 24 june that convinced so many other people that despite what they may have thought previously, leaving the eu is not such a bad idea after all. It is. And if staying in is the right thing to do, then it's worth fighting for. The 48% have not yet given up. Though hsbc and various european orchestras may not yet presage the great exodus, there is no doubt that things cannot be better afterwards for those that want to encourage liberal, create, innovative people, of whatever nationality, to congregate in the uk and do their thing. Similarly, as peter mandelson said just this morning, trade, at least with the eu, cannot be better afterwards, it's just a question of how much worse and what we get in return; potentially nothing. Andrew marr made a a pithy point when interviewing liz truss immediately afterwards. Though she supported remain, she conceded she had changed her mind - so shouldn't the people have the right to change their mind too ? It's a shame that blair is such damaged goods in the public eye, as he remains britain's most eloquent and rational leader. The people do have a right to change their mind he asserted and it is the task of those who think brexit wrong to persuade them to do so. "I don't know if we can succeed" he said, "but I do know we will suffer a rancorous verdict from future generations if we do not try". He talks about the surreal nature of the curious absence of a big argument as to why brexit continues to be a good idea; the speech is worth reading in full. He goes much further, lining brexit up as a direction of travel against liberty, democracy and the rule of law. "As the world changes and opens up across boundaries of nation and culture, which values will govern the 21st century? Today, for the first time in my adult life, it is not clear that the resolution of this question will be benign." Worth fighting for.

1st february 2017, few frankfurters

"DON'T bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses..." I continue to focus on our big event this weekend and remain in denial. Meanwhile, work took me back to frankfurt; a somewhat melancholy return. Although we came back a couple of times after leaving in 2007, it is many years now since I have actually been, although I have tried, with inevitable diminishing returns, to keep in touch with my dwindling band of ecb friends. Many have moved on, across the city to other agencies, to brussels, to london, or beyond. After work I camped out at a restaurant across the road from the sparkling new eurotower, which looks like the architects let themselves go one night on some good drugs and then applied them to the old building. It is spectacular though, if rather unfortunate timing as it worked out, to make such a grand and permanent statement. Outside the bubble, frankfurt seemed rather staid. Eating croissants at a large coffee place, it was cash only, creating a mild panic. Buying a souvenir for the kids, they couldn't take uk cards. The barber I momentarily thought of getting a haircut at closed at 4. Meanwhile, the new ecb is in part of the city that despite my seven years there I don't know at all, so I somehow bypassed that blanket of familiarity I was rather looking forward to pulling over myself. No matter, less reminiscing is probably for the best. The return on my dinner invite was slender (though 100% wonderful). It seems time wears away at connections, as do kids and the day-to-day hassles that make pitching up at short notice quite a high bar. Adds to the melancholy though; life in frankfurt seems a long time ago, although not a continent away. Something else I remain in denial about...

12 january 2017, somewhere over the rainbow

And so that momentous event of 20 january 2017 has passed: my son's 13th birthday. It has been an all-consuming business, so much so that I have hardly noticed the comings and goings on the other side of the atlantic, or maybe I am still trying denial on for size. Life is busy: home, family, work taking up every nook and cranny of my existence. Late nights, early mornings, hardly a moment for reflection or relaxation, or perhaps all this is in fact relaxation of sorts, or at least enjoyment. Our big event (see and the wonderful) is on is 4th february, around which we have wrapped a whole weekend of friends and family, if not from the 4 corners of the world, then at least from several. This will be the last, though certainly not the least, of a string of joyous occasions in our lives, but with two full-blown teenagers on our hands, I have no doubt we will not be short of events. Our first has his gcse's this summer (o-levels in old money), but the spotlight is on the other for now and I am sure he will live up to the hype and enjoy his next few weeks. As will we.

23 december 2016, 2016. Fool stop.

I thought I'd get in early with my "2016, what a year !". So: 2016, what a year ! I predicted it would be the year of leaving (see 1 january 2016). Sad to say I was right, though my crystal ball didn't extend across the atlantic (though my other half's did). John oliver and the rest of us can outrage all we want, but here we are, with that incredible photo of farage in trump's gold lift the photo of the era. This is who we are now. Whilst there isn't, nor is there likely to be, any imminent catastrophe, history has turning points. This was one, and it will have consequences. 1995 was one, at least in my corner of the middle east. When rabin was shot and peres (see 29 september, below) then lost the election to netanyahu, the can-do momentum of oslo, towards a two-state solution, was lost. Slowly but decisively, lobster in a pot style, the direction of travel changed, towards one-state permanence of occupation that 500,000 settlers later we have today. 2016 feels like that. European integration's momentum may have been faltering since 2008, but this year it was existentially-challenged, by refugees from afar and populists from close. That they won in britain meant they could win elsewhere too, confirming this as a decade of stagnation for europe, at best. In britain, brexit demolished labour (see 19 november below). Again, the faltering went back far earlier, but this was the year of crystallisation, from which there looks no turning back from a decade of conservative governments. For today's world, trump raises so many slowburn issues (balkans, anyone ?). It won't take much retreat by america from its role at the centre of a fragile lattice for that world to sag and gentle rips to grow. No other american president has taken office believing the postwar world order washington constructed is one that does not serve america's interests but does it down. It's hard to see 2017 being any better.

21 december 2016, it takes is a village

The world is atwitter with news about trump's new ambassador to israel and their intention to move the israeli embassy in tel aviv to jerusalem. Whilst it shouldn't be, to do so would be a very incendiary move, in what is, almost literally, a tinderbox. The situation, whilst unusually out of the spotlight, is not calm, with deaths, seemingly as ever, of both israelis and palestinians. One of the vicious settler gang that firebombed a palestinian home in the village of douma, killing 3 including an 18-month old baby, was finally brought to trial. As the world has looked away this last while, aghast at syria, exasperated at the israel-palestine conflict's stubborn refusal to submit to compromise, many small steps are being taken to secure the status quo of increasing israeli settlements the world holds to be illegal. The so-called "regulation law" being taken through the knesset (parliament) is unprecedented: it enables the state to retroactively allow settlers to stay on private palestinian land they occupied, which apart from being wrong is an exercise of israeli law that shows clearly a new non-acceptance of the west bank being seen as occupied territory. It crosses a threshold, to quote the eu. Its all profoundly depressing. Israel is a land of such divides and these have worsened incessantly over the last 20 years. They continue to do so and american bravado replacing its absence may very well create another leap in that direction. Seemingly, there's no going back.

19 november 2016, what not to do when you’re not the party

Trump. Moving swiftly on, or back, to brexit. The phoney war continues. In the background, the parties as ever, keenly assessing how their stance is going to play out. Labour, like a rabbit caught in the headlights, seems incapable of firming up its stance, in the hope that by neither being seen to challenge the referendum's "democratic decision" nor too much alienating "the 48%", it has a way through to bernie sanders-like (non) victory. It does not. The reason the scottish nationalist party did and do so very well (see 9 may 2015, 331 not out) is that over the last years, scottish politics has reorientated itself most strongly around a single fulcrum issue: independence. On one side, splendidly alone, sits the snp, so mopping up the almost-half of the electorate that sympathises. The other half are hopelessly split between all the other parties. The reason the conservatives astoundingly came second in the last elections is because those that are anti aren't looking for a cover their bases with some nationalist type argumentation halfway house, but are attracted more strongly to the real deal. There lies the peril for labour in england. In the period to come, brexit looks strongly like being such a fulcrum-issue, so replicating the scenario south of the border where if you want to vote for that, you know who to go to - and it won't be labour. The conservatives are ever more the brexit means brexit means brexit party. That is now their platform. Meanwhile, the libdems have got the memo and are seeking to monopolise the other side of the divide by being unambiguously of "the 48" - so if you do want to stay in the eu, you know who to vote for too. They look to have a very good chance on that basis in the forthcoming richmond by-election. As for labour, stuck in the no-man's land of the brexit middle can only come off if it ceases to be the issue, which looks highly unlikely in the run-up to the next general election, whenever that ends up being.

5 november 2016, brexit begins to bite, a bit

The furore around the british high court deciding parliament must vote on article 50, the trigger that starts the process of leaving the eu (see 3 july 2017, article 50 ways to leave your lover) misses the point. It's relatively straightforward that as when the uk joined, parliament passed the 1972 european communities act, so before a decision that sets in train a process that may lead remorselessly to its repeal, it is logical, even obvious, that parliament must similarly vote. It is worth noting in passing that the torrid, even trumpian, abuse the judges received for simply doing their job, rings of the nasty and vituperative air that led to an mp being murdered during the campaign. Brexit will not though be thwarted by this parliamentary vote. Whilst the snp and the odd ken clarke may well vote against, the great majority of house of commons remainers feel bound by the "I must follow my electorate" doctrine and will vote it through. The labour party is in no shape, and has no inclination, to take a doctrinaire stand they fear would unleash the worst elements of betrayal and disintegration on it. And yet. Like a drop of water on a rock, little by little the hard work, not yet done, of actually working out what leaving the eu means is beginning. While stopping short of blocking it at this point, mps will certainly take the opportunity to prod it and try to cast the government's as yet unformed plans in the worst possible light. The lords, if they get a say, may be even more bold. Scottish politics has become entirely overrun by the question of being for or against independence. As the only party for, the snp has a plurality across the country, meaning it holds 51 of the country's 53 seats, as the against vote is fragmented across the other parties. Whatever theresa may really think, she and her party have no other choice but to seek to become the party of brexit and gain a similar plurality across england, given that around 420 of its (with wales) 574 constituencies voted leave. They are doing a good job of it, and would reap the benefits in a general election that will surely come much sooner than 2020.

Previous 10 Results Next 10 Results