The UK Internal Market consultation

Little heralded perhaps, but important, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has issued a White Paper entitled “UK Internal Market” and the need for it shows how far we have come, backwards mainly that this is an attempt to fix it.

It is a symptom of the regulatory state that we even have to consider the subjects in the White Paper, but as our commercial life is mired in bureaucracy and unlikely to crawl out any time soon, the effect of that bureaucracy to impede business is being looked at, in the context of a possible fragmentation of rule-making that could stop seamless operations of business across the United Kingdom, as has been enjoyed since 1707, and 1801.

Britain left the European Union, thank goodness, on 31 January this year, and the co-ordinating rules of its Single Market are dropping away. At the same time, those political parties which campaigned to keep powers in Brussels, now demand that those powers be handed to the devolved authorities, so they can make a right hash of it, but more to the point, the paper raises the point that a divergence of standards and licensing regimes would lead to companies’ having to produce different goods or labelling in different parts of the country, or limit their business to one corner of the land.

The worst aspect politically is that devolved authorities, being controlled by hostile opposition parties, will be driven to differ from the rules in England for political reasons and despite the interests of those affected by the rules – businesses and consumers. The paper only hints at that, but we can read between the lines.

It is a paper of 105 pages, largely because it constantly repeats itself, but that should not be harsh criticism, because after the many opening pages of fluff (which I would have written very differently), it comes to the main points for action: a non-discrimination principle and continual input by affected businesses. Both are excellent principles. Both should be used not only to squash future divergent burdens but also existing ones.

Four questions are raised, summarised as:

  1. Should the government seek to mitigate against both ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ discrimination in areas which affect the provision of goods and services?
  2. What areas do you think should be covered by non-discrimination but not mutual recognition?
  3. What would be the most effective way of implementing the monitoring of the Internal Market and business and consumer engagement and should particular aspects be delivered through existing vehicles or through bespoke arrangements?
  4. How should the Government best ensure that these functions are carried out independently and are fully representative of the interests of businesses and consumers across the whole of the UK?

They are good questions. The fact that these questions even have to be asked is worrying, but they do.

The questions need input from those who understand their own businesses, and by all accounts the government will actually listen to them (which will be a Cummingsesque shock to the Civil Service, if they do not find a way to frustrate it). The White Paper indeed contains examples and quotes from businesses showing that a good consultation has already begun.

There is little time to respond, with observations and even ideas. This should be shaped by the reality of business – I was going to write “and not ideology”, but that is impossible.

These subjects may have to be the subject of more articles on this site, adding to those previously published.

Link to the White Paper

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Books

Empire, interrupted

If it is not China, it is Russia or Iran or Turkey: dangerous states with ambitions far beyond their borders and memories far beyond our histories.

We expect certain behaviour of great nations. We expect them to respect their borders and others’, to grant equal respect to all settled nations, big or small. We expect them to respect their own people too of whatever tribe or tongue. We are outraged when China does not respect these norms, nor Russia, nor Persia, nor (increasingly) Turkey.

This is a moment in time. The West has had relative peace for three-quarters of a century after millennia of continuous bloodshed . Peace has brought prosperity beyond imagining. This period of time has been a new world such that the old is itself inexplicable to the upcoming generation. We have settled the world as it should be and demand that it remain. Others disagree.

The west has declared the norms for the whole world. For China though, with a civilisation stretching back millennia, the states of the west are mere children, and they see that the children have imposed their ideas on others for their own convenience.

The borders of the world were defined by the Empires of the West. All nations of ambition have in the past ages expanded as they could, swallowed neighbours, reformed failing cultures around them, found sparsely inhabited lands and colonised them. The great, enduring Asiatic empires were China, the Ottomans, Persia and Russia, each with its own age of expansion, consolidation and corruption. Persia and China were great civilisations when the English were a scatter of hut-dwelling tribes in the damp fens of north Germany. They faltered, and in the case of China it drew inward, disgusted at the state of the world it could see at its fringes.

The Western expansion is natural to us. We swept the oceans and settled the farthermost shores. We drew the borders of the whole world and defined what is acceptable, the universal concept of international law, the jus gentium taken from our history, religion and philosophy and our Westphalian conception of the autonomy of states. Then we stopped. We insisted on respect forever for borders we drew. We, the West, called an end to empire and the End of History itself.

China awakes. She finds that while she slept, the children of the world made rules. Had China not paused for a while in her natural expansion, China might have trodden where the western states do.

You might imagine an ambitious statesman looking out from the old Imperial capital of Peking, heir to the Emperors, seeing the almost empty land of Australia, say, and thinking that if the Yuan dynasty had not looked inwardly, it might have been their junks finding the Great South Land. Now white people live there but sparsely. Then he might wonder why history must stop where white people say it should, conveniently at our maximum expansion. The British and the Russians took advantage of China’s weakness to hem her in, and now, with those forces withdrawn, expect the Chinese to remain where they are. Should two centuries of weakness in four millennia of civilisation define them forever? Then they may wonder why this particular moment of time should be their eternity. It is not by their rules.

Iran, or Persia, is an empire older even than China’s, humbled repeatedly by outsiders but always counting herself the elder. To be scolded by the Americans, people of a state with less than two and a half centuries behind it, is insulting.

Closer west is Turkey, founded as an empire in the age of the Crusades, swallowing and adapting the Byzantine Roman civilisation it supplanted. For centuries the Ottomans ruled all north Africa and Arabia and south-western Europe, to be overtaken and cut down only in the Industrial Age. Thus they may be wondering what would have been had Turkey had the tools of industrialisation first. It is a hundred years this year since the empire was liquidated at Sèvres. Resentment is not lost in what is a brief time for such an old empire. When we read that the new Turkish government is sending guns and men to Syria we assume that they are concerned for their borders, but they are making the war longer, not securing peaceful bounds. When they send guns to Libya, then we may see that Libya was Ottoman territory until just over a hundred years ago, as was Syria. They may see it as theirs still in that same sense that we would resent any foreign country gaining political or cultural hegemony in India.

We live in a moment of time. In this time we have seen that by peace and the standards developed in the West there has been unprecedented prosperity and welfare. We cannot however assume that all other nations, the older nations with their own cultures and histories, see it the same way nor see any reason to stop their history.

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Books

The Russia Report: was that it then?

I read it. It is short. It says nothing we did not know already: Putin’s Russia has a persecution complex and is trying to subvert western powers largely out of habit, but does so incompetently.

Speculation over what might be in the report could fill volumes, for a report of 55 pages, where the live content could be fitted on about two of them. Conspiracy theorists are furious.

The idea that the Brexit referendum was influenced by Russian operatives was exploded long ago: the only noticeable activity by Russian bot factories was after the result, and very few people saw whatever inanities appeared on Twitter anyway. The Scottish Referendum could have been meaty, but again the only thing the Report could identify was some clumsy disinformation after the event trying to suggest irregularities, and that explicitly came from Russia so nae bother, eh?

The voice of frustration comes out in the Report: we cannot see what the Russkies did to our votes! Well, no – because they didn’t do anything except the things which were done so clumsily and so late they might as well have hung a banner saying ‘Vladimir was here’ on them. Twitter is not magic; it does not sway elections on its own.

The big splash story trailed beforehand was that during the election campaign Russian intelligence leaked to their pal Jeremy Corbyn parts of the trade negotiation with the United States. We knew that at the time though – Fay even posted about it at the time on this site (in cod-Russian: sorry).

The main lessons to be learned from this report concern influencers finding their way through high society, but that should be no surprise. It is the usual practice of intelligence agencies to search for influential men, easily flattered, to act as their ‘useful idiots’ – it is just the experience of Russia to find the word ‘useful’ is not the right one.

(Russia’s intelligence community has repeatedly proven itself to be maladroit, blundering, incapable of effective action. They can’t even assassinate a dissident without leaving clumsy great paw-prints over everything. That is a comfort at least.)

A positive was that the report acknowledged that our paper voting system is robust and largely impenetrable to would-be fraudsters. Electronic voting could be vulnerable if Russia took an interest (and yes, Estonia, we are looking at you.)

The Report wanted to find more. It was, it must be remembered, written by a committee of the Zombie Parliament chaired by a man of great intelligence but who was so determined to overturn Brexit that he repudiated the Conservative manifesto and was even willing to conspire with a hostile foreign power to defeat the interests of his own country. A worthy winner of the Casement Award indeed. The Report wanted to find that Brexit was tainted by Russian interference, and expresses frustration that it was not.

Move along: there’s nothing here to see.

Of course there are calls to change the law after a report that has generated so much publicity. Some want to censor the internet (now what true sociopath wouldn’t want that job?) Maybe they will try to deal with those useful idiots. This might though prompt a change in the law that Andrea Jenkys one proposed: locking up anyone who assists a foreign power to defeat the British government in its negotiations.

There is something missing as I read through these paper, and something that Mr Grieve did not ask to be investigated: when will we see a comprehensive report on European interference in British elections or the Brexit referendum?

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Books

The beggars: fake charities

There was a longstanding rule in charity law that political purposes cannot be charitable. Political purposes includes any purpose to change the law or government practice, here or abroad. For centuries judges would take a dim view of attempts to get around the rule. A political purpose cannot be for the good of the public because there is no way to judge it.

This was strictly enforced. A society for encouraging friendship with Sweden, which seems benevolent enough, was struck down because, as the judge observed, the court could not take the view that it is always for the public benefit to be friendly with Sweden – for all the court knew, it might benefit the public to have a war with Sweden.

That is not to say that charitable uses were very circumscribed. There have been some strange charities, and to go through the conditions placed upon village charities for educating boys or feeding the worthy is to realise how the past can indeed be a foreign country. Then there is the Baconian Society, which seeks to prove that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays and which is a charity because the course of its ridiculous quest involves scholarly research that might be of public benefit and might turn up genuine insights (if not the one they are looking for).

There may still be funds founded in the seventeenth century for buying Christians out of slavery on the Barbary Coast of Africa. That used to be seen as a quaint leftover, but these days the number of slaves held in the world makes such funds as relevant as when they were created.

The turbulent politics of the twentieth century pushed at the boundaries. Occasionally there would pop up an educational charity ‘to educate the public in the benefits of socialism’ – not charitable. (The socialists instead just took the mainstream educational institutions over and still use them to promote socialism anyway.) Wealthy charities started to play politics, because political individuals infiltrated their governing structures to do so, and all that cash donated by starry-eyed elderly ladies is a big draw for someone who wants to spend it on their personal campaign.

Spending charity funds outside the charitable purposes for which it was given, which includes spending on any political purpose, is a breach of trust and in effect is theft.

There is subtlety in the abuse: it is not called lobbying but advising government from a position of expertise. The line between advice and naked political advocacy is a fine one and the Charity Commission used to issue guidance on what is acceptable and what is naughty. One rule was that a charity may not get its supporters to lobby their MPs and may not send them pro forma letters to use. Well, I posed as an RSPCA supporter once and collected some lobbying packs which blatantly broke all those rules: the Charity Commission made excuses for them. I had seen the Commission falling like wolves on innocent, small charities for minor infractions, but here was a huge abuse of charity funds being winked at. It might not have been the wholesale corruption of the Commission, just a single junior clerk afraid to make a fuss about a powerful charity, but when a national body presented the same material higher up, the commission when into self-defence mode and it was again brushed off. Here it became clear that a very wealthy charity like the RSPCA could ignore the rules against politics with impunity, as if somehow close coworking had turned into regulatory capture.

All the rules changed under Tony Blair. The old rule against political purposes was nominally kept in place, but charitable purposes were now to include ‘the protection of human rights’. That can be anything.

Even the most virulently socio-political organisation can claim charitable status, their objects being to protect the human rights of their client group. Charitable status shuts the mouth of doubters – it is a state-sanctioned approbation of moral goodness and to condemn a charity it therefore a secular blasphemy.

While it shuts the mouth of critics, charitable status open the public purse. Grants are made to large, political charities for ‘research’, and it all goes to fill the swollen coffers, so that the government is using taxpayers’ money to pay for lobbying against itself. Our money is being used to fund damaging social and political campaigns.

You may look at the extremist campaigns run by political advocacy groups like Stonewall and Mermaids and wonder how on Earth they have the money to campaign – you and I are paying for them. We are paying for the circulation in schools, of mendacious propaganda, aimed to shape tender minds to political goals and out-and-out lies. If a fantasy writer had penned a tale of a small committee who hate maleness so much they deem it toxic and set about lopping the goolies off as many small boys as they can, it would be classified as a disgusting dystopian fantasy, and the idea that the state would fund it – that would be beyond Kafka at his most lurid. However that is happening, and the same group is using taxpayers’ money to take over the school curriculum and silence dissent. That group is a charity under Blair’s dispensation.

These are fake charities: not charitable under any logical definition but that which Blair’s law attributed, running not from the benevolence of donors to a public benefit, but from an abuse of taxpayers’ money. Further, any charity whose trustees or officials join with the motive of using donated money to run a political campaign, that is corruption.

The immediate thing must be to turn off the tap of taxpayers’ money to these fake charities. Find out how they get the grants; find which civil servants approved them, and show them the door.

Then try to bar propaganda from schools. It would help if there were sources of information to replace those from the lobbyists – I can moan, but those of us who just do that are complicit in not providing an alternative.

Next, reverse Blair’s deformation of charity rules and at a stroke revoke the charitable status of political bodies. Let charity mean what it means to most people.

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China: a world apart

China, the inexplicable – I found it impossible to write one article about why the Chinese government behaves the way it does, so unlike what we expect of great states. Its political attitude is shaped by other forces than those which shaped the West, found in its history, culture, experience and much more. It is a world apart, and that suggests a beginning: its geography.

Political maps are useless things – splodges of colour with no context. They show China as connected to many neighbours, but it is really a island continent cut off from the world. Its name for itself is Chung-kuo – which means ‘Middle Kingdom’, and so it has always seen itself: the one civilisation alone in the world with barbarians hovering at the fringes.

China is an island: it is surrounded by the sea to the east and south-east, almost impassable mountains to south-west and west and deserts within and to the north. Before flight, anyone who wished to enter China would have to come by sea or through the narrow gaps between the mountains and the deserts; lands sparsely inhabited. Mostly they trickled in by narrow camel caravans; sometimes with an horde of a million armed horsemen over the Gobi Desert.

Within its bounds, the Chinese learned to find all thy needed to live and for their rulers to prosper, if not the people, and this led to almost complete indifference to the outside world until it was a threat. Outsiders had nothing to teach China – no cultural insights were to be gained from the nomadic Mongols and Turks to the north and west nor from the field-dwelling Manchus.  They did at some point absorb from India Buddhist ideas (which India itself largely rejected) but it just fell into the mix of ancestral religion. (It was of use as a weapon:  the Chinese sent Buddhist monks to Mongolia to transform it from a peerless warrior nation into a people of despicable weakness.)

Ships from Europe and from Britain sailed to China early on, but not a single Chinese junk sailed the other way, and apart from a grand expedition around the Indian Ocean by Zheng He that was never repeated, they were content with home waters, and Chinese ships never developed that world-going capacity that Western and Arabian ships did.

When the Portuguese arrived in the South China Sea, they were a curiosity. When the British and Dutch East India Companies arrived, they appear to have been seen as no more than more strange barbarians from whom China had nothing to learn. These new barbarians though were a good source of silver, paid willingly for silk and tea, but the Chinese were not willing to buy from them, until the opium started to arrive from India.

Suddenly, China met the concept of a world outside itself.

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Books