Jeremy, hunted by his own quick hounds

I rarely watch BBC Question Time these days, but last night it came from Chichester, a pretty pocket-city in Sussex and I was winding down after a late meeting.

The star of the show was young Tom Hawood, a journalist for the blog site Guido Fawkes, for bursting several of the panellists’ personal bubbles. The rest of the panel were the usual rent-a-bore crowd and, in the BBC’s usual version of balance were all Remainers, all but Tom, and the audience with him.

We had Vicky Ford (Conservative MP, ex-MEP, voted Remain but now says we must come out), three identikit lefties whose names I did not bother to note (one non-party, one Green and one Labour – I think she was the one with wild, dyed hair) and Tom Harwood.

The stand-out moments were not from the usual bores – they were there to mouth platitudes and did so. As long as you get some in the audience to applaud, you need not think. The usual pop standards were there; about Tory cuts, which statistics do not bear out, and how the two Tory candidates’ spending pledges do not add up (which is fair enough) followed by wilder demands for spending.

Then came the sugar tax.  Four of five took the lazy line that since obesity causes cancer so sugar must be taxed, but Harwood shocked them by a dissenting voice, noting there is no evidence it has any effect at all, which you would think a clincher.  The Green (or Labour; they are basically the same) asserted that the tax has caused drinks companies to change the formulae of their products to reduce the sugar.

Then a man spoke from the front of the audience – a dying man. He told the panel he has a few months to live, his cancer caused by artificial sweeteners in the Diet fizzes he used to drink. Yes – to reduce obesity, drinks companies have replaced the sugar with carcinogenic compounds. This should have halted conversation, redirected thought.  Apparently not.

I should have said that Vicky Ford was there as part of Team Hunt, and on was faced with Jeremy Hunt’s words.

The first subject was uncomfortable in the hostility: foxhunting.  No one actually wanted to discuss it, and the subject was rushed over by all – from the panel because it is a distraction from Brexit, which is itself distracting government from all the things it should be concentrating on, and from audience members who did not want the debate opened up or hunting even considered.  Yet here is a culture-war battlefield where resentments still burn. Most of those in vociferous opposition to hunting have no idea of the realities, at least not going by what they say about it. The word “cruelty” trumps all but misrepresents every aspect of the sport. Jeremy Hunt was right to champion re-legalisation of the sport after which he is named, but maybe this is a topic for later discussion there the discussion was suddenly shut down by mutual consent.

It was here though that the blow came for Jeremy Hunt, and again it was the young journalist who landed it: it was not from the narrow issue, but the repeated times that Jeremy Hunt has spoken, and then immediately retracted on hearing the reaction: whether hunting, or abortion reform, or taxation, or of course whether he would bring the United Kingdom out of the European Union without a deal: he was portrayed as a man who has said that in office he would not do the things he wants to see.  In that case, if Jeremy Hunt does find himself in Number 10, are we to expect the Jeremy Hunt of this week, or the Jeremy Hunt of six weeks ago or six months ago, or the man of six months hence?  He is portrayed as the solid, reliable candidate (for which read ‘boring’) but can he now be considered reliable?

  • Tom Harwood on Jeremy Hunt, taxes and on turning your back on the EU’s ‘national anthem’:

Books by the candidates

Boris Johnson:

Jeremy Hunt:

Betsy Ross and the losses of Victory

Perhaps Nike could change their name from Nike (“Victory”) to Ētta (“Defeat”), as they have been routed in the culture war. If you missed it, for Independence Day 2019, the company launched a new range of trainers, the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July, with the Betsy Ross flag on them – and were then accused of racism, and immediately withdrew the range, and were then accused of being unpatriotic and lost a $1 million subsidy and the respect of millions of customers.

A single accusation of possible racism caused the whole range to be pulled, at a loss to the company we can only imagine. Into this stepped Doug Ducey, Governor of Arizona, not in a formal address but (in the modern style) in a series of Tweets:

“Words cannot express my disappointment at this terrible decision. I am embarrassed for Nike.  Instead of celebrating American history the week of our nation’s independence, Nike has apparently decided that Betsy Ross is unworthy, and has bowed to the current onslaught of political correctness and historical revisionism”.

In retaliation for this slur against the United States, the Governor withdrew a state subsidy that was to help Nike develop a factory in Goodyear, Arizona. From our side of the pond it is hard to imagine a politician not siding in terror with the Cultural Marxists, but here is the Governor of Arizona punished the company for rolling over to the mob. That is sturdy resolve we do not see amongst British politicians.

Now Nike is facing a boycott by American patriots.

The BBC report was its usual one, accepting the accusation of racism without demur: of the Betsy Ross flag they wrote “Although opinion is divided over its origins, the flag was later adopted for use by the American Nazi party.” and give prominence to a picture of an American Nazi rally in the 1950s where it appeared. They say the alt-right have used it too. Truly, the BBC are incurable. (The only divisions of opinion on the flag are not political; just whether Elizabeth Ross herself designed it and whether Washington had a hand in it.)

My first reactions to the story were surprise: first that a politician has not rolled over to the first whiff of accusation, and secondly that one of the richest companies in the world, which sells sneakers to the poorest at hundreds of dollars a pair, lives off taxpayer subsidies.  In America they have name for that: ‘corporate welfare’.

A passing word too for those boycotting Nike; good for you. Perhaps you could help us in Britain to organise boycotts of companies here who bow before a handful social justice warriors with laptops and nought else.

It is not of course that protesters are actually offended, just pretending to be offended, unless the offence is just that someone has different priorities from theirs. They are not offended: they want power over those companies.  As this site noted before on this:

The Betsy Ross flag, for those unfamiliar with our colonial cousins, was the first independent flag of the new United States, or the most famous version of it, in a pattern first sewn (according to some accounts) by Betsy Ross of Philadelphia.  The canton of the flag has a ring of thirteen stars, for the thirteen newly independent colonies. It has been used in patriotic celebrations ever since it first flew during the War of Independence and is a common display on Independence Day.  We will not see it disappearing:  it appears each 4th July, and at Presidential inaugurations, including that of Barack Obama, who was not exactly alt-right.

The proof it the inherent racism in the flag was a photograph showing the American Nazi Party displaying it at a rally in the 1950s, beside a vast icon of George Washington. That the flag has been used by millions of Americans of all opinions, religions and races over two hundred years is weighed as nothing when a Nazi purloins it.

(I shall have to hide my collection of Beethoven in that case, as Hitler was a fan, and swear never again to eat pickled cabbage for the same reason. The latter is no hardship.)

What now for Nike / Ētta? A single expression of concern that need not have gone beyond the company’s wall has left them looking cowardly, which is not a good look in sportswear, has cost them $1 million in corporate welfare, millions more in losing the sales of goods they had already made and marketed, and now they are facing a consumer boycott. Mighty as you may be, never think to yourself ἀνίκητος εἶ ὦ παῖ.


Fixing the Withdrawal Agreement

The Withdrawal Agreement is dead.  Thrice rejected by Parliament, it forced the resignation of Theresa May.  It cannot be brought back.

It was not all bad – but the drops of poison fouled the whole batch.  Cut those parts out or neutralise them and it could be signed tomorrow.  Boris Johnson, the hope for a hard exit, has said in interviews that he would gladly agree the acceptable bits (so no one should portray his bid for the top job as a yahoo no-deal fantasy).

The shape of Mrs May’s Agreement

The bulk of the Agreement is innocuous, and the Transition Period short, if it is not extended.  The problem points are brief but cut deep.  However these points are the ones of least import to the European Commission.

If common sense prevails, a compromise is eminently possible, but common sense rarely does prevail and the Commission have said there will be no negotiation.  They would say that though, and up to now they have had their way, and they have been able to rely on their co-conspirators in the House of Commons to undermine any negotiating position the Government takes.  That position may not prevail for long.

Any withdrawal or post-withdrawal agreement is just an interim stage towards a free trade agreement, ideally a zero-tariff Canada+ trade treaty (although what lies behind that “+” is important).

The withdrawal agreement is only required because the Commission have refused (in breach of their own treaties) to negotiate a free trade agreement without it.  It makes sense to agree institutional points such as ownership of data, liability for pensions and a repayment of Britain’s investment in the European Investment Bank.  Had it gone no further it would barely have stirred a leaf.

How to change the deal

The main problem issues with the deal as presented are:

  • The Ulster Backstop (‘Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland’)
  • The Vassalage Period (Article 127)
  • The block on trade deals (Article 129)
  • The budget contribution (Part 5)

The Ulster Backstop

The backstop has been the most problematic issue: if the backstop been excised then the deal would probably have gone through the Commons, but with it, the DUP could not stomach the deal, nor the Tory Spartans.  The one thing the Commons has approved by a majority was the Brady compromise: the deal without the backstop. It is also a provision the Commission have been firmest on keeping, in order to keep the Irish government happy.

However, it is an odd provision, and worded as a temporary stopgap. It could potentially become permanent if the Commission refuse to sign off on replacement arrangements, but the seeds of its termination are they open a route to keeping the backstop while junking it at the same time, which would satisfy honour on both sides.

  • Solution:  accept the backstop, but sign a side agreement accepting that alterative arrangements are or will be in place sufficient to satisfy the condition terminating it before it starts.

The vassalage period

The “vassalage period” is in Articles 95 and 127.  These together provide that European Union rules and decisions apply in the United Kingdom during the transition period, including those yet to be made.  It is important for the EU to know that Britain has not torn up the rules and standards that allow free passage of goods and services, and the Withdrawal Act continues all such rules.  The issue is on new rules, made without British participation.  That should not matter to the EU.

  • Solution:  accept Articles 95 and 127, but make a side agreement in derogation or clarification that they shall not apply to enactments, rules and decisions made after Exit Day, and shall not legally oblige the United Kingdom after Exit Day to enact laws mandated by existing directives unless they already have been.

Outside trade deals forbidden

The block that says no outside trade deals may come into force until the end of the Transition Period is not a serious matter: it goes to the heart of why Britain is leaving the EU, but it is unlikely that any such trade deals would come into force so quickly anyway.  This then could be borne.  If there is an urgency about any such deal then the Commission’s consent may be sought.

  • Solution:  accept it.

The Budget contribution

The Budget contribution is a massive one. However, it is less than would be paid to the European Union were Brexit delayed again.  The major threat is that if the Transition Period is extended then we hit another budget period and a greatly increased contribution.

Counter to the Budget contribution, the EU will continue to fund projects in the United Kingdom relevant to the sums paid it.  There may be reluctance to fund these with looming exit: that must be watched.

The budget contribution is a major issue for the EU:  without it their wine cabinets run dry.  (For all the bluster from President Macron, there is no legal obligation to make these payments unless there is a withdrawal agreement.)  This therefore provides a spur to the Commission to agree a deal and so ensure that they get their money.

  • Solution:  Agree it with reluctance, if all the other points are agreed, with two the provisos:  no extension of the Transition Period (and so no contribution for the next budget period) and payment to be conditional on continued talks towards a zero-tariff free trade agreement to cover goods and services.  If payments are still flowing after the end of the Transition Period, they should be conditional too on each side keeping tariffs to zero pending agreement.

All this could be agreed in a couple of lines.

Winning the European Union round

Psychology of negotiation is best left to psychologists, and psychiatrists.  The pull of the money and the pressure from member states is substantial though.  So far they have tried to stand as one and resist any changes, but there are reconciliatory voices occasionally from one-rung-down in the hierarchy and from eastern member state governments.  M Macron is unmoving and the Taoiseach planted, but Mr Merkel is shaky, the Italians are reconciliatory, the Poles will fold if convinced their citizens are not to be booted out.  If the concessions do not harm the EU and its members, and they can be portrayed as clarifications, they can be agreed.  It the concessions are a side agreement, they would not even need unanimity among the member states.

Further, there may be more that can be offered to the EU which are without cost to Britain: if their greatest fear is that more nations will peel themselves away, and we should be concerned by that too, then can Britain give comfort there?  A basic principle of overseas relations should be that the British government cannot be hindered from speaking freely to any Commonwealth country nor the Irish Republic, but with that proviso any assurances they want about the conduct of British relations with member states are available.

Approval in the Commons

Getting any new agreement through the Commons will be problematical even with an acceptable deal, because the Conservatives have no majority and Labour, though theoretically I favour of a deal, will (but for a few honourable exceptions) vote against anything the Conservatives propose.  Therefore it must rely on Conservative votes, Unionist votes and the few honest folk of the Labour benches.  The vote is necessary because Remainer MPs plus Labour pushed through what became Section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which forbids the signature of any Withdrawal Agreement without a Commons motion approving it and an Act of Parliament.  That Section, cooked up by Dominic Grieve (Remainiac Conservative) and Keir Starmer (Blairite Labour), has been the cause of all the grief since.

Mr Starmer and Monsieur Grieve have consistently since then spoken passionately against leaving without a withdrawal agreement, and voted consistently against approving it.

However, Section 13 only applies to a ‘withdrawal agreement’, a term defined by Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.  It would not interfere with a post-withdrawal agreement.  Therefore if the Agreement can be amended and the Commons still oppose it, the PM could simply wait until Exit Day has passed, and sign a post-withdrawal agreement without bothering the House.  Parliament would still be required to pass legislation to implement any parts which are not already in law or implementable under executive authority, but we would then have crossed the threshold and the landscape will be different.