Archive for September, 2019

Thoughts on the Lib Dem decision to revoke Article 50

I was glad to be one of the many conference attendees voting to revoke article 50.
Suppose we had removed the lines committing to revoking Article 50? A majority Lib Dem government would then hold a new referendum and if the vote was leave, carry it out. How could a passionately Remain, party which considers any form of leave damaging to the country do this? It’s nonsense.
What would happen to the party if it did? The Conservative party is a Remain party which felt obliged to provide some form of Brexit. Brexit has ripped the party apart. Worse, it has emasculated the government and is increasingly damaging the country. We are fully justified in refusing to follow the Conservative party into this maelstrom. We must to make it clear that if people want to leave the EU the Lib Dems will not assist them. They need to vote for somebody else.
What is the point of the party obtaining a majority only to be forced to do something it believes to be wrong?
The people who voted Leave in the referendum were encouraged to believe that just by doing so they could have a result that would please all of them. But to alter a forty years’ old economic and political relationship requires a party committed to that project. Not a reluctant party which is instructed, but one that already has a policy and will implement it.
In 2017 the electorate was offered such a party, the UK Independence Party. The electorate rejected that party. If the majority failed to get the result for which they voted the fault lies with political parties which promised to implement something they disagreed with and thought would damage the country. It was inevitable that they would make a mess of it and so they have.
The Lib Dems must not be such a party.

Towards a Programme for Remain

Towards a Programme for Remain

If there is another referendum, then what will “Remain” offer? The original remain campaign was negative and defensive. It is not surprising that Nigel Farrage, in his debate with Nick Clegg has been described as “pushing on an open door”. Is all we can offer negatives – there is no European Army – there is no federal state – Turkey is not going to become a member – when all of these things are clearly definite possibilities?

And we will be told that to offer “Remain in the EU as we were before” would be to ignore the previous result; to betray the people’s vote, to disillusion the country and cast doubt on Democracy itself.

The Remain side were shocked at the result. Many have said that had the result been the other way it would have been a call to arms to address the situation. That urge has been submerged in the fight to Remain and the collapse of the moral foundation of the Leave vote hasn’t helped us to remember its strength, despite its shortcomings.

Can we offer a new package which clebrates the EU but acknowledges the previous result, and seeks to address Leave concerns, ?

I suggest a new settlement– reforms of our own political and social system and reform of the EU. I submit that the Leave vote shows that both are in need of reform. Obviously, these details can’t be exact or promised absolutely but this is a campaign programme, not a manifesto.

These proposals are for discussion. Some are well rehearsed, especially to this audience but they may prove more attractive presented in the Brexit context. Not all my details will be correct or perhaps even possible; I am not an expert and I expect to be corrected on detail. In addition there is an element of appeasement which won’t be welcome to some. But if we are to get anywhere with “leave” people, appeasement will have to be part of the package.

To start off, we need our own bus: We should quantify the EU dividend, additional wealth that being in the EU and the single market brings into the country, preferably using an independent estimate. This will be speculative, but a quantifiable sum could be arrived at if we assume a situation where our trade with the EU remained constant but businesses had to do customs clearance, pay VAT upfront, pay the balance of tariffs given an average trade balance, cost of customs and inspection delays, the cost of running our own regulators where EU is now the only one, cost of diplomatic and trade negotiators, international driving licences – I’m sure there’s lots I’ve missed out.

Of course, not being in the EU would mean less trade with the EU and possibly more trade elsewhere, but this gives us a sum for the dividend we have now.

Reforms in the UK to address Leave Concerns

These are a few of the reforms which might address “Leave” concerns.

  1. Regional representation: The current system is weighted towards London and the South East. We need to establish regional assemblies or authorities which will have at least the right to control their own spending, especially the “EU dividend” (see the last instalment) and to scrutinise government ministers. Perhaps a representative of each assembly should sit in a reformed House of Lords.

  1. Additional democratic input to the UK system: We should allow MPs to be recalled subject to stringent limitations. In addition MPs should be subject to questioning by their regional or devolved assemblies.

  1. Education: we have allowed our population to become ignorant of our political system, including the relations between our devolved parliaments, our National parliament and the EU. We must educate the electorate (perhaps with a term long “Civics” course in schools) as to the structure of the EU, our national state, of the devolved administrations, and of the rights and duties of each tier of government. It should be obligatory for MEPs to run regular surgeries and/or appear before regional assembly scrutiny boards.

  1. Removal of of in-work benefits: The Leave campaign has emphasised the belief that EU citizens come here to access our benefits system. EU citizens have to work here before they can access non-work benefits but receive in-work benefits immediately. We need to remove benefits such as tax credits and increase non-work benefits to compensate. Whatever our view, many of the population consider that support for the family and the poor should be limited to those who are born in the country and/or have contributed to it. As a result EU nationals should not be allowed to access UK benefits until they have worked here for at least one year (as per access to employment rights) and this should include subsidised housing and child benefit.

The removal of tax credits will be no loss. The tax credit system, like the 18th century “Speenhamland system” that preceded it appears logical but has led to employers offering lower wages.

  1. No right to stay in the country without work: EU nationals should not be allowed to remain the UK after three months unless they have employment or can show they have means of support. There will also be restrictions on non-EU immigration. It may be that this will mean the adoption of an ID card system, anathema to Liberals but maybe a necessary measure at this time.

  1. Reform of employment law: Competition for employment has been a major grievance of Leave campaigners. Whether or not EU nationals contribute more to the tax yield and the economy than they take out, they are seen as beating down wages and competing for employment in a number of sectors. We should propose an increase in the minimum wage to prevent wages being forced down. At the same time we should promise a reform of the employment system to regulate self-employment and limit the use of the self-employed to replace full time workers.

  1. Finally (since it is an old song but one that might sound sweeter in this context) Participation: We must adopt a system of representation which allows all strains of opinion a voice. Our present system has allowed a major strand of opinion to grow up without any representation in the governing system. Outside the light of criticism it has grown crooked and diseased. UKIP received 14% of the vote in the last election but was represented in Parliament by one MP. And this is not the only outrage to common sense. The SNP was able to chase the Labour party practically out of Scotland with only 50% of the vote.

If votes do not count then their voters will take to other ways and means. We need a system of proportional representation so that every vote counts.

In respect of the EU

  1. A constitution for the EU: Let’s describe it as what it is – a Federal state but one where the competence of the Federal administration is limited to commercial matters and the social legislation which follows directly from those. The current system as laid down by the treaties needs to be simplified so that it’s understandable and can be stated more briefly.

  1. Increasing democracy in the EU: We should support the extension of the powers of the EU parliament as originally proposed by Jaques Delors. In addition the UK’s commissioner should not be appointed by the Commission President in consultation with our government but voted into office by the UK parliament. The commissioner would be subject to recall and would have to make themselves available for questioning by parliament and by the regional assemblies and devolved administrations at least quarterly.

  1. Initiation or repeal of legislation: We would propose that Parliament regularly considers (perhaps through a select committee) petitioning the EU Commission to make alter or repeal specific legislation. The commission already has systems for individuals and stakeholders to propose legislation. We could propose the formal use of the national parliaments as a major additional initiator of legislation, perhaps through an inter-parliamentary group.

  1. Let’s recognise the “European Project”: and its role as jump starting the EU but emphasise that it will only move as fast as the member nations and their citizens will allow. Let us accept that the ECJ has expanded its remit and jurisdiction into matters that might have better remained the province of the individual nations. We need to limit the ability of the ECJ to extend EU rules without political backing i.e.: a constitutional amendment for which we will need a mechanism. We will do so with a bill of rights for the individual nations to place a limit on what extensions the ECJ can implement.

  1. We should recognise and support an EU army: It was, after all, a large part of the UN army that fought in Korea (even Luxembourg sent a division) and what else is the European contingent in NATO? It should be established by a standardisation of organisation and equipment (already part of NATO) and a joint chain of command to provide the possibility of efficient joint action against an aggressor. But the remit of the force and its implementation will be subject to the decisions of the individual nation states and we should construct a legal protocol for its deployment.

  1. A joint immigration, aid and trade policy: It is clear that uncontrolled immigration is a major concern across the continent so it is essential that we have a joint immigration policy linked to a cooperative aid programme and trade rules to build up and support the economies of those regions where immigration pressure is building up. If “excessive” immigration is seen as a problem then we must convince Leave voters that it is better that it is addressed at the border of Europe rather than at our own borders.

The European powers have traditionally been colonial powers: and often those powers were brutal. It is now time to look at a new form of cooperative engagement with the developing world to promote social and international justice and reduce the pressures of poverty.

None of these proposals are new and they are certainly not exhaustive. I hope that they might provide a basis for discussion because if we hope to achieve a Remain result in any further referendum and certainly if we hope to achieve a result that will “stick” then “Remain, all Remain and nothing but Remain” is not, in my opinion, an option.