Wednesday, 4 October 2017

An interesting Brexit experiment worthy of analysis

At my previous blog I wrote quite a long essay about House of Lords reform. In it, I criticised proposals to have the Upper House entirely elected and instead delved into the possibility of transforming it into a citizen's chamber, filled by randomly-selected members of the public. It would be built on a political process known formally as sortition and would, given application, bring an end to the slow and painful death of the peerage. I have, alas, misplaced the original essay, and would not say that I have every contingency covered for. Any criticism of the idea is welcome in the comments below. Both my Masters and this blog serve as a steep learning curve for me and aid intellectual growth. It would be naive to suggest that all of my opinions are at this stage fully formed. 

This post is not actually about the House of Lords. Rather, I was reminded of sortition earlier this afternoon when I came across this, very interesting article published by the Electoral Reform Society. It talks about a recent social experiment on Brexit involving members of the public. The format was as follows:

"Members of the Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit – randomly selected to capture the diversity of the UK population – met in Manchester to consider options for the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with Europe.The project, which we at the ERS were partners in, follows a recognition that the public have been largely left out of debates on Brexit, with parties split over what voters want. 
What stood out this weekend was this: when given the opportunity to engage in in-depth discussions on everything from the Single Market to migration policy, citizens jump at the chance.
The 50-strong Assembly has been endorsed by a range of high-profile figures from across the Brexit divide, including Conservatives Bernard Jenkin and Nicky Morgan, Labour’s Chuka Umunna, and Leave backer Harsimrat Kaur. That means it has real buy-in from all parts of the Brexit spectrum.
Crucially, the Assembly’s members were selected to reflect last year’s Brexit vote, alongside social class, region, age, gender and ethnicity. Of the 50 members, 25 voted Leave in the 2016 referendum, 22 voted Remain and 3 did not vote."

It sounds quite typical of these sort of experiments. There is a book by David Van Reybrouck, which I highly recommend to readers, called Against Elections: the case for democracy, in which a compendium of similar research experiments is produced and talked about at great length. One such example is referenced in the aforementioned article: the convention in Ireland which led to a referendum on same-sex marriage. They are intriguing because they often help to dispel the myth that the general population are largely stupid and politically inept. They tend to show that when ordinary people come together to engage in productive and thoughtful discussion, solutions to problems do not follow particularly far behind. 

Four votes were put to the control group, on immigration policy, trade with the EU, global trade policy and the overall Brexit deal. The responses given were fairly interesting, though not necessarily things which I agree with. Darren Hughes' article notes:

"On trade with the EU members voted for a bespoke trade deal ahead of staying in the Single Market. But should that prove impossible, their preference was to stay in the Single Market rather than agree no deal at all. 
On trade outside the EU members preferred a bespoke customs deal, allowing the UK to strike its own international trade deals but maintain frictionless borders. If that can’t be achieved they would opt to remain in the Customs Union rather than do no deal. 
On immigration, Assembly Members were offered five options, of which retaining free movement, but with the government making full use of existing controls, won a clear majority of the vote. 
On the overall deal with the EU, Assembly Members preferred a comprehensive trade deal combined with favourable access for EU citizens. If such a deal proves unattainable, they again wanted the UK to stay in the Single Market rather than do no deal."

What strikes me most is the level of balance provided by the people involved. For instance, it would have been easy for the group to suggest that it would be best to opt for a comprehensive FTA whilst at the same time ensuring that free movement was brought to an end and government given maximum control over immigration. This isn't to say that respondents were flaunting their ability to provide nuance and accounting for every plausible detail when deciding upon issues, but these sorts of findings are at least encouraging. 

The interesting point about bringing citizens together in debate format before asking them to make decisions on issues is that individuals tend to have quite an acute sense of the enormity of a political question and are likely to work towards a compromise, even if doing so necessitates substituting out their own personal opinions. In this respect it is an intrinsically mature process, with an inevitable spectrum of views providing a natural mechanism for checks and balances. I argue here that deliberative polling models produce more authentic and reliable results because they measure not reflex thought, but thought which has been predicated on debate and more rigorously scrutinised external input. There may be lessons for polling companies present here. 

Experiments like this also set quite an interesting precedent for alterations to the voting system and for the effectiveness of coalitions in government. They show that people of differing viewpoints can coexist and work towards constructive solutions to complex problems. Of course, I am not suggesting that deliberative processes like citizen assemblies do not have their problems. It is possible to argue that they create voids of expertise and direction. Results will also to a large extent depend upon the kinds of people drafted in to take part. But, there are undoubtedly positive signs for their use in British (and international) politics. 

And they aren't new either. In 1996, the American political scientist James Fishkin set up the National Issues Convention, which comprised of 600 randomly selected American citizens spread evenly across the states. Respondents were fully (and privately) compensated and brought together for a weekend. The idea was to have them discuss America's greatest social challenges and propose useful solutions. Upon consideration of results, Fishkin noted that 'the sense of common purpose' created an hospitable environment for fruitful and meaningful debate. The control group also came out of the experiment better able to adjust and accommodate their political persuasions in the face of intellectual complexity. 

My view is that the Electoral Reform Society's sortition-based, deliberative (exercise of democracy by which people actively partake in decision making and discussion, as opposed to simply voting) social experiment demonstrated these characteristics. Those who took part deserve credit for reforming their views in the face of an issue the magnitude of Brexit. I know better than most, given how my leanings have changed, how difficult it can be to understand the many facets of our EU withdrawal. Let us hope that these groups one day play a more official and fixed role in political participation. 

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The WTO threat is a bee sting

One increasingly notable feature of Brexit discussion, emanating largely from Leave-supporting politicians, is the idea that the government must now start to plan for a no-deal, or what is called the WTO option. This involves abandoning all negotiations with the European Union and falling back on the WTO/GATT framework, including the provisions of both the TBT Agreement (Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade) and SPS Agreement (which refers to sanitary and phytosanitary trade) as a basis for trade-relevant matters.

There are several problems with this which vary in magnitude. Firstly, this option does not take into account agreements required from the EU on matters not related to trade, like cross-European research and educational initiatives. Secondly, WTO provisions are not designed for states to use them as primary mechanisms for trade facilitation. This is mostly because they do not address regulatory divergence and partly because dispute settlement is slow and arduous. 

If they were, then why does no, even remotely, major economy trade with the EU exclusively on such terms? Third countries have top-up, bilateral agreements, such as MRAs, FTAs and Customs Cooperation Agreements upon which to base trading relations. Supplementary deals ensure more extensive customs cooperation and a more targeted, streamlined (normally bilateral) approach to resolving disputes. Beyond this, we have to deal with tariffs and, more importantly, the impact of non-tariff barriers, which are under-discussed and house the real economic minefield which accompanies a no-deal Brexit. 

Upon leaving the EU, becoming a third country and recreating solitary membership of the WTO, Brussels is legally obliged to impose upon Britain the same tariff schedules as it does other ordinary members (there are exemptions for countries with which members have FTAs or those which are Customs Unions). It isn't predatory action, it is a fundamental aspect of a no-deal situation. This is based on a principle known as 'Most Favoured Nation', which conceptually means that WTO members must treat others equally and apply one standard to all - barring the aforementioned examples. A tariff applied to a country covering wheat, for instance, must be attached uniformly to other members. This is done for the purpose of promotion a culture of non-discrimination, and the EU will honour such rules. 

Source: WTO

After the EU applies new, inferior tariff schedules to the UK (the same ones it currently applies to other third countries), if we retaliate and fight back, we must do so - again - uniformly. If we apply punitive tariffs to certain goods in response it has to be done to similar goods from all other countries - or more specifically: every single WTO member with whom we do not have an FTA, which by current count is every member. This will have a marked impact upon domestic pricing, as I'm sure readers have worked out. But, even with this precedent, tariffs are still of little relevance to the grand scheme of global trade. They have plummeted thanks to globalisation and pale in comparison to the economic importance of non-tariff barriers (NTBs). 

Non-tariff barriers to trade come mostly in the form of regulatory divergence and differences in domestic law. Being that they are any barrier to trade no relevant to tariffs or duties, they are practically limitless in terms of what they can be. Their scope is varied and this is why they can inflict profound financial harm upon trading nations. It has been estimated that NTBs add up to twenty percent to the cost of international trade, so our national failure to talk about them has been especially worrying. In a no-deal Brexit, they form a stick web of problems which have the potential to bring large portions of British trade to a standstill. 

To understand why, we first remember that the UK is a ghost in international trade. Or perhaps parasite is a more accurate term. There are no UK-specific trade agreements of any kind, and crucially, no UK customs cooperation agreements. This is because over forty years we have latched onto commonly crafted, EU trade deals. When we leave, we leave them. There is no way around this, we do it to ourselves. Leaving with nothing in place means to quite literally start from scratch. And what is of paramount importance to highlight is the fact that the UK has no customs cooperation agreements, like Mutual Recognition Agreements, in place to be able to establish or participate in conformity assessment verification. This will undoubtedly lead to standstills and our goods being turned away at borders.

Conformity assessment is important. Programmes, usually established as per treaty provisions, make useful attempts to crack down upon criminal action, like fraud, and shields consumers from faulty or dangerous goods. Without valid agreements in place, consignments of British goods at Border Inspection Posts (BIPs) and docks will find themselves at the mercy of customs officers unable to (electronically) verify that they meet national standards required for entry. It is not clear what third countries would do in such scenarios, but what does seem apparent is that trade flow will be immeasurably damaged.  

Delays for goods inspection will take up precious time for our exporters. If containers of goods require detention for inspection purposes, fines are issued to exporters and they can be expensive. Perishable or fragile goods may find themselves at risk of being wasted or damaged and subsequently devalued if held in storage for long periods. All ensuing costs are the unseen effects of erecting technical barriers to trade. This is where the no deal option will pinch most. Specifically, if we take an issue like food exports to the EU of animal origin, we will find doors to frictionless trade slammed quickly in our faces. And regulatory equivalence, which we'll have, is not enough. 

We will initially have to apply, as all other third countries have to (remember - equal treatment), in order to qualify to export certain categories of food to the EU. This process could take a couple of months to complete. Then, after this, we have compliance to deal with. We will need to have our establishments (warehouses, factories, production equipment, this sort of thing) legitimised to ensure they provide sufficient conditions for producing the food. We will then have to ensure that we abide by animal health requirements, with certificates and documentation often requiring the signatures of vets. Lastly, consignments headed for the EU will be diverted to a BIP, such as in Dunkirk, where a percentage (perhaps a third) of goods will be physically inspected in order to assess whether standards have been met. 

These are problems which staying in the Single Market would have meant avoiding. EFTA/EEA states (such as the dreaded Norway) enjoy a plentiful supply of exemptions from third country provisions, largely because they enjoy a high level of trust and have adopted the full EEA acquis covering food controls, BIPs and import regimes. Issues like this are what encouraged me to change my mind on our place in the Single Market. My above example concerning food exports of animal origin is a small but pertinent one. These difficulties add up, and where they do, lorries will stand idly on motorways and congestion will disrupt ports: thus causing delays for vehicles behind. 

With the exception of my critique of Patrick Minford, I have not explored the effects of the WTO scenario in depth because I can't quite bring myself to believe that the government will actually pursue it. Fronting a campaign against it didn't seem worth it beforehand. A no-deal conclusion to negotiations would bring untold harm right across Europe and nobody I can think of stands to benefit. Veering closer to it will spark EU member states into intensive lobbying, particularly those who enjoy massive trade surpluses with Britain and there is, to be clear, no patriotism to be found in storming arrogantly out of negotiations and leaving with no deal. 

The WTO option does have one use in that it can be used as a negotiating weapon. There is sense in using it as a bargaining chip and taking it to the table. Eliminating our options early reduces the scope for reaching an agreeable settlement. (Note here the peculiarity behind the government's insistence on ruling out the Norway option whilst ceaselessly threatening the WTO alternative, if we can call it an alternative.) The problem is that, as we have discussed, a threat is all it should be. Iain Duncan Smith, for example, now thinks we should make preparations for it, but intriguingly makes no real attempt to explain what a no-deal is or means. No wonder. I think government officials and the civil service should, if anything, make noise about planning for a no-deal but in reality maintain focus on reaching a settlement. If our bark is worse than our bite, we might get away with it. 

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Initial thoughts on Royal Holloway University and postgraduate study

Over the summer this blog largely transitioned itself into a campaigning tool for a more orderly and much softer withdrawal from the European Union. The idea was that by narrowing the scope of my writing I would develop something close to authority and be (even slightly) more likely to influence the Brexit debate. I can't decide for myself how worthwhile it has been so far. 

I am frustrated at present because I don't know how best to proceed. I know I can have some influence because I have a modest, but precious, connection to Westminster, and so exposure is never too far away, and because a large number of journalists read and share my work. There is only so much I can hope for but writing is what I do best (certainly, recent shaky performances on television have for now confirmed this) and it's better than doing nothing. 

We can't have the Norway option and we can't have the Canada option. The former is apparently domestically unacceptable and the latter will not work because it is infeasible for the UK to untangle itself from every EU mechanism and initiative, many of which are in the national interest to participate in (and therefore fund), and continue life with the obligations of our Anglospheric partners. So, what am I going to campaign for? What then will the purpose of this blog be? I'll ponder the question in the coming days and weeks. 

At least writing about other things will for now feel fairly refreshing. My academic interests once again occupy my immediate attention, having been away from university life for five months. After weeks of induction events, enrolment stages and tying up bureaucratic loose ends I have officially started my Masters degree. It's a part-time MSc in Elections, Campaigns and Democracy - and I'll be studying Quantitative Research Methods and Analysing Public Opinion on top, as well as three additional modules and a dissertation next academic year. I gather there will also be an opportunity for me to work for my professor, Chris Hanretty, when we provide various polling companies with research and political consultancy next year. 

I'm studying at Royal Holloway University, which was opened by Queen Victoria in 1879. It's a very good university by most practical measures and, importantly, scores well across Europe for quality of political research. Usually, though, I don't pay attention to league tables as I am somebody who believes that we make our education what we make of it. Tables don't influence my decision to study somewhere. Growing up poor meant I was able to avoid displaying all sorts of snobbery, and this remains my attitude towards academia. I know plenty of smart individuals who do not attend so-called Russell Group universities and plenty of fools who do. It is here worth mentioning to readers unaware that Russell Group was initially set up as a consortium of universities with the most research funding, a system unfairly weighted in favour of institutions which had medical schools. I do the best with what I have and I don't focus on others. 

Royal Holloway's main campus can be found poked just outside of the M25, in quite a quaint little town called Egham, east Surrey. Signs of life in the area mostly take the form of small crowds of bustling students and a flurry of aircraft taking off from Heathrow, which I suspected from the low altitude is based somewhere nearby. The town is lacking in certain features that I am used to. In my hometown, in the Bexleyheath and Crayford constituency, you don't drive for more than two minutes before reaching a major supermarket or restaurant. They're dotted around very close to one another and it can be a bit overwhelming. Certainly smaller shops have felt the pressure in recent years. Egham is far less busy and residents must put up with reduced choice in eating, drinking and shopping outlets. 

The town is quite noticeably a university town. The station sign even makes it clear that it is the home of Royal Holloway. There is no pretending that it is not its main attraction, and attractive it is. Royal Holloway's main building, known internally as Founders, is a beautiful exhibition of architecture. It's an eight-shaped masterpiece built mostly on four floors and complimented by a north-facing clock tower. When I first gave it a tour it reminded me quite distinctly of Hogwarts. Walking around it brings a certain museum vibe, with each department separated by walls of stunning paintings, including many originals, and quite old-fashioned looking stone staircases. It's a shame that Founders itself is not located more centrally in and amongst other university buildings instead of out the way, though it does espouse a reassuring majesty to students and visitors of all kinds. 

Monday brought my first lecture and seminar, which I maintain need to be interesting in order for me to justify a two-hour commute. I don't live on campus. During my first term I'll be exploring 'Elections and Campaigns', with two 3,000 word essays due for early November and December. I'm glad the work has come in thick and instantly because my boredom over the past couple of months has needed addressing. It will make a welcome change from sitting in my bedroom in my dressing gown reading European treaties. Now at least I'll be ploughing through journal articles covering election data, like this one related to this year's poll. I've a presentation to give classmates on populists and populism in a few weeks too, which is a topic I have become quite interested in of late. 

On top of this is a course in Quantitative Research Methods, which I am told involves a large amount of statistical analysis and using computers, which I am not especially excited about. SPSS is the software we'll be using and I have absolutely no experience of it, so I'll need time to adjust. I'm not a tech savvy guy and I can learn quite slowly. I am, though, determined to strengthen my ability to research and understand research as I want to continue in academic circles by doing a PhD. Masters degrees aren't always necessary in order to qualify for a PhD, but my undergraduate degree is not relevant enough to my current interests for it alone to be sufficient. 

Next term I'll be doing a module on Analysing Public Opinion, in which we'll investigate phenomena like opinion shopping and confirmation bias, as well as why objectivity of perception is thrown out of the window when such polls as 'What do you think of the state of the British economy?' is asked of both Leave and Remain voters. The economy is what it is, but the results understandably diverge. I am interested in human nature as it relates to assessment and the desire to substantiate personal opinion. Third term is up in the air at present as I am a part-time student (for personal and financial reasons). As such, my timetable is stretched out and I will not be completing my dissertation until the summer of 2019.

Aside from working my way towards a PhD, which I must keep in the back of my head for now in order to focus on the present, I wanted to do a Masters because I felt that my political knowledge and wherewithal needed some kind of specialised grounding. I think I have a reasonable grasp of quite a few issues but I recognise the advantage to be found in having some kind of enclave of expertise. I don't think it will have a restricting effect, either. A large number of people have degrees, even MAs or MScs, in topics unrelated to their career. I also think having a Masters at my disposal will give me a competitive edge when job seeking in related fields. 

Last year was largely a period of independent study as I was doing my undergrad dissertation. Returning to the classroom is nice because it feels like I'm getting back to normality, especially after a few recent spots of publicity. It is also nice because it makes me feel slightly younger again, perhaps even school age, which I consider a blessing as time moves so quickly. I'll be 22 in November and I have a persistent fear of getting old. I want to do as much as I possibly can as a young man and not waste time and opportunities. And this degree is a great opportunity for me to showcase my academic skills, feed my intellectual curiosities and carve out a particular political proficiency. I'm ready. 

Saturday, 23 September 2017

A smiling mouse in Florence

After the signing of the Single European Act (which provided many of the foundations of the Single Market) back in February 1986, The Economist described it as a smiling mouse. Well intentioned, they meant, but ultimately diminutive and ineffectual. I think this description is befitting of Theresa May's speech in Florence yesterday. 

The content of what she had to say has already been roundly criticised by Brexiteers of all stripes. Oddly it has presented us with a rare occasion in which both hard and soft Brexiteers are united in grief. This has, I think, been because we are left now with even more questions than we had originally. And patience is being severely tested. 

I refer to May's speech as a smiling mouse because, although it may have sounded positive in tone, it wasn't pragmatic. It did nothing to break the negotiating stalemate which has been sat in place for a couple of months. It barely addressed the issues that need to be hurdled in order for substantial and speedy progress which trade talks require. Remember, as Michel Barnier pointed out in Rome on Thursday, we have but a year left. Six months will be necessary to ratify an amended treaty. 

A two-year transitional phase sounds very much to me like the government may well just have asked the 27 EU member states for an extension to the Article 50 period. It will have virtually the same effect: we will remain inside all European Union initiatives, including the Customs Union, and we will continue to make obligatory budgetary payments. I would add that a transition is not only necessary, because untying ourselves from deep political integration is a tricky business, it may also prove useful in terms of providing the country with economic respite. 

The reason why the Prime Minister has not asked for the Article 50 period to be extended is because she has spent many months telling the country that it will have left by March 2019. Of course, it is becoming clearer that this could well be leaving in name only. In fact, I am now certain that there will not be a 'Brexit Day' as such. Transitional arrangements look certain to be a fixture of the country's short-term future, and so determining an exact point at which the country leaves will prove difficult. 

Brexiteers are understandably frustrated about this. The one area where I have sympathy with Theresa May is that this isn't entirely her fault. The Brexit can being kicked down the street in many ways represents the inexistence of a plan for a hard Brexit. Being angry at the stalling for the sake of it will not bring us anywhere. And this has been a problem with euroscepticism for yonks: anger at the EU and a desire to leave it, but no real idea of how to get there. We have needed a credible plan but, until Flexcit, haven't been able to come up with the goods. 

The characteristic vagueness of May's speech in Florence likely reflects very open divisions which lay within her cabinet. She referred to an implementation period, but it's very unclear as to what this entails. On Thursday evening I appeared on Scotland Tonight and, given the hype which had greeted the speech, I said that I expected clarity in terms of the eventual deal; the Brexit we will eventually arrive at. I now think that will be a question for the Labour Party. May cannot and will not stick around much longer than 2019. 

As for my mouse reference, what strikes me most is how little attention was paid in this speech to the current negotiating obstacles lying in the way of progress. The Northern Irish border question, disgracefully ignored for many months now, will prove particularly bothersome given that we are leaving the EU's Customs Union, I now presume in 2021, and no outer portion of the border of a Customs Union is left entirely unpoliced. 

There is then the matter of citizen's rights, which ought to have been ironed out in the summer, and the RAL issue, which sees us honour prior financial commitments. This is, if anything, a moral question. We should cough up quickly and get those agreed projects and pensions funded if trade talks are to begin at any stage before 2018 (which isn't looking promising). Time is running out. 

These problems are symbolic of government attitude to negotiations ever since Article 50 was invoked. We are trying to cross bridges we see in the distance whilst teetering frighteningly on the one on which we stand. Every position paper published attempts to propose solutions to issues which simply aren't relevant to where we are at. We are jumping the gun and need to redraw our focus towards the three sticking points standing directly in front of us. And if we don't? Well then expect further speeches calling for further periods of transition. 

Saturday, 16 September 2017

My article in the Guardian

...on Labour's use of the Norway option to reclaim the public's faith in their capacity to build a strong economy can be read here

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Brexit: let's unify the moderates...before it's too late

Earlier on I spoke with Huw Edwards about the current state of our Brexit negotiations and the economic menaces posed by a no-deal scenario. Huw has a warm smile, firm handshake and good banter; exactly what you need in an impartial presenter. Somebody to make everybody feel at home, no matter your opinions. I thank him for the enjoyable interview, to which I will link below, and for having me on. 

I am currently enjoying a no doubt brief period in something resembling spotlight. I wrote for the Telegraph this week and I'll be on Channel 4 News next week in Wakefield for an hour-long debate with other Brexiteers. It'll no doubt be interesting and I look forward to exercising my intellectual muscles. I have a lot of useful information to pass on and, as a former hard Brexiteer and Vote Leave staffer who converted to adopting the Norway (soft Brexit) position, I fall into quite a niche category of Leave campaigner. 

I won't waste the opportunities I get. This Article 50 period will not last forever and the economic and political ramifications of a hard Brexit will be profound. If I am able to influence opinion in a positive and pragmatic way then this will make me extremely happy. Which brings me to the point of all this. 

What Britain needs is somebody who can rally the moderates on both sides of a stinging debate. We have been gripped by ultra-partisanship, with the political consensus swinging from the Brexit Taliban to hard Remainers who will not let go of membership of their euro-federalist wet dream. It isn't healthy for a democracy to have the middle ground chastised and sidelined in this way. Without individuals who can unify and propose solutions which will satisfy a broad strand of the public, we go nowhere. Political schisms will turn to violence, and Brexit will be a chaotic nightmare. Not at all what I envisaged it would be. 

My Brexit mission over the next year and a half is to be a middleman; somebody who can provide some sort of guidance to Leavers who are unaware of the benefits of the Single Market and who are being given an undue monopoly on Brexit discourse. I blame solely the media for this. It is a rare occasion in which a so-called 'Liberal Leaver' like myself is given any sort of time on broadcast or column inches. Which is why my recent break could be of some significance. 

Richard North, the best researcher in this game and an absolute engine over at, is not to be mentioned in the Telegraph. So too has his son Pete been removed from any sort of publicity. I mention them because I know a large number of journalists and producers read this blog. It's a shame they have been entirely omitted given how much knowledge they could pump into the Brexit bubble. The only other time I remember a soft Brexiteer being given some kind of rub was Roland Smith, who appeared on Newsnight about two weeks before the referendum to (like me) propose the Norway option. 

The mantle is left with me, and that isn't saying much. I have various limitations: I'm 21, which naturally erects credibility barriers, I have a number of gaps in my knowledge which I will need to spend time plugging and I don't have access to the kinds of funding or audience that I would like to promote my work. I have a lot to learn, both personally and politically, and this will take time. This is why I am anxious about gaining traction and therefore publicity. It can be difficult for me to deal with mentally. 

I am actively trying to be the unifier that I mentioned earlier. I want to draw debate towards a sensible compromise that can address the demands of both Leavers and Remainers during the referendum. Leaving the EU is a national effort, not the plaything of Brexiters. Especially not hard Leavers, who do not make up all of the 52% by any means. Not, of course, perfectly, but what Brexit is a perfect one? Is remaining in the European Union perfect? For some it will be, but for the democratic legitimacy of Westminster and our media it won't be. They'll never be trusted again. And we'll lose certain opt-outs, so it'll be a hard Remain, rather than the current soft one. 

I think I can use certain circumstantial advantages that I may have at my disposal to de-hollow the moderate centre ground. The debate needs wrenching from hard Leavers, who don't, on their own terms, need to see Britain leave the Single Market. We can address freedom of movement in many different ways, we've a few chestnuts at our disposal, and I will go into more detail on this in future posts. Nor is there any real national guide on whether we should leave the Single Market. The margin between voters was 1.9% last year, with many Leavers voting out as per specific issues, like control of fisheries, which EFTA EEA membership allows us to regain, and a large number of soft Brexiteers marginalised completely, made to swallow endless nonsense about leavers uniformly wanting to leave the Single Market. 

There is an appetite and an anger amongst EFTA supporters. We feel let down by journalists who've not shown us a moment's notice, and now they are left to unravel and reflect public opinion in a way that is objective. Well, if you hollow out those of us in the centre, you are of course left in a scenario of ceaseless political headbutting between opposing camps. Somebody needs to stand up and say: 'I'm a Leaver who wants the Single Market, and I believe I have a solution which will heal a fractured electorate'. There aren't many candidates for this position. But if it needs to be me, I will give it my all. 

See my BBC interview in full here, in which I become the first man in history to mention Flexcit on live television. 

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

My article in the Telegraph

...on how the Norway option can satisfy Leave's referendum demands can be read here. To get past Premium, just quickly register for free and you'll immediately be able to read. 

I hope this is the first of many such appearances in the public domain. 

Monday, 11 September 2017

There is no trading in the Single Market without being of it

Jeremy Corbyn has practically no understanding of what the Single Market is or how it functions. This is made so utterly depressing by the fact that he is the country's principle opposition to the Conservative Party, who have become nothing short of dangerous if our negotiating progress counts as a sign of anything. Take, this, for instance. 

Every word you see above is spurious. As is the recurrent notion that it is possible to be a participatory benefactor of the Single Market without being bound by its rules. An agreed trading relationship, presumably either a series of transitional fixes or a Free Trade Agreement, would not replicate the terms provided by the Single Market. The EU would not reach such an agreement as it would undermine the very purpose of the EEA and might well violate WTO rules covering non-discrimination. 

What is important, firstly, is establishing what the Single Market actually is. Here is a very good working definition: 'The Single Market is a collaboration between the EU and three EFTA states (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), who are bound together by treaty provisions and regulatory union'. Therefore, by virtue of our definition, we can immediately disprove Jeremy Corbyn's false assertion that what he calls "formal" Single Market membership requires EU membership. 

The phrase 'regulatory union' is vital to understanding why in order to trade within the Single Market, you must first be inside it. To be in means to enjoy full regulatory convergence with other members, where checks are carried out at the point of production for the sake of convenience. To be out means to be a third country, simply by virtue of treaty withdrawal, and necessitates extensive customs and documentary checks at external borders in order to ensure that certain standards have been adhered to in relation to the production, transportation or treatment of a good. 

Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein enjoy full access to the Single Market. They are not associated with it or considered third countries. They retain strong trading ties with the European Union, substantial domestic sovereignty and avoid ever closer political union. Moreover, these countries are in no practical sense EU members in all but name. This is a lazy description of the mechanisms which form the EEA (remember that I use EEA and Single Market interchangeably). Note above that I described the Single Market as a collaboration. 

This is accurate because its skeletal and operating structure is a two-pillar framework with co-determination. Each 'pillar' has its own unique institutions and court for dispute settlement. And both pillars engage in constructive dialogue, as in most trade arrangements, when deciding upon common rules and cross-pillar disputes. The ECJ and EFTA Court have achieved what is called 'homogeneity', whereby mutual bodies incorporate new law. EFTA states contribute to shaping such laws. 

There is, it is true, adoption of some EU law on the part of the three EFTA states, but this may well also be the case with the conclusion of a bilateral agreement, which appears increasingly unlikely. Switzerland, for instance, 'enjoys' many individual agreements with the EU, now well over 100, and is forced to accept the implementation of a large number of EU rules and regulations. This was because, after its people rejected Single Market membership in 1992, it began on a bilateral course and negotiated sector by sector agreements, which necessarily required certain harmonisation with EU rules. I mention this because, in other words, being outside of the EEA does not necessarily mean avoiding EU law.

I have an article in (likely) tomorrow's Guardian about Labour and the Single Market. I hope some of their parliamentary figures read it, because they could do with some guidance. This is further to my article in The Telegraph, also tomorrow, about the Norway option and its understated reconciliation with the referendum demands of Leave voters. With any luck, I can work some way towards informing the public and giving both the Single Market and EFTA/EEA the credit they deserve.