I started my Brexit Diary on Facebook in September 2016. I renamed it my Remainer’s Diary when Sarah Olney defeated a prominent Brexit supporter in the Richmond Park by-election and gave me hope. I am re-homing it here. I plan it to be a record of the biggest folly my country has committed during my lifetime.
My #Remainer’s Diary Day 445: Edward Burke, assistant professor in international relations at the University of Nottingham, wrote in the Guardian that the DUP’s intervention had been a decisive moment. He said it was an open secret that the DUP was deeply divided over Brexit. As he pointed out, the DUP has not produced any detailed policies on the issue.
According to Prof. Burke, Arlene Foster’s wing recognises the importance of cross border trade and services but, for deeply emotive reasons based in family history, cannot accept a border between the province and Britain. Nigel Dodds’ supporters consist of true Brexit believers. Both Arlene Foster and Theresa May need to find a way out; and Foster would probably like the UK to stay in the customs union, but she cannot say so. “Foster needs Conservative allies to make all the running.”
I am sure he is right.
Prof. Burke concluded: “The collapse of talks on completing phase one of Brexit negotiations will still lead to the same inevitable conclusion – the UK staying in, or aligned to the customs union, but through a more arduous route.”
Northern Irish political discourse is not couched in terms of economic benefit and detriment. This makes it bewildering much of the time. I briefly encountered similar baffling politics when I visited Belgrade once. There, i gathered, most of the political parties did not talk about policies to make everyone’s lives better. Yet their voter loyalty in the polling booths was assured. Searching for understanding of this, I learned that there were continual wars between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire, during which Belgrade was repeatedly razed to the ground. The Military Frontier established by Ferdinand I in 1553 and lasting until 1881 had run through what is now a suburb of Belgrade.
Politics are driven by emotion. A huge achievement of the EU is to offer more and more communities a kind of politics in which the emotion involved is less ancestral pain and more hope – of obtaining things people want, like wealth creation, health services, potholes mended, rubbish collected, value for money.
David No-Notes told the Brexit Select Committee that there were no sectoral impact assessments. I do not believe him.
Paul Drechsler, president of the Confederation of British Industry, said in a speech to a City audience that there was “a cloud hanging over all of us… and yes, that cloud is called Brexit”.
He added: “In the immediate term, business needs to know the details of any transition deal – Rome is burning on that issue.”
Mr Drechsler told Sky News that businesses with international interests were already implementing contingency plans. “The train has left the station.”
There is absolutely no doubt how serious the situation is for businesses and hence the UK economy and thus all of us on these islands.
My #Remainer’s Diary Day 444: Conservatives had to sit down with DUP MPs to thrash something new out. One one longstanding Northern Ireland nationalist politician told Channel 4 News: “It won’t be easy. The government opened a veto bar up in front of a bunch of veto-holics.”
Labour Party watchers claimed they detected from an urgent question in the Commons a shift towards staying in the Single Market and Customs Union. I don’t. Labour’s statements are too blurry and contradictory to amount to a stance. They are fudge, babble.
The Bank of England disclosed that earlier in the year it had written to the High Court to warn it to prepare for a rush of legal applications from insurers seeking to mitigate uncertainty over millions of contracts. The BoE said early estimates suggested that British policyholders held contracts worth at least £20bn with European insurers, while European policyholders held contracts worth £40bn with British ones.
The IHS Markit/CIPS UK services Purchasing Managers Index bulletin reported services growth easing in November compared with October. Chris Williamson commented: “The big news is in relation to prices, with the PMI surveys pointing to the largest monthly increase in average prices charged for goods and services since August 2008”. He explained that now as then, rising oil prices were to blame, with “firms also reporting the need to pass higher costs of a wide variety of other inputs on to customers as a result of the weak pound having driven up import prices.”
Duncan Brock of the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply called the results “a disappointing portrait of a sector struggling against Brexit-related uncertainty and a weaker economic outlook”.
My #Remainer’s Diary Day 443: a humiliating moment for Theresa May when she had to interrupt a lunchtime meeting in Brussels to phone DUP leader Arlene Foster, after which an agreement on the Irish border she had been about to conclude with Donald Tusk was suddenly off. As the Irish Times put it, a last-minute unionist wobble scuppered a deal, exposing Theresa May’s political weakness in shambolic fashion.
The Irish Times also pointed out that the DUP’s opposition to special status was more political stagecraft than principled conviction: Northern Ireland already has special status in numerous respects.
Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “If one part of the United Kingdom can retain regulatory alignment with the European Union and effectively stay in the single market (which is the right solution for Northern Ireland) there is surely no good practical reason why others can‘t”.
Carwyn Jones said much the same for Wales and Sadiq Khan for London.
A new poll by Survation found that 50% of people supported another vote on the final terms of the deal, 34% were against and 16% said they did not know.
Samuel Tombs of Pantheon Macroeconomics wrote an advice note predicting that Brexit would not happen: “No politician will ever implement Brexit, as the costs are upfront, but the potential benefits are far ahead.”
I was in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, chiefly to see the Vermeers, but also learning rather more than I wanted to know about William of Orange, who is associated with the lynching of Johann and Cornelis de Witt, the Battle of the Boyne and the massacre at Glencoe.
My #Remainer’s Diary Day 442: Tony Blair told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend that free movement on the border had been key to reaching an agreement, the prospect of a hard border posed “real challenges” to the peace process and it was difficult to see how the issue would be resolved.
Mr Blair said Theresa May and Philip Hammond were trying to negotiate the “fundamentally un-negotiable” by leaving the EU, while also trying to maintain preferential treatment in the EU’s common market. “They’re trying to negotiate getting out of the single market, but recreate all of its benefits. That’s not going to happen.
“The risk is, frankly, you end up with a muddle and the worst of both worlds.”
He also said there would be “no extra money” for the NHS through Brexit.
Mr Blair repeated his opinion that Britain could change its mind about leaving the EU. “It’s reversible. It’s not done until it’s done.”
At midnight Brussels time Irish officials said an agreement on the border between the Republic and the North had not been reached. One said: “Contacts continue at official level in order to reach agreement. There is still a way to go. There must be clarity on the need to avoid regulatory divergence which would lead to the re-emergence of a border.”
I was in Amsterdam, where I had the honour of meeting Emilia Slabunova, leader of the Russian liberal opposition party Yabloko. She is a member of the Legislative Assembly of the Republic of Karelia, in northwest Russia, which borders Finland.
I asked Mrs Slabunova how she had got involved in Yabloko. She explained that she was principal of a school in Karelia, which produced several outstanding students who won opportunities to compete abroad in international events. Despite the honour the students would bring to their country by participating, the Russian authorities provided no money to enable them to travel and take up the opportunities. Mrs Slabunova was determined to find funding for them, and managed to do so. These failures by the ruling regime to back outstanding young people motivated her to become an activist of Yabloko, the only opposition party.
In 2013 Mrs Slabunova was the main opposition candidate for Mayor of the capital city of Karelia, Petrozavodsk, and on course to win, but the state authorities cancelled her candidacy in mid-campaign for an alleged defect in one of her filed documents. However, Yabloko swung its support behind Galina Shirshina, a colleague of hers who was standing as an independent. Ms Shirshina won the election, and was Mayor for two years before being forced out of office.
In December 2015 Emilia Slabunova was elected leader of Yabloko.
They do not give in, but keep going in a sham democracy where the authorities can refuse to register candidates on a whim, or can cancel their candidacy if they threaten to win, or force them out without cause when they have won, or where opposition figures can be assassinated in the street, as was Boris Nemtsov. Fuelled by righteous anger, the courage of people like Emilia Slabunova is simply magnificent.
My #Remainer’s Diary Day 441: as the Tory regime inched towards a resolution to the three preliminary issues, involving a very large sum to settle the accounts, failing which there would be no start to talks on post-Brexit trade, the Daily Mail reputedly spent a six figure sum for photos of Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s fiancée, as a teenager, and produced a lavish supplement on the royal couple.
Peter Preston, writing in the Guardian, nailed it: “And where is the smoking gun as May lumps an extra £20bn-£30bn on top of her Brexit offer?
““We’ve got a deal” says the headline on page nine. “Sterling jumps” and all that jazz. Fury and retribution mysteriously swallowed in a trice. I’ve heard of retreating under cover of darkness, but retreating under cover of Markle…? Just pass the confetti and smile, darn you, smile.”
Nick Clegg and the winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize for Economics, Richard Thaler, a professor at the University of Chicago, whose work explores the economic consequences of irrationality, bias and error, had a conversation on Skype about Trump and Brexit. It was published in the Guardian.
Some wonderful quotes. As a Trekkie I particularly like this one: “NC …My mind is trying to process a conflation of Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Homer Simpson.
“RT Yeah. Mix all of those together and compare them to Spock. People were not voting like Spock. And that’s really the message of behavioural economics. These kinds of decisions are too hard.”
There should never have been a referendum. The decision was too hard.
Here is another diamond from Professor Thaler: “I can tell you for sure that Brexit will not make life easier for Brits, right? We can think of 100 ways it will make things worse. One thing we haven’t talked about is this attitude towards immigrants. As someone who’s been coming to London for many years, I can tell you that immigrants have made London spectacularly better in every possible way.”
Author Michael Lewis called Richard Thaler “the economist who realised how crazy we are”.
The entire board of the Social Mobility Commission resigned. This body was set up by Nick Clegg in 2012 under the Coalition.
The chair, Alan Milburn, wrote to the Prime Minister: “… I have little hope of the current government making the progress I believe is necessary to bring about a fairer Britain. It seems unable to commit to the future of the Commission as an independent body or to give due priority to the social mobility challenge facing our nation.
“It is disappointing, and indeed puzzling, that appointments to key Commission roles have been left vacant for almost two years. Nor do the protracted discussions about its role, remit and resourcing show any sign of being resolved.
“Individual ministers such as the Secretary of State for Education have shown a deep commitment to the issue. But it has become obvious that the government as a whole is unable to commit the same level of support. It is understandably focused on Brexit and does not seem to have the necessary bandwidth to ensure that the rhetoric of healing social division is matched with the reality…
“The need for political leadership in this area has never been more pressing. Social mobility is one of the biggest challenges facing our country today. It is not just the poorest in society who are losing out. Whole communities and parts of Britain are being left behind economically and hollowed out socially. The growing sense that we have become an us and them society is deeply corrosive of our cohesion as a nation… [T]he twentieth century expectation that each generation would do better than the last is no longer being met…”
Mr Milburn said he would be establishing a new Social Mobility Institute, independent of government and political parties.
Brexit is ruining so many things, including the Government’s ability to look after its people.
My #Remainer’s Diary Day 440: Tánaiste Simon Coveney in Dublin sought an assurance from the UK that there would not be any regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Brexit, without which assurance Britain would be asking the Republic to take “a leap in the dark” regarding its future.
Meanwhile Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar went to Brussels for talks with Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council. In a press conference afterwards Mr Tusk said that the UK’s decision to leave the EU had created “uncertainty for millions of people”.
He said: “The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is no longer a symbol of division, it is a symbol of cooperation and we cannot allow Brexit to destroy this achievement of the Good Friday Agreement.”
He said that the UK started Brexit and now it was their responsibility to propose a credible commitment to do what was necessary to avoid a hard border.
“Let me say very clearly. If the UK offer is unacceptable for Ireland, it will also be unacceptable for the EU.”
He added: “I realise that for some British politicians this may be hard to understand. But such is the logic behind the fact that Ireland is the EU member while the UK is leaving. This is why the key to the UK’s future lies – in some ways – in Dublin, at least as long as Brexit negotiations continue.”
So the EU experiment has worked. It has created an organisation based on democratic agreement to further mutual interests, without use of force. Ireland is in and enjoys its protection, while the UK, as a prospective third country, is on the way out. The game has changed. An awakening awaits any Brits who still dream of empire.
Meanwhile former UK PM Tony Blair, who achieved the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, reaffirmed in an interview with Le Figaro that he was trying to stop Brexit and that this was possible.
Peter Westmacott, former British ambassador to France and to the US, wrote in the Guardian giving a sombre assessment of the situation. He called for a rethink. He wrote of the amendment calling for Westminster MPs to have a “meaningful vote” on the deal: “It is hugely important that this amendment is carried, and that ministers are not able to fob off MPs with a vague agreement in principle to sort out the details later, when it’s too late to change our mind. As the Brexit negotiations drag on, the country is becoming increasingly aware of what leaving actually means, and how misplaced Theresa May’s early bravado was.”
He added: “It may be that, at the end of the negotiating process, a majority will still want to leave the EU… But the country should be given the opportunity to confirm its wishes once we know the true implications of Brexit in, say, a year. We have the option of de-activating Article 50… at any point before its two-year deadline expires in March 2019…
“Voters need to be told the truth. Political groups with the common aim of ensuring that the reality of Brexit is fully understood must come together.
“If public opinion begins to change, perhaps our elected representatives will find the courage to defy the tabloids, the fanatics and their party whips. Future leaders need to come forward and say what they really think, laying aside traditional loyalties and putting the country first. This is the most momentous issue facing our country since the second world war. There is far too much at stake for politics as usual.”
Is anyone in Westminster listening?
My #Remainer’s Diary Day 439: Simon Coveney was appointed new Tánaiste. Speaking in the Dáil, he said the EU “will not abandon Ireland” in the Brexit negotiations.
He regarded the decision that might be taken as “of real historic significance”, adding: “this is about permanent change in the relationship between Ireland and Britain and within this island”.
The Irish Government, he said, remained firm in its view. “What perhaps has changed is the expectation of others that Ireland might change its position.”
The UK Parliament’s Brexit committee produced another report. Its chair, Hilary Benn, said: “Our report concludes that we cannot at present see how leaving the customs union and the single market can be reconciled with there being no border or infrastructure.”
The European Court of Justice handed down a preliminary ruling of enormous significance for countless low paid workers in the case of King v Sash Windows Ltd. It ruled that workers in the gig economy were entitled to holiday pay in lieu of holidays not taken. As a Guardian writer put it, the case illustrates that workers need not just EU law, but the ECJ’s interpretation of it.