Diary Day 506: barriers to trade or not? The time has come to make a choice.

My #Remainer’s Diary Day 506: Government ministers contradicted one another on future membership of the customs union.

In Cardiff, Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones, giving evidence to the visiting House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said that people had interpreted the referendum result according to their own beliefs. “Some will argue that it’s a vote to leave the Customs Union, for a hard Brexit. Others disagree. There’s no evidence either way for what people voted for. How do you interpret a vote for a concept in a way that you believe will get the support of most of the public? …Nobody can possibly know the answer to that question.”

In London, Michel Barnier met David No-Notes for lunch and then had a 20-minute meeting with Theresa May. Afterwards he told the BBC and press: “The only thing I can say, without a customs union and outside the single market, barriers to trade in goods and services are unavoidable. The time has come to make a choice.”

A furore ensued with Conservatives verbally attacking one another.

Anna Soubry MP told BBC Newsnight that the Conservative front bench “is in hock to 35 hard ideological Brexiteers who are not Tories. They are not the Tory party I joined 40 years ago and it is about time Theresa stood up to them and slung ’em out. They have taken down Major, they took down Cameron…”

She went on to say she was not prepared to stay in a party that was taken over by the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg. “We simply cannot go on like this any longer. Something is going to have to give…”

Indeed, something is. What will it be? The Conservative Party, the Union, peace, Brexit? All those things?

Diary Day 505: if you are selling snake oil, you don’t like the idea of experts testing your products.

My #Remainer’s Diary Day 505: Andrew Turnbull, now the crossbencher Lord Turnbull of Enfield, formerly head of the civil service from 2002 to 2005, told the Observer that attacks on civil servants by Brexit supporters were similar to the “stab in the back” myth in Germany between the wars. He said: “They are losing the argument in the sense that they are unable to make their extravagant promises stack up, and so they turn and say: “Things would be OK if the civil service weren’t obstructing us”. When you don’t succeed, you find someone to blame for your failure.”

Robin Butler, now the crossbencher Lord Butler of Brockwell, who was head of the civil service for 10 years until 1998, spoke of a deliberate “Brexiteer process of intimidation”.

Another former head of the civil service (2005-2011), Gus O’Donnell, now Lord McDonnell of Clapham, told Peston on Sunday that the attacks were “completely crazy” and “ridiculous”. He said civil servants followed the civil service code. “The values are honesty, objectivity, integrity, impartiality. Their job is to look at the evidence and present it as best they can, analyse the uncertainties … but quite often when someone didn’t like the answer they decided to shoot the messenger.”

He went on to say that the Office of Budget Responsibility had been set up – and been very successful – to stop ministers from interfering with reports written by civil servants, because people didn’t trust politicians, not because of mistrust of civil servants.

He said that civil servants “look at the evidence and we go where it is. Of course if you are selling snake oil, you don’t like the idea of experts testing your products. And I think… this backlash against evidence and experts is because they know where the experts will go.”

He emphasised that the figures in the recent paper which had been leaked were based on models and subject to uncertainty but in good faith and should be accepted as such. The advice the present cabinet secretary had to give had to be what the civil service viewed as in the national interest. It was then for ministers to decide.

He went on to say that if the Prime Minister Theresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond failed to come to a conclusion about what kind of deal they wanted from the EU, “things would get incredibly serious”.

The comments from the former heads of the civil service were triggered by Jacob Rees-Mogg’s latest outburst against the Treasury. Unlike Steve Baker, Mr Fogg refused to apologise to Charles Grant and instead made further attacks on the objectivity and impartiality of civil servants. He was echoed by other Brexit backers.

Gerry Adams, outgoing president of Sinn Féin, on the Marr Show, disavowed seeing Brexit as something to be exploited. He said it was a disaster for the people of Ireland and that the British Government were not at all clear about what their future relationship with the EU should be. Leaving the single market and customs union would be a “complete disaster” for the people of Ireland. The December agreement with the EU was a “fudge”. He said if the border came back, the return of violence was a concern. He said the answer was special designated status for Northern Ireland within the EU, which was “doable”.

Mr Adams reiterated that Sinn Féin MPs would not use their votes in the Westminster House of Commons.

Diary Day 504: we are living in an idiocracy, and being told pure wind.

My #Remainer’s Diary Day 504: the leaders of the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party wrote to Jeremy Corbyn asking him to rethink his opposition to the UK’s continued membership of the single market and customs union. Referring to the mounting evidence of economic harm, including the recently leaked Whitehall papers, they argued that a hard Brexit “makes progressive goals far harder to achieve”. They invited him to join them in “opposing the Tories’ damaging plans.”

John McTernan wrote in the FT that we were living in an idiocracy, a word created by Mike Judge, creator of Beavis and Butthead. “What if they [the government] have no clue what they are doing?” Mr McTernan asked. His answer was: we should call it out for what it is. Or we are idiots.

Andrew Adonis, writing in the New European, turned to George Orwell for insight into the language of Theresa May. George Orwell, he recalled, wrote that in times of crisis ‘political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind’.

Examples of this from Lord Adonis were:

  • “”Deep and special partnership’”… when, actually, we are leaving the union and undermining our deep and special partnership.
  • “”Frictionless trade” will arise, amazingly, from the setting up of thousands of trade barriers where they don’t currently exist.
  • “And on the future of Ireland, …“continued regulatory alignment” when its stated policy elsewhere is to discontinue alignment and promote regulatory dealignment.”

We aren’t idiots, are we?

Diary Day 503: a bunch of emotional nutcases.

My #Remainer’s Diary Day 503: Steve Baker, the MP who was recorded saying he wanted to destroy the EU, was forced to apologise to the House of Commons and to Charles Grant, head of the Centre for European Reform.

Previously the preposterous Jacob Rees-Mogg had asked Mr Baker in the Commons whether he was familiar with a claim that officials had “deliberately developed a model to show that all options other than staying in the customs union were bad and that officials intended to use this to influence policy”. Rees-Fogg claimed that Mr Grant had said this at last year’s Conservative conference. Mr Baker had replied purporting to confirm what had been said.

Mr Grant immediately denied having made the suggestion, and this was confirmed by an audio recording of the event.

So egg on the two EU-haters’ faces, but another smear in the neural networks of those who are unwise enough to take notice of these types.

It is a sign of Theresa May’s weakness that she could not sack Mr Baker.

Jim O’Neill, now Lord O’Neill of Gatley, who as an economist at Goldman Sachs invented the acronym BRIC, talked about this and the car industry on BBC Radio 4’s The World At One. He said: “Without the single market and access to this highly integrated global supply chain, that industry and many of them like it are going to have serious challenges being anything like as good as they are today.”

He called the trashing of the civil service “ridiculous nonsense”. He said “passionate Brexiteers” needed to “be realistic. And, perhaps, the whole argument might be better if they just acknowledge that those industries are going to have new challenges. Because, otherwise, their own arguments just don’t have any credibility whatsoever.

“And, it also adds to other countries sort of thinking the UK is full of a bunch of emotional nutcases.”

Lord O’Neill was appointed as a minister by George Osborne but resigned in September 2016 and sits as a cross-bencher. He said at the end of last year: “Not being able to make what are objectively clear policy decisions because of the games of the party… I find that quite a turn-off.”

Quite. Not only that. It is extremely serious. Good governance has gone out of the window, if indeed we ever had it.

The International Monetary Fund in its latest country report stated that over the medium term, UK growth prospects would depend on the extent of recovery of labour productivity. It expected growth of 1.6% this year, and 1.8% next.

It said that an agreement that minimised barriers to the cross-border flow of services, goods, and workers would best support growth in the UK.

Just the opposite of what the Brexit fanatics are aiming for.

Business Insider reported an interesting advice note from Pantheon Macroeconomics’ analyst Samuel Tombs. He put the chance of a second referendum at 40%, and estimated there was “a 25% chance that Brexit doesn’t happen.”

Mr Tombs predicted the result of the June 2017 general election accurately, using macro-economic data which showed that consumer confidence was falling. He argues that the economic pain of leaving the EU with a bad or no deal is too great for any government, and will force Theresa May to take a different course.

Diary Day 502: politics, not economics, has a forecasting problem.

My #Remainer’s Diary Day 502: as Theresa May refused to fire a minister for suggesting a conspiracy among civil servants against Brexit, Chris Giles had a general point about it all. He wrote in the FT that politics, not economics, had a forecasting problem.

The economic modelling that gave rise to the negative impact assessments leaked a few days ago had been more robust and crunched more data than previous forecasts from Whitehall. Government politicians’ problem now was to make the choice between honesty and dishonesty. Either argue that an economic price was worth paying, or go on pretending they had a plan for an economic nirvana while trashing their own internal evidence.

The chorus calling for publication of the leaked report increased. Michael Ellington and Costas Milas for instance wrote in the LSE Brexit blog series: “The main point is that the Brexit headwinds are already slowing our economy down. We believe that the government needs to focus on building a plausible picture over the next few years before making conclusions regarding the long-term… Things can turn out better… but they can also turn much worse…”

They suggested circulating the papers for feedback, as academics do.

“By withholding the full paper from the academic community and the public, the result is that ministers end up losing faith in the work of their own government and personnel. Which begs the very unpleasant question: if Brexit ministers cannot trust and therefore rely on the Brexit findings of their own analyses, why should the public trust these ministers to deliver the best possible Brexit?”

Why indeed. Some of them are trying to hoodwink us. Some led Vote Leave, a campaign which admitted having done it. How can trust survive that?

The UK in a Changing Europe issued a new export on Brexit and public opinion, which underlines the divisions in UK society. It is written by 27 academics, and is the most comprehensive and authoritative analysis of Brexit and public opinion to date. The report is available to download from the unit’s website.

Professor Anand Menon, director of the unit, wrote that the referendum “highlighted fundamental divisions in British society and superimposed a leave-remain distinction over them – this has the potential to profoundly disrupt our politics in the years to come.”

He went on to say that the Prime Minister was presiding over a divided and polarised nation.

The authors argue that it is highly unlikely people will change their minds about the UK leaving the EU, for these reasons:

  • people’s preferences about EU membership are tied up with values.
  • confirmation bias.
  • for many Leavers, the attraction of Brexit was about identity politics more than economic calculus.

Thus, I would add, wise campaigners will be focusing their attention on those in doubt, whose mindsets are not fixed.

Lord Jay, chair of the House of Lords EU select committee, said its Northern Ireland visit reinforced concerns about the possible adverse impact of Brexit.

He said the potential problems far outweighed the opportunities for people living in Northern Ireland, and that the Committee was “worried and concerned”.

Diary Day 501: the Brexit crisis has closed the ranks.

My #Remainer’s Diary Day 501: Brexit is affecting Switzerland now. Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said that the EU’s stance towards his country had become “more compact and more self confident – the Brexit crisis has closed the ranks and we have a partner who is less willing to make concessions than previously. Not because Switzerland is less likable than before, but because other countries also have expectations.”

Both Switzerland and the UK want concessions on financial services.

Ireland’s Tánaiste Simon Coveney, who gave a speech in London at Chatham House, afterwards said that the UK had to decide between staying in the single market and going solo with free trade deals elsewhere. In his view the latter would result in it being impossible to negotiate an “as close as possible relationship” with the single market.

“That’s why I think ‘there is a choice’ is not a real choice. Those two things don’t go together. Why would the EU want to facilitate that to their disadvantage?”

George Hamilton, chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, told a House of Lords Committee that the “biggest practical vulnerability” regarding Brexit is the potential removal of the European Arrest Warrant.

The committee was taking evidence in Stormont.

Mark Carney told the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee: “Business investment is not up any way to the degree with a world economy growing at 4%, with the most supportive financial conditions in over a decade, with the strongest balance sheets in probably 25 years and huge opportunities of greater certainty.

“It is not growing to the extent at which it should. We estimate that it is four percentage points below what it otherwise would be. That is not based on us just estimating, but is based on discussions with 2,000 businesses up and down the country.”

Mrs May was in China, but managed to dismay EU citizens with a remark implying their right would depend on being able to prove they arrived in the UK before Wo March 2019.

She is obsessed with immigration. It’s the only explanation for her behaviour since 2012.

Diary Day 500: fewer than 300 working days left.

My #Remainer’s Diary Day 500: it’s only a random number, but half a thousand days of keeping this diary somehow feel like a milestone.

In the Lords, former Brexit minister Lord Bridges pointed out that the UK had fewer than 300 working days until it left the EU. His fear, he said, was that we would get “meaningless waffle” in October and that: “The implementation period will not be a bridge to a clear destination. It will be a gang plank into thin air.”

Lord Adonis said: “…the interests of the public as a whole do not lie in making Britain poorer. They do not lie in undermining the Good Friday Agreement.

‘They do not lie in diminishing trade and our people’s right to live and work across Europe.

‘They do not lie in scapegoating Europe and foreigners for the social challenges that we face and they emphatically do not lie in weakening our solidarity with Germany and France and the other democracies of Europe in standing up to Vladimir Putin and others who now and in the future threaten our borders, our lives and our values.”

Conservative MP Dr Philip Lee, referring to the leaked impact assessments, tweeted that “…if these figures turn out to be anywhere near right, there would be a serious question over whether a government could legitimately lead a country along a path that the evidence and rational consideration indicate would be damaging. This shows the PM’s challenge.”

He went on: “It’s time for evidence, not dogma, to show the way. We must act for our country’s best interests, not ideology & populism, or history will judge us harshly.”

Theresa May flew to China with a trade delegation, leaving behind a Conservative Party in a frenzy of feuding and backstabbing.

The pretentious twit from Somerset, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and the arch EU-hater Steve Baker attacked civil servants who are unable to defend themselves. Ming Campbell, former Lib Dem leader and now a peer, rightly hit back by likening Rees-Mogg to Robespierre.

Things are bad.