In the 25 years since I began writing seriously here about the European Union and what our membership of it has been doing to Britain, I have learnt (among much else) three things.
The first, which came quite early as I began to understand the real nature of the supranational system of government we now lived under, was that we should one day have to leave it.
A second, as I came to appreciate just how enmeshed we were becoming with that system of government, was that extricating ourselves from it would be far more fiendishly complicated than most people realised.
The third, as I listened and talked to politicians, was how astonishingly little they seemed really to know about how it worked. Having outsourced ever more of our lawmaking and policy to a higher power, it was as if our political class had switched off from ever really trying to understand it.
Christopher Booker, “Our politicians want to lead us out of the EU, but they don’t seem to have a clue how it works”, Telegraph, 2017-02-04.
February 21, 2017
February 6, 2017
In the Guardian, Nick Cohen says you shouldn’t be concerned about compulsive liars: it’s the compulsive believers you should worry about:
Compulsive liars shouldn’t frighten you. They can harm no one, if no one listens to them. Compulsive believers, on the other hand: they should terrify you. Believers are the liars’ enablers. Their votes give the demagogue his power. Their trust turns the charlatan into the president. Their credulity ensures that the propaganda of half-calculating and half-mad fanatics has the power to change the world.
How you see the believers determines how you fight them and seek to protect liberal society from its enemies. And I don’t just mean how you fight that object of liberal despair and conservative fantasies, the alternately despised and patronised white working class. Compulsive believers are not just rednecks. They include figures as elevated as the British prime minister and her cabinet. Before the EU referendum, a May administration would have responded to the hitherto unthinkable arrival of a US president who threatened Nato and indulged Putin by hugging Britain’s European allies close. But Brexit has thrown Britain’s European alliance into crisis. So English Conservative politicians must crush their doubts and believe with a desperate compulsion that the alleged “pragmatism” of Donald Trump will triumph over his undoubted extremism, a belief that to date has as much basis in fact as creationism.
Mainstream journalists are almost as credulous. After decades of imitating Jeremy Paxman and seizing on the trivial gaffes and small lies of largely harmless politicians, they are unable to cope with the fantastic lies of the new authoritarian movements. When confronted with men who lie so instinctively they believe their lies as they tell them, they can only insist on a fair hearing for the sake of “balance”. Their acceptance signals to the audience the unbelievable is worthy of belief.
As their old world is engulfed now, the sluggish reflexes and limited minds of too many conservatives compel them to cry out against liberal hypocrisy, as if it were all that mattered. There is more than enough hypocrisy to go round. I must confess to wondering about the sincerity of those who protest against the collective punishment of Trump’s ban on visitors from Muslim countries but remain silent when Arab countries deny all Israeli Jews admission. I too would like to know why there was so little protest when Obama gave Iran funds to spend on the devastation of Syria. But the greatest hypocrisy is always to divert attention from what is staring you in the face today and may be kicking you in the teeth tomorrow.
The temptation to think it a new totalitarianism is too strong for many to resist. Despite readers reaching for Hannah Arendt and George Orwell, strictly speaking, the comparison with fascism and communism isn’t true. When I floated it with the great historian of Nazism, Sir Richard Evans, he almost sighed. It’s not just that there aren’t the death camps and torture chambers, he said. The street violence that brought fascists to power in Italy and Germany and the communists to power in Russia is absent today.
The 21st-century’s model for a strongman is a leader who makes opposition as hard as possible, as Orbán is trying to do in Hungary, but does not actually declare a dictatorship, for not even Putin has done that.
H/T to Guy Herbert for the link.
January 14, 2017
Another brilliant bit of realpolitik from Yes, Minister, disguised as humour:
December 14, 2016
Niall Ferguson regrets sacrificing his principles to help his friends stay in power:
The three words you are least likely to hear from an academic are “I was wrong.” Well, I was wrong to argue against “Brexit,” as I admitted in public last week. By this I do not mean to say “I wish I had backed the winning side.” Rather, I mean “I wish I had stuck to my principles.”
For years I have argued that Europe became the world’s most dynamic civilization after around 1500 partly because of political fragmentation and competition between multiple independent states. I have also argued that the rule of law — and specifically the English common law — was one of the “killer applications” of western civilization.
I was a staunch Thatcherite. I was a proud Eurosceptic. So what on earth, many old friends wondered, prompted me to take the side of “remain” in the referendum on EU membership?
A part of the answer is that I sincerely convinced myself that the costs of Brexit would outweigh the benefits. But I too readily trotted out the doom-laden projections of a post-Brexit recession from the International Monetary Fund, the Treasury, and others. I accused the proponents of Brexit of being “Angloonies” as opposed to Eurosceptics. My most desperate sally was to compare Brexit to a divorce — desperate not because the analogy is a bad one (it still fits rather well) but because I myself am divorced.
I linked to his divorce analogy at the time:
I suppose there are such things as amicable divorces. Mine wasn’t. Like the First World War, it was fought for more than four years, and ended with the Treaty of Versailles (by which I mean that it imposed territorial losses and the payment of annual reparations for a very long time).
Which brings me to Brexit, the ultimate divorce. Leave aside the arguments based on economics. Leave aside history, too. Instead, permit me to get personal. You want to get a divorce from Europe? Very well, let me explain what divorce is like.
October 15, 2016
Marmite, an almost uniquely British product, is in the headlines this week over an attempt by manufacturer Unilever to jack up prices due to the drop in the pound against the Euro. As Tim Worstall points out, this is not in any way justified because all of the inputs to the product are produced in the UK (that is, the input prices have not significantly changed regardless of how the pound is doing in terms of the Euro exchange rate):
Personally I love the stuff but even in Britain that puts me in a distinct minority.
The other amusement though comes from the action itself. For what Unilever is doing here is what we in Britain refer to, colloquially, as “taking the piss.”
Yesterday, the implications of the pound’s fall on prices and retailer margins hit home for the wider public as the country’s leading supermarket engaged in a war over prices with its highest-profile supplier of branded goods.
Either UK consumers will eat store-branded yeast extract, or they’ll pay more for Marmite, or the impact of the pound’s fall will be shared between supplier and retailer.
This is superficially plausible. Britain imports some 40% of its food and as a result of the Brexit vote the pound has fallen against other currencies. We would therefore expect to see some price rises in food items. Obviously in those imported that have to be paid for in that more expensive foreign funny money. But also in certain domestic foods which substitute for those foreign ones. So, for example, if foreign chicken rises in price then so too will British chicken as demand for it rises–people will substitute away from the more expensive foreign muck to the purer and more delightful domestic production.
However, this really doesn’t hold for Marmite.
Consumer goods giant Unilever has been accused of ‘exploiting’ British shoppers by withdrawing more than 200 much-loved products from Tesco after the supermarket refused to agree to its 10 per cent price hike. Critics claim the world’s largest consumer goods manufacturer, which makes an estimated £2billion profit a year, is ‘using Brexit as an excuse to raise prices’. The Anglo-Dutch firm, which heavily campaigned against Brexit, claims it has been forced to increase prices as a result of the falling value of the pound in the wake of the referendum.
The reason it doesn’t hold for Marmite is because it is not imported and nor are any close substitutes in any volume. Thus Unilever’s costs have not gone up in any manner at all over this. Quite the contrary in fact, the only flow, other than trivial amounts of Vegemite an Australian version of a similar thing, is of Marmite out of the UK. Meaning that Unilever’s profits on Marmite exports have risen as a result of the pound’s fall. Their costs, revenues and margins in sterling are exactly what they were for domestic sales before that slump in the pound.
The row is said to have developed when Unilever – which says it faces higher costs because of the fall in sterling – attempted to increase wholesale prices.
It’s simply not true thus the micturation extraction.
September 30, 2016
A rather revealing post at Guido Fawkes:
Liam Fox told the Spectator that Germany risks becoming the world’s biggest cash machine after Brexit because it may end up paying for a failing European Union that is in danger of imploding:
“If I were a German politician I would be worried that, without Britain, Germany has the potential to become the greatest ATM in global history.”
They’ve figured this out for themselves…
Of the 28 current members of the EU it may surprise co-conspirators to learn that only 12 countries were net contributors. Ireland has become the the thirteenth net contributor for the first time since it joined in 1973, hitherto it has been a net beneficiary to the order of €50 billion. Expect Irish attitudes to the EU to change as that equation changes.
August 23, 2016
August 10, 2016
In the Guardian, Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay provide a new minister with the wisdom of Sir Humphrey Appleby:
Sir Humphrey The first thing to understand is that there is a European Council and a Council of the European Union.
Minister They’re not the same thing?
Sir Humphrey No. The European Council, whose members are the 28 heads of state of the 28 member states, defines the general political direction and priorities of the European Union whereas the Council of the European Union, on the other hand, develops the EU’s common foreign policy, in so far as there is any, and security policy, concludes international agreements and adopts the EU budget.
Minister Who’s in charge?
Sir Humphrey That’s an interesting question. The president of the European Council is in office for 30 months and is in charge of preparing the agenda and chairing the meetings of the European Council, whereas the presidency of the Council of the European Union is held only for six months each, by rotating states, hardly enough time for a part-time president to get his feet under the desk. Which is probably the idea.
Minister So who really runs Europe?
Sir Humphrey Another interesting question. Well done, Minister! The European Union is run on an intricate and sophisticated system based on an hierarchical structure of interlocking and overlapping jurisdictions designed to separate the powers whilst reinforcing the authority of the departments, institutions and agencies who collectively and separately control and supervise the diverse activities of the Union and its associated organisations. So Europe is not run by the president of the European Council or the Council of the European Union but by the president of the European Commission, who is akin to prime minister of Europe because he is elected for five years and heads a cabinet government whereas the president of the Council, on the other hand, is not elected but appointed, and presides over the meetings of the Council, which is not the cabinet.
Minister Who are the members of the European Council?
Sir Humphrey The European Council’s membership consists of the heads of member states while the Council of the European Union, on the other hand – which is often still referred to as the Council of Ministers – is the real voice of EU member governments, adopting EU laws and coordinating EU policies. Sometimes it is just called “the Council” in the interests of clarity. And they’re not even trying to be funny.
Minister It’s called the Council.
Sir Humphrey Yes – but the Council of the European Union should not be confused with the European Council nor with the Council of Europe – nor the Council of Ministers, which is also sometimes just called “the Council”, although it is not the same Council as the other Council and is in fact not an EU body at all.
July 23, 2016
All the current nationalist parties of small nations in Europe — the Scots, the Welsh, the Basque, the Catalans, the Flemish — strongly support membership in the European Union, which is dedicated to, and even predicated upon, the extinction of national sovereignty. One would have thought that these parties wanted, at a minimum, national sovereignty. The contradiction is so glaring that it requires an explanation.
The human mind is not a perfect calculating machine, and no doubt all of us sometimes contradict ourselves. Perfect consistency tends to be disconcerting — but so does glaring inconsistency. It’s possible that the nationalist parties’ leaders don’t perceive the contradiction, being so blinded by ideology that they are simply unaware of it. But another possible explanation exists: by leading their nominally independent countries, they forever will be able to feed at the great trough of Brussels and distribute its largesse in true clientelistic fashion. The nationalist leaders certainly lead their people, but by the nose.
Oddly enough, I have not seen the contradiction between current nationalism and support for remaining in the European Union referred to in the press, though I don’t read every paper in every language. This is surely one of the first times in history, however, that the expression, “Out of the frying pan into the fire,” has become not a warning, but the desired destination of substantial proportions of whole populations.
Theodore Dalrymple, “Nationalist Contradictions in Europe: Why do breakaway political parties want to remain in the European Union?”, City Journal, 2016-06-27.
July 8, 2016
Published on 7 Jul 2016
We have everything to be proud of.
I saw this firsthand as a senior advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron. After just a few weeks in office, I was struck by how many things the European government was doing that the prime minister and his team didn’t just not know about, but would have actively opposed. Every few days, the civil service circulated a pile of paperwork about a foot high, proposing regulatory or administrative government action.
In time-honored fashion, the process was stacked in the bureaucrats’ favor: proposals would be implemented unless elected officials objected within two days. I wanted to know where these “requests for policy clearance,” as the EU directives were known, originated. More importantly, I wanted to know the extent of their effects on the lives of British people. So I requested a detailed audit. I discovered that some 30 percent of the British government’s actions came as a result of the actions British people elected us to undertake. The rest were generated and mandated by the civil service machine, the majority coming from the EU.
These directives determined everything from employment law to family policy, all through distant, centralized processes that UK citizens barely understood, let alone controlled. To this day, British officials spend much of their time in the EU’s administrative capital, Brussels, trying — mostly in vain — to block policies they don’t want and which no one in Britain voted for, all of it wasting inordinate amounts of time, energy, and money.
Steve Hilton, “Here’s Why Britain Should Leave The European Union Today”, The Federalist, 2016-06-23.
July 4, 2016
John Kay discusses the differences between the English anti-EU vote and the Scottish anti-English vote:
As a schoolboy in Edinburgh, I was taught that, long before the union with England, Scotland had been a cosmopolitan country. The ports on the east coast showed the influence of trade with the Netherlands and the Hanseatic League. The Scots language demonstrated continental influences. The citizens of Edinburgh would shout “gardyloo”, supposedly from the French “gare de l’eau”, before throwing their slops into the streets from the windows of the tall tenements of Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Even then, this example of early Scots sophistication did not convince. And the claim that their vote to stay in the EU — all districts of Scotland voted Remain in the referendum, and 62 per cent of the nation’s voters as a whole voted to stay in the EU — is the product of a broad-minded outlook not seen south of the border also misses a crucial point.
The reality is that the discontent with established politics that erupted in the Leave vote elsewhere in the country has found expression in other ways. As one student of Scottish politics, explaining the UK Independence party’s lack of traction north of the border, put it to me two years ago: “People in Scotland who are disgruntled and suspicious of foreigners [the English] already have a party they can vote for.”
The fracturing of the opposition Labour party’s traditional support in depressed areas of the north of England, which was decisive in securing an Out vote, paralleled the collapse of Labour’s vote in the west of Scotland in favour of the Scottish National party in the general election of 2015.
The great achievement of the SNP, now in government in Holyrood and with MPs in Westminster, has been to be a party of protest and a party of government at the same time. This is an achievement Brexiters will find hard to emulate.
July 1, 2016
At Questions and Observations, Dale Franks writes about the distrust of the traditional “elites” among the non-elites of society:
There’s a growing sense, not only in Great Britain, but in the US as well, that the elites, or the political class, or whatever you’d like to call them, are incompetent and have been leading us astray. And the response from elites is to call those criticisms illegitimate. Those doing the carping are assumed to be racists or nationalists, both of which, of course, are unpleasant, dirty types of people. Both the UK’s Leavers and the US’s Trumpers share some commonalities. Among them are skepticism over free trade and free immigration; concerns that elites dismiss as foolish and uneducated. And, of course racist.
But perhaps the Leavers weren’t so concerned with brown people because they were brown, but because they were concerned at seeing buses being blown up in London, British soldiers being beheaded in broad daylight in the High Street, and dozens of children being raped for years in Rotherham. Perhaps, the British people have come to wonder about immigration because many immigrants seem less interested in becoming British than they are in making Britain more like the Middle East. And, maybe, just maybe, the Leavers prefer to live in Britain, in the free and modern culture that has developed over the last 1,500 years, rather than go back to live in the year 692. Maybe they wouldn’t be any more interested in living in the 13th-century culture of Richard the Lion-Hearted any more than they are in living in the Dark Age culture of Middle Eastern immigrants.
When people come into your country from elsewhere, they don’t do so simply as fungible economic units, but as real people, who bring along cultural and political ideas that may conflict those that are traditional in your country. It is almost at the point where elites cannot even conceive of an argument that implies the superiority of one culture over another, so they dismiss this argument as nationalism and nativism. But, the thing is, a free society that continually imports immigrants who have no interest in individual liberty, religious freedom, and political pluralism, will eventually have none of those things. The problem isn’t race. It’s culture.
National sovereignty means something. At the very least, it means that the people of a country have the absolute right to restrict immigration to the sort of people that will, in their judgement, benefit the country, and, once the immigrants arrive, to force them to assimilate to the country’s national culture more than the country accommodates the culture of the immigrant. No obligation exists, in any sense whatsoever, that requires the people of a country to allow entry to immigrants who desire to transform the country into something different. It is entirely legitimate to reject calls for sharia in the UK, just as it’s entirely legitimate to be upset by seeing political protestors in the US waving Mexican flags or wearing “Make America Mexico Again” hats, explicitly letting us know where their primary political allegiance lies. Nor is it illegitimate to wonder why such people are in this country, and not in the corrupt shithole of a country that they so obviously prefer, yet so oddly fled.
June 26, 2016
In his latest column at the National Post, Colby Cosh wonders why Canadian pundits have been so strongly pro-EU when their other mode is to reject anything resembling an EU-style relationship with our own largest trading partner:
I might have voted Remain myself if my great-grandparents’ generation hadn’t lit out for the great plains, but isn’t there something obviously unusual about our view of the transatlantic frenzy? Canada is a political entity defined by its perpetual rejection of a continental political union. No one here, at all, ever expresses any doubt about the wisdom of that rejection. It costs us all hard cash, every day, to not be the 51st state. Yet we keep the Americans at bay, preserving the freedom to make arrangements on trade and defence on a basis (or pretence?) of mutual, separate sovereignty. We do this even though we share a common tongue with Americans, and they are much more similar to us culturally and ideologically than an Englishman is to an Estonian.
Look at the list of imprecations being hurled at Leave voters Friday, many of them by Canadians. They’re “small-minded,” “isolationist,” “short-sighted,” “fact-blind,” “racist” countryside boobs without vision or understanding. Couldn’t all these epithets be turned on us like a gun-barrel? Who speaks for, even contemplates, the discarded project of American Union — which was once a lively concern, actively advocated by some of the first people to call themselves Canadian in the modern sense?
If the sheer craziness of Canada’s Remain sympathies weren’t obvious enough, the intellectual leaders of the Leave camp are constantly upholding Canada as a model for immigration policy, with its self-interested, skill-privileging, but globally indiscriminate points system. They also cite us as an obvious potential partner for the kind of bilateral trade deal Britain will now be free to pursue on its own. Basically, the Leave campaigners didn’t put it this way or incorporate it into a slogan, but they want the U.K.’s relationship with Europe — a polyglot kaleidoscope of radically dissimilar nation states, some of them failing — to be the same friendly, wary relationship Canada has with the United States.
What in Hades could possibly be wrong with that, as a basic proposition?
June 24, 2016
I had expected a narrow Remain victory in yesterday’s referendum, but had I been eligible to vote, I’d have voted to Leave. The initial reports I saw certainly made it seem as if Remain had squeaked out a narrow victory, but I was delighted to see my hometown voting convincingly to Leave at over 65%. The revolt of Labour voters probably was the deciding factor in the final result … the Tories had been having trouble for years trying to keep their EU skeptic wing quiet for fear they’d decamp to UKIP, but Labour seemed to have their supporters well in hand. Yet Middlesbrough and many other Labour ridings in the North East were the ones who came out most strongly for Brexit.
David Cameron has announced that he’ll be resigning (as is proper, under the circumstances), so it might be former London mayor Boris Johnson who ends up leading the negotiations with the EU. Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t indicated whether he will also resign over the result, but it would be difficult for him to continue to lead Labour after Labour’s voters came down for the Leave side against their own party’s recommendations. At Samizdata, Brian Micklethwait shared some thoughts:
Re the Jo Cox murder. Many Remainers used this horror to imply that voting Leave was like voting in favour of MPs being murdered. (The Remainers who refrained from using this argument were not so audible.) I surmise that (a) some potential Leavers were persuaded, (b) some potential Leavers were angered and caused to vote Leave having only previously been thinking about it, and (c) quite a few continued to move towards Leave for reasons unrelated to the Jo Cox murder, but in silence. When the Cox murder happened, there was a shift towards Leave taking place. I surmise that this continued to flow, but underground, so to speak. Minds continued to move, but people stopped telling the pollsters. But, they’ve told them now.
Next, I refer honorable readers to these graphs (which I also wrote about in this posting here). These graphs say: (1) that when the government takes charge of something the immediate effects are often quite good, but in the long run less good, and then bad, and then very bad; and (2) that a piece of market liberalisation has the opposite effect, disruptive and unsettling at first, but then better, and in the long run unimaginably better. This explains why people so often vote for the government arrangement, against their long-term interests. Voters often have a short-term problem and are begging for a short-term fix. But these “Alpha Graphs” also explain something else, which is that when voters think that they are choosing between (1) bad now and bad in the future, or (2) bad now and better in the future, they are capable of voting in their long-term interest because long-term interest is all that there is on offer. Once governmentalism, so to speak, gets towards the far end of its graph and things are getting worse, really quite fast, and will go on getting worse no matter what, the decision changes radically. The only question is: Will the bad news ever stop? All of this now seems relevant to the Referendum debate. “Europe” was, for many, bad and getting worse. Brexit will also be bad, but eventually, better. If you think those two things, Brexit wins. And Brexit did win, with the people in a terminally bad way voting for it most heavily, and the people, like these people, who are now getting by or better voting for Remain, because they have something or a lot to lose.
It was assumed by Remainers that every time another London and/or Global Grandee came out for Remain, that helped the Remain cause. But for many, the unhappiness of such persons about the idea of Leave was a Leave feature rather than a Leave bug.
Speaking of London grandees, Eddie Izzard, dressed like a loon on Question Time, did not, I surmise, help the Remain cause. I mean, he really didn’t help. Imagine (as lucky old libertarian me living comfortably in London only can imagine) being staunch Labour but long-term unemployed, in Wigan or some such place. And you see on your TV some London Labour-Luvvie comedian, cross-dressed like a cross between Margaret Thatcher, Victoria Wood and Benny Hill, arguing for Remain. You’d vote Leave just to shove a stick up this thoughtless, frivolous, openly-contemptuous-of-everything-you-believe-in idiot’s arse, no matter how much more unemployed it might make you. (See above about not having anything to lose. If you have nothing left to lose, or if you merely feel this, punitive voting becomes one of your few remaining pleasures. (More Izzard related ruminations by me here.))
Tim Worstall on the economic implications of Brexit now that it’s a reality:
As to the longer term economic impact there’s all sorts of dire predictions of imminent recession. And this really just doesn’t ring true. The last time sterling fell like this, in 1993, it set off Britain’s longest ever peacetime economic boom. A lower exchange rate is generally taken to be stimulatory to an economy. Sure, there’s something called the J-Curve which means that it might not be immediately so (the idea being that it takes time for people to change their trade habits, meaning that higher import prices and lower export ones might take 18 months to work through into the real economy) but it really is the standard economic position that a decline in the exchange rate boosts the domestic economy. That’s why the IMF always recommends it for economies in trouble.
That is, the very thing that people are worrying about, a Brexit induced recession, is dealt with by the very thing that people are worrying about, a decline in the sterling exchange rate. These markets things do in fact work.
As to what happens in the near future in proper economic terms the answer is, well, nothing. Since the last revision of the European Treaty there is a procedure laid out for how a country leaves the EU. And it is that everything remains exactly as it was yesterday for the two years it takes to negotiate what will happen next. The only thing that will be influencing things is uncertainty about how those negotiations will pan out. That uncertainty being something which, again, is rather well dealt with by this current fall in sterling. Make investing in British assets cheap enough and people will continue to do it.
And to that long term. I think the long term effects are going to be, as long as we follow sensible economic policies post-Brexit, beneficial to the UK economy. Partly on the Patrick Minford grounds, that leaving the EU allows us to take that one sensible trade stance, unilateral free trade, which being in the EU prevents us from taking. But more than that I am absolutely convinced that the generally slow growth of the advanced economies is nothing to do with Larry Summers’ secular stagnation. Nothing to do with inadequate demand, with slow technological growth, not Robert Gordon’s analysis. Rather, it is the accretion of regulation of the economy that is responsible. And leaving the EU means that Britain can free itself from much to all of that – if it so desires of course.
This does not mean getting rid of the welfare state, doesn’t mean some laissez faire capitalism red in tooth and claw. Just very much less paper pushing and the asking of bureaucratic permission to do things. Just rather more of that Uber idea, move fast and break things. If you prefer, economic growth depends not so much on people innovating but there being space not controlled by the previous rules for people to innovate into. And recreating that space is something that Brexit will allow us to do.