Saturday, 21 January 2017

The front of the queue

One of the best bits from Tim Shipman’s book “All out War” is when he describes David Cameron’s attempt to negotiate some sort of deal with the other EU leaders. The account feels already like another country as if we could look back on those days from a perspective of centuries. But then “the past is foreign country. They do things differently there.” How transient are the political events of a year ago. I had forgotten many of the things that the papers thought at the time were momentous. But then the papers have forgotten them too. Can it really be less than a year ago that Cameron went to Brussels looking for a deal? He might as well have been wearing the clothes of his great grandfather. That world has gone. It is but a dream remembered.

The problem that David Cameron had is that he wanted something and others had to decide whether to give it to him or not. He carefully toured round all the various EU countries. But none of this actually mattered. At every point he had to ask the Germans.  There is an appearance [schein] about the EU, but there is also a reality [sein]. When you have to ask for something, what matters is whether the lady from Berlin says Ja oder nein [yes or no]. The Germans calculated that Britain would not vote to leave the EU and most importantly David Cameron would accept whatever they gave him. So they gave him more or less nothing.

This is the key lesson for our future relations with the EU. Don’t ask for anything. Luckily it looks as if Theresa May has learned it.

The world is different from how it was a year ago in other ways too. There is a long section in Shipman’s book describing how if Britain dared to leave the EU Mr Obama would put us at the back of the queue. Oddly huge numbers of British citizens cheered him on. Thank you Mr Obama. You are too kind. We want to be at the back of the queue.

No doubt some people at the time realised that Mr Obama himself would be gone by the time the issue arose, but then everyone must have calculated that the president spoke for all future presidents. It was after all long standing US policy to support the EU. Who could have guessed at the time that we would now have a president who likes Britain, who thinks of himself as in part British and Scottish, and who wants to put Britain at the front of the queue? But still some British citizens are complaining and are desperate that we should go to the back. Is this some sort of masochism or is it an inferiority complex? If you suffer from it I suggest you do what you can to get over it.

We all eventually revert to our historical roles. It is for this reason that you should read history. Not to learn from it. No one ever learns from history, but rather to understand where we all are now. Far from being an aberration, Trump is taking the United States back to its natural position. He is reasserting the Monroe Doctrine.

Both Franklin Roosevelt in 1940 and Woodrow Wilson in 1916 promised to keep the USA out of European wars. Wilson even used the slogan “America first”. Of course we all know that it didn’t work out that way. But this just expresses the tension in American history. Do we stick to our own continent or do we get involved? After a long period of interventionism the US is going to go back to its natural position. No doubt it will intervene again, but not yet.

This changes everything. It also provides Britain with an opportunity. Crucially when Theresa May goes to get her deal with the EU she is willing to walk away. We don’t particularly need anything from the EU. Imagine if we were asking for something. We’d then be in the same position as Mr Cameron. Oh please Angela let us stay in the Single Market. Oh please Angela we just won’t be able to get along without your help. Up against 27 other EU states, all of whom would want their pound of flesh, but most of all up against the Kaiserin [empress] or is that Kanzlerin [chancellor], we would once more get nothing. The price of leaving the EU under those circumstances would be to remain in the EU. This of course is what the opponents of Brexit have been hoping for. They wanted it to appear as if the UK left the EU, otherwise the peasants might revolt, but in reality we were to remain.

What we want from the EU is no more than we give. If you give us free trade we will give it back. We will let some of your citizens live and work here if you do the same. This is a prize worth having. But it is not worth being ruled by the Kaiserin.

The UK pays more into the EU than we take out, much more. But more than this, we pay more into the EU than we would pay even if we were to pay tariffs on everything we sell to them. It is this which makes our hand so strong as compared to the hand that most EU countries have. Even if, for example, Poland wanted to leave the EU it couldn’t afford to because it gets a subsidy from the EU.  

The same of course goes for Scotland. Even those Scots who dislike the UK have to calculate that leaving would mean giving up the subsidy that the UK gives to Scotland. It is this above all that makes Nicola Sturgeon’s hand so weak. Moreover, if the SNP ever won independence, which would destroy the UK, an SNP leader would still expect to go to London asking for this and that. Please let us keep the pound. Please keep the border open. Please let us have a social union and by the way we want to be best friends. How would you react to someone destroying your country? By contrast the UK doesn’t want to destroy the EU.  We are more than willing to help them achieve whatever goal they seek so long as it doesn’t involve us.

Even in a worst case scenario where the UK walks away from negotiations with the EU and gets nothing, we’d be absolutely fine. We would be no worse off than we are now with regard to our trade with Australia, New Zealand and the USA. We still buy Anchor butter and have done for years. It would be better if we had a trade deal with the EU than not, but then again it would be better if we had a trade deal with New Zealand. This is the prize that we can now get. We can get free trade both with the EU and with those countries that we at present can’t trade freely with because the EU won’t let us.

Why would the EU give us a trade deal? They may not. If they don’t it’s their loss. This again is crucial to the negotiations. Some of them want to punish Britain for leaving the EU. Good luck with that? The British people didn’t react terribly favourably to Mr Obama telling us we’d go to the back of the queue. We likewise have a long tradition of telling Europeans that we still have our two fingers.

Unfortunately for the EU, if they really tried to punish Britain they would end up punishing themselves. Many EU economies are not doing so well at the moment. Do they really want to sell less to Britain than they do at present? But it is beyond trade where the EU may find that it is in their self-interest to keep Britain as a friend.

Mr Trump is retreating into American isolationism. It’s not clear how much money he is willing to spend on European security. How many serious armed forces are there in Europe? I count three. The French, the British and the Russian. This was ably demonstrated during the war in Yugoslavia. Given the task of defending the population of Srebrenica the Dutch army preferred to surrender without firing a shot. This is not serious. My guess is that a regiment of French legionnaires or British paratroops would have done rather better. By making a stand they might have prevented a massacre occurring at all. 

The UK also has the best intelligence service in Europe and we have nuclear weapons. No-one else apart from the French has them. EU security looks like it depends rather crucially on Britain. Implicitly we bring this to the table of negotiations. Why would we be interested in the security of those who do not treat us as friends?

It is perfectly possible to imagine that within a few years we will have more or less free trade with the EU and with countries like Australia and New Zealand. Imagine if we could come up with a trade deal with Australia that meant we could live and work in each other’s countries. My guess is that quite a number of Brits would be attracted to this prospect.

It is this positive story about Britain that we have to tell in order to see off Scottish nationalism. But there is something else as well. Tim Shipman tells a story of a UK Government department getting various edicts from the EU. One of the ministers objects to what he is reading and wants to reject what he thinks is a bad idea. He is firmly told that he can’t. In the end his only task and his only choice is to just sign it. 

But what goes for a department in Westminster equally goes for a department in Holyrood. Scottish ministers will find that in areas that are devolved they will have much more power than they did before. No-one in Westminster will tell them what they can or can’t do with regard to any devolved issue, but no-one in Brussels will be able to tell them either. The Scottish Parliament will be more independent than it was before. Also it will be more powerful than it would be if it left the UK and chose to join the EU. Nicola Sturgeon is blind to this. She only wants to complain and threaten. But the prize that awaits Scotland if we all embrace leaving the EU is not only improved trade with the rest of the world, but also more power over our own affairs. It is perhaps for this reason that so many SNP supporters voted for Brexit.


  1. I think man does learn somewhat from history, although often very poorly and unevenly. It is too cynical to say that absolutely nothing is learned. E.g. every time a plane has an accident lessons are learned to help improve safety.

  2. I think you are missing one important point. The SNP don't really deep down care about EU membership. The fact is they using BREXIT to further their grievance agenda of Scotland being overruled with regard to EU membership rather than actually wanting it. The only thing they want is independence and hang the consequences to the people who undoubtedly would be worse off withdrawing from UK single market. There would a huge disruption in society as jobs are lost or move south and loss of Barnett would cause huge austerity measures. The Spanish would veto any Scottish application to join the EU because of the implications for Spain and Catalonia.
    As an example of the effectiveness of the UK single market how about this. Every two weeks a large truck arrives in a yard near full of double glazed windows. Those windows came from a factory in Northern Ireland and will be installed in houses near Edinburgh. So what you might say? Well the glass and wood used to build those windows is shipped to NI. So we Scotland leaves the UK and joins the EU then there could be tariffs where none existed before and therefore costs will go up and thus fewer windows would be installed leading to job losses in England, NI and here just to the separatist dreams.

    1. SNP : specialists in faux outrage

    2. Lol, The Spanish for's amazing how utter nonsense becomes mainstream.

      Get out of your bubbles and echo chambers. You are all in for one big shock when all of a sudden the barriers, made up or otherwise just no longer matter.

      The fall of the Berlin wall was on reflection quite predictable with hindsight, yet at the time everyone was surprised. If you guys think the status quo will save your precious union then i think quite a few folk will find themselves let down, and not just with the 50's lifestyle you end up with in the rUK.

      Utterly deluded....

    3. If you take a failing state ruled by tyranny like the Soviet Union and replace its dead warmongering, trigger happy president and replace him with a dove like Gorbachev, of course the conquered countries are going to make a run for it - and they did.

      Quite what this has to do with contemporary Britain is anyone's guess. We are a democratic nation that chose to unite and stay united. Pretty much the opposite of the USSR.

    4. The point is that the status quo always seems ever lasting, until its not. The change is often swift and driven from a cause not really recognised as a threat.

      Its only on reflection that it seems inevitable...

      Just think with all that intelligence , everyone in the west was surprised.

      The point being that the UK union might end up broken from an angle none of us see. The exit of Ireland was driven not by revolution but by the mishandling of the ringleaders in eyes of the general population.

      Don't get too comfortable.....

  3. You have been misinformed. There is no walk away option.

    1. Yes, there is. We trade along WTO lines.

      Pray tell, how did the UK get by prior to 1973? My parents / aunts / uncles / grandparents recalled a time of great music, full employment and community spirit - not exactly dante's inferno.

    2. Think the world has moved on a bit in last 40 years....A time of great music, full employment and community spirit.... WTF, do we need another London blitz to make you feel better Aldo. Maybe get Bread to release a new album ?

      You guys talk some amount of bollocks. Let me tell you about the reality of 50's and 60's Glasgow. The bulk of people were living in shithouse slums with shared outside toilets and living in single ends with multiple kids. They could hardly scrape a living never mind shooting off to Spain on a Ryanscare flight for stag weekends.

      The 60-70's you say, yes I remember well the power strikes, bin men strikes. Huge layoffs every few months as the yard waited for another order and the closure of much of british car industry.

      If yearning back to the 50's is your utopia I suspect a lot of your acolytes are going to be rather disappointed.

      Deluded garbage.

    3. Jeez, I was just making the point that we managed before the European union and will manage after it. And what's so great about the EU anyway? A stagnating, unstable, terrorist infested, undemocratic mess that could yet dissolve before our eyes in a collapse of its banking systems and / or rise of the nationalist right. Better off out.

  4. The stars really have aligned in our favour - a US President who is pro British and anti EU (and anti SNP - I expect he will move America's vast dirt digging machinery in their direction at some point, once he's dealt with the important stuff, lol!). He's also in favour of a peaceful, mutually respectful relationship with Russia. About bloody time! Russia isn't the enemy - the enemy shoots up hotels shouting in arabic. Let us turn our attentions solely to them and destroy them.

    Of course, Trump isn't perfect. He's set to do some pretty awful things to his own people. But, hey, that's their business. We don't live in a perfect world and need to take and be grateful for what we can get.

  5. Trump yesterday declared that manufactured goods from outside the US would be hit with "Big Customs Tariffs"....Rule Britania...

    1. We'll see. Trade agreements aren't harmful if the partner nation has a similar standard of living. Trump also has a personal affinity with Britain and a strong dislike of the EU. He may make an exception for us, to further his other interests and general world view.

      But, as I said, we'll see...

    2. Only one thing is sure, Trump is pro Trump.....

  6. A bit off topic but the Supreme Court of the UK has voted 11-0 to throw out wee nippy's case that she has a veto over brexit. Nationalist forums seem to be going into meltdown over it. But we don't have 2 states in the UK, we have 1. This is what the Scots voted for. The court is simply upholding their will.


    1. Shows that May was pushing her luck on trying to avoid parliament but Labour have fallen into line so there is limited danger at WM. If I were SNP I would just vote against it and avoid even talking to it or suggesting amendments.

      Not sure the picture you paint is quite as positive as it seems, in reality Nationalists could not lose once it got to court and they were allowed submissions.

      Either the Scotland Act/Smith/Vow is further holed below the water or they get to talk it out in Holyrood.

      Depending on how its spun this could be very damaging for Labour especially and could be beneficial to Independence cause for those of Devobollocks persuasion.

      Certainly at least any future Vow's or promises pulled from the sack will be less effective as people will be wary , except of course the particularly London devoted. Who will swallow anything.

      A figure I'd liek to see is of the proportion of NO voters how many would vote against a question on retaining Holyrood. That would be eye opening, maybe we get right into the hard core now.

  7. The idea that less than 10% of the electorate should be able to hold the majority to ransom is of course bollocks. The tail cannot at any point wag the dog otherwise Dundee and Glasgow would be independent republics by now. Similarly Nat whining about not having their views taken into account is just that, whining in search of a grievance. The choice was a simple binary one. In or out. The decision was out. End of. The worst case scenario is that we continue trade with the EU through WTO rules, which in many cases may actually represent an improvement on the problems we currently have with the protectionist EU anyway. The myth that the EU is 'a single market' and allows free trade within it is just that, a myth. It is a protectionist organisation and always has been, as it has grown, its bureaucracy has ballooned and the costs of membership for ourselves finally outweighed the benefits. Today's result doesn't change anything and the SNP threat of 50 amendments, smacks of back of fag packet calculations over a wee hauf in the Jacobite bar. "I know Angus, let's tie it all together for the proles to understand, let's say article 50 requires 50 articles!.....aww hang on did we just say that out loud?" The rise of populist and Euro sceptic parties across Europe certainly leaves the SNP avowed policy of nailing Scotland to the mast of a floundering European ship looking less than wise, and given the known levels of Euro scepticism within said party, also politically risky for the leadership. But hey, Nicola and Alec with their multiple income streams in a party that does not allow second or third jobs will be alright so we can sleep safe in that knowledge.

  8. I'm not really sure how a 20% tariff can be a good thing on imports or exports. You are correct that the EU is protectionist and it also limits imports based on environmental and energy standards. I'm sure UK farmers will be cool to take on thw worlds other famers with no protection. The fishermen of course are rubbing their hands at the new protectionism of the UK fishing grounds outside of the EU, not sure they quite see yet the drying up of their export markets due ot price but it will be swings and roundabouts.

    Are we now just going to take on India and China toe to toe ? That does not bode well for wages or social welfare of our citizens. But hey we're not in the Euro right and a 20% drop in currency so far is a good thing right ?

    I love all you free market guys, the unfettered optimism just floods from you. Sadly though its the pragmatists who will need to clean up the mess you make.I suspect a lots of you optimists will be invisible in 3-4 years when reality is laid before you.

    Foundering ship or EU, 'Rise of Euro Sceptics', bureaucracy ...all the soundbites are there. Lets see how it all pans out.

    If you think Trump is going to cut a deal with Britain due to some old links you are seriously deluded. He is a hard nosed bastard who will look out for himself only.

  9. That's the official view from Wallonia is it Runny?

  10. Tariffs are a bad thing....and free trade is a bad thing. Well it is at least a balanced argument.

  11. I'm not in Wallonie any more and my position is clear, staying in the EU single market was and still is the best option.