Saturday 28 July 2018

We've survived worse

It looks very much as if the Chequers deal has been rejected by M. Barnier. So Theresa May’s softest of soft Brexits isn’t enough. A plan that has outraged much of the Conservative Party, most Brexiteers and caused the resignation of any number of ministers still doesn’t satisfy the EU. What next?

Parliament has shut down. The politicians will now have a deserved holiday. But when they come back the fundamentals will still be the same. There are three options.

1. We could opt to Remain in the EU on the same terms as we had before.

2. We could decide that it is pointless negotiating with the EU and leave anyway without a deal.

3. We could submit to whatever terms the EU wants, agree to these and leave on that basis.

The only deal I want with the EU is something similar to the free trade deal they have made with Canada and other countries. The EU doesn’t interfere in the internal affairs of Canada. There is no free movement of people between the EU and Canada. EU law or EU law courts do not in any way control Canadian laws or Canadian law courts. Why can’t Britain have something similar?

The reason is Northern Ireland. Apparently a simple free trade deal with the whole of the UK outside of the EU’s Single Market and Custom’s Union would impose a hard border in Ireland.  The whole point of the Chequers plan is to so mimic the EU’s Customs Union and Single Market that there need be no border checks in Ireland. But what would happen if we left with no deal. Would there be border checks? No. The UK has promised not to man the border in Ireland. The Irish have no intention of manning their side of the border either. Moreover the EU has promised the Irish Government that if there is no deal there will be no requirement for anyone to man the border. So neither the EU, the British, nor the Irish want or intend to man the border. Yet this and really this alone is preventing us from having a free trade deal. It is necessary to conclude that this problem is manufactured bogus and designed to force Britain to accept the worst possible deal with the EU.

What does the EU want? It most wants us to stay in the EU. If that isn’t possible it wants us to leave in such a way that we cannot make a success of Brexit and thus be a positive example to others.

So we could choose option number one. We could decide that leaving the EU is impossible or that it would do immense damage to the economy. Why would it do this damage? The reason is that the EU has come up with a bogus reason for making it impossible for the UK to have a free trade deal like the one that it has with Canada.

What if we chose option number two. We just go to M. Barnier and do what he wants. How much softer will Brexit have to get before M. Barnier is happy? I suspect we would have to agree to remain in the Customs Union, possibly the Single Market and we would have to accept free movement of people. We would have to accept that EU law remained supreme and that the European Court of Justice was higher than any British court. We would likewise have to pay not merely the £38 Billion divorce fee, but an ongoing yearly fee not dissimilar to the one that we paid as EU members. This is the price that the EU wants for us to trade with them freely. I would prefer remaining in the EU to this.

If leaving the EU is truly impossible, then it is better by far for Theresa May to go on television and admit that we tried to leave, but we couldn’t do it. There is no point having a referendum on something that is impossible. Better to just admit that the 2016 EU referendum was a charade because the EU really is a prison without doors. In this way we would join the long list of countries that voted against the EU and were later forced to change their minds.

What would be the consequences of this? In the short term there would be none. We would all get on with our lives. There wouldn’t be any economic disruption next March. But there would be a sullen sort of anger in the hearts of many voters. There would be a sense that politics was pointless and that elections didn’t matter. There would be pessimism about the future and a loss of hope that real change was possible. Long term this sort of thing withers a country.

What would be the point of ever having a referendum again about anything? If it turned out that the fifth largest economy in the world couldn’t leave a union of forty years, who would believe that Scotland could leave a union of three hundred years? Moreover, even if Scotland at some point voted to leave the UK, what would prevent the UK negotiating in the same way as the EU in order to give Scotland either independence in name only or else the chance to repent of its sins and remain?

But once you say to people that their political ideals are pointless that real change cannot be achieved by means of the ballot box, you open the way to a poisonous mixture of apathy and extremism. If Britain either fails to leave the EU or leaves in such a way that it is indistinguishable from remaining, there will be consequences for our democracy that are completely unknown and unknowable. I fear this far more than leaving without a deal.

After her holiday Theresa May should make a final offer to the EU. We want a Canada style free trade deal that applies to the whole of the UK including Northern Ireland. We are not going to allow any sort of internal border in the Irish Sea. If this is unacceptable she should say there is nothing more to discuss and announce to the British public that we are preparing to leave without a deal.

Leaving the EU without a deal would no doubt involve some short term difficulty, but we ought not to leave on terms that are intended to do us long term harm. In our long history we have from time to time had to struggle in order to do what was right. The beginning of the First World War brought with it financial chaos, but neither the government nor the people wavered in its resolve. A little courage is required, this time, but only a little. We will have to adjust in order to trade with the EU on WTO terms. The EU might be awkward for a while, but this won’t last long. Whatever happens, we will manage and it will be worth it. We survived Napoleon’s blockade and eventually he ended up on one of our tiny islands in the middle of the Atlantic.

We have seen off worse than the likes of Barnier.

Friday 27 July 2018

Trump the usurper

American politics was supposed to continue to be a dynastic struggle between the Clintons and the Bushes. It was supposed to be this way as that would mean nothing would change. Trump is a usurper. It is for this reason above all that he is so hated by the liberal establishment.

We have got to the stage however where everything Trump does is met with fury. This is the case whether he does something stupid or something sensible. Trump only has to exist to cause liberal anger. I can think of no US President in history who has caused such anger from opponents apart perhaps from Lincoln and his election caused the Civil War.

 I think the main reasons for Trump causing such a degree of fury are these:

1. He boasted that he could grab women by the p*ssy.

2. He wants to ban people travelling to the US from certain Muslim countries.

3. He wants to build a wall between Mexico and the USA.

4. He beat Hilary Clinton.

5. The Russians interfered in the election.

Like everyone else I found Trump’s comments about grabbing women to be vulgar, but which of us has not in private said something outrageous? Have you ever said something along the lines of I could throttle him? Have you ever made a joke that you wouldn’t like to be repeated on national television? Have you ever said something insulting about a politician, an entertainer? Have you ever in private done something you are rather ashamed of? Go on then cast the first stone.

Did Trump actually grab women? Who knows? I would guess that he probably did. But how many rich and powerful older men have been able to touch young beautiful women where they please? Are we to convict all of them? It’s not as if they are doing anything illegal. Rich, powerful men don’t need to do anything illegal to sleep with young beautiful women. They just need to have lots of money. Do you really suppose that Melania married Trump because of his looks? So Trump may have in a vulgar way said something outrageous, but he also said something that is true. So long as women are attracted by wealth and power, ugly, fat, old men will be able to sleep with whomsoever they please. If women don’t like this, it is up to us to say “No I don’t want your riches, your power or whatever jobs you might offer.”

I have little doubt that Trump has had numerous affairs, but this is a private matter between him and his wife or wives between him and his God or gods if he has any. Trump has been convicted of precisely nothing and if we start convicting men because they boast about their sexual prowess in private we are frankly going to need to build a lot more jails.

Trump completely bungled his attempt to ban people from certain Muslim countries because he was too honest about it. But I strongly suspect a majority of Americans would like security to be a factor in the issuing of visas and in fulfilling US duties with regard to asylum. Such policies however ought not to be discriminatory. It should be harder for people from any country that hates America to travel to America.

People from safe, prosperous countries should be able to travel with ease to America for holiday and business purposes. It need not matter what they believe. But if people are unfortunate enough to come from countries that regularly produce terrorists it is only sensible if security checks are made before granting them visas. But this should equally apply to countries that terrorise by means of Novichok as those who terrorise by means of flying planes into towers.

Likewise there is little reason for America to fear that tourists from Japan will overstay their welcome, so it makes sense to make travel from Japan as easy as possible. But there are large numbers of people from certain countries who enter the US on a tourist visa and never go home. It therefore makes sense to make it considerably harder for these people to obtain visas.

With cleverness Trump could have limited the possibility for people from various countries to obtain visas without doing so in a discriminatory way. He could likewise have limited the possibilities of people entering the US illegally from Mexico and staying illegally without having to build a wall and without treating Mexicans in any way cruelly. Britain is surrounded by sea, but even this doesn’t prevent people from arriving illegally. So the issue isn’t fundamentally whether you have a moat a wall or whether you don't. What matters is whether those who arrive illegally believe that they have an excellent chance of staying. If Trump wishes to discourage illegal migration, the key is not to reward it.

We have borders for a reason. We treat citizens of our sovereign state differently from those from other sovereign states. We have a special duty to pay our taxes for the welfare of our fellow citizens, not to pay for the welfare of everyone in the world. We would be bankrupt very quickly if we tried to provide the same level of public service we get in Britain to absolutely everyone in the world. For this reason we have a border and limit who can enter that border. If we didn’t we rapidly would cease to have our sovereign state at all. If you really wish to have completely open borders and unlimited migration, you are saying that you wish to abolish sovereign states and simply have the world completely without states and borders. There is an argument for this, but if that is your argument then make it and put it to the electorate honestly. But I’m afraid you will get very few votes.

For this reason we simply cannot allow unlimited economic migration from anywhere. Not only would this make our system of paying taxes in order to gain various benefits, unworkable, but still more crucially it would damage the countries from which the economic migrants have come. If the best and brightest from Mexico understandably hope for a better life in the USA their talents won’t be used to help Mexico become a more developed and more prosperous country.

It is for this reason that it is in both the interests of the US and Mexico that migration between these places is managed and limited. The best way to do this however is to make it impossible for illegal migrants to function inside the USA, by for instance making simple everyday tasks require identification only available to US citizens, and to be strict with those who are caught living in the US illegally so that criminality is seen not to pay. At the same time the USA should be doing all it can to help Mexico develop into a place where people want to stay rather than a place they want to leave. The same goes for everywhere not just Mexico. We must not reward people smugglers, but instead use free trade rather than corrupt aid to encourage people to make their own countries more prosperous.

Trump is hated most because he beat Hilary Clinton. Liberal America was looking forward to feeling good about itself. Identity politics had given us a black president, next it had to give us a female president, after that it would be time for a black female president with a First Lady. Obama’s most important characteristic was something that he was born with. It didn’t much matter if he was good, bad or indifferent. It mattered only that he was black. So too Hilary Clinton was born with her most important characteristic. This is the problem with identity politics. It makes people cease to care whether an author is a good writer. What matters is that she’s not dead, white nor a man. We cease to judge according to talent or character, but instead by whether someone is female, gay, disabled, transgender or from an ethnic minority. It’s a sort of apartheid, only in reverse. Whatever is not white, not straight and not male has virtue. Those liberal Americans who are white, straight and male get to feel a wonderful frisson of guilt which can be overcome by voting first for Obama and then for Hilary Clinton. At this point they are cleansed and can feel virtuous again.

But Trump took this moment away from them. There was no moment of feeling warm and gooey because America had elected its first female president. Instead millions of Americans had demonstrated their contempt for identity politics. Identity politics lost. Just like the Remainers they have been fighting a rearguard battle ever since.

Liberal America has been desperately trying to annul the result of the Presidential election since the moment it was announced. It has used the CIA and the FBI to attempt to thwart that result and hopefully annul it.

Trump’s sin is that the Russians wanted him to win and almost certainly interfered in the election. But the Russians have been interfering in all sorts of elections lately. They were probably involved in Brexit, in Macron’s election and the Scottish and Catalan independence votes. What are we to do? Shall we annul all elections where it can be shown that the Russians were probably interfering? The trouble is that lots of people from all around the world interfere. Obama advised British Brexit voters that we would go to the back of the queue. The head of the IMF told us that Brexit would be a disaster. Sometimes this interference works, more often the voters just ignore it. Did Russian interference in the US elections mean Trump won? Who knows? But do we really want to go down the route of saying that if it can be proved that the Russians helped one candidate, that candidate must lose? That too might allow the Russians to choose who they want to be president. They might for instance “support” the candidate they want least.

Did Trump’s team contact the Russians? Probably. Does it matter? No. I’m sure many previous US presidents elect and presidential candidates have informally contacted the Soviets. It’s sensible politics and benefits security to have such contacts. If someone showed that Kennedy had contacted Khrushchev prior to gaining power, I would consider this to have been quite sensible. Let them try to develop a relationship as soon as possible. Perhaps it might help in a crisis involving Cuban missiles.

The problem with the liberal rearguard action is that it is trying to prevent Trump doing his job. Whatever he does causes outrage, even above average economic growth figures. How dare he be successful.

I disagree with Trump on many issues. I especially dislike his protectionist tendencies, but we must give him a chance. It just might be that his threats to raise tariffs against China, the EU and Canada will make it necessary for these places to be less protectionist. It might on the other hand lead to a  trade war where everyone loses. Let's wait and see. Let's be open about the possibility of a Trump success rather than decide we have inevitable failure before anything has even been attempted. 

I think Trump’s unorthodox methods of diplomacy might bring about peace in the Korean peninsula, which might ultimately lead to reunification. This would massively benefit the people of North Korea and would make East Asia much more secure and prosperous.

It looks as Trump and Putin have come to some sort of an arrangement with regard to Syria which will put Syria in the Russian sphere of influence. The Israelis have been involved in the negotiations and clearly think this might improve Israel’s security situation. The main benefit is that Jihad will have been crushed in Syria. The price is that Assad will remain in power. Is it worth it? Yes. If we had backed Assad from the beginning we might have avoided war. We must start to think strategically and in terms of what is in our foreign policy interest rather than what makes our foreign policy look virtuous. This is how Great Power diplomacy keeps the peace. It always was this way. 

The price for peace in the Middle East will I strongly suspect be an eventual peace deal between the USA and Russia ending the Little Ice Age of Cold War II. This will mean that sanctions against Russia will cease and Russia and Ukraine will have to come to an agreement about their borders. Russia will keep what it has, but will have to promise not to play quite so rough in the future. Learn to live with this. The deal won't get any better.

If Trump achieves all of these things then he will deserve to win a second term. He might even go down in history as a second Ronald Reagan. It is all too early to judge. But it would be better for the whole world if liberal fury over Hilary Clinton not winning the election and Trump’s boast about being a cat lover didn’t spoil the best chance we have had for peace in some time.

Wednesday 25 July 2018

Too little content

I was still a student when the Internet started, or at least when it started to be available to ordinary people, but I never used it. I didn’t know how to send an email and anyway I had no address to send to send it to. I didn’t know how to search, because I didn’t know what a browser or a search engine was. So I left it all alone thinking it was something for the computer scientists. I sent letters by post and put messages in the college pigeon hole.

It was only sometime later, I don’t know quite how, that I discovered dial up modems that monopolised the phone line. I learned that I could buy silent movie DVDs from America using Amazon. A bit later I set my homepage to Google, joined blogger and sold my soul to Twitter.

It’s far too early to judge these things. We are in 1460. It’s twenty or thirty years since Gutenberg started printing. The Reformation will soon come and also the Enlightenment, but there are not that many signs yet that everything is about to be overturned. But it’s already happening.

I haven’t bought a book from a physical bookshop for maybe ten years. I tend to buy out of print fiction, books in Russian or the sort of non-fiction that I’m unlikely to find in Aberdeen. So I just stopped looking. Amazon can get me almost anything I want, but what happens when all the city centres close down?

I have hundreds of friends on facebook, but I haven’t met one of them. I have more than ten thousand followers on Twitter, but I can imagine a future quite easily where I spend most evenings alone.

People sit on the bus scrolling on their mobile phones writing and reading trivia. Students no longer read books, but rather skim their lap tops scanning the lecture notes they’ve been given divided up neatly with bullet points in large print. Their eyes flit between their devices trying somehow to keep up with the ever changing information. Nothing is missed, but is anything more than something fleeting?

Mental health problems increase as we become addicted to a technology that doesn’t satisfy as we lose all sense of what we seek. Meanwhile those who control the technology we depend on are distant, enormous and impossible to contact.  

 Have you ever tried to contact Twitter? I had to a little while ago. Suddenly what I had done on thousands of occasions I could no longer do. A message appeared when I tried to share a link from my blog. No matter what I tried, I could no longer share. Someone, somewhere, or perhaps it was merely a computer programme, had decided that my site was spam. Who knows why?

It was quite literally impossible for me to reach a human being. All I got were forms to fill in. They always gave the same answer and carefully explained that we can’t deal with individual inquiries.

So I gave up and decided to get a new address. After quite a lot of difficulty I set up a new domain. My site is exactly the same. It’s still blogger, but I have a new address linking to it. But suddenly my Google Adsense ads no longer worked. It’s not that big a deal, but it’s an annoyance.

I fiddled around with things as best I could and then filled in a form on Adsense letting them know my new address. Google in their wisdom replied back that I have “Too little content”.

I have exactly the same content as I did before, except I now have a few more articles. The site is the same site. It’s Google own blogger site, which they approved for ads some years ago. The only thing that has changed is the address and that not by much.

I go to the Adsense help section. I get a trouble shooter that takes me nowhere. I get a form where no-one answers my query, but I never get a human being who can answer how three hundred plus original articles some of them very long indeed can amount to too little content.

I am grateful to Twitter and to Google. They have enabled me to reach more readers than I could ever have dreamed of reaching, but then why do I feel like Kafka stuck in Mitteleuropean bureaucracy where all is arbitrary, where some Austro-Hungarian functionary censors because of a whim and where you never quite know what you are on trial for?

Saturday 21 July 2018

We still have our fingers

The Brexit White Paper agreed by the Cabinet at Chequers has more or less already been rejected by the EU. They want still more concessions. So a plan that amounted to Brexit in Name Only, where the UK would mimic the EU Single Market and Customs Union, where we would have all of the disadvantages of Remaining in the EU but none of the advantages of Leaving, where we would be rule takers with no say whatsoever in the forming of those rules, isn’t enough for M. Barnier and friends. The EU thinks it is Rome and that Britain is Carthage and that they can demand tribute and a Carthaginian peace. But as we have told Frenchmen down the ages we must remind M. Barnier that we still have our fingers. We haven’t been defeated.

 All Britain wants is a free trade deal and the ability to depart in peace in such a way that it is of mutual benefit to everyone. We want to cooperate with the EU and treat them as friends and good neighbours. But it is becoming ever clearer that the EU is desperate to punish Britain for the temerity of voting the Leave. They want Brexit to fail. They want us either to see that the terms of leaving are so bad that we choose to give up on our Brexit dream, or else they want us a few years down the line to admit that we cannot do without EU membership and apply to rejoin. Can you imagine the terms they would offer? We would have to promise to join the Euro, promise to join Schengen and we would have no rebate and so would have a vastly increased membership fee.

Worse than all of these things, Britain would be humiliated. We would have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. This is what the Remainers are offering us. They want us to fail. At every stage of our journey they have tried to hinder us rather than help. Whatever obstacle they could find they have put in our way. They have delighted when the EU has said this is impossible or that Britain will have to pay more. They would prefer defeat to victory and the worst peace treaty possible.  We would have lost both World Wars and the Cold War too if so many had sided with our opponent.   

But there is a strain in Post War British thinking that wants to apologise for our history and hopes only to manage decline. It is this above all that meant from 1945 to 1979 we had a mini-dark age where everything was drab and frequently the lights would go out. We joined the Common Market out of despair, not quite knowing how to cope with the modern world.

But this changed in the 1980s. We began to create a modern economy. We began to be productive. Those things that had hindered Britain, such as nationalisation, ultra-powerful unions and bureaucracy were gradually reformed. Young people today have no idea at all how poor we were in the 1970s. Britain has an excellent economy today, because we dared in the 1980s to do something differently. We threw out the post-war consensus of the Tory Wets and Old Labour and created a new Britain that wasn’t in decline any more.

Now those same Tory Wets and Labour moderates horrified that Britain might actually succeed in creating a successful economy outside the EU are desperate to get us back into managed decline.

I would prefer a few years of Corbyn if only he’d follow his convictions and actually get us out of the EU. At least Corbyn believes in something and hopes for something better. He is wrong of course, but perhaps Labour voters need to be taught once more that socialism doesn’t work. At some point it will be their turn. It would certainly be much worse than a Brexit on WTO terms. It might even be 1979 all over again if not 1917. But that’s democracy. We cannot prevent a Labour Government because we think it would be bad for the economy and would lead to economic disaster. That would be undemocratic wouldn’t it? But somehow people think we can stop Brexit before we have even tried it, as if that wouldn’t be equally undemocratic.

So what is to be done? It is quite clear that the whole EU strategy is designed to prevent Britain from making a success of Brexit. This is why they wish to tie us to the EU as closely as possible. Why do they reason in this way? It is because they know that Britain will make a success of Brexit if we can just get free from the EU. The reason Brexit will be a success is that we can use it to reform our economy in a similar way to the 1980s. We can get rid of all the EU bureaucracy. We can begin to gradually limit paying subsidies to farmers, which will have the effect in time of making our farms more efficient. We can lower tariffs unilaterally and no longer enforce the EU’s Common External Tariff. This will mean that food and other consumer products will be cheaper for our shoppers. We can offer free trade deals to anyone in the world who will reciprocate. We can make Britain the cheapest place in Europe to do business, lowering our business rates beneath those of the Republic of Ireland.

Whenever Remainers are gloomy about the future and whenever they predict disaster, I try to respond with both realism and optimism. I would much prefer a free trade with the EU and I would much prefer to cooperate with them. It would be far from ideal for both us and the EU if we cannot agree reasonable terms. But I would prefer to simply trade on WTO terms than to surrender when we haven’t even been beaten. If we surrender now we give up, perhaps forever the optimism and renewal that Brexit could bring to our country. We go back into the gloom of managed decline.

The Government should start doing all that is necessary to prepare for leaving the EU in March and should withdraw from all talks with M. Barnier and friends until they wish to be more constructive. We should spend whatever it takes to get ready for March. Above all we should not listen to Remainer threats. In the end they amount to a country without an air force threatening to close its airspace. It’s rather like the ant threatening the elephant. Why should we even notice?

Friday 20 July 2018

Melting the frozen conflict

The purpose of history is not to learn from it in the sense that it prevents us from making the same mistakes. When did that ever work? 1812 would suggest the dangers inherent in attacking Russia, but the lesson was not learned in 1941. The pattern repeated itself with Russia able to endlessly retreat and accept limitless punishment only to finally unleash devastating counterattacks. But why should the Germans have learned the lesson of 1812, when they had their own lesson from a little more than twenty years earlier. The German Army decisively defeated the Russian Empire in the field in 1917/1918. They were able to advance as far as Pskov and Rostov on Don and in the process captured Kiev, Minsk and Kharkov. If their fathers could do this why could not their sons? So which lesson do we take from history? The lessons are frequently contradictory. It is perhaps for this reason that we do not learn.

It is not so much that history teaches us to avoid certain mistakes. We will continue to make mistakes. Rather it explains the present and gives us the key to understanding what is happening right now. Certain problems that exist in the modern world such as frozen conflicts can only be understood through history. In this way they can perhaps be melted.

If you look at a map of Europe in 1900 it is quite remarkable how much has changed. How can it be that so many countries have come into existence? Why are there so many borders now that didn’t exist in 1900? In the vast majority of cases the map we have at present is because of war.

In 1900 there was no sovereign independent nation state called Poland. Polish people looked back at their history and hoped that one day they would get their country back, but the prospects must have looked bleak. They had revolted in 1830 and in 1863, but these revolts were crushed. Briefly Napoleon had created a Grand Duchy of Poland, but it wasn’t properly independent and it lasted for only eight years. The problem for Poles was that the place they considered to be Poland was divided between Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary. So even if a revolt against Russia had succeeded, it couldn’t have given them Poland, at least not all of it. The Poles were like the Kurds today, divided between Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, a people without a country.

How could Polish people fight three great powers at once when they didn’t even have an army? The situation in 1900 must have seemed completely hopeless. Yet within twenty years there was a Poland again.

If we look at the boundaries of Poland today it, shows something crucial about how the map of Europe has changed in the past one hundred years. The initial map of an independent Poland only happened in the first place because of the First World War and the Russian Revolution. Imagine if the Russian Empire had been able to hang on for just one more year. Do you think the allies would have rewarded Russia for four years of fighting by taking away part of their territory? Instead Russia would have been granted parts of Austria/Hungary Germany and possibly Constantinople. Everything Russia had been fighting for throughout the nineteenth century might well have been theirs if they could only have held on for one more year. In that case too it is likely that Poland would never have come into existence again.

So the first condition for Polish independence is that Russia has a revolution that causes the Russian Empire to collapse. The second condition is that Russia or rather the Soviet Union loses the Polish Soviet War (1919-1921). What right legally did the Poles have to annex Lemberg (Lvov) from Austria Hungary and Vilna (Vilnius) from the Russian Empire? Why should Poland be allowed to turn East Prussia into an island divided from the rest of Germany by a corridor to the sea. Of course all of these territorial changes were eventually made legal by treaties. But it wasn’t law that created the territorial changes. It was war. If Poland had lost its battle for existence after the First World War, there wouldn’t be any boundaries to have treaties about.

The Second World War also changed the boundaries of Poland. First Poland was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1939. It has always baffled me why the UK and France declared war on Germany for invading Poland but not on the Soviet Union. What was the difference? Eastern Poland was annexed by the Soviet Union illegally. It is for this reason and this reason alone that the present boundaries of Ukraine and Belarus are as they are. If it hadn’t been for Stalin’s actions in 1939, Vilnius would not be the capital of Lithuania and Lvov would not be the centre of Ukrainian nationalism. Belarus too would now be much smaller if it had not been for the Red Army’s actions in 1939.

All of these boundaries have been subject to law and treaty. The reality on the ground is eventually accepted. But the reason for these boundaries is not law. It is war.

Poland lost large chunks of its eastern territory in 1939, but it was compensated for this later by gaining large chunks of territory from Germany. Again this happened because the Soviet Union was able to defeat the German Army in the field. German territory was then annexed and given to Poland. German people were driven from their homes while Polish people moved from their former homes now in the Lithuanian, Belarussian and Ukrainian Republics of the USSR and settled in towns that had formerly been German for centuries. Eventually treaties were made that justified these territorial changes. But all of this law is simply ex post facto reasoning. It was the fighting in the Second World War and the agreement between Churchill Stalin and Roosevelt that created the present boundaries of Poland. What right did the Soviet Union have to take away Polish territory in 1939? None whatever. What right did the Soviet Union have to take away German cities like Breslau and Stettin? They had the right of conquest. Dress it up all you will, but that is what it amounts to.

We accept without question that history changes maps. If you look at the evolution of Europe’s map since ancient times you will find huge changes caused by population migrations and war. Why do we have a place called Hungary? The reason is that a central Asian people called the Hungarians moved there. No doubt there were people living there already, but they were conquered. This is how the world works.
But while we accept that history can change maps we think that history has stopped. After 1945 we decided that territorial changes were no longer permitted. If maps were to change this could only be due to democracy and law. It is for this reason above all that we have frozen conflicts.

The breakup of the Soviet Union has left us with a rather odd map. Conflicts in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Ukraine and others have left us with de facto boundaries that are unrecognised in law. Russia fought a war with Georgia in 2008. Georgia lost and part of its territory was in effect annexed by Russia. Likewise Russia fought a war with Ukraine in 2014 and parts of Ukraine were annexed by Russia. Historically this is all very straightforward.

Look at the map of the Balkans before the First World War. It was the Balkan Wars that created the map.

In the First Balkan War (1912-1913) Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro united against the Ottoman Empire. But then everyone including the Ottomans ganged up on Bulgaria in the Second Balkan War (1913). Everyone wanted a piece of the European territory that had just been liberated from the Turks. But no-one could agree on whose claim was just and whose was unjust. Once more the issue was decided by war. Eventually there was a peace treaty that reflected the reality on the ground. Most of the boundaries in Europe have a similar story. It is in this way that boundaries have evolved.

But somehow since the Second World War we have ceased to learn how history works. We think that our method of solving conflict is far superior. Does anyone really think that it is superior to keep Crimea, the Donbass, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in a permanently frozen situation? Is it really likely that at any point in the near future these territories will go back to Ukraine and Georgia? The only way that would happen is if someone fought a war with Russia and annexed these territories back. I find that prospect rather disturbing.

The idea also that we must have permanent sanctions until Russia gives back whatever territories it annexed is also troubling. Russia won’t give them back. They will wait for as long as it takes. Within living memory the Russian people have gone through suffering that is unimaginable in places like Britain. Do you really think they will give up their territory because it’s a little harder to obtain Parmesan cheese nowadays? But these sanctions mean that there is permanent tension between Russia and the Western powers that are imposing them. The relationship between the West and Russia is worse than it was even during the Cold War. At least then there was détente and an acceptance that there was a Russian sphere of influence that the West didn’t interfere with. Right or wrong great powers still do have spheres of influence and strategic red lines. No doubt they have no right to these, but they always have and probably always will. Frozen conflicts mean frozen wars, but such wars can heat up. This is the danger of failing to solve these conflicts. Long term sanctions against Russia, and they will have to be very long term, simply mean that we have a long term cold war that could heat up at any minute. Is this really safer, than accepting the reality on the ground?

There are many long running territorial disputes all over the world. For example, there is a dispute over the Russian Kuril islands just north of Japan. Does Japan really think that Russia will give back these islands? The justification for their being part of Russia is exactly the same justification as that which gives Russia the right to southern Sakhalin or indeed East Prussia. Late in the day the USSR declared war on Japan in 1945. It then used that war to annex some Japanese territory including the Kuril islands. This justification is exactly the same as the one which justifies the changes to the boundaries of Poland. If the Japanese have the right to claim back these islands then so too do the Germans have the right to claim back Stettin.

People have to accept the reality that is on the ground. Imagine if Poles were today sitting in refugee camps outside Lvov. Imagine if these Poles were lobbing rockets into Lvov. What if Germans on the river Neisse were still complaining about the land that they had lost? What if they sometimes went to Warsaw and blew themselves up to complain that they had been hard done by? How would the Russians respond if Germans demanded that they were given Königsberg back and if they backed up this demand with terrorism?

The same principle applies to all of these frozen conflicts. You have to accept the reality on the ground. It might be unjust. It might even be illegal. But much of what we accept today about the borders of Europe is the result of injustice and illegality. Israel exists for exactly the same reason as Poland exists. Israelis fought for the existence of their state and they won. Territory that formerly belonged to Jordan (West Bank), Syria (Golan) and Egypt (Gaza) was conquered by Israel because Arab armies continually tried to conquer and destroy Israel. This is no more unjust than any other conquest in history. Or is OK for Russians to annex territory in war but not Jews?

We try to solve disputes diplomatically. But diplomacy sometimes fails. This too is part of human nature. We are no different from those people we read about in history books. Wars happen. They are a way of solving disputes. Because of war sometimes populations change. This also is part of human nature. If people cannot bear to live together then they will have to live separately. Sometimes this solves the problem.
We cannot keep conflicts frozen forever for the reason that we do not want to reward war. We have been rewarding war since history began. Do we suppose that history has stopped. The reality is that rewarding war today is no more nor less risky than it ever was. Sometimes it encourages new wars, sometimes it leads to lasting peace. Maintaining frozen conflicts means that these places remain forever a flash point. It is time above all to make peace with Russia. It is too dangerous not to. Russia has responded to sanctions by lashing out wildly. You wreck our economy, we'll poison you and wreck your elections and do anything else we please. They can. They could annex the Baltic states in an afternoon and nothing but nuclear weapons would stop them. So be grateful that there is just maybe the possibility of peace negotiations. 

This is going to happen eventually anyway. In the end Donald Trump will lose interest in continuing the Cold War. It is too expensive and he is too isolationist. The rest of us too will if we have any sense make a deal. 

Ukraine made a terrible mistake when it revolted against a president who had been elected. Who knows what Ukraine was promised by the EU and by the US if it went down this route? But I’m sorry, you lost. Crimea will never be part of Ukraine, nor probably will the Donbass. The Russians will eat grass before giving them back. They can. They have done so before. We won't. That's the difference. I think maybe you need to speak Russian to understand this. 

Russia no doubt owes some financial compensation to Ukraine for its loss. But we must have a peace treaty that reflects the reality on the ground, because this is not going to change. 

The West and Russia must guarantee each other's security and we must receive assurances that Russian misbehaviour will cease and receive compensation for it.  We must work towards cooperation again. We have common enemies who we ought to be fighting together rather than separately. But above all rather than freeze conflicts we must be realistic about them. The de facto that is not going to change should melt the de jure and there will be the peace.

Saturday 14 July 2018

Get us out

We are in very odd political times in Britain. It’s something very difficult to write about in advance because the story is so fast moving that no-one can predict what will happen tomorrow, next week, let alone next year. Theresa May’s White Paper on Brexit could I think change everything about British politics, but on the other hand it might have no effect at all.

I never dreamt that leaving the EU could turn out to be so complex or so difficult. It’s now got to the stage where I don’t think anyone quite understands what’s going on, not even those responsible for writing the White Paper.  Theresa May and friends tell us that she has fulfilled all her promises and delivered the Brexit that the electorate voted for. But there are very few Brexiteers who believe her.

The Brexit that Theresa May’s Government is going to give us could hardly be softer. It could hardly resemble being in the EU more. But it is in fact considerably worse than remaining in the EU.

When I was weighing up whether to vote to Remain or Leave I was fully conscious that there were aspects of EU membership that were advantageous for Britain.  They are these:

1. Our citizens can live and work anywhere in the EU and have essentially the same rights as the citizens of the countries where they choose to live.

2. We can influence the course the EU takes by the fact that we are represented in the EU Parliament, the European Commission and that at EU meetings we have a voice and sometimes a veto.

I think that being part of the EU’s Custom’s Union and Single Market are both advantageous and disadvantageous. These make it considerably easier for us to trade with other EU members, but make it considerably harder to do so with anyone else. The EU has free trade between member states so long as you pay a membership fee, but the price of this “free” trade is not merely the membership fee, it is also that you have to impose the Common External Tariff on goods and services from all non-EU members who don’t have a trade deal with the EU, i.e.  most of the rest of the world.  It means furthermore that you cannot make a free trade deal with anyone else because only the EU as a whole can make such a deal.

Theresa May’s White Paper would see Britain technically leave the EU’s Single Market and Custom’s Union, but remain in spirit. We would mimic them. How much we would be able to diverge is a matter of opinion. But it wouldn’t really be up to Britain to determine this. The Irish Government, for example, would be able to complain that a UK trade policy might have a detrimental effect on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Who is going to decide between Ireland and Britain? Well it’s becoming fairly obvious, that it will be the EU. Whose side do you suppose they will take? 

If Britain were to try to strike a trade deal with another country that enabled us, for instance, to buy cheaper butter than Ireland can produce who do you suppose would immediately be on the phone to Brussels to complain? The dispute might be difficult. It might have to be solved in an international court. Where do we suppose such a court would be and who would run it? The Irish tail will always be able to wag the British dog by complaining that we are not mimicking the Single Market and Customs Union enough to keep the border open. The judge will be the EU’s Court. Guess whose side they will take.

So Theresa May’s Brexit would mean that we would lose the advantages of EU membership, but would have nothing to show for it. We won’t be able to trade freely with anyone else and EU laws and an EU court will continue to tell us what to do.

It looks likely that EU citizens will be allowed to live and work in the UK more or less without limit after Brexit. Personally I have no problem with this whatsoever. Legal migration from the EU is a benefit of membership. EU citizens for the most part work hard, integrate well and in a generation their children will be indistinguishable from Brits. Given our demographic situation and aging population we ought to continue to make it easy for Europeans to live and work in the UK. But are we going to get the same rights in return?

Nothing thus far has been said about the rights of British citizens to continue living in the EU post Brexit. We have guaranteed the rights of EU citizens living here, but have got nothing in return. Likewise while EU citizens will be continue to be allowed to live and work in the UK after Brexit almost without limit, the EU is arguing that British citizens will be charged for visas. It is entirely unclear after leaving the EU that we will have any more right to live and work in the EU than people from Haiti or Iran.

In essence then we will have given up all of the benefits of EU membership for nothing.  We will have no representation, no influence and no veto. Our citizens will have few if any rights in the EU, but EU citizens will continue to have the same rights that they do at present in the UK. The EU will be able to determine whether we sufficiently mimic the Single Market and the Customs Union so as to keep the border in Ireland open and they will always be able to use this to control our laws and our trade policies to fit in with theirs.

Anything that Britain might choose to do in the future will have to pass the test that it doesn’t make the Irish Government upset about the border in Ireland. Anything that might force either us or them to monitor cross border trade will see them going to the EU to complain about those naughty Brits and we will have to back down. In effect Ireland will become the feudal overlord and the UK will have to pay tribute. How do you suppose this will effect UK Irish relations? Be careful Ireland. We are going to be neighbours no matter what. Do you really want to make the relationship more poisonous than it has ever been?

What is to be done?

Do we get behind a truly terrible deal with the hope that later we might be able to get something better? This is the route that is being taken by people like Michael Gove and other Brexiteer members of the Cabinet who haven’t resigned.  But could the deal really be improved later? I am becoming ever more doubtful. We would face the same need to negotiate with the EU. What would stop them making the same arguments? Moreover who knows what treaties might be signed by Theresa May. I am open to persuasion about the getting out gradually argument, but I fear Brexit in Name Only would be our fate for the foreseeable future. If we can’t get out now, why suppose that we can get out in the future? Is the EU really a prison, from which it is impossible to escape? If that is the case, we need to put all our energies into battering down the walls rather than trying to negotiate with the guards.

We could admit to the British people that Brexit has failed. We could cancel our attempt to leave. This would be honest and would be infinitely preferable to Theresa May’s fake Brexit, which amounts to leaving in name only. We could then follow the example of Hungary and Poland and fight the EU from within. If we didn’t like something that the EU told us to do, we could simply fail to do it. What are they going to do? But our judges and our establishment are not Poles, so continuing in the EU would mean continuing to do our EU masters bidding. But at least we would keep some of the advantages. The price however of telling the British people that 17.4 million votes have been ignored is impossible to calculate. I cannot begin to imagine what might happen next. When an electorate is ignored it is morally justified in seizing power in whichever manner it chooses. Fortunately in Britain we don’t do revolution.

The only course that I think protects our pride and our democracy is to decide that it is impossible to come to a mutually beneficial deal with the EU, but to leave anyway and trade with them on WTO terms. We should inform the Republic of Ireland that there is an international border between Dublin and Belfast and that we will monitor it as little as possible, but as much as necessary so as to enable our country to leave the EU. They could then decide what they want to do in response. They could decide that they wanted to encourage a renewal of bombing or else they could try to come to an arrangement that fitted the reality that we have left and they have remained. We could then live as friendly neighbours or not as the case may be.

The problem we have given the Parliamentary arithmetic is getting to the stage of being able to walk away from the EU. What are the best tactics? Is it possible to replace Theresa May with someone who really believes in Brexit? On the other hand what happens if May’s vision of Brexit in Name Only doesn’t have a Commons Majority or depends on opposition votes to get through? Who can guess what will happen? I cannot think of a precedent for times like these.

I think if Britain seriously threatened to leave without a deal, the EU would very quickly offer us a free trade deal, but I might be wrong. We might have to accept the worst that they can throw at us. These people want to punish us for trying, for daring to escape.

But that’s OK.

We have been through worse to protect our freedom and our sovereignty, we should be ready once more to do what is necessary. We have the Bank of England. It could print money and issue debt without limit. We could spend extravagantly on necessary infrastructure so as to prop up the economy. We could use the £38 Billion we are due to give to the EU to subsidise our exporters and compensate them for any losses due to tariffs. If foreign courts complain we could either do this covertly or explain that we are now a sovereign power and will do as we please. We could unilaterally lower all tariffs, business rates and offer free trade to anyone who wants it. There might be some short term difficulties, but no worse than 2008, certainly no worse than 1914 or 1939. Let us put our country on a war footing. Let us have a Government of national unity dedicated to protecting British interests. Let there be no room for those who would surrender to foreign powers. This is not 1940.

We weathered that storm, we can weather this. It would be worth it. This is the answer to all scare stories about leaving the EU. Whatever it takes to regain our freedom and our sovereignty will be small in comparison to the price our grandfathers paid willingly.

Let’s just get out. That’s it. There’s nothing else.

Friday 13 July 2018

Scottish Chequers

I only really started to support leaving the EU after the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Until then I had been able to balance the benefits of EU membership with the flaws inherent in that organisation. What changed my mind was that I could see the path we were on was leading to Scottish independence. At some point in the relatively near future there would be a second independence referendum and the SNP would win. Their support increased massively after 2014. This continued right up until 2016 when we voted for Brexit. It wasn't a coincidence. 

Many Remain voices had argued that Brexit would split the UK, but as with so many other aspects of their campaign, subsequent events have shown them to be wrong. The SNP declined from their 2015 peak when they won nearly all the Scottish seats at Westminster. Sturgeon’s fiery rhetoric and demands for indyref2 have more or less ceased. In 2018 the SNP released something called a “Growth Commission”, but only people like me paid much attention and that only to point out that suggesting Scotland use a “Panama Pound” would be like Darien Scheme Mark II.

The main reason I supported Brexit was that I thought it would discourage Scottish nationalist voters because it would make Scottish independence unpalatable. The whole model of Scottish independence put forward by the SNP, since well before 2014, is that Scotland should be independent but in almost every other respect life would resemble what it does now. The SNP want to retain as much as possible of the UK despite leaving it. It is for this reason above all that they campaigned for a currency union with the UK. In Brexit terms they wanted the softest form of independence possible.

If Scotland could retain nearly all of the benefits of being in the UK while leaving, it is natural to suppose that this might appeal to independence supporting Scots and waverers. The Pro UK argument depended on pointing out that many of these benefits depend on actually remaining a part of the UK. This was the argument we essentially won in 2014.

But we weren’t going to win this argument forever, not with Scottish nationalism continuing to rise in support. If people want independence enough they will accept short term disadvantage in order to reach their goal. Countries have fought wars of independence after all.

This is why I reasoned we needed more. If Britain could only leave the EU, then Scottish nationalists would face a horrible dilemma. Soft independence would no longer be possible.

An independent Scotland would face a choice. Either it could decide to join the EU or it could decide to be both outside of the EU and outside of the UK. The latter is unlikely to appeal to those Scots who rejected even the softest form of independence in 2014. But joining the EU after independence would be just as problematic.

If the UK were completely outside the EU, but Scotland was inside, then Scotland would be part of the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union, but the UK wouldn’t be. Scotland would have to promise to join the Euro and Schengen, which are conditions of joining.  This would obviously have the effect of kicking Scotland out of the UK’s internal market and would put Scotland in a different trading bloc to its closest trading partner (the UK). Once you understand this, you can begin to see why Scottish independence has been dealt a devastating blow by Brexit.

But unfortunately London based politicians have little understanding of Scotland. All those campaigning in the Remain Rearguard apparently were unaware, or else they didn’t care, that they might in effect stop Brexit, but a few years down the line this would breakup our country. Would it be worth it?

A soft Brexit helps the SNP. Imagine if the Republic of Ireland had been kicked out of the Common Travel Area and a manned border had been erected between Northern Ireland and the Republic. This would have decisively shown Scottish nationalists that independence would lead to a border between Scotland and England. There are very few Scots indeed who would vote for this. It would have destroyed the case for independence for ever.

It can, of course, be argued that there would still need to be a border because if Scotland were in the EU it would have to be part of Schengen. The Republic of Ireland has an opt out from joining Schengen. But this is a rather subtle point. There would have been nothing as good as border posts in Northern Ireland “pour décourager les autres”.  

If the UK were completely outside the EU, it would be able to have its own trade deals with anyone else. If an independent Scotland were in the EU, or even if we were outside the EU, then these trade deals wouldn’t apply to Scotland. Scotland would have to apply the Common External Tariff to all goods moving between Scotland and England, which makes some sort of checking inevitable.

As it is, because we are at the moment getting the softest of Brexits, the UK will struggle to make any trade deals with anyone else and there would be practically no difference between an independent Scotland in the EU and the UK outside of it. The UK will mimic the Single Market and the Customs Union, so the gap between an independent Scotland inside the EU and a UK outside of it narrows perhaps even to invisibility. The Brexit dividend of stuffing Scottish nationalism begins to lessen.

It’s not all bad news. The UK will hopefully soon be outside the EU. Whatever deal the UK has with the EU wouldn't apply to an independent Scotland. Scottish independence would still involve Scotland both divorcing the UK and coming to some sort of arrangement with the EU. If we have learned anything in the past two years, it is that such arrangements are tricky. Nothing is guaranteed and it is impossible to predict how such negotiations might go. The UK might negotiate with Scotland à la Barnier demanding a pound of flesh for free trade, the EU would probably side with Spain so as not to encourage separatism, so who knows what sort of deal an independent Scotland might get. If the fifth largest economy in the world (the UK) gets the deal of a vassal, why would they treat Scotland better? If it turns out to be impossible for the UK to actually leave the EU, other than in name only, why should Scottish nationalists expect to ever be able obtain anything other than independence in name only? They are likely to end up as disappointed as the Brexiteers are at the moment. Scotland after all is much more interconnected with the UK than the UK is with the EU. It would stand to reason then that Scottish independence would turn out to be harder than Brexit. If none of these things are actually possible, then what on earth are we arguing about? 

Moreover in time the UK might just be able to escape from the EU completely. Once we have left there would be no going back. In order to rejoin the EU, the UK likewise would find itself having to agree to join Schengen and the Euro. We would have no rebate and would have to do exactly what the EU told us to do. Rejoining then would mean accepting inferior terms to those we have at present. Good luck arguing for that at an election. 

But would there be anything to stop us leaving the EU completely in a few years? All it would take is for a party to propose this at a General Election and then win that election.  Parliament can repeal any Act of Parliament and repudiate any treaty. So Scottish nationalists would have to calculate not only where the UK is now, but where it might end up ten or twenty years from now. To that extent the Scottish nationalist's dilemma is always going to be there. 

Leaving the EU completely is by far the best way to keep the UK intact in the long term. If more politicians understood this, they wouldn’t be so complacent about the threats to the unity of our country. Remainers and soft Brexiteers have made life easier for the SNP. I hope we don’t live to regret this. But any sort of Brexit still makes the SNP’s task of persuading a majority of Scots that independence is desirable and viable harder than it would have been if we had voted to Remain. Our key strategic goals remain the same and they are related. We must get out of the EU completely in order to maintain forever the unity of the UK.