Prime Minister Theresa May sits behind the Speaker (back row) as Baroness Smith of Basildon speaks in the House of Lords, London, during a debate on the Brexit Bill.
Peers from all political parties have begun their first day of debating the Government’s Brexit Bill in the House of Lords.
Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May was even in attendance, sitting on the benches just in front of the Queens chair. She had previously urged the Lords not to frustrate the political process of Brexit and to obey the will of the people.
These sentiments were echoed by Conservative peer Lady Evans who said that: “This bill is not about revisiting the debate.”before adding “Noble Lords respect the primacy of the elected House and the decision of the British people on 23 June last year.”
Opposition Labour peer Baroness Smith of Basildon said that the government would not be given a ‘blank cheque’ for Brexit and promised to make ministers consider “reasonable changes.” to the proposed bill.
Baroness Smith said that this was not “delaying the process” but part of the process of Brexit.
Lord Newby, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords, said the bill could be changed and sent back to the House of Commons for reconsideration, arguing there was a “world of difference between blocking… and seeking to amend it”.
He said that the government’s approach was “little short of disastrous” and “to sit on our hands in these circumstances is unthinkable and unconscionable.”
There will be two days of debating the bill in the House of Lords this week, before it moves to committee stage and a potential vote on the final makeup of the legislation.
Although the Lords have said that they will not allow the bill to pass unopposed and unchanged in the same way that it did in the commons, they would be very reluctant to risk open warfare with the commons over the Brexit bill so the bill should pass reasonably quickly.
Mr Davis said that the UK’s “best days are still to come”, outside the EU.
Key points from the white paper include:
Trade: The government has reasserted its position that the UK UK will withdraw from the single market, with the eventual aim of seeking a new customs arrangement and a free trade agreement with the EU.
Immigration: A new system to control EU migration into the UK will be introduced, and could be phased in to give businesses vital time to prepare for the new rules.
British citizens living abroad and EU citizens living in the UK: The paper confirms that the government wishes to secure an agreement with the EU to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK and those Britons living in Europe.
Sovereignty: Under the proposed plan,Britain will exit from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice but seek to set up its own legal framework to cover things like trade disputes and employment legislation.
Border: The government are aiming for “as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”
Devolution: As more powers come back to the UK from the EU in the negotiating process, the government have confirmed that it will look to givemore powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is a move that it hopes will placate the predominantly remainer nations.
Security: The document confirms that the UK will seek to continue working with the EU “to preserve UK and European security and to fight terrorism and uphold justice across Europe”. This will include remaining in Interpol, the European Arrest Warrant and cross border information sharing initiatives.
The white paper says the government aims to deliver “a smooth, mutually beneficial exit” but says this will require “a coherent and coordinated approach on both sides”.
The paper also reasserts the governments commitment that Article 50 will be triggered no later than the end of March.
Labour have criticised the white paper, saying that it “means nothing” and argued that it had been produced too late for meaningful scrutiny.
The criticism of the timing of the paper was echoed by leading Scottish National Party MP Steven Gethins who took to twitter to voice his disapproval.
Members of Parliament in the House of Commons have today begun the first of two days of Parliamentary debate on the Notification of Withdrawal from the European Union bill, or as its more commonly known: The Brexit Bill.
Debates will take place today and tomorrow, with a vote on whether to send the legislation to the next stage tomorrow evening.
The Brexit Bill
Once the legislation passes this stage, Prime Minister Theresa May will publish a White Paper which summarises the governments position on Brexit.
The bill will begin its committee stage in the Commons, which gives MP’s an opportunity to take another look at it and potentially revise it. They can try to change the bill by pushing through amendments to the document, although it is unlikely any will pass without the support of a high number of rebel Tory MP’s.
At the end of the committee stage, MP’s will get another chance to debate the bill, followed by a final vote.
It is highly likely that Parliament will vote in favour of adopting the bill, with it being passed to the House of Lords for a secondary debate and vote by its members. If no amendments are proposed and the vote is passed then the bill will be passed to the Queen to receive royal assent.
It is only then that the bill becomes enshrined in UK law.
David Davis MP
Secretary of State for exiting the EU, David Davis made a short statement in Parliament in which he called upon MP’s to “honour their side of the agreement” following the referendum result and pass the bill. He said voters “will view any attempt to halt its progress dimly”.
Sir Keir Starmer MP
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer says the House has a short and “simple bill” to discuss, “but for the Labour Party this a very difficult bill.”
“We’re a fiercely internationalist party,” he says. “We’re a pro-European party.”
Labour campaigned to remain in the EU “but we failed to persuade: we lost the referendum”.
Sir Oliver Letwin MP
Former Cabinet Office minister Sir Oliver Letwin has said that tomorrows vote on the bill is “one of the most important that we will ever take in the House” but he will vote “because the will of the people, in the end, has been expressed”
Meg Tillier MP
Labour MP Meg Hillier has said that she will vote against the bill saying “I cannot walk blindly through a lobby to give a trigger to a process without a shred of detail from the government”.
In other news MP’s also confirmed that they would debate a recent petition calling for the cancellation of a state visit by US President Donald Trump.
The petition, which began over the weekend has gained over 1.7 million signatures, well over the 100,000 required for a parliamentary debate.
It follows widespread condemnation of Mr Trump’s immigration policies, in which individuals from seven predominantly Muslim nations are being refused entry to the USA for a period of up to 120 days.
A similar petition, which calls for the state visit to proceed will also be debated in the Parliamentary debate after reaching over 100,000 signatures.
After months of speculation, press articles and speeches Theresa May has confirmed that she will reveal the Governments plans for Brexit in a speech to take place on Tuesday at Lancaster House, London.
The audience will comprise top level diplomats, ambassadors, high commissioners and the governments EU negotiating team. It is a move that will appease hard line Euroskeptics and remainers alike.
Widespread reports suggest that the government will pursue a so called ‘Hard’ Brexit, completely severing all ties with the European Union, but what does that mean?
The crux of the referendum campaign, immigration and free movement will form a cornerstone of the governments strategy and its negotiating position. While looking to impose restrictions on who can enter the UK, the government has to counterbalance the needs of those UK nationals abroad and to ensure that their rights are protected.
It is a position that will require a great deal of negotiation and compromise on both sides.
Restrictions imposed must allow for the necessary flow of foreign workers which are an increasingly vital part of the UK economy and by virtue essential to economic success.
You can expect a tough line from the government on this key issue, with the government likely to outline a changed immigration system which will take effect once the Article 50 negotiations are concluded.
Access to the Single Market
A market of over 500 million consumers, the European Union forms the largest economic market for the UK and our largest trading partner. However, it is a market that comes with certain constraints in both access and usage.
Constraint number one: All workers within the European Economic Area must be allowed to move freely between member states, with no one state imposing restrictions on movement of any kind.
Obviously this falls under the domain of the aforementioned immigration issue and with the government pursuing a harder line on immigration, this will form the crux of the decision on whether the UK chooses to remain within the single market. It is possible that a deal could be reached which would allow the UK to impose legitimate restrictions on immigration whilst retaining access to the single market, but such a deal does not fall into the Hard Brexit line that the government is keen to pursue.
Constraint number two: No member state may enter into trade agreement or compact independently of the European Union. All trade deals must be made with the agreement of all 28 states.
Despite the obvious advantages of allowing individual member states to sign trade agreements with other nations in the world, the EU has pursued a unified trade policy and as a consequence has been slowed down in its deal making process. As we have seen from the last few months, the number of nations wanting to sign individual trade deals with the UK is increasing at a substantive rate.
With a greater need to preserve increasingly fragile economic markets across Europe, there is a lot of wiggle room for the UK to achieve its goal of economic independence from the EU but retaining access to a necessary partner.
We live in a parliamentary democracy and openness is essential to the political process in the UK. However, the Brexit negotiations represent a unique occasion in British politics, where openness is ultimately counterproductive. Think of it as a game of Poker, if you go into the game with your cards face up then your opponent will know what you hold and will be able to beat you far quicker than if you held them close to your chest.
The same is true of Brexit, openness leads to the EU knowing what issues are vital to the future of the UK and gives them an unfair advantage in the negotiating process. We do not have access to the EU’s negotiating position and they are unlikely to give a full account of it before article 50 is triggered.
That being said, if the current supreme court case is anything to go by parliamentary consent and access will be a vital component of the UK’s negotiating position and essential to preserving the role of parliamentary democracy. A negotiation without the consent or input of Parliament would invalidate the whole idea of the parliamentary system.
It is therefore likely that the Prime Minister will use Tuesday’s speech to unveil how the UK’s negotiating position will be debated in parliament and what role it will play in determining the elements of the negotiation.
With the financial markets a volatile place since the Brexit vote last June, Theresa May will be keen to steady the ship and to outline a viable plan for long term economic success post Brexit.
As with anything, it’s easier to say than to make happen and the final economic strategy of the UK post brexit will depend on how well the EU negotiations go. A key element of any plan is to keep existing businesses here and to encourage new businesses to make their home in the UK.
Keeping the UK an attractive, financially viable prospect is essential and we can expect the government to outline measures to do so, such as the reduction of corporation tax and the relaxation of certain restrictive trade laws.
Financial markets thrive on certainty, confidence and stability. They fail in conditions of instability and uncertainty. Although the FTSE 100 has never been as high as it has in years, the value of Sterling has decreased with the uncertainty of post-brexit Britain.
A clearer strategy should remedy this decrease in value and encourage business to plan for the future in the UK.
A government defined?
Theresa May’s speech on Tuesday will set the stage for the next five years of politics in the UK and will define her tenure as Prime Minister. Shaping the debate will show whether she can handle the task of taking the UK out of Europe or whether another should take her place.
With Labour on the skids, the Liberal Democrats a party in serious decline the opportunity to create a Conservative Brexit Britain is clear. Should she fail to deliver Brexit in the right way, it is highly likely that voters will turn to other political parties at the general election in 2020.
I for one am looking forward to hearing what she has to say.
The United States of America has intervened in the political affairs of a foreign power. These are powerful words, full of intent and purpose. So often in the world the U.S has flexed its political and military muscles to bring about change in a foreign power over the 20th and 21st centuries.
The thing that separates this intervention from the countless others is that this intervention is not in the affairs of a lesser power in a far off land, where the political system is skewed or slanted towards a specific type of politics, this intervention is in a country of similar political and international stature to the U.S. I’m talking about the United Kingdom and Barack Obama’s intervention in the EU referendum debate.
So why intervene?
Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America and the first black man to hold the office is running out of time. In the waning months of his second term as president, he knows that his time is almost up. The vultures are circling; ready to pick apart the carcass of his presidency once he becomes a private citizen again. He has faced a heavily Republican senate, eager to block any and all legislation, a partisan populous not ready to face the harsher realities of the post crash world and an international community filled with crises and division.
Like a prize-fighter who knows his fighting days are over, Barack Obama has nothing to lose and can throw everything he’s got at his presidency. His conservative, compassionate stance has gone and has been replaced by a rushed desire to achieve lasting impact in his few remaining months as president. He has vehemently spoken out on gun crime, on international terrorism, the economy and has pushed through significant diplomatic changes to the United States relationship with Cuba, paving the way for the greatest change in political relations between the two countries for half a century.
Intervention in European Affairs
Turning his attention away from domestic affairs to Europe and the UK could be seen by many as a dramatic overstepping of his presidential authority. Indeed the rebukes since his initial speeches from the Brexiteers have been as stinging as they have been numerous. By all means intervene in a foreign power, but save that intervention for a third world country or a dictatorship but don’t intervene in the affairs of an international partner, particularly one who you enjoy a “special relationship” with.
It’s easy to rebuke him, call him a hypocrite and ignore him, but as objective individuals we must look beyond the words to the real aims of his intervention in this integrally British issue.
We’ve already mentioned one point that is a key motivator for him: preserving the “special relationship”. The US has a vested interest in keeping Britain strong and an international power because we can achieve what they cannot: we can tread the fine lines of Europe, work in American interests and still be seen as an independent nation.
Our country provides a vital exporting and importing market to the US with many companies depending on British wealth and spending power to finance them. Should the UK leave the EU, the United States will have to renegotiate its existing trade agreements with a newly independent UK. Renegotiation takes time and could cause damage to world financial markets, particularly across the European Union.
British influence on the EU cannot be understated, we are one of three key leading nations in the greater European alliance, the others being France and Germany. Our voice carries a significant weight and provides additional strength to the EU message. As a significant political partner, America cannot help but see this and obviously make the logical leap that Britain outside of the EU is a weaker EU.
Playing the long game
You get the sense that America is playing a long game, keeping the EU strong enough while it readies itself for the inevitable confrontation with the newly resurgent Russian Federation. A strong EU preserving its borders can accomplish more politically than NATO could in military terms, drawing other territories into the union and strengthening its existing members. Other nations in the EU have dithered in the past on larger world concerns like Iraq and Afghanistan but the UK has not, we have been prepared to move forward where others have been reticent to do so.
That voice in the EU could be used to motivate it to pursue the eventual military action which will undoubtedly occur as the two great superpowers continue to butt heads.
On the other hand, President Obama could be a pawn in a European game designed to keep Britain in the EU in exchange for certain US concessions across the territories. The statements and speeches have been public but the real politics may be completely secret.
Is he right to do so?
Putting speculation aside, the ethics of President Obama’s intervention in this debate are questionable at best. We are not a dictatorship or a totalitarian society, British democracy has been key too much of the worlds greater democracy and indeed the US owes its constitution and political system to our political system. Intervening in this debate is ill advised and would only be considered by the US if the issue itself were so serious and so game changing that not intervening would be perceptibly catastrophic to American long term interests.
Whether his intervention proves to be a catalyst for a remain landslide or it provokes the opposite response, he has thrown his hat into the centre of the ring and it is up to us now as voters to decide whether this is right or wrong.
It is the 1st July 2016, the political maneuvering, celebrity endorsements, speech making and campaigning are over and the fate of the UK in the European Union has been settled. Amidst the mass of column inches, the “we were right” statements and hurried speculation about the future, what changes can the voters of this country expect, regardless of the result?
The days in the lead up to the referendum will be so frenzied that many of the UK’s voters and political commentators will be saturated and likely sick of the process that many will shut down completely in the post referendum haze.
The EU referendum is the most profound political change to affect the UK in the last quarter century, that much is undeniable but will the common voter care after the vote has been decided?
The popular perception is that a vote to remain in the EU means that nothing will change, that the status quo will continue and things will remain as they are. This will in all likelihood not be the case, as fallout from the vote sets in. Regardless of the result, changes will occur, many will be subtle but many more will be shattering to the existing political, social and economical structures that exist in this country at present.
The first casualties will undoubtedly be the “Brexiteers” .i.e. those MP’s who elected to join the Brexit campaign since its inception. Cabinet ministers should remain largely unaffected, with the exception of Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary who will probably end up being reshuffled out of the cabinet after the referendum result. In some senses, he will get off lightly as rebels like Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith who so publicly opposed the Prime Minister in the campaign will face pressure to resign their seats in favour of Cameronites.
The strongest proponent of the remain campaign, the Prime Minister will enjoy an upsurge in popularity amongst the voters and will look to solidify his power base as he moves forward into the final years of his term.
In staying out of the referendum spotlight, the Labour party has ensured that it will remain largely unaffected by either a remain or exit result. In a classic case of political opportunism, Jeremy Corbyn has been keen for the party to remain unified in its desire to remain in the EU. They can afford to let the Conservative party carry all of the debating and infighting, then claim that they are above such petty conflict.
Emboldened by the vote of confidence, the Prime Minister can use the good feeling to hold renewed discussions with the other leaders of the European Union about the UK’s place within it. However in winning the referendum vote, the Prime Minister must check his ego at the door and will most likely claim that he has been given a strong mandate for reforming the EU by the voters. Whether the leaders of the EU will be keen to have these sorts of discussions with him are anyone’s guess.
Economic uncertainty is almost a given in the aftermath of the EU referendum, as many investors will look to second guess the financial markets both before and after the vote has been cast. Such a period of uncertainty could be highly detrimental to the UK economy, given its fragile status. We will not see a panic in the same vein of the 2008-9 financial crash but can expect a drop in the value of investments at all levels of the financial services market.
Foreign investors could on the other hand be keen to put their money into the economy, taking advantage of a foreseeable period of economic uncertainty to make a fast buck. Legislation may need to be enacted by the UK government to forestall this sort of fire sale in the UK.
An EU keen to reform its financial instruments may look to lessen current financial constraints as a sort of placation of the UK after a positive referendum result. Then again, the EU could look to punish the UK for its attempts to leave “the EU club”.
The area which will be the least affected, at least in the immediate aftermath of the vote would be the UK’s current sociological landscape. Economic migration and immigration will continue in the way that it always has, but the UK will be subject to larger sociological strain as both membership of the EU expands and the tide of immigration continues. Remaining in the EU will not change the day to day sociological structures; people will still pay tax, attend hospitals and pay benefits.
Current commitments to EU legislation will continue, with the possibility of increased legislation in the weeks and months following the vote.
And now to the other side of the coin, what would happen if the vote endorsed the Brexit?
Would the vote to leave signal the swift exit of the Prime Minister? There is always a possibility that this will happen. Losing such a high profile vote would harm his credibility as both a world leader and leader of the Conservative party. Since Cameron has already said that this term will be his last as Prime Minister, the best option for the victorious Brexiters would be to keep him in power and consolidate their powerbase to take over once the term is over. Choosing this course would give the illusion of a strong and unified party to the general public and could fend off a renewed assault from the Labour party.
While the Prime Minister could remain a paper tiger for the rest of his premiership, other prominent remain politicians would fall into the sights of the Brexiters, chief among them being George Osborne. Consolidation of power base and its eventual use could easily force the Chancellor out of his position and stop him from making any succession overtures when Cameron’s term ends.
The bombshell of a British exit from the European Union would ripple through Europe. Borders which remained open under the old way would be closed, legislation which affected Britain and British interests would become null and void and many Euro politicians would be out of a job.
The status of those individuals from the EU who live and work in this country as part of the free movement of workers and individuals would need to be quantified. Would they now be effectively deported? Or would a general amnesty on those already here and working here be agreed?
Radical changes to the current working visa system would not in all likelihood occur, but significantly more checks would be conducted with greater emphasis on excluding those individuals who were not here to work, or key workers. An Australian style points system would be favorable in this instance. Asylum seekers and those fleeing war (like those in Syria) would still be welcome in this country, but benefit tourists would find it far harder to enter the UK.
The question of whether the UK would still allow the resettlement of Syrian migrants leads us to a larger question: Would the international status of the UK change if it were independent from the EU?
The simple answer is No. The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy and enjoys a prominent political and economic status within the international community. Changes made would be only evolutionary as the UK embraces its new status as independent from the EU.
Media speculation makes wild claims that the cost of holidays and travel within the EU would increase dramatically as a result of Brexit, but many of the countries of the EU rely on the income of British tourists so it is not in their final interests for these costs to increase.
As stated previously either referendum result would most likely cause a dip in the financial markets. The idea that many prominent financial institutions would up sticks; move to the continent in the event of a Brexit is pure media speculation and is ultimately not cost effective. Large multi-nationals have a vested interest in trading in UK financial markets and have been aware of the referendum for some time now; it is naive to think that they haven’t made financial plans to remain in this market. Firms cannot afford to ignore the UK because as mentioned it’s the fifth largest economy in the world.
Signing up to the Single Market formed the basis of the last referendum on the EU and it is this battleground where the UK must make its presence felt. Trade deficits and agreements need to be maintained and the UK will need to renegotiate entry into the Single market as an independent nation rather than a member of the EU. Other countries within Europe but independent of the EU have such agreements but they are far smaller economies but the UK would be a different kettle of fish. An agreement is vital and must be reached quickly, whether this comes at a cost of further concessions is a problem for the politicians to solve.
So, this brings us back to our initial question: Will the 1st July 2016 inaugurate the start of a brave new world or an apocalypse now?
Speculation can be made that either event will occur because we are in uncharted territory. Will either result be in the best interests of the UK? We can say with some degree of surety that it will: Britain is a unique country in the world with a proud history and a place at the top tables of the world as a world leader. This tradition will continue because the people of this nation will make it so.
The year is 1990, the Berlin Wall has fallen and Communism is in retreat around the globe, Apartheid is crumbling in South Africa and the Gulf war begins. In the UK a dominant Margaret Thatcher survives a leadership challenge from inside the Conservative Party by a huge margin. Despite the poll tax riots and low approval ratings Thatcher remains confident in her leadership of the country and her party.
Beneath the surface however, it is a Conservative party filled with deep unrest, be it from grassroots party members through to cabinet colleagues. Senior members were unhappy with her support for the poll tax and had big differences of opinion on the UK’s place in the European community.
One such figure was Geoffrey Howe the Deputy Prime Minister, who was the last surviving member of the 1979 cabinet. Howe was unhappy with Mrs Thatcher’s refusal to agree a timetable for the UK to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. On the 1st November 1990, Mr Howe resigned from the Conservative party and his position as Deputy Prime Minister.
This one event triggered a cataclysm of acrimonious resignations, party in fighting and a leadership challenge that would result in Mrs Thatcher would be ousted from the Conservative party. Bringing to an end an 11 year tenure as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Flash forward to early 2016: A dominant Conservative party has won a huge majority at the General Election sweeping aside all opposition. David Cameron negotiates a new agreement with the EU which he deems to be the best deal for Britain and calls for a referendum in which the British People will confirm that belief. His chancellor George Osborne delivers an early budget including a reform of pension tax relief and ending in a number of cuts to disability benefits.
Like the Thatcher government, the Conservative party of 2016 is deeply divided over Europe and Britain’s place in it, there is also concern that the policy of austerity is failing to address overriding economic issues. Factional lines have been drawn within the party and where there was once unity there is now discord and open opposition.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Minister, resigns in disgust at the watering down of proposed disability cuts and the compromises made. His assertion being that the withdrawals and compromises are obviously an attempt to appease middle to high income voters who traditionally vote conservative and to keep them on side ahead of the EU referendum.
It is an assertion that is backed by many colleagues within the party, but rejected by even more. Impartial observers cannot hearken back to the Thatcher government and wonder, will history repeat itself? Will the Conservative party implode as it did before?
The old saying “Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it” has never been more right. David Cameron, aware of the damage one resignation can do and the tenuous nature of the situation has been keen to smooth things over with those individuals who question both the budget and the Conservative parties’ role in Mr Duncan Smith’s resignation.
Whether the Conservative party slides into civil war and leadership contests will be determined by what David Cameron and his colleagues do next. Civil War in the party benefits nobody. The only winners from such a dangerous course may well be the Labour party, still licking its wounds from its worst election performance for a decade.
If I were Jeremy Corbyn, I’d be praying for more of the same resignations and infighting from the Conservatives. Only that could get me into power.
Two weeks can be a long time in politics, hell two minutes can be a long time in politics. Careers can be broken, made and remade; politicians can go from the flavor of the month to the poor cousin and vice versa. It has been more than two weeks since David Cameron announced the EU referendum and a serious contest has gradually emerged from all the bravado and maneuvering. In the grand scheme that is the EU referendum two weeks is a small amount of time, but these two weeks determines the flavor of the next six months and beyond.
Keen to make an immediate gain in the contest were the Bremain campaign, who exploited their existing connections in the business world to produce a 200 business strong letter in The Times newspaper voicing their businesses support for staying in the EU. The implication of this being that their businesses and their employees would both support this intention.
Prominent members of the Brexit campaign made statements in the press denouncing this as governmental propaganda, also citing the notable absence of two thirds of the UK’s main FTSE 100 companies from the letter. It is clear that many of the UK’s businesses remain undecided on whether exit from the EU is good for the UK.
Outside of the campaigns the director of the British Chambers of Commerce, John Longworth was forced to resign after expressing pro Brexit opinions. It was an exit that the campaign rounded on, with cries of double standards and accusations of governmental pressure being brought to bear on the BCC. Some have expressed the belief that Mr Longworth was made to resign by the Brexit campaign rather than the Bremain, as a political bear trap that the government was made to step into, however the truth remains elusive in this regard.
Boris Johnson and the other politicians in the Brexit campaign have been keen to stress the presence of Project Fear: a concerted governmental effort to make the general public so afraid of the consequences of an EU exit that they are forced to vote to remain. It was a campaign that was very effective in the Scottish referendum and could quite easily be in operation here in the UK.
A major consequence of the EU referendum has been the dropping by the government of plans to reform pension’s tax relief. It is an abandonment of plans that smacks of electioneering, in so much as higher and additional rate taxpayers are the bedrock of the conservative party and to bring these changes now could result in a revenge EU exit vote from them.
It has been a long time since wholesale appeasement was the flavor of the month in British politics, but with so many interested parties in this referendum debate we can expect a climate of voter grabbing headlines, statements in both parliament and the media all designed to gain one thing above all: Your Vote. It’s up to you to decide how you use it.
In presenting the EU renegotiation deal to the British Parliament and the public at large, Prime Minister David Cameron has fired the starting gun on the greatest political race since last year’s general election. On the 23rd June the voting public of Great Britain will be asked to choose whether or not they want to remain in the European Union or whether they want to leave. It is a decision that will shape the future of this country for generations to come, affecting Britain’s future in the 21st century world.
No sooner had the deal been announced than the battle lines were drawn. A conservative cabinet which was forced to stay silent during the deal making was now split asunder, with prominent party figures in both camps. Provisional campaigns in both the Brexit and Bremain opinions now thrust into prominence. While the Bremain campaign has remained a single entity, the two Brexit campaigns are divided in their membership and their political standpoints. The required appointment of a lead campaign in both camps will force these groups to reconcile their differences in view of their shared message.
The chosen campaigns on both sides will receive up to £600,000 in funding together with many political benefits as distributed by the Electoral Commission.
The securing by the Brexit groups of Boris Johnson’s support represents an early coup in the referendum race. Johnson, a somewhat comical figure in some quarters carries a lot of political weight as Mayor of London and indeed many see him as the natural successor to David Cameron. To not take him seriously as a political heavyweight is suicide, just ask Ken Livingstone.
The influx of Johnson and his Conservative colleagues into the campaign should push out the more extreme individuals like Nigel Farage & George Galloway bringing some much needed respectability to the campaign.
The momentum of the referendum is in serious danger of shifting so far to the Brexit campaign that the Bremain campaign will struggle to keep up. Cameron and his colleagues must secure the support of similar political heavyweight to lead the opposition, but in an already polarised party the field of potentials is small.
One name who could potentially come in from the cold would be William Hague. A seasoned campaigner with experience of electioneering and political slugfests, Hague would be able to garner support from a lot of middle way Conservative MP’s. However, having only recently retired from electoral politics, Mr Hague would be hard to convince. Whoever the Bremain campaign choose is a choice which will potentially make or break them, so great care must be taken in their choice.
Political manoeuvring aside, the ultimate arbiters of this contest will be the British public. Both campaigns will try to win support using whatever methods they can, be it via the media or the persuasiveness of their respective arguments. Over the coming four months, the campaign will unfold and the choice will be made and whatever the outcome Britain will never be the same.
The European Union is and remains an experiment in unification. Not a conquest of nations in the classical sense, rather a unification of systems to create one simple system for everyone. The ultimate aim of which is to create a United Europe.
It was born out of the need to harmonise trade between nations in the post-war economies of Europe, but the idea was hijacked by countries like Belgium and the Netherlands and turned into a means of political co-operation between countries which had once been enemies. As the idea augmented itself in a series of treaties (most notably, the Treaty of Rome (1957)) additional political and sociological institutions were created. Trade between countries was legitimised in the creation of the European Economic Community, a sphere of influence which allowed for the free movement of people and goods across the burgeoning number of member states.
A European Parliament was created, made up of directly elected MEP’s. These individuals were elected by the populations of the member states every 5 years. An attempt was made to create a single market to reinforce the European Economic Community, which encountered more issues, issues which were not resolved for many years.
Together with the Economic and Political codes, civilian laws were created. The European Court of human rights was created to protect these laws and legal rights of its citizens by enshrining them in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Over the years, other countries joined the union as its influence increased. The collapse of communism in the east of Europe resulted in a large number of nations finding common cause with the European Union as it embodied many of the rights and responsibilities which had so long been denied them under the yoke of the Communist Soviet Union. These fledgling nations, while still finding their feet have been largely taken under the wing of founding members like Germany and France.
These newly freed Eastern European nations who had suffered under the oppression of the communist party were ill equipped to enter such a union of powers and many struggled in poverty.
The EEC was quick to see this and proposed the creation of the European Economic Area, a twofold system which would replace the existing EEC with a much more powerful European Union and create a single market, allowing for the free trade of goods and services, as was attempted previously.
In the economic life of any business, there are four distinct cycles, Expansion, Boom, Recession and Contraction. The EU had experienced its expansion and was midway through its boom as the twentieth century drew to a close.
Mindful of the potential for economic recession and the need to pursue a more federalised European Union, the EU created the European Monetary Institute, the forerunner to the European Central Bank. The other part of this two pronged federalisation was the creation of the Euro.
A new single currency for the entire European Union, the Euro was rolled out in several stages with referendums being held in the member states of the EU confirm their acceptance. Of these countries, only the UK, Denmark and latterly Sweden refused to adopt the new currency. Historic currencies such as the Deutschemark and the Franc were removed and replaced with the new European Currency.
For a time, this brave new world was successful, but economic union brought with it a very obvious and detrimental problem. The Euro relied on the economies of its member states, economies which would and could be manipulated by opportunistic accountants and governments.
This cooking of the books, is no more obviously illustrated than in the economic recession in Greece in 2008. A weak economy, combined with the onset of the larger global economic crisis, caused a debt crisis in Greece where the country could not be counted on to repay its sovereign debts. This economic distrust caused the government to vastly overspend, become corrupt and it was the population of Greece which suffered. The extent of the creative accounting was only revealed two years later in 2010.
The global economic crisis of 2009, magnified the problems that the EU faced in creating a fiscal union. Many economies in the Euro Zone suffered the same problems as Greece, having to draw on funds directly from the Eurozone Bailout Fund, set up to prop up countries which encountered these problems. The pockets of the Eurozone Bailout Fund, while deep were not infinite and more and more the better performing economies like France, Germany and the UK were called upon to provide more money to fund the failing economies.
One can argue that the global financial crisis has not ended as yet, but with debt levels rising across all the member states of the EU the need for greater austerity has never been more prevalent. The UK especially, as one of the first EU members to emerge from the crisis has been quick to attempt a re-think of its obligations and responsibilities as an EU member.
Enlivened by this need for austerity, political debate in the UK has never been stronger and the European Union remains a central issue to the policies of many political parties.
The UK government mindful of the will of its people has offered to stage a referendum on EU membership in 2017. Attempting to get ahead of the curve, I will now ask the question:
Would Britain be better off if it left the European Union Entirely?
To analyse the effect of such a clean break, we need to consider the practicalities of removing an institution which has loomed large over Britain in the last 30 years, magnified especially in the last 10.
The immediate effect of the removal of the EU from Britain would mostly likely be a devaluation in the value of Sterling. Short term economic uncertainty would devalue a lot of UK based shares but these devaluations will probably only be temporary. The markets and sterling would eventually recover, though damage would be caused to the overall economy.
The removal of the EU does not mean that trade would cease irrevocably, it instead means the removal from the industrial constraints of the EU. Trade would continue albeit in a changed fashion than previously existed.
London, as the chief financial port of Britain would struggle with the withdrawal of foreign investors as the EEA would be substituted for a UK centric sphere of influence. Multinational companies which have bases in the UK would most likely withdraw their offices from the UK or failing that, employ more resources to meet this new import/export market. The extent of multinational company involvement in the UK would seem to push the latter course of action as the most suitable, as the cost of withdrawing from the UK entirely would dwarf any potential expenditure on meeting the new market.
The creation of the new independent financial market would allow the UK to position itself as a competitor to the EU and other countries. This competitiveness may lead to many companies relocating to the UK’s newly attractive economy. A stronger economy would in turn increase the UK spending power in its dealings with the rest of the world.
Additionally, Britain would be free of its financial obligations to the EU, chief among them the EU Budget, which drains over £7 billion from the UK economy and is set to rise in 2015. It would also be able to determine its own agricultural and industrial quotas which would dovetail the economic expansion and cash injections into the economy.
The need to create new institutions to meet this change would not be as necessary in the legal sector because the UK has pre-existing institutions set up to meet the resultant demand from the loss of the EU. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom would now become the highest court in the land, replacing the European Court of Human Rights.
Additionally, the European Convention on Human Rights would cease to be valid in the UK, prompting a realignment of many institutions which have dealings with the population of the UK such as the police service. A new UK only convention on human rights would have to be drawn up, which would in all likelihood would need to be by existing legal entities in the UK. It would then only be passed into statute by parliament after a referendum of the population.
Speaking of referendums, the hot potato of any UK referendum on EU membership would be Immigration. It is the sole preoccupation of this nation’s press and recently the political parties of the UK. The rise of the UK independence party, which bases most of its manifesto on immigration has shown the other parties that immigration is central to the winning of the next general election.
The European Union, in its provision of the European Economic area prides itself on the free movement of individuals between member states. It is this movement of individuals that has overwhelmed the welfare state, polarising the opinions of UK Citizens and allowing UKIP to gain a foothold where it would previously have been ostracised.
Removal of the UK from the European Economic Area would rid it of the need to accept individuals from those countries. However migrants will always find ways to enter the UK, such as claiming asylum and these ways must be better regulated to ensure that this system is not abused and is used by individuals who actually deserve to be there. This absence would allow the welfare system to sharpen up its act, refining its processes to ensure maximum efficiency with the excess funds being ploughed back into the systems themselves.
Historically, the end of the EU in the UK would be a turning point in world affairs where the old would end and be replaced by something new. This change in direction may prove the start of a perceptual change of how the UK is perceived globally. Alliances would need to be redefined to suit this change, but would this affect the membership of the UK in NATO? Probably not, as this is a mutual co-operation organisation rather than a mutual dependency organisation.
Ironically the biggest political casualty of the UK leaving the EU would be the UK Independence party, which currently holds 24 Members of the European Parliament and only one British Member of Parliament. Its biggest political campaign selling point is leaving the EU, if we left the EU the party would be forced to reinvent itself. Disturbingly, this reinvention could take a more Nationalist turn or alternatively removal of the EU from British politics could destroy it completely.
Parliamentary speech writers in the UK would struggle to write speeches for the remaining political parties without the EU. However, without the EU to serve as scapegoat for many of this countries failings the buck would stop with them and the British people could be less than forgiving.
A thorough examination of the perils and pitfalls of exiting the EU would need to be conducted and is most likely already being conducted at the highest levels of the UK parliament. Contingency plans are already being created should the UK vote positively to leave the EU. Likewise, a negative vote is being considered where the UK would need to pursue a more aggressive approach in its dealings with the EU. We have two years, let’s hope they are ready either way.
So, would leaving the EU be the right thing to do for the UK? Undoubtedly, yes it would. As I said at the start the European Union is an experiment in unification and in any scientific experiment there are failures and side effects. The side effects of conducting this experiment in unification are ultimately causing detriment to its overall validity. Simply put the EU is the cause of its own problems, problems which the UK can ill afford to endure. Going solo, could remove its susceptibility to these issues and herald the beginning of a new era of prosperity for the UK as it strikes out on its own.