The Single Market and the UK: A Little Bit of Heaven, A Little Bit of Hell

At the 11th hour of Brexit talks between Theresa May and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday 4th December, a veto mightier than the likes of what Johnson, Gove or Rees-Mogg could ever have dreamt of wielding was cast by ten Northern Irish MPs. The Democratic Unionist leader, Arlene Foster, had rung Theresa May to sabotage her underhand play diverging Northern Ireland from Britain, throwing phase one of the negotiations into disarray.

Indeed, the DUP’s scuppering of May’s promise to the EU of Northern Ireland’s forced ‘regulatory alignment’ averted a political, constitutional and potentially existential crisis in the UK. Not only did this majorly embarrassing event again highlight Theresa May’s incompetency to ‘Strengthen the Union’ — which I’d remind the Right Honourable member was one of the points made in the Lancaster House Speech! — but, taking place before the EU Commissioner President in the EU’s de facto capital, it reopened fresh Brexit-inflicted wounds in the UK’s devolved assemblies.

The heads of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and London Assembly stood in solidarity calling for a nationwide ‘regulatory alignment’. But what does this stupefying jargon mean? And what would the implications be of such ‘regulatory alignment’?

The implications are a Brexit ideologue’s nightmare. As a precursor and fundamental precondition to European Single Market access, ‘regulatory alignment’ euphemistically alludes to the upholding of certain EU quality, procedural and regulatory standards to set a level playing field for economic activity in the EU Single Market. Regulation serves both a functional and bureaucratic purpose; the correction of inefficient markets, and the expansion of technocratic bureaucracy – neither of which a staunch Brexiteer would accept in this battle for British sovereignty. But these are the principles they should accept, for the UK’s unity as we know it depends on regulatory alignment across the board.

The Single Market’s function in the UK has evolved considerably from that of the European Economic Community outlined in the Treaty of Rome. No longer will the emphasis be on the ‘lifting of living standards’, but I suggest, on the continuation of internal unity within the UK by avoiding anomalous regional divergence to the European Single Market, as earlier proposed by May. In fact, I believe Single Market membership to be safer than the decision made on Friday 8th to dish out EU citizenship to people born in Northern Ireland, since this preferential treatment will only add fuel to the fire of Scottish independence and London-based financiers.


We are currently at a noteworthy juncture in UK political history. The challenge now arises: the UK government must deliver a Brexit which abides by Theresa May’s Lancaster House Speech, where she promised to ‘restore…our parliamentary democracy, [and] national self-determination’. However, the realisation of such a restoration of sanctified parliamentary sovereignty conflicts with seven of May’s objectives; certainty, control of our laws, strengthening of the Union, maintaining the common travel area with Ireland, control of immigration, a Free Trade Agreement with Europe, and a smooth, orderly Brexit.

Certainty for businesses and the Belfast Agreement will be assured by Single Market access which would prevent a financial sector exodus to the continent and promise to maintain the common travel area with Ireland, avoiding a hard border. This in turn would strengthen the Union by underpinning territorial integrity of Northern Ireland – an action that would also guarantee that of Gibraltar, when that rears its head in the near future. All of this, in turn, would guarantee a smooth, orderly Brexit while ensuring economic certainty.

You may note that ‘control of our laws’ and ‘control of immigration’ were omitted. Since these objectives can be realised through various political interpretations, let’s just say that Brexiteers will be shrugged off through the illusory Brexit taking place before our very eyes. Compromise comes before dogma in the negotiations – consequently redefining the ‘consistency’ of our Brexit; something which is well illustrated by the decision for the European Court of Justice to remain the final appellate court over EU citizens’ rights in the UK for the immediate eight years following Brexit. The managing class is handling Brexit very differently than the self-appointed people’s spokesperson, Nigel Farage.

We may be leaving the EU on paper, but the reality is anything but that. We must continue to participate in EU institutions which serve us not just on a functional basis, where for example the Single Market provides the UK service industry with a £14 billion net surplus in trade over the EU, but limits EU member states’ leverage over UK territorial integrity. The logical incoherence of both protectionist and ultra-deregulation Tories must be bypassed by the Keynesian majority which can find support across the rest of the House.

Our consensus-building, representative democracy is taking back control from a fruitless stint of popular referenda. Now is the time for certainty to be restored, along with our economic and political dignity.


[Originally posted 10/12/2017 in The Gryphon Views online:]

The President’s Big Day Out: Trump Goes to The General Assembly

The stage for this year’s UN General Assembly was still being set up as late as two and a half minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock! And against a backdrop of a major earthquake – of a political nature – in the Anglo-Saxon lands of the Northern hemisphere, the hefty exchanges of nuclear-tinged vitriol, and global migration crises, the precariousness of the global system, upheld by the UN since its post-war conception, hangs delicately in the balance.
But instead of a pair of caring hands of an experienced diplomate to confront the problems of today, international delegates got a Trump rally.

The week-long UN General Assembly is an annual plenum where every internationally recognised sovereign state – key word for this year being sovereign – reiterates its commitment and appraisal to UN-brokered agreements, shared values and goals and the importance of international cooperation in the maintenance of peace and prevention of conflict.

Some nations recount their history and raison d’être in global affairs. And from these often self-indulgent speeches we can analyse the use of national leaders’ rhetoric as they seek to justify their aims and means as national and international actors. That is something we received from President Trump this week.

I’ll start with patriotism. Because it seems as though what Trump’s America is faced with right this moment is the risk of occupation from foreign fascist forces. This was illustrated as Donald juxtaposed the war time resistance efforts of Britain and France with the need for a unilateralist approach. It’s immediately apparent that Trump sees his country as a stand-alone target, and hence plays on patriotic fervour to defend his shifting foreign policy.

What’s to be gleamed from that? Trump personally seems to have both abandoned and denounced institutional opportunism and international organisations and regimes. This will serve to, whether intentionally or inadvertently, cow its Western allies into a rethink of their reliance on henceforth outdated military pacts with the United States. Following US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis’ statement that they have not attempted to shoot down either of the two ballistic missiles recently fired over Japan, as they did not pose a threat to the United States, Japan’s premier, Shinzo Abe, has since found a premise to rush to rewrite Japan’s pacifist constitution, while South Korea began to flirt with possession of its own nuclear arsenal. Hardly in-line with the cheerful notion of peace, cooperation, and altruistic world governance, is it?

But it also underlined Trump’s underlying commitment to his own electoral promises: the restauration and normalisation of patriotism in the United States. Such a rhetorical question employed at the UN in this light sounds like “Are we still patriots enough to protect our sovereignty?”

When you see Trump finally peel himself away from the podium, trot a couple of steps, extend his waiving hand towards a fictitious crowd of fans, (repeat two more times), and shuffle towards the stage exit, you come to realise the importance of this address to his American Trumpistas. His speech was brimming with predictable rhetorical devices and vivid, quotable language that his Twitter followers are already familiar with. Indeed, the use of ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘loser terrorists’ had already proliferated in the Twittersphere before this speech – easy to hashtag and subtly drop into any 140-character-long logic on the nuances of the North Korean problem and domestic terrorism.

And what’s more, such language facilitates an oversimplification of the endless intricacies that international coalitions at the UN aim to overcome. While Trump acknowledges that “Authority and authoritarian powers seek to collapse the values, the systems and alliances that prevented conflict and tilted the world toward freedom since World War Two,” what he doesn’t realise is: first, the irony; but second, his failure to interact within the international community to uphold these values enshrined in the UN.

Contrary to what a Wall Street Journal commentator claimed, Trump is not an adherent of realpolitik. Trump entered an environment in which he personally rejects the constructivist values, and expects to be adorned and respected. The Donald wasn’t at the Security Council on Tuesday. His rejection of institutional structures and processes as instruments, through which one achieves strategic (national) interests, places him outside of the typically observed model of the rational-realist actor of today.

Fiery statements of his such as “Major portions of the world are in conflict, and some, in fact, are going to hell,” and his threat to “totally destroy” North Korea, further allude to the USA’s reassuring might in a world where the good must counter acts of evil.


However, this doesn’t simplify the real negotiations and processes being carried out by international actors and mediators in the Western Pacific, or on the UN Security Council. Real consensus is being built between veto-wielders over North Korean containment, facilitated by the USA’s own Nikki Haley, is a terrific sign of how the establishment upholds continuity and commitment to the UN, while a head of state is completely averse to it.


So this is the inherently contradictory nature of Trump’s America. The alienation effect felt by US allies is forcing them to face their new realities, adapt their realpolitik and continue multilateral processes, while Trump’s America becomes increasingly isolated under its self-obsessed exceptionalism and withdrawal from The Paris Climate Accord and potentially the Iran Nuclear Deal. The tragic irony of it all: his boast to the Assembly “As the president of the United States, I will always put America first.”


[Originally posted 25/09/2017 in The Gryphon Views online:]

May Got Us into This Mess. Now Let Her Get Us out of It.

These election results are a shambles. There’s no two ways about it. It isn’t just that this £130 million election didn’t give the increased majority the Conservatives had predicted, but the UK now has an illegitimate governing party in both numerical terms, and in light of the Tories’ thoughtless gamble on the social and political stability of this country. And have we yet looked across to the satirical vultures in Europe? We now inhabit a Tory-governed fiefdom which has lost the respect of its citizens and of its neighbours. Unsurprisingly, there are calls from all British parties for Theresa May’s resignation. But – and I know this is a big but, but it can’t be dismissed – we must allow Theresa May to lead us once again.

First of all, let’s get legal. Our constitution stipulates that until May loses control of her majority government on confidence and supply, she has the right to remain prime minister. With the prospect of the DUP settling our current hung parliament with an informal coalition deal, May has the foreseeable confidence of a majority in the Commons. The DUP will of course be listened to as an informal partner. However, as is convention, it will extract only trivial concessions from Westminster, such as pushing for a rehash of the ‘British Olympics Team’ to the ‘UK Olympics Team’. Yep, you read that right.

But in such situations, and those slightly more concerning, rest assured that Ruth Davis and her sizeable Scottish Tory lot will make their voices heard for LGBTQ rights were Arlene Foster to get too ahead of herself. And as for Brexit, for which the DUP campaigned on a hard-Brexit — an exit from the single market which is heralded by both the Brexit God himself, David Davis, and Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer — Arlene Foster wants a frictionless border with the Republic of Ireland and a free trade deal with the EU. Whether or not this turns out to be a case of ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it’, this coupled with Nigel Dodd’s refusal to take up any of May’s cabinet positions should reassure us that the DUP won’t jeopardise Westminster’s unbiased approach to Northern Irish politics since the Good Friday Agreement.

Secondly, calls for a new general election are premature and not what the country needs. We may decry the Conservatives as undeserved in their right to govern, especially with its choice of political partner. But let’s be under no allusion here; with the DUP-Conservative partnership the Tories have effectively achieved a minimum winning coalition. As the opposition, Labour would face a nigh-on impossible task to manage a coalition with the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, and Caroline Lucas. Compromises with three coalition partners would undermine effective governance, and even then the Conservatives would still hold more seats than a fanciful (queue new acronym) Labour-SNP-LD-G coalition.

But okay, let’s say we fork out another £130 million for a preemptive election later this year. The change of government that us on the left are after would not look so certain. We must remember that Labour, despite its incredible performance, is still 64 seats behind a Commons majority. We must also be confident that Labour can retain and increase its vote share in constituencies won recently with a slim plurality, e.g. Kensington (+20), while digging deeper into Tory strongholds.

Though say Corbyn pulls it out of the bag. Another change of government in the next year or two. This brings me onto my third point. What message is this sending to Brussels and what palpable difference will Labour be able to make to Brexit negotiations which at that point may be too far advanced? Any attempts at backtracking on Theresa May’s negotiations will be met with frustration on the EU’s part, and I’m sure we’ll learn very quickly, if not in the many months ahead, that the EU will only be pushed so far. If the EU is to cede anything to May, it needs to know that it can predict and have confidence in the UK’s position. If the talks are made too difficult for the EU, then know that it’ll be harder to shore up a unanimous vote from all remaining 27 EU member states in favour of extending the negotiations.

I know what you’re thinking now; “So what? That’s it? Hand over another five years to the Tories to unleash another unfettered class war? We’re just gonna let them destroy the Union and make what’s left of it a tax haven off the shores of mainland Europe?” Not at all. I believe the opposition now finds itself in an exceptional win-win scenario. There is now support across the political spectrum, even allegedly amongst senior Conservatives, for a cross-party approach to Brexit. Both the ‘Progressive Alliance’ and backbench Tories have May in a corner and will have their voices heard. Her hard-Brexit / no-deal ultimatum is a distant dream. Theresa May well be the face of this government, but we now pull its strings.

Forget class war; the civil service will soon be so overwhelmed by the mammoth task of exiting the world’s largest trading bloc that there’ll be no time to expect radical policy change to be pushed through the ministries. As such, May’s government’s one aim is to ‘make a success of Brexit’. If she loses the confidence of the Commons by the time the negotiations are either concluded, broken off, or inconclusive within the next 22 months, it’s Labour’s turn to step in.

We can take solace in this. When the next election finally arises, we’re already gifted with the rhetoric: All blame will lie on Theresa May and the Conservatives. All shortcomings in this government’s approach to Brexit will lie with this coalition of chaos.


[Originally posted 19/06/2017 in The Gryphon Views online:]