Ben Roback: From Presidents 41 to 45 – different backgrounds, different manners, different beliefs, and a different Republian Party

The older Bush was a man of free markets, small government, global engagement…and good manners.

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

The death of George Herbert Walkr Bush had the rarest of knock-on effects in the current political climate: it united Washington and bridged the political divides that have hang over today’s political and social culture. Regardless of one’s politics, it was impossible to look beyond a lifetime of military and political service that came to an end after 94 years.

The most memorable image was that of President Bush’s service dog, Sully, laying beside a flag-draped casket. Sully will return to America’s VetDogs, a charity that provides companions for former veterans and, in no time at all, America will return to a more combative politics. Bush senior is the first President to lie in state since the death of President Ford in 2006. Only 32 people have ever lain in state in the Rotunda, including John McCain who died earlier this year.

Donald Trump visited the Rotunda to pay his respects, having clashed in the past with the former President. To say their relationship was uneasy is something of an understatement. In Mark Updegrove’s The Last Republicans, the author reports that Bush voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, and called Trump a “blowhard”. The New York Times reported that ‘“at the mere mention of Trump’s name, 41 made a face. ‘He’s an ass,’ he snapped.”’

Whilst the visit was clearest manifestation of an uneasy peace, Trump’s attitude and approach to the living presidents that came before him paint a clearer picture of his attitudes to presidential predecessors.

The “Former Presidents Club” is one of the most exclusive groupings in the world. It has also traditionally been a rich resource for the sitting president to call on the expertise and experience of his predecessors. Not so for Trump, who tends to view those who came before him as adversaries who must to be sparred with. According to CNN, Trump has only spoken to George W Bush a handful of times, and has not engaged with Barack Obama directly since they parted ways in front of the Capitol building two years ago. Indirectly, of course, Trump finds reasons to attack Obama on Twitter with effortless frequency.

The current President has also found flaws with the non-presidential members of the Bush family. Trump decried Jeb Bush, a competitor in the 2016 Republican primary, as being “low energy”, while Bush in turn painted Donald Trump as a friend of Hillary Clinton. Trump has never been a fan of the Bush family legacy, and has said: “We need another Bush in office about as much as we need Obama to have a 3rd term. No more Bushes!”  During the heat of the 2016 campaign, Barbara Bush, the matriarch of the family, described Trump as a “comedian” and a “showman”. It was perhaps telling that after her death, the White House announced that Trump would not attend her funeral. It remains open to debate whether that was by choice or due to the lack of an invitation.

The former President was undoubtedly different from his successor, and not just in personality and temperament. In many ways, 41’s death could be seen to symbolise the death of what the Republican Party once was. Bush was a man of free markets and the emergence of the “small government” doctrine which (until Trump) has been the foundation of the mainstream GOP. On the global stage, the Bush presidency saw the emergence of the United States as the unchallenged power in a post-Cold War world. With it came a renewed commitment to American interventionism, and the firm belief that the US should seek to mould the “New World Order” – a phrase coined by Bush in a speech to the UN. This vision is at total odds with Trump’s pre-World War Two-style American isolationism and his ‘America First’ doctrine.

To the credit of the President and the White House, the memorial events of this week have been attended with respect. But, even then, the temptation of Twitter is only a smartphone away – and so, during a week of solemn reflection in Washington, we have had tweets about the Paris climate agreement, Robert Mueller, the wall…the list goes on. It was a fresh reminder of the new normal in American politics – that civility is a rarity and combativeness is a permanent requirement.

Political anger suits both sides in a country in which party loyalty is rewarded and bipartisanship punished. The likes of George H.W Bush and Senator John McCain, both of whom died this year, have become the exception and not the rule. Their approach to politics is that of a dying breed, replaced by new ways that waste no time worrying about national unity. With our own nation divided by Brexit, it is a desperate reminder to our political leaders to maintain a level of cooperation and class even when others around them are lowering the bar.

Leaked Commons legal analysis of Brexit deal vindicates Trump, contradicts May and adds to Brexiteers’ concerns

The Government is already on the rack over its refusal to publish the legal advice provided on the Brexit deal by Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, despite a parliamentary motion ordering it to be done. Cox will make a statement on the matter in the House of Commons later today (Monday 3rd December), during which he […]

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The Government is already on the rack over its refusal to publish the legal advice provided on the Brexit deal by Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, despite a parliamentary motion ordering it to be done.

Cox will make a statement on the matter in the House of Commons later today (Monday 3rd December), during which he will doubtless be questioned about the leak in the Sunday Times of a letter he wrote in which he admitted that the UK would be trapped “indefinitely” in a customs union with the EU if the backstop comes into effect.

But ministers now face further questions as it emerges that a confidential analysis of the Withdrawal Agreement by the House of Commons’ own expert legal team comes to the same conclusion as President Trump – that Theresa May’s Brexit deal would prevent the UK from entering trade deals with countries such as the US.

The bombshell is contained in a 27-page legal note prepared by the House of Commons EU Legislation Team, which is headed by Arnold Ridout, its Counsel for European Legislation. A highly respected specialist in EU Law, he has previously worked for the EC Commission’s Legal Service and advised the European Secretariat of the Cabinet Office and prior to taking up his current role in 2014, he was Deputy Legal Adviser to the House of Lords EU Select Committee.

The note – marked ‘not for general distribution’ and obtained by BrexitCentral – is dated 26th November and states that the UK-EU customs union which would come into effect if the backstop is triggered “would be a practical barrier to the UK entering separate trade agreements on goods with third countries”.

This is in direct contradiction to the Prime Minister who has insisted that her deal will allow the UK to have an entirely independent trade policy. Indeed, she told the House of Commons just last Monday how “for the first time in 40 years, the UK will be able to strike new trade deals and open up new markets for our goods and services”.

The legal note – titled The Withdrawal Agreement: Legal and Governance Aspects – also appears to suggest that the Prime Minister’s claim (also repeated last Monday) that her deal “takes back control of our laws” by ending “the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK” with “our laws being made in our Parliament, enforced by our courts” does not entirely stand up to scrutiny.

In its summary of “Continued application of EU law”, the note states:

  • EU law will apply during the TIP [transition or implementing period], but essentially without formal UK participation in its making;
  • EU law will apply after the TIP to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK. This could extend for some considerable period.
  • EU law also will apply after the TIP in relation to the Separation Issues and the Financial Settlement. Again, this could extend for a considerable period.
  • EU law will apply extensively, particularly in Northern Ireland, under the “Backstop” found in the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol.
  • EU law in relation to goods, turnover taxes, agriculture and fisheries as well as veterinary and phytosanitary rules will apply in the Sovereign Base Areas of Cyprus.
  • After the end of the TIP the CJEU will continue to determine the interpretation of EU law applicable under the WA by the mandatory reference procedure from the arbitration panel.

Moreover, if the backstop has been triggered and the UK-EU custom union established, it adds that:

“The UK will conform to specific EU legislation on customs, including with respect to third countries. To provide a ‘level playing-field’ the UK commits to non-regression (from the law as it stands at the end of the TIP) on EU environmental protection, labour and social standards, state aid and competition and state-owned undertakings in respect of administration of tax…. On the UK side of the customs union, in the ‘United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland’, specific additional EU legislation applies on customs, certain VAT and excise, and certain technical standards relating to goods”.

Another section in the document which caught my eye concerns what happens when the proposed Joint Committee (of representatives of both the EU and UK) which supervises the Withdrawal Agreement and the backstop cannot reach a consensus on certain issues:

“Both UK and EU are represented on the Joint Committee, so no decision may be made without the UK’s agreement.  This may not be the same thing as the two parties having equal power, as the aims of the parties will matter. If the Joint Committee is unable to reach a decision, in some circumstances, that will block next steps. The party that wants those next steps to occur, will then be at a practical disadvantage. By way of example, i) the Joint Committee sets the limits of state aid that can be authorised by the UK for agriculture. If limits are not agreed, state aid may not be authorised.” 

In other words, in those circumstances the UK would not be free to set levels of subsidy for UK agriculture, but the EU would remain free to adjust its Common Agricultural Policy however it liked. EU products would therefore have open access to the UK market via the customs union, while Brussels could stop us subsidising agriculture at all unless it was agreed in the Joint Committee.

And given that the proceedings of the Joint Committee will be confidential, the document concludes that “the absence of transparency would impact on any proposal for Parliamentary scrutiny of the UK participation in the working of the JC”.

Meanwhile, many readers will have concerns about the potential for the UK being disadvantaged over the working of the arbitration panel appointed for the purposes of dispute resolution. It will comprise five people: two nominated by each party and a chairperson from a list agreed by both, and also be encouraged to try to take decisions by consensus, but can decide by majority.

As the legal note explains:

“This raises the prospect of a decision adverse to the UK on the view of the EU appointed panel members and the jointly appointed chairperson outvoting the view of the UK appointed panel members.”

Reacting to the contents of the document, Conservative MP Marcus Fysh, who sits on the International Trade Select Committee and European Scrutiny Committee, told BrexitCentral:

“This document identifies and explains many of the very serious legal problems for the UK that would emerge from the Prime Minister’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement, should it be approved. It is wishful thinking and irresponsible to accept the Government’s spin of this damaging legal reality, or to think it could be used as a basis for successful further negotiation. I don’t believe any MP in possession of these facts could in good conscience ignore them and support the Withdrawal Agreement.

“The EU and UK have a great future as friends, but this is not the way to achieve it. Let’s waste no more time, prepare for all eventualities, and work constructively for an advanced but regular Free Trade Agreement which respects the independence and integrity of our jurisdictions while making trade and community relations smooth, effective and efficient. We have set out how to do this, contrary to the Government’s attempt to say otherwise, and there is no reason a plan and schedule for ratification of such an agreement cannot be agreed by the end of March so conditions remain smooth from the end of March until that happens. That is the way to preserve the faith the people of the UK have in their politics, and we need a Government that will ask for it.”

You can view the leaked document for yourself below or by clicking here to see it as a pdf

Withdrawal Agreement Legal and Governance Aspects

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A cry of rage against the BBC

Robin Aitken, who worked for the Corporation for 25 years, accuses it of propagating liberalism and suppressing conservatism behind a pretend impartiality.

The Noble Liar: How and Why the BBC Distorts the News to Promote a Liberal Agenda by Robin Aitken

Do we need a book to tell us the BBC is biassed in favour of every progressive nostrum? One of my many weaknesses as a conservative is that I cannot bring myself, except on rare occasions, to get really angry about the Corporation’s coverage of current affairs.

It seems to me that it is not so difficult to detect and discount the preconceptions which inform its coverage, and to appreciate the work of the many excellent journalists who are employed there.

Robin Aitken, who worked for the BBC for 25 years, is made of sterner stuff. He is in a state of bubbling indignation with the bias he finds:

“The BBC has wholeheartedly thrown its lot in with the liberal reformers; there has been no ‘impartiality’ on any of the big moral issues of the past half-century. In every instance, the socially conservative argument has been depicted as callous, reactionary and dogmatic. Any counterargument to the prevailing liberal consensus is now ignored altogether; social conservative voices are conspicuous by their absence on mainstream current affairs programmes.”

Aitken accuses the Corporation of maintaining “an elaborately constructed pretence” of neutrality, while acting as

“a strident cheerleader for globalisation, immigration and ‘diversity’ (a quality which, in BBC usage, is always to be applauded, even though academic studies have shown that too much diversity lessens community cohesion).”

He suggests that in “BBC-world we are all liberals now”, and posits the existence of

“a nexus of media interests which is militantly liberal in outlook, and which has systematically destroyed the foundational beliefs and practices which informed the lives of previous generations. This process started in the post-war years, gathered strength in the 1960s and, since then, has enjoyed virtually uninterrupted success in the furtherance of its goals (the EU referendum is the exception and, at the time of writing, it is not clear whether the wishes of the voters will actually result in Britain leaving the EU, such is the ferocity of the fightback against Brexit).”

He illustrates his thesis with many striking observations. It is true, as he says, that BBC people quite often go on nowadays to be heads of Oxbridge colleges – by his count there are now six of these. And it is also true that our universities and schools contain a far smaller proportion of teachers who think of themselves as conservative than was the case only a generation or two ago. There has been a long march by self-righteous liberals through many of our institutions.

Divorce, feminism, mental health, abortion, euthanasia, Christianity, Islam: on all these questions, the BBC tends to promote  whatever the latest progressive orthodoxy may be, and to ignore the huge volume of evidence which contradicts that orthodoxy. Aitken examines these issues in turn, and points to the inconvenient facts.

In Aitken’s view, the BBC propagates “a series of noble lies in pursuit of a political agenda”, but “sooner or later people will realise they have been duped”, which will be “a moment of great peril for the established order”.

One of the errors he makes here is to exaggerate the credulity of the public. Go into any pub in the land and one has always been able to find people who do not believe a word either politicians or journalists (even BBC journalists) tell them.

A second error is to exaggerate the influence of the BBC. Towards the end of the book, he glances across the Atlantic:

“When President Trump was merely ‘Candidate Trump’ on the campaign trail, he hammered home one message in particular; he turned on the mainstream US media and accused it of peddling ‘fake news’. As anyone who has had any experience of US journalists will know, they do not, as a group, lack self-esteem; on the contrary, American media folk are monumentally self-important. Trump’s assault on their profession was bitterly resented and dismissed as the words of an inveterate liar who lacked the righteous virtues they see themselves possessing.”

But as Aitken points out, proving the facts in a story are correct – something over which The New York Times and other liberal American newspapers take inordinate pains – does not in itself exonerate the media from the charge of printing fake news:

“Trump wasn’t saying that the press and the TV networks were getting the facts wrong, rather, they were telling the wrong stories. And Trump had a good point: it’s a question of fairness, not facts. A report can be accurate and yet deeply unfair whether by selection or omission. ‘Fake news’ is not so much about factual inaccuracy as about ideological bias…”

Aitken often implies there can be such a thing as journalism written without bias. That strikes me as a very dubious assumption. Whether one is a historian or a journalist, one can to some extent be aware of one’s own assumptions, and can try to admit these to the reader. But one cannot write without preconceptions, or bias as it will be called by one’s critics.

He also tends to underestimate the extent to which egregious errors, though they may persist for a long time, do eventually tend to be noticed and perhaps even corrected. So immigration, which for a long time was a suppressed subject, is now quite openly debated. And the oddity of Western feminists standing up for Islamic dress codes is more and more noted, even though the discrepancy has not been resolved.

Part of Aitken’s horror is at the “trashy, tawdry and shallow” culture which we inhabit, and which he believes to be “in large measure the creation of our media”. But he does admit, on page 128, that the “collapse in the prestige, influence and centrality of Christianity in Britain” has its roots a long way before the BBC. Arnold wrote Dover Beach, about the “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of the Sea of Faith, in 1867.

The French Revolution, for which the men of letters of the Enlightenment had created the intellectual climate, was a more savage onslaught on the Church than anything perpetrated by the errant successors of Lord Reith. To this day, one can establish someone’s political outlook by asking whether they are for or against the Revolution.

Burke wrote a great counterblast to the Revolution. Who in recent years has written a great counterblast to liberalism, or a great defence of conservatism? It is no good blaming everything on the liberals. When the conservative case is not made, it is likely to go by default.

Michael Wharton, who worked at the BBC for ten years before Colin Welch recruited him in 1957 to write the Peter Simple column for The Daily Telegraph, made wonderful, despondent jokes about the whole “left-wing package deal”, personified in a range of ludicrous characters. There are virtually no jokes in Aitken’s book, but it maps a world of self-obsessed and irresistibly comic liberals against whom the pendulum may already have begun to swing.

Daniel Hannan: I want to support May’s plan. But I can’t. It proposes a way of leaving the EU that’s exactly the wrong way round.

Instead of leaving the Customs Union but retaining chunks of the Single Market – we shall end up staying in the Customs Union but leaving most of the Single Market.

Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.

I have been watching the dégringolade of Brexit with – if such a thing is possible – even more agony than the rest of you. It’s not just the frustration of seeing mistake after avoidable mistake being made by our side. It’s not just the tossing away of a generational opportunity to relaunch Britain as a global trader. It’s something else. You see, I had always expected, at this stage, to be one of those Leavers who could warmly back a compromise deal.

As regular readers of this column will know, I never liked the idea of a WTO Brexit. I wrote here on the day of the referendum itself that, whichever side won, it would need to accommodate the large minority which had voted the other way]. I have spent two years suggesting various compromises that both sides might live with. So when the clever and amiable David Lidington urges us to back the withdrawal deal on grounds that “the 52 per cent get control of laws, money, borders + out of CFP; the 48 per cent get closer trade partnership with EU than Canada or any advanced economy + cooperation on police & security,” I really want to agree.

Liders, after all, is more or less taking the line I have been taking over the past two years. A 52-48 vote, as I kept telling anyone who’d listen, was not a mandate for a radical break, but for a phased and partial recovery of powers. When critics complained that we’d be left “half in, half out”, I’d retort that that was pretty much the way the nation had voted, and that there was no dishonour looking for a middle way.

But here’s the thing. When I suggested accepting a half-in-half-out settlement, I assumed we’d aim to keep the good half and junk the bad half. The Eurosceptic demand, down the years, had always been “common market, not common government”. That was the position of Teddy Taylor and Dick Body and, before them, of Neil Marten and Enoch Powell, of Hugh Gaitskell and Clement Attlee. It seemed a safe bet that the government would respond to the 2016 vote by seeking something along those lines. I wanted Swiss-style EFTA membership, but I was prepared for pretty much any reasonable compromise.

Yet, incredibly, Theresa May has come back with a deal that keeps the worst aspects of membership and junks the potential advantages. Instead of staying in the common market but leaving the EU’s more federal policies, we are doing the reverse. We propose to leave the common market but keep, as much as any non-member can, the obligations imposed on us by the European Arrest Warrant, the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the rest.

Instead of doing a Switzerland – leaving the Customs Union but retaining chunks of the Single Market – we shall end up staying in the Customs Union but leaving most of the Single Market. In other words, we shall prejudice our trade with the EU 27 while simultaneously making impossible trade deals with anyone else.

If you had asked three years ago whether leaving the EU while keeping the Customs Union was desirable, you’d have been laughed at by all sides. It had always clobbered Britain uniquely as the member state that did the most trade outside the EU. The idea that we might stay in it while giving up any say over it, obliging ourselves to follow all EU concessions to third countries without any incentive for those third countries to reciprocate to us, would have been too absurd to contemplate.

How have we ended up in this humiliating position? In Labour’s case, the answer is sheer opportunism. The party was anti-Customs Union until February of this year on the impeccable grounds that, as Jeremy Corbyn put it, “it is protectionist against developing countries”. It reversed its position when it scented an opportunity to win a parliamentary vote, but I still haven’t heard a single Labour MP come out with a convincing defence of the new policy. Indeed, debating some of them, I’m left wondering whether they have any grasp of what the Customs Union is. Labour now seems to be anti-Single Market but pro-Customs Union on no better grounds than that it doesn’t like the word “market” but does like the word “union”.

The Government’s position is even odder. Having promised on more than 20 occasions that Britain would leave the Customs Union, the Prime Minister now presents as a victory the fact that the backstop would keep the whole UK in that subordinate position. In fact, of course, this was the EU’s aim all along. The row over the Northern Ireland border was invented as a way to grip the UK in the tight clamp of the Customs Union, giving EU exporters preferential access to our market while simultaneously allowing Brussels negotiators to use that market as a negotiating counter to get better terms for their own countries.

The claim that the Customs Union is temporary depends on our faith in two things: the Prime Minister’s negotiating ability and the EU’s generosity. On the basis of the record of the past two years, is that a gamble you’d make? The other EU states are not hiding their glee at our surrender. Emmanuel Macron has already said that he will veto a future trade deal – that is, keep us in the Customs Union – unless we open our fishing grounds to his skippers. It takes only one country to wield a veto at that stage, so Madrid might make a similar threat over Gibraltar, Dublin over Ulster and so on. Britain would by then have handed away its £39 billion and all its leverage. Are we really supposed to believe that the EU would terminate a position that is, as Donald Trump correctly says, advantageous to the 27 but excruciating for Britain, out of sheer goodwill?

I can’t speak for every Eurosceptic, but most of us voted Leave because we wanted a freer, more democratic and more global Britain. We didn’t want to sever all our links with our European allies. We simply wanted to be free to stand aside as they pursued their goal of political amalgamation.

The deal that will come before Parliament doesn’t offer that outcome. Quite the opposite: it would lead to a Britain that is as constrained as now, but less commercially engaged. The only Leavers who might support such a deal are those Old Labour voters who want a protectionist Britain and fewer foreign workers. Yet, as far as I can tell, even they don’t like it.

Supporters of the deal are (with the exception of the brilliant but, on this occasion, mistaken Rory Stewart) not really trying to make a positive case for it. Instead, they are reduced to telling us that the alternatives are even worse and that everyone is sick of the whole business. They’re wrong. The alternatives have not been tried, and most Leavers only ever supported Brexit as a means to an end, not an end in itself. This agreement delivers an outcome worse than either staying or leaving. It has been negotiated by people who never liked what they were doing, never understood why anyone might have voted Leave (other than on anti-immigration grounds) and defined their success as coming back with something – anything – to which they could attach the label “Brexit”. They have misjudged the electorate; and they have, I think, misjudged the MPs whom that electorate returns.

There are immense trading opportunities in the Pacific region – but not while we’re shackled to the EU’s customs union

“The Pacific Ocean, its shores, its islands and the vast regions beyond, will become the chief theatre of events in the world’s great hereafter.” So said William H Seward, who served as Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State and oversaw the purchase of Alaska, a century and a half ago. Who can doubt that he was […]

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“The Pacific Ocean, its shores, its islands and the vast regions beyond, will become the chief theatre of events in the world’s great hereafter.”

So said William H Seward, who served as Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State and oversaw the purchase of Alaska, a century and a half ago.

Who can doubt that he was right? Just as the 18th Century saw the world’s centre of gravity shift from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, so the 21st Century is seeing it shift from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Britain is not a Pacific territory, obviously – other than in the technical sense of owning Pitcairn and its associated islands. But we have exceptionally close links with many states that are: the United States, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand are common law, Anglophone states as, to a large extent, are Brunei and Malaysia and, to a lesser extent, the Philippines. Britain, in other words, is well positioned to benefit from the spectacular growth of the Pacific region.

Until now, freer trade with that region has been held out by ministers as one of the clear benefits of Brexit. Britain, we were told, would join the clunkily-named Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) which brings together 11 Pacific nations with a combined population of 500 million. The CPTPP has been described as the gold standard modern trade association – unsurprisingly, given the free-trading instincts of the two nations that first promoted it, New Zealand and Singapore.

Donald Trump, who has a different attitude to commerce, pulled the United States out of the deal, though it is of course possible that a later American administration might rejoin. His withdrawal disheartened many of the other participants who were naturally delighted by the prospect that Britain, the world’s fifth economy, might partially step into America’s place. The leaders of Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand have all called for UK accession.

That prospect now looks impossible. A new paper published by the Initiative for Free Trade (of which, in the interests of disclosure, I am President) looks in some detail at the mechanics of UK membership. Written by two acknowledged global trade experts, Deborah Elms and Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, A Roadmap for UK Accession to CPTPP weighs up the case for British membership and comes down unequivocally in favour. Some of the benefits are vast and obvious. British (that is, EU) beef exported to Japan is currently subject to duties of 38.5 per cent; dairy exports to Canada can face duties as high as 250 per cent.

Under what form of Brexit might Britain join? In all circumstances except one. Britain could join the CPTPP in a no-deal scenario, with a Canada-Plus treaty, as an EFTA or EEA member and even, with some qualifications, under Chequers. But it cannot join while it remains in the customs union – which everyone in Brussels understands the proposed deal to mean, though membership is sold in Britain as temporary.

How inexplicable – and how shameful – that Britain has thrown away perhaps the least controversial advantage of Brexit. Before the referendum, almost no one defended the EU’s customs union, which penalised poor countries and hit Britain uniquely as the sole member that traded more outside than within the bloc. Now, this worst-of-all-worlds outcome is preposterously presented as some sort of compromise.

A good case can be made for compromise – for being, as the saying goes, half-in-half-out. That, broadly speaking, was how the referendum went. But we should have aimed to keep the good half and junk the bad half. Leaving the EU but keeping the customs union is, as the IEA’s Kristian Niemietz puts it, throwing away the burger and eating the napkin. What fools we look. What fools we are.

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Ben Roback: The midterm elections two weeks on – the blue ripple builds momentum

It was an election that had something for everyone. And one that therefore leaves the future uncertain.

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group and a member of the US Embassy’s Young Leader’s UK programme.

In our midterm election preview on October 24th, we looked ahead to the midterms, wary of making predictions that were too bold or that got too carried away in the narratives of ‘blue waves’ or ‘red resurgences’. Two weeks after the midterm elections and with only a small handful of results left to call, what do we now know?

The races that were too close to call

With just a few of races in the House of Representatives still to be decided, the Democrats have a net gain of 37 seats. The overall balance of power has therefore comfortably shifted towards the Democrats, who have 232 seats compared to the Republicans’ 200 as it stands. In the House, the Democrats have recorded their biggest gain since 1974. In the Senate, President Trump cheered as Missouri, North Dakota and Indiana all flipped from Democrat to Republican, whilst Governor Rick Scott (R) was declared the winner in Florida’s Senate contest after a recount. With the Mississippi recount that is due to take place shortly expected to go in the Republicans’ favour, the GOP majority in the Senate is expected to grow further from the current 52-47.

Of our four key states to watch, an even split between Republicans and Democrats

Nevada – The only gain in our list of four for the Democrats. Dean Heller, the incumbent senator,  was the sole Republican incumbent running for re-election in a state that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Heller’s position on President Trump has always been uncertain, a problem amongst a Republican base that has proven their loyalty to the president. Having initially said he was “99 per cent” against Trump, Heller fully embraced him during his campaign for re-election. Instead, the state fell to Democrat Jacky Rosen, who campaigned heavily on local issues and healthcare.

West Virginia – Senator Joe Manchin supported Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, an early sign that he was preparing to find a balance between progressive Democrats and registered Republicans in an often-conservative state. Manchin defeated Patrick Morrisey, the Republican West Virginia Attorney General, to return to Congress for a second term. Putting Manchin’s defence into context, West Virginia last voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in 2000, but in 2016 Donald Trump won the state by 42 points.

North Dakota – Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D) was extremely vulnerable going into this election, after the state voted for President Trump by 36 points in 2016. Re-election in 2018 was a step too far and North Dakota became a Republican gain for Kevin Cramer.

Texas – At the height of the ‘blue wave’ dreams in the minds of Democrats was defeating Senator Ted Cruz in Texas. A perennially polarising figure, Cruz displayed his political flexibility by going from opponent to keen backer of President Trump and his policy agenda. He held off a campaign led by Beto O’Rourke that could become a dry run for the 2020 general election. Despite the narrow loss, O’Rourke gave Democrats their best performance in a Texas state-wide election since 1990.

The three house districts that could have gone either way

Minnesota 8 – Republican Pete Stauber defeated Joe Radinovich in a seat that was held by Democrat Rick Nolan. Ranked a ‘Republican lean’ by the Cook Political Report, the district was something of a bellwether, in that it has shown recent support for both Democrats and Republicans. The district voted for Trump by 15 points in 2016, but Clinton won the state of Minnesota by 1.5 points.

New Mexico 2 – New Mexico’s second congressional district was so close to call that it still could go either way. With the outcome currently unconfirmed, it remains to be seen if Democrat Xochitl Torres Small has defeated incumbent Republican Yvette Herrell. Hillary Clinton won New Mexico in the 2016 presidential contest.

Florida 27 – Democrat Donna Shalala defeated Republican Maria Elvira Salazar in the race for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, vacated by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R). Like MN-08 (above), the district has a mixed record at the national level having voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 19 points, while President Trump won Florida by one point.

Two out of two gubernatorial races go blue

New Mexico – In a midterm election cycle of firsts, Michelle Lujan Grisham made history by becoming the first Democratic Latina governor in the United States. Her win flipped the New Mexico governor’s mansion to the Democrats for the first time since 2002. As a member of Congress, she became one of the leading critics of Trump’s immigration agenda, whereas her gubernatorial opponent was a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Connecticut – Governor Dan Malloy wisely opted not to run for re-election, after his approval rating fell below 30 per cent. Ned Lamont retained the governor’s mansion for Democrats, defeating Republican opponent Bob Stefanowski. On the campaign, Lamont pledged to be a “firewall” between Trump’s policies and “Connecticut values.”

An extended election that had something for everyone

If you look at the House, it was a great night for Democrats. If you cast your eye on the Senate, it was just as good for the Republicans. The governor’s mansions are a closer split and next year Republicans will control 27 governorships to Democrats’ 23. So it was an election that had something for everyone – from progressives like Alexandra Ocasio Cortez in New York to newfound Trump loyalists like Cruz in Texas.

Democrats can look ahead to the lame duck period in between the midterms and next presidential election knowing they have real oversight powers to subpoena the president and his associates. Republicans know that there is still no frontrunner to launch a credible campaign against Trump in 2020. Americans are set for two more tumultuous years of divided politics, as both parties seek to build on the anger in both their bases that drove such high turnout in the midterms.

May’s Brexit deal helps to show that British politicians are more honourable and efficient than is claimed

There has been a tendency to suppose that because Britain’s power has declined in relative terms they must have become totally useless.

Why on earth do we run ourselves down so much? A presumption of inferiority, incompetence, decline, failure, humiliation and catastrophe saps our politics.

UKIP is a party dedicated to the proposition that everything has got worse since the 1950s. The Corbynistas are convinced that things in the Labour Party went wrong at the latest in 1983, when Neil Kinnock became leader.

And during the EU Referendum, this propensity to run ourselves down became the driving force of the campaign, with each side denouncing the other in unmeasured terms. The fact that (as we were told) this was a one-off contest, which each side felt it had to win, meant there appeared to be no reason to hold back.

So no prominent figures on either side admitted there might be something in their opponents’ arguments, or expressed the dilemma of floating voters who could see merit both in the view that it is more democratic to run our own affairs as a sovereign nation, and in the contention that we cannot be indifferent to future developments on the continent of Europe, so ought as a matter of common prudence and decency to remain members of the European Union.

We instead found ourselves assaulted by both sides with speculative assertions about the economy which were presented as matters of unquestionable fact. The more one listened to these forecasts, the less one felt one knew about the balance of advantage, for the insulting assumption was that as voters, we were not merely venal, but extremely dim.

You may recall the dreadfully repetitive argument about the number on the outside of the Leave bus. Exposing this figure as a lie was felt to be a sufficient argument against Brexit, for this must demonstrate that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were such despicable people they could not be trusted with anything.

Ad hominem attack supplanted any consideration of the principles of British foreign policy, and to what extent these can be reconciled with the principles which inform the British constitution. When Boris Johnson was found to have drafted two articles, one in favour of Remain and one in favour of Leave, he was regarded, not as a sane and balanced person who could see merit on both sides of the argument, but as a shameless opportunist who did not believe a word he was saying.

For Remainers, all seemed lost on the night of 23rd June 2016, when it emerged that the Leave side had unexpectedly won the referendum. This led to a great outpouring of anger and hatred not just against Johnson, but against Leave voters, who were denounced as ignorant, backward, racist, flag-waving Little Englanders.

Every kind of barbarity was imputed to them. It was all their fault when foreigners were abused in the street. European civilisation, and European peace, clearly meant nothing to the Leavers, who were so stupid and malign they had also voted to destroy their own jobs by wrecking the British economy.

And every kind of incompetence was attributed to the British Government. As Paul Goodman observed on this site yesterday:

“A dominant narrative in our culture is that British politicians are useless – one shared by some on the right, especially at the crossover point where the Conservative and UKIP activists meet, and some on the left, notably in the Remain coalition for which belief that the Government has bungled the negotiation has become an article of faith.

“On the contrary, the deal shows, as its outlines come into view, that the Prime Minister has got much of what she wanted – including on money.”

Many, perhaps most, Londoners expected the 2012 Olympic Games would be a dreadful embarrassment, blighted by the inability of British politicians to do anything right. The press assumed the story would be of transport and other arrangements going disastrously wrong.

Instead the games went off wonderfully well, for the politicians and administrators who were running the show had learned from mistakes made by other Olympic hosts, and many years of investment were at long last resulting in frequent and reliable trains and buses in London.

When I wrote a volume of brief lives of all 54 British prime ministers from Walpole to May, I lazily assumed quite a few of them would turn out to be duds. But although many of them ended up as failures, very few of them were either stupid or crooked. For in order to be prime minister, you have to command a majority in the House of Commons, which can tell within about three seconds of your standing up to speak if you are incurably thick, and can usually detect dishonesty too. David Lloyd George did not last long after becoming notorious for selling honours.

Donald Trump would have stood no chance of persuading MPs he was a fit and proper person to become Prime Minister. One of the many admirable features of the first past the post system is that Nigel Farage has not even managed to become an MP. Demagogues have never thrived at Westminster.

I refuse, by the way, to regard Sir Robert Walpole as a crook, just because he managed to build a palatial mansion, Houghton Hall, from the proceeds of public office, and gave valuable posts to his family. That was how things worked at that time, and he was abused by the best writers.

Another great advantage of parliamentary politics is the convention, which at first sight may seem merely quaint, that Members are Honourable. Under the rules of the House, they cannot dismiss their opponents as criminals or liars, for the excellent reason that to hold a debate with someone you dismiss as a criminal or a liar is impossible.

British public life includes a wonderful tradition of abuse, upheld at its finest by our caricaturists. But at general elections, the main candidates usually exercise a degree of restraint, for fear of alienating undecided voters. Churchill’s “Gestapo” attack on Labour during the 1945 election was generally reckoned to be a mistake not just in terms of taste, but in terms of votes – a verdict some historians dispute, but with which his most recent biographer, Andrew Roberts, concurs.

The presumption of incompetence which we attach to our politicians is a valuable safeguard against disappointment, and against respecting them too much. A free people needs, if anything, to err on the side of disrespecting its leaders too much.

But there has been a tendency, since the start of the 20th century, to suppose that because Britain’s power has declined in relative terms (a development which was inevitable, once our competitors industrialised), our politicians must also have declined in quality, and must have become, in fact, totally useless.

That is unfair. They are, in general, no more useless than they ever were, and many of the public services for which they are responsible work rather well. We wait each winter for a crisis in the NHS, and perhaps this year we shall get one, but in most respects that service has become better.

A healthy suspicion of the state ought not to spill over into the conviction that it and its servants are totally useless. Otherwise why bother?

WATCH: Tugendhat’s message to Trump – “In Iraq and Afghanistan, when it was -15 or 50 degrees, we soldiered on”

The US President opted not to attend a commemoration for the fallen due to inclement weather.

Iain Dale: If we had a government with Cox and Balls

Plus: Crouch’s revenge. Islam’s departure. Brexit, May’s prospective deal and Labour’s internal agonies. And: Trumpety-Trump as the President claims victory.

Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.

Oh, how the Prime Minister may regret crossing Tracey Crouch, who resigned last week as Sports Minister over gambling regulation.

Why? Because Tracey is writing the Prime Minister’s biographical essay for the second volume of The Honourable Ladies, a two volume book I am editing with Jacqui Smith, containing essays about the 491 female MPs elected since 1918. I’m sure that last week’s feeling of complete let-down by the Prime Minister will have no impact on the conclusions which Tracey will draw in her analysis of Theresa May’s career so far.

The main question we should ponder if whether she will have been restored to ministerial office by the time the book comes out next September. Or maybe it should be whether the Prime Minister herself will still be in office.

– – – – – – – – – – –

So farewell, Faisal Islam. He’s been poached by the BBC as their new Economics Correspondent, replacing Kamal Ahmed, who is taking on a new management role there.

Faisal’s departure from Sky News could well trigger quite a substantial lobby domino effect, depending on who is appointed to replace him. Beth Rigby, currently deputy political editor at Sky must fancy her chances, and I suspect that Sophie Ridge is a leading candidate too.

Another standout internal candidate would be Niall Paterson, who used to be a political correspondent at Millbank, then covered the defence beat and now co-presents the weekday breakfast show.

If they want to look outside their own team, I’d say Tom Newton-Dunn would be a strong candidate. He has been wanting to get into TV for some time and recently lost ou narrowly to Deborah Haynes for the Sky Foreign Editor job.

Of course, whoever gets the job will operate in the long shadow which Adam Boulton continues to cast. He is Mr Politics at Sky, and I suspect Faisal always found it quite difficult to make his own mark. Adam is a giant among political journalists, and there will be some who would happily make a case for him to return to his old job. He was brilliant at it.

– – – – – – – – – –

Those of you who have followed this column for some time will realise I have a slightly puerile sense of humour. So be warned, here goes.

It was pointed out to me yesterday that if Geoffrey Cox had been a member of Gordon Brown’s Cabinet, there would have been a Cox and Balls in the same government. Arf arf. And that if Geoffrey had been in Parliament in the 1980s when the Tories held Hayes and Harlington, not only would we have had Cox, but also Dicks – as in Terry Dicks.

And, of course, in David Cameron’s day we’d have had both Cox and Willy (Hague). There is also a very large Johnson on the backbenches. And as for Jeremy Hunt…  [More, more – Ed].

– – – – – – – – – –

Tonight, I am supposed to be having dinner with a Cabinet minister. However, I’m prepared for it to be cancelled just in case there is an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday morning. The speculation is that the Prime Minister has done a deal with the EU over Brexit, and that she will lay it before her Cabinet before putting it to a relatively quick parliamentary vote.

Who knows if these rumours are true? And as to the contents of this deal? Well, obviously I have no idea – but I suspect that it is a deal which no-one will particularly like, but that it will be one which we will all have to live with. I am not a flat earther on it, but I do believe that if we are to stay in the Customs Union beyond the end of the transitional period, it can only be described as Brexit in Name Only.

We have to be able to sign unfettered free trade agreements with countries all over the world. I interviewed Mark Regev, Israel’s Ambassador, on Tuesday, and he told me that scoping discussions with Liam Fox were already at an advanced stage. We need to be able to sign these kind of agreements on January 1, 2021. My suspicion is that there will be many countries who will think that it’s just not worth the candle if we remain aligned to EU regulations beyond that date. I hope I’m wrong.

– – – – – – – – – –

Assuming that the Prime Minister can get the support of her Cabinet for a deal – and I’d have thought that this is likely, – we can expect a vote in Parliament around the first week of December.

In the end, it may come down to how many Labour MPs will support any deal struck by May. Clearly, such an agreement wouldn’t meet Keir Starmer’s ludicrous six tests but, since Labour say that a No Deal Brexit is the worst of all worlds, you could argue that it could justify voting for the deal – and then tell voters that this is in the national interest.

I suspect that it won’t happen, but if Labour did go down that road I think they would garner an awful lot of support. My current bet is that the deal will go through because enough of its MPs will vote for it to counteract the Conservative MPs who vote against. That could trigger internal mayhem in the Labour Party.

– – – – – – – – – –

I predicted on Monday that if the Democrats won the House of Representatives, Donald Trump would still claim victory. Guess what? They, did – and so did he.

I’m not sure these results really change an awful lot. The Senate balance means that even if the House tried to impeach the President over the next two years, it would fall at the first hurdle.

Trump has a genius for portraying the victimhood felt by his supporters

The President is a cut-price Andrew Jackson, a touchy, uneducated, intuitive patriot ready at a moment’s provocation to get into a fight.

Donald Trump is a great performer. No one is better than him at displaying the hyper-sensitivity and aggressive uncouthness of a self-professed patriot who feels himself scorned by better educated liberals.

These qualities were on display at his press conference after the mid-term elections. Many people will feel they have better things to do than to watch the whole of this performance, which lasted for an hour and a half, but one can get the gist of it from this clip of Trump’s row with Peter Acosta of CNN.

What is to be done about such atrocious manners? Many Democrats feel the urge to punish Trump for being such a bad person. They search, and will go on searching, for ways to impeach him.

This reaction plays into Trump’s hands. It enables him to play the role of victim all the more convincingly. Look, he can say, the metropolitan elite really is out to get me.

He confects one row after another, engages in one tasteless stunt after another, precisely so that his critics will try to shut him up. The politics of grievance demands a constant supply of “enemies of the people”, and Trump has a genius for provoking counter-attacks which enable him to portray himself as their victim.

The President plays the misunderstood patriot, sneered at by the liberal establishment.

And the Americans love a performance. It is so much more entertaining to watch Trump take on Acosta than to witness some polite, balanced, responsible exchange of views between consenting adults in public.

Trump is a master of reality TV. And one of the reasons why he is so good at it is that he is so vulnerable. He really is very sensitive to the taunts and sneers of his betters. He puts himself on show, and a great many viewers who themselves feel acutely sensitive find in his performance something of themselves.

This is not a new form of politics. Andrew Jackson, President from 1829-37, played the same game. He too was a touchy, uneducated, intuitive patriot, ready at a moment’s provocation to get into a fight, and whenever possible to shoot his opponent stone dead. He had no programme, and is said only to have read one book in his life, The Vicar of Wakefield. But he had an unassailable set of grievances.

Trump is a kind of cut-price Jackson. He doesn’t actually fight duels, or only on television. But his supporters still admire his fighting spirit.

And the Left can’t get the hang of him at all, any more than it understands such populism on this side of the Atlantic. As Matthew Goodwin observes in The Guardian,

“The left has always struggled to make sense of national populism which seeks to prioritise the culture and interests of the nation, and promises to give voice to a people who feel that they have been neglected, even held in contempt, by distant and sometimes corrupt or self-serving elites. And today’s thinkers, writers and groups on the left have subscribed to a number of theories, all of which are incorrect. They claim this volatility is simply a shortlived backlash against something – whether immigrants or ‘the system’ – rather than a positive vote for what national populists are offering, not only more restrictive immigration policies but also a more responsive political system and more equal economic settlement.”