Garvan Walshe: The defeat of May’s deal was a consequence of half a decade of negotiation failure

Why should the EU offer any more to an inconstant departing member, which can’t be relied on to deliver ratification of any agreement?

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the British Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy.

Dominic Cummings imagines politics to be a branch of physics. There’s one respect in which he’s right, which goes by the unpleasant jargon-word entropy.

The word is ugly and so are its consequences. Entropy is a deeply depressing concept. It’s like a transaction tax applied by the universe on every conversion of energy. It’s why your car gets hot and your fridge makes noise. All that energy from petrol or electric power is dissipated into heat and sound waves. Once it has been so dissipated, it can’t be marshalled back into a useful form. It’s been spent.

The battle over Brexit has been a giant exercise in the production of entropy, the conversion of political energy and ideas into a disorganised and ineffective stalemate.

It is the result of a gross miscalculation of the amount of power available to the British Government. Unable to admit to itself the scarcity of available means, no leader or faction has been able to apply them to achieve any useful result. The result was a defeat for the Prime Minister’s deal so heavy that had it been a cricket score her team would have been forced to follow on.

From David Cameron’s Bloomberg speech in 2013 to the Prime Minister’s inept selling of her Brexit withdrawal agreement, through the ERG’s misfiring leadership plot, and Jeremy Corbyn’s failed attempt to bring the Government down, nothing – least of all May’s disastrous 2017 election – has worked. Political energy has been wasted. Political capital squandered.

Cameron imagined that British membership of the organisation was so important to the rest of the EU that they would grant an exemption from freedom of movement to keep the UK in. Instead they saw it as one opt-out too far. What he was offering was tantamount, from their perspective, to leaving the EU; this rendered Cameron’s threat to leave if he didn’t get what he want moot. If you don’t let me leave, I’ll go isn’t a strong negotiating position.

The Brexit negotiations themselves suffered what might be politely called a clash of negotiating cultures — a flexible British (and Irish) style, where everything is pinned down at the last minute; and a systematic Germanic one, where you work things through issue by issue.

In this May, at least, understood some limits. Ending free movement entailed leaving the Single Market. Remaining in good standing in international law meant continuing to pay bills already agreed. She failed only on the border in Ireland, where the EU acted to defend the interest of its member, the Republic of Ireland, at the expense of the country that was leaving.

British commentators usually considered informed (most recently Mujtaba Rahman of the Eurasia Group), have continually misunderstood the EU’s position. They simply haven’t adjusted to what it means to be outside the European tent. Considered on its own, it might indeed be in the economic interests of some powerful member states to push Ireland around. But considered as part of the EU system itself it would be very dangerous. The EU is not an intergovernmental organisation of sovereign states. It was created in order to restrain the rivalry of the big countries which had destroyed Europe twice in the early 20th century. Brexiteers find that a reason to leave, which is fair enough. What’s not reasonable is to pretend the organisation they want to leave for those reasons doesn’t behave as if it’s motivated by them.

This does not mean that big member states don’t have more power: they do. But they have less than size would suggest, and in exchange for giving it up they gain stability. In practical terms it means the small states gang together, and the Commission sets itself up as their protector. Were Ireland’s interests to be overridden today, what about Latvia’s tomorrow, or Portugal’s in five year’s time?

Faced with this, the confidence and supply deal with the Democratic Unionist Party was a huge mistake. Embedded in the DUP’s soul is fear that Britain will sell them out. The normal tricks of parliamentary management available to soothe the egos of Tory MPs (the Rt Hon Sir Edward Leigh, anyone?) — knighthoods, special envoy positions, the prospect of ministerial promotion — don’t work. A convoluted diplomatic text, produced by urbane Whitehall officials and their equally urbane counterparts at Dublin’s Iveagh House, is not seen by the DUP as an elegant compromise, but a plot at their expense. It is perhaps tragic that they attach themselves to an Albion they know is perfidious, as though an abusive relationship with Great Britain is the only one they know; and because leaving the UK cannot, by definition, be an option. Thus their tradition of obduracy is well justified, because it’s all they have.

It is fatal, however, that the only way to obtain a Brexit that meets the DUP’s requirement to avoid economic differentiation between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and the EU’s requirement (and also British government policy) of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, is to keep the UK in the Single Market. And while concerns about rule-taking have some weight, it is May’s insistence on ending freedom of movement, words she had inserted into the political declaration, that makes such an arrangement impossible.

There is still hope in Westminster that the EU will come back with some more concessions,or at least more time. What is not appreciated is that the all-UK customs union offered in the Withdrawal Agreement is such a concession. Why should they offer any more to someone who can’t deliver? And more time could even be counterproductive. Britain needs the pressure of a deadline. Given a can on a road, it will not be able to resist the temptation to give it a hefty kick.

Yet if it is a principle of physics that some energy must always be wasted, dissipated into heat and noise, it is a principle of conservatism that decisions and actions have consequences. The decisions — to demand an exemption from free movement; to leave the EU; to have a confidence and supply deal with the DUP; to both require and forbid a hard border in Ireland and to base a negotiation strategy on the hope that the EU would put leaving Britain’s interests ahead of those of its own member state — have been made. It’s now time to take the consequences whatever they turn out to be.

Robert Halfon: Now is the time for Common Market 2.0, and an EFTA-type plan for Brexit

Plus: We must be the Party for social housing as well as home ownership. And: why don’t we trumpet our history of social reform?

Common Market 2.0 deliver can Brexit before 29 March

Whilst I can understand that there are different views about the future of Europe, and that some prefer No Deal, I am mystified why some regard Common Market 2.0 as a retreat from Brexit. This is far from the case.

 For years, many Eurosceptics would have been very happy to see Britain in an EFTA-style relationship with Europe rather than be a member of the EU. Such an arrangement, advocated by Brexiteers in the past, would gets Britain out of the CAP and CFP.

Common Market 2.0 also means an end to Britain being subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court, and brings us out of political union. All these things were what many Leavers felt was most objectionable about membership of the EU.

The plan also safeguards jobs and ensures stability for business and our economy through membership of the Single Market. But members have far more powers to derogate from it (Norway obtained derogations from 55 proposed Single Market laws and Iceland from 349 legal acts).

It would also mean that we continue to be a part of an alliance of democracies – it would strengthen EFTA – which is important for geo-politics and would help to build up a useful counterweight to the EU.

On freedom of movement, under Common Market 2.0, there are significant safeguarding measures that place us in a far stronger position of power to stop freedom of movement in the event of “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectoral or regional nature liable to persist”.

Financial contributions to Common Market 2.0 would also be significantly lower than under our payments to EU budgets – well south of £5 billion per annum. We would simply pay for what we participate in – membership, joint programmes, schemes and agencies and, on a “goodwill” basis, the EEA Voluntary Grants scheme.

All this means that we could take back control of our finances and can afford to invest in what matters most domestically – the NHS, policing, schools and community. 

Significantly, unlike the other proposals, Common Market 2.0 would enable us to deliver on Brexit by the end of March. We would scrap the Political Declaration, instead outlining Common Market 2.0 as the basis for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

The transition period would give us the time we need to finalise and implement the agreement with the EU and EFTA states. This would means that the UK would leave the EU on the 29th March – with no extension of Article 50 necessary.

Common Market 2.0 is an agreement that delivers on the vote of the people, takes back control of our key institutions, ensures a good, free trading agreement with the rest of Europe. All this can be achieved without the need for the Northern Ireland backstop to be activated or weakening the Union.

Bleak House

We have a housing crisis in this country. Whilst I am passionately in favour of the Right to Buy and Help to Buy schemes, there is so much more we must do to help families on low incomes.

It’s worth remembering that one in four families have less than £95 in savings, and that the idea of affording a deposit is just for the birds. 682,000 households live in overcrowded accommodation and 1.2 million households are currently on the waiting list for social housing.

Millions more are struggling with extortionately priced private-rented accommodation, with one in five private renters cutting back on food to pay the rent. Many of these families simply cannot afford rent on their wages, costing the taxpayer £23 billion to cover the 27 per cent of private renters receiving housing benefits.

If we want to both ensure a good quality of life for millions of our fellow countrymen and women ,and save the taxpayer billions on the housing benefit bill, we need as much radical action on social and affordable housing as we do for those who want to buy their first home.

This is why the reforms set out by Jim O’Neill in Shelter’s new social housing commission is something that Secretaries of State, such as James Brokenshire, should be listening to. They propose 3.1 million more social homes, costing £10.7 billion a year, but which in reality, would be reduced to £3.8 billion with savings in benefits, and returns to the Government arising from the knock-on economic benefits across the economy.

The housing situation in our country is bleak. We must be the Party of home ownership but we must also be the Party for affordable and social housing. Whether these proposals are adopted or not, the Government has got to come up with a solution that solves our social housing crisis in our country.

The Party of social good

There is an umbilical cord between the British people and the NHS. It was extraordinary and wonderful to see two days of wall-to-wall coverage showing Government financial support for our NHS and its Long-Term Plan. It is an important tribute to Matt Hancock and Jeremy Hunt.

Even better, Hancock reminded the House in his statement that it was a Conservative, the Sir Henry Willink, who first put forward proposals for a NHS and, whilst built by a Labour Government, it is clearly the Conservatives who pioneered the idea of health care free at the point of access.

Matt’s mention of a Conservative creating major social justice reform is something that all Conservatives should be doing all the time. Why on earth do Conservatives not do more in Parliament, speeches, articles and conversations, to remind the public that, so often, in the history of our country, it has been  Conservatives at the forefront of groundbreaking social reform in our country? Whether that was  Wilberforce and slavery, Disraeli and the condition of working people, Macmillan and affordable housing, Thatcher and the Right to Buy, Osborne and the National Living Wage.

Labour mention their historic record on social justice time and time again. It’s time we did so.

Peter Bone: I helped move Cameron’s Government to deliver the referendum. And this deal doesn’t deliver on the result.

It is certainly not the Brexit that people voted for. As Bill Clinton might have said about the main issue: It’s the Sovereignty, Stupid!

Peter Bone is a member of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union, and is MP for Wellingborough.

All my political life, I have been campaigning to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union superstate. Quite simply, I believe that the United Kingdom should be a sovereign nation making its own decisions.

In 2011, I was behind the motion that we should have a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union. This was opposed by David Cameron’s government and, winding up that debate, I suggested that MPs should put the country first and their Party second. The vote resulted in 81 Conservative MPs defying a strict three-line whip to support a referendum.

In 2015, with my colleagues and Parliamentary neighbours Philip Hollobone and Tom Pursglove, I held a ballot in North Northamptonshire to find out whether local people wanted to leave the EU. This was the biggest vote on the European issue since 1975, with 100,000 ballot papers distributed across Wellingborough, Kettering, Corby and East Northamptonshire. The result was that 81.1 per cent voted to leave.

In December of that year, along with Tom, I co-founded a non-party political Leave campaign – Grassroots Out. I travelled to every corner of the United Kingdom, speaking to people from all areas, ages and backgrounds. I held grassroots events in village halls and at street stalls. I addressed major rallies of thousands of people at venues in every part of our United Kingdom. I knocked on thousands of doors talking to people who were energised by this great democratic event.

On the 23rd of June 2016, the people of the United Kingdom voted by a substantial majority to leave the European Union.

Unfortunately, more than two years on from that great debate, the Prime Minister’s proposal does not deliver the Brexit that 17.4 million people voted for. Let us look at what people told me mattered to them.

First, they wanted an end to the free movement of people from the European Union. They thought it unfair that people from the EU could come to this country and enjoy the benefits of our public services when they had no connection with the United Kingdom, yet at the same time skilled workers, such as doctors, from outside the EU, couldn’t get in. They wanted to see a fair immigration policy based on merit not where you come from.

Theresa May claims that her deal ends free movement, but this is palpable nonsense. The Commons was promised an Immigration Bill more than a year ago. However, it was only last month that we got a White Paper on what might be in the Bill. If the government was planning to end free movement when we left the EU, we would have had such a Bill by now.

The non-binding political declaration, which is just a wish-list, talks about ending free movement, but of course we have no detail of our future trading relationship, and it is highly likely that the Government will trade off ending free movement for a trade deal. The one thing that is certain is the Prime Minister’s plan does not guarantee the ending of free movement.

Second, they wanted an end to billions and billions of pounds paid each and every year to the European Union by UK taxpayers. Last year, we gave the European Union a net £9 billion contribution.

Since we have been a part of the European project we have given a net subscription fee of over £210 billion. If that money had stayed in this country, we could have improved our public services, cut taxes and lowered national debt. This cost might not have been so bad if we had had a trading surplus with the European Union, but of course this is not the case: they sell £100 billion of goods more to us then we do them each year.

Under May’s plan we would pay a minimum amount of £39 billion to the EU for the transition. That equates to £60 million for each constituency in the country, just think what a difference that could make! However, the £39 billion is only the start. Her plans allow for a further extension of two years for the transition period which would cost a further £20 billion.

In addition, we don’t know how much we have to contribute each year in any future trading relationship. So, it is reasonable to expect that the Prime Minister’s plan will cost in excess of £60 billion. That is hardly stopping paying billions and billions of pounds each and every year to the European Union.

Third, they wanted us to make our own laws in our own country. Clearly, our citizens want to return control to Parliament. They want to elect their politicians to make laws which are in the interest of the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They also want the power to be able to throw out those politicians through the ballot box. Simply, they want sovereignty returned to our country. They are fed up with laws and regulations made by European bureaucrats who are not subject to scrutiny or to election by the people.

May’s plan would sign up to accepting laws made by the EU, with no say in making them. The worst part of this being that we have no unilateral right to end this arrangement, and we could become a permanent rule-taker, not rule-maker.

Fourth, they wanted us to be judged by our own judges, not by a foreign court, as our judicial system is the envy of the world. Our judges are of the highest integrity and calibre, and they make their decisions based on the law of the land and never for political reasons. Yet at the moment our Supreme Court is subservient to the European Court of Justice whose judges are appointed for political reasons. They have a long record of producing dubious decisions which seem to be based more on politics than the law. What the British people want is a set of properly qualified judges, solely interpreting the law of our land and making their decisions purely based on the evidence they have put before them. That is what we have with our judicial system and that is not what we have with the ECJ.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s plans would have us in a transition period for up to four years, during that period we will be subject to the rulings of the European Court of Justice. What is worse, is that we will not have any say in how the laws are drawn up, and we will have no presence in the ECJ. Even after the implementation period, if the Northern Ireland backstop kicks in, we will still be subject to European rulings on vast swathes of the law and regulation that affect us. So clearly the May’s proposals do not allow for our own judges to judge our own laws.

The Prime Minister’s proposal might be the worst deal ever for this country. It is certainly not the Brexit that people voted for. As Bill Clinton might have said about Brexit: It’s the Sovereignty, Stupid!

The EU is no land of milk and honey – let’s be optimistic about our future as an independent nation

This is a momentous year in the history of the United Kingdom. The voices of 17.4 million voters who took part in the biggest act of democracy in our history will finally have been heard and in the decades to come, history books will pronounce 2019 as the year that the UK once again became […]

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This is a momentous year in the history of the United Kingdom. The voices of 17.4 million voters who took part in the biggest act of democracy in our history will finally have been heard and in the decades to come, history books will pronounce 2019 as the year that the UK once again became a proud, independent nation.

And it won’t be forgotten that it was the Conservative Party that gave people a chance to give their verdict on the EU in the 2016 referendum, and which entrusted the people with such a momentous decision about our constitution and destiny.

Of course, as we approach the pivotal moment of 29th March when we leave the EU, we are once again being force-fed a diet of doom, gloom and despondency from those who wish the result had turned out differently.

But we must remember that these people have a democratic right to propel these arguments, just as 17.4 million voters had a right to rubbish their claims during the referendum – which they did, resoundingly.

And it turns out that they were absolutely right to do so. This really is a time for hope and optimism, not despair and fear. Since 2016, in spite of dire predictions made during the campaign, we’ve seen a tax windfall, the fastest growth in wages in almost a decade, record employment levels and steady economic growth. Our future has never looked brighter.

If we had have chosen to leave some sort of Utopia, I would understand people’s concerns. But the EU is no Utopia and if it were, voters would have had the wisdom to recognise this during the referendum.

In Italy, months of uncertainty and inconclusive elections have resulted in two populist parties – the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and right-wing League – forming a coalition.

Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) entered the federal parliament for the first time last year. As with Italy’s League, it is an anti-euro party and it has strong anti-immigration policies. In 2017, next door in Austria, the Freedom Party (FPÖ) become a junior partner in coalition with the Conservatives and talk of banning headscarves for girls under 10 in schools and seizing migrants’ phones is now a part of mainstream Austrian politics.

In April last year, Viktor Orban secured a third term in office in Hungary with a landslide victory in an election dominated by debates about immigration. Orban once warned of the threat of “a Europe with a mixed population and no sense of identity” – comments unheard of in the UK political context.

The Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) was the largest party in last year’s general election in Slovenia. Its party leader, Janez Jansa, formed an alliance with Mr Orban in opposing migrant quotas, Poland has also condemned the EU’s handling of the migrant crisis and in Denmark, the police are now allowed to seize migrants’ property to pay for their upkeep and has pledged to boost contraception aid to developing countries to “limit the migration pressure”.

And of course we’ve seen the distressing scenes in France. Weeks of street protests have erupted into a full-on anti-government movement leading to the worst violence in central Paris in a decade.

The EU is not the land of milk and honey many would have you believe. The tide is turning against the EU and the way it does business in scores of EU countries and our friends on the continent are being forced to make their voices heard through the prism of extreme political parties.

Turning to the economy, around 90 per cent of global economic growth will come from outside the EU over the coming years and the EU now accounts for less than half of our overall trade.

The EU’s economic clout is also falling, with its share of the global economy almost halving over the last 30 years. That’s why people voted to Leave so that we could take back control of our trade and regulatory policy and strike trade deals with the emerging powerhouses of the world economy.

And for every unemployed Brit, there are two people unemployed in the euro area. Unemployment is five times higher in Greece, almost four times higher in Spain, double in France and between 17-19 per cent in much of the south of Italy.

As much as my opponents like to whip up a fevered frenzy about Armageddon scenarios, cliff edges and crash outs, the truth is that we are doing well in the UK. We are also lucky to have had a chance to register our discontent in a referendum, and fortunate to be having such a thorough, engaging and relatively peaceful debate about what our post-Brexit future should look like.

We haven’t seen a rise of extremist parties in the UK, nor have we seen riots on our streets. We have simply concluded that the EU is not capable of change and that it doesn’t have our best interests at heart and we’ve done all this without making extreme political choices.

But we must be careful to ensure that we keep our debate within the political mainstream. Many people who voted in 2016 did so for the first time in their lives and there would be disastrous, political consequences if we decided to ignore or reverse the result.

The British people have boldly trodden where no other EU country has yet dared to tread and we are leading in Europe, as we always have done.

Let’s hold our heads up high and show how you can be a proud European nation without belonging to the institutions of the European Union. And let’s lead our friends and allies into the 2020s as we forge a strong, peaceful and prosperous path together.

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“No-one voted for Brexit to become poorer.” Really? We vote to deny ourselves money all the time.

Security, cohesion, integration, solidarity: all are intangible. But we pay – literally – to gain them. Why single out self-government?

Philip Hammond may have coined the phrase – an appropriate use of the term, in this case.  “No-one voted to become poorer or less secure,” he told the Conservative Party Conference in 2016, less than six months after the Brexit referendum vote.  As others have taken those words up, the last three have tended to drop off it.  But was he right?

Obviously, even as senior a Minister as the Chancellor cannot have read the minds of all 17 million plus of those who backed Leave – the largest number of people who have ever voted for anything in a British poll.  But let us leave the point there, and turn to his own department’s forecasts.  The Treasury’s median long-term estimate is that a WTO-based outcome would reduce cumulative growth over 15 years from about 25 per cent to about 17 per cent.  In other words, GDP would, under this scenario, be eight per cent lower than it would otherwise be.  It would rise more slowly, not fall.

So even the Treasury, the high temple of Remain, doesn’t expect us to become poorer – but rather, less rich than we would otherwise be.  You may counter that this lost growth would mean lost wages and tax receipts, lower spending and higher tax.  Or that some short-term forecasts do suggest that we will become poorer this year in the event of No Deal.  (The CBI is pushing a very-worst-case scenario today.)

We could come back by pouring cold water on all such forecasts, starting with George Osborne’s referendum campaign projections of an “immediate” recession, half a million more people unemployed, and house prices 18 per cent lower than they would otherwise have been.  Instead, the economy grew, unemployment fell and house prices rose.  But rather than vanish into a statistical snowstorm, we ask our readers to view Hammond’s statement from a different angle – two angles, to be precise.

The first is from the Left.  Trident costs the taxpayer roughly £2 billion a year.  That money could instead be spent on tax cuts or public services.  Very many on the Left (and some on the Right) argue that it should be.  They say that we don’t use Trident, wouldn’t ever use it, shouldn’t ever use it.  The cash should go instead on schools or hospitals or benefits or childcare.

Next, mull an argument from the Right.  Overseas aid comes at a price of about £14 billion annually.  Again, that money could be spent on public services or tax cuts – or, the Right being the Right, on debt repayment.  A lot of people on it – and a sprinkling on the Left – hold that development aid is wasted or stolen and perverts incentives and is subject to the law of unintended consequences.

Now stand back from the fray, and ponder a stubborn fact.  Voters consistently back Trident and aid.  No, that’s not quite right.  Rather, put it this way: voters consistently return governments committed to both.  Then turn to another subject to illustrate the same point.

Pro-migration campaigners argue that it makes us richer – both overall and per head.  Others dispute that claim.  Let’s assume for the sake of the argument that those campaigners are right.  Even if every single voter could be persuaded of this, there is reason to doubt that all of them would come round to wanting higher rather than lower migration.  Very many would believe that there would still be costs in some places to higher immigration – in terms, for example, of pressure on housing.  And then there is the i-word: integration.

At which point, it is worth standing back from Hammond’s statement, and asking not whether he was right or wrong, but what he actually meant – or implied.  Who is the “no-one” in question?  Who are those to whom he glancingly refers?  Obviously, the British people.  But that’s a term which invites further thought.

In one sense, the British people is a single entity; in another, it is lots of groups of people, breaking down in turn into families and individuals.  Many of them help to pay for others.  Older people tend not to use schools, but they help to fund them.  Younger people use the NHS less than older ones, but they help to pay for it.  Londoners, some say, subsidise the rest of the UK.  And so on and so forth.

Readers will see where all this is going.  At each election, we vote to “make ourselves poorer”, in the sense of becoming less rich than we otherwise would be.  We plump for Trident because we worry about our security (to reprise the Chancellor’s word); or for lower migration because we think it will mean more cohesion, or for overseas aid because of solidarity with those who suffer. We vote to fund public services we don’t use and parts of the country we don’t live in.  Security, cohesion, solidarity: these are intangibles.  They can’t be touched or smelled or tasted – seen or heard.  They may lead to material gains, but they are not material themselves.  None comes with a price tag, but all have value.

Let’s end by illustrating the point.  John Hume was fond of quoting his anti-sectarian father, who used to say: “you can’t eat a flag”.  True – and anyone who has tried to do so has presumably been disappointed.  But the reverse also applies.  No-one, we suspect, has ever sung: “I vow to thee, my breakfast.”  Those intangibles – such as self-government, to cite another – matter.  From one point of view, the desire for the last is a form of solidarity or even for, to use a more EU-ish word, subsidiarity.

You can properly reply that self-government and patriotism aren’t the same thing, or even that they don’t overlap at all.  So be it.  What you can’t do, this site believes, is claim that Brexit alone, uniquely, exceptionally, will make us less rich than we otherwise would be (if it does so at all).  By commission, by omission, in the ballot booth and out of it, we opt to do this all the time – almost without noticing.

James Frayne: Five new political parties that could be formed

Specifically for anti-Brexit politicians, the path to creating such a party lies firmly on what we think of as the Left;

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

There’s increasing talk about possible splits within the Conservative Party over Brexit – and within the Labour Party too. We hear that anti-Brexit MPs could break away from their respective parties – possibly in collaboration with each other – to form one or more new, liberal-minded parties. These discussions are all based on considerations of the make-up of the two main parties. But these discussions have largely ignored the fact that you can’t have parties without voters. And so, what does the polling evidence suggest as to where gaps in the political market really are?

Of course, voters split in a million different ways and there are therefore a million different parties that could be formed – on the basis of region, age, class, ethnicity, religion, and so on. But let’s think about decent-sized parties that could theoretically be created off the back of shared political attitudes within the electorate. In doing so, there are probably five major parties that could be formed. (I’m considering England’s electorate only here).

– – –

International Free Traders. Roughly ten per cent of the population would define as being primarily pro-business and pro-free trade – and with that positive towards the creation of a low-tax, dynamic economy. In the US, such people are occasionally referred to as “Wall Street Journal Conservatives”. While they are mostly to be found in the South of England (rather than London), they are scattered around (but not in) England’s affluent towns and cities. They are middle class and mostly pro-EU – and they mainly opposed leaving because they (rightly or wrongly) thought leaving the EU was a move against free trade. They are socially liberal and are open to significant public service reform.

Eurosceptic Libertarians. The Libertarian Party only merits a mention here, outside of the main parties, for clarification purposes. This is to say that the self-consciously optimistic, forward-looking, internationalist but eurosceptic, low-tax, socially liberal segment of the electorate is tiny. It’s probably less than five per cent of the electorate and is much smaller than its pro-European, business-friendly equivalent who might vote for a free trade party.

Social Conservatives. Around 15 per cent could genuinely be described as primarily small-c conservative – people that believe in old-fashioned institutions, social conservatism and tightly-managed capitalism in the Christian Democrat mould. Overwhelmingly middle-class and older, this group leans male but is ethnically mixed and can be found in suburbs, small towns and villages across England.

Nationalists. Now we can think about the big clusters. Perhaps the biggest is the roughly 25 per cent of the electorate that is working class and lower middle class, anti-politics, self-consciously patriotic, eurosceptic and socially conservative. They previously mainly voted Labour but voted Conservative in 2017 over Brexit and could do so again. They are found across England but particularly in the small towns of the Midlands and North. They are ambivalent about capitalism and favour both lower taxes and more (but focused) spending on public services.

Social Democrats. Around 25 per cent of the public are essentially social democrats – people that worry primarily about the state of public services, about poverty and welfare, and about apparent capitalist excess. They care about issues of identity but significantly less so than their hard-left counterparts. They are highly pro-European, socially liberal, younger, female and overwhelmingly urban and suburban.

The Hard Left. Finally, around 15 per cent of the public are ideologically very left-wing. In the past, they defined themselves primarily by their views on how the economy and public services should be run, with extreme hostility to the private sector. They still care and vote on these issues, but now they’re increasingly likely to make themselves heard on issues of identity (gender, ethnicity, and so on). They align with Corbyn in everything except the EU; in the past, many would have been anti-EU, but that flipped when euroscepticism became completely linked with the right. They’re mainly found in London and the country’s big cities and they’re younger, female and middle class.

– – –

What does all this mean for any of those politicians thinking about creating new parties? Three things.

First, probably, that they should view any new parties as being broad churches (like their own now) or as smaller, permanent coalition partners as commonly exist in other countries.

Second, related to this point, the public don’t line up – at all – on a neat ideological spectrum as politicians often imagine. Ideologically “pure” parties might theoretically have fewer internal divisions (although that rarely works out in practice), but they’d reach few voters.

Third, and specifically for anti-Brexit politicians, the path to creating such a party lies firmly on what we think of as the Left; while it’s not impossible that a new anti-Brexit party could speak to international free traders and social democrats, it would be easier to fuse together social democrats and the hard left because voters share so much common ground on other issues. If they’re not in the broad church of the Conservative Party, it’s hard to imagine an electorally attractive role for these Conservative MPs.

Henry Newman: An end to free movement and forced payments to Brussels. Is the backstop really so bad?

None of us would have started from here. But the Government has got us into this fix – and May’s deal is the best of the three possible ways forward.

Henry Newman is Director of Open Europe.

I had hoped that MPs would return from Christmas ready to find a compromise – a path through Brexit so we can move on to deciding what sort of future relationship we want. Yet, for now, it seems that Parliamentarians on both sides of the debate have hardened their positions. In a week, the House of Commons will get its first chance to vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal. It’s not perfect, and few people would have started from here. But it is a reasonable deal that takes us right out of the EU and the Single Market. And yet it seems that some Eurosceptic MPs just don’t want to take yes for an answer.

Many of the concerns about the deal centre on the backstop – an arrangement to keep the Irish border open. There are certainly problems with it but there are also advantages. Some people are worried we could end up “trapped” in the backstop. They rightly treat the Prime Minister’s insistence that we won’t get there at all with raised eyebrows. So let’s consider a worst-case scenario. Imagine that we end up in the backstop and there’s no immediate path out.

We could be in the backstop in less than two years’ time, once the standstill transition ends. Or we could apply to extend the transition for a one-off further period of up to two years, meaning that (unless we had agreed a successor relationship) we would be in the backstop by January 2023. It is not the case, as Sir Bill Cash suggested at the weekend, that the transition could be extended until “the end of the century”. Either we enter the backstop, or we agree a new deal.

In the backstop the UK can end free movement. I back an open migration system that welcomes the world’s brightest and best to contribute to our country. But the public want our Parliament to decide who comes here. We could do that from day one of the backstop.

Our gross contributions to the EU are currently over £350 million a week, as the Leave campaign infamously pointed out. Of course the UK gets some of that back. But in the backstop our contributions wouldn’t just be less. They would be zero. No compulsory payments at all, once the divorce bill is settled. So if the UK was parked in the backstop we wouldn’t have to hand over any of our hard-earned money.

As a Eurosceptic, one of the things I most wanted from Brexit was an escape from the political project. I wanted to stop the EU integration ratchet, where the answer to every problem is “more Europe”. The backstop would wind the clock back, taking us towards the trading bloc model of the early 1980s. Eurosceptics used to say that was what they wanted. Now it is offered on a plate, some are saying it’s not good enough.

Our services sector, accounting for 80 per cent of our domestic wealth, will be free from EU control in the backstop. We will be obliged to maintain current European rules on goods and agriculture in Northern Ireland, but could resist damaging new rules. This point has not been well appreciated. In the backstop we would be able to say “non, merci” to new laws from the EU (other than on state aid and competition). We would have to implement amendments and updates in Northern Ireland, but if the EU tried to use these to ‘sneak through’ major changes we could push back.

In the backstop, we could set our own laws on employment rights and environmental protections, as long as a baseline of general principles are maintained. Eurosceptics have long complained about the Habitats directive – we could re-examine that. Imagine in the mid-2020s the French forcing through a new EU directive, mandating a 35-hour week for all and a month’s August holiday. We could go our own way.

I’m not Pollyanna – there are problems with the backstop, especially for Northern Ireland. But in that divided community Brexit was always going to be problematic. You could keep the whole UK in legal lockstep with Ireland and the EU, but that would defeat the point of Brexit. Leave Northern Ireland aligned to the EU, as the rest of the UK diverges, and you upset Unionists. Pull Northern Ireland away from Ireland, and you enrage Nationalists. The only answer is a hybrid solution. The backstop, imperfect as it is, and improved though it should be, does that. No wonder unionist business and farming groups back it. Some see a chance to be a British ‘Hong Kong’, although as Open Europe has pointed out that’s not a very applicable analogy.

The backstop gives the UK zero-tariff trade with the EU, helping protect manufacturing. That means we won’t yet get control over our trade policy – something I would ultimately like. Some fear the EU could exploit the backstop agreement to sell access to our markets without our consent. I’m not convinced. We could push back against new EU trade deals. Anyway, if a country like Australia was about to sign a deal with Brussels, they would also want to sit down with us. The UK isn’t Turkey. We are one of the world’s biggest economies so it’s inevitable a new EU trading partner would want to discuss mutual market access, as well as the bilateral services and investor protection trade deals which it’s possible for the UK to sign while in the backstop. (By the way, in the backstop we could do our own services trade deals with other countries, independently of anything the EU agrees).

The Government has made plenty of errors while negotiating Brexit. Downing Street is appallingly bad at explaining its own policies. At no point did the Prime Minister really level with the public about the compromises necessary to reach agreement with Brussels, which has its own red lines. But it’s also true that critics of this deal are often confused about the details and unrealistic about the alternatives. Too often they seem to fetishise a few details of the problems around the backstop, missing the wood surrounding the trees. They also tend to take the European Commission’s spin at face value – instead they should listen to diplomats from EU member states, who are far from happy with the backstop.

At this point there are only three real options: first, stopping Brexit, probably with a divisive second referendum which could tear our country apart. Second, pushing the UK out the EU with No Deal, which Parliament would surely try to block. We would be fine in the medium-term but the immediate disruption would be profound. Or third, taking the bird in the hand. Back the only deal on the table. Push the Prime Minister to get tweaks to improve the backstop, but accept that we have been members for four and a half decades and getting out won’t be like flicking a switch. And then on 30th March 2019 we can put Groundhog Day arguments about whether we should or shouldn’t leave behind us, and concentrate on what we do with our newfound freedoms.

Chloe Westley: As a migrant to Britain, I say: what’s wrong with patriotism, borders and control?

The desire to protect your home is as universal as the desire to love, to work and to raise a family. Why should protecting your country be any different?

Chloe Westley is the Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

When I was a child, I remember our teachers playing Imagine by John Lennon at a school assembly. I thought the sentiment was lovely. All people living in peace, no countries, no borders, no war. It’s a very pretty idea…with absolutely no basis in reality.

The modern Zeitgeist among academics and politicians in Europe is that borders are a thing of the past; that they are a nasty, xenophobic barrier to progress and co-operation, and any sense of national pride should be disregarded as backwards and racist.

As an immigrant to this country, I don’t understand this way of thinking. To deny the notion of nationhood and borders is to deny that there is anything of value in this country worth protecting, or any particular set of principles that divides British society from any other. But this country is special, and it is worth protecting.

It is a privilege to call Britain home. And it isn’t racist or xenophobic to expect the Government to protect and guard its borders, as well as to ensure the implementation of a fair and controlled immigration system. The desire to protect your home is as universal as the desire to love, to work and to raise a family. Why should protecting your country be any different? We put up fences and walls to guard our homes, but guarding national borders is somehow subject to accusations of xenophobia.

Globalists do not believe in maintaining national borders, because they do not believe that this country is their home. After all, if you believe that there is nothing that distinguishes Great Britain from the rest of the world, and reside here merely for convenience, then you would be satisfied being born or living in any other country. In fact, the way some on the Left describe this country with disdain, you would think they would prefer to live just about anywhere else.

There are of course those who describe themselves as strictly ‘European’ – not citizens of the world, but citizens of Europe. They advocate a greater European superstate, to replace individual nation states, with a strict border around Europe. They replace nationalism with supranationalism – the community is extended to the European continent. Whilst this is a minority view, (just 15 per cent freely choose to describe themselves as ‘European’), it is worth pointing out that calling oneself a ‘proud European’ expresses the same innate instinct to belong to a country (albeit an imaginary country, as the EU is not yet a superstate).

Living in a world without borders, and without nations, would not magically result in world peace and a greater sense of belonging. Rather, people would seek other tribes to belong to – quite possibly even extreme political and religious tribes.

Moral Psychologists such as Jonathan Haidt lhave warned against the dismissal of national identity. The need to belong to and defend a community is an innate human instinct, and is often expressed by loyalty to the nation state:

“There is nothing necessarily racist or base about this arrangement or social contract. Having a shared sense of identity, norms, and history generally promotes trust…Societies with high trust, or high social capital, produce many beneficial outcomes for their citizens: lower crime rates, lower transaction costs for businesses, higher levels of prosperity, and a propensity toward generosity, among others.”

There are of course extreme forms of nationalism, particularly ethno-nationalism, that need to be avoided. We should strive for a golden mean of nationhood: one which allows citizens to care for and protect one other, to maintain national borders and traditions, which is welcoming to visitors and immigrants, and is fair and just in dealings with other nations.

A shared national identity doesn’t necessarily mean that citizens believe their country or their people are innately superior to all other nations. Your love for your family does not require you to hate strangers – but you would do anything to protect and care for them above other people, simply by virtue of them being family.

You cannot force people to stop loving their country. A shared national identity is what brings people together, despite differences in religion, politics, football teams and age. Because the thing that we have in common is our home – and we should take care of and protect our home together.

Andrew Green: The new Immigration White Paper. Not just damaging, but a disaster – both for control and the Conservatives

Others would say that the appointment of a profoundly business-friendly Home Secretary was bound to lead to a weakening of immigration policy.

Lord Green is Chairman of MigrationWatch UK and a cross-bench peer.

As MPs gather next week to resume their debate on Brexit, they will need to turn their attention to immigration – a major issue in the EU referendum.

Unfortunately, the Immigration White Paper, slipped out just before Christmas, is not just a set-back for immigration control, it is a disaster. Indeed it will, in future, be seen to have been extremely damaging for public faith in the political system trust in politicians and the Conservative Party especially.

Why? Because, despite all their promises over eight years – not just promises but manifesto commitments – the Conservatives have given up any serious attempt to reduce immigration. If the proposals in The White Paper are implemented, immigration will be far more likely to increase still further and could well spin out of control.

How could that be? Consider this. Until now, highly skilled immigration (that is at degree level or higher) has been open for EU citizens but capped at 20,700 for non-EU entrants. According to the new policy, there will be no cap on either. Furthermore, employers will no longer be obliged to advertise a job in Britain before recruiting from overseas: how will British staff feel about that? There is even talk of abolishing the system of sponsorship so that anyone could bring in a worker, perhaps even a relative, as long as they said that they would be paying a salary of £30,000 a year. Yet the Government’s own Advisory Committee, mainly pro-immigration economists, has admitted that salary levels can be fiddled, for example by including other elements such as accommodation.

For anyone who has followed immigration matters for some years (in my case 18 years), this is sheer foolishness, but that is not the half of it. There is also to be a new route for those with much lower qualifications – put simply, “A level” or equivalent – which will be open to the whole world and also uncapped. Given that these routes will lead to settlement there could be waves of applications, from all over the world, including from people willing to take a pay cut to get on a track for permanent residence and eventual British citizenship.

There is more. There is also to be a route for unskilled workers from “low risk” countries. They will be able to come for “up to a year” – note that expression – before having to go home for a year for a “cooling off period”, whatever that might mean. As for whether they can then come back again, the document is not clear. What is clear is that “up to a year” is a blatant attempt to fiddle the immigration statistics.

How so? Because migrants are asked on arrival how long they expect to stay in the UK. If they say more than a year, they count as immigrants. But these people will say less than a year and will therefore not be included in the immigration statistics. It is, frankly, shocking that a Conservative Government should behave in such an underhand way on an issue of such importance to its own supporters and, of course, to many others. Nearly two thirds of the public and, indeed, 85 per cent of Conservative voters consider that immigration has been too high over the past decade.

Amazingly, this last route will also be uncapped and will be open to visitors from these countries to find and take up a job while they are here. The clear implication is that all EU countries will be included amongst the “low risk” countries, so Romanians and Bulgarians, still arriving in considerable numbers, will continue to flow in. There is suppose to be a review of this route after four or five years; we shall see.

Even that is not the end of it. There is currently a Youth Mobility Scheme that applies to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan that allows their citizens aged 18 to 30 to come here for two years, non-renewable, to travel or work. This route is currently capped at 59,000 a year. This too has already been offered to the EU provided it is on a reciprocal basis.
It is beyond question that immigration was a major issue at the referendum. Its salience has declined somewhat since then, at least partly because people thought that it was all in hand.

The White Paper contains a great deal of talk about the “control” of immigration, but the reality is that new routes will be opened, some temporary – but the Government’s record in removing overstayers is lamentable. Meanwhile, the public are clear that they want to see an actual reduction. They are aware, no doubt, that immigration has been adding one million to our population every three years since 2001. They may also know that, at current rates of immigration to England, we shall have to build a new home for immigrants every six minutes, night and day.

How has it come to this? Why has the Government caved in so completely to the industrial lobby? The cynic might say that industrialists are the Conservative Party’s chief paymasters. They might also say that the Remainers in the Cabinet are not unhappy that a major objective of the Brexiteers should lie in tatters. Others would say that the appointment of a profoundly business-friendly Home Secretary was bound to lead to a weakening of immigration policy. And, of course, the Prime Minister, who has been a bulwark of resistance to massive levels of immigration, is now in a much weaker position and has many very large fish to fry.

Whatever the reasons, the outcome is deplorable. We should have learned from Labour, who loosened immigration controls shortly after they came in to power in 1997 and found that net migration trebled in a couple of years. Before that net migration was never more than 50,000 a year and sometimes negative.

Now we are still at a quarter of a million a year and many members of the public, especially outside our main cities, have had more than enough. There will be deep resentment at the Conservative Government’s refusal to listen and their failure to act. As for the Conservative Party, it will go into the next election with immigration still at a quarter of a million, perhaps more, and many voters will respond accordingly. Denis Healey once described a Labour manifesto as the longest suicide note in history. At 160 pages this White Paper is a strong competitor.

Highlights of 2018

As you are inclined to do on Hogmanay, I was looking back at the year. 2018 was far from a great year but there were some fantastic moments. Here, in no particular order, are six of mine. Gabriel in the Commons Another piece of progress today in @UKParliament – thank you to @alisonthewliss @HarrietHarman for […]

As you are inclined to do on Hogmanay, I was looking back at the year. 2018 was far from a great year but there were some fantastic moments. Here, in no particular order, are six of mine.

Gabriel in the Commons


One of my favourite moments was seeing young Gabriel Hames in the chamber of the House of Commons. Earlier, his mum, Jo Swinson, had taken part in the debate on proxy voting. A few weeks’ earlier, Tory Chairman Brandon Lewis reneged on a pairing arrangement with her on a key Brexit vote that the Government won by a handful of votes.

Jo’s speech was very candid about the realities of working with a young baby:

She also spoke about some of the appalling comments she got on Twitter after that, including the criticism that she had gone to the Trump demo for 45 minutes but couldn’t manage to vote in Parliament, something which would have meant hanging around for 5 hours.

Jo talked about the intricacies of establishing breastfeeding and how you need to concentrate on it during the early days. Her voice cracked with emotion as she talked about the difficulties she had establishing breastfeeding with her first son. I actually cried too as I remembered what it was like to be syringing expressed milk into my baby, 19 years on. She got there, though, with all the support that she needed.

She was also open about the realities of expressing milk several times a day. I think it’s fantastic that she posted a picture of her breast pump on Instagram the other day.

She talked about the need to have proper breastfeeding and expressing facilities for all nursing babies who work on the Parliamentary estate, recognising it was easier for her as she had her own office and control over her diary.

The People’s Vote March

It doesn’t get much better than being amongst 700,000 like minds on a beautiful hot Autumn day. As someone said at the time, marches like this are rarely on the wrong side of history.

It was an amazing atmosphere. Not far off three quarters of a million people peacefully and with great humour, coming together to make their point.

And there’s young Gabriel again.

Radical Kindness

Another highlight was the fringe meeting we held at Conference, trying to inject some kindness and warmth into a horrible atmosphere which developed in the media surrounding  rights of transgender people.

Barely a week goes by without some ill-informed attack on trans people or the charities supporting them. However, in an hour in Brighton, Emma Ritch from the Scottish feminist organisation Engender and James Morton from the Scottish Transgender Alliance talked about how the atmosphere was so much better in Scotland and how feminist and LGBT organisations worked together in an inclusive way. The meeting loved the concept of “radical kindness” which underpinned their dialogue. You can read all about the meeting here

Sarah Brown from LGBT+ Lib Dems was there to outline the current battleground – the ill-informed, scapegoating, fear-mongering in the media and Sal Brinton emphasised the party’s commitment to transgender rights. Sal talked about meeting a young actor who was trans early in her career and being horrified by the discrimination they faced.

Emma spoke about how a comparatively well-funded voluntary sector and a Government determined to make sure services were trans-inclusive helped. She said that there had been some difficult conversations and questions, but that what she called the “institutional kindness” of the Scottish Transgender Alliance had done so much to foster knowledge and understanding. She said that “radical kindness” was a key element in bringing people together.

James talked about the proposed reforms to the GRA and how they would make the process much easier for transgender people to amend their birth certificates. He pointed out that a statutory declaration was a very serious legal document and the penalty for making a false one is two years in prison.


Another day, another march. This time in Edinburgh. And London. And Belfast. And Cardiff. People from all over the country came together in an artistic  display to mark 100 years of women getting the vote.

Paddy at the Glee Club

I really haven’t yet got my head round the fact that Paddy has gone. The devastating news came through just before Christmas and so many wonderful tributes were paid to a such a vital, dynamic, compelling, compassionate leader. We all miss him so much.

The last time many of us saw him was at the Glee Club at Conference. It had been his tradition to tell a joke that, if truth be told, wasn’t that funny, but its telling was guaranteed to be hilarious. From the moment he was spotted at the back of the Glee Club, to him being cheered on to the stage as hundreds of people scream “Paddy, Paddy, Paddy” and then demand “We want the joke.” Then the bit where he suggested he could tell a different joke because we must be fed up with that one. Then the theatrics as he delivered the joke with impeccable style.

It was our way of telling him we loved him without being embarrassing. And we did love him.

Winning concessions in the immigration debate at Conference

Back in March I almost spontaneously combusted on the train to Spring Conference after reading the consultation paper on immigration. Anything that used the word robust before humane was not worthy of being Lib Dem policy. I was furious. And that fury fuelled me through the Summer when the actual policy was published and was no better.

Thankfully, after a lot of work by Lib Dems for Seekers of Sanctuary and others,  the eventual policy passed by Conference was much better. It’s still not where I would want it to be, but it’s better.

The one amendment the leadership contested was passed anyway. Here’s Holly Matthies explaining why spouses should have recourse to public funds if they need it.

So those are a few of my best bits of 2018. What were yours?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings