Hotel May Theresa: The Answer to Two Great Unanswered Questions of My Life

Hotel May Theresa: The Answer to Two Great Unanswered Questions of My Life

Great Unanswered Question 1: how will Brexit turnout?

Great Unanswered Question 2: What is the Eagles song Hotel California all about?

I’ve cracked the code:  Just read these lyrics, to the tune if you remember it……….. the bold words are all that I have had to change for it all to make sense!! I’ve posted someone else’s Youtube version of the original with original lyrics at the end. Enjoy!!  Welcome to the Hotel May Theresa!!

On a dark Dover highway, hands running through my hair

Warm smell of fajitas, coming from God knows where

Up ahead in the distance, I saw a red tail light

The lorries lined up, nowhere to go

I had to stop for the night

 

There she stood in the doorway

Heard the Division bell

And I was thinking to myself

‘This isn’t heaven, looks like Hell’

Then she lit up a candle, promised she knew the way

There were voices down the corridor

I thought I heard them say

 

Welcome to the Hotel May Theresa

Keep a straight face (keep a straight face)

I know it’s a waste

Doom and gloom at the Hotel May Theresa

Any time of year (any time of year) nothing to fear

 

Her mind you know it’s not twisted, won’t drive a Mercedes Benz

She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys, that she calls friends

How they dance in the Commons, Brexiters don’t sweat

Some dance the Remainer, some dance to forget

 

So I called up the Juncker

“Please listen this time”

He said “we haven’t heard that one before at least since half past nine”

And still those voices are calling from far away

Wake you up in the middle of the night

Just to hear them say

 

Welcome to the Hotel May Theresa

Keep a straight face (keep a straight face)

I know it’s a waste

Livin’ it up at the Hotel May Theresa

How the time flies (how the time flies), no more alibis

 

Mirrors on the ceiling,

Mogg champagne on ice

And she said, ‘we are all just prisoners here, of our own device”

And in Disaster’s chambers,

They gathered for the feast

Underneath the Speaker’s eyes,

But they just can’t kill the beast

 

Last thing I remember, I was

Running for the door

I had to find the passage back to the place I was before

‘Relax’ said the Euroman,

‘We are programmed to receive.

You can check out any time you like,

But you can never leave!’

 

with full acknowledgment to The Eagles and Hotel California

Now you know what the song was about!!  I did warn you before the referendum – see my blog of 7th June 2016, Check out time? Think again. Vote Remain, complete with The Eagles’s great punchline.  I stand by every word I wrote then.

Richard Rhys O’Brien

 

Advertisements

From 2 Opt-outs to 4+ Opt-ins

From 2 Opt-outs to 4+ Opt-ins

Theresa May has set out clearly our new relationship with Europe, from being an EU member with two hard won opt-outs – from the Euro and Schengen –  towards non-membership negotiating 4+ Opt-ins – on access to the EU market via some form of customs and tariff deals and tariff, on travel arrangements within Ireland, on security, and on the status of British citizens in the EU and vice versa.

We can’t have our cake and eat it, we won’t be able to choose from the full a la carte menu, we may have to go for the plat du jour whatever may be offered.

Which of the four Opt-ins are most important to us?  Will we have give and take a bit between those ambitions to work out the best combination we can get?  Which of these are the most important to us?  And what else will we find we’d like to opt-in on again?

Reality I suppose will be a gradual accumulation of deals, issue by issue, market by market, special case by special case, whether it be the City, farming, Ireland, grades of jobs…..

Here we go then.

 

Is Brexit an option?

Is Brexit an option?

As we all know the British electorate was offered the option of leaving the EU and the majority response overall was to accept the option.

Is Brexit a real option?

However, it is looking increasingly likely that the option may not be there.  The complications of Brexit, for countries on both sides of the Channel, may be simply too high.  As times goes on if you supported Brexit in order to curb migration, you may not get much of a change anyway.  If you supported Brexit because you thought it would improve your standard of living and escape austerity, you may be wrong again, doubly so if you end up even worse off. The only people who might actually get what they wanted if Brexit were to go through would be those who just don’t want to be a member, for whatever reason, of the EU.  Those who think the EU is a failed organisation.  Those who believe that all the laws they don’t like, come from Europe and that somehow if laws were just made in Westminster (Scots excluded of course) things would be better for them.  Legally the option may be there. But in reality, can we leave?  And when the going gets really tough, will the Brexiter members of the government be willing to put their careers on the line and say that they support what they are trying to do, now that they have tried it.

Will Boris gove in?

I can just imagine our Foreign Secretary waking one morning and in a rerun of his former friend Mr Gove’s agonising justification of his volte-face saying, “I’ve thought really hard about this overnight and have come to the conclusion, reluctantly, that this Brexit thingummyjig, now that I’ve met it up front and personal, isn’t quite up to it, it cannot deliver what I thought I read on the tin”.

Am I right?

Brexit “only” means Brexit

Brexit “only” means Brexit

The clock is ticking, fast

I don’t want to throw in the towel yet on Brexit.  We should certainly hold off triggering Article 50 till we have a plan. But we can’t hang about too long given the uncertainties both sides of the Channel/North Sea/Irish Sea/Irish border.  And at some point we may find we have finally blown our relationship with the EU.  Given the Referendum result, the UK’s commitment to the European venture, whatever it may mean, will always to be seen to be very fragile.  We have already negotiated opt-outs to two of the most important aspects of the EU- the euro and Schengen – and Cameron negotiated a further opt-out from ever closer union.  Which means that if the EU is to continue to deepen (let alone widen) it would always have to deal with a half-hearted partner.  The EU members may indeed believe they will be better off without us.

The government’s mandate

So if negotiating Brexit becomes the mandate for our government, what does that mean? We know there is no clear position in the UK or in the EU.

Brexit “only” means Brexit

First, it should be remembered that if Brexit means Brexit, that is all it means in terms of a mandate for change.  A pretty dramatic mandate, yes, but apart from leaving the EU there is no clear mandate as to what the conditions should be.  Many Leavers may have been wanting migration to be curbed, but that doesn’t have to be part of the package. -though Theresa May seems intent on pursuing Tory policy on this. Many may have wanted a lot of regulatory change.  But that doesn’t have to happen.  Many may have wanted to bring down the government: up to a point that has happened with Cameron’s departure but the Leavers and the Labour Party right now are in even greater disarray. Many may be expecting £350 million a week to be pumped into the NHS, to replace current EU grants etc – and it’s pretty clear that just ain’t going to happen.  The only clear decision (if we eventually accept it as a decision, however reluctantly – as a Remainer) is that we leave the EU.

If we leave, at least five clear goals for the UK

We can identify at least five key goals for the UK and its government as it negotiates the terms of Brexit.

  1. Negotiate a new economic arrangement that tries to suit all parties as much as possible, with everyone knowing that strong trading relationship between all of Europe, whether Norway style, Swiss style etc is a good idea for both sides – coupled with effective cooperation on security.
  2. Negotiate a revised freedom of movement approach that at the same time as looking at the movement of labour also manages the refugee and migration challenge that is going to affect everyone for years to come, whether we are in or out. I would argue that the final deal does not have to curb migration even though the present government will take the Brexit vote as endorsement of such a policy.
  3. Keep the UK as open as possible for all types of cooperation: for example, work to keep our research and knowledge economy and society integrated with Europe (and the world) even if we have to fund our own projects and not just bemoan lost handouts from Brussels.
  4. Address inequalities within the UK as a matter of high priority, probably finding a centrist way that abandons the divisive austerity policies of Cameron and Osborne and listens to the voices that are supporting Corbynism.
  5. Try to keep the UK itself together but accepting that some further constitutional arrangement will be necessary. That may involve some further devolution to cities as well: but as far as possible the less devolution the better if we are not to continue to fracture further.

“Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”

What sort of UK government can deliver this?  With both major parties very divided, with the present government having only a small overall majority, the mandate will have to be delivered with the help of various cross-party deals, alliances, coalitions, perhaps issue by issue.  This process might even give birth to a new centrist party – but that will take time (though nowadays things seem to move fast!).  We will now see whether our famous Westminster democracy can deliver a sustainable solution and get the best result possible. In the short term however a small majority may be quite powerful when the opposition is still playing out its own civil war.

What is likely to emerge is that the present government will take the Brexit vote as an endorsement of pursuing migrant reduction (presumably hoping that this will be easier outside the EU, when we think we can pick and choose who we want to let in) and that for all the talk little will be done about reducing inequalities until there is an effective opposition from the left.

The tragedy for any Remainer is that leaving the EU just to crack down on migration is not only taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut but also likely to cause untold collateral damage for the UK’s economic prosperity. I can concede many were also voting for some nirvana of self-regulation – “taking their country back” – but if you want to keep some semblance of access to the single market we will pretty have to conform anyway, like Switzerland does, but this time without any say in making the regulations in the first place.

So we have voted to leave.  Everything else we want to do is for us to choose.  Dealing with divisions within the UK would be my priority.  We are the problem.

 

Don’t trigger Article 50 till you know what you are doing!

Don’t trigger Article 50 till you know what you are doing!

Yes, democracy is more important than ever but…

I fully agree with Hugo Dixon We may not want Brexit. But now democracy is even more important than ever  The Guardian 5th July 2016. We must not damage democracy any more  – or be seen to damage it.  But as I argued in the ABCD of the Referendum mandate we must think hard before pushing ahead with Brexit assuming that was undeniably the will of the people.  It is always a risk in a yes/no referendum that the case for either side is a mishmash of many issues.  While I can accept that many people want to leave the EU under any circumstance, I suspect many were more concerned about migration and believe that leaving the EU is the way to reduce it. They may be wrong. Exiting EU as a way of dealing with migration and austerity is very likely to backfire (apart from the only silver lining that the Chancellor has abandoned blind adherence to his version of austerity).

…..is Brexit a given?

So I am arguing that the incoming government should not assume that under all circumstances Brexit must be a given.  We are only just beginning to find out what it will cost. We have decided to visit the Brexit shop and are beginning to browse in the shop window – though the European nations of shopkeepers have put a sign in the window saying “not free to browse” so we can’t formally go in yet.   We might find that we can’t get what we want in the Brexit shop. So we must therefore think how do we respond to the underlying wishes of those who voted in the referendum – on both sides really if we are serious about trying to unite our fracturing isle.  The vote has put migration high on our agenda – and I can agree with that, insofar as migration is going to be a major force for change in the world for many years and we have got to get much better at dealing with it, in a democratic and humane way.

Article 50: don’t trigger till we know what we are doing

In practice this at least means we must not trigger Article 50 till we know what it may cost us.  When we find out the dilemmas may be so stark that it would be democratic to go back and ask the country what they would like to do – through long parliamentary debates, an election (though that will not make it easy if no major party is for Brexit) or another referendum where the people can make an informed choice.  Whether it is again advisory, or have a minimum turnout threshold etc, would be for debate – though changing the rules might well reduce its credibility for those Brexiters who would naturally think the whole idea is undemocratic.

An ABCD of the Referendum Mandate

An ABCD of the Referendum Mandate

With the UK and Europe facing massive confusion and uncertainty, ranging between one extreme of a long period of disruption to the other extreme of a promised great Independence Day, the UK Government owes it to everyone to ensure the result of the Referendum is interpreted effectively. While the wishes of the people must be respected, Brexit is not the clear wish of the people.

I want to focus on four dimensions

A: Guiding principles for the next UK Government.

B: Tactics

C: What might be achieved and for whom?

D: Why a rethink is not a rejection of democracy

A: Guiding principles for the next UK Government

  1. Government policy should not assume is that Brexit has to be a given, despite the result of a very close referendum, any more than the government should have stuck to a single mantra of budget surplus and austerity economics for so long. That would be single-issue politics gone bezerk, narrow-minded, self-destructive, divisive and even sadder, totally unnecessary.
  2. Policy must respect at least three very strong messages:
    1. That managing migration has to be taken more seriously and come much higher up our list of priorities
    2. That improving our relationship with the EU is a top priority and lead the whole of the EU towards closing up some of the so-called democratic deficit
    3. That the clear divisions in our society must be addressed to retain the UK as a coherent entity.

B: Tactics

  1. The dilemma facing the government now is how to deliver what was promised. Technically leaving, commencing by triggering Article 50, is probably the easiest thing to do.  It burns one more bridge.  But then we are in uncharted waters where legally we are in direct conflict with 27 EU members who then have real power to negotiate and call some shots, and if after two years there is stalemate we are out with no deal, leading to continued uncertainty.
  2. The new government has to now mend the shattered status quo. It will take great skill in keeping both sides, within the UK and within Europe, reasonably happy enough to accept a future deal.

C: What might be achieved and for whom?

  1. Can the government, in or out, significantly improve the way the mobility of people both ways across our borders, is managed any better than they can now? Too much focus has been on reducing numbers instead of putting a lot more effort into better processing of migrants, which is an appalling state, helping refugees and migrants to integrate into the UK, and tackling problems that arise when people in specific areas do feel threatened when the numbers of migrants are relatively large.  How we manage or mismanage migration  isn’t going to change much, simply by trying to put more controls into our system. The future will see a lot more migration, just as there will be climate change, and we need to work out how to manage it and benefit from it.
  2. Can those who expected our general economic difficulties to be eased see an improvement in their lives? The pressure on the Treasury is probably going to be greater not less, even if we abandon the mantra of budget surpluses. Don’t think this will unleash the benefits of a Keynesian stimulus.
  3. Those who wanted to topple the government and protest more widely against current inequalities, austerity etc. – i.e. the straightforward and legitimate protest voters who always feature in any mid-term election will probably have their wishes met in part but at potentially massive cost. We have general parliamentary elections for that process.
  4. Those who essentially want to see the whole EU unwind may be the most successful. This crisis will strain the current EU.  Having the UK outside will hurt the project though doubtless some on the continent may be glad to see the back of their half-hearted “opt-out-whenever-we-can” partner.

D: Why a rethink is not a rejection of democracy

  1. A 52/48 result either way cannot be seen as given an unequivocal clear view of the people. The reality is the country is divided very strongly down the middle and simply saying Brexit must happen risks permanently cementing that division into the UK.  Policy has to respect the reality that many people were often unclear which way to jump – even leading-advocate Boris wasn’t sure until through some logic he decided he did know what’s best so much so that he could tell us all how right it was.
  2. In/out, yes/no choices are very reductionist in terms of understanding what people want and expect to happen. At the simplest level it means more of the people who voted wanted Brexit than to Remain.  But it is obvious that what was on offer was not clear: we do not know what Brexit fully implies – leaving the EU yes, but where we end up, no.  Remainers emphasised the great uncertainty and dangers of leaving, Leavers promised all kinds of things which the team disowned almost as soon as the votes were counted.  The Leave manifesto must break all records in terms of post-election shelf life.  The real answer is that actually the British people aren’t sure which way to turn. While the speed at which the Leave leaders are leaving is shocking we can understand why the likes of Nigel Farage are running for the hills before anyone parks any responsibility for managing the future at his door.
  3. Legally it was an advisory referendum that does not force the UK Parliament to take the UK out of the EU if it decides against an alternative course of action after due debate. The fact that Cameron resigned immediately saying Brexit was the clear will of the people does not change that legality – even if he personally felt unable to continue. You may have missed it but at least Oona King is getting one hour at lunch time on Thursday for the Lords to discuss the idea of a 2nd Referendum. Have to start somewhere.
  4. In a court of law, given the ensuing chaos and debate, there would almost certainly be strong grounds for an appeal and a retrial. Despite the chaos and confusion today, I suspect the British people have been on a very fast learning curve in the past week as to what was really on offer and the real risks and uncertainties in the future.  Though I voted Remain I’m not saying that leaving isn’t necessarily a good idea, but the process by which we have decided which way to go looks horribly flawed.  On a sporting field the video replays would be under great scrutiny.

In conclusion

The mandate of the next UK government is dominated by the need to

  1. get us out of this chaos
  2. get the relationship between the UK and the EU back on an even keel
  3. re-establish some form of manageable equilibrium in our fractured society
  4. do whatever improves the lot of our citizens and ensure the UK remains a respected world citizen.

 

Brexit: the handicap of geography

Brexit: the handicap of geography

What now for the end of geography?

25 years on I have been dusting off my little book Global Financial Regulation: the End of Geography.  It was a small tome that irritated geographers, not surprisingly, especially as they didn’t all pay much attention to the multiple caveats that were peppered about the book – apart from one careful reviewer who wondered if I really believed my thesis given the number of caveats made.  In reality the book’s title was going to sport a question mark but at the last minute the publishers thought this was a bit wimpish – and if headlines and titles are there to attract attention, then they were right.

It is Brexit which prompts me to pick up my pen again today for a bit of a ramble through aspects of the current muddle we are in.  The end of geography thesis is that in this world of globalisation and greater interaction and flows across borders, whether goods, services, money, knowledge and information and people, geography matters less and less, borders no longer define what they used to and regulations – often defined within the given geography occupied by the rule makers (especially the nation state in this case) – can no longer be policed solely by the rule makers.

The European Union is one such manifestation of this shift.  In one sense geography is still alive, just that the space has been expanded from the nation state to the whole of the EU.  But increasingly cross border cooperation over rules has become more necessary as issues have ignored borders.  The environment.  Security.  Money.  Information certainly despite different languages.  And now people.

The UK with its special geographical definition has been a reluctant adopter of all things European, especially for money in terms of currency (but nonetheless enjoying being the major financial centre of many European markets) and in terms of the free movement of people with respect to Schengen.

The vote for Brexit assumed that we can bring rules home again and prosper from that repatriation.  But these rules will still have to work well alongside other countries’ rules and the EU is one way of making that happen.  Of course rule making can be done independently.  But like Switzerland and others we will undoubtedly find that cooperation makes sense so the final result may not be any different.  But it will now be a very different process.  The problem is that national citizens (probably throughout Europe) have never got close enough to the European institutions and to the people who work there, who represent them there.  So it is easy to talk of faceless bureaucrats and elites doing their own things.  Brexit reflects that gap and other EU members may well now scramble to address the issue, possibly too late.  So does it matter whether we are in and out then?

The coordination of economic rules is not my biggest worry.  Something will be cobbled together, probably making life more complex, not less. Become an expert in trade law.  My bigger worry is over the social and political cooperation and coordination and how we work together over some of the common challenges: migration, environment and security. Trust and understanding is an important ingredient in keeping the peace. That can’t all be just rules based.

My bigger worry  – and suddenly I may start to sound like a selfish Brit – is that a lot of the threat to our future stability won’t come from overseas anyway: we may be the problem. The Referendum result has once again underlined very different views within the UK.  London versus the rest of the country. South versus North. Ireland versus Ireland. Scotland versus the UK.  A degree of generational division. Social and economic divisions. Divisions that should not be around, surely, in the 21st century but are. And the tensions between the multiple cultures living in the UK.  Inequality is a growing issue across the world, in rich and poor countries.  Our political system is also fragmenting and needs to establish a sounder base.  It doesn’t have to be a two party system but it needs to command new respect.

So we will do well to work on our own divisions and tensions.  When things go wrong we won’t be able to blame Brussels any more (though I’m sure we will try).  As we used to say when addressing an organisation’s management problems and divergent strategic views: who are we?

We could start by not staying so focused on geography as such an important definition of identity as it can be a misleading handicap: living on this island is only one aspect of our multiple identities; living in Scotland is only one aspect of the identity of those living north of the border.  That said if you look at one aspect of identity in the UK, being for or against Brexit, living in urban spaces versus rural still seems relevant. Whilst I hope we won’t narrow our sense of geography down too far the rise of cities as the locus of power has been growing for some time and I would expect it to continue to grow.  In my futures consulting days Urbanisation featured as one of our “21 drivers of the 21st century”.

Geography may matter less and less –  but what’s left of it can be a distorting lens.