Saturday, October 27, 2018

Goodbye Catalans, I never really knew you...

Today saw something historically unusual, the expulsion of a member party from one of the European political groupings, as PdeCAT (the Catalan European Democratic Party) were the subject of an extraordinary ALDE Party Council meeting in Brussels.

As I’m no longer one of the Party’s Council delegation due to not being Welsh (it’s a long story...), I wasn’t there, but there is an element of sadness to what was an overwhelming vote to expel them. There seems to be little suggestion that they have become anyone other than a liberal grouping, but the links to their discredited predecessor movement, accused of serious corruption in office, were seemingly too great to be ignored.

I’m not an expert on the politics of Spain, although there were always thought to be issues retaining Ciudadanos and any pro-Catalan independence group in the same organisation. And, if forced to choose, big picture politics would tend towards favouring the bigger of the two. I’m not suggesting that there was any pressure to choose a side, and suspect that, had there been any, the vote to expel would have been rather closer.

But the crossover between its predecessor, CDC, and the new grouping, with key figures in common, meant trouble as soon as accusations of corruptions became prosecutions. No wider political grouping wants to be tainted by association, and excision became the obvious outcome.

So, no more Catalans, and a marker sent out to any member parties who might have issues amongst their senior leadership. Let’s hope that ALDE doesn’t have to do such a thing again too soon...

Friday, October 26, 2018

Yes, Liam, international trade is much more complex than you thought...

The news that Russia has formally objected to United Kingdom proposals to divide the current quotas between the two according to the historical flows of trade in each product comes, sadly, as little surprise to anyone who has been paying attention all along.

In any negotiation where you seek to alter existing arrangements as a supplicant with a ticking clock, you start at a disadvantage. The other side can simply wait it out, knowing that, as your cliff edge gets closer, you’ll get more desperate, thus more likely to offer a good deal. Now under normal circumstances, that’s not a good place to be, but when you’ve put your entire economy on the line, it’s a pretty desperate affair.

Now, if you’ve got something great to offer, and demand is high, you might get away with it. Alternatively, if your negotiators are very good, and have a firm grasp of the potential options, the damage might be restricted.

We do make some pretty good stuff, but it isn’t unique, and it can for the most part be made elsewhere. As for negotiators, we have Liam Fox. You might suggest that we’re utterly screwed. I might not necessarily disagree with you.

Incompetence, combined with an astonishingly high level of ignorance and entitlement, has brought us to this state of affairs whereby, on 29 March, we will  possibly leave the European Union without any agreements on tariffs or access to markets. We have insulted some potential partners, i.e. Moldova, we’ve taken others for granted, such as Canada, New Zealand and Australia, and we’ve placed our faith in the likes of Donald Trump who will unhesitatingly shaft any potential trading partners for votes in Wisconsin or Indiana.

I take no joy in this, have no grim sense of “you get what you deserve”, for the worst affected will not be those whose idea this was, but too many of those who were persuaded to vote for it. Asking people simplistic questions on hugely complex subjects is seldom productive, but you should reasonably be able to assume that those asking the question, and particularly those espousing a particular answer, would have an understanding of the issues themselves.

As it turned out, neither of those assumptions could be relied upon. The Brexiteers have demonstrated that they really didn’t understand how the European Union worked, possibly because that might have caused them to think a bit harder, but worse still they had, and seem to still have, an astonishingly naive sense of Britain’s place in the world and a complete disregard for how Britain’s reputation abroad has become degraded since June 2016.

You can hardly blame the Great British Voter for what happened next.

And now we see the rush from accountability. An EEA option has emerged, already ruled out by Theresa May’s red lines, lines drawn to keep the Brexiteers onside and her in power. Ruling out a role for the European Court of Justice, ruling out freedom of movement, even with the provisions available for use, disregarding the Good Friday Agreement as an issue, despite it being a binding international treaty.

Alternatively, it’s the fault of those pesky Remainers, despite the fact that the European Union is negotiating with the United Kingdom Government, and nobody else.

There’s an irony here. I’d taken the view after the referendum that, whilst hating the outcome, you couldn’t really tell how bad it was going to be. Sensible people start off with a negotiating position which evolves as facts emerge and compromises become necessary. And, whilst the Brexiteers were wrong, they weren’t stupid.

Unfortunately, as time passed and the likes of Boris Johnson and David Davis exposed their lack of skill and knowledge, as the significance of the red lines became more and more apparent, as Theresa May painted herself, and the country, into a smaller and smaller corner, it dawned on me that they believed their own hype and that, unless they were stopped, we were screwed.

It’s going to take an series of acts of astonishing altruism on the part of our trading partners to salvage something. And that ain’t going to happen, because such things only happen in fairy tales, or in Liam Fox’s dreams...

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Keeping myself busy, and vaguely useful too...

Ah yes, constitutions. Wonderful things, in the right hands. Admittedly, in the wrong hands, a thing of peril, but they are at least reasonably certain. And, for someone like me, used to working in a rules-based, legislative system, a cause of work within a party political environment.

People do not join political parties to enforce rules - they generally join to make rules, or change them. And thus, anyone willing to be the arbiter of them is likely not to be stampeded in the rush to do so. My Party “career” is a fairly good example of that - seldom opposed and often left to get on with it unmolested by interference.

At the moment, I’m reminded of that. I’m on Returning Officer duty at the moment, for a decent seat on the East of England, and having to reacquaint myself with the Selection Rules. Who knew about candidate compacts? And who do you have to talk to in order to get things done? But it all seems to be coming together, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

We’re in a constitutional review phase too, seeing what was missed in the recent Governance Review and what has been “shaken out of the tree” as a result. Personally, I find myself wondering why the Federal Board nominates members to its various subordinate committees. Each of the committees is represented on Federal Board, so can report upwards and convey the wishes of Federal Board back down again. It implies an effective lack of trust and places people in position without an adequately defined role. What is the Federal Board representative on, say, Federal International Relations Committee, for? What is their intended role?

I’m not a believer in form over function, so I tend to the viewpoint that every Committee member must be there for a clearly defined reason to carry out a broadly defined role. Otherwise, what are they for, and how much value do they add?

I’m also of the view that a member of Federal International Relations Committee should sit on Federal Policy Committee, instead of the other way round as at present. FIRC advises the Party on international policy, not the other way round, yet there is no official representative - the Chair attends in an invited, advisory capacity.

I often think that the Party bureaucracy is designed to reflect a cynical but widely held view that nobody is to be wholly trusted with authority, and that the more people you have supervising any particular body or activity, the better. We talk a good game about proportionate supervision and regulation, yet seldom demonstrate it in our Party’s organisation. I guess that that’s ironic (don’t you think?).

So, having been asked to consider the question of possible constitutional amendments by our Committee Chair, Robert Woodthorpe-Browne, I have the slight advantage of having already given the matter some thought.

And, finally, I’ve got an English Appeals Panel “gig”, tasked with interpreting an element of the Party’s Constitution. Luckily, it’s a paper hearing, saving me a journey to London, but nonetheless it has to be done right.

I guess that all that Constitution Reading is paying off...

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Brexit - the land border that nobody seems to be talking about...

There’s only one land border for the United Kingdom to consider in its negotiations with the European Union, right? And, admittedly, it’s a serious problem, courtesy of the Good Friday Agreement.

Ah, but what about Gibraltar? Yes, it’s a very short border, with only one crossing point, but for the Gibraltarians, dependent on 10,000 Spanish workers to fulfil a whole range of economic activity, anything that adds grit to the carefully oiled machine is of serious concern.

There is, however, one more rather more complicated land border, that of the Sovereign Bases in Cyprus. Akrotiri is relatively simple, in that it is an enclave with the Republic of Cyprus to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Dhekelia is more complex, as it cuts the Republic in half, and you have to cross it if you’re travelling from Larnaca or Nicosia to, say, Ayia Napa.

And, even more interestingly, Dhekelia has a border with the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, which has a status all of its own, inside the European Union but not really. And there’s a border crossing there, effectively an external land border of the European Union, and the only one that the United Kingdom has responsibility for.

It struck me that we’ve heard very little about this, despite the fact that it’s a pretty serious business for the Cypriots, and I asked Ros if it had come up at all. She hadn’t heard anything, so said that she would ask her noble friend, John Sharkey, who knows a fair bit about Cyprus. It turned out that he didn’t know either, which led to a Written Question;
To ask Her Majesty's Government what changes they anticipate will be needed to the arrangements for crossing the border between the Cypriot UK Sovereign Bases and the Republic of Cyprus after the UK leaves the EU; what preparations are being made to make any such changes; and what discussions they have had with the EU and the Republic of Cyprus on the issue.
The answer, from Lord Callanan, was not entirely reassuring...
The UK and the Republic of Cyprus are engaged in ongoing constructive discussions on the future of the SBAs. We aim to ensure that those living and working in the SBAs, in particular the 11,000 Cypriot residents, are not adversely impacted by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. We are confident that an agreement can be reached which respects the Treaty of Establishment, and safeguards both the lives of citizens, and the effective military functioning of the bases.
It appears not to consider the impact on Cypriots living at the eastern end of the Republic, and you can’t help but wonder if their Government might not want to extract some concessions in return for support for whatever deal emerges. If I was in their shoes, I probably would...