Brexit Negotiations and 2017

EU FlagA chorus of commentators are telling us that it’ll be impossible for the UK to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU in two years (once we’ve triggered Article 50), which means we’ll have to revert to WTO rules, and the subsequent tariffs will plunge us into an immediate, long-term recession. Not just a recession, but an out-right depression.

Are these commentators on to something? Is this likely? Before getting in to that, it might be worth noting that these are often the same people who told us that voting leave on June 23rd would result in an immediate recession. Remember that? Even if you do, they’ve forgotten.

The goalposts have moved. It’s now “economic Armageddon is still coming because of Brexit. But it hasn’t happened yet because Article 50 hasn’t been triggered.” Once Article 50 is triggered? It’ll be: “Okay, well, economic meltdown hasn’t taken place yet because we haven’t left.” Once we leave? Well, there will be more excuses.

At some point, given the ridiculous monetary policy of most western governments right now, there will also certainly be a global financial contraction. Maybe a big one. Maybe bigger than 2008. And when it happens – though Brexit is unlikely to be the culprit – you’ll be sure those same commentators will blame our decision on June 23rd this year.

Because of all of this, when I hear warnings of economic disaster due to us trading with the EU on WTO terms, I get sceptical. It’s the more of those same unqualified pronouncements that for some reason must be respected by virtue of the fact that they’ve been made. That makes no sense to me.

Right now, the chances of us getting a free trade deal sorted between March 31st 2017 and April 1st 2019 is about 50/50. If we had to do a deal from a standing start, I’d say we only have a 5% chance, given the EU’s awful history of this. But our terms are already active and in place. That should make it 99% certain that we’d secure a deal. But, the dead hand of the EU Commission and the other EU high-ups make it much harder than it should be. Though to be honest, don’t their petty hostilities right now justify our decision to leave?

And even if we do revert to WTO rules, will it really result in instant economic collapse? We pay £9.7 billion net into the EU a year. The tariffs (at current trading levels) are likely to be less than £3 billion a year for us. Much higher for the EU (we do have a massive trade deficit with the other 27 member states after all), but that’s just a good incentive for the 27 to strike a free trade deal with us.

But let’s end on a good note. The reason I think we’ve got at least a 50% chance of getting a deal in two years is the disconnect between the directly democratically-elected governments of the nation-states and the high-command in charge of the EU executives.

The EU guys talk tough because they don’t have to face a ballot box. But even the most sycophantically pro-EU governments in the 27 member-states are accountable. And if they push for rulings that make it harder and more expensive for, say, BMWs or French wine to be sold in the UK, their chances of re-election are, at least slightly more difficult.

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The Federal United Kingdom?

TREASON (and other good ideas)In the aftermath of the Scottish referendum, which saw the Scots vote to stay part of the Union, 55%-45%, I interviewed John Redwood MP, who has been the driving force behind the proposals of English MPs (only) for English votes.

He took me through his plan, which no doubt he pushed for in a mini-conference with Prime Minister David Cameron in Chequers days after the Scottish vote.

Basically, it’s a simple plan. There will be no new English parliament, they’ll use the current one in Westminster. There will be no “Members of English Parliament”, they’ll just use the current MPs who represent English constituencies. Mr. Redwood told me that this would make it a fairly “cost-free” solution, that doesn’t burden the people who yet another layer of politics.

His case is compelling, and it will probably be the primary type of English devolution that the Tories will push for. It will also be the most popular in terms of backing among the electorate.

That said, I wish that we were looking for a more radical solution. The “Redwood Plan”, (as I’ve just decided to start calling it) will help “federalise” the UK more, but I’d take it much further.

Some are concerned that a totally federalised solution in the UK wouldn’t work, as 85% of the population would live in one of the constituent parts (England) and the remaining 15% in the other three areas (Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland). Gordon Brown made that same point recently.

That could be a valid practical point, but I think it wouldn’t matter so much if we had this solution:

  • The Parliament in Westminster is called the “UK Parliament” with a Prime Minister and Vice Prime-Minister (who we vote for on a national level, counting all our votes up, just like they did with the Scottish referendum). We then also have MPs on a constituency basis, but the whole parliament just concentrates on UK-based decisions, that are dramatically cut, like national defence, international trade and relations, embassies, infrastructure projects of “UK importance”, etc. The MPs are paid a salary that matches the national average full-time wage (about £22,500 at present, plus expenses). The job is effectively not a full-time job, as their responsibilities are dramatically cut.
  • This dramatic cut in power and cost in the UK parliament is used to create (hopefully almost revenue-neutral) four parliaments in the UK: One in Scotland (which already exists), one in Northern Ireland (again, we’re almost there with that), Wales (upgrading the Welsh Assembly) and a new English Parliament (maybe set up in the middle of the country in Manchester? Or London if that’s more practical and economically viable).
  • The MPs in each of the four parliaments get to legislate on everything else: income taxes and all other taxes, health, education, infrastructure, policing, etc. They are the source of most government income, and a percentage (say, 10%) from each of the 4 “states” kicks up to the UK government to fund it. This is crucial: all 4 “states” MUST be self-funding. Again, a First Minister and Second Minister (with a constitutionally-recognised order of succession) is voted for separately in state-wide Executive elections, that maybe coincide with the state MP elections, and possibly the UK executive/legislative elections.
  • Power then for many more things goes down to each region, constituency, town/city/parish.

Probably not viable, but much more democratic and accountable. This isn’t my utopian idea, but a practical step towards a “Federal Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” that makes us more prosperous and free.

And of course, some of this is covered in my book TREASON (and other good ideas) which – unsurprisingly during this time of potential UK constitutional upheaval – is making something of a comeback in sales.

Sorry to end the post on a cheap plug, but hey, I’ve got to eat, right? 😉

St Bob, does he really know best?

There’s a great article in the Independent today by the very thoughtful Ian Birrell about the state of Africa and how lots of the aid in the continent hurts rather than helps.

He lays into Bob Geldof a bit (another super-rich, large-scale tax avoider like Bono who, with no hint of irony or self-awareness, complains that western governments are not taking more ordinary taxpayers money by force to fund an engorgement of ‘aid’ packages to the third world):

His [Geldof’s] British homes were found to be registered in offshore companies, a popular measure with the super-rich costing the hard-pressed British exchequer £1bn a year. And his non-domicile status ensures he avoids paying tax on any overseas earnings, which must be nice.

But it’s not just the hypocrisy. Birrell is pleased St. Bob is finally coming around to the idea that trade and the free market helps elevate poverty better than anything else, but if only Mr. Geldof could see and recognise the harm that the government-enforced aid has done to so many in Africa:

Western politicians of all hues, desperate to look sensitive and caring, cravenly pandered to this aid lobby led by Bob and Bono, while journalists put on kid gloves when engaging with it, ignoring practices that would provoke outrage elsewhere. As a result, global aid spending soared from £50bn a year to £83bn over the first decade of this century; today 595,000 people work in a fiercely-competitive industry.

A study last year found even among these aid workers only about one-third thought their projects worked. In private, many will admit to grave doubts. You could fill this entire newspaper with examples of how the flood of money washes down the drain: a report by two health economists, for example, found nearly two-thirds of health aid in Africa is diverted. The waste, the ineptitude, the tolerance of corruption, the support for repression, the furthering of inequality, the boosting of arms spending is utterly scandalous…all those new colonialists riding around in their big white jeeps telling the locals what is good for them.

“They don’t consult with us,” complained a minister in Somalia, latest recipient of massive British aid. “It’s like a doctor trying to prescribe medicine for a patient you haven’t seen yet.”

This distorts priorities of recipient nations. It leads to the creation of pointless bureaucracy – one study found a typical African country must churn out 10,000 aid reports each year. Additionally, while our government attacks welfare dependency at home, it encourages it abroad with unquestioning support for politicians who have no need to bother responding to the needs of their own citizens.

Imagine how we would feel if armies of Africans came and told us how to run our schools and hospitals (while living in some of the smartest homes)? Or funded politicians who steal and murder? But this is our approach abroad: we know best, our voices count. This is how Britain ended up funding a regime that sent a hit squad to this country to kill people. And how it spent £1bn supporting education in just three east African countries but failed to check whether the teachers turned up or the children were learning; sadly, they were not.

The truth is often counter intuitive. Having our governments take more of our money by force and spend it on aid programs should help so many in Africa and elsewhere. But the reality is that simply stepping back and letting freedom reign does the job far better.

 

Andy Jones TV, Season 4 Episode 3

Have you seen the daft cartoons that the European Commission are trying to foster upon our children?

 

 

Pointless Rules

 Once government busybodies can make rules, some of them just get crazy:

Yep, that’s a real law you’re reading in the above picture. The always interesting John Stossel explains all here.

 

Well done Wikipedia!

 Hoo-rah for Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, objectivist and all-round nice guy. He’s supporting the decision made freely by the society of contributors and associates of his beloved site, in supporting their 24-hour lock-down of the English-language version of Wikipedia as a protest against the US governments piracy bill that’s being decided upon today:

Imagine a WorldWithout Free Knowledge. For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia.

All these attempts to ‘control’ the web and it’s free exchange of ideas and information must be resisted. Piracy is a bad thing, (which could be best minimised by studios adopting the radically different models that they’ve thus far avoided), but letting the government regulate and control the freest and most expansive marketplace of ideas in human history is way worse than piracy, any day of the week.