Is Populist Democracy an erosion of Democratic Values

Democracy is a given in the Western World – or is it? There is so much debate in recent times about democratic rights of various factions my head is spinning trying to comprehend how this word is being used – or abused.

If we go back to the fundamental meaning of democracy, we need to consider nation States where civil liberties and fundamental political freedoms are not only respected but also reinforced by a political culture based on democratic principles. If we consider the characteristics that should define a democracy, we will see freely elected government representation, respect of civil liberties, an independent judiciary, organised and elected opposition, all enshrined within the Rule of Law.

Being a member of Chatham House I was invited to participate in a session entitled ‘The Pandemic, Populism and the Democratic Recession’ during which Professor Larry Diamond from Stanford University in the USA outlined his argument that, especially during the past 20-years, democracy as we understand it is on the decline as Nation States throughout the World labelled as democracies remove ever more powers from and/or impose more authority over the people, currently Hungary and Poland within the EU. Whereas I fundamentally disagreed with his understanding of both the UK and the EU, both politically and economically, his view that democracy is in recession resonated. I also agreed that the rise of Modern Populism is a major factor in degraded political governance. But what is driving this degradation?

As a Christmas treat in 2004 I took my then 14-year old daughter to Boston and New York City in an attempt to give her some feel for life in the USA using the more sedate and conservative Boston as a marker against the cut and thrust of New York City. Whilst in New York we passed the CBS Building more commonly known as Black Rock. In the window there was a large screen stating, ‘United States of America – the oldest surviving democracy in the World’. This statement, for me, encapsulates the problems encountered by Americans throughout the World. I question whether the USA can consider itself a democracy when I see President Trump with connivance of the Republican led Senate impose their choice of person in the form of Amy Coney Barrett as a Supreme Court Judge for life. This can only be described as political stuffing of the Judiciary where such body is defined as independent within a democracy. Furthermore the turbulence over recent years where the whole Government apparatus becomes stagnant because the Senate and House of Representatives cannot agree a budget suggests the Political System in the USA is in need of structural reform to redefine and enhance democracy to better serve all the people before preaching their form of democracy to others. During my teenage years, segregation was still rife in the USA, and recent events stirring the Black Lives Matter upheaval suggests problems still exist.

Having close ties with Switzerland since the late 1970s I recall earlier this millennium being asked by a former Federal Counsellor of Switzerland to review their speech to an upcoming gathering of EU ministers considering the further integration into the EU of the former satellite states of the former USSR. There was a section in this speech lauding democracy, declaring Switzerland as a glowing example of a stable democracy. I could not help but point out that, in Switzerland, the Executive has total control over the judiciary with several recent occasions where the Federal Council has overridden judicial review to protect their own interests. I consider Switzerland as a Police State where people are declared guilty until they prove themselves innocent – hardly democratic. And they clearly have difficulties trying to govern in four different languages and associated cultures.

Countries such as Russia and China are accepted as undemocratic. We have witnessed both Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping engineer their longevity in leadership amending constitutional rules as needed to secure their positions. Opposition is summarily dismissed even using horrendous methods such as Novichok agent with apparent impunity. China’s reversal of democracy in Hongkong with its latest dictum that MPs in Hongkong must be patriotic to Beijing if they want to serve demonstrates blatant disregard for the democratic freedoms afforded the people of Hongkong under the hand-over Treaty with the UK.

The recent elections in Belarus demonstrate that power corrupts leaving most of the former socialist States, even those classified as democratic, revealing the flaws in their leadership determined to retain authoritarian power by any means as the people become more aware of the rights they should enjoy as citizens. And, of course, we should not ignore the corrupt Governments in Africa whose leaders will use any level of guile and oppression to retain their corrupt power.

The citizens of the World are becoming more aware of the concept of democracy and seek to exert their rights within the accepted democratic framework. Authoritarian leaders who cannot easily apply direct oppression are seeking other means to retain their power. Knowing that many people have very little if any understanding of politics or economics they use Modern Populism as a powerful aphrodisiac. Knowing the affection of the people for pop artists and movie stars authoritarian leaders personify themselves as superstars worthy of the embrace of the people. Such charismatic leaders manipulate receptive voters by promising outrageous utopia whilst vilifying opponents using the ever-increasing wealth gap to decry the corruption and self-interest cronyism of the elite. Unfortunately, this works for enough voters to swing elections from capable Government into governments in name only. The star-struck voters get what they deserve, only realising their error when it is too late for 4 – 5 years, or as we are witnessing in countries such as China and Russia, for life of the leader holding the power. Constitutions are revised to cement the power base; democracy becoming no more than a word of convenient political rhetoric. This herald back to kingdoms where the leader has absolute power for life – no matter what.

The recent Brexit debacle in the UK sheds interesting light into this discussion. After the first Brexit Referendum the so-called Remainers – the voters who wanted the UK to remain part of the EU – made many outrageous claims that the Brexiteers were duped by Populism, being too uneducated to understand the issues. This view carried into Parliament where MPs from constituencies who clearly voted to leave the EU chose to ignore their local constituency vote instead voting to stifle the process. It took two further elections and the loss of a number of seasoned politicians and some younger opportunistic politicians to give Boris Johnson a mandate to leave the EU but many Remainers still argue that voters were casting their vote to prevent Jeremy Corbyn from leading a Government, not to leave the EU. Thus, we have a perplexing problem of voters not considered capable of casting a reasoned vote thus voting a Populist ticket, and the losers not accepting the outcome yielding a breakdown in credibility of the democratic system.

An alternate way of reading the last General Election in the UK is that Boris Johnson saw the opportunity to use the voters to disguise the Brexit issue within the Jeremy Corbyn ultra-left-wing Modern Populism and rely on the voters to see reason that the outrageous promises to the voters by a Jeremy Corbyn led Government would condemn the UK to the Dark Ages again. The results tend to suggest even in the more depressed, typically Labour stronghold constituencies of the UK the voters were savvy enough to know what they didn’t want both in Corbyn and the EU.  

One of the long-held complaints with the EU is the unelected but powerful European Commission. How can the EU declare itself founded upon democratic principles? The agenda of the EU is clear to ever more of its citizens. The UK has responded. Who’s next?

The current Presidential election in the USA could be described as Modern Populism versus Pragmatism but look how close the popular vote. If we apply the argument that many voters are not capable of understanding the debate one would expect the vote to be more pronounced in favour of Populism or Pragmatism. I don’t envy President elect Joe Biden who must repair such a polarised nation not least because of no clear Republican or Democrat majority in either House likely creating stagnation in policy agenda. And the losing voters will consider themselves robbed of victory especially if led by Donald Trump when his legal challenges fail.

Why is democracy failing when so many oppressed people in the World crave the liberty and freedoms it promises? I grew up in the aftermath of WWII where people relied on resourcefulness and resilience to survive and thrive. Communities worked together to rebuild their lives. Life was not idyllic, far from it, but an attitude was instilled that essentially meant that if you wanted to achieve you are responsible to make it happen. This attitude accelerated during what I call the Youth Revolution – the period between the 1966 World Cup and the landing of Neil Armstrong on the moon in 1969. Resilience and resourcefulness built in prior years now could be expressed in ways which changed the UK from an essentially conservative Government to a more liberal approach. Much wealth creation during this period across the spectrum of voters – class boundaries fracturing. People felt liberated and empowered to determine their own destiny in the World and demanded a more liberal framework by Governments.

This empowerment led to the people looking to exert their rights to whatever they could get for their votes building a now overburdened welfare state where an attitude of entitlement overshadows the need for resourcefulness among the poorer sectors. For example, could a political party now get elected on a ticket of much needed scale back and structural reform of the NHS to reflect need over want? Resourcefulness has morphed into indoctrinated entitlement. Resilience has morphed into insecurity with a new lexicon of mental disorders amongst younger people. Instead of the resilience to cope, people crumble. Having observed the depressing inability of people to cope with Covid-19 lockdown goodness knows what would happen if the lights went out for any length of time. Today there are still many families who have members who survived some 6 years of WWII in the shadow of bombing raids, losing loved ones, coping with rationing, and extreme workload to support the war effort. Has what I would term as Modern Socialist Populism created a complacency that quietly forgets the price paid for the freedoms they enjoy? Thank goodness for the emergence of heroes like Capt. Tom whose positive resilience injected a much-needed dose of reflection and goodwill.

However, we digress. Or have we? Creating unaffordable expectations among the masses in the pursuit of votes is destined towards a reality check. Corporate taxation at uneconomic levels, and personal taxes at levels significantly affecting quality of life are a formula for disillusionment, recrimination and ill-will towards the Government. Modern Populism hits the buffers. The Government coffers are empty. The people are disillusioned with Liberal Democracy and must pay for their sins with a period of Conservatism to rebuild the economy and reset voter expectations.

Is there not a note of déjà vu in this progression? I remember in the 1970s living under a widespread social engineering period by Labour Governments to support its popularity essentially bankrupting the country in the process requiring some 18 years of Conservative resets to prosperity. Then in 1997 Tony Blair and Gordon Brown emerged with New Labour on a Populist ticket spending a further 10-years of cradle-to-grave social entitlement engineering finally leaving the Government coffers empty in 2007 and so many young people disillusioned with their new but worthless university degrees and massive student debt. Another reset to Conservatism, austerity, and realism. The banking crisis did not help but the coffers were empty in any event. And, just as prosperity and the freedom from the EU were set to propel the UK into a new period of accelerated growth, we are hit with Covid-19. Should China have the moral fortitude to inject $2-3Trillion into the global economy to compensate for its failure to contain this virus we will most certainly see the UK thrive and prosper post-Covid-19 before the next General Election thus thwarting the Populists who will certainly make hay if recovery is still slow. In the event that China fails to stimulate the global markets but seeks to exploit the global economic weakness resulting from Covid-19 I would expect the West to reinvigorate the Marshall Plan along with a healthy dislocation from China from where three serious viruses have emerged in the past twenty years.

So what is different today? Before social media and the degradation of conventional press reporting to satisfy 24-hour news channels using their own brand of sensationalism to compete with online social media, voters could only derive information from a limited number of outlets. Social media has completely changed the dissemination of information; good, bad, or downright false or misleading. Unscrupulous entities from individuals, organisations, and even foreign powers can, in minutes, pollute social media platforms with lies, misrepresentation and complete fabrication intended to sway receptive victims to a desired outcome. I overheard a journalist from a broadsheet newspaper declare that the demand on her for articles each day meant that she had no time to fully research and validate her stories. But who, today, reads the second page corrections if indeed any are printed?

An analysis of which degradation came first would take another essay. But what is clear is we have a collision of culture and belief where national boundaries are blurred by new global organised activism built on conspiracy theories. We experience truth decay where facts no longer matter, and people lie with impunity, some merely to seek their 15-minutes of fame, but others with a more cynical intent. We observe more authoritarian countries attempt to curb access to social media. We also observe Western countries trying to marshal content but with little effect to date. One observation of this proliferation of false or il-considered content is the need of people to feel involved in this new-found freedom of expression which requires instant gratification regardless of consideration lest they be left behind. How many celebrities take the view that they need to be connected until the vitriol received causes them to retreat?

Thus, Populists and their cohorts can exploit the lack of any integrity in published works on any platform. If voters are not happy with what is, they can easily be swayed to the promised land. How such interference in democracy can be regulated will be debated relentlessly with little or no consensus throughout the World. Democracy could well become as toothless as the UN.

I put it to my readers that the degradation of integrity in politics has created a mistrust of democracy. This is a breakdown of social cohesion that amplifies by clever manipulators through social media platforms creating false impression, disenchantment, and social discourse. History repeats itself regarding the few people needed to stoke people into war with insane losses before sanity prevails. Does democracy need to follow the same cyclic course before people understand its values and limitations. It was Winston Churchill who remarked that democracy is the worst form of Government, except for all the others. Is it time to revisit the pillars of democracy, ensure that they are relevant, fully understood and implemented, and then guarded against abuse?

Should we bear the Responsibility for our Ancestors?

Two seemingly unconnected news stories last week found their one minute of airing amongst the sensational reporting from the G7 Summit, the continuing saga of the EU vs BREXIT, and the burning of the Brazilian rain forest. Although my readers would probably expect me to comment on the suspension of Parliament, I think these two stories have a chilling connectivity worthy of debate.

One story was the admission from the University of Glasgow that it took contributions in the form of gifts and behests towards the construction its Gilmorehill Campus between 1866 and 1880; probably derived from the slave trade. Although these announced reparations of £20 million are not being distributed to individual descendants of slaves it sets a disturbing precedent.

The second story relates to the significant rise in white supremacy/nationalism throughout the Western World in the past two years. These people have moved from the shadows of internet activity to violence on the streets including mass shootings. And their numbers are growing at an alarming rate.

There are now so many ethnic and religious lobby groups trying to rekindle the past in a blame game euphemistically aimed at some moral admission of wrongdoing, but with the ultimate intent on financial reparations for events that occurred generations ago. I take the view that I am not responsible for anything my father did without my involvement or consent, and I do not expect my children to be held responsible for anything I do without their support or consent. Therefore, why are we tolerating lobby groups looking for reparations on activities that occurred so many generations ago that it is only recently that online genealogy allows us to remotely track such ancestry? When do these people realise that nasty activities such as slavery have existed since the dawn of mankind, and still exist today in various parts of the world. The great historic monuments of the past relied on slaves to construct them. We can take a social view today that slavery should be eradicated, but we cannot go back in time and legislate for the past.

I’ve debated with someone from the Indian subcontinent about the need for the British to pay considerable reparations for activities throughout the 18th and 18th centuries – the days of the British Empire. I suggested that India thrives today on both the constitutional Government and the railway system left by the British. Without the extensive rail network built in the time of British occupation India would suffer the transport problems that we see in countries today such as Brazil. China is building a massive rail network because it needs it to thrive. What would happen in India if our Health and Safety Regulations were applied throughout the Indian rail network? The country and its economy would come to a standstill. Very often it’s mentioned that Cuba sits in a 1920’s time warp but India also lives in such a time warp, but the quality of the British engineering still prevails, as in Portugal.

As for contributions to the University of Glasgow what about contributions from the tobacco and sugar trade? Both of these goods are now considered detrimental to human health so what about the people who suffered harvesting such goods, and then the consumers whose health may have suffered? Indeed, the City of Glasgow was built on these trades so do we demolish Glasgow as an unacceptable relic of our so-called terrible past as with the desire by a radical few to demolish statues of large benefactors to other universities and institutions where their wealth was derived from such activities. What about if Facebook put up the £20 million being sought, but in 100 years from now Facebook is considered a scourge on society and everything connected with it should be deemed poison?

By far the most damaging problem caused by these ill-considered lobby groups is the fuelling of racism. This card has now been so overplayed that white people are afraid to use large parts of the English vocabulary lest someone interprets such language as racist. And politicians seeking any votes possible to pander to their need for power have even legislated against such language without serious debate about the consequences. We have coloured minorities playing the victim card in their attempt to seek some ideology of equality, or even supremacy. I would argue that white people have had enough of being made to feel guilty for the activities of their ancestors and the continual pressure of the racism card which together with political correctness have overstressed tolerance. And this leads me to the connectivity to the rise of white supremacy and nationalism. White people are being eroded of their identity, their culture, and their heritage. Fodder for groups who are at the extremes.

My view is that Governments and Universities need to slam on the brakes regarding ethnic and religious lobby groups; take a break from any further antagonistic legislation or reparations touted in the name of equality; and study the impact of existing legislation on the indigenous population. Has the University of Glasgow attempted to determine if any descendant of a slave has prospered from a degree from their august hallows? Statistically this is highly probable as some slaves where transported back to Glasgow. Whilst there remains a suggestion that people today bear some historical responsibility for the activities of their ancestors, we have a cauldron that feeds extreme supremacy and nationalism.

BREXIT: A Pragmatic Message to the EU

The intransigence of the EU, no doubt fuelled by the traitorous people of the UK attempting to overturn Brexit, now requires a firm, but British pragmatic approach. I would propose the following:

Ladies and gentlemen of the EU we find ourselves at an impasse that could lead to unnecessary harm to our great nation States. Today we are faced with the opportunity to show why our nations have survived great turmoil in the past, and that we have learnt the lessons of failure to achieve equitable relationships. During the past two years the UK has been more than conciliatory in its attempt to smooth an orderly exit from the EU. The imbalanced level of consideration provided to the EU has clearly caused irreconcilable division in the UK Parliament resulting in many difficulties for the UK Government. In order to achieve an orderly exit this must change. Having given great thought to what needs to be achieved before the 29th March 2019 I would agree that reopening the Exit Agreement would not achieve the required progress in the time remaining. I propose we bin it. Of course, there are aspects of this Exit Agreement that can amicably and equitably be transposed to a new agreement.

Let me be clear that we will not extend the leaving date as I’m sure that we all consider that enough time an expense has been expended on this project. Other distractions such as revoking Article 50, a further referendum in the UK, any reference to Norway plus, or Canada plus plus are not considerations on which the EU can rely. The only surety is that the failure to achieve a reasonable and, above all, equitable settlement before 29th March 2019 is that the UK will leave the EU and that the £39 billion demand by the EU will then be subjected to International Court of Arbitration scrutiny and ruling. Failure to agree an equitable way forward will certainly cause short-term economic turbulence throughout the member states and the UK Government could better apply the exit amount to smooth such turbulence within the UK economy. During this exit process the UK economy has shown itself to be resilient and indeed buoyant and I fully expect this to continue regardless of what happen on the 29th March 2019.

From the start of the leaving process the UK proposed negotiation based upon a Strategic Alliance. The EU rejected such proposal insisting that the divorce settlement be agreed before any future relationship. This has proven to be a failed approach. Now we must proceed with an inclusive agreement including a future trading relationship as proposed and submitted to the EU in March of this year. As we are looking to replace an existing trading relationship none of the usual procrastinated negotiation of trade deals is either desirable or necessary. We may have to agree to further refinement during a transition period, but this is the nature of the strategic alliance process. Importantly, within the existing proposal are terms that with the installation of additional electronic surveillance on the Irish, Northern Ireland border as proposed by HMRC and declared as workable by the technocrats in Brussels we can completely illuminate the most contentious issue facing us today; the backstop agreement.

No doubt you will resound with protestation that such an agreement cannot be achieved in the time available. We disagree. Most, if not all, of the required components are at our disposal. All we need is the essential component of any Strategic Alliance; the will and commitment to achieve an economic and political relationship in the spirit of friendship and co-operation, and above all of reasonable and equitable benefit to both parties. Any financial settlement will be fully subject to such parameters.

To the heads of the EU member States I would add the following invitation. Should no agreement be achieved and ratified by both sides before the 29th March 2019 then the UK is fully prepared to continue to trade with any member State on existing terms and give priority to such trade over alternate sources if delivery and reciprocity can be assured. Further political posturing will not solve this problem and thus we must each address the realities of no deal in regard to the best interests of the people we each represent.

Has Democracy As A System of Government Run Its Course?

 

In a speech in the House of Commons on 11 November 1947, Winston Churchill said: No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. Since then democracy has shown itself as a far from perfect system in that the inherent assumptions are that every voter has the capability to understand the issues, and the people elected to deal with the issues have the appropriate experience and wisdom to conduct the majority view of the people. Recent elections throughout the World demonstrate that neither assumption is reasonable. The result is a range of governments derived from populist to unwitting authoritarian.

My attention was drawn to the breakdown in democracy in Europe during the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, and later the Lisbon and Nice treaties, where various EU member Governments were unable to achieve ratification of these treaties on a free vote but were instructed by the Brussels apparatchik to continue to poll until they achieved the required result, i.e. undemocratic attrition.

In the UK we have two clear examples. The BREXIT referendum attracted the largest turnout of any election in recent times by percentage of votes, and numbers who voted, thus should be deemed to be compliant with the fundamental principle of democracy. Using the fundamental principles of democracy the outcome should be accepted by all, and the Parliament of the day thus mandated by the people to conclude the exit process. Yet the remainers, or remoaners as I prefer to call them, are so vehemently opposed to the democratic result that they continue to attempt to thwart the BREXIT process without any consideration of the damage that they inflict on achieving a good divorce settlement for both the UK and the EU. To these people I say that you have no regard for democracy, the history and future of the UK, and the turnout for this important vote, but are instead far too consumed with blinkered argument with little concern regarding the damaging consequences for the people who voted, and subsequently respected the outcome of the referendum. I can assure these people that if this referendum were to rerun the vote would be more overwhelming.

Who are these people who cannot accept a democratic majority, and why do they think that they can abandon the principles of democracy in favour of a minority? I noted during the Andrew Marr show last Sunday that Labour MP, Chuka Umunna, was stating that BREXIT is so important that it should ride above party politics or personal ambition of Government members but every sentence he uttered was both party political and promotion of his own ambitions. During this week he has furthered both by stating that Parliament should have a legally binding vote on the BREXIT deal before it can be ratified – yet another attempt to thwart the process, and thus the will of the people. What a hypocrite. For balance I can also identify a Conservative MP, Anna Soubry who caused eyes to roll on the Conservative benches in the House of Commons this past Monday when she continued to vent her vehement attack on BREXIT and her party leaders. If she does not understand the principles of democracy why is she in Government?

Then we have the devastating miscalculation of the recent General Election. Short-sighted and blinkered arrogance in the extreme.  My thoughts on reading the Conservative Party (latterly described as Presidential) Election Manifesto are already published. Why did no one with political clout in the Conservative Party face down Teresa May and alert her to the inevitable consequences of such a poorly considered manifesto? I can suggest that study of the ‘Art of War’ by Sun Tzu is required study by her in future campaigns.

Of course, Jeremy Corbyn understood such consequences and saw an opportunity to seize power. He used the rise of a populist vote, especially with younger voters more consumed in their smart phones than in the real world. He promised them anything for their vote even though it was clear from the outset that none of these promises were remotely deliverable, as per populist socialist governments in South America and Africa. His was a particularly exaggerated socialist agenda that had none of the subtle argument proposed by the likes of Tony Blair. This was blatant abuse of process with the certain outcome of bankrupting UK plc. But why did these voters not see the inevitable outcome?

Today Jeremy Corbyn sees himself as the socialist saviour and although verbally supporting the BREXIT outcome he is using it as a party-political football in an attempt to unseat the Conservatives to seize power for himself. For the remoaners who think that BREXIT will be bad for the UK economy I ask them to consider the devastating consequences of a Corbyn led Government. The centre left government under Tony Blair left the Treasury coffers empty (as with all previous Labour Governments since WWII) – but this will be nothing compared with bankruptcy as Corbyn pursues a left socialist agenda. Perhaps his followers should consider the irony in my past blog ‘General Election 2015 – A Sorry Tale’.

The BREXIT campaign was bruising but, from my dialogue with people, they understood why they wanted to vote as they did irrespective of the blindingly aggressive rhetoric from both sides. My view is that the politicians were so outrageous that their words became an incoherent noise. The doom-and-gloom merchants such as David Cameron and George Osborne hid behind rigged outpourings from the likes of OECD and IMF clearly geared to frighten voters, but subsequently found to be completely false and unfounded. The UK economy has prospered post-BREXIT, and the EU is beginning to understand that THE UK is not about to bail out Europe for the third time in the past one hundred years. Teresa May has offered what the International Court of Arbitration would likely deem as legally obligated under the Lisbon Treaty. Any more requires valuable reciprocity from the EU. The second largest contributor to the EU is obviously a real loss to them, but they had the opportunity to address the needs of the UK people, but chose in their blind arrogance, to ignore such needs. Now they want to put valuable trade for both parties at risk to continue to prop up a failed system which is blatantly undemocratic. My instinct tells me that there will be substantial turmoil within the EU countries if trade is not maintained with the UK. The interview with the Foreign Minister of Spain, Alphonso Dastis, by Andrew Marr last Sunday was very revealing as he clearly stated that the close relationship between the UK and Spain pre-dates the EU. He argued that seventeen million UK visitors to Spain each year plus some 750k of UK citizens choosing to retire in Spain is not something they intend to put at risk.

So, what does all this say about our current form of democracy. We have politicians who choose the ignore the majority will of the people. We now have far too many career politicians who clearly lack the experience and wisdom needed to execute their office. We have an unelected powerhouse in Brussels who have no regard for the will of the people when it does not concur with their agenda. We have multiparty systems in many countries that govern by painful compromise (rather than strong leadership). We have too many politicians who have little regard for the ability of people to think for themselves and thus govern by fear tactics. And we have an electorate who feel disconnected from the process and thus disinterested. Instead of democratically thinking about an issue in the interest of all, they concern themselves with what matters only to themselves. Is democracy about to implode, and what phoenix will rise from the ashes?

 

 

BREXIT – 120 days on

univestBREXIT – 120 days on

It has been some 120 days post-Brexit, so where do we find ourselves when measured against the doom and gloom of the Remain campaign. We have a new PM, Teresa May who appears clear on what Brexit means, discovery that global organisations such as the IMF knowingly misled the British people, even the principal architect of the Eurozone claiming that it is now a ‘House of Cards’, and churlish self-interests trying to scupper Brexit with no regard for the democracy that they claim to cherish.

It is really sad for me to see that, amongst a significant number of people spanning all classes, there are elements of the British character that do no justice to our heritage of the UK great explorers and inventors that shaped this World of ours. I watched in disdain the current and excellent TV costume drama ‘Victoria’ recounting the trials and tribulations of Queen Victoria who reigned during the Industrial Revolution as scaremongers, vested interests, self-righteous, and ‘not-invented-here’ jealousy tried to stop the introduction of the steam locomotive. Thankfully, Prince Albert saved the day. Even today I hear eco-warriors stating that the Industrial Revolution was the beginning of the end of mankind, but where would these people, or even the World be without trains. India thrives on the railways, whereas Brazil, without much needed rail infrastructure, has serious transport and thus economic problems – look at the speed of rail infrastructure development in China.

Then I am reminded of the Neville Chamberlain pacifist era before the second world war when Winston Churchill, with his worldly experience, could see the ambitions of Hitler but, in spite of his fine rhetoric, could not persuade enough people that we needed to prepare ourselves for the inevitable. Indeed, according to Boris Johnson in his captivating book ‘The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History’, had the war been delayed by some two weeks Churchill would already have been hounded out of office!

We are told that we must learn from the past, but do we? During the referendum debate we had the David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg elite, all from privileged schooling, all career politicians with ideologies not supported by any worldly experience, and easily persuaded by more scurrilous and self-serving influences, preaching doom and gloom if we did not stay part of the EU project. They rallied any vested interest they could find including the IMF, the OECD, and President Obama – an embarrassing chapter for all of them. But history will not record any of them as good, let alone great politicians. David Cameron was clear in his Bloomberg address that if the UK did not get significant Treaty changes for the UK then he would vote out, yet like Chamberlain he returned from Berlin with a worthless piece of paper. He will be remembered as someone who readily changed his mind on substantial matters – not good leadership. But he has realised the errors of his ways and will fade quietly away. Osborne still finds occasion to try to placate his ego, and Clegg is now trying to rally support for a blatant counter-offensive to Brexit on the basis that people do not know what Brexit means. Let me assure him that the core ‘middle-England blue-blooded Brits’ that always save the day in times of need know precisely what it means – a clean exit from the EU in all respects, returning to a Sovereign State, just like most other countries in the World. As has been shown since Brexit, the UK is a major player in this World, and when we sneeze the World coughs. The EU needs the UK far more than the UK needs the EU.

So what has happened since Brexit. I would suggest that the most significant outcome is the clear demonstration of how the elite politics of today is so out of touch with reality, as is being played out in the USA today. What did go on behind closed doors that caused Cameron to accept that the UK should be sacrificed for ‘the greater good of Europe’? How many more times does the UK have to make significant sacrifices for Europe before Europe (mainly Germany) learns from it?

Let me take some words from a Telegraph article summarising a post-Brexit report from the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office (IEO). This report goes above the head of the managing director, Christine Lagarde. It answers solely to the board of executive directors, and those from Asia and Latin America are clearly incensed at the way EU insiders used the Fund to rescue their own rich currency union and banking system. It states:

‘The International Monetary Fund’s top staff misled their own board, made a series of calamitous misjudgments in Greece, became euphoric cheerleaders for the euro project, ignored warning signs of impending crisis, and collectively failed to grasp an elemental concept of currency theory.

This is the lacerating verdict of the IMF’s top watchdog on the Fund’s tangled political role in the eurozone debt crisis, the most damaging episode in the history of the Bretton Woods institutions.

It describes a “culture of complacency”, prone to “superficial and mechanistic” analysis, and traces a shocking break-down in the governance of the IMF, leaving it unclear who is ultimately in charge of this extremely powerful organisation.’

The IEO Report states that since 2011 some 80% of all IMF lending was secretly used to support the Euro – not within the mandate of the IMF, and why Asia and Latin America are so incensed. Add to this the recent publication by Prof Otmar Issing, the first chief economist of the ECB and principal architect of the Euro, in which he states that the rules laid down for the Euro have been so debased by politicians that the currency, and thus the Eurozone, is but a ‘House of Cards’ waiting to collapse. Thus the desperate need to keep the fastest growing economy in the Western World, the UK, inside the EU, not least because of the unique capital raising power of the City of London – thus the lies to the British public by both the IMF and the OECD during the referendum campaign.

By far the biggest everyday loss to the EU is the City of London. With the City inside the EU it could claim to be the most significant financial power on the international stage. Without it the Eurozone does not even have the capacity to clear its own currency. The EU desperately needs the capital raising powers of the City. All of this posturing regarding passporting can be put into perspective by ING announcing last week that it is moving some 40 of its prominent traders from two locations within the EU to London. The worst case scenario is we will return to the days before passporting whereby, under the rules that international banks can only engage in business in countries in which they have a physical presence, banks will re-establish little more than a rep office through which transactions will be directed to London. As for moving banking to Frankfurt and/or Paris it should be noted that during my more than 35 years in the City this has been muted on a number of occasions. Paris is a non-starter for a number of technical reasons, and Frankfurt for even more including that no self-respecting high flier banker would consider living there.

As for corporate business I think that the recent announcement by Apple, the largest company in the World, that it is moving and consolidation its European headquarters in London, with all of the tax implications included, states the blindingly obvious – London is the gateway to Europe.

In a recent French Presidential Campaign speech by Nicolas Sarkozy he clearly stated that his first day in office (if elected) would be spent in Berlin (note: not Brussels) putting a new EU Treaty together that would address the concerns of the UK to encourage them to stay within the EU. He knows that there will be revolution in France if the farmers got even a whisper that tariff barriers were to be imposed on the UK.

In Germany we also have elections on the horizon. I am certain that the elite of Germany will resign themselves to the inevitable Brexit and thus quietly encourage election results that will ensure that no harm comes to the valuable existing trading relations with the UK.

The principle voices of Angela Merkel in Brussels, Donald Tusk, Martin Schulz, and Jean-Claude Junker, are synonymous with the problems faced by the EU. On the one hand they are stating that the EU will survive Brexit. On the other that are issuing instructions to member states to clamp down on rising nationalism.

The good news is that GBP has depreciated from its over-valued level by some 17% causing the UK Stock Market to regain some of its lost value over recent years, and provide the stimulus for the return for a much increased manufacturing base – jobs, prosperity, less dependency on imports. It should be remembered that Germany pushed through the Eurozone project to devalue the over-inflated Deutshemark by some 30% – great for Germany, but a disaster for most other members.

This devaluation will mean price increases to the UK consumer of imported goods and thus stimulate much needed, but controlled inflation reducing the need for QE and restoring interest rates to more normal economic levels. Some of this increase could be artificial as EU Governments put pressure on their major suppliers to increase prices to the UK as per the much publicised Unilever to Tesco increases which resulted in an embarrassing climb-down by Unilever. The real price increases will put upward pressure on wage demands – good for the workers who generate the wealth but contained to 2% pa or less wage growth over recent years, but not so good for fat executives who have enriched themselves with wage growth of around 10% pa during the same period. Also we can be competitive manufacturers and return to the days of ‘Buy British’. We can even return to eating our own delicious apples, currently outlawed by the EU to force import from the likes of France. The UK Government could easily buffer the increased price of fuel and energy (increases not EU related) by reducing, or indeed eliminating all of the absurd anti-competitive eco taxes on UK energy prices.

Trading with the World, including Europe will certainly not get worse, but is likely to improve. The intransigence of the EU Commission regarding trade with the EU is legion – ask the Americans. Our global relationships will prosper far more after the dust of Brexit has settled.

The issues we face today are the posturing, petulance, grandstanding, etc by both a dying EU and those die-hard remainers in the UK who have jettisoned democracy in favour of their own self-interests. This causes turbulence in the markets, no doubt exacerbated by the more influential remainers. The professional financial markets love such turbulence as they use it to generate good profits. The losers are the general public in whose lives the media relish creating uncertainty, and which impacts their cost of living resulting in understandable protest. How many media outlets have directly associated recent fuel price increases with Brexit? Oil prices are recovering from two years of global turmoil, and should settle around US$60 per barrel. The UK has a much needed currency devaluation regardless of Brexit. De facto prices will increase from their extraordinary lows over recent months regardless of Brexit. I can remember when oil prices were US$16 per barrel, and more recently US$120 per barrel – but neither to do with the EU or Brexit.

Brexit has not yielded doom and gloom, not even a technical recession. The UK is now projected as the fastest growing Western economy. Just as with the resistance to the steam locomotive in Victorian times it is time to ignore the doomsayers and grasp the opportunities that now present themselves so that, as with the proliferation of railways, the UK will again rise be a major and great player in this World in its own name.

 

2-weeks post-BREXIT. Where are we?

univest2-weeks post-BREXIT. Where are we?

The EU Referendum has raised a number of issues that show why this referendum was needed. During recent years politics has become too elite and detached from the people it is there to serve. A good shakeout is necessary, as is happening in the USA. BREXIT has triggered this process in Europe, and especially the EU. So where are we post-BREXIT?

Scare Story: The UK will suffer unprecedented political turmoil

This is true, but more in the EU than the UK. The reaction at the quickly convened emergency meeting of the European Parliament on the Monday following BREXIT resembled more a Third World bun fight than a rational First World debate. The exchange of insults and rebuke was extraordinary.

The UK political turmoil has shown that David Cameron lacks the qualities of a true leader. Having consented to a referendum on the basis of a reformed EU, which he did not achieve, a strategically capable leader would have returned from Brussels to announce his frustration with Brussels, and then overseen the referendum debate without expressing his own view, or that of the Government, ready to implement the decision of the people (democracy) thus providing the political leadership and continuity post-BREXIT that is currently so lacking. We have a political vacuum until we have a new leader – not good for confidence around the world.

This political vacuum has fuelled an anti-democratic minority to challenge the outcome of the EU Referendum result. It is interesting to note that these whingers obviously have the view that a democracy can only be democratic when the vote result concurs with their view. And these whingers include people like Richard Branson who, reportedly, saw some 30% wiped off his Virgin empire. The people have spoken and, with a larger turnout than your average General Election, the clear majority voted for BREXIT. In a democracy every citizen has the obligation to make themselves aware of the issue requiring a vote of the people, and to cast their vote accordingly. In this digital age there is no excuse for lack of information. The result is clear, so to the whingers – move on; we will flourish.

The positive result of this turmoil as we approach political summer recess is that the UK Civil Service has time to consider the optimal exit terms for negotiation with the EU, and a period of reflection by the EU machine. As I refine this blog I found an article in yesterday’s London Evening Standard written by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German Foreign Minister, in which he acknowledges that the EU elite have been indifferent to the voices of the people, causing great unrest. His solution – even faster political and economic integration. Will they ever listen?

Scare Story: The UK markets will collapse with pensions and quality of life in decline, and London will lose its status as the Global Financial Centre

Since the casino players, looking purely to make money from the volatility surrounding the referendum vote, have gone to sleep (when will the G7 address this global destabilising problem) the UK stock markets have stabilised, and indeed risen some 15% – a vote of confidence by investors, and good for pension funds. Adjustments will occur as the UK realigns itself; albeit the attack on commercial property funds is bizarre. Furthermore all talk of the capital markets moving within the EU has evaporated – the underlying covert motive by both the USA and Germany having been neutralised.

Our EU partners have not been so fortunate in that the BREXIT vote has caused much instability within the EU forcing markets down by as much as 15%. Although they have recovered some of these losses there is little evidence of full recovery any time soon. Italy is on the brink of a banking crisis, and there is much discontent within the EU. We have the USA regulators stating that both Deutsche Bank and Banco de Santander fail their stress tests and thus must increase capital if they wish to continue to trade US dollars. And of course VW are looking at considerably more substantial fines around the world. There is also reported a vote of no confidence for the EU to settle Euro transactions.

The doomsayers claim that the 10% fall in sterling against the US dollar is a major disaster for the UK. On the contrary sterling has been over-valued for some time damaging the ability of the UK to sell its goods overseas. As I write this blog sterling has recovered to 1.29. It would be better for the UK economy if this rate fell below 1.26 for a few months before the US Presidential elections will likely deflate the US dollar, pushing the value of sterling up again. I would remind the whingers that when Germany pushed for the introduction of the Euro the result for Germany was an effective significant devaluation of the Deutschemark which was much needed by the German economy to trade themselves out of the grossly underestimated cost of reunification – but at a real cost to all other Eurozone members.

Scare Story: The UK will require years to negotiate new trade deals with the Single Market and the World

There are a number of countries, including the USA and Germany, who want to be first to sign trade deals with the UK. There is much confusion being hoisted by the whingers about the single market. The UK does not need to be part of the single market for the same reasons that are frustrating the trade deal between the EU and the USA (who already trade more with the EU than does the UK). What we need is tariff-free trade deals with each of the member states who wish to engage with us. If Germany can do this then why not all other member states? The EU is fragmenting, and will need significant reform if it is to survive – including trade relationships. Regardless of the political rhetoric Germany will not risk the loss of its significant exports to the UK, and France will follow.

Scare Story: UK citizens will lose the right to freely travel, work and live in the EU countries

Today UK citizens need a passport to travel into the EU member States, and to return from them. Travelling freely within the EU countries is defined by the Schengen Agreement between member States and thus does not change anything for UK citizens. Moving to an EU member State may change, but looking at the number of EU citizens living in the UK reciprocity is the likely outcome.

Scare Story: The UK is too small and insignificant to go it alone

The UK coughed on the 23rd June, and the whole world sneezed, and is still sneezing. The UK has always punched well above its weight, and always will. London is the most important global financial centre in the world, and thanks to BREXIT, will retain this status. The EU loses one of its two permanent seats at the UN Security Council, and loses the global diplomatic reach enjoyed by the UK. As the fifth largest economy in the world the UK will find its feet over the coming months, and then flourish. The EU may not be so lucky.

 

A few days ago I listened to an interesting discussion regarding the total breakdown of the former USSR. The original discussions with Gorbachev revolved around the satellite states adjoining the eastern borders of Western Europe. However, as the Berlin Wall fell practically all members of the USSR declared their own freedom from Moscow. The view was that Moscow thought it could impose a homogeneous citizen unity across the USSR without any regard for the diverse nature and cultures of each nation state. Thus laws and regulations formulated in Moscow intended to create a homogeneous USSR caused resentment and unrest in these States – the response being typical Roman-type repression by Moscow, and ultimately downfall. Even the Romans knew better when they built their empire. What could the EU learn from this? Brussels relentlessly moves towards a United States of Europe without the consent of the people. Whether they use brute force, or financial pain they attempt to impose their will over each member State. The majority of people in the UK have said ‘NO’, and I fully expect others to follow.

A few weeks before the referendum vote I listened to an interesting debate by university students regarding the EU Referendum. They did not have guest speakers, rather relying on four students on each side of the debate to put their respective cases. The debate was surprisingly articulate. The audience was an estimated 100 students who, after the debate, overwhelmingly voted for BREXIT. This tallies with the young vote of some 25% of 18 – 24 year-olds. The triangle of knowledge for 16 – 24 year-olds (post-university) consists of students who have both the intellect and knowledge to analyse issues, students who have the knowledge but not enough intellect to fully appreciate the issues, and the remainder who prefer to go to the pub and watch football. The proportion of students who have both the intellect and knowledge average around 23%. Thus most of the 25% who voted for BREXIT are likely to have understood why. The other two sectors are likely to take the safe option to stay with what they know, or not vote. Therefore, I do not accept that the older (wiser) voters in any way let the young down. This is why the social engineering of the Blair/Brown Government sending 50% of the young to university was ridiculous, a waste of money, and did nothing for those who leave lesser universities with a degree and considerable debt but with no prospect of the suitable job that was implied was available for them.

I have also heard from the young that they wanted to remain in the EU to take advantage of the Erasmus program to study in Europe not realising that this program has little to do with the EU, but formulated as an exchange program between the universities, and includes universities in the USA. There is no possibility that this will end as a result of BREXIT, not least because of the significant number of European students who want to take advantage of the far superior red brick and CAT universities in the UK.

Just as a footnote, I chose to assess the views of the more canny Scottish voters regarding the post-BREXIT opportunist actions of Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister in Scotland, as I did before the Scottish Independence Referendum. The result then was a resounding vote to stay in the UK. A vote today between the UK and the EU would yield the same result. So Nicola, don’t waste your time as the people do not want your pathway, and I cannot imagine the EU entertaining yet another country joining on a net beneficiary basis in any event. The EU Referendum was on behalf of the whole of the UK, and the people spoke. Let it be. There is a bright tomorrow for the UK, so let us focus on the future together.

Is Putin really orchestrating the disintegration of Europe?

univestIs Putin really orchestrating the disintegration of Europe?

I have just finished reading a report on Bloomberg News titled ‘From Rape Claim to Brexit, Putin Machine Tears at Europe’s Seams’ by Arne Delfs and Henry Meyer citing incidents such as the ‘Lisa Affair’ in Germany as evidence that Putin is orchestrating the disintegration of Europe. This claim is worth a little exploration.

There is no doubt that the paranoia that is Putin sees a strong Europe as a direct threat to Russia, especially along its borders – Ukraine being a prime example. As Russia is not in a position to rapidly grow in spite of its energy reserves then his strategy must be to weaken his perceived enemy – classic Sun Tzu. We have also witnessed his desire to be seen as a major influence in the World with his intervention in Syria. So can he manipulate the disintegration of Europe?

The evidence presented in the Bloomberg report would suggest that he can, and indeed, is exploiting the weakness in the EU system. But is he a primary mover, or just having a little mischievous fun exploiting the clear fault lines in the EU model as retaliation for the embargo imposed on Russia for past mischief?

For anyone to exploit a large system such as the EU in this way there must be inherent weaknesses that can be exploited. We saw during the Ukraine crisis that the response by the West had to be tempered because of the overwhelming reliance on energy supplies from Russia by Germany (some 84% against the UK 4%). Why would a so-called major economy allow itself to engage in an energy policy which left them so vulnerable? Why should the West allow such an economy to influence its response?

What I have observed over many years is that every time a closed system tries to impose itself on other systems the oppressor fails, e.g. Germany on Europe, Russia on USSR. Even the Romans, during their expansionism, knew that that had to befriend the conquered and only impose changes regarding the needs of Rome in exchange for protection. They knew that they could not possibly hold the line of their empire if they tried to completely impose their will over the oppressed. Indeed, they used a philosophy that made it an honour to elevate the compliant to the status of a Roman citizen – probably the first peoples honours system.

Putin appears to be exploiting the clear divisions in the EU regarding the attempted imposition of the German way, albeit under the Brussels umbrella, on the other EU members. Of course, as with all such closed States, they believe that they have a successful model which they would like to share (impose) on others to allow them to indulge in the prosperity of their system. I have argued in previous blogs that there are inherently fatal flaws in the incestuous German closed system akin to Japan in the 1980’s and thus will ultimately fail. The nearest closed system to that of Germany within the EU is France albeit that the closed system in France consists of nationalised industries and banks – the topical example being EdF – and France is technically bankrupt.

But Germany has shown itself to be flawed, notably in its handling of the refugee crisis. Their double-edged sword of appearing to act with compassion as a cover for their desperate need for some one million skilled people to replace the erosion of its own workforce since 2012 through emigration to the likes of the UK, Switzerland, the USA, and Australia, has backfired. The Lisa Affair appears to be a ploy to further add to the woes of Angela Merkel as she loses popularity as the usually compliant German population now regularly take to the streets in defiance.

So, assuming Putin is playing games, should we be concerned? Politicians play games most of the time. Look at the upcoming intervention of the USA in the BREXIT debate. Is the USA really concerned about the UK, or their own influence in the EU for which they use the UK as their gateway? Would the USA ever consider surrendering any form of sovereignty to another nation to engage with it? I fully understand both the short-term geo-political and geo-economic consequences of a BREXIT – and it is not good. But everyone appears to be asking the UK to sacrifice itself for the sake of global stability. Why don’t these interlopers focus their concerns towards the mandarins in Brussels, and who could still save the day if vital EU reform is agreed? How many more times in history do the British people have to sacrifice themselves to save the World? If Putin wants to play games with Germany to accelerate realisation then so be it. If he is successful, the unintended consequences (on his part) might be the tonic that Europe so desperately needs.

BREXIT will not isolate the UK in Europe

univestBREXIT will not isolate the UK in Europe

I have received a number of comments suggesting that BREXIT will isolate the UK in Europe. As I have absolutely no interest in isolating the UK from Europe I would like to address these comments.

If you look back to the various blogs about the EU I generated in 2013 it should be clear that I consider that the UK should be at the very heart of Europe. If we look back at the two configurations suggested by Winston Churchill we essentially see one option where the UK would act as broker between the then OEEC (Organisation for European Economic Co-operation) and, primarily, the USA – a role we still perform in part today. The other option was to create a United States of Europe where the UK was the dominant player at the very heart of Europe. Never, in his wildest dreams, would he consider a role as a marginalised player in the autocratic EU of today.

So where is the confusion? Fundamentally BREXIT is about leaving the political system that is the EU – not Europe. Furthermore, BREXIT would lead the way for others member states, who cannot wield the power of the UK, but of similar mind, to follow. Other EU members who do not favour or qualify to join the German-Franco dominated Eurozone, could also combine with the UK to seek a new arrangement. This is where the UK, after the experience of BREXIT, would be ideally placed to take the lead role. A new grouping, under UK leadership, would be based on free trade with the Eurozone core (not the nonsense contributory scaremonger version), and on mutual interests elsewhere in the world – not least the Commonwealth countries. The new form of cooperation would be between independent sovereign European Nations and absolutely free of compulsion towards economic convergence or political integration.

Thereafter survival of the remaining EU ultimately depends on the fiscal union of those who use it. Fiscal union, defacto, demands political union. So the EU can only survive for as long as the remaining rich countries are prepared to transfer a proportion of their wealth to the poorer ones, and those poorer ones are prepared to endure the stark conditions of austerity the rich countries impose on them for receiving it. But the imposition of political union on the 19 nations that use it, (let alone the other 9 who do not, and may join the UK) no longer looks like a realistic option. As with the failure of the Schengen agreement on open borders, common sense suggests that we must have a fully integrated United States of Europe model for the Eurozone to survive. The reality is that there is little appetite to integrate 28 nations with disparate economies, different backgrounds, culture and languages under an undemocratic autocracy. Therefore, we need to find another way.

What I have always insisted is that the UK must have an alternate plan for Europe post-BREXIT that provides for the unity of the countries of Europe, but without the political integration. It would even be possible to keep the Eurozone for those member States that feel it beneficial (remembering that fiscal union means political union), albeit with a democratic oversight.

I am still firmly of the opinion that BREXIT will be the beginning of the end of the EU in its current form. The EU blind determination to continue its drive for ever closer union is in fact driving it rapidly towards the rocks of disintegration. If the EU were to recognise the impending disaster in time to materially change course before the June referendum, then it might be in the UK’s interests to stay in and participate in the process of reconstruction. But this is the only positive argument that can be made for staying in. As we saw with the Cameron negotiations the EU hierarchy seem so obstinately oblivious of the impending danger, that the case for us to leave is compelling. Remaining in without major reform would consign Britain to being a second-tier state in a United States of Europe controlled by the German-Franco-led Eurozone – which is totally unacceptable.

I was lucky enough over the past weekend to gain access to a paper ‘The Referendum – a step towards a Democratic, Prosperous and Safe Europe’ jointly written by Walter Reid, formerly Professor of Accounting and Financial Control at the London Business School, and Chairman MDA Training Ltd, and D.R. Myddelton, Emeritus Professor of Finance and Accounting at Cranfield School of Management. Rather than me summarise a lengthy paper I will provide an extract that speaks volumes of a proper English approach to the referendum:

Quote:

The paper proposes the establishment of a European Multi Currency Union [EMCU] to operate alongside the Eurozone.  Unless the Eurozone and the Brussels Commission come to realise that some such change is essential to hold the EU together – which seems unlikely – it will be necessary for it to be set up by a new Treaty outside the EU by member-states wishing to be free of the current Mission.  A parallel structure between the EU and the EMCU will enable Europe to present a common position in areas such as defence and internal security and any other areas where it is in the mutual interests of both parties to work together.

Britain has an important role to play in helping to set up this new democratic Europe.  It could provide a way for both Britain and our fellow-member-states who also want to escape the oppressive actions of the Eurozone to protect their national interests and build together a democratic and prosperous Europe.

To help achieve this crucial aim, David Cameron should adopt an approach that would mitigate further acrimonious and divisive argument between the Remain and the Leave groups – which could split his party and indeed the country. This would involve agreeing that his recent negotiations achieved much less than the ‘fundamental and far reaching change’ he sought in his Bloomburg speech and that the concessions gained are being challenged.  Further, they are causing serious divisions across Europe as other countries seek similar exemptions.

End Quote

The last paragraph indicates a needed change in position by David Cameron which would also stop all of the adverse speculation in the markets, which in itself is unnecessarily damaging the UK. I would hope that this paper becomes readily available in the public domain.

BREXIT – What a difference a week makes

univestBREXIT – What a difference a week makes

The past week has yielded so many interesting events that I have shelved my scheduled blog to consider the potential impacts to the whole EU debate.

In no particular order let us start with the UK Budget speech given by George Osbourne last Wednesday. All sounded good with much bravado albeit two of his three fiscal rules were already in shatters. But the economy is growing so such rules are only political rhetoric. However, he used this platform to make a clear statement that the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) had provided evidence that UK exit from the EU would damage the UK economy in the short-term. This statement clearly aggrieved the OBR as, by tea time, they had completely refuted his representations as they only provided (conveniently selected?) views provided by third parties.

Then he expounded the view that we were all in this together as he slashed corporate taxes at the same time as slashing benefit payments (some £4 billion) to the most disadvantaged. Whereas there is no doubt that the welfare budget in the UK does need to be reined in, it cannot be achieved merely by setting arbitrary limits and crossing out figures on a spreadsheet with a complete disregard for social justice. Again, by the end of the week, these welfare cuts had diluted from hard cuts, to a discussion, to kicking into the long grass, to being scrapped with the very public resignation of the Work & Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith who gave an impassioned account of his position on the Sunday morning Andrew Marr show. Let us not forget that this happened to Osbourne in his last budget as well.

Also, during his budget speech, he confirmed that the continued refusal by the EU to relax VAT rules to allow tampons to be zero rated, the so-called tampon tax (some £500 million pa), would result in the taxes collected continuing to be distributed to various women-based charities. The following day David Cameron went to an EU Summit meeting in Brussels regarding the important refugee crisis. Apparently, during a coffee break, all 28 EU leaders agreed to relax the EU VAT rules. Clearly not planned. Has Europe realised that BREXIT is gaining support? How many more rabbits will be drawn from EU hats between now and 23rd June?

It was interesting to tour the Highlands of Scotland a few weeks before the Scottish Independence referendum to test my view that Scotland would be stronger in the Union, and thus the vote would be to stay part of the UK. Having purposely stayed in B&B and small privately owned hotels it was interesting to speak privately with the Scottish people about their thoughts. In those 8 days only one person clearly stated that they wanted independence. Much was offered by the UK Government in fear of the noise by those shouting ‘independence’. Had they copied my trip they would determine that no deals were necessary. Everyone else was keeping their thoughts to themselves because of what they were seeing in places like Glasgow where Alex Salmond’s equivalent of Hitler’s brown shirt nationalistic youth movement were intimidating those who openly wanted to remain with the UK. Come the day the silent majority, proud of their heritage within the UK, prevailed. I would therefore suggest that rabbits from the EU, at this late stage, will not work. Indeed, I think the canny Scots are likely to deal Nicola Sturgeon a blow in the EU referendum. Ouch, Nicola.

Then we have the third fiscal rule imposed upon himself regarding converting the current budget deficit into a surplus by the end of this parliament. The general view on this pronouncement is that he needs a major event, such as an exit from the EU, to provide a credible excuse for missing this target, as most surely will be the case. But not because of misguided ambition as a budget surplus should be the goal for fiscal prudence, but the target has to be reasonably achievable with a balanced approach. Ouch for political ambition.

And Peter Mandelson amused me by suggesting that if Maggie Thatcher was still in charge that she would vote to stay in. Having known her views, I’m sure that she found the surrender of so much UK sovereignty to the EU by Tony Blair in her final years as depressing, and would certainly have returned from negotiations with a credible reform deal before even thinking of such a stand to remain a member. It was also interesting that Mandelson had conveniently forgotten that he proposed we join the Euro. Beware of the so-called Prince of Darkness.

Then I read a City Comment in the London Evening Standard by a journalist with the name of Anthony Hilton. Firstly, he was abusing a quote by a long deceased industrialist, Sir Arnold Hall, “What problem do we have which is so serious that (BREXIT) could possibly provide the answer”? Then he used comparators that demonstrated his armchair approach to journalism. For example, he states that the German economy can operate very well within the EU, so why can’t the UK? If he remotely understood the difference between the German and the UK economies he would understand the answer. Whereas the UK sits with the USA economy as an outsider, or open structure, the German economy is quite the opposite as an insider, or closed structure. Ownership of German companies is protected with incestuous patrimonial linkages between German banks and companies, with preferential proxy votes and cross-shareholdings. Foreign ownership of a German company is so rare that it is major news. An example of the vast difference this closed structure reveals can be illustrated by reference to the steel dumping by China. The incestuous linkages in Germany mean that steel users (car production construction, and other major engineering companies) can be compelled to buy from German steel manufacturers rather than buying cheaper steel being dumped by China. This is protectionism. Our open system cannot compel our companies to use British steel. So when our steel companies suffer the impact of dumping we can do nothing about it because it would require Government intervention – not allowed by the EU. And will Germany fully support an anti-dumping campaign against China – not likely as China is an important market for Germany exports. We should also remember that Germany makes the trade rules within the EU to favour Germany, as with the Euro fiscal policy.

He further cites Wolfgang Schäuble, the German Finance Minister, and one of the nationalistic dinosaurs standing in the way of the much needed radical EU reform, who stated at the recent BCC conference that, after BREXIT, any trade deal with the EU would be conditional on maintaining free movement, and continuation of some form of payment into Brussels. This is typical scaremonger nonsense. Do the USA, or even Canada suffer such impositions in their trade agreements? The German Foreign Minister was far more realistic. He endorsed the view that a free trade deal would be agreed within days of BREXIT irrespective of EU political views not least because the German Government would be bombarded by their major companies and banks because of the high level of exports to the UK, not to mention that imports from Germany to the UK are significantly larger than UK exports to Germany.

I could further dismantle his arguments, but would suggest that he listens to someone like Sir Peter Hargreaves, the co-founder of the very successful Hargreaves Lansdown investment manager, who has a real-world experience and suggest that not only would the UK be better off outside of the EU, but such a stimulus would re-energise the British people to take more pride in the UK, buy British, and put the ‘Great’ back into Britain. For certain the UK has problems in productivity, poor venture investment, and lack of manufacturing. Perhaps a refusal by the EU to provide goods will stimulate the UK to make their own – a boost to employment, and needed reduction in the balance of payments – all positive. We could also relabel our much heralded sparkling wine as Champagne (as do the Americans), retain our traditions of sausages, Cornish pasties, pork pies et al without meddling interference in the British way of life from Brussels.

My final observation for today is the visit by Obama to Cuba. The opportunity to re-engage with Cuba has been staring at Europe for some years, with the doors open to engage. Whilst visiting a few years ago on an exploratory trip ‘America’ still invoked hatred with the Cuban people because of the Bay of Pigs incident. The opportunities for European businesses was considerable, as was the opportunity to substantially re-establish original European businesses in sugar, and other agri-products, as well as new off-shore oil & gas finds. The inward looking nature of the EU has surrendered this opportunity to the USA who will now move in and, no doubt, ignore repatriation of former European assets. The British understand the importance of such opportunities because of their historic trans-global, outward view of the world, in stark contrast to the introspective view of the EU.

Let us hope that the coming weeks are somewhat quieter, and less damaging.

 

 

BREXIT – What Deal?

univestBREXIT – What Deal?

When David Cameron elected to engage in a referendum regarding UK membership of the EU his pronouncement was that he would seek much needed fundamental reform to the EU, or support an ‘out’ vote. These reforms included substantial issues such as curtailing the role of the European Court of Human Rights in UK determinations, to scrap the Human Rights Act, reclaiming sovereignty for both our parliament and our judicial system, and to have sanction over immigration into the UK.

What he achieved is zero reform; only some tweaking at the fringes which, until written into Treaty are no more than what the Courts call mitigating circumstances in determinations, the existing Treaty being the fundamental basis on which they will make determinations. Few, if any of the EU leaders who agreed this tweaking will be in office when the next Treaty is discussed, and the European Parliament can most certainly vote down any, if not all of the concessions. Thus why the ‘deal’ is already in the dim past of the EU referendum debate.

As a trained negotiator I have an unease about the lack of any substance to the ‘deal’ as Germany most certainly needs to keep us within. Did Cameron not have the heart for such a negotiation? Is there a deal behind the scenes regarding the future of Cameron? Was he the wrong man to negotiate? History may tell us the answer, but until then we must accept that the ‘deal’ does not remotely meet with the initial basis of the referendum.

I am not going to debase my discussion by using speculative monetary values, or the use and abuse of statistics. As it is clear to see in the media the business and financial community are divided on opinion based on their specific vested interests – thus irrelevant. As argued in previous blogs this debate is about the future of the people in the UK. All of the economic and political arguments pale against the right outcome for the British way of life. Business and finance will continue regardless of the choice made in June. As one dear lady so elegantly put it in a Jeremy Vine interview last week, ‘so-called experts built the Titanic, but not the Ark’.

I do not believe the people of the UK will engage with the current political and business debate. So let us bring the argument down to a reasonable comparator argument that anyone can understand. Our base will be a recently new golf club where the charter debenture holders (the people who essentially financed the building of the club) sought preferential treatment as part of their contribution. This creates a two-tiered system of membership even though much of their initial investment has been redeemed through subsequent debenture sales. What will happen over time is policy committee members will change, and privileges of the charter members will become fuzzy, and erode, until they have no more privileges than any other member, i.e. harmonising rights to all members. This is what will most certainly happen in the EU. Fuzzy memberships such as Norway, the UK, and Switzerland will be tolerated in the short-term, but over time the boundaries will be eroded until they are eradicated. In Political Risk parlance this is called creeping expropriation. If the UK elects to remain an EU member it will most certainly not retain any special status over time.

The generally accepted current situation of the EU is fragile, and in need of serious reform. So what is the future if the UK votes to remain within – uncertainty. What is the future if the UK votes to leave the EU – uncertainty. So what is the difference – control of the uncertainty. The UK is not a Switzerland or a Norway. The UK is the 5th largest economy in the world – and carries much power and influence in the world in its own right (as endorsed by the German Foreign Minister on Radio 4).

Let us look at uncertainty, again in an easily understandable form. Uncertainty is as much part of life as day and night. The obvious relevant examples are life-changing decisions to get married, have children, or God forbid – divorce. They all require uncertain adaptability, but are all undertaken with the hope to a better future. For a while they can be a struggle, but the outcome is generally worth it. Ask any woman who has gone through labour, but yielded a healthy baby – the pain of labour is soon forgotten. A BREXIT includes a 2 year ‘grandfather clause’ where all of our existing relationships with the EU continue giving time to agree alternatives such as free trade agreements. The UK will see some immediate benefits in that the irksome elements of the Human Rights Act can be ignored, immigration can be brought under control, and our transport infrastructure can quickly progress without the interminable interference of Brussels. Therefore, our uncertainty has a short-term safety net which negates the scaremonger argument that the short-term will be turbulent; but does have some valuable upsides. The UK successfully recovered from 2 World wars without help, so a relatively simple exit from the EU should be a breeze. I would suggest that most people will not feel any immediate difference.

There is one element of the uncertainty that I have yet to see any comment. What is likely to happen to the EU without the UK as a member. There are a number of relevant uncertainties. Other net contributor countries could see the UK exit as a sign that the current EU model is really broke, and thus elect to do the same – especially as the EU will have to increase contributions of other member States to fill the vacuum left by the considerable contribution by the UK. The right-wing elements of France could rise and depose the French Government. France has much to lose by a UK exit. Where were these concerns in the deal negotiations – or wasn’t the threat of the UK leaving a serious consideration?

If Germany can find the means to support the Eurozone then it will more rapidly consolidate its hold over the Euro countries – and the people of the UK will be thankful that they departed. Of course we still have the Greek issue which will most certainly be a thorn in the side of Germany – will this lead to conflict within the Eurozone? We have seen that the poor response by Germany to the economic situation in the Eurozone when they refused quantitative easing some 4 years ago. The too little – too late plan by the ECB yesterday was greeted with derision by the markets.

The UK has a proud history as the banking centre of the world boasting excellence in financial capability (even when Labour are in Government), and the ability of the UK to rise from both the irresponsible spending of the last Labour Government and the financial crisis lays testimony to the intelligent and speedy response to such events. Should this be sacrificed to the incapable Eurozone mandarins who clearly do not have the experience, or the global market understanding?

In summary BREXIT will yield uncertainty whichever way it goes. Therefore, the issue is whether or not the people of the UK want control over such uncertainty, or do they want to surrender decisions to Brussels – unaccountable to the people of the UK, and not so interested in preserving the British way of life.