Sucking Up to Mr Toad

Trump’s War on the World

Yesterday, Donald Trump took the Oath of Office and became the 45th President of the United States of America. The front pages of this morning’s UK papers all cover the event with, of course, the exception of the Sun – see the BBC’s The Papers page which also has links to the papers covered.

Edward Luce writes in the Financial Times: “President Trump’s speech puts the world on notice – Combative address will go down as a turning point in America’s postwar role” and he opines that this address goes down as “perhaps the most Xenophobic in US History“.

FarageTrumpThe Torygraph gives space to the dreadful  Nigel Farage: “Donald Trump’s inauguration proves our revolution is in full flow – I can’t wait to see where it goes next“.  The Torygraph also reports: “Nigel Farage will be made ‘unofficial adviser’ to Donald Trump, close ally says at glittering party overlooking White House” and the Guardian reports: “Nigel Farage to become commentator on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News – Former Ukip leader’s love affair with Donald Trump’s America grows as he lands political analyst role on US news channel“.   The Torygraph also has this story: “Revealed: Theresa May set to fly out next week to meet Donald Trump“.

So, the Wicked Witch of Westminster is to fly across the Atlantic to meet Mr Toad.  The Financial Times has this: “Theresa May to emphasise value of EU and Nato to Trump – Prime minister will urge new president not to undermine European unity“.   People may think this some kind of Orwellian newspeak:  the Brexit Prime Minister who wants to take the UK out of the EU urging the US president who is close to UKIP “not to undermine European unity“.

Paul Goodman, the former Conservative MP who is now the Executive Editor of the Coservative Home Website, has posted a  interesting view of the purpose of this visit:. “May’s tremendous task – to tame Trump” which includes the following:-

Donald Trump is like a man trying to reach a destination while using a faulty satnav.  He wants growth, but won’t get it sustainably if taxes are cut but borrowing is not.  He wants jobs, but these can only be guaranteed by competitive businesses, not tariff barriers.  He wants to combat Islamist terror, but won’t do so effectively if he conflates ideology with religion, as he did yesterday when he referred to “Islamic terrorism”.  He wants to “reinforce old alliances”, hopefully including NATO, but will weaken and potentially collapse them if his “new alliances” include Putin’s Russia……So much for his inauguration address yesterday.  In flavour, [it] was a UKIP speech, not a Conservative one – which is not surprising, because Trump is not really a Republican at all: that’s to say, a member of the cousin party to our own….May’s great task is to work with America’s mainstream Republicans in weaning Trump off protectionism and isolationism, and keeping the western alliance together…Maybe the idea of May taming Trump overstates our own place in the world….None the less, May must strive to get the best out of Trump”.

Mr Goodman has long been a Brexit supporter, so it is worth considering a few of the reader comments on this article:-

Mrs May needs to shun Trump and his economic and military nationalism.  If we all put our country first, buying and hiring only locally made items, international trade will collapse, as will living standards in all our nations.  This is the lesson of the 1930’s.  CH’s love affair with this populist nativism, whether wearing UKIP, Trump or Le Pen team colours, has gone on long enough. Its seductive, yet irresponsible to promote an ideology that pits us against one another and carries the double threats of greater inequality and poverty. There will be the lucky few at the top, reinforcing their distance from the rest of us, but by virtue of access, cronyism, tax law, and rent-seeking, rather than making the best products and services. And it will be the poor that pay for it: in the US case by losing their healthcare insurance, and coming next, cuts to food stamps and Medicaid to pay for tax cuts to the rich. Populism in practice will stick it to the poor, and exact a cruel punishment on their ignorance of economic theory

The “special relationship” is a figment of the right-wing imagination in the UK, it’s harking back to the war again, its rarely if ever mentioned by Americans. We have an affinity because of language as we do with Canada, Australia etc but that’s about it.
Listening to Trump “America First, America First” rhetoric I have to say I can’t remember a time when America didn’t put its own interests first.  Nothing wrong with that we all do to a greater or lesser extent but fools like Fox, Gove and Farage who are falling at his feet hoping we are going to get some fabulous free trade deal are delusional. Any deal we do get will be massively in America’s favour because they rarely sign deals that aren’t and in this case Trump knows the Brexiters are desperate for something.  I honestly dread to think what they will sign up to just so they can wave their bit of paper on the tarmac in front of the cameras.

Surely it’s the height of presumption and delusional to think its our job to “tame Trump!” Mrs May’s sole job in relation to the US is to look after our own interests and to stand up to the protectionist thinking which will in the end only make us all poorer. Quite ironically we actually will find that in terms of outlook on these issues we have far more in common with our EU friends than ever we will have with Donald J Trump.

Bad Times are Just Around the Corner

Teresa May’s Brexit Speeches –  Nos 1 and 2

ww-westminsterWell., nobody really expected the Wicked Witch of Westminster to publish a White Paper but, for those who wish to read the test of Teresa May’s Brexit speech in full. the Financial Times has been good enough to publish the full text of her Lancaster House performance:  “Theresa May’s blueprint for Brexit: full speech transcript – ‘We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe’“.

The Independent has perhaps the best cartoon on the performance:

“A Trumped up Britain” – No 3/49

There is not really much point in wasting space on posting the guff in the pro-Brexit national newspapers, but Roy Greenslade writing in the Guardian has an interesting review here: “Theresa May’s Brexit speech: what the national newspapers say – PM’s words cause unsurprising joy in pro-leave papers while pro-remain media question her interpretation of her mandate“.

The Independent has something which may be useful:   “Theresa May Brexit Speech – Economic experts react“.  Among them, Simon Wren-Lewis – Professor of Economic Policy, Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University said this:-

Why are we leaving a market that is so advantageous for the UK?   Because May has chosen to interpret the Brexit vote as above all else a vote against freedom of movement. But polls have repeatedly shown that a great many people who voted Leave are not prepared to see any drop in their living standards as a price worth paying to control EU immigration.  Theresa May will ignore this partly because she spent her political life before becoming PM trying to control immigration, and now she sees the possibility of actually achieving the reduction she has always promised.

To do that she is prepared to put in place a degree of government interference in the labour market that would make even the most diehard socialist blush. Margaret Thatcher must be turning in her grave at the foolishness of all this, and the apparent willingness of MPs to vote for it.

Having delivered her Wednesday bombshells, on Thursday the Wicked Witch went on to to speak further at the World Economic Forum in Davos. See this in the Financial Times: “Theresa May vows UK will not withdraw from global role after Brexit – PM’s Davos speech aims to reassure that vote was not rejection of Europe“.

It would be fair to say that Mrs May’s performance in Davos went down like a lead balloon.

Reactions in Davos

The FT article above  reports the views of the Dutch Finance Minister, of the leaders of many banks and of Martin Weber who leads the Centre Right bloc of MEPs.

The Guardian has this on the view of the Dutch Prime Minister and the German Finance Minister: “UK will pay huge price for prioritising migration curbs, says Dutch PM – Mark Rutte says leaving single market will hit British economy hard, while German minister warns against tax haven plan” and it reports the comments of a number of other significant players.

The Financial Times also had this on what the bankers in the City were  saying: “US bankers hatch two-stage Brexit plan for City – Executives seek to win time to decide how many jobs to shift out of London“.  From the figures quoted, it looks like some 10,000 highly  paid bankers will soon be leaving London.

Incidentally, George Soros,  the well known billionaire, had this to say in Davos about the Wicked Witch and Brexit:

In my opinion is is unlikely that prime minister May is actually going to remain in power. Already she has a very divided cabinet, a very small majority in parliament.  And I think she will not last.  At the moment the people in the UK are in denial.  The current economic situation is not as bad as was predicted, and they live in hope.

But as the currency depreciates, and inflation will be the driving force, this will lead to declining living standards. This is going to take some time, but when it does happen they’ll realise that they are earning less than before because wages won’t rise as fast as the cost of living !

On 20th January the City Editor of The Times wrote: “How Brexit threatens lifeblood of City -As the banks relocate, property, education and culture could all suffer devastating losses“.  It is worth looking at the sort of losses which may occur:

. . . [we] would likely see an annual decline of £2 billion in revenues, £500 million in tax revenue and 4,000 jobs. Under conditions where the UK moves to a third country arrangement with the EU . . . up to 50 per cent of EU-related activity — £20 billion in revenue — and an estimated 35,000 jobs could be at risk, with £5 billion of tax revenues a year,” Mr Boleat said. And this would not be the end of it. As Mr Boleat warned, London’s whole “ecosystem” of related services would be hit, resulting in the loss of up to a further £18 billion of revenues, about £5 billion in tax, and 40,000 jobs.

David Allen Green writes this in the Financial Times: “Has the EU won the first round of Brexit talks before they’ve started?”  in which he makes clear the weakness of the UK’s negotiating position.  As usual, there have been some comments on the article and this one (from Hong Kong) is worth mentioning:-

Most of the world watches with astonishment and a little amusement as a once-fine country, led today by pompous ignorant imbeciles, tears itself apart. All the world wants to trade with the EU, the worlds largest and richest market, which Britain has quite bizarrely decided to leave, in rather comic circumstances.”

This seems to be a very perceptive observation – especially in the light of the inauguration of the Donald Trump monster in Washington DC later today.

“Bad Times are Just Around the Corner”

Postscript:   Today, the Supreme Court announced that Judgment in the Article 50 Cases will be delivered on Tuesday 24th January 2017 at 9.30 am.  See this in The Guardian:

Supreme court to deliver Brexit ruling on 24 January – Panel of 11 justices will resolve whether government can formally initiate article 50 without parliamentary approval“.

The article ends with a comment from a partner in one of the solicitors involved:

Parliamentarians need to clear their diaries and make themselves ready. If the appeal is dismissed, as we hope, they will be able to insist on proper proposals, debate, accountability and meaningful control of every step the government takes from now in relation to its Brexit plans. And British people should expect no less of their representatives.

 

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

 

The Wicked Witch of Westminster’s Septic Plans

ww-westminsterIt seems that Teresa May (aka “the Wicked Witch of Westminster”) is to speak on Tuesday about her Brexit vision.   The Telegraph (aka “The Torygraph”) had this on Saturday: “Theresa May to set out her vision for Brexit in major speech on Tuesday”  According to this report: “Mrs May is understood to be ready to commit to pulling out of the single market if the European Union fails to make concessions on the free movement of its citizens, although they have been dismissed as speculation. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis are contributing to the content of the address, which opposition parties hope will end months of secrecy over the Government’s exit plans”. 

The Sunday Telegraph has gone further: “Theresa May to side with Eurosceptics in major Brexit speech revealing what she wants from negotiations“.  The article states:-

She’s gone for the full works. People will know when she said ‘Brexit means Brexit’, she really meant it,” a government source said. The comments are likely to trigger a backlash from pro-EU figures who will warn the Prime Minister has picked a “hard Brexit” over protections for the economy.  However they will be cheered by Eurosceptics who argue that only the cleanest break with the EU can fulfill what the public wanted when they voted for Brexit.”

If this report is accurate, the only possible conclusion is that the Witch must not to be left in charge of the Brexit negotiations.   Hopefully, the Supreme Court decision will ensure that control is a matter for Parliament.

This was reported in the Guardian yesterday: “Philip Hammond says post-Brexit transitional deal will be needed – Deal after negotiations end in March 2019 will be needed to avoid serious risks to businesses and financial stability, says chancellor“.

Writing in the Financial Times yesterday, Tony Barber made this observation: “The EU 27’s message to Brexit Britain – UK should pay attention or reality will drench it like an ice-cold shower“.

At long last,  Parliament is beginning to react.  The Guardian had this yesterday: “Brexit committee demands transitional deal and parliamentary vote – Cross-party group chaired by Hilary Benn gives Theresa May its first report, urging publication of Brexit white paper“.  The point should be made that this was a cross party committee with both pro Brexit and pro Remain members.

All of this comes before the Supreme Court delivers judgment on the Government’s appeal in R (on the application of Miller and Dos Santos) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and associated references.  The Supreme Court is expected to rule some time later this month.

The Guardian reported on 11th January that the Government expected to lose the appeal: “Government will lose Brexit supreme court case, ministers believe – Senior government figures believe seven of 11 judges will uphold demand that Theresa May secure MPs’ backing for article 50“.  According to the article:-

It is not yet clear when the decision is likely, but the Guardian has been told that the government has asked the supreme court for early sight of the judgment, to allow “contingency planning”.  However, a spokesperson for the supreme court made clear on Wednesday that would not happen, saying: “It’s just too sensitive”.  Ministers hope the court will allow May to put together a short, three-line bill, or even just a motion, which is narrowly focused on article 50 itself and difficult for parliamentarians to amend.”

Also this Sunday, the Guardian reports this: “Hammond suggests UK without single market could become tax haven – Chancellor tells German newspaper if UK was closed off from markets it might abandon European-style social model“.  It is worth recalling that last October, Mr Hammond was trying to ease concerns over a hard Brexit: “Philip Hammond attempts to ease concerns over hard Brexit – Chancellor uses Treasury select committee to announce support for immigration system that accepts need for foreign high-skilled workers“.

In other words, Mrs May’s cabinet is not wholly behind her “Rock Hard Brexit” approach.  So there is still some hope that Parliament can ensure a rational approach to the issue.

The Sovereignty Myth

What seems to motivate many of the Brexit supporters is the idea that the UK needs to recover its sovereignty.  It is worth reading this article by Dr Robin Niblett CMG, the Director of Chatham House: “Europe is now Britain’s essential relationship“.

If you think you have to choose between America and Europe, don’t.    This has been the axiom of British foreign policy for the past sixty years….Following accession in 1973, Britain became enmeshed in an ever larger and more deeply integrated European Union, which has developed into the principal external framework for Britain’s international relations.   Within the EU, British policymakers have helped strike more than 50 trade deals, extend liberal democracy to central and eastern Europe after the Cold War, confront climate change, and tackle instability in North and sub-Saharan Africa….The fact that Britain has a seat at the EU table, from which it can argue for policies that Washington generally also supports, has reinforced the value of the trump4relationship for the US….But can this balancing act still be the guiding principle of British foreign policy following the majority vote by British citizens to leave the EU, and after the belligerent Donald Trump takes up residence in the White House?…..The British government can lay out the red carpet for Donald Trump, all the way to Windsor Castle if necessary, in its attempt to become once again the primus inter pares among US allies. But this will not change America’s underlying global outlook for the time being, or Britain’s place within it…… Europe is now Britain’s essential relationship.”   

The full article is very much worth reading.

See also this article on Politico:  “Post-Brexit, Britain will love Europe – Without the poison of EU membership and with Donald Trump in the White House, Britain may feel European after all.”

The Economist has this: “Donald Trump’s win will make Brexit more painful” which, among other things makes these points:-

US-VOTE-REPUBLICANS-CONVENTION“To say the British establishment is unenthusiastic about America’s president-elect would be to put it politely….Nonetheless, the risks of a Trump presidency—protectionism, geopolitical turmoil, American isolationism—weigh heavy on British interests.

And they do so all the more thanks to the decision in June that so animated Mr Trump: Brexit removes many of the shock absorbers that might have helped Britain to ride out the next few years….

Brexit is a giant shock to Britain’s place in the world. It will sever old links and require new ones to be forged. As some of its keenest proponents concede, this transition will bring painful costs. Most of all it demands lots of good will and flexibility on all sides. In so far as Mr Trump’s win means a meaner, more fractious, more volatile global order, it raises those costs and shrinks that space for compromise and consensus essential for a smooth Brexit.

The Guardian has this: “Don’t treat Donald Trump as if he’s a normal president. He’s not – From the US Congress to Theresa May, everyone needs to understand that when the next president takes office the usual rules will no longer apply“.

See also this in the Financial Times: “Trump team rang EU and asked ‘What country is leaving next?’ – Departing US ambassador to Brussels warns of power of ‘fringe’ voices

 

Parliament Prepares for its Brexit Role

Other Developments

Tory Grandee William Hague, now ennobled as Lord Hague,  has made a very sensible suggestion about work visas for EU citizens.  See this in the Financial Times: “William Hague backs work visas for EU citizens after Brexit – Conservative grandee argues UK should go ‘one step short’ of free movement“.

The Financial Times also has this: “The City sets plausible goals for life after Brexit – The UK should pursue a deal based on equivalence but not at all costs“.

 Interestingly, the BBC has this report from the Netherlands: “Support for EU freedom of movement rules ‘eroding’“.

One of the most senior Dutch government ministers has said a fundamental EU principle, freedom of movement, needs to be radically reformed. Deputy prime minister Lodewijk Asscher said support was falling across Europe over the way it has been implemented.  Free movement, which allows any citizen of an EU country to work anywhere across the bloc, had led to wages being undercut and jobs lost, he said. Mr Asscher argued the Brexit talks were a chance to look again at the policy. Reform, he told the BBC, would mean “less immigration” across the EU if undercutting wages was banned. The stark attack on the way freedom of movement operates could be helpful to Theresa May as Britain looks to gain privileged access to the single market at the same time as controlling EU immigration once the UK has left the EU.  Mr Asscher is the leader of the Dutch Labour Party, which is in a coalition government with the People’s Party for Freedom, led by the Netherlands’ prime minister, Mark Rutte – who is seen as an ally of the UK.

This is an approach which is promising.  An approach to free movement which prevents the undercutting of domestic wages within member states might be a attractive to many EU member states.  It also happens to coincide with the policy that Labour has had since the last general election which is that the rules on employers would be tightened, to stop employers undercutting wages by exploiting foreign workers, and banning recruitment agencies from hiring only from overseas. Corbyn thinks this would “probably” reduce the numbers, and his team believe it could have a significant effect.

The Telegraph also has this: “Europe blinks over Brexit talks? Chief Brussels negotiator says ‘special relationship’ with City of London needed after UK leaves

This makes a lot of sense.  At the article points out: it chimes very much with what the Governor of the Bank of England observed: “The comments chime with warnings by Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, who said this week that the EU’s financial stability is more at risk from Brexit than the UK.  It suggests that the EU will be willing to compromise with Britain at the negotiating table to make sure their financial institutions are not locked out of the City.  As the Governor said: “If you rely on a jurisdiction (the UK) for three-quarters of your hedging activities, three-quarters of your foreign exchange activity, half your lending and half your securities transactions, you should think very carefully about the transition from where you are today to where the new equilibrium will be,” he said.

 So, despite the approach of the Wicked Witch and the risks of difficulties with the Trump administration, there is still a (slender) hope that the UK economy will not be wrecked by a hard Brexit.

An Unhappy start to 2017

Introduction

It is customary to wish one’s readers a Happy New Year.  I do so.  But I cannot suggest that 2017 is likely be anything other than a disaster for the United Kingdom.

The reason I fear for the future is the approach of the Prime Minister to the vexed issue of how to deal with the Brexit Referendum.  It seems that Mrs is making a major mess of her approach to the Brexit negotiations.

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Times Cartoon

This morning’s Sunday Times has this with a cartoon beside the article: “May’s Brexit rebel secretly met Cameron – Ivan Rogers dined with ex-premier before attack“.  The “Brexit rebel” is, of course, the Former UK Ambassador to the EU, Sir Brian Rogers, who has resigned from his post and left the Service and who is reported to have informed David Cameron why he decided to resign:-

Britain’s ambassador to the European Union — who resigned last week after accusing the government of “muddled thinking” — told the former prime minister that May was not doing enough to prepare for the risk of the UK making a “disorderly” departure from the EU.  Rogers has told friends that he fears a hard Brexit will lead to “mutually assured destruction” between Britain and the rest of the EU.

The article goes on to report Sir Brian’s view thus: “He thinks we are heading for a car crash, where we don’t get a deal and we crash out with nothing. Downing Street’s view was that he should stop being such a pessimist.  Rogers thinks we need to plan for a disorderly Brexit on our terms rather than theirs. No 10 has not given that the priority it deserves.”

The Telegraph had this: “Theresa May signals that Britain will leave Single Market so it can take control of immigration“.  This is a report based on an appearance by the Prime Minister on Sky News in  which she was “Asked repeatedly whether Britain will leave the Single Market”  to which the Prime Minister responded that she will not try to “keep bits of membership“.

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Teresa May – The Wicked Witch of Westminster

In other words, in order to have total control over immigration, Teresa May is taking an approach which will very likely wreck the economy.  Some of the matters of concern were set out in the last posting of 2016: “Hard Times Ahead in 2017“.

Nick Clegg (who has much experience of EU negotiating) writes in the Financial Times: “Theresa May will have to put country first to make Brexit work – She is in a weak position and compromises are vital — but her party won’t like them

Fortunately, it will be some further days before the Supreme Court delivers its judgement on the Appeal by the Government from the Divisional Court.  If the Government’s appeal fails, Parliament may be able to exercise some control over the Brexit process.  Let us hope that puts some brakes on the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of Westminster.