31st August 2016 – Forget the future relationship question. The UK will have to negotiate it’s exit terms first.

There was a question from Will Rickson in the Facebook Group ‘The 48%’ on why the UK could not simply leave the EU without negotiations, and then deal with it’s own legal aspects itself later. It’s a good question, and I would imagine most people cannot begin to imagine the vast complexity of the actual exit negotiations, which have to take place before there is any negotiation on what form the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

I think a lot of the confusion about this is that the focus has been entirely on changing UK law, and has largely ignored the EU’s end of the negotiations.

For example, the UK has agreed to the current EU budget for 2014-2020, and is now unlikely to leave much before 2020. The way the EU budget works is that it has 2 columns: Commitments and Payments. Commitments are made in a given budget year (so this side of the budget controls how much the EU can, in a given year, commit to spending in the future on something), and those commitments are then spent over the next 3-5 years (with the actual money coming from the Payments column of the budget for each year in which the actual financial payments take place. This is actually a pretty useful system, as it allows longer-term budget planning than the traditional single-year income/expenditure type of budgeting system that most countries use.

This however means that the UK will have signed up to Commitments made while it is still a member, but the actual money for those projects will only be paid after the UK leaves. So, there has to be a negotiation on how that works, with, no doubt, the UK wanting to pay little or nothing to the budget after leaving, and the EU27 wanting the UK to cough up for stuff it committed to.

This is further complicated by the fact that, in some areas, such as climate change and international development, the UK will only be meeting the targets for spending it agreed to internationally because of the EU spending, and it is unlikely, what with all this pesky Brexit work going on, that it would be able to meet these commitments through its own spending. Furthermore, lots of the commitments that need payments to be made will be for spending in the UK. It’s an utter minefield, and this is just one single question about one aspect (budget) of the negotiations.

Take another example in my former area of work. UK firms and charities are currently eligible to apply to implement EU international development (aid) projects, and many currently are doing this. What will be their status? will they carry on implementing the projects they are doing and then cease to be eligible for new ones, will they retain their eligibility, or will the projects have to stop and a new tender be done? The UK’s department for International Development (DFID) is also an EU implementing partner, and administrates EU funds in several countries. Will this continue or not? These are not necessarily terribly difficult questions, but they are ones that need answers and on which agreement has to be reached. I was the lead negotiator for the UK for the current EU aid legislation, and that took two and a half years to negotiate even though there was broad consensus from the start!

As a final example, the UK is the joint largest shareholder in the European Investment Bank, with just shy of EUR 40bn in capital in it. The EIB is an EU institution that finances infrastructure projects and other investment in the EU and across the world (including a very large portfolio in the UK). It’s shareholders are the EU member states, so what happens to the UK? Does the bank simply give back the UK’s invested capital, even as projects are ongoing in the UK financed by the EIB? And what happens to those projects? Do they stop, as the UK is no longer eligible? The last EIB mandate (the EU legislation that allows the EIB to operate and directs how it should do so) took several years to negotiate, so again, this is not going to be easy or quick.

These are just three examples, and there are hundreds, and probably thousands of other examples of where similar negotiations will be needed.

Why does this matter? Can’t the UK just leave and to hell with it? Well, firstly, the commitments it has made are legal contractual commitments and it would be breaking UK, EU and international law to renege on them, so there has to be an agreement on what to do. Secondly, the nature of the negotiations on the future relationship will, naturally, depend to a large extend on how the negotiations to leave go. If the UK is an arse about the first, the EU27 will naturally be arses about the second, and, in that case, rightly so.

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29th August – [Edit: RETRACTION – I was wrong about this. The LibDems have proven themselves to be fully anit-Brexit] – Betrayal of Europe[?]: LibDems turn pro-Brexit with Open Britain (with updates)

[RETRACTION: I am leaving this post here as a record as it did happen, but as of now (December 2016) the Liberal Democrats’ position is clear that they will vote against any Article 50 Bill that does not include provision for a second referendum on exit terms that includes the option not to leave.  I still have some issues with the value of that promise in reality, but there is now no doubt that the LibDems are an Anti-Brexit party, and not just Anti-Hard Brexit.  For their own good though, they should, as this post demonstrates, get their policy and communications operations into a better shape to avoid stuff like this happening. If that is the only criticism of a party though, that is not a bad thing.]

Being unwilling to vote against invoking Article 50 if given the chance in Parliament means that an MP is, effectively, in favour of the UK leaving the EU at this point.
In light of Nick Clegg and other LibDems having signed up to pro-Article 50 Open Britain, here is the correspondence I had with the party when I was thinking of joining in July. There’s clearly been some serious internal wrangling about this. It’s with real regret that I publish this, as I was very much hoping they would come down on the side of the anti-Art.50 policy that their leader stated after immediately after the referendum.
As their email to me says, over 16,000 people joined the LibDems after the referendum, and I think many of them did so on the basis of Farron’s pledge to continue to oppose Brexit. Turns out they were [may have been – see update] sold a wrong ‘un.  It’s clear that at least 1/8 of their MPs, and possibly 2/8 will not commit to voting against invoking Article 50 if given the opportunity in Parliament [see latest update]
Update, 1st September – FFS!
[This was posted by John Coates in the 48% group and is used with permission]

I recently joined the Liberal Democrat Party under the impression that they were fairly solidly pro-EU.

This evening I attended a local party meeting in a North Norfolk village. The purpose of the meeting was to help to re-select Norman Lamb MP as the LibDem parliamentary candidate for North Norfolk at the next General Election. I had some misgivings from the start because Lamb is now associated with the spineless ‘Open Britain’ rebrand of StrongerIN.

Lamb himself attended the meeting and made a brief speech after which a limited number of questions were permitted from ‘the floor’. During his speech he said several times that the ‘democratic’ result of the recent EU Referendum in the UK must be ‘respected’.

I was fortunate enough to be allowed to ask the final question of the evening.

I reminded NL that there are currently at least two separate legal challenges to the Government’s ability to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty simply by Royal Prerogative – without Parliament’s involvement and approval. My question to him was whether (in view of what he had said) he and his fellow LibDem MPs would vote with the Government to invoke Article 50, if the judiciary determined that Parliament’s consent WAS necessary.

He looked shifty and replied with his usual mantra that the ‘democratic’ result of the referendum must be ‘respected’. He went on to say that, if Parliament were to thwart ‘the will of the people’ by a legalistic manoeuvre, he feared that right-wing civil unrest might erupt.

What cowardice! He and the other LibDem MPs clearly mean to allow Article 50 to be invoked.

The outcome of the ‘referendum’ had nothing whatever to do with democracy. It was a direct result of an unlikely alliance between ochlocracy and gerontocracy.

Tomorrow morning Norman Lamb is holding a constituency ‘surgery’ on the village green near my house. I shall take my Lib Dem membership card and hand it back to him in disgust.

It is becoming increasingly clear that there is no existing mainstream political party that will speak for the 48%. I and some associates are therefore reviving the Progressive European Party (PEP).

Update: 31st August – more hope
This article,”Liberal democrats must enthusiastically occupy the clear pro-EU space – Nobody else will” appeared on the Liberal Democrat Voice site yesterday, so there may still be hope.  I genuinely hope there is.
Update 1: 30th August – Is there hope?
This was posted as a comment in the 48% group in response to my post:
From Rebecca Elisabeth Taylor:
I am a member of LibDem Federal Policy Committee. The question of our precise EU policy is up for debate at our Autumn conference. The LibDems make policy through members debating motions at conference, not by unilateral decisions of the party leader.So the reason you haven’t got a more precise answer is because conference has to approve party policy.Please email me if you want to know more

Cheers, Rebecca

And my reply:

Rebecca, thanks very much for replying. I quite understand the internal mechanisms of the party which are, in my view, scrupulously democratic, However this creates a serious problem. I think it is an untenable position for a party leader to make unequivocal policy announcements, and for party spokespeople too announce endorsements of campaigns, and for it then to turn out that they were, really, doing this in a personal capacity rather than as the holders of their respective party offices.

What’s more, if it does turn out, and I very much hope it does, that the party’s official line becomes to oppose the invoking of article 50, then you will have lost more than 2 months of campaigning time on what is still potentially an extremely pressing issue. For example, it may have impacted on the legal cases regarding Parliament’s role. It may have led to Nick Clegg and Norman Lamb not endorsing Open Britain, which is a pro-Brexit, albeit a soft Brexit, campaign.

Finally, it is likely that many of those who joined the LibDems since the referendum did so because of your leader’s unequivocal pledge to attempt to block Brexit that was made the day after the referendum and widely publicised. That’s certainly the reason I was looking to join, and I know other people who did join as a result of this. If this is not the party’s policy, this should have been made clear. Similarly, if it is not the party’s policy to endorse Open Britain, even though 1/4 of your MPs and your official spokesman on Brexit have done so, this should be made clear as well. To not do so is to mislead, even if it is unintentional, and it is people being misled that got us into this dire situation in the first place.

________________
Note I didn’t receive a reply to my second email.
From: Steve Bullock
Sent: 07/07/2016
Subject: Clarification on policy towards invoking Article 50
Dear Madam or Sir,
I am a UK citizen living in Brussels and am considering joining the Lib Dems. However, before doing so, I would like clarification on the Party’s policy on invoking Article 50. It was reported (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-eu-referendum-result-lib-dems-remain-liberal-democrats-live-policy-stay-leave-a7103186.html ) that Tim Farron had pledged that he would derail the UK exit procedure if there was an election in the autumn and if the Lib Dems won it. I take this to mean that, were the Lib Dems to form a government, or be in a coalition in a government, before Article 50 has been triggered, it would be policy not to trigger Article 50. I would also take this to mean that, if there were a vote in Parliament on triggering Article 50, Lib Dem MPs would be whipped to vote against it.
I ask because the news piece on your own site seems to be somewhat more equivocal than the reporting elsewhere on this, and refers not to keeping the UK in the EU, but to pledging to make sure it rejoins it.
Grateful for a clarification before submitting my membership application.
With best regards,
Steve Bullock
——————
14/07/16
Steve,
Thank you for your email.
Rest assured the Lib Dems have pledged to fight the next General Election on a platform of taking Britain back into the EU. And since the vote for Brexit thousands of people have joined this Party because we’re the only ones standing up for the national interest. The economic uncertainty is affecting jobs, peoples homes and livelihoods. We accept the result of the referendum, but plan to make the case for us to rejoin the EU because our principles of being a proud internationalist party won’t change, and this is completely in step with that. More importantly, we believe the Single Market is vital to the UK’s ongoing economic prosperity.
Currently there’s been no mention of triggering Article 50, but the fast moving political landscape can change very easily. When it does the Lib Dems will take a measured approach whilst staying true to our internationalist, outward looking stance. It’s also important to note that given the political/economic uncertainty, and with the new PM filling her cabinet with staunch Eurosceptics like Boris Johnson and Liam Fox we’ll ensure that we remain steadfast in keeping the government in check. This is why over 16000 people have joined the Lib Dems since the referendum, and why your support is even more vital.
We’d love to have you as a member. Please call us on 02070220988 at your convenience to sign up. We’re open 9am-9pm Monday to Friday.
Regards
Member and Supporter Services Team
02070220988 / help@libdems.org.uk
8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE
——————-
14/07/16
Thanks for this. I’m afraid you haven’t answered my question though. Tim Farron said categorically that he would set aside the result of the referendum if the Lib Dems won an early election. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-eu-referendum-result-lib-dems-remain-liberal-democrats-live-policy-stay-leave-a7103186.html
Is this still the case? I’d be grateful for a yes or no answer.
This is what I and many others have been telling people who are campaigning against the result and considering joining other parties. It would be deeply, deeply disappointing if this policy has been watered down, as Mr Farron said that he wanted to be “clear and unequivocal” on it.
On re-joining the EU once the UK has left, you must surely see that there is approaching zero chance that each of the 27 member states would agree to this any time in the next 20 years. I worked for nearly ten years for, first the European Commission, and then UKRep and it is absolutely clear that re-admission, even with a pro-Europe government in place, will not be a possibility after the instability and cost caused to the 27 by Brexit.
With many thanks,
Steve Bullock
Brussels

 

27th August 2016 – The red herring of post-Article 50 hope

[This was written as a response to a discussion on an article entitled “There’s a loophole in Article 50 that lets Britain back into the EU whenever we want” that argues that the UK can legally pull out of Brexit right up until the point that the agreement to leave actually comes into force.  The original article is here: http://uk.businessinsider.com/brexit-how-does-article-50-work-2016-7 ]

To be honest, I don’t think it would be a legal question [at that point]. Aside from the fact that, already, any PM wanting to formally halt Brexit would have to go cap in hand and beg for political forgiveness for all the totally unnecessary cost and uncertainty that it has already caused the EU, Any PM who did this would be setting themselves up for a series of horrendous humiliations.

Say the process went on until 2020. By the end of 2020 EU27 would have agreed, without the UK, a new 7-year budget for 2021-2028, which did not include the UK or its rebate. This would mean a PM would have to basically agree to the UK element being tacked on to it without any say in it, and certainly without a rebate included. In the interim, there may also be proposals for treaty change to renew and reinvigorator the Union, and the UK would have to sign up wholesale to these. If there were treaty changes, they would almost certainly take the opportunity to also remove the UK-specific provisions such as not signing up the the Euro, opt-outs in Justice and Home Affairs, and so on. They would also probably extend Qualified Majority Voting, thus removing the power of veto in important areas, and will almost certainly try to strengthen common foreign and security policy. The UK would again have to accept these.

Perhaps more importantly though, the UK would have to sit and eat humble pie and get nothing out of negotiations for the next 5-10 years until it had been politically rehabilitated. I just don’t think any PM would sign up to that, even in the face of the grim consequences of Brexit.

I think we need to be really careful of pinning our hopes on something rescuing us post-Article 50. They may be legal, but they are politically almost impossible. Another one is some politicians’ calls for a referendum on the final deal. We won’t have a say on the final deal. Either we take it, or we reject it and the time runs out and we’re out without a deal. It’s a total political red herring in my view. We must stop Article 50 being invoked. Anything else means leaving.

14th August 2016 – 7 weeks since the referendum

[Written in response the following comment on a link to an article entitled “A Utilitarian and Moral Argument for abandoning Brexit” http://want2stay.com/why-abandon-brexit/: “Our democracy and the liberty we now enjoy was won over a period of just under a thousand years of struggle by the various peoples of this land. Peasants revolts, civil wars, suffragettes, the bloodshed needed has been horrific. You would like to dispose of democracy because you didn’t get your own way on membership of bloody trading club. I have never seen a civil war nor do I ever [want to].” ]

Voting is not the most important part of democracy, it’s the outward expression of a democratic society. I’ve worked on and with Georgia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Ukraine, and they have all had votes and elections where the vote itself was real but could not in any way be considered democratic.

A campaign run on lies (not things I think are untrue, or things people were mistaken about, but educated people looking down the camera and knowingly lying to the public) and the fear of foreigners is not democratic. The majority of the 52% were had – wilfully misled and used by the powerful for their own political ambitions, and egged on by a press that, again knowingly, lied to the public again and again.

It’s not about getting my own way over membership of a trading club – the single market is actually the least important thing to me about the EU. It’s about my country being treat like mugs, convinced to act against their own interests, and fooled into rejecting openness, solidarity and internationalism.

Secondly, we have a parliamentary democracy, which has been advised by this deceitfully won referendum, the result of which was within a normal poll’s margin of error (+/-2%), and people are now up in in arms that Parliament, the sovereignty of which we were apparently meant to be taking back, might have some say in it.

Thirdly, I’ve spent most of my adult life working for the UK in the EU, and winning for every time, as the UK almost always does, and I wish I’d never fucking bothered. The EU has spent the last twenty years trying to accommodate the UK’s pleading to be a special case at every turn and it’s never enough for the petty, small minded pricks that control the moronic population. You’re a bunch of spoiled children, who, despite getting exactly the birthday party and presents you wanted went ape-shit because the cake was the wrong shade of pink. Well, you’ve taken it back, so enjoy it. I’ll have nothing to do with it.

27th July 2016 – 34 days after the Referendum

It may be possible to stop Brexit, and you can help – Vote For Europe. http://www.voteforeurope.org.uk

The only way to stop Brexit is to stop Article 50 being invoked. The only way this is likely to happen is if the is a general election before it is invoked, and a majority of MPs that would not back the UK leaving the EU is returned.

Vote for Europe plans to help do just this in the event of a general election. Vote for Europe is a pressure group making daring attempt to get people to vote tactically for the candidate in their constituency that will pledge to try to keep the UK in the EU, whatever their party. Vote for Europe will endorse one candidate per constituency, and will also lobby constituency parties of all major parties to select candidates that will pledge to do this. If ever there was a time to put aside party rivalries, it is now. For just one election, if it happens, please forget the party on the ballot, forget what that party may have done or not done, and vote just for the person who will represent you on this issue. Please follow the link below, sign up to support, and, if you can, become a local volunteer. This is currently the best chance that we have to avert the senseless self-harm that Brexit will bring to the UK and to other Europeans.

Why is this needed?

It’s now more than a month since a majority of UK voters decided to vote to leave the EU. I’m not going to crow, as this is not what I wanted, but it is abundantly clear that this is not going well so far, and that the people who voted to leave, on average, are the ones who are going to be hurt most should the UK actually leave. But it hasn’t left yet, nor has the UK begun the formal process of leaving, the legendary ‘invoking of Article 50’. In fact rumours are abounding that the UK may not actually leave at all, as it becomes apparent that the process of leaving would be an absolute shit-show for all concerned.

Do not be taken in by this. All of the UK-wide parties in Parliament (Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, Green, UKIP (obviously) now have it as official policy that they will “respect the will of the British people” and invoke article 50 at some point. The unelected May government has hinted that this will be at the beginning of 2017, but views on when it will happen vary. The government legal service has also said that it is of the opinion that the PM has the right to do this unilaterally and without the say of Parliament under prerogative powers. Even if this were not the case though, the UK parties’ policies mean that Parliament would be unlikely to back a rejection of the referendum result at the moment, even though the vast majority of MPs are pro-EU.

What about a second referendum?

The Lib Dems, and some in the Labour party have called for there to be a second referendum on the final deal, but, unfortunately, this is a political smokescreen. By the time a final deal on leaving the EU is reached, the UK will only have the option of accepting it or simply leaving without a deal. Once Article 50 is invoked, the Treaties will cease to apply in and to the UK 2 years later, whether or not the UK agrees to the deal on the table.

Can’t Article 50 be reversed?

Legal opinion is split on this. Whatever the legality though, can you imagine that the 27, having gone through horrific negotiations, financial uncertainty, and an existential crisis for the EU, would just heave a sigh of relief and welcome the UK back into the fold? Would the UK do that if the shoe was on the other foot? Of course not.

Isn’t it right that the outcome is respected? The vote was democratic.

A few points. Firstly, it is in the law on the referendum itself that it should be non-binding and advisory, and MP’s official briefings confirmed this. Secondly, had the margin been huge, then this argument may hold some water. Before the referendum, Farage said that a 52/48 result in favour of remain would not be enough to be definitive. This is a question that will define all of our lives for the next 50 to 100 years, and to do so on a 4% (or, as pollsters would say +/-2%) margin is absurd. Thirdly, it is now absolutely clear that the referendum was won by the Leave campaign by being utterly false and deceitful about almost everything, particularly what leaving the EU would actually entail. If the Leave campaign had been subject to normal advertising standards, they could have been prosecuted, and they still may be prosecuted for misconduct in public life. This campaign of lies and wilful deceit was conducted with the assistance of elements of the press that have no regard for truth whatsoever, and continue to print things that are simply, provably untrue. In short, while the vote itself was democratic, the idea that this is the settled will of the public, expressed after a democratically and honestly conducted campaign is nonsense. The people were conned by liars and hucksters.

Most constituencies voted Leave so their MPs should as well.

This is the excuse being hidden behind by MPs who are afraid of going against their party and who don’t want to have to contend with a backlash from Leave voting constituents. Did they ask their constituents this before every other decision of import? Did they poll constituents on the war in Iraq, for example, or on student fees? No, they didn’t, because they are not delegates. Their mandate is their stated policies, and their judgement. Pro-EU MPs who will not pledge to oppose invoking article 50 are, to all intents and purposes, better categorised as anti-EU MPs, as they will have the same effect as those who actually call themselves anti-EU MPs.

Honestly Steve, just get over it!

Nope. This was a referendum held for party political purposes and conducted dishonestly and with utter contempt for reason, truth, and the future of the people of the UK. The UK constitution keeps extremism at the fringes by relying on Parliament to moderate the worst excesses of populism, and this is exactly what this campaign is attempting to do. The politicians know that leaving the EU is a dreadful idea, but without pressure to the contrary, they’re going to do it anyway.

21st-27th July 2016

21st July 2016 – 28 days after the Referendum

Shock as foreigner confirms that what she had previously said is in fact still true.

[In response to news that Angela Merkel’s insistence that Article 50 must be invoked before Brexit talks can begin]

22nd July 2016 – 29 days after the Referendum

More shock as a second foreigner says that what he said before is still the case.

“It will be a choice facing the UK. Remain in the single market and accept the free movement that goes with it, or accept another status.”

[Response to Guardian article saying that “Francois Holland tells Britain to leave the EU as soon as possible”]8

27th July 2016 – 34 days after the Referendum

Shock! Horror! Yet more foreigners tell the UK that what they said was true before the referendum was and remains actually true. This would be hilarious if it wasn’t such a tragic fuck up.

[Response to reports in The Times that the US had refused to open trade talks before a Brexit deal was complete, confirming what they had previously said.]

 

 

19th July 2016 – 26 days after the Referendum.

In nearly 25 years of studying and working in politics related jobs I have never come across a politician with less integrity or honour than this sorry excuse for a man. Anyone with the slightest ounce of dignity or regard for other people would have hid himself away for the rest of his life instead of inflicting himself on the world. He is, in short, a prick.

[In response to Boris Johnson’s dismissal during his press conference with John Kerry of his previous remarks about the Obama, and other well documented xenophobic remarks.]

17th July 2016 – 24 days after the Referendum

Did you vote Leave? Do you also think the state should execute people? Would you consider flogging criminals in public a reasonable response? If you answered yes to all of these questions, you’re a moron. Off you fuck!

[In response to BBC article that research shows a link between voting Leave and being pro-death penalty and public flogging. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36803544 ]

13th July 2016 – 20 days after the Referendum

Can I just make one thing absolutely clear about this. Do not be taken in by this. Once the UK government invokes Article 50, the UK will leave the EU, almost certainly within 2 years. Parliament can vote all it likes on repealing the UK EU Acts, and we can have all the referendums we want on the deal on offer, but the UK will leave the EU. There will not be a better deal offered in return for staying. Once the deal for leaving is agreed by the 27 there will be no further negotiations. The UK will be able to take it or leave it, but it will still be leaving. One it has invoke Article 50, the UK is not required to agree to anything for it to leave. If it does not agree to the leaving deal, it will leave without a deal.

The only way to stop the UK leaving the EU is for Article 50 to not be invoked, and the only way to stop that is for there to be a general election and for everyone to vote for a party that pledges that it will not invoke Article 50. This does not include either of the two main parties.

[In response to Labout Leadership contender Owen Smith misrepresenting his position by promising a referendum on the Brexit deal once it is negotiated.]