Finally, sense prevails – the ‘Gay Cake’ debacle

The decision of the Supreme Court is essential in upholding our basic freedoms

Whilst my readers are hopefully now used to a robust and frank style from Off the Party Line, this is obviously a sensitive topic and I have absolutely no intention of hurting or upsetting anyone, so rather than diving straight in, let’s get the context of this clear.

Several years ago now, a couple running a bakery in Northern Ireland refused to bake a cake with an explicitly pro-gay marriage slogan on it for a potential customer. This was deemed contrary to Equality Law and was taken to court, where the couple lost their case on appeal. Having taken it to the Supreme Court, here is what has happened (taken from the Guardian):

“In a unanimous decision, the UK’s highest court found in favour of an appeal by Ashers, which had refused to produce the cake in 2014 for Gareth Lee, who supports the campaign to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

“The judgment, delivered after the supreme court’s first hearing in Northern Ireland in May, reverses earlier decisions in Belfast county court and a court of appeal ruling that the company discriminated against Lee, who is gay, on the grounds of sexual orientation.

“The five justices on the supreme court – Lady Hale, Lord Mance, Lord Kerr, Lord Hodge and Lady Black – found the bakery did not refuse to fulfil Lee’s order because of his sexual orientation and therefore there was no discrimination on those grounds. The business relationship between Lee and Ashers did not involve people being refused jobs or services because of their religious faith, the judges added.”

So that’s where the story is up to. I’d also like to explain my personal views on some of the matters covered, before explaining why most of them are utterly irrelevant.

Firstly, I am a Christian and I attend an evangelical church. Secondly, I have no issue whatsoever with same sex marriage. I do not speak for the church on that issue, nor the other way around – these are my own views and I assert my right to hold them and have them defended anywhere. Thirdly, if it were me, I probably would have made the cake as requested. Fourthly, I believe that the law should uphold the right for nobody to be discriminated against based on who they are – including race, gender, sexuality, political views, whatever. The last one is a position that I tentatively hold purely on the grounds of pragmatism, it doesn’t necessarily line up exactly with my general outlook.

Now – why most of that doesn’t matter.

There’s a lot of froth in this story when really it is very simple and can dispense with many of these factors. The allegation was that the gentleman was discriminated against because he himself was gay. The defence was that they would have served him any cake he liked, as long as they weren’t forced to say something they did not want to say. Therefore, they weren’t refusing to serve a gay man, they were refusing to say something they did not themselves believe. The couple, indeed, said they wouldn’t print any message that was nasty to gay people either. There are plenty of straight people who are pro-gay marriage, and even some gay people who are against it, so it can’t be that simple.

Hitchens put it this way in his column on the matter: “The planned cake is far more than a cake. It is a publication, because it will bear a political message to be displayed in a public place, perhaps to be photographed and filmed and shared on the internet.

“If this were a poster, a pamphlet, a newspaper or a book, the problem would be obvious. A publisher is being asked to publish a message he disagrees with. In a free society, he can refuse.”

With that in mind, the Christianity element is froth, the gay marriage element is froth, the fact that it was a cake is froth, the fact the guy was gay is froth – the key element here is ‘can the State force somebody to say or publish something with which they do not agree?’ And surely – surely – if we can’t agree on anything else, we can agree on that?

The original rulings were so clearly and obviously wrong that I was seriously frightened about the precedent it had set. I questioned the defence counsel, the judges, the supporters…how could they have got this so wrong? I genuinely feared for our liberty and what on earth they might make us do next. To state the blindingly apparent, they wouldn’t have served this cake to a straight person either.

It is often distasteful in these situations to go straight to the ‘what if it were a Muslim?’ defence. It is of course true, but the sheer scope of what could be allowed here is staggering. Here is a short list, off the top of my head, of things that could have happened had this precedent been set:

  • A bakery run by a gay couple could be made to bake a cake saying ‘gay marriage is an abomination’.
  • A bakery run by a Jewish couple could be made to bake a cake saying ‘The Holocaust may not have happened – who really knows?’.
  • A bakery run by a Palestinian rights campaigners could be made to bake a cake for an Israeli saying ‘Bibi Netanyahu is always right’ with a picture of him in the ‘thumbs up’ pose, winking and smiling.
  • A bakery run by a trans person could be made to bake a cake saying ‘real women don’t have penises’.
  • A bakery run by a Labour councillor could be made to bake a cake saying ‘vote UKIP’.
  • A bakery run by a Northern Irish Catholic could be made to bake a cake by a Northern Irish Protestant saying ‘The Pope is a nasty, nasty man and really ought to be locked up’.

Now of course, you can take your pick of the above statements you agree with, disagree with or find downright horrible. But of course, that’s the point isn’t it? If you were to agree or not care, you could bake the cake. If you were to disagree or strongly condemn the message, you could refuse. That’s the mark of a free society. You may disagree or condemn and still accept the job and do it – that’s fine too.

I find the lack of any imagination on the other side of this debate quite staggering. If you’d won, are you really saying that this precedent is fine and you foresee no issues at all? You don’t see, given the furore around this, seriously disagreeable and nasty people trying this theory out and making a big deal over their resistance? You can’t imagine Tommy Robinson seeking out a bakery run by Muslims and filming himself applying this legal precedent that you’ve just won for yourselves?

The freedom to say or not say whatever we do or do not want is fundamental to this country’s liberty. You have no idea when and in what form this could come back to bite you. Ask yourself seriously – is this the country you want to live in? If it is, I honestly fear you. Who knows what you’d happily make me do by force of law?

The rather wonderful and very brave gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said in 2016, “I profoundly disagree with Ashers’ opposition to same-sex love and marriage, and support protests against them. They claim to be Christians, yet Jesus never once condemned homosexuality, and discrimination is not a Christian value. Ashers’ religious justifications are, to my mind, theologically unsound. Nevertheless, on reflection the court was wrong to penalise Ashers and I was wrong to endorse its decision.”

Take or leave the theology comments – I’ve heard it argued both ways.

Following the ruling of the Supreme Court, he stuck to his guns (emphasis mine).

“This verdict is a victory for freedom of expression. As well as meaning that Ashers cannot be legally forced to aid the promotion of same-sex marriage, it also means that gay bakers cannot be compelled by law to decorate cakes with anti-gay marriage slogans.

“Although I profoundly disagree with Ashers opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be forced to facilitate a political idea that they oppose. 

“The ruling does not permit anyone to discriminate against LGBT people. Such discrimination rightly remains unlawful.”

Perfectly summarised. The law, as it stands, is good and it protects all of us – all of us. Given the content and the nature of the particular circumstances, it doesn’t feel like much of a victory. I’m certainly not celebrating. But I am relieved. Much as this has been a difficult conversation to have, it needed to be had and we got the right result. With any luck, we can draw a line under this and move on.

If Labour wins the next election, Theresa May should stay Prime Minister

Socialists – it’s your turn to be run by somebody who doesn’t believe in your project

Who knows when the next election will be? In theory it is pencilled in for 2022; in theory this is more or less guaranteed by the Fixed Term Parliament Act. But the evidence of last year shows us that the Act isn’t worth the vellum it’s written on. An election could be called at any time, and when it is, it will be a choice between Jeremy Corbyn’s vision of a Socialist Britain versus whichever person emerges from the ensuing scrum following the Maybot’s political scrappage.

At this point, my money is on a Labour win, though that could obviously change. Let’s, for the sake of argument, assume that Corbyn is victorious and commands a small majority in the House. To illustrate to those voters just how painful the last two years have been for some of us, I propose that Theresa May continues as Prime Minister.

Why on earth would we do that, Mark? That would be patently absurd. She doesn’t believe in anything that was proposed in our campaign, she doesn’t believe in Socialism, she argued against it! What could possibly be gained by having someone lead a government on a platform that she fundamentally doesn’t understand or want?

Well…quite.

One assumes that renationalising the railways will be a Labour policy (good – I support that). Theresa May could own that, why not? Of course, she thinks the market should be involved, but she is obeying the vote and getting on with it. Sure, she’ll cock it up, the current companies will hold her over a barrel and demand billions in compensation despite the fact they won’t even be running the railways any more, fares will go up, service will be poorer and the whole thing will be an exercise in damage limitation…but that’s just what you get when a non-believer takes on the project. Suck it up, guys.

Sure, she can set up a national investment bank, why not? Of course, she doesn’t believe in borrowing to spend on public services, so she won’t put enough into it and the whole thing will collapse, meaning price rises for everyone, failed projects, tons of wasted money and half built infrastructure. But hey, what do you expect when she thinks it was a bad idea in the first place? She’s just enacting the will of the people.

Why couldn’t she take on the task of getting rid of Trident? She can do that, after all she is driven primarily by a sense of duty. Of course, rather than dismantling it safely and gradually spending less and less on it until it’s completely decommissioned, she’ll probably negotiate with the unions and the suppliers until we’re basically spending the same amount of money on it, but the thing doesn’t work and sits idly in a dock somewhere being completely useless (even more so than it already is).

I’m sure many of you would be rather annoyed if this were to happen, and rightly so. I think Corbyn’s vision for Britain is idealistic, unworkable and rather silly in many ways (though certainly not all). But if he wins, he obviously should run the country and implement his ideas. That’s what democracy is about. Good ideas implemented by people who believe in them is the ideal situation. Bad ideas being implemented by people who believe in them is obviously worse. But to have a good or bad idea being implemented by people who fundamentally don’t believe in them is the worst. I’d much rather have a government with policies I loathe than a government who doesn’t believe in what I believe in, trying to implement what I believe in.

Gosh…socialism being enacted by a capitalist Conservative – what a ridiculous notion. Brexit being enacted by a team of Remainers…

Labour MPs are threatening to quit over the antisemitism row – here’s why they won’t

Moral stands come at huge personal cost – is anyone outraged enough to give up their career?

Another day, another Labour antisemitism story. As Katy Balls pointed out in the Coffee House Shots Podcast this week, the Labour antisemitism row is “all too common – I feel like we talk about this story every couple of weeks on this podcast.” It is not going away – if anything it’s getting worse. Something, at some point, will have to give, but the question is, what will that be?

One obvious thing would be Jeremy Corbyn not being leader any more, whether that be via resignation or a coup. Neither of those are going to happen any time soon, so that option is a non starter.

Another is the decisive action that the party could take – caving on the IHRA definition, fast tracking disciplinary cases against those accused of antisemitism, the removal from the party of demonstrable antisemites…yes ok, you can stop laughing now.

The option floating around more recently is a serious one – Labour MPs resigning the party whip. This has apparently been threatened by several members, although none has gone yet apart from John Woodcock. However, Mr Woodcock was always a severe critic of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, was subject to internal party disciplinary proceedings and so probably doesn’t really serve as the starting pistol for a slew of resignations.

According to the Telegraph, “As many as 20 MPs are “closer than they have ever been” to quitting the party as claims of racism “gnaw at their consciences”. Many are reaching “breaking point” because of Mr Corbyn’s failure to get to grips with claims of anti-Semitism at the very highest levels of the organisation, sources said.

“In recent days, MPs have publicly issued ultimatums to Mr Corbyn, including Stephen Kinnock, and a growing number are thought to be considering quitting the party formally to make a stand.”

Now, forgive my cynicism, but I am simply not buying this. I have no expectation whatsoever that we are about to see an exodus of Labour MPs daring to quit the party. Allow me to run through some reasons why this course of action is next to impossible.

For them to have any impact, there would have to be enough of them. A handful won’t suffice. A dozen even, wouldn’t have a big enough impact. They would need to walk out in droves, simultaneously, with something or somewhere to go. The personal cost to each of them would be enormous, and I simply don’t see that they would be willing to give everything up to make a moral stand on this issue.

Moral stands are expensive and personally costly – I suppose that’s why they’re called moral stands. If it doesn’t cost you anything, it isn’t a stand in any sense of the word. Let’s look at what they would be giving up personally – any career ambitions of government for a start, the backing of their local activists, the money that comes with being part of a party and the party whip (they may actually have to think for themselves). For those with a comfortable majority (and therefore a job for as long as they want it), they will almost certainly be giving up their seat at the next election – that’s their livelihood gone. A reminder – the basic salary for an MP is £77,379.

They would be replaced by the party (who wants to replace most of them anyway – this would hand it to them on a plate) with hard left candidates ready to challenge them at the next election for their seat, using all of the party money and machinery. That money and machinery would now be aimed against the incumbent. You would have to be a monumentally popular local MP to merely survive such a fight, given the tribal nature of so many voters.

As a group, assuming they can organise sufficiently well to all move as one, they will be splitting the vote on the Left – they will stand accused of ensuring a weak and dangerous Tory Party will continue to rule the country for at least another decade, but this time with a majority. They may form a new party, but it will be small and vulnerable in FPTP. Who among them has the moral courage to bring all of this upon themselves?

It would, of course, be the right thing to do, but they will never do it. The excuses for not doing so come ready made, and sound moral and courageous. “Why should I leave? This is my party as well, so I’m staying put” they may say. Maybe. But is it really their party any more? I see nothing but an almost total takeover from where I’m sitting.

“It wouldn’t achieve anything – I’m going to stay and fight from within.” Well, ok. That sounds good, but is it really? You’re having little to no effect where you are.

This is sounds like a load of hot air and empty threats. I’d be amazed to see even 5 resignations, never mind the numbers that would be needed to punch the party hard where it hurts. Sure, the odd one or two will go, and probably in a blaze of glory. It will look good for the headlines for a couple of days. But as soon as the dust settles, everyone else will be right back where they were.

From there, it really is anybody’s guess.

Defining antisemitism – why is Labour still fighting this?

What is there to be gained from not accepting the IHRA definition?

It has been weeks now since the Labour Party refused to accept the full definition with examples of the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism. This is a definition accepted by everyone else without a problem, yet Labour has decided to alter or remove some of the examples. This was called out as, to put it mildly, a strange thing to want to do, particularly when it hasn’t gone unnoticed that there has been a little bit of an issue with antisemitism in recent times.

To do this in the first instance is odd and counterproductive. To maintain it in the face of criticism is…well let’s call it ‘bold’ for now. But to dig your heels in and refuse to budge in the face of widespread anger and rage, from groups who are not going to back down any time soon and who are only getting wider and wider support is utterly bewildering.

The issue at hand, the definition of antisemitism, is up for polite discussion in my opinion, in the sense that anything and everything should be up for discussion. That much I don’t object to. I have no particular wish to disagree with Jewish people’s definition of what is antisemitic on any level, but if some do then that is their right. It all looks fair and above board to me, but I’m not Jewish and don’t pretend to know anywhere near enough about the subject. What I do object to is the party machine rejecting the official and widely accepted version, amending it and then not saying why it has done so.

This is the crux of the matter – if you have a point of view, then defend it. If you think those examples are bad, say why. If you think wording needs tweaking, explain yourself. But don’t just change it and hope everyone will be fine with it.

It just looks and feels entirely suspicious. Why not just accept the whole thing and be done with it? Why not explain why it doesn’t accept it all and lay it out in a reasoned and measured way? Why leave the narrative to be written by its opponents? Why, of all things, does the party want to have this fight? It should be preparing for government, touring the country persuading us of its policies and slamming the government. Instead it wants to indulge in a ridiculous theatre of an internal argument. It makes no sense. Do they not want power?

Not a week goes by without some Corbynist higher-up saying something stupid and reigniting the flames. It’s like watching UKIP when they were in the spotlight – every week another activist recorded saying the word ‘nigger’ or ‘paki’ or sharing photos of their gollywogs. It was self defeating and idiotic – but they just couldn’t help it. Now you only have to open a newspaper to see some pillock equating Nazism and Zionism or intimating Jews are part of the whole conspiracy. All of this whilst they are disciplining members of the PLP for raising their concerns – not a great look.

One explanation is simple incompetence. This is the generous interpretation. The other is more chilling, and that is that the party wants the fight and simply does not care about anybody who may have any concerns. It smacks of deliberately provoking Britain’s Jews into anger, and that is a shocking thing to do. They’re not backing down and they’re not explaining, so what else are we supposed to draw from it? What on earth is there to be gained from all of this?

What an absolute shambles. And those are words which are currently being used about Her Majesty’s Government. How dreadful that we must also apply it to Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition.

I’d say they need to fix this, and quick. But something in me suspects they actually don’t want to. Something just isn’t right.

A chilling thought.

The cautionary tale of the boy who cried ‘countless jobs lost to Brexit’

A modern take on a classic fable

There once was a European Union funded government thinktank / The Treasury (EUFGT/TT) who was incensed as it sat in its glass fronted London office watching the silly electorate. To ensure its continued funding, it took a great breath and sang out, “Hundreds of thousands of job losses! Hundreds of thousands of job losses! A fall of 3.6% in GDP just if you vote leave!”

The Guardian and the BBC came running up to the office to help the EUFGT/TT drive the message. But when the people arrived at the campaign, they found no job losses.

“Don’t cry ‘hundreds of thousands of job losses’, EUFGT/TT,” said the electorate, “when there’s no job losses!” They went grumbling back down to their racist, homophobic lives.

Later, the EUFGT/TT sang out again, “Hundreds of thousands of job losses! Hundreds of thousands of job losses! 500-800,000 job losses immediately after you simply vote to leave!” It watched the commentators and establishment voices rush to the TV studios and the radio stations to help it drive the message home.

When the electorate saw no job losses, they sternly said, “Save your frightened song for when there is really something wrong! Don’t cry ‘hundreds of thousands of job losses’ when there is actually hundreds of thousands more people IN work!”

But the EUFGT/TT just grinned and watched them go grumbling down the road once more to their hateful, definitely bigoted homes.

Later, it saw a REAL prospect of serious fiscal damage prowling about its economic forecasts. Alarmed, it scrambled its media advisers and marketing executives to its well established connections in the media and shouted out as loudly as it could, “Hundreds of thousands of job losses! Hundreds of thousands of job losses if we leave without a deal!”

But the electorate thought this was just another attempt to cajole them and make them fearful, and so they didn’t listen.

“There really was an economic downturn here! The jobs have been lost! I cried out, “Hundreds of thousands of job losses!” Why didn’t you listen?”

An old man tried to comfort the EUGFT/TT as they dissolved the department.

He put his arm around the EUGFT/TT, “Nobody believes a scaremonger…even when he isn’t using irrelevant projections and spurious assumptions!”

The End.

 

NOTE – This cautionary tale can also be applied to ‘Millions of Eastern Europeans and Turks are coming!’,  ‘We send £350million a week to the EU!‘ or ‘there’s a wolf over there about to eat my sheep!

Chaos is taking over – we cannot carry on like this

All semblance of discipline and party solidarity has broken down – that isn’t good for anybody

The House of Commons is a marvellous chamber. Its chapel shape, based on St. Stephen’s chapel in the original Palace of Westminster, gives the place a grand and imposing air. The benches that face one another in perfect opposition, based on the choir stalls that once brought beautiful harmony, now facilitate the (alleged) adversarial nature of the politics of the country. The distance between the two front benches is said to be the length of two swords…take from that what you will.

And yet, watching proceedings this week at home, astonished at the malaise into which we are sinking deeper and deeper as vote after vote passed by low single digits, the chamber seemed unable to accommodate the true combat.

It should be simple – I sit on this side, I aim at that side. Stand up, face the way you were facing anyway, and fire. No longer.

Shots were being fired around the House – not across, but along. Civil war on all sides, right in the middle of an all out war. Remain Tories spat at Leave Tories. Leave Tories sniped at Remain Tories. Backbenchers lobbed missiles at the front benches. The SNP railed at Labour, Labour members rebelled to side with the government, Lib Dems were nowhere to be found, Tories rebelled against rebellions, members turning and seeking out their targets – it was utter and total chaos. The dividing lines of the country are no longer represented properly.

This can’t go on. The Prime Minister is kept in place, strangely, by her own weakness. The great irony is that the best thing that could happen to her now is a motion called of no confidence in her leadership. That is no way for a Parliament to function.

As Stephen Daisley says in The Spectator, “[Anna Soubry], standing mere metres from the Treasury benches, enquired: ‘Who is in charge? Who is running Britain? Is it the Prime Minister or is it the Honourable Member for North East Somerset [Jacob Rees-Mogg]? I know where my money’s sitting at the moment.’

“Before the crazy set in, an MP taunting the Prime Minister as a feckless weakling would bring the full nuclear hellfire of Number 10 raining down upon their head. That Anna Soubry won’t proves her thesis. The PM is too feeble to insist that her MPs at least pretend to respect her in public. Theresa May is not in power without authority — she’s without power too.”

She is not leading, and neither is Jeremy Corbyn. She leads her cabinet, not her party. Jacob Rees-Mogg leads an internal faction opposed to the executive. Anna Soubry leads another. Corbyn leads his members, but not his PLP. Polls are shifting dramatically and getting to summer recess no longer feels like the dash to safety it once did. The Prime Minister has gone from surviving day to day to surviving hour to hour.

Something will have to give. But it is a fool’s game to predict what that will be.

Tony Blair’s Brexit intervention is sensible – an analysis

This is the way to engage in the debate – thoughtfully and respectfully

The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair (much criticised on these pages) has made yet another intervention in the national debate. Only this time, he seems to be making reasonable points. His statement is lengthy, but lean, and makes significant attempts at conciliation. This seemed to merit more analysis, so I have done a full reply to the points he raised. As I sit watching the debate on the Taxation (Cross-border trade) Bill on BBC Parliament, despairing at the state of that place, I fear where we are headed. So this has been a relaxing and therapeutic piece to write.

This is probably about a 15 minute read. You may read Blair’s original piece here.

Blair’s text is in italics, mine in bold.

 

I fully accept the Prime Minister is putting forward the Government White Paper as a well-intentioned attempt to do Brexit whilst minimising the economic disruption to Britain. But this solution – half in/half out – won’t work, won’t end the argument and will simply mean a confused outcome in which we continue to abide by Europe’s rules whilst losing our say over them.

Parliament should reject this solution decisively.

So far, so agreed.

There is an essential Dilemma at the heart of the Brexit debate, which has been laid bare by what we have learnt over the course of the last two years since the referendum of June 2016.

The Brexiteers have a long term vision for Britain which may be heavily contested but is nonetheless a genuine new direction for the country. It involves Britain leaving Europe altogether, striking a new economic and political path and is a vision which only makes sense if we market ourselves as ‘not Europe’.

My tick has not gone away since the referendum – it’s the ‘European Union’, not ‘Europe’. See this old post for my full analysis of why this is important for the tone of the debate.

Otherwise, Blair is, unusually for a Remainer, being gracious and generous. I’ll expand on this later, but the rest of the Remain tribe should take note of this.

At the core of the Brexit campaign, however, is the exploitation of a myth which is that we are not in charge of our country unless we leave the EU.

The truth is we already have control over the major parts of British political life. Think of the top issues facing the country – the NHS, Education, Housing, Poverty, Crime. We can pass whatever laws we want. We can put our taxes up or down, cut spending or increase it, make peace or war, elect a leftist Labour Government under Corbyn or a right wing Tory Government under Rees-Mogg. Even in respect of immigration, we can do what we wish in respect of non-European immigration; and in respect of European immigration it has already been shown that we need most of those who come here to work and to study.

This is a little disingenuous. Whilst there is a good point here, it isn’t a complete one. Sure, the NHS is in our remit, but if the EU were to pass divergent health regulations or introduce the potential for more market interference in it, it could do so above our heads. Similarly on crime, the European Arrest Warrant is an EU tool implemented and enforced in the UK. And sure, we can elect any shade of government we like, but they are not in full control, defer as they must in certain areas to the EU.

And the immigration point, Blair highlights the key issue – non-EU immigration. Having seen several non-EU born friends attempt to navigate the UK visa system, it seems grossly unfair to discriminate so heavily against them in favour of EU citizens. Whenever a government feels under pressure on immigration, they’re the first to suffer, as the executive knows it cannot touch EU immigration and so becomes more stringent on non-EU applicants.

Therefore, the Brexiteers are driven to focus on the Single Market and Customs Union because that is the one area, for perfectly sensible economic reasons, where we have chosen to pool our sovereignty and so you can plausibly say we are tied to Europe’s laws.

The Single Market and Customs Union have thus been demonised as illustrating Britain’s loss of national sovereignty and they successfully pushed the May Government into announcing they would leave both before the ramifications of this decision were properly thought through.

They may deny this, but there is absolutely no point in Britain leaving Europe unless it is to be more competitive outside the European Single Market. It is the only Brexit which could conceivably work. But, to be attractive in those circumstances, business needs to believe it is offered advantages so overwhelming as to compensate for no longer having the right to enter European markets without friction.

This is a central point, and one which is not made enough. It is indeed true that a different model would be required.

Michael Gove may pretend that we should leave Europe to have tougher Environmental Protection but who seriously believes the problem with Europe is that it’s too weak on regulation of the environment.

This is less persuasive to anyone who understands these issues. Whilst the EU is often held up as a bastion of high standards (which I don’t argue against), this is often at the expense of the perception Britain’s own standards, standards which often match and exceed those of the EU’s. Britain has oft been painted in this debate as being somehow backwards on these issues, but on the environment, animal welfare, health and safety, British standards are world renowned and internationally recognised. It seems a shame to do down our country on these grounds.

Boris Johnson’s one specific grievance in his resignation letter – which in any event turned out to be mistaken – was the effect of European truck regulation on female cyclists, a frankly fatuous basis for altering the entire geo-political and economic future of the nation.

I must have missed this. But it does indeed sound fatuous. Go figure.

All of this is patently a ruse to conceal their real beef with Europe: its political culture which stresses the social as well as the economic and where regulation interferes with the freedom of the market.

Their ‘Clean Break’ Brexit means not only a new relationship between Britain and Europe but a new relationship between Britain and itself.

It is not anti globalisation or anti immigration. On the contrary, it sees Britain as a global player, but free to make its own decisions without the constraints of the Single Market and Customs Union.

Unlike others, I don’t regard this vision as dystopian, cruel or necessarily unworkable. If Britain were prepared to follow the logic of it through to its ultimate realisation, it is at least a version of our future worth debating, though one I would profoundly disagree with as, I suspect, would the majority of British people.

Bravo, Mr. Blair. Finally, somebody willing to have an actual conversation with the opposing side. He disagrees, but understands it. Take note, Remainers – this is how to talk to Leavers. This is one of two, maybe three pieces by Remainers over the last few years (and I’ve read countless) that has encouraged me to engage and given me cause to doubt. Not being called a racist within the first 5 paragraphs of a Remain piece is remarkably refreshing.

The problem is this vision was sold, in the context of Brexit, as short term painless and with substantial immediate gains like extra money for the NHS, and the most appealing element for many of the Brexit voters especially in the north of England was that Brexit would slash immigration and put a brake on globalisation.

Agreed, it was a silly basis on which to run the campaign. This was one of the reasons I paid almost no attention to the official campaigns. Frankly, anyone who believed that £350mil to the NHS pledge gets what they get. The focus on immigration was handled badly and distastefully (admitted to by Mr. Gove just today) and there just isn’t any stopping globalisation (depending on your definition). 

What has now become apparent is that, for sure, short term and this may mean a period of several years, this was a false prospectus. In the near future a ‘Clean Break Brexit’ involves economic disruption, the immediate result is a £40bn bill not a £350m a week NHS boost, we need most of the European migrants, and a Hard Border in Ireland poses risks both to the UK and the peace process.

As this reality has dawned, so the Government has tried to navigate its way through the Dilemma.

I’m not sure it’s that the reality has dawned, these issues were discussed at length before the result and were obviously accepted as a risk worth taking by the 52%. More, I think it’s that people who weren’t in that camp now run the show and weren’t as prepared for them as much as those who believed in the whole enterprise would have been.

The Dilemma is simply expressed: either we stay close to Europe after Brexit to minimise the economic cost, in which case we will be obliged to continue to abide by Europe’s rules; or we do a Clean Break Brexit in which case we will suffer substantial economic pain.

The first is a Brexit which leads to the question: what’s the point, since we will abide by rules over which we have lost our say, a somewhat weird way of ‘taking back control’.

The second is a Brexit which leads to the question: what’s the price?

This is the dilemma, well summarised.

For two years the Government has tried to pretend that we could have our cake and eat it: that Europe would somehow change the rules of the Single Market, which we helped shape, and allow us frictionless trade with freedom to diverge where we want to.

This is and always was a non-starter.

Very true. One of the reasons triggering Article 50, not preparing for a no deal situation and letting a Remainer run the show were all fatal decisions.

The Chequers Cabinet summit and the White Paper were the first serious attempt to choose and resolve the Dilemma.

Both documents are drafted with exquisite disingenuousness. But stripped of their verbal camouflage, they come down effectively on the side of staying close to Europe whilst trying to pretend the opposite.

We are to have a common rule book with Europe for goods and agri-food, including the rules already agreed in the Single Market. This means we abide by Europe’s rules.

Parliament can choose to refuse further rules but this will have ‘consequences’. This is supposed to stress our Parliamentary sovereignty. But the reality is the consequence of refusal would be exit from the common rule book area so it’s never going to happen. And of course, Parliament is sovereign. It always is. We choose to be in the Single Market now. We can choose to exit it now.

But in practice, under this proposal, we are staying in the Single Market for goods, whilst losing our voice in it.

Couldn’t have put it better myself. I guess that’s why I’m a blogger to a couple of dozen people and he used to run the country…

Likewise, with the so-called ‘Customs Partnership’. This is effectively the Customs Union just renamed, with the possibility at some later time of getting agreement to some as yet undiscovered technological facilitation of trade which would allow us to have different tariffs on goods. This is pie in the sky.

In any event until the time the pie miraculously appears on earth, it will be impossible to do trade deals elsewhere, as President Trump has just confirmed. In the meantime, of course, Europe can carry on doing such deals, but we will have no say over them, though we will be bound by them.

Again, true. How does Theresa May not see this when everyone else does? Does she think she’s pulling the wool over our eyes?

As for freedom of movement, this is to be replaced by a new ‘Labour Mobility Framework.’ This will give a special preference for European workers. It is the Government’s recognition that without such workers being able to come easily to Britain, key sectors of the economy will suffer.

The practical reality is that the difference between current freedom of movement and this new framework will be miniscule because for economic reasons it must be. Also, there is no way Europe would ever agree to this partial acceptance of the Single Market, unless freedom of movement was, in essence, retained.

Another way in which Mrs. May attempts to convince us she is ‘delivering’ when she is in fact doing nothing of the kind. I’m put in mind of a sailor who unhooks the moorings of his ship, only to hold on desperately to the dock with his hands.

Meanwhile, we will try to negotiate our way back into a slew of European Agencies where we are now as of right.

Going through each section of the White Paper, at every turn the absurdity becomes more manifest. Every page details why it is so important we stay in cooperation with Europe whilst trying to invent new forms of partnership which can be presented as consistent with leaving Europe.

Indeed, the Paper proposes even closer cooperation with Europe in defence and data protection, as if Brexit were necessary for such enhanced partnership.

The one area excluded is that of workers’ rights, with no commitment to retaining the benefits of the European Social Charter.

Finally, we come to what, with delicious irony, is titled ‘Fishing Opportunities’, under which we agree to negotiate a new fishing framework with the EU, which looks a lot like the old one.

The intent behind this, at least on the part of the Prime Minister, may come from a good place, but the result is an ‘Inbetweener’ half in/half out mess.

As with everything else. This is because she fundamentally doesn’t believe in it.

A genuine ‘soft’ Brexit would obviously be less damaging than a Hard Brexit, though it would highlight the ‘what’s the point’ nature of this choice. But this Brexit is just mush.

It is not making the best of a bad job. It is the worst of both worlds. This is where True Remainers and True Leavers make common cause.

We do indeed make common cause. Everybody sees it. It is plain and out there for all to gaze upon. It will never work.

I understand completely its attraction for some in business and for many people who just want the agony of Brexit to end. ‘Ok’ so the argument runs, ‘it may be a messy compromise but it’s the only way we can limit the damage, so let’s get on with it.’

How depressing.

But I am afraid this argument is fatally flawed.

  1. The practical upshot of this proposal is to tie us to Europe over large parts of economic life, without a say in its rules. This is intrinsically a dismal outcome which reduces British influence for no or negligible gain.
  2. It is not an ‘honouring’ of the Brexit vote. It will disillusion large numbers of Leavers, whilst being dismissed by Remainers, except those in the Conservative Party who see this as a way through their internal schism. A point often forgotten – never mind an economic crisis, a democratic crisis will be much worse and much harder to contain.
  3. The Europeans will not accept it unless clarified in a way which will expose the Dilemma once again. The likelihood is that they will consider cherry-picking between different parts of the Single Market wrong in principle and hard to do in practice, given the overlap between services and goods. But suppose they do accept distinguishing between the Single Market for goods and services. This will only be on the basis that Britain clearly applies those rules for goods trade, adjudicated by the ECJ, and probably with what are called flanking arrangements for those parts of the services sector intimately bound up with the manufacturing supply chain. This will never be palatable to the Brexiteers who sit in the Cabinet. So the argument will continue.
  4. Even if the Brexiteers or some of them swallow such an agreement with Europe, they will only do so, in order to drag the country the other side of March 2019, and then they will re-ignite the debate when it is then too late to stop Brexit and when our bargaining position will be very weak. Nobody wants to reopen this wound once it is closed. Even Jacob Rees-Mogg has said as much.
  5. By excluding services, the Government is prepared to do significant and possibly irreparable damage to the UK service sector which is the bulk of our economy, and where unlike the goods sector, we presently have a large surplus in European trade. Particularly for the financial service and tech sectors, where Britain is dominant in Europe, we now know from those active in those sectors that exclusion from the Single Market is going to result in job losses and economic cost which will impact output and revenue considerably.

In other words, this is a bad deal. More important, it will not be accepted as fulfilling the mandate of June 2016 and we know that because many of the leading Brexit proponents are saying it.

I’m certainly saying that. And there’s no getting around this fact. May might try to sell this on the technical point, but nobody wins anything in politics on a technical point. 

And there will be no majority in Parliament for it, or for ‘Clean Break Brexit’ or possibly for any version of Brexit or indeed for staying.

We are stuck.

And herein lies the lesson – referendums are constitutionally idiotic. If this teaches us nothing else, it ought to teach us that referendums do not work in a Parliamentary system without a fundamental restructuring. Yes, we’re stuck. That feels to me like a good way to learn a hard lesson. 

In any rational world, and I understand that is a big caveat in today’s politics, this would go back to the people for resolution.

I have to disagree – that may be the pragmatic way of resolving this immediate problem, but for me it just gives further credence to the idea that referendums are a good idea. They aren’t – they don’t have enough political power in our current system. The same questions will be asked – is this one binding? Does it overrule the last one? But the government promised to implement the last one… 

It would not be a re-run of the 2016 referendum. Two major things have changed since then. Our quantum of knowledge about the issue and particularly about the consequences of leaving the Single Market and Customs Union is vastly enlarged. And there is fundamental disagreement about what Brexit means between supporters of Brexit.

The question may be complicated because it really involves three choices: Clean Break, ‘soft’ or stay. But the complexity is not insuperable.

If it’s three way, does 34% win it? So 66% of people could vote against the option we end up taking…but we had a bigger mandate last time round…and on and on it will go.

For the Conservative Party it avoids owning a botched Brexit.

Well they made it, they can own it.

For the Labour Party it escapes constructive ambiguity becoming destructive indecision.

That’s no way for a major party to behave.

For Parliament it may be the only way through.

Maybe it is. But it seems like a major cop out to resort to this when they created the problem for themselves. I elect representatives to sort this sort of stuff out for me – stop asking me to do your job, you get paid enough (well…maybe…) to do it on my behalf.

End of analysis.

I fear any talk of another referendum. I have no desire to have another damaging fallout with friends. It would also have that chilling effect of ‘the EU makes you vote until you give the right answer’ which is rightly pointed out over and over again. And would this one be definitive? Or do we go again? What if a new government gets elected and decides against it? It’s too messy and anti-democratic.

We have a Parliament for a reason – if you want constant referendums, dissolve the blasted thing. I’m sick of politicians constantly reverting to this blunt tool to avoid making decisions they don’t want to make. The offering of referendums is the modern day independent inquiry – a tool to kick a subject into the long grass.

Consecutive PMs have now, to their eternal shame, failed to prepare this country for a no deal, leaving negotiators powerless and rudderless. Cameron refused to allow it and May leads a shambles. The dereliction of duty in these two cases is appalling and shameful to the office they have held.

I voted Leave and would do the same today. I have not changed my mind. But what people forget when they parrot the old ‘biggest vote in history’ line is that the second biggest vote ever was the vote to Remain. If it were up to me, we’d just leave the whole thing and get on with it. But it isn’t, and there is currently no majority for any position. I’m up for a discussion with anyone who wants to persuade me.

Mr. Blair, for all his obvious faults, made a good start.