Some years ago when travelling I met Frank Dowd IV and his brother Roddey. The Dowd family established the Charlotte Pipe and Foundry company in 1901 in Charlotte, North Carolina; Frank and Roddey are directors of the company today. Both men are interested in, and active politically in the USA. Recently, Frank shared with me an article published by Geopolitical Futures entitled, ‘The Instability of Britain: Brexit is Less Important than the Increasing Fragility of Britain and the British Isles’. The article got me thinking and resulted in me writing this post. My thoughts were reinforced when listening to Brendan O’Neill (Editor, Spiked Online) on LBC radio on the evening of 21 March when the European Union took control of the British government’s Brexit timetable.
Power and Influence
‘Power is the capacity to restructure actual situations. Influence is the capacity to modify the perceptions of others. Power and influence in combination determine political capability’
I C MacMillan
Strategy Formulation: Political Concepts
West Publishing Company
The chances are you’re not a Member of Parliament (albeit if you are, I hope you’re reading this); you’re not a member of the House of Lords (ditto my previous comment); you’re not a local councillor; you don’t chair a radio or TV programme with millions of people in your audience; you’re not a wealthy businessman with political connections; you don’t write a column in the mainstream press; you’re not a well-connected member of a lobbying group or think-tank. People in these roles are relatively powerful – and you’re unlikely to be one of them, but in many respects I hope that you are.
No, the chances are, you’re like me. You’re the wee guy who has no political power. All that you and I have, in a democracy, is some influence. You and I can only influence change indirectly and collectively through the ballot box. If enough of us vote for something, our collective influence becomes power. This is how democracy is supposed to work. It’s a covenant between us the influencers and the people who actually hold the power to make change. Democracy is a social contract between government and the governed.
‘Many forms of government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time’
Sir Winston Churchill
The Social Contract Under Strain
In this post I want to suggest that the social contract in the UK seems to be breaking down. The EU Referendum exposed a gulf between government and the governed. In fact, it seems to have exposed a wider gulf than that: one between Parliament and the people. That may sound like hyperbole but bear with me.
For over 40 years, Parliament excluded any meaningful debate about the trajectory of the European Union and the UK’s membership of that institution. The received wisdom was and, to an evidently large extent today, remains that the European Union is a ‘good thing’; not perfect, perhaps, but better than autonomous nationhood. In this sense, in the context of the UK’s membership (or not) of the European Union, British voters have been quite powerless for pretty much a generation. Furthermore, the majority of the British political class is pro-EU and, consequently, any critical mass of popular anti-EU sentiment in the UK has been muted for 40-odd years.
Now, if you neither want nor have the time to read a review of the history of the Brexit process and its impact on the British social contract, then you may wish to jump straight to the Summary section below. However, if you’re interested in reading a potted, factual history of the events of the past 4 years vis-à-vis the UK’s relationship with the European Union then read on.
The EU Referendum
‘I can see no case for having a referendum on [The Lisbon Treaty]. We don’t govern this country by referendum’
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
1997 – 2007
In 2014, something happened which took the political class by surprise. The British people sent Parliament a warning shot across its bows: the electorate voted in droves for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in the European Union elections. I was one of those UKIP voters.
In fact, UKIP came top of the poll; the first time a political party other than the Conservative Party or the Labour Party had won a British election since the 1906 General Election. The two main British political parties were horrified. To the Conservative government’s credit, it read the writing on the wall: the British people appeared to be losing faith in the European Union; best we ask them directly whether they want to stick with the EU, or walk away?
In June 2015, Parliament voted by 544 to 53 in favour of giving the British people the responsibility for deciding whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union, or not; Parliament voted emphatically to hold an EU Referendum.
One can argue the toss for or against referendums generally. However, since our parliamentary democracy had clearly failed on the matter of permitting debate in the House of Commons about the UK’s membership of the European Union, holding a plebiscite sooner or later was almost inevitable.
The EU Referendum Result
The EU Referendum took place in June 2016. The Conservative government along with the majority of the British political class, ‘big business’ largely through its mouthpiece the Confederation of British Industry, the Establishment, ie the wider set of individuals and institutions in society who wield power through politicians directly and indirectly, central bankers, the arts industry, academia, a raft of think-tanks, President Obama, the BBC and much of the mainstream media, Uncle Tom Cobley and all threw their weight behind the Remain (in the EU) camp.
Having decided to orchestrate a plebiscite, the Conservative government, instead of acting as the honest broker, bet the farm on the vote going one way. The government activated all the powers of the state to persuade the British people to vote Remain, including spending £9 million of taxpayers’ money on a pro-EU leaflet sent to every home in the land. The government took no steps to contingency plan for the British people wanting to leave the European Union. However, in the early hours of the morning of 24 June 2016, to the government’s stunned disbelief and the horror of all those groups I referred to above, the British people voted the wrong way; they voted for the UK to leave the European Union aka ‘Brexit’. This was simply not supposed to have happened.
‘If it’s a Yes we will say “on we go” and if it’s a No we will say “we continue”
President of the European Commission
Over 17 million British people, muted by their own parliamentary democracy for more than 40 years, had been handed a loudhailer – and they used it. It’s often overlooked that in constituency terms, 410 UK constituencies voted Leave against 240 constituencies which voted Remain. Had the EU Referendum been conducted in the same way as a General Election, the Leave vote would have wiped the floor with Remain. Ironically, 480 MPs voted Remain whilst 159 MPs voted Leave; the disconnect between the electorate and the elected had been laid bare and was consistent with the chronic failure of our parliamentary democracy in the decades prior to the Referendum. Immediately after the EU Referendum, Prime Minister David Cameron resigned.
‘We must not bow to populism’
President of the European Parliament
2014 – 17
The EU Referendum Result Reaction
Let’s set aside for now the oft-espoused Remain argument that those 17.4 million of us who voted Leave didn’t know what we were voting for; were duped by fake news and manipulated by outrageous lies; are racists; are bigoted, xenophobic Little-Englanders; are uneducated old gits screwing up the future for the young etc. As someone who voted Leave, who knows people who voted Leave (about half the people I know, funnily enough) and who has looked carefully at the plethora of post-Referendum voting analyses, the fact is that the Leave vote was won by a majority of people for whom recovering the UK’s sovereignty was the overriding deciding factor. It’s important to bear this in mind.
‘They must go on voting until they get it right’
José Manuel Barroso
President of the European Commission
2004 – 14
It’s important also to bear in mind that the British people weren’t being asked to vote on a type of withdrawal from the European Union, ie a ‘hard Brexit’ or a ‘soft Brexit’ or a ‘deep and special relationship’ or a ‘Norway option’ or a ‘Canada-Plus option’ or any option other than to leave the European Union: namely to leave the Customs Union, the Single Market and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Only since the Referendum result became known has the losing side coined a raft of terms supposedly to define ‘Leave’, but which in fact are designed to confuse, impugn and undermine the true meaning of Leave – which means Leave.
‘The UK belongs to the EU’
President of the European Parliament
2014 – 17
General Election 2017
As David Cameron disappeared over the horizon, the Conservative Party anointed Theresa May as Prime Minister, a Remain-voting MP. She in turn appointed a Cabinet comprising a majority of Remain-voting ministers. At that moment, as far as the UK’s relationship with the EU was concerned, the beliefs of the nation’s political leadership team were crystallised into the polar opposite of those of the majority of the British electorate. The seeds of Brexit failure were being sown from the outset.
Badly advised, Prime Minister May then called a General Election expecting, according to the polls, to achieve a substantial majority in the House of Commons. The strategy failed – not least because of Theresa May’s non-existent empathy with the general public – and so the Conservative Party was forced to form a minority government, relying on a confidence-and-supply agreement with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in order for the Conservatives to exercise executive power.
However, the key point here is this: the manifestos of both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party respectively pledged to honour the Referendum result and take the UK out of the EU. In the General Election, 82% of the electorate – over 26 million people – voted Conservative or Labour. Just 7% of the electorate voted for the political party sworn to stopping Brexit: the Liberal Democrats. The British people desired to see Brexit delivered, even if the journey itself wasn’t clear.
‘It is an illusion to think that EU states can hold on to their autonomy’
President of the German Bundesbank
1993 – 99
The Brexit Process
The process for a member-state to leave the European Union is enshrined in Article 50 of The Treaty of Lisbon. Article 50 was triggered by the Conservative government in March 2017 and was to involve a 2-year process of negotiation aimed at securing a Withdrawal Agreement culminating in the UK leaving the EU on 29 March 2019. If the Withdrawal Agreement could not be ratified by both parties to the Agreement then the UK would leave anyway on 29 March, without a formal agreement (NB Some lawyers argue that Article 50 does not permit the UK simply to leave the EU without an agreement; they argue that the government must pass legislation in Parliament expressly to leave the EU without a deal, but that’s another twist to the story).
Parliament passed into law the UK’s intention to leave the EU: the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. In other words, the UK would leave the European Union by law on 29 March 2019, either under a Withdrawal Agreement, or by simply stopping being a member of the EU on that date. Parliament voted by 498 to 114 to trigger Article 50; in other words, Parliament decided emphatically that the UK would leave the European Union, by law, on a particular date, come what may.
‘National sovereignty will soon prove itself to be a product of the imagination’
Chancellor of Germany
1998 – 2005
Leaving without a formal agreement was soon termed ‘No Deal’. However, rather like Leaving became a Type-of-Leaving in the eyes of the losing side of the Referendum, so the losing side started describing No Deal as a ‘hard Brexit’ or a ‘cliff edge’ or ‘crashing out’ or some other pejorative adjective akin to Armageddon. In fact, leaving without a Withdrawal Agreement would simply require the UK to migrate to trading with the nations of the European Union under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. Most of the countries of the world (77 of them) trade with the EU under WTO rules; the other 58 countries of the WTO trade with the EU under negotiated terms. The UK has nothing to fear about trading with the EU on WTO rules despite the hysterical cries from those on the losing side of the Referendum, amplified by the BBC and other organs of the mainstream media.
The Withdrawal Agreement
Prime Minister May said in January 2017 that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ implying that if any Withdrawal Agreement didn’t pass muster, the UK would leave the EU on 29 March as intended. Indeed, on over 100 occasions at the Despatch Box in the House of Commons the Prime Minister has stated that the UK will leave the EU on 29 March.
A Withdrawal Agreement was negotiated between the European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services (M Michel Barnier) and a British civil servant (Mr Oliver ‘Olly’ Robbins). Both men are unelected bureaucrats. The 599-page Withdrawal Agreement was almost certainly conceived by European Commission lawyers and staff in Brussels using the expert writing skills of British civil servants.
The Meaningful Vote
Prime Minister May put the Withdrawal Agreement to the House of Commons on 9 January 2019 where it was debated for 5 days. On 16 January, Parliament rejected the deal in a so-called ‘Meaningful Vote’ by 432 to 202 votes – the biggest defeat of a government motion by Parliament in British history. Undeterred, the British government managed to secure from the EU a few insubstantial amendments to the Withdrawal Agreement and so, rather bizarrely, put the deal back to the House of Commons for a second ‘Meaningful Vote’ on 12 March. Parliament verified that the Agreement was a ‘bad deal’ by rejecting it again by 391 to 242 votes, the 4th biggest defeat of a government motion by Parliament in British history.
It might have been fair to assume at this stage, therefore, that the Barnier/Robbins’ deal was indeed a ‘bad deal’ and that the UK would be set to leave the EU with ‘no deal’ on 29 March – as promised by Mrs May on many occasions previously and enshrined as such in UK law.
No Deal Off The Table
Not quite. After the second ‘Meaningful Vote’, Parliament decided that the UK should not include ‘No Deal’ in its negotiating strategy. Now, any negotiator will tell you that if you go into a negotiation telling the other party that you will never, ever walk away from doing a deal, guess what? Yes, that’s right: the other party will screw you over. Not surprisingly, therefore, the European Union has held firm on refusing to amend the Withdrawal Agreement – an appallingly ‘bad deal’ according to Parliament, but a Parliament which also paradoxically and preposterously rejects ‘No Deal’. This negotiating madness has not been lost on the French President who said recently:
‘British politicians are incapable of carrying out what their people instructed. Their people voted for Brexit. Parliament has voted against the Agreement and No Deal. It’s a true democratic and political crisis’
President of the French Republic
The EU is content, therefore, to roast the UK into accepting a bad deal. After all, it’s a fallacy ever to think that the party on the other side of the negotiating table is somehow your friend, somehow on your side. The fact is that the EU is the UK’s adversary in this context. However, the Conservative government and the House of Commons are emphatically pro-EU, so the negotiations were always going to be about collaboration and collusion and ultimately, therefore, about the UK being screwed over by the EU. It wouldn’t have taken an archbishop to work this out from the moment the Conservative Party allowed the nation to be governed post the EU Referendum by a pro-EU Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Consequently, the Withdrawal Agreement was only ever going to be designed to deliver Brexit-In-Name-Only (BRINO). This is not surprising since the Agreement was prepared in Brussels by the European Commission desperate to maintain the integrity of the European Union and knowing that they were dealing with a British government of Remain-voting ministers who, latterly, were also instructed by Parliament never to walk away from the negotiations. You really couldn’t make this up as an exercise in unmitigated political incompetence and a pre-ordained failure of democracy.
‘The age of pure representative democracy is coming to an end’
British European Commissioner
2004 – 08
Indeed, incompetence barely starts to describe how the British political class responded to the EU Referendum result having in the past 3-years engineered itself and the Brexit process into the corner to end all corners. As the wee guy sitting here in my Study overlooking the Moray Firth and holding merely the influence of a single vote, one looks upon the Westminster ‘elite’ (a misnomer if ever there was one) with a mixture of disbelief, anger and contempt. You wonder just how a nation with one of the most admirable economic, political and social histories known to mankind could be reduced to little short of international humiliation.
The UK should leave the EU by law at 11.00 pm on Friday 29 March; the end of this week. However, owing to the catastrophic failure of the Conservative government and Parliament between them to prepare the UK to leave the EU on that date, Prime Minister May has had to beg the European Union for an extension to the Brexit deadline – which will mean breaking the law unless Parliament amends the law within the coming week; a tall order.
The European Union is now, as it has been for the past 40 years or so, in control of how the UK is governed. In this sense, one can only admire the success of the European Union elite in emasculating nation states (the UK in this case) consistent with their goal of creating a European superstate, the United States of Europe. Member nations are supposed to take their orders from Brussels; that’s how the European Union works.
‘We want more Europe and stronger powers to intervene’
Chancellor of Germany
On 21 March the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, told the UK that if the Withdrawal Agreement was not approved by Parliament at the third time of asking (what is it that the Conservative government doesn’t understand by the term ‘bad deal’?), then the UK must declare its intentions before Friday 12 April or leave the EU on that date. On the other hand, if Parliament suddenly decided that the ‘bad deal’ was in fact a ‘good deal’, then the European Union would grant the UK until Wednesday 22 May to pass the necessary legislation to put the Withdrawal Agreement (which is, in reality, a treaty) into law.
Democracy as a Recipe
On 21 March, as I listened to the unfolding political drama on LBC radio, I could sense that the social contract, which had been unravelling for months beforehand, was now being shredded by the incompetence of the British government and the brutal negotiating skills of the European Union. Between them, for 1,000 days of ‘negotiations’ (collusion really), the two institutions have treated with barely-concealed contempt the decision delegated to the British people in June 2016 in effect asking voters who should govern the UK? The British people chose self-determination. The British government, Parliament and the European Union together, however, prefer governance of the UK by a foreign oligarchy, the European Commission. This conflict is at the heart of the disintegrating social contract in the UK.
‘The EU is a non-imperial empire’
José Manual Barroso
President of the European Commission
2004 – 2014
The British government and the House of Commons have been unable to square away honouring the result of the EU Referendum with their own preference to have the UK subsumed within a European superstate. British politicians have tied themselves in knots trying to craft a fudge; half-in, half-out of the EU. The Conservative government had neither the guts nor the skills nor the will to take the UK out of the European Union and to bring Parliament and the country with them. Aided and abetted by the majority of Westminster politicians, the government confused the 52%/48% Referendum result with a recipe. They thought that leaving the EU should involve being kind of mainly in but 4% out of the EU; the difference between the Leave and Remain votes. The problem is that having confused democracy with a recipe, they’ve created the mother-of-all dog’s breakfasts and in so doing put a flame to the social contract (apologies for the mixed metaphors).
It’s difficult not to conclude that 40 years of EU membership has resulted in the British political class being vulgarised. Our politicians appear to have lost all understanding of how a sovereign democracy is supposed to function; they’re in thrall to the EU technocracy, to the idea that we’re all better off by having the affairs of Europe (including the UK) guided by Commissioners like Michel Barnier, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk sitting on some rarefied plane as if they’re Plato’s Guardians.
After a generation of being nodding dogs to the tens of thousands of regulations and directives being spewed out of the European Union into the legislative framework of the United Kingdom, British politicians have lost all understanding of the arts of government, statesmanship and statecraft. The result is where we find ourselves today: the UK humiliated on the world stage; British democracy on the brink of being sunk without trace; a nation of citizens at each other’s throats.
In many ways the UK’s predicament is testament to the effectiveness of the European Union in emasculating nation states and exploiting the maxim of divide and rule; that’s precisely what a nascent superstate is supposed to do, and men like Michel Barnier have provided us with a masterclass in oligarchic power whilst leaving the British Prime Minister looking like some latter-day Uriah Heep.
Let’s summarise the path we’ve taken since 2015:
The political class’s decision to hold the EU Referendum was carried overwhelmingly. Parliament showed itself to be very keen to delegate the decision about the UK’s membership of the European Union to the British people.
The EU Referendum caused the highest ever percentage (72%) of the British electorate – 33,551,983 people – to turn out to vote, many adults having never voted in their lives before.
The Referendum result itself was close, but clear. In any democracy a single vote will carry the day. In the EU Referendum, 1,269,501 votes carried the day; in other words, 8% more people voted Leave (17,410,742) than voted Remain (16,141,241). The collective voice of 17.4 million was eventually heard, muted for a generation by a failed parliamentary democracy.
The political class’s decision to trigger Article 50 and deliver Brexit, with or without a Withdrawal Agreement, was carried overwhelmingly by Parliament. Furthermore, Prime Minister May’s Article 50 mantra was ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’.
The Conservative government put a deal, the Withdrawal Agreement to the House of Commons not once, but twice and on both occasions the Agreement was rejected overwhelmingly: it’s a ‘bad deal’, a very bad deal.
Notwithstanding, Parliament told the government that it would not accept ‘No Deal’ as a negotiating outcome thereby paralysing totally the Brexit negotiating process.
Unable to deliver on the decision of the British people in the EU Referendum that the UK should, by law, leave the EU on 29 March 2019, Prime Minister May was forced to beg the European Union for an extension to the Article 50 deadline just 8 days before the UK was supposed to leave the EU.
The European Union has given the UK until the 22 May at the latest to get its act together.
So Where Does This Leave the Social Contract?
Referring back to my opening paragraphs and assuming that you’re a British voter, you and I are the hapless victims of what I assert to be the grotesque incompetence of the British political class, exacerbated by the ruthless intransigence of the European Union. You and I can do nothing about what has, in my opinion, become an unfolding abuse of British political and Establishment power, deliberately or by omission; either way, it doesn’t matter.
‘Keep people off balance and in the dark by never revealing the purpose behind your actions. If they have no clue what you are up to, they cannot prepare a defence. Guide them far enough down the wrong path, envelop them in enough smoke, and by the time they realise your intentions it will be too late’
The Concise 48 Laws of Power
Law 3 | Conceal Your Intentions
Assuming you’re a Brit, in June 2016 you and I were asked to exercise our democratic influence in the form of casting our votes in the EU Referendum. Dutifully, over 33 million of us did as requested and we each expressed our wish: either the UK should Remain in the EU or Leave the EU. A clear majority of us decided that the UK should leave the EU.
Almost 3 years later there is very little sign at all that the UK will in fact leave the European Union. There is pressure from the losing side for there to be another Referendum, known in Orwellian-speak as a ‘People’s Vote’; there is pressure from the losing side to delay the Article 50 process indefinitely, presumably in the hope that this would lead to the UK’s departure process eventually being terminated; there is pressure from the losing side to revoke the Article 50 process altogether now and, as an inevitable consequence, most certainly keep the UK inside the EU.
‘A Europe of nations is a relic of the past’
Member of the European Parliament
So, where does all this leave the social contract which might in many ways best be described using the words of US President Abraham Lincoln as ‘government of the people, for the people, by the people’? I can’t speak for you as a fellow Brit who might have voted in the EU Referendum. However, as far as I’m concerned, the British social contract has been breached. I kept my side of the bargain by voting in the EU Referendum. The British political class, on the other hand, has failed utterly to keep its side of the bargain. Not only have our politicians failed to extricate the UK from the European Union in a timely fashion, they seem to be within a whisker of being party to a sequence of events which could see the result of the EU Referendum nullified; of facilitating the UK’s continued membership of the European Union; of making a mockery of democracy.
The English philosopher, John Locke (1632 – 1704) took the view that the people consent to make over their influence to the state on condition that the state uses it for the common good. The people reserve the right to withdraw that consent if the state fails in its contractual duties. The forceful overthrow of the government by the people, by rebellion if necessary, remains a legitimate (albeit final) remedy.
For each party to honour its side of the social contract is the price of social order.
What If You Voted Remain?
Often I give some thought to those of my family, friends and fellow citizens who voted Remain in the EU Referendum. If I was you, what would I be thinking now? Well, despite the somewhat pessimistic tone of this post, I believe that in the end the UK will leave the EU. Quite when is anybody’s guess, but stuffing 17.4 million Brexit genies back into their bottles will not be possible in the longer term.
So, what the Remain cohort should do, in my opinion, is this. Assuming that you’ve not already changed your view from Remain to Leave (and some people whom I know have done this), then you should make the case for the UK being a fully-fledged member of the EU. Persuade the British people of the benefits of having the UK re-join the European Union; the benefits of governance of the United Kingdom by the de facto government of the EU, the European Commission; the benefits of membership of the euro currency union; the benefits of The Schengen Agreement and the abolition of national borders; the benefits of having the highest court in your society being a court in another land adhering to the Napoleonic code of law; the benefits of a European Army with British servicemen swearing their first allegiance to the President of the European Commission; the benefits of ceding once-and-for-all-time UK national sovereignty to a foreign institution and, to quote Kenneth Clarke MP, celebrate ‘the day when the Westminster Parliament is just a council chamber of Europe’. Rather than rearguard-fight the result of the EU Referendum of June 2016, fight instead the European Union cause of the future. I wish you all the best with that.
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