1707 and 1973: Scotland, the UK and Brexit

When a 62% Remain vote in Scotland met a 52% Leave vote across the UK, the Union of 1707 looked shaky to many. Nicola Sturgeon promptly said a second independence referendum was highly likely. Support for Yes spiked briefly in the polls. Frankly, as a half-Scottish European, I was severely tempted myself – despite being a fervent Unionist in 2014.

Since then, somewhat to my surprise, support for Yes now looks pretty similar to 2014. This has, so far, held even as it’s become clear Theresa May takes a hardline view of the Brexit vote. No doubt as a result, Sturgeon – who has no desire to lose a second referendum and really bury the issue – has tried to keep her options open. Her stated position is that her priority for now is to keep the whole UK within the single market. This would be the best possible Brexit outcome for Scotland and for the rest of the Union.

However, she has also spent plenty of time arguing Scotland could stay in the single market even while the rest of the UK left. Clearly, this ‘differentiated solution’ has a distinct political edge: Sturgeon has an interest in the UK being seen not to meet Scotland’s wishes. Still, the UK was always asymmetrical, and voters in Scotland voted decisively to remain. It is also fair to say Sturgeon has softened her position quite a bit from demanding Scottish EU membership post-Brexit. So taking it at face value, what would the differentiated solution entail?

The ‘differentiated solution’: Liechtenstein-in-Europe

The Scottish Government’s paper Scotland’s Place in Europe suggests Scotland could stay in both the EEA and the UK customs union. The document cites the principle of ‘parallel marketability’. This is the model Liechtenstein uses vis-à-vis Switzerland, while participating in the EEA. Because Liechtenstein has a customs union with Switzerland, it has to adopt Swiss technical standards and regulation in a wide range of areas. But the EEA also requires Liechtenstein to adopt its technical standards and regulation.

As a result, EEA and relevant Swiss law are now simultaneously applicable in Liechtenstein. Liechtenstein agreed this with Switzerland, and the EEA also agreed to accept the arrangement. Products meeting either Swiss or EEA standards can be sold in Liechtenstein, but EEA law trumps Swiss when dealing with the rest of the EEA. Liechenstein also had to create a Market Control and Surveillance Mechanism, so neither EEA nor Swiss rules were broken outside the principality.

The Swiss Federal Customs Administration collects duties on goods entering the whole customs area. It informs Liechtenstein’s Office for the National Economy when goods are destined for Liechtenstein. Where customs tariffs are different (some EEA goods attract tariffs in Switzerland, but not Liechtenstein), duties are reimbursed. Importers informed of their obligations, including proofs of sales in Liechtenstein.

Why it wouldn’t work for Scotland

For Scotland, this presumably means HM Revenue and Customs would continue to collect duties for the whole UK. It would then inform a Scottish public body where requirements differed and when goods were destined for Scotland. By analogy with HMRC, the Scottish body might be a beefed-up Revenue Scotland.

The UK would also have to devolve much of employment, commercial and competition law, so Scotland could implement EEA law. Alternatively, the UK might confer a general power to implement EEA rules on Holyrood. But that could cause chaos in UK-wide law.

Where the UK’s rules didn’t mirror the EEA’s, new non-tariff barriers would arise, which poses a major problem. 64% of Scotland’s exports (excluding oil and gas) go to the rest of the UK, compared to 15% going to the rest of the EU. Even ignoring the fact that much of the oil and gas also goes to the rest of the UK, it is clear who Scotland’s main trading partner is. The Scottish Government would say the model keeps UK goods standards for UK trade. But Scotland is mainly a service-based economy. In fact, Scotland trades more in services with the rest of the UK than it does in goods. The position is reversed in trade with the rest of the EU.

So given that, what happens as UK and EEA employment law start to diverge? What about financial services regulation, especially when UK financial services are so intertwined? What if EEA competition law is tougher than the UK variety – what does that mean for a UK-wide company operating in Scotland?

The problem gets worse when you remember this is Sturgeon’s proposal in the event of a hard Brexit. The further the rest of the UK pulls away from the EU, the more acute the problem becomes. In Liechtenstein’s case, Switzerland adopts most of the acquis communautaire for goods anyway, which softens the dilemma. The UK may well copy a lot of EU regulation anyway, as it discovers the irritations of diverging from its main trading partner. But to the extent that it doesn’t, Scotland will pay a price.

Above all, Liechtenstein is a small and sovereign state. Legally, presumably the UK would need to join the EEA and then restrict its territorial application to Scotland. Scotland would then need powers to take part in the EEA Joint Committee and the EEA Council, appoint a judge to the EFTA Court, select a member of the EFTA Surveillance Authority College and so on. Spanish domestic politics on their own make it clear this won’t happen. But even if the politics could be resolved, the cases are fundamentally different. Liechtenstein has about 37,000 inhabitants. It is tiny, and therefore allowed to be anomalous. Scotland, on the other hand, would have the largest EFTA population in the EEA. It would also be far more closely bound to the rest of the UK than Liechtenstein ever was to Switzerland.

Liechtenstein’s single market model is not workable for Scotland, any more than its migration quotas set a precedent for the UK. Pursuing it undermines the overriding need for a sensible UK-wide deal.

On Brexit, powers reserved should be powers shared

With the partial but crucial exception of Northern Ireland, the form of Brexit mostly needs to be settled UK-wide. But that doesn’t mean Scotland’s (or Northern Ireland’s) distinctive views should be ignored. The UK-wide settlement needs to be a compromise befitting a narrow vote and a territorial split.

In many ways, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have federal relationships with the UK. Each has a legislature of its own as well as the UK Parliament. Powers reserved to the UK Parliament are specified in law. The courts can decide if devolved legislation exceeds devolved powers. Devolved powers aren’t meant to be changed unilaterally, though what that means is obviously disputed.

One key difference with federalism is the lack of formal protection for devolution. Unless Section 28(8) of the Scotland Act 1998 is read very radically indeed, no court would actually stop the UK Parliament legislating over devolved legislatures’ heads. But another is the lack of a mature federal political culture. Federalism usually involves shared rule as well as self-rule – an idea that a state’s nations or regions have a say in government at the centre. In a state large or diverse for federalism, central government has to govern with the territorial dimension in mind.

This is why many federations have indirectly elected second chambers. It’s why federations usually require some or all constituent territories to agree some or all constitutional changes. Modern federalism requires governments to work together. But at the moment, we ‘deal’ with problems between the UK’s nations by ignoring them or offering more powers. With Brexit, working out where to handle powers no longer exercised at EU level will matter a great deal. One of the many arguments for the EEA is that it spares us the need to create a framework for a UK single market which neither undermines devolved powers nor means more non-tariff barriers within the UK.

If the SNP wants to serve Scotland’s interests, however, it needs to recognise the UK can’t just devolve itself out of this problem. Scottish Labour, meanwhile, should push hard for UK Labour to back staying in the single market. But in some ways, it’s the Scottish Conservatives who bear the biggest responsibility.

After the referendum, Ruth Davidson said she’d prefer to stay in the single market post-Brexit. She has built her success on being an uncompromising voice for the Union of 1707. No one will ask her to row back on that. But Scottish unionism shouldn’t just be about keeping Scotland in the UK, but helping Scotland shape the UK. The Scottish Conservatives have political capital. Ruth Davidson is highly respected by her UK party. She has shown Tories can make headway in Scotland. She should use it to make Brexit respect Scotland’s interests, and work better for the whole UK.

What happens otherwise?

Some of the Tory right will say Scotland wouldn’t really leave over Brexit, hard or soft. Well, it might or it might not. Brexit complicates and sharpens the choice for Scotland, and the harder the Brexit the truer that will be. Scots would need to be prepared for a decades-long, probably very painful reorientation. It would be a far more radical form of independence than Alex Salmond proffered in 2014.

But wise unionists should want to reduce Scottish discomfort within the UK, not foment it. They should also beware of assuming Scotland would never jump. A Scotland where 45% voted to leave the Union is not one where the Union is secure. It is one in which the Union has much to prove. If Theresa May really cares for its ‘precious, precious bond’, she would do well to bear that in mind.

Denial versus dread: how the Brexiters misread their neighbours

Britain’s government shows little sign of worrying what fellow EU members think of it. As a lukewarm Remainer, Theresa May kept her head below the parapet; as a born-again Leaver, she won’t be left behind by her hardliners. And so she’s placed them in (notional) charge of Brexit.

Domestically, it’s understandable. Remainers can’t agree on tactics. Leave leaders push for the most brutal Brexit possible, with plenty of support from the Tory back benches‘Liberal Leavers’ find themselves marginalised. May has no need to fear Jeremy Corbyn (whose heart isn’t in this fight anyway); for now, her greatest threats sit behind her. Whose agenda is she likely to back?

So Brexiters hope the EU-27 will simply roll over and offer Britain nearly all its preferred benefits with almost none of its perceived obligations. Mutual interest (defined in British terms) will win out, they say. They mistake the balance of power in the negotiations. They give needless offence and encourage partners to rally against us. Above all, they misunderstand the politics and psychology of the Union they want to leave.

First: ministers argue that as the UK has a trade deficit with the EU-27, the EU-27 has more interest than we do in making British trade no harder than it is now. Leave the mercantilist nonsense that trade is a zero-sum game to one side; just note that 44% of British exports go to the EU-27, while only 8% of EU-27 members’ exports go to us. Note, too, that not all EU members suffer equally from Brexit. And EU-27 trade matters more to other members (yes, including Ireland) than trade with the UK.

Second: some anger with Britain is inevitable. The EU-27 feel rejected; divorce is ugly; human nature and wounded pride conspire against easy goodwill. But because Tories are only talking to British voters and virtually ignoring the continent, we’re rubbing salt into the wounds. May’s stridently nationalist conference speech left the rest of Europe aghast. Calling free movement’s central status a ‘total myth’ and ‘bollocks’ is as offensive as it is inaccurate.

But third and above all, May makes a cardinal error in diplomacy: she assumes the rest of the EU thinks as Britain does. In the end, Britain always treats the EU as a transaction – a trade-off of sovereignty for pragmatic ends. Sure, it doesn’t just think it’s about the money (though let’s face it, it does mainly think it’s about the money). But with few exceptions, British ministers never bought into ‘Europe’ as an ideal. Cameron gloried in his refusal to do so.

It would be absurd to say other governments have no transactional interest in the EU. But it’s not the whole story. Other members believe in the European idea (or at least are invested in it) in a way Britain never really did. The original six members remember what three Franco-German wars in 70 years did to Europe. Spain, Portugal and Greece (yes – despite everything, it doesn’t want Grexit) remember military dictatorship and their journey to the EU afterwards. Eastern European countries remember the two vicious world wars and their communist past, from which they escaped only recently. A Polish foreign minister told his British audience so in no uncertain terms in 2012:

Do not underestimate our determination not to return to the politics of the 20th century. You were not occupied. Most of us on the continent were. We will do almost anything to prevent that from happening again.

This shouldn’t be so hard to understand. Britain voted to leave the EU in the face of the economics. Anti-Europeans glory in Britain’s uniqueness. Leavers complained bitterly about ‘political union’. Why, then, can they not grasp that our partners see things differently and won’t put sales of prosecco above the integrity of the European project? How can they not see that Angela Merkel – the daughter of a Lutheran pastor who grew up in atheistic East Germany, who knows the terrible German history which gave birth to the EEC and understands what recently-won freedom means – will (rightly) put the EU above exporting Volkswagens?

British people often object at this point. Why, they ask, can’t a project built for peace and democracy survive without deterring people from leaving it? Well, saying countries which participate in EU projects need to follow the relevant rules is actually pretty reasonable. The EU also legitimately fears the unstitching of the single market if every country can unpick anything it dislikes. But more importantly, the critics are confusing belief in an ideal with blind faith in human nature.

The EU stems from memories of the old Europe, of how low nations and people could sink – from fear, at least in part, of the dark heart of man. Scepticism about human (or unconstrained nation-states’) nature and idealism about the European project are inextricably linked. It’s a precious achievement built not on faith in human civility, but on the need to curb human barbarism. The EU-27 fear for the survival of their project. That obviously stems partly from its many problems. But a nervousness, a belief that something so painstakingly built could easily fall apart, is a feature of European integration – not a bug.

As populist, xenophobic authoritarianism crashes over the West, the EU-27 will fear a return to the darkness all the more. I understand their fear, because I share it. Britain deludes itself if it thinks its faith in balance sheets will come out on top.

Saving the single market

Dear Labour MPs

The referendum result is a terrible tragedy, but I understand the people have spoken. I am not asking for a second vote unless voters actually want one, which they clearly don’t now. I accept we have to try and make the best of Brexit. But we shouldn’t just let its most hardline advocates define our future. I am horrified that so many Labour MPs who campaigned to remain are saying an end to free movement of EEA nationals must now be a red line.

Most of you campaigned for Remain – so you know the EU means what it says about the single market’s four freedoms being indivisible, because you travelled the country saying so. But to reiterate: Brussels is not bluffing. The European project relies on common rules for common benefits. Conceding that principle sets a dangerous precedent for the future – throw your toys out of the pram, walk away from your neighbours and reap the rewards. It would be a tragedy of the commons on a continental scale.

Some of you talk about an ‘ambitious negotiating strategy’ to try and square the circle. Yes, other EU countries face challenges too: the threat from Marine Le Pen, Angela Merkel’s difficulties with the refugee crisis, Matteo Renzi’s upcoming constitutional referendum. But offering Britain some sweetheart deal would make their electoral troubles worse, not better. Polling clearly shows their voters do not want us to get any such deal. Some mainstream politicians have talked about greater border controls on entering the passport-free Schengen Area or even longer-term ones within it, but curtailing or ending EEA free movement rights is a distinct issue. Renzi has said an end to free movement won’t happen. Whatever changes Sarkozy puts forward for Schengen, he’s not challenging EEA nationals’ rights (and no French mainstream candidate will go further than him).

Some might point to the fact that, technically, EU free movement is on a different legal basis from the models the EFTA countries apply. The EEA countries have slightly different rules on free movement – essentially, EU citizenship is not a relevant concept and the right is (technically) free movement of workers rather than people. If Switzerland’s compromise on ‘local preference’ in hiring gets consent from Brussels (far from guaranteed), perhaps we could secure something similar to effectively stay in the single market in goods (though not in services). The Swiss model would harm a country as dependent on service exports as Britain. Either approach keeps free movement – and selling tweaks as radical changes failed dismally in the referendum. In the end, you only put off the evil day when we have to choose: do we accept the single market’s rules or not?

If Britain insists on ending free movement, therefore, we will make our way out of the single market. That will damage working people’s incomes, jobs and communities far more than immigration ever could. The evidence simply does not support the idea that immigration depresses wages overall. At worst, it may have a small effect on some low wages – though even then, it mainly seems to affect other migrants rather than British workers. Of course, if you’re on the breadline, a small change has a big effect. But the lost jobs and tax revenue (and guess whose tax credits or public services will be cut to make up for that?) from hard Brexit will dwarf any notional gain in wages.

To be clear: this is not about metropolitan liberals refusing to listen to anyone outside the M25. I understand you want to meet voters halfway on immigration. And yes, we probably have relied on low-paid labour from elsewhere too much and for too long. You can talk more about training our own people. You can ask why we don’t pay enough for British people to do more of these jobs. You can say tackling both of these could reduce immigration and slow the pace of change. You can spell out that people feel that their society changed too fast without their being asked. You can use plainer English to talk about the issue – metropolitan liberals should stop insisting that you tie yourselves in linguistic knots whenever it comes up.

But there is a difference between doing all that and staying quiet while the Tory Right sells us snake oil. It won’t appease people in the end anyway. What do you think will happen if Britain marches to hard Brexit and the country ceases to be a gateway to the world’s largest single market? Do you think angry voters will be less angry once investors go? Once Nissan leaves Sunderland? When people find themselves without work? What will Labour say to them then?

You are the Official Opposition. I realise fulfilling that role is much harder with our current leadership. But you are still the second largest bloc of MPs, and you can put pressure on a Government with a small majority in perilous times. Theresa May could well be held hostage by those Conservative MPs for whom no level of anti-European zealotry would ever be enough. Labour MPs need to press her to minimise the damage Brexit does, not encourage her to maximise it.

Yes, the referendum result mandates some form of Brexit. But all of us, not just some of the 52%, should have a say as we decide what form we choose. Please reconsider, for all our sakes.

Best wishes
Douglas Dowell

Europe after Brexit: what now?

Brexit is disastrous for the UK, but also a crisis for the EU. Some EU observers (generally firm federalists) have argued Brexit will do the EU a favour, on the basis that an obstructive UK has been an obstacle to building Europe. They are making a serious mistake – one which risks blinding them to how best to mitigate the damage done.

Britain was the second-biggest economy in the EU. It’s now the third-biggest, courtesy of the Leave vote, but it remains one of the major developed economies. It has been a powerful voice for a deeper, more complete single market. In foreign and defence policy, it plays an important role. Granted, Britain is already semi-detached in many areas and was due to become more so. But despite its Government’s worst efforts in recent years, its size and strategic assets have made it an important voice in the EC and then EU since 1973. Now it has set a deadly precedent. A member state pulling out of the EU is no longer an abstract hypothetical, but a real option. Europe’s future may well depend on getting its response right.

British citizens need to show some humility in commenting here. Britain voted to leave: quite fairly, the EU is hardly going to design itself to suit us. Of course, the Bratislava Summit also shows that ‘the EU’ includes many different actors (as ever). I write, though, as a committed European who wants to see the EU survive and prosper.

How should the EU deal with the UK?

Governments of the EU-27 should clearly put the the rest of the EU’s interests first. Britain has the right to decide to leave; it has no right to demand that others continue to go out of their way to help it, having done so. When you leave a club, you forfeit solidarity from the club. The three Brexiteers can bluster all they like; it will only harm their cause, and deservedly so. Frankly, the long-term peace, security and prosperity of Europe are more important than pandering to British exceptionalism.

That said, it isn’t in the EU’s interests to deliberately ‘punish’ the UK. A club of democracies, founded to preserve peace and freedom in Europe, shouldn’t punish a country for voting the wrong way. Further, though Britain is less important to the rest of the EU than it tends to believe, it will be the EU’s largest trading partner on exit and will remain a major player in Atlantic defence and security. A constructive and, preferably, close relationship remains in both sides’ interest.

Overall, the priorities should be: to protect the integrity and viability of the European project; to ensure EU members’ reasonable interests are protected; and to ensure continued cooperation in key areas.

No special punishment, no special deals

The EU should, therefore, neither reward nor punish the UK. Brexit needs to have clear consequences, partly on principle and partly to prevent contagion, and Britain shouldn’t be allowed to escape the fundamental tradeoffs which go with it. But if it is willing to play by the rules, the EU should be willing to play ball.

For instance: the EU should categorically refuse EEA-style single market membership without free movement of labour, the acceptance of relevant single market legislation and a budget contribution. It should, though, be willing to offer the full EEA deal to the UK and seek to persuade the EFTA members to do likewise. And where EEA countries currently join EU initiatives (such as extradition arrangements very close to those in the European Arrest Warrant), the EU should not unreasonably refuse access to a UK in the EEA if it wants it.

In the same way, if London insists on ending free movement, then the EU should be clear that the price is leaving the single market. Any interim EEA-type model should be clearly time-limited, with its endpoint in the EU’s gift and not the UK’s. But the EU-27 should also move a UK trade deal to the front of the queue in these circumstances; the UK will be the EU’s single largest trading partner, so this is in both sides’ interest. And neither side should want the transition to take longer or be messier than necessary.

Ireland

The EU has one member state uniquely affected by Brexit: Ireland. Joining the EC, as it then was, allowed the UK and Ireland to meet as equal partners for the first time. The open border for people is currently possible because free movement of EU citizens (and EEA workers) applies to both; the open border for goods has been underpinned by the EU customs union, removing any requirement for customs checks and rules of origin at the border. EU membership underpins key aspects of the Belfast Agreement. And though Europe has allowed Ireland to emerge from the UK’s economic orbit, Britain remains a vital trading partner for Ireland.

The Irish Government has every reason to be appalled by Brexit. The economic damage sustained will be greater than for any other state except Britain itself. But more than that: British voters have put the open Irish border at risk. People in Northern Ireland grew up with checkpoints and police queries; now, crossing from Derry to Letterkenny is an uninterrupted bus ride. The Belfast Agreement, the end of the checkpoints, the softening of the Border and a virtual end to its day-to-day presence: all of this was key to devising a version of the United Kingdom which Northern Irish nationalists could tolerate.

The EU should do its best to protect Northern Ireland from the consequences of English and Welsh voters’ decision. Its scope will be much more limited if Britain decides not to join the EEA in order to end free movement and, especially, to step outside a customs union with the EU. But the European project was founded to end wars: it should put a peace process above ensuring there are consequences for the UK. Legally, Ireland has a parallel opt-out from the Schengen Area and can opt into EU measures on the ‘area of freedom, security and justice’ (or not), like the UK. Ireland’s consent would be required to end this, but the wording may in some cases need to be amended to reflect Brexit. The EU should not make difficulties here.

Foreign and defence policy

In foreign policy, the UK will remain a reasonably important power, though greatly diminished by its exit, and far more important to the EU than any other democratic European non-member state. Further, Brexit means the EU’s potential in foreign and defence policy is dramatically reduced.

Obviously, the UK has always insisted that these areas should stay intergovernmental. But it boasts one of the world’s best diplomatic services. It is the EU’s largest defence spender. It has a seat on the Security Council. Its international networks and connections are damaged by Brexit, but close cultural and historic ties remain. It has the second-largest development budget in the world. And so on. EU sanctions without UK involvement are clearly much less effective; and in most areas, the UK and EU will continue to share key interests and views. The EU should therefore regard the UK, along with the US, as one of its most important partners for the purposes of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) – on Ukraine, Iran, the Middle East and more besides.

Following Brexit, enhanced co-operation on defence may well be revisited in the EU. France, Germany, Belgium and others have often raised this. The UK, by contrast, has always had firm limits here, even though it kickstarted the Common Security and Defence Policy with France. There’s nothing inherently wrong with going further, so long as it remains compatible with the Atlantic alliance: the US supports more credible European defence. But the fact remains that one of Europe’s two main military powers is leaving the EU. Franco-British co-operation would probably be more formidable than the EU without Britain. If the UK shows an interest in European defence co-operation, whether on a Franco-British, multilateral or UK-EU basis, Paris and Brussels’ doors should be open.

Beyond Brexit: what should the EU do now?

Since Britain voted Leave, support for the EU has risen in other countries. Given the chaos which ensued in Britain and the evident lack of a plan on the part of its anti-Europeans, perhaps that’s unsurprising. For now, the mess in which the UK has landed itself will be a deterrent – and as the price it will pay becomes apparent, that deterrent may even grow for a few years. In the long term, though, clearly it will remain a developed liberal democracy, and ‘life after the EU’ will now be a concrete possibility.

Eurosceptics’ gifts to Europe

Obviously, the UK has been more sceptical of further integration than any other EU member state – a fact some have cited to claim the EU will gain from its departure. But other countries have often relied on the UK’s outspokenness to avoid picking fights themselves. When the UK deliberately sat on its hands during discussions about ‘political union’ in the 1980s, for instance, it rapidly became clear most other countries did not actually want to go much further than London did. I suspect we may well see other countries being louder about their own reservations in future, now they can’t rely on the UK to pick a fight first.

More importantly, UK politicians’ euroscepticism may well have helped limit the extent to which the EU has drifted from what its peoples will accept. No one who looks at the referendum on the Constitutional Treaty in France, the rise of Alternative für Deutschland, the anger in Greece, the Dutch vote on the free trade deal with Ukraine or the forthcoming Hungarian referendum on refugee quotas can see anti-EU sentiment as just a British phenomenon. But most other EU countries’ political classes have been more uniformly pro-EU than ours. Britain is an outlier. It’s also Europe’s canary down the mineshaft.

Of course, different countries have different reasons for their scepticism. Worries about migration (either from within or outside the EU) abound. The Dutch, like Britain, worry about whether other EU members follow the rules. The Spanish, Greeks and Italians resent ‘EU-imposed austerity’. The French worry about l’Europe libérale and were always unenthusiastic at best about enlargement. The Nordics, like Britain, have always been relative sceptics. Eastern Europeans only regained real sovereignty from the Soviets a quarter-century ago: they are in no hurry to hand too much of it over again, even on a democratic basis. But the fact that these reasons are so different is exactly the point. Europe’s peoples don’t agree on enough about their preferred destinations, at least for now, for the EU to just march boldly forward after Brexit.

I am a passionate pro-European. I always have been. The first vote I ever cast helped elect the first European Parliament to include eight former Communist states, thanks to the enlargement which is one of our continent’s finest achievements – a Europe whole and free. I will never dismiss how precious it is that EU members don’t even consider war with each other, and I give the EU a huge amount of the credit for that. In an ideal world, I am a European federalist. I believe in European integration, for all Europeans’ sake.

But its most important gifts are twofold: a guarantee that Europeans settle their affairs by rules and laws, not force and armies; and the entrenchment of a constitutional, democratic continent. Its institutions and powers are vital means to those ends (a basic point the British have refused to understand), but they are not ends in themselves. Without a large Eurosceptic member state as a check, the gap between Europe and its peoples could well bring the whole union crashing down. The European ideal must not be sacrificed to European federalism.

Stop, look and listen

Responding with a great leap forward in terms of powers is thus exactly what the EU should not do. European integration is not a bicycle; it won’t fall over if it doesn’t go forever forward in all circumstances. There is, clearly, a vital debate about what powers are necessary to make the eurozone function as a currency union – that was true before 23 June and it’s still true now. But beyond that, EU member states and institutions should state plainly that no major new initiatives to pool more sovereignty are expected for the currently foreseeable future.

EU institutions and governments should, instead, focus on what Europe can do within its current powers to help its citizens, and to show they actually do have some control over the EU. Jobs and economic growth are, obviously, vital here. The exact blend of completing the single market and a strong set of social standards needs to be debated: I suspect explicitly linking the two might both help Europe’s economies and reassure some of its sceptics. A stronger focus on new industries and growth areas throughout the EU, and a commitment by national governments to actually tell their voters what the EU has added, would help too. It may well be worth doing things designed to help job opportunities in Eastern Europe, expressly aiming to reduce migration flows to western Europe. These are only broad-brush points: but they suggest a direction of travel.

Finally, the EU needs to assure its citizens that there are limits to how far its borders will go. Enlargement has been one of the EU’s great successes, which the UK championed. No one should apologise for the enlargement to eastern Europe: bringing the former Communist states into a community of democratic states embodies the best of Europe’s values. The EU is a vital anchor for the security and stability of the Western Balkans – the Brussels Agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, helped enormously by their wish to join the EU, is a powerful example.

But as the UK’s referendum showed, Turkish membership of the EU is toxic with too many voters in too many countries. In reality, we know it’s not really going to happen – too many governments oppose it and Turkey is rushing headlong away from being in any way eligible to join. But while you can usually get away with meaningless promises in foreign policy, in domestic politics they frighten voters and leach public consent. Turkish accession is dead: the EU should, when it can find a geopolitically acceptable moment, tell its peoples so.

Fireproofing Europe

The first step to making the best of things is to recognise how bad they are. Britain will lose much more than the rest of Europe from its decision, but this is a body blow to the EU nonetheless. This is not good news, or insignificant. Britain’s decision has badly damaged the network of institutions on which Europe relies. It has also delivered a deadly warning, which the EU can heed – or not.

The EU should neither indulge nor punish the UK. Britain needs to accept that Brexit has consequences, choose its tradeoffs and then live with its decisions. But though it’s clear who needs whom more, the EU nonetheless has no interest in a disorderly break-up, or any more acrimony than can be helped. So while refusing to spare the UK the consequences of its choice through some sort of sweetheart deal, it should stand ready to put the EEA or a deep free trade deal on the table. And it should see the UK as a major partner for the future in the affairs of Europe as a whole.

More important is how the EU conducts itself to try and prevent future Brexits. It would be a serious mistake to respond to the crisis by pushing integration further and faster: the democratic elastic binding Europe and its nations is stretching dangerously thin as matters stand. Better to consolidate, to show what Europe can do for its peoples with the powers it already has and to address their fears.

23 June was a dark day for Britain and for Europe. Nothing will change that. It is already a (self-inflicted) tragedy for Britain’s future, role in the world and reputation. Europeans, including British Europeans, can only hope the EU does not let it become the first act in a tragedy engulfing the whole Union.

You may also be interested in my blog from June on how the UK should approach Brexit, following the referendum.

This piece was subsequently amended to highlight the fact that the EU customs union is the key challenge relating to the Irish Border.

Voting records, Labour leaderships and anti-politics

Owen Smith is standing for the Labour leadership on a platform well to the left of what anyone would have deemed possible in 2015. From standing firm against Tory spending plans, through pledging a series of specific tax rises, to investing in a British New Deal, to strengthening workers’ rights, it is very obvious which side of the fence he’s on. There’s no Blairite triangulation here – simply a clear, left-wing, domestically-focused programme.

As a result, attacks on Owen have had less to do with his policies and more to do with his background. The attacks on his career before Parliament are deeply unfair and have been rebutted elsewhere. However far to the left we move, we can’t just dismiss anyone who has worked in the private sector as inherently suspect. But many comments about his record in Parliament deserve an answer, too. They aren’t just unfair and misleading. They’re part of a toxic kind of politics, which any true idealist should shun.

Owen in Parliament (or being attacked for being an MP)

The (in)famous vote on the Welfare Bill in July has been covered over and over again, and plenty of people have explained what it meant in detail. Briefly: Labour tabled a ‘reasoned amendment’, which would have killed the Bill while giving specific reasons. It then abstained on the Second Reading because some parts of the Bill (like an increase in apprenticeships) were good. It tried to change the Bill in Committee, and then voted against it at Third Reading. The Tories have a majority, so it would have passed anyway. I completely agree we made the wrong call, and so does Owen Smith: we should have made our opposition clear. But Labour MPs weren’t just letting the welfare cuts through. It was simply trying to change it first before trying to vote it down, good bits and bad alike.

Owen has also come under fire for not voting on the Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill in October 2010. (For context: he entered Parliament for the first time in May 2010.) This was a Private Member’s Bill which aimed to ensure that minor procedural errors in strike ballot notices didn’t invalidate the ballot. Employers have been exploiting the law aggressively in recent years, so I have plenty of sympathy with the idea (though I might argue with bits of the detail). It’s good that a large number of MPs turned up to vote for it. But the Conservative/Liberal Democrat government had a majority of 73 and was never going to give it Government time. As a result, it was never going to actually become law. We don’t know if Owen had a constituency commitment; we don’t know what else he might have had to do at the time. We do know this wasn’t a do-or-die vote. Frankly, we know that if he had an important constituency meeting, he’d have been better employed there.

Owen’s been attacked for ‘going fishing with Tory MPs’. Yes, Owen went on a trip which involved fishing one summer. He’s Vice Chair of the All-party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Angling, raising awareness of issues relating to the sport. You might think that’s not very important, but millions of voters go fishing, and there are hundreds of APPGs covering almost everything. They all include both Labour and Tory MPs: Jeremy Corbyn used to chair the APPG on Mexico, with three Tory MPs and Ian Paisley’s son as officers. It’s hardly surprising if, as part of a group looking at angling, the Angling Trust might have been keen for these MPs to, well, experience angling. And having looked at Owen’s expense records, I can find no evidence he claimed any expenses for the trip.

And on expenses: one of the silliest attacks on Owen has been for claiming more expenses than Corbyn. Owen represents Pontypridd in the Welsh Valleys; Corbyn’s seat is a Tube journey from Parliament. Of course his expenses are higher. He has to travel further and he has to have two bases (if you don’t believe me, remember the Commons regularly finishes at 10.30pm or 7.30pm). If we compare a Welsh MP’s expenses unfavourably with those of the MP for Islington North, we may as well just say London MPs are preferred as leaders. In a country where metropolitan elites are forever mocked, I shouldn’t have to explain why that would be profoundly damaging.

Why it matters

This is dishonest, misleading stuff, easily explained for any who honestly want an answer. More importantly, it’s toxic. It takes the diary trade-offs, policy compromises and parliamentary tactics which being an MP will always involve and uses them to ‘prove’ an MP dishonest, on the take or lazy. Taken to its logical conclusion, it makes an effective legislature impossible. It’s a left-wing version of UKIP.

How do different sports’ concerns, or issues from a country far away, or information about British industries make their way to Parliament? Partly from MPs’ own backgrounds, but mainly from talking to people outside Parliament with an interest or expertise. Select Committees and APPGs are part of that process. You know how oppositions get some concessions from governments in Parliament? They work with their opposite numbers in the Lords. They put forward amendments and they may word them to get some government MPs or peers to back it. They may meet ministers to talk about what concessions they can get if the Lords lets a Bill through. And sometimes they work constructively and consensually on legislation on which no one disagrees much.

If any attempt to compromise, or negotiate, or secure concessions just proves perfidy, we have two choices. Parliament could just grind to a halt. Alternatively, the Government can ram all legislation through with no meaningful scrutiny, no chance to improve it and no opportunity for the Opposition to win concessions. Do you want either of those? Does any sensible person? Do you want a closed Parliament where MPs do nothing but casework or sitting in the chamber?

This sort of campaigning takes the basic work of MPs and actively undermines it. Worse, it depends and builds on ignorance of how Parliament works, when activists should be trying to do exactly the opposite. It’s not just attacks on Owen Smith, and it’s not just Corbynites. Those memes of an empty Commons talking about a debate on [popular/important issue] and a full one talking about [expenses/unpopular issue] – never mind that the first was a snapshot in the middle of a long debate and the second was actually Prime Minister’s Questions? They’re part of the same culture. So is the mindless counting up of how many parliamentary questions (PQs) an MP asked. Never mind their relevance or that a minister doesn’t ask PQs or an MP might chair a Select Committee and do far more for scrutiny that way. Just assume they’re lazy instead.

It’s hardly surprising democracy is held in low esteem if all the key participants and the activists mock it just as much, and with as broad a brush, as any cynical non-voter. Activists presumably believe in the power of politics, and campaigning, to effect change. If so, they should fight within Parliament, and battle for parliamentarians’ support, to their hearts’ content. But don’t feed into a culture which treats all MPs as lazy, all leaders as liars and all deals as betrayals. If you paint politics as a cesspit, don’t be surprised if the public agrees with you. And don’t be surprised if the new politics ends up nastier and narrower than the old.

Brexit as if the 48% mattered

‘Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it’ means virtually nothing. But the mood music is getting clearer now: and it sounds grim for pro-Europeans and moderate Leavers.

Robert Peston cites reliable sources saying the Government wants a ‘Canada-plus’ deal. Canada’s Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is a so-called deep and comprehensive free trade agreement, which scraps almost all tariffs and tackles a large number of non-tariff barriers. The UK would, however, seek an agreement which extended much further into services as well as goods. (CETA theoretically covers services, but there are hundreds of exceptions – and crucially for Britain, it has no financial services passport.) This is to secure an end to free movement, an end to implementing EU law and an end to compulsory payments to the EU budget.

Even if secured, ‘Canada-plus’ means hard Brexit. Britain would leave the single market – which delivers freer trade than any other arrangement anywhere in the world. As the Treasury and others warned, leaving the single market means much greater economic damage. Canada would want a much deeper relationship than CETA for a market as important to them as the EU is to us. And of course, we still have no idea what other forms of co-operation the Government wants to keep.

Peston’s sources only claim a 75% chance of getting this deal. He rightly describes this as a ‘wholly spurious probability’. Only one relationship with the EU offers membership of the single market in services: the European Economic Area (EEA). Switzerland – the next closest partner – has de facto membership for goods, but not services. CETA is much less complete than the Swiss bilateral agreements. And if you think France will allow our financial services to operate freely in the EU while we leave the single market, I have a bridge to sell you. CETA took five years to negotiate (2009-2014) and still isn’t in force. Depending on a court case, every individual EU member may need to ratify the deal. And how does an Investment Tribunal improve on a proper European Court of Justice?

I’m frightened that, while this happens, Remain voters and politicians are focusing on trying to block Brexit via the Lords, launching court cases over triggering Article 50 and so on. While we all talk about whether we can reverse Brexit on the sidelines, in the here and now we’re taking our eyes off the ball and ignoring the real fight. Whatever you think about a second referendum, we have a Government committed to enacting Brexit in power until (by default) 2020. Its manifesto promised to enact the outcome of the referendum. In this Parliament, MPs won’t try to reverse the choice of 52% of voters on a 72% turnout without a clear electoral mandate to do so.

While we have that argument, Brexit is being defined by a Conservative Prime Minister under pressure from the Tory Right. The Leave vote must be honoured unless opinion changes, the public want to revisit the issue and they then vote for a volte-face. But Britain is a liberal democracy, not a pure majoritarian state, and the 48%’s concerns deserve a hearing. There is no democratic or moral reason to define Brexit in its most hard-line advocates’ terms. Further, the polling suggests most people prioritise the single market over ending free movement. This includes an overwhelming majority of Remainers and a significant share of Leavers.

Joining the EEA, like Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, would be far less damaging than a Canada-style deal. Fisheries and agriculture aside, the UK would stay in the single market. We would keep the services passport, so financial services could still operate. Customs barriers would be imposed, but the UK could thus negotiate its own trade deals. There are some limited differences on free movement. The EEA already exists: following an ‘off-the-shelf’ single market model reduces the risk of ending up in limbo after Brexit.

There are hurdles: first, Britain would need to join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). It is not guaranteed that the UK would be allowed to join EFTA or the EEA. But a constructive UK Government could give EFTA more heft in striking trade deals. It could also (potentially) increase EFTA EEA members’ leverage vis-à-vis the EU. Britain would need to assure partners it would not destabilise the EEA, and it could fairly point to its good record in transposing directives. But there is a potential deal here. EEA membership, staying in the Emissions Trading Scheme and European Arrest Warrant and working together on foreign and security policy, could add up to a ‘pro-European Brexit’.

The Conservatives only have a majority of 12 in Parliament. Most Tory MPs, at least in public, favoured a Remain vote. Many Leave voters and MPs supported a ‘liberal’ Brexit. We could therefore build a majority in the Commons and the country for a much less damaging approach than the Government’s. A majority in the Lords would probably resist a hard Brexit, if offered an alternative.

The Scottish and Welsh Governments, most Northern Irish parties and the London Mayor backed Remain. Scotland, Northern Ireland and London’s voters did, too. It is currently disputed whether the devolved legislatures should pass legislative consent motions for enacting Brexit. If Westminster insists on a hard Brexit, I cannot see why they should have to vote for them. And if Theresa May doesn’t want to alienate Scots further, she should be willing to meet them halfway.

Labour MPs need to lead the fight in Parliament – working with Tory Remainers, the Lib Dems, the SNP and others. A competent leader who supports the European cause would help enormously. Failing that, MPs and peers must co-operate anyway, in the national and continental interest.

Pro-Europeans must be realistic. For, our battle is now to control the shape of Brexit – to minimise the damage and to stop leaving the EU from meaning leaving Europe altogether. So far, we’re neither fighting hard enough nor focusing our efforts. That has to change. If it doesn’t, leaving the EU will be wholly defined by our opponents.

A letter to the Labour Left

Dear Comrades

Labour’s more centrist wing talks a lot about winning elections. Given our dismal result last September, I admit we should show some humility on that score.

In summer 2015, members and supporters wanted an Opposition which opposed. They wanted someone to be unapologetically anti-austerity; to speak up for left-wing values without blushing; to refuse to triangulate or fudge in the face of a right-wing Conservative Government. Most concluded no-one would do that except for Jeremy Corbyn; they felt like they were being asked to choose to give up everything they believed in if they voted for anyone else.

People like me failed to grasp that, and we just ended up lecturing the membership. We told everyone else to meet the voters on their ground and take their concerns seriously, and we completely failed to take our own advice. We failed with the best of intentions, we failed because we wanted a Labour Government, but still we failed. We have to learn from that.

10 months on, I can understand the anger now that Jeremy is facing a leadership challenge. He won by a landslide: I accept that. He won a mandate to move the debate in Labour to the left. He has done that, but I can see why many feel cheated.

But please don’t think that Labour moderates are the main threat to the Labour Left. We were trounced in 2015: Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper won 21.5% between them. Corbyn supporters cite the old saw that Tony Blair was Margaret Thatcher’s greatest achievement to illustrate the problems with Blairism. On that logic, Owen Smith is Jeremy Corbyn’s greatest achievement.

Owen is standing as an unabashed socialist, backed by all of Labour’s most centrist MPs. Labour members are not being offered insipid triangulation or Andy Burnham Mark II: Owen is putting forward an unambiguous, democratic socialist programme. He’ll also put flesh on the programme’s bones, which Jeremy never managed to do.

As Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Owen has led Labour’s opposition to the Tories’ welfare cuts. In the early days of his campaign, he’s set out 20 key policies to end austerity and make the wealthy pay their share. Bringing back the 50p rate; higher capital gains tax; a new wealth tax; raising corporation tax; £200 billion invested in a British New Deal: it is crystal clear which side of the fence he’s on. These are specific and costed, and they make a sharp contrast with 10 months in which, after last summer’s promises, practically no party policy emerged at all.

When Owen made his 20 pledges, Jeremy had set out one policy from our 2015 manifesto, one policy based on Owen’s pledge on investment, and one unworkable pledge on pharmaceuticals. Owen has now released a major programme for workers’ rights, too. We have heard a little more since then, but even then the difference stands out: one candidate translates the ideals into concrete policies; the other, unless pushed, does not. Now Labour has been jolted to the left, it needs to fight to make a leftward shift credible: Owen is the better candidate to do so.

Crucially, Owen will turn his fire on domestic policy. If you want to challenge the political consensus head-on, you need a clear target and a steady aim – not a scatter-gun assault on all positions at once. If we’re going to campaign from the Labour Left, we need a clear, overwhelming theme: Conservative cuts are not compulsory; working people shouldn’t pay for the hubris of a lucky few; the interests of those lucky few have railroaded everyone else’s for far too long. Owen will do that. If you wanted a clear, full-throated left-wing party, focused on taking the fight to the Tories: now you can vote for one.

Yes, Owen will stay nearer to the centre than Jeremy in some areas. In particular, Owen will not refuse to sing the national anthem, he will avoid foreign policy controversies (though he voted against military action in Syria), he will be a multilateralist on Trident and he will want to speak to people’s sense of national identity. I understand that these last two are a major compromise for many.

But once these are out of the way, Labour MPs and activists on all sides will rally round a radical domestic programme for government. Arguing about Trident, the Falklands or the IRA is a distraction. These issues alienate people who could otherwise vote Labour. Labour moderates like me will refuse to pretend we can accept them. The Tories will make hay with them. And all the while, the hope of an unequivocally left-wing government drifts further away.

I won’t lie to you: I would normally argue for a more moderate programme to take to the country. But in 2016, the Labour Left has won that battle within the Party, hands down. The biggest threat to that victory is not bedraggled Blairites. It’s crushing, repeated electoral defeat, with all the demoralisation that entails. Defeat will, if you let it, drag the Labour Party away from what you want. Jeremy Corbyn has done what members wanted him to do: to build on that, a new leader will have to take the message to the country, not just the party.

If Owen Smith wins the leadership contest, please don’t think Labour moderates won’t want to make it work. We will throw ourselves into selling him, and Labour, to the country, as we always do. If Labour wins on a manifesto substantially to the left of Ed Miliband, we will be delighted. We also want to tackle inequality – as slowly as we must, yes, but as fast as we can too.

There are two candidates from the Labour Left in this election. One has shown he cannot speak to the country as a whole; the other is champing at the bit to try. The second stands the best chance of showing what a more radical Labour can do.

Yours fraternally
A Labour moderate

If you want to help Owen’s campaign, you can sign up to volunteer.