Monthly Archives: July 2016


SCINIThose who have read “1984” will remember that “Doublespeak” was the official language of Airbase 1. Doublespeak meant saying the opposite of what one actually meant. Like a number of George Orwell’s dystopic visions, Doublespeak has become reality, both during the Brexit campaign and in its fall-out.

Five weeks on from the Brexit referendum, not a lot has happened outwardly . Ms. May has met with a number of Heads of EU States in an attempt to downsize the future role of the European Commission in negotiations. Her message has been very clear: the UK expects to be able to continue to be a good European partner having thrown out at least one of the Four Freedoms, with Immigration in the hot seat. (Doublespeak, item #1).

This position is  likely to receive short shrift. The Commission has appointed M. Michel Barnier as its chief negotiator. “The Independent” describes M. Barnier as a tough negotiator, a”purist on the principles of the single market” and a person who has previously rejected the UK “pick and mix” approach to financial services. He formally begins his job on 1 October but says that nothing serious can happen until the UK triggers Article 50, thus formally announcing its intention to leave the EU.

Activation of Article 50 is not expected before the beginning of 2017 at the earliest. M. Juncker has acknowledged that the UK may need several months to prepare its negotiating position. If Ms. May should decide to indefinitely postpone activating Article 50, the Brexit result could become subject to a General Election . Under current rules the next GE will be in 2020 – a long time in politics and an eternity for markets wanting clarity. There have been speculations about a snap GE in 2016 but as things stand it is unlikely that either side could muster the necessary 2/3 majority (434 seats out of 650) in the House of Commons to activate this. This situtation might change if Corbyn survives the September vote as Leader of the Opposition: a Labour Party in continuing turmoil might be unable to mount an effective election campaign.

The other main topic of debate this week was how a dismembered UK might finally look. Ms. May doesn’t want a “hard” border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, and with good reason – it has been tried and the multitude of problems that this created are well-documented. She hasn’t mentioned the possibility for a hard border between an independant Scotland and England, because in her public utterances an independent Scotland will not exist – “Scotland has had its vote for Independence” (Doublespeak, item #2). The media have not been so reticent. The cartoon shows a Celtic alliance of UK countries that might opt to remain in the EU and what this would mean for the Scottish-English border (readers should note that the Republic of Ireland is and will remain an EU member although not shown as such in the cartoon). On current statistics a Scotland – England border would have to deal with at least 2/3 of Scottish good and services being exported to rUK and presumably an even greater inflow of rUK imports (I haven’t been able to find any statistic for this). While a hard border between Scotland and England would present formidable technical difficulties and costs, a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would have the potential to re-open the festering secterian difficulties of the late 20th century – something that probably nobody wants but that would not neccessarily prevent it from becoming a political reality.

Time passes and Brexit becomes an ever-bigger can of worms.

sturgeon_europeThe month that has elapsed since the Brexit referendum has seen the start of a massive re-calibration of the UK political scene.  The most important, and most widely-quoted, is “Brexit means Brexit” pronounced by Theresa May, the new Prime Minisiter. That sounds pretty definite, but … the fat lady hasn’t yet sung.

The second event was the announcement of Ms. May’s top cabinet posts, with prominent Brexiteers to the fore. The disbelief in the UK and Europe about the appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary was pretty well universal. However, mature reflection suggest two things. First, that, having a large share of responsibility for Brexit, it is appropriate that Mr. Johnston has to  deal with the consequences ( one is reminded of the lines from “The Mikado” .. “… to make the punishment fit the crime/The punishment fit the crime.”) Secondly, Ms. May, whom the British media establishment has described as a tough cookie is following the advice of Machiavelli, to “..keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer”.

The third development was the message sent from Scotland. All 32 Scottish electoral regions and 62% of the electorate voted to remain in Europe. While Westminster was a sea of confusion for several days after the results of the vote were announced, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon promptly set out the position of Scotland. The Scottish parliament will negotiate with Westminster in order to explore all possibilities for a mutually-acceptable solution to their disparate positions but Ms. Sturgeon was equally clear that she had a strong mandate from the Scottish electorate to keep Scotland within the EU. She promptly visited Brussels to make sure that this message was understood by the European political élite, which made encouraging but not binding statements of support.

The Scottish position has not gone down well in Westminster. Early on Ms Sturgeon suggested that Scotland could block Brexit but Ms. May and her top ministers have made it clear that this is not the case. Other EU-positive regions of the UK, including London and Gibraltar, have also expressed their interest in negotiating “special relationships” with the EU but that is likely to be even more difficult than for Scotland and neither have gone so far as to suggest “independence” as their goal. Brexiteers point at the various arrangements that have been negotiated for non-EU European states, principally the EEC: however, an EEC “solution” such as that between the EU and Norway would essentially mean all the responsibilities with fewer of the advantages of full EU membership.

The central position of Brexiteers seems to be that the UK can simply walk away from the Four Freedoms, in particular freedom of movement. That has already been categorically ruled out by, for example, M. Hollande. If and when negotiations start in earnest I suspect that they will come to resemble the Monty Python “Norwegian Blue” sketch. “That perrot is dead”.

In is in and out is out. And Scotland is between a rock and a hard place.





Picture 1 is from the IndyRef campaign of 2014. Picture 2 is post-Brexit by about 10 days.  For newcomers – Ruth Davidson was (and still is) the leader of the Conservative party in the Scottish National parliament, i.e. she was campaigning for No Thanks during IndyRef. These days she is also a fast-rising star in the UK Conservative party.

Draw your own conclusions.